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.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Suspended Between Uncertain Truth and Certain Untruth

While rummaging around for some metaphysical back-up for our vertical peregrinotions, I pulled out Schuon's From the Divine to the Human which, for me, expresses what Voegelin is trying to say about our ontological pickle -- the human predicament -- in a far more concise, essential, and experiential way. 

Schuon is an excellent sherpa for the vertical ascent because he never wastes your timelessness with half-baked speculation but gets straight to the point. He doesn't "think out loud" in wild and wooly way, like some attention-starved blogger. Rather, everything has already been thought through and therefore "edited" in the head before being reduced to writing.

It reminds me of how the Beatles recorded before and after 1967. Before, their producer George Martin would make them sit down and play actual compositions, which they could then tweak and sprinkle with a little Beatle fairy dust on top. 

But after '67 they would noodle around for hours hoping a serviceable composition would emerge, but then it might require literally hundreds of takes to perfect. I just read a book by their engineer who says the new way was tedious beyond belief.

Like reading a German philosopher.

First, let's give a big hand to this little footnote to an essay called Consequences Flowing from the Mystery of Subjectivity: "to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the structure of the world." 

Obviously he doesn't mean this in any Kantian sense, in which case to to know the nature of subjectivity is to know the nature of the subjectivity. The world -- whatever that is -- is unknown and unknowable outside our categories of knowing it. Being an idealist means you can truly know everything. Except reality.  

But if the purpose of intelligence isn't to know intelligible being, then to hell with it: knowledge is ignorance and ignorance is power. Schuon speaks of "the monstrous disproportion between the cleverness of reason"

and the falseness of its results; tons of intelligence are wasted to circumvent the essential while brilliantly proving the absurd, namely to prove that the spirit sprung in the end from a clod of earth...  

This manner of (non)thinking

seeks to explain everything from below; to erect no matter what hypothesis, provided it excludes real causes, which are transcendent and not material... 

There's much here that goes to the ambiguous "in between" status unique to man, but Schuon formulates it differently (and more succinctly) than Voegelin:

man is by definition situated between an Intellection which connects him to God and a world that has the power to separate him from God... 

Therefore, man "possesses the paradoxical freedom to wish in his turn to make himself God." The possibility of such a rupture -- or fall, to coin a term -- "is present from the start owing to the very ambiguity of the human condition," suspended as we are "between the Infinite and the finite."

Any form of reductionism collapses the former into the latter, and "Nothing is more absurd than to have intelligence derive from matter, hence the greater from the lesser." Such a rookie mistake "is from every point of view the most inconceivable thing that could be." Inconceivable, because to conceive it is to have transcended it. 

In the next essay, Aspects of the Theophanic Phenomenon of Consciousness, Schuon gets into how man qua man is always open to what transcends him: "What is proper to man alone is the Intellect open to the Absolute." But

There are two tendencies in the human spirit, either to reduce God to the world, or the Absolute to the relative, or to reduce [I would say expand] the world to God or the relative to the Absolute. 

Idealism at one end, materialism at the other. Both necessarily collapse the between-space in which human beings are privileged to abide. Which is to say, they demote man and fire reality. But in reality, 

starting from the recognition of the immediately tangible mystery that is subjectivity or intelligence, it is easy to understand that the origin of the Universe is, not inert and unconscious matter, but a spiritual Substance...

Which is not to say it isn't a mystery, but it's the fun kind, for we are each a little mystery that is a prolongation of the big mystery of Myster Big:

all that exists is inscribed a priori in the theomorphic substance of our intelligence -- there is no integral consciousness that does not prolong absolute Consciousness...

That's the good nous. The bad news is that

The rational faculty detached from its supernatural context is necessarily opposed to man and is bound to give rise in the end to a way of thought and a form of life both of which are opposed to man.

You know -- all the isms and olatries referenced in yesterday's post. One word: pride.

Intelligence separated from its supra-individual source is accompanied by that lack of sense of proportions which one calls pride; conversely, pride prevents intelligence, when it has become rationalism, from rising to its source.

Yeah, it's human, but "nothing is more fundamentally inhuman than the 'purely human'" -- this being a kind of freak or monster that denies "its own nature which nonetheless enables it to think" and allows it to "feel at ease in a world" that "exempts man from the effort of transcending things and of transcending himself." Congratulations: you've bypassed the human vocation!  

intelligence is dehumanized and gives rise to materialism, even existentialism, hence to a "thinking" which is human only by its mode and of which the content is properly sub-human. 

But what is a bad man but a good man's teacher? "The very excess of their inanity" bears witness "to the reality of the spirit and consequently to its primacy." 

And circling back for a moment to Voegelin, he speaks of the "pneumopathology" of ideologues who deform and distort the order of being in order to make their magical visions appear attainable; and of "the temptation to fall from [the] uncertain truth" of the in-between (i.e., of a faith-full openness to transcendent being) to the "certain untruth" of existential closure in the fanciful constructs of their ideological matrices.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Progressive Ban on Questions and Questioners

If I understand the previous post correctly, it put forth the paradoxical -- or at least convoluted -- idea that man is always in the form of a question, and that, in the Incarnation, the very God who is the answer to this question assumes the form of the questioner who seeks him.   

Clearly, the infinitely open question that we are points toward verticality and transcendence. No horizontal, terrestrial, or finite answer satisfies the Question of questions -- or rather, man has a habit of positing answers that are seemingly designed to make the Question go away, but are absurdly incapable of doing so, e.g., materialism, scientism, positivism, Marxism, progressivism, et al.  

Or just say ismism, or ismolatry, or craniorectal exploration.

Now yesterday, in my restless search for something to stimulate my head, I reread Voegelin's Science, Politics & Gnosticism, and couldn't help noticing certain parallels to this question of man the Question (and questioner).  

First of all Voegelin is famous -- or obscure, rather -- for the idea that the structure of being involves two poles -- immanence and transcendence -- and that we are always in between them. Always have been and always will be, because this is just the way Being is. If it weren't this way, we could never know it, period.

Yes, it's a mystery, but a infinitely fruitful one. Unless, of course, we stop asking questions, or worse, the Powers that Be won't permit questions. Then progress stops, at least until the vertical space reopens for isness, for example, as Elon Musk is attempting to do vis-a-vis the political space.

Why then is he being vilified for doing something that is intrinsically spiritually healthy? I mean this literally, in that the very essence of spiritual health involves maintaining an open system with verticality and transcendence, so vertical closure of any kind is inherently pneumopathological, for it results in spiritual malnourishment, asphyxiation, craniorectal occlusion, and/or death. 

Voegelin uses the term "deformation" 

for the destruction of the order of the soul, which should be "formed" by the love of transcendental perfection inherent in the fundamental tension [between immanence and transcendence] of existence (Eugene Webb).  

You could say that he regards the genuine philosopher as truly normative, as in lover of wisdom:

As Voegelin conceives it, philosophy is characterized by the realization that one does not actually possess transcendental truth but is oriented toward it through love [of wisdom, truth, beauty, goodness, etc.] (ibid.).

But you will have noticed that this is precisely what ismism and ideolatry don't do. Rather, they indulge in philodoxy, which is the love of, like, just your opinion, man: it

conceives of truth in immanentistic rather than transcendental terms and tends to claim a perfect correspondence between ultimate reality and ideas or interpretive models used to represent it (ibid).


whereas philosophy is inherently oriented toward further inquiry through openness to the Question, philodoxy is the expression of a desire to put an end to questioning and thereby escape from the "tension of existence" (ibid.).

Which isn't just obnoxious and annoying, but humanly catastrophic, as seen, for example, in the metastatic ideologies of the 20th century. As of 1991 (with the collapse of the Soviet Union) it looked as if the last of these cancers had been eradicated, but it is very much as if this spiritual retrovirus sleeps in human nature until opportune conditions allow it to reassert itself. 

Like now.

If you want to look for evidence of the retrovirus, one thing to monitor is attacks on free speech; it starts with certain forbidden questions, but again, has a tendency to attack and stifle the Questioner (and therefore human nature) as such -- perhaps seen most explicitly on our elite university campuses. One can only emit a laugh -- the hollow and bitter kind -- at Joseph Pieper's innocent description of the purpose of the university:

It means a refuge where discussion takes place, in total independence, on just one question: How are things?, "what are the facts"? 

This free space -- or space of intellectual freedom -- "must be safeguarded and protected" from interference by forces opposed to the open engagement with the transcendent truth of What Is.


One thing that occurred to me in rereading S, P & G is that we focus too much on this or that ideology instead of the deeper structure of ideology per se, which is again the expression of intrinsic pneumopathology -- which is why it is in the very nature of leftism to ban speech, because speech has a way of leading to forbidden questions and unlawful answers. 

Leftism is literally inconceivable without suppression of the very questions that discredit it. "The opposition becomes truly radical and dangerous"

when philosophical questioning is itself called into question, when doxa [hardened opinion] takes on the appearance of philosophy, when it arrogates to itself the name of science and prohibits science as non-science (Voegelin). 

As seen most vividly, I suppose, in the non-sciences of catastrophic global warming, transgender ideology, and experimental vaccines. In each of these conspicuous examples, Questions and Questioners are banned and punished -- not because of any confident and robust science, rather, the opposite, for such thinkers know that their construct "will collapse as soon as the basic philosophical question is asked," which "induces him to prohibit such questions."  

When "socialist man" speaks, man has to be silent (ibid.).

But not only socialist man, for Voegelin outlines "three major types for whom a human inquiry has become a practical impossibility," including also "positivist man" and "national-socialist man" -- to which we might add scientistic man, New Atheist man, transgender man, and various others. 

Each of these is founded upon a "resolve to ignorance, for arbitrary occlusion," and for a "defensive stand against much that is knowledge." In this pathological movement "man remains shut off from transcendent being. The will to power strikes against the wall of being, which has become a prison" (ibid.).

Or matrix, as we like to call it. The normal man becomes acutely aware of suffering in this matrix of "demonic occlusion. He is imprisoned in the icy light of his existence." Schuon often speaks of the modern mind being encased under a layer of ice.   

Is there hope? Yes, but mostly on a retail basis, as

No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society; on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this folly and live his life in order (ibid.).

Which is to say, the open order -- or order of openness -- whereby man has the privilege of participation in the ground of being.

I'll stop now and pick up the thread in the next post.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Answer Becomes the Question that the Question Might Become Answer?

One more post on Foundations of Karl Rahner, and we're done. This chapter is on the Incarnation, and let's see what we can make of it. Apologies up front: the post is rather loose and free-associational, because the material is. We'll start with this:

By becoming incarnate, the Logos made the human reality God's own reality. When God took a human nature, human nature reached the goal toward which it had always tended. God "became" the human nature that God had prepared for the Logos, so that human nature might be divinized.

In this scenario, human beings must have evolved to the point that this two-way movement was possible; obviously, the Logos could not incarnate as a cow or chimpanzee, so there must already exist something about humans that makes them a fit receptacle for this divine indwelling. 

Humans must be sufficiently aware of reaching toward the transcendent before the transcendent can reach down to us. You can't have an answer if you don't have the question. 

It seems that the whole durn cosmos is evolving toward this point:

The ground of being becomes the one toward whom the person strives. It is a magnet that draws us, enabling us to transcend what we were and to become what we are called to be.... Persons are not just a product of the cosmos, but their union with God is the very goal of the cosmos.

So, we definitely got that going for us: "Because God became a human being, the gulf between divinity and humanity collapsed." It's a circular thing, with both ascending and descending currents, so to speak.

When we think of God assuming human nature, this implies that God also assumes the human being's very orientation toward the infinite mystery of God. "God has taken that orientation as God's own reality," as if to say that in assuming human nature, () assumes (). Come to think of it, why else would Jesus pray to his Father?

The potential to obey God is the human nature that God becomes. 

Now, how can the immutable "become" something? It is as if Being becomes becoming that becoming might become Being:

the Logos assumes the reality of something that is capable of becoming. That "something" is the human reality of Jesus. The one who is not subject to change (i.e., the Logos) can be subject to change in something else (the man Jesus of Nazareth). 

I call it metacosmic circularity: 

In the Incarnation, God "becomes" what has come from God... God "creates the human reality by the very fact that he assumes it as his own. "


God creates in order to make creatures who are capable of being assumed by God. God creates human beings who can become part of God's own history. 

Which I suppose goes to the finality of both creation and Incarnation; or rather, the Incarnation is the final cause of the creation, Bob asked?

Rahner makes the point that, prior to the Incarnation, man is already an "abbreviated word of God." Humanity is the "cipher" of God, which is to say, a sort of secret message. Of what? 

Well, for one thing, a capacity to "bear" the Incarnation. Again, cows and reptiles and monkeys couldn't very well bear the strain, but we are already the image and likeness prior to the Incarnation, so we definitely got that going for us. 

In other words, humans qua humans exist "because there was to be a Son of Man," and "are a 'shorthand' expression for God's Word." Well, cool. But the (longhand?) Word then "shows us the human nature to which we are called," such that "the human being 'participates' in the mystery of God." Specifically,

we participate in God's mystery in the same way that a question participates in the answer to that question. 

We said in the previous post that man is a Question -- an open-ended one that can never be exhausted by any finite, terrestrial, scientific, or manmade answer. No, this is truly a Question that is superior to any answer we could ever provide.

But is there even an answer to this Question we are? For Rahner, 

God answers that question in the Logos. The question (i.e., human being) participates in the answer (i.e., God's Logos).

This Question (Bob) has a question: it seems that anthropology is theology, and vice versa? In a manner of speaking?

Anthropology is the theology that God speaks by uttering the Word as human flesh. Anthropology is our theology when we seek Christ and God via the human being. In Christ the finite has received an infinite depth.

So, Christ is the answer to the infinite question we are? "God has spoken the ultimate word as the truth of human life," so there you go.

It seems it's a matter of inserting ourselves into the metacosmic circle by means of faith. There it is again: 

Jesus leads us back to God in an ascending motion, a motion initiated by God.

God is one of us?! Or, God becomes the Question that the Question might become Answer? "Humanity finds in Jesus the one by whom God intended from all eternity to reconcile us to the divine self." But

The Christian is always in the process of becoming a Christian.... A person is always a Christian in order to become one.

And Christ is "not only the eternal Logos, but also the 'first fulfillment' of humanity. He was the first to fulfill the promise which life with God holds for every person." 

I think I strained a muscle in my head. The end.

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