Posted by Peter Lawler
Here’s Ivan the K’s fine review of a great book by ME.
Yes, a fine review, but what is a "longing for God"? When you have God, what do you have? Can IK make that clear? Also, moral responsibility may be an animating personal experience, but since when is that the decisive thing?
The longing for God doesn't conclude in a kind of possession nor is it to be consummated in this life--that's what makes us pilgrims, as Augustine describes us, in this life. So this "invincible inclination" as Tocqueville puts it, is a desire for transcendence and for personal significance that might require a personal God for its satisfaction. As far as morality goes, I'm not sure what you mean by "decisive" but I would argue it's not something that itself can be transcended for the sake of some detached contemplation: social beings with both bodies and minds are necessarily beings with moral lives.
OK, the longing for transcendence cannot be transcended. In a way you yourself are arguing for a kind of detached contemplation: understand and accept the basic facts of our condition. This sounds fine. But I just meant that "longing for God/transcendence" seems a mysterious object of desire. What you say you love, you may not really love. You may misunderstand love, for exactly I find it too casual to say: the truth is we are caught between god and beast. That's just a reasonable first impression. What exactly do we want to transcend or eliminate? What is personal significance/moral responsibility exactly? Until these things are clearer to one, one cannot be sure that the so-called fundamental facts are really facts. Finally, even if they are facts, there might be a deeper fact - that the desire for personal significance, while a fact, is based on a misinterpretation - which may put these facts in perspective.
I appreciate the excellent questions, which do get to the heart of the matter. How about some answers?
Ralph Hancock, of course, is the go-to guy on 'transcendence' as an issue (and human reality), including intimations of it in ordinary life. I, too, am "interested" in it, though. Nothing less than a complete anthropology and metaphysics would definitively answer SZ's questions. I'd start, however, with a few points (or starting points); 1) Kass's fine discussion of the upright posture shows how certain aspects or components of transcendence are inherent in our physique. Read "Thinking about the Body" in Towards a More Natural Science. 2) Our capacity of 'imagination' likewise enables us to escape from the present and many spatial-temporal limitations; 3) the intellect's capacity to grasp universals or essences (there's a huge mare's nest of issues there, I know!) also is a form of transcendence of particularity and particulars, and of time in certain ways. 4) we transcend selfishness in all sorts of ways, mundane and extraordinary; 5) many of us desire perfect Truth, Beauty, etc. -- albeit on their terms, not ours. The desire often comes from belief in a credible Word. So, I guess I'm saying or indicating that there are "natural" grounds or roots of transcendence, which give rise to and meet with a variety of experiences of it, and that there's a kerygma hovering around that validates and ... transcends it/them.
Paul, All answers and no questions. Thanks! Maybe the go-to guy Ralph will give us some more.
"Go-to Guy"- that's the cutest I've heard in while, Paul! (I'm used to hearing that w/reference to a fast break in basketball, maybe-- well, in the 50+ league.) Transcendent Ralph is caring for his body right now, but if you can wait a few hours, he will do his best to deliver up needed wisdom on "transcendence."
Thanks for the reflections on the conditions and elements of "transcendence." I have no doubt we can be detached, dynamic, and imaginative, for example. The longing for God most likely has these aspects in it, but what is the main thing that we wish to leave behind in longing for God? If it is something important and big we wish to leave behind, then shouldn't we want to know what that is? What PS is saying may not be kerygmatic. Makes transcendence sound a bit immanent, if we have to use these silly words.
Sasha, thanks again. Tell us what the big and important thing is we want to leave behind.
I don't know. After all, I was intrigued by IK's sayings. What could transcendence be? Leaving it all behind, the death of your greatest desire or love, would make sense in an abstract way. I assumed transcendence, if it is to be something of interest, meant leaving behind or going beyond something important to us, and meant something more than just traveling towards something undefined or keeping a distance to your surroundings.
A fine, comprehensive, and appropriately appreciative review by Ivan, and good, fresh, important, and, of course, impossibly difficult questions from Sasha. It is interesting indeed to consider the question of “transcendence” from the standpoint of what we must “leave behind.” Now, one way of articulating the Christian view of transcendence would be to say, perhaps shockingly, that the answer is … nothing. That is, nothing really good or important, nothing that really matters. Only sin is forsaken, only the grasping, contracting, stifling compulsion to justify oneself, to ground oneself, to own oneself, that blocks our receptivity to the gifts of abundant life. (I was struck, recently, reading – with Ivan, in fact -- that underhanded promoter of a religion of humanity, John Stuart Mill, who has to admit that the one little advantage a divine religion might have over the secular one he promotes might be the little matter of the afterlife, of resurrection, which we care about, not so much for our own narrow preservation, as for the endurance of our loves, of those we love. Charles Taylor’s most recent meditations on transcendent goods seem to end up in the same place.) On this view, the Greek philosophical understanding of trans-erotic fulfillment might be simply the most refined and self-aware form of sin. And our very Western notion of “transcendence” would seem to be some kind of attempted synthesis of Christian openness to the gifts of love and Greek assertion of self-possession. But, as Emmanuel Levinas proposes in a luminous simplification, philosophy from its Greek beginnings has always been animated by an openness to a Good beyond possession as well as by its (eventually dominant) compulsion to possess, to identify the good with its own activity.
The greatest art and literature makes us aware of the good that lies before us but that we fail to receive because we insist on grasping it; think of the moments of reconciliation and recognition in Shakespeare: Lear’s “no cause, no cause,” or the resurrection motif in Winter’s Tale. But I’m getting beyond my competence here, so here are some lower grade examples: I am fascinated and, frankly, touched by the reunion seen at the end of the movie Titanic: all those personal, individual faces reviewed, contemplated, loved. (Yes, I even like Celine Dion’s singing.) Or the French Jean de Florette / Manon of the Source: a Christianized Greek tragedy of the loss of the sweetest things (love, expanded through generation) by insisting on stealing them rather than receiving them.
Nothing, perhaps, is more transparently good than the beauty of loving and familiar faces as they emerge from the smog of sinful distraction that blinds our eyes and stops our hearts.
So, better perhaps to begin, again, with the question of the good, rather than the question of “transcendence.” There is indeed a sense, as Lawler has shown from so many angles, in which we moderns are too transcendent – always sacrificing the goods that lie before us for some ever-deferred object of our pursuit, our joyless quest for joy – always “someone else’s good,” or some other time’s (Mansfield long ago saw that Jefferson agreed with Thrasymachus on this).
This might be one way of taking up the question.
So, following Ralph's comment (which did not dissapoint), classical Greek transcendence is well diagnosed by Augustine--it ends up with a kind of prideful pretense of self-sufficiency disdainful of our bodily attachments (and the moral/social aspects of life that go with it); on the other hand, modern transcendence aims at Carterian vs Platonic self-sufficiency that is heavily informed by our immanence---we transcend nature for the sake of the body perfected. So we move from the secular liberation of the soul from the body to the secular perfection of the body sans the soul--both perspectives want their victories to e achieved decisively in this life, which means they both resist the pull of their transcendent inclinations towards the divine.
Thank you very much. We somehow grasp, because we are ungraspingly open but maybe also with the help of the most self-aware form of sin, that it is foolish to try to grasp, even intellectually maybe, the best things for us, which can only be given to us. Possessiveness is bad because it cheats of the fullness which is really worth having. And thanks for the examples.
Three interconnected deep, deep personal thoughts a row. That breaks all records for all bogs. Thanks Ralph for elevating us. I have to catch my breath before giving my own view. I must dissent on Titanic--the only thing that really moved about the movie was the band continuing to play as it went down with the ship. There's a lot to this Levinas guy, though, especially vs. Jefferson and Thrasymachus. (This is obviously not a deep thought, but I'm saying it doesn't count. So any and all can feel free to go for four in row.)
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