Categorical Imperative

We have seen numerous theories on understanding the physical universe like cosmology and astrophysics. These efforts, however, can never be beyond our cognitive, epistemological, and ontological limitations.

The more we get smarter, the science and technology could advance to develop these areas. Or, the more our consciousness unfolds, perhaps the more profound and the broader our understanding of the cosmos could be. Still, it can never transcend the reality of what we see.

It is never beyond the seer and seen relation. That means we are the subject that sees the universe. And the universe is the object that we see.

God’s Consciousness

Beyond the physical universe, there could be another realm to embrace our limitations. Facing something transcendent outside of the seer/seen reality, we can no longer use any articulations. It’s beyond the subject and object relation. It’s beyond the seer/seen relationship.

Beyond all, however, there could be the only seer. Conceptually, we call it the Absolute Subjectivity. In it, we can never be the one to see anything. But the Absolute Subjectivity embraces everything and everyone eternally and timelessly transcending all boundaries. More correctly, it sees itself. God sees Himself. That is why, in this realm, we could call the entire cosmos (beyond any possible physical universes) God’s consciousness.

God’s Commandments

If so, is there any realm for us to “grasp” such God’s consciousness? The short answer is “no.” We can never see it. At most, we only know that God sees Himself conceptually as if it is not relevant at all with our everyday life, our life and death.

If, however, perhaps in a long answer, we could say “yes” to this question. Using Kant’s term, it should be more or less something called Categorical Imperative. That is to say, a rule of conduct that is unconditional or absolute for all agents. Still, it may sound conceptual. But we could embrace them as the realm and tradition of God’s commandments.

In the Judeo-Christian traditions, we call them God’s Commandments. For example, in Israel’s early days, Moses never had a chance to know how the Lord God was “talking” with him and who He was. God only said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.”

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

Exodus 3:13-14

At least, like Abraham and other prophets, Moses was able to “communicate” with God. But then, these narratives for the divine interactions should be more in the context of hermeneutics. It is more for the concept (if not allegorical) that implies God’s transcendence and consciousness per se.

And after a series of such divine interactions, Moses was the first person who came up with the Categorical Imperative primarily, in this case, as the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–17).

  1. I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.
  2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
  4. Honor thy father and mother.
  5. Thou shalt not kill.
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  7. Thou shalt not steal.
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

As these are categorically imperative, there is no reason and condition at all why we have to keep and obey them. If ever there is one reason and condition, then that is, these are the commandments from God.

But then, keeping and obeying the commandments were not enough. Focusing on the importance of these rules alone, we would miss the very nature of why these are categorically imperative in the first place. If we treat them as part of the worldly regulations, we would end up adding many interpretations, commentaries, and supporting rules.

We call such downside religious legalism. In this perspective, the more you know and memorize the rules, the more you are supposed to be ethically elevated and spiritually enlightened. The more you “can” follow them, the closer you “can” get to the truth and God. The religious legalism is one of the critical elements that make us spiritually proud, which is indeed destructive and cancerous, making you unknowingly cruel.

The Great Commandments

Reading the Gospels and the Epistles in the New Testament, therefore, we can find many verses where Jesus and Paul cautioned about the danger of religious legalism. A series of conversations between Pharisees and Jesus focused on this theme.

Even if we do a set of ethical activities by following the Commandments, it will end up rewarding only ourselves. God’s Commandments are, as they are categorically imperative, should never be the means for rewarding oneself and anything else, on earth. They should always be rewarding in heaven. Jesus says as follows:

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Matthew 6:1-2

Whatever we do for God’s Commandments with a set of right actions, our focus should be never on ourselves and rewarding ourselves. If we do so, then, as Jesus said, we only have our rewards. And the Commandments are no longer categorically imperative. They are merely the worldly rules to keep us conditionally good and prideful in the endless comparisons.

Paul the Apostle also mentioned those people who “downgraded” the Commandments into the worldly conditional rules.

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

1 Corinthians 1:19-21

How can we avoid our focus on ourselves? The words of Jesus are quite strict, even extreme. According to him, it should be the extent that when our right hand is doing a good thing, we should not even let our left hand know that.

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:3-4

We should do a set of right activities secretly. It is not just in secret. It is to the extent that it should be unknown to oneself as well. When we do good things, we should not be aware that we do good things. Is it possible? Even our prayers should be in this manner. Does it sound impossible? How can we do it?

God’s Love

In the Gospels, we can see the same question in the conversations between Jesus and another person. He was either a lawyer or an expert in the scriptures. Either way, the point is that he was proud of himself because he thought he perfectly followed the Commandments. He believed he was flawless as far as God’s Commandments are concerned. He was a typical figure for the danger of religious legalism.

Nevertheless, perhaps despite all his efforts, he could not feel that the rewards were not in heaven. Thus, he asked Jesus as follows. Let me cite the verses from each Gospel.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

Luke 10:25-29

In the Gospel of Luke, this lawyer was the one who talked with Jesus. He was able to cite the Great Commandments, from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. His knowledge was perfect, but then perhaps knowledge only. That was why he asked Jesus who should be his neighbor whom he should love. He knew the lines of these Great Commandments perfectly. Maybe he memorized them. Nevertheless, he could know who his neighbors were.

The Great Commandments tell us: Love the Lord God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. Love our neighbors as ourselves. If we love them accordingly, the rewards would be in heaven to inherit eternal life. But, the problem is we do not know who our neighbors are. Similarly, we don’t know who God is and even who we are that we love, as the Great Commandments tell us.

In the Gospel of Luke, then Jesus shared the parable of the Good Samaritan. We all know how the Good Samaritan loved his neighbors as compared to the high priests who were supposed to be the perfect follower of the Commandments.

In the Gospel of Matthews and Mark, the verses are as follows:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22:35-40

And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

In the Gospel of Mark, interestingly, the scribe also made his comments on the answers of Jesus, saying these things are “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And Jesus agreed with him.

The kingdom of God is not following the details of the rules, but more on the act of unconditional love. We love God, ourselves, and everyone else, unconditionally and indiscriminately, with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. That is the only way to get out of our religious legalism and spiritual pride. That is the only way to be selfless despite our self-love, which is the love of agapē, translated as “charity” in the King James version, the way God loves everything and everyone. God loves Himself. Therefore, He sacrifices Himself.

Thus, we can easily recall these well-known verses:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8

As long as our focus is on ourselves alone who try to follow the Commandments, we can never get out of the prison of our self-righteousness and religious, ethical legalism. We keep on rewarding ourselves on earth. We can never have rewards in heaven. If, however, we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, all of a sudden, our selfish effort of loving something (possessing something) would diminish itself.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

Loving God this way, then the universe we see is no longer what we face and confront. It is our selfless love for God, everything, and everyone else, including enemies, unconditionally, and indiscriminately.

If we love everything and everyone, including enemies, unconditionally and indiscriminately, then what is the point of love? There is nothing at all that we don’t love in the eye of God. It is indeed God’s love. In this realm, our love for God is God’s love for us. God’s sacrifice for us. Ultimately, God’s love for God. God’s sacrifice for God. It is categorically imperative. With such God’s love, we see the entire universes, beyond the physical universe, yet without ourselves. God alone is.

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter

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