Friday, June 03, 2011

Lord, Teach Us to Play

Is this subject not reasonating? In the absence of comments we never know, for the intersubjective circle remains broken. We are not complaining. Rather -- in the colorful argot of your urban youth -- we are "just sayin'."

Is it the word "play" that rankles? Need I remind you that we are not talking about frivolous play but of the dead ernest kind? Playing as if our lives depended on it (very much unlike the Miami Heat)? Let us recall the words of our esteemed UnKnown Friend:

"The little child does not 'work' -- he plays. But how serious he is, i.e. concentrated, when he plays! His attention is still complete and undivided, whereas with he who approaches the kingdom of God it becomes again entire and undivided."

UnKnown Friend -- who is one of our fundational raccoondati and a coronary teachstone -- regards this principle as a key to the whole innerprize, so perhaps we should spend a moment dilating on it to see if we pupils can't open our third eye, arrest our cardiomyopia, and make some progress toward 20/∞ geistzeit.

Do you really think the SlackMeister is here just to amuse you? Do you?

Then you are correct. That is indeed why we are here. To paraphrase Hippocrates or some other old quack, the primary job of the physician is to amuse the patient while the body heals itself.

Ah, but physician heal thysoph!

Yes, precisely. We are first and foremost amusing ourself.

Well then, Maestro, what distinguishes this from the vulgar Ønanism of any other infertile egghead?

This is like asking how the metacosmic love of the Trinity -- you will pardon the analogy -- differs from some perv politician exposing himself to a constituent. The latter is hardly "sharing." Rather, it is mere exhibitionism, which is always just the other side of shame, i.e., a compulsion aimed at undoing unconscious inadequacy.

The problem with this little Weiner dog is not that he is shameless, for anyone who follows politics at all knew this before last week's national erection.

Rather, it is that he cannot tolerate shame, and continues to deny shame in ways that only deepen it and then require more frantic and transparently absurd denial. Dysregulated shame provokes both the uncover- and the coverup.

The point is that just because we are sitting here playing with ourself, this hardly means that we are doing so in the immature manner of an adolescent Weiner.

We are reminded of a passage in Ratzinger's excellent (and misleadingly titled) Introduction to Christianity (and in citing him, we do not mean to imply that he would ever endorse our methods):

Actually, while searching for that passage, we were guided to another relevant one from a different book: "A Christianity that has really been accepted interiorly comes with the dynamic requirement to communicate."

By this he does not mean the exterior directive to evangelize, but a spontaneous impulse to share: "It's exactly like when you are filled with joy about something, you have to express it and communicate it in some way, otherwise it's not authentic joy at all. The fact is, then, that the dynamism of passing on the gift is an essential component of the mission that Christ gave his followers..."

Thus, if something of the interior joy isn't conveyed along with the message, there are two problems, one interior, the other exterior.

As Ratzinger suggests, the joy that isn't shared is not the true joy. Secondly, if we communicate only the message denuded of the joy, then it loses much of its appeal -- you know, like the grim news of Islam.

Put it this way: the principle message of Christianity is not an idea but a person -- the fruit, not the tree. And this principle shall apply forever. Hence the necessity of the saints, who are the very embodiment of the joy ("ananda" might actually be a less misleading term) of which Ratzinger speaks.

Can't find the passage we were looking for, but this one will do:

"God's dialogue with men operates only through men's dialogue with each other.... Man's conversation with God and men's conversation with one another are mutually necessary and interdependent."

He adds the critical point that what can be communicated of God is never just an unambiguous "something" that can be sharply designated, like an object. Rather,

"No real dialogue yet takes place where men are still only talking about something. The conversation between men comes into its own only when they are trying, no longer to express something, but to express themselves, when dialogue becomes communication."

What this means is that the con-versation -- "flowing together" -- becomes trinitarian, in the sense that it involves both intersubjectivity (the ground) and soul-to-soul contact (as opposed to the mere depositing of exterior facts from brain to brain).

Some are better speakers, others better listeners. The SlackMeister cannot play a musical instrument -- okay, he can noodle around with one -- but this by no means diminishes or interferes with his love of, and need for, music.

Ratzinger cites this as analogous to theology, which is centered around the "word," which, in order to be itself, requires both creativity and receptivity, or "passively active" and "actively passive" modes (the latter is our formulation, not his).

"Passively active" is none other than play, while "actively passive" is openness to (vertical) experience.

In terms of the "experiential theology" of which we speak, there are more who are adept at receptivity than expression; but again, this should by no means interfere with our in-joyment, since genuine communication provokes joy at both ends:

"Over against these few, for whom the divine thus becomes undisguised certainty, stand the many whose religious gift is limited to receptivity, who are denied the direct experience of the holy yet are not so deaf to it as to be unable to appreciate an encounter with it through the medium of the man granted such an experience."

So "hearing" is no less a gift than "speaking," or at least they are two sides of the same game: a "duet for one" or "solo for two."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Come for the Salvation, Stay for the Play!

One of the reasons Christianity can be a tough sell these days is because of this word "sin." Yet, there was a time that this wasn't remotely problematic.

Rather, it seems that people were spontaneously aware of its persecutory presence, both in individuals and in history. One can deny it, repress it, project it, or sublimate it, but one cannot get rid of it (unless one is a sociopath). It always comes back in one form or another.

For example, who is more sanctimonious and judgmental than the PC secular liberal whose very identity is rooted in the idea that he is "beyond the superstition" of religiosity? As Bob has discussed a number of times, the liberal has the same moral impulses as anyone else, only worse.

Remember, morality is intrinsically "aggressive," in the sense that the conscience is precisely that which sanctions behaviors that are normally forbidden. For example, we are not normally permitted to kidnap people and hold them captive in a small cage. But we routinely do this if said person is a violent criminal.

Likewise, we shouldn't aggressively slander and verbally abuse good people, but the liberal is permitted to do this because he knows in advance that the people with whom he disagrees are racists, misogynists, and homophobes. The abuse is sanctioned by their -- albeit corrupt -- conscience.

The apostles apparently didn't have to spend a great deal of time convincing people they were sinners before getting down to isness. Rather, they cut straight to the choice -- e.g., John the Baptist, who warned people that they had better repent before it was too late. His message would have made no sense if people weren't already aware of this vague need to repent -- which simply means to "turn around" from the path one is on.

If such were the case, then JB's pitch would have been analogous to a television commercial trying to sell a product for an imaginary problem. One of the purposes of advertising is to first create the imaginary problem or desire it supposedly solves or fulfills. He didn't have to say, You know that uncomfortable feeling that some busybody is judging you even when you're alone? That even if you get away with it, you still feel guilty as hell? Have I got the answer for you!

From the very start, there have always been two sides to Christianity, a "positive" and a "negative," justice and mercy, good coptic/bad coptic: a stop doing that, assoul! and a come in and enjoy the slack, brother! You can hear it in the Forerunner, who says knock it off! Why? Because the Kingdom of Slack is at hand!

More deeply, this repentance means to turn away (the negative) from one cosmic orientation and toward another (the positive). For in the ultimate sense, there can be only two (or at least the illusion of two): O and Ø.

Thus, the apostle of slack might say: turn away from Ø, because O is right under your nous! I'm not sure the words "sin" and "salvation," what with their overly saturated connotations, adequately convey the principle we're driving at.

What is that principle? On the one hand, "original sin," or man's "fallenness"; on the other, his deiformity, i.e., the idea that he is fashioned in the "image and likeness" of the Creator.

Thus, one can pursue the matter even more deeply, and say that one path leads "down and out," the other "up and in"; man is deiform in potential, but so too is he potentially "terraform." In the case of the latter, he reflects only "the world" and all this implies.

In the final analysis, we could say "celestial" vs. "terrestrial," except that this is a principial distinction made by every religion in some form or fashion.

The difference with Christianity is that it resolves this false duality through the Incarnation and its many ramifications. Celestial and terrestrial -- matter and spirit, soul and body -- become "one," but not in any pagan-pantheistic manner which only con-fuses the two, whereby God is reduced to nature.

Rather, it is the opposite movement, through which nature -- including human nature -- is divinized from above.

I don't want to get sidetracked, but yesterday we ran across a post by the atheist believer, Sam Harris, called Morality Without Free Will.

In order to save time -- which is the form of slack -- we have trained ourselves to stop reading any article with the first sentence that is unalloyed horseshit. Thus, we are breaking mama's rule by proceeding beyond the intrinsically absurd title of the piece. The first sentence reads:

"Many people seem to believe that morality depends for its existence on a metaphysical quantity called 'free will.'"

Really? Many people believe free will is a "metaphysical quantity"? How come I've never met one? And what does he even mean by words such as "people,""morality," "existence," "quantity"? Forced to define his terms, you would immediately discover that his conclusions are simply his premises.

"There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for this freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others."

But if this is the case, then nor is there any description of mental and physical causation that allows for Harris's to habitually deny free will in himself and others. Besides, what does he mean by "mental causation"?

In any event, either one understands the following, or one does not: if free will didn't exist, then we couldn't know it. Or, conversely, if free will exists, it is obviously beyond the ability of mere science to account for it.

Might as well try to use the crude tools of a neuroscientist tool to disprove the existence of truth. To succeed is to negate one's conclusion. Sometimes the only way to make an intellectual appreciate free will is to forbid it, as in the case of National Socialism or Russian communism.

This is not a minor point, for the existence of slack is predicated on the reality of freedom. Nations that value freedom will obviously have infinitely more slack than those that don't.

Now, slack is also closely related to the concept of "play," which is what man is born to do; to say that a line has some "play" in it is equivalent to saying there is some "slack" in it.

Think of your life as a line that stretches from conception to death. If you should reach a point that there is no play in this line, then your life is pretty much over. At that point it would indeed be accurate to say that the person has either abdicated his freedom or has had it stolen from him.

I think we'll wrap this up with a passage by the former Cardinal Ratzinger: "play, though it has a meaning, does not have a purpose and... for this very reason there is something healing, even liberating, about it. Play takes us out of the world of daily goals and their pressures and into a sphere free of purpose and achievement, releasing us for a time from all the burdens of our daily world of work.

"Play is a kind of other world, an oasis of freedom, where for a moment we can let life flow freely."

So, what is the purpose of our writing? There isn't any. It's how we know we are free. The meaning? That's for you to play with.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Persons and Other Absolute Miracles

There can be no science of the utterly unique, which is why science can only pretend to understand such things and events.

In other words, it is not possible to do a controlled study of the one-of-a-kind, since there are not two of them to subject to variable conditions.

Science can only deal with aggregates and statistics, but it cannot disclose the secret of the individual for the same reason it can't reveal the nature of the One.

Science must assume the existence of this One, for all science is predicated on the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

At once this reveals a possible totalitarian temptation, since there are some things that simply cannot be reduced to anything less than themselves. But the state never stops trying.

Science divorced from theology leads toward an incomprehensible one -- incomprehensible because it has no other to comprehend it -- no genuine partner in the climb.

What is unique in the world? First and foremost, persons. I assume that even the most jaded materialist -- if only for the sake of propriety -- will concede that each and every person is a unique and unrepeatable cosmic event.

One can always speculate about how things "might have been different" if one had made this or that choice, but it is impossible to subject oneself to a controlled experiment in order to examine the alternate outcomes.

But just because it is what it is, this doesn't mean that you am what you am, with no I in the matter.

This metaphysic can also lead to the stubborn illusion of an absence of free will, since there aren't two of you to prove the case scientifically.

And even then, the two of you couldn't have identical circumstances, so there would still be no way to prove that the differences weren't a result of free will.

What else is unique? I just said "first and foremost," persons. But that can't be correct -- at least without a qualification.

That is, First and Foremost must be God -- or what we should probably call O, since "God" can be compared to other gods. We can always assign a name to the unique, but that hardly means that we understand it. Rather, to the extent that something is truly unique, there is no possibility of complete understanding.

This shouldn't be confused with the necessary existential barrier that forbids complete understanding of anything whatsoever. In other words, we can all gain sufficient understanding of, say, rocks or gravity, without knowing what either is in its essence.

But in the case of a human being, we can keep knowing more and more without ever getting to the bottom. The unique individual is a kind of inexhaustible fount of his own uniqueness.

As we have said before, the world is only relatively intelligible because it is absolutely unintelligible. In other words, it is only because the world is created that we can understand it at all.

But for the same reason, we can never completely understand it, since we can never be the Creator. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, the cosmos too pours out its own inexhaustible stream of truth and beauty.

In a cosmos that could be completely "contained" by science, science would be impossible, for the same reason that a person who could be completely understood wouldn't be a real person, but more like a machine.

This is not to say that many, if not most, persons end up living like machines, but that is a different story. It is difficult being unique, and in the absence of a unique God who cherishes uniqueness, there is a tendency toward conformism or rebellion, blandness or eccentricity, dependence or pseudo-independence, group identity or faux individualism. Two sides of the same worthless coin.

Science necessarily deals with a world of accident and necessity, but then covertly assimilates the view that all reality is governed by them.

Thus, if necessity rules, then free will is an illusion. But if accident does, then identity is an absurd and pointless iteration of material shuffling. There would be no point to self understanding, since there would be no self to understand (although, curiously, there would still be an impoverished "scientific self" to understand this banality).

What else is unique? For the faithful, the Incarnation is unique, for the same reason God is. The one follows from the other, if not strictly "necessarily," then certainly logically.

But more generally, one could say that any miracle is unique. To put it the other way around, anything that is scientifically repeatable is not a miracle.

Wait a minute, SlackMeister. You just said that human persons are not repeatable. Does this mean that each person is a miracle?

It most certainly does. How could it be otherwise, and still be? As Bob has said in his uniquely annoying way, human persons are "mirrorcles of the Absolute." What does this even mean?

It means that each human person is somehow a unique image of the singular uniqueness at the bottom -- or top -- of it all.

But... wouldn't that make us all the same?

Yes, precisely! This is the common source of our cosmic brotherhood. But the Absolute is absolute, whereas we can only be his middling relativities who are here for a brief visit, so we can mirror without ever completely exhausting the One we reflect.

In Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger is asked how many ways there are to God. His answer may surprise you: "As many as there are people."

For otherwise we wouldn't be persons, nor could God be One.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Miserable Life -- And Over So Quickly!

We all want slack -- or at least we think we do. But history emphatically demonstrates that man has great difficulty distinguishing true from false slack.

Indeed, one of the primary engines of history is the pursuit of false slack -- or the attempt to generate slack in ways that are certain to diminish it, most conspicuously in the form of socialism and other false religions.

I assume that most socialists do not consciously set out to contract the slack supply, but this is what inevitably happens.

Look at social security and medicare -- two of the less dishonorable socialist schemes -- which, in order to create the illusion of giving us slack, must ransack untold slack from future generations.

This smash-and-grab crime against the future is fundamentally immoral unless the slack pays tangible dividends to those from whom it is taken. I see no evidence of this. Even the most mush-filled adolescent skull should be able to see his slack account draining away before his eyes.

As we have been discussing, the ultimate purpose of Christianity is to liberate man. This is not true of most religions, and certainly not of the slackless pagan religions for which Christianity was and is the cure. Man has been aching for a restoration of primordial slack ever since that unfortunate incident in the garden, but his own efforts always come to nought.

Now, "liberation theology" is the quintessential example of a path of false slack, not only because it is false -- which is bad enough -- but because in articulating its principles it negates the true path.

In the words of Ratzinger, it poses a "fundamental threat to the faith," in large part because it is so seductive, especially to the young and innocent, to whom it can appear to be a just and proper "prolongation" of the unspoiled innocence of unfallen man.

Thus, in the heart of every progressive is a deeply atavistic longing -- a vertical recollection -- for paradise. It caters to youthful hope and idealism while clothing itself in a pseudo-scientific veneer, i.e., the dialectic of class struggle.

But when you peel away the layers of tenure and get to its mythic bottom, you see that this is a remurmurance of the same serpentine seduction that got man off to such an inauspicious start. It is the same old tantalizing promise, you shall be as gods. But the serpentine salesman always sells the sizzle, never the slack.

Having said that, Ratzinger makes the excellent point that liberation theology could never have found a congenial home in the heart of man if it didn't contain a grain or two of truth.

But this is small consolation, since "an error is all the more dangerous the greater that grain of truth is, for then the temptation it exerts is all the greater." (And you can well understand how the left uses this seductive "grain of truth" strategy for everything from abortion, to homosexual "marriage," to Palestinian victimhood, to "climate change," to state rationed healthcare, etc.)

As Bob has said many times, truth does not require a thinker, since it simply is, regardless of whether anyone happens to come along and think it. For example, the theory of relativity was true even before Einstein discovered it, just as the Trinity was true before the Holy Spirit revealed it.

Conversely, the Lie not only requires a thinker, but is parasitic on Truth. Thus, one quick way to know the Truth is to simply look at what evil people must pretend is true. As someone once said, a tyranny is any country that has "Democratic" in its name.

More mundanely, it is why leftists call themselves "liberal," why self-hating gynephobes call themselves "feminists," why compulsive fecal smearers are called "artists," why sufferers of Tourette's syndrome are "poets," or why Bill Maher is a "comedian."

Contemporary usage notwithstanding, this sleight of language should not lead one to conclude that liberalism, femininity, art, poetry, or comedy are somehow bad and noxious things.

The error of liberation theology would not be so seductive if there were adequate models of the truth. For this, Christianity has only itself to blame, for if truth isn't both joyously lived and vigorously defended, it will not incarnate in the world. Love, truth, beauty, virtue, justice -- unless personally lived, they are "nowhere."

Likewise, there is no artistic beauty until the artist brings it down into the world. Left to his own devices, he can only strain but not reach it.

Beauty is not something contingent monkeys could ever have "invented" on their own. Rather, it is obvious to every person who awakens to the ambient cosmos that it reflects a generously bountiful and often terrible beauty. We didn't just make it up, any more than we made up quantum theory or the Ten Commandments.

What are the fundamental errors of liberation theology? There are two, one in space, the other in time.

The spatial error horizontalizes the vertical, thus transforming the open sphere of Spirit to the closed circle of political economy. At the same time, this necessarily relativizes the Absolute, and in more subtle ways, feminizes (in an imbalanced way) man, for man is the horizontal prolongation of the Absolute herebelow (since only he can objectively know the Good, True, and Beautiful). Put another way, man cashes in absolute truth for infinite shades of relativism.

The temporal error involves what Voegelin calls "immamentizing the eschaton," which simply means trying to establish our post-judgment spiritual end here on earth. This merely ends up collapsing the spiritual attractor that functions as our faithful guide on this earthly sojourn, so there is no point to our life except more of it.

As the old Catskills joke goes,

"Such terrible food."

"Yes, and such small portions."

"And oy, what a miserable life."

"Yes, and so short."

Slack is inextricably tied in with meaning and with freedom, the former being impossible in the absence the latter. For again, truth cannot be compelled, but can only be freely discovered.

As such, our freedom is truly principial, and not for nothing does the Bible assure a few -- and threaten the many -- that "where the Spirit of the Lord is" -- i.e., his third person -- "there is liberty." Thus it is equally true to affirm that where there is true liberty, there is the Lord, for liberty would be literally unthinkable in a world without his persons to live and love in it.

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