Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Theology, Theologic, and Theomena

Excuse me? Theomena?

That would be the best word I can think of at the moment for spiritual facts and divine data (a variation on phenomena and noumena). Irrespective of whether one is a believer or not, these facts surely exist. Indeed, man is not man without them, for in every time and place, man has experienced and known them.

Theology (as I am using the term) begins at the other end and works deductively.

That is, it begins with an organized revelation from above, a vertical memo from God to man. To engage in theology is to dwell in the message, to work out its implications, and to demonstrate how it is relevant to man within a total system encompassing cosmic origins, the proper conduct of one's life, and our post-biological destiny.

Theo-Logic is the title of Balthasar's trilogy, but I mean the term in a different way, basically similar to ordinary logic, only applied to spiritual facts, i.e., theomena.

Thus, theologic starts by working inductively from the facts, which in turn generate models from which new facts may be deduced. In a way this would represent "natural theology," only not in so restricted a definition, since it would include, for example, mystical facts and not just, say, the metaphysical transparency and intelligibility of nature.

Over the weekend I came across an interesting example of how theology and theologic can be at odds. But this is actually a common occurrence, which makes me wonder: is revelation a kind of preconscious or collective attempt at a more systematic theologic, only expressed to the multitude in mythico-cultural terms? (Short answer: sometimes and sometomes.)

Or, is theologic a kind of promethean effort to deny the authority of revelation by trying to make it conform to human terms? In other words, is the latter an attempt to cut God down to human size by insisting that he fit into our logical categories?

For most of human history this wasn't a problem, for each culture knew only its own (even if primitive) theology, in the light of which theomena were understood and interpreted.

Our Yanomamö friends, for example, had their own way of dealing with death, by placing the remains of a cremated tribesman into their banana soup and consuming them. It seems that the instinct of communion is a theomena that goes all the way up and down the vertical food chain.

Over the weekend I was reading a volume of the Library of Living Philosophers devoted to the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber. But right there we have a potential conflict, since Buber would no doubt characterize himself as a theologian first, with philosophy per se coming in a distant second. Thus, to apply theologic to his theology may be problematic.

Which it proves to be right out the gate, with the annoying Professor Hartshorne popping into the proceedings in chapter two. We've discussed this noodge in the recent past, and he naturally generated some controversy, since (among other heresies) he maintains with ironclad and invincible theologic that God is not only subject to change, but that he is perfect change.

Thus, he inverts the traditional idea that change is intrinsically bad by elevating God to the quintessence of change, and suggesting that a changeless God would actually be a monstrosity -- certainly nothing to whom we could relate (or could relate to us, because to relate is to be relative, QED -- QED being Latin for 'nuff said or in yo' face!).

Now, the main reason I am intrigued by Buber's theology is his delineation of the I-Thou relation as the ultimate ontological category.

I am in complete agreement with Buber, and would place this principle at the center of my own humble theologic: that God is not defined by substance, but rather, by relation. The relation is intrinsic, not somehow "added," which, in my opinion, goes to the principle of a trinitarian Godhead.

Buber, of course, does not go there. But at the same time, he seems to pull back from the full implications of his own theologic, even within a Jewish framework. When these implications are drawn out by Hartshorne, he rejects them entirely. At the end of the volume, Buber is given the opportunity to reply to his critics and interlocutors, and his response to Hartshorne is pretty blunt:

"The metaphysics he presents as my own I cannot acknowledge.... Because I say of God, that He enters into a relationship to the human person, God shall be not absolute but relative!" Not on my watch!

But that is not exactly what Hartshorne is saying. I too used to believe that "absolutely relative" is a contradiction in terms, but think about it.

Think, for example, of the Trinity. Wouldn't it be accurate to say that the Father is absolutely relative to the Son, and vice versa? In other words, there is no God that can be conceptualized as "separate" from his Son (and therefore us). Thus his relativity is absolute. (Which is why I invented the term abbasolute to combine the two.)

Again, I believe something similar is implied in Buber's description of the I-Thou relation to God. Clearly, we relate to the Thou of God. What, God doesn't relate to us in return? What do the facts -- the theomena -- say?

In the brief autobubergraphical section at the beginning of the book, he speaks of his early experience of "a dialogical relationship between man and God, thus of a free partnership of man in a conversation between heaven and earth..." (Sounds like [↓↑], the old One-Two.)

Elsewhere he speaks of how man cannot be a "self-enclosed unity of the spirit." Rather, "only through opening out, through entering into openness, does the spirit that has descended into the human realm" become coherent and enduring. This represents a "genuine reciprocity," opposed to which is any metaphysic that encloses man within himself.

Indeed, this self-enclosure is a "sin against the holy spirit." Furthermore, it is the perennial "opponent of mankind," a sentiment with which I am in one hundred percent agreement; for me, vertical and/or horizontal closure are the original sin.

But why? Well, if we take seriously the idea that we are in the image of the Creator, and the Creator is perfect relationship, then that is called a divine clueprint. And we need to get one.

To be continued...

14 Comments:

Blogger mushroom said...

...there is no God that can be conceptualized as "separate" from his Son ...

Right, there is no Father unless there is a Son, and the reverse. The Father and the Son are relative to one another.

3/11/2014 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

You could almost define the spirit of man as a door through which God enters, though we more traditionally think of it as His temple and dwelling place. A house that's all closed up is a tomb.

3/11/2014 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

What do the facts -- the theomena -- say?

http://sploid.gizmodo.com/scientists-unlock-mystery-of-woman-who-sees-herself-out-1538196076

"It is real in the sense that she's actually experiencing it. The brain scans show that she's going through what she's claiming. But that doesn't mean that her "soul" is getting out of her body. This is not an astral trip, like those described by mystics. There's no paranormal activity of any kind."

3/11/2014 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or, is theologic a kind of promethean effort to deny the authority of revelation by trying to make it conform to human terms? In other words, is the latter an attempt to cut God down to human size by insisting that he fit into our logical categories?

One of the leading causes of the Jesus-willies, I think.

Magister - I love how, because the brain scan shows that something is happening, the "scientific" assumption is that there could be no mystical component to the experience. So it's only mystical if there's no possibility of detecting the experience? In which case, of course, one can conveniently be labeled "delusional".

That's the trouble with scientism: the world is literally overflowing with mystery, but as long as it can be "explained" it's only matter, nevermind and positively nevergod.

3/11/2014 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Actually, for me, Hartshorne's approach is curative of the Jesus willies, since it eliminates certain things that are just impossible for me to believe but which many religious people regard as non-negotiable -- for example, "everything happens for a reason," implying that God had a reason, say, for the Holocaust. I personally think that makes religion look stupid if not monstrous.

3/11/2014 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Interestingly, I read in How Judaism Became a Religion that some ultra-Orthodox said it was because the Jews of Germany ignored the law and tried to assimilate!

3/11/2014 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That gives me the Moses willies.

3/11/2014 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yes, that's definitely a big part of the appeal of Hartshorne's approach.

Indeed, this self-enclosure is a "sin against the holy spirit." Furthermore, it is the perennial "opponent of mankind," a sentiment with which I am in one hundred percent agreement; for me, vertical and/or horizontal closure are the original sin.

Agreed. I don't know if it's true for anyone else, but I find that on the rare occasion I am (even if for a good reason) an agent of such closure, it literally makes me ill.

Though I'm sure a thorough scan would chalk it up to an imbalance of one kind or another...

3/11/2014 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I can never tell if closure causes the illness or vice versa. But when I ain't feeling right, I'm usually closed off in some way.

3/11/2014 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

When you see how open children are, it brings to mind Jesus' advice to be like them.

3/11/2014 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

... man cannot be a "self-enclosed unity of the spirit." Rather, "only through opening out, through entering into openness, does the spirit that has descended into the human realm" become coherent and enduring. This represents a "genuine reciprocity," opposed to which is any metaphysic that encloses man within himself.

Hartshorne also came up with the Principle of Dual Transcendence to mediate the eternal God with the temporal Son. That also makes sense to me.

3/11/2014 02:16:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

"Magister - I love how, because the brain scan shows that something is happening, the "scientific" assumption is that there could be no mystical component to the experience. So it's only mystical if there's no possibility of detecting the experience? In which case, of course, one can conveniently be labeled "delusional".

That's the trouble with scientism: the world is literally overflowing with mystery, but as long as it can be "explained" it's only matter, nevermind and positively nevergod."

Part of the problem is the absence of any diagnostic tool (other than lived human experience) to differentiate between a simulacrum of theomena and actual theomena.

And another part of the problem is that people can create altered states that may or may not be simulacra of theomena.

Apparently, I'm an esoteric theomena hobbyist. The MOT was particularly useful in this regard. Answered a number of questions for me.

There are few people out there who are discovery scientists in the sense of looking for theomena.

I would start a local club, but I would attract an assortment of irritating cranks.

3/11/2014 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Gagdad,

I'm not sure- is your term "abbasolute" equivalent to Schuon's "relative absolute"?

3/12/2014 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No. Schuon has an emanationist metaphysic whereby the personal God is posterior to the impersonal. But if God is person, then there is nothing behind or above that. Furthermore, I think that I AM ultimately implies the thirdness of WE ARE.

3/12/2014 09:12:00 AM  

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