Yeah, I'm Totally Useless. What's Your Point?
Philosophy, of course, "operates only with reason, hence with logical assumptions and conclusions." The trick is that its effectiveness is contingent upon starting with correct premises (or first principles), which philosophy itself cannot furnish.
For that you'll need the uncommon gift of common sense. Thus the old saying, "garbage in, tenure out." Which simply means that if you don't start with reality, your philosophy can never reach it.
For it is written: from bullshit you are, and to bullshit you shall return.
Religion adds several dimensions to the picture, including revelation, grace, wisdom, and salvation. You might say that it provides man with fixed premises that he himself could never have arrived at without supernatural assistance -- say, Torah, or Exodus, or I AM, or Incarnation, or Person, or Trinity, or Resurrection, or Judgment.
Schuon highlights another important purpose of religion, which the modern secular world has, by definition, forgotten: "to establish a realistic social dimension."
It is a truism that the left's secular vision is unrealistic and unworkable in the real world, but people usually focus on the economic pathologies, e.g., krugmania, marxophrenia, obamanoia, etc. But these are all just fancy euphemisms for being broke and not knowing it, or else rationalizations for generational theft.
Much deeper than this is its social/cultural insolvency and moral bankruptcy. Only when the left has succeeded in completely destroying what only Judeo-Christian values could build, will some of them finally appreciate -- like the clueless Colonel Nicholson -- the enormity of what they've done. But most of them will find a way to displace the blame, because being on the left means never having to say you're wrong, sorry, sick, insane, lazy, broke, perverted, greedy, or lying through your teeth again.
So, why metaphysics? Which is a little like asking a monkey, "why the banana?" Human beings are built in a certain way and therefore have specific needs. Schuon says that metaphysics simply "satisfies the needs of intellectually gifted men." However, he isn't talking about profane metaphysics, which is just another branch of philosophy, and therefore not really metaphysics at all.
Rather, to engage in real metaphysics is to touch the divine. This must be so, since metaphysics is the study of being qua being, and God is.... No, let's just leave it at that: God is, period.
Metaphysics is the quintessential business of isness, and God is isness as such. Therefore, "metaphysical truth concerns not only our thinking, but penetrates also to our whole being." As such, "it is far above philosophy in the ordinary sense of the word." Perhaps we should call it transphysics, because it is both above and beyond the call of nature.
Back to the monkey and his banana. A monkey, goddammit, has certain intrinsic needs, and to deny him the object of those needs would be a cruelty. So hand over the banana already!
Likewise, man has certain intrinsic needs, and to deny these is to make a monkey out of him. However, man's needs are not limited to the biological sphere, or even the social sphere, although food, grog, and sex is certainly a good start. But no man can live on bananas alone, nor even on human love.
Rather -- and this is a key to appreciating what man is -- man has a need of truth and of salvation. Allied with these is a need for morals, which represent truth in action, or, say, truth prolonged into the social sphere.
Man also needs, according to Schuon, spiritual practice, which, you might say, is a systematic way to assimilate and embody truth and morality. In short, in order to get anywhere he needs Truth and Way, or Doctrine and Method, or Ass and Roadmap.
I know, I know, MOTT. Don't worry, we'll get there. The spirit blows where it will, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Besides, this post is going somewhere, I just know it. And if it doesn't? Well, that'll just prove that the title of the post is apt.
Now, the following may require a bit of a leap, and this does indeed veer or careen into esoterism, depending upon how carefully you derive. For Schuon, an authentic religious tradition already embodies metaphysics, and this may be sufficient to satisfy the average believer.
For example, as we were saying yesterday -- or was it Friday? -- Genesis is chock full of metaphysical arguments and insights, and there is no intrinsic reason why an intellectual explication of them is superior to an implicit, right brain understanding.
I mean, it's all there: radical creation (and the goodness thereof), deiformity, vocation, destiny, judgment, woman trouble, sibling rivalry, and much more.
In fact, this "much more" is precisely what we'll be getting into with MOTT. Much of MOTT is spent unpacking the esoteric or "hidden" knowledge packed into revelation and tradition. Some oddballs have a legitimate need for this sort of thing.
Which is why most people are not my readers. They just don't have that itch, so my scratching would just annoy them. The Unfathomable Lucidity of the B'ob? No thanks.
Now, all of these preluminary meditations have a reason, I'll bet. The reason is that I am attempting to rationalize my peculiar existence. Because let's face it, I am a completely useless man.
What I mean is that this writing I am doing has no practical purpose whatsoever. I don't make any real money off of it (I do receive a nominal sum from you thoughtful folks who click through to amazon and buy something), and I am in a a career in which I could readily earn more money by... by, you know, working more.
I don't usually think about it in these terms, you ungrateful bastards, but this blogging isness does consume an awful lot of time. Over seven years, in excess of 2,000 lengthy posts, thousands of comments. Why do I do it? Why don't I do something more productive and remunerative with my time? That's right, Why don't you make yourself useful, ya' lazy bastard?
Monkeys and bananas, I suppose. I'm not "making up" this need I have. Rather, I'm just pursuing (indulging?) it in the most natural and spontaneous way immarginable. Always been this way, at least from my mid-twenties or so, when my personality fully came on line (yes, it took that long for me to recover from the initial shock of being here).
When I was younger, I used to think it was simply because I was an enlightened sphere walking amongst the grazing multitude of somnolent cubes. But I no longer look at it that way. People are just different, that's all. Strokes and folks. Speaking of which, I don't want to be like my cardiologist, but even less do I want him to be like me!
On the other hand, the historical ubiquity of religion proves that it answers and speaks to a genuine need in man, because to think otherwise is to posit an effect with no cause. What this suggests to me is that all of the irreligious cubes in this world are deceiving themselves. They have the same needs man has always had, because man is man, a self-tautology.
In order to be unaware of the pain caused by this unfulfilled need, they must engage in all sorts of distractions, displacements, replacements, and substitutions. But still the need will be there because the void will persist, a void that cannot be filled by the world, any more than the need for human companionship can be satisfied by food.
The bottom lyin' is that human beings try to evade their uselessness by doing something useful. But reality is utterly useless, which is to say, it cannot be reduced to some pragmatic, goal-directed activity.
The Great Useless, or Big Empty, cannot be measured by the useful. It is our reason, but in itself it has no reason; or in other words, it alone has no extrinsic causes, but just IS. Therefore, it seems to me that the last word in deiformity is to become equally useless, at least for as much timelessness as we can manage.
Look at God himsoph. What does he do? He makes himself useful with six days of creativity. But the proper telos of all this creativity is the sabbath, on which we are enjoined to enjoy utter uselessness.
I remember reading a book by Stanley Jaki, in which he expressed the opinion that this is the whole point of Genesis 1 and 2: its principle lesson concerns the sabbath, our great Day of Focussed Unactivity, Higher Non-Doodling, or slack.
Ultimate truth, like its divine sponsor, just is, and has no reason. And we cannot rest until we are conformed to it, and made equally useless. As useless as, say, a baby. We all need a touch of infanity.
Well, this post is over. Unfortunately, I have to go out and make myself useful.
According to the "physics" of the spiritual order, the more one draws on the divine life, the more one receives that life.... when one receives a gift, one must give it away, since it only exists in gift form, and when he gives it away he will find more of it flooding into his heart. --Robert Barron