Friday, April 02, 2010

The Diagnosis and Treatment of Secular Man

I believe Christianity -- or, the Judeo-Christian stream -- strikes an ideal balance between immanence and transcendence, thereby providing this life with intrinsic meaning, while not pretending that it is sufficient unto itself to confer any ultimate meaning.

Again, it is axiomatic that if man, history, and the cosmos do not point beyond themselves to a transcendent end -- to something outside themselves -- they cannot be meaningful, period.

Really, there are no degrees of meaning; rather, there is either meaning or meaninglessness (similar to there being only nihilism or theism, with nothing in between; or, more precisely, prolongations of either more nihilism or theism in between). Or, put it this way: unless meaning is anchored in Meaning, then all of the little meanings we come up with are just fleeting shadows we invent to pretend that life is more significant than it is.

This also goes to the meaning of the personal self. Why does it exist? Science, of course, cannot answer this question, for the same reason that it cannot legitimately answer any "why" question. For science -- even leaving aside the ideological reductionism and materialism that results in the deformity of scientism -- is a closed system. It absurdly posits a universe that is sufficient unto itself to explain itself and everything in it (and I use the word "absurd" in a literal sense, not as a term of abuse; I'll get to the abuse later.).

While this anti-philosophy obviously appeals to a certain kind of desiccated soul who is either not metaphysically sophisticated or in rebellion against God, it is the quintessence of a mirage. Trying to ground the metaphysical basis for such an impoverished view is about as fruitful as looking for the end of a rainbow. For both phenomena have only to do with a transient illusion that emerges due to certain concatenation of eyes, light, and vapor (or man, tenure, and gas).

As we have mentioned before, Eastern religions tend to err on the side of transcendence, devaluing this life as maya. To back up a bit, any religion begins with a diagnosis of man as such (doctrine), followed by a prescription, or kind of pneumatherapy (method): like medicine, it's Dx --> Rx --> Tx.

Buddhism, for example, diagnoses man as living in illusion, the biggest illusion of them all being that the personal self actually exists. Thus, its therapy involves "waking up" to this prior fact ("Buddha" roughly means "awakened"). Strictly speaking, its method of therapy does not result in the "attainment" of anything, only the recognition of what is, which is shunyada yada yada, or nothing but the ceaseless, passing play of empty phenomena.

In the absence of revelation, this is as far as religion can aspire. In other words, there is natural religion and transnatural religion; or, religions of ascent and religions of descent.

In the West we also have our religions of ascent, most notably the neo-Platonic tradition that reaches its perfect expression in Plotinus. Please note that this method (or cosmo-therapy) involves no grace, or (↓), only our own (↑). It does work, but at the expense of obliterating the personal self and rendering its hopes and dreams so much vain strutting and striving on the cosmic stage. Nor does the One care about us in any personal way.

What if scientism were a religion? What would be its diagnosis, or doctrine? And its method, or therapy? I suppose its diagnosis would be analogous to Buddhism, in that it affirms that you are living in illusion -- for example the illusion that you are more than your genes, that life is more than a statistically rare agglomeration of matter, or that human existence has any purpose beyond perpetuating itself (which is no purpose at all).

And what would be its therapy? I suppose attending one of its seminaries and assimilating this teaching from the priesthood of physicists and biologists. "Salvation" would be liberation from the error of religion, or really, from any kind of transcendent meaning or purpose in general. Once you recognize that life is just a meaningless competition of selfish genes, you have received the secular gnosis.

However, in any real religion there is recognition of the truth, followed by its gradual assimilation, i.e., conforming one's being to it (hence the need for ongoing "therapy," i.e., spiritual practice). It's one thing to recognize, say, Darwinism, but what would it mean to truly assimilate its truth (illumination), purge one's being of error (purification), and to live in conformity with it (unification)?

In order to do that, you would have to leave behind all traces of illusory human meaning, and see through the various stratagems produced by selfish genes. For example, you would have to recognize that romantic love is just an illusion created for the purposes of getting one's genes into the next generation. In this context, homosexuality would have to be the ultimate his & heresy, but marriage of any kind would be for sentimental fools.

Anyway, we were about to get into a discussion of the order of the mind, which itself is an interesting word, order. For the cosmos is not just ordered (obviously), but hierarchically ordered, in such way that man is confronted with various intelligible and relatively autonomous "orders."

For example, there is the order of physics, the order of biology, the order of mind -- everywhere we look, order. Why? And what is the relationship between, say, the order of the cosmos and the order of the soul? Scientism would insist that there is no such relationship, and that any supposed order of the soul is just another illusion that ultimately reduces to the order of matter.

But any religious tradition holds the opposite view, that man is both microcosm and mediator, and that there is an intimate relationship between the micro- and macrocosm: as above, so below. And ironically, the pursuit of genuine science began with this assumption, but has gradually severed itself from its own lofty roots.

But make no mistake: any tenured primate who pretends to understand reality is implicitly affirming that man the microcosm is uniquely capable of conforming his understanding to the macrocosm -- that the two are somehow one in the act of knowing that bridges them.

More generally, he is affirming that man is capable of adequating himself to ultimate reality, which is precisely what a Raccoon believes -- and which is why I don't understand the charges of "arrogance," "absolutism," or "absurd self-confidence." Those charges aren't rational. Rather, they are just what happens when someone who thought his was the only religion encounters another people with a different religion.

Out of time. To be continued....

19 Comments:

Anonymous Counsel for the Defendant said...

Bob, I rate this post one of your finest. You've articulated things here that bear noting, as they've not written elsewhere to my knowledge.

1. The "secular saint":

I was once of the type of saint you mention. I actually mobilised my young life around the premise that genetic transmission was paramount.

This path led to chaos and pain for myself and others.

I repented. I sensed the prescense of the One. I am still paying the Karmic (and other) bills for this Darwinian error but glad I'm out of it.

To see you write of it seems to me a great vindication. I thought I was the only sucker who took the whole bait of Darwinsim hook, line and sinker, but I can sense there are/were probably others who did or are doing the same.

I feel for them and for the people around them.

Of note in the course of my reproductive efforts I spawned some human beings and I'm not sure if these souls are tainted by the sordid motive of their origins or not. My intuition is not.

In that case, there may have been some acceptable outcome in the case.

I may have served mother nature if nothing else. But that doesn't make it well.

2. You wrote: "It is axiomatic that if man, history, and the cosmos do not point beyond themselves to a transcendent end -- to something outside themselves -- they cannot be meaningful, period."

I've not heard this stated quite so clearly by anyone else. I consider it your "defining statement," or the the "Thesis of GDB", as it were.

To which I would inject the problem of regression. Taken that we do find a transcendent power operant here, must we then analyze this transcendent power's meaning? Because what if the transcendence had no motive beyond, say, pure enjoyment?

Would that be enough to satisfy the human soul?

Sorry to go long.

4/02/2010 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

As below, so above: its "motive" would be the unnarcissary radiation of the Good in the form of love, truth, beauty, unity, and groovy sounds on the hi-fi.

4/02/2010 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Forgive me for adding that I can think of another tradition that in my opinion ideally balances the transcendent and the immanent.

Happy Easter! to you and to all who witness that day this Sunday!

4/02/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, when I say "Christianity," I pretty much always mean the Judeo-Christian stream, especially as uniquely synthesized in America...

4/02/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

We really are the only "Judeo-Christian" nation, especially when you see how intimately familiar the Founders were with the Old Testament, which they quoted more than any other source in their writings.

4/02/2010 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

I wouldn't be surprised if the phrase "Judeo-Christian" would turn out to be nearly universal in American usage, and nearly unused anywhere else. Most European countries are today unwilling to acknowledge even their heritage of Christianity, despite the fact that nearly their entire artistic and cultural history is Christian.

4/02/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

wouldnt it depend on their musical taste, whether hell is 'the other'?...

4/02/2010 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Jack:

Yes, and he grounds it all in the order of the Godhead, which, of course, includes its very own other to whom it pours out its all. As above, so below....

4/02/2010 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

“For example, you would have to recognize that romantic love is just an illusion created for the purposes of getting one's genes into the next generation.

I fail to see why this should matter. Yet, we should not exist if this doesn’t matter.
There is no way to avoid the “why” question of evolution. Darwinian evolution is just “what”, there is no why. This is why we can “not deny” it while claiming it insufficient. Which is why the Judeo-Christian explanation is of more value to man as: it is from the beginning both “what” and “why”.

4/02/2010 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, I’m about 30% of the way into “The Order..” but earlier on Fr. Schall says some things that, well, maybe I don’t understand his point, but he spent a little time claiming that God does not need us. “Perfect without us” sort of a thing. But then covers a need for companionship in a sense. I don’t know, I tend to read a little bit late into the night. Were there any things Fr. Schall says that does not sit well with the Bobhead? Not to the level of how much you don't not agree with Schuon but,…any? Sometimes I think a person can carry the “reason” or logic way about contemplation of God a little too far and one can start to “speak for God” in such I way that God sounds less than this person. I believe there is much we can know for certain about Him, and of course, so very much we can’t. Do you ever feel uncomfortable when, Fr. Schall does, or of anyone on his level?

4/02/2010 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. But he's simply giving a priori definitions of God, e.g., since God is by definition complete, he cannot be in need of anything, for need implies incompleteness.

But what if need is a aspect of perfection?

4/02/2010 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, my own little funtasy of what goes on in God is presented at the beginning of my book. I don't really talk about it much, because by no means do I believe that my private little vision should replace hundreds of years of theology. But it does help me to understand God in a way that I can understand.

4/02/2010 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

The only problem with framing America as representing the definitive Judeo-Christian culture is that it only applies to a diminishing fraction of America today. Furthermore there tens of millions of devout, humble Christians and orthodox Jews throughout the rest of the world. A devout Nigerian Christian is for my money a far better example of humanity than an atheist coke-snorting, whore-mongering Hollywood blowhard like Maher, who let's face it "speaks to" a pretty solid swath of the American public.

While I am of course a great admirer of America (being 50% one) and certainly admire the unique spiritual gifts she has bestowed upon the world, she is in the end not equivalent to -- much less superior to -- the Church (etc). Apples and oranges.

4/02/2010 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis Prager.

Just like Navy SEALs.

I think Gagdad Bob should base his new religion around that teaching.

4/02/2010 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Really, there are no degrees of meaning; rather, there is either meaning or meaninglessness (similar to there being only nihilism or theism, with nothing in between). Or, put it this way: unless meaning is anchored in Meaning, then all of the little meanings we come up with are just fleeting shadows we invent to pretend that life is more significant than it is."

Yes, it is really a case of All or Knowthing.

wordveri is staying on topic,
wv:manchipp

4/03/2010 07:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Counsel said "Sorry to go long."

;-)

Wait till I get going on one, you'll feel better.

4/03/2010 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Jack said "If our popular culture is to be believed then love is primarily a *feeling*. Which it is surely part of it...but these "feelings" are often fickle and fleeting."

Yes, the popular culture, driven by those who buy into ""Salvation" would be liberation from the error of religion, or really, from any kind of transcendent meaning or purpose in general. Once you recognize that life is just a meaningless competition of selfish genes, you have attained secular sainthood.", they have a deep interest in pushing the fleeting feelings line, the "It's all chemistry", and it comes right out of anti-holy sacrament of determinism - 'SheHeIt just happens'. Any hint of responsibility or indications that deeper meaning is involved is to be avoided at all costs (if it can't be avoided, you'll find some arbitrary and contradictory behaviors ("he's a complex person") thrown in which 'love just accepts').

4/03/2010 07:26:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

NB said "The only problem with framing America as representing the definitive Judeo-Christian culture is that it only applies to a diminishing fraction of America today."

Well... does it not also explain the expanding fractured?

4/03/2010 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Counsel re: Secular Saint

Love is a verb. It can be applied in any direction. The trick is to learn to love "rightly" as opposed to "wrongly". For this, man needs a compass. The compass can be family, religion and/or culture. It is inconceivable to me that man learns to love randomly. Someone or something teaches love (wrong or right) to each person on earth.

Glad you found yourself. Happy Easter

4/03/2010 07:40:00 AM  

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