Friday, July 22, 2016

God Becomes Asymmetric So that Man Might Become Symmetric

Again: it is not the unrestricted power and infinite nature of God that becomes man, because that would be impossible; the former would overwhelm if not annihilate the latter.

Rather, it is the second Person of the Trinity who does so. It is this Person who makes "unconditional use of the one unrestricted power and nature," and who enters "into a finite human nature."

This reminds me of something I heard Bill Buckley say many years ago, before I knew much of anything about Islam or Christianity. He pointed out that Islam has a simplistic and rather primitive theology, compared to the richness and sophistication of Christianity. Under the assumption that all western religions were equally products of magical thinking, I thought to myself, "what's the point of bragging about a more convoluted fantasy?"

Suffice it to say that I have since then understood his point. Islam begins and ends with the tautology that "there is no God but God." True enough, but it's like reducing science to the statement that "there is no matter but matter." Thanks for the tip! In orthodox Islam (we're not talking about Sufism, a la Schuon) there is no way to "enter" God, only to slavishly follow his external dictates.

But Christianity -- among other things -- invites us to enter into, and participate in, God's very interior reality. Instead of rendering us slaves, we can actually become children and brothers of God. Perhaps I'm being unfair to Islam, but it seems to me that there is a considerably lower level of divine intimacy. And of course, the Koran specifically denies that God could in any way be "three," (unsophisticatedly) confusing the Trinity with polytheism.

Thus, ironically, in the Muslim mind the Koran serves as a correction and progression from a more primitive and error-prone Christian polytheism. But in reverting from the intersubjective God of Christianity to an interobjective one (in which we are reduced to mere objects of God), I think it's the other way around.

I might add that the two metaphysical conceptions have obviously led to very different forms of civilization. Many ideas that underpin western civilization are unthinkable in the Islamic world, e.g., political liberty, freedom of conscience, and separation of secular and religious law.

At any rate, in the same appendix we've been discussing, Spitzer has a brief section called Making Sense of the Incarnation. Is that even possible? Well, it ought to be, since they say that nothing in Christianity should run counter to the highest gift God has given us, our reason.

Why would God's highest revelation violate his most precious gift? If it did, then God would be analogous to the "crazy-making" parent who places the child in a double-bind from which there is no escape.

Of the Incarnation, Spitzer notes that "if self-consciousness inheres (makes use of) a finite nature," then "it will be subject to the limitations of that nature." On the other hand, if it inheres in "an unrestricted power and nature, then there is no limit to the power of its understanding, creativity, freedom, and will."

So, with the Incarnation of the Son in the man Jesus, there are two vectors, as it were, one unrestricted and the other restricted.

I'm trying to come up with a useful analogy. Probably not a good one, but I'm thinking of how, as a psychologist, one must empathically "enter" the restricted world of the patient, even while another part transcends the limitation. Just as the second Person of the Trinity will really and truly know what it is like to be a man -- with all its limitations, conflicts, and suffering -- another "part" has unrestricted access to the divine relationship that transcends the finite. And he wants us to participate in the same power, which is none other than being fully in the world without being of it.

Spitzer: "Christianity holds that the second Person (self-consciousness) did not stop using the divine nature when He took on the limitations of human nature, but rather continued operating through His divine nature so that the one self-consciousness had the perspective, understanding, and will of both an unrestricted nature and a finite nature" (Spitzer).

Ah ha! This sounds a little like the bi-logic discussed a couple of posts back. Indeed, in searching for an (admittedly disanalogous) analogy, Spitzer suggests that our own dream state might illuminate "how a single self-consciousness could have two such different perspectives." (Again, it is not the dream state that illuminates Jesus's consciousness so much as vice versa.)

Note that in the dream, it is as if our consciousness is bifurcated into the "unrestricted" power of the Dreamer and the restricted power that we have as subjects in our own dream. I wonder if Bomford discusses this in The Symmetry of God? Let's have a look.

Yup: "The doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, particularly, are dominated by symmetric logic and become virtual expressions of its laws." "In terms of bi-logic every effort seems to be made to make it rational and consonant with asymmetric logic: yet, at its heart, is irresoluble paradox " -- i.e., the co-presence of two forms of logic, and of a self-consciousness inflected through each.

To cite just one conspicuous example of symmetric logic, we could say that "because God has become human, humanity has become divine." "Symmetric logic makes unities out of things apparently different.... Many of the historic controversies of Christianity may be resolved by accepting the necessity of expressing them through paradox and myth, by recognizing the symmetric logic implicit in all talk of God."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I -Thou and We-Thou

A relatively short post that is also unusual for having only one Big Idea instead of the usual scattershot of fully half-baked ones...

Continuing our plunge into the heart of the Trinity, Spitzer writes that the first two of its Persons, Father and Son, "form a unity of interpersonal love through the one unrestricted power" (which we have compared to "beyond-being").

In turn, the Holy Spirit is "not simply the beloved of either the Father or the Son," but rather, the "beloved of the union between Father and Son."

That won't be clear until we flesh it out a bit. If the relation between Father and Son is that of "I-Thou," then you might say that the Spirit introduces a kind of "We-Thou" relation, with the We being the Father-Son "couple" -- as in how the child is welcomed into the marital-we (which goes to the intrinsic ontological defect of willed single parenthood, divorce, and newly invented caricatures of marriage; or in other words it is the denial of the gift of a healthy and natural We to the child).

As Spitzer describes it, love "need not be only an outpouring of self," but "can also be an outpouring of an us" -- that is, a gift of the union of the two; or, it is the two welcoming a third into its union of love. We fall in love with another person, but the love we give a child isn't only of a dyadic nature, especially from the child's point of view.

Is this a subtle point, or is it obvious? I'll just speak from my own experience. My parents rarely got along. Either it was a cold war or they were bickering about God-knows-what. I remember this lack of harmony causing a kind of familiar but nameless pain in me.

However, there were moments of harmony, in which they were kind and affectionate to one another, and for me, it was as if a light from above were penetrating the darkness below. There was a great sense of relief, and everything felt "right" in that moment. I remember one time in particular, when they were walking ahead of me, holding hands. The feeling of peace was very distinct -- as if all was right with the world -- but obviously different from merely being loved by one's individual parent.

To the contrary, I never doubted that my mother and father loved me. But that is in the I-Thou realm. The problem was in the We-Thou realm. I knew they would never divorce, but nevertheless, it was a rocky we they bequeathed to me.

I think this is why, to this day, I can't stand any kind of Disturbance in the Force in my house. I have a peculiar need to avoid interpersonal stress and conflict around here. As a result, my son is having a very different experience of the We than I had. Rather, his background environment is one of a harmonious and loving We, and the effect on him is obvious. He has to visit other homes in order to get the sense of a distressed and unhappy We.

The point is, just as we can trace the love between persons back to the Trinity, so too can we trace the love between two persons and a third: just as there is a loving space between the I and Thou, there is a new loving space between the We and Thou.

Here is how Spitzer describes it: "This occurs in marriage where a couple can give its 'us' (its collective self) to another person by welcoming that person into the relationship. One can generally tell when a couple has this loving quality as a relational whole because their invitation is harmonious and welcoming."

Of note, it's not just children who are so welcomed, but anyone else who enters the relational orbit. We have a couple of married friends who are passionately devoted to one another, but at the same time, extremely extroverted, such that to be around them is to enter a... I hate to sound corny, but it is a very palpable We of love.

Conversely, according to Spitzer, "If this quality of the 'us' is not there, or if there is a problem causing a disruption in the relationship, it is immediately discernible." As in the case of my parents. Or, think of the uniquely dysfunctional nature of the We between Bill and Hillary Clinton. I use the word "unique" advisedly, because I've never seen anything like it -- a seemingly loveless political crime family rooted in a cunning will to power. What a perverse We!

In any event, "when Christians say that God is love, they do not mean only that the attribute of love belongs to the one infinite nature of God." Rather, "that there is real interpersonal love (gift of self and gift of the 'us') taking place through three perfect acts of self-consciousness..."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Patterned Transrationality

We've been discussing how the one unrestricted power can be the single source of the three Persons. This is consistent with the very nature of consciousness, which routinely violates aristotelian logic by being in two "places" at once.

This is especially true vis-a-vis dream consciousness, in which we are the Subject who dreams and yet a subject in the dream we dream. In fact, we are all of the subjects in our dreams, which means that our own consciousness is appearing in the form of other persons. It's like quantum entanglement or something, a single field with multiple particles of subjectivity: the parts are a function of the whole.

Which we have discussed in the past in the context of a unique (as far as I know) and helpful book called The Symmetry of God. From the description on the amazon page: "Why does the age-long quest for the eternal express itself always in paradox? Eternity is both an attribute of God and a characteristic of the Freudian unconscious. Recent developments in psychoanalytic theory have discovered an irrational logic at work in the unconscious process.

"This symmetric logic (in the mathematical sense of symmetry) produces paradoxes incomprehensible to asymmetric classic logic. The path of the mystic is an approach to an aspect of God analogous to the human unconscious, and is expressed through paradoxes of symmetric logic; whereas the god who reveals himself in history is a god who, by the same analogy, also exercises consciousness and is, at least partially, subject to classical logic.

"Christian faith holds to both the concept of an eternal god beyond time and of a god who acts in time. This involves both logics, and explains the paradoxical, symbolic and mythical nature of theological propositions. It also throws light on the conflict between realist and non-realist views of God and allows an understanding of orthodox Christianity which transcends both."

The key here is the distinction between asymmetric logic, which is our normal, everyday, commonsense, wideawake, cutandry, linear and left-brain approach, and symmetric logic, which violates most of the things Aristotle says logic cannot do. Superficially, symmetric logic may be dismissed as "illogic," but it simply has a logic of its own. I don't agree with everything Bomford says about it -- he seems to be on the liberal side of the theological continuum -- but I give him credit for being the only person saying it.

I don't remember him discussing the Trinity in the book, but I'll bet you anything a bi-logical approach to it will be a verticalisthenic exercise worth engaging in. Because I'm pressed for time this morning, I will borrow from some past posts in order to avoid having to rethink everything from the ground up:

Bomford is an Anglican priest who is a student of the psychoanalyst Ignacio Matte Blanco, who himself is not well known but had some brilliant ideas about the logic of the unconscious mind. Bomford has applied Matte Blanco's ideas to the relationship between God and consciousness, and how we may meaningfully communicate about something that vastly exceeds the limits of language.

One of the purposes of the book is to navigate between the shoals of a softheaded fundamentalism and a hardhearted modernism. It is aimed at the reader who "neither clings rigidly to the literal truth of every word of the Bible, nor on the other hand reduces the faith by rejecting most of what the past has believed to be central."

With regard to the potential dangers of mixing psychoanalytic metapsychology and religion, Bomford makes the important point that "from the beginning the church has borrowed philosophies from the world as handmaids to faith, and has expressed its faith through them. This has not only been to communicate with those outside, but also so that faith may understand itself."

Bomford begins with what amounts to a truism, that our conscious self -- or ego -- is situated in a much larger area of consciousness as such, much of which goes by the name "unconscious." This is a misleading term, since the unconscious is not unconscious, just more or less unavailable to the conscious ego. The unconscious is obviously quite active and aware, only "below," "behind," or "above" the ego.

Traditionally, psychoanlaysts have imagined a sort of horizontal line, with the ego above and the unconscious below. But a more accurate mental image would be an island surrounded by water on all sides, like a point within a sphere [ʘ] (the sphere itself being hyperdimensional).

I would also argue that consciousness is not linear but holographically structured, so that the unconscious is not spatially above or below, but within consciousness (somewhat analogous to God, who is both immanent and transcendent, the deepest within and the furthest beyond of any "thing" that partakes of Being).

One of the most important points to bear in mind is that we might believe a person to be illogical, when they are in fact obeying a different form of logic: symmetrical logic. Indeed, this was one of Freud's central insights, that the sick person was actually logical in his own way. One of purposes of therapy is to expose the unconscious logic that is causing conscious pain or dysfunction.

But it is also important not to automatically "pathologize" all symmetrical logic, for without it we wouldn't be human. Rather, we would be hyper-rational Vulcans with no "emotional intelligence," no interior understanding of things, no ability to comprehend God, religion or art, and no ability to love or create.

With everyday aristotelian logic, if something is in it can't be out; or if it is up, it can't be down. Or in other words, things can't be in two places at once. But if God is up he is simultaneously down, and if he is out he is always in. And vice versa. For God, it is not a problem to be two "places" at once, since there are no places to begin with, only everyplace.

Is this way of talking merely nonsense? Undoubtedly. But it is perfect nonsense, or what I would call patterned transrationality. It describes something that is surely real, but not in the same limited sense as material reality and its interior cousin, the empirical ego.

The difficulty arises in attempting to express the infinite through the finite, or the transcendent through the immanent, which can only be accomplished with paradox, myth, symbolism, and a number of other literary deivoices we will discuss in more detail below. Religious language -- whatever else it is -- is without question a way to memorialize, instantiate, extend, deepen, and meditate upon that which transcends ordinary language.

... God has an outer aspect, which we call being, and an interior aspect that is beyond being. In Orthodox Christianity, the difference is conceptualized in terms of God's energies (which may be known by us) and his essence, which we can only unKnow. I suspect that the dialectic between them is the source of God's creativity, or his eternal surprise and delight at his endless productions.

Now, it is not actually possible for us to experience or know the eternal. Or, to be precise, we can only experience it if we no longer exist, because to identify with it would be to disappear from time, and thought and existence require time ("no one sees my face and lives"). As Boethius wrote, "An unchanging thing displays no before and after, nor does it begin or end." Rather, eternity is "the instantaneously whole and complete possession of endless life."

But there are a number of ways we can experience the eternal and think the otherwise unthinkable in the herebelow. As Bomford explains, "among temporal things, the everlasting most nearly expresses the eternal. It provides the closest image of the timeless within time." This is why our souls are stirred in the presence of the very old and ancient -- the Pyramids, Yosemite Valley, a European cathedral, Barbara Walters, etc.

But interestingly, another penultimate form of eternity -- the symmetrical opposite of the everlasting, so to speak -- is the momentary, for such a thing is also "instantaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change. It is not there -- it is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again" -- like a shooting star, or giving your daughter's hand in marriage, or one of Obama's campaign promises.

I don't think we got very far this morning, and now I'm out of time. I'll do better tomorrow.

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