Friday, July 21, 2017

The Essence and Form of Political Truth

Yesterday while pondering this question of the form and essence of religious truth, it occurred to me that one can look upon the same distinction vis-a-vis politics, at least here in the U.S.

I don't know enough about other political systems to say whether the U.S. is the only one that draws this distinction between "political truth" and its formal expression. However, I do know that the entire project of the left is founded upon denying this distinction.

What I'm talking about is the distinction between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the former expressing universal truth -- the essence -- the latter defining its particular political expression. The essence goes to the nature of reality, AKA the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God.

The essence of the Declaration is situated "above" the form of Constitution. It expresses the atemporal and universal truths "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

But these essential truths need a form, hence the Constitution. The Founders even say so: "to secure these [essential] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Which leads to the necessary corollary that when the form fails to uphold the essence, then the form is no longer binding, and we're outta here:

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these [essential] ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such [anterior and universal] principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The most articulate defender of this view was Abraham Lincoln (cf. the Koon Klassic A New Birth of Freedom). In this regard, you will notice that the civil war we are currently experiencing is the same old civil war that has been going on since the founding, and indeed, since the dawn of man. It is none other than the war between essence and form. It is Genesis 3 All Over Again.

The left of course wants to have its crock and force us to eat it too. Its guiding principle is that Truth Doesn't Exist and We are its Prophets. Or better, Enforcers.

For example, there is no such thing as human nature but women have an absolute right to a dead baby. Or, marriage is just a piece of paper but homosexuals are deprived of the dignity owed human beings without it. The list is pretty much endless. We're especially seeing the drama play out with regard to freedom of speech, about which the left is no longer even trying to conceal its deadly hostility.

Think of the Dred Scott decision: "the language used in the Declaration of Independence" demonstrates that blacks are not "intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument." Oh really? Tell us more: blacks don't even have so much as a single right to which "the white man [is] bound to respect."

Notice the sleight of hand, as Taney even attempts to root this lie in a universal truth that is above the Constitution: this notion of cosmic inequality is "fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race," "an axiom in morals as well as in politics" which no one would ever think of disputing. No one! Welcome to the oppressive world of Political Correctness, 19th century version.

The leftist error of a "living Constitution" isn't the only possible cosmic bainfart here. There are also good conservative judges who only consider the "four corners" of the Constitution, without reference to the Declaration. In other words, they reject the natural rights theory of the Founders, and regard the Constitution as self-sufficient.

But nothing outside God is self-sufficient, and any attempt to render it so will inevitably become brittle and sclerotic. Yes the Constitution is ALIVE!, but only so long as it is rooted in the deathless truths of the Declaration. If the Constitution empowers the hands of the state, it is only because there is a Mind posited in the Declaration. If there is no Mind anterior to them, then the hands just grab Power with no limiting principle.

We're only dealing with the Big Picture today, without getting down into the weeds. But it also occurs to me that the Declaration is about Absoluteness, while the Constitution is necessarily relative -- i.e., relative the absolute truth of the Declaration.

This leads to another trick of the left: deny the absoluteness of the Declaration in order to re-situate it in constitutional law. Indeed, all of their malign constitutional mischief takes this form.

Marriage, for example, is a natural right which is anterior to the state, and which the state can only defend, not create. Nevertheless, homosexual marriage was conjured by the state on June 26, 2015. Which means the state has brazenly undermined a natural right for which reason it exists to defend in the first place. In other words, the state loudly proclaimed a rejection of its reason for being.

More generally, the natural law traditionalist has no rights to which the liberal elitist is bound to respect.

Now, governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. But the left's assault on the Laws of Nature and Nature's God isn't very light; pretty heavy-handed, rather. And if it is permanent, then we're outta here.

Liberalism faltered when it turned out it could not cope with truth.... The liberal project began to fail when it began to lie. That was the mid-sixties… the rot set in and has continued since. --Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cosmic Heresy and Intrinsic Orthodoxy

I have a surprise early appointment, so this post ended up raising more questions than it had the time to answer or properly dodge. We'll pick up the thread tomorrow...

Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics very much dovetails with our recent posts on the subject of meta-theology. It too raises many more problems than it resolves. Moreover, the book is more sociological than theological, such that the author never even gets around to defining exactly what he means by heresy or bad religion. Rather, he just knows them when he sees them. But by what criteria?

Schuon, who is deeper and more subtle than any mere Timesman could ever be, notes that there are two forms of heresy, intrinsic and extrinsic. The latter applies only to this or that religion, while the former goes to religion as such.

For example, it would represent a Christian heresy to regard Mary as co-redemptrix. But is belief in salvation via the divine feminine intrinsically heretical?

Actually, it looks like the idea is only borderline heretical, at least for Catholics; or, it can be kosher so long as Mary isn't on the identical plane as Jesus. But for Protestants the whole idea would indeed be heretical. This only goes to the difficulty of nailing down heresy, both intrinsic and extrinsic.

Also, I have this idea that when a religion declares a cosmic orthodoxy to be heretical, the rejected truth will have a way of returning unbidden and unnoticed. The question of Mary is just one example: you can drive the divine feminine out with a pitchfork, but she always returns.

Furthermore -- and more problematically -- she can return in distorted, grotesque, and deviant ways, as in feminism, Gaia-ism, and the cult of global warming. It is very much as if the Church's focus on Mary allows for a healthy expression of a kind of intrinsic longing, for on the human plane it can't get any more primordial than the mamamatrix. It's gonna come out somehow.

The rock bottom question is how to determine when religion is bad and/or heretical. Again, by what criteria? By what right can a man who believes in the resurrection criticize the man who believes in reincarnation? Surely, he can't just call him irrational, let alone heretical, since reincarnation would be a Christian heresy but Hindu orthodoxy.

In a way, Schuon's entire oeuvre deals with this question from one angle or another "Exoterism," he writes, "puts the form -- the credo -- above the essence -- Universal Truth," while esoterism (or what we are calling meta-theology) regards the form (credo) as a function of the essence (Universal Truth). A deviation from this Universal Truth would represent an intrinsic heresy.

Let's take an obvious Universal Truth, that God is one. A religion that posits, say, two ultimate realities in eternal conflict would be intrinsically heretical. Even -- or especially -- the early fathers had to grapple with this one: how to reconcile God's threeness with his oneness without descending into intrinsic heresy.

Those early ecumenical councils testify to just how seriously they took the matter. Indeed, if the second commandment conveys an intrinsic orthodoxy -- don't worship idols and other false gods -- then everything was on the line in getting it right. Get it wrong and you end up with an intrinsically heretical religion such as Scientology or leftism.

In short, on the one hand they were obviously dealing with questions of extrinsic heresy, i.e., heresies unique to Christianity. But without stating it or even realizing it, they were also dealing with questions of intrinsic heresy, i.e., ruling out metaphysical ideas that are just plain wrong, everywhere and everywhen.

The question is, is the credo -- the particular form -- the criterion of the Universal Truth, or is there a Universal Truth that is the criterion of the particular form? It seems to me that asking this approaches a kind of vertical third-rail. Within a religion, one is discouraged from touching it.

Why is this? Because doing so might relativize the credo, such that it is no longer possible to believe it in good faith. Religions tend to absolutize themselves because failure to do so will result in failure to express and transmit absoluteness, at least to the average Joe.

Just thinking out loud here, but what if we cannot actually separate the form from the essence? This was the big divide between Plato and Aristotle -- that and the question of boxers vs. briefs -- i.e., whether the essence is in the form, or whether there is a "platonic" realm of pure essences above the individual expression. But it's not a crude either/or question, hence the breakthrough discovery of the boxer brief.

Seriously: what if there is no essence except in its expression? In our minds we can divide them, but they are really indivisible -- just as we can recognize a frog, but there is no nonlocal realm of frogginess that exists separately from the Frenchman in question.

"What characterizes esoterism" writes Schuon, is that "on contact with a dogmatic system, it universalizes the symbol or the religious concept..."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Meta-Theology, Esoterism, and Sola Relatio

I don't even like the word "esoterism" because it sounds elitist and therefore Gnostic, the latter involving salvation via some special knowledge reserved for the Few.

Nevertheless, if the truth sets one free, then liberation and salvation obviously have some relation to knowledge. Lies set one free, but free from a proper relation to reality. At least for awhile. Reality can be an abusive partner if one persists in being unfaithful to her.

All religions speak of liberation and salvation, but usually emphasize one or the other. Where eastern religions generally speak of liberation, western ones preach salvation.

But one cannot be saved without truth, and to be liberated is to be rescued from the various lies and illusions that ensnare us.

In addition to truth and liberation, there is presence: God is truth, God is freedom, and God is here. Frankly, any one will do, and each entails the others.

Theology is always situated within this or that religion, but esoterism is meta-theological. This is essentially no different from how metaphysics is situated beyond every academic discipline. Now, metaphysics is not popular these days, and meta-theology has never been popular.

However, we know it isn't possible to make any meaningful statement about reality outside a metaphysical frame of reference (even the word "reality" is metaphysically loaded with assumptions). People who deny metaphysics -- or who pretend to do without it -- just end up being the worst and most naive of metaphysicians.

For example, science wedded to a bad metaphysic redounds to scientism. Psychology rooted in a naive or unreflective metapsychology devolves to an absurcular psychologism. Similarly, history can become a myopic historicism, logic a grandiose tautology, economics a presumption to knowledge that is impossible in principle.

There is one truth but an infinite number of deviations therefrom. Some people confuse the infinitude of the latter with "freedom." But relativism is just the world's biggest prison.

So: I wonder if there is a meta-theology that is to theology as metaphysics is to the world?

By the way, in using the word "metaphysics," I am partial to Whitehead's definition of the term -- which I don't precisely remember at the moment but has something to do with an overarching theory that encompasses Everything That is the Case. Anything that exists or happens is explained by it, and nothing can exist or happen outside its laws or principles or habits.

Everything written above was provoked by one little passage from Schuon, to the effect that it would be absurd to demand from theology what is perfectly acceptable to esoterism (or what we prefer to call meta-theology).

A central purpose of theology is to transmit the Absolute. However, it is generally conflated with the Absolute, which reduces to idolatry. This is precisely the plane where religious quarrels occur, especially the deadly ones. Being that there cannot be two Absolutes, one must go, absolutely. The jihad is on.

I wonder: is there a meta-theology that is built into Christianity, thus freeing it from the errors of "theologism" (the latter neologism being to theology what scientism is to metaphysics)? Does Christianity convey an intrinsic ironization of itself?

I believe so. In this respect -- and no disrespect is intended -- it is quite different from, say, Islam or Judaism, which are "religions of the book." Christianity is most definitely not a religion of the book. Rather, it is a religion of the person and of the relationship. This latter statement is, of course, filled with meta-theological implications.

A book is an object. A person is a subject, and indeed, the meta-cosmic person is the very source of subjectivity. And a relation is not a possession. Just what it "is" is quite mysterious, because it is not only the space between Things That Are, but makes them What They Are. Here we find ourselves outside the world of sola scriptura and inside the space of sola relatio.

In other words, there is This and there is That. But there is no ultimate This or That. Rather, what is ultimate is the relation between This and That, which, if I am not mistaken, goes to the centrality of Trinity: there is no Father save for in-relation-to the Son, and vice versa.

The relation is the thing, and this relation is Love, apparently. Everything herebelow is substance-in-relation. Which should be no surprise if everything above is also substance-in-relation.

A thought just popped into my head: remember Esperanto? It is a manmade meta-language that is supposed to transcend and harmonize the world's diverse tongues. Is that what we're doing here? I don't think so, because Esperanto is obviously not the Logos from which language flows (and languages flow). To imagine the Logos can be reduced to a human language is literally pre-posterous.

Now, the ultimate substance must be beyond-being. It is the Father of all. Ah ha! But there is no ultimate substance, or at least one that isn't in-relation. Therefore, beyond-being must be in relation to being, as Father is to Son. And again, this relation is love. So, there is indeed something beyond beyond-being, and it is the relation of love. It is the mysterious Third that haunts all things.

This pneumatic third spills over into everything. In my opinion it explains the intelligibility of the world, which is just the light of truth pouring forth and giving itself over to intelligence. Likewise beauty, which is just the divine glory in its metaphysical transparency. And what is virtue but man's participation in the sovereign good?

I guess that's about it for today. I would summarize by saying that meta-theology entails three human imperatives: know truth, love beauty, and do good. But knowing, loving, and doing are all relations.