In the Name of Petey, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
I remember studying the psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg in graduate school, who is an extraordinarily lucid and deep thinker. A woman in class commented that he seemed rather cold, harsh and judgmental in discussing psychopathology. The brilliant Dr. Panajian was somewhat taken aback. How can truth be anything but compassionate? Truth precedes the good. Compassion is "doing the truth."
No, this does not mean that you clobber the patient over the head with it, with “sadistic interpretations.” Nevertheless, one of the enduring lessons I learned from Dr. Panajian is that in therapy you must always ally yourself with the epistemophilic part of the patient that deeply wishes to know the truth. For we have a healthy and uncorrupted part of our soul that yearns for truth, but other nocturnal parts that wish to deny it because they live by night.
A "good" (not in the moral sense) patient is someone who is so hungry for truth that they are able to tolerate its catastrophic impact without taking it out on the messenger. For others, it may take years of spadework to allow the truth to seep in. For them, unvarnished truth is not compassionate. But neither is allowing the Lie to stand, so it's a delicate balance. Obviously, many spiritual teachers run into this difficulty, because they necessarily have a "one size fits all" message. One person may respond, "how dare you say I'm a sinner?!," while another person drops to his knees and cries "you're right! How can I thank you?!"
In the case of Christianity, there are two supreme commandments: 1) to love the lord with all your strength, soul, and intellect (body, mind and spirit), and 2), to love your neighbor as yourself. The first of these--both ontologically and practically--is the supreme vertical commandment, while the second, which is subordinate and derives from the first, is the supreme horizontal commandment.
I believe you will recognize the fact that the leftist makes no apologies about elevating the horizontal commandment to the most high. In all seriousness, these are compassionate people, are they not? I do not judge their motives, nor do I believe that most leftists are bad people. But their policies follow from their ontology, and their ontology is deeply flawed because it denies the primacy of the vertical.
First of all, if you deny the vertical, your compassion will necessarily deny it as well. According to Webster’s, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Thus, to a leftist, a “homeless” person is simply a person without a home. He has no spiritual problem, much less a psychological one. We must simply give him a home. We have no consciousness of his spiritual state, so there is nothing there to alleviate. You have undoubtedly noticed how emotionally overwrought the leftist becomes over “faith based initiatives.” The whole idea is an insult--and a threat--to those who do not see the vertical or recognize any of its demands upon us.
What happens, say, if you give a vertically challenged person a home? Part of being vertically challenged may involve, for example, an absence of gratitude and an overabundant sense of entitlement. Indeed, it may be precisely these vertical factors that resulted in his lack of a horizontal home. Whatever. Stop being so mean-spirited and judgmental. You sound like Otto Kernberg!
As always, I am not making an either/or case. In almost every instance of such an antinomy, the wise course is to steer the middle ground. For I am not a mirror image of the leftist--I am not arguing for the pure reality of the vertical and the absolute unreality of the horizontal, as if it is nothing but maya. Again, real compassion is vertical truth in horizontal action. Everything depends on Truth, for there is no higher doctrine in all of spiritual life.
True compassion is actually calm-passion, because it should follow from simple recognition of what is called for. It involves disinterestedly giving someone what they need (sometimes good and hard, I’m tempted to say), regardless of whether they recognize that they need it.
Just as the horizontal is subordinate to the vertical, the passions must be subordinate to the intellect (once again reminding the reader that I am using the word intellect in its original spiritual sense). This is another way of saying that actions must be guided by the supreme virtue, prudence, for what is the sorry history of leftism but imprudent compassion run amuck?
But to say that the passions must be guided by the intellect is not to suggest that the passions are inherently bad or somehow to be eliminated--as if we are all to become like Mr. Spock. Come to think of it, there were a number of Star Trek episodes that dealt with this false dichotomy of pure vertical intellect (Mr. Spock) and pure horizontal passion (Dr. McCoy). Often, Captain Kirk was the passionate but wise hero who reconciled both, but not without a struggle.
In their proper spiritual context, emotions are not to be understood in their animal sense as mere outlets of affective energy. Rather, although subordinate to the intellect, they are powerful conveyors of information. Think of the analogy of music. Music is pure information, and yet, it cannot be comprehended with the mind alone. Take the emotional impact we feel when a song shifts from a major to a minor key. It’s quite mysterious. How does that happen?
I remember the first time I became consciously aware of it. It was in 1966. It was the song “Bus Stop” by the Hollies, which shifts from major to minor key in such a way that it creates a distinctly foreboding mood--even vaguely scary for a 10 year-old. The intellect alone can know nothing of this mood. It can only know the literal meaning of the happy pop lyric about a new relationship.
But there is a world of difference between using one’s emotions as subtle organs of perception vs. mere emotionalism or sentimentality. Here again, you will notice how the left always uses emotion in this manner. They want you to judge them by the purity of their emotions, never by the actual effect of this or that policy.
There are more examples than I can possibly provide here: mandating a “living wage” creates massive inflation and unemployment; rent control leads directly to housing shortages; the Kyoto protocols would so damage the global economy that it would kill far more humans right now than “global warming” ever will in the future; high taxes lead to tax shelters, black markets, reduction of investment, and less wealth for everyone; banishing “judgmentalism” and wrenching sexuality from its sacred context creates more personal and cultural pathologies than you can even imagine.
Mere emotionalism of the leftist variety distorts reality, whereas genuine compassion does not. Genuine compassion for others follows directly from the vertical compassion we receive from God. Taken out of that context, mere horizontal compassion will be reduced to a purely egoic, “feel good” activity, as it cares not a bit for the deepest (vertical) needs of the recipient, while at the same time exalts the ego of the giver. Over the long haul, what is really accomplished by this metaphysical shell game?
By ridding our own soul of illusions, unhealthy passions and mind parasites, we create a space for God to operate, first vertically and then horizontally. If we don’t do that, then our compassion will inevitably be like that of the leftist, harboring the same secret poison that undoes the best intentions of the Great and Good Compassionate Liberal. It is very easy to hide our vertical blindness behind a superficially appealing veil of good works, as does socialist Europe. It takes an extraordinary amount of misplaced compassion to create such narcissistic self-absorption.
Which brings up an interesting point. I like to think of these little spiritual manifestos I send out every morning as a form of disinterested vertical compassion. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I get more out of it than I put into it. For example, some of the feedback I receive is so personally moving, that all I can do is thank you for being compassionate enough to help this humble seeker continue pretending to help others.
For horizontal man, vertical doors are experienced as persecutory walls.