Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Because I Said So vs. Because I Did So (or My Way is the High Way)

Does the existence of man denote a self-imposed limit on God's freedom? Much of the Theo-Drama touches on this touchy question without providing any tangible answer. Yes, there are easy answers to the question if one reverts to dogma. But that just recalls my father's all-purpose answer: "because I said so." Some of us can't be satisfied with that response, even if it conveys the truth. Instead, we want to know why you say so.

I haven't yet had to say that to my son, and I hope I never do. Not to say I can't be authoritarian. However, instead of "because I said so," I might say, for example, because that's the way it is. In other words, it is not "I" who says so, but reality which does. I would then explain why reality operates in this frustrating or painful manner, and how reality always "bites back" if you violate it.

Let's say Andrew Sullivan comes to me in tears, asking why he can't marry his boyfriend. I would calmly explain that a man cannot marry a man, that it is an impossibility. If he pressed the issue, I wouldn't end the conversation with "because I said so." Rather, I would explain that this is the way it is, and that even if the law imposes homosexual marriage on us, homosexuals still cannot live in a state of "marriage," any more than I can make my aunt a trolley car by judicial fiat, or a Fiat by judicial folly.

It seems to me that "because I said so" indicates a position of weakness. But if one is in a weak position, one should simply acknowledge it. Just say, "I don't really know," or "it sounded like a good idea at the time." Don't pretend you have all the answers.

So Balthasar asks the question -- a question we all need to ask our Father -- is God "powerless in the face of autonomous man's 'No'? And how is this divine powerlessness related to the Godforsakenness of his Son on the Cross?"

The answer inevitably shades off into theo-drama, which is the "long" answer to that question, precisely (for it takes ages to be fully revealed). In other words, the structure of the theo-drama would seem to imply something about the nature of God's power over his own creation -- that there are certain limits that even he will not violate. It's as if he needs to operate within his own self-imposed boundaries in order to try to overcome man's autonomous "No," otherwise the Victory is tainted.

Here again, it would be easy enough for God to just say because I said so. Isn't this the way things work in the Islamic world? Sharia is the imposition of "God's will" on everyone, like it or not. "But why must we force women to live in black bags, or murder our rebellious daughters, or beat men who shave their beards?" Shut up!, he explained.

Much of this follows from the conception of a monistic god, which then imposes a strict dualism of god-->man. But the Trinitarian God is fundamentally different, as its intrinsic activity involves the self-emptying of the Father with respect to the Son.

Again, the Father doesn't "hold back" anything, but "gives his all." Thus, his power is in his powerlessness, so to speak. But within the Trinity, this gift is accepted by the Son with eternal gratitude and humility, and then "returned" to the Father in an "enriched" form, if we may put it thus.

Apparently, we have no real access to the goings-on inside the Trinity. However, I think I can get some sense of the eternal delight in observing how this plays out with my own son. The amount of love and care that parents give to their infant cannot be measured. It's about as close to "infinite" as you can imagine, in part because their needs are infinite.

But now that he's four years old, we're starting to see the love we poured into him, not just returning to us, but spreading out into the world. What can I say? It's a marvelous thing to behold.

Yes, you could say that it's only your own love returning back to you, so what's the big deal? And yet, it is a big deal. Something happens to the love by virtue of letting it go and pouring it into your infant, before whom you are helpless. Let Mrs. G tell you stories about the profound helplessness a mother feels toward a colicky baby. Some mothers have been known to abuse or murder their babies rather than tolerate the pain of that helplessness.

My mind just went to the image of Christ's pain on the cross. But imagine the pain of the Father! Now my mind flashes to Saddam torturing children in the presence of their parents. If you have children, you know that this is "unimaginable" pain, probably even outside satan's limits. And yet, this literally unimaginable pain is at the very heart of the Christian mystery. What's going on?

So you can see right away that God's answer to the question of "why," goes way beyond "because I said so." The question now becomes more like, "why are you doing this to yourself? You're God. You don't have to endure this unimaginable pain. Just smite Man and be done with it. He's not worth it."




While we wait for an answer, consider this: "Infinite love is seen, in that God has identified himself with what is alien to him in order to kill it." In math, the multiplication of two negatives is a positive. Could it be that Death x Death = Life? Or Pain x Pain = Joy?

Can death be killed? If so, can we kill our own death? Inquiring minds want to know!

They say that one of the problems in having a child is that your heart is no longer in your own body. Rather, it's now set loose in the world, outside your body, running around free. It's completely helpless and vulnerable -- anything can happen, and you have no control over it. And yet, God sets loose his heart into the world. What madness is this!

Again, why would one set loose one's most cherished possession in this world, of all places?! I can't even imagine doing that with my child. Rather, I will do everything within my power to protect him from the world. Our culture has become the enemy. When "in" it, you are in hostile territory. Any spiritually sane person understands this.

But God's heart wanders around everywhere, high and low: with whores, drunks, lepers, tax collectors, leftists. For this heart, in order to overcome death, must embrace all. He must taste the whole existentialada.

Imagine flushing your child down the toilet, and you get the idea. There can be no limits to his descent, not even human limits. Rather, he must descend to the hidden dimensions of the cosmos, to the vast network of filthy arteries beneath our brightly lit cultures, every last dreadful one of them. He must break free of every "prison of finitude," only in order to find himself in a more vast prison system.

But why? Why must it be this way?

All of this must be so. And it must be hidden, and men have no inkling of what is occurring. They simply walk on past it as over the dark pipes and drains that form the gruesome catacombs under our big cities. Up above the sun is beaming; peacocks fan out their tails; young people frolic with glee, their light clothes puffed by the wind -- and no one knows the price. --Balthasar, Heart of the World

To be continued...

Monday, June 01, 2009

Obsessive-Compulsive Political Disorder and the Hopelessness of Hope

We left off last Friday discussing those evil twin towers of the leftist narrative, utiopianism and revolutionism. You say you want a revolution? Good! You got one. Scipio ponders the gruesome details here.

So you're happy now, right? Utopia is right around the coroner, is it not?


Leftists are constitutionally incapable of noticing that their revolutionism is always at odds with their utopianism, and only "delays" the latter (but only forever). Therefore, what's the solution? More revolutionism. As Obama promised -- or threatened -- the other day, you ain't seen nothin' yet! This leads to the odd situation in which the revolutionism becomes the utopia. The utopia itself can never come about. Rather, the fun is in trying.

For all of those aging boomers who miss the '60s, this is the reason why: it was a time of manically "hopeful revolutionism," indeed like adolescence itself (mania is always a defense against depression). Of course, it didn't take long for the revolution to turn distinctly dystopic; therefore, it had to somehow be sustained without ever achieving its goal. To actually achieve the goal would be the end of the revolution, and therefore the end of hope. The secret of Democrat power is to forever keep its drones suspended in a state of hopeless hope. The more hopeless you are, the more false hope they have to promise you.

In the absence of revolutionary hope, we would have to accept man for what he is, and start from that depressing but sober realization. Which is what our wise founders did.

It reminds me very much of the great psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott's observations about the unconscious phenomenology of shoplifting. He noticed that the compulsive shoplifter didn't necessarily steal out of greed or need. Rather, he did so in hope. In that suspended tick of time in which the theft is taking place, the shoplifter experiences a kind of exalted hope that lifts him out of his existential despair. Of course, the effect is only temporary and must be reenacted again and again.

This is a profound observation, because it doesn't just apply to shoplifters, but to most any kind of compulsive behavior. A compulsion is a kind of mini-narrative, except that it is entirely circular and lands you right back where you started. Behind the compulsion is some sort of unconscious or semi-conscious hope: hope for safety, or esteem, or fulfillment, or health, or whatever. But the compulsion cannot actually be fulfilled, or the person would be reduced to a state of hopelessness. So the little drama must be compulsively staged and reenacted, often with more elaborate details, but no change in the underlying structure.

Again, it is the narrative that counts, not the facts. Facts that do not fit into the narrative are not only ignored, but actively attacked. This is not a "passive" kind of madness, but quite active, for this is where the leftist places his misplaced faith: in their specifically Christian counter-narrative. They will defend this narrative with all of the tools at their disposal, even while concealing its nature, often even (or especially) to themselves.

To bring the narrative fully into the light would rob it of its mystery, for in the end, there is nothing mysterious about it. It's like the withered little man beneath the Darth Vader costume. It's just plain old secular socialism, underneath which is the hope for an immanent utopia, or heaven on earth. Thus, it hopes for the impossible, and gets it every time.

Today the church has largely gone from shaping history to being either shaped or bypassed altogether by the historical forces it brought into being (such as Christian hope). Nowhere is this more evident than in "liberation theology," which appropriates the Christian narrative for the purpose of destroying it. Anyone who thinks it is unimportant that Obama found his soul's rest in just such a degraded theology is a fool, for he has now made himself the central actor in that counter-narrative, even while claiming to have left that particular church behind. He hasn't left it. Rather, he's finally taking it seriously, backing up his faith with bold actions, not just words.

The point is, man must live in drama, and a drama has conflict and resolution. For the Christian, the primary locus of the conflict is within the self, and secondarily between powers at play in the world -- powers that "enlist" actors to read their lines and do their bidding. And the hope is for eternal salvation, not temporal utopia.

For the leftist, the principle conflict is superficially between "haves and have-nots," but the deeper conflict is between finite having and infinite wanting. And that is a conflict that can never be resolved, for the very reason that man's wanting is infinite -- as infinite as his imagination.

There is nothing you can give a man that will extinguish his wanting more, unless that man is on a spiritual path through which he transcends, or at least masters, that kind of mimetic desire (which is to be distinguished from appetite, which is natural desire uncontaminated by mimesis or compulsion). In other words, in addition to desire being infinite in itself, man always wants what the other guy has, just because the other guy has it.

I suppose it's possible to completely transcend desire in the manner of a Ramana Maharshi, but moderation is the more practical means of dealing with it. As Dennis Prager recommends, you should give yourself little proscribed areas for the enactment of "moderate vice."

For example, with me, it's my Blue Note collection. Yesterday I snagged an out-of-print rarity from some poor sucker for only ten bucks, when they often go for the absurdly high price of $150. Did that make me happy? Yes, for a moment. But now I really "need" this one, which is fetching a preposterous $90. Thus, it's a kind of deadly game between me and a future sucker. I just have to wait him out, then move in for the kill.

But let's say I eventually collect every rare and out of print Blue Note. Would that make me happy? Fulfilled? Of course not! If anything, it would make me less happy, because it would be the end of my little game.

Again, I think this is the deep structure of the naive leftist, who is playing a game he hopes to win, but in winning will leave him without hope. Thus, Obama must find a way to keep the preposterous fantasies of hope alive, even while never fulfilling them (which he cannot do anyway, of course).

It's the same with the naive scientist or Darwinist. Let's say Queeg's fondest hopes are fulfilled, and that no one ever again utters the words "intelligent design." Then what? It won't even make any practical difference in the world, let alone bring about the secular eschaton. At least I can listen to my CDs.

Likewise the Darwinian geek who gets all excited about this or that discovery. But why? He already knows that the narrative has no meaning or purpose. Therefore, he must fool himself into thinking that things have meaning, when they really don't. It's a little game that the Darwinian plays with himself, in order to make his meaningless existence bearable. But if you call them on it, you will notice that they get as touchy as a Muslim over a cartoon of Mohammed.

Bottom line: the left is on a (counter) religious crusade. And as we all know, you can knock a man down, spit in his face, and slander his name all over the place, but don't you mess with his crusade ruse.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Being, Knowing, and Sensible Footwear

I have very good leather to sell to those who wish to make shoes. --Gurdjieff

Here is a post from two years ago. Interestingly, in exhumining the corpus from that month, I see that I was experiencing a little disturbance in the force, or farce, depending on your point of view. I was having trouble blogging, which is just a side effect of trouble living, or at least living in the way I would like, which involves blogging every day.

Is that too terribly tautologous for allavus? It shouldn't be, because for the Raccoon, knowing can only flow from being. Detached from being, the things I write about would be worthless. They might have some intellectual content or some insultainment value, but qua religion, you'd be much better off going elsewhere.

I felt exactly the same way with regard to becoming a clinical psychologist. First of all, I never got into this racket because of any delusions of "healing" people. Rather, my motives were entirely impractical and therefore honest. In short, I was just curious. And if you are curious for a long enough time, they eventually give you this thing called a "Ph.D." But the bad news is, they kick you out of school. Now you have to deal with the real world. Unless you become tenured, in which case you can play in the sandbox of academia forever.

This wouldn't have posed a problem for me if my Ph.D. were in, say, chemistry or engineering, since those don't carry the burden of implying an ability to heal souls. But like it or not, I was now in the soul-healing business. However, most people have no business being in that business. For one thing, I'm not so sure it should even be a business.

In any event, I was pretty convinced that my getting into that business at that time was a kind of quackery, since I was just ducking my own issues beneath the water. I knew full well that I had a thriving population of my own mind parasites that I hadn't yet eradicated or brought to heel. I mean, I still did therapy, because it was nevertheless true that most people were crazier than me. On my worst day, it was still unlikely that a patient less crazy than me would walk through the door.

In this regard, I compared it to giving guitar lessons. Imagine that neither of us really knows how to play guitar. We're both taking lessons, except that I'm a couple of weeks ahead of you. Since I've seen the next lesson, I can always fake it by teaching you what I just learned.

When I started graduate school, I had fantasies about the transformative power of psychotherapy. As part or that, I initially idealized my teachers, as if they were the powerful soul-healers alluded to above. But gradually, reality eclipsed the fantasies, and I discovered that, with a few notable exceptions, these people were quite mediocre. I mean, they weren't bad people, but they had no business being soul healers. And yet, unlike me, they seemed untroubled by it. Indeed, for many, it seemed that getting a Ph.D. merged with their own narcissism, as if to say, "I am a healer, therefore I am healed."

Now, apply this whole scenario to the realm of Spirit. Yesterday a reader asked for advice about how to tell real teachers from the frauds. He was genuinely frightened that he might open himself up to a bad influence (probably meaning me!) that would damage his spiritual foundation. This is indeed a legitimate concern, as the world is full of false and destructive -- even frankly demonic -- "gurus" such as Deepak or Tony Robbins.

Here is part of my response: "I don't think there's any big mystery there. Just stick with people who are part of an orthodox tradition rooted in revelation. Once you understand the deeper principles, then you are inoculated against nonsense in other fields, such as science and philosophy. You can take what is good in the latter, and ignore the bad or metaphysically impossible, as I mentioned in today's post vis-a-vis Darwinism.

"One of the intrinsic problems of protestantism is that it broke away from the main stream of Christianity, which extends back to Christ and the apostles. Therefore, there's always a 'lone wolf' aspect to it. This in itself isn't necessarily bad, you just have to be very cautious about who you allow into your head and heart. The reverse problem can afflict orthodoxy, since it can become reified and dogmatic, and closed off to the novel. A Meister Eckhart can appear as a radical heretic in his time, only to later be revealed as arguably the greatest European man who ever lived.

"Jesus addressed this issue when he said know them by their fruits. One of the first fruits of your own genuine spiritual growth will be the ability to discern spirits. You will acquire a sixth sense that will tell you immediately if you are dealing with a person of authentic spiritual attainment, or someone who is 'just words.' The genuine saints and sages converge in the broad details, but more importantly, they are able to directly transmit their realization to the sympathetic and qualified disciple. It is a very physical (albeit subtle) sensation, one of joy, transparency, lightness, expansion, etc. As you grow in your own spirituality, you will naturally be capable of more depth, so that people who once seemed deep to you will now appear shallow. Which is fine. It takes all kinds to make world, and not everyone has the same spiritual qualifications."

Did this preface have a point? I don't know, but perhaps it is this: to "know them by their fruit" is to know them by their being, not their knowledge, the latter of which is so easy to fake. Remember the story of the student who went to study with the great rabbi -- not to find out what he "knew," but to "watch him tie his shoelaces." Bottom line: stay away from spiritual teachers who wear fancy loafers.


First of all, for a variety of scientific reasons I won't get into, I think the odds of intelligent beings on other planets are vanishingly remote. But even then, the idea that intelligence alone is sufficient to account for the humanness through which our intelligence is channelled is extraordinarily naive. Or put it this way: intelligence is necessary, but hardly sufficient, to account for our humanness. We are nothing at all like merely intelligent apes, but something else entirely.

In my book, I noted that humanness is an ontological station that is anterior to our having entered it. This is why, as we evolved into this space, it was not "empty," so to speak. Rather, it was quite "full," except that much of the information was implicit rather than explicit. It had to be unpacked and brought into being in the material world -- which we have been doing for the past 40,000 years or so. In the most general terms, we have been bringing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful into the world. Our attraction to these things can by no means be explained by (natural) intelligence itself, but is separate from it.

There was a brief discussion of this in yesterday's thread, where Will used the allegory of a village of of the blind: "One individual suddenly develops eyesight, the first villager to do so. Quite the revelation! This individual's spatial sense deepens beyond his previous imaginings. And the colors! He never knew they existed.

"Taking in the sky, he tries to explain the color blue to the villagers. In fact, he tries to explain the concept of sky to them. Bottom line, he can't. He might use analogies like, well, 'blue' is like a coating that you can't really touch, plus it's sort of 'cold-like,' not like ice, but like river water, etc. Some of the villagers might be intrigued with his analogies, but that's a far as it would go. Most would dismiss him, would almost have to dismiss him, as crazy. They simply lack the frame of reference by which he senses colors -- eyesight.

"Anyway, I think that genuine apprehension of God and the Divine Archetypal Realm, to the extent that humans are capable of such, is literally the activation of sense organ(s), that is, a 6th, 7th (and on up) sense organ."

I agree with Will that such higher sense organs would have to correlate in some way with the human brain, but that they can never be reduced to it. For example, let's say that neurologists locate that part of the brain responsible for recognizing artistic beauty. Would this prove that the differences in beauty between, say, a Thomas Gainsborough and a Thomas Kinkade are not really real? This is not as stupid as it sounds, for I guarantee you that in the next six months, if they are still in business, the New York Times will run another ridiculous article about some earthbound neurologist who has discovered the part of the brain responsible for religion, or awareness of God, or mystical states. What this proves is precisely nothing -- except perhaps that every interior has an exterior (in the manner described by Ken Wilber) and that Thomas Dolby was right: it is possible to be blinded by science.

In response to Will's comment, I wrote that that our brain architecture "comes into being simultaneously with an encounter with a particular world." Interestingly, the latest research suggests not only that human evolution is still ongoing, but that it can occur much more rapidly than anyone had realized. Thus, the future evolution of homo raccoonicus could occur over the space of a few generations.

In his summary of the latest research, Nicholas Wade makes a number of points that are highly upsetting to the psycho-spiritual left, since he leaves little reason to doubt that various human groups acquire traits and abilities that others do not. He cites many examples, one of which being the Jews who, pound for pound, have contributed more to human excellence than any other group -- even more so when you consider that they have also been the most persecuted group down through history (no coincidence there).

For example, although they represent far less than 1% of the world’s population, Jews have won 15 to 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes, and perhaps constitute an even higher percentage of the world's greatest comedians. On the other hand, the Palestinians have won exactly one Nobel Prize, and of course it was given to one of the most depraved and disgusting monsters who ever drew breath. And the Palestinian contribution to comedy, although considerable, has been entirely unintended -- e.g. the wild-eyed imams with their crazed Friday evening sermons, the comical s'allapstiq "work accidents" in which they accidentally blow themselves up, the frenzied "car swarms" in which they hope to retrieve a bloody finger or fragment of brain martyr. Israelis and Palestinians might as well be a different species -- which, in a way, they are. Not, of course, in any horizontal racial sense, but in a vertical sense. To say that one of them is more evolved than the other is a banality of the first rank, unless you are a rank leftist who doesn't believe in vertical rank.

Not only is this view not racist, but it is the polar opposite, for it means that ethnic traits are not fixed but subject to evolution, change and progress. But for some reason, the left doesn't like this kind of evolution. Rather, they argue that all cultures are equally beautiful and that any differences between them are arbitrary. Furthermore, if you argue that one culture is superior to another, you are a racist. Thus, the left habitually confuses race and culture, making it impossible to criticize -- and therefore help -- a dysfunctional culture without being called a racist. This is precisely what happened to one of the last great liberals, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wrote so sensitively of the "tangle of pathology" afflicting African American culture. That all of his most dire predictions came to pass is of no consequence to the ideologically blinded "reality based community" -- the ironically named progressive left, another group that cannot evolve.

In any event, as I mentioned in a comment yesterday, it is clear to me that we are co-evolving the language to describe various "post-biological realities" as we enter into them. This is very much analogous to the early explorers of the new world, who all landed in different areas and came back with diverse and seemingly contradictory discriptions of the flora and fauna they'd found. At first, the descriptions of higher planes are going to be highly subjective and seemingly disconnected from the others, but as we increasingly colonize the space, we start to see how all the descriptions fit together. Certainly that is what I was trying to do with my book, and even more so with the blog, in part because I know that my neurology has changed as a consequence of repeated encounters with the Nous World. I see things very clearly now that were more shrouded before, just as I see things vaguely now that will presumably become clearer as I go. The spiritual world is perpetually "coming into view."

In the past, some atheists have complained that I am "bigoted" against them. Which is true, if you abuse the term beyond recognition. To me, a bigot is someone who discriminates against another based upon some insignificant difference, such as race. It is another thing entirely to discriminate against an ideology or belief system. In this sense, discrimination is the essence of intelligence. I discriminate against atheism because, one, I think it is intrinsically stupid, and two, I think it would be highly destructive if a significant number of people were reduced to its influence, instead of it remaining just a small club of eccentrics, misfits, and spiritually disabled losers.

And yes, when I say "destructive," I do mean destructive of the human being as I understand him. For it would mean the foreclosure of those supramental spiritual realities to which humans have unique access and that we are in the process of bringing into being.

Ironically, the atheist by definition does not understand my writing, and yet, objects to my ideas. The reverse is obviously not true: there is nothing about atheism that cannot be understood by a normal adolescent schoolboy. But one of the atheists asks, "Does anyone understand what this guy is talking about, because there is no content that I can discern. It is literally vacuous, and atrociously written to boot. From any rational perspective, it is empty and devoid of coherence or significance [and] preposterously boring."

Another one writes of my "lurid and vacuous prose" which is "completely and utterly meaningless when analysed, hermeneutically or otherwise." Furthermore -- or less -- "even Bob couldn't explain rationally what he means by it, yet one does not have to be a psychiatrist to understand what his real problem is. Gagdad Bob is just another pathetically feeble individual" and even a "true psychopath."

Another one confesses total ignorance of what I write about, but then, in typical atheist fashion, assumes that the ignorance resides in me rather than her. She admits that my writing is a "confusing mess" to her, and that "Honestly, I think Bob spends more time thumbing through a thesaurus than he does with actually trying to make his thoughts coherent. It seems to me he's more concerned with impressing people with his 'fancy' words than he is with people understanding what he's trying to convey. What's the point of writing for others in the way Bob does, when you end up making your readers incapable of understanding what you're writing? Perhaps his stringing together a bunch of those 'fancy' words gets people to think he's understanding the issues on a higher plane, and those who are easily led follow along like sheep, believing that they're just too stupid to understand someone with such supposed 'important' thoughts/feelings. His followers are led to believe they're in the presence of somebody really important and special."

And this one is also too funny to ignore: "Regarding the chances of reaching the 'Racoons,' it would be silly to argue that any of them would ever be convinced to abondon their belief in god. However they may come to realize that this person whom they occasionally refer to as 'Fearless Leader' (and who refers to his own son from time to time as 'Future Leader') is a gross, opportunistic narcissist who does not truly share their values."

Like the Palestinkians, their humor is always inadvertent.

Anyway, given that my writing is empty, irrational, literally vacuous, devoid of content, incoherent, and insignificant, how can it simultaneously be a dangerous threat to atheists? If it is literally devoid of content, then that means there can be no objectionable content. It's just crazy talk.

But again, as I have said all along, atheism is nothing more and nothing less than a frank confession of total ignorance of any ontologically real spiritual plane transcending the senses. It is simply the "final common pathway" of a spiritual failure to launch with diverse causes. Which is fine. If that's how they choose to live their lives, who am I to argue with them? I'm a liberal. I'm all for them squandering their liberty in any way they see fit. How can that pose a threat to them?

These are divisive times, both horizontally -- which is obvious -- and vertically, which is the true source of the horizontal strife, for cultural space is developmental time. As Will pointed out, "Obviously the most fractious time is when the outsiders [i.e., the vertical explorers] begin to expand in number and outreach. This is when the distinctions between old language and new would be most divisive. Attempts at conciliation between old and new would be inevitably, necessarily futile. Those of the old persuasion would have hope of becoming new -- should they so desire -- but the new can never return to the old status. They either eventually succeed in establishing newness or they are eliminated by the reactionary old."

Evolution is a harsh mysteress. I suppose it would be nice if atheists were capable of understanding my writing, but then they wouldn't be atheists. Hey, if the shoe doesn't fit....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why Can't a Democrat Be More Like a Man?

Before getting into today's featured rerun, I just wanted to mention a funny observation yesterday by Taranto. As I have said before, I am a conservative because I am a liberal. In many ways, I am the same liberal today that I was when I was younger, except that it's now called "conservative." Likewise, what we mistakenly call "liberalism" is pure leftism, which is a different animal entirely.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions of race or ethnicity. Taranto posted an excerpt of a typical All in the Family episode, which ironically demonstrates the reversal that has taken place in the past 35 years. Back then, Archie was the bigot and Meathead was the liberal. But today the roles are reversed: Archie expresses the race-obsessed leftist view, while Meathead expresses the view of the typical bewildered conservative who doesn't understand the significance of race or ethnicity:

Archie: What's the matter with this? I call this representative government. You've got Salvatori, Feldman, O'Reilly, Nelson -- that's an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman and a regular American there. That's what I call a balanced ticket.

Meathead: Why do you always have to label people by nationality?

Archie: 'Cause, how else are you going to get the right man for the right job? For instance, take Feldman there. He's up for treasurer. Well, that's perfect. All them people know how to handle money. Know what I mean?

Meathead: No, I don't.

Archie: Well, then you got Salvatori running for D.A. He can keep an eye on Feldman. You know, I want to tell you something about the Italians. When you do get an honest one, you really got something there.

Meathead: Aw, c'mon, Arch.

Archie: Well, then here you got O'Reilly, the mick. He can see that the graft is equally spread around, you know. You got Nelson, the American guy. He's good for TV appearances, to make the rest of them look respectable.

As Archie might say today, with a Wise Latina on the bench, that's what I call a reasonably balanced court: two broads, four real men, three castrati, a spic, a mick, two waps, a darkie, and two kikes. However, there are six mackeral snappers. Now, that's a problem. Just yesterday I heard Christopher Hitchens on Hugh Hewitt's program, saying that we needed to do something about that and appoint a pagan, I mean atheist, to the court. (Somehow, I think he's overlooking the obvious.)


One of the most interesting works of anthropology I’ve ever read is The Human Animal, by Weston LaBarre. LaBarre was both an anthropologist and a psychoanalyst, and this book deals with exactly what I attempted to outline in Chapter Three of my book, that is, how primates and proto-humans eventually evolved into proper (some of us, anyway) human beings. Being that it was published in 1954, many of the details in his book have undoubtedly been superseded by more recent research. And yet, he captured the big picture in a way that few people even attempt to do these days.

I'm guessing that few non-Raccoons would cite LaBarre as an influence these days, but if nothing else, he’s a very entertaining writer, full of pithy and astringent comments, asides, and insults. Interestingly, he was a militant atheist, but that doesn’t necessarily bother me. So long as someone has a piece of the truth, their overarching philosophy is of no consequence to me, no matter how shallow or ignorant. I have no difficulty accepting whatever parts of Darwinism comport with perennial truth. I only reject those parts of of it that are not true and cannot possibly be true. Darwinism can never account for our humanness, but it may be able to explain something about how we arrived there, at least horizontally (but never vertically, which would be a strict metaphysical impossibility).

Chapter 6 of The Human Animal deals with sexual differences and the evolutionary circumstances that supposedly allowed humanness to emerge. In an evolutionary tradeoff, human brains grew so rapidly that women had to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that the brain's incomplete neurology could only be wired together in the extra-uterine environment. (For those of you in Rio Linda, that means after you're born.)

The resulting infantile helplessness (and maternal preoccupation) meant that the family unit switched from the mother-infant diad to the mother-father-infant triad. These symbiotic relationships further modified all of their members, as they adapted to -- and became intersubjective members of -- each other, thereby creating the "interior unity" of the family (which in important ways, mirrors the dynamic interior unity of the Creator; out of all the gods and animals, only the Christian God and human animal are principially intersubjective, a momentous point to ponder).

LaBarre notes that “a society’s attitudes toward women and toward maternity will deeply influence its psychological health and all other institutional attitudes.” He wrote in 1954 -- well before the degradations to womanhood brought about by the feminist movement -- that “It is a tragedy of our male-centered culture that women do not fully enough know how important they are as women.” Sadly, today so many women only know how important they are as men. This is a tragedy of monumental proportions, in part because it also results in men not understanding their own role in terms of being men.

One of the keys to understanding male-female differences lies in examining the different ways in which we are permitted to love. As a child we must love in one way, but in order to become an adult we must love in others. The process is significantly more complicated for males, because our first love object is the mother with whom we are merged. Male identity must first be wrested and won from this primordial union, otherwise there will be no manhood, only biological maleness. In other words, our love must transition from male-female, to male-male, then back to male-female. Many things can go wrong along the way, as you might well imagine.

On the other hand, female identity is coterminous with their union with the Great Mother, both literally and archetypally. They only have to transition from female-female love to female-male. As a result, their identity is much more secure, because they never have to renounce the primitive identification with the Great Mother, at least totally. For example, I would guess that some 90% of sexual perverts are men. Still, things obviously can and do go wrong in female psychosexual development, for any number of reasons we don't have time to discuss here.

All men know that women can magically produce children out of their bodies. This is another reason that women are generally more “grounded” and secure in their identity than men are. It would also explain the essential restlessness (and sometimes rootlessness) of men, along with the psychological adaptiveness of male homophobia. (A couple of days ago we were discussing the hobo archetype, the man with no roots, or whose "roots" are in motion; there is a reason why they are almost always male, whereas the female usually has a much stronger nesting instinct.)

Femaleness as a category is secure: its undeniable signs are menstruation, maternity, and an obsession with shoes. But manhood -- as opposed to mere biological maleness -- has no such obvious visible markers. Rather, it is something that must be constructed and achieved. The adaptive mechanism that allows males to become men is culture.

What connects mother to infant is very concrete: the breast and all it symbolizes and implies ("breast" is a psychoanalytic term of art that is more analogous to "cosmic source of all goodness," if viewed from the infant's omnipotent and boundary-less perspective.) Likewise, what originally connected male to female was the evolutionary change that made females sexually available year-round.

But what connects man to man? “What connects father and son, male and male, is the mystery of logos and logos alone...” It is through this shared pattern of cosmic meaning that “father can identify with son and permit his infancy, within which son can identify with father and become a man, and within which a male can perceive and forgive the equal manhood of his fellow man.”

(In rereading that passage, it has a couple of very powerful ideas: permit the infant to live [both literally and symbolically, and both internal and external], and forgive the manhood of fellow men; few cultures have fully succeeded in doing this, certainly not in much of the Islamic world, where they blow up their children in order to blow up other men.)

At the foundation of the State, writes LaBarre, “is our struggle to find both paternal power [an aspect of the vertical] and brotherly justice [the vertical prolonged into the horizontal] in the governing of men.” This is why something psychologically noxious happens when government becomes mother. A similar thing happens when God becomes mother or mother becomes God. It interferes with the primordial basis of culture qua culture, which is to convert boys to men. If that fails to happen -- as with the left -- then civilization either cannot form or will not be able to sustain and defend itself, since there will be no men or manhood, only Democrats -- or women and children.

This would explain the (until recently) universal practice of various male initiation rituals, in which boys are sometimes brutally wrenched away from their mothers in order to facilitate male “rebirth” and full membership in the fellowship of men. Again, femaleness is given by biology, but maleness must be proven, not just to oneself, but to the group. If appropriate models are not given for this drive, we will simply have pathological versions of it, such as the urban youth gang or the NBA, which are all about proving one’s manhood, only to other female-centered boys.

In fact, this is why so much contemporary rap and hip hop is so perversely male. In a matriarchal culture so lacking in male role models, these clueless boys are constantly trying to prove that they are what they imagine a man -- and themselves -- to be. This is why they are such pathetic, brooding, aggressive, and hyper-sexualized caricatures of manhood. (And ultimately this results from female sexuality reverting back to the mother-infant diad, with no real role for men except George Gilder's "naked nomad.")

Other males -- we call them liberals -- often take women as their role models, with predictable results. They regard auto-castration as the quintessence of civilization and sophistication. They aren't really assertive in a male way, but a catty or bitchy way, like the New York Times or their quintessential shemale, Obama.

Again, male sexual development is inherently more complex and hazardous, for men must first love and identify with the female, only to make a clean break of it and then return to the same object as an adult. Many things can go wrong with this process at each step along the way, as the road is filled with conflict and ambivalence. It explains why men often have the harder time growing up. Still, that's no excuse to elect one president.

Someone once said that men marry women hoping they'll never change, while women marry men hoping to change them. Someone wants to change us, big time. But a big part of manhood is preserving and defending the precious things that were created and handed down to us by our forefathers.

We are about to elect a feminized man whose official policy is to surrender to our enemies, so we have moved well beyond the theoretical to the actual. In the triangulated war between liberals, Islamists, and the left, only one side can win. Our side will lose if we run out of real men because we simply do not create enough of them. We will lose if we allow the new cutural ideal of the feminized adultolescent male to become the ideal. We will lose if we forget that an upright and noble man with the capacity for righteous violence is at the very foundation of civilization.

Liberals sneer at such men, which is to say, men. I found a typical example by a college professor at dailykos, called A Pacifist’s Agony. S/h/it writes that “I've always hated the term ‘war crime,’ since it's an insidious tautology. It implies that some wars are not crimes, and some of the atrocities committed during war are excusable by virtue of their context. I believe that if there can be any single concept by which a civilization ought to be defined it's this: there is no context that can justify the intentional killing of a sentient being who does not wish it. Period.” (Somehow, I'm sure there is a loophole for abortion.)

The professor's job is not to educate students but to make them “politically aware,” which in practice means to arrest their developmental journey toward adulthood, and especially manhood. It is a form of spiritual and intellectual body-snatching; for the boys, it means a fantasized acquisition of manhood, for the girls, contempt for it. Before being undictrinated, students are “not particularly politically aware,” but by semester’s end, if all goes well, they will be “different people. They now understand the direct relationship between their own deliberately inculcated ignorance and the crimes that are committed in their name.” They will have inverted reality, so that they imagine themselves to be Morally Superior to the primitive and murderous men who protect and defend them.

This is why the left must constantly attack and undermine America, for that is what allows their sense of moral superiority to flourish. But the attack brings with it the unconscious fear of father's retaliation, hence the hysterical fears of murderous retribution for "speaking truth" to Father -- fear of spying, of theocratic takeovers, of Al Gore's world melting. When leftists say that George Bush is the world's greatest terrorist, they mean it, although it goes without saying that they have no insight into the unconscious basis of this hysterical projection of their own fear converted to anger and persecution.

Oddly enough, the professor agrees with me that our civilization is threatened: “Chomsky's right. It's over for America. Not just this war, but the American idea. And right now, the peace I'm enjoying in my living room, every selfish mile I drive to and from my home, the electricity that's powering my computer, and the privilege of education that allows me to articulate these thoughts is bought with the blood and dust of all the Hadithas that have made a moment like this and a person like me possible. And it's more than I can bear.”

It’s a fascinating thing about truth. One of the things that makes a fellow believe in a deity, really. As every psychoanalytically informed psychologist knows, there is the patient, there is the truth, and there is the truth they would like to deny, which is why they are in your office. Truth has a life of its own, and has a way of insisting its way into the patient’s discourse, try as they might to prevent it from doing so.

The truth is true, and doesn’t actually require anyone to think it. But this is not so of the lie. The lie is entirely parasitic on a thinker. Furthermore, the lie knows the truth, otherwise it could not lie about it. Pacifism is just such a lie, for it contains the truth to which it is a reaction:

...the blood of men who are far better than I, men who stand ready to do violence against the forces of evil that have made a moment like this and a person like me possible. And it's more than I can bear.

Yes, that would require growing up and facing the Truth.


Speaking of manly men, even Spidey needs a little nap sometimes:

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Future is Not What it Used to Be

One of the innovations of the film Citizen Kane was its treatment of time. Instead of telling the story in a linear manner, it mixes up time frames, going back and forth to different points in Kane's life, and yet, still maintaining its dramatic arc.

One of my all time favorite films is Double Indemnity, which also plays with time. If you've seen it, you know that it is told back to front. It begins at the end, and yet, doesn't lose one bit of its dramatic tension. The same device was used in Sunset Boulevard, also directed by Billy Wilder. It begins with the dead narrator floating face down in a swimming pool.

There is something similar going on with the Christian theo-drama, in which the end is given to us at the beginning, i.e., the Godman nailed to a cross. And yet, the drama continues. How does that work? In other words, in one very important sense, the curtain closes with the utterance of the line it is accomplished. Something was fulfilled in that moment, but from our vantage point as actor-spectators, or spectactors, it almost seems like an eerily private moment. What does it mean for us?

This brings us to the topic of eschatology, which, as it pertains to the theo-drama, reveals the overarching theme of the author. Eschatology has to do with the ultimate end of creation, and therefore its meaning. Thus, when Christ utters his last words (from this side of life), they have obvious eschatological implications, for they signify either the end of the drama or the end of the act.

This gets to the heart of the distinction between "Christian" and "Jew" (and I'm placing them in quotes because you could say that this goes more to an ontological stance than a religious one, for many Christians live in a "Jewish" eschatology, and vice versa).

In essence, for the Christian, his eschatology has already been realized and fulfilled. Like Double Indemnity, the end is at the beginning. You might say that the Christian knows the future, and it is back on a cross on Golgotha.

But the Jew is still waiting. Thus, he lives in an unrealized eschatology. Specifically, he is still hoping for the messiah. And even then, the messiah he hopes for will be nothing whatsoever like Jesus. Rather, he will be more of a political, or let us say, "immanent," messiah who will smite the wicked and restore justice to the world.

Interestingly, I think you can see how this stance is just one step away from various socialist ideologies that attempt to do the same thing -- to essentially force the eschaton (and then force it upon us). I hope we can say without absurd charges of anti-Semitism that the socialist movement was indeed disproportionately represented by secularized Jews, or that Marx himself was the ultimate self-hating Jew. Dennis Prager talks about this all the time, and has written articles about the phenomenon (e.g., Chomsky, Zinn, Soros, Rahm Emanuel, etc.).

I believe this explains the mystery of why some 85-90% of Jews vote Democrat. They do so because they are by and large only nominally religious (or don't understand their religion), and because they have displaced their messianic hope into politics. A Jewish friend of mine who is well connected to the orthodox community says that Jews who are truly serious about their religion are quite naturally conservative, just like anyone else who is serious about religion. Dennis Prager, for example, is often dismissed by liberal Jews as cuckoo, even though he is clearly the sober and serious one. I mean, it is strictly impossible to be in favor of "homosexual marriage" and still call yourself a Jew -- not because of Leviticus, but because of the nature of reality. Even I know that.

You could say the same thing about the mystery of how someone who pretends to be Catholic could under any circumstance support someone as openly hostile to God as Obama. And yet, I believe that more than 50% of Catholics voted for him. Why? Yes, they're ignorant of their own (poorly taught) tradition, but there's more to it than that. The problem is that they have internalized the secular eschatology of the left and imported it into religion.

In other words, "liberation theology" is none other than the denial of the realized "vertical" eschatology of Christianity, and its covert replacement with an unrealized horizontal eschatology that inevitably revolves around economics, which in turn reduces to matter and thereby murders God.

Examples are just too numerous to chronicle here, but as Pope Benedict said, the loss of transcendence leads to the flight to utopia. But only every time. When people joke about Obama being the messiah, it is actually no joke, as the energy underlying all of the irrational support for him is indeed messianic, except that it is again in the context of a de-Christianized and horizontalized eschatology.

Now, how do we reconcile this notion that the future has already been fulfilled, with the fact that our lives obviously continue "moving forward?" Balthasar spends considerable time discussing this orthoparadox, except that it's scattered everywhere within the five volumes. Therefore, it is again difficult for me to write about it in any systematic way, so I'll just have to improvise and hope for the best. With any luck, I'll be guided by a nonlocal attractor that will confer some perfect nonsense on all of this.

First of all, think about pre-Christian or pagan eschatology. Not only was time unfulfilled, but it was unfulfillable. The wise man, e.g., the Stoic, just accepted this with resignation and dignity. His dignity derived from meeting his pointless death in a noble manner. There was no hope for an afterlife in any personal sense envisaged by Christianity, i.e., bodily resurrection. Indeed, it was inconceivable. There was no real eschatology; or, if there was, only the gods could know about it. And even then, the gods just used humans for their own amusement. They had no higher motives.

Now, the Jews introduced a radical new idea about eschatology: there was one God, and he had a definite purpose in creation. However, early Jewish R & D focused almost exclusively on the group as opposed to the individual. Remember, G-d struck a deal with the people of Israel, not the person. No one had a "personal relationship" with God, not even the prophets.

Jewish eschatology was obviously messianic -- another eschatological innovation -- but the Jew was resigned to waiting and hoping for its fulfillment. And again, no one envisaged the type of messiah that was to come, for he turned out to be a vertical messiah sent down into horizontal time. Jews who recognized the vertical messiah quite simply became "Christian."

But there were some more subtle effects of Jewish messianism. For example, as HvB explains, it "opens up a 'flight into the future' as the only way out of the unendurable." Things will get better, some way, somehow.

In the present day, this manifests in the obsessive utopianism and compulsive "revolutionism" of the left. These were hatched by the Judeo-Christian tradition, but now the latter are in danger of being engulfed by them (as indicated by those messianic hordes of Obama-supporting Jews and Christians).

As HvB explains, utopianism involves the attempt to bring about what is strictly impossible (a reversal of the fall) through a sheer act of will, while revolutionism attempts to impose this impossible utopia "through catastrophic changes of structures." This is what Obama means when he confides to his supporters that you ain't seen nothin' yet. The messiah has not yet begun to revolt, as revolting as he is already.

Note that this revolutionary and utopian eschatology is specifically a counter-narrative to the Judeo-Christian one, and yet, derived from it -- like a mirror image. Instead of theo-drama, it is maya-drama. It has a plot, conflict, clearly drawn characters embodying good and evil, etc.

But it should go without saying that this is not the real drama, just a counterfeit one. And it's not just that it is counterfeit, but that it attempts to draw you into its third-rate script, so that you become an actor in that cheap melodrama instead of the real telodrama. Then you spend your life bumbling around the stage of an off-off-off-Broadway play. But the real drama can never be a broad way, only a narrow one.

Well, I'm up against a temporal wall.... to be continued.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

God's Little Jazz Trio

One thing about this Adventure in Christianity™ I am on is that it seems very fresh to me. Not only is every day new, but every day is renewed in a most mythterious manner. As I've mentioned before, an outside observer might look at my life and imagine it was boring, but from the inside, it is anything but. I feel as if I live in one of those cartoon houses, in which the walls are expanding outward from all the fun inside. Or maybe it's a cartoon head. Either way, it's quite animated around here.

I got the opposite impression in scanning this article about Bill Clinton, linked at Lucianne. Despite all of the glamourous globetrotting and jetsetting, he still strikes me as pathetic. Slick, shallow, defensive, haunted, hopelessly earthbound, lost. Not only that, but he actually admits to coonibalism. He boasts of attending "an annual 'coon supper' as governor," and suggests that "until you have eaten barbecued ’coon, you have not lived." Oh really? It just goes to show how low some men will sink in order to try to kindle a spurious sense of being alive.

It's difficult to imagine how any secular philosophy could result in this mysterious daily renewal of the cosmos. Rather, I would think that such a philosophy would inevitably lead in the opposite direction: more jadedness, more boredom, and less mystery, along with a lifestyle aimed at trying to reanimate life through the senses or vital emotions. But that is such a dead end. In engaging in it, you have to constantly "give yourself away" and get nothing permanent in return. In other words, there is no growth, only distraction and dispersion.

In thinking about the source of this daily renewed mystery, I believe it results from the careful balancing of vertical and horizontal in Christianity, so that the transitory resonates with the eternal.

I find that I'm coming up against the horizon of the unglishable this morning, but I'll do my best to pull this together...

Much of the mystery has to do with the implications of an intrinsically trinitarian godhead, in which its being is a perpetual becoming, and its becoming a perpetual being. It is always "in motion," and yet, we cannot imagine that it is "changing" or "developing" per se. And yet, I visualize a kind of perpetual novelty taking place within the godhead, or an eternal "surprise" or "delight." It's not as if the Father becomes "bored" giving himself to the Son, or the Son becomes jaded or "entitled" in receiving him. In this regard, it must be the essence of love itself, which is always new. But how can something be "new" if it is eternal?

Ah, there's your mystery! Yesterday there was some discussion of the differences between surrender and submission. I didn't actually follow it closely, but Petey made the provocative comment that "It's like jazz, baby: you can't play it without surrendering to the music."

Now, some wise person or guy once made the observation that jazz itself is the sound of surprise. Not only is it a surprise to the audience, but more importantly, it is a surprise to the person playing it. Thus it is fresh and "ever new." It cannot be predicted ahead of time, and it never comes out the same way twice. Therefore, it is also the sound of freedom. Only in America -- the land of liberty -- could jazz have developed. It is our greatest contribution to world art.

Yes, there are other forms of music that "improvise," but not with the complex vertical structure of jazz. Rather, that is more like horizontal improvisation, unconstrained by the vertical chordal structure of western music. Thus, as in Christianity, there is this balance in jazz between vertical and horizontal, so that it results in what we might call "ordered liberty." Order is a necessary condition for liberty, but is not sufficient in itself to create it.

Let's get back to the Trinity. We can approach this from many different angles, but I don't have time to do so in any systematic manner. Therefore, I'm just going to... improvise, baby.

HvB writes of how the work of creation "flows from the generation of the Logos in God," in which the persons are perpetually "transcending themselves" in a cycle of effulgence, receiving, and giving back. Each person only exists by virtue of giving itself away to the others, while still remaining itself. Furthermore, each "can only be itself insofar as it 'lets' the others 'be' in equal concreteness" and "insofar as it endlessly affirms and gives thanks for its own existence and all that shares existence."

In non-trinitarian theology there is a necessary loss of particularity (that means you), as it dissolves into being-as-such or "beyond being." There can be a "second," but only as a vertical emanation or declension from the one. This "second" can never be an equal of the first.

But within the Trinity, there are three "co-equal branches," so to speak. I am reminded of some eastern sage who said something to the effect that "where there is other (or a second), there is fear." However, the Christian says that where there is other, there is love. There is no possibility of real love in a monistic godhead. But within the Trinity, there is always Lover, Beloved, and the Love that flows between them. For the Trinity, it is always Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day. Or maybe it's like one of those expanding cartoon houses...

You could say that love is the "unity" within the Trinity, or that which unites the persons. In the absence of love, there is no unity, but rather, its denial. There is only a blob of oneness that excludes everything else.

For me, the best jazz combines a sense of "forward movement" within a kind of timeless center. Thus, it is simultaneously dynamic and static. I immediately thought of this when I came across this outstanding quote from Gregory of Nyssa. It is as if God says, "there is so much space in me that no one hurtling through this space will ever come to a stop. From a different angle, however, this headlong flight is rest."

Here we are getting to the heart of what I mentioned above about the "daily renewal" within the Christian adventure. Gregory continues: "Here, surely, is the zenith of paradox: rest and motion are identical... and the more a man becomes established in the good and becomes immovable, the more speedy his flight will be: rest itself becomes his pinion."

Similarly, Maximus the Confessor talks about the impossibility of arriving at God, because the motion toward him is the arrival. There is a "motionless eternal movement surrounding God," so that it is "rest that is eternally in motion and constant motion that is at rest."

Now, how does this apply to life down here, daddy-O? Well, we could say that the sage "is engaged in a contemplation that is constantly striving to see more... but no ambition is involved: it is forward movement that is not composed of steps." Thus, "no one has ever found God in such a manner that one would not need to keep on looking for him." "Man will always be seeking God, even when he has found him -- and particularly then." Ho!

Revelation reveals more mystery, and mystery discloses more revelation, in an endless cycle: again, God's word is the sound of surprise, and surprise is the essence of love: "if human love is enlivened by the element of surprise, something analogous to it cannot be excluded from divine love. It is as if the Son born of the Father 'surpasses the Father's wildest expectations.'"

Come to think of it, that is exactly how I feel. I couldn't possibly have invented my son, and yet, somehow he came from me. And now I am "coming from him," i.e., becoming someone I wouldn't have otherwise been without him, which is to say, myself.

God himself wishes to be surprised by God, by a fulfillment that overflows expectation.... Although God knows everything, he again and again allows himself to be surprised. --Adrienne von Speyr

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Secret History of History, or Just Say Yes to Yes

When Christianity is reduced to a creed or formula -- like the folks who hold up those John 3:16 signs at every football game -- it can lose its distinctly dramatic character. For unlike other religions, it cannot become a mere doctrine without betraying itself. After all, if a doctrine were sufficient, then God would have presumably dictated a memo and sent it down to a prophet without having to personally get involved in this messy business of history.

One of the reasons Muslims reject Christianity is that they cannot imagine God as man, since it is so beneath his station. It's unthinkable, like Cary Grant playing a sewer worker or MSNBC host (yes, I know, a distinction without a difference).

The point is that for the Christian, God's revelation fundamentally appears as historical action, as doing. His doing is anterior to our knowing. This is why no one could understand the teaching until the action -- the drama -- was fulfilled. And even then, it took years of collective reflection upon the drama to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, we're still trying to divine the divine plot.

It seems that many people try to focus on something Jesus said, or even the totality of what he said, in the absence of the underlying drama that ties it all together. But Jesus is unlike any other religious figure, about whom the facts of their lives are inconsequential to the teaching -- any more than the facts of science are determined by the personal biography of the researcher. You can study math or physics without getting into Einstein's childhood or Newton's manner of death. Likewise Buddha or Mohammed.

What this suggests is that God's truth -- or the truth he is trying to convey to us -- is again not at all analogous to scientific truth, which can be handed from mind to mind in an unproblematic way. What is the truth he is trying to convey? And why must it be presented in this way, as historical drama?

HvB writes that "it is absurd to say No to truth, which is of its essence good." Nevertheless, it is a truism that people everywhere and everywhen are always saying No to truth. You can hand them the truth on a silver platter, and they will reject it.

For example, one of the most naive traits of Obama is that he thinks he can actually change the behavior of evildoers merely by being "reasonable" with them. But Ahmadinejad, Kim, Hamas, Chavez, et al, only see this as weakness and opportunity. In order to deal with them, you cannot just speak truth. Rather, you must do truth. Words not backed by action are worthless, especially when coming from a politician, of all people.

But could we also say that God's words are -- with all due respect -- worthless in the absence of action? For example, I can sign a contract -- which is a kind of covenant -- that is full of fine words, but it doesn't mean much unless I back it up with action.

Thus, it seems that God's actions in history are there to remind us of the extent to which He will go to back up his Word -- which is to say, all the way. His Word is also his bond, to which he is faithful. He doesn't pull back at the last minute and say, "look, this crucifixion business is going a bit far, don't you think? Let's talk this out and be reasonable, shall we? I'm sure we can come to a mutually agreeable compromise."

Here is the dilemma for God: "how to elicit the Yes of his free partner from the latter's innermost freedom" (HvB). Again, for Balthasar, the essence of the Theo-Drama is this encounter between infinite and finite freedom. How can man surrender to infinite freedom without undermining his own?

This is not an idle question. For example, Islam (and Christians who believe in predestination) resolves the problem by canceling out man's freedom and attributing everything to God's omnipotence. One of the duties of Islam is Jihad, or the violent imposition of "Allah's truth" on others. Freedom doesn't enter into it. Scientism deals with the problem either by ignoring the question of how free will could arise in a deterministic universe, or by insisting that it's just an illusion anyway. Existentialism deals with it by suggesting that man's freedom is "ultimate," but this immediately reduces to nihilism, since our freedom has no purpose beyond itself.

But in reality, our finite freedom can only be a freely given gift of the infinite freedom. It comes from infinite freedom and must freely return to it in order for it to be true to itself. Thus, a major theme of the Theo-Drama is this spiraling return of finite freedom to infinite freedom without being forced. We must utter the Yes to God from the depths of our own freedom, in the same way that God utters his Yes to man from the depths of his.

Jesus is God's word, and that word is primarily Yes: yes to existence, yes to life, yes to freedom, yes to love. But remember, Jesus is also man, so he is simultaneously man's ultimate Yes to God. So there is the essence of your Theo-Drama, this mutual dialogue between free partners. Again, the drama is taking place "within" God, i.e., the Trinity, but it is also happening in history, allowing us to take part in the drama -- to say Yes to it, jump on the stage, and accept our role.

Please note that when this Yes happens, it is only the beginning, not the end, of your own little theo-drama. Isn't this what Jesus promised the apostles? Not, "follow me and your problems are over," but "follow me and your problems have only just begun." "For they will hate you as they hate me."

Wait -- who's "they" and what exactly do they hate?

As you can see, it's somewhat of a miracle that anyone followed him, is it not? This was not Deepak Chopra offering the seven secrets to spiritual success, but the one big secret of how to get yourself in trouble with the Roman authorities, big time. Great! Sign me up!

Yet, as Will mentioned in a comment yesterday, there is something so compelling about being in the Cosmo-Drama, that everything else pales in comparison:

"The Real Drama is not a trackless land. Study the lives of the saints, they've mapped it out pretty well, they laid down a template for negotiating your way around. It's *the* real landscape they've configured, and what doesn't make sense in the mundane world makes perfect sense there. And for those moments when your psyche is clear and your spiritual clarity is at its zenith, you'll look around and think, Who the hell in his right mind would want to live in this mundane reality hellhole?"

Living in the higher light of this drama, everything becomes more intense with meaning. I believe that this is because the closer one draws to ontological realities, the more vivid life becomes, whether it is death, or birth, or marriage, whatever; it is near these boundaries of existence that we live most intensely, and the boundary of mundane existence necessarily shades off into the celestial. Heaven is conjoined to earth, but only by virtue of being separate from it. Thus, heaven's distance is the possibility of its proximity. Insert drama here.

The Theo-Drama is the secret history of the world. It is both written and unwritten, closed and open, again, in respect of man's freedom. I would conceptualize it as I would a work of art, in which things are conditioned from top to bottom, e.g., theme --> plot --> character --> action --> dialogue. At each level down, there is more apparent freedom, and yet, everything is ultimately constrained from above.

Take this post, for example. It is composed of spontaneous words that I have spun out in freedom. And yet, it's all just dialogue in the Theo-Drama, mine and now yours.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cosmic History and the Trinitarian Timewave

Balthasar writes that "it is a basic Christian requirement that existence should represent itself dramatically." The question then becomes, is Christian theology just metaphysics dramatized, or is existence really a drama?

I would guess that there are even many Christians who would opt for the former. After all, since when is "drama" a fundamental aspect of reality? Thinking involves abstracting rules and laws from underneath the flow of events. No physicist would say that there are five fundamental forces in the universe: gravity, electromagnetism, weak interaction, strong interaction, and a damn good plot.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that one of the problems of physics is that it cannot unify the four fundamental forces. Perhaps it's because they're leaving out the fifth -- or because the fifth is actually the first. You could say that order is the first law of the cosmos, and that order implies intelligence. However, when we think about order, it is usually in the spatial sense, as in the legendary "ordered desk."

But if there is spatial order there must be temporal order. Order is simply meaningful pattern, and for Balthasar, Theo-Drama is the meaningful pattern underneath history.

This is not an entirely novel idea. I suppose I first came across it in Whitehead, and then in Terence McKenna's The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching, with its speculations about the fractal timewave of history. Although I never thought that McKenna had the details right, something about the general idea of time having some sort of inner coherence always struck me as correct. Call it a strong intuition.

For McKenna, cosmic history could be mapped by creating a temporal graph from the big bang to the eschaton, alpha to omega. It consists of one continuous timewave pattern that maps the ingression of novelty into the cosmos. However, the wave is fractal, meaning that it exhibits the same pattern across scale; magnify any part of the wave, and it is a mirror of the whole.

I don't like to speculate, but let's just get into the spirit of this worldview, shall we? For McKenna, the entirety of human history could be mapped in such a way that it mirrored the cosmic timewave, with its periods of stagnation and novelty. Likewise, an individual human life is also a fractal that mirrors the whole of history and of cosmology. For example, there have been periods of your own life that mirrored the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, postmodernity, etc. Remember your dark ages? Of course you do. You may be going through one today, or even some part of today.

Now, before you dismiss this out of hand, McKenna found a kindred spirit in James Joyce. For example, in Ulysses, Joyce tried to show how a typical day in the life of an anonymous man wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904, actually resonated with the myths of antiquity, specifically, with the travails of Odysseus (the Coen Brothers obviously attempted the same thing in O Brother, Where Art Thou?).

Joyce then outdid himself by showing how all of human history was analogous to a single dream in the long night of a single human being called Homo sapiens. And in this dream, the same patterns and motifs recur again and again: sin, fall, redemption, resurrection; there are also certain irreducible polarities, e.g., male-female, mother-father, sibling rivalry, father-son, mother-daughter, man of action vs. contemplative man, etc.

As I believe I mentioned in the previous post, this dramatization of history is something we all do, and cannot help doing. Instead of looking at drama as something we only superimpose on the random facts of time and history, people as diverse as McKenna, Joyce, Balthasar, and the B'ob believe otherwise: that history has a point, and that if it didn't have a point, we literally couldn't know it.

For example, dogs don't have history, and they don't know it. And unless you think that dogs know something we don't, history is actually quite important in its own right. It cannot be reduced to the random play of genes, or the ungulations of the quantum ocean, or the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, or the Hegelian dialectic.

The question is, can man possess meaningful knowledge about his history, or only meaningless knowledge? For example, Darwinism gives us only "meaningless knowledge," as it insists that the "real story" isn't a story at all, just an elaborate lie told by idiot genes.

Take yesterday's celebration of Memorial Day, on which we honor the Americans who have given their lives in defense of this great nation. A Darwinian would say that we are just fooling ourselves, and that these fallen heroes are actually just dupes of their genes. Organisms don't actually "give their lives" unless there is some hidden genetic payoff, such as "inclusive fitness." "Selfless" behavior always has a covertly selfish motive.

Thus, taken to its logical endpoint, the Darwinian doesn't argue his point because he believes it is true, which would be absurdly self-refuting. Rather, he does so in the hope that it will make him a tenured alpha male who is more likely to pass on his genes to one of those adoring coeds. Likewise, his struggle against religion is not a struggle against bad ideas, but bad genes.

But again, what's the point? To "improve" the gene pool? That might be fine for the gene pool, but what does it have to do with humans? And the gene pool can't be improved anyway, any more than we can improve a rock. Rather, it simply is what it is, not what we think it is or what we would like for it to be.

So we are inevitably dealing with profoundly different narratives, or dramas. Two things distinguish the Christian: first, he acknowledges that we are in a drama, instead of pretending we aren't; second, he believes that the drama is real, not an epiphenomenon that can be reduced to genes, atoms, or economics.

Before even getting into the theology of it, Balthasar spends considerable time analyzing and discussing the basic elements of drama -- elements without which there could be no drama. For example, he talks about "event." Both fundamentalism on the one hand and theological liberalism on the other, get this wrong. The former tend to reduce theology to "something that has taken place historically (a fact) or a string of data that can be enumerated," while the latter tend to rationalize it as mythology historicized.

True, the events of revelation demonstrate principles. However, these are not static principles, like mathematical equations. Rather, Balthasar's task is to show that they are intrinsically dymamic and dramatic, because they mirror something that is (always) going on within the Trinity -- which is not "object" but event (so to speak).

The "event" of revelation has to do with this dynamic reality vertically "breaking into" time and history, "revealing both the living God's mode of being and his mode of acting." Jesus is not just God's "word" but his eternal act as well. Or, the action is dictated by the nature of his Word. It's something of a paradox, since it means that God not only uses time to express the timeless, but that this is the only way to do so. Again, the atemporal object is an event that "spread[s] itself out in dramatic form."

Obviously, history is composed of "events." Or is it? Once again we see that we cannot help converting time into history. It is what humans do. But in the absence of God, there can obviously be no objective history. Any pattern we impose is ultimately arbitrary, like imposing patterns on the stars. We could say that history is written by the winners, or that a counter-history is written by the tenured losers, but neither one could be said to be objective.

But if history is rooted in God and not man, then there is the possibility of intuiting its objective pattern. And of course, this is the very purpose of revelation, which is the story of the confrontation between finite freedom and infinite freedom.

Thus, the Incarnation, say, is not something that happens "in" history. Rather, it is more like a huge object in space that bends time around it. After the Incarnation, we cannot help viewing all of history in its light. It shapes history more than it was shaped by history. In fact, isn't this one of the key points, that history could not vanquish him, but that he vanquished history? He merely used history to beat it at its own game.

Again, as in Ulysses, this is all happening now; it is the structure of the now, and gives it its event quality. Therefore, "it is quite right to say that the death and Resurrection of Jesus inwardly affects all men of all ages since they all share solidarity in a single history of mankind." And "In one aeon the outer man dies daily, in the other aeon the inner man continually rises to new life" (HvB). Thus, the Christian drama is indeed holographic and fractal.

Monday, May 25, 2009

On Remembering our Heroic and Selfless Witnesses to the Transcendent

Memorial Day -- like any holy-day -- is not a remembrance of things past, but of things present; or, a recollection of people and events of the past for the purpose of re-membering and reuniting ourselves with the eternal. It is a remembrance of things surpassed -- or of the fixed stars that transcend and illuminate our lives below, and without which we would surely lose our way.

Specifically, it is an occasion for vertical recollection of a divine archetype that is present now -- can only be present now -- but requires the substance of ritual in order to vividly apprehend and "renew" it. On a holy-day, time "collapses," so we draw closer to the archetype and to the celestial realm where it abides; for example, on any given Christmas, one is "closer" to the birth of Christ than someone was on a random July day in 500AD.

We remember our heroes because they illuminate the eternal realm of the heroic, a realm that we must treasure and venerate if we are to survive as a culture. Not only is the hero a transcendent archetype, but he is only heroic because he has risked all in defense of another permanent archetype -- truth, liberty, beauty, the good, etc. Obviously one is not a hero if one gives one's life to falsehood or tyranny, no matter how "selfless" (e.g., Islamists).

In the absence of this objectively true formulation, neither the hero nor his sacrifice make any sense at all. They are foolish, rash, even absurd. This is why to "deconstruct," say, George Washington, is not just an attack on the father of our country, but on fatherhood, heroism, strength, courage, truth, liberty, and the realm of the transcendent in general (i.e., the Real) from which they all flow.

Last year Will left a lengthy comment that touches on many of the things I wanted to write about this morning:

"So I was thinking, in what way is Memorial Day larger than it is -- as all spiritual ceremonies truly are? Well, as has been pointed out here, it's obvious that Memorial Day is a day for celebrating, honoring, remembering what heroism really means -- courageous self-sacrifice in the name of higher ideals and principles, which are, to be sure, spiritual ideals and principles. So in one sense, our fallen military heroes are symbolic of this ideal. They are the most vivid, the most tangible representation of this ideal that we have before us. There are others, of course, who likewise are vivid, in-the-flesh symbols of this spiritual ideal: police, firefighters, the anonymous citizen who rises to the heroic occasion and is so publicly honored. There is no hero, however, quite as vivid, quite so symbolic of self-sacrificing virtue, as the military hero.

"The great wonder of it, of course, is that our fallen heroes are not paintings, statues, images -- they were and are human. They are us. And still they are symbols, ideals in the flesh -- destiny selected them to serve this role. That role is to remind us that we all are potential self-sacrificing heroes, that we all are of divine essence. Somehow, on some level, we must realize this, otherwise we wouldn't have a day for honoring our fallen heroes.

"The other day Bob alluded to the some of the symbolic threads in the Wizard of Oz. I have long seen WoO as a tale of a journey into the Realm of Divine Archetypes wherein we (through Dorothy) see ourselves, and others, in our real, divine essence. In her eyes, her Kansas friends and acquaintances became Scarecrow, Lion, Tin Man -- became, in effect, their true selves, all on a heroic quest to reclaim their spiritual birthright. In Kansas, they were just dusty average Joes. In the Higher Realm, they were their real selves, knights, heroes.

"Most of us are Kansans. We do not have a symbolic public role to play. And yet there are countless souls who commit unseen (by the public) acts of tremendous self-sacrifice and heroism, whose deeds will never be acknowledged -- in some cases, not by a single other -- in this world. Our military heroes remind us that such heroism is possible. The secular attempt to 'deconstruct' military heroism is no less than an attempt to sever us from our Oz, our spiritual reality. We need daily reminders that we are on the yellow brick road of our personal heroic quest. And we need to remind ourselves that, though our personal acts of heroism may never be acclaimed in this life, we will, in the fullness of time, be acknowledged as the heroes we imagine ourselves to be."


I am also reminded of a couple of particularly resonant lines in a piece by Vanderleun, Small Flags: "These days we resent, it seems, having [cemeteries] fill at all, clinging to our tiny lives with a passion that passes all understanding; clinging to our large liberty with the belief that all payments on such a loan will be interest-free and deferred for at least 100 years."

Elsewhere he writes, "It is not, of course, that the size of the sacrifice has been reduced. That remains the largest gift one free man may give to the country that sustained him. It is instead the regard of the country for whom the sacrifices were made that has gotten smaller, eroded by the self-love that the secular celebrate above all other values" (emphasis mine).


Vanderleun touches on several themes that could be expanded into entire posts: the pathetic clinging to our vertically exiled lives; the earthly passion that defies understanding because it denies transcendence; the selfish notion that liberty is free; that death in defense of a spiritual ideal is the greatest gift one man can give another; and that self-love is the polar opposite of true love and sacrifice, and that which causes the country to contract vertically even as it might "expand" in every other way.

Sacred, sacrament, and sacrifice are all etymologically linked; all are derived from sacer, or to the holy and mysterious. This itself is instructive, for holy, of course, implies wholeness, and wholeness is indeed a portal to mystery, just as "partness" is a perpetual riddle that necessarily shades off into the absurd.

For example, a psychotic person lives in a bizarre world of forcibly disconnected objects and experiences that he cannot synthesize into unity, or wholeness. Often he will defensively superimpose a false unity in the form of paranoid delusions. Paranoia is "a false wholeness," but it is never far from the nameless dread that sponsors it. It makes "perfect sense," but in a manner that is always brittle, persecutory, and painful.

A couple of days ago I noted the truism that leftist thought -- even more than being ruled by emotion -- is primarily iconic. Or, one might say that the leftist simply has very passionate feelings about his icons, which he mistakes for "thoughts."

You can see this same phenomenon in our recent atheist visitors, who are also (ironically, but not really) ruled by overpowering feelings about their own sacred icons, such as "Ida," or "genome," or Darwin. Point out where they are wrong, and they hysterically accuse you of calling them animals and depriving them of the humanity which they deprive themselves. Rational they are not.

Or, at the very least, the more sober among them prove the adage that there is a form of madness that consists of losing everything with the exception of one's reason, or that there are incredibly intelligent ways of being stupid -- reductionistic and logically self-refuting Darwinism being one of them. Materialism is a gateway ideology to things far lower, for man cannot remain long in a static state between the attractors from above and below. Rather, he will tend in one direction of the other. Truth is a sword that cuts the world right down the middle.

A disturbing number of our fellow citizens not only believe that Islamic terrorists are not engaged in a global war against Western civilization (or "civilization," for short), but that the United States government itself engineered 9-11, or that the war on terror is really being waged to enrich George Bush and his friends. Obviously there can be no heroes in such a world, only scoundrels and dupes. If this were true, then the Keith Olbermanns of the world would be correct that the men who defend our country are just hired assassins, or as evil as any other terrorist, and it would be immoral to honor them.

Yes, the left is insane, but exactly kind of insanity is this? How have they become so detached from reality?

It has to do with the specific reality from which they have become detached. As another fine example of the shallowness and naivete of atheist thought, one of them writes that

"Millions and millions of people died in Russia and China under communist governments -- and those governments were both secular and atheistic, right? So weren't all of those people killed in the name of atheism and secularism? No. Atheism itself isn't a principle, cause, philosophy, or belief system which people fight, die, or kill for. Being killed by an atheist is no more being killed in the name of atheism than being killed by a tall person is being killed in the name of tallness."

This looks like a banal statement -- which it unavoidably is -- and yet, it is quite sinister in its implications, and illuminates all of Vanderleun's points mentioned above. First, atheism is petty and unworthy of man, being that it is immensely beneath the scope of his intellect. No one would give his life to defend it, since it is the substance of meaninglessness, precisely. Why sacrifice one's life for the principle that there are no transcendent principles worth dying for?

The least of atheism's baleful effects is that it automatically makes the hero a fool because there is nothing worth defending. The more catastrophic effect is that it leaves the field open to evil-doers who are openly hostile to the transcendent principles that animate our uniquely decent and beautiful civilization.

This is why you see an Old Europe that is supine before the barbarians in its midst who wish to destroy it. Socialism has nothing to do with "generosity" or selflessness; rather, it is the quintessence of selfishness, and diminishes a man down to the conviction that his animal needs should be provided for by someone else. The only thing that can rouse his passion is a threat to his entitlements. If only the Islamists were to threaten their 12 weeks of paid vacation, then they might be taken seriously by socialist EUnuchs.

This is also why, as Venderleun writes, the habits of automatic treason have become just another fashionable denigration of the country that has made their liberty to believe the worst of it not only possible but popular. This is the complete and utter cynicism that results from destroying the reality of the vertical and clinging to one's puny life with a passion that preempts and vanquishes any deep understanding of it.

For just as wholeness, the One, is associated with the peace that passes understanding, the exile from this real human world into the bizarre and fragmented world of the secular left brings not so much the passion that passes understanding, but the passion that cannot comprehend itself because it has no vector or direction beyond its own flat and cramped existence.

In fact, nothing can be understood in the absence of that which it is converging upon, which reveals its meaning. To systematically deny the vertical is to obliterate the very possibility of meaning and truth, which is obvious; however, it is also to destroy the hero and that transcendent reality for which he is willing to sacrifice his life. It is to deny the love of which there is no greater, i.e., the love that motivates a man to lay down his life for another.

Of the sacred, Schuon writes that it is in the first place "attached to the transcendent order, secondly, possesses the character of absolute certainty and, thirdly, eludes the comprehension and control of the ordinary human mind. Imagine a tree whose leaves, having no kind of direct knowledge about the root, hold a discussion about whether or not a root exists and what its form is if it does: if a voice then came from the root telling them that the root does exist and what its form is, that message would be sacred."

Again, the message is sacred and holy because it is transcendent and relates to knowledge of the whole.

Therefore, the sacred also represents "the presence of the center in the periphery, of the immutable in the moving; dignity is essentially an expression of it, for in dignity too the center manifests outwardly; the heart is revealed in gestures. The sacred introduces a quality of the absolute into relativities and confers on perishable things a texture of eternity." (Never wonder at the profound lack of diginity of the left, for it is intrinsic and inevitable.)

Another way of saying it is that the sacred relates to the world as "the interference of the uncreate in the created, of the eternal in time, of the infinite in space, of the supraformal in forms; it is the mysterious introduction into one realm of existence of a presence which in reality contains and transcends that realm and could cause it to burst asunder in a sort of divine explosion. The sacred is the incommensurable, the transcendent, hidden within a fragile form belonging to this world; it has its own precise rules, its terrible aspects and its merciful qualities; moreover any violation of the sacred, even in art, has incalculable repercussions. Intrinsically the sacred is inviolable, and so much so that any attempted violation recoils on the head of the violator" (Schuon).

Which brings us back to Will's riff on the Wizard of Oz. On the one hand, the United States, more than any other nation, is flat and dusty old unassuming Kansas. But at the same time, it is Oz, the vertical and shining Emerald City on a hill. We must never forget either fact, one of them Real, the other merely real.

Nor can we forget the very real Kansans who gave their lives to bring us closer to that Reality. In order to honor them, we must never do anything to change this into a country that would be unworthy of their sacrifice -- indeed, one they would scarcely recognize. That's the deal in a vertical democracy in which its fallen heroes, of all people, still have a say. We must be their voice and their witness, always. And if you can't be grateful on this day, at least have the decency to be ashamed of yourself.