Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Day in the Life of God: Three Chords Good!

Another problem I have with divine omniscience as usually understood is that it is as if the three modes of time -- past, present, and future -- are reduced to the past only.

Think about it: if events are determined, then it is very much as if everything has already happened. What then, is the point of time? Present and future become oddly superfluous -- inexplicable, really. There can be no "point" to anything, because there is nothing toward which to point.

Einstein agreed that the existence of the now is just a mirage: he "completely rejected the separation we experience as the moment of now. He believed there is no true division between past and future, there is rather a single existence."

Upon the death of a dear friend, Einstein wrote the family and assured them that his death "was of no consequence, 'for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.'"

Well, that's comforting. Why bother with priests and psychologists when one can consult with a psychophysicist or physicotherapist? But as we all know, when it comes to common sense, Albert was no Einstein.

This illustrates the larger fallacy of trying to explain away the concrete human world for some abstract and experience-distance one. This is what all ideologies do, and unfortunately, it is possible for religion to yield to the ideological temptation.

Indeed, this is one reason why I would say Christianity is a cure for religion, for the simple reason that it is impossible -- or should be, anyway -- to reduce a person to an ideology. If you place person at the top, then any abstraction must be in the service of concrete personhood, not vice versa.

(And we might parenthetically add that Jews are covered here by the I AM; by way of contrast, Allah is the YOU DO OR ELSE!, while Buddhism is the YOU AREN'T AND NEITHER AM I. The New Age god is ANYTHING GOES because I AM S/H/IT.)

Now, none of this means that I am right. It only means that people who disagree with me are fools or knaves.

I am not a literal Whiteheadian, but rather, just plunder what I need from him. And one of his central points is that time matters, not just in an abstract sense, but quite concretely, in the manner in which we experience it. For him, our experience of time is something of an analogue of the very structure of the cosmos, for the cosmos is a process of coming into being (whatever that is) and fading into the past (whatever that is) -- just like our experience of time.

In the book for which the blog was named ten years ago this month, I sheepishly suggested that our otherwise inexplicable love of music has to do with the fact that the very structure of music mirrors the process of reality; it discloses the truth of things. In fact, one of the rejected titles for the book was The Cosmic Suite.

If time is an illusion, it is as if we could comprehend, say, a symphony, by taking all its notes -- which are extended in time -- and compressing them into one big noise, not unlike the final chord of A Day in the Life. Fans of Beatles lore will recall that it was produced by hammering an E chord simultaneously on four keyboards. Except that, with no time, there wouldn't even be the forty second decay that follows.

Now, just because existence is a melody, that doesn't mean the composer has completely fixed the notes, nor that we take no part in its composition. In fact, I would suggest that while the chords are indeed fixed, the existence of freedom allows us a degree of leeway as to how we choose to proceed through the "chordal space" (one might say that time is the space between the cosmic chords).

Indeed, we are so free that we can, if we so desire, ignore the chords altogether, as Ornette Coleman purports to do in his harmolodic approach.

Now, I happen to appreciate Coleman, but only because his music is a kind of "comment" on ordinary music. If his were the only kind of music, then I don't think I'd enjoy music very much. I suppose it's like, say, a horror film or thrill ride, which no one would want to experience constantly. It is frankly why I check out MSNBC once in awhile: for the momentary discordant horror.

About those cosmic chords: what are they? And how do we hear them? Well, you could say they are "archetypes," but that has too much of a Jungian connotation. How about just human nature? Which I suppose leads us back to the book we're discussing, A Theological Anthropology. Man always develops through time, right? Remember adolescence? Childhood? Infancy? What was that all about? For starters, it was an unending process of change. But what -- or who -- was changing? And "toward" whom?

I suppose that's like hearing a melody and trying to figure out what it is that is changing, when it is the nature of a melody to change. This suggests that we are not notes, but rather, unique melodies. Or, each of us takes a unique path through the chordal space of time. We are each a mirror of the Song Supreme.

You could even say that God himself is one endless song with three chords: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And as one chap expressed it, Three Chords Good.

Out of time! This tune will resume tomorrow...


julie said...

What then, is the point of time? Present and future become oddly superfluous -- inexplicable, really. There can be no "point" to anything, because there is nothing toward which to point.

Studying the Bible (Moses, this fall), it strikes me again and again that even though there's an overarching plan, it is continuously being adjusted to accommodate human freedom. And yet, I am certain that Christian predestineers will read the same passages I read, and find in them only the certainty that it all had to happen exactly that way and no other. I find no comfort in that - the idea that God would make it all happen as it did and does, like a cosmic puppeteer, seems to me singularly horrific. On the other hand, a collaborator who continually works with our freedom to guide us - if we will pay attention - and allow for our frailties, that is what makes possible everything that matters: Truth, Beauty, Goodness.

Van Harvey said...

"Now, just because existence is a melody, that doesn't mean the composer has completely fixed the notes, nor that we take no part in its composition. In fact, I would suggest that while the chords are indeed fixed, the existence of freedom allows us a degree of leeway as to how we choose to proceed through the "chordal space" (one might say that time is the space between the cosmic chords)."

Yep. I think the literalists and predestinationists, are trying to affix God to the tunes they like to hum, missing the fact that it wasn't the particular pieces he created and called good, but the concepts of notes, keys and harmonies that make an unending amount if beautiful music possible.

Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

julie said...

Speaking of the Bible, Father Stephen's most recent post has some interesting Orthodox takes on the role of the texts in Judaism and Christianity as opposed to the Muslim idea of "The Book.":

"Christians are not baptized into the Bible. Jews were circumcised and made part of the Covenant people before ever a word of Scripture was written. God revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob some hundreds of years before Moses ever wrote a line.

Christians may rightly see Islam as an ersatz version of Christianity – an attempt to create a rival to meet the peculiar needs and desires of the man, Muhammed. The Quran is Muhammed’s distorted idea of the role played by a “book” in the life of Christianity and Judaism. It is his attempt to create a rival. But this book, unlike any writing or utterance of a Biblical prophet, came with new claims. The Quran is what a misinformed desert preacher thought the Christian and Jewish holy books looked like. It is a poor substitute and a caricature of those writings. In this sense, the Quran is more akin to the Book of Mormon, a fabrication that tells what Upstate New York con-men thought an ancient religious book should look like. It tells us much about the mind of 19th century Upstate New York, but nothing about God. The Quran tells us about the perception of a 7th century Arabian merchant, but nothing about God."

julie said...

One more pertinent observation from Fr. Stephen's post:

"Obedience to the gospel is, in critically important ways, not at all the same thing as submission. In proper Christian understanding, obedience is a cooperative action, a synergy between God and believer. As such, it is part of the eternal dance of union between Creator and created. Submission (particularly as taught in Islam) contains no synergy – it is the recognition of a force that can only move in one direction. It is the diminution of the human person, even its obliteration. Obedience, rightly understood, is an invitation into true Personhood – and, strangely, the beginning of true freedom."

ted said...

But as we all know, when it comes to common sense, Albert was no Einstein.

That gave me a good chuckle.

EbonyRaptor said...

I like the use of chord to describe the relationship we have with our Creator. The connection that is made when our vibrations match which opens the path that takes us beyond ourselves. The signature we can't fully intellectually grasp but know it when we feel it. There is only One, all others are counterfeit and exposed as such when we are in tune.

Leslie Godwin said...

Your differentiation between submission and obedience was very clear and helpful!

Christina M said...

He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys
Before they drop full Music on --
He stuns you by degrees --
Prepares your brittle Nature
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers -- further heard --
Then nearer -- Then so slow
Your Breath has time to straighten --
Your Brain -- to bubble Cool --
Deals -- One -- imperial -- Thunderbolt --
That scalps your naked Soul --

When Winds take Forests in the Paws --
The Universe -- is still --

Emily Dickinson

Anonymous said...

Maybe if what is called Time is exactly as dynamic as Space, and is a reflection of the Creator, then what is called the past is subject to change.

Now, this is not understood very well. One would have to be not stuck in any consensus other than the Word. Most everything else would change, and no one would notice that as anything but anomalous circumstance.

Miraculous, history being rewritten to conform to a heavenly narrative. That is Power.

John Lien said...


I kind of get where you are coming from, kind of like the infinite universes theory.

Only problem with that is then our Creator is deceiving us. No fixed history would mean nothing about the past is absolutely true and that is counter to what I believe God is like, He is not the great deceiver or trickster.

Similarly, when we were talking about a deterministic Cosmos and yet Jesus (and everyone else) encourages prayer. Again, that would be a big trick, because you are being fooled into thinking prayer makes a difference.

That doesn't pass the smell test. A God of Truth wouldn't behave that way.

mushroom said...

... it is impossible -- or should be, anyway -- to reduce a person to an ideology

Some people specialize in the impossible.

John said...

Julie, that kind of misunderstanding about Islam and the Quran is exactly what happens when one cannot see from the inside of a religion.
Thank God for Schuon in Thai regard.
Appropos his quote that Bob deleted the other day, basically that Christians don't get Islam, in particular. It's like Chinese to them. Funny, no one ever says a language that's been around for a thousand years is false. Oh well.

julie said...

If you disagree that strongly, you are more than welcome to take up the issue with Father Stephen; his comments section is open, too.

Frankly, I ascribe to the idea that "by their fruits you shall know them." If, for instance, the majority of all types of Christians were well represented by the "God hates fags" crowd or the KKK, I could not in good conscience call myself a Christian, no matter how attractive the faith might seem from the inside. Much less if its adherents were known for slavery, rampant pedophilia and bestiality, wholesale slaughter, and an abiding love of dying to kill others.

The thing about Schuon is, he really wasn't Muslim above all things; even though an "insider," he wasn't born into the culture. He was oriented to the Absolute above all, and likely could have found its expression and lived it beautifully in the midst of a tribe of cannibals. We don't love Schuon because he was Muslim, we love him because he loved God. That he found and celebrated the beauty within Islam is no surprise. That doesn't make the Islam of the average Palestinian any less authentic.

julie said...

In other news, this is a long but interesting essay on the isolation of leftist intellectuals. One thing he seems to fail to notice (unless he comes across this point later in the post, which I started skimming about halfway through) is that, while he may go his entire life without ever meeting or knowing a conservative, the average conservative cannot go through a single day without having to get along with leftists...

Joan of Argghh! said...

Even Jonah Goldberg is on the hunt towards future-past"

It’s always comforting to believe that the unfolding evolution of the universe is your co-pilot. Unfortunately, not only was Yogi Berra right when he said that predictions are hard, “especially about the future”; it turns out that predictions about the past are hard, too. For any prediction of how the future will unfold is really an implied statement about how you think the past will — and should — be understood. All arguments about politics, in the grandest sense of the word, are arguments about what constitutes a “usable past,” in Van Wyck Brooks’s famous phrase.

We are all familiar with the idea that what we do today has consequences tomorrow. But the present can change the past as much as it changes the future. And while I don’t quite mean this in a literal way, I don’t mean it entirely figuratively either.