Indeed, it is fair to say I that am far closer to a Schuon-style Sufism than to certain strands of moonstream Christianity -- just as if Lena Dunham were the only alternative, I don't know that I could call myself heterosexual.
Nor was Schuon himself without the same ambivalence: "Formerly, the prince of darkness fought against religions above all from without and apart from the sinful nature of man; in our age he adds a new stratagem to this struggle, with regard to emphasis at least, which consists of seizing religions from within, and he has largely succeeded, in the world of Islam as well as the worlds of Judaism and Christianity."
After all, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama call themselves Christian (as Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry are "Catholic"), and some 75% of Jews are reliable Democratic voters. All of these trends should be "impossible," but, as Schuon would say, evil is the possibility of impossibility (or presence of nothingness), so to speak. Some things cannot -- or at least should not -- be, and yet, there they Are.
In any event, this satanic ruse "is not even very difficult for him... given the prodigious lack of discernment that characterizes the humanity of our epoch..." This absence of discernment is precisely what renders the impossible possible and gives it the appearance of reality.
Speaking of possible impossibilities, I am currently reading volume 2 of Manchester's magnificent Churchill bio. It is rather more slow moving than the first and third volumes (which I have already read), and provides an almost hour-by-hour (and sometimes minute-by-minute) account of the three year lead up to World War II, from Hitler's 1936 yoinking of the Rhineland to his 1939 invasion of Poland.
While historians tell us World War II broke out in August of 1939, in actuality it started no later than 1936. It's just that the allies finally acknowledged it in 1939. Why did they (excepting Churchill) fail to notice they were at war before then? Well, why does the left not acknowledge that we are at war with Islamic terror? Rather, we are in a Narrative Fight with folks who call themselves Muslim. My narrative can beat up your narrative!
But you can't actually even say that, because the whole idea of narrative comes out of a subreal literary theory that says one narrative is no better than another, and that they are all rooted in power, not truth. Thus, just as the P. of D. seizes religions from within, so too does he seize English, history, philosophy, and psychology departments, not to mention political parties, TV stations, and newspapers.
I see we've already opened a multitude of possible avenues to explore in this post. I hadn't intended to veer off into Churchill, but my main point is the singular lack of discernment -- blindness, really -- in his opponents in the 1930s.
Conversely, Hitler wasn't at all blind, at least insofar as he saw exactly what he wanted to do and how to go about doing it. But just as liberals today blind themselves to troubling aspects of Islam, intellectuals of the 1930s skimmed right past the, er, troubling parts of the Mein Kampf narrative.
In comparing attitudes of the 1930s to contemporary times, the parallels are even more striking than I had realized. For example, liberals don't want to refer to terrorists as "Islamic" for fear of offending them. Just so, the whole policy of the Chamberlain government revolved around not angering Hitler.
Bear in mind that this was before "appeasement" had been discredited -- before it became a pejorative term. Rather, Chamberlain openly and enthusiastically embraced the policy of appeasement -- which is why the last thing he wanted to do was bring Churchill into the government, as this would have undoubtedly made the Fuhrer "cross." The logic is the same: just as angering terrorists creates more of them, Churchill was the Nazi's best recruiting tool.
But let's get back to matters at hand, al-'Arabi. I can't say I would recommend the book. Rather, I'm only here to extract the useful and throw away the rest. And the main thing I find useful is cross-referencing some of his insights and experiences with people like Meister Eckhart, who popped into history a little bit later (he was born about 20 years after al-'Arabi died in the 13th century).
Is it possible that those two had a common Source? Yes, I believe so, but nothing "exterior." Rather, it seems to me that they were orbiting around the same Attractor, and therefore seeing and experiencing some of the same things. You could say they were battling for the same Narrative.
I'm not going to pretend to be any kind of expert, nor to give any kind of tidy summary (which is impossible anyway, since he wrote some "700 books, treatises, and collections of poetry." You could say that he stood knee-deep in O with the firehose on full blast -- a ceaseless torrent of mystical insights. And as is always true in such cases, it is left to us to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Shifting gears rather violently for the moment, Churchill was the same way, at least in regard to his writing. The spigot was always on. Lately I've been trying to figure out the peculiar power of his words. What's his trick? Whence the magic?
Of note, one of the reasons he was ignored in the 1930s is that everyone acknowledged his "genius." It was his judgment they questioned. In short, it was widely believed that his prudence was not equal to his intelligence, such that there was an awful lot of indiscriminate balderdash tossed into the undeniably brilliant mix.
Which is sometimes true. You might say, the bigger the genius, the greater the error. One of his defenders said "Winston was often right. But when he was wrong -- well, my God.”
I think the "problem," if it can be defined as such, was his prodigious imagination. Now, as we've been discussing lately, reality takes place in the imaginal space between world and soul. Imaginal is not the same as imagination, but they certainly share similarities. Which we will no doubt get to as we proceed, because this is one of al-'Arabi's (and Henry Corbin's) central ideas.
This unruly post just refuses to settle down!
Let me begin with some highlighted passages from Chittick's introduction:
"Many important thinkers have concluded that the West never should have abandoned certain teachings about reality which it shared with the East.... In putting complete faith in reason, the West forgot that imagination opens up the soul to certain possibilities of perceiving and understanding not available to the rational mind."
Analysis: true. I entered western Christianity via the eastern door, and found there everything I had been looking for in yoga, only in a different garb, AKA veil.
At any rate, "Once we lose sight of the imaginal nature of certain realities, the true import of a great body of mythic and religious teachings slips from our grasp."
Speaking of which, in my ongoing effort to understand the Churchill magic, I'm reading his sprawling History of the English Speaking Peoples. In it he discusses the legendary Arthur, who may be imaginary but is none the less real for being so: he "takes us out of the mist of dimly remembered history into the daylight of romance." There he "looms, large, uncertain, dim but glittering," such that "around his name and deeds shine all that romance and poetry can bestow."
Not to push the envelope too far, but what was Churchill but a modern-day incarnation of this same mythic and quintessentially British archetype? Certainly he was the only man in 1940 capable of pulling the imaginal sword from the stone of modern sophistication, and wielding it to rouse dreams and visions of light conquering darkness and good vanquishing evil.
Well, we're out of time. To be continued...