Krasis & Askesis; Justice & Purity

Justice is krasis: the proper mixture of things, according to the pertinent formal recipe (as in a mixing bowl (cf. Plato’s Receptacle), a word present in our “theocracy” and “democracy” and “bureaucracy”) that a thing enacts as it becomes. But krasis is possible only in the absence of any accretions that ought not to be present in a thing. Any such accretions drive out what ought to be present in a thing; for, there is only so much room in things. The purpose of askesis, then, is to eliminate from life and from oneself all the accretions that have built up since birth, and that interfere – or could or might interfere – with justice. When we pray that a man may proceed through life “unspotted from the world,” we ask that his adventures may not prompt deformations of his character that push it further away from its original justice by way of such accretions – such deformations being the “spots.”

Properly done, askesis is comparable to the process that we undergo in chiropractic, when the deformities that cascade from an initial compensation for the pain of a wound are worked out of the body. It is also comparable to the ideal of psychoanalysis, in which accumulated neuroses are unwound one by one, until the psyche is restored to its initial pure unblemished equilibrium.

All of this triggered by contemplation of the purity of the ocean; the purity of nature, as compared with man and his societies. In wild nature, unjust accretions are eliminated quickly as the whole system homeostatically seeks equilibrium – krasis. In domesticated nature, it can take a bit longer.

Ritual Purity With & Without God

The Social Gospel, the activities of Social Justice Warriors, Political Correctness, electioneering, and the like (and their counterparts on the right side of the aisle) are all desperate and in the end bootless Pharisaical ritual purifications, undertaken to assuage the universal feeling of having done less well than one might have. They fail, in the first place because scapegoating never provides more than a few minutes of emotional relief, and in the second because they involve no inward purgation, and a fortiori no sort of metanoia, which is the only thing that can salve the sick conscience and repair the wounded mind. They wash the outside of the bowl, but not the inside.

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The Limit of Theology

Our staunch Mormon commenter Leo rightly points out that,

… apart from revelation and experience [reason must] be humble. The Book of Job is full of arguments back and forth, quite impressive ones, and the conclusion of the book suggests humility before God regardless of how tight one’s argument might look. The world’s philosophical schools are hardly in agreement, and a recent study suggests 62% of philosophers are non-believers. Many of them would argue against all religion by the light of their reason.

That this is all true is fairly obvious. And we would do well to remember it; I, in particular, should bear it ever in mind, I know (all too well, as I grope forward – I hope it is forward – through the darkness, knees skinned and toes stubbed on this scandal and that). Reason ought to be humble; reason would be the first to insist upon it. That reason should be humble is only reasonable; the notion is an issue and product of reason. Therein lies a clue.

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O Felix Culpa

A.morphous, the Orthosphere’s cantankerous (and useful) Chief Antagonist, and a stout atheist, recently argued that if man had not Fallen, corrupting our nature, Christ would never have redeemed us, and there would be no such thing as Christianity.

It’s absolutely true, and there is no Christian who would deny it. If we had not Fallen, we would not need redemption, nor for that matter would we need religion.

But then, a.morphous also said that, “… it is the serpent that made us fully human.” This is not quite right. True, the lure Lucifer proffered made us the sort of human we are today; but that sort is less than fully human. It is Christ who makes us again fully human, and more.

It is in that “more” that we find the justification for our gratitude for the Fall.

Gratitude? Yes, indeed; for, as Orthospherean Dr. Bill then pointed out to a.morphous, his point is standard Christian doctrine: at the Easter Vigil in Roman, Lutheran and Anglican churches, a deacon sings in the ancient Exsultet:

O certe necessárium Adæ peccatum … O felix culpa …

O truly necessary sin of Adam … O happy fault …

Standard doctrine this may be, but it is somewhat shocking nonetheless. How could the tragedy of the Fall be an occasion of happiness, rather than grief? What is much more, how could it have been necessary?

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No Way Out But In

A proposition that cannot be carried into practice at all cannot be true. An act that cannot be implemented in actuality must be somehow incoherent: self-refuting – for example, you can’t mean it when you say, “this statement is a lie” – or a contradiction in terms either simple or implicit – e.g., there’s just no way to implement “2 + 3 = 4,” for it is a contradiction in terms. That such propositions can’t work logically means that they can’t work in practice.

But a proposition that can be carried into practice might be true. E.g., “It is best not to defer gratification.”

When we sin, we assert one or more of a number of propositions:

  1. God does not exist.
  2. God is not omniscient.
  3. God is amoral.
  4. The world is amoral.
  5. God does not care whether I behave well or not, nor does the world.
  6. Whether or not God cares about my behavior does not matter (to me, at least).

And so forth. When we misbehave, we effectually attest to our belief in at least one of these propositions, or else in one of a number of other propositions like them. And to attest belief in propositions is to testify to their truth, and so is to urge their truth: behavior is an effectual proposal for how it might be well to behave.

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Wherever an Altar is Found, There Every Last Feature of Civilization Exists

The very day that Dr. Bill posted Sport is not about hunting or fighting, David Sansone’s Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport landed on my stoop. Like George Hersey’s Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, it is one of those little books that knits together a large and diverse range of apparently unrelated items and links them coherently to ancient sacrifice. I highly recommend both books, if only for the fascinating factoids to be found by the dozen on their every page.

Hersey shows that the tropes of classical architecture all derive from the sacrificial rite; Sansone argues persuasively that sport began as a relic of the sacrificial cult that in turn was a fossil of the hunt. Both bolster their cases with overwhelming evidence.

So, Maistre seems with every passing month to be more correct than even he perhaps ever knew, in saying that, “Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.” Everything seems to go back to the sacrificial rite: to the hunt, to war, to violence and its expiation.

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Theism: A Simple Explanation for Children

Son:                 Daddy? Where do cats come from?

Father:            They come from other cats.

Son:                 But where do all cats come from?

Father:            Well, they come from the rest of the world. Things kept happening in the world, and then one day, with all those things happening, cats happened, too.

Son:                 Where do things come from? They had to come from somewhere, right?

Father:            Maybe they were always there. Maybe there have just always been things.

Son:                 But why are there always things?

Father:            Maybe it’s impossible for there to be nothing.

Son:                 So there has to be something.

Father:            Maybe.

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Sex and the Religion of Me

Orthospherean James Kalb has written an essay for the latest issue of First Things. Sex and the Religion of Me: A challenge to the project of sexual liberation is about – well, you can pretty much tell what it is about.

The full article is behind a pay wall. Jim’s writing is good enough to warrant a subscription in its own right, of course, but it would be understandable if orthosphereans were to pause before committing their dough. At its beginnings, First Things was a revolutionary pioneer of intelligent, erudite Mere Christian traditionalism, both muscular and optimistic. But gradually it became an institution, and more mainstream. Partly this was due to the fact that its own success in making traditionalism respectable was a major factor of the recent increase in our numbers, many of whom are naturally more radical than the coterie of first class writers and thinkers at First Things. For many of the traditionalists First Things helped to incubate, it was not traditional enough, and too ready to accomodate itself to the terms of the discourse under the prevailing political weltanschauung.

In recent months, however, a number of exogenous factors seem to be radicalizing the whole traditionalist right, and First Things is no exception. The recent reversals on gay “marriage,” the apparent nod to libertinism of Pope Francis, last month’s fractious Synod, and the accelerating progress down the slippery slope to utter insanity of every aspect of our culture seem to have made pragmatic engagement with the political establishment impossible for serious Christians. More and more, it seems, the only options open to us are recusal, protest or civil disobedience. As the issues grow ever starker, the fissures ever deeper and steeper, the middle ground disappears. So, the writers at First Things find themselves more and more isolate from and inimical to the American political culture the journal had hoped to influence. Bruised and saddened, they seem to be moving rightward – or no, wait: upward, rather, and ever more perpendicular to the spectra by which kingdoms of this world calibrate each other.

That might make their conversations more interesting to orthosphereans and our ilk.

As a bonus, there is in every issue, and always at the First Things website, a plethora of insightful theology. David Bentley Hart and Peter Leithart are particularly worthy and voluminous contributors under that heading.

The Restoration of Order through Deletion

I learned a lesson from the amazing transformation of a nearby country place when the junk accumulated over decades under the stewardship of a previous owner was removed – a rickety fence, a broken down climbing structure, a mish mash of succulents, weeds, dead branches, garden decorations, and the like. It’s not that the place was especially junky, particularly compared with the rural norm throughout the Western states, where the devotion of at least a corner of every lot to rusted farm equipment, jumbled building supplies, and derelict vehicles seems to be de rigeur. To the casual eye, the place only looked lived in, a work in progress toward some vague goal, that like all our lives was encumbered somewhat by this and that – the detritus of failed or ill-defined projects, stuff that had not yet been gotten round to, or relics of obsolescent ideas. Nevertheless, when all the clutter was gone, the place was far more beautiful, restful, and even seemed more spacious. It looked half again as big.

The lesson: deletion is the first principle in the actualization of value, and therefore of order. We see this in natural selection, in architecture, interior design, landscape, music, writing, public policy, business, art, everything. Confusion is the enemy of value. To be properly and fully themselves, things must stop trying to be other things, must be clearly and only themselves. Extraneities are usually best got rid of.

A corollary principle became evident from the effects of the first: deletion makes possible the discovery and restoration of a thing as it is originally meant to be. When all the junk was removed from the place, a meadow became more apparent here, a grove over there, and aspects to the horizon or to forest opened up on every side. Windows that had looked out on nothing in particular now opened vistas to hidden depths in the landscape. One could see that it would make sense to plant a maple just there, or perhaps add a bench over yonder, or rebuild that stretch of crippled fence.

Deletion reveals order; restoration may then establish it more stably.

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Value is Conserved

I have long been intrigued by the conservation laws. Conservation of energy, momentum, charge, and so forth all seem to point to a more basic conservation, of which they are all instances. I was therefore interested to read in Bill Dembski’s latest book, Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information, his discussion of Conservation of Information in search routines. He has apparently demonstrated (I have not read the demonstrations, which appear in the technical literature he cites in the book) that increasing the likelihood of a successful search – i.e., a search that has an object and finds it – over and above the walk of a blind drunkard who is not looking for anything in particular may be accomplished only through additional investment of information in the search routine. This can be done in a number of ways: by a more comprehensive specification of the configuration of the object, or by adding a feedback circuit to the algorithm, or by adding strange attractors to the configuration space (so that the environment of the search itself embodies more information) or some other similar measure. But any such improvements of search efficiency – of the likelihood of success – come at a cost of their own: it takes information to inform the search. At best, then, informed search will cost just as much as blind search, and cannot cost less. But then also if the information added to the routine is not essentially perfect – free of noise and error – then the addition will cost more information than it saves: the overall cost of the search, plus the cost of the search for the improvements to that search, will exceed the cost of random wandering about the configuration space.

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