The World Series of Theological Questions (11.08.10)
Yesterday we discussed the question of whether mankind is degenerating or progressing, which inevitably touches on other issues, including the conflicts between evolution and "creationism," authority vs. personal experience, tradition vs. modernity, science vs. religion, timeless principles vs., er, "personal research," and ultimately time vs. eternity. I argued for a dialectic, or complementarity, between the two poles, which creates a sort of "space" where what Mead calls "dynamic (or evolutionary) religion" may take place.
Another way of saying it is that the One breaks out of eternity into the static two (i.e., duality), but that duality is resolved (and progress occurs) within a dynamic and "transitional" trinity. Thus, history can be seen as a sort of rolling catastrophe in hyperspace, as the many make their winding way back to the One. History is ultimately the straight book that God tries to write with crooked liars.
That made a lot of sense, Bob!
Look at it this way. History either has a direction -- and therefore a purpose -- or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no point to anything, including religion. It would be like an endless baseball season with no World Series. Instead of 162 games, the season would never end, with a new game every day, day in, day out. Eventually, players would stop scratching their crotches and begin scratching their heads and asking, "why are we doing this? Why are we playing all these stupid games?"
So the Gods of Baseball bifurcated the teams into a duality (the American and National leagues) and invented this third thing called a "World Series" in order to create a sense of purpose and finality. When you win the World Series, you have reached the highest peak, the "absolute," the baseball equivalent of enlightenment.
But just like religion, there is apparently more than one Absolute, since there is a new champion each year, and it is not as if the new champion surpasses all the previous ones. The 2007 Red Sox are not better then the 1927 Yankees. Baseballically speaking, both went as high as it is possible to go in this world. Sure, you could argue over which team is better, but that's like arguing whether Shankara or Eckhart was a better hitter.
But in the case of the World Series, deep down some of us realize that it is something we merely invented for the purposes of finality. We simply superimpose it on the individual games, in order to give them a "higher meaning," so to speak. Since there is finality to the season, it creates intensity and drama, very much as does death (the playoffs are exciting because teams are always facing "sudden death"). If you knew you weren't going to die, it would be analogous to an endless baseball season. No, worse than that. Like an endless soccer season. No, worse. An endless soccer game. Just a bunch of people running around in circles.
In a way, if history has no purpose, then it is bound to get worse, i.e., to degenerate. This is for the same reason that the quality of professional baseball would degenerate in the absence of a World Series. No one would bother acquiring a player to improve their team at the trading deadline, since there would be no deadline. Standings wouldn't matter, since there would be no point to them. Wins and losses would be just like Monopoly money, a symbol of nothing.
To the extent that things are getting worse in the world, could it be linked to the widespread belief among our elite that history has no purpose, no direction, no telos? Interestingly, this is where the secular far left and traditionalist far right converge. As an anonymous commenter mentioned yesterday, given his 'druthers, Schuon, the hardcore traditionalist,
"considered a 'totalitarian' [in the traditional religious sense] society preferable to a secular society. Religion, culture, science, art, and soccer, should all be under one heading, if you will. He was obviously opposed to secular totalitarian regimes, like the Nazis or the Soviets, but not religious totalitarian regimes. One can also see this in the leaders he writes positively about -- Charlemagne, Napolean, Franco, and even Lincoln (Lincoln's temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."
For Schuon it is always a question of returning to first principles. Naturally, modern leftist liberals will reject this idea out of hand. But for you traditional readers out there who object to my understanding, I wonder how you square this circle, for it seems to me that you have only three choices. You can go along with Schuon that timeless and total truth has already been revealed to us, and that it is only for us to conform to it. Alternatively, you can be a member of what I call the "psychospiritual left" (of which their politics is just a reflection) and maintain that history has no meaning except that which we impose on it (which is no meaning at all).
Or, you can be a neurocosmological Raccoon, and maintain that timeless truth does exist, but that for our purposes it exists in the future, not the past. Primordial man does indeed walk above the clouds on the sacred ground of the cosmic mountain, but not in the past.
Rather, these intimations of paradise are just that -- they are what Bion called memoirs of the future. Being so, they are the vector that guides history and gives it meaning: the arc of salvation, through which you are given the uppertunity of a lifetome to dwell in time but to aim your eros at the heart of eternity. Your days are measured, guided, and given meaning by a sense of growing proximity to this sacred, nonlocal ground. Mine are, anyway. But perhaps I'm just living in my own racocoon.
If this dimension is in the "past," then each day that passes is simply a measure of how far we have fallen from the ideal -- a meaning, to be sure, but an "anti-meaning." Again, what's the point except to wait to die? I have read certain world-denying church fathers who said as much; I believe the Orthodox Father Seraphim Rose said something similar. Basically, conform yourself to Truth and wait for death, since it's only eternity that counts. As Schuon worote,
"One who has received the treasure of spiritual truth and the Divine Name finds himself, so to speak, at a crossroads: for now he must take up a new attitude in relation to the world and to life; he must renounce all worldly ambition and he must not expect anything but death, whatever be his outward activity."
Coonversely, for a member of the psychospiritual left, what's the point except to deny death and lose oneself in the senses? In this view, a Bill Maher or Hugh Hefner are the wisest men on earth.
Now obviously, Christianity has struggled with this dialectic, hence the argument between faith and works. If eternity is all that counts, then faith is all that matters. But if history has a purpose, then works take on much more significance.
And as a matter of fact, this relates to what I was saying yesterday about my experience of the very different spiritual worlds of Judaism and Christianity. At the moment I'm in a bit of a rush, so it's difficult to find the words to precisely describe the difference. But more generally, Judaism is very much focused on this world, not the next. In fact, if I am not mischugen, it is very unkosher to even speculate about the next life, since we are here for a reason, and that reason is more than sufficient to occupy our time and attention. In short, we are here to both enjoy and help repair the creation (tikkun, or as we call it, "ticoon"), so that our works are much more important than our faith. As I have learned from Dennis Prager, a proper Jew doesn't care what you believe, only how you behave. (BTW, this also explains why de-Judaised Judaism immediately devolves into worldly leftism.)
Furthermore, because of its worldly focus, I find that Judaism, among all the major religions, probably has more practical wisdom about how to conduct one's life than any other. The Talmud contains priceless wisdom about male-female relations, about the family, about raising children, about how to deal with others. Also, the "spiritual locus," so to speak, of Judaism is the family (within a community, of course), and even more specifically, children. Jewish life is almost inconceivable in the absence of family and children.
And what do children represent and symbolize? More than anything else in creation, they are a hope-filled arrow shot from the present into a better future.
And we are His children.
We'll meet again. Up ahead, 'round the bend. The circle unbroken, by and by. A Divine child, a god'send, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes. --Petey
Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognizable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.... [T]he whole tendency of development of an individualistic age of mankind [goes] back to the one dominant need of rediscovering the substantial truths of life, thought and action which have been overlaid by the falsehood of conventional standards no longer alive to the truth of the ideas from which their conventions started.... [M]an has to circle back towards the recovery of his deeper self and a new upward line or a new revolving cycle of civilization. --Sri Aurobindo