Partial Truth Abortions and Full Term Children of of the Light
I don't know if you appreciate how freakish this is. I remember reading Edward Oakes' intro to Balthasar a number of years ago, thinking that that would get me up to speed -- you know, just give me the bottom line. At the time, I thought it was a pretty good book. Only now do I realize how hopelessly inadequate it is, probably through no fault of Oakes. Rather, he was engaging in a truly impossible task, i.e., trying to contain the uncontainable.
But if we're talking about "reality," then obviously any book will be hopelessly inadequate. Our words are always shattered by the Word, thank God, because if that weren't the case, we'd all be as boring, predictable, and narrow minded as Queeg or Mtraven.
But more generally, since I only deal in the high end, I can't help being amused by the professional atheist crowd, who can only remain so smugly self-satisfied by discharging intellectual aggression toward religious straw men at the low end. But you have accomplished nothing in besting a yahoo.
Again, take the example of Catholicism, since that is what we're dealing with here. Instead of, say, condemning abusive homosexual priests, why not pick on someone your own size? Why not plunge into the world of HvB, and engage that? In short, why not deal with the best and strongest arguments of the opposition, instead of making fun of the worst? Isn't this the minimum requirement of intellectual honesty? Obviously, the Catholic church must serve a billion souls, and it would hardly be appropriate to feed them all on a diet of HvB, MOTT, or Meister Eckhart, when only 1% might be capable of digesting it.
I'm traveling back in time to my atheist phase, in order to try to understand their motives. Let's see.... Well, first of all, let me be the first to admit that I was a smug and arrogant prick -- in short, the same person I am today from the perspective of our trolls -- but that isn't enough to explain the dynamic.
Also, like any liberal, I had no understanding of the implications of my views, nor did I ever articulate any consistent first principles. That goes without saying. And there was surely an element of sadism, in that I enjoyed prevailing in arguments for its own sake, rather than for any truly higher purpose -- no different, really, than the talking heads on TV.
To be charitable, I suppose that if we take the long view, I think we can say that I was ultimately motivated by love, or else I would have remained a liberal for life. Rather, it was a nasty phase I had to go through in order to get to where I am today, just as today is a gnosty phase I have to go through in order to arrive at where I'll be a year from now.
The question is, how would I have responded at the time if I had somehow had the good fortune to run into a religious genius on the order of HvB or Schuon? How would I have reacted? Well, as a matter of fact, I did run into Schuon, probably as early as 1982 or so. But it had no real impact. He was just one name among others. I certainly wasn't able to place him in any hierarchy, and if I had, would have undoubtedly placed him below an Alan Watts, Ken Wilber or Ram Dass. In other words, I would have entirely conflated my own ignorance and inadequacy with his, as if it was in him and not me.
So I think that must be the main factor: adequacy. The intellectual, mainly due to the contamination of pride, only engages in ideas with which he is capable of comprehending, because that is what intellectuals do: play with ideas. But as soon as an idea is "understood," then the intellectual has elevated himself above it. I'm guessing that most intellectuals pride themselves on the notion that, as intellectuals, the entire world of thought is accessible to them, and that there is nothing they cannot potentially understand.
Which, of course, is arrant nonsense, for when it comes to the sorts of ideas discussed by an HvB, to understand them is to be a believer. To put it another way, if an intellectual does not believe what HvB is saying, then he hasn't understood it -- no different than if someone were to say that he doesn't believe in the law of gravity. If that is the case, it simply means that he hasn't understood it. You can try to explain it to him again, but obviously it would be a waste of time to descend to his level and argue on his own terms about the existence or non-existence of gravity.
Now, here is another critical point: religious truths can never actually be "comprehended" in the way that profane truths can be. To cite an obvious example, a sixth grader can easily comprehend the relative truth of natural selection, being that such a simple idea can be printed on a tee shirt or reduced to a tattoo on Charles Johnson's concave chest. But just try explaining to him the truth of Theo-Logic. Here, let's begin with the first paragraph:
To talk about truth means more than merely to ask whether or not truth exists and, perhaps, to answer in the affirmative. This particular question -- whether or not truth exists -- is the principal concern of critical epistemology, and it is certainly serious enough to warrant a thorough investigation of its own. Ontology, too, should have pride of place in dealing with this issue, because truth is not just a property of knowledge but a transcendental quality of being as such.
For a senior Raccoon, this amounts to a cliche. But what can it mean to a sixth grader, or a bonehead atheist, or a 25 year-old unBob? Pretty much nothing, I guess.
Again, the point is that HvB's corpus is sufficient proof of the -- to coon a phrase -- "generative uncontainability" of God. In other words, it seems that the closer one gets to the truth, it simultaneously in-forms and shatters. I
t reminds me of a truly generative artist, such as Bob Dylan, who is already off to the next project by the time the old one hits the marketplace. In contrast, the inferior artist will sing the same hit song in the same way for the rest of his life. And most people who call themselves "intellectuals" are analogous to one-hit wonders who really have only one "big idea" that they replay over and over on the oldies circuit known as academia.
But only a handful of intellectuals can play true mind jazz -- and spirit jazz -- in the manner of HvB. There are people who can play the former, and others who can play the latter, but not too many who are equally comfortable in both realms. What I mean is that HvB is without a doubt the most cultured and erudite author I think I've ever encountered. But at the same time, he is obviously a mystic of the first rank, a combination that places him miles above the vulgar atheist or common intellectual.
I didn't intend to ramble so much. This post all started as I contemplated HvB's next sentence, which I haven't yet reproduced: "Every abuse of truth consists in making the fragment self-sufficient to the detriment of the totality."
Right? Right. To say that atheists are guilty of this amounts to a cliche. However, he's also talking about "religious" people who foreclose the living God by clinging to some partial formulation. Again, one can't help thinking of so many members of the "religious right." This is not to condnemn them -- indeed, they are simply behaving in a predictably "all too human" manner, as is the atheist. What unites the two is this emotional/intellectual need to seal off and enclose transcendental being, as if it could ever be tamed.
Nevertheless, HvB points out that "the possibility of this abuse is the root of scandal," which immediately makes one wonder if it may be implicated in our fallen nature. For "Men are scandalized whenever there is a closure to the absolute, encompassing truth from the standpoint of some partial truth."
You might say that man is a partial-truth abortion, in that this ontological foreclosure results in a failure of the "second birth." And the tenured hold the vacuum that sucks the spiritual embryo out of its developing womb.
Naturally, the idea of the Fall has many different angles, but I believe we've hit on a key one, the idea that we "take refuge" in a finite perspective, and that to cling to the finite means to reject the infinite. Rather, we are to cling to the infinite -- or rather, to be "contained" within it, so to speak.
The operative word is "contained," for the atheist, since he doesn't believe in the container, can experience only the terrible "silence of the infinite spaces" when he contemplates this infinite reality. No wonder he plugs the hole with Marxism, or Darwinism, or Obamaism, and other masturbatory forms of spiritual nOnanism.
Ah, here is the clincher: "Man's guilt consists, not in the fact that he knows only a sector of the infinite truth, but rather in the fact that he becomes content with it, blocks himself off from enlarging and complementary vistas, and thus severs himself from the living source of truth."
But just try telling this to 25 year-old Bob or sixth grade Dawkins, Hitchens, or Harris.
Thanks to the movement of self-surrender, love is given a flood of truth, whose chief characteristic is a fullness that never fits completely into any human schema.... No truth proceeding from the center of self-revealing being is ever exhaustible; it carries the promising hint of ever new and deeper truth. --HvB
Below, an uncontainably joyous little feller on the occasion of his fourth birthday: