Tuesday, February 25, 2014

PS I'm Ambivalent About You

Well, I don't know if there's much more to say about The Jewish Gospels. It seems to be one of those one-idea-and-keep-hammering-it books, as if he didn't nail it the first time -- the idea being that Christianity is not a break, but a continuation, of Judaism.

This could be controversial for some or maybe even most Jews, whereas it cannot by definition be controversial for Christians. Then again, Christians will no doubt balk at the notion that Christianity brought no new ideas into the world.

Of course, we must bear in mind that that Judaism is a river with many upstream tributaries and downstream branches, streams, and eddies. In the case of Christianity, one of the branches broke off and became its own river.

Evidently, there is no "normative" Judaism. The moment someone claims to represent it, someone else will contradict him. Two rabbis, three opinions, etc.

I recently read a biography of Maimonides, who some consider to be the Greatest Genius of Judaism. Of course, others will argue with that characterization. In any event, he assembled a list of thirteen principles of the faith; number one is the existence of Number One, the Creator.

I suppose we can look at the thirteen principles as a kind of flow chart -- the flow of the above referenced river; a river of light, as it were. So we're all together at the headwaters, the source, the cosmic spring.

Number two: his unity. Oops! Here the river seems to branch in two, because Maimonides would maintain that a trinitarian God contradicts his unity.

However, I think we have to give the early Christians -- being that they were Jews -- credit for appreciating the dilemma. Of all people, they would be aware of the difficulty of squaring this circle, which took centuries to officially resolve, or to congeal into a principle, i.e., a trimorphic God with distinctions but no separation. (This primordial Three must be considered a quality, not quantity.)

But according to Boyarin, not only is such an idea kosher, but similar ideas were being discussed in Jesus' day, and indeed, centuries before. He introduces some fascinating research showing how mono-theism emerged from poly-theism, but not always in a smooth, harmonious, and seamless way. That is to say, one can at times detect unassimilated godlings hovering around the one God. (Not to mention the ongoing temptation to revert to out-and-out paganism.)

To back up a bit, the reason I find this fascinating is that it mirrors the development of the mind, which moves from fragmentation to synthesis. One can look at this quite abstractly as the basic metabolism of cognition. For reasons we won't get into, Bion symbolized the fragmentation PS, the synthesis D. Thus, one of the ground floor operations of the mind is PS↔D. Note the bi-directionality of the arrow, as things are always falling apart and reconstituting.

Aren't they? Hope it's not just me.

You could say that a "nervous breakdown" is a descent into unremitting PS. These fragments of PS are persecutory and predatory, especially as they become more primitive. Even "curiosity" is a kind of "pain," i.e., the pain of not-knowing. However, we must tolerate the pain of PS in order to await the coherence of D. Which then becomes a new pain in the PS.

So, long story short, this is how I regard the historical discovery of the one God. It is literally a discovery, because prior to that, reality is too occluded by psychic fragmentation to apprehend him. Thus, polytheism is really the residue of psychic fragmentation, the inability to intuit the whole. One-ness cannot be revealed to scatterbrains.

Interestingly, looked at this way, the trinitarian God is a kind of eternally dynamic PS↔D. I don't mean to vulgarize the deity, or contaminate him with our own limited ideas.

However, think of the idea of kenosis, i.e., the self-emptying of God. With the Incarnation, God essentially tosses his unity into our world of fragmentation and multiplicity, culminating with the Cross. Looked at this way, the Resurrection is the recovery, the re-synthesis and re-integration. Thus, in a way, Jesus' passion is the last Word in PS→D. Just when the apostles think the world is hopelessly disintegrated and flying off its hinges, it reintegrates at a higher level than they could have possibly imagined. "Transfiguration," you might say, is a very high-level D.

However, Judaism has its own version of primordial PS↔D; in fact, several versions. For example, Steinsaltz, in his Coon Classic, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, writes that "Creation itself, and the creation of man," is "a descent for the sake of ascent." Even the Sabbath can be seen as a day devoted to D after six days of frazzled PS. It is a return to the One, a reset, a reJewvenation. (Note also that the Sabbath is the telos, or purpose, of creation; or, at the very least, the opportunity to re-orient oneself to that transcendent unity.)

There is also the "shattered vessels" principle. (I just googled it and this is the first thing that comes up, so there are no doubt better explanations.) If I am not mistaken, the basic idea is that the world is shattered, scattered, battered and tattered, and that it is our task and privilege to help put it back together. Which is what we attempt here at *One* Cosmos. Yeah, someone's gotta do it.

Back to Maimonides' list: number three, denial of God's corporality. Here is another one Boyarin would dispute, or at least there were some ancient streams that thought otherwise. The question is, were those just pagan streams holding on to atavistic dreams of the godman? Or is it a legitimate principle?

Boyarin claims that Jesus is new, but the idea is very old. The only thing new is that this particular individual is the Son of Man, but Jesus did not invent the concept. Rather, again, it is in Daniel, and it is also present in the more recently discovered book of Enoch, which is roughly contemporary with the earliest Gospels. No, it is not scripture, but it does prove that the expectation of the Son of Man -- the divine in human form -- was in circulation.

Gotta go. Argue away!

20 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Interestingly, looked at this way, the trinitarian God is a kind of eternally dynamic PS↔D. I don't mean to vulgarize the deity, or contaminate him with our own limited ideas.

It's a very appealing idea, though. It has a pulse, so to speak.

Just when the apostles think the world is hopelessly disintegrated and flying off its hinges, it reintegrates at a higher level than they could have possibly imagined. "Transfiguration," you might say, is a very high-level D.

Which only continues to happen all the time; comforting, given that world seems yet again to be hopelessly disintegrated and flying off its hinges.

2/25/2014 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I can see this. We break it up, put it together, break it up, and so on. I have been thinking about this in terms of what we were talking about a while back -- where we are part of the process.

2/25/2014 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Somewhat related: Ricky Skaggs gives blood in Israel.

Ricky and I are practically the same age. Sharon, take away his carbs.

2/25/2014 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

All very good, although I would be inclined to give Abraham less credit than you for discovering that God is One, because I think this was an idea that was revealed.

2/25/2014 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I thought about that: in order for something to be revealed, the reveal-ee must be at least capable of apprehending it. God could reveal himself to a cow, but the cow would just go on chewing. That a human has the potential to understand and assimilate the divine message says something important about humans. But just as God had to nurture a people in order to reveal himself, I think he first had to nurture a species, so to speak. If God had revealed himself (in the same way) to human beings of, say, 100,000 years ago, it is doubtful that they would have been ready for it. So there is a necessary dialectic between the revelation and our ability to understand it -- not because the revelation is relative, but because we are.

2/25/2014 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

For example, you can't have a People of the Book if the people can't read and write. Rather, they'd probably call themselves the People of the Doorstop: "God gave us this nice doorstop. We revere it, but no one knows why."

2/25/2014 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

cough ***koran*** cough

2/25/2014 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

We kid our Muslim readers.

2/25/2014 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

We kid that we have Muslim readers.

2/25/2014 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

2/25/2014 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

There are probably some Muslims at the NSA.

2/25/2014 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"Interestingly, looked at this way, the trinitarian God is a kind of eternally dynamic PS↔D. I don't mean to vulgarize the deity, or contaminate him with our own limited ideas."

Which gets us back to the issue we were discussing some time ago regarding the fixed and variable aspects of God.

I suppose that it's probably important to note that this is only a *problem* from our perspective.

It's not a problem from God's perspective.

Kind of like the issue of how light is both a particle and a wave.

That's *our* conceptional problem.

Light has not problem with this whatsoever.

2/26/2014 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"You could say that a "nervous breakdown" is a descent into unremitting PS. These fragments of PS are persecutory and predatory, especially as they become more primitive. Even "curiosity" is a kind of "pain," i.e., the pain of not-knowing."

It helps if you know that you've completely melted your emotional topography at the time you melt your emotional topography.

I feel really bad for people who disintegrate themselves without realizing that they've disintegrated themselves.

Granted, I was *trying* to disintegrate myself.

I just didn't realize that I would actually accomplish what I was trying to do.

Yeah, you have unremitting PS, but it's more of a "Um. Uh, oh. That wasn't good. I am sooooo in trouble now." Granted, I was really impressed with myself that I actually accomplished something.

This is also the only time in my life that I really realized what Wile-E Coyote feels like when he runs off the cliff and realizes that there is no longer any cliff under his feet.

Then you have to go track down all the PS and tie them up so that you have time to find the emergency override switch.

I suppose if you know precisely what's going on, it's not really a nervous breakdown.

Plus, I was experiencing intermittent PS that was entirely my fault.

Kids: Don't try this at home.

2/26/2014 06:21:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

"Which only continues to happen all the time; comforting, given that world seems yet again to be hopelessly disintegrated and flying off its hinges."

This has all happened before.

This will all happen again.

2/26/2014 06:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I have absolutely no problem with variable aspects of God. In fact, I'd like to eventually return to that subject, but I keep getting distracted. Absolute changelessness strikes me as an impossible concept.

2/26/2014 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

OT: Just awful.

2/26/2014 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Ugh. I guess there's no shortage of money to be made in telling people what they want to hear.

2/26/2014 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Though it is telling that it is generally leftists who fall for this, where conservatives tend to stick to traditional religion.

After all, they are so much more progressive than everyone else; they must be superhuman. They are the change they've been waiting for! Now if only the unevolved would recognize their superiority...

2/26/2014 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Ha! So true Julie. I think the tell-all are the endorsements by Tony Robbins and Marianne Williamson. This is just spiritual Nietzscheism.

2/26/2014 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

I like what you wrote about the fact that the object of the revelation has to be ready for it.

Reminds me that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Has he any choice?

By the way, the name "People of the Book," of which so many secularized Jews are so proud, originated as a term of art in Islamic jurisprudence, designating those communities whose adherents a Muslim was not absolutely required to slaughter if they did not submit and become Muslims themselves. "People of the Book," including Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews, were allowed to pay a head-tax instead of losing their physical heads.

2/26/2014 12:19:00 PM  

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