Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Man is a Clearing through which Freedom Passes on the Way to its Source

The remodel marches on, now into the Food Preparation Area. But in their boyish zeal to demolish our vintage 1964 WifeSaver kitchen, the wrecking crew seems to have wrecked our telephone service. So, no internet. But the wife informs me that her car has a "wifi hotspot," so I should be able to post this. If so, these brutes will be relieved to learn they haven't caused a 24 hour setback in the progress of theology.

Still, it doesn't feel right. For example, usually I at least check out Drudge to see if there are any world-historical irruptions I need to know about. But I'm completely unplugged from the hysteria du jour.

So, yesterday we were discussing how God's freedom redounds to our creativity. One could also circumnavelgaze it the other way 'round: God's creativity redounds to our freedom. Think about that one for a moment: a genuine creation eludes even the grasp its creator, because it is never a predictable or fully determined product reducible to antecedent conditions.

In other words, the creative production cannot be explained by its necessary or sufficient causes. Rather, there is always an "x-factor" of genuine freedom tossed into the mix, and freedom is irreducible to anything other than freedom. If you are not the first one to be surprised by your creation, you're doing it wrong.

Imagine, for example, composing a song. In so doing, one is creating something that has never existed before, and which will never exist unless one brings it into being. Obviously, the canons of Mozart, or Monk, or Mingus, would never have existed if those three hadn't brought them into being. And even the most complete description of a composer's brain, right down to the last synapse, would not equip one to predict his next tune.

Better yet, imagine a person. Today, thanks to science, no one but a liberal can deny the fact that each person is an utterly unique genetic configuration that has never occurred before and will never happen again. Here we see an implicit connection between freedom and uniqueness. In a formula I have stolen in the past, freedom is individuality lived. You might say that personhood is the highest instance of freedom we can know. And since God is a person... Or, since God is freedom, he must be a person, right?

"Only a personalist doctrine of the world," writes Berdyaev, "can give meaning to creativity." Such a doctrine "recognizes the originality of personality, derived from nothing outside or general, from no other means. God is a concrete personality and therefore a creator: man is a concrete personality and therefore a creator..."

As such, there is a critical orthoparadoxical corollary to the truth that all men are created equal. That is to say, because they are created, they are necessarily created unequal. But that is a rather infelicitous way of putting it, partly because it is expresses it in the negative. What we really want to say is that because we are created, it is evil for the state to pretend that we are all identical and to force us to be the same, e.g., buy the same health insurance.

Here it is useful to distinguish between our abstract equality and our concrete differences. As it so happens, this parallels God's own abstract necessity and concrete identity. Or in other words, God surely must be. But just how he is is partly determined by how things play out in Him. Otherwise one is placed in the awkward position of denying freedom in God, and in turn placing man (assuming our freedom is real) above God.

Much of this is apparently controversial, so it is gratifying to see that Berdyaev has my back: "The concept of the Absolute is the extreme limit of objectivizing abstract thought. In the Absolute there are no signs of existence, no evidences of life." This is the God of whom we may posit blank existence, but nothing more -- similar to the abstract mankind that is created equal.

But if we leave it there -- God as abstract Absolute, a la Aristotle -- then we "deny all movement in Him," and "are compelled to deny that he has creative power." For as alluded to above, "the creation of something new is linked with potentiality." Man surely has this potentiality, in that "he is not actualized to the point of losing all possibility of change and movement." Why then should God be so deprived?

Well, in traditional theology change is identified with imperfection. Thus, God is presumed to be absolutely changeless.

But aren't there certain types of changelessness that are imperfect or evil? I'm currently reading Barbara Tuchman's classic A Distant Mirror, and in a sense, it is one long indictment of the implications of venerating the idol of Changelessness -- or what Hartshorne calls the sin of etiolatry, i.e., idealizing God-as-cause to the total exclusion of God-as-effect (which, in the process view, becomes an inspiraling new cause).

In point of fact, if one is going to be intellectually consistent, a God incapable of change makes both the world and man "meaningless and absurd." We are necessarily "useless to God," for we are denied "all possibility of novelty, creativeness, freedom, all of which mean a break-through into the closed system of being."

For Berdyaev, the whole existentialada reduces to bad comedy if freedom isn't real and meaning is just an illusion. Conversely, if freedom is real, it means that both "man and the world answer the call of God, and hence this is not [just] God's answer to himself."

Likewise, "God does not force us to recognize Him, as do material objects." Rather, "He appeals to man's freedom." Thus, God is not fundamentally stick but carrot: not a threat, but an attractor. Or in other words, humanly speaking, he is not material or efficient cause, but rather, formal and final cause. He lures us from above and beyond rather than goading us from behind or below, as do natural (i.e., horizontal) instincts.

Here we see the fundamental distinction between the horizontal and vertical worlds. Like all animals, man is in the horizontal world. Unlike other animals, he also spans the vertical world. Thus, as Berdyaev explains, "for this reason he is not included completely in this world of necessity: he transcends himself" and reveals "a freedom which does not derive from this world."

Now, only God can create a being. Man can surely create, but the one thing he cannot create is another being. And when he attempts to do so, he creates a mess. Nevertheless, the left never stops trying. The left can create perfect slaves, subjects, automatons, clones, parasites, intrusive busybodies, human ATMs, LoFo lemmings, and skin-encapsulated grievance mongers, but it can never create the New Man and New World of its fantasies.

In conclusion, God must be understood, not as a diminution of man's freedom and activity, but rather as the condition which makes these possible.... Faith in God is the charter of man's liberty. Without God, man is subject to the lower world.


mushroom said...

Another person who echoes some of this is Boehme. I haven't read any of his stuff for a while, but I have a copy of The Threefold Life. I may have to dig into this winter.

I'll be out tomorrow, so I hope everyone enjoys a very Happy Thanksgiving.

JP said...

I love that Distant Mirror book.

Lots of fun.

julie said...

The Anchoress had a post up on Sunday featuring a quote by our friend J. Ratz that meshes quite nicely with this series, so I'm just going to yoink it:

"It is obvious that God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was, in fact, a result of Israel’s rebellion against God and against his prophets, a defection from the original will of God. The law was to be Israel’s king, and through the law, God himself . . . But Israel was jealous of the neighboring peoples with their powerful kings . . . Surprisingly, God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them. The son of David, the king, is Jesus: in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself . . . God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways. We can see that, for instance, in the case of Adam . . . and we see it again in all the twisted ways of history. This, then, is God’s kingship—a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new . . . God’s kingship means that we have an unshakable confidence. No one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found."

mushroom said...

The Emeritus, these are strange times. The new guy may be all right, too.

The son of David, the king, is Jesus: in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself.

Jesus is the Israel of God. It may be challenging, but we will get there.

Gagdad Bob said...

JP -- it is fun. But inconceivably brutal, too. I don't see how someone could be aware of the reality and idealize the Middle Ages as somehow "normative," as do Traditionalists.

Jules said...

God is libertarian in nature. Gives his creations a lot of free rein, including the freedom to deny him.

Also evil is part of the plan . Without the possibilty to do evil there is no free will or challenge. Something softy utopianist brave new world control freaks of the left will never understand.