Thursday, July 22, 2010

Identity and Eternity

I suppose none of this will be new to Christian readers. Nor is it entirely new to me, but I'm trying to work it all out again from the ground up and the top down, so you will forgive me if I'm behaving like some third century Father who is confronting these riddles for the first time.

And I hope this doesn't totally alienate non-Christian readers, because I believe there is something here for everyone, if you can only grasp the deeper principles involved. When Christianity is presented only as a historical narrative, then it's quite difficult to abstract anything more general, since even profane history is a chronicle of unique and unrepeatable events, with no general laws guiding it.

But if I'm not mistaken, sacred history is not like this, for it is archetypal and therefore knowable in a more abstract way. I believe this is because, just as human beings write in words, the Creator "writes in history," so to speak.

Therefore, sacred history does not consist primarily of events, people, and objects, but of words that we may unpack and understand. And this is, of course, why the Gospel narratives are "historical," but if they are only historical fish stories, then I think you're missing the bait, since they are the quintessence of divine history and therefore susceptible to inexhaustible layers of meaning.

Think of the difference between history and a great novel: the former attempts to simply describe "what happened," while the latter creates the happenings in order to convey a much larger point. Then just think of God as the greatest of all novelists. (And this analogy is not as kooky as one might imagine -- cf. Balthasar's Theo-Drama.)

So, the second birth from above allows one to overcome the infirmities of createdness and to participate in the divine existence. For the Christian, this is only possible because God became man -- and not just a man, but Man. In other words, the effect was to undo a problem that afflicted man as such, so that all men could participate in the accomplishment of the one man.

This is the deeper meaning of the I-AMmaculate conception, in that it means that Jesus suffers from createdness, just like anyone else, while also sharing in uncreatedness. If he were only a creature, then he'd be just like any other prophet or guru. No matter how high he ascended, he would still be infinitely distant from the goal.

But as Zizioulas points out, it is of the greatest metaphysical significance that Jesus is a union of two natures in one person, and that this person is freedom and love. As a result, "the perfect man is consequently only he who is authentically a person... who possesses a 'mode of existence' which is constituted as being, in precisely the manner in which God also subsists as being..." Thanks to Jesus, we not only "know" how God "is," but can also succeed at the spiritual business of this isness without going blankrupt at biological death.

That being the case, man may slip through the net of "the ontological necessity of his biological hypostasis," the latter of which being responsible for "the tragedy of individualism and death." Our unique identity is no longer an ambiguous (at best) gift of nature, but takes on a new meaning in solidarity with Jesus and in relation to our "adoptive" Father.

You might say that the second birth activates our latent or potential hypostasis as authentic person. Should we fail to activate it in this life, then we remain as a bio-psychic hypostasis, i.e., some kind of incomprehensible union of mind and matter, -- a substance that somehow unifies physics, biology and psychology. You might even say that this is the substance of fallen man -- or man minus Christ. In the Coonifesto, I employ the abstract symbols of (•) and (¶) to demarcate this difference between our onceborn soulprints and twiceborn soulprince.

In fact, here is where opinions of the wise divide, for the Christian would not say that man has any innate potential for a second birth in the absence of Christ -- despite Augustine's casual assurance that there was never a time that the Christian religion did not exist, and that Christ's accomplishment affected mankind, irrespective of whether one is consciously aware of it. We have no desire to get into that debate. Let the living disinter the living.

The question is whether or not there is a radical discontinuity between man and God. I say the answer is Yes and No, depending upon how one looks at it. And in my book I spoke off the top of my head from the bottom of my heart and out of both sides of my mouth. Again, this is why the individual chapters are both discrete and continuous, beginning and ending in mid-sentence. This is because if we view the cosmos from the bottom up, it is indeed discontinuous, with radical and incomprehensible divides between matter, life, mind, and spirit.

But if viewed from the top down, these divides disappear, for God is one. So I think it's a defensible position to affirm that this was the case prior to the incarnation of Jesus, which would be consistent with Augustine's view above. Looked at this way, we might say that there was a kind of "general immanence" of God in creation. But with the incarnation, it becomes very particular to mankind and, more importantly, to the person.

In turn, this would mark the difference between well-regarded mystics such as Plotinus, who assure us that it is indeed possible to escape our createdness, except without our self intact. D'oh! This violates Toots Mondello's sacred quip that the Raccoon doesn't mind death, so long as he can be there after it happens. It seems to me that the incarnation of the divine person is what gets us over that ontological hump. The person is the last word only because Christ is the first Word.

I might add that the unique person, since he is a kind of absolute (or shares in absoluteness), must be eternal, since the absolute is by definition infinite and eternal.

No post tomorrow.

27 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

Seriously. Is it possible to make the Top Ten bigger.

7/22/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Then just think of God as the greatest of all novelists."

What a novel idea!

7/22/2010 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And I hope this doesn't totally alienate non-Christian readers, because I believe there is something here for everyone, if you can only grasp the deeper principles involved."

Not at all, and yes indeedy.

"When Christianity is presented only as a historical narrative, then it's quite difficult to abstract anything more general..."

Yep.

"Therefore, sacred history does not consist primarily of events, people, and objects, but of words that we may unpack and understand. And this is, of course, why the Gospel narratives are "historical," but if they are only historical fish stories, then I think you're missing the bait, since they are the quintessence of divine history and therefore susceptible to inexhaustible layers of meaning."

Yes, though I'd amend it to "...but of words, assembling imagery, conveying concepts, which we may then unpack and understand."... but that may be just me and my method acting.

7/22/2010 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"So, the second birth from above allows one to overcome the infirmities of createdness and to participate in the divine existence. For the Christian, this is only possible because God became man -- and not just a man, but Man. In other words, the effect was to undo a problem that afflicted man as such, so that all men could participate in the accomplishment of the one man."

Harkening back to yesterday (?), through Truth, lies the way back to Personhood?

7/22/2010 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

There it is,

"You might say that the second birth activates our latent or potential hypostasis as authentic person..."

, revisited upon today,

"... Looked at this way, we might say that there was a kind of "general immanence" of God in creation. But with the incarnation, it becomes very particular to mankind and, more importantly, to the person."

... and makes it possible to tell Fish stories that are true.

7/22/2010 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"No post tomorrow."

(blink)

Would it help if we brought a shrubbery?

7/22/2010 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This has been a powerful series of posts this week. I'm just catching up.

It should not be new to Christians, but I'm afraid it all too often will be. Recently I was looking for a graduation present for one of our neighbors' son. My wife insisted on going to the Christian bookstore. He's a good kid; however, I'm not sure he's ready for OCUG and indoctrination into the cult. I was content to look for something a little more traditional, but I searched in vain.

7/22/2010 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger John P. said...

It's been awhile. You sure have a knack for giving voice to the unknowable. Interesting as usual- how we keep trying in spite of that. Faith and reason struggle constantly with one another. To me, it suffices to say that the Deity, needing eyes and ears and the rest, in order to have self awareness, creates creatures so 'he' can be 'alive'. Ever hear the statement "dead I can't be born, living I can't die?"

7/22/2010 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

"No post tomorrow."

Probably a well-timed pause for most of us. As per mushroom, I'm catching up with what was a stunningly lucid series of posts this week. A day to re-read and reflect certainly can't hurt.

7/22/2010 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

OT:

During my travels this week through various venture capital precincts I was reminded of how countries in Europe and especially next-door Canada have for many decades used the US as an economic yardstick. It was hard for Canada to go too far off the rails since Canadians could easily see that their more dynamic and less socialist neighbor to the south was significantly more prosperous. It was tough to sell socialism when the alternative gleamed so brightly right across the border.

Things have changed, to say the least. One problem in the US today is that Americans are not in the habit of looking to other nations as yardsticks for anything (it's never been necessary). That may have to change, and fast.

It is beyond doubt that in order to get out of a serious recession new growth is required in the form of new small companies. Historically these startups have created around 90% of new US jobs following a downturn. That engine has stalled under Obama to a degree under-appreciated by almost everyone. For example, Canada has not made the horrific mistakes in the past 10 years that America has (in Canada mortgages are now and have always been issued only to those able to make the payments). In the past few years the value of US initial public offerings (a rough metric used to judge new business growth) has plummeted while simultaneously expanding rapidly in Canada.

I had to double-check these figures because at first they seemed almost impossible to believe. This represents the size difference between the US IPO market and that of Canada over the past few years. So, in 2008 US offerings were valued at $28B while those of Canada were $682M.

2008 41X
2009 12X
2010 3.2X (to date)

Never in the history of either country has this equation changed even remotely as quickly. Five years ago nobody in my position would dream of starting a high tech company in Canada or Australia or Hong Kong. Today that situation has changed so radically that for our new company we will be hiring about 50% of our workforce from the US (i.e., Americans who will move to Toronto).

While in NY I listened again to NPR and heard people whining about extending unemployment benefits. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns!

The Democrats have to be removed from office, and another Reagan found or it's sic transit gloria mundi baby.

7/22/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Just to put the above IPO numbers in perspective: the US is roughly 10X the size of Canada population-wise. Historically the US has had about a 15-20% higher standard of living. The US ALWAYS had a far more productive business sector, so that in 2008 for example there was 40X as much new activity in the US (not 10X as population would suggest). Today that has dropped to around 3X. This is staggering and means that lowly Canada is vastly outperforming the US in job and wealth creation. Let's hope this is an anomaly. If not, the North American wealth equation is about to be profoundly altered. (Annexation, anyone?)

7/22/2010 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Our daughter is getting a Catholic baptism this weekend. I loved the revelation (and for me it was revelatory) in today's post re the virgin birth. I'd be curious if anyone has any similar insights into any of the sacraments, including baptism.

7/22/2010 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

One problem in the US today is that Americans are not in the habit of looking to other nations as yardsticks for anything

I'm gonna have to disagree with you there, NB. It's partly because so many Americans romanticize Europe and all things European that we've dug ourselves into this hole, or have you forgotten the whole "the world will like us once Obama is president" meme. Or the "everybody else has socialized medicine, why can't we?" meme. Or the "British people aren't allowed to carry guns. Gun-toting Americans are so violent!" meme.

7/22/2010 05:17:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

heard this in a while?
[live ]

7/23/2010 05:37:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Hm; looking back at my comment from last night, the tone could be read as unnecessarily antagonistic. Sorry about that, NB - it wasn't meant to be, I simply disagreed. Probably could have said it better, though.

Congrats on the baptism! I don't have any insights, but I hope it's a beautiful ceremony.

7/23/2010 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I've been catching up also.
Busy week. My lovely taskmaster, I mean wife, thinks that good weather indicates more opportunities to work.

I concur there is certainly more opportunities to work, however this doesn't mean one should take those opportunities all at once.

So today I'm gonna tell her I'll get to it when I get to it. I'm gonna lay down the law.
Then I'm gonna bask in Oly Slackitude and rebrainwash my brain in an OC Bobblebath while soaking up Raccoon lore.
I don't wanna be known as just anoher chore whore.

Yep. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Oh, hi dear. What? The trash needs dumped? And you have a grocery list? Say, is there beer on there? There is? Okay, I'll get right on that.

What? Don't look at me like I sold out. You heard her, there's beer on the list!
I can't very well rule with an iron fist without beer now can I?

Outstanding series, Bob!

7/23/2010 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Ben, a little hard work never killed anyone. But why take a chance?

7/23/2010 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Julie:

Thanks (re baptism). Your earlier comment seemed fine to me. To clarify, I certainly didn't mean that the US should copy other nations in major ways. All I meant was that smaller nations have always had the advantage of comparing their performance to the US, and thereby having a useful metric indicating how well they are doing.

The problem for the US is that when things really go pear-shaped as I believe they are under Obama (I'm much more convinced and concerned than even 4-5 months ago) then it is sometimes hard to understand just how bad things are unless you can look at other nations to get a sense of how fast you're falling. My example of Canada and IPOs is about as radical a change as can be imagined under a new President. The result has been the worst unemployment crisis in 75 years, and at least 50% of the population is actively working to make it worse (by supporting "progressive" solutions).

Finally, it is the responsibility of all ethical business people to resist the depredations of Obama and his socialist cabal, even to the extent of moving to another jurisdiction (temporarily). Nothing is worse than firms (like BP) which collude and connive with socialists in order to produce a poisonous mockery of economic freedom.

I.e., I don't want no stinkin' "stimulus" dollars. I want low tax rates, honest, diligent workers and a sound legal system which has not been co-opted by those palling around with terrorists.

7/23/2010 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

A neuroscientist imagines life beyond the brain.

Exerpt:

Eagleman rejects not only conventional religion but also the labels of agnostic and atheist. In their place, he has coined the term possibilian: a word to describe those who “celebrate the vastness of our ignorance, are unwilling to commit to any particular made-up story, and take pleasure in entertaining multiple hypotheses.”

7/23/2010 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

A final note on business in the world of Obama:

I want the freedom to start a business quickly and efficiently. I also want a system whereby my new business crashes and burns without further ado if people simply don't want to buy my product.

Europe for decades has stymied both of these. Dreadfully hard to start a new business; old moribund ones are propped up by government for decades to avoid "job losses".

Creative destruction is where it's at, baby. Many, many Americans no longer understand this (it certainly isn't taught in "higher" education).

7/23/2010 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

More from the above link:

Eagleman explains that Frances Crick, the Nobel laureate biologist whom he got to know at the Salk Institute, once told him, “What we lose in mystery we gain in awe,” and the phrase stuck with him. “Our goal in some sense is to reduce the mystery, but that doesn’t reduce the awe,” Eagleman says. If scientists could produce a neural map that explains why chocolate ice cream tastes good, it would still taste just as good. The mystery would be gone, but the experience wouldn’t be diminished.

Now, this Eagleman guy is by all accounts a hyper-IQ neuroscientist out of U of Texas. So why do people like this so often make such a fundamental error immediately recognizable by even the most junior raccoon: the map is not the same as the territory!

This fallacy was debunked about 200 years ago (earlier?) yet no matter how smart these people are they still seem to be missing a massive swathe of a normal, healthy human intellect.

7/23/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

NB said "Finally, it is the responsibility of all ethical business people to resist the depredations of Obama and his socialist cabal, even to the extent of moving to another jurisdiction (temporarily). Nothing is worse than firms (like BP) which collude and connive with socialists in order to produce a poisonous mockery of economic freedom.

I.e., I don't want no stinkin' "stimulus" dollars. I want low tax rates, honest, diligent workers and a sound legal system which has not been co-opted by those palling around with terrorists."

Amen, and say it loud!

quote,
"...and take pleasure in entertaining multiple hypotheses.”

Translation: We delight in contradictions and other ideas which reject reality in favor of whatever we want it to be."

7/23/2010 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bob-

Precisely! LOL!

...Hey! That's one of them triple entendre's ain't it?

7/23/2010 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Eagleman explains that Frances Crick, the Nobel laureate biologist whom he got to know at the Salk Institute, once told him, “What we lose in mystery we gain in awe,”..."

Smock n' awe.

Or, to be more accurate: schmuck n' awe.

7/23/2010 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I didn't wanna go all Jackie Mason on those schmucks but they forced my hand.

BTW, I wonder if they'll ever discover a schmuck neuron? And if they do will they finally be struck speechless when they realize they have more schmuck neurons than the average schmuck?

7/23/2010 04:14:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

now THAT'S a swell song

who knew there was a vid?

in a NY cab one afternoon my spirits were lifted by this 'square' unprofound hip-hoplessest tune

7/24/2010 06:26:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

GB wrote: "Therefore, sacred history does not consist primarily of events, people, and objects, but of words that we may unpack and understand. And this is, of course, why the Gospel narratives are "historical," but if they are only historical fish stories, then I think you're missing the bait, since they are the quintessence of divine history and therefore susceptible to inexhaustible layers of meaning.

Think of the difference between history and a great novel: the former attempts to simply describe "what happened," while the latter creates the happenings in order to convey a much larger point."

Getting to the point:

Now since our eternal state is as certainly ours, as our present state; since we are as certainly to live for ever, as we now live at all; it is plain, that we cannot judge of the value of any particular time, as to us, but by comparing it to that eternal duration, for which we are created.

-William Law (1686-1761), A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life [1728]

May I be given patience in the knowledge that He is preparing me for life eternal. . . uh, " except without [my] self intact. D'oh!" Amen.

Personally, the thought of "remaining as a bio-psychic hypostasis" just doesn't ring my poetic chime...cause the ole bod jest ain't what she use to be.

7/24/2010 07:38:00 AM  

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