Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Descent of Man: Human, Post-Human, and Subhuman

At the time it first appeared, humanism seemed "a strange construction of... incommensurable parts" (Gillespie). Especially in hindsight it appears incompatible with Christianity, but only because of what it later became, long after it had shorn itself of its Christian roots.

From our transhistorical vantage point, it seems "an anti-Christian revival of pagan antiquity, a turn from what Nietzsche called slave morality to the master morality of the Greeks and Romans" (Gillespie). Remember, although ancient Greeks and Romans stressed virtue and honor, they also had no problem with infanticide, slavery, brutal torture, and horrible treatment of women.

And by the 20th century, this (per)version of humanism had prevailed. Christian humanism devolved to secular humanism, and here we sit today with the postmodern, post-literate, post-intellectual and post-noetic barbarians not only inside the gates, but in control of virtually all the disseminators of "culture" -- the news media, the arts, primary education, academia, professional organizations, and even perhaps most religions, e.g. the National Council of Churches, or reform Judaism (AKA, the Democrat Party with holidays thrown in).

Clearly, humanism answers a human need. But is it a legitimate need? Or, can it be made legitimate? The good news is that humanism "made the Renaissance and the modern world possible" (Gillespie). But one must immediately qualify that statement by noting that it also made the Renaissance and the modern world possible.

Is it really just a matter of all things human cutting both ways, of every blessing coming with a curse, and vice versa? Or, is there perhaps a proper way to be human? This is an idea that has always intrigued me, from my earliest days in graduate school. That is, when you train to be a clinical psychologist, you are training to be a "healer of souls." That being the case, there must be an explicit or implicit model of how a soul is supposed to function and what it is designed to "accomplish."

As I wrote in my book, only with the emergence of life do we have this new cosmic category called "pathology," because only when things need to go right, can something go wrong.

But the same holds true for the human subject. If it is not designed to do anything -- if it is just an absurd cosmic accident -- then it can have no intrinsic purpose and therefore no pathology. At best, "psychotherapy" would be purely analgesic, just a matter of reducing pain (or increasing pleasure) -- even when the pain is providing critical feedback about a life wrongly lived. But that is precisely the problem: you cannot say that a person is living his life "wrongly" if there is no ultimate purpose to life.

Recently our resident troll articulated the humanist position with his characteristic coarseness, that this is indeed a chaotic and meaningless cosmos except for the "meaning" that human beings invent and impose upon it. The whole problem with this approach is that this is not "meaning" properly so called, any more than a paranoid delusion is meaningful. Rather, it is pretending that the meaningless is meaningful, precisely. Frankly, I have much more respect for the secular humanist who is intellectually consistent, and who lives life as a true nihilist and anarchist.

But no human can consistently live this way, because it is not human to do so. Nor is it even "animalistic," for animals are anything but nihilistic. Rather, they well understand the purpose of their lives, and are never at a loss for "what to do." To paraphrase Schuon, animal instinct is their "collective intellect," whereas for man, the intellect properly so called is his instinct. We are born to know, and not only that; rather, we are born to know truth, otherwise our knowledge is ultimately of "nothing."

Nor is there any intrinsic limit to what a human may know. That is, he may know, and know absolutely. Or, you could say that he knows that the Absolute exists, if only because he can absolutely deny it, as do the neo-retro-atheists.

The question is, what is man that man should be mindful of him? You will have noticed that the more secular humanism "succeeds" in its project, the more it fails, because it converts potential humans into infra-humans exiled from their own spiritual archetype, their own salvation. Rampant narcissism, the cult of celebrity, neo-pagan body mutilation, the exaltation of the instincts, the most base impulses and sentiments masquerading as art -- if that is what humans are, who needs them?

But again, this is only a crude caricature of humanism cut off from the very impulses that brought it into being. The answer is surely not to suppress the human, as they do in the Islamic world, or in Communist China or Korea, or on leftist campuses, with their politically correct thought police, oppressive speech codes, and coercive totolerantarianism. Note the irony that they too have their implicit idea of what it is to be a proper human, but that it is imposed from on high, when one of the inviolable features of a true humanism would be the freedom to discover this on one's own.

Again, Petrarch tried to steer a middle course, on the one hand rejecting "Aristotelianism on essentially nominalist grounds," but also rejecting "the nominalist contention that God's omnipotence made all human freedom impossible." To a large extent, the new humanists found their inspiration in some of the earliest Christians, who were not only more intimate with ancient, pre-Christian wisdom, but also free of the institutional corruption that had gradually developed during the middle ages.

What makes a human a human? We cannot merely be rational beings, for if that is the case, then the ideal man is more of a machine than a human. In that model, the least human would be the most human, an obvious absurdity (which is why naive positivists and materialists such as Charles the Queeg are so creepy to us).

Rather, Petrarch regarded humans as primarily willing beings, which immediately goes to the question of freedom. Although reason can never account for man's freedom, if his freedom operates outside reason, then it is no longer free. Rather, it is merely "absence of constraint," which is neither here nor there. In this regard, the existentialists are absolutely correct that freedom without truth is nothingness, so that to embrace the nothingness makes one more human. An absurdity, yes, but existentialism does not pretend to be otherwise, which is to say, other than wise.

Way out of time. To be continued....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Complements Beget You Everywhere

Let's take a little side trip on the road to modernity, and find out what Schuon had to say about the spat between Catholicism and Protestantism. Yes, he was a Sufi, but he had an extraordinarily deep and subtle understanding of, and appreciation for, Christianity. While he naturally had some blind spots, he still easily surpasses most religious thinkers in getting to the essence of the subject.

Bear in mind that I'm freely tossing my own ideas and interpretations into the mix, so Schuon is not responsible for my (mis)use of him. Also, please remember that one of the main reasons I write is to discover what I think, so what follows may surprise me as much as it does you. So before you disagree, at least give me a chance to understand what I mean. I'm sure some of this will offend, but I'm not trying to be offensive, so cut a brotha'-under-the-pelt a little slack.

Now, being that he was a traditionalist, you'd think that Schuon would automatically reject Luther as heterodox and even heretical. However, he recognizes that there are two great principles that govern religious phenomena, one of them more vertical, so to speak, the other more horizontal. The former is what he calls the "celestial mandate," the latter "apostilic succession."

Clearly, the celestial mandate must ultimately take priority over the apostilic succession, because without it, there would be nothing to apostle-ize. There would be no news, but a lot of vacuous people to propagate it -- just like cable TV.

Ironically, in a certain sense, the celestial mandate cuts both ways, since it is the source of tradition, and yet, it "blows where it will," and can never actually be contained by tradition. You might say that the role of tradition is to do the utmost to be a worthy vehicle of the celestial mandate. It's a very delicate balance -- a complementarity, you might say -- to maintain tradition while simultaneously remaining open to what amounts to the "extra-canonical intervention of Grace"; or, to balance growth and conservation, just as in politics.

I'm not sure if this is self-evident or unnecessarily convoluted, but it's clear to me so far. And I think right away you see a kind of trialectical tension that human beings simply cannot eliminate, which is why it is true (up to a point) that there must always be the outward or exoteric "church of Peter" and the inward and esoteric "church of John." Furthermore, these are in no way "opposites," but fully complementary. You cannot have one without the other, any more than you can have form without substance, or a body without a skeleton to support it.

That being the case, it is obvious -- to me anyway -- that there is no reason why the apostilic succession cannot make a space for the intrinsically wild and untamed celestial energies. Is there any doubt that people who break away from tradition are -- whether legitimately or not -- seeking a more intense, personal, and genuine encounter with the celestial mandate, a direct descent from above? I mean Shakers, Quakers, Fakirs, Seekers, Suckers, Slackers, Pentacostal crackers -- in a way, they're all just trying to bypass the horizontal form and go straight to the source, misguided though they often are.

The problem, however, is to combine this free-wheeling approach with legitimate authority, order with spontaneity, classical with jazz. To emphasize only the vertical to the exclusion of the horizontal is asking for trouble, man being what he is. Yes, tradition can devolve into the mundane "bureaucratization of the sacred," but the total lawlessness of the frontier is not the answer (at least for the vast majority).

But again, for Schuon, the impulses behind the Reformation were (small l) "legitimate," since, at the time, they drew "from a spiritual archetype that was, if not entirely ignored by Rome, at least certainly 'stifled.'" Thus, not dissimilar to how Buddhism broke off from Hinduism in order to return to its first principles, Luther operates outside strict apostilic succession in order to go straight back to the celestial mandate.

Do you see the point? To say that every man becomes his own priest is to say that each man is given his own private celestial mandate (which again, man being what he is, can be a recipe for disaster).

But soon enough, the Reformation begins to "congeal" into its own horizontal traditions, so that additional schisms become inevitable. One of them, for example, is that only faith saves; or that God's absolute omnipotence precludes man's free will; or that moral effort counts for nothing. Thus, people who believe in free will or the efficacy of works must split off and form their own sect.

But please note: none of these schisms is strictly necessary, if one preserves the fullness of the original complementarity which cannot be resolved anyway. As Schuon puts it, Protestantism ends up opposing "Roman excesses with new excesses."

Indeed, even to insist that "only faith matters" is going to generate an inevitable split within itself. For, what kind of faith? A sincere faith? A half-hearted or lukewarm 51% faith? A faith that proves itself with works? A thoroughly rotten person whose faith is nevertheless rock solid? A faith that has no problem with abortion or anti-Semitism?

For Schuon, there is no real faith in the absence of gratitude and sincerity, which reflect one another in the following manner: "Sincerity forms part of faith, thus it is only sincere faith -- proved precisely by moral effort and works -- that is faith as such in the eyes of God. In other words, sincerity necessarily manifests itself through our desire to please Heaven which, having saved us from evil, obviously expects us to practice good; and this consequentiality can be termed 'gratitude.'"

Now, as we have been discussing, there is rather wide latitude in one's understanding of man's fallenness and what we can do about it from our end. Both Augustine and Luther took rather extreme positions, which, for Schuon, end up being a caricature of what the teaching is trying to transmit to us. In other words, it's supposed to be a kind of useful wisdom, not just a condemnation. It's like the difference between a fatal diagnosis for which you can do nothing, vs. being told by your physician that if you don't address your condition, it will surely be fatal.

Either the fall is contingent or necessary; if the latter, then you might say that we are indeed rotten to (or from) the core, and that the rottenness is essential to our nature. But if it is contingent, then there is something we can do about it. It does not necessarily "penetrate and corrupt all [of man's] initiatives."

Again, our attitude toward this question bifurcates in two directions. In the Catholic approach, which Schuon calls more "dynamic," "if a man does not make efforts to transcend himself, he follows his passions and becomes lost; if he does not go towards his salvation, he drifts away from it, for who does not advance, retreats; whence the obligation of sacrifice, asceticism, and meritorious works."

The Evangelical approach is more "static," but that doesn't mean it is not efficacious. In this path, one's salvation is predetermined, "which in fact is reassuring," and is "addressed firstly to men given to trust in God, but trusting neither in their capacity to save themselves, nor in priestly complications," but also to some purely contemplative types "who love simplicity and peace."

With regard to the latter, Schuon observes that while Luther closed one door to grace, he opened another, in the sense that he considerably simplified and centralized worship, and "opened the door to a particular spiritual climate which also possesses a mystical virtuality." Clearly, Luther is not interested in "dotting every theological i" -- "which is the Roman tendency -- but at believing in the literal wording of Scripture." If much of it makes no sense, hey, no big. Plenty of things -- probably the vast majority -- are true without us understanding how or why.

Nevertheless, the Raccoon tends to be an extremely curious creature who cannot stop asking why.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Revelations, Revolutions, and Reconciliations

Just a dashed-off post to offload some excess ideation that is taking up space in my melon....

As I mentioned the other day, if a religion doesn't meet man where he is, it's not going to be particularly effective. In other words, if I have to pretend I'm someone else in order to fit into a particular religious view of the world, then something is wrong.

Now, this is not to say that when there is a conflict between the way I would like for things to be vs. the way revelation says they are, that I should reject the latter. I'm talking about much more fundamental issues. In particular, I'm thinking of two things: personal identity and modernity, both of which I am rather attached to. I don't want to go back to neolithic, or ancient, or premodern times.

Hell, I don't even want to go back to the 20th century. Or to 2009. I like it here. Unlike the traditionalists, I don't think that any period of history is intrinsically privileged over any other, because they're all insane. For one thing, man is man, both everywhere and everywhen. If you find yourself idealizing some previous period of history, it's likely that you're just projecting paradise -- which is interior, archetypal, and vertical -- somewhere else. But at the very least, wherever you go, you have to go there too, which exiles you from paradise all over again.

For example, as much as I revere the Founders, it's amazing how quickly the wheels came off their revolutionary idealism after the war for independence was won and it came time to actually put their ideals into practice. In reading Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, it's been quite instructive for me to learn more about the ruptures and divisions, the personal hatreds and paranoia, that erupted after 1783.

It seems that passions were temporarily dampened with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, but so intense were the conflicts thereafter, that it is something of a miracle that such a man as George Washington existed at that time, because he, and only he, had sufficient stature to serve as the living source of unity in the country.

Rather fascinatingly, as sophisticated as these men were, it wasn't just abstract respect for the rule of law or reverence for the Constitution that got them through, but the concrete love of a man who was the living embodiment of the ideals they cherished -- honor, virtue, courage, selflessness, and disinterested wisdom.

I think you can see the same forces at play in figures as diverse as Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Reagan, all of whom became much more than their ideas. I hate to make such an odious comparison, but it really is the inverse of the "Führerprinzip." Obviously, something so powerful can have a dark side, so the same principle that explains how a person can become an embodiment of the good explains how they can become an embodiment of evil. Indeed, demagogues and cult leaders from Jim Jones to Obama cynically rely upon this collective human longing for a living messiah.

Not sure how I ended up here. I had wanted to continue with our discussion of the medieval Raccoon Petrarch, who attempted to forge a Christian humanism that steered a middle course between the Catholic establishment and the Protestant revolutionaries. But again, once the battle started, positions immediately polarized and hardened, to such an extent that the middle was eliminated. You were either on one side or the other. For the Raccoon, it was something like a choice between Crips, Bloods, or Dead.

For just as in the case of the Founders, their abstract ideals were not sufficient to shield them from their all-too-human tendencies. I mean, so intense were the hatreds and rivalries of some of the Founders, that Alexander Hamilton tried to bait President Adams into a duel! The President! No, he didn't want to assassinate him outright. That would be dishonorable in the extreme, hardly befitting a gentleman. Rather, he wanted to kill him in a fair fight.

Just so, all the Christian love in the world was unable to prevent the bloody religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Or, to put it another way, if we stipulate that both sides were equally fervent in their love of God, then something wasn't right.

In the little transhistorical space that briefly opened up before things turned ugly, Petrarch had the idea that "individual human beings and their goals matter, that they have an inherent dignity and worth. This assertion was revolutionary and stood in stark opposition to the regnant doctrine of original sin and the Fall, which denied that individuals had either an intrinsic value or a capacity for self-perfection" (Gillespie).

Fortunately, these ideals eventually triumphed in some places -- most notably, in the American Revolution -- but it was still a struggle to demonstrate in practice how democracy, individualism, and self-interest were concretely linked to religious ideals.

For one of the central conflicts that opened up immediately after Washington's inauguration was the question of whether human beings really are qualified to rule themselves in the absence of a more "evolved," learned, and dispassionate aristocracy. The bitter hatred between Jefferson, who was the most passionate (to the point of irrational utopianism) advocate for the former, and the Federalist Hamilton, who stood for the latter, could hardly have been more intense and personal (it makes me think that Hamilton knew about Jefferson's baby mama situation).

But here again, you see the same archetypal pattern that split the Christian world, which really came down to hierarchy vs. radical democracy, verticality vs. horizontality, One vs. many, Father vs. Son. However, the Raccoon takes neither side in this false dispute, since he realizes that this is an irreducible complementarity, and that to insist that only one side of a complementarity is true, is to internalize the Cosmic Divorce.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Why the Secret Had to Protect Itself

I don't blame any Raccoon for going underground in the 16th century, where we've remained ever since. Nor do I blame anyone at the time for turning away from religion and wanting no part of it.

For example, "In 1572, seventy thousand French Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," after which Pope Gregory XIII was "delighted to receive the head of the slain Huguenot leader Coligny in a box..." (Gillespie).

But "lest anyone imagine that the barbarity was one-sided," when Cromwell invaded an Irish town in 1649, his army killed virtually every last person. "They burned alive all those who had taken refuge in the St. Mary's Cathedral, butchered the women hiding in the vaults beneath it, used Irish children as human shields, hunted down and killed every priest, and sold thirty surviving defenders into slavery" (ibid.).

And that's just a very small sampling of the savagery. Of course, it's all too easy to simply blame religion for the atrocities, since no one at the time was irreligious, and religion was thoroughly entangled with culture, language, ethnicity, customs, power and politics. Furthermore, whenever someone engages in genocide, I think it's fair to say that it is never for the stated reason. Rather, there are unconscious motivations of which the actor knows nothing.

To put it another way, nothing as deeply irrational as genocide could occur as a result of purely rational motivations that one can take at face value. For example, the Nazis didn't merely wish to kill Jews, but wanted to degrade, humiliate, and thoroughly dehumanize them, so that the whole bloody project was imbued with an obvious component of sadism. But no Nazis, to my knowledge, publicly announced that "we're doing this because we secretly get a thrill out of degrading people and watching them suffer." Nor did those who engaged in the religious wars.

Nor do leftists, for that matter, imagine that their conscious desire to "help" people is covertly motivated by a contemptuous desire for power over them. Very few people wake up in the morning with the conscious idea of doing bad and harming people. Which is one of the reasons it is naive in the extreme for leftists to constantly announce their belief that conservatives actually do wish to consciously harm people.

You will have noticed that they never take us at our word that we really do think that high taxes are bad for the economy, that collectivism and statism are inconsistent with American values, or that racial quotas are bad for blacks. I would actually have more respect for leftists if they first said, "look, I know you're a good person, that racism is repugnant to you, and that you don't mean to harm blacks. But your opposition to racial quotas is so irrational, that it must be concealing some unconscious conflict about race." Because consciously, I am a passionate negrophile of the first rank -- and not just the light skinned ones with a Harry Reid dialect.

Anyway, back to those Raccoons who were forced underground during the religious wars, just when it was starting to look like there might be a little opening for them to come out of the closet and be accepted by society.

A Raccoon is a big believer in free will, without which truth, virtue and beauty cannot exist. If we are not free to discover truth, then we are like machines. Again, as we have mentioned in the past, it is really quite simple: truth is what man must know; virtue is what he must do; and beauty is what he must love and create. Of course, it doesn't end there. For just as truth is the virtue of the intellect, virtue is beauty of soul. And beauty is the splendor of truth. Etc.

But again, for Luther, all of this ancient retro-futuristic Raccoon wisdom goes out the window, since the nominalistic God "was responsible for everything. Thus, neither he nor anyone else could either gain or lose salvation, because faith alone saved and faith came only through grace. Luther's soteriology or doctrine of salvation thus rested on the omnipotence of divine will and the powerlessness of human will." Luther maintained that there was no such thing as contingency, which for him was a kind of maya, or illusion. In reality, God is in control of everything, again, just as in Islam.

Now, I don't think this is an "illegitimate" spiritual approach, at least for a certain type of aspirant. It's just that there are very different types of people, and one approach is not going to be attractive or effective for another. One cannot deny that this more totalitarian approach is compatible with some temperaments, and that it gives them comfort to believe that they have no control over reality and that God is fully responsible for everything that happens.

But I cannot emphasize enough that this is not a universal teaching, but a peripheral one. It is a upaya, or "skillful means," and if it works for you, far be it from me to talk you out of it (which is why I compared it to Zen). It's just that I have no idea why you are interested in this blog, because I certainly haven't the slightest interest in your metaphysic (no offense -- I just don't).

And just why you would argue with me is a bit of a mystery anyway, since if God controls everything, I don't have the free will to accept or reject your argument anyway, nor you mine (and I'm not arguing anyway, just sharing a vision).

Again, we firmly believe in man's dignity and therefore his free will; and we reject the belief that God is directly responsible for what we see as the evil in the world. Evil is not just an illusion, or "a part of God's plan." We are here to fight evil.

More to the point, I could never respect a God who is less moral than I. Again, no offense. It's just the way Raccoons are built. Look, I realize that Raccoon theology will never be popular. If I thought otherwise, I'd write more books instead of just speaking to the scattered brotherhood of the invisible lodge.

Let's get back to those 14th and 15th century Raccoons, such as Petrarch, who tried to forge a middle way to resolve what eventually became the religious wars. According to Gillespie, "he offered a a new vision of how to live to a Christian world caught in the tremendous spiritual crisis brought about by the nominalist revolution and the cataclysmic events of the fourteenth century...."

One thing that makes Petrarch a Raccoon is his concern for the indivdual and the world, which makes his a primarily descending path. For we do not wish to escape the world into God, but to divinize the world through God's energies refracted through his pneumacosmic junior partner, man. No, we do not believe in worldly perfection, but we do believe that things can be improved, and that much of the outcome is in our hands. We matter. Indeed, matter matters.

Remember, the idea of the true "individual" only emerged in the late middle ages. As such, it was a new existential/ontological "problem." And with the emergence of the individual also came the "discovery" of the world as something more than just a divine symbol that could be understood through analogy.

In short, the individual and modern science co-arise, and with them, democracy, human rights, free markets, and other blessings of modernity. But of course, to the strict traditionalist (e.g., Schuon or Guenon), these are not blessings but curses. (To be perfectly accurate, in my view they are both, depending on the vertical station of the soul involved with them.)

Petrarch's ontology begins with a new appreciation of the unique individual. And he "was able to make this vision concrete and attractive by displaying to the public his own inner life as well as those of an astonishing array of ancient personalities...."

This has two main effects. First, "this inward journey led to the unexplored territory of a self filled with passions and desires that were no longer something mundane and unspiritual that had to be extirpated or constrained but that were instead a reflection of each person's individuality and that consequently deserved to be expressed, cultivated, and enjoyed."

The Raccoon would say that man now had an interest in exploring and colonizing his own psychic space, instead of simply repressing it, blindly acting it out, or living one's life as a collective "type." Now, can this go too far into narcissism, eccentricity, and glorification of the self, cut off from its spiritual archetype? Of course! But we'll get to that later. Remember, at this point in history, the whole project was still tied to Christianity, not divorced from it.

Secondly, Petrarch disclosed a "relevant past filled with courageous and high-minded individuals" who were worthy of emulation. And these two strands were connected, for by learning from these great personages of the past, "one could begin to understand how to give shape to one's own individuality," but not for its own sake. Rather, it was a way of combining piety, nobility, and individuality. And at the very least, you should be grateful that this was precisely the attitude of America's founders, even if you believe they were theologically misguided.

This is certainly how it has worked for me. Man is built for reverence, but of course, it all depends upon who and what one reveres, for the reverence creates a kind of sympathetic bond through which there is a real and genuinely transformative psychic contact, for both good or ill. But we're running out of time, so we'll continue tomorrow, slack willing.

(All quoted material from The Theological Origins of Modernity )

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beasts to the Left of Me, Monsters to the Right

Just another reminder, everyone will have a chance to be offended as we go along, so there's no need to jump to any conclusions. Let me also say that Gillespie takes a rather neutral and scholarly approach. He's not the least bit polemical. Rather, he just lays out the facts, objectionable to some though they may be.

And it should also go without saying that I ask and expect no one to agree with me on these matters. Nor am I bothered by those who disagree with me (although I am puzzled why some of them would be in any way interested in this blog).

To conclude his take on Luther, Gillespie reiterates that although his thought "originates out of the deep spiritual problems that arise from his encounter with nominalism," his solutions create as many difficulties as they resolve, so that his "position is beset by deep and intractable problems." His only fallback position is "faith," but in my view, a faith divorced from intellect leaves the field wide open for the neo-barbaric, anti-religious intellect that followed.

Man's intellectual needs are legitimate, and he has a cosmic right to answers that satisfy these needs. We are constituted of spirit, psyche, and body -- or passion, will, and intellect -- and any of these that are not "contained" by one's religion will tend to run wild outside it. It doesn't matter if it is an inadequate theology of the body or of the intellect; leave one out, and you're asking for trouble. Just as the person can fall into sexual perversion, a mind that is not infused with the Light can clearly fall into intellectual perversion. I myself was once an intellectual pervert and textual deviate, so I know.

Obviously, nowhere does Jesus say anything about faith in scripture. I mean, for starters, he didn't write any. There was no new testament, only the used. Furthermore, in any case, scripture "has to be interpreted, and that means valuing some passages and books above others. How in such circumstances do we know we are choosing correctly? How do we know what we take to be divine inspiration behind our reading is not in fact the subliminal urgings of our passions and desires?" (Gillespie).

I would suggest that one way to know is to consult what 1500 years of grace-infused spiritual genius has produced -- i.e., to find out what the greatest spiritual thinkers have thought and said. And although some very conservative types might compare the following to our own Supreme Court interpreting the American constitution through "international standards," I don't see anything objectionable in taking this approach to religious metaphysics -- not to indiscriminately mix revelations from below, since God detests that. Rather, to simply appreciate that there is widespread coonsensus on many of the fundamentals.

Or, one can simply realize with Augustine that there exists a religion that co-arises with man, and which currently goes by the name "Christianity." Obviously Christ's existence is prior to his physical form, for he tells us ("before Abraham was I AM). To put it another way, the great novelty in Christianity is the Incarnation (and Resurrection), not the Christ. The Light is surely real, and it didn't just come into the world in 4 B.C., or whenever it was. It's always here, and men either see it or they don't.

Gillespie goes on to say that "a great deal of Luther's thought turns on the notion of grace," but that "Jesus never uses the word charis in this sense in the Bible. It becomes central only in Paul and later in Augustine." Nor is there "any mention of predestination in the synoptic Gospels."

The central problem with Luther, as I see it, is that in response to the crisis of nominalism, he overemphasizes God at the expense of man. And much of this hinges on his interpretation of the Fall. In fact, if I remember correctly, this is also an issue that divides Orthodoxy from Catholicism, since the former doesn't see the Fall in quite the catastrophic terms the West sees it. Gillespie notes that in the Latin west, there was "nearly unanimous opinion that Adam's fall had cost man dearly," and that "from this perspective, man had no intrinsic worth or dignity." Quite frankly, you are a hopeless loser, with no power whatsoever to save yourself.

I must admit that this approach has never appealed to me, and is one of the things that turned me away from the versions of Christianity I encountered earlier in my life. The idea that Socrates is in hell because he didn't know Jesus is no more appealing to me than the idea that God is punishing Haiti because two hundred years ago it supposedly made a "pact with the devil." (Besides, if that were true, one would expect to see earthly rewards paid for with the coin of eternity.)

I may be over-generalizing here, but it seems to me that Eastern Christianity hardly forgets that we are fallen, but that it also remembers that we are imago dei -- in the image of God -- and that this surely counts for something!

For me, it means that our covenant with the Creator is truly a Divine-human partnership. Sure, we're the junior partner, and always will be. But just as your relationship with your child changes as he matures, I don't think God wishes to treat everyone equally as permanently helpless infants. Indeed, Paul implicitly touches on this in the metaphor of spiritual milk. vs. meat.

Now, as I've mentioned in a couple of the previous posts, I don't think the split between Catholicism and Protestantism was strictly necessary, although, historical conditions being what they were, it was pretty much inevitable. But was there another way out of the impasse? I think there was, and Gillespie touches on this in chapter two of the book, Petrarch and the Invention of Individuality. From my perspective, the issues raised here are absolutely critical, because if you get your theology wrong, your anthropology will be a wreck, and if you get your anthropology wrong, your theology will be a mess.

At the very time that the nominalist insurgency was taking place, there emerged what Gillespie calls a Christian humanism -- not, mind you, a Christian humanism. The point is that this was a humanism that took seriously the idea that man may be wounded, but that he isn't dead. In spite of it all, he is still the imago dei; and as they say in the East, there can be a more or less wide gulf between image and likeness, and our purpose here on earth is to close that gap.

What the Raccoon calls "spiritual growth" takes place precisely in this space between image and likeness. Again, for the sake of clarity, Luther would absolutely and unequivocally reject the idea of "spiritual growth," much less that a man could do anything about it from his end. Indeed, he would condemn this as heretical, blasphemous, arrogant, and all the rest. Rather, you are either saved or you are not saved, and there's nothing you can do about it anyway but submit, identical to the Islamic approach.

Gillespie has a pithy formulation with which I agree; that is, "one cannot abandon God without turning man into a beast." But at the same time, "one cannot abandon man without falling into theological fanaticism." Look at the Islamists, who clearly err on the side of (their) god, with catastrophic consequences. To them, man is nothing, which is why they can engage in genocide with no compunction. But they are only doing what Christians did to each other in the 16th and 17th centuries.

For if man is nothing and God is everything, there is no reason why I shouldn't blow up airplanes or shoot abortionists. I'm not saying that this conclusion is inevitable, but one can appreciate where the devaluation of man leads -- just as one can appreciate where the devaluation of God leads. Atheists are not necessarily bad people, but an atheistic culture that has lost contact with its spiritual source will eventually descend into evil. And a culture that reduces man to a worthless sinner will also tend in that direction. (Please also note the similarity with leftist doctrines that are so contemptuous of the individual, who can only be saved by the anointed elites who run the god-state.)

So one thing that really caught my attention in the book was Gillespie's discussion of the handful of sensible and balanced Raccoons who were scurrying around back in the 14th century. These men attempted to forge a theology that valued the growing awareness of the individual without in any way jettisoning traditional theology. Petrarch, for example, sought "an amalgamation of Christian practice and ancient moral virtue."

This only makes sense, because it takes into consideration the very real emergence of a new phenomenon that was taking place at the time: the individual. In one sense, you can squelch the problem by condemning, repressing, and devaluing it; on the other hand, if one fails to channel this new reality within tradition, it then becomes detached from God, and transforms into the promethean glorification of the will. With Luther, every man becomes his own priest; but this is only a small step from every man becoming his own god.

Thus, Petrarch thought that the solution to this problem required "a richer understanding of what it meant to be human that drew not merely on Scripture but on the moral models of antiquity": Athens + Jerusalem, you might say. He further sought "to revivify the love of honor and beauty as preeminent human motives."

Speaking of which, there is no question that America's founders were animated by just this type of Christianity, one that very much focuses on the ancient virtues of honor, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and disinterested knowledge. I also happen to be reading the outstanding Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, and when you read about the majestic honor and dignity of, say, George Washington, it seriously makes you want to weep for your country. The men who formed America were Christian humanists par excellence.

Frankly, many of them were affiliated members of the the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora, but that's a topic for another post.

That's enough for today. To be continued...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Medieval Space Cadets and Modern Time Travelers

As mentioned previously, existence in the premodern world was a wholly vertical affair. As Gillespie describes it, "The inhabitants of that world did not await a bright and shining tomorrow but the end of days. They did not look forward to the future or backward to the past, but upward to heaven and downward to hell" (emphasis mine).

Again, it was as if they lived in space, not time; or at least a very different mode of time -- one that didn't "progress," and which contained its own more encompassing order. Denying this order would be like denying the seasons, or trying to make spring follow summer.

Thus, man lived more in vertical space than in horizontal time. And this space was hierarchically ordered from top to bottom. There was no such thing as "empty space." Among other things, it was filled with angels, gnomes, sprites, fairies, and various forces -- the "evil eye" of a neighbor troll, for example. But one of the accomplishments of scholasticism was to order this space in an intelligible manner. Analogously, if you think of the way that moderns organize time in such an obsessive manner, this is what premodern people did with space.

For example, here are a couple of pictures of the cosmos, circa 1300, one from before color TV, the other one after:



So space was not the empty abstraction that it later became with classical (Newtonian) physics. Interestingly, with the Freudian and Einsteinian revolutions, neither psychic nor physical space can any longer be thought of as "empty," but the ontological revolution has been slow to trickle down to the scientistic masses.

We still live in a primitive world of scientistic superstition, in which the mind is thought of as a bag with stuff in it, and the cosmos a machine consisting of particles and laws -- particles that are wholly external to one another, and invariant laws that are held to be universally valid while magically operating without transcending that which they operate on. Metaphysical incoherence rules the day, and systematic incoherence is always crazy making.

Metaphysically speaking, space and time are necessary reflections of the Absolute. Both time and space have their infinite and absolute modes. For space, the absolute is the point, or axis, while for time it is the now. In the premodern world, both space and time were bound, made to measure for man's psyche.

But for modern man, who buys his ill-fitting spacetime suit off the rack, they are "infinite." Thus, Pascal's crack about being alarmed by "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," and feeling "engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me." This signals an obvious change in man's orientation to the cosmos, from absolute to infinite -- or to infinite space unconstrained by any (relatively) absolute structure.

So modern man becomes dis-oriented; or, he becomes reoriented to matter only. The axis of the cosmos is now upside down, and man is inverted with it. But this all goes back to the nominalist revolution that swept aside the intelligible and hierarchically ordered space of the medieval world.

As Gillespie explains, "to think of oneself as modern is to define one's being in terms of time," which is an extraordinary thing. "In previous ages and other places, people have defined themselves in terms of their land or place, their race or ethnic group, their traditions or their gods, but not explicitly in terms of time." Premodern peoples temporally orient themselves around a primordial event of some kind -- this became their temporal axis -- but it is again quasi-absolute, not infinite.

But to even call oneself "modern" is to not only define oneself over and above another period of time, but to have entered another kind of time altogether. And as we shall see, it is not a "human time," for there is nothing less humanistic then secular humanism, which tries to adapt man to non-human modes, thus abolishing man.

In any event, "To be modern is to be 'new,' to be an unprecedented event in the flow of time, a first beginning, something different than anything that has come before, a novel way of being in the world, not even a form of being but a form of becoming."

It is also to "understand oneself as self-originating, as free and creative in a radical sense, not merely determined by tradition or by fate or providence." It is "not merely to be in history or tradition but to make history" -- a power that was previously limited to gods and mythic heroes.

I think you can immediately see the (qualified) upside of this liberation from the absolute into the infinite, in that man himself becomes a "mode of the infinite" with virtually unlimited potential. This is a critical point, for the nominalist revolution, in smashing that medieval cathedral of space, utterly transformed our relation to God. But this transformation ramified in two directions, one of them emphasizing the divine end and minimizing man's own significance. This was the extreme direction Luther took, culminating in predestination and the utter rejection of the idea that man's works could have any influence on his own salvation.

I would suggest that that is a profoundly unhumanistic stance, and I am sure Luther would agree with me. His response would be, "so what? Why do you care about these worthless sinners? Almost all of them are condemned to hell anyway, except for those pre-chosen by God for reasons we cannot fathom anyway."

The chapter on Luther was a real eye-opener for me, as he strikes me as unpleasant in the extreme (but of course, in his defense, he was responding to some rather unpleasant and thoroughly corrupt people). He was initially a nominalist, to such an extent that "he considered Ockham his master." This provoked his own profound spiritual crisis, as he concluded that the scholastics were incorrect, and that there was nothing one could do in this life to merit salvation. "He thus lived in terror of a wrathful God," and his later theology was largely a way to come to terms with this terror.

Luther resolved his existential terror in a zen sort of way. Since man cannot save himself, why worry? Rather "he can only be saved by faith alone," which "arises through grace and grace only through Scripture." Thus, his central insight "was that no works can satisfy such a God but also that no works are necessary," since all we have to do -- all we can do -- is believe in him.

Again, the human qua human is nearly entirely expunged from this formulation. Ancient ideas about cultivating virtue become arrogant attempts to appropriate God's powers. Cicero? Gone. Plato? Adios. Boethius? Get out. Again, only God can save you. Reason no longer matters, but only biblical exegesis. And "because there is no continuum that connects creator and creation, there can be no levels of ontological perfection." To put it another way there is no (↑) at all, only (↓), which most assuredly blows where it will.

Another key point for Luther is that (non-biblical) language no longer becomes a vehicle of truth, "for the truth comes about as a result of an inner experience of the divine that cannot be adequately captured in words." To pretend to understand God is only a form of "sinful pride." "[E]verything that occurs happens as a result of God's willing it to be so," which immediately implies that God is responsible for evil.

Luther had no logical way to deal with this objection, since he didn't believe in free will, so he basically evaded the issue by insisting that we shouldn't dwell on it, but rather concern ourselves only with what we can do about it, which again comes down to faith, and faith only. And even then, there's nothing to worry about, since faith "arises only through grace," again, because humans can do nothing to save themselves. God's omnipotence explains everything, but in so doing, explains nothing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Evolving Beyond Darwin & Luther

Before I started this series, I was going to mention that it would probably only offend two groups, Catholics and Protestants -- the former because of how badly they blew it, the latter because of all the bad that was ushered in with the good they accomplished. But I see that Warren and Susannah have already called a preemptive truce, so that's a relief.

As we go along, readers might feel as if I'm being harder on one side than the other. But please suspend judgment until we're done, because I'm certain that everyone will have a chance to be equally offended. The ultimate purpose of this series will be to heal that painful split once and for all (obviously in theory -- I'm not that grandiose), but some disassembly will be required. However, there's no need to disassemble one another.

It's really rather fascinating, because it immediately brings up all of the original passions that provoked the schism to begin with. Except that 500 years of the civilizing process has made us much less prone to kill one another over doctrinal matters and metaphysical disputes.

Which, now that I think about it, is an interesting subject in itself, and one that I attempted to tackle in chapter 3 of my book. That is, either in conjunction with, or in opposition to it, there is an autonomous "civilizing process" that must be taken into consideration. In other words, people can obviously be quite passionately religious, but uncivilized to the point of monstrous savagery. The Islamists are only the latest example, but again, when you read about what Catholics and Protestants did to one another during the religious wars, you wonder how Western man ever evolved out of that barbarism (those who did, anyway).

I also happen to be reading Gilson's From Aristotle to Darwin & Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution, which I'm unconsciously weaving and blending into this patchwork stew. For Gilson -- who was a Catholic philosopher -- brings to light the extreme irony that Protestantism and Darwinism are quite directly linked, for they are really just two competing versions of modernity -- a modernity which is already intellectually exhausted.

For as Cardinal Schönberg explains in the foreword to the book, Darwin's theory "adopts a purely nominalistic doctrine that views living things as nothing but accidental variations within a continuous fitness landscape and admits of no natural kinds." In other words, with the death of transcendental realism and the triumph of nominalism came an end to any notion of transcendent archetypes. Remember, the fulcrum of Luther's rebellion was over this very point. The rest is just commentary -- or the drawing out of the ineluctable consequences that follow.

I'm sure this isn't very clear to most readers, but don't worry, it will be before we're finished with this series of posts. But one of the most important consequences that follows the banishment of universals is the end of formal and final causation. If there are no transcendent archetypes -- which there cannot be under nominalism -- then there can be no formal and final causation, since they limit God's absolute omnipotence.

So this is just one of the -- in my mind -- bad things that was ushered in with the good of the nominalist revolution. The problem is that formal and final causation most assuredly exist, and that the world becomes literally unintelligible in their absence. Scientism only pretends to do without them.

But Luther had no interest whatsoever in whether or not the world was intelligible. Rather, his only concern was man's salvation, in part because he was convinced that he was living in the End Times, so that understanding the world was just a vain distraction. Furthermore, it was the height of prideful arrogance to imagine that humans could understand God's creation, again, because God is radically transcendent and omnipotent, and subject to no man's understanding (outside revelation), which amounts to a restriction on God's activity. Again, if God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, who is the scientist to think that he can place limits on Him with his equations and instruments?

Note that of the four types of causation -- material, efficient, formal and final -- the first two are wholly immanent, or horizontal, while the second two are transcendent, or vertical. Here again you see that the nominalist revolution, by banishing formal and final causation, set the stage for the wholly immanent philosophy of ideological Darwinism, or just of materialism in general.

For materialism is one of the possible philosophical reactions to a senseless world devoid of formal or final causation. Literal creationism is another. The irony is again that Darwinism and creationism are not "opposites," but kissing cousins, just two possible responses to the modern rejection of the transcendentals that make the world intelligible.

Gilson brings out another fascinating irony -- and something that I've discussed in the past -- and that is that Darwinism is not only "anti-evolutionary," but that it renders evolution strictly impossible. The concept of evolution was around long prior to Darwin, and in fact, he didn't even mention the word in the first five editions of The Origin of Species. But Darwinians eventually hijacked and redefined the word, identical to how illiberal neo-Marxists hijacked and redefined "liberal."

The original meaning of the term "evolution" had to do with intelligible development -- for example, the manner in which the seed develops into the tree. Somehow the tree is "involved" in the seed, and the seed "evolves" into the tree. Thus, one could not speak of evolution without bringing in formal and final causation.

But this is the exact opposite of what Darwin believed. As Gilson explains, "Nothing is less like Darwin's doctrine than the idea that new species should be already present in their ancestors, from which they only have to evolve in the course of time." Therefore, Darwinian change does not disclose anything intelligible at all, for it is completely horizontal, just one meaningless change after another.

As Gilson correctly notes, "The human mind can grasp only that which is intelligible." Thus, "the meaning of absolutely directionless, meaningless, purposeless Darwinian change cannot really be grasped -- there is no meaning in such an alleged process, and thus no intelligibility." In the absence of an ordered framework -- which immediately implies transcendence and finality -- "pure chance or disorder is not something the mind can really know."

This is precisely what I mean when I say that man can explain much more about Darwinism than Darwinism can explain about man, for to even say the word "truth" is to have transcended the meaninglessness of Darwinian change (not evolution).

Again, as I have posted about before, actual evolution -- as opposed to meaningless change -- is only possible within a religious framework, but only then within a framework that restores formal and final causation, and undoes the nominalist revolution that ushered in modernity. This revolution -- and I'll get more deeply into this tomorrow -- virtually destroyed the religious intellect (emphasizing instead only faith), leaving the field open to the vulgar scientism that dominates culture today.

As Schönberg describes it, "the world is full of people who believe in God, but is almost bereft of people who believe in the full power of human reason." But Pope Benedict has called for an end to this "self-limitation of reason" and for a "rebirth of philosophy" that would vault man back to where he properly belongs, beyond the artificial constraints of a nominalistic scientism through which man has perfected crawling while forgetting how to fly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Godlessness: Opiate of the Tenured

I don't yet have an overarching grasp of The Theological Origins of Modernity -- at this point, it's still grasping me -- so perhaps if I just go through it chapter by chapter, a higher vision will emerge. At times the book is a little repetitive, and it's also somewhat non-linear -- almost like a collection of independent chapters. Plus, being a scholar and all, Gillespie seems reluctant to just come out and express rash and reckless conclusions in the manner I would.

That's the good thing about blogging. You can just come right out and say it, without all the scholarly apparatus. This is not to criticize Gillespie. This is to explain why I couldn't last five minutes in academia.

The amazon product description says that Gillespie exposes "the religious roots of our ostensibly godless age," and reveals "that modernity is much less secular than conventional wisdom suggests. Taking as his starting point the collapse of the medieval world, Gillespie argues that from the very beginning moderns sought not to eliminate religion but to support a new view of religion and its place in human life. He goes on to explore the ideas of such figures as William of Ockham, Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, and Hobbes, showing that modernity is best understood as a series of attempts to formulate a new and coherent metaphysics or theology."

I suppose that, for self-evident reasons, this would be considered a controversial assertion in academia -- that so-called secular intellectuals are implicitly religious (or, to be more precise, steeped in myth), but just in denial about it. It would be analogous to attending a Catholic seminary and writing a dissertation arguing that Christianity is actually the collective displacement of a massive Freudian father complex. Probably wouldn't go down too well with the faculty.

Gilliespie writes that "modernity in the broadest sense was a series of attempts to answer the fundamental questions that arose out of the nominalist revolution." This metaphysical revolution -- which we will describe forthwith -- is really what cracked the cosmic egg half a millennium ago and overturned the order of the world, sinny side up. As a matter of fact, this is precisely the argument Richard Weaver made in his classic Ideas Have Consequences, first published over fifty years ago.

If Gillespie is correct, we are still dealing with the reverberations of this metaphysical revolution today. Again, nothing has been resolved since Humpty Dumpty fell from the medieval wall. Rather, it's as if every thinker picks up a small piece of the shell and tries to reconstruct a whole egg out of it.

But it cannot be accomplished with any secular philosophy. For reasons that will be obvious once we get into them, such a project is foredoomed. Some thinkers responded to the crisis by assembling a new overarching metaphysic that did not exclude Spirit -- most notably, Hegel -- but which crumbled as a result of their own in-built contractions.

Marx, of course, tried to resurrect Hegel by turning him upside down and banishing Spirit. This gave birth to the illiberal psychospiritual left that persists to this day. Crockroaches that they are, they are nearly impossible to eradicate, since they have learned to live in darkness and can survive by eating virtually anything, even such toxic food as Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, or Paul Krugman -- things that would kill an otherwise healthy person who hadn't built up the antibodies over the decades.

Perhaps I should say up front that I think the process is a bit more complicated and multidimensional than how Gillespie (or Weaver) describes it. This is one of the problems with being a mere intellectual; that is, one is susceptible to giving far more weight to ideas than they warrant. But the psychoanalyst in me tends to see ideas as mere "cover stories" for much deeper processes. These processes are largely irrational.

However, I must immediately emphasize that they are irrational in both a positive and negative sense. Perhaps a better way of saying it is that they can be "irrational" or "a-rational," meaning that they can fail to ascend to reason, or that they can transcend it from above. The realm of spirit, for example, is arational, in that it obviously descends from a transrational plane. To try to capture it with mere reason is to severely maim it, and to have no earthly idea of the legitimate bounds of reason. For example, the idea of "homosexual marriage" is not only irrational, which would be bad enough; more importantly, it is anti-transrational.

So, exactly what was this "nominalist revolution"? To make a very long story short, it simply has to do with the question of the reality of transcendentals, or universals. (BTW, there is an excellent overview of the controversy -- and how to resolve it -- in Letter IX of MOTT, The Hermit.) For the medieval scholastics, culminating in Aquinas, universals were ultimately real, while for the nominalist insurgency, they were considered mere names (immediately you see the seeds of deconstruction, which attacks universals -- and therefore Truth -- with a neo-barbaric vengeance).

Seems like a mundane enough academic squabble, doesn't it? Well, no. This is the wedge that plunges right down the center of Christendom, and cleaves Western man to this day (of note, Eastern Christendom bypassed -- or rather, transcended -- this problem, as they never developed a rational theology, only a mystical theology).

Now, the God of the scholastics could be approached with reason. That being the case, the divine realm was ordered, hierarchical, and subject to man's comprehension (up to a point). But the nominalists swept this entire order aside, which had the perhaps unintended consequence of radically changing the character of God.

For one of the implications of nominalism is that God cannot be constrained by reason, which is to compromise his divine omnipotence. God can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to such an extent that he actually becomes far more distant and fearsome -- an object of pure awe instead of understanding (here we see an ironic similarity between the Protestant and Islamic God, more on which tomorrow). Indeed, to pretend to understand God becomes a kind of blasphemy in the nominalist view. (Here again, notice how this anti-intellectual stance persists to this day, hence, the deep distrust of the Way of the Raccoon, from both left and right.)

I need to wrap it up here, as I have to get ready for work. But let me just lay out a preluminary schematic that I think summarizes the problem. Medieval man lived in a purely vertical world, or a "sacred space," so to speak, in which the most mundane activities resonated with eternity. Among other things, the nominalist revolution exiled man from this space, and plunged him into horizontal time.

Now, time can be progressive and evolutionary, or it can be regressive and decadent. For awhile, it seemed as if the nominalists had the upper hand, as modernity appeared to be "progressing" in a virtually limitless way in the 19th century. It truly appeared as if science and reason had liberated man from his own pathologies.

But then came the calamities of World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, and all the other modern nightmares of the 20th century, so that the very assumptions of modernity came into question. This then split the stream in two ways, one way leading back to tradition, the other way "forward" into postmodernism. Again, one of the things we will be discussing is the possibility of a third way to heal the wounds of history -- the Raccoon way of improvisational orthoparadoxical bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalism.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How Did We Get Here? Interpreting the Myth of Modernity

We're going to be discussing Michael Gillespie's The Theological Origins of Modernity, which I just finished yesterday. It's so full of implications, that I'm having difficulty wrapping my mind around it. Perhaps I should just begin with a synopsis, and then go from there.

Nah. Let's begin with some autobobographical novelgazing, so the focus stays where it should, on me. At the time I began writing my book, it was in response to the nagging question, how did I get here? In order to provide anything like an adequate response to that question, one must approach it from a multitude of angles and dimensions, from the strictly scientific to the theological, from the genetic to the psychological, from the historical to the the anthropological, from the biological to the linguistic, and much, much more.

If we fail to take this multiply-indisciplined approach, we end up treating ourselves as children by simply mouthing one of officially sanctioned myths of the day, whether of science or religion, it really doesn't matter. I mean, if you are intellectually satisfied by the idea that your existence is explained by "selfish genes," you shouldn't ridicule people who believe they were created directly by God, because both are more myth than reality. In the former case, one reduces an extremely complex and multifactorial process to efficient causation, while in the latter, one reduces it to formal causation, but both are inappropriately deterministic and exclude way too much reality.

I would agree that God is our formal (and final) cause. But an awful lot of things happen between us and God, both on an individual and collective basis, everything from the parents one is stuck with to the culture and historical epoch one is born into. Yes, Mozart's soul was "created by God." But does anyone believe his life would have been similar had he been born into a time or place that didn't have pianos, harmonic musical structure, and a sophisticated technique of musical notation? Yes, Einstein was a genius, but what if he had been born before calculus had been discovered?

So there is an obvious tension -- and paradox -- between who we are and how we get that way. But much of the paradox comes down to the fact that we are necessarily situated in time, which means, among other things, history, developmental maturation, progress (and decay), etc.

You might say that Gillespie's book takes a magnifying glass to an insufficiently understood transition in our collective development -- the transition from premodernity to modernity. As soon as you think about it, it's very strange, so it's no wonder that most people simply gloss over it. Really, it's as mysterious as the questions of how an embryo becomes a human being, how monkeys came to inhabit a linguistic world, or how a Stone Age baby becomes a proper human being. And in order to adequately answer any of these questions, one must again approach it from a multitude of vectors, both horizontal and vertical.

Consider also the fact that the transition from premodernity to modernity was one of the bloodiest -- if not the bloodiest -- in the grim history of humanity. Indeed, it is still taking place now, for this is what is going on between us and the Islamists, who are specifically in revolt against modernity and all it implies. To suggest, as do liberals, that this is about poor Muslims wanting what we want, is as absurd as suggesting that the crazed religious wars that engulfed Christendom between the early fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries were really about food.

A violent psychic rupture took place at the transition between premodernity and modernity, and one of the questions we will be exploring is whether it could have turned out differently, and whether we can ever recover the path that wasn't taken with the great schism between Catholicism and Protestantism -- the latter of which in turn led to the desiccated secular fundamentalism that now dominates culture.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book discusses the Coonish men -- people like Petrarch and Ficino -- who proposed a "third way" that might have avoided much of the mind-boggling violence and bloodshed of the religious wars, but these voices were easily drowned out by the louder and more passionate voices and interests.

For what they were proposing was a Christian humanism (not Christian humanism, which soon devolves to mere secular humanism), that in my view was easily capacious enough to reconcile human individuality with divine sovereignty, while preserving the traditional spheres of nature, man and God. In such an approach, it is quite easy to reconcile science and God, immanent and transcendent. But if you reject it, you end up where we are today, with a secularized science that is absurdly incomplete and incapable of an intellectually or spiritually satisfying account of man, in opposition to a willfully obtuse fundamentalism that thinks it must reject many of the central findings of science and blessings of modernity in order to preserve itself.

In many ways, the transition from premodernity to modernity reminds me of the transition from childhood to adolescence. Yes, you can draw a straight line from child to adult, but how misleading that is! Collectively speaking, we are analogous to pseudo-mature adults who remember nothing of the extraordinary turbulence and rebellion that took place during our adolescence. But why did it take place? What was really going on beneath the surface? And have we really resolved anything, or have we simply repressed the conflict, banished it to the historical unconscious, so to speak?

Gillespie implies that we have, for one of the principal characteristics of modern man is the idea that he is autochthonous -- self-born and self-made, so to speak, a product of pure reason standing above the insanity of history, purged of religious myth and superstition. But Gillespie easily dispatches this simplistic belief system, showing that it is very much rooted in one of the theological streams that opened up in the transition to modernity. For it transparently partakes of divine omnipotence, only absurdly displaced into secular science. In contrast, the followers of Luther preserved divine omnipotence, but at the cost of denying all of the secondary but nevertheless real causes explored by natural science.

Here again, this is the wedge that violently split the medieval synthesis down the middle, and we are still very definitely dealing with its implications today. For nothing has been resolved (unless, of course, you are one of the virtually dozens who have read my book). But one of the most eye-opening revelations of Gillespie's book was again the fact that there were a handful of Raccoons around at the time, trying their best to avoid the holocaust that occurred when the medieval synthesis fractured and unleashed hell on earth.

People talk about how secular ideologies were responsible for the death of some 100 million people in the 20th century, and that is entirely true. However, around here we value intellectual honesty above all else, so we have to consider that awful figure relative to the total population. And the religious wars of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "were conducted with a fervor and brutality that were not seen again until our own times. Indeed, the ferocity of the combatants may have even exceeded our own, for almost all the killing took place at close quarters, often in hand-to-hand combat, and thus without the emotionally insulating distance that modern technologies make possible" (Gillespie). The extent of the slaughter and cruelty is indeed literally inconceivable, just as with the nazis or the Islamists.

I don't want to dwell on examples of the atrocities, but they were the norm, not the exception. The bottom line is that "by conservative estimates, the wars claimed the lives of 10 percent in England, 15 percent in France, 30 percent in Germany, and more than 50 percent in Bohemia." By way of contrast, "European dead in World War II exceeded 10 percent of the population only in Germany and the USSR. Within our experience, only the Holocaust and the killing fields of Cambodia can begin to rival the levels of destruction that characterized the Wars of Religion" (Gillespie; but I also wonder about the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, which was a Holocaust in its own right).

But what was really going on here? What we want to do is put collective man on the analytic couch, so to speak, and try to uncover the real issues. For his cover story is analogous to the individual patient who comes in for therapy. In the beginning, he'll relate his "story" to the therapist, which is nothing more than the personal myth he has constructed for himself. But one of the reasons he is in emotional pain is that the myth excludes too much reality, so that he must disassemble it, venture down into the unconscious, and assemble a new and more encompassing myth that colonizes more of the Real.

This will be the ultimate purpose in our ongoing discussion of The Theological Origins of Modernity.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Obama's Secret to Governing: The Burning Bush That Is Never Consumed

Woke up way too late for a new post, but this article from AP, Obama's buck-stopping goes only so far, reminded me of something I wrote after Obama was elected in 2008 -- specifically, that the left's hallucinatory hatred of President Bush had become such a reified organizing fantasy for them, that they would be unable to let go of it and move on to the difficult task of dealing with reality. When even the AP notices something, you know that it can no longer be denied.

As the article says, Obama claims that "the buck stops with me," but "nearly a year into office, President Barack Obama is still blaming a lot of the nation's troubles -- the economy, terrorism, health care -- on George W. Bush. Over and over, Obama keeps reminding Americans of the mess he inherited and all he's doing to fix it."

I didn't pay that much attention to politics in the 1980s, so I could be wrong about this, but I don't recall a single instance of President Reagan blaming Jimmy Carter for the economic troubles he inherited after he was elected (let alone, after he became president), even though those troubles were significantly worse than today's. Remember, Reagan inherited an economy that had been a mess since the late 1960s, and mainstream economists were at a loss to explain how to put an end to the combination of high unemployment, skyrocketing interest rates, and uncontrollable inflation that was destroying wealth and savings, plus taking back any middle class gains as a result of bracket creep.

But instead of blaming Carter, Reagan forged ahead with his new ideas. Yes, they were a shock to the economic system, but look what transpired thereafter: twenty five years of unprecedented economic growth. And no one is proposing (well, maybe Paul Krugman) that we revert to pre-Reagan economic policies, such as a growth-stifling 78% marginal tax rate.

Anyway, here are some excerpts from the previous post:

According to psychohistorian Lloyd deMause, “Most of what is in history books is stark raving mad -- the maddest of all being the historian’s belief that it is sane.” He believes that large groups are almost always driven more by fantasy than reality. Different nations and groups have different “group fantasies” which are designed not primarily to negotiate with reality but to contain fears and anxieties. For example, the further back in history one travels, the more one can identify group fantasies that clearly have no basis in fact and are driven by irrational anxiety and fear -- witch hunts, senseless wars, racial scapegoating. But so long as one can detach from the madness and survey the contemporary psycho-political scene with even-hovering attention, one can see it just as clearly in the present.

For example, our war on Islamic terror is being waged against fantasists who reject what we know as reality. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it easier to combat them, but more difficult. Israel has been fighting a version of this fantasy since its very inception, but in truth, Jews have been at war with paranoid anti-Semitic fantasists for over two thousand years. Fantasies are obviously quite lethal.

The important point is that the fantasy precedes the reality, and will look for conditions in external reality to support it, identical to the manner in which the paranoid mind operates. According to deMause, the state of the group fantasy is what national opinion polls actually capture. That is, they take a snapshot of the “mood of the country,” which mostly consists of “gut feelings” that have varying degrees of connection to actual conditions, and more to do with the shifting nature of the group fantasy.

Remember, the bulk of the population is not thinking logically, so it doesn’t matter how many cognitively mature individuals there are at the margins of a poll. That the economic downturn was largely caused by Democrat regulation is inconsequential. In contrast, FDR was able to sustain a unifying group fantasy despite economic polices that aggravated and extended the Great Depression for years. Had he not decided to defy precedent and run for a third term, he would have been judged an abject failure, as he would have left office in the midst of his own self-induced, double-dip depression.

Likewise, job one for Obama will be to forge and sustain a unifying fantasy, not to deal with reality. This is one of the reasons the left will be unable to let go of President Bush, because they desperately need him as a "poison container" in order to keep the toxins out of Obama (more on which below). This is a somewhat unique situation, because it means that the Democrats in effect will want us to have two fantasy leaders, which reminds me of how the infant splits the world into a good and bad breast.

A national opinion poll doesn’t necessarily provide objective information about actual circumstances, but certainly tells us how it “feels” to be part of a historical group at a particular time. Furthermore, deMause turns the presidential “approval rating” on its head. He doesn’t believe that it actually measures approval so much as disapproval about how effectively or ineffectively a leader is “containing” the public’s anxiety. Negative passions are much more influential, which is why truly happy people have little impact on politics, since it would never occur to them that a politician is responsible for their personal happiness. But unhappy people find all sorts of illusory reasons to explain their unhappiness, including politics. (And we all know that leftists tend to be unhappy, if only because it is quite difficult to be happy if the reasons for happiness or unhappiness are projected into the all-powerful State; in other words, the locus of control is situated outside the self.)

Just as the large group is mainly driven by fantasy, it is primarily looking for a leader who can reassure it about the world and diminish its anxiety. In this regard, it is a mistake to think of the leader as an oedipal (ages 4 to 6) parent; the process is much more primitive, involving the need for preverbal and pre-oedipal (before the age of three) projection and containment, which is in turn much more "psychotic" and fantasy laden, since it escapes the reach of language. Using this method, one would not say that President Bush has, say, a 25% approval rating, but a 75% “toxicity” rating. Meanwhile, Obama has what, a 12% toxicity rating? As soon as he actually does something, he will begin to accumulate toxins, and this number will rise. [Conveniently, Rasmussen actually takes this approach, measuring "passion" in both directions; thus, today 43% strongly disapprove of the job Obama is doing.]

It is fascinating to note that as the left became so unhinged in their fantasies about President Bush, they came to imagine that he actually did fight back in the most dangerous and extreme ways -- that he didn't tolerate dissent, that he questioned people’s patriotism, that he destroyed our civil rights, that he punished ideological enemies, that he defecated on the Constitution (you can read that projection with braille!).

deMause notes that people who are stripped of important group fantasies will feel like they are going crazy -- just as primitive groups who are suddenly “decultured” of the myths that have served to organize their cognitive/emotional world. This is why the left has not been comforted by Obama's ascension, but is as nutty as ever. The reason for this is that the hard left is ultimately motivated by hatred (and its derivatives, such as envy and contempt), so losing their primary totemic object of hatred is profoundly disorienting.

It is fair to say that the left has been dealing with this sort of primitive anxiety since the 1980’s, as their various political fantasies have been discredited one by one. But just like a religious group that predicts the second coming, the majority of leftists simply dig in their heels when their predictions prove false. This shows the extent to which outward political ideology often rests on a deeper structure of irrational fantasy that is nearly impossible to eradicate. I think it also explains all of the manic and irrational giddiness we are seeing in the media, as their fantasies are restored.

And now we come to the future. deMause outlines a four-part process that the fantasy leader undergoes in relation to the group. At first the group will see him as unrealistically strong, magically able to unify the group and keep enemies at bay. Certainly we saw this in the months after 9-11, when President Bush was so popular. Again, his popularity had little to do with the actual merits of his policies, but with the public’s need to feel safe, and the feeling that Bush would protect them. Obviously, this is where Obama is, except that the omnipotent fantasies of strength surrounding him are unusually grandiose and primitive.

Stage two is the “cracking” stage, when the feelings of magical nurturing begin to deteriorate, so that the public’s mood begins to feel unstable and dangerous. The leader begins to be experienced as weak, unable to control events. Here again, when this happens, look for the left to frantically attempt to re-project all of this into President Bush, in order to perpetuate the fantasy. [I believe that we are now hovering at this phase, which is why Obama sounded more like Dick Cheney during his speech the other day, finally acknowledging that we are a nation at war. In other words, he's trying to project Cheneyesque strength to counter his own transparent weakness. -- GB]

Stage three, “collapse,” occurs when the public begins to feel that the fantasy leader is helpless to prevent catastrophe -- when the group’s anxiety has become unhinged and uncontained. This brings on pure rage and free-floating paranoid fantasies of death and destruction. Thus, in the case of President Bush, he was unrealistically blamed and vilified for all sorts of things outside his control -- hurricane Katrina, rising gas prices, "global warming," the Democrat-fueled housing bubble, etc. At this stage, the fantasy leader is seen as weak and vulnerable, which triggers a wave of near homicidal anxiety that aims to purify the group by ritual slaying of the divine king, identical to what took place in the most primitive tribes.

Obama doesn't seem prone to locate our enemies externally, where they actually exist, i.e., in Islam. But every theology needs a satan. Again, for this reason, I think the fantasists of the left will be unable to "let go" of President Bush, since he has become so vital to their psychic equilibrium.

[Although Sarah Palin also works as a poison container for many on the left, to such an extent that the fate of democracy is in her wicked hands.]

The credo of the left: To Project and Deceive

Friday, January 08, 2010

Scamalot and the Obaminable Snowjob

While I have prevailed in my courageous battle against manflu, I slept too late to prove it with a new post. Therefore I'll do the next best thing, which is a repost of the sequel to yesterday's offering. My point in reviscerating these old eviscerations is to see how well they hold up in light of Obama's holdup of the country.

And of course, we also want to check in on the changing contours of the psychic waveform produced by infantile fantasy crashing on the rocks of the reality principle. Given the level of hysterical fantasy projected into Obama, we knew the country was going to be in for a screwed awakening, as this Nobody from Nowhere underwent the formality of actually existing. But I'm pretty sure that only wideawake godballs with 20/∞ cʘʘnvision knew it would be this bad.

*****

I really was never any more than what I was -- a folk musician who gazed into the gray mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze. Now it had blown up in my face and was hanging over me. I wasn't a preacher performing miracles. It would have driven anybody mad. --Bob Dylan

Let's meditate for awhile on the political implications of the Devil card with our UnKnown Friend.

First of all, one must understand that, whatever else you may think of him, the being known as Satan is a source of inspiration; to be in-spired is to receive spirit, and it should go without saying that to merely be "spiritual" is neither here nor there, since there are good and evil spirits. After all, Deepak is spiritual. Marianne Williamson is spiritual. Osama bin Laden is definitely spiritual.

Thus, this demonic counter-inspiration is still a kind of inspiration. In fact, very much so. To avoid premature saturation, let's just call it (-i). Most of us, assuming we weren't permanently damaged by higher education, can recognize (i) when we see it, but many people confuse (i) and (-i), with catastrophic results.

For example, America's founders were quite obviously animated by genuine (i). The reactionary counter-revolutionaries -- i.e., the proglodyte left -- are always more or less animated by (-i). Regardless of what they say, they specifically want to arrest and undo our founding, which revolves around liberty converging upon the nonlocal attractor of the Judeo-Christian God (i.e., e pluribus unum, or freedom converging upon the One, or Sovereign Good). Obviously, the Founders did not envision a radically secularized and demoralized populace converging upon an omnipotent state. Leave that to the radical French revolutionaries to deicide. And therefore genocide.

The campaign of John Edwards, for example, was an exercise in pure (-i). How then did it differ from Obama's campaign? I would say that the Edwards campaign was equally driven by (+H) -- i.e., open class warfare and unhinged primitive envy -- whereas Obama's campaign was imbued with a meretricious (-L) -- that is, a shallow caricature of the higher unity produced by genuine love. Obama, like all men of the left, wishes to enforce unity from on high, which is just another name for tyranny. The bribes, the 2:00 AM weekend votes, the secret meetings -- this is the unity of thieves and criminals.

Thus, there is always deep well of (H) under the (-L), but the obamaniacs are able to split off and deny the (H) by bathing in the (-L). To see this, all you have to do is criticize Obama, which signals to the somnolent zombies that you are not a member of their social trance, which then triggers the anger that is analogous to being rudely awakened from a deep sleep at 3:00AM.

Along these lines, reader Mike M. left an astute comment yesterday:

"This swooning Obama-worship of someone who seems to be an empty suit is bizarre and curious. Note how it follows the irrational demonization of the current POTUS now seen as a figure of such mythic evil that he, George Bush, is held to have deliberately murdered thousands of innocent Americans on 9/11 as a pretext for immoral imperialist war. This is a view which is resolutely held by graduates of our most prestigious universities! That such an event would have no historical precedent and that such a purported crime would exceed the ruthless cynical evil of the purported Nazi burning of the Reichstag cannot be without meaning....

"Given the powerful projection, scapegoating and displacement poured into the demonization of George W. Bush, could it be that this Obamessiah persona is a necessary counter to the fabricated evil Bush-Hitler figure, and the powerful divisive hysteria and paranoia which has accompanied the demonization of George Bush -- sort of virtual particle and anti-particles emerging from a spiritual vacuum?"

Yes. That is exactly what I am trying to say. Genuine (L) is convergent upon wholeness, truth, beauty, light, harmony, and freedom. It is never reactive, but active. On the other hand, the Obama-love (-L) is almost wholly reactive, as it exists side by side with the (H) from which it is derived.

Come to think of it, I saw a fine example of this in the latest lunacy from the Windy Hindi. He writes that "I am far more worried about an invisible epidemic than I am about H1N1. I'm referring to the spread of distrust that has become contagion beyond all reasonable boundaries.... [W]hen mistrust becomes the actual, avowed basis for politics, healthy skepticism has turned malignant. Right now, the political credo has shifted from 'I don't trust your position on the issues' to 'I don't trust who you are and everybody like you.' We would be ashamed to apply such an attitude to people of color, although it was common enough in the past."

But them, without irony or shame, Deepak malignantly characterizes those who oppose socialized medicine as not "so much a dissenting minority as a faction that wants to destroy the Democrats. This is bad faith in action. It has no interest in finding the right answer to a sore dilemma. Its ambition is merely to discredit, vilify, and cast the seeds of toxic mistrust." Feel the Love!

A spiritually normal person is unnerved by the kind of hysterical adulation (-L) being directed at Obama. You cannot help wondering about the impoverished state of his soul, and how it must be a pathological mirror-image of what is being projected into him -- like an unconscious lock that corresponds perfectly to the projected key. Such a man -- as was true of Clinton -- seeks his own center in the periphery of the idealizing rabble, so to speak. It couldn't be more different from a man with an immutable axis and incorruptible center to which people are "magnetized," such as Ronald Reagan.

I read somewhere yesterday -- can't think of the source at the moment -- that Reagan and Obama are mirror images, in the sense that Reagan spent decades dissenting from the foolish liberal orthodoxies and pieties believed by the intellectual elite, while Obama couldn't be more cravenly conformist in his beliefs. He seems to have indiscriminately swallowed leftism whole without ever questioning its faulty assumptions, let alone baleful effects. He's certainly the most provincial and conformist president in my lifetime.

If mother love is like the open circle that is both infinite and enveloping (and potentially suffocating), father love is like the absolute point or axis. The circle must come first (i.e., the ineffable background subject of being), followed by the point, which forms the center (and which will in turn extend "vertically" to the celestial Father, of whom our earthly father is just an authorized deputy).

A man without a father (or father energy, which can come from other sources) is generally a man without a center. He will be either a weakling, or a weak man imitating a strong man (the belligerent Sean Penn or Keith Olbermann or Nameless Troll type).

In addition to seeking his center in the adulation of others, it is also possible for the weak man to fabricate it in a kind of centerless, manic energy -- again, Clinton comes to mind. He is bubbling over with scattered hysterical thought devoid of any coherence or consistency. He is most focussed when he is focused on the adulation of the crowd, which provides him with a faux center and a temporary integration (and also keeps shame and guilt at bay). But it's an addiction, which is why he can't leave politics alone, but also why he has no enduring political principles.

There is a fascinating chapter in Dylan's autobiography, in which he discusses at length the horror of being idealized in the manner he was back in the 1960s. Again, our society has become so narcissistic, that not only is such a bizarre situation seen as normative, but it is something that people actively seek (i.e., the cult of celebrity). People want to be famous and adulated, but obviously for all the wrong reasons. There are few good reasons to be famous. Which is why, as Dennis Prager says, most famous people are utterly insignificant, while most significant people aren't famous.

I am also reminded of something Schuon said, that the spiritually normal man does things because they please God, not for the horizontal affirmation of others. He made a related comment about the purpose of secular humanism, which is "to make oneself as useful as possible to a humanity as useless as possible." Look at Obama, whose whole economic platform involves making himself useful to the takers against the makers. And once there are more takers than makers, i.e., people dependent upon the state, we may have reached the point of no return. Thus the rush to ram through the ill-considered health care bill, in order to turn all citizens into serfs with his signature.

One can't help wondering if Obama's absence of a father is a critical element here. It is interesting, is it not, that he identifies with his "blackness," even though his father was an utterly useless abandoning-irresponsible-alcoholic-bigamist-Marxist? If a boy is not initiated by the love of a virtuous man, then he will remain left behind in the murky, oceanic, intoxicating, boundary-less realm of mother love, which is as different from father-love as wave is to particle or music to architecture.

Please bear in mind that I am in no way denigrating mother love. Indeed, in watching Mrs. G. interact with Future Leader over the past four years, I am more in awe of it than ever. However, I am equally aware (as is Mrs. G) that if this love weren't tempered by father love, we could have a real monster on our hands.

Awhile back Hoarhey made an insightful comment to the effect that the country wasn't prepared to cope with another fatherless president working out his issues on the national stage. In fact, it is probably no coincidence that in Clinton, the country chose a feminized, mother-bound man as president after the conclusion of the Cold War, since father had done his job and was therefore felt to be no longer necessary. But now, in a time of hot war, were Americans naive enough -- or in such denial -- to think that we could cow our enemies with sufficient mother love?

Yes. We. Were.