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.