Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Bigger the Mansion, the Deeper the Foundation

I remember reading that Schuon, although German was his mother tongue, preferred to write in French, because he found it much more conducive to expressing highly subtle metaphysical ideas with clarity and precision. He felt that German simply wasn't up to the task. Which might well explain the problem with KantHegelHeideggar et al.

On the other hand, they say that Schopenhauer was a fine stylist who expressed himself clearly despite being burdened by the German tongue. He absolutely detested the bloviating Hegel, and wasn't afraid to say so. Here are some of his greatest hits:

"[If] I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right."

That is a rather overlong sentence, though.

Moreover, "If I were to say that this pseudo-philosophy has as its central idea an absurd notion grasped from thin air, that it dispenses with reasons and consequents, in other words, is demonstrated by nothing, and itself does not prove or explain anything, that it lacks originality and is a mere parody of scholastic realism and at the same time of Spinozism, and that the monster is also supposed to represent Christianity turned inside out, hence, ‘The face of a lion, the belly of a goat, the hindquarters of a dragon,’ again I should be right."

Hey, that's what I said about the Democratic platform!

"Further, if I were to say that this [Great Philosopher] scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work... without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.”

Calling Professor Krugman!

Finally: Hegel is "a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense. This nonsense has been noisily proclaimed as immortal wisdom by mercenary followers and readily accepted as such by all fools, who thus joined into as perfect a chorus of admiration as had ever been heard before. The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of a whole generation.”

Now there is a singular feat. In order to accomplish the same corruption in America, it required the entire leftist educational establishment.

Anyway, toward the end of his life Schuon reverted to German, but this was when he essentially wrote nothing but poetry. For the purposes of the latter, German was the more effective vehicle, presumably because it burrowed all the way down to his most primary experiences -- the types of primordial thingys beyond, beneath, behind, and above speech.

So I guess we're stuck with Rahner and his German, and we'll just have to deal with it. You can pretty much open a page at random and be faced with a wall of impenetrable semantic something. What makes it especially funny is that --

Put it this way. You know how I'm always *helpfully* saying in other words? A reader once commented on this, and thanked me for it (I think he even said that the blog ought to be called In Other Words, which is not a bad idea).

Anyway, this quaint expression is supposed to be a tipoff that what follows is going to be the same idea presented in a more digestible form. No, not "dumbed down," but if anything, "dumbed up." I often do it for my own benefit, because if you can vividly and spontaneously describe the same thing from various angles -- as if it's standing right there before your mind's eye -- you can be pretty sure it's really there.

But when Rahner says "in other words" -- or the German equivalent thereof -- it's just more words, and there's a fifty-fifty chance that they are even less clear.

This whole thing about clarity of expression. Is it overrated? One would think so, given the appalling quality of writing one finds in academia.

But I am of the belief that if one really and truly understands something, one should be able to express it in a clear and convincing manner, in such a way that a person of average intelligence should be capable of understanding it (assuming, of course, genuine curiosity, good will, and intellectual honesty on the reader's part; and a pinch of grace, of course).

I know what you're thinking: "you should talk, Bob, what with all the mystagogic homophonia, sub-Joycean pundamentalism, and general portmanteau much of a good thing." I see your point and I'll even raise you a nickel, but that's getting into the whole Raccoon doctrine of Perfect Nonsense, and we don't have time for such nonsense at the moment.

On to Rahner. As alluded to in yesterday's post, he doesn't start his analysis of the foundations of Christianity with Christianity. For many faithful this no doubt sounds suspicious, but I think he's absolutely correct to do so. For starters, how does one -- especially in the no longer homogeneous modern world -- talk about Christianity in a way that isn't just solipsistic?

In other words, it isn't really intellectually honest -- if that's the right word -- to ground Christianity in Christianity, because it begs the question. Obviously there are millions of Christians who do this, and that's fine. It's perfectly valid for purposes of salvation (is that all?), but not really optimal for communication. For example, if someone asks how you know Christianity is "true," it's not going to impress your interlocutor to respond, "because it says so."

Think of the fundamentalist who says that every word of the Bible is literally true. How does he know this? Not only does the Bible nowhere say this, but it is entirely accurate to say that the Bible knows nothing of this thing called a "Bible." What, do you think that when Paul was dashing off his letters he knew that someone would later come along and put them in a book that includes not just the Torah and prophets but also the Gospels which were composed after he died?

As far as I can discern, one of Rahner's central concerns is this issue of helping Christian theology make sense to a mentality that is entirely different from the mentality which prevailed when it was developed.

Sure, you can keep expressing it with the same old cognitive tools, but in the long run it's probably not going to work. Or there will be an intolerable split between religious cognition and other forms of cognition, both within the individual and in the wider collective.

It no doubt helps explain why we have this dreadful being in the White House, because his most vocal supporters obviously know nothing of God (and are proud of it). But it's not entirely their fault, since they are the passive victims of an infrahuman culture that made them what they are (and more importantly, aren't). Their primary sin is this spiritual and intellectual passivity, but we can see that passivity soon enough transforms to a disordered activity in order to fill the void. That is how you create a liberal. (Note the more subtle point -- that we are all created; the leftist is a creature of his horizontal matrix no less than we are of the vertico-horizontal nouscape.)

So Foundations of Christian Faith starts with five chapters before it gets into anything specifically Christian. It is not until chapter VI that he gets to "what is most specifically Christian in Christianity, Jesus Christ." But there are excellent reasons for this, and I've never seen anyone approach the issues in such a, well, fundamental way.

That is to say, before we can have this phenomenon called Jesus Christ, we must assume -- or establish, rather -- a certain ontology, cosmology, anthropology; we must understand the nature of language, of space, time, and history, of why man is in need of this thing called "salvation," how such a thing could even be possible, and how man could recognize it if it were.

We must ask what it could mean for God to "become" something other than what he is, or indeed how the changeless can "become" at all. We must understand how the infinite may clothe itself in finitude, and how it is possible for man to understand communications from God (whatever that is), and what kind of understandable category the "godman" falls into.

This post was deusrupted by having to take the boy to school. To be continued....

17 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

But I am of the belief that if one really and truly understands something, one should be able to express it in a clear and convincing manner, in such a way that a person of average intelligence should be capable of understanding it...

That's true. "Average" is, of course, over the head of the average troll who seems to think a person of actual average intelligence, like Obama, is brilliant.

Back to the important stuff.

11/14/2012 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...to a mentality that is entirely different from the mentality which prevailed when it was developed...

One of the reasons Christianity could catch hold so deeply and easily in a pagan, basically Hellenistic world, was that the truth of Christ and the Cross could be anchored in the mythology of that worldview.

Now we need to anchor in the mythology of scientism.

11/14/2012 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well put. You gotta meet people where they are.

11/14/2012 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Their primary sin is this spiritual and intellectual passivity..."

Indeed. I think I may have mentioned that back in yeOldRick, in church, I pretty much did what the guy next to me was doing. We were probably copying off each others paperwords, when you get right ground to it.

11/14/2012 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bob, does this mean you'll be translighting your book into noncoonglish? Normals are dying to know...they just don't know it yet.

11/14/2012 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

If I do, I'll know just what to call it: In Other Words

11/14/2012 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

The problem with time is seems to speed up when you need it to slow down and slow down when you want it to speed up.

As you fly away everyday to catch and digest Rahner, I pine away in the nest awaiting your return to feed me :)

11/14/2012 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

I admire the philosophical throat-clearing. In the intellectual world, you have to establish the truth of your premises before you can advance a logical conclusion. It's a constant pity that more tenured people don't follow that example.

Should we really worry about the intellect, though? It seems to me the major problem these days is sensibility. Most people just don't *feel* Christ as transcendent and transforming. The new iPhone is the Big Deal, not the New Testament.

From what I observe in young people, the best way for the Church to engage them is to be, itself, an extraordinary community of divine love. Think of those early Corinthian girls coming down from the temple of Aphrodite, shaky from their being inebriated and banged the night before. Imagine them passing young Christian girls at a well, dressed chastely, laughing together and talking to boys who weren't abusing them. It must have struck the pagan girls as touching. Here were people who cared for each other, respected each other, and treated one another in gentle dignity. In her heart, the pagan girl yearns for that.

Small communities with great love. Their actions speak volumes, and become premises rooted in experience.

11/14/2012 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I love the Schopenhauer; what is it about seeing a great mind take down bloated stupidity with such alacrity that makes it such a pleasure to read? Not nice at all, and so delightful...

As to the depth of Rahner, I'm reminded again of that quote about being long multiple and deeply one. Or again, of the tree with its roots aloft and its branches herebelow.

Magister, what an interesting observation. Thanks.

11/14/2012 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Magister: Agreed. I think the most effective evangelization might well come from simply provoking people around you to wondering, "wow, what's this guy's secret?" Seduce their curiosity, so to speak, as opposed to trying to convince with mere words.

11/14/2012 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Or their sense of humor, as you do so beautifully.

People can also react violently to happiness and goodness: "those f***ing goody two shoes make me sick!" I suppose one hears that kind of thing a lot in dives like the US Senate.

What a snakepit. You couldn't pay me enough to be a DC staffer.

11/14/2012 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

11/14/2012 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

(Oops - wrong post)

11/14/2012 01:47:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Two things that are sometimes mistaken for each other: One, there is a certain subtype of religious person who needs intellectual religion to thrive. We may think others are like this too, but it is only true for a small part of the populace.

Two, there is a certain kind of religious idiocy that gives offense even to those not of an intellectual inclination, because it is contrary to nature in the better sense of the word. The proponents of this idiocy may honestly believe this is the offense of the gospel, and are encouraged to amp it up. Alas, in the current world, it is rare that offense of the gospel actually comes into play in its intended form. This can be quickly verified by seeing how much the speaker has actually been transformed by the gospel.

11/14/2012 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

The point is mostly about precision of speech; there's a line in 'That Hideous Strength' where Ransom notes that the thing cannot be explained not because it is vague, but because the words themselves are imprecise.

Oddly, as I have written more poetry, I have come to believe that its ambiguity alone is able to re-establish the precision of the lexicon. It would seem a contradiction of terms, but the words have little in them if they are not connected in many ways to different things. To do this, they must be joined in an ambiguity; that is, they must somehow be a bit of at least two things at once. If this is so, then they are able to connect things previously set apart; each word no longer just points to one thing, but draws though this association the two things closer, and in this, the essential things behind them become clearer.

11/14/2012 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Finally: Hegel is "a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense. This nonsense has been noisily proclaimed as immortal wisdom by mercenary followers and readily accepted as such by all fools, who thus joined into as perfect a chorus of admiration as had ever been heard before. The extensive field of spiritual influence with which Hegel was furnished by those in power has enabled him to achieve the intellectual corruption of a whole generation.”

Schopenhauer certainly expressed my thoughts clearly, and made it easier for me to giggle with delight at each line, which might not have been seemly for me to do if I could put my thoughts on Hegel that clearly, and without profanity.

"Now there is a singular feat. In order to accomplish the same corruption in America, it required the entire leftist educational establishment."

Oh, now don't go selling the metaphysical Moriarity short, remember, the father of American 'education' got his start in a number of 'Hegel Societies'.

'♬ ♪ ♫ ... but words can never hurt me ♫ ♪ ♬ ' - my ass.

11/15/2012 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

River, excellent points on poetry, agreed.

11/15/2012 10:31:00 AM  

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