Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Evolutionary Politics: Conserving the Radical Spiritual Revolution of the Founders (updated 9.07.07)

Unfortunately, I started something I am unable to finish this morning. Hardly even enough time to spell-check, much less coherence check. We'll have to continue the discussion tomorrow.

I have noticed that many people reject religion on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding of it, which is easy to do, given the way religion is depicted by its enemies in the liberal media and by our profane culture at large. If that were my only exposure to religion, I too would surely reject it.

A case in point is this editorial by Heather Mac Donald, a secular conservative woman who is very uncomfortable with what she perceives as the dominance of the modern conservative intellectual movement by the Christian right:

“Upon leaving office in November 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft thanked his staff for keeping the country safe since 9/11. But the real credit, he added, belonged to God. Ultimately, it was God’s solicitude for America that had prevented another attack on the homeland.

“Many conservatives hear such statements with a soothing sense of approbation. But others—count me among them—feel bewilderment, among much else. If God deserves thanks for fending off assaults on the United States after 9/11, why is he not also responsible for allowing the 2001 hijackings to happen in the first place?

“Skeptical conservatives—one of the Right’s less celebrated subcultures—are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.”

MacDonald provides a worthy and thoughtful critique, not at all like the angry and unsophisticated atheists of the secular left. Still, it seems that her only exposure to religion has been to the kooky and/or superficial kind, but it should go without saying that kookiness and superficiality are most certainly the norm in virtually all human endeavors. One might just as well reject music on the basis of the aural garbage one hears on the radio these days.

MacDonald seems to have the greatest difficulty in reconciling an omnipotent God with the existence of evil. For example,

“The father of Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City girl abducted from her home in 2002, thanked God for answering the public’s prayers for her safe return.... But why did the prayers for five-year-old Samantha Runnion go unheeded when she was taken from her Southern California home in 2002 and later sexually assaulted and asphyxiated?”

But this simply highlights the incoherence of a particular religious view that reduces God to an omnipotent anthropomorphism. This is closer to the unsophisticated manner in which Muslims view Allah, as “vertically” causing everything to happen on a moment by moment basis. I have heard many Christians of this temperament say words to the effect of “everything happens for a reason”--i.e., God caused it--which makes no sense whatsoever to me. Mac Donald is correct to reject such a simplistic view.

Personally, I am drawn to religion because it is a much deeper and more sophisticated metaphysic, and explains much more than any secular philosophy. It also illuminates dimensions of reality that will tend to go undetected or undeveloped in the absence of religion--the holy, the sacred, the existence of grace, etc. But the idea of an omnipotent personal God that answers to one’s beck and call seems to me fundamentally unchristian (and certainly un-vedantic). After all--one is tempted to add, “hello?!”--in Christianity, God himself is crucified in history. What do you think that means, that God himself fully submits to history, to the relative, to the temporal?

As I have emphasized before, a merely mental understanding of God is entirely insufficient in my view. Anyone who reduces religion to a mere literalism has given the game away to the rationalism of the ego.

In the past, I have attempted to discuss this dilemma in terms of the bi-modal logic of the mind. Our little surface ego moves and has its being in the bright and well-lit world of classical or Aristotelian logic. I will be the first to acknowledge that the world accessed by the ego represents a world. But by no means does it represent the world. Rather, the ego gives access to one plane of being. I won’t say that it’s a “low” flying plane, because, as a psychologist, I am fully aware of how many people fail to get off the ground and reliably enter it due to various developmental issues and fixations. But it is an intermediate world, with degrees of being both above and below.

In the esoterist view, the planes above the ego are developmentally later but ontologically prior, and therefore more real. Every below in the cosmos is “contained” within an above, while, at the same time, the above is uncontainable and is necessarily present “within” the below. To animals, the ego is clearly both “higher” and more inward.

But we must never forget that the epic story of cosmic evolution does not end with the ego’s exteriorization of its limited understanding--its colonization of a small portion of consciousness. Think of the ego as analogous to a bright flood light in the dark. Wherever the light turns, there is an area of bright illumination. But we must not be fooled into believing that the foreground of illumination--the little spot lit up by the ego--is all there is to reality.

As Kant properly noted, the ego creates a world in the form of its own sensibility (the phenomenal world) and then takes it for the real world. Therefore, it is as if we dream a dream and then inhabit the dream as if it were real. The ego becomes thoroughly entangled in its own exteriorized and reified fantasies. This is what it means to be a fallen ego in a fallen world. The fall is both literal (i.e., vertical) and metaphorical.

With the scientific revolution in full force, Kant saw what was coming and was actually trying to rescue the realm of religion from the predations of a cognitively greedy scientific rationalism. Since the ego ultimately has access only to its own phenomena, this left the infinitely greater reality of the noumenon untouched, unknown and unknowable. This is precisely where Kant erred, because in saying that the noumenon was unknowable, he essentially reduced religion to a mere sentimental fideism. It would simply be a matter of time before it became wholly irrelevant to “sophisticated” moderns.

Again, either religion embodies real knowledge that surpasses our egoic understanding, or it is simply an absurdity that is defiantly embraced in the teeth of reason and logic. But if it does embody real knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it? Is it mere information, occupying the same horizontal plane as factual scientific information, like saying “water freezes at 32 degrees and Jesus walked on it,” or “the ribs enclose the chest cavity and women are made of one”? In my way of looking at things, this is a gross confusion that simply invites people not to take religion seriously.

Let us imagine that the totality of reality constitutes a vast field of consciousness. In navigating its dimensions and coordinates, there are two principle dangers. One involves being shipwrecked on the rocks of a rational but fixed and “frozen” mental conception that ultimately forecloses spiritual evolution. The ego stakes out its little piece of territory. It knows what it knows, and that’s all it wants to know. The vast majority of cultural and religious beliefs are of this variety. Some belief systems stake out a slightly wider area, but each, to one degree or another, places an arbitrary boundary around reality.

The other danger is to become lost at sea with no fixed coordinates at all. This is to be engulfed in the symmetrical unconscious with no bearings to guide one’s journey.

Religions are indeed fixed, and must be so. But they are not fixed in order to reduce reality, but in order to navigate through it and ultimately to colonize more of it. They are not the destination, but the means of arriving there--at one’s deustination.

Therefore, the question is not, strictly speaking, whether or not this or that dogma is true or false, in a narrow, purely egoic way. I believe dogma is critical. Critical for the same reason that a ship is--not merely for the purpose of floating statically on the water, but moving through it.

So all you cosmic castaways,
we're here such a brief, short time.
We have to make the best of things,
thanks to Adam's crime.
But Petey and old Gagdad Bob,
will do their very best,
to make your journey vertical,
in this horizontal mess.
No angry trolls, no leftist loons,
no doctrinaire moonbats,
Like Dailykos and Huffington,
and other gynocrats.
So join us here each day my friends,
we'll sail right through the fog.
Obnoxious Bobservations,
here on Gag-a-dad's blog.


Joan of Argghh! said...

OH NO! Now I have that earworm to accompany me on my cosmic journey! Thanks, ever so.

Nonetheless, an excellent essay and assay into the ego. I was reminded of an episode of the The Tick, where our blue hero was on an ego-trip and found himself on a cosmic escalator, going up.

He asked what it was, and was told it was the, Escalator of Enlightenment.

"Escalator of Enlightenment? What do I need that for?" says Tick.

At which point the escalator reverses itself and starts moving backward and downward.

Alan said...

"I believe dogma is critical. Critical for the same reason that a ship is--not merely for the purpose of floating statically on the water, but moving through it. "
Dogma is like training wheels in one respect.
Mt.14:25-33, Mk.6:47-51, Jn.6:16-21

It can also be a map that we check before and during a journey.

richard_223 said...


I hope you will return to Ms. McDonald's critique, I followed it on The Corner.

I try to remember, if Immanual Kant, the Kubla Khan!

Dr Bob said...

"I have heard many Christians of this temperament say words to the effect of “everything happens for a reason”--e.g., God caused it--which makes no sense whatsoever to me."

These things will become clearer to you when you move from bass to guitar...

For some Christians, this does represent simplistic "God causes everything" thinking. More commonly, it represents the recognition that God, while omnipotent, permits free will in His creatures and creation--which results in some bad things happening which God doesn't cause--aka evil. But in such events, God remains sovereign, and can bring about good through, or despite evil. I've talked more about this problem here

And yes, the secular conservative (and much more the secular liberal) has problems with the religious because of the paradox of faith: one cannot understand faith until one first has faith.

stu said...

"The world accessed by the ego represents a world. But by no means does it represent the world... It is an intermediate world, with degrees of being both above and below."

Another inspiring post. Anyone have thoughts on the following?

Why is the phenomenal world that is the focus of the ego so easily mistaken for the entire cosmos? And why is this limited perspective the default setting of the human condition? Or at least my own human conditioning.

Van said...

Humor me a little as I eat up space with a comparison here, to reflect on the use of Dogma by taking a look at the first part of a poem by Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods.

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods an frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year."

My take on the poem is that it's about someone who's been questioning who and what God is,
does he live only in a white clapboard Church in town, or is this wood more true to him?
The god of the clapboard wouldn't see him in the woods...and yet... hmm.
Then the dweller of the horizontal (the horse) thinks it strange to seemingly stop for no visible reason, thinking about something as useless as the unknown and what we know only surface deep
the darkest evening of the year being the Solstice or Christmas

Another person interprets the poem as the first sentence indicating that the speaker is a trespasser, but is familiar with the area.
Woods is repeated often so it is a key word meaning irrationality and temptation.
Snow represents winter and purity because it is white, shows contrast between the dark woods.
The horse symbolizes speaker's conscionse & reminds him of his responsibility.

Not surprisingly, I prefer my interpretation of the poem, but I don't know that I can say I'm right on it and he's wrong. If the other said "It's a poem about the justification of slaughtering Horses for fun and profit" - that I wouldn't have a problem saying was whacked.

The maing point is that the Poem, the dogma, will take each reader only to where they are able, willing and prepared to go.

And the language, in some ways might be able to be varied & still keep the meaning-potential intact, such as changing "Whose woods these are I think I know" to "Whose woods these are I believe I know" might still work, but "Whose hood is this? sorry, no clue." would destroy all.

THe language of a Poem or Dogma is useful to provide the reader a mode of mental/spiritual transportation to explore the spiritual meaning as far as they can go, and it is necessary that it be there, and that it's spirit remains intact in large part in order to accomplish that.

Van said...

And of course if you just read it (the poem in my previous comment) literally - horizontally with no Vertical movement at all, you come away from it thinking "What the... what a waste, who would be foolish enough to waste time on that foolish junk?!"

Van said...

Stu said "Why is the phenomenal world that is the focus of the ego so easily mistaken for the entire cosmos? And why is this limited perspective the default setting of the human condition? Or at least my own human conditioning. "

I suspect that it's because it is very easy to look at just the surface of things, and overlook that there may even exist such a thing as depth. It's why philosophers can say with a straight fact "we can imagine a world in which rocks fall up, because falling up or down are mere contingent facts, and are not necessarily so" thinking that there is nothing more to rocks and the gravity which results from massive rocks, than the surface appearance of a rock, and the visual movement we see as gravity.

By stopping at the appearances, they drop all knowledge of atomic & mollecular structure which integrate and create all of their properties, some of which we see as shape and movement.

It's the default, because it's easy, it's seemingly self evident, and requires no further effort - that's almost the definition of "Default". It's takes a person to choose to seek farther, in order to see farther.

Van said...

(It's so nice to have all the answers, pardon me while I take this opportunity to bathe in my own overflowing wisdom) Obviously if the entire world would just listen to what I say, all would be well.

Jacob C. said...

To rephrase Kant in Bill Whittle-esque terms: we see the territory, we draw a map to help us explore it, and then we wind up paying more attention to the map (with all our initial cartographic mistakes still intact) than we do to our actual surroundings.

And to say that the map we've drawn is wrong is the hardest thing to do. We prefer to make excuses like "I'll throw the map away, but it's not my fault I drew it wrong; this is a very complicated coastline." Or: "Well, I'm the one who drew it. Are you really asking me to throw out my own map?" Or, most dangerously: "Damn it, I know the map is flawless; I'll just have to bring in some earth moving equipment and change the coastline to fit it."

Lisa said...

To many people it's the phenomenal world that rotates around their ego. Plus, it's very easy to get caught up in your own gravitational pull!

Just one opinion, I'm sure there are more and better answers out there....

Lisa said...

Forgot to add, just ask Al Gore!

It's also the sheer arrogance of many egos that think they are having such an impact (pos. or neg.) on the entire cosmos!

gumshoe1 said...

"Why is the phenomenal world that is the focus of the ego so easily mistaken for the entire cosmos? And why is this limited perspective the default setting of the human condition?"

my guess is it
has a long,ingrained relationship with that "survival" thing.

that it is the default setting,
may be quite the unacknowledged blessing.

Ben usn (ret) said...

Great post Bob!
The comments from you, fellow bobbleheads, were also great!

We have a map/chart of sorts, in our ingrained conscienceness.
It can be damaged or even destroyed depending.

Many people do not see or hear even the horizontal, effectively, and accurately.
To see and hear in the spiritual (vertical), we must open our eyes and ears, with faith,
and accept the Truth.
That begins our journey.
The size and accuracy of our vertical chart/map, will depend on our knowledge and wisdom.
First, we must learn to see beyond 2 dimensions.
Charts and maps have depths and altittude, but we must also learn to understand eternal timelessness, for God, our final destination, is not in any time zone,
and cannot be measured.

ben usn (ret) said...

To find out where we are on the chart/map, we must get our bearings from the Absolute source.
On a horizontal Chart/map (charp), we need bearings and/or ranges from 3 points of references to get a good fix (location)
of where we are.
This can also be done with 2 and even 1, but it's not as accurate.
We must pay close attention to where underwater hazards, shoal waters, reefs, islands, (called hazards to navigation) are, and avoid them.
We must also have RADAR (eyes) to watch for storms, mines, and incoming enemy ships or aircraft,
as well as SONAR (ears). to warn of subsurface threats, such as submarines underwater mines, and torpedoes.
I have found it helpful to think of this in spiritual/vertical terms.

ben usn (ret). said...

What do we do if we get to the edge of our chart?
I think it's best to weigh anchor, and receive mor instructions from the QuarterMASTER,
through His Word,
His Saints, and His Teachers, before we continue on.
The same holds true if we become lost.