Amid the great cataclysms in history, midst the shattered fragments of crowns and scepters, between the birth and death of human institutions, the rise a disappearance of all heresies, stands the Cross... Stat crux, dum volvitur orbis.
- Bl. John Baptist Scalabrini
As mentioned two posts down, this blogger is pressed for time and has not the gumption to post something substantial this month. With this in mind, and well aware that essay postings at this blog are far too long, too involved, and thus not conducive to comfortable readability (cannot help it, totalistic compression is the way TH2 writes), below is an extraction from my Voyage to Planet Ridiculous for your existential edification (originally posted August 3, 2009).
CXII. “THIS IS” THE TRUTH VERSUS “I AM” THE TRUTH. What about Christ’s message? He spoke: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6), “Follow Me” (Mark 1:17). What have other prophets, religious and secular, spoken? They have said: “this is the truth” or “that is the way things are”. Ah!, but notice: they speak in modalities that are temporal and immanent. They always point outwards from themselves, through the span of time, within the material world as it were. They invariably direct their followers to that “out there”, that always imperceptible and unfocussed “something” which can never be apprehended in totality, either by reason, by experimentation or by science. The ideal or the divine or God are never really, physically and fully present in all of these cases. There are only messengers or prophets of God, elders and holy men, pious nomads and humanitarians, leaders of political parties and tribal chiefs, flags as symbols representing the glory of nationalism. That “other” by which man makes his reference becomes a bedizened organismic “other” for pantheism or animism, or it becomes the “Totally Other” of the deists or Islam’s Allah in his distant unity, absolutely transcendent and indifferent to human affairs. But what is the problem here? If God is not really present (deism) or if he is “too present” so to speak (pantheism), or if God cannot even be discerned at all (some undefinable abstraction, an “ultimate reality”, “the force”) then man cannot really focus his attention, he cannot be precise and “get a good hold” on God. Remember: the key word here is separable, not separated, nor indistinguishable. Separable yet means that two units are distinct yet contingent (dualism). Separated means a total, unconnected detachment of these two units. Indistinguishable merges these two units into one (monism). Distinction! Distinction! With Christ, however, we encounter something essentially different. His “I am the Truth” effectively says: “It is Me, God, I am really present with you, as the meaning of My name Emmanuel says. Do not look 'out there' anymore. I am not way up there in the sky. Nor am I deep in the ground. You cannot escape into the depths of your mind and you cannot wallow in the mud that is the material world. The pathway to heaven is as narrow as an arrow and, like an archer shooting at a target, be precise, focus in on Me. Do not follow this or that. Follow Me, a real human being, and shoot your arrow at Me so as to go through Me [PARADOX]. For ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ ”. At this point, the concept of equality of all religions is torn asunder.
CXIII. COMPARATIVE SYMBOLISM. Now contrast the symbolism and imagery of religions and other worldviews. Is there really no difference between Christianity and non–Christian religions or myths or secular worldviews? Look at the circularity of Yin–Yang symbol of the Chinese, the Zen symbol, or of the snake swallowing its own tale in the eastern emblematic. Jumping to the modern era, see the astrophysicist who postulates on an eternally “oscillating universe”, on “escape hatches” to other dimensions. Look at the Nazi swastika, a kind of forward–thrusting rotor, revolving and screaming onwards into the future (being the symbolic consummation of German philosophy since Luther). Or what about the myths of aboriginal peoples that describe the world as undergoing continual cycles of birth, growth, death, and rebirth? Or of the condition known as “nirvana” in Buddhism and the Hindu belief in reincarnation? What is the commonality in the abovementioned? Answer: there is an assumption of an eternally immanent world, that man is forever locked within the confines of time, space and matter. The Hindu may be reincarnated, but only again and again as some material creature. The eastern mystic may achieve nirvana, but however this state is described, he is still self–encased. The idea of an oscillating universe is a fallacy as the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the universe will eventually run down. Black holes and other “portals” leading into “alternities” or “multi–worlds” are reiterations of the pagan notions of infinite space, matter and time. The swastika is an ancient pagan symbol of eternal recurrence. Additionally, read the works of the famous Arab philosophers Avicenna (981–1037) and Averroes (1126–1198) and it will soon be discovered that they, too, posited an eternal world, as did their Greek and Roman predecessors. Or look at any philosophy which is in now in vogue, or any New Age cult, or the sundry utilitarian views of the modern West. They are unanimous: the world, man, society, everything is eternalized immanently, moving either by cyclical time or by a continuous forward flux into the future. Man is for all time trapped within the spatial–material domain.
CXIV. SYMBOLISM OF THE CROSS. To all of this Christianity, and Roman Catholicism specifically, proclaims its paradoxical “No!” because two thousand years ago a slab of wood was injected into the earth, thereafter setting off an earthquake in human affairs. A great disturbance occurs, and the symbol of this disturbance is the Holy Cross, which, in its very configuration, veers through and shatters the eternalism of circular time and, by its very rootedness in the ground, halts that infinite forward flux into the future. This is the logic of the Cross: the horizontal shaft sets the distinction between the transcendent and immanent. The vertical shaft points to God without the world come as Man into the world. The horizontal shaft has its two ends, denoting a beginning and end of time (finite time), i.e. the beginning as in God’s creation of the world out of nothing and end as in the Second Coming. The bottom of the vertical shaft interfaces the ground, it ends in matter, indicating its limitation (finite matter). From the bottom, the vertical shaft proceeds upwards, goes through the horizontal shaft, and into the transcendent. But look upwards from the top of the cross and all is sky – there are no perceptible limits. It is the really transcendent. It is the Body of Christ, nailed to the Cross, that acts as a support to sustain the structure of the intersecting vertical and horizontal beams, at once providing ontological stability between the transcendent/immanent, delimiting the beginning/end of time, while retaining real distinctions between them.
CXV. “AS IF” AN–OTHER SYMBOLISMS. Other symbolism and imagery further evidence Christianity as being really distinct from other religions and worldviews. Look at the Hindu painting of the multi–armed goddess in her colourful yet gaudy attire, with fantastical creatures cavorting all about her. See the rendering of the all–knowing and cuddly Confucius (551–479 BC), with a beard and facial demeanor expressing the wisdom that comes with old age. Consider the painting of Guatama Buddha, young, effeminate and complacent, in strange adornments, postured in state of perfect peace and contentment after completely escaping the suffering of the world. Read the descriptions of the personality and actions of Mohammed, of the intensity of his compressing inwardness of spirit. Look at the moody and effeminate Greek god with wings on his ankles as he prances through ultramarine skies on his way to the scene of the tragedy. Now jump again to the present. What do we see? Look at that kitsch painting of a goofy–looking Hitler in a suit of armor on a horse. Go to Russia and glance at the statue of Lenin as he defiantly stands against the ominous currents of capitalism. Look also at the new gods of hedonism and mass consumerism. See the photograph of the self–help guru or CEO on the cover of his latest bestseller, with arms crossed, leaning against a wall, emanating a smile expressive of a false inward knowingness and self–satisfaction, effectively saying: “I’ve got it all. You don’t”. Look at the Platonic goddess on the cover of a popular magazine. She is clean, pure and virginal, synthetic and spraybrushed. Many more examples can be provided: the vain bohemian artist, the Hollywood celebrity, the rock star, the mainstream media personality, the messianic politician. But what does all of this imagery have in common? Answer: they all portray individuals to be god–like, or additions, adjustments, accentuations and distortions are made to manipulate and conceal each person’s true humanity – as if they have some secret or superior insight into the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Their flaws and their sins are hidden. They are made to be what they are not, more than natural, supernatural. They seem as if they were something else, to be an–other, some higher “other”. But at the end of the day we all must sleep, and in the morning when we wake up, we feel and look miserable, unwilling to confront the toils of another day in the harsh reality that is the world.
CXVI. THE VICTORIOUS CROSS. Now let us look at the terrible vision of the Cross…
…a Man is nailed to it. He is bloodied, battered, humiliated. He has been betrayed by one of his own. He is hated without reason. He has been mocked, flogged, laughed at and spat upon. He was an obscure carpenter. He does not triumphantly stand out amidst the vast oceanic mass of humanity. He was completely innocent of crime, though still accused as such. “What is truth?”, a Roman political god asked Him. The Truth Himself did not respond to this forever posed question. So the Man just hangs there, impaled at the intersection of two wooden beams. It is not a pleasant sight, but paradoxically and hence realistically, how common and plain a sight it is. Pain and suffering. For here is a Man, a real and total Man as He is in actuality, who hangs there on the Cross. No glorious posture, no enigmatic smirk, no modifications or emphasizations for the purposes of artificiality appear to those watching the drama in the distance. He wears but a loin cloth and His head is bowed downwards. His only glory is a crown of thorns that only intensifies the pain. In the Old Testament God’s name is “I AM WHO AM”. During His ministry, Christ said: “Before Abraham, I Am.” He is, because God is, the Other. Christ did not act as an–other (as–if) because He is the Other, the First Cause, upon which all that is, was and shall be must ultimately be referenced. When you assume Him, you show faith, which corresponds to the transcendent. When you assume a First Cause, your epistemology is real, which relates to the immanent. Faith and an affirmation of objective reality – a reality distinct from the mind – must, from the Roman Catholic perspective, hang on nails.