Philosophical Skeleton Keys: Eternity

The notion of eternity is difficult to reconcile with our experience of time, of change and of happening. This makes it difficult to understand; and that makes it difficult for us to think about eternity without getting it all muddled up with time. The muddles can be so nettlesome that some thinkers try to clear them up by rejecting either the notion of time and change, on the one hand, or of eternity, on the other.

The reason we get into these muddles is that we try to extend our natural ways of thinking about temporal events to thinking about eternity. We naturally take time as basic, and generalize from it to eternity.

Thinking about the Eternal One, for example – for the *only* example, for as there can be only one Ultimate, so there can be but one eternality – it is all too easy to fall into thinking that his life is an infinitely extended series of finite moments, like ours except that it had no beginning. It is easy to think that God went on for quite a while enjoying himself alone, but then eventually decided to create the world, then redeem it, then destroy it, then judge it, and so forth.

This is exactly backward.

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Creatio ex Nihilo

Materialism suggests that when a new whole – such as a person – appears in the cosmos, it is as a result of the combination of preexistent parts that come together to form that whole. Persons, then, are on the materialist account somehow artifacts or characteristics of their constituent components, or are emergent from their componence. They are nothing but the combination of their components.

But notice that to say that a whole is only the combination of its parts is just to say that a combination combines in virtue of its combination. It is a dormitive virtue “explanation.” It is, to put it bluntly, a proposition that proposes nothing, an “explanation” that explains nothing.

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The Truth That Founds the Error of Pantheism

One of the reasons that pantheism is so appealing is that this world is indeed a lively actuality transcendent to everything within it, supersidiary thereto, and regnant thereof. There is indeed a world soul. This is to say no more than that the cosmos has a definite form and character – that it is an orderly, coordinated cosmos that hangs together coherently and integrates its constituents in a whole, rather than a disordered jumble that does not (and that is not therefore a world in the first place). And it has furthermore a personal order, for such personal orders are numbered among its constituents, and it could hardly take proper account of them except insofar as it was itself a personal order.

But pantheism errs in its eager inference that that world soul is God. It is not; it is only a god; a creature.

Truth versus the West

At least since Nietzsche, modern European pagans of the more reckless jejune sort have been wont to proclaim that Christianity gutted Europe of her original, chthonic, manly, distinctive culture. The process took millennia, they say, but it has now been pretty much completed. Europe has been unmanned by the pale Galilean who had already sapped Rome and the wider Hellenic world with his flaccid Oriental mysteries, and lies now prone before her Mohammedan conquerors.

It’s a silly conceit. For one thing, the West began her precipitous Modern decline at exactly the moment that her formerly deep and utterly preponderant Christian faith began to weaken and splinter – thanks in no small part to that madman, Nietzsche himself (and to a few other madmen, such as Voltaire). For another, if Christianity really did gut Europe of such a vigorous exuberant cult, then … that cult must have been rather weak after all, mutatis mutandis – and so, by its own lights, deserving of death.

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Of Possible Interest

Waltari

Mika Waltari

My essay A Novel for Our Time appears at Baron Bodissey’s Gates of Vienna website.  The “novel for our time” is Dark Angel (1952) by the Finnish writer Mika Waltari (1931 – 1979), a fictionalized account, drawing on historical sources, of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.  Waltari’s work is today largely forgotten, but during his lifetime it received widespread appreciation and made itself available to non-Finnish speakers through translations in a dozen languages.  (Waltari’s novel The Egyptian, for example, would become the basis of a lavishly produced Hollywood film of the same name.)  Dark Angel is partly allegory, being a study in loyalty to civilization and its opposite; and it is partly a call to its audience to remember an event that is increasingly obscure or entirely unknown to most Western people.  Most importantly – and most relevantly from the perspective of sixty years later – Dark Angel is an attempt to grasp the essence of Islam.  Waltari’s characterization of Islam stands at an angle to a number of assumptions that critics of that creed at  the present time make of it – and in a way that heightens the claim of radical incompatibility between Islam and the West.

The Good of Mortal Life to the Eternal One

Orthospherean Bruce Charlton writes:

Non-Christian religions are often good at explaining the eternal perspective, and arguing in favour of an eternal perspective which shrinks (sometimes to microscopic levels) the importance of mortal life. But they tend to have trouble explaining why mortal life is of any value at all: why bother with it?

Mainstream Orthodox Christians also often have the same trouble – but this is not intrinsic to Christianity, but is a consequence of building in inappropriate Greco-Roman derived philosophy, and then seeing Christianity through its lens.

In one of his weaker arguments against theism, Bertrand Russell made the same point: to an infinite, eternal being, how could petty evanescent human affairs be even noticeable, let alone worthy of his attention? Wouldn’t he be rather too busy with the collisions of galaxies to worry himself over whether little George is grieving over the loss of his toy airplane?

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The Intersection of Metahistory & Sainthood

We are here honored to present a guest essay by fellow orthospherean Mark Citadel.

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My knowledge of the lives of Christian saints is sub-encyclopedic to say the least, in part due to a lack of time to really sit down and read. I have, in my time, gained a familiarity with some of the greats; St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril, St. Basil the Great, and one of my personal favorites, St. John of Kronstadt. However this barely even scratches the surface of the rich history extending from the Mediterranean to the frozen north of Europe, and even to the modern United States with great teachers such as the likely soon-to-be-canonized Seraphim Rose.

Saints of course have huge significance in Christian theology and ritual. Nicolas Zernov stated in his study on Orthodox practice that saints were treated “as teachers and friends who pray with them and assist them in their spiritual ascent. Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry was surrounded by disciples who did not prevent others from meeting Him, but on the contrary helped newcomers to find the Master. In the same manner fellowship with the saints facilitates communion with God, for their Christ-like character brings others nearer to the divine source of light and life.”

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Hegel’s Christian Aesthetics

Friedrich 01 Morning in the Riesengebirge

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840): Sunrise in the Riesengebirge (1808)

To my friend Paul Gottfried, by far the most learned man in my ken, and the uncrowned monarch of the American Right.

Like everything by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831), the Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics require from the reader no little patience.  Originating as actual lectures – which Hegel delivered to his students at Heidelberg between 1820 and 1826 – the posthumous booklet, edited by H. G. Hotho and first issued in 1835, can nevertheless claim the virtue of brevity, and perhaps beyond that a prose-style as close to accessible as its author ever came.  On the one hand then, the reader’s patience will likely reap him a reward; on the other hand, however, the reader might come away from his exertion slightly disappointed.  The science of aesthetics has to do with art, to be sure, and the Introductory Lectures certainly address the topic of art; but art has to do with beauty, and the Lectures, after a sequence of promising paragraphs in the First Lecture, seem as a whole to give rather short shrift to the topic of beauty.  In the second sentence of the First Lecture, for example, Hegel asserts his remit to be “the wide realm of the beautiful,” whose “province,” he adds, “is Art,” or rather “Fine Art.”  Yet this artistic beauty is not to be confused with “beauty in general,” nor with “the beauty of Nature.”  The latter, Hegel insists, counts only as a “lower” type of beauty, a thesis well calculated to offend the Twenty-First Century’s prevailing “Gaian” view of life – the universe – and everything.  Fine art, by contrast, constitutes the higher type of beauty for the important reason, as Hegel puts it, that fine art “is the beauty that is born – born again, that is – of the mind.”  In consideration of the fact that “the mind and its products are higher than nature and its appearances,” it follows that “the beauty of art is higher than the beauty of nature.”

Hegel continues his argument by elaborating a crucial difference: “Even a silly fancy such as may pass through a man’s head,” he writes, “is higher than any product of nature.”  The most fleeting and unserious of mental, or more properly of spiritual, actions participates in freedom and qualifies itself thereby, even though in a trivial degree only, as self-determining.  The appearances of nature share in no such freedom, but, being as they are “absolutely necessary” and yet at the same time “indifferent,” take their meaning only to the degree that they refer to something else.  Hegel offers as his example the sun, whose pleasant usefulness men acknowledge and praise and in whose lavish light the other manifestations of nature appear to them and become useful, but with which they have, and can have, no spiritual traffic.  The sun remains incapable of acknowledging the men who acknowledge it, however much they might enjoy basking in its effulgence.  Nature is the realm of matter — and matter, eternally mute, never communicates with consciousness but only stimulates the suite of sensuous effects with which consciousness is familiar.  Thus for Hegel, the quality of consciousness makes whatever is truly beautiful, beautiful; and it does so both by imbuing matter with the order that originates in consciousness, including the element of freedom, and by placing the material or sensuous part of the art-object into parenthesis, so that the object becomes a pure image in the spectatorial mind just as it was, before its incarnation in the plastic medium, a pure image in its creator’s mind.

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More on GNON

Kaiter Enless of the stylish new reactionary blog Logos Club has kindly taken notice of On GNON, posted here at the Orthosphere last March. While nowise adversarial, his treatment of my statements about GNON – which he takes to be authoritative regarding the ontology entertained by those who hold to the notion – is nevertheless a bit mistaken; and on the basis of those mistakes, he has disagreed.

The nice thing about this situation is that clearing up those errors – which I shall now do – will end not only in the discovery that there is in fact no basis for disagreement between us, nor therefore in fact any such disagreement, but rather in a comfortable unanimity. I.e., it will show that, insofar as I may indeed be taken as a legitimate interpreter of GNON for those who take that notion to be utile, Mr. Enless has no true quarrel with GNON. It will end then in an affirmation of his basic project.

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