Monday, March 27, 2017

Misbegotten Duties and Vital Irresponsibilities

Programming alert: probably no posts tomorrow and Wednesday. In addition to my regular responsibilities, I am the substitute home schooler, since the wife is on a ski trip with friends. In short, I have no time for my vital irresponsibilites such as the higher non-doodling memorialized by the blog.

Speaking of which, it turns out that the following touches on the idea of "vital irresponsibilities," or at least doing things for no reason other than doing them. Pointlessness has a point, you know.

"The idea of original sin," writes Schuon, "situates the cause of the human fall in an action" -- which suggests by implication the erroneous idea that if we simply refrain from the forbidden action, then we are sinless.

But the story is supposed to embody and convey a metaphysical idea, not enjoin any particular action per se.

So, what's the big idea? For Schuon, it is "the presence in our soul of a tendency to 'outwardness' and 'horizontality,' which constitutes, if not original sin properly so called, at least the hereditary vice that it is derived therefrom."

I would say that it's not just outwardness and horizontality, but rather, these two divorced from the inwardness and verticality that are their complements.

And although they are complementary, one side of a complementarity is always primary, in this case verticality and inwardness, the reason being that verticality could never derive from horizontality, nor inwardness from outwardness.

Which for practical purposes means that the "pole of attraction which is the 'kingdom of God within you' must in the final analysis prevail over the seductive magic of the world" (ibid.). We must be master of our own domain before we are safe running loose in the world, what with its virtually infinite supply of temptations and seductions.

It reminds me of an article linked on Instapundit yesterday, What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life? It's not particularly deep or well written, but it does make a valid and even vital point about detaching oneself from what amount to worldly idols. It's really a plea for being -- or for a life of inwardness and verticality over the converse.

Now, properly speaking, being is not necessarily located in "doing nothing," so to speak. As Schuon explains, "it expresses above all an attitude of the heart; hence a 'being' and not a simple 'doing' or 'not doing.'" One can always do as an extension of being, which is the basis of karma yoga (and one can certainly practice a Christian karma yoga).

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reminds Arjuna that "in this world, aspirants may find enlightenment by two different paths. For the contemplative is the path of knowledge: for the active is the path of selfless action."

Furthermore, as alluded to above, "freedom from activity is never achieved by abstaining from action. Nobody can become perfect by merely ceasing to act." Therefore, one should "perform every action sacramentally, and be free from all attachments to results."

Or, as we've said in so many ways, the True, Good, and Beautiful are not "for" anything other than themselves: one wants to know truth because it is true, and for no other reason. Likewise, action should converge upon the Good for its own sake, not for some extrinsic reward, whether in this life or the next.

So (godsplains Krishna), "Do your duty, always; but without attachment. That is how a man reaches the ultimate Truth; by working without anxiety about results." Therefore, wise up: "Shake off this fever of ignorance. Stop hoping for worldly rewards. Fix your mind on Atman. Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate all your actions to me. Then march forth and fight."

How exactly is this different from Christian yoga or yogic Christianity? Parallels are too numerous to mention, for example, in the distinction between Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Bear in mind the One Thing Needful, and let the dead bury the tenured.

"If the requirement of the supreme Commandment is to 'love God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind,'" then "the contrary attitude is the supreme sin," with various degrees in between. Again, one doesn't have to take it literally to get the message, which is probably impossible to carry out in any event, for even Jesus asks "Why call me good? None is good, except one, that is, God."

The expression may sound polemical, but it conveys a practical reality that there is no mere action one can accomplish in order to earn salvation. Jesus is essentially putting forth an impossible standard, so we don't fall into the trap of elevating ourselves to our own savior by some meritorious action.

"To be 'horizontal' is to love only terrestrial life, to the detriment of the ascending and celestial path." And "to be 'exteriorized,' is to love only outer things, to the detriment of moral and spiritual values" (Schuon).

One-sided horizontality is "to sin against transcendence, thus to forget God and consequently the meaning of life," while exclusive exteriority and outwardness "is to sin against immanence, thus to forget our immortal soul and consequently its vocation."

Truth and presence. God manifests as one or the other, the former being transcendent, the latter immanent. Actually, God manifests as one and the other, as the presence of truth and the truth of presence.

Just as Hell is simply the last word in God's respect for man's freedom, one might say that sin is the first word in his commitment to the same. "Eve and Adam succumbed to the temptation to wish to be more than they could be" -- or, to be precise, more than they could be in the absence of being grounded in God. Their usurpation equates to a claim "to be equal to the Creator," which "is the very essence of sin."

For "indeed, the sinner decides what is good, counter to the objective nature of things." What happens next is simply "the reaction of reality," which always gets the last word.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Can God Crank it Up to Eleven?

Speaking of contingency, I was just reviewing Aquinas's five proofs of God, the third one being the argument from contingency.

Let's begin by defining our terms: contingency is "a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty." In philosophy it is basically defined negatively, as the absence of necessity.

Does this mean that contingency is somehow parasitic on necessity, as shadow is to light? I don't think so. Rather, they must be complementary, as Absolute is to Infinite, the latter being the endless iterations of the former.

If Absolute is ontologically prior to Infinite -- or if Infinite is the "first fruit," so to speak, of Absoluteness, i.e., its "radiation" -- then we might say that the Infinite as such is the realm of the many Masks of God. Infinite is also associated with relativity, as is contingency.

Having said that, Schuon adds that while "contingency is always relative," "relativity is not always contingent." In other words, it seems that, God being who he is, contingency "must be"; it is really just another way of saying that God cannot help being creative, any more than he can stop being good. Creation consists (at least in some sense) of God "radiating himself" into relativity and contingency, or terrestrial thrills, chills, and spills.

In speaking of the relative, this also introduces the idea of a dimension that "is either 'more' or 'less' in relation to another reality" -- which goes to Aquinas' fourth way, that "among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble, and the like" (in Feser). In other words, we can only say "better" and "worse" because of an implicitly known scale of absolute value.

So, I would say that a realm of contingency must exist, even though this or that contingency may or may not come to pass. And our freedom must be located in this world of contingency, in which we may influence "what happens." Toss the fourth way into the mix, and we have the freedom to influence what happens on a vertical scale. Or in other words, we may move closer to, or more distant from, the true, good, beautiful, etc.

"What makes us happy," writes Schuon, "are the phenomena of beauty and goodness and all the other goods that existence borrows from pure Being." Again, as mentioned yesterday, "We are situated in contingency, but we live by reflection of the Absolute, otherwise we could not exist." So, there are reflections of the Absolute in the Contingent, and a big part of our task is to notice and appreciate them. They're actually everywhere, and cannot help being so.

Indeed, Schuon goes on to say that there are "two fundamental virtues to realize," first, "resignation to contingency" and second, "assimilation of the celestial message." "Resignation" hardly connotes "giving up." Rather, is it simply an acknowledgement of our cosmic situation: if we are to exist at all, it must be in a world of contingency, fluctuation, enigma, mystery, and other seeming privations. But these "privations" are ultimately just a function of not being God.

Besides, God makes amends for the privations by... how to put it... by revealing his own fulness, or by filling the gaps with his own being. For example, we alluded above to the inevitable gaps between God and creation, various "degrees of being" that are closer to or more distant from the Principle. What is the Incarnation but a kind of gratuitous gift, a divine descent, that closes the gaps and bridges the abyss? Truly, if there were no Incarnation then God would have to invent one.

Being that we are stuck here in this world of contingency and flux, we must again detect the real within the relative. As Schuon describes, "everything lies in discovering that ontologically we bear within ourselves that which we love and which in the final analysis constitutes our reason for being." Looked at this way, "contingency is but a veil" -- but a veil simultaneously veils and reveals, in that the there is obviously something behind or beneath it, something it is veiling. That is indeed the purpose of a veil.

Now we're getting somewhere, because this implies that there is a bit of absoluteness within us, and that this absoluteness is the witness or arbiter or essence that exists in dialectic with the relative, contingent, and indeterminate. You might say that our task is to identify with the "unmoved mover" at the heart of it all, which goes to Aquinas' first way, which is the argument from motion, AKA change. Raccoons are not "the change we seek." Rather, the changelessness from which we enjoy the seeking.

What is change, anyway? In the Thomist conception it is "the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality" (Feser). If God is, among other things, "all possibility," then what we call the "now" must be its specification of one possibility.

Now, for a relativist there are only veils, with nothing veiled. This can provoke a frantic search from one veil to the next, without ever being cognizant of what the veil is veiling, which is again, reality.

It reminds me of something the Aphorist says, that One must live for the moment and for eternity. Not for the disloyalty of time. In other words, at each moment the horizontal is pierced by the vertical, such that eternity is in the moment and the moment is in eternity; one might say that the moment is simply veiled eternity. And what is eternity but God's own moment?

This is another way of affirming: "Contingency on the one hand and the presence of the Absolute on the other; these are the two poles of our existence" (Schuon).

Which leads me to wonder: is there something analogous to contingency in God? I like to think so. Of course, it can't be a privation, but is rather a reflection of the divine plenum, which is like an infinite goodness and creativity that eternally surpasses itself, so to speak.

I suppose even God can't go up to 11, because that would imply that he was lacking something when he was only at 10. Therefore, it is an endless succession of 10s. And this is why no one is bored in heaven. But also why no one need be bored on earth.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

God is a Giant Disco Ball, and Other Truisms

Since we can think of nothing better to do, we've been flipping through one of Schuon's later collections of essays, The Play of Masks. Why that title? I suppose it's because each of the essays explores some aspect of the Reality and Appearances of which our world -- both interior and exterior, subjective and objective, vertical and horizontal -- is composed.

I previously mentioned that this is one of Schuon's more compact and concentrated efforts -- only 90 pages, and scarcely a wasted word. It brings to mind a challenge I've often contemplated: how to express the Maximum Truth in the minimum space.

This would involve explicating all of the principles that govern existence -- not just this existence, but any and all possible existences. It would be like reading the operating manual for creation as such.

This, of course, goes to the very meaning and purpose of metaphysics. But why do those famous metaphysicians -- e.g., Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, et al -- have to be so wordy and obscure about it?

Not to mention numerous. How in the world can there be more than one metaphysic? If there are even two, only one can be correct. Is there really no way to arbitrate between them? If not, then man has no access to truth, period, and metaphysics is indeed reduced to cosmic ønanism.

Which I reject a priori. Which I mean literally, because one of my prior convictions is that 1) truth exists, and 2) that it is accessible to man. Truth and knowledge are complementary realities; or just say the cosmos is composed of intelligence and intelligibility, which are two sides of the same reality. You might say they are the first two Masks at Play in the world.

Metaphysics, as I see it, consists of the principles that cannot not be true, on pain of total unintelligibility, meaninglessness, and absurdity. Many, if not most, popular ideas render the world just that: an essentially dark and silent prison in which any meaning we extract is imaginary and certainly time-limited, ending with death. Ironically, many metaphysics render metaphysics impossible: they are instantaneously self-refuting, as in atheism, scientism, Darwinism, etc.

In his foreword, Schuon writes that the individual chapters "are small independent treatises which often summarize the entire doctrine." Or Entire Doctrine, as I would put it. One might say that each chapter is one of those Masks alluded to in the title. Peekaboo!

The book "presents the same fundamental theses in diverse aspects." Why? Because the divine reality is like a giant Disco Ball. Now, what is a Disco Ball? It is

a roughly spherical object that reflects light directed at it in many directions, producing a complex display. Its surface consists of hundreds or thousands of facets, nearly all of approximately the same shape and size, and each having a mirrored surface.

Usually it is mounted well above the heads of the people present, suspended from a device that causes it to rotate steadily on a vertical axis, and illuminated by spotlights, so that stationary viewers experience beams of light flashing over them, and see myriad spots of light spinning around the walls of the room.

Precisely. O is situated "well above the heads of the people present." It is at the top of a vertical axis, and it is indeed illuminated by light flashing upon it.

Take the example of, I don't know, the Bible. It is quite obviously similar in structure to a disco ball, in that we may aim our intellect at it from countless angles and illuminate this or that part. Indeed, it has always been understood that scripture is like a mirror in which the soul may "see" its reflection. And it takes all kinds to make a world, so that's a lot of mirrors.

The divine disco ball has mirrors within mirrors -- it is fractally constituted -- but there are certain "principial" mirrors that reflect the metaphysical axioms we seek. "Metaphysics," writes Schuon, "aims in the first place at the comprehension of the whole Universe, which extends from the Divine Order to the terrestrial contingencies."

This alone is a Critical Point, because the contingencies are echoes or shadows of the Principle(s). We don't say they are mere prolongations of the Principle, because if that were the case, it would eliminate our freedom and enshrine a total divine determinacy.

No, freedom is another one of our first principles, and freedom consists of an ontological glass that is exactly half full. Or half empty, depending upon how one looks at it. Our freedom cannot be "total," or it could not be free. But nor can the cosmic order be total, for the same reason.

The world consists of Reality and Appearances, Person and Mask(s), with all the Wiggle Room occurring in between. These ontological interstices -- "humanly crucial openings" -- are the designated play areas, or where the slack is located, and where the prevalent winds blow upward.

You might compare our situation to the eye of the hurricane, which doesn't feel windy because the air is spiraling upward.

In any event, I'm up to a chapter called In the Face of Contingency. Contingency is precisely that ambiguous area between chance and necessity, consisting of the World of Might Happen rather than Must Happen.

There are a lot of metaphysical control freaks who don't care for contingency, but in truth, if we didn't have it there would be no surprises, so existence would get old very quickly. A surprise is a happy contingency.

"We are situated in contingency, but we live by reflection of the Absolute [disco ball], otherwise we could not exist."

Again, we could not exist because there would be no human freedom apart from the Divine Will. To ex-ist means that there is a kind of outline around the existent thing. This is why we say that God cannot possibly exist, because he cannot be contained.

As such, the freedom of O is infinite, while ours is, and must be, finite or bounded. It is bounded by, among other things, truth; or better, given direction and meaning by the Truth which "lures" on one side and "seeks" at the other. You might say that the Truth chases us until we catch it.

Getting late. To be continued....

Wo, look at the size of that discO ball!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

God and Creation, Separate but Equivalent

Yet another writing-out-loud post. Rambling and self-indulgent? I don't know. Maybe.

Christian metaphysics holds that God creates "from nothing." But since something cannot come from nothing, this formula seems to defer the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

When we approach such questions, we are digging down to the very bottom of things, so language naturally becomes problematic. In other words, language -- our language, anyway -- is posterior to creation, to being, and to existence, such that it is difficult to deploy it to describe realities that are prior to language. As Schuon writes, error can result from "taking too seriously" such "small fatalities of language."

It's analogous to trying to describe what it was like to be an infant, before one can speak. It can't be done in real time, but it is possible in retrospect to transform the experience into words, as in psychotherapy.

Alternatively, one may simply act out infantile desires, impulses, and emotions, which is why liberal activism will always be with us.

God is the very ground of Something, such that there can be no "nothing" in him. To say that God creates from nothing is to say that there is no pre-existent material with which he creates; or that in God there is no distinction between creativity and creation.

On the human plane, the creator works with sound, color, form, or words that already exist. But imagine, for example, creating color simultaneously with painting.

Is the Creation situated "inside" or "outside" God? This again goes to the "small fatalities of language" alluded to above. The obvious answer is "both," which emphasizes the limitations of language, in which one definition would seem to exclude the other.

This may seem like an abstruse subject, but it goes to a number of practical questions, such as the nature of God's omniscience and the existence of evil. Where is evil located? If there can be nothing outside God, then it must be in God. But there is no evil in God. So where does it come from? And how is God off the hook for its existence?

As hard cases make bad law, such hard metaphysical questions have been responsible for a lot of bad theology.

Herebelow, God manifests in two ways: truth and presence. And yet, falsehood and absence "exist." How do we exit this absurcular argument? I don't have any better ideas than this:

The ontological and hence "neutral" structure of evil is "in God," but not so evil as such; in other words, privative and subversive possibilities are not in Deo except insofar as they testify to Being and therefore to All-Possibility, and not by their negative contents, which paradoxically signify non-existence or the impossible, hence the absurd.

You might say that in God, nothing, which is normally impossible, is indeed possible. If it weren't possible, then God would be denied a possibility.

In the previous post we spoke of the distinction between appearances and reality. On the one hand God is reality and not appearance. But what are appearances but of reality?

For Schuon, this goes precisely to "the mystery of Relativity," which is to say, "the possibility of an 'other than God.'" If we deny this Other Than God, we are in effect denying the world and ourselves, or creation and free will.

Properly speaking, God does not exist. Rather, he is prior to existence, prior even to being. What we call God is the very possibility of existence. Here we may draw a useful distinction, in that existence as such is already "at a distance," so to speak, from God.

For Schuon, the purpose of a religious symbolism is to provide points of reference -- at times paradoxical, and even necessarily so -- for pre-linguistic truths that are "in" our very substance (or our substance is "of" these truths). Again, being that this truth-substance is pre-linguistic, conventional language can go only so far in conveying it without paradox.

With this in mind, Schuon suggests that "there are two 'ontological regions,' the Absolute and the Relative; the first consists of Beyond-Being, and the second, of both Being and Existence, of the Creator and Creation."

From a slightly different vantage point, one may view Being and Beyond-Being on one side, with existence -- i.e., the cosmos -- on the other.

I analogize this to the conscious/unconscious divide in man. Looked at in one way, they are separate. But in reality they are complementary. Just as both are needed in order to facilitate humanness, just so, Beyond-Being and Being are the complementary "sides" of God. Father and Son? I don't know. Maybe.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Appearance and Reality, Dark and Light, Man and God

When I have nothing to say, as is the case this morning, I just start typing. The following is what came out, so I apologize in advance if it seems like one of those meandering posts from nothing to nowhere. Or in other words, another post.

To summarize our cosmic situation: there is truth and way; or doctrine and method; or divine word and human response; or ultimately, God's outspiraling descent (↓) and our inspiraling ascent (↑). Looked at this way, truth as such is already a descent, just as knowing it is already an ascent.

If this weren't the case, then there would be no such thing as, I don't know, academic grades. That is to say, truth descends, as it were, from the professor, and the grade we receive reflects our assimilation of it. In this scheme, the rogue who gets an A has ascended higher than the one like me who receives the gentleman's C.

At least back in pre-postmodern times. Now the professor dispenses opinions while students offer up their own. Any answer is fine, except it had better not be the wrong one.

Which again shows how one can pretend to deny the Absolute up front, but it always returns through the back door. For no thinking of any kind is possible in its absence. Therefore, you might as well accept this at the outset and define your Absolute and the principles that follow.

As we know, "the world" consists of appearances + reality. To know a truth means to see beyond or beneath the former to the latter. For example, the sun appears to circle the earth. But in reality, it's the other way around.

Not so fast! Einstein proved that it's both, depending upon one's frame of reference. Or, more precisely, both are orbiting a center of mass that is close to the sun, but not absolutely identical to it.

And this isn't even taking into account larger movements such as the spiraling Milky Way and the spinning supercluster of galaxies of which it is a part. So, where is the actual cosmic center around which everything is turning?

That's easy: it is in us. Supposing we could locate the physical center around which everything spins, this would only be on the horizontal plane. I know we've touched on this before, but once you acknowledge the vertical axis, then man becomes the center of creation -- or better, a projection of the Absolute Center into relativity.

So yes, the cosmos is no doubt a big place. But so what: no matter what anyone tries to tell you, man is bigger. Because the cosmos is intelligible, we may know it, which is to transcend it.

Frankly, the cosmos has to be this large in order to host Man. Its size is merely a function of how long it's been here, and it takes a cosmos 14 billion years or so to produce a man. For God that's no more than a day. Or six days, at any rate.

Now, for Schuon, one purpose of creation is "for God to be known 'from without' and starting from an 'other than He." "Purpose" goes to teleology, and Schuon suggests that right here "lies the whole meaning of the creation of man and even of creation as such."

Really? That is a Bold Statement: the whole meaning? How does he know? Isn't that a bit presumptuous?

No, it is just taking what man does -- and cannot help doing -- to its logical conclusion. Man seeks to know. Now, either truth exists, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then our will to know -- AKA the love of Truth -- is just an absurd and meaningless feature of our pathetic existence. The mind is reduced to an accident that can know only accidents, AKA appearances. One might say that it is "appearances all the way down," on both ends, i.e., mind and world.

The final common pathway of this spiritual pathology is unremitting tenure, or a certified mediocracy from which there is no escape.

But the truth of the matter is that it is reality all the way up. At the top is the Really Real, or that without which there are only appearances with no reality, or shadows with no light.

Being that we are in the image of the Creator, it's the same with us. We can become quite "distant" from ourselves, to the point that we lose conscious contact with the Self-center. This is the case for most anyone who comes in for psychotherapy: what they essentially want to know is, what happened to me? Where did I go? And how do I get it back?

Schuon speaks of the distinction "between the man-center, who is determined by the intellect and is therefore rooted in the Immutable, and the man-periphery, who is more or less accident." Thus, we are back to appearances and reality, only on the human/interior/vertical dimension.

Shifting gears for the moment, think of Jesus, who is "true man and true God." Wha? Returning to our astronomical analogy, it is analogous to saying that something is "true planet and true sun."

But what applies to Jesus by nature applies to each of us by adoption, such that we planets can not only orbit the true sun, but (via theosis) take on characteristics of the sun. For Jesus is divine light, and you are sons of that light; and "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Conversely, "if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." Now darkness is a, if not the, quintessential appearance, because it is totally without reality of its own, but parasitic on the light. Strictly speaking, darkness does not exist, for it is pure privation. For the same reason, man without God is nothing.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Variations on a Theme of Reality

More variations on a theme of Schuon. But I ended up having little time to improvise on it. Too many distractions. In any event, first the theme. Maestro:

♪♫ Man's spiritual alchemy comprises two dimensions, or two phases, which can be designated by the terms "doctrine" and "method," or "truth" and "way." The first element appears as the divine Word, and the second as the human response; in this sense the truth is a descent, and the way an ascent. ♪♫

This is pretty much what I was driving at with our old friends (↓) and (↑). Schuon is already pretty abstract, and I'm just abstracting from the abstraction and distilling the essence from the essential.

Right away this reminds me -- remember, we're just improvising here -- of something Nasr says in The Essential Schuon: that his writings "are characterized by essentiality, universality and comprehensiveness."

As to the first, "they always go to the heart and are concerned with the essence of whatever they deal with."

Or in other words -- and this is something we are always striving for as well, otherwise why bother writing? -- he tries to reach "to the very core of the subject he is treating" and go "beyond forms to to the essential formless Center of forms," in what amounts to "a journey that is at once intellectual and spiritual from the circumference to the Center."

Circumnavalgazing the whole existentialada, we call it, or sayling 'round the unsayable sea of being. Verticalesthenics. Same difference.

Essence. Exactly what does it mean? "The intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character; a property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is; the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features."

Something is essential if, when we remove it, the thing to which it attaches is no longer itself. This has many important applications, for example, what is the essence of the United States?

In order to address that question, we need to go meta, or become even more abstract and essential, for philosophy itself split in two some 700 years ago with the development of nominalism. The, er, essence of nominalism is the denial of essences, precisely, such that anyone who talks about them is talking about nothing, or certainly nothing real.

In truth, one cannot not be an essentialist, for reasons implicit in the above paragraph -- i.e., that without a notion of essence, one can't even speak of its denial. It's ultimately a variant of the postmodern "there's no such thing as truth" gag. Nominalism, like relativism, Darwinism, and scientism, is soph-beclowning.

Of course, Richard Weaver's Coon Classic Ideas Have Consequences is on just this subject.

Nominalism expands the world in a certain sense, in that everything becomes an individual instance of itself. But this is only a horizontal expansion, with no way to organize it from above.

Some people have described a bad acid trip this way: it is as if every moment becomes a catastrophic novelty, with no way to make sense of it. Psychosis has been characterized this way as well: nonstop nameless dread -- and dreadful because nameless.

In reality, it's a complementarity. Much of the history of philosophy involves some guy grabbing at one end of a complementarity and running with it. Looked at this way, a strong realist is as wrong as a strong anti-realist. For reality is a tapestry of form and substance, or music and geometry, or spirit and matter, or boxers and briefs, whatever.

But denying universals denies everything transcending experience, thus denying one's own denial. Which is an affirmation of universals.

Much of what we call "fake news" (as well as liberal fakademia) is a result of messing with concrete facts, abstract universals, and the space in between. When a Republican is caught redhanded, it's a Culture of Corruption. When a Democrat is so caught, it's just an aberration, and besides, being a Democrat has nothing to do with it. Obama? Vigorous executive. Trump? Fascist usurper.

The other evening Tucker Carlson was trying to get a Planned Parenthood executive to say whether or not a fetus is a human being. Fascinating, in a creepy way. We all know what the answer is, but she simply could not or would not say it. She was the very essence of anti-humanism.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Good News: Ye Are Gods! The Bad News: Ye Are Gods!

As you all know by now, I am fascinated by the idea that God creates man "in Our image, according to Our likeness" -- not just for the Trinitarian implications, but for what else it implies about man and God.

It seems that most Christians instinctively limit its meaning, for fear -- and the fear is not misplaced -- of hubristically equating man and God. So various theologians have placed sharp constraints around the concept, such that any similarities are completely dwarfed by the differences, almost to the point of rendering our deiformity meaningless.

It's as if the idea is too hot to handle, so it is essentially explained away or at least downplayed.

In a way, it reminds me of the daring rhetoric in the D of C: that all men are created equal, period. For a while this was unproblematic, until people began taking it literally and demanding that it be respected. It prompted, on the one side, the abolitionist movement, and on the other -- and for for the first time -- theories of racial inequality in order to justify slavery as a positive good.

Interestingly, the Orthodox east never got hung up on the whole image-and-likeness business. Rather than seeing it as problematic, they saw it as the whole point of the Christian innerprize, AKA theosis.

Now, before you just assume your divine status, bear in mind an important characteristic of God: that nothing and no one is more humble. D'oh! There goes your grandiosity, narcissism, will to power, and self-glorification. Those traits decidedly do not apply to the Christian God.

It reminds me of something I read the other day by this fellow Jesus, about turning the other cheek, offering one's tunic, and generally loving one's enemies. In trying to make sense of it, it occurred to me that Jesus is setting an impossible standard, and properly so. In other words, it's as if he's saying: sure, you're in the image of God. Now try acting like it!

Again: d'oh! Not so easy.

Not to make invidious comparisons, but it's easy to act like, say, certain prophets who extol violence, polygamy, and oppression. No need to get into details, but you know what I mean. (For example, compare the two very different meanings of "martyrdom.") It is not so easy to act like the God who gives himself utterly, right up to and including the Cross -- again, an almost impossible standard. But this very "impossibly" is the Divine Standard.

D'oh! Maybe I don't want to be godlike after all.

Back to Orthodoxy for a moment. I recently read a book called Everywhere Present that touches on this subject. For example,

The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches us that God has become man and dwelt among us. In the God-man Christ Jesus, heaven and earth, are united, and the distance between God and man, of whatever sort, is overcome.

That's the Good News. But it is intrinsically intertwined with some Bad News -- bad for the selfish ego, to be exact, for whom it is nothing less than a death sentence.

So yes, you are like gods (John 10:34). But it all comes down to the meaning of "you" -- or, more precisely, "I". His listeners didn't like the sound of that, so they tried to grab him "but He escaped out of their hands." For awhile, anyway.

Elsewhere Freeman writes that "Jesus did not come to make bad men good; He came to make dead men live." What, by dying?


We've mentioned before the idea that Jesus is simultaneously our icon of God and God's icon of man. Now, what is an icon? It is not the material thing; rather, the material is meant to be transparent, i.e., to reveal something it is pointing toward (this being the difference between idolatry and iconography).

The plain truth of the matter is that God is an icon-maker. He first made man "in His own image." And in becoming man, the man He became is described as the "image of the invisible God."

All of the above was provoked by a short passage in The Play of Masks, that "it goes without saying that God is indeed 'obliged' to be faithful to His Nature and for that reason cannot but manifest Himself" via creation; in other words, God cannot not create without failing to be God.

Again, this may sound like a "limitation," but it is really quite the opposite. To think otherwise is to place eternal sterility and eternal fecundity on the same plane -- as if any rational being would choose the former over the latter. I see God's inexhaustible creativity as his eternal divine delight.

A Big Difference here is that God obviously cannot "fall" from his nature. Rather, that possibility is uniquely reserved for man. Animals cannot fall anywhere, nor can mere matter. And the only reason man can fall is because there is somewhere to fall from, which is none other than the image and likeness referenced in paragraph one.

"Only man," writes Schuon, "participating in the divine liberty and created in order to freely choose God, can make a bad use of his freedom under the influence of that cosmic mode that is evil." Our very form predisposes us to return to our "divine Prototype," but it seems that we are situated in the context of cosmic energies that flow in both directions. Thus,

"The 'dark' and 'descending' tendency not only moves away from the Sovereign Good, but also rises up against It; whence the equation between the devil and pride."

Which brings us back to the contrary equation of divinity and humility. You might say that God's emptiness -- his kenosis -- is our fullness, but we can only maintain the fullness by giving it away, so to speak. So, grace is kind of a hot potato. If it comes your way, don't get caught trying to hold on to it, but give it away immediately!

Not sure if this post was a case of celestial co-creativity or just terrestrial rambling. "Emptying oneself" has two very different connotations.