I have from time to time argued that this or that indispensable aspect of our lives presupposes in its partiality and incompleteness the prior exhaustive comprehension and completeness of the eternal divine act, so that absent that act we could not do what we do in fact constantly do. The Pragmatic Argument from Verisimilitude and The Argument from Truth both come to mind. The basic motion of such arguments is this: you can’t get a posteriori partiality or finitude of any sort unless wholeness and infinity have been accomplished a priori. More simply, the a posteriori as such presupposes the a priori, and cannot come to pass without it. No infinity, then no finite thing whatever.
In general, an imperfection of x cannot be obtained in the absence of a perfection of x. This is most easily seen with noise. There can be no defect of signal if there is no signal in the first place. Likewise you can’t disorder what is not ordered. Nor can you sin if there is no righteousness, or kill what is not alive.
Partiality is another sort of imperfection: you can’t be a part of a whole that is not there to begin with. So likewise, participating a form is impossible if there is no such form.
Then there is incompleteness. What cannot be completed cannot be incomplete, strictly speaking. We can’t count to infinity; if we count to 100, then, we have completed, not part of the count to infinity, but only the count to 100. Likewise, partial knowledge is not knowledge at all in the absence of omniscience.
Our lives are pervasively imperfect. They point always toward perfection. They indicate it; and they aim at it. If there were no such perfection in the first place, there could be no imperfection in our experience, nor therefore any nisus to correct it. If there were no perfection, it could not be a problem for us that we feel we have not achieved it, and we would not feel its lack as painful. Yet we do.
Imperfection presupposes perfection. The latter is therefore prior to the former, and is its forecondition.
What would life be like if God did not exist? If we found that such a life would be quite unlike our own lives as actually lived, that would be a pretty strong indication that atheism is false; that it disagrees with reality as we actually encounter it. Since God, if he exists, is by far – infinitely far – the biggest most important thing there is, our decision about whether he exists is the most important and far-reaching decision we can make in life. Thus if God exists, and we approached the question of his existence in the wrong spirit, it would be the worst mistake of our lives; as if we had spat on the Good King, but far, far worse; for the King in question would be the King of Everything.
It behooves us to approach the question in the right frame of mind, so that we are less likely to err in our thinking.
Part of approaching the question in the right spirit is being honest with ourselves about how things would be if God did not exist. To begin with a closed mind, or to beg the question and insist that nothing could be different if God did not exist, would be to cheat the whole project. But it is crucial to recognize that, in cheating the project, we would be hurting only ourselves.
What are the aspects of life that we are going to find most indicative? What, that is, are the things that might be quite different for us if there were no God? Well, what are the basic features of our lives?
As theology includes and subvenes metaphysics, so mysticism – which is to say, simply, effectually realized worship – includes and subvenes theology. Metaphysics then can usher us in to theology, and theology to worship. But to enter worship through the double vestibules of philosophy and theology is to take the long road; a direct and immediate entry is available to all creatures, as near to them as their own hearts. As subvening metaphysics, worship subvenes all that metaphysics subvenes, and covers; which is to say, that worship is the basis and sine qua non of being. At our animal bottom, and at its most primitive, worship is expressed in our love of life, of our own mere existence.
Indeed, even the simplest entities exist and perdure only in virtue of their love of the forms they inherit from God and express in their concrete actuality. That love is the urge to become. To be, then, is at least to begin to worship: to attest in act to the worth of the Lord of all being. Everything partakes it. And this is why mystics in their raptures notice that the very mud of the street is afire with surpassing beauty, effulgent with joy.
Every contingency is brought into being from a state of affairs in which it does not actually exist; from a condition of things in which it is nowhere to be found. And as this is true of each contingency, so therefore is it true of all contingencies, and of the whole lot of them taken together. Contingent being as such comes into being from a prior state of its own non-being.
In a state of affairs in which there are no contingent beings, there is nothing but necessary being. If contingent beings are to be brought into existence from this state of affairs, there are only two possibilities: either they are made from God, and he furnishes from his own actuality the matter of their becoming; or he creates them from nothing. If the former, then, as departments of God, contingencies are in fact necessities. They aren’t contingent in the first place. This is monism. It radically contradicts experience as such, which it has no alternative but to declare our lives illusory and radically unintelligible. So it can’t be true: we can’t really even think it might be true.
Creatio ex nihilo must therefore be true. Having come into existence from nothing turns out to be an inherent aspect of contingent being.
The liberal revolution has smashed tradition and authority. Throughout our nation the children are running amok. We need the fathers to step in and reestablish order.
The church is polluted by heresy like never before. Never before have heresies been so varied, so popular, and so powerful. These are not the “classical” heresies such as Arianism or Pelagianism, although these beliefs still have influence. Today’s popular heresies were created no more than a hundred years ago and they have no official heretical status. It’s time officially to stigmatize them as the dangerous heresies that they are.
We’ll define some of these heresies later but observe first that heretics such as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and Rob Bell are—from a worldly viewpoint—highly successful and influential. The smog they generate is polluting not only the church, but the cultures of entire nations. Although these heresies all originated in the United States, and within Protestantism, America’s powerful worldwide influence has spread them to all corners of the globe.
Therefore Catholics and the Orthodox should take note: the cultural smog emitted by the contemporary heretics affects you too. Heresy is an ecumenical menace.
And non-Christians should also take note. The contemporary heresies promise this-worldly peace and prosperity and Christians under their influence will not oppose the liberal jihad ravaging Western Civilization. They may even join it, seeking peace with the world so they can enjoy their lives. Heretical pseudo-Christianity is part of the problem, not the solution. By opposing these heresies we don’t just build up Christendom. We also oppose liberalism and help work toward a sane, traditionalist society.
These heresies originated within Protestantism and although it currently has no authorities that seem capable of enforcing a proper order (and this is apparently also true of Catholicism), Protestantism generally recognizes the authority of the Bible. There are pastors and teachers who would command widespread respect were they to issue an unambiguous statement, based on the authority of the Bible, opposing contemporary heresies.
We therefore put forward the idea of an ecumenical council of leaders of biblically-faithful Protestant congregations, denominations, and seminaries which would craft an official response to contemporary heresy. Such a council would have no power actually to defrock heretical pastors, but its unofficial influence could potentially be great. Heretics would be taken aback, and Bible-believing Christians would have an official response from the fathers of Protestantism giving them comfort and support in their battles with heresy. Continue reading
I’ve been trying to explain the reasonableness of the biblical doctrine of predestination (more accurately, divine election), the biblical teaching that God chose us before the creation of the world to come to Christ in faith. [Cf. Ephesians chapter 1.] I’m not satisfied with my previous presentations, so here goes again:
Picture someone who hates Christ. The head of ISIS, for example. Or the village atheist who trolls Christian websites. Anybody who hates Christianity.
Such people sometimes change their minds and come to faith in Christ. At one time they hated Christ, but later they changed their minds.
Question: What caused this change?
The answer that most quickly comes to mind is the following: The former Christ-hater gradually began to notice that Christianity is good and makes sense. He began to sense his own sin and his inability to atone for his sins by good deeds. He began to see that Christ, as reported in the New Testament, is an intelligent, compassionate and powerful figure. He began to understand that the eyewitnesses could not have been fabricating their account of the life of Christ. And so on. He gradually began to be attracted to Christ.
But this answer is obviously false. People who hate Christianity don’t begin to notice that it’s good. The moment someone begins to notice that Christianity is good, his mind has already changed. So the above is no explanation of the cause of the change. Continue reading
When he finished his setting of the Credo, Stravinsky remarked to a friend that, “it is much to believe.” Indeed. If you start with the banquet of the Creed, you hardly know how to begin, and the whole mass of doctrines it encodes can be pretty hard to swallow at one bite. But there are only about thirty steps, more or less, from complete agnosticism to a profession of Christianity. Many are truisms, that if understood could hardly be denied by anyone; those that depend on knowledge of facts might require a fair bit of (absolutely fascinating) background research (e.g., especially, the Shroud). Each step is of course open to quibble, but such quibbles as I have so far encountered at each step are easily settled. Taken seriatim and in the proper order, none of the steps are as incredible as all of them seem taken at once.
In a recent post, Tom Bertonneau sketched an ecology of knowledge – which I suggested should be called an ecognology – focusing mostly on the social aspects of that ecology. He began with a discussion of homeostasis, which formed the prompt for the following contribution to the ecognological project, which focuses more on its mental and physiological aspects.
Minds homeostatically seek understanding of their ontological and practical predicaments; when they are disturbed, it is on account of factors of experience that they had not yet quite properly reckoned. They seek clarification of the turbidity that prevents their clear apprehension of things. In short, they seek knowledge. Attaining enough of it – for the time being – they rest – for a while.
In the limit, this search for understanding can attain complete rest only at the comprehension of Truth. While that rest is not something that our finite minds are themselves capable to achieve, we cannot but work at it, so long as we live. We arrive now and then at points of particularly sweet and refreshing rest; then we are disturbed, and the search begins again. All such searches have the Truth as their final end. Truth is the final end of minds, just as a full outermost shell of electrons is a final end of atoms.
Truth is in fact the strange attractor of acts in general, of all sorts of beings. Truth is the archetypal Form of strange attraction; it is that to which all acts, of whatever sort, are attracted, even when they err in their intensions; it is the basic ontological attractor, of which all other attractions partake, and on which they supervene.
So is Truth the superordinate epistemological strange attractor, for all the acts of the human mind and its brain. Beauty is what it feels like to comprehend and implement, enact, or embody Truth. Beauty is what Truth feels like. Goodness is the character of actual conformity of the understanding, and of the rational will, and so of life as lived – i.e., of the whole intellectual, cognitive, physiological and social system – to the Truth. Goodness, that is to say, is the value of Wisdom.
[Some time ago, I asked readers for recommended reading on their branches of Christianity. Below is my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology, as gathered from Vladimir Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”, one of the books recommended to me. This is the second in a series as I work my way down my reading list. Orthodox commenters should be considered to have more authority than me on this topic, and I will gratefully take their correction. The goal of this post, and I hope of the subsequent discussion, will be to accurately describe the Orthodox faith, rather than to criticize or defend it.]
Lossky’s book was first published in French in 1944, so Thomist Catholicism is naturally the tradition to which he most often compares his own, and the “individual” vs. “person” craze of that era definitely left its mark. These points of familiarity will aid western readers. Lossky sometimes strikes me as too eager to assert differences between East and West, but the purpose is to explain rather than disparage, making it a good book for our purposes.
Lossky (and, I gather, much of the Eastern tradition) is ultimately motivated by a desire to defend two truths: 1) that God is utterly beyond our knowledge and comprehension, 2) and yet He does make Himself really and immediately accessible to us, especially in mystical experience. God is both inaccessible and accessible, a seeming paradox that would probably please Lossky and the Eastern Fathers who inspire him. His goal is to preserve antinomies rather than resolve them; the danger of contradiction worries him far less than that of premature epistemic closure, of replacing the real, incomprehensible God with some construction more amenable to the human mind.