Thursday, August 10, 2006

Pantology: Thoughts on Dualism and Voegelin

There is undeniably a quasi-dualism in Eric Voegelin’s pantology. It could be, however, that no pantology is immune from quasi-dualism, in so far as the All (in Greek, to Pan) is itself quasi-dualistic.

The term ‘pantology’ is my coinage. It denotes a science of the All. With the word ‘All’, I am effectively opening an umbrella wider than other terms that might be somewhat equivalent, such as ‘ontology’ and ‘cosmology’.

The province of a science of the All—a pantology—is not simply everything under (and beyond) the Sun, in the sense that this would imply an indiscriminate embrace of all data with no order or structure. No: the provice of pantology is the dynamics and relations between two principal fields of the All—God and Creation.

Most sciences—particularly since the ascendancy of modern natural science which regards divine substance as irrelevant to science—do not deign to deal with these two principal fields and their interrelations, and the pursuit of this is largely left up to the theologians, since philosophy has also circumscribed itself along with modern science. In the modern era, the work of the 20th-century philosopher Eric Voegelin seems to come closest to a pantology.

All theologies include—whether implicitly or overtly—some degree of tension between these two fields of God and Creation.

The symbolisms Voegelin uses (many derived from Plato and Aristotle, as well as from later Neo-Platonic speculation) adumbrate this tension in a way that implies a quasi-dualism or, as I have put it, an intra-divine tension.

The overarching paradigm Voegelin uses derives from an Aristotelian schematic, which Voegelin has amplified and augmented in order to extrapolate and adumbrate the All between two poles:

1) the Apeirontic Depth

2) the Noetic Height.

As important as is the clarification of the All’s two poles, the extrapolation between them that ultimately connects them is of equal importance; we will return to that in Part Two. First, let us examine the two poles more closely.

The term Apeirontic Depth derives from the Greek word apeiron, which literally means “a thing without limits”. It was recognized by Aristotle as a theological symbolism used by the Pre-Socratic philosophers (many of whom, incidentally, were probably the truest pantologists in history). Voegelin’s additional nuance of ‘Depth’ is critical: the Apeirontic Depth is the creative abyss beneath all Creation. The symbolism is meant to evoke not a creation by a God from on high, but rather a quasi-evolutionary causation that is, nevertheless, outside of the materialistic mechanisms implied by the term ‘evolution’ insofar as it transcends the Creation it founds. Neither does the symbolism necessarily connote a self-causation: again, the transcendence of the Apeirontic Depth would preclude that (and the ‘apeirontic’ part of the phrase, meaning ‘without limits’, ensures this). In the final analysis, the symbolism is meant to evoke the aweful mystery of an impersonal source of everything, and this implies an amorality akin to some Hinduist pantologies: the Apeirontic Depth has caused everything to come into being, both the good and the evil.

The Noetic Height is not so much the divine as Source, as Cause, as Ground of everything (i.e., as Creator), but rather as Revealer, as Explainer, as Savior. The Noetic Height is the divine as revealed at various times in history, along a timeline that in fact structures history by irruptions of revelation occurring in certain not entirely clear patterns, patterns which indicate an order, a directionality, a plan (i.e., an eschatology). The quasi-dualism will become immediately apparent when we clarify that the Noetic Height, through its history-structuring revelations (primarily in the context of ancient Israel and its unfolding into Judaism and Christianity, and secondarily in the context of Zoroastrianism and its important influences on the preceding two movements), communicates the message that, as Voegelin has put it rather wryly (but cleverly hidden from his main texts), God is saving His own Good Creation. We could phrase it even more acutely: The Noetic Height communicates the message that God is saving His own Creation from Himself. (At some later date, we will go into the extremely complicated issue of pantological symbolisms that have been engendered over the centuries in order to dilute, distract or even dismantle this threat of dualism, by relocating the pernicious aspects of Creation in an evil entity whose ‘ontological’ connection with the divine is denied.) This acute rendition, of course, exaggerates the quasi-dualism and virtually transforms it into outright dualism. This would be untenable.

The point is that what we have is neither a dualism per se, nor a non-dualism, but a dualism between dualism and non-dualism. Voegelin’s exegesis of the Aristotelian schematic is, I think, the best expression of this paradoxical pantological tension—what I have called the intra-divine tension: a tension which cannot be resolved in this life.

In Part Two, we shall examine more closely the area between the two poles of the Apeirontic Depth and the Noetic Height: the vast area of material reality and human being which is the field in which the intra-divine tension is realized.

No comments: