Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Readings: I Like This:

The following is from the essay "Divine Love in Creation" which is included in an anthology of the writings of Simone Weil entitled Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks:

"Proportion and harmony are synonyms. Proportion is the bond established between two numbers by a mean proportional; thus 3 establishes a proportion between 1 and 9, that is 1/3 = 3/9. Harmony is defined by the Pythagoreans as the unity of contraries. The first couple of contraries is God and the creature. The Son is the unity of those contraries, the geometrical mean which establishes a proportion between them: He is the mediator."

File under: Topics Not Covered in Confirmation Class

(And they want to label me sola scriptura. Ha!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Religion: Who Said It Was Gonna Be Easy?

The comments section of the October 23rd post over at Disputations entitled "The Hard Way" is headed up by TSO's comment:

Given that the evidence is pretty solid that Christianity is indeed hard, it does take faith to emphasize: 'My yoke is easy, My burden light."

There ensued from this some discussion of how it is possible to reconcile this saying of Jesus to the fact that Christian discipleship is hard, as indicated by the post's title and purport. I made an attempt at addressing this question at Disputations, and since the topic relates nicely to reflections previously posted here and here, and especially here, I have decided to make a post of it, as follows:

To live in this world is inevitably to experience sickness, pain, loss, death. It is to experience the agonizing shame of sin and the humiliation of being seen as culpable by God, and by our fellow man. It is to experience the false sense of personal power that comes with the illict pride we nurture when we think we've gotten the upper hand in life and have risen above our brothers.
Suffering is the antidote for such false pride.
With regard to suffering per se, the key concept is acceptance. We may understand our acceptance of the Necessity entailed by our existence as obedience. God has made us as we are, towards which creation our proper response and orientation is praise and gratitude.
As Christ, who was perfect in His innocence, was obedient to the Necessity that He suffer and die on the Cross for our sake, so must we, with the help of grace, in praise of God's goodness, and in gratitude for His sacrifice, pick up our own meager crosses and follow Him.
His yoke is easy, because it is simple. We don't have to find it, or figure it out for ourselves; it has been given to us, gratis. His burden is light, because it is all that we need, henceforth, to bear. We have put down the crushing weight of the world and all of the unbearable burden of our sins, and all that we need to shoulder now is that bare minimum which is asked of us, in exchange for Life Eternal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Readings: Skip to My Lou, or Skip to My Lai?

I have now finished reading Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. In my October 13th post, in musing about where the novel was headed, two-thirds of the way through the plot, with particular reference to the character, Skip Sands, I wrote:

What does Johnson have in mind for Skip? As a symbol of patriotic, casually Christian America, will Skip become even more the fascist than he already de facto is? Or will he veer off in the direction of sainthood, persevering, but suffering, in his new-found acknowledgement of the agony of existence in a fallen world? As a symbol of America, where will Skip find his will-to-power?

Well, I now know the answer to that question—kind of. But, as part of my purpose here is to promote the reading of books that I have found worthy, I’m not going to announce a spoiler alert and then disclose what becomes of Skip Sands in the end. Tree of Smoke is rife with mysteries, the significance of which is best left to the individual reader.

What I think that I’ll do instead is present a kind of impressionistic mashup of some of the thematic threads at which I’ve been pulling in my last several posts.

In the post previous to this one, I wrote:

A fundamental characteristic of atheism is its banality. Compared to the intellectual and spiritual richness of myth, religion and theology, it is simply boring. The last really interesting atheist may well have been Nietzsche.

That said, I had also noted in my October 13th post that Tree of Smoke had interested me in the writings of E. M. Cioran—along with Nietzsche, an interesting atheist, imho. Having now read a bit of Cioran, if I understand him correctly, one of his themes is that words intervene between human perception and reality. It does seem to be the case that only mathematics can express reality purely objectively. But math can only prove that a thing is there; it can't put us in contact with it, or allow us to see it as it is. Using words we can attempt to give an impression of things as they are, but words alone cannot prove that there is really any there there. A unicorn built of words is as real as a donkey described on the same page. This use of words to separate human perception from reality relates to the project of Skip’s uncle and mentor, the legendary and Kurtz-like, Colonel of Tree of Smoke, and thus, to Skip’s fate.

One of the Cioran texts I am reading is The Fall into Time, translated from the French by Richard Howard; Introduction by Charles Newman; Quadrangle Press, Chicago, 1970 (it seems to be out of print in English, so no amazon.com link provided). The following is a quote from Newman’s Introduction:

"[For] Cioran, language is a sticky symbolic net, an infinite regression from things cutting men off from the world, as they once cut themselves off from God; and so, to scramble the metaphor, humans are no more than shadows who project their images upon the mirror of infinity." (p. 12)

Consider, too, these quotes from Cioran’s essay “Civilized Man, a Portrait” from that same book:

“If you try to convert someone, it will never be to effect his salvation but to make him suffer like yourself, to be sure he is exposed to the same ordeals and endures them with the same impatience.” (p. 57)

And,

“Once someone is shackled by a certainty, he envies your vague opinions, your resistance to dogmas or slogans, your blissful incapacity to commit yourself. Blushing in secret for belonging to a sect or a party, ashamed of possessing a truth and of being enslaved by it, it is not his acknowledged enemies he resents, those who profess another, but you, the Indifferent, guilty of pursuing none.” (pp.57-58)

I see this as having relevance to both the American project as exemplified by Vietnam, and to the resistance of Simone Weil to enter the Catholic Church (to pull in another thread).

I have been struck by the similarities between some of the thought of Cioran, an atheist, and Simone Weil, a freelance Christian. Both of them express the opinion that the way to salvation is to strip the Self, through suffering, down nearly to the vegetative level. For Cioran, this would eliminate all that is false in human existence, providing the salvation of utter authenticity. For Weil, the effect would be to remove the “I” from one’s existence, leaving room for God to move in and take over. The main difference between the atheist and the theist here seems to be that Weil, as opposed to Cioran, had a personal experience of Christ—a special revelation—that converted her from a secular leftist into something resembling a saint.

Compare, for instance, these two excerpts:

“Once man, separated from Creator and creation alike, became individual—in other words, fracture and fissure in Being—and once he learned, assuming his name to the point of provocation, that he was mortal, his pride was thereby magnified, no less than he confusion. At last he was dying in his own way—he was proud of that; but he was dying, dying altogether—and that was humiliating. No longer reconciled to a denouement once fiercely desired, he turns at last, and longingly, to the animals, his former companions: all, vile and noble alike, accept their fate, enjoy it or resign themselves to it; none has followed his example or imitated his rebellion. The plants, more than the beasts, rejoice to have been created: the very nettle still flourishes within God; only man suffocates there, and is it not this choking sensation which led him to stand apart from the rest of creation, a consenting outcast, a voluntary reject? All other living beings, by the very fact that they are identical with their condition, have a certain superiority to him. And it is when he envies them, when he longs for their impersonal glory, that man understands the gravity of his case.”

~ E. M. Cioran, The Fall into Time, “The Tree of Life” (pp.37-38)


“The vegetative energy alone has the right to remain attached to those things that are necessary to the vegetative life. One must not appropriate anything to oneself, whether it be an object or a being, through the exercise of the supplementary energy. Poverty.”

~ Simone Weil, Notebooks, Vol. 2

And, finally, this, (quoted in the Introduction p.26):

“The self, triumphing over its functions, shrinks to a point of consciousness projected into the infinite, outside of time.”

~ E. M. Cioran

I leave to you the choice: connect the dots, or not.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reflections: Atheism and its Discontents

I was planning to write a reasoned, well-constructed, rhetorically air-tight little essay contra atheism this weekend. But I’m not gonna do it. I’m just not in the mood. What I need to do instead is go into my room, shut the door, get down on my knees, and ask God…WTF!?! Or else punch a hole in the plasterboard.

A fundamental characteristic of atheism is it's banality. Compared to the intellectual and spiritual richness of myth, religion and theology, it is simply boring. The last really interesting atheist may well have been Nietzsche. Most atheists, regardless of the complexity of their presentation, or the opacity of their academic jargon, have but two messages for the world: 1) There’s no God, and you can’t prove that there is one; and, 2) Religion is responsible for everything that’s been wrong with the world since before the dawn of history.

Okay. Fine. Messages received. What else you got?

What originally set me off on this little rant was being faced with the fact that my latest literary love, Rebecca Goldstein, has hooked up with a professional atheist named Steven Pinker. I had been informed of this anecdotally already, by Madscribe, but I didn’t allow my mind to dwell upon it at that time. Then I came across this article, and all possibility of denial went down the proverbial drain. That Rebecca Goldstein is, herself, an atheist did not so much surprise me, although I would have guessed “agnostic.” But that she would join forces with a preening professional blasphemer was a hard blow.

Right now there are at least three other "intellectuals" making a good buck as professional atheists. You’ve got Richard Dawkins. You’ve got Sam Harris. (“Sam” for chrissake?) And then you’ve got pathetic, drunken Christopher Hitchens. Obviously the times are ripe for a resurrection of the spirit of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Organized religion is undergoing a period of global resurgence, whether it be in the form of Protestant fundamentalism, or of Muslim militancy. We know from Brother Ike Newton that for every action there’s an opposite reaction, striving to become equal. Steven Pinker is among the strivers.

Dawkins I can ignore. He’s Brit, and we all know about them, don’t we? Eccentric though they are expected, almost obligated, to be, they automatically sound intelligent, even if slightly cockney in their delivery. All of which explains why they are more and more in demand as spokesmen in American TV commercials. But I’m not buying. Dawkins is an evolutionary scientist, so he’s got a professional axe to grind. And he has mouth-breathing mobs of bible banging, fundie adversaries, ready-made to attack him and thereby juice the sales of his books and elevate the price of his speaking fees. Next, please.

Ah. Sam Harris. What can I say? Follow the link, read his bio, and then try to find it in your heart to practice a little charity, preferably in the form of pity. The guy is obviously all jacked out of shape and striking back blindly at those forces, far beyond his control, which have left him in the shape he’s in; forces which he mistakes for the God whose existence he denies. Atheism is, after all, every bit as subjective as religious faith. One can no more prove that God does not exist, than one can prove that He does. Pro- and con-, it’s all faith-based. All of it.

Christopher Hitchens…my, my, my. Through a boozy haze, Mr. Hitchens now squanders what’s left of his talent, and formerly fine intellect, by railing mean-spiritedly against the obvious. By “obvious” I don’t mean that he’s obviously right, but that he sets up every obvious straw man in the atheist arsenal and then kicks it to pieces for the delighted amusement of his adrenaline-pumping audiences in an alcohol induced frenzy of over-the-top wrath. Poor Hitch! Butch as he is, he has yet to realize that since death is inevitable, to die tough is nothing. Oh, yeah--it takes a real mensch to diss the memory of Mother Teresa.

Finally, Steven Pinker. Or should we call him “Little Steven” Pinker, since he’s doing his best to be taken seriously as an intellectual, while simultaneously looking like the foal of Kenny G. out of Adam Ant?

I just don’t know. Becky! Becky! Where did it all go so terribly wrong?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Religion: Thanks For Sharing

I realize that I haven’t posted anything new for going on a week now. This is in great part because my cyber-energies were being drained off by an on-going discussion following the Wednesday, October 10th post at Disputations, entitled “Neither Pretense Nor Trump” which is now at 230+ comments and counting. It has been pretty much Protestant me against the Catholic field. But that’s par for the course. I’m not whining. That’s why I read that blog.

The original post, in which Tom, the Lord and Master at Disputations, discusses the urge of some Catholics and non-Catholics toward Christian unification and intercommunication, and the problems inherent therein, contains this statement of a Msgr. Wells:

“To pretend a unity that does not exist may feel good at the moment; but it allows us to avoid the painful truth that we are still far from the oneness in faith and action intended by the Lord.”

This was followed immediately by Tom’s statement:

“True enough, but if I may, I don't think Catholics and non-Catholics who desire intercommunion are pretending a unity that does not exist. At the very least, they surely don't think they are.”

I have argued before for an open communion as a necessary condition to allow for even the hope of a future Christian unity, and I took this opportunity to argue for it once again. Those interested in the topic might want to read through the comments following Tom’s post, as they are interesting from a number of different angles. I will not try to recapitulate all the points here. But I do want to mention an argument that occurred to me rather late in the discussion, which was that the episode in the Gospel of John concerning “Doubting Thomas” was a good analogy for a Protestant wanting to receive the Catholic communion.

The decisive argument against a Protestant receiving the Catholic communion, as forcefully articulated by Zippy, and others, is that the Protestant would be done great harm by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, while not believing in the Real Presence. I argued that Thomas was allowed to touch the resurrected body of Christ, while not believing it to be the Real Body of Christ, and Thomas was in no way harmed; in fact his faith was confirmed and he received an immeasurably great gift:

John 20:24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn’t with them when Jesus came. 20:25 The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

20:26 After eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors being locked, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace be to you.” 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see my hands. Reach here your hand, and put it into my side. Don’t be unbelieving, but believing.”

20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

20:29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me,* you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.”

Here is but one of my comments in this long, long thread:

Zippy--
No, you're missing my point. The analogy obviously assumes that the Eucharist IS the Real Presence, as it was in the case of Thomas. The point is that Jesus did not send Thomas away because of his unbelief. Rather, Jesus allowed Thomas contact with His body, and thereby Thomas came to believe that it was Real.
We recall that first Thomas refused to believe the reports that Jesus has risen. Next Jesus appears in a room *with a locked door*. In other words, as in the Eucharist, the REAL body is present; but it is present *supernaturally*. The analogy is really very close.
Unbelievers should not be denied contact with the Eucharist because of their unbelief, but rather should be allowed the opportunity to come to belief *through their contact with it*. This, even though it would be better if they just believed without having it proved to them.
It is, in fact, difficult to see what the point of the inclusion of this episode in the Gospel is, if not to make this point and teach this lesson.
Rodak | Homepage | 10.14.07 - 7:15 pm | #

I was not able to convince a single Catholic that my analogy was any good, although I did receive some moral support from a loving soul named Anna, for which I was grateful. I have extensive notes for a post on the subject of the banality of atheism, that I will get to this weekend. Meanwhile, I would welcome any comments that would continue the conversation here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Readings: Apocalypse When?

Taking center stage in my current reading regimen is the novel Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson. Johnson has long been one of my favorite contemporary writers of fiction, and ToS is his biggest, and, imho, most important, effort to-date. Johnson has also published some very good poetry. Those who read non-fiction exclusively might be interested in looking into Seek, a selection of essays and magazine articles, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have also read a couple of his dramas, and, quite frankly, was not blown away by them. But the rest of it, I vouch for.

Tree of Smoke is primarily about the war in Vietnam and the role of the CIA in Southeast Asia. It contains several interwoven subplots, between which Johnson vacillates, a structure which has annoyed some reviewers. Personally, I find his pacing very effective. The novel is over 600 pages, and I find that moving the focus from one character to another, in fairly short segments, keeps it from ever becoming tedious. I am currently approaching page 400 and already regretting that the saga will too soon end.

But I’m not here to write a review, as such.

Having recently had my interest in reading Spinoza piqued by a fictional character in a novel by Rebecca Goldstein, I found myself in the same situation with regard to one of the characters in Tree of Smoke. The character is “Skip,” a young, idealistic and patriotic CIA operative, perhaps a generic Christian, who has been drawn into the Agency by hero-worship of his legendary uncle, also CIA, who is known to the world primarily as “the Colonel.” Without going too deeply into the plot, it is enough for my purposes here to say that Skip finds himself in Vietnam, carrying out duties which, to him, as well as to us, seem both meaningless and mysterious. The Colonel, he believes, knows all, but discloses little. Both Skip and the Colonel are attached to a Psy-Ops unit. But what the “Ops” consist of is a mystery. Skip is billeted in the house a deceased French colonial, a physician, who somehow has managed to blow himself to pieces underground, in what may, or may not, have been a Viet Cong tunnel. (These tunnels seem to play an important symbolic role in the novel.) The dead physician’s effects and possessions are all still in the house, and Skip begins the task of boxing them up for subsequent removal by the next-of-kin. In the course of this, Skip becomes engrossed in both the physician’s library and his journals. When, finally, a relative comes for the physician’s things, Skip keeps (steals) a couple of items. Long story short: the physician has been a reader of the Romanian writer/philosopher, Emil Cioran, whose writings lay an egg in Skip’s brain.

As a reader of Tree of Smoke, having become convinced that an understanding of where Cioran was coming from must be important to understanding what happens to Skip, and, thus, to at least one essential element of what Johnson is driving at in writing the novel, I decided to read some Cioran. Searching the Cioran listings of the university library, I came across the title Tears and Saints. Since Johnson’s writings nearly always contain a religious subtext in which something resembling the Holy Spirit nags at the peace of mind of his protagonists, I decided to try this title first.

In the translator’s introduction, Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston writes:

“Cioran explicitly focuses on the political element in the saints’ lives, but in his view their charitable deeds represent the least interesting aspect of their lives. What fascinates him are their tears, their thirst for pain and their capacity to endure it: in short, the pathology or, as he puts it, the ‘voluptuousness of suffering,’ for ‘suffering is man’s only biography.’ Behind this suffering, and their uncanny ability to renounce everything through ascetic practices. Cioran detects the saints’ fanatical will to power.”

And later:

“In mysticism, redemption and the saints’ will to possess God are in fact one and the same thing. That is why the formula for redemption need not remain confined to the spiritual domain and can easily be translated into political terms: the mystic’s spiritual union with God becomes a (small) nation’s fulfillment of a greater destiny: ‘Our entire political and spiritual mission must concentrate on the determination to will a transfiguration, on the desperate and dramatic experience of transforming our whole way of life.’ [Cioran, Romania’s Transfiguration, 47]”

Finally, Zarifopol-Johnston quotes Cioran again from Romania’sTransfiguration:

“All means are legitimate when a people opens a road for itself in the world. Terror, crime, bestiality and perfidy are base and immoral only in decadence, when they defend a vacuum of content; if, on the other hand, they help in the ascension of a people, they are virtues. All triumphs are moral…”

So, Johnson has one of his central protagonists, a CIA operative assigned to a Psychological Operations unit, under the command of his uncle, a Kurtz-like figure, becoming obsessed with the ideas of a Romanian fascist, who is himself obsessed with saints as the embodiment of suffering as will-to-power in an otherwise meaningless existence. The enemy is “the Void.” The danger is falling into decadence and nihilism, and Skip seems--two-thirds of the way through the book--to be teetering on the brink. He has passively rejected, through his inability to empathize, the love of a truly suffering woman named Kathy; the widow of a murdered Seventh Day Adventist missionary, who continues her charitable work among the Vietnamese war orphans, despite apparently having lost her faith and entered into a Dark Night of the Soul (Mother Teresa, anyone?). And Skip is lost in a mission, the goals of which are as invisible as are their moral foundations.

What does Johnson have in mind for Skip? As a symbol of patriotic, casually Christian America, will Skip become even more the fascist than he already de facto is? Or will he veer off in the direction of sainthood, persevering, but suffering, in his new-found acknowledgement of the agony of existence in a fallen world? As a symbol of America, where will Skip find his will-to-power?

Cioran, for his part, says:

“We would have been better off without saints. Then each of us would have minded our own business and we would have rejoiced in our imperfection. Their presence among us brings about useless inferiority complexes, envy, spite. The world of saints is a heavenly poison that grows ever more virulent as our loneliness increases. They have corrupted us by providing a model that shows suffering attaining its goal.” [Tears and Saints, p.14]

(Simone Weil, anyone?)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Readings: Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo, Prof. Goldstein

Is it just me, or has existence been kinda flat for the past couple of days? Even the blogosphere hasn't been putting out those energizing vibes that keep me posting. I had an excerpt on my desktop, all ready to go. Then I got involved in some issues over at Civis' blog. And here at Rodak Riffs, and never got around to it. Well, my heart's not fully into it, but here goes nuthin':

The excerpt is from the last work of Rebecca Goldstein's fiction that I hadn't read. The anything-but-snappy title is The Late Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind. Rather than providing a full synopsis, I ask you to check out this short review from the New York Times.

Briefly, the protagonist is a woman philosophy professor at a university which reminds me of Cornell. Now entering early middle-age, she has lived a life of the mind, focusing on the philosophies of Plato and Spinoza, basically celebate since a traumatic youthful love relationship. She develops a passion for one of her students. Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. I know, it sounds boring. But it's not. Anyway...here's the long-dormant excerpt:

"How exquisitely small and simple truth is. Not something loud and large and showy, but quiet and self-contained. Here it is. The relation of logical entailment. Concepts entail concepts, propositions follow from propositions. And from this emerges the truth entire, indestructibly forged of logic locked into the necessary facts of existence. It was this structure that Spinoza called Deus sive Natura. And it rises up beyond the corrosive tides of time that wash over all that is conditioned and contingent, including us, our own poor bodily selves. It rises beyond, and yet – the gift of it! – within our reach. Our minds, in grasping the logical entailments, can take possession of it, can apprehend it and claim it for our own. And in this way we too can partake of eternity."

This is an example of the kind of thing middle-aged, female philosophy profs think about while they do the dishes, I guess. What I would like to consider is the embedded Spinoza aphorism: Deus sive Natura. I searched for a translation, but found nothing that didn't sound clunky compared to the Latin. So forget the translation. The idea expressed by the phrase, as I understand it, is that we experience God (only) as Nature.

At first glance this looks to be atheistic, or perhaps, pantheistic. But, on the other hand, if we consider this concept in the light of, for instance, Simone Weil's utterly transcendent God, traces of whom are seen reflected in the beauty of the material world, it seems to be quite compatible with religious faith; perhaps even with Christianity.

Note to self: Read some Spinoza.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Readings: Weil-ing Away the Time

One of my main motives in putting up this blog was to have a place to present to people who might not be familiar with them some of the ideas of the French philosopher, Simone Weil.

Several of my recent posts have featured excerpts from essays contained in the anthology of Simone Weil's writings, On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God. The final essay, "The Love of God and Affliction" is a presentation of some of the ideas most central to her vision of Christianity and the relationship of God to Man.

Due to the importance of the ideas in this essay, particularly those dealing with her concept of affliction, the notes I took as I read it snowballed into too many words for a decently sized blog post. Therefore, I encourage any person who finds himself reading these words to view the mind-expanding words of Simone Weil here.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Reflections: What's Wrong With this Weltanschauung?

For the past couple of days, I have been engaged in a lengthy, on-going conversation/disputation at What’s Wrong With the World. That controversy has involved so much frenzied keyboarding that I am loathe to do much more today in support of my own blog. The nature of the argument at WWWtW has, however, exemplified, or at least brought to mind, the kind of cognitive dissonance that I previously discussed here.

While I was discussing cognitive dissonance mainly as a psychological phenomenon, the following excerpt seems to me to discuss the problem from the perspective of its underlying spiritual mechanism. See what you think:

“It does sometimes happen that the flesh turns away from God, but often when we think this has happened it is really the other way round. The soul being unable to bear the deadly presence of God, that searing flame, takes refuge behind the flesh and uses it like a screen. In this case it is not the flesh which makes us forget God, it is the soul which tries to forget God by burying itself in the flesh. This is no longer a question of weakness but of treason, and we are always tempted to this treason so long as the mediocre part of the soul is much stronger than the part that is pure. A fault very slight in itself may be an act of treason of this kind, and in that case it is infinitely worse than faults which are very bad in themselves but which are the result of weakness. Treason is not avoided by an effort, by doing violence to oneself, but by a simple act of choice. It suffices to regard as a stranger and enemy the part of us that wants to hide itself from God -- even if that part is almost the whole of us, even if it is us. We must constantly renew within ourselves the vow of adherence to that part of us which calls for God, even when it is still only infinitely small. This infinitesimal part, so long as we adhere to it, increases exponentially, by a geometrical progression like the series 2,4,8,16, 32, etc., as a seed grows, and this happens without our taking any part in the process. We can arrest this growth by refusing it our adherence, and we can retard it by failing to use our will against the unruly movements of the physical part of the soul. But nevertheless when it does take place this growth takes place in us without any action by us.”

~Simone Weil, On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, “Some Reflections on the Love of God”

The discussion at WWWtW is an interesting one, btw, and includes a “cutting edge” video clip. You might want to mosey over there and get involved in it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Readings: Evil Raises Its Ugly Head. Again.

There has been an on-going discussion, on a couple of consecutive threads, over in the Religion Department at Politics, Sex and Religion--(I’ve put in for a transfer to Sex, but so far nothing has opened up for me, no pun intended)—concerning the nature of God, with particular reference to the Problem of Evil.

I got home from work this afternoon, eager to watch the end of the Rockies-Phillies game prior to settling into the Yankees-Indians contest, only to find that the cable is out -- proving that THERE IS NO GOD!!! DAMN IT ALL!!!

Nothing to be done, then, but to take a deep breath, pick up On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God and begin reading the next Simone Weil piece therein. The piece is entitled “Some Reflections on the Love of God” and the opening paragraph, which follows, is very relevant to the above mentioned discussions:

“The love that God bears us is, at any moment, the material and substance of our very being. God’s creative love which maintains us in existence is not merely a superabundance of generosity, it is also renunciation and sacrifice. Not only the Passion but the Creation itself is a renunciation and sacrifice on the part of God. The Passion is simply its consummation. God already voids himself of his divinity by the Creation. He takes the form of a slave, submits to necessity, abases himself. His love maintains in existence, in a free and autonomous existence, beings other than himself, beings other than the good, mediocre beings. Through love, he abandons them to affliction and sin. For if he did not abandon them they would not exist. His presence would annul their existence as a flame kills a butterfly.”

You gotta admit—that’s different. And it leads us straight to Today’s Word, kenosis. Kenosis. Just point and click.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Interlude: Fit to Be Piqued

The other day I was pointed by Zippy Catholic in the direction of a blog that humbly promised to give me the skinny concerning “What’s Wrong With the World.” It seemed that it would be imprudent not to check that out. Well, this is the post on the top of the heap when I took the plunge. If you will follow me there, you will discover a graphic of a crusading knight rampant, and another of a two-headed eagle. Beneath the eagle we find words to the effect that what is wrong with the world is a combination of Jihad and, even worse, Liberalism! It’s that hirsute troglodyte UBL, and that porcine libertine sot, Teddy Kennedy, in league to do us all to death, by water, if not by fire.

The author of the blog, who can possibly boast of a clique of loyalists calling themselves the Cella Dwellas, says things like:

“I believe that Christ opposes wickedness; I believe that the Jihad is wicked. Therefore I feel that it should be opposed.”

So far, so good. I, too, believe that Christ opposes wickedness. I certainly wouldn’t argue with the conjecture that jihad, in the current mode of blowing up pizza parlors and knocking down skyscrapers, with the sole purpose of killing innocent people who are merely going about the business of their daily lives, is wicked. That, too, should be opposed. No doubt about it.

But, then, as I read further into the post, I began to experience just a soupçon of discomfort as I encountered rhetoric such as:

“But my motivation in this call is still grounded in patriotism, informed by a firm judgment of the justice of the cause. And my patriotism is ineffaceably what it is because of Christ. God the Father made the world and called it good; and then God the Son entered it bodily. Patriotism is forever changed by the Incarnation. Behold, I make all things new.”

Silly me. I had thought patriotism was forever changed--along with everything else—by 9/11. Turns out, it's been an a priori done deal since the first century. Ah well, when in Rome…

But wait, there’s more:

“This land that I love, I love because I can trust the promises of God about the goodness of His creation. I trust, also, that Scripture gives me leave to pray that my land will pursue justice (which our Constitution also calls us to do), and to work for it as a citizen.”

Boy-o, boy. That comes really close to conflating Holy Scripture with the U.S. Constitution. Too close, despite the following disclaimer:

“America is an imperfect part of an imperfect whole. It is right to love her; though it would be quite wrong to conflate this love with Christian discipleship. I do not think I have done that.”

Din’cha? Apparently one’s man’s Jihad is another man’s Crusade. I am more than willing to suggest that the so-called War on Terror doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the conditions of Just War theory, never mind being ordained by the Prince of Peace.

But, hey—you’ve got the links. Check it out and see what you think.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Readings: Logos as Mediation

As a further elucidation and extention of some of the ideas presented in the previous couple of posts below, here, without my additional comments, are a series of excerpts from the next essay:

~ Simone Weil, On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, “Notes on Cleanthes, Pherecydes, Anaximander, and Philolaus” [pp.144-147]


[“God is ever a geometer.” ~ Plato]

This is the discovery that intoxicated the Greeks: that the reality of the sensible universe is constituted by a necessity whose laws are the symbolic expression of the mysteries of faith.
(This had probably always been known, but preserved in secret doctrines; and the Greeks perhaps rediscovered it.)
It was certainly still known by the first Christians.
There would seem to be an allusion to symbolism of this kind in the marvelous and incomprehensible words of St. Paul:

‘That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.’ [Ephesians 3. 17-19]

The number of wonderfully beautiful, and today totally unintelligible, texts in the New Testament shows clearly that an infinitely precious part of the Christian doctrine has disappeared.
It is very probable that it was systematically destroyed by the Roman Empire in the process of domesticating Christianity.

….If the gates of Hell have really not prevailed, this can only mean that the true faith still lives in secret in the hearts of a few hidden beings. But they are well hidden.

….The two catastrophes in the history of Christianity have been Constantine’s decision to make Christianity official, and the war against the Albigensians accompanied by the Inquisition. St. Augustine came after the first catastrophe, St. Thomas after the second.

….Harmony encloses together God and matter in one and the same world. It is evident, therefore, that it is the Logos.

(Note: Weil translates “Logos” as “Mediation” and says:

"…the divine Mediation descending… into the world, pervades everything. It unites God to God, God to the world, and the world to itself; it constitutes reality in every domain.
"All of this is to be found expressed in the single term Logos * as the name of the second Person of the Trinity.)"

*note: this is in Greek in the original