Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's Your World. God's Just Living In It.

To review: the mature form of a thing discloses its reason for being, and for man this consists of theosis or deification or sanctification.

Indeed, this is axiomatic, for what could possibly be higher than these? It is probably for this reason that Leon Bloy made that crack about how “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

Sure, it may be impossible for most people, but that's the point. Anything within reach won't really satisfy. What? Of course there's an Aphorism for that. More than one:

Any goal different from God dishonors us.

Christianity contradicts the trivial demands of man’s reason in order to better fulfill his essence’s deep desires.

Conversely, Hell is the place where man finds all his projects realized.

Hell was not invented by God. Rather, by man. It is simply a consequence of the gift of freedom misused.

The bottom line is that "Man is a finite being for whom God plans an infinite destiny. Consequently, man's existence was incomplete -- even in creation -- inasmuch as God intended for man a sharing in His own nature" (Reardon). Therefore, in order for human beings to share in this nature, God assumes "human nature and historical existence" (ibid.).

Note that God doesn't just assume a man, but human nature; and not just a personal history, but history as such: "The final transfiguration of the human race begins with the enfleshing of the Word," which is the only thing I can think of that could break through the walls erected by sin, by death, and even by existence itself.

Jesus is like man's window into God and God's window into man. Which is the purpose of an icon. Indeed, we could say that Jesus is the Icon of icons, a kind of two-way lens for the transmission of divine energies.

Somewhere in the distant past I wrote of These Things.

For example,

Among other things, Christianity "divinizes" both time and history. Indeed, it wouldn't be going too far to say that Christianity transforms mere time into real history, the latter of which is a movement toward something instead of just duration or decay. If time is not moving toward its own fulfillment, then it really is just a tale told by a tenured idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying a lifetime gig and adoring coeds.

Darwinians unconsciously convert science into an exciting drama of "progress," when progress is precisely what Darwinism excludes. Rather, there is only change, and change is not drama. Imagine going to a movie in which the characters and action merely change, but for no reason. You know, like one of those foreign films.

In this regard, you can see that nihilism is a kind of "reverse mysticism." A Darwinian is not permitted to say that a man has more objective value than an amoeba. The "journey" from amoeba to man is just one inconceivably long string of accidents. Therefore, it is not really a journey at all. Rather, that's just a phony narrative we superimpose on the facts, because deep down -- and even on the surface -- we would all like for reality to mean something instead of nothing.

But from a naturalistic perspective it means nothing, which makes us wonder why Darwinians were so excited the other day about the discovery of a new fossil. Why joy? I don't get it. Who cares if there are eight wonders if the eighth wonder proves that wonder is completely pointless? Let's grant Darwinians their fantasy, and suppose that this fossil finally proves that human existence is meaningless. Why would that be a cause for glee instead of sadness?

Unless -- unless we are again dealing with an unconscious narrative that is an inversion of the Christian narrative. Could it be that metaphysical Darwinians are parasites on the history they wish to deny? Yes, of course.

Right. That was all very amusing, Bob, but here is what I was actually looking for. Read it in light of how the Incarnation ingeniously deals with each of these infirmities:

As we have discussed in the past, man is always limited by what Schuon calls four "infirmities." First, we are creatures and not Creator, which is to say, "manifestation and not Principle or Being." Or, just say we are contingent and not necessary or absolute. We might not have been, but here we are.

Second, we are men, and all this implies, situated somewhere between absolute and relative, God and animal -- somewhat like a terrestrial angel or a celestial ape.

Third, we are all different, which is to say, individuals, and there can be no science of the utterly unique and unrepeatable. (Which is why, by the way, there can be no science of the cosmos itself, since there's only one; for that you need to shift cognitive gears into metaphysics and theology.)

This is a critical point, because as far as science is concerned, our essential differences must be entirely contingent, just a result of nature tossing the genetic dice. Suffice it to say that this is not a sufficient reason to account for the miracle of individuality. Well, individual jerks, maybe. But not anyone you'd want to hang out with.

Lastly, there are human differences that are indeed contingent and not essential or providential. These include negative things such as mind parasites that result from the exigencies of childhood, but also the accidental aspects of culture, language, and history. In order to exist at all, we must surely exist in a particular time and a particular place.

Elsewhere Schuon summarizes the accidents of existence as world, life, body, and soul; or more abstractly, "space, time, matter, desire."

The purpose of metaphysics is to get beneath these accidents, precisely, and hence to a realm of true objectivity and therefore perennial truth (even though, at the same time, existence, life, and intelligence especially represent a continuous reminder, or breakthrough, of the miraculous).

So, Incarnation solves all of these "problems." In short, the Creator, via Incarnation, takes on world, life, body, and soul; or space, time, matter, and desire.

"The truth is that God is drawn to us by love, that He has forcefully thrown in His lot with us, to the point of becoming one of us.... Human theotropism and divine anthropotropism are both fulfilled" (ibid.).

The moment of the Incarnation was not static.... [for] to be a living human being is not a static thing. A human being -- any human being -- is a work in progress.... Strictly speaking, therefore, the doctrine of the Incarnation does not refer simply to a human state, but to a full human life.... [God makes] himself a subjective participant in human history, someone whose existence and experience were circumscribed by the limiting conditions of time and space. --Reardon

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Are We Here?

How can any conscious person not wonder about that? And how can he not realize there are only two possible reasons, one of which reduces to no reason at all. God or nihilism. The rest is distraction.

In a book called Reclaiming the Atonement, the author outlines the following reason, which sounds about right to me:

"Man was created to be joined with God in an intimate union, whereby he would be incorporated -- in the elevated measure divine grace makes possible to a human being -- into the very life of God. Man was created in order to be 'at-one' with God. Man was created for theosis. Theosis, then, is the true and proper ordo rerun [order of things]."

And "order of things" is correct, because it isn't just that man is ordered to God, but that the cosmos itself must be ordered to man if man is to be ordered to God. In a very real sense, man is the reason for the cosmos. This is why, for example, it is intelligible to us. But we can't just leave it at that; rather, we must ask why it is intelligible, and for what reason. Which goes back to the divine purpose.

As to the latter, Reardon further points out that we couldn't "share in the divine nature unless the Word shared a human nature," which is precisely why man's theosis requires God's Incarnation.

In the absence of the latter, we can still know that the cosmos is preternaturally ordered to us, but we couldn't know that we in turn are reciprocally ordered to its very creator.

Of the four causes -- material, efficient, formal, and final -- it is final cause that answers the question of why something exists. Eyes are for seeing; a car is for driving; hands are for grasping.

If you ask why cars exist, you can point to the materials of which it is composed, the people who built it, and its design, but none of these make sense without final cause: it was built in order to take us somewhere. Duh!

Note that the final cause is the last to be realized in time but the first to be contemplated in thought. I don't know how long it takes to realize a car from conception to fulfillment.

But it takes about 10 million years for solar-type stars to form, and about 10 billion for habitable planets. After that, life appears pretty quickly, but it takes another 3.5 billion years or so for self-conscious persons to arrive on the scene. It then took about 50 to 100,000 years to prepare man for the God-man.

And we've only had 2,000 years to assimilate him. As discussed in yesterday's post, the assimilation is ongrowing. As Kerouac said, walking on water wasn't built in a day.

So, when we come right down to it, everything exists for the sake of theosis. This makes perfect sense, because the purpose of something resides in its mature state. We all -- secular and religious alike - believe man "matures," the question being "how high?" -- does maturity extend all the way up, or end at some arbitrary point?

The latter makes no metaphysical sense, because a hierarchy is conditioned from the top down, i.e., it exhibits final causation.

Which helps to make sense of fallenness and sin, or at least looks at it from a slightly different angle.

By way of analogy, think of the concept of "pathology," which can only apply to living things. There cannot be a sick rock, although Al Franken comes close. The purpose of the heart, for example, is to pump blood. Anything that interferes with that -- clogged arteries, arrhythmias, valvular damage -- is pathological. Pathology only makes sense in light of final causation.

It has always been a pet peeve of mine that psychology attempts to speak of pathology in the absence of purpose. In reality it cannot be done. Rather, there will simply be an implicit and unarticulated purpose.

But ultimately, if theosis is man's purpose, then anything interfering with it will be pathological. On the spiritual plane, this is sin, precisely. Sin can only be understood in the context of what man is for. Sin, you might say, is "spiritual illness."

I'm thinking of a couple of Aphorisms:

The radical error — the deification of man — does not have its origin in history. Fallen man is the permanent possibility of committing the error.

And Radical sin relegates the sinner to a silent, gray universe, in which he drifts on the surface of the water, an inert castaway, toward inexorable insignificance.

Note that the deification of man goes to what was said above in paragraph three: it is to believe that the cosmos is mysteriously ordered to man, but to leave it at that -- to not realize that this is because man is ordered to God.

As to being relegated to that gray and silent universe, this is simply the logical consequence of denying God and hierarchy: it is as if the cosmos is ordered to man, but man is nothing. Therefore, everything is nothing.

Reardon notes that the early fathers were more aware of this than we seem to be. "The more traditional approach begins, not with fallen man, but with man in his Christian fulfillment: union with God."

So, our ultimate purpose explains sin better than sin explains the need for a sacrificial atonement.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Christ Mind, Beginner's Mind

Back in the day, there was a popular book called Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. If Zen is counted as a religion, I suppose I never qualified as an unmitigated atheist. Zen is advertised as a godless religion, which isn't necessarily oxymoronic. Schuon felt, for example, that Buddhism in general has the signified (the reality), just not the signifier (the name).

Zen appeals to western intellectuals because it seems to offer the advantages of religion with none of the scandals: no dogma, no miracles, no Bearded Old Man in the Sky.

The amazon description says the author "always returns to the idea of beginner's mind, a recognition that our original nature is our true nature. With beginner's mind, we dedicate ourselves to sincere practice, without the thought of gaining anything special. Day to day life becomes our Zen training, and we discover that 'to study Buddhism is to study ourselves.' And to know our true selves is to be enlightened."

It's quite experimental, even empirical: do this, discover that. Indeed, the ultimate discovery is that this is already that, and vice versa. It sounds annoyingly paradoxical, because it seems like a long process of trying to give up trying, or a long road forward to back where you started.

It seems to me that Buddhism is essentially backward -- or downward, at any rate, i.e., to the Ground -- looking, while Christianity is unavoidably forward looking. Is this just a semantic difference -- different names for the same thing?

Back when I rejected Christianity, it was because I didn't understand it. Indeed, it can be argued that it is strictly impossible to understand Christianity without practicing it, i.e., through faith.

The above preluminaries were provoked by something Bailie says: that, as we know, Jesus promised "a Spirit would come to lead those trying to be faithful to Christ into ever greater understanding of the truth" revealed in and by him.

Thus, from the perspective of Total Truth -- of the revelation fully revealed -- we must all count ourselves "early Christians." Although "the revelation of Christ is full and complete, we are far from having surveyed its vast scope and meaning." Indeed, "the understanding that comes by faith embraces more truth than it can comprehend" (Balthasar, ibid.). We are all beginners, and every day is a new beginning.

For practical purposes -- i.e., from our side -- revelation is very much timebound; it can only reveal itself "in the fullness of time," analogous to an organic process of growth. You can't command the seed to become a mature tree; time takes time.

Thus, where Zen seems ineluctably "reductive," Christianity is necessarily "expansive," so to speak. "It is part of the mystery of the Christian revelation that it functions like a time-release medication." Conversely, we might say that Zen involves a release from time, into the eternal moment (or the moment of eternity).

Both approaches have their potential drawbacks. Bailie notes that for Christianity, the temptation always exists of forgetting "the danger of being bewitched by the spirit of the age" and separating "its healthy potential from its poisoned fruit..."

Regarding Zen, Schuon says it may "become easily mingled with anti-intellectual" sensibilities, "for it is one thing to place oneself beyond the thinking faculty and it is another to remain below that faculty's highest possibilities, even while imagining one has 'transcended' things of which one does not comprehend the first word." This is to deepak all over the chopra.

For "He who truly transcends verbal formulations will be the first to respect the ones which have given direction to his thinking in the first place and to venerate 'every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God'" (ibid.).

Schuon alludes to an old gag to the effect that "only the pig overturns its trough after emptying it," which is like kicking the religious ladder out from under onesoph, the very ladder by which one ascends.

There is another kind of pig who steals from the trough before kicking it over: "We live in a world whose strategies for expelling the Christian truth draw on underlying forms of Christian thought for their legitimacy" (Bailie).

The left is filled with such pigs -- for example, a Meryl Streep, who bullies and slanders under the guise of being opposed to bullying and slandering. Likewise, the left embraces racial discrimination in the name of equality, coercion in the name of freedom, theft in the name of charity, entitlements in the name of rights, etc.

This morning I have one ear on the senate hearing for Jeff Sessions, in which Democrats are shamelessly engaging in all of the above. If this post is a little lame, that's why: I am slightly distracted and out of my beginner's mind.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Cure For Death Announced

A provocative point: "In the ancient world, death is fungible" (Bailie).

Which means that in the modern world death is fungible, human nature being what it is.

"Fungible" means "of such nature as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable," "the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution." It is "the property of essences or goods which are capable of being substituted in place of one another."

Therefore, death is just like money, only worse. You can quite literally use it to purchase life, at least in theory. It doesn't actually work, but that has never stopped people from trying. How else to understand human sacrifice, which is again the "attempt to evade death by foisting it onto another"?

Bailie makes a subtle point about how death "entered the world" as a result of the fall. As discussed in a previous post, it is not biological death that resulted, but rather, something much worse -- a total destruction of personal being, such that human life becomes haunted by death. Let's call it Death as opposed to the mere biological cessation of death.

Theologian Adrian Walker (in Bailie) suggests that "had man not fallen, he would still have to undergo an earthly end, though he would have known it as a purely joyous transition to the eschatological state, without any stain of constraint, privation, or corruption."

I wonder. Recall what was said about prelapsarian "innocence" only being known retrospectively. If true, it equally implies that the idea of a "joyous transition" can only be posited retrospectively. Nevertheless, a powerful lesson is conveyed having to do with how we regard Death: as absolute end or as some kind of new beginning.

"[I]t is in the specifically human realm that we find a strategy for evading [D]eath that consists of redirecting it toward another."

Imagine we are in a death camp. Which of course we are. Every day we observe that Death will pluck some individuals out of the camp. Can Death be bribed? Can we toss someone else into its jaws in order to appease its appetite, even if only for one day?

Sure. The Aztec certainly thought so, and they are hardly alone. But again, there must be lingering traces of this pattern in the modern world, human nature being what it is. In short: whom shall we sacrifice today?

Much of the news of the day comes down not only to locating the victim, but creating the victim. For example, each time a black person is killed by a police officer, no matter how justified, the left turns the officer into a sacrificial victim. His life is effectively over. He must disappear into the underworld and live incognito.

Bailie suggests that Death doesn't so much follow from sin as vice versa: "because of [D]eath all men have sinned." It is precisely Death that "corrupts our nature" and prompts us to do the worst things to evade it, e.g., "turning death into a cure for [D]eath, eluding [D]eath by exploiting its mystique and becoming its unwitting accomplices..."

Clearly, there is no human cure for Death. If there is a cure, it can only come from God. Which is precisely what Christianity -- or Christ -- communicates: that "at the Resurrection, the 'power of [D]eath' was broken, but not the fact of death."

"Christ came to rob [D]eath of its sting, not primarily by providing us with consolations or promises of future happiness, but rather by drawing our suffering and [D]eath into his and thus assimilating our suffering and [D]eath into the redemptive economy in ways that we simply cannot fathom."

As you all know, I flunked out of business school, so I never fathomed economics anyway. But it seems that participation in the divine economy provides a way to avoid flunking out of isness school, AKA Life.

[T]he Resurrection relieves those on whom the Easter Sun has shone of the desperate project of trying to achieve in history what can be fulfilled only eschatologically -- a fool's errand that has turned the late-modern period into a crematoria like no other in history. --Bailie