Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Drawn by Beauty, Changed by God

I recently came across Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss. It's a beautiful meditation on modern faith and confronting mortality. While I'm not compelled by its unorthodoxy, I do appreciate much of the poetic prose that unfurls the interplay of one's struggle with absoluteness in the face of contingency.  

Here is a quote that captivates a central theme where I believe his disposition falls short. While on the surface it does resonate as true, on an another level it gave me pause...  
“The purpose of theology—the purpose of any thinking about God—is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning—by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings—more irreducible and more terrible, and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is.” 
What Wiman eloquently says here is definitely necessary, but is it sufficient? I, like many others, acknowledge the transcendent aspect of art. It is beauty which often leads us to a sense of depth. 

For me, it tends to come through most often in music, in some cases a great film. As an example, I got to see Belle and Sebastian live recently. They are such a delightful band, and I really enjoy much of their stuff, including songs like this, this, and this (great homemade video). This song, for me, is particularly transcendent inducing:



But I've always sensed art was not enough. In today's secular world, art often replaces religion as a form of mass consumption and we can now see how that has worked out as a vehicle for transformation. While I understand Wiman is pointing to deeper sense of mysticism, and that literal theology is too arid, art can not itself be replacement for true theology.

Kierkegaard wrote on the aesthetic (the Beauty) as the door that opens things up for most. But if such enrichment just becomes a narcissistic consumption of experience, it will not necessitate that one become better for it. It also can an alienating existence, where it requires constant re-entry from the transcendent experience to a mundane life.

Kierkegaard acknowledged we eventually need to move to the ethical (the Good). What inclined us by beauty can eventually instill obligations and commitments for us. We begin to see we are embedded in a community with others and that bonds are formed through reciprocity, trust, and friendship. Beauty and goodness become two faces of the same reality; goodness being an internal beauty, and beauty being an external goodness. (On this note, I recall Dennis Prager saying when he was in summer camp, the women he found attractive at the beginning of the season were not the same as the women he found attractive at the end of the season. Once he got to know them more, he got a better sense of their inner/outer/whole beauty which included their goodness. The person can never be reduced to mere appearances.)

And yet, we can see how goodness may not go far enough also. With the ethical stage, we can get stuck projecting our unwanted thoughts on others or denying them within ourselves. This leads to righteous moralizing, politically-correctness, or the shallow goal of being a “nice” person. Without a metaphysical narrative and the power of grace, there is no real motivation and discernment to master ourselves within before considering how to appropriately respond with others.  

As Kierkegaard noted, it only as we move to the Religious mind (the True) where real spiritual progress can be made. This stage requires faith in God. While the aesthetic can bring in the transcendent, it tends to leave God out. It is only with God that the context of beauty and goodness makes coherent sense. While we may be initially drawn to God by beauty, it is on the journey with God where we are deeply moved in our souls to become beautiful (or saintly).

With that being said, I'm about to embark on a 10-day silent retreat. I hope to use that time to truly immerse myself in the deep Beauty that permeates all of Life. And for someone like myself who has an intellectual bent, it is necessary every so often to embody those “aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings.” The art of silence has its time (of no-time) and place (space).


In truth, experience means nothing if it does not mean beyond itself: we mean nothing unless and until our hard-won meanings are internalized and catalyzed within the lives of others. — Christian Wiman


Friday, July 12, 2019

The Most Important Thing

I’ve always appreciated Adyashanti’s clarity and accessibility as a writer. In his latest book, he explores a profound inquiry: what is the most important thing? What we may think the most important thing is for us as individuals, may not always actually be the case. I often like to believe for me it surrounds around the reoccurring theme I cover in this blog, but in truth I can see how I habitually bump up against competing interests that confirm my sinful nature. It's often a competition between sex and God, and guess what sometimes wins?! (As Augustine would often pray, “Lord, make me chaste—but not yet.”)

If we want to know the most important thing in our life, We just need to consider what things or experiences we spend most of our money, time, and attention on. This is exactly how we are living a life!

Some of the things we prioritize can be perfectly fruitful in their own time: family, vocation, and relationships. Others can be fine in moderation: recreation, health/fitness, hobbies, and our social life. 

And then there are the vices. 

Our natures are so tainted, we can even invert the vices with clever philosophical worldviews to make them appear palatable to us. Just take the seven deadly sins: greed and pride can be seen as a life of rugged individualism, sloth can used to attract the simplicity of a minimalist life, lust and gluttony becomes a life of “do what feels good” or the hedonic treadmill, anger can arouse an ironic cynicism, and envy can create a desire for strict egalitarianism. We can’t see through our narrow motivations to recover a vista of what is truly important, partly because we have a fragmented relationship to existence.

As Bob recently quipped: “man prefers to create and inhabit his own world over the one created for him.” We need to see the world as it is; but first, we need to see ourselves as we are.

The veils that define us are not definitive of who we truly are. When we define ourselves, it is only in relationship to what it is not. To be in relationship to what is, we have to be in direct relationship with the totality of who we are (warts and gems). This isn’t an abstract conception, but an intimate Truth. 

“We can talk about our work, we can talk about interests, we can talk about what we like and what we do not like, but with being or existing, there is not much to talk about — at least on the surface. As we go deeper, we see that being is the essential mystery of our existence. What does it mean when we say, “I am”? “I am” is itself incredible mystery” (Adyashanti).

The most important thing is the recognition of this Mystery, and that can only happen with a relationship with Reality – the totality of existence. We may see ourselves as limited finite beings, but we are also made in the image of an Infinite Being. The point is to see our image closer to a vast likeness of the Whole. And this requires a bold surrender of the fragmented parts that define us.

From there, all the other priorities can be supported from the greater Whole, and be made more whole in themselves. Then, while discernment is always there, the parts can be seen within a Whole and the Whole is seen in the parts. 

So what could be more important than this heroic acceptance?

Monday, July 1, 2019

We Are Such Manipulators (at least wherever we can be)

I'm in the midst of reading this terrific book that is sure to be a favorite of mine. Marvin C. Shaw wrote The Paradox of Intention in the late 1980's, and I just recently came across it after hearing it be discussed on a podcast. It surely would have made my journey less complicated had I read it earlier, but maybe that was all part of the plan.

In the book, Shaw elegantly contrasts the ethos of attainment with the ethos of consolation. We try to achieve as much as we can on our own, and surrender to something outside ourselves with the things we can't change. But over history that line keeps shifting.

Consolation or surrendering may seem like giving up, but “the ethic of consolation is an affirmation of life and not a negation... [and] the life which is affirmed is after all one that includes limit situations.” We can't do it all, even if we think there's an app for that. 

Still, technology has certainly helped. Where once we didn't know what the weather may bring (or how weather worked for that matter), we surrendered to the gods with a good old sacrifice. If we can please them gods, then maybe they will bring some rain to our farms but not so much that it floods us out. 

But as we became more sophisticated, our religions became more rational too. Now instead of sacrifices, we just prayed for good health. At least until better doctors came along with a pill for that. 

Shaw says, “So we have a picture of religion's function, which is to make possible a positive response to otherwise disorienting and anxiety producing non-manipulative threats to human interest, at first, through metatechnology and then through metapsychology.” We outsource as much as we can to God, at least until we've hired better contractors. God forbid we have to keep depending on God.

And while our control activities of metatechology continues to manipulate the world, there are some places it can't quite get at: like our anxiety-prone narcissism, or the lack of meaning in our lives, or even the fear of death (despite kicking the can down the road a few more years here and there).  

It's not like people don't keep trying to manipulate these harder to reach spaces in our head. You'll see it through attention addictions, mind-parasitical projections on others, and the use of magical thinking to manifest indulgences that go against reality. Most of these attempts at controlling our nature fail miserably.

But as they say, grace perfects nature and grace can only be a gift from God. And we can't control or manipulate a gift no matter how hard we try. All we can do is be receptive to gifts (whether or not we think they're good for us — and the divine ones usually are).  

God entered the life journey just to show us He can't control things in human form either. He accepted us, so we could accept Him. And it's only when we accept Him that we can accept ourselves. And this makes all the difference: real inner change, and not manipulative change of the strident self.

Shaw notes, “When we have experienced divine forgiveness, we are freed from sin, the essence of which is self-concern and self-reliance, and thus we are able to move toward concern for others.” This takes care of most of our narcissism, offers us meaning, and in essence even transcends our demise as finite beings.

Divine acceptance leads to self acceptance which leads to real non-manipulative change.

So manipulation will only get so far, especially if we are able to redefine the goal...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What We Love is What We Get

The Sohrab Amarhi/David French debate calls attention to my recent blog post as to Why I Am Not a Libertarian. I acknowledged in that post that liberty should be a means and not an ends since without a telos toward the Good, liberty will eventually undermine itself. In the past, the Good in our nation was informed by a culture that was predominantly Christian prior to the 1960’s. But today, we have become more secular and are becoming more so by the day.

My heart sides with Amarhi more than French in this regard, although I would prefer less state-sponsored guardrails (or God forbid, state-sponsored activism) than he implies. I am more inclined towards cultural determinism, meaning that I believe our politics are guided by how we engage in both the private and public sphere. I would even go so far to say I really align with metaphysical determinism. What we believe to be most important in Reality is what truly guides us. We are what we love. And policies can’t form (or force) lovers. 

So maybe from a practical standpoint, I am more of a French-like classical liberal. French makes a good point when he says “I do want neutral spaces where Christians and pagans can work side by side. I’ve helped create those spaces, and lived in them alongside Christians and atheists, traditionalists and LGBT Americans alike. In fact, those spaces are the rule, not the exception, everywhere in this nation, and thank God for that.”

The issue is spaces rarely stay neutral. What we do in those spaces can close them in over time. 

Today those spaces are used to build on a modern notion of freedom: the ability to do what we want when we want. We are free to configure the world in whatever we want it be. And there is no ordering principle to anything but some abstract notion of diversity and tolerance that has no limit or proper ends. The end of this is utter chaos, and a loss of moral order, spiritual depth, and agape love.

With that being said, we shouldn't isolate ourselves from the postmodern culture we reside in. There is much Beauty can emerge even when the intent is not there. Maimonides said “Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.” And these sources can come from anywhere, because there is something within our conscious that will always be drawn to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. This is not simply subjective, but objective in the way that draws us in beyond our own predilections. 

I came across a passage in this terrific book I'm reading that summed up much for me: The soul knows creatures through God and not God through creatures. 

We can probably add the soul knows creation through God as well. 

We will see transcendence in many places, but we must see the Transcendent first. Otherwise we become pantheists without any ordering principle. And that’s what is interesting about today’s culture: we have lost God via religion, but there is impulse to find Him in other ways. But those ways do not have deep roots. They are also playfully disordered, full of intoxication without the sobriety of Reality.

It may be that a cultural revival will emerge through what all this pagan transcendence is pointing towards, or from the loss of what unifies it from all the disorder. But I'm not overly optimistic.

Liberty is amazing, but what we are doing with it is less so. We are (and get) what we love. And from there, it all comes together or it falls apart.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Sustaining, but Not Evolving

Whether or not you believe in God, we can all acknowledge many secular treasures, such as nature, culture, friends, family, music, art, etc. I just recently saw the film, Life Itself, which celebrated just that. It was recommended by Paul VanderKlay who agreed it was a masterpiece from a secular perspective. The film showed how meaning can come from our stories and how they connect us. These stories may have ebbs and flows, but they ripple with each us, and our resilience to keep them going is what gives life meaning.

But it seems these mini-stories are not truly connected to a meta-story. Can we really find meaning by a bunch of disconnected stories, by our plurality alone? It would seem at some point the ripples lose steam, we have to deal with our own demise, or even the demise of the cosmos. In other words, the story does come to an end in the finite sense. I’m not being apocalyptic here, just realistic. Whether we look down 100 years, or 100,000,000 years, there is an end coming. 

End of story.

But the secularist can’t deal with this, so he/she needs to come up with some long term purpose. In a post-Christian age, the secularist invents their version of Revelations of a coming doom that man can potentially solve. Today’s story usually revolves an apocalypse through climate change or some other environmental catastrophe.

With this came the ideological tool of sustainability, which sees human beings as the core problem to the earth and that this problem could be curtailed by state using regulation to control human behavior. The common good is for a collective impulse to preserve nature at the cost of individual liberties and the goods we have for our human purposes. 

As James Schall says,
“The root of the sustainability mission, I suspect, is the practical denial of eternal life. Sustainability, in effect, is an alternative to lost transcendence. It is what happens when suddenly no future but the present one exists. The only future of mankind comes to be seen as an ongoing planet orbiting down the ages. It always does the exact same boring thing. This view is actually a form of despair. Our end is the preservation of the race down the ages as long as possible; it is not personal eternal life. Sustainability implies strict population control, usually set at about two or three billion. Excessive numbers must be eliminated for the good of future generations. Sin and evil imply misusing the earth, not our wills in our relation to ourselves and each other.”
He adds, “Is there not something terribly dangerous about the assumption of responsibility over future generations?”

Do we even know what the future needs? Let’s not forget many of resource concerns we had about energy in the 1970’s have since been resolved through ingenuity. Imagine had we rationed energy resources during those years instead of innovating?  

Of course, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have other ideas, which would require us to explore a new home in space. They may have a point: let’s move these problematic humans to other places and screw up things there.

But when are we to evolve (and not sustain) as people in our true home? 

We can control things only so far. The finite end is coming no matter what our Pelagian attempts. So maybe best to prepare for that, than kicking the secular can down the road. “The garden does not exist for its own sake but for what goes in it (Schall).

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Some Thoughts on Buddhism and Christianity...

This will be a meandering post, but one that I feel called in the moment to do. I've been steeped in Buddhism (mostly Tibetan) and Christianity (mostly Catholicism) much of my life, without too much success in a reconciliation. I get why the attraction of Buddhism for myself and others. Like for most Western intellectuals, it gets rid of the inconvenience of a personal God along with the religious doctrine (and sometimes baggage) that accompanies it. There appears more appeal to the mystical aspect, as well as a psychological release of existential anxiety and dread. And for those who are true practitioners, the Buddhist path is more refined in methods than most mystical traditions. Also, Buddhism (as adopted in the West) often does not conflict with secular left-leaning ideologies, therefore not making many demands on lifestyle choices.

But let’s be real about one thing: Buddhism is mostly a soteriological system. It is primarily focused around liberation. Non-tantric precepts and sutras are primarily about preparing the practitioner for liberation also. There are some doctrines, rituals, and metaphysics; however, Buddhism does not offer a coherent metanarrative in history. 

An astute commenter (David Balfour) on Bruce Charlton’s blog made this point:
“Buddhism offers what it says it does and no more. A spiritual path that allows the transcendence of suffering and the ego. A way to escape the wheel of Dharma. But Buddhism does not explain why beauty in musical harmony exists, why there is creativity and play, why there are individuals to be transcended to begin with. I could go on but it dawned on me at some point that love is an act of relationships and is impoverished by abstraction and detachment from the lover and the loved one. Christianity alone adequately embraces the validity of a Buddhist path as a valid spiritual path but with the inclusion of the individual identity as something to be cherished and valued rather than rejected. Christianity alone can account for why the laws of physics allow for the emergence of a dance of souls that play, create, love and live in joy as an 'end' and not a path to a rejection of these finest of things with a static Nirvana, however blissful. If Nirvana is the stage, heaven is the eternal play that exults and celebrates the divine drama.”
It would seem to me that celebrating the “divine drama” is necessary for one to be immersed in a life affirming religion. I would add, that this drama has to be integrated in a way that makes it seem Real. It also would have to have methods to make it significant, providing a value of importance to us. And it would have to have a purpose so we know where we are going with it.

In Christianity, Christ unites in his person the transcendent and the imminent, or being and becoming, therefore giving meaning to both. The divine drama is brought together in a way that integrates the whole of Reality, offers us significance through Grace, and gives us purpose in that the God-man becomes our aim. We are not put here to transcend our desires, but to transmute them so that we can co-participate in God’s Glory.

On the other hand, Buddhism is a “non-theistic” religion; however, in practice, it is somewhat polytheistic, with a retinue of various gods, goddesses and other non-corporeal beings. Buddhists will say that it's not the same as the Christian belief in God, angels, and the like, because Buddhists don't believe that their gods and angels (dakinis) “inherently exist. In Buddhist speak, they are “empty.” Buddhism yearns for purity and holiness in a higher Being, but since God and Christ are not acknowledged, this impulse is often displaced onto the guru or lama. The guru or lama is seen as a perfect being, or sort of a living God. Students are expected to live in obedience to him, and to chalk up questionable actions as “crazy wisdom” or what was appropriate to the circumstances. True nature (which the lama or guru is allegedly living from) is always seen as enlightened, and it may be the student is just deluded or ignorant.

Christianity acknowledges the purity and holiness of a personal God, but also accepts man’s fallen and sinful nature. Only God is perfect, therefore we must always accept a deep humility towards the Infinite and Absolute standard. We are not God, but in relationship to Him. The mystical quest to be with Him is an ontological quest first! With Jesus Christ being the necessary link for this quest, God comes looking for man. While the Buddhist goes looking for God (that is not a God).

Certainly I wish more Christians would move beyond the rote ritualism or “emotionalism” they feel with Christ, and immerse themselves in a deeper mystical and metaphysical quest with the Sacred. But like even in Buddhism, religions need to meet people where they are. And as Westerners, we are probably better served by a religion that has tilled the fertile soil we abide in. 

As for the Westerners who adopt Eastern forms of mysticism because they are on the run from God, there is always the hope they may come back to the Church with a revitalized Christianity that would nicely mimic the Prodigal Son parable. Still, my meditation teacher would frequently prophetize “Buddhism is coming to the West.” It may continue to make headway since it is not fraught with the tarnishes of Christianity in our secular world. But I am not sold that it will produce the saints and proper sacrifices we will need in the coming days.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

All Things Made New — But Not Radically Different

For things to be, there appears to be a necessary dance between order and chaos. As Bob says, “In a very real sense, the seeds of order are impotent in the absence of fertile soil of chaos.” Chaos can be all noise, but without some order (the signal) there would be no creation and no creativity. And order without some chaos, the cosmos (if it even could exist) would be inert, static, and deadening.

So we have to grant that God gives some measure to both order and chaos. And little dab here and a little dab there, and you have existence, life, and mind!  

Since God is Truth (as order and chaos), we have to assume that Truth keeps revealing itself in creative ways. This revelation is continuous, yet cohering an essence that remains. The Medieval Latin phrase mutantis mutandis, means “having change what needs to be changed” or “once the necessary changes have been made.” These changes slowly disclose Truth over time revealing the fullness of it without distorting the essence of it. 

We can see this in ourselves, as we appear to gravitate to the novel on occasion while mostly settling into our common patterns. We are definitely creatures of habit, often unable to see things with fresh eyes. Michael Martin notes: “Perhaps a helpful way to combat this human (all too human) tendency is to strive to make all things new, every day. Habit, it seems, as useful as it can be is all too often a crutch that inhibits the shining we all seek.”

So while we need to remain anchored in Truth, how do we see all things new and shining without losing our proximity to It?

John Henry Newman said, “It is sometimes said that the stream is clearest nearest the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of philosophy or sect, which, on the contrary, is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full.” 

Newman saw that things can develop without deviating. In his book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, he came up with seven notes as guidelines for genuine development. 

First note, Preservation of Type. We maintain the form as things develop. As Newman says, “the adult animal has the same make as it had on its birth; young birds do not grow into fishes.” Ideas can't change into something they are not.

Second, Continuity of Principles. While ideas can grow, the underlying principles do not change. We may change laws without losing the principles that form them. The dignity of the person is not lost on the rules the person must obey.

Third, Power of Assimilation. Newman says, “doctrines and views which relate to [humans] are not placed in a void, but in the crowded world, and make way for themselves by interpenetration, and develop by absorption. Facts and opinions, which have hitherto been regarded in other relations and grouped round other centers, henceforth are gradually attracted to a new influence and subjected to a new sovereign.” We are always embedded in the culture of the day, therefore we can always appropriate the healthy aspects of it.

Fourth, Logical Sequence. Any development must include ideas in an orderly sequence that falls into a logical conclusion. These ideas must cohere.  

Fifth, Anticipation of Its Future. Any development of idea should be seen from a whole: from its infancy through its own development throughout time to finally what may be anticipated. We are always on the edge of something that is emerging in time, and that revelation may be foreshadowed.

Sixth, Conservative Action Upon Its Past. Ideas that have been tested throughout time and survived need to be respected since they have endured many trials and errors. Therefore, Newman saw it to be a corruption that reversed or removed that which came before.

Seventh note and lastly, Chronic Vigor. Newman believes the robust idea will pervade and endure. If it continues to inspire and exalt others, there is something to be preserved in that.

Things can shine without burning out, and be preserved without being saturated. Through energy, clarifying discourse, and refinement we can find the novel in the Truth as it inexhaustibly expresses itself to Itself! As Newman says, “There is no one aspect deep enough to exhaust the contents of a real idea.” We just need to be conscientious of what made the idea real in the first place.

(It should be noted that Newman focused maintaining the essence of Truth in novel development on exoteric doctrine, while all things can also be made new through being infused with the esoteric. Both are needed for any idea to fully come alive! Even genuine mystics are deeply centered in doctrine with a view that ensures these ideas stay fresh and avoid becoming stagnant ideologies.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

MeloDrama or Cosmic TheoDrama? It's All Drama!

I just got over a humbling cold that turned into atypical pneumonia, during which I got to spend a lot of time in my head. Yes, it was a stuffy head with lots of mucus and piss-ridden thoughts. Even in moments when I attempted to pray or contemplate, I would always return to the distracted misery I was in. Despite these circumstances, I still made the choice to place my attention on my own drama.

And that's one insight I've received from reading Gil Bailie's excellent God's Gamble: The Gravitational Power of Crucified Love — it's all drama! The question is which one do you want to identify with most: your own personal melodrama or the cosmic theo-drama that God laid out. And that's part of God's gamble, as the choice was given to us. We can take a stand as to what drama we want to participate in, and there's a risk from God's vantage point in offering this to us.

From God's mind, “He who is not with me is against me”; as we can choose an unencumbered freedom, or a freedom “necessary to the fulfillment of the creature's vocation in love.”

The former is “based on a very weak understanding of freedom and its spiritual depth.” It is a freedom from so man can “eschew all affiliations or any associations that might limit his spontaneity.” It is an accumulation of experience that in the end does not add up to anything.

The latter freedom is one “freely subordinated to the responsibilities of loving service.” Or as one prime example, it is like ‘being a Christian,’ Joseph Ratzinger observed in a 1964 homily, ‘means, constantly and in the first instance, letting ourselves be torn away from the selfishness of someone who is living only for himself and entering into the great basic orientation of existing for the sake of another.’” While this doesn't appear as freedom in the modern mind, it is the only way to find ourselves out of the existential condition of a living death.

As Bailie points about the Fall being an existential death that entered the cosmos when man and woman separated from God. We died inside in some way, and in return settled for an unencumbered external freedom in another way.

This dread that we created for ourselves had to mitigated to provide a cathartic release for all our anxiety, and what a better way to do this than to find a scapegoat and sacrifice his or her arse! As Bailie says, “That is exactly what ritual sacrifice does in primitive religion, in which the only possible cure for death is death.”

Bailie pulls from his mentor René Girard this quote: “Making gods by killing victims is the human gesture par excellence and, each time that they do it, human beings widen the gap between themselves and the true God a little more, they take part in his murder.”

So we used our new found freedom “to rebel against the very order that is indispensable to the exercise of freedom.” Nice job boys! And yes, even to this day we are all complicit. 

But at some point all this sacrificial drama was going to get turned on its head by Christ incarnating at an ontological center at a particular time and place. Our inexhaustable longing would find a home by the gesture of God's sacrifice. Christianity recognized “that the Incarnate Christ, in intensifying desire, restoring its metaphysical meaning, and redirecting it toward its proper object is indispensable to the true restoration of the human vocation. ... Gradually thereafter, the gravitational power of the sacrificial cult itself would need to be attenuated, and those tentatively liberated from the myths and rituals of the pagan world would need to learn to live without the ‘sacrificial protections’ by developing the capacity for self-renunciation commensurate with the loss of the cathartic power of blood sacrifice.”

Bailie notes: “as Simone Weil reminds us: ‘The false god changes suffering into violence. The true God changes violence into suffering.’”

At this turn, God's great gamble in giving humans freedom was seen as necessary for which the giving of love would be impossible. Rearranging freedom to our liking now would soon get supplanted with God's will as the way — at least until we lose our way again!

As Balthasar puts it: “Earthly eros as an ‘atmosphere’ blooms but briefly, and every man has the duty to compensate its withering by the force of his love, to endure it, transformed, with renewed vitality through the moral power of the heart.” So how are we doing? If you're thumbs up, then I've got some land in Florida for you. But then again, Christianity, as René Girard remarks, “is the only religion that has predicted its own failure. This prescience is known as the apocalypse.”

Still, “At the Resurrection, ‘the power of death’ was broken, but not the fact of death.” God himself making history, allowed for us to have purpose and meaning in history: God became man so than man can become God. Our melodrama was transformed, by grace, to a cosmic-theo-drama of salvation history.

As Bailie notes: “The question biblical people face is never, ‘Who am I?’ It is: ‘By Whom am I called, and to whom am I sent?’” The Alpha and the Omega!

The Eucharist, always existing “sacramentally not pedagogically” transcends the limits of time and history where all are saved simultaneously — just by a YES! “Comparing the Yes and No, one could say that the Yes is dramatic, inasmuch and to the extent that it involves a genuine and uncoerced Yes that accepts its unforeseen ramifications. The No, on the other hand, is melodramatic, inasmuch as it involves a contest, a struggle against the model for preeminence and control. Even though the melodrama that results from the No arouses passions, it extinguishes the passion, the essence of which is self-renunciation performed for the sake of another.”

By choosing YES to God's will and drama, existential and spiritual death falls “under new management.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Too Smart for Faith + Too Dumb to Question Belief

I remember seeing Bill Maher's Religulous several years back, and found it mildly amusing and irritating at the same time. Clearly, Maher had an agenda to mock God-fearing people of faith by finding some poor representation. Maher says in the following clip he is coming from a place of I don't know, but this is all bunk because he clearly feels he's too smart to know anything beyond his godless beliefs (which also revolves around his own smug narcissism that doesn't rise much above the people he interviews here).



Bob revisited a great blog post on Secular Faith and Religious Knowledge; a theme I like to go back to from time to time. I've blogged about faith and belief in the past, but haven't quite nailed the topic as well as I wanted to. I know I've come across too many intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals (like Maher) that can't seem to question their own beliefs. For example, most people don't know much about climate change (or at least not enough where they could articulate the science to any great extent), but they have put their trust in science to the point where the science is settled. So settled, that some can make claims that the world is going to end in 12 years.

I'm not discounting that climate change may be a real thing, but from what source and to what ends? We know correlation and causation don't always line up in the way we'd like; so while we can accept some anthropogenic greenhouse gases may be a culprit, in the complexity of a global system we'll never be certain enough to know to what extent and therefore what cost-effective measures will truly mitigate the issue.

But if your belief has closed you up to other considerations, you've just found another religion (and not necessarily a better one). Bob says, “belief is generally a static thing. It takes the unknown and superimposes the known upon it, thus foreclosing the unknown. Once one believes something, the issue becomes settled, even if in reality it isn't.” So while we can be inclined to follow certain theories (some which may support other motivations we may have), “Nothing is truly settled until we have arrived at first principles, axiomatic truths, or empirico-sensory bedrock. Anything short of this is just arbitrary.”

It ultimately comes down to whom do we trust, because “Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy, but derives its legitimacy from someone who either knows, thinks he knows, or pretends to know.” We're all following someone's lead, but we'd be better off to watch out for the street dung along the way. 

So while belief is generally static, faith can be more generative; allowing more more depth and coherence. Faith “is actually a subtle and sophisticated way to gain knowledge that transcends the senses, not a means to provide false but comforting answers and to vanquish curiosity.” We can stay with the question, and come from a place of not-knowing and knowing simultaneously. Instead of superimposing our cognitive ideas on reality, we inquire with our “psychospiritual probe...to explore transcendent reality” as it reveals itself to us.

When John Henry Newman said “Faith is a reasoning of a religious mind,” he was not discounting reason but emphasizing a Reason that comes from a deeper whole. He understood an truly integral person does not just use the modern version of reason to make judgments, but uses an accumulation of his/her sentiments, observations, experience, tradition, imagination, intuitions, and instincts to inform them. As such, faith is not anti-reason, but rather emphasizes the source of knowledge which lies beyond the competence of reason alone.

We need to inquire from within and without to get centered around anything. Otherwise we'll just arbitrarily go along with some belief we have just been indoctrinated into, or some idea that we have projected our subconscious drives onto. Better to have faith in the things that matter, and believe in the rest of it.