Friday, November 07, 2014

The First and Last Temptation of Barack

I'll be spending Thanksgiving with the liberal relatives. As always, I would prefer not to discuss politics, but I can't help imagining what I'll say if this or that question comes up. Every year around this time, we see articles written by liberals on how to talk to your racist, Fox-watching, science-denying uncle. Maybe I'll write one for conservatives, if only to get rid of the voices in my head. But not today.

Unless the question of why one should believe in God comes up (which it has in the past). There are purely utilitarian reasons for choosing to believe in God, just as there are purely utilitarian reasons for getting married, even though there are better reasons. Likewise, behaving morally is a good way to avoid getting in trouble with the law, but it is preferable to actually love virtue and self-mastery.

Speaking of which, after baptism comes temptation: if Jesus incarnates the descent of the absolute, then the temptation in the desert involves a further "descent into the perils besetting mankind" (Benedict). In order for this thing (meaning the whole project) to be efficacious, he "has to enter into the drama of human existence, for that belongs to the core of his mission."

You could say that there is no man without a narrative. Therefore, in order to "become" man, one must not only enter the flesh -- incarnate -- but the story, the essential drama -- for which I can't think of a word at the moment... historify? Enmyth? Bechronicle? Whatever the word, "he has to penetrate it completely, down to its uttermost depths" so as "to bear it on his shoulders and to bring it home," full circle.

The descent is not a one-time-only deal, "but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginning..., in order to transform it." A constant part of life is temptation, therefore he must expose himself "to the risks and perils of human existence."

Cut to a barren desert, which is a nice contrast to the leafy paradise of Eden, where things went off the rails in vertical space. Man made (and makes) himself ill among plenty, and now we shall see if he can be made whole amidst danger, deprivation, and temptation.

First of all, what is a temptation? Is it outside or inside? Animals don't experience temptation, because it presumes free will: I am tempted to do that, but I choose to do this.

But every temptation holds out a promise, whether explicit or implicit: choose this and _______ (fill in the blank). Often if we simply fill in the blank, the temptation loses its allure. I've been working with my son on this for years in order to demonstrate to him how a desire fulfilled is just replaced by another, in an endless, compulsive cycle. (There are, of course, worthwhile desires, but one must be able to discern the difference.)

If we visualize the mind as a complex phase space, then temptations are like fixed point attractors, i.e., basins toward which desire is drawn. To the extent that we repeatedly engage in the compulsion, then it is as if our subjective phase space is characterized by these semi-permanent and relatively autonomous valleys. Through repetition, these can eventually become as wide as the Grand Canyon, as in alcoholism and drug addiction.

How to rid ourselves of these malevolent attractors? I would say that this space is always dynamic and fluid, like an ocean. Spiritual peace is none other than a kind of "flattening" of the ocean, which immediately brings to mind Matthew 14, with Jesus calmly walking on the storm-tossed lake. Well, the world -- last time I checked, anyway -- is one big storm-tossed lake, is it not?

In any event, if Jesus is going to go to all the trouble of being tempted in the desert, these particular temptations had better have rather wide application. They will need to stand for and subsume any number of lesser ones (there can be attractors within attractors, as in a fractal).

At the very heart of spiritual temptation must be a bad choice: we could even depict this in a completely abstract way: if O is the Great Attractor, then Ø represents the alternative. We could even say that this is the perpetual serpentine Gnostic promise: don't choose O! That's just a lie told to children to keep them in line and limit their freedom. Choose Ø!

Looks like Benedict is on the same page: "At the heart of all temptations... is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives." Thus the refusal "to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion."

Not to get all insultaining, but that is quite literally how one becomes a liberal. I do not mean this in a polemical or insulting way. Indeed, the fact that most liberals do not believe in God (or are confused about God) -- that they reject O -- is a source of pride, not shame. Does Bill Maher look ashamed of being an atheist? The rebellious rejection of O is very much a part of their identity.

Furthermore, as Benedict writes, "moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation." It always goes hand in hand with pride, for which reason it is difficult to find a truly humble liberal. They are all about presuming "to show us a better way, where we finally abandon our illusions and throw ourselves into" the hard work of making the state even bigger and more intrusive than it already is. And of course, these overeducated yahoos always claim "to speak for true realism" (as if Truth isn't the realest of the real).

So, this is the same eternal drama into which Jesus inserts himself. And indeed, he is faced with the eternal temptation of the left, which is to reduce the world to "what is right there in front of us -- power and bread." Although circuses are also important to the left, hence MSNBC, or unreality TV in general.

I would say that this divide between O and Ø is the eternal crossroads, and that a human being can only pretend to make it go away. Man is a moral being, and that's that. Language itself is a moral medium, being that its purpose is to communicate truth.

Therefore, every time you open your mouth, you're making the world more heavenly or more hellish, which explains the aroma that emanates from MSNBC or from Dear Leader himself. Did you see his press conference? One suspects that O turned away from O well before he could have been consciously aware of the craniorectal insertion. His ideology -- and ideolatry -- goes all the way to the bone. Or large intestine, rather.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Heaven Scent

I guess I have time this morning to get back to the Jesus project, now on to his ministry -- which seems like too banal a description. A ministry is obviously the activity of a minister, "a person whose job involves leading church services, performing religious ceremonies (such as marriages), and providing spiritual or religious guidance to other people." Okay, but...

For starters, who made him a minister? By what authority? We can see where he gives that authority; in Acts 26:16 he says "I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of things which I will yet reveal to you."

Benedict writes that this is a question that confronts any reader of the Gospels: that is, where did he get this stuff? "The reaction of his hearers was clear: This teaching does not come from any school. It is radically different from what can be learned in schools."

And yet, it is taught with great authority. Which doesn't automatically mean it's true. But it does raise a second question: how is it that he is so eerily -- one might say charismatically -- confident about what he professes?

How does one ever attain certainty on any matter? Schuon writes that it is not a question of mere logic, since logic can only deduce proof from premises that must be furnished by another source. He says that certainty is actually "an aspect of knowledge," somewhat like an attribute of the truth it confirms:

"It is situated beyond the domain of the sentiments but on the individual plane it nonetheless possesses a perfume which allows us to look on it as a sentiment. One can likewise speak of a sentiment of doubt; doubt is nothing else but the void left by absent certainty..."

Of course, we can always be certain of error and doubt the truth, or Obama would have no explanation. How then to discern the difference?

I would say that if you read and understood what Schuon said above, then you are well on the way to understanding where real certainty comes from. Conversely, if you have no earthly idea of what he's talking about, then -- among other problems -- you will be insensitive to the perfume that attends Jesus' ministry (or better, Jesus himself).

Jesus is truth and presence, or the presence of truth. "Thus," writes Schuon, "Christ is essentially a manifestation of Divine Presence, but he is thereby also Truth."

One might also say that he is the manifestation of the metacosmic Center at the cosmic periphery. Importantly, this is both a spatial and temporal center, or the axis of history. Jesus is both "the Word which manifests itself in the Universe as the divine Spirit," and "the Real Presence affirming itself at the center of the soul..." Or in other words, the metacosmic and microcosmic personal centers.

I am reminded of how neurologists say it is possible to diagnose incipient senility: don't panic, but if you hold a jar of peanut butter a few centimeters from your nose, and can't smell it, then you may be developing Alzheimer's. I suppose something similar must occur to the spiritual olfactory system to cause spiritual dementias such as atheism.

As to the ultimate source of his certainty, Benedict writes that "Jesus' teaching is not the product of human learning," but "originates from immediate contact with the Father" -- whatever that means.

What it means is that it is grounded in the ultimate principle, except that this principle is not an abstraction, but rather, a concrete person. Thus, it is grounded in relationship and in dialogue, which are prior to any specific content.

For Jesus, it appears that "prayer" is the name for this dialogue. "Again and again the Gospels note that Jesus 'withdrew to the mountain' to spend nights in prayer 'alone' with his Father." To con-verse is to flow-with, so we are talking about a mysterious spiral of communion.

Now, it seems to me that the (or a) deeper meaning of baptism is a radical reorientation to the metacosmic center: "it is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever" (ibid.). It is to simultaneously turn toward, to be in, and to be drawn toward, this Center, so it embodies both the already and the not yet: real change and real hope.

You are now on the vertical path, which consists of many roads all leading to the same place. Unlike profane philosophy, which consists of many roads leading from nothing to nowhere, here all roads lead from anywhere to everything (or from anyone to the One and back again, in a round trip of ascent and descent).

But one still has to give up the Nothing (which resembles the "false plenitude" alluded to above), or in other words, die to death, so "immersion into the waters is a symbol of death." Water always has two symbolic meanings; on the one hand, it can be "the annihilating, destructive power of the ocean flood," "a permanent threat to the cosmos, to the earth..." At the same time, "the flowing waters of the river are above all a symbol of life" (ibid.).

So, while you can't fight fire with fire, I suppose one can vanquish water with Water, so this post ends not with a bang but with a groaner.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Have You Lost Your Christian Mind?!

I may have to set the Jesus thingy aside for the moment, since I haven't had the temporal slack to thoroughly plunderize Ratzinger, and I don't want to grow it alone. I suppose I could, but that would take even more time -- i.e., time for reflection, contemplation, and trialogue.

Also, I have a hard time planning ahead anyway. Not only does the spirit blow where it will, but this particular spirit can only blow where it will. You call it undisciplined, I call it spontaneity. Or multi-undisciplinary.

At the moment, I'm preoccupied with this nice-looking book (which I just started) called The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life. It goes to many of the ideas we bandy about here, albeit in a less polemical, sharp-elbowed, and over-the-top manner. He's a professor, not a blogger.

The overall thesis of the book is alarming enough, even if stated in a dispassionate way. Stated in a bobastic way, it would be something like: failing to be Christian makes one intellectually insane. Or in other words, if the purpose of Christianity is salvation, this certainly includes a rescue operation of our capacity to think.

As always, Jews are a special case, therefore much of this may not apply to them; then again, you will have no doubt noticed how common it is for the irreligious (or even Reform) Jew to become intellectually -- and politically -- insane, so perhaps it will; we shall see. We are particularly interested to know if there is some identifiable point that the mind goes off the rails.

Genesis, of course, speaks to this, but in a rather general way: that is, we are all faced with the primordial choice of recognizing God or of being God. Even so, choosing the former is no guarantee of sanity; it's just that choosing the latter is a guarantee of intellectual un- or insanity.

For that matter, it is not as if self-identifying Christians don't lose their marbles. Hardly! We don't want to fall into the No True Scotsman fallacy. Therefore, we will have to inquire into why this is the case: how does the cure seem to become the illness -- as in, say, that homosexual-hating pastor, or Obama's demented mentor?

The No True Scotsman fallacy, by the way, occurs when confronted with a counter-example to a universal claim. Thus, if I affirm that Christianity allows one to think properly, you may reasonably ask: "What about Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Bill Clinton?" To which I indignantly draw myself to my full height and respond, "no true Christian would think as they do." (Similarly, our anonymous troll's favorite fallacy is the "no true progressive" dodge.)

Perhaps we will weave in a bit of the infancy narratives after all, specifically, the star that alerted and guided those Wise Men to Jesus. As Benedict writes, they not only "represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ," but "initiate a procession that continues throughout history."

Furthermore, they symbolize "the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religious and human reason toward him." Also, this makes the implicit connection between cosmos and Christ: there is now something fully in the cosmos that is fully beyond the cosmos: the Creative Reason is here with us, and creativity never stops surpassing itself.

That idea of an intellectual north star: everyone's got one, whether implicit or explicit. One cannot not have a metaphysic and still presume to think. The North Star is the First Principle.

It is possible to attack this question from either end: in other words, assuming one is capable of thinking, one may drill down to the principle that makes this possible.

To cite one obvious example, let's say I am thinking about natural selection. To the extent that I am truly thinking -- or thinking truly -- natural selection cannot possibly be the principle that is responsible for my ability to think about it. That's what you call an epistemological non-starter, because there is simply no way to get from natural selection to truth. This also explains why the metaphysical Darwinian is not only an unserious thinker, but cannot possibly be serious. It is the type of thing we can confidently reject out of hand as a false path.

However, atheism has its benefits, or it wouldn't exist. For example, it exalts the human mind (without the proper complement of humility). Such a mind cannot really know truth, but it can know a kind of pretend truth. It is similar to pretend wealth. Let's say I loan you a great sum of money. You will live large while the money lasts, but all the while you are accruing interest.

Likewise for one who enjoys the flood of cheap Darwinian cash. Eventually -- again, if you drill all the way down -- you will find that your principal is exhausted, and your mind is writing checks that the spirit can't cash. It's all just funny money, and you've been living in an ideological bubble, with one person of tenure living off the worthless checks of another until the whole thing collapses.

Kind of like what happened yesterday.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Hope and Change, AKA Resentment and Coercion

Well, to be honest, I haven't had time to get much further in the Jesus trilogy, so this post will consist of beating one idea to death. But it's a terribly destructive idea that deserves to die, and not just at the ballot box.

Both Balthasar and Chesterton make much of the very idea of God-as-child. The former speaks of "the eternal mystery of the childhood of Christ" flowing "into the eternal childhood which is given to men: hope."

For if you think about it, hope is indeed the essence of childhood. Why? A number of reasons, but I was thinking of how children are always changing and growing. They are like little arrows that always point toward their own telos -- which is to say, perfection, or completion, or maturity. I would suggest that America is infused with this idea -- or rather, that the very idea of America is infused with Christian hope in the sense we have just stated.

What I mean is that there is no reason for hope in a static society: things are as they are and will be as they will be because they have always been this way (and this way is decreed by the gods, so it is not for us to change it).

Against the American ideal is the European import of Marxism, which both sees and creates static classes. Sowell touches on this in his indispensable Intellectuals and Race: just as the caste system tethers individuals to their societal place, thus depriving them of hope, multiculturalism seals people into so many boxes of petrified failure. The difference is that the leftist exchanges hope for envy, thus the crude appeals to race, class, sexual preference, etc. In other words, the leftist croctrine of diversity

"tends to freeze people where the accident of birth has placed them. Unlike the caste system, multiculturalism holds out the prospect that, all cultures being equal, one's life chances should be the same -- and that it is society's fault if these chances are not the same." So instead of hope for betterment, the left promotes resentment of the better off, accompanied by a demand for "social justice," which is simply envy with a truncheon.

So, one man's hope is another man's hell. Which, of course, is playing out all over the country today. If only the people who were deluded into voting for Obama in 2008 could exercise a little self-awareness, and appreciate that we are now living in the reality that in 2008 was only a "hope." This is it. This is what happens when Christian -- or at least American -- hope is displaced by Marxist resentment.

Did we see the future in 2008? No, only the present. Obama supporters blinded themselves to the present in order to indulge a fanciful hope that is both anti-American and un-Christian. It makes their world go around -- in a downward spiral.

As Sowell states, "the caste system preaches resignation to one's fate," while "multiculturalism preaches resentment of one's fate." Unlike these, Americanism kicks fate in the nuts and says get outta' my way!

Imagine placing children into unchanging castes; or imagine that we didn't move through school grades, but rather, were assigned one grade for life. The idea is preposterous, but not as preposterous as the left's "war on women" or its crude appeals to racial hatred, fear, and stupidity.

Jesus, of course, makes a point of counseling us to be as children, but surely he doesn't mean this in any pejorative sense -- i.e., to be as naive, credulous, and easily led as a Democrat.

Again, what characterizes the child? Well, for starters, a child is what man uniquely is, in the sense that -- alone among the animals -- he specializes in immaturity because his neoteny never ceases.

To say neoteny is to say neo-nate, which simply means "new birth." Thus, to say that man must be "born again" implies that one must not conflate, say, biological and spiritual birth, in that the former happens just once.

Now a child, just because he is constantly learning and therefore "permanently immature," is not thereby a little nothing. Rather, he is the very symbol of our own eros shot into the heart of the divine center. We are all as children growing toward our proper end.

The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott once wrote an article on the psychodynamics of shoplifting, suggesting that it wasn't so much motivated by want or by greed, but by hope. That is, in the instant the shoplifter is engaged in his theft, he is temporarily buoyed by the hope that the painful emptiness at the core of his being will be filled. But it never is, so he must repeat the process in a compulsive manner.

More generally, as Boethius wrote, if the mere satisfaction of desire were the cause of happiness, "there is no reason why beasts should not be thought blessed, whose whole intention is bent to supply their corporal wants." By extrapolation, a life of pursuing false hope converts man to an animal.

In any compulsion, there is an existential component of hope; but this is not real hope. Rather, it is merely a defense against hopelessness. Nothing is more deflating than an illusory desire satisfied, because its satisfaction co-arises with hopelessness. In fact, we could say that any compulsion -- and few people are completely free of them -- is simply hopelessness deferred.

For this reason, gratitude is the best revenge -- even a preemptive strike -- against the wily one: "Gratitude is a virtue that allows us, not only to be content with little things -- this is holy childhood -- but also to appreciate or respect little things or big things because they come from God, beginning with the beauty and the gifts of nature; one must be sensitive to the innocence and mystery of the divine works" (Schuon).

But leftist ideology rests upon an ontology which inverts the order of the cosmos, elevating existence over and above essence. In so doing, it essentially sanctifies a perversion, as it instantiates at its very foundation false hope. That is, we all know ahead of time that the fanciful schemes and discredited economic ideas of the left can never "deliver the goods" -- not the material goods and certainly not the spiritual ones.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Jesus, Mary & Joysoph

Barely any time this morning, as can be discerned by that wince-inducing title.

As Lincoln might have said about the Incarnation: let us resolve that this species, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.

It is as if the entire cosmos and whole history of man are focused to a point, conferring "a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence" (Benedict).

This new beginning "opens up" new possibilities for man, possibilities that had previously been foreclosed. Now we not only have a horizontal genealogy, but also, so to speak, a vertical "pneumalogy" -- a direct line of common descent from the Father.

However, since this is a new birth of freedom, the link is not compulsory but voluntary. No one is forced into anything. The adoption papers have been drawn, but we still have to sign the dotted line.

On Friday night I watched what is supposed to be the Best Zombie Movie of All Time, I Walked With a Zombie. In it, one of the characters says something to the effect that their life is so miserable -- these are descendants of slaves who still toil on sugar plantations -- that they weep when a baby is born and "make merry" at funerals.

I suppose one could say the same of being born a peasant at the margins of the brutal Roman regime in 3 or 4 BC. There is indeed a great deal of pessimism in ancient thought, and it is difficult to see why there wouldn't be.

Chesterton touches on this in The Everlasting Man -- that even if one was not a slave, the vast majority of people were "insignificant or even invisible." Unlike today, the state didn't even bother pretending to be your friend. He speaks, for example, of the pyramids, which were erected

"under those everlasting skies for ever by the labour of numberless and nameless men, toiling like ants and dying like flies, wiped out by the work of their own hands."

The pyramids are supposed to be an enduring monument to man's greatness, but we forget that they point in two directions, or rather, like any Tower of Babel, they try to transform what is a meaningless existence into a meaningful one in a self-nullifying way -- like trying to prove the eternal greatness of Nazi Germany via a monument built by Jewish slave labor.

In this context, the annunciation of Jesus' conception is quite odd. As Benedict writes, the angel does not greet Mary with the usual Shalom or a colloquial Whassup?, but rather, with a word that translates to Rejoice!

For Benedict, this "marks the true beginning of the New Testament." You might say that the Gospel -- good news -- begins here, in a surprisingly literal manner. This joy is a "particular gift of the Holy Spirit.... a chord is sounded with the angel's salutation which then resounds through the life of the Church." Thus, "Rejoice, full of grace!" implicitly connects these two -- joy and grace -- which are "joined at the same root."

Remember, we can always say NO! to the offer of joy and grace. We are all entitled to spiritual birth control, which is none other than free will, or the power to render ourselves infertile and prevent a divine conception (and birth and growth). There is terrestrial abortion and there is celestial abortion, but the two are not unrelated.

Speaking of fertility, Benedict has a brief passage on Joseph. Not a great deal is said about him, but then again, to describe him as a "just man" says a great deal.

For Benedict it implies "one who maintains living contact with the word of God.... He is like a tree, planted beside the flowing waters, constantly bringing forth fruit." These vertical waters, "from which he draws nourishment, naturally refer to the living word of God, into which he sinks the roots of his being."

Furthermore, this is not something "imposed" from without or from on high, but something recognized and loved for what it is: it is that same Joy alluded to above:

"The image of the man with roots in the living waters of God's word, whose life is spent in dialogue with God and who therefore brings forth constant fruit -- this image becomes concrete in the event recounted here [his attitude toward Mary's surprising pregnancy], as well as in everything we are subsequently told about Joseph of Nazareth."