Saturday, 10 February 2018

We (including Christians) need to fix our (implicit) metaphysics

A big problem, perhaps The problem, is that we have an incoherent metaphysics - that is, our basic assumptions are incoherent; or, at least, if all metaphysics is incoherent to some extent, ours is incoherent where metaphysics are most needed, where incoherence does the most damage.

Of course nobody wants to talk about, let alone think about, metaphysics - and especially their own metaphysical assumptions. I know that for a fact, and I don't know what can be done about it - but I need to sort out these matters for myself, and writing helps...

Fundamentally, we think of Things in terms of static categories (like A Being, Love and Creation) - but we ought to think of Things in terms of dynamic 'processes' (like Be-ing, Love-ing and Create-ing). We need a metaphysics that some have called 'polarity' - but this has proved almost impossible to explain, at least I have thus far failed to make it clear - probably due to the tendency to begin the explanation by stating categories...

I agree with Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner (as I interpret them) that a vital aspect of the work of Jesus Christ was, in some poorly understood and ill-defined sense, to divide History between a passive, unconscious mode of being BC, and the advent of (what was intended to be) an active and conscious mode of being AD.

For example, BC the idea of a Good life was strict obedience to external laws, rules, rituals (static categories) - whereas Christ brought the ideal of conscious agency, personal discernment, and and loving - all of which are active, dynamic (or polarities, if you prefer).

But mainstream Christianity made an unfortunate error in trying to assimilate the Christian message - which was one of radical metaphysical change - to the pre-existing systems of Greek and Roman Philosophy; leading to intractable contradictions and confusions, lack of understanding and clarity.

For example, if you understand agency/ free will as a category or Thing done by A Being - they you can't make any sense of it. But if you understanding it as a process done by an entity whose essence is Be-ing... then its importance and nature become clearer (or, would do, if this whole way of thinking was more less alien, familiar).

The problem is that no matter what mainstream 'static' Christianity asserts - in matters such as the reality of agency, or the primacy of Love - its deep structure contradicts. Mainstream Christian metaphysics cannot help but see Love as a static thing, maybe like a force or like a feeling; but working by a sort of attraction between categorical persons - because it envisages a reality that is, in essence and reality, eternal, unchanging, perfectly perfect.

It can be expressed in terms of Time. Mainstream Christianity and the near universal metaphysics of modernity regards Time in a static way as identical with a moment. In the Hindu/ Buddhist version, this means that any moment is exactly like any other moment and a microcosm of eternity.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one who brought this into the Western mainstream explicitly, with this idea of a moment as an epiphany of all; Life being (ideally) known to be a series of such epiphanic moments - each moment equivalent. Strictly, such a moment takes zero time, it 'out-of Time' - so there is an equivalence between eternity and the instant. The ultimate goal is a Nirvana in which all change ceases, bliss reigns, and the only awareness is of this fixed state of bliss.

Well, that is one way of looking at it - but the other, is that we continue living and the epiphanic total-moment gets swept into our past, and the best we can hope for is another such moment, and another... Life then has no direction or goal, it is merely a sequence of instants...

This has been combined with an atheistic utilitarianism (Life conceptualised as being hedonic; about maximising pleasure and minimising suffering) - and descended into the modern West as an implicit (unconscious, unexamined, unacknowledged) metaphysics of Life as a series of atomistic, disconnected moments.

Each Life moment 'ought to be' as gratifying as possible - and each moment is on the one hand infinitely important (like the international firestorm that follows the use of a politically-incorrect taboo word or hate-fact) - yet also each moment is utterly insignificant because it is superseded by other moments, and there is zero continuity between the moments.

This is the modern metaphysic: on the one hand; our life is going nowhere and has no meaning because it is merely a sequence of isolated moments; therefore nothing matters, things don't add up, death is merely a cessation to this arbitrary sequence. On the other hand; nothing can be or is more important than each moment, than This moment - and nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of alleviating momentary suffering or enabling and maximising momentary pleasure.

Most 'mainstream' Christians (in the main denominations) would acknowledge that the modern metaphysics is bad; but would not acknowledge that their own metaphysics shares exactly the same problems and is at-war-with Jesus's teaching and indeed cosmic effect on Man and Reality.

But I see this all the time, in contradictions, complexities and 'mysteries' that Christianity is obliged to introduce to distract from this deep problem. Of course the deep problem - the fundamental contradiction - is not solved; but people are typically sufficiently confused and distracted to assume that it has been solved.

When the problem is simple, yet the supposed answer is complex - people generally assume that the answer is true but they haven't really understood it. Or they may assume that their understanding of the problem was 'simplistic. However such a situation is basically-unsatisfactory and - over time - has been a weak point probed and exploited by those hostile to Christianity.

In sum, the Christian responses to the problems such Free Will the Problem of Pain/ existence of evil, the 'virtuous Pagan' problem - caused by the universality of Christ's message contrasted with the extreme geographical and temporal restriction of the scripture, the church and its personnel, or any specific denomination; the need for developmental-evolutionary change of Men (theosis) - the weakness of the answers strikes the outsider as evasive failures.

Mainstream Christianity has failed metaphysically to reconcile many key aspects of the implicit nature of Jesus's life and teaching with the explicit explanations of it. The resulting dissatisfaction has - overall - led to an incremental 'liberalism' that merely masks apostasy and has gradually subordinated Christianity to prevalent secular norms - which are themselves metaphysically even-less coherent than the flawed understanding of Christianity they presume to replace!

I see all this in terms of the working-out of error through time, in which early errors become every larger and more obvious in their incoherent and false consequences. Looking around the modern Western world at the mainstream secular hedonism and its religious including Christian alternative, I see nothing that gets-right what really needs to be got right at an explicit metaphysical level.

But knowing that there is something seriously wrong does not tell us what is wrong nor how to set it right...

My contention is that the surface wrongness lies very deep in the metaphysical assumptions, and that there is an alternative tradition of Christian metaphysics based in a developmental-evolutionary and dynamic state of assumptions - still lacking a lucid account - which, once habitual, either solves or dissolves these hitherto intractable problems.

This sounds awfully complex itself - but in fact the real Christian metaphysics can be expressed so simply that a child can comprehend it; because is the metaphysics of God's created Reality as composed entirely of living Beings.

(Including parts or components of beings - which is how many mineral entities can be understood; not whole Beings of themselves, but all parts of some living Being. e.g. A mountain may be a Being, a grain of soil probably is not.)

In brief, metaphysically we need to return to something very like the simple transforming animism of early childhood and early Man. Everything that is, is 'alive' and 'conscious' in the sense of being intrinsically dynamic, purposive, growing-destined - and related (by love-ing) to everything else created and to the creator.

On such a basis a Christian life may be led, and understood consciously, and pursued with agency.

Of course, even when metaphysics is coherent where it needs to be, the great challenges of mortal life remain - right metaphysics only gives us the correct starting-point and the understanding necessary to know that we have a purpose and it s nature. It is up to each of us to pursue that purpose, as it affects us each specifically and uniquely.


Chiu ChunLing said...

It seems that you are talking about the inherent teleology necessary to a Christian outlook. But when I queried before, you seemed to reject that understanding. Of course, that might be because I asked from a non-teleological perspective, since I personally have no teleology.

That is to say, I don't believe in any fixed distinction between 'ends' or 'means', only the quantitative difference in timescales (and hence causal horizon limiting awareness of retributive mechanisms, which are in reality infinite or coterminous with existence). So I assess teleology as being "valid" or "invalid" by whether it is infinitely extensible. That is to say, whether there is a point at which an ethic will run into the problem of diminishing/negative returns as the timescale (and hence retributive factors) increases.

Teleology, to me, is simply a conceptual tool for making definable something that would otherwise defy categorization, by saying that there is an 'ultimate' purpose (and not saying whether it is ultimate in the literal sense of being a final outcome that occurs at some point in time).

A Being doesn't "happen" at some given point in the extent that an entity exists only at a given moment we tend not to call it a being. "Being" already implies an ongoing 'process'...but one that doesn't need to change. We can (and should) say the same of love...a love that is temporally limited is less a love.

And perhaps it is more typical of software, but something that is no longer under development is dead. Unless someone else takes over development.

I feel that this has significance to genuine conservation efforts, though.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I don't think I can explain what I am saying within the framework you are using to enquire about it.