Friday, July 28, 2017

Omward Bound

In the previous post we veered into the question of predestination, which comes down to how we can reconcile our freedom and God's omniscience. There are any number of skillful ways to dodge the question, similar to the pretzel logic people deploy in order to deal with the existence of evil in light of God's omnipotence.

Eh. I have my own ways of circling that square. For example, the first thing the Bible tells us about God is that he creates. I would call this a Big Hint.

In fact, I seriously doubt that God cannot not create, meaning that he is an infinite and inexhaustible source of novelty and surprise, even -- or especially -- to himSelf. As I mentioned in a comment, some things are awesomer than omniscience, one of them being creativity. Frankly, omniscience would constitute a mega-life sentence of infinite and eternal boredom, of total stasis.

For Schuon, the existence of evil is at once unavoidable and impermissible. That is, the creation is necessarily more or less distant from the Creator, and this distance, you might say, is measured in degrees of evil. In other words, evil is a privation, a privation that is ultimately "necessary" if we are to be truly free.

It's like light and shadow. Light doesn't "create" shadow, but nevertheless, the privation of shadowhood occurs wherever there is light. Likewise necessity and accident. Contingency must be parasitic on necessity, because the converse is impossible.

Now, everything is ultimately the Divine Substance, or Godstuff. But if one looks at it the wrong way, this can be as intellectually barren as flatland materialism.

Rather, "If we compare the Divine Substance with water," writes Schuon, "accidents may be likened to waves, drops, snow, or ice..." From the standpoint of transcendence we're all wet, but from the perspective of immanence we are like snowflakes, each one a unique and unrepeatable instantiation of the Principle. Religion -- good religion, anyway -- respects this complementarity.

Predestination tries to deal with the complementarity by eliminating it and defaulting to transcendence. But it seems to me that the incarnation of the Word is the last word in this complementarity: it is as if the Sovereign Good -- AKA Love -- instead of abiding in his timelessness only at the top, prolongs itself all the way to the furthest reaches of manifestation, to hell even. For they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, 'God with us.'

Not only is Godwithus, but God is the very ground and possibility of withus, which is to say Trinity. For what is the Trinity but an eternal perichoresis of I AM He as You Are He as You Are Me and We Are all together?

The point is, otherness is built into God. That's what you call a profound metaphysical point, one full of implications.

Conversely, it is easy to reconcile omniscience with a theological monism, the one simply entailing the other. But how is a trinitarian God different from this tedious oneness? For starters, the Father doesn't "entail" the Son, as in some logical necessity. Rather, he begets him, which is another martyr entirely, for God is the ultimate Fertile Egghead, infertility and absence of creativity being a privation. And there are many ways to be fruitful!

Some if not most people will reject my approach as heterodox instead of orthoparadoxical. But what if creation isn't linear but circular -- as if God throws himself into being, and the spiritual journey involves the return adventure, which is ultimately God's return to himself? Is this a Permissible Thought?

I'll just quote this passage from one of our favorites, W. Norris Clarke, regarding the moment-to-moment structure of the Journey, which has two main phases. First, the Many are

projected outward from the One, their Infinite Source, by creation.... This can be called the Journey away from Home, where creatures actively unfold their diverse dynamic natures as finite participants in the divine perfection and as centers of self-expressive and self-communicating action and intention with each other, thus forming a universe (uni-versum in Latin = turned toward unity)...

This is (immediately!) followed by

The Journey of the Many back again towards reunion with the One, their Source, drawn by this same Source through the pull of the Good built in to the very nature of every being through the mediation of final causation [AKA the Great Attractor].

Thus God as the ultimate One now appears as both the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and End, at once the Source and Goal of the restless dynamism of all of nature, of all finite beings.... And since the journey Home, back toward the Source again, can never be the same as the journey away from Home, the structure of the total journey [is] aptly imaged in the form of a circle...

So, I guess you could say that God is omniscient with regard to Alpha and Omega. But in between, anything might happen!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Principles of Good Religion: 1) Free Will

We've been discussing the distinctions between theology and meta-theology and between good and bad religion. The question is: is this the same distinction? In other words, does Good Religion express the primordial meta-theological truth that is situated "above" this or that religion?

A passage caught my eye in this book on Luther: he was the first Christian "to devise an entire religion accommodated to his personal failings." Prior to him, it was for man to do the accommodating, not vice versa. This has redounded to "a plague of designer religions" numbering some 33,000.

Does every one of these constitute "bad religion"? I don't think so. Or, at the very least, there is a spectrum of wrongness. Nevertheless, I would guess that the vast majority of these -- from Jeremiah Wright to Fred Phelps -- are more human than divine, and that the choice of this or that version often comes down to the accommodation of personal failure, or inability to conform to the unvarnished doctrine.

Let's take an obvious example: the gay activist who nevertheless wants to call himself "Christian" will find that his failing is accommodated by Episcopalianism but not Catholicism (at least prior to Francis). Likewise the abortion advocate. At the far end of wrongness, heresy is elevated to sacred doctrine.

But still: how do we distinguish between good and bad religion, and is it even up to us to make this distinction? Here again, Luther's entire argument -- sola fide -- is that it is strictly impossible for man to make such a distinction. Rather, he is totally depraved, and pretending he isn't totally depraved is the worst form of depravity. All he can do is assent to the doctrine, so it is a matter of will, not intellect.

Eh, I don't like that idea. Yes, we must surely guard against intellectual pride and arrogance, but still. Doesn't Luther take it a bit far? Indeed, "the affirmation of the will over reason" might be thought of as a "renewed manifestation of the pride that characterizes Original Sin: the desire that the order of Creation bend itself to human will."

In other words, trying to make religion conform to the will is no better than making it conform to the intellect; both constitute manmade religiosity.

More to the point, just as we cannot separate thought from perception, we can only artificially sever intellect from will. Luther absolutely rejects free will, and with no freedom there can be no truth in any event. Frankly, his whole program is hopelessly incoherent and contradictory, and he spent much of his life trying to explain or paper over the inconsistencies and implications he didn't like.

It is also probably accurate to say that a majority of Protestants don't agree with the founder of Protestantism anyway, and don't really know (or care) what he believed. It is as if they spontaneously reject certain teachings that would constitute bad religion, such as the intrinsic heresy of predestination (AKA denial of free will).

So, right there we've identified a key meta-theological principle of Good Religion: recognition of free will in man. Any religion -- including of course secular religions -- that denies this freedom is a Bad Religion.

Of note, one of Islam's non-negotiable six articles of faith is predestination. Is there a way to purify such a doctrine of its badness and render it good? I think so, if it is deployed as a "skillful means" to cultivate such attitudes as peace, surrender, humility, and recognition of God's greatness. Still, this doesn't make it metaphysically true, just useful.

Running out of time, but I wonder what other aspects of Good Religion we could all agree upon, thus giving us a way to recognize bad religion?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tying Together the Womb of Being

Warning: recklessly abstract and speculative vertical meandering below. Watch your step!

Commenter Commonsense Bob reminds us of the evergreen formula that summarizes the distinction we are making between the form and essence of religion, or between meta-theology and theology: as above, so below. Simple as.

Herebelow we are given analogues -- we call them revelations -- that assist us in navigating within the vertical; or in other words, the vertical as such is a kind of downward projection of itSoph, such that the things below remind us of the things above. This latter (and ladder) is what we call "vertical recollection."

And now that I think about it, this vertical projection must be analogous to what time is in the horizontal. Time is horizontal prolongation, or the "moving image of eternity" (or perhaps we might just say "infinitude," which is eternity playing hide & seek with itself, forever).

Conversely, vertical space is a kind of static image of eternity. Put them together and you have yourself a cosmos, an ordered carpetography or tapestry woven of time and space, form and essence, heaven and earth, etc.

Just as we remember the past in the present, we "re-remember" the Above in the Below. I say "re-member" because re-ligion is cognate with religare, "to bind." Religion binds that which is below with that which is above. Usually this binding takes place in time, e.g., ritual or morality, but it can also do so in atemporal space, e.g., mysticism and infused contemplation. In reality it's always a complementarity between the two.

Hmm. I wonder if forms are more temporal, while the essence is more spatial? Sources say Yes. For example, Schuon suggests that "The function of the historical Christ is to awaken and actualize the inward Christ."

Thus, we may say that eternity becomes time so that time may become eternity. Which is just a more abstract way of saying that the nonlocal Logos becomes locally enfleshed. And if it doesn't happen in us, well then what's the bloody point?

Verticality also tends toward inwardness and subjectivity where horizontal tends toward outwardness and objectivity. Upper case (R)eason "can receive its contents from the outside and the inside, from below and above: from the outside it obtains them either through the senses or through Revelation; from the inside, it obtains them either through the soul or through intellection" (ibid.).

Moreover, if we follow the implications, "This means that the higher and lower, or the supernatural and natural, intervene both inwardly and outwardly" and are "combined by virtue of the metaphysical transparency of things in conformity with the Platonic principle of 'remembrance.'" Which is just a more elegant way of saying what I just said a few paragraphs ago.

Enough about Good Religion. What about Bad Religion? It seems to me that Bad Religion dismembers the organic unity of the cosmos, either reducing the above to the below or vice versa. Typically it absolutizes the relative or relativizes the absolute, which leads to all sorts of mischief. And it does so in a way that manifests Pride.

Humility is not just a prerequisite for the spiritual adventure, but a direct consequence of vertical in-sight. I mean, seeing where one sits in the vertical scheme of things makes a man humble, doesn't it? Even Jesus himself asks "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone."

It seems to me that this is a strong statement -- a metaphysical cluebat -- about vertical projection: at the top is the Abbasolute Sovereign Good in comparison to which everything below is at least a little imperfect. The further from the source, the more cosmically messed up.

Each of us, as Schuon puts it, "has limits if not defects," limits of time, space, culture, history, and development -- to say nothing of those mischievous mind parasites with anti-divine agendas all their own. At any rate, humility represents a kind of "objective and disinterested awareness" that functions to dissolve "ambition and vanity at their roots" -- roots which take root below, as it were.

It won't do -- for the Raccoon, anyway -- to merely flee from pride. Rather, the ideal -- perhaps unattainable, but whatever -- is to cultivate a profound awareness "of the nature of things," such that "there is nothing to flee" and errors do not exert their seductive influence. I mean, just because we are fallen, it doesn't mean that everyone is fallen to the same extent, nor that there is nothing we can do to remedy the situation. In a vertical world, there are degrees of wrongness.

Bad religion can take the form of an excess of humility that mirrors the excessive grandiosity of deepaking the chopra. I certainly don't mean to bag on Protestantism, but I happen to be reading a book on Luther, in whom an extraordinary level of pride operated through the vehicle of humility.

How so? Well, for starters, he felt that man was so thoroughly depraved by the fall that any effort at self-improvement was evidence of pridefulness and strictly impossible anyway. We are all at the bottom and can't get up. It seems to me that Luther engages in the ultimate humble brag, in that he personally knows there is nothing man can know, such that the only solution is the will to believe -- a will severed from its telos in truth.