Spiritual Words and the Realities To Which They Refer
Because of the fluid and dynamic nature of language, this happens all the time. Language is constantly adapting to new realities as they emerge. In a metaphor Terence McKenna once used, it is as if mankind pours language over the world it encounters, so there is a constant dialectic between language and world. But we can be forced to adapt to a world in such away that it eclipses other worlds.
This is especially problematic for domains that transcend the senses, since language is not necessarily well adapted to them. It is potentially well adapted (or at least adequately so), but again, it is entirely possible for a person to deploy religious terms and concepts without having had any experience whatsoever of the realities to which they refer.
And critically, this doesn't only apply to atheists, but to theists as well. For example, any yahoo can attend a theological seminary and learn the lingo -- i.e., memorize the map. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the person has actually experienced the realities to which the map refers.
Alternatively, it is possible for a person to have genuine contact with higher worlds, but to lack a stable and specific language to communicate it to others. When this happens, you can end up with occultists and cranks who come up with their own eccentric system to map the spiritual realm. There is often some truth to these maps, but they usually die with the person who came up with them, although a small and devoted cult may linger on. (Or sometimes they can just make the shit up, a la L. Ron Hubbard, in order to dupe people who know no better.)
In our materialistic and quantitative age, we see how language has adapted to this new reality to the exclusion of the real and enduring world of perennial human values. And while religion is supposed to be the guardian and transmitter of these values, it too has become increasingly materialized along with the culture, so that religion ends up in the polarized, worldly forms of "liberation theology," on the one hand, and a literal minded fideism on the other. Each of these is a result of the materialization of the psyche, so that this type of religion no longer refers to the transcendent source of religion (nor does it adequately map the familiar signposts and landmarks of the spiritual journey).
The symbolic scheme we have been discussing in recent posts -- Ø <-- (•) --> O -- goes directly to this issue. As I mentioned yesterday, the two sides of the schematic represent two completely different (but interpenetrating) worlds, Ø and O. You could say that science and logic map the left hand world, while theology, mysticism, ethics, intellection (gnosis), and aesthetics map the right. Naturally, a complete account of reality requires both sides. But unfortunately, most people seem to come down on one side or the other, and then use one side to map and describe the other.
Again, this generates foolishness for both atheists and theists. In short, materialists try to reduce O to Ø, while certain religious types try to map Ø with O, which just doesn't work -- cf. the Islamic world.
Having said that, the (sane) theist is always closer to Reality than the atheist, since the atheist doesn't even acknowledge Reality in all its fullness. Furthermore, to suggest that O could be derived from, and fully explained by, Ø is philosophical and metaphysical nonsense. Rather, Ø is clearly a creation -- or prolongation, if you like -- of O, although, at the same time, it is a relatively autonomous domain that is governed by its own set of rules.
But it should go without saying that these rules are not absolute, otherwise there would be no way to "escape" them. In other words, the cosmos would be a closed system with no interior. But because Ø is a prolongation or involution of O, the cosmos is a vertically open system that bears upon its transcendent source.
If this were not the case, then religion -- not to mention self-consciousness, truth, beauty, virtue -- would all be strictly impossible. Ø is ultimately in O, not vice versa. Or, to be precise, O is immanent in Ø, while simultaneously transcending it. Things can be no other way and still be.
Along these lines, Walt referred me to a statement by J.G. Bennett that conforms to this line of thought. He notes that in contemporary times, many people have lost their innate sense of the vast difference between Ø and O, and how our whole life depends upon whether we -- or (•) -- are oriented to one or the other. What this ultimately means is that contemporary horizontal man has lost the very point of his life, its sufficient reason.
Anyway, Bennett wrote that "I suppose this is not a very serious conflict for most people," and that "they do not feel it matters one way or the other because life has to be lived just the same."
But (•) is confronted with this very choice; before him "there are two very different kinds of lives. Man is just a machine among machines, but a machine that can be free, can be not a machine. This would not be possible if there were not different levels of existence. On one level of existence, man is a machine living among machines; on another level of existence, there is the possibility of freedom. There are two worlds open to man -- not one world far away and one here, but two worlds both here."
This is why the theological virtues we have been discussing -- faith, hope and love -- only apply to O, not to Ø. Indeed, applied to the latter, they are no longer virtuous; and not just because horizontal man collapses spirit to matter, but because it represents a kind of ontological insanity to place one's hope in matter, or to have faith in natural man, i.e., the human animal.
Also, to collapse O to Ø is the end of the human journey, period. Of course there will still be "movement" -- or agitation -- but it would be absurd to suggest that it's ultimately going anywhere but sideways. Progress of any kind implies a nonlocal end, or telos, that guides the constituent parts toward their purpose, or reason for being.
For a proper human being, O is his telos, and life is unthinkable without it. All of the most interesting and rewarding -- thrilling, even -- features of reality are situated on the (•) --> O side of the oquation (living there also makes everything down in Ø much more interesting and meaningful). I can't even imagine what it would be like to be exiled from O and condemned to Ø . What a grind that would be, with no way to breath the cool, spacious, celestial mountain air of heaven.
But to paraphrase Schuon, it is as if modern man is compressed and frozen under a thick sheet of ice; or alternatively, his essence is dissipated outward toward the periphery. The only way out of this dilemma is to fasten the will to one's highest aspiration and to become a truly free and magnanimous spirit, a Cʘʘn among men.
To be continued....