Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dateline Earth: Fog in Language, God Cut Off

The uniqueness of the mode of faith rests in a certain bipolarity of rest and action, of certitude and uncertainty.

In fact, before going any further, I want to again highlight one of Toots Mondello's greatest concerns, which had to do with the excessive saturation of religious terms.

"Faith" is a case in point, because the word has immediate associations that are generally wrong, plus everyone uses the word as if they know what they are talking about. A word is saturated when it can no longer accumulate new meaning based upon experience, but simply is what it is -- like a sponge that can hold no more water.

Naturally, this is sometimes appropriate. There is nothing wrong with the word "chair" being saturated. A chair is a thing to sit on, and that's pretty much it.

But as we move up the ontological food chain, words can become more problematic. It reminds me of something Stanley Jaki once said. From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky.

As an aside, this is one of the benefits of studying Thomas, not to mention Schuon, who is able to describe the transnatural planes with an objectivity, precision, and detachment that actually surpasses our ability to describe nature, since the latter is very much dependent upon perspective and other subjective factors, whereas metaphysical principles such as being are quite precise, if unsaturated.

In fact, Schuon addressed this directly in his Logic and Transcendence, noting that "writings falling outside the fields of science and modern philosophy tend to suffer from being associated with ideas that are usually inadequate, and they are immediately consigned by most people to categories having disparaging implications," such as "occultism," or "Gnosticism," or the new age mob of mystagogues masquerading as mystics.

Thomas said that this was because science involves more perfect knowledge of less perfect things, while theology deals with less perfect knowledge of more perfect or noble things. This results in conflating confidence, or certitude, with objectivity, when the opposite is true: only God can be truly objective. To conclude that man's subjective view of nature is the height of objectivity is actually laughable.

I'm not sure if I've done justice to Thomas, but I believe Schuon would disagree about our knowledge becoming less certain as we approach the Absolute. It is less saturated to be sure, since the Absolute can never be saturated by language. Obviously it is "bottomless," or "endless," so how could mere human signifyin' jive ever fill it?

This is again my purpose in using the symbol O instead of the symbol God, since the former reminds us of the apophatic "unsaturatability" of God. Perhaps we can compromise and say gOd. (This is why, of course, the Jews had an unpronouncable name for God.)

Interestingly, Thomas is quite aware of this issue, which is why he actually emphasized the eternal mystery of O: "Because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not." Even for beginners, he cautioned that "this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him."

How different this is from approaches that saturate God with subjective human ideas! This is hardly to say that we can have no knowledge of God, only that our knowledge can never be complete.

It's really not fundamentally different from our knowledge of any other person. No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them. A person -- since he is the most adequate analogue of God in the herebelow -- can never be saturated, even though, at the same time, man-as-such clearly has an unvarying nature. He has form, but the form is "empty" until filled out by life experience (which clearly distinguishes man from any kind of "blank slate").

In reality, a person is in the paradoxical position of being the (relative) ultimate in both knowability and mystery. You can know much more about a person than you can about a rock. And yet, the person is much more mysterious, since the mind is infinite. If Mozart or Shakespeare were alive today, they'd still be cranking out mysterpieces.

And, of course, at the end of his life, Thomas was granted that vision of the other side of O. He was plunged into its radical mystery, to such an extent that all he had written seemed to him insignificant in Light of it.

Please understand what this means. It is not to devalue what he had written. To the contrary, it is as if Bach were ushered into the very source of music, in Light of which his magnificent body of work would sound like so many jingles and ditties. Or even as if James Brown were taken up into the eternal spacecraft of cosmic funkmanship, where his own seemingly inexhaustible funkiness would appear comparatively funkless.

Where were we? Oh yes, the exactitude of our maps of hyperborea. I'm not going to dwell on this at this juncture, except to say that we can actually see the unseen with these maps, in the sense that we can understand, say, the geographical relationship between Chicago and New York without having to visit them.

Indeed, to a certain extent, the abstract map provides information and perspective that no amount of empirical knowledge of New York could ever provide. One could spend one's whole life in Manhattan and not even know about the rest of the country, as proven every day by the New York Times. It's like the old crack about England: Fog in Channel. Continent Isolated.

In fact, the materialist might say: Fog in Language. God Cut Off. But of course, we are the ones who are isolated and cut off from God, unless we make the attempt to swim the channel -- and, of course, if God tosses us a line.

It is very much like our barbarous troll, whose contempt for religion in general and Christianity in particular "amounts to asserting that every religion can be reduced... to the crudest possible concepts.... It is pointless for us to insist on the inanity of this hypothesis, presented as if it were a certainty; it is enough to take note of its existence" (Schuon).

I mean, what can one really say in response to someone who says, "Duh, Christianity is just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Clinical inanity noted. Move on.

But this is not all his fault, for Christianity generally does a poor job of explicating its intellectual -- by which I do not mean the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- pillars. Indeed, it is often responsible for publicizing itself in terms of "the crudest possible concepts." I know this, because I was once one of the very people who rejected it based upon those crude concepts. Religion must be defended on two fronts, from an incoherent scientism on one side, and an incoherent religiosity on the other.

Long post short, this is why in the Coonifesto, I used the symbols (o) and (---) in order to avoid the more saturated term, faith.

Gotta get ready for work. To be continued....

Here is a good map of the world from the perspective of New York. Just replace Manhattan with "ego" and "rest of world" with "reality."

32 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"Dateline Earth: Fog in Language, God Cut Off"

Another excellent title... and there's even an entire post following it. Very cool.

7/01/2010 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I wish I had time to find that old New Yorker cover that had a map that shows a giant New York, with the rest of the country being a tiny appendage. Just replace "Manhattan" with "ego" and "rest of country" with reality.

7/01/2010 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Speaking of which (the title), I put up a quick post this morning on a real life example of this at work in the here and now... ready for it?

"Redistribution of Speech Opportunities"

Elena Kagan. Lovely.

(Three words you are unlikely to see together on the same line again)

Ok, back to the post

7/01/2010 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Mikal said...

Gagster: Here's the New Yorker cover you wanted.

7/01/2010 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Thanks! I have time to put it in.

7/01/2010 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Van, that she would legitimize the idea of "redistribution of speech" or that "What is essential is not that everyone shall speak, but that everything worth saying shall be said" (who judges the worth?)...

...That she would put these things forward without the utter revulsion they deserve, as if they deserve anything more than immediate condemnation, shows how evil her thought process is.

Dark days, that we would consider such a person for the highest seat of *justice* in the land. Do we want individuals who approve and facilitate infanticide deciding what amounts to "worthy" speech?

7/01/2010 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

How different this is from approaches that saturate God with subjective human ideas!

Yes, it's so much easier that even the most sincere Christian teachers fall victim to it. My best meat-space friend is an Assembly of God pastor, and when I first heard him teaching, he was doing his best to give his congregation the unsaturated reality. One of his favored methods was to do extensive word studies emphasizing the koine Greek roots of the NT words. I don't hear that so much any more. My friend does more "re-treading" than he used to. The majority of folks could care less, so why bother with all the work?

I was recently talked into reading a very popular book that came out three or four years ago. I think the author probably deserves some credit for trying to wring out the ShamWow, but it is still a ShamWow. I think he should have let it pneuma-dry some more.

7/01/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"It's really not fundamentally different than our knowledge of any other person. No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them."

Married folks can really relate to this.
My wife and have been married 29 years and there are still times when she or I misunderstand the INTENT of each other.

I blame saturated words, mind parasites, emotionalism (lack of detachment), preconceptions and female hormones. (Ducking for cover!).

7/01/2010 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I should have qualified that. I meant "with the exception of our trolls," who are always predictable.

7/01/2010 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"But as we move up the ontological food chain, words can become more problematic. It reminds me of something Stanley Jaki once said. From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky."

LOL! Yes indeed! The very nature of leftism compels leftists to torture, reduce, twist, hide, and even murder the meanings of words and language itself.

Forget about intent, words mean whatever they want them to mean which makes any meaningful communication virtually impossible when speaking to leftists (and some on the right are also guilty of this but in a different way).

This is why one cannot debate a leftist, because they disregard truth, honor and integrity in favor of craven projections and demonization of those they "debate."
Which is not surprising since the left is at war with Reality itself.

7/01/2010 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Russell said...

"Forget about intent, words mean whatever they want them to mean which makes any meaningful communication virtually impossible"

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

7/01/2010 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"A person -- since he is the most adequate analogue of God in the herebelow -- can never be saturated, even though, at the same time, man-as-such clearly has an unvarying nature. He has form, but the form is "empty" until filled out by life (which clearly distinguishes man from any kind of "blank slate")."

Well put.

Man's slate of knowledge is indeed empty on entry into the herebelow, but something is there which holds it and participates with what will be written upon it, and in what style it will be written with, and that Form is fixed.

And of course, what enables our thoughts to stay conceptually connected with reality, is our language.

To the degree that you allow your verbal connection to become damaged, your slate becomes a corrupted database - what you see and what you think, no longer truly correspond.

The modernist/leftist mind assumes that is an opportunity to be able to write in whatever they want, reveling in the power to recreate reality as they see fit (and always trying to scribble on their neighbors slate) and call it 'freedom', but what it actually does is separate and confine them to their own heads.

Would they play with the labels in their medicine cabinet in that same way? Well... Ozzy would... but... come on.

7/01/2010 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them.

One of the great things about growing older, for me anyway, is getting to know my parents from a different perspective. Sometimes the people you've known the longest can be the most mysterious, if only because it is so easy to fall into the habit of thinking we know the whole person, when all we've seen are a few facets.

7/01/2010 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"If Mozart or Shakespeare were alive today, they'd still be cranking out mysterpieces.”

And, of course, at the end of his life, Thomas was granted that vision of the other side of O. He was plunged into its radical mystery, to such an extent that all he had written seemed to him insignificant in Light of it."

Speaking of Mozart, one of the things Kreeft said about Aquinas that struck me, was that, like Mozart, Thomas didn't go back and revise his works, he birthed them whole. He dictated it to several scribes (I forgot how many...3 or 4?, but enough so that he would be able to speak without having to pause for a single scribe to catch up... and didn't have to go back and revise his work.

He simply poured out Philosophy, and theology, the deepest and most integrated ideas of all... without erasures or a delete key... astounding.

7/01/2010 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

Would you say the word "trust" is as highly saturated as the word "faith"?

I have always thought that faith would be better translated as trust:

"Faith" is believing what you know to be true and trustworthy based on evidence.

7/01/2010 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "... great things about growing older, for me anyway, is getting to know my parents from a different perspective...."

Agreed. And in a related matter, the really cool side of that that I'm discovering now, is that it happens from the parents side too - you get to discover that this person who you thought you knew so well, was little more than the wrapper on the DVD.

Awesome.

7/01/2010 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

:)
When I was thinking the other day about patience, the context was that on the one hand, I can't wait to see who he's going to be when he grows up; on the other, it means that he won't be who he is right now, not ever again. Both are parts of the whole. The blessing and curse of time is that we can't experience that whole all at once, and the things that are past can only live on in our untrustworthy memories.

7/01/2010 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

"From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky." And Barackobama: "Being an American isn't a matter of blood or birth, it's a matter of faith."

7/01/2010 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Sal said...

Well, he should know...

7/01/2010 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

The "Shorter Summa" is on Kindle for 9-ish bucks. But Van already knew that (wink).

Bob, does the "Summa Summa" begin with a glossary too? It must.. But wondering if it's longer than the Shorter.

7/01/2010 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Oh, Sal.

Watch out for those sweet ladies from the friendly state. They'll cut you up and make you like it.

7/01/2010 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Meh. The Kindle version is actually substantially pricier than the paper version. Despite no printing costs, no transportation costs, no storage costs, and the fact that you can't sell it, can't lend it to a friend, can't even leave it behind when you leave this world.

Well, in my case it is probably cheaper because of the shipping cost, and I have no friends, relatives, heirs or even enemies who would actually open even the shortest of Summa even if they found it on my dead body. Still, I don't like to support a racket.

7/01/2010 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I got mine used for cheap. Of course, I do feel bad about depriving the Aquinas family of royalties.

7/01/2010 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

As the sun is the eye of God, so the Son is the "I" of God, which latter would seem to 'be' mysterious Subjectivity---the grasp and scope of Consciousness, the "I"-est I, the ultimate Subject [who yes 'created' All, for there is nothing that isn't occurring to a Mind]
-wrote this [Injun-flavored thought?] after plugging the idea into some of your God-mentions today:
'the apophatic "unsaturatability" of God.'... [or of Subjectivity]...
'Interestingly, Thomas is quite aware of this issue, which is why he actually emphasized the eternal mystery of O: "Because we are not capable of knowing what God [knowing!] is but only what He is not [object of knowledge], we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not." [that's so true of noumenon/subjectivity also] Even for beginners, he cautioned that "this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him."'
Mind/'I' never graspeth itself...noumenon perceives all phenomena, but never itself!
like the eye-the tongue etal that can never see-taste themselves... all critters and especially us featherless bipeds are granted our various sparks of this mysterious ball of knowing fire, i'm calling 'God'

now for some vanilla fudge!

7/01/2010 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I don't own a Kindle. I bought the download for iPhone Kindle ap. The ap is free, weighs nothing, and the whole rig fits in me pocket. Book included. I'm saving my bread for the 4,000 word paper version.
Plus, Van gets mad when I buy Kindle versions.

7/01/2010 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

To beat a dead horse (on my part), I've said before that I'm no longer afraid of God. I guess that's not really true (or maybe it's now more about respect for God and his purpose) - because I try to be very mindful of my actions, especially toward others, because it's my perception that the self should be consciously and diligently "worked on."

Probably why every time I interact with anon/trolls, I feel slimed afterwards.

Something said in a previous post by someone else is maybe more appropriate - I'm not as confused.

I think I understand my boundaries, and frankly they're comforting and not hard to live with. In fact, I feel more free to enjoy life and have hope and pursue dreams. Maybe it's that peace that passes understanding.

And then reconcile that with the realization that the more I know and understand, the more I understand there's so much I don't know. But I'm willing to learn.

7/01/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger anon said...

I doubt anyone cares, but I feel compelled to say that the little summary of Christianity quoted above is of couse not my complete take on it. It was a response to someone arguing that the essence of Christianity was belief in the person of Jesus, rather than anything he said. Obviously there is a great deal more to Christianity, being one of the pillars of Western Civilization and all that -- the philsophical side, the mystical side, the ethical side, the literary and artistic side. The quote was just an attempt to demonstrate that the particular argument is not convincing. Oh well, thought I'd clear that up, I wouldn't want you folks to think ill of me (ha ha ha).

And of course, if you don't like it when your belief system reduced to the crudest terms possible, maybe you should refrain from doing that to other people's belief systems. But that would require a measure of intellectual integrity.

7/01/2010 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"the essence of Christianity was belief in the person of Jesus, rather than anything he said."

"rather than," hm?

7/01/2010 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Oh my...my dad was in advertising in NYC and he had a poster of that New Yorker cover framed on the wall in the house I grew up in. Moving out West thankfully cured me of my New York-centrism. Though honestly as great a city as New York is...I've met some of the most "provincial" people there. Which I suppose is part of the point...

Hadn't seen it in a while...

7/01/2010 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

Some of the guest writers in the "Shouts and Murmurs" section were hilarious.

Steve Martin did some columns, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he is a VERY funny writer, and very good at it.

7/01/2010 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Steve Martin is a funny funny man (most of the time).

GB- And I just got me some Dinah Washingon. "Back to the Blues".

Oh my. I hadn't really listened to her before. This I like! Also, by the way, some mean blues harp playing (and I don't mean the harmonica). Thanks for the recommend. I don't know how I missed her!

7/01/2010 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

...the Apple does rule...
where else can you get the best of evwything at competitive prices, NOW!? Plus you can thrive there carless!!!! What g-d leftoid invented speed humps & bumps?

7/02/2010 04:47:00 AM  

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