Friday, April 28, 2017

Bad News About the Good News

Maybe I have nothing to say because I've been dabbling in Kierkegaard, who would say that saying nothing is preferable to saying much of anything about God.

Rather, one must Do; or better, Be. In his view, there were few actual Christians, just a lot of people pretending to be. Which, in a way, is worse than being "anti-Christian."

"My task is to disabuse people of the illusion that they are Christians -- yet I am serving Christianity."

So, he's a kind of inverse apostle: instead of convincing people to convert to Christianity, he's trying to convince them they never did. He spent his life spreading Bad News about the Good News.

Frankly, he's a bit of a pill. An irritant. A provocateur. He likes to stir things up. He would say that any intellectual approach to Christianity is doomed to failure, and that we have to completely bypass the intellect in the act of faith. He has a point there: one can rationalize forever without taking that final leap, which does indeed require commitment.

This is why he is called an existentialist, and even the "founder" of existentialism: "To become a genuine self, an individual in the truest sense, was a central concern to Kierkegaard." He "stands against every form of thinking that bypasses the individual or enables the individual to escape his responsibility before God."

Either. Or. Which is the title of one of his most famous books. The point is, it's on you, and no amount of rationalizing can free you from making the choice rooted in faith. "Each person must choose between God and the world." And "if someone wants to have faith and reason too, well, let the comedy begin."

Who is this meddlesome noodge! I wonder what Schuon would say?

Kierkegaard’s “existence” nullifies itself through lack of sufficient reason; how is it possible to conceive of an “existential” morality, that is to say, a morality which is “lived and not thought” and therefore immune to “abstraction,” at the level of terrestrial man who is a thinking being by definition? This alternative between “existence” and “thought-abstraction” is the fundamental misunderstanding in existentialism; indeed the latter is simply one of the most aberrant manifestations of what may be described as Western alternatives.

Thank you. I knew there was something deviant in his approach, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Here's a guy who writes 35 abstruse books and 20 volumes of journals, but he's not an intellectual!

Yeah, "What is one to say of a philosopher who 'thinks' cheerfully about the insincerity or the mediocrity of 'thought' as such? Inept though that may be, an audience is never lacking for such literary artifices of a mentally compressed city dweller" (Schuon).

A mentally compressed city dweller. I'm going to steal that one. Does it not describe our blue state and bluer city mouth-breathren?

Schuon continues as only Schuon can:

The Western spirit has always lived to a large extent on alternatives.... One of the most typical examples in fact is Kierkegaard’s criticism of the “abstract thinker” who, so it would appear, is guilty of “the contradiction of wishing to demonstrate his existence by means of his thought.” “To the extent that he thinks abstractly he makes an abstraction of the fact that he exists” is the conclusion reached by this philosopher.

Now in the first place, really to think, to think intelligently, and not merely to juxtapose figurative or question-begging propositions implies by definition “thinking abstractly,” since otherwise thought would be reduced to imagination; and in the second place, there is no fundamental opposition between the two poles of existing and “thinking,” since our existence is always a mode of consciousness for us and our thought is a manner of existing.

What's with the hatred of the intellect? Yes, it is obviously misused, but so is everything. Faith is certainly misused. Why not spend one's life ranting about that?

Kierkegaard is not completely wrong. It's just that he inappropriately generalizes from the widespread misuse of intelligence:

An element of truth is contained nonetheless in the existentialist criticisms, in the sense that discursive knowledge is separative by reason of the subject-object polarization; however, the conclusion to be drawn from this is not that such knowledge is devoid of value on its own plane or that it is limited as to its content, but that it does not embrace all possible knowledge, and that in purely intellective and direct knowledge the polarization in question is transcended.

In other words, there is analytical knowledge that separates (and is rooted in separation), and unitive knowledge that synthesizes (and is grounded in unity). It's almost like left-brain/right-brain, or particle/wave, or part/whole. The world is bi-logical. Complementarity, baby. Not Either/Or, but Both/And.

Does man have a right to know? Or is his intellect totally superfluous? If so, why do we have it? What is it for? Can our highest ability really be worth less than nothing?

Meh. I can see his point, but he takes everything too far. Intelligence doesn't save. But nor does it condemn. To put it conversely, can't the whole man be saved, intellect included? Or is everything rotten in Denmark?


ted said...

Interesting. I get the sense that while Kierkegaard downplays intellect, he is also not a mystic (in the traditional sense). He seems to intuit there is something beyond reason with faith, but doesn't this just create some deeper concept that still separates one with Being as much as thought does?

Gagdad Bob said...

He's a loud and persistent protester against Protestantism, at least as he experienced it in Denmark. For him, the O of God was being reduced to the (k) of pastors, professors, and theologians. That is indeed always a danger. It is what man does. But the solution isn't to chuck the mind.

ted said...

Right. It is to make (k) in service of O.

ted said...

A lot of the existentialists didn't take their experiment far enough and ended with a void, and never affirmed where the void arises from.

Gagdad Bob said...

Schuon: nothingness "can also be applied, quite paradoxically, to the transcendent or principial order: from the standpoint of the manifested world -- hence from the standpoint of existence in the restricted sense of the term -- all that transcends this world and consequently is free from existential limitations, is 'nothingness.' This is what allows negative expressions such as 'the Void' (Shunya), 'not this, not this' (neti neti), and other terms of the kind to be applied to pure Being, and a fortiori to Beyond-Being. All apophatic theology stems from this principle of terminology."

Seems to me that All-Possibility might be another name for Nothing, i.e., the great Nothing-Everything.

julie said...

He has a point there: one can rationalize forever without taking that final leap, which does indeed require commitment.

I'm reminded of a discussion during Easter week over at Vanderleun's, focused on the complexity of life and how it points to God. An interesting and well thought discussion on both sides, yet somehow it seemed to be completely missing the point. Maybe because it sought to prove God by mere logic, which works about as well as explaining love by its mechanics. Anyway, the atheists are sadly impervious.

Unknown said...
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Gagdad Bob said...

Just watched this video by Bishop Robert Barron that touches on intellect and biblical interpretation. In contrast, Kierkegaard would take the Ralph Reed approach -- only on steroids -- that Barron criticizes.

julie said...

Ha - he actually used the word "infrarational." I think you're the only other person I've ever seen use that.

Also, it's interesting to peruse the books on the shelf behind him. Moby Dick, the Lennon Letters, and the blue & gold spine to the left of his ear looks very familiar - HvB?

Abdulmonem Othman said...

This reminds me of the treason of the intellectuals by Julien Benda which dovetails serenely in the themes of both of our spiritual heroes. Once one leaves his habitual abode, he finds his soul resonates un-willfully to the vibrations of the words coming out of the spacious hearts of any honest mystics. The intellectuals betrayal starts once their readings and their outputs are done outside the divine circles. There is nothing wrong with the faculty of the intellect or any other faculties which god has endowed the human with to know his way to the truth ,to the understanding, the divine creativity behind everything particularly through the human pnenomenon whose consciousness is the guide to the source of consciousness. Once one fortify his connection to the source, the spaciousness of his perceptual faculties expand to see the truth far away from the blinders of the ego consciousness that often time gets imprisoned in the narrowness of its cultural upbringing. Thank you for the words that help to see the true road.

julie said...

Begging your indulgence,
I've got a new book out...

Perfect for kids, baptisms, first Communions, etc. We wanted to have it done before Easter, but really it's an any time sort of book.

Gagdad Bob said...

Congratulations! You have accumulated a reserve of indulgences, so fire away.

Anonymous said...

Steve, who works at the Institute, is a very cranky old guy, with a very long beard, who recently divulged the following:

On choosing between God and the world. That's not how it works.
You can state you are choosing between them, and believe you are, but actually everyone is irrevocably owned by God. The world is God too, so choosing that does not change anything.

Additionally, Kierkegaard was wrong about individual responsibility. There is no individual responsibility. Nobody is responsible for anything. God alone bears full responsibility for all, down to the smallest details.

However, there is such a thing as the quality of the performance. On can, in life, strive to do and be the best one can be, as this is pleasing to God.

So pleasing God is the prime motivator, and if you think you've chosen the world, go out and do the best you can to please the world. Make some money. Close some deals. Raise some kids.

You'll get full credit for every thing you do well and sincerely.

So said Steve. And, he does make a huge amount of money, both for himself and the shareholders of the Institute.

ted said...

Congrats Julie! Nice to see you get your voice out there, and especially for children!

julie said...

Thanks, Bob and Ted! I'm really happy with this one :)

Anonymous said...

Julie, you are to be commended for your service to God via your talents. The book looks excellent in every respect.

julie said...

Thank you!

julie said...

Shifting gears again, I'm watching this lecture by Prof. Jordan Peterson. He's discussing literature, but also psychology and human development. Theres an interesting observation about how Superman became boring because he was an all-powerful, omniscient, godlike character who always won. It took his weakness - in the form of kryptonite - to make him interesting. Like a dusty window view of the God we actually have, who made himself weak to the point of death in order to be one with us, and us with him.

Quite a few of Peterson's lectures are popping up online; he's one of the few tenured today who refuses to bow down to the cult of political correctness. I wonder if his students know how fortunate they are.

Gagdad Bob said...

He's a brave man, especially for Canada. I would hate the attention. My ideal would be to become known after I'm safely dead.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Oh, Kierkegaard. He successfully de-converted a friend of mine from college.

About the 'true and false Christians' thing, I am told that the Manicheans viewed orthodox Christians as 'half christian', that is, not fully Christian. To some, it seems to rankle them that God has any freedom to decide whom he approves of and whom he does not; but that paradoxically he assigned the primary role of this to a bunch of guys without much education. "How can those who merely assent to the dogma of the Church be Christian!??!?!"

Brother, get thee to a monastery...

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Also, have you read this guy's stuff and want to give some more in-depth commentary? It seems a bit fishy to me

He wrote a bit about consciousness here:

About the consciousness question - my opinion is that if in the end all 'selves' merge back in to the primordial Self, then the whole operation was a failure.

I guess this gets back to understanding(s) of the cosmos, the nature of time, etc. It's at part IV where he jumps off into bald assertions. Note that for example, 'simplicity' or "having no parts or boundaries" doesn't follow from being not physical... the soul was believed to be non-physical for a long time but that did not force people to conclude that there was one Soul in all bodies.

Man, we need an inquisition.

mushroom said...

Julie's new book is on my Amazon list. I'll be getting it with my next order.