Friday, April 15, 2016

Real Selves and Worthless Cultures

When you think about it, having no center equates to having no self, or at least not a stable one.

And now that I'm thinking about it, it must be the other way around: no self, no center -- the reason being that there can be no center in the cosmos in the absence of subject. If the world were wholly objective, there would obviously be no center anywhere, just a kind of complete dispersal with no interior coherence, no perspective, and nothing for the phenomena to "revolve around," so to speak.

But to say I AM is to testify to Cosmic Central. Now, how can there be 7 billion cosmic centers on the planet, each insisting that I AM? It's a mystery, unless each of these is a local franchise of the one nonlocal I AM.

I wrote that without peeking ahead, but I see that Schuon agrees:

"Thus there is hope for the man who has no center, whatever the cause of his privation or infirmity might be; for there is a supra-human Center that is always available to us, and whose trace we bear within ourselves, given that we are made in the image of the Creator" (emphasis mine).

Think, for example, of how alcoholics and drug addicts are able to conquer their addictions by surrendering to this Higher Power. Come to think of it, this "is why Christ could say that what is impossible for man is always possible for God." That is to say, "however decentralized man may be, as soon as he sincerely turns to Heaven his relationship with God bestows a center on him" (ibid.).

Wʘʘ hʘʘ!

And -- to go back to what was said above about each of us being Cosmic Central -- "we are always at the center of the world when we address the Eternal" (ibid.). In the absence of this relationship to what infinitely transcends us, we are literally nobody on the road to nowhere.

It so happens that I'm reading another book, After the Natural Law: How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Views, that discusses these same ideas from a slightly different angle; instead of pure metaphysics, it brings the discussion down a few notches to psychology and political science, or, you could say, the psychology of politics.

Not, mind you, the kind of vulgar psychology in which I toil. Rather, the real thing -- "ontological psychology," if you will: the psychology of reality and the reality of psychology. Metapsychology, I suppose: the psychology behind or above or beneath psychology.

Because it really all comes down to the question, What is a Person? Depending upon how you answer it, everything changes, especially politics, which is really just a form of group (or collective) psychology. As we always say, if you get your psychology (or anthropology) wrong, then your political philosophy will be destructive at best and genocidal at worst.

Think, for example, of the psychology of the Dred Scott decision, or Roe v. Wade, in which some human beings are irrationally stripped of their personhood for the convenience of some other group, e.g., slaveholders or feminists.

In chapter 4, The Classical Conception of the Person, Hill cooncurs that "No idea is more foundational to our deepest moral, political, and legal values than the concept of the soul, the self, or the human person."

That is, "Everything depends on who we are, how we are made, whether we are truly free and responsible, and whether there is a foundation for human dignity that transcends each individual's material talents and capacities."

Ultimately it comes down to whether the self is real or just an epiphenomenon, an illusion produced by brain activity that is in turn wholly material. In the latter view the self is to the brain as urine is to the kidneys, just a leftover byproduct with no value.

If the self is real (or unreal), how could we know it? In a way, the question answers itself, because how could a fundamentally unreal thing arrive at real truth?

"For the self to be real," writes Hill, "it must possess a unity of its own and persist through time." In other words -- consistent with what Schuon says about having a center -- the self must be a unity; it cannot be "hopelessly fragmented," but rather, a "centralized locus of identity, decision making and action that serves to bind the person to the whole" (Hill).

The idea of temporal unity is key. A mere object (say, a rock) has spatial unity -- we can see that it is one thing in space. But the self is "one thing in time," so to speak. It is constantly changing, and yet, is always itself. What is the nature and source of this unity? It must be something nonlocal that ties together all of the local experiences and events of one's life.

I would suggest that there is a kind of downward projection of God --> Soul --> Self --> Ego, each a narrower version of its predecessor. The ego is mainly the self's adaptation to the world, while the self is the soul's adaptation to a particular family, culture, and historical epoch.

To jump ahead a bit, how do we know that multiculturalism is such a crock? Because we may ascertain the "goodness" of this or that culture in terms of how much of one's soul may be expressed or potentiated in it.

In other words: what are the chances in this or that culture of actualizing one's real potential? Using this measurement, we could affirm that, say, Saudi Arabia, or the Palestinian Terrortories, or liberal academia, are approximately worthless.

Conversely, the America we once knew, and which has been systematically ravaged by the death cult of the left, was approximately priceless.


Blogger julie said...

That is to say, "however decentralized man may be, as soon as he sincerely turns to Heaven his relationship with God bestows a center on him" (ibid.).

Wʘʘ hʘʘ!

And Amen! Because of this, there is always hope, for the individual if not for the culture as a whole.

4/15/2016 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

OT, but thought I'd share this excellent response from Cardinal Sarah of Africa on the "war on poverty":

4/15/2016 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Excellent, indeed. Thanks.

4/15/2016 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Cardinal Sarah looks like a formidable fellow.

4/15/2016 08:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Gagdad said...

That was me.

4/15/2016 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

The hazard of Gmail accounts.

Speaking of Mrs. G, though, how is she doing?

4/15/2016 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Gagdad said...

Although Leslie informs me that Sarah was and is in the running for Pope.

4/15/2016 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Really? That would be Something. I don't know anything about him, but if that article is representative then I like the cut of his jib.

Which, now that I think of it, probably means he hasn't a chance of ever being elected.

4/15/2016 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Leslie Godwin said...

Hi Julie, Thank you for asking about me! I don't have a resolution yet for my back/leg pain. I'm very grateful for my physical therapist and pain management dr for their genuine caring and wanting to get to the bottom of this with me. And I'm trying to do whatever I can do on my end.

I am grateful for any prayers from those here! And also for Bob and Tristan.

I am studying so I can eventually teach religious education to Catholic children (Masters degree in Catechism and Evangelization at Franciscan University, Steubenville), so with everything going on, I am able to read God's Word every day and am learning so much about my faith. I can't tell you how valuable that has been these last few months. And the structure of the program has really immersed me in spiritual matters, and has helped my relationship with God more than I ever expected.

Re. Sarah, I thought I remembered that he was discussed as a likely candidate when they were waiting for the white smoke to come out of the Vatican chimney. And that a Pope from Africa was expected to happen sooner than later.

4/15/2016 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Now that you mention it, I do recall hearing his name around the time Pope Benedict stepped down. He would be an interesting choice.

4/15/2016 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

It seems to me that this post suggests that "unqualified non- duality" is fundamentally flawed. And yet, is this not the highest truth from the perspective of Frithjof Schuon and the Perennialist School? The problem always seems to go back to the "one and the many" and the question " are differences real"?

4/16/2016 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I disagree that unqualified non-duality is the highest truth. Rather, the Trinity. Which means that Ramanuja can beat up Shankara.

4/16/2016 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And by their fruits you shall know them: a civilization built on trinitarian assumptions is going to be an infinitely better place to live than one built on nondual assumptions.

4/16/2016 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I suspect that some might say that would constitute a "confessional bias"? I think it depends largely on how we interpret "modernity"? I've struggled with this for many years.

4/16/2016 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well, make up your mind. Would you prefer to live in a cave or teepee?

4/16/2016 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Petey said...

It's always the best & worst of times. Don't let anyone tell you different.

4/16/2016 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather be an oil sheikh today than a bedouin yesterday. And I don't get Dubai at all. But these are beside the point.

That space beneath Rule of Law is pretty big. It’s where most of us spend most of our time. I'd think that the culture beneath the Rule of Law, is as important as the Rule of Law itself. And I believe this is especially true in free nations.

4/16/2016 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

And by their fruits you shall know them: a civilization built on trinitarian assumptions is going to be an infinitely better place to live than one built on nondual assumptions.

I saw a comment somewhere the other day from a man who claimed to have an American soldier tasked with teaching Iraqis the basics of soldiery: how to shoot, how to perform maintenance, etc. He said it was an exercise in frustration and ultimately futility for the most part, since their response to everything was essentially, "if Allah wills it..." Thus, bullets didn't really need to be aimed, they would hit the target if... and trucks didn't need to be maintained, they would run or not run if...

Their monolithic deity has no need for trinitarian relationships. It simply is and does as it wills, and the people along with it, and the why of it nobody can fathom. No point in learning anything about how the world works, since it could all change on a whim of the Almighty.

4/16/2016 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Frithjof Schuon once said that the world of Tradition (pre-modernity) was a good that, in view of the nature of things, contained much evil. Whereas modernity is an evil that contains much good. Admittedly, a return to the past would be absurd to consider. Neverthless, as Schuon had stated numerous times, it is the slow loss of the sense of the Sacred that has been the defining feature of modernity.

4/16/2016 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I doubt it.

4/16/2016 05:08:00 PM  
Anonymous It's the culture said...

Many people are naturally prone to making use of their defense mechanisms to allow themselves (and others) to get away with behaving badly. Commonly held moral traditions (historically proven) might help the ‘social cost/benefit analyses’ challenged. They’d either have a stronger foundation, or as likely, it’d be easier for somebody better equipped to come along and do the “What where you thinking? slap head.

Unfortunately, we have societies where the historic traditions are messed up. “Improvements” on original Christianity are usually an attempt on the part of that particular founder to rationalize behaviors they themselves had. With founder gone but now revered as a “true prophet”, followers prone to personal irresponsibility have their rationale for behaving badly.

I know, redundant to the points already made but said in other words.

4/17/2016 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

When it comes to problems with culture, most of us are better at the diagnosis than the solution. That's why it is always easier to be a reactionary. Best to tend to your own garden. If everyone did that, many things would resolve themselves. Bottom up.

4/17/2016 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous It's the culture said...

Ted, I wish all the freedom that is possible for my excellent neighbors to the east. My rotten neighbors to the west, not so much. I often have no choice but to be reactionary with them, since they appear to have zero respect for personal boundaries.

You sound like a libertarian.

4/17/2016 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

I'm not a libertarian. Former lefty, who now believes in limited government. Besides, freedom needs constraints to be ordered to the good. But that can't come from the state, but from civil society. So when I say tend to your own garden - that's the garden I mean (it's not just about the individual).

4/17/2016 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous It's the culture said...

Now we're on the same page. I believe that what Bob (and others) are implying is that a Christian-based hypothetical free nation would function more civilly than an Islamic-based hypothetical free nation (others, please note the word "hypothetical" means only that. I am not suggesting that an Islamic nation could be, nor not be, such).

One problem I had with the bad neighbors, was too much "tending of my own garden" at the beginning. Best to nip those things in the bud.

4/17/2016 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

"Which means Ramanuja can beat up Shankara".

Bob,I'm surprised that you take that view. I'm not trying to be argumentative, I say that because so much of Schuon's thought is based, in large measure, on "Shankaran" unqualified nondualism. There is an

" inability to understand the notion of Maya- which is basically that of relativity and of the infinitely varied play of relationships between the relative and the absolute.... The duality of Creator and creature is situated in Maya, Atma alone transcends it" - F. Schuon

Moreover, theists

"see fit to assert against the Maya of Shankara that souls, like the physical world, are real- something that Shankara never denied, for the notion of Maya does not contradict relative reality, it merely annuls it at the level of Absolute Reality; now it is precisely this spirit of alternatives, this inability to reconcile apparent antinomies on a higher plane and the incomprehension of relativity and absoluteness, which are (get this) common to Semitic exoterism and Hindu Bhaktism. Every religious exoterism is will-centered (and so moralistic) and in its fashion depreciates intelligence; bhaktism does the same. For Ramanuja, gnosis cannot be more than mere mental meditation on the Divine perfections, which has obviously nothing to do with deliverance. It is moreover significant that bhaktism feels obliged to reduce the divinities to mere creatures: its spirit of alternatives prevents it from reconciling these aspects with the one personal God which it has need" - Frithjof Schuon- Dilemmas of Theological Speculation.

I think that I am in agreement with you in opposition to Schuon. The "pure" nondual traditions teach the unreality, or should I say the "relative reality" of selves. This doesn't work for me.

4/17/2016 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Shankara takes the easy way out. Much more challenging to affirm and participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.

4/17/2016 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger ted said...

Wow Bob. That struck a deep beautify note with me. I still yearn for some "enlightenment" from time to time, but bearing our Cross may be where it's at.

4/17/2016 04:46:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I read recently -- can't remember where -- that the "descent of the Christ" occurs simultaneously in history with the shift in Mahayana Buddhism to the Bodhisattva principle, i.e., that compassion is higher than personal liberation. Too good to check.

4/17/2016 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

What's interesting is that the pure nondualist would say the exact opposite- that those who insist on a bhaktic view of ultimate Truth are taking the easy way out. Why? Because we are unwilling/unable to let go of dear old self and the illusion of separateness.

"The world is illusory;
Brahman alone is real;
Brahman is the world."

4/17/2016 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

There are no pure nondualists. Or at least someone who lives in the real world has to take care of them.

4/17/2016 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I recently objected to unqualified nondualism on the grounds that it is illogical, essentially a "double truth" . The reply that I got made me pause- my interlocutor said that unqualified nondualism is no less logical than the Christian trinity. These principles are complementary, not contradictory. Is the Trinity, in fact, a similar doctrine?

4/17/2016 07:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The two are complementary, but in all complementarities one term -- in this case the Trinity -- must be prior.

4/17/2016 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

Unqualified non-dualism is based on Sankara’s highly selective picking and choosing of the Upanishads, interpreted in the light of Buddhism which he wished to contest but was obviously highly influenced by. It is reductionist, unimaginative, over-intellectual, simplistic, and has no explanation for this whole world of creation. It also fails to see that the One and the Many are both essential in a universe in which the highest truth is in relationship rather than pure being. Paradoxically, in my view, it’s a philosophy for egotists. So there!

But, more seriously, it's a one-sided view of reality that ignores the fact that what God creates is real. So, of course, everything is one but the individual is also real and if that weren't the case then love would be a figment of the imagination. To say it's only valid in the relative world is no different to dismissing it altogether. Only the Trinity can account for love as a fundamental truth.

4/18/2016 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...


4/18/2016 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's also circular -- life is so crappy in those places that don't regard reality as real, who would't want to just escape reality into oneness?

4/18/2016 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I basically agree. However, to be fair, to say that UQ nondualism is unimaginative, over-intellectual, simplistic, and has no explanation for Creation" is simply not true. I think it would be said that "escaping reality" betokens someone still in the grips of duality. Also, in the philosophical battle that has been going on for hundreds of years between the schools of Vedanta, the Advaitans have pretty much emerged on top in the dialectical dual.

4/18/2016 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger William Wildblood said...

It’s reductive because it denies the reality in creation, reducing life to the absolute alone when the whole point of it is that it is the absolute and the relative together, both being and becoming, and the integration of the two brings something about that is more than either on its own. It’s unimaginative for similar reasons. It can’t conceive that there is something greater than basic oneness, a fairly obvious boiling down of existence. It’s over-intellectual because it regards knowledge as the be all and end all, not seeing that there is a wisdom in love that goes far beyond mere logic chopping. Sankara was a logician who couldn’t deal with the paradoxical statements in the Upanishads so left out what didn’t suit his thesis. For him the One and the Many must be opposites and only one of them can be true. It’s simplistic for similar reasons to its being reductive, i.e. because it can’t understand that truth is not the absolute or the relative, one or the other, but the absolute and the relative working together. And it certainly has no explanation for creation which Sankara says is a mystery not to be understood. He can’t see that it is God expressing himself in order to become more. I don’t think the Advaitins have emerged on top in the dialectical duel. They certainly haven’t in India unless it was recently. If they seem to have done so in the West it’s because we live in an irreligious age which takes advaita as somehow more ‘scientific’ because it dispenses with God which, despite its attempts to have its cake and eat it too, it does do. I mean by that that it admits a certain reality in the relative world only to fundamentally regard that as good for the ignorant only.

Written in haste so probably full of holes but that’s what I think anyway!

4/18/2016 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

William, well-said. For a hasty post, that was excellent. For the record, I migrated out of "spirituality nondual" circles some years ago. But, old habits die hard. I think it is important to distinguish between monism (which is really just another form of dualism) and nondualism proper. The big question is whether or not "Nirvana IS samsara and samsara IS Nirvana" a classic case of having one's cake and eating it too, or something more profound? Since this doctrine amounts to a radical denial AND radical affirmation of Creation, I'm not sure if unqualified nondualism is, indeed, as reductive or one-sided as you charge. At any rate, I appreciate your comments.

4/18/2016 02:34:00 PM  

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