Monday, June 2, 2014

The Idolatries of Chaos and Order

There is a strange tendency in human moral philosophies and religions to make idols out of either chaos or order. Some people naively identify chaos with evil and order with God. Or they just as naively believe that any attempt to impose order is a violation of the 'way' of nature. The truth, however, is more complex than subtle.

Life is lived best on the very edge of disorder. An overly ordered system is repetitive, boring, and lacks genuine creativity. Nothing new can be created win a world of absolute order. People who idolize order, who seek to identify the good simply with the ordered, end up puritanical and/or tyrannical, accepting almost any level of imposed will so long as the forces of chaos are kept at bay. In the individual, a life of absolute order becomes rote and repetitive. It also fears danger and thus risk, vulnerability is abandoned as one clings tightly to those ways of life that have defined one's existence up to the present. Change is avoided and with it anything new. In a perfectly ordered world, freedom is impossible, because freedom requires openness to possibilities that transcend what has come before. And in a life where every day is basically the same, new possibilities are all but impossible. This life often fears the world which refuses to submit to any one person's idea about what should be. In the end, this life which seeks only the same ideas, the same forms, and the same security becomes the least secure, because it cannot deal with the world as it actually is.

Yet life is lived best when it is defined by discipline. A life that is utterly chaotic no freer than the life of absolute order. New forms are impossible because past experience is abandoned. Things must be built UP, and built WITH materials, materials one gets from the past. Anything produced in pure chaos would cease to be the minute after it came into existence. Without consistency, nothing created could persist, and so creation itself loses all meaning. Rules are not opposed to freedom, rather you need rules for freedom to develop. Chess without rules is not chess at all. But within the context of the rules that define chess vast degrees of creativity and novelty are possible. Without some order in the universe, creative action could not lead to novelty. And old creations could not form foundations for new ones. A life founded on chaos has the illusion of being free, yet it is ultimately without genuine freedom because it lacks genuine creativity.

The true life is lived on the razor's edge between chaos and order. It requires a grounded in rules and limits on action, but also an openness to new situations. God is found in the good, not in the chaotic nor the ordered, and good is found at the creative interplay of chaos and order. This is a much less secure place to be. It is much easier to idolize, and to found one's entire life on, chaos or order. But we all know lives defined by one or the other are often less than what they could be. Everyone, of course, at some times favors the one over the other and thus falls into this idolatry. But if you are aware of the difference between the Good and the chaotic on the one hand and the ordered on the other, then at least you can more effectively re-adjust when your life emphasizes the one or the other. If God is good, if God is love, then a surer understanding of these concepts can help steer us clear of idolatry. Understanding the relationships between freedom, chaos, order and virtue are helpful in this regard. 

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