Ep. 15 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Marcus Aurelius and Jesus
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
A Kind Donation
Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. So last time we finished up our look at what was going on in Buddhism and then we moved back to the West and we started to take a look at what was coming after the axial revolution. And we saw that Aristotle's disciple Alexander ushered in a period of turmoil and cultural anxiety; a period where many people were experiencing Domicide - a very wide manner, a deep and profound sense of loss of home, not of having a house or a dwelling, but that connectedness, that rootedness to one's culture, one's place, one's history, one's language group, one's religion, one's community, et cetera.
And we saw that what happens is a change in the cultivation of wisdom. Notice again, the deep connection between the cultivation of wisdom and the attempt to deal with enhancement of meaning or the response to a meaning crisis. What happens is a change in the notion of wisdom. And that wisdom now takes on a therapeutic dimension in which the philosopher is the physician of the soul and has to learn to hear anxiety. And then we learned how the Epicureans responded to this, how they diagnosed the problem, like a physician, and prescribed a response. They diagnosed the anxiety of the period of the Hellenistic Domicide as being caused by an anxiety about one's own mortality.
We took a look at that and we took a look at how they responded to that. They advocated giving up, I would argue the quixotic attempt to achieve immortality, and instead trying to come to an acceptance, a lived acceptance of one's mortality. And they did that by getting you to realise, by slowly getting you to realise. Getting clear about your nebulous anxiety that it's not about non-existence, it's not about experiencing total loss. It's about experiencing partial loss and then there's a remedy to experiencing partial loss, which is to set yourself upon those things that are actually constitutive of meaning - full happiness - and then realising, deeply realising and structuring your lives so that you will have those up until the moment of your death, which is philosophically informed friendship, meaningful relationships, and which we are afforded the cultivation of wisdom and self-transcendence.
Now, while I think mortality salience is definitely a part of the Hellenistic crisis, I don't think the Epicureans have a comprehensive understanding and to get a more comprehensive understanding and diagnosis we turn to the Stoics. But in order to understand the Stoics, we have to understand the group that they developed out of, and those were the Cynics. And the cynics were not as impressed by Socrates's argumentation as Plato was. They were much more impressed by Socrate's capacity for confrontation and provocatively inducing aporia in people and they started to practice this and in doing so they started to force people to realise the distinction between moral codes and purity codes and to thereby pay more careful attention to what they're actually setting their hearts upon, so that their hearts would not be broken by being set on manmade impermanent, cultural systems and values.
Xeno the Cynic
Xeno, a Cynic, was deeply impressed by this, but he was also impressed by Plato's argumentation. He wanted to integrate the two together and he also had the fundamental insight that although particular cultures and historical institutions are contingent. Being social is not. We are inherently social in the depths of our humanity. So leaving the Polis was not actually an option, according to Xeno. Instead, what we have to do is realise that our issue isn't what we're setting our hearts upon, but how we're setting our hearts. Pay much more attention to the process, than the product.
So you can see how the Stoics are even picking up on something that's implicit in the Epicureans. The Epicureans aren't trying to change the world and eradicate death by bringing about immortality. The Epicureans are trying to get you to reframe having insight - not just an intellectual insight, but an existential insight - that changes the meaning of your mortality. And this was the core of the stoic insight.
Pay attention to how that existential meaning is being made. Pay attention to how that process of co-identification - the way we're assuming and assigning identities - is occurring, because that's where your 'self' and your identity and your agency are being forged. The problem is most of us let that process go by mindlessly, automatically and reactively, and so we MAR this process. We make it susceptible to distortion. And that distortion is going to be a distortion that affects the very machinery of our 'self', of our being in the world.
"PROSOCHE" and "PROCHIERON"
So what did the Stoics advocate that we need to do? Well, we need to bring this process of co-identification, of assuming various roles of our agency, assuming various identities and assigning various identities in the arena... We need to bring this whole co-determination, co-creation of agency and arena into our awareness. So they advocated "PROSOCHE" and "PROCHIERON". And you're going to see similarities here to what we saw in Buddhism, but also some differences.
So PROSOCHE is to pay attention. Now, obviously we're always paying attention, so that's useless advice! What they meant is "pay attention to how you're paying attention" pay attention to how you're judging, pay attention to this process. (Indicates "P.A.R." on the board.) Learn to see there's a difference between the meaning - and what I mean here, [is] the modal meaning, the existential mode you're in, I don't mean semantic meaning... learn to distinguish between the meaning and the event. (writes "Meaning" and "Event" on the board)
Let's stop here. Let's stop here. This is the core I, would argue, of all of our current psychotherapies that are cognitive psychotherapies. Learning to distinguish between the event and the meaning you give the event. Because this is happening (points to MAR on the board) - this is like, when I talked before, about your glasses, they're normally transparent - because we're almost always unconsciously framing events, the meaning and the event are fused together.
But here's the issue: they're not identical. Events are events. The meaning is the co-identification process that is taking place in response to the event. That could be a process of Parasitic Processing. That's not intrinsic to the event at all. In fact, the meaning isn't part of the event at all. And this is important because if you keep them fused, you will be confused. If the meaning and the event are fused, the only way you can alter the meaning is by altering the event.
The problem with that is, sometimes you can, but here's the thing, here's the thing that the Stoics are doing - and this is very much like what the Buddha was doing with trying to make you realise how threatened you are - you do not have as much control as you think you do. Epictetus - one of the great stoic philosophers - starts his manual for living, basically his instruction manual on how to try and live a stoic life, would say, "You know, the core of wisdom, the core of wisdom is knowing what's in your control and what's not in your control and stop pretending that things are in your control that aren't".
Because most of the time, we do not exercise as much control over events as we like to believe. And we delude ourselves that we do precisely because if we lose control of the event, we will of course lose control of the meaning because we have fused the meaning and the event together. We are "con-fused". Existentially ConFused.
Fromm's being and having mode, inspired by the Stoics.
How can such a confusion occur to us? We've already talked about this. I mentioned Eric Fromm, when we talked about the being and the having mode. I mentioned at that time, and [that] we would come back to it, that Fromm was directly influenced by the Stoics. It's the Stoics who got us to realise - to use "Frommian" language - the distinction between the "having mode" and the "being mode".
The having mode is met by controlling things. And there are some things we literally have to control: water, food, air, shelter... But most of our most pertinent needs are not needs that are met by exercising control. They are needs that are met by enhancing meaning. We have to become. LOOK (writes on the board) The being mode is met by developing the agent arena relationship; by becoming mature, which isn't just something that happens inside of me.
LOOK (gesturing to himself) when I become mature it isn't just that I'm changed inside, I also inhabit a different arena. And we recognise that socially. That's why we don't let little kids get married or drive cars or own guns - they're not allowed to move in a certain arena. Maturity is an Agent/Arena relationship. It is a particular existential meaning. But if you do not know how to separate the meaning from the events, you're liable to be very seriously modally confused such that you pursue maturity by trying to have a car. You pursue being in love by having sex and controlling and manipulating. But it doesn't work because you really can't exercise as much control over the world as you need in order to stabilise the meaning.
Do you see how this is like the Cynics still? You're trying to control a world that is largely beyond your control. You're setting your hearts on things. And your heart's going to be broken. But it's not just about manmade things. Anything, anything can fall prey to this. You have to practice bringing into your awareness, in a way that is transformative and developmental, the distinction between events and the meaning of events, and realising this: you often act as if you have no control over the meaning, because you're ignorant of the processes, and it's transparent to you, and you focus on trying to control the event in which you often have much less control than you realise. This is what you should do: pull the two apart - the meaning and the event - and recalibrate your sense of control and identity, because you have actually way more control over this (indicates "meaning" on the board) than you realise or practice, and you have way less control over this (indicates "event" on the board) than you realise or practice. That's why the core of wisdom is knowing what's in our control versus what's not in our control.
PROCHIERON - Developmental self awareness & Marcus Aurelius’ meditations
So how do you practice that? And how does your identity change as you do? Well, the practice is PROCHIERON (writes this on the board) . This means sort of "ready to hand". It means remembering, but in the sense of Sati, like mindfulness. It means "remembering in a way that brings things, brings skills and sensitivities and sensibilities to bear in an appropriate and effective manner". It means remembering in a modally existential sense. So you practice a bunch of psycho-technologies to try and get them so internalised that you can not know that there's a distinct - I know that I should go outside the nine dots - but I need to know how to actually separate these things.
So what do you do? Well, you engage in moment to moment practices. You can see this. A book where you can see somebody doing this. And the book has to be read properly because many people misread the book. This is the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. People read this book and they often think the point of the book is to believe the propositions he is proposing. The book is not written to you. It is not an attempt to create beliefs in you. Therefore using it as creating beliefs is mistaken. The book is written to whom, the book is written to himself. Marcus Aurelius is practicing what Pierre Hadot called Spiritual Exercises.
He is practicing psycho-technologies that are attempting to bring into awareness the co-identification process and co-transform the meaning of the world and the meaning of himself as distinct from attempting to control and manipulate the world by accruing power and fame. And this was a particularly difficult problem for Marcus Aurelius, precisely because he had power and fame. He was the emperor! Many people consider him - I do as well - the greatest of the Roman Emperors. He was the Roman Emperor of the Roman Empire when it was still in ascendance. Generally he's considered the last great emperor of that ascendance and the beginning of the decline is marked when his son assumes the throne.
The movie... well, in many ways I find [the] movie Gladiator does not represent Marcus Aurelius well at all! Marcus Aurelius said something that really brings out both of these points... the challenge he faced and not getting enmeshed, and power and fame. Because of the way power and fame fuse the meaning with the event, he famously said this: "it is possible to be happy, even in a palace". And now you can think of the Buddha leaving the palace. Marcus Aurelius, unlike the Buddha, unlike the Cynics, doesn't leave the palace. He learns how to be happy, even in a palace because he does not want to shirk his moral responsibilities.
So what are some of these practices you see him engaging in? One is a practice that Hadot calls "Objective Seeing". We're not quite happy with that term because of some of the associations with the word objective, but let us, let us go on... Aurelius says, "conceive of sex as the friction of two patches of skin and the production of a sticky fluid".
And you go, "Eww! That's kind of like Diogenes in the marketplace. It's eww!" Well what's he doing there? What's he doing? And why is he doing it? He's married. He has children. So he's not a prude. Right? In fact, he loved his wife quite deeply.
What's he doing? He's trying to get you to realise the event of sex as distinct from all of the meaning we pour into it. The event is friction between some patches of skin and the production of a sticky fluid. But, we pour all of this into it and there's all of this meaning, and he's not saying that meaning's wrong. That's not the point anymore than the being mode is good and the having mode is bad. He's not saying that. He's getting you to... he's getting himself to realise, to enact: "Wait!" There's a difference between the event and all of this meaning that I'm identifying with. All of this, all of [these] roles I'm assuming, all of the roles I'm assigning.
The Stoics would recommend get a cup that you're really attached to. A cup you really like. Start using it on a daily basis so that you really like it until it becomes very familiar and then smash it. Because then you'll remember the distinction between the meaning and the thing. And if you can practice it with something that ultimately isn't that much of an event, with little things, then you can learn to do it with larger things.
MORTALITY vs FATALITY - how to distinguish the difference.
This leads to a practice that many people find distasteful for the Stoics. It's called "PREMEDITATIO". (Writes this on the board) When you're kissing your child good night, say to yourself, "I may lose them to death tonight!". Because you have to learn to distinguish the meaning from the physics. You have tremendous control over the meaning that you and your son are making together. You have very little control over the physics of his mortality. Yes, you can do things to protect him and you should, but you can't move the universe.
Look, we have got to remember this better: "Sati". We have entire genres that distort and re-fuse together the meaning and the event. They are pervasive in our culture and I think they're much more pernicious than we realised. The ubiquitous evil is always the most dangerous, right? These are romantic comedies because romantic comedies teach us that the narrative meaning we are assigning to things is aligned with, consonance with, in concert with the way the world is unfolding.
So events will conspire to bring two people together. There will be difficulties, but the world will help them to realise until they finally end up together. Of course, we have tragedies to try and compensate that, but the romantic comedy teaches us the wrong [thing]. That's not how it works! I'm in love with an amazing woman. I admire her as a person. I'm just so deeply grateful to be in this relationship. And it's growing and growing. Right? And I, you know, and I'm all "this is fantastic!" and I stepped out into the street and I don't notice a truck coming and it kills me! It doesn't care about my happiness. It doesn't care about my narrative. It doesn't care about all of that meaning that I making with her. It's real that we're making this meaning. It's part of our being mode. But it's not the same as the events that I'm experiencing.
Distinguishing between between mortality and fatality
See this leads to the Stoic's diagnosis. It's not mortality that makes us anxious. It's fatality (written on the board) . Now here's another instance - and this, I would recommend Vissor's book Beyond Fate. - where we've lost the meaning of a word because we associate that with mortality: something that's fatal is something that has caused death. [00:25:00] But that's not the root of the... death is not the root of this word. The root of this word is fate (written below fatality on the board).
Now there's two meanings to this. One is some sort of magical "things are predestined by some supernatural force". I'm not talking about that meaning of fate. I'm talking about the way things just are fated to happen. They're just rolling from their own causal necessity. And here's the point. When we fuse these together (points at meaning and event on the board) , we become subject to the fatality of all things (points at fatality on the board) . Everything is fatal in that the meaning and the thing are not identical. And if we forget that we will suffer when they come apart.
Now I can explain to you the association; why is this (fatality) associated with death? Because death is where those (meaning and event) come apart. Death is where the events of the universe and all of your meaning and all of your narrative and all of your identity radically become unglued. Death is "fatal". It reveals to you in the ultimate loss of agency that meaning and event are not identical.
The view from above - how high can one go?
What's another practice that the Stoics engage in? A practice they engaged in is called "the view from above". You can see Marcus Aurelius doing it in the meditations. He says, "Imagine that instead of..." - and think about the "Solomon Effect" that we talked about: moving from the first person perspective to the third person perspective. And there's all kinds of evidence about altering your level of construal, having these very powerful effects on your cognition and your sense of self. So you're viewing some situation and you're enmeshed in it. Now view it[as] "I'm higher up in space and time", and then higher up still in space...
So, not just here (gestures a small space in-front with hands) , but Oh, but what's [happening]? (gestures a larges surrounding space) Situate this Event (points at Event on the board) , situate this event (the lecture) within all of Toronto. Oh. Now situated with an all of Canada. Within the whole world. Within not just the whole world now, but the whole world through all of time. What happens when you do that? Don't just say it, try it sometime.
Visualise it. Imagine yourself doing it. What happens is the agent arena is being altered and all of this machinery is coming into your awareness and your sense of self and your sense of what matters and what's important - what things mean - is being radically transformed. You'll become more liable to pursuing more longterm goals. You'll be become more flexible. You become more capable of rational reflection, self transformation. This is all evidenced from construal level theory.
See, a bunch of practices that are designed to get you to bring into awareness this process of meaning making and to give you the discernment to pull apart the Meaning and the Event.
Applications in modern therapy
Most therapy is about getting people to see this perspectival change - perspectival knowing - and then to identify with it. [To] change their sense of self, their sense of control, so that they move off 'trying to so much change the events that they can't control as much as they deeply, desperately, want to', to 'cognitively reframing the meaning'.
And again, this isn't just semantic meaning. This is the identity, your participatory meaning, your existential mode. And this takes tremendous practice. The last thing you'll see Marcus Aurelius doing - and even more Epictetus - is the practice of actually internalising Socrates. Like Antisthenes talked about at the very beginning of this whole tradition. It means trying to do with yourself, what Socrates had done with you.
You can see this again in modern cognitive behavioural practices. You get people to stop and be Socratic with themselves. So, 'this' person is depressed... remember I said, when Antisthenes was talking about conversing with himself, he wasn't talking about the way you ruminate. Cause when we ruminate, we're running things through our head. Like "everything I do is a failure" (Writes this on the board) . The therapist doesn't try and console the person and says like, "well, no, go out and get more success..." he doesn't give the American commercial response: "well go out and succeed more! Conquer the world..."! Good luck with that!
He says, well, she says. "Everything you do? Everything? Was you stating to me that that's a failure itself a failure?" "Well, no, not everything." "Did you get here successfully today?" "Well, yes I did." "What about clothing yourself?" "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah..." "So what do you mean by everything?" "I don't mean everything!" "What do you mean?"
Okay? And you realise a lot of this is because I'm letting 'this' (indicates "Everything i do is a failure" on the board) go by without having my own internal Socrates that stops me and says, "Oh wow, you're making such powerful claims! You must know and understand..."! But you see you're bullshitting yourself. Because this ("Everything I do is a failure") is very salient to you, but it's way beyond your understanding because it's not representing, what you actually mean. This may be what you believe, but it can't be what you mean.
"Everybody hates me!" "Everybody? So everybody's out to get you?" "Well, no, not most people", "which people?" "Well, this person!" "They hate you? How do you know they hate you?" Well, they said that..." "is that enough for hate...?" You can see Socrates here. "Is that what you mean by hate?" "Tell me what you mean by it...?"
You've got all these things salient in your mind and you're running them round and round and round, but you don't really understand the meaning and you're bullshitting yourself! Your motivation and your arousal is way ahead of your understanding. And most importantly, because of that, the Meaning and the Event are Confused together. And again, this is not just in your beliefs, this is in your very identity.
By doing all of this, you're going to transform your capacity for interacting with the world. You're going to not fall prey to the absurdity - and we're going to come back to absurdity again - that's inflicted on you by the fatality of all things. Because if you can discern - and this is one of the key things of wisdom, is discerning, not just in thought, but in perspective and in identity - the difference between the meaning and the events, and properly identify, by meaning, properly sensing and calibrating your sense of control then you will alter your sense of identity. How? And how could this possibly give an answer to the mortality of things that the Epicureans gave a direct answer to?
Well let's play with that a little bit. A kind of a bit of a view from above. Let's say I gave you immortality. You got it! What would you do with it? "Well, I'd do all the things I'd like to do" "Okay, great! What would you do?" "Well, you know, I'd have lots of sex and eat lots of chocolate..." "okay, how long?" "Probably not very long! I'd get bored!" "Then what do we do?" "uhh I'd pursue more meaningful things" "like what?" "like I've always, I've always wanted to learn archery. I take up archery and I'd com[pete]. Okay. Then I'd get really good at archery!" "Great. Then what?" "Well really good at basketball." "Yeah. And then what?" "Really good at uhhhhgh... hmmm..."
There's a really good story by - uh... well, it's a chapter in a book, [A history of the world in ten and a half chapters] by Julian Barnes - where people go to heaven and what they're doing in heaven is they're given what they think is mortality and they practice! There's this one guy, he practices golf until he is getting a score of 18. And then he's sort of like, "okay, what do I do now? What are we doing?" And then he comes to sort of St. Peter, and he says "like, what's going on?" and [St. Peter] says "what's wrong? Aren't you doing everything you want?" "I am! But like, I get great at it! I get great at everything!" And then St. Peter says "Well, yeah! So what?" ...he says "well... I got... I'm kinda done!" And then Saint Peter says "ah, now you get the point of heaven. The point of heaven isn't to live out immortality, it is to make you accept death."
Now, that's not classic Christian doctrine by any means. It's a great story. And it epitomises the stoic idea. As long as you are formulating your identity horizontally in terms of a narrative; of achieving an unending duration to your life, you're going to fail. But even if I gave it to you - and this is what people need to stop and think about - it would fail!
What you want what is that moment that that guy in heaven has, right? You want not a length of life, but a fullness, a depth. (draws x/y axis on the board) You want to have lived life as fully as possible. This is why Marcus Aurelius says, you know, "everybody dies, but not everybody has lived". People quote that. And they think it's about sort of "Gusto" or something like this? That's not what [is] meant. This is the [axis] of fame and fortune (x axis) , the Having mode, and there's nothing wrong with it, but this (y axis) is the access of self-transcendence, the Being mode. What do you identify with? Is your identity here (x axis) ? Or do you identify here (y axis) ? And if you identify here (y axis) and you practice PROCHIERON and PROSOCHE, you can get this fullness of being. Remember? That's what Plato promised. You could come to a complete fullness, and even if it lasts a moment, that's enough. Because it's not based on duration. It's based on quality. If I have, if I can achieve that in this moment right here right now, then I'm done.
So the Stoics have an answer. An answer that in a somewhat watered down form is still very powerfully effective, at least in our therapeutic endeavours, which are becoming more and more central to many people's lives because of the meaning crisis. But a less watered down version is also existentially pertinent and relevant. We can come to realise that "I can exercise much more control over the meaning making such that I get the one thing that is always good to have, which is wisdom that can afford me an identity in the depths (indicates x axis on the board) , an ontological identity, rather [00:39:00] than a merely historical identity (y axis) . And that would be a fulfilled life. And that is actually what I want.
I'll speak personally now for a moment.
I mean, at a physiological level, of course, I avoid death. Like, I don't step into traffic and I'm enjoying my life, so I don't mean this in any morbid or depressive way, but I do not want to live forever.
Right? I do not want to live forever. I do not think that John Vervaeke should exist for all time. I think that would be an ontological mistake of astronomical proportions! In some ways I'm tired of life. I'm tired of the ways in which I've been foolish, the ways in which I have been immoral, let myself and other people down. And I have a strong sense of the inevitability of that and extending that through all of eternity strikes me as a horrible evil to inflict on reality. And some[thing] I, myself, do not want to bear.
But, have I seen glimpses of this (y-axis) ? Yes I have. And we know from when people have awakening experiences, that give them this, [then] they lose their fear of their mortality. They lose that existential anxiety. And if that's coupled to a fullness of being, that would be a way of responding to not only our mental health issues, but our existential distress about our own individual mortality.
So you can see with both the Epicureans and the Stoics that we have things analogous - different, but analogous - to the kinds of things we saw at work within Buddhism. And we can see that the West is building up this very powerful tradition in its own right. And one of the great things about Pierre Hadot's work and I recommend it very strongly to you, like "What is Ancient Philosophy?" Or "Philosophy as a way of life", is to remind us that we do not have to look to Asian history - Asian, not ancient. We do not have to look to the East for the psycho-technologies of self-transcendence and self-transformation. There is no reason not to! We should! But we should not do that because we believe there is nothing within the Western heritage that offers us a profound response to the quest for meaning, wisdom, self-transcendence and a response to existential anxiety. We have those things!
Now, one of the things that has been happening, and I think it is a good thing - although it is indicative of the increase of the meaning crisis in the West - is there has been a rediscovery of Stoicism, Platonism, et cetera... part of what we need to do - and that's what I've been trying to do with you - is integrate that with our current cognitive science so that once again, we can learn how to - and I mean this in a deeply, spiritually deep way - salvage from our own tradition, the psycho-technologies and practices of wisdom and meaning making that we are going to need, but in a way that we can live within a scientific worldview.
So the Hellenistic period comes to an end with the advent of a return to a world empire which in very many ways is going to be informed by the Axial Revolution, but in very many ways also represents a return to a pre axial world. Namely a world in which, eventually, a man can be considered a God because he wields so much power - the Roman emperors - and power and prosperity are the primary ways in which wisdom is understood. But within that empire all of these philosophies will find home. And eventually, as we noted with Marcus Aurelius, even the emperor himself will be a proponent and an exemplar of the legacy of the Axial Revolution.
But something else is also happening with the advent of this Empire in the Mediterranean and we return back now, as I promised we would, to one of the areas in which the Axial Revolution had taken place. And this of course is ancient Israel. Because what's happening is, of course, Israel [has] now been conquered by a sequence of Empires and the most recent of course is the Roman Empire.
And I want to now speak of a religion that emerges at this time. It's not an Axial religion, but it is deeply informed by the Axial legacy. Particularly the ancient Israel legacy where the two worlds were understood, if you remember, in terms of moving from the land of slavery to the promised land, where the real world is the future, and God is this open creator and we're trying to sense Da'at, have faith in, participatory knowing of, involvement in the course of history. And sometimes we're distorted in that and we trespass. We fall off course and we have to be redeemed, we have to be brought back on course by prophets who speak God's attempt to get us back on track with making the future. This whole idea of co-creating with God the open future, such that we can bring about a promised land for human beings.
Jesus and the way
Now there is a person, a Jewish person who is born into that tradition and is responsible in ways that are very hard to determine historically for a radical transformation. And of course this is Jesus of Nazareth. And probably the most pretentious thing I'm going to do is trying to speak about Jesus of Nazareth. I mean, literally many millions of people believe he was God. Not metaphorically, not symbolically, but literally metaphysically. I am respectful of this fact. I don't agree with it, at least in very standard interpretations. My endeavour is to not try and give some final, complete version of this that would be hubris and arrogance. On my part. My endeavour is to try and explain what Jesus via Christianity did to that Israelite Axial legacy. Because that is what is relevant to what we are discussing here and now.
The battles, the interminable, and I think ultimately undecidable battles - even though many people claim to have reached the final conclusion about who Jesus was and what Jesus did - are not something I'm going to try and resolve here. We're even going to see when we take a look at the Gnostics that there is, right from the beginning, multiple competing interpretations and how that has had deep historical influence.
So if you remember, we used a Greek term from Paul Tillich - cause the new Testament, the part of the Bible that talks about Jesus and the advent of Christianity was actually written in Greek. So Tillich - the same Paul Tillich who wrote The Courage To Be - talked about Kairos. About that perspectival, participatory knowing. Knowing the fullness of time, knowing exactly the right time. [So some... that are going to...] The right timing to shift the course of events. What Pascal, when we come to Pascal, we'll talk about is "The Spirit of Finesse". [The right, you know, there's...] You're not yet in a romantic relationship with Susan aaaaaand you kiss her! And is it the right time? If you get the timing right, if the Kairos is right, then the course of your relationship is altered, transformed, and your identity and her identity changed.
Now, the Israelite conception was [that] this was for the whole nation and God would intervene, Kairotically, at moments in history. Christianity is going to propose this radical idea that God's creative Logos, the word he speaks through the profits that... - it's the same word by which he speaks things into existence; the word that helps create history. The word that causes Kairos. Makes Kairos possible for us. So Logos doesn't mean just spoken words. It means like the intelligibility, the formative principle, the underlying structure. Christianity... it's in the gospel of John "Anarchaum Logos", "In the beginning was the Logos". - A passage actually, probably, lifted from stoicism!
But what is John appropriating it to say? He's saying that God's capacity for producing Kairos through Logos has been identified, or to use an older term "incarnated", in a particular individual. That Jesus of Nazareth is actually the ultimate Kairos. That all the other Kairos were pointing to him and are summed up in him. That he represents the ultimate turning point. And he represents it, not only historically, he represents it personally. Because he is a person, you can identify with him and that Kairos can come to take place in you personally. Just like Socrates personalises the axial revolution and brings it into a direct personal confrontation, the encounter with Jesus means that you too can experience a profoundly personal Kairos, which Jesus seems to have spoken about using a metaphor of being born again, about such a radical metanoia, a radical shifting. This is often translated as "conversion" until you read about that [word], right? But this word is much closer to "awakening".
NOIA means "noticing"; this is your perspectival awareness and "Meta" means "beyond". This means a "radical transformation in your salience landscape", a "radical transformation of what it's like to be you". It's this deeply perspectival and participatory transformation. And Jesus is saying he incarnates the principle by which you can intervene in your own personal history or by which maybe you want to say intervention can occur in your own personal history, such that this metanoia [will happen] - you will have a new mind, a new heart, a new modal existence. You will be born again.
What? What's going on in there? What was... what does this Kairos look like? What could possibly, so radically, transform my salience landscape, my sense of self, my processes of co-identification? What could bring that about? And now I'm going to say the word, and then you're going to laugh because it sounds is like a hallmark card. The Christian answer is Love! ...and now we all titter - hahaha! "That's so, that's so quaint! hahaha”.
Love in three parts - Eros, Phylia and Agape
Love"! Sounds like, "Oh looove!!". Okay!? The problem with that, as you've seen many times is that this word (love) is trivialised for us. We use one word to talk about so many different things. Like "I love peanut butter cookies". "I love Canada". " I love Sarah". "I love my son". "I love a really good game of tennis". Are those the same?
We're even confused about this. We think that love is an emotion. No, it's not. Love is a modal way of being. Love isn't a feeling and it is not an emotion. How do I know this? Because loving someone can be expressed by being sad when they're absent; being happy when they're present; being jealous when there's somebody else around; being angry when they're neglecting you. Love isn't a feeling. It isn't an emotion. It is a modal way of being. It is an Agent-Arena relationship.
And what Jesus seemed to be incarnating as a Kairos to change the history of the world and to offer you to change your own personal history is a different kind of love. This is Agape. We have to distinguish between three kinds of love: "Eros" "Phylia" and "Agape". See, Eros is the love that seeks to be one with something.
And that can be spiritual, like being one with nature, or it can be being one with a cookie by eating it. Of course, we come to think of Eros, erotically, right? Being one with somebody, by having sex with them. But remember, Socrates new/taught erotica, which wasn't just sex. Socrates knew what to care about.
This is Phylia (circles it on the board) . So this is the love that is satisfied through consummation. Phylia. This is the love that seeks cooperation. This is the love in which we experienced reciprocity. We would love the cookie because we can consume it. We love our friends because we are in reciprocity with them. What kind of love is this (indicates Agape on the board) ?
And this is what Jesus claimed was how God loved individuals. This is the love that a parent has for a child. This is not the love of consummation. You're not trying to consume the child. That's evil! And it's not friendship. You're not, like... when you bring a child home from the hospital - and I've done this twice, right? - that's not your friend! It's not even a person!! You can't... it's like... it's basically a slug!!! But here's the astonishing thing: You, you love it. Not because of any way you can consume it or be one with it. Ewww! EWWW! You don't love it because, "Hey, what do you know!! A great friendship!!" You love it. And we, right? You love it because by loving it, you turn a non-person into a person. It's the closest thing to a miracle, and that sounds Hackney, I know, but stop and think about this: you depend on Agape! It's because people loved you before you were a person that you have become the person you are. Love turns non-person animals into moral agent persons. It's like, like, like it's like somehow if I could just care about my sofa enough, it would turn into a Ferrari or something. It's that powerful.
And here's what Jesus was offering. That love can be exapted and made available for all. Here's what is on offer. Here's why Christianity will take the Roman empire, culturally. With Agape, Christianity can say to all of the non persons of the Roman empire, all the women, all the children, all the non-male citizens, all the sick, all the poor, all the widowed, [it] can take all of those non-persons and say, "we will turn you into persons. Persons that belong to the kingdom of God".
We'll take another look at this in more detail next time. Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Episode 15 notes
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Kairos (Ancient Greek: καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment.
In the branch of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, Daʻat ("Knowledge", Hebrew: דעת [ˈdaʕaθ]) is the location (the mystical state) where all ten sefirot in the Tree of Life are united as one.
Change in one's way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion: what he demanded of people was metanoia, repentance, a complete change of heart. SaulSt. Paul the Apostle, original name Saul of Tarsus, (born 4 bce?, Tarsus in Cilicia [now in Turkey]—died c. 62–64 ce, Rome [Italy]), one of the leaders of the first generation of Christians, often considered to be the most important person after Jesus in the history of Christianity.
Stephen (c. AD 5 – c. AD 34) traditionally venerated as the protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity.
Sophrosyne is an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, decorum, and self-control.
Knowledge of spiritual mysteries.
The state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will. Immanuel Kant(1724–1804), German philosopher. In the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) he countered Hume's sceptical empiricism by arguing that any affirmation or denial regarding the ultimate nature of reality (‘noumenon’) makes no sense. All we can know are the objects of experience (‘phenomena’), interpreted by space and time and ordered according to twelve key concepts. Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1788) affirms the existence of an absolute moral law—the categorical imperative.
Albert Camus was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44 in 1957, the second-youngest recipient in history. Camus was born in Algeria to French Pieds Noirs parents. His citizenship was French.
A philosophical and religious system developed by the followers of Plotinus in the 3rd century ad. Neoplatonism combined ideas from Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and the Stoics with oriental mysticism. Predominant in pagan Europe until the early 6th century, it was a major influence on early Christian writers, on later medieval and Renaissance thought, and on Islamic philosophy. It envisages the human soul rising above the imperfect material world through virtue and contemplation towards knowledge of the transcendent One.
A prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.
Other helpful resources about this episode:
Notes on Bevry
Summary and Transcript on awakeningfromthemeaningcrisis.com