Friday, May 22, 2020

Breaking the Fifth Wall & Living on the Right Side of History

Viewed from the inside, or from below, it seems that history is a jungle. Or a maze. Or a blind alley. How then can anyone presume to speak of the "right side of history"? If such a side exists, it could only be seen from outside, or from above or beyond history -- by a god, or an Obama.

Alternatively, the beyond-history would have to enter history and disclose its own meaning, direction, and telos. Supposing this occurred, we might even be able to demark history with, say, "BCE" (Before the Centration Event) and "AD" (Annus Diametros).

Hold that silly thought for a moment. In Hope and History, Pieper discusses how "theology expands the scope of empirically accessible history into a realm of trans-empirical reality" and "testifies to the conviction that the history we can experience derives its meaning... from being anchored in a more comprehensive, universal structure..."

Time could never be "complete" from within itself. In terms of pure temporality, one moment is no different from any other, and they just keep coming. The second hand on your clock knows nothing of qualities, just identical units of space.

Like history, time could only be complete in reference to something beyond time, and this something would have to be qualitative (I would say personal, but we'll leave that for another post). And again, it could also be complete if the transtemporal Beyond were to somehow pay us a timely visit.

This reminds me of the theatrical convention of breaking the fourth wall, when the actor steps out of the play or film and directly addresses the audience in a "metatheatrical" manner.

Analogously, what if the playwright could break the fifth wall (or ceiling rather, i.e., time) and enter his own play? Is there a name for such a meta-metatheatrical occurrence? Besides incarnation?

Note that we're not talking about the play simply submitting to the playwright, because this happens anyway; rather, in this case, the playwright submits to his own play -- i.e., the creator becomes subject to his own creation, even while remaining wholly playwright.

In our cosmos, I suppose a prophet is someone who breaks the fourth wall in a big way, whereas the Incarnation breaks the fifth wall in a final way, such that it stays broken once and For All.

Now, if the fourth and fifth walls cannot in principle be broken, then this has certain dire implications, for I don't see how such elementary human realities as freedom, science, or creativity would be possible. Put another way, if human beings can grasp even the most trivial truth, we have broken the fourth wall of the cosmos. We are prophets with a message to deliver.

In the past I have said something to the effect that either natural selection explains man, or man explains natural selection; and if the latter, then natural selection doesn't explain man. Why? Because, in effect, man has broken the fourth wall of natural selection. If natural selection is true, then one of its players can't leap off the stage and begin telling the monkeys where they came from!

Pieper writes that "human existence takes place wholly and utterly within the force field of an infinite, trans-historical, and 'creative' reality," such that "what can be experienced of the here-and-now could never be identical with the totality of existence." Rather, again, "the end, and also even the beginning, of human history as a whole and of individual biography, must necessarily remain beyond our empirical grasp."

Nevertheless, we do -- all of us -- receive bulletins from the eschaton, or we couldn't be human. In other words, a human is human because he lives downstream from his own telos, and the discovery of this vertical stream is the event of human awakening. I know, I know, all of this no doubt sounds a bit woo woo, but I mean it literally: man is a longing for what surpasses man, and that's just the way it is:

Man is not a mundane object to be examined and grasped within the confines of a concept; rather, he is a process in which a center of mystery attempts to illuminate itself reflexively....

[M]an as such is constituted by a relation to infinity, a transcendental dimension within his very existence and without which he could not properly deserve the name of "man."

He is man, in other words, by virtue of the presence within his experiential field of the divine pole that draws him, and by drawing him -- insofar as it does so effectively -- constitutes him as the being that tends toward the divine -- toward the light of truth, toward beauty, toward love, toward all possible perfection of being (Webb).

Anyone living on that side is on is the right side of history. And on our side.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Alternatively, I Have a Point & I'll Never Get To It

Either way, the point is the unending tension between two knowable unknowns: immanence and transcendence. No one in principle can ever "know himself," any more than the eye could ever see itself. Nor can God ever be known. Rather, both the immanent self and transcendent God are known in the knowing.

Which also means that certain "arrows" or vectors are built into the nature of things, which I believe goes to the mystery of time.

For what is time but a direction? Yes, it is also a flow, but it never flows backward. Just as spatial immanence points to transcendence, the temporal present points to a future that is also a knowable unknown. Freedom, in the fullest sense, is a combination of the two movements. Put conversely, neither temporal (horizontal) history nor present (vertical) illumination are inevitable or complete.

In both cases -- space and time -- we should focus on the knowable links, or fruitful relations, between the two unknowables: what Voegelin calls the metaxy is to space as the present is to time. History is unknowable in part because there exists freedom in the luminous space between man and the transcendent ground. We might say that mere duration intertwines with human choice, resulting in history (since bare time isn't history at all, just change).

Compare this to, say, dialectical materialism, in which what happens must happen. Although this sophistry is a form of "historicism," it fundamentally removes history from time, and should be called "dehistoricism."

This has practical considerations, because it explains why leftism is always and everywhere so ahistorical. It's not that they're ahistorical because they're leftists; rather, they're leftists because they're ahistorical. Not only do they immanentize the eschaton, they horizontalize the vertical and then wonder where all the fun went.

Moreover, cosmically speaking this is the literal opposite of "progress," because it reverts to a con-fusion of realities that history has differentiated (de-fused). You'll even hear certain tenured yahoos say they prefer paganism to Christianity, and then wonder why it results in tribalism, oppression, sacrifice, uniformity, loss of individuality, in short, a barbarous world of identity politics unfit for human habitation, like an armed college campus:

The tensional movement in consciousness develops as a striving for attunement: we seek attunement with truth as far as we can. If we do not attain it with some degree of satisfaction, then there is discord and misery in our own being. We become what is variously represented as evil, unjust, and unhappy men. The higher capacities do not master the lower. Such men may be a walking civil war... (Webb).

And talking civil war, or maybe you don't pay attention to the MSM. In any event, "Man's existence is not primarily an external or phenomenal reality but rather the In-Between existence of participation" (ibid.).

This In-Between existence is our permanent condition: "Somehow we participate and must participate in both the temporal and the spiritual, if we are to live lives esteemed to be fit for human beings" (ibid.).

The choice is ours, even though there's really no choice, any more than we can choose to ignore gravity. We can, but not really, for the person who denies reality is nevertheless subject to it -- as is true of the atheist vis-a-vis God, a subject to which we will eventually circle back.

Now that we've cleared that up, let's try to actually clear it up. I'll start with Pieper, because he's the clearest and most concise of the various authors I'm attempting to juggle here.

Recall the title of the book: Hope and History. History isn't only "in" time, but it is the form of human temporality; there is no such thing as a human without history, as the two come into existence simultaneously. But hope can only occur in the present. While it reaches forward, it is first a "reaching upward" toward the transcendent. Again, it is fundamentally a link between two great knowable unknowns.

This is about as clear as it can be said:

The one who hopes, and he alone, anticipates nothing; he holds himself open for an as yet unrealized future fulfillment while at the same time remaining aware that he knows as little about its scope as about its time of arrival.

Again, hope flourishes in a space of vertical openness (o) toward the transcendent (O). You've no doubt noesissed that history conceals its own meaning from us, and can never never be comprehended from within. Which calls to mind a cryptic aphorism by Señor D:

If history made sense, the Incarnation would be superfluous.

I hate to end this discussion right in the middle, but then, where else could it possibly end? But there are errands to run and nuisances to check off the list, so we'll try to clear things up in the next post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

I Don't Have a Point, and I'm Getting To It

I suppose the bottom line -- presented to you at the top -- is that faith, hope, and love aren't so much verbs as they are interdimensional links between immanent and transcendent objects (or subjects). Each of these functions to lift us out of our paltry and pneumatically sophicating existence into a dynamic and fruitful relationship with the source and ground of being.

I might add that these aren't in the realm of the "ought"; or, to the extent that we ought to cultivate them, it is because they always are. We could never invent them if they didn't already exist, but -- like truth or beauty -- we can certainly deny them. Pieper:

fundamental hope (singular) is not directed toward anything that one could "have" but rather has something to do with what one "is," with one's own being as man...

Homo viator: man is always on the way to himself. And Genesis 3 is a mythological account of how we are inevitably in the way of ourselves.

This is absolutely consistent with Voegelin. In fact, he says it in so many ways and in so many contexts, that it seems to have been his One Big Idea.

But by the very nature of this idea, it can never be simply presented in a cutandry manner, because it is necessarily participatory, such that one must explicate by demonstrating; or, as in, say, music, the demonstration is the explication: hearing is believing.

Now hear this: the links -- call them (F), (H), and (L) -- alluded to above disclose a real (as in reality) tension

which one may resist but which one does not dream up. It manifests not as a proposition to be proved but as an appeal to be responded to and a force to be trusted.

As an experience it has an immediacy that makes it palpable, even if this is an immediacy that can never be arrived at once and for all but will have to be endlessly pursued through a lifelong process... (Webb; I've also taken the liberty of making the past tense present for the sake of clarity).

We'll no doubt amplify it later, but I'm sure that the most abstract way to describe this endless process is O → (¶). Again, this isn't how the world "ought" to be structured, it is how it is structured. And the most vital component to re-member and re-cognize is the →.

Or better -- and you will understand this too as we proceed -- we have to see it as a spiraling process with two distinct movements that are ultimately resolved into one. Not only will this become clear to you, but you'll understand its necessity by the time we're done with all this endless nonsense.

Consider: "The reality that [discloses] itself [is] not an object to be looked at but a life to be entered." It is not primarily intellectual but existential -- or, intellectual because existential: the philosopher must "live in the truth and participate in the reality of which he [is] in search" (ibid.).

Not to re-belabor the point, but this isn't just "advice." Rather it simply is. Nor is it "paradoxical" except when viewed through the lens of a prior unexamined belief about reality. It is not difficult to believe. From my perspective, your belief -- scientism, atheism, leftism, et al -- is literally impossible to believe. These -- or any -- ideologies aren't just wrong but literally delusional. Literally.

Nevertheless, we are free to deny the O → (¶) process. We are "presented not with a simple fact but with an invitation, a call to decision."

I don't want to jump too far ahead, but this is undoubtedly the same decision one must make with regard to Christ. Or, for that matter, the same decision faced by Abraham, Moses, Mary (believe all women!), Paul, and other luminous sparchetypes who just said Yes.

In Voegelin's case, "If he did decide to trust it, he could live in its truth, but he would know it only in the dark glass of trust, hope, and love" (ibid.).

Which is why, I think, he can never get to the point, but never stops getting to it. Could it be that I too am in the same attractor, in that my point is the endless getting to it?

It's all about the Exodus, isn't it? Or rather, the Exodus from is always an Introdeus to. It is "the conscious realization and willing acceptance of the tension of existence with its transcendental dimension" (ibid.).

Okay then. I think I'll stop for now and pick up the endless thread in the next post.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hope and Reason

Reading Voegelin can be exhausting. Is there a shortcut to a quick fix to a lazy man's workaround to the bottom line? Life is short and his books are looooong -- over 2,000 pages just for his magnum opus, Order and History.

In contrast to the title of the book we're discussing -- The Voegelinian Revolutions -- Voegelin himself averred that

The test of truth, to put it pointedly, will be the lack of originality in the propositions.

In fact, he was no revolutionary, but rather, a counter-revolutionary who wanted to restore King Reason to his throne over the Dominion of Commonsense. For him, modern philosophy had been derailed in the modern era, and he simply wanted to get it back on track, for when it is off the tracks it is no longer even philosophy (since it is no longer oriented to its proper end). Rather, it is reduced to philodoxy (love of opinion) if we're lucky, misosophy (hatred of wisdom) if we're not.

Let's pull back to the ultimate wide angle, or Big Picture. God understands as well as anyone that few of us have the time, ability, or inclination to devote our lives to thinking our way back to him. Therefore, he makes the burden easy, with a light yoke to sweeten the deal: Incarnation.

Now that is radical. And revolutionary. No philosophical tracts to digest, no costly academic studies, no pitting one ideology against another to try and figure out which one is closer to the truth. Instead, just a person and a relationship, and all this entails.

True, it entails a great deal, but instead of starting at the periphery of the cosmos and trying to burrow our way toward the center, the center is given to us at the outset, gratis. Thus, it is literally the ultimate shortcut, although again, the implications are infinite and thensome.

A question: off the top of your head, what would you say is the single best idea anyone has ever had? Perhaps it will be difficult to narrow down the candidates, but I think you'll recognize it when you see it. It has several moving parts, and I am also putting it in the present tense, because that's the only place where and when ideas can actually live:

In the beginning is the Logos, and the Logos is with God, and the Logos is God, and 2) the Logos becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Irrespective of whether to not you agree with it, if you don't re-cognize this as the ultimate idea, then you haven't cognized it at all.

Now I'm going to switch gears, or fast forward a few decades to something attributed to Peter in his first epistle, that we should "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you."

A reason for the hope. As we know, "reason" and "logos" are synonymous, but that's not my point. My larger point is that hope, properly understood, is the most thoroughly rational way to approach the Logos.

Now lets fast forward another 1,900 years or so, to Pieper's Hope and History, which, for my money, conveys much of what Voegelin is trying to say, only in 100 instead of 10,000 pages.

For starters, why is hope one of the top three theological virtues? How is it different from, say, mere wishful thinking, and why should we cultivate it? And how can it have anything to do with thinking about reality? Isn't the whole point of thinking to purge it of desire, and to look at things the way they are as opposed to the way we want them to be?

Yes, and hope is an adequation to the way things are, precisely. For example, the One Minute Philosopher distinguishes hope from wish by saying that the former "looks to the future, but is rooted in reality as it is."

Thus, reality as it is includes an intrinsic tension that reaches forth to a future that isn't yet. Analogously, think of how the phenomenon of Life Itself by definition reaches beyond the moment and anticipates its own future.

That is an exceptionally weird thing to occur in a heretofore purely physical cosmos, but leave that to the side. My point is that the identical process occurs on the cognitive plane, as our minds reach forth toward truths which they do not yet possess. Continuously. Unless we are mentally and spiritually dead, in which case our minds no longer live in that space of hope that exists between present and future, anticipation and fulfillment.

To live -- or think -- only in the present would be to neither live nor think. In a very literal way, life itself is hope, in that its continuance is always possible but never necessary, nor is hope ordered to the impossible.

Hope can of course be disappointed, but by its nature it is ordered to the possible, not the impossible or the necessary.

Regarding the latter, we don't hope the sun comes up tomorrow, because it will. Nor do we hope it comes out at midnight, because it won't. At the same time, we don't hope for things that are fully under our own control. For example, I don't hope that today I can avoid robbing a gas station, because I won't. I do, however, hope that Cousin Dupree can avoid robbing one, because he just might.

There is a vast middle ground covered by hope, and in a way, this middle ground is everything. It is where we actually live, i.e., not in our neurology or in the physical world, but in the space between.

For example, I hope I can get this post to make sense before I run out of time. I have partial control, in that I have to be here, but it doesn't at all feel as if I have anything like total control. All I can do is keep typing and hope for the best. As Pieper says, "The only genuine hope is one directed toward something that does not depend on us."

Imagine the alternative: that I don't have to hope this post makes sense, because I have a total mastery of the subject right here inside my own noggin. But if that were the case, then I would no longer be reaching out in hope toward the transcendent object, and that would be wrong.

In other words, there isn't just a correct content to thought, but a correct process of thought. And the correct process is always in tension with its own transcendent source and ground.

We're almost out of time, but we'll have much more to say about this process as we proceed. For now I'll leave off with a passage from Hope and History, that genuine hope

appears to have no object that can be found to exist in the world in [an] "objectlike" way. There is, then, nothing specific and concrete that can be pointed to; it is directed toward something "indefinite," "nebulous," "formless," "unnameable"....

This functional hope

tends to transcend all "particular objects" and cannot really be grasped until one stops trying to imagine the thing hoped for. But of course there is certainly "something hoped for," even if its mode of being is quite different from that of all objective goods and all conceivable changes in the external world.


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