Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dumbing-Down of Unbelief and the Ascent of Stupidity

In his discussion of JP II's Encyclical Fides et Ratio -- Faith and Reason -- Ratzinger expresses the doctrinaire Raccoon view that philosophy "must recover its sapient dimension as a search for the ultimate and all-encompassing meaning of life," and realize a scope of "genuinely metaphysical range."

And prior to this, it must, of course, "attest to the human capacity to know the truth," or else it can never get off the ground floor of the cosmic telovator.

Anything less than this approach prevents us from circumnavelgazing the whole existentialada, for to say that man may know anything with certitude is to say that he may potentially know everything.

To put it another way, to "know everything" is to know that the knower may know the Absolute, or know all that is knowable of its prolongation in the herebelow.

More generally, "human thought cannot stop at the level of appearance but must reach beyond appearance to being itself" (Ratzinger), or from the passing phenomena to the eternal ground. This is the only type of philosophy worthy of the name --i.e., love of wisdom -- and in the absence of which man is but a child, a Darwinian storyteller, a tenured ape.

Try as he might, man cannot renounce the perennial philosophy without compromising his manhood to a greater or lesser degree. In such a frigid spiritual climate, he inevitably suffers an existential shrinkage that prevents him from being all that he could be and should be -- and more, by George!

False philosophies are not just cosmic nul-de-slacks, but psychospiritual walls that extend as high as stupidity, but fortunately, are as weak as love. I know this sounds sentimental, but allow me to explain.

Again, Wojtyla's metaphysic does not end, but begins, in humanness. Humanness is the first principle, as it were. In this regard, he is only explicitly acknowledging the prime real estate where any philosophy and all science are privileged to dwell: in the human knower.

For to be born into the human state is to follow the realtor's eternal advice of purchasing the worst property in the best neighborhood. Life -- or the civilizing process -- consists of improving your properties.

And it is a never-ending project. We are all fixer-uppers. Some may have more superficial "curb appeal" than others, but when you actually see who lives inside, or inspect the foundation, or consider how high the roof goes, you may be in for a surprise. Conversely, some rather modest shacks can be mansions inside.

If our metaphysic begins, say, with lifeless and mindless "matter," this principle immediately redounds to the unforgiving chance and necessity which cannot get here -- to the soul -- from there -- the willfully silly nihility of inconscient whatever.

In other words, such a "philosophy" simultaneously accounts for everything and nothing, since it reduces its knower to a meaningless iteration of its own absurdity. Truly, it is just one damn thing after another.

Now "chance" and "necessity" are none other than the cosmic inversions of Infinite and Absolute, respectively, as seen through the eyes of the tenured. Living by their lightwights, we are condemned to a life that is limited to "the sterile rigidity of the law and the vulgar disorder of instinct" (Don Colacho), which are again inverted categories of Absolute and Infinite.

For just as the imaginary abstraction called "matter" bifurcates into chance and necessity, O necessarily bifurcates into Infinite and Absolute -- or Infinite because Absolute, to be precise.

How do we know this? Because we cannot not know this if we *think* about it. Just as the One cannot not be, the One cannot not be Absolute and therefore Infinite.

If you do not *think* about it, then you are merely a subject living under the Tyranny of Appearances. And this tyranny is absolute, so there! You've locked yoursoph into your own little prison, and the key is right there in your pocket -- unless you're just happy to see me. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

For to plagiaphrase The Donald, the most naive unbelievers among us believe in many things in which they do not believe they believe.

Again, this primoridial truth is going to manifest in one's philosophy, whether one wants it to or not. As we know, one can chase nature out with a pitchfork, but she will always come back with a virus. The same applies all the more to God, who can be driven out of the pitch dark but whose Light always returns, even if the splendid blind beasts of the night can only see by darkness.

Back to our first principle, the human being. If this is our first principle, we must ask: just what is a human being, anyway? Is he just a statistically unlikely arrangement of matter? A chance conglomeration of genetic accidents, a kind of glorified earth defect? A clever ape? A good dancer with a smooth line of BS?

Here we must proceed beneath man's appearance, and get down to the core. Once we do this, we will see that man is not, and could not be, any kind of simplistic "one," i.e., a self-enclosed monad.

If this were the case, then man could never have come into being, not historically, ontologically, psychologically, spiritually, or in any other way. For beneath his oneness is always a twoness, and this twoness is always simultaneously rooted in, and converging upon, a third.

Abstract? No, not at all. Rather, this should be quite experience-near, if you can remama back to when you two had a touch of infanity, and were just learning how to use your opposable brains.

When a new baby comes into the world, a new world comes into the baby, and cosmogenesis is recapitulated in his very head and heart, or mind and body -- or mindbody, to be exact. For a person is being-in-relation, and this relational being mirrors the very inner life of the Godhead.

You might say that the "medium is the message." For human beings, our medium is the prior relationality that sponsors the human subject. In all we do or say or know, we are in relationship like Sam is to Dave. We are open systems at disequilibrium with the worlds of love, truth, and beauty, which we can forever exteriorize and assimilate, import and export, give and receive, without ever "arriving" at some imaginary final stasis.

Rather, we are quite literally the gift that keeps giving, on pain of a death that keeps dying -- both literal and metaphorical, or physical and spiritual.

To not know this is to not know the answer to every question, which is, it all depends. To be "dependent" means to be in the orbit of something more or less "independent," as child to parent, appearance to reality, time to eternity, and man to God. Thus, the truly modern Independent Thinker is the very instantiation of the dumbing-down of unbelief.

A modern man is a man who forgets what man knows about man. --Don Colacho

Monday, June 13, 2011

Head First Into Christianity

Not that you need to know the back story, but my blogging tracks the movements and currents of my soul thingy in real timelessness, as it spontaneously darts about this way and that.

What this supposedly means is that I can only write about what I am preoccupied with -- or rather, what is preoccupying me -- and that I cannot "plan ahead," not even a single day. Nor can I look back, what with both hands on the plow, or I might not run into something.

This "method" has its virtues, I suppose, but renders it impossible to make any Major Announcements about the direction -- or even purpose -- of the blog. Like you, the best I can do is find out as we go along. You may be the last to know, but I'm only a few minutes ahead of you.

I do suspect or hope that the process is guided by some sort of nonlocal providence, both in the short and long term. The short term process seems more evident, even obvious, to me, because I see it happen every day.

However, as soon as one says this kind of thing, one is flirting with unbearable pomposity -- as in, "my pen is guided by the hand God!" -- when it is always meant with the utmost humility. All I can say is that it is accomplished through active surrender. We can argue over what I am surrendering to -- e.g., O, my monstrous narcissism, the collective unconscious, whatever -- but the underlying process is the same.

Last night I was laying on the couch, just like everybody else, looking at the basketball game while thinking about Pope John Paul II's cosmo-Christian spiritual anthropology. There was a commercial of some kind, showing how insanely hard the players work out between games. This is how you end up with a Dirk Nowitski or Kobe Bryant. All professional athletes have a gift, of course, but the greatest ones usually also work the hardest to develop the gift, have the highest expectations of themselves, and are always trying to improve their game at the margins in any little way possible.

This reminded me of the formidable spiritual athleticism of a Pope John Paul, whose biography I am currently reading. Here was truly an athlete for God. Now, one can, of course, pretend that God or O doesn't exist, which would make the eccentric Mr. Wojtyla an athlete of... of what? An elaborate delusion? A strange mental complex? A cosmic conspiracy theory?

If that is the case, why did he make such extraordinary progress in assimilating the delusion? How can one "progress" toward unreality? Isn't that the very definition of regression?

In mental illness, the further one is enmeshed in one's delusion, the more obviously dysfunctional one becomes. Sick individuals do not dramatically grow in the capacity to love, or acquire new skills for which one has no training or aptitude, or become more creative, or channel timeless truths in an elegant and refined manner.

Rather, everything becomes alternately more rigid and disorganized, as more and more primitive material needs to be projected outward in order to maintain the brittle delusion against the forces of reality. This is associated with a kind of frantic irritability, not the spiritual serenity of the motionless mover at the cosmic center.

The point is that it is quite evident that Karol Wojtyla manifested an unusual spiritual gift early on. The gift was unusual in both its depth and its diversity, combining spiritual attributes that are not normally present in the same individual, and often even at antipodes -- e.g., being equally comfortable in the depths of the most abstract philosophy and the depths of concrete persons, i.e., in the realms of Love and Truth (which is one reason why he could speak so intimately of the non-separateness of the two).

Wojtyla also (at least from what I can discern) seemed to work much harder at developing his gift than is typical, and moreover was singularly humble in taking no credit for any of it.

Speaking of humility, back to me. As I was saying, the short-term purpose of blogging is pretty clear to me, even if the longer term trajectory has eluded me. Where is this all going? If one were to undertake an exhumination of my buried corpus of 1,720 posts, would it reveal any larger pattern or trajectory? Is it any "closer" to the object of its attraction than it was five or six years ago? Is there less "noise" and more truth, less particularity and more universality (or at least the former in service to the latter)? Is it any deeper, or higher, or more encompassing, or is it just going in tiresome little circles, to which anytroll can attest?

Yesterday I had occasion to read an old post from 2006, because a number of sites had linked to it. I wasn't necessarily embarrassed by it, but it was definitely below current standards, not just of truth, but of depth and style. So if one considers it from a sufficiently arbitrary distance, one is able to prove that I am getting warmer, just like the globe.

I didn't intend this to be such a lengthy preramble, but it's just my way of saying that there are a couple of large subjects that have seized my inattention, and that I would like to stay with for awhile, even though I cannot promise anything to myself of all people, the Sprit blowing where it will and all. One might say that these principles are the missing key to my own preoccupations, or that they help to illuminate the point of my bobsessions.

First of all, this has emerged through a recent immersion in the works of Wojtyla and Ratzinger (I will refer to them by their pre-pope names, partly because that's when they did most of their writing, but also because I don't want to conflate this with any kind of "top-down" promulgation of a pre-cogitated magisterium, irrespective of how magisterial).

To my great surprise, both men were and are caught up in the same nonlocal attractor I find myself in. To be clear, I do not think they are in mine; rather, I have been pulled into theirs, just as they were pulled into something transcending themselves, otherwise it would not be real and true.

Anyway, two broad ideas or principles have come into focus. One would be what I might call "cosmic anthropology." Like me, Wojtyla became convinced that the human person is the most important "fact" in all of creation. By no means did he exclude physics, biology, and history from his metaphysic; to the contrary, he was in constant touch with experts from these and other disciplines. It is just that he never managed to overcome his awe over the very existence of persons, from which proceeds his belief in their intrinsic dignity, nobility, and potential greatness.

Absent this prior ground of meta-cosmic personhood, there can be no secure and inviolable ontological basis for a whole range of truths we know to be true, but could never "prove" with mere logic, e.g., the sanctity and infinite worth of the individual, the intrinsic right to religious freedom, and the a priori illegitimacy of any state that intrudes upon man's claims to truth, dignity, and justice.

The other organizing principle that has seized me could almost be the title of a book: Head First Into Christianity. I have blogged about this subject in the past, in that from my experience, most people -- Protestants and Evangelicals, anyway -- seem to come to Christianity via a kind of "emotional conversion." It is often a sudden change, and for this reason can lack a thorough penetration to all corners of the psyche. As a result, a kind of premodern, mythological belief system can exist side-by-side with the modern scientific worldview, inevitably leading to interior or exterior dissonance and lack of integration.

For example, this is why someone would use the tools of modern science to propagate a belief in literal creationism -- i.e., ironically use technology that never could have developed within a mythological framework, in order to argue for that framework.

This is not fundamentally dissimilar to, say, the Iranian mullahs who want to use the physics discovered by a Jew in order to cleanse the world of Jews once and for all. Or, more mundanely, it is analogous to leftists who deploy "tolerance" as a weapon to undermine the very Judeo-Christian civilization for which tolerance -- within reasonable limits -- is a virtue, or use Judeo-Christian appeals to morality as a means to install a premodern genocidal tyranny next door to Israel.

But in my case, I have been lead this way solely via the intellect. By no means did I begin with the principle, say, that ultimate reality incarnated in history as a man, and then go from there; rather, the converse: for me, that was and is the more or less final frontier, the last country to be colonized (which, not coincidentally, never can be, or else we would be God).

As it so happens, this is quite similar to the approach taken by Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity. I am almost halfway through this 359 page book, and thus far I don't remember a single reference to Jesus (or any other miracle) in the main text.

According to the index, the earliest mention is p. 196, but the main point is that Ratzinger is arguing from the bottom up and outside in, not from the dogma that can only crystalize at the end of the journey. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with an emotional acceptance of this dogma, being that its authenticity can be vouched for by various saints and mystics.

Nevertheless, not everyone is built the same way, and some of us want to place our invisible hand in the open wound at the center of our intellect.

To be continued?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Advice for the Modern, High Functioning Flasher

I don't know about you, but when I am facing a particularly thorny ethical dilemma, I always ask myself: what would Alec Baldwin say?

For example, let's say I'm a prominent politician -- one of the most visible and combative in my party, even -- and I'm caught gifting anonymous women with candid photos of my congressional staff. Predictably, our puritanical press goes nuts.

Now what do I do? I mean, after denying it, then lying about it, then asking the ladies (none younger than high school) to help me cover it up, and then smearing my accusers? I do what I should have done at the outset: obtain the wise counsel of my good friend Alec Baldwin.

First of all, Alec is a forgiving man, so long as you're not married to him, or employed by him, or maybe happen to be his thoughtless little pig of a daughter.

I know what he'd say: hey, kid, cut yourself some slack. You're a modern human being. No, check me on that: like me, you are a modern, high functioning man. Do you have time to figure out why you have a compulsion to open your raincoat over the internet?

Hell no! Besides, all that crap about "know thyself" and "the unexamined life yada yada" is for the ancient or medieval man, not the space-age modern man.

I know it takes a lot of time and energy seizing upon every opportunity to tell people how great you are as a human being. Hell, I'm the same way. Who has time at the end of the day for self-analysis? You've never been a business man -- or frankly had any way to make an honest buck, for that matter -- but you are surely a busy man. You are under the constant pressure of self-analysis before adoring and uncritical audiences, so forget about what I just said about having no time for it. It's all you do!

Like me, politicians are special people. Not as special as actors, but special nonetheless. We need something to take the edge off. The low functioning modern man might choose, I don't know, having a couple of beers, playing with his children, or maybe even having sex with his wife.

But you? You are always on the go. You don't have time for that. Besides, how can sex with a real woman compare with the reliable high of cyber-sleeping with someone?

Does this make you "pathetic?" Maybe in the eyes of the premodern world, but not to the modern, high functioning man. For us, this is sex nowadays. No time for romance! Porn? No way! Too two-dimensional for the modern man. You want someone breathing, something you can feel, someone -- okay, someone cheap, but nevertheless, someone doing it just for you -- unlike real women, who are so concerned with their own selfish needs that it's not worth the hassle.

Married? Yeah, that's a factor, but only one. You know what it's like to have that cell phone bursting with numbers of gals just waiting around to gaze at your junk mail. So you do what any modern, high functioning man would do: you open your digital trenchcoat, yield to the gentleman from down south, stand firm with the little guy, and wave your congressional probe.

To shift if not grind gears back to the subject at hand, we were discussing... what, exactly? I would say we are discussing universality, which is at once a hallmark of truth, but also the cure for the type of moral relativism that would place Baldwin's "high functioning, modern man" on the same plane as the actually high functioning man.

But if there is no high there can be no low, so low becomes high. As has been oft commented, one of the rewards of being a leftist is that it is impossible to be a hypocrite, since they have no objective standards.

Which is obviously not quite correct, not by a dongshot. For the leftist does have standards. It is just that these so-called standards replace -- and displace -- the classical virtues.

Thus, so long as one has the correct political stance -- unless it is a little too wide -- all else is forgiven. In the case of Weiner, yeah, it's not ideal that he's a pervert with a psychiatric disorder. But on the other hand, he's always fighting for you, e.g., the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the disordered, the dissolute, the disgruntled, the dyslexic. As they say, troubled times require a troubled man.

Ratzinger, in the same lecture we were discussing yesterday, makes the critical point that in its earliest years, Christianity did not attempt to align itself with other religions. Rather, it "sought a connection with philosophies," even the finest philosophy available. Some misguided Christians regard this as some sort of error, an intrusion of "Greek thought" into what should be pure revelation. But this would not only particularize Christianity, but put it on the same plane as any other pagan religion.

The point was surely not to associate Christianity with a particular culture, but to attempt to transcend culture through the universality conferred by abstract philosophy. This is not to place philosophy above revelation. Rather, the point is to "connect with those movements that seek to escape from the prison of relativity."

Thus the identification of the Son with the logos, not to reduce the former to the latter, but to elevate the latter to the former. The logos is not just a philosophical abstraction that knows nothing of our being, but a person with whom we can form a vibrant relationship.

Conversely, the high functioning, modern man can know nothing of this relationship. Nor does he take full advantage of one of its analogues in the herebelow, marriage. The passionate interior relationship of sacramental marriage could hardly be more different from the externalized and self-divided relationship of two internet strangers.

In psychoanalytic developmental theory, there is a critical distinction between what is called "part-object relating" and "whole-object relating." Our developmental telos is away from the former -- situated in what is called the paranoid-schizoid position -- and toward the latter, which is in the depressive position.

Put simply, whole-object relating is between person and person, in a fully integral sense. Conversely, part-object relating is unable to transcend the ambivalence attendant to any relationship. The person in the paranoid-schizoid position deals with ambivalence by splitting it off into a sub-personality that is impelled to seek an object relation outside the central self. (This is essentially the same as a mind parasite.)

For example, let us say that I am unable to integrate love and lust in the same object. Love is reserved for, let's say, the wife, while a more immature and unintegrated form of primitive desire is split off and directed toward another object, say, a stranger in cyberspace (which is all the better, because knowing the real subject might interfere with the fantasy needs of the part-object relation).

According to the Dictionary of Kleinian Thought, "A part-object exists... in relation to the bodily sensations of the subject. Through projection into the object it becomes a narcissistic extension of the ego's own experiences and the separateness of the good object is not acknowledged. Only when the object comes to be recognized as whole does it properly take on a separate existence from the subject."

It is fair to say that this represents not the opposite, but an earlier stage on the way to what Pope John Paul II wrote of the "celebration of human sexuality as a gift of God for the sanctification of husband and wife," and "marital intimacy as an icon of the interior life of the triune God."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Screwtape Letters and Screwy Lettered Types

In a lecture on Culture and Truth, Ratzinger speaks of the peculiar attitude of our cultural elites, who always exclude themselves from the relativism they proclaim. Seemingly oblivious to the irony, they simultaneously embrace "a false humility and a false presumption."

With the left hand they do "not recognize in the human person the capacity for truth," but with the further left hand they covertly place themselves "above truth itself, while making the extension of one's power, one's domination over things, the objective of one's thought."

That's a neat little trick, in that it is a way to appropriate the genuine power that would normally be attendant to truth -- for even the most jaded atheist has a vertical recollection of the exterior radiance and interior attraction of the True -- and wield it not to understand reality but to change it.

But ultimate reality cannot be changed, for just as I AM WHO I AM, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Only the former can assure us of the latter; conversely, the latter is indeed a kind of ladder that should lead the genuinely curious mind to the former: I AM, therefore IT IS. Anything short of this formulation is to put Descartes before de' source, mon.

Being that another word for truth is "reality," one might say that the current intellectual fashion is to simultaneously deny reality while defining and limiting it to one's vulgar tastes.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, just think of how political correctness operates -- and how it operates most fiercely in the very environment that is supposed to safeguard and transmit truth, the university. Speech codes define what is thinkable and therefore knowable, and prevent truth from getting out of hand should someone stumble upon it, since there is a whole mechanism in place to suppress it.

Just as it requires intelligence to credibly "play stupid" in a play or film, it requires a kind of fundamental stupidity to pretend to the type of knowledge that is impossible in the absence of the correct metaphysic.

In short, truth must be received by its would-be knower. Science operates on the assumption that the scientist receives information by submitting, so to speak, to the world. Thus, the world is his "revelation," just as it requires submission to a revelation by God in order for us to know anything about him. Just as there is junk science, there is obviously junk theology, or deepakin' the chopra or jackin' one's jesse in public wouldn't be such kookrative endeavors.

Speaking of which, on a more or less banal level, think of Congressman Weiner's transgrossions, which, until last Monday, were officially impossible in many prominent quarters of the left.

Although any person of sound mind and good faith could see what was going on, a whole media structure was in place to assure us that we couldn't trust our own lyin' eyes. If not for new media, the story would have been disappeared by the MSMistry of Truth, effaced from the day and whitewashed from history.

I know this sounds hopelessly out of date, but if one is not learning the truth in a university education, what is one learning? And why does it cost so much, when one can get the same thing for free by listening to NPR?

I don't know about you, but where I find truth, it doesn't cost me a thing, which is why I don't charge folks for it. There's no overhead, since it's right here, just slightly overhead. Conversely, my secular indoctrination did cost a lot, which is why I do have to charge for that stuff. In a way, it's like punitive damages to reinstate my wholeness.

One of the reasons the culture war has become so contentious is that we are far beyond the point of mere "disagreement," which is why neither side is susceptible to the arguments of the other. Rather, the real struggle is over the very nature of reality -- more particularly, who defines it and who shall acquire the power that flows from conformity to the Real.

Here again, this is not an abstract discussion, but quite concrete. Let's suppose I believe buses are real, whereas my neighbor thinks they are an illusion. Only one of us can be correct, and being correct will give us a certain power of reality.

Now, just apply the same principle to everything that transcends matter (with the exception of mathematics, which is a kind of mirror of reality, and cannot be so easily manipulated).

For example, economics is a discipline that seems to revolve around (at least) two very different realities; let us call them Hayekville and Krugmania. People who live in the one not only "disagree" with the others, but believe them to be inhabiting another reality -- a "false reality," to be precise.

For those of us who hang out in Hayekville, the origins of our current economic meltdown have been known from the start, c.f. here, here, and here. But now comes another comprehensive account from a member of their own reality club, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.

This is just the kind of thing that is extremely upsetting to the parochial yahoo living in an unreal world, because it exposes and undermines the whole elaborate narrative structure that simultaneously shields them from reality while authorizing them to define and impose it upon everyone else.

The liberal doesn't require "proof" for his self-evidently elevated worldview. But disproof? Forget about it. This they really don't need. Repelling it usually requires attacking the messenger in a battle of annihilation with no rules. And when we say "annihilation" we mean this literally, because to disprove a lie is to annihilate it once and for all.

Conversely, to maim the truth results in real harm to most everyone except those who directly benefit from the lie. (Which is why I never get excited about elections, because they do not and could not ever result in the annihilation of falsehood, evil, and illegitimate power; rather, it seems that this thrilling competition is one of the unfortunate but inevitable conditions of human existence).

Thus, The fool exclaims that we are denying the problem when we show the falsity of his favorite solution, but There exists no truth in the humanities that does not need to be rediscovered each week (Don Colacho's Aphorisms). That last one is a lie, because you actually have to do it every day.

In his talk, Ratzinger mentions the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis's famous tale involving the practical education of an inexperienced demon by a more worldly-wise one. Note the word practical, for this is one of the adjectives the leftist substitutes for truth.

The younger demon expresses concern to his better worser "that intelligent people are prone to read books containing the wisdom of the ancients," which might cause them to accidentally stumble upon the truth (note that the demon knows the truth, since the lie is parasitic upon it).

Not to worry, assures Screwtape, for this type of knowledge can be easily nullified by simply elevating history above reality. Thus, the last thing the tenured will ask about, say, the Bible, is whether it is "true."

Rather, the "learned man" will ask "who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and in what phase in the writer's development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates... and so on."

This is how the kingly truth ends up being royally screwtaped. Remember our lengthy series of posts on the Divine Comedy? Ratzinger notes that in communist countries one was still permitted to be exposed to such subversive literature, so long as it was placed in the proper context, or narrative, which is always political and ultimately rooted in power (for again, who defines reality wields the power).

Reducing the real meaning of such a protean text is a way to immunize scholarship against truth. It's very effective, because it confines the scholar to a closed world from which he cannot escape and to which he cannot inscape, no matter which way he turns, for he has his head up his own assumptions. What is outside those assumptions is literally unthinkable.

But in truth, "Man is not trapped in a hall of mirrors of interpretations." Rather, "one can and must seek a breakthrough to what is really true."

And what is true is that there is one world and one human nature to go along with it, which is why truth can be, and is, timeless, universal, and harmonious (or integral). Everything fits together in a neat little giant coonspiracy, which literally means to "breath-together" in one Spirit.

In the formulation of Eckhart, our "breaking out" is simultaneously God's "breaking in." And we all know what it's like to be arrested (?!) by God's breaking and entering in the middle of the night.

Ratzinger names some of the barriers to truth, which enclose modern man in his little thought bubbles: historicism, scientism, pragmatism, nihilism -- to which one might add deconstructionism, reductionism, materialism, feminism, radical environmentalism, metaphysical Darwinism, and Obamaism.

Truth unites. The lie fragments.

In another sense, truth not only sharply divides (for it is a [s]word), but is the source of division -- one might say discrimination -- itself.

Conversely, the lie unites, but it is a false unity (for example, Hitler's mission to unite Europe, or Marx's to unite the wankers of the world). In truth, it is merely an agglomeration with no interior or exterior consistency, harmony, or wholeness. For there is only one complete, consistent, and harmonious metaphysic. And if they ask what it is, tell just them I AM sent it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Human Existence: The Perpetual Mid-Life Crisis

This is truly one of those posts that begins "nowhere" but will hopefully end somewhere.

The only way this can happen is if the post is "guided," so to speak, by its own end, which is to say, its own implicit purpose. Even if I don't understand the point, perhaps the Other with whom I am in dialogue will. It's certainly not something I could ever accomplish on my own.

I always begin in the bewilderness, which, you might say, is a repetition of where everyman and allmen must begin. Every day begins in slavery and ends with the promised land at least in view. And the whole innerprize is founded upon faith, in both its active and passive modes.

In other words -- again, like life -- one must in one sense "give up," but in another sense, actively deliver oneself over to the mysterious Other who shadows us through life, goading and pulling us along by the ear if we still have one.

In God and World, then Cardinal Ratzinger is asked how we can know when this Other is communicating with us:

"God speaks quietly. But he gives us all kinds of signs.... we can see that he has given us a little nudge through a friend, through a book, or through what we see as failure -- even through 'accidents.' Life is actually full of these silent indications. If I remain alert, then slowly they piece together a consistent whole..."

Like the human life of which they are a fractal, the doing and knowing -- the exploration and discovery, the journey and arrival, the alpha and omega -- must occur simultaneously, since they are parts of "one being" or "beingness."

For example, you could show an infant the university degree he will eventually acquire at the age of 22, but he will still have to go through the formality of earning it. Knowing that you will someday know is not the same as knowing. For example, I "knew" I would someday get married. But I never knew it would be like this!

In this regard, we are all beneficiaries of the amosing grace who delivers us from the exterior slavery of Egypt, through the perilous Red Sea, into the bewilderness, and on to the interior freedom of Israel.

For who is Yaweh, aside from Who He Is? For starters, he is the entity responsible for bringing the people of God -- whoever they might be -- out of the house of bondage, or from the matrix to the patrix.

For bondage is the rule in nature, and nature is sufficient in most every way to account for it. We are slaves to our genes, or appetites and desires, or culture, or family, or historical epoch. Man's slacklessness doesn't require much of an explanation, just as man's selfishness and greed would appear to be the factory setting.

Rather, what cries out for explanation is this mysterious irruption of freedom in a closed world where material and efficient causes rule with one fist of iron, the other of steel, if the right one don't gitcha' then the left one will.

Come to thinkin' on it, that song actually provides a vivid account of the slackless man's sorry lot:

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood, skin and bone
Got a mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store


The "company store" is Egypt in any one of its legion of manifestations. The Judeo-Christian arc of salvation -- i.e., its historical ground -- begins in this movement away from necessity and toward freedom.

However, being liberated from slavery is by no means synonymous with freedom. For example, I could turn my child out the door today and say "congratulations. You're free!"

But until one arrives at the destination, there is no way of knowing what lies ahead, hence the bewilderness adventure in between. If you haven't faced the perils of the bewilderness, then it's likely that your freedom -- i.e., self-determination -- is correspondingly narrow, brittle, or even somewhat illusory.

Now, an important point is that this arc of salvation cannot be thought of in purely linear terms. Rather, it must be regarded vertically, so that each stage of the journey is simultaneously present: bondage --> bewilderness --> freedom (or in another sense, Incarnation --> Death --> Resurrection).

Furthermore, the journey must be reenacted each and every day. Otherwise the path is soon covered over by the fauna and flora of various entities that live within us, so that communication is cut off between the various levels of being.

In other words, there is a lack of integration that prevents us from being the "totality" we were meant to be. Think of the Son, who eternally descends from the zenith to the nadir and back up again. Thanks to him, this benign circle was opened up for man, but we still have to step onto the path and take the first step(s). It is a permanent gift, but we must open to its presence.

Ratzinger expresses it well, speaking of how "the organ of sensitivity to God can atrophy to such an extent that the words of faith become quite meaningless. And whoever no longer possesses a faculty of hearing can no longer speak, because being deaf goes together with being mute. It's as if one had deliberately to learn one's mother tongue."

This reminds me of a patient I saw awhile back, who had suffered a stroke to the parietal lobe of the brain, which is the "language center." She was a Mexican-American woman, and prior to the stroke had been fully bilingual. While Spanish was her native tongue, she later mastered English after emigrating to the U.S.

Interestingly, the stroke caused much more damage to her native tongue than to the acquired one. Thus, while she could still communicate in her "secondary" language, she could no longer do so in her primary one.

This caused a great deal of pain, in that her mother and father (she was a relatively young woman) were not bilingual, and only spoke spanish. Thus, in an interesting metaphor, she was cut of from her source and ground -- her Father, as it were -- because of damage to the "organ of communication" alluded to by Ratzinger.

This reminds me of someone with uncontrolled diabetes, who may not be aware of a problem until the sudden appearance of "end organ damage" in the eyes, feet, kidneys, heart, etc. Just so, spending one's life walking like an Egyptian will end in blindness, amputation, infertility, a damaged heart, and a dangerous accumulation of toxins.

So you always have a choice: crisis or catastrophe.

Abraham, our father,
Was simply told to leave.
Go forth from your land and from your kindred...
to the land I will show you.

This is the setting out.
The leaving everything behind.
Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions.
The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision. The expectations....
To be, in a word: Open.

So it is with setting out on the path of liberation, leaving everything.
He would even have to discover
The way he would discover
While he was on the way.
--Lawrence Kushner, Honey From the Rock

*****

And he was told:
Go forth from the dugout to the position I will show you.
Where he would even have to catch on to
The way to catch
While playing on the field of dreams.


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

You Shall Have No Gods Before the New York Times

As we know, liberal politicians are generally loath to articulate their actual principles, because those principles are unpopular if not offensive to a clear majority of Americans.

Therefore, they have developed the dual-track strategy of, on the one hand, defensively concealing their true motivations under clouds of rhetoric that is at once empty of specific content, but, for that very reason, potentially omnipotent in its reach, such as "helping the little guy," "diversity," "tolerance," "fairness," and "social justice."

In other words, if one's first principle is, say, "social justice," this term is so elastic as to authorize virtually anything to attain it -- whatever "it" is.

Never mind that the Constitution makes no reference to the term, and with good reason, since the Founders were well aware of how such mischievous rhetoric could be used by demagogues to inflame the passions of the mob. Let the heirheads of the French Revolution speak of such laughty principles.

The other prong of the liberal strategy -- to which any conservative prongee can personally attest -- is slander, vilification, and smearing. The reason for this second tactic is the corollary of the first.

That is, because our ideas are both popular and susceptible to fact and logic, it is necessary to attack our motivations. This means that the liberal needn't do battle with us in the arena of ideas, but in a kind of rhetorical underworld where they are much more comfortable, as they are already acclimated to the darkness.

One might say that, Rather than an ideological strategy, the Left is a lexicographical tactic. But Reducing another’s thought to its supposed motives prevents us from understanding it (Don Colacho's Aphorisms).

For example, I would really need solid proof before branding a particular individual a racist, or misogynist, or homophobe, or greedy bastard. But conservatives are routinely accused of these evils with no proof whatsoever.

Rather, being conservative is its own proof, so to speak. The charge is a metaphysical/theological one, not dissimilar to our belief that man is a fallen creature, except that our principle applies to everyone, not just our political opponents (which in turn is an important reason why we oppose big government).

A couple of years ago, Howard Dean said that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don't like to see children go to bed hungry at night. Such a manichaean worldview must be comforting in its childish simplicity; but not really, because it is necessarily persecutory, since it means that the liberal is surrounded by vicious people who wish for children to suffer. That's got to feel a little creepy.

Similarly, liberal racers who are obsessed with racial animus are undoubtedly comforted by their own nobility and moral rectitude, but this virtue is purchased at the high price of being condemned to a Nazi-like country in which more than half its citizens secretly embrace a doctrine of racial superiority. This is not a recipe for happiness or peace of mind.

Truly, as Taranto observed yesterday, liberals are not ready for a black president. The liberal cannot just be "enlightened" about race, and let it go; rather, he must be obsessed with the "racists" under every bed and behind every bush:

'As early as April 2008 we learned that it was "racist" to call then-Sen. Obama "elitist" (which means "arrogant," which means "uppity") or "out of touch" (another word for "other"). In August 2008, "skinny" joined the list. Slate's Timothy Noah observed:

"When white people are invited to think about Obama's physical appearance, the principal attribute they're likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama's other physical attributes can't help coming off as a coy walk around the barn."

'Noah added that this was foretold by the prophet Fonzie. In February 2010, "professor" joined the list of putative racial slurs. Harvard's Charles Ogletree said "professor" is another synonym for "uppity," and he's a professor, so he should know.'

If you are a conservative and haven't yet been slurred as a racist, it just means that you're not trying. You haven't yet appeared on the liberal radar. Ironically, what this means is that the conservative does indeed inhabit a persecutory world, except the persecution is real.

We are not complaining, mind you. But we constantly hear and read about our own racism, xenaphobia (hatred of lesbian warriors), greed, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, etc. If there were any truth to the smears, they might actually sting, or at least provoke embarrassment. As it is, it's just a little surreal, and surreality is not without its charms, so long as one is lucid as it is occurring, and the bullets are only verbal and not metal.

Exaggeration? Hardly. For example, a few days ago, Nicholas Kristoff, star fifth columnist of the New York Times, penned a surreal idiotorial in which he explained how tea party conservatives would like the United States to resemble Pakistan. That being the case, what else do you need to know about us? After all, we want to enforce traditional Islamic values, behead petty criminals, and abolish civilian rule of the military. Who wouldn't detest such menaces to republican government?

We often say that contemporary left/liberalism is not so much an ideology but a substitute religion, hence the emotionalism and moralism that attach to it. It also becomes the "crusade" around which the liberal activist organizes his life, thus his source of meaning and identity (which amount to the same thing).

And because his politics is so entangled with his identity, it is difficult to detach from them. One loses one's perspective, and also cannot keep things in their proper place, largely because the vertical has been collapsed into the horizontal.

Therefore, horizontal things are inevitably imbued with the power and significance of the vertical, while vertical things become idols and graven images. Contemporary liberalism would be unthinkable in the absence of this idolatry.

For example, the newly named editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, is refreshingly transparent in disclosing her liberal idolatry, in that she frankly regards the Times as God: "In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion.... If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth."

How oppressive. But I have friends and relatives who would essentially say the same thing if they were as honest with themselves as Abramson. In fact, we are all familiar with the liberal paradox that "truth doesn't exist, and only I know it," but rarely do we hear it expressed so candidly by one of their heaviest eliteweights.

It reminds us of a comment by then Cardinal Ratzinger, that although Christianity developed "its most effective form in Europe, it is necessary to say that in Europe a culture has developed that constitutes the absolutely most radical contradiction not only of Christianity but of the religious and moral traditions of humanity."

The important point is that this new ideology is not a negation of the Judeo-Christian metaphysic, nor its contrary; rather, it is its converse, i.e., an inverted form of it.

In fact, if you will review your Ten Commandments, you will see at a glance that doctrinaire liberalism embodies a mirror image of them. But I guess I don't have to belaborate the point, since I have apparently already posted on their sacred dreckalogue.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Truth is a Poor Excuse to Swindle Us of Our Slack

They always come at you with the TRUTH, don't they? -- even the ones who otherwise have no use for the concept.

As we have mentioned before, even if a person is unable to know truth directly, he can know it indirectly by virtue of what evildoers pretend is true.

For example, all evil regimes that are manifestly steeped in falsehood claim to be aligned with a Truth that confers their bogus legitimacy, from the world-historical powers and principalities embodied in National Socialism or communism, to more regional demonocracies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Berkeley.

In each case, they not only maintain that they are founded upon truth, but that in most cases they are the very guardians of a precious and beleaguered truth to which the world is implacably hostile.

This has led many secular sophisticates of the postmodern left -- okay, all of them -- to reject the very concept of Truth. But this is like rejecting medicine because of what Nazi doctors did with it, or education because of how our elite universities disfigure it.

You might even hear a proglodyte of the left accuse us of "anti-intellectualism," which is only to miss the point entirely. It is because we cherish education that we criticize the educational establishment, just as it is because of our compassion for the poor that we champion the most demonstrably successful ways to escape poverty, none of which involve statism.

For that matter, it is because it harms blacks that we oppose state-mandated racial discrimination. We know this is true, if only because it is considered a terrible offense to suggest that Obama is our first "affirmative action president." If racial discrimination is such a wonderful thing, why take offense when we point out that some individual has benefited from the practice?

Speaking of how evildoers claim to be acting in the name of truth, just yesterday we were reading of how the uncompromising pursuit of truth was largely responsible for Hitler's downfall. For example, in invading Russia, he was simultaneously engaged in a battle of annihilation and a war of racial genocide.

But because National Socialism was founded upon the "truth" of racial superiority, it often interfered in completely irrational ways with the prosecution of the overall war, which took a back seat to the sadistic elimination of "inferior" races. Precious resources were committed to the latter enterprise, in ways that severely hindered the allocation of resources.

In a perverse way, we can be thankful that Hitler was such a principled man, because if he weren't, he would have been a much more rational and formidable enemy.

In comparison, Stalin and his heirs to power were much more unprincipled. The USSR pursued its irrational beliefs in relatively rational and predictable ways, whereas, say, Islamists are willing to pursue their irrational ideology in completely irrational ways, up to and including self-destruction (as was the case with Imperial Japan).

In any event, "truth" is clearly a problem, because most of the wholesale evil in the world is committed in its name. Ratzinger writes that although we all supposedly cherish freedom, "we are inclined to react with suspicion to the concept of truth: we recall that the term truth has already been claimed for many opinions and systems, and that the assertion of truth has often been a means of suppressing freedom."

Thus we see at once that there is some sort of relationship between truth and freedom. But is it a direct or inverse relation?

We might say that the psychospiritual left maintains that the relation is inverse, and that the only way to secure our freedom is to deny any kind of epistemological totalitarianism from gaining power. Thus, as Ratzinger observes -- since he has often been their target -- "Anyone who maintains that he is serving the truth by his life, speech, and action must prepare himself to be classified as a dreamer or fanatic."

This is hardly an intrinsically meritless point of view, given man's bleak track record. History is a chronicle of malignant stupidities masquerading as truth, so why not chuck the whole nasty business, and limit "truth" to what can be empirically demonstrated, like climate change, or Keynesian economics, or queer theory? That way, only the good people will have power over us.

In some ultimate sense, man is oriented toward the One, Good, True, and Beautiful. But only because he is so oriented, he is susceptible to becoming dis-oriented. Although many people are uncomfortable with the idea of absolute truth, they all know a lie when they see one.

But in the absence of absolute truth, there is actually no real ground for arbitrating between various lies. Rather, one opinion is intrinsically no worse than another, hence the absurd doctrine of multiculturalism -- an "absolute relativism" that somehow coexists with its ideological opposite, the dogmatic absolutism of political correctness.

Is there a course between these two varieties of false absolutism? Yes, but only if man has free will. Everything is rooted in this principle, without which there is obviously no freedom, but more subtly, no truth -- including, of course, the "truth" that free will is an illusion, for what can an illusion prove? It's like asking how to obtain food from a dream of it.

Now, if truth is an illusion, then at once human intercourse is reduced to a matter of will. One could say that in such an existentialist worldview, man is condemned to freedom. Truly, freedom becomes just another word for "nothing left to lose," or, more succinctly, nothing.

Such a system would understand freedom "as the right and opportunity to do just what we wish and not have to do anything we do not wish to do." It "would mean that our own will is the sole norm of our action" (Ratzinger).

This raises the immediate question of whether, say, an irrational man is actually free in the pursuit if his irrational ends. If we do not believe in free will anyway, then it is a moot point. Nor do we have any basis to object if we don't believe in truth. Rather, freedom only becomes meaningful -- and therefore valuable -- if it is exercised in the light of real -- not "false" or illusory -- Truth.

In the Raccoon view, Truth is absolutely real. Indeed, it is the real Absolute. That being the case, no relative being could ever "contain" it.

This has some resonance with Gödel's theorems, which, among other things, prove that man has access to a whole world of transcendent truth that cannot be proved with mere reason. Rather, any such system is always founded upon assumptions the system cannot prove, rendering all such systems epistemologically closed circles in the lost roundup.

The Raccoon prefers to call this absolute truth O, so as not to confuse it with something we already know. For example, it is quite easy for an atheist to disprove the existence of God, but fundamentally impossible to disprove the beyond-existence of O without absurdly disproving oneself.

Now, tradition, properly understood, is not supposed to be a kind of binding tyranny from which we need to be liberated. Even so, one must not absolutize the system and conflate it with that to which it points, O.

Rather, you might say that it is a whole system for the articulation of O, generally worked out by people much better and smarter than you -- unless you believe there is no one better than you, in which case your faith in yourself is total. And I never argue with another man's faith.

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

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Fruit of Forgotten Meditations

Here are a few random aphorisms of Don Colacho -- or what he calls "the spontaneous fruit of forgotten meditations" arrived at by a man who is "but a rag blown about by sacred squalls."

--Liberty is the right to be different; equality is a ban on being different.

And how. But how do they sell the latter? Easy:

--To corrupt the individual it suffices to teach him to call his personal desires rights and the rights of others abuses.

This results in a new race of humans: a race to the bottom, comprised of

--individuals dissatisfied with what they have and satisfied with what they are.

But linguistic sleight of hand comes to the rescue, so

--“Social justice” is the term used to claim anything to which we do not have a right, while “Raising awareness” is the modest version of indoctrination.

As a result,

--Each day we demand more from society so that we can demand less from ourselves.

This appeasement of envy only ends in frustration, since

--Man would not feel so unfortunate if it were enough for him to desire without pretending to have a right to what he desires.

In any event,

--A man is called a liberal if he does not understand that he is sacrificing liberty except when it is too late to save it.

Which is why

--Wise politics is the art of invigorating society and weakening the State.

For in the final analysis,

--It is not to realize his dreams for which man can strive, but to appear worthy of their realization.

Now, our first principles are the opposite of the left's, in that we believe

--The permanent possibility of initiating causal series is what we call a person.

In other words, man is a subject with dignity, not a mere object to be manipulated by third parties who know better how to run our lives. The whole catastrophe is rooted in an absurd metaphysic, whereby

--Modern man treats the universe like a lunatic treats an idiot.

Indeed,

--Nothing makes clearer the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession.

Ho! But at least these tenured barbarians unwittingly teach us that

--To become cultivated is to learn that a particular class of questions is meaningless,

thus allowing us to "move on." The ignorantsia speak of "evolution," oblivious to the fact that

--To change thoughts repeatedly is not to evolve. To evolve is to develop the infinitude of the same thought.

Yeah boy, the real action takes place on the vertical plane, which is why

--Religious thought does not go forward, like scientific thought, but rather goes deeper.

I mean,

--Everything is trivial if the universe is not committed to a metaphysical adventure,

right? But how does this effect Bob? In a couple of ways, I suppose. For

--Intelligence is enabled to discover new truths by rediscovering old truths,

and

--To write honestly for the rest, one must write fundamentally for oneself.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Lord, Teach Us to Play

Is this subject not reasonating? In the absence of comments we never know, for the intersubjective circle remains broken. We are not complaining. Rather -- in the colorful argot of your urban youth -- we are "just sayin'."

Is it the word "play" that rankles? Need I remind you that we are not talking about frivolous play but of the dead ernest kind? Playing as if our lives depended on it (very much unlike the Miami Heat)? Let us recall the words of our esteemed UnKnown Friend:

"The little child does not 'work' -- he plays. But how serious he is, i.e. concentrated, when he plays! His attention is still complete and undivided, whereas with he who approaches the kingdom of God it becomes again entire and undivided."

UnKnown Friend -- who is one of our fundational raccoondati and a coronary teachstone -- regards this principle as a key to the whole innerprize, so perhaps we should spend a moment dilating on it to see if we pupils can't open our third eye, arrest our cardiomyopia, and make some progress toward 20/∞ geistzeit.

Do you really think the SlackMeister is here just to amuse you? Do you?

Then you are correct. That is indeed why we are here. To paraphrase Hippocrates or some other old quack, the primary job of the physician is to amuse the patient while the body heals itself.

Ah, but physician heal thysoph!

Yes, precisely. We are first and foremost amusing ourself.

Well then, Maestro, what distinguishes this from the vulgar Ønanism of any other infertile egghead?

This is like asking how the metacosmic love of the Trinity -- you will pardon the analogy -- differs from some perv politician exposing himself to a constituent. The latter is hardly "sharing." Rather, it is mere exhibitionism, which is always just the other side of shame, i.e., a compulsion aimed at undoing unconscious inadequacy.

The problem with this little Weiner dog is not that he is shameless, for anyone who follows politics at all knew this before last week's national erection.

Rather, it is that he cannot tolerate shame, and continues to deny shame in ways that only deepen it and then require more frantic and transparently absurd denial. Dysregulated shame provokes both the uncover- and the coverup.

The point is that just because we are sitting here playing with ourself, this hardly means that we are doing so in the immature manner of an adolescent Weiner.

We are reminded of a passage in Ratzinger's excellent (and misleadingly titled) Introduction to Christianity (and in citing him, we do not mean to imply that he would ever endorse our methods):

Actually, while searching for that passage, we were guided to another relevant one from a different book: "A Christianity that has really been accepted interiorly comes with the dynamic requirement to communicate."

By this he does not mean the exterior directive to evangelize, but a spontaneous impulse to share: "It's exactly like when you are filled with joy about something, you have to express it and communicate it in some way, otherwise it's not authentic joy at all. The fact is, then, that the dynamism of passing on the gift is an essential component of the mission that Christ gave his followers..."

Thus, if something of the interior joy isn't conveyed along with the message, there are two problems, one interior, the other exterior.

As Ratzinger suggests, the joy that isn't shared is not the true joy. Secondly, if we communicate only the message denuded of the joy, then it loses much of its appeal -- you know, like the grim news of Islam.

Put it this way: the principle message of Christianity is not an idea but a person -- the fruit, not the tree. And this principle shall apply forever. Hence the necessity of the saints, who are the very embodiment of the joy ("ananda" might actually be a less misleading term) of which Ratzinger speaks.

Can't find the passage we were looking for, but this one will do:

"God's dialogue with men operates only through men's dialogue with each other.... Man's conversation with God and men's conversation with one another are mutually necessary and interdependent."

He adds the critical point that what can be communicated of God is never just an unambiguous "something" that can be sharply designated, like an object. Rather,

"No real dialogue yet takes place where men are still only talking about something. The conversation between men comes into its own only when they are trying, no longer to express something, but to express themselves, when dialogue becomes communication."

What this means is that the con-versation -- "flowing together" -- becomes trinitarian, in the sense that it involves both intersubjectivity (the ground) and soul-to-soul contact (as opposed to the mere depositing of exterior facts from brain to brain).

Some are better speakers, others better listeners. The SlackMeister cannot play a musical instrument -- okay, he can noodle around with one -- but this by no means diminishes or interferes with his love of, and need for, music.

Ratzinger cites this as analogous to theology, which is centered around the "word," which, in order to be itself, requires both creativity and receptivity, or "passively active" and "actively passive" modes (the latter is our formulation, not his).

"Passively active" is none other than play, while "actively passive" is openness to (vertical) experience.

In terms of the "experiential theology" of which we speak, there are more who are adept at receptivity than expression; but again, this should by no means interfere with our in-joyment, since genuine communication provokes joy at both ends:

"Over against these few, for whom the divine thus becomes undisguised certainty, stand the many whose religious gift is limited to receptivity, who are denied the direct experience of the holy yet are not so deaf to it as to be unable to appreciate an encounter with it through the medium of the man granted such an experience."

So "hearing" is no less a gift than "speaking," or at least they are two sides of the same game: a "duet for one" or "solo for two."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Come for the Salvation, Stay for the Play!

One of the reasons Christianity can be a tough sell these days is because of this word "sin." Yet, there was a time that this wasn't remotely problematic.

Rather, it seems that people were spontaneously aware of its persecutory presence, both in individuals and in history. One can deny it, repress it, project it, or sublimate it, but one cannot get rid of it (unless one is a sociopath). It always comes back in one form or another.

For example, who is more sanctimonious and judgmental than the PC secular liberal whose very identity is rooted in the idea that he is "beyond the superstition" of religiosity? As Bob has discussed a number of times, the liberal has the same moral impulses as anyone else, only worse.

Remember, morality is intrinsically "aggressive," in the sense that the conscience is precisely that which sanctions behaviors that are normally forbidden. For example, we are not normally permitted to kidnap people and hold them captive in a small cage. But we routinely do this if said person is a violent criminal.

Likewise, we shouldn't aggressively slander and verbally abuse good people, but the liberal is permitted to do this because he knows in advance that the people with whom he disagrees are racists, misogynists, and homophobes. The abuse is sanctioned by their -- albeit corrupt -- conscience.

The apostles apparently didn't have to spend a great deal of time convincing people they were sinners before getting down to isness. Rather, they cut straight to the choice -- e.g., John the Baptist, who warned people that they had better repent before it was too late. His message would have made no sense if people weren't already aware of this vague need to repent -- which simply means to "turn around" from the path one is on.

If such were the case, then JB's pitch would have been analogous to a television commercial trying to sell a product for an imaginary problem. One of the purposes of advertising is to first create the imaginary problem or desire it supposedly solves or fulfills. He didn't have to say, You know that uncomfortable feeling that some busybody is judging you even when you're alone? That even if you get away with it, you still feel guilty as hell? Have I got the answer for you!

From the very start, there have always been two sides to Christianity, a "positive" and a "negative," justice and mercy, good coptic/bad coptic: a stop doing that, assoul! and a come in and enjoy the slack, brother! You can hear it in the Forerunner, who says knock it off! Why? Because the Kingdom of Slack is at hand!

More deeply, this repentance means to turn away (the negative) from one cosmic orientation and toward another (the positive). For in the ultimate sense, there can be only two (or at least the illusion of two): O and Ø.

Thus, the apostle of slack might say: turn away from Ø, because O is right under your nous! I'm not sure the words "sin" and "salvation," what with their overly saturated connotations, adequately convey the principle we're driving at.

What is that principle? On the one hand, "original sin," or man's "fallenness"; on the other, his deiformity, i.e., the idea that he is fashioned in the "image and likeness" of the Creator.

Thus, one can pursue the matter even more deeply, and say that one path leads "down and out," the other "up and in"; man is deiform in potential, but so too is he potentially "terraform." In the case of the latter, he reflects only "the world" and all this implies.

In the final analysis, we could say "celestial" vs. "terrestrial," except that this is a principial distinction made by every religion in some form or fashion.

The difference with Christianity is that it resolves this false duality through the Incarnation and its many ramifications. Celestial and terrestrial -- matter and spirit, soul and body -- become "one," but not in any pagan-pantheistic manner which only con-fuses the two, whereby God is reduced to nature.

Rather, it is the opposite movement, through which nature -- including human nature -- is divinized from above.

I don't want to get sidetracked, but yesterday we ran across a post by the atheist believer, Sam Harris, called Morality Without Free Will.

In order to save time -- which is the form of slack -- we have trained ourselves to stop reading any article with the first sentence that is unalloyed horseshit. Thus, we are breaking mama's rule by proceeding beyond the intrinsically absurd title of the piece. The first sentence reads:

"Many people seem to believe that morality depends for its existence on a metaphysical quantity called 'free will.'"

Really? Many people believe free will is a "metaphysical quantity"? How come I've never met one? And what does he even mean by words such as "people,""morality," "existence," "quantity"? Forced to define his terms, you would immediately discover that his conclusions are simply his premises.

"There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for this freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others."

But if this is the case, then nor is there any description of mental and physical causation that allows for Harris's to habitually deny free will in himself and others. Besides, what does he mean by "mental causation"?

In any event, either one understands the following, or one does not: if free will didn't exist, then we couldn't know it. Or, conversely, if free will exists, it is obviously beyond the ability of mere science to account for it.

Might as well try to use the crude tools of a neuroscientist tool to disprove the existence of truth. To succeed is to negate one's conclusion. Sometimes the only way to make an intellectual appreciate free will is to forbid it, as in the case of National Socialism or Russian communism.

This is not a minor point, for the existence of slack is predicated on the reality of freedom. Nations that value freedom will obviously have infinitely more slack than those that don't.

Now, slack is also closely related to the concept of "play," which is what man is born to do; to say that a line has some "play" in it is equivalent to saying there is some "slack" in it.

Think of your life as a line that stretches from conception to death. If you should reach a point that there is no play in this line, then your life is pretty much over. At that point it would indeed be accurate to say that the person has either abdicated his freedom or has had it stolen from him.

I think we'll wrap this up with a passage by the former Cardinal Ratzinger: "play, though it has a meaning, does not have a purpose and... for this very reason there is something healing, even liberating, about it. Play takes us out of the world of daily goals and their pressures and into a sphere free of purpose and achievement, releasing us for a time from all the burdens of our daily world of work.

"Play is a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can let life flow freely."

So, what is the purpose of our writing? There isn't any. It's how we know we are free. The meaning? That's for you to play with.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Persons and Other Absolute Miracles

There can be no science of the utterly unique, which is why science can only pretend to understand such things and events.

In other words, it is not possible to do a controlled study of the one-of-a-kind, since there are not two of them to subject to variable conditions.

Science can only deal with aggregates and statistics, but it cannot disclose the secret of the individual for the same reason it can't reveal the nature of the One.

Science must assume the existence of this One, for all science is predicated on the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

At once this reveals a possible totalitarian temptation, since there are some things that simply cannot be reduced to anything less than themselves. But the state never stops trying.

Science divorced from theology leads toward an incomprehensible one -- incomprehensible because it has no other to comprehend it -- no genuine partner in the climb.

What is unique in the world? First and foremost, persons. I assume that even the most jaded materialist -- if only for the sake of propriety -- will concede that each and every person is a unique and unrepeatable cosmic event.

One can always speculate about how things "might have been different" if one had made this or that choice, but it is impossible to subject oneself to a controlled experiment in order to examine the alternate outcomes.

But just because it is what it is, this doesn't mean that you am what you am, with no I in the matter.

This metaphysic can also lead to the stubborn illusion of an absence of free will, since there aren't two of you to prove the case scientifically.

And even then, the two of you couldn't have identical circumstances, so there would still be no way to prove that the differences weren't a result of free will.

What else is unique? I just said "first and foremost," persons. But that can't be correct -- at least without a qualification.

That is, First and Foremost must be God -- or what we should probably call O, since "God" can be compared to other gods. We can always assign a name to the unique, but that hardly means that we understand it. Rather, to the extent that something is truly unique, there is no possibility of complete understanding.

This shouldn't be confused with the necessary existential barrier that forbids complete understanding of anything whatsoever. In other words, we can all gain sufficient understanding of, say, rocks or gravity, without knowing what either is in its essence.

But in the case of a human being, we can keep knowing more and more without ever getting to the bottom. The unique individual is a kind of inexhaustible fount of his own uniqueness.

As we have said before, the world is only relatively intelligible because it is absolutely unintelligible. In other words, it is only because the world is created that we can understand it at all.

But for the same reason, we can never completely understand it, since we can never be the Creator. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, the cosmos too pours out its own inexhaustible stream of truth and beauty.

In a cosmos that could be completely "contained" by science, science would be impossible, for the same reason that a person who could be completely understood wouldn't be a real person, but more like a machine.

This is not to say that many, if not most, persons end up living like machines, but that is a different story. It is difficult being unique, and in the absence of a unique God who cherishes uniqueness, there is a tendency toward conformism or rebellion, blandness or eccentricity, dependence or pseudo-independence, group identity or faux individualism. Two sides of the same worthless coin.

Science necessarily deals with a world of accident and necessity, but then covertly assimilates the view that all reality is governed by them.

Thus, if necessity rules, then free will is an illusion. But if accident does, then identity is an absurd and pointless iteration of material shuffling. There would be no point to self understanding, since there would be no self to understand (although, curiously, there would still be an impoverished "scientific self" to understand this banality).

What else is unique? For the faithful, the Incarnation is unique, for the same reason God is. The one follows from the other, if not strictly "necessarily," then certainly logically.

But more generally, one could say that any miracle is unique. To put it the other way around, anything that is scientifically repeatable is not a miracle.

Wait a minute, SlackMeister. You just said that human persons are not repeatable. Does this mean that each person is a miracle?

It most certainly does. How could it be otherwise, and still be? As Bob has said in his uniquely annoying way, human persons are "mirrorcles of the Absolute." What does this even mean?

It means that each human person is somehow a unique image of the singular uniqueness at the bottom -- or top -- of it all.

But... wouldn't that make us all the same?

Yes, precisely! This is the common source of our cosmic brotherhood. But the Absolute is absolute, whereas we can only be his middling relativities who are here for a brief visit, so we can mirror without ever completely exhausting the One we reflect.

In Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger is asked how many ways there are to God. His answer may surprise you: "As many as there are people."

For otherwise we wouldn't be persons, nor could God be One.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Miserable Life -- And Over So Quickly!

We all want slack -- or at least we think we do. But history emphatically demonstrates that man has great difficulty distinguishing true from false slack.

Indeed, one of the primary engines of history is the pursuit of false slack -- or the attempt to generate slack in ways that are certain to diminish it, most conspicuously in the form of socialism and other false religions.

I assume that most socialists do not consciously set out to contract the slack supply, but this is what inevitably happens.

Look at social security and medicare -- two of the less dishonorable socialist schemes -- which, in order to create the illusion of giving us slack, must ransack untold slack from future generations.

This smash-and-grab crime against the future is fundamentally immoral unless the slack pays tangible dividends to those from whom it is taken. I see no evidence of this. Even the most mush-filled adolescent skull should be able to see his slack account draining away before his eyes.

As we have been discussing, the ultimate purpose of Christianity is to liberate man. This is not true of most religions, and certainly not of the slackless pagan religions for which Christianity was and is the cure. Man has been aching for a restoration of primordial slack ever since that unfortunate incident in the garden, but his own efforts always come to nought.

Now, "liberation theology" is the quintessential example of a path of false slack, not only because it is false -- which is bad enough -- but because in articulating its principles it negates the true path.

In the words of Ratzinger, it poses a "fundamental threat to the faith," in large part because it is so seductive, especially to the young and innocent, to whom it can appear to be a just and proper "prolongation" of the unspoiled innocence of unfallen man.

Thus, in the heart of every progressive is a deeply atavistic longing -- a vertical recollection -- for paradise. It caters to youthful hope and idealism while clothing itself in a pseudo-scientific veneer, i.e., the dialectic of class struggle.

But when you peel away the layers of tenure and get to its mythic bottom, you see that this is a remurmurance of the same serpentine seduction that got man off to such an inauspicious start. It is the same old tantalizing promise, you shall be as gods. But the serpentine salesman always sells the sizzle, never the slack.

Having said that, Ratzinger makes the excellent point that liberation theology could never have found a congenial home in the heart of man if it didn't contain a grain or two of truth.

But this is small consolation, since "an error is all the more dangerous the greater that grain of truth is, for then the temptation it exerts is all the greater." (And you can well understand how the left uses this seductive "grain of truth" strategy for everything from abortion, to homosexual "marriage," to Palestinian victimhood, to "climate change," to state rationed healthcare, etc.)

As Bob has said many times, truth does not require a thinker, since it simply is, regardless of whether anyone happens to come along and think it. For example, the theory of relativity was true even before Einstein discovered it, just as the Trinity was true before the Holy Spirit revealed it.

Conversely, the Lie not only requires a thinker, but is parasitic on Truth. Thus, one quick way to know the Truth is to simply look at what evil people must pretend is true. As someone once said, a tyranny is any country that has "Democratic" in its name.

More mundanely, it is why leftists call themselves "liberal," why self-hating gynephobes call themselves "feminists," why compulsive fecal smearers are called "artists," why sufferers of Tourette's syndrome are "poets," or why Bill Maher is a "comedian."

Contemporary usage notwithstanding, this sleight of language should not lead one to conclude that liberalism, femininity, art, poetry, or comedy are somehow bad and noxious things.

The error of liberation theology would not be so seductive if there were adequate models of the truth. For this, Christianity has only itself to blame, for if truth isn't both joyously lived and vigorously defended, it will not incarnate in the world. Love, truth, beauty, virtue, justice -- unless personally lived, they are "nowhere."

Likewise, there is no artistic beauty until the artist brings it down into the world. Left to his own devices, he can only strain but not reach it.

Beauty is not something contingent monkeys could ever have "invented" on their own. Rather, it is obvious to every person who awakens to the ambient cosmos that it reflects a generously bountiful and often terrible beauty. We didn't just make it up, any more than we made up quantum theory or the Ten Commandments.

What are the fundamental errors of liberation theology? There are two, one in space, the other in time.

The spatial error horizontalizes the vertical, thus transforming the open sphere of Spirit to the closed circle of political economy. At the same time, this necessarily relativizes the Absolute, and in more subtle ways, feminizes (in an imbalanced way) man, for man is the horizontal prolongation of the Absolute herebelow (since only he can objectively know the Good, True, and Beautiful). Put another way, man cashes in absolute truth for infinite shades of relativism.

The temporal error involves what Voegelin calls "immamentizing the eschaton," which simply means trying to establish our post-judgment spiritual end here on earth. This merely ends up collapsing the spiritual attractor that functions as our faithful guide on this earthly sojourn, so there is no point to our life except more of it.

As the old Catskills joke goes,

"Such terrible food."

"Yes, and such small portions."

"And oy, what a miserable life."

"Yes, and so short."

Slack is inextricably tied in with meaning and with freedom, the former being impossible in the absence the latter. For again, truth cannot be compelled, but can only be freely discovered.

As such, our freedom is truly principial, and not for nothing does the Bible assure a few -- and threaten the many -- that "where the Spirit of the Lord is" -- i.e., his third person -- "there is liberty." Thus it is equally true to affirm that where there is true liberty, there is the Lord, for liberty would be literally unthinkable in a world without his persons to live and love in it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

At Long Last Love: Is it a Birthquake or Simply a Crock?

The first time the SlackMeister heard the phrase "God is Love" -- he was no older than five at the time -- he already regarded it as so much sentimental claptrap.

He has a distinct recollection of this, for the words were written in big block letters on the wall behind the podium of the Sunday school he was forced to attend. He remembers thinking to himself, "If God is Love, then why do I have to suffer through school five days a week, only to be dragged to this boring place on one of my precious days off?"

It just made no sense, and continued to make no sense for many years thereafter. Maybe even until today, depending upon how this post unfolds.

It still strikes us as naive, sappy, and mawkishly ernest to proclaim Hi-diddly-ho neighborino, God is Luv! But it is intended to embody a metaphysical principle, not a schmaltzy greeting card or hippy-dippy sentiment.

It is also intended to be shocking, which it most certainly was in the context of a brutal and barbaric ancient world. Just on the face of it, how does one reconcile a God of love with a tortured man on a cross? If this is love, could we please have a little less of it?

Yesterday we discussed the idea that ultimate reality is intersubjective, meaning that it is at bottom a unity of two subjects related by a love that reveals oneness without extinguishing twoness:

"This forms a unity, to be sure, but one that, 'through the unifying power of love,' doesn't 'destroy the twoness of I and Thou, but welds it into a profound oneness.' It is the losing that is finding, the giving that is receiving, the surrender that is victory, the supreme attainment that is abject humility. Ultimately it is the Love that is our cause."

It reminds us of an aphorism, in that "the materials are not fused in a new alloy; they are integrated into a new element."

Ratzinger goes on to explain that love is a kind of independent causality operating in the world: "As a cause, love does not vitiate the world's mechanical causality but uses and adopts it. Love is the power that God exercises in the world."

Love, like its causin' cousin, Truth, is the quintessence of freedom, since it cannot be compelled and remain what it essentially is. Just as you cannot compel someone to understand, you cannot force them to love. Thus, "to put oneself on the side of this love-causality" is to align one's energies with the "causality of freedom, in opposition to the power of necessity."

Love does not come from "below" -- i.e., physics, chemistry, biology -- but surely enlists the latter in order to express itself in the world.

This is fundamentally no different from any other higher reality that uses the boundary conditions of a lower order in order to progress in- and upward -- for example, the manner in which the twenty-six letters of the alphabet are used to create words, which are in turn used to create sentences and paragraphs, and ultimately to reveal meaning as such.

To put it the same we around, as we sit here typing we are attempting to transmit various "meanings" as they pop into our melon. The fingers are just following orders, even though material causation can only work in the other direction, from the bottom up, not the top down.

To even affirm that top-down causation exists is to have left the scientistic world far behind and below. You might say that materialism can account for everything except for the one who believes it. Drawn to its logical end, it inevitably paints itself into a coroner who proclaims it metaphysically dead on arrival.

Now, love is a two-way street, flowing from Creator to creature and back on up. Schuon expresses it well:

"Love is on the one hand our tendency towards God -- the tendency of the accident towards the Substance -- and on the other hand our consciousness of 'myself' in the 'other,' and of the 'other' in ourselves; it is also the sense of beauty, above us and around us and in our own soul."

This is precisely what we have been saying about the intersubjectivity of the human world. When God says to "love the stranger," he is essentially talking about a horizontal prolongation of his trinitarian love.

And it is only possible to do this because we are already members of one another. And again, love, freedom, truth, and beauty, all converge upon the One. All are simultaneously disclosed, so that God must be Love just as he is Truth, or Beauty, or Justice.

Thus, "Love is the tendency towards Union: this tendency can be a movement, either towards the Immutable, the Absolute, or towards the Limitless, the Infinite." And "to the extent that it transcends itself in the direction of its supernatural source," it "is the love of man for God and of God for man, and finally it is Beatitude without origin and without end" (Schuon).

We all intuit that love is both eternal and infinite -- for example, when we fall in love. No one tells their new loved one, "I am madly in love with you. Today anyway. But it's just a trick of the hormones. I'll get over it soon." Would the latter involve waking up from the illusion or falling back into it?

This is the point of marriage, not to force two people to love one another until death do they part, but to orient coonjugal love toward its higher source in the Oneness that is Two, and vice versa.

Frankly, I don't know how a marriage can survive in the absence of this higher love, because merely human love does indeed wear off without the divine infusion of a renewing grace. Schuon: "Pure love is not of this world of oppositions; it is by origin celestial and its end is God; it lives, as it were in itself, by its own light and in the ray of God-Love."

This is the only way we know of to always have that "new wife smell."

Likewise, "progress" is only possible if it is rooted in truth, freedom, and love. This is the only "path" that leads anywhere. All other paths not only proceed in the wrong direction, but can only lead "nowhere" -- like the genetic shuffling of merely Darwinian "evolution."

As Bob has discussed in the past, evolution in the original sense of the word is strictly impossible in a Darwinian metaphysical framework, for there is no higher or lower, no good or evil, and no meaning at all. When they say "evolution" what they really mean is "change!" And certainly no hope.

In the words of Ratzinger, "progress into new territory is made possible precisely because the right path has been found."

Isn't this obvious? This is certainly how science progresses. As it does so, any number of false paths must be cast aside. The same is true of Life, quintessentially. I mean, haven't you ever been on a false path? If you haven't, then it's probably because you're on one now.

The true path leads one onward, inward, and upward toward the alphomega of our ground and source. It is covalent with our dynamic integration, drawing us toward a communion that is simultaneously creative and full of meaning. In other words, it is where the crystal waters flow from their inexhaustible source.

I wish I was a fisherman, tumblin' on the seas
far away from dry land and its bitter memories
Castin' out my sweet line, with abandonment and love
no ceiling bearin' down on me, save the starry sky above
With light in my head, and you in my arms...