Truth and Me: A Love Story
This is odd for a couple of reasons. First, isn't it self evident that whatever I say, I believe to be true? But this is precisely the absurdity of the relativist: there is no truth, and that's the truth!
You know the old dadactic gag, "this is not writing."
Second, no relativist actually believes his own BS, otherwise why get angry about someone else's BS? If relativism is true, then it's all just BS by another name, and power is all that counts. But you will have noticed that you never hear relativists say, for example, "there is no 'right' to abortion, for how could anyone be certain that a fetus is not a human being?"
In my experience, liberals are quite certain of the rightness of keynesian economics, or of moral relativism, or of multiculturalism, or of government mandated racial discrimination, or of "climate change," or that freedom of choice in primary education is a bad thing, or that all murderers should be kept alive at taxpayer expense, etc. If you disagree with the left, you're not just wrong, but a well-dressed bedwetting nazi racist employed by the insurance companies.
For the record, I never write anything of which I am not certain, or which I have not personally tested and experienced. You perceptive readers out there will have noticed that I never "get ahead of myself" and begin opining about things that are above my praygrade. When a spiritual writer does this, the phoniness always comes through.
This is one of the ubiquitous dangers of the occult. People can have all kinds of "spiritual experiences" of limited domains. But as a result of ego inflation, they take a little knowledge and then begin spouting off about things they couldn't possibly know. A giveaway is that their "system" will be unique to them, instead of generally comporting with what the great saints and sages have always said throughout history (cf The Spiritual Ascent). (Either that or it won't be a system at all, just an ad hoc jumble.) You will have to take much of what they say on faith, instead of being able to arrive at it independently.
Having said that, I do believe it is possible to go too far in the other direction, and to overemphasize the universal at the expense of the particular. This is one of the areas with which I would respectfully disagree with Schuon, but I am perfectly willing to concede up front that I may be wrong about this. What I mean is that I am not attempting to innovate, or to deviate from perennial truth and come up with my own system. Again, I am not L. Bob Gagdad.
Rather, I am simply attempting to convey the old truths in a new way. And not just a new way, but an utterly unique way, being that I am utterly unique (as is everyone else). This is how it is possible to simultaneously discover universal truth, even while discovering one's unique and particular self.
Do you see what I mean? Normally those two things -- universal and particular -- would stand at antipodes. But in the spiritual ascent, it is possible for the one to be a reflection of the other. One might even go so far as to say that there is no universal, only individual instances of it. For example, there is no separate platonic ideal of a table, only actual instances of the ideal instantiated in all of the diverse tables. So there's no ideal, even though there is.
Again, by far the best analogy I've found for this is real jazz. Jazz deals with a universal aesthetic, but the individual jazz greats do not converge toward this ideal and all sound the same. Far from it! The greater the jazz artist, the more unique his conception and his sound.
Indeed, this is one of the reasons I love jazz. The greatest masters create their own musical world, and yet, it is still within the tradition. It still respects a universal aesthetic, even if it is sometimes difficult to hear this when they are starting out. For example, Thelonious Monk sounded "radical" in the 1940s, but by the early 1960s he was on the cover of Time Magazine. He already sounded a bit old-fashioned, even though he was still cutting edge.
So two things will always come through in my writing: truth, which I hope is timeless, universal, and impersonal. And me, which is obviously personal and I hope at least entertaining.
Look at it this way: you can take the same standard from the American songbook -- say, Witchcraft -- and listen to it played by Liberace, or a Nordstrom pianist, or by Monk. Each will play the same song. And yet, it won't be the same song at all, because for the jazz pianist, the song is simply the basis for improvisation. But no matter how much he improvises and departs from the melody, he is still within the deep structure of the song. You might say that he is spontaneously exploring the hidden implications of the song's structure, which is why jazz is "the sound of surprise" -- including for the artist.
Now, as I go through this book by Schuon and blog my thoughts, this is precisely what I am doing. I am simply taking his rather stately and somber melody, and jazzing it up a bit. Making it swing... a TOE-tapper.
Would Schuon say that I am a common and vulgar man? No doubt. I don't need Traditionalists to remind me of this. But he would probably say that about America in general and certainly about jazz. Truly, it's an American thing. I just love America and the whole idea of America, which I see as spiritual through and through. That, of course, is where the politics comes in, because I want to preserve an America that treasures its jazz tradition. Especially in theology.
That was meant to be a brief intro. Oh well. We only have a little bit more to go in chapter one of Logic and Transcendence, The Contradiction of Relativism.
Ah, perfect segue! Schuon goes into the four essential limitations or "infirmities" of the soul, one of which touches on the issue I raised above about the universal and the particular.
We begin with the Big One. Yes, we are not God. We are "creature, not Creator, manifestation and not Principle or Being." I am certainly aware of this. In fact, only the godless can be unaware of the fact that they are not God, which is one of the great sources of their mischief.
Two, we are not angels. We are not celestial beings but terrestrial ones. We are not at the top of the vertical hierarchy, nor are we at the bottom (at least at the outset of our lives). Rather, we are somewhere in the middle -- which, of course, goes to the issue of free will, as we are suspended halfway between our better and worse selves. A saint is a man who has more or less succeeded in elevating himself to the border between 2 and 3. Thus, he is like an angel on earth.
Third, -- and this is the one I touched on above -- I am me and you are you. We are different. Thank God! And I mean that literally, for our individual differences -- at least for the Christian -- are not accidental or contingent. Rather, our differences are essential. For those of you with more than one child, this is obvious. The differences are a blessing, not a curse. Every face is unique, and yet, a member of the human family. God has counted every hair on your head. We're all different to him (which is the source of our differences, in that we are different ideas of God). And yet mankind is one.
Fourth are the differences that are not essential but contingent. These are the mind parasites. They are "accidental infirmities" that cause a man to sink beneath himself. The problem with a mind parasite is that it's not you, only pretending to be. It is a difference that is from earth (or lower), not heaven.
Now, you can see the mayhem that results if we don't keep these categories straight. The leftist -- because he turns the cosmos upside down and inside out -- begins with #4, and then elevates it to the highest good. Again, this is why the Democrat party is the party of eccentrics, cranks, weirdos, freaks, perverts, misfits, losers, reactionary rebels, rebellious conformists, and the generally noncivilized.
But by the same token, no one can have failed to notice that a certain type of conservative can pretend to be #2 at the expense of #3, so that he ends up being a dogma-spewing robot with no uniqueness about him. I'm sure you know the type. They scare many people away from religion, in part because it looks as if you have to give up your uniqueness (which is not the same as ego).
If you've followed me this far, then you will understand what Schuon means when he says that "Relativism engenders a spirit of rebellion and is at the same time its fruit. The spirit of rebellion, unlike holy anger, is not a passing state, nor is it directed at some worldly abuse; on the contrary it is a chronic malady directed toward Heaven and against everything that represents Heaven or is a reminder of it."
Thus, to come back full circle, our quixotic troll thinks he's tilting at a windbag named Bob, but his real beef is with God, or #1. I'm only #3. And yes, I'm certain of that. But I'm working on inching my way up.
[T]he primordial and normative attitude is this: to think only in reference to what surpasses us and to live for the sake of surpassing ourselves.... Not to acknowledge what surpasses us and not to wish to surpass ourselves: this is... the very definition of Lucifer. --F. Schuon