Friday, November 30, 2007

Further Refractions in the Mirror of Tradition (11.10.10)

As we were discussing yesterday, with the scientific revolution, the idea of progress began to dominate western civilization. It's not so much that progress wasn't occurring -- which it obviously was -- but that it was only a certain kind of very visible progress rooted in the scientific method and in technology. The idea of progress contradicted what had been believed by virtually all human groups prior to the scientific revolution, which is that everything was subject to a steady decline and degeneration. There was no "moving forward"; rather, the idea was to try, insofar as it was possible, to approximate the "golden age" of the past. Slack was in the past, not the future, and every day meant further deslackment.

The idea of universal degeneration was no doubt rooted in empirical observation. For example, everyone has the personal experience of their own body aging and degenerating. More generally, there has never been a time when man was unaware of the universality of the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy, which mandates that in the long run, everything tends toward disorder. Although there can be local areas that seem to defy entropy -- such as life -- it is only temporary. Furthermore, close examination of seeming exceptions to the law of entropy reveals that they always deplete more energy than they create, resulting in a net loss of energy. Or at least according to physics.

Irrespective of whether reality is inevitably "winding down" into chaos, we can see how the very idea of automatic (as opposed to self-willed) progress can lead to increased societal disorder. As Bolton explains, "The belief that the new must be the best nearly always works in favor of the bad." This ironyclad rule has been dramatically proven time and again since "progressivism" took root with the New Deal. The mindless idea of "new = good" is like a virus that, in the long run, will eventually eliminate wisdom and truth, as we see most vividly on leftist college campuses, where virtually everything is simultaneously new and wrong. And the only solution (a far as they can see) is newer ideas, which only results in further chaos and confusion -- further distance from the ideal, or from principial truth. The idea that Truth lies in the past is inconceivable.

Civilization, according to Bolton "cannot undergo real historical change unless it possesses a structure of permanent principles which impose limits on the possible scope for change." Indeed, this is something that all liberals (i.e., conservatives) realize. The leftist wants radical change, "which is more deeply opposed to real historical change than is institutionalized permanence, since the permanent at least contains the potentiality of change. Universal change, on the other hand, has no potentialities at all, since everything in it is actualized already, so that a final cessation is the only new frontier it could cross."

Speaking of which, here's a good start (TW: American Digest):

"I believe that the entire Western university system needs to be crushed, broken, pulverized, autoclaved, autoclaved again, thermally depolymerized, mixed with radioactive strontium, and shot into the Sun. That is, if the Sun can handle it. If it starts developing huge festering brown spots after ten or twenty years, we'll know we should have gone with the Oort Cloud instead."

One important allied idea of Bolton's (which I will to get into later) is that we are wrong to think that we either exist or do not exist; rather, there are degrees of existence, existence being rooted in difference (in other words, there can only be existence to the extent that something is "different," or "stands out").

Thus, for example, the first act of the Creator is to separate. Conversely, any kind of indiscriminate blending of differences is the very definition of evil. Bolton points out the obvious psychospiritual disaster of blending male and female, and now adult and child, resulting in a potential race of Joel Steins, or neutered adolescents. Again, more on this later, but we can see that the next logical step down this slope into the nihilistic effacement of differences is "homosexual marriage." (In other words, the whole point of marriage is to preserve and sacralize the differences, not efface them -- although, as Will points out, one can also rise above differences, which is a very different thing than sinking beneath them, a point Bolton also makes.)

Because of the idea of progress, we must -- either consciously or unconsciously -- believe ourselves to be superior to our ancestors. This is very much in contrast to traditional societies, where ancestors -- and the truth they handed down -- are venerated. Now obviously, neither extreme is warranted, i.e., ancestor worship (which would cause complete stasis) or kneejerk rebellion (which leads to the loss of mankind's accumulated wisdom, or the disease of the Boomer generation). But again, we can see how the morally and intellectually superior progressive always knows better than the most illustrious minds of the past. Because of the accident of time, the contemporary progressive can look back, say, at the Founders, and regard them as mere "objects" in the rearview mirror. We can see them, but they can't see us.

But this is true only in the most materialistic sense. For example, Shakespeare is "in the past," but do we really know him? No, of course not. His plays will always understand us -- which is to say, humanity as such -- better than we understand him. Likewise, it is difficult for us to imagine the stupidity of the typical leftist who believes himself superior to the Founders because some of them owned slaves. This is what the idea of progress (wrongly construed) can do to a mind, which is to say, destroy it.

I generally see the same problem in the so-called "integral" movement, which is one of the main reasons I don't relate to them. In their dubious color-code system -- to quote one of them, who shall go unnamed -- Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul are typical examples of "traditional consciousness," and are therefore lower on the evolutionary scale than representatives of "modernist consciousness" such as Carl Sagan and Margaret Sanger. In turn, they are lower than the lofty beings who embody "postmodern consciousness," such as John Lennon, Joan Baez, Margaret Mead, and Allen Ginsberg.

I don't deny that there is some inevitable truth in "spiral dynamics," but any scheme that places Joan Baez above Winston Churchill is just plain kooky (unless your criterion is that of the "eternally annoying"). It's time to come up with another scheme.

Now, one thing that was different about the past is that people were unaware of other religious traditions, let alone science. Therefore, they lived in a kind of "innocence" (which literally means "without knowledge") that is impossible for us. If we wish to be "spiritual," we must do so consciously. Therefore, in some sense we are obviously more "awake" than our ancestors, but the question is, to what?

Bolton writes that one compensatory factor for us is that in the past it was "really only a minor achievement to live spiritually in an age when spiritual values are established and expressed everywhere and the unspiritual is marginalized." There was a collective religiosity, but this generally came at the expense of personal development, or individuation in a spiritual context.

Bolton even makes the provocative suggestion that the true way is only fully realized when everything is more or less opposed to it. Thus, in this respect, perhaps we have the potential to travel "higher" than our ancestors, if only because it's so exceedingly difficult to do so. I suppose it's analogous to exercising where there is more gravity, say on the earth as opposed to the moon. Not only are we "swimming upstream," but we are much further from the source, at least in the horizontal sense; in a relative sense, horizontality takes us further and further from the source, even if, in an absolute vertical sense, it is always the same "distance" away.

And in fact, this is a recurring idea in traditional metaphysics, that the very purpose of "incarnation" is to evolve under adverse circumstances, ultimately to "spiritualize matter." Bolton writes, "Such is the meaning of the Cross, as well as the purpose of ensoulment in the material world." There is a paradox at work here, in that, in one sense, materiality seems to the furthest distance from spirit.

But as Bolton explains, there is a deeper principle involved, "a law of polarity according to which only the highest cause can extend to the lowest level of effects." In other words, most causes and effects in the world are in the "middle range," and therefore of little cosmic consequence. Only the highest cause extends to the lowest realm, which perhaps explains why "the meek shall inherit the earth," or why "spiritual bankruptcy" is so often a prerequisite of spiritual conversion. The testimony of thousands of seekers -- or even just AA members -- reveals that when you are near the end, you are near the beginning.

One subtle danger of simply "returning to tradition," is that the traditions themselves have been subject to the same corrosive forces of historical entropy as afflict the individual. Let's say we want to "return" to the "original meaning" of Christianity. Doing so is not as easy as it sounds, since Christianity necessarily exists "in the world," and absorbs qualities of the world in order to continue to exist. As such, Bolton writes that "the function of tradition can actually be inverted under modern conditions," since the monotheistic religions "have each grown increasingly absorbed by their historical social roles, so that it has become an exercise of awareness to relate to the spirit which they nevertheless embody."

This is why I -- and probably other Raccoons -- are hesitant to "join a church," for fear that one would actually be turning away from spirituality and toward the world. Certainly this is the problem with "fundamentalism," which is mostly worldly (in a naive, or worse, sometimes cunning sense) and materialistic. It is definitely a response to the abnormal conditions of modernity, and therefore itself abnormal.

Out of time.... To be continued. I'll leave you with something from Maurice Nicoll's Living Time, courtesy of Walt:

"The point to be noticed is that if there be potential degrees of development hidden as a scale within man, no one can rise in this scale of his own potential being unless he transcends the purely sensual or material outlook. The psychological implications behind this view are really of very great interest and importance. A sensualistic or materialistic outlook limits us psychologically, in the fullest sense of this word, so that if there be higher degrees of consciousness we will be incapable of reaching them if we believe only in the "evidence of things seen," or seek only for proof from the visible, tangible and matter-of-fact side of things, or regard the world simply as we see it.

"If the universe be in man (as a scale of reality) as well as man in the universe, then if a man gives an inferior explanation of the universe it will react on himself; he will limit himself and remain inferior to his own potential being. He is then left nothing else to do but to study a dead material world outside him, out of which his own life and his mind accidentally come.

"If there be energies in us capable of seeking another direction, they will then necessarily find no goal. For if there be 'things of the spirit,' if there be higher degrees of consciousness and realness within, then all those impulses which in their right development should separate man from the tyranny of outer life, and create inner independence of soul through the realization of these higher degrees within, will become fused with the things of outer life into one common outer influence; for, having no inner goal, their goal will seem to lie outside him. The hypnotic power of outer life will then be increased. The 'outer' will then tend to be felt fanatically i.e. religiously.

"And that is perhaps why in this age of materialism men are doomed to sacrifice themselves more and more to mass organizations, to machines, to speed, to gigantism and ugliness of every kind, in order to get emotional satisfaction. Seen from this angle, the attitude of scientific materialism really increases man's inner weakness, which is always too great. In all that belongs to himself, in all that is necessary for the dawn of individuality, it renders him more and more impotent, giving him the illusion that he can gain absolute power over a dead material world. And with this increasing inner weakness he seeks more and more to put himself under some dominating personality, to surrender his thinking, to cease to be a man at all. What paradox could be stranger?"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Crawling Through the Temporal Pneumaduct with the Apocalypse Around the Corner (11.09.10)

One thing reasonable people should be able to agree upon is that wisdom exists, that it is a very different thing than "knowledge," and that it tends to inhere in the group as opposed to the individual, since a group's experience will be so much more wide and deep, i.e., extending far into the past and encompassing the knowledge and experience of countless older ansisters and brothers.

No one individual in a single lifetime could possibly experiment with every way of living and determine which was best. You can't start life from "zero," with a pneumacognitive blank slate, any more than you could do so with a genetic one.

Genes, for example, may not embody wisdom per se, but they do encode an inconceivable amount of information about the world in general and about the "average expected environment" in particular. Thanks to our genes, we don't have to learn how to recognize human faces, how to bond with others, or how to speak. Rather, these things will all come naturally if we are simply placed in a human environment.

There was also a time when we didn't have to think too much about philosophy, or about metaphysics, or about God, because it had all been done for us by groups that preceded and enveloped us. It has only been about 300-400 years that religion (in the West, anyway) went from being an unconscious matrix to a conscious enterprise that must be carried out by the individual.

While this creates spiritual obstacles that never existed in the past, it also creates unprecedented upportunities for spiritual growth. For example, the most unsane visionary of medieval times could not possibly have conceived of a day when one could so easily purchase an indulgence over the internet from Petey, my household gnome.

There are two major contemporary obstacles to spiritual growth, materialism, and its corollary, the idea of progress. I'm currently in the middle of a fascinating book that discusses this, The Order of the Ages: World History in the Light of a Universal Cosmogony, by Robert Bolton. Bolton points out that our traditional division of the human adventure into prehistory, history and post-history is not exactly accurate. This is because prehistory didn't really end 5000 years ago, or whenever written records begin.

Rather, for all intents and purposes, prehistory continued until the time of the scientific revolution, which didn't really get underway until the 17th century. Consider, for example, ancient Egypt. Although it is considered a part of history, it "retained the same theocratic form for some five thousand years without any radical or irreversible change in its spiritual or social order."

This is a rather staggering idea to contemplate; I'm not so sure we even can contemplate it, since we are so imbued with the ideas of progress, change, and evolution, which were inconceivable for the ancients.

As Mead suggested in God and Gold, I don't think we understand the extent to which we are all -- religious and secular alike -- living in a world with such radically different assumptions than any humans who existed previously. In short, we are consciously living in history, and must therefore cope with linear, irreversible time, whereas premodern peoples lived in a more timeless state -- or, to be perfectly accurate, a cyclically temporal state that resonated with eternity.

Traditionalists maintain -- and they may well be correct about this -- that this premodern, timeless mode is normative for human beings, and that we were never meant to be where we are "in history." Certainly the numbers are on their side, given that human beings only stumbled into this thing called "history" so recently. Perhaps life is so confusing because we are not supposed to be here -- we literally drifted into this strange temporal viaduct, and now we can't get out or find our way back into the timeless (which is the purpose of religion).

Again, it's almost impossible for us to think in this way, because we have to eliminate from our minds all of the anxiety that goes along with the temporal mode, which is also intrinsically quantitative and materialistic.

For example, we are naturally very concerned with the linear amount of time we spend on the planet -- the quantity of our years -- in such a way that it can eclipse the actual moment-to-moment quality of our life. Part of the reason for this is that in the modern world, quality no longer resonates with eternity, so it might as well be just more quantity.

In other words, in the modern world even quality tends to be reduced to quantity. We can all experience this, for example, in the bland "flattening" of aesthetic qualities. Most everything is constantly "different," and yet, just more of the same.

This especially becomes noticeable if you are able to step outside history and live in a more timeless mode. There is a kind of constant change which, ironically, is no change at all, since change is only possible in light of permanence. If everything is changing, then it is logically equivalent to nothing changing -- like fashion, it's difference without a difference, or mere agitation on the surface. So it's a kind of timelessness, but somehow the opposite of the timeless plenum enjoyed by our premodern furbears. How to describe it? It's sort of an empty plenum or overflowing vacuum, is it not? A cornucrapia of BS.

Now, just when you were getting used the idea of being condemned to history, Bolton points out that we are actually no longer living there. Rather, that ended way back in -- well, people can argue over exactly when history ended, but it was definitely over by the start of the 20th century.

History over? How can that be? World War I, World War II, communism, the British invasion, the collected poetry of Suzanne Somers? Yes, just agitations in the posthistorical void.

Bolton notes that as late as the fourteenth century there was "nothing that need necessarily have led to anything different after another five hundred years, whereas the pattern of changes from the fifteenth century onward was unmistakably cumulative." So that is when history truly began. But it was very, very different from our post-historical situation, since it still resonated with the timelessness that preceded it, and in fact, can be seen as a sort of "prolongation" of those timeless qualities, only now concretized in time.

With the entrance into history proper, Bolton writes that it was as if a damn had burst, so that all of the potential in these eternal ideas flooded out into time. But eventually the force of the "explosion" weakens, until we have reached our present state of exhaustion, in which we are collectively more distant than ever from the living principles that animated our civilization.

To a large extent, time, history, and change are all tied in with the development of science, which, for the first time, introduced real -- and seemingly inevitable -- progress. However, again, our technical progress over the past few hundred years is so "directly demonstrable and tangible" that it "can almost stifle any sense that something else may have been lost at the same time." In fact, Bolton argues that these tangible changes serve to reorient us to matter, which has the consequence of masking "a relentless loss of both a consciousness and of a spiritual energy of a far more essential kind."

According to Bolton, this has to do with the nature of time and our fall into materiality and quantity, and the consequent historical movement away from a kind of consciousness that is no longer familiar to us. Or, to be perfectly accurate, it is still accessible, but it must be self-willed. For reasons we will get into later, in the post-historical world, consciousness contracts unless active counter-measures are taken.

To be continued....

I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large.... these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine. -G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Belief in Disbelief, or Inside the Postmodern Skeptic Tank

[T]he new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything.... And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in the way when he wants to denounce anything. For denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.... In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. --G.K. Chesterton

One of the key ideas of Orthodoxy is that we require a stable framework in order to think productively and deeply about reality, and that certain frameworks (Chesterton would say one framework) have been given to us from "on high," so to speak, in order to accomplish this. Naturally, the "radical" opposes this constraint on his freedom, but freedom in itself is not freeing, any more than progress in itself is progressive; without limits, or boundary conditions, the former is "nothingness" or "lostness," while the latter is just pointless change, drift, or entropy.

This reminds me of the distinction Polanyi drew between what he called the open society and the free society. He used the practice of science to illustrate the difference, pointing out that a truly free society does not merely consist of everyone believing whatever they want. Science, for example, is a free and spontaneous intellectual order that is nevertheless based on a distinctive set of beliefs about the world, through which the diverse actions of individual scientists are coordinated. Like the cells in your body, individual scientists independently go about their business, and yet, progress is made because their activities are channeled by the pursuit of real truth.

In contrast, in a merely "open" society, there is no such thing as transcendent truth: perception is reality and everyone is free to think and do as he pleases, with no objective standard by which to judge it. This kind of "bad freedom" eventually ramifies into the cognitively pathological situation we now see on the left, especially as it manifests in its purest form in academia (the liberal arts, not the sciences, except to the extent that science devolves into metaphysical scientism).

Initially, the assault on the existence of objective truth seems liberating, as we are freed from the dictates of arbitrary authority. However, the whole idea of the individual pursuit of truth was a deeply liberal project, since truth was not accepted a priori but was subject to criticism and logical or empirical demonstration. But with deconstruction -- the Swiss pacifist knife of the intellectual left -- the entire concept of truth is undermined, so there is no way to arbitrate between competing notions of reality.

Therefore, whoever has the power may enforce their version of reality, which is what political correctness is all about: Truth is arbitrary, but you had better believe my version of it, or be branded a bigot, or a homophobe, or a white male oppressor. One more reason why contemporary liberalism is so deeply illiberal. Their ideas cannot be argued on the merits, so they are enforced by the illegitimate authority of political correctness.

If you are on the left, you are undoubtedly oblivious to this bullying pressure (unless you are a totally cynical Clinton-type who does it consciously). If you are on the right, you feel it all the time -- cognitive “stop signs” that impede you from uttering certain truths in public for fear of triggering attack. The politically correct leftist is always a passively-aggressive controlling person -- hardly a victim, but an aggressor (for his self-imposed victimization legitimizes the release of amoral sadistic aggression).

Thus, the deep structure of the left-right divide in this country goes beyond the secular vs. religious worldview. A purely secular society is an open society, where all points of view, no matter how stupid or dysfunctional, are equally valued (e.g., multiculturalism and moral relativism), whereas a truly free society must be rooted in something permanent and transcendent. It doesn't necessarily have to come from religion, although it inevitably leads in that direction. Mainly, in order to be truly free, one must acknowledge a source of truth that is independent of man, an antecedent reality that is perceived by the intellect, not the senses. Fortunately, our founders knew that the self-evident religious truths that constrain us actually set us free (indeed, are the very basis of our liberty).

You may note that this has direct relevance for the current debate between strict constructionists vs. the notion of a "living constitution." In reality, strict adherence to the constitution results in increased freedom and democracy, while the "living constitution" quickly devolves into judicial tyranny. If you enjoy playing blackjack, your freedom is not really enhanced if the dealer can either hit or stand on 16, depending on his moment-to-moment interpretation of the living rules of blackjack.

How can a progressive even be progressive unless he has some permanent standard by which to measure his progress? In the absence of such a standard, there is only meaningless change, rebellion, random reshuffling, not progress.

As mentioned yesterday, atheists ironically fantasize about a day when human beings will be liberated from the shackles of religion and be truly "free" to think what they want. First of all, this is analogous to a musician longing for the day when he is free to play his instrument without the annoying constraints of scales, notes, and keys. Perhaps more importantly, that day has already arrived. The atheistic free thinkers are noisily trying to knock down doors that are already wide open, especially in the arts and in academia. There you can see the direct consequences of "free thought," and it is hardly any kind of liberation, but rather a stupifyingly oppressive nihilism.

For those of you who are not jazz mavens, there was a movement in the 1960's called "free jazz." As a matter of fact, it wasn't so much a musical movement as a political one -- or at least it was indistinguishable from the breaking political winds of the day, i.e, "black liberation." There was the idea that one could absolutely break through the chordal structure of (white) western music and achieve a kind of quasi-religious purity of expression. True, you can do this, but it leads in a circle back to the "pre-musical" expressions of an angry or exuberant child. It is a "song of myself," by myself and for myself. In a word, pure narcissism, or musical maestrobation. It is the end of music, just as atheism is -- and must be -- the end of thought, i.e, intellection, as opposed to mere computation.

Again I must emphasize that no one is more surprised than I am at the essentially infinite amount of cognitive music one may play within the chordal structure of religion. One is not constrained but set free. I used to be a "free thinker," but the quality of thought I produced was essentially worthless get-a-cluevinilia. And now that I think about it, it was worthless for very specific reasons. Among others, it lacked timelessness, universality, generativity, wholeness, harmony, radiance -- exactly the things that revelation embodies par excellence.

This is why a Meister Eckhart or Denys the Areopagite will always be timely -- because their thought is rooted in a source "outside time" -- whereas the narrow-minded rants of a Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchins are already beyond their hackspiration date by the time they have been pabulished. Truly, they are by the dead and for the dead, the blind leading the bland. In the absence of transcendent truth, freedom's just a nothing word for leftists to abuse.

Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.... The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.... Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three-sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. --Chesterton

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Life Amidst the Postmodern Ruins

Another post or two about Orthodoxy before we move on. This was another "speed post," so forgive any typos or other infelicities of language....

I was very impressed with how Chesterton, although writing in 1907, had already diagnosed the pathologies of the left. In fact, his ideas mirror exactly what Polanyi wrote some 50 years later about the "moral inversion" of the left, i.e., the dangerous combination of radical skepticism and an unhinged, ruthless moral perfectionism unbound from tradition.

Chesteron writes of the socialist that although he may have a "large and generous heart," it is "not a heart in the right place." And only a human being can have a heart dangerously set in the wrong location. It generally occurs "when a religious scheme is shattered" as a result of their intense skepticism. When this happens, "it is not merely the vices that are let loose." Rather, "the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage." Just because someone has a moral code, it hardly means that they are moral.

I have written a number of posts on the dynamics of this pathological process, which I thought that Polanyi had been the first to recognize. But Chesterton also writes of how "the modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone." Most every destructive policy put into place by the left can be traced to some Christian virtue gone mad -- i.e., feed the hungry, so steal from "the rich" and call it "giving," or defending abortion on the basis of the sanctity of "liberty," or encouraging every manner of deviancy under the guise of "tolerance." They have the bizarre idea that it is "easier to forgive sins" if "there are no sins to forgive" -- except for the sin of believing they exist.

Or the leftist might extract and focus upon a single virtue to the exclusion of others, which creates a dangerous imbalance, for example, "a merely mystical and almost irrational virtue of charity." John Edwards' campaign is based almost solely upon this idea, but again, what he calls "charity," the rest of us call coercion. And boundless charity in the absence of any obligation on the part of the recipient is a recipe for anthropological disaster.

Schuon would agree with Chesterton that the leftist is "really the enemy of the human race -- because he is so human." Of all the animals, only a human being can sink beneath himself -- and even beneath the animals. And he does so primarily by imagining that an animal is all he is, for when human intelligence is in the service of animal instinct, the result is hell on earth -- and bear in mind that Chesterton was writing before the great atheistic movements of the 20th century -- the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, et al, so he clearly grasped the principle before it actually played out in history.

And Chesterton could prophecize in this manner because he could see directly into the "principial" world of timeless truth embodied in revelation. Again, revelation instantiates metaphysical truths with which it is possible to "think beyond the surface," both in space and in time, interior and exterior. Thus, unlike postmodernists who believe that "perception is reality," he writes that "man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert -- himself." This leads to the erosion of universality and the elevation of particularity to the ultimate -- which quickly devolves into nihilism.

Conversely, the part that a man doubts "is exactly the part he ought not doubt -- the Divine Reason." But this inversion obviously persists -- indeed, it is practically the fault line that runs between left and right -- and is responsible for a range of pathological ideas, from multiculturalism, to moral relativism, to the belief in "self esteem," to reducing standards in general to achieve some preconceived end.

The left also practices a "false humility." After all, it can sound like a plea for humility when the postmodern multiculturalist asks, "who am I to say that I can possess the truth, or that one culture is better than another?" But this attitude is a "more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic." That is -- and this is apparently a subtle point, so listen closely -- "The old humility was a spur that prevented man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."

This is one of the reasons that the left habitually attacks motives instead of substance, for they first undermine the idea that you can know anything objectively, and then insist that the purpose of knowledge is domination and oppression anyway. For the last several years, "job one" of of the left has been to make us doubtful of our aims in Iraq, in the hope that we will simply become demoralized and surrender.

But they do this so selectively that it is mind-boggling. For example, surely there was more credible evidence that Saddam had WMD than that the earth is undergoing catastrophic manmade warming. But in both cases, their main argument is that people who disagree with them have venal motives. In the case of President Bush, he really wanted to invade Iraq because he thought it would somehow enrich his already wealthy "friends." And in the case of global warming, those who reject the theory are simply on the payroll of Bush's wealthy friends. So for all practical purposes, humility is not possible on the left, since their conspiratorial form of thought means that they always have the answer. And it sounds humble to the stupid, since they are always opposed to the intrinsically racist-sexist-homophobic America.

So, just as the left engages in the moral inversion of detaching virtue from tradition, they engage in a weird "cognitive inversion" that combines "intellectual helplessness" with a kind of monstrously arrogant omniscience. This is how you can spend some $100,000 plus on an elite university education, only to learn that truth doesn't exist and we possess it.

Once again, Chesterton was a prophet with regard to the problem of the "tenured radicals" who have hijacked our higher educational system: "The peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought." How did he know about the narcissistic boomers 40 years before the first one was born?

Chesterton writes that "there is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped." It is the thoroughly irrational thought that our thoughts have no relationship to reality and that truth is therefore inaccessible to human beings. This radical skepticism was "the ultimate evil against which religious authority was aimed," which is why, "in so far as religion is gone, reason is going. For they are both of the same primary and authoritative kind. They are both methods of proof that cannot themselves be proved. And in the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum. With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it."

For if the converse were true -- i.e., the blind materialism of natural selection -- "it does not destroy religion but rationalism," for it nullifies the mind that can know truth. It is the equivalent of "I am not; therefore I cannot think."

Thus, "it is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin." For we have already seen the effects of this gloriously unbound, "free" thought, since the results are strewn all around us. Indeed, we must try to get through the day -- and our lives -- by making our way through its ruins.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lunacy and Solvation in the Cosmic Funhouse

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. --G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Some additional murmurandoms on this book...

It is a truism that the psychospiritual left is the cult of weirdos -- of misfits, the alienated, the bitter, the troubled, the unhappy, the envious, the reflexively treasonous, the generally abnormal (in the sense of celebrating their deviation from the real human ideal). Chesterton offers some insight as to why these people also tend to be secular, since they are too preoccupied with their externalized concerns to focus on reality.

Furthermore, they reject the idea of "original sin" while implicitly believing that our falleness is susceptible to political remedy. In short, politics is their substitute religion through which they hope to heal their own spiritual alienation by means of political action. As such, they miss out on the true oddness of reality, for "Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining about the dulness of life."

Chesterton discusses the irrational folly of trying to comprehend the world with reason alone. Polanyi recognized the same thing, but spelled it out in a more systematic way, showing how every act of perception is an imaginative leap of irreducible creativity. As Chesterton writes, "poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea," but "reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so to make it finite.... The poet asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits."

And why is it so difficult to have a rational discussion with these hyper-rational people? For the simple reason that their minds are not impeded by the distraction of reality. Think of a watch dog. The reason why a dog can be so effective at guarding your property is that it can exclude everything irrelevant to the task. Similarly, "The madman's explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory," but at the cost of moving "in a perfect but narrow circle."

This foreshadows Gödel's theorems, which proved that a formal system can be complete or consistent, but not both. Thus, the end result of atheistic scientism is "a combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction" -- which is why all these atheistic popularizers amount to much ado about everything. By definition, the more they explain, the more they leave out.

As Chesterton points out, the atheist's metaphysic "explains a large number of things" but not "in a large way." But it's difficult to oppose this "insane simplicity," since it requires not so much "arguing with a philosopher" as "casting out a devil." Such a person doesn't need more arguments but more air, which is to say, more breathing room outside the monomaniacal suffocation of their one Big Idea. This idea is actually a trap, a snare, a "clean, well-lit prison," a disability turned into a virtue. Oh, but

How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!

For that is what a human being is: situated halfway between the stars above and the dust below -- or between freedom and determinacy, matter and spirit, security and adventure, animal and God, part and whole, time and eternity. So,

Look up -- look up
And seek your maker
Before Mr. Gabriel blows his horn
--Francis Albert

If the world were as simple as the atheist insists it is, not only would it not be worth understanding, but it would be too simple to have ever given rise to understanders. And it is "certainly more limiting than any religion," the reason being that the properly religious person should have no difficulty fitting the entire world of the materialist into his metaphysic, whereas the materialist cannot allow for the merest speck of religion. Hence, their fanaticism.

For example, in my neck of the woods, the ACLU carried out a fanatical campaign to remove a tiny cross from the seal of Los Angeles County. The cross had been there for some 50 years, and no one had even noticed it before, much less taken it to be an endorsement of a state religion, but there you go. By definition, any reminders of religion must be effaced in order to make the victimized atheist feel comfortable in their narrow fantasy world.

Are there religious people who think and behave like atheists? Of course. But this is not because of religion; rather, the opposite. It is generally because of their materialism -- for example, insisting on a literal reading of Genesis, for what could be more materialistic than that? Thus, as usual, extremes meet: like the religious literalist, "the materialist's world is quite simple and solid.... materialists and madmen never have doubts."

Real spiritual doctrines do not limit the mind, but allow it to soar, while materialistic prose just makes your aesthetic sensibilities sore. I can't imagine how boring the world would be if I were still trapped behind those bars. Even if God couldn't be proven, I would still be a believer, if only because it's so much more fun:

"Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity." The spiritual person situates a Mystery -- O -- at the heart of his metaphysic, which also happens to coincide with the human heart -- which is to say, the higher mind. This mystery grows, even as we illuminate more of it -- just as a flashlight shined into the night time sky only emphasizes the darkness engulfing the narrow beam.

For in the end, "the one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything." We share in the light of that central spiritual sun, which cannot be seen but is that by which we see -- and know. On the other hand, the detached intellectualism of materialism is "all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world."

In a word, lunacy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Songs in the Key of Jesus

Having reread Chesterton's Orthodoxy, I can now understand why I wasn't particularly moved by it when I first read it. As I mentioned, it's anything but a systematic defense of the faith, more one man's idiosyncratic account of why he feels that Christianity is the perfect philosophy for him and for the world. But it seems to me that unless you already have a background in theology and metaphysics, you would not find his arguments particularly convincing.

As he points at in the beginning of the book, he tried -- as does any serious person -- to arrive at a comprehensive philosophy, only to realize, when he had completed it, that it already existed in the form of Christian Orthodoxy. I've pretty much had this same experience, allowing for the fact that Christianity is a rather large tent that accommodates virtually all temperaments and levels of intelligence.

This is an important coonsideration, since neither my intellect nor heart or soul could ever "find their rest" in some of the more visible forms of Christianity (which I sometimes think are a conspiracy to make Christianity look foolish). Only by first arriving at my own philosophy and then discovering -- to my surprise -- an antecedent Christian form of the more-or-less identical philosophy was I truly able to have the "ah ha" experience alluded to in a post by Walt a couple of days ago:

"The second assumption is that the Gospel has come down to us from a higher mind than ours. If there is something in it that we do not understand, the difficulty is likely to be in us and in our limitations. In attempting to make sense of the text, whenever there is any question about its intelligence, there is no doubt that the Gospel comes from a higher intelligence than ours. Where our best efforts do not yield a satisfactory sense in the Gospel, there is an opportunity for us to listen quietly with humility so that we may hear what we are not accustomed to hear."

I suppose it's similar to what so many adolescents have to go through on the road to separation and individuation -- to regard their parents as clueless idiots until they gain a little real-world experience and eventually realize how wise they were all along. The prodigal son, yada yada blah blah blah. (When I was in graduate school for my MA, I had an annoying female classmate who ended every sentence in that way [this was well before the yada yada Seinfeld episode]. I sometimes wonder how her patients fared: "Sounds like your mother never really understood you, and yada yada blah blah blah.")

The point is, when you keep independently discovering very specific rock-bottom truths, only to learn that others have discovered the same truths, it starts to look as if either human minds are built along the same lines, or else there is an independent but invisible reality that individual minds converge upon. Obviously both must be true, since our minds are made both for and from the truth. If both of these weren't true, then there would be no way for our minds to comport themselves with any truth. In short, our minds are composed of that which they ultimately seek. Which is an example of something I thought I had discovered, only to -- here, let's pick someone at random, say, Origen:

"The apostle Paul teaches us that God's 'invisible nature' has been 'clearly perceived in the things that have been made'; He shows us that this visible world contains teaching about the invisible world, and that this earth includes certain 'images of celestial realities'.... Perhaps that is what the spokesman of the Divine Wisdom means when he expresses himself in the words: 'It is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the unerring elements...'"

In other blah blah blah, the inside can only know the outside because the material world is an exteriorization of the same logos which interiorizes itself in the form of human consciousness. Thus, the acquisition of scientific knowledge and of truth in general is completely unproblematic in Christian metaphysics. But ask a thoughtful materialist if materialism is true, and that's the end of his materialism, since matter could never even know of truth, let alone possess it.

And it is because the world is mysteriously bifurcated into this interior and exterior, that life is (or should be, anyway) such an adventure -- adventure being the combination of strangeness and familiarity. Only human beings can be "at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it." If you are fully one or the other, you're really missing out on something vital. If you feel totally at home in the world, then you're more like an animal in the habitat it was selected to fit into. But at the same time, if you were only astonished at the world, you wouldn't be able to function in it. Psychotic people can experience each moment as a calamitous novelty, and the effect isn't pleasant surprise but nameless dread.

I would suggest that if materialism or atheism make total sense to you, it's only because you're walking around with invisible parts of yourself amputated or disfigured in some way. You're living in an environment, but it's not the human environment, which includes the invisible -- which is to say, immaterial -- worlds alluded to above.

For Chesterton, Christianity best realizes this balance of "something that is strange with something that is secure. We need to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without merely being comfortable." You might say that functional faith operates in the interstices of this dynamic tension between wonder and welcome, security and adventure. It is what spurs our evolution -- which could not occur if we default too far in one direction or the other, i.e., toward radical novelty or complete predictablity.

Once again, I find that jazz improvisation provides the best metaphor for this actvity, since it uses what is known -- the chordal structure of the song -- as a launching pad into the unknown, as the improviser explores the harmonic (vertical) and melodic (horizontal) potential of the chords. In fact, my book was basically an attempt at a sort of "musical performance," starting with the four chords of Matter, Life, Mind, and Spirit. Now, it would be easy enough to say that the latter three chords don't really exist, and that they're all ultimately reducible to the one and only chord of Matter. Can't play much with one chord, but at least you've solved every musical problem known to man. (By the way, you run into the same problem if you reduce the chords to pure Spirit, as do certain eastern philosophies.)

Materialism is a philosophy by the tone deaf and for the tin eared. But as I wrote in the book, if you really want to know reality in its fullness, "it is no longer adequate to be just a materialistic banjo-picker sitting barefoot on a little bridge of dogma; rather, one must have at least a nodding acquaintance with a few other instruments in order to play the cosmic suite. The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional musical score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be 'music does not exist.'"

For each of us represents an unrepeatable melodic line that wends itself through the four great chords constituting the song of existence. Some solos are complete and musically satisfying, while others are banal, predictable, and unable to explicate the musical potential hidden in the chords.

I believe Chesterton is saying that for him, Christianity is the ideal accompaniment for this musical adventure we call "life."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cosmic Slacktuary

Without a doubt, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts (SPHF) is Frithjof Schuon's most dense and compact work. This is a new translation of his third major work, originally published in Paris in 1953. I've probably been working on it for a month or so, but I'm only up to page 48. This is not because the book is more difficult than his others -- in many ways, it's his most accessible work -- but because it's so rich. He writes with such gem-like precision over such an extraordinary range of philosophical, religious, and spiritual matters, and yet, does so in a remarkably unsaturated manner, so that your own thoughts are provoked rather than foreclosed. He puts you in a timeless frame of mind, and timelessness takes time.

And when I say "gem-like precision," that naturally sounds like a cliché. But I don't know any other way to express it, because I mean it literally. What in my opinion places Schuon head and shoulders above most theologians -- there are a few others -- is that just where they become vague, wobbly, or sentimental -- or the converse (which amounts to the same thing), rigid, jargony, and authoritarian -- he writes with the utmost clarity, rigor, and exactitude. And yet -- and this is the key -- the "certitude" he conveys in his writing has nothing in common with the oblivious certitude of those inappropriately confident "fundamentalists" (including some of his own prominent followers!) who also speak with precision, but in such a way that they simply superimpose dogma on reality, or (k) on O.

In this regard, it is possible to be right for all the wrong reasons. Where Schuon cranks out little handmade gems, these spiritual counterfaithers simply reproduce giant monuments -- like cheap facsimiles of Michelangelo's David. But I don't think that O can be gotten "on the cheap," which is what makes it so much more tricky and difficult than merely obtaining empirical scientific knowledge, which most anyone with an average IQ can acquire.

You might say that Schuon is "undogmatically dogmatic" in the same way that math is, which also combines the maximum of universality and abstraction. This is an ideal I am usually aiming for in my writing. Of course, in order to appreciate that fact, you have to read it in the proper spirit. It's not at all like normal reading, which for most people is simply for pleasure and distraction when it isn't for extracting information -- the bottom line -- as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

If you approach Schuon in this way, you're wasting your time, because you'll miss the essential personal experience (is there any other kind?) without which the writing is like a skeleton with no flesh or blood. With Schuon's writing, it's always BYOB, or bring your own blood. (Speaking of which, have you noticed the common trait shared by all of our bloody incomprehending trolls, which is to say, their bloodlessness? This is an example of a precise observation that will inevitably sound vague to the bloodless.)

SPHF is a collection of writings that differs from Schuon's other books, in that "instead of articles as such it consists of extracts from letters, notes from our reading, and reflections arising independently of outward circumstances and organized only later in the form of chapters." He concludes the preface by reminding the reader that truth "belongs to no one while belonging to everyone; it is an immanent gift as well as a transcendent one," which is another way of saying that transcendent truth can only be activated, assimilated, and internalized in an individual mind that somehow already possesses it -- which is why real vertical learning always involves equal parts remembrance and forgetting.

In whatever Schuon writes, he is equally mindful of the form as he is of the content. This is not just for purposes of aesthetics -- unless it is understood that aesthetics is, as he says, "nothing other than the science of forms." This is another thing that sets him apart from most theologians, in that the very form of his writing conveys the content of whatever it is he is discussing -- similar to the manner in which music is a form that is indistinguishable from its own content.

Not only is form "an important part of intellective speculation," but the rightness of proportions "is a criterion of truth or error in every domain into which formal elements enter." Which is why real truth must be beautiful -- although beauty is not necessarily true, being that it is possible to idolize beauty, which is what distinguishes aesthetics from mere aestheticism, or the "unintelligent cult of the beautiful."

Spiritual beauty is "limitlessness expressed by a limit," which is why perfect beauty cannot surpass itself. Elsewhere he writes that sacred art allows "spiritual influences to manifest themselves without encumbrance." At the same time, it allows man the possibility of "seeing what he should be" -- which implies the dangerous corollary of deviant art, which carries for humans the risk of being what we see.

Schuon writes of sacred art that it "is made to serve as a vehicle for spiritual presences," whereas wholly profane art "exists only for men and by that very fact betrays them." He points out that a true sanctuary for man is any place that "is constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit, not oppose them." On the one hand, man has an inveterately searching, restless intelligence that seems never satisfied. And yet, there is also "something in our intelligence that wants to live in repose." Thus, a spiritual sanctuary is a "place" where our soul and intelligence are able to find comfort and rest (which is the true meaning of the sabbath).

I guess I like to think of One Cosmos in that way -- as a sort of virtual spiritual sanctuary where weary travelers can find active rest for their soul and restful slacktivity for their intelligence. Where you can relux and call it a deity.

... out from under the toilsome tablets of time, reverse worldward descent and cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore. Floating upstream alongside the ancient celestial trail, on your left is the dazzling abode of immortality, on your right is the shimmering gate of infinity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Orthoparadoxical Mystic Soul Jazz

A number of readers have mentioned that stumbling upon G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy was instrumental to their spiritual coonversion. It is one of the many books I raced through in the course of writing my own book. Only after the book was published was I able to go back and reread the ones that seemed particularly deep and important, such as Meditations on the Tarot, which I've now read from cover to cover three or four times.

I don't remember when I read Orthodoxy, but it must have been about seven or eight years ago. It didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, probably for a couple reasons. First, it's not at all systematic, almost a sort of free-association. But now I can see that this is a big part of its charm. The man would have been a great blogger, if that's not too vulgar a compliment.

Second, it's not outwardly "mystical" or "esoteric," but I've subsequently come to understand that this is a superficial complaint (if that's even the right word). As Schuon emphasizes, Christianity is already an esoterism; to be precise, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. It's a profound mystery, but unlike, say, the Greek mysteries, it divulges the mystery at the outset rather than making you patiently work your way up through the various degrees of initiation until, say, like Petey, you finally become Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of the West San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Transdimensional Order of the Friendly Sons and Daughters of the Cosmic Raccoon, and then you're finally handed the key to the inner sanctum where they store the sacred Water Balloons.

As Chesterton writes (with my symbols inserted into the text), "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything (O) by help of what he does not understand (o), (---). The morbid logician (•) seeks to make everything lucid (k), and succeeds in making everything mysterious, ø. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious (O), and everything else becomes lucid (¶)."

Since I've been pretty busy with the mishpocha (they just left on Monday), I gave my new intern, Dupree, the task of outlining the book and helping me reduce it to a post or two. He's a rather slow reader (I can see his lips moving), so he's only about halfway through, but I think we have enough to work with.

Although the book was published in 1908, what is so immediately striking about it is how fresh and coontemporary it is. Not surprisingly, Dupree is most impressed with Chesterton's pungent and witty eviscerations of his ideological opponents. Many of the names mean nothing to us now, but you can get the gist by simply inserting a contemporary name that will mean nothing in the future, such as "Dennett," "Dawkins," or "Maher." As Dupree put it, the book has surprisingly high insultainment value.

It is perhaps critical to point out that Chesterton came of age at the very peak of 19th century atheistic scientific materialism, before that philosophy had been thoroughly discredited. It was widely believed by most intellectuals at the time that science had discovered not just the secret of reality, but the secret of human happiness and progress.

That didn't really begin to change until after the trauma of World War I, which obliterated the fantasy (except among leftists) of a perfectible mankind grounded in the application of pure reason. The primitive unconscious came roaring back with a vengeance, just as it did after our historical snooze between 1989 and 2001. But instead of learning their lesson and returning to the Christian roots of the West, post-war intellectuals lurched into existentialism, romanticism, Marxism, scientism, paganism, nationalism, deconstructionism, multiculturalism, fascism, new-age "realizationism," and other weird and/or sinister isms and ologies -- anything but Orthodoxy (and by "Orthodox," Chesterton simply means the Apostles' Creed).

Now, being that I am someone who, like Chesterton, explored and eventually rejected all of the philosophical and spiritual cul-de-slacks of his day, I think I understand why. It has to do with the distinctions between O, (k), and (n), as outlined in my book.

I'm guessing that most people who read the book will be mystified by these symbols, but they are critical to my whole mission and enterprise. To put it in a nutshell, you can hand someone the Apostles' Creed on a silver platter, but unless they have a personal experience of its interior truth, i.e., O-->(n), it's not going to form the basis of a very robust belief system. I mean, I went to Sunday School. I was dutifully presented with the ground-floor Truth of Western civilization. And yet, like Chesterton I rejected it in favor of all the "idiotic ambitions" of our day: "I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it."

Chesterton coonfesses that he too tried "to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion.... I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy."

Now, I too briefly considered founding a heresy of my own. But like Chesterton, I eventually discovered that it was both wholly unnecessary and unholy narcissary. However, the operative word is discovered. Again, the whole point is that this is something that must be discovered for oneself. On the other hand, the discovery could have been made much sooner if I hadn't been brainwashed with so much nonsense during the course of some 23 years of secular miseducation. All of that had to be systematically dismantled in order to make a space for the (re)discovery of truth.

As I mentioned the other day, Schuon maintains that the world would be a better place if we could somehow return to the Middle Ages -- for he believes that even the Renaissance was a huge mistake and disaster -- and go back to a time when everyone was tightly swaddled in primordial Truth, and that was it. No one was actually free to discover it, which is to say, decide for oneself.

But in my view, man, because of his very theomorphic nature, has a built-in epistemophilic instinct that is responsible for leading him to science, reason, and humanism. And because these were "discoveries," they ended up being more "robust" -- at least for a time -- than the top-down religious ideologies they displaced.

But time marches (or spirals) on, and in subsequent centuries scientism has come full circle and now become the new orthodoxy, so it is no longer "free" to discover reality. So now, if you wish to investigate the Real, you must "rebel" against materialism, just as the early materialists had to rebel against religious orthodoxy.

This again goes to my point that the only way to make religious truth truly "secure" is through O-->(n), because once you do so, the arguments of atheists and materialists are "so much straw," not so much wrong as just irrelevant. No blind man is going to tell me that I don't see what I can see with my own eyes. As Schuon says, myopia and blindness are not just diverse ways of looking, but defects of vision. Scientism, materialism, and reductionism all elevate a terrible disability to a virtue.

But even Schuon, despite his insistence upon eternal truth, implicitly allows for the theological jazz improvisation of O-->(n). As he put it, "it is by reestablishing links with ancient truth that one comes to understand it and to find a new and spiritually legitimate originality." Chesterton says much the same thing when he writes of man's need of an "active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of poetical curiosity." Therefore, a proper theology should engage man's imagination and allow him to play theological soul jazz -- which requires the greatest discipline accompanied by the absence thereof, of simultaneous remembrance and I-amnesia. This is what Chesterton calls a life of "practical romance,"

the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.

Now, scientific materialism creates a sort of deadened cognitive security that moves in such a narrow circle that it simultaneously explains everything and nothing. But religious dogma can do the same thing, for as Chesterton points out, just as the danger of science is a "narrow universality," the danger of religion can be "a small and cramped eternity."

The trick is to make the Cosmos as large as the World -- to re-divinize both Cosmos and Man, so that the former becomes a sacred space, or place of active rest and restful activity, for man's infinite intelligence and eternal soul. This is the ongoing task of a Raccoon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

America and the Transcendental Beat: Let My People Groove

A typically contemptuous European once wrote of American society that "it's half judaized, and the other half is negrified."

I've never actually read Mein Kampf, but I do believe that Hitler was inadvertently correct in this respect. First, we are the only explicitly Judeo-Christian nation on earth (see here for many wonderful examples). Second, as Van der Leun (can't find the link) might have said to Hitler, you just hate us because we've got the groove. And because it's such a drag to be you. But that's a separate issue.... then again, maybe not, since a famous Jew once zonged a positively zimmilar zinger.

Both of these influences have contributed to the uniqueness and the greatness of America. It is sad to me that so many American blacks wish to be called "African American" -- as if America would even be recognizably American without their influence. The other day, someone mentioned to me that he wasn't sure if he liked the genre of "southern rock."

But as a startled Gregg Allman once said in a similar context (and it's not very easy to startle someone with that much opium in their system), the adjective "southern" is wholly redundant, analogous to saying "rock-rock," since rock came out of the American south and could never have come from anyplace else on earth: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, etc., etc. The list is endless.

And of course, it came out of the south because of the proximity of its early practitioners to forms of musical expression wholly invented by American blacks: jazz, blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues. Elvis never thought he was doing anything new. Rather, he was simply attempting to copy some of his musical heroes, most of whom were black (he also had some white musical heroes, such as Dean Martin, which accounts for his later affinity for grooveless schlock).

Now, what do blacks and Jews have in common, culturally? Yes, they are the most persecuted peoples in history. That might come up later. We're not talking about that for the moment. What else?

Well, I can only speak as an outsider, but the Jewish wedding I attended last Saturday night once again reminded me that Jews have their own whacked-out version of the groove, and that it is as earthy and over-the-top as any black gospel performance before an audience of fervent worshipers, or by some R & B combo playing at 2:00AM before a crazed audience on the "chitlin' circuit" in 1962.

Let me put it this way: I am very white. But I probably didn't realize the extent of my whiteness until I married into a Jewish family. Interestingly, being that they are largely secular Jews, they have no idea just how Jewish, which is to say ethnic, which is to say, non-white, they are. But for me, it has been an ongoing culture shock. (By the way, when I say "white," "non-white," and even "black," I assume you realize that I'm not talking about race, much less, "genetics.")

As I was watching the celebrants dancing with insane abandon to the bone-jarring rhythm of hava nagila -- which must have gone on for half an hour -- one thought came to mind: the idea of my parents ever engaging in such a frenetic celebration devoid of cerebration is literally inconceivable. Way, way too white.

But to see the men of all generations holding hands in a circle while kicking and jumping to the pounding beat -- true, they had the grace of a sleep-deprived and disinhibited Jerry Lewis lurching around the set at around hour 23 of the telethon -- but that's not the point. It was the complete absence of self-consciousness combined with the complete and joyous bypassing of the mind and immersion in the senses.

As we touched on yesterday, there has always been a certain life- and body-denying strain in Christianity. While it's not necessarily intrinsic, you have to admit it's there, a sort of distrust, sometimes verging on disgust, toward the human body and toward sensual pleasure in general. I constantly encounter this attitude among saints and mystics that I otherwise revere. In fact, it is also often present in Eastern religions as well -- is if physical pleasure is in the realm of "maya," and is to be shunned and transcended.

It is interesting to me that so many of the early and middle-period jazz greats who weren't black were Jewish: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Andre Preven, Shelly Manne, Buddy Rich, and many others -- not to mention many of the great songwriters whose music became the basis for jazz improvisation, e.g., the Gershwin brothers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hart, etc. The greatest jazz label, Blue Note records, was founded in 1939 by a couple of jazz-loving European Jews, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, while the greatest R & B and soul label, Atlantic, was co-founded by Jerry Wexler. And I am reminded of the fact that Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck in honor of the Jewish family that often took care of him as a child, even giving him the money to buy his first trumpet.

America: good constitution, easy to dance to.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get too far into this post, and now it's time for work. I'll just have to leave you with an obscure Petey-ism from the Cosmobliteration section of the book. If it means what I think it means, then you could say that gospel music (and its derivatives) really puts the body back into the body of Christ.

Do the monkey bone, do the shingaling, get your slack back & take a trip, slip, lose your grip, & turn a backover flip and say: not the god of the philosophers, not the god of the scholars!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The World Series of Theological Questions (11.08.10)

... God, freedom, unity. Three things which are one, for you cannot realize freedom and unity unless you realize God... --Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle

Yesterday we discussed the question of whether mankind is degenerating or progressing, which inevitably touches on other issues, including the conflicts between evolution and "creationism," authority vs. personal experience, tradition vs. modernity, science vs. religion, timeless principles vs., er, "personal research," and ultimately time vs. eternity. I argued for a dialectic, or complementarity, between the two poles, which creates a sort of "space" where what Mead calls "dynamic (or evolutionary) religion" may take place.

Another way of saying it is that the One breaks out of eternity into the static two (i.e., duality), but that duality is resolved (and progress occurs) within a dynamic and "transitional" trinity. Thus, history can be seen as a sort of rolling catastrophe in hyperspace, as the many make their winding way back to the One. History is ultimately the straight book that God tries to write with crooked liars.

That made a lot of sense, Bob!

Look at it this way. History either has a direction -- and therefore a purpose -- or it doesn't. If it doesn't, then there's no point to anything, including religion. It would be like an endless baseball season with no World Series. Instead of 162 games, the season would never end, with a new game every day, day in, day out. Eventually, players would stop scratching their crotches and begin scratching their heads and asking, "why are we doing this? Why are we playing all these stupid games?"

So the Gods of Baseball bifurcated the teams into a duality (the American and National leagues) and invented this third thing called a "World Series" in order to create a sense of purpose and finality. When you win the World Series, you have reached the highest peak, the "absolute," the baseball equivalent of enlightenment.

But just like religion, there is apparently more than one Absolute, since there is a new champion each year, and it is not as if the new champion surpasses all the previous ones. The 2007 Red Sox are not better then the 1927 Yankees. Baseballically speaking, both went as high as it is possible to go in this world. Sure, you could argue over which team is better, but that's like arguing whether Shankara or Eckhart was a better hitter.

But in the case of the World Series, deep down some of us realize that it is something we merely invented for the purposes of finality. We simply superimpose it on the individual games, in order to give them a "higher meaning," so to speak. Since there is finality to the season, it creates intensity and drama, very much as does death (the playoffs are exciting because teams are always facing "sudden death"). If you knew you weren't going to die, it would be analogous to an endless baseball season. No, worse than that. Like an endless soccer season. No, worse. An endless soccer game. Just a bunch of people running around in circles.

In a way, if history has no purpose, then it is bound to get worse, i.e., to degenerate. This is for the same reason that the quality of professional baseball would degenerate in the absence of a World Series. No one would bother acquiring a player to improve their team at the trading deadline, since there would be no deadline. Standings wouldn't matter, since there would be no point to them. Wins and losses would be just like Monopoly money, a symbol of nothing.

To the extent that things are getting worse in the world, could it be linked to the widespread belief among our elite that history has no purpose, no direction, no telos? Interestingly, this is where the secular far left and traditionalist far right converge. As an anonymous commenter mentioned yesterday, given his 'druthers, Schuon, the hardcore traditionalist,

"considered a 'totalitarian' [in the traditional religious sense] society preferable to a secular society. Religion, culture, science, art, and soccer, should all be under one heading, if you will. He was obviously opposed to secular totalitarian regimes, like the Nazis or the Soviets, but not religious totalitarian regimes. One can also see this in the leaders he writes positively about -- Charlemagne, Napolean, Franco, and even Lincoln (Lincoln's temporary measures during the Civil War are clearly those of a monarch)."

For Schuon it is always a question of returning to first principles. Naturally, modern leftist liberals will reject this idea out of hand. But for you traditional readers out there who object to my understanding, I wonder how you square this circle, for it seems to me that you have only three choices. You can go along with Schuon that timeless and total truth has already been revealed to us, and that it is only for us to conform to it. Alternatively, you can be a member of what I call the "psychospiritual left" (of which their politics is just a reflection) and maintain that history has no meaning except that which we impose on it (which is no meaning at all).

Or, you can be a neurocosmological Raccoon, and maintain that timeless truth does exist, but that for our purposes it exists in the future, not the past. Primordial man does indeed walk above the clouds on the sacred ground of the cosmic mountain, but not in the past.

Rather, these intimations of paradise are just that -- they are what Bion called memoirs of the future. Being so, they are the vector that guides history and gives it meaning: the arc of salvation, through which you are given the uppertunity of a lifetome to dwell in time but to aim your eros at the heart of eternity. Your days are measured, guided, and given meaning by a sense of growing proximity to this sacred, nonlocal ground. Mine are, anyway. But perhaps I'm just living in my own racocoon.

If this dimension is in the "past," then each day that passes is simply a measure of how far we have fallen from the ideal -- a meaning, to be sure, but an "anti-meaning." Again, what's the point except to wait to die? I have read certain world-denying church fathers who said as much; I believe the Orthodox Father Seraphim Rose said something similar. Basically, conform yourself to Truth and wait for death, since it's only eternity that counts. As Schuon worote,

"One who has received the treasure of spiritual truth and the Divine Name finds himself, so to speak, at a crossroads: for now he must take up a new attitude in relation to the world and to life; he must renounce all worldly ambition and he must not expect anything but death, whatever be his outward activity."

Coonversely, for a member of the psychospiritual left, what's the point except to deny death and lose oneself in the senses? In this view, a Bill Maher or Hugh Hefner are the wisest men on earth.

Now obviously, Christianity has struggled with this dialectic, hence the argument between faith and works. If eternity is all that counts, then faith is all that matters. But if history has a purpose, then works take on much more significance.

And as a matter of fact, this relates to what I was saying yesterday about my experience of the very different spiritual worlds of Judaism and Christianity. At the moment I'm in a bit of a rush, so it's difficult to find the words to precisely describe the difference. But more generally, Judaism is very much focused on this world, not the next. In fact, if I am not mischugen, it is very unkosher to even speculate about the next life, since we are here for a reason, and that reason is more than sufficient to occupy our time and attention. In short, we are here to both enjoy and help repair the creation (tikkun, or as we call it, "ticoon"), so that our works are much more important than our faith. As I have learned from Dennis Prager, a proper Jew doesn't care what you believe, only how you behave. (BTW, this also explains why de-Judaised Judaism immediately devolves into worldly leftism.)

Furthermore, because of its worldly focus, I find that Judaism, among all the major religions, probably has more practical wisdom about how to conduct one's life than any other. The Talmud contains priceless wisdom about male-female relations, about the family, about raising children, about how to deal with others. Also, the "spiritual locus," so to speak, of Judaism is the family (within a community, of course), and even more specifically, children. Jewish life is almost inconceivable in the absence of family and children.

And what do children represent and symbolize? More than anything else in creation, they are a hope-filled arrow shot from the present into a better future.

And we are His children.

We'll meet again. Up ahead, 'round the bend. The circle unbroken, by and by. A Divine child, a god'send, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes. --Petey

Manifestly, the unrestrained use of individual illumination or judgment without either any outer standard or any generally recognizable source of truth is a perilous experiment for our imperfect race.... [T]he whole tendency of development of an individualistic age of mankind [goes] back to the one dominant need of rediscovering the substantial truths of life, thought and action which have been overlaid by the falsehood of conventional standards no longer alive to the truth of the ideas from which their conventions started.... [M]an has to circle back towards the recovery of his deeper self and a new upward line or a new revolving cycle of civilization. --Sri Aurobindo

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's Getting Better All the Time

Either that or worse. I forget which.

I would like to post on a subject that just came up again this morning, but which is actually a perennial problem that I (and perhaps you) have to face time and time again. I'm not sure if I know how to resolve it; perhaps I already have -- to the extent that it can be resolved -- at least in practice if not in principle.

In fact, in a certain sense, both my book and the blog represent an ongoing attempt to resolve this issue, which ultimately comes down to the question of how we are to forge a truly Unified Theory of Everything which accounts equally for both the vertical (subjective, interior) and horizontal (objective, interior) worlds -- i.e, the Whole Existentialada.

The other day I mentioned the idea that the vector of cosmic evolution occurs along a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning, so that in the long run, time reveals the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities (which would also be Whitehead's general idea). The reason I believe this is that it best accounts for the available evidence. In other words, this is more of an empirical than a religious belief. I have no reason to doubt that the cosmos banged into being 13.7 billion years ago, or that life appeared on earth some 3.85 billion years ago, or that recognizable human consciousness began to flower about 50,000 years ago.

But to the extent that this scheme is true, then religious doctrine shouldn't contradict it. Not that religion needs to fit itself into a scientific paradigm; rather, the reverse: the world is the way it is because it reflects timeless metaphysical principles articulated in the perennial religion.

The essential dilemma arose again the other day in the context of discussing my rejection of Schuon's strict traditionalism, or at least two central aspects of it. But in rejecting these two pillars, most if not all of his initiates and followers would say that I have rejected his central doctrine -- which I probably never understood to begin with. It would be analogous to saying that I really love Christianity with the exception of that resurrection business, or that I'm a big fan of Judaism except for the idea that the Torah is divinely inspired.

Now, because I am a Raccoon, and Raccoons are by nature sort of gay and lighthearted -- some would say frivolous -- one might gain the impression that when I disagree with Schuon, I do so lightly -- that I dismiss this or that idea with the impudent wave of a hand. Nothing could be further from the truth -- just as I tremble slightly at my deviations from Aurobindo, or from Tomberg, or from J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, or from anyone else who knows better than I do about these things.

I suppose it goes without saying that I am what I am, but it may not go without saying that I also can't help it. Likewise, Schuon was who he was. The question is, how much of this temperamental isness (or wasness) shapes how we see the world? Furthermore, is it even possible to truly stand outside ourselves and mind someone else's isness? Perhaps doing so is as impossible as trying to imagine what it would be like to be a dog, or a cow, an insect, or Joel Stein (if you're a man). We can't really do it, because we merely project our own consciousness into the other.

In other words, is it possible that my differences with Schuon are temperamental and not doctrinal? He would answer with an unambiguous "no."

Perhaps I should get to the nub of the gist of the essence of the heart of the bottom line of the matter, which is this. Trad-Coon Joseph addressed it in a comment the other day, asking how it was possible for me to reconcile the "metaphysical dreams" of Schuon and Mead -- which ultimately comes down to the question of whether the world is evolving or degenerating. In Schuon's view, the "golden age" was in the past, so that time can hardly reflect "a gradient of deepening coherence and meaning"; rather, the reverse. In a handbag, I might add.

Here's how Schuon would respond to the "idiotic and dishonest circumlocutions" of somebob who suggests that he may have had an irrational nostalgia for a past that never really existed: "Those who look back longingly at some past age because it embodied certain vital values are reproached for adhering to these values because they are found in the past, or because one would like to situate them there 'irreversibly'; one might as well say that the acceptance of an arithmetical proof is the sign, not of the unimpaired functioning of the intelligence, but of a morbid obsession with numbers. If to recognize what is true and just is 'nostalgia for the past,' it is quite clearly a crime or a disgrace not to feel this nostalgia."

Now, before you reject Schuon's gnostalgia out of hand, it does have some explanatory power. Because of my basic optimism, I try not to dwell on it, but the modern world is in many respects a pretty awful place. I'm lucky, because I've been able to forge a little shelter from it, and work at avoiding letting it get its hooks into me. I don't go out much, but last night, for example, I attended a wedding in Los Angeles and was once again struck by just how ugly the place is. Not all of it, of course, but as you drive along the 101, your eyes encounter such jarring ugliness that it's difficult to realize that it was intentionally produced by human minds.

The same can obviously be said of television. Hundreds of stations available at any given time, but comparatively little that isn't vile, stupid, crass, vulgar, corrupting, or generally infrahuman. Schuon's theory has no difficulty accounting for this. It's because time runs in degenerating cycles, and we happen to be in the Kali yuga, the last cycle before the whole thing goes up in flames. I'm the one who must explain how things are getting better when they look so much worse. How, for example, to account for the 20th and most bloody century of all?

Everything seems to be degenerating before our eyes, from the establishment news media, to motion pictures, to literature, to visual art, to education, to male-female relations. I have witnessed this cultural decline during my lifetime, but I attribute it mainly to two factors, 1) man's falleness, and 2) the cultural dominance of the Left, an ideology which essentially glorifies the Fall and undermines its vertical counter-movement. (I guess I have a third explanation as well, that our unprecedented affluence allows more people than ever before the "luxury" of acting out their psychopathlogy.)

In short, I believe that ideas have consequences, and that we are under the dominance of bad ideas which transform well-intentioned people into agents of evil. I do not for a second believe that most leftists are bad people. But I do believe that they are under the influence of a truly satanic -- or, if you prefer, anti-evolutionary -- ideology. That being the case, I believe there is a solution, at least to problem #2. I know this solution exists, since I used to have that problem and now I don't. Therefore, "evolution" is possible, at least on a retail basis.

Furthermore, I think that the only way to create widespread change is to present people with an alternative ideology that is better -- which explains more -- than their present one. Frankly, there is no way Schuon's total system could ever appeal to a mass audience. For one thing, in my opinion, it is a system of complete and total pessimism about the world and its future, and is totally incompatible with intrinsically optimistic "Americanism" -- without which the world cannot be saved.

I think about this all the time -- where I fit in to the scheme of things, since I don't exactly follow one established religion and reject major parts of my most revered teachers (and I do consider Schuon to be an incomparable spiritual genius), and yet, could never have the hubris to consider myself some sort of independent spiritual authority. To a certain extent, I think of myself as simply conducting original spiritual research. If, say, I were to join the Catholic church, I fear that that would be the end of my "original research," since I would be bound by church doctrine. Furthermore, I'm afraid it would cut me off from other important sources of spiritual information at this point in my journey.

To cite one example, with regard to the spiritual education of Future Leader, it looks like we are settling on Catholicism, after considering Judaism and yoga. The latter was sort of a non-starter, because there's not much that can be conveyed to a child, plus he would be a permanent cultural outsider, cut off from our common "religious language." I couldn't really choose Judaism either, in part because I think you have to grow up with some of their traditions in order to really "get" them. Plus, I would be intrinsically cutting myself off from Christianity, something I could never do, whereas Christianity does not cut itself off from Judaism.

But only in a formal sense. In point of fact, Judaism and Christianity "open up" spiritual worlds that are quite distinct, even though there is overlap. For example, last night's wedding was a Jewish ceremony. Although I wasn't happy about having to fight the traffic to get to downtown Los Angeles (Mrs. G would add, "to say the least"), I found myself extremely moved, as always happens to me in any Jewish ceremony. I closed my eyes as it was going on, and felt the descent of a great spiritual force and presence in the building, no doubt blessing the couple. And I don't know how to describe it, but it is a distinctly "Jewish" force, very different in tone from the "Christian force" that I also feel. So to me, it's a little like having to choose between Bach and Mozart, or in my case, Duane Allman and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both men played the Truth, and Truth cannot surpass itself.

Anyway. I've started to ramble. I'll just have to continue this line of thought later. Hopefully this will stimulate some provocative comments.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

One Chaosmos

A haikoon:

not six feet from me
the berserkus is in town
who could blog today?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Last Man or Omega Man?

Unfortunately, this post may have turned out to be a bit of a ramble, which will become more or possibly less clear as you read along. The problem is, we have a house guest, my six year-old nephew. Not only did he wake me up at 4:00 AM, he was soon bored and required my attention. So, just when I needed all of my faculties, including my fully activated cOOnvision, to be able to pull off what I am attempting to do here, I was disabled by fatigue and distraction. If there are typos or slightly incoherent passages, I'll correct them later.


We shall now attempt to transition from Mead's God and Gold to a plane beyond it -- to depart and bewholed whether history is just history (i.e., a purely exterior process) or whether it actually has a purpose and is linked to, and shaped by, something beyond it -- a meaning and a destiny, which amount to the same thing.

Otherwise, I'm afraid there's no denying the fact that the purpose of all the conflict and suffering of the past 5,000 years -- when human beings left prehistory and entered history -- was to be able to shop in peace, which is to say, no real purpose at all. We will have reached the end of history, when the living cosmos has been reduced by reason and contained within science. And "on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small":

There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself. Lo! I show you the Last Man.... They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. "We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink. --Nietzsche

Yo, The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land!

But if history has a meaning and a destiny, it can only be because it has an interior, for there is no meaning in the absence of an interior. And what is meaning? I would suggest (following Polanyi) that meaning reflects a "gradient of deepening coherence" in the cosmos, and that time reflects the achievement of increasingly comprehensive interior unities. Only within the soul of man is this Unity able to achieve its greatest breadth and intensity, encompassing all of creation, both vertical and horizontal.

Interestingly, I just looked up when prehistory ended and history got kookstarted. Wikipedia says it was in Egypt in around 3200 BC; however, in New Guinea, prehistory only ended in 1900. This is an example of what I mean by humanity not having its calendars synchronized, so that "geographical space is developmental time." In other words, human groups -- and now individuals -- are evolving at different rates of speed, which comes back to our conflict with the Islamic world, which still has one foot in premodernity while we already have one in postmodernity.

When the external world does not match your internal world, the result is alienation. Thus, all of us are inevitably alienated to one degree or another, which is another meaning of our so-called "fallenness." The only time man was not alienated was in paradise, but that's partly because paradise was outside time.

In fact, this is one of my central deviations from Schuon, as he obviously felt profoundly alienated by modernity, let alone postmodernity. Thus, he insisted that premodern traditional societies best reflected man's true needs -- that they embodied eternal principles that made man's soul feel "at home," so to speak. I don't buy this for a second, even though I do see his point.

While I certainly don't idealize the postmodern West -- about which there is much to criticize and from which to feel deeply alienated -- there is still no doubt that, if you are so inclined, it offers the average person the greatest opportunity in history for self-willed spiritual development, if only because it provides the time and the space to do so -- i.e., the slack. Don't blame the modern West if you waste your precious slack on video games, the New York Times, and other trivialities. As Dilys put it in a comment the other day,

"In this catastrophic historical moment (like perhaps all others not rotting and static), I think the argument is that liberty and prosperity best create the tear in the collective-illusion fence for humans at all levels" to live in proximity to the sacred, "if one is so disposed. At this point freedom is a necessary, or at least contributory, condition, though never a sufficient one [emphasis mine]. And arguments about misused freedom, 24/7 celebrity culture etc., do not demonstrate that un-free is better.

"Enforced communalism, or the tribal scheme in which resources, time, and prestige are scarce and rationed, offer no such opportunity to the ordinary man, though aristocrats might be better placed. Those arguing for the now-imaginary traditional arrangements I believe imagine themselves stationed among the privileged, not the slaves."

Exactly. If Schuon had publicized his ideas in the traditional cultures he idealizes, he'd be lucky if they didn't burn him at the stake. Imagine telling some medieval cleric your ideas about the "transcendent unity of religions." That wouldn't exactly be compatible with survival, any more than it would be to live in the Muslim world and insist that Judaism is every bit as "absolute" as Islam. Please. Ironically, saying such a thing is only possible in the postmodern world (although perhaps India as well, which has always welcomed religious pluralism).

Now, there are two reasons Schuon could freely publicize his ideas in the postmodern west. First, because people don't take religion seriously, and second, because they take it so very seriously. While he was all too aware of the first, he didn't seem to appreciate the irony of the second, despite his small but devoted following. In other words, because of multiculturalism and moral relativism, many contemporary people regard religion has a hopelessly subjective and unprovable enterprise, so your personal beliefs are of no consequence, so long as you don't hurt anyone or try to force them upon others. But what Schuon missed about modernity -- in particular, within America -- was the deep spiritual hunger that has always animated us.

Sri Aurobindo differed with Schuon with regard to traditional societies, which he called "conventional." The problem is, traditional societies begin with the living impulse of spirit, but eventually contain and suppress the very impulse that gave birth to them. We see this time and again in history. Not only is this what animated the Protestant revolt against Catholicism, but it is what has animated most every sect and schism since. As Rodney Stark wrote in For the Glory of God, people who split off into sects do not do so because they want to have some watered-down version of religion. To the contrary, with the exception of cults (which have an entirely different psychology), they are composed of people who have become dissatisfied with convention and are seeking greater religious intensity.

Of traditional, or what he called "conventional" societies, Aurobindo observed that they tend to "arrange firmly, to formalise, to erect a system... to stereotype religion, to bind education and training to a traditional and unchangeable form, to subject thought to infallible authorities, to cast a stamp of finality on what seems to it the finished life of man." In short, this is precisely what Mead meant by static religion. True, as Aurobindo writes, traditional societies have their "golden age," during which time "the spirit and thought that inspired its forms are confined yet living, not yet altogether walled in, not yet stifled to death and petrified by the growing hardness of the structure in which they are cased." The golden age "is often very beautiful and attractive to the distant point of view," what with its "precise order, symmetry, fine social architecture, the admirable subordination of its parts to a general and noble plan."

But in romanticizing the admirable features of these golden ages, we can be blind to the "folly, ignorance, iniquity, cruelty and oppression of those harsh ages, the suffering and the revolt that simmered below those fine surfaces, the misery and the squalor that was hidden behind the splendid facade." As I expressed it in One Cosmos, it is easy to look at the Great Pyramid of Giza and appreciate its awesome majesty: "Then again, I don't see how we can avoid being disillusioned if we take a moment to empathize with the hundred thousand or more luckless slaves who spent their lives dragging these blocks around, for what noble end? For the purpose of creating a ridiculously oversized crypt to house the carcass of a dead pharoah who also had to have his wives and slaves buried alive with him in order to amuse him in the afterlife."

Now, as I mentioned a few posts back, I believe Mead faltered in his attempt to answer the question, What Does it All Mean?, because the question cannot be answered on the plane he is asking it. Despite his emphasis on the importance of dynamic religiosity to Anglo-American success, in the end he falls into a subtle modernist trap of evaluating religion on utilitarian grounds. In other words, while he is unlike most secular scholars in that he takes religion seriously, he evaluates it in pragmatic terms -- as if the only point of religion is to make us fit to function more effectively in a modern economy. As a respectable secular scholar, he can hardly do otherwise. What's he supposed to do, analyze history in terms of its proximity to the nonlocal eschaton drawing us in its wake? No, of course not. That's the job for a disreputable Raccoon.

The problem is, as soon as you analyze religion merely in pragmatic terms, you have essentially made it a flatland enterprise ultimately answerable to, and explainable by, horizontal factors. Thus, you have simply taken the long way around to Nietzsche's last man, or worse yet, Joel Stein.

Just as Polanyi concluded some fifty years later, Aurobindo wrote that the "discovery by individual free-thought of universal laws of which the individual is almost a by-product" -- i.e., the reductionistic stance of positivism and scientism -- leads "logically to the suppression of that very individual freedom which made the discovery and the attempt at all possible."

But how do we understand religion in such a way that it is fully compatible with modern science, and yet does not undermine the traditions from which it arose and through which it was nurtured over the millennia?

I'm just about out of gas here, so we'll have to get more deeply into the answer later. But Sri Aurobindo worked out a scheme in which he saw the development of secular science as more or less inevitable and necessary to man's continuing evolution. He called this the "individualistic" age. But beyond that is what he calls the "subjective" age, which easily transcends but includes the earlier stages. Thus, as one poster has repeatedly affirmed, the atheists are not necessarily our adversaries. Rather, they are merely the most vocal advocates of stage four. While we have no need of them here in Coonworld, frankly, we could use a few of these evangelists in the Islamic world. Why don't they go there, where they're actually needed? I think you know the answer. They'd be treated like Schuon.

Here's how Aurobindo described the fifth, "subjective age" of man (yes, he's a tad wordy, a result of his 19th century classical education):

"[T]o find the truth of things and the law of his being in relation to that truth he must go deeper and fathom the subjective secret of himself and things as well as their objective forms and surroundings. This he may attempt to do for a time by the power of the critical and analytic reason which has already carried him so far; but not for very long. For in his study of himself and the world he cannot but come face to face with the soul in himself and the soul in the world and find it to be an entity so profound, so complex, so full of hidden secrets and powers that his intellectual reason betrays itself as an insufficient light and a fumbling seeker: it is successfully analytical only of superficialities and of what lies just behind them.

"The need of a deeper knowledge must then turn him to the discovery of new powers and means within himself. He finds that he can only know himself entirely by becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this deeper light and power to which he thus opens. In this process the rationalistic ideal begins to subject itself to the ideal of intuitional knowledge and a deeper self-awareness; the utilitarian standard gives way to the aspiration towards self-consciousness and self-realisation; the rule of living according to the manifest laws of physical Nature is replaced by the effort towards living according to the veiled Law and Will and Power active in the life of the world and in the inner and outer life of humanity" (emphases mine).

It's nap time for me.