Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Intellectual Sainthood and Intrinsic Metaphysical Heresy

While reading a book by James Schall, he mentioned something in passing that has stuck in my mind, that "we know there are intellectual saints," and that such luminaries as Augustine, Aquinas, and Cardinal Newman yield nothing to the intelligence of "any philosopher or wit of any era." And yet, even Aquinas "was not much recognized in his lifetime," and "today he is little studied except in a few isolated places."

Furthermore, we see how a highly intellectual pope such as John Paul II can be dismissed by self-styled secular intellectuals who are absolutely clueless as to their ignorance of the vertical realm that is the sufficient reason of human intelligence to begin with (anything less is simply not proportionate to the majesty and reach of the human intellect). Schall quotes Newman, who wrote of how "the multitude of men, whether by their own fault or not, are wrong in the greatest matters of religion."

I would respectfully tweak Newman's observation to say that the multitude of intellectuals (and all secular intellectuals) are not even wrong about religion, since they are talking about something else, something of their own imagination. In other words, since they deny the very possibility of the vertical up front, when they talk "about" it, they are doing precisely that: talking about it, not within it. It makes no sense to give opinions about that which one professes to have no reality.

In this regard, Schall quotes the historian Regine Pernoud, who quipped that the hopelessly tenured man is "physically incapable of seeing what is not in conformity with the notions his brain exudes." It reminds me of the old and wise crack to the effect that you cannot expect someone to know something when his whole livelihood depends upon not knowing it. A kind of blindness results, "by which we do not see what is in fact there" (Schall).

Elsewhere Schall quotes JP2, who said that the purpose of education is "to give birth to souls for the sake of knowledge and wisdom, to shape minds and hearts," something that cannot be achieved except "through generous service to truth -- revealing it and passing it on to others" (emphasis mine). In other words, the object and purpose of the intellect is truth, even as the object and purpose of truth is birth and growth of the soul through the intellect.

As we have mentioned before, truth and intellect are of the same substance, which is why the intellect may know the truth. Or, one might say that truth is intellect exteriorized, while intellect is truth interiorized. The critical point is that we make neither truth nor intellect, but expand the latter by discovering and assimilating the former.

Anyway, I was struck by that term, "intellectual saint," because now I have a name for something of which I was very much aware, but didn't know what to call. For instance, I would say that Schuon is a clear example of an intellectual saint, someone who spent his entire life in total devotion to Truth, and to generously passing it along to others.

Obviously there are also moral saints, people who devote their lives to goodness. One could also say that there are artistic saints, for example, a Bach, who devoted his life to explicating the Divine Beauty, or the Sound of Heaven.

I remember Schuon saying something to the effect that we could judge the efficacy of a religion by its capacity to produce genuine saints. But again, we typically think of moral saints, and exclude intellectual saints such as Aquinas and Eckhart, or artistic saints such as Michelangelo or Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Would it be possible for one man to combine all three forms of sainthood? Off hand, I can't think of anyone. I suppose some might argue for Sri Aurobindo, depending upon how one feels about the aesthetic (as opposed to spiritual) value of his poetry. Would Dante qualify? I don't know enough about him.

At any rate, from the idea of intellectual sainthood, I immediately jumped to the idea of intellectual heresy. I realized that there are a number of intrinsic intellectual heresies, meaning that they are universal and that they apply to any faith or discipline, religious or secular, for to hold one of these heresies is to rebel against reality (and God), and to therefore reject the truth and damage the soul -- not just one's own soul, but more seriously, the souls of others. If one imparts a lie to another vulnerable mind, the lie doesn't just end there -- any more than the evil deed ends with having committed it.

Rather, the deed and the lie spread out in time and in space, even unto future generations -- just as truth and virtue have endless consequences beyond the moment. This is serious business. Think of the intellectual virtue of America's founders! With luck, their insights will continue to affect the world forever, until the end of history -- or until history finally results in the assimilation these self-evident truths everywhere.

Conversely, we pray that Marx's demonic ideas will eventually stop their metastatic advance through the world, destroying vulnerable souls and murdering bodies in their wake. If there are intellectual saints, then there are also intellectual demons such as Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, who devote their public lives to infecting others with their pernicious lies, damaging countless souls along the way.

So anyway, a list of intellectual heresies came to me in a flash. In no particular order, they would include denial of the Absolute, and with it, the promulgation of relativism (moral, intellectual, aesthetic and cultural); equality as the highest political value (which generates chaos, disorder, and injustice); failure to discern the intrinsic relationship between truth and freedom; ignorance of Hayek's "knowledge problem" in economics (see here for how it plays out in time); ignorance of Gödel's theorems; nominalism (i.e., that reality -- especially transcendent reality -- is just words; materialism (i.e., denial of the vertical); humanism (replacing God with man); determinism (denial of free will); and denial of the boundary between man and animal.

One of the first things you will notice is the materialist/relativist/historicist/socialist/deconstructionist/metaphysical Darwinist/secular humanist leftist comes out as the ultimate intellectual heretic, in that he somehow manages to combine all of the above. That's quite an accomplicement to evil.

Well, I'm out of time. I may continue this line of thought tomorrow, if I feel like it. In the meantime, I'll leave it to you folks to flesh this out.


greyniffler said...

Goedel's Theorem is relatively new. I can guess why you include it in your list of things that must not be denied, but I would like to know, rather than guess, why you count it such an important part of Truth.

Goedel himself spent his last years depressed and paranoid, and was in danger of starving himself. Einstein helped to the degree he could, but eventually Goedel did starve himself out of fear of being poisoned.

Wikipedia, in a section on his religious views, has this to say: My belief is theistic, not pantheistic, following Leibniz rather than Spinoza." He said about Islam: "I like Islam: it is a consistent [or consequential] idea of religion and open-minded."

swiftone said...

A simple mind response to the value of Goedel's theorem, regardless of Goedel's personal battles with demons, is that truth cannot be attained by logic. The rules of rhetoric and logic only reach as far as they go, and no more. There are truths that cannot be proved.

"Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete."

Mathematicians spent a lot of time and effort trying to generate a complete arithmetic... Nicolas Bourbaki comes to mind in this endeavor.

If mathematics/arithemetic, the most logic driven, dependent on the intellect of man, i. e. pure science, cannot be both complete and consistent, then our attempts to capture reality in some net of our own cognition is doomed.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Godel was ultimately arguing for the self-evident existence of vertical truth beyond the sphere of logic.

Van said...

"The critical point is that we make neither truth nor intellect, but expand the latter by discovering and assimilating the former."

Yes, or at least that is the way it operates when you are concerned with, and respect reality.

But if one stumbles upon an intellectual heresy, a Descartes before the horse, or a whiff of Humeian "no cause, know nothing" and willingly goes along with it, that process of assimilation is tweaked around them as a picture taken through a flawed and warped lens.

The intriguing interior funhouse view takes on more interest and importance than the outside reality it should reflect, and with an almost unconscious shift of attention, the exterior is assumed to reflect the interior funhouse imagery of distended abdomens and creepy clowns... and any discrepancies are blamed on sensory or political failures to conform to your perception of 'how they should'.

Which results in,

"the hopelessly tenured man is "physically incapable of seeing what is not in conformity with the notions his brain exudes.""

Or taking off on 'As above, so below', they develop a case of 'as within, so assumed without'.

(cue aninnymouse to demonstrate)

mushroom said...

Speaking of Godel reminds me of the old joke I used to hear among the CompSci crowd. The liberal arts student gets in a huff talking to the computer geek and says, "But you can't make one IBM3090 love another IBM3090!"

The smirky geek replies, "You define it, and I'll make 'em do it."

The punchline is given with much satisfaction by the engineers, but the truth is that the joke is on the programmer.

Northern Bandit said...

Not only the Left is guilty of these heresies. The Randian Objectivists, the whole "salvation through technology/Singularity" crowd with their faith in the reducibility of human life to something which ultimately can be downloaded to what is effectively the equivalent of a floppy disk. The significant percentage of "neocons" who are atheist. The list goes on.

Intellectual heresies... seems we're getting closer to a true raccoon working philosophy.

Van said...

NB said "...The Randian Objectivists, the whole "salvation through technology/Singularity" crowd with their faith in the reducibility of human life to something which ultimately can be downloaded..."

Not to excuse the Objectivists real faults, particularly their shallow literalness regarding religion, but that doesn't happen to be one of them. They (I'd better denote 'They' as being of the core Leonard Peikoff & Harry Binswanger group, and not of the various libertarian schisms and offshoots) are equally contemptuous of the singularity crowd and the AI crowd.

They do believe that Man has an immaterial soul, they just think that in some way, which they don't claim to know, it arises and perishes with the body.

And speaking from experience, once their thought moves beyond the short sighted shallows, it is highly compatible with that of One Cosmos.

Just sayin'.

Northern Bandit said...


Understood, but basically they deny the Absolute as we understand it, so they're pretty much wrong out of the gate, no?

Seems like a pretty basic thing to get wrong. I mean there are many people who claim to be both Christian and socialist. However deluded those people might be on economics, I'd still rank them above any form of atheist.

Van said...

NB said "Understood, but basically they deny the Absolute as we understand it, so they're pretty much wrong out of the gate, no?"

Welll... if you asked them, they would say (of course) "Absolutely!", but if you ask me, I'd say they less deny, than misidentify the Absolute, and so are less wrong than myopically incomplete.

They do believe that Truth is One, that there is one, whole, fully integrated and absolutely non-contradictory Cosmos. What they don't believe is that there is anything, or any possibility of anything, beyond the material box of what they identify as the Cosmos.

If you were to find one who wasn't belligerently atheistic (and they (see previous comments "They") are out there), and with some patience, you could sit down with one and, if you could get them to take it with a poetic grain of salt, walk them trough One Cosmos with no major eruptions.

Of course there's a point past which they won't go - but they are fewer than you might imagine. The deal breakers will be where they think you are attempting to attack and disintegrate reality, that you are attempting to attack what is True. That is their highest value, and so, though narrower in scope than ours, is not incompatible or opposed to ours.

From our point of view.

They are incidental atheists, atheists because they don't see far enough, not atheists because they deny the possibility of vision.

I look at it as the inverse of "All material is made up of matter, all matter is made up of molecules, all molecules are made up of atoms, and there are no other, and no smaller particles, than these."

It's more incomplete than incorrect.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"the hopelessly tenured man is "physically incapable of seeing what is not in conformity with the notions his brain exudes.""

Were you describing Stephen Hawkings?

BTW finished Stark "Discovering God" a couple of weeks ago and understand why you weren't exactly happy with him. His curt dismissal of Gnosticism was startling given the scope of the book. I am curious, how do you view the Gnostic Bible? Its on my reading list, so a heads up from a wise one is in order.

Tigtog said...

To Van re: Objectivism

I personally find Rand amazing. I just remind myself that she excelled in intellect and not so much in spiritual matters. This can happen. Life is a bouquet, we get to pick many different flowers to make a whole that pleases us.

Gagdad Bob said...


I dismiss gnosticism too. It is to be sharply distinguished from gnosis.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"I dismiss gnosticism too. It is to be sharply distinguished from gnosis."

Does that mean I should dismiss the Gnostic Bible?

appropriate WV: opyine

Gagdad Bob said...

Correct. There's no such thing as the "Gnostic Bible," only a bunch of old texts of varying degrees of usefulness (and with no necessary relationship to one another) that some publisher slapped together and called the Gnostic Bible for marketing reasons, mostly aimed at new age types who think that there's some Secret Wisdom that will save them, which it won't. Salvation comes from grace, not from secret knowledge. In contrast, there's nothing "secret" about gnosis, except in the sense that the secret protects itself.

Again, gnosis is not to be confused with gnosticism, the latter of which being an intrinsic heresy.

Gagdad Bob said...

And when I say "intrinsic heresy," consider the first sentence of the Wiki article on gnosticism:

"Gnosticism refers to diverse, syncretistic religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that the cosmos was created by an imperfect god, the demiurge with some of the supreme God's pneuma; this being is frequently identified with the Abrahamic God, and is contrasted with a superior entity, referred to by several terms including Pleroma and Godhead. Depictions of the demiurge—the term originates with Plato's Timaeus—vary from being as an embodiment of evil, to being merely imperfect and as benevolent as its inadequacy permits."

It's also a dualistic religion, which is again just the type of intellectual heresy today's post is about.

Gagdad Bob said...

I might add that with the early fathers, you get plenty of gnosis without the gnosticism, cf. Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from Patristic Era with Commentary or The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys.

Tigtog said...

To Gagdad Thanks

Gagdad Bob said...

What a great idea: Israeli students trying to organize flotilla to Turkey.

Northern Bandit said...

When I was in Turkey last year I saw many amazing things (the Museum of Anatolian Civilization is unparalleled, and the Hagia Sophia is incredible) but I'm pretty sure I didn't see a single person laugh the entire time I was there.

Gagdad Bob said...

There's nothing funny about Islam.

Grant Maher said...

Bob, a very thought provoking post.

You bring up Aurobindo, and I think the subject of sainthood and intrinsic metaphysical heresy can in fact be subsumed or reduced by Aurobindonian to more basic denominators.

Substiitue "Yogin" for saint and jnana for intellectual, bhakti for moral, and karma for artistic, and there you have the three great arms of Yoga represented.

Goedel therefore becomes a jnana yogin.

Why bother with the substitution of terms?

Because they are more precise and well defined. And, we know each person has a varied mix of all three. Therefore, no pure saints in any disciple are possible, just those with at dominant tendency.

Now, to continue with an Aurobindonian explanation of intellectual heresy: they are simply less evolved souls.

Applying the doctrine of reincarnation, we can establish that the entrenched leftist is in fact a juvenile soul.

Not a bad or contrary person. A young soul.

Only the rough edges of a dozen or more lives will produce a Yogin. It takes time.

If this view of things is correct, it is of course OK to vilify the juveniles. It is part of their "curriculum" I guess.

But animosity or an accusation of willful evil is completely misplaced and only indicates a certain juvenalia of the accusing party.

Intellectual heresy is the byproduct of a low grade of consciousness that all beings must pass through.

That is Aurobindo on the matter, not me. I am only interpreting.

Gagdad Bob said...

No, Grant, that's definitely you on the matter, and you are a major loon.

Gagdad Bob said...

Good editorial on our weird Alien President.

julie said...

I like the Cosmic King addition to the sidebar. I wonder if our trolls see themselves as Superman, and Bob as the persecutorial Judge?

Gagdad Bob said...

Swiped from Lileks (by Dupree, of course). How could he resist?

julie said...

Lileks is a treasure. I had no idea there were so many hilariously lame Superman comics produced over the years. Just going by the covers, they're like Archie comics with tights and capes.

ge said...

"I'm pretty sure I didn't see a single person laugh the entire time I was there."
-only on special occasions:
If you'd only have been there the week of 9/11/01...

Gagdad Bob said...

Too Che!

Dianne said...

Lileks has a good Bleat today on "Tiresome Utilitarians."