Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On Keeping Faith Alive: The Intellect Doesn't Slump

You never know what will attract your attention. While idly shambling around the internet a couple of evenings ago, I found a link on Hugh Hewitt's site to a fellow named William Lobdell, a journalist who covered religion for the dreaded L.A. Times for eight years. However, in so doing, he found a cure for his misplaced faith, and has now published a book called Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America -- and Found Unexpected Peace. I'm sure the book itself is of no intrinsic value, except perhaps as a bad example from which we may derive something useful. Let us try.

Since he is now a bonehead atheist, it is odd that Lobdell still writes about "religion," being that there can be no such thing for an atheist. True, there is a phenomenon that goes by the name of religion, but it can only be a comforting self-delusion at best, a pernicious pathology at worst. Lobdell can have no genuine interior knowledge of the subject, being that there is no interior knowledge to be had. It is equivalent to saying that he blogs about his own ignorance, which hardly makes him unique.

One wonders which one it was for Lobdell, fantasy or sickness? And naturally, the psychologist in me wants to know what it is in him that is prone to pathological fantasies. The reason I say this is because these kinds of mind parasites endure, especially if one has no insight into them. You don't just wake up one morning and say "hallelujah, I'm healed of my delusion!" But that is exactly what Lobdell would have us believe. For 15 years or so he was a self-deluded religious nut. But now, all of a sudden, he has been healed of religion, and has something useful to tell us about God. But it's the same presumptuousness in a different garb. One would think a little humility would be in order from one so easily deceived.

In reality, there must be an underlying psychological continuity, religion or no religion. Whether writing about God or godlessness, he's really writing about himself. While he has every right to continue doing so, I wouldn't recommend it, because he will just dig himself into a deeper hole, while proudly elevating himself above that of which he admittedly possesses no genuine knowledge.

There is a baseball adage that speed doesn't slump. For those of you who are not baseball fans, it means that every hitter, no matter how good, will go into the occasional slump in which he just can't hit the ball. Baseball is a very difficult sport. It's not easy to hit a ball traveling 90 miles per hour, thrown from 60 feet away. But if you possess foot speed, you can always try to bunt for a base hit, or run out a routine grounder, or get a walk and steal a base, or be a pinch runner in a tight ballgame, etc. Plus, your speed can always help your fielding. The point is, there are all kinds of little ways a speedy player can help the team.

We could say that there is a parallel adage in religion to the effect that the intellect doesn't slump. Like baseball, religion is a very difficult sport; it is a long season, with lots of ups and downs. If you are more of an emotional than intellectual person (i.e, a bhakti vs. jnani), it's generally going to be more difficult, unless you possess an unusual degree of equanimity and emotional consistency. Otherwise, there will be times that your faith "goes dry," along with your emotions. In such a case, your faith will have to carry you through the rough patches. In a way, such a practice actually uses the emotions to cure them of their inherent fickleness. Sort of like marriage, in which one can elevate one's emotions by binding them to a single person.

Now, I'm oversimplifying here, being that there can be no gnosis in the absence of subtle emotions, just as a genuine, purified heartfelt faith is surely a kind advanced gnosis. Nevertheless, I imagine that Lobdell's story is not altogether uncommon. For one thing, if one possesses a modicum of intelligence, it will be very difficult to remain religious to the extent that one is only exposed to stupid religion, or if one has only a stupid and childlike understanding of it.

In such a case, any self-respecting intellect will reject religion, and properly so, being that there is no privilege higher than truth. By its nature, the intellect (because it is good) will assent to that which it believes to be true (truth is to the intellect what virtue is to the will). The problem is, for such a person, the intellect itself must be convicted and converted, otherwise it will continue to be one's biggest stumbling block, when in reality, it can be used as the key to the whole existentialada if properly developed.

Again, for the emotional person, his emotions can be either the barrier or the means to faith; likewise, for the intellectually gifted person, his intelligence can be either a wall or a door. Most atheists are of mediocre intelligence, but for those with superior intelligence, something has obviously gone dreadfully wrong (and I'm hardly excusing religion for often presenting itself in such a vulgar and stupid way, although the media plays a big role in this, and makes it easy for otherwise intelligent people to reject it.)

I was listening to Dennis Prager on the way to work yesterday, and he was talking about how the intrinsic stupidity of the left helps to keep his religious faith alive. I fully agree that when you see the absence of light and wisdom in the left, it makes you appreciate even more the timeless wisdom embodied in religion. As Prager was saying -- and I agree with him 100% -- good religion is an inoculation against all kinds of philosophical and political stupidity (and evil). In turn, this realization always prompts a kind of heartfelt gratitude for the light I have been given by so many God-inspired intellects. Not only did I receive nothing during the course of my liberal indoctrination, I was contaminated. Only exposure to the real Truth can undo this worldy contamination. And who wouldn't be grateful for that?

Lobdell has published the story of how he lost his "faith" here. Let's see how many errors we can chronicle in this cautionary tale, in the hope that some other poor sap doesn't fall into them and end up cashing in truth for atheistic sophistries.

Lobdell says that "when the Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God had answered my prayers. As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show. I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people’s lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier."

Now, Lobdell's first big mistake was presuming to write about religion so soon after he himself had come to it. A more modest person would have given it, oh, I don't know, a good two or three decades before even picking up the pen. Otherwise, there is an overwhelming likelihood that you will only be capable of transmitting error, or superficially blathering about weakly grasped principles. Look at it this way: truly understanding religion takes much more time and commitment than, say, obtaining a PhD in physics, being that the subject is infinite. But what kind of person would presume to write about physics shortly after an emotional experience of "hallelujah, physics exists!"

One can also be sure that if the L.A. Times offers you a job writing about religion, something's wrong. That's like Pravda offering you a job writing about capitalism. Only certain people will be "qualified," if that is the right word.

So that's mistake number one: a kind of hubris that conceals the fact that something very central has eluded his grasp. But even prior to that, there were some red flags. Lobdell says that he came to religion in 1989, when "I was 28 and my first son was less than a year old. I had managed to nearly ruin my marriage (the second one) and didn’t think I’d do much better as a father. I was profoundly lost." A friend suggested that he needed God in his life, and recommended that he attend one of those "mega-churches" that are devoid of either intelligence or barakah, but which rake in millions by fleecing their flocks.

Now, if this were the only kind of religion that existed, I can assure you that I would be an atheist, probably a militant one. Again, the intellect can only assent to what it believes to be true, and for mine to assent to Paul and Jan Crouch, or Bennie Hinn, or Joel Osteen, or Tammie Faye Baker, I would have to be brain damaged (and I don't intend to give the brain-damaged a bad name). I don't even consider these people religious per se, any more than I consider most of what calls itself art to have any right to the name. Yes, some religiosity inevitably gets tossed into the mix, and I am quite sure that many decent people get involved in this kind of thing, but their decency -- or God's mercy -- protects them from becoming completely lost and deceived. I place these people in same category as Deepak Chopra and his ilk. Just two sides of the same coin mint.

Along these lines, a friend of mine at work is turning 40. Since graduating medical school, he has worked hard at becoming successful and obtaining some degree of financial security. Now he wants to focus on his spiritual development, and was asking for advice. It is somewhat difficult to give advice to an absolute beginner, especially someone who will likely have to overcome a kind of scientistic hyper-rationalism that often results from medical school (which selects such types to begin with).

I'm still thinking about the question, but in general, the one piece of advice I might offer is to always look for intelligence and barakah, or light and grace. If you do this, you won't go wrong, because this is what your intellect and heart are hungering for, a kind of light-filled intellectual certitude, plus a grace-filled warmth where your soul finds its home. In short, you are looking for a sanctuary for the heart-mind.

Back to Lobdell's anti-spiritual autobiography. He says that the pastor of the mega-church "had a knack for making Scripture accessible and relevant. For someone who hadn’t studied the Bible much, these talks fed a hunger in my soul. The secrets to living well had been there all along –- in 'Life’s Instruction Manual,' as some Christians nicknamed the Bible."

When he says that the pastor had a knack for making scripture "accessible," I'm going to take a wild guess and say that he probably had an even bigger talent for vulgarizing it. After all, truth is truth, and if he had been conveying anything deep and useful, Lobdell would still believe it. It would have "stuck."

And when he says that these talks "fed a hunger in my soul," that is surely true, just as Twinkies will feed a hunger in your belly. But just because Twinkies are devoid of nutrition, that hardly means that the stomach doesn't exist or that it doesn't have real needs.

That's another point I would emphasize to my friend at work: you may have difficulty with the idea of God, but that can be overcome if you focus on the other end of the line, the human spirit that is a "divine spark" of God. By locating, identifying, articulating, and expanding this "part" of oneself -- what Aurobindo calls the "psychic being," but which every tradition recognizes -- you will have your own "proof of God." That is, as this part of you develops, God naturally comes more into view. In fact, there can be no stable spiritual practice in the absence of this soul development; it is simultaneously means and end.

Lobdell's next big mistake was confusing (!?) with (¶), or transient states with enduring traits. As he writes, he attended a three-day religious retreat. I guess like any other cult, these are "designed to grind down your defenses and leave you emotionally raw -- an easier state in which to connect with God. After 36 hours of prayer, singing, Bible study, intimate sharing and little sleep, I felt filled with the Holy Spirit."

Hmm. Being that he is now an atheist, he doesn't say what he believes actually happened to him. Presumably it was just some sort of altered state brought about by the unleashing of repressed energy. I'm guessing that this kind of experience isn't too difficult to obtain under such circumstances. Isn't that what the '60s was all about?

Well, running short on time.... The End.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Truth vs. Power in the Life of Solzhenitsyn

... [W]e are not only living with the truth of Gödel but also the truth of Darwin. Our minds are the blind product of evolution. Still, many scientifically minded, post-Gödel thinkers have testified to hearing, within the strange music of Gödel's mathematical theorems, tidings about our essential human nature.... Gödel's theorems tell us, according to this line of reasoning, what our minds simply could not be. In particular, what our minds could not be..., are computers. --Rebecca Goldstein, Incompleteness

Odd that LGF should post a tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for whatever else he was, he was a stern voice against postmodern nihilism in all its varieties, whether it be Marxism, Darwinism, western style consumerism, or narrow-minded Queegism. A Raccoon knows precisely what Solzhenitsyn meant when he said that That which is called humanism, but what would be more correctly called irreligious anthropocentrism, cannot yield answers to the most essential questions of our life, and that One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.

But what can these things possibly mean to a middlebrow Darwinist? It's just vacuous rhetoric. To a Darwinist, Solzhenitsyn's life can make no sense. Why would he risk his genes for ideals that the Darwinist knows are illusory? (Solzhenitsyn was a devout Russian Orthodox.)

In looking back at the horror of Soviet communism, Solzhenitsyn remarked that "if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.

I wonder if Solzhenitsyn could have more effectively survived his ordeals if he had adopted the Lizard's credo, that "One word of natural selection shall outweigh both the soul of man and its Creator," or that the atrocities of communism occurred because "Men have forgotten Darwin; that's why all this has happened."

There are several pillars of postmodern deconstruction, and these include Marxism, philosophical Darwinism, and a crude form of Freudianism. Taken together, these constitute a "hermeneutics of suspicion," through which an inferior mind may imagine itself superior in its omnipotent ability to undermine the foundation of things that infinitely surpass it.

In the barbarous hands of a Kosling or Queegling, these are like all-purpose corrosives to the foundations of civilization and to any ideal that transcends our narrow self-interest. But they are emotionally satisfying tools, since the person who wields them can instantly elevate himself above people and institutions far superior to himself. For example, Cornell West or Jesse Jackson need only remind themselves that Jefferson owned slaves, and they are superior to him! Likewise, Queeg need only link to a Penn and Teller routine on creationism, and he is superior to Thomas Aquinas or Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

As I have mentioned before, the Queegling is so powerful that his weaponized ideology is capable of destroying in a single comment what it took 3000 years of spiritual genius to build. Can you imagine the abject idiocy of such a person? But this is what we see in comment after comment at LGF. These "terrible simplifiers" are proud of their ability to render the suprasensible meaningless and reduce existence to a horizontal wasteland.

Freud -- who also had no feel whatsoever for religious truth -- believed that religion was nothing more than a giant collective defense mechanism rooted in childhood fears, while for Marx it was the "opiate of the masses." Likewise for an orthodox Darwinist, religion must have once had some genetic survival value, but in itself it is pure nonsense. In other words, we believe religion not because it is true, but because we are genetically programmed to do so. Which begs two questions, 1) how the atheistic Darwinist has transcended his own religious genes, and 2) whether we are simply genetically programmed to understand science, which in itself has no truth value.

Now, the postmodern revolt is all about power. Since there can be no appeal to truth, no ultimate way to adjudicate between competing agendas, this means that raw power must come in to fill the void. Things like multiculturalism and moral relativism are just masks for pure power.

This is why scientistic rationalism necessarily leads to the kind of totalitarian impulses we always see from the left, whether it is in the form of campus speech codes, political correctness, assaults on religious freedom, judicial tyranny, resurrection of the "fairness doctrine," etc. It is why Queeg must ban dissent from his blog, since no one is allowed to freely discover truth, being that the incorrect truth might be discovered. Therefore, doctrinal truth must be enforced from on high. But at least Queeg is consistent, in that he is behaving just like the survival machine he claims to be.

The entire basis of our rationally ordered liberty is that we may freely appeal to a truth that transcends us. The absence of this arrangement results in hell, one way or the other. For a truly free soul to have to live, move, and think within the narrow constraints of Darwinism would be hell on earth -- like a kind of intellectual and spiritual gulag.

For blind faith in Darwinism results in a kind of violent spiritual dismemberment; these people are crawling around with limbs missing, an eye gouged out, deaf in one ear, for they cannot see, hear, or touch the divine. Now, I'm all for extending rights to the "challenged" in order to make their lives easier. Nevertheless, I don't go as far as the extremists who claim that a disability is an advantage -- for example, advocates for the deaf who are against the cochlear implant, or the "fat is beautiful" movement. For the same reason, we know that "Darwinists must be." But we shouldn't flatter them by calling them "intelligent," much less "wise." Rather, it is a spiritual infirmity. After all, they know far better than we do that they are not intelligently designed. (Again, I am speaking of the Darwinist metaphysician, not the mere intellectual worker bee who knows his limitations, especially if his biological research is in service to a higher ideal.)

Of necessity, Darwinism reduces the Subject to an object, i.e., spirit to matter. But as Polanyi explained, "if all knowledge includes the personal participation of the knower, then the ideal of strict detachment is false. And clearly, if this ideal is a false one, science and religion stand on similar grounds -- or better, they stand on a continuum, with one leading naturally to the other" (Mitchell).

Do you see the problem? Either the Subject is ontologically real and therefore able to arrive at truth, whether scientific, religious, aesthetic or moral; or, if it is reducible to matter, then it renders any kind of immutable truth a mere illusion. In short, what's bad for the religious nous is bad for the scientistic panderer.

Polanyi wrote that this kind of crude scientistic reductionism deprives "our image of man and the universe of any rational foundation. All men, scientists included, must seek and hold on to a reasonable view of the universe and of man's place in it. For acquiring this we must rely on a theory of knowledge which accepts indwelling as the proper way for discovering and possessing the knowledge of comprehensive entities. I believe also this may open up a cosmic vision which will harmonize with some basic teachings of Christianity."

Hey, no kidding! Polanyi continues:

The book of Genesis or the frescoes of Michaelangelo "remain a far more intelligent account of the nature and origin of the universe than the representations of the world as a chance collocation of atoms." Why more intelligent? Because the former view draws great significance from the fact that the world exists and that we may comprehend it, and that the whole existentialada is "linked to our own calling as the only morally responsible beings in the world"; whereas the scientistic view necessarily "denies any meaning to the world, and indeed ignores all our most vital experience of this world."

You see, life is not meaningless. It is an achievement. Likewise, real manhood -- not the mere genetic kind -- is an achievement. It is not conferred by the genes, but by transcending them. Just so, Alexander Solzhenitsyn achieved things of eternal worth on this temporal plane. His life was not just a case of genes looking out for their own interests, like the monsters who oppressed and tortured him, and whose only interest was power.

For two thousand years, philosophy and religion had held up before Western Europe the ideal figure of man, as man, and had claimed for it a supreme worth....

Biological science drew the conclusion that the destruction of individuals was the very means by which advance was made to higher types of species.... As applied to human society this theory is a challenge to the whole humanitarian movement.
--Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Ten Commandments of Koslings, Liztards, and Geeks

Saturday is higher gnostalgia day, in which we look forward to the arkive from two years ago and try to pluck out the blest of the bunch.

In rifling through August 2006, I see that much of it was taken up by a series entitled The Ten Commandments of Satan. Actually, satan never "commands," but only suggests, advises, and encourages. At any rate, this little exercise shows just how much celestial wisdom (not to mention esoteric and ontonoetic be-who) is packed into the Ten Commandments, and by extrapolation, how much evil and stupidity is propagated by the Koslings and Queeglings who would have us bow down to their little manmode idols. Each of the commandments of the secular left represents an inversion of the actual commandment, so that the world is turned upside-down and/or inside-out.

Rather than repost each of them, I think I'll condense them down and do two or three at a time. As always, there is new material added as the whim strikes.


Satan’s first commandment is really just a reversal of the actual first commandment. Instead of “I am your God and you shall have no other gods before me,” the parallel looniverse of the secular left begins with “there is no Absolute and you shall be absolutely subject to the sacred relativities we have inserted in His place.”

Many implications follow from this initial inversion. In fact, reader Gumshoe touched on a number of them yesterday, quoting the author Eric Raymond. For example, “There is no truth, only competing agendas,” “All Western claims to moral superiority are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism,” and “There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.” Ironically, each of these is a false and repressive absolute disguised as a relativity. Their real purpose is to undermine and subvert the Absolute.

Reader Will also touched on this first commandment, noting that an intrinsic part of the secular left's agenda is to reduce Intellect (which is the means by which human beings may know Truth) to mind and mind to brain, making it a wholly material epiphenomenon. However, “Like any physical attribute, if the human intellect is not yoked to and governed by the Higher Intelligence, it runs amok and eventually goes crazy. It's taken some time to get there, but currently, the spiritually bereft intellect is basically in charge of most of the world's influential institutions, which of course means the world is in deep stew. As far as definitions of the Antichrist go, I think this would do OK.”

Precisely. Again, the secular left turns the cosmos upside down and inside out. As a result, instead of being conditioned in a hierarchical manner from the top down, it is conditioned from the bottom up. This results not in true liberation, only in rebellion and arbitrary pseudo-liberation, for there can be no meaningful freedom outside objective Truth.

The left rejects top-town hierarchies as intrinsically repressive, but the opposite is true -- only in being conditioned by the higher can we actually elevate and liberate ourselves from contingency and relativity. Are there repressive hierarchies? Of course. But almost all of them come from the left, in the form of various socialist schemes, or from Muslim fanatics, in the form of totalitarian Sharia law. America is an experiment in ordered liberty oriented toward an explicitly spiritual telos, not a satanic workshop to explore and celebrate the numberless cul-de-slacks of mere horizontal license.

The list of liberal icons and sacred cows is endless (indeed, they want to make one president), for the very reason that it partakes of time and not eternity -- of the many and not the One. I don’t know if anyone has really noticed, but the reason I entitled my book One Cosmos Under God is to emphasize the hierarchical nature of the cosmos, and the fact that the cosmos only makes sense because it is conditioned from the top down.

Although it is a banality to point out that we live in the relative, there is no such thing as the “absolutely relative” on pain of immediate self-refutation. The Absolute is anterior to the relative, whether conceived of as ground (at the base) or source (at the apex) of creation; it is actually both, resulting from the fact that the Absolute is necessarily both immanent and transcendent. For the same reason, the relative necessarily and inevitably contains degrees of being as it radiates from the center to the periphery, with the first and last degree known as “God.”

Now, the first five commandments govern man’s relationship to God, i.e., the vertical, while the second five govern man-to-man relations. However, these second five do not so much represent the horizontal as they do the vertical emanating downward and then radiating outward into all of creation, but especially toward other human beings. Thus, if, and only if, the commandments were actually followed by everyone, "thy will would be done," and it would be "on earth as it is in heaven."

Yesterday we discussed the secular leftist project of undermining the first commandment and replacing it with its counter-commandment (“there is no God, and we are his angry clowns”). This has the practical effect of turning the cosmos upside down and absolutizing the relative, thus shackling us in the Egypt of ontological Flatland. Sounds like a good deal, but in the end, you're going to be spiritually e-gypped. Big time.

The first commandment is actually a fractal that contains all of the others, so once you eliminate it, a host of disastrous implications follows in its wake: the reign of quantity, the tyranny of the horizontal, the subversion of truth, the devaluation of beauty, the perversion of real rationalism, and the loss of the quintessential categories of the holy and the sacred through which celestial energies radiate into our world. In short, hell on earth.

The reason why it is necessary to acknowledge the Absolute prior to the relative is that, in the absence of the Absolute, all transcendent values are bleached out and ultimately wiped away. Values can only exist in a hierarchy (i.e., some things are more precious and valuable than others), and any hierarchy is conditioned from top to bottom. There can be no higher or lower in an infinite horizontal wasteland. Rather, in such a case, the world is simply a brute fact, with nothing to spiritualize it. Matter is elevated to the “ultimate,” so that the world shrinks down to our most primitive way of knowing it. In fact, it is precisely because there are degrees within the relative that we may prove the Absolute, in that these degrees of relativity reflect the Absolute either more or less adequately.

Although Liztards and other narrow-souled secularists like to think that their's represents a sophisticated view of the world, in reality, no philosophy could be more provincial and monkey-bound. As Richard Weaver has noted, it substitutes facts for truth and logic for wisdom, elevating the world of the senses above the antecedent reality that can only be known by the intellect. Man becomes the center of authority, which makes him no authority at all, for God is the measure of man, just as man is the measure of the world.

The secular materialist attempts through endless induction to assemble the cosmos from the bottom up, but you can never get there from here. No one has ever even seen this thing called “cosmos,” and no one ever will. Rather, it is accepted on faith, as it is an inevitable shadow of its unitary creator. In other words, we all intuit that there is a strict totality of interacting objects and events because we were built to do so (unlike any other animal). To say “cosmos” is to say “God,” for God is the cosmos, even though the cosmos is not God. It is a "reflection" or "prolongation" of God, and therefore cannot help but to be One.

Haven’t you ever wondered why the cosmos is so beautiful? Why should it be? Why in the world should there be a category called “the beautiful?” Where is that beauty? Is it actually in the cosmos? Or is it only in us? If so, how did it get there, and what is its purpose?

In reality, beauty is another inevitable “residue” of its transcendent source, an exteriorization of the Universal Mind. To the extent that ugliness exists -- and it surely does -- it does not represent a fundamental reality but a deprivation of such. It is a measure of distance from the divine archetype, the full brunt of which reality could not bear. Thus we have degrees of beauty just as we have degrees of goodness and truth. And no one could plausibly argue that this beauty is perceived by the senses, but only by the uncreated intellect that mirrors it.

Two things that the uncorrupted mind cannot not know: that the world is intelligible and man is free. Take away either, and the world is simply an absurdity, a monstrosity, a mistake. For to say that we may know is equally to say that we are free, otherwise it is not knowledge at all. Knowledge proves freedom, freedom proves knowledge, and both prove the Creator, for the hierarchy of being disclosed by the free intellect leads back to its nonlocal source above.

Therefore, the second commandment follows logically from the first: you shall not turn the cosmos upside down and inside out and worship created things. There are, of course, many parallel injunctions in the Upanishads: “He alone is the reality. Wherefore, renouncing vain appearances, rejoice in him.” Because of our uncreated intellect, humans, and only humans, are able to discern between the Real and the apparent, maya and Brahman, the Absolute and the relative, the evolving and the immutable, the transient and the eternal, Raccoons and Liztards.

Behind the idolatrous secular impulse is a persistent, vulgar materialism that collapses the hierarchy of being and reduces the Absolute to some tangibly manifest idea or object that can be “contained” by the lower mind. But these are truly “mind games” for the childlike secularist, for no fragmented detail at the periphery of existence can explain the mysterious whole, much less the infinite interior center that represents its beating heart.

Life, for example, is not a function of DNA. Rather, the reverse is true. Likewise, consciousness is not a product of brains, but vice versa. For at the tip-toppermost of the poppermost, reality is sat-chit-ananda, or being-consciousness-bliss. Or so we have heard from the wise, from Petey, the merciful, the compassionate, the tendentious, the obnoxious!

“The universe is a tree eternally existing, its root aloft, its branches spread below.” So says the Katha Upanishad. We know that tree, for it is the same tree that appears in Genesis. It is a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf. For the grazing herdhearted woodenheads who wouldn't, they are the sap.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Scientism: Theology for the Brain Damaged (7.30.11)

As long as one clings to time, space, number and quantity, that person is on the wrong track and God is strange and far away. --Meister Eckhart

We couldn't be human if we didn't have something analogous to a left and right cerebral hemisphere, with very different ways of understanding the world and processing information. As I mentioned yesterday, I believe the reason we have a left and right brain is because we simultaneously mirror, and are mirrored by, the cosmos, which has both a horizontal and vertical structure.

Obviously science deals with the horizontal aspects of the world. It is linear, deterministic, past-to-future, bottom-up, etc. It also presumes the logical atomism that seems to be "common sense" for the left brain. That is, the universe consists of an infinite number of parts subject to various forces.

But the right brain isn't like this at all. Where the left brain is time oriented, the right brain sees things all at once. It is also inherently relational as opposed to atomistic. The right brain sees connections, whereas the left brain sees divisions. It is continuous where the left brain is discontinuous.

I recognize that is is rather simplistic, but even if it is only "in a manner of speaking," there is nevertheless much truth to it. Just as it is impossible to imagine a great poet, painter or musician without a highly developed and integrated right brain, it is inconceivable that one could be a great theologian, let alone, saint or mystic, without one.

Now, it is again a simplification, but it is safe to say that the left brain operates along the lines of asymmetrical logic, while the right brain is the realm of symmetrical logic. But no one, unless they are severely brain damaged, operates out of only one lobe, so there is always some degree of integration, although it can be relatively conscious and harmonious or unconscious and unharmonious. For example, much of the bonehead philosophy that emanates from scientism comes either from unacknowledged sympathies coming from the right brain, or a denial of its voice altogether. It sounds half-witted because it is.

It should be noted that in childhood the right brain develops in advance of the left, and that it has much deeper connections to the older parts of the brain such as the limbic system; as such, it is more "emotional," bearing in mind that emotions are a source of information, and that there can be both subtle and gross emotions, and even true and false ones.

As you may have noticed, much of spiritual development involves -- or is at least accompanied by -- a kind of "subtilization" of emotion, which is why it gets harder for you to tolerate being around the Barbarians. For example, although the sacred or holy are just as real as, say, matter -- actually, more so -- they obviously cannot be detected only by the senses, but in the heart, so to speak. In turn, this is why for the left, or for Queeg, nothing is sacred, except in an arbitrary or idiosyncratic way. They cluelessly steamroll over what is infinitely precious, like a child who gleefully smashes a cocoon to see what's inside. Like Queeg, they always confuse blasphemy with courage.

Now, one of the easiest ways to render scripture or Dylan's lyrics absurd is to approach them with the left brain of the scientistic mind. This is typically what the anti-religious bigots do, with great self-satisfaction, as if they are the first to notice that a literal reading of scripture is problematic. But if you approach the same passages with bi-logic, the problem usually disappears.

For example, what can it possibly mean that "Christ is in me" and that "I am in Christ"? From the standpoint of conventional logic, this is patently absurd, like saying that "I am in the Slacktuary" and that "the Slacktuary is in me." But from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, it not only makes perfect sense, but is a kind of logical corollary, if that is the correct word. That is, if Christ is in me, then I am necessarily in him. (Again, think of dream logic, in which contradictory statements can be equally true.)

Likewise, we all know that God is both radically transcendent, or "beyond everything," and intensely immanent, or "within everything." With conventional logic, these statements would be mutually exclusive, but from the standpoint of symmetrical logic, they are again complementary.

Speaking of complementarity, one wonders if some of the conundrums of physics cannot be reconciled in this manner. For example, from the standpoint of conventional logic, it is deeply problematic that the electron appears as either particle or wave, depending upon how one looks at it. In other words, it can either be an isolated part, or else a wave that shades off into the totality of existence. In the former sense, things are externally related and local, whereas in the latter sense they are internally related and nonlocal. This is a mystery to the left brain, but a banality to the right.

To extend the analogy a bit -- and again, bear in mind that I am drawing things out to their extremes in order to create a more vivid contrast -- much of the Bible is a primer on verticality. It simultaneously acquaints us with the vertical realm, while at the same time furnishes us with a vivid kind of language with which to think about and communicate it. This language was obviously quite effective for most of mankind's history. Indeed, it is perhaps difficult for modern sophisticates to understand how easily Christianity spread. People simply heard the story and said, "makes sense to me," and that was that.

But why did it make sense? The modern sophisticate will say that it had something to do with childlike naivete, or fear of death, or wishing to have a spurious sense of control over the environment. This may well be partly true, at least for the masses. But it is patently untrue if one reads the early fathers, whose thinking is enormously subtle and sophisticated, and still completely relevant to moderns, to say the least. But again, the whole key is to understand things -- or at least to supplement one's understanding -- with symmetrical logic.

(Review material ahead -- I slept late again, and I hear the boy waking up. Plus I woke up with low blood sugar, which always causes the brain to be a bit slow in rebooting. I had hoped to get into more specific examples from scripture that exemplify symmetrical logic, in particular, Genesis and some of the sayings of Jesus. Maybe tomorrow.)

In the Symmetry of God, Bomford notes that we cannot actually conceve of eternity, since it is both timeless and changeless, whereas linear thought naturally takes place in time. But we can grasp it through various analogies in the herebelow, for example, the "everlasting," which "provides the closest image of the timeless within time." Therefore, we gain a sense of timelessness in proximity to things that are very old, like a European cathedral, or the Pyramids, or Larry King -- anything "whose beginning is lost in the mists of time, the ancient and the ageless, for these approximate in feeling to the everlasting."

At the same time, at the other end of the extreme, we may also glimpse the eternal in the passing moment, "for such a thing is simultaneously whole and unchanging -- it has no time in which to change.... It is there in its fullness -- and it is gone again." Thus, a mystic such as William Blake could see eternity in a flower or grain of sand, just as Lileks can see it in an old matchbook or motel postcard.

Eternity can also be suggested "by the last event of a series." Bomford cites the example of an aging travel-writer "who had long before visited many places for the first time, and returned often, found a renewed significance in returning once more deliberately for the last time. Places regained the freshness of the first visit." Similarly, "the last words of the dying may be seen as a key to an understanding of a whole life. The last of the series completes the picture, ends the story, and thus hints at the instantaneous wholeness of eternity."

Think "it is accomlished." What was? Oh, I don't know, maybe a little bridge between time and eternity in the heart of the cosmos, making each moment an eternal new year where death touches Life and the former is tranfsigured by the latter.

Every December 31, we touch the edge of eternity, as we approach the "end" of one year and the "beginning" of another -- the uniting of old and new, as they are joined at midnight. The Book of Revelation captures this quality, only on a cosmic scale, when the enthroned Christ "announces himself as The First and the Last and the Lord God himself is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end." Similarly, St. Augustine "addressed God as 'Thou Beauty, both so ancient and so new,'" an expression of eternity which has a deep unconscious resonance.

Traditional metaphysics always makes a distinction between the God-being and the God-beyond-being -- between the personal God that can be named and thought about and the Supreme Reality that is beyond name and form. The former is the cataphatic God about whom we may talk, debate and theologize in a somewhat linear way, while the latter is the apophatic God that so utterly transcends our categories that the most we can say about it is what it is not. Various formulations are "fingers pointing at the moon," and although they are "doorways" into the divine mystery, one should not mistake the finger for the moon.

Most rank-and-file religious people have never heard of the God-beyond-being and might even be offended by the idea. They have a clear conception of what God is like, and don't want to be reminded that the real unconditioned God blows away those mental idols like a tornado through a Buddhist sand painting convention... which, by the way, is the whole point of a sand painting.

This distinction between the God-being and God-beyond-being is actually a distinction within God himself, and perhaps mirrors the distinction within us between symmetrical and asymmetrical logic. It is not a bobmade principle, but one that would be intrinsic to the inner life of the godhead. It is easy to prove that it exists, more problematic to prove that we or anything else can exist outside it. As a matter of fact, the God-beyond-being is the only thing that cannot not be, although numerous implications immediately follow. Ultimately it is the distinction between Brahman and maya, between reality and appearance, between absolute and relative, between necessary and contingent.

This brings up an interesting point. That is, does God have divine mind parasites?

Oh yes. I’m afraid so. For what is a mind parasite in the final analysis? It is a relativity that partakes of, and confuses itself with, absoluteness. God being God, he cannot help being present in all relativities. But being God, he cannot help being beyond them as well. A divine mind parasite is a relativity that steals from the absolute and then forces itself upon others absolutely. In short it is a demon. Like everything else, it must ultimately be "of God," even though it can't be. Only symmetrical logic can reconcile such a problem. Evil must needs be, but woe to the man who commits it.