Monday, August 06, 2007

The Spiritual World and the Animal Environment

I may actually be able to write something new today. During the past month or more, I've been waking at 6:00 instead of 5:00, and the loss of that little hour makes all the difference. But this morning I woke up at 5:15, giving me a little window of uppertunity.

So, what does it all mean, anyway? Alfred North Whitehead defined philosophy as the pursuit of that question. As I have mentioned before, I'm not a bitter person, but I do still mildly resent what leftism has done to our educational system, because it took me half my life to unlearn all the leftst brain-washing and soul-dirtying and rearrive at where my philosophical endeavors should have started to begin with. I wasted so much time learning things that are not only wrong but harmful to the soul and incompatible with true happiness or fulfillment.

I hate to say this, because it sounds immodest or presumptuous, but these outwardly unpleasant little transitional phases I go through always have an implicit lesson, in that they 1) teach me not to take my (ab?)normal state of mind for granted, and 2) reacquaint me with the flatland world in order to better comprehend those souls who are stuck there permanently and have never been lifted above it. I don't know how anyone can stand to live there. It's just so... cramped... and ill-furnished.

What in the world is the world? Or, to put it another way, what kind of world is the world of man, and is it the same as the world? These questions are addressed in an enjoyable book I'm currently reading, For Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy, by Josef Pieper. One of the themes Pieper develops is the idea that all other animals merely live in a world, whereas human beings are privileged to (potentially, at least) live in the world.

For example, many people assume that all animals with eyes see the same object, when this is patently untrue. Pieper cites the example of a certain bird that preys on grasshoppers, but is incapable of seeing the grasshopper if it isn't moving. Only in leaping does the grasshopper become distinct from the background -- which is why many insects "play dead." In their resting form, not only are they "dead," but they are literally invisible. It is as if they drop into a hole and no longer exist in the world of the predator. Even if the bird were starving, it could search and search, and yet, never find the unmoving grasshopper right under its beak. In short, the animal cannot transcend its biological boundaries, even with an organ -- the eye -- seemingly equipped for the task.

Pieper quotes the biologist Uexküll, who distinguishes the animal's environment from the actual world. As he writes, "The environments of animals are comparable in no way to open nature, but rather to a cramped, ill-furnished apartment." Animals are confined to the environment to which they are adapted, and from which they can never escape. Most of the world is simply not perceived or even capable of being perceived. In fact, the world literally did not come into exstence until human beings happened upon the scene.

But given Darwinian principles -- which, by the way, we can only know about because we have transcended them -- how did mankind escape its environment and enter the real world? Or did we? Are we as trapped in a narrow cross-section of reality as any other tenured animal? If so, then both science and religion are impossible. Like the bird looking for the immobile grasshopper, we could find neither "the world" nor "God," despite diligent searching. But if science is possible, then God is necessary. Or, to put it another way, since God exists, science is possible.

Pieper writes that the human spirit is not so much defined by the property of immateriality as it is "by the ability to enter into relations with Being as a totality," in a way that clearly transcends our mere animal-environmental boundaries. (Interesting, isn't it, that the cult of global warming mostly appeals to those flatlanders who elevate the environment to the world? It is very much a religion for the folks mired down in 2D.)

Now, as Schuon always emphasized, the intellect properly so-called (i.e., nous) is not restricted to an environment. Rather, it is "relatively absolute" and therefore able to know the world. As Pieper writes, "it belongs to the very nature of a spiritual being to rise above the environment and so transcend adaptation and confinement," which in turn explains "the at once liberating and imperiling character with which the nature of spirit is immediatly associated."

This is what I was driving at on p. 92 of my book:

"Just as first singularity was an explosion into (and simultaneous creation of) material space-time, and the second singularity a discontinuous 'big bang' into the morphic space of biological possibility, the third singularity was an implosion into a trans-dimensional subjective space refracted through the unlikely lens of a primate brain. Up to the threshold of the third singularity, biology was firmly in control of the hominids, and for most of evolution, mind (such as it was) existed to serve the needs of the primate body. Natural selection did not, and could not have, 'programmed' us to know reality, only to survive in a narrow 'reality tunnel' constructed within the dialectical space between the world and our evolved senses."

But then suddenly Darwin was cast aside and "mind crossed a boundary into a realm wholly its own, a multidimensional landscape unmappable by science and unexplainable by natural selection"; humans ventured out of biological necessity and "into a realm with a vastly greater degree of freedom, well beyond the confining prison walls of the senses."

I suppose natural selection can explain our adaptation to an environment, but it cannot explain our discovery and comprehension of the world. Pieper quotes Aristotle, who wrote that "the soul is in a way all existing things." What did he mean by this? What he meant was that the soul is able to put itself in relation to the totality of Being. While other animals have only their little slice of Being, the human is able to grasp Being as a whole.

Thus -- running out of time here, but thus -- to be in Spirit is "to exist amid reality as a whole, in the face of the totality of Being." Spirit is not a world, but the world. Or, to be precise, "spirit" and "world" are reciprocal concepts, the one being impossible in the absence of the other. Science itself is a completely spiritual world, or it is no world at all, only an environment. Usually an academic environment.

Friday, August 03, 2007

We Are Not Worthy of Being So Unworthy!

Ah, here’s a good question from Sigmund, Carl and Alfred:

Q: You said, "the more human we become, the more divine, and the more divine, the more human -- and humble." Are you saying that there is a kind of "yoke" we must assume, to move ahead?”

A: Well, first of all, I am so exceedingly humble or possibly ingratiating that I am not worthy of this question, for a good question is superior to any answer that can be given. Furthermore, the answer is the disease that kills curiosity, so bear that in mind. I never want to cure anyone's curiosity, only aggravate it.

Now, it is not so much the Great and Powerful B'ob who is suggesting that humility is a requisite of the spiritual path, as that nine out of ten saints, mystics, sages and assorted holy men agree that this is true. At least the ones in my revere view mirror. I believe that one can always tell a false teacher or cult leader by their hubris, grandiosity, presumptuousness, and narcissism. And their fee, for real truth is free, in that it will only cost you your worthless and blankrupt life. While there is a cover charge for entry into God's naughtclub, it is sincere repentance. (For the three of you who have my book, this is what I was trying to unsay in the bobscure passage on pp. 252-253: "Either pay your deus or be nilled to a blank.... Eloha, that's a good bye for the Love that removes the sin and other scars, speaking allegheirically." You will gnotice that my yokes are actually pretty easy, if not cheesy.)

As implied by your question, the equation works both ways. In order to know the divine, humility is a key that opens many mysteries. But as we begin to receive genuine gnosis (which simply means spiritual knowledge), we are humbled by it. At least in most cases. There are definitely situations in which an authentic spiritual gift is combined with unresolved narcissistic issues to produce a hugely (and dangerously) inflated ego. You saw this phenomenon a great deal in the '60s and '70s, in which Buddhist or Hindu gurus who had achieved genuine spiritual attainment in an isolated ashram setting were suddenly placed in a situation where attractive young devotees were throwing themselves at their feet. Oh, mama!

Maharishi, you broke the rules / You laid it down for all to see / Maharishi, oooh you broke the rules.
Maharishi, you'll get yours yet / However big you think you are / Maharishi, oooh you'll get yours yet.

Of course, John Lennon later changed the lyric from “Maharishi” to “Sexy Sadie.” In Lennon’s case, it seems that he first projected his own unresolved messianic grandiosity into the Maharishi, and was inevitably devastated when he turned out to be all too human, unlike Yoko, who was not human enough.

It is also important to point out that humility hardly equates with “low self esteem” or being a shrinking violet. To the contrary, low self esteem is just the other side of narcissism, and will likely produce similarly bad results. Humility is really just accurate self assessment. It is seeing oneself as one is, not better or worse than one is.

There are spiritual types who mistakenly believe that by utterly abasing oneself or taking aseticism to absurd lengths, one can know God. Again, it is simply the reverse side of the same worthless coin: “Look at me -- I’m so much worse than you, I must be the world’s greatest sinner ever!” (I detect this dynamic in Mel Gibson -- ”I am God, I own Malibu” conjoined with “I am sick, the worst sinner ever, the man who pounded the first nail into Christ.”)

This is also not to say that some humans aren’t better or higher than others. Again, very much to the contrary. The distance between a great saint and the average person might be as great as the distance between us and a dog. However, the distance between the saint and God is even greater -- the saint knows this better than we do, hence, the humility.

Nevertheless, the great saint is also a warrior, a master of the art of spiritual warfare, of hand-to-hand combat without hands. I have no hesitation in spontaneously bowing before these great souls, for they are earthly reflections of something much greater -- like the night time moon that reflects the sun’s radiance. The real saint will not take advantage of your bowing before them -- rather, they will bow even lower. In truth, every spiritual crown is a crown of thorns.

God is a fisher of men, but first there must be a fissure in man where God can operate. Man is not a given fact, but a possibility, and the possibility of a divine-human partnership takes place in the transitional space between you and your highest aspiration -- between you and your future self. This is a polarized space, and it is the polarization that creates the dynamic electricity. If you like, you can think of it as analogous to the sexual tension that fills the space between man and woman. There is a spontaneous, natural, innocent, and idealistic form of this energy, as well as many perverse and deviant versions.

In the past, I have written of religious perversions, of which Islamism is a particularly vivid example. However, political correctness, multiculturalism, liberal victimology, and the counterfeit virtue of “tolerance” are similarly destructive spiritual perversions that cause just as much damage in the long run -- perhaps even more, since the process is more subtle.

For example, the cognitively and spiritually bereft idea of multiculturalism causes Western intellectuals to defend and even honor totalitarians who embrace or condone polygamy, gender apartheid, religious intolerance, political autocracy, homosexual persecution, honor killings, female circumcision, and a host of other barbarisms.

At risk of pointing out the obvious, is it not clear that tolerance is hardly “humility” or “accurate self assessment?” Rather, it is a wildly inaccurate assessment of the obvious superiority of Western civilization over the Islamic world and other primitive and tribal cultures. Tolerance is indeed (to paraphrase someone) “the virtue of the man with no convictions.” It is not humility but moral cowardice, and as such, opens up a free space for infrahuman bullies to operate unhindered. This is why the left is a "force-multiplier" for our enemies (as put at Belmont Club).

There is an increasingly overt unity between the postmodern left and the pre-modern Islamists, a tacit conspiracy between those who make a god of their religion and those who make a god of their irreligion, forcefully ill-luminating the emptiness at the rotten core of contemporary liberalism (yes, on the spiritual plane it is possible to be simultaneously empty and rotten).

Perhaps you have heard that the devil is not an atheist. Rather, he knows better than anyone that God exists. It's just that he refuses to bow. In a similar way, the leftist reformer who wishes to save humanity easily succumbs to the temptation of exalting himself in godlike fashion above others whom he presumes to save or instruct, but always through coercion. As an Unknown Friend puts it, the leftist always creates a rigid tower, not a tree, and the tower enfolds and encloses while the Tree of Life radiates. There is no harvesting without cultivating the tree. Hey, I don't make up the rules, I just follow them. God is a gardener, not a mason.

A properly functioning mirror is a humble object, for it reflects everything while “containing” nothing. But the mirror is also a marvelous thing, for without it, the reflected object seems to disappear. In some way, the object relies upon the clean mirror to reflect it and give it existence. Thus, the mirror is both exalted and humble. Much of the spritual life consists of polishing one's mirror.

The purpose of true spirituality is to become deep. As a matter of fact, “depth” in any domain is a measure of soul and nothing else. To become deeply humble is simply to crucify what is base and unworthy in the psyche and to create a space that will be filled “from above,” for while nature abhors a vacuum, God evidently requires one. It is the crack in the cosmic egg that lets in the light. This is the real meaning of humility -- of spiritual poverty. So if we want to know God, the yoke's on us.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Where the Spirit of the Creator is, There is Liberty"

And the next question from Sigmund, Carl and Alfred is, “By what mechanism does free will overcome instinct?”

A: Good question, but let me first, like a politician, go back to yesterday’s question, which I didn’t get a chance to completely evade. You asked about how my spiritual views influence my practice. It is not so much how my spiritual views influence my practice as how my spiritual practice influences me.

And even that is an unsatisfactory way of expressing it, because one's spiritual practice is one thing, while the process it gives rise to is another thing entirely. There are, of course, degrees of spiritual commitment, and if you are committed “mind, heart, and soul,” then you have given yourself over to a process whose outcome you do not control.

This is similar to the deeper forms of psychoanalytic therapy, in which you do not necessarily confront a well-defined problem that you try to resolve in a few sessions. Rather, you are willfully dismantling your surface personality in order to plumb the depths of your being. In that case, you do not control the process -- which would be a form of resistance -- you more or less surrender to it. You will come out a changed person, but you cannot predict ahead of time what type of change it will be. There will be surprises. And there will be pain that must be borne. This is why one of my supervisors said that he would never recommend psychoanalysis to anyone -- he only offered it.

It is the same way when you truly submit -- surrender -- to the spiritual process. As a matter of fact, this is one of the ways you can tell the false teachers from the true ones. The false teachers will make all sorts of promises about what “you will get from God,” when, first of all, it is much more a question of what you can do for God (in the sense of "aligning yourself" with the Creator). Secondly, once you give yourself over to the process, changes will take place that cannot be predicted, much less controlled.

This has always been known. It is why serious teachers don’t generally go out looking for students, but turn them away, because most people are motivated by some ulterior egoic reason to try to usurp the prerogatives of spirit. Even if you want to convert to Judaism, by tradition the rabbi will initially turn you away. Likewise, Jesus makes many statements about the level of commitment required and degree of submission involved.

So how are my spiritual views influencing my practice? By encouraging me to give it up and move on to the next stage, whatever it is. I would love to phase out psychology in the next couple of years. It seriously interferes with my real work -- or perhaps I should say, it interferes with whatever it is that is working on me. It’s very real and it’s very intense, and it’s not always pleasant, especially when you have to resist it for whatever reason. As you may know, in that regard, the spirit is no respecter of persons.

Again, I can only say that it’s analogous to the unconscious. In my view, the vertical extends both above and below -- down into the unconscious, but also up into higher regions. Furthermore, I have come to believe that there are defense mechanisms that operate in both directions. In other words, just as we routinely repress the unconscious, we also repress the “supraconscious,” so to speak. And just as weakening the membrane between ego and unconscious will bring forth a burst of material, weakening the membrane between you and God will cause a surge of energies from that direction. And contrary to popular belief, the energies are not always pleasurable and they certainly aren’t predictable.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading biographies about people of genuine spiritual accomplishment, because it is comforting to know that this unpredictable transformative process is always the same and yet different. No one describes it as a walk in the park, much less a way to "Harness the Infinite Power of Coincidence!,” or “Awaken the Giant Within!,” or “Achieve the Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire!" Wha' deepak of lies!

Now, about free will -- by what mechanism does it overcome instinct?

As is the case in most ultimate antinomies, the question of free will vs. determinism is not an either/or issue. Rather, we can possess "more or less" free will, depending on various circumstances. But by and large, our free will is squandered and given away. As Dostoyevsky wrote, man has "no more pressing need than the one to find somebody to whom he can surrender as quickly as possible that gift of freedom with which he, unfortunate creature, was born."

As I noted in my book, discovering what a human being truly is is the key to fathoming the mystery of the cosmos itself. In my view, the presence of self-conscious human beings with free will explains much more about the cosmos than the most complete understanding of the material universe will ever explain about human beings. And the existence of free will is one of the most compelling clues for comprehending the cosmos, for it is utterly inexplicable on any purely scientific grounds.

If we are not free, then time is merely duration and life can obviously have no intrinsic meaning. But once you acknowledge the vertical in any form or fashion, you have left the horizontal behind -- that is, the purely material and rational -- as any kind of comprehensive, all-encompassing explanation of existence.

For example, if you acknowledge the existence of free will -- which, by the way, some people don't... then again, I suppose they have no choice -- you have already conceded that we move and have our being in a mysterious "hole" in creation, a hole known as the "now." By all rights, this "now" should not exist at all.

Einstein was particularly baffled by its existence, to such an extent that he thought the present moment in which we exercise our free will was only a stubborn illusion. This is an example of how science reaches a metaphysical dead end once it begins to ponder the vertical.

I have a conscious thought: I am going to make a fist. I do so. I sneak up behind Einstein and give him a serious nuggy. No one can tell you how I did so -- how consciousness -- whatever that is -- exerts an effect on matter in this way, even leaving a slight bruise on top of Albert’s head.

One of the cultural problems that has arisen since the 1960's is a persistent misunderstanding of the notion of freedom. For example, if you ask me if I am free to play the saxophone, the answer is "no," the reason being that I have not put in the requisite time to study music and practice the instrument. Of course, I am "free" to pick up a saxophone and randomly blow into it, but what kind of freedom is that? Only through intense discipline and long years of practice am I free to produce something musically satisfying on the instrument, that is, to achieve aesthetic depth.

All meaningful human freedoms are analogous to that. Freedom is not just the absence of constraint or the ability to indulge one's whims in an aimless fashion. Rather, real freedom always involves discipline, boundaries, and most importantly, a higher goal or standard toward which the freedom is directed. Otherwise, mere freedom itself is by no means a morally or spiritually constructive thing. In the absence of higher goals and standards, people are abandoned either to a passive, rudderless, aimless existence or to a more impulsive acting out of various psychological patterns.

In order to understand our situation, we must imagine a cross with a horizontal and a vertical arrow. We live at the point of their intersection. The horizontal line has to do with heredity, with Darwinian evolution, with the transmission of culture, etc. If this were all there were, we would be no different than animals -- like just pigs or other members of CAIR. We would not live in a cognitive space of spiritual freedom, routinely exerting a topdown influence on our horizontal selves. We would not possess this inexplicable capacity called "free will."

But not everyone seems to have the same degree of topdown influence over themselves -- of free will. In fact, it is a capacity that varies quite widely.

According to an Unknown Friend, "there are strong -- i.e., creative -- souls, and there are weak -- i.e., imitative -- souls. The stronger a soul is, the greater the independence from the semi-hypnotic influence of the model presented by the preceding generations of family chosen for the soul's incarnation."

We have heard from the wise that a Creator supposedly endowed us with “liberty,” which is to say free will. But every leftist knows that we don’t really have free will. Rather, we are victims of our environment and our genes. For example, poverty causes crime. Unless you happen to be rich. Then greed causes crime. Unless you haven’t committed any crime. Then it’s just a crime to be rich. But don’t be confused -- there’s no objective right or wrong anyway. Multiculturalism is the doctrine that race, not values, determines consciousness and truth.

In reality, as expressed by Frithjof Schuon, “There is no knowledge without objectivity of the intelligence” and “no freedom without objectivity of the will.” Freedom is a paradoxical thing, for if it simply means that we are subjectively free to do or believe whatever we want, what good is it? It’s just another, more subtle form of tyranny, the tyranny of unconstrained, arbitrary, and ultimately meaningless choice on the horizontal plane.

The classical (not contemporary) liberal draws a sharp distinction between freedom and liberty. Freedom is the mere absence of constraint, the right to do whatever one wishes. It implies no verticality at all. Liberty, on the other hand, is constrained by Truth, both as it applies to knowledge and our will to act.

One may well ask: what good is academic freedom unless it is actually converging upon objective truth? One of the problems in the Arab Muslim world is that they have neither freedom nor liberty. They are obliged to believe lies -- lies about Israel, lies about America, lies about women, lies about Christianity. But it is possible to have the opposite problem, the obligatory belief that truth doesn’t exist, so that one person’s belief is no higher or better than another’s. Moral and intellectual relativism are not just forms of tyranny, they are a manifestation of hell, for hell is any place where one cannot appeal to Truth. Thus, many college campuses have become intellectual and spiritual hells. Truth be told, they are places where Death himself saunters from class to class in the cool of the evening breeze.

Ironically, the person who believes that truth exists and that he is free to discover it is far more constrained than the person who either doesn’t believe in objective truth or who lives in tyranny. For example, if you read, you will see that in the Arab world you are absolutely free to believe the most vicious and vile lies about Jews. Likewise, on American college campuses, you are free to believe the most brazen lies about American history, or about President Bush, about religion, or about free enterprise.

But the person who believes in truth doesn’t have that kind of freedom. For he is only free to believe what is true, and what kind of freedom is that? In other words, such a person is not free to believe that 2+2=5, or that men and women are identical, or that children do just as well with two fathers as a father and mother, or that objective truth doesn’t exist, or that natural selection alone explains human consciousness, or that high taxes are a good way to reduce poverty, or that we have no transcendent moral obligations. And yet, the truth supposedly "sets you free.” How does that work?

It seems that objective truth is the key to true freedom, both as it pertains to knowledge and to action. Objectivity is often thought of as empirical knowledge of material reality, but this is a misleadingly narrow definition. Rather, according to Schuon, objectivity must be understood not as “knowledge that is limited to a purely empirical recording of data received from outside, but a perfect adequation of the knowing subject to the known object.”

In other words, objectivity has to do with aligning our understanding with what it is we wish to know, whether it is a rock, a mathematical equation, or God. It is “conformity to the nature of things": “An intelligence or a knowledge is ‘objective' when it is capable of grasping the object as it is and not as it may be deformed by the subject.”

As such, objectivity is even a kind of “ego death” in the face of the reality of the object. But there is a payoff, in that “the subjective compensation of this extinction is the nobility of character,” a vertical nobility that is our true human birthright. Moreover, in our logoistic cosmos, the transcendent Object (Brahman, the Father) merges with the immanent Subject (Atman, the Son). Therefore, in the final analysis, objectivity is none other than the ultimate Truth “in which the subject and the object coincide, and in which the essential takes precedence over the accidental -- or in which the Principle takes precedence over its manifestation -- either by extinguishing it, or by reintegrating it.”

Thus, through objectivity, we actually become who we are, undistorted by the accidents and contingencies of existence. "Without objectivity and transcendence there cannot be man, there is only the human animal; to find man, one must aspire to God.”

In short, because we have the capacity for objectivity, we partake of the Absolute, which is absolute freedom. We are not really free to know God. It is only God who is free to know himself through us. Deny this truth, and we live in another absolute -- the false absolute of arbitrary and unlimited horizontal freedom. The purpose of freedom is to enable us to choose what we already are in the depths of our being. This is that famous point whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere: there is only this one center, and you are it. Or, to be perfectly accurate, not distinct from it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Child Sacrifice and the Default Religion of Mankind

The grueling three-headed interrogation by Sigmund, Carl and Alfred continues.

Q: You said, "The default religion of human beings is the practice of human sacrifice. This pathological virus planted deep in the heart of the human species has been given insufficient attention by scholars. Virtually all primitive cultures and ancient civilizations engaged in it." You state further, "Obviously, the foundation stone of Judaism is the injunction against human sacrifice, when God tells Abraham not to kill him a son out on highway 61. Superficially, Christianity may be seen as a resuscitation of the sacrificial motif, with the murder of the innocent Jesus, but in reality, this is clearly intended to convey the idea that when we murder innocence, we murder God. The crucifixion of Jesus is meant to be the last human sacrifice, with Jesus standing in for our own murdered innocence (and our own murderous selves)."

Was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to the one God, a shortcoming? Did Abraham “pass the test” or did he fail? Does God have a sense of humor?

A: First of all, I should say that this particular view of the sacrificial motif in Christianity is not original to me, but is outlined in a wonderful book entitled Violence Unveiled, by Gil Bailie (who in turn was deeply influenced by the work of by René Girard). A number of readers actually contacted me for clarification of my view, because I didn’t make it clear that Bailie (who is Catholic) is not talking about Christian theology per se, but about the unconscious anthropological implications of Christian theology, as it seeps into the culture at large. In short, Christian cultures are going to have a much greater capacity to identify with the victim, which has both a positive side (empathy for true victims) and a potentially negative side (the whole dysfunctional leftist victim culture that shadows and parasitizes Christianity).

Now, “was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to the one God, a shortcoming?” And “did Abraham ‘pass the test’ or did he fail?”

Like all biblical stories, this one operates on no less than four levels -- the literal, moral, symbolic, and mystical -- but actually several more than that, including psychological, metaphysical, meta-historical, and cosmological. These stories are like multifaceted little holographic jewels -- turn them just a bit, and you can unlock an entirely new dimension. But the main idea is that scripture embodies both an exterior/horizontal and an interior/vertical dimension.

So what is this story telling us? What is its point? I’m not sure if what follows is a kosher exegesis, but it is my own attempt to square the story with psychological truth.

The first question we must ask is, who was that voice in Abraham’s head telling him to murder his son? Was it really God? Or was it something else? In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes put forth the intriguing idea that ancient man lived in a state of psychological fragmentation, almost like what we would now regard as a multiple personality, or perhaps like Mel Gibson after a night out with the goys. He deduces this from a great deal of data, but concludes, for example, that what modern people experience as a relatively integrated conscience, or superego, ancient man experienced as a sort of command hallucination.

Child abuse has always existed. As a matter of fact, the further back in history you go, the more child abuse you discover. Except that it goes unnoticed, because it is simply embedded in the culture, just as it is today in the Islamic world. I would go so far as to say that mistreating, rather than loving, children is the “default” setting of human beings. As a psychoanalytically informed psychologist, I have no hesitation whatsoever in making this statement. Childhood is filled with trauma that is internalized, only to be acted out later in life in various relationships -- including with one’s own children.

Nowadays a person just lashes out at their children without the verbal middleman. They don’t generally hear a voice telling them to do it, as did, for example, Andrea Yates. But the internalized unconscious entity that compels the abuse is still there. If we could put the abuser on the couch, have them free associate, and take the deposition of this split-off sub-personality, we might well be able to give voice to the entity that wishes to harm the child. It is very likely an internalized sadistic object lashing out at a projected, devalued, masochistic part of the abuser's own self. In other words, it is an entirely internal psychological drama into which the child has been inducted to play a role.

I have seen this dynamic play out in dozens, probably hundreds of clinical histories. I remember one case of a woman who was sadistically and arbitrarily abused by her mother. She remembers asking her mother why she beat her, to which her mother responded with words to the effect of, “when I was a little girl, my mother beat me. When you grow up it will be your turn.”

So breaking the cycle of acting out our “mind parasites” on children is one of the keys to both individual and collective psychohistorical evolution. It is well understood by historians of antiquity that the Jews were exceptional in this regard. (I had a recent series of posts on this topic.) One of the things that set the ancient Jews apart from their contemporaries was their more humane treatment of both women and children, in particular, female children (who were greatly devalued in the ancient world, just as they are today in the Islamic world). It is not so much that their standards were higher as compared with the modern West, but by the incredibly cruel standards of the day. I believe that this is one of the factors that allowed the Jews as a group to vault ahead of others despite the constant vilification and scapegoating that has dogged them right up to the present day's New York Times editorial page.

In my opinion, it can surely be no coincidence that the most humane place in all of the Middle East is surrounded by barbarians who wish to extinguish it in the exact degree to which they systematically abuse their own children.

As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago a reader sent me this link to a piece in the Claremont Review on child sacrifice. In it, the author recalls Golda Meir’s famous remark about how “peace with the Palestinians will be possible when they love their own children more than they hate the Israelis. In saying so, she touched upon a fundamental difference between pagan and biblical religion: the presence or absence of child sacrifice.... Many ancient peoples believed in sacrificing a child to an angry god like Moloch or Baal in order to avert misfortune. Today, thousands of Muslims believe that sacrificing their children as ‘suicide’ bombers in a crowd of people pleases their God Allah. More, Islamic terrorists invite the death of children by placing their military and political headquarters in residential areas which they know their enemies will strike.”

Folks, is this not an obvious, if horrid -- and therefore denied -- truth about fallen mankind in general and the Islamic world in particular? The author concludes his piece on a pessimistic note, speculating that “if the current intellectuals’ project of undermining the Biblical traditions of the Western world continues unabated, [instead of] embracing some new, ‘enlightened’ philosophy which previous generations were supposedly too dull to conceive or practice, likely we will wind up with ancient paganism instead.”

This is exactly what I have stated in the past. Naive secularists believe that if we can only eliminate religion, then we will end up with a scientific and rational worldview. Not so. Eliminate religion -- specifically, Judeo-Christian religion -- and pagan magic rushes in to fill the breach. If your three eyes are opened, you only see it everywhere, for example, in the faux religion of global warming hysteria.

As the writer puts it, “Paganism has the advantage of being older than Christianity, the faith which arouses most of the hatred of the pseudo-intellectuals of our time.... Much of Islam today seems to have more in common with the pagan religions which preceded its founding in the seventh century. No clearer case of child sacrifice exists now than radical Islam’s cult of suicide bombings...” So who is that voice telling Muslims to murder children -- both their own and others'? Could it be the same voice that told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? No: could it possibly not be the same voice?

Here's one of Moloch's stenographers, speaking live to you from the pre-Abrahamic bowels of history -- from the contemporary Muslim Middle East: "What else is there for a man but to sacrifice his son for his religion?" Hizb'allah is actually Hiz'baal.

Now, I realize there are other interpretations, but as a psychologist, I see the story of Abraham and Isaac as a primordial, archetypal tale of how barbarous pagans stopped listening to their psychotic, child-hating "god," and instead took a right turn in history, discovered the God of Love, and became the Jews that we know and love. That little crack of light and Life that opened up in antiquity runs in a straight line to us. Another line -- a line of Death -- leads to contemporary Islamism and its allies among the international Left. It is so obvious, and yet people do not see. This occasionally causes me real despair, as if the foundations of the West are being eroded in plain sight, on one side by Islamic do-badders, on the other side by leftist do-gooders.

Oh, by the way. You asked if God has a sense of humor. I don’t know how that question got mixed in with this one, but the answer is yes, which is one of the things I try to bring out in my blog. Speaking of which, we all know that Jews are staggeringly over-represented among the greatest comedians of all time. Likewise, this whole global jihad nightmare would be over in a second if Muslims could just laugh at how silly they are, instead of killing people. But the god of jihad and child sacrifice is not the God of Groucho Marx or Rodney Dangerfield. Well, maybe Rodney Dangerfield, in that they are obsessed with being granted the respect that they haven't earned -- probably because it was never given to them by mullah or fatwa when they were infatoddlers or jihadolescents.

There is an old joke: “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, so long as you’re ashamed of it.” Islam is supposed to be a “shame culture.” If so, one wonders why they always behave so shamelessly. Perhaps because they are angry victims of their own childhood shame -- projected onto the West that "shames" them -- and the Left is always willing to assist a fellow self-made victim.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What'd I Say?, Part 2

The innerview with Sigmund, Carl and Alfred continues. I don’t know that all the answers will be as windy as the first, but the windbag bloweth where it will, so we’ll see. Fortunately, he doesn't charge by the word.

Q: Are morals and ethics really “moving targets”?

A: No, I think they are stable targets toward which we are drawn. Spiritual evolution -- or devolution -- is a measure of how close or distant we are to these ideals.

The concept of objective morality confuses a lot of people, because they conflate the realm from which morality arises with the realm in which we physically exist. But the two realms are clearly not identical. Rather, part of the “human project,” so to speak, is to bring these two worlds into accord. This is the meaning of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In the esoteric understanding, the dichotomy of heaven and earth symbolizes the ontological vertical divide, without which we truly would be condemned to a meaningless flatland existence: a journey from nothing to nowhere with a handful of gimme in between.

But the essence of our humanness involves our ability to intuit the realm of the real -- to distinguish between appearance and reality (or what are called maya and brahman in Hindu metaphysics). Remember, in genuine philosophy, the "ultimate real" does not refer to the constantly changing material world, but to the abiding reality behind it. Platonic realism refers to any school of thought that attributes reality to general ideas that are considered universal.

For example, most truly great mathematicians, if they are of a philosophical bent and reflect upon what they do, are more or less Platonists. Although great mathematicians possess a promethean creativity, at the same time, they know that they are not “inventing” anything. Rather, there is a deep and abiding sense that they are discovering permanent truths that exist in a mind-like dimension of the cosmos.

But where are these truths before the mathematician discovers them? Not only are they real, but in a certain sense, they are somehow more real than the world to which they give rise. In other words, these equations reflect the enduring reality behind shifting appearances. A cosmos -- which means "order"-- is not possible without them.

It is the same with modern physics. There is a helpful little book entitled Quantum Questions: The Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists, compiled by Ken Wilber, who, by the way, has been stalking me for years and tapping my phones, but I really don't want to get into that right now. The book demonstrates how all these formidable scientific minds -- Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Planck, Pauli, Eddington, et al -- arrived at a mystical or transcendental world view that regards the world as ineluctably spiritual and conscious rather than merely dead and material. Among other things, they could not reconcile the awesome beauty of the timeless mathematical world they had discovered with any deity-free cosmos.

Again, as I mentioned yesterday, this kind of natural theology only gets you so far, because one cannot necessarily equate the “God of the philosophers” with the God of the Bible or the Upanishads. But it is certainly enough, in my view, to grant that latter God an interview. After all, it’s a pretty impressive resume. If he wrote the laws of physics, who's to say that he couldn’t have inscribed the moral law within our hearts?

Again we return to the question of objectivity. Either morals are objectively true in the sense described above, or they are merely human agreements with an "enjoy by" date stamped onto them. But even when people have bad morals, such as the Islamists, they never regard them that way. Nor, as everyone knows, does the secular leftist ever regard his morality as an ephemeral thing of convenience. To the contrary, because the leftist collapses the vertical hierarchy of heaven and earth, he embarks on the urgent project of enforcing his morals by any means necessary, even if the means are grossly immoral, as history demonstrates ad nauseam with any leftist regime. The further left, the more immoral the government, all in the name of superior morality.

To point out a banality that may be news to some, both nazis and communists are left wing, in that they are both polar opposites of the classical liberalism of the American founders. What we call the modern conservative intellectual movement is specifically attempting to conserve the revolutionary spirit of our liberal founders, whereas what we call contemporary liberalism has an entirely different intellectual genealogy, in that it is always traceable to some form or aspect of Marxism. And as I have pointed out a number of times, please do not equate the conservative movement with “Republicanism,” as (tragically) there are very few philosophical conservatives among our elected representatives.

So the question is, who moves? Humans, or their moral targets? In the West, our primordial moral target is known as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, which were appropriately engraved in stone by God. Nowadays, many secularized folks obviously have difficulty accepting these commandments as anything other than a quaint, antiquated, and somewhat arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts. But in my book, I have a section in which I attempt to demonstrate their vital contemporary relevance, not just in their exterior aspect, but in their inner significance. For not only are the Commandments horizontal rules for governing man-to-man relations, but they also have an interior dimension that communicates timeless, state-of-the-art advice on how to achieve spiritual progress.

In that section of the book, I outline the universal applicability of the Ten Commandments for extreme seekers, off-road spiritual aspirants, omsteaders, and cosmonauts of whatever vertical path. In other words, we are again dealing with something that partakes of timeless truth. This in itself is a rather profound mystery, because how, in the absence of divine intervention, could a primitive and barbaric tribe of nomads possibly have come up with these timeless truths that would still apply some 2,500 years into the future?

You try coming up with something that will still be relevant in a few years, let alone a few thousand, like the Honeymooners or the Andy Griffith show with Don Knotts. It's not easy. In all honesty, the gap between man in his barbaric and pre-civilized state vis-à-vis the sublime moral and psycho-spiritual laws encoded in the Commandments or the Andy Griffith show is essentially infinite and unbridgeable by any mere Darwinian “just so story.” I mean, if you can believe that, what won’t you believe? (As implied in the descryption beneath the title of this blog, I believe in both Darwinian [horizontal] and Darwhiggian [vertical] evolution.)

This reminds me of when I was frantically trying to finish my book, just over three years ago. The deadline was approaching, and at the last minute I had disassembled the entire last chapter and was in the process of trying to put it back together again. Among other things, I was attempting to come up with a suitable big bang-up ending, and I thought to myself, “why not show how the Ten Commandments and the Upanishads, understood esoterically, convey the identical perennial psycho spiritual know-how and be-who to serious seekers -- that they represent two independent views of the same transcendent reality? Call them the ten ‘Commanishads’ or ‘Upanishalts.’”

As soon as I thought of it, I knew that it was possible, although don’t ask me how I knew that I knew. However, I needed help. At the time, I happened to be on a plane flying back from New York to L.A, after having visited my brother-in-law and nephew. I was on the right plane, because I needed a rabbi in a hurry, and there is always a rabbi on a flight from New York. Normally I’m not the kind of guy who just walks up to to a total stranger and introduces himself, but something came over me. Being Jewish, I knew that he would have no choice but to be kind to this cosmic stranger on the esoteric plane.

I had seen this fellow enter the plane, and if he wasn’t a rabbi, then he was hardcore Orthodox, and that was good enough for me. Nobody dresses like that on a slightly sweltering plane. I walked down the aisle to where he was sitting, absently flipping through a magazine, and blurted out, “are you a rabbi?” He seemed a little farmisht at first, but he could tell at a glance that I wasn't Arab, and I explained to him that this was a spiritual emergency and that I needed some immediate assistance. He didn’t know anything about the Upanishads, but when I mentioned that some people believe that “Abraham” and “Brahman” might be etymologically related, he was intrigued. (I have no idea if that’s true, but at least it got the conversation going.) I knew we were on the same wavelength when he started his shpiel by saying that the first five commandments have to do with man’s relationship to God, while the second five govern man’s relationship to man. “Hey, vertical and horizontal! You 'da mensch!”

So to sum it all up, no spiritual progress is possible without the cultivation of virtue, the closing of the gap between us and our highest ideals. "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often." But not arbitrarily. Timeless moral truths are the luster of the eternal target to which our lives are properly aimed. Or as some old seerslacker said, "Affix to the Upanishad, the bow incomparable, the sharp arrow of devotional worship; then, with mind absorbed and heart melted in love, draw the arrow and hit the mark -- the imperishable Brahman."

Say, did I mention that Brahman and Abraham are etymologically related?

Damn, that’s only the second question. Nine more to go. I don’t mean to be so verbose, but... To tell you the truth, Doc, this is one of the reasons why we’re here to see you. Frankly, Petey thinks I talk too much, especially for someone who “knows so little,” as he puts it. He recently alerted me to this new feature on amazon. It supposedly shows that only seven percent of the books in the world have more words per sentence than I do, and apparently most of them are written by a guy named Heidegger, which, I must tell you, is a bit of an insult, because I always thought Heidegger was a sort of mystagogic blowhard, not at all like me, whom in all modesty I consider a model of brevity compared to that Teutonic freak who goes on and on and on about the being of being and the nothingness that nothingness nihilates and how the self creates both the absence it presents and the presentation from which it is absent and how the self is both nothingness and the source of the nullity it embodies in public space and how the nothing "nothings" and how only the nothing nothings and how nothing can derive from something as if by a slow decay of the ding an sich or whatever you call it. Go ahead, Doc. You tell Petey. I don’t write that way, do I? Do I? Well?

Monday, July 30, 2007

What about Bob?

While I ponder the future of the blog, and vice versa, I think I'll just repost this interview of me. That way, I won't have to pretend to not be repeating myself.


Petey and I have been bickering again, so we decided to consult a professional about it. ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls and Dr. Sanity wants to charge us double for "multiple personality," but Sigmund, Carl and Alfred at least consented to interview us and ask a few preliminary questions.

Q: Your book, One Cosmos Under God, has been very well received. One reviewer wrote, “Daring to venture where language cannot go, One Cosmos Under God actually begins in the 'mind of God' prior to creation, and culminates in the 'mind of the saint' who has transcended the culturally conditioned ego, awakened from the nightmare of history, and merged with the divine mind."

Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?

A: First of all, I would say that I suppose the book has been well received where it has been received. Then again, if it were to fall into the hands of the unreceptive, it would undoubtedly be poorly received, so I suppose I should be grateful for its limited exposure.

At any rate, it is very difficult to get the word out about a book when you have a relatively small publisher. They pretty much rely on the author to publicize it, which was one of the original limited purposes of the blog -- to somehow spead the weird so it wouldn’t just die a completely anonymous death and be buried in a pauper’s grave of remainders, right alongside John Kerry’s remarkably acrobatic work of autofellatiography, A Call to Service Myself.

Which would be a shame, because there is a narrow segment of the population for whom my book will be just what they have been searching for, if only they could somehow stumble upon it. But as is often the case, if this Bob-person person who wrote the book were capable of marketing it, he couldn't have written it.

One of the central purposes of the book and blog is to give intelligent, sophisticated, and even thoroughly ironicized postmodern folks a way to think about religion instead of dismissing it out of hand. To paraphrase the inimitable ethnobotanist and psychedelic mushroomologist Terence McKenna's reaction to his mother upon reading The Doors of Perception as a 10 year-old boy, "if just ten pecent of this is true, we've got to do something about it!" This appreciation of traditional religion has been one of the great surprises of my life, and to a certain extent, the structure of the book reflects this. It begins with an exhumination of the scientific evidence, which leads to the ineluctable conclusion that there is some sort of transcendent, nonlocal intelligence undergirding the cosmos, but what kind?

It’s pretty easy to prove the existence of this intelligence, or transcendent logos, at least if you are inclined to believe the evidence, although no amount of reason or evidence will sway the person who is truly hostile to religion. Militant atheists are generally obligatory atheists, meaning that they are driven by an unconscious agenda that is unknown to them. For whatever developmental reason, they are anti-theists, hung up on their absentee God, the empty space where God should be but isn’t.

I was once an atheist, but not the obligatory kind. Rather, I was open to the evidence and eventually realized that, in order to discover God, one must respect the tome-tested means for doing so. In other words, many people believe that you need to first believe in God in order to be religious. However, it’s generally the other way around. In order to know God, you must be religious. Religion -- real religion -- is a way to make the reality of God present in your life.

In a way, it's similar to psychoanalysis, at least as understood by one of my mentors, W. R. Bion. Scholars can argue back and forth about whether or not the unconscious exists, and make plausible arguments on both sides. But the only way to really find out is to undergo some form of psychoanalytic therapy, in which you personally “discover” the unconscious. Psychoanalytic therapy is a way to make the unconscious present in a stable circumstance, so that it can be “observed,” so to speak. It will inevitably appear in the transitional space between patient and therapist. But in reality, the same unconscious, just like God, is always popping up “wherever two people meet.” In this regard, the unconscious cannot not be. It’s just a matter of whether or not you’re going to pay attention to it.

It is the same with God. As a matter of fact, God also cannot not be. People generally begin at the wrong end of the teleoescape, trying to prove to themselves whether or not God exists. That’s not the problem. The problem, which some astute philosophers have realized, is whether or not, and to what extent, we exist. For example, there are still many philosophers who will argue that free will doesn’t exist, or that the mind is merely a computer, or that knowledge is not possible. If any of those statements are true, then human beings don’t actually exist except as an illusion, or perhaps only in a strange and ethereal tenured form that somehow collects a paycheck while actualy doing nothing.

An even better analogy would be music. As a matter of fact, I employ many musical analogies in the book. As an aside, it’s just amazing how many mysteries of the cosmos are unlocked by the existence of music. I have always been a great music lover, and now I see that, even in my atheistic days, it was one of the things that kept me connected to Spirit, for music is a spiritual transmission, pure and simple. Great music casts a luster of noetic light from one world into this one, somehow riding piggyback on vibrations of air. No one knows how or why this should be so in a species that was simply selected by evolution to hunt for food and sexual partners. Why on earth should vibrating air molecules be beautiful, even to the point of moving one to tears or to ecstasy?

Imagine two deaf people arguing over whether or not music exists. Perhaps one of them even discovers a musical score and considers it proof positive that music must exist. He decides that this musical score represents the inerrant notes of the great God-musician, and founds a musical school based on the score, in order to transmit the musical teaching to others.

But the point, of course, is not to study the score but to be moved by the music. The score is pointless unless it achieves the purpose of making music present. It must be read, performed, and understood experientially, not theoretically. Where was music before humans made it present? Roughly speaking, it was in the same place God is before you make him present. I don’t mean to sound flip, but this is why it is so easy to find God, because the finding is in the seeking. Don’t worry. If you seek earnestly and sincerely, you will soon enough find, just as, if you pick up a guitar and learn a few chords, you will soon be able to play Smoke on the Water. You will be able to start making music present, in however a limited degree. And as you practice, you will be able to make more and more music present -- music that would not have existed had you not gone to the trouble of practicing and bringing it into being.

So orthoparadoxically, the living God cannot exist unless we give birth to him (which is why we are here -- or so we have heard from the wise). Just as there are a few musicians who stand above the rest in terms of “making music present,” there are people known as saints, sages, avatars and gurus who are, for whatever reason, much more able to “make God present.” To a certain extent this is a matter of taste. This is not to say that revelation is arbitrary or relative, any more than great music is. But in my case, for example, I really cannot tap into the depth of classical music. Although I can "know" that Beethoven’s late string quartets contain unfathomable, even superhuman, depth, it is inaccessible to me. In my case, the spirit comes through loud and clear in Van Morrison or in certain post-bop jazz artists such as John Coltrane, the latter of whom many listeners might categorize as “noise.”

One of the innovations of Christianity was to present the reality of God in such a way that people could wrap their minds around it. The Jewish God was so utterly transcendent as to be inaccessible to the average Joseph. Most of us need the Abbasolute to be made accessible to us in a relative form, so that we may think about what is otherwise unthinkable. Of course, Judaism accomplishes this in a different manner, through the study of Torah, which you might say is the Word made word instead of flesh.

Given the fact that well over ninety percent of people in the ancient world were illiterate, one can well understand how God might have conceived the idea of extending the courtesy of making himself available to the everyone in a more direct and unmediated manner. Although inter-religious dialogue can obviously be a sensitive area, I happen to know some Jews who are able to reconconcile Judaism with Christianity by viewing it as the ideal way to have spread Jewish monotheism.

Likewise, many Christians recognize that Jesus could only have appeared in Jewish culture. He would have made no sense whatsoever to the ancient Aztec, to polytheists, or the New York Times editorial board.

Back to your first (!) question, “Did you wish to look into the mind of God, or converse with God? Did you accomplish either?”

Terence McKenna also once said that “it is no great accomplishment to hear a voice in the head. The accomplishment is to make sure it’s telling you the truth.” When you come right down to it, all revelation -- whether personal and idiosyncratic or collective and canonized -- originates in a “voice in the head,” so to speak. Behind the Biblical canon are a bunch of very special loose cannons to whom God revealed himself. How do we know it’s true or reliable?

This is an epistemological question that really applies to all knowledge, whether secular or religious. How do we know it’s true? What reason do we have for relying upon it? Here again, we are confronted with an inevitable degree of subjectivity. But that doesn’t mean that we should equate “subjective” with “arbitrary” or “unprovable.”

There is a story about one of the great Hindu sages of the 20th century, Sri Krishna Prem. He was plowing through a number of books that had been sent to him, each expressing this or that writer’s particular teaching. He tossed one of them to a disciple, and said “Take a look at that.”

When the disciple finished reading it, Krishna Prem asked, “Well, is it there?”

“Is what there,” the disciple fumbled.

“The thing,” Krishna Prem replied. “Is the thing, the spirit, in that book?’

“How should I know?,” the disciple countered.

“But you must know. You must be able to recognize whether he is writing from experience or whether it’s just words, hearsay.”

“Some of the things he says seem true,” the disciple ventured.

The disciple continues: "Krishna Prem’s reply was devastating. ‘One can’t write anything on this subject without saying something that isn’t true. What you must see is whether the truth shines through the words or whether they are platitudes, words repeated by rote. Look behind the words. Feel!'”

“I felt as might a man blind from birth suddenly ordered to see.... He might as well have said ‘fly.’ That was the way he treated me, forcing me to see that it was not just a matter of having a superior mind or of my not knowing the jargon, but that there was a range of perception of a different order which he had and I had not. And since he never pretended to be anything other than an ordinary man, I could not take refuge in the plea that he was extraordinary and that nothing could be expected of ordinary mortals like me.”

So, back to my book. Petey and I are obviously ordinary men, no different than anyone else, except that one of us is disembodied. And yet, we tried very hard to accomplish what Sri Krishna Prem is talking about, not by being extraordinary, but mostly by getting out of the way. I, in particular, wanted the book not just to be about ideas conveyed from mind to mind. Anyone can do that. Rather -- especially in certain parts -- my goal was to “make present” that which I was writing about, just as if I were performing music.

Did it work? I suppose for some readers. I’ve received enough “personal testimony” to know this. And this, much more than any material success (which the book will probably never really achieve), is profoundly gratifying to me, for it means that I am no longer just a music aficionado. To some limited extent I am actually able to play it, and no one is more surprised about this than I am. Not to say humbled. But it did take a lot of practice. To the extent that I am able to help people, I like to think that it's just because I've already taken the next music lesson, so I'm maybe a week ahead of my readers. But don't tell anybody. I need to preserve a little mystique.

Wow. That’s only the first of eleven questions. I’m not sure Sigmund, Carl and Alfred know what they’ve gotten themselves into. No wonder ShrinkWrapped won’t return our calls.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Your Father Says You're Grounded For Eternity!

The rivers return to the place from whence they flowed, so that they may flow again. --Eccl 1:7

Yesterday we touched on Eckhart's understanding of the ground where the divine and human meet. As McGinn explains, a fruitful way to understand Eckhart's thinking "is through the dynamic reciprocity of the 'flowing forth' of all things from the hidden ground of God, and the 'flowing back,' or 'breaking through,' of the universe into essential identity with this divine source."

This is obviously a different way of looking at reality, but this eternally circular flow is what I was attempting to convey with the abcircularity of my book, which ends in the middle of the sentence it begins with. It is not so much a horizontal circularity as a vertical one, in that it is the essential structure of each now, in which an entire cosmos comes into being and vanishes back into the ground from whence it came.

The river flows,
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river flows
Is where I want to be.
--Ballad of Easy Rider, the Byrds

Eckhart wrote that the "first grace" "consists in a type of flowing out, a departure from God," while "the second consists in a type of flowing back, a return to God himself." This may not be entirely kosher, but he spoke of how the Father is the "Principle," while the Son is the "Principle from the Principle" -- "Principle" referring to the "ideal reason" within God, "in which the essences of all things are precontained in a higher, or virtual way." He wrote that "what is produced or proceeds from anything is precontained in it. This is universally and naturally true, both in the Godhead and in natural and artificial things."

Elsewhere Eckhart speaks of a maternal aspect of the Creator, who is "eternally pregnant in his foreknowledge of creation": "before the foundation of the world, everything in the universe was not a mere nothing, but was in possession of virtual existence." But he draws a sharp distinction between God and Godhead, noting that "God acts, while the Godhead does not act." McGinn adds that "In the Godhead God 'un-becomes,' so that this ground must be described as pure possibility, the unmoving precondition of all activity..." Again, God's becoming is his "flowing out," while our return is his "flowing back," or "unbecoming."

This got me to thinking about the nature of this strange cosmos, which has hatched beings capable of pondering its own strangeness. In his book Mortality and Morality: A Search for God After Auschwitz, Jonas talks about the tendency of nature "beginning from structures of a lower order, to create a higher order such as we know. The hypothesis [is] that at the universe's moment of origin (the so-called 'Big Bang') there had also arisen, apart from the total energy of the cosmos, the information that would lead to further developments." Therefore, the Big Bang already contained a "'cosmogonic logos,' an idea that makes room for the concept of a 'cosmogonic eros'...."

The cosmos begins with the mystery of matter and proceeds to the mystery of subjectivity that has somehow arisen "from" or "through" matter. As such, as Jonas points out, the universe evolves from the outer to the inner: "historically, from the earlier to the later; quantitatively, from the most frequent to the rarest; structurally, from the simplest to the most complex; developmentally from seeing and feeling to thinking. Then from that which is innermost, rarest, and latest we turn back to that which is first of all, which even preceded matter."

As we inquire into the nature of "universal matter," we must ask: "From what principle of progress can its development -- that of the whole cosmos and then especially of the Earth up to the most subtle forms of the organic world -- be explained?" For Jonas, the answer is a kind of "universal information," or "cosmogonic logos." As far as we know, information is something that must be "stored" in a differentiated and stable physical substrate, but the Big Bang had no time to store anything and no place to store it, since time and matter didn't exist.

The ascent of nature might be able to be explained naturalistically if it produced machine-like entities with no "residue," so to speak. But as we know from our own experience, this is far from the case, "for there exists the dimension of the subjective -- inwardness -- which no material evidence by itself allows us to surmise, of whose actual presence no physical model offers the slightest hint." "Nor would the fullest description of the brain, down to its minutest structures and most delicate ways of functioning, provide any clue of the existence of consciousness, if we did not know about it through our own inner experience -- precisely through consciousness itself."

Jonas was one of my inspirations in attempting in my book to analyze the human phenomenon on a cosmological basis -- in particular, subjectivity, or the "interior horizon," as an irreducible ontological fact. As Jonas writes, "it is universal matter itself which, in becoming inward, finds its voice in subjectivity. Matter's most astounding accomplishment may not be denied it in any account of Being." Science proceeds by abstracting certain qualities from matter, by "quantifying" it, but these are only abstractions. They are not the reality, which clearly transcends -- or subtends -- the abstractions.

Therefore, at the very least, "we must grant to matter that developed from the Big Bang... an original endowment with the possibility of eventual inwardness.... matter must have been more than what physicists ascribe to it in their speculation on the beginning of things and what can be derived from that for the development of the cosmos."

Now, the question is, who endowed matter in this way, and did this endowment have anything to do with the manner in which cosmic events unrolled in time? In pondering this question, I suppose it is somewhat bizarre to think that our own thinking could solve the problem, but even more bizarre to think that it couldn't. This is because, as Jonas points out, it is difficult to imagine that our subjectivity is an entirely indifferent and "neutral contingency whose occurrence involved no favoring preferment of any kind."

In short, "since finality -- striving for a goal -- occurs in a certain natural being in a manifestly subjective way and becomes effective there in an objectively causal manner, it cannot be entirely foreign to nature, which brought forth precisely this kind of being.... It follows from this that final causes, but also values and value distinctions, must be included in the (not utterly neutral) concept of the cause of the universe... "

Well, I don't really have time to wrap this up, so I'll have to continue tomorrow. I'll just leave you with a quote from McGinn: "Just as creation, for Eckhart, is a continuous and eternal process, so too the Word taking on flesh is not a past event we look back to in order to attain salvation, but rather is an everpresent hominification of God and deification of humanity and the universe -- an incarnatio coninua."

What in carnation? He expectorated a mirrorcle, now you're the spittin' image! You haven't perceived the hologram to your private particle? Come in, open his presence and report for karmic duty.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does God Suffer With You? Or Will He Skip this Post?

... Everything that is true, whether in being or in knowing, in scripture or in nature, proceeds from one source and one root of truth.... Therefore, Moses, Christ, and the Philosopher [e.g., Plato] teach the same thing, differing only in the way they teach, namely as worthy of belief, as probable and likely, and as truth. --Meister Eckhart

We had a couple of thoughtful dissenters yesterday with regard to the cosmic evolutionary view envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin, which is perfectly understandable. Few theological issues are of more consequence, and I make no claims to be a theologian, much less a Christian one. I'm just a... a guy with a weird hobby.

One reader wrote that,

"The trouble with Teilhard is that he was thinking and writing when it looked like the 'science' of Darwinian evolution stood on unassailable ground. I believe we're within a couple of decades of that theory finally being recognized for the red herring that it truly is. To the extent that theologians bought into the 'truth' of Darwinistic science, and attempted to mix theology and evolution, it is to that extent that they've tainted their theological thinking with a fairly spurious principle."

Respectfully, I don't see it that way at all. First, you will notice that I do not refer to a "Darwinian cosmos" but to an evolutionary one. For some reason, evolution and natural selection have become synonymous, but they are not. Natural selection is merely a theory that attempts to account for the fact of biological evolution. In my view it is woefully inadequate to account for the whole of it (let alone cosmic evolution), but that doesn't mean that biological evolution has not occurred or that natural selection doesn't play some role in it, which I believe it clearly does.

One reason I believe in cosmic evolution is that in its absence, nothing makes any sense at all. It is a central pillar to everything else we know to be true of the cosmos, something like the foundation of a house. If you remove it, the whole house collapses. Everything from antibiotics to the computer you're staring at is ultimately rooted in an evolutionary cosmos. For example, the same physical forces that are harnessed to operate a computer inform us that the cosmos is approximately 13.7 billion years old, give or take. If the cosmos isn't expanding, then your computer shouldn't work. These physical forces are all tied together in a beautifully harmonious way.

The point is, if one is going to propose an alternate theory of any kind, the new theory must be able to account for the phenomena without "unexplaining" what the old theory explained. For example, there are many conspiracy theories that attempt to explain "who really killed JFK." But each and every one of them unexplains what the Warren Commission report explained so well -- that JFK was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald alone.

It is the same with evolution. You can believe in the "conspiracy theory" that the cosmos is fixed and final, but in order to consistently believe that, you have to throw out 99% of what we know about reality. And would God really create a cosmos that is so fundamentally deceptive that we cannot comprehend it with our reason? Why? What kind of God is that?

The commenter continues, "I do, however, like the emphasis that the Unknown Friend, who also wrote at a time when Darwinism seemed unassailable, placed on the idea that evolution is what we see in a fallen world. He does not, however see God Himself as something evolving to self-realization, as far as I can remember."

First, nowhere did I suggest that "God himself" evolves. Nevertheless, the first thing one must understand about God is that he is both transcendent and immanent; he is both present in all "things" and transcendent of them. Or as Eckhart wrote, "The more He is in things, the more He is out of things; the more in, the more out, the more out, the more in.... God's going out is his going in." And if God is present in all things, then he is ipso facto present in time, because things can only exist in time. Perhaps a less deceptive way to put it is that "nothing is not God." Therefore, to the extent that something is evolving, then God is evolving along with it. However, being that "all is God," it's ultimately just God playing hide and seek with himself -- it is transcendence playing at immanence.

After all, how else are we to even begin to understand the principle of the Word becoming flesh? What can this possibly mean if not the transcendent God becoming immanent in living, breathing humanity? Does anything change within God as a result of this drama? Or is God completely remote from his own activity?

Again, the only way around this paradox is to posit two aspects or "faces" of God. God is genuinely here in the creation, suffering and struggling with the rest of us. Indeed, a Christian must believe that God relinquished -- so to speak -- an aspect of his Godhood in order to do this -- to fully give himself over to his own creation. Christ's passion makes no sense at all if it did not involve a complete self-abandonment to the world. And yet, his transcendence ultimately makes him "victorious" over it. In the words of Eckhart -- which are always easy to misunderstand --

In Christ there was so great a union of the Word and flesh that he communicated his own properties to it, so that God may be said to suffer and a man is the creator of heaven.

The commenter suggests that "this is not to say that evolution did not happen as an unfolding plan of the Creator, who stands in his essential being absolutely outside His creation, and is not Himself subject to evolution or becoming (that is, in His divinity, although Jesus Christ was subject to growth in wisdom and maturity in His humanity)."

Really? I do not believe this is the authentic Christian view. Rather, the Incarnation and Resurrection caused the cosmos to shift on its very axis, equivalent to a second creation within the heart of the old one. Everything changed, for as Eckhart maintained, thanks to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity is always taking on human nature -- the eternal Word of the Father "is now born in time, in human nature." Time was moving in one direction and took a sudden turn that could not have been accomplished in any other way. As a result, time continues to unfold toward the Omega Point that once dwelt among us. That is evolution -- which is to say, growth toward God, or perhaps "the recovery of divinity."

Another commenter writes that "I cannot imagine why the 'exploding God' hypothesis has become so widespread. I have yet to see any sensible argument in its favor. Direct observation inward seems to indicate that timelessness, or eternity, is a natural property of the inner representation of the Absolute. Why then would the cosmic Absolute be bound in time? It makes no sense, unless one is so steeped in hubris as to think mankind is the highest being, or a closet materialist thinking that this visible cosmos is all there is."

No one is suggesting that the "exploding cosmos" -- or big bang -- involves the explosion of God himself. That would represent a form of pantheism or perhaps emanationism. Eckhart preferred the image of an eternal "inner boiling" within God "boiling over" into temporal existence. In metaphysical terms, "the Godhead becomes 'God' in the flowering of creation" (McGinn).

In any event, the point is that the universe is demonstrably expanding, and we can extrapolate from this that it had a beginning in space and time. As it so happens, the name "big bang" was coined by detractors of the theory in order to ridicule it. Up to that time, it had been assumed that the cosmos was eternal, that it had always been here. Common sense would not allow for any other view. Scientists were initially very uncomfortable with the big bang idea, because it clearly suggested that the cosmos was not eternal but that it came into being at a specific point -- just as it says in Genesis.

The commenter writes: "No, God does not need our help to put Himself back together. We need God's help to put ourselves together."

But Meister Eckart might ask: what's the distinction? For as he wrote, God's ground and my ground is the same ground.

If God suffers with us, then he moves and evolves with us, for -- to again quote the paradoxical words of the Meister -- it does not seem to me that God understands because he exists, but rather that he exists because he understands.

"God's desire to suffer is an integral aspect of his eternal will for the Word to become man, and therefore, central to the meaning of creation itself.... Suffering... is not a way to God, but is actually identical with the goal -- if we understand it as our surrender to the God who totally surrenders himself to us -- 'In order to give himself totally, God assumed me totally.'" --Bernard McGinn

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Your Mother's Cookin' Sturgeon, Your Sister's Still a Virgin

Excuse me?

That line is from one of the greatest albums in rock history -- great in the sense that it is so exquisitely bad. Specifically, it is from Sonny Bono's 1967 magnum dopus, Inner Views.

(Read on if you haven't heard this one before. It is an on oldie from about 16 months ago. In fact, if you also want to read the comments, here's the original post. Bear in mind that I realize I am playing fast and loose with official dogma -- just dreaming out loud, as it were.)

You see, after the Beatles released Revolver in 1966, followed by Sgt. Pepper in 1967, they redefined rock music as a serious art form (not as serious as they thought, but that's another story). Up to that time, rock had mainly been a singles medium, and albums were basically marketing tools to sell them. Most albums had a couple of hit singles surrounded by a bunch of unlistenable dreck.

But the Beatles raised the aesthetic bar, so that by 1967 every rock "artist" thought they needed to produce their own Sgt. Pepper. Furthermore, to a man, they all thought themselves capable of doing so. As a result, this era produced some of the most unintentionally hilarious music, as there were only a handful of artists capable of being.... well, artists.

It's a funny thing about language. One would think that it would be easy to write surreal, nonsense poetry capturing the psychedelic experience, as did John Lennon:

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the eiffel tower.
Elementary penguin singing hari krishna,
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.

Or, to not beat around the bong,

Turn off your mind, relax
and float down stream
It is not dying
It is not dying

Lay down all thought
Surrender to the void
It is shining
It is shining

That you may see
The meaning of within
It is being
It is being....

Or play the game
existence to the end
Of the beginning
Of the beginning
Of the beginning....

Sound advice. But here's Sonny's attempt at profundity:

Backwards forwards which is right
Black is day and white is night
Smell the air it's real up tight

Yeah, I know that smell. Really, really up tight air. Or how about this wigged-out insight:

I wonder why we want to fly
The closer we get to the sky
The less we see with the naked eye
The world looks like a little ball
And people don't exist at all
Oh wow!

Oh wow. He should stick to skiing.

In fact, come to think if it, it's pretty basic -- take the drugs before you sit down at the piano, not before you strap on the skis.

Anyway. I've really digressed here. Like Sonny, I wanted to say something about the Virgin and about language. The decisive role of the Virgin Mary in the Christian spiritual economy is such a... pregnant mystery. It is full of implicit, unsaturated meaning. Remember yesterday, I mentioned that scripture and tradition provide the immobile axes around which we may "reason" about divine things. The Virgin -- which is a way of approaching and thinking about the divine feminine -- is a case in point.

It is interesting that, although there is very little mention of Mary in the New Testament, she found a way to eventually earn the exalted designation of Theokotos, or "Mother of God", in Orthodoxy, or "co-redemptress" by the Catholic Church. Is this just because of the unavoidable sexual polarity we all have as a result of having had a mother and father? In other words, is this notion simply conjured up out of our deepest unconscious infantile recollections? Esotericism would hold the opposite: that our parents -- both mother and father -- are divine deputies that actually partake of spiritual archetypes that are anterior to any personal existence.

One thing the great rabbis noticed is that scripture is like a fractal jewel with all of its parts internally related and reflecting back and forth, so that one part may illuminate another in surprising ways. Take, for example, the parallels between Genesis and the Gospels, how the former presage the latter and the latter are a commentary on the former. The primordial catastrophe of man is said to have involved God, a man, a woman, a serpent, and a tree. Ontologically, man was said to be a creation of God, woman a creation of man. Let's just ignore political correctness for the moment and try to understand what is being suggested here in the text. Apparently man's proper orientation is to God, as planet around sun, while woman has a lunar aspect analogous to moon around planet (and remember, we all carry the male and female archetypes within -- we are talking spirit here, not just biology or even psychology).

The "fall" reverses this arrow (or turns the tree upside-down), so that the woman is oriented to the earth: she is seduced by the serpent (the symbol of earthbound horizontality), the man is seduced by the woman, and now man's consciousness ultimately hews to the earth below rather than revolving around the transcendent sun above.

It is sometimes suggested that Jesus was the "second Adam," brought here on a mission to undo what the first naughty Adam had done, which was to orient himself around the earth (the horizontal below, or maya) rather than sun (the vertical above). Then, finding the daughters of men quite fair indeed -- who could blame them? -- the sons of God dived right in, and the fall was complete. We were hooked. And cooked. Just like a... a sturgeon or something.

Just as Jesus and Adam are linked as antitypes, so too are Eve and the Virgin. Interestingly, Adam is a direct creation of God, while Jesus, the "second Adam," is conceived through the medium of Mary, the "second Eve." Now we have a very different arrow of creation: instead of God-->Adam-->Eve, we have God-->Mary-->Jesus. The first Eve is seduced by the honeyed words of the serpent, while the second Eve hears and obeys the Word of God and gives birth to the son of God. As death entered the world through the first Eve, Life enters through the second -- death is reversed and victory over the serpent is achieved.

It is interesting that maya in Eastern religions is considered a specifically feminine activity, and that the word maya is etymologically linked to the Sanskrit root mata, which means both mother and the phenomenal world of nature. Nature and maya are associated with fascination and charm, specifically, feminine charm. And yet, nature is at the same time considered a theophany. In other words, it both conceals and reveals God, depending on one's point of view.

In the Old Testament, the divine feminine is specifically associated with Sophia, or Wisdom. In the Book of Proverbs, there are numerous passages that emphasize this: "Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you." "My son, if you receive my words / And treasure my commands within you / So that you incline your ear to wisdom / And apply your heart to understanding / [Then you will] find knowledge of God." "Happy is the man who finds wisdom / For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver.... / She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her." "Exalt her, and she will promote you.... / She will place on your head an ornament of grace."

Even more provocatively, this feminine wisdom has been "From the beginning... when there were no depths I was brought forth... / While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields / Or the primeval dust of the world / When He prepared the heavens, I was there / When He drew a circle on the face of the deep..., when He marked out the foundations of the earth / Then I was beside Him, Rejoicing always before him...."

There are many similar passages exalting the beauty of Sophia, the divine feminine. So who is the Virgin? Mary's receptivity to the divine wisdom allowed her to give birth to the Word in womb of her soul. If God became man so that man might become God, Mary-Sophia had first to conceive the word so that the nonlocal word might become flesh in a particular space and time. To be able to realize this mystery within oneself, one must be like the Virgin, and become a pure and humble receptacle for the "immaculate conception."

In the prologue of the Coonifesto I touch on the idea that we are all "conceived in d'light immaculate," and that "every lila son of adwaita (pronounced "a-doy-ta," meaning ultimate truth) is born of a voidgin." In other words, our higher selves are not born of the flesh, but are immaculately conceived by hearing the Word within the purified void of the soul, and then given birth out of the mamamatrix of Spirit.

Or, as Sonny Bono sang,

Your daddy's getting nosey
Your mother's cookin' sturgeon
Your sister's still a virgin
Pretty soon that'll disappear
Good morning sun
A new frontier
Much to my acute surprise
Sunday morning has still survived

Oh wow!


Hmm, what's my favorite slice of dreamy pop psychedelia? Probably the previously unreleased suite from the abandoned Smile project on the latter half of disc 2 of the Beach Boys box set. Pop music probably hasn't advanced beyond that. Other contenders: Odessey and Oracle by the Zombies, Roger the Engineer by the Yardbirds, Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers by the Byrds, pretty much the whole Rascals Anthology, Odessa by the Bee Gees, Forever Changes by Love, and Begin Again by Millennium. Then there is the excellent four-disc overview of the whole era of garage rock and suburban psychedelia that, for better or worse, shaped the Gagdad soul, Nuggets. Sometime I crank it up and play along with the Strat when Mrs. G is out of the house. 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky!