Friday, September 15, 2023

I Am the Question

The previous post ended with a description of our politico-cultural matrix, and the image comes to mind of a Roach Motel. If you're a roach, the best policy is to not venture in at all, because if you do, you're not coming out. 

You could say the motel is "designed to trap prey," but not really, because at least the predator has a use for the prey. Spiders don't catch insects just for the hell of it. Snakes only eat when they're hungry, which is only every week or two.

But it seems this Predator does enjoy trapping and toying with its prey just for the hell of it. I wonder what Uncle Screwtape would say? Not sure, but while looking it up I found this:

There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan (Lewis).

And this:

In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. 

So, the Motel is on the inside? And locks from the inside? Hell is

the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.... the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end... the doors of hell are locked on the inside....  

Now, what does this have to do with the book I began reading yesterday, The Foundations of Karl Rahner: A Paraphrase of the Foundations of Christian Faith? Maybe we could start by asking why the human head is such a battleground, with claims and counterclaims.  

For Rahner, human beings are the "universal question." This being the case, I suppose there will always be bad, superficial, partial, and dysfunctional answers. The deeper point is that our unlimited questioning implies our own unlimitedness, i.e., transcendence:

we, in the very act of reflecting on our limitations, overcome those limitations.... We know ourselves as capable of knowing more, of transcending what had limited us before. This experience of transcendence provides an indirect knowledge of God... 

This is very much reminiscent of Voegelin, in that we are always situated between the poles of immanence and transcendence, and that's just the way it is: "the human being is open by nature," which is the key to transcendence:

We know ourselves as capable of knowing more. That is the essence of transcendental experience.

In realizing this, God is implicitly present: 

present as mystery, as the absolute and incomprehensible source of all that is. What we know, in knowing anything, is that our knowledge is a small vessel in a vast sea of mystery.


this is what makes us human. We have been created with the ability to encounter the transcendent God in the experiences of daily life.

Or not, which I suppose goes to the battlefield alluded to above. Which further implies that the real battle is between openness-to-transcendence vs. enclosed-in-immanence, no matter what form it takes. Could it be this simple? Or is it simpler?

As persons we are hearers, and

Hearers recognize that they are limited. But in that very recognition, they begin to imagine how they might surpass their limits. That is the first step to actually transcending them.

This will become clearer as we proceed, but this ability to hear is key, for

the philosophy that presumes that the human being is able to hear is not absolutely free of theology. In fact, it is implicit theology.

I would go so far as to say that human personhood presupposes God, for the human being

is capable of transcendence, responsibility, freedom, honesty, and openness to mystery. The Christian message presupposes that its hearers are people with these capacities -- in a word, are persons.

However, there is always the temptation to forgo the mystery in favor of something less, "to shift responsibility for their choices to something else -- to history, let us say, or to nature." Nevertheless, persons qua persons are always "more than what a mechanistic anthropology says we are":

The sciences tempt us to think that we can fully explain ourselves. But this is illusory. Transcendental experience suggests that I myself encompass every effort by science to explain me. The person transcends all attempts to reduce him or her to a system or to full comprehension. 

 So, lead us not into temptation, especially that one.

It's all very Gödelian, for again, "By reflecting on our limits, we begin to imagine new possibilities for ourselves and to transcend our limits" -- a bit like reversing figure and ground. We have plenty of answers, but they never provide a complete answer to the Question we are. Sorry for the repetition, but maybe you didn't hear it the first time:

Whenever a person affirms the possibility that he or she can question things, even in a finite way, that person surpasses the finitude. Why? Because the horizon of finitude is always receding as one discovers more. And as the person experiences that horizon receding, the person experiences himself or herself as spirit. One is spirit whenever one acknowledges one's limits. In that acknowledgement, one has already surpassed the limits...

On the other hand -- again, going to the battle -- 

one can dully and unimaginatively "accept" one's existence without curiosity. This happens when we acknowledge that existence poses a question, but nevertheless refuse to pursue it.  

But just because you are not interested in the battle, it hardly means the battle isn't interested in you: "we are ourselves limited. But in our limits, we are connected to what is absolute," and "We transcend what we are by being open to to what being offers."

one can try to to evade responsibility and pretend that one is merely a product of forces outside oneself. But that is a lie. 

Now, just "Who is the other who enables us to transcend ourselves? We call that other the ineffable mystery." I call it O, but that's the end of chapter one. Tomorrow we'll delve into chapter two, Man in the Presence of Absolute Mystery. 


julie said...

Maybe we could start by asking why the human head is such a battleground, with claims and counterclaims.

Head, heart and soul as well.

the doors of hell are locked on the inside....

We are starting this semester with the book of Job; I've read it before, but never properly studied it. One of the key elements - and why Job is in fact a good man to the extent that anyone can be good - is that no matter what has happened, he refuses to lock that door. rather, his intent is to storm the gate and demand some answers.

julie said...

However, there is always the temptation to forgo the mystery in favor of something less, "to shift responsibility for their choices to something else -- to history, let us say, or to nature."

A family member loves to watch the show Young Sheldon, which pretty much constantly attacks Christianity and Christians. A recent episode had Sheldon explaining to his friend how he worships zero or nothingness instead, going so far as to offer up prayers to zero while his friend was praying to Jesus. I forget his rationale, but it was a trite, shallow and smug explanation which was obviously intended to hammer home the point, once again, that faith - specifically Christianity - is stupid. Zero explains everything, he happily proclaims, and thus he has successfully avoided the real mystery while millions of Americans nod along, amused by his clever explanation. A weed is planted, and so it goes.

Randy said...

Weird out-of-the-blue question. Do we know if Voegelin was familiar with Gabriel Marcel? Reason I ask is that I recently came across Marcel's distinction between problems and mysteries so every time a philosopher mentions the word 'mystery' I am disinclined to think it's a coincidence.

Open Trench said...

Hello this is Carla Tritellevitz, Director NWOSWNA, Bakersfield office. We had corresponded formerly.

Now you mentioned a "description of our politico-cultural matrix, and the image comes to mind of a Roach Motel."

Now that is disheartening. Our organization been working hard since October 16, 2017, to make society rewarding. I will inform you under our guidance predators have been identified and removed making society safer for everyone.

We allow and encourage all metaphysics and religions, and our basic operating religion is that of the Freemasons, a sturdy, time-tested credo dating back to the founders of Greece and later, the United States of America.

So be encouraged and of good cheer, you are loved an valued.

Sincerely, Carla.

Gagdad Bob said...


I just looked up Marcel in the index of Voegelin's correspondence, and he is mentioned twice, so Voegelin was definitely familiar with him. Both references are in the context of convoluted discussions of "Catholic existentialism."