Friday, October 05, 2012

The Joy of Unknowing

It cannot have been easy for early Christians. First of all they weren't yet Christians, but rather, deviant messianic Jews. Except this messiah had appeared in a form no one had anticipated, nor would anyone invent, because the story is just too implausible, most especially for Jews. I mean, if you're going to invent a religion, why invent one that's more than a little incoherent (on the surface) and difficult to reconcile with your existing one?

Here is what I mean -- or rather, Voegelin means. As alluded to yesterday, one of the purposes of scripture -- or of a closed canon, more precisely -- is to protect and preserve the insights disclosed by the revelation.

You can't let just anything into the canon, or the revelation will become as diluted and undiscerning as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, Billy Joel? C'mon. And what's Miles Davis doing in there? Talk about mixing up revelations. While you're at it, why not put Babe Ruth in the football hall of fame?

For Christian R & D there was a two-pronged challenge: first, to reconcile it with the existing scripture, second, to the wider world (or vice versa, if you like, i.e., world to revelation). With regard to the latter, for various reasons it was necessary to develop "a theology that mobilized for the defense of truth the arms of the intellectually superior and for that reason most serious competitor, of Hellenistic-Roman philosophy" (Voegelin).

In other words, man has -- and in many ways is -- a mind, and has every right to a revelation that speaks to its depths, and certainly doesn't devalue it. So early Christians went about the task of assimilating both Athens and Jerusalem to the new revelation.

A similar thing occurred with Judaism in the form of Philo Judaeus, who was not only a contemporary of Christ (though there is no evidence he knew of him) but a later influence on many of the early Fathers. (Then again, according to McGinn, "Christian legend has him meeting St. Peter in Rome!")

As Andrew Louth writes, "Starting from an idea of God without parallel in his philosophical milieu, Philo develops an understanding of the Word that sees meditation on Scripture, that is, God's self-disclosure, as central to the soul's search for God. This is quite new -- something that the Christian Fathers were to take up and make their own."

One of the reasons for this is Philo's emphasis on the Divine Word, i.e., Logos, "as an intermediary between the absolutely transcendent and unknowable God and the human soul" (McGinn).

The following passage by Philo is pretty striking if you're into cosmic coonspiracy theories: "To his chief messenger and most venerable Logos, the Father who engendered the universe has granted the singular gift to stand between and separate the creature from Creator." This Logos-gift is "midway between the two extremes, serving as a pledge for both."

The logos is God turned toward -- and in a way into -- man, so to speak. It is "immanent in all things, but in a special way in the human mind," i.e., "within the higher dimension or nous" (ibid).

McGinn agrees that Philo "was the first figure in Western history to wed the Greek contemplative ideal to the monotheistic faith of the Bible," a feat which some have welcomed, others have condemned. Me, I welcome truth in whatever form it comes my way.

Philo obviously had the same liberal attitude. He made no apologies for using "the best Greek philosophy both apologetically, that is, to prove that Judaism was the true religion, and speculatively, that is, to draw out [its] inner meaning..."

This "reconciliation was achieved not only by seeking a deeper and more universal meaning in the scriptures, but also by transforming Platonic contemplation into a more personalistic mode" (ibid.).

Universal and personalistic. I'm all over that. This itself is a provocative and spicy combination of modes that one might think of as being at antipodes.

In other words, to say "universal" is to exclude the particular, and the individual is nothing if not particular. I always compare it to jazz, which takes the universals of music and expresses them in a uniquely individual way via spontaneous composition, i.e., improvisation. So when I say I'm "winging it" here, that's actually what I mean. I try to work with universals but give them my own spin -- which is a way of understanding them from the inside-out, with the whole of one's being.

It's like a quest or something. An adventure of consciousness. But "there is no guarantee of success on the quest: for God must reveal Himself, and the soul can do nothing to elicit this disclosure -- it can only prepare. But even so, the quest by itself is sufficient satisfaction. One might say that the quest is the goal and the goal is the quest" (Louth).

And as Voegelin is at pains to emphasize vis-a-vis our "in between" status, "the quest is never-ending -- the goal is always beyond because God is infinite and incomprehensible." Nevertheless, "the quest is joy in itself." As such, "Philo can be seen to have developed a mysticism of love and yearning for God in himself, in his unknowability" (ibid).


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Banging the Boards with Your Cosmic Big Man

As children develop, it is as if certain neurological windows open for the purpose of imprinting various things, e.g., speech, attachment, basic trust, etc.

For example, when the language window is open, children learn to speak with the greatest of ease. After it closes, it becomes much more of a challenge. My kid picks up Mandarin as easily as I forget what happened yesterday.

I wonder if something similar occurs with the collective? I was thinking about the so-called axial age, when so many of the world's major revelations were downloaded. Was there something analogous to a historo-developmental window that made such divine-human communication more fluid and "present"? It would certainly explain a lot.

Voegelin notes that the Pentateuch starts to be assembled and organized by the sixth century "and is substantially completed in the first half of the fourth century B.C." Additional scripture is downloaded later, and debates about what to include and exclude are wrapped up by the second century A.D. You might say that the revelational window has closed.

How do we know when revelation is occurring, how long it is going on, and when it ends? Whatever the case may be, "By a remarkable feat of mythical imagination," a testament is assembled "against the pressure of competing wisdoms," with the purpose of revealing "once and for all the mystery of divine creativity in the cosmos as well as man's existence in society and history" (Voegelin). Well played!

It seems to me that this is something one couldn't do if one were "trying," and perhaps that provides an insight into why such a thing couldn't occur today.

As alluded to at the top, who but a child is able to be so empty and fluid as to effortlessly download language? Who but a child can listen so well, without even trying? Perhaps it's the same with premodern man, whose mind must have been so uncluttered compared to ours.

It reminds me of something the great Chick Hearn once said about a certain beast of a power forward, maybe Karl Malone: "He's got muscles in places I don't even have places!"

Similarly, modern man has thoughts and ideas and concepts and lies and trivia in places premodern men didn't even have places. The mind must have been like a beautiful and expansive clear blue sky (so long as the person wasn't overrun by mind parasites).

Become as children. Interesting word, become. It means to come into being. You wouldn't say be a child, much less regress to childhood. To become implies bringing something new into existence, not reverting to a previous stage. A child is a person to whom one gives birth.

Back to scripture. Again, it is impossible to believe that anyone -- and certainly no committee! -- could be creative enough to pull it off. Indeed, it reminds me of dreaming, which we all surely do, but which none of us can consciously produce. Sure, we can be creative, but imagine being able to close your eyes and enter a world as vivid and seemingly real as dreams are. Can't do it. Although I do wonder about someone like Shakespeare, or someone like Mozart vis-a-vis musical worlds.

At any rate, Voegelin agrees that this business of scripture can't simply be "dismissed as clever invention," because no one is that clever. Indeed think of someone like L. Ron Hubbard, who thought he was clever enough to invent a religion. The best he can manage is bad but very expensive science fiction.

Nor could a manmade invention "remain historically effective for two thousand years," much less "mobilize the experience of the comprehensive, prepersonal reality breaking forth into self-illuminating truth." Who can do that? I would say that truly great works of art do something similar, but only by way of pale analogy.

Note the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity. The former revolves around laws which are disclosed to the collective. The collective attempts to discern and comport with the law in order to become "divinized," so to speak. In other words, by following God's will, the group will manifest some of the sanctity and holiness that emanate from the divine reality.

With Christianity the accent shifts to the individual, or in my opinion to an individuality that could only have been incubated in the prior Judaic matrix (which means womb). It is fair to say that subsequent to the appearance of Christ, the Church stands for both the Virgin and for Israel, as a kind of saint-making -- or sanctity enabling -- thingummy. A womb, as it were... So yes, do vote with your lady parts.

What I mean is that the earthly measure of a revelation and tradition is its saint-making capacity. With reference again to L. Ron, we know Scientology isn't a real religion because it never has and never will product a saint, and the only sanctity in it is transparently phony. It's a womb alright -- for idiots and psychopaths.

So with the appearance of Christ we have this new insight of "the universal presence of divine reality as the source of illumination in every man." In other words, the shift is from law to light, and collective to individual. (And of course, the same shift may be seen in esoteric Judaism, i.e., Kabbalah, if I am not mishuggen.)

Recall what was said above about the divinization of the community. In Christ we have the full instantiation, the maximal presence, of divinity in the individual, in a way that man can never achieve on his own, irrespective of how much effort he puts into it, or how hard he pulls on his own buddhastraps. So the appearance of Christ is good news / bad news.

The bad news? He has muscles in places you don't have places.

The good news? "by responding to this maximal fullness through faith," men may "achieve the fullness of their own existence" (Voegelin).

Out of time. As always, I apologize in advance to our Jewish friends for misunderstanding / misrepresenting / misconscrewing up anything. I'm just winging it, in case no one's noticed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

¡¿ Out of This World ?!

The world is not of this world. Or, the world has an exit out of itself. This exit is called Man.

You no doubt recall page 181, where man is confronted with the option of being pulled back into the hivemind or moving upward, into a "new dimension beyond the boundaries of the senses."

Yes, our uptight furbears "began envisioning and longing for the whole, for an ideal existence located somewhere in the past, an eden, or in the future, a heaven, where all tensions are resolved, the circle is unbroken, and we are returned to the source from whence we came."

Blah blah blah, the earliest definitive documentation of conscious human awareness of the exit appears in the Upanishads, which were probably composed between 1,000 and 600 BC.

Looks like Voegelin concurs: "The finest early explorations of the movement in this second [read: vertical] direction are certain dialogues of the Upanishads," which take the reader up and out of the horizontal, to what the Vedic seers call Brahman.

Which is what now?

"It is not a further knowable thing; it rather is the reality at which the questioning has to stop, not because the movement has been futile, but because this reality, by its position beyond the knowable hierarchy of things, reveals itself as the answer to the questioning ascent."

The movement of history results in further differentiation of this compact truth, for example, in Augustine's insight "that the super-reflective truth, when reached by the reflective ascent, illuminates the questioning as a response to the movement of divine presence in the soul."

By now you will have gnosissed that the very quest-ion which motivates the quest for the aeon -- which we symbolize (?!) for the sacred WTF -- "leads to the Beyond of the world because it is not altogether of the world in which it is asked."

In other worlds, not only does (↑) evoke (↓), but in the end -- or top -- it turns out that (↑) and (↓) were allone allalong.

Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you're going to be Mister Finnagain!

Note however that this is a differentiated one, "a movement of revelatory appeal from the divine side and a countermovement of apperceptive and imaginative response from the human side." In other words, "Both appeal and response belong to the one reality that becomes luminous in the experience."

So we really have a threesome here, although it is more difficult to conceptualize the Third than it is the first two. I am reminded of a passage by Eliot: Who is the third who walks always beside you? / When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you.

This touches on the famous space we have discussed in the past, where it all goes down. It is the immaterial space inhabited and colonized by humans. When my seven year-old asks why he has to go to school, I respond as any parent would: "Why do you think? So you can colonize hyperspace and not be a moron."

It goes without saying that many things can go wrong with this space, for the simple reason that they can go right.

For example, as Voegelin describes, the space can become "eclipsed" if our two partners -- divine and human -- are reified into a rigid duality, or compressed into a single entity. Doing so destroys "the dynamics of movement and counter-movement in the event of reality becoming luminous," resulting in "a wasteland of static objects."

Respect the space!

Voegelin makes another subtle point about the relationship between language and the Space. Because this space is a kind of living byproduct of the divine-human encounter, it is a mistake for the serious pneumanaut to try to overburden it with a lot of predigested language.

Rather, give this space some space. Let it breathe. Enter it and let language take care of itself, as I am doodling at the moment. Otherwise you run the risk of superimposing the lower on the higher, or the terrestrial on the celestial, i.e., deepaking the chopra.

Eh, that's it for today. Gotta get some work done.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Spending Time Out of Time in a Space Out of Space

We're still meditating on the Beginning and the Beyond, two constructs that are trickier than common usage would suggest. To put it bluntly, we don't really know what we're talking about when we use these words.

Rather, they are more like empty placeholders that designate a limit or boundary -- in this case, the boundary between finite and infinite; or just say knowable and unknowable, like a flashlight that illuminates a spherical area and leaves everything else in darkness. The finite is just a little luminous space in the infinite.

In space we are aware of four cardinal directions (north, west, east, and south), plus up and down. Likewise, in time we are aware of two directions that extend out from the present. But "as he moves in either of the two directions," writes Voegelin, "man the questioner will find himself both frustrated and illumined."

Try to imagine the situation of premodern man confronted with the enigma of time. It's both more difficult and easier than you might think, because each of us is superimposed, so to speak, on a premodern man, just as we are on a mammal (the midbrain) and a reptile (the hindbrain).

You might say that the whole phenomenon of existentialism emerged as a result of modern men who were suddenly denied the comforting -- and containing -- myths of antiquity, and therefore had to confront the vastness of time and space with no map and no direction home.

Thus, a Pascal -- who was not an existentialist but could see where history was headed -- described the terror of "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," and of being "engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me."


So: "As he moves back on the time line," man will soon enough "discover the regress to be indefinite." One will not find any kind of beginning in time; rather, only more time, time after time.

Recall what was said above about the six directions of space and the two directions of time. It turns out that there two additional directions that extend out from the present. Let's just call them Up and Down; thus, in the present moment we may face forward, backward, up, or down.

The Up and Down need to be emphasized, for it is only because of them that it is possible to "see" the forward and the backward. Animals, for example, don't have a history because they have no vantage point to see -- or make -- it. They are both in and of time, whereas man is of time but partly of something else as well.

I won't dwell on it, but we've just hit on one of the essential distinctions between left and right. For the left there is no vantage point outside history, and thus no universal or permanent truths. Rather, everything is conditioned by history, and this historicism condemns man to be both in and of time, full stop.

Of course, no leftist believes this consistently or in his bones, because a leftist is still a man, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Every leftist will still speak passionately of "social justice" or "women's rights" or "marriage equality," as if these things can exist outside his animal desires.

Back to the Beginning. Again, searching for it backward in time is (literally) a non-starter.

Okay, what about down? Good choice! "The ground [man] is seeking is to be found, not in the things of the cosmos and their time dimension, but in the mystery of a creative beginning of the cosmos in a time out of time."

Language suitable for describing profane time and space begins to break down when we try to apply it to higher and lower dimensions. Nevertheless, we need not "abandon the directional index" of before and after, "but use it analogically to symbolize the divinely-creative beginning of a reality that has a time dimension after all."

In other words, we are using the word "beginning," but applying it to the vertical instead of the horizontal. In so doing, this "analogical symbol will denote... a beginning in the analogical time of a creation story." The myths that arise from this ground serve to articulate "the truth of a cosmos that is not altogether of this world."

WE ALL KNOW -- on pain of cashing in our humanness -- that neither we nor the cosmos are reducible to This World. If that weren't the case, then you wouldn't even be free to disagree with me.

Therefore, "the reality of things, it appears, cannot be fully understood in terms of the world and its time; for the things are circumfused by an ambience of mystery that can be understood only in terms of the Myth."

Good word, "circumfused."

More miraculous than the creation story itself is the miracle of a human imagination that finds the symbols to express a myth that is adequate to the (infinite) subject. As we've mentioned before, the more one studies Genesis, the more one is convinced that it must have a divine source -- or that it specifically flourishes in the vertical space between man and God (no less today than 3,000 years ago).

We're talking about illiterate nomads on the lam here, not theologians or metaphysicians writing from the comfort of their book-lined slackatoreums. And yet, they came up with something to keep theologians and metaphysicians busy forever.

As Voegelin writes, we are converging on the reality "of an imagination and a language that is itself... not altogether of this world."

You don't say.

True, but you never stop trying.

Not much "time" this morning. "Out!"

(Unless otherwise indicated, all the quotes are from Voegelin)

Monday, October 01, 2012

Why Does the Question of Why the World Exists Exist?

I'm not sure I adequately conveyed what Voegelin means by the terms "beginning" and "beyond." Think of other animals. For them there can be no beginning, no concept of a source or ground of things. Nor can there possibly be any notion of a transcendent beyond that cannot be found in the world of things.

But concern with the beginning and beyond practically defines man. Certainly it seems to coincide with his emergence -- or at least we know of no culture that doesn't engage in the implicit metaphysics of mytho-speculation in order to situate itself in the cosmos.

The beginning and the beyond are permanent features of man's existence. There is paradox here, somewhat similar to Kant's distinction between phenomena (appearances) and noumenon (reality). We know the latter exists, even if we can't say anything about it (and I'm not saying I agree with him; this is for pedagogic purposes only). Our inborn logic -- or just the implicit logic of speech itself -- suggests to us that there had to be a beginning. But since no one was there to witness it, we fill the scotoma with mythical content, up to and including the vulgar and desiccated myths of scientism.

I recently tried to read a book that addresses this subject, called Why Does the World Exist?, by Jim Holt. However, I couldn't get through it due to the author's willful knaveté about the subject. In dismissing religion with an unearned smugness worthy of the tenured, he falls into the biggest myth of them all -- that science can tell us anything about the beyond. Science by definition tells us only about the within (or, more accurately, about things "inside" the cosmos). It certainly implies -- necessitates, actually -- a beyond, but can only point there and never possibly reach or contain it.

The author also has the annoying habit of projecting his own attitudes into others, for example, suggesting that for believers, "there is no such thing as the 'mystery of existence.'" While there are no doubt people who drain existence of mystery, it is foolish to reflexively attribute this to religion instead of human nature, or to pretend that doctrinaire materialists and other subtheists don't do the same.

To even ask if "science will someday explain not only how the world is, but why the world is," is to ask a meaningless question. It's as if the man never heard of Gödel.

Which can't be the case, since he made the index. Let's see how Holt gets around him. He includes a couple of statements by Gödel, who wrote of mathematical objects that we do indeed "have something like a perception... despite their remoteness from sense experience," and that "I don't see any reason why we should have less confidence in this kind of perception, i.e., in mathematical intuition, than in sense perception."

He helpfully suggests that Gödel (who eventually became psychotic) "also believed in the existence of ghosts," which means, ironically, that Holt is trying to avoid the conclusions of the most important logician of the 20th century via the commonplace logical fallacy of ad hominem.

With such brilliant reasoning we could equally deny the theory of relativity because Einstein married his first cousin. Besides, what kind of person doesn't know the theory that you can't marry your relatives?

It just goes downhill from there, never confronting the issue of how it is even possible for science to know why the world exists if Gödel is correct that no logical system can be both complete and consistent. Furthermore, it is only because Gödel is correct that we can even ask the question. In other words, we ask it because it is a spontaneous response to a nonlocal reality we all intuit.

However, I only made it to p. 77, so it is possible that the author outgrows his cognitive Ønanism thereafter. Doubtful though, since the last sentence defers to Bierce's famous definition of philosophy: "A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." That being the case, the book ends precisely where it begins, but not in a good way, if you catch my drift nudge nudge wink wink.

All in all, the book reminds me of a couple of snide-splitting Laphorisms: "Nothing makes clearer the limits of science than the scientist’s opinions about any topic that is not strictly related to his profession." And "Whoever appeals to any science in order to justify his basic convictions inspires distrust of his honesty or his intelligence."

To take just one particularly glaring example, scientists talk about a "cosmos" or "universe" as if it is an obvious fact instead of an implicit assumption. Voegelin actually devotes a chapter to this subject, noting that "Constructs concerning the structure of the physical universe as a whole cannot be empirically validated. Why, then, do physicists engage again and again in their construction?"

Boredom? Loneliness?

No,"The only possible answer to this question seems to be that physicists are men who as human beings feel obliged to develop an image of the universe." In other words, just like the restavus from time immemorial, they can't help creating the testavus "of a mytho-speculative symbol that will satisfy our desire to know the structure of the universe in which we live."

In this regard they resemble the Rodeo Clown Media, who are so drenched in ideology while pretending to themselves that they are somehow "objective" or neutral. Which means that their myth is never subjected to critical scrutiny, and remains as unexamined as their lives. Such nullible individuals somehow manage to simultaneously max out both cynicism and credulity.

Bottom line: physics "does not furnish the means for the meaningful construction of mytho-speculative symbols." Rather -- and this should be soph-evident -- "from physics follows nothing but physics" (Voegelin).

Indeed, just as from logic follows nothing but logic, or from biology nothing but biology, or psychology nothing but psychology.

In reality, man transcends -- or participates in the transcendence -- of all these lesser disciplines and perspectives. Which is why he can not only spend his life indulging in the human privilege of wondering why the world exists, but get some very helpful pointers along the way (which are only everywhere).

To be clear, man can and does have a vision of the whole, but not because of anything reducible to nature. Unless we bear in mind the aphorism, Let us beware of discourse where the adjective “natural” without quotation marks abounds: somebody is deceiving himself, or wants to deceive us (Don Colacho).

Got kind of sidetracked before getting to the essence of the nub of the gist of the beating heart of the matter. To be continued...