12 Jul 2020

In My Line of Business

There is an itch to study – to read and understand. Not anything in particular. No lesson plan, no minimum credits, no graduation. This itch is severe enough to be nearly physical. It is certainly distracting. The voice says, quietly: "Don't you have something better to be doing? You could be working. You could be studying."

Why study? Why read so many books on so many topics?

And still you wonder why your heart
is anxious and your breast constricted,
why a pain you cannot account for
inhibits your vitality completely!
You are surrounded, not by the living world
in which God placed mankind,
but, amid smoke and mustiness,
only by bones of beasts and of the dead.

What's to be gotten out of studying?

In theory, one studies because there is a value in the knowledge to be gained that is worth the effort to gain it. A carpenter studies, and becomes a better carpenter, and so be more prosperous. A doctor studies, and becomes a better healer. A lawyer studies, and becomes a better liar.

But why does a priest study? Does knowing more scripture, more interpretations of scripture, more history of scripture, more knowledge of edicts and rules and orders and all the rest – does this make a better priest? Such study certainly doesn't deepen faith or draw one closer to God – often, it is she's the opposite. The priest overturns a table, throws up his hands, and declares: "Where is God? All I see is bureaucracy. Meaningless ritual. Rote memorization. The work of human hands. The flaws of human works."

I don't want knowledge, I want certainty

Studying is probably more a sign of doubt than a sign of faith or belief or certainty. Nervous fingers fraying the end of an unraveling cloth. More than that, studying is an act of desire. With more effort, more books, more exposure to ideas, more perspective – I can be better.

What does better mean in this context? A better person, possibly. But power is more to the point. Control. To say "I understand what is happening, know why it is happening, and can see what the outcome will be" is as close to godhood as most people ever come. The knowledge does not affect the outcome, but it makes what must be feel easier to accept. To die in terrified, animal ignorance, all pain and gore, without understanding or reason – this seems worse than knowing your body has been mangled in a car wreck. All the details are the same, but for some reason knowing what, why, and to what end is less frightening, and more acceptable.

If thou wouldest seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication to the Almighty; If thou wert pure and upright; surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness prosperous.

A priest studies scripture, and the interpretation of scripture, and the history of Scripture, to learn and then ti teach what God demands of His people. Follow the rules, and you will be fine. But following the rules is just control the long way around. A man studies the word of the law so he knows how to break the law in spirit – this is true both of scripture and of courts. Control through submission.

The priest says, "I observed all the rights, I followed all the laws, nothing unclean or haram or forbidden has passed my lips, all the days of my life. God sees this, and will not desert me in death – God keeps his promises, as I have kept mine."

The criminal says: "Your Honor, you can't put me in jail! All that I did, whatever your moral judgement of me, was legal at the time. This is not justice."

The patient says: "I can't be dying – I ate right, I exercised, I meditated. I did everything you said! It's not fair."

In a house a man drops dead
As he hits the floor he sighs
"What a morning"

In the end, you study to learn the rules. By knowing the rules you excel at the game. By excelling at the game, you have control. Those with control live longer, and have their pleasures stated. By living longer and sating pleasures, one makes the most of life. By making the most of life, one has no need to fear death – because death has been forgotten in the rush from thing to thing.

But death is what frays the end of the cloth.