On Hearing the Cosmic Suite Without Getting Eaten by the Swedes
One Cosmos Under God Robert W. Godwin Monday, February 19, 2007
As Van noted yesterday, what eludes both atheists and religious literalists "is that form and meaning are complementary." For example, in order to play music, harmony, melody and rhythm are necessary. In their absence, there is only disorganized noise, not music. But to think that music may be reduced to musical theory is also wrong, for form is simply the vehicle but not the substance of music. This is why quite "primitive" musicians are able to convey the substance of music, while many mere technical virtuosos are not.In Western religion in particular, form cannot be divorced from substance. It is different in Vedanta or Taoism, but not really. For example, the Upanishads represent close to pure metaphysics, but since most people are not metaphysically gifted, the revelation must be presented in a more "human" (so to speak) form, which is why the Bhagavad Gita (which expresses the stark truths of the Upanishads in a more mythological mode) is much more beloved among rank and file worshipers.In fact, you might say that the East begins with pure metaphysical doctrine which is then embodied in myth and history, whereas the West reflects upon history itself (beginning with the Jews) in order to arrive at metaphysics -- to try to intuit the nature of God through the unfolding drama of history. Both Judaism and Christianity are quintessentially "historical" religions, and in fact, are incomprehensible in the absence of their historical form. You might say that Vedanta is a purely "spatial" revelation or descent -- it does not require time, for time can only "decay" or deviate from the timeless message, which is that Brahman (the ultimate reality beyond being) is One and that Atman (the individualized spirit) and Brahman are not-two.But Judaism and Christianity are temporal revelations which cannot be understood outside their historical manifestations. It is the difference between a painting -- which depicts everything at once within the frames -- and a symphony, which can only unfold through time, which will in turn illuminate the meaning of what has gone before. As such, it is also the difference between the eye and the ear, which is why it is no coincidence that the West regards God fundamentally as word rather than vision. In fact, is it not written that no one sees the face of God and lives? Curiously, one can hear the voice but not see the face. (Of course, it is a matter of emphasis, for any theology limits things at the front door which it allows entry at the back door; thus, for example, the three who were privileged to witness the transfiguration atop mount Tabor.)One of the main reasons the West leapt ahead of the East so dramatically is that the former regarded time -- and therefore history -- as fundamentally real, whereas the latter considered it a part of maya, and therefore unworthy of our attention. The Jews adopted a "middle position," in the sense that they lived and toiled within time for six days but returned to the timeless on the seventh (which is the ultimate purpose of the other six). Each week represents in miniature the full cycle of creation repeated endlessly. As such, it combined the temporal with the atemporal, as history awaits the ingression of the messiah.Christianity obviously widened out that cycle to include all of history, past, present, and future. Instead of repeating the cycle endlessly, it sees us in the middle of one big cycle -- somewhat like a cosmic symphony -- with a beginning, middle, and end -- or the ages of the Father (the Jews), Son (Christ), and Holy Spirit (apocalypse and revelation, as history is brought to its denoument, or the eschaton). Van correctly noted that scripture is traditionally understood to have four levels, the literal (or historical), the allegorical or symbolic, the moral, and the mystical or esoteric. The latter mode also has to do with the vertical -- with “leading upward” and with “final things," both on an individual and historical basis. And in fact, this is where the pure metaphysics of the Upanishads converges with Western scripture, as we ascend from the logos as deployed in historical time to the pure logos at the tip-toppermost of the vertical, as in Dante's vision of the paradiso. Thus, as also noted by Van, "To stop at the literal level of the text as a Rev. Jerry Falwell or Sam Harris would, is to leave most of the meaning out, and [to] deify the Bible itself for their purposes (either pro or con) and to miss out completely on the doing of its meaning being actively threaded through the reader's soul." Exactly, for the modern deviation of "fundamentalism" is no less a form of debased materialism than materialism proper. In fact, it represents the reaction of a weak soul to the abnormal conditions of modernity -- an attempt to combat materialism by fully conceding its assumptions. Quite obviously, the Bible is not "the word of God." It is not the logos. Rather, it is inspired words -- inspired (or even "authorized") by the Word -- about the Word. Once again, this conflation of the Bible and the Word -- or bibliolatry -- is a modern deviation that essentially concedes all ground to the horizontal flatlanders. It is a reduction of that which can only by understood by the nous to that which may be understood by the material ego. Now, this is a coincidence -- then again, I suppose not. Reader Paul G. just emailed me to say that: "I read somewhere that India is the most religious nation and Sweden is the least, and that the U.S. is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. How long can this go on, given the condition of our higher education that cranks out legions of Swedes who populate and rule all of our institutions of business, culture, government, etc.? Seems to me something's got to give sooner or later."Very true. Again, if we think of India as being the land of pure metaphysics and Sweden as the land of no (or patently silly leftist) metaphysics, it means that the United States is rapidly becoming nothing less than a silliocracy -- as anyone can tell by the dangerously frivolous antics of the pro-defeat, America-hating Democrats last week. We were once a serious nation founded by serious men of vertical substance, but no longer. Today, for reasons of pure self-preservation, our silly liberal elites would never tolerate someone as morally serious as the man who saved our union, Abraham Lincoln, because he would throttle them with his bare hands. As he said during the Civil War, "Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." It is anyone's guess what he would do to copperhead newspapers such as the New York Times who brazenly support America's enemies, but it would be swift and severe. No wrapping oneself in the first amendment to justify treason. (A reader informs me that the Lincoln quote has been disputed. If Lincoln didn't say it, then he was obviously remiss.) Anyway, Van -- who was apparently en fuego yesterday -- wrote that it has slowly dawned on him that religion involves "erecting a scaffold of illusion, laying out a foundation in God, and a soaring structure of Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth.... [W]ith that scaffold of illusion solidly in place, the speaker and the audience have a footing, a frame of reference for placing what is coming into proper place and perspective. Throughout the coming speech or activity, all involved -- if they have been properly illusioned, will be 'erecting' their words and actions in line with that scaffolding, and at some point the new structure will stand on its own. At that point the scaffold can be cast off, but having guided the building of the structure, it will remain in spirit and be inherent within it."This is exactly what I meant by the paradoxical use of the term "illusion" yesterday. To paraphrase someone, a work of art is a lie that conveys the truth. If it is timeless art -- say one of Shakespeare's plays -- then it is something that never happened which embodies what always happens. This is exactly how certain more poetical aspects of scripture -- say, Genesis -- must be understood in order to appreciate their fullness. Genesis does not just describe what happened "once upin a timeless" but what happens again and again and again in the field of time.I had intended to get into how the three traditional transcendentals -- the Good, the True, and the Beautiful -- are inseparable, and how transcendental Truth -- if it is Truth -- will always be embodied in a form (the "scaffolding") that conveys God's intrinsic beauty, or glory (which is one of the important but neglected proofs of God). But I've probably written enough for today, so I'll save that for tomorrow, pneumalogical weather conditions permitting. By the way, people sure are disinterested in this stuff. As I've begun focussing more on spirituality and less on politics, my readership has plummeted, as has interest in the book. Oh well. I must keep our motto in mind: the few, the humble, the Raccoons, "an army of the One." But sometimes I do appreciate a little encouragement, because there are times I can't help feeling that I am essentially speaking into a rapidly shrinking void, as we stand surrounded by coonibalistic Swedes who have the disgusting taste for coon pie.
*****Please say a prayer for this good man who just lost his wife yesterday. His profound work of "Christological anthropology" is recommended to all. Being that I read it when it first came out over a decade ago, it is possible that this was the first book that clued me into the philosophical and anthropological depths -- even leaving aside the theological depths -- of Christianity, which dwarfs any secular philosophy in comparison. posted by Gagdad Bob at 2/19/2007 06:26:00 AM 84 comments links to this post