Friday, September 28, 2012

The Beginning and the Beyond

Or Ground and Telos, Origin and Destiny, Source and Vector, Creation and Salvation, Center and Top, Depth and Height, Order and Direction. I could think of others, but I need to get to the post.

Let me preface this by saying that what follows will have been inspired by an essay by Voegelin called The Beginning and the Beyond, although the end result may or may not (probably not) comport with his understanding, and certainly not with his style. The problem is, he's not always the clearest of writers. Perhaps it has to do with the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, but sometimes he's quite lucid, other times impenetrable. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that he took no graduate students, and thus wasn't used to communicating to mortals, or that his editors were too intimidated by his big brain.

He starts off the essay with the following observation, with which I fully agree: "Divine reality is being revealed to man in two fundamental modes of experience: in the experience of divine creativity in the cosmos; and in the experience of divine ordering presence in the soul."

So you could say that divine reality is revealed in objective and subjective, or exterior and interior, modes. Or, one could simply say Intelligibility and Intelligence, which are obviously unified on a deeper level. In other words, Truth and Reality must be One, and "within" this One, word is essentially deed (which is how the Creator "speaks" the creation into existence).

This immediately reminds me of something Schuon wrote in a similar-but-different vein, about the Center and the Origin:

"In the spatial world where we live, every value is related in some way to a sacred Center, which is the place where Heaven has touched the earth; in every human world there is a place where God has manifested Himself in order to pour forth his grace."

This Center is simultaneously the Origin, "which is the quasi-timeless moment when Heaven was near and terrestrial things were still half-celestial." And "it is also the period when God spoke" in a more direct -- or less veiled -- manner, thus creating a kind of bond -- i.e., covenant -- with the people involved.

It seems to me that the difference between the two thinkers has to do with the matter of the Beyond, because, as alluded to in the opening paragraph, the Beyond implies such things as Direction, Destiny, Development, Telos, and Salvation. I believe this causes Schuon's metaphysic to be entirely "backward looking," so to speak, whereas Voegelin's very much looks up or ahead, to the future.

However, Voegelin makes it quite clear that this is not a future we could ever arrive at or achieve. Rather, the enduring reality of the human situation involves living in the "in between" -- specifically, in between the Beginning and the Beyond, neither of which can be understood or conceptualized in any merely rationalistic manner, but both of which are necessary for human-qua-human existence (in other words, to live in ignorance of the Beginning and the Beyond is to live outside or below the human station).

To put it another way, if we eliminate either of these two poles, or collapse them into a dimensionless present, we will have entered a state of pneumapathology, more on which as we proceed.

In considering these questions, we need to be mindful of the reality of time, because our world is much more "temporal" than it was for premodern man, both for good and for ill. Schuon writes of "traditions having a prehistoric origin," that are "made for 'space' and not 'time,'" so to speak. That is, "they saw the light in a primordial epoch when time was still but a rhythm in a static beatitude and when space or simultaneity still predominated over the experience of duration and change."

In contrast, a historical tradition such as Judaism or Christianity "must take the experience of 'time' into account," and therefore "instability and decadence." Here time becomes "like a fast-flowing and ever more devouring river," so that the focus shifts more to "the end of the world."

I think I would respectfully disagree slightly (or maybe more than slightly) with Schuon, who seems to have a wholly negative attitude toward time. But for Voegelin, time is where we live and must live: again, in the in-between, between the Beginning and the Beyond. Leaving the "spatial" world of the Beginning (or Origin) and entering time was an achievement, not an intrinsic deterioration, for the same reason it is an achievement for a human being to leave the timeless world of infancy for the timebound world of adulthood.

Indeed, there are some traditions that maintain that this is what the expulsion from paradise is all about. Or, if you prefer, it is certainly what Exodus is all about. To live in time is to embody the Exodus, which is not just a chaotic and meaningless disperson, but a sojourn, a spiritual adventure. However, it cannot be an adventure unless the path is illuminated by the Beyond, which casts its light down and back, into history.

O yes it does!

So in reality, we have the Beginning, the Human Betweening, and the Beyond; or the Roadmap, Both Hands, and Aseity. You are of course free to reject this schemata, but only from the In-Between postion that stands outside or above the flow of time and is capable of surveying the whole existentialada.

If we are consciously aware of standing in the In-Between, then God will surely "speak" to us (listen!). Specifically, he will speak to us of Essential things and of Beyond thingness, or in the modes of immanence and transcendence.

Again, there are two meta-cosmic "directions" from where we stand, "the direction of the divine creativity toward a Beginning of things," and "in the direction of the ordering presence within [the] soul toward a divine Beyond as its source" (Voegelin).

Or, if you want to be abstract about it, you could just unsay (↕).

The point is, neither the Beginning nor the Beyond are among the "things" of this world. If we attempt to look at existence in this manner, we end in absurdity. For example, we can trace physics back to a "big bang," but this is like tracing a ray of light back to the sun. You still need to account for the central sun, with reference to something that transcends it.

So Beginning and Beyond are directions, not things in existence. To put it another way, they do not exist, so it's no use looking for them there. Rather, they are. They are "in" Being, not existence. And existence is derived from Being. For this reason, the Beginning is not really a temporal "before," any more than the Beyond is a temporal "after."

Rather, these two poles "articulate, first of all, the divine reality that draws man into the quest; they express furthermore the structure of consciousness in its questing tension toward the divine ground of things and of itself; and they finally bring into view the structure of reality that channels both the divine drawing and the human questing" (ibid).

Push and pull.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fantasies Have Consequences: Egoic Expansion and Presidential Shrinkage

So, yesterday Newt Gingrich suggested that Obama is “not a real president.”

 Rather, he's a fantasy figure playing a fantasy role, in an age in which people have difficulty distinguishing between television and reality. If we can have reality shows on TV, why can't we have a TV president in reality?

We all understand what Gingrich means, but I think he has it slightly wrong. That is to say, Obama is all too real. Instead, it's his reality that isn't real. Which wouldn't be a problem if we weren't a part of said reality, i.e., bit players in his malignant fantasy.

And no, I'm not just trying to be insultaining. Rather, this occurred to me -- actually, it forced itself upon me -- while reading an essay by Voegelin called The Eclipse of Reality in volume 28 of the CW, What is History?

Excuse me, Bob -- just what is history, anyway?

No, we're not talking about that today. We're talking about something else.

Oh, alright. It is "the movement of being in the tension of time and eternity."

Back to our subject. You often hear traditionalists decrying modernity for its egoism and narcissism, but they're only half-correct about this, because they ignore the critical distinction between a healthy and unhealthy ego. In so doing, they go way too far in condemning most everything about the modern world.

Without a doubt, something about human identity changed between the medieval and modern periods. A modern man does not think of himself in the same way as did premodern man. We've discussed this subject in a number of posts, and different thinkers conceptualize it in different ways.

For Voegelin, it becomes recognizable as a process in which "man begins to to refer to himself, not as Man, but as a Self, an Ego, an I, an Individual, a Subject, a Transcendental Subject, a Transcendental Consciousness, and so forth..."

In a way, it mimics whatever it was that caused life to emerge from matter and mind to emerge from life: the collective mind is a kind of matrix out of which emerges personal identity. We all recapitulate this process as we discover and articulate our selves, and can see it take place before our eyes in raising our children.

However -- as we have also discussed in the past -- each level in the cosmic hierarchy is accompanied by potential pathologies at that level. For example, in the realm of matter there can be no "sickness." As mentioned in the book, nothing can go wrong because nothing has to go right. But the moment life emerges there is the possibility of disease. (We're leaving aside the question of why matter is so ideally suited for the emergence of life.)

Likewise, the moment human collectivities emerge, there is the possibility of sick societies. And the moment the modern self emerges -- well, we have this thing called the DSM which catalogues the many things that can go wrong on the way to fully functioning personhood. Yeah, a psychologist is like a parasite on the mind parasites, but I like to think of myself as "healthy bacteria" -- like those in your gut.

Having said that, the DSM is ultimately incoherent, as it is completely silent on the question of what a fully functioning person is supposed to look like. It mostly speaks in terms of "adaptation" or freedom from conflict. But that could describe a sociopath as well as a saint. Thus, the DSM itself is a symptom of the very world it presumes to diagnose and treat, as it has no center and no top.

For Voegelin, we begin to see clear evidence of these new human problems in the eighteenth century, culminating in the florid pathologies of the twentieth century, when pathology became the norm in many places. When it does become the norm, that society is foredoomed. At the moment, the US is on the knife edge. Based on my rough estimate, about 47% of us have crossed over to the other side.

Much of what we call modern "philosophy" is really just a pathological response to the new conditions of modernity, e.g., Marxism, existentialism, obligatory atheism, etc. Indeed, existentialism itself is nothing but a long-winded confession of personal failure.

Voegelin: "The contraction of his humanity to a self imprisoned in its selfhood is the characteristic of so-called modern man." This contraction results in an existential shrinkage in which man is "condemned to be free" (Sartre, I think).

Thus, the left is always deeply ambivalent, at best, about freedom, as we have seen in recent weeks with the groveling before Islam and the harassment of the lousy filmmaker. Shrunken organs such as the NY Times, LA Times, Slate, and others have all called for cracking down on free speech. But this kind of suppression has been going on for decades in academia, as leftism and freedom are like oil and water.

Now, "the man who engages in deforming himself" does not cease being a man, nor does reality stop being reality. As a result, "frictions between the shrunken self and reality are bound to develop."

You don't say?

Yes, and not only. For "the man who suffers from the disease of contraction... is not inclined" -- to put it mildly -- "to leave the prison of his selfhood, in order to remove the frictions."

Rather, he "will put his imagination to further work and surround the imaginary self with an imaginary reality apt to confirm the self in its pretense of reality. He will create a Second Reality... in order to screen the First Reality."

Yes, this is the precise moment when I whacked my forehead and muttered "O... ba... ma."

Let's pause here for a moment. When you or I have an image of ourselves that collides with an unyielding reality, we have two choices: we can adjust to reality, or dig in our heels and go on as if the collision never happened.

There is also a third option, but few of us have the power to carry it off. That is to say, we may try to bend reality to our desires, or to make our fantasy appear true. And this maneuver is even easier if we are surrounded by co-conspirators such as the Rodeo Clown Media, who share in Obama's fantasy.

Yesterday Hugh Hewitt played some especially delusional excerpts of Obama's speech before the UN, which reminded me of the following passage by Voegelin. It describes the man who

"will deny that anybody could have a fuller perception of reality than he allows his self; in brief, he will set the contracted self as a model for himself as well as for everybody else. Moreover, his insistence on conformity will be aggressive..."

Thus, Obama's obnoxious insistence that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam." This is not just a dream, it's a threat.

As Dennis Prager says, "the larger the state, the smaller the citizen." Just so, as the president's ego expands, reality contracts, so to speak.

But looked at in another way, the more Obama distorts reality, the more unmanageable reality becomes. Imagine Mr. Magoo, who gets into all sorts of troubles because he can't see what's going on around him. Likewise,

"When imaginators of Second Realities proceed to act on their imaginative assumptions and try to make the world of common experience conform to their respective dreams, the areas of friction with reality will rapidly increase in size."

What, you mean like the Middle East?

Obama famously outlined his fantasies about the Middle East in his Cairo speech three years ago. Today it would be far too dangerous for him to speak in Cairo.

Fantasies have consequences.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secondhand Know-it-Alls and Third-Rate Believers

Last night I caught a few moments of an interview of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Piers Morgan. I know. The unspeakable and the insufferable. The thug and the smug. The boor and the whore. The ghoul and the tool. The anti-Semite and the semi-assbite.

I began to wonder: what is the point of asking questions to someone who is intrinsically hostile to truth? Or in other words, who is an inveterate liar? Even if such an individual says something that happens to be true, he doesn't say it because it is true, so he's really no help at all.

You can never trust such an individual, so you still have to find out for yourself. You can never have faith in a known liar. Imagine Hillary Clinton asking Bill if he's been faithful. Who cares what he says? If you do care, then you're more defective than he is.

Of course, you can learn a lot second hand, so long as you have faith in the source. So much of what we "know" isn't actually known by us. For example, the typical believer in manmade global warming will exhaust his fund of knowledge of the subject within an awkward sentence or two.

Which again is fine, so long as the source is trustworthy and has genuine, and not just legalistic or conventional, authority -- so long as you get your information from the horse's mouth and not the horse's ass.

Speaking of the antiGore, the always clear and trustworthy Pieper writes of the classic distinctions between knowing, believing, supposing, and doubting. It is very easy to explain how and why one knows something, and equally easy to explain why one doubts. Belief is trickier, to such an extent that it probably isn't possible to render a full account of why one believes this or that. (We'll leave supposition to the side for the moment.)

For example, there may be characterological factors that go a long way toward determining innate preferences. A person with highly developed intuition obviously relies upon unconscious and supraconscious -- i.e., vertical -- faculties that cannot disclose their reasoning in a cutandry manner. It hardly means that intuition has no genuine object of knowledge.

Think of the doctrine of materialism, which no one can defend on any logical basis. And yet, there are people who believe it. Indeed, since their impoverished metaphysic banishes any faculties higher than raw perception, they will naively insist they have arrived at their belief through logic and fact, not just untutored feeling.

As such, these pretentious yahoos pretend that their belief is actually knowledge. But it is not knowledge and cannot be knowledge, on pain of self-refutation. Indeed, there is no "fact" called the cosmos, and if there were, you couldn't be separate from it, and therefore qualified to pass judgment on it. Even to say cosmos is to say transcendent order.

Importantly, "a fact which everyone knows because it is obvious can no more be the subject of belief than a fact which no one knows -- and whose existence, therefore, no one can vouch for. Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy; it can only derive its legitimacy from someone who knows the subject matter of his own accord" (Pieper).

In addition to the above four forms (knowing, believing, supposing, and doubting), there is also disbelief. This comes into play when a person has earned a total lack of faith in his ability or desire to tell the truth. Since 2008 I have considered Obama to be such a person, and subsequent events have only validated my disbelief. Especially lately.

How and when can you put faith in another knower, especially concerning inherently qualitative things that are impossible to verify empirically? To take a trivial example, if the crazy lady who lives across the street from me were to recommend a certain CD, or book, or television program, it would go in one ear and out the other. I have no reason to believe she has anything useful to tell me, although I'm always friendly and polite.

People attend college to learn things they believe cannot be acquired elsewhere, but why do they believe this? And why do they believe what they are told there? I did, and it nearly ruined my life. The university is full of believers masquerading as knowers, and of veridically bereft and beleft believers who are quite contemptuous of believers who actually know.

Pieper writes that "one who knows has insight into the facts being discussed," whereas the believer "can not know the actual event by his own experience." So how can belief ascend to knowledge?

Voegelin suggests that the passage in Heb. 11:1 has never been surpassed: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the proof of things not seen."

Importantly, faith is not only a kind of passive receptacle, but an active mode that is guided first and foremost by love -- love of truth. Now, as we just said, belief always involves someone else. It is always interpersonal, even if we pretend otherwise. Follow the chain backward, and somewhere there will have to be someone in whom we have placed our faith.

What is the official motto of the United States? In God we trust. This makes perfect nonsense, for if you trace our existence back to the origin, the US was founded by men who in turn placed their faith in God. It says so in our founding document. No one can empirically prove that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Hence, "in God we trust" for that little gem of wisdom.

To paraphrase Pieper, we put our trust in anOther who guarantees the facts; or in the Word who underwrites (or overwrites) them, I suppose. No, I believe. No, I know. With a certain faith, or a faithful certitude.

Unlike the knower, the believer is not only involved with factual circumstances but also and above all with someone, with the person of the witness in whom the believer puts his trust. --Josef Pieper

Monday, September 24, 2012

High Frequency God Whistles

No time for a new post and hardly enough time for an old one, bearing in mind that I can never simply exhumine my precogitated bloggerel without substantial editing and revising. Indeed, I have second thoughts and third words about most everything I've ever written, since anything can be expressed more lucidly or even airbrushed from history.

Not sure if I pulled this one off, but here it is anyway. If it's missing something, it's up to you to complete it.

We begin with a question: do tonedeaf atheists have a point when they say there is no evidence of God, and that if there were such evidence, then they would be believers?

By "evidence," they usually mean something you or I would call magic. That is, they want to see something that is utterly inexplicable and defies all logic and reason -- you know, pink fairies under the bed. A talking cloud. A miracle.

Let's look at it from the Creator's point of view. Is he just being coy? Or does he wish to be known? Does he want people to know of his who- and whereabouts? Yes he does -- or so we have heard from the wise.

But how does one reveal evidence of personhood, especially if said person abides in a higher dimension than the being with whom one wishes to share the revelation?

For example, how could I prove to my dog that I as a person exist? It's not as easy as it sounds, because dogs only experience human beings in dog categories. They might see you as the alpha dog, and respond accordingly. But they cannot conceive of your interior personhood. It is a dimension they cannot enter, know, or assimilate. I suppose they can apprehend some of its "energies," so to speak, but never its essence. In other words, they can be in awe of your mighty powers, but not understand them.

Analogously, Balthasar asks how it is possible for us to "speak of the 'form of Christ' when most things about him -- the essential: his divinity and all the mysteries connected with it -- remain hidden and unfathomable in their internal depths of meaning?"

He suggests that we begin with the principle -- and all first principles must be accepted with a degree of faith -- that "the first and pre-eminent intention of the self-revealing God is, precisely, really to reveal himself, really to become comprehensible to the world as far as possible."

In other words, we have to assume that God truly is "putting himself out there" in good faith, in a manner he feels best suits our needs, or comports with our ability to comprehend.

Again, compare yourself to a dog trying to understand its master. A lot of what the master does is going to be incomprehensible, even though that is never the point. If I get to pee in the house but she doesn't, I'm not trying to confuse her. It also reminds me of my son, who has more questions about God than he does about Santa Claus, I think because the latter "speaks his language," if you know what I mean.

Likewise, if God's intention were simply "to make those who believe in him assent to a number of impenetrable truths, this would surely be unworthy of God and it would contradict the very concept of revelation" (Balthasar).

In other words, we can't really call it "revelation" if it doesn't reveal something essential of of God's interior, something we are capable of fathoming. In fact, a non-revealing God would actually reveal something about him, just as, say, a guarded and defensive individual reveals how fearful he is of intimacy.

However, at the same time, we cannot pretend that we could ever fully comprehend God, any more than we could ever comprehend even another human being. Thus, "a necessary part of this manifestation is his eternal incomprehensibility."

But here again, this incomprehensibility by no means redounds to sheer ignorance on our part. Rather, it is to apprehend the divine from within the mode of mystery; as such, it is more like a direct transmission of the celestial myster-er to a terrestrial myster-ee, or the divine contained into the human container. Note that the latter is not the measure of the former. Rather, it only contains what it is capable of containing, and no more. Like IQ, only on the spiritual plane.

Thus, as Balthasar observes, this paradoxical communication is not "a negative determination of what one does not know, but rather a positive and almost 'seen' and understood property of him whom one knows."

And once you begin to familiarize yourself with this property, you begin to realize that it is an enduring characteristic of the "divine object," similar to the unique "vibe" one instantaneously experiences in the presence of another person. A person cannot help radiating his interior soulstench, no matter how hard he may try to conceal it.

The same holds for a great artist. The totality of an artist's work will transmit a sort of consistent vibration. It reminds me of the book This is Your Brain on Music, in which the author points out that every great rock artist has a certain distinct and unique timbre that lets you know in an instant that you are listening to them and no one else.

Think about it for a moment. The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Beach Boys, Byrds, Zombies, Animals, Creedence, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin -- each has a quite distinct "sound signature" that exists over and above the music itself. You know it's them from the first note.

Analogously, you could say that the Christian timbre is quite distinct from the Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist timbre. Here again, this timbre exists apart from any specific content. Balthasar observes that God "has offered himself to the gaze of mankind from every possible angle, and this gesture of self-disclosure... was part of his fundamental mission to manifest and explain God to man."

In other words, the transformal form of God is a kind of totality that cannot be contained by man.

But within the perception of revelation we may be vouchsafed a kind of lower dimensional analogue of the totality.

First there is "the apprehension of a wholly unique quality, to be ascribed particularly to the supernatural origin of the light of faith"; and second, "the apprehension of an interior rightness," in which there is an "objective, demonstrable beauty of all proportions," so that "one aspect of the form always points to and supports the others." Or in other words, radiance and harmony, or Light and Love, or intelligence and heart, or words and music.

And this is why it is perverse for us to mix revelations "from below." One can hardly imagine the monstrosity of, say, Pink Floyd performing Twist and Shout, or the Beach Boys singing Communication Breakdown, or Led Zeppelin doing Yellow Submarine. It might sound something like this: