Monday, November 19, 2012

Peeping Thomists and Mysterious Keyholes

So man is a (?!) to himself, to which many answers are possible, if not plausible.

Any even modestly deep thinker intuits that there is no possible secular answer to the question, hence the turn to religion for a more plausible or satisfying one.

But in any event, to engage in theology is to "reflect upon the fundamental assertion of Christianity as the answer to the question which man is." In other words, it is a "second pass," so to speak, over the subjective horizon where question and answer fit together in this altogether surprising way.

At least it's surprising to me. As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I did not come at this whole innerprize from the standpoint of religiosity, but all the way back from blind atheism.

By the age of nine or so I realized that Christianity -- specifically, the version presented to me -- did not address the question I was to myself. Which is what I mean when I say that Bill Maher is every bit as intelligent as a nine year old.

But it took much longer to realize that the various feeble substitutes provided by the culture didn't address the question either. If anything, they just tried to force me to be a different question -- which, when you think about it, is what all forms of secular thought, from leftism to Darwinism, do: you are a race, or a gender, or a class, or a machine, or an animal, etc. Therefore, it was back to the dreaming board.

The deeper the question, the longer you have to hold off on answering it. But a good question generates deep answers, for which reason we need to avoid premature closure vis-a-vis this Ultimate (?).

Also, to paraphrase Schuon, there is far more Light in the good question than a bad answer; and in religious matters, as we shall see, the luminous question is actually composed of the very Light we are seeking -- otherwise, it would never even occur to us to ask it.

We could also say that (?) is a kind of precursor to the grace it evokes, or is even the grace itself. In author words & symbols, our (↑) doesn't just evoke (↓), but in the last analysis, is already the descent of (↓).

The (?) we are to ourselves is not analogous to a scientific or mathematical puzzle. Rather, it is fundamentally a mystery. But the latter is not, on the one hand, a riddle to be solved, nor, on the other, "a statement which is senseless and unintelligible for us."

For which reason our own mysterious question is susceptible "to those Christian mysteries which constitute the basic content of the faith" -- things like Incarnation, Trinity, and Resurrection.

Note that those latter three, if reduced to rationalistic non-mysteries, no longer speak to our own mystery in the same deep way. Myster-O must speak to Myster-I in a deep and intelligible way, and we mustn't confuse intelligibility with mere surface reason; nor should we be expected to simply accept mysteries that have no inner resonance at all. Intelligence has its legitimate rights.

Man is a mystery to himself, but everywhere and everywhen we find him intrinsically oriented to the greater Mystery, to O. This is what motivates everyone, from the scientist, to the philosopher, to the mystic theologian. All are on a quest for answers to the mystery.

Now, there was a time, not too long ago, when none of this was problematic. But today, as Rahner points out, we have to accept the fact that "Jesus Christ is himself a problem" (or, if you are Jewish, you could say the same thing of Torah: that it is a problem because there is no God, and besides, he doesn't spend his timelessness writing books for a bunch of stiffnecked nomads wandering in the bewilderness.)

For which reason Rahner doesn't begin with Jesus. As mentioned in a previous post, Rahner doesn't get to him until chapter six. Meanwhile, he is examining the keyhole, not the key: "A keyhole forms an a priori law governing what key fits in, but it thereby discloses something about the key itself."

O ho! This explains why a guy can learn a lot by simply keeping the keyhole open and uncorrupted, instead of shoving in any damn key, or even trying to pick the lock (or looking for the key under the streetlamp because that's where the light happens to be).

It seems that it won't be long before keys will become completely obsolete. Instead, we'll just have codes and passwords for everything. A physical key is a password, just as a password is a virtual key. And the purpose of the key is to -- or let us say the key's reason for being -- is tied in with this idea of a semi-permeable membrane between two spaces, for example, the inside and outside of my house or car or bank account.

Man needs boundaries in order to live -- for example, the skin that separates us from the environment. But all human boundaries are simultaneously open and closed. For example, as we go about our day-to-day business with the world, certain boundaries are more "rigid" than they are when we are with our family. Some people hold the keys to our heart in ways others don't.

As alluded to a couple of posts back, it isn't difficult to establish the existence of God -- or better, O. What is a bit more puzzling is why human beings should not only know of O, but be oriented toward this Big Mystery. This itself reveals a great deal about our mysterious keyhole, something which Rahner calls "unthematic knowledge of God."

You might say that this latter is the completely unsaturated knowledge of God that is part of our standard equipment. Later, theology will be superimposed upon, or fill in, or respond to, this unsaturated space. It is similar to our intrinsic "preparedness," so to speak, for justice or to receive beauty. No one would create a specific beautiful object if there weren't an innate receptiveness to beauty in general. And law couldn't exist unless man loves justice.

Likewise theology. No one would waste a moment on it if it weren't a response to the primordial mystery.

Rahner speaks of the "anonymous" God. Since it is anonymous, we'll just have to call it O, on pain of descending into either mythology or rationalism or yelvertone deafness, which amount to the same thing.

In any event, "the original idea of God is not the kind of knowledge in which one grasps an object which happens to present itself directly or indirectly from the outside." Rather, it has "the character of transcendental experience" as such.

This is a subtle point, but an important, well, key to the whole. But it's so familiar, that most people seem to miss its significance -- as if any other animal -- or mere animal -- is oriented to the Mystery of All. No, this is only possible for a mirror animal.

As Rahner explains, this built-in transcendental experience -- or experience of the transcendent -- "is always present unthematically and without name." It is present in the "non-objective luminosity of the subject in its transcendence" toward the hOly Mystery.

So, once we're aware of this transcendental keyhole, then we can start talking about the type of key that might fit.

In the contemporary world this whole issue -- as with most everything else -- has become completely inverted. By which I mean that man has convinced himself that he may start his self-understanding with various kinds of knowledge that aren't really knowledge at all, not when you trace them all the way down.

Rather, the one thing we can know and must know is that this stuff we call "knowledge" is but "a small island in a vast sea that has not been traveled. It is a floating island, and it might be more familiar to us than the sea, but ultimately it is borne by the sea and only because it is can we be borne by it." Again?

Yes. So the questions become: which do we love more, "the small island of... so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?" And "is the little light with which [we illuminate] the island -- we call it science and scholarship -- to be an eternal light which will shine forever for [us]?"

"That would surely be hell."

(All quoted material from Rahner.)

16 Comments:

Blogger ted said...

Sounds like you're reigning in the wild horse of Rahner's prose. Love this... "Once we're aware of this transcendental keyhole, then we can start talking about the type of key that might fit."

11/19/2012 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Speaking of Rahner's prose - I like: which do we love more, "the small island of ... so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery".

Although you describe the task of reading Rahner laborious, from the quotes you've provided, it seems like his prose is engaging.

11/19/2012 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Requires a great deal of concentration, because every once in awhile something makes sense and you don't want to miss it.

11/19/2012 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

This reminds me of the good old days when I bought a book by Schuon purely based on the beautifully cut and polished gems quoted on this blog. I opened it to find not gemstones but a massive gem mountain, on which I was hammering in vain with my bare fists. That was quite a humiliating experience. ^_^

After years of nibbling on more digestible spiritual literature, Schuon is actually readable now. If the B'ob finds Rahner hard to read at this point, I think I should save it for my retirement, if any...

11/19/2012 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Schuon and Rahner require totally different types of concentration -- if Schuon is pile of perfectly polished gems, Rahner is the earth out of which the gems have to be laboriously mined.

11/19/2012 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

My son has been coming home lately and asking:

Son: "Dad, what is the meaning of life, not from religion, but from science?"

Dad: "Interesting question, but I'm not sure what you mean."

Son: "I mean, have you ever wondered why we're here? What's the purpose? From science, I mean."

Dad: "'Reproducing' is one idea I've heard."

Son: "No, I mean what it *means*, from science."

Dad: "What do you mean, 'from science'?"

Son: "I mean, have you ever wondered what life means, scientifically?"

Dad: "Science tells us how the physical universe apparently works. Does that help you understand what it means, or what you mean?"

Son: (furrows brow)

Dad: "It's good to wonder about questions like this. I'm glad to hear you asking them. Let's take the dog for a walk."

11/19/2012 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Now, there was a time, not too long ago, when none of this was problematic. But today, as Rahner points out, we have to accept the fact that "Jesus Christ is himself a problem" (or, if you are Jewish, you could say the same thing of Torah: that it is a problem because there is no God, and besides, he doesn't spend his timelessness writing books for a bunch of stiffnecked nomads wandering in the bewilderness.)

I'm reminded of Father Stephen's observations about the two-storey universe. Once the dominant cultural paradigm is secularism, with religion being entirely private and personal (and therefore all equally legitimate, especially the weirder it is), widespread atheism almost inevitably follows. Come to think of it, in practice it seems that many of those things which were once deemed private (and usually a little shameful) become public, while those things which were once publicly acceptable have become privatised (and usually considered shameful). And in the process, both are horizontalized.

Magister, your son sounds like a bright boy, and that's a great question.

11/19/2012 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Man needs boundaries in order to live -- for example, the skin that separates us from the environment.

I guess you could generalize that to something like life being defined as a boundary that is able to assimilate elements of its environment. An apple tree assimilates organic and inorganic material from the soil. A mouse assimilates apples. My cat assimilates mice.

Which makes me wonder about Magister Junior's question. I think a real science would be able to find meaning for human life, given the reflective nature of the external cosmos with the internal cosmos.

11/19/2012 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

mushroom

If science doesn't find meaning, it at least stimulates reflection in exactly the right directions.

I have to confess, sometimes I fear steering him wrongly/reductively.

His relationship with God has infinite value. Sometimes I think the most I should do is to encourage his attention and curiosity -- and then, only if he asks, share my own logic and conclusions.

I don't know if this is excessive respect on my part, or plain old lack of courage. It's a huge responsibility. For now, I think it's helpful for me to say things like:

- Well, do you find that satisfying?
- Yes, it's a difficult question, which means it's a good question.
- What do you think of that answer?
- I don't know. What do you think?
- My own view is that X. What do you think?

His tendency as he enters adolescence is to adopt poses of maturity. I sorta see my role as fine-tuning his BS detector -- especially when it comes to his own thinking.

My hope is that he'll ultimately be on the side of Divine Trinitarian Love, and Christ, the whole bit, as the only way of thinking and living that comports with the mystery of his nature, and nature's.

11/19/2012 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Sounds wise to me.

I have always thought that what the adolescent lacks is good judgment. Their intellect is developed well enough; they are just missing something in terms of decision-making.

11/19/2012 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

The future lies so large in front of them, it's hard to get worked up about possible "effects" of their decisions. The future is so big to them! surely it can handle a few screw-ups. They have time, and it's fun to experiment along with everyone else.

So the screw-ups tend to multiply.

You know what works? Pointing to failures. "Smoking? Yeah, that turned out really well for Aunt Margaret." That stuff really sinks in. I don't want my kids to be quivering in the corner, but come on, the effects of some decisions are technicolor clear.

The "epic fail!" turn of phrase is a really heartening indicator that the kids ARE paying attention to how bad decisions create bad ends. Now we just have to tag the right stuff with "epic win!"

11/19/2012 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"The deeper the question, the longer you have to hold off on answering it. But a good question generates deep answers, for which reason we need to avoid premature closure vis-a-vis this Ultimate (?)."

And deep answers also generate more good questions.

It's almost like they are connected. :^)

This is an understatement, but deep answers reveal more mystery.
Which makes perfect sense.

Flat or uninformed answers OTOH only tend to lead to confusion.
As we have seen repeatedly from scientistic dweebs, enviroweenies, and virtually everything leftism, secularism, etc., have to offer, or rather impose.

11/19/2012 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

Weord:
Liber-al [head up arse]
Liber-ty [that's for me]
Liber [book in Latin]

11/19/2012 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

A tale of two daughters - it scares the Dickens out of me.

Both grew up in the same house, same loving parenting, same traditions ... and yet one embraced her parent's worldview and the other rejected it.

One joined the Army and served her country in Iraq and Afganistan while the other rejected her country and moved to Europe.

I love them both - but there's one of the mysteries of life for ya.

Keep talking to your kids and there is nothing more important to give them than your time. Just my 2 cents - which based on my results may be overpriced :)

11/19/2012 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Ah, but perhaps with that grounding, the reality of life in Europe will open her eyes to the truth of the world-view she was taught. One can hope, anyway :)

It can be pretty amazing how siblings can turn out so drastically different from each other.

11/19/2012 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Thanks Julie. My prayer is that her heart has not hardened. And yes, I do have hope.

11/19/2012 10:35:00 PM  

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