Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

We See the Past with a God’s Eye View

April 03rd, 2014 by G.

The past with the clarity and beauty of a Bruegel's landscape

The past with the clarity and beauty of a Bruegel landscape

Why is living in the past so popular a pastime?
. . . .

That’s from a recent essay by Bruce Charlton. A few more excerpts:

Rather, the appeal is much like living in a Fantasy-world such as that of Middle Earth or Harry Potter – or in some kind of situation abroad when not much is known about that country – the appeal is that the world imagined is wholly-meaningful.

Indeed A world imagined is a meaningful world, exactly because it is an imagined world – intended or not there is both specific-in-detail and general-inter-related meaning which comes from the fact of being imagined.

An imagined world cannot-not be meaningful.
. . . .

Real Life is meaningful when imagined; not meaningful when not.

And for the world to make-sense in detail and overall – it needs to be an imagined world: produced-by and comprehended-by the mind of God.

Thus Bruce Charlton.

Nostalgia is a phenomenon that deserves more consideration. Why does memory get more golden with time?

Death of General Wolfe

In military history there are any number of events that the participants thought were dirty and nasty at the time but they later discovered to be glorious. Military historians usually treat this as some kind of mental aberration. Whereas in reality the further the participants get away from their personal fear and pain, the more justly they can appreciate what they did and what was undergone. In C.S. Lewis’ philosophical terms, they can contemplate what before they only enjoyed. They know the experience better, having had time to think about it and digest its consequences, but they are also more dispassionate. They can rightly judge.

In that way, memory and nostalgia are a fallible mortal version of the God’s eye view. I believe they are a foretaste of the eschaton, when we will no longer see through a glass darkly but will see ourselves as we are seen by Him, when all sins are shouted from the rooftops, and the soul is judged. (Repentance is also a foretaste of the eschaton for any number of reasons, but the relevant one here is that repentance is a process of admitting to yourself that God knows what you are. The sinning soul–I know this from experience–is always shying away from those thoughts.)

That’s why memory is golden. It’s not because our experiences were often better than we thought at the time. Though sometimes it is. But mostly its because we are seeing things like God sees them. The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk. Because we aren’t in the thick of events, we are able to love them disinterestedly, which approximates God’s universal love. We are able to appreciate experience as good in itself instead of for its effects on us like when we’re mixed up in it. Most of all–and here, my poppets, we come back around to Charlton’s essay–we are able to judge more rightly. The experience of judging rightly is godly and wonderful. Even the damned, I think, are euphoric with the justice of their damnation. Even an evil experience becomes a good in our memory when we are able to know and understand that it was evil.

Memory is golden because it is in the similitude of truth.

Remember, my son.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Cross-posted at the Old Country.

Comments (8)
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April 03rd, 2014 01:30:23

April 3, 2014

I see some kind of connection between this and some of your past posts in which you posit a link between resurrection/perfection/exaltation and some kind of _integration_ of one’s entire life, both good and bad, both successes and failures. I forgot the posting tag you used.

I thought BC’s post left too much unsaid. And I think you do well to focus on one particular aspect.

As one who is rather sensitive to others’ unhealed spiritual wounds, I tend to think too much on the past as “bad.”

Yet the past is the road to where we currently are, individually and collectively. And somehow: past + present = future. Or maybe that should be written: past + present => future.

I believe the past is to be learned from, both good and bad. Yet I see many people trapped by their past, who seem to wallow in misery, almost enjoy it, rather than something from which they can heal, learn from, and move on.

To take your example of combat veterans who survived while they saw their comrades die. PTSD sufferers continue to suffer the combat experience and relive the horror, always the soldier, always mourning the loss of others, continuing to feel survivor’s guilt.

Yet others celebrate their survival, realizing that nothing in life will now be as bad as that was, their worst is behind them: “The VC shot at me and missed; anything you say to me is mere words, and can’t harm me.”

Adam G.
April 3, 2014

The tag is http://www.jrganymede.com/tag/all-things-before-my-face/

Your reminder that people cling to the past or are sometimes unable to move beyond some trauma, well, that’s real. I think I’m just talking about the perspective people are able to have once they have come to terms with their past. But as long as the past isn’t truly past, that’s not possible.

Also, good things can sometimes be more spiritually dangerous than bad things. The order and certainty of the past is in the similitude of the view from heaven, but its a trap if you focus on it instead of trying to get to heaven to have that view. Put another way, even a rotten personal history can tempt you, because knowing who you are is easier and less frightening than knowing that you still have your identity to make. If the damned are euphoric at being judged and having justice, that’s an attitude that may be damnable.

Bruce Charlton
April 3, 2014

Being a scientist, I started to think of counter examples – when memory was not golden but has a pall over it.

I have such periods of my life, when I have to remind myself that it wasn’t *all* alienated, lonesome, self-indulgent.

A literary example would be CS Lewis’s description of his dread-full schooldays in Surprised by Joy. Biographers quibble over the factual accuracy of his memories (especially of his public school, Malvern, which his older brother really liked and enjoyed) – but there is no doubt that Lewis’s memories of that era of his life were whatever is the opposite of golden – leaden?

So what does this mean? It is presumably part of the same phenomenon you describe – especially for a Christian convert reflecting on eras in which repentance must cover the fundamental basis of life: not just specific sins, but a sinful attitude: the whole understanding of meaning, purpose, goals and the rest of it all being *wrong*.

Like The West now: wholesale and deliberately self-induced addiction to trivial distraction and grossness, pursued as an antidote for meaninglessness and purposelessness – interrupted by active strategic efforts to promote evil… This era will NOT be looked-back-on as golden.

Adam G.
April 4, 2014

Both Bruce C. and Books. have come up with some excellent counter-examples. Obviously my post here has to be more a jumping-off point for a complete theory. It’s not complete itself without taking into account those negative type memories.

One of the commenters to Bruce C.’s essay said something that has a bearing too:

“It is possible to imagine a meaningful world that is very frightening and unpleasant versus a world that is very pleasant but meaningless. “

April 4, 2014

As sacreligious as it may be to quote Star Trek, I’m always moved by the first episode of Deep Space 9 where Sisko is forced to face the past he will not let go of. I love it because the beings ‘forcing’ him to do so are in fact not, they are merely following him through his own mind, inquisitively.

As for how this era will be looked back on, I wonder how literally we should take the words of Isaiah “I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind”. I’m starting to take seriously the idea that we will find eternity far more interesting and memorable than here will ever be.

April 4, 2014

Fraggle, did you meant he very first episode, or the later episode where Sisko has a conversation with the wormhole aliens? (Did you intend your relative clause to be restrictive or merely descriptive?) I loved that episode as it help me imagine what it might be like to look down on -time- from a higher dimension, perhaps like an Eternal being might, to see the whole timeline as one “now”.

April 5, 2014

The very first episode (“Emissary”), I haven’t seen all the later episodes, does he have another chat with them then?

April 5, 2014

Fraggle: I seem to recall several episodes where he has visions/conversations with the worm-hole aliens. The particular one I mentioned was several seasons in.

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