The Selfishness of the Selfless
One important area in which Christianity and non-dualism radically diverge is over the question of hope. In the former, not only is hope permitted, but it is one of the theological virtues. In contrast, in non-dualism there is nothing to hope for and no one to hope for it, for neither sappy hope nor the dopey hoper are within the scope of the Real.
A couple of days ago, some astute commenter -- Warren, it was -- mentioned that one of the benefits of non-dualism is that it authorizes one to indulge one's impulses without having to feel guilt or shame before the transcendent Other. Non-dualists may dispute this characterization, but they really don't have an ontological leg to stand on, for just who is doing the disputing? And just what are they pulling if we have no legs? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Is it any wonder that the list of self-styled non-dualists and "independent gurus" who have set up shop in the West -- e.g., Da Free John, Chogyam Trungpa, Deepak Chopra, Krishnamurti, Rajneesh, and all the rest -- reveals a litany of duplicitous sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse? They are always -- either conveniently or inconveniently -- blindsided by the very desires they deny and claim to have transcended.
Are there Christians who engage in such bad behavior? Of course! But at least we are able to affirm that it is objectively and intrinsically wrong, and to ground morality in unchanging standards. Nor are there Christians who, after busted, claim that they are "crazy wise" spiritual teachers using paradoxical means to spur enlightenment in their followers -- you know, "it wasn't sexual abuse. I was just trying to teach the boy not to dissociate spiritual love from physical pleasure" or something. (Allen Ginsberg used to say this of the graduate students he sodomized.)
Bolton points out that if the non-dualists were correct, then there could be no objectively real developmental scale of being, especially as applied to human maturation. For them, "self development" could only mean a greater and more persistent reification of the very entity that causes all of the problems. To say "self development" would ultimately be indistinguishable from "illusion development," or "elaboration of the primal cosmic fantasy."
But that is not at all what happens in real psychospiritual development; rather, the opposite occurs. Indeed, I can see it in my own son, who came into the world a completely self-centered bundle of raging desires that needed to be satisfied now, if not sooner. He had no "self," no ego to moderate, transform, symbolize, or channel these impulses. Now that he has a blossoming little self, he is (becoming) kind, empathic, generous, and even capable of delaying his impulses, so he's already ahead of Tiger Woods on that score.
As Bolton puts it, "the degree of self-awareness which we have now does not, as such, make anyone self-centered unless it is corrupted. On the contrary, it makes one aware of self-centeredness as such, so that it can be corrected.... Only self-reflection can correct faults like self-centeredness. It would therefore follow that higher degrees of self-reflection should make possible so many higher degrees of unselfishness at the same time." Animals are never selfish or immoral, because nothing in them transcends their impulses and appetites. But enough about Hollywood liberals.
The non-dualist claims to trump Christian metaphysics, since the great scale of being of the latter is again ultimately subsumed into the realm of maya. But this, in my opinion, is one of the primary reasons why science either never developed or was prematurely quashed in these cultures. As Bolton writes, it is "the monistic schools of thought which can be seen to have the more limited option, that of confining the whole range of higher reality to the human state."
In other words, Christian metaphysics fills the gap between human and God with a whole hierarchy of spiritually real stations. There are only gaps in existence if we consider it from the bottom up -- e.g., the infinite ontological discontinuities between nothing and existence, matter and life, life and mind, etc. But if viewed from the top-down, the discontinuities vanish -- including ones we don't even know about until we arrive there through spiritual practice. Thanks to God, we are not "points" that vainly strive from the bottom up, but "lines" dangled from the top-down. If not for those lines, we could never be "fishers of men." There would be no exit from the closed circle of matter.
A human being can never totally "know himself," or he would be God, the Absolute. This is another way of saying that consciousness cannot know itself; or, it can know that it is, never what it is. Thus, there is surely "something self-contradictory about a supposedly absolute knowledge of God residing in an entity which cannot explain itself to itself," but rather, only extinguish the question by abolishing the questioner.
To paraphrase Bolton, disease is not cured by killing the patient. Unless Obamacare becomes law.
It seems that I barely get warmed up before it's time to go. To be continued...