Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reality and Illusion in Science and Religion

Continuing along the lines of whatever line we were on yesterday, here's something you don't often think about: the relationship in religion between the necessary and the possible.

This distinction, according to Schuon, "concerns all domains of the universe," whether scientific or religious. After all, science only developed after it was understood that aspects of the universe could be abstractly described by excluding whole dimensions of contingent being e.g., the laws of physics.

For example, it is possible to describe, say, an apple, with mathematical equations, but at the cost of ignoring what an apple tastes like, let alone how Eve was tempted by one.

It seems that there are two types of uniqueness, one essential and the other accidental. A thing, in order to exist, must be something and not another. Every rock is different, but the differences don't amount to much. They don't add to or detract from the rockiness of the rock.

Similarly, we can talk about "humanity," even though each human being is unique. However, this raises the interesting point that among all existing things, only for human beings is their uniqueness essential (or is their essence unique) and not accidental.

In other words -- and this is the original sin of leftism -- the unique individual is prior to the abstract and anonymous group/state. (And mother-infant and husband-wife are the prior groups upon which the larger group is founded; here again, the left wishes to destroy this truth, and impose their own warped version of reality on the rest of us.)

As we have discussed before, there is the essence and the form. God is essential being, but in order to communicate himself to man, he must take form.

Now, exoteric (or conventional) religiosity tends to overvalue the form, sometimes to the exclusion -- or at least occlusion -- of the essence. This is why it can be difficult to relate to theologians who only think "mythologically," which is somewhat like trying to do physics without math.

But again, this was the situation before the development of modern science.

Consider medicine, which revolved around Galen's ideas about balancing the four humours, or theories of classical alchemy involving earth, water, air, and fire. These terms are too concrete to do the descriptive work required of them. Instead of being explanations, a deeper theory was needed that explained their existence.

This is not to say that a conventional theologian cannot be inspired; but there is inspiration and the form taken by the inspiration, two very different things, one vertical, the other horizontal.

Schuon writes of how "religious enthusiasm, coupled with a thirst for information about heavenly things and a quasi-conventional over-estimation of religious mythology as such, cannot but give rise to a margin of dreams, not to say illusions."

This would explain my discomfort with the so-called "religious right." These are usually nice people, even though I cannot relate to their theology.

Schuon notes that "Christian theology rightly teaches that such mirages are not opposed to sanctity as long as they are simply human and not diabolical." Nevertheless, they are mirages, or "pious fantasies," in the same way that water is a kind of mirage for the chemist who understands it as H2O.

But again, there is much more to water than what can be captured or conveyed by H2O, so in reality, there is a kind of epistemological dialectic between water ←→ H2O. Clearly, the chemist would know nothing of H2O if he weren't first confronted with the reality of water. So which is more "real?"

This is about the best analogy for the exoteric-esoteric dialectic that I can imagine. In other words, as applied to the higher world disclosed and described by religion, esoterism is analogous to science, whereas exoterism is analogous to empiricism.

And just as we would know nothing of H2O without first experiencing water, we can know nothing of esoterism (or a limited amount) without the exoteric clothing, or "veils" of religion.

Thus, pure esoterism in and itself could never "be" a religion, any more than one can take a shower in the equation H2O. Schuon says that esoterism is actually "without a homeland," and that it simply tries to establish itself "wherever it can."

I believe this was the attitude of our Unknown Friend, who was a Catholic -- and probably became Catholic -- in order to have a proper "home" for his esoterism. And he emphasized that not only were both necessary -- rigid skeleton and beating heart, Peter and John, spirit and letter -- but that the institution was by far the more important of the two.

And this is because holy water is not just H2O, just as the communion wafer is not just a quantity of carbohydrate. Call them mirrorages, in which you may see yoursoph.

15 Comments:

Blogger black hole said...

Bob, in this post, culiminating in the example of how and why UF immersed himself in Catholicism, you have touched upon the issue of how ,why, and where to orient one's unique religion to that of the group. An important question.

The wise person knows two things:

All persons, in their uniqueness, are in some sense a religion unto themselves.

Even each materialist, with her sacred cows of comfort, security, and entertainment worshipped in various degrees, forms a one-off cult of sorts.

And, few persons can truly "go it alone." Although unique, most are going to need the exoskeleton of an organized religion around which to cohere. Each member of the religion practices it slightly differently. They are nominally ____but really they are still just themselves.

Now, the few. That is the interesting part. There are a few who do not need an exoskeleton. They do the work of forming a fairly complete system unto themselves.

How about you, Bob? Where do you fall in?

10/13/2010 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

And just as we would know nothing of H2O without first experiencing water, we can know nothing of esoterism (or a limited amount) without the exoteric clothing, or "veils" of religion.

Thus, pure esoterism in and itself could never "be" a religion, any more than one can take a shower in the equation H2O. Schuon says that esoterism is actually "without a homeland," and that it simply tries to establish itself "wherever it can."

I believe this was the attitude of our Unknown Friend, who was a Catholic -- and probably became Catholic -- in order to have a proper "home" for his esoterism. And he emphasized that not only were both necessary -- rigid skeleton and beating heart, Peter and John, spirit and letter -- but that the institution was by far the more important of the two.


The way I've always pictured it is in the combination of flesh and bone. A pure exoterism is like having an exoskeleton. The form is rigid, and it encloses and protects the essence. For a great many people, it is highly effective - their faith is their armor. Of course, it also provides cover; it's all too easy for assouls to wear the form while perverting it from within. Or it lends itself to crystallization, appearing lifelike from outside but dead and dry within.

Pure esoterism, on the other hand, is much more amoeba-like. It can be established almost anywhere, and like water it can fill an exoteric container, but it can also give rise to formless, squishy new-ageyness that goes nowhere because it has no structure.

The ideal, then, is instead an endoskeleton, providing a foundational structure while still allowing for growth and unique expression. It's the most human form. I don't know if I'd agree that the institution is more important - isn't that like saying the skull is more important than the brain within, or that the ribcage is more valuable than the heart and lungs it protects? It is as important, since without it, there's nothing to keep the vitals vital, but to say it's more important seems a bit like saying a weak and flabby heart is fine so long as the ribs hold up...

10/13/2010 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

I believe this was the attitude of our Unknown Friend, who was a Catholic -- and probably became Catholic -- in order to have a proper "home" for his esoterism

While UF seems to have been an inherently holy soul, for many the exoteric constrains their spiritual energy and prevents it from sloshing over into dangerous territory. Like a gas tank. That spiritual fuel, she's some explosive stuff (just ask Achmed "the human hand grenade" Muhammed).

Catholicism seems to keep the craziness down (with some regrettable modern exceptions).

10/13/2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Julie:

Related to your thoughts on UF's thoughts on the primacy of the exoteric over the esoteric:

I agree that on the individual level, the esoteric is probably the main thing.

On a collective level, it would probably be safer to blunt some individuals than it would to damage the group structure of worship in general.

By safer, I refer to the overarching goal of religion, both eso and exo, which is to progressively spiritualize humanity as a collective.

A smattering or scattering of saints or raccoons or yogins is not the final destination.

The desired outcome, which from some angles looks inevitable although we can't say when, is the complete spiritualization of all members of humanity.

A complete gnostic conversion.

UF means to say, I believe, the church is more important to that process than any single individual.

10/13/2010 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob,
Are you still rereading Oldmeadow's book on SA? I just finished it last night and today especially, but the past couple of days included, it seems as though we're reading along at a similar pace...

I mean, just last night, there was some discussion..Oldmeadow uses Schuon's description of the difference between exoteric and esoteric. And earlier, he goes into why both are necessary.

10/13/2010 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Oh..and very helpful post to me. Much more than usual. I hope. You see, it's just un-canny; I keep getting these swift kicks in the ear, lately.
Thanks.

10/13/2010 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"...any more than one can take a shower in the equation H2O."

eh... from a few of my fellow computer geeks I've worked with a... I'd swear to O that equations were the only form of water they ever showered with.

Just sayin'

10/13/2010 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Meant to say earlier, I love the photo. How does FL do on the skates? He looks pretty confident - I don't remember too many kids that age being able to do much more than flail about while trying to keep their feet under them.

10/13/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

OT, and kind of a downer, but this is just awful. Is this the kind of health care we have to look forward to? I hope something can be done to repeal it before it reaches that point.

10/13/2010 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Julie:

I've already established a health savings account for our baby (in addition to the normal ones for education, etc) as I fully expect to see the same sort of health care in MA by 2020 as I see when we're in Canada today. It's already started happening in a fairly major way.

In Canada you can get great health care. All you need is about $100,000 in cash every time you have to get anything done in a hurry (which is the great irony of "socialist" systems -- only the wealthy and well-connected get treated properly). Michael Moore and George Soros will never have a problem obtaining top-notch health care, even as they would force the public into Cuban-style squalor by force if they could.

10/13/2010 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yep, we have an HSA, too. Trouble is, the gov't can still decide how those funds may be used, and just a couple weeks ago we received a notice informing us that certain types of expenses (such as otc meds) will no longer be payable with HSA funds (at least, not without a penalty). So far, none of the changes have an affect on us, but I suspect it's only a matter of time until having an HSA becomes more trouble than it's worth, by design. TOTUS/congress forbid we use our own hard-earned money that we've set aside for health expenses in the manner best suited to our needs. That wouldn't be fair.

10/13/2010 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Also OT, but hopefully this makes up for the other link. Watch to the end, but maybe not with the kids...

Via Vanderleun, although if you go over there and read the other stuff he has linked in the top post, it'll bring you right back down again.

10/13/2010 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Rick -- no, reread that on vacation last August.

10/13/2010 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Time flies.

10/13/2010 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

OT, but in that movie PRECIOUS why didnt they call the baby '-Lloyd' insteada 'Mongo-'?

10/14/2010 03:46:00 AM  

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