Christianity and Anxiety

My anxiety now is one of imposition, that is, I feel as though I must impose my mind on what is in order that I speak of anything at all. There is a thought which creeps up from under hidden corners and pounces on me before I can mount any sort of defense. It is a creepy crawly, slimy dirty thought, one which is entirely obscure in its origins and yet persists regardless. If I look at a thing that I’ve not seen before or whose associations with that which I haven’t before encountered do not immediately come to the fore, then my appreciation and my capacity to appreciate are caught by the web spun by the anxious spider inside of me. Their juices spill out as the spider bites, meanwhile it gorges on my soul.

It is a feeling as though the subsistence of things is not self-satisfied, but rather contingent on me having imposed my consciousness upon them. For, it must be said that, on seeing a thing, my immediate thought is “I have seen this before! It may contradict that which I have seen prior! If it does, my thoughts on a given matter may be incorrect as, due to my limited epistemic access to reality, I’ve generalized out of particulars which may not have been representative of the whole of things. And, if the witnessed set was representative, then do I know anything at all? What else may have misrepresented itself to me? No, what else have I misconstrued?” And as these thoughts ambush me, naked and afraid in my thoughts, all of my consciousness is caught up in a flight from what is before me and, rather, encased in the meditative framework of my thoughts. I am rallied from reality, torn from terra firma and transported to a psychical world where all matter is deliberative, all matters deliberative, and all forms formed from formlessness.

Then and there, in that flight of ideas, I cannot sit still and be raptured by the beauty before me, as my mind seems to reject it out of fear that it, regardless of its beauty or sensuousness, poses a threat to my integrity. In that way, I am insofar as I have seen, and what has been seen is to me insofar as I have seen it. There is, it seems, no thing which can self-cohere outside of my having given it a place amidst the toys and trinkets stored on the shelves of my mind. It is only in being taken into my mental microcosm that what is outside of me seems to be given intrinsic value – as opposed to things being beautiful of themselves, their beauty now seems derived from my having incorporated them into myself.

I suppose it is this that fundamentally isolates me if I am to speak of the matter phenomenologically – it is this which keeps me trapped in my subjectivity. It is this mounting wall of thought which erects itself before seeming obstacles, this barrier to entry into the world reliant on proposition on proposition for the sake of nothing other than attempting to ground myself in security. It is a fruitless construction, a crafting of a garrison built of straw which collapses at the slightest breath of wind, and of this I am totally aware. Propositions do not ground – they are but affirmations of a reality to be experienced. But when propositions begin to hinder one’s capacity to experience, what is one to do? How does one clear his mind of propositions? How does he cut away at the overgrowth of language aiming capture reality in itself, aiming to subject it to himself such that it may sit above him and that he may stand under, that is, understand, it? How does one shear away at this linguistic bush, covering up the body of Christ, the Word made Flesh, the Logos of Logoi, the King of Kings, as though it were a swaddling Holy Ghost gone awry? For from the Father and the First did the apple fall, and according to it was mea culpa called Felix, Seth forlorn no longer as bar-Adam would be born again in the womb of a virgin to save us all from the Old Mosaic Law, that is, of positive propositions.

Perhaps its a stretch to call the Christian tradition an allegory for man’s struggle with language, but I can’t help but be convinced by Luther’s distinction in his famous Freedom of a Christian between the spiritual and the corporeal, between the Old Man bound to positive indictments of Yahweh with his normative “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” and the New Man bound to the promise negative of the Law which says: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The distinction is between the law of the hypocrites (Matthew 6:5) with their strict purism and “divine” injunctions to wash one’s hands absolutely and exactly lest Adonai and the priests forever of the order of Melchizedek and Zadok smite ye, and that of simply loving. In short, the Old Law is the law of anxiety – of Man anxious and fearful in a world he fails to understand, of a community of men and women bound together in all they knew, a common lineage to Abraham or, perhaps, experience of divinity at Zion or Sinai imposing firm dicta on themselves for the sake of purity, health, and security. But of course the Jews had to wash their hands precisely, lest they spread disease. But of course they had to abstain from pork, lest they consume diseased animals. All this and more summarized in a penal code, a positive law of language set down first in Leviticus, then again in Deuteronomy, and perhaps a third time in the Hadith.

The New Law, then, transforms the Old Law by the “liberty of faith” (Freedom 306). It is only through Christ or, on an allegorical reading, in Logos, the principle of language, that justification, “the promise of forgiveness by which faith is taught and aroused,” is freely given to us from on High (301). Where the Old Law required strict adherence and stoning of the weak of will, in the New the Logos says to us – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). (Note: I only speak in Christian terms because they’re very familiar to me – in short, they’re convenient. I feel as though when I speak in such veiled language I come off nutty or like a tub-thumper. Far from it – I simply find the language poetic, as it touches my heart.) There is, I think, no denying that the relation between the Old and New Laws of the Christians is, psychoanalytically, one of man’s relation to the world. Where the Old Law stood for anxiety, the New stands only for trust and love – “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

All that can learned from this aside into speculative hermeneutics is that faith is my saving grace. If faith in Christ is salvation in the next life for Christians as a completion of the Old Law of Anxiety, then faith in myself must be my salvation for life here on earth. Leviticus might have been infinitely extended, but all law would pale in comparison to God’s gift of himself to mankind. Indeed, my worries might be infinitely extended, but all anxiety, precaution, fear, and doubt pale in comparison to my gift of love to myself. There is no certitude which will win my love, just as there was no law which could win the Jews salvation. For this reason Christ is said to have saved all the Jews, who burnt in Hell (Luke 16:23) – this “harrowing” of or descent into Hell was to save all the righteous who could never have saved themselves – to be saved is a matter delivered from on high alone, and no amount of commandments can change that fact.

So too must I, no, must we all, descend into ourselves in our subjectivity to overcome our worries. There is no “this,” no injunction, no precept, no command, no artifice, no construct, no corporeality which will save me. No amount of worrying and thought will ever keep me safe, for safety is lived, not thought. No, there is neither any amount of thought which will let me live, for a life lived only in thought is no life at all. To clear away at the overgrowth, then, is to set the soul free from the chains of the Old Law through self-descent, self-introjection, and an ongoing process of self-transformation. It is, in other words, to embrace one’s own private law of love: love of self, love of neighbor, and love of the world. Where before inferiority and self-disgust struck at my sciatic, my Gid Hanasheh hurt in an interior struggle against an angel, now must I be transfigured, from Old to New, from anxiety to love, from Jacob to Israel, from a boy to a man living in the radiant light of love.