Good as measure

Christianity divides itself from Gnosticism though the division between a lesser good and an evil. A smaller glass is not the same as a cracked one, even when the latter holds more water. The glass is a metaphor for goodness being a measure. 

Augustine makes measure (L. modus) the foundation of goodness. His account of evil is only a privation account if we understand privation as mismeasure. We insist on this because privation doesn’t usually suggest excess, but our greatest evils (and I’m tempted to say all our evils) trace back to a drive to excess, or to be more than human.* Ye shall be as gods. 

If we were as gods – i.e. more than human – then “biology” would be no restriction on us (The word is in scare quotes because the word itself is an attempt to deny any restriction) Again, if we’re as gods then our history, especially as encoded in social structures, plays no pedagogical role in our lives. Gods are neither historical nor social, and so, for all we know, all such structures are either corrupt or were simply a dark groping after and ascent toward our present enlightenment. Finally, if we’re gods, then we are not equals even with other persons, and so we can treat them in a completely impersonal manner: as statistics, inconveniences, expenses, or entries in a debt ledger.

Even the most bestial of evils – take gluttony or lust – derive more from godlike desires than bestial ones. Bestial gluttony wants an infinite enjoyment that is entirely within one’s control. The glutton would be Lord of the world and enjoy an unbroken, complete operation.

At the same time, the Christian eschaton must recognize the legitimacy of the desire to be as gods, and not merely in the way that heroic virtue makes one godlike.


*Evil is a privation because it is a deviation; and we deviate from a mark just as much when we fall below it as when we try to transcend it. It’s worthwhile to note that deviation, like “ruthless” is a word whose opposite fell into disuse: just as the word “ruth” once meant compassionso too “viation” (from L. via) would mean keeping to the path.  

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