Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Homo-Drama and the Broad Way of History

We are discussing the importance of Frames. Without a frame of some sort -- a container -- you can't see much of anything. Arguably you can't see anything at all. Science, for example, is a frame. Metaphysical scientism is the belief that science provides the only legitimate frames for looking at the world. But what is the frame for that meta-scientific belief? That's a philosophical frame, not a scientific one.

One may look at human life through the frame of Darwinism. Nothing wrong with that. But only through the frame of Darwinism? That would be insane.

Which I mean literally. No Darwinian lives his life as a rigorously consistent Darwinian. For example, think of, say, Richard Dawkins, who argues passionately on behalf of metaphysical Darwinism. What's that all about? Doesn't he ever wonder how random mutations have resulted in his passion for "truth," of all things? Selfish genes not only don't care about truth, but could never know it to begin with.

Science provides one frame for viewing the world. Religion provides another. Nor can you just say "science," and leave it at that. For example, in order to practice psychology, you need to look at the patient through numerous frames: neurobiology, endocrinology, attachment theory, anthropology, group dynamics, religion, etc.

Indeed, this is what is so interesting about the human being: man is the intersection of all frames, from matter on up and God on down. Some people say man is homo sapiens (the wise guy), others homo ludens, highlighting our capacity for fooling around.

One could equally focus on language, art, humor, freedom, transcendence, love; we are the "political animal" but also the one consigned to an unbridgeable loneliness and solitude. Ultimately we are god and animal in the same package. Which makes for some *interesting* conflicts.

Speaking of which, we might say that God is framed for us by Jesus; and that Man is framed for God by Jesus. But Jesus cannot be reduced to a three-dimensional object, since his life -- like any other life -- takes place in time. He is framed by his own development, from embryo to infant to adolescent and on. "Incarnation" is not a kind of one-off lightning flash that occurs with the Annunciation. Rather, in the beginning is the Word, and the Word is a verb.

The point is, this divine-human frame is not like a static painting, but rather, as Balthasar discussed over five volumes and 2,631 pages (yeah, I just counted), a Theo-Drama. In being the Theo-Drama, it is also the Cosmo-Drama, the Homo-Drama, and the Everything In Between-Drama.

When did we spend that year discussing Balthasar and the Theo-Drama? 2009? I can't say I remember many details. Let's consult some old posts, which are probably old enough that none of you remember them either.

When Christianity is reduced to a creed or formula -- like the folks who hold up those John 3:16 signs at every football game -- it can lose its distinctly dramatic character. For unlike other religions, it cannot become a mere doctrine without betraying itself. After all, if a doctrine were sufficient, then God would have presumably dictated a memo and sent it down to a prophet without having to personally get involved in this messy business of history.

One of the reasons Muslims reject Christianity is that they cannot imagine God as man, since it is so beneath his station. It's unthinkable, like, say, Cary Grant playing a sewer worker or MSNBC host (yes, a distinction without a difference).

The point is that for the Christian, God's revelation fundamentally appears as historical action, as doing. His doing is anterior to our knowing. This is why no one could understand the teaching until the action -- the drama -- had been fulfilled. And even then, it took years of collective reflection upon the drama to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, we're still trying to divine the divine plot, and always will be, until history has darkened its last page.

It seems that many people try to focus on something Jesus said, or even the totality of what he said, in the absence of the underlying drama that ties it all together. But Jesus is unlike any other religious figure, about whom the facts of their lives are inconsequential to the teaching -- any more than the facts of science are determined by the personal biography of the researcher. You can study math or physics without getting into Einstein's childhood or Newton's manner of death. Likewise Buddha or Mohammed.

What this suggests is that God's truth -- or the truth he is trying to convey to us -- is again not at all analogous to scientific truth, which can be handed from mind to mind in an unproblematic way. What is the truth he is trying to convey? And why must it be presented in this way, as historical drama?

.... Here is the dilemma for God: "how to elicit the Yes of his free partner from the latter's innermost freedom" (HvB). Again, for Balthasar, the essence of the Theo-Drama is this encounter between infinite and finite freedom. How can man surrender to infinite freedom without undermining his own?

.... Jesus is God's word, and that word is primarily Yes: yes to existence, yes to life, yes to freedom, yes to love. But remember, Jesus is also man, so he is simultaneously man's ultimate Yes to God. So there is the essence of your Theo-Drama, this mutual dialogue between free partners. Again, the drama is taking place "within" God, i.e., the Trinity, but it is also happening in history, allowing us to take part in the drama -- to say Yes to it, jump on the stage, and accept our role.

Please note that when this Yes happens, it is only the beginning, not the end, of your own little theo-drama. Isn't this what Jesus promised the apostles? Not, "follow me and your problems are over," but "follow me and your problems have only just begun." "For they will hate you as they hate me."

As to how this all relates to our subject, in the following passage, just replace boundaries with frame:

Living in the higher light of this drama, everything becomes more intense with meaning. I believe that this is because the closer one draws to ontological realities, the more vivid life becomes, whether it is death, or birth, or marriage, whatever; it is near these boundaries of existence that we live most intensely, and the boundary of mundane existence necessarily shades off into the celestial. Heaven is conjoined to earth, but only by virtue of being separate from it. Thus, heaven's distance is the possibility of its proximity. Insert drama here.

The Theo-Drama is the secret history of the world. It is both written and unwritten, closed and open, again, in respect for man's freedom. I would conceptualize it as I would a work of art, in which things are conditioned from top to bottom, e.g., theme --> plot --> character --> action --> dialogue. At each level down, there is more apparent freedom, and yet, everything is ultimately conditioned and lured from above.

Got a late start this morning, so that's about it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

God was Framed

This thought first occurred to me in reading Michael Polanyi's Meaning, back in the 1980s. In it there is a chapter on how art of any kind always involves a frame, without which it can have no meaning.

While the frame around a painting is obvious -- setting it apart from its surroundings -- there are other types of frame. A book's covers are a kind of frame. Likewise, poetic structure and musical form.

Polanyi cites the critic I.A. Richards, who writes of how, "Through its very appearance of artificiality metre produces in the highest degree the 'frame' effect, isolating the poetic experience from the accidents and irrelevancies of everyday existence."

Rhythms are frames, both in poetry and in music (and in good prose as well). Thus, there are temporal frames (rhythm) as well as spatial frames, as in a painting. In a play or motion picture there are both spatial frames (the stage or screen) and temporal frames (the script or screenplay).

Life is framed, isn't it? In the most obvious sense it is framed by birth and death. There are also recurrent rhythms such as the seasons, holidays, birthdays, and rituals. Morning-Noon-Evening-Night is another rhythm, as are weeks and months. The liturgical year is an obvious temporal frame that confers meaning on what is otherwise a kind of one-way dissipation.

In one sense life is framed at the extremes by birth and death. However, in another sense birth and death constitute a kind of intra-life rhythm. And when you come right down to it, the birth-death rhythm is perpetual. A line from Joni Mitchell's Clouds just popped into my head: well something's lost, but something's gained / in living every day.

Watching my son grow is constant loss/gain. In a year or two I'll lose the boy but gain an adolescent, just as I lost the infant and toddler before that. A long time ago I came to the realization that all loss is a dress rehearsal for death. Or prehearsal, rather (emphasis on the hearse).

People don't normally speak in poetry, which sets it apart from regular speech. "Thus, the formal structure of a poem... forms a blockage, insulating the poem from everyday affairs" (Polanyi). As such, a frame is also a kind of wall (as is dogma, as we shall see).

Similarly, "the recital of a myth is an experience that is detached from the day-to-day concerns of the reciting person," and "raises us to a timeless moment." Therefore, it is a kind of temporal window(frame) into (and "around") the timeless. It cannot be approached or understood in any other way.

How could God, who is by definition infinite, ever be framed? Well, that is precisely the function of any religion. And just as there are good and bad poems, paintings, and melodies, religions are more or less adequate to the task.

Now, God cannot be framed by man. If he could be, then we would be God. Think of O as the container of any and all conceivable content. Thus, O is a symbol for that which can never be symbolized -- a container of what can never be contained. In the ultimate sense, religion says what cannot be said.

Is there any other religion that frames all of history in the manner of Christianity? All religions posit a beginning, but Christianity also posits its own temporal end (as opposed to a circular rhythm or endless line).

Furthermore, one of its most provocative orthoparadoxes is that the end has appeared in the middle -- which is a bit like the frame appearing within the painting. I'll bet if I look it up, there is some dadaist whose paintings consist of the frame that frames it. If not, then this one will do until the surreal thing comes along:

How did we get here? By two routes, one of which will be the topic of tomorrow's post. The other route was by way of Chesterton, who remarked that "All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window" (in Reardon).

What an excellent orthoparadox. I've noticed the same phenomenon with respect to movies. Probably explains how movie stars are seen as gods by the vulgar.

Reardon writes of how "only a measured form -- and every form imposes a limit -- can produce freedom." Branford Marsalis (in Reardon) makes the point that in jazz "There's only freedom in structure, my man. There's no freedom in freedom" (emphasis mine).

There is no freedom in freedom. What a brilliantly concise way to put it. Nor, for that matter, is there any equality in equality, but that is the subject of a different post.

In any event, Marsalis's quip could morph into a whole post, but I think you can see where I'm going with this. However, it will have to wait until tomorrow, since I'm up against a temporal frame.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lord Save Us From the Bullshit

Over the last several days a thought has repeatedly popped into my melon, usually in the wake of some random idiocy. It is what it is, so you'll just have to pardon the French: Wasn't Jesus supposed to save us from this bullshit?

I claim no responsibility for the thought. Rather, it is just the spontaneous fruit of forgotten meditations, as the Aphorist might put it. But since the thought kept recurring, I decided to look at it, and lo and behold, it meant something.

We are all familiar with the idea that "Jesus saves." But from what, exactly? Most people would say "from sin," but that was not my point of entry into the whole mystery. Then again, I suppose it was, since lying is a sin, and inhabiting a Lie (such as secular leftism) must be even worse.

What I want to say is that Jesus (by which I mean the whole tradition that flows from him) saved my mind. From what? Well, for starters, from mountains of bullshit. Before the transition, my mind was a vast and fertile field for the cultivation of bullshit.

Matters were only made worse by an extensive education, for The learned fool has a wider field to practice his folly, and He who understands the least is he who insists on understanding more than what can be understood (NGD).

"Christ," writes Bailie, "went to the Cross to ram a stick in the spokes of the ritual for transforming sin into the delusion of righteousness."

But you could also say he does the same to the ritual of transforming utter bullshit into the delusion of righteous truth. We see this ad nauseam in the left's ritual of transforming self-styled victims into paragons of virtue, most recently, John Lewis.

Fifty years ago Lewis was knocked upside the head by some Democrat racist (but I repeat myself), which transformed him into a Civil Rights Icon. Ever since then he has been able to conceal his grotesque political hackery behind the meretricious penumbra of civil righteousness.

Oh please. Didn't Jesus save us from this bullshit?

What is the Ultimate Bullshit? It would have to consist of the Devil appropriating the Cross for his own purposes. Is this even possible? Stupid question. Rather, is there anything we can do to prevent it?

Yesterday Instapundit linked to an editorial by a leftist minister. Here's his take on American history:

I’ll let Ta-Nehisi Coates boil it down for you. White society was not achieved through “wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor and land.” In short, through three centuries of kidnapping, torture, murder and rape. Broken teeth, broken bones and broken spirits. Families ripped apart. Children taken from their parents. Men humiliated in front of their wives. Women brutalized within earshot of their husbands. Lash after bloody lash on bare backs. Then, sleep on a bare wooden floor. No doctor, no dentist, no nothing. Just non-stop misery with a few hymns on Sunday.

Okay then. The diffusion of a few drops of Christianity into a leftist mind transforms the idiot into a perfect idiot (NGD).

If we begin with the principle that man is fallen, then nothing he does should surprise us. We certainly would not attribute to "whiteness" what is universal in all men at all times. But once blacks are elevated to righteous victims, it is (apparently) easy for the leftist to forget that they too are subject to the law of ontological gravity, AKA the fall. If they weren't, then Africa would be a paradise instead of a place no black American would choose to live.

Roger Kimball writes of a campus group called Teach! Organize! Resist!, which "intends to stage a number of on-campus protests and consciousness-raising events between Martin Luther King Jr. Day tomorrow and Mr. Trump’s inauguration Friday":

“We intend to organize,” their web site informs the world, “against the proposed expansion of state violence targeting people of color, undocumented people, queer communities, women, Muslims, and many others.” What “state violence” would that be? While you wonder about that, note too that the organizers “intend to resist the institutionalization of ideologies of separation and subordination, including white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, and virulent nationalism.” Oh, I see.

I don't. Didn't Jesus save us from this bullshit?

Technically, yes. "[W]e live downstream from the atoning Event and in cultures profoundly shaped by it," and "live buoyed by consolations that first washed over the world at the Resurrection, consolations that were the first fruit of unconsoled suffering."

A touching story of Suffering, Death, and Resurrection:

In the spring of 2013, my worst nightmare came true. Everything that I and my closest friends had spent the previous three decades building came crashing down around us. The entire international body of students and centers, 27 years of tireless work and commitment, disappeared almost overnight.

Sounds bad! What happened?

The truth is, as crazy as it sounds, I believed I was infallible. And for a very long time, the majority of my students believed it too. In the end, I lost everything and caused untold suffering to many people only because of an irrational refusal to admit the simple truth: like most human beings I am deeply flawed.

Oh please. Didn't Jesus save us from this bullshit?

Maybe, but for only 404 Euros you can join this deeply flawed man as he "continues his ongoing exploration of the role of both student and guru in a post-mythic context."

Did he say post mythic?

Lord save us from the bullshit.