Friday, April 09, 2010

New Keys for Old Doors

I'm reposting this baby from several years ago, in order to see if my thinking on the subject has evolved at all. It has to do with Schuon's solution to the problem of the existence of more than one valid religion. (By the way, anyone who is interested in him ought to check out the new biography, Frithjof Schuon: Messenger of the Perennial Philosophy.)

For if there is only one valid religion, then all the others are wrong. But if they're all true, how can any of them be? I'm sure I have some subtle disagreements with Schuon -- although I'm equally sure that he wouldn't regard them as subtle; he was a my-way-or-the-highway sort of guy, for which I don't blame him at all, being an unquestioned spiritual genius and all. I don't really believe I've earned the "right" to disagree with someone of his stature -- in the same way that, for example, lost, malevolent, and God-hating souls have no intrinsic right to criticize the Catholic Church.

Well, I suppose it's not to that extreme, since I genuinely mean well, and I place Schuon on the highest plane of spiritual attainment. But since I am aware of the distance between us, what gives me the right? My preliminary answer is that Schuon is literally a man out of time, so that some of his ideas are unworkable in practice in our day and age. But troubled times call for a trouble man.

I mean, I'm just not prepared to write off the modern world, although one is at times tempted. I'm sure part of it has to do with his witnessing of the apocalypses of World Wars One and Two from the European perspective. Life looks very different from the standpoint of genocidal or cowardly countries who got their asses kicked vs. the one nation that kicks ass and saves others from getting their asses kicked. I don't think Schuon could conceive of the providential role of the United States, without which his life and work would have been impossible (although ultimately the same providence accounts for both).

This hardly means that one compromises the truth in order to make it compatible with the passing fashions of the day. Rather, as Schuon himself wrote, it is not a question of promulgating "new truths." Rather, "what is needed in our time, and indeed every age remote from the origins of Revelation, is to provide some people with keys fashioned afresh... in order to help them rediscover the truths written in an eternal script in the very substance of man's spirit" (emphasis mine). So just think of me as an unlicensed groksmith.

It seems that this was a much bigger problem in the past, when people first discovered the existence of Vedanta, Buddhism, Taoism, and other faiths. The first impulse was to devalue them, if not vilify their practitioners. Today it's not such a big deal, but that may be due to the fact that our elites don't take religion seriously anyway. Rather, it's just a part of culture, and cultures are different, that's all.

But now that I think about it, it is odd that the multicultural left elevates culture to a kind of sacred, pseudo-absolute, even while devaluing its grounding in the true Absolute, i.e., its religion. All culture is rooted in the cultus which is its origin, ground, and justification.

Anyway, on to the post:

Schuon has written something to the effect that most people, in order to get a sense of the Absolute, must imagine that their particular belief system is absolute, instead of being an expression of the Absolute. This misunderstanding has caused all kinds of mayhem down through the centuries, and is obviously at the basis of our war with Islamist idolaters who make a god of their religion.

But it is also the basis of the left's deeply irrational jihad against religion, since they believe that belief in absolutes -- which is to say, belief -- is the problem. Therefore, no beliefs, no problems. But this simply leads to the kind of spiritual nihilism we see in a supine UK that cannot rouse itself in the face of absolutist Islamist barbarians who mock the hypersophisticated moral paralysis of the neutered EUnuchs.

Schuon's position is rather nuanced, and generally will not appeal to most religious people and to no irreligious people. First of all, his metaphysics affirms the Absolute, which puts him completely at odds with any form of postmodern secular leftism. However, he situates the Absolute beyond form, which naturally makes conventionally religious people uneasy, since people believe in and practice this or that religion because they believe it embodies absolute truth. If it didn't, they wouldn't believe it. No one practices a religion because they believe it is false, partial, or the feel-good hit of the summer.

You might say that Schuon noticed the same thing that secular extremists do -- a seeming clash of irreconcilable absolutes -- but came to the opposite conclusion. That is, the secularist rejects and even ridicules religion on the basis of its different forms, whereas Schuon observed that religions only clashed outwardly, but not inwardly -- just as there can be no real "clash" between Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, despite the fact that each attained the aesthetic absolute. Better yet, the existence of blue or green does not clash with, but verifies, the fact of the white light of which each is an expression.

Inwardly, orthodox religious forms represent differing views of the Absolute, and in that sense are absolute. They are the highest form of the absolute that can be known and expressed on the relative plane. As such, they are "relatively absolute."

Given the necessarily hierarchical conditions of existence, the relative absolute is something which must exist, i.e., "there is none good but the One." Conversely, the "absolute relative" is an intrinsic absurdity -- and even monstrosity -- that is at the heart of all secular misosophies (i.e., hatred of wisdom).

Again, I realize this makes people uncomfortable, because when they hear the word "relative," they equate it with the relativism of the left or of the new age integralists, but Schuon would be mortified at such a conflation. Again, he affirms the Absolute, which must exist. Or, to put it another way, the Absolute cannot not be. But since it is absolute, how do we think about it? How do we engage it? How do we make it more than a philosophical abstraction, mere pseudo-intellectual deism by another name?

We do so through real religion, which you might say is the "first fruit" of the Absolute, or O. Now, you will note that there is nothing in this point of view that prevents one from personally believing that one religion does a more adequate job of expressing and reconciling us to the Absolute. This is indeed the official position of the contemporary Catholic Church, but it was affirmed as long ago as Augustine, with his crack about how that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist; from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity.

Again, this is very different from how the secular leftist deals with the same "problem." Such individuals have a pseudo-tolerant attitude (at best) toward religion because they don't take it seriously; I, on the other hand, have a genuinely tolerant attitude because I take it so seriously.

In the absence of its relative form -- which partakes of the substance of the Absolute -- there is no ponderable Absolute on our side of manifestation. These forms are efficacious and ontologically real in a way that mere objects or ideas from the relative plane can never be; contemplation of them will change you. As Schuon wrote, they "leave durable traces in the soul, to the point that we are no longer the same man as before; they remove one from the world and draw us toward Heaven. And there is a kind of vision or inward presence that remains."

They leave durable traces in the soul. Is this not obvious? This is why scientific and philosophical ideas come and go, but Western man -- so long as he remains man, which is a fifty-fifty proposition -- will always be haunted and shadowed by the Incarnation of the Word, which speaks to a part of us that transcends time and place. It is why the Jew -- assuming he is a Jew, and not just a Democrat -- will always be haunted and shadowed by the Torah, by the very notion of the absolute Word of God, an absolute Word that inoculates against the errors of relativism.

I could go on, but you get the point. We are either permeated by a sense of the Absolute, the Infinite, and the Eternal; or we are condemned to a horizontal teenage wasteland of relativism and materiality, and a timebound tyranny of mere existence with no essence.

It therefore seems that there are ultimately only two metaphysical positions one may take: a belief in absolute supraformal truth embodied in diverse religious forms that complement and do not fundamentally exclude one another, at least a priori; or a belief in relative truth, which ultimately redounds to the subformal intellectual blob of nihilism, given enough time. Is that clear? Perhaps not.

Let's put it this way. As my friend Joseph says, if someone -- especially someone with the wrong motivation -- wants to pry into his exact religious beliefs, he tells them this: I am a believer. For in the final analysis, there are only the Believers and the unbelievers, Absolutists and nihilists; one is the upword way of faith leading to real knowledge and salvolution; the other is the downward path of manmode ignorance and superstition leading on an individual basis to spiritual sclerosis or dispersion, and on a collective basis to cultural decadence and exhaustion.

Update three years later: I personally find that the Judeo-Christian tradition -- especially the strand that leads to and from Denys to Eckhart to Unknown Friend -- perhaps spiced with a little neo-Vedanta, furnishes me with the most adequate vocabulary to think about, discuss, and assimilate the Absolute. But that's just me. More importantly, the true Believers need to stick together in this age of malevolent stupidity.

36 Comments:

Blogger ge said...

Dear Bob, todos:

-came across this today, right up most coons' trees we'd presume...
What is Conservatism?

4/09/2010 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

"leave durable traces in the soul, to the point that we are no longer the same man as before; they remove one from the world and draw us toward Heaven. And there is a kind of vision or inward presence that remains."

“Draw us” “durable traces”. Hmmm. That calls to contemplation.

4/09/2010 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

“They leave durable traces in the soul. Is this not obvious?”

It is obvious. Now. Gil Bailie makes this point, something like, it is impossible to “be” pre- Gospel. It is too late for that. Thank God.

4/09/2010 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Wow! Did you see the price on the Denys book? $40-ish for the Kindle version!

4/09/2010 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Along those lines, a nice formulation by Schuon... can't find it, but it goes something like this: prayer leads the soul out of the world, purification takes the world out of the soul, illumination brings God into the soul, and virtue brings God into the world.

4/09/2010 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Here's a cheaper edition. I'll change the link.

4/09/2010 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Nooo.... $40-ish is too low.
Compared to, say, my crummy book it should probably be a lot higher.

4/09/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger joseph said...

Funny to see me referenced here again, Bob. I hope all is well with you and your family!
I still read you most every day--always interesting.
I sometimes argue with Van, as anonymous ('cause I know how he loves that), just for fun and to increase the comments number.

Joseph

4/09/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

“and virtue brings God into the world.”

And that reminds of something Fr. Lazarus said:

“And the second thing, you are here to bless the world by prayer. Not by a long list of names. But by being awake in the spirit; by being awake in your soul. This awakeness to the Lord, this is a blessing on the world…in itself.

One hour of prayer, mindful of God, is worth more than a lifetime of beneficent service.

In me all mankind lives. So if I pray, all mankind prays. If I don’t pray, all mankind turns from God. So if you think like this, if you see yourself, as the iconic embodiment of humanity standing before God, you will pray, because you will be terrified not to pray.”

4/09/2010 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> For if there is only one valid religion, then all the others are wrong. But if they're all true, how can any of them be?

C. S. Lewis compared it with arithmetic - and while it's a simplistic and inexact analogy, I've found that it can help people to get the basic point. He says that in religion, as in arithmetic, there's ultimately only one right answer - but among all the many incorrect answers, there are some that are much nearer right than others.... (Lewis was a Platonist, so mathematical metaphors came naturally - maybe too naturally - to him.)

4/09/2010 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Life looks very different from the standpoint of genocidal or cowardly countries who got their asses kicked vs. the one nation that kicks ass and saves others from getting their asses kicked.

Indeed. Except it hasn't been quite so one-sided as that. For 50 years America has been vulnerable to absolute and utter devastation on a scale never seen in history. Another country -- Russia -- remains capable of committing "murder-suicide" and there is little or nothing we can do about it, except to maintain the Mexican standoff of mutually assured destruction. Unlike Rome at her peak, the US really only enjoyed truly absolute power for a brief time, if ever. Atomic weapons have put an end to that possibility, at least until truly effective counter-measures ever come into existence.

Now Obama is messing with the nuclear formula in a fairly major way. Among the many scary things this President has inflicted on America, this one is among the scariest.

4/09/2010 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Real power?

How about this: America's top 5 hospitals conduct more clinical trials than any other COUNTRY in the world.

If America goes "European" the way Obama wants her to, the world truly is f%$ked. (No other word will do).

4/09/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

This is an agonizingly difficult question. It is not just that what I will call the different authentic religious traditions in the world often describe the horizzontal and vertical worlds in very different ways (like the blind men who described the elephant to each other) but that their versions are often incompatible and contradictory (as were the blind men's versions, of course.) I tend to defer this question using a phenomenological epoche, believing that following any of the spokes of the wheel that are truly connected to the hub will get you there. Have a good Sabbath, and a nice weekend.

4/09/2010 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Gandalin:

Probably only difficult for humans. I'm guessing that God just says, "hey, different spokes for different folks."

4/09/2010 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Certainly your view is in accord with that of the Prophets who observed that the Lord would make His House a House of prayer for All Peoples, (Isaiah 56:7) - and that so long as they avoided idolatry, all the peoples could continue to worship according to their own "spoke." The avoidance of idolatry and immorality is however I think an important condition, and I gather that there may be a tradition or traditions that are not going to be represented.

4/09/2010 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, as the Man said, "in my Father's house are many mansions," and "I have other sheep who are not of this fold."

4/09/2010 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Dear Bob,

Quite well said, isn't it!

Let's hear no more from those who claim that the Judeo-Christian tradition is necessarily triumphalist or exclusivist.

4/09/2010 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Gandalin,

It is not just that what I will call the different authentic religious traditions in the world often describe the horizontal and vertical worlds in very different ways ... but that their versions are often incompatible and contradictory.

Or another way to look at is like the legs of an arch (or a groin vault, if you want to imagine something with more than two legs). Not only the legs, but the empty space between them must all work together for the same purpose: to hold up the keystone, which in turn is the source and meaning for the legs; without it, they would collapse.

While I've never seen such a thing, it's not inconceivable to have the legs built of different materials and being composed of contrasting shapes. So long as each side is built to its purpose, it doesn't matter how it appears, only that it upholds its portion.

4/09/2010 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

Many spokes, could also be seen by the number of other religion's revelation of God's lessons being included in the Bible by the early and later Prophets (e.g., Akkadian Eden and Deluge stories, Zoroastrian Apocalypse). The middle east was a very busy and interconnected place from ancient to Biblical times.

Odd WV = sesmsync

4/09/2010 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Tigtog:

Yesterday you asked about the third dimension to the vertical/horizontal. Perhaps it would be the higher unity that reconciles all the revelations in all their modes. Things that appear separate in space and time can be the diverse and/or moving images of Eternity.

4/09/2010 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In other words, history really is "one story" on a higher plane, in ways we can't necessarily see, being that under normal circumstances, we are confined to 4D. I believe Unknown Friend discusses this somewhere... or perhaps it was Boris Mouravieff...

4/09/2010 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"As Schuon wrote, they "leave durable traces in the soul, to the point that we are no longer the same man as before; they remove one from the world and draw us toward Heaven. And there is a kind of vision or inward presence that remains."

Truer words are rarely found, especially ones which you can so easily the ring of in your own life.

4/09/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Joseph said "I sometimes argue with Van, as anonymous ('cause I know how he loves that), just for fun and to increase the comments number."

Ha!

I did actually suspect that once....

Hope all's well with you too Joseph.

4/09/2010 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"In other words, history really is "one story" on a higher plane, in ways we can't necessarily see, being that under normal circumstances, we are confined to 4D."

I had not thought of 4D, only 3D. Now you have scuttled my mind for a few days. 4D? Aren't we 3D Creatures? Your model is 2D. Help me here.

4/09/2010 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

4D = 3 space and 1 time dimension.

But I'm sure that there are at least two more temporal ones....

4/09/2010 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"4D = 3 space and 1 time dimension."

"But I'm sure that there are at least two more temporal ones...."

Your cosmological model is 2D: horizontal and vertical. My question regarded the idea of a 3D related to trans-generational transmission of duty, honor, and compassion. This could clearly be seen as a time dimension, but I would suggest that a time dimension would be an intellectual construct of historicism or simply a clock (time is relative you know). Not sure, need help here. My intuition is we are connected vertically to God, we are connected horizontally to the everyday (very Darwin), and we are connected to our ancestors and progeny through behavior towards our children (i.e.,trans-generational epigenetics). Does this make sense?

The 3rd dimension gives your model some heft, don't you think? Not sure I have expressed my thought/intuition well.

4/09/2010 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re addendum:

Your 2D model focuses on the individual relationship between God (vertically) and man (horizontally). The 3D option includes Family, both past, present and future. We are traveling agents with responsibilities. I also think the addition of the 3D offers a balancing of guilt versus shame as an operating system for man.

4/09/2010 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

My thinking cap is off for the day. I'll respond in the morning....

4/09/2010 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Tigtog,

That's an interesting way to think about it. I had always thought of the horizontal dimension as being planar rather than linear, with the vertical as a central axis; end result being 3D. Throw in the element of time, and all of the points you mentioned would fall somewhere in there.

Then again, I generally hadn't thought of the model as necessarily pertaining to only one person at a time, either. In my mind, it usually represented the cosmos as a whole.

Interesting. I can kind of see what you're getting at, but can't quite wrap my brain around it.

4/09/2010 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Hmmm, not sure where I fall on this one, Bob...maybe in the uneasy camp? :) I know what you're getting at...I think.

4/09/2010 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not to worry. There'll be plenty of time to argue amongst ourselves once we vanquish all the blue meanies.

And why am I awake at 2:45? Low blood sugar, that's why. Back to dreamland....

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

My excuse is the battery in the smoke detector.

4/10/2010 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

If you sleep with a herd of cats, you'll be awake by 2:45 more often than not. Made it to 3:01 today ... I feel rested!

4/10/2010 03:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Julia re:

"Throw in the element of time, and all of the points you mentioned would fall somewhere in there."

Not sure I am speaking of time in mechanistic mode, but in a more human mode (memories, strong attachments and trans-generational duties). Yes, if we (or He) connect all the dots then our true form is revealed. We are all similar but each unique. See snowflakes.

4/10/2010 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger joseph said...

Thanks Van,
Hope the same for you. I'm just settling in for what may be the best Cards team since the late 60's.

4/10/2010 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, just this morning I was nostalgically recollecting the sacred number of 1.12.

4/10/2010 06:31:00 PM  

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