Betwixt & Bewildered between God & Nothing
You could say that in relation to animals -- or to Gaia, or biology, or physics -- man is Everything, since the whole exercise of existence is absolutely pointless without us. But the same applies to our relation to God. In its absence, we are as absurd and superfluous as testicles on a liberal.
How to eliminate the lesser nothing and illuminate the greater? The lesser bupkis is explicitly articulated in all forms of existentialism, which is the conscious philosophy of the null-de-slack; and implicitly unarticulated in scientism, leftism (which is just warmed over marxist materialism), and any other ideology.
Thus, Cheetham begins with a friendly reminder from the Orthodox theologian Panayiotis Nellas: Fear a system, say the Fathers, as you would fear a lion (in After Prophecy).
How is a system different from a dogma? We'll get to that in a minute, but while every system is a dogma, not every dogma is a system. For example, the dogma of Christianity is ultimately a person and a relation, neither being antecedent to the other, because each implies the other. A system, on the other hand, pretends it can exist without the person entertaining it, which is to put the parasite before the host or the ass before the horse.
Put it this way: almost 3,000 posts now, and do you see a system? I sure don't. Sometimes I wish I did, and each post is in its little way an attempt to nail one down, but in the end the system is just... me. Well, not just me, but me-in-relation. As promised at the very top, this is The Religion the Almighty & Me Works Out Betwixt Us. So, I do have a... method.
The Good For Nothing is the "metaphysical state of mystical poverty," such that "all things derive not from themselves, but from a source that is the grantor of Being to everything" (Cheetham). Thus, "each and every thing has nothing in itself, [and] is nothing in itself."
Any thing exists in a state of irreducible dependence on this prior Being, so it is appropriate that all human beings start out in a state of absolutely helpless dependence upon the kindness of strangers. Many people spend their lives trying to forget or deny this state, but it can't be done except at the cost of one's personhood.
And even then, man is always relating, even if only to his own internalized objects. This is why modern psychoanalysis, which is rooted in attachment theory, is called object relations. Even thinking itself is an object relation, because thoughts are prior to the thinker who must think them. And we can't think at all without the mother-object who first helps us think our thoughts in that state of total dependence.
Bion called this alpha function. Where I differ with Bion -- or at least extend his horizon -- is in explicitly applying this concept to the upper vertical, not just to the Freudian unconscious. In his defense, if he had done this, he would have been excommunicated and exiled from the Church of Psychoanalysis. He would have been outside the System (and some colleagues thought he was outside the System anyway, AKA, insane).
Not sure if this will be helpful but here is an extended passage from the above-linked article:
Bion took for granted that the infant requires a mind to help it tolerate and organize experience. For Bion, thoughts exist prior to the development of an apparatus for thinking. The apparatus for thinking, the capacity to have thoughts "has to be called into existence to cope with thoughts." Thoughts exist prior to their realization. Thinking, the capacity to think the thoughts which already exist, develops through another mind providing alpha-function -- through the "container" role of maternal reverie.
To learn from experience alpha-function must operate on the awareness of the emotional experience; alpha–elements are produced from the impressions of the experience; these are thus made storable and available for dream thoughts and for unconscious waking thinking... If there are only beta-elements, which cannot be made unconscious, there can be no repression, suppression, or learning.
Alpha-function works upon undigested facts, impressions, and sensations, that cannot be mentalized -- beta-elements. Alpha-function digests beta-elements, making them available for thought.
Er, what? It's really not that complicated, and is actually quite experience-near. Applied to religion, for example, God is by definition prior to our thoughts about him. Furthermore, religion is here to help us organize religious experience, which is also prior to our actually thinking it.
We do not, nor could we, consciously will spontaneous experiences of the sacred, the holy, the numinous, the preternatural, the mysterious, the venerable. Rather, these things just "happen." They are, as it were, unmetabolized spiritual "beta elements," the raw material of theological alpha-function. To "learn about God" is literally to metabolize experiences of him.
Yeah, you can ignore the beta elements of primordial spiritual experience. Who hasn't? But as Cheetham says, "To cover over this terrible wonderment is to block access to an Absence that is not the empty Nothing of nihilism, but the unknown and unknowable source of everything; the necessarily Hidden God beyond all being." Of course, Christians believe that this HGBAB God did and does come out from hiding, partly in order to show us that there is no System, only a Person and a Relation.
The Principle of the world cannot be in the world; the world is not self-explanatory. This Principle is "at once 'all' and 'nothing,'" but a "nothing from which all things are derived. This is the Nothing of the Absolute Divine, superior to being and thought" (Corbin, ibid.). Again, it is prior to our thinking about it.
I can't improve on this, so I'll just steal it: "The Giver of being can never be an object, a thing. In its infinite fecundity and mystery, its forever-receding depth and absolute Unity, it is unifier, the guarantor of the individuality of every being. As such, it is the archetype of the Person, and the interiority that infuses all beings..." (Cheetham).
You might say that, to the extent that we are one -- we call this one a person, an individual -- then we cannot be a nothing. Or, in the absence of the One, then our individual personhood is just a big nothing, a meaningless bit of undigested potato. And if this were so, then the left would be correct that identity follows class as essence follows existence, which we know is impossibly stupid, i.e., both stupid and impossible.
Bottom lines for today:
It is the mystery of this primordial Darkness that it establishes the substantial reality of the human person and yet simultaneously renders us transparent.... The presence of this pregnant darkness is immanent, shimmering through the face of the beauty of the world.... A degree of poverty is a prerequisite for the experience of the fullness of the world. --Cheetham