Wednesday, September 05, 2007

100 Million Americans Living in Spiritual Poverty!

In an interview a couple of years ago, the impertinent Siggy asked the estimable Dr. Sanity if she was a believer, and her response was, “I guess I have to say that I’m an agnostic and don’t take a position on whether God exists or not. I am aware of a very strong emotional part of me that wants very much to believe in an all powerful and all good deity that cares about me and all of humanity. But I also a very strong scientific and rational part that demands objective evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being. These two parts of me exist in a sort of dynamic tension right now and I expect that some day I might find a way to integrate them. Or, maybe not.”

In a post last year, she wrote that this “dynamic tension remains and the struggle continues unabated. I don't seem to have progressed too far along in resolving that conflict, but I have progressed. And, it is reassuring to realize that Siggy is correct when he says, To struggle with faith is as much a part of faith as anything else."

I think that last statement is quite accurate, in the identical sense that one could say that “to struggle with knowledge is as much a part of truth as anything else,” or “to struggle with love is as much a part of relationships as anything else," or "to struggle with virtue is as much a part of being good as anything else." In each given case, the struggle is founded upon the faith that truth, love, or goodness exist, and that it is worthwhile to struggle toward them. I think we are simply built this way, in the same way that the flower is built to turn toward the sun. The flower never stops to think about whether it is worthwhile to do so, nor should we stop to wonder whether the True, Good and Beautiful exist. Just bend your will in their direction, and be nourished by their transparent light.

Humans, by definition, are fated to inhabit the vast middle realm between being and nothingness, the absolute and the relative, matter and spirit, time and eternity. The paradoxes of human existence are impossibly difficult if you give them even a moment’s reflection, but they all result from this I-AMbiguous in-between realm in which we pass our days. A human being is the only thing in the cosmos that is both a fact and a possibility -- even an infinite possibilty, more or less. But from here to there is a struggle.

Despite all of our scientific and technological advances over the past 300 years, I see no evidence that human beings are any happier than they have ever been. If anything, happiness might be even more elusive, because life is so much easier than it was for past generations. We expect things to go well and are devastated when tragedy and disappointment hit, which they inevitably do. To paraphrase or possibly plagiarize Theodore Dalyrmple -- and this is something no liberal understands -- Misery rises to the level of the means availible to alleviate it.

Repeat after me, lurking lefty: I am an unhappy person and there is nothing Mommy Government can do about it, because my misery will just rise to the level of Mommy's efforts to alleviate it. And soon my misery will sink even beneath that level because of my frustrated sense of infantile entitlement and my abiding belief that someone else should make my life pain-free. Amen.

No one in the past felt they were entitled to the things we take for granted -- health, plentiful food, absence of physical pain, a long life, thriving children, a foolproof plan, an airtight alibi, Bob Dylan's new unlisted phone number, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce... Thus, it was no doubt easier not to become overly attached to the temporary and transient. Death was a constant reminder of the fragility and fickleness of existence. (In fact, this proximity to death probably conributes to the fact that the Islamists are willing to die for their insane beliefs, while so much of the West cannot even muster the enthusiasm to defend its rare and precious civilization.)

Last week the census bureau informed us that there are 37 million Americans living in poverty. First of all, they're only talking about material poverty, not the millions of leftists who waste away in spiritual poverty, which is a far greater existential threat to the union. But even then, as Robert Rector explains,

"The typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR, or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs. While this individual’s life is not opulent, it is far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians."

Furthermore, the majority of true poverty is behavioral and can be explained by two factors: "Their parents don’t work much, and their fathers are absent from the home.... Nearly two thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation’s impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty."

But over the past 35 years, the left has done everything possible to trivialize and disincentivize marriage. In fact, it is in their interest to undermine marriage, because the disaster that results benefits them politically. Much of the Democrat base is composed of the victims they help create, such as single mothers and "helpless" blacks. "Although work and marriage are reliable ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, the nation’s remaining poverty could be reduced."

A more realistically stoic attitude -- to put it mildly -- prevailed in the West through the great depression and World War II. For example, as recently as the 1970’s, inflation was completely misunderstood by economists, and therefore untamable. The “boom or bust” business cycle really only began to seriously flatten after the Reagan revolution, in that our inevitable recessions are far less severe than in the past. What was once a plague is now a common cold, and yet, leftist econmanists such as Paul Krugman are more hysterical than ever.

Similarly, I am blessed to have diabetes at a time when it is so easy to control it with different types of insulin and instantaneous digital readouts of my blood sugar, but my mother, just one generation before, had no such control, with devastating results. LIkewise, my father died at 58 of an abdominal aneurysm that is easily detectable today with a $35 exam at a health fair.

Given these profound existential changes, I think it is natural that westerners began to focus on this side of the “time-eternity” divide, and look for their spiritual sustenance in the things of the world, so to speak -- relationships, possessions, experiences. But does it work? I suppose for some. For others -- perhaps we’re just neurotic, I don’t know -- there is nothing in the field of time that will suffice or answer to this deeper call of the Spirit. It is a part of us that cries out for something that is not found in the objects of the world, and is only satisfied by one thing.

Is it real, this part of us that cries out for transcendence? I don’t know if that is the proper question. It’s somewhat analogous to falling in love and asking yourself if love is real or just an illusion, a trick of the nervous system. I’m imagining the Gagboy 10 or 20 years down the line, when he is at the peak of his enchantment with the opposite form of the complementary gender:

“I know it looks like women are attractive, but don’t be fooled. It’s just Darwin playing tricks on you, trying to get you to reproduce. In reality, woman aren’t attractive or unattractive. To the extent that you find them alluring, just remember that it’s just an illusion programmed into you by evolution. In short, I am only looking at this Victoria's Secret catalogue for its scientific value. Now run along and mind your own business.”

“Gee, thanks, gagDad!”

Isn’t this the same kind of “sophisticated” advice we might receive from the typical college professor regarding the spiritual dimension? “God? Nothing more than an illusion programmed into our nervous system. Just ignore it.” But doesn’t that just beg the question of whether everything is just an illusion built into our nervous system, including the statement that everything is? That way madness lies. But also tenure, so there are compensations.

If we consider religiosity on a continuum from extreme atheism on the left side (“zero”) to mystical union on the right (“one hundred”), let us suppose that Dr. Sanity is at 50. Well, probably more like 40. I myself started at closer to zero, or at least veered in that direction after an initial interest in Eastern religions prompted by the Beatles’ (especially George’s) adoption of yoga. But I became seriously interested in philosophy during my college years, and virtually all modern philosophy is essentially atheistic, whether existentialism, positivism, phenomenology, what have you.

Just recently I have begun to think of religiosity as simply “the right way to live,” so to speak. After all, these are traditions that somehow nourished the human soul for hundreds and thousands of years, almost as if we were made for them and they were made for us. Regardless of whether or not we may attribute these traditions to a creator, I find that there is a wisdom in authentic religion that far surpasses what any single mind could have come up with.

It’s a bit like marriage and the family. No one “invented” either, but for most people -- clearly not everyone, but for most -- it is simply the “right way” to live. Sure, you can experiment with other ways. Like Bill Maher, you can date porn stars, substitute dogs for children, and worship the earth, but is this really the way we’re built? Does he look happy or well adjusted to you?

I didn’t actually dive headlong into spirituality until 1995. In my case it was yoga, but once I did, the part of me that was hungering for transcendence all along began to “grow.” It reminds me of what they say about babies -- ”sleep begets sleep.” That is, if they nap more during the day, they sleep better at night. Likewise, faith begets faith. Just by taking that leap and living in the way humans have always lived, something automatic seems to kick in, an innate, uncreated wisdom.

I don’t mean to trivialize it, but it reminds me of sports. I think it has to do with the arrival of the Gagboy three seasons ago, but before that, I was an absolutely fanatical Dodger fan. To be honest, the spell started to be broken when they were purchased by Fox from the O’Malley family, but from the age of nine, I lived and died with each win or loss. I would listen to entire games on the radio even after the team had been mathematically eliminated from the pennant race, apparently hoping that they could somehow overcome the rules of arithmatic. And yet -- especially as an adult -- I would sometimes reflect on the absurdity of my devotion. As Seinfeld said, when it comes right down to it, since the players constantly change, you're essentially rooting for laundry. But was I any happier when I thought this way? No, not at all. In fact, it just spoiled the fun.

There’s an old saying in baseball: “Don’t think, you’ll hurt the ballclub.” I think most secular philosophy falls into this category. There are ways to think that will be metaphysically fruitful and add to your fulfillment, other essentially abcircular forms of thought that are spiritually barren and go from nowhere to nothing (and certainly won't help you hit a curveball). To be honest, they aren’t worthy of man, itself a statement that touches on the mystery of what man actually is.

The "good news" of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... "Perdition" is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] "salvation" is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance. --Meditations on the Tarot

25 Comments:

Blogger Smoov said...

Since it was late in the day when I posted the link to Bob's paper I'll re-post it again here for those who missed it.

Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure

I started in on it last night, but quickly realized this is better done on the weekend when distractions are at a minimum.

9/05/2007 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Bob, what kind of yoga did you start with and how did you do it (a class, on your own, with Leslie...)? I'm asking because this weekend my husband mentioned that he'd like to start doing yoga to help get in shape a bit. Oddly enough, he was also a former philosophy major...

Anyway, I was just wondering if you (or any other Raccoon, for that matter) had any recommendations for beginners who don't have the option of taking a class.

9/05/2007 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Not Hatha yoga, but Integral Yoga -- i.e., Raja, Jnana and Bhakta, with a little Hatha on the side.

9/05/2007 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, it is in this sense that one may speak of "Christian yoga," i.e., an integral approach that addresses, body, mind, soul, spirit, and heart.

9/05/2007 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>faith begets faith. Just by taking that leap and living in the way humans have always lived, something automatic seems to kick in . . . <<

And I think all it takes for that first leap is a simple act of *imagination*, imagining - not fantasizing, big difference there - but imagining one's self as a being of faith. By doing so, one transcends the struggle, in effect. It's not a Saturn V 3-stage rocket groaning and straining to achieve liftoff - rather it's soundless, graceful anti-grav machine.

I think that's one reason why prayer, contemplation, ceremony are so effective in anchoring and sustaining faith - they are, among other things, acts of the imagination. And to be sure, Imagination is a primal attribute of the Creator, one that we, as particles of the Creator, share, and of course, should use.

Through imagination, we enter into the Mystery, we learn to embrace the Mystery, and, I think, to a great extent we become the Mystery. For what it's worth, I read the Book of Job as the story of a human who ultimately denied imagination and Mystery - he was perfectly "good" in the conventional sense, followed the rules to a T, thought that by doing so, he understood God. Thus the trials and tribulations . . . until he was compelled to confess that he had no clue as to what God *really* was/is. At which point, I take it, Job fell into Mystery and began to develop the higher senses that would allow him to more fully perceive the nature of God.

What is good for God and what we finite beings may "logically" think of as good may be two very different things. By allowing ourselves - via our divine imagination - to freefall into Mystery we can begin to perceive the "goodness" of God in a very different way that we did before. This, I think, is real faith.

9/05/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

Wow, slow day for comments. Excellent post too. Maybe everyone is like me being kept waiting by lawyers AGAIN.

Oh well. One more round of sign-offs at the bank tomorrow. Then I'm heading to Tuscany for a week. Or something.

9/05/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

"I think we are simply built this way, in the same way that the flower is built to turn toward the sun."

Rise
she absorbs the sun
kissed by possibility
caretaker coils hose

9/05/2007 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Johan (cosmic swede) said...

Speaking of Christian Yoga, I stumbled over this piece a few weeks ago.

"The beauty of yoga as it has developed in the west, is that each person has the opportunity of releasing or finding their innate and extraordinary potential in themselves in their own way. Yoga has always been associated with a personal discipline or techniques relating to self-help. So the words Christian and Yoga are here joined together not to suggest that Christians should practice Eastern yoga postures or breathing techniques, or even meditation techniques from the Far East, but to denote a path within Christ’s teachings that is a personal way for each of us to take."

9/05/2007 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

"Not Hatha yoga, but Integral Yoga -- i.e., Raja, Jnana and Bhakta, with a little Hatha on the side."

You know, I realized later today that I knew that already - I'm pretty sure this has come up in the past (and in your book - sheesh!). I guess my brain wasn't completely up and running earlier. Ah well, perhaps this'll be helpful to some of the newer Raccoons who might have missed it the first time round.

I'm pretty sure my husband was thinking only of Hatha yoga, but I'll remember this time in case he's perhaps looking for a more wholistic kind of fitness.

9/05/2007 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

And I don't mean to "trivialize" anything either, but in spite of all the provocative points in this post, the following is what spoke to me:

"...I have begun to think of religiosity as simply “the right way to live,” so to speak. After all, these are traditions that somehow nourished the human soul for hundreds and thousands of years, almost as if we were made for them and they were made for us. Regardless of whether or not we may attribute these traditions to a creator, I find that there is a wisdom in authentic religion that far surpasses what any single mind could have come up with."

It seems to me that that passage is one of those that answers the question, "Upon what basis?" or follows-on from, "By virtue of the principle...." It seems to state very simply the foundations of so much else besides.

9/05/2007 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Voltron said...

ximeze,

Thanks!, I finally got to read the Arthur Miller piece. It was linked to on Ann Coulter's site and I was having a hard time getting in yesterday...

(It IS pretty good)

9/05/2007 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous jwm said...

Voltron:
I sent you an e-mail. It's a pic of your nic.
Godaikin 1983 MIB

JWM

9/05/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

Tough day, long day, must save energy...What Will said.

What Walt said.

Smoov, if you need anyone to research how pocketpc phones operate in Tuscany, I'll see if I can free up some time.

and of course,
"To the extent that you find them alluring, just remember that it’s just an illusion programmed into you by evolution. In short, I am only looking at this Victoria's Secret catalogue for its scientific value. Now run along and mind your own business.” "

9/05/2007 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

A more pithy and effective argument against materialism I've not heard in a long while... and of course the catalogs... um... articles... very illuminating.

wvniowxmr - oh, I'm pretty sure they do wax.

9/05/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Van said...

"Misery rises to the level of the means availible to alleviate it."

Why else would I... wanting to relax... turn on the TIVO'd Republican debate?

Arghhh...

I'm sorry, but if I hear another politico spouting memorized blurbs about how they'll use Gov to promote values and help the family... as if that isn't exactly how we got to the state we're in now.

9/05/2007 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Thanks, Smoov.

Ahhhh, Tuscany. The one place my wife and I really want to go...someday. There's this great little bicycle / wine tour...

Back to reality - Go Fred!

9/05/2007 09:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Das Philosph said...

Bob writes in today's post:

"I’m imagining the Gagboy 10 or 20 years down the line, when he is at the peak of his enchantment with the opposite form of the complementary gender."

If you're lucky, Bob, if you're lucky. Inversion is statistically not uncommon and one must be ready to deal in any case.

9/05/2007 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

On the commute I read an article about the co-evolution of the dog. It seems man's best friend has lost a part of its brain that kept much of is wolf instincts. On the other hand, it has gained the ability to understand pointing. When we point at something, a fellow human automatically transfers its attention to the object we point to, rather than just staring at the hand. So does a dog with just a little training. Wolves do not, and neither do chimps or any other species known to man.

I wonder if "religiosity" is not something equivalent. We have gained an ability to understand God's pointing and this alone can replace a multitude of instincts that would be necessary if living apart from God.

Imagine a dog trying to explain the concept of pointing to a wolf. The wolf would just look dumbly and say: "It's a hand. No matter how it moves, it is still a hand."

9/06/2007 02:37:00 AM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

That way madness lies. But also tenure, so there are compensations.

You never miss a chance! I love it!

9/06/2007 05:14:00 AM  
Blogger joyce said...

I beg to differ. God invented marriage and family. God warns Adam and Eve to leave and cleave even before they had in-laws.

9/06/2007 05:18:00 AM  
Blogger Smoov said...

Pavarotti died.

One gliberal publication writes: "In 1972 he famously hit nine high C's in a row in 'Daughter of the Regiment' at New York's Metropolitan..."

which is of course to exactly miss what Pavarotti represnted to the world. Leave it to the soul-less modern to eulogize this vehicle for Beauty as though he was a dumptruck with an impressive hauling capacity.

9/06/2007 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

“to struggle with knowledge is as much a part of truth as anything else,” or “to struggle with love is as much a part of relationships as anything else," or "to struggle with virtue is as much a part of being good as anything else."

Or as Smoov noted, to struggle with being human - or not.

9/06/2007 06:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Magnus:

I love the pointing analogy. In a way, the capacity to point is everything. This is the essence of Polanyi's philosophy, what he calls the distinction between subsidiary (the finger) and focal (the moon) knowledge.

9/06/2007 06:52:00 AM  
Anonymous dougman said...

I got your book, along with Meditations on the Tarot.
I should be caught up with Y'all in about a year or so.
A dictionary to fill in the many blanks in my head will be just what the doctor pre-scribes.

WV=akhkzkd--must be a long time smoker

9/06/2007 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim Baxter said...

Consider:
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view of self,
others, relationships, institutions, life, and future. Many
problems in human experience are the result of false
and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future. Only the Creator,
who made us in His own image, is qualified to define
us accurately.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the
universe. selah

That human institution which is structured on the
principle, "...all men are endowed by their Creator with
...Liberty...," is a system with its roots in the natural
Order of the universe. The opponents of such a system are
necessarily engaged in a losing contest with nature and
nature's God. Biblical principles are still today the
foundation under Western Civilization and the American
way of life. To the advent of a new season we commend the
present generation and the "multitudes in the valley of
decision."

Let us proclaim it. Behold!
The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV

- from The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 kjv

9/08/2007 10:41:00 AM  

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