Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tao it Yoursoph Christianity

One of the clearest expositions I have ever found on the Christian approach to unseen warfare is entitled Christ the Eternal Tao, by Hieromonk Damascene, a Russian Orthodox monk living in the bewilderness forest of Alaska (see sidebar). Judging by the title, one might think that this is some kind of new-age twaddle, but it is anything but. In fact, if you read the reviews on amazon, the hostile ones are not from Christians, but from those gentle new-agers who don't want their paganism mixed up with heavy metal Christianity.

I love this passage, written by someone named Jingjing in 8th century China. It represents a spontaneous merger of Christianity and Taoist philosophy, in the same way that early Christian Fathers tried to understand revelation through the lens of Greek philosophy:

"In the beginning was the natural constant, the true stillness of the Origin, and the primordial void of the Most High. The Spirit of the void emerged as the Most High Lord, moving in mysterious ways to enlighten the holy ones. He is Ye Su, my True Lord of the Void, who embodies the three subtle and wondrous bodies, and who was condemned to the cross so that the people of the four directions might be saved.

"My Lord Ye Su, the one emanating in three subtle bodies, hid His true power, became a human, and came on behalf of the Lord of Heaven to preach the good teachings. These teachings can restore goodness to sincere believers, deliver those living within the boundaries of the eight territories, refine the dust and transform it into truth, reveal the gate of the three constants, lead us to life, and destroy death.

"The Lord set afloat a raft of salvation and compassion so we might use it to ascend to the palace of light and be united with Spirit. He revealed the workings of the Origin, and he gave us the method of purification by water. Thus we purify our hearts and return to the simple and natural Way of the truth. This truth cannot be named, but its power surpasses all expectations. When forced to give it a name, we call it the Religion of Light. The teachings of the Religion of Light are like the resplendent sun: they have the power to dissolve the dark realm and destroy evil forever."


Hieromonk Damascene treats Lao Tzu as a forerunner, even a prophet, of Christ, and sees the tao as identical to the logos, the difference being that the insights of Taoism are not dependent on any divine revelation. Rather, they represent the summit of what is achievable by the natural mind, through the disciplined silencing of one's lower self.

Both Christ and Lao Tzu refer to our spirit as the light; later Chinese teachers would call it the original mind, while ancient Christian ascetics adopted the term nous, meaning "spirit" or "higher mind."

Both Taoism and Christianity are no different than any other yoga (in the generic sense of the term), in that they teach a way to a separate the higher and lower minds. That is, our higher mind is obscured behind a blizzard of undisciplined thoughts, horizontal fantasies, and reactive emotions that turn round and round the unmoored axis of the ego, a general term for the lower self.

The ego, in the sense we are using the term, is not our true Subject. In fact, it is more like an internalized object that lives parasitically on our true subjectivity. It is shaped by personal, cultural, and historical conditioning, and is largely a reflection of various accidental and contingent factors.

Have you ever met someone who was almost pure "object," with almost none of the light of the higher self shining through? Someone who has never had an original thought, someone whose passions and interests seem almost entirely programmed by the environment around them? I meet many such people. You might say that they have fallen all the way down, into the horizontal obscurity of quasi-animal existence. It is a kind of pleasant purgatory, or perhaps a hell with no visible chains or walls.

Remember that when we speak of the "vertical," this is to be understood metaphorically. In reality there are not two selves, one above the other. Rather, we are dealing with two poles of the same being, one extending outwardly toward the terminal moraine (or moron) of the senses, the other extending inwardly, beyond even the horizon of our particularized sense of "I am."

There is no bright line in this interior continuum, but you might say that there is a sort of "vector flow" that moves in one direction or the other. What I mean by this is that our normal consciousness "flows" downstream in the direction of Subject ---> object, washing ashore on the rocky beach of material reality. It seems that most people are sons of this beach.

One of the tricks of meditation, contemplation, and prayer is to reverse this vector flow, as we turn our gaze up and in, toward the nonlocal source of consciousness. It is only here, close to this source, that we can say with Meister Eckhart that "the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me."

One cannot get through life without the ego, any more than we can make do without a body. In this regard, the ego is like a "virtual organ" that has a role and a purpose. However, in the proper spiritual economy the ego should be subordinate to the spirit, just as the body should be subordinate to the ego.

Here again, how many trousered apes of the postmodern variety reverse this hierarchy? One of the baleful effects of our neo-pagan times is that this lowerarchy is elevated to an actual goal, the end of all being: Obey your thirst. Have it your way. Because I'm worth it. Image is everything. Just do it. Don't bug me, I'm eating. Free your a** and your mind will follow.

The inner light can become almost totally obscured. In fact, one of the ways to prove to yourself that this light exists is to spend a little time with people in whom the light is entirely absent. You won't need to look far. Dailykos. MTV. MSM. Most of academia. These might resemble real people if you look only with the eyes of the flesh.

But these carnal beings are not real people. Alone among the animals, it is entirely unnatural for human beings to be wholly "natural," for this is to live entirely in the horizontal world bequeathed to us by natural selection. But natural selection does not govern the vertical. Rather, verticality and inward mobility operate along the lines of supernatural election.

The ego is puffed up with vanity. It enjoys being king. Under the spell of self-sufficiency, it begins to ignore the promptings that emanate from the father shore of our being. The vespers become muffled, and pretty soon you are Master of Your illusory Domain. I think therefore I am. Period. Reality is a form of my sensibility. Truth is relative. Perception is reality. Without me, it's nothing.

You have devoured the apple.

This is the primordial calamity, the Sickness That Has No Name. Now you are on the run. Immersed in its own immediate gratification, the ego lives a life of perpetual distraction. Anything to avoid turning around and seeing the hellhound that is on your trail. Worse yet, the hound of heaven.

Our higher self is born of a voidgin and descends from eternity. The ego, however, is a child of time. It is an extension of the world. Therefore, it instinctively turns for comfort and reassurance to the very things that gave it birth, nurtured it, and have made it wrong all along. Things can get expensive here for the Freudian ego, for freudom isn't free. It requires a lot of mirrors and morers, a lot of fancy props and flattering props.

This is why you can never get enough of what you really don't need. Never! It's what you call a "bad infinity," the mirror image of the benign infinity of the divine mind. Larger distractions. More elaborate escapes. More artificial gratifications. More complicated psychodramas. Trying vainly to drain more pleasure out of things than there is in them. Moooooorrrrrrrre!

But the wool only stretches so far. Try as you might, you can't pull it any further. The third eye sees what you're up to anyway.

Interestingly, you have arrived where you are through an elaborate and complicated maze of soph-deception. And yet, the way back is so simple. It's always a straight line. And very short. If you are a fabulously wealthy person living in a two-dimensional world, you can go anywhere you want in flatland to try to "get away from it all." But there is an easier way. For, no matter where you are in flatland, the third dimension is equally accessible. And it's free.

Well, not free. But it's a bargain nonetheless. It'll only cost you your life. Yes, there is only one way out.

You must commit cluelesside.

Guess what? I'd like to continue, but today I must face another kind of gallows, when I must stare into the ghastly countenance of His Accountancy this afternoon. Yes, time for my annual fleecing by the attax dog, and I haven't even started "making my arrangments." So we'll have to continue this line of inquiry tomorrow. If I have any blood left. For, as a perceptive, albeit psychotic, patient of mine once said, "you can only get so much blood out of a turnip."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Lies and How They beGet that Way

Whew. Let's just turn the page and move on to another view of the hostile forces. Here I will be assisted by an anonymous friend who has helped me greatly, clarifying my own ideas and providing me with a means to think about them. He is what you call a "Christian hermeticist." In his case, he is completely orthodox, and yet, he is fully informed not just by the letter, but by the spirit. I realize that this will be controversial to some, but.... I was about to say that "you cannot," but I will just say that "I cannot" reduce Christianity to merely what is contained in the Bible.

As I have said before, the Bible itself is extra-Biblical, having been deeply informed--not to mention selected and assembled--by tradition. Christian faith and teaching were in the world before the scriptures were written (to be perfectly accurate, it was here, at least in part, even prior to Jesus). Revealed truth was first handed down orally, and tradition embraces certain truths that are either not contained in scripture, or else expressed there obscurely.

Not to downplay their importance, but I am of the firm belief that tradition upholds the validity of scripture at least as much as the reverse. I personally could not possibly have the understanding I do without recourse to the writings of the great Saints and Church Fathers. I stand in awe of their living testimony. By itself, knowledge of revelation is relatively useless. One must know how to be transformed by it.

We live in a world of forces. There are physical forces, mental forces, and spiritual forces. In the mental realm, truth is a force. There is a counter-force called "lying," which, if you think about it for even a moment, has possibly had an even greater impact and influence on the world than truth. Or at the very least, it is a constant battle. Truth is always embattled on all sides, just as light is surrounded by darkness. Darkness, on the other hand, is not necessarily surrounded by light.

You'd think it would be uncontroversial to utter a simple truth, but you'd be wrong, wouldn't you? If you don't believe in the "force" of falsehood, try uttering a controversial but banal truth at one of our elite universities, such as "men and women are fundamentally different and, on average, excel at different things," or "children do better with a mother and a father than with two mothers and two fathers," or "some, if not most, cultures are patently sick." It seems that to carry Truth is to pick up a cross and paint a target on one's back.

Animals cannot lie. While they can have certain naturally selected mechanisms of deception, they cannot live a lie. But living a lie is in the normal course of events for human beings. Someone said that language was given to man so as to conceal his thoughts. Interestingly, this problem is fully recognized in scripture, as the very first conversations recorded in the Bible are lies. The serpent lies to the woman, the woman transmits the lie to the man, and the man lies about it to God. The very emergence of self-consciousness seems to be inseparable from lying.

So lying is absolutely fundamental to human existence, a fact that wasn't systematized until the early 20th century, in the works of Freud (the good Freud) and his followers. In particular, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion developed a sophisticated epistemology showing how a vital lie is at the basis of most all forms of psychopathology. Once the lie is in place, it causes the psyche to enter a sort of parallel universe, for it constructs itself on the foundations of that primordial lie.

In my own colorful terminology, I have called these internalized lies "mind parasites." I believe the term is an accurate one, for it is meant to convey the idea that a vital lie that lodges itself in the psyche is not static, but takes on the characteristics of the host, so to speak. I remember once discussing this with my analyst. I don't remember the exact context of the problem I was whining about, but he said words to the effect of, "What do you expect? It's as smart as you are."

In other words, the mind parasite has available to it all of the elaborate machinery of the mind. Therefore, it can easily justify itself, elaborate itself, gang up on the truth, intimidate healthier parts of the psyche. It's like a dictator who uses legitimate means to come to power, but then corruptly uses all of the levers of power to stay there and eliminate opponents.

Those who are in thrall to the lie are slaves. While they may enjoy a subjective sense of freedom, it is an illusion. In fact, they have forfeited their freedom and are attached to a monstrous demon that they have generated out of their own psychic substance, in the same way that a spider weaves a web out of its own body.

Think of a vivid example that is readily at hand---the Islamists. Is it not obvious to one and all that they are absolutely enslaved by artificial beings of their own creation? And that they want everyone else to be enslaved by the same demon? Does this not demonstrate the insane power of demons?

There are personal mind parasites and collective mind parasites. Many cultures revolve entirely around monstrous entities that have been engendered by whole communities, such as the Aztec. Here again, it would be wrong to say that the Aztec had a bloodthirsty god--rather, it clearly had them. Thousands upon thousands of human beings sacrificed to satisfy this god's appetite for human blood, elaborate mechanisms set up to supply fresh bodies, the heart of the sacrificial victim cut out by the officiating priest who would himself take a bite out of it while it was still beating. A whole society of Jeffrey Dahmers trying desperately to allay anxiety by vampirically ingesting the life force of others. The Islamists are just the latest edition of this primordial anti-religion. But you undoubtedly know some people in your own life who do the same thing--hungry ghosts who "feed" on the spirit or blog of others.

In all times and in all places, human beings have looked for ways to objectify and worship their self-created demons. This is preferable to having them run around loose in one's own psyche. Take again the example of the Islamist. How would one even begin to tell him: "you have a persecutory entity inside of you that your life revolves around. You have placed it outside of yourself so as to make your life bearable, for it conceals a truth that is too painful to endure."

To a large extent, this dynamic is at the heart of more mundane politics as well. For those who do not experience George Bush as a demon, it is almost impossible to understand those who do, any more than we can really understand the motivations of the Aztec. The collective mind parasite has a grammar and logic all its own, inaccessible to all but initiates into the Lie.

You don't actually want to get that close to an intoxicating Lie of that magnitude. It's not safe. Better to observe it from a respectful distance. Otherwise, you will find yourself pulled down into a false world of counter-lying rather than simple truth. You cannot create an artificial "good demon,” which is what secular leftists are trying to do when they aren't creating bad ones. Those who criticize my "negativity" probably think I am engaging in the former--heatedly countering the lie--when I am calmly engaged in the latter--simply affirming the truth. This is the inner meaning of "resist not evil." Resist it in the wrong way, and you come into its orbit.

For a demon operates through a combination of will and imagination. You may think of perverse will as the male principle and perverse imagination as the female principle. Together they beget the demon child that then controls the parents, taking over both will and imagination. Consider how so much art and academic nonsense is nothing more than the elaboration of the perverse imagination--ideological superstructures giving cover to lies of various magnitude. Think of how much "activism" is simply the angry agitation of the perverse will.

This is the inner meaning of "you shall not make for yourself a graven image," for Truth is a living thing, a Being, that cannot be reduced to the idolatrous systems of men, especially corrupted men who do not honor Truth to begin with. Most modern and postmodern ideologies and philosophies are opiates of elites too sophisticated for such nonsense as Truth.

And this is the inner meaning of "honor your father and mother”: not rebelling against received truth and tradition in an adolescent manner, especially before you are even mature enough to understand what it is saying.

Unfortunately, I've run out of time, because I wanted to get into the sophisticated means that tradition has bequeathed to us for uprooting those lying entities that have no business taking up space in our psyches. I guess this will have to be a two-parter.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Body Snatchers, Haunted Mansions, and Revelations from the Abyss (3.12.08)

No time to spell check or even edit today. Wish me luck.

One of my favorite little books on Jewish mysticism is The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Adin Steinsaltz. Kabbalah can be extraordinarily complex, but I sometimes wonder if that's just a reflection of the limitations of the person explaining it. Mystics can be so... so mystifying... mysterious... mystagogic. But if you truly know something "from the inside," it's much easier than trying to describe it from the outside.

Imagine, for example, if you didn't know anything about hockey, and were trying to describe what was happening by simply observing a game from the outside. It would appear much more complicated and complex than it actually is. You wouldn't see the invisible strategy that is organizing the seeming chaos, you wouldn't understand the different roles of the players, and you wouldn't be aware of the rules under which the players are operating. When you really understand something, it actually reduces the complexity (which doesn't mean to say it becomes simplistic, or even simple--just easier to describe).

Having said that, some precious teachings should be protected by layers of enigma, paradox and oral transmission. How else to shield them from the grubby hands of a Madonna (imagine where those unholy hands have been.... Dennis Rodman.... Ewwwww!) or Britney Spears, who is so dense that she had a Hebrew symbol tattooed to the back of her neck--which is about as kosher as naming your kid Adolf.

Straight away, Steinsaltz sets the stage by writing that "The physical world in which we live, the objectively observed universe around us, is only a part of an inconceivably vast system of worlds. Most of these worlds are spiritual in their essence.... Which does not necessarily mean that they exist somewhere else, but means rather that they exist in different dimensions of being. What is more, the various worlds interpenetrate and interact in such a way that they can be considered counterparts of one another, each reflecting or projecting itself on the one below or above it."

I like this description because it is exactly analogous to the way the unconscious--the lower vertical--operates in psychoanalytic theory. The unconscious is another world that operates along different logical principles, but it is not "someplace else." It is not literally located in space, "below" the ego. Rather, it is right here, right now, interpenetrating everything we think and do. To "see" it, it is merely a matter of shifting your perspective. Like right now, if I open my ears, I hear a bird chirping in the backyard. In the distance is the "hoo hoo" of an owl. There's the very quiet humming of the computer. These things were always there, but it's a matter of paying attention to them.

Steinsaltz then proceeds straight into the differences between the vertical and horizontal, which for me is the essence of any spiritual metaphysics. Again, in speaking of the vertical, of higher and lower, he is not speaking of an actual physical location. Vertically speaking, "to call a world higher signifies that it is more primary, more basic in terms of being close to a primal source of influence; while a lower world would be a secondary world--in a sense, a copy." Thus, viewed horizontally, we may trace the material cosmos back to a primordial event some 13.7 billion years ago.

But this is only the horizontal explanation. Traditional metaphysics deals with the vertical causation of the cosmos, which is what confuses people. From the vertical standpoint, this world is indeed a copy, as are human beings, of a divine prototype. The "logos" might be thought of as the model of all things, the nexus between the divine mind above and the creation here below. Looked at in this manner, the inexplicable beauty of the world is not somehow the outcome of horizontal cause and effect. Rather beauty is the cause of the cosmos (among other nonlocal causes, such as Love and Truth).

Because of the ubiquitous vertical and horizontal influences, every aspect of human existence is made up of both matter and spirit, of form and essence. While we are fundamentally spiritual, we are unavoidably material, which sets up a host of interesting tensions and conflicts that fall under the heading of "the fall." The fall--or exile, if you like--is indeed a vertical one, a declension from the divine repose of celestial bliss, down to this world of toil, conflict, uncertainty and ambiguity.

In the past, I have posted on the inner meaning of "angels," which--now, don't be too literal here--are nothing more than vertical beings that travel in only two directions: up and down. Have you ever had a brilliant insight that came out of nowhere? No? How about you, Will? I thought so. That would be the gift of a vertical emissary. The more you reconcile yourself to the process and accept it on its own terms, the more messages you get. What about those lower promptings? Yes, we'll get to those momentarily.

Now that I've lost most of my readers, I'll ask the question: Did you know that you can create an angel, a vertical being? I know I do all the time. According to Steinsaltz, every mitzvah you perform--every good deed--is not just a horizontal act in the material world. It also has an effect in the vertical world. As a matter of fact, a holy act creates an angel, a new spiritual reality that will then go on to have its own vertical life and influence.

Let's just consider a banal but highly illustrative example, the first one that came to my mind--Oscar Schindler. One flawed man nevertheless trying to do the decent thing in a hopeless hell of utter depravity. But how many countless angels did he create, angels that continue to bless the world in demonstrable ways!

Let's jump ahead to the shadow side of this spiritual economy. For, as Steinsaltz explains, "just as there are holy angels built into and created by the sacred system, there are also destructive angels, called 'devils' or 'demons', who are the emanations of the connection of man with those aspects of reality which are the opposite of holiness." Thus it would follow that, just as good deeds create beneficent vertical beings, other actions create vertical beings "of another sort, from another level and a different reality." In so far as it is possible to do so, I try to create angels with this blog. I don't know if I am successful, but I do know that I attract demons.

Here again, you can take this literally or you can take it figuratively. But think, for example of just one awesome conjurer of demons, say, Karl Marx, the anti-Moses who belched his new revelation from the vertical depths of darkness. Could you even begin to count the number of devils, demons, and other agents of the nether world who are still being created and still making mischief as a result of falling under his sinister spell? You do see them, don't you? They're everywhere! Some things are metaphors, some are not. The term body snatcher is not a metaphor. Petey says that it explains all you need to know about the left.

If you have stayed with me this far, then you will understand that, just as there are evil beings, there are evil worlds. These are simply the "space" inhabited by the evil beings. Wisdom is a space, or "mansion." So too, creativity, love, beauty, peace. You can sense it when you enter one of those mansions. You can also sense it when you are near one of those haunted mansions where the dark ones reside.

The closest I like to get to one of these mansions is, which makes the Islamic darkness visible to us on a daily basis. Can you not feel and sense the utterly dark abyss of that black hole, where light neither enters nor escapes? If not, you may want to contact an exorcist, for something has hijacked your moral vision. There are many such vertical abysses in the world. Bottomless pits of anti-Truth and anti-Beauty.

Enough malevolent wishes and wicked deeds, and pretty soon you have created a world. People are fascinated by these worlds. In fact--this may just be apocryphal--I once read someone who pointed out the etymological links between "fascist" and "fascinate." For fascism begins with fascination, a sort of hypnosis, a dulling of the conscience, and the intoxicating infectiousness of the Unrepressed Man who lives by his will and his impulses, outside the Law.

Obviously, the evil beings have no independent existence, since their existence is contingent upon human actions. They are "parasites on the light," so to speak. But, once created, they are "alive" in a very real sense. Again, feel free to consider it metaphorically, but do consider it. There is a sort of "spiritual increase" that goes on. For example, the more you nurture and take care of something, the more you will love it. Likewise, the more you choose evil, the more it will be as if evil is choosing you--you become an instrument of it.

This process is described so exhaustively in great films and novels that it is hardly worth noting here except in passing. One of the reasons I enjoy the classic film noir of the 1940's is that they often deal with just this theme, of the typical person--say Fred McMurray in Double Indemnity--at first haltingly, then enthusiastically, making a key decision that then plunges them into the realm of dark forces beyond their control. McMurray, for example, thought he was "choosing," but all the while he was being tempted, seduced, hypnotized. Gotcha!

The Godfather also obviously touches on this theme in the pivotal character of Michael, who, by film's end, has transformed from fresh-faced innocent to devil incarnate, devolving far beyond his father, who still had a touch of humanity. While in the higher vertical we can never surpass the prototype, in the lower vertical we can. We can, like Hitler, be worse than the demon who inspired us.

As Steinsaltz describes it, "the sinner is punished by the closing of the circle, by being brought into contact with the domain of evil he creates.... as long as man chooses evil, he supports and nurtures whole worlds and mansions of evil, all of them drawing upon the same human sickness of the soul.... as the evil flourishes and spreads over the world because of the deeds of men, these destructive angels become increasingly independent existences, making up a whole realm that feeds on and fattens on evil."

Hitler. Stalin. Bin Laden. Yasser Arafat. Kim Jong-il. Ahmadinejad. Detached worlds of pure evil as an end in itself. Who could say it isn't so?

That would be the Old Serpent's vast team of useful idiots. He's got a very deep bench.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Understanding Understanding Evil


What is it? Where does it come from? It seems to be one of those irreducible concepts that we cannot do without, despite the mockery of sophisticated leftists who would like to eliminate it from our vocabulary as an outmoded barbarism (except as it applies to rubes such as President Bush who believe it exists). Here again, through a sleight of language, the left thinks it can make an unpleasant reality go away. In fact, the greatest evils in the history of mankind were committed by thoroughly secularized communists and nazis who would have scoffed at the idea that evil exists except in purely expedient sense.

But human beings cannot help thinking in terms of good and evil, any more than they can help themselves from thinking in terms of true and false, even if they are not unsophisticated enough to believe that Truth exists. The problem, of course, is that human beings believe many things to be true that cannot possibly be true. Likewise, they have little difficulty reconciling themselves to evil and calling it good.

One of the things that turned me toward religion is that it presents such a vastly more sophisticated ontology than any secular philosophy. I will be the first to admit that this came as a total surprise to me. In initially pursuing the spiritual life, I was not looking for “knowledge.” Nor, for that matter, was I looking for anything along the lines of “eternal life.”

Rather, I was looking for an “experience” to which countless sages, saints and mystics had testified down through the centuries. This well-documented experience goes by various names--moksha, samadhi, nirvana, enlightenment, etc.--and is simply one of the modes available to humans, like falling in love.

But the windbag bloweth where it listeth, and I was gradually drawn down a slightly different path, I suppose based upon my own inner inclinations and potentials. This is in keeping with the spirit of yoga, which identifies at least five distinctly different forms, each suited to a different temperament: hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and raja yoga. In my case, I began with raja yoga--the yoga of meditation--but I am apparently more of a jnani, which is the yoga of wisdom, metaphysical knowledge and discernment.

I probably shouldn’t even say that, because it is for others to determine for themselves whether there is any wisdom or knowledge in what I write about. However, I can describe what it feels like to me, because it is both very distinctive, and, as I said, very unexpected.

I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it was about a decade ago. After years of what I would call mere intellectual study, it was as if I had suddenly crossed some kind of threshold, and I understood in a different way. What is interesting to me is that this didn’t involve any kind of advance in learning or knowledge, but an apparent advance--or at least alteration--in understanding. In other words, not a change in content, but a change in form, very much analogous to the way Piaget describes the cognitive changes a child goes through as they move from developmental stage to stage. You can pour all the knowledge in the world into a concrete operations child, but they will understand it in an entirely different way once they move into formal operations.

For me, the spiritual life has been exactly like that. Esotericism represents a kind of “pure” understanding that is anterior to what is understood. Since you “understand,” you might well ask the question, “what is the nature of that which is understood?” In other words, is it possible to deeply understand something that doesn’t really exist? Think about that for a moment. To make it easier, shift over to the material realm.

Take the example of Einstein. In 1903 (or thereabouts) he had a deep insight into the nature of physical reality. He “saw” something no one else had seen, but this wasn’t a case of mere “seeing.” Rather, he deeply understood. Having understood, he knew that what he understood could not possibly be wrong, even though he understood something quite counterintuitive--even impossible, based on then current models of reality--and it took another two decades or so for his understanding to be empirically confirmed and to become knowledge that was widely available to others, so that they too might understand in a more conventional way.

Thus, the leading edge of Einstein’s discoveries was a sort of pure understanding.

I think the process is more or less identical with spiritual understanding, although the entire enterprise is fraught with many more hazards because of the more exact nature of mathematical language as opposed to spiritual language. The horizontal realm deals with quantities, whereas the vertical realm deals with qualities, or degrees of being. Plus, the vertical axis has an above and a below, and more often than not, the above becomes contaminated by, or thoroughly conflated with, the below. The history of religion proves this time and again. Many religious thinkers, panties be upon them, are almost pure below.

Spiritual knowing is a kind of vision, but obviously not of the sensual kind. One doesn’t “see” a different world, any more than Einstein literally saw subatomic particles in his day-to-day life. However, with any kind of real knowledge--even scientific or psychological knowledge--one sees the multiplicity and relativity of the world, but at the same time sees through and beyond the world in its metaphysical transparency. Something shines through, in the same way that the unconscious leaks out for one trained to observe it, or the noetic light shines through a great painting or piece of music.

Science is the religion of the ultimate object. Religion is the science of the ultimate Subject. Science studies the world in order to understand it. Esotericism understands the world in order to study it. Science begins at the center--the mysterious and unexplainable human subject--and extends its search to the periphery of the cosmos, to all the of the minute ramifications of multiplicity. Each edge or strand of multiplicity represents a department or discipline of science. I suppose this is why my mind is so undisciplined. To be a disciple of the One, it must be.

Spirituality begins at the periphery and moves back toward the center, toward a more general synthesis, which is another word for understanding. For to understand means to reduce a multiplicity to a unity. It is Truth as opposed to truth, the latter of which pertains only to the periphery. Truth is the unity of truths. It is what “sets you free” when you realize it, because it liberates you in the vertical, giving you a new perspective on the horizontal.

Again, to my everlasting surprise, the languages of various authentic religious traditions turned out to be vehicles of intellection for higher Truth. By imaginatively dwelling in their systems of thought, they reveal themselves to be windows to heaven, or transmitters of interior vision.

This itself introduces a profound mystery, that is, how is it possible for so-called ancient scriptures written by ignorant men to have this capacity--not the outward knowledge they contain, which is often an irrelevant distraction to the uninitiated--but the inner guidance and pneumatic trajectory they provide? Understood literally and exoterically, religion often doesn’t make a lot of sense to the modern mind. But what if we’re missing the point? What if religion is trying to facilitate not knowledge, but pure understanding?

This is one of the adverse consequences of the Enlightenment mentality that has been bequeathed to us--that is, a bleaching of the distinction between intellection and intellectualism, wisdom and knowledge, thought and understanding. It is with these distinctions in mind that we can move on to an analysis of the ontological status of evil.

Which I suppose will have to wait until tomorrow, because this little overture has turned into an overchore that has probably already taxed the reader. But in the next few days, I would like to look at the issue of evil from the Jewish, Christian, and Vedantic standpoints, and see if they do indeed provide any kind of useful understanding in the sense discussed above.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Runnin' With the Devil

Very annoying. Couldn't post for the longest time today--technical problem at blogspot. I guess I should get angry, but I'm like Woody Allen--I don't even know how a can opener works, much less the internet. To me, it's a miracle that Al Gore even came up with the idea.

I was about to move on to the next topic of discussion, that is, the hostile forces--you know, the deities of the nether world, the Cosmocrats of the Dark Aion--and how they fit into the psychic economy of the cosmos. But yesterday's post was so popular, I've decided to offer up more of the same. We'll get to the Father of Lies tomorrow. Today we'll just talk about some of his minions, for the adversary knows better than anyone that Job One is to convince sophisticated folk that he doesn't exist.

Nor does the Subtle One work with hammer, pliers, blow torch or other such crude instruments. Contrary to popular belief, he will not "get medieval on your a**." He is a refined fellow. A man of wealth and taste. He does not threaten. Rather, he seduces. He hypnotizes. He intoxicates. He is a flatterer. One of our best defenses is that he only takes the willing. He works with what is at hand. You must choose him. And yet, the temptations he offers are steps on the ladder of perfection. Obviously, a fine line.

Why do so many otherwise bright and intelligent--not to mention decent--people fall for leftism in any of its many varieties? Partly it is a reflection of the devaluation of the intellect in modern times, the reduction of knowing to mere reason. Properly understood, reason is a tool of the intellect. It is a good slave but a bad master, for reason can only touch the richness of the world, but can never truly "enter" or map it. It necessarily reduces the higher realms of pure intellection to the flatland of mere knowledge. Time and space are drained of their metaphysical significance, so that the gift of liberty actually becomes oppressive and wearying. Reduced to horizontal freedom, it just entails aimless wandering or frantic running, looking for a "place" and "direction." But there is no place in the horizontal. Anywhere you are there, you're still nowhere. So you must keep moving. Or search for some kind of "rock" to cling to during life's sojourn, even if the rock is of your own creation. It's better than no-thing and no-where.

Leftism is just one of many logopathologies available to the lost soul. One of the problems is with our elites. We are wrong to think that the difficulty lies in the uneducated and unsophisticated masses--as if inadequate education, in and of itself, is the problem. As a matter of fact, no one is more prone to illusions than the intellectual. It has been said that philosophy is simply personal error on a grandiose scale. Complicating matters is the fact that intellectuals are hardly immune to a deep emotional investment in their ideas, no less than the religious individual.

The word "belief" is etymologically linked to the word "beloved," and it is easy to see how certain ideas, no matter how dysfunctional--for example, some of the undeniably appealing ideas underpinning contemporary liberalism--are beloved by those who believe them. Thus, many liberal ideas are believed not because they are true, but because they are beautiful. Or because of their rocklike function alluded to above. The contemporary secularized intellectual simply marshals their intelligence in service of legitimizing the beliefs that they already hold. It has long been understood by psychoanalysts that for most people, reason is the slave of the passions. In fact, it will almost always be the slave of the passions unless it becomes the slave if the intellect properly so-called---that is, the nous.

I have written before of how, underneath the attachment to the dysfunctional idea or system, there is a more insidious fear that one's entire intellectual cathedral, carefully constructed over a lifetime, will collapse in ruins. Religious people are not as prone to this same fear, because they accept it that their religion is ultimately based on a leap of faith.

That liberalism is the latest pseudo-religion seems quite apparent to me. While it is true that the conservative intellectual movement includes religious groups, it has been my experience that conservatism actually maintains a far clearer separation of religious and political impulses than liberalism, simply because it acknowledges a sharp difference between the two. Since leftism denies the existence of spirit, it ends up conflating politics and gnostic spirituality into a single ideology that is neither politics nor religion, but a monstrous hybrid of the two. The philosopher Eric Voegelin wrote at length about this (his works are rather difficult, but there is an excellent introduction that I have placed in the sidebar).

As Jonah Goldberg has observed, "Like many spiritual movements, liberalism emphasizes deeds and ideals over ideas. As a result, when liberals gather there’s a revivalist spirit in the air, with plenty of talk about fighting the forces of evil and testifying about good deeds done." Goldberg cites several examples, such as "the spiritual nature of the environmental movement; the quasi-messianic treatment of Martin Luther King Jr.; Bill Clinton’s invocation of 'covenants' with the American people; Hillary Clinton’s 'politics of meaning,' which claimed to redefine what it meant to be a human being in the postmodern world--all of these are examples of what Voegelin would describe as the neo-Gnostic effort to make the hereafter simply here."

At the same time, for the person who is not under the hypnotic psycho-spiritual spell of contemporary liberalism, it is strikingly devoid of actual religious wisdom or real ideas. As such, it is driven by vague, spiritually infused ideals and feelings, such as "sticking up for the little guy," or "war is not the answer," or "we gave an academy award to Hattie McDaniel in 1939." On the other hand, conservatism (not, mind you "Republicanism") is not so much based on ideas, but on simply observing what works, and then generalizing from there. It is actually refreshingly free of dogma, and full of dynamic tension.

For example, at the heart of conservatism is an ongoing, unresolvable dialectic between freedom and virtue. In other words, there is a bedrock belief in the idea that free markets are the best way to allocate scarce resources and to create wealth and prosperity for all, but a frank acknowledgment that, without a virtuous populace, the system may produce a self-centered, materialistic citizenry living in a sort of degenerate, "pitiable comfort." Thus, there is an ongoing, unresolvable tension between the libertarian and traditional wings of the movement.

There is no such dynamic tension in liberalism. Rather, it is a topdown dogma that is not dictated by what works, but by how liberals would like reality to be. This is why liberalism must be enforced with the mechanism of political correctness, in order to preempt or punish those who deviate from liberal dogma, and see what they are not supposed to see.

It is a mistake to think of this as a problem afflicting only intellectuals. Rather, a moment's reflection reveals that it is a much more pervasive problem that afflicts artists, psychologists, literary types, etc. So what is common to all these folks? Why it's the tyranny of the abstract. All of these types fall in love with their own ideas, and take their ideas to be more real than reality. In fact, for such an individual, reality becomes a defective form of their sacred ought. Instead of "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," the overly abstract thinker says, "In the beginning, reality ought to be the way I want it to be."

Let's face it, if you are a ward of the state, a university professor with the luxury to idly pursue the intellectual life, you have it pretty easy. You are living a rather sheltered existence, free from hunger, disease, pain, and want. Therefore, it's pretty easy to forget the violence that made such leisure and abundance possible, in the same way that it's easy to enjoy your health while forgetting that you're only healthy because you have a "primitive" but sophisticated immune system ready to do incredible violence to any foreign invaders who threaten your body's health. For these intellectuals and so-called spiritual types to have contempt for the military is as idiotic as having contempt for your body's immune system. But that doesn't stop elite universities from suing to get the ROTC and military recruiters off their campuses.

Try telling your immune system to be reasonable, to sit down and talk it out with the viruses that want to invade you. Tell your white blood cells to hold conferences to try to understand the root causes of bacterial motivations.

The ideals of abstract thinkers are utopian and unworkable because they forget all about embodied human existence--about reality. It is no coincidence that the great totalitarian movements of the past century--communism, nazism, and now Islamism--were and are the products of intellectuals. On the other hand, Christianity takes seriously the idea that we are unavoidably embodied and imperfectible. As a matter of fact, Judeo-Christian metaphysics solves the otherwise insoluble philosophical stalemate between idealists and materialists, because a logoistic reality means that the Word is made flesh: that the ideal is located in the real, not in some abstract, utopian beyond. The world is neither ethereal nor earthly: it is earthereal.

Abstract ideas are designed to understand and describe reality. But intellectuals turn this around and begin using their abstractions to judge reality. And if reality falls short, they don't abandon their ideals but jettison reality. Intellectuals just can't stand the thought that a free market with no one in charge has much more embodied wisdom and rationality than their sacred abstractions and economic prescriptions.

Also, most intellectuals and liberal, new-age spiritual types simply imitate one another rather than having a direct encounter with the Real and building up a world view based on personal experience. They are generally not original or creative thinkers, but simply take on predigested ideas that have been passed to them by other intellectuals. But you are not free to discover what you are motivated or predisposed to believe. The mind and spirit only evolve in a concrete way if they are open systems in a fluid, dynamic, and dialectical relationship to reality.

The ultimate basis of the culture war is in fact nihilism vs. theism. While the left would like you to believe that it is simply a battle between right-wing religious zealots and "free thinking" secular liberals, you can conceptualize it in more subtle ways--for example, a belief in absolute Truth vs. relative truth, moral absolutes vs. moral relativism, spiritual hierarchy vs. "flatland" materialism, meaningful existence vs. existential meaninglessness, etc.

At the basis of my philosophy is a belief in evolution--not just the watered down gruel of Darwinian evolution we are taught in school, but a much deeper and comprehensive spiritual evolution that has been going on for the past 13.7 billion years. We are embedded in an evolutionary, hierarchical cosmos eschatologically oriented toward a spiritual telos that lures us in its wake. But secular leftism involves a gross simplification of human nature. It reduces hierarchy to a spiritual leveling and replaces the telos of spiritual aspiration with the mundane enforcement of material equality.

Any spiritual practice involves orienting ourselves to these winds of inward mobility that lift us higher and higher, toward our own nonlocal center--which also happens to be the beating heart of the living cosmos. It is the fabled circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. Call it grace, shakti, dynamis, the holy ghost, kundalini, mojo, primordial slack, whatever. It's there for you to tap into if you want to. Or you can live in a spiritually bereft flatland, as secular fundamentalists choose to do. But what is so irritating about these literal-minded spiritual simpletons is that they believe their puny perceptions exhaust the Real. And then they have the nerve to impose their crude atheocracy on us! For nihilists, they sure are hard-core believers.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Political Seance, Part 2

Many adults never metamorphose into moral manhood; if they cannot take the step from moral dependency onto the dry land of political maturity, democracy, then they are in an infantile predicament indeed. For dependency will always find a political father to exploit it, as the history of absolutism sufficiently shows. And if a man does not become his own small part in the state, then the state must always seem to him an omnipotent external power. --Weston Labarre

Clearly, political maturity has been a long time coming for human beings. Because of the very design flaws that allow us to become human to begin with--neurological incompleteness and plasticity, infantile helplessness, and extended neotany--various personal and cultural mind parasites get more or less hardwired in, so that the field of politics becomes a displaced struggle with the projected ghosts of the nursery. Forget about the grave. Leftists demand cradle to cradle welfare. Only the size of the cradle changes.

The plasticity of language is a vehicle of creativity, but it can also easily accommodate itself to infantile omnipotence. But the left takes this omnipotence to a new level, challenging the entire truth-bearing capacity of language. Language is very much tied up with reality, so if we attack language, then perhaps we can alter reality. This is what political correctness is all about. If on college campuses you cannot say that men and women are different, then through a sleight of language, you have made them the same.

Nietzsche's famous "death of God" soon was soon followed by an all out assault on the living Word, or logos. The official name of this death of the Word is "deconstruction," although it is really more of a murder, with murderous consequences. For if truth is relative and perception is reality, then no one’s ideas about the world are any better than anyone else’s. Fact is reduced to opinion, and conformity to opinion is ultimately maintained by the group or institution that has the power to enforce its version of reality.

Ironically, this achieves the opposite effect intended by its "liberal" proponents. That is, if we cannot judge the merit of competing ideas by assessing their relative truth value, then either everyone will have their own private truth, or truth will be enforced by the state or some other powerful collectivity. On college campuses, no one is unsophisticated enough to believe that truth exists; however, you'd better not utter the wrong truth, or you will come face to face with the Dark Cosmocratic Power that has replaced the Luminous Word.

In one version of history, the "secular revolt" may be traced to the alienation and disenchantment caused by the scientific and industrial revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Although "vertically" and metaphorically, I believe we may trace the trouble back to a certain charismatic and seductive serpent who whispered the false promise, "ye shall be as gods"). There was a deep sense that the organic unity of the world had been fractured--a widespread perception of a sort of breach with the natural order of things, and with it, a collective mourning over the loss of timeless and familiar ways and customs. The romantic movement of the early 19th century was actually a reactionary and nostalgic yearning for an idyllic past, answering to the sense of loss of community and oneness with the rhythms of nature. This backward looking movement idealized the primitive and sought to unleash the subjective and irrational passions (countering the rational and objective detachment of science).

Up to this time, one's personal identity had been based on such objective standards as a clearly defined role within an organic hierarchy, or merger with a large extended family. With modernity, this gave way to an uncertain identity that had to be forged for oneself in the world. The philosopher Charles Taylor (see his magisterial Sources of the Self in sidebar) calls this "an epistemological revolution with anthropological consequences," as it led to a new kind of human being that had never before existed on a mass scale: the modern, self-defining subject in a world devoid of intrinsic meaning.

Virtually all modern ideologies, movements and philosophies are somehow aimed at addressing this problem of alienation, of recapturing the broken unity of the world. Communism, nazism, European fascism, the beat movement, the hippie movement, the free love movement, the environmental movement, the new age movement--all are futile attempts to turn back the clock and return to a mystical union with the "volk," with nature, with the proletariat, with the instincts. You can see this phenomena in today's leftists, who clearly long for the "magical" 1960's, which represented a high water mark for a resurgence of romantic merger with the group, free expression of the primitive, and idealized notions of recreating heaven on earth: "All you Need is Love," "Give Peace a Chance," "Sing a Simple Song of Freedom," etc. As the scientist E.O. Wilson put it in another context: Beautiful theory. Wrong species.

We can see how contemporary liberalism fits the bill as a bogus cure for modern alienation. For example, multiculturalism devalues the concept of the individual in favor of the ethnic group, while socialism in all its forms favors the large and powerful mommy state that unites us all (and suppresses--for any time government does something for you, it does something to you). Leftists are uncomfortable with the painful idea of competition, but replace it with the notion of individual expressiveness. Everyone's natural impulses are beautiful, and we must not judge them, much less try to elevate them. Deconstruction throws all objective meaning into question, so no one has to have the disappointing experience of being wrong or denied tenure, no matter how stupid one's ideas. The burden of personal responsibility is mitigated, because one's being is determined by accidental factors such as race, class and gender, not one's owns values, decisions and actions. Skillful knowledge acquired by intense effort (or just being born smarter) is replaced by an obnoxious, hypertrophied adolescent skepticism that knows only how to question but not to learn. It is grounded in a sort of bovine materialism that is not the realm of answers, but the graveyard of meaningful questions. The primitive is idealized, because it is within everyone's reach.

But most importantly, radical secularism fails as a religion because it has no God, only demons: George Bush, Christian fundamentalists, Israel, tax cuts for the rich, Diebold, stolen election, Halliburton, Fox News, Abu Ghraib, Karl Rove, corporate profits, disparities in wealth, strict constructionists, parental notification, talk radio, guns, and so many more. On the other hand, the sort of classical liberalism to which I ascribe--now embodied in the modern American conservative movement--recognizes that politics must aim at something that is not politics, something higher, not lower. The alienation of the world can be healed, but not in the flat and horizontal line of secular history, or in the endlessly recurring cycle of primitive fusion with nature, but in the ascending, evolutionary spiral.

The secular world is a value-free flatland of nihilism and urgent nonsense, whereas the vertical world accessed by authentic spirituality is a world of hierarchical values to which we are perpetually drawn, like an attractor at the end of history. It is here where the frontier of psychohistorical evolution lies, for so long as there are free individuals endowed by their Creator with an orientation toward that transtemporal Word that pulls us into its vortex of Truth and Beauty, there will always be frontiers. While the exterior frontier might have closed in the late 19th century, the internal frontier is full of prime, undeveloped real estate for the adventurous.


As the Christian hermeticist Valentin Tomberg summarizes it, the human being is always faced with the choice between two basic attitudes or outlooks: that of existential being or that of essential Being. According to the choice he makes, he is either "orphaned" in a purely material, deterministic and "horizontal" realm with no reality higher than the individual self, or his individual being is grounded in the more essential, trans-subjective Being which is his true home. The secular leftist lives shackled in the Egyptian "house of bondage," in manacles forged by the deterministic/materialistic outlook, whereby one is situated in a fully material reality in which the past fully determines the present and the present determines the future. That is, no "vertical" causes can arise in the closed chain of cause and effect, so that one is truly imprisoned as it pertains to the moral/metaphysical/spiritual realm.

From the secular leftist outlook follows a host of disastrous ideas, such as class determines consciousness, poverty causes crime, free will is an illusion, private property is theft, hierarchy is evil, the vertical dimension is a hoax, or "dopiate," to keep you oppressed, and worst of all, the idea that a coercive state is needed to enforce equality (vs. the American belief in a Creator who endows us with spiritual freedom which it is government's primary job to protect and nurture). The freedom of mere animal passion forges the fetters that bind Western Europe to the horizontal wasteland.

The difference between spiritual progressives and secular reactionaries is that they worship different gods--or more accurately, they have entirely incompatible understandings of the meaning of One. There is an antinomy between these two Ones: there is a left one and a right One--or more precisely, a higher One and a lower one, a Luminous One and a dark one.

Tomberg uses a visual image to conceptualize the problem. Imagine two cones placed base to base. At the top there is a point, in the middle an “equator” where the bases meet, and at the bottom another point. Now imagine this as a sort of crystal. At the top is the “white point” where pure light, which is the synthesis of all colors, enters. As the light moves down toward the equator it becomes more and more differentiated into the various colors of the spectrum, until they reach their maximum degree of separation and intensity at the equator. Moving further down, the colors begin to merge until, at the bottom point, they once again lose all of their distinction and become black, which represents the blending and confusion of all colors. There is one sort of synthesis or Oneness above (the white point) and an entirely different kind of oneness below (the black point).

The white point is analogous to wisdom, for it represents the underlying unity of all the different types of knowledge available at the equator, where all of the individual colors represent various disciplines and sciences.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this, for it touches on the central point of my book and of this blog. The synthesis of all our seemingly contradictory truths lies “above,” toward the white light of wisdom. If two seemingly contradictory things are true, say, the Book of Genesis and the theory of evolution, then their common source of truth must be found above, not below. There is a way to resolve the contradiction, but not by finding a compromise between the two at the "equator" or by simply confusing and blending them together below.

For example, teaching intelligent design as an adjunct or alternative to natural selection is simply adding another color to the equator. Even worse, teaching it as the only truth would take both the Creator and science down to the black point, merging and blending science and theology in an unhealthy way. In fact, this is what is done in the Islamic world. Yes, they have intellectual and spiritual unity there, but it is the bad unity of the black point: One Nation Under Allah’s Big Sandal Heel, so to speak. The identical thing happens in secular totalitarian states, where diversity is not permitted. What we want is to allow maximum diversity but to synthesize it on higher level, not eliminate it on a lower one: this is the meaning of One Cosmos Under God.

Ironically, the secular left in America regard their fellow religious citizens as an incipient Taliban that wishes to enforce a black-point unity, when the opposite is true. That is, to the secular left, there is no white point above or black point below. Rather, there is only the equator, where we all live in our beautiful, diverse cultures and subcultures, none better than any other: multiculturalism, moral relativism, no objective or "privileged" truth. And yet, multiculturalism and diversity are enforced from on high despite the fact that the left supposedly does not recognize the existence of morally superior cultural perspectives. What’s going on?

In reality, the left is enforcing their absolute black point god, but simply denying it. They don't really care what culture you're from, so long as you are committed to diversity itself, and intolerant of any other view. This is nothing less than the unholy god of the black point flexing its muscle while pretending to be just another beautiful color in the rainbow.

In reality, there is no absolute system at the equator that can synthesize knowledge and explain our existence. There is only diversity and contradiction there, which is as it should be. Otherwise there would be no creation, nothing separate from the Creator. However, it is only the white light above that illuminates and unites everything below. We must maintain a commitment to that absolute white light that is reflected in all the relative truths at the equator, not to this or that relative truth enforced absolutely from below.

Or we may simply affirm the trinitarian root of all goodness, the secular curse that is found on any coin: Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum. For if the ACLU had their way, you can bet that our coins would say Equality, In Matter and Collectivism We Trust, and E Unum Pluribus.

Political Seance 101

What's a blogger to do? Some people who enjoy it when I discuss politics are turned off by the spiritual mumbo jumbo. But that group isn't nearly as disappointed as those who appreciate the discussion of spiritual matters, only to be outraged when they discover that I am not a left wing moonbat.

Most recently, a reader politely commented that my "political musings seem out of character with a search for self. How and when did that particular journey become politicized?... I respect your spirit-driven posts, but I'm having trouble with the political ones. I don't find it useful to tar myself with either brush. I swing both ways, depending on the issue, and work hard to stay limber."

My short answer was that regardless of whether I am posting about politics or spirituality, my opinions are "of a piece, and follow directly from my understanding of the whole of things. First, spirituality can only proceed on the basis of Truth, and leftism in all its forms is rooted in a primordial Lie. Secondly, spiritual evolution on a mass scale depends upon the proper cultural conditions. The deep structure of Leftism is anathema to these conditions."

I guess it's time for a more detailed review of how my politics and spirituality are inseparable. Some of this is reworked from a few very early posts that newer readers may not have read.


Let us begin with some definitions. Spirituality is nothing less than a quest to understand the Truth of our existence. Politics has to do with one's philosophy of government, and more generally, of the relations between men and society.

There have obviously been countless political philosophies down through the ages, mostly bad ones. For that matter, there have been countless false or partial religions. Some false religions, such as Islam, swallow up politics, while some bad political philosophies, such as leftism, attempt to do away with religion and drain the world of its transcendent dimension, either in subtle ways, such as various "liberal theologies," or in more ham-handed ways, as in the case of the metaphysical yahoos at the New York Times or in the ACLU. Once you have drained reality of its transcendent dimension, there is only a horizontal struggle below for mere animal existence. The only ideal is that there are no ideals except that people with religious ideals are dangerous.

However, one cannot actually do away with religion, one can only displace it and insert false religion in its place. For example, if you are a secular leftist who sees reality as nothing more than a class struggle between exploiter and exploited, victim and oppressor, you are in fact a worshipper of an idol named Mars. This is nowhere more obvious than in the unrelieved rage of a ghost-dancing spiritual community such as dailykos or huffingtonpost.

The envious collective has always demanded the sacrifice of what is individual, distinctive, exceptional and "higher." In it's modern form, this is embodied in the left's war against objective standards of any kind: standards of morality, standards of truth, standards of college admission, aesthetic standards, etc. If you are in favor of leftist collectivist schemes which deny the spiritual primacy of the individual self and swallow up excellence, you are a worshipper of a fellow named Moloch.

There is no getting around the fact that the "culture war" is at bottom a theological dispute between secular and traditionally religious forces. But it would be a great error to conclude that the war therefore involves atheistic vs. theistic camps, much less logic vs. faith. Rather, it is a war of competing theisms, each rooted in faith and steeped in metaphysics. Radical secularists are rarely neutral about God--in fact, they are quite often burning with a passion about spiritual matters.


At the foundation of the secular leftist revolt against God is the attendant idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth, for God, among other things, is the ground and possibility of Truth. One of the benefits of religion--properly understood--is that it prevents the mind from regressing into the magical worldview, the circular maze of pagan thought that preceded the major revelations. Sophisticated secularists believe they are making progress by leaving the “superstitions” of religion behind, but this is rarely the case. Instead of believing “nothing,” they tend to believe in “anything,” which is where the pseudo-religion of contemporary liberalism--that is, leftism--comes in. Secular leftists simply elevate relativism to the status of an absolute.

A fundamental distinction that must be maintained is this difference between liberalism and leftism. The modern conservative movement of which I consider myself a member is classically liberal, whereas contemporary liberalism is in reality a deeply illiberal philosophy that is ultimately rooted in leftism. This is a key point, because in liberalism the emphasis is on liberty, whereas in leftism the emphasis is on equality. The secular world is a prison where the human spirit is confined as a result of having foreclosed the wider world of vertical liberty. It is an elaborate cognitive system that has been constructed for the purposes of living in the Dark. It's language is a sort of braille, it's ideology a cane for moving around in an endarkened world. Only the recovery of spiritual vision confers true freedom, because it allows one to move vertically.

The American founders were steeped in Judeo-Christian metaphysics. As such, they did not believe in mere license, which comes down to meaningless freedom on the horizontal plane. Rather, they believed that horizontal history had a beginning and was guided by a purpose, and that only through the unfolding of human liberty could that "vertical" purpose be achieved. Our founders were progressive to the core, but unlike our contemporary leftist "progressives," they measured progress in relation to permanent standards that lay outside time--metaphorically speaking, an eschatological "Kingdom of God," or "city on a hill," drawing us toward it. Without this nonlocal telos, the cosmos can really have no frontiers, only edges. Perhaps this is why the left confuses truth with "edginess."

Liberty--understood in its spiritual sense--was the key idea of the founders. This cannot be overemphasized. According to Michael Novak, liberty was understood as the "axis of the universe," and history as "the drama of human liberty." Thomas Jefferson wrote that "the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." It was for this reason that Jefferson chose for the design of the seal of the United States Moses leading the children of Israel out of the death-cult of Egypt, out of the horizontal wasteland of spiritual bondage and into the open circle of a higher life. America was quite consciously conceived as an opportunity to "relaunch" mankind after so many centuries of disappointment, underachievement, and spiritual stagnation.

Now the lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty. Co 3:17


The philosopher Michael Polanyi pointed out that what distinguishes leftism in all its forms is the dangerous combination of a ruthless contempt for traditional moral values with an unbounded moral passion for utopian perfection. The first step in this process is a complete skepticism that rejects traditional ideals of moral authority and transcendent moral obligation--a complete materialistic skepticism combined with a boundless, utopian moral fervor to transform mankind. However, being that the moral impulse remains in place, there is no longer any boundary or channel for it. One sees this, for example, in college students (and those permanent college students known as professors) who, in attempting to individuate from parental authority and define their own identities, turn their intense skepticism against existing society, denouncing it as morally shoddy, artificial, hypocritical, and a mere mask for oppression and exploitation.

What results is a moral hatred of existing society and the resultant alienation of the postmodern leftist intellectual. Having condemned the distinction between good and evil as dishonest, such an individual can at least take great pride in their "honesty" and "courage." To a leftist, the worst thing you can call someone is a hypocrite, whereas authentic depravity is celebrated in art, music, film, and literature.

Few people seem to clearly understand the type of destruction that follows when the moral impulse is detached from its traditional outlets. We can see the deadly combination of these two--“skepticism and moral passion,” or “burning moral fervor with hatred of existing society”--in every radical secular revolution since the French Revolution--from the Bolsheviks to nazi Germany to campus unrest in the 1960s.

For a while, America escaped this destruction because it had a very different intellectual genealogy, having been much more influenced by the skeptical enlightenment of Britain and Scotland than the radical enlightenment of France. In addition, America never lost touch with its Judeo-Christian ideals, which inspired individuals to work to improve and humanize society without violent disruption of traditional ways or heavy-handed government intervention.

As the contradictory ideals of liberty vs. equality began to ramify through history, it resulted in the very different nations and societies we see today, for the more liberty a nation has, the less her people will be equal, while the more equality is pursued by state policy, the more freedom will necessarily be attenuated and diminished.

The nations of the European Union are, of course, the embodiment of the perennial leftist dream of a cradle-to-grave welfare system. But in order to achieve the goal of radical equality, the Europeans must maintain a confiscatory tax system that radically undermines liberty, since they begin with the assumption that your money does not belong to you, but to the state.

This flawed understanding of equality is an atavistic and deeply pernicious holdover from our most primitive social arrangements. While it might have made sense in the "archaic environment" of psychobiological evolution in small face-to-face groups, in order for human beings to evolve psychohistorically, it was necessary for them to overcome their "envy barrier," and to tolerate the painful idea that some might possess more than others.

In his classic work, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, Helmut Schoeck notes that our most economically misguided ideas stem from the futile attempt to eliminate envy. In order to placate the envious individual, government must intervene with policies that do achieve the desired end of of creating more equality, but at the cost of inefficiency, lack of economic growth, and ultimately far less wealth for everyone. Only by tolerating envy is economic development possible: "the more both private individuals and the custodians of political power in a given society are able to act as though there were no such thing as envy, the greater will be the rate of economic growth and the number of innovations in general." A society is best able to achieve its creative potential if it functions "as if the envious person could be ignored." Likewise, well-meaning leftists who seek the completely "just society" are doomed to failure because they are based on the idea that it is possible to eliminate envy, when human beings inevitably find something new to envy.

Ironically, the pursuit of equality achieves its goal in a perverse sort of way, by dragging everyone down to a lower level of prosperity. The Fall 2005 Claremont Review of Books contains a revelatory article by Gerard Alexander, spelling out some of the dire results of the pursuit of equality. For example, on average, U.S. per capita income is 55% higher than the average of the 15 core countries of the European Union. In fact, the largest E.U. countries "have per capita incomes comparable to America's poorest states." Alexander points out that if France, Italy or the U.K. were somehow admitted to the American union, "any one of them would rank as the 5th poorest of the 50 states, ahead only of West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Montana." Ireland, which is currently the richest E.U. country, "would be the 13th poorest state, Sweden the 6th poorest.... 40% of all Swedish households would classify as low-income by American standards."

In addition to impeding a nation's wealth-producing capacity, the mindless pursuit of equality results in chronically high unemployment. France has lived with unemployment between 8-12% for some 25 years, and if anything, this underestimates the true figure because of forced early retirement and extensive but futile job-training programs. And there is a disproportionately negative impact on the poorest sectors of society, since a high unemployment rate pushes aside the least skilled workers first.

But "ironically," the sense of entitlement that is nurtured in the entitlement society means that its victims will feel entitled to more entitlements, thus resulting in even worse conditions. This is just part of the underlying dynamic of what we saw with the Muslim riots in France. "Buying them off' with yet more social programs will only result in a greater sense of entitlement and more unrest, since, once the spigot of a person's sense of entitlement is opened, it is very hard to shut off. This is partly because our sense of entitlement is rooted in the earliest infantile experience, when we are, for the only time in our lives, actually "entitled" to mother's magical ministering of our every need and whim. The universe revolves around the moment-to-moment needs of the baby, which is as it should be. For a baby.

If there is a "human-animal" spiritual realm, then it is actually the purely immanent-horizontal space occupied by Western Europe. Although they think of us as "selfish" because of our low taxes and smaller government, it is actually the other way around. Although superficially socialism may appear to be more humane, Mark Steyn points out that "nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow's enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the broader social interest; he's got his, and if it's going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he's dead, it's fine by him." In this sense, Social democracy is eventually "explicitly antisocial" (National Review, 11-7-05).

There is a further corrosion of the soul that takes place with European style socialism, in that, because it elevates material desires to the highest, it cynically cuts the heart out of any transcendent view of the world, anything beyond the immediate animal senses. As Steyn explains, it perversely elevates secondary priorities such as mandated six week vacations over primary ones such as family and national defense. And change is almost impossible, because the great majority have become dependent on government, which causes a sort of "adherence" to horizontal. You cannot rouse the ideals of a nation that has lost its ideals. Any politician who threatens the entitlement system cannot get elected in Western Europe. The situation is analogous to an addict who has given over his power to the pusher.

By attempting to create the perfect society on earth through government coercion, it actually diminishes our humanity, since it relieves human beings of having to exert the continual moral effort to make the world a better place, as this is only possible by maintaining contact with the realm of transcendent moral ideals. In other words, European socialism is actually a flight from morality, thereby making people less humane, not more. It is a bogus kind of freedom, because it merely frees one from the vertical while condemning one to the horizontal. As the new Pope has written, "I am convinced that the destruction of transcendence is the actual amputation of human beings from which all other sicknesses flow. Robbed of their real greatness they can only find escape in illusory hopes.... The loss of transcendence evokes the flight to utopia."

Part Two tomorrow.


What a timely and provacative take. By Tony Snow:

"... Charles Murray, whose book Losing Ground made manifest the profound failures of the welfare state, has published a new book, In Our Hands, that suggests an alternative to the present mess.

Murray wants to abolish every major federal program concerned with health care, food, housing, education, jobs, job training, energy assistance, social services, retirement, unemployment insurance and income security. In their stead, he would give every American citizen over the age of 21 $10,000 per year from Uncle Sam, to be deposited directly into the person's bank account, with the stipulation that $3,000 of that sum must go directly into a retirement account.

Murray crunches the numbers to ensure his idea wouldn't break the bank. More importantly, he poses questions nobody asks anymore. In the words of the Baltimore Catechism, 'What is the end of man?' What ought we to do with this gift of life? How can we best build a society congenial to virtue and conducive to happiness? How can government be a help -- or at least, not a hindrance?

In recent years, Americans have embraced the belief that government can make us happier and more comfortable. Thus, whenever somebody suggests so much as tinkering with the ever-expanding lattice of federal programs and initiatives, critics howl about 'cruelty' and 'insensitivity.'

Murray turns this on its head, noting that our Bureaucracy of Compassion has become a Ministry of Misery. He defines happiness not as comfortable lucre, but as 'lasting and justified satisfaction with one's life as a whole.' You can't experience happiness, he argues, if you don't have deep and affectionate relations with others, activities that give your life meaning and enough power over your fate to enable you to say at the end of your days, 'I did well.'

The welfare system actively prevents our pursuit of happiness. It discourages enterprise, innovation, risk, work, marriage, and personal responsibility for procuring medical care, caring for loved ones and saving for the future. It outsources compassion and criminalizes common sense.

Murray's idea would demolish this system. Gone would be the perverse incentives built into the present system. Gone would be the rules and regulations that stand in the way of everything from marriage to charity. Gone would be excuses not to do the things necessary to produce the kind of great and vibrant society that caused de Toqueville and other observers of early America to gape with awe.

Liberated from the dominion of federal help, we could take a more active role in helping ourselves, cooperating with others and feeling good not only about our earnings statements, but the society in which we live.

Bureaucracy is a lumbering, unsubtle thing -- more suited to issuing orders than considering the special concerns of hundreds of millions of individuals. Bureaucracy does not beget compassion. It demands conformity.

Murray is right. The welfare state is both a snare and a delusion -- and an active obstacle to the American dream. A compassionate conservative would suggest what Murray urges: Don't fix the system. Tear it down -- and set free the ember of greatness that smolders in every free heart. Or, as our grandparents used to say, 'If you want something done right, do it yourself.'"

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