Friday, July 17, 2009

The Alpha Male and Omega Man at the Bigending of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

All For One and One For Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God in a Notshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued... but only for eternity.

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

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cosmic Anthropology and Anthropic Cosmology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Takes a Cosmos: My Evolving Thoughts on Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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