Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Monday, August 15, 2011
The Cosmic (M)Other
In Theo-Drama III, Balthasar touches on the very subject we've been discussing. In a section called Jesus' God-Consciousness and Its Historical Medium, he says that
"The issue is this: If Jesus' consciousness of an absolute (divine) mission is to coincide with his I-consciousness, how can the child Jesus ever have awakened to self-consciousness without simultaneously knowing of his mission -- at least implicitly?"
For example, "many a pious picture shows the little Child playing with pieces of wood in the form of a cross." More problematically, theologians have often attributed to Jesus a complete knowledge of his mission and destiny -- along with everything else knowable by man -- from the moment of Incarnation.
Perhaps not problematic to you, but I don't get that.
T-Aq went so far as to suggest that Jesus could not learn from men at all, but if this is the case, then in what way can it be said that he was human, since the essence of humanness is relationship and exchange with other persons?
Balthasar points out that this is the case of a scholastic a priori colliding with reality, for "unless a child is awakened to I-consciousness through the instrumentality of a Thou, it cannot become a human child at all."
No one can escape this principle without escaping from his humanity. Thus, "if it is essential for self-consciousness to be awakened by a 'thou' and subsequently initiated into a world of spiritual tradition," then "it follows that the 'I' who awakens the unique 'thou' of the Child Jesus must have a unique relationship to him."
This does not imply that Mary had foreknowledge of Jesus' mission, the unusual circumstances of his conception notwithstanding. But as I described in the book (subsection 3.2, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby) -- well, let's just begin with that wise crack by Tolstoi, who said that "From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance."
Not only can we not exempt Jesus from this abysmal ("immeasurably great") developmental journey, but I would suggest that his many provocative statements about children and childhood -- quite unusual, if not unheard of, for the time -- suggest an acute awareness of the stakes. The fact that he is routinely depicted as an infant and a defender of children, and that he speaks of the virtues of childlike-ness, suggest that he was quite attuned to this reality, and that he didn't care who knew it.
Indeed, if we want to attribute to him a kind of super-human intelligence, then, with all due respect, it would actually be the opposite of what Thomas describes; that is, rather than being unable to learn from man, Jesus possessed great insight into every man's developmental roots in his own childhood. Why else put it in such vivid terms: It would be better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than he should offend one of these little ones.
As I wrote in the book, babies "interact with mothers in such a way as to use them as an 'auxiliary cortex' for the purpose of 'downloading programs from from her brain into the infant's brain.'"
Actually, this is slightly misleading, because prior to the downloading of any explicit "content," the baby takes in the whole maternal matrix (matrix = womb) -- the context rather than content -- which becomes the "background subject of primary identification." And this is, of course, where the deepest mind parasites get in.
As it so happens, I've been observing a particular mother who is extremely anxious but doesn't know it, and how she is unfortunately transmitting this to her son, whom she then must "protect" because of his identification with her anxiety," in a kind of closed intrapsychic circle.
The point is, if a mother is unable to think her thoughts, she will end up forcing her child to think them for her. But how can an infant possibly bear such thoughts? (BTW, if I had been a younger parent, I would have undoubtedly transmitted a lot more mind parasites into my son. As things stand, he doesn't seem to have any except for those he brought with him, plus the standard issue pests that come with being human.)
Back to Schönborn. He agrees that "Human awareness is inconceivable without relationships with others." We do not become self-aware "as a result of withdrawing all bridges to the outside and being with" ourselves. "There is no such thing as isolated self-awareness. Openenss to and dependence on others are an essential part of human self-awareness: first of all, to the mother, the first person to whom one relates."
I'm thinking about this for the first time, but it has always been recognized that the Incarnation has a relationship to History, in that it is as if the author of the world-historical play jumps down onto the stage and enters the action.
But for me, History is dependent upon psycho-developmental history. No other animal besides man has history, because no other animal has the open-ended psychological development resulting from his neoteny. Thus, not only is childhood critical to understanding man, but, in an important sense -- just as Jesus advised -- we remain children for life, in that we are always growing toward our nonlocal developmental telos.
Now, Ratzinger and other esteemed theologians suggest that Jesus is, in a sense, the "end made middle," or the fulfillment of history crashing into time. But what if we apply the same eschatology to personal history? This doesn't really require much of a leap, given that Jesus is, so to speak, God's icon of man, of which we are more or less pale reflections.
But in any event, rather than providing us with a model of ontological completeness, Jesus clearly provides a model of dependence, relationship, and obedience (to the Father). Thus, of all people, he would be the last one to think of as closed off to others.
Schönborn reminds us that "every human self-awareness is mediated and not unmediated," and that "only in knowing other people and things, and only by this means, do we know ourselves." So, "In that sense, we may and must assume that Jesus came to know himself through others, and, like any child, especially through his mother."
It is quite the opposite of Sartre's claim that "hell is other people." For hell is no other people -- no relationships -- precisely.
Friday, August 12, 2011
How the Under Half Lives
Obviously, no human being is born "complete," or, less inaccurately, finished. No one is -- or should be -- finished until their life is. And even then... or so we have heard from the wise.
Rather, just like the body, the soul always points toward its own fulfillment, meaning that it must, in a sense, be both an "already" and a "not yet" -- which, as we shall see, has some important implications for Christian eschatology in general.
(And with regard to these irreducible orthoparadoxes that are not susceptible to aristotelian logic, -- e.g., already/not yet, I-in-Christ, Christ-in-me -- I would recommend using your God-given bi-logic to understand them.)
I am reminded of a couple of quotes by Norbert Elias contained in the Cʘʘnifesto:
"[T]he individual, in his short history, passes once more through some of the processes that his society has traversed in its long history.... If one wished to express recurrent processes of this kind in the form of laws, one could speak, as a parallel to the laws of biogenesis, of a fundamental law of sociogenesis and psychogenesis."
Never ask why human beings keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over, or why each generation discovers anew the wonderfulness of socialism, only to see their collectivist tower of bubbles come crashing down.
The second quote, and it's a good one, full of implications:
"It seems as if grown-up people, in thinking about their origins, involuntarily lose sight of the fact that they themselves and all adults came into the world as little children. Over and over again, in the scientific myths of origin no less than religious ones, they feel impelled to imagine: In the beginning was a single human being, who was an adult" (emphasis mine).
Interestingly, one thing I've really noticed about Balthasar, Ratzinger, and Wojtyla, is their deep appreciation of psychological development, and with it, attachment, bonding, parental relatedness, etc., which automatically, even if only implicitly, confers much more importance upon Mary, since carrying Jesus in her womb was only the beginning of her task (as indeed all mothers know).
The idea we've been developing over the past several posts is that -- consistent with long-established dogma -- Jesus is man and God, unmixed and yet undivided. Here again, with the use of our bi-logic we may imagine how such a situation could be.
For Rahner (as described by Schönborn), we might imagine in Jesus "a basic mode of being that is immediate to God, of an absolute kind," coexisting with "a development of this original self-awareness of the absolute fact of the creaturely intellectuality having been given away to the Logos."
I don't know if that last sentence was entirely clear, but Schönborn goes on to suggest that "what develops in the human life of Jesus" is obviously not the basic mode, or his essential ground of divinity, but rather, "the thematization and objectification of this basic mode of being in human concepts that are taking place."
Here again, this allows us to at least imaginatively enter into his mentality, and understand how he could gradually come to terms with his mission -- for example, while praying in the garden of Gethsemene.
And it helps get our minds around the idea that Jesus can be God and yet have an "I-thou relationship with the Father that occurs in history."
For Balthasar, Jesus "mission" in time is precisely the realization in history of the eternal activity of the godhead, or the historical prolongation, so to speak, of the Trinity into time.
In a certain way, I suppose we may imagine it as the dialectic of O and (¶), only writ large, to put it mildly. As alluded to above, Jesus both "is" and, in the End -- or better yet, Begending -- "becomes" O: not My will, but Yours, be done.
This we might say is the full concordance of Man and God, or the full conscious realization of ʘ. Indeed, we might even pneumaticonically represent the well-known formula of the Fathers by unSaying: O became (•) so that (•) might become ʘ.
As we have discussed in many posts, there is not, nor can there be, any humanness in the absence of relationship, and this would apply quintessentially to Jesus.
For who is Jesus, ultimately? He is Son, and the essence of Son-ness is the relation to Father (and vice versa).
Gotta get rolling. To be continued....
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Who Does I AM Say that I AM?
In other words, even if we had access to every single "fact" -- like a vast computer -- we would not be omniscient unless we were in the mode of omniscience. Conversely, even with no "facts," so to speak, omniscience remains omniscience.
I believe it is possible to approach this coonundrum by way of analogy. As it so happens, psychoanalytic theory describes clear developmental stages which result in fundamental transformations to the subject, so that the "objects" within undergo changes as well.
To be perfectly accurate, the objects do not change, but the "vertex" of the subject does, but this seems to bring a new object into being; or at least hidden dimensions are disclosed that can only be perceived in the higher mode.
I've posted on this subject before, but I know not when. I believe I characterized psychological development as a "conquest of dimensionality," a phrase I once heard Terence McKenna use in a more anthropological sense.
For if we consider the long view, human historical development clearly involves an ongoing conquest of dimensionality, or exploration of the cosmic interior.
By the way, just yesterday I noticed a provocative sentence by Ratzinger, which includes the words, "theological advances have not ceased..." Advances. What can he mean by this?
For animals, the world is mostly surface. They have a sensory orientation to the world, which is why their reality is quite unimaginable to us. It's still "the world," obviously. And sometimes they experience much more of it than we do, albeit on a single plane. For example, who can imagine what it would be like to be a dog, whose olfactory sense is so acute that it can detect urine to the tune of one part in ten thousand (or whatever it is)?
But a normal human being comes into to the world oriented to the cosmic interior, to which almost all other animals are entirely closed. However, it doesn't end there, with the simple binary of interior/exterior or human/animal.
Rather, just as there are degrees of sensory attunement -- e.g., dog nose vs. human nose -- there are degrees of interior attunement. For example, psychologists now talk about "emotional intelligence." I'm not one of them, but wikipedia describes it as "an ability, skill or... a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups."
I don't have time to go into the etiology of my own model, but....
Agreed. I just googled myself (it tickles!) and found a previous post in which I discuss the subject.
Now, there is a question in developmental psychology -- at least in integral/transpersonal circles -- as to whether "spiritual development" inhabits its own maturational track, or whether it goes along with psychological maturation in general. It's a little difficult to say, because, for example, one can attain sainthood in the absence of great intellectual development, or, conversely, one may be a great theologian without attaining sainthood.
Still, I think the "more perfect man" would be someone like Aquinas, or Eckhart, or John Paul II, in whom sanctity and intellect are equally developed. Many a fall is caused by good intentions in the absence of intellectual rigor. But so too are falls caused by intellectual development proceeding ahead of emotional and spiritual development.
Another way of saying it is that sanctity may be attained in the realms of truth and/or of virtue, but ideally these two are united, for virtue is the truth of action, while truth is the virtue of intellect.
Sanctity as such is not a "moral concept, but an ontological reality: the divine reality communicating His intimate and proper Life to some of His children. The saint is thus not primarily the humanly perfect Man, but the divinised human person." It is "not so much God-realization on Man's part, as Man-realization on God's part" (preface to Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle).
Thus, "The progress of a spiritual person towards God is rather the progress of God in him or her. The ascent to the mountain on a person's part (↑) corresponds to the more real descent of God (↓) into his/her being" (ibid., emphasis and sharp objects mine).
Therefore, we might say that God -- and only God -- discloses his omniscience in this (↑↓) trialectic, or what we call the cosmic gyrescape.
Returning to Schönborn, he says that in the "ultimate unity of the conscious subject, in which I know myself, in which I am as it were everything," lies "the clearest analogy to the divine omniscience, which must surely be thought of as a unity, not as an infinite sum of perceptions."
As it pertains to Jesus, he writes (following Rahner) that what "develops" in his human life is, or must be, a kind of gradual disclosure of his own interior. For even -- or especially! -- Jesus was a baby, a boy, an adolescent, a young man. Presumably development took place, just as it does for any human. We are not born adult, which is to say, mature. Eternity takes time.
Quoting Rahner, "This does not of course mean that Jesus 'came upon something' that he absolutely did not previously know but, rather, that he more and more grasps what he already always is and what he basically already knew."
In this way, we are able to, in a sense, reconcile the divine and human, which can be seen as both without confusion and without division.
In a way -- and I'm thinking about this for the first time -- we might think of Jesus as "God deployed in human (developmental) time," since a human being cannot help but be situated in developmental time. Jesus is God refracted through the lens of humanness, but this lens has very specific temporal properties that we need to understand in order to see how God manifests in the human mode.
We (intuitively) know, for example, how God manifests in the mode of nature, since the latter radiates something of the divinity in what Schuon calls its "metaphysical transparency." I suppose that glory, or divine beauty, is ultimately how he manifests in Jesus. Only when we perceive this resplendence are we able to exclaim with Peter, Wo, you really are the Son of the living God!
Like anyone can know that! For again, this is not God-realization on Man's part, but Man-realization on God's part.
I call it a guman... It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like God and human unmixed and undivided... bred for its skills in salvation...
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Mister Gnosis-All & Miss Understanding
Omniscient: 1: having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight : knowing all things : infinitely wise 2: possessed of universal or complete knowledge
Not sure if that's helpful. What do you mean, "infinite?" 1: being without limits of any kind : subject to no limitation or external determination 2: having no end : extending indefinitely : having no limit in power, capacity, knowledge, or excellence : immeasurably or inconceivably great
Seems to me we're entering an absurcular tautology here: omniscience is having infinite knowledge, and infinite is having no limit in knowledge, AKA omniscience.
And let's not get into "universal," or even "knowledge," because I believe we'd encounter a similar tautology, for if a truth isn't universal, it isn't true and therefore not proper knowledge.
Let us stipulate that God -- or O, rather -- is by definition "OMniscient." We could also turn this around and say "omniscient is O," since it is the only case -- even if hypothetical -- of omniscience.
Except we are also told that Jesus is "true God." If so, then he is "ʘmniscient." But how? How can a man be omniscient? We can affirm it, but can we understand it, even by analogy?
And if we can't, isn't it just nonsense? Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, for such "nonsense" can nevertheless serve the purpose of placing a border around thought, and let us know that beyond this border, no productive thought is possible. Like "zero" in math, we need a placeholder for nothing in order to think.
There are many such boundaries in Judaism, which no doubt contribute to their being such a freakishly productive people. For example, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Period. Issue settled. Move along. Get a job. Support your family. Don't waste your life in idle speculation about what comes "before" creation.
(The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo serves a similar purpose in Christian metaphysics, which one might say is meaningless in a meaningful way.)
So, again: how are we to understand how this applies to Jesus? In other words, if we say he is "omniscient," is this something we may actually "think about," or is it more a kind of pneumacognitive boundary to prevent us from wasting our time on unproductive speculation? Should we just say it's a "mystery," and leave it alone?
No doubt this is fine for most people, since most people are not metaphysicians or Raccoons. For the majority of believers it is more important what they "feel" than what they know, although it should be emphasized that in a normal person, feeling serves as a kind of very sophisticated and rapid-response knowing.
Revelation is addressed to the "average" mentality. So where does this leave those of us who are at the margins of normality? Is there no religion for us? Did God forget about us in his haste to fashion a revelation for mass consumption?
Oh, and before you even go there, no, this does not make us "elite" or "special." Rather, it simply and dispassionately acknowledges who we are. We could pretend to be otherwhos in order to "pass" in normal society, but as we mentioned a day or two ago, the "original sin" is pretending to be someone we are not.
A lot of mis- and disunderstanding might be avoided if our detractors could simply acknowledge that we do not run a blog for normals. As we speak, there are over 500 religious blogs that cater to normotic personalities, and are (naturally) more popular than ours. This is to be expected, as there is no shortage of nonbʘbs.
Back to our idle questions about the nature of Jesus' mentality. Schönborn asks, "Is the concept of 'omniscience' a meaningful concept at all?" If so, "what might represent its corresponding finite analogy in human consciousness?"
Is it Al Gore, the self-styled omniscient weatherman who drunkenly assures us that any opinion deviating from his is BULLSHIT!!! Is it the petulant and peevish know-it-all Obama, or is he just bluffing? No, because someone who pretends at omniscience is just infinitely stupid, or Ømniscient. That sort of unsettling Ømni-science is indeed settled.
Let's start with some basics. As Schönborn explains, "Omniscience cannot be the sum of all present, past, and future propositions." In other words, by its very nature, "One does not become omniscient" because "one cannot get from a finite to an infinite knowledge by a process of addition."
That may be helpful, because it suggests that omniscience is not so much the "content" as the "mode," so to speak. In fact, it can't really be the content, because (as deifined at the top) in the mode of the "infinite" there can be no boundary, no limitation, no determination, no distinction between knowledge and its knower.
Bob, that makes me a little uncomfortable, because you're beginning to sound like some kind of mush-headed non-dual mystic who reduces the world to an infinite blob of no-thingness.
Don't worry about that. We are not one of those. Nor are there any hidden fees in my saying so. One Cosmos will never grovel for your love offerings.
Schönborn goes on to point out that "negative [apophatic] theology" is a kind of unknowculation against our attempts to grasp what cannot be grasped with our finite minds, which "simply cannot imagine a total knowledge."
Unimaginable. Immarginable. Reminds me of Joyce's boundary-less and omnihilist text. Perhaps it can provide a clue or two.
"There is no agreement as to what Finnegans Wake is about, whether or not it is 'about' anything, or even whether it is, in any ordinary sense of the word, 'readable.'"
Now we're getting nowhere, and fast! An unreadable text that isn't about anything. And yet, "it is, perhaps, the single most intentionally crafted literary artifact that our culture has produced." But why would someone spend their life painstakingly crafting a meaningless text?
O, I don't know, except when I do. How and why does a meaningless cosmos make such sense to us? And doesn't any kind of real and universal knowledge necessarily partake of...
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Wanted: One Messiah. No Experience Necessary
Any idiot can change the world, but that doesn't mean you can change reality. But the left long ago abandoned any pretense of understanding the world for changing the world. Change! Change is good, isn't it? Isn't this what they were hoping for? Finally the death of capitalism.
It's fine, I suppose, to have an adolescent ideology when one is an adolescent. But what if adolescence is the maturational terminus of said ideology, and every institution established or infiltrated by these immature ideologues legitimizes their immaturity?
Not only do we need a different ideology -- one that isn't, to be exact -- but some adults to administer it. Because it will take the rest of our lives -- at least -- to undo the mess the left has gotten us into, not just here, but around the world.
Yesterday I had to inform my six year-old that his allowance will not begin to cover the bill for Obama's spending spree. Naturally he's going to want a raise, but then I had to explain to him the perils of inflation.
Indeed, it will require an unusual (these days) degree of maturity to endure the patience that will be required to dig our way out. For one thing is certain: even the wisest and most mature adults will not be able to turn this around in one, two, or four years. Which will be the basis of the left's shrill calls for more socialism in the coming years, in order to solve the problems created by socialism (which, you will recall, all started with the socialist attempt to make everyone a homeowner -- or rather, to force lenders to make loans to unqualified borrowers).
Oh well. Human nature. Never say that it's not in need of redemption.
Which brings us back to our freewheeling discussion of Christology, in particular, how we may approach the question of human and divine natures coexisting in the same being.
"For the Son is not the Father -- for only one is the Father, and yet he is what the Father is -- nor is the Spirit the Son, because he comes from the Father, for only one is the Only-begotten, and yet he is what the Son is" (Gregory the Theologian).
In other words, the three persons of the Trinity share an essential "what" but not the "who." This would imply that the What is "deeper" or more fundamental than the Who, but this is not so, because the "whoness" is intrinsic to the "whatness."
What this means is that there is no What without a Who, or rather, no AM without an I. And there is no I without a Thou, and no I-Thou without a link between that is called "love," but which I would prefer to symbolize (L) and (K).
For love and knowledge -- or truth -- are always related, no matter how much one may wish to deny it (but why would one want to, anyway?). Put it this way. You -- you there: do you have any obligation to Truth? Do you owe the Truth your allegiance, your respect, your devotion even?
Of course you do. If you don't, then why am I listening to you? And why are you bothering with me?
If we ask the question, "Who am I?", it is obviously insufficient to answer it in any materialistic way, but also with any general appeal to Being, because man is always personal being. Indeed, he is the mode of personal being within the cosmos (which is why a part of him is always "without" the cosmos, i.e., transcendent). And this personal being is always particular, even though it shares the general features. Yes, I am somebody, but not just anybody.
Oddly enough, this issue reverts back to our opening comments about the current crisis. For if we fail to respect the distinctions within the Trinity, we end up with an admixture that always redounds to our detriment: "Intermingling would mean caesaropapism or political messianism, when a political reality is equated with the Kingdom of God. The human element is swallowed up here" (Schönborn).
This is why genuine religiosity was and is an inoculation against the latest messianism of the left, i.e., Obama. Only a rube or knave would place hope in this mediocrity, who is merely a nothing when he isn't busy pretending to be everything.
And you will see more and more of this recognition on the left, as the scales fall from their eyes and he transitions from everything back to nothing, from somebody back to anybody. The important point is that he hasn't changed, only the projections of those who saw something more in him than a smooth-talking but none-too-bright community agitator.
As usual, this will not be an occasion for introspection on the left or in the media (but I repeat myself), but an occasion to reassemble the search committee for the next messiah. In fact, I believe they'd already have one in place -- as they did in 1980 -- if it weren't for Obama's "race" (which I place in quotes only because I attach no importance to it). For the Democrats cannot alienate blacks and win any national election. Live by the race card, die by the race card.
Picking up where we left off yesterday, we were discussing the nature of "self-knowledge." Now, even the most thorough knowledge of oneself is nothing whatsoever like scientific knowledge, i.e., knowledge of objects and principles. Rather, it is first of all interior knowledge of one's interior, but also "knowing oneself as a whole" (Schönborn), even though the latter is never -- and can never be -- completely conscious.
This a priori "wholeness of self" is an extremely mysterious reality that doesn't receive sufficient attention. For it's one thing for us to perceive exterior oneness, or relative wholeness, in an object of some sort, which has clear boundaries around it. But how to account for the interior wholeness that we take for granted, but which is the implicate ground of our humanness?
It seems that Augustine confronted this question way back in the day. According to Schönborn, he was "convinced that there is something that 'every mind knows of itself and about which it is certain,'" which is none other than I Am.
In this regard, he anticipates Descartes by a millennium or so, but without going off the rails into a mere rationalism: "This ultimate certainty, which can never become objective knowledge, is the basis of all perception" (ibid.).
Thus, not "I think, therefore I am," but rather, "I am, therefore I think." For remember: there is no AM in the absence of the I; and in order for thinking to be both "in truth" and (therefore) efficacious, it must obviously be in conformity to Truth. And do you owe no obligation to Truth? Of course you do. We've already settled that.
Long story short, I believe it is fair to say that, since Jesus is "true man," then all of the above observations must apply to him as well -- indeed, must apply to him quintessentially.
For he surely respects the distinctions within the Trinity, even while knowing that they cannot ultimately be separate; he has an unusually high degree of self-awareness, and with it, other-understanding, or empathy; has a total allegiance to Truth; and does not conflate celestial and terrestrial dimensions, despite the ubiquitous temptation to vote Democrat.
Ah, nostalgia. Good times, good times... until Thatcher had to come along and wreck things.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Monday Morning Metaphysical Quarterbacking
Well, obviously I am Bob. Even the least of you knows that. Nevertheless, just because one knows that I am Bob -- and some days even I have my doubts -- it doesn't mean one knows what it is like to be Bob, hence the need for a more systematic Bobology, not to mention all those years of psychotherapy.
In the case of Jesus -- as mentioned in the antepost -- it is one thing to say that he is "two natures in one person," but this serves the purpose more of defining what he is not as opposed to providing any kind of understanding of what it is like to be him.
For if someone is truly sui generis, one-of-a-kind and kind-of-a-One, isn't it a little like trying to understand the consciousness of a different species? And yet, it is insisted: true man. That being the case, there must be some way to relate to this true man despite the fact that he also happens to be true God.
Returning to Schönborn's discussion of Rahner's stab at it, recall that the latter begins with a proper description of human consciousness, which exists on a vertical spectrum, to which our conscious mind -- which is only a small part of consciousness as such -- does not and cannot have total access.
For practical reasons alone, if we were bombarded every moment with everything we "know," we would immediately become paralyzed.
For example, the average human knows tens of thousands of words, and yet, at the moment, they are pouring out of me without any conscious awareness of this reservoir, nor any agonizing decisions over which ones to use... er, deploy... no, wield... toss out there... press into service. It is not as if I rifle through this word-dump and and consider the infinite possibilities buried there. And in a pinch, I just make up a new one anyway.
The point is that for any "true man," one of the most striking things about him will be this dialectic -- or complementarity -- between what is implicit and explicit -- between tacit and focal awareness, between what we know and all we know. Does the jazz musician plot out his solo before he delivers it?
And this isn't even getting into the issue of the neurotic person, who unconsciously knows all sorts of troubling things he consciously denies, or who consciously knows things that just ain't so.
Presumably, this would be one of the human foibles to which Jesus was not heir. He was of course tempted by it, but did not fall into it. For the "first temptation" is always the invitation to be someone you're not.
Regarding our tacit knowledge, I once read something about the extremely sophisticated knowledge of physics and gravity that the successful NFL quarterback must possess. I mean, some nerd could work out on paper the timing, velocity, and trajectory required to dispatch a 15 ounce object to its moving target, but by the time he arrived at the answer he'd be sacked.
When we say we "know ourselves," what kind of knowledge is this? It certainly is not, and cannot be, scientific knowledge, since it is entirely private knowledge, which no one else can ever know on a firsthand basis.
But more troublingly, science does not regard it as ontologically real anyway. This means, perversely, that in order to be an "orthodox scientist" -- i.e., to embrace scientism -- the rallying cry must be do not know thyself! For to believe there is a "self" to be known is to fall into the trap of essentialism, which science dismisses as pure illusion.
For the record, I do not believe that such scientists exist, but that they are analogous to the neurotic referenced above. That is to say, they deny consciously -- and rationalistically -- what they unconsciously know full well. No one could actually live their absurd metaphysic and remain human. I'm not sure "what" they would be, but whatever it is, it would not be human. Ayn Rand, maybe.
So clearly, when we say that Jesus is "true man," it cannot mean that he is analogous to, say, Spock, a creature of pure reason; or omniscient in the manner, say, of a computer, which has immediate access to "all it knows." For a computer, there are no "hard" questions and "easy" ones. No computer says, "Hmm, that's a provocative question. Hadn't considered that angle. Mind if I sleep on it?"
Speaking of which, we learn from the gospels that Jesus spends a lot of his spare time "praying to his father." What's that all about? More to the point, what does it say about his -- and our -- humanness? For clearly, it implies a simultaneous continuity and discontinuity between one aspect and another -- or one person and another, to be precise.
I'm just free associating here as usual, but it just occurred to me that (in my opinion) a breakthrough occurred in psychoanalytic theory when it was discovered that the unconscious is not full of static "objects," so to speak, but relationships. This is why modern psychoanalysis is referred to as Object Relations theory.
But even that is a misnomer, because a more accurate name would be Subject Relations. The unconscious mind is really a kook depository of troubling relationships which most people end up acting out in relationships with other people. "Acting out" is the opposite of "insight," which we might term "thinking-in." Thinking-in prevents acting-out, while acting-out substitutes for thinking-in. To put it another way, neurotic action is exteriorized thought.
And as it so happens, many of Jesus' parables and actions can be seen as counsels to stop acting out and to start thinking about one's emotions and impulses, e.g., turn the other cheek, pull that beam out of your eye, stop stoning that sinner, don't be so quick to judge, etc. The only way to "know thyself" is to first create a space between thought or emotion and impulse or action.
Back to the question of what self-knowledge is. Rahner calls it "an a priori nonobjective knowledge of oneself.... This basic mode of being is not objective knowledge, and normally we do not deal with it; reflection never adequately catches up with this basic mode of being, even when it is explicitly directed toward it."
This essential "selfhood" is indeed a problem. Again, scientists just make it disappear via denial, whereas eastern religions do so via a radical disengagement and subsequent impersonal identification with its ground (even though they do not and cannot really rid themselves -- much less, us! -- of themselves, but rather, generally become new-age Salesmen).
I'm pressed for time this morning. I'll have to pick up the thread tomorrow.
Friday, August 05, 2011
Son of God? Tell it to the Pagans!
One of the obvious tensions in early Christology resulted from the fact that these were Jews, even devout ones. "Christian" was not a self-designation, but a Roman epithet for these eccentric and annoying meshugeners.
True, they were messianic Jews -- but that can be said of all Jews, since being a Jew means being always on the lookout for his appearance. The problem was that the résumé of this particular candidate in no way met expectations. More problematically, there was nothing in existing Judaism permitting the messiah -- or any other man, for that matter -- to be the "son of God." Judaism is not some kind of pagan fertility cult.
Remember, these were strict monotheists. There was nothing kosher, to put it mildly, about the idea of God being a man, becoming a man, or appearing in the form of a man: Er, no. We don't do that. That is for the superstitious Romans who make up silly stories and pretend their Caesars are gods.
Which is perhaps why the story generally went down easier with the goyim, but often at the expense of distorting it with a pagan, not Jewish, mentality. Many of the heresies that had to be struck down over the centuries were a result of thought that was not properly Christian -- which was in the process of development -- and certainly not Jewish, but rather, pagan. No different from today.
In fact, I had this very conversation with a Jewish relative a couple of months ago, who said she had no difficulty with the idea of Jesus as a prophet or moral teacher, but that the second commandment was an insurmountable obstacle to ever regarding him as God. Can't go there. Monotheism is monotheism, and idolatry is idolatry.
She is, of course, correct. Except that she has erected a false dichotomy of Jewish-pagan, rather than the complementarity, or organicity, of Jewish-Christian. This is in no way to imply that she should abandon Judaism, only to say that in order to understand Christianity, one must look at it through its own categories (some of which address precisely the issues she raises).
Ironically, the reality, in our opinion, only adds to the credibility of the gospels, since only a rather inattentive or frankly oblivious Jew would try to convince other Jews with a tall tale calculated to repel them. While you're at it, might as well say the messiah is a bacon-loving polygamist who sacrifices children to Ba'al. If you're going to make something up, why not at least make it plausible -- or even just palatable -- to your audience?
But as we were discussing yesterday, this is precisely why it took hundreds of years to sort this all out, and to square monotheism with the circle of trinitarianism -- which is obviously not tri-theism, God forbid!
The ultimate result was a delicate balance that preserves a strict monotheism while allowing the Incarnation. Just the fact that it took so long to fine-tune this theology shows how seriously these early theologians took the connection to Judaism.
On to the main program. I'm going to skip straight to the part of the book that most caught my attention and made my eyes bug out of my head, carom off the page, and shoot back into their sockets. I should point out that I haven't yet thought about the implications. I just knew that there were some implications, and that the passage would make for good blogfodder. I put my mind "on hold" until I could post about it, so the bobservations could be freshly half-baked, as usual.
Schönborn reviews Karl Rahner's attempt to grapple with the question of what Jesus' mentality must have been like. Is there any earthly analogue that allows us to at least imagine what it must have been like? After all, it is said that he was "true man." That being the case, how can this be reconciled with being "true God"?
In practical, everyday terms, what is it like to have "two natures"? Does this mean he's conflicted, like any other neurotic with competing agendas? Does the man know what the God is up to? If so, then what's the big deal about the Passion? Doesn't he know it will all turn out well in the end? Isn't he omniscient?
These might seem like silly questions, but they were precisely the sort of questions that have been asked since the beginning. You can just say, as many people do, that the questions are not susceptible to any rationalistic answers, and that it's just a mystery. Fine. But is this really a satisfactory answer?
More to the point, doesn't this create a huge barrier between us and Jesus, when there is supposed to be not just "companionship," but intimacy? How can one be intimate with someone whose mentality we cannot possibly understand? How may we approach someone who is so elevated, so brilliant, so lofty, that we are not worthy of him -- like the pagan godman Obama, who is barefootin' while the Dow burns?
Rahner's analysis of this question is quite "modern" -- and I mean that in a good way -- in that it takes advantage of just how much more we know about the mind than was known in "pre-critical" times (without tossing out what moderns have forgotten!).
For example, he begins with the critical idea that consciousness is never a kind of one-dimensional phenomenon. Rather, it is a "many-tiered structure" in which "at any given point in time man will consciously know some facts, but unconsciously know others" (emphasis mine).
And this doesn't just go for the "Freudian" or "pathological" unconscious, important though that may be. Rather, it would also apply to the scientific, cultural, historical, religious, and any other kind of unconscious -- which should really be called unConscious, since there is nothing "un" about it. Rather, it is quite conscious, only operating outside the realm of immediate ego-accessiblilty.
Think, for example, of one of our foundational thinkers, Michael Polanyi, and his theory of tacit knowledge. As science advances -- and in order for it to advance! -- more and more knowledge is assimilated and becomes "tacit." This knowledge -- or paradigm, really -- becomes an unConscious tool to discover new knowledge, similar to how a blind man uses a cane to probe his surroundings.
In so doing, the blind man is not consciously aware of the sensations in his hand, the only place where sensations are actually occurring. These sensations are instantaneously converted by the brain into a projected map of the space surrounding him. Indeed, if he should focus upon the hand -- the "explicit" knowledge -- then the world around him collapses and shrinks correspondingly.
If you want to know why the world of secular materialists and other flatlanders is so "small" and cramped, this is why. Like dogs, they sniff the finger pointing at the moon.
Note that any knowledge, any sensation, any thought, any conscious moment, must take place within a context of consciousness-as-such, a kind of space or sensorium for the play of thought.
And yet, can there be any kind of essential division between thinker and thought, between consciousness and its content? Or is it analogous to physical space, in which -- in a post-relativistic universe -- things are not just unproblematically in space but of it?
Grotstein calls this greater space the "background object of primary identification." It precedes us, in the sense that this is the intersubjective space we share not just with the m(O)ther, but with the cosmos -- and with all living beings. And unfortunately, things can go disastrously awry in the developmental journey from background object of primary identification to foreground subject of egoic identification, but that is the subject of a different post.
Only a "small" "part" of our consciousness is, or can be, of the self-reflexive variety, or present at any given moment. "Beyond that, there is a broad area of the subconscious, to which modern psychology devotes a great deal of research. Yet there is also a dimension, too much neglected by psychology, the 'superconscious,'" which is "a sphere of consciousness that is qualitatively different from the rational-objective consciousness" (Schönborn, emphasis mine).
Schönborn continues: "The superconscious [I would prefer "supra" conscious, or the more neutral "upper vertical"] is simply the constantly active spiritual dimension of the human soul, the original and life-giving source of any of its intellectual activity, [the] source of artistic 'inspirations' and of the great moral choices. Without being able itself to be the subject of discussion as such, the superconscious is the hidden source of every conscious activity of man" (ibid, emphasis mine).
Here I think Rahner has committed a subtle error that conflates the space of O with its content or structure -- like confusing the ocean and the fish who live there. But he is surely correct that, just as there is a constantly active unConscious, there is a ceaselessly active supraConscious -- even though, at the same time, there can be no ontological division between the two, owing to the intrinsic oneness of O.
And this leads straight to a way of understanding -- or at least imagining -- Jesus' mentality. For "The analogy with the superconscious allows us to form an idea of the simultaneous existence of two levels of consciousness, in which the upper level does not abolish the activity proper to the lower, but strengthens and guides it" (ibid.).
This is a good place to pause. To be continued....
Thursday, August 04, 2011
After all, we are told that he is two natures in one person. It shouldn't be too difficult to understand the man per se, nor the divinity. But how do the two relate? In other words, it's one thing to say that he was a man, just like any other. Bueno. But when you throw in that he also happened to be God, doesn't this make the first statement a little problematical?
By the way, before we proceed any further, I hope that what follows will be of interest to non-Christians. I should think that anyone interested in religion, or even just our humanness, or the foundations of western civilization, will find it provocative, even though I don't yet have any idea what I'm about to write.
At any rate, please bear in mind that this is from the perspective of an "outsider" -- or perhaps border-dweller at the edge of O -- or more to the point, an "explorer" who is surveying this intriguing landscape for the first time. Only an impertinent newcomer could ask such stupid questions. And whatever this post happens to be about, it feels important, and is eager to be written. So get on with it!
I also realize we're covering some very old ground here. But hey, it's new to me. In particular, the first few ecumenical councils between 325 and 680 were called in order to try to nail down this mystery, and to exclude various false formulations too numerous to mention. But few of the heresies that were repudiated along the way were exactly "stupid" or outright wrongheaded, let alone malicious. To this day, many Christians still embrace one or another, e.g., Assyrians and Coptics.
The majority of heresies were honest attempts to grapple with an issue that is not only difficult, but sui generis. In other words, there is nothing else to compare it to, plus, in reality, it's inconceivable anyway. This means that the early Fathers were essentially trying to achieve the impossible, to define with words what words cannot define.
In a very real sense, it was more of an apophatic than cataphatic endeavor, in the sense that the eventual formulation -- one person and two natures, without confusion and without division -- was designed so as to prevent traversing down certain fruitless avenues.
It reminds me of a map with clearly drawn boundaries around a completely mysterious center. Just because we know the boundaries, it doesn't mean we have any idea of what's going on within them. I know that Judaism has many similar boundaries that are designed not so much to disclose the mystery as to protect it.
But think for a moment how long it took to nail this bit of theological jello to the ecumenical wall. The first Council wasn't called for nearly 300 years after the death of Jesus. That's longer than the existence of the United States. It would be analogous to the Constitutional Convention still going on today, with different factions arguing over the meanings of "liberty" or "equality."
Which, of course, is still going on today, with the two factions as bitterly divided as ever. You might say that for constitutional conservatives, the left is a heresy. But for leftists who believe in a "living constitution," we are obviously the heretics and even terrorists.
In any event, the reason I've been thinking about this is because I've been reading Cardinal Schönborn's new work of Christology, God Sent His Son. This follows my usual highly disciplined pattern of reading whatever happens to fall into my hands, whether it is a cereal box or a work of metaphysical speculation.
Schönborn is apparently one of the cardinal's heavy hitters; among other things, he was editorial secretary of the catechism of the Catholic Church, and he obviously moves in the same theological circles as luminaries such as Balthasar and Ratzinger (although I don't find his writing to be nearly as exalted -- much more dry and scholarly).
Much of the book comes down to a somewhat tedious, if necessary, history lesson about this 2000 year long debate. Is there anything fresh that can be added to it? We have been given the fence. That's not going to change. But is there any new or better way to think about what's going on inside that fence?
In other words, I fully understand that certain things must be taken "on faith," not only because faith is a prelude to understanding, but also because minds much finer than ours have already thought this through, so that we don't have to reinvent the spiel each generation.
Nevertheless, I am not the sort of person who just wants to jettison everything we've learned about the world over the past two millennia. In fact, I don't happen to think that we should try to adapt our thought to premodern modes (nor could we anyway).
Rather -- and this is one of the mysteries and miracles of revelation -- I have discovered, to my surprise, that it is eminently possible to adapt revelation to whatever history happens to toss up, without in any way compromising the revelation.
This is indeed a mystery. Why should words uttered by some anonymous peasant 2000 years ago have any relevance whatsoever to contemporary human beings? No doubt most all of what was thought, said, and written back then is of no interest or relevance to us.
And yet, we have this fellow Jesus, whose words are still pored over for meaning which is too superabundant to be contained by any generation that has followed him. If nothing else, this argues for a very peculiar type of mentality. It's a little depressing when you think about it. Is anything you have said or written going to be debated in 2000 years? Will I still have cyberstalking trolls in 4011? I can only hope.
As Schönborn writes, "even if Jesus' period and his environment left their mark on him, it is still more true that he has left his mark on his, ours, and all other ages and on our whole world.... Only a unique and incomparable consciousness can be at the source of Christ's work of revelation and redemption" (emphasis mine).
What I would say is that there can be no effect without a cause. The effect of Jesus is clear enough. I don't think it can be gainsaid -- by believer and non-believer alike -- that he has been the most "efficacious" person in history, the most influential, impossible to ignore.
That being the case, what is the cause of this outrageous effect? Obviously the question is impossible to even approach in the absence of a framework that permits transnatural and nonlocal causation. The alternatives are just too banal to take seriously.
The most readily accessible information about Jesus is contained in the Gospels, but even -- or especially -- there, we are always confronted with a Mystery, which is again why it took hundreds of years to even place some kind of boundary around it. So let's dive into the Mystery, and see if we can't pull out a live one.
One of the purposes of theology is to facilitate thinking about -- or in -- God. Structurally speaking, this is no different than science or psychology, which provide us with models to think about what otherwise cannot be thought.
Thus, the question is not necessarily whether this or that scientific theory is "true" in the ultimate sense -- indeed, we know going in that no relativity can be absolute -- but whether it is fruitful, whether it answers questions, whether it pulls together diverse phenomena, and whether it generates new and deeper questions. This is how we should think about theology, not as absolute truth, but as a way to think about the Absolute in our relative sphere.
To be continued....
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Wisdom is Not Autism and Life is Not Death
In other words, even the merest scrap of knowledge always points in two directions, or has an interior and exterior horizon. As we ascend the hierarchy of being, this division of interior and exterior becomes increasingly apparent. When we look at another person, we always know that there is an interior hidden from us -- by which we do not mean blood and guts, but interiority per se. For just as there is a dark side of the moon, there must somewhere exist an infinitesimal bright side of the moonbat.
There are exceptions to this rule. Most conspicuously, severely autistic people do not have access to the human interior, resulting in a bizarre world of arbitrary and unpredictable "human furniture." But autism, like most forms of mental illness, runs along a continuum. We all know people who are reliably "clueless" about human reality. One of them is a frequent commenter here. You may know him by his impregnable head of solid rock.
Importantly, our first and most enduring orientation to the world is via this human interiority. We do not start off "autistic" and only then enter the human interior. Rather -- and this is obvious both personally and historically -- the interior precedes the exterior.
Only very gradually has mankind evolved so as to disentangle mind from matter, so to speak, and view the world scientifically, which is to say, objectively. Science provides knowledge of exteriors. But this hardly means that real reality consists of exteriors only. Insisting otherwise constitutes a metaphysical boo-boo that is fundamental, pervasive, and naive in the extreme.
In reality, there can be no real separation between the poles of fact and value, quantity and quality, knowledge and mystery, known and unKnown. Yes, there can certainly be a methodological separation between them, but the scientistic mind makes the elementary error of confusing method and ontology -- which is very much analogous to the absurd belief that there just so happen to be no fishes smaller than one's net.
A net pulls up creatures of a certain size, and no smaller. Likewise, Newtonian physics captures "facts" of a certain size, while quantum theory catches even smaller ones. But one would have to be slightly autistic or severely tenured to imagine that we're even close to catching everything in the ocean.
As was Gödel, but that doesn't mean his logic was unsound. Indeed, it probably required a maladjusted person -- someone external to the consensus reality -- to recognize the real one, or at least rule out the false ones.
At any rate, "this insight gives us the means to resist any division of 'value' and 'being' into two different spheres. Such a division, we recognize, is not only untenable but is nothing less than a mortal blow to the mystery of being" (Balthasar).
Again, we have no problem whatsoever with methodological dualism. If I should ever have open heart surgery, I'm cool with the idea that my surgeon looks at the heart as a blood pump. Conversely, I wouldn't want to see a psychologist who regards the brain as a thought pump.
In his The Phenomenon of Life, Hans Jonas describes our primordial, interior relationship to the world. Given the fact that modernism exiles us from this interior world, while postmodernism imprisons us in a purely personal one, it is difficult to imagine the "enchanted" mentality of premodern man, when
"Soul flooded the whole of existence and encountered itself in all things. Bare matter, that is, truly inanimate, 'dead' matter, was yet to be discovered -- and indeed its concept, so familiar to us, is anything but obvious" (Jonas).
Again, we begin -- both individually and historically, or psychologically and anthropologically -- with the interior. It could not have been otherwise, for the same reason that we don't start off autistic, and then begin to deduce the presence of the human interior by studying the parts of a face: "Let's see, the lip is upturned and the skin around the eyes is crinkled. This must mean Mother is happy. Whatever that is."
Please bear in mind that we would be the last to argue for some kind of Rousseau-ian reenchantment of nature. Ironically, this is what the scientistic types end up doing when they aren't busy disenchanting the world with their unreal abstractions. The latter activity -- unleavened by any spiritual sensibility -- results in an unreal, desiccated world, and therefore a longing for some kind of connection to primoridial reality, untouched by the chilled hand of scientism.
I'm pretty sure this is how one ends up with the retrograde paganism -- i.e., Gaia worship -- concealed in the climate changers. It's what happens when the religious instinct is denied, only to return in morbid form (which indeed occurs in virtually any kind of doctrinaire leftism). (And please recall that we do not necessarily deny "climate change." We just don't make a religion of it.)
Jonas notes that what we call a philosophical "problem" is in essence "the collision between a comprehensive view (be it hypothesis or belief) and a particular fact which will not fit into it."
Now, one way to deal with such problems is to deny the existence of any facts outside one's belief system. For example, for the left, it is impossible that other valid economic theories might exist, therefore, those of us who hold another theory are in actuality terrorists.
The psychologist in me would not minimize the feelings and perceptions of the left. Rather, if the left were my patient, the first thing I would do is acknowledge the psychic reality of the Terror. There is surely terror going on, but let's not jump to conclusions about where it is emanating from. Let's just sit with it for awhile, explore it, find out where it leads, what it is connected to in your psyche.
"You mean their psyche, right Doc?"
No, my dear Mr. (or Ms.) Leftist. Let's forget about them for awhile, at least for the hour we're here together. This time is for you. Let's just talk about you and your thoughts and feelings, and leave the world out of it for the time being. Let's pretend the world is a kind of canvas you paint upon, or a dream you dream."
Anyway, for premodern man, Death is the great riddle, the great exception to the rule of Life. But "modern thought, which began with the Renaissance, is placed in exactly the opposite theoretic situation. Death is the natural thing, life the problem" (ibid.).
As a result, "it is the existence of life within a mechanical universe which now calls for an explanation, and the explanation has to be in terms of the lifeless.... That there is life at all, and how such a thing is possible in a world of mere matter, is now the problem posed to thought" (ibid.).
Again, bear in mind that we are not arguing for a romantic reversion to animism; rather, the orthoparadoxical Raccoon argument is for the transcendent position, i.e., the psychic Third that integrates the other two. As such, we also reject the philosophical stance of the dead and tenured, who insist upon a universal ontology which negates Life (to say nothing of Mind and Spirit) "by making it one of the possible variants of the lifeless" (ibid.) -- as if life is just a weird way of being dead.
You are, of course, free to believe this, so long as you refrain from treating others as lifeless objects to be manipulated by your wonderful policies.
But in believing this nonsense -- or onlysense, rather -- please understand what you are destroying. For "to reduce life to the lifeless is nothing else than to resolve the particular into the general, the complex into the simple, and the apparent exception into the accepted rule" (ibid).
This represents the polar opposite of what was elucidated in yesterday's post vis-a-vis the particular representing the ultimate, i.e., a person. Conversely, in the scientistic view, we only become truly ourselves when we are a corpse, no longer subject to this illusory hoax of nature called an "interior."
Thus, in the conclusion of Jonas, "Our thinking today is under the ontological dominance of death."
The bottom lyin' is that one cannot be upside-down without rendering oneself inside-out.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Surfing the Future of Mankind
Let's see. We were riffing on the biography of John Paul II (to which we will return), but before long were rafting into a discussion of his theology of the body (to which we will return), before sailing over the horizon of Ratzinger's evolutionary cosmos (to which we will presently return), and then coming ashore with some of Balthasar's thoughts along the same lines, as outlined in his three volume Theo-Logic.
One point to bear in mind (as alluded to in yesterday's post) is that we cannot regard the cosmos as some sort of static or given fact, if only because its factuality hasn't yet fully disclosed itself. The world is always evolving, always coming-into-being; furthermore, "world and human existence belong necessarily to one another, so that neither a worldless man nor even a world without man seems thinkable" (Ratzinger).
No one disputes the first half of this equation, but few people outside the coonosphere even think about the second part, i.e., the impossibility of a world without man -- not necessarily Homo sapiens per se, but more generally, the necessity of a vertical "bridge" between Creator and creation in any manifestation deployed in space and time.
Even the most materialistic scientist knows that there is an intimate link between cosmos and anthropos, if only because all science depends upon the consummation and development of this intimate marriage of intelligence and intelligibility.
To put it another way, even the scientist presumably knows that science is impossible without scientists. In short, there must be a kind of anterior and posterior oneness beneath the explicit twoness (or complementarity) of cosmos and man, in the absence of which we couldn't explain anything.
Again, science advances via the reduction of multiplicity to unity. A single concept -- say, gravity -- draws together a host of phenomena, on both a micro and macro scale, that had seemed entirely separate. For Ratzinger, this "two-in-one structure" of man and cosmos "has always pointed to... unity as its final goal."
This being the case, it is incorrect to suggest that history is something that simply "happens" in the cosmos. Rather, "the cosmos is itself history. It does not merely form the scene of human history; before human history began, and later with it, cosmos is itself 'history.'" Ultimately, "there is only one single all-embracing world history, which for all the ups and downs, all the advances and setbacks that it exhibits, nevertheless has a general direction and goes 'forward'" (ibid.).
Now, this "one single all-embracing world history" is....
Take a guess!
Correct: it is the unifying theme of our book and of this blog, no matter how far we may seem to stray from the plot. We are always on the way to the place from which we never left, even if we never arrive there.
I remember an analogy used by Alan Watts. Imagine looking at a wooden fence with a hole in it. A cat walks by on the other side. Assuming no prior knowledge of cats, one would have no way of unifying the disparate phenomena appearing from our side of the hole. We would see an event play out in time, which is actually unified in a higher space.
We may apply the same idea to the cosmos, since we are in the analogous position of viewing its diverse phenomena through our finite and transitory existence on this side of the whole. As Ratzinger explains,
"Of course, to him who sees only a section of it, this piece, even though it may be relatively big, looks like a circling in the same spot. No direction is perceptible. It is only observed by him who begins to see the whole" (emphasis mine). (For example, even simplistic Darwinian evolution may only be seen by those transcending it; nothing less than man knows anything about it.)
In other words, the lower dimensional evolutionary "movement" of the cosmos can only be seen from a higher perspective -- one more reason why there can be no "naked facts," because the nature of any fact changes, depending upon the temporal and dimensional perspective.
For example, in this larger perspective, the "natural world" is not, and cannot be, some sort of abstract realm cut off from the totality of the cosmos. Rather, in an evolutionary, historical cosmos, "matter and its evolution form the prehistory of spirit or mind" (emphasis mine).
Here again, as explained in the book, it is nothing more than an unexamined prejudice -- a postmodern superstition of the tenured -- to attempt to pull the subject down into into the object, as if this provides any kind of satisfactory explanation for either.
This approach is analogous to attempting to pull the space of a building into its walls. One would have to be quite uncurious -- or a kind of craven conformist -- to accept it without at least raising one's hand in class and asking w-w-why?
One doesn't have to accept the Christian solution, but at least it confronts this question of an evolutionary cosmos head-on, without coming to a gentileman's agreement not to ask certain questions.
For if Jesus is who we think he is, then "the consummation of the world in that event could be explained as the conviction that our history is advancing to an 'omega' point, at which it will become finally and unmistakably clear that the element of stability that seems to be the supporting ground of reality, so to speak, is not mere unconscious matter."
Rather, "the real, firm ground is mind. Mind holds being together, gives it reality, indeed is reality: it is not from below but from above that being receives its capacity to subsist" (ibid., emphasis mine).
This is indeed one of our foundational orthoparadoxes, and quite literally the "connecting thread" of all our cosmic adventures. For without this connecting thread, there could be no connections and no threads at all. Regarded in this manner, what had looked merely "natural" is drawn up into a much more glorious narrative, i.e., the Adventure of Consciousness.
And not only. For this way of looking at things is, in a manner of speaking, the death of death, since the "dead world" of matter (or the world of dead matter) looks very different once life emerges from its dark womb.
But might we say the same of Mind? Is mind merely a dead end, a cosmic nul-de-slack, or does it point beyond itself to a higher source and destiny? Again, at least Christianity confronts and answers the question without changing the subject into an object:
"We have said before that nature and mind form one single history, which advances in such a way that mind emerges more and more clearly as the all-embracing element and thus anthropology and cosmology finally in actual fact coalesce.
"But this assertion of the increasing 'complexification' of the world through mind necessarily implies its unification around a personal center, for mind is not just an undefined something or other; where it exists in its own specific nature, it subsists as individuality, as person."
Therefore, this "implies that the cosmos is moving toward a unification in the personal," and "confirms once again the infinite precedence of the individual over the universal.... The world is in motion toward unity in the person. The whole draws its meaning from the individual, not the other way about" (ibid., emphasis mine).
Thus the conclusion of Christianity, at once "scandalous" and yet fully in keeping with the way things Must Be: that a single individual, a fully integrated and complete Cross-Word puzzle, is "the center of history and of the whole.... What stands at the end is a countenance. The omega of the world is a 'you,' a person, an individual."
And this, by the way, has political implications, since this quintessential cosmo-historical Person "is at the same time the final denial of all collectivism.... The final stage of the world is not the result of a natural current, but the result of responsibility that is grounded in freedom." Terrorists indeed.
I heard the word
A children's song
A child is the father of the man
(All of the quoted material is from Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. Some introduction.)
Monday, August 01, 2011
The Story of the Cosmos in Three Words
Against what? That's just it. We don't know what. Being that we're surrounded by It on all sides, it's surprising more people don't go nuts. However, there are actually many more nuts than one might suppose, once one realizes that much of what comes under the heading of "culture" -- and of human activity in general -- is just a giant defense against It. It is what happens while we're busy making other plans.
In last Friday's post, we were discussing how our natural reason is able to lead us to the threshold of the Creator, but no further (except perhaps in a very general sense). As Balthasar writes, the created mind may only come up against "the brink of the unfathomable mystery of the Creator's inmost essence." It is analogous to a vast mansion that we can see from the outside, but cannot enter.
And when we say "vast," that is putting it mildly, to put it it mildly. What we mean is that "vast" is a word we use to describe terrestrial space. It can only be a pale analogy as applied to the Creator, since he is "beyond vast," so to speak. Not only that, but it is a qualitatively different kind of space, in the same way that the "space" of the unconscious mind isn't really analogous to a big bag full of stuff.
In one sense, the cosmos may be thought of as a kind of "exteriorization" of the Creator's interior (bearing in mind that it by no means exhausts his interior, any more than a single work of art exhausts and completely discloses the genuine artist; God is not a "one-hit wonder").
As such, this big bong has an intrinsic "inside-outedness" which represents its intelligibility, precisely. To know something about anything is to understand something of its interior essence, which again proceeds in the direction of Interior --> exterior --> interior.
This intrinsic interiority is also the irreducible source of mystery in the cosmos. Getting back to the question posed in the second paragraph above -- what is It? -- It is ultimately this di-polar, complementary mystery of interiority, with us at one end and God at the ether end.
However, this way of putting it is not mysterious enough for us. That is why we would prefer to further unsaturate it, and just say O <---> (¶). (See bʘʘk for additional self-tautologies.)
In an apocryphal story, Hemingway once bet someone that he could write a compelling short story in under ten words: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."
Well, I bet I can symbolize the longest story ever told in under five symbols. Everything worth saying -- i.e., everything that is real, true, and efficacious -- is necessarily an instance of O <---> (¶). What about all that stuff that's not worth saying, knowing, learning, or repeating? That would be Ø <---> (-k).
Now, "because of this interiority, there are no naked facts" (Balthasar). I mean, right? It is amazing that this still needs to be said in the 21st century, but our detractors are always innocently coming at us with "facts," as if there is some fact somewhere that speaks for itself, with no mediation by a subject.
While we appreciate facts as much as the next guy, if there were such a thing as Naked Facts, they would be "exhaustively defined by their facticity; they would give no hint of any relation to a deeper meaning underlying them; they would have no 'significance' but their superficial meaning; because of their pure, flat factuality, they would be comprehensible in a single glance as independent, detachable units" (ibid.).
I remember having this conversation with a 20th century relative. I was trying to introduce him to the wonderful world of brilliant bloggers, but he insisted that he wanted his facts straight and unadorned by any agenda, as in the New York Times. To which I drew myself to my full height, looked him straight in the eye, and said: oh, never mind.
For where could one possibly even begin? Such a person is no longer up against It, but only up against a severely constrained imaginal world excreted by others: a pre-cogitated delusion, or second hand smoke blown up one's behind.
It reminds one of climate change models. When the climate changes in such a way that it doesn't conform to the models, instead of changing models, they attack the messenger. Everyone talks about the weather, but they finally do something about it: they politicize it. Indeed, "planetary temperature" is the perfect example of a "fact" that takes on vastly different meanings, depending upon the timeline one chooses. For example, where I live, if the temperature continues rising at the same rate it has the last hour, it will be 130˚ by midnight.
It is a fact that before we talk about this or that fact, we must account for the mysterious presence of facts-as-such.
For what is a fact? Whatever else it is, it assumes a cosmos in which "every being, every event, has significance, is laden with meaning, and is an expression and a sign pointing to something else" (emphasis mine). In short, we live in a cosmos in which everything is a symbol, which is exactly what we would expect to see in a logocentric reality. For the world is not made of atoms, or quantum waves, or of Whitheadian processes.
Rather, it is made of language: In the beginning is the Word. Or, in the words of Robert Wright, "In the beginning was, if not a word, at least a sequence of encoded information of some sort." But let's not quibble. It is the Word, which is intelligible because spoken, and vice versa.
So, to revert again to our opening question, human beings are always up against the mysterious Word. And this is true whether one is a Believer or a mere believer, because in either case, one must have faith that this Word discloses the Truth of things.
Come now. It is no less queer to suppose that this mysterious Word only conveys the truth of exteriors, because one still needs to account for the interior who comprehends them, which should -- if one thinks it through -- lead back to our little short story, O <---> (¶).
The crucial insight that springs organically from our discovery of the intimacy of being, then, is that the signifier can neither be perfectly united with nor truly separated from the signified. --Balthasar
(And in our opinion, this is because the world is irreducibly trinitarian, so that no fewer than three symbols are required to map and tell the story of its three coequal storeys, so to speak.)
Saturday, July 30, 2011
When the Pupa is Ready, the Imago Appears
As long as one clings to time, space, number and quantity, that person is on the wrong track and God is strange and far away. --Meister Eckhart
We couldn't be human if we didn't have something analogous to left and right cerebral hemispheres, with very different ways of processing information and understanding the world. As mentioned in last Sunday's post, I believe the reason we have a left and right brain is because we simultaneously mirror, and are mirrored by, the cosmos, which has both a horizontal and vertical structure.
Science deals with the horizontal aspects of the world. It is linear, deterministic, past-to-future, bottom-up, etc. It also presumes the logical atomism that seems to be "common sense" for the left brain. That is, the universe consists of an infinite number of parts which are external to one another and subject to various forces.
But the right brain isn't like this at all. Where the left brain is time oriented, the right brain sees things all at once. It is also inherently relational as opposed to atomistic. The right brain sees connections where the left brain sees divisions; it is continuous where the left brain is discontinuous. In a certain sense it is receptive and female, whereas the left brain is active and male.
I recognize that this is rather simplistic, but even if it is only "in a manner of speaking," there is nevertheless much truth to it, and confirming this truth is always just an experience away. For just as it is impossible to imagine a great poet, painter, or musician without a highly developed and integrated right brain, it is inconceivable that one could be a great theologian -- let alone saint or mystic -- without one.
We might also say that the left brain operates along the lines of asymmetrical (Aristotelian) logic, while the right brain is the realm of symmetrical logic. But no one -- unless they are brain damaged -- operates out of only one lobe, so there is always some degree of integration, although it can be relatively conscious and harmonious or unconscious and unharmonious.
For example, much of the bonehead philosophy that emanates from scientism comes either from unacknowledged sympathies emanating from the right brain, or a denial of its voice altogether. If it sounds half-witted, it is because it is.
It should be noted that in childhood the right brain develops in advance of the left, and that it has much deeper connections to the older parts of the brain such as the limbic system; as such, it is more "emotional," bearing in mind that emotions are also a sophisticated source of information, and that there can be both subtle and gross emotions (and even true and false ones -- for example, hating people who do not merit hatred).
As you may have noticed, much of spiritual development involves -- or is at least accompanied by -- a kind of "subtilization" of emotion, which is why it becomes more difficult for one to tolerate being around the Barbarians and other subspiritual riffraff.
For example, although the sacred and holy are just as real as, say, matter -- actually, more so -- they obviously cannot be detected only by the senses, but in the heart, so to speak. In turn, this is why for the left, nothing is sacred, except in an arbitrary or idiosyncratic way. They cluelessly steamroll over what is infinitely precious, like a child who gleefully smashes a cocoon to see what's inside. They habitually confuse blasphemy with courage. But aggression devoid of prudence is never courageous.
Now, one of the easiest ways to render scripture absurd is to approach it with the left brain of the scientistic mind. This is what anti-religious bigots typically do, with great self-satisfaction -- as if they are the first to have noticed that a literal reading of scripture is problematic! But if one approaches the same passages with bi-logic, the problem usually disappears.
For example, what can it possibly mean that "Christ is in me" and that "I am in Christ"? From the standpoint of conventional logic, this is patently absurd, like saying that "I am in Upper Tonga" and that "Upper Tonga is in me."
But from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, it not only makes perfect sense, but is a kind of logical corollary. We all know that God is both radically transcendent, or "beyond everything," and intensely immanent, or "within everything." With conventional logic, these statements would be mutually exclusive, but from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, they are complementary.
Speaking of complementarity, one wonders if some of the conundrums of physics cannot be reconciled in this manner. For example, from the standpoint of conventional logic, it is deeply problematic that the electron appears as either particle or wave, depending upon how one looks at it.
In other words, the same entity can either be an isolated part, or else a wave that shades off into the totality of existence. In the former sense, things are externally related and local, whereas in the latter sense they are internally related and nonlocal. This is a mystery to the left brain, but a banality to the right.
To extend the analogy a bit, much of the Bible is a primer on verticality (unlike a scientific text, which discloses horizontal knowledge in a horizontal mode). It simultaneously acquaints us with the vertical realm, while at the same time furnishing us with a vivid kind of language with which to think about and communicate it. This language was obviously quite effective for most of mankind's history. Indeed, it is perhaps difficult for modern sophisticates to understand how easily Christianity spread. People simply heard the story and said, "makes sense to me," and that was that.
But why did it make sense? The contemporary cynic will say that it had something to do with childlike naivete, or fear of death, or wishing to have a spurious sense of control over the environment. This may well have some truth in it, at least for the collective. But it is patently untrue if one reads the early fathers, whose thinking is enormously subtle and sophisticated, and is still completely relevant to moderns, to say the least.
In The Symmetry of God (a book which attempts to apply bi-logic to religion), Bomford notes that we cannot actually conceive of eternity, since it is both timeless and changeless, whereas linear thought naturally takes place in time. But we can grasp it through various analogies in the herebelow, for example, the "everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time." Therefore, we gain a sense of timelessness in proximity to things that are very old, like a European cathedral, or the Pyramids, or Larry King -- anything "whose beginning is lost in the mists of time, the ancient and the ageless, for these approximate in feeling to the everlasting."
At the other extreme, we may also glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again." Thus, a mystic such as William Blake could see eternity in a flower or grain of sand, just as Lileks can see it in an old matchbook or motel postcard.
Eternity can also be suggested "by the last event of a series." Bomford cites the example of an aging travel-writer "who had long before visited many places for the first time, and returned often, found a renewed significance in returning once more deliberately for the last time. Places regained the freshness of the first visit."
Similarly, "the last words of the dying may be seen as a key to an understanding of a whole life. The last of the series completes the picture, ends the story, and thus hints at the instantaneous wholeness of eternity."
Think "It is accomplished." What is? Oh, I don't know, maybe a little bridge between time and eternity in the heart of the cosmos, making each moment an eternal new year where death touches Life and the former is tranfsigured by the latter.
Every December 31, we touch the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they are joined at midnight. The Book of Revelation captures this quality, only on a cosmic scale, when the enthroned Christ "announces himself as The First and the Last and the Lord God himself is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end." Similarly, St. Augustine "addressed God as 'Thou Beauty, both so ancient and so new,'" an expression of eternity which has a deep unconscious resonance.
Traditional metaphysics always makes a distinction between the God-being and the God-beyond-being -- between the personal God that can be named and thought about and the Supreme Reality that is beyond name and form. The former is the cataphatic God about whom we may talk, debate and theologize in a somewhat linear way, while the latter is the apophatic God that so utterly transcends our categories that the most we can say about it is what it is not. Various formulations are "fingers pointing at the moon," and although they are doorways into the divine mystery, one should not mistake the finger for the moon.
Most rank-and-file religious people have never heard of the God-beyond-being, and might even be offended by the idea. They have a clear conception of what God is like, and don't want to be reminded that the real unconditioned God blows away those mental idols like something that blows really hard.
This distinction between the God-being and God-beyond-being is actually a distinction within God himself, and perhaps mirrors the distinction within us between symmetrical and asymmetrical logic. I don't believe it a bobmade principle, but rather, one that would be intrinsic to the inner life of the godhead. Indeed, it seems to me that the God-beyond-being is the one thing that absolutely cannot not be, although numerous implications immediately follow. God turns his face to man, but there's an awful lot going on behind a face!
This brings up an interesting point. That is, does God have mind parasites?
Well, "yes and no." For what is a mind parasite in the final analysis? It is a relativity that partakes of, and confuses itself with, absoluteness. God being God, he cannot help being present in all relativities. But being God, he cannot help being beyond them as well.
A mind parasite is a relativity that steals from the absolute and then forces itself upon others absolutely. In short it is a demon. Like everything else, it must ultimately be "of God," even though it can't be. Only symmetrical logic can reconcile this problem. Evil must needs be, but woe to the assoul who commits it!
Friday, July 29, 2011
The Freest Things in Life are Best
It is the work of a moment to prove the existence of this Creator, for, as Balthasar notes, "every entity in the cosmos necessarily reveals" him.
That's the good news. The bad news is that this recognition of necessary being simultaneously "reveals the nonnecessity of creaturely existence."
D'oh! It seems that our only real choice is to be a meaningless fish in a meaningful pond (non-dual mysticism) or a meaningful fish in a meaningless pond (existentialism).
Again, as Balthasar explains, our own contingency "is a reliable trace by which created reason can see with necessity that the Creator exists." Nevertheless, one is generally blowing smoke if one speculates beyond this point about the specific nature of the Creator, in the absence of his own self-disclosure, i.e., revelation:
"The natural knowledge of God from creation inexorably comes to a halt before the intimacy of God's personal life." In order to proceed beyond this boundary, it will require "a new revelation of grace in order to open man in faith and to communicate to him -- in abiding mystery -- what God is in his inner being."
This follows a more general cosmic principle, that what is best, or highest, or most noble -- what is "worthier or weightier" -- is "surrounded by a protective veil that withdraws them, like something sacred, from the grasping hands of the profane."
You know, the Secret Protects Itself. One must prove oneself worthy of it, in the same way intimacy between two people is founded upon trust (which is another word for faith). Those who are faith-ful are trust-worthy, and vice versa.
Now, the cold and grasping hands of the tenured paw at existence like some kind of cheap whore, who will give up her secrets to any old lout. But the secret is not, and cannot be, revealed in this aggressive context.
For one thing, secrets are whispered, not announced to all and sundry, regardless of qualification. Thus, the ham-handed materialist "may confuse hiddenness with a deficient rationality or brand with irrationality all those objects that are not accessible to the anonymous, public knowledge of the man on the street."
Although we hold science itself in the highest regard, there is a certain scientistic mindset that is positively adolescent in its hubris.
I'm sure you know the type, for this is the person who not only fails to respect the mystery, but confidently speaks as if the mystery has been "solved." It is reminiscent of the insecure but obnoxious 18 year-old who boasts of his deep understanding of female nature. But enough about Bill Maher.
In the end, "All truth is rational, but not every intelligence is competent to know every truth." The corollary of this is that, the higher or deeper the world, the more qualifications are necessary. This is simply a truism. Someone even came up with a "10,000 hour rule," whereby it takes roughly this long -- equivalent to five years of full-time practice -- to master anything from golf to writing (and this assumes an underlying gift that can be cultivated; many people spend their lives cultivating the wrong gift).
I wonder how many hours, say, Richard Dawkins, has spent cultivating his interior understanding of the Creator? I don't mean to pull rank on anyone, for even -- or especially! -- so-called experts can be wrong (Bohr said that an expert is "A person that has made every possible mistake within his or her field"). But at least I've put in much more than the requisite 10,000 hours of spadework, so I've earned the right to be wrong.
For Balthasar, "mystery" and "interiority" are related terms. For what is a mystery but the palpable presence of an unKnown interior horizon? When we say "unKnown," we mean that it is not known rationally or externally, but instead, resonates in our being on a deeper level.
This too is surely a kind of knowledge, what Christopher Bollas calls the "unthought known." One reason (among many) that no artificial intelligence will ever be similar to our own being, is that humans are surrounded by the unthought known, without which we couldn't get through a single day. The world is not regarded as some sort of flat space, in which all facts are of equal significance and accessible in the same way.
Rather, the vast majority of our thinking takes place subconsciously, unconsciously, and supraconsciously. Think, for example, of what is going on when we view a film that moves us on some deeper level.
Again, a kind of re-cognition is taking place, regardless of whether we can explain it to ourselves. Even more mysteriously, what is really happening when we are moved by a piece of music? And would any merely rational explanation be worthy of, or replace, the experience? And do you really want this mystery to go away? Really?
More mysterious still is the phenomenon of "love at first sight." This is more or less how it was between me and Mrs. G.
To be perfectly accurate, it was "love at first date." Something simply clicked that night, and we ended up talking until the sun came up, with a kind of instantaneous intimacy I had never before experienced. What was that all about? Well, first of all, it's a mystery, moron! 27 years later, and this moron is no closer to explaining it, much less exhausting it. And suffice it to say, I do not want to ever "solve" this mystery.
The same is quintessentially true of religion, assuming that one has freely chosen it and not simply been compelled to follow it, as in the Islamic world. All those nerds of the radical Enlightenment assumed it would be just a matter of time before reason made it "unnecessary," but this failed to take into consideration the much deeper level of knowing that is being engaged in religious experience. Science, since it is always "public knowledge," simply cannot reach into these intimate spaces, any more than it can understand a relationship, or a poem, or a person.
Only a mind without feeling for nobility... will complain of this hiddenness of the best.