Saturday, June 19, 2010

Little Big Man: The Humble Aspiration to Greatness

Continuing with yesterday's post, hope is "the steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man's nature," or the essence of (•) --> O. But Pieper adds that hope is ordered to two additional sub-virtues, as it were, magnanimity and humility.

I found his analysis here to be particularly fascinating, for at least a couple of reasons. First is the recovery of original, subtle word meanings that have become buried under centuries of use; and second is the way these words have a sort of geometrical relationship to one another, as I will proceed to explain.

I don't know about you, but in their contemporary usage, I wouldn't have seen any overt relationship between magnanimity and hope, or humility and magnanimity, but this is a fine example of how spiritual reality can become obscured when our words cease to effectively map it.

As mentioned in a recent post, magnanimity is "the aspiration of the spirit to great things." It is not only the "courage to seek what is great" -- and do remember the actual meaning of courage, as per our recent posts on that subject! -- but also to become worthy of the greatness one seeks.

In turn, this all speaks to the special nature of spiritual development, in which who one is is far, far more important than what one knows. Or, to put it another way, who one is places an upper limit on what one may know; in short, know-how is posterior to be-who.

I might add that this adage doesn't just apply to the spiritual dimension, but to the psychic realm as well. It first occurred to me early in my psychoanalytic training. Indeed, it is a thread that runs through Bion's works, and now that I think about it, it explains why it was so natural for me to simply apply Bion's ideas to spiritual reality -- to transpose them one Octave up, as it were, from psyche to pneuma.

The point is that you really cannot become a "healer of souls" unless you have recognized and healed your own soul-wound, otherwise you are just a pretender. You can have all the theoretical knowledge in the world (k), but that doesn't necessarily add up to an ounce of (n). This ultimately means that your theory must flow from genuine experience, or it is just words. And once the theory is severed from emotional/spiritual reality, it begins to drift away from the reality it is supposed to map.

Anyway, back to magnanimity, which Aristotle characterized as "the jewel of all the virtues," since at any particular moment it turns toward "the greater possibility of the human potentiality for being" (Pieper).

Having said that, if magnanimity is detached from humility, it can tend toward grandiosity, presumptuousness, and a promethean glorification of man only. Put it this way: if man is capable of great things, it is only because he is endowed by the Creator with a soul and spirit to aspire to truly great things (aspire is related to spirit).

Excuse me a moment.....

Little insulin reaction there. D'oh! That's the last time I'll take humalog (rapidly acting insulin) first thing in the morning. I've been fooling around with my regimen, seeing if I can get my A1c (the best measure of diabetic control) even lower than 5.3, which is probably impossible. Anyway, back on the record.

Here is how Pieper describes it: "Man's worth, as that of being possessed of a soul, consists solely in this: that, by his own free decision, he knows and acts in accordance with the reality of his nature -- that is, in truth." So the loss of supernatural hope entails the loss of O.

You might say that faith and hope are the penumbra of O. They are "implanted in human nature as natural inclinations," -- although I suppose it would be technically more accurate to say that these are transnatural inclinations, or tacit foreknowledge of the as-yet-undiscovered reality of O. Faith and hope are like "empty categories" to be filled by experiential knowledge of O, or what a Raccoon calls (n).

If magnanimity is working as it should, and our aspiration to great things is resulting in "closer proximity" to the Great Thing, or O, it should automatically result in humility, since one recognizes, first, that no genuine progress is possible in the absence of O, and second, the inconceivable distance between man and God, or (•) and O. Truly, the closer one is, the further away.

If humility is not operative, then pride and hubris come to the forefront, and then comes the fall, all over again. But to paraphrase Unknown Friend, when we fall in this manner, it is only back down to the ground, our ground, that is, the human station, which we never left anyway. And which is great enough as it is without making oneself a god.

So, it is no paradox at all to affirm that hope involves the humble aspiration to to greatness -- or to be a little big man.

Great Danes are like this, which is a big part of their charm. Simultaneously majestic, and yet, oh-so humble, even verging on low self esteem. Little Big Dog:

We are not worthy of a belly rub from the Master!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Crude Psychic Maps of Postmodern Barbarians

One of the underlying themes of Pieper's Faith, Hope, Love is the loss of meaning that has occurred with respect to certain words that are of critical importance to the spiritual journey (which we touched on in last Wednesday's post). When this happens, it is analogous to certain features of a map being erased, or perhaps like a painting that gradually begins to fade.

Conversely, thanks to language, the map of (•) --> O can be as detailed as a google map that shows the address of every saint and sage along the way. Christianity has been here for a long time, and Western civilization even longer. And the Transdimensional Order of the Cosmic Raccoon is so venerable that it disappears into the mists of the mid-twentieth century.

That's a lot of map making. But with the gradually increasing materialization and quantification of our culture over the past several centuries, it is very much the case that our exterior maps are more detailed than ever, even while the interior ones have become sketchy and impoverished at best.

I say "at best" because when a map loses its features, it becomes a kind of canvas for the psyche to project upon. Prior to the development of systematic scientific discovery -- the discovery of discovery -- the situation was the reverse, in that our exterior maps were vehicles of psychic projection. People projected all sorts of mind parasites in the form of mythical beasts beyond the boundaries of the known world. It is similar to how liberals imagine that anyone outside their familiar territory is a greedy, racist, and homophobic monster, as seen below in the depiction of conservatives swimming beyond the shore of academia and the MSM:

I remember Terence McKenna discussing this in a lecture. He said that early spiritual adventurers were analogous to worldly explorers, in the sense that their first reports are very empirical, and discuss the flora, fauna, and climate of the region. Only with repeated testimony are we able to put the reports together and create something like a useable map. In other words, if one explorer has described the landscape of El Salvador, it won't be helpful to the person who lands, say, at Plymouth Rock.

Obviously, the problem is only more complex in the multidimensional world of the human subject. Here we confront Hayek's "knowledge problem," in that we are also dealing with a non-linear system that has an infinite amount of information. Imagine trying to "map the economy." We can do it, but only with very crude statistics such as GNP, or money supply, or rate of inflation. And no one can say how the variables will interact in real time, so the system is fundamentally unpredictable. Nor do these statistics say anything about particular individuals, and certainly not about their interior states.

People who are "surprised" that Al Gore should leave his wife are simply naive about the unpredictable nature of the complex system of the psyche -- very similar to those loons and crackpots who think they can predict what the weather will be like in a hundred years.

Now, it is impossible to navigate in the absence of a map, of some kind of representation of reality, even it is just the sun or stars. In the absence of a map, one can only wander this way and that. This is doubly true of a human life, in that, if you don't know where you're going, you're sure to get there. Alternatively, if you don't change directions, you're likely to end up where you're headed.

In space there are six directions, north, south, east, west, up, and down. In psychic space, all orthodox traditions testify to the existence an enduring world of vertical space that has an up and down, which is represented on our map by Ø <-- (•) --> O. But there are many well known features between (•) and O, on the one hand, and between (•) and Ø on the other.

The problem is, modern man has tossed aside the most useful maps of this territory, which condemns him to drifting around in hyperspace like a born again caveman following his appetites. In so doing, he is "discovering" things that were well known by our furbears, and, more often than not, confusing these mere features of the landscape with the destination. Not only that, but the postmodern neanderthal, or proglodyte, often confuses a psychic hellhole with a vacation spot, or even a place to set up permanent residence.

The modern university is testimony to this kind of perverse mapmaking. At the very least, spending four years at one of these institutions should result not just in a diploma -- or license to steal -- but in an adequate map of reality in order to conduct safe passage on the human journey.

But again, more often than not, the university graduate emerges with a map that is even worse than the one he came in with (cf. Obama). He will quite literally not know up from down or inside from out or Israel from Iran. For example, to internalize deconstruction is to say that there are really no objective maps, that all the maps are based upon power, and that the map means anything one wishes it to mean.

Or, to internalize materialism is to say that there are no interior maps at all. Rather, if we can only obtain a detailed enough map of the exterior, that will automatically map the interior as well. Multiculturalism insists that the human map has no up or down, while moral relativism says that one man's map is another man's toilet paper (and vice versa).

As the old wise crack goes, the leftist dreams of systems so perfect, that no one will need to be good. This is no joke, for the essence of their pneumapathology resides in their defective map making -- the belief that all human problems can be located on their exterior map, and have nothing to do with morality. Problem with capitalism? It's a few greedy fat cats on Wall Street, as Obama said a couple of days ago. Problem with poverty? It has nothing whatsoever to do with the behavior of people who remain in poverty. There is no "map to success," such as staying in school, avoiding illegal drugs, and not having children out of wedlock.

Anyway, back to Pieper. In discussing human virtue, he is really describing the landscape between (•) and O, using detailed maps that have been preserved and developed over the past 2000 years or more. Again, virtue is "the steadfastness of man's orientation toward the realization of his nature, that is, toward good" and "an ennobling of man's nature that entirely surpasses what he 'can be' of himself."

To say that our orientation to the transcendental good allows us to surpass ourselves, is another way of saying that human beings are uniquely privileged to participate in the divine nature, so that the human adventure is ultimately a journey from image to likeness. This is where virtue, truth, meaning, happiness, and joy are all situated.

To be continued.....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Setting Up Camp On the Sacred Mountain and Enjoying the View

Now that this post has been written, it seems to me to be more of a summary and consolidation of our little journey so far. It is as if we have set up camp and are enjoying the view, as we rest in preparation for our next assault upon on the summit. So get a good night's rest, and we'll break camp tomorrow.

As we have been discussing, the now-and-not yet of (•) --> O maps the human journey from outer to inner and existence to essence, toward the Being without whom our life is not real. It is why we're here, because in the absence this sufficient reason, there is no other way to explain why this journey exists, nor why it is so universal (cf. The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World's Wisdom).

To try to account for this trajectory on wholly naturalistic grounds is analogous to affirming that eyes exist but that vision doesn't. But if vision exists, it is surely in order to see. And if (•) --> O occurs, it is in order to evolve, specifically, in faith, hope, and love toward the true, good, and beautiful, respectively (although the categories are all interlinked in an organic manner).

The very possibility of truth, love, and beauty only exists because O casts a shadow back in time (or down in vertical space, if you prefer). These three transcendentals (the good, true, and beautiful) -- or their "degrees," to be precise -- are all located on the right side of our Ø <-- (•) --> O schematic. Conversely, sin, falsehood, ugliness, Helen Thomas -- each of these may be located on the left hand side. Human choice, i.e., free will, is located at that vertical innersection between O and Ø.

This is simply a truism, even for the atheist, for surely the atheist -- we're being charitable here -- wishes to move "closer" to truth and to avoid "falling" into error? Or to be a "good person," not a flaming assoul? This is not something that can be said of any other animal, which simply is what it is, a stationary point in the fabric of existence. No pig fails to achieve the essence of pighood, not even Rosie O'Donnell.

Now, as Pieper explains, "the 'way' of man leads to death." You could even say that death is his ultimate meaning, since it is where he accidently came from and where he necessarily returns at the conclusion of this fleeting absurdity known as Life. There is simply no avoiding the fact that the life of natural man bears upon death and therefore nothingness.

That being the case, there is no rational basis for hope, faith, nobility, justice, or anything else, really. I don't mind the atheists who are honest about this. It's the ones who try to wrench truth, goodness or beauty from Ø that are so annoying and childish. But as a psychotic patient of mine once said, "you can only get so much blood from a turnip." And you can get bupkis from Ø, precisely.

Even the atheist must concede that the life of the believer bears upon something transcending death, even if he insists that the latter isn't real. The believer sees this target and tries to hit it, while the atheist insists that there is no target to hit (even while absurdly maintaining that atheism is the only real target, and that those who fail to hit it are in error).

Man's journey is rooted in the reality of time. If, as some physicists say, time were just a "stubborn illusion" or a mere quantitative measure, then (•) --> O would not be possible. But as Pieper explains, "man's 'way' is 'temporality.' Time, in fact, exists only in reference to the transitoriness of man." And we can only know this because a part of us -- our spirit -- stands "above" time.

I should immediately amend that statement, because in reality, spirit is not a "part," but our essence. In an analogy used by Steinsaltz, the soul is not a point, but a "continuous line of spiritual being" that stretches from the general source (O) to "the specific body of a particular person," (•).

You could say that this is the lifeline that God tosses down into our existence. It is not only the source of our wholeness, but its very ground and possibility. An assoul is precisely someone who is not a whole but an a-hole. Nor is he the existential hole that only spirit can fill, but already full of himself.

You could say that O is Absolute Being, where essence and existence are one (or not-two). In contrast, man is "not his own essence." Rather, "his essence is 'in the process of becoming."

But there can be no real becoming for the man oriented to Ø , who is "imprisoned in nothingness." Even so, being that man is condemned to freedom, turning toward death and nothingness is a choice -- a choice which, ironically, wouldn't even be possible unless its alternative were a real possibility as well. To say that "free will exists in order to choose nothing" is really to say that free will doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.

Here is how Pieper describes the human situation, as we hang suspended between O and Ø : "The whole span of creaturely existence between being and nothingness can never be understood, then, as though the relationship to nothingness were simply to be assigned equal rank with the relationship to being -- or were even to be ranked before or above it" (Pieper).

Rather, Ø is only even possible because it is a function of O, just as falsehood cannot exist in the absence of truth, or ugliness without beauty. Ø is "parasitic" on O, so to speak, as death is parasitic on Life.

Therefore, the human adventure "is not a directionless back-and-forth between being and nothingness." Rather, "it leads toward being and away from nothingness; it leads to realization, not annihilation, although this realization is 'not yet' fulfilled and the fall into nothingness is 'not yet' impossible" (Pieper).

Which is why both existential despair and its useless sister, certainty of salvation, "are in conflict with the truth of reality" (ibid.), and not befitting the magnanimous gentleman who is going places in this life. With the fear and trembling appropriate to such a steep climb.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spiritual Words and the Realities To Which They Refer

In the Book, I addressed the problem of language vis-a-vis Spirit, something that doesn't seem to trouble my competitors. But ultimately, this is the reason why I came up with those annoying pneumaticons, so that we don't pretend we know what we're talking about just because we have a word for it; or, alternatively, to avoid distorting the reality in question because of accretions and associations that eventually change or saturate the original meaning of the word -- the way the left, for example, has totally distorted the plain meaning of the Constitution.

Because of the fluid and dynamic nature of language, this happens all the time. Language is constantly adapting to new realities as they emerge. In a metaphor Terence McKenna once used, it is as if mankind pours language over the world it encounters, so there is a constant dialectic between language and world. But we can be forced to adapt to a world in such away that it eclipses other worlds.

This is especially problematic for domains that transcend the senses, since language is not necessarily well adapted to them. It is potentially well adapted (or at least adequately so), but again, it is entirely possible for a person to deploy religious terms and concepts without having had any experience whatsoever of the realities to which they refer.

And critically, this doesn't only apply to atheists, but to theists as well. For example, any yahoo can attend a theological seminary and learn the lingo -- i.e., memorize the map. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the person has actually experienced the realities to which the map refers.

Alternatively, it is possible for a person to have genuine contact with higher worlds, but to lack a stable and specific language to communicate it to others. When this happens, you can end up with occultists and cranks who come up with their own eccentric system to map the spiritual realm. There is often some truth to these maps, but they usually die with the person who came up with them, although a small and devoted cult may linger on. (Or sometimes they can just make the shit up, a la L. Ron Hubbard, in order to dupe people who know no better.)

In our materialistic and quantitative age, we see how language has adapted to this new reality to the exclusion of the real and enduring world of perennial human values. And while religion is supposed to be the guardian and transmitter of these values, it too has become increasingly materialized along with the culture, so that religion ends up in the polarized, worldly forms of "liberation theology," on the one hand, and a literal minded fideism on the other. Each of these is a result of the materialization of the psyche, so that this type of religion no longer refers to the transcendent source of religion (nor does it adequately map the familiar signposts and landmarks of the spiritual journey).

The symbolic scheme we have been discussing in recent posts -- Ø <-- (•) --> O -- goes directly to this issue. As I mentioned yesterday, the two sides of the schematic represent two completely different (but interpenetrating) worlds, Ø and O. You could say that science and logic map the left hand world, while theology, mysticism, ethics, intellection (gnosis), and aesthetics map the right. Naturally, a complete account of reality requires both sides. But unfortunately, most people seem to come down on one side or the other, and then use one side to map and describe the other.

Again, this generates foolishness for both atheists and theists. In short, materialists try to reduce O to Ø, while certain religious types try to map Ø with O, which just doesn't work -- cf. the Islamic world.

Having said that, the (sane) theist is always closer to Reality than the atheist, since the atheist doesn't even acknowledge Reality in all its fullness. Furthermore, to suggest that O could be derived from, and fully explained by, Ø is philosophical and metaphysical nonsense. Rather, Ø is clearly a creation -- or prolongation, if you like -- of O, although, at the same time, it is a relatively autonomous domain that is governed by its own set of rules.

But it should go without saying that these rules are not absolute, otherwise there would be no way to "escape" them. In other words, the cosmos would be a closed system with no interior. But because Ø is a prolongation or involution of O, the cosmos is a vertically open system that bears upon its transcendent source.

If this were not the case, then religion -- not to mention self-consciousness, truth, beauty, virtue -- would all be strictly impossible. Ø is ultimately in O, not vice versa. Or, to be precise, O is immanent in Ø, while simultaneously transcending it. Things can be no other way and still be.

Along these lines, Walt referred me to a statement by J.G. Bennett that conforms to this line of thought. He notes that in contemporary times, many people have lost their innate sense of the vast difference between Ø and O, and how our whole life depends upon whether we -- or (•) -- are oriented to one or the other. What this ultimately means is that contemporary horizontal man has lost the very point of his life, its sufficient reason.

Anyway, Bennett wrote that "I suppose this is not a very serious conflict for most people," and that "they do not feel it matters one way or the other because life has to be lived just the same."

But (•) is confronted with this very choice; before him "there are two very different kinds of lives. Man is just a machine among machines, but a machine that can be free, can be not a machine. This would not be possible if there were not different levels of existence. On one level of existence, man is a machine living among machines; on another level of existence, there is the possibility of freedom. There are two worlds open to man -- not one world far away and one here, but two worlds both here."

This is why the theological virtues we have been discussing -- faith, hope and love -- only apply to O, not to Ø. Indeed, applied to the latter, they are no longer virtuous; and not just because horizontal man collapses spirit to matter, but because it represents a kind of ontological insanity to place one's hope in matter, or to have faith in natural man, i.e., the human animal.

Also, to collapse O to Ø is the end of the human journey, period. Of course there will still be "movement" -- or agitation -- but it would be absurd to suggest that it's ultimately going anywhere but sideways. Progress of any kind implies a nonlocal end, or telos, that guides the constituent parts toward their purpose, or reason for being.

For a proper human being, O is his telos, and life is unthinkable without it. All of the most interesting and rewarding -- thrilling, even -- features of reality are situated on the (•) --> O side of the oquation (living there also makes everything down in Ø much more interesting and meaningful). I can't even imagine what it would be like to be exiled from O and condemned to Ø . What a grind that would be, with no way to breath the cool, spacious, celestial mountain air of heaven.

But to paraphrase Schuon, it is as if modern man is compressed and frozen under a thick sheet of ice; or alternatively, his essence is dissipated outward toward the periphery. The only way out of this dilemma is to fasten the will to one's highest aspiration and to become a truly free and magnanimous spirit, a Cʘʘn among men.

To be continued....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Almighty B'ob, Master of Trolls

I dreamt that the Celtics thumped the Lakers tonight. Let's hope that this was not a pre-cognitive dream, and that Petey was just messing with me again. I actually woke up with a lump in my throat. I'm still bitter about Don Nelson's shot in game seven of the 1969 finals.

One other trivial item I want to mention. The other day I read a review of Christopher Hitchens' new memoir, in which it mentioned that he writes 1,000 words a day. That got me to wondering. How many words does Bob write? I checked a few of my posts, and they all came in at over 1,000 words. Being that I have written some 1500 posts, that means well over a million words.

And now you know why the arkive will never be organized, and why a second book is probably impossible. Unless I can find a way to cap this underwater gusher, but I have no idea how to do that. First I need Dupree to tell me whose ass to kick.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. If we're going to seriously or even jocularly employ the Ø <-- (•) --> O schematic, the first thing we need to recognize is that (•) --> O is impossible and even unthinkable in the absence of the reverse flow of (•) <-- O, or grace. In fact, to think otherwise is one of those intrinsic heresies we've been gabbing about. And when I say "intrinsic," I mean that it is an error not just for a theology, but theology as such.

To put it another way, to the extent that one imagines that one can successfully approach God unaided and on one's own, this represents the most rank form of cosmic chutzpah and spiritual grandiosity, because it is really just a roundabout way of saying that you are God -- which, in a certain sense, you are (as is everything else, so it qualifies as a truism).

But this hardly means that the converse is true, that God is you. To paraphrase something Schuon said, before you can declare "I AM THAT," you had better realize the extent to which DUDE, NO WAY AM I THAT! Communion is only possible in separation, just as ignorance is a prerequisite of knowledge. Spiritually speaking, the peace, quiet, and openness of (o) and (---) are prior to (n). Or, first faith, then knowledge, faith being a kind of preconceptual foreknowledge.

The left and right sides of my schematic are literally different universes, which is why to be born again from above only changes everything.

Speaking of which, would it not be accurate to say that those readers who fundamentally mis- and disunderstand what I'm saying have not been so reborn, and that they are therefore trying to understand O through Ø -- that the left side doesn't know what the right side is doing? If this is the case, it would certainly explain the intrinsic stupidity of their questions and observations, would it not?

(And as always, I mean this literally, not as an insult. If you are being cosmically stupid, it is an act of mercy for someone to point it out to you. You needn't get sore about it. No one knows who you are. We're just goofing on you for the purposes of higher insultainment. Whack!)

Imagine, for example, a devoted reader who obsessively pores over each and every post, and still cannot penetrate the hull and reach the kernel. He says -- oh, I don't know, "but Bob, that's illogical!" What's really going on here? What if this person isn't only a malevolent, parochial, joyless, and ill-tempered troll, but is honestly confused. What to do? How to help him?

Well, first of all, is it not obvious that Bob cannot help such a person, since Bob may be qualified to be a nursemaid or au pair for a short time but certainly not your cosmic midwife? In a manner of speaking, of course. In other words, exactly who vested in me this power to awaken others from their spiritual slumber? I have never represented myself as some kind of "guru" or "spiritual master," and never will. All I know for certain is that some people say they benefit from these public verticalisthenic exercises in self-help. And that some say they don't benefit. But why the latter keep coming back is a bit puzzling.

For those who do benefit from my improvisational cogitations, I think we would find that, to a person, it is because they have already been -- however you wish to coonceptualize it -- "born again from above," so that their principial orientation is to O, not Ø (and certainly not to me, God forbid!). So for a premetanoiacal troll to ask me for answers I can never provide is a priori evidence of a problem I can't help them with, since -- for the benefit of morons and imbeciles, not regular readers -- I am not O. Rather, for the Raccoon, vertical re-orientation and grace are everything. We are not deus-it-oursophers.

I've mentioned this before, but I'm thinking of when a Christian student came to Schuon for guidance. He said words to the effect of, "fine. But just remember: Christ is your Master. So in response to that flurry of asinine questions and comments yesterday, I suppose my first question to them would be, "who is your Master?" The answer to that question should automatically provide answers to the others.

It's a little startling to me how Pieper's and Zizioulas' books are lining up on this discussion. I keep going back and forth between one and the other, and it's as if the two are conversing in my head. I find it fascinating that one of our trolls persistently mischaracterizes our position as one of certitude and finality, when precisely the opposite is true. Only the atheist has that kind of bovine certitude. Again, for the person in (•) --> O, we are always on the way, never at our final deustination.

In this regard, Pieper has a fascinating discussion about the delicate balance required of the already but not yet, and the various vices and sins that result from over- or underemphasizing one side or the other. In other words, the "already" implies a kind of certitude, while the "not yet" implies imperfection, progress, doubt, "seeing through a glass darkly," etc.

He begins by defining the nature of virtue, which is "the enhancement of the human person in a way befitting his nature." Virtue involves "the most a man can be," but again, it is always more of an orientation than an accomplishment. It is "the steadfastness of man's orientation toward the realization of his nature, that is, toward good." I cannot imagine a clearer description of (•) --> O.

But again, as alluded to above, (•) --> O is impossible, precisely. Rather, "theological virtue is an ennobling of man's nature that entirely surpasses what he 'can be' of himself" (emphasis mine). It is "the steadfast orientation toward a fulfillment and a beatitude that are not 'owed' to natural man," a transnatural "potentiality for being" that is "grounded in a real, grace-filled participation in the divine nature..."

Although Pieper is, of course, speaking in a Christian context, it is difficult to imagine a better description of the (•) <-- O that must complement (•) --> O if we are to get anywhere, vertically speaking. (Alternatively, one could simply say, no ↓, no ↑.) And memo to trolls: stop trying to make me your ↓, and get a Master -- and a clue. Then perhaps you'll understand what's going on here.

That's 1150 words. To be continued tomorrow....

This is important enough to embed. It describes what happens when a nation loses contact with O:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Atheism: There's Nothing To It!

No one commented on my little schematic the other day, but it really does tell the whole story about faith, hope, and love, and about man's ontological situation in general. To simplify it, we could just say (and please don't be put off by the symbols, which shouldn't be difficult to understand, but which will accumulate meaning through their use):




That's you in the middle (•), right between Nothing (Ø) below and the Absolute (O) above. But existence is never static, therefore you are always moving in one direction or the other, even if you're not trying. (One thinks of the three gunas of Vedic metaphysics, which convey the idea that human beings are always rising, falling, or expanding with the cosmic winds; it is also interesting to note that these correlate with creation, destruction, and preservation -- i.e., the trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, respectively.)

Now, as we were saying yesterday, the Raccoon lives in the Light of the already but not yet. In contrast, the existentialist, the village atheist, the materialist, the secular leftist, the troll -- all try to live and navigate their lives in that beam of darkness we call Ø.

And please note, this is not some kind of insult or jab, but an objective account of their own acknowledged metaphysic. Any variety of materialism obviously reduces to nothing, unless you're just too stupid, frightened, or dishonest to draw out the ultimate implications of your first principle.

For a Raccoon, being is dependent upon O. Therefore, all reality is infused with the light and truth of O -- not to mention the beauty which is its penumbra.

Furthermore -- and we'll get more into this later -- just as truth is the light of O, I think we can all agree that love is its "warmth." But where there's heat there's light (and vice versa). Not for nothing does Genesis characterize carnal love as knowledge. Oops! He said a dirty world! But not really. Only if you forget about O. Indeed, you might even say that pornography is the sexuality of Ø.

Unless you are severely retarded and completely stuck in the now, your life is either oriented to O or Ø. To be oriented toward the former means to live in faith and hope, while to be oriented to the latter means to live in concrete. By definition it means that life is hopeless, and that there is no reason whatsoever to have "faith." You already know your future and final end, which is death and nothing more.

But since you know the future, the future infuses the now, which is why you have that damned hellhound on your trail. Everything you do and think is just a distraction from the reality of Ø, and you know it. You are constantly receiving "visitations" from your hopeless future, from the black angel of Death, which is why you have created your Death Culture (in other words your frantic denial of Death always contains traces of Death, precisely.)

I hope this isn't going too slow, but I can only proceed at the rhythm of O.

Everything in the cosmos -- with the exception of the human being -- simply "is what it is," and nothing more. But a human being always lives in the "not yet." Only a human being is aware of time, and therefore stands outside or above it (while still being in it, of course). Thus, as Pieper explains, this "not yet" is a janus-faced thingy which "includes both a negative and a positive element: the absence of fulfillment [Ø] and the orientation toward fulfillment [O]."

Pieper further explains that the former orientation results in a closer "proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things."

In other words, the Raccoon is quite aware of Ø, which is a necessary condition of existence, of a creation separate from the Creator. This is important to appreciate, because while horizontal man does not recognize O, the Raccoon actually acknowledges the "reality" (so to speak, i.e., the relative reality) of the materialist's god, Ø.

To put it another way, you could say that Ø is simply the ultimate destination of man's fallenness. Zizioulas explains this well, noting that the state of fallen existence involves "the rupture between Being and Communion," or between O and ʘ, and therefore resulting in (•) and even worse.

Let me explain in more detail, or put some flesh on those bony pneumaticons. Zizioulas notes that "the fall of man -- and for that matter, sin -- is not to be understood as bringing about something new," since "there is no creative power in evil."

Rather, this fall -- and it really is a "fall," from verticality to horizontality -- should be understood as "revealing and actualizing the limitations and potential dangers inherent in creaturehood, if creation is left to itself." This is because if man denies O, he makes himself "the ultimate point of reference in existence," which is to say, he will "become like God," authorized to determine for himself what is good and what is evil. In merging with Ø, he is the god of all nothingness, or a king in hell.

And that's how you end up at MSNBC.

Now any form of materialism -- I hope this isn't too obvious -- necessarily makes Ø the ultimate frame of reference, but this ends -- and must end -- in fragmentation, the impossibility of truth, and hatred of the Other (who also rightfully claims to be God, the bastard!). Why is this? Because "the fall consists in the refusal to make being dependent on communion, in a rupture between truth and communion" (Zizioulas).

In order to understand why this must be so, you must see that Truth is prior to Being. If Being is prior to Truth -- as existentialists believe -- then the simple fact of your (•) becomes the ultimate substance of truth. In other words, your so-called truth actually emanates from Ø. And you don't "commune" with this truth so much as sink into it and dissolve, nothing to Nothing. You are just one fragmented object among an infinite number of others. Frankly, you're a leftist, but we won't get into that. I just want to make sure Stevenonymous is paying obsessive attention.

But if the essence of existence is communion -- and therefore Love -- then your union with truth and reality, O, is prior to your alienation, or fall, from it.

Which is again where faith and hope -- and, of course, love -- come in, which are nothing more than orientation toward reality, or O.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Future is Now Because Now is Not Yet

Continuing our discussion of the theological virtue of hope. As we mentioned yesterday, hope is thoroughly entangled with the idea that we are on a journey. But this journey is obviously not to a physical destination. Rather, "it refers to the innermost structure of created nature," and is the "inherent 'not yet' of the finite being." Human being means being on the way to humanness -- or to fully realized human personhood, to be precise.

This gets a little complicated, but the fact that we are created simultaneously introduces the possibility of hope and of hopelessness, depending upon whether we turn toward or away from our source. Ironically, the man who imagines himself to be wholly self-sufficient turns away from this source and necessarily falls into a kind of loveless nihilism (or at least that is its tendency and end). The existential price for this denial and refusal is what we might call hell.

Let me see if I can back up and explain this more clearly. As it so happens, I'm reading another important book at the same time, Being as Communion. Pieper's Faith, Hope, Love was so fraught with implications, that I needed to put it down for awhile and assimilate what I'd read so far.

But this book is equally profound, plus it is resonating with the other one in such a way that they are feeding off one another and creating a luminous arc in the space between them, i.e., in my melon. Thus the need to post on Saturday and Sunday to try to keep up with the flow of (n). As always, this verticalisthenic exercise is as much for me as it is for readers. It's probably a little sloppy as well, but at least it's completely half baked.

Anyway, Zizioulas writes that "the being of God is a relational being," so that "without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God." It seems that many theologians have failed to properly draw out the implications of the Trinity, for its immediate implication is that God cannot be a "substance"; or, to be precise, the substance would be posterior to the essence, which is pure relation -- a relation that ultimately reduces to love.

I remember when I was a child and forced to attend Sunday school, on the wall in large gold letters was the statement GOD IS LOVE. Of course it made no sense to a child, and as I grew older it just seemed like sentimental nonsense.

But in reality, this conclusion was a result of the daring and sophisticated thinking of the early fathers, which transformed God from a remote and abstract substance to the very essence and possibility of personhood. The latter is in sharp contrast to mere biological humanness, which is given to us by nature. Real personhood is intrinsically transnatural and can only be conferred from on high (which is why in order to progress along the path, one must be "born again from above").

I'm not sure if Zizioulas' ideas are controversial, but they absolutely resonate in me, vis-a-vis my own ghostly spookulations regarding the intersubjectively trinitarian nature of the developing psyche. A human being is irreducibly intersubjective. I'm not going to make a rehash of the entire argument here, as it is covered in detail in the book. Suffice it to say that our own mysterious intersubjectivity is an analogue of God's interior life, so that to be means to be in relation. There is no being without relation, not even in God:

"There is no true being without communion. Nothing exists as an 'individual,' conceivable in itself. Communion is an ontological category" (Zizioulas).

To turn it around, to deny this ontological communion is to eradicate the person at the root. Thus, any kind of materialistic metaphysic that crudely regards man as a self-enclosed thing is nothing less than ontological genocide. There is no scientistic way to get from the biological human to the unique person whose being is loving interior relation.

The latter conception frees man from the "ontological necessity" that bounds him in the closed system of biology, and instead renders him an open system, both horizontally and vertically. Again, the Person is not "an adjunct to being, a category we add" to a supposedly more fundamental biological entity.

Rather, Personhood is itself the substance of being, both its principle and its (vertical) cause. Our substance -- and God's substance -- "never exists in a 'naked' state," the result being that we may affirm that real personhood is an uncreated mode. It is intrinsic to God, and given to us -- if we accept it. (Interestingly, Zizioulas derives our own absolute uniqueness from the uniqueness of the only begotten Son.)

If we choose not to accept it, we are essentially choosing our own ontological self-sufficiency. But again, the existentialists are correct that this radical freedom necessarily ends in nihilsm, so that the person becomes the negator of his own ontology, which is ultimately loving relation. Zizioulas:

"It thus becomes evident that the only exercise of freedom in an ontological manner is love.... Love is not an emanation or 'property' of the substance of God," a "secondary property of being." Rather, love constitutes God's being, and is his very "mode of existence." Which in turn introduces the human dilemma, which is "either freedom as love, or freedom as negation."

So, what is the proper relation between the biological human and the post-biological person, or between the old man and the new? As Zizioulas suggests, it implies a "movement, a progress toward realization" rooted in hope.

You might say that for vertical man, his personal roots are aloft, his biological leaves and branches down below. Thus, the person is "maintained and nourished, by the future. The truth and the ontology of the person belong to the future," and "are images of the future."

This speaks to the paradoxical position of vertical man, that of "already but not yet." For to draw our substance from the above is to draw it from the future, so that both are in a sense already here -- as they say, the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth, but men do not see it. Not with their biological eyes, anyway.