Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking Existence Personally

To review where we left off Friday, we were just saying that the ultimate nature of ultimate nature is ultimately Communion (which I think I'll capitalize to keep it distinct from any colloquial meaning).

This is one of the revolutionary insights of the early Fathers, who were attempting to reconcile revelation with the best that Greek philosophy had to offer. Come to think of it, Pieper made the point that when you get right down to it, Christianity may be reduced to two elements: Incarnation and Trinity. Everything else, you might say, is commentary.

Could this be true? Could be. I'd have to think on it. The former comports with various Fathers such as Clement and Athanasuius who said that God became man so that man might become God -- i.e., the doctrine of divinization.

What I believe this means is that the Incarnation wouldn't necessarily mean much to humans unless it implied its corollary, which is theosis or divinization, not through our own nature, but through participation in Christ.

And just how is it that we are able to thus participate in that divine nature? Why, because that nature must be Communion, which leads directly to Trinity. If the nature of God were not Communion, then we couldn't participate in God "from the inside," only as external spectators, so to speak.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. In the absence of Communion, there would be a kind of radically inaccessible wall between God and man. The only way -- the only way I can think of -- for God to eliminate this wall (for man could never do it unaided from his side of manifestation) is to leap heartfirst into his own creation, and to even "submit" to its constraints. In so doing, he is able to demonstrate in the most vivid way imaginable that those constraints no longer constrain, again, because of the reality of Communion, which bridges God and man, life and Life, time and eternity, etc.

According to Zizioulas, the divine Communion of which we speak is an ontological category, not reducible or prior to anything else. Just as God only exists as Communion, so do human persons only exist as such.

Our genetic endowment and merely biological being cannot cross the ontological bridge to personhood in the absence of Communion. In the course of writing my book, I did some research on the few feral children who have managed to survive without human contact, and despite the best efforts, could never be brought into full communion with the human group (cf. The Forbidden Experiement).

Zizioulas points out that Greek thought created a lovely concept of Cosmos, i.e., "of unity and harmony, a world full of interior dynamism and aesthetic plenitude, a world truly 'beautiful' and 'divine.'" The problem is, it had no real place for man except as a kind of tragic afterthought.

Only the radical change in cosmology ushered in by the Fathers links the being of man to the being of the cosmos -- and of God. In so doing they "gave history the concept of the person with an absoluteness which still moves modern man even though he has fundamentally abandoned their spirit."

To put it another way, man becomes a person -- and therefore infinitely valuable -- only when he is seen to be linked to God through Communion. Otherwise, he's just an animal like any other, with no intrinsic value.

Zizioulas goes on to say that "The person is no longer an adjunct to being, a category we add to a concrete entity once we have verified its ontological hypostasis. It is itself the hypostasis of the being." Therefore, our being is not traced back to any kind of abstract Being, much less to any concrete substance, "but to the person, to precisely that which constitutes being, that is, enables entities to be entities."

Again, person "is the constitutive element of things," the ultimate metacosmic fact. This understanding completely inverts the cosmos -- which is to say, puts it back right-side up -- and helps to explain various otherwise inexplicable and unsolvable mysteries.

Zizioulas suggests that in Western theology -- and I have no idea whether this is a fair and accurate generalization -- theologians tended to start with a kind of unitary divine substance that is then "divided," so to speak, into the three persons.

But again, he says that for the early Fathers, Communion was the substance. Person comes first, and person means Communion. Therefore, God is "Father," even before he is substance: "That is to say, the substance never exists in a 'naked' state," i.e., without a "mode of existence." To imagine otherwise is analogous to trying to separate you from the real person you are. If you could succeed at this, you would be the same substance, but no longer a person.

Again, person is the ultimate reality: if it "does not exist in reality, the concept of the person is a presumptuous daydream. If God does not exist [as person], the person does not exist."

Furthermore, with this understanding, "love ceases to be a qualifying -- i.e. secondary -- property of being and becomes the supreme ontological predicate. Love as God's mode of existence... constitutes His being."

So perhaps we can reduce Incarnation and Trinity even further, to Incarnation and Love. Or maybe just Love.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Just a short post for music Saturday. In the new Stereophile there's a write-in competition, but it really isn't much of a competition, more just the willingness to make an embarrassing disclosure.

It's very simple. As we all know, music has the mysterious ability to call up distinct moods and memories from very specific times, places, and periods in one's life. It's completely beyond our control, and just "happens."

The premise of the contest is simple: "What are the five tracks or albums that, for you, most strongly strike the mystic chords of memory?" Importantly, the competition "is about music that, even if you hardly listen to it any more, most strongly evokes places and times in your past; music with which you have a transrational emotional connection -- not which are the greatest tracks or albums you know, not the tracks or albums you think other people should know, and not a list of your Desert Island records."

So this is not necessarily about quality, but about guilty pleasures and forbidden attractions. It is also about individuality and about the mystery of how we locate things in the environment in order to articulate the self. It's about tracks or albums that have somehow become lodged in your unconscious and woven into your psychic substance, perhaps even in spite of yourself and against your better judgment. You are not proud of these choices, and are probably a little embarrassed to acknowledge them in public.

For me, there are at least a couple of problems with this exercise. First, since there was never a time that I didn't have the transistor radio glued to my ear as a kid, there are just too many choices. Top 30 radio was truly the soundtrack to my childhood.

But countering that fact is that in the interim, even the most obscure music has become so readily available, that I've been able to listen to it enough that those preternaturally "mystic chords" have faded out. I may still enjoy the song, but there have been so many subsequent listenings, that they have superimposed themselves over the old memory swamp.

I think this is a more general problem with instant access to everything, which makes it less special. Really, it wasn't so long ago that if you wanted to see a film, you had to see it in the theatre. Many films would eventually appear on commercial television, but not always, especially not the great ones.

For example, I remember when Gone With the Wind was re-released for a limited run when I was a kid; it must have been 1969, for the thirty year anniversary. My mom insisted on dragging me and my brothers to the theatre, since she remembered it so well from her own childhood. I assumed it was going to be totally lame -- after all, my mother liked it! -- but was very much blown away.

Likewise, with digital downloading, virtually any track you've ever heard is instantly accessible. This can't help but result in a devaluation of the experience. For example, I can remember how difficult it was to track down certain songs before the digital revolution. Back in the late 1970s they used to have a monthly swap meet in the parking lot of the Capitol Records building in Hollywood, where you could find all sorts of rarities, and I would go there from time to time in search of precious booty. The problem was, the oldies stations only played stuff that was popular, not the things that might have only scraped the bottom of the top thirty and then disappeared without a trace.

I still remember the exilaration of locating a copy of Let Her Dance by the Bobby Fuller Four. Everyone's heard his I Fought the Law, but this song was only around for a few weeks, and then got no airplay at all, and I just needed to hear it again. Same with the Buckingham's Don't You Care. Oldies radio mainly played their Kind of a Drag and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, but not this one, which, at the time, evoked extremely powerful memories of 1967.

So, without further ado, I'm going to now walk over to Bob's Record Collection, and pick out a few songs that still have that strange effect on me. And I will try to overcome embarrassment and be completely candid. Virtually all are from the pre-1973 period of classic top 30 radio. It's quite random and incomplete, -- almost arbitrary, really -- and I'm undoubtedly leaving out many significant ones:

Groovy Situation, Gene Chandler
Tighter and Tighter, Alive and Kicking
Crystal Blue Persuasion, Tommy James
More Today Than Yesterday, Spiral Staircase
My Pledge of Love, The Joe Jeffrey Group (as you can see from the video, this man is holding the actual 45 in his trembling hand; that's what you were looking for at the Capitol Records swap meet)
One Fine Morning, Lighthouse
Ride Captain Ride, Blues Image
Soulful Strut, Young Holt Unlimited
We Gotta Get You a Woman, Todd Rundgren
Lazy Day, Spanky & Our Gang
Sunday Will Never Be the Same, Spanky & Our Gang
Everybody's Talkin', Nilsson
A Girl Like You, Rascals
Cracklin' Rosie, Neil Diamond
Grazing in the Grass, Friends of Distinction
Love or Let Me Be Lonely, Friends of Distinction
Sunshine Girl, The Parade
Live, The Merry-Go-Round
Turn Down Day, the Cyrkle
Ooh Child, Five Stairsteps

Many of these are pretty obscure, so I'll see if I can find links to some of them on You Tube, so you can get an idea of what they sound like, and how strange and unpredictable are the ways of soul imprinting.

I might add that if you will review the last footnote of my book on page 298, there is a more respectable list of songs that I wove into the Cosmobliteration section for their evocative effect on me.

So, what are your five or more quirkily evocative tracks/albums?

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Fellow You Call 'God': What's He Really Like?

This is a good segue for out next topic, which really gets down to how all this mushy talk of love ties into and reveals ultimate reality: Pieper references The Screwtape Letters, "in which the argumentative devil pronounces it the sum of infernal philosophy that one thing is not the other and especially that one self is not another self -- whereas the philosophy of the 'Enemy', that is, God, amounts to nothing else but an incessant effort to evade this obvious truth."

In other words, this so-called God "aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility he calls love" (Lewis).

Conversely, this possibility -- of union, of oneness, of a rapturous bridging of the existential divide between one person and another -- does not exist in hell. There everything is just as Darwin says it is: wholly externally related and autonomous individuals with no possibility of genuine communion, no possibility of the ec-static union of souls. Forget about the afterlife. Hell is the cosmic nul de slack right here and now.

I might add that love is not just what unites -- or reveals the unity of -- two souls, but that which unites one soul as well. For it is merely a convention to speak of a person as an "individual" when we know that the average man is so riven by mind parasites with competing agendas that to call him "one" is a kind of farce to be raccooned with.

But in true love, we come closest to the wholeness and order intended for us. Love orders, not just one with another, but one with oneself and higher with lower, i.e., "natural, sensual, ethical, and spiritual elements," preventing each of these "from being isolated from the rest" (Pieper).

Again, the watchword for the Raccoon is always integration, which is strictly impossible in the absence of the prior oneness (or three-in-oneness, as we shall see). The whole exists prior to the parts, or there can be no parts, just isolated and atomistic wholes, or little a-wholes. (Speaking of which, strange as it may sound, the only reason I can live rent-free in the heads of our trolls is because of love.)

Thus, love is really a kind of cosmic bridge that links together all sorts of things. You might even say that it is the love that moves the sun and other stars (speaking Alighierically, of course). Culture would obviously be unthinkable without this spiraling arc of passion -- without the glue that holds man and woman together, and then marriage and child. Weaken this crazy glue and you'll really see the Crazy, since you'll diminish the extra-state basis of culture, which is precisely why the left does what it does. See Screwtape for details. Love is the ancient highway that runs beneath the modern freeway of secular culture.

Again, married people tend to be conservative. Married with children even more so. And the most reliably liberal people are those single women who believe men to be unnecessary accessories. Except that they end up forming a perverse and pathetic union with the state, as if it can really replace the love of a husband and children. (A correction: we once said that for the left, a family is any two people who love the State; we should have said "one person.")

We might say that love is a cosmic link because man is. Again, another Raccoon axiom is that man is the one being in the cosmos who cuts across all levels and states of being, from high to low and even lower (i.e., only man can sink beneath himself). But the only way to actualize and realize this state is in love. Or so we have heard from the wise, the merciful, the hectoring, Petey. Only in love does the soul truly acquire its wings -- or realize that they are not just a couple of useless appendages for ønanistically beating off the air.

Again, I'd like to use all of this as a bridge, as it were, to even higher things, which is to say, the essence and nature of God, or the Absolute if you like. In order to do that, I'm going to refer back to Zizioulas' Being as Communion, which I only briefly touched on several weeks ago. This way I'll have someone else to blame.

Again, I am not enough of a proper theologian to know whether or not Zizioulas' thesis is controversial in Christian circles. I only know that it is not controversial in Raccoon circles, and that his thesis is triply OrthOdOx for us.

He begins by pointing out that "The question that preoccupied the Fathers was not to know if God existed or not," since this was a given. Rather, they wanted to know how he existed. I mean, wouldn't you?

Long story short, they made the amazing discovery -- you can call it speculation or hypothesis if you like, but I call it discovery -- that "The being of God is a relational being," to such an extent that "without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak about the being of God."

It is perhaps difficult to appreciate how radical a thesis this is, for the Fathers maintained that "it would be unthinkable to speak of the 'one God' before speaking of the God who is" -- not who is "in" mind you, but who is -- communion.

Let's stop right here for a moment. One of the major theses of my book is that human beings did not, and could not have, evolved in the absence of communion. I won't rehearse the whole argument here, but a central point is that humanness could not have resulted only from a "big brain," no matter how big. Rather, the real prerequisite of humanness is internal relationship with others.

In other words, minds must be internally related, or what is called "intersubjective." In arriving at this theory, I was simply applying what is now known about attachment theory, and the conditions that allow the baby to grow into a mature and healthy (whole) human being. Hence the title of that subsection: The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. I could have equally said The Acquisition of Babyness in Archaic Stone Age Man, because the point is the same: the emergence of the neurologically incomplete and internally related baby is the whole hinge of psychohistory.

Again, the thesis of God-as-communion -- i.e., the Trinity -- is truly radical, in the sense of getting right down to the very "root" of things (L. radix root). We do not begin with a kind of unitary "divine substance" to which communion is added as an afterthought (any more than we can do so with the mind of man, which is intrinsically intersubjective).

Rather, "the substance of God, 'God', has no ontological content, no true being, apart from communion." Or, one might say that the "substance" is communion: "In this manner the ancient world heard for the first time that it is communion which makes things 'be': nothing exists without it, not even God." (And recall the previous several posts which highlighted the fact that only love causes a human being to be, and the easy-to-misunderstand idea that love causes God to be in time.)

Think of it: if God is "Father," there can be no Father in the absence of "Son": the two mutually co-arise. As was the case with me, the moment I had a child was the moment I became a father. One event was not prior to the other. By definition they were simultaneous, just as when I got married I became a husband, not before or after.

Having said that, we can still say that the Father is the cause of the Son, vertically speaking, since the latter is "dependent" on the former. But again, go back to the example of how the Stone Age baby evolves into a human person. He only exists as person when personhood is affirmed through love.

Just so, God cannot be "person" unless he is intersubjectively "linked," so to speak, to his own Other. Again, there is no such thing as an isolated "person." Recall from the discussion of Screwtape that that is hell, precisely.

Just so in God. Being that the substance of God is communion, so too is his essence Person and his mode Love. Or, as they say back East, the one-two-three of being con-sciousness bliss.

Well, that's enough controversy for now. To be continued.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Atheism Is Not Great! Or Good. Or Beautiful. Or True. Or Anything, Really.

Continuing with the theme of Cosmic Love, Pieper writes that even those "who declare human existence to be simply absurd, or who see it gloomily unfolding under the decree of blind fate, still have an inkling of that all-embracing love whose absence they lament or denounce."

In other words, God may be absent for these blind folkers, but he is always oddly conspicuous in his absence, as if he should be there. Indeed, if this were a cosmos worthy of the name -- that is, a vertical and internally ordered totality -- there would have to be someone or something at the top, dammit! So where is s/h/it?!

God Is Not Great. This is fine example of Matte Blanco's symmetrical logic, in which an assertion implies its converse. Of course God is great, by definition (certain assouls' and heterodicks' definitions notwithstanding). That's not Hitchens' problem.

Rather, his problem is God Is Not, full stop. But if not, why not? It can only be because he is in denial of the whole in his head, the whole without which there can be no coherent parts, including the parts that deny cOherence.

The God he is rejecting is not great, and therefore not God. Because God is surely great, even if he doesn't exist -- just as unicorns have a single horn even though they don't. Something needn't exist to have a strict definition -- for example, "patriotic leftist."

The trinocular Raccoon simply begins with God Is, or O. The rest is our problem. Unlike some of our competitors, we do not deploy reason to explore the mysteries of faith, but gnosis or intellection to explore the mysteries of Reason.

In ether worlds, once you realize that O cannot not be, then that's where the f-f-fun begins, i.e., the Adventure of Consciousness. You can insist that this adventure is "not great." But how would you know, bonehead? It's like someone with agoraphobia insisting that Rome is not great! or the French Riviera is not great! Sounds a little defensive to me.

It is the same way when the retardenstia trot out the existence of evil to reject the Creator. Here again, they know somewhere in their withered soul that it "shouldn't be," but why shouldn't it be? "Good without evil can exist; but evil without good cannot."

For in reality, evil should pose no mystery whatsoever to the tenured. Rather, the mystery in a Darwinian world is virtue, or love, or beauty, or truth, or extreme selflessness, or sainthood. Such things have no right to exist and should not be in a wholly material cosmos. Darwin is not great! Or good! Or beautiful! Or true! Or any other transcendental category.

For if there is a first cause - a Cause at the beginning of the chain of causality -- so too is there a "first lover," and a capital beauty and a Truth of truth.

O, if only t'were so easy to dismiss man's cosmic Obligations! But we are again condemned to transcendence: "We may well wish sometimes that 'God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny'" (ibid), but that would be a different creature with a different creator in a different cosmos.

This is this cosmos, where we have the terrible responsibility of knowing what is true, doing what is good, and creating what is beautiful. Anyone who tells you otherwise is certainly other than wise, and probably just compensating for the fact that what he knows is false, what he does is wrong, and what he creates is ugly.

Our cosmic responsibility reminds me of something Captain Beefheart once said: "Yeah, I'm a genius, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."

In the absence of God, a man can believe himself to be just as wise, good, and creative as anyone else. As someone once said, if you can't do anything else, you can always call yourself an artist, and no one can tell you different. But you can also call yourself a philosopher or an ethicist or a guru or a priest or comedian.

To escape these transcendental demands is to flee from our humanness. In rejecting God, we reject man, for man only is what he is in relation to that which transcends him, that for which we are always striving, and that to which we point like eros shot from the origin to the center, alphatomega and back again.

This is not a new problem. Rather, it was "so familiar to the thinkers of the past that they cited it among the seven 'deadly sins' as acedia" (ibid), which we discussed a couple weeks ago. This is the despair "of man's not daring to be what he is" -- less than or all-too human, depending on how you look at it.

Thus the paradorks do not understand: "God's love can be a thousand times sterner and harsher than his justice" (ibid), in particular, for the man who imagines himself to be a closed and self-sufficient system. For such a person, hell is other people, for they remind him of his dependency and his responsibilities. D'oh!

But hell is also other gods, for they remind him that he is not God. Only if God exists are you actually free to reject him. If there is no God, then there is no freedom at all, just arbitrary lateral movement this way and that. There is no God and you can't know it.

Indeed, to affirm this primordial denial -- to say Yes! to no -- is to affirm that one is not affirmed, and that one therefore doesn't really exist at all. Or, one absurdly exists as non-existence, a hungry parasite on nothing.

Mal appétit!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cosmic Love: The Gift that Keeps Giving (and Receiving)

A human being is of infinite value. That being the case, Pieper asks: if he "already exists anyhow, could we not say that it does not matter whether a lover finds this fact wonderful and affirms it?" In other words, how does loving another person add anything that isn't already there, since the person is, in his own way, a kind of absolute?

It reminds me of where we left off yesterday: You might say that love causes God to be in time. In order to flesh out and incarnate this lovely idea, we must investigate the cosmic dimension of love. As Pieper says, "we are basically asking what is the 'function' of love within the whole of existence; what is it supposed to do and accomplish in the world?" (emphasis mine).

From a Darwinian perspective, the whole question is absurd, since what we call "love" is just an illusion designed to fool us into reproducing. All other animals accomplish the mission without the illusion of love -- and also manage to raise their children without it.

But again, one of the first principles of the Raccoon is that the human being is the most significant fact of the cosmos, not some sort of irrelevant fluke of no metaphysical significance. Furthermore, we take seriously the idea that man is made in the image of the Absolute -- perhaps a bit more seriously than the average believer, since we also believe that it is not only knowledge of God that informs us of the nature of man, but real principial knowledge of man as such that can inform us of the nature of God.

In resembling his parents, the child is dependent upon their archeytpe; in other words, when you see a baby, you say "he looks just like you!," not "you look just like him!" Still, the child can convey a lot about the parent, and in a way, cannot avoid doing so. Just so, we don't say of man, "God looks just like you!," even though there is a certain family resemblance.

For example, since love is so central to human existence -- indeed, a human being is impossible without it -- I think it's safe to say that it must be central to God. In other words, for the human being, love is not accidental but essential. Without it we will die, if not physically, then mentally and spiritually.

We touched on this idea a few posts ago: "What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is an explicit confirmation: It is good that you exist; how wonderful you are!" We come into the world not just needing milk, warmth, and oxygen, but human love. "Being created by God does not suffice." Rather, "the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love" (Pieper).

Pieper reviews the heartbreaking orphan studies of René Spitz. It seems common sense to us now, but he observed that children raised by their mothers in prison did much better than motherless children raised "in well-equipped, hygienically impeccable Amaerican infants' and children's homes by excellently trained nurses." Not only were the latter more susceptible to mental illness, but to disease and mortality.

For a human being, meeting his physical needs is never enough. And the one thing the nurses could not give the children was maternal love and devotion. As Pieper says, they can give the milk, but not the honey. He quotes the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who said that he could always distinguish between patients who had received only the milk, vs. those who had received both milk and honey. I believe I can too. There is a palpable sense of interpersonal "deadness" in the former, which comes out in a variety of ways. For example, in order to truly be passionate in life, -- in all areas, not just interpersonally -- one must have been passionately loved.

Recall again our hypothesis that love causes God to be in time. Pieper suggests that "In human love the creative act of the Deity in establishing existence is continued -- so that the one who is consciously experiencing love can say, 'I need you in order to be myself... In loving me you give me myself, you let me be." More succinctly, "What being loved makes being do is precisely: be." Love causes both God and man to "be in time."

But of course, the preverbal infant cannot consciously say or think any of this. Rather, in loving the infant, you are confirming in them their very existence, to such an extent that their deepest sense of existence will be literally indistinguishable from love -- or, if things go wrong in attachment, other emotions and states of being. The infant who is rejected or doesn't bond for whatever reason may have anger, or depression, or emptiness, or alienation, or ravenous envy at its core, so that later development will involve transformations of these instead of love.

This is all covered in more detail in chapter 3.2 of my book, but even there we had to breeze over details and focus more on the principles. For those interested in deeper study, there are a number of hand-selected psychology titles in the Raccoon Store.

I remember a wise crack by Mouravieff, to the effect that we all must find that person without whom our being is not real. This is an arresting phrase, for it implies that it is possible for humans to be, but in an unreal way. Think about that for a moment. On the one hand, it is a truism, but the implications are quite astonishing. Of all the things in existence, only a human being can be false. But this is only an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fact that only the human being may conform himself to truth.

But various forms of the "false self" are the stock in trade of the clinical psychologist, including the "as-if" personality, narcissism, the schizoid personality, and other permutations. The false self is developed in order to cope with the fact that the deeper self was never confirmed in infancy and childhood (think of the narcissist who craves being "seen" by the camera as a replacement for being seen by the beloved, and who feels dead without it -- call it the "Norma Desmond syndrome").

The false self is not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother that protects the core from being hurt, rejected, and retraumatized. Thus, the false self can neither express nor receive love (although there are degrees; it would be more accurate to say that there is a deficit in the ability to give/receive love, i.e., to be an open system on a deeply emotional level).

Peiper makes the subtle point that in creating the cosmos, God confers both the milk and the honey, for after doing so, he confirms its being by declaring it to be "good, very good." Without God blessing his creation in this manner, it would just be "nothing," similar to the subjective sense of the infant who is not blessed by the love that proclaims how good it is that it is that you exist!

Pieper refers back to those studies of Spitz, which demonstrate that "mothers' love, no matter how heartfelt, would be no help at all to the small children if they could not be reached in some way, if they did not 'know' that they were loved."

And "in the same way, of course, the Creator's approval can only really affect and change man's life when he 'realizes' it believingly, that is, when he also 'accepts' it." I would say when we metabolize and assimilate it into our substance, just like honey. For love is "the 'prime gift' that makes all other gifts possible." Recall the beautiful passage by our unKnown Friend:

There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things -- even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God.

Or, you could say that our parents give birth to us so that we might give birth to God. See Eckhart for details.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And You Shall Love the One You're With!

And the obnoxious lawyer said, "Bottom line it for us, teacher. What's your angle?" And the teacher responded You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Dealing as he was with a pharisaical lawyer, could it be possible that the teacher was being a bit ironic? And "pharisaical" needn't have any Jewish connotations at all. Indeed, to interpret it that way would be to miss the point entirely. A "pharisee" is any person who strictly observes the rules in an outward, mechanical, and possibly hypocritical way. Today we might call such a person "anal," or obsessive-compulsive.

So let's just suppose that the teacher is making this statement to an anal lawyer, so it has a very specific context. First of all, he might be saying to the lawyer that YOU -- yeah you, smartass! -- shall love the lord, thus turning the tables on him and suggesting that it is actually possible to do this, just like any other ritual. Also, to say that you SHALL do so is to insist that the lawyer try to do something outwardly that can only be accomplished inwardly.

In other words, what could it possibly mean to say that you SHALL love? How can one be compelled to love anyone or anything? What if you're no longer in love with your girlfriend, but I insist that you SHALL love her? How would you go about doing that? Really, you could only pretend you loved her by going through all the correct motions. Is it possible to love God in the same way -- to go through all the correct motions? If we take the teacher literally, the answer would have to be yes. But how could that be?

At the end of this passage, the teacher then says that this commandment -- along with loving the neighbor -- is prior to all of the law and all of the prophets. This is helpful, because it emphasizes that the spirit is anterior to the law, and even that the very purpose of the law is to codify the spirit. But no law can actually do this, especially if it becomes only a law.

Now, for psychohistorical reasons, I do believe that there was a time that man required very concrete rules, since he was generally incapable of abstraction. Indeed -- and this is a bit of a sidetrack -- in Capitalism and the Jews, Muller makes the fascinating point that, ironically, it was the development of capitalism that really allowed the average Joe to begin thinking abstractly. In this regard, the Jews had a head start over the Joes because they had already been doing this for centuries vis-a-vis the Law.

That is, by no means is the rabbinical tradition one of slavish devotion to concrete and mechanical laws. Rather, there is a constant argument over what the laws mean, how they are to be interpreted, how they apply to changing circumstances, and the multiple levels of meaning. Really, Judaism is one long argument. (And remember also that study is a mode of love.)

Anyway, here is how Muller describes the cognitive impact of capitalism: "Such an economy created a mind-set that was more abstract, because the means of exchange were themselves becoming more abstract." In the past, exchange revolved around barter, giving one concrete thing for another.

But "with the development of credit, money becomes more abstract still, little more than a bookkeeping notation. Through constant exposure to an abstract means of exchange, individuals under capitalism are habituated to thinking about the world in a more abstract manner." Life becomes more "calculated, less impulsive and emotional."

Another critical point is that capitalism facilitates the emergence of the true individual, because it creates a field of so many choices in which to actualize the self. In agrarian culture, almost everyone is a farmer or a mother. But in a market economy there are "new possibilities of individuality." It is now "possible for the individual to develop a variety of interests and to become involved in a wider range of activities than would otherwise be possible."

Back to love as theological virtue. Pieper points out that there are indeed two sides of love, one active, one passive. It is both "something we 'practice' and do as conscious actors and also something that comes over us and happens like an enchantment." Here again, we are dealing with the complementarity of letter/spirit, but the former must be dependent on the latter, since it could never be the other way around.

And yet, if, as we were saying yesterday, love discloses reality, then there is more to it than just passively "falling in love." Rather, in a certain sense, to love is simply to assent to reality, or to "say yes to O." So in that sense, you must "love the Lord," for failing to do so is to situate oneself outside reality. Thus, there is an element of will involved, and will is the basis of faith. Again, irrespective of one's first principles -- i.e., whether religious or secular -- one can only affirm these principles with a leap of faith, or will.

Pieper makes the interesting observation that in the Psalms, there are many instances of the affirmation that God wills man. For to truly love someone is to want them to exist. To say "I love you" is to say, "boy, I'm glad that you exist!," or "existence sure is good with you in it!" And this doesn't just apply to people. For example, to love the United States is to say that one is happy it exists.

Pieper concludes that "love as the primal act of will is simultaneously the point of origin and the center of existence as a whole. What kind of person one is will be decided at this point." And "the most extreme form of affirmation that can possibly be conceived of is creatio," or bringing something into existence.

So if God loves man by willing him to be, perhaps we love God by willing him into existence. For God is always "beyond being" unless we cause him to ex-ist or "stand out" by reciprocating the love. You might say that love causes God to be in time.

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.