Wednesday, November 28, 2018

More Real Gnosis, Less Fake Nous

I took on another Robert Bolton book recently, to add to the two, here and here, I have already tackled. He isn't an easy read, since each sentence is jammed pack with something I need metabolize. But his genius is all there. He notes early in the book, that:
“The thought employed in the following chapters is an inclusive kind, which effects a combination of reason and intuition. This is to prevent thought from falling into the extremes of either an analytical philosophy with no transcendent dimension, or a mystical thought which aims at transcendence without the theoretical principles which would allow an objective grasp of it. Metaphysical thought has essential things in common with both mystical and rationalistic thought without having any need to identify with either.”
I couldn't say it any better, but I could say it more often. I find that in many spiritual circles this metaphysical inclusion is sorely lacking. In fact, much of our notions around transcendence and logic has given way to today's recreation pursuit of unearned spiritual experiences, as depicted in the following meme:

There are many places we could go with Bolton's work: the false egoic self is not who we are, but there is a real self that is “the combination of the physical self of common sense and the soul with its world representations”; that “meaningful purpose must be founded on something both absolute and part of the self”; that Reason or Intellect in the Real sense, must involve a “third dimension, that of depth, which reaches to the essence of things and processes”; that our desire to know is not an option but for most it is “random, unfree, and ultimately self-defeating” when the path is for it to be “creative and free”; that when we decide to be hard on ourselves, consider that “that in us which convinces us we are despicable cannot itself be despised”; that free will exists, but in order to be fully free, it requires “causal power, circumstantial knowledge, and a relation to ultimate value”; that tradition matters in civilization, as it has been shown that how it endures is “in exact proportion as it imposes prenuptial and post-nuptial restraints upon sexual opportunity” (a challenging idea in our milieu); and that “if God was purely impersonal, man would in a real sense be greater than God” (good luck with that!).

Phew! You see what I mean. But I will tackle a little more thought around his ideas on Fate and Providence. 

We are only predestined by Fate, as it is our physical being based on our human nature (not Nature) that leads to a destiny, yet not necessarily our telos. If we are are just subject to Fate, we are merely a means to an end. Bolton says, “Conversely, Providence comprises of a different kind of order, one which combines with freedom, albeit a freedom with laws particular to itself, by means of which individual beings can realize purposes which are their own, and not of those of the cosmic system.”

Both Fate and Providence are complementary as Providence requires the constraining force of Fate to give it meaning. For instance, the fact we are limited in life years offers a sense of urgency to get on with it (for some!). 

The issue is that modernity has rejected Providence for the idea that we can control our Fate through progress. Bolton notes, “If this succeeded in the long term, mankind would have succeeded in opting out of its place in the cosmic hierarchy, while retaining a dominance over nature based on human powers and techniques alone. Nothing further from truth and stability could be conceived, nor anything better calculated to result in a stampede into the jaws of Fate in the its most inhuman form.”

All in all, Bolton is metaphysically on point, but acknowledges completeness will always be lacking. For the “grand unity of things as diverse as the personal and the impersonal, and the different traditions, can only be known in its completeness by its Creator.”

Exactly! So go ask Him.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

What's Our Big Story? And Is It a Comprehensive & Unified One?

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

We people are a funny lot as to how we can compartimentalize our lives. We all have a story we follow, whether we are cognizant of it or not. I am not referring to our personal story in this instance, but our big story behind our life's story. In other words, what guides us in life, to what we are directed for, and how we are calibrated for it.

In many cases, we are dualists when it comes to our big story. It’s sort of a metaphysical dissonance. I recently read books by Stephen Freeman and Nancy Pearcey that highlights the two-story scenario we fall into. For example, Pearcey notes how this dualism shows up in our modern sensibilities:

In short, the lower story is what we know (in this case, the Enlightenment with its positivism of science and reason); while the upper story is what we can’t help believe (some Romantic notion of humanity, or a religious impulse).

As modern thinkers, we often make a “leap of faith” from the lower story to the upper story. Intellectually we embrace the values of the Enlightenment, but this philosophy does not fit our whole experience of life. So we’ll attempt to affirm a set of contradictory ideas even though it doesn’t cohere to our intellectual system or even how we direct our daily lives.

Even a secular postmodernist will fall into this trap. They will believe we are “frisky dust” that evolved to carbon-based machines, while they somehow affirm values that have no basis in Truth. The performative contradiction is at hand!


Stephen Freeman says, “The word secular should never be confused with atheist. Instead it refers to a separation between our daily life and God.” We are condemned to religion: whether or not we believe in God, we will always find a god. It just comes down to what we decide our god is, and where we draw the fact/value line.

We do pay a price for this incoherent model with two rival visions. It offers belief without conviction, existence without significance, and relationships without joy. We are not made whole, and are left feeling doubt, confusion, and alienation.

To counter this, and in order for us to embrace a life with dignity, freedom, personal identity, and ultimate purpose, we need to be part of a comprehensive, coherent story that affirms life within Reality! In his important book After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntye says, “I cannot answer the question, ‘What ought I to do?’ unless I first answer the question, ‘Of which story am I a part?’”

In this, he was saying we are not defined as much from our history, as we are from our end! When I am part of a telos, I can align my disposition towards it in such a way that allows me to part of a story that shapes my deepest loves and longings.

As in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, most stories follow a typical mythic structure. Much of this structure comes from biblical themes that include an origin (Creation), struggle (the Fall), and a return (Redemption)

Pearcey says, “This comprehensive vision of Creation, Fall, and Redemption allows no room for a secular/sacred split. All of creation was originally good; it cannot be divided into a good part (spiritual) and a bad part (material). Likewise, all of creation was affected by the Fall, and when time ends, all creation will be redeemed.”

Yet even when attempting to overcome the long-standing secular/sacred dualism, if our worldview is too small or partial, then we can still bump up against powerful dualisms in the secular world as well. These meta-narratives aim at privatizing and marginalizing the biblical message within their own teleological stories. Once again, we are all condemned to religion!

Content from Nancy Pearcey's book "Total Truth"

The difference is these stories fail to fulfill the total Truth of Reality. They are only distorted versions of it! These stories are not comprehensive, or unified in such a way that they would address all our deepest longings and passions. What story would make our lives part of one singular story (and not a collection of fragmented parts)?

There is probably only one story that can do that, which in essence, would be the true myth which all the others were pointing to! 

Everything is trivial if the universe is not committed to a metaphysical adventure. — Dávila

Saturday, November 3, 2018

God-less Merit

I'm going to contradict myself here, as I actually do see much good in the modern world. But there are always the trade-offs; such as, how we now relate to existence.

There’s good reason why we feel so separate, autonomous, independent, alone: we choose to see things this way.

We see ourselves as substances, but without relations. 

Decartes initially articulated the divide, which then got fleshed out more so with Locke. I don’t believe these thinkers compartimentalized things on their own. As Jonah Goldberg says, “We tend to give too much credit to intellectuals for creating ideas. More often, they give voice to ideas of impulses that already exist as pre-rational commitments or attitudes. Other times they distill opinions, sentiments, aspirations, and passions that already exist on the ground, and the distilled spirit is fed back to the people and they become intoxicated by it.”

Consider it all part of the Fall.

At some point we became intoxicated with the new science. In this, “we let one’s method dictate what counts as reality, rather than letting reality determine one’s method” (Feser).

The world was no longer enchanted with beings, animated with the supernatural, and gifted with aliveness! It was now a world of objective observation of the fragments. And “What is often regarded as a “discovery” arrived at via empirical scientific inquiry was in fact a stipulation concerning the nature of scientific method, a limitation, more or less by fiat, of what would be allowed to count as "scientific"” (Feser).

This should have got stuck in our claw, but we indulged to gain God-less merit. “If the science of the moderns has “succeeded,” then, it might be argued that this is in large part because they stacked the deck in their own favor” (Feser).

The traditional Scholastics did not see an epistemological and representational gap, or the self as buffered. There was relation and unity between things, with forms and matter making a whole. The unity between the parts was “organic and necessary, not mechanical and contingent.”

The character of existence was relational: this exists because that exists, and they exist in one another: inseparable, but distinct: substances-in-relation.

But these relations were not just horizontal, but vertical too. In fact, it is only because of the Trinity that we can relate to existence at all. 

It is in the Trinity, where we can relate as existence itself.