Friday, June 01, 2012

Reasons for Cautious Optimysticism

Balthasar writes that "When Paul [in Rom 8:19] refers to an indefinite and tense straining of all nature, it means in the first place that nature unconsciously strives toward man" (which I believe should be interpreted as the fullness, or fulfillment, of human nature.) There Paul speaks of the suffering -- the groans, the labors, the birth pangs -- that will -- we hope -- end in liberty, in redemption, and in peals of glory hahalogos, when the last laugh shall be first.

This is because creation as such is not an exercise in futility, but is infused with an otherwise superfluous and inexplicable hopefulness, the latter of which, on the human level, might be described as a kind of persistent "evidence of things unseen." It is the temporal shadow cast back by the fulfillment we hail from afar. Or so we have heard from the wise.

In the absence of this evidence of things unseen, progress would be impossible because unthinkable. Hope and change always go together, except in the faithless liberal who forgets that beneficial change is only a hope, not a certainty, and certainly not something man can accomplish unaided (if you don't believe me, just look at his grisly track record of trying).

If Obama had proclaimed "faith and love" his message wouldn't have been as popular, at least among his target audience whose immanentized and absecular hope is evidence of things unsane.

Simianly, think of the poor primate proto-human, sitting around and hoping for things to get better. But in a strictly Darwinian framework, what is he hoping for -- or, more specifically, for what does our aloftreeous furbear have any right to hope?

One thing: a random mutation that doesn't weaken, sicken, or kill my ass, but somehow results in a beneficial change. However, the fundamental change cannot have actually occurred in him, but only in his genetic predecessors, in an infinite regress. Which is why Darwin "jotted down as a stern reminder to himself the note 'never use higher and lower'" (in Purcell).

Which is also why intellectually consistent Darwinists would be the last to say that a Darwinian is somehow higher than a creationist -- unless the former are more successful at getting their genes into the next generation, which is not the case, otherwise the erstwhile Christendom of Europe wouldn't be undergoing slow motion demographic death. Supernatural selection in action!

Now this business of becoming human -- of evolving -- the thing about it is, unlike any other creature, it cannot just happen on the species level, as if the species does all the dogged, trial-and-error work of evolving, from which we passively benefit. No other animal has to learn how to be that animal, notwithstanding a limited repertoire of tricks the mother might pass along to her brood. And certainly no other animal needs to be born twice in order to undertake post-biological evolution.

But for human beings, each generation needs to fulfill the human journey anew. In the old days, philosophers and metaphysicians spoke of man as the microcosm who mirrors the macrocosm. That's true as far as it goes, but it implies a kind of static view, as if man is a once-and-for-all fact instead of a constantly evolving being.

Here again, Clarke's idea of reality as "substance in relation" is helpful, for with it we can posit the microcosmology of man in more dynamic terms, as a movement or action which is in turn the self-revelation of being. Therefore, evolution itself redounds to the self-revelation of being. Who knows what goodies lurk in the heart of being? Even time takes time, to say nothing of eternity. Or, time takes an eternity to get it all out.

Bearing in mind the above, when we say that man is the image and likeness of O, it means, in the words of Clarke, that "all finite beings, which are imperfect images of the Source, bear within their very natures this same divinely originated dynamism of active self-communication to others." In this way, we are simultaneously rich and poor -- or, contra Darwin, high and low -- in that

"every finite being insofar as it is... rich, pours over to share its perfection with others; but insofar as it is poor, deficient in the full plenitude of being, it reaches out to receive enrichments of being from others, sharing in their riches" (ibid.).

This is just another way of saying that man is an open system, both vertically and horizontally, and that God, the Absolute, O, the toppermost of the poppermost, must be understood in the same onederful way.

For what is the Incarnation but God "making himself poor," in which context we may understand certain paradoxymorons regarding the meek inheriting the earth, the last being first, and the blessedness of holy poverty.

Now, this interior activity of the Godhead, how to describe it?

Sorry, can't do that. That's well above our praygrade. We can, however, undescribe it, which we might symbolize something like (↓ ↔ ↑) to convey the total circulation of metacosmic energies in the perpetual now.

But if I were to reduce it to mere wordlings, I don't think I could do better than Schuon:

"If by 'science' we mean a knowledge that is related to real things -- whether or not they can be directly ascertained..., religion will be the science of the total hierarchy, of equilibrium, and of the rhythms of the cosmic scale; it takes account, at one and the same time, of God's outwardly revealing Manifestation and of His inwardly absorbing Attraction (emphasis mine), and it is only religion that does this and that can do it a priori and spontaneously."

Amen for a child's job.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ultra-Darwinists and Infra-Religionists

Turns out that Darwin wasn't necessarily the vulgar Darwinian his disciples and detractors make him out to be. For example, Purcell quotes a letter from 1870 in which he wrote that "I cannot look at the universe as the result of blind chance."

To another author who had published a book in 1881 that "defended evolution and theism together," Darwin wrote that it "expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the universe is not the result of chance." Indeed, for Darwin, "the rationality and moral probity of God underlay the rationality and meaningfulness of science" (Gillespie, in Purcell).

Which only goes to show how fundamentalists and extremists in both camps -- ultra-Darwinists and infra-religionists -- get it wrong.

I attach the prefix "ultra" to the former because it conveys the idea that they over-interpret the theory, and push it beyond its rightful limits. And I apply the prefix "infra" to the latter, because in my opinion they fall short of the deeper meaning of religion by rigidly applying a manmade framework on God, just because God must speak in a certain way in order to make himself known to human beings.

I mean, I must speak in a certain way in order to make myself understood by my seven year-old. But it would be an elementary, if understandable, error on his part to assume that I have the mind of a seven year-old who's just bigger than he is. While I don't patronize him, neither do I gratuitously toss in words and concepts he can't possibly understand.

In fact, both types -- the ultra and the infra -- make the error referenced in yesterday's post, of imposing an ideological grid on reality in order to make the mystery go away. Of all people, you'd think that postmodern folks would be aware of the irony of engaging in this futile enterprise. But it seems that one of the properties of ideology is to blind the ideologue to its presence. Or just say that some people have a hard time recognizing their first principles -- especially people without any.

One of the dangers of ideology is that it doesn't just operate like a static map one uses to navigate the world. Rather, it is much more like a mind parasite, in that it actively hijacks the thinking process and thereby restricts the scope of reality.

In his Tyranny of Clichés, brother Goldberg quotes Orwell's famous essay on Politics and the English Language, in which the latter writes of "the special connection between politics and the debasement of language."

It is easy to see how parasitical clichés can "construct your sentences for you" and "even think your thoughts for you," while performing "the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself" (Orwell) A political cliché operates "like a pill with a pleasant protective coating" which "conceals a mind-altering substance within" (Goldberg).

Although that might sound like a cliché, it is critical to realize and understand that it is literally true. The human mind cannot function in the absence of an "operating system," of some way to organize reality and convert experience into ideas, the question being "which one?"

For example, I've mentioned in the past that when I first began studying psychoanalysis, it was liberating at first but eventually became restrictive and confining, because, once internalized, I couldn't help interpreting everything in terms of its principles. I lost my perspective, so that the tool started to become the man. Come to think of it, that's how you become a tool, isn't it?

This is what ideology does. You might say that it results in damage to, and sometimes annihilation of, the human person.

To the extent that the Raccoon has an "ideology," it would have to be called "Mysterian," in that it holds the human mystery to be the axis around which it revolves.

But this human mystery does not, and cannot, stand alone. Rather, for reasons articulated in yesterday's post (and many previous ones), the "human substance" is not just some featureless and isolated blob, but has certain distinct properties, the most important ones being relation and sanctity.

Those latter two properties are a consequence of our deiformity -- or microcosmology if you prefer. By which I mean that the source of our dignity, our wisdom, our freedom, our greatness cannot be from within ourselves. If we do locate the source there, it doesn't turn us into gods, but rather, monsters -- like domesticated animals that revert to ferality (which ought to be a word) in a generation or two. Again, see history for details.

de Lubac writes that "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God."

Rather, "what is true is that, without God, he can ultimately only organize it against man." In other words, as we have discussed on many occasions, "exclusive humanism is inhuman humanism" (ibid.), because its very first principle rids the world of God in order to claim a greatness that only God can confer, and without whom we are hardly "everything," and not even nothing, really. At which point you can get away with anything.

As Schuon writes, "Respect for the human person must not open the door to a dictatorship of error and baseness, to the crushing of quality by quantity," or to over-valuation "of the crude fact at the expense of the truth."

We are immersed in a sea of change, so it is natural that we seek reliable landmarks and fixed lighthouses to navigate our journey. Ultimately these landmarks must concern origins (where we set off from); our present situation (where we are); and our course (where we are going). Thus there are elements of both space and time, the latter of which being especially relevant to "where we are going," which naturally takes time to get there. For in the words of Kerouac, walking on water wasn't built in a day.

But ideologies tend to spatialize time, for the same reason they immanentize the transcendent. Schuon characterizes certain deviant paganisms as "reactions of space against time." This can be seen in the reactionary leftism -- or cliché guevarism -- of Obama, for whom it is always 1933.

Having said all this, it is nonetheless true that, from a certain perspective -- and largely in reaction to the errors and superstitions of the infra-religious -- "it must be admitted that the progressives are not entirely wrong in thinking that there is something in religion which no longer works," and that its "individualistic and sentimental argumentation... has lost almost all its power to pierce consciences."

This is because the "usual religious arguments" simply don't probe "sufficiently to the depths of things," since past editions of man, unburdened by ultra-science, didn't really demand such explanations. The whole thing made sense intuitively, and there wasn't even really a framework in place to understand it in any other way.

Which leads back to our mission and blog-hobby, which is to deploy arguments of a higher order to illuminate the lower, and to make religion once again relevant to the ultras and more efficacious or integral for the infras.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Miraculous Journey to the Heart of the Living Cosmos

It seems to me that what we call modern or postmodern thought doesn't actually eliminate the miraculous, but just kicks it down the road; or rather, just paves the road over it.

Looked at another way, this form of thought conceals an unthinkable anti-thought that restricts our view of reality, such that the miraculous is consigned to the black of beyond. You know, sweeps it under the rug that can never pull the room together. Whistles past the graveyard of unexamined ideas. Or puts its hands over its ears and sings LALALALALALALALALALA!

Again, as well-cosmoed students of reality know by now, there are no less than four miracles that cannot be eliminated (but actually many more). At the very least there is existence; there is life; there is subjectivity, and all this implies; and there is salvation.

But there's also love, truth, intelligence, beauty, and science, which iterate in so many directions: music, painting, poetry, faith, virtue, nobility, selflessness, progress; miracles of sound, rhythm, and color; or the sheer miracle of the present, which is to say, conscious awareness, or being-for-itself, the providential loophole in creation, the ultimate guffah-HA! experience.

And being-for-itself doesn't even properly exist, for it is always being-in-relation, which might be the rock-bottom miracle of them all.

Or, to quote W. Norris Clarke, to be is to be substance-in-relation. Behind or within the I AM is always the WE ARE. Being is always twogather in threeness, which is why you need to take existence personally.

mir•a•cle \ [ME. fr, L miraculum, fr. mirari, to wonder at -- more at SMILE]

Yesterday we spoke of scotomas and scotosis, i.e., scientistic holes in the whole of reality, which render it less than wholesome, which is to say, healthy. The failure to appreciate the irredcible WE of the subjective horizon would have to constitute the most conspicuous hole in the materialist metaphysic.

Indeed, even if you disagree with me, you need someone with whom to disagree, AKA ME. I know. Ironic.

Clarke writes of "the experience, without which none of us could be truly human, of knowing other human beings as equally real with ourselves....

"This experience can be condensed as follows: I know that we are, that we are like each other, that we can engage in meaningful communication with each other." In short, subjectivity is always intersubjectivity, so that in a way, love is simply the radical ratification of being. Or in other words, it is good!

And please note that the existence of this WE could never be known unless first lived. To live outside the WE is no more conceivable for us than trying to imagine the consciousness of a reptile, or an MSNBC host. One might say that autism is a failure of the WE, genuine love its crowning achievement.

Reminds us of the old joke about the I asking for directions to the WE: the smiling O-timer responds with a knowing wink, you can't get there from here.

Not that it matters in terms of the truth which cannot not be, but it is interesting that science is catching up with the trinitarian nature of a cosmos that is substance-in-relation, or "self-communicating active presence."

This is laid out in a recent book called Mimesis and Science: Empirical Research on Imitation and the Mimetic Theory of Culture and Religion. I don't know that I can recommend it, since it doesn't affirm anything that isn't covered in our bʘʘk in a much more thoroughly silly manner.

The scientific upshot is that the primordial we of the mother-infant dyad is gateway hug to "more complex social, cultural, and representational abilities." Not I think, therefore I am, but we are, therefore I am, and can think about it to boot!

Speaking of miracles, of the self-expression of being, and of the cosmic journey, yesterday I read a fascinating article in the latest National Review about a contemporary American composer and pianist named Michael Hersch. You'll want to read the whole thing, but here is a man who seems very much in awe of the miraculous gift he has been given:

"He sits down to play his massive and monumental piano work The Vanishing Pavilions.... It is apocalyptic, visionary, and staggering. And it takes approximately two and a half hours to play. Hersch does not play it all, in this pre‑concert concert. He plays excerpts, a little suite. And he plays it with his prodigious technique, one that draws gasps. Apparently, his fingers can do whatever his brain commands."

He was not a child prodigy, and didn't discover his gift until the late age (for classical music) of 18, at which time it was somehow waiting there, not only fully formed but unspoiled by the kind of drudgery that might have been imposed by more agenda-driven, or less child-centered, parents:

“I didn’t look at it as, ‘I have so much to catch up on.’ People sometimes say, ‘You started so late, it must have been daunting.’ But I wasn’t thinking in terms of chronology or lost years. I was just overjoyed at my luck. I had found this world, and I had it all to explore.”

'His parents, he says, have "caught a lot of flak from people who think, ‘What if he had started at four or five?’ Well, maybe I would have burned out.”

Remarkably, he doesn't have to practice in order to play even the most difficult pieces, nor does he "struggle to compose, but he does need time. He cannot be rushed. He works on a piece in his head until it’s ready. Then he writes it down, with no revision. It took almost a year to write down The Vanishing Pavilions, which runs more than 300 pages."

Hersch speaks of how "the music is lying dormant, waiting for you. You can activate it anytime, simply by engaging with it”; and of how "it just anguishes me that there are so many people out there, possibly, who could have been like me, or are like me, who weren’t fortunate enough to have a brother who would say, ‘You need to sit down and listen to Beethoven.’ What about all the people who are just as talented as I am, or more talented, and didn’t have the opportunity?”

Now, there's a guy who isn't wasting his shot at a miraculous journey to the heart of the cosmos.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From Un-Cosmoed to One Cosmoed

Just as there are people we call uncultured, there are folks we would call un-cosmoed. Ironically, more often than not, it is the most cultured person who is the least cosmoed.

Likewise, uncultured people often retain their cosmic perspective, which is one of the reasons why so many middle- and working class folks are repelled by contemporary liberalism; which, you might say, is "worldly," but at the expense of universality.

Contemporary liberalism is provincial, ahistorical, and unphilosophical in the extreme, which is why there is usually so much more wisdom in a simple person of faith than there is in the tenured herd and the media mob.

An uncultured person is what? Related words include countrified, unlearned, unrefined, unsophisticated, roughhewn, raw, -- but also, in a wholly positive sense, natural, unartificial, guileless, pristine, unsullied. Likewise, we know the positive connotations of cultured, but the latter can also veer into sophistry, intellectualism, artifice, decadence, and, in these latter days, mere conformity to intellectual fashion.

So much of contemporary debate can be cast in these terms of cultured-uncultured. It is a major source of the left's toxic arrogance, and why they simply cannot conceal their contempt for those they wish to court.

Now, what is an uncosmoed person? I would think that first and foremost it is someone who imagines he can enclose the cosmos in some little manmade ideology -- who imagines he has demystified the cosmos just because he has memorized a few words and concepts such as "big bang," or "DNA," or "natural selection," or who simply fails to draw out the implications of everyday words such as "person," or "love," or "truth," or "beauty," or "universe."

Each of the latter is an irreducible mystery, in the sense that we only imagine we have banished the mystery by saturating them with some readymade ideological content.

But mystery itself is a mystery, in that it is a mode of knowledge, not a problem to be solved. Indeed, life without mystery would be unendurable. Even if I had all the answers, I would immediately forget them just for the joy of searching after them. Much of spiritual development involves a kind of movement from the mystery of childhood, to the demystification of adolescence, to the proper remystification of real adulthood (or from uncosmoed to One Cosmoed).

Here is how Schuon defines mystery. See if you don't agree:

"By ‘mystery’ we do not mean something incomprehensible in principle -- unless it be on the purely rational level -- but something which opens on to the Infinite, or which is envisaged in this respect, so that intelligibility becomes limitless and humanly inexhaustible. A mystery is always ‘something of God’" (Gnosis: Divine Wisdom).

Again: mystery is a mode of intellection, but not a mode the typical intellectual will endorse, since it is an affront to the narcissistic co-opting of the intellect for purely egoic -- or defensive -- purposes.

In the past I have discussed how, just as there are psychological defense mechanisms that apply to the lower vertical, there are what we might call "pneumatological defense mechanisms" that apply to the upper vertical, e.g., pride and envy. I'm a little surprised that I was the first to discover, or at least articulate, this idea, but it is no doubt implicit in various folk psychologies of the uncultured.

In any event, "intellectualization" is one defense mechanism that is deployed in both directions, the upper and lower vertical. Wiki defines it as "a defense mechanism where reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress, by 'using excessive and abstract ideation to avoid difficult feelings'. It involves removing one's self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualization may accompany, but 'differs from rationalization, which is justification of irrational behavior through cliches, stories, and pat explanation.'"

One can glean at a glance how both intellectualization and rationalization would apply to the upper vertical, in particular, vis-a-vis the New Atheists armed with their rationalistic "cliches, stories, and pat explanations." Behind this is the attempt to flee from the stress and conflict associated with confronting -- or being confronted by -- one's nonlocal conscience, and then following where -- or to whom -- this might lead. Better just to cut it off at the knees. Then kneeling is impossible.

Which leads us back to where we were on April 3, before we got sidetracked down one of those compelling cosmic arteries. You may recall that we were discussing Brendan Purcell's From Big Bang to Big Mystery: Human Origins in the Light of Creation and Evolution, which then veered into an extended Voegelinapalooza.

By the very title, one can appreciate that the author is a deeply cosmoed man coming from a cosmic perspective. I just opened the book to page 98, where we seem to have left off in our discussion, and Purcell (borrowing from Lonergan) is discussing what he calls the "scotosis" of scientism, which is to say, its wee ontological blind spot, i.e., "the non-occurance of relevant insights for whatever reason," and "the reality eclipsed because not questioned."

In short, in any form of scientism, there is a hole where reality should be, but which is filled with ideology -- similar to the scotoma we all have in our field of vision, where the optic nerve connects to the eyeball. Without even being consciously aware of it, our brains just paper over the hole and create the illusion of continuity.

Think of the scotosis that results from any attempt to reduce the cosmos to its mathematical elements; to do so is to reduce quality to quantity, semantics to syntax, and ultimately subject to object. But then there's no subject left to understand and appreciate the mysterious and beautiful math. Nor taste the delicious irony. (Note also that the scotoma of scientism can fashion a prison or serve as an escape hatch, once the hole is recognized.)

A more balanced and reasonable -- not to say nuanced -- view would be closer to the one enunciated by Pope John Paul II in 1991 (quoted by Purcell):

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and from false absolutes. Each can help the other to enter into a more complete world, where both can prosper."

Here it is not just a matter of rejoining left and right brains and east and west hemispheres, although that's no doubt part of it. Rather, the real action is vertical and hierarchical, and lies in keeping things in perspective. The uncosmoed person always lacks perspective, since the cosmic is the ultimate perspective (excluding the perspective of God, since we can't see from that particular vertex).

Or in oscar words -- but turned bright-side up -- we are all of the stars, but some of us are looking from the gutter.

To be continued...