At around 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 28, I was eating lunch and playing with my kitten Pinto, and I thought about how the instincts that make him play like that are the very instincts that were “designed” to make him an efficient killing machine. I started brooding on such topics — how adorableness grows out of the predatory drive, how genuine love can blossom out of lust. I thought of the Buddhist symbol of the lotus, a beautiful flower growing up out of the filthy mud, and of the honey Samson took from the lion’s carcass. “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.” I thought of how breathtakingly beautiful the whole damn world is, no matter how ugly and horrible and sad it can also be. I thought of the Leonard Cohen line, “Even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”
At around 3:00 p.m. I read the post “Lone and Dreary, Glorious and Beautiful” at Junior Ganymede. Here is the entire text of the post. (The original post also includes lots of photos illustrating respectively the dreariness and beauty of the world.)
Ours is a lone and dreary world.
Lone, because it is cut off from the presence of the Lord. Dreary, because all is vanity; there is nothing new under the sun.
And yet …
It is also glorious and beautiful.
It is a fallen world. When we marvel at its glories and beauties, we appreciate, in a small way, what it is fallen from.
I wish all our readers a joyous experience participating in General Conference this weekend.
At around 11:00 p.m., I read the following characterization of the Neoplatonist worldview on page 85 of The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas.
The material world, existing in time and space and perceptible to the senses, is the level of reality furthest from unitary divinity. As the final limit of creation, it is characterized in negative terms as a realm of multiplicity, restriction, and darkness, as lowest in ontological stature — holding the least degree of real being — and as constituting the principle of evil. Yet it is also, despite its deep imperfection, characterized in positive terms as a creation of beauty, an organic whole produced and held together by the World Soul in a universal harmony. It imperfectly reflects on the spatiotemporal level the glorious unity and diversity that exists on a higher level in the spiritual Intellect’s world of Forms: The sensible is a noble image of the intelligible. Although evil exists within this harmony, that negative reality plays a necessary role in a larger design, and ultimately affects neither the perfection of the One nor the well-being of the philosopher’s highest self.
The next day, Thursday the 29th, at around noon, I took out the 9th volume of Copleston’s History of Philosophy to read while I was waiting for something. As it happened, I didn’t have to wait very long, and I only read a page and a half — including this passage from page 122.
If such passages were isolated and considered by themselves, it would be natural to conclude that according to Durkheim the collective consciousness was a kind of universal substance from which individualistic consciousnesses proceed in a manner analogous to that in which plurality was said to emanate from the Neoplatonist One.
It is perhaps scarcely a coincidence that a key Neoplatonist doctrine would be mentioned in two different histories of Western philosophy, but the timing makes it significant. (I hadn’t read any Copleston in a week or more when I picked it up today and read less than two pages.) Also, the 9th volume deals with French philosophy after the Revolution, and index informs me that Neoplatonism is mentioned only twice, in passing, in the whole book.