Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fleshlights & I-AMmissaries

Boyarin writes that in the first few centuries AD, "Jews and Christians were much more mixed up with each other," but over time congealed into mutually exclusive systems. More generally, nowadays we think of religions as more or less "fixed sets of convictions with well-defined boundaries," even if they didn't start out that way.

I am of two -- or maybe three -- minds about this. One part of me wants to agree with Schuon that each revelation is uniquely designed for a specific people and a certain purpose, so that to blend them (or to pretend to switch cultures) is a bad idea. It is not for us to do this, since it introduces a human element into the God-given.

Another part of me wants to regard religion-as-such as one vast body of knowledge, data, and experience. Why limit oneself to just one pool? We like Chinese and Italian food. Why not Asian and Roman religion?

In the past, people had no choice in the matter, since they were simply born into the local cult and had no knowledge of other religious cuisines. But each religion tends to emphasize certain elements of Religion, so that one religion can helpfully amplify or spice up parts that another neglects or underemphasizes.

Still another part of me wants to look at religion in a very abstract way, shorn of local coloring and sentimental attachments. This is almost a scientific approach, in that it considers the data in terms of the deeper principles that makes it possible.

In other words, just as the scientist searches for the underlying law or principle that unifies the observed data, I want to understand how, say, it is even possible for a man to know God. What a priori principles are necessary for this to be a possibility?

One such principle -- or assumption or axiom -- is that man is in the image of the Creator. If we weren't, then no real knowledge of God would be possible. Rather, we could only know ourselves. As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, you can give a Bible to a cow, but the cow won't know what to do with it, because a cow is not in the image of God.

Human beings, although obviously limited by our form, can nevertheless transcend it and thus know truth. We are the form that escapes our form -- or the genome that transcends our supposedly "selfish" genes. Thus, if Richard Dawkins' thesis is true, it is self-negating, since the generous truth transcends his selfish DNA.

In the book, I attempted to outline some of these abstract religious principles -- or principles that make religiosity possible. For example, I am quite convinced of the existence of (↓) and (). Without them, nothing about religious experience makes any sense.

Boyarin points out that when Jesus used the curious term "Son of Man," no one had to ask what it meant. Rather, it seems that his listeners must have been familiar with it. This is all the more likely when we read of how his audience didn't hesitate to express bewilderment when they didn't understand him, for example, in John 6:60, when many of the disciples grumble that "this is a hard saying; who can understand it?"

Well, it might be easier to understand if we could understand the principle that makes it possible. Otherwise, we are being asked to do something that is impossible and makes no sense to us. I don't think the Creator wants that.

In the book there are a couple of other symbols that look like these:

I haven't written much about them, but the upward arrow refers to a person who has experienced mystical union with God, whereas the downward arrow refers to an -- or the -- Incarnation, i.e., God in human form. For Christians this is a unique occurrence, whereas in Hinduism, for example, it is an expression of the avatar principle. But even if we think of it as a unique occurrence, nevertheless, in order for it to occur, it must be possible for it to occur, so we are back to the principle that makes it possible.

Now interestingly, Boyarin points out there were some Jews who had been expecting their Redeemer "to be a human exalted to the state of divinity" -- in other words, the upward arrow. However, "others were expecting a divinity to come down to earth and take on human form" -- the downward arrow.

And indeed, early IsraeliteChristian hybrids struggled with just this issue: is Jesus from the downside up or the upside down? "[S]ome believers in Jesus believed the Christ had been born as an ordinary human and then exalted to divine status, while others believed him to have been a divinity who came down to earth."

To this day there are Christians who hold to the former, e.g., adoptionism, whereby Jesus is adopted by God because of his sinlessness and devotion.

I wonder if the whole point is that he is both? I think Schuon said something to the effect that Jesus is simultaneously God's icon of man and our icon of God.


julie said...

I wonder if the whole point is that he is both?

I've always thought so. I hadn't realized there was any serious dispute, but of course there would be. Whenever there's an antinomy, it seems as though some if not most people choose one side or the other, and completely miss the point where they come together and it all makes sense.

Another part of me wants to regard religion-as-such as one vast body of knowledge, data, and experience.

Yes; God must necessarily be God-of-all, not just a god of a select few. I do find the abstract symbols helpful; it may be a scientific approach, but it's also a very fruitful method of understanding.

Now that I think of it, the symbols remind me of being in art school, where we were taught to see the abstract shapes hidden within famous artworks. Learning how they interact and what effect those interactions create was a key in learning both how to understand art, and how to create it.

Gagdad Bob said...

It seems to me that Catholicism emphasizes the God-to-man movement, while Eastern Orthodoxy emphasizes the man-to-God movement, i.e., theosis.

ted said...

I tend to agree it is both. Being in Dharmic circles, I find the man-to-God movement often falls short (at least in one lifetime). And the pronounced sages whom are of the alleged God-to-man movements often fall short even more so. The humble saint is the X factor that falls somewhere in between.

Came across this fascinating read this week. Makes a good case against religious universalism.

mushroom said...

or the genome that transcends our supposedly "selfish" genes. Thus, if Richard Dawkins' thesis is true, it is self-negating, since the generous truth transcends his selfish DNA


mushroom said...

And indeed, early IsraeliteChristian hybrids struggled with just this issue: is Jesus from the downside up or the upside down?

Yes, John 6 has Jesus talking about being the Bread the comes down from heaven as well as Him asking what they will think if they seeing Him ascending back to where He was before.

Bend the arms of the cross down and you've got the Rocket Man. He's the ultimate up-arrow.

Gagdad Bob said...

I neglected to include a passage Boyarin cites by the scholar of Kabbalah, Moshe Idel, about two "main vectors" in the history of Jewish mysticism,

"the apotheotic and the theophanic. The former represents the impulses of a few elite individuals to transcend the human mortal situation through a process of theosis, by ascending on high, to be transformed into a more lasting entity.... In contrast to this upward aspiration is the theophanic vector, which stands for the revelation of the divine in a direct manner or mediating hierarchies."

So there it is, up and down.


Gagdad Bob said...

Kind of like faith and works. It doesn't really require faith for the neo-Platonic ascent or for satori or moksha, just work; but it does require faith to believe in the Incarnation.

Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Many of the different views as to the nature or natures of Jesus, expressed in the various Christianities that are now called heresies, have been recently recapitulated within segments of the Chabad community, trying to come to grips with the fact that the Rebbe they believed to be the Messiah seems to have died, as far as we can tell on this material plane.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I think Boyarin references that phenomenon.

I wonder if putting Lenin's body on permanent display was a communist perversion of the same impulse? I guess for a materialist, that's the only eternity.

julie said...

And of course, there's the opposite - destroying all images of a person and every reference to their name in order to erase them from history. Wasn't that a Jewish practice as well? Though I'm sure lots of cultures have done the same.

ted said...

From yesterday's post: as things are always falling apart and reconstituting.

My experience right now. Feels like coherent schizophrenia.

Christina M said...

At the time I was returning to Catholicism after twenty-years of Protestantism, one of the things that brought me back was the appeal of Catholicism's "both/and" over Protestantism's "either/or".

One of my earliest and best essays was written about the "People of the Book" and the Huh-Huh Lady in my neighborhood. Will have to dig it up. When I wrote it, I didn't quite know what I was trying to say. I wonder if that has changed?

In the month before 9/11 I experienced something that I described to friends as a "slow motion breakdown." I felt like I was going to start screaming and that if I did, I would never stop. 9/11 pushed that and me into a very dark place for the next year. I couldn't even look up at the stars in the night sky. On the outside I looked normal and functioned enough to keep the family going in Germany while my husband was gearing up to go to war, but it was noticeable to me.

Tony said...

MOTT/Tarot has the nice image of the Hanged Man, i.e. suspended, to render the equipoise between above and below. It seems to me this is an image of Adam before the Fall and Christ, afterwards.

Would this be a good image of the Son of Man? It seems we run into problems when we assume that up>down and down>up are an either/or. With Christ, we have both movements happening at the same time. This is like the mathematical image, Bob, of two interpenetrating cones.

It's as if Christ was walking on earth upside-down, with his feet in heaven. That is, he was walking right side up, but not, obviously, to those who see like to imagine their heads in the clouds -- like Dawkins, perhaps.

I was admitted to the cardio unit at our local hospital last week. No major problems, but talk about a fleshlight. For the first time, I became intimately aware of my own transience. For real. Our bodies don't last forever.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Hmm... My mind flows to the Voice at Jesus' baptism, and to the Transfiguration and why that was necessary. "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." "Hear him."

Almost as if Jesus' positional reality has more to do with our frame of reference. We see Him lifted up from the earth before he was lifted up on the cross. We hear a voice from above condescending to His Son. Heaven came to earth, and the Son of Man returns to Heaven, bringing captives in His wake of glory.

I'd like to sort it all out all properly, but I kind of like the satisfying mystery of its completeness.

Christina M said...

Magister: something about hearts and this time of year, and I don't mean Valentine's Day, although that's no accident either.