Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Relative Truth and Absolute Nonsense

This is a pure speed post, since I woke up late and am short on time. It may or may not be coherent, but it is an honest deal -- 45 minutes of theology in 45 minutes, warts and all.

So there's no misunderstanding, when I say that "we are all Christians now," I'm just trying to be annoying to non-believers. I'm certainly not trying to alienate our Jewish friends.

Rather, I mean it in Augustine's venerable sense that "that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist." It was with us "from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity." I'm just drawing out the metalogical implications of Augustine's insight, and applying it to past, present and future.

You could equally just say that "all truth comes from Christ," which is what Schuon believed, despite the fact that he was a practicing Sufi. For example, Schuon writes that when we say In the beginning was the Word, "obviously what is meant is not a temporal origin, but a principial priority, that of divine Order, to which the universal Intellect -- the Word -- pertains, while nonetheless being linked to cosmic Manifestation, of which it is the center both transcendent and immanent."

In fact, one of the dangers of dogma miscoonscrewed is that it can cause the Christian message to lose its universality. And when it loses its universality, it loses its appeal to the intellect, since the intellect is what knows universals, precisely (the senses know nothing of universals).

This again touches on the issue of heresy, and of the balance that is required in order to preserve the efficacy of dogma in embodying and "delivering" Truth to man and vice versa. Dogma can never be absolute but can only point to the Absolute. And to be honest, for a variety of reasons, I don't think any purely exoteric dogma can do this, as it inevitably has certain inconsistencies that "offend" the intellect (but do not pose a problem, say, for the bhakti), and which can only be resolved on the esoteric plane.

By the way, we could equally say the same of science. I have no problem with scientific dogma, as science cannot get by without it. But when they start to reify their methodological abstractions and insist upon the literal truth of things that cannot be so, then they are every bit as opaque as the religious fundamentalist who insists that the world is 6,000 years old or that we should always "turn the other cheek" and thereby allow monsters to rule the earth.

For example, Darwinism is fine as method, but to insist that the human soul could have arisen from random material processes is just loony. Likewise, to suggest that creation "started" with the Big Bang is nonsense. The Big Bang is simply as far as the laws of physics can be applied. It hardly means that there was -- is -- nothing outside them. Indeed, if there weren't something that transcends physics, I couldn't be typing this sentence and you couldn't understand it.

One of the benefits of Christianity is that many aspects of it "make no sense" upon superficial consideration. Therefore, one is left with two choices; one, just accept the whole thing without reservation, or two, work at seeing the wholeness beneath the apparent divergences and loose ends.

The latter is what we call "verticalisthenics." It is simply what the intellect "does," whether we are talking about matter or spirit, heaven or earth, vertical or horizontal. The scientist sees an apple fall and the earth revolve around the sun, and knows that these two shockingly diverse phenomena are governed by the same underlying law.

Just so, the Christian knows that the same "law" of kenosis that "governs" God's relationship to the cosmos governs our relationship to God; just as God selflessly gives the creation to us, we must selflessly give it back.

Schuon notes that any normal human being can conceive of the Absolute, whether secular or religious. However, in both cases, the person may lack the intellectual firepower to do anything more than simply posit it, as opposed to knowing it on the interior plane.

For example, we know that the radical Darwinian is an obnoxious absolutist. And yet, there is nothing in his theory that allows a completely contingent being to know anything of the Absolute. Therefore, a middlebrow scientific dabbler such as Queeg is no different whatsoever from a kind of incoherent religious absolutist who insists that the world sits on the back of a giant tortoise, but refuses to reason beyond that. The Darwinist places an arbitrary limit on his knowledge, at the same time that he can't account for it to begin with.

As Schuon points out, "unity" is perhaps the simplest aspect of Divinity, something that humans are able to conceive and know of as part of their standard equipment, in the same way that a frog knows about flies. This is why we can say that just as the frog was made to know insects, man was made to know God.

Or, as Schuon has said, what we call instinct in animals is their intelligence, while what we call intellect in man is our instinct. Thus, we have an "instinct" for divinity -- an instinct that can take on diverse -- and perverse -- forms.

Another thing that the Darwinian fails to consider is the limits of reason. Who said that reason alone may reveal the origins of the human being, let alone the nature of the Absolute? If reason revealed it, I would like to know how, for reason can ultimately only operate on the material that has been furnished by non-logical (not necessarily illogical) sources.

Thus, as Schuon points out, "the rational point of view," "when applied to transcendent truths, cannot but reveal its own inadequacy." In short, it is not rational or reasonable to suppose that reason has no limits. Or, to put it another way, it is completely rational to to believe that our reason is in service to an absolute Truth that is anterior to it and wishes to be known.

We call this absolute truth the Word. And if you are not a dimbulb, you just know that it shines in the dark but that the darknous doesn't comprehend it wattsoever.

27 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

And we know that it shines in the dark, but that the darknous does not comprehend it.

Indeed.

8/05/2009 08:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Abdul said...

Because you are comfortable with Hebrew people, but would you love the skeptics to disturb? What socket necessary entered of the end, does this all alive one? Don't think intentionally that you would have that to control indifferent, and she worries equal you, of whom; you believing in that one and its students who the key stopped in truth; its adoration could be a preoccupation to the movable bit, if you had more what how much she follows one, but really, won't take it! As soon as the task, this member of the word is of her, what calls the intellect. There's an option, of that inside we acted them, the economy as soon as ours own the life that lasts, it is more intelligent truth, of a day, also and of me. Considering that you can his theories take and in the districts of later, you are, Abdul

8/05/2009 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger sehoy said...

All your base are belong to us.

I sometimes worry that I sound like Abdul.

wv: scule

It's not working.

8/05/2009 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Sehoy - you and me both.

"What socket necessary entered of the end...?"

Yikes, that just sounds painful.

8/05/2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Or, to put it another way, it is completely rational to to believe that our reason is in service to an absolute Truth that is anterior to it and wishes to be known."

That felt better, thanks.

8/05/2009 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And when it loses its universality, it loses its appeal to the intellect, since the intellect is what knows universals, precisely (the senses know nothing of universals). "

A good description of leftist thinking as well. Ignore principles ("BOR-Ringgg!"), fixate on things, the greater the quantity, and the more sparkly the better.

More and new, that keeps the boring away (and distracts from the empty boring deep into you).

8/05/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger NoMo said...

I think Abdul must have googled "absolute nonsense"...or he read Bob's post through the same translator.

wv says "sulftob" Take that, Abdul.

8/05/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous larry said...

you have to admit, Abdul is funny.

8/05/2009 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So there's no misunderstanding, when I say that "we are all Christians now," I'm just trying to be annoying to non-believers."

Yes, we know. It was one of the funnier things you've posted.

You see an illusion and yet you're convinced you're infallible. And you call "radical Darwinians" obnoxious?

8/05/2009 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought provoking post, Bob. You mention two approaches to religion, which is to accept it without reservation, or to engage it with the intellect in "verticalesthentics."

Between the two approaches, it would seem intuitively better to accept religion without reservation, because of the savings in time and energy that would result. Time and energy that would otherwise have been used on vertcalesthenics could be expended on other useful projects.

On the other hand, if verticalisthenics are enjoyable in the recreational sense, then it would be sensible to indulge with the caveat one should not overindulge.

What would be a tragedy is to undergo alot of avoidable angst and senseless mental churning by overthinking about religion.

Would it not be more sensible to keep the mind peaceful, calm, and clear in order to better recieve guidance from the Source?

Although some sensibly limited sessions of thinking about religion would probably augment spiritual progress.

8/05/2009 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous casual observer said...

Is it just me, or did the light just dim in here by a few watts? I wonder if that's a side-effect of using those "eco-friendly" bulbs?

8/05/2009 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Devolting.

8/05/2009 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

"One of the benefits of Christianity is that many aspects of it "make no sense" upon superficial consideration. Therefore, one is left with two choices; one, just accept the whole thing without reservation, or two, work at seeing the wholeness beneath the apparent divergences and loose ends.

You had to know I'd enjoy that.

I've wondered if this is how "the secret protects itself" or rather, it is its way of pleading or insisting on a serious seeker. Or both.

8/05/2009 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Elephant said...

I don't mean to be a jerk, but...
Re. Anon 2:22pm, that's the funniest thing I've ever read (well not really, but, you know...). I need to type it on a little card, and next time someone starts to hem fuzzily in that vein, and I start to sweat at the back of my neck, I'll just pull that card out to see the full point of view so tidily expressed. Granted, the second to last paragraph, may have something to it, as in "Be still and know that I am God" (quoting a verse of the Bible.) However, beyond that, very funny.

I've known people with that stance in one way or another. Mostly it always felt like one big slap in the face. But ultimately, it's like saying you can just have an arranged marriage and enjoy cooking, hiking, and raising kids together. Why bother with all the love stuff?

The comment really made me laugh. Were you serious or joking? Kind of like one elaborate (for a fortune cookie) fortune cookie.

8/05/2009 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Elephant said...

It is somewhat reminiscent of Martha, Mary Magdalene's sister's point of view.

8/05/2009 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Elephant said...

Er, just Mary. It is not said that Mary Magdalene was *that* Mary.

8/05/2009 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Elephant, it kind of reminds me of every exercise gimmick that promises fast, amazing! effortless results!! - like those vibrating belts that people used to just lean into, thinking the fat would simply melt away.

8/05/2009 09:39:00 PM  
Anonymous cheen said...

You mean it doesn't??

8/05/2009 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Abdul said...
Because you are comfortable with Hebrew people, but would you love the skeptics to disturb?

Too late.

8/06/2009 03:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Abu Skully said...

Abdul said...
"What socket necessary entered of the end, does this all alive one?"

Seven eighths I'm guessin'.

8/06/2009 03:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Abu Grave said...

larry said...
"you have to admit, Abdul is funny."

Not as funny as me.

8/06/2009 03:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

"But when they start to reify their methodological abstractions and insist upon the literal truth of things that cannot be so, then they are every bit as opaque as the religious fundamentalist who insists that the world is 6,000 years old or that we should always "turn the other cheek" and thereby allow monsters to rule the earth."

Besides, what if ya only got one cheek?

8/06/2009 03:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Hawking said...

"Indeed, if there weren't something that transcends physics, I couldn't be typing this sentence and you couldn't understand it."

I don't understand.

8/06/2009 04:01:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"The Darwinist places an arbitrary limit on his knowledge, at the same time that he can't account for it to begin with."

Ooo! Slam dunk with that one, Bob! :^)

8/06/2009 04:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Skully said...

NoMo said...
I think Abdul must have googled "absolute nonsense"...or he read Bob's post through the same translator."

The same Harvard law school translator Obamuh used, no doubt.

8/06/2009 04:23:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Stephen Hawking "I don't understand."

Thus proving the existence of black holes.

Poetic justice... gotta love it.

8/06/2009 05:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To reply to the Elephant--my comment on religious thinking was about 25% satire.

However, the 75% main point that religious intellection has a place in the spiritual life, but not an overly large one, stands as an opinion.

A rationale supplied was there is finite time and mental energy availabe to each individual so careful consideration should be made as to how to use these resources.

Supporting point #2 was excessive intellection may impede reception of spiritual guidance by occupying all available concentration so little else can get through.

8/06/2009 08:32:00 AM  

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