Friday, February 26, 2021
Squaring the Absurcular
There is no doubt that religious doctrines confront the modern mind with certain difficulties. Is the difficulty in the doctrine or the mind?
In the spirit of compromise, let's meet in the muddle and stipulate that it's both: on the one hand, messages addressed to, and formulated by, a premodern mentality may not speak as clearly to modern ears.
At the same time, a horizontal mentality enclosed in this or that ideological deformity exiles itself from the dimension from which revelation proceeds.
More imaginative types are able to appreciate the transparency of revelation; instead of staring dumbly at the concrete symbols, they are able to intuit the reality to which the symbols point (and from which they descend). They are able to grow with the flow of a simultaneously descending and ascending grace, and see the totality of revelation as a transdimensional map with points of reference corresponding to this or that vertical tourist spot.
Again, there is only one Ultimate Reality but countless views of it. This goes to the old problem of the one and the many, which is one of the first questions that confronts the philosophical mind.
Some ancient thinkers argued that reality is ceaseless change, while others argued that change is an illusion. In other words, it comes down to whether the universe is the moving image of eternity, or just eternally moving images -- one or many, respectively.
Such ultimate antinomies usually turn out to be complementarities that are united on a higher level. In this case, Aristotle solved the problem of the one and many with the principles of potency and act. Being, which is one, actualizes latent potentialities in time. Thus, for example, the acorn is both different and not-different from the oak tree; there is both continuity and discontinuity.
Or, just consider yourself and your own potential. On the one hand, you are who you are. At the same time, you can only actualize so much of your latent potential in this life.
What is the ontological nature of this potential? It's rather ambiguous, isn't it? It's not yet something, since you haven't actualized it. And yet, it's not nothing either, since it's there waiting to be actualized. It's on the border between nothing and something: not nothing but not yet something.
Now apply this same principle to all of reality. For me, this touches on the touchy questions of freedom, predetermination, and God's omniscience. A perfect intelligence can be omniscient about the past, since it happened, and about the present, since it is happening.
But the future is another thing entirely, since it hasn't yet happened, nor is it determined. Rather, billions (megatrillions if we count their mutual interactions) of free decisions will go into constituting it, in each and every moment.
That's a big epistemological problem. Except, of course, for socialist central planners, who combine the omniscience of a god with the ineradicable stupidity of the godless.
About the one God and many views. While it is true that Protestantism has aggravated this problem, since every man becomes his own theologian, it seems to me that it's essentially unavoidable, given the human condition.
Orthodoxy (lower case o) tries to limit the diversity by proclaiming certain interpretations necessary and others off limits, but each person nevertheless understands things in his own way. How could it be otherwise, unless man were like an ant or a bee, with no individuality?
Now, is it possible for man to overcome his own subjectivity and see the principles as they are, in all their naked objectivity, without so much as a fig leaf of myth? Yes and no. Yes, because we are the image and (potential) likeness of God; no, because the reflected image, no matter how alike, is not the thing reflected.
Schuon presumes to elucidate the eternal Principles by virtue of which the doctrines of this or the religion are true. This raises an important question.
That is, on the assumption that Christian doctrine is true, is it true in itself, or true because it exemplifies higher principles? If it is the former, then it will confront us with things that we can only take on faith, because they can't be resolved into, or harmonized into, higher principles.
Along these lines, it seems to me that even the best exoteric theologians kick the epistemolgical can more or less up the road, until they stop at a wall called Mystery, or Because God Said So, or Tradition, or Faith. Is this truly the end? Or is there intelligibility beyond these limits?
I haven't formulated it all that well, but that's the question. Again, what are the legitimate rights of intelligence -- bearing in mind that it can have no rights without prior obligations, one of which is humility, not to mention sanctity.
We're running out of time, but Schuon describes the problem this way: the form is not the substance; form implies a diversity of manifestations -- for example, there are many men but mankind is one. If there is no human nature (the form) then there are no humans either, since each is his own form (which is nominalism, i.e., the denial of essential forms).
Now, revelation is a form, and it must be distinct from the substance, or we descend into idolatry. Likewise, Jesus the man was on the one hand unique, on the other, a manifestation of the Logos, which is to say, the Form of all forms.
All this thinking is making me dizzy. To be continued...