The Restoration of Faith through Reason
At that point "anything goes," or at least so it seems. There is no way to determine whether the person is speaking truth, whether he is a narcissistic sociopath trawling for attention, or whether he is just eccentric or even insane. Better to just stick with what we know: straight up scriptural revelation, even if it often clashes with other truths of the world, and sometimes flirts with frank absurdity.
This occurred to me in thinking about the idea of a universal metaphysic that is revealed through religion, even while religion can never be reduced to a mere metaphysic. As Schuon writes, "all esoterism appears to be tinged with heresy from the point of view of the corresponding exoterism," for it gives the appearance of man elevating himself above the plain meaning of this or that revelation. It seems to be an invitation for clever knaves to justify anything.
And yet, man has a mind and therefore a will to truth. This mind -- our most precious inheritance -- seeks not just information but understanding. As such, it is impossible for me to believe that our Creator would want us to assent to any doctrine that makes less than total sense to us.
In other words, he wants us to assent not just with body and heart -- or with will and sentiment -- but with our minds. And a mind that assents to what it doesn't understand has devolved to mere will, i.e., the will to believe. This has its place, of course, but faith should be a prelude to understanding, not an end in itself.
This occurred to me while speaking with a friend who is engaged in a "spiritual search," but who is already deeply involved in the Jewish faith. He was raised in a strictly orthodox world, and although he is now involved in a less rigorous branch, he nevertheless has obvious problems with what he regards as a kind of minute attention to iterations of the Law -- for example, avoiding broccoli since there might be a tiny insect lodged inside the flower, or not tearing perforated toilet tissue on the sabbath because it is a form of "work."
That said, he greatly appreciates the wisdom, certain traditions and rituals, the community, and the transmission of values to his children. But in Judaism, one has no right to pick and choose the parts one likes, for where does one draw the line? It reminds me of Neusner's A Rabbi Talks With Jesus, in which he listens to the Sermon on the Mount with "Jewish ears" and likes much of what he hears. But when Jesus places himself above the Law and puts himself in place of the Torah, it's a deal breaker.
In a way, we might say that there is a kind of dialectical flow from experience to doctrine to experience and back to doctrine. For example, Moses had some profound encounters with God, which are embodied in the Torah. Jesus comes along and seems to reverse the sequence, but after Jesus comes the Church that creates an updated doctrine -- the Catechism of the Catholic Church runs to almost 800 pages. But then Protestants come along and reject the whole thing. Protestantism becomes reified, so then numberless sects split off, especially in America, where people take religious experience seriously. But most of them make no sense, and are intellectually negligible.
It's probably easier to accept the idea that various experiences of God are all related, than the notion that there could be a kind of central doctrine that unites particular expressions of it. But this is what Schuon seeks to accomplish; or rather, simply "discern," since he was of the belief that it was already there to see, so long as one is capable of seeing it.
For example, he writes that only an esoteric approach can explain "and restore the lost truth by referring to the total truth; this alone can provide answers that are neither fragmentary nor compromised in advance by denominational bias. Just as rationalism can remove faith, so esoterism can restore it" (emphasis mine).
That is indeed a key point, for it implies that esoterism is a kind of "higher Reason" from which profane reason must be a descent. To paraphrase another comment by Schuon, something isn't true because it is logical, but rather, the reverse: things are logical because they are true.
By definition one cannot ascend to truth via (profane) reason, since reason can only prove the consequences of premises that reason cannot supply. Therefore, any time one accepts a truth, one is operating outside the closed system of logic (which was one of Gödel's points, precisely -- not that truth doesn't exist, but rather, that there are permanent truths not provable by logic).
So the truth embodied in revelation is clearly a descent from something higher. To try to ascend to this truth using only human tools is doomed to failure.
Rather, in order to comprehend it, one must make the effort to conform oneself to the plane from which it arises. This is not fundamentally different from any form of knowledge, say, quantum physics. Try as we might, quantum physics is never going to be reducible to, or explainable in terms of, Newtonian physics. This is because the Newtonian world is a kind of "descent" from the quantum world, the latter of which is "higher" or "deeper," at least theoretically.
Now, truth comes to man in various ways. Sometimes it comes from the outside, as when we were in school. But oftentimes -- especially as we grow older -- truth comes more from within. Schuon writes that the first kind is "formal," as it can be clothed in communicable symbols that are readily transmitted, received, and decoded without too much distortion (math would be the ideal of this form, since it can be conveyed with no loss of meaning at all).
But the interior type of knowledge is "direct and essential," Importantly, this is especially true of revelation, even though it would appear to come from the "outside."
But no one should believe that revelation is in any way analogous to mathematical knowledge that can be conveyed without ambiguity or distortion. Rather, as Schuon explains, the purpose of revelation is to awaken "interior truths" so to speak, by providing us with symbols to think about them, and without which truth is unthinkable. We could still "experience" it, but would be hard pressed to communicate and make sense of it.
Thus, for Schuon, "Revelation is Intellection in the macrocosm, while Intellection is Revelation in the microcosm."
This is again no different from any intelligible reality, for example, physics. In the case of physics, we confront an intelligible world that comes fully encoded in mathematical terms, as if the one mirrors the other.
How is it that the mind of man and the deep structure of the natural cosmos just so happen to harmonize in this transcendent manner? Why, it's almost as if the physical world is the objective instantiation of the math, whereas the mental world is the subjective apprehension of same. One might say that the sensible world is the macrocosmic revelation of mathematical truth, whereas mathematical intelligibility is its subjective revelation in the microcosm.
In any event, there is a Truth and a Way. And this Truth is not, and could never be, fully horizontal or reducible to something less than itself. Rather, it is a descent and appears before us as a hierarchy, as do the modes appropriate to various degrees of reality. One might say that it is a symphony.