Una and Saguna*, or the Juan and the Manny
The question of the relation of the One and the Many is a perennial one, not just for theology but for philosophy. Really, it might be the first question that confronts man in his awakened state (which is to say, Man): what's more real, or more fundamental, the One or the Many? The unity or the multiplicity? The Dodgers or Manny Ramirez? Is the One merely an abstract sum of the Many, or are the Many merely a concrete emanation or feature of the One? The manner in which you resolve this question at the outset will determine a multitude of logical corollaries and entailments that follow. Watch that first metaphysical step, for it is indeed a doozy!
For example, if multiplicity is considered the primary reality, this implies a metaphysic of logical atomism -- a universe of autonomous parts that are not only separate, but external to one another other, like billiard balls. But if the One is the ground of reality, then everything we perceive as separate is actually part of a higher unity with interior relations.
In the latter view, the One cannot be the sum of the parts -- a mere agglomerate, or blob -- but the parts must be organismically related in the manner of biological form. Obviously, the parts of one's body are in no way radically separate from one another, but deeply related. Their "parthood" only exists in light of the functional wholeness of the body. Each part contains the genetic blueprint of the whole, and yet, "knows" its place in the overall scheme.
In fact, we can even define pathology as an oppressive wholeness that denies the reality of the parts, or, conversely, a part that begins acting autonomously, split off from the whole (e.g., cancer, in which cells "rebel" against the body, parts against whole, scalp against Robin, or diabetes, where it's my pancreas vs. the "friendly fire" of an excessively vigilant immune system).
Right away, I think you can appreciate some of the political implications of the One-Many duality (which as we will later see, is actually a complementarity). For example, Islamists wish to eliminate the individual through the imposition of sharia law, while the left wishes to do so through the massive and intrusive state -- for the bigger the state, the smaller the citizen.
In contrast, libertarians exalt the part (the individual) to the exclusion of the whole (the spiritual community), which is why true conservatives can only have an uneasy relationship with them. Not surprisingly, capital-L Libertarians (i.e., Paulians, Randians, and members of the party of one) split off entirely from the conservative insurrection, which is why they will always be an insignificant minority, or chaotic herd of eccentrics.
Anyway, back to Bolton. He notes that "the ways in which these questions are answered are vital for any understanding of the way in which God and the world are related." And -- not to get too far ahead of ourselves -- it just so happens that orthodox Christianity, in addition to its other virtues, provides the most comprehensive solution -- indeed, the only solution -- to this primordial conundrum.
Certainly materialistic science cannot resolve it. Rather, it just makes it go away by denying half the complementarity, even while sneaking the denied half in through the back door. But they're not very clever or subtle about it. For example, to even say "cosmos" is to affirm a transcendent oneness of which we are all participants. Indeed, the practice of science is not even possible -- let alone intelligible -- in the absence of an intuition of the One; for to paraphrase Huxley, all science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.
Bolton agrees that the relation of One and Many is hardly an abstract or impractical question. Again, it underlies the fundamental divide between left and right, theist and atheist: "The manner in which the relation of the One and the Many is understood, however confusedly, has an influence which extends even to politics" -- and not just party politics. For example, the American system of government was deliberately set up so that the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between.
Now, as we all know, some of the degraded (or at least diminished) forms of contemporary religiosity often engage the will and sentiments to the exclusion of the intellect, and that's what theo-Coonservatism is here to redress: wisdom and what to do with it. But as Bolton explains, "for many Westerners, spiritual wisdom is taken to mean a supremacy of the One to an extent which makes everything else unreal." To simplify matters, we can say that these approaches to Spirit are purely "ascending" (↑), so that they represent a neo-Platonic flight from multiplicity -- maya -- or a journey into the One.
Now, for those of us who believe in Divine revelation, this is rather problematic, to say the least, for it "can only mean that revelation does not really reveal anything, since this approach equates the contents of revelation with externals and inessentials." In other words, if the nondualists are correct, then everything -- everything -- on this side of the One is ultimately unreal, including God, revelation, value, love, beauty, you and "I" (meaning any form of "other" or interior self in relation to it; indeed, all relation is negated as well).
We can see this play out in the antipathy of Eastern religionists to what they call the "ego." Quite clearly, it is impossible to reconcile such a view with the Western appreciation of the individual. It appears that something must be lost in the translation between "ego" and "individual," because, as Bolton emphasizes, the latter, "in its best forms... is the source of everything of lasting value, whether spiritually or naturally..." But for the Ascenders, "it is as though the moral tension which belongs with personality [is] no longer experienced as an adventure and a challenge, but only as a burden." No ego, no problem. But also, no science, democracy, capitalism, dynamism or progress. For me, that would be a big problem.
To value the individual is by no means to deny the One. Indeed, the individual can have no real value -- let alone infinite value -- except in relation to the One. As Bolton explains, "The natural life by itself always tends to greater multiplicity, and therefore to self-dissipation...." In other words, ironically, an excessive concern with the autonomous separateness of the ego results only in further fragmentation. Based on observations of people I know, this is because, in order to maintain the illusion of separateness, more and more reality must be denied, in the manner of radical Darwinists, whose theory is rigidly consistent, but at the cost of an absurd and truly childish incompleteness. Thus, a Darwinist can only be a "pseudo-individual," not the kind we are talking about.
But another deep irony is that the anti-modern religionist can find himself in the same leaky boat, only on the far starboard side: "Monistic [i.e., materialist] and non-dualistic thinkers are more at home in this ethos than they care to admit, and they play their part in the prevailing cult of reduction, no matter how unintentionally, while they want to express the wisdom of tradition" (Bolton).
However, some materialists are actually happy to admit it. For example, the lowbrow atheist Sam Harris seems to have no problem with Eastern approaches that really amount to no more than a kind of glorified self-hypnosis. Thus, he unwittingly but inevitably (because of the a priori rejection of wisdom, or the Word) embraces the most flagrantly anti-intellectual forms of spirituality, a la Deepak Chopra and his grubby ilk.
To be continued....