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).