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[The Creation of the Chicken]

An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Nothing Beyond

I've been tidying up my preparations for the 3rd semester DVP exam and as such it's been all about "Creation" this week starring Lossky, Meyendorff, and Florovsky. Ships of the Line I should think. Anyway, a few ragged (and uncorrected) thoughts while on the boat.

One might be tempted to cruise quickly through the idea of creation - as an evangelical I certainly did - for too many it is a simple tale: God made it, that's the end of it. But, really, that's the milk. There's rich, red fleshy meat to be had therein and I won't hesitate to add that my servings must be cut into safe bite-size pieces. Details of creation speak to the nature (and more importantly the nature vs. will) of God, the essence of mankind, the Fall, and Redemption. It also helps us to come to a proper perception of the created world around us here and now, in everyday life.

I find myself presently pondering this particular thought this AM: There is no eternal reality outside God. "Well Duh!" you may say...but for me I guess I never really gave this much more than a "well duh!" sort of passing thought.

I think this is really a very difficult concept to consider. In my aforementioned readings we are told that Patristic thought really wrestled with the Platonic idea of an eternally existing universe (or perhaps more specifically a sort of cyclical eternally existing universe - coming and going) because that was really fairly hardwired into popular belief. Origen apparently caved to it and mistakenly attributed creation to God's nature and this, Meyendorff tells us, ultimately renders indistinguishable the eternal universe and the eternal Logos. The Fathers would conceive of the idea of creation such that God's will and His nature are not one and the same. Thus God's nature eternally begets the Son and from God's nature eternally proceeds the Holy Spirit, but it is by God's will that the universe is created and along with it time. Quite distinct from begetting and processing.

Platonic notions of creation, I think, still abide in popular perception. I'm not entirely sure why, but I myself often struggle with NOT comprehending something in which God exists. Think about that for a moment (some of you will no doubt smile at my baby steps philosophy here, but bear with me). To no small degree I think modern christian apologetics tends to grant that God does in fact exist (and has always existed) amidst something other than Himself. Maybe you might, in juvenile fashion, perceive it to be a great throne room or if you are more astute maybe a vast realm of darkness pierced only by His light. But to consider that there is NOTHING other than God I think tends to render arguing through human reason for His existence an altogether absurd endeavor.

Atheists demand PROOF. Evidence! As if some external criteria can possibly or definitively identify He who is. (period). To engage such need for evidence with some notion that it can be provided seems to me almost crazy if indeed there is nothing outside of God (save creation). He IS the Absolute. We are like protozoa trying to prove that there is a man far above us staring at us with a giant microscope. We simply do not have the intellectual capacity or tools to prove any such thing. The question of God's existence itself becomes an absurd question. We cannot study God as if there were some context outside of Him to do so. As if He were an antelope on the plains of Africa which we might tag with a radio collar.

Now, that said, there IS of course something other than God. Creation. We do not confuse God and creation, nor do we make the mistake of Origen and perceive nature/creation to be an outpouring of God's nature. Creation exists as an act of God's will. And while there may be some degree of evidence for God's existence in the study of creation, we must I think, be extremely aware of the folly of putting too much faith in proof for God by scientific criteria. God is absolutely OTHER than creation and I'm inclined (strongly) to think that studying the "laws of nature" or employing the scientific method are not proper means of meeting Him.

The additional paradox to this idea of God as Absolute is that unlike some concepts found in eastern religions wherein such an Absolute is more a force or energy, our God is PERSONAL. He LOVES. And of course the most astonishing thing is that He unites Himself with His creation in order to restore and save it.

In any event...from my perspective it is an AWE-full (it really is a shame the word came to mean only negative and thus I clarify) thing to try and contemplate God with no context. The Great I am. God as God...beyond any setting...Absolute. Nothing other. Until He speaks. And even then, He remains completely transcendent. And yet very near.

I'm inspired to worship all the more.

...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 7:39 AM [+]


Authentic patristic thought was/is a revelation to me. For reasons that James indicates many times, it alone deals with the actual state of affairs, the Real, which for the Fathers (and us) means experience of the Divine, and not a theory based on conjecture.

The most basic distinction in pagan thought is Being/Non-Being. This is so from Plato right on up to all his heirs, both Western and Eastern, whether they admit it or not, and it leads to radical scepticism. (Sorry, I'm making a long, sad story short.) Non-patristic thought arrives at a dead end because, as James points out, that thought begins from the rationalistically attempted but the ontologically impossible standpoint of human autonomy. The reality, however, is that Man must sit on God's lap in order to slap Him in the face.

A. N. Whitehead essentially claimed that all Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. I agree, and would even extend that claim to all pagan thought. That's the problem, because an abstract notion of undifferentiated, impersonal Being is quite useless, and there's really no such thing as Non-Being. (Even zero is a positive integer, at least in programming.) Since both these notions are contentless abstractions, they tend to mutually collapse in on each other, kind of like a dying star collapsing into a black hole. So Man begins by arrogantly "defining" the Metaphysical Absolute in terms of human autonomy, then moves on to considering how to behave in this autonomous situation (Ethics), how to evaluate what is the good, the true, and the beautiful (Aesthetics), again starting from the assumption of radical autonomy, and ends up trying to figure out how, why, and even if he knows anything (Epistemology). In short, he starts by assuming he knows (or at least can know) everything, starting from and ending with himself, and ends up in radical doubt about even his own existence and the truth of logic.

Patristic thought begins with the basic distinction between Uncreated and Created Being. Only the Trinity, not some generic divinity or supernatural category, possesses uncreated being. Everything else is created being and is upheld by, but is in no sense identical with, His uncreated energy. Science is the investigation of the interaction of the Trinity's uncreated energy with created being.

No other set of assumptions leads anywhere worth going, as far as I can see, unless one thinks that the abyss is worth a visit.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:21 AM  


"thought begins from the rationalistically attempted but the ontologically impossible standpoint of human autonomy. The reality, however, is that Man must sit on God's lap in order to slap Him in the face."

Perfectly said!

Thank you Gary...this comment really helps put into words what I was (more simplistically) thinking.

By Blogger fdj, at 11:32 AM  


Call it the Revenge of the Philosophy Major. Reading the Existentialists during the '60's and early '70's nearly killed me, because I wanted to believe in their Importance.

Yes, it's too bad that the dogma of Creation is so widely regarded as not much more than an anti-Darwinist weapon. If we let the Faith explain it to us, we'll get loads more than an apologetics gadget.

Sometimes I fear that ex nihilo is understood as God transforming Non-Being into Being, which would (or could) mean that Non-Being had always been with God, which would in turn mean that Non-Being also, and not God alone, is eternal. But it is important to understand that ex nihilo really means "out of nothing except His will," which is absolutely good and positive. He did not take something negative or even neutral and "make" it good; He spoke, and it was very good by definition. Created being is good because He is good.

This gets us started on the road to correctly understanding the meaning of the Fall. The Fall could not and did not change the instrinsic nature of created being. Sin, death, and the devil are parasitical, not ontologically ultimate; nor are they penal inflictions of retributive Divine wrath. They are His enemies as well as ours, and thus explain the nature and reason of the Incarnation and the centrality of Christ's resurrection. So I learned that the proper understanding of the Creation dogma enables the proper understanding of all else. And the beauty of dogma is that each dogma has this prismatic, focal-point nature. Each of them unfolds in all directions, which is precisely what one would expect from organism rather than abstraction.

Contrast this with, say, Martin Heidegger, one of the most noteworthy of 20th-century philosophers. One of his more influential works is What Is A Thing?. After tussling mightily with this for WAY too long, here's his answer: "The thing is a thing insofar as it things."

Now, how would you like to spend most of your adult life wrestling with such matters, only to be the first on your block (or your planet, as far as I know) to use the word "thing" as a verb?

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:54 PM  


Man, you guys are out of control.

I am a huge Florovsky fan, and if I recall correctly, he had no philosophical training. Rather, what is so refreshing about him is that he mastered so many languages and then actually read the Church Fathers. I get the feeling that way too many people are reading *about* the church fathers, myself included, because while philosophy may be of little use, it is simply a fact that the Fathers are as difficult as the Bible: the unwary person can be thrown off by historical or language problems.

I'm no big fan of philosophy, but it seems to be that when Gary is talking about Plato and so forth, we're talking about only certain segments of philosophy? For example, Logic seems pretty important. We (you) employ it in your communications. But when you say "ALL" western philosophy is ... well, broken, or founded on a bogus principle, do you really mean "ALL"?

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 2:20 PM  


Yes, pretty much all, considered as a coherent system, because based on a false worldview. It's not that there are no true statements to ever be found in Kant, Hegel, etc. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
When Stephen Hawking solves a calculus problem, he's right. When he uses science to "prove" that God doesn't exist, he's a wacko. That's not the fault of calculus or the true scientific method. It's not that Logic doesn't work; it does, because it's part of the creational state of affairs. What I'm laboring to point out is that the cutting edge of 20th-century philosophy found itself in radical scepticism about nearly everything because of its own (mostly Platonic) worldview commitments.

Florovsky didn't read philosophy? Good for him; I mean it. I did, and all I'm telling you is that it is a fundamental waste of time, at least in its non-patristic form. I'm hoping that it's valuable to someone to hear WHY it's a waste of time, other than merely asserting that it is. If it doesn't help you to know why, it doesn't help you. So be it.

And yes, I read ABOUT the Fathers, but I don't stop there, I start there. I am sure there are other and even better ways to proceed, but all I can share is my experience, not someone else's.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:46 PM  


Yes, pretty much all, because based on a false worldview. It's not that Logic doesn't work; it does, because it's part of the creational state of affairs. What I'm laboring to point out is that the cutting edge of 20th-century philosophy found itself in radical scepticism about nearly everything because of its own (mostly Platonic) worldview commitments.

It's not that every word uttered by Kant, Hegel, etc. is a lie; even a broken clock is right twice a day. I'm speaking in terms of systems of thought, not piecemeal details. So Calvin believed in God: Should we then embrace Calvinism?

It's great that Florovsky didn't read philosophy. However, all I can share is my experience, not someone else's. If it doesn't help you, so be it. It doesn't have to. It has helped others, if I can believe what they tell me. That's enough for me. And yes, I do read "about" the Fathers, but I don't stop there.

Ever read Bertrand Russell? Still want to assert that logic is neutral?

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:46 PM  


Well, no I haven't read Bertrand Russel, but to enter the debate with you about whether logic is "neutral" seems to be engaging in "philosophy." And to recognize the conondrum is likewise philosophical in nature.

I think it's hard to hear that "all" of something, be it politicians, or philosophy, or religion, or *all* muslims, etc., are in some sense bad, compromised, etc. It's a sweeping statement.

I'm just sayin. I have no plans to read any philosophy any time soon, nor have I ever wasted a single mortal breath defending any philosophers, except for maybe Alan Bloom, who wrote a very interesting book back in the 80s. I mentioned that Florovsky had no philosophical "training." By that I may have misspoke, I rather meant that his formal training was in the harder sciences, but later in life he was a prolific philosopher, because as a historian of Russian theology, he had to master all the philosophical schools, which he proved left a deep impact on Russian Orthodoxy. This seems like a good reason to be at least somewhat exposed to philosophy.

But I'll leave it to you guys. I'm just an actuary; I just use statistics, unpolluted by Western philosophy.


- Steve

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 9:25 AM  


It has to do with worldview, and therefore basic assumptions. It's not about whether the rules of syllogism are different for an atheist and a theist. It's about what presuppositions you operate from. Logic is just a template: You have to provide the data, and the data can be right or wrong.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:56 PM  


Something you're saying here helped me make a connection. The evangelical world I came from always talked about "presuppositions." The idea was that if you start with atheist presuppositions, you end up with certain conclusions consistent with atheism. Your "logic as a template" remark seems consistent with that. I've tried to point out to friends of mine that there is something sadly lacking in this appraoch: we're essentially saying, "we will not allow you to be atheists, unless you first admit that you have no philosophical basis to believe that way." It's as frustrating to hear as it is unpersuasive.

Looking at contemplative religion, including Orthodoxy, I note the absence of the "logical template." Consider only that the worship of the Jews and the Church is founded on the Psalter, a book of poetry. It seems to me that while logic and deductive reasoning are very important, and deeply human, aspects of our character, and also of God's, there is also a poetic/intuitive side. I always feel like emphasizing this when my evangelical friends insist that we need to have "internally consistent" worldviews. Well, maybe not. Our Lord Himself appealed to the presence of God and Ceasar, two realms that really don't logically relate to each other. And if one thinks about it,some of the more frustrating people we know, indeed most of the monsters of the 20th century, are people that try to apply not only their presuppositions, but a single all-explaining "template" to everything around them. Think only of the iron clad logic of Marxism or Ayn Randism or even some of our super-canonical-Orthodox types; you can pick around in the logic and perhaps find fallacies, or you could question the presuppositions, you could also argue that no one theory could possibly govern *every* aspect of human society.

So the antidote is not only throwing out Plato's starting point, but also to loosen our grip a bit on the ability of any logical systems to really be of much help in finding the "truth" that is required in any particular situation. Difficult questions will generally require non-logical faculties of insight, perception, judgment, will, etc.

Not sure how this relates to James' original posting on creation, but I thought I would offer it,...

By Blogger Steve Knowlton, at 3:36 PM  


Good grief. I'm not saying logic is the basis of religion. I started out saying that non-patristic religion (and philosophy) leads to scepticism. You took us down various rabbit holes, for reasons that no longer matter to me. You keep saying, "It's up to you guys. You're out of control," as if to say, "I'm done." Then you keep coming back for more. Well, yes, I am out of control. It was never my intention to be within your control in the first place.

Go ahead and defend syncretism all you want. That's its own punishment. I won't waste time keeping you from it.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:45 PM  


And by the way, I never dreamed of anyone needing my bloody permission to think this or that. Nor do I need their (or your) permission to point out where it leads, if they really mean their starting point to be what it is. If they don't really mean it, then we're just playing with words, and I'm on to more fruitful endeavors. Like now.

Gary Patrick

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:00 PM  


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