Thursday, February 11, 2010

Euclid meets God (or doesn't)

In a letter to my Protestant friend (MPF) (cc'd to my atheist friend (MAF)) concerning MAF I said,
it would be fruitful, if possible, more precisely to spline the curve of that twisted notion of the Divine from the roots of disbelief to the point where its tangent becomes true, that is to say orthodox.
Some discussion ensued in which MAF opined,
Believers are asymptotic to God (growing ever closer but never actually meeting). Non-believers are parallel to God (in the Euclidian sense).
He seems to have been implying nobody ever meets God. With this, MPF disagreed, saying,
The un-believer is obviously not parallel to God, since his distance from God is increasing... The believer is parallel to God, as the two lines meet in infinity.
(which Euclid might have found surprising, but never mind). After some discussion in which I did not join about the meanings of the word parallel, I replied at length,

As you all know, I love to beat dead metaphors as much as the next cretin. So, preposterously hoping this nag'll gallop a little further let me try this.

I like the notion that believers travel an asymptotic path toward God, never (in this life) meeting. What's more, we always view God around our own individual curve, so when we look toward God we don't see Him. Those greatly advanced in holiness travel through life so close to God they might almost turn and touch. Yet they're in the same position as anyone, seeing God around a curve, though they can more profoundly experience in this way that dark night ably described by the mystics: They run or are carried and so they look not at but in the same direction (nearly) as God; thus suddenly they can find Him absent as a child does when his father runs along beside and just behind his first two-wheeler.

At our deaths we must all hop the gap between our own curves and the True at which point our own paths will be trued. This, of course, is the function of Purgatory, and, the farther we are from the asymptote at our deaths the more jarring this correction will be--as through fire, for some. One of the frightening things about death is that it seems we will be losing a dimension of our existence, as the happy little locus free to range across the fruited cartesian plain views eternal imprisonment on the y-axis as a limitation. But those on the increasingly straight and narrow path so close to the asymptote will begin dimly to perceive the truth in the promise of an unfolding of vast and manifold dimensions of which the dreaded axis death is only the visible edge.

Where we go wrong is in assuming that it's different for unbelievers. No, the unbeliever is on the same species of asymptotic curve (this has the happy consequence of obviating debate on the meaning of parallel), he's just looking in the other direction. When he does look over his shoulder checking for God, he doesn't see Him, He's around the curve, same as for the rest of us. Unlike believers he is unpracticed in following the curve round in his heart and mind where his eye does not reach. {The preceding sentence, of course, refers to prayer} If the angle of his curve is very steep he won't even recognize a hint of God. I used the verb "spline" to describe sounding out another's curve (without, naturally, knowing its parameters) as perhaps a "fruitful" step in helping to bend it toward the limit (this itself a spiritual work of mercy). But it is the wicked not the unbeliever, pace {MPF}, who is actually traveling in the other direction; who is willingly steepening his curve and further obscuring God and goodness, making unbelief ever easier, ever more plausible; who, when he hops the gap, will crash and burn, unable to be trued. This is why wickedness will foster unbelief and why unbelief can also lead to wickedness. It is also why metanoia is so often characterized simply as a turning around.

What {MAF} in his heart of hearts recognizes, if I may be quite bold, is that the plane, or space if you will, in which we are all swimming these paths is at least a moral space; that reality has an intrinsic (non-constructed, non-culturally programmed, non-arbitrary, but real) moral character, giving the path itself, real meaning. {MAF}'s problem is not so much that he doesn't believe--for he does and by that I mean he doesn't think it is "superstitious" to love his neighbor as himself--but that he erroneously thinks it is of any consequence that when he looks for God he doesn't see anyone, and what he does see--others' conceptions of God--he (rightly) sees as fairly ridiculous. He knows, or has a fair idea when he is traveling in the Good direction, though he despairs of seeing God--for the moment anyway. Of course our mortal span is a mere moment, but I see no reason not to hope that some beauteous (if distant) day he will ask in wonder, "when did I see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink?"

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I'd be a blackguard and a cad, if I weren't so ineffectual. The less said "About Me", the better.