Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Theology vs. Theophagy: Shut Up and Let's Eat!

Somehow yesterday's post vanished from the internet. So here it is, followed by today's offering:

I don't always have time to post, and when I don't, I prefer one of these quickly dashed off stream-of-consciousness ones.

I finally gave up on Gregory's Unintended Reformation. Made it two thirds of the way through before he used the word "gendered" one too many times. The whole thing is a jargon-filled, name-checking swamp of monochromatic tenurespeak, with prose as melodious as the sound of a toolbox hitting the garage floor.

The one place where it almost came to life was in chapter two, Relativizing Doctrines. His point, if he has one, is that the contemporary tyranny of relativism may be traced to the crack-up of Catholic orthodoxy into hundred and thousands if not millions of doctrines and crocktrines, each as different as the person who believes it.

Ironically, reformists imagined that reliance upon sola scriptura would put an end to such disputes once and for all, but it had precisely the opposite effect: schism after schism after schism, each rooted in, and supported by, scripture.

In turn, because it then appeared that religion was whatever one wanted it to be, it was just a step to chucking it altogether. Most people implicitly obey the law of the excluded middle, meaning that truth claims are mutually exclusive. Therefore, if there are, say, 10,000 churches, which one is right? This in turn becomes a meaningless question, because not only is there no way to arbitrate the dispute, there's not even an agreement as to what would constitute a way.

The upshot is that religion just ends up looking stupid.

However, in its defense, there is something of this problem in every discipline, say, physics. Physics still "works," despite the fact that its models of the macro- and microcosmos cannot be reconciled.

In fact, the higher up the cognitive food chain we go, the more perverse the diversity -- say, psychology. Because there is no rational way to determine the winner, this leaves a vacuum for power to become the referee.

Here again, this is precisely what has occurred in psychology, which is a playground for politically correct bullies. History is just as susceptible, as is economics. Even biology -- which is just a few rungs up from physics -- is totally politicized by the materialist rabble. Chemistry too is politicized, for example, by people who insist on a rigid distinction between "natural" and "unnatural" chemicals -- as if none of the former are deadly, or none of the latter beneficial.

Ironic that Schuon regarded himself as an upper case Traditionalist, when his whole program is a way to cut through the thicket of modernity, into a post-critical unity of thought and being. His first major work, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, showed how it is possible to understand the deeper point of religion as such, instead of getting lost in particulars -- although he also emphasized the importance of the particulars, since that is how one practices a religion.

I suppose this is similar to the Aristotelean principle that we don't see universals running around naked without their particulars, or forms without substance. Thus, revelation is the (God-given) terrestrial form of a celestial substance, as it were.

In my marginal gnotes to mysoph, I posed the question: "What are the irreducible principles of Christianity?" -- those that define Christianity, and without which it is something else.

The first three that pop into my noggin are 1) Trinity, 2) Incarnation, and 3) Resurrection. Without the first, the second would be impossible (for God could not contain or "be" his own "other"), and obviously we can't have the third if we don't first have the second, because only God could transcend death.

But is it possible to abstract this trio even further? I think so. Let's start with the second principle, Incarnation: what does this really mean, or imply, about Reality? In other words, what is the principle by which it is possible -- that makes it more than just an ad hoc and unanalyzable point of dogma?

I believe it implies just what so many of the early fathers said it did: that God becomes man so that man might become god (or godlike). But perhaps that's still too "mythological" sounding. Purified of myth, we might just say that the Absolute becomes relative so that the relative might know, or be, or become "absolutized." Obviously we can never be the Absolute, but we can certainly move closer or further from it, vertically speaking.

As to the first principle, Trinity, this is said to be one of those ideas that man could never have discovered on his own, via reason, because reason inevitably leads back to the unity, or oneness of existence.

But I don't think this is narcissarily so. This first occurred to me back when I was writing the Psychogenesis section, and attempting to trace humanness all the way back to its origins. In so doing, I became 100% convinced that the very idea of a monadic, isolated human being is impossible in fact and in principle: it did not happen because it could not happen.

Rather, the laboratory of humanness can only be the mother-infant dyad, and then only with an infant neurology that is both incomplete and intersubjective. In short, he or she must intrinsically be an open and malleable system from the very ground. The orthoparadoxical psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott was quite correct when he said that there is no such thing as an infant. Or, as another analyst put it, "You [the mother] think, therefore I [the baby] am."

From this it was an easy step to the idea that the ultimate ground must also be a matrix of dynamic intersubjectivity. You can call it "Father-Son-Holy Spirit," but here again, one can demythologize -- or de-culture, or de-historicize -- those elements and try to see the more abstract principle, such as Source-Creation-Love, or something like that.

I mean, you don't have to. But I think it might be helpful to present it in this way to Outsiders, who are going to be intrinsically hostile to any myth that isn't approved by the New York Times, such as multiculturalism. Ironically, they don't know that the latter is a myth, but it is just another iteration of the ivory tower of babble.

I will conclude with another quickthought: that perhaps Jesus knew what he was doing when he left no written doctrine or book for pinheads to argue over. He did, however, leave an embodied act to perform.

Could it be that the abstract Doctrine is entirely embedded in this concrete act, in such a way that it bypasses all superficial arguments over doctrine? I cannot help but think of how the infant first experiences "love," in such a way that the experience of love is inseparable from the experience of milk. Thus, food is the first love, and vice versa.

Well, that was yesterday's post. What about today?

Not so easy, because having just read it, I'm now in the mind of yesterday's nous. The first thing I want to do is respond to the possibly rhetorical question posed by yesterbob in the last paragraph, "Could it be that the abstract Doctrine is entirely embedded in this concrete act?" -- referring, of course, to the sacrament of Communion.

Since I am not Catholic, Catholics will have to be patient. And since I'm revisiting a practice most Protestants have rejected as unBiblical, unnecessary, and frankly superstitious, they'll have to forgive me. But you have to admit it's a weird thing for God to ask us to think and do, i.e., "this is My body" and "do this in remembrance of Me." No one would invent such a preposterous request or inscrutable bequest.

Again: what could be the deeper principle involved here? One could consult the Catechism, but I don't think we'll find the sort of answers we're I'm looking for, i.e., something that would explain it that isn't simply self-referential and self-authenticating. Well, let's take a peek anyway.

Blah blah yada yada, this seems important: how do we restore unity if we are so obviously housed in separate bodies, for starters? The Eucharist goes to the unity with each other (horizontal) and with God (vertical). And it is a truly "holographic" act, in the sense that it contains numerous aspects, depending upon how one looks at it: sacrifice, incarnation, salvation, mystery, gift, heavenly nourishment, resurrection, vertical memory, etc.

I think I'll take a left turn and look at the psychology of all this, the psychology of the Ground. But before that, I remind you that both our troubles and our salvation seem to be wrapped up in "food": eating the wrong thing results in expulsion from paradise, into duality and pain, while eating the right thing seems to reverse this disaster.

Let me yank down a couple of oldies from the shelf -- some things I probably haven't glanced at since graduate school, but which intuition tells me may be relevant. Here's one: The Mind Object, on the "pathology of self-sufficiency." It goes to what occurs when, either due to maternal insufficiency or other factors, the self fails to be an open system with the primordial m(o)ther.

When this occurs, a kind of split develops in the psyche, whereby the mind itself becomes a substitute for maternal care -- thus the "mind object" of the title. As Winnicott put it, the mind "becomes the nursemaid that acts as mother-substitute and cares for the baby in the child self."

I think that atheists almost by definition suffer from this ontological defect, imagining that they can be their own source of ultimate truth. Some of these patients "are narcissistic, some depressed, some boringly obsessive," but all of them are enclosed in their own private Idaho.

Nor can they "relax into being, but must be constantly stimulated and enlivened by something or someone outside themselves," since their being-ness does not flow with intrinsic intersubjectivity and slackful communion. When alone, they are literally alone.

Winnicott says that "the psyche of the individual gets 'seduced' away into this mind [object] from the intimate relationship which the psyche originally had with the soma" -- which again resonates with the "seduction" of Genesis 3 and the split between body and mind (which comm-unnion undoes).

And what is this pathological self-sufficiency but the striving to become one's own god, a la Genesis 3? One's own "mind object" becomes "an object of intense attachment," and is "turned to for security, solace, and gratification." It "provides an aura of omnipotence," but "is basically an illusion, vulnerable to breakdown and the anxieties associated with breakdown."

Another book that comes to mind is So the Witch Won't Eat Me, on fears of cannibalism and infanticide in children -- for where there is the infantile fantasy of eating mother, there is also the possibility that mother might eat baby.

Would such anxieties help to explain the near-universal practice of child sacrifice, as if to say: "here, take this one, don't take me!"? And of course, one also thinks of abortion.

That's it for today. We leave off with another rhetorical quest. To be continued, I suppose. Unless the subject is just too weird.


julie said...

Made it two thirds of the way through before he used the word "gendered" one too many times.

Always a bad sign. I wonder if he'd be cool with "non-gendered" dating?

mushroom said...

I don't always have time to post, and when I don't, I prefer one of these quickly dashed off stream-of-consciousness ones.

Reminds me of THIS.

Rick said...

To Bob:
I double-dog dare ya to make this subject weirder.

julie said...

Mushroom, lol. It's probably a good thing for me the boy can't quite read yet, or he'd be laughing the rest of the day...

I cannot help but think of how the infant first experiences "love," in such a way that the experience of love is inseparable from the experience of milk. Thus, food is the first love, and vice versa.

I'm reminded that one of the Hebrew names for god is something like "the many-breasted one." I forget the reference, but the point isn't "boobs," of course, but rather "milk."

Incidentally, the many Biblical references to milk and bread are part of the reason I have doubts about the Paleo aversion to all things grain, and most things dairy. And alcohol, for that matter. Jesus may have been a carpenter, but the man knew a thing or two about farming, and I'm pretty sure that if bread was as awful as many people say, it would have made the Hebrew restricted list, much less earning a place as a primary component of Communion.

Gagdad Bob said...

You know what they say: reality is not only weirder than we suppose, but weirder than we can suppose. Thus, all we can do is try.

John Lien said...

Thanks for the almost custom-written post.

Interesting thing about Communion -the Sacrament and the interpersonal interaction as experienced through a Church.

I'm told I need it, and I understand why from a theological standpoint. But yet, I don't really crave it.

Maybe I don't know what I'm missing.

However, I do rather enjoy raccoomunion.

neal said...

Just you had a human mother, in time, and a father who was not exactly from around here. Add in extras, digits, teeth, what not, would you be the next bestest thing or live like an animal, and try to stay out of it?

And if the family told you that staying out of certain destiny is not evil, would you still long for home when that advised landed to prove a lesson learned from a small disagreement?

Sometimes to save the lost becomes irrational, and unbalanced. That is crazy, not the mentation, the genetics, so much for coexistent forms that rest.

So is Christ is real, and sneaks through mutant hillbillies, try the ones in the hills, or the south of France. The real part is not lacking in theatrics, even cats and ottters worship with a certain sense of humor, do not even get started on cryptoids.

mushroom said...

If you read 1 Cor. 11, Paul has some interesting things to say about how to conduct communion.

The Early Church, at least there in Corinth, didn't have much formal structure. They would gather for bread and wine, and everybody brought their own fixin's. Paul had to tell them not to start until everybody was there and ready.

It almost sounds like anytime, anywhere two or three gather to eat, they ought to "discern" or recognize the Body and the Blood.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, but it quickly became more formalized, if memory serves, perhaps in order to draw a distinction between horizontal and vertical meals...

mushroom said...

"Mutant hillbillies" -- I resemble that remark.

Gagdad Bob said...

Neal's comment no doubt made more sense before being translated from English.

ge said...

free chills & myrrth

mushroom said...

It was originally written in Coloradan.

mushroom said...

Good grief, ge, that thing is freaky. The best reaction, though, is the street sweeper at 1:00. And the dog.

julie said...

Re. the informal Communion, I have often wondered: if people are gathered, and there's bread and wine, and they "do in remembrance," as it were, does that not meet the requirements?

julie said...

Of course, Mushroom has already more or less answered that question...

NoMo said...

It would seem that Jesus' validation of the scriptures in existence at the time means that natural revelation is not sufficient (versus special revelation):

Luke 24
25-27 And He (the risen Christ, as yet unrecognizable to them) said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

44-47 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

He also seemed to refer to further special revelation to come:

John 14:25-26
These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.

Food for thought: Is the Bible as it exists today deficient or sufficient?

James Sheives said...

The first 3 chapters of Genesis must be the most meaningful text ever assembled.

mushroom said...

Yes, if the Law and the Prophets had been entirely sufficient, those who "searched the Scriptures" would have recognized Jesus for Who He was and understood what He came to do. It was only after the Resurrection and especially after Pentecost that the pieces began to fall into place for them. Most were like the Ethiopian eunuch who, when Philip asked if he understood what he read (in Isaiah), replied, How can I if I no one to instruct me?

Joan of Argghh! said...

One's own "mind object" becomes "an object of intense attachment," and is "turned to for security, solace, and gratification." It "provides an aura of omnipotence," but "is basically an illusion, vulnerable to breakdown and the anxieties associated with breakdown."

Before I had done my "homework" as a grownup, I was fiercely fighting panic attacks by the time I reached age 30. They continued for almost three or four years until God woke me up one fine Mexican morning and basically showed me the "control" problem I had was just me attempting to be my own judge, arbiter, and punisher-- the god of myself. My own "governor." I got it. I got His lesson profoundly and perfectly because I needed it in order to move forward.

Instantly cured. Haven't had one panic attack since that morning, almost 20 years ago. Doesn't mean I haven't been tempted to it, but it means it has no more real power to "panic" me. I'm in over my head and I feel fine!

julie said...

I'm in over my head and I feel fine!

Ha - I love that.

Joan of Argghh! said...

As long as your toes can touch the bottom of the torrent all around you, you're gonna struggle to hold against the current. The solution is to just go deeper, lay back, and float.

An old preacher used to say that the secret to staying afloat is to not let the water in.

julie said...

The solution is to just go deeper, lay back, and float.

Yes, just so. I'm reminded of a summer about six or seven years ago, when my niece was out visiting. I took her to a water park where we floated in the wave pool for a while, after struggling through the shallows and crashing into some body surfers to get to the deep end, and I had a thought very much like that, along with a sense that "interesting" times may be ahead. Sure enough, before the end of her visit we had a rainstorm that was so heavy, my house was partially flooded. We hired some people to help us dry out, and only after they had ripped up the bedroom did we learn our insurance didn't cover flooding.

I learned how to seal up a foundation after that.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Hardest part of a flood is watching the water rise. Once it's inside, all the stress seems to abate... you admit the pureness of utter defeat and watch the cat try to navigate the living room while lifting each paw in cross-gait succession and shaking it as though to dry it. Great fun... until the water starts to recede and you see the damage.

So many things really are beyond our control. Once we realize this, things get better. ;)

Magister said...

it is a truly "holographic" act

Stimulating way to put it. How about "wholographic"?

he used the word "gendered" one too many times

There's a lot of pressure at places like ND to say things in terms secularists can accept. This usually results in a lot of gadding after the cool kids and ends up looking ridiculous.

For contrast, see David Bentley Hart.


I don't really crave it. Maybe I don't know what I'm missing

I married a Baptist who converted to RC. When we attend her home church during holiday visits to her parents, she misses the Eucharist. I'll tell you, the sermons at that church are amazing and memorable. The people are all warm and charitable. It does feel to me however more like a meeting than anything else.

A cradle but vagrant sort of RC, I experience the Eucharist like a physical re-orientation, a weekly calibration to true north. First, the thing is really *there*, and second, I had nothing to do with it's coming -- it came to me, on its own initiative, in an incredibly humble way. So I'd miss, and do miss, that specific physical thing.

It's not a mountain-top experience every time. I have musical skills, so the music at Mass usually makes me cringe. Priests can be mediocre and even illegible speakers. The congregation is a shuffling mass, babies cry, people sing off-key, and it can all feel a bit mundane. But in the midst of all this, there's that Eucharist thing which is a blatant and outrageous claim that God comes to us and wants us to be intimately in communion with Him. Us? It makes me shake my head sometime, that sense of distance from Transcendent to Mundane. The distance is infinite. It makes me feel profoundly grateful. I wonder at it, too.

That's my sense, anyway.

phil g said...

What just struck me about abortion as a modern form of human sacrifice after reading this is that at least in ancient pagan ritual there was a greater community purpose of human/child sacrifice to settle conflict or appease a god. Abortion on the other hand is an incredibly selfish act of pure convenience where murdering the baby prevents mother and father from having to sacrifice their current life to the demands of raising another human. There is no larger purpose. Pure evil.

julie said...

Yes; in a secular world, the self is elevated to god (or more accurately, god is diminished to the self), and so one need only worry about appeasing oneself.

Though I would note that as a whole, institutionalized abortion did begin as a means to serve a greater "good," that of eugenics. And still serves that purpose, I might add.

Either way, it's pure evil.