Friday, March 24, 2017

Can God Crank it Up to Eleven?

Speaking of contingency, I was just reviewing Aquinas's five proofs of God, the third one being the argument from contingency.

Let's begin by defining our terms: contingency is "a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty." In philosophy it is basically defined negatively, as the absence of necessity.

Does this mean that contingency is somehow parasitic on necessity, as shadow is to light? I don't think so. Rather, they must be complementary, as Absolute is to Infinite, the latter being the endless iterations of the former.

If Absolute is ontologically prior to Infinite -- or if Infinite is the "first fruit," so to speak, of Absoluteness, i.e., its "radiation" -- then we might say that the Infinite as such is the realm of the many Masks of God. Infinite is also associated with relativity, as is contingency.

Having said that, Schuon adds that while "contingency is always relative," "relativity is not always contingent." In other words, it seems that, God being who he is, contingency "must be"; it is really just another way of saying that God cannot help being creative, any more than he can stop being good. Creation consists (at least in some sense) of God "radiating himself" into relativity and contingency, or terrestrial thrills, chills, and spills.

In speaking of the relative, this also introduces the idea of a dimension that "is either 'more' or 'less' in relation to another reality" -- which goes to Aquinas' fourth way, that "among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like" (in Feser). In other words, we can only say "better" and "worse" because of an implicitly known scale of absolute value.

So, I would say that a realm of contingency must exist, even though this or that contingency may or may not come to pass. And our freedom must be located in this world of contingency, in which we may influence "what happens." Toss the fourth way into the mix, and we have the freedom to influence what happens on a vertical scale. Or in other words, we may move closer to, or more distant from, the true, good, beautiful, etc.

"What makes us happy," writes Schuon, "are the phenomena of beauty and goodness and all the other goods that existence borrows from pure Being." Again, as mentioned yesterday, "We are situated in contingency, but we live by reflection of the Absolute, otherwise we could not exist." So, there are reflections of the Absolute in the Contingent, and a big part of our task is to notice and appreciate them. They're actually everywhere, and cannot help being so.

Indeed, Schuon goes on to say that there are "two fundamental virtues to realize," first, "resignation to contingency" and second, "assimilation of the celestial message." "Resignation" hardly connotes "giving up." Rather, is it simply an acknowledgement of our cosmic situation: if we are to exist at all, it must be in a world of contingency, fluctuation, enigma, mystery, and other seeming privations. But these "privations" are ultimately just a function of not being God.

Besides, God makes amends for the privations by... how to put it... by revealing his own fulness, or by filling the gaps with his own being. For example, we alluded above to the inevitable gaps between God and creation, various "degrees of being" that are closer to or more distant from the Principle. What is the Incarnation but a kind of gratuitous gift, a divine descent, that closes the gaps and bridges the abyss? Truly, if there were no Incarnation then God would have to invent one.

Being that we are stuck here in this world of contingency and flux, we must again detect the real within the relative. As Schuon describes, "everything lies in discovering that ontologically we bear within ourselves that which we love and which in the final analysis constitutes our reason for being." Looked at this way, "contingency is but a veil" -- but a veil simultaneously veils and reveals, in that the there is obviously something behind or beneath it, something it is veiling. That is indeed the purpose of a veil.

Now we're getting somewhere, because this implies that there is a bit of absoluteness within us, and that this absoluteness is the witness or arbiter or essence that exists in dialectic with the relative, contingent, and indeterminate. You might say that our task is to identify with the "unmoved mover" at the heart of it all, which goes to Aquinas' first way, which is the argument from motion, AKA change. Raccoons are not "the change we seek." Rather, the changelessness from which we enjoy the seeking.

What is change, anyway? In the Thomist conception it is "the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality" (Feser). If God is, among other things, "all possibility," then what we call the "now" must be its specification of one possibility.

Now, for a relativist there are only veils, with nothing veiled. This can provoke a frantic search from one veil to the next, without ever being cognizant of what the veil is veiling, which is again, reality.

It reminds me of something the Aphorist says, that One must live for the moment and for eternity. Not for the disloyalty of time. In other words, at each moment the horizontal is pierced by the vertical, such that eternity is in the moment and the moment is in eternity; one might say that the moment is simply veiled eternity. And what is eternity but God's own moment?

This is another way of affirming: "Contingency on the one hand and the presence of the Absolute on the other; these are the two poles of our existence" (Schuon).

Which leads me to wonder: is there something analogous to contingency in God? I like to think so. Of course, it can't be a privation, but is rather a reflection of the divine plenum, which is like an infinite goodness and creativity that eternally surpasses itself, so to speak.

I suppose even God can't go up to 11, because that would imply that he was lacking something when he was only at 10. Therefore, it is an endless succession of 10s. And this is why no one is bored in heaven. But also why no one need be bored on earth.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

God is a Giant Disco Ball, and Other Truisms

Since we can think of nothing better to do, we've been flipping through one of Schuon's later collections of essays, The Play of Masks. Why that title? I suppose it's because each of the essays explores some aspect of the Reality and Appearances of which our world -- both interior and exterior, subjective and objective, vertical and horizontal -- is composed.

I previously mentioned that this is one of Schuon's more compact and concentrated efforts -- only 90 pages, and scarcely a wasted word. It brings to mind a challenge I've often contemplated: how to express the Maximum Truth in the minimum space.

This would involve explicating all of the principles that govern existence -- not just this existence, but any and all possible existences. It would be like reading the operating manual for creation as such.

This, of course, goes to the very meaning and purpose of metaphysics. But why do those famous metaphysicians -- e.g., Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, et al -- have to be so wordy and obscure about it?

Not to mention numerous. How in the world can there be more than one metaphysic? If there are even two, only one can be correct. Is there really no way to arbitrate between them? If not, then man has no access to truth, period, and metaphysics is indeed reduced to cosmic ønanism.

Which I reject a priori. Which I mean literally, because one of my prior convictions is that 1) truth exists, and 2) that it is accessible to man. Truth and knowledge are complementary realities; or just say the cosmos is composed of intelligence and intelligibility, which are two sides of the same reality. You might say they are the first two Masks at Play in the world.

Metaphysics, as I see it, consists of the principles that cannot not be true, on pain of total unintelligibility, meaninglessness, and absurdity. Many, if not most, popular ideas render the world just that: an essentially dark and silent prison in which any meaning we extract is imaginary and certainly time-limited, ending with death. Ironically, many metaphysics render metaphysics impossible: they are instantaneously self-refuting, as in atheism, scientism, Darwinism, etc.

In his foreword, Schuon writes that the individual chapters "are small independent treatises which often summarize the entire doctrine." Or Entire Doctrine, as I would put it. One might say that each chapter is one of those Masks alluded to in the title. Peekaboo!

The book "presents the same fundamental theses in diverse aspects." Why? Because the divine reality is like a giant Disco Ball. Now, what is a Disco Ball? It is

a roughly spherical object that reflects light directed at it in many directions, producing a complex display. Its surface consists of hundreds or thousands of facets, nearly all of approximately the same shape and size, and each having a mirrored surface.

Usually it is mounted well above the heads of the people present, suspended from a device that causes it to rotate steadily on a vertical axis, and illuminated by spotlights, so that stationary viewers experience beams of light flashing over them, and see myriad spots of light spinning around the walls of the room.

Precisely. O is situated "well above the heads of the people present." It is at the top of a vertical axis, and it is indeed illuminated by light flashing upon it.

Take the example of, I don't know, the Bible. It is quite obviously similar in structure to a disco ball, in that we may aim our intellect at it from countless angles and illuminate this or that part. Indeed, it has always been understood that scripture is like a mirror in which the soul may "see" its reflection. And it takes all kinds to make a world, so that's a lot of mirrors.

The divine disco ball has mirrors within mirrors -- it is fractally constituted -- but there are certain "principial" mirrors that reflect the metaphysical axioms we seek. "Metaphysics," writes Schuon, "aims in the first place at the comprehension of the whole Universe, which extends from the Divine Order to the terrestrial contingencies."

This alone is a Critical Point, because the contingencies are echoes or shadows of the Principle(s). We don't say they are mere prolongations of the Principle, because if that were the case, it would eliminate our freedom and enshrine a total divine determinacy.

No, freedom is another one of our first principles, and freedom consists of an ontological glass that is exactly half full. Or half empty, depending upon how one looks at it. Our freedom cannot be "total," or it could not be free. But nor can the cosmic order be total, for the same reason.

The world consists of Reality and Appearances, Person and Mask(s), with all the Wiggle Room occurring in between. These ontological interstices -- "humanly crucial openings" -- are the designated play areas, or where the slack is located, and where the prevalent winds blow upward.

You might compare our situation to the eye of the hurricane, which doesn't feel windy because the air is spiraling upward.

In any event, I'm up to a chapter called In the Face of Contingency. Contingency is precisely that ambiguous area between chance and necessity, consisting of the World of Might Happen rather than Must Happen.

There are a lot of metaphysical control freaks who don't care for contingency, but in truth, if we didn't have it there would be no surprises, so existence would get old very quickly. A surprise is a happy contingency.

"We are situated in contingency, but we live by reflection of the Absolute [disco ball], otherwise we could not exist."

Again, we could not exist because there would be no human freedom apart from the Divine Will. To ex-ist means that there is a kind of outline around the existent thing. This is why we say that God cannot possibly exist, because he cannot be contained.

As such, the freedom of O is infinite, while ours is, and must be, finite or bounded. It is bounded by, among other things, truth; or better, given direction and meaning by the Truth which "lures" on one side and "seeks" at the other. You might say that the Truth chases us until we catch it.

Getting late. To be continued....

Wo, look at the size of that discO ball!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

God and Creation, Separate but Equivalent

Yet another writing-out-loud post. Rambling and self-indulgent? I don't know. Maybe.

Christian metaphysics holds that God creates "from nothing." But since something cannot come from nothing, this formula seems to defer the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

When we approach such questions, we are digging down to the very bottom of things, so language naturally becomes problematic. In other words, language -- our language, anyway -- is posterior to creation, to being, and to existence, such that it is difficult to deploy it to describe realities that are prior to language. As Schuon writes, error can result from "taking too seriously" such "small fatalities of language."

It's analogous to trying to describe what it was like to be an infant, before one can speak. It can't be done in real time, but it is possible in retrospect to transform the experience into words, as in psychotherapy.

Alternatively, one may simply act out infantile desires, impulses, and emotions, which is why liberal activism will always be with us.

God is the very ground of Something, such that there can be no "nothing" in him. To say that God creates from nothing is to say that there is no pre-existent material with which he creates; or that in God there is no distinction between creativity and creation.

On the human plane, the creator works with sound, color, form, or words that already exist. But imagine, for example, creating color simultaneously with painting.

Is the Creation situated "inside" or "outside" God? This again goes to the "small fatalities of language" alluded to above. The obvious answer is "both," which emphasizes the limitations of language, in which one definition would seem to exclude the other.

This may seem like an abstruse subject, but it goes to a number of practical questions, such as the nature of God's omniscience and the existence of evil. Where is evil located? If there can be nothing outside God, then it must be in God. But there is no evil in God. So where does it come from? And how is God off the hook for its existence?

As hard cases make bad law, such hard metaphysical questions have been responsible for a lot of bad theology.

Herebelow, God manifests in two ways: truth and presence. And yet, falsehood and absence "exist." How do we exit this absurcular argument? I don't have any better ideas than this:

The ontological and hence "neutral" structure of evil is "in God," but not so evil as such; in other words, privative and subversive possibilities are not in Deo except insofar as they testify to Being and therefore to All-Possibility, and not by their negative contents, which paradoxically signify non-existence or the impossible, hence the absurd.

You might say that in God, nothing, which is normally impossible, is indeed possible. If it weren't possible, then God would be denied a possibility.

In the previous post we spoke of the distinction between appearances and reality. On the one hand God is reality and not appearance. But what are appearances but of reality?

For Schuon, this goes precisely to "the mystery of Relativity," which is to say, "the possibility of an 'other than God.'" If we deny this Other Than God, we are in effect denying the world and ourselves, or creation and free will.

Properly speaking, God does not exist. Rather, he is prior to existence, prior even to being. What we call God is the very possibility of existence. Here we may draw a useful distinction, in that existence as such is already "at a distance," so to speak, from God.

For Schuon, the purpose of a religious symbolism is to provide points of reference -- at times paradoxical, and even necessarily so -- for pre-linguistic truths that are "in" our very substance (or our substance is "of" these truths). Again, being that this truth-substance is pre-linguistic, conventional language can go only so far in conveying it without paradox.

With this in mind, Schuon suggests that "there are two 'ontological regions,' the Absolute and the Relative; the first consists of Beyond-Being, and the second, of both Being and Existence, of the Creator and Creation."

From a slightly different vantage point, one may view Being and Beyond-Being on one side, with existence -- i.e., the cosmos -- on the other.

I analogize this to the conscious/unconscious divide in man. Looked at in one way, they are separate. But in reality they are complementary. Just as both are needed in order to facilitate humanness, just so, Beyond-Being and Being are the complementary "sides" of God. Father and Son? I don't know. Maybe.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Appearance and Reality, Dark and Light, Man and God

When I have nothing to say, as is the case this morning, I just start typing. The following is what came out, so I apologize in advance if it seems like one of those meandering posts from nothing to nowhere. Or in other words, another post.

To summarize our cosmic situation: there is truth and way; or doctrine and method; or divine word and human response; or ultimately, God's outspiraling descent (↓) and our inspiraling ascent (↑). Looked at this way, truth as such is already a descent, just as knowing it is already an ascent.

If this weren't the case, then there would be no such thing as, I don't know, academic grades. That is to say, truth descends, as it were, from the professor, and the grade we receive reflects our assimilation of it. In this scheme, the rogue who gets an A has ascended higher than the one like me who receives the gentleman's C.

At least back in pre-postmodern times. Now the professor dispenses opinions while students offer up their own. Any answer is fine, except it had better not be the wrong one.

Which again shows how one can pretend to deny the Absolute up front, but it always returns through the back door. For no thinking of any kind is possible in its absence. Therefore, you might as well accept this at the outset and define your Absolute and the principles that follow.

As we know, "the world" consists of appearances + reality. To know a truth means to see beyond or beneath the former to the latter. For example, the sun appears to circle the earth. But in reality, it's the other way around.

Not so fast! Einstein proved that it's both, depending upon one's frame of reference. Or, more precisely, both are orbiting a center of mass that is close to the sun, but not absolutely identical to it.

And this isn't even taking into account larger movements such as the spiraling Milky Way and the spinning supercluster of galaxies of which it is a part. So, where is the actual cosmic center around which everything is turning?

That's easy: it is in us. Supposing we could locate the physical center around which everything spins, this would only be on the horizontal plane. I know we've touched on this before, but once you acknowledge the vertical axis, then man becomes the center of creation -- or better, a projection of the Absolute Center into relativity.

So yes, the cosmos is no doubt a big place. But so what: no matter what anyone tries to tell you, man is bigger. Because the cosmos is intelligible, we may know it, which is to transcend it.

Frankly, the cosmos has to be this large in order to host Man. Its size is merely a function of how long it's been here, and it takes a cosmos 14 billion years or so to produce a man. For God that's no more than a day. Or six days, at any rate.

Now, for Schuon, one purpose of creation is "for God to be known 'from without' and starting from an 'other than He." "Purpose" goes to teleology, and Schuon suggests that right here "lies the whole meaning of the creation of man and even of creation as such."

Really? That is a Bold Statement: the whole meaning? How does he know? Isn't that a bit presumptuous?

No, it is just taking what man does -- and cannot help doing -- to its logical conclusion. Man seeks to know. Now, either truth exists, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then our will to know -- AKA the love of Truth -- is just an absurd and meaningless feature of our pathetic existence. The mind is reduced to an accident that can know only accidents, AKA appearances. One might say that it is "appearances all the way down," on both ends, i.e., mind and world.

The final common pathway of this spiritual pathology is unremitting tenure, or a certified mediocracy from which there is no escape.

But the truth of the matter is that it is reality all the way up. At the top is the Really Real, or that without which there are only appearances with no reality, or shadows with no light.

Being that we are in the image of the Creator, it's the same with us. We can become quite "distant" from ourselves, to the point that we lose conscious contact with the Self-center. This is the case for most anyone who comes in for psychotherapy: what they essentially want to know is, what happened to me? Where did I go? And how do I get it back?

Schuon speaks of the distinction "between the man-center, who is determined by the intellect and is therefore rooted in the Immutable, and the man-periphery, who is more or less accident." Thus, we are back to appearances and reality, only on the human/interior/vertical dimension.

Shifting gears for the moment, think of Jesus, who is "true man and true God." Wha? Returning to our astronomical analogy, it is analogous to saying that something is "true planet and true sun."

But what applies to Jesus by nature applies to each of us by adoption, such that we planets can not only orbit the true sun, but (via theosis) take on characteristics of the sun. For Jesus is divine light, and you are sons of that light; and "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Conversely, "if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." Now darkness is a, if not the, quintessential appearance, because it is totally without reality of its own, but parasitic on the light. Strictly speaking, darkness does not exist, for it is pure privation. For the same reason, man without God is nothing.