Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cosmic History and the Trinitarian Timewave

Balthasar writes that "it is a basic Christian requirement that existence should represent itself dramatically." The question then becomes, is Christian theology just metaphysics dramatized, or is existence really a drama?

I would guess that there are even many Christians who would opt for the former. After all, since when is "drama" a fundamental aspect of reality? Thinking involves abstracting rules and laws from underneath the flow of events. No physicist would say that there are five fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetism, weak interaction, strong interaction, and a damn good plot.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that one of the problems of physics is that it cannot unify the four fundamental forces. Perhaps it's because they're leaving out the fifth -- or because the fifth is actually the first. You could say that order is the first law of the cosmos, and that order implies intelligence. However, when we think about order, it is usually in the spatial sense, as in the legendary "ordered desk."

But if there is spatial order there must be temporal order. Order is simply meaningful pattern, and for Balthasar, Theo-Drama is the meaningful pattern underneath history.

This is not an entirely novel idea. I suppose I first came across it in Whitehead, and then in Terence McKenna's The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, with its speculations about the fractal timewave of history. Although I never thought that McKenna had the details right, something about the general idea of time having some sort of inner coherence always struck me as correct. Call it a strong intuition.

For McKenna, cosmic history could be mapped by creating a temporal graph from the big bang to the eschaton, alpha to omega. It consists of one continuous timewave pattern that maps the ingression of novelty into the cosmos. However, the wave is fractal, meaning that it exhibits the same pattern across scale; magnify any part of the wave, and it is a mirror of the whole.

I don't like to speculate, but let's just get into the spirit of this worldview, shall we? For McKenna, the entirety of human history could be mapped in such a way that it mirrored the cosmic timewave, with its periods of stagnation and novelty. Likewise, an individual human life is also a fractal that mirrors the whole of history and of cosmology. For example, there have been periods of your own life that mirrored the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, postmodernity, etc. Remember your dark ages? Of course you do. You may be going through one today, or even some part of today.

Now, before you dismiss this out of hand, McKenna found a kindred spirit in James Joyce. For example, in Ulysses, Joyce tried to show how a typical day in the life of an anonymous man wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904, actually resonated with the myths of antiquity, specifically, with the travails of Odysseus (the Coen Brothers obviously attempted the same thing in O Brother, Where Art Thou?).

Joyce then outdid himself by showing how all of human history was analogous to a single dream in the long night of a single human being called Homo sapiens. And in this dream, the same patterns and motifs recur again and again: sin, fall, redemption, resurrection; there are also certain irreducible polarities, e.g., male-female, mother-father, sibling rivalry, father-son, mother-daughter, man of action vs. contemplative man, etc.

As I believe I mentioned in the previous post, this dramatization of history is something we all do, and cannot help doing. Instead of looking at drama as something we only superimpose on the random facts of time and history, people as diverse as McKenna, Joyce, Balthasar, and the B'ob believe otherwise: that history has a point, and that if it didn't have a point, we literally couldn't know it.

For example, dogs don't have history, and they don't know it. And unless you think that dogs know something we don't, history is actually quite important in its own right. It cannot be reduced to the random play of genes, or the ungulations of the quantum ocean, or the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, or the Hegelian dialectic.

The question is, can man possess meaningful knowledge about his history, or only meaningless knowledge? For example, Darwinism gives us only "meaningless knowledge," as it insists that the "real story" isn't a story at all, just an elaborate lie told by idiot genes.

Take yesterday's celebration of Memorial Day, on which we honor the Americans who have given their lives in defense of this great nation. A Darwinian would say that we are just fooling ourselves, and that these fallen heroes are actually just dupes of their genes. Organisms don't actually "give their lives" unless there is some hidden genetic payoff, such as "inclusive fitness." "Selfless" behavior always has a covertly selfish motive.

Thus, taken to its logical endpoint, the Darwinian doesn't argue his point because he believes it is true, which would be absurdly self-refuting. Rather, he does so in the hope that it will make him a tenured alpha male who is more likely to pass on his genes to one of those adoring coeds. Likewise, his struggle against religion is not a struggle against bad ideas, but bad genes.

But again, what's the point? To "improve" the gene pool? That might be fine for the gene pool, but what does it have to do with humans? And the gene pool can't be improved anyway, any more than we can improve a rock. Rather, it simply is what it is, not what we think it is or what we would like for it to be.

So we are inevitably dealing with profoundly different narratives, or dramas. Two things distinguish the Christian: first, he acknowledges that we are in a drama, instead of pretending we aren't; second, he believes that the drama is real, not an epiphenomenon that can be reduced to genes, atoms, or economics.

Before even getting into the theology of it, Balthasar spends considerable time analyzing and discussing the basic elements of drama -- elements without which there could be no drama. For example, he talks about "event." Both fundamentalism on the one hand and theological liberalism on the other, get this wrong. The former tend to reduce theology to "something that has taken place historically (a fact) or a string of data that can be enumerated," while the latter tend to rationalize it as mythology historicized.

True, the events of revelation demonstrate principles. However, these are not static principles, like mathematical equations. Rather, Balthasar's task is to show that they are intrinsically dymamic and dramatic, because they mirror something that is (always) going on within the Trinity -- which is not "object" but event (so to speak).

The "event" of revelation has to do with this dynamic reality vertically "breaking into" time and history, "revealing both the living God's mode of being and his mode of acting." Jesus is not just God's "word" but his eternal act as well. Or, the action is dictated by the nature of his Word. It's something of a paradox, since it means that God not only uses time to express the timeless, but that this is the only way to do so. Again, the atemporal object is an event that "spread[s] itself out in dramatic form."

Obviously, history is composed of "events." Or is it? Once again we see that we cannot help converting time into history. It is what humans do. But in the absence of God, there can obviously be no objective history. Any pattern we impose is ultimately arbitrary, like imposing patterns on the stars. We could say that history is written by the winners, or that a counter-history is written by the tenured losers, but neither one could be said to be objective.

But if history is rooted in God and not man, then there is the possibility of intuiting its objective pattern. And of course, this is the very purpose of revelation, which is the story of the confrontation between finite freedom and infinite freedom.

Thus, the Incarnation, say, is not something that happens "in" history. Rather, it is more like a huge object in space that bends time around it. After the Incarnation, we cannot help viewing all of history in its light. It shapes history more than it was shaped by history. In fact, isn't this one of the key points, that history could not vanquish him, but that he vanquished history? He merely used history to beat it at its own game.

Again, as in Ulysses, this is all happening now; it is the structure of the now, and gives it its event quality. Therefore, "it is quite right to say that the death and Resurrection of Jesus inwardly affects all men of all ages since they all share solidarity in a single history of mankind." And "In one aeon the outer man dies daily, in the other aeon the inner man continually rises to new life" (HvB). Thus, the Christian drama is indeed holographic and fractal.

41 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

the legendary "ordered desk."

Legendary or mythical? I think the only time a desk has ever been ordered in my house is when it's empty. Right now, If I didn't know it was there, I might not know it's there.

Anyway, back to reading...

5/26/2009 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

As to the rest, there's nothing to add but "ah ha..."

Good post today, Bob - thanks.

Okay, I do have one observation - one of the things I love about Balthasar is the fractal effect. Which is to say, wherever I'm at in my reading, there you seem to be, even though you're somewhere else entirely. Awesome.

5/26/2009 08:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would the difference between conservatives and Liberals be that simple? That conservatives recognize the drama that is unfolding and liberals can't see it at all?
-not that anonymous

5/26/2009 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's a complex question, and I have to go to work, but the leftist essentially secularizes and immamentizes the Christian drama, draining it of its transcendent source and vector.

5/26/2009 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"...Remember your dark ages? Of course you do. You may be going through one today, or even some part of today.
..."

I'm multi-tasking and going through my Martyr and Witch burning periods right at this very moment.

5/26/2009 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gagdad-

then even more simply put is that they have to be THE power, not God, even if they have to create their own reality to do it.

-not that anonymoose

5/26/2009 08:49:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

I think that having one's life divinely invaded - ie., having the holographic drama infuse one's mundane reality - can and probably does result in a certain amount of apparent dis-order - insofar as mundane reality goes. True, most of the petty shadow dramas that constitute mundane reality go out the window, but those shadow dramas serve as a kind of misery-loves-company social web. Un-stick yourself from the web and enter the real Drama - then you're going to appear as a freak of nature.

Maybe even to yourself. There will be times in which the ghosts of mind-parasites past are going to howl away, trying to re-institute the old rules of the game. Don't underestimate them, they're good at what they do. Faith helps and sometimes that's all there is keeping you afloat. But there is also often a real perception of having entered another, more real Drama, one in which you apprehend through divine imagination that you truly *are* a spiritual hero in the making.

The danger at this stage of the game is that the potency of divine imagination can be corrupted into a dangerously potent ego-fantasy, one in which you begin to perceive yourself as far greater than you are, at which point you fall off the mountain. Well, it's not called a "Drama" for nothing. But we're assuming that you do not fall off the mountain and you continue on up the slope, still enduring the mind-parasite assaults. It's often a lonely trek. Just remember -

The Real Drama is not a trackless land. Study the lives of the saints, they've mapped it out pretty well, they laid down a template for negotiating your way around. It's *the* real landscape they've configured, and what doesn't make sense in the mundane world makes perfect sense there. And for those moments when your psyche is clear and your spiritual clarity is at its zenith, you'll look around and think, Who the hell in his right mind would want to live in this mundane reality hellhole?

5/26/2009 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And of course, this is the very purpose of revelation, which is the story of the confrontation between finite freedom and infinite freedom."

Hmmm... an interesting way of putting it. Involving some 'One in the many' issues as well as resolving some 'many's which are mistaken for One's?

5/26/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Will - well said. Or as Bob has put it more succinctly, on occasion, some dissasembly required...

5/26/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

And for those moments when your psyche is clear and your spiritual clarity is at its zenith, you'll look around and think, Who the hell in his right mind would want to live in this mundane reality hellhole?

Of course, soon enough you realize that, for the time being, you're stuck there, anyway, and so the dark night comes back around...

(or as wv says, nospa for you!)

5/26/2009 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of dreams and drama, apparently Starbuck's is a big target for muslims. Of course, if they knew what the logo actually means, they'd probably be just as opposed, but for different reasons.

5/26/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . for the time being, you're stuck there, anyway, and so the dark night comes back around...<<

Well, I don't think dwelling in the dark night really is of the delusion we call mundane reality. The dark night is reserved for those who are escaping the mundane world - this what I have gleaned from the saints and other sources.

Thing is: the dark night can be severe to the degree that you will sometimes wonder if life doesn't make a lot more sense, let alone be a happier experience, when you are in the relatively un-demanding mundane.

Ultimately, you can be reduced to ashes, broken on the wheel by the dark night, but if you're living the Drama (of which the dark night is part and parcel)you'll be sustained.

5/26/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

My copy of "Why Us?" just arrived.

Coonshelf is expanding...

5/26/2009 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

if you're living the Drama (of which the dark night is part and parcel)you'll be sustained.

Oh, absolutely - I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek. You must admit, though, that coming back to yourself after such a moment can seem a bit of a disappointment. Until you realize that you're never really back to yourself after that. And probably weren't before that, either.

I should have added (since I was thinking it with my first response) that those moments of clarity necessarily illuminate the mundane, first in that having an experience of the Real is, in a sense, something of a promise and a confirmation, and second, in that so long as you can hold onto it, as a sort of touchstone in your everyday life, the mundane is never really mundane anymore.

5/26/2009 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger jwm said...

There is much I would say, but the day's demands are nipping at my heels, and I have stuff that needs done. But appropriate to Julie's comment at 10:00 am., I remembered this passage from Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory"

"You know what I've always thought?" she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. "I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'11 wager it never happens. I'11 wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are"—her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone—"just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."
JWM

5/26/2009 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>. . so long as you can hold onto it, as a sort of touchstone in your everyday life, the mundane is never really mundane anymore<<

Si, that's being in it, not of it.

Of course, nothing's really mundane. Tis consensus reality-thinking that makes it so.

5/26/2009 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Indeed, that and complacency.

5/26/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

And John, that's lovely and Absolutely right.

5/26/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots' food for think, Bob.

Will, I wonder if you might be one of those "feaks of nature" I played and learned-from-and-with, who I mention on my blog this day?

(I claim) "Not of my will I exited the world (in order) to participate fully in it."
How freakish is that?

Theofilia (*7*)

5/26/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

You'd recognize me by my freak flag, Theo.

It's got a nightbird emblazoned on one side and a raccoon on the other. See how it snaps and ripples in the wind!

5/26/2009 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yah, you're a Freak alright Will, but can You say "I am the wind?";)

Theofilia (*7*)

5/26/2009 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm before I read your post Will she heard "music" - go figure, eh?

I haven't to date, but will mention I dig your poetry. . .

Theofilia (*7*)

5/26/2009 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Twobyfour to the head today, as the parasitic seduction to lay down my pack, shut off the flashlight, and let the night have its way is mentally overwhelming lately. Thanks Bob and Will and Julie for re-re-reminding me that the true order of things remains in effect.

wv: defest...help, need more RoundUp!

5/26/2009 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

...the parasitic seduction to lay down my pack, shut off the flashlight, and let the night have its way is mentally overwhelming lately.

You're not alone in that one, Robin. Thank O for the coongregation.

5/26/2009 12:59:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

...the parasitic seduction to lay down my pack, shut off the flashlight, and let the night have its way is mentally overwhelming lately.

Julie: You're not alone in that one, Robin.

Robin, Ben & Julie all noticed yesterday that their nearby Cemeteries & Memorial Services were packed, "more so than I've ever seen" said Robin.

Memorial Day -- like any holy-day -- is not a remembrance of things past, but of things present; or, a recollection of people and events of the past for the purpose of re-membering and reuniting ourselves with the eternal. It is a remembrance of things surpassed -- or of the fixed stars that transcend and illuminate our lives below, and without which we would surely lose our way.


With these nut-jobs in charge, spouting their distructive, inverted flatland cosmos, are people finally waking-up to the realization that we actually could lose our birthright & are feeling the urge to touch The Real?

5/26/2009 03:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Stu said...

Somewhat off topic, sorry, but I just finished Explaining Pomo. Wow. Just wow.

Aside from Hicks' spot-on analysis, what moved me most was the realization of how profoundly profane philosophy has affected our civilization.

I never realized the profund extent to which academic theories play themselves out on the world stage.

I mean, obviously I knew that this was the case with Marx, but to see all the other Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment philosophers embodied in the popular beliefs of our day...well, I wasn;t expecting it. (I wonder how these ideas get distilled for the public.)

In fact, I would even venture that profane philosphy is so powerful that it corrupts the Theo-Drama, so to speak, and radically transforms its content.

Also, a question: what is the higher synthesis of the Premodern, Modern and Postmodern? What is the synthesis of faith, reason and feeling?

And a hypothesis: Could it be that the apparant conflicts between faith/mysticism, reason/objectivity and feeling/subjectivity are uniquely resolved in the human subject?

Is this what is meant by the term "Post postmodern"?

5/26/2009 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I would even venture that profane philosphy is so powerful that it corrupts the Theo-Drama, so to speak, and radically transforms its content.

While I don't know if I'd agree that it corrupts the Theo-Drama itself (I wonder if that's even possible), what it does instead is deconstruct it, thus rendering it unintelligible to those whose minds are warped by the pomo influence. While it could be said that if everyone were under the influence, nobody would be able to witness the Drama (much like the audio qualities of the proverbial tree in the uninhabited forest), of course that's not the case. If it ever becomes so, mankind will have failed. Epically. However, so long as there are a few sighted folk in the world I hold out hope that the Show will go on.

5/26/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Now you know why Hicks is on the list of permanent Racoomendations. As for "the higher synthesis of the Premodern, Modern and Postmodern," modesty forbids.

5/26/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Stu said "I never realized the profund extent to which academic theories play themselves out on the world stage."

Now you know why I light into any whiff's of Descartes, Rousseau, Kant & Hegel!

The guiding darkness of modern education grew directly out of Rousseau's Emile, with density boosters from Kant & Hegel, and so on. The mark of 'cool' of the educated elites was to sport one of the newfangled German Phd's, which they brought back and did their best to infect their countrymen with. We probably could have held out, most Americans shook their heads at the idiot communes and 'new education' of the Transcendentalists' and others... but... when the Morrill Act passed (over the objections of the remaining uninfected colleges), soon after the curriculum was more and more taken over by govt mandate, and then it became mandatory that teachers had to learn how to teach in the new approved ways, and we were lost; Premodern, Modern and Postmodern doctrine was mainlined into the minds of our youts', not just in the colleges, but from kindergarten (hmmm... wonder where kindergarten came from?) on up.

Of course almost immediately it was noticed that the educational quality of those same youts' was in decline, which of course fed the calls to intensify the methods which caused the decline.

No child left behind. Nope, no way, that would mean that some were still free.

5/26/2009 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Stu asked "What is the synthesis of faith, reason and feeling?"

Helpful hint:

One Cosmos Under God: The Unification of Matter, Life, Mind & Spirit;-)

5/26/2009 06:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

...modesty forbids.

lol

5/26/2009 06:56:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

For what it's worth - and for those who lately have been experiencing a more-than-usual onslaught of negative thoughts/impressions - this new cycle started a little more than a week ago, just about the time of Bibi's sitdown with Brocko in the White House.

That's the thing about these periods when the negative forces are allowed a window in which to do their thing: When you have an inclination to personalize the negativity, to get into a woe-is-poor-me attitude, take a look at what's happening in the world. In the past week we've seen the N. Korean a-bomb, the Korean and Iranian missiles, the Iranian ships in international waters. The tension is ratcheting upward, everywhere. It's a wave phenom with its origin in principalities and powers, spreading out over the earth, infecting what it can. If we can understand it as such, it will be a little easier to detach from the negativity.

I think it helps to keep reminding ourselves that, during these negative cycles, we do not have to believe the crap that our heads are telling us we should believe. As "real", even as "logical" as the negative thoughts might seem, just refuse to believe them. This may not rout the negativity all together - sometimes we have to endure the assault for however long it's allowed to flail at us - but it can keep us from being completely overwhelmed or from taking unwise actions.

5/26/2009 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

In short, "your thoughts are none of your business."

5/26/2009 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thank you, Will - that actually is quite helpful. I spent last Friday deeply in just such a funk, for no apparent reason.

I think it helps to keep reminding ourselves that, during these negative cycles, we do not have to believe the crap that our heads are telling us we should believe. As "real", even as "logical" as the negative thoughts might seem, just refuse to believe them. This may not rout the negativity all together - sometimes we have to endure the assault for however long it's allowed to flail at us - but it can keep us from being completely overwhelmed or from taking unwise actions.

That's why I didn't say anything that day, although I really wanted to - the comments were excellent. I just kept reminding myself that the funk would pass, and in the meantime DH was home sick (manflu, but he earned his doting) so regardless of how cranktacular I felt, I still had an important reason to be outwardly positive. By Saturday it had blown over like a fetid miasma whisked away by a zephyr.

5/26/2009 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Bringing the comments around full fractal, reading Balthasar tonight I came across this section, apropos today's post and obliquely, Stu's comment as well:

...the historical Jesus becomes our Lord only in the dimension of the Spirit, in which his unrepeatable deeds become fulfilled for each of us and in each of us. His words 'have their effect now and always will so have it'; 'they are always full and are filled anew daily and are never filled in excess'. In the process whereby this flesh 'becomes spirit', the Logos becomes 'for me', 'for what good is it to me if the Word comes into the world but I do not participate in it?'.'To me the sign [given to Achab] - my Lord Jesus Christ "in the heights and in the depths" - is unprofitable if the mystery of his heights and depths does not occur in me'.(Emphasis mine. And I'm not sure who he's quoting there - possibly Origen.)

5/26/2009 09:04:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>>I spent last Friday deeply in just such a funk, for no apparent reason<<

There it is. There is no reason for the funk, but all too often, people will personalize the funk, go fishing for a reason for the funk - you know, if only I had this and that in my life, then everything would be jake and I wouldn't be in a funk, blah blah . . . then one starts railing against all the unfairness and it's downhill from there.

And even if there is an ostensible reason for the funk, there's no reason to fall into a long-term funk. So it's raining out or the kids made a mess in the kitchen . . . getting upset about such is just arguing with reality and reality wins every time. We can change or accommodate reality, of course, but it takes a clear calm head to do so. Running about in a funk will stymie any efforts in that direction.

5/26/2009 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Essentially, the main thing is to have sex and to pass on the genes. After that is accomplished, you can get as religious as you want.

Or so it would seem.

Trust the lord but tether your camel. Ladies, first come, first served.

5/27/2009 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Anon 12:13am-

Hey, I know some blokes like you will walk a mile fer a camel, but this ain't the Wahabi blog, capisce?

5/27/2009 03:49:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"No physicist would say that there are five fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetism, weak interaction, strong interaction, and a damn good plot."

Well, they should. Another top notch post, B'ob!

5/27/2009 03:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Why is "funk" bad, but funky is purty cool? Okay, not the stinky funky, but the musical funky, which is also called funk, and by "purty cool" I mean if done right by a superb band. Like Grand Funk Railroad, who didn't just play funk.

I guess we hafta add a damn good theme song to that damn good plot. I know, it's already been added, I meant as part of the damn good plot but deserving it's own mention. You know, like One Cosmos the soundtrack. It don't help to jest tell folks to listen to the sea.

This is what happens when I run outta grog. It also happens when I have grog, but I'm more loocid then than I am now.

5/27/2009 04:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Petey said...
In short, "your thoughts are none of your business."

That's what I'm always sayin' without actually sayin' it.

5/27/2009 04:06:00 AM  

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