Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hope: Natural and Supernatural

This is a post from five years ago BUT it converges on the previous two posts, as it has to do with appropriate and inappropriate forms of hope, i.e., hope as virtue and hope as developmental arrest. It has also been edited and tweaked here & there:

Pieper discusses the quite natural relationship between hope and youth, noting that the two are "ordered to one another in manifold ways."

This almost requires no explanation, and yet, is quite important -- and now that I think about it, undoubtedly helps to explain certain well known psycho-spiritual political pathologies of youth. For example, when the florid hope of youth is combined with its intrinsic lack of wisdom and experience, it produces... well, you name it. Obama is only their latest gift to the world.

Why anyone would place their hope in politics and politicians is quite beyond me; then again, I have only to think back to my own youth to realize that it's actually quite behind me. After all, my first vote was for Jimmy Carter, and in 1980 he was too conservative for me, so my preferred candidate was Barry Commoner of the illoustrious Citizens Party, a socialist front that mainly spread hysteria about nuclear power plants.

Pieper writes that merely natural hope "blossoms with the strength of youth and withers when youth withers." Again, no doubt true. This is obviously a sobering reality, but again, I think it explains why older people who should know better cling to the callow political enthusiasms of their youth. How else could a grown man be taken in by Obama's vacuous hopey-changey rhetoric?

It seems to me that one explanation might be the attempt to revive the kind of exciting hope for the future they once had as adolescents. As they say, when you see an old man with a young woman, it's not her youth he's after.

Likewise, when you see an old fart like Chris Matthews getting all tingly upon hearing his boyfriend speak, the real source of the excitement is not Obama's vague future but Matthews' own specific past. Thus, his recent disillusionment with Obama is just the other side of the prior auto-illusionment. He has awakened to his own projection, and yet, has learned nothing, since he now blames Obama for failing to uphold his beautiful illusion!

Being that politics is a substitute religion for the left, it is understandable that liberals would be prone to creating earthly messiahs. In reality, the entire process obviously took place in Matthews' own fat and spluttering head, that is, the illusion followed by the inevitable disillusion.

Now, the loss of natural hope brings with it the growth of what we might call "natural despair." This only makes sense. In the absence of any transnatural form of hope, it is simply an ironclad law of nature that when we are young the past is essentially irrelevant while the future is virtually unlimited. It is so full of potential that it can be mistaken for O, and can easily serve as a poor substitute.

But as we age, the past grows long while the future inevitably shrinks to nothing. How could one not be quite literally dis-illusioned? As Pieper describes it, the "not yet" of youth "is turned into the has-been," and we become a kind of bittersweet repository of "memories of what is 'no more.'"

Perhaps you have to be of my generation, but for me, there is nothing quite as pathetic as when pledge-drive time rolls around, and PBS disinters the usual decroded hippies to croon the same seedy songs they did 40 or 50 years ago, in the same way, hopefully kindling the same rancid emotions. As if hope is the same thing as embalming fluid.

Can you imagine having to sing something you wrote at the age of 20, while expressing the same emotions you felt then, with conviction? It is no wonder then that these people literally haven't taken a new political imprint since 1967. Ironic too that this desperate flight into the past is called "progressive."

This whole sad spectacle can be avoided with properly ordered hope. Pieper is at pains to emphasize that hope in and of itself is no kind of virtue. Rather, it only becomes a theological virtue when it converges upon its proper transnatural target.

Likewise, hopelessness and cynicism would be quite appropriate in a wholly materialistic worldview, for what is there to hope for aside from the grim maximization of an ever-dwindling pleasure while pretending death isn't right outside the door?

This very different type of transnatural hope is by no means tied to natural youth. However, consistent with Jesus' statements regarding the importance of holy childlikeness, this hope "bestows on mankind a 'not yet' that is entirely superior to and distinct from the failing strength of man's natural hope."

Looked at in this way, adolescents are more than a little hopeless before they gain real wisdom, and especially hopeless, or pathetic, if the condition persists well into adulthood, as it generally does in our tenured and media retardentsia.

Now interestingly, properly ordered (supernatural) hope has the effect of re-infusing, so to speak, natural hope, hence, the cheerful optimism of the Raccoon. We have discussed in the past how (↓) has a kind of "rejuvenating" effect, and how, for example, people literally feel "lighter" after attending a religious service.

Indeed, if I wake up feeling "heavy," I always feel lighter after a post, which is one of the reasons I persist in these verticalisthenics -- to keep the existential pounds off, so to speak. I would no more give up the habit than I would stop exercising.

Pieper writes of "the enchanting youthfulness of our great saints," for "nothing more eminently preserves and founds 'eternal youth' than the theological virtue of hope. It alone can bestow on man the certain possession of that aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, that adaptability and readiness, that strong-hearted freshness, that resilient joy, that steady perseverance in trust that so distinguish the young and make them so lovable."

Which is why we may say with Pieper: God is younger than all else.

And why we may say with Petey: Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM. The circle unbroken by and by, a Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes.

For in the end, hope is nothing more or less than a trusting and childlike Yes! to the Creator, and the faithful certainty that his creation is indeed good.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Seven Principles, Three Streams, One Love

Referring back to those first three cosmic principles discussed in yesterday's post, they are -- in case you didn't notice -- the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love respectively. Faith is vertical openness, for which we even have a handy symbol, (o).

The second, hope, reminds me of an analogue of God's own kenosis, whereby he empties himself of himself in order to be here below; you might say that we must likewise empty ourselves of ourselves in order to be with God above, in a kind of perpetual movement "toward a fulfillment that cannot be reached in bodily existence."

This is close enough to the symbol (---), which means the attainment of silence, peace, stillness, and tranquility, such that the absolute may be made manifest in us. We must maintain this tension in order for the divine energies to be rendered operative.

The third -- love -- is again in imitation of the Trinity. Love is simply the fact of eternal intersubjectivity, mutuality, self-offering, etc. It is distinction without separation; or better, distinction for the purposes of a higher and deeper union.

Moving on to the next four principles, these are, as you might have guessed, prudence, justice, courage, and temperance, AKA the cardinal virtues.

The first one is huge, and among other things, undoes the subjective turn initiated by Kant, whereby we are trapped in our own neurology and therefore barred access to reality.

Consider: prudence involves making decisions and rendering actions based upon reality revealing itself to us. Ever since Kant, revealing itself is precisely what reality cannot do; thus the provenance of "perception is reality," which represents the precise inversion of prudence.

Yes, I am being slightly unfair to Kant, who would have been horrified at what people ended up doing with his ideas. Nevertheless, once you make that fatal choice -- of beginning with the subject instead of objects -- there is no stopping the eventual reductio ad absurdum of the tenured. As Pieper says, "Man's life is authentic only when he does not allow his vision of reality to be clouded by the yes or no of his own desire."

In short, when it comes to prudent thought and action, we must say Yes to the It Is, No to the I Wish. Note, for example, how most all of the troubles caused by our first postmodern president are due to his imprudent devotion to the I Wish of ideology. Simple as.

Although there are allied catastrophes, most notably, the gnostic cancellation of #2 above, i.e., collapsing the vertical space in order to force heaven upon us now. Ironically, this is what Obama calls hope, which is none other than the abandonment of proper theological hope oriented toward its nonlocal vertical object. Doing so is audacious. I'll give him that.

Speaking of the left, just as liberal hope represents the abandonment of (and by!) real hope, "social justice" involves the negation of our fifth principle, justice. Justice means "the art of living with others in such a way that [one] gives to each what is rightfully his."

Conversely, social justice means deploying the violence of the state to take what is rightfully ours in order to "spread it around" in a way that satisfies third parties. But theft is still theft.

Social Justice also involves the violence of the mob -- as in Ferguson or Baltimore -- to undermine the Is in the name of some mythic Wish. Likewise, there is no War on Women -- although there is surely a war on womanhood by the the left in general and feminists in particular, which represents another rejection of the cosmic Is.

Real justice requires courage, and it takes no courage to be a Social Justice Warrior raiding the public treasury. Is it courageous for Obama to have run up another 10 trillion dollars in debt in order to gift his constituents with other people's money? Yes, as courageous as it is for water to flow downhill.

In reality, it would require courage not to have done this (remember what was said above about saying Yes to Isness and No to Wishes). In contrast, the prudent man "knows that it is necessary to put himself on the line in order to realize the good in this world. He is ready -- with courage -- to accept loss and injuries for the sake of truth and justice."

Our seventh cosmic principle is temperance, "or self-discipline that protects [man] from the self-destruction of pleasure seeking." In a way, we come back to that cosmic turn to the subject and all it implies, for the last word in pleasure must involve being one's own god. In a stroke, this collapses the vertical space, places one in a loveless, narcissistic void, and authorizes desire as the law of the soul.

The very next chapter is another extremely compact one -- little more than half a page -- called Three Streams of Life. Let's see if it can put the finishing touches on what was said above. (I haven't read it yet, but I have a feeling it will be relevant, since all Principles must interact.)

Before we begin, note that around here we often speak of two streams of life, and by extension, a third, that is, (↓), (↑), and their prolongation into the horizontal world, (→).

"The supernatural life in man," observes Pieper, "has three main currents." The first is "the reality of God," which "manifests itself to faith."

In other words, faith -- which is a supernatural inclination or preconceptual readiness to reach out to our nonlocal source -- is already evidence of its object. Just as we wouldn't have eyes were it not for the existence of light, we wouldn't have faith were it not for the supernatural light detected and gathered by faith.

The second stream -- love -- is the affirmation of "the Highest Good, which has become visible beneath the veil of faith." If the paragraph above is (↓), why then this must be (↑).

The third stream is hope, which I would say must have to do with the eventual fulfillment of (↓↑), i.e,, "comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God." But we already take a share in this via (→), do we not, for what is terrestrial love but another icon of the Trinity and the Life therein?

(All quoted material from An Anthology by Josef Pieper.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

See More with Celestial Principles

When it feels as if there is nothing left to say, it is helpful to revert to first principles. This is like venturing back upstream to the source of thought, whereas down in the lowlands things can appear rather soggy and saturated. But at the source, the water is always fresh and invigorating.

Especially in this day and age, in which there is much more information than anyone could ever assimilate, we need simple principles to organize and reduce it to order and hierarchy (which amount to the same thing), but without distorting or occluding the facts on the ground. With our principles in place, we can see more, not less.

Schuon makes this point in a number of his books. For example, he writes that "Assuredly there are no such things as 'problems of our time' in the philosophers' sense of the expression."

In other words, "there is no thought that one could describe as 'new' in its very foundation," even if there are questions that "belong to our time" -- such as the relationship between science and faith, which wasn't really problematic prior to the so-called scientific revolution.

And yet, the question isn't truly new, and there exist "ancient principles" (for example in Aristotle) that are still as useful as ever in addressing it. Certainly neo-Aristotelian philosophy of science will carry you much further into reality than vulgar scientism or metaphysical Darwinism.

Here is the exact passage I was looking for, in To Have a Center: "There is the order of principles, which is immutable, and the order of information -- traditional or otherwise -- of which one can say that it is inexhaustible."

What I would say is that the expert is entitled to his inexhaustible information, while every man, as man, is entitled to the cosmic principles that render his life intelligible, meaningful, and fulfilling.

And this is the function of religion, not just to assure the latter three, but prior to that, to render the principles -- often in implicate, or symbolic, or mythic terms -- available to every man at every time.

God decidedly does not limit his wisdom to philosophers, intellectuals, and the tenured. Rather, it is equally available in principle to everyone, while addressed to the level they are at -- which is probably what offends the narcissism of the philosophers, intellectuals, and tenured.

Note the title of the book: To Have a Center. This center -- we call it Celestial Central, or Upper Tonga -- is the home of the Principles, or the Principles' Orifice, AKA O.

At the same time, embracing the Principles will help to "centralize" yʘu. These principles, since they are higher up in the cosmic food chain, illuminate what is below; for example, as God illuminates man, man illuminates the animal world. That the reverse is also true is only because of the first principle; in other words, man couldn't illuminate God unless God first illuminated man. As above, so below.

In another book, Schuon says that "To speak of religion is to speak of a meeting between the celestial and the terrestrial, the divine and the human" -- or the Absolute and Relative, the One and Many, the Eternal and Temporal, the Wave and Particle, etc. Speaking of Principles, one of ours is Complementarity, such that "To know what man is, is to know what God is, and conversely" (Schuon)

In a manner of speaking, of course. The principles do not precisely map the territory: "there is of necessity a gap between the expression and the thing expressed, hence between doctrine and reality." It is easy enough for the bonehead atheist to criticize religion, but "no doctrine can be identical to what it intends to express," and in the case of religion, we are trying to express the inexpressible (or translingual).

The point is not to drag religion down from the peaks to the plains and then understand the higher in terms of the lower. Anyone can do that! Rather, the principles under discussion "furnish a coherent scheme of points of reference more or less elliptical by definition but in any case sufficient to lead mental perception towards a given aspect of the real."

Or, just imagine, say, a three dimensional reality transformed into two. Each point on the plane will refer to a point in the higher space. This certainly goes to the problem of biblical literalism, which likewise reduces the higher dimensions to the lower.

So anyway, one of our favorite foundational texts is Josef Pieper's Anthology. Pieper is already as concise and economical as can be, and this anthology boils him down even further to the essence of the essence, or one might say the Principles of the principles.

For example, there is a chapter called Seven Statements, one page in length. It begins with the claim that "The wisdom of the West expresses the sum total of what man 'ought to' do in seven sentences."

Really? All wisdom reduced to seven sentences? That's what I'm talkin' about!, i.e., rendering this baffling world intelligible.

First: "Man, insofar as he realizes his meaning... opens himself by listening to God's word wherever he can perceive it."

This can be reduced even further by simply affirming that man is an open system on the vertical plane -- just as he is an open system on the level of physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, and everything else.

And in fact, these latter openings are only possible because of the first; they are all ultimately shadows of the Trinity, which is openness and relation as such.

Second -- and this is a biggie -- "Man is true to himself only when he is stretching forth... toward a fulfillment that cannot be reached in his bodily existence."

Or in other words, do not be tempted to collapse the vertical space between man and God, for this is where Real Life takes place. Both of my quotes in the comment box go directly to this principle, that man is always between, such that he cannot eliminate the betweenness without abolishing himself.

Third (and I am condensing): man "finds it good that God, the world and himself exist." Note that this is not a feeling but a principle. To understand it is to stand most of our usual concerns on their heads.

For example, while the existence of evil is a problem, an even more mysterious problem is the existence of good! In fact, evil is parasitic on the good, and we can only even recognize it because of our implicit awareness of the good. This same principle accounts for the beauty, rationality, and intelligibility of the world.

To be continued...

Monday, December 28, 2015

Man is a Bridge to Nowhere. Or Everywhere. Your Call.

I'm not yet prepared to get behind the wheel of the cosmic bus. Therefore, I've plucked a post from five years back, one of what now amounts to 2,773 possibilities. That's a lot of posts. I wonder how many book pages that would translate to? 10,000?


We begin with an invOcation:

Human destiny is to hear and respond to God's speech in creation and thus, as the principium in the created universe, to draw all things back to their ultimate source. --Bernard McGinn

Back to our free associations on Self and Spirit. Bolton puts forth the perennial idea that mankind is the mediator between God and nature, or creator and creation. Therefore, human beings are surely creatures, but they cannot only be creatures, since we transcend our creaturehood even while being rooted in it. Transcendence is an ineluctable cosmic category that pretty much blows Darwin out of the water. Gosh!

That is, our transcendence of nature would be an inexplicable absurdity, not to mention a bizarre nuisance, if it were not connected to, and explained by, its own source, which is "above" not below. In other words, we cannot begin our metaphysic by denying the consciousness that engages in metaphysics.

You could say that in man there is a union of two natures that produces a third thing.

Now, at this point I am going to ask you to use your imagination, since I don't know how to reproduce the images in the book. Just imagine a triangle, with the base at the bottom and apex at the top. At the top is the divine-human archetype, or let's just say that of which we are the image.

This bifurcates into the other two points of the triangle, which are male and female (the base below). In turn, the union of male and female produces their third. Thus, draw another triangle, this one the inverse of the above, with the apex now at the bottom. If you're still with me, God should be at the top and the baby at the bottom.

As I wrote in my book, the neurologically incomplete baby is not just the hinge of cosmic evolution, but the very point of entry for our humanness, the narrow neck through which we must all pass on the way to maturity.

As such, we have a novel way of understanding Bolton's observation that "the fourth element is in a sense a recapitulation of the first on a lower level, which also has some bearing on the meaning of childhood in relation to God."

For the baby -- the divine child, as it were -- is indeed a sort of earthly analogue of God, in that he knows no boundaries, is innocent and "omnipotent," and embodies a kind of infinite potential. I don't think it is any coincidence whatsoever that the baby Jesus is so central to Christian iconography.

Another way of considering the same triangle is to place God at the top, only now bifurcating into providence (or destiny) and fate, or perhaps freedom and necessity. Once again, place a second triangle below, with man representing the union of fate and providence.

Here again, this encapsulates the irreducible irony, as it were, of the human condition, which makes us simultaneously apes and/or gods, so to speak. How could one not laugh at the predicament? But once again, we see that the man below is an earthly analogue of God above. Man is the "cosmic baby," with all that implies. Like a baby, we are born with a kind of infinite potential (relatively speaking) that we may or may not fulfill. And to fulfill it, we must indeed "imitate the Creator."

Either way, we must somehow reconcile fate and providence. As the old gag goes, "the stars incline, but do not compel." However, as reader Will reminds us, they do indeed compel in the absence of insight, or self-understanding.

In short, as we discussed at length a couple of weeks ago, fate is precisely what interferes with our destiny. Or, to put it colloquially, if you remain on the path you're on, you're liable to end up where you're headed. Which could very well be a waste of a perfectly good cosmos. So if you see a fork in the transdimensional road, by all means take it. Or in other words, just say Yes to God.

Now, Bolton makes the interesting observation that Adam and Eve are created on the sixth and final day of creation, after the rest of the creatures (which, when you think about it, is entirely consistent with an evolutionary worldview, only in a higher key). As such, "on this basis, the human being can be taken to be resultant of divine action and the created natural order as a whole." Human beings are last because they are first; or first because they are last.

In any event, the point is that humans, and only humans, recapitulate the whole of creation within their very substance, which you might say is "two natures" in one being. We are simultaneously fully animal and man, with two distinct wills with which we must grapple and try to reconcile.

Which may well be why Freud came up with the idea of id and superego to talk about the lower and higher selves. "Id" is simply the German word for "it." We are all inhabited by the It, are we not? Usually, a mind parasite is a kind of unholy union of the It and a purloined piece of our subjectivity. Come to think of it, you could draw another triangle on that basis, which is why our mind parasites become the equivalent of "unconscious gods," if you will, or even if you don't.

There you go: Bolton notes that the lower realm (remember, human beings necessarily embody all realms) "represents the life of instinct which attaches to the body, ruled by pleasure and pain, because its higher possibilities depend on its participation in those of the soul." In short, we must baptize the It in order to redeem its vital energies.

Now, you could say that man was and is a cosmic necessity, in the sense that only he binds the higher and lower. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it: "Unless there was such a being as man, comprising both archetypal and material reality at once, Providence and Fate (or nature) would have no means of relating to one another." Man's primary vocation is therefore "bridge builder," or "universal pontifex," "so long as it is understood that this function is a potentiality in need of realization."

Where does this leave Christ?

"[T]he mediation of Christ as Redeemer is both the prototype of man's cosmic mediation, as well as being the revealed basis of salvation." He is the fulfillment of what would otherwise be only a kind of unfulfillable longing in man.

It is in the cosmos of natural kinds that the fulness of the Being of the world must needs unfold and manifest itself, and man is the being in which this fulness becomes fulfilled and comes into its own. This is precisely the reason why God's absolute fulness of Being can choose man as the being and the vessel in which to reveal his own inner fulness to the world. --Hans Urs von Balthasar