Friday, October 07, 2016

Between God and Religion

Another unblogged book sitting on my desk is Schuon's Christianity/Islam -- the only one of his (excluding poetry) I hadn't read. The reason I hadn't read it is in the title, as I am not particularly interested in Islam. But you know what they say: just because you don't take an interest in Islam doesn't mean Islam won't take an interest in you.

As usual, Schuon's perspective is far more universal than any single creed. He may or may not be correct, but one of his central principles is that each legitimate (God-given) revelation is an expression of universal metaphysics tailored to this or that cultural or ethnic group.

Thus the subtitle: Perspectives on Esoteric Ecumenism. For Schuon, the esoteric perspective is the only way to overcome certain inevitable incoherences and absurdities in religion -- not just in a religion, but between religions as well. As such, he is speaking of the "esoteric perspective" that transcends and unifies individual religions.

If such a thing exists. I think it is possible to take an intermediate position on the question. For example, rather than saying that only one religion is correct and all the others wrong; or that all religions are equally correct; or that all religions are equally wrong; we can say that this or that religion is a more or less adequate expression of certain truths embodied in religion as such.

Think of the analogy to music. We could say that "music as such" exists in the abstract. But in order to express musical truth or beauty, you need to "pick a path," so to speak, e.g., classical, jazz, blues, rock, whatever. Bach expressed the divine in one way, John Coltrane in another. We can't say that one or the other was wrong, even if we can affirm that one may have disclosed it more fully or adequately.

The book contains some previously unpublished letters, some of which touch on this question. For example, in one he writes that "A true metaphysician cannot unreservedly identify himself with a religious upaya [teaching or method] and take pleasure in it with a kind of nationalism, but obviously must identify with what is essential -- hence both universal and primordial..."

And yet, at the same time, Schuon always insisted that it was necessary to follow a particular religion -- just as you need a musical idiom to express music.

This is a tricky balance, for it seems as if one is trying to give oneself wholeheartedly to a religion even while holding a part of oneself in reserve, so to speak. He says, for example, that "theology tends to push" dogma "to the point of absurdity," but who could argue? Isn't this the problem of fundamentalism or literalism, which surely must alienate people who are not prepared to disable their God-given intelligence in order to embrace a "saving absurdity," so to speak.

In what Schuon calls the mundane "religious viewpoint" -- which you might say is a kind of worldly expression of the otherworldly -- there are certain "dogmatic elements" that are "unacceptable from the viewpoint of truth as such," even while "no doubt possessing a certain spiritually 'therapeutic' function." This cannot help sounding condescending, which would have once appealed to me very much.

Schuon suggests that "It is in the nature of theology to over-accentuate and exclude, and this is why no theology is intellectually perfect, though there are certainly degrees in this." I can't help agreeing with this, even though I also can't help feeling ambivalent about it.

In another letter, Schuon says he doesn't even like writing from the everyday religious perspective: "I would also just as gladly have preferred to spare myself having to deal with Muslim theology -- Lord knows how grating it can be -- but I had no choice since Sufism is situated parallel to this body of doctrine." More generally, "I am hardly enamored of exoterisms and would have preferred to deal only with pure metaphysics and the perennial religion..."

Regarding those latter two -- pure metaphysics and perennial religion -- Schuon was of the belief that the Vedanta was its most adequate expression. In another letter he writes that "we are of Christian origin, and our point of departure is the Vedanta," while being constrained to live in an essentially godless age.

Vedanta, of course, posits a radical monism. And yet, I don't see why it is intrinsically inconsistent with a trinitarianism that is an even "higher" or "deeper" expression of the same truth.

This is why one of my favorite cosmic pneumanauts is Swami Abhishiktananda, AKA the Catholic monk Henri Le Saux, who managed to reconcile the two in his own divided-but-united being.

He did so "through the medium of love, the axial Christian virtue.... The doctrine of the Trinity, understood in light of the advaita, 'reveals that Being is essentially a koinonia [fellowship] of love.' The inner mystery of non-duality 'flowers in communion and inter-subjectivity, revealing itself and coming to full expression in the spontaneous gift of the self to another.'"

"In 'the very depth' of the Upanishadic experience of identity, the Christian may discover 'a reciprocity and a communion of love which, far from contradicting... the unity and non-duality of being, is its very foundation and raison d'être.'"

Elsewhere he compares the Vedantic trinity of sat-chit-ananda to the Christian Trinity: "Being, sat, opens itself at its very source to give birth eternally to the Son..." (Very Eckhartian there.) It "is essentially 'being-with,' communion..., the free gift of the self and mutual communication of love."

Cit, i.e., consciousness or self-awareness "only comes to be when there is mutual giving and receiving, for the I only awakens to itself in a Thou."

Which I've only said about a billion times.

And ananda, the the ultimate felicity or beatitude, "is fulness and perfect fulfillment, only because it is the fruit of love, for being is love."

Ultimately "consciousness (cit) is identified with being (sat) in the infinite bliss (ananda) of the Spirit, who is... one in the Father and the Son, one in God and man, undivided [Sat-chit-ananda]."

"Thus, for Abhishiktananda, the Trinity 'resolves the antinomy of the One and the Many.'" "Christ's experience actually surpasses the Vedantic experience because it recognizes distinction... on its far side, as it were; for Jesus, God is both Other and not-Other."

Makes sense to me us three anyway.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Timeless Scene

Desk clearing time. There are several books that have been sitting on it for months, apparently because they contain some worthwhile nuggets of joy. Here's one by George Rutler called He Spoke to Us: Discerning God in People and Events. That sounds enticing: God speaks. How do we discern and decode the speech?

By the way, the title of this post is a play on Thomas Sowell's occasional desk-clearing exercises he calls Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene. Expect no continuity, or at least be prepared for sudden discontinuities.

"A Russian proverb holds that when the Lord builds a church, Satan pitches a tent across the street."

Analysis: true.

"Chesterton was entranced by the billboard lights in Times Square advertising soaps and cigarettes and hair tonic: 'What a garden of delights this place would be for anyone who couldn't read.'"

Reading is indeed overrated, at least in the wrong hands.

As we know, America's first war (after independence) was with Muslims. "In March of 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met in London with the Dey of Algiers to Britain," and "posed a simple question: Why were the Muslims so hostile to a new country that had done them no injury?"

Obviously Jefferson and Adams were not sophisticated enough to know that it was our fault.

Afterwards they reported to congress in a letter stating that "Islam was founded on the Laws of the Prophet" and "that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to paradise."

However, congress favored a strategy of appeasement -- which was not then a dirty word -- via bribery, or "tribute." Adams approved, suggesting that "We ought not to fight them at all, unless we determine to fight them forever."

What did Churchill say about choosing shame over war, and getting both?

"Tripoli broke its truce, and Jefferson launched the Tripolitan War as soon as he became president." This is of course the "shores of Tripoli" referred to in the Marine Corp Hymn. It was during this crisis that Jefferson obtained a Koran to try to understand what motivated these enemies of liberty. This is the same Koran Obama refers to when he implies that Jefferson thought favorably of Islam because it was in his library.

Ans now you know the rest of the story.

In another essay, Rutler recalls that in Syria, Hitler was hailed as "'Abu Ali,' and the Young Egypt Party called him 'Muhammad Haidar.'" And when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem visited Hitler, he "obtained a promise from [him] to liquidate the Jews of Palestine after a Nazi victory."

This is by way of a reminder that we do not contend against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and hosts of wickedness in the high places. The faces change but the forces remain.

No justice no peace. This is true, if we regard justice as the restoration of proper order, because it is harmonious order that results in peace. Which is why leftism can never result in peace, since it tries to impose order from on high in a patently unjust manner. Think of the natural harmony of man and woman in marriage. To undermine this primordial order by judicial fiat is to promote disorder and lack of peace.

"Mix sentimentality with legalism, and you have a diabolical recipe for cruelty. In the twentieth century, totalitarian systems separated power from truth. Once power is autonomous, independent of truth, it is unjust by its self-justification."

"There is no freedom without order and no order without virtue."

"What God knows is not necessarily what God wills."

"Indifference is the fanaticism of the faint of heart."

"There is a difference between skepticism and cynicism. The skeptic questions the truth, while the cynic questions the existence of truth itself."

Bill Buckley once said to a Firing Line guest: "I would like to take you seriously, but to do so would insult your intelligence."

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Creative Joy and Human Sacrifice

Well, the early appointment canceled, so I have to renege on my promised lack of a post. I'll use the space to fulfill another broken promise, which was to finish with Corbin yesterday. Then we can move on to a new subject tomorrow, or at least beat an old one to death.

Corbin sounds more trinitarian than strictly uni-theistic to me when he writes that "we must never forget that He is the Lover and the Beloved," and that "it is in His essence to be both one and the other, just as He is the Worshiped, the Worshiper, and the eternal dialogue between the two."

Indeed, if God's essence is Lover, Beloved, and the Love between; or Knower-Known-Knowledge; or Worshiper-Worshiped-Eternal Dialogue; then that seems to me more Christian than Islamic -- or at least I've never heard Muslims speak of God as a one-in-threeness, and vice versa.

Here is a major difference: instead of a preexistent Trinity of eternal communion-in-love, Corbin postulates "a Divine Being alone in His unconditioned essence, of which we know only one thing: precisely the sadness of primordial solitude that makes Him yearn to be revealed in beings who manifest Him to Himself insofar as He manifests Himself to them."

First of all: like anybody could know that. But here we confront a major difference: either God joyfully creates in such a way as to allow creatures to participate in his selfless trinitarian love; or because he is sad and lonely.

No, really: creation "is not the bursting into being of an autarchic Omnipotence, but a fundamental sadness: 'I was a hidden Treasure, I yearned to be known. That is why I produced creatures, in order to be known by them.' This phase is represented as the sadness of the divine Names suffering anguish in nonknowledge because no one names them, and it is this sadness that descended in the divine Breath which is Compassion and existentiation..."

Eh, I don't buy it.

The following, however, rings a bell which 'peals to the process theologian in me: that "creation springs" from "the potencies and virtualities latent in His own unrevealed being," such that "the Creation is essentially the revelation of the Divine Being, first to himself, a luminescence occurring within Him."

Yeah, I think God surprises himself. But only eternally. Otherwise, how can we call him "Creator"?

I do not believe God creates because he's sad. On the other hand, I do believe the creation must sometimes -- okay, often -- make him sad. Or maybe angry. But one cannot believe a moral agent -- let alone the ground of moral agency -- can be neutral, for example, with regard to members of the Islamic State who urge western followers to engage in random knife attacks:

"Many people are often squeamish of the thought of plunging a sharp object into another person’s flesh. It is a discomfort caused by the untamed, inherent dislike for pain and death, especially after 'modernization' distanced males from partaking in the slaughtering of livestock for food and the striking of the enemy in war.... However, any such squirms and discomforts are never an excuse for abandoning jihad."

News you can use!

Oh, and although the Koran calls for decapitation (Sura 8:12), "jihadists are encouraged to go for major organs, arteries or the neck, but not the skull as their knife blade may break. 'It is advised to not necessarily attempt to fully detach the head, as the absence of technique can cause a person to spend a long time attempting to do so, that is, unless the individual’s circumstances and capabilities allow for such.'"

As we've been suggesting, God appears in the form of our ability to comprehend him. What to make of this grotesque form? It is not as if they are the first to call for human sacrifice as a way to obey and manifest the Almighty.

The imagination "is subject to two possibilities, since it can reveal the Hidden only by continuing to veil it. It is a veil; this veil can become so opaque as to imprison us and catch us in the trap of idolatry" (Corbin).

The imagination is a space where nonlocal realities -- ranging from the upper to lower vertical -- are "materialized." Logically, the only "cure" for the murderous jihadis is Christ crucified, which satisfies the idolatrous impulse to engage in human sacrifice once and for all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Ground and Principle

Another early appointment tomorrow (Wednesday), so no post. As for this post, I think we'll try to wrap up our discussion of Corbin, because it seems like he's getting a little rerepetitive.

Which I've noticed before in the most frightfully intelligent writers -- that they tend to ramble, repeat themselves, and generally think out loud, thus taxing the reader's patience. This is no doubt a problem of editing; either the lowly editor doesn't understand what the writer is saying, or he is too intimidated to confront him. After all, if the editor could understand everything the Great Man is saying, and express it in a more focussed and succinct manner, he'd be even greater.

I'm noticing the same thing with Churchill, now that I'm moving beyond the immortal phrases and passages, down into the weeds from which they were plucked. Once you do this, the brilliance-to-banality ratio isn't quite so one-sided.

At the other extreme are Dávila and Schuon, for whom each sentence is as if chiseled from granite. I would love to write a book in which each sentence was as concise as Dávila and as penetrating as Schuon. I even have a title for this imaginal book: Ground and Principle. You could say that it would consist of principles that penetrate all the way to the ground; or illuminate the ground from which the principles flow.

For example, yesterday's post touched upon Eckhart's conception of the divine ground, which is close to mine. The best explication of this is in McGinn's The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart: The Man from Whom God Hid Nothing.

This is not a book I "learned from" per se. Rather, it was more a shock of recognition, or what I call a vertical recollection. You know the feeling: although in one sense the material may be "new," the sensation is quite distinct, like a key fitting into a door, or the cosmic slot machine paying off. Like this:

Here is Corbin repeating his main point about the nature of the divine ground in man: "the divine form hidden in your being" is "the secret primordial Image in which He knows himself in you and by you, the image you must contemplate in order to become aware that 'he who knows himself knows his Lord.'"

This Image is paradoxically "the same" and "different" from ourselves. Or better, it is "not the same," and yet, "not different": "you know yourself with another knowledge, different from that which you had when you knew your Lord by the knowledge you had of yourself." If I understand him correctly, it's like transitioning from your meager image of God to God's more explosive image of himself in you.

"They [God and man] are not two heterogeneous beings, but one being encountering himself," or a "bi-unity" in which "the same ardent Desire is the cause of the Manifestation and the cause of the Return." Thus, you could say that the ultimate ground of being is this go-round of being from God to man and back again.

Which no doubt sounds cute or annoying or mystagogic, but sitting before me on my desk is a xeroxed passage from Peter Kreeft's Summa of the Summa, which I recognized (via recognosis) the moment I laid eyes on it:

"[T]he overall scheme of the Summa, like that of the universe, is an exitus-redditus, or an exit from and a return to God, Who is both Alpha and Omega. God is the ontological heart that pumps the blood of being through the arteries of creation into the body of the universe, which wears a human face, and receives it back through the veins of man's life of love and will."

And knowledge. Or, let's say the ardent desire for, and love of, truth.

In any event, the structure -- or better, ground -- of the creation is "dynamic. It is not like information in a library, but like blood in a being."

Ooooh. That's a bingO!

For it is God who... is the Source and Origin which yearned precisely for this determinate Form, for his own anthropomorphosis. Thus love exists eternally as an exchange, a permutation between God and creature.

Ardent Desire, compassionate nostalgia, and encounter exist eternally, and delimit the area of being. Each of us understands this according to his own degree of being and his spiritual aptitude. --Henry Corbin

Monday, October 03, 2016

Betwixt & Between

We left off Friday with the suggestion that "God describes himself to himself -- and to us -- through ourselves in communion with him. Thus, 'by knowing Him I give Him being' (Corbin). And vice versa, because it is the same inspiraling movement."

Let's see if we can make any further nonsense of this. God gives man the being through which man knows God's being. Thus, it is ultimately "God who makes Himself into God" -- which reminds me of the distinction in the godhead between Being and Beyond-Being. In Schuon's "universal metaphysics," the first movement is from Beyond-Being to Being; the latter is absolute relative to us, but relative from the standpoint of Beyond-Being:

"Being does not coincide with the 'pure Absolute'; it pertains to the Divine Order inasmuch as it is a direct reflection of the Absolute in the Relative, and consequently it is what may be termed paradoxically the 'relatively absolute'" (Schuon).

Indeed, "If the personal God were the Absolute as such, He could not be an interlocutor for man" (ibid.). In other words, again, in order to enter communion with man, God must first appear in a form which man is able to recognize and assimilate. But of Beyond-Being, we can know nothing, precisely. It is the apophatic God, whereas the cataphatic God coincides with his Being-ness -- his manifestavus for the restavus.

Perhaps something sounds wrong or heretical or unorthodox about this. Maybe so, but this is certainly one of the keys to understanding what Meister Eckhart is going on about: "God is nothing. No thing. God is nothingness; and yet God is something. God is neither this thing nor that thing that we can express. God is a being beyond all being; God is a beingless being."

Or "The final goal of being is the darkness and the unknowability of the hidden divinity, which is that light which shines 'but the darkness cannot comprehend it.'" "God is a being beyond being and a nothingness beyond being."

And in one that goes directly to what is said in the first paragraph above, "Just as God breaks through me, so do I break through God in return." In other words, it is two sides of a single movement: "It presses on deeper and deeper into the vortex" and "further and further into the whirlpool" where "God gushes up within himself."

Here is another from the Meister that goes directly to the idea of God wishing to be known by God via humans, so to speak: "Now, it is the nature of a word to reveal what is hidden. The Word that is hidden still sparkles in the darkness and whispers in the silence. It entices us to pursue it, to yearn and sigh after it. For it wishes to reveal to me something about God."

I might add that -- at least in my opinion -- it would be an error to think of Being and Beyond Being as separate; rather, I unvision it as a kind of single flowing movement, or perpetual outflowing from the ultimate source and ground. But just as the the river cannot be separated from the spring from which it flows (or light rays from the sun), God cannot be separated from Godhead.

Back to Corbin: God is "Presence of Himself to Himself, since the being who knows is the very same being in whom He knows Himself." Really, man is just a further iteration of this primordial divine whirlpool of self-knowledge. Which is why we can say, for example, that any knowledge is ultimately knowledge of God.

In fact, there are other human categories that make no sense in the absence of God, for example, authority and law. We have no moral obligation to obey an unjust law. Why? Because such a law is the negation of law, precisely.

And what is authority? Is it just "turtles all the way up," with no ground in a transcendent reality? No, that is tyranny, i.e., authority rooted in nothing but power. Power, in order to be legitimate, must ultimately be rooted in God or nothing.

I remember a gag about a captain of the Royal Navy, who said something to the effect that "if there is not God, than I am not the captain." It also reminds me of people who talk about "first amendment protected speech." This begs the question of why speech is protected at all. The larger point is that speech is grounded in truth and therefore God. Omit that idea and speech is reduced to a privilege granted by the state.

In fact, why do humans have rights at all? There can be no right that doesn't ultimately descend from God. Otherwise they can be granted or denied at will by man.

If we are images of God, this is another way of saying that we are mirrors for God. I read somewhere that Jesus is, as it were, God's image of man and man's image of God; he is a two-way mirror.

Corbin compares it to "an ellipse, one focus of which is the being of God for and through me, while the other is my being for and through Him..." It is an "area enclosing the the two of us," where "He is for me in proportion to my capacity for Him and in which my knowledge of Him is His knowledge of me."

Yes, Corbin is a little repetitive, but perhaps such a strange idea bears repetition. "We have given Him the power to manifest himself through us, Whereas He gave us the power to exist through Him. Thus the role is shared between Him and us" (ibid.).

Say, just what religion do you profess, Preacher?

The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.