Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Life, Love and Liberty, Now and Forever

In the Summa Coonologica, Toots Mondello famously wrote that he didn't mind the idea of death, so long as he could be there after it happened.

This is because our unique identity is our most precious "possession" -- if that is the appropriate word, for what would be the nature of the entity that "possesses" itself, or the I who is? In other words, is it possible to separate the form and content of the self, as if we could "be" without being someone?

In fact, nothing can exist without being something. Or, to exist is to be something, a particular thing. But for a human being -- and a human being alone -- it is not enough to merely be some-body, i.e., an object with boundaries.

Rather, a human being only exists as a who, and not just anywho. He is both one -- i.e., someThing -- but also someOne, a unique, unrepeatable, and particular subject. To paraphrase Toots Mondello, this is either of no significance at all or the most significant fact of all, for it is the significance without which there could be no significance at all. If humans aren't significant, then neither is anything else. All meaning passes through man.

In Being as Communion, Zizioulas writes that "uniqueness is something absolute for the person." This is why we stand diametrically opposed to any of our competitors, whether secular or religious -- and there are many -- who downplay our cosmic significance, whether of man as such or of this or that man.

Materialists tend to fall into the former category, for their metaphysic permits one to attach no significance to the existence of man, let alone a man. And many religious folk fall into the latter camp (especially Eastern religions), conflating what they call "ego" and identity, and finding the key to transcendence in eliminating it from the cosmos: no man, no problem.

And leftists are completely confused, since they elevate the selfish and isolated ego to ultimate significance in a cosmos in which it can have none. Workers of the world unite! And then die. We don't need you anymore.

But as Zizioulas points out, Christianity is different. For it posits the person, which "is so absolute in its uniqueness that it does not permit itself to be regarded as an arithmetical concept, to be set alongside other beings, to be combined with other objects, or to be used as a means, even for the most sacred goal." Rather, "the goal is the person itself; personhood is the total fulfillment of being..." It's all about quality, baby, not quantity, and no amount of the latter can account for the former, not even if you juggle the numbers forever.

Here we can gain a better understanding of the conundrum mentioned above, of how it is possible to separate our form and content, the I from the AM. This occurs because the person is at once absolute but also the goal. You might say that there are morphogenetic fields that guide our general development, but also a particular one that guides and canalizes our individual unfolding and development (the cosmic telovator or eschalator -- the Great Attractor -- that simultaneously lifts us up to ourSelves and to God).

Now, if personhood were absolute in itself, this would quickly lead to hell on earth, for everyone would have an absolute right for the world to be as he wishes.

Or as Zizioulas puts it, it is a two-edged sword, in that it can lead "to the denial of others, to egocentrism, to the total destruction of social life." It's very much analogous to the difference between freedom and liberty, in that the former devolves to horizontal nihilism, whereas the latter, because it is constrained by certain perennial boundary conditions, allows for vertical evolution. America's founders believed in ordered liberty, not any kind of radical libertarian freedom.

Only with a Judeo-Christian metaphysic is it possible to get this metaphysic just right. About a week ago I read the most obnoxious editorial by that little leftist twerp Peter Beinart, who, like all leftists, imagines that it is some kind of coincidence that the greatest nation on earth also happens to be the only Judeo-Christian one.

Rather, for him and his ilk, we could just as well be Muslim or Buddhist or atheist or Sikh men, and it wouldn't matter at all. In fact, it would undoubtedly be better, since we're such religious bigots. There is nothing you can say to such people that can't be better said with a cast iron cluebat to the nads, if he had any.

Recall Pieper's comment that Christianity may be reduced to Incarnation and Trinity. There is an implicit meaning to this, in that Trinity cannot be further reduced. Thus, the Incarnation is of someOne, but that someOne turns out to be someThree.

And this little fact makes all the difference, for it means that the human individual is simultaneously absolute and yet in communion, two things that would be at odds if the Absolute weren't also in communion.

Put it this way: God cannot help being God, and in order for God to be God, he is in eternal communion with his own other, the Son, the "only begotten" (and notice how "only" implies uniqueness).

To put it another way, the whole key to our individuality lies in the fact that it is simultaneously one and three, both internally and externally.

To take just one example, the feral children referenced in yesterday's post are surely "one," but that is all. They are not three, because they are barred from any deep interior connection to the human group. Only in plugging into this group does the one become an open system susceptible to dynamic evolution. Truly, it becomes an upward spiral instead of a horizontal dot.

Running out of time. I'll just detain you with an arresting passage by Zizioulas:

"The life of God is eternal because it is personal, that is to say, it is realized as an expression of free communion, as love. Life and love are identified in the person: the person does not die only because it is loved and loves; outside the communion of love the person loses its uniqueness and becomes a being like other beings, a 'thing' without absolute 'identity' and 'name,' without a face."

Real ontological death -- or hell, if you will -- is "ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable," whereas our true, living self is created, affirmed, and maintained only in love.


Blogger Sal said...

Sermon notes from Trinity Sunday:

God's knowlege and love are infinite. He has only one idea, eternal and unchanging. He can neither learn nor forget. God's infinite idea is Himself & it is perfect, b/c He must know everything.

Our ideas are things, God's idea is a Person & that Person must be God also- perfect and complete.
The Thinker = the Father
The Idea, the Word = the Son
The Communion between Father and Son = Holy Spirit, a Person, unchanging, eternal, perfect with the same divine nature.

7/20/2010 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And leftists are completely confused, since they elevate the selfish and isolated ego to ultimate significance in a cosmos in which it can have none. Workers of the world unite! And then die. We don't need you anymore."

So true it hurts. Could, should and would be the motto over all hospitals soon.

Dante could probably come up with a better banner though... "hope and change!" changed to "Abandon hope all ye who enter here"

Ya'd think

7/20/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

A good post today.

One may ask, "Does the whole personality make it across the Lethe?"

Some say we must be prepared to say goodbye to our personalities when the time comes.

The wise say it is best not to get too attached to oneself.

For answers regarding the fate or durability of personality, we must go deeper or higher than ordinary thought.

Seek out Petey or whoever you use in lieu and ask the questions:

"What do I get to keep? What must be given away?"

And don't forget the "Akashic Library." Reputedly there,in enormous storage rooms, are huge piles of former personalities mounded up like fallen leaves that no one revisits.

The living being wants to concentrate in the now; after passign some will take a nostalgia bath but for the most part leave the former personality be.

And that makes sense. Do you dwell daily on what you thought and felt when you were 7?

Its time is past. Age 7 has served its purpose. We must move on. So it is with personality.

7/20/2010 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"There is nothing you can say to such people that can't be better said with a cast iron cluebat to the nads, if he had any."

(Oh... sympathetic cringe)

7/20/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Real ontological death -- or hell, if you will -- is "ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable," whereas our true, living self is created, affirmed, and maintained only in love. "

For those consumed with the unfairness of souls condemned to hell... who does what to whom?

And when?

And for 'Well... I'm only concerned with this life...."

If that were only true.

7/20/2010 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger black hole said...

workers of the world unite! And then die!

Sure Y not. I don't see anything wrong with that scenario.

As long as each worker gets some kinky ya ya's once in a while. And expensive alcohol on the birthday maybe.

big giant government now thats where its at. To each what is needed, from each what is able.

7/20/2010 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I dunno, Grant - if you dwelled on (with an intent to comprehend) what you felt and thought and age seven, maybe you wouldn't be such a tool right now.


I'm revising my opinion - at least moron, but willfully imbecilic in all the ways that count.


Back to things that matter, this has been a great series. I wish I could contribute more; I'll have to content myself with trying to put the concepts into practice, instead.

7/20/2010 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

OT to Bob's post.

Just thought I'd share a realization -> I am finally, once and for all time, convinced that black hole is my xhusband (the first one). My criteria improved greatly with the 2nd one. Thank God!

7/21/2010 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not really off topic, since the last paragraph refers to hell.

7/21/2010 11:59:00 AM  

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