Friday, April 24, 2015

Truth and "Truth," Freedom and "Freedom"

Yesterday we spoke of how the ultimate reality is being-for, being-from, and being-with, AKA Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But modernity is founded upon a denial of this reality, such that there is no fundamental being-from, nor a being-with, just a being from, with, and for myself only. Or just say a culture of narcissism.

Remember, the tragedy of Narcissus is that he is enclosed in the orbit of his own image. To the right we see him lovingly admiring his own reflection, like Obama gazing into his own selfie. It is not so much the gaze that is important, but rather, the space in between, which forms the horizon of his subjectivity. It shows how Narcissus condemns himself to an ontological prison in which he is forever from, for, and with himself, in a closed circle. It's what we call cosmic ønanism.

Paraphrasing Ratzinger, this is how man, instead of being in the image of the Creator, becomes his own idol. Such auto-idolatry "is the image of what Christian tradition would call the devil -- the anti-God -- because it harbors exactly the radical antithesis to the real God."

Thus, to the extent that we "liberate" ourselves from our divine prototype, we open the way "to dehumanization, to the destruction of being itself through the destruction of truth." Any radical liberation movement, whether Marxism, feminism, homosexualism, etc., ends up "a rebellion against man's very being, a rebellion against truth, which consequently leads man... into a self-contradictory existence which we call hell."

You know the old gag, "I don't believe in miracles, I only rely on them." Well, I don't believe in hell or the devil, I just struggle against their annoying powers and principalities every day.

About the self-contradictory nature of modernity. Me, I can't stand contradictions. If I detect one in my melon, I feel compelled to resolve it, or synthesize it at a higher level (or formulate an irreducible orthoparadox).

For example, the typical modern sophisticate will generally hold an implicit metaphysic which simultaneously renders freedom impossible while elevating it to a kind of absolute value. He never pauses to inquire into the real nature of freedom, i.e., what it is, how it got here, what we're supposed to do with it, etc.

But as Ratzinger says, "freedom is tied to a measure, the measure of reality," which is to say, "to the truth." Thus, "freedom to destroy oneself or to destroy another is not freedom, but its demonic parody." In short, freedom is not the measure of man, for if so, man truly is a big nothing, just as that big nobody Sartre said. Rather, man must be the measure of freedom, "otherwise it annuls itself."

Imagine believing that, since we are free to eat anything we want, we can live on sawdust and grass clippings. This obviously won't work, because our body is what it is, so our freedom to eat is conditioned by that prior truth.

The upshot is that just as there can be no I in the absence of the prior We, there can be no freedom in the absence of the prior Truth. Furthermore, the immediate implication is that freedom not only implies responsibility, but that responsibility is prior to truth. Here again, this is illuminated by Genesis, which shows that with man's freedom comes responsibility. But Adam prefers freedom without responsibility, and off we go.

"The truth shall set you free." This radical and revolutionary statement has not only lost its power to shock, but is probably ignored by most people. But to turn it around, the absence of truth means the absence of freedom. Thus, the Lie enslaves, the biggest and most tenured lie of all being the postmodern idea that there is no such thing as truth, only "truth" and therefore only "freedom."

Ratzinger calls this counterfeit freedom "a regulated form of injustice." For example, if we have a radical right to "sexual freedom," this means that human sexuality has no order, no telos, no reason except for one enclosed in Narcissus' own reflection. Being that this imprisonment is a "right," the right must be enforced, which is how it becomes against the law to decline to cater a make-believe marriage, or for a psychologist try to help a person overcome his homosexual urges. In the modern world, regulated injustice masquerades as freedom.

We only give a child more freedom as they prove themselves responsible enough to deal with it. Why then do leftists call for the "liberation" of Palestinian savages? Or, why does Obama treat morally insane mullahs as responsible adults?

We might say that truth is not in man per se, but reflected in man. Analogously, the moon is not the sun, but the light that reflects from it is not other than the sun. Thus, man must orient himself to the truth, and conduct himself in light of it. Ultimately our freedom exists in the space between us and God, which again is the antithesis of the narcissistically self-enclosed and self-regarding "freedom" of liberalism.

"Responsibility would thus mean to live our being as an answer -- as a response to what we are in truth.... This truth becomes visible in the mirror of God's essence, because man can be rightly understood only in relation to God." For real freedom is "the fusion of our being with the divine being..." (Ratzinger).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

You Can Learn a Lot from a Baby

Picking up exactly where we left off yesterday, I would put it this way: "I" and "we" are never found apart, and yet, the "we" must be ontologically prior.

Even so, this terrestrial "we" will form a closed circle unless it can somehow participate in the Cosmic We, and this cannot happen unless the higher We breaks into the lower, so to speak, in order to draw us into this infinitely wider orbit of eros. This is apparently what Petey meant by that crack about pointing our eros into the heart of the son and then just holding on for dear life.

This is encapsulated in the formula of through Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father, in a kind of sweeping metacosmic movement. Each preposition is equally necessary -- through, in, and to -- and strikes me as analogous to formal (Son), efficient (Holy Spirit), and final (Father) causation. And final causation is the "cause of causes"; if it is chronologically last it is always ontologically first. And the last shall be first!

Later in the book, in a different essay, Ratzinger makes the point that "to pray is not just to talk, but also to listen."

Again, this presupposes the We, such that "This act of leaving the circle of our own words and our own desires, this drawing back of the I, this self-abandonment to the mysterious presence which awaits us -- this more than anything constitutes prayer."

Self-abandonment to the mysterious presence. We'll come back to this at some point. Maybe tomorrow.

Was it just yesterday that Hillary Clinton referred to marriage as "the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization"?

I have a question: how does one escape from a bedrock principle without suffering brain damage or becoming an entirely different person? For what is a principle, anyway?

First of all, the qualifier "bedrock" is superfluous, since all principles are founded on rock; they are the rock -- or sand, depending -- upon which thought builds its cathedral -- or trailer home, depending.

To say that a person is "unprincipled" is to say that he is -- yes, a Clinton, but beyond that, someone who derives his so-called principles from the moment-to-moment requirements of power. Thus, the real principle is power, and certainly not truth.

But a Clinton is just a synecdoche.. bag... of the postmodern mentality. As Professor Schmitz writes, in our age "the very conception of a principle" -- one might say "the very 'principle' of principle" -- "has come under increasing challenge." To put it mildly.

It seems that a bedcrock of modern liberalism is that principles somehow limit our freedom instead of enabling and perfecting it. This would explain Hillary's Houdini trick of slipping free of her own principles, since a higher principle is at stake, the unholy trinity of narcissism, nihilism, and nominalism, the sum of which seals us in a badrock of immanence.

Returning to Ratzinger, he discusses how abortion follows from the principle of no principles, for the "right" of a mother to kill her baby is founded upon a radical separation of the two, in which the fetus must be reduced to a kind of aggressive parasite in order to justify its destruction.

But this argument is ultimately grounded in the inviolability of the radically separate I of postmodernity. In reality, to destroy a baby is to destroy a mother, but since there is "no such thing as a baby," it is really to undermine the principle of principles, the primordial We that is our ground of being, both vertically and horizontally.

As Ratzinger describes it, the being of the baby is surely dependent upon the being of the mother, but this is not an argument for separation, rather, for a sacred unity of otherness: the distorted unity ("it's the mother's body") "does not eliminate the otherness of this being" or authorize "us to dispute its distinct selfhood," for this selfhood-in-other is the very form of our existence. Motherhood is a being-for, which countermands the "desire to be an independent self and is thus experienced as the antithesis of [the woman's] own freedom."

But this is the Way It Is. Nothing magically changes outside the womb, in that the baby retains the form of a "being-from" and a "being-with" who is "just as dependent on, and at the mercy of, a being-for." Mother of mercy!

However, it is not as if we ever outgrow the form of our being-from and being-with. Rather, "the child in the mother's womb is simply a very graphic depiction of human existence in general," for "even the adult can exist only with and from another, and is thus continually thrown back on that being-for which is the very thing he would like to shut out" (emphasis mine).

Indeed, this denial of our being-for, -with, and -to the cosmic Being-From, AKA God, is yet another iteration of the Fall.

Bottom line for today's scattered post: "The radical cry for freedom demands man's liberation from his very essence as man, so that he may become the 'new man.' In the new society, the dependencies that restrict the I and the necessity of self-giving would no longer have the right to exist.

"'Ye shall be as gods.' This promise is quite clearly behind modernity's radical demand for freedom" (Ratzinger).

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Adam & Eve & Atom & Wave

Today's post was cut short in its prime by an unexpectedly early appointment.

In a comment yesterday Van mentioned the Greek contribution to the concept of person. Did we not touch on this in our lengthy discussion of Inventing the Individual? I don't exactly remember.

I believe we did, but from a slightly different angle, in that Siedentop discusses how the individual becomes more individuated -- more interiorized -- as a consequence of Christianity's emphasis on the value of the person, i.e., our equality before God and on our freedom of conscience. But in the wider ancient world, the individual was still very much subordinated to the family and/or city.

Ratzinger notes that even "Boethius's concept of person, which prevailed in Western philosophy, must be criticized as entirely insufficient," because it remains "on the level of the Greek mind." Which is to say, person is regarded as "the individual substance of a rational nature." In short, "person stands entirely on the level of substance," a metaparasitic error which continues to infect contemporary left-liberalism.

In contrast, Christianity teaches that person is relation, not substance; or, he is irreducibly substance-in-relation, never an isolated, atomistic I-land. If he were a radically enclosed atom, then he would always be one. In other words, the Raccoon affirms that substance and relation are complementary, not polarized. However, of the two, relation is the more fundamental, because it encompasses substance, whereas substance cannot encompass relation.

Note, for example, that Eve is of the same substance as Adam -- taken from his rib -- and thus intrinsically related. It would appear that this same pattern extends all the way down to the farthest reaches of matter, with the wave-particle complementarity. Particles are abstracted from waves, but are always nonlocally related to one another. So Adam & Eve are like atom & wave. Or rather, vice versa.

But we're just being silly.

Oh really? What, you know better than God how the cosmos is structured?

For Ratzinger, Christ is not the ontological exception, but rather, the rule. He is here to show us the Way Things Are and the Way To Get There. He even discusses this in the context of modern physics, wherein the scientific annoymaly is "very often the symptom that shows us the insufficiency of our previous schema of order, which helps us to break open this schema and to conquer a new realm of reality."

If only 19th century physicists had listened to Jesus instead of falling into a mechanistic metaphysic! Then again, if they had, then Germany would have had the atom bomb before World War I, so forget that.

Let's call it the Christwave. For in the words of Ratzinger, Christ "is the integrating space in which the 'we' of human beings gathers itself toward the 'you' of God." Again, this is not as simple as the so-called I-thou relation, because that still implies two separate beings that are then brought into relation. But for Ratzinger,

"On both sides there is neither the pure 'I,' or the pure 'you.'" Rather, for both sides "the 'I' is integrated into the greater 'we.'" Thus, not even God hiselves "can be seen as the pure and simple 'I' toward which the human tends"; you might say that there can be no I AM in the absence of a prior We Are -- which again goes to everything we have said about the mother-infant relation.

This is precisely what lends a kind of dignity to everything, to creation itself. That is, "The Christian concept of God has as a matter of principle given the same dignity to multiplicity as to unity." Conversely, the ancients -- but also neoplatonists, Buddhists, and other boring monologues -- "considered multiplicity the corruption of unity." But Christianity "considers multiplicity as belonging to unity with the same dignity."

You might say that the Incarnation is simply the Last Word in this elevation of matter and mayaplicity. I remember Alan Watts talking about how matter is related to mater. For Christians, it is certainly the case that the ultimate principle is planted right here in the womb -- the matrix -- of matter, in an act of wholly matterimany resulting in a mamafestivus for the restavus. It is very much as if we cognitively nurse on a metaphysical Klein Bottle. I do anyway.

We'll leave you with this orthoparadox to ponder: "This trinitarian 'we'... prepares at the same time the space of the human 'we'"; and Christ is the ultimate "'we' into which Love, namely the Holy Spirit, gathers us and which means simultaneously being bound to each other and being directed toward the common 'you' of the one Father."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let Us Make Man in Our Image

Yesterday we alluded to Winnicott's crack that "there is no such thing as an infant," which is very much an analogue of the most ortho of paradoxes, that "there is no such thing as a God." That is, if man is going to be an image of the Creator(s), then we are going to have to have plurality somehow built into us.

Indeed, while there are many ways to fall, one of them is to presume a radical individuality, irrespective of whether or not one "believes" in God, for the more important point is that such a one is failing to "be" -- and three -- like God.

In Ratzinger's essay on The Notion of Person, he suggests that personhood was a Christian discovery or development, however you wish to characterize it.

It was Tertullian who, in the late second or early third century, nailed down the secret formula of "one being in three persons." For Ratzinger, this is when "the word 'person' entered intellectual history for the first time with its full weight." With this in mind, it is possible to understand such otherwise confusing data, such as God speaking in the plural, e.g., "Let us make man in our image and likeness," or "Adam has become like one of us."

And just lately I've been on a bit of a Sophia-Mary kick, and there is no gainsaying the fact that Ms. Wisdom seems to have been there from the start, even if she is created rather than -- like the second person -- begotten. I can't say that I recommend this book, because the author takes 400 pages to say what I just said in a sentence, but he compiles all of the material from the wisdom books of the OT that go to this, such as:

--Wisdom was first of all created things...

--The Lord created me the first of his works long ago, before all else was made.

--Then I was at his side each day, his darling and delight, playing in his presence continually...

So, wisdom is the first creation of the Creator. You might say that he creates creativity for us, which I think is alluded to in that second passage, i.e., playing in his presence continually. In this context, remember the words of our Unknown Friend, that it is all about transforming work into play. Remember too that mysterious word presence. We'll get back to that one, maybe later in the week.

In any event, with this radically new concept of person, we have the idea that personhood is "dialogical," only this is a three-person dialogue and thus a tria-logos. God is substance-in-relation, such that there is nothing beneath, behind, or above his relativity. Can you relate to God? Truly, you cannot not relate and still call yourself a person.

I remind you to keep the whole infancy thingy (discussed yesterday) in the back of your mind as we proceed.

As Ratzinger explains, "person must be understood as relation," whether we are talking about man or about God. With regard to the latter, "the three persons that exist in God are in their nature relations." They are "not substances that stand next to each other, but they are real existing relations and nothing besides."

To deeply appreciate this is to see, as it were, the negative of a photograph, except we're really talking about the positive of a pneumagraph. It's the same image, only seen insight-out from the proper perspective, or maybe with your x-ray specs. Really, it's how Blake can see God in a grain of sand and all that. If everything is relation, then cosmic alienation isn't just a drag, it's plain wrong.

Note that relation "is not something superadded to the person, but it is the person itself. In its nature, the person exists only as relation" -- which is why the Son cannot be created, because relation with the Son is what the Father is, so to speak (and vice versa).

This obviously brings to bear a novel way to think about oneself. It also goes to everything we have said about "idiom" in bygone posts, because that too goes to the relation(s) we are. You will never find yourself in yourself, rather, only in your relations, both to people and objects (the latter of which are always infused with personhood as well, however attenuated).

Truly, we are never alone, for the ultimate reality is person, and "person is the pure relativity of being turned toward the other."

However, note that it is not the person of Father, nor the person of the Holy Spirit, who incarnates in man. Rather, it is the person of the Son, whose personhood (even though it must be a fractal of the totality) is characterized by receptivity. The Son "receives" from the Father, and if it's good enough for him, it ought to be good enough for us.

Thus we read in John how Jesus says "The Son cannot do anything of himself." As Ratzinger explains, this is because "he does not place himself as a delimited substance next to the Father, but exists in total relativity toward him..."

This same ontological structure "is in turn transferred... to the disciples when Christ says, 'Without me you can do nothing.'" In this way, man "truly comes to himself and into the fullness of his own, because he enters into unity with the one to whom he is related."

You might say that this is how the flower of man's personhood turns toward the light and blooms, for man is "not a substance that closes itself in itself, but the phenomenon of complete relativity." We can only discover the reason for our being in relationship and in mutual giving, since each needs the other to be who he or she is. And Jesus is not the exception, but the rule. For spirit

"not only is," but in reaching "beyond itself, it comes to itself. In transcending itself it has itself; by being with the other it first becomes itself, it comes to itself. Expressed differently again: being with the other is its form of being with itself."

Which all goes to why the helpless infant and child must be prior to the man, not just chronologically but ontologically.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Cosmic Baby and the Wholly (M)Other

Some of you may remember my take on psychogenesis -- i.e., the emergence, or better, presence, of mind -- found on pp. 109-123 of the bʘʘk.

It starts with a quote by John Bowlby, the father of modern attachment theory, which for me is one of the irreducible pillars of existence. In other words, if we want to have a Total View of Reality, we could no more exclude the interpersonal neurobiology of human attachment than we could physics or chemistry. It is that important, especially as elaborated by researchers such as Allan Schore.

My high altitude summary begins with a quote from Bowlby to the effect that "the least-studied phase of human development remains the phase during which a child is acquiring all that makes him most human. Here is a continent to conquer." This is followed by a comment from Tolstoy, who remarked that "it is but a step" from a five year old to an adult, "but from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance."

The basic idea is that the developmentally premature, neurologically incomplete, and therefore helpless, infant is truly the hinge of psychospiritual development, and without whom we could never have transcended Animal Planet, no matter how big and impressive our brains.

Since infancy is the narrow pain in the neck we must all pass through on the way to adulthood, it occurred to me (before writing the book) that mankind at large must have had to thread this same developmental needle. You might say that man needed to invent infancy in order to become man. So, who came first, the infant or the adult? This is similar -- probably identical -- to the question of what man "is" outside the social context, for man is always situated in a social context, without which he simply wouldn't be man.

One more quote, this one from Norbert Elias: "Over and over again, in the scientific myths of origin no less than the religious ones, [people] feel impelled to imagine: In the beginning was a single human being, who was an adult."

But to jump ahead -- and above -- a bit, there is a damn good reason that ultimate reality appears in history as an infant, because the infant is a quintessential analogue of this very principle -- so long as we bear in mind the orthoparadox that, to paraphrase D.W. Winnicott, there is no such thing as an infant.

Rather, "if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone." That is the key, because the mother-infant dyad is very much a kind of link between two interiors. Indeed, it is the link that forges and deepens those interiors. Conversely, most mental illness (AKA Failure to Launch) is rooted in disturbances in attachment.

I don't know of too many other people who write of the cosmic importance of babies, so imagine my surprise when I see Schindler making the same point. In the chapter we are discussing, The Sanctity of the Intellectual Life, he speaks of "the miracle of the other," i.e., "the gift of one to another, and thereby the rhythm of giving and receiving."

How does this delicate gift-giving rhythm get in here, i.e., into the cosmos? This may sound poetic or sentimental, but it is not; or maybe it is, but it is also literal: "This rhythm has its paradigm in the mother's smile." Or, jumping way ahead of ourselves, we could say that its highest expression comes in the form of Mary's benevolent Yes, an eternal Yes that is the birth of Christianity.

"Being in its highest 'natural' kind," writes Schindler, "takes its primary meaning from the mother-child relation," for "the child's first experience of being lies in its encounter with the mother's smile, received by the child in a manner that is not yet conscious" but "in time liberates the child to respond: to smile in return."

Thus -- and this is the critical point -- this mutual confirmation of being (whose outward sign is the smile) completes an extra-neurological circuit which in turn opens up the ever-expanding sensorium of our worldspace.

Think about the alternative, which is to say, maternal or environmental rejection of the being-ness of the infant (or just failure to recognize and confirm it, which will amount to the same thing from the infant's perspective). This only happens all the time, which is why a psychologist never runs out of potential patients.

Winnicott was quick to point out that nobody is perfect, such that all the baby really requires is "good enough mothering," for humans are a Resilient Bunch, and besides, we need pain and frustration, only in tolerable doses (just as the immune system needs germs and viruses to strengthen itself). But you might be surprised to learn how frequently this minimom standard fails to be met.

Schindler alludes to the metacosmic angle of this subject, describing how "This rhythm of gift and receptivity -- which is to say, this other-centered rhythm" which is "found at the level of human being, provides an index or analogue in terms of which to approach all levels of being."

That is a bold statement, i.e., that the human baby explains everything! But look at it from the other way around, and you can appreciate the fact that without the baby, we could explain nothing, for we could never have exited the closed loop of animal neurology.

The baby ushers in two related realities, relation and interiority, for human relation is interior-to-interior -- and not just with other humans. That is, even knowledge of so-called "objects" involves an abstraction of their interior, which is to say, their intelligibility.

So ultimately, our whole stance toward reality is interior-to-interior, which is why we have access to truth, beauty, and unity, none of which are empirical objects.

Now, if our task is to conform ourselves to the ultimate, the First and Last Word, then Jesus demonstrates how this is done, in that the second person of the trinity is "first" receptive, just as the baby is first receptive to the mother before "giving back" her love. So Christ "gives back" to the Father, but never "outgrows" this fundamental attitude of receptivity. He doesn't grow up to be Father, as if Sonship is a defect or partial thingy!

Likewise, in human terms, you could assert the orthoparadox that man never "outgrows" his childhood, for if he succeeds in doing so, he will fail to grow out of it. In other words, what sets humans apart from even the higher mammals is that we never transcend our neoteny, and therefore continue growing "forever," again, in imitation of the Trinity.

Here is how Ratzinger describes it in a fine paper called Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology:

"The content of Jesus' existence is 'being from someone toward someone,' the absolute openness of existence without any reservation of what is merely and properly one's own." And "As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you," but first you must willing to receive. Bottom line for today:

"Christ's doctrine is he himself, and he himself is not his own, because his 'I' exists entirely from the 'you."' And both are situated in the loving We. Thus, "The other through which the spirit comes to itself is finally that wholly other for which we use the stammering word 'God'.... The person is all the more itself the more it is with the wholly other, with God" (Ratzinger).

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