Seeing Through Atheism and Other Idols
"[O]ur quest," writes Cheetham, "is to recover the interior speech, the language of our deep self." Therefore, the last thing we want to do is turn words into idols and speech into idolatry.
Rather, language must remain transparent to its true object, so as to avoid ending in a brightly endarkened null-de-slack of unambiguous meaning.
When language becomes unambiguous, it is time to reach for your revolver. Among other enormities, you are about to be deprived of your vertical freedom, which is to say, your freedom to be who you are, which is freedom lived (or incarnated; freedom is the incarnation of the true self, just as the true self is the incarnation of freedom).
There are some exceptions to this rule, as in pure math or metaphysics, but even then math is transparent to beauty, while metaphysics is ultimately transparent to God; neither is simply an end in itself.
In his famous Apology, the mathematician G.H Hardy writes that "A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns," patterns made of ideas. These patterns "must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics."
Note the surprising use (in a discussion of mathematics) of that word must: the patterns must be beautiful. Normally we think of mathematics as the Land of Must, of pure necessity (if not tautology).
But here Hardy is situating mathematics in the Higher Musticism of transcendent beauty. As such, he is not idolizing numbers, but properly icon-ilizing them. He sees right through their tricks.
All language is symbolic, meaning that it is a bridge between worlds. But the world itself is made of language, so one might say that religion as such is the symbolic link between heaven and earth, celestial and terrestrial, God and man, vertical and horizontal.
And if this pre-existing Logos actually becomes man, it means -- in a manner of speaking -- that God is "symbolizing" himself in man (just as we symbolize God via the man Jesus).
Or to paraphrase Schuon, Jesus is at once God's icon of man and our icon of God. In between is the space through which symbolic forms are tossed back and forth, or rather, clothe and channel the up-and-down energies.
"[T]he text of the world, and the soul itself" are "metaphors for the reality from which they derive. Meta-phor means to 'carry over,' and the metaphoric vision of reality sees through the literal appearance of things to the ever-shifting and mysterious Presence that lies behind the daylight Face of things" (Cheetham).
A face is a window on the soul; it is itself a manner of expression, the first symbolic evidence (in the form of the mothers's smile) of the interiority of the world.
Thus, the First Face is also a bridge between worlds, interior to interior and soul to soul. It ushers us into a "mode of perception" that is simultaneously a "mode of being," "a way of living that refuses the literal. It is how we can live the refusal of idolatry" and transform idols into icons.
The idol is a prison. For example, I mentioned a few months ago that when I first studied psychoanalysis, it was as if I were imprisoned or contained in an idol. It was depressing, because it was one of those confining null-de-slacks alluded to above.
One could say the same of Darwinism, or feminism, or any other modern intellectual pathology. Each one traps you in its idolatry and restricts vertical movement.
Cheetham links this problem to the widespread acquisition of literacy and its access to the text -- which is no doubt why the tenured are the biggest idolaters of all.
The text contributes to the illusion of a static, cutandry meaning, for which reason scientism and a certain type of Protestantism are mirror images of one another. Bibliolatry is no more or less literal than any scientistic idolatry (or any other ideology, which are really masturbatory idea-olatries).
This is not a new problem, only more widespread. For example, "Plato worried about what would happen when people started to read his words fixed on a page rather than think along with him in dialogue -- he feared that they would take his words 'literally.'"
There are Christians who believe in sola scriptura, which leads one to wonder how the first Christians learned about Christianity before the Bible was canonized 300 years after the death of Jesus. The New Testament is the deposit of their faith, not its first cause or ground source.
The good news about the Good News? The Book "recognize[s] this danger in various ways and provides hermeneutic techniques for keeping the mystery of the words alive" (ibid.). Which we will get into tomorrow.