Saturday, January 31, 2009

Darwin was Not a Darwinian

For whatever reason, February '07 was a fruitful month, so I had difficulty selecting just one post to republish. I ended up choosing this one, because it has some continuity with our recent discussion of theological aesthetics. The subject has also become more relevant in the interim, what with Queeg's misosophical lurch into clinical inanity and liztardian genetic triumphalism.


New commenter Flash Gordon left a provocative challenge yesterday, claiming that Dear Leader is "interested in the origin of life and intelligence. Darwin was interested in those things also. He made a valuable contribution to our understanding of those things."

The first two points are entirely true, while the third is a bit more ambiguous, since I am more interested in the origin of life and of specifically human intelligence, while Darwin's contribution was to the origin of species and of animal intelligence (which humans also naturally possess but infinitely transcend).

Starting with the former, natural selection can have no bearing on the origin of life, since natural selection by definition requires living organisms to select.

While I am aware of the fact that some theorists are attempting to save the appearances of materialism by applying principles of natural selection to the non-organic world, as I explained in The New Testavus For the Rest of Us, what both they and orthodox biologists fail to appreciate is that any type of natural selection presupposes a metaphysical principle that must be anterior to both organisms and the cosmos itself: wholeness. Neither life nor natural selection could exist in a cosmos that did not have a principle of wholeness woven into its very fabric. In fact, to say "cosmos" is to say "wholeness," since a cosmos is by definition a unified and ordered totality -- just like an organism (which is its more or less distant reflection: as above, so below).

In an organism, no matter where or how deeply we look, we find fractal wholeness at every level. You could even say that the essence of pathology is an absence of integrated wholeness -- some part of the whole has broken away and is "doing its own thing," you know, like my wayward pancreas.

The same is true of the first hyperdimensional organ, the human mind, which in health is a dynamically integrated whole -- a rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory; then again, not necessarily) in the phase space of subjectivity, as it were.

The essence of mental illness is the existence of semi-autonomous autopoietic subpersonalities (i.e., mind parasites) with agendas all their own, and which don't really give a hoot what you think or want. These spectral entities haunt the mindscape and look to infect others or to draw them into their little psychodramas in a way that is self-defeating to the host.

Mr. Gordon left a quote in which Darwin expresses the sentiment that (referring to his scientisic vision of metaphysical Darwinism), There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Gordon concludes by asking, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in [the] 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous" (Evolution = Random Error + Environmental Feedback).

Let's break this down for my omies. First, "There is grandeur in this view of life." Is that true? Is there? If so, one wonders how it got there. Why, on strictly Darwinian grounds, would any mental view of anything be a sponsor of "grandeur." It's impossible to know exactly what Darwin meant by the use of this term, which has no non-poetic or exact meaning. Rather, it is entirely subjective, since it connotes things such as "magnificence," "glory," lofty," "sublime," and "wonderful."

Now, I personally have no difficulty with any of these categories of human experience, as I believe they disclose objective realities. But I wonder what evolutionary purpose they serve? Let us suppose that I am one of our ancient furbears, and that a random genetic mutation has given me the heretofore unknown ability to be in a state of aesthetic arrest as I contemplate, I don't know, a grand sunset or a magnificent mountain. Remember, there is nothing intrinsically grand or magnificent until a human subject makes it so, just as there is no such thing as a ball or strike until an umpire makes the call. So I'm staring with astonagement at the sunset and a lion pounces on me, or a rival Neanderthal conks me on the head and places me on the menu. The gene for grandeur dies on the vine.

Let's not kid ourselves. We really only have two choices. Either this cosmos is in fact grand -- not to mention, beautiful, awesome, sacred and numinous -- or our genes, for reasons we cannot know, randomly mutated in such a way that we imagine that such entirely chimerical things as grandeur and beauty exist. But in reality, we are simply prisoners of our genes, and by extension, our nervous systems. I don't see how one can say that it is a "grand" view of the cosmos if the grandeur is simply an illusory side effect of our nervous system. Thus, there is an obvious contradiction at the heart of Darwin's sentimental assessment of his own theory.

Next: Endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Here again, I have no difficulty agreeing with this statement, but one naturally wonders what Darwin meant by "beautiful" and "wonderful." Obviously, on any strict Darwinian view, "beauty" cannot objectively exist. Rather, there can be only the illusion of beauty that is put there for some reason related to reproductive fitness. To us, a peacock or a butterfly is "beautiful," but in reality their markings are just there to attract the opposite sex of their particular species. It's actually none of our business.

Which is true of nature in general. Animals are only interested in other animals to the extent that they can 1) eat them, 2) can have sex with them, 3) need to run away from them or 4) can form some kind of symbiotic or parasitic relationship that advances survival prospects, like the alliance of rock stars and supermodels. No antelope, in the midst of running for its life, thinks to itself, "I give that lion credit. It sure is a magnificent beast." No goat or rabbit says, "pity I have to eat this beautiful flower. It would look so nice on top of the telly." No fly, while struggling for its life, says "hmm. Check out the fabulous geometric design of this web. Such stark neo-industrial beauty!" (unless he watches "Queer Eye For the Straight Fly").

Now, I can well understand on Darwinian grounds why the sons of heaven would have the illusion that the daughters of men are so beautiful. Which they are. But I do not see what this has to do with seeing other species as beautiful. What's the point? What is the added value to our reproductive fitness? There are things that are beautiful to the eye, just as there are things that are beautiful to the ear: beautiful paintings, beautiful poems, beautiful symphonies and cathedrals, beautiful equations, beautiful theories, beautiful theologies, beautiful afternoons, beautiful moments in life. There is beauty hidden in every fold and cranny of existence. Did humans somehow "awaken" to a cosmos that just so happens to be permeated with beauty? If so, how did all the beauty get in there? Isn't a beautiful object the reflection of a beautiful subject? Who was the Subject of all this Cosmic Beauty before human subjects were here?

Perhaps, like wholeness, it cannot not be here. For what is wholeness? In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce's alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, discusses the criteria for great art. He says that it is the task of the true artist to record "epiphanies," that is, sudden spiritual manifestations, or ingressions. Following Aquinas, he says that the three things necessary to beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance, or claritas. It is this third category that has to do with epiphanies, when the soul of the thing, its essential whatness, leaps through its outer appearance and reveals its true nature. This supreme quality of beauty transfers light from another world, provoking a spiritual state in which we apprehend the luminous reality behind appearances and see things in their metaphysical transparency.

Now Bob, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous."

First of all, this is not my equation. Rather, it is the equation that forms the basis of Darwinism, which is that all change in the phenotype is a result of random genetic mutations that either enhance or diminish our reproductive fitness. To the extent that a species is "intelligent," the intelligence is always in the service of something that both guides and limits it, which is reproductive fitness. In other words, either intelligence, like beauty and virtue, transcends and therefore cannot be reduced to genetics; or, it is an ultimately meaningless side effect of our genetic "strategy." (In fact, we shouldn't even say "our" genes, since this reverses the relation of ownership. According the strict Darwinians, it is our body, or phenotype, that ultimately "belongs" to the "selfish genes.")

But what is human intelligence, really? As mentioned above, if there is aesthetic discernment, then surely there is beauty. Likewise, if man is intelligent in any meaningful sense of the term, then surely there is reality to be apprehended and there is truth to be known. For if intelligence does not know reality or disclose truth, then it hardly deserves the name. In other words, if it is just a more elaborate way to know falsehood and delusion in order to get chicks, then truly, there is nothing further to debate, because truth cannot even be conceived, much less known.

Is it possible that strict reductionistic Darwinism could be "true" without contradicting its own principles? I do not see how. As Schuon has written, human intelligence "is the perception of the real and not the 'intellectualization' of the unreal." The discernment of intelligence allows us to pass "from appearances to reality, from forms to essence, and from effects to cause." No animal can know of the reality behind appearances or intuit the essence beneath the form. This is what I mean when I say that the gap between human and animal intelligence is literally infinite, because the gap between truth and its alternatives is infinite.

Why is human intelligence so perfectly adapted to invisible realties that played no role in the selection of our genes? Why is there nothing in the world commensurate with the nature of human intelligence, which easily transcends everything into which it comes into contact, including our own evolution? If we comprehend our own evolution, isn't this another way of saying that we transcend it? And if we don't comprehend it, isn't Darwinism, ipso facto, false?

Schuon writes of the truism that "It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error." How can this be? First, it results from an intelligence "that is exclusively 'horizontal,' hence lacking all awareness of 'vertical' relationships." Secondly, it results from "an extra-intellectual element, such as sentimentality or passion; the exclusivism of 'horizontality' creates a void that the irrational necessarily comes to fill." In short, as all psychoanalysts and true theologians know, reason is more often than not a slave of the passions.

Man is intelligence, just as he is beauty. For this reason, no normal person sets out to love ugliness or know error. Just as good character involves distinguishing between good and evil and willing the former, the virtue of intelligence is its intrinsic love of truth. Was Darwin a truth lover? I would say there is no question that he was. His passion for Truth is obvious at every turn (albeit in an intrinsically limited way). Therefore, he cannot have been a Darwinian, for Truth renders metaphysical Darwinism extinct.

Man is intelligence, and intelligence is the transcending of forms and the realization of the invisible Essence; to say human intelligence is to say absoluteness and transcendence. --F. Schuon

Friday, January 30, 2009

Faith in Wholeness, Wholeness in Faith

Whoever is not capable of seeing and 'reading' the form will, by the same token, fail to perceive the content. Whoever is not illuminated by the form will see no light in the content either. --Balthasar

Beauty is always a totality, or a radiant harmony between the parts and whole. So first of all, beauty presupposes the ontological category wholeness, which is a very special mode that the rank and foul generally take for granted. But as I explained in chapter two of the Coonifesto, wholeness is also a prerequisite for any kind of science, or material truth.

For example, natural selection presupposes wholeness, specifically, the wholeness of the organism. Neither evolution nor organisms would be possible in a cosmos of parts only. In fact, the very idea is absurd, because to say "cosmos" is to say "whole" -- not an "additive" or "exterior" whole, but an intrinsic one that discloses interior relations and therefore interiority. The cosmos has a deep interiority complex, to say the least.

The cosmos is not an agglomeration of parts, the ultimate pile of disjointed stuff. Nor could this interior wholeness ever somehow emerge in a cosmos that wasn't already whole, any more than intellect could appear in a cosmos that didn't already inhere in intelligence.

Rather, the cosmos is truly One, at least on its own level. Furthermore, -- and this hardly needs to be said -- we can only know this oneness because we ourselves are one, except on a higher level than the physical cosmos. Suffice it to say that other animals do not live in the "cosmos" but only in their own neurology, from which they can never break free.

Obviously, it is not necessary for us to travel the 14 billion light years of the cosmos to "prove" its spatial and temporal unity. That would be stupid. Not to mention a waste of eternity. Even materialists unconsciously know that the cosmos is one (since the statement is a tautology), even though, ironically, this oneness is proof that the cosmos transcends matter and that the materialist transcends his brain.

But no one ever accused atheists of metaphysical consistency. I mean, as soon as the atheist opens his piehole to say "I...," he should stop right there and think about the extraordinary metaphysical implications of this unified interior subject, which is the prior ground of making any true statement at all.

In other words, not only does science presuppose objective wholeness; it also a fortiori presupposes subjective wholeness. Unless you say that "one part of me knows that atheism is true, while another part knows that it's bullshit." No. If the whole of you can (potentially) know the whole of realty -- which is a fundamental assumption underlying science -- then you are simply a latecomer to what the mystic not only knows, but realizes.

Now, let us say, for the sake of argument, that the oneness of reality is an unavoidable side effect of the intrinsic oneness of the Creator. In fact, let's take this down a couple of notches, to the level of the human creator.

For example, when I wrote my book, I was attempting to explicate in linear form my own apprehension of the oneness of reality, i.e., to compose and play the Cosmic Suite. And as I pointed out in the introduction to the book, there are an infinite number of pathways through the great cosmic chords, some of which are "complete" and musically satisfying, others banal, predictable, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords.

So, this journey to the one is not just guided by truth, but beauty, or aesthetics. If I am not mistaken, this is one of the points Walt was trying to make in his most excellent comment yesterday, when he spoke of sifting the data of his own spiritual experiences through a newly discovered "aesthetic sense" which "seemed to act like a guidance system when I paid attention to it."

Just as God is beyond-being, he is equally "beauty beyond beauty." How does this beyond-beauty disclose itself within time? This is one of the key ideas Balthasar explicates in his seven-volume theological aesthetics. The fact that it required seven volumes -- and some 3,500+ pages -- for him to write something adequate to this divine beauty, tells you something about its inexhaustible effulgence.

For example, even Christ does not just appear "out of nowhere," like an alien dropped from on high, with no context to understand him. Rather, he is situated within a temporal stream that manifests its own impossibly deep interior wholeness, radiating from the alpha of Genesis to the omega of Revelation.

Or, one could day that his appearance is the revelation of that much deeper unity, i.e., the unity of the old and new covenants, of God and man, of time and eternity, etc. Only after his appearance were some extraordinarily profound (and grace-infused) thinkers able to apprehend this vastly deeper atemporal unity -- i.e., the arc of salvation -- conditioning the events of time. As Balthasar writes, "Christ's existence and his teaching would not be a comprehensible form if it were not for his rootedness in a salvation-history that leads up to him."

So while scripture "points to" Christ, even more so does Christ point to scripture, since he is its organizing principle, so to speak -- its atemporal "center."

How does one begin to "see" such truth and beauty? Balthasar says that "only through form can the lightning-bolt of eternal beauty flash. There is a moment in which the bursting light of spirit as it makes its appearance completely drenches external form in its rays."

From this, we know in an instant that we are not in the presence of a "sensual," but spiritual beauty. And the apprehension of this spiritual beauty seems always to provoke the instinct of adoration, because it is to know that man could not have made this form.

Or, this is when a fellow knows he is a spirit who blazes through and shatters the constraining letters of physics, biology, and history. And the full realization of this earth-shattering faith in the beauty of truth and truth of beauty is "the theological act of perception," or the faith that moves mountains of BS.

It is not as if one could, by means of rational inquiry and argument, recognize [Jesus] to be a (perfect? religious? inspired?) man and then, following the pointers provided by this rational knowledge, move to the conclusion that he is God's Son and himself God.... Jesus' form can be seen for what it is only when it is grasped and accepted as the appearance of a divine depth transcending all worldly nature. --Balthasar

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Form and Substance of God

I was contemplating something by James that might be relevant to our quest for the Divine Beauty. He observes that "None of the great theistic arguments start with an unknown premise freely created by the mind, but with truths given in sense experience analyzed by principles that are taken to be true. There is simply no hypothesis to dispute; no burden of proof to be assigned; ... no series of various gods that needs to be decided between from the start; no appeal to Ockham’s razor to decide between competing hypotheses even before the argument begins."

Obviously, sense experience is a necessary but insufficient condition for the apprehension of God. The principles are far more important, specifically, those principles that cannot not be true, such as "being is," "we can know that being is," "therefore truth is," etc. After all, even dogs and atheists have senses. What they lack is the ability to perceive the whole and to know the principles.

There is form and substance. For God, I suppose that being is the first form, since he is "beyond being." But for us, being is substance, and thought is form: word + spirit, or infinite and absolute, container and contained, ♀ and ♂.

Beauty is always a form; therefore, in the final analysis -- or synthesis -- we could say that beauty is the form of God (bearing in mind that virtue, i.e., loving what is worthy of love, is beauty of soul).

Here again, in the perception of beauty, the senses are obviously necessary but insufficient. Two people can look at, or listen to, the identical form, and one will apprehend the beauty while the other won't. This hardly means that beauty is subjective, much less that "perception is reality." Rather, we must make ourselves adequate to the demands of the form. But how many atheists make themselves adequate to the forms of religion? That's a silly question. By definition, none, any more than Cousin Dupree is adequate to the beauty of having a job.

How can you "prove" to someone that the form exists? You can't. Either they can see it, or they can't. And if they can't, then they have to first want to learn how. And in order to do that, they must become deeply humble, admit their deficiency, and deliver themselves into the hands of a master -- of someone who does see the form. Furthermore, just as when one begins a real fitness regimen, the atheist will have to learn to tolerate pain in places he didn't know he had places.

In the end, since the form is a self-revelation of God, or God's witness to himself, one must "participate in God." You know the old story: "the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me" (Eckhart). So, "how you see yourself" makes a big difference with regard to how you hear God (and voice vista).

Now, if you can actually see the form, then you don't trouble yourself with "proving" that it exists. Let's take the example of a beautiful melody. The melody is made up of individual notes. If I hear the beauty in the melody, I am hardly going to waste my time trying to prove that the notes exist, much less that the beauty of the form can be located in them. No, it is the totality of the form that must first be apprehended; this form confers the beauty upon the notes, like a gift from above.

It is just so with religion, which begins -- not ends -- with the form. The form is "given" to us in revelation; or, to turn it around, revelation is any instance of God revealing his form. Form is what is revealed in revelation (although by definition, there is always more or less of the substance in the form; one could say that God is the form, but the form is not God, the latter being the definition of idolatry. There are also spiritual practices that focus on the "substance," e.g., tantric yoga, aimed at raising the shakti, but that's another story).

Consider the first words of Genesis, which tell us that God's initial -- and perpetual -- act is to bring form to the formless. In so doing, the form is "good," which of course it must be. Or, consider the first words of John, which parallel Genesis, and in-form us that in the beginning -- or at the Origin -- is the Word, or form, which is with God, the substance of all. For When He prepared the heavens, I was there. When He drew a circle on the face of the deep and assigned to the sea its limit, I was there. When He marked out the foundations of the earth, I was there (adapted from Proverbs 8:27-29).

Oh yes, I was -- I AM -- there, before the beginning. For where else could I be and still be? And those who hate me love death.

Who loves death? Oh, you know, those theillogical academonic knuckleheads whose "first move in [their] search for an 'understanding' of [religious] texts is to dissect their form into sources, psychological motivations, and the sociological effects of milieu, even before the form has been really contemplated and read for its meaning as form" (Balthasar).

Because buddy, there's one thing even a doctrinairehead atheist can know about revelation: and that is that one "can never again recapture the living totality of form once it has been dissected and sawed into pieces, no matter how informative the conclusions which this anatomy may bring to light." For "anatomy can only be practiced on a dead body, since it is opposed to the movements of life and seeks to pass from the whole to its parts and elements" (Balthasar).

You could say that atheism is form without substance or substance without form, which is why it is so ugly and therefore beneath the dignity of the human station. But if you can't even see the human station.... well, let's just say you'll never arrive there.

So "we can 'go behind' [the] form only at risk of losing both image and Spirit conjointly" (Balthasar). We end up with bits and scraps that are taken as more real than the reality they are designed to serve. This demystification of the Essence always comes at the expense of a remystification of Existence, and a kind of mystagogic earth-religion: attack God, and you wound -- and eventually murder -- man. Thus, a sacrificial cult is born, the very inverse of the cult that puts an end once and for all to such sacrifices.

For if man is the Image and Likeness, then he too is a beautiful whole -- at least in potential. But not according to the metaphysical Darwinists, who break apart our wholeness and insist that man is subordinate to his "selfish genes," or to the archaic environment, or to various selective pressures.

Just the other day, I read a leading evolutionary psychologist who assures us that goodness and virtue do not exist, and that wherever they appear to exist, one can be sure that they reveal some underlying genetic advantage, no matter how "selfless" the act. This made me wonder: what's he getting out of saying that? What genetic advantage does it confer? For one thing, it confers tenure, along with the esteem of his equally benighted peers. It's like asking what Al Gore gets out of perpetuating the global warming hoax, aside from 100 million dollars and counting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cosmic Divorce and the Threedom of Marriage

One reason why divine beauty -- the Glory of the Lord -- is central to Christianity, is that beauty is form. In contrast, in Eastern religions the formless trumps the formal, just as the impersonal Self trumps the personal self. But at least Vedanta, Taoism, and Buddhism dissolve form "from above."

In the anti-Christic world of the secular West, we have a masturbatory double, or dopplewänker, of this transcendence, so that form is dissolved "from below," all the way down to the infertility dregs of deconstruction, multiculturalism, scientism, metaphysical Darwinism, etc. As such, this is why there is so much ugliness and barbarism in the secular temples of the university and among the slowbrow priesthood of the elite media.

We left off yesterday with a comment by Balthasar that "if form is broken down into subdivisions and auxiliary parts for the sake of explanation, this is unfortunately a sign that the true form has not been perceived as such at all." Furthermore, "it would not be worthwhile being human if man were but the amalgamation of such 'material', if the one thing necessary, the irreplaceable pearl, were not a reality for the sake of which we would sell everything else."

The pearl is not just a form, but a beautiful form. Which is why "when all genuine worldly forms are questioned and discounted, responsibility for that form really lies in the hands of Christians." This very much reminds me of Richard Weaver's observation that attacks on religion are in the end attacks on mind. But they are equally -- and must be -- attacks on beauty.

For example, it is not even possible in our debased culture to make the commonplace argument that the redefinition of marriage, whatever else it is, is a frontal assault on beauty -- specifically, the divine elevation and beautification of the male-female sexual bond. Either you see this beauty -- i.e., you are spiritually adequate to it -- or you don't. And if you don't, it will hardly matter to you if the state forces "homosexual marriage" on the rest of us, thereby dissolving this beautiful archetypal form from below.

Hmm, that's a coincidence. Balthasar next goes into a little riff on marriage, which he says "is only true to itself if it is a kind of bracket that both transcends and contains all an individual's cravings to 'break out' of its bonds and to assert himself." One of the reasons this form must be preserved -- besides the fact that it is ontologically real, so that to deny it is to situate oneself outside reality -- is that it is the most common means of the spiritual transcendence of sexual polarity into a higher union. More generally, it is the very archetype of the union of opposites, which "homosexual marriage" can obviously never be.

(A point of order: as our Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement reminds us, fulfilling the archetype of marriage does not require being married to another biological person; one thinks of the nun who is "married to Christ." The archetype is real; how one fulfills it is another matter.)

"Marriage is that indissoluble reality which confronts with an iron hand all existence's tendencies to disintegrate, and it compels the faltering person to grow, beyond himself, into real love by modeling his life on the form enjoined." What begins as imitation of the form eventually grows toward the form itself. This is why it is difficult to imagine a more precious gift one could give to one's children than a loving and passionate marriage.

In fact, I remember a few years back, reading a study about the psychological effects of divorce on children. One of effects -- and the researchers were not sophisticated enough to draw out all of the cosmic and metaphysical implications of this -- was an inability of the child to later apprehend the deeper unity of things, being that their own attempt at primordial unity -- i.e., the unification of Mother and Father -- was sundered at the beginning.

Remember, from the perspective of the child, Mother and Father are much more than mere "people." Rather, they are more like worlds, and if these worlds literally separate, it is beyond the means of the child to bring them back together in his immature psyche. The later effects can be subtle or profound, but I certainly notice them in my practice. For a host of ontological and developmental reasons, a merger in threeness is very different from a merger in twoness. Suffice it to say that our humanness is rooted in the former. We are trinitarian to the core.

One important point to bear in mind is that marriage -- at least from our side of things -- should not be thought of as a noun but a verb. To be precise, it is more like a "journey toward" the archetypal state of marriage. Again, Balthasar describes it well:

"When they make their promises, the spouses are not relying on themselves -- the shifting songs of their own freedom -- but rather on the form that chooses them because they have chosen it, the form to which they have committed themselves in their act as persons." In other words, the spouses do not entrust themselves to biology, to self, or even to the other, but to the fulfillment of "a form with which they can wholly identify themselves even in the deepest aspects of their personality because this form extends through all the levels of life," all the way "up to the heights of grace and of life in the Holy Spirit."

As a result, a higher and more intense kind of freedom "is discovered within the form itself, and the life of the married person can henceforth be understood only in terms of this interior mystery."

Now, just because many if not most people fail to ascend to the form is hardly a reason to throw out the form, any more than we should redefine health just because most people are fat and cannot attain the archetypal physical form. But one of the strategies of the left has been to increasingly demean marriage, so that no one sees the form anymore. As a result, why should it matter if a man wants to marry a man, a mannequin, a Manilow, or a melon? Again, once the form has been destroyed from below, it's all meaningless anyway.

Suffice it to say, as we mentioned above about beauty and about the mind as such, the form of marriage "is today more then ever entrusted to the care of Christians." It is an example of how we "need not destroy the natural in order to achieve the supernatural goal."

Rather, the natural becomes a very means of our supernatural re-ascent. It is not just "maya," or cosmic illusion. Rather, the divine reality radiates through the natural, at least for those with eyes to see. And at risk of belaboring the point, it is only possible because the one is three, and one of the three became -- and therefore can become -- human flesh.

The Incarnation uses created Being at a new depth as a language and a means of expression for the divine Being and essence.... This incomparable paradox stands as the fountainhead of the Christian aesthetic, and therefore of all aesthetics! --Balthasar

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How the Worm Turns and Grows in the Dark

Let us begin with an orthoparadoxical cryptogram by James at Just Thomism, who observes that "The cosmos shows us nothing like the knowledge by which we know it." And even less does it show us anything "like the source from which the knowledge flows."

In other words, not only does the cosmos have an invisible interior, but it directly communicates this perfect nonsense to another, even greater, invisible interior. That would be us.

However, if we fail to turn upstream to the source of this bifurcated interiority, it will remain a complete and utter mystery, which is the fate of the scientific materialist, who is condemned to live in a kind of useless cloud of subjectivity for which he can never account. But if we do turn to that source, then it becomes an awesome and glorious Mystery. If you want to think about it symbolically, from the horizontal perspective, ( ) and (•) give rise to one another. But from the vertical standpoint, both are a function of O.

I am reminded of a comment Churchill once made, to the effect that "we are all worms." However, after a thoughtful pause, he added, "but I do believe that I am a glow worm." Now, for those of us who aren't born that way, to go from worm to glow worm is a matter of repentance, or "metanoia," which simply means to "turn around" -- not from left to right or east to west, but from exterior to interior and down to up.

But I would go even further, and say that this is how you caterpult your buddhafly -- how the humble cocOOn becomes the womb of the christallus through the self-emptying of our voidgin birth.

It all begins with the ability to "read" the world's interiority -- which doesn't just communicate truth, but beauty. That much is obvious, although the materialist tends to focus on the former to the exclusion of the latter, thus disfiguring his metaphysic from the outset. For as Balthasar writes, "Whoever insists that he can neither see it nor read it, or whoever cannot accept it, but rather seeks to 'break it up' critically into supposedly prior components, that person falls into the void and, what is worse, he falls into what is opposed to the true and the good" (emphasis mine).

Now, if you understand that, then you understand the basis of my objection to radical secularism, because it starts with Ø instead of O. As a result, as it proceeds and ramifies horizontally, it only magnifies and concretizes its initial error, which cannot be located in the horizontal stream of knowledge, because it's way back there where you started. "In my beginning is my end," as the poet said.

It very much reminds me of our erstwhile jester, who could not see -- because he could not see -- that I am always attempting to communicate a vision of the whole through parts, which, after all, is the only way you can do it. But he would, with perfect myOpia, wrench one of the parts from its irreducibly aesthetic context in order to prove to himself that the whole does not exist. Truly, this is like cutting off your face despite your nous.

This is why we insist that there is such a thing as spiritual autism, i.e., people who live in a bizarre world of parts, which they cannot unify into the whole -- like the autistic child who can see the skin that covers the front of the skull, but cannot read expressions. And an "expression" is nothing less than the "interior" of the face; or, you could say that the expression is the externalization of the soul. Ether way, cosmically speaking, such a one is barred entry into the cosmos proper, and is condemned to crawling around on its periphery, or "epidermis," just like a... a worm.

Now, the key to spiritual growth is this deepening of our interior, which elsewhere I have called the "colonization of consciousness," or the "conquest of dimensionality," or "raids on the wild godhead," or "ex-perditions over the subjective horizon," or "the hajj to Upper Tonga," etc. Balthasar agrees that "as we proceed from plant to animal to man, we witness a deepening of this interiority, and, at the same time... a deepening freedom [read: conquest of dimensionality] of the expressive play of forms" (emphasis mine).

In other words, each of the following things is related to the others, because they emanate from the "above": interiority, unity, wholeness, beauty, freedom. Deepen one of these, and you deepen the others. Likewise, deny one, and you weaken and eventually "murder" the others. For we are an "image of the One," with all that implies.

Now, the One is the essence of interiority, otherwise it would merely be an agglomeration of externally related parts. Therefore, we are one because the One is one, the difference being that our oneness must be realized, whereas the oneness of the One is intrinsic and cannot not be one. This is why the more immanent the One is, the more transcendent. Its oneness overflows everywhere, so that everything is ultimately its witness and testament.

Here is how Balthasar describes it: "As a totality of spirit and body, man must make himself into God's mirror and seek to attain that transcendence and radiance that must be found in the world's substance if it is indeed God's image and likeness -- his word and gesture, action and drama. This is the simple reason why man's being, even in its origin, is already form, form which does not curtail the spirit and its freedom but which is identical with them."

Again: image --> form --> beauty --> transcendence --> being --> freedom --> God. Or, you could take the same sequence in reverse, and arrive at Man, who is the only being who must be, relatively speaking, of course. In other words, "being is, therefore I am; I am, therefore I think; I think, therefore truth is; truth is, therefore God." Etc.

Conversely, as James suggests, "If the things in the cosmos alone are 'what exists', then I..."

I what? Then I am no more. I have committed metaphysical cluelesside. I am blind and deaf to the divine beauty, to the metaphysical transparency of the One. Therefore,

Our first principle must always be the indissolubility of form.... If form is broken down into subdivisions and auxiliary parts for the sake of explanation, this is unfortunately a sign that the true form has not been perceived as such at all. What man is in his totality cannot be 'explained' in terms of the process by which he has become what he is.... All these dimensions produce material which is then subsumed by the form of man....

Truly, it would not be worthwhile being human if man were but the amalgamation of such 'material', if the one thing necessary, the irreplaceable pearl, were not a reality for the sake of which we would sell everything else. This precious 'pearl' must have been espied in the first place by an eye that recognizes value, an eye which, being enthralled by the beauty of this unique form, dismisses all else as 'rubbish' in order to acquire the one thing which alone is worthy of claiming our life unconditionally
. --Balthasar (sorry for the length; with Balthasar, sentences are paragraphs, paragraphs are pages, pages are chapters, etc.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hearing and Performing the Cosmic Suite

This might be a brief one. I think I'm a little discoonb'obulated from the summa vacation. In fact, I'm not even sure what deities. I just know it's not an allahday.

Could it be a case of jot lag? This is the longest I've gone without jotting down a post in almost three and a-half years, and now I'm lagging four days behind -- or below -- whatever it was I've been chasing all that time. I knew I'd lose the thread if I stopped, and now here I am, unraveled like an old bolero. If you think blogging about the cosmos every day is difficult, just try doing it every five days.

Actually, it's no joke. This reminds me of the sort of tip-top shape the bodymind must be in, in order to "do" theology at all. Since doing so involves intense verticalisthenics and gymgnostics, you have to behave like a professional athlete, minus the guns, drugs, and hookers. In my case, it means eating right, getting plenty of rest, working out at least once a day, and staying 3000 miles away certain relatives.

When you hear about the sorts of strict rules imposed upon spiritual seekers, I'm sure that this is the underlying principle which the rules are attempting to honor. This is why I could never be anti-somatic. Nevertheless, it's possible to get lost in the letter and lose the spirit. For example, Mormons won't let you even have caffeine. What's that all about? What if you can't see God at 6:00AM without a little fine Colombian? What are you supposed to do, switch over to the Cuervo Gold?

No, don't help me. Balthasar, right? Divine beauty, right? Maybe it will help if I review what I said last Wednesday. Be right back.....

Okay. Since I'm now halfway into volume two of the theological aesthetics, at least I can see that I won't have to actually deal with all seven volumes of The Glory of the Lord, because the first volume lays out the the broad theological approach, whereas the others mainly explicate individual examples of how it all works out in practice through Augustine, Denys, Dante, and various other lumen beings down through Christian minstrelsy.

Besides, a 'Coon doesn't get lost in the details, but always asks himself by virtue of what principle? And where's the loophole? In other words, no different than the scientist, we want to try to reduce the welter of theologoumena to some underlying unity of which they are the inevitable byproduct -- just like how, say, the underlying order of quantum physics produces such a infinite landscape of seemingly independent objects.

So I suppose we are seeking "the order of beauty," so to speak, or the "place" from which it arises. To even suggest that there could be a naturalistic source of beauty is to not know what beauty is, precisely; for beauty is, among other things, an everyday example of the supernatural breaking through the natural. And if God is the ultimate source and substance of beauty, then the more we ascend vertically, the more beautiful the mindscape. Conversely, right before you descend to the ego, there's a big sign at the side of the road that says End Scenic Route.

With vertical colonization, you could say that figure and ground are gradually reversed, so instead of focussing upon the outward beauty, we begin to "see" the interior beauty of which it is an expression. And surely interior beauty must take priority over exterior beauty, since the latter is a localized instance of the former, in the same way that one cannot have an instance of truth in the absence of Truth as such. And to say that Truth is what is known is a tautology; there can be no truth in the absence of an interior knower. To say "truth" is to say God, which only a human being can say. So there. I've said it.

Likewise, to say "beauty" is also to say God, which only a human being can see or hear, for each of our physical senses has a vertical analogue (indeed, as we shall later discuss, the former derive from the latter, not vice versa).

Here is how Balthasar sets things up: if beauty is "the radiance and splendour which breaks forth in expressive form from a veiled and yet mighty depth of being," then "the event of the self-revelation of the hidden, the utterly free and sovereign God in the forms of this world, in word and history, and finally in the human form itself, will itself form an analogy to that worldly beauty however far it outstrips it." In other words, the divine beauty is so powerfully radiant, that it will both reveal itself in form, but at the same time shatter forms, since no form could possibly contain it.

In the figure of Jesus, it is said that God pours forth and empties himself into the "not-God" of humanity. No wonder then that death could not contain him! But for the Jew, one could also say that the Torah reveals the ainsoferable what's-his-G-d name without the possibility of containing him. And no wonder that diverse theologies result from the One outpouring, for you simply cannot contain a higher dimension with the nets of a lower.

As Balthasar writes, these manifold ways of seeing exist "not so much because of the limitation of human perception as because of the yet greater fulness of revelation, as it shines forth and overwhelms its beholders." You could say that the divine beauty descends into a form, and that this or that form will be a more or less adequate container for the infinite beauty. To a Christian, Christ is that perfect form, i.e, the Word of God. I don't think it would be incorrect to say that the "Son" may be thought of as the form of the formless Father, but I could be wrong there.

This is also why "fundamentalism" is such a poor and meager substitute for, say, Aquinas, who provides us with a relatively complete and total vision of the One. But so too does a Denys or Eckhart provide a relatively complete vision. But put them all together -- well buddy, then you've really got something, supposing your soul is capacious enough to handle the project. If not, no big. Just don't confuse your little theological tchotchke with the Louvre. Don't confuse Eckhart Tolle with Meister Eckhart.

For the end result should be like "a full orchestra, whose various instruments blend well with one another; their mutual harmony proves that they all play from the same score (which both transcends and embraces them)."

That sounds familiar. Yes, here it is, from the Coonifesto. Another case of someone preemptively plagiarising me before even extending to me the courtesy being born:

The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional score that must be read, understood and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways. The score can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be "music does not exist."

Someone mentioned pictures. Here's one. After Future Leader realized there was an eligible lady in the next row, remaining seated was out of the question. How's this for a subtle greeting: