I have begun reading Louisa’s book, and would like to share some initial thoughts here. I don’t think I’ll be writing a play-by-play as I read, but these thoughts tie in so nicely with some themes of this blog that I just have to share them.
The introduction alone is food for thought. There, not explicit but certainly latent, is an idea that physics has wrestled with for a long time—and, interestingly enough, so has Christianity. Louisa and I have had conversations about this difficulty in our intellectual and practical spheres. It is the tension or conflict between The Way of Affirmation and The Way of Negation.
These two devotional Ways, two approaches to worship, were important concerns in Charles Williams’ thought and work. I will explain what they are, some of their implications, some of their occurrences in CW’s writing, and finally what in the world they have to do with physics. Louisa, if you’re reading this, please chime in!
The Way of Affirmation is the use of images and metaphors in the worship of God. The clearest example is in the veneration of icons. Perhaps Eve could share some of her experience with Russian Orthodoxy, and explain more about the valid (as opposed to idolatrous) use of images in devotion. But the Way of Affirmation is not confined to physical images. It also affirms the use of mental images—pictures, as it were, for God—and metaphors. God is a mother hen gathering her chicks; God is a strong tower fortifying His warriors; God is the wall of the sheepfold, protecting His vulnerable flock. All of these metaphors have Biblical precedent, and the Way of Affirmation encourages their use in devotional practice.
The Way of Negation, on the other hand, rejects the use of all images as reductive, misleading, and ultimately idolatrous. Edward tore down the icons and crucifixes; Cromwell whitewashed the churches. Following the same impulse, some modern Christian writers (I think J.I. Packer is one) adjure their readers to reject all mental images and metaphors, since none can adequately express God’s attributes. They encourage people to think about God Himself, and not finite human ways of understanding Him. [I’m sure you see my opinion, that this is an inherent impossibility, given the finitude of the human mind, and an unnecessary overcorrection, given the plenitude of Biblical imagery].
Charles Williams allowed both sorts of characters into his novels, allowing both points of view talking time. Richardson in The Place of the Lion is the clearest expression of the Via Negativa. He meditates himself into a mental place beyond image, beyond word, almost beyond thought, until he ends up calling God “Nothing.” One the other hand, the smallest or strangest events in CW’s metaphysical thrillers can represent God so strongly as to seem almost identifications with Him. The most extreme example is at the end of The Greater Trumps, in which one character asks if Nancy, the young lady around whom much of the supernatural action has centered, and who has submitted to being an instrument of redemptive change, is the Messiah. Another answers, “Near enough.” The balance between the two ways is personified in the character of the Archdeacon and in his characteristic mantra: “This also is Thou; neither is this Thou.” Every person, every object, even every event can “be God” to some extent (i.e., can show us something about God’s work and personality), as long as we simultaneously acknowledge that no thing (person, etc.) can ever some anywhere near being God or imitate His attributes in their glorious infinity.
So, then, how on earth does this relate to physics? [I imagine it’s only on earth that it can relate to physics; in the transluner spheres physics are probably transcended by some more perfect understanding!] Well, Louisa touches on this in her introduction by dividing the traditional approaches to entanglement (her central concept of quantum physics) into several camps. Some physicists used a kind of abstractionist approach: the realities of physics can only be expressed in pure mathematics; therefore, metaphors, word-pictures, diagrams, analogies are inappropriate, because they are inherently misleading. Others, however (I think Einstein is in this group) affirmed the use of drawings and comparisons. Think of the little figures of atoms looking like solar systems, with particles orbiting the nucleus. Think of Schrodinger’s cat in the box analogy.
So my comparison should be clear. The Ways of Affirmation and Negation seem to be pervasive routes of human thought, and are not limited to religion or science. I think this kind of division could probably be traced in other fields, as well. The visual arts; indeed, Louisa uses the analogy of representative vs. abstract art in her introduction. Music: think operas or programmatic instrumental compositions, like Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, vs. dodecaphonic or aleatoric works or even purely formal pieces such as sonatas and fugues.
I’m not really using these ideas to try to make a point or anything. Obviously I’m more of a Way of Affirmation kind of girl, but I see the beauty and the theological/scientific advantages of both. So, I guess I’m just encouraging you to ponder both, and observe which you tend to use in your devotional life and in your making of art.