Monday, September 10, 2012

How the Cosmos Works, Part One

Where would nihilists be if they didn't have reality to rebel against? Even -- or especially -- Satan is no atheist, which is one of the recurring themes of the Dark Knight. Batman doesn't need the Joker, but the Joker surely needs Batman. For one thing, human life drained of spiritual significance is frankly boring:

"You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you, because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

Which they are. Evil is sadly inevitable if there is to be good. But good is necessary if evil is to exist, since the latter requires something or someone to parasitize and feed off of.

A mature person is resigned to the inevitability of evil, even while resisting it. But evil is "charged up," so to speak, by the existence of the good. How else to explain, for example, the crusading pettifuggers of the ACLU, or the morally twisted Israel haters, or the unseemly enthusiasm for unlimited abortion to the point of undisguised infanticide?

There is a clear line of demarcation -- or medarkation -- that separates the left from reality. It is the metaphysical principle of creation, which entails numberless implications. Indeed, if we were to draw a cosmic flow chart, the first fork in the descending road would be creation versus... versus what exactly?

A vast cosmic accident? No, that can't be, since the contingent presupposes the necessary. Okay, necessary? No, that makes no sense either, because it would render such things as novelty, evolution, progress, and free will impossible.

Hmm... Chaos? Here again, chaos is parasitic on order.

Let's just move on and allow the anticreationists to sort out their own metaphysic. We will add, however, that the first move into this leftward antispace permits of countless "solutions," some perhaps vaguely plausible but all ultimately false, with no way to adjudicate their veracity anyway. Yes, you could call it metaphysical masturbation.

It so happens that this weekend I was doing some heavy lifting -- specifically, lifting from Schuon, as usual. Nothing new, any more than a shower is new, but you still need one every day, just as you need your daily verticalisthenics to fight the spiritual flab and keep from going soft. Entropy, like it's cussing cousin, evil, is an inevitable consequence of existence, which is why decency requires us to swim against the worldly tide.

I'll begin with my own bobbalism, but one shared by kabbalists: that for the creationist, the world is necessarily a kind of "negation." Why negation? Because the affirmation of the world requires a "divine withdrawal" ("tzimtzum" in Hebrew, "bupkis" in Yiddish), or partial negation of God. God, of course, cannot literally negate himself, for anything that is is of God, the converse being impossible and inconceivable.

You know the wise crack: "be in the world, not of the world"? It's similar with God vis-a-vis the creation. The world is God, but God is not the world.

Here is a heavy passage lifted from the wikipedia article: "Prior to Creation, there was only the infinite or Ein Sof filling all existence. When it arose in G-d's Will to create worlds and emanate the emanated... He contracted Himself in the point at the center, in the very center of His light," which left "a void, a hollow empty space, away from the central point..."

But wait! From there he projected a lightline that extends from Creator to creature. You might say that the vertical world to which man properly belongs is in and of this river of light. Also, this light "loops around," so to speak, in man, and returns to its divine source (analogous to the curved space of the cosmos, where every journey is a return to the beginning).

Note that God begins with both an affirmation ("I am the Lord your God") and a denial ("no other gods before Me"). The first corresponds to the creative principle, the second to the manifestation of said principle. In other words, if we elevate the world to its own self-sufficient principle, we not only violate the first commandment, but have entered one of the leftward anti-worlds.

However, we do not fall into a mirror image of their error, and deny the reality of the world. No, the world is indeed real, because its source is the ultimate Real. It is even a kind of mirror of the Real, analogous to a magnifying glass with man at the center, where the light is gathered into a punpoint of pintensity.

Man is not "other than God," but the person who knows this is also aware of the vast (vertical) distance between Creator and created, principle and manifestation. Hence humility amidst the most grandiose good news one could imagine.

Analogously, we are all "inside the sun," there being no objective line one could ever draw between the sun and its rays. Or, we "see the sun," but only because the sun sees us first. Thus, to be good is to both see and be seen by the light of God.

On one level we are all composed of transmuted sunlight via photosynthesis. Likewise, the spiritual life comes down to an exercise in pneumasynthesis for those whose wood beleaf.

The sun itself stands for the Absolute -- there it is, up above -- while its rays signify the infinite -- here they are, shining everywhere and on everyone. The two terms also correspond to transcendence and immanence, also to unity and multiplicity, or One and many.

"To say radiation," writes Schuon, "is to say increasing distance, and thus progressive weakening or darkening," this explaining the "phenomenon of what we call evil." If you have a better idea, I'd like to hear it, but this one strikes me as not only plausible but necessary in its own way. We don't say that evil is literally necessary, any more than we would say sunburn is. Nevertheless, it's bound to happen, isn't it?

True enough, everything ultimately comes from God, so if you want to be perverse about it, you could say that God causes evil. But this is like saying language is evil just because the New York Times exists.

Light above and light below; thus the possibility of revelation and science, the latter having to do with revelation in the key of matter. In fact, for man there exist three principle sources or modes of revelation: Revelation as such; the world; and the intellect that knows both (I'm paraphrasing a half-remembered fragment of Schuon).

Note that Man -- actually Woman -- or better yet, their Infant -- is the last act of creation: "What in principle is of the highest order must be manifested... last of all" (Schuon). And since man is in the image of God -- and thus a co-creator -- what is highest in man is also manifested last, hence the reality of "development," or spiritual maturity. (Not for nothing is the brit milah celebrated on the eighth day of life, signifying the initiation of an olden pneumagain creative cycle.)

In fact, more generally, I think this accounts for the reality of evolution in the literal sense of the word, not the watered-down version offered by Darwinian fundamentalists who can't even account for themselves, let alone everything else.


mushroom said...

But good is necessary if evil is to exist, since the latter requires something or someone to parasitize and feed off of.

Yes, it needs the boundaries and limits of good. Evil seems to know it needs pruning if it is to bear its bitter, toxic fruit.

mushroom said...

... analogous to a magnifying glass with man at the center ...

Or man as a prism. Did I steal that from you?

Gagdad Bob said...

I guess it's a point in one way, a prism in another...

Cond0011 said...

"Evil is sadly inevitable if there is to be good. But good is necessary if evil is to live, since the latter requires something or someone to parasitize and feed off of."

They ('teh evil'), are the Original Consumers and create nothing. Consume so that it becomes part of them - an extension of themsleves. This is no different than to coerce, manipulate, control or Dominate someone (to negate the choice of the person) to do your bidding. A Tool. This is the pure manifestation of Power. Nature does its indirectly due to the laws of creation. WE do it out of choice (or necessity). Choice and necessity are two entirely different acts. One not Good, the other is in a grey area open to the Lawyer types.

CS Lewis talked about this in the Screwtape Letters the the devils want to beguile you into doing wrong and inevitably to consume you entirely - to make you part of them without any choice of your own accord (cannibalism on a variety of levels).

Tolkien touches on it with the 'Ungoliant' wanting to consume the world.

God allows us to Choose - just as we ought to allow choices of our equals (uncoerced and purely informed). this is the line between those who create and those who consume. Sure we all consume. We need to. But I'm talking about the Net-product. Do you give more than you receive? That is a scalar for self judgement - if you choose to judge yourself.

So what happens if the was a massive net of creators and a massive dearth of consumers?

You get Western Civilization (Sure it wasn't perfect, but still)

Well.. Pre post-modern. Now that Western Civilzation is working very hard to create a consumer class, it won;t take long to consume what we have built. Infact, it looks like it won't take long at all.

I'd like to reiterate the debate between God and the Devil in the silly movie "Oh God, you Devil" where the Devil proclaims that "Without me, Heaven would just have to close up shop". Of which God replies "I think we'll just find a way to struggle on".

...and yes, we can as I am all for sparkling cities and a world made purely of art (by the purest form of the definition of 'art').

Just cuz.

So much for ying and yang. :)

Magister said...


hence the necessity of God's taking the initiative eventually and sharing our nature so he could demonstrate that at-one-ment with him is indeed possible and wanted

hence also the necessity of our emptying ourselves of selfishness in our nature by taking the three vows -- poverty, obedience, and chastity -- so our wills and hearts can be open and clear enough for that relationship

sounds a lot like meeting in the middle

i.e., love

funny that

Gagdad Bob said...

And amor is "deathless" in Latin, i.e., a-mor. To empty the self is to die to the temporal and thus live in the eternal....

julie said...

I never knew that; how fitting. For some reason it reminds me of how "to bless" means "to wound." Almost like the concepts mirror each other...

Van Harvey said...

"Which they are. Evil is sadly inevitable if there is to be good. But good is necessary if evil is to exist, since the latter requires something or someone to parasitize and feed off of."

The potential of evil is necessary for Good to exist... but does Evil actually exist? It seems as if it is only there, insofar as it undoes, or obstructs what the Good does or intends.

Like a knot. Or a tangle. Or an unweaving.

The Yarn exists and is necessary, and to be able to knit any pattern, you need to be able to not knit the image being knitted.

But a Knot? Or a massive tangle? They aren't intended by the pattern, and they obstruct the image... but do they actually exist? They are certainly tangible... but are they anything in addition to the misapplication of the pattern?

On untangling them, they vanish as if they never were.

Magnus Itland said...

Well, that was interesting. I have been waiting to synchronize two definitions of evil for some time: One, that evil is the absence of good; two, that evil arises when two free wills collide.

The first would be principle, the second the instancing of it.

Generally we don't become aware of evil until something resists us. If we are particularly blessed, that something may be our conscience, sacred Scripture or some other manifestation of grace. For the ordinary person in ordinary life, it is the resistance of another will that brings about the awareness of evil. This awareness is quite correct. What is usually not, is the placement of said evil, all of it, in the other person.

But in any case, the awareness of evil shows that we are still at some distance from God. As people come closer to the Center, the sum total of evil diminishes, no thanks to those who keep shooting from a safe distance. When Jesus was on the cross, he showed a remarkable lack of interest in apportioning blame to those who deserved it: Rather, his good "swallowed up" the evil of those around him (and there was a lot of it, by all accounts.) That's amazing.

Magister said...

does Evil actually exist

it's important to be precise about what we're asking here

does evil happen/exist? yes

are there really devils? yes

does "evil" constitute a kind of being equivalent in its being-ness to "good"?

I think St. Thomas's (logical) answer was no, it does not. if I recall correctly, his argument is that evil is a deformation of the will

the will was created good, as were all things created by God

God, being good, sustains all creation in its being, and that being is good

but humans can choose poorly and screw things up

whence evil

it's tempting to let one's imagination run amok and think that the devil and his minions are this permanent army of evil, and no doubt they are indeed legion

but I wonder how many demons repent, actually, and are accepted back into the ranks of heaven

hence the rage of satan, roaming the earth for more souls to devour, etc

it's because evil has nothing in itself that sustains itself -- it survives only as a parasite on the created good

as it feeds on the good, evil looks at itself and preens like a narcissist, failing even in this to achieve any kind of self-transcendence

it's like reality attacking itself, like an auto-immune disease, like a snake trying to swallow its tail

evil is a curving, a bending, not itself an existence separate from other existences

mushroom said...

Interesting that almost any evil person thinks that good people are stupid, naive, suckers, marks, etc. Evil thinks it sits at a higher elevation and can see this alleged good for what it really is.

EbonyRaptor said...

Go Bob, Go Bob, Go Bob. Man, I really look forward to reading your blog. Like a cool drink on a hot day - you hit the spot. I hope you can continue to find the time and energy - especially now that you son is getting to the age when he will have more out of the home activities for you to share.

Anyway - stimulating topic and discussion. Love it.

EbonyRaptor said...

I questioned long ago the place of angels. From the Biblical record we know they are created beings but it is unclear when the angels were created. The angels shouted for joy when God laid the foundation of the Earth, so they existed before all of creation was complete. Once created, they are now eternal, but I'm not sure if that means they are bound within our space/time material universe or perhaps only those angels are who rebelled and were cast out of God's presence?

In any case, those angels cast out from God can only be evil because apart from God no good thing exists. So if angels exist and some have been cast out from God, than evil pre-exists the conditions of evil made known to man ... at least that seems reasonable to me.

Cond0011 said...

"For one thing, human life drained of spiritual significance is frankly boring: "

Haha!!! Groundhog Day!

"Even -- or especially -- Satan is no atheist, which is one of the recurring themes of the Dark Knight. "

"THE" Narcissist couldn't possibly be an atheist, could he? Yet someone who is wholly Self-Centered (A Narcisist), would inevitably become an 'a'theist (if he wasn't one to begin with) being that his center is himself, thus totally ungrounded and has no point of reference to guide him (A tyrant in his individual form - without the trappings of power over others). Inevitably, a narcisists actions would mirror that of the Devil himself and its outwardly manifestation would depend on the amount of power he has in the world around himself.

@Van Harvey:
"The potential of evil is necessary for Good to exist... but does Evil actually exist?"

Here's a nice video parallel to your thought:

From one perspective that I have been exploring recently, that someone who is 'evil' would have no activity on the vertical - only the lowest rungs of the horizontal.

@Ebony Raptor
"So if angels exist and some have been cast out from God, than evil pre-exists the conditions of evil made known to man ... at least that seems reasonable to me."

IMHO, Angels are to the Spiritual as Machines are to the Material. But that's just me.