Friday, March 24, 2017

Can God Crank it Up to Eleven?

Speaking of contingency, I was just reviewing Aquinas's five proofs of God, the third one being the argument from contingency.

Let's begin by defining our terms: contingency is "a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty." In philosophy it is basically defined negatively, as the absence of necessity.

Does this mean that contingency is somehow parasitic on necessity, as shadow is to light? I don't think so. Rather, they must be complementary, as Absolute is to Infinite, the latter being the endless iterations of the former.

If Absolute is ontologically prior to Infinite -- or if Infinite is the "first fruit," so to speak, of Absoluteness, i.e., its "radiation" -- then we might say that the Infinite as such is the realm of the many Masks of God. Infinite is also associated with relativity, as is contingency.

Having said that, Schuon adds that while "contingency is always relative," "relativity is not always contingent." In other words, it seems that, God being who he is, contingency "must be"; it is really just another way of saying that God cannot help being creative, any more than he can stop being good. Creation consists (at least in some sense) of God "radiating himself" into relativity and contingency, or terrestrial thrills, chills, and spills.

In speaking of the relative, this also introduces the idea of a dimension that "is either 'more' or 'less' in relation to another reality" -- which goes to Aquinas' fourth way, that "among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like" (in Feser). In other words, we can only say "better" and "worse" because of an implicitly known scale of absolute value.

So, I would say that a realm of contingency must exist, even though this or that contingency may or may not come to pass. And our freedom must be located in this world of contingency, in which we may influence "what happens." Toss the fourth way into the mix, and we have the freedom to influence what happens on a vertical scale. Or in other words, we may move closer to, or more distant from, the true, good, beautiful, etc.

"What makes us happy," writes Schuon, "are the phenomena of beauty and goodness and all the other goods that existence borrows from pure Being." Again, as mentioned yesterday, "We are situated in contingency, but we live by reflection of the Absolute, otherwise we could not exist." So, there are reflections of the Absolute in the Contingent, and a big part of our task is to notice and appreciate them. They're actually everywhere, and cannot help being so.

Indeed, Schuon goes on to say that there are "two fundamental virtues to realize," first, "resignation to contingency" and second, "assimilation of the celestial message." "Resignation" hardly connotes "giving up." Rather, is it simply an acknowledgement of our cosmic situation: if we are to exist at all, it must be in a world of contingency, fluctuation, enigma, mystery, and other seeming privations. But these "privations" are ultimately just a function of not being God.

Besides, God makes amends for the privations by... how to put it... by revealing his own fulness, or by filling the gaps with his own being. For example, we alluded above to the inevitable gaps between God and creation, various "degrees of being" that are closer to or more distant from the Principle. What is the Incarnation but a kind of gratuitous gift, a divine descent, that closes the gaps and bridges the abyss? Truly, if there were no Incarnation then God would have to invent one.

Being that we are stuck here in this world of contingency and flux, we must again detect the real within the relative. As Schuon describes, "everything lies in discovering that ontologically we bear within ourselves that which we love and which in the final analysis constitutes our reason for being." Looked at this way, "contingency is but a veil" -- but a veil simultaneously veils and reveals, in that the there is obviously something behind or beneath it, something it is veiling. That is indeed the purpose of a veil.

Now we're getting somewhere, because this implies that there is a bit of absoluteness within us, and that this absoluteness is the witness or arbiter or essence that exists in dialectic with the relative, contingent, and indeterminate. You might say that our task is to identify with the "unmoved mover" at the heart of it all, which goes to Aquinas' first way, which is the argument from motion, AKA change. Raccoons are not "the change we seek." Rather, the changelessness from which we enjoy the seeking.

What is change, anyway? In the Thomist conception it is "the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality" (Feser). If God is, among other things, "all possibility," then what we call the "now" must be its specification of one possibility.

Now, for a relativist there are only veils, with nothing veiled. This can provoke a frantic search from one veil to the next, without ever being cognizant of what the veil is veiling, which is again, reality.

It reminds me of something the Aphorist says, that One must live for the moment and for eternity. Not for the disloyalty of time. In other words, at each moment the horizontal is pierced by the vertical, such that eternity is in the moment and the moment is in eternity; one might say that the moment is simply veiled eternity. And what is eternity but God's own moment?

This is another way of affirming: "Contingency on the one hand and the presence of the Absolute on the other; these are the two poles of our existence" (Schuon).

Which leads me to wonder: is there something analogous to contingency in God? I like to think so. Of course, it can't be a privation, but is rather a reflection of the divine plenum, which is like an infinite goodness and creativity that eternally surpasses itself, so to speak.

I suppose even God can't go up to 11, because that would imply that he was lacking something when he was only at 10. Therefore, it is an endless succession of 10s. And this is why no one is bored in heaven. But also why no one need be bored on earth.


vanderleun said...

“God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Joan of Argghh! said...

Still lurking and loving the whole existentialada.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Yes, veil is a call to see what is behind,yes contingent is a call to search for the permanent. Being a contingent being I have innate need to know the real Being of my being, the needless who through out his generosity caters for my neediness. He created me and does not need me but I need him what a strange paradox. It is this paradox that leads me at the end to my safe spiritual landing in His lap. They say live as if you are going to live forever and live as if you are going to die tomorrow. It is our divine endowment that helps us rise over our triviality to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower and eternity in an hour as the soul of Blake sees, what is behind the veil, behind the contingent. It is astonishing how human consciousness can Rise so high in the endless consciousness of the one. Thank you for an enjoyable flight.

mushroom said...

...only veils, with nothing veiled...

What a picture. Imagine one of those old houses in the movies with all the furniture draped, and when you pull back the cover, there is nothing there.

Work is intense. I'm having trouble keeping up.

The other thing I was reminded of is that God rested (rests, is better) at the creation of man -- or in the creation of Adam. When the last Adam, Christ, comes and finishes His work, He invites us to rest in Him, in co-creativity. Man can create apart from God, but those works are lifeless and temporal.

julie said...

So, there are reflections of the Absolute in the Contingent, and a big part of our task is to notice and appreciate them. They're actually everywhere, and cannot help being so.

Yes; he is present everywhere and in all things. How easily we forget! Or, as Mushroom notes, how easily the veil is pulled back to reveal nothing... but that's not really true, either. It is only nothing to those for whom matter is supreme. Even then, an empty cup is never truly empty, unless perhaps it is sealed away in a vacuum, surrounded by a substance impervious to all light and radiation. Including that which comes from within itself.

Anonymous said...

Great post, one of the best. Tasty food for thought. To attempt a further exploration of contingency, let us posit that contingency is a goal unto itself for God, who enjoys it, and who in fact set it up.

Let us posit that contingency cannot exist in heaven; conditions are not right.

And further posit, beings in heaven do get, if not bored, then static. Slow development of character, few changes, albeit great bliss.

Let us say, said heavenly beings are offered a trip to a place where change and contingency is the rule, and growth can be rapid, albeit it will hurt like, well, hell.

Let us posit a location is set up for said sojourn in a contingency world (ours), and each being must ride through this place in a solid carrier (a body).

Plans are laid, the ticket bought, sponsors (parents) are located who are already on site, and at the appointed moment, the being is handed a cup. Drink this, the water of Lethe, blessed forgetfullness, for on your journey all shall be fresh and new to you, and you will feel everything vividly, as for the first time.

Drop through the clouds, entering your body. Get squeezed out of your mother. Open eyes. Cry. Feel hungry. It begins....

A time later, leave the body. Ascend upward through the clouds. Remember everything. What a rush. Take a rest. Assimilate. How do you feel? Awesome and different. Better. Repeat.