Friday, July 16, 2021

Traditional Theo-Drama and Progressive Melodrama

I suppose we could go back to what is perhaps Voegelin's main point, which is that what we call history plays out in the space between immanence and transcendence. Total immersion in immanence would result in no history; rather, we would be as animals, plunged into instinct and bound by neurology. We'd still be in "time," of course, but it wouldn't be human -- which is to say, historical -- time. 

Nor could history exist in a context of complete transcendence, because transcendence is timeless. 

No man, no history, and vice versa. We're in this thing together until the end.

So here we abide, in this ambiguous space of verticality, churning out our symbolic representations of various kinds, from history to anthropology to philosophy to religion, in the attempt to gain our bearings within the dual process-structure of self-other and time-eternity. But we can never actually fully arrive at the fa(r)ther shore, because to do so would negate our immanence -- our seeworthy sonship.

At the same time, I suppose we could say that nondual mystical doctrines are about negating immanence, precisely. According to Vedanta, we can indeed enter a realm of pure transcendence -- Nirguna Brahman -- only we can't be there to enjoy it.

D'oh! Or rather, T'ao!

Here is a Buddhist take on the subject, plucked randomly from the shelf: What is man's life? A bubble on the stream, / Raised by the splashing rain, which merrily / Dances along the swiftly gliding wave / Full of apparent life, then suddenly / Bursts and disappears, leaving no trace behind / To mark hereafter the place that for a few moments it had occupied. --Zeisho Aisuko 

Later in the same passage he compares life to a transient summer moth, a frail banana leaf, an insubstantial shadow, and an enticing dream about a sham reality. All of these descriptions are true as far as they go, and indeed, the Bible contains similar gripes about the vanity of life. I could say more about transient shams and frail banana leaves that won't outlast the summer, but this post isn't about Biden. 

To back up a bit, in my spare timelessness I've been nonthinking a great deal about History. Not this or that history, but History as such. As in, what is it? 

In so doing, I reread a number of books on the nature of historical fallacies, which are mostly helpful in explaining what history is not. But not only do they not tell us what history actually is, I think it's accurate to say that most any midwit historian of tenure would assure us that it is Fallacy #1 to imagine that history can have any such ultimate meaning.

I would agree that this is self-evidently true from within history. It's analogous to the truism that science can have no intrinsic or ultimate meaning from within science; that latter fallacy is scientism, while the former is historicism.

And yet, you will have no doubt noticed how leftist historians smuggle meaning into their imaginary narratives, as do atheistic scientists into science.  

Back for a moment to Voegelin and Balthasar, while they come at the problem from different perspectives, both agree that Truth is something that plays out in history. As in the case of science, our symbolic representations can and will proceed until the end of time, without ever arriving at the end. 

Anyway, yesterday while wandering around the UCLA campus, a thought bubbled to the surface of the headspace: that the Narrative is the left's Theo-Drama. Bear in mind that the Theo-Drama simply is. It is where man lives, has always lived, and will always live -- in the dramatic tension between immanence and transcendence.

Now, revelation is obviously of a different order from the manmode myths we tell ourselves -- i.e., our own little attempts to symbolize the tension between immanence and transcendence, which we can never actually accomplish. 

But the revealed myth comes from the other side of the divide, descending into history, in contrast to our attempts to ascend out of it (whether through meditation, prayer, political activism, drugs, whatever). 

As soon as this thought popped into my head, I knew it was true: that the Narrative is the left's Theo-Drama. Not only does it organize the progressive mind, everything that happens is easily assimilated into the myth. For example, the national crime wave has suddenly appeared on their radar. How to account for it? It's because of Republicans and their dangerous nonsense about defunding the police! 

Similarly, given the improbable results of the last election, the great majority of Americans are rightly concerned about preventing future election fraud. No they're not! They're Jim Crow racists fomenting the worst national crisis since the Civil War!  

Examples are endless, but you get the point (for example, any weather proves AGW, i.e., the theory is unfalsifiable and therefore not science). The Narrative explains everything and therefore nothing. Well, it does explain one thing, albeit on a meta-level: the implicit structure of the left's faux-atheistic Theo-Drama.

And now that I think about it, "drama" isn't quite the right word, for it's always a melodrama, isn't it? Moreover, it's always hysterical (in the literal sense, in that it is animated by a disordered collective female psyche). 

Melodrama: a sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions

Oooooooh, that's a bingo!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

When the Author of History Enters His Play

Okay, there's gotta be an easier way than slogging through 2,700 pages of Balthasar's five-volume Theo-Drama to understand his point. After all, the whole Bible -- both testaments -- comes to about half that. Then again, John did end his gospel with the caveat that if one were to attempt to document everything about Jesus, "the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

Balthasar: "Hold my beer."

What is the lazy man to do? Oh, right. I saved myself the obligation of reading the Theo-Drama by having previously read it over a decade ago, mostly in 2009. All I had to do was search "Theo-Drama" on the blog, and 12 items come up, one in 2007, one in 2017, and ten between April and June of 2007, when I  read most of the the material and subsequently forgot all about it.

But did I actually forget it, or did something else happen to the information? In other words, did the material just dissipate into the ether, or did it undergo some sort of transformation after floating into my head -- the same way food does after entering one's mouth? Analogously, I've had a lot of meals over the years, more than I can remember. But just because I can't remember them doesn't mean they didn't enter  into and become me.

Besides, isn't that the point of reading? To weave truth and light into our substance so as to maintain our health and strength? True, there is reading for mere pleasure, or escapism, or information, but that's not the sort of reading we do around here -- unless we are just very tired and incapable of comprehending anything deep, wide, and high.

Let's see if we can overcome our retrospective embarrassment and find out if there's anything back there worth dredging up from the past:

In the Theo-Drama, Balthasar likens God's involvement in history to a stage play that reconciles the problems of divine and human freedom -- which is to say, the paradox of infinite and finite freedom. 

For example, "facing forward," it always looks like we have a more or less radical existential freedom -- at least those of us privileged to live in the West.
But "facing backward," it often seems as if our freedom was more or less an illusion.... as if  one's life were being dreamt by a "supraconscious" (or infraconscious) "dreamer" of whom we were unaware at the time.
Yesterday we discussed the idea of spatial, "geometrical" truth vs. temporal, "musical" truth. Our lives are a combination of geometry and music, of adventure and law, of harmony and melody, of freedom within the constraints of some kind of hidden necessity. Our "life" consists of the more or less winding road we take to re-arrive where we startled and even jumped into our skin. In the words of the Poet, And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.
Now, Balthasar has an interesting take on the Trinity and its relation to the cosmic theo-drama. The Jesus of history, because he was all-man, had to be fundamentally no different than the rest of us in this respect. 
As such, just like us, he couldn't fully know or understand the nature of the drama in which he was situated. If he had known, then his passion would have been something less than that, more of a detached "dispassion," as he simply "played out the clock" -- as in a one-sided basketball game, in anticipation of the buzzer-beating resurrection.
Thus, just like us in our own lives, Jesus had an element of horizontal freedom -- which is to say existential nothingness -- within the constraints of a much larger drama in which he was taking part. While he obviously had "hints" of a larger purpose -- as indeed we all do -- the human Jesus could not have been privy to the whole script. 
And in fact, Balthasar uses the metaphor of playwright, director, and actor to conceptualize the situation. The Father is "playwright"; the Son is "actor"; and the Holy Spirit is "director." As Edward Oakes explains, 
"a successful theatrical production always depends on the harmonious cooperation of three freedoms, which are not however equal: for the director must serve the script and the actor must serve both; yet the actor cannot simply afford to be an automaton if the production is to be successful: some unnamed element... must be engaged if the play is to emerge before the audience as playwright and director intended it." 
As Sachs (quoted in Oakes) writes, "The fact that the actor-Son has the responsibility to play the role given him by the author-Father, as 'whispered' to him in each moment by the prompter-Spirit, does not exclude the actor-Son's interpretive freedom. On the contrary, it assumes it and provides the material in which his freedom as an actor can become concrete. Therefore, although the author has a definite primacy with regard to the actor and the prompter (or director), it is by no means a tyrannical relationship. The author continues to be present in his work but as one who opens up the creative 'space' of the part."
Back to our own lives, in which there is a curious freedom that accompanies surrendering to that which we are and He Who Is. Looking back at our lives, we can see that we were least free when we thought we had the most freedom, and most free when we finally gave up the faux freedom. 
Balthasar compares it to the artist who moves from the persecutory space of being tormented by indecision and infinite possibility, until he is finally "possessed by the idea inspiring him and surrenders himself completely to its imperious and peremptory demands." 
So history -- both personal and collective -- is a God-given space of freedom in which we are free to choose the path back to ourselves and to God. Some roads get there faster than others; some are more scenic and beautiful, others more painful (in fact, all inevitably involve both beauty and suffering). Still others arrest the journey altogether -- e.g., leftism -- unless one returns to that fork in the road and reorients.

To be continued....