Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Beyond Nihilism

My dear Basil of Baker Street, how are you? I am pleased to see that you have maintained a wonderful and optimistic view of human existence, in spite of the resounding amount of evidential substantiation to the contrary. It demonstrates your sprightly nature; and I daresay, a bit of your naïveté, but a naïveté of a sort that we can’t help but be captivated by – like a touching, heroic moment at the end of a war movie, a moment that traps our emotions and minds into somehow feeling that all of the destruction and death was worth it somehow. Of course, we may detect the falseness of the situation, but from our plush leather couches and piping hot cups of chi tea, we are willing to smile despite the spurious nature of our smiles.

Communion? Unity? I had hoped you were a better reader of history, literature, and philosophy. It seems painfully apparent that the history of the existence of humanity has long since exposed man’s ultimate isolation in the world. The random thrown-ness of our existence [it is amazing how much power we give to the world ‘existence,’ as if in attaching great and nearly supernatural meaning to its definition, we are replacing the deep pettiness of mankind’s existence with significance simply through semantics] is painfully observable through the reading of history, literature, and philosophy.

Since Descartes’ sincere but counterfeit trumpeting of a new Certainty, we have never been truly Certain of anything since. I may be giving Rene a bit too much credit; and I am sure that many thinkers had come to this conclusion much before the disastrous Frenchmen. But the fact remains: As soon as we fully face the ultimate subjectivity of our existence, any belief in some ‘supernatural’ or ‘non-material’ connection between individuals appears as it is: hollow and shallow.

Our experience of the past and present, the rise and fall of civilizations, genocide, murder, death, and much, much more: it all points a lot more clearly and steadily to a basic disunity between peoples --- not any sort of unity. Even basic science does not show us a world of connect and unity; it shows us a world of brutal randomness, entropy, and un-meaning. An anxious desire to see a communion is understandable, but at the very least flawed. To arrive at this conclusion, so much must be ignored, reinterpreted, or labeled as mystery.

Man’s persistent desire to find himself as not alone in a meaningless world is simply a confirmation that he increasingly feels the pressure and anxiety of life without meaning. This battle between objectivity and subjectivity finds its place as the foremost intellectual [although this may not be the correct word] battle of the last few centuries. But it must be read for what it is: man simply desiring – and desiring quite impractically and emotionally – to prove something beyond his own feeble consciousness. Perhaps this desire is evolutional: we had based our place at the top of the hierarchal chain of existence by disclaiming our random thrown-ness. Being forced to disagree with our prior reckoning, we have been squirming in our seats for centuries, looking for a reason to RE-prove our connection to the rest humanity and nature. The fallacy is obvious: assuming what we desire to prove, and therefore proving it. Any intellectual structure used to explain man’s existence as something beyond meaningless solitude is more an attestation to our deep anxiety about solipsism than anything else.

But the battle is always the same. Fight or squirm as we may, we always end like Camus’ Stranger: “To be honest, I knew that there was no difference between dying at their years old and dying at seventy because, naturally, in both cases, other men and women will live on, for thousands of years at that.... It was still I who was dying, whether it was today or twenty years from now.” The last few centuries of true thought have come to the same solipsistic conclusion. The rest of the pattern has as its basis an anxious, irrational desire to disprove what we experience by any means necessary.

Is this nihilism? It would seem that way, if we believe the true battle is between meaning and non-meaning, between solipsism and communion, or between the supernatural and the material. But what a shallow battle we are fighting here; what use is there in this? The fighters are all the same: the naïve and young idealists, the cantankerous nihilists, the anxious religious, and the smug atheists. But is this the battle we should be fighting? Should not we, like Nietzsche, step beyond nihilism? Should not we, like Nagel, question why things should have meaning in the first place? Then, like the phoenix from the fire, we shall rise and begin thinking truly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike’s Passing

Mr. John Updike passed away today. Besides being a tremendously talented writer and an interesting person, I ran across this lifetime achievement award of his: “In November 2008 the editors of Literary Review magazine awarded Updike Britain's Bad Sex in Fiction lifetime achievement award, which celebrates ‘crude, tasteless or ridiculous sexual passages in modern literature.’”

Incarnation without the need for Salvation? Which of us is the heretic?

I decided to open a post solely dedicated to our discussion of the Incarnation in order organize our conversation, and to make it easier for others to understand the argument at hand.

The question is as follows: Would Christ has become Man and came down to earth – i.e. the Incarnation – if Man had not sinned; if there were no need for Salvation?

Basil has boldly presented the possibility of saying “yes” to this question. He, I believe, thinks that the Incarnation was bound up in God’s plan for us from the beginning, and is not contingent upon man’s sin. The Incarnation is the best (as far as we can imagine) example and fulfillment of God’s desire to commune and be with Man; as such, it is at the heart of Basil’s Communion Theology. [I apologize if I stated any opinion of Basil improperly.]

I, on the other hand, disagree. Since the CCC states, “Taking up St. John's expression, ‘The Word became flesh,’ the Church calls ‘Incarnation’ the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it,” I see the Incarnation as being contingent upon Man’s need for salvation. There are other reasons discussed for the Incarnation in the CCC, but this seems the prominent one – and the one bound up in the definition of the Incarnation itself. On top of that, Man’s fall (sin) separated us from a direct connection to God. Sin is/caused this separation. I conclude that pre-Fall there was a direct connection between God and Man; but pre-Fall is also pre-Incarnation. Therefore, there was no need for the Incarnation pre-Fall.

One (or both!) of us are preaching heresy. Let this post be a place for us to a) point fingers and say who is the heretic, using our own ideas and use of theology/philosophy; and b) post any hint of what the Church preaches on this subject.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Scratch an Altruist: Watch a Hypocrite Bleed

Can there be such a thing as a Christian altruist? How can a Christian make a purely selfless act? You may say, “By offering to give up his life for someone else, etc.” However, belief in the afterlife and God make this (at least indirectly) selfish, since the Christian knows that this act will result in eternal salvation.

It would seem that the only selfless act a Christian can make is one that helps another and defies his religious beliefs. In this way, there is nothing at all to be gained on a personal level.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Proofs, God, and Ebner

Basil’s comments to Skrignov invited me to contemplate the idea (and futility?) of proofs, especially the modern/contemporary concept of them. In doing so, I re-ran across a great quotation by Ferdinand Ebner. You can find the quotation below. The ending punch line is “One can prove the existence of a person only through dialogue, not through thought or speculation.”

I believe this fits complexly within Basil's theme of relationships and humans' nature of society. Enjoy.

PS The bold and italics are mine.

“Ebner finds in mathematics and the natural sciences that rely on mathematics an expression of self-isolation. Mathematical thinking in rooted, in his opinion, in the isolation of the self. The view apparently derives from the fact that the exact natural sciences seek to dominate the world and to relate to it as though it were made up of dead matter. Yet this isolation even penetrates metaphysics, philosophy, and theology. According to Ebner (and here he is a faithful follower of Kierkegaard) a proof of the existence of God is impossible. Every proof occurs outside conversation and dialogue and within the solitude of ‘I.’ Moreover, such a proof, removed from the actuality of life, would only demonstrate the existence of some object, and God is by His nature ‘Thou,’ not an object. He is the ‘Thou’ of man. God has a personal existence, and his relationship to man is personal.
“One can prove the existence of a person only through dialogue, not through thought or speculation.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Epistemology: Is It Worth It?

How much does the fact that nothing empirical can be proven beyond a doubt (Hume) affect belief, faith, and how we view epistemology? At times, it doesn’t seem to matter to me that I cannot prove the existence of anything outside of my own consciousness (if even this). However, at other moments, this matters significantly. When I realize that every fact in my pool of knowledge – every argument I believe in, every belief, value, and idea that I hold – these rest not on the shoulders of giants, but instead on a precipice of nothingness (Heidegger), I falter. Perhaps it is the existentialists who have taught me to feel very alive at these sorts of moments – to experience intensely the existence that may not have been. Despite this shocking aliveness, these ideas have the uncanny ability to unsettle me.