Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get Out of My Life, God! But First Could You Drive Me & Dawkins to the Mall?

Wait, don't go away! Acedia is actually very interesting. And important.

After all, if it's a capital sin, there must be a reason. And a capital sin is...

Hey, what is a capital sin, anyway? I'm assuming that it involves choosing a course of action that places one's soul in real danger, ultimately running counter to one's very reason for being. These sins lead to spiritual suicide, if you will -- a self-administered celestial abortion and an in-your-face rejection of O. It is not just the flight into Ø, but the prideful celebration of it.

Again, since there is no adequate translation of acedia, it has become associated with "the middle-class work ethic" -- as if the latter could have anything to do with spiritual perfection. But if anything, acedia is at a right angle to the work ethic, in that Aquinas associates it with forgetting the sabbath, "by which man is enjoined to 'rest his spirit in God'" (Pieper).

And if you will turn your new testavus for the rest of us to page 236, you will see that Toots Mondello enjoins us to observe the sabbath speed limit, which does not mean putting your pedal to the metal, but rather, slowing down, precisely. To quote ourselves, it involves "turning toward what is 'behind' and 'above' the external world and its nihilocracy of urgent nonsense." Furthermore, it is simultaneously a "memoir of the future" and a return to "the unmanifest paradise of Eden."

One might say that the paradoxical "work" of the sabbath involves internalizing its essential contours and rhythms, so that there is a peaceful "zone of silence" between oneself and the world. The work of the sabbath is not "not doing" -- which is only the opposite of doing -- but non-doing, as per our friend, the gentleman from China, LaoTsu.

We prefer to call it non-doodling, because it may look like we are just doodling around doing nothing, but it's true. We are indeed doing nothing, which requires the effort of no effort. In fact, I'm not doing it right now.

Speaking of this return to the vertical source, I just want to share something that ba-lew my mind, as they used to say. This weekend I was reading this fine little book on Aquinas, by Josef Pieper. I am embarrassed to admit that I've never actually read the Summa Theologica, a failing I am about to rectify.

Anyway, I get to the bottom of page 101, and Pieper says that in order to understand the structure of the Summa, one must imagine "a circular diagram, in a ring returning back upon itself."

What the!

And here is Aquinas' bottom line, which turns out at bottom to be a metacosmic circle: "In the emergence of creatures from their first Source is revealed a kind of circulation, in which all things return, as to their end, back to the very place from which they had their origin in the beginning."

Who knew? Aquinas was a Raccoon!

Where were we? Yes, back to acedia, which, in a way, can be thought of as the perverse struggle to convert the above-noted circle into a straight line. Doing so automatically takes one off the path, and prevents one from floating upstream on the cosmic winds.

Acedia fundamentally involves choosing worldliness over spirit; it is to commit oneself to the horizontal over the vertical. Thus, it "lacks courage for the great things that are proper to the nature of the Christian" (Pieper), so that the acedic man hasn't "the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great in order thus to avoid the obligation of greatness" (ibid).

One can well understand how acedia represents a kind of "perverted humility"; Pieper aptly compares it to the neurotic patient who consciously wishes to get better, but unconsciously resists it because of the responsibilities it will bring in the future, not to mention the regrets about the past.

Resistance is ubiquitous in psychotherapy, if only because any dynamic system first and foremost wishes to go on being. But there's more to it than that, as genuine growth is always a double-edged sword, as is seen quite vividly in developing children. Every major movement toward individuation and autonomy brings with it a little separation anxiety that needs to be tolerated and worked through. To put it simply, gaining individuation means losing mommy.

I might add that we never truly resolve this dialectic between merger and autonomy, a topic I will be posting on in the near future. It's just that instead of fleeing back and dissolving into the loving arms of mommy, we regress in different ways, some healthy, others pathological.

For example, it's no secret that for the Raccoon, the Beer O'clock slackrament is a kind of dissolution into the arms of the cosmic mother, but there are many other examples. Always there is the father principle of doing and the mother principle of being. Obviously there are many ways for pathology to enter into the marriage, but that's a subject for a different post.

Pieper goes on to say that acedia can go from mere passive drifting to "an actual fleeing from God. Man flees from God because God has exalted human nature to a higher, a divine, state of being and has thereby enjoined on man a higher standard of obligation."

Again, man is condemned to transcendence. But to paraphrase Pieper, acedia ultimately expresses the wish that God would just leave us alone and stop pestering us with these annoying calls to dignity, nobility, and greatness. Go away, God! I'm not your baby anymore! I can do it myself!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Loafing and Laughing Our Way Toward the Real Singularity

Who is that motherhuckster that propagates nonsense about the "singularity," about living forever, and about recreating human minds with AI (not just the body, but the actual "person")? Kurzweil?

He is a prime example of despair masquerading as hope, of extreme materialism masquerading as transcendence, and of grandiosity masquerading as magnanimity. Not to mention abject foolishness masquerading as wisdom. No wonder he has so many honorary doctorates. Then again, one more and he gets a free carwash.

Suffice it to say -- as we have discussed before -- man is born with a religious instinct; or, as Schuon ironically expressed it, he is "condemned to transcendence." But just as our sexual instinct can become disordered, so too can our religious instinct. Indeed, this is such a truism that it hardly needs to be said. Just as there are sexual perversions (although in the polticially correct world of clinical psychology they are now called "paraphilias"), there are religious perversions (metaphilias?).

Although the list of man's sexual perversions has become shorter with his "evolution" and sophistication, the current resumé includes Exhibitionism, Fetishism, Frotteurism, Pedophilia, Sexual Masochism, Sexual Sadism, Transvestic Fetishism, Voyeurism, and attraction to Rosie O'Donnell. With further evolution, I would expect Transvestic Fetishism to soon be stricken from the list, followed by the sadomasochistic tango.

If we were to compile a list of religious perversions, what would it include? We could say obvious things such as Islamism, except that it is by no means clear whether or not the Grand Jihad that motivates the Islamists is actually normative for their religion. I don't want to say it. Or draw a picture. You do the myth.

But I don't want to get into specific cases anyway, only the more general cat- and dogmatories. To a certain extent we've already covered this ground in our recent posts about intrinsic intellectual heresies. Furthermore, acquaintance with the debates of early Christianity provides a useful education in the delicate balance required in order to avoid these various pitfalls through which one really does fall into the pit.

Let's just focus on the theological virtue of hope, along with its corollary, hopelessness. Why would hopelessness be a sin and a heresy? Indeed, our reader Anon informs us that depressed and hopeless people are actually more in touch with what he calls "reality," because a couple of the tenured said so. In his upside down world, the disease is the cure. But how do we know for sure if those two are really depressed and in touch with reality, or just faking it? Anyway, some books are written with the assistance of psychoactive drugs; this one could have been avoided with them.

According to Pieper, there are two kinds of hopelessness, despair and what we will translate as presumption. Both involve a kind of anticipation: the former is "a perverse anticipation of the nonfulfillment of hope," while the latter is "a perverse anticipation of the fulfillment of hope." And I didn't expect him to use the word "perverse," but there it is. We are on the same cosmic page.

But why are these perversions? Because man is again always on the way. You might say that just as God's essence is his being, Man's essence is his becoming. God is who he is -- his name is I AM THAT I AM -- while man is who he is to become. His orthoparadoxical name is I AM THAT I WILL BE.

Both despair and presumption therefore undercut man at the very root, since they "destroy the pilgrim character of of human existence" and are "opposed to man's true becoming" (Pieper).

Note that the substance of real hope "flows" -- can only flow -- between (•) and O. Despair is to live only in (•), while presumption is to assume the acquisition or conquest of O; it is to conflate (•) and O in such a way that (•) is expanded to O.

Man is only in the image of the Creator. He is not the Creator. While the human station uniquely allows him both to create and to know, this conceals the fact that man cannot actually create or know the essence of a single thing.

In other words, both knowledge and the limitation thereof are a result of the same ontological reality, the very structure of being. Because we are an emanation of O, we may truly know; but because we are not O, knowledge is literally inexhaustible.

The same may be said of our creativity. Although it too is inexhaustible, man clearly cannot create something from nothing, which is the true essence of creativity that only God possesses.

Now, as mentioned in the book, man is a uniquely open system, both vertically and horizontally. Therefore, in order to "grow" in either direction, he must remain an open system at disequilibrium.

Both of these are fundamental, i.e., openness and disequilibrium. For example, there is a word we use when your body has reached equilibrium: death. Likewise, there are a number of words for a system that has become closed: starvation is one that applies to the horizontal, while sin is a word that applies to the vertical (i.e., rejection of an open relationship to God).

The kind of hope being peddled by Kurzweil is really just despair mimicking hope. You might say that it recapitulates man's original creation of a closed system that excludes God, in that it elevates man to God (both Kurzweil and the serpent agree that "you shall not die").

But any way you cut it, life in a purely horizontal world is already a kind of death. Kurzweil cannot really promise life forever, only death forever, with no real reason to hope for anything. Please note that Kurzweil is full of hope. But I can guarantee him that he will soon be dead, and that his childish (not childlike) hope is entirely misplaced.

One way we maintain vertical openness is through the virtue of humility. But this can go awry in two directions, not just one. Obviously, grandiosity and presumption run counter to genuine humility.

But Pieper notes that despair can represent a kind of false humility that makes it impossible to maintain a vertically open system. He discusses this in terms of the capital sin of acedia, which has no precise translation, so that it is generally thought of as "sloth," which is quite misleading, since it has nothing to do with laziness per se.

For example, as Pieper explains, it is entirely possible -- likely even -- for a workaholic to indulge in acedia, the real meaning of which is a kind of "sadness in view of the divine good in man," and a rejection of the "God-given ennobling of human nature."

You might call it spiritual laziness, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the divine Slack required to properly contemplate and abide in O. Slack is only the true Slack if it is oriented toward its proper spiritual end. Yes, the Raccoon is not just some kind of loafer, but a gentleman loafer. Furthermore, he loafs in God's vertical bakery, where the bread is baked fresh daily.

To be continued....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Obama and the Hope-a-Dope Strategy

Pieper discusses the quite natural relationship between hope and youth, noting that the two are "ordered to one another in manifold ways."

This almost requires no explanation, and yet, is quite important -- and now that I think about it, undoubtedly helps to explain certain well known psycho-spiritual political pathologies of youth, which generally occur when their abundant hope is combined with their lack of wisdom and experience to produce... well, you name it. Obama is only their latest gift to the world.

Why anyone would place their hope in politics and politicians is quite beyond me; then again, I have only to think back to my own youth to realize that it's actually quite behind me. After all, my first vote was for Jimmy Carter, and in 1980 he was too conservative for me, so my preferred candidate was Barry Commoner of the illustrious Citizens Party, a socialist front that mainly spread hysteria about nuclear power plants.

Pieper writes that "natural hope blossoms with the strength of youth and withers when youth withers." Again, no doubt true. This is obviously a depressing reality, but again, I think it explains why older people who should know better cling to the callow political enthusiasms of their youth. How could a grown man be taken in by Obama's vacuous hopey-changey rhetoric?

It seems to me that one explanation might be the attempt to revive the kind of exciting hope for the future they once had as adolescents. As they say, when you see an old man with a young woman, it's not her youth he's after.

Likewise, when you see an old fart like Chris Matthews getting all tingly upon hearing his boyfriend speak, the real source of the excitement is obviously not Obama's vague future but Matthews' own specific past. Thus, the recent disillusionment with Obama is just the other side of hisillusionment. He has awakened to his own projection, and yet, has learned nothing, since he now blames Obama for dissing his beautiful illusion!

Being that politics is a substitute religion for the left, it is understandable that they would be prone to creating earthly messiahs. In reality, the entire process obviously took place in Matthews' own fat and spluttering head, that is, the illusion followed by the inevitable disillusion. (And to be clear, I would say the identical thing of a "conservative" who placed this kind of inappropriate hope in a politician.)

Now, the loss of natural hope brings with it the growth of what we might call "natural despair." This only makes sense. In the absence of any transnatural form of hope, it is simply an ironclad law of nature that when we are young the past is essentially irrelevant while the future is virtually unlimited.

But as we age, the past grows long while the future inevitably shrinks to nothing. How could one not be quite literally dis-illusioned? As Pieper describes it, the "not yet" of youth "is turned into the has-been," and we become a kind of bittersweet repository of "memories of what is 'no more.'"

Perhaps you have to be of my generation, but for me, there is nothing quite as pathetic as when cadge-drive time comes around, and PBS digs out some old hippies to sing the same songs they sang 40 or 50 years ago, in the same way, hopefully kindling the same rancid emotions.

Can you imagine having to sing something you wrote at the age of 20, while expressing the same emotions you felt then with conviction? It is no wonder then that these people literally haven't taken a new political imprint since 1967. Ironic too that this desperate flight into the past is called "progressive."

This whole sad spectacle can be avoided with properly ordered hope. Pieper is at pains to emphasize that hope in and of itself is no kind of virtue. Rather, it only becomes a theological virtue when it converges upon its proper transnatural target.

Likewise, hopelessness and cynicism would be quite appropriate in a wholly materialistic worldview, for what is there to hope for aside from maximizing pleasure and delaying death as long as possible?

This very different type of transnatural hope is by no means tied to natural youth. However, consistent with Jesus' statements regarding the importance of holy childlikeness, this hope "bestows on mankind a 'not yet' that is entirely superior to and distinct from the failing strength of man's natural hope."

Looked at in this way, adolescents are more than a little hopeless before they gain real wisdom, and especially hopeless, or pathetic, if the condition persists well into adulthood, as it generally does in the tenured retardentsia.

Now interestingly, properly ordered (supernatural) hope has the effect of re-infusing, so to speak, natural hope, hence, the cheerful optimism of the Raccoon. We have discussed in the past how (↓) has a kind of "rejuvenating" effect, and how, for example, people literally feel "lighter" after attending a religious service. Indeed, if I wake up feeling "heavy," I always feel lighter after a post, which is one of the reasons I persist in these verticalisthenics -- to keep the existential pounds off, so to speak. I would no more give up the habit than I would stop exercising.

Pieper writes of "the enchanting youthfulness of our great saints," for "nothing more eminently preserves and founds 'eternal youth' than the theological virtue of hope. It alone can bestow on man the certain possession of that aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, that adaptability and readiness, that strong-hearted freshness, that resilient joy, that steady perseverance in trust that so distinguish the young and make them so lovable."

Which is why we may say with Pieper: God is younger than all else.

And why we may say with Petey: Too old, older than Abraham, too young, young as a babe's I AM. The circle unbroken by and by, a Divine child, a godsend, a touch of infanity, a bloomin' yes.

For in the end, hope is nothing more or less than a trusting and childlike Yes! to the Creator, and the faithful certainty that his creation is indeed good.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Little Big Man: The Humble Aspiration to Greatness

Continuing with yesterday's post, hope is "the steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man's nature," or the essence of (•) --> O. But Pieper adds that hope is ordered to two additional sub-virtues, as it were, magnanimity and humility.

I found his analysis here to be particularly fascinating, for at least a couple of reasons. First is the recovery of original, subtle word meanings that have become buried under centuries of use; and second is the way these words have a sort of geometrical relationship to one another, as I will proceed to explain.

I don't know about you, but in their contemporary usage, I wouldn't have seen any overt relationship between magnanimity and hope, or humility and magnanimity, but this is a fine example of how spiritual reality can become obscured when our words cease to effectively map it.

As mentioned in a recent post, magnanimity is "the aspiration of the spirit to great things." It is not only the "courage to seek what is great" -- and do remember the actual meaning of courage, as per our recent posts on that subject! -- but also to become worthy of the greatness one seeks.

In turn, this all speaks to the special nature of spiritual development, in which who one is is far, far more important than what one knows. Or, to put it another way, who one is places an upper limit on what one may know; in short, know-how is posterior to be-who.

I might add that this adage doesn't just apply to the spiritual dimension, but to the psychic realm as well. It first occurred to me early in my psychoanalytic training. Indeed, it is a thread that runs through Bion's works, and now that I think about it, it explains why it was so natural for me to simply apply Bion's ideas to spiritual reality -- to transpose them one Octave up, as it were, from psyche to pneuma.

The point is that you really cannot become a "healer of souls" unless you have recognized and healed your own soul-wound, otherwise you are just a pretender. You can have all the theoretical knowledge in the world (k), but that doesn't necessarily add up to an ounce of (n). This ultimately means that your theory must flow from genuine experience, or it is just words. And once the theory is severed from emotional/spiritual reality, it begins to drift away from the reality it is supposed to map.

Anyway, back to magnanimity, which Aristotle characterized as "the jewel of all the virtues," since at any particular moment it turns toward "the greater possibility of the human potentiality for being" (Pieper).

Having said that, if magnanimity is detached from humility, it can tend toward grandiosity, presumptuousness, and a promethean glorification of man only. Put it this way: if man is capable of great things, it is only because he is endowed by the Creator with a soul and spirit to aspire to truly great things (aspire is related to spirit).

Excuse me a moment.....

Little insulin reaction there. D'oh! That's the last time I'll take humalog (rapidly acting insulin) first thing in the morning. I've been fooling around with my regimen, seeing if I can get my A1c (the best measure of diabetic control) even lower than 5.3, which is probably impossible. Anyway, back on the record.

Here is how Pieper describes it: "Man's worth, as that of being possessed of a soul, consists solely in this: that, by his own free decision, he knows and acts in accordance with the reality of his nature -- that is, in truth." So the loss of supernatural hope entails the loss of O.

You might say that faith and hope are the penumbra of O. They are "implanted in human nature as natural inclinations," -- although I suppose it would be technically more accurate to say that these are transnatural inclinations, or tacit foreknowledge of the as-yet-undiscovered reality of O. Faith and hope are like "empty categories" to be filled by experiential knowledge of O, or what a Raccoon calls (n).

If magnanimity is working as it should, and our aspiration to great things is resulting in "closer proximity" to the Great Thing, or O, it should automatically result in humility, since one recognizes, first, that no genuine progress is possible in the absence of O, and second, the inconceivable distance between man and God, or (•) and O. Truly, the closer one is, the further away.

If humility is not operative, then pride and hubris come to the forefront, and then comes the fall, all over again. But to paraphrase Unknown Friend, when we fall in this manner, it is only back down to the ground, our ground, that is, the human station, which we never left anyway. And which is great enough as it is without making oneself a god.

So, it is no paradox at all to affirm that hope involves the humble aspiration to to greatness -- or to be a little big man.

Great Danes are like this, which is a big part of their charm. Simultaneously majestic, and yet, oh-so humble, even verging on low self esteem. Little Big Dog:


We are not worthy of a belly rub from the Master!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Crude Psychic Maps of Postmodern Barbarians

One of the underlying themes of Pieper's Faith, Hope, Love is the loss of meaning that has occurred with respect to certain words that are of critical importance to the spiritual journey (which we touched on in last Wednesday's post). When this happens, it is analogous to certain features of a map being erased, or perhaps like a painting that gradually begins to fade.

Conversely, thanks to language, the map of (•) --> O can be as detailed as a google map that shows the address of every saint and sage along the way. Christianity has been here for a long time, and Western civilization even longer. And the Transdimensional Order of the Cosmic Raccoon is so venerable that it disappears into the mists of the mid-twentieth century.

That's a lot of map making. But with the gradually increasing materialization and quantification of our culture over the past several centuries, it is very much the case that our exterior maps are more detailed than ever, even while the interior ones have become sketchy and impoverished at best.

I say "at best" because when a map loses its features, it becomes a kind of canvas for the psyche to project upon. Prior to the development of systematic scientific discovery -- the discovery of discovery -- the situation was the reverse, in that our exterior maps were vehicles of psychic projection. People projected all sorts of mind parasites in the form of mythical beasts beyond the boundaries of the known world. It is similar to how liberals imagine that anyone outside their familiar territory is a greedy, racist, and homophobic monster, as seen below in the depiction of conservatives swimming beyond the shore of academia and the MSM:


I remember Terence McKenna discussing this in a lecture. He said that early spiritual adventurers were analogous to worldly explorers, in the sense that their first reports are very empirical, and discuss the flora, fauna, and climate of the region. Only with repeated testimony are we able to put the reports together and create something like a useable map. In other words, if one explorer has described the landscape of El Salvador, it won't be helpful to the person who lands, say, at Plymouth Rock.

Obviously, the problem is only more complex in the multidimensional world of the human subject. Here we confront Hayek's "knowledge problem," in that we are also dealing with a non-linear system that has an infinite amount of information. Imagine trying to "map the economy." We can do it, but only with very crude statistics such as GNP, or money supply, or rate of inflation. And no one can say how the variables will interact in real time, so the system is fundamentally unpredictable. Nor do these statistics say anything about particular individuals, and certainly not about their interior states.

People who are "surprised" that Al Gore should leave his wife are simply naive about the unpredictable nature of the complex system of the psyche -- very similar to those loons and crackpots who think they can predict what the weather will be like in a hundred years.

Now, it is impossible to navigate in the absence of a map, of some kind of representation of reality, even it is just the sun or stars. In the absence of a map, one can only wander this way and that. This is doubly true of a human life, in that, if you don't know where you're going, you're sure to get there. Alternatively, if you don't change directions, you're likely to end up where you're headed.

In space there are six directions, north, south, east, west, up, and down. In psychic space, all orthodox traditions testify to the existence an enduring world of vertical space that has an up and down, which is represented on our map by Ø <-- (•) --> O. But there are many well known features between (•) and O, on the one hand, and between (•) and Ø on the other.

The problem is, modern man has tossed aside the most useful maps of this territory, which condemns him to drifting around in hyperspace like a born again caveman following his appetites. In so doing, he is "discovering" things that were well known by our furbears, and, more often than not, confusing these mere features of the landscape with the destination. Not only that, but the postmodern neanderthal, or proglodyte, often confuses a psychic hellhole with a vacation spot, or even a place to set up permanent residence.

The modern university is testimony to this kind of perverse mapmaking. At the very least, spending four years at one of these institutions should result not just in a diploma -- or license to steal -- but in an adequate map of reality in order to conduct safe passage on the human journey.

But again, more often than not, the university graduate emerges with a map that is even worse than the one he came in with (cf. Obama). He will quite literally not know up from down or inside from out or Israel from Iran. For example, to internalize deconstruction is to say that there are really no objective maps, that all the maps are based upon power, and that the map means anything one wishes it to mean.

Or, to internalize materialism is to say that there are no interior maps at all. Rather, if we can only obtain a detailed enough map of the exterior, that will automatically map the interior as well. Multiculturalism insists that the human map has no up or down, while moral relativism says that one man's map is another man's toilet paper (and vice versa).

As the old wise crack goes, the leftist dreams of systems so perfect, that no one will need to be good. This is no joke, for the essence of their pneumapathology resides in their defective map making -- the belief that all human problems can be located on their exterior map, and have nothing to do with morality. Problem with capitalism? It's a few greedy fat cats on Wall Street, as Obama said a couple of days ago. Problem with poverty? It has nothing whatsoever to do with the behavior of people who remain in poverty. There is no "map to success," such as staying in school, avoiding illegal drugs, and not having children out of wedlock.

Anyway, back to Pieper. In discussing human virtue, he is really describing the landscape between (•) and O, using detailed maps that have been preserved and developed over the past 2000 years or more. Again, virtue is "the steadfastness of man's orientation toward the realization of his nature, that is, toward good" and "an ennobling of man's nature that entirely surpasses what he 'can be' of himself."

To say that our orientation to the transcendental good allows us to surpass ourselves, is another way of saying that human beings are uniquely privileged to participate in the divine nature, so that the human adventure is ultimately a journey from image to likeness. This is where virtue, truth, meaning, happiness, and joy are all situated.

To be continued.....

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Setting Up Camp On the Sacred Mountain and Enjoying the View

Now that this post has been written, it seems to me to be more of a summary and consolidation of our little journey so far. It is as if we have set up camp and are enjoying the view, as we rest in preparation for our next assault upon on the summit. So get a good night's rest, and we'll break camp tomorrow.

As we have been discussing, the now-and-not yet of (•) --> O maps the human journey from outer to inner and existence to essence, toward the Being without whom our life is not real. It is why we're here, because in the absence this sufficient reason, there is no other way to explain why this journey exists, nor why it is so universal (cf. The Spiritual Ascent: A Compendium of the World's Wisdom).

To try to account for this trajectory on wholly naturalistic grounds is analogous to affirming that eyes exist but that vision doesn't. But if vision exists, it is surely in order to see. And if (•) --> O occurs, it is in order to evolve, specifically, in faith, hope, and love toward the true, good, and beautiful, respectively (although the categories are all interlinked in an organic manner).

The very possibility of truth, love, and beauty only exists because O casts a shadow back in time (or down in vertical space, if you prefer). These three transcendentals (the good, true, and beautiful) -- or their "degrees," to be precise -- are all located on the right side of our Ø <-- (•) --> O schematic. Conversely, sin, falsehood, ugliness, Helen Thomas -- each of these may be located on the left hand side. Human choice, i.e., free will, is located at that vertical innersection between O and Ø.

This is simply a truism, even for the atheist, for surely the atheist -- we're being charitable here -- wishes to move "closer" to truth and to avoid "falling" into error? Or to be a "good person," not a flaming assoul? This is not something that can be said of any other animal, which simply is what it is, a stationary point in the fabric of existence. No pig fails to achieve the essence of pighood, not even Rosie O'Donnell.

Now, as Pieper explains, "the 'way' of man leads to death." You could even say that death is his ultimate meaning, since it is where he accidently came from and where he necessarily returns at the conclusion of this fleeting absurdity known as Life. There is simply no avoiding the fact that the life of natural man bears upon death and therefore nothingness.

That being the case, there is no rational basis for hope, faith, nobility, justice, or anything else, really. I don't mind the atheists who are honest about this. It's the ones who try to wrench truth, goodness or beauty from Ø that are so annoying and childish. But as a psychotic patient of mine once said, "you can only get so much blood from a turnip." And you can get bupkis from Ø, precisely.

Even the atheist must concede that the life of the believer bears upon something transcending death, even if he insists that the latter isn't real. The believer sees this target and tries to hit it, while the atheist insists that there is no target to hit (even while absurdly maintaining that atheism is the only real target, and that those who fail to hit it are in error).

Man's journey is rooted in the reality of time. If, as some physicists say, time were just a "stubborn illusion" or a mere quantitative measure, then (•) --> O would not be possible. But as Pieper explains, "man's 'way' is 'temporality.' Time, in fact, exists only in reference to the transitoriness of man." And we can only know this because a part of us -- our spirit -- stands "above" time.

I should immediately amend that statement, because in reality, spirit is not a "part," but our essence. In an analogy used by Steinsaltz, the soul is not a point, but a "continuous line of spiritual being" that stretches from the general source (O) to "the specific body of a particular person," (•).

You could say that this is the lifeline that God tosses down into our existence. It is not only the source of our wholeness, but its very ground and possibility. An assoul is precisely someone who is not a whole but an a-hole. Nor is he the existential hole that only spirit can fill, but already full of himself.

You could say that O is Absolute Being, where essence and existence are one (or not-two). In contrast, man is "not his own essence." Rather, "his essence is 'in the process of becoming."

But there can be no real becoming for the man oriented to Ø , who is "imprisoned in nothingness." Even so, being that man is condemned to freedom, turning toward death and nothingness is a choice -- a choice which, ironically, wouldn't even be possible unless its alternative were a real possibility as well. To say that "free will exists in order to choose nothing" is really to say that free will doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.

Here is how Pieper describes the human situation, as we hang suspended between O and Ø : "The whole span of creaturely existence between being and nothingness can never be understood, then, as though the relationship to nothingness were simply to be assigned equal rank with the relationship to being -- or were even to be ranked before or above it" (Pieper).

Rather, Ø is only even possible because it is a function of O, just as falsehood cannot exist in the absence of truth, or ugliness without beauty. Ø is "parasitic" on O, so to speak, as death is parasitic on Life.

Therefore, the human adventure "is not a directionless back-and-forth between being and nothingness." Rather, "it leads toward being and away from nothingness; it leads to realization, not annihilation, although this realization is 'not yet' fulfilled and the fall into nothingness is 'not yet' impossible" (Pieper).

Which is why both existential despair and its useless sister, certainty of salvation, "are in conflict with the truth of reality" (ibid.), and not befitting the magnanimous gentleman who is going places in this life. With the fear and trembling appropriate to such a steep climb.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spiritual Words and the Realities To Which They Refer

In the Book, I addressed the problem of language vis-a-vis Spirit, something that doesn't seem to trouble my competitors. But ultimately, this is the reason why I came up with those annoying pneumaticons, so that we don't pretend we know what we're talking about just because we have a word for it; or, alternatively, to avoid distorting the reality in question because of accretions and associations that eventually change or saturate the original meaning of the word -- the way the left, for example, has totally distorted the plain meaning of the Constitution.

Because of the fluid and dynamic nature of language, this happens all the time. Language is constantly adapting to new realities as they emerge. In a metaphor Terence McKenna once used, it is as if mankind pours language over the world it encounters, so there is a constant dialectic between language and world. But we can be forced to adapt to a world in such away that it eclipses other worlds.

This is especially problematic for domains that transcend the senses, since language is not necessarily well adapted to them. It is potentially well adapted (or at least adequately so), but again, it is entirely possible for a person to deploy religious terms and concepts without having had any experience whatsoever of the realities to which they refer.

And critically, this doesn't only apply to atheists, but to theists as well. For example, any yahoo can attend a theological seminary and learn the lingo -- i.e., memorize the map. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the person has actually experienced the realities to which the map refers.

Alternatively, it is possible for a person to have genuine contact with higher worlds, but to lack a stable and specific language to communicate it to others. When this happens, you can end up with occultists and cranks who come up with their own eccentric system to map the spiritual realm. There is often some truth to these maps, but they usually die with the person who came up with them, although a small and devoted cult may linger on. (Or sometimes they can just make the shit up, a la L. Ron Hubbard, in order to dupe people who know no better.)

In our materialistic and quantitative age, we see how language has adapted to this new reality to the exclusion of the real and enduring world of perennial human values. And while religion is supposed to be the guardian and transmitter of these values, it too has become increasingly materialized along with the culture, so that religion ends up in the polarized, worldly forms of "liberation theology," on the one hand, and a literal minded fideism on the other. Each of these is a result of the materialization of the psyche, so that this type of religion no longer refers to the transcendent source of religion (nor does it adequately map the familiar signposts and landmarks of the spiritual journey).

The symbolic scheme we have been discussing in recent posts -- Ø <-- (•) --> O -- goes directly to this issue. As I mentioned yesterday, the two sides of the schematic represent two completely different (but interpenetrating) worlds, Ø and O. You could say that science and logic map the left hand world, while theology, mysticism, ethics, intellection (gnosis), and aesthetics map the right. Naturally, a complete account of reality requires both sides. But unfortunately, most people seem to come down on one side or the other, and then use one side to map and describe the other.

Again, this generates foolishness for both atheists and theists. In short, materialists try to reduce O to Ø, while certain religious types try to map Ø with O, which just doesn't work -- cf. the Islamic world.

Having said that, the (sane) theist is always closer to Reality than the atheist, since the atheist doesn't even acknowledge Reality in all its fullness. Furthermore, to suggest that O could be derived from, and fully explained by, Ø is philosophical and metaphysical nonsense. Rather, Ø is clearly a creation -- or prolongation, if you like -- of O, although, at the same time, it is a relatively autonomous domain that is governed by its own set of rules.

But it should go without saying that these rules are not absolute, otherwise there would be no way to "escape" them. In other words, the cosmos would be a closed system with no interior. But because Ø is a prolongation or involution of O, the cosmos is a vertically open system that bears upon its transcendent source.

If this were not the case, then religion -- not to mention self-consciousness, truth, beauty, virtue -- would all be strictly impossible. Ø is ultimately in O, not vice versa. Or, to be precise, O is immanent in Ø, while simultaneously transcending it. Things can be no other way and still be.

Along these lines, Walt referred me to a statement by J.G. Bennett that conforms to this line of thought. He notes that in contemporary times, many people have lost their innate sense of the vast difference between Ø and O, and how our whole life depends upon whether we -- or (•) -- are oriented to one or the other. What this ultimately means is that contemporary horizontal man has lost the very point of his life, its sufficient reason.

Anyway, Bennett wrote that "I suppose this is not a very serious conflict for most people," and that "they do not feel it matters one way or the other because life has to be lived just the same."

But (•) is confronted with this very choice; before him "there are two very different kinds of lives. Man is just a machine among machines, but a machine that can be free, can be not a machine. This would not be possible if there were not different levels of existence. On one level of existence, man is a machine living among machines; on another level of existence, there is the possibility of freedom. There are two worlds open to man -- not one world far away and one here, but two worlds both here."

This is why the theological virtues we have been discussing -- faith, hope and love -- only apply to O, not to Ø. Indeed, applied to the latter, they are no longer virtuous; and not just because horizontal man collapses spirit to matter, but because it represents a kind of ontological insanity to place one's hope in matter, or to have faith in natural man, i.e., the human animal.

Also, to collapse O to Ø is the end of the human journey, period. Of course there will still be "movement" -- or agitation -- but it would be absurd to suggest that it's ultimately going anywhere but sideways. Progress of any kind implies a nonlocal end, or telos, that guides the constituent parts toward their purpose, or reason for being.

For a proper human being, O is his telos, and life is unthinkable without it. All of the most interesting and rewarding -- thrilling, even -- features of reality are situated on the (•) --> O side of the oquation (living there also makes everything down in Ø much more interesting and meaningful). I can't even imagine what it would be like to be exiled from O and condemned to Ø . What a grind that would be, with no way to breath the cool, spacious, celestial mountain air of heaven.

But to paraphrase Schuon, it is as if modern man is compressed and frozen under a thick sheet of ice; or alternatively, his essence is dissipated outward toward the periphery. The only way out of this dilemma is to fasten the will to one's highest aspiration and to become a truly free and magnanimous spirit, a Cʘʘn among men.

To be continued....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Almighty B'ob, Master of Trolls

I dreamt that the Celtics thumped the Lakers tonight. Let's hope that this was not a pre-cognitive dream, and that Petey was just messing with me again. I actually woke up with a lump in my throat. I'm still bitter about Don Nelson's shot in game seven of the 1969 finals.

One other trivial item I want to mention. The other day I read a review of Christopher Hitchens' new memoir, in which it mentioned that he writes 1,000 words a day. That got me to wondering. How many words does Bob write? I checked a few of my posts, and they all came in at over 1,000 words. Being that I have written some 1500 posts, that means well over a million words.

And now you know why the arkive will never be organized, and why a second book is probably impossible. Unless I can find a way to cap this underwater gusher, but I have no idea how to do that. First I need Dupree to tell me whose ass to kick.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. If we're going to seriously or even jocularly employ the Ø <-- (•) --> O schematic, the first thing we need to recognize is that (•) --> O is impossible and even unthinkable in the absence of the reverse flow of (•) <-- O, or grace. In fact, to think otherwise is one of those intrinsic heresies we've been gabbing about. And when I say "intrinsic," I mean that it is an error not just for a theology, but theology as such.

To put it another way, to the extent that one imagines that one can successfully approach God unaided and on one's own, this represents the most rank form of cosmic chutzpah and spiritual grandiosity, because it is really just a roundabout way of saying that you are God -- which, in a certain sense, you are (as is everything else, so it qualifies as a truism).

But this hardly means that the converse is true, that God is you. To paraphrase something Schuon said, before you can declare "I AM THAT," you had better realize the extent to which DUDE, NO WAY AM I THAT! Communion is only possible in separation, just as ignorance is a prerequisite of knowledge. Spiritually speaking, the peace, quiet, and openness of (o) and (---) are prior to (n). Or, first faith, then knowledge, faith being a kind of preconceptual foreknowledge.

The left and right sides of my schematic are literally different universes, which is why to be born again from above only changes everything.

Speaking of which, would it not be accurate to say that those readers who fundamentally mis- and disunderstand what I'm saying have not been so reborn, and that they are therefore trying to understand O through Ø -- that the left side doesn't know what the right side is doing? If this is the case, it would certainly explain the intrinsic stupidity of their questions and observations, would it not?

(And as always, I mean this literally, not as an insult. If you are being cosmically stupid, it is an act of mercy for someone to point it out to you. You needn't get sore about it. No one knows who you are. We're just goofing on you for the purposes of higher insultainment. Whack!)

Imagine, for example, a devoted reader who obsessively pores over each and every post, and still cannot penetrate the hull and reach the kernel. He says -- oh, I don't know, "but Bob, that's illogical!" What's really going on here? What if this person isn't only a malevolent, parochial, joyless, and ill-tempered troll, but is honestly confused. What to do? How to help him?

Well, first of all, is it not obvious that Bob cannot help such a person, since Bob may be qualified to be a nursemaid or au pair for a short time but certainly not your cosmic midwife? In a manner of speaking, of course. In other words, exactly who vested in me this power to awaken others from their spiritual slumber? I have never represented myself as some kind of "guru" or "spiritual master," and never will. All I know for certain is that some people say they benefit from these public verticalisthenic exercises in self-help. And that some say they don't benefit. But why the latter keep coming back is a bit puzzling.

For those who do benefit from my improvisational cogitations, I think we would find that, to a person, it is because they have already been -- however you wish to coonceptualize it -- "born again from above," so that their principial orientation is to O, not Ø (and certainly not to me, God forbid!). So for a premetanoiacal troll to ask me for answers I can never provide is a priori evidence of a problem I can't help them with, since -- for the benefit of morons and imbeciles, not regular readers -- I am not O. Rather, for the Raccoon, vertical re-orientation and grace are everything. We are not deus-it-oursophers.

I've mentioned this before, but I'm thinking of when a Christian student came to Schuon for guidance. He said words to the effect of, "fine. But just remember: Christ is your Master. So in response to that flurry of asinine questions and comments yesterday, I suppose my first question to them would be, "who is your Master?" The answer to that question should automatically provide answers to the others.

It's a little startling to me how Pieper's and Zizioulas' books are lining up on this discussion. I keep going back and forth between one and the other, and it's as if the two are conversing in my head. I find it fascinating that one of our trolls persistently mischaracterizes our position as one of certitude and finality, when precisely the opposite is true. Only the atheist has that kind of bovine certitude. Again, for the person in (•) --> O, we are always on the way, never at our final deustination.

In this regard, Pieper has a fascinating discussion about the delicate balance required of the already but not yet, and the various vices and sins that result from over- or underemphasizing one side or the other. In other words, the "already" implies a kind of certitude, while the "not yet" implies imperfection, progress, doubt, "seeing through a glass darkly," etc.

He begins by defining the nature of virtue, which is "the enhancement of the human person in a way befitting his nature." Virtue involves "the most a man can be," but again, it is always more of an orientation than an accomplishment. It is "the steadfastness of man's orientation toward the realization of his nature, that is, toward good." I cannot imagine a clearer description of (•) --> O.

But again, as alluded to above, (•) --> O is impossible, precisely. Rather, "theological virtue is an ennobling of man's nature that entirely surpasses what he 'can be' of himself" (emphasis mine). It is "the steadfast orientation toward a fulfillment and a beatitude that are not 'owed' to natural man," a transnatural "potentiality for being" that is "grounded in a real, grace-filled participation in the divine nature..."

Although Pieper is, of course, speaking in a Christian context, it is difficult to imagine a better description of the (•) <-- O that must complement (•) --> O if we are to get anywhere, vertically speaking. (Alternatively, one could simply say, no ↓, no ↑.) And memo to trolls: stop trying to make me your ↓, and get a Master -- and a clue. Then perhaps you'll understand what's going on here.

That's 1150 words. To be continued tomorrow....

This is important enough to embed. It describes what happens when a nation loses contact with O:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Atheism: There's Nothing To It!

No one commented on my little schematic the other day, but it really does tell the whole story about faith, hope, and love, and about man's ontological situation in general. To simplify it, we could just say (and please don't be put off by the symbols, which shouldn't be difficult to understand, but which will accumulate meaning through their use):

O

(•)

Ø

That's you in the middle (•), right between Nothing (Ø) below and the Absolute (O) above. But existence is never static, therefore you are always moving in one direction or the other, even if you're not trying. (One thinks of the three gunas of Vedic metaphysics, which convey the idea that human beings are always rising, falling, or expanding with the cosmic winds; it is also interesting to note that these correlate with creation, destruction, and preservation -- i.e., the trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, respectively.)

Now, as we were saying yesterday, the Raccoon lives in the Light of the already but not yet. In contrast, the existentialist, the village atheist, the materialist, the secular leftist, the troll -- all try to live and navigate their lives in that beam of darkness we call Ø.

And please note, this is not some kind of insult or jab, but an objective account of their own acknowledged metaphysic. Any variety of materialism obviously reduces to nothing, unless you're just too stupid, frightened, or dishonest to draw out the ultimate implications of your first principle.

For a Raccoon, being is dependent upon O. Therefore, all reality is infused with the light and truth of O -- not to mention the beauty which is its penumbra.

Furthermore -- and we'll get more into this later -- just as truth is the light of O, I think we can all agree that love is its "warmth." But where there's heat there's light (and vice versa). Not for nothing does Genesis characterize carnal love as knowledge. Oops! He said a dirty world! But not really. Only if you forget about O. Indeed, you might even say that pornography is the sexuality of Ø.

Unless you are severely retarded and completely stuck in the now, your life is either oriented to O or Ø. To be oriented toward the former means to live in faith and hope, while to be oriented to the latter means to live in concrete. By definition it means that life is hopeless, and that there is no reason whatsoever to have "faith." You already know your future and final end, which is death and nothing more.

But since you know the future, the future infuses the now, which is why you have that damned hellhound on your trail. Everything you do and think is just a distraction from the reality of Ø, and you know it. You are constantly receiving "visitations" from your hopeless future, from the black angel of Death, which is why you have created your Death Culture (in other words your frantic denial of Death always contains traces of Death, precisely.)

I hope this isn't going too slow, but I can only proceed at the rhythm of O.

Everything in the cosmos -- with the exception of the human being -- simply "is what it is," and nothing more. But a human being always lives in the "not yet." Only a human being is aware of time, and therefore stands outside or above it (while still being in it, of course). Thus, as Pieper explains, this "not yet" is a janus-faced thingy which "includes both a negative and a positive element: the absence of fulfillment [Ø] and the orientation toward fulfillment [O]."

Pieper further explains that the former orientation results in a closer "proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things."

In other words, the Raccoon is quite aware of Ø, which is a necessary condition of existence, of a creation separate from the Creator. This is important to appreciate, because while horizontal man does not recognize O, the Raccoon actually acknowledges the "reality" (so to speak, i.e., the relative reality) of the materialist's god, Ø.

To put it another way, you could say that Ø is simply the ultimate destination of man's fallenness. Zizioulas explains this well, noting that the state of fallen existence involves "the rupture between Being and Communion," or between O and ʘ, and therefore resulting in (•) and even worse.

Let me explain in more detail, or put some flesh on those bony pneumaticons. Zizioulas notes that "the fall of man -- and for that matter, sin -- is not to be understood as bringing about something new," since "there is no creative power in evil."

Rather, this fall -- and it really is a "fall," from verticality to horizontality -- should be understood as "revealing and actualizing the limitations and potential dangers inherent in creaturehood, if creation is left to itself." This is because if man denies O, he makes himself "the ultimate point of reference in existence," which is to say, he will "become like God," authorized to determine for himself what is good and what is evil. In merging with Ø, he is the god of all nothingness, or a king in hell.

And that's how you end up at MSNBC.

Now any form of materialism -- I hope this isn't too obvious -- necessarily makes Ø the ultimate frame of reference, but this ends -- and must end -- in fragmentation, the impossibility of truth, and hatred of the Other (who also rightfully claims to be God, the bastard!). Why is this? Because "the fall consists in the refusal to make being dependent on communion, in a rupture between truth and communion" (Zizioulas).

In order to understand why this must be so, you must see that Truth is prior to Being. If Being is prior to Truth -- as existentialists believe -- then the simple fact of your (•) becomes the ultimate substance of truth. In other words, your so-called truth actually emanates from Ø. And you don't "commune" with this truth so much as sink into it and dissolve, nothing to Nothing. You are just one fragmented object among an infinite number of others. Frankly, you're a leftist, but we won't get into that. I just want to make sure Stevenonymous is paying obsessive attention.

But if the essence of existence is communion -- and therefore Love -- then your union with truth and reality, O, is prior to your alienation, or fall, from it.

Which is again where faith and hope -- and, of course, love -- come in, which are nothing more than orientation toward reality, or O.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Future is Now Because Now is Not Yet

Continuing our discussion of the theological virtue of hope. As we mentioned yesterday, hope is thoroughly entangled with the idea that we are on a journey. But this journey is obviously not to a physical destination. Rather, "it refers to the innermost structure of created nature," and is the "inherent 'not yet' of the finite being." Human being means being on the way to humanness -- or to fully realized human personhood, to be precise.

This gets a little complicated, but the fact that we are created simultaneously introduces the possibility of hope and of hopelessness, depending upon whether we turn toward or away from our source. Ironically, the man who imagines himself to be wholly self-sufficient turns away from this source and necessarily falls into a kind of loveless nihilism (or at least that is its tendency and end). The existential price for this denial and refusal is what we might call hell.

Let me see if I can back up and explain this more clearly. As it so happens, I'm reading another important book at the same time, Being as Communion. Pieper's Faith, Hope, Love was so fraught with implications, that I needed to put it down for awhile and assimilate what I'd read so far.

But this book is equally profound, plus it is resonating with the other one in such a way that they are feeding off one another and creating a luminous arc in the space between them, i.e., in my melon. Thus the need to post on Saturday and Sunday to try to keep up with the flow of (n). As always, this verticalisthenic exercise is as much for me as it is for readers. It's probably a little sloppy as well, but at least it's completely half baked.

Anyway, Zizioulas writes that "the being of God is a relational being," so that "without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God." It seems that many theologians have failed to properly draw out the implications of the Trinity, for its immediate implication is that God cannot be a "substance"; or, to be precise, the substance would be posterior to the essence, which is pure relation -- a relation that ultimately reduces to love.

I remember when I was a child and forced to attend Sunday school, on the wall in large gold letters was the statement GOD IS LOVE. Of course it made no sense to a child, and as I grew older it just seemed like sentimental nonsense.

But in reality, this conclusion was a result of the daring and sophisticated thinking of the early fathers, which transformed God from a remote and abstract substance to the very essence and possibility of personhood. The latter is in sharp contrast to mere biological humanness, which is given to us by nature. Real personhood is intrinsically transnatural and can only be conferred from on high (which is why in order to progress along the path, one must be "born again from above").

I'm not sure if Zizioulas' ideas are controversial, but they absolutely resonate in me, vis-a-vis my own ghostly spookulations regarding the intersubjectively trinitarian nature of the developing psyche. A human being is irreducibly intersubjective. I'm not going to make a rehash of the entire argument here, as it is covered in detail in the book. Suffice it to say that our own mysterious intersubjectivity is an analogue of God's interior life, so that to be means to be in relation. There is no being without relation, not even in God:

"There is no true being without communion. Nothing exists as an 'individual,' conceivable in itself. Communion is an ontological category" (Zizioulas).

To turn it around, to deny this ontological communion is to eradicate the person at the root. Thus, any kind of materialistic metaphysic that crudely regards man as a self-enclosed thing is nothing less than ontological genocide. There is no scientistic way to get from the biological human to the unique person whose being is loving interior relation.

The latter conception frees man from the "ontological necessity" that bounds him in the closed system of biology, and instead renders him an open system, both horizontally and vertically. Again, the Person is not "an adjunct to being, a category we add" to a supposedly more fundamental biological entity.

Rather, Personhood is itself the substance of being, both its principle and its (vertical) cause. Our substance -- and God's substance -- "never exists in a 'naked' state," the result being that we may affirm that real personhood is an uncreated mode. It is intrinsic to God, and given to us -- if we accept it. (Interestingly, Zizioulas derives our own absolute uniqueness from the uniqueness of the only begotten Son.)

If we choose not to accept it, we are essentially choosing our own ontological self-sufficiency. But again, the existentialists are correct that this radical freedom necessarily ends in nihilsm, so that the person becomes the negator of his own ontology, which is ultimately loving relation. Zizioulas:

"It thus becomes evident that the only exercise of freedom in an ontological manner is love.... Love is not an emanation or 'property' of the substance of God," a "secondary property of being." Rather, love constitutes God's being, and is his very "mode of existence." Which in turn introduces the human dilemma, which is "either freedom as love, or freedom as negation."

So, what is the proper relation between the biological human and the post-biological person, or between the old man and the new? As Zizioulas suggests, it implies a "movement, a progress toward realization" rooted in hope.

You might say that for vertical man, his personal roots are aloft, his biological leaves and branches down below. Thus, the person is "maintained and nourished, by the future. The truth and the ontology of the person belong to the future," and "are images of the future."

This speaks to the paradoxical position of vertical man, that of "already but not yet." For to draw our substance from the above is to draw it from the future, so that both are in a sense already here -- as they say, the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth, but men do not see it. Not with their biological eyes, anyway.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Liberalism

Pieper begins his discussion of the virtue of hope with the observation that for man -- and man only -- well, Christian man, anyway -- life is a journey, and we are pilgrims.

In short, the span of time between conception and death is a pilgrimage, a meaningful movement in which the purpose is to journey closer to our true end by metabolizing and assimilating its "substance," so to speak. Thus, each moment of life is conferred -- or partakes of -- ultimate significance, since it bears upon our eshcatological end, so that our being is never just that, but a meaningful becoming in the direction of Being itself, or the source of our borrowed being.

Or, as I would prefer to say, the end, or telos, casts its shadow "down and back" into our lives, while simultaneously serving as the attractor (telovator, or eschalator) that lures us up into the phase space of O, the Absolute, God.

Also, my view is that this is not just "Christian anthropology" but universal anthropology. Christianity would not be true if it didn't comport with The Way Things Are. I'm not one of those people who believe that Christianity is true only because "God said it." I don't think the Creator would abuse our intelligence in that way.

Rather, he wants us to know that there is no conflict between revelation and Reason, and that we need the latter to comprehend the former. At least for the most part. There are, of course, certain things we couldn't know in the absence of God revealing them, but even then, probably fewer things than one might imagine.

For example, it is often said that the Trinitarian nature of God is one of those things, but I gradually arrived at a similar conclusion based upon metaphysical speculation on the thoroughly intersubjective nature of the person. Indeed, that is what allowed me to appreciate the breathtaking philosophical daring of the early fathers at arriving at such a formulation, since they did so without the benefit of 21st century neurodevelopmental attachment theory.

The point is that a person -- as opposed to a merely biological human -- cannot be a monad, psychically closed system, or radically isolated individual, but is intrinsically and irreducibly communitarian, so that human minds are members of one another.

This is not something "added on" to the individual, but the very basis of even the possibility of the individual <----> social dialectic within which we live and have our being. If you don't believe me, just ask Julie about the metaphysics of the mother-infant bond, and the interior substance that flows back and forth between them. The oneness is not imposed from the outside, but apprehended from the inside -- which is none other than the very "cosmic interior" that makes love possible, more on which later. (Exteriors cannot love, only be attracted or repelled by one another.)

As Pieper explains, one who has "arrived" is no longer "on the way." Rather, his journey is over. This can happen in two ways, one good, one bad. The bad way occurs as a result of any of the intellectual heresies we have been discussing, say, materialism. If the world is ultimately matter, then the only journey in life is from death to death, which is no journey at all.

Or, for a relativist, there can be no progressive journey, only an infinite number of lateral ones. In the absence of the Great Attractor, there is nothing that can confer absolute meaning upon our own otherwise arbitrary movements.

In my book I discuss various intellectual pathologies such as materialitis and reductionosis, which obviously infuse leftist thought. Thus, my disdain for leftism has nothing to do with the left per se (much less the slaves who are in its grip), but with their intrinsic betrayal of cosmic truth.

To cite just one particularly glaring example, they are always talking about "the poor," as if there is any such thing. Rather, there are only poor individuals. But the left converts a temporary adjective that applies to individuals into a reified characteristic of a permanent "group."

But a bare acquaintance with economics reveals that very few people spend their lives in this reified category of "the poor." First of all, as Sowell points out, it is simply a truism that anyone can divide the population into abstract quintiles, so that by definition there will always be five of them, no matter how hard the left tries to outlaw the number five.

The point is that most of those individuals are no longer in the bottom quintile after a decade, and the ones who remain there usually do so because of easily recognized pathologies and self-defeating behaviors such as drug abuse or having children out of wedlock.

But in reifying this quintile, the left is able to create this mystical entity called the poor, thereby converting a temporary weigh station to an enduring state of being. And most importantly, this state of being robs the poor person of the virtue of hope, which is where the left comes in, in that they offer false hope to the hopeless dupes they have created -- the false hope of dependence on the state rather than individual initiative, good values, prudent behavior, etc. This is why, for example, the incomes of married black families are virtually identical to married white families.

As I've said before, I'm sure I would have qualified for "poor" during the many years I was putting myself through college and graduate school. But while I knew I wasn't wealthy, I certainly didn't identify with this state of being that the left wished to confer upon me.

Rather, I knew that finances would improve, because I had hope. But even then, I never, ever, confused "economic hope" with genuine hope, i.e., the theological hope that converts otherwise biological life into a spiritual path. To convert life into a mere journey up the economic quintiles, as the left does, renders life nothing more than a nihilistic death march to empty prosperity. I want no part of it. Unless a wealthy benefactor wishes to make a generous donation to the, er, Foundation for Missing Raccoons.

Now, one factor that motivates our journey is the occasional glimpses of our end that we are granted. Faith (or vertical openness) comes into play here, because faith is a kind of tacit foreknowlede of an as yet undiscovered reality -- not dissimilar to how the gifted scientist is guided in his explorations by a tacit sense of moving in the right direction -- which is why good questions can contain as much light as their answers, whereas the kinds of stupid questions asked by, say, our anonymous troll are already so full darkness that there is no room for the light they pretend to seek (similar to Helen Thomas's darkly loony questions at presidential press conferences, which no light could ever penetrate, much less satisfy).

The critical point is this: "it is astonishing how many basic concepts of theology have a meaning in reference to the state of being on the way that is different from their meaning in reference to the state of total possession" (Pieper). For this being on the way is precisely the journey from outer to inner, from existence to essence, from image to likeness. "Hope" is simply a side effect, so to speak, of being properly oriented in the vertical, in contrast to the "enlightened despair" of the flatland secular fantasists who hopelessly look to matter for meaning.

Essentially, you could boil and half bake it all down to a symbolic schematic:

O
↑↓
ʘ <---> (L), beatitude, or sat-chit-ananda
↑↓
(¶) <---> (n)
↑↓
(•) ---> (+K)

(•••) <---> (H)

Ø <---> (-K)

Friday, June 11, 2010

How to Know When God is Speaking to You

Jumping ahead again, this time to Pieper's wonderful book on the theological virtues, Faith, Hope, Love -- which is perhaps even better than his book on the cardinal virtues, although both are essential.

And when I say "essential," I don't mean it in the sense that it is essential for you to read them; rather, I mean it in the sense that he directly communicates the spiritual essence of what he is discussing (you might say that essence is to the vertical what existence is to the horizontal).

This is always the hallmark of a gifted religious writer: the direct communication of essence; or, to put it another way, their communication is spiritually infused with the "substance" of the reality under discussion. In fact, if this essence -- or substance -- is not present, then something ain't right, either in the transmitter or the receiver (i.e., him or you; but if the problem is in you, you will be incapable of discerning a fraud from the real thing, a Deepak from a Dionysius).

It reminds me of something my most gifted professor taught me in graduate school: if either you or the patient aren't aware of an emotional disturbance in the session, then something is wrong (in other words, the two of you are probably colluding to avoid some primitive material).

Pieper actually touches on this issue in his section on faith. "In speaking to men, God does not cause them to know objective facts, but he does throw open to them his own Being" (emphasis mine). Do you see the profundity of this statement? When he communicates, God quintessentially communicates his own essence -- which, on our end, is subjectively accompanied by awareness of the sacred. And awareness of the sacred is nothing less than innate consciousness of the presence of God (Schuon).

Again, to turn it around, if, for whatever reason, a person has rendered himself unable or unwilling to sense the sacred, he will be unable to sense the presence of God. Conversely, when one is aware of the sacred, God is present. Of course he is always and everywhere "present," but in order to be aware of that fact, we must become a vertically open system, i.e., (↑↓).

Or, to paraphrase Petey, if you haven't received the hologram to your private particle, you need to come in, open His presence, and report for karmic duty.

Note that the "essence of the essence," so to speak, of the divine revelation, utterly transcends any ability to draw a distinction between signifier and signified, symbol and symbolized, for the two merge in God. Thus, "the Incarnation of God and the revelation in Christ are one and the same reality" (Pieper; emphasis mine).

This revelation of being is only offered to us, never forced (interestingly, my above referenced professor once remarked that he never, ever, recommended psychotherapy, but only offered it; I can certainly say the same of this blog).

The "content" of revelation is ultimately Revelation as such, which is to say, a loving invitation to "participate in the divine life." Which in turn is why faith is so critical, for faith is essentially the acceptance of God's offer -- or of his self-revelation, to be precise. "Divine revelation is not an announcement of a report on reality but the imparting of that reality itself" (emphasis mine). To have "faith" means to actually take God's call, and not just put him on hold or play phone tag with him.

As I've mentioned before, Schuon's writing is always characterized by its essentiality, so let's see what he has to say about the human ability to know the sacred. I really don't see how someone could be more exact, while at the same time not "confining" the human spirit. To the contrary, I find that Schuon's exactitude is always liberating, as it bears upon, and opens up to, the Infinite (again, it is vertically open):

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

Which is why, in the words of Petey, It is a Tree of Life for those whose wood beleaf.

"The sacred is the presence of the center in the periphery, of the immutable in the moving.... The sacred introduces a quality of the absolute into relativities and confers on perishable things a texture of eternity" (Schuon).

Elsewhere he says that "It is the interference of the uncreate in the created, of the eternal in time, of the infinite in space, of the supraformal in forms; it is the mysterious introduction into one realm of existence of a presence which in reality contains and transcends that realm..."

Traces of the sacred are everywhere -- those life-giving springs dotting the horizontal landscape -- but it is up to us to hone our ability to detect them: "To feel this concretely is to possess the sense of the sacred, and thereby the instinct of adoration, devotion and submission." It is to be simultaneously aware of the "immense remoteness and miraculous proximity" of O. Which in turn is why the Raccoon is always on the way to his deustination. He is simultaneously there and not yet there, which in-forms the dialectical tension of his life journey into O.

By the way, for Pieper, the closest human analogue to God's disclosure of his Being is....

Any guesses?

How about I. Love. You.

Why is that? Because this simple statement is simultaneously a revelation of what it reveals. In other words, it is not a factual statement about love, but its direct transmission from human to human (one especially notices this with young children, whose verbal expressions of love are so spontaneous and pure that they are literally heartbreaking. Ouch! Hurts so good!).

I love you is also a direct and intimate revelation of the deepest identity of the one who loves. Thus, there are three elements unified in the one utterance: the "self-witnessing" of the I who loves; the affirmation of the reality of love; and the revelation that one is beloved.

Which is why in God, one must not draw an artificial distinction between love and knowledge, for his revelation is a direct transmission of his loving nature, of love, and of our belovedness in God. Divine communication and comm-union are one and the same.

I feel like I barely got started, and now it's time to stop. To be continued....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Inadvertent Wisdom of Christopher Hitchens

I'm not really sure whose ass to kick this morning. There are no unhatched ideas in my head clamoring to be born, no thoughts in search of a thinker. This happens every once in awhile, and when it does, I usually just hand the ball off to Bob's Unconscious and start typing. Which I will proceed to do.

I'm still stuck on the idea of intellectual heresy, and I wish more people understood and appreciated what I was talking about, especially the people whose asses I would like to kick. This has nothing to do with content, for example, science vs. religion.

Rather, this is a truly universal problem that cuts across all disciplines. In my opinion, it is the central cause of man's betrayal of himself, and undoubtedly the primary infirmity of the tenured. Some of these intellectual heresies only wound the person who commits them, while others are death to the intellect, and therefore aggravated cluelesside.

At the very least, the intellectual heretic participates in his own astral abortion. But the real miscarriage occurs if one is a teacher or in a position of influence, whereby one participates in mass murder, or at least attempted murder. In other words, since the soul is the form of the body, to commit soul murder is to destroy what is essential in the human being. When young people with skulls full of mush are the victims, then we're talking about mind-fucking, and therefore intellectual pederasty with intent to commit skulbuggery.

The other day I heard Christopher Hitchens on the Michael Medved show promoting his new autofelltatiography, and there is no question that this is an "intelligent" man. Nevertheless in five minutes he commits enough intellectual heresies to render his own intelligence impotent. He is so full of an externalizing pride and passion that he seems incapable of genuine self-understanding. He is also a vulgar and blustering intellectual bully, which is not wholly beside the point, since truth -- and the truth lover -- attracts. Truth, like goodness (or the Light it is), simultaneously radiates and enraptures; it does not "harden" and compress upon itself, thereby giving no Light. Which is why a Raccoon does not argue truth, only offer it.

For example, let us suppose that his gradual evolution from a man of the hard left -- a committed Trotskyist and true Useful Idiot -- represents some kind of evolution, or "growth." Exactly what has grown? Is he more intelligent today than he was then? Doubtful, if only because of the alcoholic toll on his brain cells. Is he wiser? I don't see how "wisdom" would be permitted in his narrow world view, for it immediately implies transcendence and therefore common cause with traditions and people whom he despises.

In other words, there is no "wisdom tradition" on the left. To the contrary, the left can only remain the left through a systematic blindness to mankind's accumulated and revealed wisdom. The left is and must not only be ahistorical, but irreligious, irrational, and dismissive of anthropology (in the sense of apprehending the transcendent and universal archetype that defines man).

Schuon writes that wisdom involves a combination of intelligence and character, and is ideally "represented by gnosis, which a priori is set on the restoration of the primordial perfection of man." So if Hitchens is a better man than he was 40 or 50 years ago, he is closer to that absolute perfection that makes possible the relative degrees of improvement.

In other words, in the absence of an implicit absolute standard, there can be no real "improvement" of any kind, only meaningless lateral change, or at best, better "adaptation" to the environment (and even then, only for the purposes of sexual reproduction).

Schuon further notes that wisdom "consists not only in knowing truths and being able to communicate them, but also in the sage’s capacity to recognize the most subtle limitations or hazards of human nature."

In other words, wisdom, in order to be wisdom, must recognize man's aboriginal infirmity, or risk committing the intellectual heresy of omniscience. Ironically, this is something the traditionalist is always mindful of, whereas the secular man regards it as a fable or fairy tale, which has the practical effect of collapsing the vertical and conflating man and God.

To put it another way, Hitchens obviously believes that man is not only capable of knowledge (and therefore truth), but even the ultimate knowledge that permits him to absolutely deny the Creator. Thus, in his own weird way, he insists that man's intellect is indeed an adeqation (or mirror) not only to reality, but ultimate reality. If man is uniquely capable of pronouncing on ultimate reality, what does that make him? Certainly not a Darwinian beast!

Schuon asks, "whence comes this demigod who accuses, and whence his power to accuse?" For "if the accuser himself is right, this must mean that man is not so bad and that there exists within him a capacity for adequation" (emphasis mine).

Which is precisely the Raccoon's missionary position: that the human intellect is an adequation to reality, not a passive reflection of the Darwinian environment, nor a mirror of the "material world," whatever that could mean in the so-called "mind" of a materialist.

Hitchens' views on religion are not only wrong but absurd, and the only way he can maintain them is through his snarling contempt for religious doctrines that are even more stupid than his own (and fortunately for Hitchens, there is never a shortage of those, any more than there is a shortage of political, artistic, or cultural stupidity).

There is nothing in Hitchens' metaphysic that would permit "a sudden burst of intellectual and moral objectivity [to] come about in a merely biological and quantitative development" (Schuon). Rather, if man is capable of objectivity and adequation, it could not be explained by the radical contingency of atoms in the void or genes on the make.

There is so much more one could say about Hitchens' crippling infirmity, but this is obviously not about him; rather, it is about mankind and its proneness to intellectual heresy. For the fact that man's intellect is indeed an adequation to the Absolute -- something with which Hitchens, in his hubris, implicitly maintains -- then this is a "refutation of the ideologies of doubt" and cynicism. Rather, "if a man is able to doubt, it is because there is certainty," just as "the very notion of illusion proves that man has access to reality" (Schuon).

No mere animal could have the trajectory of Hitchens' life, at the end of which it reflects upon itself and thinks, "boy, I had a melon full of illusions 40 years ago, but now I finally know reality and the truth of my species!" Animals can only deviate from their archetype, not spend their life evolving toward it and becoming wiser.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Journey to the Center of the Cosmos

If we were to define the capital intellectual heresy -- an adolescent peter pandemic in our day and age -- it would have to be the denial of the Absolute, and with it, the negation of the multitude of archetypal "relative absolutes" that give boundaries and meaning to human existence.

The immediate corollary is that all is relative, which immediately renders the mind that believes this stupid, for it posits the intrinsic absurdity -- and strict impossibility -- of "absolute relativism." (For those who might be a little slow on the uptake or haven't yet had their coffee, to affirm that "all is relative" is self-refuting, for it posits its own uniquely privileged absolute truth.)

But the intellectual left is willing to barter away the above referenced celestial boundaries in order to gain "permission," so to speak, to believe anything on earth they wish. Thus, omniscience is covertly transferred from God to man, even while the absolute relativist denies that he's doing anything special, just seeing "what's there." But once one denies the intrinsic meaning that is generated between man and his archetype(s), one is "free" to substitute any old manmade meaning one wishes.

At the end of the deity, this is the central argument of the existentialists, who insist that, since we are not "created," we must create ourselves. Every moment faces us with choices through which we forge ourselves on the anvil of existence.

In other words, our inclinations and choices do not emanate from some prior essence, i.e., our soul (although some of them essentialize the godlike genome, and attribute our choices to it). Nor do we create a "soul," since there is no such thing. Rather, in the flatland view, there are only beings and choices, which ultimately reduces to the "nothing" of Sartre's magnum dopiate, Being and Nothingness.

Thus, when an existentialist talks about "freedom," it is by no means similar to what America's founders meant by the term; really, the existentialists should get another word, because Sartre is correct that freedom can have absolutely no meaning if it doesn't bear on a higher reality (believing otherwise is an act of "bad faith").

Sartre was closer to the mark when he called it nausea, that existential dyspepsia that results from our being condemned to the nothingness of radical freedom. But in reality, man is condemned to transcendence, a truth that is proven by its every denial. (Thus Eckhart's ironic and misunderstood wise crack about how every blasphemer praises God.)

In a comment yesterday, our wisely anonymous troll expressed the existentialist view of my mid-20s, affirming his belief that "philosophy has been going for 2500 years or more and hasn't produced a single answer to anything." Again, such a boneheaded conclusion forms the gelatinous underpinning of all forms of secular leftism, since it allows the leftist to make of reality -- and of human beings, which is where the real nightmare comes in -- anything he wishes.

In other words, since a human being has no essence and no truth, the left is free to use the instrument of the state to form man into whatever he desires.

Note also the critical point that for the leftist, truth ultimately reduces -- and must reduce -- to power, since thinking (which is the essence of philosophy) cannot produce "a single answer to anything." It reminds me of a film noir -- I can't think of the name -- in which the head mobster tells one of his beefy underlings something to the effect of, I think. You hit. As we can see, nothing has changed about the "Chicago way."

Thus we clearly see the left wing convergence of freedom and nothingness; indeed, you might even say that on the political spectrum, the left shades off into the black nothing that represents the indiscriminate con-fusion of all colors, while the right (by which I specifically mean contemporary conservative classical liberalism) converges upon the white light -- i.e., the Absolute -- that, upon contact with being, breaks out into the diverse colors of terrestrial existence.

For the absolutist, "color" reminds us of God's immanence in the reignbelow, while pure Light reminds us of his transcendence in the reignabove, which form the two poles of our vertical prismhouse. A color is just "light," but not the Light -- just as a ray of sunlight that reaches the earth is nothing other than the sun, even though we can still draw an ontological distinction between it and its source in the sun "above."

But please note that you cannot draw any such existential line between sunlight and Sun, for any such line is arbitrary, a product of human convention. Furthermore, if a flatlander were to say that we are all "inside the sun," he certainly wouldn't mean what a Raccoon means by the same statement. This is an example of how the flatlander can be technically correct -- or correct on one plane -- while being not even wrong on another, as with his kooky statements about man's "freedom."

There was a brief time that I suppose I was an existentialist, or at least trying to be. It was actually before I entered graduate school, at a time when I was still completely unformed intellectually. On the one hand, I had no correct answers, but at least I didn't yet have any incorrect ones, certainly nothing I could really articulate and defend in any comprehensive manner.

As I have mentioned before, when I was around 23 or so, some kind of intellectual light unexpectedly switched on in my soul (or, one could say that my soul, or what Aurobindo calls the "psychic being," began moving to the forefront), and I began devouring philosophy, psychology, and classic literature.

Naively assuming that philosophy, like science, was a kind of linear enterprise, I assumed I could just skip the old and presumably discredited stuff (Aquinas? Please. Give me a break.) and get right to the latest findings, so to speak. (This is when I also plunged into the shallow end of new age psychological thought, again assuming that it completely superseded the dark ages prior to the late 1950s or so.)

But fortunately for me, since this philosophical adventure had been rooted in a spontaneous movement of the soul -- as opposed to any extrinsic cause such as good grades, tenure, employment, esteem, etc.), my soul could find no rest in existentialism. Rather, it quickly broke free of those finite boundaries of absolute freedom, and continued the infinite adventure of consciousness toward the Absolute -- the old eros shot into the heart of being.

The original desire for the good takes its energy from the ever-pulsating momentum of that Origin in which man, answering the creative call of God, flew across the abyss which parts nothingness from existence. It is the moment with which the possible bursts forth with a roar into the radiant dawn of its first realization: the swift current of a stream that originating in the bright darkness of mere Nature and steadily fed by its source, crosses by the dictates of innate conscience into the realm of freedom --Josef Pieper