Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Mind and Spirit: What Man Has Finally Put Asunder, Let No Religion Indiscriminately Join Together Again

A couple of interesting questions yesterday that were too complex and important to deal with in a brief comment. First Kahntheroad asks about "the sequence of attempting a spiritual pursuit. You've proposed before that psychoanalysis is an important, if not essential, element for spiritual growth. Is it a prerequisite? Is it fruitless to even bother seeking out the vertical when one is still bogged down with mind parasites and other unresolved horizontal issues? And to what extent must these be resolved, or tempered? Or is it possible for an intense spiritual experience to turn the tide, so to speak?"

Again, being that we are three-part beings composed of body, mind (psyche or soul), and spirit, it makes sense to me that all three have to be addressed in a serious spiritual practice. But unfortunately, just as the secular world has reduced spirit to psyche, the religious world tends to elevate soul to spirit. I don't think it's helpful to conflate these categories.

It is obvious with respect to your body, isn't it? You could be like a Christian Scientist, refuse medicine, and rely only upon prayer (spirit) to cure your illnesses (body). Sure, it might work once in a blue moon, but I think you're much better off going to a doctor. Why conflate the physical and spiritual?

This is not to say there is no relationship between the two. Obviously there is. This is what hatha yoga is all about--the recognition that spiritual growth takes place within a body, so that we must do everything possible to make the body a healthy, sensitive and robust vehicle for that. Hatha yoga has become quite debased these days, but it is not supposed to be understood outside a specifically sacred and spiritual context. It has a goal, a higher purpose, and it is not just to HAVE TIGHTER BUNS IN FOURTEEN DAYS!, worthy though that goal might be.

So ultimately everything is One, but that doesn't mean there aren't distinctions within the One. It's a complex and hierarchical One, not a simple and homogeneous one.

Now bear in mind that it has only been in the last 100 years that we have known anything about the unconscious and about the developmental nature of the human psyche. It always amuses me when I hear pseudo-intellectuals dismiss Freud as irrelevant, when he--or at least the tradition founded by him--has never been more relevant. People criticize Freud as if the field has not evolved since his death in 1939, but that's like criticizing contemporary physics based on something Isaac Newton got wrong.

It is impossible to go into a detailed explication of modern "object relations" psychoanalysis here, but suffice it to say that our psyche is a thoroughly intersubjective structure that evolves in the "space" between the plastic and still not complete nervous system we are born with and our early caretakers. Neuroscientist Gerald Edelman's theory of "neural Darwinism" describes how human beings are born with a vast overabundance of neurons that are either reinforced or ruthlessly weeded out during our first two years of life, depending upon the experiences we have. Neurons that "fire together, wire together," while neurons that don't fire at all just die away, never to return. (A deep but accessible summary of the state-of-the-art research into neuro-developmental psychoanalysis is found at the top of the list of books on the sidebar, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, by Dan Siegel; my book, in order to keep the length manageable, has only a summary of the summary.)

This is one of the key ideas of modern psychoanalysis--that early experience, both good and bad, does indeed get "hardwired" into the psyche. This is how, as first recognized by an earlier psychoanalytic pioneer, Erik Erikson, our capacity for "basic trust" can be somewhat set in stone from the very outset. If as infants we are responded to in a loving and empathic manner, then quite naturally we develop a background psychological context that regards the world in a similar way--as a benign and non-threatening place that can take care of our needs. Likewise, even just a "bad fit" between mother and infant can color this background context and make the world appear vaguely threatening, disappointing, or dangerous for the rest of one's life. This has obvious implications for how we will perceive the spiritual realm, for the same reason that our physical health will have an influence on how our minds work.

With even just this limited explanation in hand, is it not obvious how the psychological realm habitually interferes with the ability to properly deal with the spiritual? For example, you may have noticed that I have a few angry and hostile readers (who shall remain nameless) in whom I believe that a sensitive individual can see this confusion quite transparently. Or just look at history! Inquisitions, burning heretics, human sacrifice, jihads, fear and compulsion as the primary means of religious instruction, florid visions of hell that are just the terrified recollections of an emotionally abandoned or abused infant writ large--it has almost been the norm to have considerable confusion between the spiritual and the psychological.

But now, from our privileged historical vantage point, we are able to differentiate between these realms. Remember, one of the hallmarks of modernity is a separation of various realms that were all blended in the past--and continue to be blended in the Islamic world. That is, prior to the enlightenment, we can see that there was no clear differentiation between the political, religious, artistic, and scientific realms. The church was not just involved in the realm of spirit, but was deeply entangled in politics, determined what was acceptable for science, and dictated what was appropriate in art.

A big part of evolution involves both increased differentiation and complexity, but also a higher synthesis and unity. In our day, we tend to have the opposite problem of the pre-enlightenment world, in that we have satisfactorily divided everything up and placed it in its proper little department. But how do we put it all together again? How do we recover the lost unity, not by going backward, as the Islamists want to do, but by moving forward, into a re-synthesis of knowledge?

This is what my book humbly endeavors to do. While retaining respect for the separation of various domains, I attempt to show how everything might be related on a higher level. I'm not saying that my approach is the only way. Clearly, it is more a "vision," or perhaps even a juggling "performance" than a clear-cut and unambiguous philosophical system. But to return to Khantheroad's question, I believe that any total system of reality must include the spiritual, but must at the same time draw a clear distinction between the spiritual and psychological.

So how does this play out in practical terms? Yes, I do believe that most people can benefit from at least a short course of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. In my opinion, it is by far the most fruitful and far-reaching explanation for human behavior and motivation that has ever been devised. I really don't think anything else comes close. This doesn't mean five days a week, lying on the couch and free-associating for five years. But it does mean gaining some insight into how your mind actually works, so that it doesn't contaminate and hijack the spiritual process, as it almost inevitably will.

Kahntheroad asks, "is it fruitless to even bother seeking out the vertical when one is still bogged down with mind parasites and other unresolved horizontal issues?" No. For me to suggest that would be quite out of bounds, as there are always hidden factors involved in spiritual growth--a grace from above--that can work in mysterious and unpredictable ways. But the whole point is that it's not an either/or situation. There is absolutely no reason why one cannot do both. Remember, pre-enlightenment thinking conflated the spiritual and psychological, while we moderns artificially separate them too sharply.

"Is it possible for an intense spiritual experience to turn the tide, so to speak?" I suppose it does happen, but I do not believe it is the norm. History is replete with examples of people who have had intense spiritual experiences that did nothing to resolve their unconscious conflicts. So we have homosexual pedophile priests, pastors and preachers of all kinds who express their bottomless narcissism on TV, angry religious trolls on my blog who use me as a stand-in for their own unresolved issues, various gurus who find that their sex drive is completely uncontainable once they leave their cave and see a photograph of Jessica Alba (in that case, perhaps somewhat understandable), etc.

Moving on to Bryan's question, he noted that the conflict between esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) Christianity is what drove him away from Christianity altogether and toward Buddhism. This, of course, is a quite common experience among both Jews and Christians in the West, since nowhere do we generally encounter the deep sapiential and mystical dimensions of Christianity. This is sadly true, and I used to believe it myself until quite recently.

When I began writing my book, it probably had a somewhat--perhaps even blatant--anti-Christian bias. Looking back on how things played out, I do believe that I was lead by some sort of "Christian spirit" to revise that view. I was rather mysteriously lead to exactly the sources I needed, when I needed them, in such a manner that the whole thing almost seemed to be scripted. It's a little difficult to explain my entire belief system in this context, but suffice it to say that I now consider Christianity--rightly understood--to embody the highest esoteric wisdom, even though I remain what might be called a "poly-monotheist." That is, I don't believe in blending and confusing the great religious traditions, as the new-agers tend to do. Still, I think of each legitimate esoteric tradition as capable of taking one to the highest peak. The various trails that ascend the mountain are all separate and distinct--only at the peak do they converge. For most people it is best to stay on one particular trail. Furthermore, the path of mystical ascent is clearly not for everyone. It is a calling, a vocation. Moreover, you do not call it--it calls you.

I would like to discuss further what I discovered about Christianity that makes it so special to me, but I probably shouldn't do that now, because I've already gone on too long. Suffice it to say that there is no reason whatsoever to think that one must necessarily turn to the Orient--toward Buddhism or Hinduism--to travel the path of mystical ascent. Or as I expressed it in the book, "Ascent you a son, amen for a child's job." Tomorrow I'll try to explain what was meant by that puzzling remark. If Petey will tell me.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Adventure of Consciousness

Recently we've had a number of readers who sometimes vehemently disagreed with my conception of God, based upon an experience that they have had of "the one God," specifically the Christian God. Now, I do not doubt their experience, and at no point have I (or would I ever) argue that someone's experience is not their experience.

I used to be very interested in such "peak experiences," thinking that they must represent the sine qua non of spiritual development. But as I have seen my own life and mind become gradually transformed over the years, I have become much more interested in the issue of altered traits rather than altered states.

When I first began my spiritual practice, I assumed that I was looking for some sort of dramatic experience, an exalted spiritual rubicon that I would cross and never look back, like the sudden satori of Zen or moksha of Hinduism. True, I did have some such experiences, but I now think of them more as "lures" to demonstrate the validity of my search and keep me on the path, as opposed to being some kind of final deustination. (For those who have the book, I use the symbol (!?) for these experiences that most anyone, even the most hardened atheist, will have at least once in their life--when the veil is rent, so to speak, and you are offered a "metaphysical freebie" that conclusively shows you that the apparent does not exhaust the real.)

Now, if I criticize "fundamentalism" or literalism, please realize that I do so from a friendly and sympathetic position. For example, I happen to believe that a fundamentalist who thinks that the world was created by God in six days is actually much, much closer to the truth than any doctrine that leaves the divine mind out of the equation.

But as you know, in contemporary America there is much talk of the "born again" experience. You were a fallen creature wandering satan's horizontal playground, had a personal experience of the risen Jesus, and were saved. End of story.

I see at least a couple of serious potential pitfalls with this view. First of all, it reduces what I believe is an ongoing evolution to an either/or situation, with no clear appreciation of the unfolding nature of spiritual growth, and how difficult it is: that one must engage in spiritual warfare with body, mind and spirit, not just once, but every day.

Moreover, the individualistic experience of being "saved" can and does easily lead to a paralyzing narcissistic inflation. You know God's will. You are saved. Others are not. Having once been a leftist, I can testify as to how irritating such talk is to them. It is actually an invitation to not be taken seriously. Which is fine. Jesus said that Christians would be persecuted in his name. But I think there's a better way that doesn't in the least compromise Christian teachings.

In fact, I believe this notion of sudden and permanent salvation is a modern twist that often involves a bit of frank heresy. Spiritual satisfaction actually risks drawing one further away from God. For me at least, there must always be a sharp line between creator and created. It is because of the dynamic tension involved in inhabiting that middle position, or "transitional space," that spiritual growth can take place: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. But when our point of departure is an intellectual certitude of absolute salvation, truly, that is just an invitation for unresolved personal issues to rush into the breach--issues that have never been properly dealt with through the type of "spiritual warfare" exhaustively described by the ancient fathers and such modern luminaries as Theophan the Recluse.

How else to explain how so many "saved" people continue ot behave so badly? They were given an altered state, but it did not necessarily lead to any altered traits. Of course I am not talking about everyone. But I would certainly suggest that it is a majority. I would bet that very few Christians understand just how sophisticated are the ancient techniques of spiritual warfare, or even that such a thing exists.

Again, as I have mentioned before, traditional metaphysics teaches that human beings are composed of no less than three distinct parts: body, mind (or soul), and spirit. Each of these is subject to constant growth and change. Obviously that applies to our bodies. And we can also see that it applies to the mind, in that this is what conventional education and self-improvement are all about. But since the enlightenment, we have tended to conflate soul and spirit, with disastrous consequences; spirit has actually been reduced to soul, so that there is no recognition that spiritual growth runs along its own track. Most people stop learning anything truly new by the time they are 25 or 30. Worse, the vast majority experience no spiritual growth at all. Even the best of them are stuck in the lower intellect, as if that is all there is.

As you know, one of my favorite places to study left wing secular pneumapathology is huffingtonpost.com. It offers such a wealth of the varieties of spiritual illness that it is irresistible. A couple of days ago there was an article by Cenk Uygur, entitled The Liberation of Meaninglessness that exemplifies what it is like to be of reasonable--probably above average--intelligence, but to be absolutely enclosed in a spiritually primitive, animal-like existence. Truly, like an ape with a slightly more sophisticated brain, suffering from a sort of invincible blindness to any reality that transcends his immediate senses. In fact, most Darwinians would have no objection to the characterization of being glorified apes.

Bear in mind that this most certainly represents "sophisticated" contemporary leftist thought. It is the kind of thought that makes them feel so confidently superior to the religious. Uygur asks, for example, "What are we waiting for? What--heaven? Hell? You have got to be kidding me. Please don't tell me that you are wasting the one precious life you have waiting around for the fairytales of our ancestors. Our ancestors thought the stars were holes in the sky. They thought the Earth was flat, that the Sun revolved around us and that there is a man with a gray beard up in the sky."

Fascinating. On the one hand, he recognizes that life is infinitely precious. Few people are so spiritually blind that they cannot see that. But in the next breath he says that "We are infinitesimally small. We are miniscule animals on a tiny planet circling a small star in a giant galaxy. There are at least 200 billion stars just like ours in our galaxy alone. And there are anywhere between 10 to 100 billion other galaxies. When you zoom out from a single person to the Earth to our sun to the 200 billion other stars in our galaxy and to the billions of other galaxies, you realize we are entirely irrelevant."

Do you see the confusion? Once you collapse the realm of the soul and the spirit, you inhabit an impoverished "flatland" in which everything is equivalent to everything else. Life--which is clearly higher than matter--is violently reduced to mere matter, no different than one of the billions of stars--or atoms or rocks, for that matter.

Uygur confuses what is more fundamental with what is more significant, which is exactly what his metaphysic condemns him to do from the outset. The conclusion is loaded into the premise, and the premise results from his own spiritual blindness, now elevated to a form of great intellectual courage. He assures us that human beings are "a cosmic joke." (Odd that these people are called "humanists.") Our brief presence in the cosmos "doesn't even qualify as a hiccup in time.... The insignificance of that period time within 15 billion years cannot be overstated. Our lives go by quicker than a cosmic second. We are so small as to be nearly nonexistent. Yet we are led to believe that we are the center of the damn universe. Everything we do is so important. We lead these careful, guilt-ridden, cautious lives only to die abruptly and disappear into cosmic insignificance."

Do you see how this man is promulgating the first incorrect philosophy that the yahoos who wrote the Bible dispensed with on page one? It is called cosmolatry. That is, this man is suggesting that the material cosmos is the highest and greatest, just because it preceded our arrival. It is ultimate--in its wake we are completely insignificant.

In fact, it was in order to prevent human beings from going down that primitive and spiritually vapid road--cosmolatry is hardly a modern or postmodern philosophy, but a very primitive one--that the Bible states "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In other words, the rug is pulled out from primitive cosmolatry right from he outset: there is something higher and greater than the material cosmos, as awesome as the comsos may appear to the untutored senses. It is just another creation of something greater, something far transcending it. To coin a phrase, it is "one cosmos under God," not equivalent to God.

As I have mentioned before, it is ironic that secular atheists are even more fundamental than the most fundamental fundamentalist. Thus Uygur contemptuously dismisses religion by reducing it to its most base understanding. If we could talk to one of the writers of the Bible today, they would say "We wrote that woman came from the rib of man because we had no fucking idea where women came from. You've traced back the origin of life and you're still wondering if we knew something you don't know? We were practically cavemen. We knew less science than your average third grader now."

Although the cosmos is entirely meaningless, Uygur presumes to instruct us how to have a meaningful life, not realizing that his metaphysic rules this out a priori. He says, "There is something liberating about meaninglessness. We are cosmically insignificant, so who cares what we do?.... For the love of God, just please live the life you want to live, not the one you think you should live." "Enjoy yourself without infringing on others. Hedonism is not the answer [hmm. why not?]. But a stodgy, unadventurous life isn't either."

A stodgy, unadventurous life. That's what Uyger's life would represent to me, an awful imprisonment in maya, in the world of the animal senses and the lower mind, with no possibility of exodus into vertical liberation. In reality, the spiritual life is the only adventure that is: the awesome adventure of consciousness into God. There are ways to miss out on this adventure, both religious and secular. And that, my friends, would be a wasted and meaningless life--a celestial abortion, if you want to know the truth.

UPDATE--

As a consequence of the inability to distinguish between the higher and lower, the secular liberal temple of the Oscar ceremony confers one of its highest awards upon the infrahuman. From the invaluable American Digest, via larwyn):

"With the THREE 6 MAFIA scheduled to serenade the clotted cream of our culture tonight at the Oscars with their moving ode..., "You Know It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," one wonders exactly what songs THREE 6 MAFIA might be called upon to perform as an encore at the after parties should they win.

"Checking the group's impressive catalogue it could be one, or more, or perhaps all of the following masterpieces:

Blow A Nigga's Ass Off
Fuck That Nigga
Fuck Dat Shit
Get Buck Muthafucka (Original)
Long And Hard (Original)
No I'm Not Dat Nigga
Hoes Can Be Like Niggas
From Da Back
Fuck Y'all Hoes
Mafia Niggaz
Weak Azz Bitch
Jealous Ass Bitches
Beatem To Da Floor
Put Cha D. In Her Mouth
Pussy Got Ya Hooked
Slob On My Knob
or the immortal,
Slob On My Knob (Pt. II)
[Because there was so much more to say.]

"Given the climate of the Academy today, any one of these might indeed be Oscar material in and of itself. But given the proclivities of the Academy today, my money's on either one of the last two as the songs much in demand wherever our glitterati gather tonight after the show."

*****

Fascinating. We know that liberals are obsessed with race. No one seems to consider that this might be a reaction formation or unconscious attempt to "undo" feelings of condescension and superiority. Thus, racial superiority returns through the back door in the form of racial quotas, hate crime legislation, speech codes--and in awards such as this, elevating the bestial to the sublime.

It reminds me of George Clooney's moral grandstanding last night about how enlightened the Hollywood nitwiterati have always been in the fight against racism. In point of fact, a film like To Kill a Mockingbird might more accurately be described as a self-congratulatory exercise in trying to atone for the degrading way that Hollywood had generally depicted blacks prior to that. In a return to form, they once again joyously celebrate their portrayal of blacks as subhuman gutterati. Liberals used to fight for abolition. Now they fight for the Abolition of Man.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Is the Cosmos a Fractal Torus? (And Other Idol Speculations)

Light blogging today as a result of heavy nausea. And not the usual existential kind. The contagious baby kind. Woo! Nasty. We tried quarantining him, but no luck. He escaped:



Bro. Bartleby left a link to an interesting website that provides examples of maps of visual complexity. I looked through the maps, trying to find something that reminded me of how I visualize the cosmos -- I'm not sure why, but I do -- as a sort of hyperdimensional toroidal fractal klein bottle with God in the middle. So I googled "fractal toroid klein bottle" and found the following idol (courtesy Gavin Kistner):



Then it struck me how similar the pattern is to the Gustave Dore engraving from the Divine Comedy on the cover of my book. While I specifically chose this cover, I didn't consciously do so with the fractal toroid pattern in mind. In other words, I wasn't trying to be allegheirical:



So there you go. Just like Richard Doofus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

(BTW, that's Petey on the right, goosing me from behind, saying "see, I told you it looked like a donut.")

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Is Anything Really Evolving Except Our Own Cosmic Narcissism?

Reader Hoarhey asked a most provocative question yesterday. I read it right before going to bed, and it was so multi-faceted and full of possibilities that it kept me up. Well, not really. Nothing interferes with my sleep. However, I was thinking about it as I fell asleep, I woke up with thoughts about it running through my mind, and I even dreamt about it. Why was I standing on the clothes dryer? What was that brown recluse spider doing in the rafters? Why was my little son down below, trying to reach up? Why the brass column? (Now, now, keep it clean.)

Back to Hoarhey's question. He asked, "Perhaps you could flesh out your theory of evolutionary consciousness with some examples of people currently who have evolved beyond those who have come before. I myself am having a hard time locating any. I would be hard pressed to compare any of the many historical Spiritualists which you list daily in your blog with someone like Deeprock Chakra and see anything but de-volution. Or lets take politicians of say 2 or 3 hundred years ago who in my opinion, had a pretty good grasp on the shortcomings of human nature and cosmic cause and effect and compare them with the likes of a Hillary Clinton or a Chuck Schumer. Am I incorrect that we seem to be currently stuck in a narcissistic backwater?"

I believe that in previous posts over the past five months I have addressed these issues in various ways, but I will attempt a recap here.

Addressing that last question first, yes, in many ways we are stuck in a world-historical narcissistic eddy. It is one of the things we will have to overcome if evolution is to continue. A few months back I wrote a piece entitled The Luxury of Narcissism, in which I attempted to address this issue from the widest possible world-historical angle. You should probably go back and read the whole thing. One of my main conclusions was that the reason people appear to be so much more narcissistic today may simply be because they can be. Human beings have always had narcissistic strivings, but only with our previously undreamt of levels of widespread leisure, comfort and affluence are these strivings able to be indulged in a way that would have been unavailable even to kings and princes in the past:

"In other words, before 100 years ago (and even 60 or 70 years ago), people were too busy working, subsisting, and dealing with pain, illness and early death to be particularly self-absorbed. Perhaps there was so much more awareness of the frailty of life that it didn’t occur to most people to exalt something as ephemeral as the individual self. In a way, the transcendence of religion came naturally, as there was no reason to elevate our brief sojourn in this vale of tears to the ultimate experience. Until the early 20th century, the average person could expect to be in intense and excruciating pain at some point in his life, and perhaps often in life, because there were no powerful analgesics that were widely available. Very few diseases could actually be cured well into the 20th century."

"By the 'roaring twenties,' all of the important countercultural [read: narcissistic] ideas and values that would later dominate the post 1960’s world were in play among the well-to-do. However, their inevitable spread through the rest of the population was delayed, first by the Great Depression of the 1930’s, then by World War II and the Korean War. Therefore, until the mid 1950’s, people of necessity had to 'concentrate more on economic survival and domesticity than on self-expression and self-gratification, which most, in any event, could not afford.'"

Now, back to Hoarhey's question. First of all, we cannot look at the problem in terms of years or decades. Rather, the minimum unit of measurement of the type of spiritual and psychological progress I am talking about would have to be centuries. As I have mentioned before, we cannot even really view it from within history, but instead have to take a sort of "martian's eye view" of world history, which chronicles the catastrophic and unexpected emergence of human self-consciousness: of troublesome thoughts and what to do about them. Really, we have to look at the whole 40,000 year chunk of history + prehistory, which is what I attempted to do in my book. Furthermore, we have to realize that this evolution will be a saw-toothed function, as we push forward and slide backward.

For example, The Old Testament candidly documents just how difficult it was for the ancient Hebrews to spiritually progress from polytheistic barbarism into the higher Truth of monotheism. Here we were dealing with what was then clearly the leading edge of spiritual evolution--the Jewish people--and yet, they had to do battle with their own atavistic tendencies to make sacrifices to Moloch, to a false god. Nothing has changed since then with regard to the basic dynamic. It's just that we are all chosen and Moloch goes by different names.

If there was one part of my book I wish I could have expanded, it would have been the too brief survey of history entitled Adapting to History: Why the Past is So Tense. But in order to do justice to the topic it would have taken a complete book--or many complete books, actually. Obviously I had to speak in generalizations and regard large swaths of history as cognitive "fly-over country," so to speak. But the main point I wanted the reader to come away with is that collective psycho-spiritual evolution has clearly been occurring if only you look at human beings from a wide enough angle. There was a time when all peoples practiced human sacrifice. There was a time that slavery was universal. There was a time when animals and children--not to mention women--were not treated with dignity or empathy. Etc. Truly, history was in a world-historical eddy until just three or four hundred years ago, going virtually nowhere until the emergence of free markets, science, democracy, and individualism.

In fact, there was a time--not too long ago--when one simply did not live long enough to evolve in the way I am talking about. You were born, you started performing backbreaking, menial work as soon as you were able, you suffered through a lot of pain, famine, disease, and loss, and then you croaked when you were 30, 40, or 50 if you were lucky. You were also likely illiterate, with no real ability to think abstractly. In order to experience some of the harsh and cruel conditions of the past, we needn't travel backward in time. For example, as I have discussed before, the "war on terror" is, in the final analysis, a war between psychoclasses--between our own psychological past and present.

There is so much more to say about the issues raised by Hoarhey. One critical point is the presumptive narcissism of saying that we are "better" or "higher" than our forebears--or our contemporaries, for that matter. This would appear to be a clear invitation to narcissism, and in many ways it is. This is what fuels both the fantasies of the new age movement, but also, sadly, the highly atavistic form of conventional "churchianity" that dominates most people's spiritual understanding.

In my book I proposed a method to determine the level of psychological evolution of any given culture or individual. It is quite simple, really, but I think you will find that it has universal applicability and that it has a built-in means of overriding the ubiquitous narcissistic impulse. It steers a middle course between conservatives or traditionalists who believe in an invariant human nature that has not changed since mankind first appeared, and the leftist tendency to "immamentize" the spiritual and to measure progress in wholly material terms.

Specifically, I said that the two key measurements of psycho-spiritual evolution were integration and actualization. The former may be thought of as a horizontal function, the latter a vertical one. Integration has to do with psychological "wholeness," that is, how well we are able to integrate split-off aspects of the psyche, or what I have called "mind parasites." Clearly, for example, the Arab middle east is a place where we see a transparent lack of psychological integration. Instead, we see unconscious acting out everywhere we look--rampant paranoia, systematic abuse of women and children, confusion of fantasy and reality, untamed envy, dysregulated shame, etc. You don't have to go too far back in history before you see that this lack of psychological integration was the norm. It was not pleasant living in the middle ages, much less ancient Greece or Rome. (And please, we're talking about the average mentality, not individual exceptions; in all places and times, there have been individuals who obviously achieved the highest levels of aesthetic, spiritual and metaphysical insight.)

The second measure of evolution is actualization. Here again, this could be an invitation to narcissism, but not if you look at it in the way I intended. That is, traditional metaphysics maintains that human beings have a threefold nature that includes body, mind (or soul) and spirit. Our modern understanding has unfortunately conflated soul and spirit, but the one is personal and horizontal, the other more universal and vertical. The latter is our objective self that is capable of objective knowledge. It is the intellect properly understood, not in its debased current form; the contemporary "intellectual" is generally anything but. I am talking about the part of us that grows with spiritual development, called the nous by the ancient Christian fathers, the "psychic being" in Sri Aurobindo's yoga. All traditions recognize it; it is our "spiritual blueprint," to be distinguished from our lower self, or ego, which is largely a result of genetics, culture and family. It is the part of us that can know the truth, the truth that can set us free and save us. If it is not distinguished from the lower self, then that is where much trouble arises: "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right," as the song goes.

This post has probably already gone on too long. I will have to continue it tomorrow. If anyone’s interested.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Cosmic Christianity, or Adam & Evolution

This is a worthy topic of debate. Depending on the outcome, it would possibly force me to disavow Christianity, which I am not prepared to do. Although not entitled to call myself a Christian, in the sense that I have not been baptized or taken the sacraments, I feel an extremely close kinship with it, and consider it to embody the highest wisdom. Why then have I not taken the formal leap? That is a separate issue that I will leave aside for now. Suffice it to say that my life has been immeasurably enriched by my ongoing immersion in Christian wisdom, most particularly coming from the Orthodox and hermetic traditions.

Perhaps that is one of the problems. I suppose "Orthodox" and "hermetic" would be considered antonyms, in the sense that Christian hermeticism operates "off the map" of any official church. And yet--at least for me--I find that it provides the missing key that suddenly illuminates the entire spiritual cathedral of Christian teaching. Again, for me it is like the oxidized blood to go along with the flesh and bones of dogma (and I do not mean "dogma" in any pejorative sense).

Regarding the debate alluded to above, reader Mark writes that the Catholic philosopher, theologian, and scientist Teilhard de Chardin--a pioneer in the understanding of our spiritually evolving cosmos--"may have had some interesting ideas on the evolution of human consciousness but Jesus as omega point wasn't one of them. There is nothing in the New Testament to support it.... Jesus doesn't believe in the evolution of consciousness at all. Why would he? He has no idea about any such thing."

That would be the nub of the issue before us: whether Christianity is compatible with an evolving cosmos that is ultimately the evolution of consciousness. Now, if I believed that Christianity were not compatible with with such a view, then I would sadly have to drop Christianity, for the same reason that I would have to do so if it insisted, say, that the earth were only 6,000 years old, or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that women are composed of male ribs.

If I know more than my religion, what kind of religion is that? If I can easily disprove the assertions of a religion, then it won't be long before that religion has abandoned any claim to metaphysical or spiritual truth. This is a very old problem. For example, it is the problem Thomas Aquinas confronted in his great Summa, in which he attempted to reconcile faith and reason. Yes, scripture is eternal. But our understanding of how the universe works is always changing and evolving. Therefore, it is always necessary to show how the uncreated wisdom of scripture is compatible with our shifting understanding of the things of time.

We now know that the cosmos is not eternal but that it banged into being 13.7 billion years ago. Likewise, we know that biological life has not always been here but that it suddenly appeared some 3.85 billion years ago. We know that Homo sapiens appears on the cosmic stage just one or two hundred thousand years ago. Furthermore, we know that that the rudimentary consciousness of this Homo sapiens was nothing much to write home about until just 35 or 40 thousand years ago, when we suddenly see cave paintings, body adornments, musical instruments, and widespread burial of the dead.

Consciousness evolved. Consciousness is evolving. End of story. Or, to be perfectly accurate, the beginning of the story, for the evolution of consciousness is the only story that is, and that story is not over. Therefore all religions must be compatible with that fact if they are to be vehicles of Truth.

Now importantly, this is not to reduce religion to science. Quite the opposite. For I am saying that true religion is true for all time and cannot be incompatible with any truth discovered by science. For "we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age.... We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages" (I Cor 2:6-7).

So the central question is, is there such a thing as "evolutionary Christianity?" I believe there is. As a matter of fact, it is one of the things I am working on. Although perhaps never articulated in a straightforward way prior to Teilhard, it is clearly implicit in Christian teachings. To cite just one example, it is thanks to the Judeo-Christian tradition that we even have the concepts of history and progress. The Hebrew prophets discovered the directionality of history and were the first to clearly understand that it was not cyclical or degenerative. Christianity teaches that history is salvation history--it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Furthermore, the end--the eschaton or telos--is drawing us toward it. What we call history is the shadow of this transcendent object, in that all people at all times have at least dimly intuited its existence and been drawn toward it--not always in healthy ways.

Jesus actually said many provocative things about the evolution of consciousness. To his disciples he said I have yet many things to say unto you but you cannot bear them now. Why not? Christianity was not originally called "Christianity," but was simply referred to as The Way. The incomparable Russian Orthodox starets Theophan the Recluse--himself evidence of a highly evolved consciousness--said The way to perfection is the way to Consciousness. What is consciousness? And how does it evolve?

There is knowledge and there is understanding. Our intellect evolves through knowledge, while consciousness evolves through understanding. We can know without understanding but cannot understand without knowing. As Blake put it, Truth cannot be told so as to be understood and not believed. In short, if you understand it, you know it. And you believe it. You would be a fool not to.

Consciousness is the container. Knowledge is the contained. Consciousness is a derivative of being. It evolves as higher knowledge is metabolized to become understanding and thereby expand being. As consciousness expands, we can bear more Truth in the sense alluded to above by Jesus. The first and last word of being--the Alpha and Omega--is I AM. Evolution is the ongoing, ever-deepening disclosure of that uncontainable ontological fact. It is what it means to constantly be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:1). After all, it is nothing to be transformed horizontally. That is like rearranging the furniture but remaining on the same floor of the high-rise. We want to be transformed vertically. We want to progress and deepen our understanding. We want to evolve and take the eschatolator to the next floor.

Reader Mark concludes by saying, "Bob, you have a lot of speculating thoughts about reality ultimate or otherwise, but what I find sadly lacking is a direct personal experience of God as He is. Until you meet God, you have hardly begun to put things into perspective. The All is not what you imagine or try to unimagine."

Mark presumes to have access to my experiences, but one thing I cannot provide him or anyone else is a direct personal experience of my direct personal experience. In any event, there is no purpose in debating someone who "knows God as He is." Such an exalted being has evolved far beyond the fallen creatures who enjoy writing and reading this blog--we who are simply trying to understand and bear a little more of the unfolding, hyperdimensional truth that Mark already knows and possesses.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Doing Your Part to Keep the Cosmos Healthy

Someday it will be common understanding that we inhabit an evolutionary cosmos that is fundamentally spiritual in nature. Until then, we have to satisfy ourselves with being at the leading edge of this cosmic evolution, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. We must be voices crying in the bewilderness of a spiritually blind scientific materialism on the one side, a religiously bland materialism on the other.

The two great forerunners of evolutionary cosmology were Hegel in the West and Sri Aurobindo on the East. The former is widely mis-or disunderstood, while the latter is simply not understood, or not widely known, anyway. However, I also believe that Christian metaphysics, properly understood, is evolutionary to the core, and entirely compatible with a philosophy of cosmic evolution. It could hardly be otherwise.

In fact, that gives me an idea for something I should post about--Jesus as the divine emissary who brings the "good news" of cosmic evolution. Teilhard de Chardin certainly recognized this, seeing Jesus as the "omega point" or fulfillment of the cosmic drama. This omega point--which lies outside space and time and is already complete in itself--operates like a telos that draws us toward our own spiritual completion. In Jesus, "alpha and omega"--the completed whole--meet in the middle of history, and he comes to telos all about it. It is accomplished. So relax already. Better yet, relux and call it a deity.

Hegel's philosophy is so difficult and so capacious that it has been used by mystagogues and demagogues of both the left and right to prop up their own sorry philosophies. For example, it is well understood that Marxism was largely a recasting of Hegel's philosophy in materialistic terms. But whenever we adopt a materialistic view, we are turning reality on its head. Materialism is deceptively and seductively simple, but it is an insidious metaphysic that does great violence to our humanness. Frankly, it posits a cosmos that is not worthy of our being in it.

Hegel was obviously ahead of his time, in that contemporary physics now requires us to regard the cosmos as a seamless and indivisible whole in which every part is internally related to every other part. Wholeness in both space and time is the prior condition of reality, not something we arrive at inductively by somehow adding all of the parts of reality together. Physics forces us to take seriously the idea that the Truth is the whole and that the whole is the Truth; it is not a static truth, but a dynamic, unfolding truth--or more accurately, an ongoing revelation of truth as it discloses more of itself in the fullness of time.

Hegel's central lesson is that the Whole--what he called the concrete universal--is not an amorphous blob--"the night in which all cows are black"--but that it has an internal, trinitarian logic all its own, the infamous "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" that subtends all evolutionary progress. The whole is an infinitely complex system, and human beings are self-aware images of that system. We are conscious Spirit because the absolute is conscious Spirit, and conscious Sprit is immanent in the cosmos. Likewise, we have an underlying subjective wholeness because we partake of the prior wholeness of reality. Neuroses and mind parasites disrupt this wholeness and create all sorts of irreconcilable divisions in the psyche.

This is the reason why your billions of individual brain cells--which are involved in trillions of constantly changing connections with each other--so simply and elegantly resolve themselves into the atemporal experience of a unitary "I." Your I AM is a mirror of the fundamental unity of the cosmos. It is not the result of this brain activity, but the prior condition of a nervous system that can sponsor such holistic consciousness to begin with.

What we call nature is only the outward aspect of the world--a partial and misleading view of things given by our senses. Only consciousness can know of the interior horizon of the cosmos. But it takes a higher consciousness still to comprehend the inner dialectic that unifies spirit and matter, which is why Hegel was not shy about regarding himself as the greatest philosopher who had ever lived. In his mind, he had realized Absolute Spirit, insofar as it is possible to do so on our plane.

That is, the Absolute Spirit is ceaselessly restless and dynamic. It is constantly synthesizing and resolving partial expressions of itself into higher unities. But each higher unity is itself another partial expression of the absolute, so the activity is endless. I believe this is what personal growth or evolution is all about.

In the past, I have written about living one's life on the shoreline between the time and eternity, the finite and the infinite. Hegel's system is another way of talking about this. To be "rational" in Hegel's sense of the term is to constantly press forward, to seize the tiller of cosmic evolution by striving to overcome all of the dualities and contradictions that surround us. Remember what I said the other day: the deeper person is the one who can comfortably synthesize and harmonize the most points of view.

Now bear in mind that this is not "multiculturalism" or relativism but its opposite. It is to experience the deeper unity beneath the partial expressions of reality, not to elevate those partial expressions to the ultimate. This latter fallacy is committed by all relativists.

That is, the finite, atomistic logic of the common intellectual holds opposites and limited perspectives in rigid and fixed categories, which is the end of evolutionary thought. The "common sense" of the typical contemporary left wing intellectual confuses the contingent with the essential. The realm of the essential is foreclosed to them, because intuition of it requires a higher form of cognition called faith, a patient unknowing that clears the way for the operation of the synthetic function that allows us to see into the deep within of things.

When it is said that "faith can move mountains," it is a poetic way of noting how this special mode of thought does indeed have remarkable powers to evolve our understanding of the material world--for example, to reconcile matter and spirit, reason and revelation, life and death. Faith is a much higher form of reason, for only it allows access to the Reason--the concrete universal.

Of course, "health" is etymologically linked to the word "wholeness," and the reason is obvious. Physical health, psychological health, and spiritual health all involve wholeness in different ways. For what is physical illness but a "part"--a bacteria, an organ system, a cancer--that has split off from the whole, so that the harmonious unity of the organism is disrupted? Again, what is a mind parasite but a part of the personality that has gone its own way and has its own subversive agenda that is not in the best interests of oneSelf? And what is spiritual pathology but the exaltation of a graven image--some partial expression of the whole Truth, elevated to the ultimate?

Indeed, what is political pathology but the the great reversal of e pluribus unum into its perverse reflection, e unum pluribus? Out of One, Many might as well be the secular mantra that underlies the projects of multiculturalism, "diversity," moral relativism, identity politics, victimology--virtually all of the pneumapathologies of the Left. The leftist cure is even worse than the spiritual sickness it represents, because the cure involves attempting to recover their lost wholeness by rigidly imposing it from on high, a false god if ever there was one.

Today's post has been a tiny, partial expression of the whole. However, now that we are hovering around the penumbra of the concrete universal, I think we will spend a few more days here, synthesizing some further insights as they apply to Christianity and perhaps even getting into some Aurobindo. As I have mentioned before, this East-West synthesis will be the way of the mankind's spiritual future, so we might as well get to working on it now. Sure, it's inevitable anyway. But it's always a good idea to bow before the inevitable.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Selected Excerpts from Mommy is a Democrat

The other day, Dr. Sanity posted on the new children's book Mommy is a Moonbat, er, Democrat. Frankly I think she was being a little rough on it, writing that "The platitudes served up in this book with such reckless abandon" will "more than adequately contribute to the ongoing destruction of our children's critical thinking capabilities by creating a painless shortcut to rational thought."

Ouch.

I don't usually disagree with Dr. Sanity, but I actually had the opportunity to read the whole book in context, and it's not as bad as you might think. Here are a few gems pulled out at random:

--Ask not what your country can do for you. Instead, organize a demonstration and demand it.

--Behind every great man is a privileged heterosexual woman. Or, a fabulous gay guy, an accomplished bisexual, or perhaps someone who is transgendered, queer, "questioning," intersexed, or just curious, or possibly an animal companion. Of course, this is not to cast judgment on great asexual beings or loners-by-choice who have no one behind them.

--It's not how you play the game, so long as no one wins or loses and gets their feelings hurt.

--A fool and someone else's money can solve any societal problem (The Democratic Credo).

--If life gives you lemons, file a class action suit against Sunkist.

--Always remember you're above average, just like everyone else.

--A person is known by the company he boycotts.

--When the going gets tough, the tough start leaking.

--Beggars can't be choosers. Rather, they're now called "homeless."

--Boys will be boys until government provides subsidized ritalin for every one of them.

--Regardless of your background, any American who really works hard at it can still be a victim.