Carte Blanche Philosophy

5 09 2010

Bed and breakfast inns are a hobby of mine.  With most things in life, I think like a middle class citizen: I look to buy things that give me the most for what I pay.  Lower class mentality looks for the cheapest options.  Middle class seeks value, and upper class simply seeks out the best things.  When it comes to lodging, I tend to break out of my middle class mentality and splurge a little.  We all have something like that.  For my grandmother, it was perfume.   For some people it’s a nice car.  For me its a nice inn.

In a lovely coastal town there sat a lovely little inn, famous for having been there almost as long as the town.  The inn, over-all, was first-rate, with heated towel racks, an oak-paneled lobby with a small library of books, complete with armchairs that squeaked like some ancient thing from a bygone era.  In the morning, we found our way to the parlor, where we were to be served the second B of our B & B.  Usually, the host might ask us for the specific way in which we preferred to have a meal prepared, or else we might be served whatever the host had already prepared.  Usually, that’s what happens in these places.  Surprisingly, this host entered the parlor, clasped her hands together and asked us, without preface, what we would like for breakfast.  My first thought was how amazing it was that we might be served whatever we asked for.  My next thought was that, despite my experience with a variety of delicious offerings at other places, I could not, for the life of me, recall the names of those exotic dishes.  The following thought was that, even if I could remember what they were called, it was highly unlikely that the man in the kitchen could possibly serve up a single plate of any of them at a moment’s notice, even if he were the world’s most renown chef.  Therefore, I must assume that while the menu was theoretically limitless, there still had to be some practical limits to what could actually be prepared.  When I asked what could be made, the answer revealed to me that very little was really on the menu at all.  I ended up eating french toast for breakfast each day.  The paucity of options was disguised by the open-ended question.

In a typical restaurant, we might have the luxury of choosing from a list of repasts.  In a very small establishment, like a B & B, the customers are so few that the proprietor cannot afford to avail an entire list of options.  Instead, we typically get the single option handed to us on a menu the size of a business card, which is often mounted in a special holder near the middle of the table.  Now, the first menu appears, at the outset, to be the better of the two.  We are offered, first and foremost, the luxury of choice.  Unfortunately, what this means is that the odds are not so good that we might happen to choose the best item on the list.  We must resign ourselves to an inferior dish, perhaps.  When the menu consists of a single option, the onus is on the host to choose the best meal possible, and the necessary ingredients, however exotic, may be supplied in advance, with no fear of them going to waste.  The single-item menu is like the best item on the multi-item menu, with the added benefit that it can consist of expensive perishables, being that they don’t have to sit around and wait for someone to ask for them.

Now, the blank menu, at first, seems to be the biggest menu of all.  One would think it was limitless.  That’s the art of its disguise.  In truth, though, while it sets no limits on what can be ordered, it still doesn’t really offer anything.  If a larger menu almost guarantees that we won’t order the best thing, then a limitless menu makes one wonder if we might order anything good.  This is the paradox of a boundary.  Sometimes, a fare without limit is a fare with no offering.

In the most liberal of worldviews, we find philosophies with no moral restrictions.  We might marry anyone, or anything.  We might keep a vow or break it.  We might lie, cheat or steal, or we might abstain from such things.  We might eat, drink and be merry, or we might inject, snort, smoke and blow our minds.  We could vandalize a wall, a website or our own bodies.  We could talk like the devil, live like Hell and still expect a Heaven on Earth.  The complete rejection of religion is the rejection of boundaries.  It is a man who knocks down the walls of his house, because he finds the space too confining, only to discover that he is now homeless.

A world without God and a world without religion is a world at your feet.  You can do anything that your heart desires, and then you can die.  You can populate the Earth, build empires, amass wealth, attain celebrity and struggle to carve out your little Avalon.  You can have anything and everything, except for the only thing that you really need.  The blank menu offers everything and nothing at the same time.  It has no limits, which is easy, because it has nothing to offer.

For, without God, there can be no purpose.  Without him, there can be no meaning at all in life.  In fact, there can’t even be meaning to the idea of meaning.

When the house is on fire, you can run any way you like, but the only way that matters is the way out.  You can have it all, because it all has your destiny, which is the destiny of death.

When the atheist says that your purpose is whatever you make it, what he really says is that there is no purpose.  When the postmodernist says that all ideologies are equally good, what he’s really saying is that they’re all equally worthless.  When the host says you can have whatever you want to eat, what she really means is that she has nothing much to offer.  The best menu is the one that has only one option on it.  We give you the best thing we know, and we stake everything, our reputation, our lives, upon it.  You can take it, or you can refuse it, but there’s only one best way.

That way is Jesus, the Christ, who paid for our sins that we might be saved.  You can take it or leave it, but I’ll not offer a list of choices, nor will I lie and tell you that you can have whatever you want.

Sincerely,

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