Our Disenchanted World

My previous blog post, the latest in a series about the Death of God, fell on deaf ears for the most part. I am not surprised given the nature of the topic; it is not a popular one. But, then (while I was a bit disappointed to see the lack of response from the two or three readers I tend to count on) many of the topics I choose to write about are not of the popular variety. I realized some time ago that if I wanted to assure that those who “follow” me continue to do so, or if I were intent to increase the numbers of followers, I should write more cheerful posts. But I must tell it as I see it, and from where I sit there is not much to cheer about these days, though I will continue to look and to laugh whenever possible in order to maintain some semblance of sanity.

In any event, I have spoken about the Death of God, by which I mean the disenchantment of our world. I have asked that in order to better understand our current angst we contrast our world with Western Europe during the  Middle Ages. That was a time when to protect themselves against life’s uncertainties the typical man or woman carried talismans, amulets, charmed stones, magical writings, and almost certainly the “agnus dei” or a crude cross made of wood. He or she memorized prayers and magic spells to suit a variety of circumstances. They did not distinguish between these charms and the icons and prayers in Latin they heard in church — all of which they hoped would alleviate their fears and pain. As Carolly Erickson told us in The Medieval Vision:

“. . .the availability of occult and religious counter-forces prevented a sense of hopelessness, and made possible a certain accommodation between the visible and the invisible worlds. And the Church, while condemning certain (by no means all) occult knowledge, in practice cooperated actively in this  accommodation.”

More to the point, these charms gave those people a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. Typically, medieval men and women spent time each day in Church and most, if not all, of Sunday. They were all-too happy to risk life and limb in building cathedrals despite the fact that those who worked on them, if they survived, rarely ever saw them completed in their brief lifetime. The point is that theirs was an enchanted world of miracles, mystery and authority. These elements provided them with an anchor in a world that otherwise held out only threats of suffering and violent death. Everything meant more than it seemed to as we can see from Dante’s Divine Comedy which has as many layers of meaning as an onion: everything was a symbol of something else. They trusted their eyes less than they did their deeply held convictions about what was real and what was not.

We, on the other hand, have rejected all three, miracle, mystery, and authority. We reject truth and even legitimate authority in the name of personal opinion which we believe to be infallible. We have embraced scientism (please note the spelling. I don’t speak of science, but of the conviction that the scientific way of knowing is the ONLY way of knowing: if a thing cannot be measured, weighed or poured into graduated cylinders it cannot possibly be known) and we have rejected miracles and mystery in the process.

Thus, to return to my main argument, our disenchanted world is considerably less certain, reassuring, and comforting than the medieval world — despite the very real threats and dangers in that world — because we are alone in a labyrinth of our own creation, having rejected anything that might provide comfort and succor. We are too sophisticated to believe in what we cannot see and our intellectual community, at any rate, finds it difficult to discuss theological or religious questions since this is a sure sign of naiveté and heaven knows we don’t want to be thought to be naïve. Better to lose ourselves in literary theory, postmodern gobble-de-gook, alternative facts, political correctness, or, as a last resort in those electronic toys that give us a sense that we are all-powerful when, in fact, we are becoming slaves to those very toys.

We cannot recover the world view of medieval men and women. It is not only impossible, but also almost certainly not to be recommended. But at the same time, it might be wise to open our eyes and look again at our world, accept that there are things in heaven and earth that cannot be known by science and the empirical method, mysteries that lie beneath the surface of what we call “reality.” This is not to deny scientific truth — that would be absurd and something we shall leave to the politicians. It’s to acknowledge the limitations of scientific method and allow for the possibility that there is a great deal we do not know; in order to begin to learn about it we need to put our toys aside, read what has been written by the great minds that have preceded us, talk to one another, and think deeply about what things mean and where we are headed.

 

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The Magic of Nine

Dante (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Dante
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The folks back in the Dark Ages were filled with wonder by the number nine. Dante’s Divine Comedy is full of references to the magic of this number which added to the mystery of their lives. After all, nine is the square of three which represents the Holy Trinity for Christians. Dante’s Inferno has nine circles, and Purgatory has seven stages representing the seven deadly sins, plus the ante-purgatory (which has three stages!) and the entrance to Paradise — which adds up to nine!  There were also nine celestial spheres in Dante’s Paradise, where “we shall witness what we hold in faith, not told by reason but self-evident; as men perceive an axiom here on earth.” All of this was based on the Ptolemaic system taken together with Church dogma which the Schoolmen, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, espoused. None of this could simply be a coincidence, especially the mysterious nature of the number nine. Think about it:

Multiply 9 by any number and the integers in the product add up to nine. Moreover, multiply any number whatever whose integers add up to nine and the product’s integers add up to nine. Thus, 9 x 8 = 72, and 7+2 = 9. Again, 54 x 356 = 19224. Add those integers and you come back to nine (5+4 added together gives us 9, 1+9+2+2+4 =18, 1+8 = 9). If you take any examples at random, it works out the same. Multiply any number by nine or any product of nine and you always come back to nine!

Further, consider this:

1×9=09

2×9=18

3×9=27

4×9=36

5×9=45

6×9=54

7×9=63

8×9=72

9×9=81

and so forth. Now if you look at the numbers in the left column they take us 1 through 9, going down. But note the numbers in the product: in the tens place we have 0 through 8 going down — and it would continue if we had the space. Moreover, in the far right-hand column the numbers go in reverse from 9 to 1, going down.  And, of course, the integers in the product always add up to nine. The symmetry is marvellous! No wonder the folks back then thought nine was a special number with mystical powers. Fun stuff! Too bad we have lost our sense of mystery. Think how much richer our world would be!