A Religion Fit for the Secular Anthill and Progressive Hive
First, the Upanishads weren't translated into english until the 19th century. More generally, we mainly learn of the Vedanta through its western interpreters, so if those interpreters have a particular bias or interest, then the interpretation will be filtered through that prismhouse.
Now, the discovery of, and interest in, the Upanishads coincides with several pathological trends in western civilization: the rise of scientism, the general hostility toward traditional religion, the search for a replacement for Christianity in particular, and the alternative gospel of progressive leftism.
It now occurs to me that these scholars idealize Shankara because his nondual approach is much more compatible with the unsophisticated monism of scientism and the illiberal anti-individualism of the left -- which explains why people such as Deepak Chopra and Ken Wilber are always men of the left. I know of no exceptions, although I'd be happy to hear of one. It can get a little lonely here.
Conversely, no one who actually understands Christianity could ever embrace leftism, scientism, or any other ideology. Rather, properly understood, it is the penultimate inoculation against such spiritual cancers and metastatic ideologies.
I say "penultimate" because it is possible to understand the ultimate principle by virtue of which Christianity effectively thwarts ideology. This principle has to do with the fact that the human drama always takes place in the space between immanence and transcendence.
Ideology of any kind collapses this space, which always leads to human catastrophe, because it forces immanent reality to conform to the eschatological fantasy, as we have most recently seen in Obama, e.g., the healthcare system isn't perfect, therefore it must be destroyed.
The goal of history is beyond history, but the left is defined by the absurd attempt to place the goal within history. This naturally redounds to absolute meaninglessness, but the leftist "cures" this with the intellectual swindle of forcing his idiosyncratic meaning upon history.
This has always been the Marxist strategy, i.e., to destroy existing institutions because they do not adequately reflect paradise on earth. In Niemeyer's succinct formulation, it is either nothingness or paradise.
Which makes it quite easy to be a leftist: since reality isn't paradise, their critique thereof is self-evident and self-validating -- an infantile strategy if ever there was one. Radicals such as Obama always appeal to an unarticulated but implicit order that never was and never will be -- except in the valid form of vertical recollection (or an eschatological memoir of the future, if you prefer).
This denial of existing reality is just part of a deeper "ontological negation" (ibid.), beginning with "the annihilation of God" and moving on to the eradication of the moral order, the destruction of human nature (which follows logically from the murder of God), and the effacement of both boundaries (e.g., male-female) and hierarchy (e.g., adult-child).
In short, the PermaRevolutuon of the left is founded upon a prior "metaphysical revolution" (ibid.).
Which is just one more reason why you cannot reason with a leftist. This is because the prerequisite of rational dialogue is "a common universe of reason, which is precisely what the ideologists have demolished." No nous is bad news, to put it wildly.
"A 'creatively destructive' activism," writes Niemeyer, "presupposes an intellectual destruction of present reality, as a result of which the believers of such ideas orient themselves no longer toward 'real possibilities' but rather toward 'possible realities.'"
One is reminded of what appears to have been the Kennedy brothers' favorite crack, to the effect that Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?
Indeed. What an astonishing admission. Mental hospitals used to be full of such dreamers, at least until liberals deinstitutionalized them. Some schizophrenics are homeless and ask why? Others imagine the park is their home, and ask why not?
Oh, and from whom did the Kennedy's lift that line? Appropriately, it was originally "delivered by the Serpent in Shaw's play Back To Methuselah."
And while looking up the exact wording of that quote, I found another doozie by RFK, reflecting the same florid pneumopathology: Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves.
Really? So, if, say, some creepy-ass cracka' is being assaulted by one of Obama's stoned and hoodied bastard sons, he deserves it? Come to think of it, RFK was murdered by a Palestinian activist, his brother by a leftwing radical. Oh well. Every society gets the kind of assassin it deserves.
Returning to the actual subject of our post, if one is looking for metaphysical support for the left's radical critique of existence, one could do a lot worse than Shankara, for whom existence is just maya, or illusion, anyway. Only Brahman is real, and you're not it -- unless you eliminate your individual self.
Reminds me of something Woody Allen once said: death doesn't bother me. I just don't want to be there when it happens. Likewise, for Shankara, you can know God. You just can't be there when it happens.
But for Ramanuja, "the highest kind of unity" would not be "the static unity of a solitary self-centered, self-determined Absolute, but a dynamic unity of a society of souls realizing their highest perfection in love and in mutually enriching fellowship."
And "this is only possible where each has a unique inner life of his own and respects the individuality of others, but yet where each does not lose but finds himself in others" (Davie).
Therefore, union with God is associated with both "increasing differentiation" and "increasingly intensive community and unity." Call it the Body of Christ, which can only be an interior body, nothing that could ever be accomplished -- which is to say, externally forced -- by the state. That would be an anonymous hive, not a unity of souls.