It occurs to me that during the course of the various religious and philosophical musings I’ve posted here, there are some concepts which I have used very frequently, but which I haven’t really elaborated. In short, I’ve just tossed them out with a link, if that, and plowed on. One such example in particular is the concept of emanation. Emanation is a highly important concept in both Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, in which they both differ from orthodox Christianity. The mode in which the universe came into existence has implications for one’s theology, cosmology, and philosophy, so I think it’s worth revisiting these different views on the origin of the cosmos and looking at them in greater depth.
First, it’s important to look more generally at how the universe came into being. First, one might maintain that the universe did not come into being at all, since it has existed and will exist eternally. Both some atheists and some theistic systems assume this model. The universe may change or go through cycles (which may or may not repeat), but it has no discrete origin. It’s worth pointing out that even this perspective doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of creation. As Mortimer Adler pointed out in his book How to Think About God, one can still think of God “exnihilating”–holding in existence–a cosmos without linear beginning or end. As I’ve explained in more detail here, God, properly understood, is completely outside of time and space in the sense in which we use those terms. A linear infinity of time–going infinitely into the past and likewise into the future–is still far “smaller” or “less” than the true atemporal eternity of God. To re-use the image I used in the earlier post consider:
Eternity, in this depiction, really shouldn’t be a separate sphere, but the entire plane–or better, the entire space–within which the comparatively tiny line of time lies and by which it is supported. Thus, God can easily be thought of as creating spacetime in all its linear infinity as a mere drop in the higher-order infinity proper to Him.
The idea that some kind of good God exists? Totally reasonable. At least, it seems more reasonable than the idea that existence is this weird, meaningless series of quantum events, that all of our experiences are purposeless chemical reactions, and that the life we live has no more import in space/time than that of a tardigrade. (I mean, if you're the kind of person who finds comfort in a cosmos devoid of meaning that churns along and spits out chemical eddies called "humans" who happen to interact with one another in a purely physical form and then vanish into background noise, that's your bag, but it seems pretty depressing to me.)
Having discussed open systems, let’s look at closed systems.
First of all, with all systems of thought, religious or otherwise, there is always a dialectic between the experiential and the theoretical. We all have experiences from the moment we are born to the moment we die. We also, unlike any other creatures (as far as we know), interpret our experiences. We label them as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, boring or exciting; we try to figure out what they mean; sometimes we even doubt that they occurred at all. We can’t not analyze and interpret what happens to us.
Open systems tend to emphasize the experiential. They don’t lack interpretive frameworks–it would be impossible for any human endeavor to do so. Rather, they de-emphasize them, preferring to focus on experience. One way to put it would be to say that open religions, such as Hinduism or Daoism, are less concerned with orthodoxy (correct belief) and more with orthopraxy (correct action). Different pandits might disagree about the nature of Brahman (God) or the exact meaning of the Vedas; but all would agree on maintaining the proper rituals and dharma (standards of behavior and religious practice). The Confucian concept of the Rites (禮, lĭ, in Chinese) is very much similar to this. Read the rest of this entry
In this post I want to give a rationale for my “Towards a Gnostic Orthodoxy” series. After all, one might say, “If you’re orthodox, then why isn’t that enough for you? Or, if you have that many problems with orthodoxy, why not be honest and leave outright?” There are less polite ways in which these questions could be posed, obviously; but they are legitimate. Thus, I want to look at what I’m trying to do here and give at least some motivations for it.
All religions, philosophies, and world views acknowledge, at least in principle, the finitude of the human mind and the human condition. Our minds and understanding are limited; enormously limited, in fact, with respect to all there is to know in the universe in all its complexity. We know very little, and with respect to all that there is to be known, we may always know very little. What seem like great strides to us may be minute baby steps, little children chipping pebbles from the side of Mount Everest, in the big scheme of things. So much as this everyone, in principle at least, would agree. Read the rest of this entry
The second post here was actually written before I began this series, and was (and is) part of the series on the Bible, “The Pretty Good Book”. However, I think it’s relevant here, as well, so I’m putting it right after the introductory post.
Indeed, the title might seem as contradictory as “Towards a Marxist Capitalism” or “Towards a Christian Atheism”! So what, exactly, am I up to?
I first became aware of the “Lost (or even better, Banned) Books of the Bible” in my early teens. Dad had recently got the New English Bible, still one of my favorite translations, and was quite taken with 2 Esdras (that’s a story for another day). As a boy raised in a more or less generic Protestant background, with a slight tint of Baptist/Evangelical (at a time when Evangelicals hadn’t yet gone totally over the deep end), this concept gave a delightful frisson of forbidden fruit, scandal, adventure, esoteric knowledge, and the naughtiness of reading something that was Rejected From the Bible! In a sense, it was sort of a theological peep show, ogling the naughty bits of heretofore hidden Scripture.
As I’ve chronicled before, I read the Bible twice in my late teens. First was the King James Version (at that time I didn’t know there even was a KJV translation of the Deuterocanonicals, so I read the standard-issue version of it). About a year later I read the New English Bible, which had all the Deuterocanonical books as well as 1 and 2 Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh (which are all, I think, not technically Deuterocanonical, but are in the appendix to the Vulgate). I enjoyed it–I still think the style of the NEB is very effective and contemporary without being banal–but the Apocrypha were not as exciting and mysterious as advertised. Many of them, in fact, were as boring as all get-out. I guess it’s not the first time a peep show promised more than it could deliver. Read the rest of this entry