Friday, December 13, 2013

The Will to Deny Free Will and the Intelligence to Deny Intellect

Among yesterday's comments is one from a predestineer, a position I admittedly find metaphysically absurd and logically impossible.

That being the case, it can only be defended based upon selecting certain biblical passages and interpreting them in such a way that they not only contradict the overall thrust of scripture -- i.e., man as moral agent -- but also contradict the very people who put the book together.

The compilers would have been quite surprised to learn that they were promoting a doctrine that denies free will. Among other inconveniences, denial of free will renders life utterly meaningless, as meaningless as the world of pure chaos from which religion is here to rescue us.

To put it another way, absolute order and absolute chaos are both absolutely meaningless. Besides, no sane human being actually behaves as if he has no free will, for it is an impossible doctrine. Might as well pretend the world is just an extension of one's own imagination.

(By the way, the purpose of this post is not to argue with anyone, for such arguments are pointless, being that if someone believes in predestination, it is not because it is rational, but because he prefers to or is destined to, i.e., it is rooted in will, not intellect. So this is for my own clarification. No offense intended.)

The Catholic Catechism puts it about as clearly as possible, saying that "God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions." This is "so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him." I mean, if we aren't free, then Jesus's instruction to evangelize is pointless.

St. Irenaeus, a disciple of John and one of the earliest theologians on record, wrote that "Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts."

I suppose this common sense (to us) position had to be spelled out, because it was in direct contrast to the pagan view, which was indeed that man has no free will, but is a prisoner of fate and a plaything of the gods.

Christianity was unique -- along with Judaism, of course -- in promulgating this novel doctrine of human freedom and therefore dignity. One can draw a straight crooked line from those early pneumanauts to RIGHT HERE and NOW, where you and I are exercising our precious freedom. (Most of us, anyway; my site meter indicates we have readers in a number of unfree locales from outside the Judeo-Christian stream, yesterday, for example, Tunisia, Viet Nam, and Manhattan.)

Here again, the Catechism is quite lucid in defining the meaning of freedom, with hardly a wasted word: "Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude."

And "the right to the exercise of freedom... is an inalienable requirement to the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority," Obama and illiberal leftism notwithstanding.

This is precisely what we were saying yesterday vis-a-vis the "three freedoms," i.e., horizontal <--> vertical <--> divine. And because we have free will, we inevitably fail to exercise it properly, hence the reality of sin. Among other things, predestination renders sin impossible because it fails to posit man as moral agent.

Rather, as the presaved commenter put it yesterday, only "the originals," i.e., Adam and Eve, had the freedom to choose God, and since they chose unwisely, we are all subject to the same punishment, and no longer free to so choose. It was a one-time-only offer, and they blew it for everyone.

I can't stand any presentation of religion that makes it look foolish and provides ammunition for postmodern sophisticates to ridicule and reject it. In my opinion this falls under the heading of taking the name of the lord in vain, which is a quite serious offense. After all, it blocks the path to salvation.

In concretizing the parable in this manner, its true meaning is lost. In other words, in making it about a historical "Adam and Eve," it is no longer about us, except indirectly, via hereditary collective punishment.

But if the parable is about us, then it goes directly to the misuse of our own freedom, here and now. According to tradition, "The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart."

While looking up another passage, I found this one from Schuon, that man "alone among terrestrial creatures is free to go against his own nature," hence the possibility of such intrinsic deviations as homosexual marriage and the like. Interestingly, he does not situate this liberty in the prelapsarian phase, but rather, only as a consequence of the fall, which "separates [man] first of all from that immanent Revelation which is Intellection."

In other words, the fall ushers us into a kind of meaningless horizontal freedom, no longer oriented to the divine attractor. Thus, "in God and through Him, man can be reunited with pure Liberty; only in God are we absolutely free" (ibid.).

Conversely, man "possesses the paradoxical freedom to wish in his turn to make himself God..." Ironic that this is precisely what predestination does, that is, turn man into God, since his self-styled "destiny" is indistinguishable from God's will.

This follows from an Intelligence Fail -- i.e., from a Major Malfunction in the use of our most precious gift -- in that "Intelligence separated from its supra-individual source is accompanied ipso facto by that lack of sense of proportions termed pride" (ibid.). Hence the irritating smugness of the Already Saved.

At the other end is the scientistic pride that "prevents intelligence become rationalism from rising to its source," here again elevating man to God. Numberless are the ways, both religious and secular, to "prove the absurd."

The final, ultimate freedom, the daring of freedom and the burden of freedom, is the virtue of religious maturity. To arrive at religious maturity means to know final freedom.... He who is not free, the slave, cannot enter the Kingdom of God: he is not a son of God; he is subject to lower spheres. --Berdyaev

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Support Your Volunteer Spiritual Fire Department

Global warming. This has been the coldest December in memory. At night I have to put blankets around some of the plants to spare them death by frost. But the darkest moment is before the dawn, thus the felicitous convergence of the winter solstice, Christmas, and Little League sign-ups.

Can't tell you how much I love Little League. I've met so many good people and cool dads. I think you can measure the deterioration of culture based upon the eclipse of baseball and the ascendence of football and basketball as national pastimes. And let's not even talk about soccer. But let us never again elect a man president who prefers basketball to baseball.

There are two seasons a year, spring and fall (for spring we start practicing in early February). This will be our seventh. I always assistant coach. Why not head coach? Because not all the parents are cool, and -- hate to say it, but I really dislike some of the kids. There are always at least a couple of kids that are not just devoid of positive qualities, but really annoying, and every once in awhile I can't help letting slip a snarky comment, especially to the ones who don't even try.

I get the sense that some of these kids have never heard honest criticism in their lives, which is not a recipe for self-esteem, but for Obama-level cluelessness -- for confusing legislative strikeouts with signature achievement grand slams. They are in urgent need of more snark, but I really don't want to be investigated by Child Protective Services.

A lot of the dads help out, and you can go a whole season without ever knowing what another dad does for a living. That's good: between the lines, all men are equal. But sometimes it comes out that I'm a "psychologist," which never generates a neutral response. Often the reaction is a quick widening of the eyes accompanied by a slightly higher pitched "oh!" -- like you're special, but in a way that isn't necessarily good or bad, just... different. I'm trying to think of other professions that might generate this ambivalent reaction... mortician?

I would prefer to say I'm a writer, but then they'll ask what you've published, and you have to specify that you're not the kind of writer who gets "paid" for it. Then they might ask what you write about, and then they put two and two together and start thinking you're crazy. Not sure if I want this guy around my kid. Tell me again what you write about?

I guess what I really want to say is that I'm just a humble philosopher, a lover of wisdom and seeker after truth. That's it: I'm a member of the local volunteer philosophy department. Like the volunteer fire department, except we try to start fires.

So, what sort of fire shall we set this morning? Well, let's see. We've been talking about freedom and necessity, each of which has a positive and negative side. With regard to freedom, there is the existential nothingness we have in the absence of God, alongside the fullness we assimilate in pursuit of transcendent truth.

For Berdyaev, this is "a world-problem which finds a solution only in the coming of Christ." For only Christ "finds a way out of the tragedy of freedom," and "eliminates the conflict between freedom and necessity." How? By descending "into 'nothingness,' that is, into primordial freedom." In so doing, he "extracts the poison from freedom, without destroying freedom itself.... In Christ is a third freedom revealed, which comprehends the other two."

Contrast this with, say, Islam, which attempts, through sharia, to extract the poison from freedom by eliminating it altogether; or Buddhism, which attempts to solve the problem of freedom by extinguishing the desire through which it manifests. And the dominant religion of contemporary liberalism attempts to solve the problem by pretending it isn't one, which quickly devolves to nihilism and even soccer.


Okay, "The truth of Christ, which makes us free, does not force or compel anyone; it is not like the truths of this world which forcibly organize spirit and deprive it of freedom." For example, there is no freedom, no wiggle room, in math. Rather, a mathematical answer is necessarily entailed in the terms of its equation.

But if religious truth is not necessary, this must mean that faith is a mode of freedom. Again, if we are compelled to believe in God, then that is necessity, not freedom. How to preserve our freedom and yet still accept God? It seems that the only way is via the free exercise of faith, for anything less situates us in the kingdom of necessity.

So, "the light of Christ enlightens the irrational darkness of freedom, without limiting it from without." In my opinion, one could invert the terms of this statement and affirm that the sophsame Light that enlightens our freedom is simply Christ by another name. But in any event, "Redemption is the deliverance of man's freedom from the evil which destroys it, deliverance not by means of necessity or compulsion, but by grace."

There is another subtle point: that grace cannot be necessity. Rather, it must always be mingled with freedom: "Man freely accepts or refuses grace, but grace does not force him." It acts "within human freedom itself." So grace and faith are complementary modes of freedom.

And it isn't just liberals who deny real freedom, for "if grace acts upon man without any participation of man's freedom, we get to the doctrine of predestination." So there is slacklessness at either extreme.

But through Christ, freedom is "inwardly joined with grace." For obvious reasons, I like to symbolize this double movement (↓↑). Less obvious is the fact that this is a unity of two freedoms -- like a marriage of love.

"Grace acts as a third freedom, the freedom of a heavenly, spiritual humanness." And "He truly loves freedom who affirms it for his fellows" -- which automatically excludes the punitarian liberals with which my surreality-based community is crawling. For "there is always the danger that in the name of freedom, men will begin to deny it" (Berdyaev).

Saaaay, just what kind of philosophy do you profess, coach?

Er, the philosophy the Almighty and me works out betwixt us.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gifts for the Music Fan for Whom Everything isn't Enough

It was my turn to take the boy to school this morning, so no time for the usual championing of the bobvious. Instead, part 2 of our favorite releases of 2013, including a gem that just came out a couple weeks ago, Tower of Power live in the studio in 1974. If you don't know Tower of Power, then brother, you don't know funk.

Being that the group was founded by a couple of white guys (I guess one was a White Hispanic), this makes Tower of Power easily the funkiest group of pallor in history. Actually, the group was an integrated ensemble, particularly renowned for its five-man horn section (two tenors, one baritone sax, and two trumpets).

These recently discovered tapes catch the band at a peak, and feature the classic lineup, including Lenny Williams on vocals. He is without a doubt one of the great underrated soul singers, not to mention an exciting and charismatic frontman. He eventually left the band in 1975, I believe because he was a clean liver while other members of the band were descending into serious substance abuse. In fact, in the liner notes co-founder Emilio Castillo admits that he was probably high during this performance, but there's no way you could tell, so tight is the band.

There are no samples on amazon, but you can hear some at All Music Guide. Listen for the precise and beautiful blend of horns, but especially Doc Kupka's baritone holding up the bottom, which I believe -- if my white privilege doesn't betray me -- is what pushes the band into its otherworldly cosmic funkmanship (although one cannot ignore the drums, bass, and chicken-scratching guitar, which sound as good as one of James Brown's bands).

I'm sure the Harry Nilsson box will be on many year-end top ten lists. It is a 17 CD collection, including three discs of unreleased prime Harry recorded between 1967 and 1974. (Once again, samples available at AMG.)

If you don't know Harry, the logical place to begin would be this excellent documentary that was released a few years ago, Who is Harry Nilsson? Earlier this year a biography came out, and it too is outstanding. Being that it is published by Oxford University Press, you can see that Nilsson is considered a serious subject.

Nilsson might well have agreed with Captain Beefheart: "yeah, I'm a genius, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it." He was seriously -- and yet cheerfully -- self-destructive, most infamously for destroying his vocal cords while making an album with John Lennon in 1974. His voice was never the same afterwards, but if you accept them for what they are, the later albums contain their charms, and even some classics.

Here's one I haven't even heard yet, but I'm putting it in the top ten anyway, Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective. It's a seven disc collection of the great, ill-fated guitarist, including not just Allman Brothers classics, but many tracks by obscure artists (and not so obscure, e.g., Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs) recorded when he was the hottest session guitarist in a soul-drenched land of musical plenty. (Samples.)

It was originally released as a limited edition, but the initial run of 10,000 sold out on pre-order. This "encore edition" is missing a few goodies but has all the music, so that's what counts.

Yeah, it's expensive, which is why I'm going to use amazon Visa points to get it. I charge everything I can on my amazon Visa, and then use the points to purchase music, so then I don't feel guilty about my compulsion to hear Everything. Foolproof self-deception.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Politician, Heal Thyself

Better yet, f*ck thyself.

Since freedom is "nothing," perhaps that's why liberals are so bored by it. Classical liberals, of course, define freedom negatively, which is as it should be, i.e., being left alone by nanny state ninnies. But contemporary left liberals define freedom positively, which is not only a metaphysical contradiction, but pretends to increase freedom via coercion, ObamaCare being a prime example.

More importantly, our "healthcare system" was a product of freedom -- of millions of physicians, scientists, and researchers just doing what they do, with no one forcing them to do it, except perhaps their Jewish mothers. Therefore, it wasn't a "system" at all, at least in any top-down, conscious way. Rather, it was a spontaneous organization, at least until about half a century ago, when the government began interfering with healthcare in a big way.

The other day, I was thinking about how I had the same doctor from the day I was born until my early 20s. So I decided to google his name, and see if I could find out anything about him. Here he is: John Abdun-Nur. And here are just some of the things he accomplished with his freedom:

"He was a pre-med student and football player prior to enlisting in the Navy in 1944 where he served his country as a gunnery officer and lieutenant.... During his years as a physician, he delivered over 4,500 babies, each of whom he cherished as a miracle and gift from God [who, me?]. Never hesitant to make a house call or answer an emergency, whether it was at his front door step or the hospital, Dr. John defined compassionate committed medical care."

I can testify to the house calls, because I remember them. However, I wouldn't have known what to make of the "miracle of God" business, since religion was never presented to me in a way that made sense, plus Dr. Abner (which is what I called him) always had a kind of sardonic, deadpan sense of humor that didn't strike one as "religious."

So to read of his appreciation of the miracle of human life kind of blows me away. I'm happy to say my son is more evolved than I was, so he is able to identify the goddity in others -- in teachers, doctors, vets, store clerks, anyone who is an I-Amissary from the Source, a Light in the darkness.

Back to Dr. Abner: "In his distinguished career, Dr. John was Chief of Staff at three local hospitals.... Dr. John was especially committed to working with young people who sustained injuries in sports."

I remember how photos of the USC football team adorned his walls. For some reason, he was in them. Now I know why:

"He also volunteered countless hours as a physician in the 1970's and 1980's to many of USC's athletes and coaches. Dr. John's commitment to young people did not end with medical care but continued over the years as he inspired and advised young athletes and patients to experience the fullness of life." Sounds a little like a community organizer, minus the fraud, sociopathy, and grievance mongering.

"The years he spent developing his medical practice in Tarzana inspired a dream to develop the land around him in his hometown. He wanted to see medicine continue to serve the valley community through the development of a medical center close to the hospital where he worked for so many years" -- which, oddly enough, is where my son was born in 2005. Circle Spiral of life.

There's more, but the bottom line for this man of science was that "With God, family, and country... these are all that one needs." What? What about the federal government?

Not only did he uncharitably leave out the state, but "In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Dr. John's church or a charity he has supported since its inception. The church is an important part of Dr. John's family history. Both his father and father-in-law were original parishioners and generously donated the necessary resources and time to assist in building the church in the 1950's." (Sounds like he was Orthodox.)

I didn't intend this post to go in this direction, but again, consider what one man accomplished with his freedom, freedom which is a gift from God, not from the state. Will ObamaCare create more men like him, or fewer? To even ask the question is to be in urgent need of craniorectal extraction, and ObamaCare doesn't cover those. Rather, the condition is mandatory.

There are two freedoms, divine and diabolic.... the second leads to compulsion and force in truth and good, to forced virtue, i.e. to a denial of freedom of spirit, to a tyrannical organization.... an authoritarian order of life, theocratic or socialistic, where freedom of the spirit and of conscience is destroyed without a trace."

"[The first] is the freedom toward which man moves, the summit and crown of life, the end of all his striving, the freedom which ought to be, which comes from the triumph of the higher elements of life.... Truth gives us the higher freedom. But freedom is needed in the very acceptance of truth. --Berdyaev


(Unrelated note: the signed copies are in the mail -- media mail, to be exact -- so delivery time will depend upon the whims of government agents.)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Freedom in the Kingdom of Necessity

"Freedom," writes Berdyaev, "is not a right, but an obligation." He's wrong about that, because it is a right and an obligation. It's just that liberals forget about the second part.

For if you fail at your obligation to be be free, then you oblige others to take care of you. Thanks to the left, man is born free but everywhere in debt, in that every man, woman, and child owes $190,000 to the federal government. Excluding those who will get off easy by dying, it's more like $400,000, mostly to subsidize people who have shunned their obligation to be free.

At the very least, we need to appreciate that freedom cuts both ways -- that it is something man wants in the abstract, but from which he often recoils when it comes right down to it. Liberals simply exploit this primordial dread of freedom.

This is again where Berdyaev's existentialism comes into play, in that we are "condemned to freedom," so to speak. For Berdyaev, "freedom is a bottomless well." It is an "abyss which preceded being" and which "is rooted in 'nothingness.'"

There is the Kingdom of Necessity and the Kingdom of Slack, and necessity cannot produce slack. Here again, this is why liberal schemes such as ObamaCare always fail, since they try to generate slack out of necessity: no, you won't be able to keep your insurance, you won't be able to keep your doctor, and you won't save $2,500 a year. The left simply sells necessity with meretricious promises of boundless slack. But the slack never comes. Just ask all the luckless blacks who imagined they'd get some slack back by voting Barack.

Again, the idea of freedom existing outside, beyond, or before Being is a controversial one, but for reasons I cannot fully put into words, resonates deeply in me. Therefore, since I cannot englishen it, it is an Optional Orthoparadox for members of our tribe.

Here is my best attempt at an explanation. I've always had this notion that God must have a portion of himself that is unknown even to God. It follows from the principle that man is in the image of the Creator, which, if true, means that our best shot at understanding God comes by way of analogy to man (up to a point, of course).

This, for example, is why I am convinced -- even setting revelation aside -- that God is a Three-in-One, or Whole-in-Three, since man too is an intersubjective unity right down to the ground. There can be no such thing as an isolated human monad. It is literally unthinkable, thinking being a dynamic relation between thinker, thought, and truth.

Likewise, because of my psychoanalytic training, I can't help thinking of man's consciousness as being the result of a conscious/unconscious dialectic. There can be no such thing as a "fully conscious" man, since there can be no conscious without the unconscious. The problem here is the word "unconscious," since there is nothing un- about the consciousness of the unconscious.

Rather -- and this understates the matter -- the unconscious shadows our existence in a most intimate, creative, and mysterious way. Far from being (in the words of James Grotstein) “primitive and impersonal” (although it surely includes primitive “lower vertical” elements as well), it is “subjective and ultra-personal,” a “mystical, preternatural, numinous second self” characterized by “a loftiness, sophistication, versatility, profundity, virtuosity, and brilliance that utterly dwarf the conscious aspects of the ego.”

This very much reminds me of this book I read over the weekend on the history of genius, Divine Fury. First of all, what is genius? No one knows, least of all the genius. So, where does extreme creativity and originality come from? No one knows. This book chronicles the attempts over the centuries to explain it, but all explanations fail in the face of -- take your pick: the Pieta? Beethoven's late quartets? The collected works of James Brown? You might say it will take a genius to explain genius. But then who will explain him?

Since this kind of extreme creativity cannot be explained or predicted in principle, it must mean that it is the result of an encounter with the great Nothingness that lies outside necessity. Therefore, all the education in the world -- which is from the land of necessity -- won't necessarily make one a creative individual. The creativity comes from somewhere else. It is an independent variable, but obviously somehow tied up with freedom.

Which again leads back to God. Remember, prior to the Judeo-Christian tradition, God wasn't thought of as the creator of the cosmos, of everything, both high and low. Rather, the gods were within an already existing, hence necessary, creation. But if God is quintessentially a creator, this must mean that he is the quintessential case, or the very principle, of... let us call it the logos <--> freedom, or word <--> play, trialectic.

Again, I don't expect anyone else to see it this way, but I can't help seeing it so.

Interestingly, seeing God as creator opened up creativity for man. As McMahon describes it, "To create originally, without precedent, pattern, or model, was never the ideal of the ancient artist or sage, and indeed the ancients frequently denied the very prospect." Elsewhere he writes that "true originality" was "impossible even for a god."

"Mere mortals" had to "confine themselves to recovering and reproducing what already exists.... Rather than look to the horizon of the original and new, the ancient's gaze is focused instead on the eternal recurrence of perennial forms." The settled past is the thingdom of absolute necessity; in it is "the key to all understanding in the present and future.... In the past lie the answers to all questions."

I've mentioned before that one of my teachstone Bible passages is 2Cor:17, "Now the Lord is Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The concord directs us to John 8:32, which reads that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," and to Gal 5:1, which recommends that we "stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage," and to 1:13, where it says that "you, brethren, have been called to liberty," so feel free to use it "through love to serve one another."

Now, I'm no expert, but it seems to me that the Spirit is the Third that generates and is generated by Father and Son. It is what makes the love between them completely unnarcissary and free.

Which reminds me of a wisecrack to which Mr. Van der Leun directed me this morning: "When lost in a forest go always down hill. When lost in a philosophy or doctrine go upward” (Ambrose Bierce).

Now, being lost is indeed a kind of freedom, is it not? It is the freedom to which we are condemned by the existentialists. From it there is no escape but up.

And speaking of Van der Leun, this, yoinked from his snidebar: