Unholier Than Thou
It occurred to me that in writing about gnosis and various subtle metaphysical principles, the reader may go away with the false impression that the spiritual enterprise is highly sophisticated and elitist. But that is not the case. In reality, the principles that govern both the world and the soul are rather straightforward and transparent.
It's very easy to be complicated. Come to think of it, almost everyone who comes into therapy, whatever their particular problem, is also plagued by the more general problem of complexity. Their minds are full of back alleys and dark corners, ulterior motives, hidden assumptions, ungoverned imaginings, simmering resentments, idle dreams, unacknowledged fears, unlived passions, etc. You might say that these various parts of our personality fall into two categories: the undead and the unborn.
As I mentioned in the book, everyone comes to therapy--and to spirituality--in a state of fragmentation. Becoming unified or "whole" is the goal of each. For example, yesterday we spoke of hysteria, which is one way to express one's lack of wholeness. Hysterics externalize their inner emotional fragmentation and are constantly "seduced" and hypnotized by one thing or another.
Complexity can be immensely appealing, because it provides convenient justification for sin. Yes, sin, understood in its widest sense as separation from the divine. For among other things, our fall from grace involves a fall from objective simplicity into subjective complexity. The way back is so simple--it's a straight line. And yet, the path has disappeared.
It reminds me of my bike ride in the hills yesterday. We've had a lot of rain recently, so the wild grass is growing very rapidly. As I continued on my path, I was soon hip deep in tall grass. The path had disappeared, even though it had been there just last week, and I knew that it was still somewhere down below where I couldn't see it. Ultimately, through an act of faith, I made it to the other side, but not without several ticks hitching a ride on my legs.
To one degree or another, we all live in sin--we all fall short of the Glory of God. However, the critical question is just how far we have fallen. For your answer to this question will determine whether you can make it through the parasite-infested tall grass back home, or whether you will even bother to try.
There are many religious thinkers whom I respect deeply--Father Seraphim Rose comes to mind--but with whom I disagree on this point. They maintain that our fall is so complete and final, that there is nothing we personally can do to reverse it. It's merely a matter of realizing the extent of our fallenness, the calamitous nature of our existential situation, and crying out to God for help.
But it is not metaphysically possible that our fall can be complete. Recall our post from a couple days ago, discussing how God is paradoxically both radically transcendent and yet fully immanent and "within" everything. Therefore, human beings can be no exception. No matter how far we have fallen, we will still have a spark of holiness connecting us to our source, even if the pathway back appears to be overgrown with tall grass--various accretions, mazes, dark spots and other samskaras that obscure our vision.
So we can be saved, because somewhere deep inside, God is what we are. But this is where I deviate from new age pagans, who generally do not believe in sin, in our inherently fallen nature. As a result, they approach spirituality through the fallen ego--in other words, they use as their vehicle of spiritual advance the very entity that is inherently separate from God. In this sense, the ego cannot save itself.
If you listen to any new age teacher, you will see that they commit this heresy. And I use the word "heresy" advisedly, because I am not talking about something that is heretical to this or that religion. Rather, I am speaking of intrinsic heresy that flies in the face of objective metaphysical truth.
For spiritual growth is not a colonization of Spirit by the ego, but a conquest of the ego by Spirit. It is the exact opposite of Freud's aphoristic formulation regarding psychological growth. He said "where id was, ego shall be," meaning that the purpose of analysis is to make more of the unconscious conscious, so that it comes under the purview of the ego. But in the case of spirituality, we might say, "where ego was, Spirit shall be."
Thus, the principle task of spirituality is not to acquire more land for the ego--that is the way of complexity. For the things we must "acquire" do not belong to us and cannot belong to us. Rather, they belong to God--to that part of us that is not fallen and is therefore not ego.
This is admittedly a razor's edge, as we must guide ourselves between the "rock" of a pious belief in too much sin and the "hard place" of new age or secular sinlessness. Interestingly, both extremes involve a certain kind of excessive pride and self-importance. In the latter case it is obvious, but the pious variety is a more subtle kind of spiritual affectation, of "I'm so bad I'm good." But you see, our faults belong to us, not to God. The more we make a big deal out of them, the more we inflate our own importance.
Furthermore, this kind of morbid obsession will simply reinforce our separation from God. And what is separation from God? Sin. Neither the sinning ego nor the sinful act are ultimately "real," and that is the problem. They must be "given up," not held onto and celebrated. It reminds me of those Muslim nutjobs who go about cutting themselves with knives and swords to prove their piety. Talk about a perverse celebration of ego: "bloodier than thou." This is not humility but obscenely egotistical false modesty.
How about that ultimate act of "self sacrifice," the suicide bomber? It is actually the ultimate act of ego-aggrandizement, carried over into the next world. The mother of the latest suicide monster says her son is a hero. No person of humility could ever so hate the world that they gave their only egotistical son, that whoever believes in his narcissistic act should get their own state.
For submission to truth is both simplicity and humility. According to Frithjof Schuon, "to submit to truth is the best way to be humble," because humility is nothing more than an accurate self-assessment. No need to make a big deal out of it. It is what it is. The cause of our calamity is engraved in our existence. But this knowledge is the key to ungraving our dead selves, for the cause of our salvation is also inscribed somewhere below the tall grass of our meandering lives.
That's a coincidence. In her most recent column, Ann Coulter writes,
"But we're all rotten sinners, incapable of redemption on our own. The liberal answer to sin is to say: I can never pay this back, so my argument will be I didn't do anything wrong.
"The religion of peace's answer is: I've just beheaded an innocent man--I'm off to meet Allah!
"I don't know what the Jewish answer is, but I'm sure it's something other than, 'therefore, what I did is no longer bad behavior'--or the Talmud could be a lot shorter.
"The Christian answer is: I can never pay this back, but luckily that Christ fellow has already paid my debt."
Although I enthusiastically endorse what Coulter is saying, I think you can now understand the subtle 1% of it with which I would disagree.
Keep it simple and you won't get swallowed up by the tall grass. You can't fall any further if you're already on the ground.