All things began in order, so shall they end, and so shall they begin again; according to the ordainer of order and mystical mathematics of the city of heaven.” So writes Sir Thomas Browne in The Garden of Cyrus (1658).

It is a quotation which, like Stephen Leacock’s horse, can be ridden off in all directions. Few words in the language envelope a more massy globe of meaning than “order.” For the purpose of this fragmentary comment, it is construed in its most basic sense, deriving from the Latin root ordo (row, or rank); namely, “meaningful arrangement.”

“All things began in order.…” “In the beginning God created.…” Before the beginning, from eternity, was not Matter, nor Vacancy, nor Cronus, nor Idea, nor Chaos, but God, the Ordainer of order, the Meaner of meaning. (It is odd that many people are so bemused by the pagan myth—in our culture chiefly derived from the Greeks—that “chaos” preceded all things that they read Genesis 1:2 as if the “ruined and emptied” planet Earth were a kind of primal way-station toward creation, instead of the consequence of a pre-Adamic outpouring of God’s wrath, presumably for the only reason God’s wrath is ever described as being poured out: sin.) The entire universe is a meaningful arrangement, determined from eternity by God. Its meaning and its arrangement are not susceptible to alteration, or even to advisory comment, by God’s creatures.

Those creatures either live within the universe in perfect self-fulfillment in obedience to God’s instructions for its proper use, or they rebel against it. If they rebel, there is nowhere else to go save to a self-induced disorder, a place where God is not and there can be neither meaning nor purpose. (Here again the ancient myth is influential, for some believe that “outer darkness” is a part of primordial chaos not needed by God in his creation of the heavens and the earth, and hence left in its “original” form. The Bible, on the contrary, teaches explicitly that such a place of judgment is “prepared” by God for his purposes—Matthew 25:41.)

One may imagine that the Adversary—Satan, Shaitan, Lord of the Flies, the Old Artificer—knows all this. Created as he was to great power and glory as prophet, priest, and king (Ezek. 28:13–16) sometime in the immensity of the past (as feeble human beings conceive of time), still bearing and exercising the power of at least three mighty titles (Prince of This World; God of This Age; and Prince of the Powers of the Air), it would be strange indeed if his intellect were deceived, even though his will remains obdurate. But as a rebel seeking followers, he has artfully concealed from those whom he woos the rage for chaos (the inevitable consequence of rage against God) that burns within him. Certainly the record is clear that his appeal to Eve was not, “Come, drink of my cup of disorder,” but rather, “Create your own order in defiance of God; devise your own meaningful arrangement; determine for yourself the difference between good and evil—and ye shall be as gods.”

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There was, in short, no attempt to overset the divinely implanted human awareness that order is the condition of being and disorder the condition of chaos. Indeed, it would be thousands of years before the human mind had deteriorated to the point of asserting, with the Dadaist and his like, that the universe is totally without order or meaning. That assertion is a suicidal self-contradiction, for unless it is dismissed as the merest vaporings of idiocy, it must be allowed to possess order and meaning, a sort of inexplicable cell of order in the boundless inane. Not really inexplicable in the upside-down logic of rebellion, however, for it is simply an exercise of self-asserted godhood: I will create in my own image—“in my own image,” as John Davidson wrote not long before his suicide, “for that cannot be surpassed.” (“Obey your nature, not authority,” was his creed.) Among the degenerative effects of disobedience to God’s order, a degeneration that is as apparent in the course of human society as it is in the individual life, is a progressive inability to tell the difference between order and disorder. Order can comprehend disorder, but disorder can comprehend neither order nor itself.

Between the first rebellion against God’s universal order and the final breaking loose of the last fragment, the last disintegration of any meaningful arrangement, there may, for the rebel, be a good deal of heady excitement. Defiance, whether the cosmic, Satanic shout “I will not serve; not as thou wilt, but as I will,” or a simply querulous “No, I won’t” followed by a stuck-out tongue, is often a lot of fun. Rarely is the immediate exuberance tinged by the chill fear of consequent and irremediable disorder. It may give quite a nice little ego-kick to an orchestra musician to declare, “I will not play the assigned notes at the assigned times; I am a free and self-defining individual.” The chill comes when the conductor says, “Fine. Play as you wish. But not in this orchestra.” (Footfalls in the memory. “What thou doest, do quickly.” And he went out, and it was night.)

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Whether sensed or not, in man’s first disobedience there lurked a rage for chaos, for a condition of meaninglessness. With what prolonged agony the disease has worked itself out, and with what an infinite variety of hideous symptoms, the blood-soaked history of this planet bears witness. One thinks of the statement a few years ago by a prominant physicist that he could name three problems facing mankind, each of them absolutely predictable, absolutely catastrophic, and absolutely unavoidable. Since the human race has no spiritual, intellectual, or aesthetic equipment save that which God installed at the factory, rebellion against the rules of operating that equipment must necessarily (to paraphrase Jonathan Swift in his essay on the abolition of Christianity) be attended by some inconvenience.

The first recorded breach in the social order was pretty violent: murder. A fissure opened to chaos. Surely, though, human society, in its self-annointed godhood, could develop a system to control this and other unexpected problems; so we read of Nimrod, who first set up an authoritarian political system, complete with cities, in which a new order would prevail. “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel …” (Gen. 10:10). But no sooner was the fine new ziggurat well under way—typifying the new liberation: “No need, O Lord, for you to reach down to us; we are perfectly capable of climbing up to you”—when something else came unstuck: language. At that time “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” But not for long. “Let us,” said the Lord, “go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7).

And so it has been to this day—when, according to Professor McLuhan and others, we are nearing the end of the “Gutenberg era” of rational, linear communication. Instead, within a single language we find impenetrable jargon confining every “learned” discipline; the literature of the absurd and of silence; the lines of verbal communication between people snapping one by one, until each retreats into his own cell of loneliness and knows that he exists only because he suffers—a piece torn from the fabric, an irrelevant syllable alienated from the cosmic poem, like people in a play by Beckett. “His people speak out of the void, striving desperately to salvage remembered scraps from their past,” observed John Barber. (The sound of serpentine mirth. “Ye shall be as gods.”)

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One cannot look back over human history without being amazed at the success of the Old Artificer in maintaining his pretense. People continue to believe that the reason for rebelling against God’s order is not irrational pride but a legitimate determination to achieve self-fulfillment through “freedom” and to devise a better universal “meaningful arrangement” than God did in the first place. Equally amazing is the persistence of Satan’s fiction that disease, wars, cruelty, crime, death, and all the other inconveniences consequent upon rebellion against God’s order are all mere growing pains as human existence moves gradually from chaotic mud to ordered perfection. (Surely the dogma of human progress must be one of the “delusions” spoken of in Isaiah: “Thus saith the LORD … they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions.…” [Isa. 66:1, 3, 4].)

The Adversary’s most successful method of deception has always been imitation. His packaging has always been almost indistinguishable from the Real Thing, with such ethical knee-jerkers as Religion, Piety, The Golden Rule, and Virtue freely used in prominent places. Only a close reading of the small print reveals the missing ingredients—chiefly, everything having to do with sin and redemption, hell and heaven. The artificial flavors and fragrances are tantalizing. They include the synthetic essences of the Natural Goodness of Man, the Inevitability of Human Progress, the Equation of Technological and Material Wealth with Virtue, and something called “The Authentic Sovereignty of the Individual Human Personhood in All Ethical Situations.” Nothing really inflammatory. Nothing to cause dismay to those in whom God’s originally implanted conscience still operates and who can never feel really comfortable in the company of palpable evil. The “decent godless people” Eliot writes of.

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Actually, history shows comparatively few who have been willing, in the open market place, to emulate their demonic master and cry, “Evil, be thou my good.” But for them, too, the truly depraved, other and adequate provision has been made (in the Enemy’s house are many hovels), and their numbers seem to be increasing rapidly. To them is given the honor of making loud and unmistakable noises in favor of chaos, without concealment or subterfuge. By them is made visible the hidden rage for chaos that dwells invisibly in all the natural children of our first parents. By them are set up the avowedly Satanic cults, where everything is turned upside down or put backward, including the Lord’s Prayer, and where they “call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe unto them …” (Isa. 5:20).

Indeed, it is one of the interesting features of our day that the Enemy seems to be permitting his true destination, chaos, to be revealed and his banner of confusion to be unfurled. One would think that such frankess would have little appeal; but rage knows no reason, and is near kin to self-deceiving rationalization. And at the heart of the deception is the old, old belief that order comes out of chaos. Remember the words of Sara Jane Moore, who tried to murder President Ford: “At the time,” she is reported to have said, “it seemed the correct expression of my anger, and, if successful, just might have triggered the kind of chaos that could have started the upheaval of change.” One hears the echo of myriad faculty voices raised in support of student rebellions a few years ago. The same philosophy permeates the arts, notably the “pop” arts. Typical are the words uttered a few years ago by Jim Morrison, rock star of “The Doors”: “I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that has no meaning. It seems to me to be the road to freedom” (Time, Nov. 24, 1967). Among other strange features of this point of view is that there seems to be no instinctive shrinking from the vast boredom that many sensitive souls (including Baudelaire’s) have realized to be inherent in total disorder. Perhaps because, as Andy Warhol said once to an interviewer, “I like boring things.”

Others, however, have viewed the delights of chaos with less equanimity. In 1969 there met in New York one hundred “prominent intellectuals” to discuss the topic “The End of the Rationalist Tradition?” Said Robert Lowell: “The world is absolutely out of control now, and it’s not going to be saved by reason or unreason.” Said Norman Mailer: “Somewhere, something incredible happened in history—the wrong guys won.” Writes E. M. Cioran, the now very popular Rumanian-born philosopher, in his first U.S. publication, The Temptation to Exist: “I cling to the world no better than a ring on a skeleton’s finger. It is from self-hatred that consciousness emerges. I hate myself: I am absolutely a man.” Aldous Huxley caught the taste of it in his novel Island: “Take one sexually inept wage slave, one dissatisfied female, two or … three small television addicts; marinate in a mixture of Freudism and dilute Christianity; then bottle up tightly in a four-room flat and stew for fifteen years in their own juice.” No wonder disorder seems more exciting.

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Wherever one turns, one sees the evidence of man’s rage for chaos, an accelerating dash toward total moral, social, political, psychic, ethical, and intellectual confusion—a dash toward the beatitude of perfect “freedom” from meaning. Particularly tragic is the progressive disintegration of those relationships once blended by mutual need, service, and respect—female from male, student from teacher, patient from doctor, wife from husband, employer from employee—and the development instead of “adversarial relationships.” The change is often hailed as “progress.” One college course in “consciousness raising” advertises: “If you don’t feel that other people are putting you down, you should. Learn how to develop your own aggressiveness. Learn adversarial techniques.…”

Even the language, on the orderliness of which we depend for the existence of our intellectual life, is being torn asunder. In the classrooms, one hears much about “writing as one feels” and about the “tyranny of grammar.” Eminent theologians have declared that “language has no conceptual utility”—except, presumably, when it is used to declare the inutility of all declarations. Language is simply an eruption of one’s unique response to “encounter,” not a means by which thoughts are transmitted from one brain to another. Each eruption of one’s personal “is-ness” in sounds provides the environment for further encounters, more unique eruptions. The biblical writers, therefore, were not trying to “communicate” anything they were merely encountering and erupting all over the place. Discourse degenerates to babble—and we remember where that word comes from.

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A decade ago Daniel Stern wrote some pertinent words: “The problem that haunts modern culture is not, as is generally assumed, alienation. It is its parent: nihilism.” A glance at the dictionary reminds us that “nihilism,” in this context, means “total and absolute destructiveness toward the world at large and oneself.” In other words, no book will ever be written on “Beyond Alienation.” There won’t be anything to write it with.

Emerson somewhere warns that one should be careful about what he sets his heart on, for he will surely have it. Millennia ago, our first parents set their hearts on chaos, though they did not realize it. The prophet phrased their action tersely much later: “We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement” (Isa. 28:15). Their legal counsel, formerly a prominent citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven though now disbarred (and, actually, awaiting the execution of a stiff sentence), took the case on a contingency basis: if he succeeded in terminating his clients’ citizenship in God’s realm and in expunging their names from its archives, they would give themselves to his service forever, in a place of his own devising, yet to be prepared. What that place will be like when every vestige of meaningful arrangement has been disintegrated, one cannot imagine—though a few faces on the Sistine Chapel ceiling suggest how it will affect its newly arrived inhabitants.

Disorder cannot cure itself; death cannot generate life; confusion cannot compose its own harmony. Their natural destination is chaos. Only the Ordainer of order, the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, is able to retune the string, to restore the meaningful arrangement, to reintegrate the fragmented, to restore fellowship to the alienated—and to say to those who will come to him with contrite hearts and humble spirits: “Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isa. 28:18). He who created the heavens and the earth (not out of chaos, but according to the Word of his power—the Word who dwelt among us, and who said to the raging storm: “Peace, be still”) is become our Saviour (by whom and for whom all things were created) as well as our Creator. He who in the flesh said to his followers, “I go to prepare a place for you,” is he who in the infinite majesty of Godhood declares: “Behold, I make all things new.”

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