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...

Thursday, February 25, 2021

What's the Speed of God?

I read an essay this morning called Apologetics in the Age of Cancellation that adds another dimension to the esoteric angle we were discussing in the previous post, i.e., trust. (The link is at the bottom because I still haven't figured out how to embed them & I don't want to clutter the text.)

After all is said and done, who ya' gonna trust? Your parents? Your teachers? Your friends? Your church? A book? The government? Science? 

Among others, I trust Sr. Dávila, who observes that
There are arguments of increasing validity, but, in short, no argument in any field spares us the final leap.

Irrespective of one's philosophy, there will be an element of faith, which is to say, trust -- even if it means merely trusting one's own mind and senses.

The essay mentioned above suggests that, "Due to increasing skepticism and secularism," 

contemporary apologetics should prioritize the personal testimony, or witness, of the apologist over the content of his arguments. This testimony... is best supported by the personalist philosophy expounded by Pope St. John Paul II. By focusing “on the aspirations of the human heart for communion with the divine,” apologists can more effectively persuade “readers who suffer from the anonymity of contemporary collectivism or the isolation of contemporary individualism.”

I suppose we could say that we have to trust the messenger before we believe his message:

Apologetics succeeds, in this view, when trust develops between the apologist and his interlocutor, who accepts the testimony only when he comes to trust the apologist as a person. As such, converts will often name the apologist instrumental in their conversions before naming specific arguments. By contrast, “to reject the message is to withhold confidence in the witness.”

We live in a paradoxical age which combines a maximum of skepticism and credulity. For example, the typical member of the lunatic left is far too skeptical to believe in invisible sky gods and so forth. 

And yet, he easily believes in lies so outrageous that they verge on the hallucinatory, such as the Russia hoax, the plague of White Supremacism, the ludicrous Insurrection, or thousands of innocent black men being gunned down by police.

Well, who ya' gonna believe, your lying eyes or a dimwitted barmaid from the Bronx? Crime statistics or a nursing home escapee mumbling about his hairy legs?  

Regarding this strange admixture of a simultaneously maxed-out skepticism + credulity, Dávila alludes to the possibility of another way, in that

There is some collusion between skepticism and faith: both undermine human presumptuousness.

Note that this collusion undermines both human presumptuousness and human presumptuousness. Failing it, we are all-too-human and therefore all-too presumptuous, in the tediously predictable manner of Genesis 3 All Over Again. 

In the absence of conscious awareness of his own inclinations, man will confuse his downward flight with "progress," merely because he's moving. Wheeeeeee! 

This ends in pseudo-religious secular cult that shares most everything with religion except for a little thing called Truth, e.g., faith, salvation, purification, sanctity, ritual, and an imaginary choir of devils singing Heil MAGA! around the exalted throne of the eternal Orange Man. 

Anyway, trust. Ultimately, in one way or another, you're still going to have to trust yourself. For example, even if you decide to put all your faith in science, it's still you who must do so, and why trust yourself, of all people? 

For our purposes, the question is, just how much can we trust our own minds? You could say that this is the first question of epistemology and of critical thinking more generally. Indeed, it is the basis for a properly functioning skepticism that ultimately goes to what is real, and, even prior to this, on what basis man can even know the real.

This no doubt sounds rather basic and stupid. I was trying to explain it to my son a couple of days ago, in the context of a wide-ranging discussion of philosophy, theology, and science. 

Specifically, I was trying to explain to him that modern critical philosophy begins with the idea that man has no access to reality, only to his own mental concepts. This naturally leads to additional novelties -- progress! -- such as the absence of free will, the impossibility of truth, the destruction of language, the relativization of morality, the denial of meta-narratives, and the death of the intellect and common sense.

In short, the modern left. It's so stupid, it's almost embarrassing to call oneself human. Nevertheless, it's something we have to face. 

In the course of my diatribe to my son, I was reminded of God's death 139 years ago, when Nietzsche gave us the word (or anti-word). I thought of the analogy to a dead star. Supposing a star dies, we might not get word of it for many lightyears later. Indeed, even our sun is old news -- nine minutes old by the time it reaches us.

Which leads to the question: what's the speed of God? Supposing he died in 1882 or thereabouts, how long does it take for the darkness to reach us?  

The darkness is here, to be sure. It seems to me that it must be a gradual thing. A star doesn't turn off like a light switch, but goes through a process. Come to think of it, this process can even become an inversion of itself: instead of radiating light, it can suck it and everything else into a black hole.

Is this where we are -- on the cusp of a black hole? It feels that way to me, at least collectively. Having said that, I have no faith whatsoever in this so-called death of God, nor in the resultant black hole. It's happening, but I'm not taking part in it, just watching the spectacle from a disrespectful distance. In the world but not of it, and all that.

Sorry about the derailment. We'll get back to the necessity of esoterism in the next post. It really does tie the cosmos together in a way nothing else can. 

https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2021/02/25/apologetics-in-the-age-of-cancellation/?utm_source=The+Catholic+Thing+Daily&utm_campaign=bf1c53fd02-

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Path Unravelled

We know that things happen. The question is, why they happen. As we've said before, this ability to ask Why -- or WTF?! -- so characterizes man, that we might well call him homo curious if that term didn't have certain distasteful connotations. 

Now, this blog never stops asking questions, i.e., interrogating reality at every level and in diverse modes. Still, it's One Cosmos; every thing requires a cause, and this ultimate cause is what folks call God, i.e., the intelligent cause of intelligible being. If, in your philosophical wandering, you haven't yet bumped into the Uncaused Cause, just keep wondering and blundering. You'll get there: (?) and you shall (!).

The Uncaused Cause is Necessary Being; being necessary, it is eternal. Put conversely, anything contingent is strictly unnecessary and timebound; being bound by time, it has a beginning and an end. 

Still, we want details. When things happen down here -- especially bad things -- it doesn't appease the intellect to dismiss them with an empty cliche such as "it's God's will." If this is the case, then God has an awful lot of explaining to do. 

More basically, why posit a God who is less moral than we are, and who is responsible for things we would never dream of doing? Some things shock the conscience, and what is the conscience but our divine radar for distinguishing good from evil? If something offends our sense of decency, then God must be beside himself. Constantly.

Have you ever noticed that even the best theologians can start to get slippery at certain inflection points, just when you want the details? As mentioned above, anyone with a triple digit IQ can work his way up to the Uncaused Cause. We get it. How then do things get so fouled up between there and here? 

Sometimes, when you get close to one of these soft spots, the theologian will get all Wizard of Oz on you: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! They start blowing smoke or squirting ink like an octopus, enveloping you in a cloud of mystagogy. Others get impatient or irritable, but the worst ones start issuing threats -- as if our God-given curiosity is somehow blasphemous or sacrilegious.  (That's a good thing about Judaism: it positively encourages arguing and even wrestling with God.)

I guess the question is, just what are the rights of our intelligence? It is not uncommon to hear that God owes us absolutely nothing, and that, on the contrary, we owe everything to God. Okay, I get it. God is the cause, we are the effect, and the effect owes its existence to the cause.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that if you're gonna go to all the trouble of creating a being with intelligence and freedom, then certain obligations and rights go along with these. With regard to the intellect, we are obliged to seek truth because we have the right to seek it. If we don't have the right, then we have no obligation. 

Bottom line: if God gives us an intellect, then he is obliged -- in a manner of speaking, and with all deus respect -- to furnish the means to satisfy it, on pain of his own arbitrary incoherence. 

No, we're not tempting God. Rather, honoring him, for it dishonors God to characterize him as illogical, unreasonable, and inconsistent. Besides, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 

So, we're just askin'. 

What is this all about, Bob? You sound vexed.

Well, I did become a little miffed this weekend, in the course of plowing through volume II of God, His Existence and His Nature. I won't bore you with details, but let's just say that with any purely exoteric approach to religion, you're going to be left with certain loose ends and sometimes downright absurdities that you are forced to accept because of Mystery, or veiled threat, or just shut-up. I don't like that. That's the sort of response one expects from climate science drama queens, not the Queen of Sciences. 

I don't like to characterize myself as an "esoterist," because it sounds pretentious, and people get the wrong idea. Nevertheless, there is an inevitable layer of esoterism between God and revelation, and if you ignore it, then you will be forced to accept a degree of contradiction and absurdity. The Infinite necessarily veils itself in finitude, but a nearsighted focus on the veil will obscure what it's veiling in the distance. I suppose we could say that it will appear "solid" to the many but transparent to the few, i.e. those blessed with 20/∞ vision. 

Fr. Reginald -- or Thomas more generally -- occupies a space of what I would call "mid-level esoterism"; or, it's as if it sometimes penetrates all the way through to the core, but then draws back from its own implications, because those implications will contradict scripture exoterically understood, or violate some a priori deduction of what God must be like. 

For example, they say God must be utterly immobile and immutable, and can derive absolutely nothing from our existence, since he lacks nothing and therefore can receive nothing.

Okay, I get that too, but still: some father. And speaking of which, as alluded to in the previous post, doesn't the idea of a trinitarian godhead evoke something analogous to, I don't know, giving and receiving, loving and being loved, knowing and being known?  

This is way too large a subject to fit into a post. But to help reorient myself, I reread some Schuon, who says this:

partial or indirect truth can save, and in this respect can suffice for us; on the other hand, if God has judged it good to give us an understanding which transcends the necessary minimum, we can do nothing about this and we would be highly ungracious to complain about it. Man certainly is free to close his eyes to particular data -- and he may do so from ignorance or as a matter of convenience -- but at least nothing forces him to do so.

Not everyone wants or even needs the whole existentialada. Strokes & folks. Exoterism is apparently fine for most, but there are always certain aspects that make me wince -- and I think cause the typical midwit to turn away from religion, because it sounds stupid to these indoctrinated and credentialed yahoos.

"Exoterism is a precarious thing by reason of its limits or its exclusions," such that we are eventually faced with a choice: "escape from these limitations by the upward path, in esoterism, or by the downward path, in a worldly and suicidal liberalism."

Isn't this precisely what has happened? It seems to me that the present culture war has its roots in an inherently unstable religious exoterism at one end, and an intellectually and civilizationally suicidal liberalism at the other. Only one path can save us: the in- and upward one.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Triple-Secret Detention in the Principle's Office

Must something first be in order to become? Or rather, become in order to be?

We always go back to the Trinity -- which, if it doesn't provide us with a whole new angle on metaphysics, what's the point? In other words, why go to all the trouble of showing us that the ultimate principle is an intersubjective threeness if it doesn't revolutionize our understanding of things? 

Natural reason can only take us so far in these matters: again, assuming average IQ and rudimentary intellectual honesty, we are inevitably led to the Ultimate Principle of intelligence and intelligibility. Hello, noumena!

But if we want to know something about what goes on inside the principle's office -- about his interior life -- then what? 

Among other things, God is free. Indeed, he is freedom itself -- the sufficient reason thereof -- so it's not as if we can bribe or compel him to open up and share. The freedom of God is not analogous to academic freedom, the latter being a compulsory belief in tenured fairy tales and a race-obsessed race to the bottom of the gene pool.   

So, we need to be called into the principle's office and meet with him. Yes, he'll probably assign you a period of detention, but this isn't punishment, rather, it's for your own good. You need to start thinking before you act, mister! 

Back to our pseudo-conundrum: if the ultimate principle is a trinity of persons, then its being is grounded in the perpetual becoming of each, so to speak. To be clear, the persons do not become something "more" or "better," because they are already perfect, and this perfection is indeed revealed in the perpetual giving and receiving between persons, precisely. 

I suppose we could look at it this way: what is better than perfection? Giving perfection away! If this is the case, then "perfect being" is its perfect becoming in eternal giving and receiving, AKA love.

I think this must be the point, because it tells us something we can't know with mere natural reason, but, at the same time, not only isn't repugnant to reason, but clearly illuminates and perfects it.  

Think about that one: on the purely natural plane, we can know with certainty that reason has its limits, and that to believe otherwise is very much other than wise. We can know that reason, no matter how much we widen its circle, will ultimately be tautologous, only able to "prove" what is furnished by reason. 

This is obvious to everyone except Gödel, which is why he went to all that trouble of proving beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with airtight logic and geometric irony, that reason itself hides the key to its own lockbox. Ah, but there is a triplicate copy, and that's where I had them!

Which really just means that man is not a computer program, and that he is programed to exit his programming. This is what man is, and forms the basis of our perpetual transcendental becoming, which continues until. Period. Unlike progressives, we are condemned to progress. Up to a point, that point being another name for God.

We are intelligent, and freedom is a consequence of intelligence. If you wonder why the left never stops its assault on freedom, now you know. The stupid, the indoctrinated, the mentally ill, may look free, but they are obviously the opposite. Is Joe Biden free? No, he is locked in the basement, and with good reason. 

And why can the godless progressive never truly be free, even if he isn't demented? Well, just as there is no becoming without being, there is no progress without a subject of progress, which is to say, an actual existing thing with a real essence. 

Examples abound. Marriage, for example is an actual thing, which is why it cannot encompass whatever it is that goes on between two men. Likewise, biology is an actual thing, which is why it is delusional to say that Bruce Jenner is the greatest female athlete of all-time. The first amendment is a thing, which is why the left is un- and anti-American.

Now, this is going to sound either obvious or abstruse, but there are only things because there is God. For what is a thing, anyway? It is something that 1) is, and 2) is what it is. Things are, which is miracle enough. To rub it in, they are always something, and something intelligible to boot. To us, of all persons!

Speaking of triplicate keys, it's almost as if we participate in an ever-expanding circular dance between truth, being, and intelligence. 

So, you can learn a lot by doing time in the principle's office. Everything you need to know, anyway.