Falling into consciousness

maxresdefaultI’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to each of the presenters at David Bentley Hart’s NDIAS Colloquium “Mind, Soul, World: Consciousness in Nature.” All excellent presentations – and there’s the added benefit in most cases of having the Q&A follow the presentations. Most are on Youtube. One enjoyably provocative presentation was that of Duke’s Warren Professor of Catholic Thought, Paul Griffiths.

Hearing of Paul Griffiths’ view of consciousness being a result or an artifact of the Fall, I wasn’t inclined to find much in his presentation to agree with. But hearing him describe his point of view, I appreciated it a lot. I’m still reflecting on it, but I will say this much – those aspects of consciousness that Griffiths suspects are fallen because they reflect deliberative acts that occur at a distance from an immediately of knowing and which objectify the being of the world over and against the being of the self, needn’t be viewed as artifacts of a fall into consciousness even though such deliberation is something less than ideal.

Consciousness as a deliberative enterprise aimed at constructing an understanding of the self is, it seems to me, God-given in the sense of being the necessary beginning context in which are moved to final rest in God. But it is fall or failure to be finite in this sense. Maximus got it right – we could not be created already in possession of the beatific vision. That vision and the rest it gives are a creative achievement of divine and human cooperation, the end of a certain kind of conscious movement that will surely end when it rests fully in a vision of itself as indwelt in, by and as Christ. What will a consciousness at rest look like? Imagine being conscious of yourself and the world without your identity ever being at stake, without needing to invest a single thought in establishing who you are or having to negotiate your identity in terms of any doubts whatsoever, or in light of survival needs or anxieties about relationships, of motivated by even the possibility of threats or fears of loss, or struggling against the slightest impediment to you fullest, imaginable existence – yourself, whole, at rest, and one with God and all things (as the Christian vision has it). None of the energies of consciousness nor the cognitive powers of perception or imagination will be spent deliberating any of these preoccupations that now consume 99.99% of our attention.

The problems and impediments Griffith points out are themselves best thought of as the structure that makes gnomic (deliberative) willing possible, and that kind of deliberative movement is itself a necessary aspect of a good but finite creation that must “move” (in the Maximian sense) toward deification and final rest. But it’s not an evil or privation of its being to do so, though it is the possibility of evil. So while the aspects Griffiths complains about are not our end as such, they are our God-given beginning and so needn’t be viewed as a primeval fall into consciousness.

One comment on “Falling into consciousness

  1. Tom says:

    Forget the fact that Griffiths identifies deliberative consciousness with the fall (as opposed to the minimum requirements for our becoming). I’ll grant that once we’re deliberatively consciousness in the moral-hypostatic sense – we fall. What I think he does do is put his finger on what it is in conscious experience that we can identify with the gnomic will; i.e., the gnomic will is deliberative consciousness in search of hypostatic/personal being (in the fullest sense – i.e., bring in Zizioulas’ emphasis on ‘permanence’ the ‘uniqueness’). That’s it.

    Every deliberative (gnomic) act of consciousness is at its root (even if only tacitly) world-constructing with respect to the permanence and significance of one’s meaning (person). When this ‘identity’ search rests in the full revelation of the beatific vision – deliberation about the self is over. The gnomic will rests fulfilled. Will there be further gnomic willing that defines the diversity of created beings? Not with respect to world-construction. That will be done.

    I’d like to say some, unique creative expression will continue to define us at an individual level – but it’ll be world-expressing as opposed to world-constructing. Some will doubtless feel this amounts to the absorption of the individual, then end of unique, personal existence. But I think that’s because we identify so much of our identity and sense of personal significance with the deliberative process of defining our ‘self’ over and against ‘God’ and ‘the world’. What happens when the construction process is over leaves us feeling threatened.


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