Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Creator: What's He Really Like?

He must really like beetles, as one biologist put it. But aside from that -- and not discounting what revelation has to say -- what can we sophly affirm about God? In order to approach this question, we'll have to serve a little detention in the office of the Divine Principle.

Ironically, although the school founded by Schuon is called "traditionalist," it is precisely those who are most traditional who are likely to reject his ecumenical but non-synthesist approach.

That is, Schuon insisted that all of the authentic revelations were correct -- i.e., more or less adequate to disclose valid and operative knowledge of God and Salvation -- even though the individual practitioner is unlikely to regard his tradition as just one of many. Schuon addressed this issue in a number of subtle and sophisticated ways, but there again, I would guess that the passionate believer in the One True Faith would consider Shuon's handling of the matter as "too clever by half."

Still, there are ways around the problem. For example, it probably makes no sense to say that one religion is absolutely correct while all the others are absolutely in error. Therefore, there can be degrees of religious truth, so to speak. For example, Ann Coulter was recently attacked by irreligious bigots for essentially saying just this: that Christianity represents the "perfection" of Judaism, not its annulment. Naturally, a Jew believes no such thing, but no one accuses the Jew of being a religious bigot because he believes Jesus was just a confused or grandiose rabbi.

In fact, Jews and Christians can live harmoniously because they share a core set of values, but differ on their theological expression. Thus, Coulter was in no way suggesting that Judaism was "absolutely wrong," but only relatively so in light of what she regards as the "perfection" of Christianity. Schuon would probably say that both religions are relatively absolutely true, but anyone is still free to think their religion is the "most adequate."

In point of fact, one cannot practice a religion and not think it is absolute, for the very reason that one of its purposes is to convey a sense of the Absolute, and you cannot understand the Absolute in terms of the relative.

Then again -- and here is where a bit of confusion arises -- we can only understand the Absolute in terms of the relative, so long as we are alive and living in this relative world: You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live. This is really just another way of saying "no one can know me absolutely on this side of death." Even Jesus agrees: Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

Therefore, we must use "analogues" to try to comprehend a God who always transcends our categories, which is the deeper meaning of As above, so below, Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, and God became man that man might become God. Other animals were created according to their kind, meaning that they are based upon their own platonic archetype. Only man was ultimately fashioned from the divine archetype (although not only from this archetype; you might say that it is the "ruling" or "solar" archetype that transcends, subtends, and potentially harmonizes all the others).

So, we may use analogy in a certain way in order to understand the Divine Mind. For example, being that we are in the image of the Creator, we are as different from the other animals as God is from us. And we are not just different in terms of some scientific quantity, i.e., more intelligent or more self-aware.

Rather, we are qualitatively (which is to say, vertically) different in ways that are absolutely unbridgeable (because vertical) by biology. All other animals are trapped in their subjectivity, unable to stand outside it. But human beings are precisely capable of objectivity, which is "the capacity to step outside of our subjectivity and thus to transcend ourselves; this is precisely what characterizes the intelligence and will of man" (Schuon). In turn, this is why Man is a doorway to the Absolute and can know objective Truth.

The human intellect has two capacities that work in harmony to create the possibility of growth or "evolution" toward our own divine archetype. First, we may discern -- which is to say "separate" -- reality and appearances, "the Absolute and the contingent, the Necessary and the possible, Atma and Maya" (Schuon). But this discernment is "joined, complementally and operatively" with the capacity to unite or synthesize differences; which is why it is said that "science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity," and that "to know much, you must know little."

The typical secular intellectual knows everything about nothing (i.e., the relative) but nothing about Everything (i.e., the Absolute). And yet, he still necessarily elevates the relative to the Absolute, which is a sort of backhanded tribute to the unity of the One, an ideal unity that is the ground and sponsor of all knowledge. If there were no Absolute, we could truly know nothing, which is an absurdity.

In order for there to be a cosmos at all, there must be a separation, or division, between knower and known, subject and object, interior and exterior, infinite and finite. Thus, the first act of creation is to make this primordial division between Beyond Being and Being. This can be expressed in diverse ways.

For example, Genesis posits a realm of primal watery chaos; it is dark, void, and without form. So the first act is to divide light from darkness, the waters above from the waters below, the vertical from the horizontal. The appearance of the dry land is none other than the finite within the infinite, or you might say (k) from O. Or, you could say that it is an ego, or individual subject, won from the formless infinite unconscious void.

Here is some analogue language to flesh out where we are at this point:

The essentially creative act is the dissociation of subjectivity and objectivity out of the primal unity. Self and not-Self then come into being, though not into independent being, for each is bound to the other by the unity of which both are polar aspects (Sri Krishna Prem)

The fiat lux of the first day of creation and the fiat lux of the awakening of faith in the soul are of the same essence. In both cases it is a question of the creative act of "Let there be light! (Meditations on the Tarot).

Sparks of holiness are imprisoned in the stuff of creation. They yearn to be set free, united with their Source (Lawrence Kushner).

That there should be physics is a miracle (James Cronin).

Nothing comes into existence unless the divine spark of consciousness, no matter how faint or dim, lies at its center (Richard Smoley).

There is no greater love than that of the sacrifice of eternity for the limitations of existence in the transient moment (Meditations on the Tarot).

When the divine plenty is manifested in its complete fullness there is no room for the existence of anything else. A world can exist only as a result of the concealment of its Creator (Adin Steinsaltz).

Eternity is another word for unity.... Time is eternity broken into space, like a ray of light refracted in the water (Abraham Heschel).

In the incarnation humanity is the "boundary" or "frontier" between the visible and the invisible, the carnal and the spiritual, like a mediator between creation and creator (Olivier Clement).

Eternal, he assents to Fate and Time / Immortal dallies with mortality / The All-Conscious ventured into Ignorance / He whose transcendence rules the pregnant Vasts / Prescient now dwells in our subliminal depths / The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone / Has entered with his silence into space / He has made this tenement of flesh his own (Sri Aurobindo).

Or, if you prefer an unassailable digital redoubt, "The One emerged from the Zero and proceeded to create the 1 and 0, which evolved and transcended themselves in the Cosmic 3."

To be continued....


Robin Starfish said...

More vanalogue language...

Common One
goin' back way back
down by haunts of ancient peace
to be born again

River Cocytus said...


Crossing Over
The burden is light
Though the wall seems high, lift me
Up and I shall fly.

One and Zero, or 10, plus One equals 11, or Three. Which is a way to say that the incarnation fulfills and completes the trinity, maybe.

walt said...

"He must really like beetles..."

It's no joke, if numbers mean anything. From Wiki:

"The order Coleoptera, means "sheathed wing", and contains more described species in it than in any other order in the animal kingdom. Forty percent of all described insect species are beetles (about 350,000 species), and new species are frequently discovered. Estimates put the total number of species, described and undescribed, at between 5 and 8 million."

dilys said...

IMO a rather obscure (in her public presence and her prose style) contemplative named Bernadette Roberts handles the Comparative Religion rubric the best of any [small-o]orthodox Christian I know.

Mankind has never been left without Revelation. All the traditions have a means to turn the heart toward God. The fullness arises, via the Incarnation, revealing the Trinity, as
--disclosing Deity as the landscape for love between [P/p]ersons,
--recreating and demonstrating solidarity and mutuality between the Creator and mankind ("I have called you friends")
--incorporating, combining, completing via synergy & thus fulfilling the Natural, imminent, and transcendent Paths.

That is, not all are equally "complete," but the later does not contradict the former or indict their blessed power as far as it goes, in spite of the off-their-heads excesses and non-creedal formulations and practices that suggest it must.

A view sturdily non-relativist though, especially as she frames it, generous and comprehensive short of collapsing into equivalence.

Gagdad Bob said...

Very good! It really comes down to relative non-relativism or non-relative relativism.

Also, given the necessity of time, there must be some "point" within time's flow that the ceaseless revelation achieves a sort of "peak perfection," which might have well happened on a certain three day weekend a couple thousand years ago.

Smoov said...

A response to atheists, materialists.

Neuroscientist's a soul man, says it's more than matter:

The Spiritual Brain

Anonymous said...

Bob, have you heard of, or have listened to Peter Kreeft?

-AT in LA

Gagdad Bob said...

No, never heard of him.

Mizz E said...

...for each is bound to the other by the unity of which both are polar aspects (Sri Krishna Prem)

Lovely language.

will said...

>>Therefore, there can be degrees of religious truth, so to speak<<

I trust that each Christian denomination came into existence in order to address and accommodate, in a sense, a certain mode of consciousness, a set of spiritual needs.

I suppose that this is also true for the world's remaining pagan religions - and I would include here individuals without a religion per se but who live and breathe in a basically pagan mode. However, I think there is an evolutionary, upward spiral of consciousness that now renders paganism "invalid" in a sense. If there is a universal quickening at hand (so sue me, Art Bell) a spiritual transcendence is called for, and in no way is the pagan spirit prepared for such. The influx of divine energy could only agitate the pagan spirit to the point of insanity.

I suspect this is what we're seeing in the world today, particularly with regard to Islamo-fascism, it being, in many ways, a form of paganism.

Smoov said...

If anyone reads that book review I linked to above they will struck by the fact that while the reviewer probably represents something of a high water mark of public discounrse surrounding these issues, he is so far below even a junior raccoon in his understanding that one despairs for our culture.

Between the materialist Scylla and the fundamentalist/literalist Charibdys there is precious little space for a Raccoon to wriggle through.

walt said...

Thanks for the link, Smoov.

As part of the attempt to refute transcendental claims, the article mentions:
"...promissory materialism. We will, one day, find the material answers because, in essence, we must. There simply cannot be anything other than matter."

Sounds like they have an abiding faith in their beliefs!

Van said...

Anonymous said... "Bob, have you heard of, or have listened to Peter Kreeft?"

I've listened to a few of his lectures, read a couple of articles & he was interesting, had some good ideas. From that I bought his book... think it was "Socrates meets Jesus"(?), which had an amusing premise, what if Socrates suddenly came back today onto the campus of an american divinity/political action college campus, and began asking the prof's what they thought about things and who is the Jesus fellow... I haven't finished it yet, but the first few chapters have been dissapointing, kind of on the level of a 'Socrates Cafe' book. Maybe it'll pick up.

walt said...

Is it just me, or is there a lot to unpack in today's post? You say you want your readers to get dizzy from the elevation ... well, it worked on me, today!

Now, I find myself in general "agreement" with the various points you cover; they make a certain "sense" to me, and "correspond" to my understanding. Of course, someone else likely feels the opposite. When you write,
"...we are qualitatively (which is to say, vertically) different in ways that are absolutely unbridgeable (because vertical) by biology ... this is why Man is a doorway to the Absolute..."
I get a sense of separation and synthesis all in the same passage, and it seems coherent and congruent to me.

Why does this register as, say, "information" to me, and sophistry (or worse) to your critics? For a short answer, I recalled a quote by Maurice Nicoll from Living Time, that seemed to speak to the difference:
"There must have come to him the feeling of something else. He must have wondered what he is, what life can possibly mean, what his existence means. Certain kinds of questioning must have occurred in his soul."

This would match what Will described as, "...a certain mode of consciousness, a set of spiritual needs."

Thanks, Bob!

Gagdad Bob said...


Bion would say that the dark matter of your inborn preconceptions, or thoughts without a thinker, were merely looking for a means to incarnate until they coonveniently discovered a memoir of their own future in today's post.

walt said...

So! I'm looking at it upside-down and backwards, as usual?

Van said...

Will said "The influx of divine energy could only agitate the pagan spirit to the point of insanity."

I come back to the idea of scaffolding, or maybe the fashion in which a skyscraper is erected. An Architect develops a design idea and crafts it into a blueprint. Engineers direct as steel beams are swiftly thrown up towards the sky following that blueprint... the diagram doesn't exactly replicate the reality of iron and wind they experience up there, but it is far clearer in telling those engineers and construction workers what goes where, than photographs would be, and far less cumbersome.

Some brave souls (brave, from our pedestrian point of view) weld the beams into place 100 stories above the concrete, others walk back and forth across the slightly lower beams affixing conduits and preparing them for those below them who lay in the floors, walls and windows, and still further down those more comfortable with 'solid' ground lay carpet and put up decorations, and on the ground floors people may be conducting normal business already.

Looking up at those where the 95th floor is going to be, walking back and forth on narrow beams without support or harness, the ground dwellers are aghast, 'crazy' they mutter, but that iron worker is steady and balanced, enjoying the view, even dangling his legs over the edge while sitting and eating lunch upon it.

If one of the ground workers accidentally took the express elevator to the 99th beam, I think he'd understand what Will said about "The influx of divine energy could only agitate the pagan spirit to the point of insanity.", but there also comes a point where those rough and tough beam dancing iron workers, who were perfectly at home struting about across 10" steel beams stretched through dangerous air... will become find themselves out of place as their naked steel is overlaid with floors, walls, thick luxuriant carpets, laquered woods, refined artwork and Mozart wafting through the rooms - if their express elevator somehow opened into that setting on the 70th floor, the poised and coiffed receptionist's smooth "How may I help you...?" would send them in a panic back into the car as they feel "The influx of divine energy could only agitate the pagan spirit to the point of insanity.", fingers jabbing the close door button.

Only the Architect is at home examining the progress on the 1st floor, the top floor, and every one in between; he is able to take pleasure in seeing the the weak hearted customers browsing about, appreciates the iron workers putting the structure together, sees the marble and laquer and understands what supports and makes them possible, and to him the receptionist bows and steps aside.

Anonymous said...

bob, think you might enjoy Peter Kreeft.... here's a link to a talk he gives on the imagination.

--AT in LA

ps. have ordered your book but still waiting for it to arrive. look forward to getting into it.

NoMo said...

Van - There is no such thing as solid ground or solid anything else for that matter. However, there is such a thing as solid music...

"It's a good friend that can tell you you're pissin' in the wind"...

Saw Neil Young in concert tonight -that old guy can rock the house.

Chrome Dreams...

art bell said...


On the subject of "The Quickening", I've milked that one for all it's worth several years ago so I guess it would be okay for you to use it since I've moved on to greener pastures.


art bell said...

Excuse me, I meant Will.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hey, Will! As long as you don't say Nestle Quick(ening) you're free and clear!

You know, in addition to the quickening, I also sense, clearly, a "thickening", so to speak.

Sort of a convergence of complexities.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

You forgot the basement.
Just sayin'...:^)

Van said...

Ben & Nomo,
"You forgot the basement."

Where else is the foremen going to send an iron worker who insists on pissin in the wind?