Friday, June 14, 2013

Original Synthesis

We're still cogitating this provocative Jesus Purusha isness. I haven't actually finished the book, as I need to think about what the author has said thus far before proceeding further. At times he gets either a little murky or else doesn't clearly explain what he means in plain lowman terms.

I imagine that being a shut-your-trappist monk in an ashram can do that to a guy. Without an interlocutor to occasionally squinch up his face and go dude, whaaaaa?, you might not get the feedback you need in order to know when you're starting to sound chopraesque, which is to say, either too vaguely gaseous or too idiosyncratically solid. You need to have some meat in the muddle and be able to speak with a pliable substance that is neither too unyielding nor falls apart as soon as you chew on it.

Davie speculates that instead of just the usual distinction between primitive Palestinian-Jewish and Hellenistic stages -- or layers -- of Christianity, we need to supplement them with a third. Primitive Christianity could have ramified in different directions, and did ramify in different directions, hence all those early struggles to define orthodoxy and exclude heterodoxy.

Speaking of tossing, we may need to coin a neologism, "orthoheterodoxy," for those elements of Christianity that are considered outwardly heterodox but are inwardly -- which is to say esoterically -- necessary in order to make sense of the faith.

I would suggest that this whole book is exploring such orthoheterodox territory -- things that must be acknowledged as true, but which the authorities would prefer to keep quiet due to the danger of misunderstanding. I can't say I blame them. Milk and meat and all that.

Meister Eckhart, for example, might be the most important orthoheterodox theologian, and it is quite easy for the illwilled or smallbrained to make mischief with him. The best defense for this is to understand orthodoxy, and to always place what he says in that context. He's definitely not trying to venture outside the faith, but simply providing imaginative ways to explore it.

Same with Davie. He is quite clear in affirming that he is not trying to challenge orthodoxy, but illuminate it with some novel pneuumatic tools.

Here's the deal: the Christ-event is, yes, an event, but it is first and foremost a non-event, in the sense that it transcends history. You might say that it is much larger than history -- indeed, is the source of history -- and yet, must play out in time.

Therefore, whatever we might say about it is always attempting the impossible, like trying to describe a three-dimensional reality in two dimensions. If we forget this, we are inevitably drawn into a form of concretized mythological idolatry, worshiping a god of our own invention.

Davie suggests that there is a kind of implicit dialectic between Judaism and Hinduism, as if they represent two tendencies of the religious brain. Indeed, this idea converges nicely with our recent series of posts on the differing worlds of the right and left brain. Naturally, it is not a matter of either/or, but both/and (and more!), and Davie suggests that Christianity is precisely this both/and original synthesis.

Remember, you can just play with the idea. You don't need to believe or disbelieve at this early juncture.

Truth is one, of course. But it is also uncontainable (by man) in the sense alluded to above. Thus, Davie speculates that two major halves of this truth are emphasized by Judaism and Hinduism (also remember that neither is absent in the other; it's just a matter of emphasis).

Let's begin with the Creator/creature distinction. In Judaism the stress is on their differences, while in Hinduism the stress is on their identity, i.e., Atman is Brahman. The Ultimate is present to both, one via identity, the other via difference:

"This apparent opposition will in turn reflect the inability of the unaided human mind to think them both together," at least until encountered in the form of "the Incarnated One." Then the inference is that Hinduism is in fact true, albeit for one person. But in any event, this is a stumbling block to the left brain.

In Judaism you might say that the emphasis is on God's transcendence, while in Hinduism it is on his immanence. In the case of the former, "the only way in which [God's] transcendence of the world can be demonstrated is by divine suspension of, or irruption into, the processes of nature, and by divine acts of intervention in human history" (Davie).

Conversely, with the immanentized deity of Hinduism, we have the perception that "Nothing is external to God." Creation here is a kind of "self-projection" or emanation, as opposed to a distinct act of separation (and some would say "divine withdrawal," or tsimtsum, just to emphasize the God/world distinction). In Hinduism continuity subordinates discontinuity, but this also brings with it the potential danger of pantheism that Judaism so jealously guards against.

Which, as the crock ticks down, reminds me of a story Schall Turner tells in his On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait. I'll just summarize. Regarding the seeming opposition between God's omniscience and our free will, he suggested to a friend that Protestants are "either/or" while Catholics are "both/and."

However, his perceptive colleague reminded him that if this is the case, then it's a choice between either "either/or" or "both/and," so either/or wins.

Therefore, it must be a choice between "either/or," or "both/and," and/or "both/and and either/or," and only the latter is fully ortho-hetero-paradoxical.


ge said...

Seeing the Small Faces appear on the right reminded me I just uploaded my home homage of their Transcendent Itchykoo Park
whose early use of flanging or phase-shifting = major star of that show, arguably no better sonic suggestor of notions like "Nothing is external to God."
the original

mushroom said...

...trying to describe a three-dimensional reality in two dimensions.

Interestingly, The Hardball Times today features the 1973 Topps card of one of my all-time favorite Royals -- Amos Otis. Because of the angle, AO appears to be using the Brewers' catcher as a prosthetic right leg. We don't want to even think about what the mitt is.

Because of extensive reading of Watts and related works, when I came back to Christianity, I recognized there had to be additional dimensions to it. I still think of myself as a fundamentalist in many ways, but I also know that Otis never stole a base while attached Eliseo Rodriguez.

mushroom said...

...a choice between "either/or," or "both/and," and/or "both/and and either/or," ...

And right there you have demonstrated the hurdle true artificial intelligence will likely never overcome. If there ever is a singularity, it will be a human/machine interface, not Skynet.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes - it sounds like a joke, but I'm being quite literal, and there's no way a machine that is grounded in either/or could intuit the meaning.

mushroom said...

Man-caused hot flashes. Pseudo-science at its finest.

JWM said...

Great minds thinking alike:


River Cocytus said...

In logic you've got three concepts (not two, like you do linguistically:)

AND means both must be true.
OR means at least one is true.
XOR means only one is true.

Linguistically, or is the same as 'XOR' (Exclusive or.)

But what to make of the pure logical OR? It matches to the idea of 'any' - kind of like a fusion of 'both/and' and 'either/or'.

Any can be false, but at least One must be true.

ge said...

Andy Kaufman's First Comedy Album Out 29 Years After His Death

Skorpion said...

This guy seems to be treading deep into Raccoon territory.

Gagdad Bob said...

What comes after beyond parody?

julie said...

Yeah, I spotted that one a couple of days ago. And yikes - that researcher...

River Cocytus said...

No wonder the Onion is struggling. Beyond being for the most part talentless hacks (I know the feeling) reality has descended to level: parody, requiring them to pre-empt the news prophetically so we can laugh at the absurdity before it transpires.

On the positive side, market demand in D.C. for palm readings and fortune telling is SKYROCKETING I tell ya.

Note: I cannot be held responsible if any of the aforementioned things actually come to pass.

The Obama axiom: When progressives are in power, comedy is reality.

Also related: 1984 is a Satire. COINCIDENCE?

Chris said...

The relationship between Advaita Vedanta and classical theism is a subject that has troubled me for a long time. It would seem that the Perennialist school derives the synthesis of the Transcendent Unity of Religions from the Advaita doctrine of non-duality.

Historically, most traditional Christians have bitterly criticized the notion that nondualism is a universal doctrine at the heart of all the great wisdom traditions. Moreover, they reject the notion that non-duality is "pure metaphysics" (beyond-being) that transcends the (lower) theology of the personal God (being).

Because theism accents the transcendence of the Divine (otherness), relationship is its central principle. But from a nondual perspective, this is a "relativity" and therefore the "first determination" of the Unqualified Absolute (which is beyond relativities).

Many Christians have argued that it is precisely the relativity of the Trinity that represents a "higher" or at least more profound teaching than the doctrine of nonduality.

I don't know. But Guenon and Schuon did not seem to think so.

Gagdad Bob said...

There are non-nondual forms of Vedanta, most notably in Ramanuja, and it is entirely arbitrary to suggest that Shankara is somehow higher or deeper. In any event, Davie deals directly with that problem by assimilating Vedanta to Christianity, rather than vice versa.

Chris said...

Hey Gagdad,

Thanks for the response. Happy Father's Day!

It is certainly true that there are various forms of Vedanta. Nevertheless, I do believe that the Traditionalist school holds to the view that Advaita Vedanta is the most explicit rendering of the Perennial Philosophy.

If this is not a true statement, I'm not sure if the doctrine of the Transcendent Unity of Religions can actually get off the ground. If it is the case, I can't but help think that the central tenets of Christian theology are threatened.


Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, Schuon acknowledged that he was essentially a Vedantin and only accidentally a Sufi, and that he chose the latter only because he wanted an initiation and a method to realize the truth of the Upanishads.

However, again, there are different forms of Vedanta, and Schuon was wedded to one that reflected his and Guenon's "universal metaphysics." So I think in the final analysis, Schuon subordinates Vedanta to his own metaphysic, although he considered this metaphysic universal.

Chris said...


I think the Perennialist would say that, ultimately, the difference between Christian theosis and Vedantin moksha is basically a difference in spiritual temperament- that of the jnani and the bhakti?

But from a explicitly theistic perspective, the "pure jnanic" doctrine of the Supreme Identity is inadmissible on the grounds of the charge of pantheism. I'm inclined to say that this subject pivots on one's interpretation of the theist position of creatio ex nhilo.

If this key doctrine (which safeguards Divine transcendence) can be understood as creatio ex deo can we arrive at a workable and coherent balance of transcendence and immanence ?

Am I right in thinking that panentheism corresponds with nonduality and pantheism/materialism corresponds with monism?

Gagdad Bob said...

No, incorrect, because Christianity is the quintessence of panentheism, i.e., God beyond and God-with-us, or Father and Son.

Gagdad Bob said...

In fact, there is a pun in the book that links "Immanual" (God-with-us) and "immanent" (God-in-us).

Chris said...

Hey Gagdad,

If I may beg your indulgence....

Do you think that it is correct to regard non-duality as pantheism?

Those traditions that emphasize immanence and unity seem to argue that it is the basic dualism of theism (creator/created) that is the root of the "problem". As such, to "realize" the illusion of separateness is the heart of the spiritual quest.

But classical theism sees the root of the "problem", not in ignorance, but in rebellion. For Christianity, the "empirical ego" is real, and willfully turned away from the Divine (the Fall).

The immanent traditions deny this view on the grounds that "evil" IS separation (duality). So long as there is a "me" the "problem" cannot be resolved. As such, God as the great "other" and Christ as a unique God-man simply compounds the problem of separateness (ignorance).

Is this none other than that perennial problem of the One and the Many?

Gagdad Bob said...

No, it is a common misconception to regard non-duality as pantheism. And it is a form of Gnosticism to regard creation -- or manyness as such -- as intrinsically evil.

Van Harvey said...

Often it seems that what we take as Either Or, is simply This and That.

I came across a dialog of riddles, between Alcuin and Charlemagne's son Pippin, and one of the answers I suspect, from long experience with the leftie minded, and not a few others, will be a big surprise to them that anyone would come to this conclusion:

P. What is freedom for a human being?

A. Integrity.

Not radical either or, or impulsiveness... randomness isn't freedom, and duality is simply myopic.

More often than not, taking either or as final answers, is missing out on the big picture.