The Problem of Perfection

I don’t know when the idea of perfection arose in human thought. It certainly appears in the axial age when philosophy blossomed both in the East and the West. From that period the major religious systems arose and they were all world rejecting in some fashion. They all point to a perfection in the offing for reality and from that necessarily ensues theological and philosophical schemes of how that perfection can be reached. Those schemes might include a cycle of life and death until enlightenment is achieved or the advent of an eschatological event that brings things to a final solution. Of course because of the presence of evil in the world, it is understandable that such notions would arise. How can this world, as it is, be accepted as “the best of all possible worlds” as Leibnitz said when evil is confronted at every turn.

The answer to this question can only come when the goal of perfection as normally defined is abandoned. From the perfection paradigm sprang various ontologies. Plato’s allegory of the cave is a good example. In that picture, we live in a world that is an imperfect reflection of a perfect essential world. Thus the ontology of essence/existence arose and with it a whole set of theologies where there is a dichotomy between what we are in existence and what we really are essentially. This leads to the personal view that there is an existential me that is somehow corrupt but an essential me that is perfect. Under this scheme the goal is to reach that essential me whether it be by personal actions or through the grace of God. However, is the idea of perfection a coherent concept or even something someone would want? Perfection is a comparative term. Perfect with respect to what? Supposedly there are things that are more or less perfect. At some point then there is a state where all other states are imperfect. But what would such a state be like? It would be a state beyond which there is no place to go. It would be a static position. No growth. No change. Is this something anyone, including God would want? I don’t think so. It would be sterile and lifeless. The problem with the idea of perfection is based on an attempt by humans to probe the depth of reality. In doing so it necessarily uses the symbols and metaphors that are available to the human mind. This is obviously necessary, but if these symbols and metaphors are taken too literally there is a problem. Other examples are the terms applied to God of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. If one takes these terms literally some absurdities will necessarily arise. For instance, with respect to omnipotence one could ask if God could create a rock that God couldn’t lift? This shows the logical absurdity of these kinds of “omini’s”. Instead of taking these terms literally what should be recognized is that they point to what is ultimate. The ultimate by its nature is beyond our symbol and metaphor.

The same is true for perfection. It points to ultimate reality, the idea of progress, the arrow of time, and cause and effect. If taken literally what we end up with in literalistic terms is a static, lifeless ultimate reality. But could there be such a thing as perfect beauty, perfect love, perfect meaning? These are meaningless extrapolations because all these terms are dynamic and contextual. Love, beauty, and meaning all have infinite possibilities. Otherwise they point to a homeostasis in finality. Who including God would want such a thing? The problem with perfection is that this inevitably leads to an end to life with all its wonders of discovery, disappointment, defeat, and victory. In the end there is only silence and lifelessness. Instead, the idea of perfection should be transformed into a principal of constant and eternal struggle, change, progress, and growth. To be perfect is not to reach some final static state but to engage in the infinite struggles and possibilities of life. If there is such a thing as our essential being it is not some state of perfection, but rather the very process that undergirds all life. Our essential being is to live. To engage life and to probe our depths in the Divine Life. The world and ourselves, as they are, are not to be rejected as imperfect. The world and ourselves are as they should be, a living dynamic process for the eternal creation of love, beauty, and meaning.

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