Cosmic Containment and the Logotomy of the West (11.23.10)
True, truth is truth; nevertheless, it makes all the difference in the world what sort of receptacle or "matrix" contains that truth. If the container is false -- i.e., built upon the Lie -- then it will "color" all of its content in ways that may be imperceptible to the individual except in the form of "symptoms," i.e., emotional or cognitive pain or dysfunction.
To take a simple example, consider the truth of justice. Human beings are born with a pre-cognitive, archetypal understanding of justice -- a "preconception" or empty category that will be "filled out" by experience. But leftist thought is essentially a deformation of this pre-existing truth, as it enforces its idea of justice in fundamentally unjust ways -- i.e., racial quotas, income redistribution, attacks on private property, class warfare, etc. All forms of modern leftism -- which trace their genealogy from Marx -- are essentially dishonest appeals to eternal truths such as justice, compassion, equality, fraternity, etc.
This is why we can say that someone like John Edwards is not only wrong, he's not even wrong, since the container of his ideas is so fundamentally perverse. As is true of many trial lawyers, he can turn any truth into a lie, and vice versa. Yes, it's cynical, but it's much deeper than that, a kind of egomaniacal superiority to Truth itself. It is satanic, to be precise.
There was a time that "the Church," broadly speaking, was generally able to "contain" the human spirit. For some 1,000 years, the vast majority of people in the West lived, thought, felt, worked, and died within this meaning-generating container. Now, a container must not only be "capacious" enough to hold the human spirit -- which tends toward the infinite -- but it must also paradoxically provide a sort of "friction" against which we may think.
In other words, "thinking spiritually" in a truly creative way means that there must be an interaction between container and contained that produces new thoughts. Indeed, if religion could not do this, it would not only be entirely "static," but it would provide no satisfaction for the soul's intrinsic desire to grow with knowledge. The Bible really would be the end of theology instead of the beginning, and the importance of the great saints, doctors and mystics would be rendered meaningless. And history would have no point at all.
This specifically human form of knowing is what distinguishes us from the beasts, since it is not only analogous to play, it is play. It is well understood that certain young animals play -- i.e., puppies and kittens -- but that virtually all adult animals lose this capacity as they "grow into" their mature archetype, which is essentially fixed and final.
But man only fulfills his destiny by preserving this neoteny to the end of his days. Not only is man born "immature," but he must always remain so on pain of ending the growing process. Now obviously, there are mature and immature ways to preserve our immaturity. When Jesus says that we must be as children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he surely doesn't mean that we must stamp our feet and throw a temper tantrum until God lets us in. Rather, he's talking about things like openness, spontaneity, creativity, timelessness, and trust (or faith).
Now, "openness," "spontaneity," "timelessness," etc., all apply to the container, not the content. In other words, "spontaneity" is not a content or specific idea that you can hold in your mind like an object and be done with it. A -- perhaps the -- major task of parenting is to raise your child in such a way that he will have a happy, healthy, and productive "container" for the rest of his life, irrespective of the specific content.
This was an idea that was probably first worked out by the developmental psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who wrote about how, for example, one's lifelong capacity for "basic trust" is forged in the first 18 months of life, largely depending upon the quality of care one receives. No one talks much about Erikson anymore, as his ideas have been extended, elaborated, and fine-tuned by others, but his basic conception is correct. Note how each of his stages has primarily to do with the container, i.e., trust, autonomy, identity, generativity, etc.
A trusting person sees the world very differently than a non-trusting, which is to say, paranoid, person. Surely it is no coincidence that the Muslim Middle East has the lowest quality of parenting and the highest degree of paranoia, along with an almost total lack of creativity and autonomy. This is obviously worrisome, since democracy and the free market can only flourish in a high-trust environment. To put it another way, trust is huge enabler of market efficiency, removing all kinds of obstacles to "doing business" with one another. Almost any American can do business with any other American, whereas in tribal cultures, the circle of trust is greatly narrowed.
But I want to return to the topic of religion as the container of an explosive force, or content. Call it the "spiritual drive," or the "pneumaphilic instinct," but whatever it is, just like any other human capacity, it requires a container to guide and channel it -- just as, say, music requires a system of musical notation to structure and give it depth. Bach, for example, was born with a "musical drive," but what if he had been born at a time prior to the western system of musical notation, which allows one to "think" with such complexity within the chordal space of vertical musicality? The point is again that an adequate container is critical for one to achieve one's potential in any given area.
It is no different with religion. The other day, I was reading of how Dawson felt that different historical eras were literally different "worlds" which we could not really understand by projecting our own world onto them. This makes total sense to a psychoanalytically informed psychologist, again, because true empathy of a patient involves not just understanding their content, but their container. Furthermore, real change generally doesn't involve the patient obtaining this or that piece of missing information. Rather, it involves a slow alteration and repair of their container within the context of the therapeutic alliance. Truly, therapy is just something you do to distract the patient while his mind is healing itself, mainly as a result of an intimate relationship with another.
So anyway, my point is that modernity -- e.g., the scientific revolution and the birth of the individual self -- essentially "exploded" the religious container that had contained the mind and spirit up to that point, and there is no going back to that world. You cannot unwrong that bull or put that truthpaste back into the tube. Different world.
They tell me that modern physics displaced earth from the center of the universe, just as natural selection displaced man from the center of the biosphere, thus rendering the religion of Christianity hopelessly quaint, what with its cognitively reassuring firmament above, and a God who just happens to be in the form of a man.
Whatever. The point is not to argue over facts, which is to say, the content, but to understand the cosmic, and even metacosmic, nature of Christianity, so that it may serve as a container for the historical middle world we happen to inhobbit. I suppose that's the point of my book and blog, which is why I never argue with the other guy's content when his container is so messed up. One Cosmos "Under" God is another way of saying One Cosmos Contained by God. Come to think if it, it would make a nice Christmas present for someone who thinks he's outgrown Christmas past.