Friday, March 02, 2018

Coordinates of Existence

The following phrase popped into my head this morning: coordinates of existence. It must be the tip of a post, or at least of a Friday Ramble. Let's hope there is something beneath its provocative surface.

Clearly there are coordinates of existence, some of which are given and therefore absolute (at least relatively speaking), others manmade, conventional, and contingent. Often the former are expressed in terms of the latter -- in other words, different cultures have different ways of expressing the same underlying truths. More problematically, purely cultural coordinates are often conflated with ontological ones, which causes no end of mischief.

All normal people know that male and female, for example, constitute one of our given coordinates. This then expresses itself culturally in diverse ways. But note how the left takes a cultural stereotype and elevates it to a given. In other words, a man who imagines he is a woman is just identifying with a particular stereotype, the stereotype being contingent upon actual womanhood.

There are so many things wrong with this that one scarcely knows where to begin, but beneath it all is an absurd inversion of a given coordinate. It is no less absurd than exchanging north for south, or adult for child, or winter for summer. Some things just are. If they aren't, then neither are we. Literally, for we are no longer rooted in truth but in will (or worse, willfulness): I am what I want to be, which renders man an absurd tautology.

The ultimate coordinate is God -- or rather, the God <--> Man axis (and who is Christ but its fillfullment?).

Now, God is I AM. Our being is obviously contingent upon his ("God is, therefore we are"). But the false coordinate described above essentially identifies God as I WILL. Big. Difference. "I will, therefore I am" is bad mojo. Hitlerian, even.

Yes, there's an aphorism for that; maybe more than one. Note how each of these goes to the givenness of certain cOʘrdinates (all aphorisms are by the Aphorist, AKA Dávila). For example:

The two poles are the individual and God; the two antagonists are God and man.

Again, so much mischief when we turn a complementarity into an opposition!

If man is the sole end of man, an inane reciprocity is born from that principle, like the mutual reflection of two empty mirrors.

This reduces the vertical line to a point. Bad!

Today the individual rebels against inalterable human nature in order to refrain from amending his own correctable nature.

Here again, this reifies our opposition to God; really, it's just Genesis 3 All Over Again.

Modern man denies himself every metaphysical dimension and considers himself a mere object of science. But he screams when they exterminate him as such.

Exactly. Treat an atheist like the pointless agglomeration of matter that he is, and he won't like it. He might even scream that his "rights" are being violated. What rights?

Only God and the central point of my consciousness are not adventitious to me.

That is a quite literal distillation of this post.

The Church’s function is not to adapt Christianity to the world, nor even to adapt the world to Christianity; her function is to maintain a counterworld in the world.

The Church -- or the magisterium -- fleshes out (heh) the vertical axis. Does some of it pass over into the human margin? Yes, no doubt. There is no human without a culture. It's a question of whether the culture is in conformity with the nature of things, or in opposition to or rebellion against it.

Christianity does not deny the splendor of the world but encourages us to seek its origin, to ascend to its pure snow.

There is nothing wrong with being-in-the-world (hey, it's good enough for God). Without it, we couldn't bloody well be, could we? Just don't amputate the world from its cause, or elevate the world to its own cause. That's just stupid.

Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities.

Big Time. It is a vision -- or prevision -- of the nonlocal coordinates.

He who does not believe in God can at least have the decency of not believing in himself.

Right? Why on earth would an atheist believe in atheism, of all things, or a leftist believe in leftism? That makes no sense. If God doesn't exist, then only He can know it. So if you're going to be nonsensical, go all the way, like Venezuela, or California.

Getting back to the thread we've been on, two poles of existence are freedom and necessity. According to Schuon,

Now in things, the two poles are always present, but with either the one or the other predominating; in possible things, it is the aspect of freedom which veils the aspect of necessity, whereas in actual things, it is the aspect of necessity which predominates...

It's like the Tao, isn't it?

It may be difficult for human reason to reconcile these two poles, and the temptation to deny them is[sssss] great; the difficulty is not, however, greater than in the case of the boundlessness of space or time, which we are obliged to accept even if it is impossible for us to imagine it.

Exactly. No one knows what time -- let alone eternity -- is, and yet we all know. Indeed, I know I'm out if it, which is to say, my freedom is shading off into necessity. For no one can deny the SlackWork axis.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

By and For the Useless

We've been discussing certain fundamentals and even requirements of existence, such as necessity and contingency, absolute and infinite, being and beyond-being, possible and actual, divine and human. Our existence is always a tapestry woven of these complementaries, i.e., the elusive (or was it stolen?) but ever-present cosmic area rug.

Requirements of existence. In the last couple of decades -- mirroring the new atheist movement -- there have been any number of books on the numerical coincidences necessary for humanness to have emerged, both on the biological (intelligent design) and cosmological (the anthropic principle) planes. Each of these uses numbers, i.e., quantities, to deduce the impossibility of randomness or coincidence explaining our existence; therefore GOD.

Eh. You can't actually get from quantity to quality. Or, maybe it's just because I'm a wordman and not a numbergeek -- a logovert -- but why not begin with qualities, instead of pretending numbers can take us to ultimate reality? It's just a matter of determining which qualities are fundamental, and which are secondary and derivative.

By the way, numbers aren't completely futile in this area. For example, One. In a very real way, if you truly understand the meaning and implications of One, then you've not only proved the existence of God, but you are "in" God, so to speak. Certainly no other animal can understand, enter, or participate in oneness from the inside. (Which also proves that One has an exterior and interior; and that the former can never account for the latter.)

As alluded to above, two of our most important qualities are Being and Beyond-Being. Obviously these are not quantitative realities. At the same time, standard issue theology often gets bogged down in cosmic heteroparadox or absurdity because of the failure to distinguish between these two. Frankly, mosts religious folk don't seem to like the idea, since it seems to contradict, or interfere with, the Godness of God, which is fine. This blog isn't addressed to them.

Schuon lucidly breaks down the distinction between Beyond-Being and Being; the former

is "absolutely infinite" whereas the second [Being] is relatively so, which, while being tautological and even contradictory, is nevertheless a useful expression in a necessarily elliptical language; the gap between logic and transcendent truths permits the latter occasionally to override the former, although the converse is clearly excluded.

Check it out: he's essentially echoing exactly what was said above about quality and quantity: there is an inevitable gap between these two, but only from the bottom up. In other words, quantity cannot "reach up" to quality, whereas the converse is not only possible but necessary. Otherwise we wouldn't be here, let alone be here thinking about these qualitative realities.

You might also say that to conflate the conventional understanding of God with Beyond-Being is likewise "a useful expression in a necessarily elliptical language." Really, this goes to the time-honored distinction between apophatic and cataphatic theology. You can't go too far astray with the latter, even though -- somewhat like numbers -- it can only lead to the threshold of the unKnowable Godhead.

More clarity from Schuon:

If we set Beyond-Being aside, we are entitled to attribute Infinitude to Being; but if it is Beyond-Being that we are taking into consideration, then we shall say that the Infinite is in truth Beyond-Being, and that Being realizes this infinitude in relative mode, thereby opening the door to the outpouring of possibilities endlessly varied, thus inexhaustible.

Why is any of this important? Oh, no reason. Which is to say, the most important things are for their own sake -- human persons, for example. What is more useless than a baby? And yet, everyone short of a leftist knows babies are infinitely precious.

In another book by Schuon, I came across an intriguing and no doubt controversial claim, that "To understand a religion in depth, one must understand religion as such."

Here again, many religious folk will resist this idea, but it is "somewhat" inevitable (can anything be a little bit evitable?). For example, by what criteria does the Christian determine Christianity to be true? Protestants try to confine themselves to the letter of scripture, but still, someone has to decide what qualifies as scripture. Catholics will of course say the Church has determined what qualifies, but if you're following me, this leads either to an arbitrary stop or an infinite regress. Was man made for scripture or scripture for man? And how do we know, unless the truth is built into us?

I don't think it's useful for the average man to ask such questions, but again, this is a useless blog aimed at useless people.

Can we bring this discussion down a couple of notches, into more familiar territory? Sure, no problem. Let's turn to The Roots of Christian Mysticism, and see if we can come up with anything. I'm just going to thumb through and rely on providence.

"A life without eternity is unworthy of the name of life. Only eternal life is true" (St. Augustine).

"[T]heologians praise the divine Origin for having no name and yet possessing all names.... They declare, moreover, that this divine Origin is simultaneously at the heart of the universe and far beyond the sky, sun, stars, fire, water, wind, dew, cloud rock, stone, and in a word all that is and nothing that is" (Dionysus the Aeropagite).


"The infinite is without doubt something of God, but not God himself, who is infinitely beyond even that" (Maximus the Confessor).

Infinitely beyond infinitude -- which is to say, the absolute infinitude of Beyond-Being contains the relative infinitude of Being.

"God's transcendence eludes even our very idea of transcendence. God transcends his own transcendence, so that he may not be lost in abstract nothingness, but may give of himself" (Clement).

Which "is why the Fathers also speak of God as inaccessible, of God beyond God, in terms of a springing forth, a creative and redemptive leap outside his essence, following the eternal movement of the divine energies, but also in order to communicate these to creatures..." (ibid).

O --> (↓). Being marches forth from Beyond-Being!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Good and Bad Nothingness

Something that exists or has happened is a realized possibility, meaning that it must have been possible in principle. Moreover, it must mean that possibility as such exists in principle -- or that there is a meta-cosmic "principle of possibility."

Unless you are a nominalist, in which case each thing is a unique fact expressing no principle. The problem with this point of view is that it renders thought impossible. On the plane of thought, everything depends upon seeing generalities and extracting principles and essences. Indeed, any word is a general category, otherwise we'd have to invent new words each time we spoke.

Speaking of which, I can't tell if this line of thought I've been pursuing is of general interest, or just a private preoccupation. It feels quite essential to me -- in other words, like we're drilling down to the essence of things -- but maybe it strikes you as peripheral. I don't know what to do about that. A little secret: the bus is more or less self-driving. Although I am technically behind the wheel, that's just in case of emergency. Otherwise, the bus goes where it wants to go.

The following strikes me as an ultimate pole of thought, beyond which it cannot go; it is a truth of which there can be no truer, except in an extra-cognitive mode such as mystical union:

Beyond-Being is absolute Necessity in itself, whereas Being is absolute Necessity in respect of the world, but not in respect of Beyond-Being. Beyond-Being... possesses the possible as an internal dimension and in virtue of its infinitude; at this level, the possible is precisely Being, or Relativity, Maya. We would say consequently that Being is not other than possibility; possibility necessary in itself, but contingent in its increasingly relative contents...

This formulation resolves a lot of issues I have with exoteric religion. For example, perhaps trinitarian thought is a way of thinking about the same reality -- a point of reference, as it were. In other words, you are always free to think about God as a kind of indistinct blob of absolutely transcendent omnipotence and omniscience.

Islam tends toward this view, i.e., There is no God but God, full stop. Judaism does too, except in the case of Kabbalah, which is like an interior map of divinity with all sorts of interesting points of reference -- including the Ein Sof corresponding to the absolute ground of Beyond-Being. It

is understood as God prior to his self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm.... Ein Sof may be translated as "unending", "(there is) no end", or infinity.... Of the Ein Sof, nothing ("Ein" ) can be grasped ("Sof" -- limitation).

This is one of the reasons why the bʘʘk begins the way it does, with the black page that is even prior to nothing: Beyond-Being is orthoparadoxically beyond nothing! (Or nothing is beyond it.)

For which I do have some venerable back-up, mainly in the person of Meister Eckhart, who made many similarly strange claims:

God the ineffable one has no name. The divine one is a negation of negations and a denial of denials. God is nothing. No thing. God is nothingness; and yet God is something. God is neither this thing nor that thing that we can express. God is a being beyond all being; God is a beingless being.

Hard to understand. Easy to misunderstand. Again, it comes down to making distinctions within God, but -- consistent with trinitarian thought -- not separations. And what is a distinct without separation but a complementarity?

Which is why I would suggest that Being is not like an emanation from Beyond-Being, but its complementary mode. Somewhat as in how the Father engenders the Son, each of whom is nevertheless eternal. Father and Son are quite complementary, in that you cannot have one without the other.

An alternative perspective would be to say that the Trinity as already a kind of crystallization out of Beyond-Being. Looked at this way, it reminds me of a stable pattern of currents that is a function of the entire ocean. Yes, we can make out the contours of the currents, but can never pretend they could exist separate from their oceanic matrix. Rather, they are the ocean.

Analogously, the human ego could never exist outside its unconscious matrix; or, local consciousness floats on a wider sea of consciousness-as-such. We all have a kind of trinitarian structure, in that each moment our thought is flowing out of an implicate order which is unknown to us.

Where does creativity come from? Who knows? All we know is that we will never run out of poems, melodies, paintings, gags. How can this be, unless we participate in Infinitude, AKA divine possibility?

Speaking of art, another key point: due to the nature of Possibility, it is possible for possibility to detach from its divine source, and thereby careen toward impossibility.

Again, Contingency must be grounded in Necessity, prolonging the latter in diverse ways, without veering into pure contingency. Pure contingency is none other than the tyranny of relativism, AKA the absurdity of postmodernity, which like nothing so much as a counterfeit nothingness, or bad nothing. There is the good nothing of total possibility, and the bad nothing of total absurdity.