God is not Odin, God is not Zeus, God is not Marduk

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God is not Odin All-Father.
God does not wield thunderbolts like Zeus.
God does not make the world by slaying Tiamat
and dividing her carcass to form heaven and earth.
God is not god.

We Christians, of course, did not invent the one “God.” We inherited the notion from the Jews, who struggled for centuries to understand how YHWH was different from the gods whom she was commanded never to worship and obey: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). N. T. Wright describes the 2nd Temple Jewish belief in God as creational monotheism: “It spoke of a god who had made the world, and who thus was to be distinguished from four other conceptions of the divinity which might claim to be ‘monotheistic,’ and at least one which would not” (The New Testament and the People of God, pp. 248-250):

  1. Creational monotheism excludes henotheism, i.e., the belief that YHWH is but one of many gods, though superior to the other gods and thus the only one deserving of Israel’s worship and obedience. Think of the period of the Judges when Israelites took the daughters of the heathen in marriage and served their gods, presumably in addition to YHWH. Think of Elijah’s conflict with the Baals.
  2. Creational monotheism excludes pantheism, i.e., the belief that divinity is fundamentally identified with the whole of reality. Think Stoicism.
  3. Creational monotheism excludes deism, i.e., the belief that the gods are detached from the history of the world and never intervene in its workings. Think Epicureanism.
  4. Creational monotheism excludes dualism, i.e.., the belief that the physical world was made by a supernatural being distinct from the one true god. Think Gnosticism.
  5. Creational monotheism excludes paganism, i.e., the belief that the universe is populated by many kinds of divine beings. Think … well … think polytheism.

Note that the excluded belief systems share one thing in common—divinity exists in a necessary relationship with the world (see “The Christian Distinction“).

Christianity received the unique Jewish understanding of divinity and radicalized it through theological, spiritual, and philosophical reflection. We see this expressed in two patristic assertions:

  • God made the world, not from pre-existent matter, but from nothing (creatio ex nihilo).
  • The divine ousia is incomprehensible.

These two assertions are inextricably woven together. In the words of St Gregory the Theologian: “No one has yet discovered or ever shall discover what God is in his nature and essence” (Or. 28.17).

I concluded my previous post with the question, How do we stop thinking of God as god? The contemporary theologian I have found most helpful on this question is Herbert McCabe. The key, suggests McCabe, is to stop thinking of God as in any way an inhabitant of the universe.

God must be incomprehensible to us precisely because he is creator of all that is and, as Aquinas puts it, outside the order of all beings. God therefore cannot be classified as any kind of being. God cannot be compared to or contrasted with other things in respect of what they are like as dogs can be compared and contrasted with cats and both of them with stones or stars. God is not an inhabitant of the universe; he is the reason why there is a universe at all. God is in everything holding it constantly in existence but he is not located anywhere, nor is what it is to be God located anywhere in logical space. When you have finished classifying and counting all the things in the universe you cannot add: ‘And also there is God.’ When you have finished classifying and counting everything in the universe you have finished, period. There is no God in the world. (God Still Matters, p. 37)

If God is not a being but the ultimate source and cause of all that he has freely brought into existence, then he cannot be understood as a god. Deities are but “bits of the universe”; but the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the transcendent creator of the universe. He is the reason why there is a universe, whether it contains gods, fairies, sprites, centaurs or whatnot.

But if God is not a god, then what is he? McCabe is direct: we do not know. We do not know what God is. We cannot provide a definition of his nature. We cannot comprehend his essence. Hence we really do not know what we are talking about when we use the word “God.” All we know is that whatever God is, he is the transcendent Mystery of our existence:

The Jewish discovery that God is not a god but Creator is the discovery of absolute Mystery behind and underpinning reality. Those who share it (either in its Judaic or its Christian form) are not monotheists who have reduced the number of gods to one. They, we, have abolished the gods; there is only the Mystery sustaining all that is. The Mystery is unfathomable, but it is not remote as the gods are remote. The gods live somewhere else, on Olympus or above the starry sky. The Mystery is everywhere and always, in every grain of sand and every flash of colour, every hint of flavour in a wine, keeping all these things in existence every microsecond. We could not literally approach God or get nearer to God for God is already nearer to us than we are to ourselves. God is the ultimate depth of our beings making us to be ourselves. (p. 59)

Perhaps now we can understand why Christians were sometimes accused by pagans of being atheists. A God as envisioned by the Church is not a god at all.

God is God—the transcendent, infinite, ineffable, unsurpassable, almighty Creator of the cosmos and immanent ground of all being. To him we give all glory, laud, and honor, blessing and praise, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

(20 November 2013; rev.)

(Go to “The Mystery of One”)

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108 Responses to God is not Odin, God is not Zeus, God is not Marduk

  1. arthurjaco says:

    “When you have finished classifying and counting all the things in the universe, you cannot add: ‘And also there is God.’ When you have finished classifying and counting everything in the universe, you have finished, period. There is no God in the world.”

    Perhaps the *one* sentence to always keep in mind whenever one is debating 21st century atheists, especially when they use the One God Further objection – at which point they prove they don’t understand what they’re talking about.

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  2. arthur ja says:

    Fr Aidan,

    Please do correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge, you have not (yet) written anything on the differences between the two Orthodox Communions : Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy.

    For quite a long time, I understood that the *one* most important difference between the two Orthodoxies lied in a distinct christology, with the OO affirming miaphysitism and the EO denying it.

    For a long time, such a distinction meant (for both the RCC and for EO) that the Oriental Orthodox were not mere schismatics but actually UN-orthodox “heretics”, which is even worse.

    However, since the late 20th century, the understanding of Oriental Orthodoxy that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Communion shared seems to have evolved.

    I believe *both* Churches now affirm that Oriental Orthodox christology only differs from theirs in *wording*… and that’s pretty much it.

    And yet.

    Yet, I still find *some* traditional Eastern Orthodox sharply – even ferociously – disagreeing with that assessment, with many *still* calling their Oriental Orthodox brethren “heretics”.

    This is all rather confusing to me.

    Given your superior knowledge of Orthodoxy, could you please enlighten us (or at least me ^^) on that particular matter?

    Would you be interested in writing an article on the main differences between the two Communions and on whether or not their christology is actually the same nowadays (only expressed in different terms)?

    Are they heretics?
    Do you recommend burning them at the stake or eating them with cheese whiz?

    Thank you very much in advance

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Arthur, as a matter of principle I avoid ecclesiological disputes as much as possible. This rule particularly obtains regarding the Orthodox–Oriental schism, about which I do not know enough to even have an opinion. Sorry.

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  3. Much respect!

    One question though: you mention that Yahweh created all things from nothing (ex nihilo). However, the text tells us that God crafted things from Chaos (Hebrew: Tehu).

    Is it possible that Genesis presents the creation of perceptible reality? Meaning: God creates the means by which we can begin to understand the great disparity between us and Him, perhaps called consciousness?

    This seems to fit with the concept of wisdom (Hebrew: Chokmah) and Yahweh’s establishment of Order. Such order is perceived, and perceiving it is called wisdom. An alignment with creation is an alignment with the Logos, something potentially argued for in John 1.

    Looking forward to your thoughts!

    TE.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      The text says that when God created the heavens and earth they were without form and void. It is explicit that God first created unformed creation, then he formed it.

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      • DBH says:

        No, not really. The Elohist Genesis narrative is not about creatio ex nihilo. What the Hebrew really says is that when God began to create, the world was already there but unformed. Don’t read later theology back into the text’s literal level. Most of Hebrew scripture, in its original form, was written in a polytheist vein, and fully formed monotheism (and classical theistic ideas like creation from nothingness) developed slowly.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          I realise I am taking my life in my hands, but …
          My recollection of the Hebrew is that it starts with “Bereshit” (spelling from memory) in the construct followed by the perfect form of the verb, which would be “In the beginning when God created / had created the heavens and the earth…” then follows up with a “wa / and”, and then a series of noun clauses before moving into a series of imperfect consecutives and straightforward narrative from the beginning of verse 3, when God starts speaking.
          The traditional (at least in English renditions) reading of this (as I understand it) ignores the “bereshit” being in the construct and reads the opening words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” as if it were consecutive narrative. The alternative reading, however, requires taking a perfect form of the verb as an ongoing rather than single completed action, ignoring the “and” at the beginning of verse 2 and treating the imperfect consecutive at the beginning of verse 3 as simultaneous with instead of sequential to what precedes, which would be the normal meaning of this form of the verb.
          Reading the grammar “as is”, the whole of vv1-2 is one long circumstantial clause describing the circumstances of the unformed earth and heaven after God has created it, and before he forms it into its current form from v3 onwards, creating it and then forming it, as distinguished and summarised at the end of 2:3.
          (Now tell me how ludicrously wrong I am.)

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          • DBH says:

            Would that ancient Hebrew was as simple as Latin, and would that Genesis 1:1 were grammatically regular.

            Putting all other issues aside, the b’reishit has a sh’va subscript indication, not a kamatz subscript, under the initial bet, which marks it as a constructive noun that ought to be qualified by another noun, usually as a genitive of attribution. Thus: “in the beginning of.” Now the verb bara (fashioned/fashioning) is not a noun, of course, so the grammar is odd; but most scholars take it that the verb here is being treated almost as a present participle functioning as a substantive.

            The wa at the beginning of v. 2 does not indicate a consecutive narrative. You’re anglicizing there. There was BOTH an earth that was tohu wa bohu and ALSO darkness on the tehom.

            Anyway, here as in the psalms, creation is a matter organizing chaos. And the tohu (tehom? Tiammat?) and bohu (Behemoth?) continue to be adversaries.

            Creatio ex nihilo is not a biblical concept. It’s a later and necessary metaphysical interpretation.

            Liked by 4 people

          • M. Robbins says:

            The Womb of nature, and perhaps her Grave,
            Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
            But all these in their pregnant causes mixt
            Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight …

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          • DBH says:

            Well, Milton really was a believer in an original materiality, wasn’t he?

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          • DBH says:

            By the way, I also disagree with McCabe’s assertion that Christianity abolished the gods. I mean, as an historical development, we may claim something of the sort. But, as for the logic of the claim, if monotheism is not the reduction of the number of gods to one, but rather an altogether different ontology of the divine, then there is no conflict between the oneness of God and the plurality of “gods”. Judaism and Christianity demoted the other elohim or theoi to “angels”, but functionally that did not result in a cosmology notably distinct from that of the monotheistic paganisms of the time, or (for that matter) from that of monotheistic Hinduism. There is the one divine and infinite source of all, and there are intermediate divine and spiritual powers between God and the material order (theoi, daemones, angeloi, etc.). The discovery of this ontologically fuller monotheism, moreover, is not a unique achievement of Jews and Christians; we see it also in Graeco-Roman thought and in Indian thought and even (more obscurely) in developed Chinese understandings of Tian.

            God was never a secret entrusted to only one or two faiths.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            And NT Wright is talking nonsense, especially with his category 5 exclusion. In fact, all his “exclusions” are conceptually confused. Good Evangelical oversimplifier that he is, vast stretches of patristic and mediaeval metaphysics qualify those sorts of judgments. Maximus, Eriugena, Cusanus all come to mind…

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          • M. Robbins says:

            Yes, his Chaos is the unformed “stuff” from which God created the world. Though a lot of it is still hanging around for some reason as Satan flies down to Earth to kick off the whole mess.

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          • DBH, would you be happy to unequivocally affirm that gods such as Zeus, Brahma, Odin and Osiris really did exist back in the days when they were worshipped, and would you also affirm that they still exist today? If so, i’m curious what you reckon about the current nihilistic culture of the west; what is the relationship of these old forgotten gods to our current cultural situation? Are they simply hiding in the background, making the most of the fact that no one explicitly worships them any more? I have heard compelling comparisons of the current abortion culture to the ancient cults of child sacrifice to Moloch (among other bloodfirsty gods). Do you think that these ancient gods still are wielding influence over politics and religion today, even tho they may no longer be explicitly acknowledged with sacrifice and veneration?

            Or perhaps the gods cease to exist when they cease to be venerated, and new gods emerge to take their place? I don’t find it too hard to imagine that each modern nation-state has a demon at the top calling the shots and influencing society.

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          • DBH says:

            Last I heard, Odin was running several car dealerships in Milwaukee, Apollo had gone into fashion design and was living in Milan, and Osiris was dead (again), but who knows how long that’ll last. I’ve lost track of the rest of the band.

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      • I think it’s important to read the original language here. I am in agreement with DBH that the text does not support an ex nihilo explanation. It appears that Genesis 1 follows other ancient creation stories of gods creating Order from Chaos.

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        • It is interesting though, that the later we date Genesis 1, the more likely it MAY be referring to some notion to creatio ex nihilo. The earlier we date, the more implausible it becomes.

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          • DBH says:

            I doubt you could ever date it late enough to make the idea plausible. I don’t think many Christians are really aware of how long it took for a full monotheism to take shape in Judaism, or how necessary that development was before the ontological distinction of creation from fashioning could even be conceived. To me, it’s clear that the whole Elohist narrative of Genesis 1 (and a little bit of Genesis 2) is a redacted but still recognizable version of a standard Mesopotamian and Near Eastern story of the conquest of a primordial chaos. That does not make the later Jewish and Christian spiritualization (or metaphysicalization) of that story illegitimate, of course. But, in fact, the earliest version of El was of a god among gods, and the original portrait of YHVH was in fact much the same as Marduk or Baal Haddad. I take encouragement from that, as it happens: revelation is always a history, not a singular interruption of history. Even its novelties require a tradition of interpretation, as well as an openness to future developments and corrections (like overcoming the barbarous mythology of infernalism).

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  4. I have less of an issue reading the Elohist account in Genesis 1 as late and reflective of an emerging monotheism that is composed in or around the time of the Babylonian exile (though sourced by earlier Israelite conceptions of creation). The Yahwistic account (likely sourced centuries earlier) in Genesis 2, however, does stand out to me as rather unique in its Ancient Near East context due to the absence of other deities and the intimacy that pervades the forming of the first human pair. What I do find striking is that it sets a precedent for Israel’s self-understanding as ones who would relate directly to the Most High God, who emerges as a deity sui generis by the time we get to the writing prophets. Whatever mediating forces, divinities, et. al. that may have been appropriate for the nations in connecting to the divine; Israel’s God appears to opt for a significantly less mediated relationship.

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    • JGFC says:

      I would like to second this statement. Reiterating Dr. Hart’s point above, the other gods, the elohim, never really disappeared linguistically even in Second Temple Judaism, and even in the Hebrew Scriptures they are without personalities or storylines. Yes, technically, Yhwh/El Shaddai is among many gods, in pre-monarchic compositions like Deuteronomy 33 right through Hellenistic texts like the final version of Daniel 7, but these gods are anonymous, have beginnings, and can die – as in Psalm 82 and Isaiah 14, which may or may not reflect a conflict with a divine rival, a la Baal Hadad versus Athtar-shamem. Recently, Laura Quick has suggested this reflects a judgment on a solar god by the God of the heavens, which to me has resonances of the Phaeton myth. In any event, Benjamin Sommer has a helpful appendix essay to “Bodies of God” (2009), making just Jedidiah’s observation, that points out these distinctions, and, in basic agreement with Dr. Hart, points out that monotheism in fact is an early modern concept anyways, oddly at right the same time “religion” came into our vocabulary. That said, all the biblical writers themselves tend to make a category distinction between Yhwh/El Shaddai and the rest of these gods by virtue of their eternity, creativity, or simply power to effect the narrative of events in history – on the way, as it were, to what we might think of “monotheistic transcendence.” That said, with Dr. Hart, other cultures also recognized certain gods as categorically transcendent – by which I mean, “uncreated” and thereby different in kind, although still quite anthropomorphic otherwise, on the way to what we might say about God as such – so, for example, the Orphic Zeus (as a re-capitulation of Phanes), Tian, Amun-Re, the Aten, etc. Sometimes they participated in what ANE scholars have called “transcendent anthropomorphism,” which lent itself to biblical aniconism in the long run, whereby particular gods are distinguished from lesser gods and human beings by virtue of how unlike their bodies are from ordinary experience. With these things in mind, I am less cautious perhaps in speaking of a category distinction of thought between a biblical “monotheism,” with full recognition of the other gods (and not necessarily speaking for ancient Israelite religion), and surrounding conceptions of polytheism or even “serial poly-monotheism,” to borrow from Sommer’s essay, i.e. where Marduk, son of Enki/Ea, who actually is portrayed in a transcendentally anthropomorphic way, assumes domination of the pantheon and makes the world. In my opinion, one doesn’t see that kind of succession in the Hebrew Bible, though the chaoskampf motif is retained.

      Perhaps related to the issue of whether Yhwh/El Shaddai was primes inter pares among the gods or not, I would like to point out too that there is a long-standing division in scholarship between those who see Yhwh/El Shaddai as a direct continuation of the Northwest Semitic El, the position of the late Frank More Cross, most notably, and more recently Meindert Dijkstra and Johannes DeMoor, versus those who, maybe a majority today, like Mark S. Smith, for example, argue for the merging of two actual gods, Yhwh being from the Midianites originally, either during the United Monarchy or slightly before. Then there are those like John Day in “God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea” who see the flexibility of the “God of heaven” category, and see Elyon as a Baal Shamem-type El figure in Iron Age Canaan, as opposed to Anatolian Ugarit. And this could be amenable to either view. Personally, I slightly lean to the former, but they both have proponents.

      As a side note, reading these comment threads, I think it would be fascinating, just hypothetically and not to shoulder you with more work, Dr. Hart, to see Dr. Hart dialogue with Dr. Nicholas Wyatt (University of Edinburgh) at some point in the future, who specializes in Ugaritic religion, since they share a lot of common interests. Wyatt has also studied East Asian religion, and often brings Northwest Semitic mythological tropes, including the Ugaritic, into dialogue with Vedic philosophy and historical religion, and I think both appreciate myth as a category in the same way in relation to philosophy and other realms of human thought.

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    • DBH says:

      Well, as regards the Yahvist story, that sounds nice, and fits some aspects of the redacted text. But, at the strictly literal level, the story remains rather bitterly irreverent, in an almost Sumerian way: YHVH has planted a garden to shelter the magic trees that give him and the other gods special wisdom and endless life, and has created human beings as unpaid gardeners whom he keeps so ignorant of of their state that they do not even know they are naked. He also tells them the tree of knowledge is poisonous. And, when the snake (in mischief or out of benevolence) clues them in to the real story, YHVH panics and goes to tell the other gods that, now that the man and woman have eaten from the tree of knowledge and know the difference between what’s good (being a wealthy, well-dressed god) and what’s bad (being naked and ignorant), they might also eat from the magic tree of endless life and become rivals to the gods (Genesis 3:22).

      To be honest, I think we read our own spiritual sentiments back into the narrative too easily. It’s good to allegorize, but it’s a mistake to confuse our versions of the stories for real reflections of early Israelitic religion and myth.

      Take the tale of the Tower of Babel. The story of Babel is not about the attempt of human beings to storm the heavens. It is about the invention of a terrifying new technology, the brick, which allows human beings to build towers that reach up into the sky (maybe as high as three or four stories!). Terrified by the emerging technological power of human beings, and fearing a brick-gap, YHVH runs to the other gods and warns that these upstarts might soon be more powerful than the gods. To prevent this, he confuses their tongues. It’s all quite clear and explicit on the page, but we are trained not to see it.

      To be honest, once we strip away the spiritualized versions of these stories, we find a picture of the divine not much more encouraging than what we see in Gilgamesh. This is even true of the tale of Noah. The redacted version has been much moralized, but we still see the older Mesopotamian myth of the foolish gods arbitrarily destroying their creatures, but then remembering at the last moment that they need human beings to feed them with sacrifices. Thus God, on smelling the sweet savor of Noah’s meat-offering, vows not to make that mistake again.

      As for the grander, less ironical and whimsical Elohist narrative, yes, there is something like a picture of creation as the sovereign act of God Most High. Still, it is not yet an account of creatio ex nihilo.

      As for a significantly less mediated relationship–not according to Paul. In Galatians, for instance, he tells us that even the Law of Moses was written not by the hand of God directly, but by angels. That said, for Paul God does directly elect Israel, and that much at least sets them apart. Even so, between human beings–Jew and Gentile alike–their are celestial orders of powers and principalities and thrones and the like that have to be cleared out of the way by Christ before anyone can enjoy real intimacy with the Father, and God become all in all.

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      • DBH says:

        There are. I thought I’d edited the dictated text to perfection, and yet…

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      • DBH,

        I think that at a diachronic level there is some merit to this reading, especially from a source criticism standpoint. But, at that point, we aren’t really reading these texts as Scripture, which if I am understanding you correctly, is something you’re driving at. It’s hard to say exactly what/how the source material is understood in ancient Israel, but it would appear that by the time the texts are being arranged and redacted during and after the exile that these texts were foundational to the transition from henotheism to something closer to what we understand as monotheism (though I don’t want to push either of those terms too far).

        As for the Pauline developments in reading the OT through Christ, I find this to be one of the more interesting features you draw out in your NT footnotes, and I find the idea quite appealing. The only area where I would push back is that Paul stands in a hermeneutical tradition that is already envisaging a relationship to God which is far less mediated, and I think this begins to be reflected in the new covenant passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (and their counterparts in the Minor Prophets). There is already a growing suspicion in the prophetic witness regarding the mediatorial value of the cult itself, and a look toward the future horizon where the dynamics in divine-human relationships are bound to shift.

        But, the mythological oddities of the various strands of the OT is something that we definitely do overlook. However, I do think that getting lost in the background, or even in a literal reading actually takes us further away from the final compositional strategy of the Pentateuch and the Primary History running through 2 Kings. I am not saying these elements aren’t there, but I do think that a canonical reading of the sort that Brevard Childs advocates is maybe much closer to how the texts were being read in, say, 2nd Temple Judaism, and points to an emerging hope for a much more intimately bound relationship with the God of Israel, which I do think is replete in the Psalms as well as the Prophets. Still, I don’t know how we can attain this reading aside from later revelation, and as Christian readers of the Hebrew Scriptures, from a Christological vantage.

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        • DBH says:

          If you like. I hope you appreciate, just as a general anthropological observation, that this same development from a cultic and mediated relation to the divine to one of direct, largely unmediated, even personal communion is something of a recurrent phenomenon in religious experience. Thus, say, the evolution from the strict ritualism and polytheistic mediation of the Vedas to the monotheistic synthesis of the Upanishads to the intimate devotionalism and personal God of Bhakti.

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          • It’s fascinating how in the strain of Vaishnavism that coalesced around Lord Caitanya and developed from there, the old Vedic sacrifices are explicitly repudiated (due to focusing a person on material benefits rather than spiritual liberation), and chanting the name(s) of God in samkirtan is prescribed as the supreme and final sacrifice. The idea is somewhat similar to how the mass/Divine liturgy is supposed to be a sacramental manifestion of Christ’s once for all immolation-oblation on the cross, but striped of any suffering or death. In Vaishnavism the vedic sacrifices gave way to kirtan; In Christianity the immolation of humans and animals (to propitiate the gods and maintain the structures of society) gave way to the bloodless oblation of the mass.

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          • DBH,

            Yes, this is definitely helpful, and seems to be fitting with the transcendental/eschatological arguments you make in TASBS. It shouldn’t be surprising that we would find in the high religious traditions the movement toward personal (and corporate) communion with the Divine in a manner that is not mediated through either cult or some form of celestial hierarchy. This kind of seems like the fundamental point of Paul’s eschatology in 1 Cor 15 and elsewhere – as God being all in all implies unrestricted universal access.

            I must confess, to my own shame, that I am not nearly familiar with the Hindu and Buddhist traditions as I ought to be. I am currently reading some material on Mahayana Buddhism, but I don’t even know where to start in the Hindu tradition. Do you know of any resources that might be a helpful reading companion to the Hindu Scriptures?

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          • DBH says:

            Begin with the texts in the bibliographical essay at the back of The Experience of God before moving on to more specialized texts. I would also look up anything by Anatanand Rambachan and Richard de Smet. And it’s not a bad idea to read some of the classic introductory volumes–for all their faults–like RC Zaehner’s.

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      • rephinia says:

        This is all very interesting! What are some sources where I can read about the literal meaning of the texts and what the community actually believed?

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  5. Marcus says:

    David, what do you think about the idea that Genesis 1 is a functional account of creation (God giving functions to the cosmos) instead of a material creation as expressed by John Walton?

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    • DBH says:

      I think it’s mythical material about a maker god conquering chaos. It’s a story about where the ordered world came from. All theological glosses of that sort are elective, and are usually emptily pious blather. It is, however, legitimate to allegorize the tale as, say, God preparing creation to be a temple of his presence or theatre of his glory. But let’s not pretend that that is what the text is “about.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • JGFC says:

        Just some minor points, but I’d like to push back a little bit here, unless I’m misunderstanding you in which case I apologize. To be sure, Genesis 1-3, in its final redacted form, is about a creator-god conquering chaos at least in some parts, especially the serpent in Genesis 2. But I disagree that chaoskampf in Genesis or, for that matter, core cosmological poetic texts like Psalm 8 or Psalm 93, excludes the meaning, even in its literal sense (and personally I do think the ancient Hebrew writers were able to intend beyond the literal – so, for example, Terje Stordalen in “Echoes of Eden” (2000) questions whether the writers believed Eden was a real geographical place), of “God preparing creation to be a temple of his presence or theatre of his glory.” I do think that is indeed what the text is about in its original and authorial intent, and not merely an allegory, especially, though not even exclusively, in its final and redacted form. For one, not all scholars believe Genesis 1 actually is a chaoskampf in its entirety, as the writer may have been writing along Syro-Phoenician or Egyptian lines regarding the function of Ruah Elohim rather than Mesopotamian Enuma Elish model. I’m thinking chiefly of Joann Scurlock who has argued for Ruah Elohim as the surveying and planning intellect of God rather than a brute storm (though I admit other scholars have argued for this), Willliam McClellan, S.J., or Albright himself, who both argue for the “breath of life” interpretation, not unlike the old Syriac “brooding” theology noted by Sebastian Brock. That said, chaoskampf is certainly a major theme in other texts, such as Psalms 18 or 93, and is at least implied in the sea monsters of Genesis 1, though there they are expressions of divine creative abandon, the great “swarming,” rather than a threat. In fact, the “theatre of glory” trajectory of the entire Pentateuch is exactly the plot-line argued for by Benjamin Sommer in his “Bodies of God” (2009), at least for the Priestly source. Thomas Habel has a whole study, “He Who Stretches Out the Heavens,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972), precisely on this point in older biblical poetics too. Finally, I would like to suggest that chaoskampf and “theatre of glory” plots are not exclusive and are in fact usually intertwined meanings in myth. In the Baal Cycle, Baal Hadad defeats Yam and Mot but in order to obtain his heavenly palace as king from their father, and that palace is later revealed to be his “theatre of glory,” and also the world’s, not unlike Yhwh’s provision from his chambers in Psalm 104, not only for Baal’s self-aggrandizement but also for the benefit of the suffering world undergoing drought. To quote Wyatt’s translation, very similar to Psalm 36, “Let a window be opened in the house/A casement in the midst of the palace!/Baal opened a rift in the clouds/His holy voice Baal gave forth…The enemies of Baal took holdings of the forests…The Beloved (Mot) may scheme in his heart/But I (Baal Hadad) alone it is who will rule over the gods/Who will fill gods and men/Who will satisfy the multitudes of the earth” (pg. 109). Psalm 8 has the same basic pattern, as the very mainstream scholar Mark S. Smith notes in his “Priestly Vision of Genesis 1” (2009), the heavenly palace built for the young gods, (so argues Nicholas Wyatt in his “Myths of Power,” pg. 242) placed as a bulwark against the “enemy and the avenger” of chaos, and he puts forward quite strongly for the “theatre of glory” interpretation of Genesis 1 itself, going so far as to posit the light of Day 1 as uncreated light, though one doesn’t need to do that, and other texts: “The two terms [splendor and name in Ps. 8] suggest a model of the heavens and earth as the site of God’s manifestation to humanity. In other words, the heavens are metaphorically like a sanctuary containing divine splendor.” (pg. 30). I suppose I’d like to suggest that Biblical authors and redactors were capable of more sophisticated plots and layers of meaning, even long-range plots as in the case of the Pentateuch. But then again I’d argue the same for Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish as meaningful proto-philosophical exercises, too, so I’m not holding out the biblical authors alone as somehow distinct from wider myth-making. That said, I absolutely agree with your overall point regarding the priority of Christ in showing a more complete and unmediated revelation of the Father and greatly value your work on apokatastasis and “Experience of Being.”

        Like

        • DBH says:

          That final point was not mine. I made no such claim.

          As for the rest, you are missing the point. If you are only saying that these creation narratives are about a creator fashioning a habitable cosmos for himself and the other gods, where they can rule over an ordered creation, sure. Who denies that? But the question was an either/or: should we deny that these stories really concern the material history of the cosmos? I am not the one asserting an incompatibility here, or insisting that one or another reading is the exclusive “meaning” of the texts.

          Like

          • JGFC says:

            I think I misread your point above. My mistake.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            No, I was cryptic. I believe the original question concerned John Walton, who I seem to recall is interested in denying that there is any material cosmogony in the texts because he wants to make clear that these stories are not just bad science. Commendable intention, but he ends up reinforcing a false distinction.

            One point: to speak of allegorizing a text is not to deny that this might have been the original intention of the authors. It means only that, in the absence of a straightforward textual statement that the act of creation is a firm of temple-building, one must read it as an allegory to get that meaning out of it.

            Like

  6. Marcus says:

    This Genesis talk is very interesting, because It reminds me of past debates with fellow Christians about Genesis and how many of them still view the Hebrew Bible through 15th,16th century (protestant) theological doctrines, always divorcing it from its Near Eastern, polytheistic (as DBH says) context.

    It reminds me of my loving interest in Neoplatonism, one of the most influential Neoplatonic scholars that shaped my views was Algis Uzdavinys who really tried to bring Neoplatonism back to it’s Egyptian roots instead of the Hellenistic .I think Uzdavinys had a great passion and desire for Greek/Hellenistic thought and culture, but he recognized it as mainly repackaged, reformulated concepts and ideas from an older tradition. Now granted I don’t know how much Uzdavinys ideas on the Egyptian influence is viewed among Neoplatonic scholars today (It seems like Classicists, in general, acknowledge Near Eastern influence on Greek thought but tend to be more skeptical about direct Egyptian influence) but anyways, I feel like i came out after reading “Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth” with a stronger understanding of Neoplatonism then if I just read and started with Plotinus.

    I too am interested in diving deep into Asian religions and DBH’s passion of Advaita Vedanta and its connections with Neoplatonism is exciting and I am looking foward to discovering all that stuff sometime in the future

    But maybe when I do that, I should try and not view Advaita Vedanta through a strictly Neoplatonic lense (even with the exteme similarities between the two traditions) because I assume there are still crucial differences between Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism that it would be stronger to view Advaita Vedanta within its own context and sources.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I did not actually speak of Advaita Vedanta as such. Some of the Vedantic thinkers I most admire were in fact Vishistadvaita. And, while I find nothing appealing in the Dvaita tradition, I was speaking of Vedanta as a general designation for all the systems of developed Vedic philosophy.

      I am not a great admirer of Uzdavinys, I fear.

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      • Marcus says:

        yeah, I always kept it open as a possibility that Uzdavinys exaggerates the Egyptian influence of Neoplatonism.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          He was a brilliant guy, don’t get me wrong. But he suffered from the perennialist need to find a secret history and esoteric tradition behind everything.

          Like

          • Marcus says:

            Agree 100 percent about perenialism… like Guenon and the rest of the Traditionalist school Burkhardt, Schuon etc. they espoused the whole “decline of the West and that Christianity was corrupted by secularism and scientism.” so they seemed to just attach themselves to Sufi Islam which they saw as a more “pure” and “less corrupt tradition”.

            plus Perrenialism has some terrible connotations with it.. Evola and Fascism….

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            Marcus, re. the terrible connotations of perennialism: To be fair, Guénon was quite critical of Evola (as for why, see the chapter “Tradition and Traditionalism” in The Reign of Quantity), and Schuon distanced himself from those promoting a political agenda, as seen, for instance, in this letter of his to a right-wing traditionalist publisher:

            “I have just received the list of your publications and I note that for the most part they are racist, fascist, and nazi in spirit and thus in no sense traditionalist in the proper and authentic sense of this word. I do not wish to appear in such a context, and I cannot give my consent to the publication of one of my books under your imprint. The public would place me in a modern political category, whereas I am engaged in nothing of the kind, being a true traditionalist, and thus identified with a scale of values that escapes modernists,
            even those of the right.”

            Like

      • Marucs says:

        yeah, I always left open the possibility that Uzdavinys exaggerates the infleunce of Egypt on Neoplatonism, and from your comment about not being an admirer, I assume he probably does alot

        Sorry I didn’t mean to misrepresent you on Vedanta

        Like

    • Marcus says:

      Cycneus, oh yeah I agree. I didn’t mean to say that Guenon was a fascist or had fascist tendencies like Evola, just that perrenialism has that taint a bit.
      They still have that whole “decline of modernity, decline of the west, Christianity has been tainted so we need to go to a much more pure source”

      Like

      • Cycneus says:

        It definitely has that taint, I agree, but I find this to be quite unfortunate and misleading for the most part. As for the decline of Christianity and the west, the position you outline is strictly speaking Guenonian rather than “Perennialist”. Schuon criticised Guénon rather forcefully on this point, and always defended the sacramental efficacy of Christianity even in its contemporary insitutions (though not all of them, to be sure).

        Like

  7. brian says:

    Interesting conversation, fellas. No doubt the perennialists have their faults, but I prefer them to the modern demotic spirit and by a considerable margin. Jean Borella’s work is worthwhile, imo.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Hmm. Can’t really concur, Brian.

      I have to admit that I actually dislike most of them. Or, to be honest, I hate many of them. Evola was evil, of course, and is surely spending a long probationary period in Hell even now. But they almost all had dreadful politics, in varying degrees, and their spiritual aristocratism is annoying. Guénon bores me with his sickly nostalgia, boundless resentment of historical change, and preposterous self-adoration. The sight of Schuon in his silly clothes always makes me laugh. And I find his lousy paintings to be not only kitsch, but something on the order of adolescent pornography. It’s hard to feel particularly great reverence for men who spend their lives demanding it from you. (Then again, I have an anti-clerical streak in me.) In general, moreover, it’s notable that none of these men ever acquired a reputation for personal holiness, which makes them very dubious spiritual guides for a “benighted” humanity.

      But I love a good honest syncretist like Aldous Huxley (who, despite the title of his famous anthology, was not part of the perennialist faction). He took everything seriously without being so arrogant as to produce a “system” of the higher truths in each of the creeds, and didn’t anoint himself into a kind of personal priesthood. When he was silly–his physiological speculations, for instance–it was usually just an honest mistake.

      Borella belongs in a somewhat different category, probably. He doesn’t interest me very much, I admit, but he seems to be a healthier soul than, say, Guénon.

      But the truth is that, while I find almost every religious tradition fascinating and absorbing and admirable in its own terms, I can’t stand esotericism, especially of the sort that pretends to know of some set of secrets hidden in each tradition largely invisible to the adherents of that tradition. To me, it’s worthwhile to study the religions, but not those who pretend to speak for the deeper gnosis. The Upanishads are boundless in their riches; the “Vedanta” of the perennialists is the Disney version, poisoned with reactionary politics (and very weird sartorial preferences).

      But that’s just my opinion.

      Like

      • Marcus says:

        Agre with you 100 percent on the issue of esotericism

        I mean look at Boehme who mixes kabbalistic tradition with Paracelsian thought to form “Christian Theosophy” which is pretty much esotericism garbled up with Christian ideas. I find that stuff mostly boring and trite and the idea that their is a “secret knowledge” laughable

        it boggles my mind why Hegel, Schelling, Milton, Yeats, Blake etc. found inspiriaiton in his stuff.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Böhme isn’t actually an example of what I mean by esotericism. His was an independent, openly revisionist, speculative system. He claimed no authority for his beliefs apart from his own “revelation.” I see a kind of genuine genius in Böhme.

          I mean those “esotericists” who claim to have access to a secret, ancient, exclusive tradition known only to a few. I mean those who claim to speak for a secret gnosis concealed within the exoteric shell of normal religious observation.

          Like

      • brian says:

        Well, maybe I am using the term loosely. I don’t care for Schuon. Jean Hani, Borella, and Wolfgang Smith are the perennialists I mainly have in mind, though I share Guenon’s animus against the modern penchant to substitute quantity for qualia.

        Off topic, but is there a preferred translation of the Mahabharata?

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      • Cycneus says:

        What about Coomaraswamy? I wouldn’t expect you to put much stock in his scholarship, but speaking as an academic, I find it perversely exhilarating to read someone who treats his source texts in much the same way that Meister Eckhart treats the Bible. One can’t help but love the way he casually translates something like the αὑτὸ τῶν ὄντων of Plato’s Phaedo, 83b, as “the Self of all beings” without flinching.

        Like

        • rephinia says:

          Coomaraswamy seems morally benign as far as I know, but again wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out otherwise

          Like

        • DBH says:

          I’ve always found Coomaraswamy more interesting, and as yet I am unaware of any particularly wicked politics on his part. But you never know. One always dreads a new revelation with these chaps, and I don’t pay close attention to them. Even so, I think he was the brightest of those who are called perennialists.

          Liked by 1 person

        • nathanieldrakecarlson says:

          Coomaraswamy is great. I would highly recommend checking out his collected letters in particular to give the best and broadest possible overview of his thought.

          I also deeply admire the work of Jean Phaure on esotericism and metaphysics. It’s really too bad that so little of it has been translated into English.

          For me no one compares to Philip Sherrard and though I wouldn’t directly associate him with Perennialism I don’t think he’s generally unfriendly or adverse to it and much of his own thought seems to circulate around these subjects (though much of that may just be the poet in him). He too has an excellent edition of published correspondence with George Seferis which gives you the range of his thought beyond the purview of any one particular book of his.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Cycneus says:

        Oh, and those are bold words regarding Schuon’s sartorial choices. Don’t think we haven’t seen some of your ties. For my part, though, I still think your books are very good.

        Like

        • Marcus says:

          Dr. Hart’s books are amazing.. We’re still waiting for that inevitable philosophy of mind book from him that he has been talking about forever now… I hope it comes soon.

          Like

      • rephinia says:

        Not to mention the allegations against Schuon in the 90s. And Robert Irwin exposed him as a Nazi sympathizer. Even Lings who I thought was benign seems to have been a Franco supporter.

        Like

        • DBH says:

          Many would be be shocked at how widespread fascist sympathies were among the perennialists. Many of them were engaged in what was, for all intents and purposes, a mystically authoritarianism uncorrupted by “demotic” culture and by races they regarded as tainted or inferior. I’ll look into the Robert Irwin material. I’m not familiar with it. But it would not surprise me.

          Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            “mystically dissembled authoritarianism”

            Like

          • brian says:

            So, I dunno, David. I referenced demotic really from Charles Taylor, but I’m wondering if you think anyone with an anti-egalitarian aesthetic is a crypto fascist? Would you include a fella like Waugh in that group, for instance? Maybe the perennialists are all a bunch of wicked pseudo-sages secretly practicing the goosestep and espousing racial purity. That isn’t immediately obvious from the texts I have read which were mainly invested in articulating a rich symbolism generally bereft from a univocally inclined modernity. I didn’t imagine liking such implied moral taint, at any rate.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            I don’t recall you using the word “demotic,” so I am not sure what you’re getting at. But, since you ask, I detest Waugh as a human being, as much as I enjoy his pre-Brideshead novels. (BR I regard as tedious trash after about p. 55.) I find his hyper-bourgeois adoration of aristocracy more amusing than anything else. And it is possible to dislike bad popular culture (which is mostly the product of capitalist forces, not of the “lower classes”) without succumbing to a hatred of egalitarianism. Since Christ spent almost all his time among the “demos,” preaching a gospel that consisted to a surprising degree in practical advice on how to avoid debtor’s prison and how to eliminate debt communally, I would indeed argue that an anti-egalitarian aesthetics or ethos is essentially anti-Christian. That does not mean one has to deny the difference between higher and lower culture; it does mean that a Christian should be concerned to make the latter available to those to whom it has been traditionally denied. The perennialists, at least those in the Guénon mold, were instead interested in elevating themselves above the mire of common humanity and of praising a (largely fantasized) vanished hierarchical order that kept the voice of the crowd subdued.

            Understand, Brian, I dislike every single form of conservatism–political, religious, what have you. I don’t mind an admiration for what is good in lost traditions, so long as it doesn’t become mere reaction. But, at the end of the day, I’m basically an anarchist and communalist. I believe that all that lilies of the field nonsense that Jesus preached was more than a daydream; and I think the longing for strict social hierarchy–again, Guénon through and through–as an antidote to modernity is simply a longing for a reprise of the same sins that created modernity. That’s what I was criticizing.

            I don’t know who was goose-stepping in those days and who was just trying not to get goose-stepped on. Schuon was tight-lipped on political matters, and he did not overtly preach racist ideas of any kind. The problem is that he was too damned tight-lipped at times, even when he was in no danger, and that raises suspicions.

            And, while I don’t find quite the rich symbolism in these texts that you do, that’s just a matter of taste. I am quite happy if they give you food for thought. I do think, however, that you should avoid getting personally offended at things you imagine might refer to something you said in a combox. I was using the word “demotic” in the way that that slimy creep Evola used it.

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Though The Loved One was post-Brideshead, so there’s one last great Waugh novel that actually came out after that dreary swim through that syrupy paean to Catholiscism devoid of Christianity.

            Like

          • Cycneus says:

            I would certainly agree that Schuon was too tight-lipped at times, even when he would have been in no danger from speaking up. But the various associations with fascism and so forth, widespread at least since Sedgwick’s *Against the Modern World*, seem to me largely a mistake, at least in his case. The letter I cited a couple of comments ago, for instance, seems quite clear to me, especially by his standards of tight-lippedness in political matters.

            Now, I am no dogmatic Schuonian by any means—though I have dealt with my fair share of them—but I did spend some of my younger years reading and re-reading most if not all of his writings, both published and unpublished, and I never felt driven toward some kind of dissembled authoritarianism, dreadful politics, or “secret gnosis”, nor do I think these are very logical conclusions to draw from an attentive reading of his actual works.

            I can see why people would find his demeanor annoying, and I have certainly met many an academic who read the blurb on Sedgwick’s book sixteen years ago and (with an uncharacteristic lack of critical sense) immediately bought into the idea that Schuon must have been a right-wing extremist, simply because they felt an aversion to his absolutist dialectic or whatnot. The case of Schuon is quite curious in this regard: one can find all sorts of hagiographies about him, and also various attempts at character assassination, but almost nothing in-between.

            In any case, Dr Hart, what you are saying about esotericism, secret histories, arcane teachings “hidden” from regular believers, and so forth, surely applies much more to someone like Guénon; and if people like Nietzsche and Heidegger deserve a close reading, Schuon does as well, I would say. On that note, I actually got my universalism from Schuon before I had occasion to find it in the Fathers, MacDonald, and others…

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Again, he was not a stupid man, and I do not begrudge whatever it is that others find in his work that profits them. That letter, though, was still too tepid by my standards. Just when you expect him to denounce the political evils he names, he instead merely complains of the vulgarity of anyone trying to associate his work with any “political” stance at all. There’s something so oddly inadequate about that complaint…

            But, I really don’t know much about the man. Some terrible things seem to have been revealed about him, and I myself can’t read him with any pleasure.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            Fair enough; thank you for taking the time to reply. As it happens, I have read through most of the various dossiers and documents compiled by some of Schuon’s disgruntled disciples, and while they tend to be very unbalanced and probably not very reliable accounts, the community that surrounded him after his move to America seems to have been quite an unhealthy one, to say the least, and he himself does not seem to have done much in the way of preventing this.

            Like

        • Marcus says:

          Perrenalism just seems like re-packaged Prsica Theologica by Ficino

          Like

          • Marcus says:

            Prisca Theologia…

            Like

          • DBH says:

            I would disagree with that. Prisca Theologia as Ficino (and Pico) understood it was not so much a secret gnosis as a set of universal truths to which various traditions all attest in different ways. To me, it was something innocent of the worst esotericist impulses. Florentine Platonism, Cambridge Platonism, prisca theologia–to me, that’s all quite untainted with either the pretensions or the basic misanthropy and authoritarianism that perennialism often exhibited. For the latter, all sorts of late modern intellectual illnesses had to be added to the mix: race-theory, for instance, or a kind of conservatism that consists almost entirely in distaste for egalitarianism.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            DBH:

            Not to go on about this, but I have to wonder what “perennialism” you are referring to in your comments. Most if not all of the writers normally associated with that name would fully agree that the issue is not some “secret gnosis” but rather “a set of universal truths to which various traditions all attest in different ways”. According to Schuon, for instance, “it would be completely false to believe that gnosis within a given religion presents itself as a foreign and superadded doctrine”. The key to gnosis, as he puts it, “is not some secret concept of a heterogeneous character, but is the very presiding idea of the religion”, so that “Christian gnosis finds its support a priori, and of necessity, in the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption, and thus in the Christly Phenomenon as such” (Esoterism as Principle and as Way, 25–26).

            Like

          • DBH says:

            Yes, Schuon said such things often. But what he meant by it is debatable. It seems to be his way of saying that one must choose an orthodox path—but in obedience to its esoteric meaning.

            Again, I don’t care very much. I have never been able to get anything out of his books. But I am happy for those who do.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Cycneus says:

            Alright, last word from me too. The reason I have gone on (and on) about Schuon in particular is that most of the perennialist writers after Guénon and Coomaraswamy looked to him either as their direct spiritual master or as a general arbiter of truth, so that if you catch Schuon, you catch them all, so to speak. This holds for Burckhardt, Lings, Nasr, H. Smith, Pallis, and the rest. And all of them—even Guénon, I would say—would take issue with the many weird definitions of “perennialism” that have cropped up in these discussions.

            In any case, I don’t really care about this either, and I can think of any number of good reasons why one would not enjoy their books. Much to my own surprise, though, I’m still capable of being annoyed by the tiresome Sedgwickian suspicions and Internet factoids that are circulating about these particular writers in a way typical of the Trumpian era of post-truth. And it’s remarkable to me how some people will accept it all without question simply because they think it lies in their interest to do so.

            Anyway, sorry about the diversion, Fr Kimel.

            Like

        • Cycneus says:

          I’d be interested to hear more about the Irwin story. Glancing over his book (Memoirs of a Dervish – is that the one?), I can only find this one isolated sentence: “As for Schuon, he deplored the Allied victory in 1945 as the victory of the profane over something more ancient.” I find this seriously hard to believe, to be honest, especially considering Schuon himself fought on the side of the Allies and had to escape from a Nazi prison camp before making his way into Switzerland.

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Last word then: whatever the case, I have no real objection in principle to a great deal of what the man wrote. Much appeals to me. But there are certain problems of social and political philosophy, as well as issues of personal style, that worry me.

            But, bringing it back to Al’s argument, he certainly understood the difference between God and the gods, and he was very good at communicating the way that difference was realized in all the major traditions.

            Like

      • Jolambo says:

        Any thoughts on Joseph Campbell?
        I believe God reveals himself to everyone throughout history and I don’t want to have to believe God only focuses on one group. So I am drawn to a lot of what people like Campbell say about similarities in religion and myth. I don’t want to go too far though, missing the relevant differences between religions.
        CS Lewis’s essay “Myth Became Fact” is an example of the kind of thinking I’m drawn to.
        Do you have any up to date books you recommend that give a good treatment of the development of religions, while also holding to the unique and necessary incarnation of Christ?

        Like

  8. arthur ja says:

    Hello Dr Hart,

    I know this is off-topic (please forgive me Father Kimel) but do you have any opinion at all on phenomena such as Marian Apparitions (Kibeho, Betania), Bleeding Statues of the Virgin (Akita), people who allegedly converse with Christ (St Silouan), see the Uncreated Light (St Sophrony) or heal people with their alleged gifts (like Sister Briege Mckenna)?

    I suspect you’re pretty skeptical of these things but if that’s the case, do you also doubt Jesus himself performed genuine miracles?

    I assume you’re skeptical because the only time you wrote something on Marian Apparitions, in that article of yours on Léon Bloy, you seemed pretty dismissive of Bloy’s belief in the apparitions at La Salette.

    Yet, one must also admit that what appears to have happened in Kibeho, Rwanda, in Akita, Japan, or in Betania, Venezuela, is rather impressive…

    As always, thanks a lot in advance for your precious lights, Dr Hart.

    AJ

    Like

    • DBH says:

      Case by case. I’m not a skeptic in general, but am very skeptical of certain of the sillier enthusiasms. La Salette was so idiotic that to believe it would be to doubt God’s intelligence.

      Of course I believe in miracles. I’m not a damned materialist.

      Liked by 2 people

      • arthur ja says:

        I agree with you on La Salette.

        I was wondering whether your belief in miracles is propped up by anything you have personally witnessed or experienced, Dr Hart.
        Your brother Robert wrote that he healed your mother’s spine back in 1974 and I trust him, but what about you?
        Have you witnessed anything else ever since that happened?

        Also, how can you be so confident that Christ really rose from the dead?
        I mean, the Gospels are obviously not neutral since they were written with a certain theological agenda in mind (to glorify Jesus and to affirm or confirm that He was divine) and it seems to me that any possibility *other* than the resurrection one (including pious invention, low quality transmission of information, etc) is much more credible than their supernatural alternative.
        Yet, even though no argument so far has managed to convince me that He rose from the dead, there’s millions of people much more rational than I who do believe that He did, and you’re one of them.
        Atheists typically assume that rational people who believe in the Resurrection and in Jesus’ miracles have just learnt to “shut their reason” and “take it on faith” after many years of childhood indoctrination.
        That explanation may very well be true for *some* rational believers but I do not believe it is true for every single one of them.
        Sounds a bit too “cheap” for me.

        Once again, thanks a lot for your time, Dr Hart.
        Great to have you here.

        Like

      • TJF says:

        That’s how I feel about Fatima

        Like

  9. Marcus- says:

    It was mostly Esotericists that pushed the belief that Shakespeare was actually Francis Bacon wasn’t it?

    Like

  10. Allie says:

    DBH, thoughts on making a Goodreads account? We’d all love to see what you read

    Like

  11. Marcus says:

    DBH, all this rich talk makes me want to ask your overall opinion on Chesterton, because he seems to be a figure that is adored by Traditionalist Catholics to an almost cultish manner.

    Like

    • DBH says:

      I knew someone would ask. Let me think…

      Clever prose, clever plots, clever essays, clever verse, clever paradoxes, to the point that the cleverness becomes banal. The apologetics are vacuous unless you already believe. The stories and novels are all so damned didactic that, once the inevitable and predictable plot-twist is exposed, one realizes that one has been forced to swallow yet another insufferable sermon about what all sane, rational, sensible people would know to be true if they weren’t so perversely non-Chesterton. Endless pompous rodomontades on “the faith.” A minor talent making a great deal of noise. All of it glazed and soaked and slathered with incessant and incessantly vile anti-semitism, contempt for all the Asian cultures of which Chesterton knew absolutely bloody nothing, and more of those damned clever paradoxes (none of which is actually all that clever).

      But some of the prose is good, if you don’t read too much of it and begin to realize that it’s all exactly the same. And he disliked some really unlikable things, like eugenics and Nazis and capitalism. But then, inevitably, just when you’re warming to his argument, some more anti-semitism comes storming in. Anybody who could criticize the Nazis because, as he once argued, they were “too Jewish” in their thinking really doesn’t deserve much respect.

      That said, I refuse to divulge my opinion of Chesterton. After all, Borges–who was an infinitely greater writer–liked his Fr Brown stories quite a lot.

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  12. Marcus says:

    We all know the greatest English prose stylist of all time is Sir Thomas Browne…. no debate here

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    As much fun as this has been listening in on the conversations, I’d like to ask everyone to return the conversation to Christian theology and metaphysics. Thanks.

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    • Marcus says:

      Sorry FR. Aidan I got everybody off track

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    • arthur ja says:

      My comments were off track as well and since Dr Hart did not answer the one that I published yesterday at 5:03 am, you might want to delete it, Father Kimel.
      You may also want to delete this very comment.

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  14. DBH says:

    Sure. If one must. Just killing time.

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  15. John Grinnell says:

    Yeah!

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  16. Marcus says:

    On topic question … was YHWH viewed as having a body by the Israelites. Where as Zeus,Marduk,Odin are envisioned as having bodies was YHWH viewed as transcending bodies? Does that play any role in a shift from polytheism and early type monotheists to a “revolutionary monotheism” in Israel. Is it even accurate to say “revolutionary monotheism”?

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    • DBH says:

      He’s certainly very embodied in a great deal of Hebrew scripture. For instance, Moses seeing him pass by from the cleft in the rock, or speaking to him face to face in the tabernacle, or seeing his feet upon a dais heavenly sapphire, etc. and certainly the God who walks through Eden in the gloaming is very much an embodied God. And so on.

      His theophanies become ever grander, however, until the invisibility triumphs over the visibility.

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    • JGFC says:

      While some scholars have modified this somewhat, particularly Benjamin Sommer and Jill Middlemas, Tryggve (?) Mettinger is still fairly accepted. Deuteronomy and 1 Kings 8, and, to a lesser extent, the so-called Elohist strands tend to emphasize Yhwh’s incomparability with creation by ensconcing God permanently in heaven, sometimes with a fleeting appearance of a mediatorial avatar-like angel or hypostatic Name which cannot encompass God’s entirety, what Mettinger called “Shem/Name theology.” Deuteronomy itself may or may not envision God with substance but not necessarily having a fixed bodily form, prioritizing the divine voice. This Deuteronomic model shows up more explicitly in the Apocalypse of Abraham (1st century AD), which Andrei Orlov has recently argued represents a late articulation of Shem theology. Meanwhile, the so-called Priestly strand may, if one follows Sommer, envision a divine substance, what we might call the “uncreated light,” with an undefinable body bordering on a non-body, which is nonetheless of a substance of sorts, which is something Middlemas has argued for in Ezekiel. But this presence is transportable and can manifest as localized in a way the “transcendent” heaven-bound God cannot in Deuteronomy. This Priestly model may not be unlike what some early medieval Jewish philosophers believed, such as Shabbetai Donnolo (9th century AD), who wrote of a “great light and awesome light which has no measure,” according to the recent work of Elliot Wolfson, who I recommend. This is different from those like Saadia Gaon who believed this divine light was created rather than uncreated. I seem to recall Ilaria Ramelli mentioning a similar controversy among Christian monks about the uncreated or created nature of the divine light? The more folklore strand of the Yahwist, if I’m remembering Sommer rightly, has a localized, angel-like body which can be fluid at times – in other words, not human – but also has a definite and persistent character. By emphasizing the otherness of God’s residence in heaven or the otherness of the divine substance as a “non-body,” the D/E and P models were two models of talking about transcendence and visualizing our Creator-creature distinction. The category distinction between Yhwh and the subordinate pantheon may not have hinged directly on these models, which I think is more based on things like the createdness or non-eternity of these gods (cf. Psalm 82), but these models articulated these distinctions visually. Egyptian thought similarly expressed the distinction between the eternal creator-gods like Amun-Re, or the Aten, from the rest of the gods who came into being after these primordial gods by articulating the “transcendent” nature of Amun’s, or the Aten’s, body.

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  17. rephinia says:

    I hope this counts as being relevant. In addition to Nyssen’s Life of Moses what are some other great and illuminating commentaries on the Old Testament that read the polytheistic/varied texts through the lens of the God revealed in the fullest sense through Christ?

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  18. Keri Ford says:

    A question about point 5. Why is this so:
    “Creational monotheism excludes paganism, i.e., the belief that the universe is populated by many kinds of divine beings. Think … well … think polytheism.”
    How does monotheism deny this? Surely other kinds of divine beings can exist, they just aren’t God, but are like us in being conditional Beings. Does Creational monotheism also deny Angels and Devils?

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    • Cycneus says:

      Augustine got this one right, I think:

      “If the Platonists prefer to call these angels ‘gods’ […] they are welcome to do so, for I will not spend strength in fighting about words [non enim cum eis de verborum controversia laborandum est]. For if they say that these beings are immortal, and yet created by the supreme God, blessed but by cleaving to their Creator and not by their own power, they say what we say, whatever name they call these beings by. And that this is the opinion either of all or the best of the Platonists can be ascertained by their writings. And regarding the name itself, if they see fit to call such blessed and immortal creatures ‘god’, this need not give rise to any serious discussion between us, since in our own Scriptures we read, ‘The God of gods, the Lord has spoken’; and again, ‘Confess to the God of gods’; and again, ‘He is a great King above all gods'” (De civitate Dei, IX.23).

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