Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Abstract, the Ponderable, and the Real

This is a quick post. I just wanted to jot down some preluminary ideas before they lose me.

Yesterday I was thinking about what a terrible trap the world of science has created for many of us. Because of the undeniable blessings of science and technology, it's easy to get lost in the alternate reality created by science, and to lose contact with human reality, which is to say, divine reality (i.e., the human world is where the horizontal and vertical worlds intersect).

There is a spiritually totalitarian aspect of science, which can lead man to be trapped in a cold and abstract prison of his own making, and therefore be exiled from the fulsomeness of the living Real. Humans are a "prolongation" of the Real, not reducible to the abstract.

It is terribly naive to say that science (especially modern science) deals with the "real world." It actually begins with the ponderable world -- the everyday world of the senses -- but eventually creates a wholly abstract world that is taken to be more "real" than the ponderable world. (Importantly, it also begins with certain implicit religious assumptions purloined from the Real, such as the idea of an intelligible cosmos that can be comprehended by rational observers, but we won't get into that for now.)

This process of abstraction leads to patent absurdities such as the belief that DNA explains life or that the brain creates consciousness, rather than vice versa. Both the brain and DNA are digital, while the human is analogue. Or, as I put it in the Coonifesto, semantics cannot be reduced to syntax; to put it another way, qualities cannot be reduced to quantities, especially when we are talking about the "divine qualities" of the upper vertical, or the Real -- e.g., Truth, Beauty, Being, Liberty, Consciousness, the Sacred, the Holy, etc. All of these things emanate from the top down, not the bottom up.

For example, we all know that there is a mysterious, subatomic "quantum world" underlying our ponderable world, a vast sea of unbroken energy that supposedly tosses up forms like transient waves from the ocean. It is a world of pure abstraction, and features principles that are literally impossible for us to imagine, since they so violate everything we know to be true about the ponderable world -- i.e., causation, simple location, separate identity, the forward flow of time, etc. None of these common sense categories apply to the abstract quantum world.

First of all, the quantum world is not something we can ever "observe." Indeed, to even use the word "observe" is to project qualities of the ponderable world into the abstract world. You cannot "observe" mathematics, and the quantum world is largely the extension of mathematical models into "further" or "deeper" levels of abstraction.

For example, as we mentioned yesterday, the "Big Bang" is an extrapolation of the meaning of certain mathematical models. It is analogous to "climate change" models, only accurate instead of fanciful.

Even so, despite its accuracy, it nevertheless leads to an absurd world that cannot be imagined by the human mind. No one has ever even seen "the cosmos" (at least in its scientific sense). Rather, it is simply a model, an abstraction. Revelation also provides a model of the cosmos, but in that case, the model is real, not abstract or ponderable (with important exceptions; for example the Real became ponderable so that the ponderable might become Real).

Human observers could only exist in the ponderable world, and could never exist in the quantum world. So we have to picture the Big Bang "as if" it were possible for a human observer to be there. But that is strictly inconceivable.

For one thing, we can only know what is knowable by a human observer, and the most astonishing thing of all is that the Big Bang was pregnant with the human observer who is "watching" his cosmic birth unfold through his own abstractions, and is therefore his own mother, so to speak.

To suggest that this Mystery of Mysteries can be reduced to a mathematical equation is pretty silly -- as if understanding the equation would be equivalent to understanding the mystery of the human state. But to comprehend the equation would only add to the mystery, not detract from it, being that the most incomprehensible thing about the cosmos is its comprehensibility. At least if you try to start at the bottom.

When you think about it, it is actually no different than Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. "How do you know? You weren't there. Since people weren't created until the sixth day, you can't say what happened before that."

Bill Maher is such an imbecile.

Suffice it so say that revelation deals with the Real world, not the abstract world of science or the ponderable world of everyday existence. (To be perfectly accurate, it also has has to do with the dependence of the ponderable upon the Real, or their intersection; we are not dependent upon physics, but upon the Creator who created physics.)

Or, let us say that there is an upper world of divine archetypes and eternally creative activity; a "middle earth" of ponderable existence; and a lower world of abstraction and impersonal forces. All must exist, although it is a moonumental lunacy to turn the cosmos upside down and take the abstract for the Real or the ponderable, or to regard the abstract as "fundamental" rather than derivative.

Furthermore, there are not actually three worlds. There is only one world, and it is not reducible to the world of quantum physics. Rather, the world of quantum physics is an abstraction or "descent" of the Real world to its furthest reaches. There are other lower worlds -- e.g., the "unconscious" -- which we will discuss in a later post.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thinking about Thinking About Religion & Science

That's what I've been doing. Or am about to do, anyway. Say, we don't have a word for "thinking about thinking," do we? Hey, I heard that! Don't be a wise guy. Besides, "masturbation" is already taken.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been reading Michael Heller's Creative Tension: Essays on Science and Religion. He's a physicist and priest who recently won the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities for "his extensive philosophical and scientific probing of 'big questions.' His works have sought to reconcile the 'known scientific world with the unknowable dimensions of God.'" He maintains that

"If we ask about the cause of the universe we should ask about the cause of mathematical laws. By doing so we are back in the great blueprint of God’s thinking about the universe; the question on ultimate causality: why is there something rather than nothing? When asking this question, we are not asking about a cause like all other causes. We are asking about the root of all possible causes. Science is but a collective effort of the human mind to read the mind of God from question marks out of which we and the world around us seem to be made."

Hmmm.... "The monetary value of the Templeton prize (1.6 million US dollars in 2008) is adjusted so that it exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes. It is the largest single annual financial prize award given to an individual for intellectual merit" outside the game show Jeopardy.

I'm just thinking about all the progress I could make toward research about spiritual realities with 1.4 mil in my pocket. That's a lot of slack. So feel free to nominate me.

I see that Richard Dawkins calls it "a very large sum of money given [...] usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion." It's about time they gave it to a religious person who is prepared to say mean things about sophomoric scientists pretending to be philosophers. So feel free to nominate Cousin Dupree. Besides, he owes me 22 months of back rent.

Back to Heller. First of all, I can't say that I recommend the book, since he's not the clearest of writers, and at times he assumes a ridiculous level of understanding of modern physics. I can't imagine that anyone other than a professional physicist would understand some parts of the book, but they are likely to be the ones who would reject his arguments a priori anyway, so that doesn't seem like a good marketing strategy. But I suppose with 1.4 million in his saddlebag, he doesn't have to worry about marketing.

Here, I'll just take a sentence at random: "Every commutative algebra can be made noncommutative by suitably perturbing it (with a certain perturbation parameter). In light of the above we can say that, from the mathematical point of view, quantum mechanics is but a noncommutative C*-algebra, with the Planck constant playing the role of deformation parameter."

But you knew that already.

The other thing is, Heller is one of those fellows who hems and haws and hedges and qualifies everything he says, so you want to say, will you get on with it?! I wonder if he has OCD? It's more common than you think, especially among quantum cosmologist-priests. Admittedly, I have the opposite problem, in that I see the vision first, and then worry about the details later, if I worry about them at all, which is why I'd probably be no good at Jeopardy. As such, Heller's book is helpful, as it forces me to contend with the most up to date version of scientific "reality." As Heller points out, this is not necessarily important because one needs to fit one's theology into the grooves of science, but because one is probably already doing that, only with an outmoded version of scientific reality.

In fact, if you pause to think about it, we cannot think about either theology or science in the absence of some prior, usually implicit, conception of the world. I was thinking about this the other day with reference to Schuon. He of course deplored modernism, and felt that man's premodern conception of the world was "normative," so to speak. It is the way humans were "meant" to live. I don't want to put words into his mouth, but it seems to me that he felt that the premodern world was the proper "container" for man's spirit, so to speak, just as, say, an animal has a particular environment proper to it. Remove the animal from its proper habitat, and it will not thrive. For Schuon, the deepest problems of modernity and postmodernity came down to man no longer living in the proper soul-environment.

Believe it or not, I do sympathize with this view, and I grapple with it all the time. As I mentioned yesterday, it is specifically because of Schuon's influence that I have become rather "bi-polar" in this area. After all, it is a very real question: how do we reconcile revelation and modernity, or creation and evolution, or physics and metaphysics? I suppose first of all by not seeing them as antagonisms that must be hastily resolved, but by appreciating their "creative tension."

First of all, this is what humans do anyway, and what they have always done. Schuon takes the premodern worldview as normative, failing to appreciate the irony that this was actually the product of a hard-won evolutionary synthesis. To cite one obvious example, the early Christian fathers were hardly impervious to the influence of contemporary thought. To the contrary, they were intimately familiar with the very finest in pagan thought (e.g., Plato), and thought long and hard about how to reconcile revelation and philosophy. Obviously Aquinas attempted the same synthesis in the 13th century. Viewed in this context, a Teilhard de Chardin was simply "thinking about thinking" in the new background cognitive environment of cosmic evolution and quantum physics. As was I in my book.

There have been, of course, heretical streams of modern and postmodern thought. But when I say "heretical," I mean that they are intrinsically heretical, in that they betray man as such in his function as the Thinking Being. They reduce upright Homo sapiens to a downright Homo sap. In other words, these modern heresies -- such as materialism, atheism, Marxism, behaviorism, scientism, positivism, deconstruction etc. -- all poison Man at the root, and specifically prevent his evolution. And when I use the word "evolution," I mean it in the sense of man "becoming what he is," or actualizing his unique spiritual potential.

So it is not so much that certain strands of thought are wrong because they are modern or postmodern. Rather, they're just wrong, period. On the other hand, many postmodern ideas are obviously correct. For example, I have no idea why materialists still exist, since modern physics utterly obliterated their anachronistic worldview a century ago. No serious thinker can be a materialist, which is why a Christopher Hitchens is obviously a brilliant man in terms of raw candle power, but extraordinarily naive in his background assumptions of how the physical (let alone spiritual) world works. He is not postmodern at all, but operating out of a defunct, 19th century Victorian picture of the world.

In any event, when thinking about the relationship between science and religion, we must bear in mind that a good methodology does not necessarily make for an accurate ontology. In fact, quite the contrary. Science is first and foremost a methodology, a systematic way to "interrogate" nature. It's very much like a true-and-false test, when ontology is an essay exam. But there is no objective way to grade an essay, so an essay is outside the purview of the scientific method.

Interestingly, Heller points out that the "great miracle" of logical discourse about the world, which began in sixth century B.C. Greece, represented a transition from a belief in divine whim to logical necessity. To express the idea of logical necessity within the natural order, they used the term ananke, which literally meant "the various means, from persuasion to torture, by which a criminal was made to confess."

Thus we see the way that an "everyday concept changed its meaning to become a predecessor of such important concepts as laws of nature, determinism, and causality." Had it not been for human torture, we might never have put nature on the scientific rack. Indeed, we'd never have realized that quantum mechanics is but a noncommutative C*-algebra, with the Planck constant playing the role of deformation parameter.

This preramble is already too long, isn't it? Better pick up the thread in the next post.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Second Thoughts About First Causes

It seems to me that there is an intrinsic dynamism in human thought, which is implicit in the idea that O has an eternally "restless" trinitarian interior. If our thought could ever perfectly mirror reality, it would be static instead of dynamic, and no evolution could occur. Thought can ascend higher or plunge deeper without ever reaching its object. But how do we orient it, and know which way is up? Obviously, "thinking" in itself is neither here nor there, as it can lead us closer or further away from its proper object. How do we anchor thought -- or provide it with a compass, so that it may at least know "true north?"

I'm searching for a metaphor.... It is as if life takes place in a watery medium between two solid shores. So long as we are in the water, we must swim. Occasionally we hear rumors of someone who reached the farther shore in this life. In fact, we have also heard of One who left the peace and safety of the father shore to dive into the water to be with us and teach us how to drown.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
--Leonard Cohen, Suzanne

Now, writing the Coonifesto required a great deal of "thought." And yet, there is a point in the book -- perhaps I didn't make it clear enough -- where I acknowledge the futility of ordinary thought to penetrate the reality which we seek. Let's see if I can find it.

There are actually several points, at least one per chapter. Here's one, p. 180: "Swept along by the crosscurrents and undertows of history's insane kaleiderescape, the fatal dis-ease of life only became more acute for human beings. Stumbling and bumbling down the darkness of centuries, our self-awareness only ratcheted up the tension, the dilemma of precarious being floating aimlessly over, but still firmly tied down to, a somehow familiar and yet alien sea with no apparent destination."

You might say that the emergence of science has allowed us to precisely calibrate our fundamentally broken compasses, so that we may navigate the vast Sea of Nothing with ever finer degrees of precision. Today we can get nowhere faster and more efficiently than any previous generation, plus there's so much more to do there when we arrive -- so many distractions, which have the effect of making the shadows of nothing look like something. But this something is merely the substance of nothing.

"As soon as a fragile and anxious loopwhole in biological necessity, the ego, was discovered, there were really only two choices -- with life, stasis is not an option -- either be pulled back into the body or the collective mind, or move forward and explore further upward into this new dimension beyond the boundaries of the senses."

Once again, the two shores. Secular progressives aim for the lower dimensional shore from which the human journey began -- back to matter and to the senses. Thus, the left essentially bifurcates into the hedonists (i.e., sensualists) and the activists (crypto-Marxist materialists and collectivists). The lives of the former are dynamically static, while the lives of the latter are statically active, but either way, both paths lead nowhere fast. For if the transcendent -- which, for our purposes, breaks out into the Good, True, and Beautiful -- is man's true home, then hedonism and materialism must necessarily invert the human journey and pull us back to the dark realm from which the human fleshlight first demerged from matter.

Now, I don't know anything about sailing the lower waters, but I'm guessing that it's no different from any other skill, as O-lucidated by Polanyi. Remember his metaphor of the blind man and the cane? At first, as he probes the world with the cane, he will be aware of physical sensations in the hand. But as he becomes accustomed to it, the cane will eventually become an unconscious extension of the hand. He will no longer even be consciously aware of the physical sensations, but rather, will feel "through" and beyond them, in order to "attend" to what is at the end of the cane. In turn, this will allow him to internalize a "world picture," or three-dimensional space in which to operate.

A moment's reflection will reveal to you that we are all in the position of the blind man. After all, our arms and hands are merely probes in the dark which our brains use to construct a map of the world. Likewise our eyes and ears. It is as if we all live in our own private submarine. We never actually touch water. Rather, we live inside the submarine, where we navigate the waters with our maps and instruments.

As human beings have developed, our maps and instruments have grown increasingly complex and sophisticated, which can give us the illusion that we are "closer" to the water. And yet, we must remember that science always operates from inside the submarine, and that the scientist, qua scientist, never actually touches water.

Art is a different matter. When we dwell in art, it is as if we leave the sub and take a little swim in the sky. Take, for example, music. Music proves that sound has not only an exterior accessible to science, but an interior known only to the soul. In fact, I am reminded of Sam Phillips' shock and awe when he first heard the preternatural sound of Howlin' Wolf's voice. He said to himself, this is where the soul of man never dies.

That's the experience we're all after, right? The absolute conviction that this is where the soul of man never dies. For to touch this realm is to touch the Absolute and eternal, in whatever medium, whether in art (the realm of the Beautiful), virtue (the realm of the Good), or science and theology (the realms of the true and True, respectively, the former being the penumbra of the latter).

Now, you wouldn't know it, but these thoughts were prompted by two books I'm currently reading, Creative Tension, by Michael Heller, and another one that shall go unnamed (file it under integral/new age/evolutionary).

In the case of Heller, he is an unusual man, in that he is both a first rate physicist with a specialty in cosmology, and a Catholic priest and theologian. However, he is refreshingly cautious about how science and theology relate to one another, and this book, although challenging, is proving to be a sort of psycho-spiritual disinfectant, helping me to clarify certain intuitions of mine and make them more explicit.

Beyond that, it is helping me to grapple with the fundamentals of my worldview, which is always healthy. In my mind, there is still this painful dichotomy or tension between the anti-evolutionary worldview of Schuon and the cosmic-evolutionary view, not just of science, but of esteemed pneumanauts such as Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo.

But Heller emphasizes that we must be extremely cautious about prematurely or superficially bridging these worlds, for a variety of reasons, both scientific and theological. To cite just one example, science is always provisional, whereas theology is always about the permanent and atemporal. What we call the "Big Bang" is merely the extrapolation of a certain model used by physicists to understand the physical world. In these models, at a certain point, the "history" of subatomic particles disappears into "nothing." Therefore, some people make the hasty conclusion that this must be the same "nothing" out of which God created the universe.

But this is not only wrong, but it demonstrates a peculiar lack of imagination. The "nothing" of the physicist is merely the area beyond the horizon of his model. There's still "something" there -- it's just that the physicist's model does not permit him to even hazard a guess as to what it might be.

But the Nothing of theology is a much vaster principle, having to do with the emanation of Being from Beyond-Being. This is what I meant the other day when I said that in my book I was not trying to equate the Big Bang with God's eternal creative act, but to use it as a "fable" to retell that timeless story. As I said on p. 2, "Borrowing freely from Christian, Greek, Jewish, Hindu, Taoist and other sources, the creation to which it refers did not happen just 'once upon a time,' but occurs continuously, in the timeless ground anterior to each moment."

"Put it this way: neither the cosmos nor this book have a proper 'beginning,' but both have a center, a center that starts where science ends and must therefore be described in mythological terms. The purpose of myth is to help us re-collect what we have forgotten about our timeless source, our eternal nature, and our ultimate destiny."

In short, my huge mythunderstanding is a little sea shanty to sing between the shores. To be continued....

But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.
--Leonard Cohen

Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, J.W.M. Turner

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Nice Gnosis & Naughty Gnosticism

Gnosis is the perfection of faith. --Clement of Alexandria

Yesterday we discussed Voegelin's concept of political gnosticism, which first "condemns the existing world as broken and alienating, plagued by evil forces preventing a complete and happy restoration of man’s spiritual and material life." This existential diagnosis is followed by the promise of "a mode of deliverance or salvation from the prison of the world for man through a secret gnosis" -- i.e., by the toxic political prescription of a secular priesthood.

Progressives believe that by manipulating people with just the right coercive policies, the state can reconstitute paradise and create a "'kingdom of heaven on earth," for which Voegelin coined the ponderous term, "immanentizing the eschaton." He considered just calling it "uncool," but chose the former because he wanted to be taken seriously be academics who don't understand him. (This is the best book on Voegelin for those who would like an accessible introduction to this important but somewhat forbidding thinker.)

My son -- who turns three in a couple weeks -- already knows all about immamentizing the eschaton. For example, he wants to have bacon or pizza for every meal. Thus, I often have to remind him, "stop immamentizing the eschaton! You can't have bacon around the clock unless you're either a good person or an Islamist in the hereafter."

In Science and the Modern World, "Big Al" Whitehead wrote that "When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it is necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things ever occurred to them."

Being that we all live in "Christendom" -- that is, a culture shaped and animated (in the literal sense of "given life") by Judeo-Christian principles -- I guess it shouldn't be surprising that we share its underlying assumptions about the "brokenness" of man and the world. But where the progressive goes off the rails is in supposing there is some secret political formula that can reverse the fall and restore us to wholeness. Thus, the ubiquitous frenzied moral passion that always animates the left. Leftists are always exaggeratedly pessimistic about the present state of the world, but "optimistic" in a crazed and manic way that steamrules over anyone who would dare delay the immediate implementation of paradise.

From Marx on down, the leftist fallacy follows from turning spiritual Truth on its head (or "inside-out"), so that man's spiritual crisis is seen as a material one (e.g. "robber barons," "global warming," "global cooling," "nuclear power," "income disparity," "corporate greed," etc.) instead of a psycho-spiritual one. This is the "fundamental assumption" which adherents of all the variant progressive systems within our epoch unconsciously presuppose.

For example, the progressive would say that Palestinians aren't evil, they're just poor. Which precisely inverts the truism that they are poor because they are evil (except for the few who are extraordinarily wealthy because they are evil, having been enriched by the largesse of Western progressives who give them money because they think it will stop them from being evil, when it always does the opposite, thus ensuring a constant cash flow from backward progressives).

Just know that these philosophers whose wisdom you so much extol have their heads where we place our feet (Isaac of Acre), and you'll be okay.

So yes, secular progressives do begin with the same cognitive "deep structure" as those who are in touch with reality, but they promptly place their heads up their assumptions and de-spiritualize them, very similar to how the unconscious mind creates a sexual perversion. In order to create a perversion, the unconscious must "see" a truth it wishes to deny, usually revolving around the reality of sexual/generational differences. For example, many homosexual men compulsively attempt to incorporate the father's phallus in a direct instead of symbolic manner. An insecure heterosexual man might attempt the same thing by projecting this homosexual desire into women, thus having a compulsive need to "conquer" them in order to shore up his weak masculinity.

What the.... How did I drift into this topic? I wanted to explore the meaning of genuine gnosis, in coontradistincion to the false kind discussed yesterday.

In this regard, the first thought that pops into my head is, "hmm. I'm a little tired this morning. I wonder what Schuon would say? I can always defer to him and make myself look brilliant by standing in his reflected light." Conveniently, one of his books has a chapter entitled Gnosis is Not Just Anything. With any luck, this will provide all the answers we need, thus freeing me from the responsibility of thinking too hard.

Perfect! Just what I was looking for. The very first sentence reads, "It is a fact that too many authors -- we would almost say: general opinion -- attribute to gnosis what is proper to Gnosticism and to other counterfeits of the sophia perennis, and moreover make no distinction between the latter and the more freakish movements... that saw the light of day in the twentieth century.... [N]ow the fact that an imposture necessarily imitates a good, since otherwise it could not even exist, does not authorize charging this good with all the sins of the imitation."

Ironically, one of the reasons men of potentially gifted intellect reject religion is that they mistakenly believe there is no place for the intellect in religion, a misapprehension that is most certainly reinforced by popular caricatures of religion that are engendered by none other than religious doofuses themselves. But in reality, the nous (which is the word the early Greek Fathers used for the higher intellect) is the "satellite" of the Logos, the latter of which is the very Reason or intelligence that infuses Being.

A man is constituted of knowledge, will, and sentiment, with one of these three being predominant. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that the spiritual path breaks out into three main branches (or "yogas"), the way of bhakti (love of God), karma (virtuous action), and gnani (knowlede of God). Each of these paths represents a way to counteract the hardening or dissipative forces of the local ego, in that the ego wants to act, love, and know what it wishes, not necessarily what is real or good. But knowing the Truth, loving the Real, and doing the Good all serve in their own way to tame and discipline the ego's wayward tendencies. After all, Good is what you must do, just as Truth is what you must know, on pain of not actually doing or knowing anything useful -- you know, like the tenured, right? Right.

So really, gnosis is simply "the path of the intellect and hence of intellection; the driving force of this path is above all intelligence, and not will and sentiment..." Furthermore, this path "comprises on the one hand 'comprehension,' and on the other 'concentration'; hence doctrine and method" (Schuon). The two obviously go together, as the more we concentrate, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we con-centrate ("circle with," or orbit around, the focal Truth).

"Concentration" implies a gathering together of all one's disparate and fragmented parts, so to speak, so that one may know the Truth "axis to axis." Or, as Schuon puts it, "the unicity of the object demands the totality of the subject." Thus, it is insufficient merely to know Truth with the mind; rather, it must ultimately be approached with body-mind-spirit, so that Truth actually "infuses" the will and sentiments and brings them into alignment with the Sovereign Good.

Many are attracted to philosophy whose natures are imperfect and whose souls are maimed and disfigured by their meanness.... And when persons who are unworthy of education approach philosophy and make an alliance with her who is rank above them, what sort of ideas and opinions are likely to be generated? Will they not be sophisms captivating to the ear, having nothing in them genuine, or worthy of or akin to true wisdom? --Plato

In paradise, you can eat pork products all day while having your body painted by a fairy princess. In San Francisco, they would ban the former while making the latter compulsory.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spiritual Gnosis vs. Progressive Gnosticism

It's a shame when one perfectly good word gets tarred by another through no fault of its own. A case in point is genuine spiritual gnosis vs. the political "gnosticism" discussed by the philosopher Eric Voegelin. In the April 7, 2008 National Review, Jonah Goldberg has a very insightful article on the politics of left wing gnosticism as it pertains to the Obama campaign, a campaign that goes to the very core of the left's spiritual pathology. It again demonstrates what happens when one abandons the "authorized" channels of religiosity for manmade ones, which ends up elevating man to a god and politics to his religion. In so doing, it collapses the critical distinctions between time and eternity, natural and transnatural, freedom and constraint, and other essential complementarities within which man lives -- and without which, he isn't a man at all.

As an aside, it is ironic that Obama is hailed as someone who can "unify the nation," when he can't even unify his own party. To the contrary, this has been the most divisive Democrat campaign in 40 years. The things they say about Hillary on left wing sites far surpasses the invective of conservatives, if only because the left is so much more handy with expletives than ideas. I don't like Hillary because of her policies, whereas the far left loves her policies but hates her because she stands in the way of their messiah.

One difference between gnosis and gnosticism is that people without spiritual gnosis -- e.g., atheists and materialists -- are necessarily "exterior" to the domain it discloses, and yet, proclaim this infirmity to be a kind of superiority. In contrast, a person who is not seduced by the group fantasy of gnosticism is in a superior position to judge it, since he remains within the confines of objective reality. In this regard, it would be interesting to know how many of Obama's supporters claim to be "irreligious" (or, like Obama himself, belong to heretical gnostic Christian churches that preach a spirtitually upside down "liberation theology"), as this would tend to confirm my view that real religion is the best defense against false ones.

We shouldn't be surprised that the spiritual path of the left mirrors the stages of purification, illumination and union, only in reverse. First comes union with the new messiah. For example, Goldberg notes that "Obama recruiters are encouraged to proselytize not by talking about 'issues' but by testifying about how they 'came to' the candidate..." In short, there must be a "conversion" process, a "metanoia," in which the scales suddenly fall from the Obamian's eyes and he "sees" the truth and joins the cult.

Goldberg writes that "Obama’s apostles include his wife, Michelle, who insists she is 'married to the only person in this race who has a chance at healing this nation.'" In this regard, she has testified that “We need a leader who’s going to touch our souls because, you see, our souls are broken.... The change Barack is talking about is hard, so don’t get too excited, because Barack is going to demand that you, too, be different.”

Thus, after one merges with Obama and is illuminated by the Truth for which he stands, ones commences with the hard work of purification, as we struggle to make ourselves worthy of the grace we have received. In other words, ask not what Obama can do for you. Ask what you can do for Obama.

Goldberg cites numerous examples to show how much of the messianic language that encircles Obama "is more New Age than New Testament." He quotes Gary Hart, who says that the Anointed One "is not operating on the same plane as ordinary politicians,” but is an "agent of transformation in an age of revolution,” whatever that means. Likewise, the dreadful spirit hustler and enlightenment pimp, Deepak Chopra, claims that Obama represents “a quantum leap in American consciousness,” while another pneumapath and career guru, Eve Konstantine, says that he “is our collective representation of our purest hopes, our highest visions and our deepest knowings.... He’s our product out of the all-knowing quantum field of intelligence.” (Deepest knowings? She doesn't even know that "knowings" isn't a word.) And Oprah Winfrey suggests that Obama doesn't only "speak" truth but is the Truth who will help us “evolve to a higher plane.”

Of course, in left wing gnosticism, God does not work through the individual. Nor does he work through the interior collective, or any kind of "higher we." Rather, he works through the instrument of that coerced labor camp known as "the state," which will take control over the spontaneous order of the free market and attenuate the true "interior bonds" of civil society. For progressives, liberty is not the solution, it's the problem, because it tends to lead to the exercise of free will, which in turn emphasizes the sanctity of the individual.

The heart of Goldberg's piece involves a discussion of Voegelin's point that progressivism is a political religion and therefore a form of gnosticism. This religion has "two core assumptions. First, it condemns the existing world as broken and alienating, plagued by evil forces preventing a complete and happy restoration of man’s spiritual and material life."

So the progressive, in his own garbled way, recognizes that man is "fallen." However, "the gnostic promise, to borrow a phrase from John Edwards, is that 'it doesn’t have to be this way.'" Thus, the second assumption; as Russell Kirk observed, these religions promise "a mode of deliverance or salvation from the prison of the world for man through a secret gnosis." By manipulating people with the right policies, we can create a "'kingdom of heaven on earth' -- not coincidentally, a phrase invoked by Bolsheviks, progressives, fascists, and every other variety of utopian collectivist. This effort to lasso the hereafter and pull it down to the here-and-now was dubbed by Voegelin 'immanentizing the eschaton'" (Goldberg).

Different demoninotions of leftism will have different secret formulas and incontations to create their utopia. For Marxists, "the secret lay in the intricacies of scientific socialism.' With just the right manipulation of material or historical forces we could -- ta-da! -- create a land where each lives according to his need.... For the progressives, the trick was giving ourselves over to the social planners and gnostic 'ideologists of Christ'.... today, the secret is Barack Obama." Goldberg cites a creepy video "in which children testify about the dire state of the world." It then "cuts to a baby opening a copy of The Audacity of Hope, complete with a whispery spirit voice promising a 'secret.' The video concludes with one child after another announcing that the secret is -- Barack Obama."

As I mentioned above, the wave of Obama support rides on a deep structure of religious energy that is unrecognized by those most susceptible to it. In fact, as Goldberg says -- and I have argued in the past -- "the craving to create a heaven on earth is the inevitable consequence of a godless society." Or, to paraphrase Pope Benedict, "the loss of transcendence leads to the flight to utopia."

The very definition of "totalitarianism" is the "existential rule of Gnostic activists": "Indeed, the story of totalitarianism is the story of men trying to replace the allegedly discredited old God with one of their own creation." So de-divinization always preceeds the "redivinization" of explicit left wing brainwashing. This is certainly how it worked for me in college. First you discredit religion, and then replace it with with a pseudo-religion that occupies the vacant spiritual territory. It took me years to undo this ironically named "higher education."

From this follows the worship of man -- not even Man as Such, the image and likeness of the Creator -- but usually a man. "Or, in Voegelin’s words, they 'build the corpus mysticum of the collectivity and bind the members to form the oneness of the body.” In short, we finally become the ones we’ve been waiting for. Or, more accurately, you will be forced to wait upon the narcissism and self-victimization of the infantile ones constituting the progressive mob.

Perhaps tomorrow we'll get into the actual meaning of true gnosis.