Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fate, Luck, and Divine Will

I've always been troubled by unambiguous statements about "God's will," as if it could be no different than human will, or as if we could know it.

For one thing, although human beings can surely will, they can never know why they will, at least not completely. You may will, but you cannot will whatever you wish.

For example, all the will power in the world will not make you attracted to people or things that don't attract you. Or, if you do will it, you will just be running roughshod over parts of the psyche that want other things. Man is usually at cross purposes with himself, but could this be true of God? It seems impossible that there could be one part of God that wants one thing, and another part that wants something else. There are distinctions in God, but no divisions.

Being that we are in the image of the Creator, there must be some manner in which our will is analogous to God's. Perhaps it is just that we possess free will at all, conflicted though it may be. All other animals may will, but they do not will freely. They do not consciously entertain choices, much less between good and evil.

But there is a part of man that transcends this or that choice of action, and chooses between them. It would be extremely problematic to attribute this kind of free will to God -- as if there is an array of choices before him, and he chooses this or that one.

To the extent that freedom exists, it comes from above, not below, for the converse is impossible. The higher we travel up the vertical, the more freedom; the lower down, the less. In all of creation, human beings obviously possess the most freedom, at least until the left vanquishes the last remnant of it.

Since the source of our freedom is above, this would imply that God is absolute freedom. But what could absolute freedom mean, and how is it to be distinguished from complete arbitrariness? In other words, absolute freedom seems to devolve to absolute nihilism, which is one of the central points of the existentialists -- that man is condemned to freedom.

John Duns Scotus concluded that "Because God is absolutely free, everything that He does and effects has the character of nonnecessity, of being in a particular sense 'accidental' (contingent)" (Pieper). In other words, since God is radical freedom, there can be no "necessary reasons" for anything he does, which begins to sound more like madness than divinity.

Indeed, as Pieper says, the word "arbitrary" is "almost too mild a term for this will, which is conceived as being completely unconditioned by 'grounds' in the sense of reasons." God is radically spontaneous, like a free jazz musician, with no chords and no melody and no fans.

This then comes close to the Islamic view of a God that is completely beyond any human ability to know, and who simply "doeth what he will." Perhaps not surprisingly, this also comes close to a description of the ontology of psychosis, in that for the psychotic person, each moment is a kind of catastrophic novelty that comes out of "nowhere" and never ends. In other words, it is "eternal catastrophe," if such an oxymoron may be permitted.

To a large extent, this is the dilemma that Thomas attempted to resolve, for ultimately it comes down to how we may reconcile the vertical and horizontal, faith and reason, heaven and earth, transcendence and immanence. For a brief historical moment, the cosmic center "held" in the synthesis of Thomas, only to fly apart again shortly after his death.

This has led to the general situation of, on the one hand, fideism without intelligence, and on the other, intellectualism without intellect -- or, to the needless polarization of scientism and religionism. This is the great battle of the concrete and literal-minded for the soul of man. Little do they know that they are pulling on the same end of the rope civilization is at the end of.

Dennis Prager's most recent column discusses the element of blind luck in one's life. He writes that the older he gets, the more he appreciates just how large a role it plays:

"Let's begin with life itself. Whether one lives to 62 -- or to 92 (my father's age) -- and whether in health or in sickness is largely a matter of luck. I strongly believe in taking care of one's health, but for most people, living long and in good health is a matter of good luck. My wife's sister died of cancer at 35. The brother of my radio show's producer died of a brain tumor at 57. Friends of mine lost their son at the age of 13."

For some reason, many religious people are uncomfortable with the idea of luck -- one will often hear the banality that "everything happens for a reason," or that "there are no accidents." If there were no accidents, then we couldn't know it, because we would be programmed like robots, with no freedom to even entertain that possibility. Conversely, if God is radical freedom, then there is no reason for what he does -- or certainly no reason man could understand, and we're back wid' allah 'dat nonsense.

"As a religious person myself, I reject this outlook. Are we to believe that God chose every one of Mao's 75 million victims to die? That He willed the deaths of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? That every person who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease or Multiple Sclerosis was chosen by God to suffer until death?

"That may indeed be the case. But for those of us who do not believe in such a God -- and I respect those who do -- all these people simply had terrible luck. I am alive because my grandparents came to America instead of staying in Eastern Europe, where they would have almost certainly been murdered in the Holocaust. They were lucky . And if one insists that they were wise rather than lucky, that somehow they realized that calamity awaited them in Russia and Poland, then my parents and I were lucky that they were wise" (Prager).

To be continued....

Monday, August 02, 2010

Israel Has No Right To Exist!

For this extensively rewordgitated repast, I'm retching waaaaaay back four years ago to a perennial internet favorite. In fact, according to my site meter, at least one disappointed anti-Semite googles their way to it every single day. It has only taken on more significance in the interim, what with a president who is so hostile to Israel.

One of the reasons so many Jews remain Democrat is because of a kneejerk fear of Christianity, which was perhaps once understandable. But the worst anti-Semitism obviously took place in Europe, and American Christianity is quite distinct from European Christianity, which has almost died out anyway. Now the European left is able to express its anti-Semitism directly, without the veneer of Christianity.

Conversely, the only Christianity Jews need fear is the kind practiced by Obama during his two-plus decades in Rev. Wright's Wee Church of Greedy Jews Run the World. And the most steadfast defenders of Israel are American Christians -- for which reason the left has put out the meme that this is only because some snake-handling yahoos think the apocalypse is around the corner or something.

As I have said before, the war between Israel and those who wish to destroy her is not just ideological, or about territory, resources, or any other tangible entity. Rather, this is a war that is taking place on a deeply spiritual level within the collective consciousness of the world; it is against principalities and powers, as one wag put it -- which is to say, it is archetypal. Indeed, you might even say that it is between "heaven and hell," or between celestial and sub-terrestrial forces.

You needn’t believe me when I say this. Rather, just apply it to the situation as you would any mundane academic theory and assess its explanatory power. In my view, the models and story lines we are given by the MSMistry of Truth and by the usual leftist academics are ridiculously inadequate to explain what is going on.

Israel is surrounded by enemies, both literally, in the form of her bloodthirsty Arab neighbors, and ideologically as well. Many on the left openly question Israel’s right to exist, deeming it an “historical mistake” (Richard Cohen) or the actual source of all Muslim grievances -- as if Muslims wouldn’t simply be at each others’ throats if Israel were obliterated, or as if Israel has anything to do with Muslim violence in the Philippines, Darfur, Malaysia, Spain, India, Singapore, and everywhere else in the world!

At bottom, the conflict between Israel and her enemies is easily explainable, and yet, this simple explanation exceeds the boundaries of human reason properly so-called, since it is irrational in its nature and infrahuman in its consequences. In other words, the explanation is not “beyond reason,” but prior to it. Quite simply, it is because the enemies of Israel are absolutely steeped in lies. They believe things about Israel that are not only untrue, but cannot possibly be true, to such an extent that the word “lie” is hardly sufficient to describe the phenomenon.

In this case we are not simply referring to “erroneous information,” or to something that is susceptible to being corrected. Rather, we are dealing with an ontological and spiritual lie that is at the very foundation of the culture -- and, by extension, personality. You might even say that we are dealing with “the father of lies,” in the sense that it is a primordial lie that then perpetually generates its own lies.

Therefore, just as with the left, it doesn’t matter how many lies you dispute on the surface, because a new one will rise to take its place. One can well understand why the Passover Haggadah -- the special prayer book for the Passover Seder meal -- says that "In every generation there are those who rise against us to annihilate us... " Those are always different people but representatives of the same spiritual force.

Grotesquely anti-Semitic scholarship is routinely produced by the academic left -- for example deconstructed historical narratives that blame Israeli actions for the irrational hatred directed it. But this worthless scholarship does not actually prove anything to anyone, any more than communist tools such as Noam Chomsky and communists full-stop such as Howard Zinn proved that the United States was responsible for the Cold War.

Rather, the only purpose of this propaganda is to serve up chicken soup for the anti-Semitic assoul. Anyone in their right mind knows that a Juan Cole or Edward Said are not real scholars, but that they simply fill a marketplace niche for anti-Semitic “product.” In this regard they are more analogous to political pornographers who cater to the market for anti-Jewish lust.

Let’s take the example of Mel Gibson. I don’t care about him as a person, and I have no interest in his particular case. Rather, I want to dispassionately focus more on the content of those things he uttered in his drunken rant. Where did they come from? How could such ideas -- which correspond to no reality -- even exist? But they do exist, and they have existed from the foundation of the world.

It is not about the Jews, but about what the Jews represent and symbolize. Because of what they symbolize, they attract and literally generate their opposite. Truth has no need of the lie, but the lie needs the Truth on which it is parasitic. Being parasitic, it takes its life-force from Truth, but then distorts it into its own image. Think of how the worst regimes in the world, say, Iran, still pretend that they are democracies. Same idea. Democracy does not need tyranny, but tyranny needs the illusion of democracy.

Gibson: “Fucking Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Again, not only untrue, but obviously impossible. On the other hand, because of the thought-blocking effects of political correctness, it seems as if people are incapable of making the banal observation that Islam is quite literally responsible for most of the wars in the world. As Samuel Huntington observed a few years back in his Clash of Civilizations -- and this was before the horrors that have been unleashed since 9-11 -- Muslims were participants in twenty-six of fifty ethnopolitical conflicts, and two-thirds to three-quarters of intercivilizational wars. Huntington concluded with the colorful statement that "Islam's borders are bloody, and so are its innards.” But try saying that in a typical leftist university.

Again, Israel is hated because its enemies are not just liars, but so immersed in the Lie that they might as well be demon-possessed. Consider the charter of the PLO, which reads that Zionism is a "constant source of threat" to the entire world, "racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods." It is "strategically placed" to combat Arab liberation and progress, whatever that could mean. During a typically psychotic televised sermon, a Palestinian cleric taught that among the evil deeds of the Jews was the Holocaust itself, which was "planned by the Jews' leaders, and was part of their policy" (www.memri.org).

Similarly, the demonic charter of Hamas informs us that wealthy Zionists have taken over "control of the world media... they stood behind World War I.... They also stood behind World War II.... They inspired the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council... in order to rule the world by their intermediary" and "liquidate Islam." I am sure that most Americans don’t even have a clue about how desperately sick in the soul these people are -- including Islamist fronts such as CAIR, which masquerades as a "civil rights group."

One wonders if the average anti-Semite even knows that there are fewer than 15 million Jews in the entire world, which represents a whopping .227% of the population. Look at Afghanistan. It’s probably safe to assume that they are just as anti-Semitic as any other Muslim country, and yet, there is exactly one Jew living there. His name is Sy Goldberg, and he is very lonely and frightened. And yet, he has complete control of Afghan banking and media, and nobody can get a decent pastrami on rye without going through him.

In a column a few months back, Dennis Prager cited perhaps the most tragic statistic that haunts the human race. Throughout history, so many Jews have been murdered for being Jews, that “While the world's population is about 30 times larger than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish population has barely doubled. Had Jews been left alone to procreate at the same rate as others, there would be about 180 million Jews in the world today.”

“So what,” you might say. “People are people. It’s a tragedy when anyone dies.” Yes, but not all tragedies are equal in their cost to the advance of humankind. No one but their immediate families would mourn if all of the Iranian mullahs, Saudi princes, and CAIR spokesholes dropped dead tomorrow.

But in a recent post, I cited the evidence of Charles Murray, whose book Human Accomplishment demonstrates how, in nearly every important human endeavor -- biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, medicine, visual arts, literature, music and philosophy -- Jews are staggeringly over-represented given their small numbers. In mathematics the actual-to-expected ratio is 12:1. In philosophy it is 14:1. In physics 9:1. In medicine and biology, 8:1. Remember, these ratios are not just measuring the raw numbers of doctors, scientists and artists, but the number of truly great and significant ones.

So, what has the world lost due to its Jew hatred? A new source of energy? A cure for cancer and other deadly diseases? A key insight into the structure of the cosmos? God only knows.

Satan -- or whatever is responsible for the primordial rebellion against the light -- couldn’t be more pleased. Few things further his interests more than anti-Semitism.

Israel doesn't have the right to exist. Rather, it has the obligation to exist -- not for her sake, but for ours. And yes, for the sake of the genocidal fanatics who wish to destroy it, for the sun shines even on the wicked. I mean, even Juan Cole and Pat Buchanan like polio vaccine, right? And Iran isn't making Hitler's mistake, as they can't wait to develop a practical application for what he derided as "Jewish physics."

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.