Friday, December 05, 2014

God's Absence and Our Presence

Ever since Tuesday's post I've been thinking about that gap between desire and reality -- the one that makes the world go 'round. I'm seeing it everywhere, generally in places it shouldn't be, in particular, politics.


"[T]he sensational and electric assertions made by liberals to further their agenda, especially on issues of race and sex, have a habit of being untrue. And it is the recurrence of such factually suspect accounts that raises troubling questions about the relation of liberal myth to human reality."

What the author is ultimately referring to is a curious gap about the gap; in other words, there is this gap between liberalism and reality, which then provokes a gap in the disinterested observer, who asks himself: why do they insist on believing things that can't possibly be true? The second gap is valid, while the first is entirely self-imposed. Or at least we wish it were only self-imposed.

The problem -- or what elevates it to a political problem -- is that liberals want to impose this gap on the rest of us, or in other words, force us to "not know" when the truth is there to be seen, or else to "know" a lie.

Furthermore, if this ponderous biography of Stalin teaches us anything, it is that this is not peripheral to the left, but at its very core. The book chronicles one long and tedious attempt to force reality to comport with ideology. Doing so resulted in, oh, a hundred million deaths, but they meant well. (One year into the glorious revolution, "Many Bolsheviks" who had been "bursting with conviction to serve humanity began to see that their dedicated efforts to end suffering and level social hierarchies were producing the opposite." Oops. Make that late Bolsheviks.)

From the same article: "Liberal myths propagated to generate outrage and activism, to organize and coordinate and mobilize disparate grievances and conflicting agendas, so often have the same relation to truth, accuracy, and legitimacy as a Bud Light commercial."

Surely the author could have come up with a better example, for beer actually exists, and even light beer is better than no beer at all.

But here is the key: "Marketing is not limited to business. Inside the office buildings of Washington, D.C., are thousands upon thousands of professionals whose livelihoods depend on the fact that there is no better way than a well-run public relations campaign to get you to do what they want. What recent weeks have done is provide several lessons in the suspect nature of such campaigns."

What are these aggressive campaigns attempting to sell us? Well, like any marketing campaign, there is a target audience, and you and I are not members of it. Rather, they are aimed at what marketing expert Jonathan Gruber calls "stupid Americans." These are people who know only what they are told, and don't know what they don't know, which provides a fertile field for liberal exploitation.

For example, representative Eleanor "Sherlock" Holmes Norton doesn't know what she doesn't know, and doesn't want to know, otherwise she couldn't tell us what to think about it. As she aggressively puts it, "My interest is not in what happened, my interest is in what should happen!" The same thing would apply if she were talking about global warming, or Keynesian economics, or black criminality, or the gender pay gap, or the destruction of the black family.

Or, in the delusional words of Robert F. Kennedy, "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not." Science -- that is, any -ology -- begins with things as they are and asks why? Ideology begins at the other end, with a malevolent fantasy.

Now, if the ideologues restricted themselves to asking "why not?," we would have no objection to them, for this is how knowledge advances: "Why not socialism? Allow reality to explain!" But the leftist never condescends to ask, nor pay attention to the feedback; rather, he dreams up things that never were and never can be and says believe!, or else.

Its most attenuated form appears as political correctness, which is just a soft form of fascism. It is an invitation to get right with their strange god. Or at least they pretend it's an invitation, for there is nothing tolerant about tolerance, nothing diverse about diversity, and nothing equal about equality.

Equality -- as the left deploys the term -- is another word for nihilism. You might say that it is slow-motion nihilism, the gradual wearing away of distinctions and differences. Now, some differences truly don't make a difference, which is one of the core messages of Christianity.

But there are other vital differences without which we cannot even be human, for example, the differences between animal and man, between man and woman, between adult and child, between God and man, between sacred and profane, or between our higher and lower natures. Remove these distinctions and we don't have "equality" but nihilism. Such distinctions are the very basis of order, and without order there is nothing. (As Voegelin says, the order of history is the history of order.)

On the macro level, the most important distinction is of course between appearances and reality, or truth and falsehood. There is an ineradicable gap between the two, and the larger part of the human adventure involves closing this gap, both vertically and horizontally, i.e., knowledge of the world and knowledge of God. The first is impossible in the absence of the second, which is why all truth is of God and brings us closer to God, even if we deny the link.

Here is another example of liberals marketing a false gap (or filling it with falsehood): "So, in the end, what was global warming? It seems to have grown up largely as a late-20th-century critique of global-market capitalism by elites who had done so well by it that they had won the luxury of caricaturing the very source of their privilege.

"Global warming proved a near (sic) secular religion that filled a deep psychological longing for some sort of transcendent meaning among mostly secular Western grandees. In reality, the global-warming creed had scant effect on the lifestyles of the high priests who promulgated it. Al Gore did not cut back on his jet-fueled and lucrative proselytizing. Obama did not become the first president who, on principle, traveled with a reduced and green entourage."

In short, their interest is not in the fact that the earth's temperature hasn't increased in 18 years, their interest is in what it should have done. Sure, empirical observation works in reality, but does it work in theory? You will have noticed that in the liberal mind, softheaded credulity masquerades as hard-bitten skepticism.

Empiriwha? "Ferguson illustrated many of the problems of postmodern liberalism: the anti-empirical insistence that the facts of the shooting of Michael Brown did not matter much; critical legal theory, which ignored the time-honored role of a disinterested grand jury; [and] the tolerance of illegality as some sort of acceptable protest against the system."

Again, there is a real gap, without which there can be no distinctions at all. The very first (upper case) Gap -- and the one that makes the others possible -- is obviously that between God and world. Hence the First Commandment, I Am the Lord your God, not to mention the first sentence of the Bible, "in the beginning God creates the heavens and the earth." Deny these, and not even chaos ensues.

I am partial to the Kabbalistic idea that, in order for this Gap to exist, God must "withdraw," so to speak, from his creation. Think about it: if God is by definition everything and everywhere, how can there be a space of human freedom? Whether or not we take it literally, God must in a sense absent himself from the scene, similar to how, in order for our children to grow into independence, we stand back and allow them their spontaneous play.

This orthoparadoxical concept is called tzimtzum, and if it's not true, it might as well be. One of the best treatments of it I have found is in the works of Lawrence Kushner. I will now ask Rabbi Kushner to bail me out and wrap things up with a nice quotation.

"[T]here is a whole other Torah written in white letters in what we sometimes think are the spaces between the black letters" (emphasis mine; that's from a different book, River of Light).

In Raccoon terminology, the Gap is where our bewilderness adventure takes place: "The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wandered for forty years. It is a way of being. Even if for a moment every now and then each day.... It is the only way to begin.... For there and only there might we be able to encounter the mystery" (ibid.).

If you think you know what you will find, / Then you will find nothing. / If you expect nothing, / Then you will always be surprised. / And able to bless the One who creates the world each morning. --ibid.

The One Cosmos promise: we give you nothing, and a little more of it each morning!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Slaximus the Coonfessor

So, it seems that it's all about that gap between desire and its fulfillment, or what we have and what we want. This polarity is apparently what makes things happen: it is again analogous to the charge of a battery. If no one wanted anything, then nothing would happen. We would be more like dogs, who basically fall asleep when food or play are not in the offing.

For which reason the Buddha identified desire as the sticking point in existence. Eliminate it, and your troubles are over! Freud too posited the idea that human beings are simply driven to eliminate instinctual tension.

Such ideas can be no more than halfbaked. For example, it isn't just the elimination of tension that is the fun part, but the building up. The actual fulfillment is often a letdown, or maybe your team has never won a world championship.

Think about that: the baseball season lasts from April to October, or even from March if you count spring training. That entire time -- at least until your team is eliminated -- you live in the hope that a bunch of guys wearing your favorite laundry will win the World Series. If they do, that's when you realize -- just in case you didn't already know -- that winning the World Series wasn't the point. Rather, the point was to live in that exciting and/or frustrating tension toward a heavenly eschatological future.

It is clearly the same thing that drives the typical "political junkie." And despite the sobering experience of an Obama, these intoxicated political millenarians never learn. We're about to begin a two year buildup to the next savior, who will inevitably disappoint the people who place their hope in him or her, and the whole thing will start up again.

I was just reminded of that crack by Voegelin above the comment box: The quest, thus, has no external 'object,' but is reality itself becoming luminous for its movement from the ineffable, through the Cosmos, to the ineffable. Sounds abstract, but nothing could be more concrete, because this is concretely what is going on at all times. It can be denied but not refuted, much less avoided. It is the Basic Structure of existence.

That is to say, there is a "gap," and this is the space in which we live. What can we say about this curious gap? Again, animals don't have it. True, some of the higher mammals have an extremely attenuated version of it, but it is essentially void of content and structure.

Conversely, the human space is filled with... with everything culture has produced over the past 40,000 years -- all the art, literature, religion, philosophy, music, ritual, poetry, myth, architecture, constitutions, trinkets, doodads, tchotchkes, blogs, whatever. It's endless.

Why? Before getting to the why, we have to begin with the how, and the most we can say is that it is in the nature of man to engage in a quest, this quest revolving around reality becoming luminous to itself as it moves from the ineffable, through the Cosmos, and back to the ineffable. Thus, we can say that it is a kind of circular motion in which we are uniquely privileged to participate.

This circular movement is "within" the vertical. I put "within" in scare quotes, because it is more accurate to say that it constitutes the vertical. There is ultimate reality: O. O radiates and "communicates" via (↓). So long as we are vertically open (o), we may respond to it and return a transformed version of it via (↑), in a continuous process of surrender and offering. This process is a kind of "icon of God," because it mirrors what goes on in him.

Yeah, it probably sounds like I just made all that stuff up. Which I did. But soon enough I discovered that others had discovered the same thing long before I stumbled into it. For example Maximus the Confessor and his Cosmic Liturgy. We know what Cosmic means: the strict totality of objects and events. What is liturgy? For our purposes it is "a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observances."

I shall now proceed to open that book -- which I haven't cracked in approximately five years -- in the hope that it will back me up and reveal what we are looking for. A high wire act!

Actually, I'm starting to run short on time, so let me see if Professor Wiki can bail us out. In his theological anthropology, "Maximus adopted the Platonic model of exitus-reditus (exit and return), teaching that humanity was made in the image of God, and the purpose of salvation is to restore us to unity with God.

"This emphasis on divinization or theosis helped secure Maximus' place in Eastern theology, as these concepts have always held an important place in Eastern Christianity.... In terms of salvation, humanity is intended to be fully united with God. This is possible for Maximus because God was first fully united with humanity in the incarnation. If Christ did not become fully human (if, for example, he only had a divine and not a human will), then salvation was no longer possible, as humanity could not become fully divine."

I only have time to grab a couple of random passages from the book, such as "In this sense of a complete openness [o], and of the de-rigidifying effect of love, one can indeed speak of an eternal forward movement of the creature into God," even though God "remains always 'the inconceivable conception [O].'"

And this "is nothing less than the adoption of the internal 'activity' of the creature by the divine reality itself," "like a mirror or a writing tablet turned toward God, who writes his own words on it."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Fake Needs and Real Power

This is a potentially vast area which I haven't yet thought through, nor can I be sure if there's anything to my hunches, or even if I'm equipped to deal with the subject at all. So, the usual. It may turn out stupid and trivial, but whatever. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I'm just thinking out loud anyway...

It all started a couple weeks ago, wondering how Al Sharpton became wealthy and powerful. Which he is of course permitted to do in a free market economy. But it is interesting in itself that a person who devotes his life to undermining our way of life is able to enrich himself in so doing. Is that ironic or is it the whole point?

White liberals tell us that Al Sharpton is a "black leader." They should know because they created the office and gave him the job. He is purely a top-down creature of white liberals, not the product of any spontaneous, bottom-up movement. That would be such an insult to blacks that one doesn't want to go down that path.

To the extent that Sharpton has "power," it is at the pleasure of his white liberal masters. If his masters wanted to destroy him, they could do so in a nanosecond. The easiest way would be to simply turn off the camera -- as they routinely do when one of their clowns becomes an embarrassment or liability, say, Cindy Sheehan or Jonathan Edwards -- but they could also just enforce the law and put him away on charges of tax evasion.

Thomas Sowell -- well, first of all, he is not a black leader. This alone tells us what qualifies a person for the title. Remember, we're talking about white liberals, not blacks per se. If the ultimate purpose of a black leader is to make white liberals feel good about themselves, then Thomas Sowell is not fit to serve. Among other liabilities, he does not help white liberals assuage their guilt and feel morally superior to others.

Anyway, Sowell puts forth the classic view that economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses. That's all it is.

Why are resources scarce? Two main reasons, 1) reality, and 2) unreality. In other words, some things are scarce because there is a limited supply of them; but other things are scarce because the human imagination is infinite. Therefore, no matter how much we have, we can always want more: human desire will always drive scarcity, irrespective of how much abundance we have.

Another way of talking about this difference is through the concepts of absolute and relative poverty. Absolute poverty is lacking the necessities to sustain life. But relative poverty is just having less than the guy next door.

In America we have conquered absolute poverty. No one here is starving. To the contrary, our poor tend not only to be obese, but to suffer first world diseases of affluence such as type II diabetes. Consider what Sharpton himself looked like before he did whatever he did to make himself look like an emaciated hippo, with all that extra skin.

Probably the one thing that animates leftists above all else is "income inequality." This is another case of "infinite desire," since we have already achieved equality under the law. That was the original goal of liberals, and in that important sense, I am the same liberal I have always been.

But remember what was said above about economics and scarcity. If there is no "scarcity" of legal equality, then the "civil rights leaders" have nothing to sell; or, what they had been selling is worthless, because now there is an abundance of it.

Therefore, to stay in business, a new form of scarcity must be discovered and promoted -- no different from any other company that must invent new products and innovations to stay in business. So, instead of equality, they began selling income inequality; instead of justice, social justice.

With this shift, they assured that they would never again be threatened with going out of business, because they essentially elevated desire -- which is again infinite -- to right -- with the unfortunate consequence that human desire enlists the power of the state to satiate itself.

This then leads to an arms race in the so-called "war on poverty." Probably few people realize that when LBJ first proposed the idea, it was with the promise that this would under no circumstances become the institutionalization of a welfare state. Rather, this would be different, maybe lasting for a generation, just to get a few economic stragglers over the hump.

But, desire being infinite, poverty is always relative, so "the poor will always be with us." But now they serve as political pawns for retrobates such as Obama or Ted Kennedy or Elizabeth Warren to acquire real power.

So the poor have great power. What is interesting is that the left doesn't want them to think they have any personal power in the conventional sense. Rather, they want them to believe the opposite: that they have no power -- that, in the words of Obama, white mans' greed rules a world in need.

So, how is the powerless power of poor people converted to the real political power of the left? Again, it can't have to do with real scarcity, but must flow from the infinite imagination.

Analogously, think of how the power of a battery is the result of its positive and negative polarity. Just so, the power of the left is a function of the polarity between desire and world, or between what I have and what I want. It is as close to a perpetual motion machine as we'll ever have, but in so doing turns the gift of the soul's infinitude into a perpetual liability. It places envy at the center, which is to confuse the parasite with the host.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Vertical Church of What It Is

"The doctrine of divine relativity," writes Hartshorne, "is not entirely unconnected with the great drive toward a synthesis of freedom and order which... is our political goal."

It seems that how we understand God will shape our conception of politics, and vice versa. And for Hartshorne, God "is not a supreme autocrat," but rather, "a universal agent of 'persuasion,' whose 'power is the worship he inspires.'"

This is in contrast to, say, Islam or leftism, where Allah (or the State) is the supreme autocrat and universal agent of coercion, whose worship flows from the terror he (or it) inspires.

Now, what is mind, he asked out of the blue? It seems to me that the mind is relationship, or at least there can be no unrelated essence beneath this. For example, in knowing a thing -- anything -- the mind forms a relation to the known. Thus, knowledge is a kind of relation. I, as a knower, can relate to this keyboard. It, as an object, cannot relate to me in the same way.

However, according to modern physics -- and this was one of Whitehead's key ideas -- everything in our cosmos is actually related to everything else. The principle of nonlocality means that distant atoms share a kind of instantaneous "knowledge," or at least perception, of one another.

As I argued in the book -- well, not really argued, just threw out there -- I think physics is the way it is because God is the way he is, which is to say, a dynamic and internally related process. Thus, what we see in quantum physics is simply a residue, or distant shadow, of that. We will never discover an "ultimate reality" except insofar as we can all discover an ultimate relationship, or better, a living relationship with the ultimate. There is nothing "beyond" this; or beyond this lies nothing but lies about nothing.

"Thus all roads lead to the conclusion that mind or awareness is the most relational or relative of all things" (Hartshorne). A monadic absolute without relations, whatever else it is, cannot be mind, because "nothing is so variously relative... as the knower."

Note how, for example, in Buddhism or neoplatonism, this knower is the problem that (or who) must be eliminated. In so doing, one is attempting to somehow overcome relationship to the ultimate -- ultimate relationship -- in favor of a more intimate union of one -- a contradiction in terms.

A wise man once said that if there is no alternative, then there is no problem. I don't see any alternative to God-as-relationship. Metaphysical monists, it seems, turn the answer into the problem. It's just that God has "perfect relations," whereas ours are imperfect. Thus, for example, where our knowledge is partial, God's knowledge is total. In both cases there is a relation to the known, only one is vastly superior.

Even so, our knowing is an analogue of God's knowing (just as atoms "perceive" in their own extremely attenuated way). In the absence of this analogue, no knowledge of any kind would be possible. Again, it is possible because we are genuinely internally related to things -- or to both objects and subjects. And this applies both horizontally and vertically, hence the possibility of relations with planes above matter, e.g., math, logic, beauty, virtue, angels, etc.

To the extent that our knowledge falls short, it is not because it is incomplete, or partial, or phenomenal per se, but rather, because it is not relative enough. In other words, "perfect" relationship would confer perfect knowledge. Unlike God, we are only imperfectly related to things, so the advance of knowledge is predicated on a deepening of relations.

This would naturally imply that God is perfectly related to us, whereas we are only imperfectly -- and more or less so -- related to him. This is another implicit teaching of the Trinity, in that we are told that Jesus' relationship to the Father is perfect. Note that it is the relationship that is perfect. It cannot be an idea, or a concept, or anything static, only a living process.

This also goes to the philosophical question of appearances vs. reality. In the Thomistic tradition, we may know reality through its appearances. But for the post-Kantians, appearances ultimately tell us only about our own cognitive categories. But while it is true that appearances can and do deceive, this is only because there is truth beneath the deception.

More to the point, our knowledge is again a distant analogue of God's. Now, "divine knowledge" is precisely that "which cannot believe in the existence of what is not existent," nor "fail to believe... in what does exist." In other words, there can be no "illusion" in God, no misunderstanding, no false appearances, again, because he is perfectly attuned to What Is:

"God is the measure of truth, as we are not, because he and only he is able to establish a perfect correspondence between his knowing and what he knows it to be and what it is" (ibid.). Or, what he cannot know perfectly cannot be -- or be known -- at all.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Who and Whom in God and Politics

In reading this new biography of Stalin, it struck me that the 20th century's most evil men had one thing in common: they were all lazy and shiftless pseudo-intellectuals with no direction in life until they became professional revolutionaries, or ruthless do-gooders.

Stalin, Hitler, Mao; and although I don't know for sure, I would bet that Castro, Pol Pot, and Kim Jung Il never held proper jobs, or at least not for long. Work is for little people. Being the workers' messiah -- well, if you don't have the looks to be an actor or the chops to be a musician, that seems like an ideal solution to the problem of work.

In Stalin's case, he generally had no means of support aside from "sponging off colleagues, girlfriends and the proletarians he sought to lead." That was before you could just get into politics and live off other people's taxes.

I bring this up because our president has a similar biography. He too was a professional revolutionary, although that term doesn't go over well in America, so they call it "community organizer." But it is essentially the same thing: enlightening the slumbering proletariat so as to throw off their chains and seize political power (never personal power, i.e., self-improvement; if they were to do that, then schemers like Sharpton and Obama would lose their gigs).

This is what is known as the defense mechanism of "reaction formation," in that the leftist's contempt for the common folk is transformed into a rescue fantasy (we saw this in Jonathan Gruber's open contempt for the stupid liberals who needed to be deceived for their own good in order to pass ObamaCare; note that conservatives were impervious to the deception).

"The young Jughasvili [Stalin's real name]," writes Kotkin, "found a lifelong calling in being an agitator and a teacher, helping the dark masses see the light about social injustice and a purported all-purpose remedy."

The movement was led by similarly "educated yet frustrated individuals" who "defended the dignity of all by generalizing from a sense of their own violated dignity." There is no pride like intellectual pride, hence the excruciating vanity of the tenured.

We say that "only in America" could an anonymous nobody attain the highest office. Well, the anonymous nobodies mentioned above beg to differ. The difference is, for the unknown Stalin "to rise anywhere near the summit of power, and seek to implement Marxist ideas, the whole world had to be brought crashing down." In that way, World War I was a big help. Never let a crisis go to waste, in the current argot.

This also goes to Stalin's -- or was it Lenin's? -- principle of making things worse so as to make them better. You could say that the white liberal attitude toward race revolves around this axiom. For the past fifty years they have been making things worse for the black community, while promising to rescue them from the problems they have created. They do the same with education, with the economy, with sexual relations, with pretty much anything they touch. Then they sell us the solution.

But this is apparently off topic. We've been talking about The Divine Relativity -- or quite simply, the God to whom we relate and who relates to us.

Which reminds me. Either Lenin or Stalin said something to the effect that it all comes down to Who or Whom, or in other words, agent or object, hammer or anvil, pitcher or catcher.

What I mean is that if God is all active Who, them we are 100% passive Whom. But if we are in the image of God, then I don't see how this could be possible. Human beings are an indivisible combination of Who and Whom, of subject and object. We have free will, but we also suffer many things that are outside and beyond our will. Indeed, to refer to Christ's "passion" is to say God-as-Whom, isn't it? Which is a pretty shocking concept.

Back to Stalin and the left for a moment. I think it is accurate to say that in horizontalizing the Hegelian dialectic, Marxism -- at least in its Leninized form -- created a new Who and Whom. Instead of the bourgeois Who and the proletariat Whom, it was now the Who of the intellectual revolutionary vanguard and the Whom of everybody else -- the 99%.

Which brings to mind an aphorism: "Every non-hierarchical society is divided into two parts" (Dávila). And for the revolutionary Who, "Democratic elections decide who may be oppressed legally." (Shouldn't that be whom? "Whom may" doesn't sound right, though.)

Well, I have to get ready for work. Let us just conclude by saying that if God is both omnipotent and omnipathos, then he is the ultimate Who-and-Whom.