Sunday, March 28, 2021

Top Doc Reveals the Secret of Endless Creativity!

The previous two posts promised to reveal the One Weird Secret, but got sidetracked along the way. In order to prevent this from happening again, I'm going to reveal the secret at the beginning and take it from there: relativity in divinis

I'm not sure why Schuon translates it into Latin. To make it sound more venerable, I suppose. There's a tendency among traditionalists to root their ideas in antiquity, when they are actually quite modern and even postmodern -- in a manner of speaking -- bearing in mind that this designation has nothing to do with the calendar per se. "Transmodern" would be a better term, for transcendence is timeless. 

For this reason, you will search in vain for a "premodern" traditionalist. For one thing, no one in the premodern world knew of other traditions, at least in any deep and intimate way. Or, there was a name for other traditions: wrong; or ignorant, barbaric, heathen, haram, not exactly kosher, etc.  No one attempted to delineate the abstract and nonlocal metaphysical principles of which this or that religion is the local expression. 

Some thinkers touched on it, but didn't pursue it very far -- Augustine, for example, who claimed that "that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients and never did not exist." In short, the principles have always been present, but known implicitly and imperfectly. 

Thomas too gets close but then pulls back. Let me see if I can find a quick example without getting lost in the weeds. This one is pretty darn abstract:

Intellect is the first author and mover of the universe.... Hence the last end of the universe must necessarily be the good of the intellect. This, however, is truth. Hence truth must be the last end of the whole universe.

For which reason Schuon often repeats the gag that "there is no higher privilege than truth." Wait -- what about love? I appreciate the sentiment, but unfortunately man is able to love wrongly while still loving. Don't even get me started on my first girlfriend. In other words, we can love the wrong persons, ideas, or things. We can also have a disproportionate love, as Jesus often reminds us.

But intelligence is the conformity of mind to truth. We cannot know truth wrongly. Of course, we can know it partially, but we can't literally "know falsehood," because this is the opposite of knowledge. This latter occurs because the intellect is clouded by passion, or interest, or pride, or leftism, or some other crosscurrent. 

There are also levels of truth -- recall the image of the concentric circles -- but these are nested in higher truths (ones closer to the center) that determine the lower. No lower truth can fundamentally contradict a higher truth, despite the efforts of atheists and progressives to anchor their truths in something lower than Truth itself.

A few weeks ago I was discussing some of my reservations regarding Garrigou's strict Thomism, which characterizes God as immutably immutable, AKA radical changelessness. For me, this creates a host of problems, some intellectual, others more personal -- for example, how does one relate to a God who cannot relate to us (for to "relate" is to be relative to)? Why pray to a fixed God, and how can "create" and "immutable" be reconciled?  How can there be something other than God?

Of course, there are attempts to explain these things, but they remind me of the effort to save the appearances of geocentricity with an appeal to epicycles within epicycles, or the Newtonian system that eventually had to posit unknown variables to make it work. 

Maybe the truth is more prosaic -- that everything (every positive reality) has its analogue in God, only preeminently. Come to think of it, what is creativity but a kind of eminent change? Certainly it isn't difficult to understand it as a "perfection" in which we have the privilege of participating. Otherwise all change is bad, including the creation. But God himself said it was good!

Anyway, I had a fruitful back-and-forth with a reader on this subject, and I couldn't express it more eloquently than he did:

Well, the relativity of God is, precisely, what makes the world possible, along with a human consciousness that renders it intelligible. Of course, that does not preclude a non-relative dimension to the Absolute which is also necessary. The challenge is not to confuse metaphysical levels. 

Clearly there is a mutable aspect to the Divine, without which the relative could never arise (along with the imperfection we find in the world). But if the essence of God were only mutable, then the traditional notion of deity would go out the window. As Schuon remind us, we have to accept that there are two phases to ultimate reality -- an unmanifested mode and a manifested one (the latter being a necessary and ‘dynamic’ consequence of his infinity). 

Therefore, there must be attributes and qualities of God that do not change (His goodness, mercy, beauty, eternity, beatitude etc.) -- without which we cannot meaningfully speak of an Absolute at all -- but, at the same, we cannot deny the reality before our eyes that discloses a world that is evidently not God (“My Kingdom is not of this world”) but which, in the final analysis, cannot be other than God (i.e. in a limited or privative mode). 

Accordingly, any kind of ‘radical immutability’ is not tenable. We must, therefore, only speak of a qualified immutability that allows for the relative ontological reality of the world and man (which remain divine manifestations). Otherwise, one is left with the unsatisfying Vedantic notion that the created order is nothing but an illusory maya which is equally untenable.

To be continued... 


julie said...

Whoever your reader is, well said, sir.

I always go back to how Christ acted here on earth. Yes, there were some things He knew Absolutely; and yet, he wept, suffered, bantered, and related to those around Him not as one who is immutable, but rather as one who is extremely relatable, and often even humorous. None of that makes sense if He is only Absolute.

julie said...

Augustine, for example, who claimed that "that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients and never did not exist." In short, the principles have always been present, but known implicitly and imperfectly.

I often think of this when seeing something from some other part of the world, where people are living what is (or once was) a normal sort of life for their place and time. Somewhere that isn't Christian, but where you can recognize nevertheless the hand of the same God at work in their lives, granting grace and answering prayers, and taking pleasure in a job well and lovingly done. I don't know how it all reconciles, ultimately, but the Good, the Beautiful, and the True are potentially present everywhere.

Gagdad Bob said...

Assuming Christianity is a more differentiated map of the spiritual dimension, then the less differentiated ones will be more or less distant, simplistic, twisted, or clouded reflections of it, rather than vice versa.

Gagdad Bob said...

In this sense God doesn't change, but our understanding becomes more refined.