Not All Roads Lead Home

 

In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown.

Beside the Technicolor fantasy of a quartet of characters leaving their homes and going into a foreboding forest to gain what they think they are lacking from a wizard (see my previous post), there is another tale of a young man doing just the same. And though there is no wizard or fear of lions and tigers and bears in this tale, there is, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”. Both stories, it seems to me, are about journeys into the dark side, the nocturnal forest in this tale, looking for an esoteric mystical experience that will supply what they are missing out on. But those who covenant to journey into the forest, and the deepest darkest part of it, end up disillusioned and faithless.

Often, especially in our youth, we begin to question the religious beliefs and worldviews of our families, of our mentors and of those around us. We see hypocrisy around us and despise it and yet become two-faced in our own sought out experiences wrought in the dark. We then begin to take on ambivalence about evil, giving ourselves the ‘grace’ to operate in both good and evil ways. Moral relativism is that form of grace.

We tell ourselves that there are people who are restrictive, conservative and Puritanical. We tell ourselves that we have become too worldly-wise to be like them: “I have Jesus so I am above all that out-of-date fundamentalism”. So, we journey in the dark forest and into the deepest darkest part of the forest and think ourselves to be impervious to its ills.

We give ourselves permission to investigate the dark side. We say to ourselves “I will do it just one time. Why be left out?  Why not join the “communion of our race””? Thus, we journey into the night and encounter evil. And like Goodman Brown, we come home disillusioned, our faith destroyed.

Young Goodman Brown sets out one night to gain existential insight into who (or what) is good and evil in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1835 short story by the same name. The story, set in 17th century Puritan New England, operates within the Puritan context of sin, grace and unconditional salvific election. I consider the tale an allegory, as it employs symbols starting with the names Goodman and Faith.

In the tale before us, Goodman Brown leaves his saintly wife Faith at the threshold of their home. She is wearing a pink ribbon on her cap. The pink ribbon, mentioned throughout, I read as a symbol of the admixture of purity (white) and sin (red). The color speaks to Goodman Brown’s spiritual understanding based on his Puritan beliefs and also to his rose-colored romance-based naiveté about the nature of evil.

“Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; ‘t would kill her to think it. Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

As Goodman sets out, he does so under the cover of night and the cover of assumption: as a Puritan, Goodman Brown considers himself one of the elect. He carries with him a Puritan/Calvinist ‘good hands’ insurance card – the doctrine of predestination. He doesn’t leave home without it. And, as you read above, Goodman assumes that his association with the right people – his wife Faith in particular and the town’s good church folk in general – that he will follow them to the heavenly home. Goodman Brown goes out into the portentous night feeling safe and secure from all alarms. But his predetermined confidence quickly melts away as soon as he steps into the mysterious dark woods.

He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

Goodman’s first encounter in the woods is an old man who reminds him of his goodly grandfather. The old man appears to be waiting for Goodman. He says, “You are late, Goodman Brown.” Goodman replies “Faith kept me back awhile”.

Though the old man appears similar to Brown in many pedestrian ways the old man also appears to have “an indescribable air of one who knew the world”. And there’s something else Goodman notices and tries to explain away.

But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.

It is clear to the reader that the old man is the devil who is supported by the serpent staff, He does his best to entice Goodman Brown down the road to what is later called “the communion of your race” where he will learn of the “secret deeds” of his fellow townsfolk and see hypocrisy countenanced.

Goodman balks, claiming to be one of a breed of men who is above the riff-raff.

“Too far! too far!” exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept—”

Goodman’s journey away from faith is stop and go as wrestles with the temptation of going on. He encounters something he initially resists and uses the honor of his good name and of those before him as a reason to rethink things before giving on to going on. But, he doesn’t use his faith as a shield and so bends in to temptation. He continues his journey with the old man’s urging.

The old man tries to persuade Goodman to get up and continue. He does so by using Goodman’s own argument. The old man conjures up a kinship with men like Goodman. He lies about having personal knowledge and acquaintance of Goodman’s family. He then speaks of townsfolk – deacons and those in power – as personal references. He cajoles Goodman to continue their ‘association’ by journeying on.

Goodman Brown once considered himself impervious to all the devil’s wiles. After all he was one of the elect and associated with the right people. But each step he took in the wrong direction away from faith weakened his resolve. His compromises were reinforced by his inordinate curiosity. He continues his journey into the deepest darkest part of the forest and sees what the “communion of our race” so desires, “that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were sinners abashed”.

 

There are several interpretations and critiques of the story. Some will say that Hawthorne is pointing out the hypocrisy of a society that prides itself on its high moral and civic standing and makes outcasts of those who do not live up to its standards. Other interpreters go out on a dark forest limb with their construal:

Modern critics have interpreted “Young Goodman Brown” in many ways. The story as a critique of society stands out to some. To psychologically inclined readers, Brown journeys into the psyche. The village represents the superego, whereas the forest and darkness become equivalents of the Freudian id. The entire story becomes a portrait of one human mind that discovers the usually suppressed and disquieting reality of animal instinct

The story’s symbols lend its meaning to a wide audience and to many interpretations. As you read it you will have your own takeaway. I consider it an allegory or parable about assumptions, hypocrisy and the lure of evil to pull one away from one’s home base of faith toward the “reality of animal instincts”.

The story doesn’t tell us Brown’s motives other than “present evil purpose” Conjecture would lead us to think that young Goodman Brown had become questioning about evil and the devil even though he lived surrounded by strict warnings against both in Puritan village. One gets the sense that Brown goes out by himself to just stick his nose in on evil for the sake of understanding the world he lives in and perhaps the fear of evil inculcated in him by his upbringing.

 

I have provided some of my take on Young Goodman Brown and some excerpts from the story with the hope that you will read the short story (it should take about fifteen minutes). I invite you to consider what road you are taking when you want to stick your nose in on evil. Consider where it leads and what you will encounter. And, where it will lead you. This road does not lead home.

We are told in Scripture to “test the spirits” so that we may know what is good and true and from God. That is not what is going on in Young Goodman Brown. Rather, this a young man who leaves faith behind and takes a walk on the wild side and ends up at a satanic ritual. His road did not lead back home to faith. It led to nihilism and despair and the resolve to no longer exist.

In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course, until…

 

 

 

Here is a link to the story: Young Goodman Brown

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

 

One does not need a degree in cultural studies to see that our culture is charmed by and suffused with charismatic self-knowledge, self-love, self-esteem, and self-awareness. The powerful, the glamorous, the ministers of inclusion, and the gurus of self-help each promote their version of snake oil which, by application, would lift the unenlightened feeble off of terra firma to the heights of self-dom. Their special tonic is said to awaken consciousness, to liberate from conditioning and to provide relief from suffering. Mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, and emotional approaches to truth are everywhere promoted as leading to a higher plane of existence where self-knowledge is knowledge of the divine. The self and the divine are to be perceived and experienced as identical.

One quote from a gnostic teaching website is sufficient to reveal the ‘higher road’ many are taking:

“Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says,” My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate … If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.”

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent asked, “Did God really say…?” And, based on what I am seeing today, I can imagine that It also whispered “What does the god within you say?” The choice Adam and Eve made put them on the road leading out of the garden. This is the road most travelled.

As I was considering this topic the Technicolor image of the cowardly lion wringing his hands came to mind. I had the misfortune of seeing the musical fantasy Wizard of Oz in my youth.

Why the misfortune? While it made fantasy-tale sense that characters made of straw and tin needed something to be humanish, what was a humanish animal requiring courage about? What was it about this movie that disturbed me? It took me some time to sort out – discern – why I do not like the movie: it’s promotion of Gnosticism in the morally vacuous Land of Oz and the wimpy withering lion.

The lion in the Wizard of Oz is the anthropomorphic personification of presumably silly and timid humans lacking self-awareness. The lion comes into the story like a bleating lamb and leaves as a roaring lion. How did the transformation happen? Through gnosis. The lion is told by a wizard (a professor; a spiritual guide and self-help guru of sorts) that the lion must acknowledge the courage he already possesses inside. The same self-knowledge mirror is held up for the Straw Man and the Tin Man.

And what is the purpose of the new found-in-self brain, heart and courage in the moral vacuum of Oz? To “awaken their consciousness and liberate them from conditioning”? And the reason for courage? Courage to not be afraid of what? Of things that go “Boo” in the night? Courage to be yourself?

Lest anyone think that I am being picayune about a now beloved child’s fantasy they should pull back the curtain and see what’s lurks there in light of the above and with today’s culture in view.

In the moral vacuum of the Land of Oz, does gnosis-courage mean one bravely acts to be one’s self at all costs? If the only moral reference points are yourself and someone telling you have what it takes within, are you prone to then embrace your base desires to be one’s self? Are we to believe ‘wizards’ that through self-knowledge we change from baaing sheep into roaring lions? See for yourself what’s come out from behind the curtain in the Land of Oz:

Actress Judy Garland (1922–1969) is widely considered a gay icon. The Advocate has called Garland “The Elvis of homosexuals”. The reasons frequently given for her standing as an icon among gay men are admiration of her ability as a performer, the way her personal struggles seemed to mirror those of gay men in America during the height of her fame, and her value as a camp figure. Garland’s role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz is particularly noted for contributing to this status. – Judy Garland as gay icon

Has Western culture has followed the Yellow Brick Road? Besides the ubiquitous adverts by wizards of enlightenment coming out with their brand of snake oil, we hear almost every day in the media of someone coming out (via self-knowledge) as gay. This gnostic way of understanding has been confirmed by Pope Francis when he said “God made you this way.”

It is no secret that Progressive elements in our culture promote being oneself as one walks along on their wide Yellow Brick Road of self-discovery. This way is touted as the higher, more “universal” and thus “neutral” perspective and that the meta-narrative of Christianity is the narrow road which must be avoided and declared the wrong way. Progressivism doesn’t see its own meta-narrative of identity politics and of reducing the moral universe to the god within. Progressivism isn’t self-aware.

Universities, under the thrall of Progressivism and of course benefactors, are incubators of gnosis. They seek to awaken a new vision and to stir up dormant impulses in cowardly lions. Pseudo-disciplines like women’s studies, black studies, LGBTQ studies, etc., offer Woke gnosis.

The Land of Oz campus admins create physical safe spaces so that self-realization is safely tucked in and away from things that go “Boo!” in the day. For Land of Oz sustainability, Marxism and socialism are taught as the means to create financial safe space. The idea is to make others pay so the disciples of self don’t have to concern themselves with material concerns. This, so one can continue to grow in self-awareness and be an SJW with a moral center carefully crafted around gnosis.

At graduation, participation trophies are presented to the brave – those who stood inside safe spaces against outside knowledge, and to the compassionate (for others like themselves). A diploma, a medal and a ticking heart-shaped watch are passed onto to another generation. These trinkets of gnosis are bestowed under a ceremonial banner, which reads: “Know thyself, Be Thyself. We are here for our own sake”.

There is a Yellow Brick way that seems right to a man who seeks to find what it takes to be one’s self, but the ends thereof are the ways of self.

 

 

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Of course, not all self-reflection is be rejected. Proper introspection is to occur in the prayer closet. There, in the Light of the Lord, sin is exposed and named. You learn to see yourself as the Lord sees you. You confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. Then the Lord returns you to the road before you to walk in his resurrection power.

Now, it takes no courage whatsoever to tell others how to live to make them comfortable for you to be around. That is social justice for the woke generation. It does take considerable courage to look into one’s soul and see the darkness within, to repent and to cast out any unclean spirits in the name of the Jesus.

The absolutions of the Woke World humanist religion are self-justification and self-righteousness. Both are repulsed by the Lord. Prayer-closet courage is required to resist both.