Monday, June 10, 2024

Hope is a Mighty Strange Attractor

One of Voegelin's central points is that the normative condition of mankind is to live in tension with a transcendent reality that can never be reached but must never be forgotten.

It seems to me that this also accounts for the sensorium of time, in that eternity and the present moment are as if two ends of a single transcendent reality to which human beings have unique access.

In other words, each moment is oriented both to the future and to the top, the latter being the principle of God's omni-Presence.

Carlos Eire, in his A Short History of Eternity, warns us that "when we lose eternity as a horizon we can end up with totalitarian, materialistic nightmares." Conversely, the "paradoxical conjoining of the eternal with the temporal," writes Eire, is "the very essence" of Christian metaphysics. Not especially original, but then again, 

The test of truth, to put it pointedly, will be the lack of originality in the propositions (Voegelin).

Why is that? Don't we want Progress? Of course we do, but there is no progressing beyond, say, logic or mathematics, rather, only their ongoing deployment in order to deepen our understanding in the transcendent space just mentioned.

For Voegelin, modern philosophy has gone off the vertical rails, and when this happens, it is no longer even philosophy (since it is no longer oriented to its proper end). Rather, it is reduced to philodoxy (love of opinion) if we're lucky, misosophy (hatred of wisdom) if we're not. 

A survey of what is going on in our Educational Establishment -- from elite universities at the top to  grade school below -- suggests that we are indeed shit out of luck. This hatred of reality is the defining feature of a postmodern indoctrination, and journalism takes care of the rest.

Now, God understands as well as anyone that few of us have the time, ability, or inclination to devote our lives to thinking our way back to him. Therefore, he makes the burden easy, with a light yoke to sweeten the deal: Incarnation.

Now -- speaking of revolutions -- that is radical concept. No philosophical tracts to digest, no costly academic studies, no pitting one ideology against another to try and figure out which one is closer to the truth. Instead, just the offer of a Person and a relationship, and all this entails.

True, it entails a great deal, but instead of starting at the periphery of the cosmos and trying to burrow our way toward the center, the vertical Center and horizontal End are given to us at the outset (or in the moment), gratis. 

Thus, it is literally the ultimate shortcut, although again, the implications are infinite and thensome. Simple isn't necessarily easy, as proven by the Ramones.

Even if this is only an idea, is it the single best idea anyone has ever had? This idea has three moving parts, 1) in the beginning is the Logos, 2) the Logos is with God, and 3) the Logos becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Is, With, and Among: the ultimate Is is an irreducible With, and it is With us, of all people. 

Let us fast forward a couple thousand years to Pieper's Hope and History, which, for my money, conveys much of what Voegelin is trying to say, only in 100 instead of 10,000 pages.

For starters, why is hope one of the top three theological virtues? How is it different from, say, mere wishful thinking, and why should we cultivate it? And how can it have anything to do with thinking about reality? Isn't the whole point of thinking to purge it of desire and to look at things the way they are as opposed to the way we want them to be? 

For the stoic or the existentialist, hopelessness is a virtue. In other words, liberation, such as it is, comes down to resigning yourself to your hopeless predicament.  

Now, hold on just a minute. In The One Minute Philosopher, Brown distinguishes hope from wish by saying that the former "looks to the future, but is rooted in reality as it is."

Thus, reality as it is includes an intrinsic tension that reaches forth to a future that isn't yet. Analogously, think of how the phenomenon of Life Itself by definition reaches beyond the moment and anticipates its own future. When it stops doing so, it is Death Itself. 

This anticipation-reaching-forth-to-a-strange-attractor-in-the-future is an exceptionally strange thing to occur in a heretofore purely physical cosmos. Then again, perhaps Life Itself is the strange attractor toward which material processes are oriented.

In any event, the identical process occurs on the cognitive plane, as our minds reach forth toward truths which they do not yet possess. Continuously. Unless we are mentally and spiritually dead, in which case our minds no longer live in that space of hope that exists between present and future, anticipation and fulfillment, question and answer. 

To live -- or think -- only in the present would be to neither live nor think. In a very literal way, life itself is hope, in that its continuance is always possible but never necessary, nor is hope ordered to the impossible.

Hope can of course be misplaced or disappointed, but by its nature it is ordered to the possible, not the impossible or the necessary.

Regarding the latter, we don't hope the sun comes up tomorrow, because it will. Nor do we hope it comes out at midnight, because it won't. 

At the same time, we don't hope for things that are fully under our own control. For example, I don't hope that today I can avoid robbing a gas station, because I won't. I do, however, hope that Cousin Dupree can avoid robbing one, because he just might.

There is a vast middle ground covered by hope, and in a way, this middle ground is everything. It is where we actually live, i.e., not in our neurology or in the physical world, but in the space between.

For example, I hope I can get this post to make sense before I run out of time. I have partial control, in that I have to be here, but I don't have anything like total control. All I can do is keep typing and hope for the best. As Pieper says, "The only genuine hope is one directed toward something that does not depend on us."

Imagine the alternative: that I don't have to hope this post makes sense, because I have a total mastery of the subject right here inside my own noggin. But if that were the case, then I would no longer be reaching out in hope toward the transcendent object, just disgorging what I already know. 

In other words, there isn't just a correct content to thought, but a correct process of thought, and the correct process is always in tension with its own transcendent source and ground.

Genuine hope

appears to have no object that can be found to exist in the world in [an] "objectlike" way. There is, then, nothing specific and concrete that can be pointed to; it is directed toward something "indefinite," "nebulous," "formless," "unnameable"....

This functional hope

tends to transcend all "particular objects" and cannot really be grasped until one stops trying to imagine the thing hoped for. But of course there is certainly "something hoped for," even if its mode of being is quite different from that of all objective goods and all conceivable changes in the external world.

I suppose our bottom line for today is that faith, hope, and love aren't so much verbs as they are interdimensional links between immanent and transcendent objects (or subjects). 

Each of these functions to lift us out of our paltry and pneumatically sophicating existence into a dynamic and fruitful relationship with the source and ground of being. 

The End for Now, but I suspect we will continue down and up this rabbit hole in the subsequent installment.


julie said...

Imagine the alternative: that I don't have to hope this post makes sense, because I have a total mastery of the subject right here inside my own noggin.

If that were the case, what would be the point of even writing the post?

For example, I hope I can get this post to make sense before I run out of time. I have partial control, in that I have to be here, but I don't have anything like total control.

I think that's part of what makes the creative process interesting, there's a dynamic tension between what one imagines and what is actually created. it's rare indeed to have the product resemble the mental image, and sometimes the very fact that it comes close renders the creation... somehow less than what otherwise might have been.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, creativity is always hoping for a felicitous accident -- or arranging for the circumstances of its emergence.

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