Happy Cheesefare Week! May your last days before Lent bring you Havarti, Gouda, and sharp white Cheddar! Maybe even some Stilton for kindred spirits who are into that sort of thing.
You may be interested in a recent comment thread on one of Kristor Lawson’s Orthosphere posts, “Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Person versus Entity.” In it, I pose several questions to Kristor and attempt to work through a tangle or two, including whether the divine ideas are created or uncreated and how we might interpret the Beatific Vision from an Orthodox perspective. Kristor characteristically offers delightful insights, including a fascinating reflection of the miracles of Jesus and the proper (unfallen) faculties of a human being. Last but not least, one of Kristor’s replies led me to the etymological origin of Shrove Tuesday.
Like Father Abraham in Sodom, Kristor and his family might be the presence that has kept the Bay area from destruction in recent years—they and that remarkable temple on Geary Boulevard. Many blessings to him! And may the prayers of Saint John lead the people of that beautiful city to sanity and repentance.
Christ is risen! I hope that my fellow Orthodox had fruitful Holy and Bright weeks. Enjoy the festive season—and the spring.
I have several accumulated links that I would like to share, but today I recommend Bruce Charlton’s “Ingwaz - the metaphysics of ‘-ing’, of polarity.” As is often the case with Charlton’s musings, I found the post extraordinarily insightful. Following a clear, brief exposition of what I would like to call Realism 201 (τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι), Charlton explains:
So the division of inner mind and outer reality/ nature is nonsense; we are always and inevitably involved in everything we ever consider by thinking.
However, this thinking can be (usually is) something of which we are unaware. We therefore tend (unthinkingly) to regard the ‘outside’ world as if it was independent of our thinking. We tend to suppose that the outside world is real and solid, while our thinking (which in reality is involved in everything we know or imagine about that outside world) is merely ephemeral and pointless.
This is because if we divide thinking from the outside world, thinking dies - it becomes static, inert, it stops ‘-ing’ and is a mere dead specimen (‘thought’). What is really happening is that we have started thinking about a situation where there is no thinking, and are unaware that in thinking this we have not actually imagined a situation where there is no thinking - we are merely unaware of the thinking that is engaged in imagining it!
This is the modern condition. Modern analysis is unaware of - and denies - the pervasiveness of thinking at all times and in all situations. This state of unthinking doubt about thinking can be called cynicism.
So, the first move is to become aware of our own thinking in any and every situation - to recognize that everything involves thinking - we are therefore always engaged with everything, involved with everything: there is no objective alienation.
But is thinking valid? That is the fear that haunts cynical, nihilistic modern man. The fear is that - even though it makes no sense and cannot be done to use thinking to doubt the validity of thinking; maybe thinking is not valid anyway - maybe we just live in an un-avoidable delusion? The idea accepts that it makes no sense to be thinking about thinking being ‘unreliable’ - but maybe that is true anyway!
This cynicism, I believe, is the modern condition; it is a fear rather than a philosophy, it is a cynical suspicion that there is really no purpose, meaning or reality - and this state was facilitated by Natural Selection which seems to have ‘discovered’ that that is how nature works. This is untrue, and makes no sense; but the effect is rather to implant a fear, a suspicion that it might all be a delusion than to make any kind of logical point.
That has been the point at which Western thought has been stuck for more than 200 years - the fear that everything we think we know about everything comes from thinking, and that thinking - the very basis of knowing itself - might be a circular system of unavoidable but nonetheless false assumptions.
This places Man into an existential state where he does not know where to start in escaping. Once he has come to doubt thinking, then he cannot get out. All he can do is try to manipulate his emotions so as to feel better, here and now.
Yes! Brilliant. Myself, I have wrestled with this very illogic since my undergraduate days, knowing (abstractly) how absurd it was—but nonetheless remaining a slave to the fear. As I was reading the post, I thought, “Indeed, it’s demonic.” And, of course, Charlton nails it. He likewise notes how most modern men adopt a cynical attitude toward the most fundamental questions but casually and bovinely follow the herd when it comes to the venerated venereal idols of the age. Fortunately, I was cynical enough to want to follow the nihilistic path to its conclusion—and I realized that such was pure, hellish madness—the ultimate (and existential) reductio ad absurdum. My firm and absolute confidence in Platonism co-exists with—perhaps depends upon—an awareness of what its rejection ultimately entails, and I am not willing to consider that path any more than I have. My accompanying daemon shouts, “NO!” And, by grace, I hearken unto it.
R.J. Snell has a brief but important article in the Intercollegiate Review about the nature of God and how that theological issue has affected the West: “The God Confusion: An Ancient Dispute in the Modern Heart.” I have addressed the same point several times on this site, starting with “Square Circle.” The rational order of the universe reflects God rather than constrains him. Nature is not a threat to omnipotence but a manifestation of such.
I should note that I have since softened my stance about the square circle; I am no longer sure that God could not make a square circle. This change has nothing to do with theology—I still affirm the same theological point. Rather, it has to do with the limits of human understanding. From our perspective, it is clear that a square cannot be a circle—and vice versa. Yet, it seems possible that there could be some possible coherence of the shapes at another level of understanding. I do not wish to indulge postmodern attacks on our knowledge; fie, fie, fie upon such a suggestion! However, as I have noted before, the flatland principle seems quite reasonable to me, given the general myopia and widespread ignorance of mankind. Imagine how geometry might appear to a two dimensional perspective. Several Euclidean rules would strike a two dimensional mind as ridiculous, and we see a similar relationship between hyperbolic geometry and the Euclidean tradition. It seems obvious that the distinct natures of the square and the circle rule out a square circle, but, contra my post from seven years ago, we do not comprehensively and exhaustively understand geometry. Intellectual humility does not necessarily lead to po-mo misology—or even to its more respectable Kantian precursors.
May the Lord have mercy on our nation.
I have tried to avoid watching televised political debates and campaign interviews over the past several months, but I have, at times, wandered into them. On a few such occasions, I have cringed when Senator Cruz and others have mentioned “philosopher kings” with disgust. As any student of Plato’s Republic will know, the intended targets of the politician’s ridicule can in no way be considered philosopher kings, the rule of whom we certainly do not deserve (per de Maistre and good sense).
Well, at least one journalist has called Cruz on his wording, “Ted Cruz is the bad guy in his own philosophic narrative.” I confess that I find it irritating to agree with a whippersnapper leftwing activist in his criticism of the Right’s senator sweetheart. Republican voters deserve better politicians (—or do they, M. de Maistre?).
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon has also recently addressed philosopher kingship in Touchstone, where he meditates on the proper role of Adam (and, by extension, us) in creation. It is worth your time.
Kristor has an excellent exposition of the theistic claim on the Orthosphere: “Where is Now Thy God?” Of course, Kristor always has such on that site, but his latest post is worth your time. I recommend the comment thread, as well.
In Wikipedia’s article on Alfred North Whitehead, we find a short but insightful quotation from one of Whitehead’s lectures:
Every scientific man in order to preserve his reputation has to say he dislikes metaphysics. What he means is he dislikes having his metaphysics criticized.
The same can be said for most substantive topics that irritate irritable intellectuals.
The Winter Olympics are over, and there is one last week before Lent. I’ll reflect upon the games later, but enjoy Cheesefare Week!
Recently, Kristor wrote an interesting post on the Orthosphere about the significance of theism to every other thought and to thinking as such: “The Scandal of Theism.” Controversy ensued, wherein a few readers struggled to grasp Kristor’s point. Coincidentally (or not), Maverick Philosopher has a remarkably complementary piece from last week about how God, as the source of being, differs from beings (God is not another being among beings). Therefore, a philosophical investigation of God is not like searching for a celestial teapot (or a flying spaghetti monster): “Russell’s Leaky Teapot Revisited.” I highly recommend the posts.
I wish the new calendarists out there a lovely Christmas Eve and a happy Christmas feast with their loved ones.
Below is a debate organized by the Oxford Museum of Natural History between John Lennox, Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, and Richard Dawkins, husband of Lalla Ward, who played Romana on Doctor Who. The two Oxford men debate points from Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.
As always, I indulge in my dirty habit of reading internet comments. It fascinates me that the commentators all watched the same debate but came away with such strikingly different opinions of how it went. Among the expected comments, I found this jolly quip:
VANITYBONET: “What is God, a kindergartener playing hide and seek like a little brat? God should not have to be sought, because left to one’s own devices void of logic and reason anything can be found that automatically aligns with what the individual is seeking regardless of there being no proof of its existence. If God is real, there should be absolutely no reason that He cannot find a way to reveal himself to everyone in such a way as to make His existence irrefutable.”
pappasgirl283: “You mean, like DNA, the night sky, how we are fearfully and wonderfully made . . .”
Follow that yonder star, folks.
Happy feast of Saint Ambrose, one of my favorite Western saints! Also, this coming Sunday will be the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos (December 9—and December 22 as it currently falls on the Gregorian calendar).
As far as I know, we celebrate the conceptions of three persons—the Theotokos, John the Baptist, and Jesus. I always think of that fact when someone tries to justify abortion by pointing to the quickening debate among rabbinical Jews or the medieval schoolmen. Anyway, the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos started in the East and spread to the West, like so many Christian commemorations. However, the date was eventually transferred in the West from December 9 to December 8 in order to be exactly nine months before September 8, when everyone celebrates the feast of the Theotokos’ nativity. What the Westerners failed to understand was that the discrepancy was intentional, just as John the Baptist’s conception is celebrated on September 23 while his birthday is June 24. New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia states that some Western dioceses also celebrated the Conception of John, but they, again, transferred the feast to September 24 to make the date accord with the saint’s nativity celebration. There we see that old Western reflex to correct what it in ignorance fails to appreciate. Such reminds me of Chesterton’s fence:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
The gestation period discrepancies for the Theotokos and John the Baptist are like the number of fingers that the characters have in The Simpsons or like Persian or Arabian rugs. In The Simpsons, every cartoon human being has four fingers on a hand (or less), while only God is shown with five fingers (according to the Simpsons Wiki, a production mistake—or perhaps divine inspiration!). Similarly, rugs and tapestries from Islamic cultures have slightly flawed designs. Both conventions symbolize that perfection is only truly found in God. As such, baby Mary bakes too little and baby John bakes too long, but Jesus Christ God incarnate bakes just right, from March 25 to December 25. Merry Christmas!
Kristor published a brief but wonderful reflection on sex yesterday on the Orthosphere that suits well the occasion of the Conception of the Theotokos: “Sex Matters.” The post goes beyond the important but limited discussion of sexuality that one finds in traditionalist discourse:
The ultimate end of sex – which is to say, the true end of sex - is the actualization of human souls in the lives of immortal persons who by virtue of their very existence have the option of enjoying forever the Beatific Vision, and the endless other beauties of Heaven outside the throne room. Each life that succeeds to Heaven represents an infinite increase in the realized value of Creation. A forgone human life then represents an infinite cost to the whole economy of Heaven, forever and ever. Being himself infinite, God can of course cover that defect of creaturely perfection with no problem; but for all the other citizens of Heaven, the failure to implement a single tiny life is a catastrophic injury to the wealth of glory they might have enjoyed, had the imperfection of procreative potential implicit in creation ab initio never occurred. . . .
Sex is the way God has arranged to generate gods. For all Christians, then, it’s a really big deal, almost the best thing there is.
“Sex is the way God has arranged to generate gods.” What a fantastic quotation! Downright Athanasian!
Please make sure to read Arakawa’s comment on the post, as well.
Kristor’s idea leads to many questions, including Lydia’s comment in the thread. In short, how does the principle of plenitude providentially play out when it comes to rational beings? Are the Mormons onto something when they postulate premortal intelligences, waiting for their chance to become incarnate? The blessed Origen thought it a possibility. For we all exist eternally in the mind of God, but, then, God knows from all eternity what rational agents will do and thereby creates the world accordingly. Are there unrealized souls (in the fullness of time) whom God knows, whose existence is thwarted due to human sin—or even due to the necessary limitations of creation, as Lydia’s comment implies? For any good that we creatures of space and time do means that we are not doing many other good things. Limitation requires limiting choices. Any possible world seems to fall short of the total goodness that God knows to be possible in creation. However, as I wrote in “Does Quantum Physics Make It Easier to Believe in God?,” it is not clear to me that “our world” is “the world.” Perhaps, we are just modal chauvinists, while all the rational beings whom God creates and knows do get born, though not in each possible world. Fascinating thoughts! Regardless, God is great. Have a blessed feast and a beneficial remainder of Advent!
I have meant to write a commentary on Kristor’s Orthosphere post, “What Is It Like to Be Eternal?,” for half a year. However, there is nothing worthwhile that I may add without sounding redundant or sycophantic. Make sure to read the comments, especially Kristor’s response to Bill.
I forwarded the post to my very own personal Socrates—Andrew—back in January, and he noted that Kristor’s argument rests upon the assumption that observed causal relationships are real rather than mere attempts of the human mind to construct an intelligible order from meaningless phenomena. Yet, such a nihilistic skepticism incurs a sharp, fatal retort, as do all such arguments for the unintelligibility of the world. For how may one rationally explain—not to mention defend—the unintelligibility of the world? See Andrew’s comment in “Maverick Retortion” for details.