Friday, April 03, 2015

Mind-Matter Dualism and Incarnational Trialism

Come to think of it, we can't blame Descartes for everything. After all, there's the rest of the world. It has always been a trainwreck.

Furthermore, Descartes is hardly the first to commit the error of dualism. Rather, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, neoplatonism, and even Buddhism fall into the same cosmic heresy of dividing the world into naughty and nice, and then escaping into the nice.

Yes, but isn't this the whole point of religion? How is this different from the whole satan thingy?

There is no doubt that some forms of Christianity have and continue to fall into dualism, even though the whole Christian message is rooted in a metaphysic that is supposed to render this impossible. Rather, there is one creator, and everything he creates is good. To the extent that something fails to be good, then it is not the result of an evil co-creator or co-equal force of darkness -- as, for example, Ahriman is to Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.

I would suggest that it is a permanent human temptation to divide the world in this manner. In modern times it is most effectively practiced by the left, which cannot function without demonization, vilification, and calumny.

For example, one of the (admittedly many) reasons MSNBC has tanked so badly is that demonization works fine when someone else is in charge. When the left is in charge, who's left to demonize? Pizza parlors, bakers, imaginary rapists, nonexistent racists, dissenting tea partiers, etc.

As Ace wrote, "the left is now patrolling the already-won battlefield to find survivors and shoot them -- while forever casting itself as the trespassed-upon victim." Or as Iowahawk tweeted, "Don't compare yourself to a Selma marcher when you're unleashing the dogs and firehoses." Another tweetist reminds us of how "the civil rights movement really got going when Rosa Parks went door to door trying to find someone who wouldn't give her a ride." The left desperately searches for demons to account for the evils it unleashes.

I think it's fair to say that people truly long for a simplistic, dualistic world, because then it's so easy to recognize and eliminate the problem. But if the problem runs straight through the human heart, then it's not so easy. Then it's even possible for a negro to be racist, or a person with a vagina to be incompetent, or a sodomist to be a bully, or an immigrant to be a drain on the rest of us, or a man of tenure to be a retard!

Yesterday I saw a clip of Bill Maher going on about how all religions are stupid. Easy for him to say, since his religion of Pure Light by definition has only intelligent and virtuous people like himself.

Along these lines, I recently read a book called At the Heart of the Gospel, which is a kind of popular summary of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which in turn is -- in JP's view -- a summary of Christianity itself.

For at the heart of the gospel is what? A union of God and man, of spirit and flesh, of time and eternity -- as opposed to a division of these things. Not only is this is a radical notion, but it must be counter-intuitive, otherwise why would God have to go to all that trouble of making it known to us? And one reason why it is so radical is that it goes against our tendency to reach for a facile dualism.

At the heart of the gospel are actually two principles: Incarnation and Trinity, the latter of which counters the dualistic temptation from a different angle.

West starts with a passage from the Catechism: "The flesh is the hinge of salvation," and "We believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh."

But there have always been misbelievers who split "body and soul in order to 'free' love from... the 'unflattering' and 'unholy' realities of bodiliness." Again, that is the easy way out (and a mirror of the other easy alternative into a soulless hedonism): the former is "angelism," the latter "animalism" (Descartes and his descendants are angelists).

But just as Jesus is God and man, we are human and animal, not one or the other. The task is not to repress or deny the animal, but rather, to elevate it; or better, to infuse it with the same "divine descent" that came into the flesh more generally. That descent goes all the way down.

Thus, in the words of Cardinal Newman (quoted by West), the object "is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God and have been put asunder by man." We need to re-integrate our dis-integration (or rather, recognize that "it is accomplished").

The "descent of God is intended to draw us into a movement of ascent" (Ratzinger, ibid). I find it useful to visualize this as a continuous spiral of (⇅), whereby man may participate in this trinitarian movement. The movement, of course, goes all the way down and all the way up -- to hell and back, you might say. We know it goes all the way to hell, because we have read and heard countless spiritual autobiographies of people who were reached in hell's kitchen and managed to turn their lives around.

We will get back to our main subject on Monday, but this is very much related to it, because "by fleeing the material world in search of the spirit, we actually embrace the essential tenet of materialism" (West).

In other words, one can be a materialist both by embracing or rejecting matter, i.e., by taking one side of the Cartesian dualism. In this way, the rejection only gives more force to its opposite tendency, otherwise those atheist activists would be out of business.

In short, "The Christian response to both materialism and spiritualism is the Incarnation," such that "there is no reaching the 'higher' without pondering the 'lower'"; or, "we reach the 'higher' precisely because" it "has descended into the 'lower'" (West). This is both the logic of the logos and the logos of logic.

And we can't accomplice this climb this without a body, "which has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world" the otherwise hidden mystery of God.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Abstractions, Nightmares, and the Frustrated Gods of the Left

While the old brain is warming up, let's review.

Yesterday we figured out that Descartes has been ruining everybody's lives and eating all our steak. But it's a free country and he can do whatever he wants. Or is it? Free, I mean?

That's one of the themes of Heart of the World, in that it is an inquiry into modern liberalism and its ugly twin, "liberation." (And he includes conservative liberalism in his critique, even though it is merely inadequate where left liberalism is frankly diabolical.)

For example, contemporary liberalism posits human freedom, but it is a radically disconnected freedom that isn't grounded in anything prior, nor is it rendered meaningful by having any telos. In short, it is utterly pointless, just another name for nihilism. Besides, on what basis can we say that freedom is even a good?

In the Christian view, we are first given our freedom; which means that we receive it before we act on it. Conversely, in the secular view, we just take it and act on it. But where did it come from? How did it get here?

This goes to yesterday's penultimate paragraph about how liberalism is founded upon a divided reality, with the false objectivity of bonehead scientism on one side, and the radical subjectivism and relativism of postmodernity on the other. For the former, freedom must be an illusion (since science by definition cannot account for it), while for the latter it reduces to either power or desire (or both in the case of leftist politics).

So, here's the heteroparadox -- or cosmic heresy -- at the heart of contemporary liberalism: "on the one hand, Descartes turns to the subject, making the human subject dominant in determining what is to count truly as an object, or as objective." Again, sounds harmless enough. Man is the measure of all things, and all that.

However, "in making the human subject dominant, he simultaneously eliminates what is distinctly subjective about the human subject." In other words, he turns the human subject itself into a kind of object, being that it corresponds with a reality conceived of as mechanical and mathematical. Or in other words, the subject is liberated only to be pulled right back down into the object; or, quality reduces to quantity, semantics to syntax, reality to appearances.

Remember Marshall McLuhan's famous crack about the medium being the message? Well, in this case the method is the message. That's right, the scientific method, which seems so free of content, is the message if it is detached from the real world of the human subject.

Come to think of it, Al Whitehead warned of the same thing in Science and the Modern World, and probably in Adventures of Ideas and Modes of Thought as well if I remember correctly. And in fact, the whole thrust of Schindler's argument leads in a process direction which for some reason he seems to find a bit uncomfortable, but we'll fix that. No worries.

Back to the Cartesian Split: it "involves at once a mechanizing of the meaning of objectivity and a setting aside of subjectivity as irrelevant, indeed as intrusive..."

So, what does this orphaned and unwanted subjectivity do? It obviously still exists, only now untethered to any comprehensive view of reality. I'll tell you what it does: it runs wild all over the place while flattering itself with the name "liberation." It ruins everybody's lives and eats all our steak.

I don't know about you, but back in college I learned such idiocies as "perception is reality" so you can't judge other lifestyles and people and cultures and stuff! This liberal lunacy is an inevitable consequence of a metaphysic that renders subjectivity completely unhinged from any objective reality.

People talk about the division between red and blue, or liberal and conservative, but think of the more primordial divide between the engineering or business departments and the gender studies or queer theory departments. That is an unbridgeable cosmic abyss, and it all goes back to the idea that the human subject is anything we want it to be, because it is not first received as gift, but rather, just this inexplicable thing we act on.

This goes to the deepest of depths, in that for the Christian, essence precedes existence, while for the modern liberal existence precedes essence. In other words, for the Christian, since we receive our being from elsewhere, we are who we damn well are before we act on our freedom. But contemporary liberals make themselves into what that are. In short, they become their own gods, since they give the form to their own existence.

But even here they are never consistent, since they never run out of excuses as to why they can't be who they want to be. They are gods, to be sure, but very frustrated gods. There is structural racism, or campus rape, or gender oppression, or birth control that isn't free, or "marriage inequality," or the "wage gap," or oppressive "religious freedom," etc. It's always something!

Some god. Some freedom. It is why the so-called freedom of the left always results in less freedom. It is why the denial of sexual reality leads directly to the Cake Police and the Pizza Thugs. The little gods need a big machine-god to force reality into a shape that pleases them.

I'm a little lazy this morning, so we'll just leave off with a summary quote by Schindler:

"Thus Descartes' vaunted claim of a method essentially neutral toward any content already and in principle favors an ontology which primitively separates subject and object and dichotomizes objectivity and subjectivity."

An airy abstraction at one end, an all too concrete nightmare at the other.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Adversary's Solution to the Mind-Matter Conundrum: Divide and Conquer

I was out late last night, and now I'm tired. Therefore, this will not be a challenging post. I'm not up for any deep pondering. Maybe just some groundwork. Plus it will no doubt be more rambly than usual. I predict that it will struggle to get off the ground before running out of steam at the end. So maybe you should just skip it.

Last night someone asked me what this book is about -- Heart of the World, Center of the Church -- but I was pretty much stumped for an answer. It kind of blows my circuits as I'm reading, which seems to interfere with memory, and certainly synthesis. There's too much to wrap one's mind around, and if I can't grasp the whole, I have trouble retaining the parts.

So, I'm going to just revisit the parts I highlighted, and try to unscramble my egghead and put my humpty back together.

For me, the author doesn't really hit his stride until about midway through the book, with a chapter called Catholicism and the Liberal Model of the Academy in America. It goes to the more general question: of what should a Catholic education consist?

I would prefer to just say Christian education, but that might be part of the problem, because -- if Schindler is correct -- Protestantism already cedes so much ground to secularism at the outset, that it loses the battle before it has begun. In other words, certain Protestant assumptions entail secular liberal conclusions.

For example, should a "Christian" university try to be like any other university, only with a little religion sprinkled on top? Naturally it is easier in the liberal arts, where one can simply have a curriculum that revolves around the artistic treasures of western civilization instead of degrading us with the hideous gobshite of postmodernity.

But what about more generally? I look at my son's Catholic school, and sometimes wonder how it is supposed to be distinctively different from a secular school. In my mind, rather than having the religious dimension added on, his education should be infused with the Christian spirit. What would this look like, and how can we tell the difference? What does it mean to think as a Christian -- not so much the content, but the form?

"To have a Catholic university... it is necessary (also) to develop a Catholic mind." Simply learning about religion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for this transformation of the mind.

And when I say "trans-formation," it is very much as if the mind must be refashioned and re-formed by transcendental causes to which it must be open. If that fails to occur, then you haven't had a "Christian education," no matter how much theology, dogma, and scripture you have committed to memory.

"Is it meaningful to speak of a mind... internally Catholic in any discipline other than theology? What could 'internally Catholic' mean, for example, in philosophy, or in biology and physics, or in accounting and computer science?"

In short, if truth is universal, how could there be secular truth and Christian truth in the disciplines he mentions? I'll tell you how. In a minute.

But if you simply swallow these disciplines whole, without criticism (i.e., the secular approach to them), you're going to take in a whole lot of hidden assumptions with them. Then, once these assumptions are in place, they will actually interfere with a properly religious understanding. Like how a virus gets into your computer.

Very insidious, don't you know. Once this happens, to the extent that you want to continue being religious, then it will be as if religion needs to exist side by side with the other disciplines. Any possibility of Total Cosmic Unity will be lost, and you will live in a bifurcated, dualistic world in which you retain your faith in spite of what you learned in school, instead of because of it.

But -- and here I think is the key -- you actually assimilated this bifurcated world before you even began your journey. That's how they ensnare you! You think you're just learning content, when in reality you're assimilating a whole way of looking at things that is anti-religious (and, more to the point, anti-reality) to the core.

Liberalism -- and this is one of the points Jonah Goldberg drives home in Liberal Fascism -- "embodies above all the claim to neutrality" (and he's not talking about political liberalism per se, rather, the whole project of modernity). It presumes "to avoid any a priori assumption of content" which might "prejudice the (putative) pure openness of the methods."

This is what modern liberals are referring to when they accuse conservatives of being "anti-science." That is, we're the ones who supposedly approach reality with all this theological baggage, whereas they do so with a completely blank slate. They claim to accept truth where they find it, with no ideological, metaphysical, or philosophical commitments whatsoever.

The cosmos apparently went off the rails with Descartes. I personally have trouble blaming one guy for this mess, so let's just take him as the focal point of a more general trend. Descartes "strove to remove the ghostly residue of subjectivity from method and indeed to determine the form of method prior to its being conditioned by any content whatsoever."

Seems like a good idea. It's even rather seductive, isn't it? What could possibly go wrong? We'll just empty our heads of all assumptions and proceed in a purely rational manner: "We are committed in advance only to pure form and not at all to content."

Seems innocent enough, but do this and you have swallowed a whole cosmos -- an alternative cosmos. Or, one might say that you have stepped into a parallel universe, under the assumption that man has finally, after 100,000 years of wandering in the bewilderness, entered the Real World.

But remember, Descartes actually divides the world "in half" before he even starts. That is, if you begin by presupposing radically divided worlds of mind and matter, you shouldn't be surprised that this radical division will persist wherever you look and no matter how much your thinking evolves. Dude, you've rended the fabric of reality, such that there is no way to put Humpty back together, and no area rug big enough to sweep his broken fragments under it!

There is orthoparadox and there is paradox, and Descartes lands us in the latter, for in dividing reality, we end with a "false objectivity" mirrored by an arbitrary subjectivism. Or -- and this is what you'll get in a modern education -- scientism at one end and relativism at the other. Each of these is an intellectual tyranny -- for they destroy the soul's freedom -- and yet, are opposites.

I think I'll stop now, before things get too heavy for my brain to lift.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Creation is a Gift, and There's Not a Damn Thing We Can Do About It

I'm reading a book that's pulling together a lot of loose strands of the cosmic area rug, called Heart of the World, Center of the Church, by David Schindler. I don't remember how he appeared on my radar, but he is helping me see some things on a deeper and more unified level. (Very turgid, however -- can't make a general recommendation.)

Among other things, the book is a critique of liberalism, not just the fake and malevolent liberalism of the left, but the real liberalism of American conservatism. Not a condemnation of the latter, mind you, just an acknowledgement of its limitations, or better, its inherent contradictions if separated from the Christian metaphysic that first animated it.

Here is a provocative statement, but it is the key to understanding what's going on in Indiana, with the left's assault on religious freedom:

"The increasing nihilism of liberal culture is unmasked as fundamentally gay in character," ultimately grounded in a "non-nuptial" relation to God. In the Christian view, the soul is feminine in relation to God, as is the Church to Christ. Therefore, "the world's response to God" necessarily takes "the feminine form," otherwise spiritual infertility results.

Vis-a-vis Indiana, we see a total inversion of cosmic and constitutional reality, whereby sexual perversion is literally sacralized, whereas religion is deemed perverse. How has it come to this? (I'll address this question more directly in a subsequent post.)

Schindler writes of how the "marian fiat" -- the primordial Yes to God -- is "the primary or originating act that serves as the ground of all Christian life and action." Mary's "'emptiness' and her humility [o] are what make it possible for her soul to magnify -- not herself, but the Lord."

Thus, in terms of Christian anthropology, "human freedom is receptive freedom before it is creative freedom -- or better, is a freedom that becomes authentically creative only by being anteriorly receptive." This is another way of saying that (↓) is always prior to (↑) in the transnatural cosmic spiral. Which should be obvious, or not even Darwin could get off the evolutionary ground.

You might say that (↓) is pure Gift. It is given to us, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Except give it back, "by generously extending to others what has first been given and what we have always-already first received. All that is, is gift." We "gratefully receive from God," and "this provides both the warrant for the deepest meaning of [our] giving to others." This is nothing less than the "soul's magnification of the Lord and of the riches of his creation."

Now, it goes a little deeper than this, because even more than "giver," God is gift per se; or, one might say that he is irreducibly giver-gift-recipient (or love-generosity-gratitude), each always implying the other.

Conversely, the left always wants to force the giving, which of course isn't giving at all, if only because it is predicated on taking from someone else. But more insidiously, the faux-giving is just a pretext for the usurpation of force. We see this playing out in Indiana: the left doesn't really want to "give" anything to homosexuals, rather, just use the force of the state to suppress our constitutional (and before that, natural) right to freedom of religion. Obviously there can be no natural right to what is by any definition unnatural.

The creation, being a reflection of God, is gift. One might say that the gift is simply the objectification of love. Thus, for Schindler, in "the basic structure of the cosmos, logos and love are convertible."

This is why creation "opens out" to the intellect, just as the intellect is receptive to the creation. "Simply stated, meaning and intelligibility presuppose God," such that "if God goes, so go the foundations of meaning." This is the very basis of science -- and all the further gifts it brings. Or, try engaging in science with a passive-aggressive cosmos that refuses to share its secrets!

"Intelligibility -- identifiable meaning -- does not, and cannot, outlive God. Rather, following the death of God, we stray 'as through an infinite nothing.'"

The other day, Taranto linked to this thread at Reddit on the pointlessness of life. Yes, these are deranged liberals who have strayed through the infinite nothing, but one can at least admire their honesty:

"What's the point?... Happiness? Pleasure? Why would I want happiness? Why would I want others to be happy? Why should I care about other people? Why should I care about myself? Happiness is just an illusion, free will is an illusion, pleasure is an illusion, love is an illusion, sadness is an illusion, fear is an illusion, suffering is an illusion, and we are just a bunch of atoms trying to maximize entropy.

"Nothing has intrinsic meaning nor value. If the only way to create your own meaning and value is based on your own happiness, how can I create my own value knowing that emotions are just an evolutionary biological illusions to keep us running on the treadmill of life to maximize our chance to pass down our gene pool?"

Given this premise, the conclusion follows ineluctably: "And now I have very little motivation to keep studying or doing anything."

A commenter responds "I think the exact same way.... Everything just seems pointless to me, we live a life trying to achieve happiness only to die. I just don't see the point."

Interestingly, the poster ticks off all of his liberal dreams but sadly concludes that "there is a chance that I'm going to die before I can do and see all of of those things, and all the hard work is going to be for nothing. So I come to this world, struggle for imaginary happiness and die. What's the point?"

This is a transparent reflection of the left's always-futile attempt to immanentize Christian eschatological hope. When you realize you've founded your life on an illusion, it is depressing.

Note that the unconscious assumption of the leftist is that somehow he will become happy and fulfilled if he forces the rest of us to be happy on his terms. I say, why not skip the middleman -- the coercive state -- and just be happy? If you can't make yourself happy, then what makes you think the state can by proxy?

Besides, my happiness won't really make you happy. Rather, only more envious.