Saturday, December 05, 2009

The First Oecumeaningful Council

I don't know if too many readers will be interested this intramural squabble within the Traditionalist camp. Some of this material might be a little too inside graceball for even some of our regular readers, so perhaps it's good that I'm doing this on a Saturday, when no one's paying attention anyway.

But for me, it's as important as, say, those first seven ecumenical councils (oecumenical in the Anglo world) that determined the essential contours of Christianity for centuries to come. Interestingly -- because I didn't know the exact figures before I scanned this article -- different branches of Christianity accept various councils up to a point, and then break off and ignore the rest.

According to the wikipedia article, the Assyrian Church was content with the first two, while the Oriental Orthodox made it to three. Anglicans, most Lutherans and some Protestants accept the first seven (albeit with reservations, conditions, escape clauses, and loopholes), all of which took place prior to the great schism between Eastern and Western forms of Christianity. Afterwards, the Roman church just kept on having councils, now numbering twenty one. Nontrinitarian churches accept none, which I frankly do not understand.

There was a time -- you all remember Oldbob -- when I would have considered such debates to be analogous to arguing over the exact dimensions of unicorn horns, but I am now quite convinced of the critical importance of correct doctrine. Most people routinely believe heresies that are not only incorrect, but couldn't possibly be correct. And not just religious people; the problem with atheists, Darwinians, and secular leftists is that they all, in one form or another, embrace various intrinsic heresies, in the sense that they are grave offenses against the Real -- "ontological errors" or "epistemological sins."

One such intrinsic heresy, for example, would be the absurd doctrine of "absolute relativism." Another would be the truth-killing doctrine of materialism. Yet another is the virtue-destroying belief in moral relativism. Such doctrines are not just wrong but intrinsically evil, and bring nothing but confusion, misery, and destruction in their wake, for they undermine man's very reason for being by abolishing truth and virtue.

For those several billion of you who have not read my book, we use the symbol O to stand for "ultimate reality," whatever that reality is. This is for several reasons. First, we want to avoid saturating this reality with various preconceptions before we even start.

But perhaps even more importantly, real knowledge of O can only be gained through personal experience. It is not at all analogous to scientific (which is to say, strictly empirical or rational) data that can be handed from head to head without loss of information. This is something atheists seem incapable of grasping -- that when, say, the seers of the Upanishads speak of O (which they call Brahman), they are speaking from personal experience that excludes the atheist, precisely.

Nevertheless, it is possible -- and in many ways inevitable -- to reify O, as we saw above with regard to the ecumenical councils. Some people say, "that's enough for me. I get the picture," and then stop there. The problem is, we need an accurate map and good guides, but we still need to explore the territory on our own.

The fact of the martyr is that O, among other things, is "ceaselessly flowing" into what we call "reality," so that it is actually strictly impossible to corral it into a limited description. To put it another way, it is not possible for humans to contain what is by definition uncontainable. As soon as they do contain it, they have in a sense damaged it. And sometimes they can frankly murder it, as in the case of the Islamists, who imagine they worship God when in fact they cannot tolerate Him (a kind of reverse image of Darwinians, who imagine they are in contact with the ultimate truth of humanness, when they are heavily defended against it).

So you could say that those early ecumenical councils were indeed "debating" the nature of O -- except that "debate" is not quite accurate, since the goings-on were deeply infused with, and shaped by, a grace (↓), without which these would have indeed been mere academic exercises instead of orobic verticalisthenics.

Now, one of the main things the councils hammered out was what we might call the trinitarian nature of O. They certainly did not intend to say that this is just a relative human understanding, and that the "real God" is something else, like the "beyond being" of the Traditionalists. You might say that O is indeed a circle, not a static point; and it is a dynamic circle, a unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity with a kind of ceaseless "interior flow."

Clearly, in the Christian conception, O is not analogous to the "static Brahman" of Vedanta -- which, by the way, Aurobindo experienced and found to be valid as far as it goes. But he went beyond this, to conclude that what we might call the "creative word" was part of a deeper process involving the interplay of the dynamic and static aspects of Brahman.

I find this to be quite close to the Christian understanding -- close enough for graceball -- in that to realize the static Brahman is analogous to realizing only one part of the Trinity -- call it the "Unbegotten" -- and then calling it quits. But the Son is generated by the Unbegotten, just as the Holy Spirit flows in that open circle of Love and Truth between them. If that weren't the case, then we wouldn't even be able to participate in the "divine circle" to begin with.

Again, the point is, I don't see how this can be reconciled with the Traditonalist view that the Trinity is ultimately on the side of cosmic maya, and that the real Absolute is a radically apophatic "beyond being." For one thing, the "beyond being" can never be experienced by a human, if, as Bolton says, experience "is by definition a relation between a subject and an object." The beyond being is very much the absence of experience, i.e., the turiya, or "fourth," that we (un)experience in a state of deep sleep. Either this is the highest state, or it isn't. I don't believe it is. Rather, I think it is just a part of the "rhythm of O," for I don't believe there is sleeping without waking, and vice versa.

Again, it seems to me -- and to Bolton -- that the radically nondual monad of turiya is just the mirror image of modern materialistic nihilism. Not only is it the denial of the Creator, but with it, the inevitable devaluation of the creation. To put it another way, the creation is only of any value at all if it is indeed a creation. If it isn't, then it is ultimately worthless, for it has only the worth that contingent beings fancifully assign it. And in terms of metaphysics, "contingent worth" is a contradiction, like "convenient truth."

But the Raccoon affirms creation. We believe that existence exists for a reason, and that the world is not just a big mistake (or coincidence, which amounts to the same thing). The world is worthy of our being in it, and life is worthy of our living it. And they are worthy because they have a value which is derived from the interior nature of O, not negated by it.

Where there is no creation, there is no relation between the world and Divinity (however understood), and therefore no reason why even the most holy or spiritual life should ever connect with the Divine.... [O]ur being created, if true, must be the deepest ontological truth about us. In this case, religions which deny creation would thereby deny any hope of valid self-knowledge, which is ironic, because they typically are devoted to self-knowledge above all else. --Robert Bolton, The One and the Many

18 Comments:

Blogger walt said...

"If I told you what it takes to reach the highest High, you'd laugh, and say nothing's that simple...."

I've got to respect you for slicing and dissecting these matters of Being, looking for the finer/finest points. Saturday morning are appropriate to such things.

Great verbal description of O, by the way.

Thanks!

12/05/2009 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yep, what Walt said.

(And I've been meaning to say, "Walt! You're back!! Woohoo!!!")

12/05/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

"...but I am now quite convinced of the critical importance of correct doctrine."

There is a dissonance between the critical importance of correct doctrine and "exploring the territory." Perhaps it's my own particularity, but the Christological controversies of the 4th century continue to be problematical to me. I essentially left the somewhat orthodox Christian church over some of the (goofy imported Persian) cosmology, and I'm wending my way back, still ready to get my breeches in bunches over the nature of Christ. But I've witnessed some of the consequences of the heretical belief. So, "by their fruits..." A continuing stumbling block.

If your writing throws me up against that spot now and again, maybe I'll finally do the work to find what I need. Maybe.

12/05/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

This clarifies for me the problems I've had with the college-town nondual buddhism that passes for spirituality around my town i.e. buddhism that can still get you laid. It definitely took me a while to even see the problem. But if true, then there is no Beauty, Goodness or truth...certainly not love.

In a basic sense what does the nondual really have to do with *me* or I with "it". Since I can only "experience" it by not being there to experience it.

At that point any spiritual experiences, no matter how beneficial they may seem, might as well be just an evolutionary quirk of our simian brains, for all the difference it seems to make. The two, the nondual and some evolved delusion, seem indistinguishable.

12/05/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

There may have been a time, before the emergence of the true individual self out of the collectivity, that nondualism made sense. But now it's just a regression that once again supports collectivism.

12/05/2009 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

hmmm...in that, to oversimplify greatly, because we had no individuality ourselves (or "personal center") so then we were unable to conceive/experience this in O?

Am I understanding this correctly? Of course, if true, what does this say about those in our cultural, formerly in the Judeo-Christian orbit, who now feel that embracing some form of nondualism is a step forward?

Obviously some forms of Theism (trinitarian theism for example) are more inclusive of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful than others. So that to many it only *seems* as if their nondualism trumps theism, because their conception theism is so utterly simplistic. Or that they are only willing to see it's most debased forms...

12/05/2009 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I say, if God isn't personal, then he's less than human -- which is to say, we are more than God. This makes no sense to me.

12/05/2009 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Retriever said...

I needed this. Sigh. Have been so bloody lazy about doctrine lately. Faffing around with my fuzzy minded theology and a "Jesus loves me, this I know," that my snarky college kid makes mincemeat of me for...

It's very helpful reading these posts of yours. They remind me of the positive reasons for reading and formulating again, as opposed to the frantic prayer for a killer soundbite apologia: "What do I say to her NOW!" when the brat trashes my faith, the church, Christians generally, and (worst of all) disses God.

I hesitate to say it, as it's prosaic, but the experience of human parenting gives one clues to God's relationship to His created order and us, his critters. Boundless possibility, bounded by material limits, unconditional love counterbalanced by the fury one only feels for beloveds who betray and disappoint one, tender loving care, smacking us upside our heads when we are particularly slow and stupid, then inconsistent sentimental love, so many gifts that we take them for granted, and always want more or different, etc. My point is that until I had children I didn't imagine the sense of how our actions can wound, disappoint, and rejoice the heart of God. The invisible cords that bind us to those we have created. Those we set free, only to long for them to return to us.

Off to read (the brain is slow and rusty...)

12/05/2009 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The rabbis have always said that it is impossible to understand how God feels about man until one has had children.

Or as my brother-in-law says, "good thing they're cute, 'cause otherwise we'd kill 'em."

12/05/2009 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the emergence of the true individual self out of the collectivity"

Providing there ever was such a thing as a collectivity of course. I've never met anyone who remembers being a part of it, nor anyone who remembers not being a part of it.

I also have reservations about the notion of "turning inward" in an astral travel sort of way. Think of all the people that have experienced OBEs where they left the body and yet remained in the physical world able to see their bodies and later tell doctors what they did during operations. these people didn't turn in, they turned out. The odd thing is that those who turn out can't touch objects in the physical world without their hands going right through walls and things, yet if they leave the physical world for another sort of dream world, everything there is solid.

It seems to me that we can talk all we want of these things, but in the end we're just spining our wheels. We don't know a damn thing and most likely never will.

12/05/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Carl Spackler said...

Well, at least you know that you don't know, so you got that going for you... which is nice.

12/05/2009 04:13:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Slackosopher,

...what does this say about those in our cultural, formerly in the Judeo-Christian orbit, who now feel that embracing some form of nondualism is a step forward?

In part I think it says a lot about much of what passes for the mainstream Christian experience today. Something has to be going pretty wrong for average people to find it so alienating. I think most here have had some pretty off-putting experiences in the past; in fact, I think part of the draw of this blog is that the depth and the orthodoxy of knowledge reveiled here are so lacking elsewhere. Like the difference between canned food that's been sitting on a shelf for an unknown length of time and fresh produce straight from the farm. Bob does a good job of showing how to find the missing nutrients. (heh - food analogies. Guess I managed to digest something this week...)

Retriever,
I had a distinct impression once that the relationship between O and us is very much like that between parent and child. I think it's one of the reasons I'm both excited and fearful about becoming a parent :)

12/05/2009 04:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Well, at least you know that you don't know, so you got that going for you... which is nice."

True. I had one of those OBE thingamabobs a long time ago. No one will ever convince me that it wasn't real in every way. But I've given up on trying to figure out any kind of science behind it or even the religious nature of it, because it wasn't particularly religious. It was just another mode of being; a jaw-dropping mode, but there were no guys in feathers standing around. No devils with horns either. Just another existence. It tells me life goes on after death, but it didn't give me any answers about God for the most part. Maybe I should have stayed longer.

12/05/2009 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Petey said...

(?!) but no (¶).

This is the problem when one meets the contained with no container. You're gonna need a bigger boat.

12/05/2009 05:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Joe Unlie said...

"There may have been a time, before the emergence of the true individual self out of the collectivity, that nondualism made sense. But now it's just a regression that once again supports collectivism."

Or maybe, properly applied (I'm certainly not saying college-town Buddhism is "proper application", Bodhidharma would beat those suckers within an inch of their life if he met them) it's an antidote to runaway individualism. Me-ism. The cult of the ego. Unfortunately, it's all too often misapplied to bolster the ego and keep the self away from the consequences of sin. But I do think it has it's uses.

I think modern China could use a little more of the ol' Zen master's cudgel, myself. Contrary to the false "collectivist" image, the cities here are pits of self-seeking that would (and frequently do!) make Manhattanites blush. It's an orgy of consumption, sex and booze.

"I say, if God isn't personal, then he's less than human -- which is to say, we are more than God. This makes no sense to me."

Right, but what is the personal?

12/06/2009 04:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"The fact that God cannot or will not bring consciousness into this world except in individual persons must imply something about its essential nature." --Bolton

12/06/2009 07:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Joe Unlie said...

Interesting quote, but Bolton can't be certain of that. I find panpsychism an equally compelling (if equally unprovable) argument. Neither is the problem of a personal god, as I interpret it, dealt with in that statement, but that's a line of reasoning for another thread...

12/06/2009 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"One such intrinsic heresy, for example, would be the absurd doctrine of "absolute relativism." Another would be the truth-killing doctrine of materialism. Yet another is the virtue-destroying belief in moral relativism. Such doctrines are not just wrong but intrinsically evil, and bring nothing but confusion, misery, and destruction in their wake, for they undermine man's very reason for being by abolishing truth and virtue."

True, and rare is it that you find one without the other.

Victor Davis Hanson said in his recent Imprimis, responding to the grief he continually gets for speaking of a "Western Way of War",

"... This question is disputed, but I think we know them when we see them. They include a commitment to constitutional or limited government, freedom of the individual, religious freedom in a sense that precludes religious tyranny, respect for property rights, faith in free markets, and an openness to rationalism or to the explanation of natural phenomena through reason. These ideas were combined in various ways through Western history, and eventually brought us to where we are today. The resultant system creates more prosperity and affluence than any other. And of course, I don't mean to suggest that there was Jeffersonian democracy in 13th century England or in the Swiss cantons. But the blueprint for free government always existed in the West, in a way that it didn't elsewhere. ..."

Likewise, materialism and moral relativism, and the evasion of reality they both require, serve as the leftist way of war upon Western Civilization. Everything else follows from it.

12/07/2009 02:16:00 PM  

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