Friday, August 31, 2018

Transformations of Religious Invariants, Part 1

It is not so much that men change their ideas, as that the ideas change their disguises. In the discourse of the centuries, the same voices are in dialogue. --Dávila

It seems to me that there are certain religious principles and archetypes that are not only timeless and universal, but that man cannot avoid using in order to think and make his way through the world. After all, man is man, and for 99.9% of his existence he has been Homo religiosus, not Homo pomo.

You might say that our being is saturated with these things, such that we can no more rid ourselves of them than a fish could live on dry land. They are essential, not accidental, meaning that they go to what we are. Remove them and we are not -- not human beings, anyway. Then what are we? What do we become? Good question. (Hint: it involves nothing.)

Raccoons are familiar with the distinction between essence and accident, so I'll be brief: the essence of, say, a ball, is to be spherical. You can paint it red, white, or blue, but those are accidents. So long is it remains round, then it is still a ball. Shape it into a square, however, and it has lost its essence and is now something else.

So, what is man, essentially? What are those attributes without which he isn't one? Of course, in the postmodern world this is a pointless question; or rather, there are no essences, precisely. Therefore, to ask about the essence of man is analogous to asking about the sound of geometry or shape of justice.

At any rate, we're particularly interested in certain unavoidable religious motifs that are as universal as principles of logic, such as identity and non-contradiction. Off the top of my head I'm thinking of such things as grace, fallenness, purity, sacrifice, center, origin, faith, sin, redemption, salvation, evil, and paradise. I'm sure there are others.

No matter how "materialistic" we pretend to be, our minds are nevertheless woven of transcendence and immanence: everything is a tapestry of matter and spirit. The Aphorist, as usual, puts it best: The natural and the supernatural are not overlapping planes, but intertwined threads.

Let's take, for example, Marx. I'm hardly the first to point out that his whole program is just Christianity turned upside-down and inside-out. Muravchik writes of how Marxism's "claim of inevitability was not an intellectual weapon but a religious one" that may be traced to "Engels' boyhood faith of Pietism, which embodied a doctrine of predestination."

Nor was this the only way that socialism echoed revelation. It linked mankind's salvation to a downtrodden class, combining the Old Testament's notion of a chosen people with the New Testament's prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. Like the Bible, its historical narrative was a tale of redemption that divided time into three epochs: a distant past of primitive contentment, a present of suffering and struggle, and a future of harmony and bliss.

Let's be honest: there is no intellectual content to communism or socialism. So, what's the attraction? In a way, you have only to listen to most anything that comes out of the mouth of, say, St. Alexandria of the Occluded Cortex. If it were as easy and as wonderful as she describes, who wouldn't be attracted?

Not many people became socialists because they were persuaded by the correctness of Marxist economics or supposed the movement served their "class interests." They became socialists because they were moved to fervor by the call to brotherhood and sisterhood; because the world seemed aglow with the vision of a time in which humanity might live in justice and peace (ibid.).

So, that's the appeal, and it's not insignificant. This is a problem with politics in general, especially in a democracy; or, in a poorly catechized democracy in which citizens... Put it this way: at least half of Americans are poorly catechized in both religion and in our constitutional republic, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to conflating politics and religion.

After all, what was Obama? You couldn't have invented a more perfect example of what I'm talking about. He is intellectually negligible, but this has nothing to do with the power he wielded over his voter-ies.

The other day I made the mistake of dismissing Obama's intelligence in the course of a conversation with a liberal friend, and he immediately accused me of racism! I don't know why I added the "!", because that makes it sound unusual or unpredictable, when it is an expectable reaction to heresy, blasphemy, and sacrilege. Again, the reaction has nothing to do with insulting Obama's intelligence, but with desecrating a religious icon.

So, most of what we regard as "political" revolves around transformations of religious ideas. I'm reminded of a book by Bion called Transformations. It must have popped into my head for a reason, so let's drag it down and find out if it has anything to add to our discussion.

Ah! Good news from one of the amazon reviewers: "I have assiduously worked through a large part of Bion's work. There is genius behind apparent madness in his thinking." I can only hope to earn such an extravagant encomium for my toils on this blog!

I probably haven't cracked this book in 30 years. I'm blowing the dust off the top, just like in the movies. There are some urgent notes to myself that I don't quite understand, but I do recall this passage:

Suppose a painter sees a path through a field sown with poppies and paints it: at one end of the chain of events is the field of poppies, at the other a canvas with pigment disposed on its surface. We can recognize that the latter represents the former, so I shall suppose that despite the differences between a field of poppies and a piece of canvas, despite the transformation that the artist has effected in what he saw to make it take the form of a picture, something has remained unaltered and on this something recognition depends. The elements that go to make up the unaltered aspect of the transformation I shall call invariants.

Small idea, big implications. Think of the example of Marx above. In his "painting" of socialism, it is easy to see the transformations of Judeo-Christian invariants. And more to the point of this post -- which is rapidly running out of time -- there are certain religious invariants that man simply cannot avoid, such that we see their transformations everywhere.

We'll conclude with this observation by Muravchik: "Thus, part of the power of Marxism was its ability to feed religious hunger while flattering the sense of being wiser than those who gave themselves over to unearthly faiths."

Come for the covert religiosity, stay for the superiority!


ted said...

Bob: Just started digging into Cor Jesu Sacratissimum. I think it's going to be a seminal book for my library. He's writing the book I wish I could write, although he is a tad more traditional than my orientation.

One point he makes related to your post is that in the Anglosphere, Protestant Christianity has become too materialistic and influential. And without faith in the Sacred Mystery of the transcendent, people will always try to immanentize the eschaton. Also, this demystification, dryness, and moralism in the Protestant sect caused many to seek forms of the transcendence in the New Age.

Gagdad Bob said...

In reading the sample, I was a little spooked by his tone. Keep us posted as you plunge further into it.

Gagdad Bob said...

I agree though on the link between Protestantism and materialism, a big reason being that Protestantism abandoned intellect for fideism.

julie said...

Agreed; hence the prevalence of well-meaning but nevertheless nutty flat-earthers, who practice a form of bibliolatry while refusing to reconcile the world as we can know it with the Word who spoke it in parables.

Anonymous said...

From the Hindu viewpoint, Catholicism looks sensible for Christians. It has been very stable for a long time and seems to work well for practical day to day living. Why Protestantism even needs to be a thing is a mystery. What does it do for anyone, which Catholicism cannot do better? There is a question to puzzle on. Would Jesus ask Protestants today, do you not recall what I asked you to do in remembrance of me?

Leslie Godwin said...

Protestantism is the ultimate in Cafeteria Catholicism. If there's something you don't like in the 12 point Creed, just start your own church. Although you have to go without most of the Sacraments, all of the Saints, and purgatory. I would say that they don't have to do anything to get into Heaven once they reply to the altar call, but the Protestants I know seem to spend a lot of time and effort on charity and living according to Biblical commandments, so it doesn't seem fair to add that.

julie said...

Leslie, agreed. To be fair, I do think Protestants get a lot of things right which Catholics tend to miss - Bible study being a big one (it's sad but not shocking how ignorant many Catholics are about their own faith; a topic which came up frequently during the study at my parish in Florida). Playing down the sacraments is a massive blind spot for them, though.

As other Catholics elsewhere have noted lately, "Lord, where else can I go?"
The shepherds are revolting, but even so the sheep follow their master's voice.

julie said...

Having said that this morning, this afternoon we saw an article implicating our former pastor in some of the debauchery that was happening in Miami, back when he was a seminarian. If we were still there, it would definitely change the way we responded to Mass, etc. It’s one thing - and quite bad enough - to hear about these things in places you’ve never heard of and nvolving people you’ve never met. It’s a whole other level of awful when it may be the priest who gave your family the sacraments.

Even so, where else, o Lord, can we go?

Leslie Godwin said...

Good point. We can learn a lot from them and many are truly good and kind people. Yes, where else can we go? Still true.

Leslie Godwin said...

That is unbelievable, Julie! I am so sorry. I pray the Church gets to the bottom of the whole scandal, as well as law enforcement.

julie said...

In this case, at least, I don't think it had anything to do with kids or teenagers, thank God - just a lot of perverse stuff among seminarians. He came across as extremely introverted and determined to make sure nothing untoward happened at our parish. We always saw him as (of course) simply human, and a good-enough shepherd. Honestly don't know what to think about what I read; it's possible he's innocent of anything, but was simply the object of someone else's attraction, who knows? Hard to reconcile gay orgies with someone you respect that way, but sadly it's all too common.

We expect something different from priests than we do from anyone else; it's that much harder to reconcile when they turn out to be just as fallen as the rest of us, but of course it must be so.

ted said...

It appears Ratzigner's prognosis that "The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning" is coming to fruition. It's unfortunate in so many ways, but I also don't see any other way.

Gagdad Bob said...

The media persistently call it a "pedophile crisis" when it is in fact a homosexual crisis, being that the great majority of victims are teenage boys. And as Pope Francis said, "who am I to judge?"

Van Harvey said...

Raccoon dream update: Well I had a One Cosmos dream last night, a very vivid one. We all, Julie was there, Walt, several others, and we were meeting together for several days at a hotel somewhere in Colorado, listening to two bearded railroad travelling mystics/DOS experts that punctuated their Zen-ish talks with immersive computer programs that would run and envelope us all in a virtual reality environment game we had to escape from… like deep puzzle mazes.
As the seminar was ending, I turned to Gagdad and said “Well I'm not sold on what they had to say but I'm glad I came, and that you're actually an Okay kinda guy.”,
“Thanks, you all too”,
“ But", I said, “no beard. We were promised bearded mystics.”,
“True enough",
“A plan begins to form",
Gagdad grinned “I see", and we all were deciding to keep one room together for an additional night to Beer-o-clock it through a marathon comment section, fake beards and all.
As we were discussing that, one of the hobo mystics began having a medical problem…and… my alarm went off.

This was an unusually vivid dream, the kind that usually happens in lucid dreaming. Make of that what you will. :-)

julie said...

Ha - well, I was at a hotel somewhere in Colorado about a month ago.

Sadly, there were no raccoons there that I spotted. Nor bearded mystics. Did get an AC "repair" job on the car that failed to keep us cool as we drove through the desert, though. Fortunately, they successfully fixed our brakes before we crossed the Rockies...

ted said...

Van: that dream was brought to you by 13 years of deep undeepakin!

Van Harvey said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you Van, for your visionary dream.
Based on this dream, the next annual gathering of the Raccoons will be booked for Labor Day weekend 2019, "somewhere in Colorado."
The 2017 gathering in Henderson, Nevada, was marred by debauchery, dissension and scandal. Therefore, no gathering was held this year.
However, Van's dream clearly indicates the Great Spirit wants the annual gathering to be revived.
We will update when the venue is secured. There will be bearded mystics, so plan to attend.

Anonymous said...

I am fallen. I tell you, when I look down and see my manly inheritance, flaunting the power he and his two spherical co-conspirators wield, I despair. There are Commandments of the Bible, and then there are the Commandments of the Crotch.

I tell ye this, unless you live day in and out attached to male procreative organs as I am, throw not stones....the carnal Commandments are overweening, they are strong, and they are persistent. Resisted them I did, for so long. But can only be strong if one doesn't lose hope, and something snaps, some great sadness comes into your life, and your executive powers wane. Then comes a wicked opportunity. Oh, for just a moment, some kind of energy and purpose again pervades the being, and in a rush the deed is done. Would that it not have been.

Gagdad Bob said...

It's strange to turn up in someone else's dream. I wonder if it was "me"? Or part me, part Van.

One thing that always strikes me about people in my dreams, is that they don't seem to be my creations. Rather, they have personalities, motivations, and dialogue all their own.

If I tried to write a novel, I would find it very difficult to create real characters that aren't just projections of myself. But the people in my dreams seem to be genuinely "other."

Anonymous said...

People meet in dreams (there is a certain plane where this occurs). Important communications are conducted in these dreams. These are not common. So, as you suspect, people you meet in these dreams are genuinely other.

The common run of dreams are one's own creations, but mark well the vivid and memorable shared dreams; something significant will always occur in these.

So, did Van meet Bob in the dream space? Chances are, he did.

This is only one of the less well-verified functions of the human mind; be assured that all manner of marvelous things can be done, including accessing the record of all that has ever happened in the past, and some limited vision into the future.

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "... I wonder if it was "me"? Or part me, part Van."

I remember once when I'd become lucid in a dream, I was walking through a grand marbled hall, and I stopped and clapped my hands against a giant stone column, then slid down to the floor with my back against it, and rapped my knuckles against the marble floor, and laughed myself awake. It WAS stone and marble, and I was on it... but in me... or...? Add people to the mix, and the fully mirrored rabbit hole just keeps on going.... :-)