Mano-a-Manotheism: Spiritual Warfare, Part 1.5
One of the things I find so intriguing about these practices is that they bear so much similarity to certain Vedantic practices that I have long embraced. I may have time to start the discussion today. We'll see how it goes. I've noticed that a post can only be so long before readers get a little intimidated and either skim it or read just the first and last paragraph. How do I know this? I don't. But Petey knows all. Don't try to fool him.
New contributor Will made a number of incisive points yesterday, some of which I already addressed in the comments. He also made a subtle point that is at the heart of my own overall cosmic ontology. With regard to the early church suppressing gnosticism and emphasizing dogma, reason and the intellect, he properly notes that this has hardly been a bad thing, especially when placed in its psychohistorical context. For surely, if you were alive at most any time prior to the
Enlightenment, you would not say that the world was primarily lacking in spiritual gnosis, but that what it most ached for was reason.
We, of course, take reason for granted, but it was a very long and painful time coming. And you may have noticed that it has still not arrived for large swaths of humanity. Ask yourself: what does the Islamic world most need in order to evolve? More people with their butts in the air, trying to hear the voice of God? Or might they benefit more from having a few people who have actually stably evolved into Piaget's stage of Formal Operations thinking? In other words, more people capable of abstract logic?
This same problem plagued India until quite recently. India is perhaps the most religious place on the planet, but its psychological and material progress were stymied for hundreds of years due to the absence of a rational theology that dealt equally with interior and exterior reality. Ever since the pivotal figure of Shankara in the early ninth century, India held to the idea that only interior reality was ultimately real, and that external reality represented maya, or illusion. They continued to be a dysfunctional country even after independence because of their immediate adoption of socialism, which is just a debased form of gnosis, as discussed by the philosopher Voegelin. But just look at the incredible power they have unleashed in the last decade or two by finally coming around to a philosophy of rational market principles. We are now seeing perhaps the most rapid and unprecedented transformation of a people in history, as they move from a subsistence economy to a wealth-creating machine.
Of course, now they may soon face the spiritual danger that the United States has been dealing with, especially over the past 50 years, that is, not poverty but abundance. The few pockets of true poverty that remain are mostly self-inflicted, and in any event, pose no existential threat to the United States. Abundance, however, is a different matter. It is very easy to dismiss the world as maya and spend your days meditating when life veritably sucks anyway. Much more difficult when faced with the infinite temptations of our horizontal pleasure dome.
The U.S. and India actually have much in common, as we are the most religious developed country, while India has always been the most religious country, period. (We're talking real religion here, not pseudo-religions such as Islam; as Will properly notes, Islam "is NOT part of the Judaic/Christian historical continuum" and does not in its present form fit in with the general progression of mankind; like Will, I believe that, at best, it embodies a psychohistorically earlier form of religiosity, like paganism--a necessary evil on the way to deeper understanding.)
It is easy for gnosis to exclude reason and for reason to eclipse gnosis. The trick is to balance them. This, of course, is exactly what Sri Aurobindo attempted to do. Having obtained a thoroughly modern education at Cambridge, he specifically tried to update Shankara and make Hindu metaphysics compatible with modernity. My own book is a humble (or grandiose... one of those two... I forget which) attempt to bring together reason and gnosis--not reduce one to the other, but to synthesize them at a higher level.
Will goes on to observe that "the world as a whole needs more reason. Reason and the intellect, after all, do hone individuality, which is a necessary step in the spiritual progression. We have to be separated from nature before we can return to it. Once our individuality is sharpened, once we are separated from the herd, then we can begin to explore the meaning of the One-ness, not as unconscious units of the herd, but as true, creative individuals--which is what, I believe, the Creator wants of us."
Here again, this is exactly my philosophy. As I have mentioned before, reality is One, but it is not a homogeneous one but a complex and hierarchical One. You cannot realize or recapture this One by devolving backwards, merging, and being swallowed up by the collective. This is the project of the Islamists. For them, life is too complex. Let's eliminate the complexity and recapture the oneness by traveling back, oh, say a millennium or so. That is the low way to unity. My way is the High Way. It means realizing unity at a higher level--not destroying complexity but embracing it and synthesizing it. Not ridding the world of science and reason, as the Islamists want to do, nor waging war on the spirit, as secular leftists are doing.
This is why the war on terror is fundamentally a two-front war: it is simultaneously a war on the vertical barbarians of islam and of the international left. This is why we see what might as well be a formal alliance between the left and the Islamists. The Islamists certainly recognize it and play that card for all it's worth.
Will also observed that "the wonderful thing is that the Christian scriptures contain both the exoteric and the esoteric--the gold of the esoteric is just under the surface, once one is ready for it. Hmm, almost as if it had been planned that way, you think?"
Indeed. This is one of the things that haunts my understanding of Christianity. Most people who come to Christianity presumably do so based upon hearing the story of the gospels and having a sort of spiritual "a ha" experience that more or less falls under the heading of being "born again." But for me it has been the opposite path. That is, I was not initially attracted to the literal component at all, but was increasingly astonished by the sophisticated intellectual and metaphysical teaching.
But this raises an interesting issue that I continue to grapple with. That is, to my everlasting surprise, I have discovered in Christianity this incredible penumbra of Truth. You know what a penumbra is, right? When you look at an eclipse, it's the area of illumination around the circle of darkness, as the moon covers the sun. In other words, I am discovering this profound penumbra of Truth, but where is it coming from? What is that Light behind the dark circle in the middle? Now that is a mystery, because it is obviously the risen Jesus. How can the penumbra be true but its source be false? The lower intellect cannot resolve this problem. It can only make one side or the other go away.
With regard to dogma, Brother Bartleby notes that "the early Church had to face what every organization has to face, becoming organized. You read it in Paul's letters: how do you gather a group of folks and maintain some sort of cohesion? The Church took the easy out--dogma. It was their only way to get all the scattered bishops onto the same page, for without oversight, they were all teaching their own brand of Christianity."
True, the early fathers may have been scrambling for some sense of unity to which all Christians could assent. But still, their efforts were pretty impressive. This is one of the key beliefs of Orthodoxy--that the early fathers and councils were divinely inspired in what they accepted and rejected, and how they worked out the theological problems implicit in the diversity of scripture. Remember, one cannot in reality just look to the New Testament, as Protestants do, and say that everything else, such as belief in the trinity, is "extra-biblical." For in reality, the Bible is extra-Biblical! Even by the time it was written, many theological decisions had already been made by the church, and certainly its canonization was purely the church's doing. What is so remarkable is not what they got wrong, but how much they got right.
It reminds me of the many reissued CDs such as The Beatles Anthology that contain all of the alternate takes and remixes that are clearly inferior to what was released at the time. Almost never does an alternate version equal the official release, even though the artists and producers were pressed for time and simply making decisions "on the fly" in order to get the product to market. Even there, it is as if such aesthetic decisions are "guided" by unseen hands.
Brother Bartleby makes a valid point that "today we all have access to more of the early writings than even the early bishops had. And we can read. And we can think. And I think we can come to Jesus in a way that organizations cannot duplicate, we can come to Him in ways that the apostles came to Him... I think the days of the church as enforcer of dogma have passed, it is just that the word hasn't got out yet."
While I strongly agree with the spirit of what Brother Bartleby is saying, I have also gradually come to a much greater respect for our spiritual forebears, and would now be very cautious about simply assuming that I know better. I don't think it's a matter of either/or, but balance. I liken it to jazz, where the "dogma" of intense discipline and fidelity to tradition leads to a higher level of "spontaneous composition" in the form of improvisation. Improvisation does not occur as a result of eliminating form, but internalizing it and creatively "playing" with it.
Finally, Nick observes that "one of the main distinctions between orthodox and esoteric Christianity has always been the existence or otherwise of the historical Jesus. Some esotericists and historians... felt that the life of Christ is predominantly allegorical and therefore we need not insist on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. This is my position also, and one that has prevented me having any active involvement in the Anglican church in which I grew up. There is not one single wing of the church of any denomination that allows for strict allegorical interpretation of scripture, and hence this excludes a significant number of seekers from any participation in the church."
I'm running short on time here. I would simply reemphasize the existence of that darn penumbra--pentecostalumbra?--alluded to above. I might add that I now regard literalism in a rather different light which I have touched on in recent weeks. That is, I believe the literal component of Christianity is vital, not just for reasons of dogma and continuity, but because it engages a very different part of our mind that transcends ordinary reason. This actually encompasses the larger portion of our mind, which does not obey the dictates of Aristotelian logic, but instead operates along the lines of what is called symmetrical logic. Assent to literalism can actually be a wonderful liberation into the domain of symmetrical logic. In short, these literal beliefs may not be so much informational as transformational. So I don't have a big problem with literalism. Just don't take me literally when I say that.
Well, I've run out of time. More on spiritual warfare tomorrow.