Saturday, July 31, 2010

Solar Flares and Loony Tunes

This is just a ramble for Music Saturday. Feel free to comment on it or ignore it altogether and consider it an open thread on the subject of music and art.

Of the five senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell -- only the first two are associated with art and with aesthetic beauty. There are no olfactory artists who produce timeless smells, nor are there artists of touch.

Some might say that a gifted chef is an artist, but food is too closely connected to biological survival to qualify as art. Food may delight or entice, but it provides a kind of vital pleasure that is quite distinct from the pleasures of art. As Stephen Dedalus says in P of the A as a YM, eating provokes kinetic desire as opposed to aesthetic arrest. And there are some beautiful smells -- certain incenses, for example -- but they simply "are what they are," and don't point to or reveal anything else.

Why is this the case? First of all, how can two such diverse modes -- sight and hearing -- equally create the thing called "art?" Or, perhaps more to the point, what is art that it can express itself in two such diverse modes? Why are a painting and a symphony both called art? And why are the other senses excluded?

One of the classic definitions of art is that it combines, wholeness (integritas), harmony (consonantia), and radiance (claritas, which is similar to Plato's "splendor of truth").

Thus, painting and music can obviously embody wholeness and harmony, but it is difficult to imagine how the other senses could do so. For example, touch is inherently fragmentary; one cannot "touch the whole," nor can the fingers perceive radiance. And no one imagines that truth can be tasted or smelled (except in a subtle, analogical manner).

Let's go back to Joyce, who is speaking through Stephen: "An aesthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in time, what is visible is presented in space."

The "mysterious instant" of aesthetic reception occurs when "the supreme quality of beauty... is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony." There is in "the silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure, a spiritual state very like to that cardiac condition which... [is] called the enchantment of the heart."

Schuon, who wrote extensively on the spiritual dimension of art, notes that of the five senses, the eye lends itself to a "particularly adequate correspondence with the Intellect," since it is more detached and objective, the least bound up with vital sensibility.

I'm not so sure about this, since for men especially, sight is the vehicle of the female form. 'Nuff said.

But in any event, he says that sight corresponds to the intellect in its "static and simultaneous" mode, while hearing reflects it "in its dynamic and successive mode."

He adds that the latter may be thought of as "lunar" in relation to the solar centrality of sight. This makes sense, since they say that females are more sound-oriented from the get-go. They are also more interpersonally connected, and yakking is the vehicle of this connection.

We all know that light and illumination are the universal symbols of divine knowledge and its acquisition, just as darkness connotes ignorance, stupidity, and tenure.

But here again, sound is not far behind. For example, in Vedanta they posit the primordial vibration of existence as AUM, while in Christianity it all begins with the Word. And this Word must be heard.

Perhaps vision conveys the image of eternity, while sound is the moving image of eternity. As Schuon says, aesthetics is "the science of forms," and music presents us with temporal form, or architecture in motion. But the form must convey what is non-formal, i.e., the supra-formal light -- and truth -- from another world. It is limitlessness expressed by a limit, or divine radiance expressed through wholeness and harmony.

Interestingly, Schuon writes that "ignorant and profane aesthetics places the beautiful -- or what its sentimental idealism takes to be beautiful -- above the true..." This leads to idolatry of beauty, and of "art for art's sake." But beauty should be for truth's sake. If it is not subordinate to something higher, it will be appropriated by something lower.

Without this element of truth, beauty has no intrinsic value. It is reduced to "subjective enjoyment -- a luxury, if one prefers" (Schuon). Contrary to postmodernism, which is the nadir of subjectivism, beauty "is objective, hence discernible by intelligence and not by taste."

This is no trivial matter, for if man's environment is filled with corrupt and deviated images, "he runs the risk of 'being' what he 'sees,' of assimilating the errors suggested by the erroneous forms among which he lives." In this sense, everything becomes pornographic, which simply means that it is drained of any and all spiritual content.

Sri Aurobindo says something similar in a letter to a disciple, that through sound or image, "in a moment mysteriously, unexpectedly, there is a Presence, a Power, a Face that looks into yours, an inner sight..."

However, "so long as one is satisfied with looking through windows, the gain is only initial; one day one will have to take up the pilgrim's staff and start out to journey there where the Reality is forever manifest and present."

Or, one must follow the light to the sun and sound to the moon, for "in a certain sense, the sun makes known space and the moon, time" (Schuon).

*****

Any other Pharoah Sanders fans out there? Probably not. He's definitely among my top 10, desert island artists. Like Van Morrison but few others, he always plays from the Source. Audible and visible sOlar flares:

Friday, July 30, 2010

World. War. Three.

I'm reading a book that may have some relevance to our discussion of spiritual warfare against bad citizens of various cosmic dimensions, Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality.

In fact, spiritual warfare might be the unifying theme of the Philokalia, as it was originally written for monastics in pursuit of deification, which always involves purification, illumination and union. And purification is none other than declaring war on lower vertical influences and ridding oneself of mind parasites.

This particular edition is a greatly condensed and dumbed-down version that attempts to make the Philokalia more relevant to non-monastics and accessible to moderns.

For example, Fr. Anthony says at the outset that "the call to spiritual living" is addressed to everyone, but that each "must live the spiritual life in the context of their calling."

And not everyone is called to be a monk, or a priest, or a theologian. It's very similar to what the Bhagavad Gita says about being true to one's dharma. Some are called to be warriors, some merchants, and others householders. As they say, "following another man's dharma is a great danger."

One thing the left doesn't understand about military life is that it is a spiritual calling, like the priesthood. What could be more spiritual than killing evildoers and breaking their stuff?

The distaste for military combat is simply a mirror of the prior wimpified rejection of spiritual combat. The left surely engages in battle -- that's all they do -- but for them, the battle is wholly externalized, with no understanding of human nature and how it will spoil any victory for them. Thus we end up being physically governed by the spiritually ungoverned.

Real warriors understand the spiritual nature of combat -- you might say that they have heroically transposed the unseen combat of the spiritual world back down to the material plane. Thanks to them, we are free to pursue a life of unseen spirituality, instead of the visible kind.

Mind parasites are like seeds, but so too is our divine spark. Both require cultivation in order to grow and flourish. The Philokalia is absolutely opposed to the idea that one is suddenly "born again," and that's it. Rather, that's only the beginning.

Furthermore, as mentioned yesterday, vertical rebirth is not only an invitation to spiritual warfare, but a declaration of it. Conquering more territory results in sanctification, deification, salvation, and theosis, but the battle is never over. "It is a process of unending spiritual growth.... God's grace plus our own cooperation [what we call (↓↑)] lead to salvation."

Fr. Anthony: "Spirituality needs to be rediscovered today because if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, there are many unholy, evil spirits out there waiting to rush in and fill the vacuum. It is not only nature but also the soul that abhors a vacuum. You will either be filled with the Holy Spirit and be free, or you will be filled with evil spirits and be a slave to them."

But importantly, Christianity doesn't really distinguish between worldly and spiritual domains, in that everything should be divinized: for God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

St. Theophan, the great 19th century Russian Orthodox mystic theologian and staretz, wrote that "the arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place, is our own heart and our own inner man. The time of the battle is our whole life."

I think that is a key idea, for there is simply no way to avoid this battle of a lifetime. Or, to be perfectly accurate, you can opt out of the battle on pain of squandering the purpose of your life and caving to the enemy.

You cannot be a conscientious objector in the war for your own soul, only an unconscious objector. You can lay down your weapons, but the Adversary will never put away his. You can be no one's enemy, but that doesn't mean you won't have enemies.

I think the purpose of spiritual combat is to transpose the constant battle of life to a higher key, so to speak. Just as, say, the sex drive is contained and transmuted through marriage, inner conflict is given new meaning by placing it on a higher spiritual plane, on which we polish and perfect our character against the rocks of adversity.

You don't really discover who you are or "what you're made of" until you're up against it. Therefore, to deprive man of adversity is to deprive him of the opportunity to grow and evolve, which is apparently the reason why we are here.

As Petey has explained it to me, angels pretty much know everything, but within a limited domain, and that's it. They cannot evolve, because there is nothing to clash with. Their lives are entirely non-friction, so to speak.

As Theophan wrote, "It was Saint Paul who repeatedly said that the Christian life is an athletic contest, and that we must always train for this contest. He also first likened the Christian life to a battle, and the Christian to a soldier; he described the discipline appropriate to such a warrior; his armour, his offensive and defensive weapons, and the internal and external enemies against whom he has to fight. The Bible is full of this doctrine and its related disciplines.... Most of these combats occur during purification, when man is divided against himself, the old man against the new."

Here's a bullet in: being a spiritual wussifist will not do. Rather, you must choose sides, declare war on yourself, and terminate your mind parasites with extreme prejudice. You can "study war no more," but you'll just end up some body's slave. True enough, God "loves us the way we are; but He loves us too much to leave us the way we are" (Cairns).

There is the world. There is a war. But there is a Third to assist us in the latter.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Tell Your Friends From the Demons

Tuesday's post generated some questions of how one distinguishes between angelic and demonic presences, on the one hand, and mind parasites on the other. In object relations theory, the latter are known as good and bad objects. As I've mentioned before, the word "object" is misleading, as it is a holdover from Freud's original theory, in which the young child regards other people as objects for the purposes of discharging instincts.

The classical psychoanalysis of Freud was a one-person psychology, whereas the modern psychoanalysis which grew out of that is a two-person psychology -- or, more to the point, intersubjective. Looked at this way, instincts are not just animal discharges, but links between two people. An obvious example is sexuality. For a normal human being, sex is not just an animal instinct that can be separated from a relationship. Rather, it is a link between two persons -- which is why only for humans can this link be loving, or sadistic, or perverse, or narcissistic, whatever.

This is only possible because we are intimately linked to the other from the moment we come into the world, just as we are linked to the atmosphere and physical environment. Just as we exchange food and oxygen, we exchange psychic "substances," so to speak, with others. And just as the physical nourishment we take in is used to build our bodies, the psychic nourishment we take in is used to build our minds.

But it is not just good things that are taken in. Rather, a frustrating, neglectful, or abusive primary relationship is also internalized, and becomes a "bad object." But because of the logic of the unconscious mind, the person can identify with either pole of the bad object relationship, and project the other side into someone else, to whom he remains linked. Which is why one person can become an emotional sadist in search of masochistic victims, while the other becomes an emotional masochist in search of sadists.

Now, these good and bad objects result from our horizontal openness to others. Religion results from the fact that we are also open systems vertically. In a letter to a disciple, Schuon talks about the moment in life when a man makes the decision "to realize a permanent relationship with his creator" and "to become what he should have been" all along, whether we call this state "salvation" or "union."

But after the initial enthusiasm subsides, in many cases "the aspirant is unaware that he will have to go through difficulties he carries within himself which are aroused and unfolded by the contact with a heavenly element." Very similar to what Sri Aurobindo taught, the "lower psychic possibilities -- quite evidently incompatible with perfection -- must be exhausted and dissolved." This is known as the "initiatic ordeal," the "descent into hell," the "temptation of the hero," or "spiritual combat." In Vedanta, it is called the fire of "tapasaya," which refers to the burning that accompanies the dissolution of these patterns and knots.

And as I mentioned yesterday about discerning the plane from which the difficulty is arising, Schuon says that the psychic elements that are unfit for consummation can be "hereditary or personal." Or, they can result from our own will, or, conversely, pressure from the environment. In any event, they generally take the form of "a discouragement, of a doubt, of a revolt," and the important thing is to not further empower them by "embarking on the downward slope of either despair or subversion." One must detach and fight back, not build an errport for these parasitic thoughts to land and establish a beachhead in your head.

In an essay on Trials and Happiness, Schuon points out that "a trial is not necessarily a chastisement, it can also be a grace, and the one does not preclude the other. At all events, a trial in itself not only tests what we are, but also purifies us of what we are not." Just think of all the things you thought you wanted at the time, but which would have been disastrous if you had gotten them. As they say, more misery is caused by answered prayers than unanswered ones.

Who we are is up ahead, not behind. It reminds me of mountain biking. In order to avoid a crash, you should generally not look down at what you're trying to avoid, but up ahead ten or twenty feet. By focussing on where you want to go, you'll keep your balance and automatically avoid the obstacles.

Similarly, as Schuon says, "we have to avoid becoming hypnotized by the surrounding world, for this reinforces our feeling of being exposed to a thousand dangers." It is as if we are on "a narrow path between two abysses; when looking to either side one risks losing one's balance." Instead, one must "look straight ahead and let the world be the world," or "look towards God, in relation to Whom all the chasms of the world are nothing." This is the meaning of Jesus' statement that "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

Schuon also talks about the distinction between the "trial by water" and "trial by fire," the former essentially involving the siren song of temptation, hypnosis, and seduction, the latter the dragons of the unconscious mind and the dreaded General Law.

I first came across the idea of the General Law in Mouraviaeff's Gnosis. I don't know if there is actually a General Law in the cosmos, but there might as well be. He begins with Origen's comparison of the cosmos to a living organism, the soul of which is God, the "soul of souls." He then asks what the purpose of human existence could be. On the one hand, it could be "an element of the universal organism," serving its aims; or "an isolated individual" pursuing his own aims.

If we compare the human being to a cell in the body, the cell is subject to two categories: "The first keeps the cell in its place. In esoteric science we call it the General Law. The second leaves a certain liberty of action for the cell, and is called the Law of Exception." I'll skip some of the details, but as it pertains to humans, the General Law allows man a certain margin of free movement. Although objectively limited, the limits appear subjectively vast to horizontal man, who "can give free rein to his fantasies and ambitions" within their bounds -- what you might call the "bourgeois happiness" of the tenured:

"As long as man accepts the principle of the final annihilation of his personality without a fight, he can carry on in life without attracting the increasing pressure of the General Law upon himself."

Ah ha! This would explain why the sub-Raccoon population seems so blandly content. They have no idea that their lives are subject to the General Law. They don't rock the cosmic boat, and therefore do not attract the attention of the authorities.

But dash it all, wouldn't you know "the case is totally different if he struggles to surpass the limits which [the General Law] imposes.... It acts simultaneously on several planes: physical, mental and moral. Its action on the moral plane is conceived by man, since time immemorial, in the form of a personification: the Devil."

Now, in the Orthodox Christian tradition -- which I suppose we'll be getting into later -- there is much practical consideration and advice on how to deal with the provocations of the General Law, i.e., how to wage hand-to-hand combat without hands. In any event, it is a commonly encountered pattern that "once positive results are obtained," the seeker will "unmistakably run up against the opposition of the law and the game of the Crafty One."

Pleased to meet me, hope I guess my name!

Again, you can debate about the ontological basis of all this, but as far as the phenomenology goes, it is identical in form to the resistance that is universally encountered in psychotherapy. As soon as you make a move toward health, a legion of internal propagandists and saboteurs will be aroused from their slumber to block the way. Likewise, by "placing himself under the aegis of the Law of Exception, man goes against the General Law, which he is even called upon to overthrow, if only on an individual scale." The seeker must remember -- "under penalty of surprise attacks" -- that "salvation depends on victory over the Devil," which "is the personalized aspect of the General Law."

In other words, to live outside the law, you must be honest (Dylan). Whatever you do, don't engage in autokidding, or pulling the wool over your own I's. You must show proof, including three forms of disidentification, that you are a worthy candidate to defy the authority of the General Law, because as soon as you defy it, you'll get it from all sides.

The Law of Exception is a narrow way, more difficult than it is for a Camel to pass through the lips of the surgeon general, but it's where the razoredgeon is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Adrift in Time with No Vertical Compass

This is the best kind of repost: an old one that not only provoked few comments, but that even I don't remember writing.

In his book From the Divine to the Human, Schuon has a chapter entitled To Refuse or Accept Revelation. In it, he points out that the reason people freely accept revelation is obviously not on empirical or (merely) rational grounds, but because man is a form of Truth, and therefore disposed to comprehend the divine message in spite of the objections of his own ego. In a way, the fact that we may comprehend revelation so deeply, proves the deiform nature of man and the divine object of which he is a distant reflection.

Schuon points out that in all orthodox religions there are two domains, one which "must be," and one which "may or may not be," and therefore doesn't necessarily have to exist. The former is that of dogma, the latter interpretation and elaboration. For example, just yesterday I was reading in Steinsaltz's In the Beginning about the distinction between the written Torah and the oral Torah.

In kabbalistic terms, the written Torah corresponds to wisdom, the oral Torah to understanding. The former is a numinous flash, a "nucleus" of all knowing, but only in potential. "Only afterwards does Understanding clothe this insight with the length and breadth of reason and make it comprehensible and communicable."

Steinsaltz writes that "the process is not unlike conception and giving birth: the original fertilized cell contains all, but it has to be lodged in the womb and developed." Similarly, Schuon thinks of revelation as a vertical ingression into time, while tradition is its horizontal extension or prolongation within the womb of time. There is (↓) and there is (→), and they shouldn't be conflated. Both are necessary, but in different ways.

This is why, while revelation must be preserved, it must also be interpreted and elaborated. Otherwise, it would be analogous to removing the fertilized cell from its nurturing environment and expecting it to be self-sufficient. As Steinsaltz writes, "Written Torah needs endless amplification, study, and clarification. There are infinite layers of meaning, depthless beauty," and new modes of experiential comprehension to be revealed, which is to say, O → (n).

While one receives the written revelation passively, so to speak, the oral revelation "proceeds to act on it, engaging in critical thinking" and "deep experiencing." And unlike the written Torah, which is fixed and not given to change, the oral Torah "can be altered and improved and is constantly being enlarged, added to, re-created, and enhanced by ever higher levels of experience."

Again, (↓) is unchanged, but it is continuously being refracted through (→). Indeed, this is one of the central tasks of theology, to show how (↓) is still relevant (to say the least) despite the inevitable changes brought about in (→). If one's theology doesn't keep up with (→), then soon enough, people will conclude that (↓) is outdated and of no possible relevance to them, at which point they will transfer their allegiance to (→). Game over. The secular clock jockeys and Marxist time zombies have won.

This is precisely what I meant when I made reference to the transitional, generative space that exists between revelation and our contemplation of it. In this regard, one can see that Torah study has the identical pneuma-cognitive structure of science, the latter of which you might also say has a "written revelation" and an "oral revelation."

The "written revelation" of science is simply the Cosmos, the World, physical reality, or whatever you want to call it. It is the Object which was here before we arrived, and to which we are Subject. Science -- the "oral tradition" -- takes place in the space between this fixed Object and our own evolving Subject, which mysteriously conforms to the Object on so many levels, as if the one were a deep reflection of the other. Which of course it is. The world was made to be known, or it couldn't be.

Now, the written revelation may be thought of as "day," the oral as "night." The wisdom of revelation manifests itself in the light of day, but may only be understood in the darkness of unknowing. In short, there is "daytime" knowledge and there is "nighttime" knowledge, and one must understand the distinction.

As Steinsaltz says, "the day is the time for receiving the light, and the night is the time for creating. There is a time to perceive, to look out and absorb things, and there is a time to develop what has been absorbed and even to fashion new things out of this knowledge." Steinsaltz compares it to a photograph, in which the film of the camera absorbs a bit of the light. But then you must enter your dark room in order to "develop" it.

It is no different with the pneumagraph of our indvidual lives. For genuine knowledge can only be gestated in the nighttime womb of the soul. Irrespective of how much daytime knowledge (k) one possesses, without the night vision to complement it, one will not "see." This latter condition is what we call slackular degeneration.

For the Raccoon is a gnocturnal creature, don't you know. For us, the daytime light is so intense, that it can be a bit overwhelming. We actually "see" the light better in the dark. Conversely, many anal-type materialists reject religion because they are either night-blind or afraid of the dark. But our spiritual essence is exactly analogous to the flash of (↓) or the fertilized cell. Our life is the elaboration of this (↓) in (→). God help the man who has become detached from the ombilical cord of (↓) and is adrift in the mayaplicity of (→). I don't pretend that I can.

The day and night also correspond to "outer" and "inner," part and whole, letter and spirit, geometry and music. Paradoxically, wholeness can only be seen by night, when all of the apparent, well-defined parts blend together and interpenetrate. By day, we see only fragments, but by night we are able to intuit the whole and dream the metaphysical dream by which the day may be creatively illuminated by the higher darkness.

Here is the essential difference. The spiritually attuned person, the poet, the true artist, all live and breath by night and communicate their vision by the light of an intense beam of darkness. Conversely, the atheist, the materialist, the radical secularist -- all live by day and are blinded by the true light of darkness. And being that they cannot think by night, they dream by day -- which is to say, sleepwake -- through their lives.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It Takes Two to Lingo: Word Became Flesh So that Flesh Might Become Word

I wouldn't say I'm burned out. However, I'm not really fired up about anything in particular, and where there's no fire, there's no smoke to blow up anyone's behind. So I dipped down into the arkive and pulled out a three-year old post for the basis of a new one. However, I never just repost something without using it as an occasion to rethink it for the first time and to extensively revise. Or vise, I guess.

Well then, it all comes down to consciousness, doesn't it? What is it? What's it doing here? If consciousness is just a fluke, a total cosmic accident, what makes us think that it can truly know anything, much less the truth about itself?

Schuon wrote that "One of the keys to the understanding of our true nature and of our ultimate destiny is the fact that the things of this world never measure up to the real range of our intelligence. Our intelligence is made for the Absolute, or it is nothing. Among all the intelligences of this world the human spirit alone is capable of objectivity, and this implies – or proves – that what confers on our intelligence the power to accomplish to the full what it can accomplish, and what makes it wholly what it is, is the Absolute alone."

Along these lines, he quotes Dante: “I perceive that our intellect is never satisfied, if the True does not enlighten it, outside which no truth is possible." In other words, we can only know truth because we are grounded in Truth.

Consciousness is constituted of awareness; intelligence; will; and sentiment. Am I forgetting anything? As mentioned yesterday in the brief discussion of Schopenhauer, human beings have an automatic bias toward concretizing the explicate aspect of their own consciousness, which we call the ego. But the ego is only the local constellation of a much more encompassing, nonlocal "implicate" consciousness, which includes the lower and higher vertical. The totality of human consciousness is unconscious-conscious-supraconscious.

Analogously, the ego is like a discrete cloud appearing against a clear blue sky. We focus on the cloud, but do not see that it is simply the end result of a global weather pattern -- a small "ripple" against a vast and unbroken substrate of nonlinear meteorological processes.

Or better yet, compare it to an ocean current. Imagine reifying the current, and thinking that it is somehow separate from the ocean that produced it. This goes not just for the ego-island atop our own little pond of consciousness, but the presence of human beings within the cosmic ocean that tossed them up like a tangle of seaweed upon the shore.

But exactly where do we draw the line with regard to consciousness? Presumably there is an absolute barrier between the consciousness of one person and another. Therefore, we invented language in order to link minds to other minds. But that is not exactly how language works. Rather, language is very much like consciousness itself, in that it has an implicate/explicate order -- in other words, its particular meanings rest upon a much deeper kind of holographic field that unifies us within language as such. We are all "members of language," which is what makes deep and resonant communication possible. It is "in" us, even while we are in it.

I see this vividly in my two year old son, who is in the midst of "language acquisition." He has always been extremely talkative, even though his speech had no discernible content. While it had pitch, modulation, emphasis, dramatic pauses, musicality, and even humor, he seemed to be using a private language. Some days it sounded like Chinese, other days German, but it was nevertheless possible to have lengthy, animated conversations with him merely by mimicking his speech patterns.

In my opinion, what the boy was doing was laying down the implicate order of language, in which he first links up directly with other minds. Only afterwards are actual words superimposed upon this deep connectedness. So on the one hand, language "divides" the world into units of meaning, but it rests upon a sea of primordial, holistic interconnectedness. Language doesn't "invent" the interconnectedness so much as take advantage of it and ride piggyback on top of it.

The oneness is our prior condition, which is why it is possible to say "I love you" in a way that actually bridges the separation between two people. Recall our recent discussions of the ultimate reality of communion; better yet, think of how this is predicated on a logoistic cosmos in which the word has become flesh, so that to communicate is to reverse this process, and transform flesh into word: word became flesh so that flesh might become word.

This is what makes humans so different from computers, which also "talk" to one another, but not in this intensely holographic manner that unifies the communicants on an implicate level. In fact, there are many people and trolls with various cognitive, emotional, or spiritual disorders who use language more like a computer than a human being. We might call them "autistic," "schizoid," or just a little "off," but what they lack is a feel for the music that exists beneath the words.

Furthermore, this is one of the primary barriers to accessing the world of meaning present in religion. The obligatory atheist or doctrinaire materialist is, for whatever reason, unable to "read out" what is being conveyed through religious language and imagery. Instead, they reduce it to its explicate form, which immediately forecloses the implicate and renders it nonsense. It's so easy, even a caveman can do it.

As we discussed a couple of days ago, it is not so much that there are two realms -- conscious/unconscious, implicate/explicate, or phenomenal/noumenal -- but different ways of looking at the same thing. For example, while the purpose of psychotherapy is to "make the unconscious conscious," it is not as if one can ever know the unconscious directly. Rather, one merely begins to look at oneself -- ones actions, beliefs, and feelings -- from a different "angle," so to speak, which in turn reveals a world of hidden meaning. But it's the same world. There are no bright lines in the mind. There is a degree of unconsciousness in every act.

Likewise, to enter the realm mapped by religion is not, strictly speaking, to enter another world, but to regard the same world from a different perspective. There is only one world. However, it can feel like another world, simply because the focus has shifted from the explicate to the implicate side of things; to put it another way, everything about religion bears upon the complementarities that create the possibility of the empirical ego to begin with: whole vs. part, eternity vs. time, One vs. many, Absolute vs. relative, wave vs. particle, consciousness vs. matter, etc. The ego always exists "in between" these various complementarities. To default to one side or the other is to deplete one's life.

Now, another way of looking at this is that we must discern between the created and uncreated aspects of our own consciousness, or between the Intellect (the nous, not the lower mind) vs. the ego. As Schuon writes:

"The Intellect, in a certain sense, is ‘divine’ for the mind [i.e., ego] and ‘created’ or ‘manifested’ for God: it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish between a ‘created Intellect’ and an ‘uncreated Intellect,’ the latter being the divine Light and the former the reflection of this Light at the center of Existence; ‘essentially,’ they are One, but ‘existentially,’ they are distinct, so that we could say, in Hindu style, that the Intellect is ‘neither divine nor non-divine,’ an elliptical expression which doubtless is repugnant to the Latin and Western mentality, but which transmits an essential shade of meaning. However that may be, when we speak of the Heart-Intellect, we mean the universal faculty which has the human heart for its symbolical seat, but which, while being ‘crystallised’ according to different planes of reflection, is none the less ‘divine’ in its single essence."

Now the heart is an interesting organ, for it has always been the symbol of man's implicate consciousness -- that which joins as opposed to the brain, which separates, distinguishes and analyzes. Do you remember your first broken heart? Exactly what was broken? I don't know about you, but for me it was the entire unity of being. Suddenly I was a cosmic orphan, disconnected from the very source of Life and Love.

But subsequent therapy revealed that this broken heart was superimposed upon an earlier brokenness, or primordial disconnection, and that it was simply the "occasion" to realize it. In fact, the "falling in love" itself was an attempt to recapture the broken unity, which was one of the reasons why it was charged with an intensity well beyond what was healthy or appropriate.

It reminds me of something one of my psychoanalytic mentors once said about relationships. Unhealthy people always want to go from twoness to oneness. But a healthy relationship involves going from solitary oneness to shared twoness. If you try to use the other person to complete yourself, you are headed for trouble of one kind or another. The idea is to complement a self that is already reasonably whole, and then to create a higher wholeness -- or communion -- of two.

But there is horizontal wholeness and vertical wholeness, and no human being can achieve the latter in the absence of some kind of active spiritual life. In this respect, we do want to go from being two to being -- or realizing -- One. But here again, it is the illumination of Oneness, not merely the elimination of twoness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spiritual Environment and Soul Evolution

Evolution presupposes temporal continuity, which must exist if anything is to exist. In other words, if not for time, then everything would have to happen at once. (The word "evolve" is etymologically related to "unroll," as in an ancient scroll.)

And "temporal continuity" is just another way of saying "memory." For example, a person with alzheimer's loses his memory, and therefore his temporal continuity. It's always now, disconnected from all the other nows. Therefore, it's not even really now anymore, because now is only now in relation to a then. It's really closer to never.

One of my beefs with metaphysical Darwinism is that, like an alzheimer's patient, it isolates its own conclusions from the greater context of cosmic evolution. For as Harris writes, "The modern conception of nature is of a continuous evolutionary process, linking the purely physical with the biological, the biological with the psychological, and the psychological with the social, moral, artistic, and religious experiences of man."

Given this temporal continuity, it is wholly arbitrary to define things in terms of the past instead of the present or future, since everything is in the process of becoming. In other words, in studying any phenomenon, it is important to know what it is in its mature form. If you only study a caterpillar in an isolated slice of time, you won't know anything about its connection to butterflies.

Likewise, if you study the Big Bang in isolation from the human knower, you're missing the whole point, again, because you're arbitrarily excluding the temporal continuity that even allows a subject to know about and comprehend the Big Bang -- which is without a doubt the most astonishing thing about the Big Bang! I still can't get over it.

A couple of posts back we spoke of the importance of boundary conditions in human development. Only with the creation of a "semipermeable membrane" can the human subject properly evolve. But this is equally true of temporal boundaries. Again, if we weren't bound in time, we could not be, for we would be beyond being. But time for human beings is not merely duration. Rather, the point is to metabolize time, so as to create a deeper form of continuity in one's life, or a personal history, an identity.

For example, the typical therapy patient comes in with various temporal discontinuities. These are like "holes" in the psyche, except that they are gaps in time rather than space. As Freud said, the neurotic person suffers from "reminiscences," except that the reminiscences have lives and agendas all their own, disconnected from one's central identity. In short, they are mind parasites, or rogue elements within the psyche. And they are rogue elements because they have split off from the central government, which should ideally have a monopoly on memory.

Let's make this very personal in order to render it more vivid. I remember my first heartbreak at the age of 18. It triggered such a deep level of depression that only years later, in therapy, was I able to piece together what had actually happened.

To make a long story short, that heartbreak was just the occasion to feel a whole host of emotions that had been placed in escrow since early childhood. They were there, stored away in a kind of atemporal quasi-eternity, just waiting for the appropriate experience (or relationship, to be precise) through which to express themselves, or to deploy themselves in time. But because of the temporal discontinuity, I could not connect A (the source) and C (the person) at the time. I thought it all had to do with that scheming and faithless C, which it couldn't have, since it was an effect that so far exceeded its cause. Especially in hindsight, the cause seems hardly worth bothering over. Her?

But Darwinists routinely do the same thing. For example, the human subject so far exceeds the material shuffling of genetic material, that only a fool or a mental patient would deny the deeper temporal continuity. And on the deepest level, it should be a bananaty to peel out that in our cosmos, matter has the astonishing potential to sponsor life and human consciousness. As such, matter cannot possibly be only what the physicist says it is, just as life cannot possibly be what the Darwinist says it is, for both varieties of tenure, in their own way, deny temporal continuity. Again, they take an arbitrary time slice and impose a manmade boundary where there is none.

So if we're going to take time seriously, we would have to agree with Harris that "the product of an evolutionary process is, and must be, potential at its beginnings, and if what is inchoate at first becomes progressively unfolded as the process continues, the nature of the final outcome will be the key to the understanding of both the process itself and its origin."

Thus, the Darwinist wants to have it both ways: there is a continuous evolutionary series that culminates in man, and yet, this culmination may be reduced to a wholly random and mechanical iteration of genetic shuffling. Again, to do this not only abolishes man and all he values, but it ironically abolishes evolution, because it says that what has evolved has no intrinsic meaning that isn't reducible to the real meaning, which is simply genes in meaningless competition for survival. Frankly, this is psychotic, only intellectually psychotic instead of emotionally psychotic. (Again, the psychotic mind dismembers temporal continuity and as a result lives in a hell of nameless dread.)

It is also ironic that the Darwinist stresses the importance of adaptation to one's environment. For me -- and I am quite sure this is true of all Raccoons -- if I were forced to adapt my soul to the impoverished intellectual and spiritual environment of philosophical Darwinism, it would be exceedingly painful, very much like living in a totalitarian state in which I had to subordinate my essential identity to the group's ideology.

In fact, I am only able to articulate and evolve the most vital parts of myself through the pneuma-cognitive environment of the perennial religion. If I could not do this, it would be like a living death. It would be like a musician who was forbidden to ever pick up an instrument. How on earth am I to become myself in the absence of the appropriate spiritual environment to nurture and sustain my spiritual evolution?

Man is not just anything-- which is one of the main reasons why socialism never works. Rather, "the sufficient reason of the human state... is to be a bridge between earth and Heaven, hence to 'realize God' to some degree or other" (Schuon). And the sufficient reason of revelation is to provide a clueprint of that bridge and to facilitate that realization.

Now, I don't doubt that Queeg and other spiritual retards such as Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, feel perfectly "at home" in the Darwinist environment they create for themselves, just as there are millions of people whose meager souls are satisfied by video games, or whose appetites are fulfilled by McDonalds. But that is a statement about them, not reality. I could no more feed my soul with metaphysical Darwinism than I could stuff my body with Big Macs, or listen to rap music all day, or watch MSNBC. Rather, I have a soul with very particular needs, and to be deprived of the means to fulfill those needs would be spiritual death -- which is to say, human death.

Again, given the temporal continuity of the cosmos, there is surely horizontal cause and effect. No one would dispute that. But at the same time, an effect cannot exceed its cause, most especially when we are talking about an "infinite" effect. And make no mistake: the human subject partakes of the infinite and the absolute, even if some human subjects prefer to exile themselves to the relative and the finite. They are obviously free to do so, but they are only free to do so because freedom is real -- which is again to say that it partakes of the absolute.

But such is the unevolved life of the spiritually unborn. They just can't crack the cosmic egg, and want to cram the rest of us into their poultry little vision of reality.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

And on the Fifth Day of July, Elvis Rocked

For music Saturday, I'd like to be a champion of the obvious and highlight a tired banality that has been insufficiently beaten to death. I'll begin by rebleating a passing thoughtlet Lileks extruded a couple years ago. He was referencing a series of records that came out in the early 1970s, called Cruisin', which attempted to recreate the top 30 radio of the late '50s and '60s, not just with music, but with the original DJs and vintage commercials. There was one for each year, from the mid '50s to the late '60s:

"The Cruisin’ series, incidentally was released in 1970 -- which meant 13 years between the original broadcast and the record’s debut, and 38 years between now and then. The distance between now and then seems half the distance between ’57 and ’70. It’s not just my own subjective perspective -- not entirely, anyway.... If you showed a kid a movie about 1995, they’d laugh at the hair and the big primitive computers with slow modems, but the culture would be recognizable. There was a reason people in the early 70s romanticized the 50s, but at the risk of making the usual fool of myself with platitudes and banal generalizations, I’ll leave it there."

The point is that as early as 1970, people were nostalgic for the 1960s, but this was only possible because it was already a distinct and recognizable era (for example, American Graffiti came out in 1973). And I would say that as early as 1964, when the Beatles crossed the Atlantic, it was possible to be nostalgic for the 1950s, since that is exactly when they became a recognizable thing of the past. Almost no artists who were popular on the charts prior to January 1964 were popular after. Countless musical careers were over.

The revelation of rock can be fixed at a particular time and place. It was late one night on July 5, 1954, when Elvis launched into an unplanned and spontaneous performance of That's All Right:

"The session... proved entirely unfruitful until late in the night. As they were about to give up and go home, Presley took his guitar and launched into a 1946 blues number, Arthur Crudup's That's All Right.

"Moore recalled, 'All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, too, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open... he stuck his head out and said, 'What are you doing?' And we said, 'We don't know.' 'Well, back up,' he said, 'try to find a place to start, and do it again.'

"Phillips quickly began taping; this was the sound he had been looking for. Three days later, popular Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played That's All Right on his Red, Hot, and Blue show. Listeners began phoning in, eager to find out who the singer was. The interest was such that Phillips played the record repeatedly during the last two hours of his show. Interviewing Presley on-air, Phillips asked him what high school he attended in order to clarify his color for the many callers who had assumed he was black" (wiki).

No one would suggest that Elvis's approach had had no precursors. But this style of music had never crossed over to any kind of mass popularity, and was confined to the "race market." Indeed, it took until early 1956 for Elvis to cross that threshold to mass popularity, so one can really say that rock as a cultural phenomenon began then.

But it didn't last long, and no one at the time assumed that it was anything more than a passing fad to be cashed in on while it lasted. Very similar to Louis Armstrong's revolutionary recordings of the late 1920s, no one at the time imagined that they were producing "art," of all things. Records were ephemeral things to be tossed into the marketplace and then disposed of.

Which is precisely one of the reasons why those primitive Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings endure, because they were completely un-self-conscious. The same can be said of Elvis's earliest recordings, since he was doing them for the pure joy of doing them. He was doing it for love. Indeed, no market yet existed for what he was doing.

And yet, it did. The people were obviously yearning for a musical messiah who would not just liberate them from the pharonic constraints of the pop blandscape of the day, but rock their souls into the promised land. Elvis didn't invent anything, but just happened upon the key to a musical archetype that was already there. Once people heard it, they recognized it as something they couldn't live without -- not just in America, but all over the world. The same thing had occurred with jazz. People talk about "world music," but the only true world music is Cosmo-American black music.

Now, I don't want to get into the question of what rock eventually devolved to, in terms of both the music and the culture. I agree that that is all to be deplored. Rather, I'm talking about that pure, ecstatic impulse at the origin of it all, uncontaminated by fame, money, narcissism, exhibitionism, and infantile sexuality. Those can occur with anything, from politics to literature to religion. That's just man doing what he does and being who he is.

So the birth of rock as a cultural phenomenon can be traced to early 1956. Even as it was occurring, the seeds of its subsequent rebirth and transformation were being sowed, for it was at the St. Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton on July 6, 1957 -- almost three years to the day that Elvis had revealed it in the studio -- that John met Paul. Like early Elvis, there was a purity to what the Beatles were doing at the time. In fact, I would say that they were motivated by the identical spark that animated Elvis that day.

Eventually the spark was extinguished and the fire put out. Elvis entered the military in 1958, at which time he was taken into captivity and replaced with the "false Elvis" who put out all that lame music and made all those crappy movies. Buddy Holly in the grave, Chuck Berry in jail, Little Richard in the ministry, Jerry Lee Lewis in his fourteen year-old cousin. The music business quickly "contained" the messianic revelation, so that by the early 1960s, popular music was again almost as banal as it had been prior to Elvis. (Of course, there were exceptions.)

But then the Beatles arrive in early 1964, eight years after Elvis, and just eight years later the Beatles are already a thing of the past.

Now, eight years ago is 2002. Has anything in music changed since then? Does 2002 feel like a different era? Is anyone nostalgic for 2002? How about 1992? 1982? I mean, people still listen to U2 like they're contemporary, but their first album came out over 30 years ago. 30 years! I sometimes listen to music that came out in the early 1980s, say, early REM, but it doesn't feel at all like nostalgia. But very few people in 1975 listened to the music of 1945. And if they did, they were certainly aware of how different it was from contemporary music. No one confuses disco and swing.

And yet, to listen to Elvis in 1964 was already nostalgia, just as to listen to the Beatles or Beach Boys in 1973 was already nostalgia.

What does it all mean? I have no idea. Just an excuse to blah blah blog some Coon droppings, I guess.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Identity and Eternity

I suppose none of this will be new to Christian readers. Nor is it entirely new to me, but I'm trying to work it all out again from the ground up and the top down, so you will forgive me if I'm behaving like some third century Father who is confronting these riddles for the first time.

And I hope this doesn't totally alienate non-Christian readers, because I believe there is something here for everyone, if you can only grasp the deeper principles involved. When Christianity is presented only as a historical narrative, then it's quite difficult to abstract anything more general, since even profane history is a chronicle of unique and unrepeatable events, with no general laws guiding it.

But if I'm not mistaken, sacred history is not like this, for it is archetypal and therefore knowable in a more abstract way. I believe this is because, just as human beings write in words, the Creator "writes in history," so to speak.

Therefore, sacred history does not consist primarily of events, people, and objects, but of words that we may unpack and understand. And this is, of course, why the Gospel narratives are "historical," but if they are only historical fish stories, then I think you're missing the bait, since they are the quintessence of divine history and therefore susceptible to inexhaustible layers of meaning.

Think of the difference between history and a great novel: the former attempts to simply describe "what happened," while the latter creates the happenings in order to convey a much larger point. Then just think of God as the greatest of all novelists. (And this analogy is not as kooky as one might imagine -- cf. Balthasar's Theo-Drama.)

So, the second birth from above allows one to overcome the infirmities of createdness and to participate in the divine existence. For the Christian, this is only possible because God became man -- and not just a man, but Man. In other words, the effect was to undo a problem that afflicted man as such, so that all men could participate in the accomplishment of the one man.

This is the deeper meaning of the I-AMmaculate conception, in that it means that Jesus suffers from createdness, just like anyone else, while also sharing in uncreatedness. If he were only a creature, then he'd be just like any other prophet or guru. No matter how high he ascended, he would still be infinitely distant from the goal.

But as Zizioulas points out, it is of the greatest metaphysical significance that Jesus is a union of two natures in one person, and that this person is freedom and love. As a result, "the perfect man is consequently only he who is authentically a person... who possesses a 'mode of existence' which is constituted as being, in precisely the manner in which God also subsists as being..." Thanks to Jesus, we not only "know" how God "is," but can also succeed at the spiritual business of this isness without going blankrupt at biological death.

That being the case, man may slip through the net of "the ontological necessity of his biological hypostasis," the latter of which being responsible for "the tragedy of individualism and death." Our unique identity is no longer an ambiguous (at best) gift of nature, but takes on a new meaning in solidarity with Jesus and in relation to our "adoptive" Father.

You might say that the second birth activates our latent or potential hypostasis as authentic person. Should we fail to activate it in this life, then we remain as a bio-psychic hypostasis, i.e., some kind of incomprehensible union of mind and matter, -- a substance that somehow unifies physics, biology and psychology. You might even say that this is the substance of fallen man -- or man minus Christ. In the Coonifesto, I employ the abstract symbols of (•) and (¶) to demarcate this difference between our onceborn soulprints and twiceborn soulprince.

In fact, here is where opinions of the wise divide, for the Christian would not say that man has any innate potential for a second birth in the absence of Christ -- despite Augustine's casual assurance that there was never a time that the Christian religion did not exist, and that Christ's accomplishment affected mankind, irrespective of whether one is consciously aware of it. We have no desire to get into that debate. Let the living disinter the living.

The question is whether or not there is a radical discontinuity between man and God. I say the answer is Yes and No, depending upon how one looks at it. And in my book I spoke off the top of my head from the bottom of my heart and out of both sides of my mouth. Again, this is why the individual chapters are both discrete and continuous, beginning and ending in mid-sentence. This is because if we view the cosmos from the bottom up, it is indeed discontinuous, with radical and incomprehensible divides between matter, life, mind, and spirit.

But if viewed from the top down, these divides disappear, for God is one. So I think it's a defensible position to affirm that this was the case prior to the incarnation of Jesus, which would be consistent with Augustine's view above. Looked at this way, we might say that there was a kind of "general immanence" of God in creation. But with the incarnation, it becomes very particular to mankind and, more importantly, to the person.

In turn, this would mark the difference between well-regarded mystics such as Plotinus, who assure us that it is indeed possible to escape our createdness, except without our self intact. D'oh! This violates Toots Mondello's sacred quip that the Raccoon doesn't mind death, so long as he can be there after it happens. It seems to me that the incarnation of the divine person is what gets us over that ontological hump. The person is the last word only because Christ is the first Word.

I might add that the unique person, since he is a kind of absolute (or shares in absoluteness), must be eternal, since the absolute is by definition infinite and eternal.

No post tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Surfing the Laws of Nature to the Father Shore

I'm going to continue free associating along with Being as Communion, even though it's not generating much interest. Hey, it's interesting to me.

Yesterday we left off in hell, of which Zizioulas writes that "condemnation to eternal death is nothing other than a person's being allowed to decline into a 'thing,' into absolute anonymity, to hear the terrifying words, 'I do not know you.'" It's like being addressed by Travis Bickle, only forever: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? I'm the only one here. You talkin' to me?

Now, it seems to me that this notion in Christianity of "divinization," or theosis, is about as important as it gets. But if that's the case, why did it take me so many years to hear about it? It's like studying yoga but not learning about moksha, or Buddhism and not hearing of nirvana, or Islam and somehow missing the part about killing infidels.

I consider this is very poor marketing. Either that, or there is some disconnect between what the original Christians thought vs. what contemporary ones think (or at least emphasize).

I'll use divinization instead of theosis, because it connotes the process involved. It is "participation not in the nature or substance of God, but in His personal existence." As we have said many times, the Raccoon path is a descending one. Just so, in Christianity "the goal of salvation is that the personal life which is realized in God should also be realized on the level of human existence" (emphasis mine).

Therefore -- and this is a critical point -- salvation "is identified with the realization of personhood in man." The goal is to become a proper person, and all this implies. The rest shouldn't concern us, and can take care of itself.

The Fathers used the word "person" in a very specific sense, and it is obviously to be distinguished from our mere biological or psychological manhood. Nature and culture give us these, respectively. Man is an open system both biologically and psychologically, which maintains his physical and psychic life.

Obviously it is possible to fulfill one's four score of genetic duty without awakening to one's true personhood, which can only be conferred from above -- again, as we have mentioned in the past, this latter transformation is also the result of an open system, only a vertical one.

For the Fathers, it is the person who is the image and likeness of God. To put it another way, God is the true person. This should be a rebuke to those who imagine that God is merely a psychic projection of the human being, a "man write large." If this were the case, God would be like a man, not a person. And for many religious people, God is frankly more like a man.

Let's begin with the problem of our natural endowment, i.e., the manhood that is conferred by mere existence. The existentialists are correct that we didn't ask for this existence, but rather, are simply tossed into an impossible situation that is full of constraint and necessity. Indeed, there's really no way out short of suicide.

In this way of looking at things, offing oneself would truly be the one outrageously free act, the one complete rebellion against our existential "thrownness," a spit in the eye of Darwin, or whoever you want to blame for this mess. As Camus said, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide."

Or, even if one chooses to stick around, it is just a vain "immortality project" rooted in the Denial of Death (a very good book, by the way, for at least it doesn't flinch from the reality of Death, and draws out the ultimate implications of the existentialist project).

At any rate, our happy existence as raging animals within a dying carcass is bestowed by Mother Nature. It is "interwoven with a natural necessity and therefore lacks ontological freedom." And everything we think and do takes place in the shadow of Death, the ultimate necessity and last word. All meaning is just a chess game with Death. The game may be brief, or it may last awhile, but you lose every time.

For the Fathers, Christianity throws open a vertical escape hatch from this ontological necessity. It "leads to a new mode of existence" and to a "regeneration" through which we are able to surf over the laws of nature instead of being drowned in them.

You might put it this way, which I did in the Coonifesto: we don't want to discount the importance of our natural existence, for it provides the stable boundary conditions for the emergence of something higher. After all, if existence were not subject to necessity -- i.e., if it weren't stable and predictable -- it couldn't produce anything higher.

Take the analogy of language. We are all born into a language that we did not create, and which constrains us. But it is only because of these constraints that we are able to constantly say new things. Looked at this way, rules of spelling are the boundary conditions for the emergence of words; words are the boundary conditions of sentences; sentences of paragraphs; paragraphs of plot; plot of theme; theme of something perennially true.

Just so, man is a kind of parenthetical boundary condition for the possibility of divinization: he is ( ) for the purpose of (↓↑).

Note that this is the order presented in Genesis: man is first formed from "the dust of the ground." That is natural man. Only afterwards does God breathe into him "the breath of life" (pneuma), so that he becomes a "living being." Looked at esoterically, these two phases should be kept separate, because there are plenty of dust devils blowing around who are not in-formed by that vertical breath of life.

You might even say that our fallenness results in a descent from deity to dust, so to speak. Conversely, divinization results in the reverse journey, from dust to back to divinity. Isn't this the ultimate meaning of the Christ event -- of divinity becoming dust so that dust might become divine? But in order for this to become operative in horizontal man, he must be "born 'anew' or 'from above.'" His horizontal birth must be complemented by a vertical one, so that he may transition from man to true person.

Yeah, it requires a leap of faith, but don't do it half-heartedly. Rather, you should joyously throw your whole self into it, body, mind, and spirit. You know, like a child. But watch out for your neighbor, too. We don't need a lawsuit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Life, Love and Liberty, Now and Forever

In the Summa Coonologica, Toots Mondello famously wrote that he didn't mind the idea of death, so long as he could be there after it happened.

This is because our unique identity is our most precious "possession" -- if that is the appropriate word, for what would be the nature of the entity that "possesses" itself, or the I who is? In other words, is it possible to separate the form and content of the self, as if we could "be" without being someone?

In fact, nothing can exist without being something. Or, to exist is to be something, a particular thing. But for a human being -- and a human being alone -- it is not enough to merely be some-body, i.e., an object with boundaries.

Rather, a human being only exists as a who, and not just anywho. He is both one -- i.e., someThing -- but also someOne, a unique, unrepeatable, and particular subject. To paraphrase Toots Mondello, this is either of no significance at all or the most significant fact of all, for it is the significance without which there could be no significance at all. If humans aren't significant, then neither is anything else. All meaning passes through man.

In Being as Communion, Zizioulas writes that "uniqueness is something absolute for the person." This is why we stand diametrically opposed to any of our competitors, whether secular or religious -- and there are many -- who downplay our cosmic significance, whether of man as such or of this or that man.

Materialists tend to fall into the former category, for their metaphysic permits one to attach no significance to the existence of man, let alone a man. And many religious folk fall into the latter camp (especially Eastern religions), conflating what they call "ego" and identity, and finding the key to transcendence in eliminating it from the cosmos: no man, no problem.

And leftists are completely confused, since they elevate the selfish and isolated ego to ultimate significance in a cosmos in which it can have none. Workers of the world unite! And then die. We don't need you anymore.

But as Zizioulas points out, Christianity is different. For it posits the person, which "is so absolute in its uniqueness that it does not permit itself to be regarded as an arithmetical concept, to be set alongside other beings, to be combined with other objects, or to be used as a means, even for the most sacred goal." Rather, "the goal is the person itself; personhood is the total fulfillment of being..." It's all about quality, baby, not quantity, and no amount of the latter can account for the former, not even if you juggle the numbers forever.

Here we can gain a better understanding of the conundrum mentioned above, of how it is possible to separate our form and content, the I from the AM. This occurs because the person is at once absolute but also the goal. You might say that there are morphogenetic fields that guide our general development, but also a particular one that guides and canalizes our individual unfolding and development (the cosmic telovator or eschalator -- the Great Attractor -- that simultaneously lifts us up to ourSelves and to God).

Now, if personhood were absolute in itself, this would quickly lead to hell on earth, for everyone would have an absolute right for the world to be as he wishes.

Or as Zizioulas puts it, it is a two-edged sword, in that it can lead "to the denial of others, to egocentrism, to the total destruction of social life." It's very much analogous to the difference between freedom and liberty, in that the former devolves to horizontal nihilism, whereas the latter, because it is constrained by certain perennial boundary conditions, allows for vertical evolution. America's founders believed in ordered liberty, not any kind of radical libertarian freedom.

Only with a Judeo-Christian metaphysic is it possible to get this metaphysic just right. About a week ago I read the most obnoxious editorial by that little leftist twerp Peter Beinart, who, like all leftists, imagines that it is some kind of coincidence that the greatest nation on earth also happens to be the only Judeo-Christian one.

Rather, for him and his ilk, we could just as well be Muslim or Buddhist or atheist or Sikh men, and it wouldn't matter at all. In fact, it would undoubtedly be better, since we're such religious bigots. There is nothing you can say to such people that can't be better said with a cast iron cluebat to the nads, if he had any.

Recall Pieper's comment that Christianity may be reduced to Incarnation and Trinity. There is an implicit meaning to this, in that Trinity cannot be further reduced. Thus, the Incarnation is of someOne, but that someOne turns out to be someThree.

And this little fact makes all the difference, for it means that the human individual is simultaneously absolute and yet in communion, two things that would be at odds if the Absolute weren't also in communion.

Put it this way: God cannot help being God, and in order for God to be God, he is in eternal communion with his own other, the Son, the "only begotten" (and notice how "only" implies uniqueness).

To put it another way, the whole key to our individuality lies in the fact that it is simultaneously one and three, both internally and externally.

To take just one example, the feral children referenced in yesterday's post are surely "one," but that is all. They are not three, because they are barred from any deep interior connection to the human group. Only in plugging into this group does the one become an open system susceptible to dynamic evolution. Truly, it becomes an upward spiral instead of a horizontal dot.

Running out of time. I'll just detain you with an arresting passage by Zizioulas:

"The life of God is eternal because it is personal, that is to say, it is realized as an expression of free communion, as love. Life and love are identified in the person: the person does not die only because it is loved and loves; outside the communion of love the person loses its uniqueness and becomes a being like other beings, a 'thing' without absolute 'identity' and 'name,' without a face."

Real ontological death -- or hell, if you will -- is "ceasing to love and to be loved, ceasing to be unique and unrepeatable," whereas our true, living self is created, affirmed, and maintained only in love.

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!