1. Beautiful post. Those who have their eyes squeezed shut with a hand in front of them only see the sameness and uniformity of the dark, perhaps a glimpse of shadows of the Platonic cave. But how to describe a distant shore on which takes place a breathtaking sunrise? It can scarcely be imagined, let alone described in words uttered by another. Only the compass rose of the heart can measure luminosity.
    For those of us moved by mystery – either those who go looking for it or those who are found by it (at its mercy) one challenge is keeping the pieces of life here together, integrated, functioning amidst the denial and fear-based certitude of what is peddled objective reality. Measurable, material objectivity pretends to entertain debate, but in the inexorable movement toward “progress” – that improvement is measured only by looking backwards in time, as relative to some hypothesized worse-off history. This begs the question of our existence and prevents us from fully experiencing the now of our beingness.
    Mystery demand us to be present and paying attention – reading signs, interpreting symbols and listening with one’s whole being – ears and heart. This present attention often occupies us in ways not readily understood. I think of Heraclitus’ injunction to “inquire within.” Constant change demands our attention – even if it commonly understood as “subjective reality.” Who is it that seeks to be recognized in this world? It is whoever we are. I am reminded of the Anais Nin quote: we see the world not as it is but as we are. If all that is in my mind, my imagination, is the desiccated Cartesian rationality, then I might curse the darkness and question another’s ability to see any light.
    The path of mystery is a path of receiving what comes from an unknowable future, unfolding to the present, not some place where an agreed upon set of measurements can be put in place so that “reality” can be objectively experienced and adequately described for all. This is a form of scientism. This is where one can part ways and say – no! My human experience is otherwise and because I am a human and it is what I experienced, I am not dependent on another’s recognized measuring device to tell me whether my experience was real.
    In some important ways, all the world can be seen as an icon (yes, I’m thinking of Henry Corbin) – as a symbol of the invitation. I think this is what Bulgakov called the Sophiological antinomy, representing the relationship of creator to created.
    Like a flower’s scent –
    When I hold my truth lightly,
    It will be released.
    I can say from my experience that icon space is like no other – but it is we who accept this invitation that has been extended to all. Creation is ongoing, and we are part of the living world.
    The place before me?
    Here, all is transformation –
    Symbol to image.
    Thank you for this thought-provoking post about post-modern and pre-modern congruities.

    1. Thank you for your poetic comment. Indeed I agree that “all the world can be seen as an icon”, hopefully the icon itself can help us in that.

    1. Very disturbing if you ask me. He thinks that by collapsing the opposition of mind and matter into one of the terms, that is matter, he is opening up more possibility for an incarnational theology. It is like a Marxist who thinks that if all economic classes are swallowed by the proletariat then world peace will ensue. Spirit, Logos, Energia, Act, Heaven, whatever you wanna call it, cannot be measured in quantitative terms, it is not biological or material in the scientific sense. If you look into a brain and measure firing neurons you will not find Love, Hope or Faith. You find these in how we tell stories, how we gather facts into language. Faith is neither a thought nor a feeling, it cannot be proven, it cannot be seen and it certainly cannot be outwardly measured. The fact that science is looking exclusively at the quantitative material world with exclusively quantitative methods means that they will find that the Human Being is just that (Surprise!) and if it means that the pathetic remainder of the ancient world, the flaccid notion of the Cartesian “mind” will collapse, then maybe that was inevitable! Science will only find a way out when it realizes that it is bound by language and cannot escape language, that language is Man’s tool in his demiurgic activity and it is what makes him in the image of God.

  2. Hello Jonathan,

    Thank you, for an interesting pair of articles. I find it fascinating to get a glimpse into another mind so different from my own. I am a firm believer in the Munchhausen trilemma which, to me, clearly demonstrates that all world views, including both my own and yours, are baseless. This leads me to live in two frames of reference, my own and another that attempts to approach the objective in which I see my own frame of reference as no better or worse than anyone else’s. Therefore, if I seem to criticize your world-view in this comment, please remember that at one level, I don’t see my world-view as any better than yours.

    Still, from the perspective of my own world view, I think your world view is more egocentric than anthropocentric. That is, you say, “And most of all, if we wish to understand religion and its symbolism, if we wish to understand the Bible or icons or church architecture we must anchor ourselves to the world of human experience, for that is where we can love our neighbor. ” You believe that by living in the world of human experience (i.e. in an anthropocentric world view) that you will live a better life. But your aim is not to truly live in more harmony with all your human neighbors, but instead to live facing more directly toward your God.

    But your God is yours not mine. Therefore, from my perspective, your desire is your own and your world view is your individual world view and your desire to sink back into that world view is centered on yourself (i.e. egocentric) and not anthropocentric at all.

    On the other hand, as an atheist, I am not interested in either an egocentric or anthropocentric world view. The ancient culture I want to approach is the oldest one, the nomadic band hunter-gatherers, who lived in a truly natural world with thousands of other species living around them and with no clear hierarchy of species. To me, that is from my perspective, your hierarchic world view, which places humans above non-human life forms and then invents still higher forms to populate a mythical hierarchy above themselves, seems likely to be a recent invention from the last ten thousand years. It certainly is not a natural world view for me. I was raised an atheist in a Western High-Tech Democracy. The natural reaction to un-elected hierarchical authority for me is rebellion. If I suddenly found that your God really did exist, my natural reaction would be to form a protest movement and demand free elections. Rule by Divine Right isn’t part of my mythology.

    When I walk down the street, I don’t see a flat world under a dome. I look carefully at the way sunlight plays through clouds and I see that the world is spherical. I see the phases of the Moon and I see sunlight reflected off a sphere. I watch the relationship between the phases of the Moon and the position of the Sun and I see the geometry that science describes. I have walked up and down sedimentary strata of rock and seen fossils with my own eyes. I have examined sedimentary rock and recent unlithified sediments and seen the same structures with my unaided eyes. I know the Earth is older that the Bible says, not because of intensive work with microscopes but by counting out paces as I cross thick slabs of sedimentary rock and then finding identical patterns of sediment at the bottom of one slab and the top of another. The fact that scientists have helped me to know to look for these things doesn’t change the fact that I experience them with my own eyes, unaided by a frame of metal or glass.

    On the other hand, I would argue, that to see the world as naturally hierarchical and as described in the Bible requires that you embed yourself in a frame of reference bordered by the edge of pages of theological text. I would argue that you must actually believe what these pages say is truer than what you see with your bare eyes. This is what Christians told Pagans. Christians said, “Don’t believe in the world the way, you always experienced it. There is just one God. We have a book what says so.” Christians told Pagans to stop believing their own experience and accept that what was presented in a frame a paper and ink was truer. How can you expect to convince me that this frame of paper and ink is any different from a frame of metal and glass?

    Actually, it is quite easy for me to see a difference. The frame of metal and glass predicts the behaviour of the material world while your frame of paper and ink does not. You want me to believe that your frame is superior because it did not bring about nuclear weapons or iPods. But the frame of paper and ink did bring about the Crusades and the Inquisition. Those who used Crusades and the Inquisition might just as easily have used nuclear weapons if they had been available. You might claim, rightly, that it was a poor interpretation of the frame that brought about those atrocities. I can just as easily claim that it was a poor interpretation of the frame of metal and glass that brought about nuclear weapons.

    Even without DNA analysis, Darwin and his followers saw, largely just by going out and looking, hardly ever using a microscope or telescope, that all Life was one big related family. They saw that an Earth worm was just as fit for its lifestyle as humanity was for its. They saw that the whole body of Life on Earth was one allied force fighting to create more Life, more diversity of Life, more complexity of Life, in a largely inanimate universe. This insight helps me to love my neighbour, but not just my neighbour, but all living creatures. It helps me to see coral and trees as creators of living environments, three dimensional folded surfaces on which Life can diversify and flower. In that sense, they are hierarchically above humans, in my frame of reference.

    Your second article asks, “Where is Heaven?”. In my frame of reference, heaven is here on Earth, for now. It is humanity’s task to make it in the heavens as it is on Earth by creating Life forms which can survive on other worlds. This is the service we have the power to perform. Our purpose is not to make it on Earth as it is in Heaven as I have heard Christian’s pray. In my frame of reference, the heavens are mostly baren vacuum filled with hard radiation. To make it on Earth as it is in Heaven would require nuclear weapons. Neither, is it our greedy purpose to prepare ourselves for an afterlife which is heavenly perfect. I am happy to face my own finite nature and work toward a near infinite future for Life.

    If you find your medieval frame of paper and ink more meaningful than carefully examining the world around you, then far be it from me to tell you to stop reading your paper and ink. The Munchhausen trilemma applies and I can not prove that paper and ink is inferior to careful examination of reality. But please don’t hope to convince me to abandon my enhanced vision of metal and glass in which I can extend the world I experience day-to-day without contradiction or unnecessary self-delusion.


    Eric Saumur
    (This comment is also published at http://wiki.solseed.org/A_Frame_of_Paper_And_Ink )

    1. There is a kind of fascinating confused madness in your comment, from declaring that all world views are baseless to somehow declaring that you magically know the worldview of ancient “nomadic band hunter-gatherers”, to a strange logical jump between anthropocentric and egocentric because, what was it again? Oh yes, my god is not your god and my goal is not to live in harmony with my neighbors but to live more facing my god (because of course those two things are incompatible) and so my world view is my own and to want to live through that world view is more egocentric than you because you want to live in harmony and non-hierarchically with all living things like worms and coral which are actually hierarchically higher than you. Did I get that right?

      You see the biggest problem with “new atheists” is that you have no idea what intelligent, aware Christians actually believe and so your arguments fall flat. In your comments there are dozens of assumptions which you brandish and then smirkly think you defeat with your quasi-logical games. I cannot address them all so I will only deal with one, the most important one. God. God, the Uncreated, the Origin, the Infinite in the absolute sense, in the classical theist sense, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism in Zoroastrianism and others, is not a thing, is not a phenomena, not a concept, not a person, not a father, not a son, not a spirit, not actually a being. Most Theologians are aware that the language we use for God, though useful and necessary can never circumscribe the Divine. God in the ultimate sense, does not “exist”. The origin of a set of things never lies within that set. The origin of All is not a “part” of that totality. Yet because God is the origin of All, simultaneously all there is “points” to that origin as well, so all that is is ultimately in God. It is an aporia, but not simply the kind of random “ok, you believe in God, I believe in a giant purple cat in the sky”. The language we we use to talk about God is carefully crafted to take into account the impossibility of circumscribing the origin of all within language. So when you muse about God and democracy and demonstrations against Divine right, you are embarrassing yourself in showing that you have no idea what you are talking about, like a 14 year old who wants to solve the world’s economic problems by printing more money. I would say at least get the basic thing, at least know what God does and does not mean before you engage in such discussion.

      One last thing. If “heavens are mostly baren vacuum filled with hard radiation.” and “To make it on Earth as it is in Heaven would require nuclear weapons. ” we are pretty lucky because we have some! All the physicists in the 1940s collaborated to invent them, here on Earth. So maybe we can send a few of them out there as we attempt to make it in the Heavens as it is on Earth.

  3. […] Where is Heaven? – Jonathan Pageau, Orthodox Arts Journal […]

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