The cataphatic disagreement of religions and their spiritual disunity

Recently, Kristor Lawson posted at the Orthosphere an article called “The Essential Disagreement of Religions”. While I’ve been busy with my studies during the last few days, it caught my attention, as I have written not so long ago about the subject of metaphysics and perennialism in relation to Christian exclusivism, and the subject is still frequently on my mind. So I decided to read James Cutsinger’s article “The Mystery of Two Natures”, and I was glad to read a more detailed explanation of subjects he talked about in interviews on YouTube. Before reading my article, I advise you all to read both Cutsinger’s article and Kristor’s response.

While I tend to have some sympathies for philosophia perennis, to the very least because it teaches virtue, asceticism and a transcendent order, I think that I would be doing a disservice to my fellow Christians, just as much as anyone who is interested in the Church and/or in Perennialism, if I did not voice my objections to Mr. Cutsinger’s ideas. * I have assembled some key passages from Cutsinger’s text that could be useful to those who want to jump right in:

The solution [to the conflict between exclusivism and modernist ecumenism] for [Schuon] lies in an esoteric ecumenism—an ecumenism which is based upon a sacred science of symbols and which is designed to reveal the inward meaning of traditional religious doctrines and rites. “When a man seeks to escape from dogmatic narrowness,” he writes, “it is essential that it be ‘upwards’ and not ‘downwards’: dogmatic form is transcended by fathoming its depths and contemplating its universal content, and not by denying it in the name of a pretentious and iconoclastic ideal of ‘pure truth’”.

***

Like every aspect of his message, Schuon’s Christology must be seen in light of his metaphysics, and the place to begin is with the principial distinction he so often makes in his work between the Absolute and the Relative, or Âtmâ and Mayâ. On the one hand there is That which cannot not be, the necessary, but on the other hand there is also that which need not be, the contingent or possible. “All other distinctions and valuations derive from this fundamental distinction.” As his readers know, this is a distinction which gives rise above all to the polarity of transcendence and immanence. To know that there is an Absolute, and to understand what It is, is to know that It is the only Reality. Only the Absolute is absolute, and in Its utter transcendence It completely eclipses the Relative, which in comparison is but an illusory nothingness. And yet to know that this Absolute is the only Reality is to know also that everything else is in some fashion It, for in Its independence and freedom from limits, It is equally infinite, and by virtue of this Infinitude It cannot but give rise to the Relative, in which It is immanent. Only Âtmâ truly is, but Mâyâ is the deployment and manifestation of Atmâ. Nothing truly exists except God, and yet whatever exists truly is God.

***

Schuon is therefore perfectly orthodox in explaining that “if Christ addresses a prayer to His Father, it is not solely by reason of His human nature; it is also by reason of the Relativity of the uncreated Logos”. He continues: The words of Christ announcing His subordination are often attributed to His human nature alone, but this delimitation is arbitrary and interested, for the human nature is bound by its Divine content; if it is part of the Son, it must manifest that content. The fact that this human nature exists and that its expressions manifest its subordination, and by the same token the hypostatic subordination of the Son, shows that the interpretation of the Son as the first Relativity confronting the purely Absolute Father is not contrary to Scripture and is inherently irrefutable.

***

[Schuon writes:] To recognize that the humanity of Christ is the vehicle of the Divine nature amounts to saying that if the human side is in one respect truly human, it is so in a way that is nonetheless different from the humanity of ordinary men. In a certain sense and a priori the Divine Presence transfigures, or transubstantializes, the human nature; the body of Christ is already, here below, what celestial bodies are, with the sole difference that it is nevertheless affected by some of the accidents of earthly life.

***

What is true for the tradition is also true for Schuon. It is evident once again, from his many references to the Incarnation, that he was thoroughly steeped in the classic sources and arguments, and that he too was prepared to emphasize a real human nature in Christ. As I mentioned earlier, some Christians appear to have concluded from the fact that Schuon was an esoterist and a teacher of gnosis that he was a gnostic in the ancient sectarian sense, and perhaps for this reason they have been unwilling to study him closely enough to see how consistent his teaching is on this point with the Church. Jesus Christ, Schuon says unequivocally, “was incontestably man”, and therefore “He was bound to have certain limits”, the claims of heretical docetists notwithstanding. “There is no doubt,” he continues, “that the Man-God is, in a certain respect and by definition, a human individual; otherwise He would not be a man in any sense, and it would be impossible to speak of Him in any way.” Being ourselves of a formal and individual order, an individual form is necessary to ensure us access to God. This in effect was the whole point of the Incarnation: God became man precisely “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). Moreover, this “individuality—the presence of which, in some mode or other, is an obvious thing in every man, since the human state is an individual one—cannot but be what it is by definition”, namely a condition of limitation. It is in the nature of things, says Schuon, that any human being must possess “the limitative attributes which constitute his essential definition, and failing which he would not be a human individual but something else”. Man is not God, to say the least; he is one kind of creature, and his distinction both from God and other creatures will necessarily exhibit itself in his human form and his manner of being. There should therefore be nothing unexpected in the fact that Jesus was limited in various ways, whether we think of His admitted ignorance in certain situations—the episode of the fig tree has been mentioned already—or the physical hardships to which His body was subject, or His real human emotions

***

Consider what the Christian exclusivist says. Salvation is impossible, he asserts, apart from a conscious, explicit, and active faith in Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the only man in history who at the same time was God, and it therefore follows that He alone can rescue men from sin and death. This reasoning can be expressed in the form of a syllogism: God alone can save; Jesus is God; therefore, only Jesus can save. Now certainly the Schuonian will not object to the first proposition, for it is undeniably true that there is no possibility of salvation apart from Divine grace and the initiative of Heaven. The problem arises with the exclusivist’s understanding of the second claim, the minor premise of the syllogism. Jesus Christ is certainly God, but the exclusivist takes the further step of supposing that the verbal copula functions like the sign of identity in a mathematical equation, and hence that the nouns in the minor premise can be reversed: not only is Jesus God, but God is also Jesus. As a result, the unique and eternal nature of the Son’s Divinity is transposed onto the plane of history; the one-and-only quality of Him who was incarnate, “the only begotten Son of God”, is confused with the temporal and spatial particularity of His incarnation in Jesus, and His singularity in divinis is conflated with an event of a strictly factual or historical order. Now of course, to affirm that God is fully present in Christ is by no means false, and there is no question as to the formula’s great rhetorical power. But the homiletic or kerygmatic value of this expression should not blind us to its dialectical weakness, for as an ellipsis it risks identifying the Beyond-Being of the pure Absolute with the individuality of a particular human being.

Such an identification is the consequence of three very serious errors, each the result of collapsing an important distinction, and all strongly condemned—as we have seen—by the Christian tradition. To use Schuon’s terms, those who thus reason have confused the relative Absolute with Its principial Essence, they have failed to distinguish between the Principle and manifestation, and they have forgotten that the manifest Principle is not the same as manifestation as such. They have not understood, in other words, that orthodox Christology is a “combination of three polarities—man and God, terrestrial man and Divine man, hypostatic God and essential God”. Or again, in the language of the early Church, they have identified the First and Second Persons of the Holy Trinity, they have failed to discriminate between Christ’s Divinity and His humanity, and they have forgotten that Jesus was no ordinary man. Reverting to the technical vocabulary used by historians of doctrine, we must conclude that the exclusivist’s point of view is the product of three major heresies: modalistic monarchianism, monophysitism, and dynamic monarchianism. Ironically enough, it is only because he is three times a heretic that he believes himself to be so orthodox!

***

I have gone to considerable lengths to demonstrate that Schuon’s teachings on Christ are compatible with those of the early Church, and that his universalism is therefore—at the very least—a legitimate Orthodox theologoumenon or theological opinion. But in the final analysis it is not a question of compatibility alone; it is not just the case, in other words, that the doctrine of the double nature can be conveniently reconciled with the perennialist perspective through some sort of artificial or Procrustean adaptation. On the contrary, the mystery of Christ is at the very heart of that perspective, serving in a sense as a key to Schuon’s entire approach to the world’s religions.

***

As I have noted so often, Schuon was a master not only of gnosis but of the Bible and other traditional sources, and he knew in this case that Christ is “the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Jn 1:9)—that He who “in the beginning” was “with God” and “was God” (John 1:1), and who therefore is “before Abraham was” (John 8:58), must also be the One “from whom arise all the ancient wisdoms”. Schuon knew, in other words, that it is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity through whom are revealed “the invisible things” of the Divine Principle, “even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20), and that it is therefore He alone who accounts for the truth in any given tradition. It follows, however—if we have understood the subtleties of the doctrine—that every orthodox religion must be regarded as a kind of Incarnation and as possessing “two natures”. For in each of the world’s orthodox traditions, the Divinity of the Logos is indivisibly but unconfusedly manifest in an individual form, becoming fully present on earth, but without compromise to either Its principial or Its celestial integrity.

I will construct my article by commenting on Kristor’s objections to Mr. Cutsinger.

*

First, Kristor objects to Schuon’s doctrine that, in the Holy Trinity, the Father is identified as the Absolute. According to Cutsinger, the exclusivists who object to Schuon “have failed to distinguish between the Principle and manifestation, and they have forgotten that the manifest Principle is not the same as manifestation as such. They have not understood, in other words, that orthodox Christology is a “combination of three polarities—man and God, terrestrial man and Divine man, hypostatic God and essential God”. Or again, in the language of the early Church, they have identified the First and Second Persons of the Holy Trinity, they have failed to discriminate between Christ’s Divinity and His humanity, and they have forgotten that Jesus was no ordinary man.“ The point of the Incarnation, however, is precisely that the Second hypostasis of the Trinity, while perfectly retaining his divine essence, has also put on a completely human essence. And this divine essence is, according to the Nicene Creed (to cite the most obvious source), shared between Father and Son (the Son being homoousios to – or of one essence with – the Father). Whether the Absolute is to be identified with the Father or with the Godhood, the Absolute-ness of the Father cannot not be shared by the Son as well. Making the Father’s causality within the Trinity the same as Him being the Absolute (in contrast with the two other hypostases of the Trinity) is not historic doctrine, not as far as I know. The Son and the Holy Spirit are not contingent, because it has been revealed that the Holy Trinity is an eternal communion of self-giving love, and if the Father alone is non-contingent, then to whom can he eternally give himself with love? I admit that I may have misunderstood the two perennialists, and thus may have perceived a non-existent disagreement between them and Holy Tradition.

*

The second and major of Kristor’s objections is, to my view, towards the same reasoning as the idea to which Kristor posed his first objection. Here is Cutsinger’s argument:

Consider what the Christian exclusivist says. Salvation is impossible, he asserts, apart from a conscious, explicit, and active faith in Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the only man in history who at the same time was God, and it therefore follows that He alone can rescue men from sin and death. This reasoning can be expressed in the form of a syllogism: God alone can save; Jesus is God; therefore, only Jesus can save. Now certainly the Schuonian will not object to the first proposition, for it is undeniably true that there is no possibility of salvation apart from Divine grace and the initiative of Heaven. The problem arises with the exclusivist’s understanding of the second claim, the minor premise of the syllogism. Jesus Christ is certainly God, but the exclusivist takes the further step of supposing that the verbal copula functions like the sign of identity in a mathematical equation, and hence that the nouns in the minor premise can be reversed: not only is Jesus God, but God is also Jesus. As a result, the unique and eternal nature of the Son’s Divinity is transposed onto the plane of history; the one-and-only quality of Him who was incarnate, “the only begotten Son of God”, is confused with the temporal and spatial particularity of His incarnation in Jesus, and His singularity in divinis is conflated with an event of a strictly factual or historical order. Now of course, to affirm that God is fully present in Christ is by no means false, and there is no question as to the formula’s great rhetorical power. But the homiletic or kerygmatic value of this expression should not blind us to its dialectical weakness, for as an ellipsis it risks identifying the Beyond-Being of the pure Absolute with the individuality of a particular human being.

Here is Kristor’s response:

Well and good. But the problem of the non-Christian religions lies not in their arguments that there is more to God than Jesus – as any Trinitarian would certainly agree – but in that they insist that Jesus is not God. Christianity is the only religion that asserts that Jesus is God. The other religions all say that he is not; if they didn’t, they’d be Christian. If Jesus is in fact God, as both Schuon and Cutsinger (on Cutsinger’s account) agree, then to the extent that other religions do insist to the contrary, and no matter how many truths they do indeed express, they are false. This is not to say that a Buddhist or a Platonist cannot enjoy salvation – they can – but it is to say that there cannot be such a thing as Schuon’s transcendent unity of religions when one of them asserts p, and the rest assert –p. The Law of Noncontradiction brooks no exceptions.

To start, I think I must interject that some non-Christians belonging to the religious traditions of India have confessed that they have no problem believing that Jesus Christ is a human incarnation of God, but that they can’t believe that he is the only incarnation of God. Hence the lack of exclusivism on the part of many adherents to Eastern religions (and the preference of some ignorant “cafeteria religion”-style Westerners for “tolerant” Eastern religions, whose genius they don’t actually understand). Here are a few points that I would like to make as my response to what the perennialist and the Orthospherean write.

1. The idea that the Incarnation and the Atonement are acts of God divinizing man in a superior to the pre-fallen state of Grace. This doctrine is better known among Eastern than Western Christians (although C. S. Lewis explained it once, in his “Miracles” if I remember correctly). The narrative is as follows:

God, the Holy Trinity, is an eternal communion of love. Out of love, God creates the Cosmos, and man in His Image and Likeness. Man is created to live in a state of Grace which is his proper mode of existence. Man falls from this state to a state of sin, suffering and death, a state in discord with proper human mode of existence. Because of the Fall, but not exclusively, God the Son takes on human nature and thus divinizes once and for all humanity (by being the first New Man) not only to the original state of Grace but to the unprecedented state of participation in the eternal life of love that is the life of the Holy Trinity. As the prophets of the Hebrews received the Holy Spirit, so do Christians during baptism, and it is through participation in the Church’s sacramental life that we fulfil the Athanasian saying that “The Son of God became man, that we might become god”. The Holy Spirit, by dwelling in the members of the Church, makes them participate in the divine life of self-giving love, makes them, through the shedding of bitter tears for the world, participate in Christ’s intercession for the fallen Cosmos.

If we accept this doctrine, then a previous “incarnation” would either be an inferior, pre-Christ one – that of a saintly person being inspired by the Holy Spirit, like an Old Testament prophet; or else one that would render the Incarnation of Jesus Christ just like all the others. In the first case, “incarnation” would be a misused term, less proper than “sanctification” or “temporal election”, for it is a state closer to the pre-fallen one than to the inaccessible one of sharing the divine life. In the second case, a divinization of humanity once and for all does imply of no need for further Incarnation, thus need for only one – Christ’s. All other “incarnations” can be seen as myths who prophesize the ultimate and spatio-temporally particular Incarnation.

*

2. The prophets and religion of the Hebrews as the cult of the True God’s people.

I find it remarkable that the Hebrews, unlike other peoples, seemed to have resisted both dualism and monism, thus rejecting both the false idea that we live in the botched creation of a cretin demiurge, and the false idea that the Cosmos is not fallen and thus that humanity is not fallen and is capable to save itself with a lot of effort. Here comes the importance of noetic knowledge, divine revelation – for human reason couldn’t have guessed without divine help that we have fallen from a state of grace. And without a doctrine of the Fall, we’d be doomed to accept doctrines that ultimately imply nihilism (that is, doctrines that render our current earthly existence ultimately worthless) – Eastern/Pagan fatalistic doctrines like an eternal fate of cyclical reincarnations, of a dissolution of the personal soul into an impersonal whole, or humanist doctrines of eternal oblivion after this life. Some of the Hebrews, in contrast, dared hope that YHWH would resurrect us back into personal existence – as we are God’s good creation; and it is Chirst, YHWH incarnate, who not only spoke but also showed this to us.

*

3. I would also address the idea of the transcendent unity of religions. When reading what Mr. Cutsinger wrote, I thought of Saint Justin Martyr’s doctrine of the logoi spermatikoi (primordial ideas), and of apophatic theology as the one touching the unmediated experience of the uncreated energies of God.

While I will not exclude the possibility that some non-Hebrews and non-Christians may have experienced the uncreated energies of God, we should not forget that apophatic theology is put to writing as correcting the statements of cataphatic theology, and that it is only in this way that it is made accessible to those who haven’t yet experienced the energies of God. The cataphatic theology of monists, pantheists, dualists, and other heathen is not as complete or as “purged” of errors as Hebrew and Christian theology. It is incomplete where it lacks a doctrine of the Cosmos as good but fallen, a doctrine of God as both transcendent and immanent, a revelation of God’s Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection, and it is false as much as it generates a mode of existence in accordance to doctrines like monism or dualism, reincarnation or oblivion, hard essentialism or nihilism. I can make parallels between the cataphatic-apophatic distinction in Christian theology and the exoteric-esoteric distinction in Traditionalist metaphysics. But doing metaphysical philosophy remains a cataphatic/exoteric activity that has its limits, and that is exactly why it is bound to respect that which is higher, noetic, non-discursive – the unmediated experience of God. “Esoteric contemplation” often tends to mean discursive contemplation – not an activity that can truly elevate us above cataphasis and dogma.

Seeing notions of the Nous, of God, of divine impassibility, absoluteness, omnipresence, etc. in heathen philosophies and religions may be considered God leaving primordial ideas to each people so that it may, one day, be led by them to the Church of Christ. But there is a reason why we teach that “outside the Church there is no salvation”. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” – the law of praying is the law of believing: the two are interdependent, and if one is lead astray from a doctrine of the Church, and his heresy spreads, with time the heretics’ view and practice of the lex orandi will change as well. And lex orandi is the highest part of the human mode of existence, which means that false doctrines can lead us to damnation, to a life inferior to the perfection Christ wants from us.

*

My final words would be that we can only hope for and pray to God to lead all those people who believe in the Logos, who have been left by Him the logoi spermatikoi, who may have had in their history men who have received noetic wisdom from God, to be led to faith in the One that fulfilled the Law and redeemed humanity once and for all, to Jesus Christ – and to His Bride, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The main traits of evil

I will begin with an excerpt on evil from Coleridge’s The Statesman’s Manual:

But in its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the Will becomes satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others; the more hopeless as the more obdurate by its subjugation of sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure; in short, by the fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action, under which all other motives from within and from without must be either subordinated or crushed.

This is the character which Milton has so philosophically as well as sublimely embodied in the Satan of his Paradise Lost. Alas! too often has it been embodied in real life! Too often has it given a dark and savage grandeur to the historic page! And wherever it has appeared, under whatever circumstances of time and country, the same ingredients have gone to its composition; and it has been identified by the same attributes. Hope in which there is no cheerfulness; steadfastness within and immovable resolve, with outward restlessness and whirling activity; violence with guile; temerity with cunning; and, as the result of all, interminableness of object with perfect indifference of means; these are the qualities that have constituted the commanding genius! these are the marks that have characterized the masters of mischief, the liberticides, and mighty hunters of mankind, from Nimrod to Napoleon. And from inattention to the possibility of such a character as well as from ignorance of its elements, even men of honest intentions too frequently become fascinated. Nay, whole nations have been so far duped by this want of insight and reflection as to regard with palliative admiration, instead of wonder and abhorrence, the Molocks of human nature, who are indebted, for the far larger portion of their meteoric success, to their total want of principle, and who surpass the generality of their fellow creatures in one act of courage only, that of daring to say with their whole heart, “Evil, be thou my good!”

h/t: The Norton Anthology of English Literature

I’ve been meditating on this and have found that one of the biggest problems with the occult, gnosticism, transhumanism, and different philosophies who advocate a “beyond good and evil” worldview, is that whosoever reaches the state of being an ideal example of a self-made deity/Übermensch is repulsive to meet. The gnostic is supposed to transcend good and evil, beauty and ugliness, by an act of unifying opposites through an act of one’s own will to power – but such a creature is perverted, repulsive, sick, it can get close to being sublime but in a way that it won’t attract too strongly a human, who would want to run away and save oneself if he had some sense. Without collapsing into a state of illness, man’s own body and mind can hardly go on without an act of self-surrender to the good and the beautiful – which is what almost all gnostics, transhumanists, Byrons, Razkholnikovs, etc. do in the end of the day. As Chesterton wrote, “Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain.” Though, of course, a less intense “softening of the heart” can be produced for the selfish reason of simply filling oneself with intense sensations for one’s own well-being.

On the other hand, meeting a saint is that which quasi-automatically urges us to fall on our knees in front of such a creature, that creature that in our eyes looks down on us exactly because in its own eyes it looks up towards us, with humility and infinite love.
As we say in our age, our “guts” tell us that there is something bizarre and not okay with the Übermensch, and that there is something ineffably lovely and beautiful about the saint; and we can’t reprogram our standards in a way so as to be 100% ready to embrace or become an Übermensch – and this reprogramming of standards is precisely what the one absolute motive of action” described by Coleridge requires to be fed.

Our existence is ontologically contingent, we cannot desire something which, ontologically, does not already exist in God – everything good, true, beautiful, just, lovely, takes its origin from the universal logoi, or ideas, which themselves are eternally contained within the Creator. Our wills can only want, invent and do so much, because there can be nothing else. Our brain, our conscious and our subconscious, our language, cannot grasp the “one absolute motive of action” because that motive is God – both as our Designer and as our ineffable utmost desire.
Even our most erroneous ideas, our most base desires, our most repulsive ugliness, contain a minuscule amount of (respectively) truth, goodness and beauty. Evil is Privatio boni, its sustained existence and its powers come from the eternal communion of love, the Holy Trinity, against which it rebels. Thus, absolute falsehood is impossible to be communicated in language, absolute evil is impossible to be done by any being, absolute ugliness cannot be “emitted” nor experienced. This is why all is about “less good“, “good“, “better” and “best“, not about the union of opposites in a monistic whole – if a union of opposites of some kind is desirable, its desirability makes it good (because the good is that which is desirable) and thus eliminates the “evil” part.

Morgoth can only disrupt the song of Eru Ilúvatar and his Ainur by not taking his inspiration from the gifts of Eru, but ultimately the song is Eru’s, and Eru will make the best of it.

A hacker can only hack his energy provider’s website if he is provided electricity by them.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain:

They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.

Why the doctrine of the Fall of man is essential to us

I have read a few works by authors who study the notion of philosophia perennis – the perennial philosophy. While I am capable of appreciating their works, and I find some metaphysical, spiritual and ethical teachings in common for all of the major religions of the world, I have come to adopt a more exclusivist position.
While I truly despise the Enlightenment and atheism, I have seen people advocating the tempting idea of Traditionalists ignoring their differences in order to fight atheism. This, alas, won’t do. There are significant reasons why we should believe that the Church is the path to Salvation, and that the paths outside of it are either erroneous and/or incomplete and thus don’t lead to Salvation. Christianity is not just the supreme path of spirituality because of the healing of our Nous through the God-man Christ, but the true philosophy – as Saint Justin Martyr taught.

One of the reasons I have adopted this position is the doctrine of the Fall, proper to biblical theism. (Heretical versions of this doctrine are not included here, such as different gnostic/occult versions of it.) Here is a very brief introduction into the biblical doctrine of the Fall compared with the Monist and Dualist worldviews, by C. S. Lewis:

The Christian answer to the question [of human wickedness] is contained in the doctrine of the Fall. According to that doctrine, man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will. To my mind this is the sole function of the doctrine. It exists to guard against two sub-Christian theories of the origin of evil – Monism, according to which God Himself, being ‘above good and evil’, produces impartially the effects to which we give those two names, and Dualism, according to which God produces good, while some equal and independent Power produces evil. Against both these views Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, V. The Fall of Man

In most of the non-biblical traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Stoicism, Neoplatonism, Modern Hermeticism, etc. either Monism or Dualism is adopted. Both views are radically defective, and here I will give you two excerpts from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in order to show the main flaws of these teachings.

People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea [called “Monism”] that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more dearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether.
We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely “good” or “righteous”, a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hagel and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.
And with this big difference between Pantheism and the Christian idea of God, there usually goes another. Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The Christian idea is quite different. They think God invented and made the universe—like a man making a picture or composing a tune.
A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, “He’s put a lot of himself into it,” but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head. His skill is not in the picture in the same way that it is in his head, or even in his hands, expect you see how this difference between Pantheists and Christians hangs together with the other one. If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that.
You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II – What Christians Believe, 1. The Rival Conceptions Of God

As C. S. Lewis points out, the first main problem with Monism and Pantheism is that it renders any notion of the Good meaningless, making every choice or action one makes toward something one think is the good utterly meaningless – since it is a thing’s goodness that makes it desirable or lovable.
There is a second main problem with Monism and Pantheism (and I will add predestination and monergism as well –doctrines where in all things that happen it is God’s will that is done). These views of God lead to determinism – man has no metaphysical freedom to do anything except to execute the predetermined operations he is supposed to execute, as a particle of God/the Cosmos (as in the case of Monism and Pantheism), or as a creature that does God’s will out of incapacity to disobey (as in the case of predestination and monergism). Thus, we never really have a choice to act, and our acts have no existential significance.
Note: as you can see, modern atheism is fully compatible with both of these facets of Monism.

Moving onto Dualism:

A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war […]
The two powers, or spirits, or gods—the good one and the bad one—are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other—like preferring beer to cider—or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good.
Now [i]f “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.
But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.

[…]To be bad, [the Bad Power] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II – What Christians Believe, 2. The Invasion

C. S. Lewis, in his main objections against Dualism, says that it is incoherent. Good and Evil are existing principles under the presupposition that Good is desirable and Evil isn’t. But Evil is thus the absence of desirability, of Good, it is a privation. If we don’t admit this, then by the fact that both exist we make them the two complimentary parts of a whole (Being itself), and that whole is God, and thus we end up with Monism/Pantheism.

Another doctrine, often encountered in both of these views, is that being a particular person with selfhood and free will is a bad thing because God is impersonal. In this view, the monist says that getting close to divine wisdom is losing one’s personhood and dissolving into the whole; the dualist says (in most cases) that the Good demiurge created the spiritual, impersonal and immaterial, and that the Evil demiurge created the material and the personal, that we are imprisoned in the material and the personal, and that Salvation consists in having an immaterial existence dissolved in the impersonal essence of God. The monist view renders one’s life, acts and words an absolute futility; the dualist view encourages us to ether hate the material world (in which we have to work for our Salvation) or become indifferent to it (thus waiting for death to start living good lives), and to view our particular souls as defective as long as they are not dissolved in impersonality.

Having radically different views of God and His Creation makes us seek God differently. If one is to have a philosophy that will neither render itself or man ultimately insignificant, nor make the Good ultimately as divine as Evil, then one has to give up both Monism and Dualism.

Sin has its roots in willing, not in knowing

Socrates actually gives no explanation at all of the distinction: not being able to understand and not willing to understand; on the other hand, he is the grand master of all ironists in operating by means of the distinction between understanding and understanding. Socrates explains that he who does not do what is right has not understood it, either; but Christianity goes a little further back and says that it is because he is unwilling to understand it, and this again because he does not will what is right. And in the next place it teaches that a person does what is wrong (essentially defiance) even though he understands what is right, or he refrains from doing what is right even though he understands it; in short, the Christian teaching about sin is nothing but offensiveness toward man, charge upon charge; it is the suit that the divine as the prosecutor ventures to bring against humankind.
But can any human being comprehend this Christian teaching? By no means, for it is indeed Christianity and therefore involves offense. It must be believed.To comprehend is the range of man’s relation to the human, but to believe is man’s relation to the divine. How then does Christianity explain this incomprehensibility? Very consistently, in a way just as incomprehensible: by revealing it.
Therefore, interpreted Christianly, sin has its roots in willing, not in knowing, and this corruption of willing affects the individual’s consciousness. This is entirely consistent, for otherwise the question of the origin of sin would have to be posed in regard to each individual.

Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

The genius of foundationalism – A response to “The Impotence of Atheism”

This article is a response to Kristor’s article “The Impotence of Atheism“.

I really liked Kristor’s article. I think that we Christian reactionaries are often aware of the fact that nominalism is an important part of via moderna, but we don’t mention coherentism so often. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, in the domain of epistemology, coherentism is the denial of basic beliefs (i.e. things that are axiomatically true, true by inferred necessity). Its opposite is called foundationalism, which accepts basic beliefs.
Kristor writes about atheism being “Not wrong; not uninformative; often utile; but, just inadequate”. Albeit I really despise the anthropological and spiritual beliefs that are the logical consequences of atheism, I agree with a friend of mine (David P. Withun) who said that atheism is not so much wrong as it is incomplete. The same goes for coherentism and modernistic theories of knowledge like empiricism and rationalismthey are not bad in obtaining true (or valid) data about the cosmos, but they miss some important stuff, the basic beliefs, on which we can build an ordered cosmos where man can live a meaningful, worthy and purposeful life. 

I find foundationalism important for the intellectual life of Christians. While spiritually and existentially it is important for us to connect with Christ and not with an abstraction, I think that an act of will is not enough to convince a sincerely truth-seeking person to become a Christian. A leap of faith may be intellectually interpreted and justified, it doesn’t have to be unjustifiably absurd, otherwise it would be just as meaningless to make it as not to make it. If one is hanging on a bridge between atheism, nihilism and nominalist insanity on the one side, and theism, meaningfulness and metaphysical realism on the other, and one yearns for the truth yet cannot obtain it in a coherentist fashion, then the leap of faith may just as well be an adoption of foundationalism, making the existence of objective meaning, worth and purpose axiomatic (because they are a necessity for us humans and for our endeavours). This may as well be expressed in a more existential fashion, as I (among many others) have done it beforeAs foundationalism has an existential side, that means that it may as well contain an existential and intellectual struggle. One atheist empiricist with whom I once talked said to me that he would love if all these things that I say are true by necessity were true indeed, but that he cannot accept that because there was a lack of certitude, that he’d rather shut the door to both infinite wisdom and infinite error (i.e. uncertain and unverifiable knowledge) than open it to both. I think there is a real struggle in this, for indeed, once one deals with the truth as studied in domains outside of science and mathematics, one deals with much less concrete and less certain pieces of datafor example the faculties of the soul, or how universals manifest themselves in particulars, or the nature of the beautiful and the sublime. One must recognize that it is indeed a leap of faith that one takes, once one recognizes basic beliefs.

Kristor writes “This is why the juridical question is efficacious against an atheist. Just keep asking “Why?””. I think here we are getting to the point. Without the axiomatic presumption of objective meaning, worth and purpose, things such as the following are justified in no manner whatsoever: the knowledge and the search for truth, the survival of the human individual or the species, the holding onto one or more values. All these things are either true/desirable by necessity or absolutely arbitrary. If we adopt the latter position, this makes them unjustified.

I will insert, here, a small tip on the ontological argument that the greatest of all beings needs to exist otherwise it would not be the greatest. As we see, the ontological argument uses a more foundationalist than an evidence-based approach. It is usually rejected by atheists, but I think that a Spinozist, a Nietzschean, or a modern stoic, may actually find a way to agree with the reasoning of the argument.
Imagine now that good is not that which designates what we traditionally perceive as “the Good” but that the good is all that isthe cosmos, fate, all things happening, necessary and inevitable. Thus we find that the cosmos is God and that the premise that God’s existence is self-evident is not contradicted.
I would have much more respect for a naturalist who argues like this than for one who simply denies the self-evident existence of Godbecause the former shows that he understands the ontological argument, while the latter is an adherent of via moderna with no understanding of the genius of the via antiqua he opposes. Of course, if fate/the cosmos are in fact eternal and that in which all else exists and takes place, then we still live in a disorderly cosmos with no inherent meaning, worth or purpose for humans. But the purpose of my statement that pantheism is superior to Enlightenment atheism is that, is to demonstrate the philosophical worthlessness of Enlightenment philosophy, for it is philosophy done in the fashion of via moderna that has no practical use for us humans.

Pierre Hadot, the author of the wonderful “Philosophy as a Way of Life”, writes in the same book:

“…at least since the time of Socrates, the choice of a way of life has not being located at the end of the process of philosophical activity, like a kind of accessory or appendix. On the contrary, it stands at the beginning, in a complex interrelation with critical reaction to other existential attitudes, with a global vision of a certain way of living and of seeing the world…This existential option, in turn, implies a certain vision of the world, and the task of philosophical discourse will therefore be to reveal and rationally justify this existential option, as well as this representation of the world. Theoretical philosophical discourse is thus born from this initial existential option, and it leads back to it, in so far as – by means of its logical and persuasive force, and the action it tries to exert upon the interlocutor – it incites both masters and disciples to live in genuine conformity with their initial choice. In other words, it is, in a way, the application of a certain ideal of life.”

The nihilism and anthropological and spiritual bankruptcy of modernity come precisely from the fact that Enlightenment philosophy (and also mediocrities like the New Atheists) does philosophy as we do sciencein a detached way, completely independent of the needs, desires and aspirations of humans. And this is, basically, how we got to today’s functional specialization within society, and how things such as science, ethics, religiosity and literature seem to lack a minimum of cohesion. And the response to this impractical world-view and organisation of society is in what we Christians differ from modern gnostics, occultists and (to a lesser extent?) stoics. We make the leap of faith and submit our wills to an all-loving God who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. The gnostics follow the “path of the left hand”, they embrace the cosmos as perceived by modernitychaotic and indifferent, and decide to seek godhood, power and freedom.

A scientist and a mathematician who recognize the objective validity of human reason are, without realizing it, making a metaphysical claim. And Nietzsche and the post-modernists knew only too well that if one is to be a naturalist, then one is to dispense also with the idea that reason is a principle objectively valid on a cosmic scale.
It is for the sake of sanity that most secular people do not (fully) embrace vitalism or something of the sorts. If only they saw that our espousal of foundationalism is simply the next step towards sanity.

Further reading:

Deux idées contre l’épistémologie moderniste

Deux idées épistémologiques d’inspiration platonique et patristique, avancées contre le modernisme

 

1. L’épistémologie platonique est (fondamentalement) beaucoup plus cohérente et complète que toute épistémologie moderniste. La Noésis, la connaissance purement intuitive et supra-discursive qui n’est pas limitée par la subjectivité humaine et individuelle, est le type de connaissance le plus fondamental et certain que nous pouvons posséder – ceux qui ne l’ont pas sont incapables de faire de la philosophie sans des défauts fondamentaux au moins dans les prémices de leurs arguments. Apres la Noésis, nous avons Dianoia, Pistis et Eikasia comme types de connaissance, de moins en moins certaines et fondamentales.

Les principales systèmes épistémologiques du monde moderne (comme l’empirisme ou le rationalisme) regardent comme les plus fondamentaux et certains l’expérience sensorielle et la raison discursive. Toute invention philosophique du monde moderne contient des imperfections fondamentales parce qu’elle renie le noétique (ou au moins son importance comme base philosophique).

L’allégorie de la caverne (de Platon) est une bonne explication pourquoi nous restons bloqués dans le paradigme moderne – nos théories de la connaissance ne reconnaissent que le sous-noétique (lui-même “assiégé” par le post-modernisme). Nous sommes bloqués dans la caverne, et nous ne pouvons pas saisir la possibilité-même d’acquérir un type de connaissance plus haut et certain que ce que nous possédons à présent – notamment, l’expérience par notre faculté noétique des énergies incréées de notre Créateur en vivant une vie ascétique.

 

2. L’absence de passions (“apatheia” en grec)  doit être un axiome de la raison pratique. Le manque d’apatheia des humains est la raison pourquoi les systèmes épistémologiques individualistes (rationalisme, empirisme, scepticisme) ne fonctionnent pas. Comme l’ont aperçu même les mouvements romantique et pragmatiste, l’individu qui ne se fie qu’à ses propres expériences sensorielles et qu’à sa propre raison discursive n’a aucune assurance que son cerveau produira la plus cohérente conclusion ou solution à quoique ce soit – car cette solution peut l’empêcher d’atteindre l’agréable récompense psychologique  produite par l’obéissance à certaines passions.

L’épistémologie individualiste est très souvent, pour les gens ordinaires, une excuse pour vivre dans le nihilisme, dans la subversion irrationnelle de tout ce qui ne leur plait pas.

 

(Le point 1 a été presque entièrement inspiré par les idées de Clark Carlton dans sa série de podcasts “Understanding the Modern and Post Modern Mind”)