Friday, October 10, 2014

Man's Perfect Incompleteness

About that hole in the center of man: again, it is unlike anything else found in all of nature. No one expects a pig to be a better pig. A pig is just a pig. It can't fall short of its piggyness, any more than a community organizer can surpass being a community organizer. It is as if there is no space in the pig -- or the dreaded C.O. -- to be anything other than what it is.

Thus, the human space is associated first and foremost with freedom and possibility: if necessity is a two-dimensional line, then freedom is a three-dimensional space (four if we add the time component).

You could say that the pig is already "perfect," because he never fails to be one. But man is never perfect: rather, perfectible. And unless I am mistaken, perfectibility is oddly superior to perfection.

Here again, this has to do with the psycho-pneumatic space we inhabit: because it is empty, it is able to be filled (but never completely). In short, if you never have a question, then you'll never have an answer. But if you have The Answer (in the static, secular sense of the term), then you have no questions and therefore no creative space or love shack.

Balthasar writes of how "man sees himself as the sum and perfect image of the cosmos"; in him there is "a kind of concentration, which makes man the synthesis of the world and raises him above it."

And yet, as with Adam, we are always aware of incompleteness, hence the complementary creation of Eve, thank you very much. Of note, Eve is a part of Adam, and yet, someone obviously separate and distinct.

This is a mythic way of expressing our irreducible intersubjectivity, whereby we are simultaneously one and two. However, the oneness must be prior, otherwise there would be no way for two to return to one. Twoness is an existential fact, oneness an "ontological memory," so to speak. It may be also bound up with memories of paradise, for all I know.

In any event, twoness is always in search of oneness, or of higher unity, integration, totality, etc. It's the arc of our lives. The part wants to know it is more than just a meaningless fragment, but rather, part of a higher unity. God's modus operandi -- and vivendi -- is always "unity in diversity" (Pursell).

So, thanks to our perfect incompleteness, "man finds his completion and his happiness only in communion with another human being" (Balthasar). But at the same time, this "gap in man's nature affects also his relationship to God." That is, our very incompleteness -- which can never complete itself -- points beyond itself toward its own possible fulfillment in relation to God.

For Balthasar, there are really only three ways to pull this off, and two of them may be reduced to one. Therefore, we're really talking about the Human way and the Christian way. This former way "consists in a soaring movement of the heart, which leaves the whole world of contradictory earthly existence beneath it in order to seek a home in the region of a superterrestrial divine power."

Underneath this is the simple premise that "all multiplicity is opposed to unity and has in some mysterious way fallen away from it; only unity can be true being." That being the case, the world is a kind of opaque barrier instead of luminous ladder; the difference between God and world is identical to the difference between true and false, or appearance and reality, or forsakenness and salvation.

As such, this "way of salvation demands an inner renunciation of worldly differences," of "seeing through them all to their identical divine ground."

Now, that idea is not completely wrong; rather, like all cosmic heresies, it is a partial truth inflated to the whole of things. Obviously the world is not God, so in that sense it is not the Truth. And yet, it is everywhere filled with truth and beauty, with intelligibility and harmony, and that's no accident. One might say that it is not Truth but not non-Truth either.

In the heresy under discussion, there is still a residue of love, but it is subtly different from the Christian version, for it involves "fidelity to the thou, not in its difference, but in its ultimate identity with the loving self." In other words, it is not like one loving the other and thereby discovering a higher unity-in-difference, but an obliteration of the twoness -- which results in a profound devaluation of our end of the bargain. We're just God playing hide-and-seek with himself.

Likewise, "compassion" still exists, but in the form of feeling sorry for those poor saps still imprisoned in individuality.

But I like my individuality, and I don't need anyone feeling sorry for it. Thanks but no thanks. I would prefer to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world than to pretend they're not really happening to someone who doesn't actually exist.

"This negation," writes Balthasar, "is directed against the very nature of man," in that it preserves its own version of truth -- its wholeness -- at the expense of "abandoning [man's] whole worldly reality." And where's the bloody sport in achieving wholeness by "draw[ing] out conclusions which ultimately cancel out man"? I can shoot myself and do that.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Lost Time is Not Found Again. Unless...

Well, the happiness seminar turned out to be even more unhappy than I had imagined. I brought along some Theological Anthropology to keep me amused, but I should have chosen something lighter and less Germanic, because it was too hard to concentrate amidst the babble. Plus I arrived late, so I couldn't even claim a chair in the back row. And the reception was poor inside the building, so no covert talk radio. The horror! A first world problem of the most painful kind.

The presenter was a 350 pound psychologist/stand-up comedian with a voice and delivery eerily similar to Jay Leno. He said everything as if he were Leno being funny, except not a single thing was remotely witty, so it was just irritating. And the wisdom he imparted was on the level of the Sphinx, e.g., "in order to be happy you must avoid what makes you unhappy."

Hey, remember when man supposedly ventured to the moon and planted his flag there? It's a little like God visiting earth and planting his flag here, isn't it? Except it happens everyday; or every Today, rather.

As Balthasar describes it, "'Today' is the present of vertical salvation time," "suspended in and over the horizontal 'now.'" I've never heard it expressed quite that way, in the sense that there are these two sides to every moment, so to speak. Horizontal time necessarily passes away and "cannot be anchored" in anything: it's that slippery thing that is always slipping through our fingers.

But God's visit to earth -- "an event of divine freedom breaking in" -- means there is a kind of vertical anchor and rope. If God is always breaking in and pulling out, it seems that we may reverse the direction of time by "cleaving in love to God," i.e., "to the one being ascending." So we got that going for us.

Just flipping pages here. God not only enters profane time "with all its inner futility," but descends "to the bottom of the abyss of time." Only through this "total passage" through to the bitter end can there be a "reversal of the whole."

In this orthoparadoxical way, "the point of greatest antithesis -- between sinful time run to its end and spotless eternity -- becomes the place of the most intimate loving union between Father and Son." Like us, God plants his flag on a dead rock.

So, now it is as if time isn't just perpetual dissipation and loss. Rather, it has a kind of curvature that bends back toward eternity. Our earthly pilgrimage -- or bewilderness adventure -- is still a "journey in a foreign land," but at least the road back home is no longer blocked.

In the absence of this vertical road back home, then man is not only hopelessly fragmented, but pointlessly so (the two are related, but not identical).

What I mean is that man, being man, is born with "delusions of wholeness." Why? Other animals are already whole, with no awareness of being incomplete or in need of some missing piece of the puzzle. But at the center of man is a big (?!). Now, either there is a reason for that, or no reason at all. And if the latter, what makes us think we can do anything about it? It's just an ontological itch that can't be epistemologically scratched.

Existentialists are surely correct about one thing: in the absence of God, man is indeed a big fat nothing, with no possible meaning or significance other than what we make up. We need to be honest about that, and not recoil from the absolute nihilism of secular atheism.

But the religious view takes that same nothingness and transforms it from meaningless accident to ontological necessity: in the end, we are essentially nothing because we are creatures, not Creator. But that nothing turns out to be everything, because it is not just an abyss but a space and a gap over which there is a bridge.

Now, this bridge is not an "object," but rather, a relationship -- or at least the offer of one. It is that same vertical lifeline alluded to above which completes the temporal circuit. There is the possibility of wholeness amidst temporal fragmentation, such that Today becomes a gift instead of a burden. Unlike yesterday.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Wise Men From the Yeast

It happens every other October: I wait until the last minute to complete my (dis)continuing education units. Therefore, I'll be at an all-day seminar tomorrow, which means the world suffers another 24 hour setback in the progress of cosmic evolution. In other words, no posting.

I'm very discriminating about the seminars I attend. I always make sure they are the absolute cheapest, regardless of topic, being that it is my custom to bring earplugs and a book and hunker down in the back of the room. Similar to when I was in college.

Tomorrow's seminar is called The Habits of Happy People, so if I hear any helpful tips, perhaps I'll LIVE TWEET them. Yes, INSTANT HAPPINESS, while you wait.

I guess I'm a little curious to find out whether the speaker will discuss the classic views on happiness, or whether it will be nothing but postmodern pneumababble. We shall see. But I don't see how a human can possibly be happy in the absence of religion, unless he's very stupid or very high.

And not just any religion, because most religions are rather bleak, e.g., Islam and Buddhism. A world unleavened by the Christian message is a pretty dark and depressing place, especially for atheists.

I recently had this experience in reading a book on the history of war that ranges from the pre-hominids to the post-human monsters of the left, e.g., Hitler, Mao, Stalin, et al. The book is called War and Civilization, and indeed, you could almost say that "war" and "human being" are synonymous: where one is, so too is the other. It is a depressingly naturalistic view of man, completely devoid of spiritual uplift.

So, as a kind of antidote (I hope), I just ordered a book called History in His Hands, which covers the same ground, but from the divine-human angle. I saw the author on The Journey Home on EWTN, which is without a doubt my favorite television program. I must have seen about 25 episodes, and nearly all are quite compelling (speaking of the search for happiness).

To the extent that Christianity fails to transmit joy above all else, then somebody goofed. Chesterton was very good on this point. In his The Everlasting Man, he speaks of the "unfathomable sadness" and pessimism of the pagan world, adding that "I doubt if there was ever in all the marvelous manhood of antiquity a man who was as happy as St. Francis was happy."

When we speak of the "leavening" of Christianity, that's what we're talking about: it occurs not just in the individual but in the culture and in history at large. It is the reason why America has always been the most optimistic nation -- and why it was of such world-historical consequence that we elected this bilious bonehead in 2008. Could the contrast with Reagan be more extreme?

Every doctrine has a method: in the case of Platonism, the method is up, out, and gone: "an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone" (Chesterton). It is what any atheist or materialist in his right mind would do -- that is, if he carries his depressing premises through to their suicidal conclusion: if the world is absurd, why participate?

Balthasar says much the same thing -- and not at all disrespectfully. For Plotinus, for example, the world itself is a fall from the One, so no salvation is to be found in it.

This is the polar opposite of the Judeo-Christian stream, in which the creation is fundamentally good, the very sensorium of our salvation. I would say that this is because time is "renewed" by grace instead of being just a meaningless circle or a less-than-meaningless descent into entropy. Grace is what renders time negentropic. We are not so much dropped into time as suspended there by a nonlocal thread that proceeds from the top.

We are... I've always liked how Harry Nilsson put it. He may not have been anyone's idea of a Christian, and yet, he was leavened just the same:

“Late last night, in search of light, I watched a ball of fire streak across the midnight sky. I watched it glow, then grow, then shrink, then sink into the silhouette of morning. As I watched it die, I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a lot in common with that light.’ That’s right. I’m alive with the fire of my life, which streaks across my span of time and is seen by those who lift their eyes in search of light to help them though the long, dark night.”

Or in Song of the Stars, by Dead Can Dance,

We are the stars which sing / we sing with our light... Our light is a voice / We make a road for the spirit to pass over

And every light has a source.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Cosmic Podiatry

I think it's appropriate to pause a moment and reflect on ten nine years of the One Cosmos blog, what with a seemingly endless trail -- or blockade, depending on your point of view -- of posts extending back to October 2005:

Okay, that's enough. No need to get maudlin. Back on your heads!

Hey, that image looks familiar! Must be from that series of posts we did on the Divine Comedy a few years back. Being that the goal of this blog has always been to write things with no expiration date -- or no possible relevance, depending on your point of view -- might as well repost it today, because I'm short on time:

We're finally up to the canto we've all been waiting for, in which Deepak Chopra gets his just desserts. For this is the valley of rapacious brutes who debauch themselves for gold -- who distort spiritual reality by treating it as a profane thing to be bought and sold.

Folks here are buried head first up to the knee with their feet exposed, the soles of which are on fire. Strange image. I wonder what Dante had in mind?

Upton writes that the souls here "are buried in an inverted position because they have inverted the spiritual hierarchy."

As we know, the principial world (the world of metacosmic principles) is like an inverted tree, with its nonlocal roots above and its convenient local branches down here below.

Therefore, the inverted position of these vulgar simoniacs (one who practices simony) is simply an image of what they inverted -- and perverted -- in life. Thus, their feet, which symbolize the terrestrial world, are at the top, while their heads, which symbolize the celestial, are at the bottom. This reveals their true values and motives, which cannot be hidden from God.

This brings to mind what may be my favorite letter of Meditations on the Tarot, The Hermit. The hermit is a properly right side-up man, and for this reason will appear upside-down to the worldly. This blog is proudly upside-down, and always will be. We're here, we're queer, and we're not going away.

Such a man does not deny the world but sees it -- and its contents -- in its proper perspective and order. He does not place what is both priceless and of urgent importance above what is ephemeral and insignificant. Which is why The common man lives among phantasms; only the recluse [i.e., hermit] moves among realities (Aphorisms of Don Colacho). Now, there was an invert!

Furthermore, the hermit is the cosmic locus of the synthesis of heaven and earth, i.e., their union, not polarization. He represents the harmony of intellect, emotion, and will; or mind, heart, and strength.

But again, such a man will appear upside-down to the hypnotized mob and tenured rabble, for Modern society works feverishly to put vulgarity within everyone’s reach (DC), and largely succeeds now that so many of us attend college, those somnambulant secular seminaries of factsimian sophistry.

For the properly spiritually oriented man, his soul is on fire and God is the water. But in this vale of hell, the soles are on fire and there's no water to be found. Dante also notices that the fire flickers back and forth between the heel and toes. Upton suggests that this is another inverted image, this one of the purifying spiritual fire, since in Hell it moves horizontally rather than vertically.

In a foot note, Upton reminds us of the spiritual hucksters who charge good money to teach idiots how to walk barefoot on hot coals. I always suspected that Tony Robbins was a preview of hell.

The valley of the hotfoot is also a parody "of the baptismal font," in that these sinners "are horribly baptized by the fire of the Holy Spirit they sought to buy and sell" (Upton).

But the Divine Fire is not a plaything. To imagine that one can control it sufficiently to truck and barter in its activation is about as wise as selling nuclear secrets to Islamists. In the long run you end up with the Agni but no ecstasy.

In the next valley it gets even hotter, for it is the vale of the spiritual pundits, the magicians and diviners who "impiously sought to pierce the veil of the future" (Upton). These people cause much more mischief than you might imagine, for they are spiritual prometheans whose reach exceeds their grasp -- or whose mental being surpasses what they have properly assimilated and actualized spiritually. They are engaged in the dangerous practice of driving in front of their headlights; in other words, they are operating in the dark, with mere knowledge (k) in front of being (n).

Therefore, in this valley of hell they are perpetually facing backward. Once again it is an inverted image of how they functioned in life; in being turned backward, they remind us "of a 'vanguard' cadre in politics or an 'avant-garde' movement in the arts, which, after a few years, turns out to be totally reactionary; their attempt to conquer the future binds them to the past" (Upton).

Speaking of timely.

Is there anyone more nauseatingly predictable and reactionary than the political "progressive" or artistic "transgressive"? Even the word "progressive" implies an ability to see into the future. But when their future arrives, it is always an atavistic hell. Obama does not look forward but backward, to Jimmy Carter, LBJ, FDR, and the whole failed history of illiberal collectivism and statist coercion. Likewise the public employee unions for whom it is always 1900, or liberal blacks for whom it is always 18th century South Carolina, or feminists for whom all reality is one big Daddy Issue.

And of course, such people are not only looking backward but down, toward the lowest rung of the cosmos. No one pretends that the unions are fighting for any ideal except for their own material gain. But in the words of Don Colacho, there is no faster way to corrupt an individual than to teach him to call his personal desires rights and the rights of others abuses. Such an assoul is upside-down, inside-out, and assbackward.

Hey, it's a Tony Robbins seminar, and it will only cost your soles!

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