Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Spinning In Coherence

Some random thoughts from and about Robert Barron's Exploring Catholic Philosophy. Feeling a bit fuzzy this AM. I'll just start typing, and with any luck Barron's stimulus will provoke an actual post with coherence and everything. You know, just let go and hope we get pulled into a nonlocal vortex.

Speaking of coherence, Barron reminds us of a bold statement by Wittgenstein to the effect that "the most puzzling problem in all of philosophy is how we manage to see something as something."

This capacity of ours must be a reflection of the first transcendental, Oneness, in that to perceive anything is to first abstract and isolate it from everything else. How do we do this? It's especially puzzling with complex and temporally extended things such as music, literature, even our own selves. Are we really one? Or only trying and hoping to be? If thine eye be single... Did that guy anticipate everything, or what?

Orthoparadoxically, however, everything is one, and yet, a part of everything else. Nor is this Everything Else merely a horizontal reality, but rather, like the body, there are wholes within wholes within wholes (as in body/organ/cell/DNA). Each part is a whole, but part of a more encompassing whole.

Where does this wholeness end? Or begin? For a pantheist it simply ends with the physical cosmos, and there is no doubt that he is partially correct. Modern physics demonstrates without question that the cosmos is indeed one, such that no part of it can be radically independent of any other -- both in time and space. See Whitehead for details.

But this only ends up conferring godlike properties upon the cosmos. There is also the perennial problem of how one obtains the greater from the lesser, that is, how man can appear in a cosmos that is less developed than he, for as a patient of mine once said, you can only get so much blood out of a turnip. To say "the cosmos did it" is the biggest philosophical dodge since "Darwinism did it." These are examples of what we call the "godlessness of the gaps," or "don't worry, there's nothing that can't be explained by the one-two punch of ignorance and chance."

As a brief aside, one thought that occurred to me while reading this book is that it is so full of truth, and yet, it would be quite difficult to convey this truth to someone who doesn't already believe it. And I don't mean "believe it" in a faith-based way, but rather intellectually. It's like any other tradition, whether religious or irreligious.

For example, it's impossible to swallow any of the left's nonsense unless one is already conditioned by Marxist assumptions about power, class, and economics. If you've assimilated those kooky things, then Obama doesn't sound stupid or deranged.

The real problem is that you can't just tell a modern person, "here, eat this. It's God!" To modern ears, that doesn't just sound wrong, but insane. It takes an awful lot of groundwork to get to where that statement makes total sense -- i.e., is part of a completely coherent system -- but how many people are willing to do the spadework? And even then, the sufficient cause of the coherence is always God himsoph: understanding where God is coming from always comes from God, i.e., grace.

In Christian metaphysics, Jesus would be considered the local icon of the nonlocal Father. He is God pouring himself out into a human vessel for our benefit. This too sounds a little crazy, but on a more abstract level it is hardly different from scientism, whereby man presumes to speak for the entire cosmos.

Indeed, to even say cosmos is to intuit a transcendent oneness that no one has or will ever directly perceive. Similarly, when man pronounces that Darwinism is both the necessary and sufficient cause of man, man is speaking for the entire biosphere. But how? How is he transcending and standing above the rules that supposedly determine him?

Shut up, that's how.

The Christian metaphysical view is that "Jesus is the iconic representation of the very mind of God." Moreover, he is "the enfleshment of the pattern according to which God fashioned the universe."

Here again, while no doubt true, I think it is possible to formulate this in a more abstract manner that is not so shocking to modern ears. For example, few normal (or non-tenured) people would disagree with the assertion that the cosmos is intelligible and that man may know it. But if you accept this postulate, then it has implications that lead directly to the Christian doctrine of man.

For there can be no intelligibility without intelligence, meaning that these two are not just complementary but irreducible reflections of one another. Can they really be explained with reference to blind matter? I don't see how. Rather, they are explained with reference to a reality in which the two are united in One -- where existence and essence are not bifurcated. This One is what we call God. And this God is a personal intelligence because there can be no other kind. Intelligibility is the vapor trail of personhood.

Paul says that Jesus is the "image (eikon) of the invisible God." He is the firstborn over all creation and the one in whom all things hold together (in Barron). Thus, he is creativity, coherence, and intelligence. Unless you have a better idea of where these come from.

Barron writes that this icon is "the lens through which the whole of reality is properly read, the means by which we correctly see the universe as something." This is starting to sound not-so-crazy, because again, scientism affirms the same truth, only leaves it dangling from the cosmos with no coherent account of how it got here.

What I mean is that if man can account for the cosmos, then the cosmos cannot account for him. Likewise, if man can account for himself -- as in, say, Darwinism -- then Darwinism cannot account for man. Rather, the "account" hangs suspended in midair, without even the possibility of an explanation with the preconceptions at hand.

We mysteriously see the universe as a universe. In our opinion this is because a Person sees us as persons, or because we are intelligible to His intelligence, just as his intelligibility may be known by our intelligence. It's a relationship, don't you know, with give-and-take.

"... Jesus is the final and definitive pattern by which reality is interpreted -- the manner in which we 'get' God and the world, and the dynamics of our own spiritual transformation."

Crazy? Yes, if one forgets or rejects everything we have written thus far. For this is really a way of affirming that God participates in man, and man in God; or that the relative participates in the Absolute, and that a personal transformation takes place in the dynamic space of this relation.

This represents literally the most radical humanism imaginable. All others are number two or lower. Other humanisms stop at the border of the human, and thereby become less than human. In other words, all of the gifts that render us human -- truth, freedom, creativity, beauty, etc. -- are denied any source or referent. They might as well be anything. Which for the modern secularist they are.

"... [H]uman liberty is not suppressed by the proximity of the divine liberty but rather enabled by it. We are, in fact, freer the more fully we surrender to the divine will." Note that there are two wills in Jesus -- divine and human -- but that these function in harmony, or in wholeness; they are coherent, not at odds or battling to occupy the same space.

Man can and does experience an echo of this. For example, genuine liberty "is not so much self-expressive choice as the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and finally effortless."

It is the same vis-a-vis the pursuit of truth. God forbid that I use my freedom to find my own truth, for this eliminates both! And any coherence will be forced and superimposed rather than intuited and harmonized.

"Christians know that all acts of knowledge here below are acts of re-cognition, thinking again what has already been thought by a more primordial knower." Which is why "it is absolutely no accident that the modern physical sciences emerged precisely in the universities in the Christian West...." So, you may believe the world and everything in it is one big accident, but your believing it is no accident, because only a Christianized mind would have the confidence to make such a totalistic claim about the cosmos.

Recall from a few posts back that diabolos is the scatterer, and that to scatter is to oppose coherence. For example, when political operatives put a spin on what you just saw or heard, they are attempting to scatter truth far and wide. They are devils in human form. Or maybe the devil is a human in Carville form.

We are all spinning in the void. But there is the centrifugal spinning of the scatterer, and the centripetal spin of love. Or as Frank sez, In a spin, loving the spin that I'm in / Under that old black magic called love.

Jesus' entire preaching and ministry should be read under this rubric of the great gathering.... to live according to the coinherence that constitutes the grain of the universe.... Without knowledge of Jesus, people are like actors who don't know what play they're in (ibid.).

7 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

The real problem is that you can't just tell a modern person, "here, eat this. It's God!" To modern ears, that doesn't just sound wrong, but insane.

Not only to the secular, but even to many Christians. Rather, they prefer to think that in eating this, they are remembering God, which is much less disturbing.

9/09/2015 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

What gives it the ring of truth is that no human would insist on something so off the wall as a selling point.

9/09/2015 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Exactly. Even many of his followers couldn't stomach what he was telling them face-to-face, and turned away.

It takes an awful lot of groundwork to get to where that statement makes total sense -- i.e., is part of a completely coherent system -- but how many people are willing to do the spadework? And even then, the sufficient cause of the coherence is always God himsoph: understanding where God is coming from always comes from God, i.e., grace.

I'm working on a project which requires a great deal of study of the conditions around the time Jesus was born. The interesting thing about it is how much we can know about the time and the places - a real time, and real places, full of people who really lived and breathed. Nobody wandering the slopes of Mount Olympos is likely to find the remains of the palace of Zeus or any other god. But anybody can walk the streets of Jerusalem and know that here, almost two thousand years ago, God dropped his depth charge and everything changed.

9/09/2015 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous God said...

Look out below!

9/09/2015 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"... Intelligibility is the vapor trail of personhood."

O Man, chemtrails got nothing on that One.

9/09/2015 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Note that there are two wills in Jesus -- divine and human -- but that these function in harmony, or in wholeness; they are coherent, not at odds or battling to occupy the same space.

How timely. Just started "Cosmic Liturgy" and von Balthasar was explaining the whole drama of the "One-willers" vs. the "Two-willers" and I'm thinking to myself, this is nothing to lose a tongue and right hand over. Is it?

Thanks for splainin' some to me.

9/09/2015 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous maineman said...

As I mentioned, I turned Catlick about 5 years ago (and it was somewhat Bob's fault), but I really struggled for a time with transubstantiation. Then one night, I was sitting on a dock on a Maine lake, looking at the stars, and my son-in-law said, "Look at that star, and think of the fact that the light we're seeing was shining when Jesus walked the earth."

We were all half in the bag at the time, but that didn't matter. No more problem with transubstantiation.

9/10/2015 07:52:00 PM  

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