Tuesday 9 November 2010

Where do questions lead us? do the answers get thinner as more precise?


One special quality of modernity is the thinness of life.

The way in which questioning leads us down a path in which every answer is more precise but also more detached than the previous answer - until we find ourselves in a realm of pure disengaged abstraction.

Twas not always thus!


Questions used to lead to myth - to mystery; not to dead academicism.

This is why - despite his being the greatest, most complete in achievement, of all philosophers - ultimately I would regard Thomas Aquinas as the first step in a disastrous direction.

My experience with Aquinas is typical of my experience with almost all Western higher thought since Aquinas - that as we pursue the path of reason we find ourselves ever further adrift and alienated. We may be bludgeoned into acceptance, or we may be repelled and leave the arena - but in neither instance are we really satisfied.

On the one hand, we want explanations to be concrete and clear, on the other hand to be of personal as well as universal significance - in other words, we want relevant myths, but also we want the myths to be true as well as relevant.


It is extremely rare to come across anything which satisfies this craving. And our own corruption of spirit often sabotages us in the search - our own inability to think mythically, our inability to accept mystery rather than pull it apart until it dies, our inability to believe in any kind of reality (whether mythical or otherwise) - all these socially conditioned habits stand in the path, and block it.

Yet it is precisely this which I find in Orthodoxy as expounded by Fr. Seraphim Rose. Uniquely, he seemed able to be clear and exact without killing the mystery and myth; his expounding of the Orthodox understanding of the Soul After Death is an example.

The exposition of traditional doctrines (such as the 'toll houses', and the angels and demons that meet the newly-separated soul) is both very clear (to a child-like extent) and also very non-literal, both asserted as true and simultaneously as mythic.

Somehow the story element is not philosophized out of existence, nor yet is it regarded as metaphorical purely.


It is a mark of our contemporary corruption (fragmentation and atomization of thought) that this style of unified intellectual thinking is so very, very rare now - and indeed has become all but impossible for the intellectual and/ or educated elite.

How fortunate, then, that we have at least (and perhaps it is enough) the work of Seraphim Rose - which although modern is accessible to those in broad sympathy, and although traditional yet addresses modern concerns and deficiencies.


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