An earlier post of mine on blasphemy has offended some folk. Some took offense at the very first "sample" blasphemy: "I am what I am."
They did not find this phrase objectionable in the least. They even used it for a motto of sorts. I suspect that they interpret the statement as a vague promotion of their personal distinction, and of their renunciation of pretense and conformity. They march willingly, and enthusiastically, under the banner of "individualism" (which itself is another piece of twentieth century detritus).
I would like to say that I am fond of such bohemians, harlequins, carnivalers and mummers (Auden thought that the best the sixties brought to the West was a sense of such an individual "carnival" spirit). I would like to say this, but I am usually disappointed by the reality. I find that other peoples' eccentricities rub my eccentricities the wrong way, and I usually end up longing for less individualistic and more simply pleasant folk.
If what is meant by the above phrase "here I am, warts and all," then I suppose it does not fall under the rubric of blasphemy. This is especially true if the phrase represents a declaration of independence from the restraints of a decadent civilization. This well-intended, but essentially ironic, usage of "I am what I am" surely fails at expressing any positive meaning. "Individualism" means nothing, and that is before we remember the idiotic etymology of the term. Old geezer hippies are generally heartbroken, having sold out to the establishment (like Dennis Hopper selling stock), or having taken up with some boutique religion: bohemianism is just fancy renunciation -- without a substance to reach for. Civilization is rejected, but there is no culture (please, do not try to tell me that the New Age or any other ejecta from the liberationist/identity bowel movements amounts to real culture -- you know better).
Individuals strike out on their own, finding no culture in their civilization, and have not yet found the Grail, the Stone, the substance of Being. They have rejected, but they cannot embrace. This is the despairing superficial sense of "I am what I am." I grant you no blasphemy, only the blank slate of Dewey instead.
But that is not what is usually meant. When I have heard "I am what I am" uttered, out loud, it comes plastered with the connotation of "I will be as I will do." Or, "I will not change because I do not want to." Or, sub voce, sotto voce, it is really meant and wished, "I will not repent."
It is interesting that no one ever means by "I am what I am" the statement "I like, or I want, what I am." Because no one ever does. That is a condition unknown to this generation. "I like what I am becoming," or rather, "I want the One I am becoming like," is a perpetual possibility, and is something I earnestly wish to hear. But never "I am content to remain what I am." In this world (i.e., of one generation from the Incarnation to the Parousia), one must love himself, and cannot stop, but one does not like himself, and never can.
"I am what I am" is a fearful and feral contempt for repentance. It is also a refusal of the gift of Triune beauty and peace, which you can have if you can believe it. And belief, here, is the same as repentance.
It will be remarked, surely, that these are just words, and not a few were surprised that they were charged with the act of blasphemy. For convenience sake, let us say that blasphemy means irreverence towards something sacred. I expand and weaken the definition for the sake of the secular. In the old days when gods were believed in, blasphemy took a lot of courage and gall, for it took a deliberate act to speak personally against a personal god. In this "de-mythologized" age, where the gods are packed away into socio-linguistic dissertations, blasphemy has entered the language at its base, and has become the ubiquitous vocative in which we denounce God for our comfort (at least for now, it "feels" better to tell ourselves that the unseen is also unreal) and to establish the phenomenological world as the substantial one (i.e., "virtual" taken as "real").
Blasphemy is the only way to "save" ourselves from the hard commands of repentance. It is, come to think of it, the art of the devil.
But let us take the easier meaning, and replace the gods with the vague modern sense of the "sacred." So what is sacred that is left in the world -- or rather, what is left in the world's limited perception and conversation? One phenomenon, or witness, remains: nature.
This is a word overburdened with an ambiguity that is often motivated by political and materialistic advantage. It remains a good big word, however. It is intended to contain a tapestry of meanings (the ambiguity is produced by the isolation of one strand or another).
Nature is creation, simply. Knowledge is the understanding of nature as creation. Knowledge is distorted insofar as creation is forgotten or ignored. Human nature is the only thing in this universe that is both body and bodiless, material and noetic (that is the main reason why I suspect that there is no other intelligent life in the sky). It is fashioned on the blueprint of the Divine image, and is destined for the likeness of the Son, and meant, always meant, for the full participation in Triune Grace, the Divine Energy, the Uncreated Light that overflows the Universal Sea. There is one created human nature which alone gives meaning to the word "natural," and is the proper study of the psychological enterprise.
Language is the first art of man, and by it he expresses what cannot be fully expressed. His life is a poetry ranging from cataphasis to apophasis, from glory to glory, and the fullness of language is prayer. Every word he utters is sacred prophecy, for it is the art of the one bodiless body, the one corporeal incorporeal: the Naming of Names, the call of Noah throughout the world.
Every word is listened to, intently, by the angels. Every word spoken, in mind or the agora, in silent thought or loud conversation. Every word, jot and tittle.
Of course there is the Fall that has darkened human nature, and brokenness has entered the rest of nature in the world. Evil poses as the dark polluter of the light, and human nature can freely participate in the scheme of its own destruction, even as the Devil freely embraces his own damnation. Human nature suffers insofar as it is distorted. What is frequently called "depression" is mainly the reaction of human nature to unnatural living, despite the historic fact that in a decadent civilization, what is "normal" or "well-adjusted" is not natural at all.
"Normally," words are now thrown away. "God" is peppered as an expletive into cellphone calls for rhetorical spice. The future is denatured into bourgeois business plans that violate the entire epistle of St. James. History is truncated into statistical and economic observations. The supermajority of conversation consists of judgmental reports of the most quotidian foibles of other people. Cursing, damning to hell, saying never and always, is now the expected ceremony of ridding the everyday of God-consciousness.
The very statements, "It's only words" or "It's just rhetoric," are possible only now, in this post-Christian world, when the first and highest human art has been subverted into a constant cursing of the sacred. The communication of experience ("Let your yes be yes") is given up for the abstractioning of universal self in the phenomenological world. This is why St. James said, at last, "But above all, my brethren, do not swear" (James 5.12).
The speech of the one nature that straddles both the material and spiritual worlds has become, at the end of time, a demonic boor.
Grace is incarnated in Jesus Christ, Who brings the fullness of Divine Nature into universal contact with Human Nature: the Spirit ushers the Word of this contact to every human person. Grace, articulated by the Word and realized by the Spirit, cleanses the pollution and re-establishes human nature.
But this Grace is not irresistible. As it is unlimited, it is not unconditional. It is pre-destined for everyone, but it can be refused. It is offered at every moment of a life, and must be accepted only by the psychic death of the "normal," and the willing self-impoverishment that is called "repentance."
Blasphemy, you see, is the calling of unholy things "holy." It is the acceptance of "normal" in the place of "natural." It is the choice of dark stasis over the life of light. It is the dismissal of God's stories of origin in favor of pagan self-perpetuating and infinite materiality, for the express purpose of escaping the self-delimiting demands of repentance (the martyrs of today are the ones whose anti-evolutionary dissertations are denied, aborted in utero by faculty advisers).
All this -- evolution, pop psychology, commercial celebrity prophets of normalcy, corporate carnivalers and bisexual mummers, evolutionary Chekhists who delete any mention of the Creator -- just to protect, at all costs, the very possibility of saying "I am what I am," instead of hearing the Only One Who can.