Sunday, July 11, 2010

First and Ten on the Field of Love

Slept late this morning. I think I'm still a little tired from yesterday's rousing game of aquatic dwarf tossing (soon to be an Olympic event). I was trying to vault him all the way into the tree, where the idea was for him to grab a vine and hold on like Tarzan (Spiderman in his world). He was eventually able to secure a branch, but it was too weak to hold him:



It was different back when he was an infant, when I could get more elevation. But of course he couldn't grab on to anything then, so one had to catch the slippery dwarf as well. But that caused tachycardia and palpitations in Mrs. G, so....

Anyway, I could take the easy way out this morning by reposting something, but I think I'll do what I can and try to push on ahead into O, even if we capture only a few feet of territory. Every morning is a new first and ten. Although Raccoons prefer the passing game, not every post needs to be a long bomb. Rather, we should also establish a ground game, and occasionally push past the adversary with sheer muscle and will.

Most of us, when we're born, are placed at or near our own 20 yard line. True, some people have certain advantages, but there are usually compensatory factors that cause things to even out -- a regression to the mean, which is why the children of celebrities turn out to be such losers.

Rarely does someone suffer a true safety in life, in which they are tackled in their own endzone through no fault of their own. (We are speaking of America, not, say, the "Palestinians," who see to it that they're all born in their own endzone.) Of course it does sometimes happen, which is why I would never say that no welfare state whatsoever is necessary.

What is unnecessary is placing the welfare system at the 50 yard line, just to make it popular with the middle class. Among other things, doing so renders it a matter of self-interest rather than true charity. If you really think that AARP fights for the impoverished elderly, or that Johnnie Cochran really needed affirmative action for his children to catch a break from the racist system, you sir are worse than Hitler. Worse even than Johnnie Cochran.

So if we are going to advance the ball toward the goal line, we must eventually enter enemy territory. Thus, we are immediately faced with a paradox: the closer we get to the goal, the more attention we draw from the adversary.

The main tools of our ground game consist precisely in the virtues we have been discussing -- the cardinal virtues of prudence (wisdom), justice, courage, and temperance; and the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

By sticking with these, we can play the game very much in the manner John Wooden did. When preparing his players for an upcoming contest, he didn't concern himself with the particular opponent or the individual personnel. Rather, he always told his players that all they needed to do was to execute what they already knew how to do, without regard to whom they were playing.

It's the same with the virtues. You're better off sticking with these, rather than trying to improvise or adapt your game to what the adversary might be thinking. You can always mix in your passing game as well -- prayer, meditation, the beer o'clock slackrament, etc.

Now lately we've been talking about love -- not just as "anything," but as a theological virtue. Why should it be a virtue -- and the most important one at that? Hmm. Perhaps because it's the hardest? I know -- because it is both a means and the goal itself? Because only love can give us a new first and ten? Because the whole field is made of love? Let's find out.

It sounds like we may be on the right track with that last one, about whether the field is made of love. But this will definitely require further explanation so as to avoid descending into a treacly bumper-sticker sentimentality. Pieper says that love "is based upon a preexistent relation between the lover and the beloved." This is indeed a key point -- like my helpful future editor, one wants to say PAY ATTENTION HERE MORON BECAUSE THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

The point is that "no one could love anyone or anything were not the world, in a manner hard to put into words, a single reality and one that can be experienced as fundamentally characterized by unity -- a world in which all beings at bottom are related to one another and from their origins exist in a relationship of real correspondence to one another. In short, we are confirmed in our sensing that love not only yields and creates unity but also that its premise is unity" (emphasis mine).

Therefore, love is not so much an emotion, or a state, or a feeling, but a disclosure of "the way things are." It does not create unity, but reveals it.

But this is precisely where a lot of people get mixed up, including Christians -- and not just the dumb ones, either. Because paradoxically, this oneness can only take place with twoness. In other words, if "all is one," full stop, then love isn't actually possible, is it? Rather, that would simply be a case of cosmic narcissism, or self-love writ large. God is not LaBron James.

The whole key lies in the eternal comm-union of the Trinity. They say that revelation of the Trinity is one of those things that man could never have figured out on his own, but I'm not so sure about that. I came to this conclusion long before I knew anything about Christianity except for a bunch of hostile cliches filtered through the academic left.

But before moving on to the subject of communion, let me set up our offense a little further. Pieper goes on to say that "alienation can exist only on the basis of a preexisting original oneness." The Fall immediately comes to mind. Adam and Eve can only be "expelled" from Paradise if they were once there.

Indeed, some would say that it would be impossible to even know about paradise unless one were exiled from it, so to speak -- just as a fish can't understand water until it is flopping on the deck. "Damn. Should have left that attractive bait alone!"

Hmm. I see that I scrawled a mysterious message to myself in the margin: If you say yes to O, it doesn't mean you're saying no to Ø. But if you say yes to Ø, you must say no to O.

What could this mean? Perhaps that if we say Yes to the unity of love, it encompasses the other, and ultimately affirms the whole world. But if we say Yes to Ø, it affirms our radical isolation and confirms Sartre's belief that hell is other people. But hell is only some people. Sartre, for example.

More Rhythm & Jews

Just a brief followup to yesterday's post on Rhythm & Jews.

By the way, the very term "Rhythm & Blues" was coined by one of the owners of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler, when employed as a writer for Billboard in the late '40s or early '50s. Up to that time, it had been condescendingly referred to as "race music" -- as if the white cyphers who produced such dreck as How Much is That Puppy in the Window -- #1 on the pop charts in 1953 -- didn't belong to a race.

I actually had the opportunity to meet Wexler, since he retired to Sarasota, where he became good friends with my in-laws. He and my father-in-law were very much cut from the same page, as both were hi-IQ Jewish atheists from Washington Heights who fell in love with "race music" as teens.

I wonder if there is something aside from business acumen that drew this particular generation of Jews -- many of whom were the children of first generation European immigrants -- to cosmo-American music? In his Capitalism and the Jews, Muller only gets into the cultural traits that made for entrepreneurial success, but not any traits that might have specifically contributed to a passionate musical negrophilia.

And for most of them, it was a passion, not just a business. Here, let me dig out Wexler's autobiography. Ah, here it is: To Bob & Leslie -- Warmest Regards to two dyed-in-the-wool fans of our music. The reason I bring this up is that for most of these people, I think the musical attraction was quasi-religious, even though they were generally apostates of their own faith (and often even ashamed of it).

I know that this is very much what it was like for me as a kid. When I first heard the Beatles, it was like a bolt of reality in a sea of bullshit. School made no sense to me. The Beatles made immediate, visceral sense. And I don't just mean that in any primitive way, or the subject wouldn't be worth discussing.

Interesting. Here is a description of Wexler's reaction to hearing Bing Crosby in the 1930s, while still in his teens: "He was my guru. Bing sent me into a state of voluptuous euphoria. He spoke to me.... I levitated on his melodies.... he set me thinking about the mysteries of music and love." In 1977, "when the news of Bing's death came on the car radio, I pulled over and wept."

Here's a later example of hearing a certain trumpet solo which "put me into a trance.... Time stood still." He also talks about how he and his friends became "a new cult of record collectors, relentless in the pursuit of our Grail."

Again, this was an atheist who claimed to have no interest in religion, and yet, the feelings he is describing certainly have a quasi-religious sensibility. While he says that such experiences set him thinking about "the mysteries of music and love," I don't think he got very far in that area, because these types of powerfully transcendent experiences are experiences of the transcendent.

That being the case, one must follow them back up to their source, which is the whole basis of the "mystery." In a spiritual context, "mystery" is not just the absence of knowledge but an ontologically real characteristic of O. It is a mode of knowledge, not a deficiency.

But Wexler never made the connection. Indeed, "I can't remember a time when I wasn't a doubter. Never -- not for a hot minute -- have I believed in God.... I glory in disbelief. Disbelief, at least for me, is a source of strength."

But in the very next paragraph he says, "My feelings for literature, art, movies, food, and wine are all invested with spirit. Above all, it's in my feeling for music. Music has brought me joy; it has given me a beat and a groove, and sent me down righteous roads."

Excuse me, but WTF?, if you'll pardon the French. Here is a person who has the experience, but leaves it isolated, disconnected from any higher reality. He has a word for it -- "spirit" -- but what could the word possibly mean to a materialist who glories in disbelief? Just a meaningless brain state, I suppose.

I'm no psychologist -- no, wait, I am -- but perhaps this was a factor: his idealized mother "was a great reader, a diligent student of Freud, Marx, and Lenin. She was a freethinker, a liberal [!], a woman who instigated her own liberation sixty years before the movement began." With her friends she would "drink endless cups of coffee and and argue over Lenin and Trotsky. It's a pretty good bet she was a card-carrying member of the Party."

Sounds like he was as liberated as his mother. But from what? Maybe from the promised land back to Egypt.

*****

In the background, my beloved record collection. On the walls, some of my musical heroes. In the foreground, my knee. In between, Madonna & Child. Come to think of it, I got rhythm / I got music / I got my girl / Who could ask for anything more?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jazz, Rhythm & Jews: Free Your Market and Your Ass Will Follow

It's music Saturday. I'm pretty sure no one has written about this subject from the angle I'd like to explore, although it's possible.

We all know that American music is our greatest contribution to world art, and that when we say Cosmo-American music, we might as well say African American music. There's also country music, which is related more to certain European folk styles. But country music never conquered the world in the way other American forms did, including rock, jazz, rhythm & blues, soul, and various sub-genres.

Awhile back I read what currently stands as the best biography of the Beatles, in which the author makes the point that in England in the early 1960s, there were only four record companies, including EMI, with whom they eventually signed, but just barely. Part of the fascination of the Beatles' story is the incredible confluence of luck, timing and unique personalities that made it all come together, whereas in hindsight it all seems so inevitable: how could such talented people not succeed in the music business?

But that's exactly the point: in socialist England the music business couldn't have been more different than in America, where there were also a few major labels, e.g., Columbia and RCA, but dozens, if not hundreds, of independents. And virtually all of the most innovative music in America -- including jazz, rock, and blues -- came from the independent labels that initially catered to tiny but underserved audiences -- often the owner himself, who just wanted to hear the kind of music he loved.

In the UK, as is the case in any top-down, command economy, the system was run by elites at the top. Therefore, the music business was very much a supply side enterprise: elites decided who they would sign and what they wanted you to hear. If they didn't hear any potential in the Beatles, then too bad for you. At the time the Beatles auditioned for George Martin at EMI, they had already been rejected by the other three, so if Martin hadn't taken a chance on them, that would have been it.

But in America it was different. Because of our free market, anyone could start a record company and record anyone they wanted. Plus, in England there were only a handful of radio stations, and again, elites dictated what could be heard on them. Even when they finally began mixing in some rock in the 1960s, it often wasn't what the people wanted to hear. Thus the emergence of Pirate Radio in the UK, whereby the Forbidden Music was broadcast from ships in international waters. Socialism always creates black markets, and this is a perfect instance.

Of particular interest is that in America, nearly all of the legendary independents were owned by Jews, to such an extent that no one would have ever heard most of this timeless music if not for the Jewish businessmen who made it possible to hear it.

It's really quite astounding when you start to compile a list of the great Jewish-owned independent labels. For example, for any connoisseur of modern jazz, the name Blue Note has a kind of magical mystique. It might be my choice for the greatest American label. It was started on a shoestring in 1939 by a German Jewish emigré, Alfred Lion (later joined by his childhood friend and partner, Francis Wolff: Lion and Wolff. Heh). And although it cranked out classic after classic, for most of its existence it barely broke even. Every once in awhile they would produce a surprise "hit" that would rescue the company from financial collapse. And a "hit" in jazz is very different from what we think of as a hit in popular music, by an order of magnitude, but at least it produced enough revenue to keep going.

In Bob's vaunted record collection, I am quite sure that I have more Blue Notes than any other label. In fact, I would be embarrassed to count how many, but I'm sure it's well over 100, probably over 200. Which is another critical point: there is no other label that produced as many great albums. Usually, in any kind of popular music, there are a couple of hits on an album, surrounded by a lot of dreck. But in the case of Blue Note, there are hundreds of albums that are great from start to finish by truly innovative artists whose names you probably wouldn't recognize unless you are Jack. (I might add that they also produced beautifully artistic album covers, often featuring the great photography of Francis Wolff. A number of his photos hang on my walls.)

All of the other great jazz labels were owned by Jews: for example, Riverside by Orrin Keepnews, Prestige by Bob Weinstock, Contemporary by Lester Koenig, Verve by Norman Granz, Commodore by Milt Gabler (who I think was Billy Crystal's uncle. UPDATE: confirmed: Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story -- listen to the samples and check out the incredible diversity).

It's the same with blues. By far the greatest blues label was Chess Records, started by Leonard Chess in 1947. It was the home of such legends as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, and Etta James, but it also spawned such rock & roll founders as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Truly: no Jews, no blues. And no blues, no Stones, just for starters (nor Yardbirds, Animals, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and all the other British groups that were influenced by Chess).

In fact, in the beginning, the only goal of the Rolling Stones was to imitate their heroes and make records that sounded like they came from Chess (they actually had several recording sessions at the Chess studios in Chicago in '64-'65). In one of their early television appearances, they only agreed to perform on condition that Howlin' Wolf would be on the program, just so they could hear him. The idea of the menacing Wolf performing before a bunch of teenagers is positively surreal, but here it is. Notice how innocent and enthusiastic the Stones appeared; note also the size of Wolf's hands. Someone once said that shaking hands with him was like placing your hand in a catcher's mitt:



There's a film based on the story of Chess, called Cadillac Records. I have no idea if it's any good, but here is Beyonce as Etta James, singing her classic At Last. Not as good as the original, but pretty impressive:



The greatest soul and R & B label was Atlantic, which was founded in 1947 by Ahmet Ertegün (who was actually Turkish) and Herb Abramson, later joined by another Jewish partner in 1953, Jerry Wexler. The roster of Atlantic artists is mind-boggling: Ray Charles (when he was truly great, i.e., the 1950s), Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Drifters, Big Joe Turner. They also distributed and sometimes produced Stax artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, Sam & Dave, and many others.

Another important label was Specialty, owned by Art Rupe (Goldberg), and home of Little Richard and the early Sam Cooke. Or how about King Records, owned by Syd Nathan? If their only artist were James Brown, that would be enough to cement their legend.

So, the question is, why the Jews? I just so happen to be reading a fascinating little book called Capitalism and the Jews, which, although it doesn't get into their entreprenurial success in the music business, does try to explain why Jews are so extraordinarily good at capitalism. Unfortunately, we're almost out of time, but one of the points Muller makes is that Jewish success at capitalism is one of the strongest arguments against the left, because they prove that it is cultural values that determine success, not "greed," or luck, or "privilege" (one could say the same of Asian Americans, Cubans, and Armenians). This helps to explain the anti-Semitism of the left, because hatred of capitalism is usually tied in with hatred of Jews.

But Muller has another chapter on the curious phenomenon of Jewish leftists. Why would so many Jews perversely embrace the left when capitalism has been so good to them (and vice versa)? Like I said, out of time. To be continued.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Tantric Christianity

We've covered faith and hope. We now move on to love, which I hope to weave into some other areas. I think this is especially necessary in the case of love, since the word is already quite saturated, plus we want to avoid any descent into mere sentimentality. Remember, theology is a science, not some kind of airy-fairy enterprise like climate change, keynesian economics, or gender studies.

As Lewis quipped, "Give a quality a good name and that name will soon be the name of a defect." Conversely, give a defect a Nobel Prize and soon he will have a good name -- Arafat, Carter, Gore, Kofi Annan, et al. The point is, language is a tricky business, because once you drop a word "into the the dynamic processes of living language," it undergoes changes and mutations beyond anyone's control.

Look at the "Big Bang," for example. At first this was a term of ridicule hurled at scientists who were foolish enough to imagine that the cosmos actually had an absolute beginning -- you know, like those religious nuts.

Hell, people forget that "Raccoon" was at first a term of abuse for the manner in which our mischievous furbears were so disruptive in church. Why? Not just because they refused to leave their beer outside, but because they asked a lot of embarrassing questions that the typical self-styled holy man was ill-equipped to answer, like "if the Bible is literally true, what does it mean that Christ is a door? Isn't that a metaphor?"

Anyway, it seems that to toss a word into the great tumbler of language ends up with a lot of edges smoothed off, so that distinct meanings begin to converge and look alike. Thus, people still talk about "love," but you rarely hear them distinguish it from eros, caritas, amor, agape, and all the other varieties.

For example, Pieper mentions that pietas, which is related to pity -- and therefore mercy -- is an aspect of love. This immediately places the Jesus prayer in a slightly different light: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me means more than just "Lord Jesus Christ, give me a break."

Pieper also mentions affection, which has the feature of passio, which does not necessarily connote "passion" per se, but the passive aspect of love. As often as not, love is not something "chosen," but something undergone, even suffered.

For example, I certainly didn't choose to have all those painful crushes back in junior high and high school. Rather, I suffered them. One doesn't choose to be attracted to this or that person. Rather, it's out of one's conscious control. Looked at this way, "affection" means to be affected, or "passive," in relation to the loved object.

Another fascinating example is studium, which connotes a different kind of attraction and close examination. I especially relate to this one, because it means that theology, or the "study of God," is indeed a distinct manner of loving. It is possible to be warm for the form of God.

Come to think of it, I don't study things I don't love, which is one of the reasons I didn't do very well until graduate school, at which time I was able to devote all of my energies to the subjects I truly loved. Note also that this type of pure love is fruitful. It's safe to say that I bore no intellectual fruit until I was able to cultivate these lovingly studious relationships with subjects of my choice. Note also that picking a vocation before one is mature enough to do so can be like an arranged marriage.

I think it's also important to point out that love converges both at the top and bottom of the cosmic hierarchy. Think back to the illustration (borrowed from our unKnown Friend) we have used on many occasions, of the two cones placed base-to-base, one atop the other.

If you're with me, you'll see one point at the top, a wide equator, and another point at the bottom. Now, imagine this as a crystal, with pure "white light" entering at the top. At the equator we will see maximum differentiation of the white light into all of the diverse colors of the rainbelow. At the bottom, all the colors merge back together into a black point.

So to say "God is love," is to refer to that point of pure light at the top. But as it descends into the herebelow, it breaks out into all of its many varieties alluded to above. But with the passage of time -- at least if we are not conscious -- these distinct colors blend together into the mere blob which the vulgar like to call "love." It is because of this cosmic blobbiness that love has become so saturated, and why it simultaneously refers to "everything" and "nothing."

As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, one of the watchwords of the Raccoon path is integration. Now, this integration is not a result of some kind of forcing or blending together of these distinct qualities. Rather, it occurs naturally as we ascend the Cosmic Cone and get closer to the source of the white light, which we might as well call O.

Only in so doing can all the varieties of love be seen and experienced in their proper divine light, whether we are in the realm of the body, mind, or spirit, or whether we are in the vertical or horizontal. This is why, for example, sex detached from eros and amor becomes nothing more than a bodily function -- zoological, not psychological, much less spiritual: "We are in flight from eros -- and we use sex as the vehicle for that flight" (Rollo May, quoted in Pieper).

But with integration, we experience all the varieties of love as prolongations of God's creative love. Furthermore, we are able to integrate and focus the different kinds of love on one person, instead of having, say, a kind of filial love for one's wife but an erotic love for the mistress. Men often do this because of a split in their own psyche. I remember reading about how Elvis could no longer have sex with a woman if she became a mother, because he couldn't integrate the two types of love.

When it comes right down to it, the Raccoon way is a tantric way -- which doesn't just refer to sex, but to the divinization of everything. Truth be told, Christianity is a kind of tantric yoga. It would require too much time to explain what I mean by this and to avoid inevitable misunderstandings, but the main point is that Christianity does not attempt to escape the world but to divinize it; thus, it is mainly a descending path.

Part of the integration alluded to above involves the realization that we are always in the vertical, but to bring this realization into the world, i.e., the horizontal. Unlike some of our competitors, we do not wish to flee into the white light, but appreciate the colors by tracing them back up to their source in O. This is what it means to truly love beauty, or virtue, or truth. And this is why, say, childrearing, can be just as profound a spiritual path as the most exalted theology.

In fact, it is difficult to imagine a more profound path than raising a child. However, most people are so unconscious, that they miss this entirely, or at least don't take advantage of it to the fullest. One problem -- as discussed in the book -- is that parenthood evokes one's most primitive mind parasites, so that one is in danger of doing to one's infant what was done to oneself.

Pieper has a beautiful discussion of this, noting that merely "coming into the world" in the biological sense is not sufficient to become human. This should be a tipoff that in man, we are dealing with a fundamentally spiritual creature, for in order to become human, the infant must be loved by another person. "For a child, and to all appearances even for the still unborn child, being loved by the mother is literally the precondition for its own thriving." This love is simultaneously a confirmation and activation of being, without which the person will go through life with a permanent hole inside.

Just yesterday I was mentioning to Mrs. G. what a beautiful and loving childhood Jesus must have had in order to say some of the things he did. Especially noteworthy are his unprecedented statements about how we should even become as little children, and cultivate an attitude of innocent trust.

It is difficult for us to realize how radical a notion this was, since in the ancient world (excluding the Jews), children were generally regarded as without intrinsic value. Infanticide was practiced everywhere. Childhood was not a privileged state that must be protected. Rather, children were just defective adults. If you want to get a sense of this, all you have to do is look into childrearing practices in the Muslim world.

I might add that in giving one's love to the child, one discovers wells of love in oneself that are so deep as to be painful. This is why for even lousy parents in the west, it is virtually impossible for them to imagine murdering their daughter for holding hands with a Christian boy, or hoping they will blow themselves up with as many innocent children as possible. But we are dealing with cultures rooted in a deeply primitive hate, where, for example, a mother is about to be stoned to death for infidelity. These monsters sit on the UN Commission for Women's Rights, and yet, liberals do not condemn the UN as one of the primary abettors of evil in the world, but actually want us to give up more of our sovereignty to it. One can't help wondering about what kind of childhood some of these people must have had. Or how they actually feel about women.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

On Making Oneself Useful to a Useless Mankind

This one is probably a bit rambling. Apologies.

One final thought about Hitchens, since that's where we left off yesterday. I only mention it because it happens to have relevance to the subject of faith, and how only the rigorously self-consistent nihilist can live without it. In Hitchens' case (and he is hardly the only one), he lacks both the intellectual consistency and personal insight to embrace the true nothingness he commends to everyone else.

Horowitz concludes his lengthy piece with the observation that "One of the oddities of Hitchens’s compartmentalized life is that the author of God Is Not Great and of its brazen anathema of a subtitle -- How Religion Poisons Everything -- should be so passionately attached to this political version of an earthly redemption" (referring to his avowed Marxism).

Actually, I don't find this "odd," or even "ironic," but entirely predictable, for how can someone hate as passionately as Hitchens does without some basis in love, however perverse or disappointed? In fancying himself to be such an ironist, he takes evident delight in attacking religion, but without ever realizing that in so doing, he is demolishing his own, for no one places more hope and faith in an impossible fantasy than the Marxist.

The problem with a mere polemicist and a "stylist" is that one cannot really learn anything from them. Everything Hitchens has spent his life writing will perish with him, because even if you judge it on its own plane as "stylistic," it is not nearly enough so to compete with any of the true literary masters.

Rather, it falls more into the category of "angry pamphleteer," except with elegant grammar and sometimes clever put-downs. But in the end, it was all a waste of his obvious (God-given!) intelligence.

And again, please bear in mind that this is not about Hitchens, but about anyone who insists on the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth, for to believe such nonsense is to make one's own ego a God. I might add that from a psychoanalytic standpoint, one might say that such a person most likely has unconscious issues around omniscience, which is simply inflected through the ego. In other words, they still implicitly believe in their own unconscious, infantile godhood. In this reverse version of Genesis, the omnipotent baby-god exiles mommy-Eve and daddy-Adam from infantile paradise for the sin of reminding him of his helplessness and dependency on them. How dare they!

As Schuon expresses it, such an approach "exalts fallen man and not man as such," which results in making oneself "as useful as possible to a humanity as useless as possible."

Do you see the necessity of this equation? If Hitchens -- or anyone else -- is correct in his crude materialism, then humanity is quite literally useless. But he nevertheless bent all of his talent toward making himself useful by helping people realize their cosmic uselessness. Why then can't he just laugh at himself and at his own absurdity? Why all the anger? I don't even know what to compare it to -- perhaps like an AIDS patient who tries to infect as many people as possible so they too can understand that all is futile and that they will soon be dead.

Being a stylist is fine, but if one is going to devote oneself to writing, wouldn't one first want to be a "substantist?" But because he wasn't the latter, his writing will again soon be forgotten. In contrast, -- and I hope you'll understand that this is not a statement about me, but about the subject matter -- I am one hundred percent certain that someone, somewhere, will always be reading this blog, long after I'm gone. In fact, I wouldn't spend all this time on it if that weren't the case.

Again, please understand where I am coming from. A hundred years from now, no one is going to care about Hitchens and his Marxist heroes, his homosexual affairs, his hates, and his socialist fantasies of sugar candy mountain. But human beings -- so long as they remain human beings, which is admittedly a fifty-fifty proposition -- will always be interested in God, faith, hope, love, wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, beauty, transcendental truth, ultimate meaning, etc. So it's not about me, except insofar as I am a live wire between O and my readers.

My model is someone like Schuon, who spent his life simply doing his best to remind Man what he truly wants and needs to know, but in a dispassionate manner, free of any investment in how he was regarded by others. But I cannot imagine a world so completely off its axis that some small minority, however tiny, will not eagerly imbibe his works like water in the desert. And the same goes for other fully O-therized Spiritual Doctors from throughout history. I'm sure that no regular readers fail to realize that I am both standing on the shoulders of giants and in the shadow of their common source.

Damn, sometimes it's difficult to confess one's humility without sounding grandiose, isn't it? But I fully relate to something Unknown Friend wrote, and I hope you do too. The point is that in standing on those shoulders and in that shadow, we take our place in line as a living link between them.

So ultimately it's not about the writing, but about the ability to consciously stand in and be a witness to this transcendent stream of perennial and therefore indispensable truth. This truth courses through -- can only course through -- the human heart, but in the form of "potentialities" or "pre-conceptions" that need to be filled out by experience, or being.

Absent the re-cognition and assimilation of this truth, man literally has no reason for being (or just a made up one). I can perhaps help one to identify and awaken these potentialities, but the rest is up to you (and God, of course). Once you establish this flow, then you yourself are "in the stream," and qualified to "baptize" (so to speak) others in its waters. But only if they sincerely and selflessly seek it, and only if they are qualified to receive it. If they're not, then you're both wasting your time.

Again: we recommend our writing to no one, especially you, fathead, so you needn't remind us that it isn't helpful. We know that already. Can't we just agree to agree?

I'm looking for the exact quote from UF, but I don't think I'll find it. But I'd recommend re-reading the whole of Letter IX, The Hermit, to get a sense of where I'm coming from. Come to think of it, I'm probably past due for my annual re-read of MOTT.

I suppose this one will do: "The initiate is not someone who knows everything. He is a person who bears the truth within a deeper level of his consciousness, not as an intellectual system, but rather as a level in his being.... This truth-imprint manifests as unshakeable certainty, i.e., as faith in the sense of the voice of the presence of truth."

This is why for the Raccoon there can be double-entry bookkeeping, no rupture between being and knowing, as in the case of Hitchens. Rather, one must not only know what one is, but be what one knows. Nothing I write is worthwhile if I am a hypocrite, which is to say, if there is a gulf between who I am and what I write, for that is self-deception or charlatanism or worse.

I'm still not saying it right. Here is another angle, presented by Schuon, who again had no interest in putting forth novel ideas but only in transmitting perennial truth, which, rather than exalting the ego, extinguishes it: "Objectivity is the essence of intelligence," which is why "in many instances to be objective is to die a little."

Know also that "Everything has already been said, and well said; but one must always recall it anew, and in recalling it one must do what has already been done: to actualize in thought certitudes contained not in the thinking ego, but in the transpersonal substance of human intelligence."

It sounds like a paradox, but it is true: it is precisely because we cannot know everything that we can know anything. Conversely, in claiming to know it all, the materialist actually knows nothing, because there is no truth to know.

In reality, truth is what exists, and what exists is true. Knowledge is an effect of Truth, which is to say Reality, so that the inexhaustible knowability of things rests upon their absolute unknowability -- or, the Absolute's knowledge of them, which is none other than their "createdness." Only because you are created can you be so stupid. Or wise, depending on the case.

Along these lines, Pieper quotes Pascal, who wrote that "If you do not take the trouble to know the truth, there is enough truth at hand so that you can live in peace. But if you crave it with all your heart, then it is not enough to know it." Rather, one knows that there can be no end to it, and that "those who truly throw their souls open to the whole of truth expect... that there will always be an additional new light beyond what they already know" (Pieper).

Bottom line: to live in faith is to throw open one's being to O, and to realize that O has already thrown itself open to oneself. Then just go with the flow.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Happy Hour is Now

We're almost finished with the the subject of faith, which is a good thing, because I gotta get out of here on time. No time to even spielcheck.

Yesternow's takeaway point is that just as nature speaks to man in the form of scientific knowledge, being speaks to him in the form of revelation.

And the latter speaks to us specifically because we are creatures, and therefore "receive" our being from elsewhere and elsewhom. Obviously, we do not create our own being, for only the Creator can do that. To be sure, we can create, but we cannot create something from nothing, or being from non-being.

As soon as I start talking about "being," I feel as if I'm heading into fog-enshrouded Heidegger land, so let's be more clear. No, let's allow Pieper to be more clear: creaturehood means "to be continually receiving being and essence from the divine Source and Creator..." I would trancelight this to mean that our formal and final causes are vertical, while our material and efficient causes are horizontal, more or less.

This is one of the things that distinguishes Judeo-Christian metaphysics from, say, Islam, where there is only vertical causation, or bonehead atheism, where there is only horizontal causation.

In this regard, it is important to bear in mind that cause and effect needn't be linear, as in past-to-future. I think this confuses some people who have difficulty grasping the reality of the vertical, where cause and effect are simultaneous, "as when the stories of a building, or rungs on a ladder, or books in a pile each rest on the one below it" (Kreeft).

Not all causes are prior in time. While they are in time, their source is in the timeless. This is how I would regard the vertical transmissions known as revelation, which are really interoffice memos from Self to self, i.e., higher to lower. Thus, in reality, "revelation" is occurring all the time, nor could it ever not occur. The only way it could not occur would be to detach existence from being, but that is like trying to remove the waves from the ocean. Good luck with that.

Conversely, it is possible, in a certain sense, to "remove the ocean from the waves," but that is not the Raccoon way. The idea is to articulate and enjoy our full waviness, and to know that we are dependent upon the ocean without dissolving into it.

This task is never complete, for the reason that existence can never become being -- or, creature cannot become Creator. Pieper: "Unlike the works made by man, which at some given moment are 'finished,' creaturely things remain infinitely malleable because they can never become independent of the force of the Creator who communicates being to them." At no point do we cease being "clay 'in the potter's hand.'"

Which is a critical point vis-a-vis Genesis 2 in particular and revelation in general. God forms man from the "dust in the ground" now; he gives him the "breath of life" now; he makes him a living being now. Again, as we have said on many occasions, scripture is not just about what happened "once upon a time," but what happens every time, which is to say, every moment, i.e., once upin a timeless.

This is where a great deal of confusion enters, but as indicated above, revelation is primarily about vertical causation, not horizontal. As we were saying yesterday, man has no need of God's direct intervention where his own faculties suffice. Being that we are horizontal creatures, we have no great difficulty discerning horizontal causes.

Indeed, we can trace them all the way back to the first moment of creation, with the Big Bang. But that is only the first horizontal moment. It has nothing to do with the vertical causation that continues taking place at every moment. An exclusive focus on horizontal causation can be extremely misleading, to say the least.

It is only because of vertical causation that truly fundamental change is possible. Let's take, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous, which is able to save hopeless drunks when nothing else works. What are its first principles? I forget. Let me look them up. Here:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Look at what this means, and how beautifully it lines up with everything we have been saying. The person first acknowledges that they are completely lost and helpless in the world of horizontal causes. But they place their faith in a vertical cause that can "restore them to sanity," or wholeness and harmony.

Note that they do not even name it at first. Rather, it is just pure O, a "power greater then ourselves." But this first step is necessary in order to re-establish that vital link between the above and below, and to get things flowing again. No coincidence whatsoever that booze is called "spirits." That being the case, one must be respectful of this God-given slackrament, and never make of it a god in itself. It is only a means, not an end. Do as Toots says, not as he did.

Now, this communication, or vertical causation, of which we speak is none other than grace in the broadest sense, or (↓). Please note that this is also the "cause" of our wholeness, or "oneness." Cut off from grace, even if we are not an animal, we will be riven by splits in the psyche, and perpetually driven or pulled this way and that.

In this regard, I was intrigued by this lengthy meditation on Christopher Hitchens by David Horowitz. I have no interest in kicking a man when he is down, even though Hitchens took great sadistic pleasure in doing so to others. Rather, I just want to make a greater point about what happens to someone who declares war on vertical causation.

Although Hitchens aspired "to moral authenticity" in his own way, he actually wanted to "have it both ways": “It is as though he sees his own double-dealing as a rather agreeable versatility -- as testimony to his myriad-mindedness rather than as a privileged, spoilt-brat desire (among other things) to hog it all.... Characteristically, Hitchens embraces the contradiction, making no effort to hide his desire to have it both ways, and making constant references to his 'two-track system' and 'double-entry books.'"

Come to think of it, we're also talking about an alcoholic, aren't we? I'm guessing that alcohol temporarily healed the splits in his psyche, so that his "double entry books" were briefly reconciled at the end of the day -- right around happy hour. But the unhappy hour of horizontal exile always returns. See Genesis 3 for details.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Birds Gotta Sing and Bob's Gotta Blog

In order for revelation to be possible, the situation is not all that different from the ontological requirements of science; which is to say that there must be a knower, something knowable, and knowledge. Or, one could say subject, object, and truth.

Even leaving God out of the equation, this is an extremely odd situation to be in, and one must be a curiously incurious fellow to just leave it at that -- as if truth and subjects and intelligible objects are not extremely weird things. For me, they are the most important facts of the cosmos.

As I just said, in terms of structure, what we call revelation is not all that different from science, the only difference being that the revealer wishes to be known; unlike mother nature, he is not totally passive and doesn't just lie there. As I mentioned in the book, in order for science to occur, human beings must be open systems (cognitively speaking) on the horizontal plane. And in order for revelation to occur (or to be perceived), we must be open systems on the vertical axis. What's the big deal?

As Pieper explains it, in order for revelation to be possible, man must understand himself "as a being by nature open to the divine speech, capable of being reached by it." Again, this is hardly an outrageous claim, especially if we appreciate how weird the situation already is with regard to our ability to know scientific truth.

For Pieper, the fact of science flows from our receptivity to "the obvious reality of the world" (obvious to some, anyway). In contrast, revelation has more to do with "receptivity to Being" as such." And who says Being is not intelligible? It seems arbitrary to say that existence speaks to man, but that the deeper source of existence -- Being -- doesn't.

Pieper goes on to say that "this cognitive apprehension of reality can be considered as a form of hearing divine speech, since things, by virtue of their origin in the creative Logos of God, themselves possess a 'verbal character.'" Many if not most people are capable of perceiving this fact even in the absence of what goes by the name of official "Revelation," that is, what in Vedanta is called śruti , or the sacred texts that come directly from the Divine.

What I mean is that, once you get the picture, you understand the sacredness of the entire Creation, since it too is a logoistic form of Divine speech -- which we can, of course, understand, and not just through science. Rather, the beauty of creation speaks to us quite directly, in a way that bypasses cognition. It's just that the world is a more "general" revelation, if you will, that doesn't address itself specifically to the human mind in terms of what it really needs to know, i.e., how to live, how to treat others, what God is like, what he expects of us, etc.

This is why, as Schuon writes, revelation is characterized "by its tendency to deny all that does not concern man as such." And this is precisely where a lot of misunderstanding slips in, especially from the malevolent and/or stupid. For example, take the account of human origins given to us in Genesis. Whatever one thinks of its historical basis, that is really beside the point. Rather, the point is to reveal to man perennial truths about himself and about God.

We won't get into all of those truths here, because the document is obviously quite rich and dense (plus, there are already many posts on the subject). But dis- and misunderstandings arise when we forget that it really isn't supposed to be an instruction manual for things that do not concern man as such. For one thing, man is not in need of God's direct intervention where his own faculties suffice. Man can discover endless things about the cosmos without any direct meddling from God.

Just so, there are certain things he will never understand, and which will always puzzle him in the absence of Revelation. God is a wise and appropriately hands-off parent, if you will. Like the parent of an adolescent, he gives you enough rope to "live and learn" on your own, but mainly wants you to know about certain easily foreseeable disasters.

Please understand the delicate situation God finds himself in with regard to a "perpetually adolescent" (at best) mankind. If you try to overly control the adolescent, he will either act out in a rebellious manner, or you will end up crushing his spirit. What's he supposed to do, suspend all the rules, so you find out the hard way and kill yourself in the process? Or, as in the Islamic world, impose rules so stringent that you can't even take a leak the wrong way without going to hell?

I think elsewhere Schuon has mentioned that there are three distinct forms of revelation, each a miracle in its own way. First, there is Revelation so-called. Next there is the creation -- and not just the fact that there is something instead of nothing, but that it's so beautiful and so true, which is to say, knowable in both heart and head.

And last but certainly not least is the miracle of the human subject, who serves as the bridge between God and creation. Indeed, if man didn't exist, God would have to invent him, otherwise there would be no link between "reality" and "world," which would make no sense, for it would be analogous to the creation of a language that no one will ever speak or hear, or a hierarchy with a top and bottom but no middle.

This goes back to the irreducibly Trinitarian nature of all reality, which is to say, the many permutations of Father-Son-Holy Spirit, such as Creator-creation-truth, or subject-object-knowledge, or God-man-love, etc. In fact, here is how Schuon describes our total cosmic situation: "The sufficient reason of the human state, its existential law, is to be a bridge between earth and Heaven, hence to 'realize God' to some degree or other" (emphasis mine). This involves simultaneously "leaving" the cosmos while still being in it -- or, of transcendence within immanence.

Take for example, oh, me, at this very moment. What is it exactly that I'm doing right now? Yes, typing. Yes, "thinking," in a manner of speaking. But in order to really understand what I'm doing here, we're going to have to have a little chat about the birds and the Bobs.

What I'm really doing -- or at least trying to do -- is exactly what Schuon describes. I'm just trying to build a little bridge between earth and heaven in order to understand God in my own way. As I have said on many occasions, the blog is really just a private "conversation" that I happen to allow others in on. But it is first and foremost the fruit of my own daily spiritual practice in attempting to strengthen that little bridge and establish a beachhead on the father shore.

That being the case, criticism doesn't bother me, because it's a little beside the point, to put it mildly, for it's like berating a flower for turning toward the sun, or haranguing a bird for singing when the sun's rays come into view each morning. A Bob's gotta do what a Bob's gotta do.

Oh my! Out of time. This song is over.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Let the Dead Bury the Tenured

I'm not sure if this post will have anything to do with the title, but it's where we left off on Friday, so it's fifty-fifty. We're still discussing faith, or belief, and have already explained how it is that everyone -- most especially, the tenured -- has faith, but that only the religious generally do so consciously (or are called to account for it).

In other words, the religious person explicitly says Yes to a set of first principles that cannot be proved in the usual way. To be sure, they can be proved, but as Schuon has noted, these types of metaphysical or ontological arguments are not the causes of certainty, only the consequences.

That is, I doubt if too many people are convinced of the reality of O through metaphysical argument, even though the arguments are, on their own plane, incapable of refutation. But to even get into a riposting contest with a skunk is beside the point, because the atheist's first principles are also irrefutable on their own plane, which begins with faith in those very principles, i.e., an act of will.

Or usually something a little deeper than faith, something more like feeling, or intuition. The bottom line is this: the believer just senses something more, while the unbeliever just senses "nothing."

Which is not a negative judgment; rather it is the affirmation of a feeling that there is just nothing there, and that it is therefore not worth the effort to entertain that hypothesis and venture down that avenue. Again, as Polanyi has discussed at length, this is really how all science proceeds -- with a feeling that this would be a potentially fruitful avenue of discovery, while that wouldn't be. (Or in the case of a corrupt science such as "climate change," that "this would be a remunerative avenue to pursue.")

Which is why I don't believe any truly visionary scientist -- say, Einstein -- would ever absolutely exclude the "God hypothesis," for he is far too respectful of the mystery of the cosmos. Plus, Einstein, as much as anyone, was aware of the danger of accepting the conventional wisdom of science as some kind of last word on the nature of reality. It was only because he explicitly rejected this last word that he was able to utter the "first words" of the relativity (and later quantum) revolution.

Schuon makes the additional critical point that ontological arguments for the existence of God do not so much appeal to the intellect as the substance . They will not be operative in a "mutilated intelligence" that is alienated from its own ground and substance.

For example, imagine a man who has convinced himself that reality may only be understood "quantitatively." In order to believe such a thing, the person must already be so far from the cosmic center -- and so lost at the periphery -- that such an explanation "satisfies" him. Note that last word: no matter how "quantitative" the person, no matter how big the nerd, he still has to be "satisfied" with the numbers, so that an element of "aesthetics," as it were, still enters through the back door.

The point is -- and ironically, both atheists and literalists will disagree with this -- that neither science nor theology can be "closed systems" in relation to metaphysics. Or, they can do this, but at the cost of certain inevitable absurdities. The atheist exploits these absurdities -- or splinters -- of exoteric religion in order to reject religion altogether, while failing to notice the beam in his own metaphysical eye.

I realize that I have a number of readers who are unashamed of being what are called "fundamentalists" or "literalists," and they are obviously welcome. But this blog is clearly not coming from that perspective, nor is it aimed at such readers. I am quite sure that there are thousands of such blogs catering to them, but ours serves an entirely different purpose.

For we say that revelation is not true because God revealed it; rather, we insist that God revealed it because it is true. In other words, truth is prior to revelation. Or, as we have expressed it in the past, the mischievous Raccoon always asks of this or that religious truth, by virtue of what principle?

For example, you say that the third person of the Trinity incarnated as the man Jesus. We say -- and not in a blasphemous way, mind you -- by virtue of what principle? Things only happen because it is possible for them to happen. Please note that we do not approach the question in the spiritually corrosive manner of the committed atheist or the "Jesus seminarians."

To the contrary. We do so in the spirit of Toots. Which, by the way, goes to the question some people ask of the B'ob, "hey, why don't you commit to one path, say Catholicism, as has Mrs. G?" One reason is that if I were to do this, it would too easy for the tenured to dismiss me as "just a Catholic thinker" instead of "just a crank blogger."

Anyway, Schuon makes the critical point that theology is in need of metaphysics, not necessarily for its own sake, but for the sake of the very people to whom it is addressed, which is only "everyone." And not all of the people to whom it is addressed are "simple people of faith," so to speak.

And when we say this, I'm sure you realize by now that we are not being the least bit coondescending. I can always relate to the "simple person of faith" much more compatibly than the "complicated person of no faith," because I can easily convert my language to that of the former, whereas this is basically impossible in the case of the latter, who have neither the interest nor the aptitude.

In contrast, many "simple believers" have the aptitude, but it just doesn't interest them all that much. Especially women, if I may make a broad generalization about broads. For example, Mrs. G enjoys and appreciates my writing, but I think it's safe to say that she enjoys going to communion much more. I mean, whatever you think of my writing, I will be the first to acknowledge that it can't do that. True, cut this blog, sir, and it bleeds my blood. But I do not commend it as a beverage.

So, just to wrap up this line of thought, I think it is especially important in this day and age -- the age of tenured stupidity -- to realize that a religion is not truly "complete" without a foundation in esoterism and metaphysics. If nothing else, failure to appreciate this leaves some gaping holes that secularists are just itching to exploit in order to make their adversaries look stupid.

As Schuon expresses it, exoteric religion has certain intellectual "fissures" that "only sacred science can fill lest the powers of darkness intrude." Only esoterism "possesses sufficient lights to face all possible objections and also to give a positive explanation of religion."

And please understand that this is hardly a bulletin. Rather, this is precisely what Thomas attempted -- and succeeded in doing -- with the Summa. In it, he made the bold attempt to integrate science, philosophy and revelation -- and to answer "all possible objections" in a perfectly sufficient manner.

But again: it is only sufficient to the person who hasn't already alienated himself from his own spiritual substance, not to the person who has placed his faith in matter or number or sensation or whatever. Only he who already bears the truth in his substance can recognize and "hear" it when it is given to him. And it can only be given, not imposed; just as it can only be rejected, not disproved.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

July Fourth Civics Lesson

So, 26 percent of Americans have no idea what country the United States fought in order to gain its independence. Perhaps they were just confused as to whether the questioner was referring to the past or the present, since this time around Americans are having to fight their own federal government in order to regain their independence.

What's much more disconcerting is that 44 percent of our Supreme Court justices haven't even read the Constitution. It makes you long for a "simpler" time, when Americans knew their own history, and when the average person knew just as much about the Constitution as Sonia Slowtocatchon or Ruth Boyare Gunsbad:



No offense, but I think we can do better than the Star Spangled Banner for a national anthem, starting with a melody that was actually made in America. Why an English drinking song? Why not an American drinking song? I mean, anything you want we got it right here in the USA:

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Cosmic Suite: Open Your Ears and Listen to Reality!

As mentioned in what turned out to be last Sunday's musical thread, I've long thought about devoting one post a week to the subject of music, since it is one of my three favorites of the seven slackraments of Raccoon life.

One commenter said something to the effect that music was the one thing that had kept them connected to spirit during their years of wandering in the absurcular desert. I was probably the same way. The attraction to music itself was a kind of mystery that demanded an explanation: how can we be so deeply attracted to, and moved by, something that has no evolutionary utility whatsoever? Yes, yes, there is a Darwinian explanation for everything: short, plausible, and wrong, so let's move on.

Anyway, feel free to consider this an open thread. I'm just going to begin blah blah blogging as usual, except instead of free associating in the realm of language, I'm going to switch octaves and improvise in the key of music. More often than not, this is a hazardous venture, since words about music rarely reach their target. A lot of writing about music is pretty tedious, and only of interest to the person writing it. There are some gifted music critics, but most are such bad writers to begin with that even if they had a good idea, they couldn't express it properly.

Really, it's not that different from theological writing, is it? What percentage of it is not only bad, but probably wrong as well? Who knows, but I would say the great majority. I'm currently trying to read this new critical study of Van Morrison, but it quickly got bogged down in vague, flabby, excessive, and sometimes pretentious bloviating. There might be some good things in it, but it is badly in need of an editor. It reads like a first draft.

Right there -- there's a good topic: what are some good books on music? I'm always on the lookout for any. In fact, I was very much searching for any in the course of writing my book. I looked high and low, from baritone to falsetto, but the most useful one I discovered was Victor Zukerkandl's Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. As you can see, the book is so obscure that it doesn't even have a single review, and is ranked like #650,000.

But the reason why I was in search of such books goes back to what I said above in the first paragraph about how music had always kept me connected to spirit, even back when I was a frivolous and drunken fratboy without a frat. Among the rejected titles for the book was The Cosmic Suite, the idea being that it is structured like a symphony with four movements: Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. Those first few pages with all the crazy writing are supposed to be like the whatchamacallit at the beginning of the symphony that introduces all of the themes that will be explored and developed later, like the da-da-da-DUM that Beethoven stole from the Electric Light Orchestra.

I think I mentioned this somewhere in the book. Here it is, pp. 22-23. Regarding the four movements, Gagdad writes that

"If I may borrow a musical analogy" -- please, go right ahead. Just return it when you're done -- "I see these modes of being as the four great 'chords' constituting the song of existence. As improvisational (i.e., jazz) musicians can tell you, when they perform a solo, they are attempting to trace a coherent line, an artistically true and beautiful pathway through the chordal structure of musical space. At each step along the way, there are literally an infinite number of potential pathways through the chords, some of which will be 'complete' and musically satisfying, others banal, predictatble, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords. This is my best attempt at such a solo, with the full understanding that there are any number of fellow improvisational scholars who would 'run the changes' differently."

Come to think of it, this would be my all-purpose response to any and all trolls: hey, it's jazz, baby. If you think you can do better, pick up your axe, get on the stage, and show us! No one is excluded from a jam session. But if you get into a cutting contest with another player, you had better have some chops. Don't just be a music critic. Rather, show us what you got! Our feelings won't be hurt. As I just said, we are well aware of the fact that other musicians will run the changes differently, so stop blowing so much and blow cat blow!

Indeed, no two people will ever run the changes the same way, unless one of them is just copying the other. Interestingly, our unique personhood extends to the realm of music, so that no two musicians ever sound the same. What's especially odd about this is that people playing the idential instrument sound entirely different. On tenor sax, Sonny Rollins sounds nothing like John Coltrane, who sounds nothing like Stan Getz, who sounds nothing like Pharoah Sanders, who sounds nothing like Wayne Shorter, who sounds nothing like Booker Ervin. Is one of them "wrong?"

It's even weirder with piano, where there isn't as much apparent "flexibility" in the instrument. It reminds me of something a musician once said of Thelonious Monk: man, he's the only cat I've ever heard who can bend the notes on a piano.

As you can see in the sidebar, I'm currently reading the Summa of the Summa, one of the virtues of which is the helpful footnotes. Therefore, you can both read the book and read a reader who already understands it. More to the point, Thomas wrote in such a manner that he tried to exclude himself from the discussion, which you might say is the opposite of a jazz mentality, in that the former is aiming for universality rather than individuality. Therefore, important passages can come and go without Thomas saying to the reader, NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT!

So someday, after my book is in the public domain and I am no longer receiving my annual double-digit royalty check, I hope some slavish devotee will come along and publish a Summa of the Coonifesto, and insert footnotes that say NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS WAS THE B'OB'S THE TAKEAWAY POINT! Because one of those points is the above paragraph regarding the musical structure of the book and the cosmos it attempts to sing.

As mentioned, I looked everywhere for books that treated the cosmos as a giant symphony -- or jam session -- but found none (except for one by a new age pneumababbler). So it was down to me. As I indicated in the book's joycetification, it's easy enough for some toothless banjo-picker sitting barefoot on a little bridge of tenure to drone on and on in the key of matter or Darwin or Marxism or whatever. Okay, we get it. But if you're going to try to play the whole cosmic suite, you'll need to master a few more instruments, not the least of which being theology and metaphysics. To try to play the cosmic suite without metaphysics is like trying to play the symphony without the violin section. Indeed,

"The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional musical score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways. The score can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be music does not exist."

Again: NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT! And it really is. The cosmos is a very different thing when you extricate yourself from your little scientistic box that neatly encloses it in quantities, and instead regard it as fundamentally -- I said FUNDAMENTALLY! -- musical.

This goes back again to the first paragraph of this post, and how our attraction to music is a mystery that demands an explanation. In my opinion, we are attracted to music for the reason that it imparts real knowledge of reality. Indeed, you could even say that we love music because we are music. Zuckerkandl comes close to saying this when he writes that

"The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image, an image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."

So listen to your life, and hear how it is an individual solo, and yet, part of a much larger composition situated both in space and time -- and eternity:

"For at the end of the day, we are each a unique and unrepeatable melody that can, if only we pay close enough attention to the polyphonic score that surrounds and abides within us, harmonize existence in our own beautiful way, and thereby hear the vespered strains of the Song Supreme" (Gagdad).

Oh, and one last helpful tip from my future collaborator: PAY ATTENTION TO THAT LAST POINT, MORON, BECAUSE IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Faith in Reality and the Light of Belief

I was just thumbing my nous through the Coonifesto, looking for a certain passage on faith, when I found something else to sneeze at: the heading on p.207, Insert Your Deity Here. This has to do with the ultimate empty category, or "divine placeholder," that is O.

What it means is that O is where you insert your deity. But in reality, O is where God inserts himself, so to speak. It's that setting you leave for him at the table, the light you leave on for him in the window. The difference between 1 and 1O is just O, but look at the difference it makes! You get ten times the reality by simply adding a little O to 1 self.

The above account no doubt appears a little silly, but as I will proceed to demonstrate -- I hope -- is that what we call "faith" is the only appropriate mode with which to approach the ultimate reality of O. Let's get to it.

Yesterday I mentioned the unique bipolarity of faith, in that, by its very nature, it involves a combination of certitude and uncertainty (not doubt, which is another thing entirely, more on which below).

Pieper -- following Thomas -- calls it "an element of perfection and an element of imperfection," although I'm not sure that's the most adequate way to describe it, because again, faith as such is the most "perfect" approach to O. A perfect adequation to O would of course make us God. But so long as we are men, we can obviously never fully encompass O; no matter how much of O we "contain," it still orthoparadoxically contains us. It is both immanent and transcendent -- and immanent because transcendent.

Pieper goes on to say that "the perfection [of faith] inheres in the firmness of the assent" -- in other words, "I am one hundred percent convinced of the reality of O." But the imperfection has to do with "the fact that no vision operates -- with the result being that the believer is troubled by a lingering 'unrest'."

And "unrest" may not be the most accurate word, since there is apparently not a perfect translation for cogitacio. "Unrest" implies a certain "lack," when I again insist that this lack is like... you know, like our friend Lao-tzu always says: we mold the clay into a cup, but it's the emptiness inside that we actually use. Or, we build a house in order to live in the space inside. We don't live "in the house," but in the space it protects.

I could really get sidetracked here, since the Tao Te Ching is such a fine treatise on living with the attitude of faith in O. Some quick examples: The Tao is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.... The more you use of it, the more it produces. Like O, it is empty yet inexhaustible. Or, you could just refer to the opening and closing and opening passage of the Coonifesto: fount of all being / unborn thus undying / beginning and end of all impossibility / empty plenum and inexhaustible void.

Back to Pieper and the "mental unrest." He explains that it really connotes a "searching investigation" or "probing consideration," a "mental reaching out for something not yet finally found." It is a linking together of the Yes! and the Yes?, the latter of which is absolutely distinct from a soft and flabby "maybe." The Yes! signifies the real presence, while the Yes? signifies the necessary absence that will be perpetually filled by faith.

So the mental unrest does not go back and forth between, say, "maybe" and "maybe not." It's much more radical and polarized than that. And it is this "polarity" that renders faith dynamic and capable of "work" -- just as the positive and negative poles of a battery create the possibility of work. The negative pole of the battery obviously isn't "nothing." Indeed, we could call negative positive and positive negative if we like.

The real negative only occurs when positive and negative -- the already and the not yet -- are no longer polarized but at equilibrium. And please note that the latter hardly implies any "complete oneness with reality," despite superficial similarities. Some of our competitors praise this state of pseudo-samadhi as the highest reality, when it is often just an elimination of the tension we are discussing here. One of our own trolls tries to sell this blobby notion of "I am you, you are me," but again, this is all wrong. When I visit ultimate reality, I want to be there. Nor do I want to be someone else, especially some people.

As Pieper explains, "doubt" or "opinion" also involve a "mental unrest," but it is of a fundamentally different kind. For example, both doubt and opinion wish they could be certain, since both are of limited value as they stand. Once they are fulfilled, then "the discursive movement back and forth" comes to an end. Once "the conclusion is reached, all that belongs, so to speak, to the past."

But in the case of faith, the "conclusion," or "assent," is only the beginning. Furthermore, its greater part -- greater by far -- is in the "future." The faithful self -- (o) -- remains within a perpetual "searching and pondering of what it believes." In fact, I'm doing it right now.

Now, perhaps you will have noticed that this is quite similar to what motivates the real scientist. And this is indeed the point. I won't rehearse Polanyi's whole argument here, but a real scientist could never be a slave to "materialism" or some similar metaphysic of the dead and settled past. Rather, he maintains a vibrant, living and evolving relation to O as it manifests in the plane of appearances.

I mean, c'mon. Try reading the Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists. No, they are not correct in all the metaphysical details, but at least they didn't try to enclose O in some manmade little formula like "random error + reproductive success." The latter represents the kind of certainty that makes it strictly impossible to have faith in reality. Indeed, how can a random accident even speak of "reality" with a straight face?

For when a Raccoon speaks of "faith," he means assent to complete nonsense -- the nonsense of O. For to imagine that O could ever be a kind of sensual object is the height of nonsense. But once one acknowledges O, then all reality is illuminated by the light of belief, including, of course, the "material world."

Our trolls are pretty dense, but the other day, I bet one of them that he couldn't summarize the Raccoon philosophy despite having been a faithful reader for many months. Somehow he has convinced himself that we believe the natural world to be "a rather dead mechanical assemblage." Talk about projection! It is specifically because of O that the world is so alive, so lovely, so interesting, and so worthy of our being in it.

Oh well. Let the dead bury the tenured.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dateline Earth: Fog in Language, God Cut Off

The uniqueness of the mode of faith rests in a certain bipolarity of rest and action, of certitude and uncertainty.

In fact, before going any further, I want to again highlight one of Toots Mondello's greatest concerns, which had to do with the excessive saturation of religious terms.

"Faith" is a case in point, because the word has immediate associations that are generally wrong, plus everyone uses the word as if they know what they are talking about. A word is saturated when it can no longer accumulate new meaning based upon experience, but simply is what it is -- like a sponge that can hold no more water.

Naturally, this is sometimes appropriate. There is nothing wrong with the word "chair" being saturated. A chair is a thing to sit on, and that's pretty much it.

But as we move up the ontological food chain, words can become more problematic. It reminds me of something Stanley Jaki once said. From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky.

As an aside, this is one of the benefits of studying Thomas, not to mention Schuon, who is able to describe the transnatural planes with an objectivity, precision, and detachment that actually surpasses our ability to describe nature, since the latter is very much dependent upon perspective and other subjective factors, whereas metaphysical principles such as being are quite precise, if unsaturated.

In fact, Schuon addressed this directly in his Logic and Transcendence, noting that "writings falling outside the fields of science and modern philosophy tend to suffer from being associated with ideas that are usually inadequate, and they are immediately consigned by most people to categories having disparaging implications," such as "occultism," or "Gnosticism," or the new age mob of mystagogues masquerading as mystics.

Thomas said that this was because science involves more perfect knowledge of less perfect things, while theology deals with less perfect knowledge of more perfect or noble things. This results in conflating confidence, or certitude, with objectivity, when the opposite is true: only God can be truly objective. To conclude that man's subjective view of nature is the height of objectivity is actually laughable.

I'm not sure if I've done justice to Thomas, but I believe Schuon would disagree about our knowledge becoming less certain as we approach the Absolute. It is less saturated to be sure, since the Absolute can never be saturated by language. Obviously it is "bottomless," or "endless," so how could mere human signifyin' jive ever fill it?

This is again my purpose in using the symbol O instead of the symbol God, since the former reminds us of the apophatic "unsaturatability" of God. Perhaps we can compromise and say gOd. (This is why, of course, the Jews had an unpronouncable name for God.)

Interestingly, Thomas is quite aware of this issue, which is why he actually emphasized the eternal mystery of O: "Because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not." Even for beginners, he cautioned that "this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him."

How different this is from approaches that saturate God with subjective human ideas! This is hardly to say that we can have no knowledge of God, only that our knowledge can never be complete.

It's really not fundamentally different from our knowledge of any other person. No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them. A person -- since he is the most adequate analogue of God in the herebelow -- can never be saturated, even though, at the same time, man-as-such clearly has an unvarying nature. He has form, but the form is "empty" until filled out by life experience (which clearly distinguishes man from any kind of "blank slate").

In reality, a person is in the paradoxical position of being the (relative) ultimate in both knowability and mystery. You can know much more about a person than you can about a rock. And yet, the person is much more mysterious, since the mind is infinite. If Mozart or Shakespeare were alive today, they'd still be cranking out mysterpieces.

And, of course, at the end of his life, Thomas was granted that vision of the other side of O. He was plunged into its radical mystery, to such an extent that all he had written seemed to him insignificant in Light of it.

Please understand what this means. It is not to devalue what he had written. To the contrary, it is as if Bach were ushered into the very source of music, in Light of which his magnificent body of work would sound like so many jingles and ditties. Or even as if James Brown were taken up into the eternal spacecraft of cosmic funkmanship, where his own seemingly inexhaustible funkiness would appear comparatively funkless.

Where were we? Oh yes, the exactitude of our maps of hyperborea. I'm not going to dwell on this at this juncture, except to say that we can actually see the unseen with these maps, in the sense that we can understand, say, the geographical relationship between Chicago and New York without having to visit them.

Indeed, to a certain extent, the abstract map provides information and perspective that no amount of empirical knowledge of New York could ever provide. One could spend one's whole life in Manhattan and not even know about the rest of the country, as proven every day by the New York Times. It's like the old crack about England: Fog in Channel. Continent Isolated.

In fact, the materialist might say: Fog in Language. God Cut Off. But of course, we are the ones who are isolated and cut off from God, unless we make the attempt to swim the channel -- and, of course, if God tosses us a line.

It is very much like our barbarous troll, whose contempt for religion in general and Christianity in particular "amounts to asserting that every religion can be reduced... to the crudest possible concepts.... It is pointless for us to insist on the inanity of this hypothesis, presented as if it were a certainty; it is enough to take note of its existence" (Schuon).

I mean, what can one really say in response to someone who says, "Duh, Christianity is just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Clinical inanity noted. Move on.

But this is not all his fault, for Christianity generally does a poor job of explicating its intellectual -- by which I do not mean the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- pillars. Indeed, it is often responsible for publicizing itself in terms of "the crudest possible concepts." I know this, because I was once one of the very people who rejected it based upon those crude concepts. Religion must be defended on two fronts, from an incoherent scientism on one side, and an incoherent religiosity on the other.

Long post short, this is why in the Coonifesto, I used the symbols (o) and (---) in order to avoid the more saturated term, faith.

Gotta get ready for work. To be continued....

Here is a good map of the world from the perspective of New York. Just replace Manhattan with "ego" and "rest of world" with "reality."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Will to Believe and the Willfulness Not To

I think that faith has a lot to do with first principles. No matter who you are -- atheist or believer -- you must have either explicit or implicit principles that cannot be justified by those principles, but are nevertheless present in your every judgment. Know a man's first principles and you pretty much know everything else, including his last end. Garbage in, garbage out. Materialism in, atheism out.

Saint Thomas discusses this in the first question of the Summa, pointing out that the science of theology is no different than any other, in the sense that it proceeds by drawing out the implications of first principles that are taken on faith, i.e., revelation. I'm not sure what this or that scientist would say are his first principles, because most scientists obviously don't bother with metaphysics, any more than your auto mechanic bothers with the physics of motion. And scientists who do dabble in metaphysics, such as Dawkins, are just incoherent.

The deeper point here is that it is impossible to think ourselves "all the way to the bottom of the cosmos," so to speak. Rather, at some point a free act of faith is required, emphasis on both words, free and act.

What this means is that the will is actually prior to the intellect, in that no one in a free society can force you to believe anything. At some point you have to choose to believe, even if it is choosing the idea that the laws of physics are an adequate explanation for everything.

Ideally one makes this choice consciously, but generally speaking, only religious people do this (at least in the west). In other words, everyone understands that an intrinsic aspect of religion is belief in the idea that the absolute principle has revealed itself to men. But as I have said on many occasions, the irreligious person usually believes the same thing, only implicitly and unconsciously, or in a garbled manner. There are very few genuine nihilists who have no faith in anything.

It should not be surprising that in our particular civilization, people who are supposedly ideological opposites are actually rooted in the same principles, for example, that the world is intelligible to human intelligence. This is not something that is believed in the Islamic world, since its first principles differ radically from ours. A major reason why the Islamic world has not "developed" is that their first principles make it impossible. To say that man may know natural things with his natural reason, independent of God, is just not kosher there.

Christian civilization has a much more expansive view of God, and with it, a much deeper appreciation of man's intrinsic dignity, nobility, and value. Here we are able to "partner up" with God and discover real truths about the cosmos.

But in Islam, God has no partners: there is no God but God. The idea that the Absolute would actually incarnate as a man is unthinkable and heretical. This is why the Koran makes allowances for Jesus, but only as a second rate prophet, certainly not as the Word made flesh.

But this distinctive idea of the enfleshment of God's Reason is again central to our civilization, whether you like it or not. The main difference between the believer and the atheist is simply in how far to take this principle. The atheist arbitrarily stops his journey into Truth midway, -- where it remains suspended in miderr, grounded in nothing -- whereas the believer remains focused on the only possible source and end of Truth, which is God.

To put it another way -- Saint Thomas's way -- "Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose..." This is another way of making Wilber's point that a deeper explanation both transcends and includes a lower or more shallow one, say, the way in which relativity transcends and includes Newtonian physics.

But it also means that the value of science is determined by its end, which, in the end, is none other than ananda, or "celestial bliss," or heaven if you like. On first consideration this may sound strange, but again, it is simply a result of drawing first principles to their final deustination. All of you are aware of that tingle of delight that occurs when you grasp a deep truth. Now, just magnify that. That's ananda, baby.

To paraphrase Kreeft, things are either meaningful or they are not. This is a true either/or, for there is literally nothing in between. If things are not ultimately meaningful, then they are not meaningful, period.

Now, are things ultimately meaningful? The believer says yes, which is admittedly an act of faith. The atheist/nihilist says no, which is unadmittedly an act of faith. The difference is that our faith is rooted in Reason, whereas his is not, for the atheist has no real reason to believe anything at all.

Was that clear? This is the difficulty of "arguing" with a nihilist troll, when argument with him is impossible, precisely. It is impossible because a genuine argument can only take place if one's interlocuter has explicit principles to defend. If he has no principles, then he is just caviling, which is a very typical narcissistic defense, in that the clinical narcissist -- who is often developmentally arrested at the age of two or so -- can say "no" but not "yes."

In other words, this type of narcissist is very clear about what he doesn't like and doesn't believe. But to believe and defend requires a clear yes to things that are beloved (be-lief is related to be-loved).

Those of you who have had a two year old understand this well. In being defiant or negativisitic, the child is not trying to be difficult. Rather, he is simply trying to establish his boundaries as a separate individual. And obviously, his first attempts to do this will be clumsy and ham-handed, just like the first time he picks up a pencil.

But as Bobby Knight once said of journalists, "all of us learn to write in the second grade, but most of us go on to better things." It is the same with narcissism. All of us learn to say no by the time we're two years old, but most of us go on to saying yes to better things, e.g., truth, love, beauty, God, etc.

In contrast, the atheist spends his life saying no to God. Whether this is a result of a primitive boundary issue depends upon the individual case. It would be true of the militant atheists I have known, but I doubt if it applies to the person who is just indifferent to God. They usually have a different sort of malady.

Now, the "yes" of faith is not without its potential problems and pitfalls -- for example, "blind faith," or a bogus certitude of things about which man can never be certain. Faith is not certitude.

But nor is it doubt, opinion, or supposition, which all have their own distinct definitions. I believe that Thomas distinguishes it from knowing, but as I mentioned yesterday, I believe it is a variety of knowing, or a tacit foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths, very much as Polanyi describes the attitude of the scientist, who can somehow distinguish between potentially fruitful and fruitless avenues of discovery.

It reminds me of this: have you ever had the experience of knowing that you don't know something vs. knowing that you do, but just can't remember it? Often I will have the instantaneous experience of knowing I don't know something, and that there is no point in trying to recall it. But other times I have the instantaneous experience that I do know it. And I don't necessarily mean that I can recall the answer if I try, but that the answer is knowable.

The closest approximation I can think of at the moment is a certain ability to know whether or not there is potential humor in a situation, or whether it's not worth the try -- for example, in coming up with a funny caption for a photo. Somehow, a part of me is able to instantaneously know whether I will be able to come up with a gag, before I've come up with it. Often I have the strong feeling that I know there's a joke here! Keep trying! I should add that this is a very different dynamic than forced humor, which is usually a result of ignoring the voice that says "no gag here. Move on."

So, just as we can smell the potential humor in a situation, or sniff the potential discovery in the data, we can sense the sacred -- the presence of God -- in certain beliefs and principles. Otherwise, no one would believe. Everyone would be exactly like the atheist who looks at Christianity and says "what a bunch of nonsense. No point in exploring that avenue." In the words of a particular two year-old of our acquaintance, "it's just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Nothing in, nihilism out.