Radical Wonder and the Remystification of the World
Even a Coon has his limits, and I find myself coming up against mine, for if I could only find the words to express what it is I want to say about the miracle of subjectivity, I could reproduce the presence of Presence in my readers, and that would be that. Which is to say, that.
Without a doubt, the most awesome mystery in this cosmos -- without which there could not be a cosmos -- is the question of how existence became experience, and then, in human beings, doubled back upon itself and became the experience of experience. The fact that humans are, by and large, insufficiently astonished by this miracle, suggests to me that many of us have barely begun the ongoing task of lifting ourselves from the matrix of our animal consciousness.
Unfortunately, scientists can be the worst of the bunch. There is a type of "thin" but piercing intelligence that is prized in the western world, but which causes us to end up with a Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris and even grant them the title of "philosopher." Along these lines, yesterday I was alerted to almost inedible article entitled God and Gorillas (tail wiggle: Netwing), about what animals can supposedly tell us about religion. It was so painfully stupid that I couldn't stop wincing:
"Every human culture has believed in spirits, gods or some other divine being. But many scientists are coming up with their own, decidedly secular, theories about the origins of faith.... [O]ver the last few years, a small cottage industry made up of scientists and philosophers has devoted itself to demystifying the divine. Take Daniel Dennett, the philosopher who has proposed that religion is a meme -- an idea that evolved like a virus -- that infected our ancestors and continued to spread throughout cultures.... [A]nthropologist Pascal Boyer argues that religious belief is a quirky byproduct of a brain that evolved to detect predators and other survival needs.... And British biologist Lewis Wolpert... posits that religion developed once hominids understood cause and effect, which allowed them to make complex tools. Once they started to make causal connections, they felt compelled to explain life's mysteries. Their brains, in essence, turned into 'belief engines.'
"That's what makes [anthropologist] Barbara J. King... so unique.... [H]er main insights about the origins of religion come not from researching humans' deep history, but from observing very much alive non-human primates.... [W]e can trace back the origins of our religious impulse... to our ancient ancestors millions of years ago. And today, King says, we can see the foundations of religious behavior in chimpanzees and gorillas; watching our distant cousins can do much to explain the foundations of our own beliefs."
Of course, all of these approaches to religion represent stupidity on stilts: "if you want to understand spirit, don't watch and pray, just watch predators and prey." The idea that our understanding of religion could be supplemented by observing gorillas at the zoo is just so preposterous that one hardly knows how to respond except to say, "fine. If it works for you, go nuts. As long as no animals are harmed in the process. Whatever gets you through the night."
The operative passage above refers to the "small cottage industry made up of scientists and philosophers [which] has devoted itself to demystifying the divine." I say this because these people reflexively equate "demystifying" with "understanding." But when it comes to the Divine, to demystify it is to misunderstand it, precisely. For mystery is not the content of ignorance but a mode of understanding. It is to the serious seeker what curiosity is to the scientist. If these benighted scientists wish to experience God, they are approaching the subject in a manner that is guaranteed to seal their ignorance. They must follow the mystery, but first they must experience it.
Science aims at the demystification of the world, whereas religion aims at its remystification. Both approaches produce real knowledge, but only so long as the mode of understanding is adequate to the subject. And please, if you are a troll who thinks I am somehow "anti-science," please go away. I have no idea what serendipshitous cosmic winds blew you into Coonworld, but you have no business here. My writing is not intended for you, any more than your comments in any way reach me.
Now, the notion that animals live in a state of "mystery" about the world is just plain foolishness. They have only experience, not the experience of experience, which is to say mystery. Animals may look mysterious to us, but the feeling is not mutual. Only humans, upon becoming human, can awaken to the perpetual mystery that is. It is what distinguishes us from lower animals, not that which unites us. The religious person wishes to preserve and extend this mystery, not extinguish it. To conflate this quintessentially human epistemological mode with "ignorance" -- with a defect or deficit -- again represents a kind of breathtaking metaphysical perversion.
If you do not acknowledge the human thirst for mystery, two things will happen to your soul. First, you will search for it in inappropriate ways. You will "mystify" something that is not worthy of the name, and then pursue it as a sort of substitute religion. It can be literally anything, so long as you are "entranced" by it. The second thing that will happen is that you will become increasingly insensate to the real mystery, which is much more subtle than its many substitutes.
When you have successfully demystified the world, your soul is officially dead. This is why it is a chore for me to read the words of the scientists referenced above, for these are dead men talking. It is as wearying as communist or leftist boilerplate dogma that explains everything, and therefore, nothing. It is such a ham-handed and oblivious misuse of language, that it offends the sensibility of someone with even a rudimentary acquaintance with spirit. It is also a kind of psychic "bullying," trying to push people around with coarse and blunt language that is entirely disproportionate and inappropriate to its subject -- like an illiterate boob talking about Shakespeare.
I'm trying to think of an example that even a materialist with a blunted sensibility might understand. For many people who have successfully demystified the world, the only time they are able to unwittingly appreciate the sacred is when they are directly confronted with it in its most vivid form: death, the birth of a child, marriage, etc. Imagine being so spiritually insensate that you had the courage of your convictions and successfully drained the world of its sacred dimension. Upon the death of a loved one, you would simply put them in the garbage. After all, it's just a sack of meat. The birth of a child would be no different than termites hatching in your backyard. Marriage wouldn't exist, because there would be no recognition of the sacred dimension of male and female sexuality. Euthanasia would not just be legal, but mandatory, on grounds of common sense -- as would the abortion of youth in Asia -- as in China.
Believe it or not, there are people who more or less experience the world this way. But we do not call them "enlightened" or more in touch with reality than the rest of us. Rather, we call them schizoid or autistic.
As a matter of fact, not too long ago I conducted a psychological evaluation of such an individual. He had what is known as a Schizoid Personality Disorder. I won't get into all of the psychodynamics and etiology of this condition, but the end result is a kind of soul deadness which may leave the person's ability for dealing with matter entirely undamaged. Rather, their problems are all in the realm of intersubjectivity. In his case, he had no difficulty functioning on his technical, "scientific" job. However, he could not form deep and satisfying relationships because he could not "connect" with another person "interior to interior," only "exterior to exterior" -- which quickly becomes bizarre, because it means exile from the human world, which is an interior world.
This particular person was married and even had three children, but his own family members were more like "objects" than subjects to him. Not surprisingly, his outer affect was "depressed," but he did not have a clinical depression per se. For example, antidepressants would do nothing to help such an individual. Rather, his hollow and flat affect was simply an artifact of his inner detachment and absence of interpersonal passion. Yes, he was in pain, but the pain was more of a dull "absence" than an acute presence. He had no idea what was causing the presence of this painful absence. And it is very difficult to treat such an individual, because they are specifically detached from the mode of cure -- which is a relationship with the therapist. They can take in "information" from the therapist, but they cannot internalize the relationship, which is their whole problem in a nutshell.
It is also the whole problem with the spiritually autistic scientific approach to religion, for religion is not an exterior relationship between two objects, nor between a subject and an object. Rather, it is a passionate relationship between a subject and the Subject -- the Subject of subjectivity, as it were. The transitional space in which this relationship takes place is imbued with mystery, which again, is not to say ignorance, but a mode of knowledge that both deepens and extends. It is not an absence of light, but a kind of dark light that is only visible to the open soul. For example, it was within this living space that the entire corpus of Bach was produced and to which it stands as living testimony: Soli Deo Gloria. But I suppose Bach represents "musical ignorance."
Now I ask you. If religion represents a realm of "ignorance," how is it possible for a Coon to spend his life in relationship to a Subject that does not exist, all the while deepening his ignorance in a very precise and methodical way? I will speak only of myself. Over the past dozen years in particular, my spiritual understanding -- at least as far as I am concerned -- has deepened exponentially, and continues to do so. Otherwise I could not "share" this understanding and reproduce it in others (and they in me). Bear in mind that I do not say knowledge, but understanding, two very different things, for one can be full of religious knowledge (k) and yet have no understanding (O-->k).
But is it possible to deeply understand something which does not exist? No, it is not. All you would be deepening is your ignorance -- or, if you are very sick, your delusions.
Let us stipulate that either this new gang of militant atheists "understands" something about spirit, or that we do. Furthermore, let us agree that either they are deepening their ignorance of spirit, or we are. But let us also remember Blake's aphorism, Truth can never be told so as to be understood and not believed. Or, as Terence McKenna put it, "If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed."
How do you help someone rid themselves of their inappropriate knowledge so that they might understand and therefore believe?
The essence of the real is the banal or the trivial, the scientists and other pseudo-realists seem to say. To which we would answer: the essence of the real is the miraculous; the miracle of consciousness, intelligence, knowledge. In the beginning was, not matter, but Spirit, which is the Alpha and the Omega.. --F. Schuon