Will the Real Reality Please Stand Out?
There are three ways of obtaining information about the world and answering this question, 1) logic and empiricism (i.e., inductive and deductive reasoning), 2) revelation, and 3) intellection. The modern world--or most of its elites, anyway--has rejected the latter two categories, which I believe creates a false and misleading image of the world. Ultimately it is not a human world fit for humans, and yet, we are increasingly forced to live in it.
I used to scoff at those ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel who are supported by the state for spending all day poring over the Torah, as if the government should be involved in funding people’s private religious fantasies--as if they are doing something “important,” like embryo stem cell research or advances in queer theory.
I now realize that such individuals are much more in touch with reality than the materialistic scientist, because they are specifically exploring a human world, and the human world is more real than the material world. Please, this is not to exclude or belittle science in any way, only to emphasize that human beings have real spiritual needs that science can never meet. To reject spiritual knowledge is actually to reject mankind, to run away from what man actually is in his deepest being.
For example, love is a dimension of real knowledge, as is beauty. So too the sacred. None of these quintessentially human categories is detectable by the methods of science. When you explore the sacred or the holy--which is what those bullfighting Torahdors are trying to do--you are dealing with a legitimate realm of human knowledge. Furthermore, just as profane knowledge “feeds” the mind, spiritual knowledge is metabolized by another part of ourselves, the nous, the "psychic being," or the intellect properly so-called. Just as there are mathematical geniuses, there are spiritual geniuses who are simply in contact with a different world. The former may well know nothing of the latter, just as the latter may be ignorant of the former.
And the failure to acknowledge the two worlds can lead to real problems. Historically we are well aware of what happens when the spiritual world is taken as the only reality. No need to chronicle those problems here, for we are living through them in the form of our struggle against global jihad.
But do the jihadis have a point in their condemnation of the west’s rejection of the spiritual world in favor of a non-human material world? Yes, in some twisted sense they might have a point, but this hardly justifies their actions, and more importantly, mired as they are in their deeply infrarational sprituality, they have no idea how spiritual a country the United States actually is (half the country, anyway--we’re not talking about the metaphysical yahoos of the New York Times). In reality, it is the most spiritual country on earth, especially because we are talking about a mature spirituality that has been honed by its encounter with modernity and which traditionally placed scientific knowledge in a wider spiritual context. If you completely extricate scientific knowledge from a spiritual framework, you will eventually end up with something very nasty.
We are using the term “intellect” in its time-honored way, as that which allows the human being to distinguish between substance and accidents. Intellection is direct knowledge of reality, very much analogous to physical perception. If you see something with your eyes, no one will ask you to prove the existence of sight. But in our current anti-intellectual climate, if you perceive something equally vividly with the intellect, you will be asked to provide logical proof--itself a wholly illogical demand. In reality, only a deeper intellect can judge the claims of the intellect. And there is no rational basis whatsoever for determining who has the deeper intellect. It is only something we can know with our own awakened intellect.
I humbly and gratefully bow down before intellects wider and more penetrating than mine, but I surely won’t waste my time with someone who challenges my perceptions but whose own intellect is disabled or asleep. This is not arrogance, it is just common sense. I wouldn't debate the merits of a poem with someone who cannot appreciate poetry. But in our egalitarian world, we would like to believe that knowledge is an external “thing” that can be passed from mind to mind like an object. Sadly, much religious knowledge is regarded in just this manner--as if you can “know” it in the same way that you know any other subject.
But as I was at pains to point out in my book, religious knowledge is realized knowledge. That was the whole point of my admittedly preliminary attempt to develop an abstract system of empty symbols to describe the realm of spirit. There are so many religious “talkers” out there whose talk is precisely vacuous--it is literally empty, devoid of the experiential light that would give it real meaning.
The analogy with the mystery of music is fairly exact. Two highly schooled musicians can play the exact same thing.... No, let’s make it even more dramatic. A true master--say the jazz great Bill Evans--can say more with the suspended silence between his crystalline notes than most pianists can say in a musical lifetime. Have you not felt the ontological weight of a real spiritual presence in certain souls? Have you not heard the identical words uttered by others, now rendered weightless, frivolous, and slightly silly?
The latter type of person would be happy to go on national television and share their banal insights with a profane boob such as Larry King or Keith Olbermann. On the other hand, Petey would probably just stare in stunned disbelief after the first moronic question, knowing that no matter what he said, it would only be experienced as words, just like any other words. Petey would be pleased to commit career suicide on national TV, since he’s already "dead" anyway. Knowing him as I do, he would probably say something along the lines of, “I’m having trouble answering your question because I can’t remember what it was like to be so stupid, and thus provide an answer suitable to your reptilian brain.”
(You might have noticed that this is a common problem in debating liberals. As one advances into the real world, one forgets what it was like to be so foolish and naive. Which is why those who have recently left the fold of liberalism are its most able and energetic debaters. They remember why they believed the stupid things they did, and can thus provide reasons.)
Just as there are materialists who are nothing but empirical “factualists” in a self-created infrahuman world, there are pseudo-spiritual types who are what Schuon calls “realizationists.” This is one of the banes of the whole new age movement, which arrogantly tells people that they are too good for traditional religiosity, that religion is a pernicious mythology that modern people have evolved beyond, and that they are so special that they can bypass the rest of us and become “one with God.” Virtually any person who claims realized knowledge of this type outside a traditional framework is either self-deluded or a con man (there are exceptions to every rule, of course). For one thing, if they had such insight, they would not have the attitude they do toward religion, but would be awakened to its profound depth and beauty.
The purpose of this post was to get into the question of the two worlds--the abstract world disclosed by science and the concrete world as experienced by humans--but I can see that my preface has already filled the allotted space, so I’ll have to get to it later. But the point I want to emphasize is that the world disclosed by science, although clearly useful to human beings--no argument about that on this end--is not the real world. Rather, it is merely an abstract world that is essentially based on an extension of our sensory faculties, i.e., the subatomic world.
But we do not live in that world. Rather--one hopes, anyway--we live in the human world, and it is this world that religion specifically addresses itself to. And this is why the unsophisticated literalist who says that “God created the world in six days” is far, far more wise--on a human level--than the man who knows only the equations of quantum cosmology, but is blind to the world from which those beautiful equations arise. For just like any other species, in order to thrive, human beings must live in a human environment.