Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Happy Hour is Now

We're almost finished with the the subject of faith, which is a good thing, because I gotta get out of here on time. No time to even spielcheck.

Yesternow's takeaway point is that just as nature speaks to man in the form of scientific knowledge, being speaks to him in the form of revelation.

And the latter speaks to us specifically because we are creatures, and therefore "receive" our being from elsewhere and elsewhom. Obviously, we do not create our own being, for only the Creator can do that. To be sure, we can create, but we cannot create something from nothing, or being from non-being.

As soon as I start talking about "being," I feel as if I'm heading into fog-enshrouded Heidegger land, so let's be more clear. No, let's allow Pieper to be more clear: creaturehood means "to be continually receiving being and essence from the divine Source and Creator..." I would trancelight this to mean that our formal and final causes are vertical, while our material and efficient causes are horizontal, more or less.

This is one of the things that distinguishes Judeo-Christian metaphysics from, say, Islam, where there is only vertical causation, or bonehead atheism, where there is only horizontal causation.

In this regard, it is important to bear in mind that cause and effect needn't be linear, as in past-to-future. I think this confuses some people who have difficulty grasping the reality of the vertical, where cause and effect are simultaneous, "as when the stories of a building, or rungs on a ladder, or books in a pile each rest on the one below it" (Kreeft).

Not all causes are prior in time. While they are in time, their source is in the timeless. This is how I would regard the vertical transmissions known as revelation, which are really interoffice memos from Self to self, i.e., higher to lower. Thus, in reality, "revelation" is occurring all the time, nor could it ever not occur. The only way it could not occur would be to detach existence from being, but that is like trying to remove the waves from the ocean. Good luck with that.

Conversely, it is possible, in a certain sense, to "remove the ocean from the waves," but that is not the Raccoon way. The idea is to articulate and enjoy our full waviness, and to know that we are dependent upon the ocean without dissolving into it.

This task is never complete, for the reason that existence can never become being -- or, creature cannot become Creator. Pieper: "Unlike the works made by man, which at some given moment are 'finished,' creaturely things remain infinitely malleable because they can never become independent of the force of the Creator who communicates being to them." At no point do we cease being "clay 'in the potter's hand.'"

Which is a critical point vis-a-vis Genesis 2 in particular and revelation in general. God forms man from the "dust in the ground" now; he gives him the "breath of life" now; he makes him a living being now. Again, as we have said on many occasions, scripture is not just about what happened "once upon a time," but what happens every time, which is to say, every moment, i.e., once upin a timeless.

This is where a great deal of confusion enters, but as indicated above, revelation is primarily about vertical causation, not horizontal. As we were saying yesterday, man has no need of God's direct intervention where his own faculties suffice. Being that we are horizontal creatures, we have no great difficulty discerning horizontal causes.

Indeed, we can trace them all the way back to the first moment of creation, with the Big Bang. But that is only the first horizontal moment. It has nothing to do with the vertical causation that continues taking place at every moment. An exclusive focus on horizontal causation can be extremely misleading, to say the least.

It is only because of vertical causation that truly fundamental change is possible. Let's take, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous, which is able to save hopeless drunks when nothing else works. What are its first principles? I forget. Let me look them up. Here:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Look at what this means, and how beautifully it lines up with everything we have been saying. The person first acknowledges that they are completely lost and helpless in the world of horizontal causes. But they place their faith in a vertical cause that can "restore them to sanity," or wholeness and harmony.

Note that they do not even name it at first. Rather, it is just pure O, a "power greater then ourselves." But this first step is necessary in order to re-establish that vital link between the above and below, and to get things flowing again. No coincidence whatsoever that booze is called "spirits." That being the case, one must be respectful of this God-given slackrament, and never make of it a god in itself. It is only a means, not an end. Do as Toots says, not as he did.

Now, this communication, or vertical causation, of which we speak is none other than grace in the broadest sense, or (↓). Please note that this is also the "cause" of our wholeness, or "oneness." Cut off from grace, even if we are not an animal, we will be riven by splits in the psyche, and perpetually driven or pulled this way and that.

In this regard, I was intrigued by this lengthy meditation on Christopher Hitchens by David Horowitz. I have no interest in kicking a man when he is down, even though Hitchens took great sadistic pleasure in doing so to others. Rather, I just want to make a greater point about what happens to someone who declares war on vertical causation.

Although Hitchens aspired "to moral authenticity" in his own way, he actually wanted to "have it both ways": “It is as though he sees his own double-dealing as a rather agreeable versatility -- as testimony to his myriad-mindedness rather than as a privileged, spoilt-brat desire (among other things) to hog it all.... Characteristically, Hitchens embraces the contradiction, making no effort to hide his desire to have it both ways, and making constant references to his 'two-track system' and 'double-entry books.'"

Come to think of it, we're also talking about an alcoholic, aren't we? I'm guessing that alcohol temporarily healed the splits in his psyche, so that his "double entry books" were briefly reconciled at the end of the day -- right around happy hour. But the unhappy hour of horizontal exile always returns. See Genesis 3 for details.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Birds Gotta Sing and Bob's Gotta Blog

In order for revelation to be possible, the situation is not all that different from the ontological requirements of science; which is to say that there must be a knower, something knowable, and knowledge. Or, one could say subject, object, and truth.

Even leaving God out of the equation, this is an extremely odd situation to be in, and one must be a curiously incurious fellow to just leave it at that -- as if truth and subjects and intelligible objects are not extremely weird things. For me, they are the most important facts of the cosmos.

As I just said, in terms of structure, what we call revelation is not all that different from science, the only difference being that the revealer wishes to be known; unlike mother nature, he is not totally passive and doesn't just lie there. As I mentioned in the book, in order for science to occur, human beings must be open systems (cognitively speaking) on the horizontal plane. And in order for revelation to occur (or to be perceived), we must be open systems on the vertical axis. What's the big deal?

As Pieper explains it, in order for revelation to be possible, man must understand himself "as a being by nature open to the divine speech, capable of being reached by it." Again, this is hardly an outrageous claim, especially if we appreciate how weird the situation already is with regard to our ability to know scientific truth.

For Pieper, the fact of science flows from our receptivity to "the obvious reality of the world" (obvious to some, anyway). In contrast, revelation has more to do with "receptivity to Being" as such." And who says Being is not intelligible? It seems arbitrary to say that existence speaks to man, but that the deeper source of existence -- Being -- doesn't.

Pieper goes on to say that "this cognitive apprehension of reality can be considered as a form of hearing divine speech, since things, by virtue of their origin in the creative Logos of God, themselves possess a 'verbal character.'" Many if not most people are capable of perceiving this fact even in the absence of what goes by the name of official "Revelation," that is, what in Vedanta is called śruti , or the sacred texts that come directly from the Divine.

What I mean is that, once you get the picture, you understand the sacredness of the entire Creation, since it too is a logoistic form of Divine speech -- which we can, of course, understand, and not just through science. Rather, the beauty of creation speaks to us quite directly, in a way that bypasses cognition. It's just that the world is a more "general" revelation, if you will, that doesn't address itself specifically to the human mind in terms of what it really needs to know, i.e., how to live, how to treat others, what God is like, what he expects of us, etc.

This is why, as Schuon writes, revelation is characterized "by its tendency to deny all that does not concern man as such." And this is precisely where a lot of misunderstanding slips in, especially from the malevolent and/or stupid. For example, take the account of human origins given to us in Genesis. Whatever one thinks of its historical basis, that is really beside the point. Rather, the point is to reveal to man perennial truths about himself and about God.

We won't get into all of those truths here, because the document is obviously quite rich and dense (plus, there are already many posts on the subject). But dis- and misunderstandings arise when we forget that it really isn't supposed to be an instruction manual for things that do not concern man as such. For one thing, man is not in need of God's direct intervention where his own faculties suffice. Man can discover endless things about the cosmos without any direct meddling from God.

Just so, there are certain things he will never understand, and which will always puzzle him in the absence of Revelation. God is a wise and appropriately hands-off parent, if you will. Like the parent of an adolescent, he gives you enough rope to "live and learn" on your own, but mainly wants you to know about certain easily foreseeable disasters.

Please understand the delicate situation God finds himself in with regard to a "perpetually adolescent" (at best) mankind. If you try to overly control the adolescent, he will either act out in a rebellious manner, or you will end up crushing his spirit. What's he supposed to do, suspend all the rules, so you find out the hard way and kill yourself in the process? Or, as in the Islamic world, impose rules so stringent that you can't even take a leak the wrong way without going to hell?

I think elsewhere Schuon has mentioned that there are three distinct forms of revelation, each a miracle in its own way. First, there is Revelation so-called. Next there is the creation -- and not just the fact that there is something instead of nothing, but that it's so beautiful and so true, which is to say, knowable in both heart and head.

And last but certainly not least is the miracle of the human subject, who serves as the bridge between God and creation. Indeed, if man didn't exist, God would have to invent him, otherwise there would be no link between "reality" and "world," which would make no sense, for it would be analogous to the creation of a language that no one will ever speak or hear, or a hierarchy with a top and bottom but no middle.

This goes back to the irreducibly Trinitarian nature of all reality, which is to say, the many permutations of Father-Son-Holy Spirit, such as Creator-creation-truth, or subject-object-knowledge, or God-man-love, etc. In fact, here is how Schuon describes our total cosmic situation: "The sufficient reason of the human state, its existential law, is to be a bridge between earth and Heaven, hence to 'realize God' to some degree or other" (emphasis mine). This involves simultaneously "leaving" the cosmos while still being in it -- or, of transcendence within immanence.

Take for example, oh, me, at this very moment. What is it exactly that I'm doing right now? Yes, typing. Yes, "thinking," in a manner of speaking. But in order to really understand what I'm doing here, we're going to have to have a little chat about the birds and the Bobs.

What I'm really doing -- or at least trying to do -- is exactly what Schuon describes. I'm just trying to build a little bridge between earth and heaven in order to understand God in my own way. As I have said on many occasions, the blog is really just a private "conversation" that I happen to allow others in on. But it is first and foremost the fruit of my own daily spiritual practice in attempting to strengthen that little bridge and establish a beachhead on the father shore.

That being the case, criticism doesn't bother me, because it's a little beside the point, to put it mildly, for it's like berating a flower for turning toward the sun, or haranguing a bird for singing when the sun's rays come into view each morning. A Bob's gotta do what a Bob's gotta do.

Oh my! Out of time. This song is over.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Let the Dead Bury the Tenured

I'm not sure if this post will have anything to do with the title, but it's where we left off on Friday, so it's fifty-fifty. We're still discussing faith, or belief, and have already explained how it is that everyone -- most especially, the tenured -- has faith, but that only the religious generally do so consciously (or are called to account for it).

In other words, the religious person explicitly says Yes to a set of first principles that cannot be proved in the usual way. To be sure, they can be proved, but as Schuon has noted, these types of metaphysical or ontological arguments are not the causes of certainty, only the consequences.

That is, I doubt if too many people are convinced of the reality of O through metaphysical argument, even though the arguments are, on their own plane, incapable of refutation. But to even get into a riposting contest with a skunk is beside the point, because the atheist's first principles are also irrefutable on their own plane, which begins with faith in those very principles, i.e., an act of will.

Or usually something a little deeper than faith, something more like feeling, or intuition. The bottom line is this: the believer just senses something more, while the unbeliever just senses "nothing."

Which is not a negative judgment; rather it is the affirmation of a feeling that there is just nothing there, and that it is therefore not worth the effort to entertain that hypothesis and venture down that avenue. Again, as Polanyi has discussed at length, this is really how all science proceeds -- with a feeling that this would be a potentially fruitful avenue of discovery, while that wouldn't be. (Or in the case of a corrupt science such as "climate change," that "this would be a remunerative avenue to pursue.")

Which is why I don't believe any truly visionary scientist -- say, Einstein -- would ever absolutely exclude the "God hypothesis," for he is far too respectful of the mystery of the cosmos. Plus, Einstein, as much as anyone, was aware of the danger of accepting the conventional wisdom of science as some kind of last word on the nature of reality. It was only because he explicitly rejected this last word that he was able to utter the "first words" of the relativity (and later quantum) revolution.

Schuon makes the additional critical point that ontological arguments for the existence of God do not so much appeal to the intellect as the substance . They will not be operative in a "mutilated intelligence" that is alienated from its own ground and substance.

For example, imagine a man who has convinced himself that reality may only be understood "quantitatively." In order to believe such a thing, the person must already be so far from the cosmic center -- and so lost at the periphery -- that such an explanation "satisfies" him. Note that last word: no matter how "quantitative" the person, no matter how big the nerd, he still has to be "satisfied" with the numbers, so that an element of "aesthetics," as it were, still enters through the back door.

The point is -- and ironically, both atheists and literalists will disagree with this -- that neither science nor theology can be "closed systems" in relation to metaphysics. Or, they can do this, but at the cost of certain inevitable absurdities. The atheist exploits these absurdities -- or splinters -- of exoteric religion in order to reject religion altogether, while failing to notice the beam in his own metaphysical eye.

I realize that I have a number of readers who are unashamed of being what are called "fundamentalists" or "literalists," and they are obviously welcome. But this blog is clearly not coming from that perspective, nor is it aimed at such readers. I am quite sure that there are thousands of such blogs catering to them, but ours serves an entirely different purpose.

For we say that revelation is not true because God revealed it; rather, we insist that God revealed it because it is true. In other words, truth is prior to revelation. Or, as we have expressed it in the past, the mischievous Raccoon always asks of this or that religious truth, by virtue of what principle?

For example, you say that the third person of the Trinity incarnated as the man Jesus. We say -- and not in a blasphemous way, mind you -- by virtue of what principle? Things only happen because it is possible for them to happen. Please note that we do not approach the question in the spiritually corrosive manner of the committed atheist or the "Jesus seminarians."

To the contrary. We do so in the spirit of Toots. Which, by the way, goes to the question some people ask of the B'ob, "hey, why don't you commit to one path, say Catholicism, as has Mrs. G?" One reason is that if I were to do this, it would too easy for the tenured to dismiss me as "just a Catholic thinker" instead of "just a crank blogger."

Anyway, Schuon makes the critical point that theology is in need of metaphysics, not necessarily for its own sake, but for the sake of the very people to whom it is addressed, which is only "everyone." And not all of the people to whom it is addressed are "simple people of faith," so to speak.

And when we say this, I'm sure you realize by now that we are not being the least bit coondescending. I can always relate to the "simple person of faith" much more compatibly than the "complicated person of no faith," because I can easily convert my language to that of the former, whereas this is basically impossible in the case of the latter, who have neither the interest nor the aptitude.

In contrast, many "simple believers" have the aptitude, but it just doesn't interest them all that much. Especially women, if I may make a broad generalization about broads. For example, Mrs. G enjoys and appreciates my writing, but I think it's safe to say that she enjoys going to communion much more. I mean, whatever you think of my writing, I will be the first to acknowledge that it can't do that. True, cut this blog, sir, and it bleeds my blood. But I do not commend it as a beverage.

So, just to wrap up this line of thought, I think it is especially important in this day and age -- the age of tenured stupidity -- to realize that a religion is not truly "complete" without a foundation in esoterism and metaphysics. If nothing else, failure to appreciate this leaves some gaping holes that secularists are just itching to exploit in order to make their adversaries look stupid.

As Schuon expresses it, exoteric religion has certain intellectual "fissures" that "only sacred science can fill lest the powers of darkness intrude." Only esoterism "possesses sufficient lights to face all possible objections and also to give a positive explanation of religion."

And please understand that this is hardly a bulletin. Rather, this is precisely what Thomas attempted -- and succeeded in doing -- with the Summa. In it, he made the bold attempt to integrate science, philosophy and revelation -- and to answer "all possible objections" in a perfectly sufficient manner.

But again: it is only sufficient to the person who hasn't already alienated himself from his own spiritual substance, not to the person who has placed his faith in matter or number or sensation or whatever. Only he who already bears the truth in his substance can recognize and "hear" it when it is given to him. And it can only be given, not imposed; just as it can only be rejected, not disproved.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

July Fourth Civics Lesson

So, 26 percent of Americans have no idea what country the United States fought in order to gain its independence. Perhaps they were just confused as to whether the questioner was referring to the past or the present, since this time around Americans are having to fight their own federal government in order to regain their independence.

What's much more disconcerting is that 44 percent of our Supreme Court justices haven't even read the Constitution. It makes you long for a "simpler" time, when Americans knew their own history, and when the average person knew just as much about the Constitution as Sonia Slowtocatchon or Ruth Boyare Gunsbad:

No offense, but I think we can do better than the Star Spangled Banner for a national anthem, starting with a melody that was actually made in America. Why an English drinking song? Why not an American drinking song? I mean, anything you want we got it right here in the USA:

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Cosmic Suite: Open Your Ears and Listen to Reality!

As mentioned in what turned out to be last Sunday's musical thread, I've long thought about devoting one post a week to the subject of music, since it is one of my three favorites of the seven slackraments of Raccoon life.

One commenter said something to the effect that music was the one thing that had kept them connected to spirit during their years of wandering in the absurcular desert. I was probably the same way. The attraction to music itself was a kind of mystery that demanded an explanation: how can we be so deeply attracted to, and moved by, something that has no evolutionary utility whatsoever? Yes, yes, there is a Darwinian explanation for everything: short, plausible, and wrong, so let's move on.

Anyway, feel free to consider this an open thread. I'm just going to begin blah blah blogging as usual, except instead of free associating in the realm of language, I'm going to switch octaves and improvise in the key of music. More often than not, this is a hazardous venture, since words about music rarely reach their target. A lot of writing about music is pretty tedious, and only of interest to the person writing it. There are some gifted music critics, but most are such bad writers to begin with that even if they had a good idea, they couldn't express it properly.

Really, it's not that different from theological writing, is it? What percentage of it is not only bad, but probably wrong as well? Who knows, but I would say the great majority. I'm currently trying to read this new critical study of Van Morrison, but it quickly got bogged down in vague, flabby, excessive, and sometimes pretentious bloviating. There might be some good things in it, but it is badly in need of an editor. It reads like a first draft.

Right there -- there's a good topic: what are some good books on music? I'm always on the lookout for any. In fact, I was very much searching for any in the course of writing my book. I looked high and low, from baritone to falsetto, but the most useful one I discovered was Victor Zukerkandl's Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. As you can see, the book is so obscure that it doesn't even have a single review, and is ranked like #650,000.

But the reason why I was in search of such books goes back to what I said above in the first paragraph about how music had always kept me connected to spirit, even back when I was a frivolous and drunken fratboy without a frat. Among the rejected titles for the book was The Cosmic Suite, the idea being that it is structured like a symphony with four movements: Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. Those first few pages with all the crazy writing are supposed to be like the whatchamacallit at the beginning of the symphony that introduces all of the themes that will be explored and developed later, like the da-da-da-DUM that Beethoven stole from the Electric Light Orchestra.

I think I mentioned this somewhere in the book. Here it is, pp. 22-23. Regarding the four movements, Gagdad writes that

"If I may borrow a musical analogy" -- please, go right ahead. Just return it when you're done -- "I see these modes of being as the four great 'chords' constituting the song of existence. As improvisational (i.e., jazz) musicians can tell you, when they perform a solo, they are attempting to trace a coherent line, an artistically true and beautiful pathway through the chordal structure of musical space. At each step along the way, there are literally an infinite number of potential pathways through the chords, some of which will be 'complete' and musically satisfying, others banal, predictatble, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords. This is my best attempt at such a solo, with the full understanding that there are any number of fellow improvisational scholars who would 'run the changes' differently."

Come to think of it, this would be my all-purpose response to any and all trolls: hey, it's jazz, baby. If you think you can do better, pick up your axe, get on the stage, and show us! No one is excluded from a jam session. But if you get into a cutting contest with another player, you had better have some chops. Don't just be a music critic. Rather, show us what you got! Our feelings won't be hurt. As I just said, we are well aware of the fact that other musicians will run the changes differently, so stop blowing so much and blow cat blow!

Indeed, no two people will ever run the changes the same way, unless one of them is just copying the other. Interestingly, our unique personhood extends to the realm of music, so that no two musicians ever sound the same. What's especially odd about this is that people playing the idential instrument sound entirely different. On tenor sax, Sonny Rollins sounds nothing like John Coltrane, who sounds nothing like Stan Getz, who sounds nothing like Pharoah Sanders, who sounds nothing like Wayne Shorter, who sounds nothing like Booker Ervin. Is one of them "wrong?"

It's even weirder with piano, where there isn't as much apparent "flexibility" in the instrument. It reminds me of something a musician once said of Thelonious Monk: man, he's the only cat I've ever heard who can bend the notes on a piano.

As you can see in the sidebar, I'm currently reading the Summa of the Summa, one of the virtues of which is the helpful footnotes. Therefore, you can both read the book and read a reader who already understands it. More to the point, Thomas wrote in such a manner that he tried to exclude himself from the discussion, which you might say is the opposite of a jazz mentality, in that the former is aiming for universality rather than individuality. Therefore, important passages can come and go without Thomas saying to the reader, NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT!

So someday, after my book is in the public domain and I am no longer receiving my annual double-digit royalty check, I hope some slavish devotee will come along and publish a Summa of the Coonifesto, and insert footnotes that say NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS WAS THE B'OB'S THE TAKEAWAY POINT! Because one of those points is the above paragraph regarding the musical structure of the book and the cosmos it attempts to sing.

As mentioned, I looked everywhere for books that treated the cosmos as a giant symphony -- or jam session -- but found none (except for one by a new age pneumababbler). So it was down to me. As I indicated in the book's joycetification, it's easy enough for some toothless banjo-picker sitting barefoot on a little bridge of tenure to drone on and on in the key of matter or Darwin or Marxism or whatever. Okay, we get it. But if you're going to try to play the whole cosmic suite, you'll need to master a few more instruments, not the least of which being theology and metaphysics. To try to play the cosmic suite without metaphysics is like trying to play the symphony without the violin section. Indeed,

"The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional musical score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways. The score can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be music does not exist."

Again: NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT! And it really is. The cosmos is a very different thing when you extricate yourself from your little scientistic box that neatly encloses it in quantities, and instead regard it as fundamentally -- I said FUNDAMENTALLY! -- musical.

This goes back again to the first paragraph of this post, and how our attraction to music is a mystery that demands an explanation. In my opinion, we are attracted to music for the reason that it imparts real knowledge of reality. Indeed, you could even say that we love music because we are music. Zuckerkandl comes close to saying this when he writes that

"The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image, an image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."

So listen to your life, and hear how it is an individual solo, and yet, part of a much larger composition situated both in space and time -- and eternity:

"For at the end of the day, we are each a unique and unrepeatable melody that can, if only we pay close enough attention to the polyphonic score that surrounds and abides within us, harmonize existence in our own beautiful way, and thereby hear the vespered strains of the Song Supreme" (Gagdad).

Oh, and one last helpful tip from my future collaborator: PAY ATTENTION TO THAT LAST POINT, MORON, BECAUSE IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Faith in Reality and the Light of Belief

I was just thumbing my nous through the Coonifesto, looking for a certain passage on faith, when I found something else to sneeze at: the heading on p.207, Insert Your Deity Here. This has to do with the ultimate empty category, or "divine placeholder," that is O.

What it means is that O is where you insert your deity. But in reality, O is where God inserts himself, so to speak. It's that setting you leave for him at the table, the light you leave on for him in the window. The difference between 1 and 1O is just O, but look at the difference it makes! You get ten times the reality by simply adding a little O to 1 self.

The above account no doubt appears a little silly, but as I will proceed to demonstrate -- I hope -- is that what we call "faith" is the only appropriate mode with which to approach the ultimate reality of O. Let's get to it.

Yesterday I mentioned the unique bipolarity of faith, in that, by its very nature, it involves a combination of certitude and uncertainty (not doubt, which is another thing entirely, more on which below).

Pieper -- following Thomas -- calls it "an element of perfection and an element of imperfection," although I'm not sure that's the most adequate way to describe it, because again, faith as such is the most "perfect" approach to O. A perfect adequation to O would of course make us God. But so long as we are men, we can obviously never fully encompass O; no matter how much of O we "contain," it still orthoparadoxically contains us. It is both immanent and transcendent -- and immanent because transcendent.

Pieper goes on to say that "the perfection [of faith] inheres in the firmness of the assent" -- in other words, "I am one hundred percent convinced of the reality of O." But the imperfection has to do with "the fact that no vision operates -- with the result being that the believer is troubled by a lingering 'unrest'."

And "unrest" may not be the most accurate word, since there is apparently not a perfect translation for cogitacio. "Unrest" implies a certain "lack," when I again insist that this lack is like... you know, like our friend Lao-tzu always says: we mold the clay into a cup, but it's the emptiness inside that we actually use. Or, we build a house in order to live in the space inside. We don't live "in the house," but in the space it protects.

I could really get sidetracked here, since the Tao Te Ching is such a fine treatise on living with the attitude of faith in O. Some quick examples: The Tao is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.... The more you use of it, the more it produces. Like O, it is empty yet inexhaustible. Or, you could just refer to the opening and closing and opening passage of the Coonifesto: fount of all being / unborn thus undying / beginning and end of all impossibility / empty plenum and inexhaustible void.

Back to Pieper and the "mental unrest." He explains that it really connotes a "searching investigation" or "probing consideration," a "mental reaching out for something not yet finally found." It is a linking together of the Yes! and the Yes?, the latter of which is absolutely distinct from a soft and flabby "maybe." The Yes! signifies the real presence, while the Yes? signifies the necessary absence that will be perpetually filled by faith.

So the mental unrest does not go back and forth between, say, "maybe" and "maybe not." It's much more radical and polarized than that. And it is this "polarity" that renders faith dynamic and capable of "work" -- just as the positive and negative poles of a battery create the possibility of work. The negative pole of the battery obviously isn't "nothing." Indeed, we could call negative positive and positive negative if we like.

The real negative only occurs when positive and negative -- the already and the not yet -- are no longer polarized but at equilibrium. And please note that the latter hardly implies any "complete oneness with reality," despite superficial similarities. Some of our competitors praise this state of pseudo-samadhi as the highest reality, when it is often just an elimination of the tension we are discussing here. One of our own trolls tries to sell this blobby notion of "I am you, you are me," but again, this is all wrong. When I visit ultimate reality, I want to be there. Nor do I want to be someone else, especially some people.

As Pieper explains, "doubt" or "opinion" also involve a "mental unrest," but it is of a fundamentally different kind. For example, both doubt and opinion wish they could be certain, since both are of limited value as they stand. Once they are fulfilled, then "the discursive movement back and forth" comes to an end. Once "the conclusion is reached, all that belongs, so to speak, to the past."

But in the case of faith, the "conclusion," or "assent," is only the beginning. Furthermore, its greater part -- greater by far -- is in the "future." The faithful self -- (o) -- remains within a perpetual "searching and pondering of what it believes." In fact, I'm doing it right now.

Now, perhaps you will have noticed that this is quite similar to what motivates the real scientist. And this is indeed the point. I won't rehearse Polanyi's whole argument here, but a real scientist could never be a slave to "materialism" or some similar metaphysic of the dead and settled past. Rather, he maintains a vibrant, living and evolving relation to O as it manifests in the plane of appearances.

I mean, c'mon. Try reading the Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists. No, they are not correct in all the metaphysical details, but at least they didn't try to enclose O in some manmade little formula like "random error + reproductive success." The latter represents the kind of certainty that makes it strictly impossible to have faith in reality. Indeed, how can a random accident even speak of "reality" with a straight face?

For when a Raccoon speaks of "faith," he means assent to complete nonsense -- the nonsense of O. For to imagine that O could ever be a kind of sensual object is the height of nonsense. But once one acknowledges O, then all reality is illuminated by the light of belief, including, of course, the "material world."

Our trolls are pretty dense, but the other day, I bet one of them that he couldn't summarize the Raccoon philosophy despite having been a faithful reader for many months. Somehow he has convinced himself that we believe the natural world to be "a rather dead mechanical assemblage." Talk about projection! It is specifically because of O that the world is so alive, so lovely, so interesting, and so worthy of our being in it.

Oh well. Let the dead bury the tenured.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dateline Earth: Fog in Language, God Cut Off

The uniqueness of the mode of faith rests in a certain bipolarity of rest and action, of certitude and uncertainty.

In fact, before going any further, I want to again highlight one of Toots Mondello's greatest concerns, which had to do with the excessive saturation of religious terms.

"Faith" is a case in point, because the word has immediate associations that are generally wrong, plus everyone uses the word as if they know what they are talking about. A word is saturated when it can no longer accumulate new meaning based upon experience, but simply is what it is -- like a sponge that can hold no more water.

Naturally, this is sometimes appropriate. There is nothing wrong with the word "chair" being saturated. A chair is a thing to sit on, and that's pretty much it.

But as we move up the ontological food chain, words can become more problematic. It reminds me of something Stanley Jaki once said. From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky.

As an aside, this is one of the benefits of studying Thomas, not to mention Schuon, who is able to describe the transnatural planes with an objectivity, precision, and detachment that actually surpasses our ability to describe nature, since the latter is very much dependent upon perspective and other subjective factors, whereas metaphysical principles such as being are quite precise, if unsaturated.

In fact, Schuon addressed this directly in his Logic and Transcendence, noting that "writings falling outside the fields of science and modern philosophy tend to suffer from being associated with ideas that are usually inadequate, and they are immediately consigned by most people to categories having disparaging implications," such as "occultism," or "Gnosticism," or the new age mob of mystagogues masquerading as mystics.

Thomas said that this was because science involves more perfect knowledge of less perfect things, while theology deals with less perfect knowledge of more perfect or noble things. This results in conflating confidence, or certitude, with objectivity, when the opposite is true: only God can be truly objective. To conclude that man's subjective view of nature is the height of objectivity is actually laughable.

I'm not sure if I've done justice to Thomas, but I believe Schuon would disagree about our knowledge becoming less certain as we approach the Absolute. It is less saturated to be sure, since the Absolute can never be saturated by language. Obviously it is "bottomless," or "endless," so how could mere human signifyin' jive ever fill it?

This is again my purpose in using the symbol O instead of the symbol God, since the former reminds us of the apophatic "unsaturatability" of God. Perhaps we can compromise and say gOd. (This is why, of course, the Jews had an unpronouncable name for God.)

Interestingly, Thomas is quite aware of this issue, which is why he actually emphasized the eternal mystery of O: "Because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not." Even for beginners, he cautioned that "this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him."

How different this is from approaches that saturate God with subjective human ideas! This is hardly to say that we can have no knowledge of God, only that our knowledge can never be complete.

It's really not fundamentally different from our knowledge of any other person. No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them. A person -- since he is the most adequate analogue of God in the herebelow -- can never be saturated, even though, at the same time, man-as-such clearly has an unvarying nature. He has form, but the form is "empty" until filled out by life experience (which clearly distinguishes man from any kind of "blank slate").

In reality, a person is in the paradoxical position of being the (relative) ultimate in both knowability and mystery. You can know much more about a person than you can about a rock. And yet, the person is much more mysterious, since the mind is infinite. If Mozart or Shakespeare were alive today, they'd still be cranking out mysterpieces.

And, of course, at the end of his life, Thomas was granted that vision of the other side of O. He was plunged into its radical mystery, to such an extent that all he had written seemed to him insignificant in Light of it.

Please understand what this means. It is not to devalue what he had written. To the contrary, it is as if Bach were ushered into the very source of music, in Light of which his magnificent body of work would sound like so many jingles and ditties. Or even as if James Brown were taken up into the eternal spacecraft of cosmic funkmanship, where his own seemingly inexhaustible funkiness would appear comparatively funkless.

Where were we? Oh yes, the exactitude of our maps of hyperborea. I'm not going to dwell on this at this juncture, except to say that we can actually see the unseen with these maps, in the sense that we can understand, say, the geographical relationship between Chicago and New York without having to visit them.

Indeed, to a certain extent, the abstract map provides information and perspective that no amount of empirical knowledge of New York could ever provide. One could spend one's whole life in Manhattan and not even know about the rest of the country, as proven every day by the New York Times. It's like the old crack about England: Fog in Channel. Continent Isolated.

In fact, the materialist might say: Fog in Language. God Cut Off. But of course, we are the ones who are isolated and cut off from God, unless we make the attempt to swim the channel -- and, of course, if God tosses us a line.

It is very much like our barbarous troll, whose contempt for religion in general and Christianity in particular "amounts to asserting that every religion can be reduced... to the crudest possible concepts.... It is pointless for us to insist on the inanity of this hypothesis, presented as if it were a certainty; it is enough to take note of its existence" (Schuon).

I mean, what can one really say in response to someone who says, "Duh, Christianity is just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Clinical inanity noted. Move on.

But this is not all his fault, for Christianity generally does a poor job of explicating its intellectual -- by which I do not mean the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- pillars. Indeed, it is often responsible for publicizing itself in terms of "the crudest possible concepts." I know this, because I was once one of the very people who rejected it based upon those crude concepts. Religion must be defended on two fronts, from an incoherent scientism on one side, and an incoherent religiosity on the other.

Long post short, this is why in the Coonifesto, I used the symbols (o) and (---) in order to avoid the more saturated term, faith.

Gotta get ready for work. To be continued....

Here is a good map of the world from the perspective of New York. Just replace Manhattan with "ego" and "rest of world" with "reality."