Living and Loving in the Real World
"I am convinced that life is a constant development toward that which is better, more perfect -- if there is no stagnation within us." He adds that it is a great achievement "to see values that others don't see and to affirm them," but an even greater one "to bring out of people values that would perish without us. In the same way, we bring our values out in ourselves."
Put them together, and you have a life devoted to awakening and articulating the latent values that lay dormant in people, in the effort to help them evolve toward that which is better. This is only possible in light of the "perfect," i.e., the Absolute, without which there could be no hierarchy or gradations of quality. But in reality, man is always -- what's the word, Jeeves? Asymptotically? -- "on the way" to perfection. Man is surely a bridge, but not to nowhere, as he must be for the materialist.
As we have discussed in the past, this was the proper meaning of evolution before the word was appropriated and redefined by Darwin. Taken literally, evolution is precisely what cannot happen under metaphysical Darwinism. Rather, only horizontal change may occur. Notice, for example, how Darwinian fundamentalists are always so quick to cut man down to size, insisting in various ways that he is "just an animal." But I don't get my truth from animals -- with the exception of certain partial truths about animality.
In their worldview, it is as philosophically absurd to suggest that man is superior to animals as it is to say that blue is better than the key of C. It's just pure nonsense, because "better" can only be understood in the context of a hierarchy of transcendent values.
As you all know by now -- actually, maybe you don't. But I'll be brief so as to not bore. When I made the formal decision to enter the spirituality racket -- to dive into the deep end of the cosmos -- it was initially as a disciple of the Indian sage, Sri Aurobindo, whose theology I felt at the time to be the most "capacious" and insightfully see-worthy.
Probably because he was raised in the west from a very young age -- and was educated at elite places such as Cambridge by professors such as Whitehead -- he assimilated much of this environment into his theology and metaphysics after returning to India in his 20s. I don't know that it was intentional, but the end result was a "Christianization" of Hindu metaphysics, which was itself an evolutionary leap in what had theretofore been a less sophisticated theology.
Interestingly, I came upon a passage that said as much in God and the World, a book length interview with then Cardinal Ratzinger. Hmm.... Lotta good stuff in here. Getting distracted. Pay attention! Right. Here it is:
"We can already see how, by way of Indian intellectuals, the leaven of Christianity has found a way into Hinduism. The number of Indians who revere and love Jesus is extraordinarily great, far greater than the number of Christians, even if in this case Christ is simply counted in among a series of other saviors."
I don't remember when it was -- a few years back, anyway... charter Raccoon Will seemed to have already realized it -- but it dawned on me that Aurobindo's whole spiritual project was a kind of Christianized Vedanta, for several reasons. First, its focus was on this world. In contrast to the traditional view -- which regards the world as a kind of deception -- Aurobindo regarded it as important in its own right. You might say that the world is worthy of our being in it, which is saying a lot.
This led to a particular appreciation of the body, even the "divinization of the body," which essentially comes down to the idea that his is a descending path, in contrast to the ascending ones of Hindu tradition. In other words, instead of escaping up and out "into God," the spiritual vector is reversed, and the emphasis is placed upon bringing God down "into the world."
Call it "incarnation" if you like. Or sanctification. In this regard, our earthly spiritual "evolution" is exactly as John Paul describes it above -- an adventure of consciousness from what we are toward whom we ought to be; or toward whom we truly are, which always includes an element of relationship (which in turn imbues the relative with a kind of absoluteness, more on which in a subsequent post).
Now, John Paul's theology is very much like Aurobindo's, in the sense that its purpose is to encompass everything, i.e., every plane of being from the lowest to the highest, and yet, bring the highest into the lowest, so to speak, in order to appreciate it in a new Light. Jesus is obviously the quintessence of this, in that he represents the highest-made-lowest in order to "redeem" the latter -- not just man, but the entire cosmos. (Ratzinger notes that a better translation is "God so loved the cosmos...")
In practical terms, what it means is that -- at least from this Raccoon's point of view -- virtually everything can and must be bobtized and divinized. This is how his "theology of the body" is to be understood. But it doesn't just apply to sex and marriage. Rather, the priest's duty is "to help make God present in the world," not just in "official" ways, such as the celebration of Mass, but, as did Jesus, "to live with people, everywhere they are, to be with them in everything but sin."
In the past, I have written of the analogy between this way of living and jazz, since it unifies the extremes of great preparation and then forgetting all about it; it is a complementarity of discipline and slack, which ultimately comes down to a terrestrial analogue of Absolute and Infinite (which are also male and female, respectively).
Thus, John Paul (then Wojtyla) wrote of how an excursion into "the world" -- i.e., with people -- "had to be a 'well-prepared improvisation' in which the priest was ready and willing to talk about everything, 'about movies, about books, about one's own work, about scientific research, and about jazz bands...'" He felt he had "a special responsibility to help those who want 'consciously to create the lifestyle of the modern Catholic.'"
By 1954 he understood that there can be no sharp division of life "into the serious and frivolous [whew! -- ed.], the true and the unimportant. The contemporary tendency to fragment life, or to reduce the question of truth to a secondary issue, had to be resisted. 'The method of the Kingdom of God is the method of truth.' Because of that 'man must be prepared to agree with reality in its totality'" (emphasis mine).
This openness to all of reality is, of course, in the spirit of Vatican II. More to the point, it goes back to the literal meaning of "catholic," which is, in my dictionary: fr. Gk katholikos universal, general, fr. kata by + holos whole 1: COMPREHENSIVE, UNIVERSAL: esp: broad in sympathies, tastes, or interests.
I mean, right? Isn't that what we endeavor to do here? Put everything in Humpty's postmodern dumptruck back together again? And even if Humpty shell fall frumpty times as awkward again, we'll have iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care (Joyce). To be perfectly obscure, in order to be meek with an om light and become a fertile egghead, you'll have to make a fast break from a few notshalls. It's the most important meal of the deity!
So. Back in communist-controlled Poland, there was an ongoing attempt by the state-- quite literal, mind you -- to do the precise inverse of what John Paul was doing, for this is what the Left does, ether obviously or more subtly: "communism deliberately fostered the fragmentation of society and the atomization of its members, the better to maintain political control and the easier to form [the] 'new socialist man.'"
No one could or can live fully -- or be fully alive -- under such a regime. Therefore, life must be stolen on the sly. In a very real way, human life becomes against the law.
For this very reason, the people around him were "attracted" to the young priest, for they felt "alive" in his presence: "We felt completely free with him, without any burden. His presence led us to express ourselves. While he was among us, we felt that everything was all right.... We felt that we could discuss any problem with him; we could talk about absolutely anything."
How different this is from contemporary America, where our elites associate "aliveness" and "openness" with a kind of "empty freedom" which reduces to nihilism, and "closedness" and "rigidity" with religiosity.
Is the latter a problem? Quite obviously. But it's the same problem Wojtyla re-cognized: that, for some reason, religion is not adequately meeting man where he is, or speaking to who he is.
In my view, it is a "false solution" to suggest that man simply made a wrong turn with modernity, and that he needs to revert to the mindset of Traditional Man and culture, which are forever normative for him. No way am I giving up my stereo. Far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter when you were born, or into what culture, so long as you're ashamed of it. That's real multiculturalism, since it sees beyond the contingent and converges upon what is universal.
No earthly manifestation is or can be absolutely normative for man. Again, the norm is up ahead, in the future (although it once manifested in time and history). It is that toward which we are evolving, the better-on-the-way-to-the-perfect. Thus, for man it is always the new normal. Or, to put it another way, you're not normal unless you're made new.