Monday, February 23, 2009

The Whole Point of this Living Cosmos

Another race against the clock. Therefore, instead of continuing with the Balthasar this morning, I think I'll turn to something more immediately at hand. I recently finished a book by Charles DeKoninck, so I think I'll discuss that, since it's fresh in my mind. DeKoninck was recommended to me by James over at Just Thomism. DeKoninck was a Thomist philosopher who died rather young (1906-1965), and this is the first of a projected three-volume series of his collected works.

(Let me say at that outset that I probably can't give this book a general recommendation, unless you either already know your Thomism or are prepared to immerse yourself in that world, with its particular traditions, assumptions, categories and nomenclature. You would probably have to start with something more foundational, in particular, at least an intro to Aquinas, before tackling this. Also, I know that some of his more accessible works are available for free online, such as The Hollow Universe.)

My first thought is that I'd like to see Bill Maher debate this guy. Not really, because it would be like the Pope appearing on the Jerry Springer show. But I see that last night at the Oscars, Maher complained that his reduculous film Religulous probably didn't get nominated because "it's a touchy subject. But someday, we all have to confront the notion that our silly gods cost the world too greatly." The point is, not only does Maher not understand religion, but he is not intelligent enough to do so.

Religion is at a profound disadvantage here, because it is not primarily about intellectual debate, but about saving souls. And in order to accomplish the latter, it must be presented in such a manner that most anyone can understand it. Imagine, say, how difficult it is to produce a Hollywood film that appeals across the spectrum, from the most intelligent to the most simple, from adults to children, male and female, the educated and uneducated, people from all times and cultures. That's a rare achievement. Anyone can make a film that appeals to no one, as Maher proved.

Now, it would be easy enough to form a religion only for people capable of understanding DeKoninck, or Schuon, or Balthasar -- or more precisely, to present it only in their highly sophisticated terms. But for starters, that would be a grave disservice to the billions of people for whom the realm of pure metaphysics is more or less of a closed book. Besides, anyone who wants to pursue a religion to it metaphysical summit is free to do so.

This is why anti-intellectuals such as Maher or Queeg -- not to mention a Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris -- are not just wrong. Rather, they are just plain lazy. Either that, or just too stupid to understand the arguments. They're really engaging in a kind of gross fallacy -- like attacking a Ben Affleck film festival in order to prove that all movies are bad. This strategy is beyond bad faith. One can only conclude that it's satanic, even if only unconsciencely.

Now, one reason why DeKoninck is of interest to me is that he is an example of someone who was quite clearly drawn into the identical cosmic attractor I have been exploring for the past two or three decades. Here we are, two isolated people with no direct points of contact, and yet, in many striking instances, our thoughts are quite parallel. Again, it is as if we are identifying the identical contours of the nonlocal object.

In the past, I have compared this to the early explorers -- Columbus and all the rest -- who stumble upon a "new world." At first, their descriptions are quite varied and subjective. The are also very empirical, drawn from immediate experience. Only later will someone come along and be able to collate all of the individual maps, and place them in the context of a higher cartography.

This, I think, is the value of someone like Schuon, who could have only appeared in the 20th century, because only from that surpassing vantage point does one have access to all of the maps of the great interior explorers. Note that the maps are just fine without the collation -- they'll still get you where you need to go -- but there is obviously something in the nature of the intellect that demands consistency and universality. However, unless you are a born gnostic, you probably won't spend much time worrying about that. Rather, just leave it to the experts.

To a certain extent, what you "discover" is going to be a function of that which you are passionate about -- not just in the sense of some transient excitement. Rather, we are talking about a particular "soul constellation" that sponsors a lifetime passion from which one cannot escape on pain of causing serious damage to the soul. Think of this as your "guiding star" in transpersonal space, that which tells you what you are by showing you what you are to do, to know, and to eventually be -- the latter resulting from the successful assimilation and actualization of the first two.

Also, remember the adage that "the answer is the disease that kills curiosity." This is not to laud an inappropriately grasping and intellectually concupiscent curiosity that usually ends in shallow cynicism and facile skepticism, a la Queeg or Maher. Rather, this is a protracted openness to your soul's own inclination. Your passion is the engine, but your soul must provide the direction, otherwise your passion will merely drive you into the abyss.

So I see right off the bat that DeKoninck shared a number of my passions. For example, he was concerned with how we can "understand the growing chasm between our scientific world pictures and the world as it appears to common sense." He also wanted to know how it could be possible to accept the insights of modern science "while maintaining our most central and traditional religious beliefs."

In this regard, it would again be easy enough to create a kind of new religion for The Special, as the new agers and integralists do. But to paraphrase Schuon, to think that you could ever invent a religion is to not know what religion is, precisely.

That is a key point -- the idea that science increasingly reveals a world that is detached from our common experience. While vulgar materialism or bonehead reductionism are surely serious problems, a deeper problem may be that our supposedly "best" way of knowing tells us nothing about life up here where it is actually lived -- i.e., the human world. As I have mentioned before, religion is about this specifically human world, a point that I will expand upon later.

The "major preoccupation" of DeKoninck's life was this "relation of science to experience." He makes the subtle point that the everyday objects "available to us in experience are much richer than those described in modern mathematical phyiscs," and that it is critical to maintain the distinction between "the real world" -- again, the human world -- and our scientific abstractions from that world.

The fundamental problem with scientism is that it takes its abstractions as more real than the reality they describe, which soon enough leads to a kind of intellectual totalitarianism, which always occurs when ideas are deemed more important than people. (This dynamic is also at the foundation of the soul pathology of the left.)

As I mentioned in my book, science strips the world of all its primary qualities, relegating them to an ontological limbo. Once one has done this, one has devalued the human world, with all of its richness and particularity, beyond redemption. Or, there is no ontological grounding for the richness -- it becomes just a kind of entirely subjective epiphenomenal luxury with no intrinsic meaning whatsoever. Truly, that way madness lies. And cultural death.

The scientistic world is a simple world, far too simple to ever account for the intellects capable of abstracting from the world in this manner. It is this abstract scientistic world -- that is, when taken as the fundamental reality -- that DeKoninck called the "hollow universe," but the hollowness is really in the heads of the spiritually impoverished simpletons.

Running out of time here, but last night I was doing a little thought experiment. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that it were possible for conscious beings to exist at the quantum level, where all of the richness of the cosmos is bleached out. Through their sophisticated experiments, they "discover" this unexpected macro realm floating "atop" their sea of quantum energy, which features all kinds of things that seem impossible based upon the laws that govern their realm. "Ah ha!," they proclaim. "We've finally discovered the point of this otherwise meaningless cosmos. It's human beings!"


julie said...

I knew today was going to head this direction. Last night I started to post a comment, but ended up deleting it instead of hitting "post" because it wasn't fully half-baked yet. Still probably isn't, for that matter, but the quote I started with meshes perfectly with today's post.

From The Spiritual Ascent, pg. 937:

Traditional cosmology indicates that the 'materiality' of the world was less opaque in earlier periods, an the dichotomy between the subtle and physical orders less pronounced, thus allowing a communication and interplay between different levels of reality which would be inconceivable in terms of the present Kali-Yuga. But the spiritual recovery of one's higher faculties recapitulates in a vertical sense the anterior stages of the cycle's development, meaning that the saint is essentially endowed with the capacities of primordial man, which upon sufficient provocation exteriorize in the miracles whose beauty and symbolism recall a believing generation to higher realities.
'A person can only wonder at the solemn nonsense of certain pronouncements dear to the hearts of scientific "popularizers" (we should really say "scientistic"), who are pleased to assert on every occasion that modern science is pushing back without cease the limits of the known world, all of which is, in fact, exactly the contrary of the truth: never have these limits been so narrow as they are in the conceptions admitted by this so-called secular science, and never have the world and man been found so shrunken, to the point of being reduced to purely corporeal entities, deprived by hypothesis of the slightest possibility of communication with any other order of reality!" (Guenon:
Le Regne de la Quantite).

julie said...

Now the reason this passage stood out is I've been trying to decide what, if anything, is the deeper meaning behind things I've noticed about myself since childhood, but always ascribed to mere neurological quirkiness (or maybe even not terribly quirky; for all I know, everyone notices these things, but they just don't mention it because it's so ordinary). And on a certain level, I'm sure it can be said that that's really all it is. But if I had noticed these things at pretty much any other point in the history of mankind, my interpretation would probably be completely different.

My point, if it could be called that, is that in our culture (and certainly from my own perspective), we de-mystify virtually everything mentally filed under "real stuff." There's a lot we don't know or understand about how bodies work, much less how they work in conjunction with the higher vertical, and yet habitually we (or maybe just I) assume there's a mundane explanation for everything that goes on in there. And of course, that's usually the case, but if we're serious about this then it must not always be merely physical. I may get an odd tingling in my spine, and if so of course it has a concrete basis - but why should it stand to reason that it cannot also relate to something more vertical (which has always been my default way of thinking: I can explain it, therefore it's not a part of the Mystery of being)?

will said...

While hoping that I'm not pasting too much of a smiley face on the issue, I sometimes wonder if the march of scientism vis a vis religion doesn't serve a divine purpose in the long run - ie., they provide enough skepticism as to keep a lid on the religious passions that can lead to mindless cultism. I'm remembering the 70's w/ the Moonies, the Process Church, Jim Jones, and a host of other feverish religious pursuits. I admit that this is taking the really long view.

Then there is the matter of a religious pursuit reducing itself to a kind of scientism that bleaches the life out that which it attempts to convey. I'm thinking Ken Wilbur and his color-coded rankings of consciousness, but it could also be said of folks like Gurdjieff and his teachings wherein mystical realization is reduced to a kind of clinical exercise.

QP said...

That Bill Maher is one nauseating guy.

One good take-away commentary on our culture from the AA last night ->

Film clip from "Happy-Go-Lucky".

Girl enters bookstore.

Looks around; picks out a book entitled "The Road to Reality".


Returns book to shelf thinking "Don't want to go there".

mushroom said...

Now, it would be easy enough to form a religion only for people capable of understanding DeKoninck, or Schuon, or Balthasar -- or more precisely, to present it only in their highly sophisticated terms. But for starters, that would be a grave disservice to the billions of people for whom the realm of pure metaphysics is more or less of a closed book. Besides, anyone who wants to pursue a religion to it metaphysical summit is free to do so.

Christianity is the lazy man's way to salvation. Almost anyone (except the tenured) is able to grasp and convey the essential elements of the Gospel. Come as a little child, Jesus says. If I had to be an intelluctual or a spiritual superman, I wouldn't make it. I'd have more luck trying to make the cut for the SEALs at my age.

bob f. said...

"Religion is at a profound disadvantage here, because it is not primarily about intellectual debate, but about saving souls."

I've been surprised lately to find myself drawn to the Blessed Mother, who I used to regard during my (rather long) stupid phase as just another Catholic embarrassment, along with saints and miracles. Mary is the Silent One of the Scriptures, with little to say to the wise men and smart asses of any time. She has lots to say to simple people, like Mexico's Juan Diego, and children, such as at Fatima.

Either you accept Marian apparitions as true, or you do not; for those who do, Mary has appeared many times, and has an obvious preference for the poor, the oppressed, the afflicted.

Mary thought it appropriate to send a poor Amerindian peasant to the bishop of Mexico to tell him that Mary wanted a chapel erected on a nearby hillside; the bishop did not think it appropriate and wanted proof, which Mary graciously provided. Over 450 years later the Image of the Mother of God hangs in a church in Mexico City, imprinted by unknown means onto a crude cloth made of cactus fibers and seemingly impervious to time or aging.

We live in an age which sees miracles as only fit for the simple-minded, which in a way is true. If only we can achieve the simplicity of a Juan Diego and free outselves from the word-bound world of lost souls like Bill Maher.

I enjoy reading worthwhile books, but more and more I find myself looking at images, the ultimate icons of the Shroud of Turin and the Virgin of Guadalupe, and finding something essential there.

Gagdad Bob said...

As a matter of fact DeKoninck was quite the mariologist -- as was Schuon, for that mater -- showing that sometimes even intellectually gifted people are capable of transcending their handicap.

Anonymous said...

As Will alludes, there may be a larger schemata wherein seemingly perverse movements like scientism or unlovely beings like Bill Maher serve useful purposes.

When looking at things one can go "deep," get quiet, and ask "Now why would this be here doing that?" The attitude to develop is a trust that outcomes are under some sort of Divine supervision. If that attitude becomes set then the perverseness of the world doesn't cause so much alarm.

This attitude doesn't negate one's mission here or even impact it. Just ask yourself the same question: "Why would I be here doing this?" Keep your eyes on the ball--that is, the one pitched to you and not someone else.

"Problems" or bad things are where the action is, so that's where to focus. The bad is needed for progress to the good.

And, if you look at the world carefully you will note that abrogations of "ordinary" reality are popping all around you; most actions occur in your mind like when you visualize something that later happens, find something by a hunch, pick out the precise book you need at the precise moment you need it, etc. Divine supervision. Everyone without exception can testify to these experiences. They are the nudging fingertips of the Master Himself reaching out to rock your world.

Even material happenstance occasionally gets tweaked; these are rarer occurences. I've observed only one that seemed irrefutable. Divine material supervision in detail is going on too, occurring on a rare occasional basis.

So, this being the case, what can one say about our world now? It is where the action is; we are here to "throw down." Scary, but there is a referee, never fear. So, Play Ball!

Ricky Raccoon said...

I agree, RE “the matter of a religious pursuit reducing itself to a kind of scientism that bleaches the life out that which it attempts to convey.”
I wonder the same thing reading, Arnot's:
Parables of Our Lord
I believe the bleaching is possible, but also not inevitable. The “results” of this Arnot book, the “written report” so to speak, as I’ve mentioned to Bob, is beautifully written, strikingly so at times. In other words, if you can tell the writer is profoundly moved to write the way he does, as if he can’t help it, recognizing that he doesn’t have to, then it must be work well done. If that beauty were lacking, the Raccoon couldn’t not notice this critical missing ingredient. That’s today’s assessment, anyway. I should also add within the same assessment, that I believe “the material” (in this case a full body of Scripture – say such as the NT) should “hold up” to this, if not any, kind of examination. If scripture can speak to the “full spectrum” of human development, as Bob implies, should it not also speak to the needs of the scientifically-inclined. In other words, if scripture seems to fail on a logical level, is it really a failure of the scripture to speak in this way, or a failure of the eye that searches it?

julie said...

(Sorry if I start to flog here; I feel like I'm dancing around the edge of a realization, one that may take a few days to properly knock me on my ass, assuming I can hold on to it long enough. I think there's an elephant in here somewhere - I keep tripping over bits of trunk, ear and tail, but am not yet sure which end is which and how all the parts go together. Or maybe they don't. This could all just be going nowhere, or maybe it's just so painfully obvious that it's not worth anyone talking about, but that doesn't usually stop me...

Also, I started this comment a couple hours ago, but couldn't quite see my point. Now it seems more relevant to the conversation, though; maybe someone else can see where I'm going. I still don't know what my point is...)

...the answer is the disease that kills curiosity.

The fundamental problem with scientism is that it takes its abstractions as more real than the reality they describe...

Miracles (on a big scale) just don't happen anymore. Or rather, they do, all the time and everywhere if you're paying attention, but even when we're getting eyes to see it, I wonder how often we don't see it, because "there's a simple and obvious explanation for that." Or even if it's neither simple or obvious, we (if this doesn't apply to you, just pretend I'm using the "Royal" We) assume there's a mechanistic explanation. We trust in concrete explanations so much we listen to "experts" who will often shrug their shoulders and admit they don't really know, but we should take their advice (or treatment, as the case may be) anyway. And we do. And we assume, experts and laymen alike, that even though we don't know why, the explanation can be revealed by science, and probably will, sooner or later. (I'm not knocking this process, by the way, being a firm believer in better living through chemistry/ modern medicine/ modern technology.) But in thinking this way, we leave no physical room for the Presence of O.

I'm not suggesting, by any stretch, that man would be well-served by returning to the dark ages of ignorance, where blood-letting was good medicine and illness was caused by bathing more than once a year. What I'm tiptoeing round, maybe, is that syncoonicities aside my default setting for anything that happens to or within my physical corpus is to assume it is solely material phenomena. But of course it can't be, or I wouldn't be typing this.

Maybe by the end of the week I'll know what I'm talking about, but I suspect it meanders back to theosis. Some days, I feel like a total crackpot.

Ricky Raccoon said...

I’ll tell you Julie, the cells on the bottoms of my feet may have more faith than I do. I mean, they’ve done nothing but listen to me the past 40 something years. When I think of all those stubbed toes…why don’t they just say, “seeya-laytuh-bye” Honestly, what’s in it for them. Shouldn’t they just stay on the ground when the rest of me says ‘go’?

It may be that the external “size” of miracles can’t change but at an inversed proportion to scientific knowledge. In that sense, it never changes by this permanent “fixture”.

Bulletproof Monk said...

For your listening enjoyment. I am looking very much toward Pascha this year.

Northern Bandit said...

Woke up in a five-star hotel instead of a Euro-jail for a change.

Dupree should be envious.b

mushroom said...

I've heard that put forth before, Julie, that our advanced technology precludes the necessity of miracles. I may be cheating but I consider our advanced technology part of the miracle and a sign of the kingdom.

As someone has said, maybe you, the modern materialist/liberal zombie is not really aware of how much they owe Western Civilization, the culture and Christianity. They can get away with some of their crap precisely because the old culture "made the world safe" for lightweights like Dawkins and Obama.

The same is true of technology. Science does not recognize how much it owes Christianity in terms of building on the foundations of the kingdom.

But I also believe, as you're saying, miracles occur, and we give them a naturalistic explanation or pass them off as coincidence, and go on.

Northern Bandit said...

I have to relate this to you, Bob.

Whatever I am, I'm not totally nuts. I woke up in Frankfurt, snd sure enough there was a Bible. I cracked it, Timothy 1. The amazing thing is that I was just in Ephesus (Turkey).

I am not making this up, man.

julie said...

"I may be cheating but I consider our advanced technology part of the miracle and a sign of the kingdom."

Actually, I agree with you in that regard. What I have in mind is more about the kind of things that people experience when they're on The Way; not so much the syncoonistic (for instance, last night I really was trying to come up with my point, but too tired to even comprehend what I was quoting much less what I meant. Then finally I shrugged, thought "he's going to touch on this tomorrow anyway, it can wait," and deleted the comment. Just another pink fairy), but rather physical symptoms, so to speak, that can easily be passed off as something completely mundane if slightly odd.

And what I'm mulling over has to do also with Walt's post today (and yours, too), about awareness and finding holiness in the ordinary workings of everyday life. Nothing that I'm thinking about is new or revolutionary, it's more along the lines of realizing these things as opposed to intellectualizing about them. Doing/ being as opposed to simple knowledge.

We all know by now the saying about how God is closer to us than our own skin (didn't it come up in the coonversation somewhere recently?).

But how many of us really know it?

I want to know. Maybe that's the gist of my point; with everything that's been discovered about human biology and neurology, it's damnably difficult to know if what you experience is Real or just chemistry. The rub is, if it's Real there's no reason it can't be both.

A hundred years ago, someone experiencing euphoria during meditation would have probably considered it a religious experience without much question. These days, someone experiencing the same thing might question every aspect of it (what caused that? Hunger? Medications? Exhaustion? Oxygen deprivation? Might not be Real, then...). I do. I have an explanation for everything, when it comes to the physical.

So as I said before, I wonder what I'm missing.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Julie, Mushroom,
RE miracles, does God need to shout anymore? Or will only the subtle forms suffice. I wonder if humanity receives the same proportional impact from miracles today as they ever did. Certainly people didn’t listen well at all back then. Has that changed? Can we help but look at the miracles in the Old Testament or New Testament with today’s eyes. Should we? My point is, did a more hardened heart in an ancient time require a greater blow to upset it? And today we are so easily moved by so many subtle things that God may feel inclined to only whisper.

julie said...

I don't think we disagree, Ricky; I'm just pondering my ability both to hear the whispers and to believe my lyin' ears ;)

will said...

Ricky -

I am inclined to think it's a failure of the eye.

Ricky Raccoon said...

Do you have any weird cravings?
My wife had to have oranges. Lots of oranges..
Oh..and Del’s Lemonade. That’s a Rhode Island thing…so like…double weird.

julie said...

Weird cravings? Nope, not that I can think of. Aside from reading preferences, anyway :) It'll be a few months yet before I have any other reason to have weird cravings.

On a different note, *snor*

julie said...

lol, I meant *snork,* but a snor will suffice when he's talking, anyway.

jwm said...

Miracles. The biggest, of course, is our own existence but we don't see it because we're inside it. And I might point out that the existence of the coonosphere is no small miracle either. In one of my earlier posts at the wfb I was musing about metaphsical transmission via the internet. But holy cow, if you want to get peoples' eyeballs rolling just try telling someone that Holy Spirit is currently using Verizon, or Charter Cable as a vector of transmission. And yet look at what is happening in our dens each day that we sign on and trade notes across the DSL connection. Consider that whatever Bob communicates from The Attractor has struck like a thunderbolt in some of the centers, and acted like a polar magnet in all of the individual centers of this small and far flung collection of people. I stuck my finger in the wall outlet of Ricky Raccoon's story, The War, and it knocked me flat on my ass. And there is other stuff going on that is not so easy to write off as accident, or happenstance, or random meaningless collisions. But I think it takes a far greater leap of faith to try to believe that there is no pattern here, and no purpose underlying the pattern than it does to acknowledge what we all know: Somethin' is happenin here and you know just what it is- don't you, Mr Jones?


Northern Bandit said...

Bob, so whaqt happened?

Anonymous said...


I get exactly what you are trying to say. The prescence of O is around us and in us, and is in fact intensely personal. O knows you, hits you sometimes inside your mind, alters things in your environment, tweaks your circumstances, and not in any abstract way. Concretely and just for you...O is managing you on a daily basis.

Yet...and this is the problem...if you get hung up on trying to catch 0 in the act, and get too clever for your own good, your going to get delusional. You will see and feel things that aren't there.

It is an excruciating balancing act to remaain rational and yet detect the subtle fingers of 0 massaging your mind and synchronizing your happenstances. You have to allow a parcel of uncertainty to enter. Was it 0 or wasn't it? It is paradoxically best NOT to be 100% sure of when 0 has you in its palps.

Why? If a being gets too solid in 0, can spot 0, feel 0, gets 100% certainty, then the game of life is over. You are unfazable. Therefore, you will learn nothing new because you will fear nothing and you will make no mistakes.


You might as well not have come could have stayed unmanifested.

Therefore enjoy the nebulous tappings of 0, never bringing him into too sharp a focus (at least in that particular way). Let the puppet master stay behing the veil to some extent, or you overween the play.

James said...

I hated the introduction to the DeKoninck book. It didn't bring out the mystical, ecstatic, foundation that lies under all CDK's work.

The first reading I had of CDK was overwhelming. I felt like the guy was a thousand miles over my head. And that was about "The Hollow Universe"!

I'd skip the intro of the big book and read p. 116- 118; 185-192; 270 on and off to 278; 292; 390-396 (ignore the latin terms- why didn't McInerny translate them?) pp424, etc. Those give you the major themes in CDK's work. Those are the sorts of passages where I thought you had the most natural affinity with CDK.

CDK set his whole life against mere jargon for the sake of jargon. His language is precise, but he only departs from common language when necessary. But he certainly isn't a fast read, even though I know of no one, not even Schoun, who is as good at propelling a careful reader towards ecstatic things.

James Chastek

Ricky Raccoon said...

Thanks for the plug, John.

(wall socket joke :-)