Friday, June 15, 2007

The Form of the Formless and the Substance of Nothing

The divine message is a form that "contains" a substance. The substance is One but the forms reflect and convey diverse aspects of it -- it can be grace, or salvation, or a sense of the sacred, or peace, or bliss -- but without the form, we cannot know the substance -- or only know it accidentally. Again we return to the analogy of a work of art, which presents a form for the contemplation of beauty. Without a form and a boundary for its expression, beauty is "everywhere and nowhere."

Christianity, for example, is a form. Many people who don't understand or respond to religion often confuse form and substance. In other words, they pick apart the form, looking for inconsistencies or logical flaws, when the whole point is to enter and contemplate the beauty and mystery of the form -- very much like, say, watching a movie. To me, a good movie -- and they are few and far between these days -- is one that allows me to seamlessly enter its world. It doesn't matter one bit whether it is a "real" world, which is why, say, The Wizard of Oz is an infinitely greater film than any Michael Moore documentary -- which always unintentionally conveys a dark substance reflecting the deadness of his soul, irrespective of the content.

In fact, the Wizard of Oz is much more realistic than any Michael Moore film, for the precise reason that while some of its forms may be fanciful -- witches, magical kingdoms, talking scarecrows, and the like -- its substance is nevertheless quite real and enduring, even timeless. Conversely, a Michael Moore film is -- to be generous -- presumably about the "real world," and yet, its substance is entirely nonexistent or false. Or it is the "substance of nothing," which is to say, nihilism.

Again we touch on the importance of whole and part, for the substance of religion can only be preserved in its wholeness. Trying to "enter" spirit by first breaking apart its forms is somewhat analogous to disassembling a symphony in order to find out what it's about. If you're going to be scientific about it, perhaps you'd first identify all the notes and then categorize them. This or that symphony has so many B flats, so many F sharps, this many key changes, that many tempos. Sounds foolish, but this is the approach of the ham-handed "Jesus seminarians" who think one can understand scripture by blowing it to bits. It is also the approach of any logic-chopping atheist who thinks he has accomplished anything by dissecting sacred forms like a frog.

In this regard, theology -- "the study of God" -- is really no different than, say, biology, "the study of life." There is actually no science, including biology, that can say "what it is about." Rather, this or that science must assume its content at the outset, since it is strictly impossible for any science to stand outside of itself and make any unambiguous pronouncement on the ontological status of that which it purports to study. If it attempts to transcend this boundary, it generates the paradox and absurdity known as scientism.

For example, no biologist troubles himself (or should, anyway) to speculate as to what Life actually is. Or if he does, he is no longer a biologist but merely a bad philosopher or lame metaphysician. In my book I used the example of a watchmaker. A watchmaker can tell you all about gears, springs, and pendulums, but he is hardly fit to pronounce on the nature of time. Indeed, imagine the absurdity of going to a watch repair shop and asking the owner if he would be so kind as to sort out your confusion about the nature of time. Does it really exist, or is it an illusion? And isn't it true that a clock measures space, not time? Is time an empty category, or does it condition the events within it, as students of the I Ching believe? And is time actually "tight," as maintained by Booker T and the MGs? (See here for demonstration.)

I think you can see that posing these types of metaphysical questions to the watchmaker is exactly -- exactly -- like asking Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens to tell us about God. What they can tell us is precisely nothing, since they are fundamentally confused about the form and content of religion.

Again, the biologist just studies "living things," even though biology can by definition never explain how the living things got here, or even what Life is. Or look at my profession. A psychologist can help you overcome and "cure" an emotional problem, even though psychology will never be able to say what consciousness is (except in a fatuous way).

In fact -- and this is a critical point -- as I mentioned a few days ago, there are many schools of psychology, and they all more or less work, at least with some people some of the time. What seems to be most important -- in addition to simply being a gifted healer of souls, which is another mystery that cannot be quantified -- is that the therapist have a very clear theoretical framework, or form, for the study of what is otherwise completely invisible and amorphous -- i.e., the mind.

Thus, it is very easy for those of a materialistic bent to criticize psychoanalysis on the grounds that it is more mythological than scientific, or that it reifies things that don't actually exist -- say, the "id" or "superego." While there is something to this criticism, in that it is possible to reify concepts and confuse one's abstractions with the underlying reality, it is nevertheless true that without such concepts, it is not possible to "observe" or work with the mind. In other words, just like the biologist, we have to make some assumptions about the mind at the outset, or else we are simply confronted with a blank mystery.

Ultimately, a good theory of the mind allows one to think about thinking, and all that implies (and I am including emotion as a form of thought which stretches on a vertical axis from the primitive to the highly sophisticated). Think about it: how does one productively think about thinking? By having a useful model, an abstraction, even though no one knows what a "thought" actually is. True, the abstraction is not the same as the reality, but that is equally true of biology or even physics. The genome is an abstraction; it is not synonymous with Life. Likewise, the equations of quantum physics are abstractions. It is not as if you can take these abstractions and create a cosmos with them.

No. The real world is the human world, the day-to-day world we encounter with our mind and our senses. All scientific models are abstractions of that world, abstractions we wouldn't even know about if we weren't first situated in the human world. This is one of the secrets of religion that materialists and atheists simply cannot get through their thick skulls: religion conveys forms that specifically concern themselves with the human world and its relation to the divine world. Take, for example, the stories of Genesis. These stories are not about the abstract worlds of biology, or cosmology, or profane history. Rather, they are about certain fixed coordinates, or eternal certitudes, of divine-human existence.

This is what I was trying to convey with the joycey gymgnostics in the prologue and epilogue of my book. For example, on pp. 7-17, I am not attemtping to scientifically describe what happened "once upon a time." Rather, I am attempting to give form to that which perpetually happens (present tense), beginning (and ending) where "One's upin a timeless without a second to spore." Yes, it's meant to raise a smile, but it's also a straightforward ontological statement: One's upin a timeless. Obviously. How could it not be?

Just as psychoanalytic theories are models for "thinking about thinking," religions are forms to contemplate and reconcile oneself to the Formless Infinite. Yes, the Formless is the prior reality, but we still need a way to approach it. Thankfully, we have this thing called "revelation" with which to do so. Like the biologist who cannot say how life got here or even what it is, I don't really trouble myself with how revelation got here or "what it is." I only know that it is -- to my everlasting surprise -- a supremely effective means to think about and know the substance of God.

One of the working titles of my book was A Huge Mythunderstanding. Which, unlike materialists and atheists, I admit to engaging in up front. The only question is, "is it useful for thinking about ultimate reality?" -- that is, do its forms convey the intended substance? I suppose not, since Hitchens sells more books in an hour than I have in two years. But the question remains: how could God not be understood as great if one has conveyed an adequate form to contemplate his substance? And how can man understand any truth at all unless he is by definition the being able to conform himself to the true, and therefore a form of Truth, a mirrorcle of the abbasolute?

If God isn't great, then man isn't even adequate -- certainly not adequate to make any pronouncements about God.

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.... First of all, it is necessary to envisage a 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. --F. Schuon

30 Comments:

Blogger NoMo said...

Bob - Whether or not intended (Petey gnos), those of your posts that speak to the “fundamentals” (like today’s), particularly help some of the simpler minds like mine think about and appreciate, much more deeply and fully, our own beliefs. I’m sure that many of the more “seasoned” (definitely not saying older) raccoons among us have already traversed and absorbed these paths, but I suspect I speak for many in saying, once again, thank you.

6/15/2007 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous black beard said...

I agree with all you say in this post, but one thing.

You mention the "deadness of Michael Moore's soul." I'm not sure what you mean here.

This is because I thought all souls were "alive" (eternal) and I hadn't imagined there could be gradations of the soul's vigor analogous to the the varied life forces of biology.

I know of people without souls--(i.e, "asuras") but held that once a soul enters cosmic play it is fully activated.

Did you mean to say that Moore is an asura, or merely that his soul has gone astray? Or are you in fact aware of a state in which a soul can be "dead?"

Understanding the nature of evil as it affects the soul is a worthwhile line of study.

6/15/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...


This is because I thought all souls were "alive" (eternal) and I hadn't imagined there could be gradations of the soul's vigor analogous to the the varied life forces of biology.


To my knowledge, the soul is not eternal, it is created - by the Spirit of God. It seems to persist beyond the grave - but it exists because of the Spirit of God. Only spirit is eternal, soul is not. We are not eternal outside of God.

I was debating this with the minister of my ol' church, but it would seem the soul is much like the casing of a seed.

The mystery of what we actually are is far deeper than the soul.

This might suggest cutting one's self off from God eventually renders one soulless.

6/15/2007 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

black beard--

Yes, it is obviously possible to be "dead while alive," another existential reality that is conveyed in many artistic forms, for example Dracula. This doesn't mean you can't be reborn. Up to a point, of course.

6/15/2007 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger MizzE said...

Lordy B'ob - I think Petey found your mind *again* earlier this morning. Hard to pick out any one concept to highlight - the whole is so tidily composed; nevertheless >>>

"Just as psychoanalytic theories are models for "thinking about thinking," religions are forms to contemplate and reconcile oneself to the Formless Infinite. Yes, the Formless is the prior reality, but we still need a way to approach it."

I'm prompted to direct attention to one thinker's thinking on the subject of forms and maps and "the trysting-place of all the truths in the world." (Written in1926, but it reads fresh off the press to me.)

6/15/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger MizzE said...

On the subject of Beauty in yesterday's post, to my mind there's nothing more beautiful in the whole wide Cosmos than a chorale of joyful, trained voices singing and if you missed signing up for this deal, I hope Julie still has some available and urge each of you to avail yourselves. I just completed connecting my sound system this morning and wish I had gotten around to it sooner, but alas life got in the way of plans *again*.

6/15/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

Tribal Council
oral tradition
gather round and hear this tale
chief multnomah chants

6/15/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"Bob - Whether or not intended (Petey gnos), those of your posts that speak to the “fundamentals” (like today’s), particularly help some of the simpler minds like mine think about and appreciate, much more deeply and fully, our own beliefs. I’m sure that many of the more “seasoned” (definitely not saying older) raccoons among us have already traversed and absorbed these paths, but I suspect I speak for many in saying, once again, thank you."

Ditto!

6/15/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous dilys said...

A couple of philosophically technical observations.

1.  Bob's: "without the form, we cannot know the substance."

This makes inescapable the necessity of Incarnational revelation. Whether this is satisfied by a variety of adepts or requires a Unique Fulness-of-Time revelation, certainly entering an honest relationship with saints can't hurt.

But what I want to put here, for anyone whom it might be meant for, for the above reason, is: Although there are plenty of "churchianities" out there that vibrate with contagious, in JWM's memorable formulation, "Jesus willies," it is a disservice to oneself to take these claims for the Whole. Keep looking.

2. Blackbeard's "I thought all souls were "alive" (eternal)" skates over some of the most elusive and unresolved theological issues there are. So starting From the Beginning is always required, and even determining what The Beginning is is worth a question. Perhaps wending one's way from the ethical and liturgical surface into the foundation, counter-intuitive but functional, might be worth a try. An already-constructed framework may not help, in the passage from "I-Know Mind" to the bliss of "Don't-Know Mind." One way, in Fr. Sophrony's formulation, being to pray more than to read.

Jus' sayin', and equally a self-reminder... Readers can as always and in the traditional manner ignore these points, but I felt a responsibility to raise them. Cheers to all today from the grey-blue skies 'roun' heah :-)

6/15/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger juliec said...

Mizze, thanks for the plug! The deal is always open, as it happens. I'm very glad you liked the music :)

6/15/2007 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

For an example of confusion of form and substance

Latest rant of Daniel Dennett at TED

This self-congratulatory clown giggles knowingly with the oh-so-smart audience that we are too clever to believe in self consciousness.

Alan

6/15/2007 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

In a follow up to that delightful link Cosa provided yesterday, Mr. Potts' second performance can be found here.

6/15/2007 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous cosanostradamus said...

The best part is watching the judges try to retain a little composure while Paul Potts brings down the house again. This unassuming guy with no opera training is a firehose for Beauty. I feel drenched by his gift.

I believe he's through to the final on Sunday, and win or lose, opera is safe for another generation.

6/15/2007 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

JulieC,
Thanks for the link. I was thinking about yesterdays discussion of the parts evoking the whole, and what River C said about the 'live' element... you know, I noticed yesterday while listening, that there were some brief (and very minor) shades of off key to his notes, but what struck me, was that it. did. not. matter. at all. The moment he opened up and belted it out, it triggered something deep inside of me, and obviously the audience as well.

Certainly didn't have anything at all to do with stage presence, or style. All I can come up with, is sheer skill and unaffected honest delivery, and completely, totaly, putting his all on the line.

Innocence might be an appropriate word. Interesting, his comment about his voice being the one friend that he turned to for comfort and freedom all his life.

Interesting.

6/15/2007 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

I humbly come before these devoted followers with hope to gain more insight into this world of Coons. I've been reading the blog for a few months now and I eagerly await its words, I just don't understand the concept of Racoons and how that relates to us. I say "us" because I am in complete agreement and feel I belong here.

So, enlight my young mind, I'm excited to be further enriched

~Jen, future School Psychologist

6/15/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

God is Consciousness, or the subjecvtive source and condition of the world and the self. The deep space of Consciousness is the matrix in which the origin and condition of self, mind, body, world, the entire cosmos of nature, and the universal field of radiant energy is inherently obvious. When this is known, or fully Realized, the world and the self are fully known, and thus transcened, in Truth. To know God as Consciousness, or the subjective source of the world and the self, is to transcend both the world and the self by means of Truth, or the only knowledge that can set you free.

God is not known by the body, or in the processess of bodily based experience, since God is not reducible to any kind of object. Bodily experience, or confrontation with objective nature,
does not prove or even necessarily indicate or point to the existence of God.

No bodily experience is an encounter with Truth. No bodily experience can set you free.

God is not an object or image or idea that can confront the mind. Whatever is known by the mind only modifies and occupies the mind itself. Occupation with ideas, or states of mind, can only motivate you toward further activities of mind and body. Therefore, there is no idea that is Truth, since attention to an idea cannot liberate attention from mind itself.

The search for bodily and mental objects, however extraordinary, is a sign of bondage. It is a sign of a fundamental stress, or presumed unhappiness. It is also a confession of ones godlessness and lack of faith.

6/15/2007 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

"God is not known by the body"

"...there is no idea that is Truth"

*sigh*

As to the first, you are wrong. Evidence: the visceral and unprompted responses we experience, for instance the momentary weeping that caught me off guard watching Paul sing yesterday. Had I been there in the audience, I would have been so overwhelmed by the experience I would have gone through several kleenex, I'm sure. I do not mean that God was the man on stage, nor that God was the sounds he produced. What I mean is that the incredible beauty of that moment and those sounds produced by that unassuming fellow onstage touched me spiritually and manifested physically; the fact that I am even capable of such a surprising response is a gift from God, and is one of the ways in which I, and many people, experience His presence.

Second: If there is no idea that is truth, how exactly do you even support that statement, since it is by definition false?

6/15/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous jwm said...

jen-
Pull up a floor and grab a cold one. (And watch out for Dupree's offer to show you his etchings)

Hey- the gaff, and the muslim parking only sign are gone. Hooray for small favors. Happy Friday.

JWM

6/15/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

Jen,
the Raccoons are explained somewhat on the main page here, you just have to scroll down past the ads.

6/15/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous sempivirens said...

Jen, the fact that the 'raccoon' moniker is in use here shows that spiritual grading is what is au-currant.

The raccoon has direct contact with God, is what is implied. The senses grow a new dimension--one gets "coon vision" and "coon taste" and "coon hearing" that is above and beyond the norm. You sense the ineffable.

The non-raccoon does not. That's the sad fact.

6/15/2007 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous jwm said...

*sigh*
Here we go.

"Curse of the Simpering Viper"

now playing at One Cosmos.

Get your seats now, folks.
wv: ujqyvry spiteful, malicious machine created word

JWM

6/15/2007 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "The search for bodily and mental objects, however extraordinary, is a sign of bondage. It is a sign of a fundamental stress, or presumed unhappiness. It is also a confession of ones godlessness and lack of faith. "

Quite the confession you've got there. How please you must be to know that you've got no idea what you are talking about.

6/15/2007 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Perhaps you meant sempervirens? Either way you miss the mark by a longshot.

somehow the most appropriate response seems to be:

"Pffffttt!" "Pffffttt!" "Pffffttt!"

6/15/2007 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan Lee said...

anonymous said;God is not known by the body, or in the processess of bodily based experience, since God is not reducible to any kind of object. Bodily experience, or confrontation with objective nature,
does not prove or even necessarily indicate or point to the existence of God."

Oh, poor anonymous! You could not be more wrong! God created -well- everything, (by the end of the 6th day) and each day pronounced His creation "Good". What more does one need to know that reality as we know it is "endorsed" by Him.....

Susan Lee

6/15/2007 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Baby watched the clip with me, and he clapped too.

6/15/2007 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

mizze,

For me, it's that warm feeling that comes over me when I'm playing in the pocket and the rest of the band is in the same groove. It doesn't happen very often, but you sure notice when it does. It makes me so humble and grateful. Also, when I listen to Coltrane or Clifford Brown. There is just something about their playing that I can't put into words.

I started a blog with some pictures of where I work. Also I just posted proof that Bob is really Dr. Who.

6/15/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger juliec said...

For those keeping an eye on Bill Whittle's project, he has some preliminary Ejectia photos up today, and has begun accepting article proposals.

6/15/2007 10:18:00 PM  
Anonymous walmart shopper said...

"Susan Lee"

Isn't that a brand of snack cakes or something?

6/15/2007 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Cosa, JulieC,
Thank you so much for sending the Paul Potts links.
As Van was saying, it becomes clear that the thing he is confident in is his voice - that is to say that he is confident beyond all doubt how he feels about opera.
As Bob says, he "can’t be talked out of what he was never talked into."
In one interview clip Potts says something like, ‘I go to a place’. And you can clearly see this happen the moment he begins. Wathing his eyes and you see he's not on that stage anymore.

6/16/2007 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Jen,
RE Raccoons, I had only a sense of what it meant to me so I tried working it out on paper, as they say. I’m happy with how it turned out:

Why Raccoon?

Maybe it will help for you to try to do the same. This works for me most of the time.
The concept seems to be somewhat personal as in, my idea of it will not be the same as yours. Interesting that you know you are one before you can define it. That happened to me too.

6/16/2007 06:58:00 AM  

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