Thursday, October 15, 2015

God is Not Seen, But the Means of Seeing

There is of course a proper kind of humanism and a healthy form of liberalism that go something like this: they give men "the freedom of the height and breadth and depth of human experience, including man's mysterious encounter with his Creator. To be free is not to live in no place and at no time but to live in one place as in the shadow of all places, and to live in time as in the morning twilight of eternity" (Esolen).

This is what Joyce is trying to drive home in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake: human life from the perspective of eternity, or at least "temporal fullness." In the former he tries to cram it all into a single day, while in the latter he does so in a single dream. In both cases a solitary man stands for every man, or Here Comes Everybody. The point is that Anybody is Everybody if life is lived "in the shadow of all places" and "in the morning twilight of eternity."

In the case of FW, it revolves around various permanent complementarities such as male/female, old age/youth, life/death, love/hate, men of action/contemplation:

"[T]hese, by their attraction, conflicts, and repulsions, supply the polar energies that spin the universe. Wherever Joyce looks in history or human life, he discovers the operation of these basic polarities. Under the seeming aspect of diversity -- in the individual, the family, the state, the atom, or the cosmos -- these constants remain unchanged.... [He] presents, develops, amplifies, and re-condenses nothing more nor less than the eternal dynamic implicit in birth, conflict, death, and resurrection" (Campbell).

I know what you're thinking: isn't all that frantic energy just maya, i.e., cosmic illusion? That would be the Buddhist or Vedantic take, but Christians are not permitted to look at it that way. Rather, we are charged with participating in the whole existentialada and jumping into the cosmic catastrophe heart first. That's what God did: all the way from Incarnation to Crucifixion and beyond. At no point does he flinch from his commitment. Except momentarily in that garden the night before.

This is also in contrast to Schuon. I'm reading a book of his I'd never heard of, called Primordial Meditation: Contemplating the Real. First of all, I do not recommend the book except for truly extreme seekers. It was his first book, published in 1935, when he would have been 28 or so.

You might say that it contains everything he would write about later in a more refined and comprehensible manner. In contrast, this is simultaneously raw and overly eggheady, possibly because he wrote it in German, whereas all the later books are in French. (He says the latter is much more conducive to philosophical precision, while the former is more existential, symbolic, and emotional.)

You could say that the book is the diary or journal of an awakening, so in that sense has has parallels with far more digestible books such as Merrell-Wolff's Experience and Philosophy: A Personal Record of Transformation, Bede Griffith's The Golden String, or Sri Aurobindo's On Himself.

In the introduction, it says that "In these early writings it is as if an immense energy were forcing a passage through a narrow channel, or a huge mass were being compressed to its utmost. The sheer scope and power of the content constantly threaten to burst the confines of the verbal receptacle."

From the standpoint of container/contained, you could say: we're gonna need a bigger container. Schuon would spend the rest of his life attempting to do so, to find language adequate to the experience and the reality. Compare with Aurobindo: "One commences with a method, but the work is taken up by a Grace from above, from That to which one aspires, or by an irruption of the infinitudes of the Spirit" (emphasis mine).

Now, in my view, the purpose of dogma and tradition and revelation is to have a kind of God-given channel for the Spiritual Irruption. Without the channels, the irruption can be good or bad, depending. In other words, it is just, as it were, "energy." By way of comparison, think of the endless damage done by the left because of their admittedly great "moral passion." But moral passion is neither here nor there in the absence of objective morality.

What is interesting about these early journals of Schuon is that there is no attempt to frame his experiences in any known religious context. I'm only up to page 39, but so far I don't recall mention of any religion or prophet or savior. The closest he comes is p. 33, where he speaks of "The precepts given by the envoys of God," which "point to a non-contradictory attitude in man..."

So already he is giving a Vedantin twist to his experiences, such that the seeker "dissolves his own will, contradictory in itself, by becoming one with this divine Will, just as he dissolves and liberates himself..." Conversely, in a trinitarian context, one would not say that liberation comes via dissolution of the self, but through relationship to the Source.

I think I see the basis of our friendly disagreement. Note how we are always going on about those orthoparadoxical complementarities such as God/man, man/woman, time/eternity, etc. Schuon takes a different tack, and characterizes these as dualities; although there is a complementarity, it is between, on the one hand, the world of incorruptible unity, of pure reality; and on the other, the fallen world of duality and fragmentation, AKA maya.

Thus, where we see a complementarity of Creator/Creation, he sees one of Unity/dispersal. There is "pure Reality, which is above, outside and beyond Being, and fragmented Reality, which is below, within and on this side of Being." Thus, the World is a kind of negation of Being -- just as Being is a negation of God -- instead of the world being a creation motivated by love.

If I am not completely wrong, then Schuon is half-correct in asserting that everything on this side of God must by definition be a negation.

However, I would frame this in terms of creation, i.e., that things have their source in the creator God (i.e., they are not passive emanations from an impersonal God).

Or, from a slightly different angle, the reason why we can know anything about an object is because we cannot know everything about it, the latter of which being reserved for God. Even so, all knowledge and all existence speaks of God, or it neither exists nor is knowable (which amount to the same thing).

To paraphrase a remark by C.S. Lewis, God is not what I see, but the means with which I see. More generally, I think for the mature Christian, Christianity is not so much seen as the means of seeing. Once one starts seeing through its lens, then that is in itself the seeing of it.

But this is scarcely different from any scientific theory. For example, one cannot really "see" Darwinism, or leftism, or scientism. Rather, these are ways of seeing the world.

And by their fruits you shall evaluate them.

8 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

This post is full of synchronicities. You'd cause a thought in this reader and then you'd write about it.

Been thinking about Schuon lately and there is a new extended interview of him on youtoob, btw.

I remember once we spoke of the warnings received from people like Schuon to make nothing of "events" in your life such as "irruptions" and so forth. Since in themselves they are not something special (or rather the receiver isn't by virtue of having received them). Instead, the value in them (if there is or isn't any) can be seen in what kind of fruit they produce or if the person is transformed, etc. The importance is in "what" they do rather than "who".
If I have it right..

Try to catch that Schuon interview.. not that it touches on this. Just that there are so few of them.

10/15/2015 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Here 'tiz:

Schuon extended interview

10/15/2015 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"In these early writings it is as if an immense energy were forcing a passage through a narrow channel, or a huge mass were being compressed to its utmost. The sheer scope and power of the content constantly threaten to burst the confines of the verbal receptacle."

Like a rope through the eye of a needle, perhaps; only possible with divine assistance...

10/15/2015 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

For example, one cannot really "see" Darwinism, or leftism, or scientism. Rather, these are ways of seeing the world.

And by their fruits you shall evaluate them.


Yes - rather like manchineel, only far more deadly. In the case of Darwinism, rather ironically not conducive to the fitness of the species.

10/15/2015 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Or, from a slightly different angle, the reason why we can know anything about an object is because we cannot know everything about it, the latter of which being reserved for God.

Whoa. That will keep 'em from leaning into the strike zone.

10/15/2015 12:00:00 PM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/16/2015 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

"However, I would frame this in terms of creation, i.e., that things have their source in the creator God (i.e., they are not passive emanations from an impersonal God)."

That's a pretty big difference in that it dramatically affects one's approach to the divine reality. Specifically in terms of love and humility. For what it's worth I think you're right and Schuon is wrong.

10/16/2015 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous popemobile said...

"Relativism," in those instances where it is not offered as an alternative in opposition to what is universally true, seems to me to be a form of obscurantism hiding what might more accurately be termed "that which is self-referential." For example, saying, "Bless you," when someone sneezes. You could say that saying, "Bless you," is relative and therefore you do not have to do it, or you could perhaps call it self-referential. But then the liberal-progressives would have to admit that not being self-referential is to change who you are. And for rhetorical reasons they cannot admit that they are changing who we are.

10/16/2015 08:48:00 AM  

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