Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Birds and the Balls: On Getting to First Base and Flying Back Home

We left off yesterday with the outlandish claim that many adults use language “as a defense against growth or as a means to paper over psychic damage. In extreme cases, they will see no forest, only trees. In other cases, they will superimpose a fake forest over the real one. How to tell the difference? I’ll have to address that tomorrow. Suffice it to say that one of the purposes of religion is to see the real forest for the trees (and tree-dwellers).”

Some folks, like yesterday’s amiable troll, just give up looking for the forest. He expresses the necessarily vacuous cynicism of the untutored materialist or naive atheist in affirming that one may “substitute the word ‘efficiency’ whenever you want to use ‘truth’ and you'll get a more accurate picture of why things are the way they are.” Since there is no truth, there is only force, so that culture is nothing but “a combat over who will control the police and what police will act against.” He concludes by claiming that all people just want the same things and that “Whatever it takes to get there is whatever it takes, truth be damned.”

This proves two axiomatic points, 1), that if you eliminate truth, then foolishness will rush in to fill the void, and 2), that the resultant foolishness will indeed be enforced by raw power, since one can make no appeal to truth. It also shows that anything a troll can say has already been said. Perhaps not as poorly, but since the fall is ongoing, in that respect he has an advantage over his predecessors.

Naturally, the first thing one wants to ask the troll is whether his harebrained statements are true, or merely harebrained, or both. In any event, they do not rise to the level of philosophy, which is to say wisdom, certainly not a philosophy worthy of man or which answers to the needs of his soul, needs which prove the existence of their object no less than eyes are proof of light.

As I have mentioned a number of times in the past (borrowing a metaphor from the philosopher of science Stanley Jaki), philosophy can be compared to baseball, in the sense that one must first get to first base. All bad philosophies -- which is to say nearly all philosophies, certainly secular ones -- start at second or third, and conveniently “assume” first base. But everyone knows you can't steal first base.

The plain fact of the matter is that there is no way around John 1:1, which tells us, “In the beginning was the Word.” If your philosophy does not begin with the Word, then we have nothing to talk about, do we? I suppose we could convey our ideas through interpretive dancing -- which I am not above doing when the mood strikes -- but the broader meaning of “word” is any object that can stand for another and convey meaning between subjects, so no matter how silly the dance, it will still be steeped in the Word and addressed to a subject.

The upside-down, postmodern person begins with the absurd idea that we are real but that the truth is not. In reality, the reverse is true: the truth is real -- meaning eternal -- while the ego is false (or even nonexistent, ontologically speaking) to the extent that it denies truth. Intelligence as such means “conformity with truth,” or else there is no such thing as intelligence. In other words, intelligence cannot be “conformity with error” or "knowledge of falsehood" and retain any right to call itself intelligence.

The cosmos is permeated with intelligence, and therefore, truth. It is the pre-phenomenal or noumenal intelligence spoken of by John -- that by which everything was made and without which nothing was made.

I have a very precise recollection of when I first realized this fact, even if I was unable to draw out its implications at the time. It was the spring of 1985. I was sitting on the balcony of my apartment with a beer -- listening to Fables of the Reconstruction, by REM, now that I think about it -- after having completed my written doctoral exams. Just beyond the ledge, two birds were circling about, one chasing the other in an obvious mating ritual of some kind. Suddenly it was as if the cosmos turned inside out, and in one of those moments of metaphysical transparency, I “saw” the wisdom of nature merely using these delighted birds as “props” for its divine play, or lila. I could see the implicit intelligence underlying the explicit phenomena, the same abstract intelligence that causes a flower to turn toward the sun, or a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly, or a lowly retail clerk to pass his doctoral exams.

I saw the primordial intelligence of which the human mind was able to partake when it became human. I saw the sufficient reason for man’s intelligence, an intelligence which is anterior to his having “entered” it. I saw that all intelligence is ultimately the intelligence of God refracted through a medium of greater or lesser capacity. I saw that this intelligence was clearly present in matter, which is simply frozen math of great transcendental beauty, and in living things, which are exquisitely complex architecture in motion. And I saw that this intelligence was obviously present in the human mind which, in its uncorrupted state, is a mirror of the divine intellect, truth returning to Truth, the Word finally hearing its wisdom after 13.7 billion years of speaking it into the Void. I saw the impossibility of flesh gaining wisdom in the absence of wisdom become flesh.

About a week later the Lakers finally beat the Celtics for the world championship, and I knew that God existed.

Of course, the conditions of relative existence -- which is to say existence -- necessitate that we have an evolved self, an “ego,” and an “uncreated” spark of divinity that lights up our center. This is our “pilot light,” in both senses of the term. First, it provides the “direction” or “orientation” for our human journey. Second, it is like the pilot light of a furnace, a small, permanent light that stands vigilant, waiting for the conditions that will allow it to provide both warmth and light.

This light is the “light of the world,” and although it can be buried under layers of ice or mud, it can never be extinguished. This tiny spark is an echo (if you will pardon the mixed metaphor) of the divine center at the cosmic periphery. It is the reason why existence is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but whose center is everywho. It is that which allows any human subject to truthfully say I AM, even I am that, if he is very lucky -- or very good, or very beautiful (in the interior sense), or very intelligent (in the original sense of the term, not in its trivial contemporary usage).

To say “error” is to say “truth,” irrespective of whether or not one is aware of the truth. However, realizing the existence of error means that you are halfway to first base. You might say that the count is 3 and 0. You could still strike out, but with a disciplined eye, you will probably be awarded first base.

Now, a disciplined I is able to distinguish between reality and illusion, which is what spiritual practice is all about. Reality is constantly throwing itself at us, but, just as in baseball, we must be able to know when something is in the strike zone. The pitcher is a snake who, like all pitchers, will use deception -- curve balls, change ups, sliders that look hittable but dart away at the last moment. The skilled pitcher is able to make bad pitches look enticing and good pitches difficult to hit.

It is for us to distinguish balls from strikes, truth from error. Ultimately, our task is “to distinguish between terrestrial thought, induced by the environment, and celestial thought, induced by what constitutes our eternal substance...” (Schuon). Fortunately there is an umpire, an objective source of metaphysical certainty, who enforces the strike zone. To know this strike zone is to know the cause of human happiness. To align oneself with it, body, mind and spirit -- or heart, intellect and will -- is to achieve it. To paraphrase Schuon, it is a matter of knowing what is and then being what one knows.

The lost and “centerless” horizontal man is a very undisciplined hitter. Not only does he not know the strike zone, he makes up his own. Therefore, he swings wildly at most any pitch that comes his way, not even aware of the pitcher’s deception. He will generally start and end his life at the plate. He will strike out, shrug his shoulders, and shuffle back to the dugout, which is conveniently located a few feet below the earth.

To say error is to say enslavement or hypnosis, while to say truth is to say awakening or liberation. The hypnotized or enslaved person, just like the rest of us, is on fire. However, he doesn’t realize it, so he does nothing to try to put it out. Or, he reaches for shadows instead of water, as if the mere absence of light is enough to extinguish the blaze. Where is the water? It is where it has always been and ever will be. Just a bit north, falling down like rain.

The uncreated Word shatters created speech while at the same time directing it toward concrete and saving truth. --F. Schuon


Joan of Argghh! said...

Which is why you can almost never trust a man who doesn't understand the transcendent nature of Baseball.

Forgive me if I harken back to an old pun:
In the Big Inning was the Word.

tsebring said...

Bob - you have given new meaning to "Field of Dreams".

geckofeeder said...

"If you build it they will come."

Anonymous said...

If only there was a DH for Nancy Pelosi.

The troll said...

Bob, your post is so good it leaves slim pickin's for the neighborhood troll to contest.
Must I admit that I admire the enemy?

Alas, I really like your metaphor/image of the pitcher as a snake who throws philosophic curveballs. I said to myself, aha! That's me! Can I be the tricky pitcher? I'd be perfect in that position!

Now I just need to get out some pitches for you and your readers--
(will they swing?) Here goes the first pitch, with the count 0-0

Bob said (about a comment I made in yesterday's post about efficiency)

He (troll) expresses the necessarily vacuous cynicism of the untutored materialist or naive atheist in affirming that one may “substitute the word ‘efficiency’ whenever you want to use ‘truth’ and you'll get a more accurate picture of why things are the way they are.”

I don't think the concept of "efficiency" has been "unpacked" sufficiently yet. There is a lot in there.

For example, let us take a hypothetical example:
A human soul (the inner light referred to, and I must say, very elegantly, by Bob) sits before life at the knee of the Lord.
Somehow the decision is made, the soul will enter the horizontal axis of being (time, matter), and down it drops. Another human being is born.

Now, having gone to some trouble to enter the world, does it necessarily follow that the best course of action for a person is strive for a return to God? After all,said return will be made after death.
Wouldn't it be MORE efficient for a person to submerge themselves as deeply as possible into materialism and temporallity while they had the chance?

Oops, got to go..dinner. I'll contue later...

ben usn (ret) said...

You call that a pitch?
You almost hit the dugout.

hoarhey said...

Ball ONE!

Lisa said...

The troll is lying on Bob's couch right now, unable to sit up and stand vertical...doesn't sound very efficient to me.

ben usn (ret) said...

Yeah, there's alot in there alright.

jwm said...

First- your hypothetical is just plain silly. You presume to know the purpose of the Creation, the motives of God, and the method for introducing a soul into this plane of existence. That's more than most folks pick up in Sunday school or 101 Intro to Philosophy. Perhaps you have come up with a more efficient way of getting all this done. Let God know about it, will ya'? I'm sure he could use your help.
Second- you want efficiency? look at the human eye. Take Biology 101 and look at the Krebs cycle. You will find efficiency in abundance: where it is called for.


jwm said...

Just for the record. In the interest of honesty and full disclosure: I recall studying the krebs cycle in Biology 101 over twenty years ago. It went way over my head.

It was (and still is) really efficient, though!


Anonymous said...

There is no before life, troll. Me thinks you have betrayed yourself -- were you raised a mormon? Oops, did I just offend mormons?



Ben usn (ret) said...

Troll's response to his/her nonesensical hypothetickle was a typical "bad steward" response
(talk about immersing oneself in the flesh).

The Troll said...

Supper being over (Korean, quite tasty), troll resumes his pitch on efficiency as an area of spiritual life that demands explication.

Now, in the example I had started on, the following premises are essential to accept:

1. The human soul does not arise out of nothingness but rather enters material life from the spirit realm, already immortal. Can there be any reasonable objection to this view?

2.After death the human soul returns to the spirit realm from whence it came. Again, can there be any plausible objections to this proposition?

3. The horizontal time-space realm, our material cosmos, is therefore entered into by the human soul with some intention behind it. (And here we encounter intention and motive, or spin, if you would, as discussed earlier). Would anyone care to argue that we are not immortal and here without intention? I think not, if I know my bobbleheads.
Ergo, life is a mission of some sort.

Now, does it follow logically that our mission MUST BE or should be to discover God here and try to return to him by religion? What would be the point?

For example, why fly to Rome and look for a McDonalds to eat dinner at? Why shouldn't the spirit here on earth get its feet good and muddy on the rare terrestrial crust, or wander in the fields materialism?

That is the pitch (question) that is now whizzing over the plate.

reader jwm has already called me silly, but I'd like to hear the precise refutations of my propositions if you don't mind.

hoarhey said...

Baaaaaall TWO!

hoarhey said...

Why not eat at a Rome McDonalds?

hoarhey said...

"Wouldn't it be MORE efficient for a person to submerge themselves as deeply as possible into materialism and temporallity while they had the chance?"

What if we ARE living in Spirit here on the earth and our submergence into materialism, decadence and efficient nihilism takes us further and further and furthur and furthur and further away from Spirit(Truth)as we age so that at the moment of our death, we are so far removed from Spirit, we have no possibility of return and no clue where to start, then POOF........material nothingness, the athiests wet dream.
We are all free to choose. ;)

Van said...

Troll said "... try to return to him by religion? What would be the point?"

Have you really never tried to put a puzzle together, even though the picture on the boxtop is clearly what it will end up being?

Clearly a Ball.

"reader jwm has already called me silly, but I'd like to hear the precise refutations of my propositions if you don't mind."
He Who Shall Not Be Named?

Van said...

Gagdad, I saw "The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders" by Jacob Needleman pop up on your reading list. I read that and his "The Heart of Philosophy" as well. I argued all over the margins of both books, but enjoyed them all the same. Enjoyable examples of someone honestly Thinking.

Joan of Argghh! said...

The problem with troll-ball, as opposed to real baseball, is that the troll pitcher never has to have an at-bat, and he thinks he's the umpire as well.

Gagdad Bob said...


I haven't actually started the Needleman book. Should I bother? (Nor have I started the new Tomberg book, Christ Sophia. For those who don't know, he is our "anonymous friend," so I have very high hopes for it.)

Anonymous said...

I want to thank my slugger parents for laying down sacrificial bunts just to get me on first. I hope to steal second, but the damn pitcher seems overly obsessed with throwing over my way.

Alan said...

I found Needleman getting too PC for my tastes in that book and never finished it the last two chapters...but that's me.

I haven't started the Christ Sophia book either because some (ahem!) keeps recommending books and my reading seems to follow a "last in, first out" strategy

Van said...


I think it depends on what you hope to take away from reading Needham. If you are seeking new insights... there are a few, but few and far between. But if you are seeking a way to sharpen your understanding of much in philosophy and America by way of his interpretations rubbing up against your own, where he has a partial grasp but takes it down a different path forcing you to clarify and delineate your own understanding of the concepts - then I think he's worth it.

Needham is that rare bird among Intellectuals, although leftish & PCish, he is someone who believes there to be more than the flat horizontal plane, and he's convinced that modern philosophy's error's stem from discarding and ignoring the Vertical. Here's a snippet from his "Heart of Philosophy":

"The idea of the cosmos is in no way comparable to the concept of universe. The cosmos is knowable in the sense that what is real and fundamental is purpose, intention, and harmony. Being is Mind. But it is not my mind; or, rather, it is the mind of man insofar as he develops all his mental, moral, and physical possibilities. The cosmos is knowable, but we cannot know it until we become similar to it. The modern concept of the universe retains only the first part of this statement - reality as knowable - but does away with the second part, the need for a development of the whole of man's psyche."

There's much I disagree with him on, but the overall impression I get from reading him, is that he's someone I could have a conversation with, and though it's unlikely we'd come to agreement on most points, it would still be interesting, enlightening and enjoyable.