Friday, August 07, 2009

Let's Give a Big Hand to God!

More speedposting. I'll skip any formalities and dive right in. As I mentioned in a previous post, I need a new symbol for something Maximus repeatedly discusses. I can't find exactly what I'm looking for, but ♽ comes the closest. Think of it as a spiraling arrow that is perpetually flowing in, out, and up. We shall call it the Circus Maximus.

Also, one reviewer mentioned that she thought my pneumaticons, or Holy Symbols, were a bit cold and clinical. Therefore, in order to warm and "humanize" them, instead of (↓) and (↑), in this post I will use ☝and☟.

With regard to the cosmic synthesis discussed yesterday, how is it that two "things" can be unified when one of them is so perfect that it transcends any worldly notion of perfection, while the other is intrinsically imperfect and belongs to another realm entirely? This is where ☟ comes in. As Balthasar writes, "Grace perfects nature in its innermost core only because it is not itself nature."

So there is something "in" nature that is not "of" nature. In fact, this should qualify as a truism, even for atheists, but as Dennis Prager always says, we live in the "age of stupidity," so we have materialists who insist that materialism is true, thereby rendering it false to no one who really exists anyway.

I think Maximus does an admirable job of clearing up the grace vs. effort paradox that still needlessly divides Christians to this day. I will insert symbols as necessary. He says that "we are not permitted to say that grace alone ☟ brings about, in the saints, insight into the divine mysteries without any contribution from their natural capacity to receive knowledge ☝."

If not for this handy dynamic interplay of ☝and☟, "we would have to assume that the holy prophets could not receive and comprehend the enlightenment that the Holy Spirit bestowed on them." In other words and symbols, they obviously did not arrive at their understanding through the application of any natural capacity alone ☝, without any ☟at all. But nor is it a case of pure ☟, with no human mediation at all.

You may disagree, but I think that Maximus is absolutely correct when he says that "the grace of the Holy Spirit does not bring about wisdom in the saints without the receptivity (o) of their intelligence (¶)," and "does not give knowledge without their ability to grasp the Word." However, at the same time, man cannot attain to this perfection "by his own natural powers ☝, without the divine power that provides them as gifts ☟."

Obviously, ☟ takes priority over ☝, for without it, nothing is possible. Therefore, we would say that it is a necessary condition, or "condition without which." In contrast, ☝ is a sufficient condition, or "condition with which." In the final analysis, ☝is a product of ☟ (for the reverse could never be true), but that is a topic for a different post. The point here is that we encounter God in this transitional space between ☝and☟.

In a way, you could understand it as the difference between, say, language and inspiration in the production of art. Two people can have an equivalent vocabulary and understanding of grammar, but there is an x-factor without which language cannot be "lit up" from the inside. Obviously it is the same with music.

This also explains how and why the ☟ always contains more than we can know. If it were only a product of ☝, then it would always be "continuous" with what we already know.

But there is always that extra something that requires time in order to unpack. This is why we say that for the mystic, his reach perpetually exceeds his grasp, while for the atheist, his grasp always dismembers his reach. He is capable of so much more, but in disabling ☝ he forecloses ☟.

Thus, as Maximus says, "All the saints show this when, after receiving their revelations ☟, they try to clarify for themselves the meaning of what has been revealed." And the ability to clarify this meaning varies greatly in individuals -- which is why Maximus is not Deepak.

You might say that it is a two-step process, in that God reveals to us, and then we must reveal it further to ourselves. Or, you could say that we have to remain open to ☟, as further revelation pours forth from the revelation. First the flash of lightning; then the rolling thunder. Badda bing; badda bang. Ho!

But in any event, "the grace of the Holy Spirit never destroys the capabilities of nature." Rather, the opposite: it perfects them by making them "mature and strong enough once again to function in a natural way" and leading them "upward toward insight into the divine." Again, ☝☟ is the way to glow.

To summarize, "what the Holy Spirit is trying [trying] to accomplish in us is a true knowledge of things," but it cannot do this without man's co-upperaton ☝. "The Holy Spirit accomplishes in the saints the ability to understand mysteries, but not without the exercise of their natural abilities or without their seeking and careful searching after knowledge ☝."

"And if the saints have searched and sought, they surely were aided in their quest by the grace of the Spirit ☟, who spurred on their theoretical and practical reason to study and investigate these things ☝."

It all goes down in the sinaiptic gap:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On the Cosmic Possibility of Divine Synthesis

Yesterday we spoke of the universality of the Christian message, a universality that can be distorted as a result of certain "particular" misinterpretations cut off from the wholeness of integral truth.

I see that Maximus had the same cooncerns, for as Balthasar writes -- this is somewhat of a mouthful, so chew it carefully -- the intrinsically correct christological formulation expands "into a fundamental law of metaphysics. Illuminated by the highest level of theological synthesis -- the union of God and world in Christ -- Maximus searches out the traces of the developmental principles, of the conditions of possibility of this synthesis, and in the process discovers the formal structure of all created being, even the formal structure of the relationship between the absolute and the contingent" (emphasis mine).

In other words, prior to the actual synthesis of God and world in Christ, there must be the ontological possibility of this synthesis. It's not just "magic," like, say, radical Darwinism, which incoherently rests on principles that render itself impossible.

This "possibility of synthesis" is always present, which is what Augustine meant when he made the wise crack about how "the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist." It existed as potential, a potential that was actualized in Jesus.

What is the nature of this cosmic potential for divinization and synthesis? Maximus is surely on the right track when he writes of a "universal presence... unrecognizably binding all things together, yet dwelling in each being in a different way; this presence holds the individual parts of the whole together, in itself and in each other, unconfused and inseparable, and allows them, through this very relationship of creative unity, to live more for each other than for themselves."

In other words, this principle of wholeness is also a necessary condition of love. You might say that love is the intimate and spontaneous recognition of this love, and as Leonard Cohen sang last night, "love's the only engine of survival." "Partness" sundered from wholeness is death itself -- or worse than death, since it is "living death." But love is synthesis and union.

Also, freedom is only located in the whole, so freedom is obviously related to love. To say that hateful people are not free is a truism.

But even more basically, as a therapist, one of my underlying tasks is to help the person achieve a more unified self -- that is, to actualize more of their latent wholeness and assimilate their missing parts into a coherent Self. And as we become more whole, viola!, we become, as Freud said, more capable of "love, work, and play," or let us say intimacy, creativity, productivity, and transparency. Each of these categories only subsists because of the prior cosmic wholeness.

Now, in my book of the same name, you may recall the handy pneumaticons of (•) and •••(•)•••. That latter symbol stands for the mind that is riven by quasi-autonomous mind parasites with agendas all their own. As we know, the word "health" is etymologically related to "wholeness." Both physically and emotionally, we are in the condition of health when we are in a state of dynamic and harmoniously integrated wholeness.

In fact, this is also true of our intellect. This is why we can truly say that there are "healthy" and "unhealthy" philosophies (which will in turn be related to their creativity, generativity, productivity, and, of course, love). Unhealthy philosophies not only produce hate, but emanate from hate, in that they divide us along various fault lines such as race, class, and gender. Truly, leftism is "the hate that hate produced."

But you will have noticed that it must always masquerade as love. That is just a given. However, it is always a counterfeit love, since the state cannot love you. Or, like nature, it loves you ruthlessly. The state itself becomes a kind of quasi-autonomous being that replaces God. This was precisely the mission of Hegel's philosophy, which trickles down from his mountaintop into the various creeks and crocks of Marxism in all its varieties.

As Doctor Zero writes, "We’re tired of checking the papers each day, to see which group of us has been targeted as enemies of the State. We’re growing impatient waiting for the Democrats to come up with ideas that don’t require their supporters to hate someone. We’ve had our fill of 'progressives' who act as if we’re living in 1909, and none of their diseased policies have ever been tried before."

Wholeness can never be imposed from the top down, only discovered from within. To again cite the prophet Cohen, "give me Christ or give me Hiroshima." In the end, those are the only two options. God can create genuine GM parts, because the God-made parts are unified in him.

But when man tries to do this, he ends up a kind of black god who simply blows things to smithereens. Think of the hateful Iranians, or Palestinians, or North Koreans, who live in self-imposed and stagnant isolation. There is no possibility of wholeness in those cultures, only its counterfeit in the form of top-down totalitarian statism.

In the case of Iran, one wonders if this has to do with the nature of Islam, for in Islam there is God and there is man, but no Christ to unify them. Yes, I understand that Sufis such as Schuon see things differently, but he is hardly representative of Islam "on the ground," since virtually every Muslim country is a dungeon of the human soul.

Back to Maximus. The wholeness that dwells in our particularity is the source of our freedom, not to mention our dignity and nobility. At the same time, it is the source of our ability to love, which cannot be greedily acquired, but recognizes and unifies intrinsic differences. In other words, love must "let it be" by honoring the beautiful differences that constitute the world. Thus, love involves a paradoxical combination of calm "indifference or openness toward the constituent parts" -- you could say (o) and (---) -- and an active "affirmation of their difference."

Balthasar adds that "the difference between creatures is a feature of their perfection." It's not a bug, it's a feature! It only becomes a bug if you fail to realize the prior unity that makes the differences possible. We need to appreciate the differences, knowing that they "reflect God's beauty more perfectly in their very nonidentity than a unitary world could do." Differences are "particular perfections," but perfection only stands in relation to the Absolute.

Let's see if we can dumb this down a bit. Perhaps an example will help. Yesterday evening Mrs. G. took the boy to the park. I was walking the dog, and made a surprise visit to the park. Off in the distance, my son recognized me. His face lights up, he drops what he's doing, he runs toward me, and joyfully cries, "Daddy!" before leaping into my arms.

How to describe such a precious moment, the sudden ingression of eternity into time? You can't, not really. But it was always there in potential, just waiting to be actualized. If the potential weren't there, then we would just be like a couple of autonomous billiard balls colliding into one another, with no possibility of the interior union which is pure Life, Love and Joy.

This is what I beleaf I was d'lightfully photosynthesizing on p. 259, where it is written,

Let's blake for a vision: ah, remama when she satya down in a crystal daze, grazing in the grass, loose & lazy beneath a diamond sky with both hands waving free, rumblin', bumblin', stumblin', we Could... Go... All... The... Way! Into the blisstic mystic, no you or I, nor reason wise, a boundless sea of flaming light, bright blazing fire and ecstatic cinder, Shiva, me tinders, count the stars in your eyes!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Relative Truth and Absolute Nonsense

This is a pure speed post, since I woke up late and am short on time. It may or may not be coherent, but it is an honest deal -- 45 minutes of theology in 45 minutes, warts and all.

So there's no misunderstanding, when I say that "we are all Christians now," I'm just trying to be annoying to non-believers. I'm certainly not trying to alienate our Jewish friends.

Rather, I mean it in Augustine's venerable sense that "that which is known as the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist." It was with us "from the beginning of the human race until the time when Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity." I'm just drawing out the metalogical implications of Augustine's insight, and applying it to past, present and future.

You could equally just say that "all truth comes from Christ," which is what Schuon believed, despite the fact that he was a practicing Sufi. For example, Schuon writes that when we say In the beginning was the Word, "obviously what is meant is not a temporal origin, but a principial priority, that of divine Order, to which the universal Intellect -- the Word -- pertains, while nonetheless being linked to cosmic Manifestation, of which it is the center both transcendent and immanent."

In fact, one of the dangers of dogma miscoonscrewed is that it can cause the Christian message to lose its universality. And when it loses its universality, it loses its appeal to the intellect, since the intellect is what knows universals, precisely (the senses know nothing of universals).

This again touches on the issue of heresy, and of the balance that is required in order to preserve the efficacy of dogma in embodying and "delivering" Truth to man and vice versa. Dogma can never be absolute but can only point to the Absolute. And to be honest, for a variety of reasons, I don't think any purely exoteric dogma can do this, as it inevitably has certain inconsistencies that "offend" the intellect (but do not pose a problem, say, for the bhakti), and which can only be resolved on the esoteric plane.

By the way, we could equally say the same of science. I have no problem with scientific dogma, as science cannot get by without it. But when they start to reify their methodological abstractions and insist upon the literal truth of things that cannot be so, then they are every bit as opaque as the religious fundamentalist who insists that the world is 6,000 years old or that we should always "turn the other cheek" and thereby allow monsters to rule the earth.

For example, Darwinism is fine as method, but to insist that the human soul could have arisen from random material processes is just loony. Likewise, to suggest that creation "started" with the Big Bang is nonsense. The Big Bang is simply as far as the laws of physics can be applied. It hardly means that there was -- is -- nothing outside them. Indeed, if there weren't something that transcends physics, I couldn't be typing this sentence and you couldn't understand it.

One of the benefits of Christianity is that many aspects of it "make no sense" upon superficial consideration. Therefore, one is left with two choices; one, just accept the whole thing without reservation, or two, work at seeing the wholeness beneath the apparent divergences and loose ends.

The latter is what we call "verticalisthenics." It is simply what the intellect "does," whether we are talking about matter or spirit, heaven or earth, vertical or horizontal. The scientist sees an apple fall and the earth revolve around the sun, and knows that these two shockingly diverse phenomena are governed by the same underlying law.

Just so, the Christian knows that the same "law" of kenosis that "governs" God's relationship to the cosmos governs our relationship to God; just as God selflessly gives the creation to us, we must selflessly give it back.

Schuon notes that any normal human being can conceive of the Absolute, whether secular or religious. However, in both cases, the person may lack the intellectual firepower to do anything more than simply posit it, as opposed to knowing it on the interior plane.

For example, we know that the radical Darwinian is an obnoxious absolutist. And yet, there is nothing in his theory that allows a completely contingent being to know anything of the Absolute. Therefore, a middlebrow scientific dabbler such as Queeg is no different whatsoever from a kind of incoherent religious absolutist who insists that the world sits on the back of a giant tortoise, but refuses to reason beyond that. The Darwinist places an arbitrary limit on his knowledge, at the same time that he can't account for it to begin with.

As Schuon points out, "unity" is perhaps the simplest aspect of Divinity, something that humans are able to conceive and know of as part of their standard equipment, in the same way that a frog knows about flies. This is why we can say that just as the frog was made to know insects, man was made to know God.

Or, as Schuon has said, what we call instinct in animals is their intelligence, while what we call intellect in man is our instinct. Thus, we have an "instinct" for divinity -- an instinct that can take on diverse -- and perverse -- forms.

Another thing that the Darwinian fails to consider is the limits of reason. Who said that reason alone may reveal the origins of the human being, let alone the nature of the Absolute? If reason revealed it, I would like to know how, for reason can ultimately only operate on the material that has been furnished by non-logical (not necessarily illogical) sources.

Thus, as Schuon points out, "the rational point of view," "when applied to transcendent truths, cannot but reveal its own inadequacy." In short, it is not rational or reasonable to suppose that reason has no limits. Or, to put it another way, it is completely rational to to believe that our reason is in service to an absolute Truth that is anterior to it and wishes to be known.

We call this absolute truth the Word. And if you are not a dimbulb, you just know that it shines in the dark but that the darknous doesn't comprehend it wattsoever.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

We Are All Christians Now

Continuing with yesterday's post, Maximus affirms one of those old metaphysical truths-that-cannot-not-be, that multiplicity is "in the product" while unity is "in the source." In order to avoid further insulting our exquisitely sensitive atheist readers, let's just say that the source of this a priori cosmic unity is a mystery, and call it O. Obviously O "exists"; or, to be perfectly accurate, it is the ground or source of existence.

Let's find out how it all works, shall we?!

In order to talk about this mystery at all, we must borrow terms from existence, so we can mislead ourselves if we're not careful. To put it simply, we exist. O does not. So it's a bit like describing the sound of purple. It can be done, but only through higher mythsemantics. In order to cross the phoenix line, our powers of deception must be cleansed. As we always say, your seenill grammar and gravidad may not be malapropriate for these laughty revelations.

The problem is, our trolls -- who stand in for fallen mankind -- basically confuse what they are capable of understanding with what it is possible to understand. In other words, they are children.

Since God is the source of unity, and we exist within time, then you might say that reality is the formation and dissolution of multiplicity within God. Existence is a kind of emanation and return to God. This is what we call the "adventure of consciousness."

Looked at in a certain way -- my way, to be exact -- existence itself is a kind of alienation from God, and religion is the healing of that alienation. (Some of these ideas flirt with the gnaughty kind of gnosticism, but if you stay with me, I think you'll find that it's all kosher; as we've discussed in the past, it's not so much that heresies are absolutely false, but that they either overemphasize one element or exclude another, thereby causing a fatal imbalance within integral Truth. For example, there is obvious partial truth in pantheism, or emanationism, or even polytheism; or you could simply say that God is everything but that everything is not God.)

In order for existence to exist, there must be time and space. Time and space are the primary modes of existence, so that we are really talking about synonymous terms. Thus, God is not an object in space, which is why we do not say that he "exists."

Now, objects that exist are not radically autonomous in any way, shape or form. Even without getting into religious metaphysics, this is proved by modern physics, which shows material reality to consist of nonlocal energy (see my book for the exciting details; offer may not apply in Berkeley). In this view, everything is not just a part of everything else, but everything is within everything else. All "objects" are ultimately members of one another, if that's not too disgusting to contemplate.

Truly, we are all -- animate and inanimate alike -- members of the same species, the species of Existence. And if we didn't share membership in this species, then nothing would work, to put it mildly. We couldn't know anything, especially other minds. This is why I mentioned yesterday that even atheists are Christians, as they surely partake of this primordial cosmic unity, just like everyone else. Opposing God is like opposing gravity. You can do it, but only because gravity exists.

One of the mysteries of humanness -- a mystery that Darwinism will never be able to explain, since "explanation" would be impossible without it -- is this intersubjective openness through which we are members of one another. This would be the basis of my critique of neo-Marxist leftism on the one hand, and radical libertarianism on the other, for both begin with a faulty metaphysic. You might say that leftism reduces us to the the collective wave, while libertarianism reduces us to the autonomous particle.

But wave and particle are just ways to think about a reality that transcends both categories. In reality, as Balthasar writes, creatures "can only be open to each other through their transcendental identity in the unity of God."

Our common identity is a kind of negative one, in that first and foremost we are not God, even while we participate in God. However, it is also a "positive identity," in that "the one Creator keeps [creatures] in being, one might say, through his relationship to them." It's like my child. Yes, he exists as an autonomous subject. But he wouldn't exist very long without us "sponsoring" or underwriting his existence.

As someone mentioned the other day, it is possible to misunderstand the idea of God as "father." We do not begin with terrestrial fatherhood and project that into the heavens; rather, vice versa. To understand God is to begin to understand the true archetype of worldly fatherhood. I have many fathers, but only because they reflect the one Father. And of course, only because there is one Father can we all be brothers. If there is no Father, then we are all just animals fighting over the scraps. Blah blah blah liberal fascism Darwinism Queeg Deepak >insert standard diatribe here<.

So, we do not start our analysis with "existence," since we know that existence has a source. This is the unbridgeable abyss that divides mankind: there are those who begin with existence, and those who begin with essence. For the Marxist in all his ghastly varieties -- whatever you care to call him -- existence precedes essence. This does not so much eliminate God as elevate man to a false god, or into samskary monsters.

But the theist begins with essence, and if you are capable of thinking, then you realize that essence belongs to God. In other words, essence is clearly "supernatural," even while being immanent in nature. In fact, it is a kind of first hand implicit knowledge of God, for whenever we know an essence -- including our own essence -- we are participating in the Divine Mind.

Again, this is why it is so unproblematic for man to be able to "see through" nature, or to know universals, or to love the essence of another, or to produce beautiful art, or to comprehend the meaning of a poem, or to understand where this post is coming from. None of these things would be remotely possible in the absence of God, because each is a result of everything being unified in God, but dispersed, as it were, through the prismhouse of existence. All colors are only varieties of the colorless light.

Looked at in this way, we can see that consciousness itself is one -- must be one -- but that, in our case, it is refracted through the lens of a bipedal primate. This is why there are gradations of consciousness within man, ranging from the supramental saint, to the veritable trousered ape, on down to the MSNBC host. Only because there is unity is this diversity possible. Eliminate the unity, then a Maximus is no better than a Maher and the supramental is no better than the Olbermental. Relativity -- including relative stupidity -- only exists in light of the absolute.

Everything is nonlocally "linked together" in God. In a way, it's like the foreground and background of a picture. We focus on the foreground, but only because there is the "invisible" background from which it emerges. Thus, you could say that God must be "invisible" in order for existence to be visible. He is the Silence out of which the Music arises. Here is how Maximus describes it:

"God draws up all the things that are naturally distinct from each other and binds them to himself as their cause, their origin and goal.... No being can permanently isolate itself through its own particularity or through the drive of its nature toward some other end; rather, everything remains, in its very being, bound without confusion to everything else, through the single, enduring relationship of all to their one and only source.... For as the parts come to be from the whole, so created things come to be from their cause and are recognized in its light."

This is the "paradox of a synthesis that unites creatures by distinguishing them and distinguishes them by uniting them -- a paradox that can be found throughout the whole edifice of the universe..." (Balthasar).

One Cosmos Under God. Where else could it be?

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Grand Synthesis of Christ

As always, I don't yet know what this post is going to be about. But I do like the title, because above all else, Christ represents the unification of all reality. In fact, technically speaking, you don't even have to be explicitly Christian to believe this. Rather, you must only have faith in the principle of unity. Thus, looked at in this way, even atheists are closet Christians (it is no coincidence that most of them live in Christendom). They can call this principle of unity whatever they want, but they couldn't call anything anything if reality weren't already infused with it. Conceiving itself would be inconceivable, thinking unthinkable, knowing unknowable.

Again, it is a little shocking to realize that it took some 600 years for human beings to fully "get it" -- to arrive at a theology that was equal to the trans-linguistic event of the Incarnation.

Obviously, Jesus left a lot of loose ends. He didn't reduce anything to a written formula. Truly, he was an event first and foremost. And it is critical that we describe that event as accurately as possible, even while not confusing the event with the words.

I'm not enough of a scholar to know, but if Balthasar is correct, then Maximus was the first to survey all of the previous partial descriptions, all of the various doctrinal disputes "that had torn the Church apart for centuries," and resolve them into "a final, conclusive synthesis." For truly, if Christ is the "principle of unity," then it is simply a scandal that man cannot reflect this unity in his theology and within his own being.

And if this christological formulation is correct, then it should apply to all reality, not just "church politics," so to speak. Indeed, Balthasar asks why this formulation cannot, "seen in its deepest implications, also serve as the right model for the world?" It's just that it took a number of centuries to work out all of the implications, to dot every ʘ and criss every Cross.

Remember, the early Christians were not confused by our contemporary division between a secular world and a "supernatural" world. Rather, for them, there was just the one world. Which is why they had no problem taking the best of Greek thought and blending it with Christianity -- not in order to reduce Christianity to worldly thought, but to elevate Greek thought to a truly meta-cosmic status.

Thus, for Maximus, a synthetic understanding of Christ applied to the diverse "structures of being," or what Wilber calls the "spectrum of consciousness": "All things for him had become organic parts of ever-more-comprehensive syntheses, had become themselves syntheses pointing to the final synthesis of Christ, which explained them all." Seen in this light, a Hegel -- who came over 1000 years later -- is simply "a secularized derivative of biblical theology."

Which, if you're following me, is precisely how we end up with the upside-down theology of leftism, which is first and foremost a political religion. As we know, Marx "turned Hegel on his head." But as you may not know, he also turned Hegel inside-out, resulting in a "materialization" of Christian metaphysics.

In this diabolical formulation, the Kingdom of Heaven is immamentaized, and we will all live on Sugar Candy Mountain when the Obamessianic state forces us to be equal -- not equal in the eyes of God, but equal in the eyes of Marxist bean counters. "Administered equality" is just another name for tyranny. Just ask the lion who was forced to eat grass to make him equal to the sheep. Choking smokers don't you know the Joker taxes you? (Ho ho ho, he he he, ha ha ha, see how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snide. I'm crying.)

Now, it is critical to bear in mind the distinction between Jesus -- the Word made flesh -- and the "pre-incarnate Word," i.e., Logos, which always was and is. Clearly, the Logos was accessible to a Plato or Socrates or Lao Tsu. It's just that it was an abstract principle instead of a concrete one. It never occurred to anyone that this principle could take on human form.

Indeed, this would have been considered a kind of insult to the Principle. Rather, for neo-Platonists such as Plotinus, the task of this life was to leave our humanness behind and ascend to the Principle. It necessarily involved an element not just of world denial, but of world detestation.

Remember Porphyry's famous description of Plotinus, that he "had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry of something 'higher and intelligible' which was the 'truer part of genuine Being.' This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted, presumably for much the same reasons of dislike."

Maximus did not fall for this gnostic (in the gnaughty sense of the word) duality of spirit and flesh. Rather, for him, "the natural law, the written law, and the law of Christ are one and the same." For in the final analysis -- or synthesis -- we are talking about the unification of horizontal and vertical, however you conceptualize them (and you cannot be human without conceptualizing them in some manner, for man is precisely the being who equally inhabits, or manifests, the vertical and horizontal worlds).

Thus, "for Maximus, the reality of this synthesis is best conceived by the image of a right angle, in which two lines meet" (emphasis mine). This is a synthesis of "sensible reality and mind, of earth and heaven... of nature and idea" (Maximus). It is also the synthesis of "theoretical and practical reason, of wisdom and prudence, of contemplation and action, of knowledge and virtue, of immediate vision and faith."

In each case, the "whole" is not a product of the synthesis; rather, it is the prior reality, which bears within itself "the unmixed difference of the parts that make it up." Yes, unconfused but inseparable. This mystery "of the presence of a whole in its parts, from whose synthesis it comes to be, is not, for Maximus, simply the object of disinterested contemplation." Rather, for him "it is the direct way to God." For if the Logos became man, we must then ask ourselves, "by virtue of what principle?"

Probably a good place to stop for today. But the whole thing reminds me of another synthesis, Aurobindo's Synthesis of Yoga, in which he writes that

"In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodized effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being and a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos."

Sounds difficult, but don't worry, for my yoga is easy, my burden light.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Why on Earth is Man on Earth?

I was going through the arkive, deleting a few things that weren't worthy of eternity, when I stumbled upon this one, which I think deserves a second shot at inclusion in the Blog of Life.

I remember back in film school, one of my professors mentioned that when they remake a film, it's almost always one that was already a classic and cannot be improved upon. Instead, why not remake a noble failure that had a lot of missed potential? In this case, I have meditated upon what I previously wrote line-by-line, and altered it accordingly, based upon up-to-the-minute dispatches from just over the vertical horizon.

What is man that the electron should be mindful of him! --E. Becker

In Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, he goes into the inglorious history of the left's attempts to pathologize its enemies (e.g., the embarrassing Frankfurter school of bitesized intellectual wieners). This is something that was practiced in the Soviet Union, just as it is done today in left wing university psychology departments. It is one of the ways they enforce political correctness, by pathologizing anyone who, say, believes that the government should not force us to discrminate based upon race.

But in order to even begin discussing the question of psychological health -- and its relationship to politics, if there is any -- one must first determine what the mind was designed to do. Everything is based upon this initial determination, so if you get it wrong, your entire intellectual edifice will be built upon pounding sand. You simply must know what a human being is "for," or your understanding of politics, history, economics, law, and other disciplines will be fatally flawed.

Another way of saying it is that we must first understand what on earth man is on earth for. For there really are only two choices, which come down to nihilism or pleromism (to coin a word), existentialism or essentialism, relativism or Absolutism. Humans are either an ultimately worthless cosmic aberration, or the very peophole through which the Absolute may contemplate itself. The bloody stakes are that rare, which is why the debate is so meaty.

All leftists, following Marx, believe that "existence precedes essence." Leftism in all its forms is based on man being "nothing," which is why the leftist believes that the god-state may manipulate him into being something less than a man.

For the secular humanist, human beings can be nothing more than a late-model beast -- a recent arrival to the cosmic manifestival with a few interesting tricks programmed into us by father Darwin. But for the religionist, man carries a trace of the origin and center of the cosmos within his very being, so that what a human being truly is is the key to fathoming the implacable mystery of the cosmos itself. Again, these views are absolutely irreconcilable (which is one way we know of the Absolute).

To back up a bit, we cannot begin to discuss this question without bearing in mind the importance of complementarity, as discussed a few posts back. Man lives within various dialectical tensions that cannot be resolved, the most important of these being the celestial and terrestrial, or vertical and horizontal. In turn, each of these contains within it various tensions and relations that cannot be resolved, so long as we exist on the relative plane -- which we must do on pain of not existing at all. "Health" lies in the dynamic equilibrium between various complementary opposites.

With a few exceptions, psychology mainly deals with horizontal health, whereas religion addresses what we might call “vertical health,” so this is one of the first confusions that will arise in any attempt to deal with man in wholly material terms. If your metapsychology reduces man to mere horizontality, then your psychological model will necessarily be incapable of producing real health or wholeness in a wider (and higher) sense.

Let’s begin with the horizontal, because that will be the easiest to comprehend. Within the horizontal, there are several complementarities that have to be balanced in order to be healthy and happy. These would include the poles of narcissism (or individualism) <---> social-ism, conscious <---> unconscious, and thought <---> feeling (or head and heart).

Regarding the complementarity that distinguishes between our individuation and the more primordial “groupishness” out of which it must be won, the first thing you will notice is that most cultures throughout most of human history have failed to resolve this in a healthy way. Perhaps this is understandable, because as mentioned a few days ago, man was a group animal long before human groups began producing true “individuals.”

In my book, I discuss this “interior revolution” that only began on a widespread scale in around the 17th century (and only in the Christian West, mind you). What we call the modern self -- something that seems so self-evident to us -- was not the norm prior to that, any more than wealth was. Obviously, man is born stupid and poor, both individually and collectively.

Probably the most (excessively) thorough documentation of this is in Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. By 1700 or so, he writes, “something recognizably like the modern self is is in the process of constitution.... Thought and feeling -- the psychological -- are now confined to minds. This follows our disengagement from the world, its ‘disenchantment’....”

Here you can see that this process of historical individuation almost exactly parallels the personal individuation that is described in the latest models of psychological development. These models track what is called the separation-individuation process, as we grow from our primary merger with the mother toward our unique identity. In the past couple of decades there has been a tremendous amount of research that confirms the importance of early attachment and bonding to the outcome of this process, probably most ably summarized for the lay person in Dan Siegel’s The Developing Mind.

For any psychoanalytically informed psychologist, this is where it all goes down, for there are any number of things that can go wrong on the way from dyadic merger with the Great Mother to that little island of the self that will stand out from the ocean of conscious being.

We’re covering a lot of ground here, so it’s impossible to go into a great deal of detail, but my best psychoanalytic teacher summed things up when he said that the unhealthy person wants to go from twoness back to primitive oneness, whereas the healthy person wants to go from lonely oneness to intimate twoness.

In other words, the unhealthy person has not resolved the issues of separation and individuation and cannot tolerate his or her separateness (“twoness”). Therefore, they seek to maintain or recapture primitive merger (“oneness”) with another person or with the group at large, in order to ward off separation anxiety and abandonment depression. All people can exhibit this regressive tendency under stress, but there are many cultures that entirely revolve around it. What you call “blessed solitude,” they would call a lonely and frightening hell. And what they call “family” or “community,” you would call psychic suffocation. The kinship (not to mention gynephobic) structure of the Islamic world is not just "another way to be human," but a major barrier in becoming a fully actualized human.

In my work in forensic psychology, I have had the opportunity to evaluate people from cultures all over the planet, and one of the first things that jumps out is how differently various cultures resolve the issue of separation and individuation. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but it is quite clear to me that with many cultures, you will not so much be dealing with an individual as a type. It is as if they all have the identical life story, the same values, the same parents, the same knowledge base, the same goals, the same way of looking at the world.

Now, an academically correct anthropologist would say that there is no developmental axis in culture -- that all cultures are equally beautiful and worthwhile, and that there is no objective measure of cultural health or pathology. Indeed, they might even make the idiotic charge of racism against people who believe otherwise, even though we are specifically dealing with psychology, not race. (Which is odd anyway, for what if one belongs to a racist culture? Isn't it wrong to judge the culture?)

But I maintain that the health or pathology of a culture can be evaluated in terms of how effectively it allows people to pass through the separation-individuation process and become themselves. Because in a primitive culture, you will have no opportunity to become who you truly are. Differences are not tolerated, or will be persecuted so as to maintain conformity -- somewhat like our stage of adolescence, which produces such abject conformity, or those tattooed leftist rebels who all look and sound the same.

To a very real extent, you can see this issue reflected in different political ideologies. For example, you will often hear leftists accuse conservatives (i.e., classical liberals) of being self-interested. Exactly! If you value the self, then you are going to value the system that most effectively nurtures it and allows it to develop. And without a doubt, the system that most effectively accomplishes this is the system of ordered liberty enunciated by America’s founders.

Likewise, as discussed a couple of days ago, the psychospiritual left has always been uncomfortable with the idea of “rugged individualism,” of competition, of winners and losers. You might think that this clashes with their extreme selfishness and pseudo-individualism -- e.g., the art world. But an astute observer can know in a glance that this primitivism is neither art nor an expression of the higher self. Beethoven’s fifth symphony is the expression of a unique self. On the other hand, most modern art is just “poopy diapers,” which, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all... no, check me on that... there are definitely degrees of disgusting diaperdom. In any event, while this pseudo-art may resemble extreme individualism, it is thoroughly typal. I only have to see one Robert Maplethorpe photo to know that some things shouldn't be seen at all.

Remember a couple of posts back, I discussed the manner in which envy-fueled egalitarianism was natural to primitive mankind, and that, to quote Cassell, “to have an intuitive grasp of economics, you might just need to take a step or two up the evolutionary ladder." Precisely. Here you can see why I would dismiss a study out of hand if it equated emotional health with what I see as primitive regression, and pathology with what I regard as the system that best allows for true psychological growth.

Now, leftists will no doubt argue that liberty is a dangerous invitation to selfishness and greed. Our system simply unleashes the beast in man, and must be countered by a huge “maternal” government upon whose teat we may all suckle for comfort and security. But this is foolishness. For narcissism is not a healthy outcome of the separation-individuation process. Rather, it is specifically one of the many things that can go awry with attachment and bonding, leading to a caricature of true selfhood. Narcissism is always a caricature of individuation.

In short, leftists confuse a system that allows for narcissists with a system that creates them. But the narcissist is created mainly as a result of the conditions of childhood, conditions that the leftist is generally blind to -- for the same reason he is blind to, say, the conditions that produce the quite evident pathology of black culture. The leftist will reflexively say that the problems of black America are rooted in poverty, even though this is demonstrably false, because those many blacks who rise above the pathology of black culture do as well economically as any other group. It is a matter of healthy values, not race or poverty. Likewise, if you transferred Palestinian values to Israel, it would produce a barbaric and infrafuman swamp of depravity in less than one generation.

But with regard to what that great liberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan called the "tangle of pathology " of black culture, the leftist will see a “victim of selfishness” instead of the sine qua non of selfishness, for it is difficult to imagine a more selfish and narcissistic act than bringing a child into the world without benefit of marriage and a father, just because you want someone to love you unconditionally for the first time in your life. But once the baby is born, it is too late to realize that he or she is about the last person in the world who is going to love you unconditionally. So you will end up creating yet another generation of damaged narcissists who have foundered on the rocks of attachment and bonding.

And if you are a leftist, you create special university departments for such damaged individuals, and give them tenure instead of psychotherapy.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

If You Find Yourself in a Sabbath Hole, Keep Digging

Let's see if we can't complete a post. Its length will depend upon when the boy wakes up. It's sort of like a game: find your way to ultimate reality before the ticking timebomb goes off!

Come to think of it, just like life.

But it's shabbat, so there's no pressure. We won't force things. We'll just let the cosmos come to us.

Indeed, that is the whole point, to relux and call it a deity. To quote myself, "Esoterically speaking, the sabbath refers to the OMnipresent 'hole' in creation that allows for (↓) and (↑) to enter and leave the 'kingdom of man.'" The point is to turn away from the world's "nihilocracy of urgent nonsense" and toward what is "behind," "above," or "beyond." As such, it is a time of vertical recollection, of time dilation, and of gnostalgia for paradise. It is a "memoir of the future."

Or you could say that it is a day to catch up with your verticalisthenic exercises, or O-->(n). I see that Maximus is right with us, as Balthasar informs us that he was quite concerned with "the 'realization' of theoretical knowledge," or what a Raccoon calls the distinction between (k) and (n). He also talks about the inner peace that counters those jarring worldly energies "that cloud or weigh down or tear apart the mind, in order to rob it of its freedom and self-possession."

In my book, I symbolize this attitude or stance as (---) and (o). You could say "calmness" and "openness," but it's obviously more than that, as it has an intrinsically sacred quality.

As Balthasar writes, "This calm is also [the] mode of entry into the mystery of God, which stands beyond the world. Only the spirit that has become pure and simple can encounter the transcendent One; the soul that has fully emptied itself, that has 'no song to sing,' becomes the place of revelation, the abode of the infinite God."

Ah, perfect: "Right through the middle" of our "hierarchically ordered universe cuts -- straight as an arrow -- the Alexandrian way of ascending from the sensible to the intellectual and ultimately to the divine world" (emphasis mine). For Maximus, this is the very axis of the world -- which it most assuredly is. Looked at in a certain way -- whether you are theist or atheist -- it is all we ever know, all we ever encounter directly, which is to say, "our" own consciousness.

This is surely not solipsism. Rather, it is the Darwinists and other materialists who are the crude solipsists, for they confuse their simplistic abstractions with the Real, which is always radically other, and certainly more than what a glorified ape can entertain in its head. The problem with atheists is that they don't know what they don't know, which, like dark matter and energy, is some 90% of reality.

I distinctly remember when I first began the systematic practice of (---) and (o). It was 1982. I was still working in the supermarket, attending graduate school for my masters degree, and living in a single apartment. I began studying yoga with a certain Yogi Raj, every Tuesday night I believe it was. I think my brain neurology was finally beginning to settle down on its own after an extended adolescence. Prior to that, I don't think I would have been capable of any kind of interior journey.

Anyway, I had all of the usual worldly troubles and worries at the time. But I decided that just once a week, while in the yoga class, I would completely forget about the world. Rather, all there was was the now, and it was up to me to mine out of it whatever I could. If I couldn't get anything out of it, then it was my fault, not the fault of the world. I decided that paradise was just a few microns away, but that I nevertheless had to make the first move. It wasn't going to come to me.

So that was the seed. Afterwards it just got a little out of hand, and here we are. In fact, I also distinctly remember when it began to "take," so to speak, both in thought and in action. You know it is "working" when you begin having thoughts and making connections that you couldn't before, and when this shift in attitude begins to manifest in behavior. Sri Aurobindo describes this as the "psychic being" coming to the "front" of the personality, as if you are now operating around a new axis. In Christian terms, it would simply be the perpetual event-process of metanoia, and the discovery and strengthening of the nous.

And of course, this is a new axis (¶), which in turn relates to the world axis alluded to above. As discussed in my book, (¶) is to O as (•) is to Ø. This is when you rediscover that human beings really are the "center" of the cosmos, just as God is the "center" of the meta-cosmos. And those two centers come together -- or reveal their prior unity -- in ʘ.

But Maximus is quite cautious as to the precise meaning of ʘ, and you might say that this is what all of the Christological debates were about. There are many intrinsically heretical ways to understand ʘ, and which lead to all sorts of problems -- e.g., relativism, fascism, totalitarianism, and other pathologies of the left. Indeed, you might even say that leftism itself is the "left hand path to god," for above all else it is a political religion, or a fully "horizontalized verticality." It is certainly where a Deepak Chopra is coming from, which is why his brand of spirituality results in such sinister nonsense and evil.

A key point to bear in mind is that ʘ is not "a 'mixture' of divinity and humanity," like a union "of two fluids blending with each other." In fact, this kind of indiscriminate mixture of essences is "far from the most perfect and intimate kind of union." Rather, it is "a reciprocal indwelling of two distinct poles of being." That little dot in the middle is "everything," including the essence of love, which requires two (actually, three, the lover, beloved, and the love that passes between them).

Balthasar: "Love, which is the highest level of union, only takes root in the growing independence of the lovers; the union between God and the world reveals, in the very nearness it creates between these two poles of being, the ever-greater difference between created being and the essentially incomparable God." This is "the mystery of a polarity that can never be seen in anything like a final vision," but is instead perpetually ascending toward, and being drawn into, the divine ground.

In short, we do not confuse God's aseity with the hole in our ground.