Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Caught in the Cross Fire

The highest beings hear God not only through and in existence, or through and in life, but through and in understanding itself. In that realm, understanding and speaking are the same. --Meister Eckhart

I'm afraid my wires are getting a little crossed. I'm trying to finish up our little review of Bolton's Self and Spirit at the same time I have begun fulfilling my new year's resolution, which is to complete Balthasar's sprawling 15 volume systematic theology, consisting of the aesthetics (seven volumes), theo-dramatics (five volumes) and theo-logic (three volumes; most of the volumes are 500-600 pages).

In the past, I've only read him in dribs and drabs, plus a fair amount of secondary literature, but now I'm diving right in. You could say it's overloading my circuits. I don't recall ever reading anything so dense. I can't really make a general raccoomendation, any more than I would recommend climbing Mount Everest. The best available introduction, by Oakes, says that writing a one-volume book on him was "like trying to fit the Mediterranean Sea into a child's pail." That's a bit of an exaggeration; I would say "thimble." I have no idea how I'm going to boil it all down to wisecrock of a post or two.

Interestingly, I am noticing many connections between Bolton and Balthasar, which suggests to me that the plane of exoterism becomes an esoterism if you simply pursue the former all the way down -- or up. I first ran across Balthasar's name because he had written the afterword for the highly esoteric Meditations on the Tarot. And yet, he was nominated by Pope John Paul to be a cardinal, which again highlights the hardy-harmonic coonvergence between exo- and esoterism. (Oddly, Balthasar was born in Switzerland a couple of years before, and 40 miles away, from Schuon; must have been something in the holy water.)

Ironically -- or not -- it was the opposite path for Unknown Friend. He pursued esoterism to its limits, and it brought him right back to the Catholic Church! So it seems that extremes truly do meet, so long as we really take them to the extreme, and don't stop at some arbitrary point.

And because it has been around the humans for so long, it's easy to forget how extreme and extremely esoteric Christianity was at the time of its appearance. As always happens, the container ends up domesticating the contained, in whatever arena. There is a downsde to dogma, and that occurs when it becomes stagnant and loses it generativity. It's not so much the fault of dogma as its interpreter. A Meister Eckart can come along and unsaturate the dogma in shocking ways -- which is why his writing is still refreshing today.

In a way, it is up to each generation to rediscover the uncontainable within the contained. If we can't do that through official channels, schisms inevitably form, because man was made to know the Absolute, and won't be satisfied with anything less. In turn, follow the schism to its logical limits, and it will (hopefully) lead you back to orthodoxy, only in a revitalized way. It is fair to say that one will return to the beginning, and know the place for the first time. This is what it has been like for me. To immerse oneself in the wor(l)d of Balthasar is like being shocked by the scandal of Christianity all over again for the first time. And what a shock to the system!

First of all, the man is a genius, which is obvious. Second, just this one trilogy consists of what, 8,000 pages? As I think I've mentioned before, I believe genius is genius. This or that genius will simply find a medium, or "idiom," for the expression of their particular genius. For one person it will be music. For another, physics. For another, theology.

I take the example of Bion, another obvious genius. In his case, he expressed his genius through the discipline of psychoanalysis. In order to appreciate him, one must, to a certain extent, obscure the particulars in order to see how "genius itself" approaches the world and its problems. In other words, you must look at it from a meta-level and not only see what genius "knows," but what it does. And what does it do?

For one thing, it always sees beyond the exterior, to the "within of things." Over at Just Thomism, James has one of his typically elliptical and Bionically unsaturated posts on Difficulties in Understanding Abstraction. As with Bion, I'm often not quite sure I understand what brother James is talking about, but he nevertheless provokes a flurry of my own untamed thoughts, which is a rare quality in a teacher. Good teachers always "disturb the peace" -- which eventually allows for a deeper peace that surpasses understanding.

In my comment, I mentioned that what he wrote about the "unimaginability" of the intellect reminded me of mountain biking, in which, if you want to avoid crashing, you don’t look down at what you're trying to avoid in your path, but look ahead about 20 yards, to where you want to go. Similarly, the intellect is always reaching “beyond itself.” Eliminate the beyond, and your intellect will lose its balance and crash in the dirt.

A narrow and mediocre intellect -- let's say, oh, Queeg -- is fixated on the Darwinian rocks in his path, and therefore stumbles on them. He can't ride his intellectual bike any further than that, but then leaps to the wholly unwarranted conclusion that the path doesn't continue infinitely beyond the rocks. Just because he got bent, it doesn't mean that we have to. I mean his bicycle got bent.

Again, the real genius takes the facts of Darwinism, or psychoanalysis, or theology, and sees "through" and "beyond" them, to something far deeper. And you may think that this has nothing to do with yesterday's post, but you'd be wrong. Because yesterday we left off with the idea that the Incarnation signifies the union of the infinite and finite, which is precisely why the there is an unlimited "depth" to reality accessible to the deep thinker. The depth, AKA the metaphysical transparency, is only there because it is the infinite shining through the finite. This in turn resonates with Balthasar's emphasis on the aesthetics of theology as of equal importance as the Good and True.

Theology is never "merely true," like, say science. Rather, to the extent that it is "truly true," then it will also be infused with, and radiate, the divine glory, which is none other than beauty itself. And what is the "sense" with which we appreciate divine beauty? To try to answer that question is a little like trying to avoid the rock in the bike path. In order to answer it, you must look ahead -- or above -- to where the trail of beauty is headed -- which is the very purpose of the trail.

Bolton cites a passage by Plotinus, who wrote that we mustn't "complain about the lower in the higher; rather, we must be grateful to the higher for giving something of itself to the lower." Thanks to that, our minds are on fire, but never consumed, for we exist in that sinaiptic gap where the divine grace touches our aspiration. And our as-piration is God's in-spiration, or the breath of grace by another name.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Creator: Just How Lo Can He Go?

Today's invocational blessforme:

Because God's ground and the soul's ground are one ground, the human intellect is not other than the Only-Begotten perfect Image in the Trinity... --Bernard McGinn

In Self and Spirit, Bolton discusses the influence of Greek thought on the development of Christian theology, which I think is often misunderstood, being that it was more a case of the latter "baptizing" the former (just as I bobtize Darwinism, big bang cosmology, neurodevelopmental psychoanalysis, or anything else that tries to get between me and O).

In any event, Bolton argues that Pythagoras, in effect, set off an epistemological revolution with deeply ontological consequences. If you learn nothing else today, just remember that last phrase, because you can whip it out during arguments in order to rattle your opponent.

The point is, the discovery of these mathematical theorems revealed "whole classes of problems capable of the same methods of solution." In turn, this began to liberate knowledge from the purely concrete, the result being that "problems which had once seemed quite different from one another could now be seen to be subject to a single principle valid for all of them." (Remember what we said yesterday about both science and religion reducing the world from multiplicity to unity.)

This new mathematical approach to reality had a "purifying effect" on on the mind, in that it allowed it to "contact," as it were, essences of things. Afterwards, Plato would expand and market this idea, which resulted in "a new meaning and value for the individual," what with man's unique ability to mediate "between two different orders of reality." Once this connection was made, a whole occident was just waiting to happen, what with the idea of the logos, which "signifies an absolute reality which is also inseparable from its productions and manifestations."

And here's the ontological part: the logos "is a reality in which transcendence and immanence are specially combined, and are fused but not confused" (emphasis mine). In short, we now have a kind of paradoxical duality, in that "the terms of the duality are united in the operating Logos itself," so that One is always two and two are always One. Again, if this were not the case, both scientific and religious knowledge would be strictly impossible, for they partake of the sophsame and selfsane principle.

Now, if Man is the being who knows the logos, this means that the logos must in some sense be recapitulated in Man. As a result, we now have the precursor of the idea that man is the "image and likeness," since it is clear enough that he is the microcosm that potentially embraces all levels of reality within himself. Each person is a microcosmos who is "in some sense equivalent to the world."

Here again, to affirm any scientific truth at all, one must implicitly have the underlying faith that mind = reality, otherwise there is no possibility of truth. And this is why it is so absurd for scientific fundamentalists to deny this implicit reality in order to discredit religion, being that the latter is rooted in the same idea that man may know the Real.

Here again, this logoistic balancing act is unique to, or at least uniquely emphasized in, Christianity (also in Aurobindo, but that's the subject for a different post). For example, Bolton points out that for Shankara -- the undisputed godfather of Vedanta and hardest working manas in moksha business -- "this idea of God as being a mediator between Himself and creation must be meaningless, because it recognizes no reality between the Godhead and the realm of Maya; it can thus have no place for the Divine Logos or for the Trinity."

In other words, Christianity brings with it a new dignity, both for the creation and for the individual, and therefore the finite, which is not some kind of accident or mistake, but a reflection of the Creator. The infinite implies the finite, which now gives us a context within which to think about the idea of how the Word could become flesh, God could become man, and the Universal could become the particular. Indeed, in a sense, the infinite would be less than infinite if it did not take on the finite, would it not? For this would mean that the finite possessed something that is lacking in the infinite, which is impossible.

In ether worlds, "if God were solely a pure spirit, man would in some sense be more than God, since he he is a spirit who is also united with all the material levels of being." This would be absurd in light of the idea that we are made in the image of the Creator. In reality, "what is a mediating function in man between the intellect and the natural order is, in Christ, a mediation between God and the whole of creation." Christ "awakens the Logos principle in the individual person, saving it from being a mere potentiality."

No longer is God an intrinsically hidden God who cannot be known so much as apophatically unknown. Rather, in the Incarnation, we have the very archetype of the Creator within the creation and the Absolute within the finite. We also have the eshcaton, or cosmic end, appearing within this "middle" that we call "history," but that's another story.

This antinomy of finite-infinite is not a pernicious dualism but "a generative principle by which the Good brings about all the lower orders of being without any direct or substantive transfer from itself." The ontological and epistemological consequences are "momentous," "since the supremely other-worldly reality now becomes the source of innumerable other realities... which are not simply the play of illusion, because all degrees of real being are distributed in them." The barrier between God and man is bridged, but in a way that avoids pantheism and/or materialism, even while allowing for the partial truths necessarily embedded in each.

Oops. Out of time. To be continued. (All quoted material taken from Self and Spirit.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Childlike Faith of the Scientific Fundamentalist

Today we will review the question of evolution in light of the antinomy of faith vs. reason. It's a subtle issue, so it's easy to misunderstand where I'm coming from. It is not quite accurate to say that I reject literalism -- in fact, not accurate at all, because the higher reaches of the spiritual life are built on a stable foundation of dogma, just as the ability to communicate requires fixed rules for spelling and grammar. You can eliminate the rules of spelling and grammar, but you won't be able to say much of substance. But at the same time, you don't just idealize good spelling as sufficient in itself to convey wisdom.

The whole point of theology -- as opposed to revelation -- is to create a consistent and comprehensive system of spiritual, or metaphysical, thought. In order to do this properly, one must exclude nothing. There is no right superior to truth, so wherever we find truth, we must respect it and find a place for it in our theology. Otherwise, as mentioned yesterday, we will have unintegrated gaps in our being, when the whole point of spiritual practice is to become whole -- for thine I to become single. In the language of Godel, the I of the literalist (whether scientific or religious) will be highly consistent, but at the price of serious incompleteness.

As I have mentioned in the past, I regard religion as the science of the ultimate, or absolute, Subject, and science as the religion of the ultimate object -- the physical cosmos. Both are methods to gain knowledge, the former operating through faith, the latter through doubt. Another way of saying it is that religion involves the exercise of faith as applied to the vertical, whereas science restricts itself to doubt in the horizontal.

Looked at in a certain way, science is simply the systematization of doubt. Unlike animals, we can doubt the evidence of our senses and inquire into the true cause of things. But the universe is One, and whenever we try to draw a bright line between two manmade categories, aspects of one side will inevitably creep into the other. For example, we divide the world into categories of "matter" and "mind," whereas the underlying reality knows no such strict boundary. We have a problem understanding how truth can emerge from a nine pound piece of meat, but only because of our preconceptions. The cosmos does not have this problem.

We can easily show that science, especially in our time, has become a faux religion. This is because, in maintaining the bright line between religion and science, a lot of religion ends up on the science side. Thus, while the father of empirical science may be doubt, its mother is unabashed faith. For example, in the words of our Unknown Friend, "Newton doubted the traditional theory of 'gravity,' but he believed in the unity of the world, and therefore in cosmic analogy. This is why he could arrive at the cosmic law of gravitation in consequence of the fact of an apple falling from a tree. Doubt set his thought in motion; faith rendered it fruitful."

Now, that is a point worth dwelling on: Faith rendered his thinking fruitful. As I have mentioned a number of times, this has been one of the genuine surprises of my life. I think, based upon my understanding of Polanyi, I already understood that our implicit scientific models of reality are always rooted in a type of unarticulated faith about the nature of things. What I did not realize was the extent to which faith in traditional revelation could be such a fruitful and generative way to think about reality in its deeper sense. In other words, I allowed for scientific faith; it was religious faith that made no sense to me.

And what is scientific faith? What is the credo of the materialist scientist? Again, our Unknown Friend provides an excellent summation (which I have paraphrased) of the reigning dogma and catechism of science. Let us place our hand on a copy of Sam Harris's The End of Faith, and solemnly affirm:

I believe in a single substance, the mother of all forces, which engenders the life and consciousness of everything, visible and invisible. I believe in a single Lord, biology, the unique son of the substance of the world, born from the mother substance after centuries of random shuffling of material: the encapsulated reflection of the great material sea, the epiphenomenal light of primordial darkness, the false reflection of the real world, consubstantial with the mother-substance. It is he who has descended from the shadows of the mother-substance, he who has taken on flesh from matter, he who plays at the illusion of thought from flesh, he who has become the Human Brain. I acknowledge a single method for the elimination of error, thus ultimately eliminating myself and returning to the mother substance. Amen.

Now clearly, the scientist has faith that the unique mother-substance must be one beneath its superficial diversity. Furthermore, he must have faith that the human mind is capable of reducing this outward multiplicity to unity, which is how science proceeds. He must also believe that the mind, although a product of evolution, is somehow its master. In other words, in knowing it is a product of evolution, the human mind transcends evolution and stands outside or "above" it.

Wait, how can that be? I thought the mother substance was the ultimate reality? How can it be transcended? If it is true that matter is the ultimate reality, it cannot be true, because truth is superior to matter. If matter is the ultimate reality, then there is no way to get around Haldane's remark that "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."

But show a little tolerance. You must understand that the scientific literalist is a simple person of faith. Don't ask for his faith to be complete. Like the religious literalist, his faith is consistent, but at the price of completeness. It must exclude much truth in order to maintain its consistency.

There is a horizontal world of quantities and a vertical world of qualities. The scientific fundamentalist reduces quality to quantity and calls it "knowledge." The religious literalist subsumes quantity into quality and calls it "faith." Is it really necessary to reduce the one the to other, or can they coexist harmoniously?

Viewed from a certain angle, the story of Genesis can be seen as the chronicle of man's fall from verticality to horizontality. The serpent promises us that if we open our eyes to the horizontal, we will be as gods. With the scientific revolution, mankind fully opened its eyes to the horizontal, but at what price? It is at the price of obscuring the world's inconceivably rich qualitative aspects. "The more one has 'open eyes' for quantity, the more one becomes blind to quality. Yet all that one understands by 'spiritual world' is only quality, and all experience of the spiritual world is due to 'eyes that are open' for quality, for the vertical aspect of the world." And the supreme quality -- or value -- "is the supreme Entity -- God.

What does it require to be a religious scientist or a scientific believer? Easy. Just imagine a cross. The vertical axis is called religion, the horizontal axis science. To quote our Unknown Friend again, we must

"Crucify the serpent. Put the serpent -- or the scientific creed -- on the cross of religion and science, and a metamorphosis of the serpent will follow. The scientific creed then becomes what it is in reality: the mirroring of the creative Word. It will no longer be truth; it will be method. It will no longer say: 'In the beginning was substance or matter,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the mechanism of the made world, it is necessary to choose a method which takes account of the origin of matter and of that which set it in motion from above.' And it will no longer say: 'the brain produces consciousness,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the function of the brain, it is necessary to consider it in such a way as if consciousness is caused by it."

This will "neutralize the poison of scientific faith and transform it into a servant of life," perhaps making the way for some Raccoon to come up with "a light-filled vision of the world evolving through the impulse of the serpent towards a final aim set by providence."

One Cosmos, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberation and Joyousness for All!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Cosmic Gulf War and the Struggle for Integrated Wholeness

For you new reader(s) out there, Saturday is the day I reach down into the cosmic hopper and revisit a rant from 730 posts ago, give or take. This was the first one selected, and it pretty much kept my interest, so here it is, now edited and spell-checked. Some of the new thoughts are placed in brackets, but I've added a lot of little things here and there.

I notice that in the voting, we have the dubious distinction of being the #1 non-Catholic blog in the universe! As you know, Mrs. G. is going through the RCIA program, which she is on track to complete this coming Easter. Now I'm ambivalent about following in her footsteps, because then I could only say #5 Catholic blog in the universe.


To follow up on yesterday's remarks, it is obviously important to maintain the distinction between evolution and natural selection. Evolution is a fact. Natural selection is a theory that attempts to account for the fact of evolution in a hopelessly incoherent, grossly incomplete, and philosophically naive way.

[One important point to bear in mind that the nature of our explanation will have much to do with the "scale" of our inquiry. I remember trying to explain this to my bewildered inquisitors during my dissertation defense 20 years ago. Newtonian physics works perfectly well on the human scale, but breaks down at the quantum level, where a new explanation is needed. Likewise, quantum physics cannot be reconciled with relativity on the cosmic macro level.]

[It is just so with natural selection, which explains some things while unexplaining many others, depending upon the scale. On the properly human scale, it only works in a comprehensive way for minds that have already become "materialized," so to speak. It doesn't work for those of us who have transcended materiality, i.e., who identify with the soul, or "psychic being," which is clearly anterior to natural selection, even while "participating" in the drama of cosmic evolution. I might add that Genesis obviously has extraordinary explanatory power, just not in the manner believed by the fundamentalist. To reduce it to a kind of materialism does great violence to scripture.]

As Will suggested, it would be contradictory to God's own nature to deceptively create the universe in such a way that it only looked 14 billion years old, or misleadingly throw in some fossils that make it look as if life appeared 3.85 billion years ago, or toss in human remains indicating that Homo sapiens sapiens has been wandering the planet for at least 100,000 years. Divine omnipotence does not include the ability to act contrary to the Divine nature -- which is not deliberately deceptive, to say the least. God wishes to be understood. He is not a deceiver. Indeed, he is not just our trans-parent, but the archetype of metaphysical transparency.

In response to Petey's statement that God does not give us the precious gift of spiritual intellection (which specifically integrates heart and mind in a higher unity) only to render it a farce with a literalism that undermines it, one reader suggested that he is content to close his mind in favor of receiving "the Water of Life." In other words, for this person, there is no relationship between "the waters of life" and our divine intellect. I don't think this is what God intended for us either -- to have to disable our most precious gift in order to believe in him. That would be like me telling Future Leader, "here, you can have all the toys you want, so long as you don't play with them."

I am going to try to pull together an argument from a number of diverse strands here, so please be patient. Oddly enough, I want to start with Thomas Barnet's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century.

One of Barnet's key points is that there is what he calls a "functioning core" of economically developed and politically stable states that are integrated into the global system with deep connectivity. In the days of the cold war, the world's "core" was the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and a few other places, all open, interlocked, and flowing back and forth in an infinitely complex way with information, goods, currency, cultural memes, etc.

Since the time of the cold war, much of the non-integrating gap has become part of the core. In particular, during the 1990's, globalization rapidly expanded the size of the core, now encompassing Eastern Europe, India, and even China to a certain extent. In 1980, the core represented only about 10% of the world’s population but encompassed around 2/3rds of the planet’s productive power and economic wealth. Today the core encompasses roughly half the world’s countries, but has grown to almost 90% of the world’s GDP.

At the edges of the core is the "non-integrating gap," those nations and cultures that are not part of the core. According to Barnet, the most likely threats to U.S. and international security always come from the non-integrating gap. What these people specifically reject is connectivity to the core, usually for deeply psycho-cultural reasons (often masquerading as "religion" or economics. For example, the Palestinians don't hate Jews because they are poor, but are poor because they hate Jews).

To cite just one example, globalization tends to challenge traditional gender roles. If it begins to extend into a culture in which control over females is the source of male identity and power, it will be resisted. As Barnet put it in an interview, "What scares most people, when globalization comes in, is the social change. You go in with those kinds of markets and networks, I guarantee you, you are messing with people’s definitions of wives and lovers and mothers and sisters and daughters and families and education, and the definition of the good life. And when you do that, it’s typically going to be educated young men who look at that package and say, 'you know what? This is not what I signed up for, and I’ll be willing to fight and kill and die under the most perverse conditions to prevent the social change that I find reprehensible.'"

This is the context in which to understand the threat from Islam. The Islamic world is obviously not integrated into the world's core -- not just economically, but in every other way -- culturally, epistemologically, psychologically, scientifically, psycho-sexually, religiously, comedically. Just as President Bush has attempted to argue, one of the keys to our future security lies in finding a way to integrate the Islamic world into the functioning core.

Now, I am sure I am not doing justice to Barnet's complex and sophisticated argument. But I wanted to take it in another direction, for the first thing that occurred to me upon hearing him lay out his model was how similar it is to the individual human mind. For the mind too is a complex open system with a "functioning core," but with non-integrating gaps that I have called mind parasites.

In order to picture what I'm driving at, you first have to reduce consciousness from its hyperdimensional manifold to the image of a three-dimensional sphere, like the earth. Imagine your conscious ego (or "self," if you like) as the "functioning core" of your consciousness, that part of it that you have "colonized," so to speak. But this colonized part comes up against the edge of many non-integrated gaps in the sphere of consciousness. One of them is called the unconscious.

When someone comes in for psychotherapy, it is fair to say that this is always more or less the problem -- that they are suffering because they have aspects of themselves that are not integrated into their core. These aspects seem to have a life of their own, and literally operate like an autonomous foreign power within the psyche. You have your interests. The mind parasites have their's.

Psychotherapy is literally nothing more or less than becoming more integrated for the purpose of becoming more actualized, for your general ability to actualize yourself will be limited by those parts of yourself that you have not integrated into your core. You can ignore them -- as we tried to ignore Islamic radicalism for so many years -- but it will place a huge road block before your evolution, as we can see with regard to the world. It is as if everything is on hold as we try to find a way to integrate these "split off" Islamic parasites.

Now, having said that, you mustn't imagine consciousness in static terms, like a two dimensional map where consciousness expands into more territory. Rather, you must imagine it as a ceaselessly flowing entity, just like Barnet's model of the interlocking core, through which all sorts of transactions and exchanges are taking place. The healthy mind doesn't so much "colonize" the unconscious in a static way, as live in a fruitful, dialectic relationship with it (and the same obviously goes for Spirit, the more of which you "colonize," the more there is to discover). You can tell when you are in the presence of someone who has no rapport with his unconscious (let alone, supraconscious). They will appear rather concrete and inflexible, and lack the supple spontaneity and creativity of the child. Here again, materialism always ends up doing this to a mind, one way or another, for it quantifies what is intrinsically qualitative; to a certain extent, the mind is quality as such.

It is said that science consists of the reduction of multiplicities to unity. It is the same with psychotherapy and with spiritual growth. It is by reducing our static and unintegrated multiplicity to greater dynamic wholeness that we expand our being -- literally grow the soul -- similar to how the world's core expands through deep connectivity between its parts.

A fine example of multiplicity standing in the way of the growth of unity is to maintain in the teeth of all evidence to the contrary that evolution does not exist and that the world was somehow created 6,000 years ago. In order to maintain such a view, it can only exist as an "unintegrated gap" split off from everything else we know about reality. It must exist in closed and frozen form in a dark corner of the psyche, just like an unevolving traditional culture. It is then renamed "faith," an abuse of the term if ever there was one, for faith is specifically openness to the divine reality. It is never closed, much less static. It is Life itself.

But it is equally stagnant to believe in a naive Darwinism that specifically denies the soul, which is ironically the very "part" of us that evolves in this life (in the sense of evolving toward and filling in its own archetype).

Now God is not only One, but the very ground and possibility of Oneness (and bear in mind that this One is not a "quantity" but a quality from which quantity is derived). To exist in a fragmented state is specifically to "reject God" in one way or another. Let thine eye be single, and thy body shall be full of light, as the Master said.

Shifting gears again, I would like to conclude with something from Meditations on the Tarot, which addresses exactly this issue in Chapter 1 -- which is the archetypal chapter for understanding the rest of the book. There our unknown friend notes that the purpose of esoterism is to help "the deep and intimate layers of the soul" to "become active and bear fruit." In short, meditation on certain religious principles "makes us fertile in our creative pursuits, in whatever domain of spiritual life," somewhat like an "enzyme" or "ferment" which reaches across the great divide and stimulates our spiritual and psychic life. Note that this has nothing in common with literalism or fundamentalism, which are wholly static and do not appreciate the more important function of religious symbols, which is to unify ourselves in a deeply connective and dynamic way -- both within ourselves and with God, for the two are a function of one another.

In fact, later the Author notes that all practical esotericism is founded on the principle that "it is necessary to be one in oneself and one with the spiritual world in order for a revelatory or actual spiritual experience to be able to take place." Furthermore, "the tenet of the basic unity of the world is the same with regard to all knowledge -- without it no knowledge is conceivable.... We declare that the world is not a mosaic, where a plurality of worlds which are essentially strangers to one another are fitted together, but that it is an organism -- all of whose parts are governed by the same principle, revealing it and allowing reduction to it."

But to splinter the unity of knowledge -- and of the spiritual world -- by maintaining a "non-integrating gap," a spiritual ghetto of literalism, is to act counter to the divine will and to ultimately reject God in his integral wholeness. And this nonintegrated gap will always be at war with oneself, with other people, with the wider world, with reality, for God cannot be reduced to a stubborn little island of personal mythology.

"You only know that which is verified by the agreement of all forms of experience in its totality -- experience of the senses, moral experience, psychic experience, the collective experience of other seekers for the truth, and finally the experience of those whose knowing merits the title of wisdom and those whose striving has been crowned by the title of saint" (MOTT). Integrate all of these, and you are an I-mage. Fail to do so, and there will be a gulf between your core and your unintegrated gaps. And that means a perpetual gulf war.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My Free Sons

Today let us throw invocaution to the wind that blows where it will, and boldly proclaim:

Every time a form is generated and comes to perfection in the natural world, and even in the artificial world of human creativity, we can catch a glimpse of the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father taking on flesh. --Bernard McGinn, The Mystical Thought of Meister Eckhart

First, an update on the bylaw situation, which sparked an unintended international crisis yesterday. Being that they are considered Smṛti and not Śruti, the bylaws cannot be considered immutable, like, say, the official club greeting or drinking toast, both of which were directly revealed to Toots by the archangel Armando.

Furthermore, the original bylaws applied only to the Bensonhurst chapter, but since we are the transdimensional chapter, it follows that our members would merely have to provide documentation of residency in no fewer than two metacosmic dimensions, or at least a plausible alibi for where they were at the timelessness.

Now, as they say on Palestinian TV, "back to our regularly scheduled pogrom." Don't believe me? Look at what one of our wicked competitors in the "best religious blog" category has to say: Jews must "drop this 'chosen land' nonsense and leave. They are outnumbered and can’t possibly live in peace in that land. There will be peace only when they leave (or are wiped out)."

If that is religion, then it is again a truism that Christianity represents the cure for religion. There is a reason why there are Palestinian Christians, but no Palestinian Christian homicide bombers.

Anyway, we are in the midst of a discussion of the ultimate nature of the personal self and its relationship to the whole existentialada. More specifically, we are still dialoging and playgiarizing with Bolton's Self and Spirit, since it is a very thoughtful meditation on this very subject.

Although he is a traditionalist, in chapter 5, Bolton goes into a critique of the Guenon/Schuon strand of thought, and I think it expresses well some of my own misgivings and reservations. One obvious point is that few religious practitioners understand their own religions in the terms set forth by Guenon or Schuon.

But who said that only strict adherence to tradition is a guarantor of truth, anyway? If that were true, then there would have been no Jesus, no Buddha, no Dobbs. I agree that great deference must naturally be given to revelation, and that, similar to law, established precedent is vital.

But sometimes a novel understanding can better explicate the meaning and intent of the original text. For example, the abolition of slavery, although it represented a major change, nevertheless reflected a better understanding of the principles animating the Constitution. To say that we should have retained slavery merely on the basis of "tradition" would be a rather weak argument.

In Guenon's case, one of his most valuable contributions was that "for many people, his writings broke the hypnotic spell of history, which was their spiritual prison" (emphasis mine). Remember, that particular time (early 20th century) represented the pinnacle of a naive materialism and crude reductionism that threatened to make religion all but irrelevant to most thinking people and all unthinking liztards.

As a result, "most of the educated felt unable to think outside the historical [and secular -- .ed] progression of thought into which they were born." Therefore, upon exposure to this more Raccoonish way of thinking, "it was a revelation to see that they could equally well identify with the wisdom of antiquity without dependence on the derivative and ever-deviating culture which had succeeded it."

But again, both Guenon and Schuon used Vedanta as their underlying template, which leads to the question of exactly who is "saved" in such a scheme. If the ego "can only be saved or 'liberated' by dissolving the illusion that it is separate from the Self," of what conceivable concern is this to the ego? Why should it be interested in a direct threat to its very existence? It is as if the soul, which should be the object of salvation, "is made to seem hardly worth saving," or "that something which clearly needed salvation did not merit salvation, simply because of being in need of it."

In other words, for those of us who believe in the irreducible reality of God and persons, if there were actually only "an impersonal 'Principle' and an unreal 'ego,'" then where's the bloody sense in that? It's just leaping from one absurdity to an even bigger one.

The point is, as Woody Allen said, I am not afraid of death. It's just that I don't want to be there when it happens. But I believe this can be arranged. As Bolton writes, "As the self is a microcosm, there will be nothing 'out there,' not even the Principle, which is not in some sense 'in here.' This is not compatible with being nothing. In this case, our nothingness is more truly the relative nothingness of one order of being in relation to another."

Looked at in this way, the human individual is "the epitome of the real" on this side of manifestation. It cannot die, being that it is not something that could ever have been produced by mere biology. I don't think we need to "transcend the ego" so much as infuse it with the light of the Son, through which immanence again becomes its own kind of transcendence. (This probably explains why the saint's body is so slow to decompose; it might very well account for the Shroud of Turin as well.)

Here's another problem. If the split between Principle and manifestation, or Creator and creature, is too radical, then one falls into the trap of a pernicious dualism, in which we have what amounts to "two gods," with no way to reconcile them.

But again, man as such is this reconciliation, especially once Christ took on human nature and infused relative man with the Absolute principle. Thus, it is not so much that there is reality and maya, and never the twain shall meet. Rather, in a much deeper sense that we must actualize, the relative is the absolute, time is eternity, and man is the very ground from which he must be reborn.

We do not wish to flee from matter or from our humanness, but to embrace both as fully as possible. This is not an "ascending" spirituality, but a descending spirituality, one in which our role is to baptize every nook and cranium of the cosmos.

Does this mean that we ourselves become the Second Person of the Trinity? Yes and no, according to Eckhart. Yes, in the sense that there is only one Sonship, which is not other than the Person of the Word; no, in the sense that "we are born God's sons through adoption." --Bernard McGinn

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Baby I'm For Real

First, let's get some business out of the way. At the lodge meeting last night, Dupree proposed a change in membership requirements that the High Exalted Mystic Ruler accepted as canonical. Regarding Raccoon membership, bylaws, sec. 2 now reads:

-- US citizen for the last six months
-- have a public school diploma
-- pay a $1.50 initiation fee
-- vote for One Cosmos for best religious blog

Also, the indulgence situation was getting out of hand, so in the future, it will be one indulgence for seven votes, one for each day of the competition.

Otherwise, we pretty much talked about the nature of the self, the ontology of free will, the aesthetics of neo-doo wop, and the playoff picture this weekend. I think I'm pulling for San Diego, since they have the worst record and their best player is injured. Plus, I like that little dude, Sproles. Who couldn't pull for a professional football player who's only 5'6"? He's as rare as a Jewish rodeo rider.

Here's the deal. Freedom must in some sense -- every sense, actually -- be synonymous with "real." I touched on this idea on p. 72 of my book, where I mentioned Kierkegaard's pre-bobservation that the necessary cannot come into existence, because coming into existence is a transition from not existing to existing. The purely necessary doesn't really (or essentially) change at all, because it is always itself in a deterministic manner. Ice may look different, but it's really just frozen water. Furthermore, it doesn't have any choice in the matter so long as the temperature dips below 32˚.

But there are degrees of freedom and therefore reality. Looked at this way -- and I'm pretty sure Aquinas said the same thing -- God would be the only completely real reality, as only God is not caused or conditioned by something else. But when he breathed a living spirit into Man, darn it, he sophishly exwholed a bit of his own unnarcissary being into us. Which is why we both partake of God's reality and can know about it. In turn, I'm pretty sure this is what Eckhart had in mind when he cracked about the "uncreated" ground of the soul.

You see, if God were actually the direct cause of everything, that would again be just another way of saying that nothing really exists except for God. And predestination doesn't work for me, unless it is understood as our final, not efficient cause. In this sense we can understand the paradox that our purpose in life is to become what we "already" are; and how it is that in all of creation, humans, and only humans, can fail to accomplish this task (at least in this life).

Bolton points out that if God were the actual cause of our illusionary acts of free will, "this would mean that God did not delegate any causal power to created beings. In this case, God would be the only real agent in existence, such that when wood, for instance, appeared to be burned by fire, it would really be burned by God, under the guise or veil of visible fire." Isn't this the position of the Mohammedans? Among other things, it completely obliterates the space of moral freedom and responsibility, does it not? For whatever happens, you can just plead that it was "God's will." Kill a Jew? "Wasn't me. The rock did it."

But the whole freaking paradoxical point is that the very possibility of creation -- it's first act, so to speak -- is God's "withdrawal" in order to create a potential space for existence to exist. Otherwise, you're essentially a pantheist, whether you admit it or not. This potential space is critical, for it is not just the space of free will, but also the space of morality, of truth, and of "evolution," understood in its metacosmic sense as the journey back to God.

In this regard, one formula that we must always bear in mind is that God is transcendent in his immanence, and immanent in his transcendence. This is sort of a byway, so.... well, just a little more. Eckhart would agree that the more "out" of the world God is, the more in, and the more in, the more out. In other words, his radical transcendence is the very condition of his immanence, since transcendence spills over into everything -- which is why every existent testifies to the transcendent God shining through it. This is why Blakey could see eternity in a grain of sand, which suddenly becomes transcendent when you realize God's immanence in it. Transcendence and immanence are just two necessary sides of the same coin, like absolute and infinite: because the Absolute is, it is necessarly infinite.

We'll have to come back to that topic later. The point is, if we oversimplify God and see him as only transcendent or only immanent, various absurdities, or "intrinsic heresies," follow. Now, an intrinsic heresy is anything that I don't agree with.

Here's what I mean. If God is the direct proximate cause of everything, then "there would be only one real substance, that of God, and the resulting reality would be conceptually that of Non-Dualism or 'substantial monism'" (Bolton). In turn, it would mean that the Vedantins and Buddhists were correct, in that we would be intrinsically unreal, so the only point of life would be to realize that fact on a deep level, by eliminating that impediment to the one reality: us. If such is the case, why even bother? Which, when you think about it, is precisely the entrenched attitude that prevented economic and scientific development in most of the Eastern world.

Nope. Doesn't work for me. If human existence is to mean anything at all, "it must involve some sharing in the divine attributes, these including causality." If this isn't the case, then one must either turn man into god, or else "maintain an absolute and final barrier between God and man, which would subvert orthodox teachings about participation in the divine nature...." In reality, the closer man is to God, "the greater must be his degree of being or substance" (Bolton).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Free Will, Authentic Evil, and The Infectiousness of the Morally Unrepressed

Bolton points out that "the last animal of a species spends its life doing exactly the same things as were done by the first one. Only man does not have to keep doing the same things ad infinitum, regardless of their value."

But it wasn't too long ago that human beings were caught in that same evolutionary rut (and most still are). As I wrote in the book, one of our immediate predecessors, Homo erectus bumbled around the evolutionary stage for a million and a-half years with no evidence of change in the archaeological record, despite having a bigger brain than most Raider fans. As one scholar put it, "As a whole, the archaeological record between 1.4 million and 100,000 years ago seems to revolve around an almost limitless number of minor variations on a small set of technical and economic themes." Imagine the numbing repetition of hip-hop, only for a million years instead of 20.

But this is how mere Darwinian evolution works. With the exception of modern human beings, all animals are trapped in an evolutionary rut. Animals find their successful adaptations, and stick with them. That's called "winning the Darwinian lottery."

But to what is free will an adaptation? First of all, as we touched on yesterday, if it is adapted to bad ideas or to a faulty conception of reality, it "will result in changes which would be for the worse" (Bolton). As such, although this gives the superficial appearance of freedom, it cannot really be free in any useful way, "because it is worse than no change at all."

No, freedom, if it is to be truly free, must be an adaptation to Truth. Truth must be anterior to freedom, or there can be no real freedom. More pointedly, to the extent that you have internalized bad ideas, you are a slave, even though you probably feel subjectively free. But that's just the pseudo-freedom of a kind of reactionary rebellion. You are still bound to the truth, but in revolt against it.

Materialism necessarily results in loss of liberty, because in identifying with matter, the mind inverts the cosmos and shares in the materialistic mode of being.

But if for no other reason than the fact that we have two cerebral hemispheres which regard the world and process information in radically different ways, we cannot really identify with the material mode. As I have written before, human beings are bi-logical; it is not so much that we operate with two different modes of logic, but that, in a healthy person, we synthesize those two modes into a "higher third," or what Grotstein calls the "transcendent position" (and Ogden calls the "historical position," more on which later, as it has important implications for the eradication and control of mind parasites).

What this means in reality is that human consciousness is proportioned to the "transcendent object," which necessarily bifurcates into the two modes of logic in the herebelow (or herewithin). In other words -- or symbols -- you could once again draw a triangle, with the transcendent object at the apex, which in turn bifurcates into right and left hemispheres, and all they imply (or better yet, Matte Blanco's symmetrical and asymmetrical logic, respectively). In short, you need no less than two brains to know the One. Which is why reductionistic Darwinians and other materialists are such half-wits.

It's way too vast a subject to get into in detail at this point, but Balthasar's magisterial Glory of the Lord only spends about 10,000 pages going into why it is necessary to understand God in this more hyperdimensional, aesthetic manner, and conversely, how we are foredoomed to failure if we attempt to comprehend God and revelation in solely naturalistic terms. In short, theology becomes positively deranged in the absence of the third transcendental, beauty. He has so many arresting passages that illuminate this point, that it's difficult to just pick one or two. Here are a couple of random quotes:

"Will this light not necessarily die out where the very language of light has been forgotten and the mystery of Being is no longer allowed to express itself?... The witness borne by Being becomes untrustworthy for the person who can no longer read the language of beauty."

Or better yet, "Whoever insists that he can neither see it nor read it, or whoever cannot accept it, but rather seeks to 'break it up' critically into supposedly prior components, that person falls into the void and, what is worse, he falls into what is opposed to the true and good."

Do you see the problem? God is not only whole, but the very condition and possibility of wholeness. Therefore, to treat God as, say, a biological object that one dissects on a table, is to kill the very object one wishes to understand. God cannot be understood from the bottom up, only the top down (and only then from the bottom up). The apprehension of God is like a "form" that radiates celestial beauty that is inseparable from its truth and goodness. "If form is broken down into subdivisions and auxiliary parts for the sake of explanation, this is unfortunately a sign that the true from has not been perceived as such at all." The form is seen first, just as a biologist must first be able to apprehend life before dissecting it into parts

But it is no different with man. To treat a man as an object is to have failed to understand what man is. Likewise, to treat scripture as a literary form to be deconstructed is to have failed to see the object one is so casually dismembering. One must first see the "whole," and then understand how it radiates into all the parts. If you don't first "see" Jesus, you can't possibly begin to understand him, for "the Incarnation uses created Being at a new depth as a language and a means of expression for the divine Being and essence."

As I said, that's a topic for another 100 posts. Back to Bolton. He points out that "the lack of free will which can be seen in animals results from the fact that their wills relate only to objects in the outside world." Now, don't you know, it is the same problem vis-a-vis mind parasites and man. This is another huge topic, and I'm not sure I can do justice to it in such a short space, but a mind parasite essentially comes down to an unconsciously internalized relationship with the environment, that then goes on repeating itself in a circular way.

For example, say the infant is abused or emotionally abandoned by a parent. This relationship -- which consists of two subjects and an affective link between them -- is internalized, say, into an oppressor-victim constellation. Later in life, the person will unconsciously re-enact the mind parasite, but due to the magic of symmetrical logic, he or she can at times sadistically identify with the oppressor in relationship to a projected victim, or masochistically identify with the victim in search of a persecutory oppressor.

Thus, in a perverse way, victims need their oppressors and cannot live without them. The Democrat party is proof of this. Many blacks, for example, are "addicted" to racism, just as so many Muslims are addicted to "Islamophobia." Again, because of the magic of symmetrical logic, they convert their own bloodthirsty impulses into the insane idea that 10 million Jews control and persecute a billion Muslims. Madness. A "proportionate response" would actually to be to nurture genocidal impulses toward Muslims, so Muslims should be careful what they wish for.

Note, by the way, that the Palestinians can never recognize the right of Israel to exist, because that would spell the death of their mind parasites -- a kind of "interior auto-genocide." They would rather physically die than allow their parasites to perish. Which again puts an interesting spin on the Darwinian aspect of all this, because the so-called "Palestinians" are not adapted to external reality; rather, they must bend reality to the will of their mind parasites, even at the cost of their own physical survival. Nor can you grant them "freedom," because they will only use the freedom to enslave themselves, as they have done in Gaza.

Morality -- i.e., conformity to the Good -- can only enter in the space between freedom and necessity. Free will is actually "movement" in a higher dimension, and one of those dimensions is the dimension of objective morality. Are Palestinians free to choose the Good? Hardly. If you do that, you will be murdered by another Palestinian.

Ironically, Bolton points out that in Islamic terminology, such beings are known as "saints of satan," that is, "authentic beings who are either evil or deranged, or both, but who have all the self-assurance of those who know themselves to be authentic."

In America, our problem is that half our population has no such-self assurance. For these totolerantarians reject the beautiful moral basis of our own civilization, but identify with the monstrous "authenticity" of the Palestinians. There is nothing like the "infectiousness of the morally unrepressed" (Becker) to get a liberal's heart pounding, since they are so free of everything liberals despise about themselves and their civilization.

Long day. Gotta run. Vote (remember, you can vote once a day):

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Only You Can Prevent the Apocalypse

Today's highly orthoparadoxical invocation:

For in the same being of God where God is above being and above distinction, there I myself was, there I willed myself and committed myself to create this man. --Eckhart

To summarize Bolton's position, the creation bifurcates out into fate (or nature) and providence, so that man represents the possibility of their re-union. In turn, man bifurcates out into body and intellect, the union of which is the soul.

Now, one way to understand cosmic evolution -- which recapitulates in miniature in man -- is to see it as the gradual mastering of fate (and the conquest of dimensionality, more on which later). As Bolton writes, "the moment when man arrives on earth he belongs to Fate, which leads him captive for a long time in the vortex of fatality." You might say that, with the Fall, we are cast naked into the fate stream with no canoe. Still, man "bears a divine seed within him which can never be entirely confounded" by fate.

Nevertheless, it will take mankind countless generations to master fate and slowly discover its destiny, both individually and collectively (individuals were able to do it long prior to any large collectives). From the Raccoon perspective, we look to history for certain easily identifiable points at which there was a tremendous influx of vertical energies to help lift us from fate to destiny. Some of these would be Abraham's failure to sacrifice Isaac, the downloading of the Torah, the Incarnation, the emergence of free markets, the American revolution, the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan, etc.

Eventually man is able to discover that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to life and liberty, which is to officially plant our colors on the side of destiny. It is to say that we are no longer controlled by fate. Leftism is, of course, the atavistic embrace of fate, i.e., passive victimhood, so it is hardly as if fate has been vanquished.

When the left talks about "freedom," it is necessarily in a highly limited way that paradoxically frees one to abandon oneself to fate. In other words, since they deny the higher realm -- the true object of our free will -- will is reduced to mere horizontal willfulness. It is will with no real freedom, since it denies the sufficient reason for our freedom, which is to know the absolute and govern ourselves accordingly. A will that is not lured by the good, true, and beautiful is not actually free, but a plaything of fate.

So, each of us "has the means to unite himself or herself in an equally natural way to either the Providential or Fatidic order" (Bolton). But again, genuine free will cannot belong to nature, but can only be understood as a gift of Providence. Therefore, our Founders were correct to insist that to deny God is to deny freedom. And as we have mentioned before, it is also ipso facto to deny the mind, which is the "internal space" of freedom's possibilities.

Which invites another paradox, in that only by becoming a "slave" to providence are we actually free. But really, this is no more paradoxical than saying that only by becoming a slave to truth do we gain wisdom. No one has ever gained wisdom by declaring his independence from truth, a sad fact to which our liberal universities offer abundant testimony. No. "The soul which aligns itself with Providence, and therefore with freedom, will thus be the one which realizes the possibilities of the spiritual nature to the fullest extent possible for the individual concerned" (Bolton).

Consider our dispute with the reductionistic Darwinians, who specifically deny Providence and believe they can fully account for man with recourse only to the realm of fate, or nature. Since real ontological freedom is necessarily abolished in this crude reduction, then so too is the possibility of truth -- which is again dependent upon freedom. In other words, if we are not intrinsically free to discover truth, then we can only know what we are fated to know -- which is no knowledge at all, just an extension of necessity.

Again, it is by aligning ourselves with Providence that we actualize our true freedom. This is why the "perfect prayer" includes the formula thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. That's what it really really says. It even outlines the way in which this free will is actualized, that is, by assimilating each day our daily vertical bread.

In turn, this is why we must "resist temptation," which specifically refers to the horizontal world of fate, which operates through hypnosis, seduction, and temptation of those parts of ourselves that remain mired in fate, i.e., mind parasites. Again, a mind parasite is like a closed, unevolving, circular entity that goes on being by borrowing a piece of our subjectivity and "going into hiding" below the threshold of consciousness. It then enlists the objects and experiences it needs to continue its viral pseudo-life, or "living death." Only when you start to feel enslaved by your mind parasites are you beginning to break free of them. The most unfree people generally feel quite free, since they don't stir up trouble their mind parasites.

A truly free will would have to be "one," would it not? Since Wisdom is one, it can do all things (Wisdom 7:27). So long as one is inhabited by various sub-wills at cross-purposes with one another, that's a kind of perversion of freedom. It is as if the one will is "broken" into fragments that are then purloined by various subpersonalities. Generally speaking, the sicker the individual, the more autonomous and split off are the subpersonalities. Likewise, the healthier the individual, the more unified the will -- and therefore, the more real the freedom.

Looked at in this way, one can easily see how "the truth sets you free," because freedom is really a prolongation of truth. Again, if there were no truth, there would be absolutely no possibility of freedom, any more than art would be possible in the absence of beauty. Is an artist less free because he is a slave to beauty? Hardly. Beauty is a kind of breach in the fabric of nature through which celestial energies flow, and which always carry with them an ability to "transport" us to their source. In short, beauty is liberating. Haven't you ever noticed how enclosed and "hemmed in" you feel in an ugly environment?

This is also how I would feel in typical university -- and also, sad to say, in a typical church. If a church service doesn't give access to real truth, real freedom, and real beauty, then something has gone wrong. Its only reason for being can be to facilitate an experience in O, which is much deeper than any mere (k). Reduced to (k), religion is hardly better than scientism. Which is one reason why I prefer so many of the premodern theologians, whose minds and beings hadn't yet been hijacked by the cultural demands of a spiritually desiccated scientism.

Speaking of which, contemporary man stands at a crossroads. Which is nothing new, since we are always at that crossroads between fate and destiny, whether we know it or not. However, just as there are historical ingressions of vertical energies, we can equally see periods in which the tiller of history is seized by the horizontaloids. When that happens, the center cannot hold (the interior center being a reflection of the One), and a kind of hell is unloosed from below.

Here's how Bolton describes it: "as mankind fails to realize the role as Mediator, natural forces grow increasingly violent and chaotic, and disasters become more frequent. The Apocalypse is the final extreme of this disorder."

Don't think "it can't happen here," since it can only happen here. And only we are free to prevent it, since the unfree are its architects. (BTW, I'm using "apocalypse" in a more colloquial sense, as "ultimate cataclysm.")

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Monday, January 05, 2009

On Being a Cosmic Bridge to Gnowhere (1.06.10)

Today's up-and-invOcation:

Human destiny is to hear and respond to God's speech in creation and thus, as the principium in the created universe, to draw all things back to their ultimate source. --Bernard McGinn

Back to our free associations on Self and Spirit. Just remember, these associations are going to be exceptionally free, and you get what you pay for. So don't compare me to all those merely conscious bloggers when you vote today. And tomorrow. And the next day.

Bolton puts forth the perennial idea that mankind is the mediator between God and nature, or creator and creation. Therefore -- this is me talking now -- human beings are surely creatures, but they cannot only be creatures, since we transcend our creaturehood even while being rooted in it. Transcendence is an ineluctable cosmic category that pretty much blows Darwin out of the water. Gosh!

That is, our transcendence of nature would be an inexplicable absurdity, not to mention a bizarre nuisance, if it were not connected to, and explained by, its own source, which is "above" not below. In other words, we cannot begin our metaphysics with human consciousness somehow "hovering over the face of the waters," like God in Genesis. That's just stupid.

You could say that in man there is a union of two natures that produces a third thing.

Now, at this point I am going to ask you to use your imagination, since I don't know how to reproduce the images in the book. Just imagine a triangle, with the base at the bottom and apex at the top. At the top is the divine-human archetype, or the One if you like. This bifurcates into the other two points of the triangle, which are male and female. In turn, the union of male and female produces a fourth thing. Thus, draw another triangle, this one the inverse of the above, with the apex now at the bottom. If you're still with me, God should be at the top and the baby at the bottom.

As I wrote in my book, the neurologically incomplete baby is not just the hinge of cosmic evolution, but the very point of entry for our humanness, the narrow neck through which we must all pass on the way to maturity.

As such, we have a novel way of understanding Bolton's observation that "the fourth element is in a sense a recapitulation of the first on a lower level, which also has some bearing on the meaning of childhood in relation to God." For the baby -- the divine child, as it were -- is indeed a sort of earthly analogue of God, in that he knows no boundaries, is innocent and "omnipotent," and embodies a kind of infinite potential. I don't think it is any coincidence whatsoever that the baby Jesus is so central to Christian iconography.

Another way of considering the same triangle is to place God at the top, only now bifurcating into providence (or destiny) and fate, or perhaps freedom (or chance) and necessity. Once again, place a second triangle below, with man representing the union of fate and providence.

Here again, this encapsulates the irreducible irony, as it were, of the human condition, which makes us simultaneously apes and/or gods, so to speak. How could one not laugh at the predicament? But once again, we see that the man below is an earthly analogue of God above. Man is the "cosmic baby," with all that implies. Like a baby, we are born with a kind of infinite potential (relatively speaking) that we may or may not fulfill. And to fulfill it, we must indeed "imitate the Creator," moron witch later.

Either way, we must somehow reconcile fate and providence. As Petey mentioned yesterday, "the stars incline, but do not compel." However, the Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement immediately stepped in to remind us that they do indeed compel in the absence of insight, or self-understanding. In short, as we discussed at length a couple of weeks ago, fate is precisely what interferes with our destiny. Or, to put it colloquially, if you remain on the path you're on, you're liable to end up where you're headed. Which could very well be a waste of a perfectly good cosmos. So if you see a fork in the transdimensional road, by all means take it.

Now, Bolton makes the interesting observation that Adam and Eve are created on the sixth and final day of creation, after the rest of the creatures (which, when you think about it, is entirely consistent with an evolutionary worldview, only in a higher key). As such, "on this basis, the human being can be taken to be resultant of divine action and the created natural order as a whole." Human beings are last because they are first; or first because they are last.

In any event, the point is that humans, and only humans, recapitulate the whole of creation within their very substance, which you might say is "two creatures" in one being. We are simultaneously fully animal and man, with two distinct wills with which we must grapple and try to reconcile. I forget the words they use, but Jewish metaphysics articulates this very precisely.

Which may well be why Freud came up with the idea of id and superego to talk about the lower and higher selves. "Id" is simply the German word for "it." We are all inhabited by the It, are we not? Usually, a mind parasite is a kind of unholy union of the It and a purloined piece of our subjectivity. Come to think of it, you could draw another triangle on that basis, which is why our mind parasites become the equivalent of "unconscious gods," if you will, or even if you don't.

There you go: Bolton notes that the lower realm (remember, human beings necessarily embody all realms) "represents the life of instinct which attaches to the body, ruled by pleasure and pain, because its higher possibilities depend on its participation in those of the soul." In short, we must baptize the It (or make it kosher, I suppose).

Now, you could say that man was and is a cosmic necessity, in the sense that only he binds the higher and lower. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it: "Unless there was such a being as man, comprising both archetypal and material reality at once, Providence and Fate (or nature) would have no means of relating to one another." Man's primary vocation is therefore "bridge builder," or "universal pontifex," "so long as it is understood that this function is a potentiality in need of realization."

Where does this leave Christ? I know, I know! Pick me!

Yes Dr. Bolton?

"[T]he mediation of Christ as Redeemer is both the prototype of man's cosmic mediation, as well as being the revealed basis of salvation."

It is in the cosmos of natural kinds that the fulness of the Being of the world must needs unfold and manifest itself, and man is the being in which this fulness becomes fulfilled and comes into its own. This is precisely the reason why God's absolute fulness of Being can choose man as the being and the vessel in which to reveal his own inner fulness to the world. --Hans Urs von Balthasar


Voting has begun. Petey is offering a free indulgence for each vote. For a limited time only. Restrictions may apply:

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who Died and Left the Holy Spirit in Charge?

Since yesterday's repost promised "more on which tomorrow," here is the post that followed, now reedited with the magic of 20/∞ handsleight. Sorry about the length. What can I say? I'm just following orders.


So many interesting and sometimes touching comments yesterday. I can see that we'll probably dwell on this topic for awhile, because in a way, it is "everything." For if there is no vertical, no human ascent, and no divine descent, then there is no way out of this absurd and meaningless existence.

But thankfully, the cosmos is not a closed loop but an open circle -- or spiral -- with a way in, up and out: “The ‘good news’ of religion is that the world is not a closed circle, that it is not an eternal prison, that it has an exit and an entrance.... ‘Perdition’ is to be caught up in the eternal circulation of the world of the closed circle... [whereas] ‘salvation’ is life in the world of the open circle, or spiral, where there is both exit and entrance” (Meditations on the Tarot).

What do we mean by "vertical" and "descent?" When you think about it, most of our knowledge falls into the "as if" category. For example, we really have no way to visualize what's going on in the quantum world, but it is "as if" it sometimes behaves in a wave-like manner, other times like particles, depending upon how we look. In reality it is neither. These are just analogies to try to wrap our minds around what's going on "down" there.

"Down" is another one. Why is the subatomic world "below" our macro world? For that matter, why is the unconscious mind "below" the conscious, or the past "behind" the present? Sometimes merely tweaking your analogy brings new understanding. What if the unconscious is the past within the present, the realm of the unthought known? Is the mind a computer? Or is it a hyperdimensional organ? Is Iraq Vietnam? Or is radical Islam nazi Germany? Different analogy, different reality.

The fundamental axiom of esotericism, "as above, so below," actually applies to most of our knowledge, in the sense that, without even thinking about it, we resort to analogy to understand realms that are inaccessible to our senses. For example, there isn't really a genetic "code" or "blueprint." In reality it is neither of these manmade categories. Rather, it is what it is, which is entirely mysterious -- impossible, really. Likewise, time is a "river," but what is it really? Who knows? How can there be anything other than eternity?

It gets even more problematic when we try to discuss something as mysterious as the mind, for how could the mind -- which is the unThought container of everything -- ever contain itself? Here we can only use analogy -- which means in a sense that, on a meta-level, the mind is an analogy-making organ, or the very "link" between various dimensions and realms.

However, just as in religious disputes, you would be amazed at the academic fights that go on between people and their beloved analogies. It's easy for an ignoramus to ridicule the Christian world, which formally split in 1054 over the filioque controversy, but that is nothing compared to what goes on in the reified airheads of academia.

I got a real taste of this in my psychoanalytic training, a discipline that has many religious trappings. It has a founding prophet (Freud), a group of original disciples, a dogma, an orthodoxy, evangelism, a method of salvation, and various initiatory rituals. It eventually split into various hardened camps that were, for a time, quite hostile to one another. I've been out of that world for awhile, so I'm not up to date with the politics, but there was a time when the members of one school would dismiss the other school by saying that their members were "insufficiently analyzed" -- in short, that they only believed what they did because they were more or less crazy. This is very similar to one sect of Christianity saying that another is damned to perdition over this or that doctrinal difference.

And yet, it would be completely wrongheaded to take this as an excuse to descend into a wimpy syncretism or odious relativism. For I think we can agree that, whatever the mind is, it is what it is. It isn't any single one of our models, but neither is it all of them put together, i.e., integralism. The truth is nevertheless out there (to employ another analogy).

Yesterday I spoke of the "descent" of intelligence that occurred in me at age 29. Fortunately, it occurred at exactly the same time that I discovered the works of the British psychoanalyst W.R. Bion, which assured that my intelligence became a fluid thing instead of hardening into this or that dogma. For there is no end to the mischief created when intelligence mingles with some narrow and hopelessly partial viewpoint. When this happens, it is almost always for extra-epistemological reasons, usually narcissistic in nature, other times having to do with an emotional need for security or a failure of imagination. One way or another, mind parasites are providing the energy.

Human intelligence can only go so far before it becomes detached from imagination, so that people at the extreme high end of the IQ scale often lack imagination and become unbalanced spiritual cripples. Think of the typical proud MENSA type, whose IQ may be higher than yours, but who knows nothing about Spirit. They are essentially "idiot savants" with a warped and specialized perspective on reality. The same thing can happen in the other direction with an artist who has a brilliant imagination unmoored by the intellect or morality. The greatest art, such as Shakespeare, is infused with both the highest intelligence and deepest imagination.

But so too is the greatest science, for what is science but a "probe" that extends into the unKnown and allows us to think about reality in a fruitful and generative way? Good science makes you feel more alive to the mystery, whereas bad science always demystifiies the world. Remember, "mystery" is hardly an absence of knowledge. Rather, it is a means and a mode of knowledge, precisely. To be immersed in the mystery of being is not to be lost in an obscure cloud of ignorance. Rather, this mystery is the generative ground of all -- it is O.

As I have said before, most narcissists feel that they are in some way "special," and better than others. But the fact is, they usually are special in some area, whether it is looks, or musical skill, or academic brilliance. One's narcissistic pathology can easily attach itself to any of these gifts, so there are plenty of intellectuals whose intellect is more or less in the service of their narcissism and exhibitionism. As applied to spirituality, this combination is particularly deadly, for it ultimately means that one is covertly co-opting God for the glorification of one's own ego.

Now, it is axiomatic that God resists the proud. To a certain extent, those who know don't speak of it -- or do so with reluctance, or at least discretion -- and those who blab about it to just anyone don't know. There is even empirical research documenting the fact that people who truly have had transformative "peak experiences," or full on, life-changing ingressions of the vertical, rarely speak of them. For one thing, they have a sacred quality that brings with it an instinctive reluctance to cast pearls before swine. But this cannot be an absolute rule, or no one would speak of God! Nevertheless, it is a good rule of thumb. Those who eagerly and recklessly presume to speak for God are most likely talking through their hats. For one thing, one must be authorized to do so -- not by some earthly religious body, but from above. Here again we are touching on the subject of "descents."

The Gospels tell us almost nothing about Jesus' education, but it seems doubtful that he received any formal theological training. Nevertheless, when he first encounters the religious authorities, they are astounded by his ability to speak as "one who knows" -- with such intrinsic authority. From whence did this authority come? Clearly not from man or from any manmade institution. Rather, he was authorized "from above" (to say the least).

Now, you might ask, where does this leave Bob? Where does he get off speaking of these things? Who gave him the authority? That's a very good question. In my case, I am very aware of my limits. When my descent came, it came in the form of understanding. Suddenly, I understood spiritual reality in a way that I had previously only understood intellectually -- which is to say, did not understand. However, the only "authority" I possess is your understanding, as both come from the identical Spirit.

Thus, I do not feel that I am overstepping my bounds by merely trying to share -- never force, and never argue or try to convert -- my understanding with others. This is why I say it is more like singing. Not to say that I am an "artist," or anything like that. Rather, merely to say that it's not an intellectual thing. It just is what it is, and I'm glad some people enjoy it. If they don't, that's fine too. That's why I don't want to get into arguments with trolls. Nor do I wish to become known, except by a very narrow group of people. How to reach that group without exposure to the wrong types is an inevitable problem, but so far I can't really complain. We only get one or two trolls at a time, and the wrong types rapidly lose interest.

I might add that I certainly realize that I am not vertically authorized to be any kind of direct transmitter of grace -- a "guru" type person, as it were. Yes, you could say that this is like conceding that I am not God, but obviously, untold spiritual mischief is caused by people who overstep their boundaries and do just that. It's not so much that I am tempted to do this, but there is something within many people that tempts them to confer this gift upon others, which many spiritual frauds are quite happily identify with. There is no question that there are beings who are authorized to do this -- genuine saints and true theologians who are themselves transmitters of grace. But they are on an entirely different plane, and they are not to be confused with a money-grubbing psychopath such as Deepak Chopra.

But me? I humbly pray only for a deepening understanding and the ability to express it to others who might benefit from it -- to be the discussion leader. That is more than enough for me, because it keeps the descent alive by "prolonging" it into the horizontal on a daily basis. Plus, the feedback and comments flesh it out and make it all the more vividly present and real.

Speaking of my abject humility and desire for anonymity, don't forget to vote early and often, starting tonight at midnight (voting lasts for a week, and I think you can vote every day). Don't worry, we won't win, but we don't want to embarrass ourselves. Plus, at least a couple of those blogs are downright evil, from what I've seen. Let's just say "moral equivalence."

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Surrendering the Mind to its Source

Yesterday in a comment, I mentioned that our historical understanding and appreciation of liberty probably followed from actually living it in the form of free markets as opposed to thinking about it abstractly. In academia there is a huge bias toward the latter view, because the caste of the idle tenured can't help regarding itself as much less useless than it actually is.

You routinely read, for example, about how Descartes was responsible for our Western "body-mind dualism" because of his wisecrock, "I think, therefore I am" -- as if this abstract philosophical meme somehow trickled down to the masses, so that the farmers, artisans, and serfs all thought to themselves, "damn, the man may be French, but he's got a point. There's an extended substance. And a thinking substance. I guess the world is hopelessly fractured, since none of us are naive enough anymore to believe that God reconciles these two categories."

No, the reason the body-mind duality spread throughout the West is because that is what it feels like to have a mind! If you don't have much of a mind, then it's not going to be a problem, is it? Instead, you will likely resonate more to Popeye's ontology, i.e., "I am what I am."

As I've mentioned before, I've done psychiatric evaluations of people from all over the world, and there is no question that in certain cultures the individual barely emerges out of the collective -- even out of their own body, to be honest. They don't have the problem of the body-mind dualism because they don't possess the latter. They are shockingly free of what we would call insight, reflection, interiority, detachment, irony, etc. It's as if they do not live in their minds, but in their bodies. They are amazingly content to perform the most mindless and repetitive work -- in fact, in many ways, they are probably happier than the average American. They essentially don't think about things until something goes wrong with their body. Otherwise, "no brain, no problem" (like the old baseball adage, "don't think -- you'll hurt the ballclub").

[The other day, I had an interesting conversation about this very topic with an interpreter. She was from Buenos Aires, and quite sophisticated, but her job usually involved translating for the above type of "pre-mental" person. She enthusiastically agreed with my observations.]

I don't know about you, but I can think back to my own childhood, when this unified condition was the natural state. One just felt the conflict-free bliss of being alive, especially between, say, 7 and 12. By this time, your nervous system has completely come "on line." You can speak, you can play, you have an imagination, you have friends, and if you have good enough parenting, you have no problems except for the mindless drudgery of school. Existential problems don't really emerge again until puberty. Just when you get used to the world, you're plunged into a new one, with new thoughts, new relations, a new body.

[I read a beautiful passage by Balthasar yesterday: "At dawn, heaven and earth are still one. Earthly things are transfigured and become celestial, while the light of heaven has not yet appeared in all its particularity. Such is the dawn of youth, in which the spirit plays in the body unselfconsciously. When the sun climbs to the very zenith of midday, heaven and earth are fully separated." Of course, the goal of the Raccoon lifestyle is to reintegrate heaven and earth at a higher level.]

The latest research in developmental neurology explains why adolescence can be so difficult. As it so happens, it doesn't just feel like your brain is being disassembled. Rather, that's actually what happens. The brain literally disassembles and reassembles during the teen years. A particular problem for boys is that the part of the brain that you might label "impulsivity" or "risk-taking" is temporarily unplugged (or at least attenuated) from the higher part of the neocortex where the thing called "judgment" resides. Like the infant, the adolescent goes through life at the same time his brain is being rewired together. Throw in the surge of hormones -- which is especially powerful in girls -- and you have a potential recipe for disaster. In my case, I don't think "judgment" and "impulse" were fully reintegrated in my brain until I was about 26.

Now coincidentally, Will mentioned in a comment yesterday that "most people are not really ready for college until they're about 24 - 26 years old. That's the age when the 'I-relate-everything-to-myself-and-my-emotions' fixation starts to dwindle. A bit." As it so happens, that is exactly how it was for me. Although I started college at 17, I couldn't have been less prepared. I faked my way through five semesters of junior college, but when I transferred to the state university, the game was over. I struggled through one semester but just stopped going in the middle of the second.

Around the same time, I had begun working as a retail clerk, which I continued doing for the subsequent 12 years, until 1988, the same year I completed my Ph.D. In between, I returned to college when I was 23. Looking back on it, I can see that a certain intellectual "awakening" was beginning to dawn, much to my surprise. It became markedly stronger when I was 26, but was like a sudden explosion at 29. By that time I was in graduate school, but it is important to point out that this explosion had nothing to do with school.

Furthermore, it had nothing to do with me, and was something over which I had no control, any more than I controlled the rate of growth of my body. Rather, it was the emergence of an independent and relatively autonomous developmental line, a process unto itself, one that I imagine most people ignore, either because by that age they are already on a fixed career path, or because their life became derailed much earlier.

It was literally an "opening" in my soul, accompanied by a flood of ideas, insights and connections that went well beyond anything I had formally learned in school, or any capacities I had even remotely possessed up to that time. It was really a new way of life and of Being. To a certain extent, if you can picture it, it was like a descent of pure intelligence without form or content. Naturally, given my meager academic history, this was totally unexpected, but I see now that it was precisely the absence of content that contributed to my plasticity in assimilating this force. [Indeed, it reminds me of Future Leader's freakishly good memory, which I imagine is partly a result of the fact that his brain is so empty and uncluttered, like a brand new computer.] I began reading voraciously and widely in the effort to provide some "content" to this seeming "force." I needed my mind to catch up with my new-found intelligence. [Only then did I start importing a lot of nonsense along the way!]

Why am I bringing this up? Several reasons. First, I'm wondering if anyone else out there has had similar experiences of "descents" and "awakenings?" I'm guessing that many Raccoons have similar stories to share.

I think it is fair to say that by this time, I had reached the "summit of intelligence." Now please, don't get me wrong here, for I am hardly making any special claim for myself. I think most "intellectuals" reach the summit of intelligence by one path or another, meaning that there is essentially nothing in the realm of worldly ideas that they cannot understand. The world of profane "intelligence" is basically open to them. Much will depend upon the character of the person, the content with which they fill out their intelligence, and their motives in doing so. For intelligence, more often than not, is in the service of a bad end or a bad egg. Obviously, intelligence itself in no way correlates with truth. Look at Noam Chomsky, for example. He is obviously at the summit of intelligence. You can even say he's genius if you like. But what good is the intelligence, when it exists in a parallel looniverse of lies, hatred, and paranoia? The smarter the person, the more catastrophic will be their error!

Throughout history people have reached the summit of intelligence, just as countless artists have achieved the summit of beauty. This is why the ancient Greeks still intrigue us. Someone like Plato was already at the summit of intelligence over 2,000 years ago. As Whitehead said, Western philosophy since then is basically a footnote on Plato -- which is not so much a tribute to Plato as an ackowledgement that pure intelligence, like artistic perfection, cannot surpass itself. One person becomes a Hegelian, another becomes a logical positivist, another becomes a deconstructionist. It doesn't really matter. It's just pure intelligence imagining it can surpass itself and know the one truth on a plane where it is intrinsically impossible to do so.

Something similar to a descent of pure intelligence occurred to Sri Aurobindo. In his case, he didn't remain stuck there, but immediately saw through its limitations. He did not see it as an end, merely a realm that had to be infused with a higher spirit in order to attain its proper end.

The best introduction to Sri Aurobindo is The Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem. In it, Satprem describes Aurobindo's recognition of the limits of the intellect: "The day came when Sri Aurobindo had had enough of these intellectual exercises. He had probably realized that one can go on amassing knowledge indefinitely, reading and learning languages, even learning all the languages in the world and reading all the books in the world, and yet not progressing an inch. For the mind does not seek truly to know, even though it appears to -- it seeks to grind. If by chance the machine were to come to a stop because knowledge had been obtained, it would soon rise up in revolt and find something new to grind, just for the sake of grinding and grinding."

Now, notice two things; first, Aurobindo had achieved the summit of intelligence, which essentially leaves one on a plane where the endless circles of deconstruction and synthesis are inevitable, with no nonlocal vector to guide them to their proper end in Truth as such. In other words, deconstruction is simply intelligence playing with the same facts to come up with radically disparate conclusions. Equally intelligent people can easily be on one side or the other of a particular dispute, or even arrive at opposite ideologies. For the "integralist," the task is to admit the truth of each and to "integrate" them. Thus, for example, we must integrate "left" and "right," since plenty of equally intelligent people adhere to each.

But this is not the path to truth. Unless intelligence is infused with the descent of a higher light, it will forever remain on its own partial plane. More on which tomorrow. In any event, I am curious to hear from others who have had this experience of a sudden opening, or "descent," of intelligence, followed by the descent of something surpassing it, and which begins to shape and reform intelligence for its own higher ends.

Here again, just yesterday I read a relevant passage by Balthasar, who speaks of "the moment when one's own inspiration mysteriously passes over into inspiration through the genius, the daimon, or the indwelling god, a moment when the 'spirit that contains the god' obeys a superior command which as such implies form and is able to impose form." This is impossible in the absence of true faith (o), through which the person divests himself "of any intent to give himself shape, who makes himself available as matter for the divine action."