Friday, September 10, 2010

Anonymous Light and Personal Darkness

Ever repeatedly encounter a term you'd never heard of before? Happened to me last week. The first time was in the Balthasar book referenced at the end of yesterday's post. The term is "anonymous Christian." He speaks of the "hidden grace" that prompts men to selflessly engage in inspired action to care for the world. Such men are anonymous Christians.

In one sense the term can be seen as magnanimous, in that it eliminates the obnoxious and simpleminded idea that God condemns anyone who doesn't literally accept Jesus as their personal savior (for who would presume to say exactly who, what, where, why, when, and how Christ is?). But if the recipient of the designation is not equally magnanimous, I suppose they might see it as presumptuous and condescending -- in other words, you're only doing good because you're secretly a Christian.

But the point is more subtle than that. Rather, the idea is that just because God takes a form, it doesn't mean that he is limited by that form. I mean, obviously. Indeed, to enclose God in a particular form is what we call an intrinsic heresy, not to mention idolatry. It's fine for savages, but not for Raccoons. As Magnus wrote in a comment yesterday, "The first Christians were not going 'Hey we've got a new and better religion!', they were saying 'That which you have worshiped without knowing it, we know it and we've come to tell you.'"

But the essential formlessness of God should should not be taken to imply its converse: that God is not the form through which it has pleased him to incarnate. In a way, this is in keeping with the simple fact that God is always both immanent and transcendent, so that he will of necessity "spill out" of whatever form we use to try to contain him.

Nevertheless, we must make the effort to contain him, especially through the channels he himself has authorized. These acquire a particular power, as seen in phenomena from Torah study to the Eucharist to the sacred spaces that are simultaneously revealed and created by great cathedrals.

If the revelation represents a vertical ingression of divine energies, then tradition represents the horizontal nurturing and prolongation of those energies. One might compare the former to rain, the latter to a river. But the river, of course, ends in the open sea, which is the point of tradition. In other words, tradition should not be revered for its own sake, but only insofar as it floats your boat down that sacred river.

As mentioned yesterday, every culture is situated somewhere along its own sacred river. Even (especially!) the secular left has its own creation myths, its own prophets, its own unexamined (pseudo)vertical sources. But in naively denying the vertical, the radical secularist simply sells us all down the river, a river with no destination. And in turning the cosmos upside down and inside out, he locates Eden up ahead, not behind.

Thus, according to this myth, once the state is large and intrusive enough, we shall all live in Obama's socialist paradise, in which the wealth that is no longer created is well and truly "spread around." Others will just call it poverty.

But what would be the purpose of such a world? Even supposing the leftist's utopia were possible, what would people do with it? The dim ones would continue playing video games, seeking tenure, and watching MSNBC. But the gifted ones would do what they already do with their slack: use it to explore and colonize the vertical. I say, why place one's hope in the left, when eternity is already available to you while you wait?

If there are anonymous Christians, then the corollary is that there are "anonymous adversaries," or whatever you wish to call them. Not only are they necessary, but they are inevitable, given the nature of the pneumacosmic economy, for if there is O, then there must be Ø. And if there is Ø, then there are beings who will "incarnate" it. These people are "flesh made word," even though such a thing is strictly impossible (again, it is the surd made flesh).

Back to Balthasar and the supramundane Light that lights this otherwise endarkened world. Among other things, this is the light that enlightens the anonymous Christian, and furthermore, exposes the artificial light of various manmade ideologies. In other words, when the Light shines on them, it is analogous to the sun shining on a little lightbulb that only appears bright because the shades are drawn. Open the shades, and ideology is revealed for what it is.

The "landscape of humanity... is lit by a glow of reconciliation," "which in an almost inexplicable manner brings the estranged world back to reality." In light of this Light, man's strongest searchlights are turned back upon themselves, since all light is only the one Light. And "it is precisely this 'anonymous light' of Christianity that lights up all places and all characters, unique, unparalleled, penetrating, that irritates the ideologists and stirs them up to persecute and fight for its extermination" (Balthasar).

Now, "can anyone forbid this light to shine?" You can only kill someone once, and that obviously didn't work.

Which reminds me. Why is the whole world up in arms about a kook who wants to burn a Koran, when, if it were a Bible, he could apply for an NEA grant? I suppose because for a Christian, the worst blasphemy has already occurred, and the Light overcame it. Burning a Bible is like trying to set fire to the sun. Good luck with that.

Thought for the day: "'[A]biding in the source'... is understandably an act of a very personal nature that we perform consciously and involves us in being open, ready to listen to and obey God's word, and in being prepared to give time and contemplation in order to allow the rain from heaven to soak its way in. For only when we have received the word of God can we rightly return it in the words of prayer from the depths of our own hearts" (Balthasar).

Hey, don't try to box O into a tight little space:

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Cosmic Covenant

One of the images I used in my book was of a once-unified mankind -- after all, there may have been only a few hundred of us -- venturing out of Africa in the first diaspora, and eventually colonizing every corner of the world. Distinct cultures then arose, partly as a result of divergent experiences with different environments.

In this regard, culture is an adaptation, partly to the external environment, but much more importantly, to the interior world of human subjectivity and the gift/curse of self-awareness. Once it is projected and "crystalized," culture then shapes its individual members, often in ways that foreclose their further evolution. You might say that culture is an evolutionary "niche," except that it is a manmade one to which we must then adapt. In so doing, we are "adapting to mindedness," as I put it in the book.

For example, if I were born in the Palestinian terrortories, I would undoubtedly be forced to adapt to their culture of death worship, Jew-hatred, sadistic violence, and premodern, sacrificial religiosity.

So human history -- i.e., history, as opposed to mere biology -- has a common beginning. But does it have a common end? This has always been the dream of (classical) liberals, that human groups evolve through kinship groups, to kingdoms, to liberal democracies, so that at any given time, different groups will inhabit different psychopiritual/developmental spaces.

However, the modern liberal has abandoned this notion as a Euro/ethnocentric atavism, and regards all cultures as equally precious and worthy of our respect. Thus, for example, our effort to lift Iraq out of tribal tyranny and into liberal democracy is condemned by the modern left as a literal genocide.

Now, each human culture also centers around a divine revelation at its origin. In other words, there is no culture that doesn't have a vertical source through which it acquires both its meaning and its legitimacy. There was a time, not too long ago, when men were generally unaware of the diverse revelations at the origin of different cultures.

Or, if they were recognized, then they were dismissed as error, or fantasy, or barbarism. Each culture assumes that it has been vouchsafed the Revelation, so there is nothing whatsoever that is unique about the Jews, for example, and their self-understanding as the "chosen people."

Today, all of the so-called revelations are in mutual contact, so there is no hiding the fact that there are sharp theological differences between human groups.

But in truth, even within groups, there has rarely been unanimity about the meaning of revelation, at least in the absence of coercion and violence. For example, there has never been a time that Christians have agreed on the meaning and implications of its defining events, the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

This is emphasized in a book I recently read, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I didn't really care for the book, but there is no gainsaying the author's well-documented point that Christianity -- just like Judaism -- has really consisted of one long argument, only occasionally without violence breaking out.

I don't blame the violence on Christianity, since there is nothing in it that would justify such behavior. Rather, I blame it on man. Still, what is it about the revelation that prevents it from getting through the thick skulls of its adherents? Is it just that mankind truly is that sick and depraved, so that even the strongest medicine has little effect? Or is there some defect in the message that prevents it from having the intended effect, or that is too easily swamped by man's mind parasites?

When we think of real progress -- and progress as we understand it was really only unleashed a few hundred years ago, with the scientific revolution, free markets, and liberal democracy -- we think of a movement from particularity to universality. In other words, science and economics increasingly came to revolve around universal principles that applied to all mankind, regardless of culture.

And mankind made a huge evolutionary leap when it also discovered universal political principles, e.g., life, liberty, property, the rule of law, consent of the governed, etc.

But while even barbarous governments such as Iran or North Korea are on the same page vis-a-vis the universality of nuclear physics, here at home we have our own political left, with whom we are still engaged in the battle of 1776 over universal political principles. Same old tea party against the same statist elites who would deny the universal truth of our liberty, property, and individuality.

As you know, I've been at a certain impasse recently. It's not that I have writer's block or anything like that. No, I could continue writing about the same things until I lose every last reader. The impasse has to do with whether religion must "push ahead" or remain frozen, as it were, in our present and/or traditional understanding. And as you may not know, this struggle takes place in my very own being, in that I have equal respect for certain sages and spiritual authorities who come down on opposite sides of this question.

Schuon, for example, was a strict traditionalist who believed that revelation was handed down by God, and that was that. He even situated the human cultural norm in premodern times, something that I could never go along with under any circumstances. Rather, I greatly value modernity, even though I am fully aware of its spiritual dark side. But there is always a spiritual dark side, man being what he is.

Shifting gears for a moment, I was arrested by a passage in one of Balthasar's book, in which he discusses Vatican II and its more generous -- evolved? -- attitude toward other revelations. I'll just quote him, but then I have to get ready for work:

"God's purpose after all was not merely to redeem the Church, but to save the world; the grace he has bestowed upon the world in Jesus Christ must of necessity flood over the boundaries of the visible Church, even though the Church continues to be seen as a kind of focal point of grace....

"For centuries now, theology has spoken of a 'baptism by desire,' that is, a baptism received by those who according to their limited insights have resolutely involved themselves in the kind of activity that contributes most to the welfare of their fellow men and of the world as a whole. These men are received and sustained by God's grace and are made invisible members of the visible Church....

"God's grace is bestowed in every part of the world because the 'whole Christ' fills the world with his presence.... [A]ll men who struggle for the salvation and advancement of the human race in the spirit of self-sacrificing activity are united together in a living, quasi-religious union."

Call it the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What Kind of Dog is Obama?

Just an excuse for an open thread: what kind of dog is Obama? (Compiled from Lucianne commenters):

Open Border Collie
Labrador Deceiver
Dorkshire Terrier
Border Follie
Great Drain
Kenyan Short-haired Pointer (at Bush)
Alinski Malamute
American Sheepherder
American Taxhound
Rhodesian Taxhack

And my contributions:

Crashing Borzoi
California Boxer
Olbermann Pischer
Latent Gayhound
Union Lapdog
Whining Fox Toy
Mulish Brayhound
Himalyin' Creepdog
Lha'sa Bolognese
Chicago Thughound
Taxagain Clueless
Afghan Retreater
Pro-Palestinian Bomberanian
Antisemitic Chinook
Scheming Goydog
Broken English Bulldog
Iranian Water Carrier
Republican Bitch