The Third Commandment of Nihilism: You Shall Have a Vanity Plate in Your Head
You will notice that leftists are often exactly what they accuse their adversaries of being -- in this case, either hyper-concrete and literal, or prone to a pseudo-form of reason applied to an extremely narrow area, thus rendering reason irrational. That there is a bas relief pi'ture of Moses bearing the Ten Commandments inside the Supreme Court building is of no consequence to them -- as if someone illegally snuck it in there without anyone noticing that it's not exactly kosher. Or worse yet, that it is.
I remember a comedian, for example, mocking the commandment, "you shall not take the name of the lord in vain." What's that supposed to mean? And why would the creator of the universe possibly care about how we employ language or what we say about him? Parochial yahoos. Anthropocentrists. These so-called "ten commandments" aren't universal. Rather, they're just a bunch of arbitrary rules made up by some primitive tribe 3,000 years ago. We're liberated. We don't believe that nonsense.
Of course, such blinkered thinking represents the quintessence of vanity, parochialism, and narcissism, for it articulates what the spiritually untutored human -- which is to say, signifyin' monkey -- thinks about the cosmos. We may dismiss such common McDullards in light of their own assumptions about language, which is that it is an arbitrary and ultimately meaningless protest shouted into the cosmic void. Secular leftists are half-right, in that their philosophy is indeed a vacuous shout from void to Void.
But the point of depicting the Ten Commandments in the most exalted court in the land is to emphasize that human law is indeed arbitrary unless it is rooted in transcendent and absolute principles. Don't kid yourself. The "rule of law" is vastly superior to the "rule of man," unless it is only the rule of law -- for if it is, we are simply back to the rule of man. In other words, if law is not grounded in something transcending it -- something which law is intended to embody and reflect -- then there is no reason to respect it aside from avoiding earthly punishment.
I remember when I first realized this fact with the... with the force of God. This was probably about seven years ago. I was doing something I shouldn't be doing, specifically, taking something that did not belong to me. Don't get me wrong -- it was in the "everybody does it" category -- but that was the problem, at least for someone presuming to be on a spiritual path. It was such an inconsequential thing, and yet, I suddenly felt like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, which is to say, existentally naked before the full brunt of my divine conscience.
Only later, in the course of reading Schuon, did I fully "put two and two together" and realize the centrality of virtue to the spiritual path. If you are going to make any spiritual progress, there are certain things you simply cannot do, even if they are legal or if everyone else does them, the reason being that the good and true converge as you approach the One. In this regard, this is why I can speak so confidently -- if you want to say bobnoxiously, that's fine -- about the bogosity of certain spiritual teachers. One can only assume that they are operating outside the light of the divine conscience, for virtue is the mark of the sage. In fact, awareness of the conscience is one of the things that makes the saint so humble.
Now, the third commandment is here to remind us that, just as law must be grounded in something transcending it, so too is language anchored in a reality that surpasses it. In fact, this is why we are able to make meaningful statements at all. The problem, as a commenter yesterday put it, is not that life is meaningless, but rather, that it means so much: "The tragedy is that to care is to risk the unbearable pain of loss. To say all is absurd is a defense against the pain of loss, as in saying 'it can't hurt me because it never mattered in the first place.' Nihilists play games in the dark because they are very frightened to begin with." The only thing I would add is that they play language games, which is why they are so fundamentally unserious -- again, by dint of their own frivolous assumptions.
Here is a perfect example. Even if you are "pro-choice," everyone except a true sociopath knows that abortion is morally wrong. It is a moral reality that you simply cannot not know unless you have no conscience or unless you have disabled your conscience with word games in order to make wrong seem right. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards all presume to be religious, so just ask them: does abortion please God? And if not, why not? And if it does please God, please tell us a little more about this God of yours and his relationship to human beings.
Again, irrespective of whether or not you are pro-choice, only a very disingenuous person, or someone who does not take language seriously, could read the Constitution and find there a universal right to kill your fetus. It has been said that if leftists interpreted the second amendment the way they do the rest of the constitution, you would be mandated to carry a weapon at taxpayers' expense.
What would it be like for time to stop and to spend eternity standing naked before your unveiled conscience? JWM proposed that this is what happens in the eternal moment between when the depraved Palestinian ghettoblaster pushes the button and the rat-poison-laced screws reach the Jewish baby's head. A metaphor, or course, but eternity does exist, as does the eternal conscience. As such, in one way or another, you will live with what you have done forever, so choose wisely. If the Creator is just -- and there is no reason to believe he wouldn't be -- then these shameless Islamic monsters from their "shame cultures" will be immersed in the very shame they cannot tolerate until the conclusion of this cosmic cycle. If they think Saudi Arabia is bad, just wait until they find out about the eternal shame cosmos.
One very efficient, if indiscriminate, way to make the conscience disappear -- and with it, shame -- is by severing language from its transcendent source, so that nothing can be known and all is ultimately arbitrary, including moral rules of conduct. But as brother Elvis teaches us in one of today's FineTune selections, you may run on for a long time, but not forever:
My God spoke and he spoke so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of angel's feet
He put one hand upon my head
Great God almighty, tell you what he said
Go tell that long-tongued liar,
Go tell that midnight rider,
Tell the gambler and the rambler and the back-biter
Tell 'em God almighty gonna cut 'em down
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Let me tell you God almighty gonna cut you down
You may throw your rock and hide your hand
Working in the dark 'gainst your fellow man
Sure as God made the day and the night
What you do in the dark will be brought to the light
You may run and hide, slip and slide
Trying to take the mote from your neighbour's eyes
As sure as God made the rich and po'
You gonna reap just what you sow
Some people go to church just to sit in the fire
Trying to make a date with the neighbour's wife
Brother let me tell you as sure as you born
You better leave that woman alone
Because one of these days, mark my word
You think that brother is gone to work
You'll sneak up, knock on that door
That's all brother, you'll knock no more
Amen, brother, you ain't gonna knock on heaven's door with a smokin' semantic crater in the middle of your syntax.
Where was I? Yes, the third commandment of nihilism: Since God does not exist, all language is ultimately vain, and metaphysics is not possible. Let's review some of what I wrote about the matter last summer. For those of you who have read it before, you are dismissed. Have a nice weekend. Remember -- no ramblin', gamblin', and back-bitin'.
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 many more profound spiritual geniuses than the “new age” ever will. Frankly, there’s just no comparison in terms of depth, power and spiritual radiance.
While radical secularists 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 leftism represents a convoluted intellectual sanction for knee-jerk adolescent rebellion. If they could not blaspheme, what would be left of them? This is why I was so surprised at their decision to grind Imus -- who is one of their own -- through the left-wing hate machine. Now they'll have to shut down the entire rap and hip-hop industry, and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson can no longer wear the liberal King of Negroes crown.
It is a vain dream that leftists would ever take language seriously or be intellectually consistent.
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 themselves have concrockted. 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.
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 for a reality that most certainly exists.
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 Frithjof Schuon, you should 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 Petey'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 of both divine wrath and our own unyielding holy anger. 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, if the sinner has chosen to be sin, then it is appropriate to despise him. Woe unto spiritually depraved groups such as CAIR or the ACLU that align themselves with these embodiments of evil.
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 despise 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 what has provoked it. Americans do not chop off heads for fun; they do only what is necessary to stop the evil. But to the left, our liberation of Iraq is morally indistinguishable from Saddam's occupation of it.
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 existential pursuit. The cosmos is not just a tale told by a tenured idiot, full of envy and activism but signifying short hours and a nice paycheck. Rather, it is a vehicle and transmitter of Ultimate Meaning.