Monday, July 20, 2009

Christian Fertile Eggheads Unite!

Concluding our little plunge into the world of John Scottus Eriugena, AKA the world, or totality of interacting objects, forces, and events, both exterior and interior, vertical and horizontal. You know, the cosmos.

In fact, there is no question that he could have called his work "One Cosmos Under God." I just can't believe that rank and file Christians typically don't know about this stuff, and probably wouldn't care anyway. It reminds me of how so many black ballplayers don't even know who Jackie Robinson was.

But I think it speaks to a kind of intellectual impoverishment that has taken place within Christianity. As for why this degeneration took place, I suppose you could blame Kant, but how many people read Kant? The real problem was that religion thought that the only way it could save itself from the depredations of scientism was to leave knowledge to science and preserve faith as the province of religion. But faith without knowledge -- without the possibility of knowledge -- is just stupid.

Indeed, faith is supposed to be a subtle mode of knowledge, so to yield epistemology to materialism means that there is no longer any real and accessible "object of faith" to be known.

Here's one of the ironies -- and this is brought out by Gairdner in the highly highly recommended Book of Absolutes -- the pursuit of pure science has led back to an idealistic view of the cosmos that is entirely compatible with traditional metaphysics.

Even more ironic is the fact that in the 19th century, it was the physicists who were the reductionists and materialists, whereas the biologists tried to cling to some romantic version of elan vital against the grotesque idea of reducing man to a machine.

But now the situation has reversed, precisely: because of advances in quantum physics, it is no longer possible for any thinking person to maintain a materialistic view of the cosmos. To do so is pure superstition and ignorance.

And yet, this is exactly what radical Darwinians such as Queeg do! They imagine that they are the most sober and scientific, when they are actually operating out of a silly, outmoded metaphysic detached from the primary reality. Science presumes that biology is reducible to physics. That being the case, then life cannot be a materialistic process. Someone like Queeg is simply a "fanatic advocate of the impossible," of something that cannot be and never could be, not in this or any other cosmos. He is a Darwinian Truther.

More irony: at the end of our 300 year long materialistic bender the West has been on, here is John Scottus Eriugena -- or Maximus Confessor, the designated driver -- soberly waiting for us with the coffee and aspirin, asking "what took you so long?"

So again, for Christianity to abandon the field of epistemology and ontology to the pagans, heathens and other assorted infrahumans is worse than a crime. It's a blunder. And the consequences for our civilization are beyond tragic, because it is doubtful that any civilization can survive in the absence of a spiritual center that unifies people around a grand (and accurate) vision of reality in both its horizontal and vertical dimensions.

Along these lines, C.S. Lewis wrote that "For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

Here again, this is precisely my attitude in posting. This is never a mere intellectual exercise, even though we deal with highly abstract ideas. Rather, I am aiming for that nonlocal vector where heart and mind intersect -- where the mind "sings" and the heart "thinks."

Christ is, among other things, the hidden unity of the cosmos: "the incarnate Word unites both the whole of the intelligible [vertical] and sensible [horizontal] worlds in himself..." (JSE). This is also a harmony: the harmony of part and whole, in both space and time.

But since this wholeness (from which healing is derived) takes place in time, it is a melody, or rather, a harmelody of adams forged from within stars. Thus, JSE "often speaks in terms of the growth of the total Christ, the vir perfectus who is the goal of all history" (McGinn). (If I understand my Latin, vir perfectus would mean the erfect-pay an-may.)

Do you see the point? Just as John the Scot is waiting for us up ahead -- or above -- so too is Christ, in the sense that time is the time it takes for the timebound (i.e., crucified) Christ to realize the eternal Christ, if one my put it thus without promulgating a misunderstanding. The seed that grows into the kingdom of heaven is of the same substance. To "imitate Christ" is to recapitulate this journey from crucifixion to resurrection. But only every moment, for this movement an "infinite unfulfilled fulfillment" (McGinn).

For "the Word stands at the beginning and end. But the end is different from the beginning," as the creation "realizes" itself, which is to say, God. This is to bring the creation back to God, to its divine source and destiny. With ribbons. On a silver platter. Right down the middle of the plate. It is a union, but a union in difference, and that makes all the difference.

That is, if I understand things correctly. You have no idea how delicate is the balance between abandoning myself to automatic writing and fidelity to orthodoxy! All the more reason to revisit old posts and clear up misunderstandings.

Our "crucified part" is not so much "lost" but "absorbed in the higher," so that it may "become one with [the] higher nature" (JSE). This is none other than theosis, the never-ending and ever-rending process through which "we may now be deified by this likeness through faith and afterwards will be deified in vision" (JSE). Through participation in the mystery of Christ, we become sons through adoption. Or you might even call it in vitro fertilization, which is to be a fertile egghead on this side of eternity.

The intellectual nature... does not rest until it becomes a whole in the whole beloved and is comprehended in the whole. --John Scottus Eriugena

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Limitlessness of Human Intelligence

Hmm, why am I posting on the weekend when I promised not to? Well, for one thing, it's so peace & quietful right now, that it just comes supernaturally. I guess what I want to get away from is the feeling of having to post.

I'm still combing through the arkive, although not very diligently. The main thing I'm trying to do is delete reposts, since the later version are the more definitive. I've also been reposting things that had few comments at the time in order to give them a "second chance." As I mentioned last week, the absence of comments may be the most important comment. Who knows. Anyway, here's one from several years back. As always, it is edited and rethought from the ground up and then back down again.


There are several ways to end up being what I call an obligatory atheist. Like every other human capacity -- from math to music to hitting a baseball -- the ability to intuit the divine runs along a spectrum. Frankly, there are a few people for whom the realm of the sacred really seems to be a closed book. You can’t do much for them, but then, they don't tend to be the militant sort of atheist. They just let it go.

On the other hand, a larger percentage of atheists seem to have been traumatized by exposure to a dysfunctional version of religion as a child. They are the ones who can get more angry, obnoxious and militant.

The third and largest segment of the atheist population consists of the “not smart enough” who are nevertheless extremely proud of their intellect. This in itself is a contradiction, for they have great faith in the intellect’s ability to know reality, and yet, place an arbitrary limit on what it may know -- even what "reality" consists of. The placement of this limit is obviously not a result of logic or reason. It is actually more of a religions inclination brought in through the back doors of perception, for it is an absolute statement about what the human mind may or may not know.

And once you are in the realm of the absolute, you are reflecting one of the inevitable attributes of the Divine. Obviously, no relative being can know anything of the absolute. But man is defined by being "condemned to the absolute," so to speak. In the absence of the absolute, he could not think, reason, exert free will, or make moral choices. Therefore, to deny the transcendent absolute is first and foremost an act of great moral and intellectual cowardice -- and usually narcissistic duplicity as well, for such individuals covertly worship their own personal version of the absolute, which reduces to their own corrupt and worthless ego.

The effectiveness of one’s “thinking in" (not about) God -- that is, thinking metaphysically -- always depends upon two factors, neither of which falls strictly within the realm of profane rationalism. First, there is the profundity of the intelligence involved. Obviously there are plenty of smart people walking around. College campuses are full of clever folkers. But they are hardly profound or deep thinkers.

For example, there are presumably thousands of musicologists with Ph.D.s, but who would pretend that their words are remotely as deep or profound as one of Beethoven’s late string quartets, or could approach the transcendent funkmanship of one of James Jamerson's bass runs ?

How do we even recognize depth -- or funkmanship -- and what is it? It clearly exists, and yet, it is well beyond the ability of any rational system to define it in any operational terms or to capture its meaning.

This is why I don’t enjoy debating or arguing with people who disagree with me, for it ultimately comes down to the fact that I perceive something and they don’t. To argue over this is analogous to telling someone that what they see with their own eyes cannot be trusted, because vision is just light waves transformed into an image in the brain. For me to argue with a troll is to pretend that blindness is just another variety of vision. In fact, I agree with them: God does not exist. For them.

This is hardly any kind of self-glorification, for I would not presume to get into an argument with Van Gogh about what he saw with his eyes or Albert Pujols over how large the baseball looks as it's approaching the plate. I’d rather just enjoy the depth of the former's vision and artistry of the latter's hitting. But if you don’t believe in depth of artistic vision, then a Van Gogh is no better than a Thomas Kinkade purchased on QVC. And it goes without saying that Albert Pujols has the supernatural ability to slow down time and increase the size of the baseball, even if we don't.

The second thing that limits the mere rationalist is an arbitrary restriction on what is taken as evidence. The rationalist limits himself to empirical phenomena (or something reducible to it). But this limitation is not something that can be justified by reason. Rather, it is a prelogical, a priori assumption.

The religious metaphysician is not hindered in this manner. He does not arbitrarily stop at the external senses, but considers other sources of information, most notably, divine revelation, the testimony of the saints and sages, and one’s own personal experience. The rationalist merely defines these realms out of existence, and as a result, is unable to reason about God at all.

Or we can say that his reasoning will be limited to mundane facts of common experience, not to that which transcends them. He will simply project onto God his own distorted and highly limited understanding, like a two-dimensional circle pronouncing on the nonexistence of spheres. Of course spheres do not exist for such a person. They can prove it with ironclad logic -- thus proving only the closed circularity of their logic.

This is what happens when reason (ratio) detaches itself from the intellect (nous), which is the realm of pure, unencumbered intelligence. Properly understood, reason is a tool of the intellect, not vice versa. One of the defining lies of our dork age is that our intelligence is inherently limited, so that the realm of ultimate issues must be left to faith alone. Who said that intelligence is limited? If so, how do we know that that statement is not equally relative and limited? Who said that human beings are intelligent enough to pronounce on the limitations of intelligence?

Either intelligence is in principle unlimited, or else it is arbitrary, relative, and illusory, incapable of saying anything with certitude. But the shallow contemporary thinker wants it both ways: the omnipotent ability to know where to place an absolute line between what is knowable and what is not.

The realm of religion is not so much “thought” as it is seen, heard, and touched. Therefore, it is as absurd to argue against these sensory modalities as it is to argue in court that an eye witnesses testimony is not to be trusted until we can first prove that vision exists.

Have you ever been “touched” by the depth of a musical performance? What can the rationalist say about such an experience? He can listen to the performance. Nothing happens. There! Proved it! Music cannot convey spiritual truth! The crude rationalist merely confuses truth with method.

But reason is not autonomous, and cannot reason without data being supplied from elsewhere. As Schuon writes, “Just as it is impossible to reason about a country of which one has no knowledge, so also it is impossible to reason about suprasensory realities without drawing upon the data which pertain to them, and which are supplied, on the one hand, by Revelation and traditional symbolism, and, on the other, by intellective contemplation, when the latter is within reach of the intelligence. The chief reproach to be leveled against modern philosophy and science is that they venture directly or indirectly on to planes which are beyond their compass, and that they operate without regard to indispensable data...”

Rationalists believe that, unlike the theist, they start from "zero,” without any dogma or metaphysics at all. The Catholic philosopher Stanley Jaki compares it to baseball. Secular philosophers always begin at first base, but offer nothing in their philosophy that can justify how they have arrived there.

But we all know that even Albert Pujols cannot steal first base. Rather, you must earn your way there (although Pujols is sometimes given the gift of first base in order to prevent him from taking four). Thus, the rationalist or materialist begins at first base with the gratuitous dogma that nothing exists except our perceptions filtered through our preconceptual logical categories. But from where did this premise arrive? It is not a sensory perception filtered through a logical category. Rather, it is metaphysical dogma.

I had this very conversation with an eminent historian a few years back, an absolute relativist through marriage. In order to communicate at all, we speak across a truly cavernous divide. I actually enjoy it, although he seems to quickly become exasperated. He insists that there is no such thing as metaphysics, and that knowledge (he would never say “truth”) is merely a property of sentences. Either a sentence can be justified or it cannot. I insisted that it was impossible to make a nontrivial statement about the world without an implicit metaphysic, usually a bad one. He impatiently said, “Okay,” pointing to the remnants of our dinner. “The lasagna was good. Where’s the metaphysics in that?”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Are you dividing the world into a realm of objects and subjects that can obtain truthful information about them?”

That was the first time someone ever called me “vulgar” without my having uttered a profanity. But what could he say? The lasagna existed. And it was good. Far be it from me to try to talk someone out of their religious beliefs.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Alpha Male and Omega Man at the Bigending of Time

So what's the purpose of this whole spacey existentialada? For John Scottus Eriugena (JSE), the "marvelously complex universe of lights that the unknowable God creates out of his divine nothingness has as its goal and purpose the restoration of all the multiplicity into the 'simple unity of the concentrating and deifying Father'" (McGinn).

Fine. But how does God accomplice that? Yes, exactly. With an accomplice: "just as creation took place through the activity of the sapientia creatrix, the return is possible only through the descent of this sapientia into the historical world of effects" (McGinn). I don't know why he has to use the fancy Latin terms, but I believe he is talking about the escent-day of "creative wisdom," or what some folks call the the "supramental descent" into time and history. I just call it (↓).

As you know, when this (↓) collides with your own impurities, parasites, and "dead spots," fireworks occur. In fact, this is why some wise guys refer to this as the purifying fire of agni. If it causes fireworks in us, imagine what it does to the entire creation! Impossible to imagine, but you might think of it as the opposite of the Big Bang -- an inconceivable amount of energy, only instead of dispersing, focusing as through a magmafying gloss. Ouch!

In a striking passage by JSE, he talks about what I referred to in my book (p. 16) as the agni and ecstasy of the divine descent, as we ponder how Lo He can go:

"God's word cried out in the most remote solitude of the divine Goodness.... He cried out invisibly before the world came to be in order to have it come to be; he cried out visibly when came into the world in order to save it. The first time he cried out in an eternal way through his divinity alone before the Incarnation; afterwards he cried out through the flesh."

Like I said, striking. It reminds me of.... birth. Remama? Only this birth canal is called "time," and to say that it's a tight fit for eternity is something of an understatement, even a wonderstatement. You could say that with the Incarnation, time gives birth to eternity. But again, timelessness takes time, so in another sense, Jesus' entire life is his birth, just as the entire life of the living cosmos is a birth. And of course, he is always alive, so....

In fact, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Jesus' birth is an intrinsic dimension of the cosmic birth. In turn, this is why deification, or theosis, is always cosmotheosis. It is a cosmic event with metacosmic implications. The fulfillment of Man is the completion of the cosmos. Thus, it is a birthdeath, for it is also an end, i.e., "it is accomplished." The saints are the "last word" of cosmic evolution, so to speak, for they have successfully given birth to the first Word in the ground of (their) being. They are "complete sentences" instead of just death sentences.

Again, this idea of the Word crying out in the bewilderness is treated in the opening pages of my book. With some of the above exegesis, I believe you are in a better position to understand the following stoned blarney: How Lo can He go? How about all the way inside-out and upside down, a vidy long descent indeed to the farthest reaches of sorrow and ignorance? Yes, a scorched-birth policy, an experiment in higher kaboomalistics.... The molten infinite pours forth a blazen torrent of incandescent finitude, as light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow (oops! a dirty world) and f-aa-lll-lllllll-ssssssssssss in love with the productions of time...

Birth, fire, descent, sorrow, ignorance, 1-2-3-7-12, "crying out in the most remote solitude" of creation. This is the Divine Energy descending all the way down, even to the shadows of hell -- which, of course, darken man from the inside out.

So, as McGinn explains, with the Incarnation, "The Eternal Word has come into the world of effects, our material universe, by taking on the human nature 'in which the whole world subsists'" (again, the cosmos is in the soul, not vice versa, so to purify the latter is to cleanse the former). It's really rather profound, to say the least: "In his return to the Father he elevates the whole human race, and therefore the material universe contained in it" (emphasis mine).

You could say that this restores humanity -- and the cosmos -- to its pre-fallen state. Or, you could say that it fulfills the purpose of the Creation. Call me an optimystic, but that's how I prefer to look at it. Otherwise, it looks as if the whole thing is just one big mistake, and that the only purpose of time and history is to undo it. I mean, is your own life like that, i.e., one long effort to return to the infantile state of primitive fusion with paradise? I suppose if you're a liberal....

One last pint, mateys. It is the descent of the life-preserving Word that "saves" time and its productions -- the seaworthy ones, anyway -- from complete dissipation and destruction, and returns them safely to the harbor of eternity, i.e., "heaven." McGinn: "The effects are saved, then, by the Word's decision to descend into the material world, that is, to the furthest reaches of the theophanic processio, in order to restore all things to God."

Sounds like an ood-gay eal-day to me.

(McGinn and Eriugena quotes taken from The Presence of God, vol. 2.)

A bit of housekeeping: I may try to refrain from posting on weekends. We shall see. Also, I occasionally get emails from readers notifying me that I have been "added as a friend" on Facebook. But I can't confirm the requests, since I'm not a member. However, I'm not ignoring anyone, if that's what you're thinking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

All For One and One For Three

Before we get rolling into our strange attractor for the day, I just want to say that the book I'm currently reading, The Book of Absolutes: A Critique of Relativism and a Defence of Universals, is highly, highly recommended. I'm not sure if or when I'll get around to writing about it, and even if I do, I won't be able to cover everything in it. There's just too much.

Gairdner writes in an exceptionally clear and compelling manner about what I regard as the Mother of all Mind Parasites, relativism in all its forms. You might say that it is the mind parasite that opens the bloodgates to all of the others, whether spiritual, political, moral, philosophical, or scientific. It shows with ironyclad logic how leftism (among other pathological isms) in all its ghastly mutations is just plain illogical, incoherent, and self-refuting. I love this book. It's going straight to the sidebar of perennial raccoomendations.

The bigbrained Roger Kimball nails it in his review: "A brilliant analysis of the chief intellectual pathology of the modern age.... Writing with wit and erudition, William Gairdner goes to the heart of the defining spiritual malaise of our time, showing (among much else) that relativism and tyranny, far from being opposing forces, actually collude to undermine genuine freedom. The Book of Absolutes is sure to emerge as a modern classic of political and moral maturity." Amen.

Now, back to John the Scot. I'm trying my best to make his ideas clear, but not sure if I'm succeeding. Let's just say that this topic isn't setting the site meter on fire. Sometimes I'll reread a post and think to myself, "now, that was a model of clarity." Then I can glance at it later in the day and think, "what a mess!" It was the same, by the way, in writing the book. Which leads me to believe that it's not just the writing, or even the subject, but the "set," as Timothy Leary -- of all people -- used to call it.

That is, in conducting psychedelic research, he talked about the importance of dose, set, and setting. Dose is self-explanatory, as is setting. With regard to the latter, don't take LSD or read one of my posts in a place teeming with negative vibes or uncool people. The vibes will just contaminate the post and give you a bad trip.

But "set" refers to "mindset." You have to approach these things in the proper frame of mind. True, to a certain extent the posts are designed to put you in the right frame of mind, but they can't do so completely. Rather, they can only meet you halfway. Even God can't -- or generally won't -- do that, which is why you don't go to church in Grand Central Station, but in a quiet and dimly lit sacred space.

So before we take another ego-flattening dose of John the Scot, let's get in the proper frame of mind, shall we? And I'll do my bit to calibrate the dose, so nobody ODs on O.

Let's begin where we lifted off yesterday, because it bears repeating: Thus, both the beginning and end of the world subsist in God's Word, indeed, to speak more plainly, they are the Word itself, for it is the manifold end without end and the beginning without beginning...

I hate to be so self-referential, but this is important, mainly because my book has fallen out of the top half-million on amazon, which is a bit embarrassing, so someone needs to step up and purchase a copy, pronto. But with the circular structure of >MY DAMN BOOK<, I wasn't just trying to be cute or different. Rather, I was attempting to elucidate something in a way that literally reflected the Something I was trying to elucidate, which is the "circular" structure of creation, of the eternal cosmic emanation and return to God.

It's one thing to talk about this, another thing to actually understand, experience, and convey it to others in a non-intellectual manner. And another thing entirely to do so in a way that actually makes people want to read the damn book. It's like the difference between a musical score and a performance. I was trying to perform this idea of the beginning and end of the world subsisting in the divine Word, which, from our relative standpoint, is finally "nothing."

But again, as John emphasizes, this is a very special type of nothing. It is not to be confused with the nihilism that (de)animates the left, or materialism, or radical Darwinism.

Rather, it has to do with what we discussed last Monday, that God is present in his absence and absent in his presence. If God could be "absolutely present" to us, it would be indistinguishable from nothingness, for we would be annihilated in the Light, i.e., no one sees my face and lives. (Remember what we said about dose! A little God goes a very long way, especially at first, as his bright purity collides with your dark impurities.)

Again you have to read what follows carefully, for it can sound like blasphemy and you'll end up miscoonscrewed. Basically, just add "so to speak" or "in a manner of speaking" after each sentence, so I don't have to.

McGinn writes that "If all things are God manifested, then humanity is God manifested in the most special way." That is, we know that we are the image and potential likeness of God, or a microcosm of the whole existentialada. Like the God-before-creation we spoke of yesterday, we know that we are, but not what we are until we create -- which is to say, draw a boundary and externalize ourselves.

For what is civilization -- all of it, all of the art, science, literature, and everything else -- but the exteriorization of Man's soul? And what is the soul but the interiorization and assimilation of civilization? This is why it is said that to be ignorant of the past is to remain a child forever. To be educated in the "humanities" is to become a (more) fully formed human, precisely. This is not to be confused with being educated in the subhumanities, which is what occurs at elite universities.

John's negative theology is obviously rather daring, but again, I caution you to try to appreciate its ultimate orthodoxy: "Humanity does not know God, but God does not know God either (in the sense of knowing or defining a what); and humanity does not know itself, nor does God know humanity insofar as it is one with the divine mind that is the cause of itself."

What this means is that there is a part of human beings which is of the same essence as God. As such, our knowledge of God is again God's own self-understanding: it is God contemplating God through the medium of divine-human sonship: To quote John (speaking for God), "It is not you who understand me, but I myself who knows myself in you through my Spirit, because you are not the substantial Light but a participation in the Light that subsists through itself." Thus, "to know humanity in its deepest hidden darkness is to know God" (JSE).

McGinn goes on to explain that creation (so to speak!) "occurs in two 'places': first, in the second Person of the Trinity; and second... as a thing made, in human knowledge." And the identity of these two modes is none other than the God-man "who restores the whole of creation to its ultimate origin." "Man and God are one in that they are dialectically united in the concealing/revealing dynamic of the Word."

So, if I'm following him, John is essentially saying that as a result of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, human beings may participate in the eternal creativity and endless self-understanding of intra-trinitarian life.

What this ultimately means is not so much that we "become God," but much more importantly, that we become real persons through the imitation of, or participation in, the Real Person -- who simultaneously is and is not God. Or to express it affirmatively, we are talking about love, which requires difference and sameness, for it is the recognition of the sameness beneath the difference. All is One, but only because One is Three. Now and always.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Are What You Eat: Losing Existential Weight with the Deity Diet

We are discussing creation in light of John Scottus Eriugena's dialectical immaterialism, which is my ironic term for his use of language to say what cannot be said about God in the only way you can say it. As the Taoists warn us, "only error is transmitted." I think John's approach ensures that we can talk about God with the minimum degree of error.

Note again that when we speak of God, it is -- or should be -- analogous to God speaking (of) creation. As McGinn explains, creation for John is "the expression in manifest speech of the unmanifest Word of God," or "the diffusion of invisible light in its visible form." Thus, just as the invisible Word speaks the visible world, the visible world "speaks" the invisible Creator. Either you see this or you don't, but certainly not with eyes of flesh.

What follows is going to sound controversial or perhaps even blasphemous, unless you read it very carefully. But I believe, among other things, it helps to resolve the question of whether and how God suffers with us. The problem with this is that if he does, it implies that God "changes," which violates one of the a priori definitions of God, which is that he is changeless. It also speaks to the hurdle that traditionalists have with evolution, which they understand to imply an evolving God (e.g., process theology), if not outright godlessness.

As a brief aside, I have in the past mentioned the story of how Bion said before a lecture that "I can't wait to find out what I'm going to say" (or words to that effect). I adopt the identical approach to blogging. Like him, I try to suspend memory, desire, and understanding, so that my "speaking" is simultaneously a "learning." In short, I come to each post completely unprepared for what follows.

That is, I am hardly any kind of scholar, conveying to you some information I have stored away in my melon. Rather, I am discovering as I speak. Only after I'm done, do I reread it as if it were written by someone else, and try to appreciate it from a different angle. Bear this analogy in mind in what follows.

For John, "Creation is God coming to know himself in speaking himself." Admittedly, "it may seem strange to say that God does not know himself until he creates himself," but John means this in a very precise way.

That is, to know something means first of all to place a boundary between what something is and is not. For example, to even see this coffee cup in front of me, I have to exclude everything surrounding it. Any object -- or object of knowledge -- "is inherently circumscribable or limited." It must have boundaries, or we can't think about it. And often, thinking imposes boundaries that aren't even really there, which engenders all kinds of mischief, but that's a subject for a different post about what liberals do with the Constitution.

Now, I think we can all agree that God as such certainly contains no limits, which is again why we must use the paradoxical dialectic of cataphatic/apophatic (or positive/negative) language to describe him.

Yes, God is limited in a sense by his own nature, but his nature includes limitlessness -- i.e., he is infinite and eternal. Thus, when God "speaks," he is also intrinsically limiting himself, which is none other than creation. At the same time, creation is God's self-knowledge, again, because knowledge is only possible by imposing limits and boundaries.

The easiest way to understand this is again through analogy. Being that we are in the image of God, there must be something similar that occurs with us. I'll take the example that is most readily at hand, the low-hanging fruitcake of the B'ob. You could say that the arkive is my "creation." No single post exhausts the arkive, and the arkive in its totality does not exhaust me. And yet, both a single post and the whole arkive are not just "symbols" of me. Rather, I try to make it so that they are of my very substance. Scratch one of these posts and they bleed real blood, type O. You could even say that they are little "fractals of Bob," simultaneously me and not-me.

And this again goes back to what I was saying about suspending memory, desire, and understanding, which amounts to "speaking from O." This may be too much information, but I'm not just "sharing knowledge," but my very substance. In turn, this allows us to understand what is otherwise a rather shocking -- not to mention tasteless -- statement of Jesus: "take, eat; this is my body."

In other words, "don't just know me. Comsume me," with all this implies: chew, swallow, digest, metabolize, assimilate. You are what you eat, especially psychically and spiritually (eat pp. 233-235 of the Wholly Coonifesto).

In other words, you might say that our task is to "reverse imagineer" the incarnation, or the process by which God "knows" himself through his Word.

Now, all of creation is summarized in the Word, or second person of the Trinity. He is the "lens" through which all of the Father's energies are focused, so to speak. (I'm not trying to be theologically correct here, so just stay with me. You can always spit it out later.) I believe the disciples who witnessed the transfiguration were seeing the blinding unveiling of this uncreated light-energy. Note that Jesus is Alpha and Omega, meaning that he is both Word and Understanding, speech and comprehension: "Christ who understands all things is the understanding of all things" (JSE).

Here is how the Scot expresses it: "The universal goal of the entire creation is the Word of God," culminating in the God-man. "Thus, both the beginning and end of the world subsist in God's Word, indeed, to speak more plainly, they are the Word itself, for it is the manifold end without end and the beginning without beginning, being without beginning save for the Father." His Word is his Wisdom, and his Wisdom is his co-eternal Word, "the center in which the primordial causes find their unity" (McGinn).

Thus, the Word is God's endless soph-knowledge. Eat it and shed those flabby pounds from your bloated and bunk food addicted ego.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God in a Notshall

Continuing with yesterday's post on the shockingly prescient Raccoon metaphysics of John Scottus Eriugena. Let's get right into it, shall we? However, I should warn you in advance that you won't be able to skim this one.

Like all true mystics, John adopts an apophatic approach to God, but then goes even beyond that. While apophaticism might seem like an esoteric concept, if you stay with me here, I think you'll agree that it is actually quite exoteric, the reason being that we can obviously never capture or contain God with mere language. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, whatever we positively affirm about God will necessarily be inaccurate.

As McGinn explains, "while positive [i.e., cataphatic] language about God is always metaphorical, and negative [i.e., apophatic] language is true and proper, the most appropriate language is that of eminence, which is positive in form but negative in content." Thus, Eriugena tries to transcend the duality of positive and negative speech with recourse to a transcendent third, i.e., "eminence." You might even call this approach dialectical immaterialism.

This is sounding rather pinheady, isn't it? Let's provide a straightforward example of John's dialectical immaterialism that fully accords with orthodoxy -- not just Christian orthodoxy, but any orthodoxy, since he is speaking of the very "nature of things." Positive statement: God is within the world, as its deepest reality, i.e., immanent. Negative statement: God is not in the world, but infinitely above and beyond it, i.e., transcendent.

How do we resolve such a paradox? We don't. All things are simultaneously "within" God, and yet, are not God. You might say that the world is God, but God is not the world. The world is a theophany of God, meaning that it is a veil that simultaneously hides and discloses. In fact, it discloses in its very hiding. Thus, the "hidden God" is manifest in his creation. Or, only in hiding can he manifest.

As you can see, John is very much a forerunner of Eckhart, what with his playful (childlike!) use of language and his understanding that paradox is the threshold of truth. Here are some examples of statements about the world that are simultaneously paradoxical and yet quite literal -- as literal as you can get. It is

--the manifestation of the hidden.
--the comprehension of the incomprehensible.
--the understanding of the unintelligible.
--the body of the bodiless.
--the form of the formless.
--the measure of the measureless.
--the materialization of the spiritual.
--the visibility of the invisible.
--the temporality of the timeless.

Etc. As McGinn explains, "God negates himself as 'non-appearance' in producing the theophany of his appearance, while appearance as a theophany must be transcended or negated" in order to "regain its nonappearing source." You might say that with creation, God "exits" his non-appearing appearance in order to produce the theophany of his appearing non-appearance in and as the world.

I'm guessing that the few readers who have made it this far have a mild headache, but again, we are being as literal as possible. We are not trying to be annoying, just trying to put God in a notshall. This paradoxical formula is how we understand the truism that "God is everything, but every thing is only 'God manifest.'" It is also why "all finite reality is understood to require infinite reality for its full intelligibility and completion." But how does one talk about the infinite with finite language?

The answer my friends is blowing in the windy opening and closing sections of my book, Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration. If you only unknowculate your brain in advaiance, you will find there many examples of "supereminent" descriptions of the unKnowable Godhead, e.g., "empty plenum and inexhaustible void," "beginning and end of all impossibility," "knowing without knowledge all that can be unKnown," "a drop embraced by the sea held within the drop," "dark rays shining from a midnight sun," "benighting the way brightly," etc.

As you can blindly see, you must O-bliterate language in order to allow it to coonform to ultimate reality. Yes, some disassembly is required, but by pouring the imploded fragments of speech over the missing suspect, you end up with a kind of seven-dimensional blankit that reveils his contours. Works for me, anyway.

Does any of his have a point? Glad you asked. This foundation of dialectical immaterialism led John to "an unusual and complex understanding of the doctrine of creation and the significance of the cosmos."

That is, if creation is a manifestation, or appearance, of the non-appearing God, then "not only must God create out of himself, but it will also follow that the fundamental purpose of created being is found in its ability to illuminate and reveal the hidden divine nature." You might say that the purpose of God is God, only through the tortuous detour we call the Cosmos.

From our standpoint, God can only be the "supereminent nothing" who transcends cataphatic and apophatic language. This is why the cosmos is "creation from nothing." Or, you could say, "creation from O."

But even then you have posited a false duality between creation and O. Thus, the most accurate -- or the least misleading -- thing you can say about God is precisely O. To say O is to affirm God's present absence and his absent presence.

We are not playing word games here. Rather, we are working very hard at them: God is known in his absence -- by the traces he leaves everywhere -- and unKnown in his presence -- to know God is to approach his profound unknowability.

So creation itself is both affirmation and negation, as it must be. For one thing, it is a limitation, and God knows no limits. Which is again why he can only reveal himself in his absence, even though this absence is very much a fulsome presence.

Let's give a practical example of absent-presence. Your own true self is such an example. Obviously "you are who you are." And yet, who you are -- the potential you -- must be actualized in time. Thus, you are present in your absence. You are somewhere off in the future, calling out to yourself in the now, beckoning yourself to be.

What I believe this means is that human beings are simultaneously eternal (or partache of the eternal) and created. This is what it means for God to say that he knew you even in the womb, even though it will take you the rest of your life to scratch the surface of yourself and know a fraction of what God knows. In a very real sense, you will always be absent from yourself, and yet, being drawn toward your own fulfillment -- even in the "supernatural sunset" of the post-mortem state, when "the night shall shine like the day" and "the secret divine mysteries will in some ineffable manner be opened to blessed and enlightened intellects" (John).

To be continued... but only for eternity.

(All extended quotes taken from The Presence of God, v. 2, by Bernard McGinn.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cosmic Anthropology and Anthropic Cosmology

Or, you might say that man is the key to God, and God the key to man. No, that's not an absurcular argument.

I didn't discover John Scottus Eriugena until after I had already written my book, but he provides a perfect Christian template for what I was trying to accomplish there, with the idea of the cosmic procession and return to the apophatic Godhead, and with "evolution" being that which takes place in between the two big Nothings at either end (which are of course the same "place").

I'm going to try to summarize his theology and point out the parallels, which I don't know if I can do, since I've never done it before. Our tour guide will be Bernard McGinn, who has a chapter devoted to Scotty in volume two of his history of Christian mysticism, The Presence of God.

By way of background -- let's just call him John -- John was born in Ireland in around 810. I don't really know how he is regarded these days -- as in literature, people go in and out of fashion as their reputations go up and down -- but it seems to me that he provides a critical link between eastern and western forms of Christianity, since his main influences were such luminaries as Denys the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor -- two of the early Fathers who were also among the biggest influences on Toots Mondello, as he feverishly transcribed the Summa Raccoonica from the white salamander Gabriel.

McGinn calls him -- John that is, not Toots -- "the greatest speculative mind of the early Middle Ages, the most original and subtle thinker in the West between Augustine and Anselm." That's a hell of a long time. Imagine being "the Man" for 600 years! Think about it: can you name a contemporary author who will not only be relevant but still cutting edge in 600 years? No, not Richard Dawkins or Deepak Chopra.

John's overall intention in his theology was identical to mine: "The Irishman's thought, from start to finish, was intended to provide an account of how the cosmos, through the mediation of the human subject, returns to its fullest possible unification with the hidden God."

Also, note that he had the identical attitude toward truth that I discussed in yesterday's post, i.e., that all truth comes from God, whether or not it looks like it on the surface. As he put it, "True philosophy is true religion and true religion is true philosophy" (and back then, philosophy encompassed the totality of natural knowledge).

Thus, John's body of work provides "a systematic account of all reality, or of nature," and "since God is the source of both reason and the Bible, there can be no real conflict between the two." Of course, "seeming conflicts will occur," but "essential conflict is impossible," since Truth is of one essence -- or the essence of One.

On the one hand, scripture is "God's speech about himself." But John does not reduce scripture to the Bible. Rather, there is a parallel revelation called "creation," i.e., the wor(l)d: "John stressed that creation and scripture were two parallel manifestations of the hidden God..."

Furthermore, scripture only became "necessary" on account of the Fall, which John interprets allegorically as a state of ignorance resulting in "the inability of humanity as we know and experience it to grasp its true relationship with God." That being the case, we also have difficulty reading the "book of creation." Thus, a certain kind of development will allow us to comprehend and unify both God and cosmos on the interior plane.

In fact, you might say that it is the Fall that "triggers" history and makes it necessary, so to speak. The Fall results in the exteriorization or dissipation of our divine interior, which necessitates the long arc -- or is it actually short, relative to cosmic time? -- of salvation history (or what I call salvolution, i.e., salvation + evolution).

We will return to this idea later. The main point is that "illusion and ignorance... can only be overcome historically" through the incarnation of the God-man "whose task it is to incorporate all of humanity into him and thus restore it at history's end to the Father." Again, as in the title of yesterday's post, timelessness takes time, which in turn takes a cosmos: the end result is cosmotheosis (again, more below).

I hope this is all making sense so far. It certainly does for me, another reminder of how there exist "divine attractors" which people separated by centuries or millennia can occupy at the same timeless. As a matter of fact -- and this is an idea shared by Eckhart -- when you are in that particular attractor, you are actually making it "present" by explicating it -- or trying to, anyway.

In other words, "the return to God is not only spiritually foreshadowed, but actually performed in the exegetical process." Thus, for me to communicate and for you to comprehend all of this is a kind of miniature version -- or fractal -- of the whole cosmic process. It is O --> (n), which is ultimately O --> O, or God contemplating and knowing himself through the human medium.

And of course, it can only take place "within" the Holy Spirit. But the point is that we are not dealing with any kind of objective (k) that can be handed from mind to mind, but a transformation. In other words, I am trying to speak from the space of O --> (n), and if I am successful in my communication, it will facilitate the transformation of (n) --> O for you.

True gnosis is presence. It is of a sacramental nature, except that instead of actualizing sanctity it actualizes the presence of divine truth. Thus, you should be able to feel God's breath, or pneuma, as you approach, or "enter" the space of O. We call this breath holytosis.

This is one of the reasons why it is so critical to maintain an apophatic stance toward God, i.e., an unsaturated stance of unKnowing. This is probably a good place to stop for today, because that will require some time to explain.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Takes a Cosmos: My Evolving Thoughts on Evolution

This is a continuation of yesterday's post, originally published two years ago. I wanted to revisit it to see if my thinking on the subject of cosmic evolution has evolved. There is quite a bit of added material.

The fundamental evil that besets us... is our incapacity to see the whole. --Teilhard de Chardin

An anonymous commenter yesterday criticized me for lowering myself to the level of a mainstream, "exoteric" Christian, N.T. Wright. First, no esoterist considers himself superior to those with a more traditional, exoteric point of view. In fact, of the two of us, they are the more important, because they preserve the embattled vertical message through the ravages of horizontal time. Without them, it is very unlikely that we'd be here talking about the Christian vision. The same is especially true of Judaism. Imagine the moral courage of the many generations of Jews who kept the traditions alive and in tact, so that they can be studied esoterically. Unlike the ungrateful tenured, we know that bullets come before poetry and guns before academic freedom.

Secondly, I thought my larger point was obvious -- that mainstream Christianity is an esoterism; in fact, as Schuon has remarked, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. In the absence of the "esoteric key," it scarcely makes any sense at all. My point is that it is not as if the esoterism is "hidden" or "secret." Rather, it is right out in the open. It is full of mystery, and mystery is a mode of God.

Perhaps some definitions would be helpful. What do we mean by "esoterism?" Let's begin with a little metaphysics: there are two realities; or, more precisely, one reality with two faces, the Absolute and the relative. As Schuon writes, "the idea that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute" is the fundamental mystery of revelation. Revelation must address itself to the "average" mentality, taking into consideration its needs and limitations. Nevertheless, it contains "layers" of meaning that are more or less inexhaustible, while its deepest dimension conveys a universal teaching, or message, about existence.

It is not that the message of pure metaphysics can only be decoded by "special" people. Rather, to paraphrase Schuon, man by definition has two subjectivities, the ego and intellect: "the ego follows the divine attraction within the limits of its nature -- it can do nothing else -- whereas the intellect, also in accordance with its nature, opens itself to the [universal] Principle and realizes it; both ways combine while remaining independent of each other."

The ego is constrained by small-r reason, and cannot transcend its relatively narrow horizons, which are limited to assumptions and conclusions. But the esoteric perspective is rooted in intellectual intuition, which is our means of access to universal principles, or to "the nature of things." It extends from thinking to being -- or perhaps generative "thinking about being," what I call O-->(n). Thus, esoterism is simply the deep contemplation, comprehension, and assimilation of the religious message, which is Truth itself. You might say that it is the "metabolism of truth."

The fundamental mystery of revelation is that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute. How does this accord with what we were discussing yesterday?

From the spiritual perspective, evolution can only be evolution toward divinity. In fact, that is the title of a book by Beatrice Bruteau which outlines the parallels between Teilhard de Chardin's "Christian evolutionism" and Sri Aurobindo's neo-Vedantic view. Interestingly, in his own lifetime, Teilhard was unaware of the parallels, and even thought that his theology was incompatible with the latter.

Bruteau writes that one of the purposes of her book was "to point out the irony of this situation by refuting Teilhard's criticisms and by showing how, on the contrary," the Vedantic contribution to world thought "could have been most advantageous to him if he had studied it with care." Evidently, Teilhard's slight knowledge of Vedanta caused him to characterize it as "a simplistic monism in which all multiplicity disappeared without leaving a trace."

Bruteau writes that Fr. Teilhard's "intellectual odyssey centered around his lifelong struggle to reconcile in his thought and in his career two attractions which he seems to have experienced equally strongly and which he initially felt to be divergent: the love of God, on the one hand, and, on the other, the love of the earth together with knowledge of the earth, which is science." In one of his early journals, he wrote of his struggle "to reconcile progress and detachment, a passionate and legitimate love of the earth's highest development and the exclusive quest for the kingdom of heaven. How can one be as much a Christian as any other man, and yet more a man than anyone?"

Clearly, Teilhard was attempting to reconcile the vertical and horizontal at their highest levels. While the Creator surely exists, "our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended." In a way, Teilhard was a "priest of the Cosmos" rather than just the earth. In fact, he said as much: "I should wish, Lord, in my very humble way, to be the apostle and, if I may ask so much, the evangelist of your Christ in the Universe." Later he wrote that he had "felt passing through me, in particularly exhilarating and varied conditions, the double stream of human and divine forces."

For Teilhard, true mysticism was "the great science and the great art, the only power capable of synthesizing the riches accumulated by other forms of human activity." Thus, he is naturally dismissed by ego-bound materialists, since they are generally incapable of comprehending the mystical experience at the heart of his cosmic vision.

For example, how is the common intellectual laborer to understand an observation such as, "God is at work within life. He helps it, raises it up, gives it the impulse that drives it along, the appetite that attracts it, the growth that transforms it. I can feel God, touch Him, 'live' Him in the deep biological current that runs through my soul and carries it with it." Or, "Everything in the universe is made by union and generation -- by the coming together of elements that seek out one another, melt together two by two, and are born again in a third." These mystical intuitions of Teilhard's are not "thought" but "seen" or even "felt": "The world, the whole world, is God's body in its fullest extension."

And, just like a body, it has an exterior and an interior horizon -- it is not possible to have the one without the other. Schuon and the traditionalists are quite harsh on both Teilhard and Aurobindo, and I do understand and appreciate where they're coming from. Let me also add that I am not arguing for "Teilhardism" or "Aurobindoism," since I believe both approaches have their flaws. Rather, I consider them to be early explorers simply doing their best to reconcile world and spirit, consciousness and matter, science and religion, temporal horizontal evolution and timeless vertical truth.

We can, like the traditionalists, simply dismiss scientific truth on a priori grounds, but I reject that approach for both tactical and epistemological/ontological reasons. That is, to reject the modern world will simply seal the irrelevance of religion, and therefore man's doom. And I am not prepared to give up on man. If you idealize the Dark Ages and want to live like a medieval man, no one is stopping you. Go for it! Start by turning off your computer so I don't have to deal with you. If I make you vomit, what are you doing here?

But more fundamentally, I firmly believe that "all truth comes from God." If it doesn't look like it on the surface, then that's our problem, not God's. We have to find a way to reconcile them. Which I don't think is all that difficult, really, so long as you're not thoroughly brainwashed by postmodern materialism. After all, humans are the living link between every possible mode and dimension of reality. We are matter, life, mind, and spirit.

As a matter of fact, Teilhard's idea of the "divine milieu" is quite similar -- gasp! -- to the traditionalist notion of the "cosmic ray" that extends from the divine ontological center of being to the periphery of the cosmos.

In an excellent biography of Teilhard, Spirit of Fire, (from which some of the above quotes are taken), King writes that Teilhard chose this expression "to describe the diffuse presence and influence of God at all levels of created reality, in all areas of human experience.... One can think of it as a field of divine energy that has one central focus -- God -- from which everything flows, is animated, and directed." As Teilhard wrote, "in no case could the cosmos be conceived, and realized, without a supreme center of spiritual consistence."

In my own book -- which you might say is my first approach at a comprehensive solution to the problems discussed in this post -- I wrote that human beings are "facts of the universe" which must be analyzed and evaluated cosmologically, for "discovering what a human being is is the key to fathoming the implacable mystery of the cosmos itself."

Along these lines, Teilhard observed that "There is a science of the universe without man. There is also a science of man as marginal to the universe; but there is not yet a science of the universe that embraces man as such. Present-day physics... does not yet give a place to thought; which means that it still exists in complete independence of the most remarkable phenomenon exposed by nature to our observation."

The question is, what is the place of Man in the cosmos? Science cannot help but dismiss man as a random and irrelevant side effect of impersonal cosmic forces, when I am quite convinced that the presence of the human dimension is the key to the whole existentialada. For Teilhard, the "big bang" of human consciousness is not a meaningless anomaly, but "a fundamental phenomenon -- the supreme phenomenon of nature," through which "universal evolution is not only experienced but lived by us." For no matter how "coldly and objectively we may study things, we must still conclude that humanity constitutes a front along which the cosmos advances."

I suppose this is a good place to leave off for today. See you at the front!

When all is said and done, I can see this: I managed to climb up to the point where the Universe became apparent to me as a great rising surge, [converging] ahead into into a single dazzling spearhead -- now, at the end of my life I can stand at the peak I have scaled and continue to look more closely into the future, and there, with ever more assurance, see the ascent of God. --Teilhard

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Timelessness Takes Time

In selecting something to rewordgitate from two years back, I chose the one with the fewest comments. Of course, this potentially cuts both ways, for perhaps the absence of comments was a polite way of saying I shouldn't have reposted it the first time.

However, just by cooncidence, it touches on a bobjection raised by yesterday's dyspeptic troll, to the effect that there is no way to reconcile evolution and Christianity, and that any attempt to do so should induce vomiting in the faithful.

For the traditionalist, this is an a priori argument, in that there is no amount of evidence that can convince them that evolution has taken place. Their argument is "principial," in that they would essentially say that the greater cannot be derived from the lesser, whatever the empirical evidence.

I fully agree that the greater cannot be derived from the lesser. And yet, lower things routinely precede higher ones. For example, I can't help noticing that my son no longer fits into his test tube. But does this mean that the embryo produced the four year old -- who just woke up -- excuse me...

Back. So, contained within the DNA is a kind of arrow pointing toward its own destiny. Therefore, in some way that transcends the usual categories of biology, the future is "contained" in the present, since the organism always "strives" toward its own future.

In fact, one could say the exact same thing of the self. One of the central "streams" -- or timelines -- of spiritual development involves the discovery and articulation of the true self. Here again, your future is present to you, but must be actualized in time. You might say that time is the measure of the distance between you and your true self. Call it whatever you want, but this is an evolution, which literally means to "unroll," like an ancient scroll. Darwinians just appropriated and redefined this venerable word to make it synonymous with natural selection.

So, is the cosmos an unrolling play? Or is it a fixed game?

Anyway, on to the post....

So, is it possible to reconcile Christianity with the type of evolutionary cosmos envisioned by Sri Aurobindo?

Obviously, religion must have a context, or matrix. While the religious message is absolute, its cultural container is necessarily going to be relative. What makes it tricky for Christianity is that its "absolute message" is actually extended in time -- it is a story that continues to unfold in history. In other words, unlike, say, Vedanta, Taoism, or Buddhism, Christianity is intrinsically historical, which I believe offers us a clue right away as to its evolutionary nature.

As Wright explains [I just happened to be reading this book at the time; I don't recommend it], Jesus' appearance is the climax of a long story through which "a great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It's the door to the prison where we've been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God's rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access."

So, Christianity is fundamentally about a hole in the fabric of spacetime, through which certain "healing" energies flow: a hole into wholeness. In one sense, the creation of this hole is the end of the story: it is accomplished. But in another sense, it is only the beginning. The beginning of what?

Again, according to Wright, Jesus central proclamation was that the kingdom of God is at hand. At the time, people had certain ideas about what he meant by this, but they all turned out to be wrong. Obviously, many interpreted it in terms of traditional Jewish prophecy, of God restoring Israel and smiting her enemies. But "the whole point of Jesus' work was to bring heaven to earth and join them together forever, to bring God's future into the present and make it stick there" (emphasis mine).

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is given so that "we ordinary mortals can become, in a measure, what Jesus himself was: part of God's future arriving in the present; a place where heaven and earth meet; the means of God's kingdom going ahead" (emphasis mine).

The Spirit is given so that we might "share in the life and continuing work of Jesus himself," and "to begin the work of making God's future real in the present." This Spirit "comes to us from that new world, the world waiting to be born," so that to live as a Christian is "to live by the rules of God's future world, even as we are continuing to live within the present one." Which is why Paul "speaks of the Spirit as the guarantee or down-payment of what is to come." He actually uses the Greek word for "engagement ring," as "a sign in the present for what is to come in the future."

Now then. We have several arresting ideas from the heart of Christianity through which we may look at the cosmos in evolutionary terms, as an unfolding drama of union with the creator -- or what I call cosmotheosis -- and of bringing the future into the present. Recall what I said above about my son's development. Is it the present moving into the future? Or is it, more mysteriously, the future drawing the present toward it -- or "reaching" down and back, like a reverse arrow of time?

There are two ways we can look at evolution: the secular way and the religious Way. It has always been understood that the secular way actually makes no philosophical or metaphysical sense, being that the greater cannot be derived from the lesser -- let alone something of the magnitude of the human subject. So, what are we doing here? The human subject is so superior to the physical cosmos that the gap between them is infinite.

As a matter of fact, it seems that the cosmos is hardly worthy of our being here. On the one hand this is a great source of existential pain and bewilderment, but on the other hand, perhaps it provides a clue into the true order of things. For as Schuon has written, "One of the keys to the understanding of our true nature and of our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world never measure up to the real range of our intelligence":

The first ascertainment which should impose itself upon man when he reflects on the nature of the Universe is the primacy of that miracle that is intelligence -- or consciousness or subjectivity -- and consequently the incommensurability between these and material objects, be it a question of a grain of sand or of the sun, or of any creature whatever as an object of the senses.

The secular way of looking at evolution involves an arrow of time that moves only in the direction past --> future. Furthermore, the second law of thermodynamics maintains that the entire cosmos is "winding down," so to speak, although it does allow for local areas to temporarily violate the law. Thus, Life itself is a kind of cosmic scofflaw, but you can only be a fugitive from the law of averages for so long. Entropy prevails in the end. It's all ultimately meaningless and pointless.

At least according to the scientific view. The religious view maintains -- as implied by Wright's comments above -- that the ultimate source of our order is the future, not the past. Furthermore, there is an arrow of time that operates in the direction future --> present. That is, the divine future is ontologically real, and it is waiting to be born: in other words, timelessness takes time. Evolution is the means of God's kingdom going ahead and the work of making God's future real in the present.

On a personal level, Wright notes that "instead of being simply a part of the old [entropic] creation, a place of sorrow and injustice and ultimately the shame of death itself, you can both be a part of the new creation in advance and someone through whom it begins to happen here and now."

You may not be able to know the future, but you can be the future. For as Andrew Louth writes, "the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words, and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact, or reality.... To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something."

I would say to become something, and thereby actualize your future.

To be continued....

Friday, July 10, 2009

Saving the World, One Assoul at a Time

I'd like to try to complete my thoughts on Sherrard before moving on. The last chapter is entitled The Renewal of the Tradition of Contemplative Spirituality, and I think the ideas it espouses are only critical to the future survival of mankind. Put it this way: only the United States can save the world. In turn, only a renewal of classical liberal conservatism can save the United States. But only Christianity can save conservative liberalism -- including from Republicans.

But what will save Christianity? It sounds odd to say it, but it seems that Christianity is as much in need of salvation as its adherents. After all, one routinely reads in the MSM that Barack Obama is a "committed Christian." As are Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. If that is the case, then there is obviously something wrong with Christianity -- or at least how it is commonly understood. There is something scandalous about a theology that is so elastic that people with polar opposite values can claim to adhere to it.

So we have to resolve that problem, and the best way to do so is to return to a more interior understanding of Christianity, as originally intended. Anyone can go through the motions and pretend to be Christian. But as John reminds us, one thing you can't hide is when you're crippled inside.

As mentioned a few posts back, Sherrard begins with the idea that "to know oneself may be said to be a condition of knowing God." But "if one cannot know God without knowing oneself, one also cannot know oneself without knowing God." Therefore, "to be ignorant of oneself is to fail to achieve an authentic human life." But equally, "to be ignorant of God is to fail to achieve an authentic human life."

Thus, we are far beyond -- or beneath or behind -- issues of dogma. Rather, we are into the realms of psychology, anthropology, and philosophy. But not for their own sake. Rather, each of these disciplines specifically bears on spirit. Detached from spirit -- from God -- they have absolutely no intrinsic meaning whatsoever. They are just mind games.

Even on secular grounds, how could one ever claim to understand "reality" without understanding the nature of the knower? Let's take the mundane example of the Darwinian fundamentalist who blindly insists that everything is reducible to the random copying errors of natural selection. Fine. But tell me now, who -- or what -- is speaking? What in your philosophy permits random error to result in this thing you call "truth"? And what is the relationship between truth and the copying error you claim to be?

As you can see, Darwinism results in an "impossible" psychology and therefore an impossible mankind. The problem is, it explains everything on one level at the cost of unexplaining -- destroying, really -- every autonomous level above it.

It's the same with Marxism in all its varieties, including the crypto-Marxism of Dear Leader. In explaining history, it unexplains psychology, economics, religion, and pretty much everything else. It results in a worthless man -- worthless to himself, to God, and to other men -- as history proves again and again. And if America cannot save the world from Marxism, we will have a world of worthless men -- either infrahuman or "all too human," depending upon how you look at it.

America's founders knew that man only derived his value by virtue of his relationship to the Absolute. This is a fine example of how metaphysics -- the eternal science -- is enfolded in religion. For to see -- and it is a seeing, not a mere "knowing" -- that men are endowed by their Creator with life and liberty is to affirm that life and liberty have an absolute and infinite value. They are "unalienable." Anything short of this makes our rights quite alienable indeed, meaning, among other things, that we can surrender them to liberals for cash and other valuable prizes.

But like it or not, man is "condemned to the Absolute," and with it, to the infinite and eternal. Our intrinsic rights are not to be understood in some postmodern ultra-individualistic manner, as if liberty -- or life, or truth, or beauty -- could ever be detached from its divine source. Rather, the Creator is the source and therefore end of our liberty. To fail to understand this is to not know what a Christian is or what an American is. Period. Anything short of this is a perversion of truth. Man is free because he is potentially Truth + Will, or "truth in action."

But truth is only possible in light of the Absolute. In the absence of the Absolute there is only relativity and therefore no freedom, only a kind of "eternal lostness" that the left conflates with freedom. Such a man has no right to exist, being that rights can only be grounded in the Absolute, and this grounding carries with it certain responsibilities. Or, one could say that he is "responsible for Nothing," the ontological nothingness in which he is situated.

Let's return to the principles enunciated in the first paragraph before this post spins out of control. If it is true that only Christianity can save conservative liberalism, only individual self-knowledge can save Christianity. In a certain paradoxical manner -- about which we will have more to say later -- only man can "save" God. After all, God cannot -- or will not -- force you to believe. And if one can only know God interiorly, it is ultimately the colonization of our own interior space that will "save the world."

I don't know if that last claim sounds extravagant, but I take it quite literally. For the analytically informed psychologist, it is simply a truism that what is not known will be acted out. Thus, the less personal insight one possesses, the more likely one is to act out one's mind parasites in a pathological, impulsive, aggressive, sexual, envious, greedy, and/or self-defeating manner. This is why the Raccoon credo is Saving the world, one assoul at a time. You, of course, are the assoul.

Well, that didn't get far. To be continued.....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Piper's Calling You to Join Him On the Stairway to Help

No time to change the road I'm on. A heavy muddle of a post from one year back....

There is the external world, there are nervous systems, and there is the space in between. That’s it.

That ladder transitional space is where everything happens and where everything evolves (i.e., where evolution can know of and thereby transcend itself). Other animals do not live in this space, or barely so. Rather, they more or less live in their nervous systems, which are “designed” only to notice certain aspects of the environment -- those necessary for immediate survival (and survival of the physical graffiti of the genes).

The more primitive the animal, the more there tends to be a deterministic, one-to-one relationship between information and environment. This is pretty much to be a rock and not to roll, at least on one's own power. Lower animals obviously possess will, but not free will. Only man possesses will + intelligence, which is to say, freedom -- which marks the infinite distance between a potted Plant and a written Page.

With Homo sapiens, a sub-universe or microcosmos somehow opened up in the gap between world and neurology, which became the new virtual environment for humanness to take root. Here, for the first time, the forest echoes with laughter. Ho!

To a certain extent, the emergence of psychological space is analogous to the sudden appearance of biological life some 3.85 billion years ago, when the levee of cosmic evolution truly broke, and it had somewhere to go. Prior to that -- for the first 10 billion years or so -- the cosmos simply was what it was -- a single level reality apparently consisting only of exterior, material processes. There was nothing there to witness the meaningless pageant, no voices of those who stand looking, just a dark night populated by black dogs. There was quite literally no there there, since there was no particular point of view through which to look. There were only all places at once, even though there weren't actually any places. We can only know of the many things and places in hindsight. But there they were. And here they are. But how did I get here?

Prior to the emergence of life, there weren’t any qualities either, since every quality is in relation to a subject. As I noted in the Wholly Coonifesto, the cosmos obviously didn’t “look” like anything, since vision is a property of eyes. Physicists say it was very hot, but not really. Only in relationship to the cool and ironic physicists of the present day.

Nor was it large or small. It was just... a truly inconceivable nothing, for as Big Al Whitehead wrote, “apart from the experience of subjects, there is nothing, bare nothingness.” It almost makes one feel a bit dazed and confused, for however we think about or visualize this nothing, it’s just us projecting our ideas and images about it within the above-referenced transitional space. It is only within this transitional space that the cosmos can know itself, explore its qualities, and contemplate its own birth and even death. Without us, the stores would all be closed and we could never get what we came for. And yet, it makes me wonder...

The point is that, with the sudden emergence of life, the cosmos now had the makings of an inside, an entirely novel ontological category that cannot be accounted for by physics. Science can account for a lot of things, but one thing for which it can never account is the shocking presence of an inside, of a cosmic withinness, of an interior presence in the midst of what had only been an “exterior” up to the emergence of life.

Prior to that, the song had remained the same for billions of years -- the universe had no freedom, no destiny, no meaning beyond itself. But the appearance of life represents the dawn of all those modalities, the unimaginable opening of a window on the world and a stairway to heaven -- which, if you are not all but rendered insensate by scientolatry, should cause a little bustle in your hedgerow, to say the least.

We are all beneficiaries of that tiny window that cracked open almost four billion years ago, when some small part of the cosmos, instead of entropically dissipating into blind nothingness, wrapped around itself, bound up time and space, declared its independence, and went on being. In order to achieve this outrageous act, these whirling little dynamos -- cosmic heroes each and every one -- had to establish a continuous exchange with the “outside” in order to maintain their dancing days on the edge of nonbeing.

Of course, we don’t like to think about it, but for all of us, life is always that same little traveling catastrophe on the invisible border between being and nonbeing. We do what we can to tilt our spinning joyroscape toward the being side, but we can’t really resolve the tension, any more than we can slow down the rotation of the earth by digging in our heels. In order to be at all, we can only be in that fragile space between being and nonbeing, and hope that the piper will lead us to reason.

Or so it seems on first consideration, based only upon our natural reason. But surely you know that sometimes words have two meanings, and we have already established the fact that our natural reason can only go so far in explaining ourselves to oursophs. That is, we only pretend to understand what it means for the cosmos to have an inside that comprehends logic, just as we only pretend to understand what Life actually is.

A living inside. What could that mean? Isn’t that what we really want to know? What is this transitional space, this living inside that we all inhabit? In through this out door flows music, poetry, paintings, mathematical equations, jokes, dreams, and a whole lotta love -- and then it closes. But does the space disappear with it? Or is it somehow anterior to our entrance into it?

Perhaps that is the question. In one sense, there are some provocative signs on the wall, but we want to be sure. What is the nature of this space that we are privileged to enter and inhabit during our human journey from nothing to nowhere and back again? Because curiously, from the scientific (actually, scientistic) standpoint, this space shouldn’t contain any objective reality. At most, it can only be a fleeting secondary or derivative reality, like rings of smoke through the trees wafting up from the primary reality -- which is purely material. But if that were the case, how is it that the mental space we inhabit is in fact a realm of universal truths and values?

Let’s start with something basic, say the handful of mathematical equations that govern the character and evolution of the cosmos. Where are these equations, and where were they before there was even a cosmos for them to operate on? In short, where does mathematical truth reside? Maybe that’s too easy a question.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Hold it right there, Tom -- don’t even go beyond that. When you say that these truths are self-evident, how do you know that? What an preposterous thing to say. What is the nature of the entity that supposedly knows, and what is the nature of the truth it alleggedly apprehends?

And yet, we know it. The uncorrupted intellect knows because it sees, not with eyes that evolved to transduce light waves into visual images, but with a transpersonal eye that was created to see primordial and Absolute truth. We can know these moral or artistic or scriptural truths just as clearly and absolutely as we can know any scientific truth. “Thou shall not murder” or “All men are created equal” are as clear to the transrational moral eye as 2 + 2 = 4 or "never throw a 3 and 2 curveball to the pitcher" are to the rational eye. In each of the above cases, the mind -- which by all rights should be subjective and conditioned -- is able to peer into the absolute and partake of its qualities.

The gulf between human beings and other animals is virtually infinite because of our ability to conceive of the absolute and to know eternal truth in light of it. In this regard, we truly are made in the image of the absolute and infinite One -- the Interior of the interior and its Houses of the Holy: the Truth of truth, Beauty of beauty, Being of being, Life of All, A Love Supreme, Om, now I remurmur! The cosmos is in the Self, not vice versa, for that is truly a truth that can notnot be, or we couldn't ether.


There are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
there's still time to change the road you're on


If you listen very hard
the tune will come to you at last
when all are one and one is all

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Say, What's God Like, Anyway?

From a couple years ago...

What kind of God is God? What's he like, anyway? I suppose that's an easy enough question to answer in 45 minutes.

But I think I'll evade the question head on, because one can only unswer it by questing indirectly. In this regard, it is very much analogous to psychoanalytic therapy. If you ask, "what is the unconscious like?," the question cannot be answered except in a theoretical way.

Rather, you must begin by free associating in the presence of another person called a "psychoanalyst," and the answer will gradually emerge in the space in between. In other words, you attempt to bypass the ego by saying whatever comes to mind in an uncensored way, through which the ghostly contours of your own unconscious will become apparent. In short, this hidden dimension will not stand out until you stand in it.

And you can never know it in its essence, only in its energies, as a gregory palamine might say. It is never revealed by speech, only reveiled. It's a little strange, because you can see by the shape of the veil what's underneath, but if you strip away the veil, it vanishes.

This is why Bion stopped using the word "unconscious," because it fooled us into believing we knew what it was just because we had a word for it. Rather, he called it "O," standing for the ultimate unknowable reality. In my book, I simply extended this idea to religion and spirituality, since the plain fact of the matter is that we have no idea what existence, life, or consciousness "are" in their essence. If you ask "what is life?," the only real answer is the life you are living. Likewise, if you ask "what is consciousness?," there is no answer outside consciousness itself. Nothing less than consciousness can explain consciousness, just as nothing less than your life can describe it.

In a way, each of my posts is a free association in O. Therefore, if you ask me "what's God like?," you would have to go back and read all of my posts, and who would want to do that? But now that I'm thinking about it, the analogy with psychoanalysis holds up, since I acknowledge up front that I am no theologian or any kind of special person with special knowledge.

Rather, I simply rise each morning and undergo the task of focusing a beam of intense darkness on O -- or, as Joyce put it, to shed a little obscurity on ultimate reality. It's almost like trying to paint an invisible subject, and in fact, I suppose I feel some kinship with the original abstract expressionists such as Kandinsky, who attempted to depict the implicate reality beneath reality -- or out of which -- explicate reality emerges, like the pulse beneath the rhythm.

Meister Eckhart, whom we were discussing yesterday, is among those bifocal visionaries who comes closest to myOpia. Bear in mind that much of what he wrote sounds shocking (it certainly was to the religious authorities of the time), but he is playing with language in a very modern way, trying to provoke an experience in O through such techniques as paradox, oxymoron, hyperbole, word games, puns, and negation.

As McGinn writes [BTW, I see that that book has become rather expensive; much of the same material is summarized here], Eckhart was attempting to use language to overcome language -- or "to confuse in order to enlighten" -- an idea Bion would have endorsed. He saw "the very act of preaching as creation of the word to be heard by others so that they too may find the source from whence the word is formed mirrors the 'event character' of the God-world relation." In short, Eckhart's sermons and writings are the essence of O-->(n), not for the purposes of conveying mere information (k) to the reader, but to simulate the same experience in oneself. [This is also the essence of Orthodox theology as laid down by the thrice great Gregory Palamas, which we will soon be discussing.]

McGinn continues: "But the preacher cannot really convey the message that lies hidden behind all words, and even beyond the Divine Word himself in the hidden depth of deity, unless he himself has participated in this inner speaking, that is, unless he speaks 'out of the ground' of God.... Eckhart invites his audience to hear what he has heard and to become one with him in the one ground -- 'If you could perceive things with my heart,' he once said, 'you would well understand what I say; for it is true and the Truth itself speaks it.'" Eckhart does not appeal to his own authority, but "out of the oneness of Divine Truth": "I will tell you how I think of people: I try to forget myself and everyone and to merge myself, for them, in Unity."

Again I cannot help but notice the analogy with psychoanalysis, which you might say is the study of the "lower vertical," whereas Eckhart's mystical theology is the study of the upper vertical: "[A] person must penetrate and transcend everything created and temporal and all being and go into the ground that has no ground.... If anyone wishes to come into God's ground and his innermost, he must first come into his own ground and his innermost, for no one can know God who does not first know himself."

As McGinn explains, "God unbecomes when the mystic is not content to return to the 'God' who acts, but effects a 'breaking through' to the silent unmoving Godhead, one that brings all creatures back into the hidden source through their union in the deconstructed 'intellect.'" Or, in the words of Eckhart, "When I enter the ground, the bottom, the flood and the source of the Godhead, no one asks me where I come from or where I have been. There no one misses me, and there God 'unbecomes.'"

I would never claim to know God. Nor can anyone know God, for this would imply human containment of what by definition transcends man. Rather, as Eckhart said, the knowing is in the trying, and the trying involves a continuous sort of unknowing, non-doodling, or rank coonfusion: "This not-knowing draws [the soul] into amazement and keeps her on the hunt, for she clearly recognizes 'that he is,' but she does not know 'what' or 'how' he is.... Therefore, the unknown-knowing keeps the soul constant and still on the hunt.... [T]his unknowing lures and draws you from all that is known, and also from yourself." McGinn calls it a "simultaneous eating and hungering after God."

Eckhart distinguishes between "mere ignorance and learned ignorance," or what Raccoons call the Higher Bewilderness: "One must here come to a transformed knowing, and this unknowing must not come from ignorance; rather from knowing one must come into an unknowing. Then, we will become knowing with divine knowing and then our unknowing will be ennobled and clothed with supernatural knowing. And here, in that we are in a state of receiving, we are more perfect than if we were active."

Perfect nonsense!

Eckhart said that we are held back or "estranged" from God by three primary conditions, time, multiplicity and matter. As a result, one again cannot "know" God per se. Rather, one can only undergo him. Or, in Raccoon terms, one must sopher God. Bion would have oppreciated this observation, for he recognized that if one cannot suffer pain, one cannot suffer pleasure, and knowledge is rooted in the pain of separation -- separation from O. Unknowing this separation is the highest form of knowledge, but it can only happen if you exert enough passivity or strive with all the effortlessness you can meister.

Me? I've obviously given up completely, as this post proves.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On Packing Light for the Eternal Journey

They say that the sales of a book will be diminished by the percentage of pages that contain any kind of mathmatical equation. People might pluck the book from the shelf, but as soon as they see any numbers, they put it back.

I'm afraid it's the same with my symbolic oquations, perhaps with the exception of O, since it can camouflage itself as a letter. But throw in stuff like (•), →, (¶), or •••(¶)•••, and people start to recoil. There, see. Wait! Come back!

But for me, these symbols were a kind of lifesaver -- or mind saver -- because they allowed me to see through to the unity beneath all of the various revelations I had immersed myself in at the time -- not just across revelations, but within them. Really, it's like musical notation. Imagine how musically limited we would be in the absence of an abstract system to describe it.

The other day I was reading about an album Sinatra made with the Duke Ellington band in the 1960s. Sinatra always worked with the very best studio guys, who both had jazz chops and could also sight read as easily as you're reading this post. But as great as they were, no one in the Ellington band could sight read. Ellington wrote hundreds of compositions, and the band learned each one by simply playing it. In a way, it makes each composition a unique entity that cannot be seen as anything more simple or abstract than itself.

This is largely the position mankind at large was in prior to the scientific revolution. No one knew, for example, that the same force that caused the apple to fall from the tree, also caused the earth to fall through the curved space around the sun -- or, in Newtonian terms, that there was an underlying g-force that accounted for such diverse phenomena.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered the similarities between certain yogic approaches and Orthodox Christianity. Faced with such a similarity, one has several options. One could say that one is a debased or partial form of the other; or that one is a premonition of the other; or like Schuon, that each is true in its own right and in its own human world; or that they are symbolic or mythological expressions of perennial truth.

In my case, I suppose you could say that I attempted to develop a "general theory of spirituality" that would apply to all particular spiritual experiences, so that modern people who otherwise cannot appreciate religion could begin to access its priceless wisdom. And I am particularly interested in reaching the many westerners who are attracted to Buddhism or yoga, because only a revitalization of Christianity will save the West -- and therefore the world. We need you on our side. There is nothing in eastern religions that cannot be found in Christianity, but much in Christianity that is responsible for our uniquely valuable civilization.

Please bear in mind that the experience always takes precedence, and that the symbols are merely a means of "storage and communication," so to speak. Instead of musical notation, it's spiritual notation. But in neither case does it exist for its own sake. Rather, the purpose of music is to be played, heard, and understood. And the purpose of spiritual experience is to discover your true self, and therefore, God (and/or vice versa).

Sherrard writes that "to know oneself may be said to be a condition of knowing God.... In other words, if one cannot know God without knowing oneself, one also cannot know oneself without knowing God. To be ignorant of oneself is thus to be ignorant of the divine source of one's being. If to be ignorant of oneself is to fail to achieve an authentic human life, then by the same token to be ignorant of God is to fail to achieve an authentic human life."

So, each is a prerequisite for the other, which is why I say that (¶) is a kind of "prolongation" of O, whereas (•) is a reflection of Ø. Thus, you can see that I simply abstract the essence of what a Sherrard is conveying. Then it's up to you to refill the abstraction with your own experience. The purpose of life is to reflect and embody eternity within time, or let us say O through (¶).

For a real life example of what happens when someone fails to know themselves -- and therefore God -- see Scipio's two recent posts on the eternally clueless Maureen Dowd.

On one of Scipio's pieces, I left a comment about having viewed the Ingmar Bergman film Wild Strawberries yesterday evening. If you haven't seen the film, it's about an elderly professor who is about to receive some kind of honor. During the course of the journey to where he is to receive the award, he reflects upon his life.

I haven't gotten to the end of the film yet, but one can sense that it is all about a kind of nightmarish realization that he died long ago, and that he is solely identified with (•). The painful realization that he has missed out on his own life comes to him in the form of disturbing dreams and images. At one point, his daughter in law says to him, You know so much. And yet you know nothing.

This is the fate of all (k). It really has no living relationship to O, but is merely a kind of cloak with which intellectuals cover themselves in order to produce a kind of self-generated warmth and security. But upon your death -- or birth, it's up to you -- this (k) dissolves like a dirt clod in the water. It just decomposes and returns to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

There is a living source and a living knowledge (n), and only this is free from the grip of Death. It is what you take with you when you grow. The rest of your intellectual baggage is eternally lost in the errport.

@ American Thinker, another dangerously false self, Obama.