“The three most formative thinkers. . . of the modern era are Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In one way or another, most baby boomers [born 1947-68] were fed a steady diet of heightened awareness of human exploitation, oppression, and illusion, coupled with the insight that the received world of common opinion and tradition was a chimera. . . . Baby boomers were ill-prepared for a world of deceit, treachery, and misfortune, where absence of gratitude, reciprocity, or compensation – and the need to pander to others’ desires and anxieties – belied the mythology of their youth. . . . they were incredulous when the world they created in their own image turned out to be a detestable mixture of wickedness, roguery, and rascality.”Peter C. Emberley. Divine Hunger: Canadians on Spiritual Walkabout. (HarperCollins PublishersLtd., 2002), pp. 36, 38
“. . . God takes no pleasure in fools, so discharge your vow! Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not to discharge it. Don’t let your words make you guilty. Why give God reason to be angry at what you say and destroy what you have accomplished? For [this is what happens when there are] too many dreams, aimless activities and words. Instead, just fear God! If you see the poor oppressed, rights violated and justice perverted. . . don’t be surprised. . . . the greatest advantage to the country is when the king makes himself a servant of the land.”Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 5: 3-7 (Complete Jewish Bible)
As one of the early cohort of the baby boomer generation, I understand Emberley’s analysis of “what happened on the way to the Forum”. Here we now are in “the Forum” scratching our heads about why everything seems so shallow, sour, and inhumane. We (I) acutely notice the lack of simple grace in life, the prevalence of deceit (politics, anyone?), treachery (the old belief in a handshake being a contractual bond is long gone, and even written contracts are made to be broken), and absence of gratitude (entitlement to whatever you believe is your right has long since replaced thankfulness and acknowledgement of service rendered). We could continue with the Professor’s all-too-accurate description of the spirit of our age, which, by our example, the cynicism of current education, and general practice, has thoroughly infected the younger generations following behind us.
As for the “incredulity” in discovering that “the world they [we boomers] created in their [our] own image turned out to be a detestable mixture of wickedness, roguery, and rascality”? Is this really such a surprise? Only because we have swallowed and continue to swallow the illusion about the innate and fundamental unsullied “goodness” of the human heart and soul as it emerges pristinely in the newborn. It is the humanist wish-fantasy à la Jean-Jacques Rousseau of the human child being a blank page waiting to be inscribed (Emile), or the noble savage corrupted by civilization’s nefarious influence (Le contrat social). It is the Progress meta-story of our age about human perfectibility by the powers of evolution through reason and development towards a better world and a higher order of (human) being.
Kohelet’s take on the unwelcome revelation of human wickedness, roguery, and rascality, based on the above mentioned die-hard fables is once more refreshingly prosaic: “don’t be surprised!” Or perhaps, “Are you so shocked that this world is not the delusion you created for yourselves?” Changing basic human nature and millennially ingrained patterns, engrams, behavioural algorithms – use whatever analogical terminology you like to describe who and what we really are and do – is not just a matter of “All you need is love”, writing protest songs, handing out flowers to police and soldiers, screaming protests, speechifying in outrage “How dare you!”, denouncing hypocrisy, and marching against war, climate change, abuses of all kinds, or whatever other chosen cause. Most the above have a proper time, place, and context. But shaming and blaming only beget more of the same in return. And they also expose the shame-blamer to the strong possibility that their own sins will find them out.
Solomon-Kohelet’s fundamental point of reference is far removed from that of the modern and post-modern age of outrage: “God takes no pleasure in fools. . . Don’t let your words make you guilty. . . this is what happens when there are too many dreams, aimless activities and words. Instead, just fear God!” As to the oppression of the poor, violation of rights, and rampant injustice – “Don’t be surprised!”
Many of us boomers were taken in by all the chimeras of utopian ideas of tearing down the system; simplistic notions of love overcoming war (the worst form of all of oppression), peace somehow breaking out if enough people would just opt out and cop out and “give peace and love a chance”. The pop-philosophers, hip gurus, and cool new psychologies all promised it could be done. And while waiting we could take the fast road to bliss via drugs, sex, and rock-‘n-roll. When the hangover of disillusionment hit, as with a super-hangover after a prolonged binge, in rushed the bad taste, the reality shock – “a detestable mixture of wickedness, roguery, and rascality” – to take the place of the dreams-turned-nightmare. Mom and Pop must have been right after all when they said, “Just get a good education, a good job to make lots of money and be secure. Get married, get a nice house with lots of nice stuff, have a few kids, and go for the gusto of lots of neat gizmos and new experiences to fill the void of the lost dream.”
Kohelet’s diagnosis of the boomer age (“too many dreams, aimless activities and words”) would be no different for the generations following with a whole new list for “authentically self-actualizing” themselves and their potential, and denouncing the evil establishment which perpetrates and perpetuates the current world-crisis of climate change. His prescription for “getting real” (really just staying real) is ultra-simple and ultra-relevant, then and now and through all the centuries in between: “God takes no pleasure in fools, so discharge your vow! Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not to discharge it. Don’t let your words make you guilty. . . Instead, just fear God!”
Translation: Don’t give your word if you can’t or won’t keep it. Don’t say things you don’t really mean. Don’t claim things you can’t sustain. Better to say nothing at all than to speak what you know you don’t mean or can’t or won’t do and make a fool of yourself, and lose all credibility. And you are accountable, even if you don’t think you are – to the Creator, who does not suffer fools gladly. As to being a fool, it starts with denying that there is a Creator in the first place. For there is no greater folly than denying who and what you really and were made to be. There is no greater folly than shutting Him/Her out, pretending to be independent of Him/Her and instead inventing a universe without Him/Her to sustain it and bring everything into accountability – especially the beings He/She made to manage its most precious jewel called Planet Earth, Terra, Gaia, Midgard, etc.
What about using money, toys, and cool stuff and experiences to fill the void?
“The lover of money never has enough money; the lover of luxury never has enough income. . . . When the quantity of goods increases, so does the number of parasites consuming them; so the only advantage to the owner is that he gets to watch them do it. . . . Just as he [you, I] came from his [your, my] mother’s womb, so he [you, I] will go back as naked as he [you, I] came. . . tak[ing] nothing.” (5: 9, 10, 14)
And as to all the evil being done by humans to one another, Kohelet does not say that oppression, violation of rights, and perverted justice are OK. He simply says to expect it, while suggesting that its only (partial) antidote (perhaps short of God ruling directly) is “when the king makes himself a servant of the land”.
But “Aye, there’s the rub,” as Shakespeare put it – the king (President, Prime Minister, Governor, Boss, etc.) making him-/herself “servant of the land” (the Pope uses the title “Servant of the servants of God”). . . In another place, Solomon (Kohelet) is said to have written “Many proclaim their loyalty, but who can find a faithful person/a person of real integrity?” Once more we find the same issues at play – treachery, roguery, rascality – interfering and edging out the good intentions. The lure of the temptation of power is great, and few successfully resist it for long.