Addressing Christianity As The Naturally Grounded Logotherapeutic Affirmation of Being

In this piece my friend Shaeor, Christian mystic and artist, riffed from some prompts I gave him, being the inquests of much reading and meditation. Read carefully and appreciate this. Will be posting more frequently from now on, I hope. 

Prompts:
1. Biology and evolution as a foundation for an actionable faith.
2. Cybernetics and teleology. I love these words.
3. The importance of the body and an embodied Logos, i.e Christ.

PART ONE:

A lot of people have the idea that a scientific understanding of the world, which is predicated on methodological naturalism, leads inevitably to a meaningless universe. What I most want to impress on them here is that this is firmly not the case. We have the starting place for all productive discussion in the modern age if we just throw out this falsehood. Only then can we escape philosophy’s pointlessly enforced gridlock and get these wheels turning again. 

So often the above conclusion is taken for granted, though. In both popular culture and even amongst the fairly educated philosophers I have met, the assumption is pervasive that the world of objects cannot contain meaning. The fatal flaw in this idea, however, which sells itself as nihilistic, is that it is actually not nihilistic enough, for it gives us no real reason that the mind and all its subjective content should not be mercilessly turned into an object also. After all, if your reasoning for meaninglessness is that causality is all there is, and you deny the soul, then why shouldn’t you be a thing too? Or did you really think we couldn’t describe what type of thing you are?

This is where my interest in cybernetics, the study of organization as such and control systems in particular, comes from, because it demonstrates clearly that we do have models for meaning; for pain and pleasure as feedback according to our being goal-driven things. That is what a control system does. It sets a goal, any goal. It generates an output, then takes an input, and finally measures the perceived world and the efficacy of its output on it. We call that throughput, which is the interpretation it has about whether something is good or bad. It then adjusts its output.

Is what we are doing working? If not, then stop. Pain is a good way to make an animal stop. What if it is working? Pleasure, of course. Many times, I have heard Atheists deny free will and say that people are just pleasure-seeking machines while in the same breath denying that objective meaning or morality is possible. Let me be clear, this is the most plainly stupid contradiction I am aware of in philosophy, and I’m thinking of certain annoying Youtubers for whom it is frequent.

You’ll find that the instincts baked deepest into your primordial lizard brain follow cybernetics perfectly. Namely fight, flight, and freeze are forward, backwards, and halt, exactly like a silly little RC car. Add in behavioral variation and selection criteria, and you have a complete abstract account of consciousness. You might not be able to start programming your AGI right away or solve the ‘hard problem’, but you know that you’ve got your building blocks right. Teleonomy, which is the purpose apparent in these kinds of systems and not the ultimate purpose espoused by teleology, is in fact completely sufficient to express the meaning of life in terms of its energetic nature. Morality is just a set of organizational truisms for both the individual and society as a metasystem. End of story.

Now, isn’t it far scarier a thought that we are bound to these dynamics, rather than merely dismissing ourselves to a freeing nihilism? Ask yourself if you really think that’s wrong on a technical level, or if you’re simply sparing yourself out of a religious fear. It turns out that you don’t get such an easy lot as to determine the meaning of your actions. Rather, you are right back where you started; in the grips of an omnipotent force that will punish you for all your inadequacies. Efficiency, as it defines it, is beyond your control, and the best you will manage is a little self-deception if you try to subvert it. Maybe you can offload a consequence or two by acting like a psychopath, but the bill will come due. Most psychopaths are not CEOs or doctors, despite what you may have heard. They’re failures for a reason.

No matter what you do then, you will have desires, and this great authority will answer your desires with demands. “Do you want to be loved? Then be lovable as I have defined it through culture and biology. Do you want to be comfortable? Then meet these needs which I have ordained. Do you want to change culture? Then do it according to my rules. Deny or affirm me, I remain. Suppress yourself, refine yourself, and do all things so that I might be furthered. And, if you kill yourself, I will name it a great tragedy, and even still I will be furthered.” If you think you are safe in your own mind, you’re wrong. Darwinism is scale invariant. Even your own attention marches itself to this tune.

You have some choice in how you are organized, but not over the laws of organization itself.

Entropy is at your back like a whip, and things fall apart by default. If you are not actively progressing you will suffer, but progression is suffering in constant encounter with stress. Deny any higher meaning and you will be left with this, which cannot be denied. As the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener said in his book ‘The Human Use of Human Machines’, we have here license to realize quite lucidly that life is objectively and naturally signified by suffering. That is its significance to itself. Put more clearly, suffering is negative feedback indicating that entropy is winning, and life is failing, but entropy wins also by the advancement of life, because life cannot break the second law of Thermodynamics except locally and at the expense of other systems. The world is an engine that runs on blood. All we can do therefore is not to avoid stress, but to seek eustress and the improvement of this engine’s MPG rating. As you will see, all else is commentary. This is a point we will return to.

While it might sound like poetry or philosophy, it nonetheless concurs with naturalism, and that is enough to ruin our comfortable little stalemate in philosophy. Because our understanding of nature is that it can answer any question as to why something occurs, we can go this way as far as we are daring enough to ask it. Why, then, do we feel what we do? You know it can be answered, and that the answer is a logical schema tantamount to a metaphysics of what it means to be human. Many objections arise with this argument now at the point we encounter culture, the debates surrounding sociobiology, conflict theory, and functionalism, but none of them are fatal because all of them still abide beneath the primacy of entropy, so we will leave them for now.

What matters is that we have flipped the script. Some Atheists have said that God, who made the universe, would surely not care what humans do. But the irony of their supposedly disillusioned statement is the biting naivety of their wishful thinking. As if God would not have the limitless energy to torture personally every ant in his collection. If he has made laws which govern the smallest bodies and the largest, yours is not so special as to escape binding. All of this will sound quite contrary to the end argument I’m getting at of course, which is the truth of Christianity, but it should only serve to set the stage. 

We have already found the ‘meaning of life’ in exactly the way a philosopher would expect to, posed as a problem and solution. The problem is suffering, the answer is eustress. Useful stress. Good-bad. A paradoxical idea, like all great spiritual ideas. It is to say that a person must increase their internal organization and ability to exert control, even towards the achievement of arbitrary goals (though we know they are never arbitrary by definition, as they happen in a system). You could call this the will to power if you wanted, and so we have stumbled upon the specter of Nietzsche and postmodernism broadly, his bastard child. I wish that I could comment further here, but I have yet to do the reading. I can tell you confidently that Lacan, Heidegger, Deleuze, and others were completely aware of cybernetics in this capacity, but I would botch any summary of their positions.

Suffice to say, force (control) is the ultimate authority, including over meaning, politics, and truth. Really, it would seem the definition. Everyone who is honest will admit that. But there is some saving grace at the doorstep of religion, which is the principle we have already established in the mere existence of cybernetics as a study. Because there is an internal logic to control systems as such, it is correct to say that all authority is hereby granted in compliance with the rules of authority’s dynamics, or its logos (Romans 13:1). Optimization for this function, like all optimization, will oscillate around a theoretical attractor, simultaneously unachievable yet formally real. That is tantalizingly close to the notion of God, and so you see my methodology. We are approximating theology from the approximation of metaphysics from the interrogation of naturalism. We are coming in the back door so that we can unlock the front. Then, finally, our shop will be open for business again.

Let us recap. There is a supreme authority over meaning and behavior in systems. Defying this authority will strip us of our ability to act on the world and alienate us from our inborn teleonomy, leading to abject suffering. This Being, which is also literally Being itself, is the means by which everything evolves (Acts 17:28), and one cannot pick up a spoon or have a conversation without the involvement of these rules over control systems (we can discuss the tension of emphases in control and complexity science at another time). This principle is active not just in each instance, but in the nesting of instances in each other, both across time and levels of organization such that all of them interact collectively, the part often ceding itself to the whole in a non-zero-sum game. Lastly, eustress, or the voluntary taking on of a tolerable degree of stress that increases our efficacy in the world to achieve goals, is of supreme soteriological value. The higher the goal, the higher the level of organization required, but also the greater the necessary integration of subsystems into increasingly more costly metasystems. This is rightly characterized as a sacrifice, as the parts constantly die to the whole so that global efficiency is not lost to their errors (Romans 6:23).

If the meaning of life, entropy, does not dictate the will to power per se, but instead the will to the experience of meaning associated with increasing levels of internal organization, wholeness, we might have some grounds for our obsession with holiness, don’t you think? Note the obvious common root-word. The body’s counterpart in this would be haleness. The more responsibility one assumes, which is definitionally things we control, the more one must be good at governing in general (kubernesis). Sin, defined originally as the missing of a mark, decreases with feedback, but it matters what we aim at. Being bad at murder is not typically considered a sin, so there is indeed an implicit higher-order value that determines also if an individual aim is valid. A game of games (Deuteronomy 10:17). This comes from our nature as evolutionary systems and has been elucidated brilliantly by others.

If one aims at the passions, or parts of the self, it can be done at the expense of the whole, and they may be run over on the street where they’ve fallen drunk asleep. These cannot be superordinate, therefore, but love can, since love has the whole as its object. Aquinas defined it as the will to good, and no coincidence because this also solves Euthyphro’s dilemma, and so on (1st John 4:16). What it means to love someone is tautological, then. It is to want them also to know love, because that is their good. To love and be loved. To be whole and increase wholeness, even to the suppression of some parts (Matthew 5:30). 

Of course, I would love to go on all day about the implications of this Biblical hermeneutic, and believe me, it can be done, but I want to constrain my length for the good of making this text readable. So, on to our conclusions.

PART TWO:

I have so far given you reason to believe in believing, but not to believe directly. We know now that Being is self-affirming via the will to wholeness and eustress (quite a paternal type of love). We know we are saved by a personality-model which follows our theses, and which appears to act an awful lot like a relationship to God, shaping mind and body alike. But how do we get from there to the particularities? Many non-Christian religious figures throughout history have died and resurrected in a way that points us towards the transcendence of suffering via affirmation of eustress too, so why should we believe Christ was the one real and supernatural example? Furthermore, why should we believe this God is more than some impersonal Tao? As it turns out, we’d be giving too little credit to Christianity by thinking it was not aware of these problems. The Bible actually goes so far as to draw our attention to them in its narrative structure and the path it proposes for salvation. There is a kind of fourth wall break that happens here, wherein the fact that faith is posed as the only way to be justified becomes not just symbolically true but literally true as well. 

Objective meaning and morality is plainly not enough. The weight of the world is still too great, or at least this is the consensus of humanity in all its major religious traditions. You might have noticed, in my treatment of God as love and love as the will to wholeness, that I glossed over the unspeakable horror which is this ethic in practice by nature. It arranges itself like an efficient machine of constant mass-murder. To believe that a loving God could have made such a system staggers the imagination, but it is necessary. This is the ultimate existential conundrum:

God, or Being, is beyond judgment, but he contains all evil within Him, and we must judge evil to lessen it. The only choice we have then is to take the fault onto ourselves – to cleave Being in two between the perfect divine (the ideal, or goal-state) and the fallenness of man (the reality, or input-state) and try to bridge the gap between them ourselves, as a cybernetic system is wont to do. We take judgment upon ourselves, voluntarily, because the alternative of it being on God is actually far, far worse.

This is where the distinction between tragedy and evil is cleverly erected, as the alternative of condemning Being as necessarily containing evil will do nothing but make the situation intractable by definition. Evil must be unnecessary and fundamentally human for it to be decreasable, otherwise we undermine our basic function; to increase our own agency in these matters.

So, we thank God for all evil and suffering as opportunities ultimately used for His love, because this is how we love ourselves also, by choosing eustress over stress. It is not an easy thing to do, it is a courageous thing to do. Like St. Augustine, we arrive at a nondual solution. But by this reasoning, there is little actual choice involved too, and God would be similar to a tyrant so complete that he has ruled out rebellion against himself at the existential level. Despair lies here, and an absolute alienation, if we are honest with ourselves. 

We may have successfully defined the world into utter submission using objectivism, but the truth is that we were never objects in the first place. We never can be objects or even access them directly, but instead they are constructs of meaning first and foremost. Meaning is not something we have to give a reason for, rather something we do directly experience. Here it is time to depart from everything we have established so far and flip the script once more. We have broken down both the subject-object and relative-absolute dichotomy during the course of this writing, whether you have taken it for that or not, but as the Zen sages knew, it is not enough to do so from just one direction. “Not one. Not two.” Only a positionless position is final. Subjects are objects and objects are subjective. Only the modern person has difficulty with that second statement.

We assume that causality can only flow one way, but this is not true. Complexity theory tells us that the whole may exhibit behavior that is more than the sum of its parts, and that this organization can express downward causation. Free will matters, at least as a concept, and it cannot be done away with because again, we must increase our agency in these matters. Everyone knows that what they believe is important. These beliefs determine what is possible, because the world is not just full of objects, but rather full of potential that we selectively actualize.

This is the function of faith. It allows us to see the unseeable and know the unknowable, which reality fundamentally is. The example I like to use is sin. We can see clearly what potential lies ahead if we stick our hand in a boiling pot. The sum of the choice is bad for what took it. But sin is different. Often the satisfaction of a passion, say lust, is absolutely gratifying to the sub-personality who took the action. It is not them who suffers the consequences. It is the whole self who pays later on, and only that sub-personality by extension. God, like evolution, is a painter in time. By having faith in His atemporal perspective and progressively submitting our whole will to it, we gain better access to ourselves (in the most literal sense).

With all of this being true, the final step is to believe in Him. I have been doing nothing since the start of this writing but demonstrating to you that objective reality conforms to meaningfulness. The most radical possible interpretation of this fact is also the greatest extent of its implied moral achievement. It is to believe that meaningfulness is not merely a coincidence of nature, but precisely the other way around. This is a kind of idealism and the last stand of a fine-tuning argument. It is not based on arbitrary facts about physics as others are, but an omnipresent and barebones ontology. Existential fine-tuning for real, elective meaning must therefore have as its final recapitulation the supremacy of narrative, even over and above the naturalism we used to climb to this height. 

“Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani.”

The fact of God’s goodness strikes us like a bloody hammer over the head, but we were not its first victim. The beauty of Christianity is precisely that its first victim was God. He Himself subjected Christ to Himself in the same way that we are bound, thus bringing that despair into the divine on exactly our terms, both symbolically and as a particular event, then offering the only possible way to participate even half as radically via faith in the reality of such an act. Remember, God cannot take responsibility for evil – we’ve ruled that out. But what about a Godman? This is the loophole. This, God did to affirm Being and overcome the greatest of conundrums as posed above. By choosing to heap judgment on Himself, even though He was undeserving of it, He made judgment secondary to love and released us from our despair. Now, when we make the choice to love Him, we do so with hope and not resignation. This truth I submit before certainty itself.

With what we know about the nature of meaning, such a formulation is the limit of narrative, bar none. To believe in this with no intermediary worldview using cybernetics, evolution, materialism, etc. is also, by way of how faith works, the limit of commitment to and embodiment within it.

To begin on this journey, we need to approach God. Prayer, I believe, should be as fundamental to the Christian as meditation is for the Buddhist. Only by coming into awareness of God’s own awareness of them is a person capable of seeing life clearly into the possibility of perfection (Matthew 5:48). If we had the audacity to love Him unconditionally, we would find ourselves feeling unconditional love upon us too, as this is an object of joy which transcends all circumstances. Since the goal of holiness and God is eternal, they are not disturbed by the reality of change and conflict. It fits very nicely to say this with the description of meta-order that has been fleshed out so far.

While it has been an unorthodox approach to apologia, I hope what I have written will leave you at the doorstep of orthodoxy anyway. Not necessarily the literal Orthodox Christianity. I am a Protestant currently and by my upbringing, although the Orthodox and Catholics do continue to pull my attention. Rather, I mean the kind of orthodoxy which is innate to a deep fear and respect for God, His Church, and His Word, especially when it says we are perpetually stuck in conflict against ‘the world’. Love, as we have defined it, can never equal the self-acceptance they preach.

I do not know what will happen as I journey forward, of course. Yet, I understand the importance of keeping one’s head on straight without sacrificing dynamism. If you haven’t guessed, the evolutionary nature of this theory is very friendly to Tradition as a system of developing insights in the same way your instincts are a ‘Tradition’ of biology, but the aim of both is always to empower the present to excellence and beauty, not merely shackle us to the past. That being said, until you have a strong grasp on the fundamental ideas like order and chaos, variation and selection, feedback loops, relative expressions of absolute principle, etc. then you ought to submit yourself to the normal way of thinking. This is holism, theologically, philosophically, and scientifically, but because of the moral aspect of unifying all these things, I have often called it the Haleway instead, since this is clearer about the orientation towards action and the circular functionality of structure. 

If you add nothing to your life from this post but one thing, meditate on your health and health as an abstract unifying need for systems to process entropy. Meditate on what you have to gain and lose. Then, once you have done that, imagine how powerful and insane you’d be if you really, truly believed in both. There, I found God.

– Shaeor



Yesterday night, chat log.

Shaeor: “I'm sure I'm not the first, but I recently figured out the necessity of faith as it functions in a reflection and emanation of the cross. Though one can arrive by reason to the fact of the cross as an accurate description of reality, and that all good things flow from it as a symbol of the affirmation of life despite its suffering, reason alone cannot bridge the gap into the resurrection being a literal event and a narrative one must take part in. In the same way, reason cannot, even from the establishment of an objective morality and one's embodiment therein, determine that the individual must submit to it for their own good, as the individual may still exercise freedom to turn against their body unto oblivion, willingly. However, it can follow from reason that faith is the necessary inaction of the principle of the cross, as a free choice to affirm life's fullest goodness; wherein meaning is not simply a tool of survival, but also supreme even above natural law and into the actuality of the miraculous, at least where it does not defeat the primary purpose of nature in the first place, to teach the love of God. This is why miracles should remain rare.

"Put another way, all of this is to say that reason leads us to the understanding that to exist is pure courage, and we know if nothing else by how much greater the burden is the literal existence of God, that this is the more courageous thing to believe. So, we choose irrationally to participate in the drama which nature confesses as her reason. We take the final and unbridgeable step into reality as fully embodied, fully transcendent, and fully meaningful, not as a sign or epiphenomena of anything else, but precisely the reverse. Then we are free to truly experience God with no intermediary framework. We are alive. To believe in the real death and resurrection of Christ, and God as a personal and active Being, we abandon the limitations of our perspective to follow our commitment to these absolute extremes of meaning. And only this will make us whole.

Me: “Yes, exactly. It is supra the natural, so to speak, but also completely in reality. The embodiment of Christ speaking archetypically and the physical transsubstantive incarnation of His flesh for our consumptive sacrifice in the Eucharist. The Mass is the highest calling of mankind to his priestly stewardship. The Mass is the marriage of Heaven and earth. AND IT HAPPENS EVERY SUNDAY AND EVERY DAY AT DAILY MASS. GLORY TO JESUS CHRIST. THANK GOD FOR THIS. It's so devastatingly simple in the end!

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