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From last time "personal choice -vs- predestination" ... the question is far more than academic.
If he had no choice, if it was his Fate, his destiny, his role in the Cosmos, to quit helping people with bad teeth and give lead poisoning to cowboys who were sore losers at cards, then there is no point in us even discussing continuing this discussion.
If that is true then we are all what we are at brith, we will become whatever we are scripted to become, and choice or chance has no role in it. The Doris Day song becomes Life, ‘Que Sera Sera (whatever will be, will be)’.
Nixon was born to leave the Presidency in disgrace instead of being Pope. And Tom T. Hall was meant to sing storytelling songs and neither had any say in the matter whatsoever.
Something about that view of the Universe is distasteful. Even though you can say that it may be your Fate to do this or that, but we don’t Know what final answer is so we have to study and exercise and eat our salad greens because if our Destiny arrives and it turns out to be walking on and kicking the winning goal for the National Team in the World Cup or being invited to be the headlining commencement speaker at an Ivy League University we have to be ready for it. (but then it would be Fate that you weren't -that is a circular argument we will end here and now)
Of course you do have a choice of staying on that couch.
Or do you?
If you have always dreamed about playing soccer you may think it is a Hobson’s choice when the National Team coach calls you out of the clear blue and asks you to suit up. Especially if you haven’t been within ten feet of a soccer ball since high school. And your chances of doing anything besides looking pathetic against the other team isn't good. But you got the call, and unless you’re on the couch because you fell down the stairs last week and broke your pelvis, you’re likely to at least go and give it a try. Or regret it for the rest of your days.
When the script of your no-choice life was written was it predestined that your phone would ring? Was it in the Destiny of the National Team’s starting right forward to pull a hamstring in warmups? Did Fate intervene so the coach had written down the alternate’s number wrong and your phone rang instead of theirs?
It sounds like a ‘B’ grade Hollywood movie instead of real life. Yet things like that happen.
In 1960 Herb Brooks was cut from the US national hockey team before the Olympics. That team went on to win gold. He made the team in 64 and 68, but the team didn’t make it to the medal rounds. Brooks went on to other hockey pursuits, then came a strange offer in 1979. The US hockey team was a bunch of young kids, average age of 22, that had never played together before. Brooks agreed to coach them leaving a successful career as coach of the University of Minnesota that included three NCAA championships. Common Wisdom said he was nuts: What chance did an inexperienced team with a brand new coach and less than a year to prepare have against the world class powerhouses of Sweden, the USSR, and Finland?
You remember the 1980 Winter Olympics’ ‘Miracle on Ice’ don’t you? The US beat the Russians in the semi-final then clobbered the Fins for the gold.
Don’t sneeze at that odd chance.
Was it the US Team’s Destiny to win the gold that year? Did the Soviet team have any say in it at all? Had that final score been written on the framework of the Universe before the Earth was even formed?
This writer refuses to believe that.
Even when faced with a choice that is no choice, you can still make the choice that is against all reason and may result in a most unfortunate outcome.
As Jack Benny may have said when being held up at gunpoint and told “You’re money or your life.”
“I’m thinking about it.”
So at least according to the old Vaudeville violin virtuoso we do have a choice even when there is no choice. That’s good enough, we shall proceed that we are not automatons programmed to live out a pre-plotted existence with the arrogant yet mistaken impression that we do have free will.
Therefore, since our futures are not simply playing out like one of Mr. Benny’s movies in a cosmic video player with the actors having no vote in the way the next scene comes out, we Can take some initiative in getting off the couch and studying and exercising and even pursuing the concept of the Eternal.
Are we naught but naked apes scarcely aware of anything outside of our own small circle of existence? No. We are more.
Some would say that the ability to contemplate your own soul’s existence is proof enough that you have one. Like the Tin Man from Oz, you have a heart, because you can feel it breaking.
They may be very clique, but they are true nonetheless.
Man is not the only animal to contemplate its own death, elephants seem to do it, the great apes do, others can sense their own imminent demise. However, as far as we can tell, we are the only ones with a sense of both the history that has passed, and the future yet to come. And both to the logical extremes in either direction. From the Beginning to the End.
We write out wills for what should happen to our stuff when we are gone, and we take vitamins and jog to put that inevitability off as long as possible. We build monuments to those that have gone before to inform those who will come after about just how great a man Thomas Jefferson or Ramses had been. "Lest we forget" is a motto that has all too often been forgotten as we move ourselves and our world forward.
There is something to be said of the Humanist movements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment although the tendency is to take it to its own logical extreme and thereby devoid Man of any Spiritual aspect at all.
To some degree the arguments made with all the logical furor the great thinkers of the time could muster were simply a backlash against the doctrines of Predestination and Election and other acts by the Deity that removed choice and responsibility from Man and gave all the say so for his salvation to Providence. Don't worry, this article is not going to challenge Descartes' logical arguments or comment on any perceived mistakes or try to answer de Montaigne's nearly endless questions. That has already been done elsewhere, and much better than this writer ever could. All we are endeavoring to do here and now is present a possible groundwork for further discussion and exploration of a topic as old as conscious man and as broad as the sum of human knowledge.
Descartes and the others reasoned their way through almost everything, including the classic bet as to why it is ultimately better to believe in the Deity than to not, 'Pascal's Wager'.
Of course the IDEAS represented have, when boiled down to their basic elements, remained unchanged since the days of the Ancients. Much of what is discussed today on the Web, on Mars Hill in the Golden Age of Greece, in the Salons of Paris in the days of Voltaire… throughout history, is pretty much what was discussed by Job the Patriarch and his 'friends' in their speeches over a thousand years Before the Common Era or Christ however you wish to phrase it.
Then Zophar the Naamathite replied: …
"Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens-what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea."
Job 11 : 1, 7 - 9 (NIV)
Even though today it would seem the capacity for scholarly argument has been beaten to a pulp through a terrible combination of popular television shows with laugh tracks numbing the mind and political correctness sapping creative thought (lest one offend somebody) the Web has stepped up to bat and is hitting home runs without restraint. Sites like www.deadphilosopher.com and www.sherwright.com have sprung up from the ether and are encouraging deep and to be truthful- not so deep, discussion by everybody and sundry that wants 'A Place to Vent' or claims to be a moderate.
Whereas Socrates and Job sat face to face with both those that agreed with them and those that didn't, to Socrates eventual bad end, the internet with its anonymity allows today's serious academics, wanna be philosophers, and those simply with an axe to grind or rant to air time and space to run through it. A walkabout through several net forums and discussion groups and even chat rooms reveals everything from those that are opinionated but clueless, to actual heavy thinkers well versed in their subject, and a few that appear to be something of both.
Except as often as not political grandstanding and proselytizing take the place of higher discussions and pure philosophical debate. And even where such debate lives unadulterated by the cheapening effects of politics, it seldom rises above the mere basics to those higher themes voiced by Aquinas and the Theosophist Alchemists of old.
This author remembers an ongoing discussion group in a forum about various levels of relationships that ranged from some rather poetic descriptions of genuine intimacy and long sermons justifying the continuing existence of monogamous marriage which then de-evolved into an open ended titillation exercise summed up by the phrase 'spit or swallow'. Was there something in the serious discussions that made the participants uncomfortable or did the weightier issues just surrender to something better left to the TV talk-shows like Jerry Springer? Or was that simply a symptom of our short attention span citizenry and their inability to deal with a long term formal discussion of what makes a working relationship tick and why people do stay together through thick and thin? The final several postings of the final topic were a lot more fun to read, but they were not overly intellectual or informative other than some men think the matter is their birthright and anything less is unacceptable while some women love it, some hate it, and some will only do it with an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, and a good bit of those read like they were out and out lies from both sides. The truth in anything is seldom 'a good read' for entertainment purposes.
Extended intellectual discourse between two people, or even a small group is fairly rare in the real world. Plato's discussions with Socrates seem to be the ideal exchange of mature ideas. Others worked in the same rarefied air such as St John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Availa as they developed their theories. Just as Einstein and Hubble and Lemaitre had a long reasonable discussion that ended up changing Einstein's mind about the expansion of the universe. Well educated reasonable people Can and Should have discussions that run the gamut from the reality of being to the White Sox middle relief pitching staff and back again. That is how things are refined and both individual's ideas are formed and reformed, discarded, revived, only to begin again. In short, intellectual discussion is how they… to use a well known word for it… Evolve.
You can go out and read everything there is to read, and debate your theories with yourself and write your own papers and go along just fine for years. But it is like proofreading something you just wrote. There may be glaring errors in it, and you may never see them. Sometimes outside eyes see things as they really are instead of as you want them to be. Sometimes even after massive mistakes are pointed out to you, you still can't see them until you take a few deep breaths and a step or two back and look again. Once you invite outside comment, you are quite liable to find your pet theory somewhat lacking. It worked for Einstein right?
Ahhh, there is a question in the gallery. Einstein was, well, Einstein. Hubble they've heard of too, he was the Astronomer that discovered the red shift of distant galaxies and other such details through direct observation and measurement which complimented some of the then new theories about how the Universe happened in the first place. And NASA named the space telescope for him. But Lemaitre?
Georges Lemaitre was both a Catholic Priest, and a Cosmological Scientist before there was a Science of Cosmology. He studied at MIT and Cambridge. Then in the late nineteen twenties he developed a theory he called the Cosmic Egg with a 'Space Atom' that exploded. His detractors called it the 'Big Bang' and the name stuck. In the famous discussion between Lemaitre, Hubble and Einstein, Lemaitre outlined his theory of the method of Creation to which Einstein replied:
Reasonable, Intelligent, Creative people, having reasonable, intelligent, creative discussions about reasonable, intelligent, creative ideas.
To some that would be a most agreeable way to spend a few hours. Or maybe, several years.
And it wouldn't have to be three men of certifiable genius around the table either. As long as egos are reigned in and open hostility to something just a bit outside of their normal playing field is stopped before it takes its second step, remarkable progress could be made.
And who knows, maybe the results will change the world.
It would seem on the surface that this paper has gotten a long way from a simple look at Metaphysics. Yet what is more central to Metaphysics than those intellectual discussions?
As was said earlier, while now rare, Academic Discussion Groups were once upon a time the norm in the halls of Higher Education. Now however, under the withering fire of Political Correctness which has labeled such things as elitist or exclusionary, forums where ideas that might make some people uncomfortable are banned. Some ideas can only be advanced where they can be openly debated and deep philosophical and theological talks can progress with somebody playing the Devil's Advocate without fear of disparagement or later retribution.
To some degree the Web has indeed replaced face to face discussion with to good effect. Indeed, when writing in a text forum you can post long citations from source books, put a link to a picture or diagram in your answer, even include a sound file or a video relevant (or sometimes more telling, completely off topic) to whatever is being discussed. But then again, you loose the human dynamic of face to face debate. Body language can convey more than the speaker's words. Spontaneous disagreement can often be more enlightening than a well reasoned rebuttal. Hand gestures, drawing pictures in the air, a finger raised to appeal to Heaven, or pointed at you to make a point can mean more than a whole row of exclamation points typed onto a screen. And how much more sincere can you be than when you look somebody in the eye and say something which is close to your soul? That cannot be conveyed by the written word, this writer has tried many times. The human element is extremely important in person to person communication. Which is why the telephone is still more popular for some types of communication than email, you can hear their tone of voice and inflection, with email, it is simply letters and numbers on a screen. And occasionally that bane of email- the sideways happyface : ) .
Does anyone remember the 1980 Presidential Debate where Ronald Reagan completely devastated President Carter's arguments with a shake of his head and a gentle smile and the simple line "There you go again." The facts in the debate (what objective facts there were, that is, this was politics after all) didn't matter, Reagan's easy dismissal of Carter's points won the debate hands down. While the purpose of this article is not a laudation of Reagan as the Great Communicator, another example from Reagan's debates further illustrates the effectiveness of personal contact in communicating ideas. In the 1984 debate series President Reagan shot down former Vice President Walter Mondale with a humorous line which obliterated the issue of Reagan's age and even caused Mondale to laugh, winning Reagan the debate and possibly the election.
"…I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Ronald Reagan, Reagan - Mondale Presidential Debate, 28 October 1984 sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Spontaneous humor, even if scripted as this remark undoubtedly was, can carry the day in an argument. Of course it can just as easily backfire and do a phenomenal amount of damage to the speaker's position. How many sermons have been rendered impotent by a badly delivered joke or story? How many political speeches suffer the same fate? Class lectures, interviews, newscasts, anything that is supposed to be some form of even halfway serious communication or discussion can be derailed by something which was either inappropriate or badly stated.
Is this to say that in a serious discourse such as the Socrates - Plato dialogues have to avoid all perception of levity? "Heaven Forbid!" To quote another serious person, the Apostle Paul.
To support this position all you have to do is run a search through an online Bible reference for the word 'rejoice' in the Letters of Paul.
Flights of fancy and almost distractingly flowerily language though have been used in serious Metaphysical works to illustrate everything from the Universal Consciousness to degrees of states of ecstasy
For example let's look into Saint Teresa's autobiography particularly parts of chapter twenty regarding her buildup to rapture and into the thirties where she sees the Devil in various forms. She likens parts of her experience to a drink of cold water when one is hot and compares believers doing the Lord's work to donkeys drawing water.
But in the closing lines of one chapter Teresa instructs the ranking priest she has addressed her work to with the following almost cryptic message:
I beseech Your Reverence once more, if you discuss these things that I have written about prayer with spiritual persons, to be sure they are really spiritual. For if they know only one path, or have gone half-way and then remained where they are, they will not be able to discover what it all means. There are some, of course, whom God leads by a very exalted road; and these think that others can make progress in the same way -- by quieting the understanding and making no use of corporeal aids to devotion -- but if such persons act thus they will remain as dry as sticks. There are others who have attained a certain degree of quiet and at once think that, as they have done this, they can do everything else. But, instead of gaining in this way, they will lose, as I have said. So experience and discretion are necessary in everything. May the Lord give us these of His goodness.
chapter 22, Autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. Died- 4 October, 1582
It is easy to look at Teresa's tortures and ecstasies with a somewhat jaded eye and dismiss them as hallucinations brought on by the rigors of her self-depriving regimen, which in later times was labeled 'Quietism' and declared a heretical practice punishable by death. Indeed some of her descriptions of what happened to her sound like psychosomatic orgasm reached through fantasy and concentration, a 'wet dream' if you will. But then again, if she did reach almost tantaric levels of sexual arousal, her visions could have been spiritual even though they were grounded in somewhat baser realms.
But… speaking of the Tantra, sexual ecstasy has long been associated with spiritual awakening, and vise versa. Those that practice certain Wiccan customs believe that the sexual ecstasy experienced during orgasm can be a form of divine encounter of its own. Some forms of meditation deal with realizing those sexual powers, then the harnessing of them to fuel the mind during the search for enlightenment. It is remarkable how many religions use the sexual fire in their people to drive them for divine purpose, either the embrasure of their sexuality, or the denial and refocusing of it.
Teresa may well have been subconsciously indulging herself in fantasies involving archangels and the Devil as a "most hideous little Negro". But then does that invalidate her conclusions and observations? Even if her famous ecstasies were induced by spontaneous orgasm, that would hardly explain the Saint's multiple levitations, some in front of entire churches full of witnesses, in good light, without apparatus to lift her.
One sees one's body being lifted up from the ground; and although the spirit draws it after itself, and if no resistance is offered does so very gently, one does not lose consciousness -- at least, I myself have had sufficient to enable me to realize that I was being lifted up.
chapter 20, Autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. Died- 4 October, 1582
And Teresa wasn't the only one of the Great Minds to levitate. Other Catholic Saints had their experiences as well, although Teresa seems to have done it more than others, Joseph of Cupertino may be among the better known Saints while Simon Magus 'the father of heretics' is the other sort. Even Islamist seers demonstrated the ability, and it is not unknown among Eastern religions where it was taken as a sign that the mystic had 'risen above' physical limitations. In the West, levitation was used by spiritualists such as DD Home to demonstrate their control of the spirits. Home could do remarkable feats, on demand, in the location of the witnesses' choosing, to the complete bafflement of respected debunkers and investigators. Nobody has since been able to duplicate his accomplishments.
Yet we were discussing the spiritual side of these phenomenon, not the 'spiritualist' side of them. Teresa and some of the others avoided the limelight while Home sought it. Today's mystics with such abilities often fall into disrepute by getting into the business of being a stage show for fun and profit. It is exactly because she attempted to avoid the publicity that her statements are treated with deference while Uri Geller has become a bad joke and 'The Amazing' Kreskin is lucky to be a free man after one of his recent stunts in Las Vegas backfired badly.
Instead of going on the road and playing to packed houses all over Europe, Teresa stayed in convents and treated her physical body with nearly the level of contempt those who followed her path later would take to extremes.
Yet this is not to be taken to imply that to attain the heights of intellectualism where one feels somewhat confident in tackling the subject of the essence of being and the ultimate purpose of the universe one must either be a total ascetic or the exact opposite wallowing in the depths narcissism. Is it possible to lead a more or less normal life and still allow your mind to follow the higher paths?
Could it be that unless the body is emancipated and in some cases actually self abused by flagellation or other intentional damage, the mind is not free to probe the divine?
This writer refuses to accept that as the only way humans can contemplate the incomprehensible.
But then why is it the great Mystics and Seers and Prophets Of Old were all out sitting on mountains or wandering around in some desert eating locusts or locked up in a tower where they didn't see the sun for years on end? Perhaps it was that they were the only ones who had the time to write books, keep journals or had the devotees to dictate their visions to.
Some like CS Lewis and Alexander Campbell make careers of exploring their topics either directly, as with Campbell's works on myth, or indirectly as with Lewis's fictional works dealing with apologetics. Yet, those efforts, while definitely on the fringes of our current inquiry, are not specifically Metaphysics.
But then truthfully, there aren't a whole lot of mainstream Metaphysical works out there. You can find a few collections of essays and scholarly works in various places, besides straightforward textbooks, but most often pieces in this field appear in larger works on Philosophy or Theology. During his research this writer even came across a short but interesting piece discussing some of the central ideas of Parapsychology in the light of Metaphysics.
The point being that Metaphysics is out there. Sometimes it is mislabeled or not labeled at all, as oftentimes is the case in some mainstream magazines when they devote column space to issues somewhat more thoughtful than how somebody felt being voted off the island or how to tell if your lover is thinking about somebody else. At other times pieces that should be labeled simply as Metaphysics are called by something New Age like 'Higher Plane Group Unconscious'.
Part of this problem is the lack of a clear definition that says 'This and That and this over here ARE Metaphysics and That Stuff Over There Ain't."
Wasn't that where this entire work started?
It seems we have come full circle.
Through this study we have examined just about everything ever associated in any way with Metaphysics. Old masters and new charlatans, Saints and Seers and Greek Philosophers. The Internet and Shakespeare. And all it has proven is that Metaphysics, like it or not, is as much a part of our world as the air we breathe.
Since WE, as the mortals we are, cannot perceive with any certainty or reliability the Mind of God, or even if such a thing truly exists, we do the best we can with what we've got.
We invent complex rituals and write tomes on the subject, yet there is the realistic possibility that we are no more than sentient pond scum that can walk and when the end comes, the end comes. Could it be that every religious thought Man as a Species has had is nothing more than total delusion and there is nothing Out There except oblivion?
If that be true, then everything Man has ever done is, in the terms of Eternity, pointless.
If That Be True Then Nothing Christ, or Ghandi, or Muhammad, or Lincoln, or Buddha, or Moses, or Lao Tzu, or anybody else said or did means any more than a junkyard dog's howling at the moon. In fact, it may be worth less, because the dog was born to howl at the moon, what were they born for if their lives were otherwise meaningless?
Metaphysics does give us some hope that the exact opposite is true. That Man can aspire to greater heights and even other planes of existence be they Heavenly or simply Different because we ARE more than naked apes.
So Metaphysics is far more than what can be defined by the dictionary or even some long winded rambling treatment of the subject that drags in everybody from Doc Holliday to Plato and then heads back around the tree again. The subject is so small as to disallow whatever does not fit a very tight set of parameters outlining specific aspects of the divine, and then again, it is as large as the entire field of human knowledge and even our dreams and desires.
Metaphysics, moreso that any other field of inquiry, can be and is, exactly whatever you want, or need, it to be.
Overview and Index and link to ch 2
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