Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Last Temptation of Bob

To back up a bit, why does it even matter? You know, this business of esoteric vs. exoteric -- it sounds like you're having a relapse of new age gnosticism; or probably just fleeing from the unavoidable scandal of Christianity. 

The Last Temptation of Bob?

I can think of two main reasons why it matters, the first being metaphysical, the second evangelical, or understanding and communication, respectively. 

As it pertains to the blog, we never communicate what we haven't understood; we do not engage in speculation. For starters, if we give someone a bum steer, i.e., bad vertical directions, then...

Put it this way: just as we are responsible, forever, for any exuperant animal we tame, we are equally responsible for what we presume to teach. Let's say I confidently give a motorist directions, not knowing or caring that he will drive over an abyss or crash into a wall. The consequences are on me.  

Nor, in giving directions, should we go wobbly at critical junctures, unless the wobbliness is truly in the nature of things, which it sometimes is. The intellect has its rights and privileges, and in general these are both more and less extensive than the average person realizes. Human beings are much more intelligent than folks realize, but also much more stupid -- especially the intelligent ones. The stupid ones generally aren't so grandiose. 

Consider the village atheist, whose spiritual pathology is precisely a consequence of a ridiculous pride mingled with bottomless subjectivity. For truly, who cares about the inane babbling of an opinionated primate? Either these primates can know truth or they can't; and if they can, then they have thereby transcended themselves and left biology and physics and atheism below. Besides, we're Homo sapiens, not Homo opiniones

Biology and physics, or math and genetics, still exist -- obviously -- but the intellect explains them rather than vice versa. The lower realms are necessary but never sufficient conditions for the emergence of humanness. If they were both necessary and sufficient, we couldn't know it, any more than my dog can know she is a domesticated descendent of an extinct ancient wolf. 

Back to the question at hand: why is esoterism important? Come to think of it, let's first define our terms: what exactly is esoterism? 

Well, there's no such thing unless it is understood in the context of its complementary partner, exoterism. This is one of those primordial complementarities that suffuse our existence, e.g., subject/object, time/eternity, form/substance, self/other, appearance/reality, absolute/relative, etc. In each case, the one evokes the other, and cannot be conceptualized in its absence.

So in reality, to say esoterism is to imply exoterism, and vice versa:

The word “esoterism” suggests in the first place an idea of complementarity, of a “half” as it were: esoterism is the complement of exoterism, it is the “spirit” which completes the “letter" (Schuon).

Now, as we have said many times, in any Primordial Complementarity one pole must be prior, even if we never see them apart. For example, there is no subject without an object, but obviously subjectivity could never occur in a purely objective universe. Therefore, the subject must be prior, and ultimately this Subject-Intellect is God, but that's beside -- or above, rather -- the point.

The Point being that herebelow Truth takes a form, but the substance of truth cannot be reduced to its form, for the same reason that the subject can't be reduced to object, or semantics to syntax. 

As we mentioned in the previous post, we can express the same truth in an infinite number of ways, even if some ways are necessarily better -- not forgetting more beautiful -- than others. Come to think of it, the "best way" will be characterized by a maximum of truth, beauty, and goodness, by light and warmth and glorious living color. 

But we can't actually see pure light, can we? Or, we can see it for a moment, just before it renders us permanently blind. Humanly speaking, light for us is helpfully given the appearance of color, and Schuon often uses this analogy to distinguish pure formless truth from the forms it takes:

the word “esoterism” designates not only the total truth inasmuch as it is “colored” by entering a system of partial truth, but also the total truth as such, which is colorless. This distinction is not a mere theoretical luxury; on the contrary, it implies extremely important consequences. 

We live in a cognitive prismhouse of intellectual color-forms, and these forms simultaneously convey and veil the whitelight of Truth. 

Now, what is the most "esoteric" thing that could possibly happen in this cosmos?

Hmm. I suppose it would be for the pure Light to actually become one of its colors: for the Light to become color that the color might become Light. 

We'll end with some passages from this intriguing new translation and interpretation of John, called Mary's Voice in the Gospel (linked in the sidebar):

In him, there was life, and this Life was the light of all humankind....

The genuine light, the light which brings light to every human being, now coming into the world -- this is what he was.

He was in the world! [?!] And the world had come to be through him, and the world did not know him....

The Gift and the Truth came to be through Jesus Christ.

Again, it doesn't get more esoteric than this. As John (the Baptizing-Esoterist) exclaimed in his bewilderness,

After me there is coming a man who is placed before me, because before I was, he was.

Wut? Pakulak claims that in verse 18, a better reading of "only-begotten Son" is "Only-Begotten God." Apparently God never stops giving birth to himself, hisword; and we are invited to likewise give birth to this Godword in the womb of our godward soul: mission accompliced! 

And out of this Nothingness God was born (Meister Eckhart).

Thursday, September 09, 2021

In Other Words, There are Always Other Words

In rereading Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity I've been re-reminded of something Schuon said to the effect that Christianity is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. However, now I'm not so sure he said that, since I've spent the last couple of hours unsuccessfully looking for the exact quote.

Which doesn't mean the search was fruitless; to the contrary, I ended up gathering way more fruit than my head can possible contain or fingers can transmit in the allotted time. It just wan't the fruit I was looking for. 

A reminder that a form can never be the only possible form of what it expresses; in other words, there are always other words available to express the same principle, concept, idea, archetype, etc. You could call Bruce "Caitlin" but he's still a man. The substance doesn't change. 

Looked at from this perspective, we understand that God is the only possible uniqueness-as-such. One might also say that he is thereby the source and ground of the relatively unique, in particular, of the human individual. The human individual is, as it were, God's uniqueness reflected in us (assuming we choose to actualize this potential and not sink into the progressive blob). 

But no human is utterly unique, if only because we would no longer be an instantiation of the species "human." To say human is to advert to what we share with other humans; orthoparadoxically, one of the most important qualities we share is none other than our uniqueness! 

But again, by definition only God is unique. For similar reasons, only God can truly create. Man too -- since he is again the image of the Creator -- can "create," but not from nothing. We can write a poem, but no poet has invented language. Rather, it was here when the poet arrived on the scene. Moreover, the principle of language is the eternal Logos, and it was (is) here before the beginning, AKA always.   

My point is that fruit is a species, and I was looking for a particular one. Instead, I gathered lots of other fruit, but what is fruit, anyway? And why is it one of those words that pops up everywhere in scripture, not just ours, but everyone's?  

Moreover, fruit can be both good and bad, so much so that it plays a central role in everything from our primordial catastrophe (the fruit of which is fatal upon ingestion or even touch) to our salvation ("blessed the fruit of your womb," "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit").  Some fruits are forbidden, while others are praised and highly recommended for a healthy vertical diet.

Which reminds me. Analysis and synthesis are the metabolism of being. Eating the fruit is one thing, but weaving it into one's substance another. Letter and spirit; geometry and music; essence and form.

As I mentioned in a comment or maybe it was a post, Ratzinger's "Introduction" to Christianity is more of a meditation on how to reintroduce Christianity to a world that no longer speaks its language. But this goes to what was said above about how the same concept can always be expressed in different word-forms. 

Some people -- atheists at one end, "fundamentalists" at the other -- get hung up on the words and thereby lose what they're referring to. Then again, not exactly, because God knows his own, and there is still something of the essence in the revealed forms the fundamentalist takes overly literally, while for the atheist there are only the meaningless words. 

In this morning's search, I found a passage by Schuon that parallels Ratzinger's point about how to convey the Christian message to today's mentality -- a mentality that is materialistic, scientistic, ideological, anti-intellectual, and deeply superstitious. Ratzinger:

belief appears on the scene in the garb of days gone by and, indeed, seems itself to be something old-fashioned, the mode of life and existence current a long time ago....it looks much like a demand to bind oneself to yesterday and to affirm itself as eternally valid.

Anyone who tries today to talk about the question of Christian faith in the presence of people who are not thoroughly at home with ecclesiastical language and thought... soon comes to sense the alien -- and alienating -- nature of such an enterprise.

Frankly, it is precisely this alienation that is one of my motivations in blogging -- specifically, to make the faith less alienating to myself. If it also helps others, there's nothing I can do about that. I'm a lapsed unbeliever who shares the doubt of the unbeliever, just not his faith in his doubt.

For Schuon's part, he points out that the problem isn't so much one of modern/premodern but of exoteric/esoteric. In short, most of the problems of language can be resolved with a simple shift of planes, from the form (the words) to the substance:

The exoteric viewpoint is, in fact, doomed to end by negating itself once it is no longer vivified by the presence within it of the esoterism of which it is both the outward radiation and the veil.... the atrophy that overtakes dogmas when they are deprived of their internal dimension recoils upon them from the outside, in the form of heretical and atheistic negations.

The Passion of Marx and the stupidity of the New Age. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Tunneling Up & Out of the Dueling Matrices

A pregnant passage from Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity:

Let us listen once again to St. Augustine: "In God there are no accidents, only substance and relation." Therein lies concealed a revolution in man's view of the world: the sole dominion of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality.

Our team of vertical fact checkers has determined that this is almost entirely true. We cannot confirm the bit about "no accidents," because there is reason to believe that an absence of all contingency would negate the revolutionary insight into the supernatural rights of relativity.  

We're on p. 184, by the way. I want to flip back to p.180, where Ratzinger expresses a view that is shockingly similar to mine as to the implications of elevating the category of relation to the plane of absoluteness. In short, the so-called paradox of a Godhead of three persons in or of one substance 

is connected with the problem of absolute and relative and emphasizes the absoluteness of the relative, of that which is in relation.

I don't want to put words into his mouth, but this does indeed have revolutionary consequences on every plane, from metaphysics on down. 

Off the top of my head, I would say that the principle of Relation is precisely where freedom is anchored: in the "space" between I and Thou, or Father and Son, or, more abstractly, between the Absolute-One and the Relative-Many.

And since freedom is not determinism, it seems to me that something like "accident"or contingency is introduced into the Godhead. Experts say this is Impermissible and even insulting to God, but he's been called worse things than related and therefore relative to his creatures. I think it's rather nice. 

Conversely, if everything is necessary, then freedom reduces to determinism, and we're back to an inconceivable and unrelatable Immutable Immutability.

I'm thoroughly familiar with arguments that prove God is immutable, but they are ultimately purely deductive. Using the same sort of logic, one could deduce that there is no such thing as change, anywhere or at any time, rather, that the cosmos is just one solitary block of spacetime. 

This has been a long argument. In one corner of Ancient Greek thought is Heraclitus, father of all philosophies of Becoming, right down to present day process philosophers and metaphysical evolutionists. In the other corner is Parmenides, who repudiated relativism and change by insisting "on an eternal, single Truth." He

taught a strict Monistic view of reality. Philosophical Monism is the belief that all of the sensible world is of one, basic, substance and being, un-created and indestructible....

[His] thought could not be further removed from that of Heraclitus in that Parmenides claimed nothing moved, change was an impossibility, and that human sense perception could not be relied upon for an apprehension of Truth. 

The central vision of Parmenides' work is that change is an illusion -- appearances change but not essence -- which is later reflected in Plato's Theory of Forms which claims that the observable world is only a reflection of a higher, truer, reality (worldhistory.org/Parmenides).

Pre-Christian thought is locked in this endless debate between the immovable object of eternal Being and the irresistible force of pure Becoming. No it isn't. Yes it is! That's just a contradiction, not an argument! No it's not!

Time's up.

How about a compromise? Why not just say reality is both -- i.e., changing and changeless? Well, for starters, because the intellect has an innate desire for unity, which is its natural telos. We're always looking for more comprehensive ways to account for diverse phenomena. What is science, for example, but the reduction of multiplicity to unity? 

Same with the supreme science of metaphysics. The least it can do is not end its search in an ugly dualism, whether it is between mind and matter, subject and object, empiricism and idealism, man and woman, whatever.

Looked at this way, we can appreciate how the trinitarian Godhead is indeed a breakthrough -- albeit from God's side into ours and not ours into his. 

We might say that the Incarnation is the breakthrough of the Trinity into time and history. On the one hand, the ultimate principle of substance-in-relation cannot be arrived at via mere (lowercase) reason, but on the other, not only is it not in any way repugnant to reason, but installs a giant picture window into the realm of natural reason, allowing the higher light to stream in.

A window for the intellect and a door for the will. But first you have to turn around and open it. Don't worry, it only locks from the inside. 

That's about it for today. To be continued... 

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Wide Open Spaces and Tight Shuttered Places

So, man is the rational animal, from which follows the free animal, religious animal, self-aware animal, speaking animal, moral animal, political animal, artistic animal, et al; to put it conversely, remove reason, and man is plunged back into mere animality and worse. 

Worse because man cannot actually eliminate reason; rather, he can only misuse it -- which is to say, order it to a bad end. 

For example, freedom minus reason = license; religion minus reason = superstition; education minus reason = the looniversity bin; politics minus reason = Democrats; etc.

Man minus reason is just an opinionated animal. A bloviating primate. A tenured ape. A crank with a blog. In a word, Bob. For "Bob cannot take criticism. I mean at all. Not even the slightest little thing. That is not normal. He will never be civil to you again" (A. Nonymous Troll). 

In the previous post we touched on the principle of substance, which comes to us through matter but cannot be reduced to it; rather, it

is a formal principle belonging to an order beyond quantity and sensible qualities. A whole entirely in the whole and entirely in each part, this formal principle assures the unity of the whole. The senses cannot grasp it. The intellect alone reaches it (G-L).

This relation works both ways. Which is why they call it a relation, for if A is related to B, then B is thereby related to A. Suffice it to say that knowledge of substances proves the existence of the intellect that knows them, and vice versa. 

But this knowledge is only "the first determination of being," i.e., that something is. We grasp that it is something, but what? According to G-L,

the multiple is intelligible only in function of the one, and the transitory only in function of the permanent or the identical.

Which goes back to what we said a couple of posts back about how the unity of the cosmos must be (albeit atemporally) prior to its diversity, both objectively and subjectively. If this weren't the case, then science would be impossible. Yes, the cosmos is divisible, but only because it is indivisible. Absent the latter, then the divisibility ends in an absurd logical atomism with no substantial ground: all discrete particles with no unifying wave, you might say. 

Speaking of which, I was a little surprised to see Ratzinger deploy the wave-particle complementarity to the trinitarian Godhead, as this principle is usually misused by woohoo pneumopaths of dopey Oprah-Chopra kind. 

But before transitioning over to Ratzinger, a few more words about the indivisible and immutable. Just as we can't coherently deny cosmic unity, nor can we coherently deny the immutable. Those who do merely elevate something less to the immutable (i.e., create a false absolute), and fall into idolatry -- like the frog at the bottom of a well who is sure the sky is a small blue disc. 

These folks may be known by their rigidity and closed-ness to Reality. They reduce Reality to ideology and then blame us for escaping from their little matrix! This is 

the immutability of narrow minds and tight hearts, the immutability of the obstinate who see only one side of things and wish to make it absolute.... This is the immutability of the fanatic and sectarian...., the egoist who is full of himself and satiated.

Which they can't help but project into us, because what else are they supposed to do with it? We literally become the Taliban -- even while they pretend the actual Taliban aren't so bad if you just give them a chance!  

Above this cadaverous immobility that arises from narrowness of receptive capacities and of desire, there is something superior, found only in natures capable of seeing the multiple aspects of things, without, however, being able to bring this multiplicity back to a superior unity. 

This describes the skeptic, the mid-level sophist whose mind is like an organism with catabolism (breaking down) but no anabolism (building up, synthesis):

Here, we have inconstancy and agitation, a seeking that does not arrive at a result. This is the state of mind of those who prefer... the search for truth to truth itself.

Above this intermediary and perpetually adolescent state is 

the immutability that arises not from the narrowness of capacities, nor from the poverty of desire, but rather, from the perfection of what one possesses, from the value of the realized end.

"This is no longer the immutability of the simplistic person, of the closed mind," but of "the synthetic thinker who knows how... to pass beyond the multiple, to give a unity to his science."

At the far (vertical) end there exists a "superior immutability" that converges on sanctity, of all things, for "the saint is a being who is immutably fixed in God." In other words, there exists an "immutability of beings who have passed beyond the relative and have truly found the Absolute."

Which makes perfect nonsense if we recall that truth and goodness necessarily converge at the toppermost of the poppermost, because the virtue of the intellect is Truth itself, and both share the same substance.

Probably a good place to end, rather than veering into a very different but intimately related subject.