Thursday, September 16, 2021

Spiritual Talent and Vertical Shrinkage

I'm feeling a bit lazy this morning. In other words, same as always. 

Still, I think I'll let Ratzinger do most of the heavy lifting today, beginning with the following somewhat lengthy passage that addresses the question of whether an atheist is just someone who likes to boast about an absence of vertical talent, i.e., who doesn't know the difference between a gift and a deficiency:

The phenomenology of religion demonstrates -- and we can test this for ourselves -- that there are, or at least appear to be, in religion, as in all other realms of the human spirit, various degrees of endowment.

Although he qualifies the statement with appear to be, this is because one of the ubiquitous characteristics of the spiritually endowed is humility: know them by their fruits, the most pleasant to the eyes but toxic to the soul being pride.

You're not going to hear the exPope brag about a preternatural ability to discern the Real from the illusory or Permanent from impermanent, even though this is precisely one of the supernatural abilities of the gifted (with specific reference to jnanic and not bhaktic temperaments, the latter of whose gift will have a different emphasis, i.e., love, faith, devotion, etc. Not every spiritual athlete plays the same sport, nor in the same way).

One reason those responding to a verticalling won't brag on themselves is because they know better than anyone that the ability isn't their own, but rather, comes from anOther -- or cooperation with this Other, to be exact. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Ratzinger continues:

Just as in the field of music we find the creative, the receptive, and finally those who are completely unmusical, so it seems to be in religion.... 

Here, too, one meets people who are religiously "talented" and others who are "untalented"; here, too, those capable of direct religious experience and thus of something like religious creativity through a living awareness of the religious world are few and far between.

This raises several important points, first that religious experience -- like any other experience -- is of a world, and that this world is -- self-evidently -- prior to its experience. If experience is prior, then we are vaulted into a simulated world even more absurd than that of the Kantian rationalist -- or of any other shrunken metaphysic that puts the subject prior to the object.

Over against these few, for whom the divine thus becomes undisguised certainty, stand the many whose religious gift is limited to receptivity [o], who are denied the direct experience of the holy yet are not so deaf to it as to be unable to appreciate an encounter with it through the medium of the man granted such an experience.

In postmodern parlance we shouldn't call the atheist's ethos "spiritually retarded," rather, the preferred nomenclature is vertically challenged or spiritual hesitancy; old-fashioned words such as "imbecile" and "moron" are now considered offensive. 

At any rate, should we be triggered by the fact that some people are more spiritually capable than others? 

No, because first of all, where would we be without them? Analogously, where would music be if everyone were as talented as Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift? Music would thereby lose its reason for being, which is to render audible the light of the transcendent object.

Second, -- sticking with the music analogy -- I can't play a note of jazz, but I wouldn't want to live without it. I suppose I might enjoy it even more if I could play it, but not necessarily. 

For me it's more than enough to simply be receptive to it -- in other words, to be aesthetically open to the more musically gifted. 

I was going to say it's a full time job, which it is, so long as we specify that this means vertical openness to everything, and on every plane: truth, love, beauty, et al. I will never be retired from that, since it is more than enough to fill one's day and especially one's life. 


Anonymous said...

From Julie: "Or "win," as the case may be. With each passing year, I am less and less convinced that they win anywhere near as often as it seems."

Is this this the way it is going to be from now on? If your side looses it is fraud. You and the others claim over and over about fraud and that Trump won the election and and calling into question the recall election but refuse to offer one single iota of credible evidence of this.

Democracy can't function if there isn't belief the validity of elections. Why are you and the others so adverse to defending your positions with factual information? I don't get it. You seem to be a moral person and you seem to be intelligent and actually quite an interesting person and quite artistic per your website. What am I missing? Why is a discussion of this on its merits off limits?

Governor Stacey Abrams said...

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. First we need to get to the bottom of how Bush stole the 2000 and 2004 elections, and how Trump conspired with the Russians in 2016.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall Al Gore gracefully accepting the decision of the Supreme Court and giving a concession speech. Although in all fairness, he must have been pretty exhausted after inventing the Internet.

Anonymous said...

I recall eight years of President Select Bush and his corrupt Diebold voting machines.

julie said...

... where would music be if everyone were as talented as Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift?

I think my brain just melted. I suddenly caught a glimpse of what life looks like from a completely alien perspective.

The horror.

Cousin Dupree said...

It's not fair -- like asking what your sexual orientation would be if all men were Chris Hayes.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or all women were Lena Dunham.

julie said...


julie said...


I suppose the only mercy is that it would be impossible to be fruitful and multiply. The species would just die out, no cleansing flood or fire required.

Cousin Dupree said...

If Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes had a baby, it would be... Chris Hayes.

Gagdad Bob said...

Suddenly it all makes sense: liberal psychologists are just liberal patients who never got better.

Gagdad Bob said...

Come to think of it, I almost never saw a conservative, but when I did, there was a liberal inside screaming to get out.

julie said...

I suppose it must happen that way sometimes. Kind of like being raised Christian and turning away because reasons.

Not surprised about the patient ratio though. I've never seen a conservative identify himself in his profile by a list of his mental illnesses and preferred pronouns. It's not that we don't ever need help, it's that we're a lot more private about it when we do, and are just as likely to find it within family or church as in a therapist's office.

John Venlet said...

Enjoyed the music analogy, and it brought to mind how fortunate I was to be brought up in a home where, at one point, we had a grand piano, a two tier Conn organ, a Hammond, and a xylophone all in the living room. My Mum was a church organist, played for a couple of quartets, and she filled our home with hymns and classical music. Also, we all sat around the kitchen table for dinner, eight kids and mom and dad, with prayer before hand, and a devotional reading from the scriptures and a prayer to close. Though I wasn't always ascending vertically, during my life, I was blessed to have been given guidance to the vertical, musically, and religiously. Still attempting to climb.

julie said...

John said, "Though I wasn't always ascending vertically, during my life, I was blessed to have been given guidance to the vertical, musically, and religiously. Still attempting to climb."

In the early 2000s, when I was still spiritually wandering in the outer darkness, as it were, I joined a community choir. We met in a church, and since most choral music is religious music, we sang a lot of hymns, Latin Masses, chants, carols, etc. Good stuff, for the most part. While we lived there, it became my way of going to church without actually attending church.

I suppose that climb must be possible without music; even so, I'm pretty sure the Word that was and is and is to come is most often sung, and not merely spoken.

Anonymous said...

It's sad that nobody talks about xylophones anymore.

I sometimes imagine this place as an old school jazz bar, with Bob on the bass, Julie on the piano, but nobody on the xylophone. In that place stands a life size cardboard cutout of Lionel Hampton.

Maybe some day we’ll get a real live xylophone player. In a virtual sense, of course.

Van Harvey said...