Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Rod for the Back of Fools

"A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the back of fools."

It's not one of the easiest bits of scripture, because, well, it just isn't.  It's from the book of Proverbs, that fascinating collection of ancient Wisdom teachings in my sacred book.   Pithy aphorism follows pithy aphorism, each with the intent of steering the reader towards a wise life and away from folly.

It's pretty much all good stuff, advice that holds up after millennia.  Be patient.  Be measured and thoughtful.  Be teachable and adaptive.  Don't be brash and arrogant and greedy.  Don't lie and gossip.  Be humble.  Don't screw around with folks you're not married to.  Respect women.

Most of these teachings are easy to get behind.  I try to live by them, because wisdom increases the probability of a blessed life.

But here and there, Wisdom whispers intimations of something darker.  Something a little...brutal.

Because fools do not learn, and will stubbornly insist on messing things up, the ancient Wisdom traditions have a pretty basic solution for the fools in your life:  You beat the crap out of them.   The fool willfully refuses to hear and respond to what is true, and therefore only responds to pain and coercion.  In the ancient world, this was not figurative or metaphorical.  You take a rod.  You hit the fool.

It wasn't "tough love."  It was just tough.

For liberals and progressive Christians, it's easy to reject this teaching.  It's not loving or compassionate.  We reject this, as an echo of a cruder, bloodier time in human history.  "That's just not the way things are," we say, "now that Jesus has taught us to love one another."  "The Christian God is love," we say, "not that mean and abusive Old Testament God."  We say this while our Jewish friends roll their eyes, but we pretend not to notice.

Yet I'm not sure the God of Creation is quite as filled with Twue Wuv as we blithely assume.   Because Creation, which is God's first work, is not particularly forgiving to the foolish.  In point of fact, it is precisely the opposite.  If a creature does not adapt, if it will not learn from and respond to the environment?

It dies.

And we are creatures, both as individuals and as the peculiar social organism that human collectives have become.  Why we suppose that this is no longer the case is beyond me.  Perhaps it's that we're used to the shelter of modern society, and in our lingering modern-era hubris imagine ourselves masters of creation.  Or we spend too much time dickering around in our virtual fantasy worlds.

But foolishness has consequences.

Yesterday, I rode my motorcycle home in a fierce deluge, as major flooding swept across the Mid-Atlantic.  A wee bit foolish, perhaps, but it was entertaining, as my "adventure" bike was designed to ford streams, and I rarely get that opportunity as part of my commute.   The day before, I'd emailed with my agent, who lives in North Texas.  Which is on fire.  She'd been in touch with someone we're talking with in LA, which is experiencing a dangerous heat wave.  The guy from LA was about to vacation in Yosemite, which is also on fire.

I have social media friends in England, which is experiencing a record breaking heatwave, with the lush green richness of the British landscape turning dead and brown.  I have friends who are Korean American and worried about their families back in Korea, which is sweltering under an unprecedented heatwave.  I have family in Japan, where nearly 30,000 people have been hospitalized this week with heatstroke, and almost 100 have died as temperatures soar to new records.

There are those who will blithely insist that nothing is happening here.  That none of this is connected.  "It's just weather," they say.  "Don't drink the climate change kool-aid," they say.  There's no need to adapt, or to learn, or to change behavior based on changing circumstances.  Just ignore the evidence of your eyes, and keep doing what you're doing.

In the face of the storm, I'd changed.  Sure, I was the stubborn fool still riding his bike.  But I took a different route home, on larger, better draining roads.  I rode at a different, more careful pace. 

Still, as the rain spattered heavy and tropical against my faceshield, my tires cutting a wake through the ponding, that scripture popped into my head.

"A rod for the back of fools."

Which is what happens, whenever we hear creation's warning and snarl back, "You're not the boss of me."