Saturday, February 14, 2009

Darwin Day: Kwanzaa for the Metaphysically Retarded

I guess I let the Darwin assholyday slip by without a comment, didn't I? Here's something from two years ago. In the interim, I've probably written dozens of better posts on the subject, but this will do. I don't want to deviate from my Saturday policy of reposting things from 24 months ago, or else I'll be overwhelmed by the choices -- 1,200 now, to be exact.

Again, to remind the pathetic victims of materialitis and reductionosis: you needn't bother commenting, because I have no objection to natural selection so long as it confines itself to the children's table, and doesn't elevate itself to a faux religion, a la Queeg -- i.e., metaphysical Darwinism, which is another thing altogether. Even less do I have a problem with evolution, which easily transcends anything Darwin had to say about it.


The minds of these people [the scientists] are too much accustomed to deal with physical things and things measurable by instruments and figures to be much good for any other provinces. Einstein's views outside his domain are crude and childish, a sort of unsubstantial commonplace idealism without grasp on realities. As a man can be a great scholar and yet simple and foolish, so a man can be a great scientist but his mind and ideas negligible in other things. --Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga

I'm going spend one more post wrapping up our discussion of Before the Dawn before moving on -- or in. And when I say "moving in," I mean that literally, for one of the interesting things about reading a book such as this is the exteriorizing effect it has on one's consciousness. Immersion in this kind of gross materialism really can destroy a soul. I do not mean that in the way that a spluttering creationist might mean it, but in a much more subtle way.

However, I do sympathize with the simple person of faith who objects to being bullied by this kind of ham-handed, totalitarian scientistic ideology. (I think this is the true meaning behind the surveys showing that most Americans "do not believe in evolution," for they probably mean the boneheaded and/or totalitarian kind.)

The uncorrupted soul naturally recoils at the idea that Matter is All. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I can well understand how a religious person might read just a few paragraphs of this book and dismiss it as "satanic," because in a very real sense, it is -- at least without the proper cognitive safeguards. It's very creepy to immerse oneself in this desolate, simplistic, and one-dimensional world that is so disproportionate to the beauty, nobility, and majesty of the human soul.

You needn't believe in the literal existence of satan in order to know that satan is a deceiver, and that the most dangerous deceivers are the terrible simplifiers -- i.e., Hitler, Stalin, and less radical but still extraordinarily dangerous demagogues such as Barack Obama (relax, troll, I am not comparing Obama to Hitler, even though his simplistically appealing radical agenda would destroy the United States as we know it). I forget who coined the term "terrible simplifiers," but I just googled it and came up with this relevant passage (on an unrelated topic) that gives a sense of what I'm talking about:

"The lack of a correspondence between abstraction and reality is all the more significant, since the real world is profoundly complex and contingent and an abstraction is inevitably simple. The terrible simplifiers who love abstractions cannot stand conditions and conventions muddling their perfect, clear theory. If life does not fit the theory, then it is life that has gone awry and must be made to fit. The terrible simplifiers are always perfectly willing, then, to embrace ideological crusades, violence and upheaval to better realise their 'principles'...."

The promise of violence always follows in the wake of the terrible simplifiers, but the violence to the soul actually occurs at the outset, and sets the stage for the physical violence or coercion. The physical violence is a consequence of the rebarbarization that goes hand in hand with the simplification which sanctions the violence by encouraging man to be less than he is.

[Just recently I have been reading a book by Charles DeKoninck which makes the same argument in a different way. In fact, it is similar to an argument I put forth in my book. That is, the scientist begins with the concrete human world (for where else could he begin?). Being that we are human, we are able to abstract things from this world. But the reductionist then makes the wholly unwarranted leap of taking his abstractions to be more real than the real world from which they are abstracted (similar to Whitehead's fallacy of misplaced concreteness). Metaphysical Darwinism is a fine example of this. Again: consciousness can explain much more about Darwinism than Darwinism will ever explain about consciousness. That is, unless you happen to be a terribly simple person.]

I am not accustomed to reading a book this simple and "mechanical." Although I breezed through hundreds of them in the course of writing my own, it's been awhile. Naturally, in order to complete chapters 1, 2, and 3 of One Cosmos, I had to familiarize myself with the latest findings in cosmology, theoretical biology, paleoanthropology, etc. But my specific concern in writing those chapters was mainly one thing: origins. What is the origin of the cosmos? Of life? Of the human subject? Existence, life and mind; or being, will, and interiority; and eventually freedom, truth and love. What is the nature of these things? What do they imply about the cosmos?

In posing these questions, my view was much wider than the scientist, for I didn't just want to know how life arose, but what it means that a supposedly dead cosmos can spontaneously come to life and then understand its own truth. What does this say about the kind of cosmos we inhabit? Is it just a meaningless and trivial fact, or does it cause us to rethink what sort of cosmos this is from the ground up (or top down)? Indeed, it would imply that that is the wrong question, for to the extent that we are able to understand it, the cosmos would have to be a form of the soul's sensibility, not vice versa.

Irrespective of whether humans became human 45,000 years ago or 15,000 years ago or 6,000 years ago, what does it mean that our cosmos has an interior horizon -- this calm, reflective center in the midst of swirling creation -- in which it may contemplate its deepest truths? For I can well understand how humans could change as a result of becoming better adapted to their changing environment. But the random change of natural selection can tell us nothing about our miraculous capacity for transcendence of everything, including ourselves, in the light of a priori truth.

Only man is built for transcendence. A man who fails to transcend himself sinks beneath himself. He is not a proper man, but a beast among beasts. What can it mean that the cosmos has produced a being who hangs halfway suspended between what he is and what he is to become, between is and ought, between our genetic blueprints and a transcendent blue prince?

For there is no humanness in the absence of the ought. But here again, subverting this reality is behind the agenda of the materialists, for there can be no "ought" in a purely material world. Rather, there is only is. With this brutal reduction, man, whose roots are aloft, is severed from himself and condemned to a narrow ideological prison of his own making.

It is instructive that one can rapidly skim a book such as Before the Dawn in one's spare time in a day or two, and fully understand it. There is nothing remotely difficult about it or about Darwinism in general. Queeg and his liztards are proof of this.

On the other hand, not only can one not skim, say, Meditations on the Tarot or casually enter the spiritual cathedral of Meister Eckhart, but it takes a lifetime of preparation and "interior work" in order to appreciate them at all. They will be entirely opaque to the uninitiated, regardless of what they think they understand. Furthermore, any work of a true spiritual master is infused with a light and a force that facilitates a direct transformation of consciousness, and mysteriously keeps their words both fresh and inexhaustible, so that one may return to them time and again for new insights. At different times in your life and at different levels of spiritual maturity, they will speak to different parts of you. This is axiomatic: "When I was a child, I understood as a child." (A fine example of the type of higher evolution routinely discussed in the Bible.)

Back to the terrible simplification of the modern Darwinian synthesis. This is it: Everything = Random Error + Environmental Selection (E = RE + ES). Got it? That is all you need to know because that is all you can know -- although just how you can know it is a bit of a mystery, since it too must ultimately be reducible to RE + ES.

Nevertheless, it easily answers all questions. Religion? E = RE + ES. Human groups that endulged in this fantasy somehow had more reproductive fitness, that's all. Language? E = RE + ES. Apes that spoke had more babies. Love? E = RE + ES. A trick of the genes. Just a way to get you to reproduce. Beauty? E = RE + ES. The creation of illusion in order to make the pursuit seem worthwhile. Intelligence? E = RE + ES. Intelligence implies progress, something which is strictly forbidden in the Darwinian view. Nothing is any more or less intelligent, only better adapted to its environment. Wisdom? Don't even go there. No, can't even go there.

E = RE + ES. Got it? Now that you've got it, please bear in mind that you are not permitted to have any other thoughts about reality, because this is the answer that exhausts all questions. It is the graveyard of real curiosity, which is now rendered a pointless hindrance to your reproductive fitness.

Ironically, this satanic reductionism cannot avoid carrying a sacred ought of its own, as reflected in the anti-religious jihad of the obligatory atheists -- the simple Dennetts and even simpler Queegs. Yes, The Gospel According to Darwin (Tail wiggle: Walt) insists that the good news of E = RE + ES should be celebrated on Darwin Day, February 12, the day our scientistic savior was born. For this is the day that the word -- the only word there actually is, E = RE + ES -- became flesh. Naturally, before that, the word existed -- it cannot not exist -- but no one knew it.

But why a celebration, unless it is a funeral, since E = RE + ES spells the end of our humanness as such?

Because it's built into our genes, silly. Celebration increases social solidarity and therefore reproductive fitness. Pretty pathetic way for these beta males to try to meet women, if you ask me.

Blue prince:

Get-a-clue prince:

Friday, February 13, 2009

On Successfully Gaining No Faith in Oneself

Again, nine out of ten transcendentists agree that if we wish to prevent truth decay, the eye of spirit must become proportionate to the divine reality, and that faith is a necessary component of this. For this reason we insist that the act of faith in the divine reality is wholly rational, being that it has a rational end.

In other words, the rationality of faith depends upon its object, not the faith itself. After all, people have faith in Obama, or Al Gore, or the New York Times, but that is hardly rational. Such a misplaced faith actually shrinks the being and arrests the deepening of one's interior, so one remains a child forever.

In short, be careful what you have faith in, because faith creates an empty space for the Other to operate. And there are some bad otherf*ckers out there in the cosmos who are just waiting to hijack your soul.

Importantly, faith is not necessarily synonymous with "belief," the latter of which may simply be an overly-saturated dogma with no possibility of evolution. In fact, you might say that faith can clear a space for a kind of dynamic unbelief (not disbelief), which in turn makes it possible to possess something deeper and more robust than mere belief.

Here again, I don't have time to dig out exhumeples, but one will find many in the Gospels or Tao Te Ching, e.g., "blessed are the poor in spirit," or "to become full you must become empty," etc. This is why in my own godspiel, I employ the symbols (---) and (o) to signify this dynamic faith, or the silence and openness necessary to receive (↓).

To employ a computer banalogy, you could even say that this is the means through which we download the Word into our flesh, or the ultimate sophware into our hardheart. In turn, this would be how we begin to allow the Cosmic Center to reside in us, out here at the periphery. Then it is just as Paul said: it is longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. Again, perfect nonsense, no?

It is not so much that we become the center of the cosmos, but that we participate in the center. Or, you could say that we are "not two," because for one thing, we are three. Here is how Balthasar describes the satchituation:

"God can be known only by God. Faith, along with love and hope, is infused divine life in us, which cannot be detached from God's eternal life, but which draws back and incorporates into this life the creature that has become detached" (emphasis mine). In other words, it is not so much we who are "born again," but God who is born again in the ground of the soul who extends the invitation.

Or, you could say that O is the Great Attractor, and as we participate in this fideal attraction, we are slowly converted into that which attracts us. In ether worlds, we might think we are attracted to God -- which we are -- but that is like saying that the earth is attracted to the sun. In reality, the sun is doing most of the heavy lifting and heavenly gifting.

In the fallen manalysis, "faith" is not even ours. Rather, it belongs to God. This reminds me of how, in reality, the breast does not belong to the mother. Rather, it belongs to the infant. The mother is "responsible" for it, but nevertheless, the infant is enteatled to it. The breast is as much a part of the infant as it is the mother. In fact, more so, since the baby will die without it, whereas the mother can go on living with fake ones.

So, we are responsible for our faith, but it really belongs to God. Again, Balthasar: "As long as he continues to treat 'his faith' as his own possibility, he still does not believe at all, but is perhaps still debating whether he ought to risk the leap of faith."

Only after we have reached the nul de slack of our own (merely) human possibilities -- i.e., spiritual blankruptcy -- can the Divine presence begin to get the upper hand. As Balthasar describes it, realization cannot occur in the believer until it becomes a "real event by his self-abandonment to Jesus Christ, who alone can help his unbelief" (emphasis mine).

Just as we cannot "see" reason, we cannot see faith, because both represent the light by which we see their respective spheres. The faith of the authentic lumen being "can never become objectified," but "shines forth only in the realization of either the act of faith or the act of knowledge when it is objectively oriented."

But here again, just as it is not wholly our faith, neither is it our knowledge -- which is no different than in science, since a scientific truth by definition cannot belong to the individual; rather, if it is true, then it is universal.

Balthasar: "[I]n man's turning to Christ what shines forth is not man's own aptitude for faith, but rather Christ's aptitude to give to the inept a share of his own light and power. The light of being envelops both subject and object, and, in the act of cognition, it becomes the overarching identity between the two."

And here's the money quote: "The light of faith stems from the object which, revealing itself to the subject, draws it out beyond itself into the sphere of the object."

This is how we cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore, and end up out here, floating upstream beyond the subjective horizon in Upper Tonga.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Objective Fantasy vs. Subjective Reality

As our culture and its products become increasingly ugly and stupid, it is no wonder that people lose their feel for the divine intellect and beauty. Likewise, with no developmental telos, we can hardly be surprised that chronological adults remain developmentally adolescent, and therefore never acquire the sophistication necessary to develop themselves spiritually. Indeed, why grow into adulthood if, in the absence of vertical development, it is just a horizontal "dead end," whereas the adolescent lives in a kind of faux eternity (or false verticality), since his potential remains forever latent? In being "nothing," he can feel as if he is "everything."

Regarding the problem of terminal adolescence, it has reached a kind of nadir in the election of our first teenage president (although I suppose Clinton broke some important ground in that regard). Along with this has come the descent of the moonstream media to a new low, which no one thought possible, i.e., a bunch of breathless teeny-bopper fanzines. Seriously, when they start publishing articles about women who fantasize about having sex with the president, it is difficult to imagine any further devolution.

Adolescents make up for in enthusiasm what they lack in substance, depth, and wisdom. As Balthasar writes, they also tend to generalize this enthusiasm, so that the world is not seen objectively, but subjectively. If you give it some thought, I think you'll realize that this is one of the real problems in trying to have a rational conversation with a liberal. In fact, I well remember what this was like from the other side, back when I was a liberal. The main problem with conservatives was that they threw water on your enthusiastic state of subjective fantasy, so I had no use for them.

But fantasies are otherwise ephemeral things that do not endure if they aren't reinforced by a large collective. In fact, being what they are, fantasies are threatened by even one person who isn't on board with it, which is why totalitarian governments and liberal universities function the way they do.

Likewise, it is why the adolescents of the left want to resurrect the Orwellian "fairness doctrine" in order to eliminate one of the remaining institutions that resists their fantasy. The very existence of talk radio is a threat to the fantasy, and must be stopped.

In just three weeks, Barack Obama has already attacked Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Sean Hannity. Does the press care that they are under assault? No, of course not, because that isn't the point. Rather, Obama and the MSM have a common interest in perpetuating their mutual fantasy. Likewise, George Bush was attacked for quashing dissent, when he obviously did no such thing. For the MSM, anyone who does not share their common fantasy is not a part of the legitimate press.

I had no intention to get sidetracked by politics here. My only point is to highlight the discrimination it requires in order to begin to apprehend the objective and the real, the very source and possibility of which is God -- or, let us say, the "principial realm," so as to not prematurely saturate the subject.

As Balthasar writes, "People who cling to this view of the subjective nature of taste's judgment have remained immature adolesescents." But "by developing his soul according to the images of the objectively beautiful, the maturing person gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination, that is, the art of perceiving what is beautiful in itself." Critically, although this is obviously a subjective operation, "in the process of their development, the subjective elements of perception... more and more pass into the service of objective perception."

I would say that this is because maturity can be gauged by a gradual "withdrawal" of projection, so that we begin to see the world as it is, rather than how we would like for it to be. In other words, our subjectivity takes on a more passive, "female" role in receiving the world rather than forcing the world into our projected categories. I don't have the time to dig out examples, but one will find many, many references to this in the Christian and Taoist literature.

The world in itself is neither "objective" nor "subjective." Rather, these are human categories that we use in order to understand our experience. In reality, these two categories are complementary and give rise to one another. I would say that "objectivity" simply refers to the exterior of the world, subjectivity to its interior, and there can be no outside in the absence of an inside. Both art and religion specialize in disclosing the "cosmic interior," so it is no wonder that the skill required to deepen one's understanding of them has a similar aesthetic form.

As Balthasar describes it, "Even in the case of a masterpiece, the mature observer of art can without difficulty give an objective and largely conceptual basis for his judgment." For example, yesterday evening I was watching Olivier's 1948 production of Hamlet, and was blown away by the screenplay. I didn't catch the name -- William something-or-other -- but the way he used language was... I don't know what else to call it but godlike. His mastery of language was so complete, that it was almost a distraction from the plot.

The question is, was my aesthetic assessment of William something-or-other objective? Or "merely" subjective? Or, is it possible to use one's subjectivity in such a way that it discloses objective reality? Let's say some lowbrow atheist comes along and says that there's nothing special going on here -- just a story about a dead Danish king and his crazy son. Yes, that is objectively true, but is it true?

Or -- you will forgive me -- one could say that the Gospels are about a delusional Jewish carpenter who gets rubbed out by the Roman authorities. Is that true? Yes, in the same way that the theory of natural selection explains our humanness. The point is, to live in a state of "mere"objectivity is to plunge oneself into the deepest and darkest of fantasies, where no light can enter, since all light is subjective (i.e., only subjects can experience it).

A metaphysical Darwinist is living in a state of "objective fantasy," since he regards his abstractions as more real than the concrete reality from which they are taken. And this is why one cannot be a consistent Darwinist and remain human, because no human can sanely treat other humans as mere "replicating machines." Rather, the moment you appreciate the infinite value of the individual -- an example of a truly objective subjective fact, by the way -- you have left Darwinism behind. It's just a matter of explaining why human beings are so infinitely precious. I know why. The metaphysical Darwinist can never know.

Balthasar contrasts the two uses of imagination. The more immature way is to project and externalize from within to the exterior. An extreme case of this would be the psychotic, but the schlock-in-tirade of the psychotherapist is less obvious forms of this same process.

Conversely, the more mature use of imagination involves a kind of metabolic process "in which the objective content of images is assimilated from the outside toward the interior" (Balthasar). I think it is fair to say that this is how the the spiritually mature person "uses" scripture and religion in general.

This is how Balthasar describes it: "the believer indeed possesses in advance the fundamental possibility of believing which has been implanted in him; but this possibility does not exempt him from the human effort of searching with a probing gaze for the correct form of what he is to believe and, having found it, from the effort of integrating it existentially into his very self" (emphasis mine).

Again: the form is objective, but its assimilation is subjective; indeed, the former must be assimilated into our subjective being in order both for it and for ourselves to truly "live" in the dialectical space between them. You could say that this is the eternal space of both kenosis and theosis, which are two sides of the same divine reality, in that His flowing out is our flowing in.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Where There is No Vision, the People Need their Third Eyes Examined

Here's a good rule of thumb: the light of grace "strengthens and deepens the power of sight," and "makes the eye proportionate to what is being shown" (Balthasar).

Or, you could say that faith "essentially consists in an ability to see what God chooses to show and which cannot be seen without faith." In fact, this very much reminds me of Polanyi's theory of scientific vision, only transposed to a higher key. The messy book of history is lettered with little divine hints and clues, but "the spirit searching for meaning requires a higher light of grace in order to synthesize the signs" (Balthasar).

This is something I discussed on page something or other of my book. It seems that non-believers begin with the idea of trying to rationally prove the existence of God -- which they fail to do -- and then conclude that he doesn't exist. But this makes about as much sense as me taking a few awkward hacks against a major league pitcher, and concluding on that basis that home runs don't exist. Plus, Babe Ruth was a liar. No one can hit a ball out of the yard.

Forget about God's existence. That's for God to worry about. If he doesn't exist, only he knows it. Rather, our job is simply to develop that "part" of ourselves that is capable of initially "detecting" and increasingly understanding the divine. After all, we don't speculate about realities for which we don't have the requisite sensory apparatus to detect. For example, humans -- at least since the 1960s -- don't bother thinking about the sound of red, or what music looks like.

As far as I am concerned, it's just flat out strange that we are able to understand the divine at all, much less to deepen and expand our understanding. I mean, if God did not exist, we couldn't say that this person over there has a childlike understanding, while that person over there has an exquisitely subtle understanding. Nor would there be any "inter-rater reliability," which there surely is, especially the further one ascends up the sacred mountain (cf. the Spiritual Ascent for mountains of evidence of the mountain).

The point is, as I put it on page 194, "Even if we assume that scripture is a revelation of God, it seems axiomatic that it still has to be revealed to someone," so that the meaning will vary widely from person to person, partly depending upon their capacity to receive it.

In a way, it is analogous to physics, which is way beyond the point that it is dealing with any ponderable human reality. Rather, it must employ elaborate particle accelerators that span several miles in order to create very special circumstances for the desired reality to make itself manifest. In short, change the experimental situation, and a novel reality emerges -- or, features of reality emerge that would otherwise go undetected.

Why should it be any different with the study of consciousness? Obviously, strange things occur inside an atom smasher. But even stranger things occur inside an ego-smasher -- and perhaps for similar reasons. After all the ego is a cluster of energy, a "knot" in consciousness, something like a virtual molecule. Blow it apart, and what happens? Well, usually the neutron bomb of psychosis, which destroys the mind but leaves the body standing. But splitting the atom can also result in heating your home. Is it possible that splitting Adam can result from bleating the Om? So we have heard from the wise.

To a certain extent, the nonlocal God "requires" us in order to manifest locally. Or, you could say that God is not known unless we do the not knowing. And we must not know what we think we know in order to begin unKnowing the unknowable One, that's for sure.

So, as Balthasar says, "the signs of revelation crystalize about a center which becomes visible in the light of faith." This, I think, is a key point. Just as in science, as one synthesizes more and more, the resulting "center" becomes deeper, more interconnected, more robust, more enduring. Once this begins to take place, then you cannot isolate just one component, because you appreciate its part in the whole existentialada.

But how does one begin to coonfur this vision upon the willfully blind? I just don't see how it is possible unless they leave their ego at the door and surrender to B'ob. Why? Because I'm trying to show you what I see, and you won't see it if you don't drop what you're doing and see things from my perspective.

Obviously, I don't mean that in any grandiose way. I only mean it in the sense that it is true of any philosopher or artist. In order to understand any metacosmic vision, one must abandon oneself and deeply enter into it. Only afterwards do you return to yourself, so to speak, and reassess.

This is what I do, whomever I am studying. That is, I extend the courtesy of plunging heartfirst into their world. If it is a valid world, several things will become evident. At the very least, it will be both internally and externally consistent. Also, it will have a "richness" and "texture" that will only be present if the guide in question really knows what he is talking about from the inside out. In other words, "second hand" theological writing will lose this fineness of detail [you could say that it becomes (k) rather than (n)]. The life is drained from it.

Another thing that becomes evident is a communication of the light necessary to "see" within the given structure. No divine structure can be seen without a source of divine light. All pneumanauts are aware of the fact that this Light is every bit as evident as the light that illumines the physical world.

Here, I didn't even see this coming, and Balthasar confirms it: "The interior light of faith and the external historical revelation confront, recognize, and strengthen one another." Indeed, "the active synthesis of the signs of revelation and the light that makes them possible" are both understood "from the spirit's perspective of self-realization in its striving toward God as he is in himself," but also "the genuine expression of the divine Being." This is again none other than the ascending spiral of (↑↓), as the divine glowtons bang up against (¶).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Developing 20/∞ Vision

As I said, I'll continue with volume one of The Glory of the Lord, which, at almost 700 pages, should be enough for anyone. When I do these multi-post book reviews, the main purpose is to assimilate what I've just read, otherwise it can be like having never read the book, so you end up being hungry again an hour later. You know, like Chinese theology.

In the end -- and this is something Bion knew -- intellection really isn't that different from digestion, being that it consists of identifying what is healthy to eat, chewing it thoroughly, swallowing, breaking down, assimilating, and then, most importantly, utilizing or becoming.

In other words, the "end result" of food is either energy for action or else renewed substance for your being. (I guess we left out elimination, didn't we? In that case it's best to either not ingest useless crap to begin with, or else spit it out right away. Otherwise, you risk years of "detoxification," for example, the years it takes to undo a higher education.)

Now, one thing we really need to chew on is this thing called "history," for history is somewhat like a symphony.... No, wait a minute. I'll just stick with what I know best. Let's say history is like a small jazz combo, in which case you have cycles or rhythms (the drummer), certain ground notes that hold the musical structure together and unify rhythm and harmony (the bass), the chordal structure (the piano), and the soloists who use the other three as the basis for free improvisation -- the latter of which being rooted in the structure while "floating above" it. You could say that improvisation is simultaneously immanent and transcendent, or within and beyond the musical structure.

For Balthasar, "the revelation of Biblical salvation-history is a form set before mankind's eyes, implanted in the midst of mankind's historical evolution." In other words, profane history is one thing -- you might say the rhythm and bass -- over which God improvises his divine melody. And like any melody, it can only be discerned in time. This is the difference between "horizontal" and "vertical" in music. A chord consists of multiple notes that are played all at once, i.e., vertically. But a melody can only disclose its pattern in time. A single note of a melody is "nothing." In fact, a melody can't really be discerned absent the modes of memory and anticipation.

You might say that Balthasar's central concern is the beauty of this divine melody as it appears in time, beginning with the old covenant and extending through the new and beyond. The point is, it is a form, a form that is surely as real as physical or biological form. And like any form, if you break it up into its constituent parts, the form disappears. This is especially true of scripture, which any yahoo can "disprove" to himself by focusing on a single element and removing it from its overall context. This is a favorite approach of the atheistic barbarians. In fact, here's an apt quote by Schuon:

"In the opinion of all unbelievers, it is the absurdities contained in the sacred Scriptures which primarily stand in the way of the credibility of the Message.... First of all, it is necessary to envisage a Scripture in its totality and not be hypnotized, with perfect myopia, by a fragmentary difficulty, which after all is the perspective of the devil, who disparages a mountain because of a fissure and, conversely, praises an evil because of an inevitable particle of good." (In fact, this is why Satan loves the Porkulus bill.)

But "when Scripture is envisaged in its totality it imparts a global value and its supernatural character to whomever is not blinded by prejudice and who has been able to preserve intact the normally human sensibility for the majestic and the sacred.... [W]hat cannot be imitated [in scripture] is the depth of the meanings and the theurgic radiation of divinely inspired texts" (Schuon; emphases mine).

Schuon mentions our sensibility for the majestic and sacred, which are examples of the types of "aesthetic" categories Balthasar uses to understand the Divine message in its totality, not just in terms of a momentary or isolated fragment. And in considering this totality, he observes that its "contour-lines have been drawn with such mastery that not the smallest detail can be altered. The weights have been poised in such a way that their balance extends to infinity, and they resist any displacement. God's art in the midst of history is irreproachable, and any criticism of his masterpiece immediately rebounds on the fault-finder" (Balthasar; emphasis mine).

Like any truly great work of art, we must "elevate" ourselves in order to apprehend it. Yes, the artist "reaches down," so to speak, but surely not "all the way," on pain of becoming what he is not. Christ "became man"; but he did not become an evil or sinful man, just so you could better relate to him.

Now, a great work of art is surely "rational," but that is not all it is. This is why, as applied to scripture, "the mere light of reason clearly does not suffice to illumine this work, and it can be irrefutably established that anyone who seeks to comprehend it with this light cannot do it justice." Yes, there is an elegant mathematical structure to Bach's fugues, but an "x-factor" is added by actually listening to them in their wholeness, for the "math" is in service to the overall form, not vice versa.

As it pertains to the form of revelation, "faith" is the appropriate mode in which to apprehend the form in its totality. As Balthasar writes, "the light of God which faith has sees the form as it is, and, indeed, it can demonstrate that the evidence of the thing's rightness emerges from the thing itself and sheds its light outwards from it.... The decisive thing is that this form presents itself as the revelation of the inner depth of God" (emphasis mine).

I think Balthasar would agree that the Christian revelation represents a kind of totality -- the whole symphony, as it were -- that other revelations only express in parts. This is not to put them down. To the contrary, it is to give them a new kind of value by realizing that these fragments -- various chords, melodies, themes and rhythms -- were valid intuitions of the totality. But when a part is elevated to the whole, then you're going to run into problems.

Does this sound overly abstract? Possibly so. Let me provide a concrete example. As a child, Christianity was presented to me in such a piecemeal way that it was just too easy to reject. I won't dwell on the details. My point is that I eventually began re-exploring Christianity from the "outside in," so to speak, beginning with some of its greatest thinkers. In so doing, I began to increasingly appreciate the beautiful contours of this magnificent edifice.

But there was a curious thing. That is, there was still a big hole in the middle of this beautiful structure. And what might that be? It was the Crucifixion and Resurrection -- the very things that made the whole thing seem so implausible if presented up front, totally out of context. In other words, once I began to appreciate the incredibly rich totality, I began to see how the Incarnation is the pillar holding up the whole beautiful structure. What emerges is a new kind of "necessity" that clearly transcends logic, for it is more like the necessity of the artist who knows that this note, or this line of color, must go right there and nowhere else.

Thus, for Balthasar, the central problem of perceiving the form is an aesthetic one. To ignore this critical dimension can reduce scripture to a kind of crude materialism, which many fundamentalists tend to do. And along with materialism comes a misguided application of reason which exists side-by-side with a kind of dopey fideism; in other words, belief in frank absurdities backed by the misapplication of reason. The left never tires of trotting out such idiots in order to satisfy themselves that religion is for morons.

As Balthasar notes, to try to comprehend religion with the categories of materialism is to have conceded up front: "What basis acceptable to reason can we give to [Christ's] authoritative claims? Anyone asking the question in this way has really already formed an answer, because he is at once enmeshed in an insoluble dilemma." If he tries to believe on the basis of reason alone, then he is ignoring the dimensions of divine authority and aesthetic contemplation. But nor does Christian faith consist of renouncing reason in order to prop it up in the teeth of all reasonable objections.

Again Balthasar emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole. "Torn between knowing and believing," the critical rationalist will be "no longer able to see anything." Rather, "the spirit searching for meaning requires a higher light of grace in order to synthesize the signs.... Allowing that this point of convergence is supernatural and that it lies in the sphere of the properly divine, then it is clear that the spirit searching for the meaning of these signs will totally (not merely partly) fail to find it as long as it seeks for the point of unity in the realm of the natural."

This is why no rational argument will convince the skeptic. Rather, "the light of grace comes to the aid" of our "natural inabilty" and "strengthens the power of sight," thereby bestowing vision and making "the eye proportionate to what is being shown." Only then do you see the One Cosmos Under God.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Flood Lights and Laser Beams

Well, I'm getting a little burned out on the Balthasar. To review where we stand, I made the deadly solemn vow to wondertake an exhumination of his main body of work, the fifteen volume systematics (plus an appendectomous epilogue, so sixteen), and I'm now turning the coroner on volume four.

But I have to admit, at this point, I'm seeing a lot of pointless pedantry that's not really moving the argument along. It feels like we're in dryasdust flyover country now, with a long way to go before we flow into our deustinocean.

You might call it argument by volume rather than weight, just piling one endless paragraph upon another. I'm not getting any feeling of forward momentum at all. He's one of those writers who has no sense of rhythm or drive. Probably a German thing. A key point might be buried in the middle of a two page paragraph. There's no building up to the "ah ha!" experience, much less the sacred guffah-ha! I mean, 1500 pages so far. That's a long tome to go with out a single gag.

This reminds me that, when purusha comes to shiva, I would have to admit that I'm not a scholar, but more of a mystickle innertainer. But darn it, there's no reason at all why one can't combine both. It's just convention, really. That and a lack of talent. Most academics are dreadful writers, but turn it into a virtue. And then they marginalize the ones who do know how to communicate, with the epithet "popularizer." But I'm obviously not that. If anything, I'm an unpopularizer. Nevertheless, to quote Petey's scryptural exejesus, our yokes are easy, our words enlight.

It seems to me that Balthasar's essential argument is laid out in volume one, with the subsequent volumes just filling it out. So I may just finish posting on that, and then move on.

Brevity. That's what it is. Don't give me the dissertation. It just makes it look like you've got something to hide. Out with it. Get to the freaking point.

I don't mean to fawn, but this is why I am so drawn to Schuon, who never makes me yawn. It's as if he's done you the courtesy of assimilating everything beforehand, so he can rewordgitate it back to you in the form of a highly polished gem of wisdom that you can turn around in your mind and examine from various angles. Unsaturated, don't you know.

Jules: Example

Vincent: Okay, here's the first sentence from perhaps Schuon's most accessible book, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts. Truly a model of brevity and unsaturated clarity, like a righteous pimp slap from above:

Metaphysical knowledge is one thing and its actualization in the mind is quite another. All the knowledge the brain can hold is as nothing in light of Truth even if it is immeasurably rich from a human point of view.

Ah, refreshing! Balthasar gives us all [if not more than] the knowledge the brain can hold, whereas Schuon facilitates the direct actualization of metaphysical knowedge, i.e., O-->(n).

Second and third sentences: Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France? Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?

Oops. Wrong text. Try it again: Metaphysical knowledge is like a divine seed in the heart; thoughts represent only faint glimmers of it. The imprint of the divine Light in human darkness, the passage from the Infinite to the finite, the contact between the Absolute and the contingent -- this is the whole mystery of intellection...

Bingo! The rest is up to you.

This is good for me. Like a refreshing rinse after a lot of transcen dental work:

A proof is not convincing because it is absolute -- for this it could never be -- but because it actualizes something self-evident in the mind.

Ahhhhhhh. Frankly, you could summarize the entire argument of Balthasar's theological aesthetics with that one sentence, for he is essentially making the point that the divine beauty -- the Glory of God's revelation in time -- provides its own proof, a type of proof that clearly transcends mere reason, for it is seen and apprehended whole, not argued in any linear sense (although it does disclose itself in the form of the theodramatic "arc of salvation").

Correlative to every proof is an element eluding the determinism of mere logic and consisting of either an intuition or a grace; now this element [what I would call (↓)] is everything. In the intellectual order logical proof is no more than a thoroughly provisional crystallization of intuition.... One can most certainly prove every truth; but not every proof is accessible to every mind.

Indeed, the need for logical satisfaction "increases in proportion to ignorance, not in proportion to knowledge."

Balthasar definitely says the same thing but in a different way. For example, God's being "can encounter us centrally only from within the a priori of spiritual being itself -- as the deepening of the spiritual being worked by grace." In receiving this Mystery, man "conforms the proportions of his own thought and work to the proportions of the object of faith which are determined by God." Through this process we are led to "an ever deeper awareness of the experience both of the presence within... of God's being and the depth of the divine truth, goodness, and beauty in the mystery of God," i.e., (↑↓).

In this regard, there is a "deepening of a merely notional apprehension into an experiential apperception by the whole person" (Balthasar). At the same time, it is the movement from an exterior relationship to an interior relationship with God, in particular, as the "interior light" begins to shine in the dark.

And just as physical light is never seen -- rather, it is merely photons banging against our neurological apparatus -- the Divine Light is not so much seen as that by which we see -- especially that by which we see God, or the very source of the Light which shines forth its own radiant proof.

And only in man can the fullness of this light become apparent. Or ignored.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Once Was Blind, But Now I See

As I mentioned last week, February '07 was a fairly fruitful month, so I think I'll repost things on both Saturday and Sunday until further gnosis.

Or, since we had more stale comments than usual for a Saturday, just consider this a fresh open thread.

FYI, here is part III of David Klinghoffer's takedown of Queeg and his crude scientistic anti-intellectualism.


When we talk about "leading a spiritual life," we are not necessarily referring to a conventionally religious life per se; nor do we wish to confuse it with any kind of new age exercise in larcenous pneumapathy, a la Deepak and Tony Robbins. Rather, what we are really talking about is vertical transformation and the conditions that make this transformation possible. Those conditions are embodied in religion, but it is clearly possible to practice a religion and miss out on the transformative element.

While religion obviously involves "faith" and "belief," these are not intended to be merely static and saturated "containers." Rather, properly understood, they should be fungible into a different sort of experiential (or ontonoetic) knowledge and should facilitate a real transformation. In other words, it seems that dogma is not the end of religious knowledge, but only the beginning. Truly, we believe in order that we may know.

In the past, I have discussed dogma in terms of Polanyi's analysis of scientific models, which he compares to the cane of a blind person -- to a probe in the dark. If you can imagine being blind for a moment -- which, of course, you are -- think of how the cane would quickly become an extension of your hand. At some point, you wouldn't even be aware of the cane's impact on your hand. Rather, these raw sensations would be instantaneously transformed by the brain into a three-dimensional image of your spatial surroundings. At the same time, it would expand your world and allow you to move through it in such a way that you could further expand your world by degree.

Clearly, scientific knowledge works in this way. Consider, for example, the equations of subatomic physics or quantum cosmology. In the case of the former, this mathematical language allows us to extend our senses and see "beyond" or "behind" the solid material world the senses give to us. Likewise, these scientific probes allow us to "visualize" the temporal arc of the cosmos, extending back to a time long before human beings even existed -- in fact, to the very timelessness that begot time, when One's upin a timeless, without a second to spore, and noplace to bang anyway.

But you will notice that we always convert this scientific knowledge -- again, think of the probe in the dark -- into a human vision. When we think of a "big bang," that's what we think of, even though, if you could somehow have been there at the moment of the big bang, you would have been too small to have been anywhere, plus you wouldn't see any banging anyway, for the same reason you don't see it happening now. After all, the cosmos is still banging away at this moment -- i.e., it is expanding -- but we don't experience this through our senses. Rather, we only know it by using the scientific equations as a probe in the dark to extend our senses.

But the universe is not merely a form of our sensibility. In other words, no matter how far science extends its probe into the dark, it is still going to be a human hand grasping a slightly longer cane. And, needless to say, the universe is what it is, regardless of -- or in addition to -- what we say or think it is. This is something materialists and metaphysical Darwinists always forget -- that is, they confuse their probes with reality.

To put it another way, science extends our senses forward, backward, and below, in so doing "widening" our conception of the cosmos, both spatially and temporally. But religion serves a different purpose. It too is a probe in the dark, but it specifically probes the inward and the upward. This is the great confusion of both scientific fundamentalists and religious literalists. The former imagine that the horizontal probes of science exhaust all that may be probed, whereas the latter imagine that religion is meant to probe the material world. Thus, for example, they attempt to use Genesis to probe the horizontal, just as scientists imagine that they can explain anything of a non-trivial nature about the vertical by relying solely upon their sensory probes.

This is something I actually understood when I began studying psychoanalysis. I began doing so at a time when psychoanalysis had fallen out of favor among strict scientific types, who regarded it more as a "mythology," even a sort of cult invented by Freud. What I realized is that the concepts of psychoanalysis are precisely analogous to probes we may use to explore consciousness, as we try to extend our knowledge from the well-lit area of the ego, across the subjective horizon into the darkness of the unconscious. There are a number of different psychoanalytic schools, and they each "work." Why is this? How can this be?

I believe it is because it is not so much the explicit theory that counts, so long as it may be used as a probe to explore the unconscious and to widen that part of consciousness that we have "colonized." The unconscious is just as dark and silent as the subatomic world until we have developed a "language of achievement" with which to probe and illuminate it. (I might add that one of the virtues of Bion is that he attempted to convert these "concrete" theoretical probes into something more abstract, which is precisely what science does as it moves from induction to deduction, or from particular, to general, and back to particular.)

I don't want to get sidetracked into a discussion of psychoanalysis, but let us transfer the same general idea to religion. To try to understand psychoanalytic concepts as an objective description of the mind is to misunderstand them, precisely. Again, they are subjective probes we use to reach into the darkness of the unconscious mind. Likewise, a religious system must be similarly understood as probe we may fruitfully use to reach into eternity, the vertical, the interior, the great within, heaven, whatever you wish to call it. Even if you don't consciously realize you are doing this, this is what you are doing when you "indwell" religion. You are expanding your consciousness and thinking about things that are otherwise unthinkable in the absence of the religious system.

Indeed, this is why religion persists and will always persist, because human beings, alone among the animals, have a built in need to reconcile themselves to the vertical, on pain of no longer being human. I was thinking about this the other day, in considering the first humans who awakened to the vertical. In fact, in every sense, "awakening to the vertical" is synonymous with "becoming human." I am currently reading a book, Before the Dawn, that I will soon be reporting to you on. It goes into the latest research on human origins, and I wanted to use it to update or correct any outdated information in Chapter 3 of One Cosmos.

The author confirms one of my main points, that anatomically modern humans emerged by approximately 100,000 years ago, and yet, there was no evidence of what we call genuine "humanness" -- which coincides with the discovery of the interior vertical world -- until it suddenly burst upon the scene some 50,000 years ago. Just as we have forgotten the experiential intensity of the early Christians, it's easy to dismiss the intensity of what it must have felt like for the earliest humans to awaken to the vertical -- the mother of all (?!)s, as it were. As Joyce said in his meandertale, they must have been completely astoneaged!

Consider some of the famous cave art that emerged in Europe after our great awakening. What force prompted our furbears to do this? Consider the fact that some of these caves are accessible only by long tunnels that extend deep into the earth, and are hardly wider than a human body, not as bad as boarding an airplane, but close.

Someone -- again, compelled by what mythterious force? -- had to be the first to wriggle down that tunnel into pure darkness, where he was eventually released into an underground cavern. His newly awakened soul then felt compelled to adorn the walls of this cavern temple with beautiful, fully realized works of art -- with mankind's first "masterpieces." Upon seeing the Altamira paintings, Picasso -- who was in a position to know about decadence -- famously remarked, "after Altamira, all is decadence." For this was art in its purest sense, in that it was obviously completely divorced from any commercial or egotistical motives. Rather, it was a purely spontaneous attempt to probe the interior reality to which humans had gained unique access, and to reconcile man to the vertical.

Now, where was I? Something about leading a spiritual life in the modern world. Now that we have more of an idea of what spirituality is intended to do, we are in a better position to come up with a way to organize our life around that endeavor -- to create conditions in which we may experientially "probe the vertical" with our cooncanes, so to speak.

Frithjof Schuon has said that "The chief difficulty of the spiritual life is to maintain a simple, qualitative, heavenly position in a complex, quantitative, earthly setting." When we chase after the exterior world and its shadowy phenomena, this has the effect of both externalizing and dispersing our consciousness, when the essence of a spiritual practice involves centration, interiorization, and assimilation -- as mentioned a couple of days ago, living from the top down and inside out. It is an "ascending descent" or "descending ascent."

In externalizing and dispersing our consciousness, science tends to get lost in time, in phenomena. But the vertical is only accessible in the present moment that is given to us, and the present is not actually a part of time, but at a right angle to it. A kind of remembrance must take place in this present moment -- vertical remembrance, which is what prayer, meditation, and contemplation are all about. This is what Schuon calls the "liberating center," but it is only available to us through 1) centration, by whatever means necessary, and 2), ascent (of the awakened soul) and/or descent (of grace).

It follows that a simple life, free of needless distractions, is best. I see it very much as creating stable boundary conditions so that something higher may emerge from the lower -- just as we can only speak meaningfully by relying upon stable rules of grammar, or create music by relying upon fixed scales. This is why I mentioned yesterday that my outward life may not look like much -- trophy wife, accessory baby, and bitchin' stereo notwithstanding -- but is in fact a continuous interior adventure that would be impossible if my life were more complicated, or if I were married to someone who, say, preferred fancy restaurants over the NHL playoffs. The one reality would eclipse the other, and I'd be blind as a moonbat.

Theme Song

Theme Song