Wednesday, May 18, 2022

God is Like Anyone Else, Only More So

Continuing with the forever unfinished isness of the human condition, Clarke writes of 

a kind of infinite or inexhaustible depth in our spirit, due to its openness to the Infinite, which cannot be plumbed by our explicit consciousness short of the direct vision of God himself... 

Yes, but one can try. I'm reading a newly released collection of Schuon's letters, and an early one from 1928 -- when he was not yet 21! -- describes this effort:

I contemplate the Infinite ceaselessly. During the day it envelops my soul like a deep, distant rhythm coming from the ocean's depths... it is like a gaze of the gods that continuously rests upon me with cool stillness. It will transform me, impure vessel, according to its will. Man needs only to close himself to the finite and open himself to the Infinite in order for it to stream into him.

In other letters from this period of time he writes of feeling a bit lonely, isolated, and alienated. Dude.

In contrast, the Christian yoke is a little easier. For starters, by no means does it close itself to the finite; rather, the whole point, as it were, is to baptize the finite in Infinitude, and voila! We're already there:

Actually, the two focuses of knowledge advance together, in an alternating spiral of reciprocal illumination until the final vision (Clarke).

And "Without me you can do nothing." In other words, try as we might to mount from finitude to infinitude, the last leap is strictly impossible in the absence of Infinitude having taken the leap on our be-half (in order for us to bewhole). Many aphorisms come to mind (nor do I believe the mature Schuon would disagree with any of them): 

God is infinitely close and infinitely distant; one should not speak of Him as if He were at some intermediate distance. 
There are arguments of increasing validity, but, in short, no argument in any field spares us the final leap. 
The man of faith does not escape his prison of paradoxes except by means of a vertical act of faith. 

Faith is not an irrational assent to a proposition; it is a perception of a special order of realities.  

Christianity does not deny the splendor of the world but encourages us to seek its origin, to ascend to its pure snow. 
Christ was in history like a point on a line. But his redemptive act is to history as the center is to the circumference.

We might say that God and man -- or Infinitude-as-such and the finite-infinitude (so to speak) of man -- are "paradigms of each other" (John Scotus Eriugena) and that "Both are ultimately ineffable, and this both because of their subjectivity and their inexhaustible depth" (Clarke).

Me? I've always suspected that "subjectivity" and "inexhaustible depth" are synonymous terms. After all, objects have no depth -- or height or width or breadth -- unless a subject is there to perceive it. Does this constitute relativism? No, not at all, since knowledge is a conformity of subject to object. Which never ends:

To be a human person is to be on a journey from potential self-possession to actual.

As Clarke describes it, there are two complementary sides to the journey, one which is expressive and extroverted, the other receptive and introverted; there is an "in-itself" and a "toward-others" aspect, which correspond, respectively, to substance and relation:

A person, like every other real being, is a living synthesis of substantiality and relationality, and the relational side is equally important as the substantial side, because it is only through the former that the self as substance can actualize its potentiality and fulfill its destiny. 

A destiny that rests in the Infinite Substance some people like to call God. But whatever you call it, there it is. Or here it is, rather. How is it here? Duh: because this infinite substance is substance-in-relation. In this regard, God is just like anyone else, only more so.

I discover positively what and who I am by engaging actively -- and receptively -- in interpersonal relations with other human beings like me who treat me as a "Thou" in an interpersonal social matrix of "I-Thou-We."

Which reminds me of someone... I know -- Eckhart!

For God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive. As God is omnipotent in his deeds, so too is the soul equally profound in its capacity to receive.  

And as Bernard McGinn writes,

the very same love with which the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father must be the love by which we love God.

To be continued... 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Unknow Thyself

One of Aristotle's most important metaphysical insights allowed for the reconciliation of two contradictory views of reality: one of pure process, impermanence, and becoming (Heraclitus) vs. one of absolute oneness and changelessness (Parmenides). These two views are reconciled via Aristotle's division of being into act and potency

This division is quintessentially seen in ourselves -- in the human person -- in that regardless of how much self-actualization we accomplish in this life, there's always more: each of us dies before we are finished. D'oh!

Which again makes us unique among living beings. Other animals may fail to attain their end due to accident, illness, or predation, but we apparently fail to do so under any circumstance. It is not as if Mozart or Shakespeare or Groucho would have run out of melodies or stories or puns. 

Now that I'm thinking about it, it seems that potency relates to infinitude. Only God is literally infinite -- or Infinitude as such -- and yet, our deiform nature means that we share in it. As we do with his Absoluteness, which would seemingly correspond to act at our end of creation (as infinitude corresponds to potency). 

That little preramble was provoked by the following passage from Person and Being: "It does not seem," writes Clarke, 

that the process of self-possession through self-knowledge can ever reach a final stage of completeness and total clarity for a human person at any time throughout his life, at least this present chapter of it. The human remains always a "known-unknown," a mysterious abyss, in which more remains unknown than known (emphasis mine).

Hmm. Quite the ontological pickle, but I think there's a way out. 

At the moment, my melon is being assailed from two sides, but let's start with a couple of bold claims made by John Paul II -- that in the absence of Christ, man remains a mystery to himself; and that the Godman is somehow the center of both history and of the universe itself. 

In short, Christ is the key to unlocking the mysteries of creation, man, and history. This is either the Best or Craziest Idea Ever, and let's not jump to any conclusions but abide in unknowing as we proceed. 

Of course, Christ is not merely an "idea" but a person, and now we're getting somewhere, because even absent Christ, personhood is the most important fact in all of existence, and this fact is said to be anchored in the principle of Christ, who is in turn anchored in the Trinity. Obviously we'll have much more to say about this marvelous or crazy notion.

The second idea assailing my melon comes from Schuon. He expresses it in so many ways in so many contexts that I'll have to choose some at random -- for example, 

--Man, like the Universe, is a fabric of determination and indetermination; the latter stemming from the Infinite [read: potency], and the former from the Absolute [act].

--Man is central, and in all things must be an extension of God.  

--The celestial Word, once it has descended into the human dimension, becomes a human cosmos with regard to its form.

--Man is himself “made in the image of God”: only man is such a direct image, in the sense that his form is an “axial” and “ascendant” perfection and his content a totality. 

--Man is like a reduced image of the cosmogonic unfolding; we are made of matter, but in the center of our being is the supra-sensible and transcendent reality, the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the “eye of the heart,” the way to the Infinite. 

--The animal cannot leave his state, whereas man can; strictly speaking, only he who is fully man can leave the closed system of the individual, through participation in the one and universal Selfhood. 

--[O]ther creatures also participate in life, but man synthesizes them: he carries all life within himself and thus becomes the spokesman for all life, the vertical axis where life opens onto the spirit and where it becomes spirit. 

--[T]he highest spiritual aptitude resides in man's capacity to surpass himself in relation to God...

I could cite dozens more, but the point is that man is at once forever incomplete and yet offered the gift of completeness insofar as he orients himself to the Absolute and actualizes his deiformity in this life. To be continued...

Monday, May 16, 2022

Human Nature and How it Gets That Way

All other animals have a nature, but this nature is fixed; to the extent that it evolves, it doesn't do so in the span of a single lifetime. Only in human beings do we see this peculiar combination of a fixed nature and open development that can persist throughout one's life. You might say we are necessarily contingent.

Indeed, there is something of a paradox at play here, since a human who is not actualizing his latent potential is failing to fulfill his nature. It seems that, as God's essence is to exist, our existence is to "essentialize," i.e., to actualize our essence in time -- which is why only man creates and exists in history. 

If a nature isn't fixed, is it still a nature? An existentialist would respond, No, and that's the whole point. We must choose, but on the basis of no nature, which is why we are condemned to freedom. 

The technical term for freedom + no nature is nothingness. For Sartre

[T]here is no human nature.... Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.

And existentialism itself "is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." 

Coherent? How's that working out? For if the first consequence of a consistent atheistic position is incoherence, the second is inconsistency, and the third is creepy men in sundresses using the girl's restroom. 

Sartre:

Existential philosophy is above all a philosophy that asserts that existence precedes essence.

This sounds like an academic abstraction, but it is the hinge upon which everything else... hinges, for to say that we exist without an essence is again to say that we are, uniquely among the animals, nothing

Now, while we are indeed -- obviously -- unique among the animals, we need to anchor this uniqueness in a sufficient reason. We can't just arbitrarily assert that we magically escape all definition and somehow create ourselves. By virtue of what principle? This is where existentialism goes off the cosmic rails into a parallel acosmos or chaosmos. 

Jumping ahead a bit, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the only adequate -- consistent, coherent, and fruitful -- principle on which to base the human person is the transhuman Person. We can express this axiom in mythopoetic terms or we can do so in more purely metaphysical terms. Either way, we avoid the rudimentary error of attempting to derive the (infinitely) greater in the lesser. 

This is why we say that person is the ultimate category, not derived -- or derivable -- from anything else. 

Okay, but what is a person? I suppose it's easier -- because more experience-near -- to start with what we are and then deduce from this what God must be like by way of analogy. 

So, what are we like? What are our most striking attributes, those without which we aren't persons? Let's review them. Clarke begins with

the unrestricted range of man's intellectual power and interests, matched by the corresponding freedom of his will, [which gives] him an inexhaustible creativity to express himself in constantly new... cultural forms, instruments, and ways of interacting with nature.

That's a helpful list: reducing it to a more abstract expression, we can say intellect-freedom-creativity, which, as it so happens, corresponds to truth-virtue-beauty, respectively. Persons are free to know truth, free to choose the good, and free to create beauty. This elevates and confers an ultimate meaning upon the very freedom which, for the existentialist, equates to mere nothingness.  

Freedom in the absence of truth is not, and cannot be, free; rather, it is the freedom of a man lost in the desert or adrift at sea. Some freedom!

It is man's nature to be free, but freedom has its own telos or it is nothing. This dilates and widens out our existence, again, not only situating it in history but forging the basis of history; what we call "history" is freedom + essence deployed in time.  

Putting it all together, Clarke defines our nature as follows:

a human being is by nature a finite embodied spirit, in search of the Infinite, in social solidarity with its fellow human beings, on an historical journey through the material cosmos towards its final trans-world goal.

That's a pretty, pretty good definition, but I think we can do better. For starters, we need to flesh out what it means to be "in social solidarity with our fellow human beings," because it presumes something much deeper, touching on the very nature of I am and We are. For

the explicit awakening to self-awareness as an "I," as a self, can only be done by another human person, reaching out to us with love and treating us as a person, calling us into an I-Thou relation.

 Now we're getting somewhere. To be continued... 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Spiral River Flowing Upstream Around a Motionless Center

In the previous post we alluded to the Great and/or Divine Attractor to Whom we are ultimately ordered. Later that day I read an essay by Schuon which describes the same reality  from a slightly different perspective (from The Symbolism of the Hourglass, in Logic and Transcendence):

in reality there are two poles, one earthly and one heavenly, so that heavenly attraction should be represented by an ascending movement of the sand toward the upper compartment....

Spiritually, a movement toward the higher is always a sort of turning upside down, for the soul turns away from the world, which imprisons and disperses it, thus reversing the movement of its will or love.   

The expression "pole of attraction" calls to mind the image of two magnetic centers, one above and one below.... 

[T]he world attracts like a magnetic center, but at the same time it is diverse and it disperses; the "Kingdom of Heaven" also attracts like a magnet, but at the same time it is infinite and it expands. 

In this latter space, "time becomes a circular or spiral river flowing around a motionless center." In an earlier essay in the same book (Evidence and Mystery) he describes this dynamism in similar terms as 

a spiral with centripetal movement progressing indefinitely toward a center that is never reached but that can nonetheless be grasped... 

Grasped via intellection, which is our very own link between the above and below. 

Let's try to reconcile this with Clarke's Person and Being, the book we've been discussing: "the human being, because of its dual nature as embodied spirit," is properly seen as the "microcosm," i.e., "a synthesis of the whole universe":

by his spiritual soul he rises above the dispersion of space and time to live in the spiritual horizon of supra-material meanings and values and to set his sights on the Infinite and the Eternal.  

The reason why I've emboldened those words is to highlight the precise similarity to Schuon, indicating that these two are indeed describing -- better, inhabiting -- the very same nonlocal attractor. 

This is life at the leading edge of the divine-human spiral described above by Schuon: "to be a human being," writes Clarke, is to live "on the frontier of matter and spirit, time and eternity." It is "to be an amphibian"

able at will to direct himself in either direction, down toward matter or up toward spirit. [Our] destiny is thus to journey through matter toward a fulfillment beyond matter (Clarke).

In Raccoon argot we refer to this as our "I AMphibious" nature, but you get the point, supposing your not one of our illuminate trolls confined to the lower chamber of the hourglass. 

What else can we say on this fine Sunday morning, or have we already said enough for one post? 

The latter. Let's save something for Monday. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

It's Not Enough to be Non-Reductionist, We Must be Anti-Reductionist

The person, according to Clarke -- and we couldn't agree more --

is not some special mode of being, added on from the outside, so to speak. It is really nothing but the fullness of being itself, existence come into its own.... 

It is being unrestricted by by material limitation, or "to be fully."

Now, most every philosophical concept solves some problems while leaving others unsolved (or sometimes unsolving them). This idea of person-as-ultimate-category surely solves many problems, not the least of which being the mystery of ourselves, which is really the first and most important of all. But what does it do to previously solved problems? Does it unsolve them? 

No, it just puts the vertical hierarchy of being bright-side up, but otherwise leaves everything unchanged. Physics is still physics and biology is still biology, except now we are in position to understand why there is no material explanation of how we get from the former (matter) to the latter (life), let alone from life to mind and person. 

It reminds me of E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, wherein he says something to the effect that Life is not Matter plus X, so to speak, but rather, Matter is Life minus X. Analogous to what our progressive racists say about race, it's not enough to merely not be reductionist; rather, one must be actively anti-reductionist!

Being that we are the beneficiaries of Christian civilization, we take the category of person for granted. Clarke goes into the history of the concept, showing that it emerged partly out of the efforts of early Christian thinkers to define Christ's personhood. Later, Boethius put forth the classic definition of an individual substance of a rational nature

"Rational animal" signifies man's place as the highest of the animals, starting from this material world of our experience as its frame of reference and moving upwards.

But if this were all we are, we would not -- and could not -- be human, because it overlooks our intersubjectively relational nature. Thus, a more adequate description of the human person is embodied spirit, which

signifies man's place in a total vision of the hierarchy of being, looking downwards from God as Infinite Spirit, through the various levels of finite pure spirits (angels), then down through man as embodied spirit, all the way to the lowest levels of purely material being (ibid.).

This vision of the Great Chain of Being is an old one, but it is extended and perfected by, on the one hand, the revelation of a trinitarian meta-theology, and on the other, an understanding of the irreducibly intersubjective dimension of human development. In short, human persons are not monads, because God himself isn't: Let Us make make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.

Okay. Now what? What do we do about it? 

Here again, I would look at what human persons inevitably tend to do, which is to ceaselessly transcend ourselves, only now we're in a better position to situate this restless drive toward the Great Attractor in the open spiral of trinitarian being. The destiny of the human person

is to make its way back to God by a journey through the material world, coming to know and work with the latter through the mediation of its multi-sensed body (ibid.).

In short, man is homo viator, fulfilling his destiny "as a traveller to God through the material cosmos." It's what we do. Only now we understand how this is possible.  

It is possible because we come into the world ordered to our transcendent end: "The human intellect"

is naturally ordered, as to its adequate object, to the whole of being as intelligible. Hence it can ultimately be satisfied only by knowing directly the infinite source and fullness of being, namely, God (ibid.).

Raccoons call it the Divine Attractor

Thus we are magnetized, so to speak, by our very nature toward the Infinite Good, which draws us in our very depths....

This innate, unrestricted drive of the human spirit toward the Infinite Good is the great hidden dynamo that energizes our whole lives, driving us on to ever new levels of growth and development, and refusing to let us be ultimately contented with any merely finite, especially material, goods, whether we understand consciously what is going on within us or not, whether we can explicitly identify our goal or not (ibid.).

So, you have no excuse: the dynamO is hidden no more. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Pneumopathology and Vertical Openness

So: "The full meaning of 'to be' is not just 'to be present,' but 'to be actively present.'" The relationality of this active presence "is a primordial dimension of every real being, inseparable from its substantiality." Being is an act, and the act of being is relational: it is

turned towards others by its self-communicating action. To be fully is to be substance-in-relation (Clarke).

But why? By virtue of what principle? Because every being -- every existent that partakes of being -- is an image of the very trinitarian God who is irreducibly substance-in-relation. That every lower being has both an in-itself and towards-others dimension finds its ground and principle in the godhead. 

The alternatives don't work. For example, Buddhism and process philosophy posit a universe of pure relations with no substance. But a relation is precisely between substances, not between nothings. A relation between nothing and nothing is just nothing: śūnyatā yada yada.

Josef Pieper (cited by Clarke) agrees that to exist 

means "to be able to relate" and "to be the sustaining subject at the center of a field of reference." Only in reference to an inside can there be an outside. Without a self-contained "subject" there can be no "object." 

We might say that subject is to interiority as object is to exteriority, and the two are always related or linked. Moreover -- and this has vast implications for the definition of psychopathology --  

The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness to reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relatedness: namely, the world (Pieper).

As it pertains to psychopathology, back in another life in the mid-1990s I published an article ponderously titled Psychoanalysis, Chaos, and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. Looking back on it 28 years later, I see that I was basically exploring the same ontological attractor as Clarke, only expressed in terms of metapsychology rather than metaphysics or meta-theology (this goes to what I said in the previous post about being predisposed to think in terms of reality as substance-in-relation).

I won't bore you with pedantic details, but in the article young Dr. Godwin suggested that 

While many may consider it a truism that the human mind is an open system, this is not always so, and we may trace many states of pathology to the matter of how open or closed the system is.

Among others, the article mentions schizoid states, autism, narcissism, and "false self" or "as if" personalities. But nearly every diagnosis I can think of involves either pathological closure (too rigid boundaries) or openness (relative absence of boundaries). 

Again, I won't get into all the details, but I will say that later in life -- a few years after publishing this -- I came to the realization that the human person is an open system both horizontally and vertically. And if this is the case, then it accounts for spiritual pathologies -- pneumopathologies --  ranging from atheism (i.e., self-sufficient vertical closure) to full blown demon possession (vertical invasion) and everything in between (e.g., metanoia, prayer, grace, communion, sanctity, infused contemplation, etc.).

What did Jesus say? Two rules: love God (vertical openness) and love your neighbor (horizontal openness). 

This openness is bi-directional: there is an outward facing communicative pole and a complementary pole of receptivity. This functions analogously to metabolism on the biological plane.

With this in mind, we now have a conceptual basis for understanding the receptivity and relationality in and of God. Is God related to us? How could he not be, if God is the very principle of substance-in-relation? 

Moreover -- and this is important, so pay attention -- this divine receptivity "should be looked on not as essentially a sign of imperfection [or] poverty," but rather, as a "positive aspect or perfection of being."

In the absence of this perfection of receptivity, "authentic mutual love would necessarily remain incomplete -- and love is of itself a purely positive perfection." 

Much more to go, but we'll conclude this post by suggesting that "all being tends naturally toward self-transcendence," and that our cosmos may ultimately be regarded as "an immense implicit aspiration towards the Divine."

Like the whole creation groans with labor pains or something. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Cosmos and Person

I'm rereading another one of my favorite books, Person and Being, by W. Norris Clarke. "Favorite" isn't quite the correct word; "ultimate" is more like it, because it grounds the mystery and miracle of human subjectivity in the nature of things. 

After all, this is what we really want to know, isn't it? Putting it personal terms, how am I even possible, and what does my existence mean in the ultimate scheme of things? How does I -- or I-ness as such -- matter?

Although it has only 113 pages of text, no other book of which I'm aware expresses my views so clearly and coherently. A couple of posts ago I alluded to how Schuon so often "verbally actualizes what is latent in my own intellect." Same with this book, such that when I read it, I find myself saying to myself, Yes, Yes, Precisely, Exactly, Couldn't have said it better, Preach brotha' Clarke!, etc. 

Not only does he articulate what I believe, but what I must believe. Of course, it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. It does, however, mean it is deeply true for me, for what that's worth. 

For example, I couldn't agree more with him that Christian thinkers have tended not to adequately appreciate the revolutionary metaphysical implications of the Trinity. 

Put conversely, if ultimate reality is trinitarian, then we've got a lot of explaining to do. Seems basic, and yet, here we are. He quotes an excellent article by Ratzinger from 1990, which we'll also get further into as we proceed: "In the relational notion of person developed within the theology of the Trinity" 

lies concealed a revolution in man's view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality (Ratzinger). 

Jumping ahead a bit, our nonlocal sources now confirm that Ultimate Reality is not substance and not relation, but rather, a complementarity of the two. Again, this has extraordinary implications, none of which, by the way, negate what science reveals about the world, but extend and perfect it. We might say that man is the measure of things, in so far as Person(s) is the measure of man. Ratzinger:

person must be understood as relation.... the three persons that exist in God are in their nature relations. They are, therefore, not substances that stand next to each other, but they are real existing relations, and nothing besides.

In God, person means relation. Relation, being related, is not something superadded to the person, but it is the person itself. In its nature, the person exists only as relation.

The metaphysical implications are breathtaking. For example, through them we could understand a priori that the Newtonian paradigm of reality, useful as it was, had to be wrong in the ultimate sense, since the universe does not and cannot consist of externally related atomistic units. For the same reason we can say on the political plane that Lockean individualism is way off, since its anthropology is a non-starter.

I'll resist the temptation to veer into political insultainment vis-a-vis gender theory, but let's just say that man refers to woman (and vice versa) and that mother refers to baby (and vice versa). Come to think of it, Schuon has an important essay called The Message of the Human Body that we may toss into the mix later. Or now. For example,

The human form cannot be transcended, its sufficient reason being precisely to express the Absolute, hence the unsurpassable. 

Note that the mentally ill gender theorists imagine that one can transcend by transitioning. They have the prefix right -- trans -- but are quite confused about how to go about it. To put it mildly.

Back to Clarke: there is an "indissoluble complementarity" with regard to an "in-itself dimension of being" and a "towards-others aspect." And back to Bob for a moment, I am predisposed to this view, since my graduate training in modern psychoanalysis focused precisely on the nature of human development in the matrix of relationality -- only now, via a trinitarian metaphysic, there is an ultimate grounding for human development, instead of human subjectivity being an inexplicable cosmic aberration. 

Clarke begins with being itself, which is intrinsically diffusive and self-communicating. Ultimately, this is why the universe is intelligible to our intelligence. These two -- intelligence and intelligibility -- are intrinsically related. If this isn't the case, them we end up in a closed, Kantian universe of metaphysical onanism.

Reality is an ec-static process of self-communicative being-in-action. Which not only explains a lot, but explains everything -- literally, because it explains how we can explain anything. What's the alternative?

Suppose a being that really exists, but does not act in any way, does not manifest itself in any way to other beings. There would be no way for anything else to know that it exists; it would make no difference at all to the rest of reality; practically speaking, it might just as well not be at all -- it would in fact be indistinguishable from non-being.

If this were the nature of reality, then each existent thing "would be locked off in total isolation from every other. There would not be a connected universe." There would be substance but no relation, or particles with no wave.

Let's conclude this post by shouting vive la différence! -- between Begetter and Begotten, or I and Thou.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Only Conservatives are Free

Wrapping up our discussion of The Contradictions of Relativism, Schuon bats away the anti-philosophy of existentialism with a single sentence: it

postulates a definition of the world that is impossible if existentialism itself is possible.

Boom. Upon understanding it, a normal person -- a person with a normally functioning intellect -- would say to himself, "Oh. That clears that up. Better choose a real philosophy." 

And yet, existentialism abounds under innumerable guises, as it encompasses the polar opposite of the vertical essentialism that orders the cosmos. In a subsequent chapter, Schuon writes that existentialism

has achieved the tour de force or the monstrous contortion of representing the commonest stupidity as intelligence and disguising it as philosophy, and of holding intelligence up to ridicule, that of all intelligent men of all times.... All down the ages to philosophize was to think; it has been reserved to the twentieth century not to think and to make a philosophy of it. 

Now, what is existentialism and why does it continue to hold such sway over the tenured? 

Forgive me if this is too basic, but in a word, existentialism applies to any philosophy -- ideology is more like it -- that stresses the primacy of existence over essence. 

A quintessential example is Marxism and its retarded postmodern progeny (e.g., identity politics, feminism, critical race theory), each of which claiming that who you are is a consequence of class, race, gender, etc. You yourself have no say in the matter. If you happen to be black, that is your primary identity. Your God-bestowed individualism is effaced.

Or, if you happen to be white, you automatically have White Privilege and are an oppressor, irrespective of the good or bad choices you have made in life; likewise, if you are a woman (whatever that is) you are intrinsically a victim of the patriarchy. In short, your essence is determined by your existence instead of vice versa.

In the real world, of course, we actualize our essence via our free choices, which is precisely what determines their merit. 

Conversely, in existential world, a black criminal, for example, is "depraved on account I'm deprived." Note the contradiction, however, because the same courtesy is not extended to, say, the January 6 rioters. They're just criminals, full stop. They chose their fate, while the behavior of Democrat criminals is always determined by forces beyond their control. 

So, it's free will -- essentialism -- for white conservatives, who are rotten to the core, existentialism for everyone else. 

Sartre famously remarked that human nature cannot exist because there is no God. Except human nature does exist. So... 

This is not to say that existentialism is wholly false. Rather, like any heresy, it is generally correct in what it affirms but false in what it denies. 

Obviously, certain aspects of existence influence us, and Schuon outlines four big ones: first and foremost we are creature and not Creator, so there's that. Only God's essence is to exist, while for the rest of us our existence is on loan, and our lives consist of choices that will (or will not) further actualize -- existentiate -- this our that aspect of our essence.

Next, we are men and not angelic beings; we have material bodies, plus we are persons, both conditions involving certain limitations and privileges that we will get into in a subsequent post. Let's just say that to attain a human birth is a great boon. And to be born in America is impossibly lucky.   

We are also this or that man, i.e., a unique individual essence. You are finally you, not a simply a member of a race or some other anonymous collective. Unless, of course, you're a Democrat, in which case you are indeed simply a race or a gender. This is ironically called "identity politics" despite robbing you of your identity, precisely.

Finally, we all have accidental infirmities arising from a host of existential factors and influences such as family, culture, language, neuroses, etc. Here race or gender could be factors, but hardly the dominant ones. 

Now, choice -- AKA freedom -- is absolutely meaningless in the horizontal and relativistic cosmos of existentialism. In fact, it's not even possible, hence the default to Class (or race) made me do it. This is where the Evil One enters the picture. For "Not to admit that which exceeds us, and not to wish to exceed oneself" is "the very definition of Lucifer." It is indeed Genesis 3 All Over Again, Every Time. 

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Absolute and Relative

Lately I've been rereading Schuon's Logic and Transcendence, which I must have already read half a dozen times. It's one of his more challenging works, partly because he often asserts rather extreme views as if they're self-explanatory, seemingly based upon his own authority -- which I don't necessarily deny, but still. 

Maybe we'll touch on some of those pronouncements later, but I want to focus on the things with which I *absolutely* agree, since he expresses them so clearly and succinctly. And since those things are so evident, it leaves me openminded toward some of his less evident assertions. In other words, since he verbally actualizes a great deal of what is latent in my own intellect, I cut him some slack.  

After all, he didn't derive his own knowledge from books, rather, from direct experience -- or, in his view, from meditating on the Nature of Things, including the nature of the intellect itself. This doesn't necessarily make it correct, since people experience all sorts of things. 

Nevertheless, he provides, for example, a useful definition of "mystical" and "mysticism," characterizing them as "inward contact (other than the purely mental), with realities that are directly or indirectly Divine." So, here is a man describing his contact with Divine realities, which countless people have done through the ages.

The question is, is it possible to reconcile or harmonize all of these diverse mystical testimonies? Schuon would most certainly say Yes, with the caveat that we cleanse them of various accidents and contingencies, e.g., of culture, language, passion, etc. "For Truth is one and so is humanity." 

Just as there can be no "Jewish physics" that exists apart from Buddhist or Christian physics, it's an appealing notion to believe there's only one religion of which diverse religions are more or or less adequate expressions. 

This is because the human intellect intrinsically seeks unity on every plane. As we've said before, the progress of science, for example, proceeds by reducing multiplicity to unity. Physics has thus far reduced things to four fundamental forces of nature, but is currently stuck on how to further unify these into a higher or deeper unity. Our minds spontaneously intuit the unity of reality -- hence the term universe -- but physics is not yet able to get from here to there

And if Gödel is correct -- which he is -- we can never get from here to there, but that's a somewhat different subject. For reality is One regardless of what the math shows and can show. 

In the previous post, a typical anti-religious midwit cut-and-pasted some "problematic" biblical passages, proving one again that there is no religious literalist more literal than the atheist. Each of the passages has an intellectually satisfying exegesis, but it does raise the issue of "asserting that every religion at its origins can be reduced to the crudest possible concepts." This is always done in bad faith by the intellectually dishonest (or lazy), spiritually untutored, or frankly depraved. To say the least, it speaks to a baseness of soul and poverty of imagination. 

But it doesn't help our cause when a devotee of this or that religion essentially says "my crude concept is the correct one, while yours is just a myth, fantasy, or superstition." How do we get around such religious infighting? For as Schuon says, "It has become impossible effectively to defend a single religion against all others by declaring the rest anathema without exception." 

To be sure, some of them are anathema, but based upon what objective criteria? Is there some purely extrinsic way to distinguish, say, Scientology or Mormonism from orthodox Christianity? Or is it solely a matter of faith and intrinsic arguments such as "it's true because it's in the Bible, and the Bible is true because God wrote it." 

The latter approach is not an intellectually satisfying argument, the question being whether God owes us this satisfaction, or whether he wants us to disable our intellect when it comes to the most important questions confronting it.

With all deus respect, that would be absurd and unbefitting a God worth worshipping.  

Schuon's entire opus is geared toward safeguarding "the religious heritage against the advances of the ubiquitous scientistic mentality, and, on the other hand, to bring about a perfectly logical and unsentimental solidarity between those who traditionally take cognizance of transcendence and immortality" -- which is to say, the great majority of human beings.

Now, atheistic types like to think of themselves as "perfectly logical and unsentimental," but Schuon turns this on its head and demonstrates that they are the ones who are plunged into passion, incoherence, and self-interest, beginning with the first chapter, called The Contradiction of Relativism.  

Because first of all, you are either an Absolutist or a Relativist; and if the latter, you're only fooling yourself; for to affirm it to be absolutely true that nothing but the relatively true exists, is like saying that words don't exist, or writing "that there is no such thing as writing."

It's not quite as simple as that, because personal subjectivity and perspective not only exist, but must exist if there is to be a creation separate from the Creator, or a relative apart from the Absolute. 

For me, these two categories are "absolutely complementary," so to speak, as they are never separate in a properly functioning psyche (nor even in God, as we will later argue). Come to think of it, one of the primary characteristics of an improperly functioning psyche -- AKA mental illness -- is a violent sundering of absolute and relative.

I could provide abundant examples, but let's rip one straight from today's headlines: a woman has an absolute right to kill her unborn child. Thus, since it is absolute, it must inhere in the female baby. But does it make sense to anyone that little girls have an absolute right to abort themselves, and wish to exercise this right?

Note that a real natural right doesn't work this way, e.g., rights to free speech, self-defense, and property. They are truly in the nature of things, and do not negate themselves at the source, nor impinge upon anyone else's natural rights. Unless, of course, you are a progressive, in which case you have the right to free speech so long as it doesn't hurt their feelings. Feelings -- which are always relative -- are thus transformed into an absolute. 

Yes, we are subjects, but this does not mean we are entirely enclosed in subjectivity and relativism. Rather, we only know of subjectivity because of our relation to 1) objects and 2) other subjects. Schuon:

For a man who was totally enclosed in his own subjectivity, that subjectivity would not even be conceivable; an animal lives in its own subjectivity, but does not conceive it because, unlike man, it does not possess the gift of objectivity.

Again: complementarity. I have a note to myself somewhere -- something to the effect that "paradise is walled by complementarities." These are not paradoxes, absurdities, or mysteries -- although mysteries generally partake of complementarities, now that I think about it.

Now, multiculturalism, diversity, identity politics, the "living constitution," gender insanity -- the left's whole agenda -- is simply the outward clothing of an inward relativism, which is the real issue: 

Thus it is that relativism, cleverly instilled into public opinion, paves the way for all manner of corruptions, on the one hand, and, on the other, keeps watch lest any kind of healthy reaction might put a brake on this process of sliding toward the abyss.

Note that the correct response is not a tyrannical counter-absolutism. Diversity, for example, is fine, relative to unity, not for its own sake. Otherwise it is like catabolism without anabolism, a diseased breakdown of the tissues of society.  

Likewise, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with doubt, questioning, skepticism. Aphorisms come to mind:

Two skeptics fit into every great Christian with space left over for Christianity.

I have seen philosophy gradually fade away between my skepticism and my faith.

Man’s moment of greatest lucidity is that in which he doubts his doubt.

Here again, doubt is ordered to, and complementary with, certitude, at least down here in the Kingdom of Horizontality:

This capacity for objectivity and absoluteness is an anticipated and existential refutation of all ideologies of doubt: if man is able to doubt, this is because certitude exists; likewise, the very notion of illusion proves that man has access to reality.

This post is getting a little long, isn't it? To be continued... 

 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Woke Oil Salesmen and Diabolic Influences

A letter criticizing Maharishi Mehesh Yogi and his "Transcendental Meditation" might as well be addressed to the entire Woo Age movement: its errors  

are patently obvious. In reality, the goal of meditation is not to have access to "limitless energy, heightened efficiency of thought and action, and release from tensions and anxiety, peace of mind and happiness." All such advantages have no spiritual value, because it is not happiness that matters, it is the motive of happiness and the nature of happiness...

Truth does not matter to [the Maharishi], nor tradition. He does not seek to save men, he seeks to soften their path to hell, just as psychoanalysis does (Schuon).

Not only will such divine snake oil salesmen always be with us, nowadays the product boasts of a larger sales force than ever, only it pretends the oil is purely secular. But anyone who is even minimally skeptical is aware that the oil of wokeness is just a repackaged version of the same dubious product offered way back in Genesis 3.  

What is snake oil, anyway, I mean the literal stuff? According to Prof. Wiki,

It has been suggested that the use of snake oil in the United States may have originated with Chinese railway laborers in the mid-19th century, who worked long days of physical toil. Oil from Chinese water snakes has for centuries been used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat joint pain such as arthritis and bursitis

It may even "have had real benefits due to its high concentration of the omega-3 fatty acids" although "the rattlesnake oil later sold by charlatans did not contain a significant amount of omega-3." 

As always, a counterfeit is dependent on the existence of the real thing. Same with spiritual frauds: as in the collectibles business, anything that has value can and will be faked.   

Schuon's passing comment about psychoanalysis hits close to home, since that was the theoretical focus of my training in grad school. I would have continued to pursue post-graduate training to become a certified psychoanalyst, but in the mid-nineties decided instead to pursue this.

Thanks to the internet I've been blogging about this since 2005, even though I'm still not sure what this is. All I know is that I'm not qualified to sell it, which is why the service is free. 

Changing gears -- downshifting, I suppose -- I recently read a book on the nature of diabolic warfare, called Dominion, by Fr. Chad Rippinger. It is a rather sprawling treatise, with way more information than one could ever assimilate. 

More generally, life and history are so complex, it seems impossible to know where and when diabolical influence -- supposing it exists -- begins and ends. 

In a footnote, there is reference to the possibility of possession of a nation, "in which the demons have gained so much ascendancy in the control of the government structures and the mindset of the people that the demons are in practical control of the nation." 

Is this where we are? Or is there a purely natural explanation for the darkness, hysteria, perversion, and general flight from reality of the left? "Exorcists have noted on occasion that there are specific qualities or characteristics of the deviation of the people." Like what? 

Like Libs of Tik Tok, I suppose. Obviously, I have a lot of experience with mental illness, and these people seem more than mentally ill. 

But interestingly, supposing demons exist, they are members of the same hierarchy that applies to angels. Which is why demons higher up the chain of command want to censor Libs of Tik Tok, because the latter are giving the game away. The higher ups naturally want the darkness to remain in the dark, and they want normal people to be in the dark about their darkness. 

In this regard, it is important to note that while demons may cooperate with one another, they actually hate each other as much as Kamala despises Brandon, as they are beings of pure malice:

Harmony among the demons, by which some are obedient to others, is not from friendship which they have among themselves; but from a common iniquity, by which they hate man and fight against the justice of God.  

Ripperger adds that "one demon obeys another because of the fact that they have a common goal, which is to bring men down and fight against God." They may work together toward an extrinsic goal, but as in hell, "it is not so much a community as a horde of the damned."  

Thus, their coordination is far from perfect. Analogously, think of the ultimate low-trust society, say, the old Soviet Union, which redounded to extreme atomization and paranoia, even between parents and children. Thus,

Even the lower demons will keep information from those who are above them in order to have some semblance of control in a situation: one of the diabolic principles is "knowledge is power."

Nor, properly speaking, do demons "illuminate" one another, since illumination "is to manifest the truth." While they have knowledge on their own plane of operation, they particularly "suffer darkness of the intellect in relationship to that which exceeds nature." 

Here again, the analogy would be to someone -- say, a materialist -- who understands nothing that surpasses science, resulting in monumental error on the philosophical, metaphysical, and theological planes. 

Thus, demons are are at once more intelligent than humans, but also more ignorant, as they will have false opinions about things that surpass their nature. It very much reminds me of Democrats, who habitually project diabolical motives into us, as can be seen from their reaction to the SCOTUS leak -- as if we really want to re-segregate the country, kill homosexuals, and enact the Handmaid's Tale. 

Perhaps such people exist, but I've never met one. Is there a conservatives of Tik Tok?  

It seems that demons are easily triggered: they "are extraordinarily self-absorbed and take everything personally in their interactions with others." Sounds familiar.

They are also ceaselessly frustrated, as it is impossible for them to be happy, or "to achieve the thing to which they are inclined." 

It reminds me of how the left, immediately after the triumph of redefining marriage, turned to the fantasy of "trans rights" and all the rest. Getting what they want only makes them more miserable -- which is indeed like trans people themselves. No one doubts that they are unhappy, but the notion that mutilating their body and pretending to be the other sex will lead to happiness is empirically false. 

I think this must also go to why it is so important to them that everyone buy into their delusions, as a way of assuaging their own conflict. In fact, demons themselves "have a deep self-hatred and self-loathing," and when they "act upon human beings, they will often make people feel their self-loathing, self-hatred, etc." Human progressives deny their self-loathing and project it into us. 

"Demons are like children probing and testing the limits of what they can get away with." They are also activists, in the sense that focusing on something outside themselves temporarily relieves their pain: 

Demons get a certain relief by possessing or being involved in things in this world.... it is for this reason, as well, that demons will very often spend a lot of energy trying to hold onto any influence they have in this world.

And of course they lie. It's what they do: "demons lie constantly," as "their will is fixed on the false." They are even bad liars, which these days is pretty easy to see. Indeed, they are ridiculous liars, which is surely one of the reasons they want to ban ridicule, e.g., the Babylon Bee.

To be continued. I should say that I still haven't decided the extent to which I take any of this literally, or merely as a symbolic way to talk about a reality we just don't understand. In other words, the effects are absolutely and undeniably real, but the cause is obscure. But speaking as a psychologist, it seems to me that these things cannot be reduced to what can be explained by mere psychology, so what's the explanation?  

Thursday, April 28, 2022

New Writ Has Come to Light

Here's something: a newish book called Towards the Essential: Letters of a Spiritual Master. It consists of of letters from Schuon, mostly to folks asking for advice on how to proceed -- as in, I've read your book(s), now what? I'm here, God is there, and how do we tie the room together?

Over a third of the letters are addressed to Christian correspondents, followed by other miscellaneous paths, eg., Sufi, Hindu, Native American, etc. I'd skip ahead to the section on Buddhism, but the Chinaman is not the issue. 

Here's a timely passage which, although written in 1986, goes to our era of mis- and disinformation:

the devil is fond of inculcating in people predisposed certitudes that are unshakable but diametrically opposed to the truth; the earmarks of satanism are precisely this diametrical falseness and the obstinacy of error.

Say what you want about Satan: that creep can roll. Worthy f'ing adversary.

Good news / bad news:

There is no spiritual method that does not wound our nature. Spirituality is both the easiest and the hardest thing. The easiest: because it is enough to think of God. The hardest: because fallen nature is forgetfulness of God. 

So, you're entering a world of pain. Nor does Schuon care about your feelings, which are "a matter of indifference" and "a contingent matter without importance." Besides, 

The happiness of worldly people, if one may say, is that they do not see all their disharmonies; they dwell in an opaque and easy homogeneity; it is a harmony procured for a pittance.  

Sometimes I wish I could live in a place where there were more people like me, instead of none. Well, the world doesn't start and stop at our convenience: 

I know where the difficulty lies: it is easier -- or less difficult -- to be alone on a desert island, than to be among men who do not understand us....

Nevertheless, 

we are obliged to accept the destiny God gave us and do the best we can with it.

I get it, but California? Really?

The world is a battleground, and it is necessary that there be warriors of Light everywhere, if I may express myself thus. In the meantime, you are where Providence has placed you...

There are always ups and downs, strikes and gutters: one must

be mindful of the equilibrium of the soul so as to avoid the alternations between phases of enthusiasm and aridity. If we are indifferent to aridity, it will dissipate in the end.... 

Ups and downs are natural for the soul; everything that is situated in duration undergoes phases; every continuous motion contains rhythms.

In short, abide. Yeah, but it's complicated: lotta ins, lotta outs:

In the spiritual life, one must know how to simplify things, which presupposes that one be firmly conscious of the essential elements of the path.... 

A strict regiment to keep the mind, you know, limber: 

I like to repeat that one must avoid complications, and that the essential, of which one must never lose sight, is this: discernment between the Real and the illusory, between God and the world...

But we are surrounded by nihilists.

God owes nothing to sheep, nor to somnambulists.... 

You must not allow yourself to be discouraged.... this absurd ambience, though so full of assurance and arrogance, is monstrously abnormal, with regard to both its convictions and tendencies; these people may be unanimous in their errors and vices, but it is you who are normal; so remain imperturbable in the face of this collective hypnosis....  

A smarter feller than myself once said

Serenity is to be above the clouds, above the world; above oneself. Recollectedness and serenity: we must discover these in prayer, and through prayer.

Ever thus to deadbeats:

The very length of your letter proves your problems are artificial, thus illegitimate, for one does not need to write a twelve-page letter to outline real problems.

You think far too much, in an artificial manner that is both bookish and psychological.

Maybe, but at least it's an ethos. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Last Word on Freedom

We're still toying with the question of how and where man's freedom fits into the overall cosmic scheme of things. Literally: for how is free will possible, and why is it here? If it doesn't exist -- as believed by religious and scientistic determinists -- then at least this frees us of anxiety, since whatever happens must happen, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. It also frees us of moral qualms and conflicts for the same reason.

If free will is just an illusion, then there are no such things as error or evil. So don't worry, be happy! And yet, despite the presence of more secularism than ever, there appears to be more anxiety than ever, so there's a disconnect somewhere.

Aphoristic pointers and clues:

If determinism is real, if only that can happen which must happen, then error does not exist. 

But error does exist, so... 

Error supposes that something happened that should not have. 

Something is supposed to happen, and we are supposed to make it happen. So responsibility and guilt are built into the fabric of existence? Not sure I like that idea. 

The stone is right, wherever it falls. Whoever speaks of error postulates free actions. 

Wait -- I think I found a loophole: belief in free will must be an error. 

To admit the existence of errors is to confess the reality of free will. 

D'oh! 

The prestige of freedom in a society that professes scientific determinism is a Christian holdover.

That's a low blow.

The determinist is impatient with his opponents, as if they had the freedom to speak as they wished to. Determinists are very irritable people.

Why not? Irritability is an effective defense against self-awareness.     

In any proposition about man its paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom must emerge. 

Which leads directly to the irreducible paradox of personhood: 

The permanent possibility of initiating causal series is what we call a person.

In this giant book I'm reading on metascience, the author points out that there are some eight different forms or schools of Thomism. This troubles me, since there is only one Thomas, and I even chose him for my confirmation saint. One reason I joined the church is to exit my own circularity and fragmentation, and now I find out that my own saint is riven by octupularity?

Of the eight approaches, I find that two or three of them speak to me; it's not that I ever intended to join a school of thought, rather, that these schools describe where I already find myself. 

For example, the school of transcendental Thomism revolves around the idea that "the ultimate root of all metaphysical inquiry" is "the drive to know and the intelligibility of being." It "argues that the human intelligence cannot be satisfied until it arrives at some 'Ultimate Reality' which is the 'Ultimate Good.'" This Ultimate Being "is implicit in all our thinking and provides the 'horizon' on which metaphysics is based."

So, I guess that makes me a transcendental Thomist. Except I equally relate to what he calls "Phenomenological Thomism," because this includes the personalism which for me holds the Key to Everything. 

Ironically, John Paul II is perhaps the most well-known personalist, despite the fact that he was a student of Garrigou-Lagrange, the latter representing an entirely different school of thought ("essentialist Thomism") which is much more objective, rigorous, and even hostile to the potential subjectivism of personalism. 

Maybe I'm a little slow, but I see the three approaches as complementary. A thought just floated by: it is as if Garrigou-Lagrange's essentialism is the Father, John Paul II's personalism is the Son, and Norris Clarke's dynamic transcendental horizon is the Holy Spirit.  

This may also be how and where the whole existentialada may be harmonized with Schuon, who writes that not only is there "no incompatibility whatever between the 'absolute Absolute,' Beyond-Being, and the 'relative Absolute,' creative Being," but "this distinction is even crucial." For the Divine Relativity

is the necessary consequence of the very Infinitude of the Principle: it is because God is infinite that He comprises the dimension of relativity, and it is because He comprises that dimension that He manifests the world.  

A world that includes free persons:

God did not create an intelligent being so that the latter might grovel before the unintelligible; He created him in order to be known starting from contingency, and that is precisely why He created him intelligent. 

Only if the mind is rational is the will free, and both are rooted in the Person: 

Now one thing is the existential determination of man, which he shares with every pebble, and another thing is his liberty, which he owes to his deiform personality and which causes him to participate in the Divine Nature.  

Now, "The individual will is free insofar as it is real," for "if it were not in any way free it would be deprived of all reality." Rather, only the Divine Will would be free, and we would simply be necessary consequences of it.

I think I'll conclude with a passage from The Way Toward Wisdom:

Since, for Aquinas, the human person is the culmination of the visible universe, and the mediator between it and the spiritual realm, a good understanding of the human person can be considered the key to the knowledge of all Being for which the human person serves as the analogical microcosm. Thus personalism is central to a Metascience, since beings with intellect and will are the supreme form of Being (Ashley).

Concur. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Metascience and Metatheology

Neither science nor religion are possible in the absence of a sense or vision of the Absolute, whether implicit or explicit. 

Every special science, for example, has its material object, but these objects can't just be floating around independently in the cosmos. We separate them for reasons of convenience, but obviously they must be unified in some higher object, the highest and most general of all called being. Metaphysics is the study of being qua being, while every special science limits itself to an aspect of changeable being.

Is the same thing true of religions? In other words, is it possible that there is a metareligion of which diverse religions are exemplars? Here's a thought: according to Schuon,

Religions are cut off from one another by barriers of mutual incomprehension; one of the principle causes of this appears to be that the sense of the absolute stands on a different plane in each of them, so that what would seem to be points of comparison often prove not to be (emphasis mine).  

Compare this to the situation in science (or among scientific disciplines). Say we're looking at biology and physics and get into an argument over what is prior, life or matter. This won't be a fruitful debate unless we can arrive at a larger system in which to situate both life and matter on a vertical axis. 

Last I checked, people are still trying to reduce life to matter instead of realizing this is impossible in principle. A cosmos capable of hosting life -- let alone persons -- is utterly different from on that isn't. The least we can ask of a metaphysic is How am I even possible, let alone actual?   

I don't want to get sidetracked on this smaller (or is it larger?) issue, but here are some illustrative passages by our favorite theoretical biologist, Robert Rosen, from his book Essays on Life Itself

Any question becomes unanswerable if we do not permit ourselves a universe large enough to deal with the question.

In science, for instance, it seems patently obvious that, whatever living organisms are, they are material systems, special cases drawn from a larger, more generic class of nonliving inorganic ones. The game is thus to reduce, to express their novel properties in terms of those of inorganic subsystems.... 

[O]ne manifestation of this claim to the objectivity of reduction is that one must never, ever, claim to learn anything new about matter from a study of organisms. 

Nevertheless, 

Despite the profound differences between those material systems that are alive and those that are not, these differences haver never been expressible in the form of a list -- an explicit set of conditions that formally demarcate those material systems that are organisms from those that are not. 

The List does not exist because it cannot exist, and besides, we're looking for it in the wrong place (not to mention Gödel). We are free to dissolve organisms into "a presumptively larger universe of inorganic systems," but this -- in my opinion -- actually shrinks the universe down to one of our modes of comprehending it, resulting in a total conflation of model and reality, menu and meal. 

No wonder there is so much spiritual hunger among radical secularists: they try to subsist on the menu and wonder why they're malnourished.

Now that I'm thinking about it, we could say that such enigmas result inevitably from the elevation of science to metascience. This redounds to a scientism that can never even account for itself, let alone everything else.   

As it so happens, I'm reading a book called The Way Toward Wisdom: An Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Introduction to Metaphysics, which is all about metascience and the Unification of Everything more generally. My kind of book. Or at least I thought it was. Kind of a slog, actually. Someone needs to write the same book, only make it more irreverent, entertaining, and engaging. I know a guy, but he's a little lazy...

Here's a relatively straightforward passage:

Persons can be judged really "wise" only if, through reflection, they have become conscious not simply of what their worldview is but also of the bases on which it rests. Nor is anyone wise who is unable to enter into dialogue with those of different worldviews.  

Now, we all know there is by definition no wisdom on the progressive left; this in turn is both a cause and consequence of their hatred of free speech. They are trapped in their little model of the world, and repel any information that might help them escape from it. Could there be a theory less critical than critical race theory?

Yes! Because critical race theory is situated in a more general metaphysic of critical theory, exemplified by everything from feminism to Chicano studies to post-colonialism to queer theory. They could save a lot of money by merging these into one big Department of Angry Victims. 

Back when I studied psychology in grad school they just called it "paranoia." Now they call it psychology. In other words, psychology itself has become "critical" and therefore uncritical. Today I don't think a guy like Bob could ever pass the licensing exam except by concealing his true beliefs and toeing the party line.   

Headline I just now saw: Media Watchdog: Big Tech Stepped in to Censor News About Biden 646 Times in Just 2 Years. Pay no attention to that shuffling corpse and get back in the Matrix!

But let's try to focus on our original subject, that is, how and where to situate different religions in relation to one another.  

Nah, out of time. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

God Knows

God is freedom as such, whereas we only participate in this freedom -- identical to how we are conscious of truth, beauty, and goodness, without ever being the source of these transcendentals. If we were the source of these, then... well, for starters, man would not be such a mystery to himself. 

Supposing you're not a mystery to yourself, I can't think of many good excuses. Most likely, you're just living in a mind-forged reality tunnel, or worse, assimilated into the Matrix created by everyone and no one, prick by prick. Either way, you are existing in a state of ontological contraction in order fit into your shrunken counter-world.

Our mystery is at once an absence and a presence. Schuon:

Whether we like it or not, we live surrounded by mysteries, which logically and existentially draw us toward transcendence.

For -- you will have noticed --

One of the keys to understanding our true nature and our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world are never proportionate to the actual range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or else it is nothing.

Either/or: if our intelligence isn't made for, and conformed to, the Absolute, then it's not even intelligence: "To claim that knowledge as such can only be relative amounts to saying that human ignorance is absolute." The absolute relativity of postmodernity confines us to one of those reality tunnels or matrices alluded to above. 

Thus, "the world scatters us, and the ego compresses us," such that "forgetfulness of God becomes a habit." Man "ceases to be himself; the soul is ensnared by the periphery, it is as if deprived of its center."

I don't know about you, but I hate it when that happens. For "The greatest calamity is the loss of the center and the abandon of the soul to the caprices of the periphery." Genesis 3 All Over Again. 

Bad news / good news: "It is a fact that man cannot find happiness within his own limits; his very nature condemns him to surpass himself, and in surpassing himself, to free himself."

More bad news / good news: 

On the one hand, one has to resign oneself to being where one is, and on the other hand, one has to turn this place into a center through the Remembrance of God; for wherever God is evoked, wherever He is manifested, there is the Center.

Echoing what was said in the first paragraph about freedom, "This freedom would be meaningless without an end prefigured in the Absolute; without the knowledge of God and of our final ends, it would be neither possible nor useful."

Like the intelligence from which it flows, an impossibility or a nuisance, a dream or a nightmare.

With those prelumenaries out of the way, let's complete our dive into Norris Clarke's The Philosophical Approach to God, specifically, to the last chapter, which delves into exactly how God is related to the world. 

For in the classical view, it is as if we are related to God, but God isn't truly related to us, since the latter implies relativity, and relativity implies mutability. As I've mentioned before, I have no problem with this -- I can't even think about God in any other way -- but apparently it's a Big Problem for theologians who are way above my praygrade. 

Although I don't consider myself to be one, Clarke credits "process thinkers" with the conception of God as 

profoundly involved and personally responsive to the ongoing events of His creation, in particular to the conscious life of created persons as expressed in the mutuality, the mutual giving and receiving, proper to interpersonal relations (emphases mine).

Not to belabor the point, but I don't see how we can have it both ways, i.e., that God is immutability itself, from all eternity, and that "what happens in the world makes a real difference to the conscious life of God."

I've heard sophisticated people defend the doctrine of immutability and absolute foreknowledge of God by comparing it to a mother who tells a child not to eat a cookie, knowing full well that the moment she leaves the kitchen, the child will "choose" to reach up to the counter and pull the cookie out of the jar.

But this isn't an adequate analogy if the parent knew from all eternity that the child would inevitably eat the cookie -- and indeed, created the child to eat it. Either we're free or we're not free; I don't see any wiggle room.

Is there really no contingency this world? And if not, then how is the world distinct from God's own necessity? If we deny contingency, then the world seems to merge with, and be indistinguishable from, necessary being, and how is this different from a monistic pantheism?

Just asking.

Granted, I'm a simple man, but there seems to be a simple way out. Clarke speaks for me:

our metaphysics of God must certainly allow us to say that in some real and genuine way God is affected positively by what we do, that He receives love from us and experiences joy precisely because of our responses.

Does it not say somewhere that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than ninety-nine who don't need to? How does that work, exactly, if heaven knew all along that the sinner would repent? "Joy" doesn't seem compatible with a jaded I knew it all along.

Back to the easy way out of this conundrum -- easy for me, anyway. Schuon often discusses it in the context of God's infinitude, but I'll save that for a subsequent post. Let's first review how Clarke deals with the question, because I think there's some overlap. He speaks of a "relational consciousness" in God, which nevertheless

does not involve change, increase or decrease, in the Infinite Plenitude of God's intrinsic inner being and perfection -- what St. Thomas would call the "absolute" (non-relative) aspect of His perfection. 

At the same time, "To receive love as a person"

is not at all an imperfection, but precisely a dimension of the perfection of personal being as lovingly responsive.... 

And 

if we examine the matter more fully, we realize that God's "receiving" from us, being delighted at our response to His love, is really His original delight in sharing with us in His eternal Now His own original power of loving and infinite goodness which has come back to Him in return.  

An image floats into my head: God has set before us two cookies, one carrying the false promise to transform us into gods, the other actually accomplishing what it symbolizes. Perhaps he really doesn't know which one we'll choose, but he will be delighted if it's the latter. 

I'll conclude with this passage:

As to what God's timeless knowledge of our changing world is like, we have no clear idea and should be more willing... to leave this as a mystery, not prematurely closing off any metaphysical options....

The mode of the divine presence is left entirely mysterious. In other words, it is impossible for us ever to say in our language when God knows anything. Any translation from the all-inclusive Now of God into any of our exclusive "nows" or "whens" is irremediably equivocal.  

Only God knows.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Looking at Freedom Face to Farce

A reader asks if we would be so kind as to "explore further the paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom" in human beings. This is of course a Big Question, as it is fundamentally linked to Everything. Indeed, to say or even think the word "freedom" is to have situated oneself totally outside any model of reality. 

Wait what? You heard me: people tend to either take freedom for granted or make it go away by denying it altogether (a la scientism or Marxism), but its presence changes everything. I suppose we could throw in a third ideology -- existentialism -- but this simultaneously affirms freedom while utterly negating its meaning and significance, so it's a nonsartrer.

I first became aware of the ontologically explosive nature of freedom in a passage from a book by Stanley Jaki called Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth. The book is a meditation on various fundamentals of existence such as objects, change, causality, mind, history, and purpose. 

Obviously, any complete metaphysic -- better, metaphysic, full stop -- must account for each of these in an intellectually satisfying way: no dodging, spinning, reducing, explaining away, our going wobbly at key junctures. Chapter 4 is on the category of Free Will, right between Science and Purpose (and to champion the obvious, neither science nor purpose are conceivable in the absence of free will).

Now, by way of context, when I first read this book I was a psychoanalytically informed psychologist, and in all my training, we didn't talk much about freedom. There was plenty about causation -- in particular, unconscious causation -- but not much discussion about what was supposed to happen once we were (allegedly) liberated from this pathological causation. It leaves the question: okay, I'm free from my neurotic conditioning, now what? Why even be free? What are we supposed to do with it?

I know: let's do some science! But according to science, free will isn't possible. Or, supposing we are free, there is no conceivable scientific explanation. Shouldn't we be a little more curious about this, if not frankly alarmed?

A side-thought just trickled into my head: ever notice how the same people who insist that sexuality is fixed from birth want to shape it from kindergarten? Big Groomer, like Big Homo, wants to have it both ways. 

Anyway, some passages from the book:

in the final analysis, the elemental registering of free will almost exhausts whatever can be said about its reality. Everything else is embellishment, very useful and informative as it may be, because it is irrelevant unless achieved and articulated freely. 

It's as if the registering of free will encloses us in a tautology, except it's the opposite: it liberates us from absurcularity, for the intimation of free will "belies mere material existence," and here we are, existing immaterially and thinking about it (which amount to the same thing): "All arguments against free will are so many proofs of it," nor does the most determined determinist argue deterministically.

Now, everyone believes in miracles, for there are no less than three: existence, experience, intelligence; or objects, subjects, and the flow of intelligibility between them: the universe never stops speaking, nor do we ever stop hearing and understanding it in diverse modes and on various levels. Free will is subjectivity itself, for the latter is at a right angle to mere material existence, ultimately leading all the way up to its nonlocal source. Bottom line:

far more grippingly than one's immediate grasp of reality does one's registering of the reality of one's free will bring one face to face with that realm of metaphysical reality which hangs in mid-air unless suspended from that Ultimate Reality, best called God, the Creator. 

I'd actually like to draw back from that conclusion somewhat, and stop with Ultimate Reality. We'll eventually get to Creator, but let's first marinate in this question of how ultimate reality must be in order for free beings to be here in it (and therefore simultaneously out of it). Not to belabor the point, but it's an exceedingly queer situation.  

Remember when Helen Keller suddenly grasped the significance of water? It literally changed everything, ushering her into a new cosmos transcending the material prison to which she had been confined. The recognition of freedom should do something similar to us. But I suppose this is where Genesis 3 comes in. Adam and Eve (AKA we) were free, but chose badly. Our freedom, it seems, is somehow compromised near the source. We'll no doubt return to this conundrum. 

Come to think of it, Genesis 3 speaks to the intrinsic bond between freedom and responsibility. In short, freedom has a vector and a telos, so we appreciate right away that it can be misused. Indeed, if it can't misused, then it's not freedom, now is it? So in order to have freedom we must have the possibility -- even inevitability -- of its misuse. Nevertheless, woe to those who misuse it. 

But this too (i.e., woeful consequences for misuse) must be considered a gift in the overall scheme of things, because otherwise freedom is reduced to meaninglessness: if our acts don't matter, then neither does freedom. The point is, without freedom there is no ought, only is, and is is not guilty by reason of inevitability (and not meritorious for the same reason).  

So, "Freedom is a mystery on the natural level in the sense that it cannot be reduced to anything else. It is a primary datum, a supreme, most immediately known reality." 

But a true mystery on the natural level is not to be equated with mere ignorance -- as if the accumulation of natural knowledge will eventually eliminate the mystery. No, this is one of those Primordial Mysteries that point beyond themselves, above and beyond the material. 

To what? Let's stipulate that we are free. This being the case, we are free to create stuff, like machines and works of art. But are we free to create freedom? Obviously not. We can create robots, computers, and NPC progressives, but we cannot conjure freedom. Jaki concludes his chapter by suggesting that only what (whom) we call the Creator could 

create something, an act of free will, which is both fully created and in that sense "physically," that is, fully determined, and yet genuinely free at the same time.

Thus,

The mystery of free will ceases to appear a contradiction in terms, or a wholly unmanageable conundrum only when seen in the context of the infinite power and goodness of God. He created man to be free so that man's service may have that merit which only a freely performed act can have. 

Now that is a heavy responsibility. No wonder humans reject it. (We're not done with this subject, so To Be Continued.)

Monday, April 18, 2022

Infinitude: Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

In one sense, "infinite" is simply not finite, and therefore a wholly negative definition. It is also apophatic, in the sense that we know what finite things are, but again, all we can say about the infinite that it's not one of those.

Jumping ahead a bit, Schuon always deploys the infinite in a positive manner: in brief, one might say that infinitude is the first consequence or entailment of the Absolute. One can conceive of infinitude without the Absolute -- a kind of absolute chaos, I suppose -- but I can't conceive of Father Absolute without Mother Infinitude by his side. 

With those preliminary inanities out of the way, here are some passages touching on the subject, from Norris Clarke's The Philosophical Approach to God. He begins by asking whether the divine perfection is "truly infinite, and it what respects?"

As far as the traditional Christian position is concerned, the doctrine of the positive infinity of the divine perfection has been solidly established and universally recognized since the fourth century.

Prior to this -- in both scripture and in the writings of the early fathers -- "the term 'infinite' itself occurs nowhere explicitly." 

This is partly for cultural reasons, since the early fathers sought to reconcile Christianity with the best philosophical thinking available, and the Infinite "had not yet worked its way into either ordinary or philosophical vocabulary as a positive concept." That is,

In classical Greek thought, including both Plato and Aristotle, perfection was habitually identified with the finished, the well-defined or determinate -- i.e., the finite or limited -- typified by intelligible form.

Is it possible that, over two-thousand years later, we are still burdened by this devaluation of infinitude? Well, for these thinkers,

The infinite was identified with the indeterminate, the unfinished, the chaotic, the unintelligible, typified by unformed matter.  

This strikes me as straight-up misogyny, since, as we know, matter is cognate with mater, maternal, matrix (i.e., womb), and more. Mamamaya!

Now that we're on the subject, I remember a book by Alan Watts (Nature, Man and Woman), in which he traces all this to "the Sanskrit root ma- (matr-), from which, in Sanskrit itself, come both mata (mother) and maya (the phenomenal world of nature)." I don't know if that's just the LSD talking, but it's too good to check. 

The deeper -- and unarguable, in my opinion -- point is that male and female go all the way up and down in this cosmos. Don't even get me started with the centrality of Mary, not to mention Sophia-Wisdom. Or the feminine nature of the soul in relation to God. Rather, let's focus! Clarke:

It is only with Plotinus and Neoplatonism, as foreshadowed by Philo Judaeus, that the notion of a positive infinity, indicating an excess of perfection above all form and not below it, is finally worked out with clear conceptual and metaphysical precision (emboldenment mine).

Now, the first error we need to bat away is the equation of infinitude with some mere quantitative dimension -- as if we're merely talking about an infinite number of intelligible possibilities. Rather, there is a residual of infinitude in every possibility, as indicated by the fact that, for example, no one will ever get to the bottom of a single grain of sand, let alone a living or thinking being. 

Come to think of it, we have less comprehension of anything than we do everything, by which I mean that science comes up against an inevitable and impassable Wall of Unintelligibility (e.g., "what came before the Big Bang," or "where does mathematics come from?), whereas metaphysics penetrates far more deeply into the Mystery.  

Now, as I've mentioned before, I suspect there is an important link between Infinitude and our freedom, since, in a manner of speaking, the Infinite must be God's own freedom, AKA Infinite Possibility.

I suppose people don't like this idea, since it implies mutability in God. But in my opinion, we have to deny any negative connotation, and affirm a kind of eminent perfection in it. No, God's perfection does not and cannot surpass itself, but that doesn't mean it's totally static. I mean, maybe it's static, but I just can't relate to that, nor it to me.

And before you dismiss my position as sentimental nonsense, here comes Clarke to bail me out:

Here is where the Christian theological notion of God as Trinity of Persons takes on a sharp philosophical relevance. For it illustrates how God's own inner life is already rich in infinite self-expression by the Father's total gift of His own being to the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit from both as a mutual act of love.

Words like "static," "immutable," and "changeless" don't come to mind to describe this metacosmic hoedown. For it is "purely out of the joy of giving that this divine inner life can pour over to share itself with creatures." 

And now we're in a better position to understand Schuon when he writes that 

To say Absolute, is to say Infinite; Infinitude is an intrinsic aspect of the Absolute. It is from this “dimension” of Infinitude that the world necessarily springs forth; the world exists because the Absolute, being such, implies Infinitude.  

Except perhaps that word necessarily, since Christian doctrine is quite clear on creation being a divine gift, not any kind of compulsory emanation. 

But I think we can clear this up by suggesting that the Creator cannot not create, otherwise the pronoun is contradictory, but that any particular creation is totally gratuitous. It's a gift, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it except acknowledge, accept, regift, and pay it forward to others in our own limited but nevertheless theomorphic way.

We'll conclude with a couple of aphorisms to ponder:

The free act is only conceivable in a created universe. In the universe that results from a free act. 
In any proposition about man its paradoxical fusion of determinism and freedom must emerge (Dávila).