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.