Monday, June 13, 2011

Head First Into Christianity

Not that you need to know the back story, but my blogging tracks the movements and currents of my soul thingy in real timelessness, as it spontaneously darts about this way and that.

What this supposedly means is that I can only write about what I am preoccupied with -- or rather, what is preoccupying me -- and that I cannot "plan ahead," not even a single day. Nor can I look back, what with both hands on the plow, or I might not run into something.

This "method" has its virtues, I suppose, but renders it impossible to make any Major Announcements about the direction -- or even purpose -- of the blog. Like you, the best I can do is find out as we go along. You may be the last to know, but I'm only a few minutes ahead of you.

I do suspect or hope that the process is guided by some sort of nonlocal providence, both in the short and long term. The short term process seems more evident, even obvious, to me, because I see it happen every day.

However, as soon as one says this kind of thing, one is flirting with unbearable pomposity -- as in, "my pen is guided by the hand God!" -- when it is always meant with the utmost humility. All I can say is that it is accomplished through active surrender. We can argue over what I am surrendering to -- e.g., O, my monstrous narcissism, the collective unconscious, whatever -- but the underlying process is the same.

Last night I was laying on the couch, just like everybody else, looking at the basketball game while thinking about Pope John Paul II's cosmo-Christian spiritual anthropology. There was a commercial of some kind, showing how insanely hard the players work out between games. This is how you end up with a Dirk Nowitski or Kobe Bryant. All professional athletes have a gift, of course, but the greatest ones usually also work the hardest to develop the gift, have the highest expectations of themselves, and are always trying to improve their game at the margins in any little way possible.

This reminded me of the formidable spiritual athleticism of a Pope John Paul, whose biography I am currently reading. Here was truly an athlete for God. Now, one can, of course, pretend that God or O doesn't exist, which would make the eccentric Mr. Wojtyla an athlete of... of what? An elaborate delusion? A strange mental complex? A cosmic conspiracy theory?

If that is the case, why did he make such extraordinary progress in assimilating the delusion? How can one "progress" toward unreality? Isn't that the very definition of regression?

In mental illness, the further one is enmeshed in one's delusion, the more obviously dysfunctional one becomes. Sick individuals do not dramatically grow in the capacity to love, or acquire new skills for which one has no training or aptitude, or become more creative, or channel timeless truths in an elegant and refined manner.

Rather, everything becomes alternately more rigid and disorganized, as more and more primitive material needs to be projected outward in order to maintain the brittle delusion against the forces of reality. This is associated with a kind of frantic irritability, not the spiritual serenity of the motionless mover at the cosmic center.

The point is that it is quite evident that Karol Wojtyla manifested an unusual spiritual gift early on. The gift was unusual in both its depth and its diversity, combining spiritual attributes that are not normally present in the same individual, and often even at antipodes -- e.g., being equally comfortable in the depths of the most abstract philosophy and the depths of concrete persons, i.e., in the realms of Love and Truth (which is one reason why he could speak so intimately of the non-separateness of the two).

Wojtyla also (at least from what I can discern) seemed to work much harder at developing his gift than is typical, and moreover was singularly humble in taking no credit for any of it.

Speaking of humility, back to me. As I was saying, the short-term purpose of blogging is pretty clear to me, even if the longer term trajectory has eluded me. Where is this all going? If one were to undertake an exhumination of my buried corpus of 1,720 posts, would it reveal any larger pattern or trajectory? Is it any "closer" to the object of its attraction than it was five or six years ago? Is there less "noise" and more truth, less particularity and more universality (or at least the former in service to the latter)? Is it any deeper, or higher, or more encompassing, or is it just going in tiresome little circles, to which anytroll can attest?

Yesterday I had occasion to read an old post from 2006, because a number of sites had linked to it. I wasn't necessarily embarrassed by it, but it was definitely below current standards, not just of truth, but of depth and style. So if one considers it from a sufficiently arbitrary distance, one is able to prove that I am getting warmer, just like the globe.

I didn't intend this to be such a lengthy preramble, but it's just my way of saying that there are a couple of large subjects that have seized my inattention, and that I would like to stay with for awhile, even though I cannot promise anything to myself of all people, the Sprit blowing where it will and all. One might say that these principles are the missing key to my own preoccupations, or that they help to illuminate the point of my bobsessions.

First of all, this has emerged through a recent immersion in the works of Wojtyla and Ratzinger (I will refer to them by their pre-pope names, partly because that's when they did most of their writing, but also because I don't want to conflate this with any kind of "top-down" promulgation of a pre-cogitated magisterium, irrespective of how magisterial).

To my great surprise, both men were and are caught up in the same nonlocal attractor I find myself in. To be clear, I do not think they are in mine; rather, I have been pulled into theirs, just as they were pulled into something transcending themselves, otherwise it would not be real and true.

Anyway, two broad ideas or principles have come into focus. One would be what I might call "cosmic anthropology." Like me, Wojtyla became convinced that the human person is the most important "fact" in all of creation. By no means did he exclude physics, biology, and history from his metaphysic; to the contrary, he was in constant touch with experts from these and other disciplines. It is just that he never managed to overcome his awe over the very existence of persons, from which proceeds his belief in their intrinsic dignity, nobility, and potential greatness.

Absent this prior ground of meta-cosmic personhood, there can be no secure and inviolable ontological basis for a whole range of truths we know to be true, but could never "prove" with mere logic, e.g., the sanctity and infinite worth of the individual, the intrinsic right to religious freedom, and the a priori illegitimacy of any state that intrudes upon man's claims to truth, dignity, and justice.

The other organizing principle that has seized me could almost be the title of a book: Head First Into Christianity. I have blogged about this subject in the past, in that from my experience, most people -- Protestants and Evangelicals, anyway -- seem to come to Christianity via a kind of "emotional conversion." It is often a sudden change, and for this reason can lack a thorough penetration to all corners of the psyche. As a result, a kind of premodern, mythological belief system can exist side-by-side with the modern scientific worldview, inevitably leading to interior or exterior dissonance and lack of integration.

For example, this is why someone would use the tools of modern science to propagate a belief in literal creationism -- i.e., ironically use technology that never could have developed within a mythological framework, in order to argue for that framework.

This is not fundamentally dissimilar to, say, the Iranian mullahs who want to use the physics discovered by a Jew in order to cleanse the world of Jews once and for all. Or, more mundanely, it is analogous to leftists who deploy "tolerance" as a weapon to undermine the very Judeo-Christian civilization for which tolerance -- within reasonable limits -- is a virtue, or use Judeo-Christian appeals to morality as a means to install a premodern genocidal tyranny next door to Israel.

But in my case, I have been lead this way solely via the intellect. By no means did I begin with the principle, say, that ultimate reality incarnated in history as a man, and then go from there; rather, the converse: for me, that was and is the more or less final frontier, the last country to be colonized (which, not coincidentally, never can be, or else we would be God).

As it so happens, this is quite similar to the approach taken by Ratzinger in his Introduction to Christianity. I am almost halfway through this 359 page book, and thus far I don't remember a single reference to Jesus (or any other miracle) in the main text.

According to the index, the earliest mention is p. 196, but the main point is that Ratzinger is arguing from the bottom up and outside in, not from the dogma that can only crystalize at the end of the journey. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with an emotional acceptance of this dogma, being that its authenticity can be vouched for by various saints and mystics.

Nevertheless, not everyone is built the same way, and some of us want to place our invisible hand in the open wound at the center of our intellect.

To be continued?


greyniffler said...

To be continued?

Yes, please.

robinstarfish said...

I second that.

julie said...

Ooo, in one of those harmonic coonvergence thingies I was just reading something else about Carol Wojtyla this morning.

Now to just finish reading this...

julie said...

Having read, I agree with Robin and Greyniffler.

It's kind of heartening to know you're only halfway through Intro to Christianity; for once, I'm almost keeping up. Which is nice, because then if something grabs my eye that seems relevant I can post it without being hopelessly behind the curve...

By no means did I begin with the principle, say, that ultimate reality incarnated in history as a man, and then go from there

Not that anyone asked, but I think I've gotten here from both directions. The emotional when young, before college and cynicism took root, and then the intellectual as I got older and first re-accepted the possibility that God is, then followed the ramifications. Which of course eventually led me back to the heart of the matter. Funny how that works.

Anyway, I do hope this train of thought of yours covers some miles before it gets sidetracked.

John Lien said...

Please continue, I'll hitch a ride.

I could never get emotionally excited about Jesus and such emotion, as I had seen in church, did not work with me. In fact, it had the opposite effect.

As you say, we are all built differently. I figure, if it is the truth, it will be available, in some acceptable form, to all.

Van Harvey said...

Heh, interesting case of one of those syncoonisity thingees. No timelessness to bore you with the details now, maybe later.

Odd events and interests have had me far from my normal mental stomping grounds this week, and sent me back to reading the second post on my site. A bit embarrassing but ianthropologically interesting, and had me too wondering what's changed between then and now.

Answer: Not much.

I know more stuff, but much of what I knew then is just clearer now, like a sculpture that's moved from close to being done, to closer to being done. But the more interesting part is how some of the then seemingly minor reliefs on the sculpture have developed into features of exceeding depth (with no small thanks to OC), far deeper than the dimensions of the sculpture seem to allow.

And then while doing my least favorite activity in the world, mowing the lawn, I was mentally writing a post with nearly the same name and outlook of your "Head First Into Christianity"... I don't know if it'll ever be posted... guess I'll have to move it from the mental html to the physical first... the font's always a bit tricky doing that... but your bewilderness adventures in higher nondoodling are always helpful in pointing me towards where I didn't realize I was already heading.

Well, that's more time than I realized I didn't have. Click.

Joan of Argghh! said...

WV sez: desti, so yeah, I guess you need to continue.

Magnus Itland said...

Great, is now convinced of my Catholicism, it seems. It could have been worse. I have to say, you seem to get much more out of Ratzinger than I do. But on the other hand, I suspect I get more out of your writing than Ratzinger does.

mushroom said... that from my experience, most people -- Protestants and Evangelicals, anyway -- seem to come to Christianity via a kind of "emotional conversion."...

This is true. It's not necessarily bad -- as you say, we're not all built the same way.

I tried the emotional conversion route myself, and it didn't take. It's the truth, or it's not. How I feel about it is more or less irrelevant.

That's not to say that having recognized the truth a person is not often moved in an emotional way in response to it. It can be overwhelming.

For all I know, there may even be some emotional component involved in recognizing the truth when it clicks in. "Aha!" does have joy connected to it.

Christina M said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christina M said...

Yes! The whole post has me saying yes, repeatedly. And yes to the last question. I ninth it.

aka sehoy

ge said...

anyone else note?
separated at birth?
Hey Lee

Yo Doc

mushroom said...

A Strange resemblance, indeed.

William said...

How can one "progress" toward unreality? Isn't that the very definition of regression? In mental illness, the further one is enmeshed in one's delusion, the more obviously dysfunctional one becomes.

Let's talk about delusions...

A person is considered 'mentally ill' if he talks with an invisible person .. or you can consider that person religious.

Gagdad Bob said...

He is also considered mentally ill if he cannot stop insulting mentally ill persons.

David R. Graham said...

"... the Sprit [sic] blowing where it will and all."

" ... where He/he will and all"?

You are not alone drawn to Ratzinger. My wife just completed induction/instruction into the RC Church primarily because of Ratzinger's influence through the years keeping the Church loyal to Her classical theological norm and expositing that norm, as you say, ground up rather than roof down.

The exigencies of an era have considerable to do with the piety or pieties favored during it.

Truth is a phenomenon experienced directly and through the sense of sight (the regular peepers in the face) at the same time. It is not an abstract, nor an idea, not a reification of a thought or a logical train. It is always visual when it happens, seen with the eyes as well as at-one-ed directly.

And happen it does. To one.

The phrase "vision of God" is meant literally as referring to an external sense-based phenomenon of sight. Simply something seen through the ordinary, physical eye of the face and re-cognized directly without any intervening media. The phrase and the experience it expresses are neither metaphorical nor mystifying. They have no secret or hidden meaning. They are plain, simple, thaumaturgical facts.

Now, if you can see a cultural structure deriving from a vision of God and reuniting the churches as the Church, you will have discovered the piety for this era. Go for it.

My wife went head and heart first into the Roman Catholic Church drawn by Her allegiance (largely but not entirely Ratzinger's work in this modern period) to ancient standards, in Ratzinger's case both Latin and Greek.

That allegiance = dharma = strength that holds the conscious bound to truth [the vision of God, again].

Going head first into Christianity or the Church or one of the churches is not the same as the vision of God. It is a declaration for a piety amenable, in current exigencies, to one's desire to see God. Who of us can do more than that?

Nice to drop in here again after some years. Extensive non-dualistic clarity. I think that's what the nation needs.

Mark said...

Thanks, Bob, for perservering, head first; good, worthwhile, stuff. Purpose, in spite of your short-term-stay-in-the-moment-stream-of-consciousness style, manifests over the long term. Just keep prioritizing and pressing on...esp. like your comments and qualifiers around the humility and pomposity irony dialectic.