The Devil's Third Commandment: All Metaphysics and God-Talk Shall Be in Vain (8.10.08)
But this type of unstructured spirituality usually amounts to either solipsism or narcissism, because it is wholly subjective and makes no demands at all on the person. Furthermore, it usually alienates the person from potent channels of grace that is the true catalyst for change.
In fact, authentic religions are frameworks for spirituality, in the same way that music theory is a framework for music. You can try to play music without it--you can be “musical”--but except for rare exceptions, you won’t be able to play much of interest. It will be a pretty vain endeavor. This is why, for example, regardless of what objection you may have to the Catholic church, they have produced more profound spiritual geniuses than the “new age” ever will. Frankly, there’s just no comparison in terms of depth, power and spiritual radiance.
I'm not taking a position for or against, but when you hear debates about whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed in schools or courthouses, you will often notice that liberals assume their typical superior tone of mockery and derision toward them--as if some arbitrary laws thought up thousands of years ago by primitive people have any contemporary, much less universal, applicability. While they will grant that it might be bad under certain circumstances to murder or steal, they especially dismiss injunctions against making graven images (discussed in yesterday’s post) or taking the name of the lord in vain. No one is going to tell a leftist what he can and cannot mock, since knee-jerk adolescent rebellion is at the core of leftism. If they can’t blaspheme, what’s left for them?
You will also notice that no one is more literal-minded or “fundamentalist” than the leftist who rejects religion. That is, they reject only a caricature of religion that they have concocted themselves. Or perhaps, as often happens, they had a bad experience with a dysfunctional version of religion as a child, and are in perpetual revolt against it. While perfectly understandable--in fact, to a certain extent, I was a victim of this myself--there is no reason why it should pose a lifelong obstacle to opening oneself to the boundless depths of genuine religion.
For the past couple of days we have been discussing how leftism (and remember, when I use that term, I’m generalizing about the deep structure of an entire philosophical attitude or temperament, not this or that particular leftist) represents an upside-down version of Judeo-Christian teachings, and how it manages to invert each of the commandments. In other words, they are not just against the Ten Commandments, but (whether wittingly or unwittingly) enshrine their opposite.
The third commandment is “You shall not take the name of the lord in vain.” There are even many Christians who believe that this means nothing more than refraining from cursing. If so, what’s the point? If that were all it amounted to, then liberals might even be correct in mocking something so seemingly trivial in the overall scheme of things.
First of all, this commandment has something important to say about metaphysical vanity, specifically, vain and fruitless talk about God, of which there is an overabundance. Much religious talk is entirely vain, in that it serves no purpose--it is mere “pneuma-babble” emanating from the ego, not the spirit.
The omninameable One has revealed several of his names to mankind, perhaps the most important one being I AM. In fact, there are certain forms of yoga that consist of nothing more than meditating on the mystery of this I AM to which we all have magical access. To do so is to engage in the deepest form of vertical recollection, for this I AM is not located in the field of time. Rather, it eternally radiates through the vertical now to which humans have unique access. To dwell in the primordial I AM--or so ham in Sanskrit--is to reconnect with the eternal ground of being. It is anything but vain.
As I was at pains to point out in One Cosmos, the truths embodied in genuinely revealed religions must be experienced, not merely thought. This is really not much different than, say, psychology. You can read all about the criteria for a depression or panic attack in the DSM, but unless you have actually experienced a panic attack, the words don’t really convey the experience. If anything, they might even convince you that you understand it because you have the words for it, but the words are merely pointers or place markers.
Especially with regard to religion and psychology, words must be analogous to bank notes that one may “cash in” for their actual experiential value. Otherwise you are simply dealing with religious counterfeiters and with spiritual “funny money” that has no value at all. It is entirely vain. When you read Meister Eckhart or Saint John of the Cross, you know that their words are backed by the full faith and credit of the First Bank of Divine Reality. When you read Deepak Chopra or Tony Robbins, you know that their words are backed by the full faith and credit of their rampant narcissism. But Gresham's law means that bad spiritual money tends to drive out good, which accounts for their vast personal fortunes.
Perhaps the worst way of taking the name of the Lord in vain--and the most spiritually catastrophic for the person who does so--is to use the name of God as a pretext to commit great evil, as do the Islamists. I’m trying to think of a worse sin, but I can’t at the moment. What the Islamists are doing is beyond evil, for they are committing evil in the name of God, thus undermining the very possibility of the good.
Contrary to popular understanding, these monsters of depravity are worthy both of divine wrath and our own unyielding holy anger, even hatred. True, under most circumstances it is appropriate to “hate the sin and not the sinner.” However, it is entirely legitimate to despise the sinner to the extent that he has not only completely given himself over to sin, but fully identifies with it in an implacable way.
In other words, the Islamo-nazis are not just committing evil, they are willfully identified with evil--more, they are absolutely committed to violent overthrow of the very possibility of the good. It is our sacred duty to hate these monsters in the proportion to which we love the Good. In no way does this mirror the illegitimate, passionate, and sadistic hatred of the Islamists themselves, for holy anger is dispassionate and does not surpass the boundaries of its cause. Americans do not chop off heads for fun; they only do what is necessary to stop the evil.
It is not only a spiritual error to think otherwise, but the failure of a basic societal defense mechanism. We did not win World War II by not hating Hitler, who was also entirely worthy of our divine anger. Again, like an Arafat, Nasrallah, or Ahmadinejad, he was not a mere sinner but the embodiment of sin. Woe unto spiritually depraved groups such as CAIR that align themselves with these embodiments of evil. As Jesus might say if he were here, "somebody needs to grab a whip and go seriously money-changer on those creeps." It's the Christian thing to do.
If you don't despise the vile people who rejoice and dance in the street upon hearing this, then there's probably something wrong with your soul. Or how about people who would use their baby as a liquid bomb? Oh well, all cultures are equally beautiful, I suppose.
There is one additional aspect of the third commandment that I had wanted to get into, but I can see that I won’t really have timelessness enough to expand upon it. That is the possibility of metaphysical knowledge which is both objectively true and operative, or fruitful, in the psyche. Virtually all postmodern thought is in agreement that metaphysical knowledge is not possible--that it is “vain.” Here again we see an exact reversal of the reality, for the religious view is that human beings most definitely have access, through the uncreated intellect, to objective truth. There are eternal truths that man may not only know, but without which man would not be man.
Oh, there are so many, I don’t know where to begin. How about this one: “semantics cannot be reduced to syntax.” Because it can’t, language is not just a vain epiphenomenon produced by a modified primate brain, including the mathematical language that governs the physical universe, the language of DNA, the language of music, or the language of Shakespeare. Ultimately, it means that meaning is indeed meaningful and not merely a vain irksomstenchial pursuit. The cosmos is not just a tale told by a tenured idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying short hours and a nice paycheck. Rather, it is a valhallicle of Ultimate Meaning.