Friday, July 14, 2017

The Good News and the Fake News

Just another rambling interior dialogue with myself, AKA circumnavelgazing the vast and luminous ocean of... Friday, I guess.

It's tricky enough for human beings to know what is, but it's equally important to know what is important. It seems that the purpose of religion is to provide a shorthand means to accomplish both, because not everyone -- few people, actually -- have the time or aptitude to do this on their own. Indeed, left to their own devices, they will nearly always get it wrong.

How do we know this? Consider the purpose of college, which was to set aside a space free of worldly concerns, so that Really Smart People could explore the nature of What Is and helps us understand What Is Important. How's that working out?

Note that their theories -- in particular, in the social sciences -- come and go, while premodern approaches such as Christianity and Buddhism are still with us.

The idea we're playing with is that religion is an expression of Religion -- in other words, that there is a universal truth prior to religion, but which religion embodies and expresses. It seems to me that the great majority of religious folk would reject this idea out of hand. But how can any doctrine be self-authenticating? Mustn't there be an external criteria of truth against which to compare it?

I haven't fully thought this through, but I'm guessing that believers appeal to such external criteria all the time, but without acknowledging it. Let's take an obvious example: just because one is a Christian, this doesn't mean one cannot make an appeal to common sense. And yet, common sense is not an explicit part of Christian doctrine.

Analogously, is there an "uncommon sense," an eternal Truth written on our hearts? If so, it is something we have either forgotten or has become obscured by layers of passion, self-interest, cultural nonsense, higher education, what have you.

Here again, a shorthand way of expressing this truth is to simply say that man is fallen and be done with it. Man cannot save himself, which is another way of saying that he no longer has access to the truth that saves and liberates, so he must receive it from an external source. Hence the need of revelation.

It just occurred to me. You know the old gag that where two or three gather in His name, there I AM? Well, conversely, where two or three get together while explicitly excluding Him, then there the anti-Christ appears in their midst. Do you see why? The principle operates as surely and inevitably as a mathematical equation. You can commune with O or with Ø. There is no in between.

You must surrender to what surpasses you. This presupposes recognition of what surpasses oneself, and how many tenured do that? Isn't the whole point of tenure to set oneself up as the authority? It is a spiritual practice, but an inverted one we call the Way of Pride.

There are actually two parts to this: 1) recognition, and 2) surrender. One way to tell if you have truly recognized what transcends you is that you will spontaneously bow before it. This is something the mediocre man cannot -- or more likely, will not -- do.

I'm thinking of a proud atheist of my acquaintance. Several, come to think of it. I cannot imagine them bowing before anything or anyone. But that is only testimony to the fact that they recognize no reality -- and certainly no authority -- higher than themselves.

Which is another way of saying they recognize no reality, full stop. And they are hardly atypical. To recognize greatness is to want to submit to it.

The friend who is staying with us has a weekly men's Bible study group at his house. Being temporarily homeless, it more or less took place at my place. He mentioned that he had always been captivated by the image of the knight, who is a warrior but bows before the good king who in turn bows before God. I can't explain it as well as he did, but the idea is that he is restrained by a kind of vertical reality to which he willingly submits. In the absence of that reality, the knight is just a trained killer.

Back to the main subject: essence and form. Do they apply all the way up through religion and into God? Here is how Schuon explains it: "by definition every religion has to present itself as the only possible one, since its point of view is dependent on the Truth and consequently must exclude any danger of relativism..."

In other words, the Absolute is Absolute, just as God is God. There can be only one. The moment it sets foot in finitude, it is something other than the Absolute, and yet, it must express Absoluteness in a way accessible to man. The most essential lesson from this is that the Absolute is. Knowing it is, we submit to it.

Just so, the Great Danger is relativism in all its forms. It is the metacosmic Error of errors. And isn't this the lesson of Genesis 3? For when man falls, he falls precisely into relativism, tenure, and fake news.

34 comments:

julie said...

Let's take an obvious example: just because one is a Christian, this doesn't mean one cannot make an appeal to common sense. And yet, common sense is not an explicit part of Christian doctrine.

Indeed; so much so that there are some Christians who explicitly reject some of what most people consider "common sense" because it conflicts with their understanding of the Bible. Which is a little frustrating, actually; if God Is, then nothing that is True can be in conflict with Him. Even if our understanding is not adequate to the task of understanding precisely how a truth is compatible.

julie said...

You must surrender to what surpasses you.

Humility is recognizing that one is, in essence, dirt (humus) with character...

Chris said...

The problem with the transcendent unity of religions is that it reduces all "true" traditions (particularly the theistic ones) into symbols or images of a deeper underlying religion (unqualified non-dualism), making them merely "relatively true". But, what that amounts to is that the central tenets of an given faith are not really true and basically involves a forced homogenization to the position of Advaita Vedanta. It's as if folks like Madhva, Nimbarka, Ramanuja, Anselm, Avicenna, and Aquinas just didn't get it. Moreover, the TUOR implies that the Incarnation, the Sun Dance religion of the Americas, and the Koran are all equally salvific for their "human receptacles" as Schuon would put in. There is something extremely appealing about this (even elegant in an Aristotelean way) for our modern egalitarian sensibilities. I'm just not sure if it squares with reality.

Gagdad Bob said...

-- it reduces all "true" traditions (particularly the theistic ones) into symbols or images of a deeper underlying religion

Why symbols? That's like saying an individual human is only a symbol of humanness.

Gagdad Bob said...

Also, as I've said, I disagree with Schuon in placing Shankara at the top of the vertical heap. I'm a Trinity man, although I also imagine a kind of ultimate complementarity between threeness and oneness. Which I think is just another way of approaching the "distinct but undivided" orthoparadox.

"The Transcendent Trinity of Religions." Good title for a book...

Gagdad Bob said...

And it goes without saying that no one is ever obligated to agree with me to remain a Raccoon in good standing. That's for Petey to decide.

Gagdad Bob said...

And Ted was right: Douthat's Bad Religion is an interesting book, at least in a sociological way. I'm only halfway through, but I think it shows the futility of trying to resolve the "religious problem" on the exoteric plane. I'm sure I'll be blogging about this one, because it dovetails with what we've been discussing, i.e., the Religion behind religiosity....

ted said...

Glad you're enjoying it! You're ahead of me since I've only skimmed parts of it thus far. Trying to get through a couple other reads first. Look forward to your blogging about it.

ted said...

Bob: I agree it's impossible to reconcile religion on the exoteric plane (maybe even on the esoteric plane). Yet, I had a discussion with a person I respect as a deep thinker, and he's convinced that if you believe Christianity to be True in any way, you have to take the Christology that Jesus was the only son (avatar) of God. And taking the quasi-Perennialist position that Jesus was just another great sage/saint among many others will never do. What's your take on this?

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm sure you have to accept Christianity -- and Christ -- on its own terms, and not try to make it into something it isn't.

Who do you say that I am? is still the relevant question.

Chris said...

Hi Bob,

I appreciate your response. My comment about "symbols" was a general description of the Perennilaist exoteric-esoteric distinction in which "mere theology" is transcended by a deeper mystical Truth- the eternal religion, Sanatana Dharma. If that were the case, than as I said, I think that amounts to saying that doctrines like the Trinity are "exoteric" and not " true" in the ultimate sense. They would be, as one Perennialist called it, a "noble lie."

So I think that we are actually in agreement. I, too, am partial to a Trinitarian perspective of complementarity of the One and the Many. But, it seems to me that such a position cannot be reconciled with Schuon's core committments like the distinction between the Absolute and the relative Absolute in which individuality and difference is subsumed into Nirguna Brahman, or "Beyond- Being". My view is that a truly nondual position cannot relegate difference to a lower or "illusory" level of reality.

Gagdad, btw, I'm not trying to be a pain in the neck- I just know that Schuon has greatly influenced you (and me as well), so I'm interested in your point of view on issues that I think are problematic and that I think are very important.

Gagdad Bob said...

I think of Schuon more as an inspiration than influence per se. Or, the influence comes by way of inspiration. Some things resonate, others don't. I try not to worry about it and just let it flow. Think of a completely absurd combination of Schuon and the Dude. I guess that's me.

ted said...

The Raccoon Abides :)

julie said...

If memory serves, even Schuon advised people to pick a faith and go with it: if Christian, then be Christian in a serious, orthodox tradition.

Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely: Schuon would tell Christian followers that he may be their teacher but Christ is their master.

Chris said...

" Schuon and the Dude"

Ha!

Love it!

Cousin Dupree said...

Schuon is my teacher but the Dude is my master.

Paul Griffin said...

...captivated by the image of the knight, who is a warrior but bows before the good king who in turn bows before God.

Understanding authority and its proper channels is imperative, or else we are all without faith, power, or identity. The centurion who asked Jesus for healing for his servant was praised without reservation for his understanding:

"...I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith."

He also was a man that knew where his strength came from and rested entirely upon it.

Chris said...

July,

A Perennialist would definitely say that- that's why it shouldn't be confused with Theosophy or New Age thought in general. Perennialism embraces Tradition, capital T, and Revelation, the ground zero of its source. That's where I think the core conflict between the "sprituality" culture and traditional religion lays - the truth, validity, and authority of Revelation/Tradition. Those who say they are spiritual but not religious object to what they see as rigidity and an impediment to authentic spiritual experience- because it is constrained by dogma. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who quipped to GK Chesterton that religion is not efficacious, even detrimental to genuine spirituality because it is merely second hand and a product of "the shop". For the proggresive seeker, religion is fundamentally divisive and places authority where it doesn't belong- institutions.

Chris said...

That would be Julie. Sorry bout that!

ted said...

Chris, The progressive seeker would go beyond arguing against the institutions of religion, and even submit that Revelation by a few great prophets is suspect. In their eyes, these prophets would just interpreting their idea of God's transmission (or even it was second-hand mythic story telling). Instead, they would only rely on their own experience. But as someone once said: "Experience is the worst teacher. It gives the test before giving the lesson."

julie said...

Funny, a lot of Christians take that approach as well. That is, there are some who believe one should read the Bible, but not put faith in anyone else's interpretation. Much like the spiritual-not-religious types, though, the same people do usually rely on someone else's authority - a charismatic preacher instead of a Tony Robbins.

Chris,
As I see it, the problem with most of the types who want to throw out the dogma of any form of traditionalism is that, while like most spiritual seekers they see that there's a mountain, instead of committing to a route to reach the summit, they circle the base trying to see it from every angle, all the while claiming that since one view contrasts with another, they must cancel each other out. In a notshall.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

The Koran speaks about wrestling with truth, striving in god and immigration into god and immigration to god, Goodness is in the streets of our wide world and not behind closed doors. No problem to take any labels provided that labels do not refuse other labels or enclosed itself in self-grandiosity disparaging others. Ibn Arabi said seekers might die in the garment of Jesus, Moses etc. Humility is not self degrading but self elevation, it is the door to the real. Physicality is a misleading road like the five Immam who encircled the elephant and each one came with a different descriptions and non were able to hit the mark. The world of spirituality is a different road because it leaves the scholastic world that engrossed it self in the mechanical seen and forget the undividable, unidentifiable, uncatchable unseen, trying to draw the unseen to the rank of the seen. The seekers of truth who know that there is a spirit that carries the divine knowledge to the human sphere that can be ignited through silent stillness in the presence of the primordial origin of knowledge that of revelation in order to save themselves and others from the mess of the mechanical seen. Here the wrestling and the striving start and the gift will be given for those who are in all honesty and truthfulness are desiring to surrender to the one without trying to humanize him because he is above his creations.

Brivilonius said...

Hey 'Bob et al. Just passin' through. '''Good to hear from you though, buddy(ies).''' {BUZZZZZZZZZZZZ!} - Yours truly, mindtheshieldnotthespear

Van Harvey said...

"...He mentioned that he had always been captivated by the image of the knight, who is a warrior but bows before the king who in turn bows before Christ. I can't explain it as well as he did, but the idea is that he is restrained by a kind of vertical reality to which he submits. In the absence of that reality, the knight is just a trained killer."

And a person without that same sense, is but a trained humanoid(aka: 'educated' in our modern ways).

common sense bob said...

Dear Bob,

Love your gag about "relativism, tenure, and fake news"--cracked me up.

Re all this & common sense, you and your readers might find this of interest:
https://amgreatness.com/2017/07/07/happened-americas-elite/'

Best wishes to all

common sense bob said...

Oops! Something went wrong with the link.

I'll try again:

https://amgreatness.com/2017/07/07/happened-americas-elite/

Anonymous said...

The question I ask Chris and raccoons is, "what is your gut feeling about God?"

I'm interested in how the well informed student of religion, or the observant religious person, squares things up with that ubiquitous part of the heart that Knows Stuff. Let say you get very drunk. In vino veritas. What do you think you would say about God?

julie said...

God Is.

Common Sense Bob, common sense is indeed in short supply these days, particularly amongst those who would tell the rest of us how we ought to live. Unfortunately, as Kipling well knew, the Gods of the Copybook Headings will return...

doug saxum said...

Anonymous,
I would say your place with God can be gauged by your relationship with the truth.

doug saxum said...

And the everlasting symbol of Jesus is to Cross reference and Nail down the truth and display it bare for all to witness.

common sense bob said...

Dear Julie,

Thanks for your comment. By the way, I always find your comments of interest.,

I believe you and I may agree about common sense. But at the risk of sounding sacrilegious in the context of your lovely "God is", I want to say this: common sense is.

God is not in short supply these days, though you might think He is if you look around at our world. He is not in short supply; people who consciously, avowedly stake their existence on Him do seem to be in short supply though.

Do you think--as I do--that even the most virulent atheist won't be able to hold on to his fanatical unbelief when, as the feller sez, push comes to shove? (What a surprise the atheist is in for when mortality rolls back the curtain of Nature!)

Same way, the fiercest rejector of common sense is relying on common sense even when he is rejecting it.

The rejection by the atheist and by the fellow who scoffs at common sense--pretty much the same fellow often--is really a refusal to acknowledge the natural and the supernatural ground he actually stands on.

Interesting, I think.

Chris said...

Ok, I'll bite.

"What is my gut feeling about God?"

Hmm...Awe and bliss.

Anonymous said...

Chris I like your response. Your book learning has not tarnished your core simplicity. Bravo.