Friday, October 06, 2023

If Christ is the Answer, What is the Question?

What does Christianity say about reality: what does it presume, and what does it add that we couldn't have just as well figured out on our own? 

As to the former, I think it presumes a philosophy of common sense realism; after all, Christianity is a non-starter if, for example, existentialism is case, existentialism being for Sartre the attempt to draw out the implications of a strict atheism.

Nor can Christianity be reconciled with positivism, materialism, rationalism, idealism, Marxism, hedonism, nominalism, and so many more. If these are true, then Christianity is not only false but cannot possibly be true.

Let's see, going down the list, there's absurdism, atomism, advaita Vedanta, analytic philosophy, Averroism, academic skepticism... and that's just some of the A's. 

I'm not sure if anything on the list short of Thomism -- or let us say the perennial philosophy more generally -- is capacious enough to do the job. Admittedly, I have no familiarity with some of those schools of thought, but surely they would have crossed my desk by now if they had something to them. In any case, my mind is always open. 

Clearly Christianity presumes a number of things about reality that have become controverted over the past half millennium or so -- for example, that a text means what it says, that there is such a thing as objectivity, that the universe is intelligible, that man possesses free will, that there is a reality transcending nature, etc. 

In our view, denial of any of these assumptions results in a self-refuting reductio absurdum -- for example, to say that objectivity is impossible is an objective statement. Likewise, to say that ultimate reality is material is the denial of spirit by spirit. If there is no free will, we could never know it, for truth is transcendent. And if a text has no fixed meaning, then nor does deconstruction -- it just becomes self-canceling nonsense.

Yesterday we spoke of how, for early Christian thinkers, "the gospel appeared to offer the answer to the philosopher's search for truth." Voegelin goes on to say that for these men, Christianity was "not an alternative to philosophy," but "philosophy itself in its state of perfection." Okay, like how?

The Logos has been operative in the world from its creation; all men who have lived according to reason... have in a sense been Christians.

This is in accord with what Augustine said:  

That which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist; from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed began to be called Christianity.

The Logos is eternal, but "the history of the Logos comes to its fulfillment through the incarnation of the Word in Christ" (Voegelin, emphasis mine). It seems that the Logos is in history in a general way before becoming particularized in Christ. It's a strange idea, but once you accept the existence of the Logos, why not? 

For what exactly is the Logos? Reason, rationality, intelligible structure, intelligent beings. Who says the fullness of the Logos couldn't dwell in a single person? This is essentially the metaphysical claim in the prologue to John -- that the Light that gives light to man qua man becomes flesh and dwells among us, not just then but now. Indeed, it must always be now as a consequence of infinitude assuming finitude.

 Anyway, Voegelin suggests that

a believer who is unable to explain how his faith is an answer to the enigma of existence may be a "good Christian" but is a questionable man.

Ouch. I wouldn't go that far -- not everyone is cut out for philosophy -- but what is the question to which the Incarnation is the answer, and how does this event (and person) answer it?

There is no conflict "between gospel and philosophy," only "between the gospel and its uninquiring possession as doctrine." In other words, the latter is an unphilosophical attitude because it reduces the mystery to some explicit formulation, essentially conflating the words and the reality to which they point.

Instead of simply memorizing cutandry answers, "a sensible first step toward regaining for the gospel the reality it has lost through doctrinal hardening" is "to restore the inquiring mind to the position that is his due." 

Because "question and answer are intimately related one toward the other," the Answer "will not help the man who has lost the question." The life of reason involves

This luminous search in which the finding of the true answer depends on asking the true question, and the asking of the true question on the spiritual apprehension of the true answer. 

So, between question and answer is the luminous search; but man "can also deform his humanity by refusing to ask the questions, or by loading them with premises devised to make the search impossible."

No luminosity for you! (A reminder that the light shines in the darkness but that the willfully dark cannot comprehend it.) 

Even prior to Christ, there is always the divine pull accompanied by man's restless seeking, both taking place in the tension of the in-between. For Voegelin these are reducible to a single movement: "In the one movement there is experienced a seeking from the human, [and] a being drawn from the divine pole." Put another way, God is "the mover who attracts or draws man to himself."

And Christ incarnates this very movement, from and to the Father-Source?

That was a question. It says in John that Christ will "draw all men to himself." And

This drawing power of Christ is identified with the pull exerted by God.

Was that the answer? If so, could you elaborate?

To follow Christ means to continue the event of divine presence in society and history.... of God's pull becoming effective in the world through Christ...

I don't know what else to say, so we'll end with this passage by Josef Pieper: there is a

rounding out of the circle in which the beginning and the end, the primal Origin of the creation and the ultimate Consummation of the creative process, meet and touch in Christ. 


we have no alternative but to conceive of this Incarnation as something which is still present and which will remain present for all future time. 

Supposing you're asking the right question. Right?

Thursday, October 05, 2023

What Is It All About?

There's no reason to follow a religion unless one not only believes it is true, but conveys the ultimate truth(s). But in what manner does it do this? Literally? Symbolically? Experientially? Explicitly? Implicitly? And by what standard, and compared to what? In other words, how do we judge its truth? 

Yesterday's post set me off into an unplanned exploration of these and related questions, and now I'm going to share some of my preliminary findings, for example, 

every philosophical interpretation of the world and human existence relies, at least subconsciously, on certain general assumptions, which are not so much "knowledge" as rather "belief."

And Christian doctrine in particular, although its primary focus is salvation,

implies as well certain fundamental teachings on specifically philosophical matters -- the world and existence as such (Pieper).   

After all, it's not falsehood that sets one free. And to engage in philosophy as such "means to reflect on the totality of things we encounter, in view of their ultimate reasons," so there is an unavoidable convergence of philosophy and religion, unless one begins by placing arbitrary limits on one's philosophizing. No, "philosophy consists in the simple question, 'What is it all about?'"

And who is it that knows what it's all about? If we're reflecting on the totality of things, "the subject as well as the object is part of the totality encountered," and "true philosophy deals with everything given, within as well as without." 

Yesterday we touched on the ever-present distinction between reality and appearances. Now, no one ever says "ultimate appearances," since this would be an oxymoron; rather an appearance is always of a "deeper" reality (i.e, toward synthesis and unity). And

Precisely this dimension constitutes the aim of the philosopher's question. He investigates the ultimate, the "real" meaning -- not of this or that but of all that is.

Conversely, "Each science formulates one particular aspect" of the totality, and "studies only one tiny slice of reality but does so with extreme precision."

Which reminds me of an aphorism: 

Properly speaking, the social sciences are not inexact sciences, but sciences of the inexact.

Likewise, we are proposing a view of religion that considers it to be the ultimate science of the inexact, for "exactitude" and "infinitude" are at antipodes. Thus,

there exists a certain dimension the philosopher is concentrating on, about which the empirical sciences have little or nothing to say.

I think we need both, although philosophy must be subordinate -- or ordered -- to something transcending philosophy per se. Pieper suggests "the image of a polyphonic counterpoint," and why not? After all, as Balhasar says, truth is symphonic, thus implying a vertical harmony of voices within a horizontal melodic development:

In such a composition, independent melodies correlate with each other, accentuate, challenge, perhaps even disturb each other in such a way as to create a fresh, rich and captivating harmony that can no longer be explained by merely adding together its individual components (Pieper).

Yes. Sounds like the cosmic symphony to which I alluded on pp. 22-23 of The Book. Let's glance at it, and hope it's not too embarrassing:

The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways.

A little fruity for current tastes, but the point is well taken.

Today's little symphony will attempt to harmonize Pieper and Voegelin, although we won't have time to finish. In an essay called The Gospel and Culture, Voegelin asks why early Christianity attracted "an intellectual elite who restated the meaning of the gospel in terms of philosophy and, by this procedure, created a Christian doctrine?"

Come to think of it, that's precisely what this post is trying to be about: restating the meaning of the gospel in terms of philosophy.  

If the community of the gospel had not entered the culture of the time by entering its life of reason, it would have remained an obscure sect and probably disappeared from history...

Which I'm afraid it will do if it fails to reenter the culture of our time. It's too late to enter it's life of reason, since there isn't one. But perhaps it's not too late to resuscitate that life of reason, if not collectively, at least one assoul at a time. But in any event, consider the fact that once upon a time, "the gospel appeared to offer the answer to the philosopher's search for truth" (emphasis mine).

That would be total truth, or the truth of the totality, but how does it do this? To be continued...

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Religiology and Ultimate Reality

At the end of yesterday's post the following sentence popped unthinkingly from my fingertips, and now we have to figure out of it's true, true-ish, or what: 

For whatever else a religion is, it is a symbolic framework for thinking about ultimate reality, or the absolute, or one's deepest concerns.

Well, it is symbolic, since it is conveyed to us via language. And it is more or less systematic; certainly Catholic doctrine is highly systematic, while other denominations are less so -- for example, Quakerism, which, from what little I know, is grounded in immediate experience:

Unprogrammed worship is based on silence and inward listening to the Spirit, from which any participant may share a message. In unprogrammed meetings for worship, someone speaks when that person feels that God/Spirit/the universe has given them a message for others. After anyone speaks, several minutes are allowed to pass before anyone else speaks, to allow the message to be considered carefully. Friends do not answer or argue about others' messages during meeting for worship.

So, the religion the almighty & them works out betwixt 'em. Silent head & open heart. 

Then there's Zen, which is also refreshingly dogma-free and grounded in experience. Taoism too is pretty uncluttered. 

But let's get back to the claim: a symbolic framework for thinking about ultimate reality. Our first witness will be Schuon, even though, like a bad lawyer, I'm not certain how he will answer the question.

First, religion is essentially discernment. It is discernment between God and the world, between the Real and the unreal, or between the Everlasting and the ephemeral.

That seems to track with our thesis: a system to help us discern between reality and appearances. Elsewhere he writes that religion  

is an integral whole comparable to a living organism that develops according to necessary and exact laws; one might therefore call it a spiritual organism, or a social one in its most outward aspect. 

In any case, it is an organism and not a construction of arbitrary conventions; one cannot therefore legitimately consider the constituent elements of a religion independently of their inward unity, as if one were concerned with a mere collection of facts.

Ah ha. That's helpful, for it implies that the system we're talking about is not static, but rather, a holistic or organismic "process structure" with interior relations. 

Analogously, a single part of a biological organism cannot be understood outside the whole. Certainly Catholic theology looks at revelation in this way: for example, it exercises the old hermeneutic circle vis-a-vis scriptural interpretation, in which the whole is in the part and vice versa. I guess you could say that Christ vivifies each part. 

Next witness: our Aphorist, of course, and again, I'm not sure of his testimony, but this first one is a favorite:

He who speaks of the farthest regions of the soul soon needs a theological vocabulary.

True, but this presumes the existence of the soul to which religion speaks. Just how does it speak to the soul?

The soul is fed from what is mysterious in things.


Even in the immensity of space we feel caged. Mystery is the only infinity that does not seem like a prison.


An irreligious society cannot endure the truth of the human condition. It prefers a lie, no matter how imbecilic it may be.

Instant karma:

The simplistic ideas in which the unbeliever ends up believing are his punishment. 

Back to our thesis. To put it another way, religion is a symbolic system to help us navigate the farthest reaches of the soul.

Religion is not a set of solutions to known problems, but a new dimension of the universe. The religious man lives among realities that the secular man ignores...

Depending on how you look at it, it is a dimension of height or depth, but in any case, 

Religious thought does not go forward like scientific thought does, but rather goes deeper.


When their religious depth disappears, things are reduced to a surface without thickness, where nothing shows through.

 This is partly because

The natural and supernatural are not overlapping planes, but intertwined threads.

So, to lose one is is to lose the ability to make sense of the the other. Returning full circle to religiology and ultimate reality,  

As long as we do not arrive at religious categories, our explanations are not founded on rock.

And speaking of the whole vivifying the parts, 

The voice of God passes through the sacred text as a wind storm through the leaves of the forest trees.

Beautiful simile. To be continued...

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Appearances, Reality, and Applied Ignorance

Let's begin with what we don't know and can't know.
If only the people in charge would live by Petey's axiom! But the reason people typically want to be in charge is because they begin with what they think they know about the unknowable.

There is the known; the unknown; and the unknowable. But to know that something is unknowable is no small thing, for it is at the foundation of what Hayek calls the Great Society, by which he means the large-scale spontaneous order, or self-organizing system, that is a result of human actions but not human design.

Indeed, such a system could never be constructed by the human mind, since it is energized by a virtually infinite amount of knowledge and information dispersed throughout, and present in each individual. 

Now, I am a big fan of the human intellect, which can know everything knowable, which is to say, being. But the future doesn't exist. Of course, we can make accurate predictions in deterministic system, but the free society
constantly adapts itself, and functions through adapting itself, to millions of facts which in their entirety are not known to anybody.

Only in "small groups of primitive society can collaboration between the members rest largely on" facts and circumstances known more or less by everyone. Which is why central planning is such an atavistic temptation. Toss in the deliberate provocation of vices such as envy, and you've really got something!

But in a complex order, our little bit of knowledge is dwarfed by the knowledge dispersed throughout the system, and which allows us to benefit from the expertise of others. Thus,

a 'civilized' individual may be very ignorant, more ignorant than many a savage, and yet greatly benefit from the civilization in which he lives. 

In short, "We all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess." Ironically, a complex society allows people to know close to nothing, leaving the details to others. In fact, our post-reality civilization is so affluent that its elites can afford to know less than nothing and still pretend it's knowledge.

At the moment there are a couple of Russian guys in my kitchen repairing the freezer. Left to my own devices... let's just say I envy people who really know something about something, whatever it is, from cardiology to refrigerator repair. 

What if we didn't have money, and the only way I could reimburse them would be to exchange my knowledge for theirs? For truly truly, I have only useless knowledge to give, in that it's not for the sake of anything else.

The civilized soul is the one who is interested in unusable truths.

Even old Aristotle knew that

It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician demonstrative proofs.

The cosmos is a complex system. Is there any way we can dumb it down and make it intelligible? Is it reducible to something we can wrap our minds around -- even with our invincible ignorance of all the ins out outs, for example, of the nature of dark matter, or of how quantum and relativity theories relate?

Those aren't things I'll ever figure out, but I do have any number of physicists working on it.  

So, what's a guy like me supposed to do? Well, I hereby reaffirm that 

In each moment, each person is capable of possessing the truths that matter.

Beginning with the truth of Being, which you might say is the Ultimate Quality. And indeed,

What ceases to be thought as qualitative in order to be thought as quantitative ceases to be thought as significant.

Which is to say, of ultimate significance. Just how do all these qualities get in here? Are they really reducible to quantity? Or perhaps it's the other way around -- that quantity is a vehicle for qualities, as appearances are the veil of reality.

Profundity is not in what is said, but in the level from which it is said.

If that's the case, let's try to say something from the highest and deepest level, and see where it leads, for

The universe is important if it is appearance, and insignificant if it is reality.

Therefore, "significance" lies in that gap between appearances and reality. Only man can say that "things are not what they appear to be," i.e., that things appear one way, but in reality are another way. Which in turn is rooted in a kind of applied ignorance, similar to what Hayek said above. 

In other words, we don't take things at face value, but inquire into deeper causes -- even the cause of being and of causation. We are perpetually curious, which is to say, open to being. But most people have neither the time nor inclination to sit around all day thinking about being. Which is where religion comes in, from genuine ones to the crude political religions of the left.

For whatever else a religion is, it is a symbolic framework for thinking about ultimate reality, or the absolute, or one's deepest concerns, and that's about it for now....   

Monday, October 02, 2023

Social Justice and Progressive Tyranny

We left off with Pieper's claim that "Whoever rejects truth, whether natural or supernatural, is really 'wicked' and beyond conversion." 

Now, just because one doesn't reject truth, it doesn't mean one possesses it. Rather, we are philosophers, AKA lovers of wisdom, not owners; it's a dynamic and open relationship. 

Pieper says that for Aquinas, reason is

nothing other than "regard for openness to reality," and "acceptance of reality." And "truth" is to him nothing other than the unveiling and revelation of reality, of both natural and supernatural reality.

So, you could say that prior to truth is our openness to it: unlike other animals, we are open to being itself. Or not, in which case Genesis 3 All Over Again. 

Reason "perfected in the cognition of truth" is therefore the receptivity of the human spirit, to which the revelation of reality, both natural and supernatural reality, has given substance. 

Truth of Being = Revelation + Receptivity. Or, one could just say Intelligibility + Intelligence, respectively. The intelligibility of being is a kind of ceaseless revelation, while our intellection is openness to it. And prudence is grounded in conformity between the two:

The pre-eminence of prudence means that realization of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. 

Now, I suppose everyone believes, or at least convinces himself, that he's in touch with reality. But in our day, common conceptions of reality are so radically different that it forces us to conclude that one side is dwelling in unreality. Which accounts for the hostility, because not getting your way is one thing, but not getting your reality -- and being forced to acknowledge unreality -- is a bit more alarming.  

If you want to do good, good intentions aren't enough; rather,

Realization of the good presupposes that our actions are appropriate to the real situation, that is to the concrete realities which form the "environment" of a concrete human action; and that we therefore take this concrete reality seriously, with clear-eyed objectivity. 

Hmm. What if what we need to know in order to achieve some specific outcome is literally unknowable? If so, then presuming to know the unknowable is not going to end well. As it so happens, I'm also rereading the Hayek's Koon Klassic Law, Legislation and Liberty, in particular, the volume on The Mirage of Social Justice

You probably just read my mind, because if social justice is a mirage -- literally a kind of collective delusion -- then we might just have identified the essential disconnect between right and left, and left and reality. And you would be hard-pressed to find a progressive who doesn't enthusiastically believe in "social justice," even if they can never precisely define what it means.

It's a big subject, so one is tempted to say just read the book. Let's see if I can extract some of the most juicy insultainment. 

As Petey often says, let's begin with what we can't know, with "the impossibility for anyone of knowing all the particular facts" of a complex spontaneous order (Hayek). It's why we have rules: because the of our ineradicable ignorance of the future:

Rules are a device for coping with our constitutional ignorance. There would be no need for rules among omniscient people who were in agreement on the relative importance of all the different ends.

Which is why it is so repugnant to our reason to change the outcome of a rule-based system, for example, vis-a-vis student loan forgiveness, college racial discrimination against Asians, or climate scammers tweaking their models in order to arrive at the preferred results.

Speaking of affirmative action, diversity, inclusiveness, and all the other progressive buzz words,

The idea that government can determine the opportunities for all, and especially that it can ensure that they are the same for all, is therefore in conflict with the whole rationale of a free society.

When people say "social justice" they really mean "government coercion." Certainly they (at least secular types) do not mean that "society" will bring about the desired outcome, rather, a tyrannical entity that has the power to change the outcomes of a complex system.

But this much is obvious. Let's dig a little deeper to see where Hayek converges with Pieper on the subject of prudence. For Hayek, belief in "social justice" is not only imprudent, it is downright primitive: it is 

a direct consequence of that anthropomorphism or personification by which naive thinking tries to account for all self-ordering processes. It is a sign of the immaturity of our minds that we have not yet outgrown these primitive concepts and still demand from an impersonal process which brings about a greater satisfaction of human desires than any deliberate human organization could achieve, that it conform to the moral precepts men have evolved for the guidance of their individual actions.

So, we still must have rules, including rules of morality that inform our actions. But 

the demand for 'social justice' is addressed not to the individual but to society -- yet society, in the strict sense in which it must be distinguished from the apparatus of government, is incapable of acting for a specific purpose.... 

It is because of belief in the mirage of social justice "that people have placed in the hands of government powers" 

to satisfy the claims of the ever-increasing number of special interests who have learnt to employ the open sesame of 'social justice'. 

Or, in the words of the Aphorist, 

Social justice is the term for claiming anything to which we do not have a right.

But in reality,

No social class has exploited the others more brazenly than the one that today calls itself "the State." 

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