Saturday, September 23, 2023

What Makes a Man?

 What makes a man, Mr. Schuon?

Intelligence, sentiment, will; or truth, virtue, freedom.

Ah, a limber mind, challenges met, obstacles overcome, doing the right thing -- and tears, for strong men also cry and have sentiments. 

A few posts back we wondered out loud whether in some sense and in a manner of speaking, anthropology might be theology, and vice versa? At the outset let us eliminate the idea that God is but a projection of human psychology, because that is not what we mean. At all. 

Which doesn't mean this sort of naive projection doesn't take place, because it does, all the time -- for example, by atheists who never tire of ridiculing and rejecting a deity of their own making. We, of course, also reject the imaginary god of the village atheist. 

Let us attach the wide angle lens to our cosmic camera and open the ƒ-stop to ∞. What do we see? First, we see that some kind of relation exists between man and "ultimate reality," irrespective of how we conceive the latter, or even if we have only the concept. 

It seems we can't help thinking about the ultimate principle, whether we do so implicitly or explicitly. For example, even materialism -- the crudest conceivable metaphysic -- posits matter as the ultimate principle, only ignoring how principles exist and how man can achieve knowledge of them. 

In fact, even a nihilist who pretends there is no ultimate reality ends up turning himself into ultimate reality, which reminds me of what Voegelin says in an essay called The Murder of God: "It does not suffice"

to replace the old world of God with a new world of man: the world of God itself must have been a world of man, and God a work of man which can therefore be destroyed if it prevents man from reigning over the order of being.

The new and improved Marxist-socialist man  

is not a man without religious illusions, but one who has taken God back into his being.... The new man is, like Nietzsche's superman, the man who has made himself God.

Nice work if you can get it, but

the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man. Historically, the murder of God is not followed by the superman, but by the murder of man..., the homicide of the revolutionary practitioners (Voegelin). 

Now, what is ultimate reality? First, it is something that is distinct from all appearances, which introduces a kind of (humanly) unrelievable tension between the two. For example, the progress of science is always from appearances toward a deeper reality, or from multiplicity to unity.

However, from another angle, ultimate reality must include the principle of appearance as such, so must be "in" every appearance -- in the same way, for example, that the cause is in the effect, or how the principle of unity must be present in all numbers (each number being a multiple of one).

Any principle is something from which consequences follow, and God is the first principle from which everything ultimately flows. This doesn't mean we know God, only that we know that God -- the Principle -- must exist.

Now, man and God (or however you want to express this Tension) are ineluctably mixed up together in the cosmic caper we call existence. There is no culture without some version of the God Principle, so God is an unindicted co-conspirator in all human activity, emphasis on the spira -- and on the con -- as in "breathing together."

Not to say God is guilty of our mischief, for this would be analogous to holding the treasury department responsible for bank robberies. Nevertheless, the treasury department prints the money, as God projects being via his continually creative act. 

Nor do we deny natural evolution at the far end of the spectrum, only to say that human isness can in no way be reduced to monkey business. No, we are suspended between the nonlocal Principle and a local animal form, and that's just the way it is. If we were literally reducible to our genetic code, we could never know it; or, to know it is to have transcended it.

Which I suppose goes to the question of free will -- again, of challenges met, obstacles overcome, doing the right thing, etc. 

Now, some of our intellectual betters like to are compelled to say that free will is an illusion, while others willfully insist that the will to power is all there is, and that all philosophies and narratives are just masks for the exercise of power.

Oh, by the way, these thoughts have been provoked by an essay called Outlines of a Spiritual Anthropology, contained in the same book we were discussing yesterday, From the Divine to the Human. In discussing the absolute toppermost of the poppermost, Schuon says that the divine perfections contained in the Absolute are 

Knowledge, Love and Power, which evoke the human faculties of intelligence, sentiment and will.

Of course, these are not separate in God, only in us -- which is why a progressive idiot can say something as stupid as man being reducible to will and power, thereby tossing out intelligence and sentiment (and by implication, man). In reality, 

Will is not an end in itself: one cannot will except by virtue of either a knowledge or of a love. 

At least in a normal person. But eliminate truth and love, and the will to power is all that's left -- a naked will to achieve without a limber mind.

I don't always take the Bible literally, but I do take literally the axiom that man is in the image and likeness of the Principle, or better, the Creative Principle. 

Here again, this is where anthropology becomes theology and vice versa, because it is as if these two mirrors are held up to each other, so long as we stipulate that they are not on the same plane, which would reduce to pantheism, magic, nihilism, or some other deformation of being. If the Principle is Absolute, then we are the "reflected" or "relative" absolute. It's why we can even know absolute principles.

All "anthropology" depends on a "theology" in the sense that every science of man must prolong a science of God. 

This is at once self-evident but is worth emphasizing "in a world which, having forgotten the divine, no longer can know what is human."

Like God, man is made of spirit, only embodied spirit. In turn, the spirit "is made of knowledge and love -- or of intelligence and sentiment -- then of will, the latter necessarily drawing its inspiration from one or the other of these two faculties." 

Schuon relates the perspectives of intelligence-knowledge and sentiment-love to "the polarity of the masculine and feminine." Obviously the one hardly excludes the other, but speaking only for myself, it is a great relief that my wife isn't built like me. Schuon compares knowledge and love to light and heat respectively, and who wants to live in a warm but dark environment, or a bright and freezing one? 

Above we mentioned that the will is a function of knowledge or love, but we all know people in whom it is a function of hatred and ignorance. 

Here, will becomes willfulness, and is actually no longer free. I'm pretty sure Jesus has something like this in mind with various admonitions against hating in the wrong way. Sure, it's necessary to hate evil, but do make sure it's evil, and also make sure you're intelligent and humble enough to know the difference (and there is no intelligence without humility -- and a bit of self-awareness -- which amount to the same thing).

In fact, Schuon says that the content of our character "combines what we will and what we love," which is "the domain of virtues." This perspective places intelligence at the summit, whereas "the perspective of love, on the contrary, places love at the summit and views intelligence and will solely as functions in service of love."

I would say that if you naturally tend toward one, you probably need to work on the other. I love truth, and I guess that's a start, but you know what Paul says: 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

So, in my case, knowledge comes easily and naturally. What Paul just said? Not so naturally, but here's hoping it comes supernaturally, because I don't want to be hermetically sealed in my own Bobness, which is no achievement at all.

1 comment:

julie said...

I would say that if you naturally tend toward one, you probably need to work on the other.

Puts a new spin on "If I only had a heart/ a brain."

Although really, that's one of those things which, if we are very fortunate, we can outsource a little - or maybe take turns - when we find the right spouse. At least, in my house some days one of us is the heart and the other is the brains, and other days it's the opposite.