Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ontology 101

My first IBM computer had a handy button called "Reveal Code." If there is one thing that the Three Massketeers appreciate is the distillation of the thought and work of Rene Girard carried out by Gil Bailie. Between (a) Girard's insights gleaned from world literature and his study of the New Testament and (b) Bailie's popularization of Girard melded to his own keen insights, one has available a most valuable hermeneutic at hand. A "Reveal Code" button, if you will allow, into a vast array of human behaviors gleaned from the Christian revelation found in Scripture and Tradition.

One area explicated by these scholars is that of ontology, the study of being and personhood. I hope that no one minds if I share a lengthy couple of paragraphs from Bailie's tape series, The Gift of Self. I think it is a seminal approach to an area of absolute value for trying to understand many, many dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors of our decaying culture. And, in my opinion, a study of ontology can only serve to more fully help a world in need of the teachings of Scripture and Tradition of the Catholic Church.


“If Jesus represents the supreme example of 'ontological density' {Henri Cardinal de Lubac} when he said, “I and the Father are one,” we moderns have tended to shirk the challenge to approximate that ontological density, and have instead bartered it away for a shabby facsimile of it; namely, desire. And that is why we cling so tenaciously to desire; why we think it is the key to everything; why we would be so reluctant to voice any criticisms of it or any misgivings about it, because it is what passes for ‘theological orthodoxy’ in our world. Among believers and unbelievers -- everybody -- in the modern world. When I say ‘modern world,’ I mean the western world in crisis. Not just everybody living (today). In modernity, desire is the coin of the realm; it is how we define ourselves. And nobody will say anything -- or very few people will say anything -- against desire, because not to have it is to be beyond the pale in our world.

“The ontological density that Jesus incarnated is the true source of subjectivity. What the modern world has is a shabby facsimile based on desire. That is to say, desire is a powerful force, it can generate a lot of energy, and that energy can give the appearance of something really formidable, something psychologically formidable. But, finally, it desolves real subjectivity, because it does not imitate the God in whose image and likeness it was made -- to put it in the simplest of terms. It imitates all others, any others, this or that other, and it does so for the most part surreptitiously. The modern world has made a gamble. It has gambled, you could say, on the proposition that it is possible to generate a substative psychological reality based on desire. One that is capable of taking the place of the kind of ontological density represented by Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul ... Desire is so psychologically animating that it gives rise to what appears to be a new and exciting personality. And the cultural circumstances surrounding the emergence of this new personality are such that the person defines this new feeling of social independence as ‘individuality.’ In fact, however, desire diminishes ontological density, and it does so the more it generates all of the ‘pyrotechnics’ of modern personality. Real ontological density is being destroyed in the background ...”


David Nybakke said...

WOOOOO. I can hear the complaints now, "Is there pre-school to 101?"

This is the usual comeback that we have heard, be it from our friends, relatives or associates.

Ontology studies the nature of our existence or being - you know, what makes us real and alive, not just as creature, flesh and blood but also spirit and soul.

The following is from Mere Christianity by CS LEWIS:

And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right-leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys ' philosophies.

It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of--all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain--and, of course, you find that what we call 'seeing a table' lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of. A child saying a child's prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not and the modern world usually is not--if you want to go on and ask what is really happening--then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.

Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made 'religion' simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your time. Notice, too, their idea of God 'making religion simple'; as if 'religion' were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.

Aramis' last words in this post:
In other words we must make our religion matter, for it is through our participation in it that we grow more into the instrument God made us to be.

Athos said...

Exactly, Aramis. How many highly talented business people and academics (PhDs, MDs, et al) I met in Protestant churches who routinely navigate tax intricacies, organic chemistry and other highly complex matters ... but they want Eternal Life pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped in Four Spiritual Laws. Once saved, always saved. I accepted Jesus as my Lord & Savior, now on with business-as-usual.

If normal human commerce is so ding-blasted complex, shouldn't our being, substantiation, justification, sanctification be just a LITTLE more than "Me and Jesus?"

Go figure.

Scott D said...

Enjoying the questions about simple truths, desire and ontology.

Tocqueville wrote with concern for the confused souls within our dynamic commerical culture (of the 1830s).

He plotted the trajectories of (us impotent) soul's to achieve our desires. Included were the literal, simple dogmas (pragmatic or Protestant) that would comfort such animated souls. Book II of Democracy in America focuses on the worries that the American's soul, unleashed to follow desires especially the desire for equality, will swirl and lurch in dangerous directions.