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The Crisis of Christian Anthropology

Posted by nouspraktikon on March 31, 2009

God isn’t an Old Man with a White Beard, He’s a Young Man With a Black Beard

I have a bone to pick with Creationists, and it has little to do with the age of the Earth, for I consider myself a Creationist myself.  Rather, it is that the Christian imagination sidetracks itself when it flees from the human into the natural sciences.  As its name would surely imply, Christianity is the religion which combines a Theocentric Anthropology, and an Anthrocentric Theology.    This is such a basic fact that people constantly loose sight of it.  Calvin famously took Ostiander to task for predicating a connection between the Logos and the human species even before the fall.  Yet surely Ostiander had a point, in that the expression “made in our image” is antecedant to the fall and redemption.

Even the most elementary survey of comparative religion will show that the Christianity’s claim to be the “human religion” is no idle boast.  Once, that is, we have extracted ourselves from the contemporary rhetorical quagmire which conflates “humanism” and “secularity.”  The philosophy of Yoga, for instance, seeks with great ernestness to reduce the human entelechy to the various elements constituent of the universe (in non-Brahminical sects) or divinity (in Brahminism).  Shamanism, a widespread and primal notion, seeks with equal ernestness to assimilate the human spirit to that of various animals.  On the other hand, the various non-Christian psychisms, spiritisms, and occultisms promote a commerce between the spirit of their practitioners and various preternatural beings.  It is only Christianity which holds out for humanity qua humanity as central to divine concern.

One would think that contemporary Christian thinkers would see in Anthropology the strong suit of any contemporary evangel.   All the more so in that the force which opposes Christianity is so blatently anti-anthropic (i.e., as epitomised in C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man”) and one can usually chart a sure course by going in a direction opposite irrelgious resistance.

Yet sadly there is no movement in the cutural sciences which Christians have granted the kind of importance (before even coming to assent) which has been lavished on opposition to Darwinism in geology, biology, and that kind of anthropology which would be better termed “human zoology.”  This is what I consider the “crisis of Christian anthropology.”  This is not to say that there is no Christian (cultural) anthropology whatsover, indeed there are several, often noncommunicating, paradigms which might be called (and sometimes are called) Christian anthropologies.  To the best of my knowlege these can be grouped into the following five categories, which I have listed in acending rank of scientific promise.  Note that here scientific promise correlates to lack of respectability and to some extent presence of danger.

Five Possible Christain Anthropologies

1.  There is a kind of mainstream anthropology which is done by Christians as well as secularists.  So we find textbooks written by Christian authors largely for missiological purposes which in no way challenge the material basis of secular anthropology.  In this category one can also put several institutes which translate Bibles and mission literature into isolated and/or minority languages, and which sometimes do original research in the area of linguistics.  These people are generally bright and respectable, but are in no way challeging secularist presuppositions in culturology in the way a Creationist might (rightly or wrongly) challenge Darwinian geology.  (Which is not to doubt their physical courage, after all missionary-ethnographers are more likely to suffer martrydom than the theorists of the other categories!)

2. “Anthropology” as it is construed as a category in Scholasticism and Protestant Systematic Theologies.  This largely centers on pneumatology or the nature of “the soul”, its distinction, or otherwise, from the spirit and relation to the body.    In many respects this is a well picked over field which consists in numerous opinions on how to, or if to, baptize Aristotel’s “De Anima.”  The focus is so narrowly focused that much of what constitutes the human sciences (eg. the history of technology, art, language) escape it.  Still it contains a number of Christian classics which should be on everyone’s “must read” list.

3. Philosophical Anthropology in so far as it is Christian.  And indeed, philosophical anthropology tends to be Christian, not only because of the major premise stated at the beinging of this essay but because in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries this was the dicipline which sought to retain the realist assumptions implicit in the question “What is Man?” after the hyper-nominalism of empirical, secular anthropology had endeavored to render the idea of a common species-nature for humanity meaningless.  Perhaps the best example of this is Max Scheler’s value-based anthropology.  Also I am inclined to put Ivan Illich’s varied speculations into this category, rather than the subsequent one, even though Illich (no more than Scheler) was no realist or scholastic…none the less such thinkers attempted to fill the lacuna left by philosophy when it surrendered the idea of a unified human nature to the various empirical sciences.  The present consensus is that none of these systems were entirely satisfactory, and indeed, Scheler was finally unable to reconcile his ideas with theological orthodoxy.

4.  Christian Culturology, in the sense of anthropological speculations which subsist with the salvation history contained in the Bible as part of a single unbreached continuum.  To the best of my knowlege the only representative of this type is the mimetic theory of Rene Girard and sundary variations and responses thereto.  Girard goes beyond Freud’s notion of the primal murder as the foundation of all culture in “Totem and Taboo” and sanctifies the process, showing that the revelation of human cultural mechanism was made transparent through the passion and the resurection of Christ.  This is a purely naturalistic explanation of culture, which most Christians seem perfectly comfortable with.  What almost all Christians baulk at is the uncomfortable feeling, in spite of Girard’s reasurances, that it implies a naturalistic explanation of the atonement and justification.

5. Preternatural explanations of culture.  In my opinion this is the ultimate goal…nothing less than the restoration of the original Christian, and Biblical, understanding of culture.  It is also the most dangerous option, both professionally and spiritually.  The truth of the matter is that, apart from eschatological rhetoric, Christian thinkers want to have as little as possible to do with supernatural…or more precisely preternatural.  That is to say, while giving lip service to the notion that we live in a multi-storied world, they are unwilling to use this notion as a tool for understanding culture in anything but the most general sense.  Yet the Bible and many traditions clearly indicate that much of what we call “culture” is a gift, even if a treacherous gift, from preternatural beings.

I am glad to mention two European thinkers of the last century, who whatever their failings, were brave enough to speak of civilization and the supernatural in the same breath.  One was Rene Guinon, who converted to Islam, but wrote extensively on symbolism as a clue to the mysterious forces which have interfered with the development of civilization.  The other is Valentin Tomberg, who did yeoman service for the Roman Catholic faith, but is still viewed with suspicion for possibly importing ideas of his earstwise mentor Rudolph Steiner into Christian mysticism.  Tomberg did not shy away from using the concept of the “eregevor”…i.e., the cognitive and spiritual prenumbra cast by a preternatural being over a population or an institution.  In this view eregovors, rather than human interaction, are the source of much which we commonly designate as culture.

I am not saying that this last category should be used as an exclusive explanation of human culture.  Indeed, such a thesis would sugest to certain minds that all culture is demonic!  None the less, it is fitting that the Christian anthropologist  recognize “all truth” without being intimidated by either the prejudice of naturalists or the specter of the preternatural itself.  However slight the inflence of the preternatural might be on human cultures, the total exclusion of this influence as a possible hypothesis (under naturalist pressure) introduces a systematic bias into our understanding of human events.

Conclusion: A Possible Synthesis

If Christianity is the Anthropological religion, then its advocates should not only “be all things to all men” but should also have a coherent and comprehensive understanding about what we mean by “Man” (Or if you will “the human race”…but this is really a nominalist/realist issue rather than a feminist/antifeminist one!)

The following is the most simple, reasonable, and Biblical schematism that I can deduce at present, and as you can see, it really involves two anthropologies.

“Adamic” or Negative Anthropology

consisting of three components:

a. Undefiled creational nature: elements, corporal entity

b. Nature perverted on human initiative:

“Cainite” culture, murder/sacrifice

c. Preternatural “gifts” to human culture, language, and tools

by sundry genii forming group eregevorim

i. angelic

ii. demonic

iii. neutral or confused

“Deutero-Adamic” or Positive Anthropology

Christ as federal head of assenting logoi

I know that someone will say that this is all terribly simplistic, or that perhaps I have reinvented the wheel.  Come to think of it, could anybody reinvent the wheel without downloading the information from a preternatural being?  (Sorry about that, after this super-serious article, I have to lighten up a bit!)

Posted in Christianity, Paleoconservativism, Theology, Traditionalism | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Arcana of “The Lovers”

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 14, 2009

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

By the way, nobody seems to know who, if anybody, this St. Valentinius was.  Valentinius means “valorious one” in Latin, or something like that, so if you picture “Prince Valient” from the old comic strip you won’t go far wrong.  At one time I thought that it was a recrudecence of Gnosticism which had somehow been preserved in the Catholic calender, since there was a famous heresiarch named Valentinius who lived in Alexandria during the 2nd  century, but I have now come to doubt that hypothesis.  As it turns out there were at least half a dozen saints who had local cults named Valentinius in places ranging from Romania to France.  But this too, has become a dead letter, in so far as some pope or council a few decades ago, in a fit of rationalism, decided to dump the whole lot of them.  Needless to say this has never fooled the common people, who in their own cunning perspecacity know perfectly well who is and is not a saint, the genuine saints being, of course, St. Nicholas, St. Valentine, St. Martin of Tours, St. Martin Luther, and St. Martin Luther King.

And of course this blog also has its two patron non-saints, or perchance patron sinners, Pico della Mirandola and Valentin Tomburg.  Both of these are long shots, albeit not impossibilities, for sainthood within the cannons of the Roman Catholic Church, but as far as I am concerned here, few voices speak to the dynamics of modern spirituality as well as Tomburg.   This is slight commendation, since Tomburg’s modernity, like Mirandola’s renaissance, is a very dark place, spiritually speaking.  But we have to work with what we have, and it is better to light one taiper, however slender, than to curse the darkness.

This morning I drew the lover’s card from my tarot pack.  For better or worse I was working with the Connally Tarot, and as I explained in a previous post, Connally has bowlderized many of the spritual arcana of Christian Hermeticism.  It shows a naked man and woman tristing under cherub and a solar disc.  In other words, it is less an alegory of profane love than an indicator (as in the case of divination or meditation) of profane love itself.  This is only the first level of interpretation for the Arcana of The Lovers.  However it is not to be dispised on that account, since all further levels of interpretation are based on the literal.  In that regard, one must become a fundametalist before one proceeds to mysticism.  The Arcana of the Lovers would make no sense to some being (like the proverbial man from Mars) who had never experienced sexuality or gender differentiation.  Any sort of sexuality might do, since they are all permutations on the fundamental structure of male/female polarity…but it is inadmissable that a soul capable only of nongendered abstract thought could ever be initiated into the mystery of the Lovers.  Even Socrates, for all his brilliance and mysogeny, had to learn this secret from an Athenian prostitute, as  he recounted in the Symposium.

Needless to say, it is perilous to dwell exclusively on the level of sensuality, and so the next higher level of interpretation is that of moral alegory.  This is well illustrated by the traditional Marseilles Tarot decks (pictured below) and derivatives such as the Oswald Wirth tarot.  Significantly in these traditions the name of the mystery is rendered in the singular, “the lover” in so far as a single male has been interposed between two alegorical females, with the cherub menacing one with an arrow from his quiver.  The females represent profane and spiritual love respectively, with the male at the point of decision between the two.  A valuable meditation for anyone in any circumstance, but in particular for anyone on Valentine’s day who has had the (mis- ?) fortune of getting more than one box of chocolate!

However the moral interpretation, however essential, is only the anteroom to the higher mystical understandings of Hermeticism, which concern the alchemical wedding of the anima and the animus, or to put it in non-latinate terms, the higher and the lower self.  This is a tricky bussiness since there is much imposture within the human heart and what is “higher” or “lower” at any given time is a difficult matter for dicernment.  For example there is a stage in development when people assume an identification of “higher” with the reasoning faculties and “lower” with the emotional life, but this  is a gross oversimplification upon which many a soul has been ruined.  A great deal of ink (or rather electrons these days) has been spilled over the methodology of the alchemical wedding, and I, for one, have been back and forth through the Collected Works of Carl Jung on it.  But in the final analysis, Tomberg is right, one just has to pick an iconographic system (Tarot in this case) and start doing the meditations.

Finally, it is important to understand that progress in one’s meditations depend entirely on the operation of the Holy Spirit and not on any artificial time table or schematic one posits in one’s head.  To this end, it is none the less helpful to compare notes with wayfarers who have been on the path before, and I find Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot servicable in that regard.  In Tomberg’s treatment of this Arcana we find a fourth level of interpretation beyond the literal, the moral, or even the alchemical, in so far as he identifies the fourth, fifth, and sixth (lovers) tarot cards with the evangelical councils of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Now for anyone to be meditating on chastity on Valentine’s day would seem, by the common standards of this world, to be a bit odd to say the very least, yet there is an irrefutable logic, or rather logos, which flows from profane love up through the alchemical wedding of the soul and then back towards engagement with the world,  not on the basis of desire, but of chastity.  This is the dialectic of the soul as it travels from secular time to the empream of the non-temporal and then back again into the Herecletean flux.  If you read Tomburg’s chapter on the lovers you will see that a mediation on the Lovers will solve any doubts you have about the created nature of the world, in so far as a vision of the  paradise described in the book of Genesis, validates the doctrine that the world was created through divine fiat.  None the less, one is not permitted to enter, in so far as postlapsarian humanity is forced to dwell not in that antechamber of eternity called paradise, but astride the horizontle pseudo-eternity of infinite linear time.  Tomburg shows a great measure of intellectual chastity in refusing to compromise the perpendicular infinities of the verticle and the horizontile worlds, in contrast to those forms of gnosticism which try to butress, as it were, the two infinities with a convenient mixture of creationist and perpetualist mythologies, a slanting plane which we generally refer to as “evolutionism.”

Thus we see that chastity can be raised the the level of an intellectual virtue, which is one of the reasons why it is considered a genuinely Christian and evangelical virtue, rather than simply the department of prudence having to do with avoiding sexual risk-taking, as in “she’s such a prude!”  This is because, rightly considered, chastity is the eroticism of concentration, as opposed to promiscuity which is the eroticism of dispersion.  Of course this involves turning down the importunities of fleshly lovers in favor of God, for monastics absolutely, and for the married through “Mary” to Christ.  For occultists it means that one must be warry of the intrusions of lonely entities, whether these be real or figments, who have wandered out of faery land in quest of impossible human love.  But most important of all, in our day and age, is the chastity that a spiritual warrior must have in the face of the terrible ideological constructs of the modern world, for these are precisely the “adulteries” of which the prophets and the apostles warned.  To resist these seductions is, in truth, beyond the powers of the unaided human spirit, and one can only pray for the grace of strength, the eroticism of concentration, and the mystery, sometimes called the arcana, of true love.

The Lover

The Lover

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Valentin Tomberg on the reality (and unreality) of Evolution

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 10, 2009

The Hermit

The Hermit

A doubly “Hermetic” meditation

Although I don’t claim to have understood all the myteries touched on by Valentin Tomberg’s masterpiece Meditations on the Tarot, and am unlikely ever to do so, it is sufficiently clear to me that its ninth chapter “The Hermit” contains the methodological key to the whole. Indeed, Tomberg, who concealed his name in the work’s title but otherwise was quite forthcoming in his explanations of the arcana, states as much in the text.

I have often thought of using this blog as a venue for an extended commentary on Mediataions on the Tarot, but the work is so massive and dense that any systematic treatment would take more time and energy than is available to yours truely. None the less if one were to start a commentary the best place to begin would be the middle rather than the beginning, since the work is itself organized around the principle of an unbound codex, or what we call a “deck of cards”…i.e. its structure is geometrical rather than sequential. Cartomancers, for example, lay the tarot cards out in various geometrical spreads for purposes of divination. Of course, divination is not the use which Tomberg, a Christian mystic, puts the tarot to. Rather he uses them as iconographic clues to tease out “arcana” or keys to wisdom.

That is to say that as the cards are meditated on, a certain chain of ideas begins to suggest itself, hopefully leading to the resolution of some previously intractable philosophical problem. In my opinion, and evidently Tomberg’s, this use of the cards as a philosophical machine is far more interesting than divining to see who you are going to have lunch with tommorrow. Of course the answers that one arrives at using this Hermetic method may not be the optimal ones, something Tomberg readily concedes, however in my experience it sharpens the acuity with which the problems can be grasped.

The chapter on the Hermit serves as a kind of methodological template of this meditative proceedure, and Tomberg has the audacity to “resolve” within the space of less than a dozen pages three of the toughest antinomies in philosophy: 1) realism vs. idealism, 2) universals vs. particulars, and 3) science vs. faith. It would be double hubris for me to attempt (within the ambit of one post) a satisfactory commentary on Tomberg’s Hermeticism of the Hermit Card, but as a sort of apendix to question three “science vs. faith” he casually throws out a) and explanation of the Fall, and b) a theory reconciling Creation with Evolution, and I would like to draw out some of the remarkable implications which his writing contains on those topics. At any rate, perhaps one can see why this book, a commentary on a traditional source of symbolism, itself requires a sub-commentary!

The Fall of Man and Evolution

Since the two topics, as treated by Tomberg, are interconnected, I’ll deal with them under the same rubric. First of all there is the very interesting exegesis of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowlege of Good and Evil Heb.עץהדעתטובורע the fruit of the etz daat tov va rah. Now this is taken in anti-theistic hermenutics to be a prohibition on acquiring the means to make moral disinctions, which is obviously the sort of tyranical limitation which purveyors of the Promethean model of human-divine relations are wont to assume.

Tombergs understanding of the fall, and I am calling it his understanding because I have never encountered it anywhere else, though for all I know there may be circles where it is a commonplace…completely obviates what might be called the tyrannical command theory. But that is just a bonus of the theory, for at a more salient level it provides a critical tool for unravelling the conundrum of Creationism/Evolutionism. I call this Creationism/Evolutionism antinomy a conundrum because we have on the one hand what would seem to be a crude myth which leads to all the moral insights upon which a theory of human dignity must be based, and on the other hand a superbly sophisticated scientific theory which leads to moral obscenities and possibly the destruction of the human race.

So what theory of the Fall does Tomberg have in mind which will allow him to resolve this antinomy? First of all, let me paraphase what is evidently the intention of the Meditations, for while the expression does not occur quite as explicitly in Tomberg, or rather in the rendition of his English translator Powell, the forbidden fruit was actually that of the knowlege daat which grants empowerment regardless of good or evil consequences hatov va rah. In other words the Fall-inducing knowlege is none other than the kind of instrumentalizing, pragmatic knowlege by which science grants power to the human race, a knowlege which will inevitably have both good and bad consequences. But then, from the point of view of Adam and Eve, consequences be damned…pun intended.

Now if Tomberg left it at this we would have a kind of Manicheanism, perhaps of the fashionably contemporary Green variety. Moreover, Tomberg is, like Augustine of Hippo, a kind of ex-Manichean…yet in some ways even more interesting than Augustine, since we do not possess any Manichean writings by the African bishop, but we do have a double Tomberg corpus, one Anthroposophical and one Catholic. Furthermore, just as Augustine could see certain things about Catholic doctrine which eluded his contemporaries precisely because he had labored long in the fields of Manicheanism, likewise Tomberg, without the background in Rudolph Steiners teaching would not have been in the position to baptize the Tarot, somewhat after the fashion that Augustine baptized ancient philosophy and rhetoric.

Therefore Tomberg invokes the image of the serpent as the image of temporal evolution and human progress as lineal empowerment. However he never goes so far in the direction of Manicheanism as saying that Satan is the God of Evolution. This is because he sees the horizontile path of the serpent of knowlege as one arm intersected by the verticle path of salvation, the Tree of Life. Indeed, the Tree of Life is none other than the Cross, upon which the serpent must be crucified. Therefore even modern science, which is so obviously Satanic in many of its manifestations, is capable of redemption. Likewise, knowlege of an evolving cosmos, as long as it is seen as pragmatic understanding rather than a credo or a total world-view, is capable of being baptized to the service of Christ.

Having epitomized what is clearly the salient insight in Tomberg regarding the Hermit card, I hope you will read the chapter yourself and make further commentary. You, whoever you may be in your annonymity.

Posted in Christianity, Esoterism, Kabbalah, Philosophy, Tarot | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »