Theillogical Revallusions and Scryptical Coontradictions
Yesterday, in a characteristic burst of idleness, Dupree was "surfing the internet," as they say, lurking about here and there. Sometimes he snoops around, looking for ideas for me to write about, no doubt hoping to increase his value to me. Let us just say that his brainwaves rarely bear fruit. As I have told him many times, "Dupree, I think. You hit. Remember?"
Dupree's perspective tends to be a bit narrow, but today was an exception, because he alerted me to something that may be of more universal significance. We will just use it as a leaping-off point to get into the entire matter of how the sophisticated Raccoon approaches revelation and scripture. Or at least I think they do. We shall see. I don't want to imply that mine is the only way. Obviously, there are different species of Raccoon, e.g., the Common Raccoon of North America, the Tres Marias Raccoon native to the Caribbean, the crab-eating Raccoon of the tropics, the Barbados Raccoon, the Nassau Raccoon. It goes without saying that Raccoon truth is one, although its modes of expression can be diverse.
I am not going to provide a link, because I don't want to needlessly embarrass the person or make them feel self-conscious. Again, their particular dilemma is not the point anyway. Basically, the dilemma has to do with an integral-type person who says he does not comprehend Christian scripture, so he must reject it. He is particularly appalled by Old Testament stories of God expressing his frustration and disappointment with mankind by effacing them from the planet and starting over. Viewing the situation in wholly humanistic, rationalistic, and literal terms, this person can find no possible justification for God's act of mass-killing. And if we interpret this story in an allegorical way, who's to say that we can't interpret everything else in the Bible in such a way, including, say, the resurrection of Jesus? So this person has jettisoned Christianity entirely, in favor of a more abstract and impersonal Buddhistic notion of God.
Now interestingly, in a subsequent post, this person may have provided a hint of insight into his own spiritual infirmity -- indeed, if that is what it is -- by pointing out that he has never in his life been able to comprehend poetry. He doesn't believe this equates to stupidity, since he certainly understands plain English and has no trouble expressing himself. But when it comes to poetry, he either derives no coherent message or a flat and literal one. He cannot intuit the specifically poetic sense of the poem, which obviously rises above the literal.
As I pondered this dilemma, I became fascinated by this notion of being "unable to comprehend poetry," because I cannot quite wrap my mind around it. For how does one understand language at all without understanding poetry? How is one not reduced to a machine or computer? And if that is the case, how could one possibly understand scripture or any other suprasensible reality above the material plane? For the whole point about scripture, as far as I am concerned, is that it is not so much the "word of God" per se. Rather, I see it as a message from man to man -- a divinely inspired message from man's higher self to his lower self, expressed in a language that the lower self can comprehend.
In other words, if scripture were purely in the language of the celestial realm from which it arises, man, as he is presently constituted (and certainly ancient man) would not be able to comprehend it. It would be analogous to teaching calculus to a seven year-old who is only capable of understanding basic arithmetic. There is obviously a connecting link between arithmetic and calculus, but the seven year-old will not be able to grasp it. Therefore, if you are going to introduce math to a child, you must "meet him where he is." Indeed, this is the whole secret of being a gifted and sensitive teacher.
Now, I am no mathematician, but I think it is safe to affirm that the entire world of math is a vertically integrated "one," from calculus, to trigonometry, to geometry, to algebra, to basic math. In my case, my mathematical understanding petered out somewhere between algebra and trigonometry. You might say that I stood pretty firmly on the ground of algebra, but that when I poked my head into trigonometry, I was decapitated. The link was lost, so that was the end of my mathematical adventures. Which is fine with me. I am happy to accept the word of the greatest mathematicians on faith.
Schuon points out that "In the opinion of all unbelievers, it is the absurdities contained in the sacred Scriptures which primarily stand in the way of the credibility of the Message." This is how rationalists, atheists and materialists are able to dispatch the notion of revelation in such a facile way. Reduced to reason in its restricted sense, the mind is almost compelled to reject scripture. But truth can hardly be reduced to the realm of the rational. To paraphrase Schuon, something is not true because it is rational, but rational because it is true. We must never forget this, lest we elevate what is merely a tool at the disposal of the truth-bearing intellect to its totality. Many people in the West are in one sense liberated by reason only to be trapped by it in another sense.
The same, by the way, is true of language. Language clearly liberates us from being buried in the body and trapped in the senses. I can see the intense and joyful liberation in Future Leader, as the "language explosion" has begun and he extricates himself from the mute prison of infancy. But at the same time, it is fair to say that most people merely exchange one prison for another, and eventually become linguistcally trapped within the narrow idiom of their own ideological frame of reference. For as Terence McKenna observed, the world is not made of molecules, or atoms, or quarks. Rather, it is made of language, pure and simple.
Isn't this obvious upon a moment's reflection? Our ability to apprehend reality will be specifically limited -- or expanded -- by our relationship to language. But you can also "go off the shallow end" here, as proven by deconstructionists. They too regard reality as nothing but language to be manipulated and played with. However, in their case, they end up in a circular maze of arbitrary signifiers, since they lose the connecting thread between higher and lower levels of reality. It is as if they reduce the whole world of mathematics to basic arithmetic, and then just fool around with the numbers.
How do we respond to the person who rejects the entirety of scripture based upon this or that seeming absurdity? As Schuon points out, "First of all, it is necessary to envisage Scripture in its totality and not be hypnotized, with perfect myopia, by a fragmentary difficulty, which after all is the perspective of the devil, who disparages a mountain because of a fissure and, conversely, praises an evil because of an inevitable particle of good. When Scripture is envisaged in its totality it imparts global value and its supernatural character to whomever is not blinded by any prejudice and who has been able to preserve intact the normally human sensibility for the majestic and the sacred."
Now this is a critical point, for it is again tied to the use of language to reveal hidden dimensions of reality. As Schuon says, one task of scripture is to reveal the realms of the sacred and of the majestic, to make them experientially present with language. How would one even begin to do this if language were reduced to its rationalistic mode? How does one rationally describe the sacred? The holy? The effulgent Mystery? All of this superfluous Beauty that surrounds us? It can't be done.
There are many time-tested ways to overcome the superficial absurdity of scripture, even if one is not blessed with a synthetic and encompassing Coon vision. The greatest theologians -- true theologians -- achieve something that is analogous to the person who cultivates deep musical appreciation. We might say that the meaning of poetry is analogous to melody, which is composed of numerous notes that are synthesized and "held" in the listener's mind. When music comes out of your loudspeakers, your dog doesn't hear a melody, because his mind is not able to achieve this synthesis (go ahead, ask him). I am reminded of a perhaps apocryphal story of a cocktail waitress who ran out of the Village Vanguard in 1961 covering her ears because John Coltrane was playing. Not only was his music absurd to her untrained ears, it was painful.
But as J.W.N. Sullivan pointed out in his classic Beethoven: His Spiritual Development -- no offense to that waitress, but the difference between a musical mind such as Beethoven's and our own musical mind is as vast as the difference between dog and man. The most sophisticated music has a multitude of implicit harmonic and melodic connections that must be synthized in the mind of the experienced listener, so that -- so to speak -- a hyperdense nonlocal musical "object" emerges in consciousness. This is the object Beethoven is trying to show us, but most of us are not nearly sophisticated enough to grasp it -- to synthesize the multitude of vertical and horizontal connections.
But we must remember that music, like math, is nothing more or less than a specialized form of language. Thus, we might say that the "poetic sense" is analogous to the "musical sense" of the sophisticated listener who is able to pull together all of the diverse musical connections as they are deployed in time (i.e., melodically) and space (i.e., harmonically).
The writers of the gospels were sophisticated and expansive theologians, which is one reason why one cannot simply understand them literally. Rather -- to cite just one example -- there is a dense and rich resonance between the old and new testaments, in the same way that a great symphony will refer back to previous motifs, gathering them up and eventually resolving them by the symphony's conclusion.
A fascinating book by the philosopher Bryan Magee, The Tristan Chord, beautifully describes how Wagner's ability to sustain the dynamic tension of various musical elements before resolving them in a higher unity probably surpassed that of any human being who has ever lived. His musical mind was so expansive that it made room for everything... except Jews, but that's another story.
While I am unable to appreciate either opera in general or Wagner in particular, that doesn't detract from the deeper point that I am trying to make about scripture and the poetic sense. For example, looked at in this way, the resurrection might bear the same relationship to the totality of scripture as does the final chord of Tristan and Isolde that resolves and ties together everything that has preceded. That chord, as one amazon reviewer put it, is "the only point where all discord is resolved... [It is] the musical analogue of freedom from striving, freedom from the tension that is existence. It is like a mystical state of nirvana."
I have a lot more to say about the subject of scripture and revelation, but this has gone on a bit long, so I'll continue tomorrow.