Friday, August 05, 2011

Son of God? Tell it to the Pagans!

A brief aside before we proceed into the meat of the post.

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

Jesus, Christ?!

We've written many posts on the nature of the Absolute, on the Trinity, and about divinization and theosis from our side of the cosmic divide, but not so much about Jesus as a man.

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?

Well, doy!

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

Anything that is knowable conceals the unknowable mystery of its own knowability.

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.

And this is leaving aside the fact that scientists are part of the selfsame ocean they are attempting to explain. Which is why anyone who fails to assimilate Gödel's theorems into his metaphysic is just like Mickey Mouse's cheating girlfriend, Minnie. That's right: she was fucking Goofy.

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 us recall how we washed up here, because I've lost track.

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
Wonderful thing
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

Human beings are always up against it.

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.

Thus, our own interior -- or mysterious subjective horizon -- is a kind of mirror image of the Creator's interior, so that his voice ultimately echoes in our being. To the extent that we hear Truth, it is always his Master's voice, i.e., the Interior daseiner.

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.)