Surfing the Laws of Nature to the Father Shore
Yesterday we left off in hell, of which Zizioulas writes that "condemnation to eternal death is nothing other than a person's being allowed to decline into a 'thing,' into absolute anonymity, to hear the terrifying words, 'I do not know you.'" It's like being addressed by Travis Bickle, only forever: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? I'm the only one here. You talkin' to me?
Now, it seems to me that this notion in Christianity of "divinization," or theosis, is about as important as it gets. But if that's the case, why did it take me so many years to hear about it? It's like studying yoga but not learning about moksha, or Buddhism and not hearing of nirvana, or Islam and somehow missing the part about killing infidels.
I consider this is very poor marketing. Either that, or there is some disconnect between what the original Christians thought vs. what contemporary ones think (or at least emphasize).
I'll use divinization instead of theosis, because it connotes the process involved. It is "participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence." As we have said many times, the Raccoon path is a descending one. Just so, in Christianity "the goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realized in God should also be realized on the level of human existence" (emphasis mine).
Therefore -- and this is a critical point -- salvation "is identified with the realization of personhood in man." The goal is to become a proper person, and all this implies. The rest shouldn't concern us, and can take care of itself.
The Fathers used the word "person" in a very specific sense, and it is obviously to be distinguished from our mere biological or psychological manhood. Nature and culture give us these, respectively. Man is an open system both biologically and psychologically, which maintains his physical and psychic life.
Obviously it is possible to fulfill one's four score of genetic duty without awakening to one's true personhood, which can only be conferred from above -- again, as we have mentioned in the past, this latter transformation is also the result of an open system, only a vertical one.
For the Fathers, it is the person who is the image and likeness of God. To put it another way, God is the true person. This should be a rebuke to those who imagine that God is merely a psychic projection of the human being, a "man write large." If this were the case, God would be like a man, not a person. And for many religious people, God is frankly more like a man.
Let's begin with the problem of our natural endowment, i.e., the manhood that is conferred by mere existence. The existentialists are correct that we didn't ask for this existence, but rather, are simply tossed into an impossible situation that is full of constraint and necessity. Indeed, there's really no way out short of suicide.
In this way of looking at things, offing oneself would truly be the one outrageously free act, the one complete rebellion against our existential "thrownness," a spit in the eye of Darwin, or whoever you want to blame for this mess. As Camus said, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide."
Or, even if one chooses to stick around, it is just a vain "immortality project" rooted in the Denial of Death (a very good book, by the way, for at least it doesn't flinch from the reality of Death, and draws out the ultimate implications of the existentialist project).
At any rate, our happy existence as raging animals within a dying carcass is bestowed by Mother Nature. It is "interwoven with a natural necessity and therefore lacks ontological freedom." And everything we think and do takes place in the shadow of Death, the ultimate necessity and last word. All meaning is just a chess game with Death. The game may be brief, or it may last awhile, but you lose every time.
For the Fathers, Christianity throws open a vertical escape hatch from this ontological necessity. It "leads to a new mode of existence" and to a "regeneration" through which we are able to surf over the laws of nature instead of being drowned in them.
You might put it this way, which I did in the Coonifesto: we don't want to discount the importance of our natural existence, for it provides the stable boundary conditions for the emergence of something higher. After all, if existence were not subject to necessity -- i.e., if it weren't stable and predictable -- it couldn't produce anything higher.
Take the analogy of language. We are all born into a language that we did not create, and which constrains us. But it is only because of these constraints that we are able to constantly say new things. Looked at this way, rules of spelling are the boundary conditions for the emergence of words; words are the boundary conditions of sentences; sentences of paragraphs; paragraphs of plot; plot of theme; theme of something perennially true.
Just so, man is a kind of parenthetical boundary condition for the possibility of divinization: he is ( ) for the purpose of (↓↑).
Note that this is the order presented in Genesis: man is first formed from "the dust of the ground." That is natural man. Only afterwards does God breathe into him "the breath of life" (pneuma), so that he becomes a "living being." Looked at esoterically, these two phases should be kept separate, because there are plenty of dust devils blowing around who are not in-formed by that vertical breath of life.
You might even say that our fallenness results in a descent from deity to dust, so to speak. Conversely, divinization results in the reverse journey, from dust to back to divinity. Isn't this the ultimate meaning of the Christ event -- of divinity becoming dust so that dust might become divine? But in order for this to become operative in horizontal man, he must be "born 'anew' or 'from above.'" His horizontal birth must be complemented by a vertical one, so that he may transition from man to true person.
Yeah, it requires a leap of faith, but don't do it half-heartedly. Rather, you should joyously throw your whole self into it, body, mind, and spirit. You know, like a child. But watch out for your neighbor, too. We don't need a lawsuit.