Richard Beck of Experimental Theology has another good post up on a mimetic interpretation of “the slavery of death”. I confess, I have not been keeping up with the series of which this is part 23, but I was struck by this succinct summary:
The principalities and powers, along with the self-images they create via idolatry, are aligned with sin and the satanic in that the idols have to be believed absolutely (i.e., appear to us as God or as godlike) if they are to function as anxiety buffers. This causes us to engage in worldview defense, denigrating and demonizing outgroup members who call our worldview into question.
One of the reasons I find mimetic anthropology so compelling as an interpretive lens for theology is exactly this kind of thing: it maps the symbolic language of our faith tradition onto known, observed elements of the human condition… as well as to possible interventions to transform (save! redeem!) that condition. This example is especially good because it explains the sad human tendency to first create Others and then demonize them.
The redemptive intervention, as Richard goes on to explain, is for the self-image that is aligned with the principalities and powers to die (“in baptism, we die with Christ”), so that we can live according to the new identity we find in Christ: to “live as if death were not”, as James Alison puts it.
It did occur to me to wonder, while reading this, about the virtue of prudence. Where does prudence fit into all this letting go of self-preservation? Is it even still a virtue, in this framework?
I think it must be, because if I am entirely unconcerned with self-preservation, I could easily become a burden on those around me, who are then faced with the choice of either caring for me because I didn’t care for myself, or letting me starve in the streets or whatnot.
Hm, wait, do I mean prudence, or providence? (as in “being provident”, not as in Divine Providence) My moral theology course was a while ago, and I wasn’t raised on Aquinas…
As I recall, Aquinas defines vices that correspond to the virtues. Often the virtue involves finding the moderate course between two extremes, which are vices. So I wondered whether the vices corresponding to prudence (or providence?) might be relevant in helping to identify the distinction between “neurotic” and “healthy” self preservation.
I do find some bits in the Summa that seem relevant:
Question 55, A6, RO(2): The solicitude of a man who gains his bread by bodily labor is not superfluous but proportionate; hence Jerome says on Mat. 6:31, “Be not solicitous,” that “labor is necessary, but solicitude must be banished,” namely superfluous solicitude which unsettles the mind.
Perhaps “solicitude which unsettles the mind” is that “neurotic self-preservation”?
And Question 55, A7, RO(2):
Due foresight of the future belongs to prudence. But it would be an inordinate foresight or solicitude about the future, if a man were to seek temporal things, to which the terms “past” and “future” apply, as ends, or if he were to seek them in excess of the needs of the present life, or if he were to forestall the time for solicitude.
Any Thomists care to weigh in?