Monday, December 07, 2009

Scientistic Simpletons and the Church of the Immaculate Deduction

Just a brief speedpost, as I'm pressed for time....

So, if Bolton is correct, then extremes meet in the monistic Darwinians and Deepakians, who are monistrous reflections of one another, being that both exclude the Creator and replace him with the idol of human consciousness.

This fundamental nihilism also leads directly to a leftist political orientation, which abstracts intelligence from reality in the naive belief that it can be controlled and mastered by said "intelligence," i.e., the cult of expertise and specialization. Their mutual "denial of both God and personality and their worship of intelligence in one form or another are of the essence of the modern mentality, and keep it in being" (Bolton).

Perhaps this idea of the "worship of intelligence" is new to you, but it is the blue thread that runs through the modern left extending over the past century or so. Although it is primarily a narcissistic exercise in self-flattery, those who are not members of the cult are not just considered wrong, but dismissed as morons. But one of the bases of wisdom -- which transcends the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- is to know the limits of intelligence. And the left repeatedly fails in this regard, again, because of the replacement of God with human (small r) reason.

Nearly every leftist policy failure falls into this trap, and yet, the prescription is always more of the same. As intelligent as these people believe themselves to be, they never actually question the assumptions of their worldview, much less set out to determine whether their policies are actually effective (much less frankly destructive).

For example, the so-called "war on poverty" that was begun in earnest in the 1960s has not only been a failure -- which one could live with -- but profoundly destructive of the very people it presumed to help (cf. Losing Ground or most any book by Theodore Dalrymple, such as Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass).

Likewise, even despite the revelations of weathergate, these pinheads persist in their insane project of destroying the world's economy -- its wealth-producing mechanism -- to "solve" a problem that doesn't exist. Millions will die as a result -- just as millions have died of malaria in Africa due to the "success" of radical environmentalists in banning DDT. For these radicals, the death of one child due to malaria is a tragedy, but the death of 50 million is a smashing success.

It seems that much of the left's overvaluation of intelligence has to do with the failure to appreciate the irreducible complexity of non-linear systems such as the economy, the climate, and culture. They seem to think they can tinker with one aspect of these systems without affecting the entire system in a fundamentally unpredictable manner. This applies to every complex system, including, say, marriage. For example, every psychotherapist knows that if one spouse becomes healthier, this poses a threat to the marriage itself. You can't just mess with one part of the family without disrupting the whole system.

This appreciation of unintended and unpredictable consequences is the basis of the adage that more tears are shed as a result of answered prayers than unanswered ones. Perhaps God, in his infinite wisdom, is aware of the incredibly complex and delicate web that makes anything function at all. Nonlinearity is the rule, not the exception in the cosmos.

Which is why, of course, science mostly deals with systems that are special cases, not the rule. This was one of the central insights of the brilliant Robert Rosen in his Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life. To imagine that biologists and Darwinists "understand life" is almost insane in its grandiosity. In reality, the Darwinist replaces reality with a crude abstraction, reifies the abstraction, converts it to an idol, and then brands as heretics those who do not worship at his ego altar. The same goes for the warm-mongers, as their emails have demonstrated.

You will note that one of the characteristics of this kind of bad science is that it is entirely or overly deductive, to the exclusion of inductive observation. This is again because it converts reality into an abstraction, and then deduces from it. Thus, the facts don't matter because the theory is "true" -- observations that fail to fit into the deductive theory are either not seen, or else attacked if they are noticed by someone else.

This is why both Darwinism and "climate change" are unfalsifiable, thus failing even to meet one of the requirements of a true scientific theory (i.e., how is it possible to falsify "climate change" when change is precisely what climates do? Or, name any human trait, and I will provide you with a sociobiological fairy tale that "explains" how it came about).

This is exactly how skeptics are treated by religious fundamentalists. But there is supposed to be a difference between religion and science, one of the main ones being that religion does indeed deal with the world of invariant metaphysical principles, so that it is generally acceptable to deduce facts from them, whereas science is supposed to proceed from facts to principles.

To cite one obvious example, it is a principle of Christianity that man is in the image of the Creator. From this, one may deduce all kinds of useful "vertical" analogies that illuminate both God and man.

Conversely, it is not helpful -- for it leads to no wisdom, to say the least -- to insist on the a priori principle that man is just an accidental conglomeration of selfish genes, and then deduce everything about man from that. For among other inanities, one of the first deductions must be that the truth of man is forever unknowable to us, thus undercutting the entire basis of their omniscient logico-deductive fantasies.

144. In what deserves to be called “science,” you save the drama for your mama. People debating science, getting angry and testy about the skepticism from others, are advancing and defending what would more properly be called “religion.” --Morgan, via Vanderleun

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Meaning, Unity, Creation, and Salvation

[T]o be wrong about creation is to be wrong about everything. --Robert Bolton, The One and the Many

As we have discussed in the past, meaning, purpose, and unity (or wholeness) are all functions of one another. To see the whole is to understand the meaning, and vice versa. For example, you can't understand the purpose of the heart if you don't situate it in the context of the body it serves. Likewise, words take on entirely different shades of meaning depending on the sentence in which they are situated.

Again, one of the important points Bolton raises is that nondualism is nihilism; or, you could say that the meaning of existence is its ultimate meaninglessness. He points out the irony that the principle of karma -- of moral cause and effect -- is central to Buddhism.

And yet, when it comes to the totality -- the whole -- "they deny that there is any cause for the world as such. Their passion for causality suddenly evaporates just where causality approaches its most significant consequence." (And please bear in mind that Bolton is not being remotely disrespectful, only trying to clearly describe the differences, and their consequences, between atheistic nondualism and theistic dualism.)

One reason why Bolton's analysis is meaningful to me, is that it exactly describes the trajectory of my own interest in religion. Religion meant nothing to me until I found a form if it that was acceptable to my existential commitments, which were rational, materialistic, and essentially atheistic.

Again, another of Bolton's points -- and it was certainly true of me -- is that Buddhism (especially "bare witnessing" or Zen varieties, which are almost purely technical) is the ideal religion for jaded Westerners who are convinced that they have "risen above" their own "mythological" tradition. Looked at in this way, Zen looks "scientific" (cf. Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness) while Christianity looks very much pre-scientific. Which is why I would now call my approach "post-postmodern," more on which later.

But consider what Buddhism and scientism have in common: "the whole conceptual world of science is absurdly imagined as functioning just the same as though none of those minds which create sciences were part of it," just as "religious anti-personalism imagines a perfect consciousness without any conscious person." This "parallel between them is so close that the two systems may well proceed from the same deep flaw in human consciousness, a selective mental blindness" (Bolton).

Indeed, it is almost as if western science sees the world through the lens of the left brain, while the east sees it through the right (and there is actually scientific confirmation of this idea -- cf. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why).

But Raccoon doctrine insists upon the centrality of the transcendent position, or psychic third, that is simultaneously born of, and unifies, left and right, east and west, conscious and supraconscious, wave and particle, boxers and briefs.

Bolton notes that "the final destiny of all beings cannot be separated from their origin," which, of course, was the point of the circular structure of my book, in which everything revolves around our descent from, ascent to, and descent back from the Creator. Again, the world of scientific materialism is purely linear, in which case my book could only have ended with, say, an eternal ellipsis (.... .... ....) or perhaps something like pi, which just goes on forever: 3.141592653589793238462643 and on and on and on...

But as Eckhart observed, "Being is God's circle, and in this circle all creatures exist."

Ho!

Only if there is an end can there be a meaning. And Bolton observes that "if we hold that all things are created by God, this final destiny must likewise be God. Conversely, if there were no Creator, there would be no origin and therefore no ultimate destiny for existing beings" -- in which case, nondualism can by no means offer what we call "salvation," since it goes about systematically obliterating precisely what Christians wish to save!

Bolton does not mention -- but I believe it to be the case -- that we needn't first posit God in order to know that existence is meaningful. Rather, it is possible to have experiences of such surpassing meaning that God must exist by implication. To know, for example, that your child is of infinite worth, is to know that God exists. To know that murder is wrong is to know that God exists. To know that we are surrounded by natural beauty is to know that God exists. Etc. Each of these "bears upon" God, and could not exist in the absence of that cosmic vector of metaphysical transparency that draws us back up to our repenthouse mansion. The celestial eschatolator is everywhere!

Conversely, if the world is not created -- if it is not meaningful -- then the most sublime knowledge or beauty are just illusions that must fall into that first principle's orifice. And the converse is equally true: if one does not know love, or truth, or beauty, one surely will not "see" or know God. Rather, one will assume that the cosmos is every bit as meaningless as one's one life. Thus, the "non-God" is just a projection of an alienated ego prematurely exiled from our cosmic womb with a pew.

For in reality -- as Eckhart knew -- we give birth to God as he gives birth to us, in a kind of circular or spiraling flow of intrinsic -- and deepening -- meaning: "Wherever I am, there is God." The I AM "boils over" from the ground of being, until it then overflows into something surpassing it. It doesn't just flow out of the pot and into the flames below. Rather, "In my flowing-out I entered creation, in my breakthrough I re-enter God." Or, "just as God breaks through me, so do I break through God in return" (Eckhart).

Or just say, "All creatures flow and return to their source. Transformed knowledge and love draw up and lead and bring the soul back into the first source of the One, the Creator of all in heaven and on earth" (Eckhart). Please note that this is not "poetry" but a literal description.

No, this here is poetry:

I know, I know... no Plan at all
Is thought by some to be the plan,
And yet what is this sheen of thought
That seeks to measure more than man?


Yes,

To stand Once within a meadow,
And feel the hands of wind,
Is ample compensation
For the Gift the years rescind.
--Vanderleun

To be continued...

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The First Oecumeaningful Council

I don't know if too many readers will be interested this intramural squabble within the Traditionalist camp. Some of this material might be a little too inside graceball for even some of our regular readers, so perhaps it's good that I'm doing this on a Saturday, when no one's paying attention anyway.

But for me, it's as important as, say, those first seven ecumenical councils (oecumenical in the Anglo world) that determined the essential contours of Christianity for centuries to come. Interestingly -- because I didn't know the exact figures before I scanned this article -- different branches of Christianity accept various councils up to a point, and then break off and ignore the rest.

According to the wikipedia article, the Assyrian Church was content with the first two, while the Oriental Orthodox made it to three. Anglicans, most Lutherans and some Protestants accept the first seven (albeit with reservations, conditions, escape clauses, and loopholes), all of which took place prior to the great schism between Eastern and Western forms of Christianity. Afterwards, the Roman church just kept on having councils, now numbering twenty one. Nontrinitarian churches accept none, which I frankly do not understand.

There was a time -- you all remember Oldbob -- when I would have considered such debates to be analogous to arguing over the exact dimensions of unicorn horns, but I am now quite convinced of the critical importance of correct doctrine. Most people routinely believe heresies that are not only incorrect, but couldn't possibly be correct. And not just religious people; the problem with atheists, Darwinians, and secular leftists is that they all, in one form or another, embrace various intrinsic heresies, in the sense that they are grave offenses against the Real -- "ontological errors" or "epistemological sins."

One such intrinsic heresy, for example, would be the absurd doctrine of "absolute relativism." Another would be the truth-killing doctrine of materialism. Yet another is the virtue-destroying belief in moral relativism. Such doctrines are not just wrong but intrinsically evil, and bring nothing but confusion, misery, and destruction in their wake, for they undermine man's very reason for being by abolishing truth and virtue.

For those several billion of you who have not read my book, we use the symbol O to stand for "ultimate reality," whatever that reality is. This is for several reasons. First, we want to avoid saturating this reality with various preconceptions before we even start.

But perhaps even more importantly, real knowledge of O can only be gained through personal experience. It is not at all analogous to scientific (which is to say, strictly empirical or rational) data that can be handed from head to head without loss of information. This is something atheists seem incapable of grasping -- that when, say, the seers of the Upanishads speak of O (which they call Brahman), they are speaking from personal experience that excludes the atheist, precisely.

Nevertheless, it is possible -- and in many ways inevitable -- to reify O, as we saw above with regard to the ecumenical councils. Some people say, "that's enough for me. I get the picture," and then stop there. The problem is, we need an accurate map and good guides, but we still need to explore the territory on our own.

The fact of the martyr is that O, among other things, is "ceaselessly flowing" into what we call "reality," so that it is actually strictly impossible to corral it into a limited description. To put it another way, it is not possible for humans to contain what is by definition uncontainable. As soon as they do contain it, they have in a sense damaged it. And sometimes they can frankly murder it, as in the case of the Islamists, who imagine they worship God when in fact they cannot tolerate Him (a kind of reverse image of Darwinians, who imagine they are in contact with the ultimate truth of humanness, when they are heavily defended against it).

So you could say that those early ecumenical councils were indeed "debating" the nature of O -- except that "debate" is not quite accurate, since the goings-on were deeply infused with, and shaped by, a grace (↓), without which these would have indeed been mere academic exercises instead of orobic verticalisthenics.

Now, one of the main things the councils hammered out was what we might call the trinitarian nature of O. They certainly did not intend to say that this is just a relative human understanding, and that the "real God" is something else, like the "beyond being" of the Traditionalists. You might say that O is indeed a circle, not a static point; and it is a dynamic circle, a unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity with a kind of ceaseless "interior flow."

Clearly, in the Christian conception, O is not analogous to the "static Brahman" of Vedanta -- which, by the way, Aurobindo experienced and found to be valid as far as it goes. But he went beyond this, to conclude that what we might call the "creative word" was part of a deeper process involving the interplay of the dynamic and static aspects of Brahman.

I find this to be quite close to the Christian understanding -- close enough for graceball -- in that to realize the static Brahman is analogous to realizing only one part of the Trinity -- call it the "Unbegotten" -- and then calling it quits. But the Son is generated by the Unbegotten, just as the Holy Spirit flows in that open circle of Love and Truth between them. If that weren't the case, then we wouldn't even be able to participate in the "divine circle" to begin with.

Again, the point is, I don't see how this can be reconciled with the Traditonalist view that the Trinity is ultimately on the side of cosmic maya, and that the real Absolute is a radically apophatic "beyond being." For one thing, the "beyond being" can never be experienced by a human, if, as Bolton says, experience "is by definition a relation between a subject and an object." The beyond being is very much the absence of experience, i.e., the turiya, or "fourth," that we (un)experience in a state of deep sleep. Either this is the highest state, or it isn't. I don't believe it is. Rather, I think it is just a part of the "rhythm of O," for I don't believe there is sleeping without waking, and vice versa.

Again, it seems to me -- and to Bolton -- that the radically nondual monad of turiya is just the mirror image of modern materialistic nihilism. Not only is it the denial of the Creator, but with it, the inevitable devaluation of the creation. To put it another way, the creation is only of any value at all if it is indeed a creation. If it isn't, then it is ultimately worthless, for it has only the worth that contingent beings fancifully assign it. And in terms of metaphysics, "contingent worth" is a contradiction, like "convenient truth."

But the Raccoon affirms creation. We believe that existence exists for a reason, and that the world is not just a big mistake (or coincidence, which amounts to the same thing). The world is worthy of our being in it, and life is worthy of our living it. And they are worthy because they have a value which is derived from the interior nature of O, not negated by it.

Where there is no creation, there is no relation between the world and Divinity (however understood), and therefore no reason why even the most holy or spiritual life should ever connect with the Divine.... [O]ur being created, if true, must be the deepest ontological truth about us. In this case, religions which deny creation would thereby deny any hope of valid self-knowledge, which is ironic, because they typically are devoted to self-knowledge above all else. --Robert Bolton, The One and the Many

Friday, December 04, 2009

Quacks in the Foundation of the West

This question of the One and the Many is not an abstract or impractical one, because if you get it wrong, then the very foundation of your worldview will be built on illusion. Either the individual is real, as Christians believe, or it is not, as Buddhists, secular leftists, new age knuckleheads, and Darwinians believe. But just look at the dreadful cultures built by the latter! Would you really prefer to live like a drone in the Chinese anthill, secure in the knowledge that at least your illusory individualism is not permitted to take root?

I didn't originally come at this question from a religious standpoint, but from a psychoanalytic one. Modern psychoanalysis revolves around the question of human psychological development, which occurs within the context of separation and individuation from the primary objects of attachment ("Object Relations"). The problem is, few psychoanalysts are religious, whereas few religious people have much knowledge of psychoanalysis.

One prominent exception is A. Hameed Ali, who writes under the pen name of A.H. Almaas. A lot of what he says is cultish BS, but he did write a couple of good books on object relations and spirituality, The Pearl Beyond Price: Integration of Personality into Being, an Object Relations Approach (1988) and The Point of Existence: Transformations of Narcissism in Self-Realization (1996). It's been a while, but at the time I read these, I remember being very impressed with his synthetic grasp of object relations theory, which he seemed to intuitively understand better than many of my teachers in graduate school. The main problem, in addition to the cultlike features, was a superficial and gimmicky application of the ideas in terms of "treatment." And since then he's gone off the rails entirely, into Deepak land. Thus, feel free to download the books into your melon, but beware of viruses.

But the main point is that the psychologies of the East -- because of their blanket condemnation of the ego -- tend to be naive and mythological at best, perverse and destructive at worst. And not just destructive of of the individual, but of cultural progress as well. As we have discussed in the past, there is a good reason why science, human rights, freedom and democracy developed only in the Christian West. They did not develop elsewhere because they could not develop elsewhere.

And this is precisely where the psychospiritual intersects with the psychopolitical and bifurcates into what I would call "metaphysical conservativatism" and its various gloomy alternatives. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading George Nash's splendid Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism, which is helping me to appreciate some of the subtleties of this question. For conservatism is rooted in individualism and all it implies. Hayek (quoted in Nash) lamented that "I wish I could make my 'progressive' friends... understand that democracy is possible only under capitalism and that collectivist experiments lead inevitably to fascism of one sort or another" and "to the suppression of freedom." And quite obviously, in the absence of freedom there is no individual, since the individual is "freedom lived," while freedom is "individuality permitted."

Now, one thing individualism implies -- as we shall see -- is God. Therefore, ideologies that promote individualism in the absence of God (and this includes some varieties of conservatism, e.g., Ayn Rand) are not only intellectually bizarre but frankly destructive and disorganizing. Pagan statism and genuine theoliberalism stand at antipodes. But it is equally true -- at least in my opinion -- that certain strands of the so-called "religious right" are not at all conservative, but quite plainly warped products of modernity, since they stand outside the perennial Tradition.

Speaking of which, I think I've finally figured out what a Raccoon is. If anyone asks, just say an "improvisational orthodox bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalist." That ought to cover it. You could say that -- to borrow a phrase from Nash -- we affirm the "unorthodox defense of orthodoxy." The true dynamic axis of conservatism is "the unity of tradition and liberty," in which we are free to become who we already are, and all that implies; and it surely implies certain cultural and political conditions which make it possible, including private property, limited government, and moral and epistemological absolutes.

Nash makes the very useful observation that one of the main differences between contemporary left liberals and conservative classical liberals is that they embrace divergent forms of modernity. In the case of the left, their "new modernity" revolves around

"relativism, negation, and despair. Where the 'old modernity' [that would be us, not to mention America's founders] asserted that certain truths were self-evident, the new modernity denied that universal truths exist.... Where the old modernity tended to be rationalistic, the new modernity explored the irrational and the absurd. Where the old modernity offered liberation from external constraints -- from the barriers of class, race, national origin, and arbitrary government -- the new modernity preached liberation from inner constraints -- from traditional morality, from artistic convention, from rationality itself."

So we are ultimately dealing with a "clash of modernities," or you could say modernity and postmodernity. For the person in the grip of postmodernity, the modern sounds frankly "old-fashioned" and irrelevant. I know this, because I used to be one of those defective people, the reason being that I spent so many years in the zeitgeistapo of the Postmodernity Indoctrination Center, i.e. graduate school.

Back to Bolton. Let's begin with some definitions. Monism, he writes, "teaches that there is only one real substance, regardless of appearances, whether that substance be understood as spiritual or material, and whether or not it is identified with God." Thus, you can affirm that "all is matter" or "all is spirit," but both are affirmations of monism. Form is obviously discounted and devalued, since form is merely the outward manifestation of something more "real," either "energy" on the one hand, or "consciousness" on the other.

Therefore, strictly speaking, neither version of monism can be supported by logic, since logic is swallowed up in the One, along with everything else. This is why we say that there is not much practical difference between the idiocies of, say, Deepak the Quack and Charles the Queeg. Both men imagine they fly above logic, when they actually fall far beneath it.

To be continued....

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Una and Saguna*, or the Juan and the Manny

The One and the Many: A Defense of Theistic Religion. I think I'll just go through the book chapter by chapter, and offer my reflections, refractions, and refreshments. All of Bolton's books are worth reading; while challenging, I think this has partly to do with his style of writing, which sometimes comes just shy of complete clarity. But when you're as brilliant as he is, there are probably few people to talk to and thereby fine-tune the message. I believe we've reviewed each of his other books in the past (they can all be found in the metaphysics aisle of the Raccoon Store).

The question of the relation of the One and the Many is a perennial one, not just for theology but for philosophy. Really, it might be the first question that confronts man in his awakened state (which is to say, Man): what's more real, or more fundamental, the One or the Many? The unity or the multiplicity? The Dodgers or Manny Ramirez? Is the One merely an abstract sum of the Many, or are the Many merely a concrete emanation or feature of the One? The manner in which you resolve this question at the outset will determine a multitude of logical corollaries and entailments that follow. Watch that first metaphysical step, for it is indeed a doozy!

For example, if multiplicity is considered the primary reality, this implies a metaphysic of logical atomism -- a universe of autonomous parts that are not only separate, but external to one another other, like billiard balls. But if the One is the ground of reality, then everything we perceive as separate is actually part of a higher unity with interior relations.

In the latter view, the One cannot be the sum of the parts -- a mere agglomerate, or blob -- but the parts must be organismically related in the manner of biological form. Obviously, the parts of one's body are in no way radically separate from one another, but deeply related. Their "parthood" only exists in light of the functional wholeness of the body. Each part contains the genetic blueprint of the whole, and yet, "knows" its place in the overall scheme.

In fact, we can even define pathology as an oppressive wholeness that denies the reality of the parts, or, conversely, a part that begins acting autonomously, split off from the whole (e.g., cancer, in which cells "rebel" against the body, parts against whole, scalp against Robin, or diabetes, where it's my pancreas vs. the "friendly fire" of an excessively vigilant immune system).

Right away, I think you can appreciate some of the political implications of the One-Many duality (which as we will later see, is actually a complementarity). For example, Islamists wish to eliminate the individual through the imposition of sharia law, while the left wishes to do so through the massive and intrusive state -- for the bigger the state, the smaller the citizen.

In contrast, libertarians exalt the part (the individual) to the exclusion of the whole (the spiritual community), which is why true conservatives can only have an uneasy relationship with them. Not surprisingly, capital-L Libertarians (i.e., Paulians, Randians, and members of the party of one) split off entirely from the conservative insurrection, which is why they will always be an insignificant minority, or chaotic herd of eccentrics.

Anyway, back to Bolton. He notes that "the ways in which these questions are answered are vital for any understanding of the way in which God and the world are related." And -- not to get too far ahead of ourselves -- it just so happens that orthodox Christianity, in addition to its other virtues, provides the most comprehensive solution -- indeed, the only solution -- to this primordial conundrum.

Certainly materialistic science cannot resolve it. Rather, it just makes it go away by denying half the complementarity, even while sneaking the denied half in through the back door. But they're not very clever or subtle about it. For example, to even say "cosmos" is to affirm a transcendent oneness of which we are all participants. Indeed, the practice of science is not even possible -- let alone intelligible -- in the absence of an intuition of the One; for to paraphrase Huxley, all science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

Bolton agrees that the relation of One and Many is hardly an abstract or impractical question. Again, it underlies the fundamental divide between left and right, theist and atheist: "The manner in which the relation of the One and the Many is understood, however confusedly, has an influence which extends even to politics" -- and not just party politics. For example, the American system of government was deliberately set up so that the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between.

Now, as we all know, some of the degraded (or at least diminished) forms of contemporary religiosity often engage the will and sentiments to the exclusion of the intellect, and that's what theo-Coonservatism is here to redress: wisdom and what to do with it. But as Bolton explains, "for many Westerners, spiritual wisdom is taken to mean a supremacy of the One to an extent which makes everything else unreal." To simplify matters, we can say that these approaches to Spirit are purely "ascending" (↑), so that they represent a neo-Platonic flight from multiplicity -- maya -- or a journey into the One.

Now, for those of us who believe in Divine revelation, this is rather problematic, to say the least, for it "can only mean that revelation does not really reveal anything, since this approach equates the contents of revelation with externals and inessentials." In other words, if the nondualists are correct, then everything -- everything -- on this side of the One is ultimately unreal, including God, revelation, value, love, beauty, you and "I" (meaning any form of "other" or interior self in relation to it; indeed, all relation is negated as well).

We can see this play out in the antipathy of Eastern religionists to what they call the "ego." Quite clearly, it is impossible to reconcile such a view with the Western appreciation of the individual. It appears that something must be lost in the translation between "ego" and "individual," because, as Bolton emphasizes, the latter, "in its best forms... is the source of everything of lasting value, whether spiritually or naturally..." But for the Ascenders, "it is as though the moral tension which belongs with personality [is] no longer experienced as an adventure and a challenge, but only as a burden." No ego, no problem. But also, no science, democracy, capitalism, dynamism or progress. For me, that would be a big problem.

To value the individual is by no means to deny the One. Indeed, the individual can have no real value -- let alone infinite value -- except in relation to the One. As Bolton explains, "The natural life by itself always tends to greater multiplicity, and therefore to self-dissipation...." In other words, ironically, an excessive concern with the autonomous separateness of the ego results only in further fragmentation. Based on observations of people I know, this is because, in order to maintain the illusion of separateness, more and more reality must be denied, in the manner of radical Darwinists, whose theory is rigidly consistent, but at the cost of an absurd and truly childish incompleteness. Thus, a Darwinist can only be a "pseudo-individual," not the kind we are talking about.

But another deep irony is that the anti-modern religionist can find himself in the same leaky boat, only on the far starboard side: "Monistic [i.e., materialist] and non-dualistic thinkers are more at home in this ethos than they care to admit, and they play their part in the prevailing cult of reduction, no matter how unintentionally, while they want to express the wisdom of tradition" (Bolton).

However, some materialists are actually happy to admit it. For example, the lowbrow atheist Sam Harris seems to have no problem with Eastern approaches that really amount to no more than a kind of glorified self-hypnosis. Thus, he unwittingly but inevitably (because of the a priori rejection of wisdom, or the Word) embraces the most flagrantly anti-intellectual forms of spirituality, a la Deepak Chopra and his grubby ilk.

To be continued....

*Saguna Brahman

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Gastrocosmology and Theophagy: Eat, Drink, and be Mary

New topic: Robert Bolton's very important The One and the Many, which I read a couple of months ago, but only now have time (I hope -- it's going to be a busy month) to review. This book made a huge impression on me at the time, and the least I can do is try to remember why.

That's no joke. As I've mentioned before, the purpose of reviewing these books -- some of which require ten, twenty, thirty or more posts -- is to actually assimilate their content. This is especially important with books of this caliber, which are not merely "books" but "transmissions," so to speak.

In other words, it is not just information that is being conveyed, but a whole plane of being, without which the information makes no sense. It's analogous to when you must first download an application in order to do something with your computer (and always be careful about what you download -- one must beware of hidden viruses, especially retroviruses that only manifest later).

And when I say "assimilate," I mean this quite literally. It is analogous to eating, which somehow results in the pizza or apple or broccoli weaving itself into your own substance.

How does this actually happen? Who knows. But there is a certain sequence one must follow: preparation, taking in, chewing, swallowing, breaking down, digesting, etc. And there are things that can go wrong -- deeply wrong -- at each one of these stages. It would require too much of a sidetrack to get into details, but this is one of the bases of Melanie Klein's theories of psychological development, which formed the basis of Bion's thought.

For example, in therapy, you give the patient an "interpretation," which is like a kind of psychic/emotional food intended to result in growth. But what will the patient do with it? You have no control over that. And you'd be amazed at the range of possibilities that deviate from "assimilating" and "understanding."

Some people spit it out immediately. Others swallow it so quickly without chewing, that there's no time to think about it, and then they ask for more (which excludes gratitude). Others are so emotionally starving that they just want to be fed more interpretations for the feelings of intimacy with the therapist-mother (thinking about the interpretation would imply too much separation). Others store it in their cheek, and then chew on it by themselves only after they have safely left the session. Others swallow it, but vomit it out afterwards. Some are hungry again an hour later ("Chinese psychiatry"). Some bring their own food to the session, and try to feed the therapist. Some pretend that they feed themselves, and that they do not require anything from the outside. Some accept the nutrition, but not the generous spirit in which it is given, splitting off the one from the other. Some devalue it as a toxic poison; others idealize it as manna; and so on.

Yes, it probably sounds crazy until you see it in practice. Then you realize that it is crazy.

The subtitle of Bolton's book is A Defense of Theistic Religion. Why "theistic religion?" Isn't that a pleonasm, a redundancy? No, not at all. For Bolton is a dissenter within the Traditionalist camp, which, as we have noted in the past, sees a "transcendent unity of religion," but at the cost of essentially downgrading the personal God to a secondary principle (if you're not yet familiar with Schuon's metaphysics, don't worry -- everything will become clear as we proceed).

That is, the Guenon-Schuon school of Traditionalism reconciles the major orthodox revelations by essentially situating them within a closet nondual (advaita) Vedanta. Therefore, their first principle is the "beyond being" of the nirguna brahman, in which personal identity is completely swallowed up and obliterated. If you dine with the Brahman, bring a long spoon!

Indeed, there's no way of getting around it: not only are you on the side of maya -- or cosmic illusion -- but so is the personal God. Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One; which, to extend our little gastrointestinal metaphor, is a little like eating the pizza and becoming the pizza instead of vice versa. For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem.

Now, I've greatly simplified the nondual position, but nevertheless, there is no way to reconcile it with a metaphysic that places the personal God at the top of the cosmic hierarchy. Only one approach can be the absolutely correct one. It is in this context that Bolton's book is "a defense of theistic religion." However, as we shall see, the arguments he puts forth cut both ways, into nondualism on the one hand, and materialism on the other.

In fact, one of Bolton's most provocative insights is that nondualism is ironically a kind of approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable to the soul who has been so shaped by modern materialism that it can no longer accept traditional religion. For nondualism and materialism share the underlying commonality of being intrinsically monistic, whereas Christianity is intrinsically dualistic (and actually trinitarian, but we'll get to that later). In a way, nondualism is a mirror image of materialism, for neither has a place for the individual human soul as a truly real reality.

Another important point raised by Bolton is that nondualism isn't actually the only interpretation of the Vedas, let alone the predominant one. That is, there are dualistic interpretations of the Vedas that are compatible with Western religion, most notably, in Ramanuja, who came a couple hundred years after Shankara, and disagreed with the latter's radical nondualism. I used to think that Ramanuja was a kind of degeneration from Shankara, whereas now I would consider him an evolution to a higher and deeper understanding.

Well, I don't think I have time to actually get into the book this morning. Just consider this a desultory preramble. To be continued...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fairy Tales of the Dead & Tenured

If the number of comments is any indication, interest in this debate with myself seems to be losing its fire, so let's trundle to the phoenix line. There are only four more arguments. Maybe we can quickly reduce them to ashes, and move on.

Oldbob says that Christianity teaches that the heart of man is "totally corrupt," and asks how then could religion not be marked by cruel practices and incredible beliefs?

Excuse me. Your point being? I believe the question answers itself: man is indeed not only "a" problem, but the problem; and not just with regard to religion, but in, oh, let's say, climate science. Weathergate is only the latest version of Applegate, of man eliminating certain inconvenient data in order to make himself a god, or obtain tenure, or rake in grant money, or win an Oscar, etc.

In fact, as I pointed out in my book, man is actually the only problem in the entire cosmos, is he not? Before the appearance of man, there were truly no problems (I hate to agree with the radical environmentalists, but they've obviously incorporated a warped version of the Fall into their neopagan religion). And I don't often find myself agreeing with Stalin, but surely he was right about his guiding credo: no man, no problem. The problem is, without the problem of man, there are no solutions either, least of all genocide.

Speaking of which, I'm currently reading a wonderful new book by George Nash (who wrote the classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945), Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism. Among other virtues, it's full of pithy little gems such as this one by George Gilder, which sounds like it could have come straight from Petey's piehole: "Our greatest and only resource is the miracle of human creativity in a relation of openness to the divine." Or, you could simply say O --> (¶).

Or how about this beaut: Conservatism is "ultimately and essentially spiritual in character. The personal virtues it celebrates... require an 'openness to transcendence' and acceptance of the God-given nature of things.... [C]onservatism properly understood is not only a philosophy of government but of self-government," not simply a meditation "on what to think but on how to live." Not just a philosophy of liberty, but of what to do with it, for if freedom does not converge on truth and virtue, it is nothing. Just so -- and for the same reason -- "Man is what he is, or else he is nothing" (Schuon). God or nothing. Take your pick.

Not just what to think, but how to live. Does this not replace reams of superfluous left wing books, bumper stickers, and baccalaureates? For the essential difference between contemporary conservatism and vulgar leftism is that the former is interior and interiorizing while the latter is exterior and exteriorizing. Thus, conservatism is humanizing, while leftism is literally "animalizing."

And this inevitably follows from the metaphysical relativism of the left, which fragments into a multitude of omnipotent victims, all buffeted by exterior circumstances, with no spiritual locus of control and therefore human dignity. For the left, God is not dead. Nor is he the victim, who is more like the saint or prophet; rather, he is the creator of victims, for the power to confer victimhood is the royal road to leftist control. Victims are the bridge between political theory and political power. No victims, no left. Conversely, a world of "people who know how to properly live" would render the left utterly superfluous. Ironically, like a waterwheel, their power is generated by man's perpetual fall.

Oldbob next says that even if free will is used to account for moral evil, it cannot be the basis for natural evils such as birth defects and other tragedies. Yes, this is true enough. Free will does not account for accidents "below" the human realm. So why are there such things?

Frankly, I have never regarded this as a big mystery. Everything inevitably deviates from its ideal, or there would be no possibility of freedom, truth, and beauty. To ask "why is there evil?" is to affirm that there is good. Freedom and necessity are the warp and weft of the fabric of being, and again, nothing could go right unless there were the possibility of it going wrong. This is earth, not heaven. Thus we hope for "Thy will to be done," herebelow as it is thereabove.

Hoo boy. Where to begin?: "Morality cannot be based on religion.... It is our own moral insight which tells us if anything is worthy of worship. How do we know that God is good if we do not know before hand what good is?"

Well, we do know beforehand what good is, and it is not thanks to the random copying errors of natural selection. To suggest the latter is to abolish morality, precisely.

Again, I do not mind that there are scientistic Darwinians who elevate random error to the ultimate truth. It only bothers me that they do not have the courage of their absence of convictions, and instead steal from Christian morality, as if it is normative for the human species of their dark fantasies (I mean, as if morality is normative, not stealing).

All forms of existentialism -- which is to say those doctrines that reduce essence to existence, spirit to matter, and humanness to selfish genes -- postulate "a definition of the world that is impossible if existentialism itself is possible." Again, if Darwinism is true, it is false, for it allows for no adeqation to a transcendent but ontologically real dimension of moral absolutes.

Lastly, a brief diatribe on "the bizarre idea of immortality." Why bizarre? Here are some of the human realities that are truly bizarre and unexpected in a supposedly dead and closed material cosmos: life, consciousness, love, truth, beauty, virtue, selflessness, saintliness, poetry, music, humor, children. In the face of these realities that open us to the transcendent, it is the concept of absolute mortality that is bizarre and in need of explanation. Who said this is a fundamentally dead cosmos, anyway? I guess dead men do tell tales. Call it "perish and publish."

Farewell, Oldbob. See you in a couple of decades.