Monday, January 10, 2022

My Kind of Cosmos

Over the weekend a phrase kept popping into my head: Principles of Christian Transformation

It sounds a little pretentious, and besides, the subject is too vast to be tackled by a lazy blogger. So I pushed it aside and waited for a new idea, but here it is again. Perhaps Petey will stop pestering me if I embarrass him with a post: if it goes badly, blame him.

Let me begin by saying that prior to 2003 or so I didn't know that such a thing -- "Christian transformation" -- existed. I was happily practicing a kind of Vedanta Yoga while putting the upanishing touches on the bʘʘk. I won't bore you with all the details, but around that time a book fell into my hands called A Different Christianity: Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought, by Robin Amis.

That's precisely when, to my surprise, I discovered the connection between Christianity and the "spiritual technologies" of the East. What attracted me (and really, my whole dreaded boomer generation) to these  was the promise of 1) secret knowledge, 3) superiority (cosmic narcissism) and 2) spiritual transformation, up to and including nirvana, AKA immortality while you wait.

So I explored and even seriously dabbled in all those things, from Advaita to Zen, Aurobindo to Zohar, Abhishiktananda to Zoroaster. 

I still like Abhishiktananda. My kind of guy. 

Anyway, up until then I had never heard the word theosis -- AKA divinization -- no doubt because this is a Protestant country and in Protestantism there's no such thing. Therefore, a whole generation of annoying boomers went searching for spiritual transformation in non-Christian traditions, when it was actually here all the time. 

In fact, I rejected Christianity by the age of 10 or 11, because the way it was presented to me seemed just too stupid to believe. It was an entirely top-down affair, as in "just believe this and you're good to go." 

But you can't force yourself to believe what is repugnant to the intellect, any more than you can will yourself to desire what you don't really want, or pretend that ugliness is beauty.

Nor, as of 2003, would I have been attracted to anything that smacked of the mainstream or of normality. To the extent that I was attracted to Truth, it had to be presented in an esoteric or gnostic manner that let me in on the Secret and thereby placed me above the grazing multitide. Therefore, Big Box Christianity was a non-starter. Not my kind of guys.

But wait!

This book presents the esoteric original core of Christianity with its concern for illuminating and healing the inner life of the individual. It is a bridge to the often difficult doctrines of the early church fathers, explaining the spiritual psychology of the fathers that underlies the current renewal of spirituality in the Greek church. 

Sounds like my kind of guys! 

Now let's fast forward to the present. I shouldn't really be surprised that Principles of Christian Transformation keeps popping into my head, because all around me are books that touch on this very idea of Christian Transformation.


From Man and the Cosmos: The Vision of St. Maximus the Confessor: For Max, soteriology (salvation) isn't just

man's liberation from sinfulness. It is the doctrine (and mystery) of man's perfection in deification, and through man the doctrine of the fulfillment of the destiny of the whole cosmos.

The whole cosmos?! Now, that ought to be weird enough for anyone.

But how? Please tell me there's more to it than "believe this and you're good to go." No, the human being  

is called to mature and to develop his likeness to God to the point of perfection of his nature as image of God. Likeness is thus the realization of all that is given as possibility because of man's nature as image of God (emphases mine).

Understood. But how?

Well, first of all, it's impossible. For man. That's the bad news. We can "ascend," but only so far, because to what or whom are we ascending? Suffice it to say, we can't lift ourselves by our own buddhastraps.

I have good news: what if there is a "reciprocity between God and man"? How would that work? Turns out there is 

a double movement: God's movement toward man in the Incarnation and man's movement toward God in the imitative process of deification.

In short, the latter (deification) is possible because of the former (Incarnation). So, the ultimate Principle of Christian Transformation is obviously the Incarnation, not as something to only "believe in" but to participate in:

There is in man no natural power that can deify him, but there exists on the other hand a reciprocal relationship between God and man that permits him to become deified to the degree to which the effects of the Incarnation are conferred on him....

The goal of the Incarnation is precisely to make possible a communion between the energies which alone can bring into being the divinization that is the final goal of human life. But not only this, for divination is in fact also the goal of God Himself, having created in man a model corresponding to Himself.  

Wait -- are you telling me that God becomes our kind of guy so that we may become His kind of guy?   

Well, I hope Petey is sufficiently chastened. If not, we'll have to continue this line of thought tomorrow.


julie said...

In fact, I rejected Christianity by the age of 10 or 11, because the way it was presented to me seemed just too stupid to believe. It was an entirely top-down affair, as in "just believe this and you're good to go."

I wish I could say I had rejected Christianity for any such lofty reason. Sadly, no, I rejected it because I found so many Christians annoying. Not one of my finer decades...

Nicolás said...

Nothing is more dangerous for faith than to frequent the company of believers. The unbeliever restores our faith.

Nicolás said...

And Every Christian has been directly responsible for the hardening of some unbeliever's heart.

EbonyRaptor said...

Paul's lament, echoed by this Christian witness:

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I admit that the law is good. In that case, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

John Venlet said...

When you wrote in this post, "Understood. But how?," in an individual's quest for divinization, or perfection, the very first thought that popped into my head, was, "Buy the book."

I am no theologian, saint, nor close to divine, but my understanding of Scriptures leads me to think that this divinization or perfection folks may be pursuing, and may be pursuing with real Christian earnestness, is not possible in this world.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, and this is supported by Scripture (See Romans 12:2), that we can renew our minds, which I think is our intelligence, that greatest of all gifts from The Creator, but in this world, even with a renewed mind guided by the Hand of the Holy Spirit, we will not achieve divinization, perfection. Truly, I think one can only run as good of a race as they can, with the willing help of the Triune God, use name is Yahweh.

One final thought, is, that posts such as this, apologetics in general, and individuals' sharing of their own trek to Christian belief, are the type of mutual encouragement Scriptures commend us to do.

ted said...

Do you think Bob Saget is asking Norm MacDonald the meaning of the welder joke in heaven?


Van Harvey said...

"So, the ultimate Principle of Christian Transformation is obviously the Incarnation, not as something to only "believe in" but to participate in..."

And is not "I believe", participating in that?

John Venlet: "...we will not achieve divinization, perfection..."
I'd just note, to achieve, and to participate in, can be two very different things... depending upon your point of view.