Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Why the Secret Had to Protect Itself

I don't blame any Raccoon for going underground in the 16th century, where we've remained ever since. Nor do I blame anyone at the time for turning away from religion and wanting no part of it.

For example, "In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," after which Pope Gregory XIII was "delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box..." (Gillespie).

But "lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided," when Cromwell invaded an Irish town in 1649, his army killed virtually every last person. "They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary's Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold thirty surviving defenders into slavery" (ibid.).

And that's just a very small sampling of the savagery. Of course, it's all too easy to simply blame religion for the atrocities, since no one at the time was irreligious, and religion was thoroughly entangled with culture, language, ethnicity, customs, power and politics. Furthermore, whenever someone engages in genocide, I think it's fair to say that it is never for the stated reason. Rather, there are unconscious motivations of which the actor knows nothing.

To put it another way, nothing as deeply irrational as genocide could occur as a result of purely rational motivations that one can take at face value. For example, the Nazis didn't merely wish to kill Jews, but wanted to degrade, humiliate, and thoroughly dehumanize them, so that the whole bloody project was imbued with an obvious component of sadism. But no Nazis, to my knowledge, publicly announced that "we're doing this because we secretly get a thrill out of degrading people and watching them suffer." Nor did those who engaged in the religious wars.

Nor do leftists, for that matter, imagine that their conscious desire to "help" people is covertly motivated by a contemptuous desire for power over them. Very few people wake up in the morning with the conscious idea of doing bad and harming people. Which is one of the reasons it is naive in the extreme for leftists to constantly announce their belief that conservatives actually do wish to consciously harm people.

You will have noticed that they never take us at our word that we really do think that high taxes are bad for the economy, that collectivism and statism are inconsistent with American values, or that racial quotas are bad for blacks. I would actually have more respect for leftists if they first said, "look, I know you're a good person, that racism is repugnant to you, and that you don't mean to harm blacks. But your opposition to racial quotas is so irrational, that it must be concealing some unconscious conflict about race." Because consciously, I am a passionate negrophile of the first rank -- and not just the light skinned ones with a Harry Reid dialect.

Anyway, back to those Raccoons who were forced underground during the religious wars, just when it was starting to look like there might be a little opening for them to come out of the closet and be accepted by society.

A Raccoon is a big believer in free will, without which truth, virtue and beauty cannot exist. If we are not free to discover truth, then we are like machines. Again, as we have mentioned in the past, it is really quite simple: truth is what man must know; virtue is what he must do; and beauty is what he must love and create. Of course, it doesn't end there. For just as truth is the virtue of the intellect, virtue is beauty of soul. And beauty is the splendor of truth. Etc.

But again, for Luther, all of this ancient retro-futuristic Raccoon wisdom goes out the window, since the nominalistic God "was responsible for everything. Thus, neither he nor anyone else could either gain or lose salvation, because faith alone saved and faith came only through grace. Luther's soteriology or doctrine of salvation thus rested on the omnipotence of divine will and the powerlessness of human will." Luther maintained that there was no such thing as contingency, which for him was a kind of maya, or illusion. In reality, God is in control of everything, again, just as in Islam.

Now, I don't think this is an "illegitimate" spiritual approach, at least for a certain type of aspirant. It's just that there are very different types of people, and one approach is not going to be attractive or effective for another. One cannot deny that this more totalitarian approach is compatible with some temperaments, and that it gives them comfort to believe that they have no control over reality and that God is fully responsible for everything that happens.

But I cannot emphasize enough that this is not a universal teaching, but a peripheral one. It is a upaya, or "skillful means," and if it works for you, far be it from me to talk you out of it (which is why I compared it to Zen). It's just that I have no idea why you are interested in this blog, because I certainly haven't the slightest interest in your metaphysic (no offense -- I just don't).

And just why you would argue with me is a bit of a mystery anyway, since if God controls everything, I don't have the free will to accept or reject your argument anyway, nor you mine (and I'm not arguing anyway, just sharing a vision).

Again, we firmly believe in man's dignity and therefore his free will; and we reject the belief that God is directly responsible for what we see as the evil in the world. Evil is not just an illusion, or "a part of God's plan." We are here to fight evil.

More to the point, I could never respect a God who is less moral than I. Again, no offense. It's just the way Raccoons are built. Look, I realize that Raccoon theology will never be popular. If I thought otherwise, I'd write more books instead of just speaking to the scattered brotherhood of the invisible lodge.

Let's get back to those 14th and 15th century Raccoons, such as Petrarch, who tried to forge a middle way to resolve what eventually became the religious wars. According to Gillespie, "he offered a a new vision of how to live to a Christian world caught in the tremendous spiritual crisis brought about by the nominalist revolution and the cataclysmic events of the fourteenth century...."

One thing that makes Petrarch a Raccoon is his concern for the indivdual and the world, which makes his a primarily descending path. For we do not wish to escape the world into God, but to divinize the world through God's energies refracted through his pneumacosmic junior partner, man. No, we do not believe in worldly perfection, but we do believe that things can be improved, and that much of the outcome is in our hands. We matter. Indeed, matter matters.

Remember, the idea of the true "individual" only emerged in the late middle ages. As such, it was a new existential/ontological "problem." And with the emergence of the individual also came the "discovery" of the world as something more than just a divine symbol that could be understood through analogy.

In short, the individual and modern science co-arise, and with them, democracy, human rights, free markets, and other blessings of modernity. But of course, to the strict traditionalist (e.g., Schuon or Guenon), these are not blessings but curses. (To be perfectly accurate, in my view they are both, depending on the vertical station of the soul involved with them.)

Petrarch's ontology begins with a new appreciation of the unique individual. And he "was able to make this vision concrete and attractive by displaying to the public his own inner life as well as those of an astonishing array of ancient personalities...."

This has two main effects. First, "this inward journey led to the unexplored territory of a self filled with passions and desires that were no longer something mundane and unspiritual that had to be extirpated or constrained but that were instead a reflection of each person's individuality and that consequently deserved to be expressed, cultivated, and enjoyed."

The Raccoon would say that man now had an interest in exploring and colonizing his own psychic space, instead of simply repressing it, blindly acting it out, or living one's life as a collective "type." Now, can this go too far into narcissism, eccentricity, and glorification of the self, cut off from its spiritual archetype? Of course! But we'll get to that later. Remember, at this point in history, the whole project was still tied to Christianity, not divorced from it.

Secondly, Petrarch disclosed a "relevant past filled with courageous and high-minded individuals" who were worthy of emulation. And these two strands were connected, for by learning from these great personages of the past, "one could begin to understand how to give shape to one's own individuality," but not for its own sake. Rather, it was a way of combining piety, nobility, and individuality. And at the very least, you should be grateful that this was precisely the attitude of America's founders, even if you believe they were theologically misguided.

This is certainly how it has worked for me. Man is built for reverence, but of course, it all depends upon who and what one reveres, for the reverence creates a kind of sympathetic bond through which there is a real and genuinely transformative psychic contact, for both good or ill. But we're running out of time, so we'll continue tomorrow, slack willing.

(All quoted material from The Theological Origins of Modernity )

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beasts to the Left of Me, Monsters to the Right

Just another reminder, everyone will have a chance to be offended as we go along, so there's no need to jump to any conclusions. Let me also say that Gillespie takes a rather neutral and scholarly approach. He's not the least bit polemical. Rather, he just lays out the facts, objectionable to some though they may be.

And it should also go without saying that I ask and expect no one to agree with me on these matters. Nor am I bothered by those who disagree with me (although I am puzzled why some of them would be in any way interested in this blog).

To conclude his take on Luther, Gillespie reiterates that although his thought "originates out of the deep spiritual problems that arise from his encounter with nominalism," his solutions create as many difficulties as they resolve, so that his "position is beset by deep and intractable problems." His only fallback position is "faith," but in my view, a faith divorced from intellect leaves the field wide open for the neo-barbaric, anti-religious intellect that followed.

Man's intellectual needs are legitimate, and he has a cosmic right to answers that satisfy these needs. We are constituted of spirit, psyche, and body -- or passion, will, and intellect -- and any of these that are not "contained" by one's religion will tend to run wild outside it. It doesn't matter if it is an inadequate theology of the body or of the intellect; leave one out, and you're asking for trouble. Just as the person can fall into sexual perversion, a mind that is not infused with the Light can clearly fall into intellectual perversion. I myself was once an intellectual pervert and textual deviate, so I know.

Obviously, nowhere does Jesus say anything about faith in scripture. I mean, for starters, he didn't write any. There was no new testament, only the used. Furthermore, in any case, scripture "has to be interpreted, and that means valuing some passages and books above others. How in such circumstances do we know we are choosing correctly? How do we know what we take to be divine inspiration behind our reading is not in fact the subliminal urgings of our passions and desires?" (Gillespie).

I would suggest that one way to know is to consult what 1500 years of grace-infused spiritual genius has produced -- i.e., to find out what the greatest spiritual thinkers have thought and said. And although some very conservative types might compare the following to our own Supreme Court interpreting the American constitution through "international standards," I don't see anything objectionable in taking this approach to religious metaphysics -- not to indiscriminately mix revelations from below, since God detests that. Rather, to simply appreciate that there is widespread coonsensus on many of the fundamentals.

Or, one can simply realize with Augustine that there exists a religion that co-arises with man, and which currently goes by the name "Christianity." Obviously Christ's existence is prior to his physical form, for he tells us ("before Abraham was I AM). To put it another way, the great novelty in Christianity is the Incarnation (and Resurrection), not the Christ. The Light is surely real, and it didn't just come into the world in 4 B.C., or whenever it was. It's always here, and men either see it or they don't.

Gillespie goes on to say that "a great deal of Luther's thought turns on the notion of grace," but that "Jesus never uses the word charis in this sense in the Bible. It becomes central only in Paul and later in Augustine." Nor is there "any mention of predestination in the synoptic Gospels."

The central problem with Luther, as I see it, is that in response to the crisis of nominalism, he overemphasizes God at the expense of man. And much of this hinges on his interpretation of the Fall. In fact, if I remember correctly, this is also an issue that divides Orthodoxy from Catholicism, since the former doesn't see the Fall in quite the catastrophic terms the West sees it. Gillespie notes that in the Latin west, there was "nearly unanimous opinion that Adam's fall had cost man dearly," and that "from this perspective, man had no intrinsic worth or dignity." Quite frankly, you are a hopeless loser, with no power whatsoever to save yourself.

I must admit that this approach has never appealed to me, and is one of the things that turned me away from the versions of Christianity I encountered earlier in my life. The idea that Socrates is in hell because he didn't know Jesus is no more appealing to me than the idea that God is punishing Haiti because two hundred years ago it supposedly made a "pact with the devil." (Besides, if that were true, one would expect to see earthly rewards paid for with the coin of eternity.)

I may be over-generalizing here, but it seems to me that Eastern Christianity hardly forgets that we are fallen, but that it also remembers that we are imago dei -- in the image of God -- and that this surely counts for something!

For me, it means that our covenant with the Creator is truly a Divine-human partnership. Sure, we're the junior partner, and always will be. But just as your relationship with your child changes as he matures, I don't think God wishes to treat everyone equally as permanently helpless infants. Indeed, Paul implicitly touches on this in the metaphor of spiritual milk. vs. meat.

Now, as I've mentioned in a couple of the previous posts, I don't think the split between Catholicism and Protestantism was strictly necessary, although, historical conditions being what they were, it was pretty much inevitable. But was there another way out of the impasse? I think there was, and Gillespie touches on this in chapter two of the book, Petrarch and the Invention of Individuality. From my perspective, the issues raised here are absolutely critical, because if you get your theology wrong, your anthropology will be a wreck, and if you get your anthropology wrong, your theology will be a mess.

At the very time that the nominalist insurgency was taking place, there emerged what Gillespie calls a Christian humanism -- not, mind you, a Christian humanism. The point is that this was a humanism that took seriously the idea that man may be wounded, but that he isn't dead. In spite of it all, he is still the imago dei; and as they say in the East, there can be a more or less wide gulf between image and likeness, and our purpose here on earth is to close that gap.

What the Raccoon calls "spiritual growth" takes place precisely in this space between image and likeness. Again, for the sake of clarity, Luther would absolutely and unequivocally reject the idea of "spiritual growth," much less that a man could do anything about it from his end. Indeed, he would condemn this as heretical, blasphemous, arrogant, and all the rest. Rather, you are either saved or you are not saved, and there's nothing you can do about it anyway but submit, identical to the Islamic approach.

Gillespie has a pithy formulation with which I agree; that is, "one cannot abandon God without turning man into a beast." But at the same time, "one cannot abandon man without falling into theological fanaticism." Look at the Islamists, who clearly err on the side of (their) god, with catastrophic consequences. To them, man is nothing, which is why they can engage in genocide with no compunction. But they are only doing what Christians did to each other in the 16th and 17th centuries.

For if man is nothing and God is everything, there is no reason why I shouldn't blow up airplanes or shoot abortionists. I'm not saying that this conclusion is inevitable, but one can appreciate where the devaluation of man leads -- just as one can appreciate where the devaluation of God leads. Atheists are not necessarily bad people, but an atheistic culture that has lost contact with its spiritual source will eventually descend into evil. And a culture that reduces man to a worthless sinner will also tend in that direction. (Please also note the similarity with leftist doctrines that are so contemptuous of the individual, who can only be saved by the anointed elites who run the god-state.)

So one thing that really caught my attention in the book was Gillespie's discussion of the handful of sensible and balanced Raccoons who were scurrying around back in the 14th century. These men attempted to forge a theology that valued the growing awareness of the individual without in any way jettisoning traditional theology. Petrarch, for example, sought "an amalgamation of Christian practice and ancient moral virtue."

This only makes sense, because it takes into consideration the very real emergence of a new phenomenon that was taking place at the time: the individual. In one sense, you can squelch the problem by condemning, repressing, and devaluing it; on the other hand, if one fails to channel this new reality within tradition, it then becomes detached from God, and transforms into the promethean glorification of the will. With Luther, every man becomes his own priest; but this is only a small step from every man becoming his own god.

Thus, Petrarch thought that the solution to this problem required "a richer understanding of what it meant to be human that drew not merely on Scripture but on the moral models of antiquity": Athens + Jerusalem, you might say. He further sought "to revivify the love of honor and beauty as preeminent human motives."

Speaking of which, there is no question that America's founders were animated by just this type of Christianity, one that very much focuses on the ancient virtues of honor, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and disinterested knowledge. I also happen to be reading the outstanding Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, and when you read about the majestic honor and dignity of, say, George Washington, it seriously makes you want to weep for your country. The men who formed America were Christian humanists par excellence.

Frankly, many of them were affiliated members of the the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora, but that's a topic for another post.

That's enough for today. To be continued...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Medieval Space Cadets and Modern Time Travelers

As mentioned previously, existence in the premodern world was a wholly vertical affair. As Gillespie describes it, "The inhabitants of that world did not await a bright and shining tomorrow but the end of days. They did not look forward to the future or backward to the past, but upward to heaven and downward to hell" (emphasis mine).

Again, it was as if they lived in space, not time; or at least a very different mode of time -- one that didn't "progress," and which contained its own more encompassing order. Denying this order would be like denying the seasons, or trying to make spring follow summer.

Thus, man lived more in vertical space than in horizontal time. And this space was hierarchically ordered from top to bottom. There was no such thing as "empty space." Among other things, it was filled with angels, gnomes, sprites, fairies, and various forces -- the "evil eye" of a neighbor troll, for example. But one of the accomplishments of scholasticism was to order this space in an intelligible manner. Analogously, if you think of the way that moderns organize time in such an obsessive manner, this is what premodern people did with space.

For example, here are a couple of pictures of the cosmos, circa 1300, one from before color TV, the other one after:

So space was not the empty abstraction that it later became with classical (Newtonian) physics. Interestingly, with the Freudian and Einsteinian revolutions, neither psychic nor physical space can any longer be thought of as "empty," but the ontological revolution has been slow to trickle down to the scientistic masses.

We still live in a primitive world of scientistic superstition, in which the mind is thought of as a bag with stuff in it, and the cosmos a machine consisting of particles and laws -- particles that are wholly external to one another, and invariant laws that are held to be universally valid while magically operating without transcending that which they operate on. Metaphysical incoherence rules the day, and systematic incoherence is always crazy making.

Metaphysically speaking, space and time are necessary reflections of the Absolute. Both time and space have their infinite and absolute modes. For space, the absolute is the point, or axis, while for time it is the now. In the premodern world, both space and time were bound, made to measure for man's psyche.

But for modern man, who buys his ill-fitting spacetime suit off the rack, they are "infinite." Thus, Pascal's crack about being alarmed by "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," and feeling "engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me." This signals an obvious change in man's orientation to the cosmos, from absolute to infinite -- or to infinite space unconstrained by any (relatively) absolute structure.

So modern man becomes dis-oriented; or, he becomes reoriented to matter only. The axis of the cosmos is now upside down, and man is inverted with it. But this all goes back to the nominalist revolution that swept aside the intelligible and hierarchically ordered space of the medieval world.

As Gillespie explains, "to think of oneself as modern is to define one's being in terms of time," which is an extraordinary thing. "In previous ages and other places, people have defined themselves in terms of their land or place, their race or ethnic group, their traditions or their gods, but not explicitly in terms of time." Premodern peoples temporally orient themselves around a primordial event of some kind -- this became their temporal axis -- but it is again quasi-absolute, not infinite.

But to even call oneself "modern" is to not only define oneself over and above another period of time, but to have entered another kind of time altogether. And as we shall see, it is not a "human time," for there is nothing less humanistic then secular humanism, which tries to adapt man to non-human modes, thus abolishing man.

In any event, "To be modern is to be 'new,' to be an unprecedented event in the flow of time, a first beginning, something different than anything that has come before, a novel way of being in the world, not even a form of being but a form of becoming."

It is also to "understand oneself as self-originating, as free and creative in a radical sense, not merely determined by tradition or by fate or providence." It is "not merely to be in history or tradition but to make history" -- a power that was previously limited to gods and mythic heroes.

I think you can immediately see the (qualified) upside of this liberation from the absolute into the infinite, in that man himself becomes a "mode of the infinite" with virtually unlimited potential. This is a critical point, for the nominalist revolution, in smashing that medieval cathedral of space, utterly transformed our relation to God. But this transformation ramified in two directions, one of them emphasizing the divine end and minimizing man's own significance. This was the extreme direction Luther took, culminating in predestination and the utter rejection of the idea that man's works could have any influence on his own salvation.

I would suggest that that is a profoundly unhumanistic stance, and I am sure Luther would agree with me. His response would be, "so what? Why do you care about these worthless sinners? Almost all of them are condemned to hell anyway, except for those pre-chosen by God for reasons we cannot fathom anyway."

The chapter on Luther was a real eye-opener for me, as he strikes me as unpleasant in the extreme (but of course, in his defense, he was responding to some rather unpleasant and thoroughly corrupt people). He was initially a nominalist, to such an extent that "he considered Ockham his master." This provoked his own profound spiritual crisis, as he concluded that the scholastics were incorrect, and that there was nothing one could do in this life to merit salvation. "He thus lived in terror of a wrathful God," and his later theology was largely a way to come to terms with this terror.

Luther resolved his existential terror in a zen sort of way. Since man cannot save himself, why worry? Rather "he can only be saved by faith alone," which "arises through grace and grace only through Scripture." Thus, his central insight "was that no works can satisfy such a God but also that no works are necessary," since all we have to do -- all we can do -- is believe in him.

Again, the human qua human is nearly entirely expunged from this formulation. Ancient ideas about cultivating virtue become arrogant attempts to appropriate God's powers. Cicero? Gone. Plato? Adios. Boethius? Get out. Again, only God can save you. Reason no longer matters, but only biblical exegesis. And "because there is no continuum that connects creator and creation, there can be no levels of ontological perfection." To put it another way there is no (↑) at all, only (↓), which most assuredly blows where it will.

Another key point for Luther is that (non-biblical) language no longer becomes a vehicle of truth, "for the truth comes about as a result of an inner experience of the divine that cannot be adequately captured in words." To pretend to understand God is only a form of "sinful pride." "[E]verything that occurs happens as a result of God's willing it to be so," which immediately implies that God is responsible for evil.

Luther had no logical way to deal with this objection, since he didn't believe in free will, so he basically evaded the issue by insisting that we shouldn't dwell on it, but rather concern ourselves only with what we can do about it, which again comes down to faith, and faith only. And even then, there's nothing to worry about, since faith "arises only through grace," again, because humans can do nothing to save themselves. God's omnipotence explains everything, but in so doing, explains nothing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Evolving Beyond Darwin & Luther

Before I started this series, I was going to mention that it would probably only offend two groups, Catholics and Protestants -- the former because of how badly they blew it, the latter because of all the bad that was ushered in with the good they accomplished. But I see that Warren and Susannah have already called a preemptive truce, so that's a relief.

As we go along, readers might feel as if I'm being harder on one side than the other. But please suspend judgment until we're done, because I'm certain that everyone will have a chance to be equally offended. The ultimate purpose of this series will be to heal that painful split once and for all (obviously in theory -- I'm not that grandiose), but some disassembly will be required. However, there's no need to disassemble one another.

It's really rather fascinating, because it immediately brings up all of the original passions that provoked the schism to begin with. Except that 500 years of the civilizing process has made us much less prone to kill one another over doctrinal matters and metaphysical disputes.

Which, now that I think about it, is an interesting subject in itself, and one that I attempted to tackle in chapter 3 of my book. That is, either in conjunction with, or in opposition to it, there is an autonomous "civilizing process" that must be taken into consideration. In other words, people can obviously be quite passionately religious, but uncivilized to the point of monstrous savagery. The Islamists are only the latest example, but again, when you read about what Catholics and Protestants did to one another during the religious wars, you wonder how Western man ever evolved out of that barbarism (those who did, anyway).

I also happen to be reading Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin & Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution, which I'm unconsciously weaving and blending into this patchwork stew. For Gilson -- who was a Catholic philosopher -- brings to light the extreme irony that Protestantism and Darwinism are quite directly linked, for they are really just two competing versions of modernity -- a modernity which is already intellectually exhausted.

For as Cardinal Schönberg explains in the foreword to the book, Darwin's theory "adopts a purely nominalistic doctrine that views living things as nothing but accidental variations within a continuous fitness landscape and admits of no natural kinds." In other words, with the death of transcendental realism and the triumph of nominalism came an end to any notion of transcendent archetypes. Remember, the fulcrum of Luther's rebellion was over this very point. The rest is just commentary -- or the drawing out of the ineluctable consequences that follow.

I'm sure this isn't very clear to most readers, but don't worry, it will be before we're finished with this series of posts. But one of the most important consequences that follows the banishment of universals is the end of formal and final causation. If there are no transcendent archetypes -- which there cannot be under nominalism -- then there can be no formal and final causation, since they limit God's absolute omnipotence.

So this is just one of the -- in my mind -- bad things that was ushered in with the good of the nominalist revolution. The problem is that formal and final causation most assuredly exist, and that the world becomes literally unintelligible in their absence. Scientism only pretends to do without them.

But Luther had no interest whatsoever in whether or not the world was intelligible. Rather, his only concern was man's salvation, in part because he was convinced that he was living in the End Times, so that understanding the world was just a vain distraction. Furthermore, it was the height of prideful arrogance to imagine that humans could understand God's creation, again, because God is radically transcendent and omnipotent, and subject to no man's understanding (outside revelation), which amounts to a restriction on God's activity. Again, if God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, who is the scientist to think that he can place limits on Him with his equations and instruments?

Note that of the four types of causation -- material, efficient, formal and final -- the first two are wholly immanent, or horizontal, while the second two are transcendent, or vertical. Here again you see that the nominalist revolution, by banishing formal and final causation, set the stage for the wholly immanent philosophy of ideological Darwinism, or just of materialism in general.

For materialism is one of the possible philosophical reactions to a senseless world devoid of formal or final causation. Literal creationism is another. The irony is again that Darwinism and creationism are not "opposites," but kissing cousins, just two possible responses to the modern rejection of the transcendentals that make the world intelligible.

Gilson brings out another fascinating irony -- and something that I've discussed in the past -- and that is that Darwinism is not only "anti-evolutionary," but that it renders evolution strictly impossible. The concept of evolution was around long prior to Darwin, and in fact, he didn't even mention the word in the first five editions of The Origin of Species. But Darwinians eventually hijacked and redefined the word, identical to how illiberal neo-Marxists hijacked and redefined "liberal."

The original meaning of the term "evolution" had to do with intelligible development -- for example, the manner in which the seed develops into the tree. Somehow the tree is "involved" in the seed, and the seed "evolves" into the tree. Thus, one could not speak of evolution without bringing in formal and final causation.

But this is the exact opposite of what Darwin believed. As Gilson explains, "Nothing is less like Darwin's doctrine than the idea that new species should be already present in their ancestors, from which they only have to evolve in the course of time." Therefore, Darwinian change does not disclose anything intelligible at all, for it is completely horizontal, just one meaningless change after another.

As Gilson correctly notes, "The human mind can grasp only that which is intelligible." Thus, "the meaning of absolutely directionless, meaningless, purposeless Darwinian change cannot really be grasped -- there is no meaning in such an alleged process, and thus no intelligibility." In the absence of an ordered framework -- which immediately implies transcendence and finality -- "pure chance or disorder is not something the mind can really know."

This is precisely what I mean when I say that man can explain much more about Darwinism than Darwinism can explain about man, for to even say the word "truth" is to have transcended the meaninglessness of Darwinian change (not evolution).

Again, as I have posted about before, actual evolution -- as opposed to meaningless change -- is only possible within a religious framework, but only then within a framework that restores formal and final causation, and undoes the nominalist revolution that ushered in modernity. This revolution -- and I'll get more deeply into this tomorrow -- virtually destroyed the religious intellect (emphasizing instead only faith), leaving the field open to the vulgar scientism that dominates culture today.

As Schönberg describes it, "the world is full of people who believe in God, but is almost bereft of people who believe in the full power of human reason." But Pope Benedict has called for an end to this "self-limitation of reason" and for a "rebirth of philosophy" that would vault man back to where he properly belongs, beyond the artificial constraints of a nominalistic scientism through which man has perfected crawling while forgetting how to fly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Godlessness: Opiate of the Tenured

I don't yet have an overarching grasp of The Theological Origins of Modernity -- at this point, it's still grasping me -- so perhaps if I just go through it chapter by chapter, a higher vision will emerge. At times the book is a little repetitive, and it's also somewhat non-linear -- almost like a collection of independent chapters. Plus, being a scholar and all, Gillespie seems reluctant to just come out and express rash and reckless conclusions in the manner I would.

That's the good thing about blogging. You can just come right out and say it, without all the scholarly apparatus. This is not to criticize Gillespie. This is to explain why I couldn't last five minutes in academia.

The amazon product description says that Gillespie exposes "the religious roots of our ostensibly godless age," and reveals "that modernity is much less secular than conventional wisdom suggests. Taking as his starting point the collapse of the medieval world, Gillespie argues that from the very beginning moderns sought not to eliminate religion but to support a new view of religion and its place in human life. He goes on to explore the ideas of such figures as William of Ockham, Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, and Hobbes, showing that modernity is best understood as a series of attempts to formulate a new and coherent metaphysics or theology."

I suppose that, for self-evident reasons, this would be considered a controversial assertion in academia -- that so-called secular intellectuals are implicitly religious (or, to be more precise, steeped in myth), but just in denial about it. It would be analogous to attending a Catholic seminary and writing a dissertation arguing that Christianity is actually the collective displacement of a massive Freudian father complex. Probably wouldn't go down too well with the faculty.

Gilliespie writes that "modernity in the broadest sense was a series of attempts to answer the fundamental questions that arose out of the nominalist revolution." This metaphysical revolution -- which we will describe forthwith -- is really what cracked the cosmic egg half a millennium ago and overturned the order of the world, sinny side up. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the argument Richard Weaver made in his classic Ideas Have Consequences, first published over fifty years ago.

If Gillespie is correct, we are still dealing with the reverberations of this metaphysical revolution today. Again, nothing has been resolved since Humpty Dumpty fell from the medieval wall. Rather, it's as if every thinker picks up a small piece of the shell and tries to reconstruct a whole egg out of it.

But it cannot be accomplished with any secular philosophy. For reasons that will be obvious once we get into them, such a project is foredoomed. Some thinkers responded to the crisis by assembling a new overarching metaphysic that did not exclude Spirit -- most notably, Hegel -- but which crumbled as a result of their own in-built contractions.

Marx, of course, tried to resurrect Hegel by turning him upside down and banishing Spirit. This gave birth to the illiberal psychospiritual left that persists to this day. Crockroaches that they are, they are nearly impossible to eradicate, since they have learned to live in darkness and can survive by eating virtually anything, even such toxic food as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, or Paul Krugman -- things that would kill an otherwise healthy person who hadn't built up the antibodies over the decades.

Perhaps I should say up front that I think the process is a bit more complicated and multidimensional than how Gillespie (or Weaver) describes it. This is one of the problems with being a mere intellectual; that is, one is susceptible to giving far more weight to ideas than they warrant. But the psychoanalyst in me tends to see ideas as mere "cover stories" for much deeper processes. These processes are largely irrational.

However, I must immediately emphasize that they are irrational in both a positive and negative sense. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that they can be "irrational" or "a-rational," meaning that they can fail to ascend to reason, or that they can transcend it from above. The realm of spirit, for example, is arational, in that it obviously descends from a transrational plane. To try to capture it with mere reason is to severely maim it, and to have no earthly idea of the legitimate bounds of reason. For example, the idea of "homosexual marriage" is not only irrational, which would be bad enough; more importantly, it is anti-transrational.

So, exactly what was this "nominalist revolution"? To make a very long story short, it simply has to do with the question of the reality of transcendentals, or universals. (BTW, there is an excellent overview of the controversy -- and how to resolve it -- in Letter IX of MOTT, The Hermit.) For the medieval scholastics, culminating in Aquinas, universals were ultimately real, while for the nominalist insurgency, they were considered mere names (immediately you see the seeds of deconstruction, which attacks universals -- and therefore Truth -- with a neo-barbaric vengeance).

Seems like a mundane enough academic squabble, doesn't it? Well, no. This is the wedge that plunges right down the center of Christendom, and cleaves Western man to this day (of note, Eastern Christendom bypassed -- or rather, transcended -- this problem, as they never developed a rational theology, only a mystical theology).

Now, the God of the scholastics could be approached with reason. That being the case, the divine realm was ordered, hierarchical, and subject to man's comprehension (up to a point). But the nominalists swept this entire order aside, which had the perhaps unintended consequence of radically changing the character of God.

For one of the implications of nominalism is that God cannot be constrained by reason, which is to compromise his divine omnipotence. God can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to such an extent that he actually becomes far more distant and fearsome -- an object of pure awe instead of understanding (here we see an ironic similarity between the Protestant and Islamic God, more on which tomorrow). Indeed, to pretend to understand God becomes a kind of blasphemy in the nominalist view. (Here again, notice how this anti-intellectual stance persists to this day, hence, the deep distrust of the Way of the Raccoon, from both left and right.)

I need to wrap it up here, as I have to get ready for work. But let me just lay out a preluminary schematic that I think summarizes the problem. Medieval man lived in a purely vertical world, or a "sacred space," so to speak, in which the most mundane activities resonated with eternity. Among other things, the nominalist revolution exiled man from this space, and plunged him into horizontal time.

Now, time can be progressive and evolutionary, or it can be regressive and decadent. For awhile, it seemed as if the nominalists had the upper hand, as modernity appeared to be "progressing" in a virtually limitless way in the 19th century. It truly appeared as if science and reason had liberated man from his own pathologies.

But then came the calamities of World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, and all the other modern nightmares of the 20th century, so that the very assumptions of modernity came into question. This then split the stream in two ways, one way leading back to tradition, the other way "forward" into postmodernism. Again, one of the things we will be discussing is the possibility of a third way to heal the wounds of history -- the Raccoon way of improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How Did We Get Here? Interpreting the Myth of Modernity

We're going to be discussing Michael Gillespie's The Theological Origins of Modernity, which I just finished yesterday. It's so full of implications, that I'm having difficulty wrapping my mind around it. Perhaps I should just begin with a synopsis, and then go from there.

Nah. Let's begin with some autobobographical novelgazing, so the focus stays where it should, on me. At the time I began writing my book, it was in response to the nagging question, how did I get here? In order to provide anything like an adequate response to that question, one must approach it from a multitude of angles and dimensions, from the strictly scientific to the theological, from the genetic to the psychological, from the historical to the the anthropological, from the biological to the linguistic, and much, much more.

If we fail to take this multiply-indisciplined approach, we end up treating ourselves as children by simply mouthing one of officially sanctioned myths of the day, whether of science or religion, it really doesn't matter. I mean, if you are intellectually satisfied by the idea that your existence is explained by "selfish genes," you shouldn't ridicule people who believe they were created directly by God, because both are more myth than reality. In the former case, one reduces an extremely complex and multifactorial process to efficient causation, while in the latter, one reduces it to formal causation, but both are inappropriately deterministic and exclude way too much reality.

I would agree that God is our formal (and final) cause. But an awful lot of things happen between us and God, both on an individual and collective basis, everything from the parents one is stuck with to the culture and historical epoch one is born into. Yes, Mozart's soul was "created by God." But does anyone believe his life would have been similar had he been born into a time or place that didn't have pianos, harmonic musical structure, and a sophisticated technique of musical notation? Yes, Einstein was a genius, but what if he had been born before calculus had been discovered?

So there is an obvious tension -- and paradox -- between who we are and how we get that way. But much of the paradox comes down to the fact that we are necessarily situated in time, which means, among other things, history, developmental maturation, progress (and decay), etc.

You might say that Gillespie's book takes a magnifying glass to an insufficiently understood transition in our collective development -- the transition from premodernity to modernity. As soon as you think about it, it's very strange, so it's no wonder that most people simply gloss over it. Really, it's as mysterious as the questions of how an embryo becomes a human being, how monkeys came to inhabit a linguistic world, or how a Stone Age baby becomes a proper human being. And in order to adequately answer any of these questions, one must again approach it from a multitude of vectors, both horizontal and vertical.

Consider also the fact that the transition from premodernity to modernity was one of the bloodiest -- if not the bloodiest -- in the grim history of humanity. Indeed, it is still taking place now, for this is what is going on between us and the Islamists, who are specifically in revolt against modernity and all it implies. To suggest, as do liberals, that this is about poor Muslims wanting what we want, is as absurd as suggesting that the crazed religious wars that engulfed Christendom between the early fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries were really about food.

A violent psychic rupture took place at the transition between premodernity and modernity, and one of the questions we will be exploring is whether it could have turned out differently, and whether we can ever recover the path that wasn't taken with the great schism between Catholicism and Protestantism -- the latter of which in turn led to the desiccated secular fundamentalism that now dominates culture.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book discusses the Coonish men -- people like Petrarch and Ficino -- who proposed a "third way" that might have avoided much of the mind-boggling violence and bloodshed of the religious wars, but these voices were easily drowned out by the louder and more passionate voices and interests.

For what they were proposing was a Christian humanism (not Christian humanism, which soon devolves to mere secular humanism), that in my view was easily capacious enough to reconcile human individuality with divine sovereignty, while preserving the traditional spheres of nature, man and God. In such an approach, it is quite easy to reconcile science and God, immanent and transcendent. But if you reject it, you end up where we are today, with a secularized science that is absurdly incomplete and incapable of an intellectually or spiritually satisfying account of man, in opposition to a willfully obtuse fundamentalism that thinks it must reject many of the central findings of science and blessings of modernity in order to preserve itself.

In many ways, the transition from premodernity to modernity reminds me of the transition from childhood to adolescence. Yes, you can draw a straight line from child to adult, but how misleading that is! Collectively speaking, we are analogous to pseudo-mature adults who remember nothing of the extraordinary turbulence and rebellion that took place during our adolescence. But why did it take place? What was really going on beneath the surface? And have we really resolved anything, or have we simply repressed the conflict, banished it to the historical unconscious, so to speak?

Gillespie implies that we have, for one of the principal characteristics of modern man is the idea that he is autochthonous -- self-born and self-made, so to speak, a product of pure reason standing above the insanity of history, purged of religious myth and superstition. But Gillespie easily dispatches this simplistic belief system, showing that it is very much rooted in one of the theological streams that opened up in the transition to modernity. For it transparently partakes of divine omnipotence, only absurdly displaced into secular science. In contrast, the followers of Luther preserved divine omnipotence, but at the cost of denying all of the secondary but nevertheless real causes explored by natural science.

Here again, this is the wedge that violently split the medieval synthesis down the middle, and we are still very definitely dealing with its implications today. For nothing has been resolved (unless, of course, you are one of the virtually dozens who have read my book). But one of the most eye-opening revelations of Gillespie's book was again the fact that there were a handful of Raccoons around at the time, trying their best to avoid the holocaust that occurred when the medieval synthesis fractured and unleashed hell on earth.

People talk about how secular ideologies were responsible for the death of some 100 million people in the 20th century, and that is entirely true. However, around here we value intellectual honesty above all else, so we have to consider that awful figure relative to the total population. And the religious wars of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "were conducted with a fervor and brutality that were not seen again until our own times. Indeed, the ferocity of the combatants may have even exceeded our own, for almost all the killing took place at close quarters, often in hand-to-hand combat, and thus without the emotionally insulating distance that modern technologies make possible" (Gillespie). The extent of the slaughter and cruelty is indeed literally inconceivable, just as with the nazis or the Islamists.

I don't want to dwell on examples of the atrocities, but they were the norm, not the exception. The bottom line is that "by conservative estimates, the wars claimed the lives of 10 percent in England, 15 percent in France, 30 percent in Germany, and more than 50 percent in Bohemia." By way of contrast, "European dead in World War II exceeded 10 percent of the population only in Germany and the USSR. Within our experience, only the Holocaust and the killing fields of Cambodia can begin to rival the levels of destruction that characterized the Wars of Religion" (Gillespie; but I also wonder about the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, which was a Holocaust in its own right).

But what was really going on here? What we want to do is put collective man on the analytic couch, so to speak, and try to uncover the real issues. For his cover story is analogous to the individual patient who comes in for therapy. In the beginning, he'll relate his "story" to the therapist, which is nothing more than the personal myth he has constructed for himself. But one of the reasons he is in emotional pain is that the myth excludes too much reality, so that he must disassemble it, venture down into the unconscious, and assemble a new and more encompassing myth that colonizes more of the Real.

This will be the ultimate purpose in our ongoing discussion of The Theological Origins of Modernity.