The Marriage of Natural and Supernatural Religion
You might even say that this approach forms a nexus -- or performs a sacred marriage -- between "Father sky" and "Mother earth," in that man's religious instinct is analogous to the "maternal soil" that must be fertilized from above.
As discussed in my book, manhood is the basis of civilization. That is, maternity -- and therefore the mother-infant dyad -- is a biological category that excludes any necessary role for men aside from a little help with conception.
But the emergence of humanness is characterized by the trimorphic, intersubjective structure of Mother-Father-Baby. This can only take place because the male now has a social (not biological) role: father, husband, protector, etc. Thus, you might say that these categories are the very "essence" of civilization.
Even on a purely practical basis, a civilization that fails to produce manly men to protect it is not long for the world. But more subtly, in psychoanalytic terms, "father" is also a symbol of the Law (in its most generic and universal sense, in that reverence for the abstract Law is one of the things that lifts us above the animals).
In contrast, the mother is mercy, which is felt, not thought. Nor could it ever be reduced to granite tablets, like the Ten Commandments. Law is always masculine.
It reminds me of when Senator Feinstein was questioning Justice Roberts at the confirmation hearings. She said something to the effect that she wanted to know how he felt, not what he thought. Or more recently, think of the supremely feminized Obama saying that he wanted justices with "empathy." I think you can see why that leads directly to the unraveling of civilization at its very foundation, for it is a passive aggressive attack on masculinity. Judicial tyranny is the result.
By the way, it's the same with socialized medicine. One of the reasons Obama needs to ram through any kind of bill, no matter how bad, is that once we have socialized medicine, there's no turning back (or forward, to be precise). Like it or not, most everyone becomes dependent upon the state, so that for the rest of our lives, we'll be arguing over government run healthcare.
Which is exactly what the Democrats want. It's the same with Social Security. Once you lock up a significant portion of the populace into dependency upon the state, conservatives can be caricatured as people who want to throw grandma out in the cold.
Anyway, back to natural religion. In a way, you could say that natural religion is (↑), while supernatural religion is (↓). The former embodies all the techniques of ascent available to man. (I should point out that in reality, these natural religions must also ultimately be "from God," but that's a subject for a different post.)
Here is how Balthasar describes natural religion: "As the elemental groping of man toward God, it is, first of all, a way of renouncing the world -- for this transitory, spatio-temporal, destiny-determined world is surely not God! It is a way of stripping off form, in order to find the infinite Absolute in a state of formlessness. The world, compared with God, is unreality, a falling away from the eternal unity."
Balthasar has a tendency to caricature theologies with which he disagrees, but this strikes me as a pretty fair assessment, for this ascent into the formless "beyond being" is the basis of all natural religions, from Vedanta in the East to Plotinus in the West. There's nothing really wrong with it, except perhaps that it rarely "works" (even Plotinus had only a few brief swooning episodes of egoic dissolution into the One).
I remember reading an interview of Ken Wilber (who is a Buddhist or something), and he said something to the effect that the chances of a human being achieving liberation in this life were less then one in a billion. Hence the need for lots of reincarnations to do the job. But that is the way of pure (↑). It really is a case of trying to lift yourself up by your own buddhastraps. Good luck with that.
Also, from the natural side of things, the "god-man" can only be understood in relative terms. Even the most exalted avatar -- say, Krishna -- is not literally God. As Balthasar explains, "expressed in terms of this picture of things, an incarnation of God can only mean a concession, the gracious descent of God into multiplicity, into the realm of matter, in order to lead what is multiple back into unity." Thus, it is not a real reconciliation of the One and the many, God and world. Rather, it is again a means of escape from the world.
And there is an inevitable elitism associated with the way of pure (↑). It's somewhat like golf, which you can only be good at if you have lots of time and money. This is how a sinister clown such as Deepak becomes "guru of the stars," or how poor Ken Wilber becomes the leader of a children's crusade of affluent new agers with skulls full of mush. Remember, his way has nothing to offer the other 99.999% of poor slobs on the planet.
But the Christian way is a way of grace, of pure (↓), although naturally we must do what we can to make ourselves worthy of it. Unlike Eastern approaches, it takes the individual seriously. He is not just an illusion of maya, with no value or purpose beyond escaping the dreary play as soon as possible.
Rather, the purpose of God's (↓) is to lift creation "beyond itself to fulfillment." It is a divinization of the world, so that you might say that God's descent is our ascent, if you catch my meaning.
I'm trying to think of a human analogy... Imagine the gifted artist, who, by infusing a common landscape with his artistic vision, is able to elevate it beyond itself and reveal its metaphysical transparency. As a matter of fact, this is the very purpose of art, which is to imitate the Creator.
I always think of that scene in American Beauty, where the young videographer shoots a film of a brown paper bag spontaneously blowing in the wind. Thus, he is "elevating" the most common reality by descending fully into it in an empathic way.
Now imagine God fully descending into reality in an "empathic way," thereby transforming the most ugly realities -- including death and suffering -- into a kind of aching beauty.
But the key remains our own participation in this drama, which is why there is surely a place for the Eastern approaches, only fully "baptized," so to speak, which is what Balthasar claims that Maximus was able to do. The danger of Roman thought, and later scholasticism, is that they tended to create a kind of masculine imbalance, forgetting about the experiential side of things. This is why Balthasar himself -- who was a Jesuit by training -- felt so spiritually reanimated by going back to the early fathers such as Maximus.
Balthasar believes that Maximus confronted that same duality, "and recognized that Christianity could not survive without the religious passion of Asia. But how much of this impulse, this human way of thinking, can be assimilated into Christianity? How can it be done without endangering the core of Christianity itself?"
All good questions. It reminds me of why leftism never works and never can work. Why? Because it forgets what man is. In contrast, free enterprise works because it takes man as he is, and transforms his self-interest into great public good.
Might we apply the same idea to religion? If so, then we have to take man as he is, and focus his private, natural religious impulses onto something far grander.
To be continued....