Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Orthoparadoxical Mystic Soul Jazz

A number of readers have mentioned that stumbling upon G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy was instrumental to their spiritual coonversion. It is one of the many books I raced through in the course of writing my own book. Only after the book was published was I able to go back and reread the ones that seemed particularly deep and important, such as Meditations on the Tarot, which I've now read from cover to cover three or four times.

I don't remember when I read Orthodoxy, but it must have been about seven or eight years ago. It didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, probably for a couple reasons. First, it's not at all systematic, almost a sort of free-association. But now I can see that this is a big part of its charm. The man would have been a great blogger, if that's not too vulgar a compliment.

Second, it's not outwardly "mystical" or "esoteric," but I've subsequently come to understand that this is a superficial complaint (if that's even the right word). As Schuon emphasizes, Christianity is already an esoterism; to be precise, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. It's a profound mystery, but unlike, say, the Greek mysteries, it divulges the mystery at the outset rather than making you patiently work your way up through the various degrees of initiation until, say, like Petey, you finally become Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of the West San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Transdimensional Order of the Friendly Sons and Daughters of the Cosmic Raccoon, and then you're finally handed the key to the inner sanctum where they store the sacred Water Balloons.

As Chesterton writes (with my symbols inserted into the text), "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything (O) by help of what he does not understand (o), (---). The morbid logician (•) seeks to make everything lucid (k), and succeeds in making everything mysterious, ø. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious (O), and everything else becomes lucid (¶)."

Since I've been pretty busy with the mishpocha (they just left on Monday), I gave my new intern, Dupree, the task of outlining the book and helping me reduce it to a post or two. He's a rather slow reader (I can see his lips moving), so he's only about halfway through, but I think we have enough to work with.

Although the book was published in 1908, what is so immediately striking about it is how fresh and coontemporary it is. Not surprisingly, Dupree is most impressed with Chesterton's pungent and witty eviscerations of his ideological opponents. Many of the names mean nothing to us now, but you can get the gist by simply inserting a contemporary name that will mean nothing in the future, such as "Dennett," "Dawkins," or "Maher." As Dupree put it, the book has surprisingly high insultainment value.

It is perhaps critical to point out that Chesterton came of age at the very peak of 19th century atheistic scientific materialism, before that philosophy had been thoroughly discredited. It was widely believed by most intellectuals at the time that science had discovered not just the secret of reality, but the secret of human happiness and progress.

That didn't really begin to change until after the trauma of World War I, which obliterated the fantasy (except among leftists) of a perfectible mankind grounded in the application of pure reason. The primitive unconscious came roaring back with a vengeance, just as it did after our historical snooze between 1989 and 2001. But instead of learning their lesson and returning to the Christian roots of the West, post-war intellectuals lurched into existentialism, romanticism, Marxism, scientism, paganism, nationalism, deconstructionism, multiculturalism, fascism, new-age "realizationism," and other weird and/or sinister isms and ologies -- anything but Orthodoxy (and by "Orthodox," Chesterton simply means the Apostles' Creed).

Now, being that I am someone who, like Chesterton, explored and eventually rejected all of the philosophical and spiritual cul-de-slacks of his day, I think I understand why. It has to do with the distinctions between O, (k), and (n), as outlined in my book.

I'm guessing that most people who read the book will be mystified by these symbols, but they are critical to my whole mission and enterprise. To put it in a nutshell, you can hand someone the Apostles' Creed on a silver platter, but unless they have a personal experience of its interior truth, i.e., O-->(n), it's not going to form the basis of a very robust belief system. I mean, I went to Sunday School. I was dutifully presented with the ground-floor Truth of Western civilization. And yet, like Chesterton I rejected it in favor of all the "idiotic ambitions" of our day: "I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it."

Chesterton coonfesses that he too tried "to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.... I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy."

Now, I too briefly considered founding a heresy of my own. But like Chesterton, I eventually discovered that it was both wholly unnecessary and unholy narcissary. However, the operative word is discovered. Again, the whole point is that this is something that must be discovered for oneself. On the other hand, the discovery could have been made much sooner if I hadn't been brainwashed with so much nonsense during the course of some 23 years of secular miseducation. All of that had to be systematically dismantled in order to make a space for the (re)discovery of truth.

As I mentioned the other day, Schuon maintains that the world would be a better place if we could somehow return to the Middle Ages -- for he believes that even the Renaissance was a huge mistake and disaster -- and go back to a time when everyone was tightly swaddled in primordial Truth, and that was it. No one was actually free to discover it, which is to say, decide for oneself.

But in my view, man, because of his very theomorphic nature, has a built-in epistemophilic instinct that is responsible for leading him to science, reason, and humanism. And because these were "discoveries," they ended up being more "robust" -- at least for a time -- than the top-down religious ideologies they displaced.

But time marches (or spirals) on, and in subsequent centuries scientism has come full circle and now become the new orthodoxy, so it is no longer "free" to discover reality. So now, if you wish to investigate the Real, you must "rebel" against materialism, just as the early materialists had to rebel against religious orthodoxy.

This again goes to my point that the only way to make religious truth truly "secure" is through O-->(n), because once you do so, the arguments of atheists and materialists are "so much straw," not so much wrong as just irrelevant. No blind man is going to tell me that I don't see what I can see with my own eyes. As Schuon says, myopia and blindness are not just diverse ways of looking, but defects of vision. Scientism, materialism, and reductionism all elevate a terrible disability to a virtue.

But even Schuon, despite his insistence upon eternal truth, implicitly allows for the theological jazz improvisation of O-->(n). As he put it, "it is by reestablishing links with ancient truth that one comes to understand it and to find a new and spiritually legitimate originality." Chesterton says much the same thing when he writes of man's need of an "active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of poetical curiosity." Therefore, a proper theology should engage man's imagination and allow him to play theological soul jazz -- which requires the greatest discipline accompanied by the absence thereof, of simultaneous remembrance and I-amnesia. This is what Chesterton calls a life of "practical romance,"

the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.

Now, scientific materialism creates a sort of deadened cognitive security that moves in such a narrow circle that it simultaneously explains everything and nothing. But religious dogma can do the same thing, for as Chesterton points out, just as the danger of science is a "narrow universality," the danger of religion can be "a small and cramped eternity."

The trick is to make the Cosmos as large as the World -- to re-divinize both Cosmos and Man, so that the former becomes a sacred space, or place of active rest and restful activity, for man's infinite intelligence and eternal soul. This is the ongoing task of a Raccoon.


Mizz E said...

I was what is called a cradle Episcoplian. By age 12, I had the Apostle's Creed memorized frontwards and backwards. It rolled off my tongue like the Lord's Prayer, but I had no gnowing. [Zig zag forward 50 years] During my quiet Catholic confirmation ritual, which I was not prepped for this summer, the body of the process consisted of my reading/speaking the same Apostle's Creed. Tears flowed from my eyes as I spoke those words of yore that I knew so well for now I gnew why I was made to learn them. The sacred page is not meant to be the end, but only the means toward the end, which is knowing God. Gilbert Keith Chesterton and Grace brought me back hOme.

James said...

Happy Thanksgiving Raccoons. This year I have much to be thankful for. I hope it is the same with all of you.

Van said...

" Chesterton, I eventually discovered that it was both wholly unnecessary and unholy narcissary. However, the operative word is discovered. Again, the whole point is that this is something that must be discovered for oneself."


–verb (used with object) 1. to see, get knowledge of, learn of, find, or find out; gain sight or knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown).
2. to notice or realize.
3. Archaic. to make known; reveal; disclose.

[Origin: 1250–1300; ME < AF discoverir, descovrir, OF descovrir < LL discooperīre. See dis-1, cover]

—Synonyms 1. detect, espy, descry, discern, ascertain, unearth, ferret out, notice. Discover, invent, originate suggest bringing to light something previously unknown.

Archaic. to make known; reveal; disclose.
At it's heart, discovery is to uncover and reveal - the problem with most learning, is it is assumed to be a process of gathering more and more facts and piling them on top of other facts.

There is a huge difference between discovering the Truth, and gathering truths. The first will pare cluter away and lead you inwards and upwards to the core - the second lets go of nothing, gathering ever more and wandering further and further from the center, around and around.

Ever thankful to have discovered the difference.

Petey said...

"To know much you must know little."

Robin Starfish said...

Wonderful. My old copy of Orthodoxy is worn out, cover half missing. I go back to it often to read the underlined parts, in different colors. Pretty much the whole thing now. Same with Everlasting Man.

Everyday Easter
to first recognize
the sword embedded in time
split infinitive

River Cocytus said...

I proffer, or prefer, the Nicene variant; But we must all agree that the divine Orthoparadox flows from this same core.

Ortho - Right, virtuous
Para - Beyond, transcendent
Doxa - Glorious, worshipful, teaching

That darn trinity snuckered up on us again! We may as well welcome 'im while he comes.

hoarhey said...

For those interested, Walter Mead discusses his book 'God and Gold' on the Dennis Prager Show today, third hour.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Great post, Bob. Thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving, brothers and sisters under the pelt.
Let's eat!

Gagdad Bob said...

Cool Van Morrison interview on European TV.

tsebring said...

"Archaic. to make known; reveal; disclose.
At it's heart, discovery is to uncover and reveal - the problem with most learning, is it is assumed to be a process of gathering more and more facts and piling them on top of other facts."

Sort of reminds me of Monty Python's Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things. And about as useful, I suppose.

tsebring said...

Isn't it interesting how Thanksgiving always seems to be swallowed up by Christmas? Kind of like Thanksgiving is the kickoff for the "Holiday Season", in the same way that Memorial Day is the kickoff for the Beach Season. Some possible reasons why:

1. In a pop culture becoming increasingly materialistic, godless and adolescent, getting things has a lot more appeal than being thankful. In many ways we are truly becoming "Kid Nation".
Thanksgiving, as a holiday, requires a lot more maturity to appreciate than Christmas, as it has become,does.

2. Thanksgiving has a lot of Politically Incorrect connotations that drive the left absolutely moonbatty. Such as, that dreaded three letter word that terrifies all lefties; GOD. Not to mention that whole thing with the Indians...oops, Native Americans. The Seattle School District today sent a memo to its teachers advising them that for some, Thanksgiving is a Day of Mourning. Certainly it is to the left; the beginning of the triumph of Judeo-Christianity over paganism and shamanism in North America. Yes, we did the Indians wrong, but, for Petey's sake, GET OVER IT.

3. Thanksgiving is best celebrated by FAMILIES, that are not dysfunctional. God knows there are too few of those in America at this time. In an age where the adolescent need to draw attention to onesself and "speak truth to power" has trumped common civility, little wonder why there is dischord at many tables at thanksgiving. Not to mention the college kids coming home with heads freshly filled with revolutionary Marxist dog crap, raring to take on the parents, or the broken families where two former spouses are now mortal enemies, and the children are the casualties.

4. Thanksgiving always creates the obligatory need for the indie stations to play Alice's Restaurant, in its entirety. Reason enough for many to forget.

OK, there's the obligatory curmudgeonly nag for the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving racoons!

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving.

--AT in LA

phil g said...

I'm thankful that our family (wife both my parents and two daughters) can celebrate this Thanksgiving together in true Thanksgiving spirit with no disfunction or discord. We can pray openly and also enjoy the season with friends and community as we live in the South where it is still safe to revere the sacred and be openly and proudly Christian...even Catholic.

God bless coons everywhere!

Anonymous said...


Could you list the books that you re-read after completing One Cosmos?

Normal non-fiction writing begins with understanding of the topic at hand; the other kind of writing begins in order to understand the topic, kind of having faith that it shall be understood by grace and act of work.

I am reading Schuon in original French, and it's one of the hardest books that I ever read. If I don't assimilate the previous sentence, the next sentence makes no sense. Plus I continuously forget what I just read or understood.

Given that I can read a typical management book in 6 hours of reading with confident understanding, mere rational reading is what fails here; I need to access Intellect to read his books, and it's a challenge and a joy.

Late Convert said...

Heh ... I'm thankful that the groove can be found in unexpected places!

listening without looking at the pictures might be best here...

Jack of Speed

This would be nicer without the junk before and after the music (takes about 35 seconds for the real event to begin)...

Tropical Hot Dog Night

Gagdad Bob said...

Books that I've re-read since completing One Cosmos... Hmm... Many of them are listed in the sidebar. I suppose I'll eventually get around to listing others in the Raccoon Store.

Late Convert said...

Even Bollywood can get a groove of sorts on! Wait for the boomstick in this classic presentation...

Dissident Frogman

Joan of Argghh! said...

No one told me there would be water balloons. That changes everything...

Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving, dear Raccoons!

AT in LA said...

Bob, have you ever read The Cloud of Unknowing?

dloye said...

FWIW, I ran off a copy of Chesterton's Orthodoxy from project Gutenberg this morning before the marathon of satiety began. Lovely family time, but scant praying. I'm truly blessed. At least the progeny born in the years of walking in the wilderness allowed me to say grace before we ate.

River Cocytus said...

Robin. Chesterton is amazing. Reading chapter 5 (part 1) I'm reminded of Bridge To Tarabithia. Some of my Presbyterian friends got offended at the somewhat irreverent treatment of theology (though missing the point that even the Biblical Stories are beautiful - it is odd that something to some can't be both beautiful and true - it must be the poison of both the modern man and the reckless bohemian.) Anyway, the story it tells involves one of the Archetypes, which is the Pure-at-heart (I like to call him or her.) The pure-at-heart takes many forms (though they are often blonde-haired and fair-skinned and blue-eyed.) But the main point is that it is a folk-tale told to a child to explain why a friend has passed away. To spark their imagination for the time yet to be, for the impossible that may be possible, and so on.

It is funny that, science relies on imagination to fuel it, and yet it seems to like to close the door to it. That's scientism for you. Who can say why men built rockets? Wasn't it because they saw the sky and said, "How tall is the sky?" It wasn't rational. It wasn't complete foolishness, like the silliness of the Romantics, who forgot that their aesthetic sense and sentimentality don't work to balance the books, or tell us how to be moral.

It's the people right between the fringey bohemes and the stiff metropolitans that have just the right mix of sense and sensibility, of rhyme and reason.

If you want to know why I believe we'll go into space, its because I want to see what's out there. I want to know what incredible things man will build with what he finds. Who knows how terrible and wonderful at the same time the first antimatter particle cannon will be? At least as horrifying as the ICBM...

So, I know there are others who have that same aesthetic for the whole thing. And you can blame the host of science fiction writers and anime producers for that ;)

Steve Chandler said...

Chesterton changed my life. And now One Cosmos has changed it all the more. I've just re-ordered The Man Who Was Thursday because I haven't read it in years.

Sal said...

Happy Late Thanksgiving, my dears!
Out of town, no computer.
What a fine time we had- four generations, from my 80 yr old father to the the 16 month old g-son, gathered at my brother's beautiful home.

I didn't get to Mass, because I was on Bubs wrangler duty, but I was very very thankful all the same- not the least for GB and all of you.

dilys said...

As to goodies of the bring-a-dish season, don't miss Walt's plate-load on the Saturday.

And I thought Bob might like this discussion of the limits of words, concepts, and definitions by a guru of the gung-ho trans-humanists (whom you could tell from the comments I don't think grasps the full implications).