Orthoparadoxical Mystic Soul Jazz
I don't remember when I read Orthodoxy, but it must have been about seven or eight years ago. It didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, probably for a couple reasons. First, it's not at all systematic, almost a sort of free-association. But now I can see that this is a big part of its charm. The man would have been a great blogger, if that's not too vulgar a compliment.
Second, it's not outwardly "mystical" or "esoteric," but I've subsequently come to understand that this is a superficial complaint (if that's even the right word). As Schuon emphasizes, Christianity is already an esoterism; to be precise, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. It's a profound mystery, but unlike, say, the Greek mysteries, it divulges the mystery at the outset rather than making you patiently work your way up through the various degrees of initiation until, say, like Petey, you finally become Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of the West San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Transdimensional Order of the Friendly Sons and Daughters of the Cosmic Raccoon, and then you're finally handed the key to the inner sanctum where they store the sacred Water Balloons.
As Chesterton writes (with my symbols inserted into the text), "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything (O) by help of what he does not understand (o), (---). The morbid logician (•) seeks to make everything lucid (k), and succeeds in making everything mysterious, ø. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious (O), and everything else becomes lucid (¶)."
Since I've been pretty busy with the mishpocha (they just left on Monday), I gave my new intern, Dupree, the task of outlining the book and helping me reduce it to a post or two. He's a rather slow reader (I can see his lips moving), so he's only about halfway through, but I think we have enough to work with.
Although the book was published in 1908, what is so immediately striking about it is how fresh and coontemporary it is. Not surprisingly, Dupree is most impressed with Chesterton's pungent and witty eviscerations of his ideological opponents. Many of the names mean nothing to us now, but you can get the gist by simply inserting a contemporary name that will mean nothing in the future, such as "Dennett," "Dawkins," or "Maher." As Dupree put it, the book has surprisingly high insultainment value.
It is perhaps critical to point out that Chesterton came of age at the very peak of 19th century atheistic scientific materialism, before that philosophy had been thoroughly discredited. It was widely believed by most intellectuals at the time that science had discovered not just the secret of reality, but the secret of human happiness and progress.
That didn't really begin to change until after the trauma of World War I, which obliterated the fantasy (except among leftists) of a perfectible mankind grounded in the application of pure reason. The primitive unconscious came roaring back with a vengeance, just as it did after our historical snooze between 1989 and 2001. But instead of learning their lesson and returning to the Christian roots of the West, post-war intellectuals lurched into existentialism, romanticism, Marxism, scientism, paganism, nationalism, deconstructionism, multiculturalism, fascism, new-age "realizationism," and other weird and/or sinister isms and ologies -- anything but Orthodoxy (and by "Orthodox," Chesterton simply means the Apostles' Creed).
Now, being that I am someone who, like Chesterton, explored and eventually rejected all of the philosophical and spiritual cul-de-slacks of his day, I think I understand why. It has to do with the distinctions between O, (k), and (n), as outlined in my book.
I'm guessing that most people who read the book will be mystified by these symbols, but they are critical to my whole mission and enterprise. To put it in a nutshell, you can hand someone the Apostles' Creed on a silver platter, but unless they have a personal experience of its interior truth, i.e., O-->(n), it's not going to form the basis of a very robust belief system. I mean, I went to Sunday School. I was dutifully presented with the ground-floor Truth of Western civilization. And yet, like Chesterton I rejected it in favor of all the "idiotic ambitions" of our day: "I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it."
Chesterton coonfesses that he too tried "to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.... I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy."
Now, I too briefly considered founding a heresy of my own. But like Chesterton, I eventually discovered that it was both wholly unnecessary and unholy narcissary. However, the operative word is discovered. Again, the whole point is that this is something that must be discovered for oneself. On the other hand, the discovery could have been made much sooner if I hadn't been brainwashed with so much nonsense during the course of some 23 years of secular miseducation. All of that had to be systematically dismantled in order to make a space for the (re)discovery of truth.
As I mentioned the other day, Schuon maintains that the world would be a better place if we could somehow return to the Middle Ages -- for he believes that even the Renaissance was a huge mistake and disaster -- and go back to a time when everyone was tightly swaddled in primordial Truth, and that was it. No one was actually free to discover it, which is to say, decide for oneself.
But in my view, man, because of his very theomorphic nature, has a built-in epistemophilic instinct that is responsible for leading him to science, reason, and humanism. And because these were "discoveries," they ended up being more "robust" -- at least for a time -- than the top-down religious ideologies they displaced.
But time marches (or spirals) on, and in subsequent centuries scientism has come full circle and now become the new orthodoxy, so it is no longer "free" to discover reality. So now, if you wish to investigate the Real, you must "rebel" against materialism, just as the early materialists had to rebel against religious orthodoxy.
This again goes to my point that the only way to make religious truth truly "secure" is through O-->(n), because once you do so, the arguments of atheists and materialists are "so much straw," not so much wrong as just irrelevant. No blind man is going to tell me that I don't see what I can see with my own eyes. As Schuon says, myopia and blindness are not just diverse ways of looking, but defects of vision. Scientism, materialism, and reductionism all elevate a terrible disability to a virtue.
But even Schuon, despite his insistence upon eternal truth, implicitly allows for the theological jazz improvisation of O-->(n). As he put it, "it is by reestablishing links with ancient truth that one comes to understand it and to find a new and spiritually legitimate originality." Chesterton says much the same thing when he writes of man's need of an "active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of poetical curiosity." Therefore, a proper theology should engage man's imagination and allow him to play theological soul jazz -- which requires the greatest discipline accompanied by the absence thereof, of simultaneous remembrance and I-amnesia. This is what Chesterton calls a life of "practical romance,"
the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.
Now, scientific materialism creates a sort of deadened cognitive security that moves in such a narrow circle that it simultaneously explains everything and nothing. But religious dogma can do the same thing, for as Chesterton points out, just as the danger of science is a "narrow universality," the danger of religion can be "a small and cramped eternity."
The trick is to make the Cosmos as large as the World -- to re-divinize both Cosmos and Man, so that the former becomes a sacred space, or place of active rest and restful activity, for man's infinite intelligence and eternal soul. This is the ongoing task of a Raccoon.