Monday, July 27, 2009

The Occidentally-on-Purpose Unification of East and West Brains

Friday was a bit of a sidetrack. We've been discussing the unification of East and West in Maximus -- not just of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, or even orient and occident, but a deeper dialectic that seems to be imprinted into our mainframe, i.e., the left and right hemispheres of the brain, each of which is required in order to host the "higher third" of the human subject.

So many philosophical disputes down through the ages are simply a result of failure to appreciate the irreducible complementarity -- not duality -- of being. A duality is an unproductive sort of stalemate, whereas a complementarity is a productive interplay that generates the "higher third" alluded to above.

Individual examples are too numerous to chronicle here, but failure to admit complementarity not only creates impasses between disciplines, but within them as well. For example, in science, there are materialists and idealists, or Aristotelians and Platonists. In psychology, there are behaviorists and depth psychologists. In religion, there are the mystics and dogmatics.

I no longer remember the details, but about 20 years ago, I was complaining about some quandary to my analyst, and he said something to the effect of, "why does it have to be either/or? Why not both/and? After all, it always is."

The idea of complementarity is one of those things that you realize is true the moment you hear it, and yet, must be relearned again and again. As we now know, it is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, as elucidated by the physicist Neils Bohr (the "complementarity principle").

That is, in subatomic physics, it literally makes no sense to ask if one is dealing with a wave or a particle, for it is always both/and. Yes, you can pretend that reality is particle-like, but then you're excluding half the story. Or, you can pretend it's wavelike, and you miss the other half. If you know where a particle is, then you don't know its velocity. If you know the velocity, then you don't know its location. I understand that batting against Sandy Koufax posed a similar problem. On one occasion, after the umpire called a strike, the batter asked, "are you sure? That sounded outside."

Now, many new-age types try to use the facts of physics to build "upward" and justify a mystical view of the cosmos, e.g., The Tao of Physics. But it doesn't work that way. We don't have a left and right brain because the cosmos is simultaneously particle- and wavelike. Rather, vice versa. And our analysis cannot end with man. Rather, man has this intrinsic complementarity because he is in the image of the Creator.

Again, creation could not occur if there were only a uniform "oneness." Rather, there must be distinction. But this is never a radical separation from the Principle; rather, it is always multiplicity within a prior unity.

Oneness could never be achieved on any level -- material, biological, psychological or spiritual -- if it weren't latent within creation to begin with. In other words, in the absence of oneness, we could not have objects, organisms, egos, or selves, each of which reflects the principle of wholeness within its particular domain (i.e., matter, life, mind, and spirit).

You might say that as one becomes many, it breaks out into the absolute and infinite, which would correspond to particle and wave (or left brain and right brain, male and female), respectively. Thus, whenever we see the apparent multiplicity of duality, we must "recall" the prior complementary oneness that actually joins them together in wholly matterimany.

One critical point to bear in mind is that the principle of complementarity applies to both the object and subject. That is, just as physics proves the existence of material complementarity, psychology proves the existence of subjective complementarity. As I have discussed before, it is a bit old-fashioned to imagine the mind in 19th century mechanistic terms, perhaps as an archaeological dig with the older material "below," or maybe a bag with "stuff" inside, or perhaps a pressure cooker that needs to let off steam in the form of "instinctual energy."

Rather, just as the Trinity is entirely intersubjective, each being a member of the other, the mind consists of "parts" that can only be artificially separated from the whole. Therefore, while we can talk about "ego" and "unconscious," we must always remember that these are no more real than "wave" and "particle."

Rather, it all depends upon how we look at it. In reality, there is no conscious act that doesn't have unconscious roots, and no unconscious fantasy that isn't infused with the conscious. And we have no idea how this actually works, any more than we have any idea how a dream is produced. In order to think about anything at all, we must resort to dualism. Just don't confuse method with truth, for the truth is always the complementary whole. A physicist doesn't actually know what matter or energy are, any more than a biologist knows what life is, or a psychologist knows what consciousness is, or a priest knows what God is.

But in each case, we do have means of finding out. In other words, there are specific methods for disclosing the truth of matter, life, mind and spirit. However, just don't confuse the means with the underlying truth, which is to confuse epistemology -- what we can know -- with ontology -- what actually is.

In fact, that is another false dualism -- ontology and epistemology -- that is resolved in Christian metaphysics. If I discuss this now, I'll be getting wayyy ahead of myself, but this was very much emphasized by Symeon the New Theologian, who you might say unified doctrine and experience within his own person (which is what made him so New). But I want to finish with Maximus before moving on to Symeon.

Indeed, in many ways, Symeon is just a restatement of Maximus, only in a more highly personalized manner. Remember what I said about complementarity having to be rediscovered again and again, perhaps by each generation; thus, you can draw a more or less straight or crooked line from, say, Denys to Maximus to Symeon to Gregory Palamas to Toots Mondello to me.

So Balthasar talks about some of the polarities that are unified in Maximus, such as that "between the impersonal religious thought of the East and the personal categories of biblical revelation," or "between a religion of nature [↑] and a religion of self-communication and of grace [↓]," between "narrative thought" and "analytic thought," between schoolroom and monastery, or between mythos and logos.

For me, the important point is that Maximus straddled the gulf between God's transcendence and immanence, which is a complementarity that can only be "resolved" within the human subject. Although he ultimately chose the Western tradition, he did so in such a way that he "imported" the Eastern conception. In other words, he brought in "the whole Asian mystique of divinization," or theosis, "on the higher level of the biblical mystery," as opposed to "the lower level of natural dissolution and fusion."

Do you see the point? It all turns on the meaning of One. Symbolically, you could say that it all turns on O vs. ʘ. That little point in the middle is you. Either that dot is o-bliterated in egoic dissolution, or it is "preserved" as one of God's precious "parts." If you think you must choose between the two, I think you're caught up in one of those false dualities. For in reality, there is the eternal complementarity of O and •, which is none other than infinite and absolute playing along the shoreline of the aeon. So enjoy your praydate with O. You only get ʘne.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wondering Through the Bewilderness

Last night I dreamt about writing an ironclad proof of God. However, I can't remember what I wrote. Oh well. It'll come to me eventually. In the meantime, I dragged this two-year old baby out of the smoking arkive. As always, it has provoked many second thoughts that I have tucked in here and there.

I don't know if this is still valid -- probably not, since I learned it in college -- but I remember reading about how the resting EEGs of extreme extroverts and thrill seekers are unusually rather flat, which is precisely why they seek thrills -- in order to stimulate their brain. In the absence of a vivid assault on the senses, they just feel kind of dead. Such individuals can also be drawn to stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine in order to gain a spurious sense of life without having to do anything. But that just burns out the synapses, leaving them even more endeadened in the headend.

Conversely, more quiet and introverted people showed a great deal of brain activity even while resting and doing nothing. Often, such a person can feel overwhelmed by too much external activity -- it overloads their nervous system, so to speak.

I definitely fall into that latter category, in that I have always required very little stimulation in order to feel hyper-stimulated. For me, one is often a crowd. O is enough to deal with. It took many years for me to finally be comfortable about being uncomfortable in my own skin. These types of individuals are often attracted to the more calming type drugs. Back in my undergraduate days, I remember feeling as if I were always two beers shy of normalcy, so to speak. Let's just say I occasionally overshot the mark.

I was thinking about this while eyeing Josef Pieper's For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, in which he discusses the meaning of philosophy. He quotes a fellow named Socrates, who remarked that "the sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin."

But contemporary philosophy does not begin with a sense of wonder, nor does it attempt to cultivate it. Rather, it begins with the capacity to doubt, and then aggravates it, eventually turning a good servant into a tyrannical master, for there is nothing that cannot be doubted by doubt. It takes no wisdom or skill at all. You can take any buffoon with a capacity to doubt, and make him, I don't know, the Alphonse Fletcher chair at Harvard.

One reason I could never be a secular leftist is that it is a cynical philosophy that drains everything it touches of the dimension of wonder. For atheists and other philisophostines, the world loses its metaphysical transparency; surface is reality and everything is self-evident. They elevate our crudest way of knowing the world to the highest wisdom, and their self-satisfaction ensures that no spiritual growth can occur. They are a closed system.

The sense of wonder is not merely a useless "luxury capacity" that serves no human purpose. Rather, it is a spiritual sense that discloses valid information about the cosmos. In fact, like a divining rod, it tells us where to look for the water -- the baptizing Waters of Life. It senses those "holes" in the landscape through which the wondrous spiritual energies gently bubble forth to the surface. Look, there's one now! Which reminds me of one of the mysterious Sayings of Toots: Why listen to me? I'm all wet.

The flatlander who is confined to the everyday, proximate world can never really philosophize, whereas for the person who has been arrested by a sense of wonder, "the immediate necessities of life fall mute, if only for this one moment of impassioned gazing at the wonder-inspiring physiognomy of the world." I suppose the atheist might object that he too wonders at Being, but he would never agree that wonder is a spiritual sense that discloses valid information about the object that has provoked it.

Pieper points out that it is not the abnormal, the sensational, and the exciting that provoke the sense of wonder. Indeed, this is the whole point. Many people compulsively seek out the abnormal and the sensational in order to simulate a dulled sense of wonder that is incapable of perceiving the wondrous in the commonplace:

"Whoever requires the unusual in order to fall into wonder shows himself by virtue of this very fact to be someone who has lost the ability to respond correctly to the mirandum of Being. The need for the sensational, even if it prefers to present itself under the guise of the bohemian, is an unmistakable sign of the absence of a genuine capacity for wonder and hence a bourgeois mentaility" (emphasis mine).

This highlights the fact that the weirdest people are usually the most banal and predictable underneath their weirdness. And the far left -- you know, soak-alled liberals -- is nothing if not a collection of weirdos, misfits, rejects, losers, crackpots, kooks, "rebels," outliars, and auto-victimizing boohoomians hiding behind their "authenticity." You know, the "herd of independent minds."

A genuine sense of wonder preserves the extraordinary in the familiar, and is therefore a key to happiness. Pieper notes that for Aquinas, it was one of the indirect proofs of God, in that "in the very first moment of wonder man sets his foot on the path at the end of which lies the visio beatifica, the blissful perception of the ultimate cause." In this regard, you might say that wonder is a way of "metabolizing reality," in that it involves both digestion and resultant growth.

By the way, for those of you with my book, much of what we are discussing here dovetails nicely with pp. 215-16, in which I point out that a goal of the spiritual life is "to be in a mild state of (?!) at all times.... It is a matter of removing obstacles to its reception, not setting up elaborate, complicated, or expensive situations to trick the ego into relaxing its death-grip for awhile."

In fact, to further quote mybob, "All of us can, with even unschooled intuition, receive these transitory, partial, and mixed messages from O, the flotsam and jetsam that wash up from the father shore.... [But] only through spiritual development can these metaphysical freebies evolve into a more conscious relationship to something felt as a continuous presence." God is a presence. Nonetheless, we have to open it in order to have our second birthday.

Now, our sense of wonder ultimately answers to the Mystery of Being, and a mystery is not an enigma to be solved but a riddle to be enjoyed and even played with. And all of this falls under the heading of "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity." As Pieper points out, our higher bewilderness is not to be confused with resignation, despair, or hopelessness. To the contrary, our engagement with the mystery of being is generative and therefore filled with hope and joy, because it brings us closer to the ultimate cause of our wondering.

What actually provoked me to wonder about wonder was an essay by Dennis Prager on how Excitement Deprives Children of Happiness -- which is another way of saying that immersing children in over-stimulating activities will inevitably lead to an atrophied sense of wonder. As Prager writes,

"because we parents so delight in the excitement we see in our children at those moments -- because they seem so happy then -- we can easily fall into the trap of providing more and more exciting things to keep them seemingly happy at just about every moment. And they in turn come to rely on getting excited to keep them happy and to identify excitement with happiness. But excitement is not happiness. In fact, it is the ultimate drug."

Never before in history has so much excitement been available to people, but are they really any happier or fulfilled? I agree with Prager that "all this excitement is actually inhibiting our children's ability to enjoy life and therefore be happy." It "renders young people jaded, not happy.... That is why the frequent complaint of 'I'm bored' is often a sign of a jaded child, i.e., a child addicted to excitement and therefore incapable of enjoying life when not being excited."

So, what have we learned? It's the simple things of life. You know, like extreme seeking, off-road spiritual adventures, verticalisthenics, gymnostics, isness ministration, neurocosmology, coonical pslackology, applied non-doodling, nonlocal dot connecting.... and a couple of beers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On Being Shattered, Battered, Scattered, and Made Whole

Ted raised a valid point in cautioning me against disparaging or dismissing Buddhism, which I am not trying to do. It is entirely true that earlier forms of Theravada Buddhism were more purely focussed on escape from one's own suffering, whereas the later Mahayana schools developed the bodhisattva principle, whereby the liberated soul forgoes nirvana until every being is released from suffering. Then he just shuts the door behind him.

But of course, that begs the question of whether the bodhisattva is simply reinventing the wheel of karma, in light of Christ's accomplishment -- that is, if it was truly universal. Looked at in this manner, the bodhisattva is simply participating in the metacosmic "mind of Christ," even if he doesn't call it that. You know what Toots Mondello said in his Wise Sayings and Cracks: "I have other Coons, who are not of this den."

In any event, I am not attempting to disparage Buddhism by looking at the possibility of a higher synthesis of natural and supernatural religions, any more than I am disparaging Christianity by pointing out that it can learn (or at least rediscover) something from Taoism or Vedanta. We'll get more into this as we go along, but it is apparently very difficult for man to hold "totality" in his head, so to speak. What inevitably happens is something like Hegel's dialectic, through which people elevate this or that part to the whole. Then that part generates its own antithesis, or "missing part." That part is then regarded as the new whole, and so on.

Using the example of Buddhism above, we can see that it initially focussed too heavily on a pessimistic rejection of the world. Thus, this partial truth dialectically generated the complementary truth of Mahayana.

I believe the same thing has occurred in Christianity, again, because of the apparent difficulty of holding the "fullness of truth" in one's head. Thus -- this is just my view, so you certainly don't have to agree with me -- the overemphasis on dogma and scholasticism in medieval Catholicism generated the Protestant lurch into a more personal and unmediated experience of God.

Yes, I fully understand that the Protestants did not "discover" anything new, the proof of which is in the highly personal and existential writings of a Meister Eckhart or St. John of the Cross.

Nevertheless, I think I understand the rebellious Spirit that is almost automatically provoked when someone tells me what I can and cannot experience of God and how I am permitted to do so. In a certain way, the "mystic" is always a threat to the "establishment" -- also proved by an Eckhart or Maximus -- and by Jesus himself, quintessentially!

Really, it goes back to something much more primordial, something that I believe is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, and that would be Bion's ♀ and ♂, which are the empty symbols he used for the eternal dynamic of container and contained -- which in turn generate so many fundamental antinomies, e.g., form-substance, absolute-infinite, point-line, space-time, male-female, etc. (Do not confuse ♀ and ♂ with mother and father, although, looked at in another way, feel free to do so.)

We might as well face the fact that we can never contain God, not in any human words, any institution, or any person, no matter how "realized." Rather, God -- the ultimate ♂ -- will always shatter whatever you attempt to contain him with.

Does this mean that all containers (♀) are equal? Hardly! For one thing, if that were the case, I would have nothing to blog about, and the Catholic church would be no better than Obama's Trinity United Church of Race Baiting Cop Haters. What it means is that the "human project," so to speak, involves the impossible task of developing a ♀ that is equal to God's ♂. We know it's impossible up front. So why bother?

This is again like asking why we produce art, i.e., divine beauty, or why we want to be virtuous, which is to reflect the sovereign good in the herebelow. I don't think we can not attempt do these things, unless we have become somehow deranged -- which, of course, a lot of people are. Nevertheless, try as we might, "there is no one good but the One."

Now, I am sympathetic to the view that the Catholic church is God's own "authorized ♀," so to speak. Nevertheless, I don't think it is fruitful to look at this in a static way, as if everything is decided in advance, and it is only for us to assent.

Indeed, you might say that there is an ideal church -- a nonlocal or celestial ♀ for God's ♂, so to speak -- and that the best the earthly church can do is try to "imitate" it. This is how we can have equally lofty saints and doctors who continue to disagree over doctrine. Again, no one person can contain -- or be a ♀ -- for the whole. Can't happen.

You might even say that Mary -- and only Mary -- was able to be ♀ for ♂. The church can imitate Mary in endeavoring to give birth to the Word, but can never duplicate her feat. There is only one theokotos, or Mother of God.

And yet, we are all called upon to be that womb with a pew, so that we too can "give birth to the Word." We must all be Mary, which is to say, a little ♀ for God -- a fertile egghead for the free-ranging Spirit.

Some of us are cups, others are buckets. Some, like Deepak, have only a crock. But in any event, in view of the fact that God is the Ocean, this should be cause for humility. Nevertheless, a bucket of Maximus is obviously better than a crock of Chopra.

It seems to me that we are again dealing with the earthly instantiation of a metacosmic principle, what we might call the "eternal birth" of ♂ out of ♀. It is eternal, because it is the paradox of the all-containing giving birth to the uncontainable -- an irresistible force and immovable object. Thus, reality is their "divine play," so to speak, an eternal game of bride and speak. Just when you think you've contained the Word -- oops! -- another post. It never ends.

And if I am on the light track, this would seem to lead into the heart of the trinitarian mystery, which is the ultimate case of something that can be thought about but never contained, since it is the container. Making maters (and paters) more complicated, it is not a "static" container, but a dynamic one. But perhaps it is dynamic because it is fundamentally ♀ and ♂, who are together always giving birth to.... to what?

To everything, among other non-things. However, I can understand why Christianity would refer to these as "Father" and "Son," since it is probably important to desexualize ♀ and ♂, and not confuse them with human sexual generation, which is what most pagan religions tend to do.

That is, pagan mythologies see the cosmos as a result of a sexual act between the gods, which is specifically avoided in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which God creates the world out of nothing, with no hanky panky at all.

Much of this is discussed in a meta-mythological, trans-linguistic, and orthoparadoxical manner in pp. 9-17 of my book. Yes, I hate to be so annoying with the so-called wordplay, but I'm not just trying to be a pomographic text fiend.

Rather, if I am in the right light, then the dynamic rapport of ♀ and ♂ is a kind of wordplay, if you will. After all, it generates a paradoxical Word that we cannot wrap our minds around, try as we might. It is what created this wholly matterimany in which we live and have our being.

And you will gnotice how often the playful Word Himsoph played with language in such a way that it could never be "contained" by all of the future would-be scribes and pharisees. After all, he could have left an unambiguous "to do" list for humans, couldn't he? Instead, he largely spoke in the form of parable, symbolism, metaphor, and allegory -- all modes which require our own participation to realize their truth. In other words, they are not simple containers of information, i.e., ♀.

Rather, in an odd way, they are always highly provocative and "disturbing" ♂s that require our own ♀ to com-prehend, i.e., we must make the effort to wrap ourselves around his rap (even as it wraps around us).

But then it shatters our ♀ again! And again. And again. It's hopeless. And therein lies our hope. For in being shattered and deprived of merely human meaning, we are resurrected and part-icipate in ultimate meaning.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Marriage of Natural and Supernatural Religion

This is one of the things that intrigues me about Maximus, that he leant "new brilliance and new validity" to "the element in Christian thought that had its living roots in Asia" (Balthasar). I think this may be important because he therefore serves as a kind of bridge between the supernaturalism of Christianity and the more "natural" (or "naturally supernatural") religions of the East, i.e., Vedanta, Taoism, and Zen.

You might even say that this approach forms a nexus -- or performs a sacred marriage -- between "Father sky" and "Mother earth," in that man's religious instinct is analogous to the "maternal soil" that must be fertilized from above.

As discussed in my book, manhood is the basis of civilization. That is, maternity -- and therefore the mother-infant dyad -- is a biological category that excludes any necessary role for men aside from a little help with conception.

But the emergence of humanness is characterized by the trimorphic, intersubjective structure of Mother-Father-Baby. This can only take place because the male now has a social (not biological) role: father, husband, protector, etc. Thus, you might say that these categories are the very "essence" of civilization.

Even on a purely practical basis, a civilization that fails to produce manly men to protect it is not long for the world. But more subtly, in psychoanalytic terms, "father" is also a symbol of the Law (in its most generic and universal sense, in that reverence for the abstract Law is one of the things that lifts us above the animals).

In contrast, the mother is mercy, which is felt, not thought. Nor could it ever be reduced to granite tablets, like the Ten Commandments. Law is always masculine.

It reminds me of when Senator Feinstein was questioning Justice Roberts at the confirmation hearings. She said something to the effect that she wanted to know how he felt, not what he thought. Or more recently, think of the supremely feminized Obama saying that he wanted justices with "empathy." I think you can see why that leads directly to the unraveling of civilization at its very foundation, for it is a passive aggressive attack on masculinity. Judicial tyranny is the result.

By the way, it's the same with socialized medicine. One of the reasons Obama needs to ram through any kind of bill, no matter how bad, is that once we have socialized medicine, there's no turning back (or forward, to be precise). Like it or not, most everyone becomes dependent upon the state, so that for the rest of our lives, we'll be arguing over government run healthcare.

Which is exactly what the Democrats want. It's the same with Social Security. Once you lock up a significant portion of the populace into dependency upon the state, conservatives can be caricatured as people who want to throw grandma out in the cold.

Anyway, back to natural religion. In a way, you could say that natural religion is (↑), while supernatural religion is (↓). The former embodies all the techniques of ascent available to man. (I should point out that in reality, these natural religions must also ultimately be "from God," but that's a subject for a different post.)

Here is how Balthasar describes natural religion: "As the elemental groping of man toward God, it is, first of all, a way of renouncing the world -- for this transitory, spatio-temporal, destiny-determined world is surely not God! It is a way of stripping off form, in order to find the infinite Absolute in a state of formlessness. The world, compared with God, is unreality, a falling away from the eternal unity."

Balthasar has a tendency to caricature theologies with which he disagrees, but this strikes me as a pretty fair assessment, for this ascent into the formless "beyond being" is the basis of all natural religions, from Vedanta in the East to Plotinus in the West. There's nothing really wrong with it, except perhaps that it rarely "works" (even Plotinus had only a few brief swooning episodes of egoic dissolution into the One).

I remember reading an interview of Ken Wilber (who is a Buddhist or something), and he said something to the effect that the chances of a human being achieving liberation in this life were less then one in a billion. Hence the need for lots of reincarnations to do the job. But that is the way of pure (↑). It really is a case of trying to lift yourself up by your own buddhastraps. Good luck with that.

Also, from the natural side of things, the "god-man" can only be understood in relative terms. Even the most exalted avatar -- say, Krishna -- is not literally God. As Balthasar explains, "expressed in terms of this picture of things, an incarnation of God can only mean a concession, the gracious descent of God into multiplicity, into the realm of matter, in order to lead what is multiple back into unity." Thus, it is not a real reconciliation of the One and the many, God and world. Rather, it is again a means of escape from the world.

And there is an inevitable elitism associated with the way of pure (↑). It's somewhat like golf, which you can only be good at if you have lots of time and money. This is how a sinister clown such as Deepak becomes "guru of the stars," or how poor Ken Wilber becomes the leader of a children's crusade of affluent new agers with skulls full of mush. Remember, his way has nothing to offer the other 99.999% of poor slobs on the planet.

But the Christian way is a way of grace, of pure (↓), although naturally we must do what we can to make ourselves worthy of it. Unlike Eastern approaches, it takes the individual seriously. He is not just an illusion of maya, with no value or purpose beyond escaping the dreary play as soon as possible.

Rather, the purpose of God's (↓) is to lift creation "beyond itself to fulfillment." It is a divinization of the world, so that you might say that God's descent is our ascent, if you catch my meaning.

I'm trying to think of a human analogy... Imagine the gifted artist, who, by infusing a common landscape with his artistic vision, is able to elevate it beyond itself and reveal its metaphysical transparency. As a matter of fact, this is the very purpose of art, which is to imitate the Creator.

I always think of that scene in American Beauty, where the young videographer shoots a film of a brown paper bag spontaneously blowing in the wind. Thus, he is "elevating" the most common reality by descending fully into it in an empathic way.

Now imagine God fully descending into reality in an "empathic way," thereby transforming the most ugly realities -- including death and suffering -- into a kind of aching beauty.

But the key remains our own participation in this drama, which is why there is surely a place for the Eastern approaches, only fully "baptized," so to speak, which is what Balthasar claims that Maximus was able to do. The danger of Roman thought, and later scholasticism, is that they tended to create a kind of masculine imbalance, forgetting about the experiential side of things. This is why Balthasar himself -- who was a Jesuit by training -- felt so spiritually reanimated by going back to the early fathers such as Maximus.

Balthasar believes that Maximus confronted that same duality, "and recognized that Christianity could not survive without the religious passion of Asia. But how much of this impulse, this human way of thinking, can be assimilated into Christianity? How can it be done without endangering the core of Christianity itself?"

All good questions. It reminds me of why leftism never works and never can work. Why? Because it forgets what man is. In contrast, free enterprise works because it takes man as he is, and transforms his self-interest into great public good.

Might we apply the same idea to religion? If so, then we have to take man as he is, and focus his private, natural religious impulses onto something far grander.

To be continued....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obeying the Law of Levity: Playing Weightlessly in the Space of God

When it is said that "Jesus saves," I don't spend much of my timelessness thinking of that in terms of what happens after time runs out, i.e., death.

Rather, I think of the saving presence of the Absolute within the relative, in a way that is not only accessible to humans, but in which humans can participate directly. I am very much interested in saving myself -- including my intellect -- right now. The rest -- i.e., eternity -- can take care of itself.

In the forward to Cosmic Liturgy, Daley writes that it is only the "personal presence of the infinite God in our world as a human individual, and our own potential personal unity with God through and in him," that prevents us "from regarding the world as simply the extension of our own minds, the playground of our own ideologies, or the mirror of our own limitations and vices."

In short, there is an objective standard of Truth (which is the virtue of mind), Virtue (which is beauty of soul), and Beauty (which is truth in form or action), one that we may approach but never fully embody, even if -- or because! -- someOne else did.

Again, "progress" is only meaningful -- can only exist -- within this real space. In its absence, you end up with ironically named "progressives" for whom real progress is specifically impossible, since they deny the Absolute up front. Instead, the secular leftist simply absolutizes his own ego, so that the world becomes "the playground of his own ideology" and a "mirror of his own limitations and vices." Another general name for this is tyranny, while a particular name -- one of many -- is Obama.

Thus, in saving our mind -- in allowing us to think clearly about reality -- Jesus also saves us from political tyranny. Being that the person is "ultimate" -- or participates in the ultimate -- he can never allow the state to become so. For the Christian, that is a non-starter. One cannot be a "Christian leftist," for it is an oxymoron, pure and simple. Your sacred rights -- and duties! -- are grounded in nature and nature's God, not in the state. Period. The political struggle in all its iterations is with people (not persons, for only God can confer personhood) who do not believe this. End of issue. Beginning of struggle.

The mind is free. But it is only free because it is capable of knowing truth. And we only have freedom of will to the extent that we are able to assimilate truth -- that is, to live out of the "center of truth," so to speak.

Thus, truth is the axis and foundation of the human world. If there is no truth -- which is to say, objectivity -- then there is no possibility of anything deserving the name "human." Again, if there is only relativity, then we are just a bunch of wild animals who can be herded together based upon whomever is able to enforce their version of "truth." To live in subjectivity is to be a subject, i.e., subjugated. But we are Americans. We are not subjects, but citizens. We cannot be forced to pay for the healthcare of illegal immigrants or to murder babies in the womb.

I repeat: even if Jesus had not lived, I would still "believe in him," because I believe man is fashioned in the image of the Absolute, and it is only this fact that allows us to stand up to tyranny in a manner that is simultaneously objective (true) and righteous (good).

Yes, you might well get streamrolled like Sarah Palin in the process, but you have every cosmic right to hold up a cross in the face of His Smugness and say, "stop! That is not permitted here!" Yes, the world will do to you what it did to Him. Goes with the territory, the territory we call "liberty," which is always under assault from all sides.

Again, our freedom is a cosmic right. It is only ratified and forever memorialized by Christ's saving presence. You can only not know this if you have ceased being American, and are instead a "world citizen" or some other such nonsense.

"World citizenship" (not to mention "international law") is a lie, since it is not based upon any interior reality. Rather, it is something invented by tyrants for purposes of crowd control. It is one of the pillars of the criminal organization known as the UN, which does not promote the natural law, to put it mildly. "International law" is simply "man's law" writ large, and therefore cosmic lawlessness. It excuses anything but intrinsic goodness, truth, and freedom.

This is one of the reasons why they love "global warming," as it will allow them to extend and legitimize man's law (which is tyranny) in an unprecedented manner. It's bad enough that Obama can reach into our pockets. With crap & trade, dictators from all over the world can do so as well.

When I said a few posts back that "only America can save the world," I meant it in this precise sense. Only America can save the world, because only America was very much "founded in Christ"; or, you could say that America consciously founded itself on this principle of the "cosmic Christ" defining the limits of the state, whether you like it or not. Yes, liberty is a terrible thing, but that's no excuse to allow leftists to take it away and thereby cash in your humanness, just because they're frightened of it.

This post is going in an unforeseen direction, but perhaps not. "The spirit blows where it will," which it can only do in an atmasphere of truth and freedom, no? Thus, Balthasar writes of how a human being only fulfills his own potential when he "has seen his own star rising beyond all the cultural and political configurations and weaknesses of his time," and follows it in body, mind, and spirit "with a freedom that overcomes the world."

Thus, truth can only "overcome the world" in freedom. And freedom can only be free if it is grounded in truth. You might say that truth is the Absolute, while freedom is his beautiful but intimidating sister, the Infinite. "Male and female he created them." Boo!

There are a number of lines in this book that I just love. Balthasar speaks of how Maximus wrote in such a way that "he seems to crystalize automatically around his higher center," which could only be achieved in "the highest degree of Christian freedom." I discuss this in my own Coonish way in chapter four of my book, for example, section 4.2 "Escaping the Prismhouse of Language," or 4.6, "Saying More With Less." In that latter section, I talk about how "Truth is inexhaustible, flowing as it does from the direction of the Absolute (which is beyond image and form) into the relativity of formal language."

Thus, in order to accomplice this, one must maintain a rather different, more "fluid" relationship to words. One must allow the words to be spontaneously "formed," so to speak, out of the higher, or from the top down. As always, the best analogy I can think of is the jazz master, who is able to recall the world of music in the act of forgetting it. Just so, our absence is God's presence, and vice versa. So get the hell out of the way!

Elsewhere Balthasar speaks of Maximus' ability "to play weightlessly before God." What a marvelous phrase! This is "a calm freedom from all the passions that cloud or weigh down or tear apart the mind, in order to rob it of its freedom and self-possession."

These passions, or forces, are either centrifugal or centripetal, in that they alternately compress or disperse consciousness, and take us away from our "free center," the motionless mover within -- which is the "place" where truth can be known, since it is the "substance of truth." It is where truth intersects with our own being, like a lance piercing the side of matter. It is where the Light illuminates the darkness. And if you could com-prehend it -- which is to say, "wrap your mind around it" -- it would not be the Light.

This darkwomb is none other than the "mode of entry into the mystery of God, which stands beyond the world" (Balthasar). Yes, "only the spirit that has become pure and simple can encounter the transcendent One," and thereby become the very nexus of revelation, the middle term between the One and the many, time and eternity, Creator and creation.

Here we find the vertical axis of the world, a ladder thrown down from heaven, the very possibility of inword mobility and upward nobility, or freedom in action, truth, and being. Amen for a childs job!

Levity in action, as frosting effortlessly rises upward:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gimme That Old Time Meta-Cosmic Religion

It's like some kind of conspiracy. Why does everyone know about T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen, but not Maximus Confessor? Prior to the publication of this "groundbreaking" (really more of an "unearthing") book by Balthasar in 1946, he was nearly forgotten in the West, regarded as little more than an historical footnote.

Talk about historical I-AMnesia! That's like forgetting who you are. And why you are, for that matter.

I haven't finished the book yet, but as far as I can tell, this guy is the Man. I was familiar with him before, but this is my first in-depth study. One of the things that most intrigues me about him is that he doesn't just unify eastern and western forms of Christianity, but eastern and western forms of thought -- or even being.

It seems that it never occurs to anyone that the dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is not so much over content as form. That's certainly how I see it. (There are also differences in emphasis, but I'm guessing that these can be reduced to form as well. We shall see as we go along.)

Even more importantly, I think this may speak to the intrinsic division in the human psyche between left and right brains, which process information in completely different ways -- and yet, result in the unitary experience of a self.

In fact, I do not reduce this phenomenon to a materialistic anatomical division; rather, I believe that the anatomical division is there because it reflects the deep structure of reality. That is, it is a duality that mirrors the deepest complementarities of the cosmos itself, as it manifests outside the Absolute, e.g., wave/particle, form/substance, spirit/matter, part/whole, male/female, vertical/horizontal, semantics/syntax, Kramden/Norton, etc.

As I have discussed in the past, many contemporary disputes are just ongoing iterations of these primordial complementarities -- even, say, between left (which values the state over the individual) and right (which values the individual over the state). That complementarity is resolved in the classical liberalism of our founders, which strikes the proper balance between the individual and the collective.

But the founders could only strike that balance because they were so steeped in Christian metaphysics, which is itself rooted in the ultimate unification of these complementarities -- who is none other than Christ. It is the eternal Christ who unifies part and whole, word and flesh, time and eternity, world and God, Father and Son, spirit and letter, life and death, innocence and wisdom, and so many others.

Importantly, this divine principle could only be a who, not a what, on pain of excluding the human person from ultimate reality. And the mysterious presence of the human person is only the most important fact in all of existence.

Many of the disputes and heresies in Christianity come down to emphasizing one end of the complementarity. For us, it might be difficult to comprehend why there was so much intense arguing over the nature of Jesus in the early centuries (!) of Christianity, but if they had gotten the precise christological formula wrong, then the consequences would have been devastating. This was not some trivial argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but about the nature of ultimate reality.

Maximus himself was a victim of, and martyr to, this cause, as he was scourged and mutilated for holding to his beliefs, which turned out to be the correct ones. Think of the entire history of the United States. Now realize that it took Christianity nearly three times as long to arrive at the correct synthesis that brought together and harmonized all of the diverse strands of the Christian mystery. Never mind that it unraveled again thereafter... It is similar to how America is unravelling before our eyes despite the greatness of our founding generations.

I suppose we have to imagine all of the emotional energy that goes into politics and academia, and transfer it to the plane of religion. I think then you can get more of a feel for the intensity of the debates. We may think we are more evolved than the people who killed Maximus, but many on the left would have murdered George Bush or Dick Cheney if given the opportunity.

So Balthasar notes that Maximus is "the philosophical and theological thinker who stands between East and West" (emphasis his), and "the most imposing ediface to rise before Aquinas." But his thinking transcends mere surface theological disputes, or even Rome vs. Byzantium.

Rather, for Balthasar, East "really means Asia," while West is "the whole Western world." Thus, for me, we are really talking about the harmonization of those primordial complementarities alluded to above. For our purposes, we will be emphasizing the complementarities of dogma/experience, ego/self, grace/effort, and essence/energies, among others. To express it symbolically, we could say (•) and (¶), (↓) and (↑), (k) and (n), and ultimately, ʘ and O.

As Balthasar explains, "what makes Maximus a genius is that he was able to reach inside, and open up to each other, five or six intellectual worlds that seemingly had lost all contact" -- similar to the contemporary problem of the division of science, religion, psychology, biology, and history. It is simply a human scandal that these disciplines should be artificially separated. Intra-Christian disputes are just a subset of this uber-scandal. Not to mention disputes between evolutionists and traditionalists, or Darwinians and IDers. Perhaps we should call this scandal -- or Fall, if you like -- Fathergate.

Obviously, to be continued.....

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.