Ep. 16 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Christianity and Agape
(Sectioning and transcripts made by MeaningCrisis.co)
A Kind Donation
Welcome back to awakening from the meaning crisis. So last time we had begun to take a look at the transformation that was occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean around the time of the advent of what was going to become Christianity. Of course, this figures upon the person of Jesus of Nazareth, a very controversial figure to say the least. And as I said, I'm not going to endeavor to claim to give the absolute or exhaustive account of this extraordinary individual, but instead I'm going to try and do what I've done before, which is to show how what he did contributed to our understanding of meaning and wisdom and how that eventually pushed the history that has led to the meaning crisis forward.
So we were talking about one of the core messages of Jesus. Jesus seems to have understood himself, or at least those around him understood him, as Kairos. If you remember, that's a turning point in the course of history. Because, as we spoke before the Israelites - and by this time they were known as the Jews - had developed the psycho-technology of understanding history as a cosmic narrative in which there are crucial turning points. And Jesus saw himself as such a Kairos. Whether or not he saw himself as the Kairos that was known as the Jewish Messiah is again controversial. I don't need that for the purposes of my argument. It seems, though, that he had a sense of himself as deeply participating in the way in which God was directing and involving himself in the course of history. If you remember the model of God we talked about, when we talked about the ancient Israelites, the God of the Exodus is a God who is creating into an open future, and that human beings participate in that creation by identifying with a particular course, Da'at, loving it, being shaped by it, as well as shaping [it]. Participating in its flow.
And Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as having an especially deep participation such that he felt himself to be at one with this God who is capable of altering the course of history and redeeming human beings. He seems to have understood this Kairos as having something to do with a profound way of understanding the participation in God which, we've talked about before, makes sense. We've talked about how this participatory knowing is a process in which you're coupled, right? You're neither making it or being made by it, but it's this reciprocal revelation in which you are making it and it is making you. The way you participate in your culture. The way you participate in your language. The way you participate in history. And you know this not by gathering beliefs, but the way in which your 'self' is fundamentally transformed. And so Jesus understood this participation, his participation in God as the disclosing of this profound kind of love.
And we began talking about this: the kinds of love that human beings experience and how love is something that deeply transforms who we are and our salience landscape, our character. We talked about [how] the Greeks have three terms and it's helpful because, by this time, the new Testament is being written in Greek. It's helpful to understand these Greek terms. So there's Eros, which is the love of being one with something, right? And it can be just, you know, drinking water! So I become one with it. Then of course, it could become what has become more commonly known as becoming one with someone through sexual union, or erotic love. Then there's Phylia that's at the core Philosophyia; this is the love that is born out of cooperation. So Eros is consumptive - making one with -, Phylia is cooperation - we work together. We work together, and a lot of how we succeed as human beings is the way we work together.
But Jesus starts to emphasize a new kind of love: Agape. And this is not the love of consumption or cooperation. This is the love of creation. It's the love that God is demonstrating towards humanity in the way God is an ongoing creation of the open future. So God is creating the future. He's creating the historical process and course of that history that makes people possible. See, Agape is the kind of love that creates persons. So the main metaphor for Agape, if you remember, is the way a parent loves a child. You don't love a child because you want to consume it in some way, that's hideous and vicious! You don't love your child when you bring it home from the hospital because it's a great friend to you, It can cooperate! It can't do that at all! In fact, it's not even a person. It's not a morally, rationally reflective agent. In fact, it's exactly the opposite. You love it precisely because by loving that non-person, you turn it into a person. This is the powerful, creative... It's, it's a godlike ability that we have! By participating through love in another being, we can transform that being from a non-person into a person. A person that could enter into a community of persons and find meaning, fellowship, belonging.
So that radical transformative power of Agape, its ability to radically transform us and reorient us brings about a metanoia, a radical turning. This (Meta) means above and beyond. And this (noia) means your salience landscaping; how you are fundamentally, perspectivally knowing the world. So metanoia: "I'm fundamentally turning, altering my whole field of consciousness, altering my whole orientation". And what's fundamentally happening in the metanoia of Agape is I'm having a personal Kairos. My personal course is being radically transformed. So Jesus is not only teaching this, he is exemplifying it. He experiences himself as a Kairos and he's giving to people through Agape the possibility of experiencing their own personal Kairos.
See what happens in the experience that Jesus is pointing to, I believe, is we get a fundamental reorientation. For a very long time we are born out of, we are the receivers of Agape. It is only because you as an animal - 'cause that's what you are, before you're a person, a biological animal - it's only because you as an animal revieved the Agapic love of others that you were actually transformed into a person. And what you actually do is you internalize other people and how they are aware of you. And that is how you gain your reflective rationality. That is how you gain your own understanding. You fundamentally gain your self-understanding, your sense of self and your ability to reflect on yourself by how you are reflected through other people. It's a fundamental thing to say and because it is so fundamental, and we can say it with few words, it can be trivialized, but we are in a very deep sense born out of an Agapic love that preceeds us. It's because of Agape, because of the way other people have devoted themselves and participated in you, that you went from a non-person into a person. That you got the ability - it's almost like other people are mirrors through which you come to see and realize yourself, that you got a sense of self, that you got the ability to reflect on yourself, that you got a sense of your own ownership.
There's nothing that in fact is more transformative for an adult than having a child. So from the child's perspective what's happening is [that] they are in a sense consuming the love that the adult is giving them. They're taking in this love and they are becoming one with it. You understand yourself and can reflect on yourself because of the way you have internalized other people's attention on you. But that's the child's perspective (the 'consumption' of love). So you can see for the child it's very egocentric, and Freud picked up on this! But I think he also twisted it! In this sense it's very... Our relationship to our parents - and please listen to this very carefully - is in that sense erotic, in the sense that we are consuming them. We are internalizing them. We are becoming one with them. Now I don't mean erotic in the sense that Freud ultimately meant, because Freud thought that all of that was always a sexual experience. I think that's too simplistic, but I think there is insight here. But take a look at this from the parent's perspective.
From the parent's perspective, the person giving Agape, it is not egocentric at all. In fact, there is nothing that will more challenge your egocentric orientation that everything is moving this way than having a child. If you're a good parent, and of course we all vary in how good we are as parents. I have been privileged to be a parent myself. But what happens is, you are no longer the center of your salience landscape. The child is, because the child is absolutely dependent upon you. Do you see? This is the metanoia of Agape. I mean the metaphor is turning, but the problem with that metaphor is [that] all 'turning' (demonstrated physically by turning on the spot while standing) is still egocentric. You have to think of the turning this way: The turning is "I go from being egocentric (pointing internally to himself) to being centered on someone else (pointing out and away from himself)". And what I'm actually centered on is I'm very, I'm centered on the process of creating a person, like God. But not egocentrically like "I'm a God!!!". It's like "I am participating in that Agapic process that made me". The Agape that preceeds me, flows through me, and transforms me as I'm oriented. And what Jesus was offering, I believe, was he was offering a teaching so that all people could experience this. Not just individually, personally, with their own parents, but in terms of our relationship to God. We could all experience this fundamental turning, such that we become vessels through which Agape creates other human beings.
So what's going to happen of course, and you see this in the epistles of John, is the the Christian community starts to understand this capacity for radically transforming people so that they become conduits of this God-like creative process whereby non-persons are turned into persons. They're coming to understand [that] Agape itself is God. That's what God is. This is the..., So the Israelite notion of God creating open history becomes specified in the teachings of Jesus to the idea that God is Agape. God is this process that we participate in. And we put... Look, it made you, you didn't make it! You participate in Agape. It precedes you, it flows through you and you participate in it insofar as you help other people to come to personhood through you.
Now, this is a radical idea. As I mentioned last time, this is going to give the Christians a psycho-technology, a grammar, for how to transform perspectival and participatory knowing that is going to allow them to conquer the Roman empire. I don't mean militarily of course. What I mean is, what Christians can do is they can offer all the non-persons of the Empire a process by which they become persons within a community of persons, enmeshed together in Agapic Love. So all the women, all the widows, all the sick, all the poor, all the non-male Roman citizens, all the weak, can come to Christianity and receive the opportunity and the community that supports this opportunity of a radical transformation. Now, we know that the community around - there's many different communities around Jesus, I should say! There's, just like around Socrates, there's many different Jesus movements - but this seems to be key idea and it seems that it carries with it some kind of notion of a sacrificial element to it. And again, there's a lot of controversy around this and we have to be careful not to read too much of Paul into this,, but we'll talk about Paul in a few minutes.
But Agape has a sacrificial element to it in that you give yourself, you "for-give", you give before the person earns. It's not Phylia. It is not reciprocity. It is not "you and I are working together, you have earned my trust and love". Phylia is great and it's important, right? And it's not Eros, "I love you because of how I can consume you and make you one with me". No, Agape has a sacrificial component to it because what I'm actually doing is I'm giving up, I'm making myself an affordance for your transformation from non-person into person.
So this is why Jesus emphasizes forgiveness as central to his message. And one of the things we should remember, and this is controversial to say, is Jesus does not anywhere in the gospels present himself as the means by which we obtained forgiveness from God. He often presents himself as a 'way' and things like that, and we'll talk about that. But when asked how to obtain forgiveness from God, this opportunity of radically transforming ourselves (Metanoia), Jesus' consistent message is "by forgiving other people". We experience Agape from God, the degree to which we give it to others. And this has been, of course, radically trivialized in our culture. We think of forgiveness largely as a matter of, you know, somebody feels sorry and we tell them it's okay. That's not the core idea of forgiveness. The core of the idea of forgiveness doesn't depend on your contrition. The degree to which you are trying to afford someone else growing into their personhood, and the degree to which you are making a sacrifice towards that, is already forgiveness.
Some forgiveness is when somebody has slighted us and the relationship has been damaged and we have to act [Agapicly] in order to reestablish the relationship. But in a very real sense, all Agapic love is 'for-giving' love because it is giving 'before' the person that is receiving the love can in any way be said to have earned it. So this idea that we are sacrificially extending the capacity for individuals to redirect their own history experience, their own Kairos, was often captured by Jesus in famous language of being born again. You're dying and you're being born again: This radical transformation of your entire orientation, your entire way of being.
Now the tragedy that befalls the Jesus movements, at least some of them - because not all the movements care about this! This is again something that many people don't realize: there are many elements of the early followers of Jesus, communities that don't care about his death, they only care about his teaching. But of course Jesus does die and that has a profound effect on some of these movements. And again, this is hard to state anything clearly or anything that we could have any great confidence in, but somehow his death exemplifies the sacrificial forgiveness that is at the core of God as Agape. Somehow Jesus' death enables people to internalize that sacrificial love and empowers them to transform other human beings.
Now, of course, his resistance to the Jesus movements - and to Jesus, it's plausible, that his death was due to the fact that he was angering and upsetting a lot of people. We see this as something similar to what confronted Socrates. One of the people that seems to have been an early persecutor is a guy by the name of Saul. Now Saul is a very interesting person. He's both a Jew and a Roman citizen. At a time when these two groups of people are quite antagonistic towards each other. There had been, already, Wars between the Romans and the Jews. A new one was about to come to major Jewish revolts. So the relationship is a very tense one, filled with a lot of tension. And this is reflected within this person himself. He seems to have integrated these two disparate and warring aspects of his personality and his identity together around a commitment to law; organized rules of behavior and conduct. And he sees the Jesus movements, the followers of Jesus - They're not in fact, just to point out something, they are not initially called the followers of Jesus, they are initially call the followers of "The Way" because Jesus had presented "a way". See the word Way is so wonderful because it doesn't just mean method. It's not just some procedures; it's also an affordance of how you're going to move into the future; it is a new orientation. So Jesus is The Way in which we can experience the Kairos of Metanoia and become Forgiving individuals who are constantly "for-giving" Agapicly to others. And Paul, sorry, Saul seems to see these people, and their language of Agape and their adoration of Jesus as deeply threatening to his Jewish heritage and also to Roman order. And so he becomes involved in the persecution of the followers of The Way. And it's about at the time that he's involved in the persecution that they start being called, actually as an insult initially, "Christians", The Followers of Christ, which means The Anointed One. And so he's involved in persecuting them. He's there, the first time he's mentioned in the Bible, he is there when the first Christian is martyred: Stephen. Steven is talking about this message (The Way) and the crowd gets angered and they stone him and Saul gathers every[ ]- Saul basically holds everybody's coats so that they can more effectively stone Stephen to death.
So Saul becomes deeply involved in this and he gets, basically, a writ, a letter, an official letter to travel to Damascus and round up these so called Christians and bring them in for prosecution. And on the road he has what I think we could call a transformative experience. He relates it himself in a couple [of] places. It's also represented third person in The Book of Acts - and there's differences in it as there always is in something that has a mythological element to it, again where "myth" doesn't mean fable, where a myth means trying to present a profound pattern. But he is struck by a bright light. And, of course, this is the metaphor of enlightenment. And we know that transformative experiences often involve this experience of radical super-salience, often tremendous light, and he is struck to the ground by it. It's [an] overwhelming experience. And then a voice speaks to him and says, "Why? Saul? Why do you persecute me?" And Saul says, "Who are you Lord?" (Lord isn't a title for God. Lord is any one who has some important higher status than you.) And the experience carries with it that onto-normativity that we talked about: Saul has the sense that he's confronting something more real than himself. "Who are you?" And the voice says, "I am Jesus who you persecute".
And that's all we need to talk about! I mean, Saul is blinded by this light and encountering this voice. And we can think about Plato's metaphor here of "as we encounter these things, we're often blinded by the light". But what we need to understand is [that] this engenders, in Saul, a deep, deep inner conflict. And in fact, when you read his biography, as I've already painted here (Jewish/Roman Combo), you can see that his experience of inner conflict is really profound. And this reminds us, again... It's analogous, but different, of Plato's concern with inner conflict: the way inner conflict reveals the psyche. But whereas Plato is going to develop a scientific theory of inner conflict, Saul is going to undergo a transformative experience because of this inner conflict. It is going to riven him to his core because how can it be that he hasn't had this transformative experience, this awakening experiences that's more real from the very being that he was persecuting. How can he reconcile these together? He's actually, he travels to Antioch and he actually gets taken in by the very people he was going to persecute. Do you see this? This is this forgiveness. The very people he was going to persecute take him in! So the people that he was going to destroy are actually responsible for his care and under their care his sight is restored.
What's all this pointing to? Again, it's pointing to [that] he's at war with Agape itself, and we all are! Like, we all are. We have a very tough time, and this is part of the message of Jesus and John and Paul, at least to my mind, we have a tough time acknowledging the reality of Agape. We like to create personal fables of how we are self-made and self-directed and self-secure and self-sustaining and Agape challenges that in a profound way. So Saul goes into the desert to reflect - and this is always a biblical, mythological paradigm for a process of undergoing radical reflection - and when he comes out, he has gone through a radical, transformative experience. He's had this higher state of consciousness, this visionary experience. He then experiences Agape from the very people he was persecuting. He goes into the desert and when he comes back, he's a new person. He's gone through a radical transformative experience. And we know that because he's changed his name. He changed his name from Saul to Paul, and he has a radical message. It's a powerful message. He comes to present Agape in one of the most beautiful passages, [one of the most] famous passages, in the Bible! You've probably heard it at some point. It's often misread at weddings! People read this passage often at weddings and they, I think, are misinterpreting it because what Paul's talking about is an Agapic, spiritual kind of love. Now, there should definitely be that aspect in a romantic relationship, but I don't think romantic relationships typically are understood by most people as venues in which Agapic love is the primary focus.
Let me read the passage to you... So, Paul begins by saying: "and now I will show you the most excellent way." So he's showing you the most excellent way (indicates The Way on the board). This is, and notice the word 'excellent', the way in which we can most radically go through transformation and grow. "I'll show you the 'most excellent way'". Now he's not gonna make an argument like Plato. Instead what he's going to do is he's going to present everything from the framework of a participatory kind of knowing. That's how he begins: "If I...", so he's not making an argument. He's talking about what his very identity, how his identity is being informed and transformed by its conformity to Agapic love. "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I'm only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing". Notice all the language here. This is participatory language. This is the language of knowing by identifying. "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames..." 'cos Christians are starting to be burned, right? "...but I have not love, I gain nothing". What is this language here? It's very radical. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast". Now, this of course is not romantic love because romantic love does experience envy and jealousy. "It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres".
Those are the features you need in order to help and afford someone coming into personhood. "Love never fails". Now we think, 'what are you talking about? I've been in so many relationships and they fail!' That's because you're thinking of this as romantic love. That love does fail. What he means is Agape can't fail. We are always born from and always have to give birth to Agape, or personhood itself will disappear.
(continues reading) "But where there are prophecies, they will cease. Where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge it will pass away". Now he's trying to get them to understand, like 'what? What? What are we talking about here?' (continues reading) "Before we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes..." - Perfection here meaning completion - "...the imperfect disappears."
And people are like, "what?"!! And so he gives a metaphor. One we've seen elsewhere: "...when I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." Okay, so when you're a kid, you have a particular identity, you have particular salience landscape, right? And things really, really matter to you in a certain way. We talked about this when we talked about Sophrosyne. When you become an adult, your world becomes radically reoriented. What is salient and what is central to you is radically changed. So I hope for many of you as adults, your life is not primarily centered upon and oriented towards the super-saliency of candy and toys. If you're really, really oriented towards candies and toys and playing, then of course you're not growing up as an adult. When we go through Agape, it is like the change in our salience landscape and our fundamental identity. How we participate in ourselves in the world is fundamentally transformed and that's what Paul is offering here.
Then he says... Look, you've got to know what this means: "Now we see but a poor reflection, as in a mirror. Then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love". Okay, so now it's like we're seeing a reflection. We're not in touch with reality. We're like the people in Plato's cave: we're looking at the shadows and the echo. We don't see things as they are. We're not in touch with reality. But with Agape, the most excellent way, we will come to know as we are known, right? He's talking about this participatory love.
Think about how, when you are dee[p]... and now, even use a romantic relationship, one with some significant depth. When you really love someone, how you know them to a degree to which they know you. It is such a participatory way of knowing you. You get to be in touch with their reality in a way that somebody else doesn't. That's part of the bargain of a mature understanding of a romantic relationship, right? You give up the extensive erotic pursuit of many different partners in order that you can deeply know and be known by someone else. And that's like growing up! That's like going from being a child to a man.
So Paul is actually talking about 'there's a way of knowing' - and we're going to come back to this. The term that's being used there is Gnosis - that is bound up with Agape, this way of loving. See, so all these things: "God is Agape", "we forgive Agape", "we are forgiven by Agape", "we know as we are known", "we are participating in the becoming a person of others and then they are participating in ours". It's this powerful, new, whole new way of being and it has become so sentimented in our culture and so ossified and so below how we live. It's like the ground we're walking on and like the ground we walk on, we have contempt for it without realizing how much it holds everything up.
I'm not a Christian. I'm not advocating for Christianity. I'm trying to get you to understand how profound an expression of meaning, transcendence and Way to wisdom is being [offered] here. Now, there is a dark side to this, I think, and here's where I will probably part company with people who identify as Christians. See the difficulty with participatory knowing and this "Gnosis", this is - we'll talk more about this - this knowing by participation and going through radical Metanoic transformation; this Gnosis Agape that Paul talks so much about... There is a danger with it! There's a danger of misunderstanding.
So we have to go carefully here. Look, when I am knowing someone ([through a] participatory, Agopic relationship), my knowing of them and my knowing of myself are deeply... they're inseparably bound together. That's why Jesus will say, [for his part (quite inaudible?)], "this relationship he has to God is... I and the father are one", and Paul will say "it's not I who live but Christ who lives in me", right? This is knowing by this deep bonding of identity. You know, not by transforming your thoughts, or even your mind, you know by transforming yourself! But there's a danger to this. The danger is that any aspect of yourself that you do not properly understand, [that] has not come into knowledge, can get projected onto what you love. This is the great danger, also, in the romantic relationship precisely because you are so bound to this person and your identity, a lot of what is unconscious in your identity can get projected onto that person. So see, this is why there's such a moral obligation on you when you enter into a romantic relationship to commit yourself to a process of self knowledge, in the Socratic sense, self-discovery, because the degree to which you are self ignorant is the degree to which that participatory known will be darkened and twisted into a projection of aspects of yourself.
And I think, to my mind for all of his astonishing spiritual brilliance, that's also happening in Paul. See the inner conflict in Paul was very profound. He comes up against the problem that many of us encounter. Aristotle talked about this with Akrasia and a weakness of the will. We know what we should do and we do the opposite of what we know is the right thing to do. I know what I should do. It's clear in my mind that this is what I should do and yet I do this (gesturing with left and right hand respectively). Somehow, even though knowing what I should do, I find myself almost as if I'm being pulled to do something else. And he describes it. Paul uses the language of somebody in the midst of a civil war who's standing sort of at the center of their Citadel and the outline provinces are in revolt! And he experiences this radical inner conflict. There's lots of different theories about what this is, what's he so conflicted about? But Paul comes up with a narrative - of course it's going to be a narrative, right? He's in the Israelite Jewish tradition - he comes up with a narrative for understanding this conflict. And it is the narrative that comes from a personalization of the notion of the movement from the two worlds as being, a liberation from an old place and a movement to a new place. The Exodus. Because Christianity is personalizing this. Paul experiences the Exodus personally. He experiences, 'there's two of him'. There's the old Saul, who wants to follow the way of the law, but [he] actually feels guilty and angry and feels disconnected from God and rejected by God. And then there's the new Paul, the Paul of love, who feels connected and he sees the old man and the new man. And what's happening is the new man is trying to be born from the old man.
And so we have picked... This has become endemic to our culture! This idea of the "old me" and the "new me"! We think, "Oh, this is just natural. I came up with this!!!!" Such bullshit we tell ourselves at times! The old me and the new me. Paul understands this and he understands this tension between the old Saul that was committed to law and order and justice and punishment, and the new Paul who is participating in the liberation of love. And he's trying to understand: "why do I have this inner conflict?" Because he has personalized the God of history, he understands his inner conflict. And here's where I think the danger of projection is clear: He understands his inner conflict as reflecting an inner conflict in God! God was actually conflicted within himself.
It's a radical idea and we need to know this - not because, again, I'm trying to advocate for Christianity - because we have to understand Paul in order to understand Augustine, and in order to understand Luther. And we have to understand Augustine and Luther, if we're going to understand the Meaning Crisis.
So you've got this idea that God has two aspects to him or herself. One part is God represents law and justice and order. And insofar as God represents that, we stand in judgment. We have somehow failed. We have not lived up to the moral perfection that morality demands for us. Look, and Kant made a point about this: Morality demands nothing less than perfection from you. You have to be completely honest. You have to be completely courageous. And none of us can ever meet that standard.
Now, we need to balance that with compassion and love, but what Paul is saying is he is saying, "well, God is perfectly just!", and therefore we fail to meet that standard. And therefore, legally, we are condemned to death. But yet God isn't just a judge. God is also the Agopic parent that loves us. And so what he does is he takes the notion that Jesus' death was somehow sacrificial, because we've talked about how sacrifice is born up within Agopic love, and he gives in to this idea that Jesus sacrificed himself in order to satisfy God's demand for justice so that God was capable of really loving us. And how that redemption model works out, there's all kinds of theological battles about it. And whether or not we should understand it this way or that way is not relevant to our purposes. What's relevant is that within this astonishing foundational message, of Gnosis and Agape, there's also an attempt to project our, like... Sorry!!!! This sounds so radical and I don't mean to make it sound ridiculous! I'm not! I'm trying to be respectful! But the idea that somehow the course of reality itself is enmeshed in a conflict between justice and Agape.
What that's going to mean is that people that experience deep inner conflict are going to find a welcoming home within the auspices of Christianity. Individuals who are riven by a sense of personal failure, of not living up to what they can and should be, that their personhood has been thwarted, they have not come into a fullness - a perfection, as Paul says - a completeness of their personhood, are going to be deeply attracted to the Christian message.
You are probably now seeing how this might be relevant to the Meaning Crisis. Because what happens if we still - because we are still participating in the waters of Christianity within our culture, even if we're not Christians, and most of us aren't anymore. How do we tap into all of this (indicates The Way, Metanoia, Gnosis Agape on the board)? The power of Agape; acknowledging its reality; the participatory Gnosis; the radical transformation; our own sense of not living up to the fullness of our personhood. What if we still experienced all of that, but we do not have the machinery of Christianity, with its metaphysics of cosmic redemption available to us? That could be a powerful experience of despair. I mean, Camus famously said, "My whole of my life, I've tried to figure out, how can I be a Saint without there being a God?" And he of course famously came to the conclusion that reality was radically absurd. We'll come back to that. So there is a price we pay, and this is not a statement of resentment, but there's a price. We pay for the gifts, to use a Christian word - the grace. That's what grace originally means. The gifts that Christianity has given us. It has given us expectations of love and transformation and growth into personhood and relief from inner conflict. Expectations that, I would say, are not well met in our post Christian worldview. So we carry the grammar of God, but we no longer believe any of the things we say with it - for many of us.
So what I'd like to do is try and now trace how Christianity, coming out of the Israelite Jewish heritage, and I've already sort of been giving/ making allusions of this, starts to intersect with the Axial Revolution that was coming out of Greece. Because Christianity is going to take up into itself the Stoicism we've already talked about. Paul quotes stoicism in the Bible.
And as [Christianity] does that it's also going to come into conflict, not conflict - well, some conflict actually, to be honest - but it's going to come into confluence with that strain of the Axial Revolution spirituality that came out of Greece. It's going to come into connection with Neoplatonism. It's going to come into connection with Gnosticism. So next time, what I want to look at is I want to look at the Gnostics, these followers of Jesus - because of course it's controversial to call them Christians - who really centered in on this Gnosis Agape [with] what they were talking about, and the Neoplatonism. Because all of that is going to have an impact on the generation of more orders of Meaning. We'll review that again, but if you remember, we talked about how with Aristotle we had developed, in the West, a nomological order to Meaning. A way in which we could pursue worldview attunement. We're going to see that as Neoplatonism and Christianity come together, we're going to get two more orders of meaning emerging. An order by which we pursue the most excellent way, and an order by which this cosmic narrative history is enmeshed into the Western worldview. Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Episode 16 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.
St. 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