Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Boldly Growing Where No Man Has Grown Before

In recent years, whenever I get a cold, there's only one really bad night. Apparently last night was it, because I feel like I didn't sleep at all.

However, at the moment I don't feel as bad as you might expect, so put away your violins. Besides, timelessness waits for no one, so I'm going to try to put my hand to the digital plow and not look back at my troubled night sea journey. Perhaps being sick will even plunge me into some strange new worlds.

Yesterday we were discussing Augustine's Confessions, which are a "manifesto of the inner world," the latter being the real final frontier. His was the first true autobiography, boldly going where no man had gone before and chronicling the interior voyages of the soul-ship Introspect (ouch! I blame the cold medicine). In so doing, Augustine not only explored strange new worlds, but spoke of a new life (in God) and a new civilization (the City of God).

This, I think, is a key point: that the Confessions are a dialogue with God. Thus, the invention of the individual is not, and could not be, "an exercise leading to isolation."

Rather, to the extent that it does lead to isolation, then something has gone awry: your psycho-pneumatic system is not open, either vertically or horizontally (or both). Isolation, among other things, is a failure of love, and if God is love, then there you go.

To put it another way, in order to invent the individual, it is first necessary to invent the group. In terms of the overall arc of salvation, the Jews constituted the group into which God could insert himself as quintessential individual. Jesus would have made no sense in any other context (and he sometimes barely made sense in this one, even to his closest disciples).

Imagine if God were a mere "one," an absolute monad, unrelated to anything but himself. If this God were to incarnate, it would be in the form of power, or a kind of isolated exaltation. No one could compare to him, in contrast to Jesus, to whom all may compare themselves (e.g., "the imitation of Christ"), and indeed is the eternal standard of comparison.

Now, in many ways, to say individual is to say will. In other words, our individuality manifests in the form of consciousness of choice, and by extension, of necessity. To be aware of necessity is to implicitly know freedom, and vice versa. According to Siedentop, what we value as freedom is the end result of hundreds of years of meditation on, and articulation of, (Judeo-) Christian moral intuitions.

For example, to be given the Ten Commandments implies the freedom to obey them or not. On the one hand they represent constraints on freedom, but this is for the purpose of conforming ourselves to a higher will in a higher world.

Analogously, you don't place a fish on dry land and say to him: "there you go, free at last from the water!" The Law is like the water that simultaneously constrains and frees us.

For Augustine, it's all about "transformation of the will." Think, for example, of what happens when the will infects the truth. What happens is the left, or knowledge piggybacking on desire, belief on make-belief, Is on Ought. The leftist ultimately sees what he wishes to see, which is like a bad parody of the Higher Eccentricity of the Raccoon. Leftists are weird, but not in the Good way.

Not to imply any manichee business, but it seems to me that, as the intellect may conform itself to truth or falsehood, the will may move toward the light or the dark. As one apostle put it, the light shines in the darkness but the darkness does not comprehend it.

This is the same Light "which gives light to every man who comes into the world." Every one. Not just kings, or aristocrats, or priests, or men, but every person qua person. This itself implies individuality and equality. We may all seek redemption because we have all equally fallen short as a result of our misguided will.

You could say that light and dark are like two attractors at antipodes to one another. As Augustine is pulled into the former, "You fill me with a feeling quite unlike my normal state, an inward sense of delight." But when in the orbit of the latter, the "heavy burden of distress drags me back: I am sucked back to my habits, and find myself held fast."

In order to pull out of the downworld attractor, the will is necessary but not sufficient. Rather, our will must be aligned with a greater will. This is very much in contrast to the Greek idea that the exercise of mere reason is sufficient to do the job.

Socrates-Plato said something to the effect that a good man, guided by reason, could do no wrong. This is definitely not what Paul or Augustine taught, because man can rationalize just about any mess produced by his wayward will. Or maybe you've never heard Obama speak.

The Neoplatonists of the time imagined they could deploy the will to escape or ascend from this "inferior material world."

But for Augustine, "Christians neither could nor should turn their backs on the world." True, we are aliens in this strange land, but resident aliens; Augustine teaches us to be "otherworldly in the world," unlike, say, Muslims, who hope to be worldly in the higher world, or leftists, who are worldly in the lower world.

31 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

As Socrates-Plato said, a good man, guided by reason, could do no wrong. That is definitely not what Paul or Augustine felt, because man can rationalize just about anything.

Yes, just so. Absent God, who decides what's good, anyway?

12/30/2014 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Buttercup said...

Imagine if God were a mere "one," an absolute monad, unrelated to anything but himself. If this God were to incarnate, it would be in the form of power, or a kind of isolated exaltation. No one could compare to him,

This strikes me as exactly how Muslims see Allah, and why their expressions of devotion are all violent and power-driven.

For Augustine, it's all about "transformation of the will."

Bingo. It is only through the transformation of the will that we can rise above our baser impulses. And this "transformation" can only be demanded if there is a God whose nature is knowable and yet above our baser impulses. When you turn God into a power-hungry monster, then it is understandable that you create men who are the same.

12/30/2014 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

"One may ask why so much stupidity and bad faith are to be found in religious polemics, even among men who are otherwise free from such failings; this is a sure sign that the majority of these polemics are tainted with the "sin against the Holy Ghost." No blame can be attached to a person for attacking a foreign religion in the name of his own belief, if it is done purely and simply through ignorance; when, however, this is not the case, the person will be guilty of blasphemy, since, by outraging the Divine Truth in an alien fom, he is merely profiting by an opportunity to offend God without having to trouble his own conscience. This is the real explanation of the gross and impure zeal displayed by those who, in the name of their religious convictions, devote their lives to making sacred things appear odious, a task they can only accomplish by contemptible methods."
-FS

12/30/2014 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

It becomes more obvious to me everyday how essential the personal God as Christ is. It is only through an exemplar that we can relate to that offers a standard as to live by. Otherwise, thy will (and reason) would go around in neurotic circles.

12/30/2014 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

Augustine’s “was the first true autobiography, boldly going where no man had gone before and chronicling the interior voyages of the soul-ship Introspect.”

One Cosmos: Still Cool, Clear Water

Best wishes for wonder-ful voyages in the coming year!!

12/30/2014 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Commander Crankypants said...

John, for an Orthodox Christian, you spend an awful lot of time defending Islam.

Maybe instead of endlessly fussing over the mote in Bob's eye, you should see to the planks in yours.

12/30/2014 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Without freedom there is no progress, only regression, hence the proregressionists, to coin Van's apt description of leftists.

12/30/2014 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Mizz E!
It's so good to hear from you. :)

12/30/2014 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Merton references Augustine a lot. In fact, Merton, Augustine and Aquinas were the first set of books I read when I began my journey to the center of the Truth.

12/30/2014 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

CC,
You misunderstand. I am merely pointing out that Schuon's views can't be trusted.

12/30/2014 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

John, perhaps you can provide examples of Bob blaspheming Divine Truth and the sacred.
It's become apparent you are nothing more than the common drive-by concern troll since you never go into any depth or attempt to have an actual debate.

What are your principles and how does leftism and radical Islam jive with your Orthodoxy?
I've never met a serious Orthodox Christian that defends leftism and fundamental Islam as much as you do.
Are you unaware of what leftism and Islam has done to Orthodox Christians in the past or do you just choose to ignore it?

12/30/2014 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Mentioning the Armenian genocide is an odious sign of blasphemy!

12/30/2014 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Note that Schuon is talking about the majority of polemics irt Divine Truth, How is that untrustworthy? Regardless, the majority of what Schuon says is the truth. Should one ignore that because he was wrong sometimes?

Afterall, none of the Saints, mystics and Apostles were perfect, but they have much to contribute irt the truth.
What's with the throw the baby out with the bathwater routine?

12/30/2014 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Or what the Communists did to Russian Orthodox Christians. Another inconvenient truth.

12/30/2014 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

"In order to pull out of the downworld attractor, the will is necessary but not sufficient. Rather, our will must be aligned with a greater will."

The ultimate summation.

12/30/2014 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Hey, Mizz E! Happy New Year!

12/30/2014 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

jawn said "You misunderstand. I am merely pointing out that Schuon's views can't be trusted"

Maybe I'm mistaken, but weren't you recently chiding us for not buying into all Schuon had to say and legitimizing your king worship on top of that to boot?

12/30/2014 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

John said "I am merely pointing out that Schuon's views can't be trusted."

They can't be blindly trusted, but that is not what Bob does. It is clear to anyone who reads here enough to get a sense of things that Bob does not "follow" any human thought or philosophy, but rather explores any thought that touches on the eternal questions and our relationship with the Creator. Not heretical but not sticking head in sand either. You are too obsessed with Bob's use of FS writings. See the big picture.

12/30/2014 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Socrates-Plato said something to the effect that a good man, guided by reason, could do no wrong. This is definitely not what Paul or Augustine taught, because man can rationalize just about any mess produced by his wayward will. Or maybe you've never heard Obama speak."

They held the dream of perfecting an unerring man through reason, never quite grasping how necessary the possibility of error is to reason, freedom and liberty.

Hubris - it'll get you coming and going; all you can do is hope for a Graceful exit strategy.

12/30/2014 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Reading the Psalms it's easy to see why Jesus was called the Son of David:
"Teach me to do thy will; For thou art my God: Thy Spirit is good; Lead me in the land of uprightness."

David was a man after God's own heart. He also was an exemplar to the nation inasmuch as his will was drawn to seek the beauty of God's law and holiness, and to acknowledge that even his gravest sins were foremost an offense against that relationship. From David until Christ, not even the Prophets had such a revelation of an individual relationship with God.

12/30/2014 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

This is the same Light "which gives light to every man who comes into the world." Every one.

I think this is the error that goes back at least as far as Luther's "Bondage of the Will" on the Reformed side. There is light -- revelation -- in the world. Always has been. Even the pagans picked up on it, which is why The Golden Bough could make the argument it did -- though it was backwards.

When you see the light, you have a choice to remain in darkness. Some people like the dark because their deeds are evil.

Fallen humanity was in bondage to delusion because things in the dark are unclear.

12/30/2014 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Hey MizzE! The room lights up when you're here!

12/30/2014 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger Buttercup said...

I'm thinking John's comment had more to do with informing me of my gross stupidity, impure zeal, bad faith, and LORDY! even blasphemy, than attacking Bob. But perhaps it's just my unchecked (I)go that makes it seem so.

Why is it that if someone actually disagrees with a favored group du jour of the left, their disagreement is characterized as arising entirely from their failings? If this is the case, then there is no way to disagree with anything the left chooses to insist is correct because the act of doing so condemns one instantly.

12/30/2014 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Hi Buttercup, (I like the nick, by the way - I seriously wanted to look like her when I was growing up :)

It's all your fault!

Just kidding.

I don't know if you've been a reader here for long, but John's comment was probably directed at Bob in particular. He has a weird obsession with berating Bob for having the audacity to appreciate Schuon while failing to live up to Schuon's standards, particularly in appreciating the finer, deeper spiritual aspects of Islam as applied to most Muslims.

Why he doesn't just intone the shahada, go full Sufi, and live in the Alps with four wives, I don't know; instead, he seems to have made it his mission to preach Tolerance because we're making Schuon look bad, or something. I don't even know.

You made an excellent point, by the way.

12/30/2014 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Buttercup said...

I do read Bob RELIGIOUSLY! But seldom the comments...because I'm a slacker and a lurker of the first order and never leave comments, as a general rule. I have run across John, though, once, on one of my rare trips through a comment threads. My only reason for thinking he was snapping at me today was that I'd flung out the bait with the Islam comment just before him, and Bob hadn't mentioned Islam in today's post. Seemed his animosity toward a "foreign religion" comment was especially directed toward me

Then again, maybe not.

Either way, I stand my ground.

And thanks for comment...I have read you over the years. Always insightful, salient, and often humorous.

12/30/2014 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Buttercup said...

SHEEESH!

That ^^^^ comment was directed to Julie.

12/30/2014 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger katzxy said...

Arguing with a leftist is often pointless, since that presupposes a common standard to which you can appeal. Hard to work with when that is the protean party line.

12/30/2014 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

You could be right, Buttercup. Anyway, thanks for delurking!

12/30/2014 04:04:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Buttercup! How nice to see you here! Who knew?!

12/30/2014 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Buttercup said "I do read Bob RELIGIOUSLY! But seldom the comments...because I'm a slacker and a lurker of the first order and never leave comments, as a general rule."

As you wish.

:-)

Sorry, couldn't resist. Hope you unlurk some more!

12/30/2014 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

It's great having a Princess comment here. Just sayin'.

12/30/2014 07:06:00 PM  

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