Friday, May 25, 2018

Something Stupid This Way Comes

In the previous post we explained why it is that evil is simultaneously necessary and forbidden, rooted in the ontological distance between the Principle and the Manifestation, or Creator and Creation. For the very same reason, we would say that stupidities must proliferate. Like disease, we can never eradicate these mind parasites, only try to identify and control some of their main types and vectors.

On the one hand we have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which seems to work pretty well. You will note the modesty of the name: control and prevention as opposed to elimination or eradication.

Conversely, thanks to Jimmy Carter we have the federal Department of Education, when it would be preferable to imitate the CDC model and simply try our best to prevent the most common stupidities on a pandemic scale. Instead, the DoED -- like all leftist projects -- ends up spreading the pathologies it presumes to cure. Democrats have for decades been living off the messes they make, whether the question is race, poverty, crime, energy, education, gender, whatever.

Why must wackiness this way come? Because, as Schuon explains, "there is inevitably a separation between the thing to be expressed and its expression, that is to say, between reality and a doctrine."

Nor does it matter one whit whether we are speaking of a scientific doctrine or a religious one: in the final analysis -- assuming one wishes to be intellectually honest -- both necessarily fall short of the mark, since "no doctrine can be identified with what it intends to express" (emphasis mine). No matter how accurate the map, the map can never be the territory. If it is the territory, then it is no longer a map.

Most religious folk intuitively understand this. It's those naive devotees of scientism we have to keep an eye on. Hayek in his way and Gödel in his are two of the main inoculations against scientistic presumption and stupidity. For example, thanks to Hayek, we know that rational planning is impossible under socialism, for the information is infinite while the minds of the planners are finite.

In short, finite minds do not possess infinite knowledge. Ah, but they can always force the issue, which is why on the left power is substituted for knowledge:

Hayek argued that all forms of collectivism could only be maintained by a central authority of some kind..., and that such planning in turn leads towards totalitarianism.... a central planning authority would have to be endowed with powers that would impact and ultimately control social life, because the knowledge required for centrally planning an economy is inherently decentralised, and would need to be brought under control.

It's the same with science more generally: scientism reduces a complex reality to a linear equation, for example, vis-a-vis climate change models that pretend CO2 can be turned like a knob on a thermostat to control temperature. But we know full well that CO2 levels have been much higher in the past, with no corresponding increase in temperature.

This post is veering and even careening into the Great Unintended. Focus!

So, how do we preserve truth while minimizing stupidity? Back to what Schuon was saying: "If the expression of a thing could be adequate or exhaustive in an absolute sense or from every point of view," then "there would no longer be any difference between the image and its prototype," with the result being that "it would be pointless to speak of thought or even simply of language."

It sounds obvious, and yet, this is another one of those Keys to Everything. Moreover, every inadequate doctrine gets this wrong, which in turn causes our necessary and inevitable stupidity to become "crystalized," so to speak; instead of a way to truth, it becomes an infirmity, a stumbling block.

Hovering over the whole thing is the principle of creation. Tweaking what Schuon says above, if our expression could be adequate or exhaustive in an absolute sense or from every point of view, then we would be the Creator, not the creature. Rather, there is an absolutely necessary gap between Creator and creature, and it is precisely this gap that simultaneously facilitates both our quasi-divine knowledge and our ineradicable ignorance.

Thus, our knowledge always faces in two directions. Scientism, of course, faces only down, and thereby negates itself. Likewise, there are stupid form of religiosity that face only up, thereby negating the world, or at least rendering it completely unintelligible.

No one has expressed this orthoparadox more clearly than Josef Pieper. In a passage called Things Are Unfathomable Because They Are Created, he writes that

it becomes evident that being true and being unfathomable go together, and that the comprehensibility of a thing can never be fully exhausted by any finite mind -- for all things are created, which means that the reason they are knowable is also the reason they are unfathomable....

For this reason our questing mind in its search for the essence of things, even of the humblest and simplest things, finds itself perforce on a path without an attainable destination. This is so because all things are created; it is so because the inner lucidity of all things flows from their original in the infinitely radiant fullness of the Divine Mind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

God Within Us, In Us, & Beyond Us

Continuing with the metaphysical basis of our "fallen" condition, Schuon describes in The Question of Theodicies how ambiguities and even absurdities arise because of -- and these are my words -- a failure to make distinctions within God.

In other words, all believers distinguish between Creator and creation, world and God, and indeed, this is often as far as Average Theology or Mainstream Doctrine goes. Most people don't want to be bothered with the details, but just get to the bottom line: that God Is and that he is both merciful and just. Being that he is merciful and just, we have faith that things will work out in the long run, if not in this world then in the next. We'll leave the details to him, but surely he cannot be less just than his creatures.

But again, in willing creation -- and in particular, free beings -- evil is baked into the cake, even if not willed by God. In fact, a specific purpose of revelation is to address this ineveateapple ontological rebound of evil. If evil is a side effect of creation, then revelation is like a remedy provided by God. Let me think of a good analogy...

Let's say I invent the automobile. The laws that allow it to work are entirely neutral, rooted in physics and chemistry. Nevertheless, what evils may come of this contraption! Injury, death, maiming, etc. Knowing this, I include as many safety features as possible -- seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes, etc. Nevertheless, you cannot simultaneously have automobiles and total safety.

Not for nothing has the Ten Commandments been called an "owner's manual" or field guide for the human race.

Back to the distinctions within God. First of all, is there any Biblical basis for these? We'll get back to that in a moment, but certainly there is a traditional basis, and tradition is prior to scripture. There is nothing about the Trinity per se in scripture, but it is nevertheless implicitly present from the start, and what is the Trinity but a way to talk about divine distinctions?

"The core of the problem here," writes Schuon, "is to be found in the confusion between Being and Beyond-Being," which essentially flattens the Divine Nature, thereby losing one or the other pole. In general, it seems that Westerners tend to anthropomorphize Beyond-Being, while Eastern approaches such as Buddhism tend toward the opposite, of annihilating God's being into the Beyond-Being of Samadhi or Nirvana.

But as far as I am concerned, we can't have one without the other(s), for both are necessary and exist in permanent dialectal tension. Moreover, I think this is something to which the Trinity alludes.

How's that, Bob? Let me see if I can enlist some patristic back-up. The easiest would be Eckhart, but he's not early enough. One of our foundational books is The Roots of Christian Mysticism. In it Clément writes of how "In God himself the One does not exclude the Other" but "includes it." This itself points to the existence of a Great Mystery within God, for the Other is necessarily a mystery, is she not? But this -- of course -- is a mystery-in-love, and thereby perpetually fruitful, you might say.

If the Father is the "principle of the Godhead," then the Son is the "manifestation." This manifestation is not only within God, but is the prototype of manifestation as such. In other words, creation down here mirrors the creation up there: as above, so below.

Therefore -- for example -- Gregory Nazianzen writes that "He is called Logos because he is, in relation to the Father, what the word is to the mind... The Son makes known the nature of the Father..." The manifestation manifests the unmanifest; or maya Brahman, the form the substance. Neither is prior, but rather, they coarise.

"In this wonderful unity of of the godhead the One is never without the Other. For God is the infinite Unity of Persons, each of whom is a unique way of giving and receiving the divine essence" (Diadochus of Photike).

"Thus the Trinity constitutes the inexhaustible fruitfulness of the Unity. From the Trinity comes all unification and all differentiation" (Clément). This is what I would call a Divine Key or Master Idea, because it means that what we call analysis and synthesis, or catabolism and anabolism, have their analogues within God.

Science goes to analysis, but there is no analysis without a synthesis that must come from outside or beyond science. Which is why ultimately science points both back and toward God, who is its Alpha and Omega. Either you see this or you don't, but it is nevertheless obvious. If you don't see it, it's because you just don't want to.

An Aphorism is worth a thousand posts: Any shared experience ends in a simulacrum of religion (Dávila).

It's difficult enough to define experience, and yet, we're never not having one. And how on earth is it possible to share experience? And yet, this is what human personhood is; the mysterious intersubjective space of Love, which first abides within Godidude.

"The Father is God beyond all, the origin of all that is. The incarnate Son is God with us, and he who becomes incarnate is none other than the Logos who gives form to the world by his creative words. The Spirit is God in us, the Breath, the Pneuma, who gives life to all and brings every object to its proper perfection" (Clément).

I could go on, and I have gone on in past posts, but you get the point. With this point in mind, it is perhaps not so shocking to read in Schuon that "we thus find ourselves in the presence of two Divine Subjectivities." While "intrinsically identical, they apply extrinsically to two different planes," which clears up an awful lot of theidiocy about theodicy.

In his book on Manliness, Harvey Mansfield notes with irony that manliness may be "the only remedy for the trouble it causes." Analogously, we might say that religion is the remedy for the trouble caused by God, AKA the creation of this world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Exact Sciences vs. a Science of the Inexact

Men are divided into two camps: those who believe in original sin and those who are idiots. --Dávila

Chesterton remarked that "The one doctrine of Christianity which is empirically verifiable is the fallenness of man." And yet, the doctrine is still a little vague, being that it is clothed in mythological terms. Which is fine. So long as you get the message and refrain from deifying man or trying to create heaven on earth.

However, a fair number of modern sophisticates, tenured barbarians, and credentialed riffraff reject the message because of the mythology. No doubt this is part of the appeal of Jordan Peterson, who reframes the myths in contemporary terms. At the same time, it is why he is so hated and feared by the left, which only attacks what threatens it:

Few public figures inspire more vitriol and mockery on Twitter than, you guessed it, Jordan Peterson. And never before have I seen vitriol so out of proportion to the “threat” of the man’s underlying message....

After all, if you’re a theologically conservative Christian or Jew -- a person who is Biblically literate and strives to live according to Biblical morality -- the flaw of the Peterson message is that it feels a bit basic. As I wrote in my review, “readers who are already grounded in a Biblical worldview will find some of the counsel extraordinarily elementary."

.... Peterson stands out because he is.... disrupting an emerging secular cultural monopoly with arguments about history, tradition, and the deep truths about human nature that the cultural radicals had long thought they’d banished to the fringe....

When Peterson walks into a secular university or a secular television studio and addresses a secular audience by referencing ancient theological arguments, the effect is not unlike inviting a genderqueer women’s-studies professor to a Baptist Sunday-school class. Some things (in some places) are just not said (French).

French quotes Peterson to the effect that "We cannot invent our own values, because we cannot merely impose what we believe on our souls,” and concludes that "ancient truth can indeed provide the seed for new beginnings."

This post is not about Peterson, but about the universal metaphysic disclosed by Christian doctrine. But while looking up the exact quote by Chesterton, I also bumped into this gem: "There is a religious war when two worlds meet; that is, when two visions of the world meet; or in more modern language when two moral atmospheres meet."

So our civil war is ultimately -- as is always the case -- a religious war, and both sides know it. The irony, of course, is that the left believes the religiosity is confined to one side: that it is a war of "secularism" or "reason" (or whatever they wish to call it) against religion. But it is nothing of the sort. Again, one reason Peterson so annoys them is that he exposes the truth about the left's religiosity. And if you think Christianity is rooted in some dodgy myths, just apply that same standard to the left!

The whole point of genuine religious doctrine is that the myth is verifiable, or discloses a higher or deeper principle. Conversely, in the case of the left, the myth is the myth, with nothing to back it up except force or power: for example, men and women are basically the same, or else! Or, people are basically good; or free speech is a tool of white privilege. Poke around for the ground or source of these myths, and that's when the fur flies.

Christians should never be like that. Rather, to paraphrase Paul, always be ready to rationally defend the reasons for your hope and faith. Don't be like the Times and merely smear your opponent. That is surely not a sign of confidence in the truth of one's doctrine, but of great cognitive insecurity.

We'll say it again, for it is one of the rock bottom principles of One Cosmos: all truth is of the Holy Spirit -- indeed, even those truths held by the atheist. For it is not so much that the atheist is devoid of truth. Godlessness forbid! Rather, that he elevates a fragment to the whole, while either denying or blending vertical levels. His mistakes are in his method, mode, and perspective, not necessarily in what he says per se.

For example, there is no God in science. But that hardly means there is no God, for that is merely to dress a methodological assumption as an ontological conclusion -- an elementary but nevertheless persistent error, especially among those who do not think, or who allow science to do their thinking for them. In the words of the Aphorist -- which are always the last word --

--Nothing is more alarming than science in the ignorant.

--To believe that science is enough is the most naïve of superstitions.

--Natural laws are irreducible to explanation, like any mystery.

--The natural sciences can be adequately cultivated by slaves; the cultivation of the social sciences requires free men.

--Being only falsifiable, a scientific thesis is never certain but is merely current.

--Science, when it finishes explaining everything, but being unable to explain the consciousness that creates it, will not have explained anything.

--The Christian who is disturbed by the “results” of science does not know what Christianity is or what science is.

--Properly speaking, the social sciences are not inexact sciences, but sciences of the inexact.

Oh yes. I'm yoinking that one for the title.

Back to the universal metaphysic. Over the weekend I re-re-reread an essay by Schuon called The Question of Theodicies which, for my money, has the most lucid and far-reaching account of what the doctrine of man's evident fallenness must actually mean.

In fact, the essay is from the book Form and Substance in the Religions, and the title says it all: for example, the mythological account contained in Genesis 3 is a form, but the purpose of the form is to transmit the substance, especially to the "average man."

Which it surely did for some seventeen centuries or so, until the so-called "enlightenment," which lights certain areas while endarkening others, for metaphysically there is no free launch. Again, elevating a fragment to the whole is the road to hell. At best it is a game of whack-a-mole, in which no object can whack down that last fragment of subjectivity.

For those living in Rio Lindo or Manhattan, theodicy involves the attempt to reconcile God and evil -- or how and why a God who is a priori good can allow all this obvious evil to exist. Let's be honest: there is no question that something has got to give. Evil is evil, and God is God. But how?

I think it is accurate to say that Genesis 3 is mythological stab at answering this question. But what is the metaphysical substance beneath the mythopoetic form? I'm running out of time, so I'll just cut to Schuon's explanation and then comment upon it:

Infinitude, which is an aspect of the Divine Nature, implies unlimited Possibility and consequently Relativity, Manifestation, the world. To speak of the world is to speak of separation from the Principle, and to speak of separation is to speak of the possibility -- and necessity -- of evil; seen from this angle, what we term evil is thus indirectly a result of Infinitude, hence of the Divine Nature....
The bottom line is that evil must exist because the world is neither God nor paradise. But just because it must exist, that (orthoparadoxically) doesn't mean that God wills it per se. Analogously, I willed (so to speak) my son into existence, but I don't will him to be naughty. Or, America's founders willed the American government into existence, but that doesn't mean they willed the likes of Obama, Holder, and Brennan to be exponentially naughtier.

By the way, scripture definitely supports what Schuon says above. I'm thinking of two particular statements by Jesus (both paraphrased), 1) that evils must come, but woe to the fellow who commits them; and 2) why do you call me good, when no one is good but God alone?

We'll wrap things up with an aphorism or two:

--Evil only has the reality of the good that it annuls.

--Hell is any place from which God is absent.