Saturday, May 12, 2007

Drinking from God's Firehose

In response to yesterday's post, Susannah asked some good followup questions, :

--I have trouble wrapping my head around the implicit ontological monism of the scientific method. How would science look if it were done by a Coon?

--Theology used to be known as the queen of sciences, and no one at the time perceived any kind of contradiction in that designation. Would science done by a Coon still employ the scientific method, only recognizing its limitations?

--Atheism is generally a visceral thing. The atheist has some personal beef against God. It's not as if materialists simply use the scientific method to come to a rational conclusion about God. So, why do materialists blame their bad religion on the scientific method? Because in fact there were (and are) theistic and even Christian scientists before the onset of militant materialism. So, they had their miner's helmets on, right?


Also, one hates to respond to an attention-starved troll, since the troll is always here to teach, not to learn. As such, the only appropriate response to one such as Zi is a tactful silence followed by uproarious laughter as soon as he is out of earshot. As he says, he is affirming, not arguing. Nevertheless, he made a number of provocative affirmations that we are free to reduce to feathers, even if he is not, such as

--Serious people get beyond a mere acquaintance with philosophy before dismissing it as Bob does [which Bob does not do, by the way].

--Socrates is a much better example of human excellence than Jesus or Augustine.

--Bob fails to understand that for many people there is no desire or need to "escape." Perhaps Bob needs to posit something outside his everyday Being to make life worthwhile or to explain it, but this is simply Bob's pathology and he should not suggest [not even suggest?] that others share it.

--Bob worships his own psychopathology, which is fine, but just don't pretend that others should. [I thought I was only "suggesting," which is true: I offer my views, but I do not insist that anyone accept them, least of all the uncomprehending troll for whom my writing is not intended to begin with.]

--Bob's conception of Religion is myopic. Not all religion is an attempt to account for some misperceived Lack in the world. [That explains a lot, being that the answer is the disease that kills curiosity: no lack, no substance -- or, in the terms of chaos theory, a closed system cannot evolve.]

--And we should turn to Taoism, because it represents a wholly naturalistic religion/philosophy which regards the world as materially and logically self-sufficient, with no outside causes that need be evoked to explain or account for anything.

Let's begin with Susannah's general question, "what would science look like if done by a Coon?" The answer is simple. It would look exactly like what it looks like. The only difference is that a Coon does not confuse method with ontology. As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, there is actually no philosophy or science that is incompatible with Christian metaphysics, which easily I-AMbraces everything from Taoism to existentialism to materialism. But the reverse is never true: materialism or Taoism can never account for Christian truth, since the latter is on a higher and more encompassing metaphysical plane.

In other words, science is simply a rational way to "interrogate" the material world. It begins with materialistic assumptions, but these are simply for the purpose seeing what we can see with those assumptions -- with that particular miner's helmet. And we can see a lot.

However, the materialistic helmet cannot tell us the meaning of what we see with it. We should not conflate the assumptions of science with conclusions, which is what the philosophy of scientism does. Materialism is simply an assumption dressed up as a conclusion. Obviously, you cannot actually derive any truth whatsoever from matter, for "truth" would simply be reducible to matter, which is clearly neither true nor false. It just is. If that. Again, no absolute truth can be known in a materialistic universe. In fact, one of the reasons we know that the universe is not reducible to matter is that it is the prerogative of man to know absolute truth and know it absolutely.

The truthful aspect of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions is that the scientific enterprise is always informed by an overarching paradigm that not only shapes what we know, but what we can discover. In short, "percept follows concept." The most profound scientific discoveries, such as quantum physics, require a change in paradigm, since the existing paradigm cannot account for the anomalies, for example, the idea that a subatomic entity is simultaneously a nonlocal wave and a local particle. Nothing in our everyday experience of matter can prepare us for such a shockingly counter-intuitive discovery. It literally makes no sense under a materialistic paradigm. Instead, we must posit something along the lines of an implicate sea of nonlocal energy underlying our everyday wideawake world of cutandry subjects and objects.

But from the human standpoint, is the world disclosed by quantum physics more "real" than the human world of color, emotion, thought, love, laughter, poetry, beauty, and truth? No, not at all. Again, that's just another misplaced materialistic assumption. It's not as if there are two worlds, a false one that we experience, and a true one that we can never experience, but only infer through abstract mathematical equations. For one thing, only a human in this world can peer into and study the quantum world. Therefore, you might say that it is an "extension" of our world, as opposed to the human world being a sort of "residue" floating atop the quantum world.

In fact, a Coon insists that this is the case, for the very same reason that man is not descended from animals, but rather, vice versa. Put another way, the human being is not "animal plus X." Rather, various animals are "human prototype minus X," just as life is not "matter plus Y," but "life minus Y." (If I recall correctly, this was an argument in Schumacher's Guide For the Perplexed.)

This is a key point, for a world is simply a ponderable reality. There are empirical worlds below and intelligible worlds above. When we talk about Christian truth, we are specifically talking about intelligible truths from an ontologically higher realm. As soon as they are reduced to empirical truth, then confusion arises. This does not mean that certain things didn't "happen" in the material sense, only that they cannot be comprehended in that way. Rather, they are intelligible in the light of awakened faith and an activated intellect, or nous. Obviously, there are plenty of "spiritual materialists" -- both religious and irreligious -- who attempt to comprehend Christian truth empirically. I say, let the dead bury the tenured, and vice versa. They are of no interest to a Coon. They are medullards who think only with the hindbrain.

Returning to the so-called conflict between science and religion. There is neither conflict nor is there complementarity, as if they are simply two sides of the same coin. This is an unfortunate idea that entered the Western stream through the illustrious Saint Augustine, which made the development of science possible, but in such a way that it eventually became needlessly "detached," so to speak, from theology. For a variety of reasons, this never occurred in the world of Eastern Christianity, and it is this latter (which is to say, earlier) view that I embrace. Rather than regarding theology as a handmaiden of science -- or vice versa -- they achieved a genuine synthesis.

According to Nesteruk, the early Christian fathers "found that they could easily accommodate themselves to any partial view of nature with no fear of losing their orthodoxy and the integrity of life in Christ." This is because the world is not merely an epistemological construct, a la Kant, but "an ontological rational order whose existence has its ground in something other than the things that are ordered, that is, the very being of the reason or Word of God." Again, this is why the world is intelligible to the intellect, since both are a reflection of the same Word that subtends them. But it is also why higher spiritual worlds are accessible and intelligible to us -- why it is possible for us to understand Christian truth.

Now, as to this question of the ontological monism of science. The Coon view is that this is a logically self-refuting position, and we do not spend a great deal of time trying to refute it, at least since we wrote our book. Christian truth is necessarily grounded in metaphysical truth -- those truths which cannot not be, and which are as follows.

The early Christian fathers drew a sharp distinction between dianoia and nous. The former applies to our rational understanding of the created world. But the nous operates though direct perception of an intelligble spiritual truth. For the same reason, the fathers made a sharp distinction between theologia and economia. This correlates with the difference between God's essence and God's energies. God's absolute being is known only to him, which is why we may ultimately only approach it through the negative theology of apophaticism.

Another way of saying it is that there is God with distinctions -- say, the trinitarian God whose face is toward us, so to speak. But the early fathers also insisted on the absolute ontological priority of God's being-in-itself. Pondering the intelligble mysteries of the cataphatic God can lead us to the threshold of the apophatic God that is beyond the horizon of human knowability. Indeed, this is the basis of Christian mysticism and theosis, through which the intelligible mysteries lead to the absolute ground, as Meister Eckhart would later call it.

This then is what we mean by the ontological dualism of Christianity. Our first principle must be the distinction between Being and Non-Being, or between God and Godhead ("God-beyond-being"). The Supreme Reality is absolute; being so, it is intrinsically infinite. The first distinction, therefore, is that between Absolute and relative, or Infinite and finite. Thus, the knowable God -- because he is knowable -- is the "relative Absolute," since the Absolute may only be unKnown -- which again, the early fathers paradoxically insist is a mode of knowing that is appropriate to the Absolute.

The next distinction, as formulated by Schuon, is the vertical principle within the world of relative being, between heaven and earth, or principle and manifestation.

You know what? I'm running out of time and starting to rush this, which I don't want to do. Someone compared one of my posts to "drinking from the firehose," which is what national security folks such as Thomas Barnett call it when they must rapidly assimilate a great deal of information. Well, this is truly the firehose, so I want to slow down a bit, so we can at least swallow a few drops. To be continued.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Cosmic No: Truth and its Oppositional Opponents

The typical contemporary intellectual is a proud cynic. As such, his artificially inflated mind revolves around the low-hanging fruit of what it can easily disprove and what it does not believe. Yes, it's a Tree of Death, but the mind must eat something. Being that the lower mind can disprove most anything it can prove, this simply redounds to one of the many flavors of nihilism -- for there is only one One, but numberless zeros.

A bare acquaintance with the history of philosophy proves this beyond doubt. Philosophers cannot even agree on the questions, let alone the answers, so it becomes the proverbial "journey of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing." In the absence of religion, there is simply no way to exit this closed circle of thought, for religion is nothing more or less than a leap through the hole that has been conveniently planted in the (vertical) center, or "heart" of the cosmos. To be perfectly inaccurate, there is an upside-down Tree of Life that grows from this hole, its roots aloft, its branches and leaves down here below.

In fact, for the most part, philosophers have given up asking the big questions as unanswerable, the result being that contemporary philosophy has become analogous to the drunken Dupree who looks for his keys under the street lamp because that's where the light is. People ask why I gave Dupree a miner's helmet for his last birthday, and this is why. Now, when he's stumbling around looking for something in the middle of the night, he can pass beyond the horizon of the dim little 60-watt out in the garage.

Is there something comparable to a miner's helmet for the human mind, so that we may carry our own headlight with which to examine truth, instead of restricting truth to the narrow area that is lit up by the scientific method? Few scientists even think about metaphysics, but science is implicitly rooted in what is called ontological monism. As such, it begins with an a priori faith in the idea that the world is materially and logically self-sufficient, and that no outside causes need be evoked to explain or account for anything. Therefore, the materialistic scientist necessarily believes in a closed system from which it is impossible to escape:

"Any scientific inquiry is carried out under the rubric of rational thinking, which has a limited domain of application (an epistemological horizon) that predetermines its ontology [emphasis mine]. It is always difficult for science to transcend this horizon and to judge its ontological statements from the outside, from the epistemological frame that transcends the world (into the realm of existence not embraced by science), because this 'outside' is not identified by science as a comprehensible, objective reality" (Nesteruk).

Yesterday we spoke of Jim Morrison, and the postfabricated romantic mythology surrounding him. In fact, as the Minister of Doctrinal Enforcement properly pointed out, there is an aspect of Morrison's life that had some truth to it. That is, his frenzied Dionysian attempt to break on through to the other side by any means necessary was simply his struggle to sever those darn surly bonds of ontological monism and blast off into inner space. Does it work? Yes and no. This is precisely what I was referring to on page 216 of the Coonifesto, where I wrote that

"Although it would be misleading and sanctimonious to dismiss this approach as fruitless, it doesn't present itself as a sustainable lifestyle, nor may it be consistent with the relatively long life required to achieve a stable (¶) [i.e., vertically oriented nous, or psychic being]. For other, more sober types, these tantalizing flashes of an alternate reality may become the initial motivation for a more methodical spiritual practice that attempts to follow (?!) back upstream to their source in O. Only through spiritual development can these metaphysical freebies evolve into a more conscious relationship to something that is felt as a continuous presence."

I know this is true because I went through my own dionysian phase, as does most any young man who passes through the bacchanalia sometimes known as academia. But as the cliche goes, "if you remember the '60s, you weren't there." Indeed, that is the problem: how to transform altered states -- which are available to anyone -- into altered traits.

Here again, Christopher Hitchens' acknowledged immoderate consumption of spiritual lubricants to escape the implications of his own dead metaphysics comes to mind. In reality, he cannot tolerate the infrahuman, crimped little world he has created, so he must secretly escape it. If he were to be completely honest, he would say that this is his truth and his metaphysics: that there is an escape! You just call it God, I call it booze! Likewise, I think we can agree on what would constitute "hell" for Hitchens. It may or may not be hot, but it would certainly be dry.

At any rat, a proper human liver must metabolize Truth, which in turn requires a leap of faith. Conversely, the vain cynic who is intoxicated with his ability to say "no" is like a spiritual anorexic, in more ways than none. For beneath the anorexic's rejection of food are issues of trust, control, and fear of dependency. Food is imbued with all of the ambivalence felt toward the original love object, so the control of food is ultimately a strategy for controlling this unconscious Other.

I'm not an expert on anorexia, but back when I was in graduate school, there was a book entitled Starving to Death in a Sea of Objects. I have no idea whether it is still considered valid, but the author's point was that the anorexic gains a sense of power and control through what she can reject, as opposed to what she can assimilate. It is the power of No.

When I saw Hitchens flogging his new anti-theistic puerilemic on the Daily Show the other day, it occurred to me that I was seeing the intoxicating power of the cosmic No in all its nakedly cynical glory. I know this feeling, because I used to be that way. I remember the sense of exhilaration, the self-satisfied "aren't I clever!," that accompanied the intellectual thrashing of a feeble man of faith.

But although I always won the argument, only now, in hindsight, is it obvious to me that I never won the Argument. Rather, winning was just another form of losing, for it was simply the cosmic No imagining that it had vanquished the cosmic Yes, just because this particular Yes came across as an unsophisticated yahoo. Even the most dense sort of No can do this. It requires no skill, just a rudimentary grasp of reason detached from Reason.

And if you don't know what I mean by the "dense No," just try perusing Dailykos or Huffpo. Anything they say about science, God, or philosophy is the most bovine sort of No you could imagine. A two year-old could do it. And as a matter of fact, as you parents out there know, this is the age that the cosmic No enters the human lexicon. Furthermore, the No is all about control, not about truth. The developing child begins to build a sense of mastery, boundaries, and control by saying "No!" But I am reminded of something Bobby Knight once said about sportswriters: "All of us learn to write by the 4th grade. Most of us move on."

As Nesteruk writes, "Science never questions how to free itself from the necessity of [ontological monism].... It is simply an impossibility, because science cannot make an ecstatic exit from its own monistic boundaries in order to evaluate itself from a broader epistemological perspective -- that is, science is not able to develop an awareness that the world has no grounds of its being in this being. If this were to happen, science would cease to be just an exploration of the outward world; it would transform into a metascientific enterprise conducting a quest for general principles of the knowledge and foundations of the world."

And as the Lizard King himself might have mumbled through the beerlight, "As soon as philosophical scientists realize that science cannot overcome the monistic ontological necessity in its epistemology and ontology on its own, they will become prepared to start thinking of the breakthrough beyond its boundaries by appealing to open epistemology" (Nesteruk, emphasis mine).

In short, one patriculates to ontological dualism, or the open system of Father and Son, or the abbasolute and his adopted relativity. And one does this by responding with a Yes! to this source and ground, and by opening his presence of the miner's helmet of divine revelation.

And what do I see with my fleshlight? Well, for one thing, I see dead people.

In Finnegans Wake, Anna Livia Plurabelle is the carrier of the Eternal Yes.... To Anna, fittingly, is given the last word of the dissolving dream. Seemingly, this last word loops back to join immediately with the first. But in that suspended tick of time... a brave renewal has taken place.... The dream and the strange book that celebrates it will have more to say the second time, inflecting more exquisitely and abundantly the timeless story of that slow combustion which ever consumes and sustains itself in the interior of the spinning atom, in the living world, and in the soul of man. --Joseph Campbell, A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jesus and Jim Morrison, Doors and Ladders

Yesterday I made the only half-ironic comment that Christianity is not intended to be a religion, but the cure for religion. First, I don't want to get into a distracting debate over "which religion is best," so let us just say that this can be true of most any truly orthodox religion, properly understood and practiced. However, it is quite consciously and explicitly true of Christianity.

This was one of the central points in Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled. It is not possible for me to do justice to the richness and depth of Bailie's argument (for one thing, it's been about a decade since I read it), but he draws out the anthropological implications of Christianity, demonstrating how it has shaped the Western mind and soul -- and the world -- and helped to mitigate the damaging effects of mankind's innate religiosity. To quote Bailie, "cultures have forever commemorated some form of sacred violence at their origins and considered it a sacred duty to reenact it in times of change." In fact,

"History is the relentless chronicle of violence that it is because when cultures fall apart they fall into violence, and when they revive themselves they do so violently. Primitive religion is the institution that remembers the reviving violence mythologically and ritually reenacts its spellbinding climax. Primitive religion grants one form of violence a moral monopoly, endowing it with enough power and prestige to preempt other forms of violence and restore order. The famous distinction between 'sacred' and 'profane' is born as the culture glorifies the decisive violence (sacred) that brought an episode of chaotic violence (profane) to an end and made warriors worshippers."

However, "the logic of sacred violence is nowhere expressed more succintly nor repudiated more completely than in the New Testament," which "reproduces the myths and mechanisms of primitive religion only to explode them, reveal their perversities, and declare allegiance to the Victim of them."

Again, a full explanation of Bailie's ideas will have to await a later post. But looked at in this way, we can immediately understand how the clash between Christendom and Islam is not fundamentally a clash of religions, but a clash between primordial religion and the cure for it. Again, the primordial, default religion of mankind is human sacrifice, which the Islamists enact in the most transparent manner. The Palestinians, for example, glorify human sacrifice in away not seen since the Aztec.

But so too do supposedly "irreligious," secular people revert to mankind's default religion and worship sacred violence. This was obviously true of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, both of which ran on innocent human blood, on the mesmerizing spectacle of sacred violence. This is because it is not possible for human beings to not be religious. If you are not properly religious, then I guarantee that your mind has simply reverted to mythology.

For example, at this moment, sacred violence is being enacted by leftists in France. As David Horowitz has exhaustively chronicled, violence has always been central to the left. It is an inherently destructive and violent movement that either covertly or overtly worships violence. This explains everything from why they idealize monsters such as Arafat, Castro, and Hugo Chavez, to why they wear Che Guevara t-shirts. Here again, I don't want to dwell on something so obvious, but move on to my main point.

The other day, as I usually do, I stopped off at a used record store after work, which is my way of "decompressing." In this case, I picked up a Doors compilation. It's not that I'm a big fan or anything. Rather, it was a frivolous exercise in pure nostalgia. A guilty pleasure. Frankly, their first album in particular brings me right back to when I was 11 years old, which happened to be an especially idyllic time for me. I am not the least bit interested in the mythology that came to envelop Jim Morrison, what with his juvenile poetry and pathetic alcoholism. Rather, I place them in the same category as the Monkees, Donovan, Herman's Hermits, Lovin' Spoonful, and other acts I enjoyed as an eleven year-old. (Although, to be fair, I wouldn't place the Doors in the same lofty category as the Monkees.)

As I have noted before, something happened to culture in general and music in particular right around that time. For one thing, instead of simply being a form of background entertainment, music quite obviously came to the foreground and literally became the sacrament of a new form of religion.

But in keeping with our theme, it was actually a very old form of religion -- the form of religion that Christianity is here to rescue us from -- and Jim Morrison became one of its archetypal prophets. It is possible that he is the most heavily mythologized of all rock stars, surpassing even Elvis in this regard, since Elvis was never a part of the counter culture, at least after he entered the army in 1958.

In the past, I have discussed the appalling ordeal of reading the liner notes of historically important CDs, which always dissect the music from a drearily leftist viewpoint. Therefore, as you might expect, a Doors collection will be the worst violator in this regard.

In fact, there are two sets of liner notes, and I think you'll agree that they are quite instructive. The first set is by an author of some apparent renown, T.C. Boyle. My intimate acquaintance with literature tails off rather sharply after writers such as Joyce, Henry Miller, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mann, Faulkner, Hesse, Chandler, et al, so I have no idea whether this man is regarded as a genius or a complete hack. But based upon these liner notes and the many literary awards he has received, he certainly appears to be the latter.

Remember the other day, when I mentioned that being only 11 years old in 1967 is probably what saved me from being swallowed up by the cultural changes at the time, and that if I had been a bit older, I wasn't sure if I would have escaped? Well, Boyle was a bit older. He doesn't say exactly how old, but he descibes himself as a "sexually starved young man," for whom the Doors first album was clearly a kind of religious experience. He even talks about the photos of Morrison "in all his posing glory, a pose I've emulated a thousand times since..." He says, "NASA didn't take us to outer space -- the Doors did."

Again, religion. But what type of religion? A commenter mentioned the other day that the 1960s generation was the first to actually -- and tragically, because it meant that the reality principle was compromised -- vanquish their parents in the ancient oedipal struggle. Boyle writes that until he heard The End -- in which Morrison murders his father and "f***s" (such poetry!) his mother -- "I never knew how much I hated my parents.... That they should have given birth to me? Oh fuck."

Already we see all the elements of the anti-religious religion of the left: the valorization of sex, violence, and meaninglessness, the narcissistic giving birth to oneself, the assault on tradition -- it's all there. To suggest, as some commenters have, that this cultural shift was trivial, strikes me as quite myopic. For example, there is no hint of this in Sinatra's classic Capitol albums of the 1950s, which represent a particular high water mark in American culture. And if someone makes a dopey comment about sex only being discovered in the 1960s, let us just stipulate that they do not have ears to hear, and move on.

Boyle writes of another Doors song, that it spoke of "all the shit of the wrong war, the bad war, the war that makes America the enemy." It is "there for us to feel in our veins, that bass, that thump, redeem me, motherfucker" [emphasis mine; likewise, below].

So, this new redemptive religion of the left is a peaceful, non-violent one, right?

Er, no. Boyle writes of the song Five to One, "This is the anthem, us against them.... Just quote it. Just remember those sacred words. Hate. Mindfuck. Revolution."

Okay. Now we have the holy trinity of the psychological left: Hate. Mindfuck. Revolution. At least he's honest.

"I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the Doors spoke to me in a secret, outrageous, never-before-spoken way. We shared the same aesthetic. The same politics.... This is where art twisted in your heart and your brain till you didn't know who you were and couldn't begin to imagine it."

(To paraphrase a Van der Leunism, "don't get in my way, I'm writing as bad as I can!")

"These songs saved me. They preserved me. For better or worse, they stuck in me like darts from hell, or maybe heaven, and made me who I was then and who I am now. And what do I have to say about that? I say Hallelujah! ....I say, Mother, I want to -- Oh, yeah."

Oh yeah! Where's my Grammy for best liner notes of 2003?!

So the purpose of art is not to communcate transcendent meaning or to reveal the noetic light shining through the aesthetic form. No. Good art pierces you with darts from hell and twists in your heart and brain until you don't know who you are and can't begin to imagine it. In short, it is nihilistic to the core. It is anti-art.

I think I'll skip the second set of liner notes by antiquated FM deejay Jim Ladd. Well, maybe just a taste. He too is at pains to emphasize that this is not just music, but religion, by godlessness! It "speaks to something primal, something ancient," and is "the same thing shamans have been doing for thousands of years. But how many holy men can recount that experience as well as the Doors?"

Ahem. He's obviously never heard of the Monkees.

He says that "when you close your eyes this music will perform its magic; all you have to do is listen." Thus, another key component of primitive religiosity, which is to say, magic. Later he adds, this is "primal stuff.... This is pagan sex. Dance-on-fire sex. Sex without shame or even forethought. This is sex with a backbeat. Pleasure in a poem. Lust in a guitar lick. A Vox orgasm.... This is about cutting the cord of conscious thought and letting go. It's about awareness. Sex. Death. Rebirth. Life." (This is about a guy who is obviously angling for a Boyle Prize in bombastic prose.)

In another implicit knock on the poor Monkees, Ladd writes, "no one could ever mistake The Doors for one of those prefab boy bands." Which is insanely ironic, since The Doors are the greatest example of what you might call "postfab" (i.e., postfabricated) mythologizing the rock world has ever known. I mean, please: "Turn up the volume, then turn out the lights. You don't want anything to distract you from what you are about to see. Just let your mind go where the music takes you, let the magic come inside you, and don't be afraid to let go of everything you have been told."

Now, as I said, this is all postfab mythologizing of the most crass sort. Just to show you what I mean -- and how quickly the past can pass into myth -- I have before me the Rolling Stone Record Guide. Specifically, I have the first edition, from 1979, and a newer edition, from 1992. The differences in the way the Doors are regarded are quite instructive.

The earlier edition summarizes the band's contribution with the following wise words: "The Doors take their place in pop history as the progenitors of a whole wave of teenybopper anti-icons, the genuine precursors of Alice Cooper and Kiss." They were simply "more shrewdly marketed than Tommy James and the Shondells [or] the Guess Who, but not necessarily better." The review concludes with a question and answer: "Is this the most overrated group in rock history? Only a truly terminal case of arrested adolescence can hold out against such a judgment for very long."

As I said, wise words.

But what has happened in the interim, since which time the cultural left has come in with its horizontal wrecking ball and proceeded to turn the world of values upside down?

The new edition reflects the subsequent mythologizing of the Doors -- and the edenic "sacred time" of the 1960s -- which is simply a reflection of the cultural left's inevitable descent into myth and magic as a replacement for our Judeo-Christian tradition. Now the Doors romantically embody such things as "the threat and promise of Indian burial grounds and natural mysteries -- and the ocean, surging deep into oblivion and release." The cultural memory of the left has now transformed Morrison into "the prototype of the rocker in desperate search of transcendence through self-destruction..., hurling himself fascinated toward death." He is an "erotic politician.... preoccupied with urge, rebellion, and release."

Which is all true. But is it a good thing?

Not really. For one thing, it spoiled my ability to innocently enjoy a mindless nostalgia trip back to 1967.

Oh well. There's always the Monkees.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Passion, Nonattachment, and Jihad: Thoughts and What to Do About Them

I evaluated a patient the other day who had developed a rather serious depression that came on within a matter of days. Many people assume that depression simply involves sadness, which it usually does, but perhaps even more distressing is the characteristic loss of capacity to experience pleasure, or anhedonia. Only when your ability to experience pleasure is compromised do you realize the extent to which we use this capacity in a thousand ways to orient our lives and to even "know what to do." Without it, you are pretty much paralyzed, both mentally and physically, for there is no reason to do or think one thing over another. It's all meaningless, just different shades of grey. In short, feeling is a very rapid and sophisticated form of information processing.

At the same time, we all know that the opposite of anhedonia -- hedonism -- also leads nowhere, since it involves the mindless pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Millions of people who are not depressed live this kind of pointless life, which might be thought of as a sort of "inverted depression," pursuing one fleeting passion after another. Their lives are truly "smoke driven by wind."

A big part of slack involves understanding the role of pleasure in one's life. The Buddha thought he had hit upon the solution by suggesting that attachment to our desires was the central problem of human existence. Desires come and go, but if we just stop identifying with them, then we can be liberated from them. While I studied a fair amount of Buddhism in my earlier years, I ultimately rejected it as fundamentally inadequate and incompatible with our own wisdom traditions in the West.

Yes, the West has problems, but Buddhist nonattachment is not the answer. Rather, the answer lay in a recovery of our own spiritual roots, which easily transcend and include the insights of Buddhism. Or, perhaps we can say that there are certain insights of Buddhism that can help illuminate certain ideas that are present but underemphasized in our own tradition. But Christianity is obviously fundamentally complete and needs no other revelation to complete it. It is missing nothing.

The other day a commenter rejected our metaphysics on the basis of something Confucius supposedly once said (I say "supposedly," since diverse translations make Confucius' point rather ambiguous at best -- in this case, it was unclear if he was making a point about Truth or recommending the kung pao chicken). But even if accurate, it is not possible to isolate a particular comment by Confucius, wrench it from its cultural matrix, and then apply it to a different culture that operates along completely different assumptions.

It is simply a truism that no one is more blind to his Christian assumptions than the anti-Christian atheist who is the beneficiary of 2000 years of Christian conditioning. Thus, he values all of the precious things that uniquely developed in the Judeo-Christian West and nowhere else: democracy, individuality, liberty, science, freedom of conscience, etc, but then attacks the metaphysical roots of these things -- as if any of them were developed by atheists living in purely secular cultures. In reality, the most atheistic cultures are tied (or is it hanged?) neck and neck with Islam for producing the most cruel and barbaric cultures (with the possible exception of primitive tribes).

It should be sufficient for us to reject Confucianism and Buddhism on the basis of the sort of societies that developed around Confucian or Buddhist values (again, while still appreciating timeless insights that illuminate our own tradition). In short, would you prefer to live in America, Great Britain, Australia, or Israel? Or China, Cambodia, Vietnam, or Sri Lanka? Ideas have consequences, especially the spiritual/metaphysical ones at the basis of a culture. Even it you entirely reject the Judeo-Christian tradition, if you live in the West, I can pretty much guarantee that you have a Judeo-Christian unconscious. (In the past, I have recommended Gil Baile's brilliant Violence Unveiled, which traces the profound anthropological consequences of the Christian revelation, which, in a certain very real sense, was the "cure" for religion -- including bad forms of Christianity)

We should also reject Islam on the strongest possible grounds on the basis of the horribly inhumane cultures it has spontaneously produced. Conversely, if it could produce a single place worthy of human habitation, then we might reconsider. But facts are facts, and even the UN acknowledges that the places on earth where Islam rules are among the worst places on earth to be condemned to live.

Just look at the so-called "Palestinians," one of the most comprehensively depraved peoples to ever appear in the human zoo. These people have hideous values, none of which are not rooted in Islamic teaching, by their own insistence. Indeed, this grotesque ideology is preached from their mosques day in and day out, year after year. And it is also embraced by treasonous terror-front groups such as CAIR, who are ironically only able to operate in the U.S. because of a certain pathological blindness that is unique to our Judeo-Christian culture -- what you might call the "intolerance that tolerance creates," the "discrimination produced by the indiscriminate," or perhaps the "moral perversity that flows from diversity."

Only in the West, because we value liberty, are we free to pursue whatever it is that pleases us. This alone vastly broadens (in ways both bad and good) and deepens our worldview in a manner that no other culture can match. For example, much of our clash with Islam is over the "content" of our culture, content that no one in the Islamic world is apparently mature enough to deal with. Therefore, there are strict controls on information, exerted from the top down.

And much of this objectionable content is psychosexual in nature, as their cultures revolve around a fear and dread of female sexuality, which must be sadistically controlled by men. And the understandable rage and frustration produced in these cultures is so destabilizing that they can only function at all by externalizing it into Israel and the West. In the absence of imaginary Jews and other infidels -- who serve as a psychological "pressure valve" -- these societies would implode from within.

In short, ironically, we have no need whatsoever for the Islamic world, but they desperately need us. Or, to put it another way, we need their oil -- a material thing that is only accidentally theirs, and in fact, worthless without superior cultures to buy it -- while they desperately need our very existence in order to have something to psychologically project into. People say that we must become "energy independent" from the Middle East, as if that would really solve the problem. Oil is a global commodity, so no matter what we do, more and more money will flow into the Islamic world, if only because of the rapidly expanding Chinese and Indian economies.

What the world really needs -- but which no one talks about -- is for Islamic countries to achieve "emotional energy independence." That is, they must stop relying upon imaginary sources of hatred -- i.e., Israel and the United States -- and realize that they are sitting on the goldmine. They don't have to import a drop of hatred from us, since they produce it in such abundant quantities, if only they could appreciate it. Black gold, indeed.

But it seems that in every Islamic country, there is a fundamental confusion over "where all this hatred is coming from." They all feel it, but amazingly, no one recognizes its source. Even a casual visit to LGF or will confirm that this rabid hatred permeates the Islamic world. And yet, no one is allowed to raise his hand and say, "Hey, you know what? I think I see the problem, and Israel has nothing to do with it." This thought is not permitted, any more than a Democrat is permitted to "see" the thriving Bush economy.

Indeed, the psychological state of affairs in the Islamic world forms a fascinating parallel to the situation in the West, where it seems that at least half the population -- the left half -- is on board with the Islamists, and cannot say, for example, "I think I see the problem, and it's not us. It's radical Islam." But then, to compound the problem, after failing to recognize their own hatred, the leftist projects it into that half of the West that sees reality with moral clarity! Therefore, someone like... I don't know, like me, will be equally hated by the freaks of Islam and the freaks of the left. Both recognize the hatred they are immersed in, but misidentify its source as being outside themselves. We more or less get an example of this projection here on a daily basis.

For example, yesterday it was "The hypocrisy of it all is that the One Cosmos blog is the most restricted and speech-coded place I've ever seen," or "The truth of our existence is love. Not much of that on this blog." It would be easy to address trolls if they merely disagreed with us. But all of them, without exception, come in here with their projections leaking all over the place. That is the first thing we always notice, way before the content arrives, for the content -- such as it is -- is simply riding piggyback on the energy of the angry projection. As we know, the bulk of Dupree's work involves mopping up after all these leaky projections spilling all over the floor. Which really bothers Dupree, because the area rug under his murphy bed really tied things together in the garage, and now it's a mess.

And this all comes back to the problem of desire and what to do about it, for hatred is a form of desire, in the sense that it is a libidinal attachment to an object. As we have mentioned before, we can be connected to others through an L (love) link, an H (hate) link or a K (knowledge) link, but it's the link that counts. You might say that Muslims don't so much hate Jews as they are in "minus love" with them as a poor substitute for their loveless lives. The bond is just as strong -- indeed, perhaps even stronger, since love often fades, while hatred can endure for centuries with just a little nurturing and a lot of frustration.

Even more fundamentally, Bion identified the central problem of the human condition as follows: thoughts and what to do about them. One would think that the obvious answer would be to build an apparatus to think them, but history proves that this is something of a rarity. Rather, people will do almost anything to avoid taking responsibility for their thoughts and to actually think them. For example, they can act them out, they can project them, they can deny them, they can convert them into physical symptoms, they can try to control others as a substitute for controlling one's own thoughts. Once you understand that thinking is the exception, not the rule, then everything starts to make more sense.

To requote Schuon, "whoever does not know how to think, whatever his gifts may be, is not authentically a man; that is, he is not a man in the ideal sense of the term. Too many men display intelligence as long as their thought runs in the grooves of their desires, interests and prejudices; but the moment the truth is contrary to what pleases them, their faculty of thought becomes blurred or vanishes; which is at once inhuman and 'all too human.'”

We often use the word "infrahuman" to designate the enemies of human evolution. But we could just as well say "all too human," for the human being is nothing if he is not a bridge between the is and the ought, the form and the essence, the now and the not yet, time and eternity, the vertical and the horizontal, the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven. First and foremost, you must live a life that is ruled by desire for what is permanent and transcendent: which is to say, a passion for the true, the good, and the beautiful. Extinguish this passion, and you will have killed man. Or, at the very least, man will drift in a kind of gravity- and friction-free existential space that some might confuse with "nirvana." Yes, it is a kind of "liberation" -- from the human being, properly so called.

Or as Joseph Campbell once said, participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On the Utter Uselessness of Coons (5.18.10)

A wily Coon whiles away his time in the cosmic zone of truth -- the natural Coon habitat -- and for this reason is the most useless of all God's creatures.

Josef Pieper writes that "Truth is the self-manifestation and state of evidence of real things. Consequently, truth is something secondary, following from something else. Truth does not exist for itself alone. Primary and precedent to it are existing things, the real. Knowledge of truth, therefore, aims ultimately not at 'truth' but, strictly speaking, at gaining sight of reality."

Therefore, when we speak of "truth," we must add truth "of," since different things are known in different ways. For example, material objects are real -- i.e., they are antecedent to our knowledge of them -- so understanding their truth involves aligning our minds with their properties. But the truth of matter is very different from the truth of man or the truth of God. Or, you might say that matter speaks one way, while consciousness speaks another. And God speaks yet another way, although he is also, ultimately, the basis of all the otherwise inexplicable "speaking" and "hearing" that occurs at every level of being.

The idea that matter speaks its truth to human minds is weird enough. Weirder still is that its particular mayafestations also speak to us in very specific ways, something known to every poet, and without which even good poetry would be impossible. For example, rivers, mountains, oceans, wind, trees, seasons, storms -- in fact, nature in general -- all of these material things whisper their secrets -- their truth -- to the human soul (which is one way we know we have one).

Now that I think about it, the radical environmental movement probably represents what you might call a godless effort to preserve this aspect of God's reality -- a sort of hollow memory of the fullness of God's self-revelation. The environmentalist loves this divine truth -- or one part of it -- but not the source of this truth, which is to say, reality. Thus, he often slides into the barbarism of pantheism, or at least becomes the functional equivalent thereof. (Of course, I am speaking in generalities, as there are obviously countless people who love nature but are not radical environmentalists.)

Similarly, if we attempt to understand man in the same way we understand matter, we will simply generate confusion and paradox. And if we attempt to build a philosophy and a way of life around this misunderstanding, we will create a human nightmare, for we will have created a misanthropic world that is unfit for human habitation. This is reason #847 that leftism is a waking nightmare, for not only does it elevate matter to the ultimate, but it elevates our most primitive way of knowing the world to the highest wisdom, which is no wisdom at all. This would be reason enough to reject the radical atheists such as Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkns, since they not only reject reality, but declare war on man as such. Theirs is truly a misosophy aimed at the lowest and commonest demonimatter.

This is why Aristotle noted that all other disciplines are more necessary than philosophy, but none is more important. To which I would add, "except theology." That is, the higher the discipline, the less necessary but the more significant. At the same time, the higher the reality -- i.e., the more real -- the less important the thinker. Again, truth is a secondary phenomenon, contingent upon the ultimate Real. Since religion is the science of this ultimate real, we must ultimately eliminate ourselves, so to speak, if we would fully comprehend it (or rather, it us). And this is why religion involves both revelation and faith, for revelation is the manifestation of the ultimate real in terms the average human can understand, while the "full emptiness" or "empty fullness" of faith is the mode of knowing it.

And of course, this is where our divine slack comes into play, for if it is true that philosophy must serve no purpose in order to remain philosophy, then theology must be utterly useless. In other words, theology can never serve anything other than the Real. It cannot be made to serve some manmade, "practical" end. Rather, we were made to serve it. And serving it is the sufficient reason for our slack, which is otherwise simply a "waste of time."

Slack is that which makes us free insofar as we are engaged in an activity that serves no purpose outside of itself, the ultimate case being worship of God, or conformity with the Real. In losing our freedom, we regain it. Or in dying, we are reborn. However you wish to put it. But it is a passive state, which is why it is more analogous to hearing (which is feminine) than to seeing (which is active and masculine):

"Leisure amounts to that precise way of being silent which is a prerequisite for listening in order to hear.... Leisure implies an attitude of total receptivity toward, and willing immersion in, reality; an openness of the soul, through which alone may come about those great and blessed insights that no amount of 'mental labor' can ever achieve" (Josef Pieper).

When we talk about the true meaning of "separation of church and state" -- which, of course, does not appear in the Constitution -- the deeper meaning is the preservation of our divine Slack, which is the purpose of the state, not vice versa.

As Pieper writes, this free and slackful space is exactly "what is meant by the ancient term scholé, which designates 'school' and 'leisure' at the same time. It means a refuge where discussion takes place, in total independence -- that is, without the interference of practical goals." Rather, it is a "zone of truth" that is "set aside in the midst of society, a hedged-in space to house the autonomous engagement with reality, in which people can inquire into, discuss, and assert the truth of things without let or hindrance; a domain expressly shielded from all conceivable attempts to use it as a means to achieve certain ends."

Not only must this slackademic space be defended and preserved from without, but also from those threats that arise from within "as an infection of intellectual life itself." We know some of these nasty infections by the names "political correctness," "speech codes," "diversity," "tolerance," "multiculturalism," "critical theory," etc.

Thus -- at risk of being a champion of the bobvious -- the problem with our schools is that they are no longer schools (scholé), which is to say, pointless and disinterested centers of leisurely slack serving no human end. Instead, they are centers of indoctrination that reduce human beings to serving the ends of leftist ideology. This leftist ideology is also the essence of selfishness, in that it is the polar opposite of the selflessness required to know higher truth. No one is more appallingly grandiose than the secular leftist. (Not to raise a sore subject with our uncomprehending troll of a couple days ago, but this is again why I insist that the atheist makes a God of himself.)

I heard a perfect example of this on the Michael Medved show the other day, someone Gide might have been thinking about when he wrote that "as soon as we are no longer obliged to earn our living, we no longer know what to do with our life and recklessly squander it." Medved's guest was a radical feminist -- her name escapes me -- or maybe I chased it away -- but she had written a book that excoriates women for choosing to stay at home and raise children instead of working, the reason being that these women have selfishly abandoned feminist ideology.

Unfortunately I don't have time to outline the full horror of her inhuman ideology, but the point is that her ideology -- which is always true of any leftist ideology -- reduces the human being to a faceless and soulless unit who exists to simply serve the ends of leftist ideologues. Therefore, it is quite patently the opposite of "women's liberation," or any kind of liberation at all, for that mater. Rather, it is women's servitude, in that you must subordinate yourself to the glorious "revolution."

In this regard, as Josef Pieper writes, "politics must inevitably become empty agitation if it does not aim at something which is not political." It becomes meaningless "the moment it sees itself as an end in itself." Both feminism and the civil rights movement long ago achieved their ends, so they have now become circular, self-enclosed ends in themselves, utterly isolated from the Real.

Again, this is 180 degrees from our divine Slack, which has no purpose and no end except to conform ourselves with reality and humbly serve its truth. I hope you get my point, which is to say, my pointlessness.

All practical activity, from practice of the ethical virtues to gaining the means of livelihood, serves something other than itself. And this other thing is not practical activity. It is having what is sought after, while we rest content in the results of our active efforts. Precisely this is the meaning of the old adage that the via activa is fulfilled in the via contemplitiva.... [T]he ultimate meaning of the active life is to make possible the happiness of contemplation. --Josef Pieper (all quotes taken from this outstanding little compendium)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Enthusiasm, Inspiration, and Charisma Banned by the Left! (5.05.10)

One of the many uncoonsolations of secular humanism is that since a human life has no intrinsic -- which is to say, transcendent -- purpose, it is not possible to waste one's life. Nor, if absolute truth does not exist, is it possible to be intrinsically stupid. And, of course, if virtue is reduced to an arbitrary cultural agreement, then one cannot be bad -- much less, evil -- only "different" and probably oppressed, to boot.

If human beings are not free to know truth, then neither freedom nor truth can exist. These two categories are fundamentally intertwined, and any diminution of one leads to a diminution of the other. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a philosophy such as leftism, which does not value liberty, should be permeated with so many lies. And it is not just as if these lies represent bad or faulty information. Rather, these are vital lies which one is compelled to believe. In other words, one is not free to believe otherwise.

A mundane but nevertheless illustrative example is the recent case of high school cheerleaders being compelled to root equally for boys' and girls' teams. As Prager writes, "almost no one directly involved wants this -- not the cheerleaders, not the fans, not the boys' teams, and not even the girls' teams. But it doesn't matter: The law coerces cheerleaders to cheer at girls' games."

And it all begins with a vital lie of the left, that men and women are identical. Since no normal person believes this, it must be mandated by law. Put another way, it is against the law to be normal. Once a vital lie such as this is accepted, freedom must be constrained in a thousand ways -- not just for men, but obviously for woman as well, since a normal girl doesn't have much spontaneous interest in being a cheerleader at a girls' softball game. For that matter, at least back when I was in high school, no, ahem, "normal" boy wanted to be "yell king."

Come to think of it, what an intrinsically undignified designation for a young man. Real men don't yell (except when necessary), any more than they whine or pose as victims. If you would be a king among men, you must possess a genuine center of power. This power may lie in the realm of knowing, or doing, or being, but a man, in order to be one, must conquer something in one of these realms. Furthermore, in order to be a man, you can't just know "anything." Rather, you must know truth. Nor can you do just anything. Rather, you must courageously do what is virtuous in a fallen world.

And you certainly cannot be just anything. Rather, your being must radiate the calm presence of Being, which undoubtedly supersedes the other two powers. For example, one senses that Republican voters do not yet feel that any of the existing presidential candidates fully pass muster in the realm of being, as did, quintessentially, Ronald Reagan. In point of fact, Reagan was a man who took ideas very seriously, and who clearly possessed much more truth than the typical leftist intellectual.

But where he really left his puny detractors in the dust was in the realm of being. Reagan is often referred to as the "great communicator," but he communicated something much deeper than mere ideas, which any pinhead philosopher can do. The Clintons, John Edwards, Obama -- each is sort of "vacuum" of being. One could say that they are existentially weightless -- in particular, Obama -- except that darkness takes on a paradoxical "heft" of its own.

Prager notes what should be a truism, that "Of all the myths that surround Left-Right differences, one of the greatest is that the Left values liberty more than the Right. Regarding a small handful of behaviors -- abortion is the best example -- this is true. But overwhelmingly, the further left one goes on the political spectrum, the greater the advocacy of more state control of people's lives.... It is astonishing that this obvious fact is not universally acknowledged and that the Left has somehow successfully portrayed itself as preoccupied with personal liberty with regard to anything except sexual behavior and abortion."

Again, since the left does not value liberty, their version of "truth" must be coerced, never arrived at freely. As Prager notes, "Most activists on the Left believe that they, not only their values, are morally superior to their adversaries. Therefore, coercing people to adhere to 'progressive' values is morally acceptable, even demanded. It is thus quite understandable that laws would compel high school cheerleaders to cheer at girls' athletic events as much as at boys'. And true to leftist totalitarian models, not only is behavior is coerced, but emotions as well."

Regarding the cheerleaders, for example, leftist activists insist that they should "attend girls' and boys' games 'in the same number, and with equal enthusiasm' as part of its five-year goals.'" Is it not Orwellian to require "equal enthusiasm" of anyone over anything? Ironic, since "enthusiasm" comes from en theos, or to be in-spired by God. Thus, for a leftist, enthusiasm of any kind should be against the law on the grounds that it violates the so-called separation between church and state. So too inspiration and charisma ("divine gift"). The ACLU has fought for more bizarre causes. (And my own field of clinical psychology has many similarly illiberal demands mandating, for example, that I "respect" diversity. Why?)

Because so-called progressives "are often unsuccessful in competing in the marketplace of ideas. Same-sex marriage and affirmative action are two contemporary examples. And when persuasion fails, laws are used. If you can't convince, coerce." And of course, "The more secular the society, the more laws are needed to keep people in check. When more people feel accountable to God and moral religion, fewer laws need to be passed. But as religion fades, something must step into the moral vacuum it leaves, and laws compelling good behavior result."

Natural law is eclipsed by unnatural law, which ends up producing unnatural men -- which is to say, either feminized males or developmentally arrested boys. France apparently elected a man president yesterday, which has the boys rioting. This is to be expected.

Arnold Kling notes that "human planning tends to work poorly when compared to trial and error." For example, "many medical discoveries are serendipitous, while systematic efforts such as those of the National Cancer Institute often yield disappointing results." This is because liberty results in the spontaneous emergence of robust order, as is patently true of the economy.

But something similar -- actually, identical -- happens in our spiritual growth, so long as we use our liberty correctly. Just as a command economy ends up strangling growth, efficiency, and wealth production, a "command religion," so to speak (of which leftism is an example), will stifle spiritual growth. More on this below, because it is a point that can be misunderstood.

Regardless of your stance on the merits of embryo stem cell research, it is simply bad science to start with an end that science may or may not be capable of reaching. We can see the absurdity of this more clearly if applied to other fields. For example, imagine funding a philosophy department with the mission that they must elaborate and defend this or that position, instead of freely exploring wherever truth leads. It sounds absurd, but this attitude already prevails in our illiberal leftist universities, where, for example, "diversity" must be achieved. This represents death to thought because it is death to the freedom without which thought cannot function.

Any time thought is in the service of something other than Truth, then it is no longer thought. I don't think we have a word for what it is, but it certainly should not be associated with the beautiful word "liberalism," because it is essentially servile. The typical leftist wackademic is hardly a proponent of the "liberal arts." Rather, no matter how "intelligent," he is a drone practicing the servile arts. He might as well be flipping burgers, except that at least no child is harmed in the process of burger flipping.

As Schuon writes, a proper human being is one who “knows how to think." Conversely, "whoever does not know how to think, whatever his gifts may be, is not authentically a man; that is, he is not a man in the ideal sense of the term. Too many men display intelligence as long as their thought runs in the grooves of their desires, interests and prejudices; but the moment the truth is contrary to what pleases them, their faculty of thought becomes blurred or vanishes; which is at once inhuman and 'all too human.'”

Furthermore, "man is so made that his intelligence has no effective value unless it be combined with a virtuous character. Besides, no virtuous man is altogether deprived of intelligence; while the intellectual capacity of an intelligent man has no value except through truth. Intelligence and virtue are in conformity with their reason for being only through their supernatural contents or archetypes; in a word, man is not fully human unless he transcends himself, hence, in the first place, unless he masters himself."

Do you see how it all hangs together in a beautifully complete and coherent manner: liberty, intelligence, truth, virtue, self-mastery, transcendence, reason for being? This is the classical liberalism of our wise fathers.

The truth is not at your service. Rather, vice versa. Only by virtue of this constraint -- the yoke which is paradoxically easy -- are you free. Not to mention, intelligent.

But this is not to say that there is no sort of connection between the fulfillment of the "common good" and the philosophy taught in a country! Only the relationship can never be established or regulated from the point of view of the general good: when a thing contains its own end, or is an end in itself, it can never be made to serve as a means to any other end -- just as no one can love someone "in order that." --Josef Pieper

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Atheism: You Can't Get There From Here

Reader Stephen writes, "I notice you have been recycling some old material lately. Perhaps you should consider a brief respite. I would really hate to see you burn out and have to leave writing for an extended period. I say this because your sense of responsibility to your readers is evident, and you might feel as if you would let us down if you took a few weeks off here and there. Writing is a taxing process. I just caution you not to over-tax yourself."

First of all, I hadn't noticed the repetition, except perhaps in the way that a musician is aware of certain scales that structure the musical space. However, if my improvisions sound repetitive, I suppose that can't be improovised, the reason being that I don't plan anything ahead of time and simply write what rolls down into my cabeza that morning. I only have a vague idea of what I've written in the past, and whatever I write is more or less new to me at the moment I'm writing it. Therefore, it may not be what you need to hear, but it is apparently what I need to learn -- or at least give due coonsideration.

Not to make a big deal out of it, but I'm simultaneously writing and discovering, and I'm pretty sure that my posts must be read in the same adventurous spirit. I hate to tell people what to do, since I know you're as busy as I am, but in order to get anything out of these posts, I sense that they must be read slowly and pondered. They cannot be skimmed without missing the reproduction of the essential experience of "where they're coming from," so to speak. I just don't see how they could possibly be read for mere "content," or by trying to quickly get to the "bottom line."

Needless to say, trolls are only capable of squibbling with the letter, since they concede at the outset that the spirit is inaccessible to them. There's something happening here, but what it is ain't exactly clear to them. In short, they are buffaloed. These tone-deaf clancys don't know why the caged bluebird sings on its way home. I don't claim to be Mr. Soul, but that's my opinion, for what it's worth. Indeed, I am still a child neiling, and a young one at that.

And as I've repeated before, there is definitely a cyclicity to the process. I can tell when a blogging cycle has ended and when one has kicked in, but I have no control over it. That's too deep for me to presume to have any jurisdiction over it. It would be like trying to control the seasons or something. Only Al Gore can do that.

But burnout? No, that's not a problem. In the words of the great ministrel Reverend Hillary, Ah ain't noways t'arred yet, Amos. The only problem is not having enough time to really get into the proper mode of deep receptivity. It takes awhile to penetrate into that space -- I have to kind of work my way into it (or perhaps vice versa). But then Future Leader wakes up, and that pretty much breaks the spiel. I wish I had more timelessness, but that's life.

For example, at this moment, I still have no idea what's ahead -- or below. What shall I write? Let's see. How about a continuation of yesterday's post on the nature of man? Okay. Where shall we start?


Did you hear that? That was F.L. kicking his crib, and it's only 4:55. No, he's not awake, but that's a bad sign. Ideally, we'd like him to sleep until 7:00, but lately he's been getting up at 6:00.

See what I mean? Distractions. A race against my son's biological clock. A metaphor for life, which is also a race against the biological clock... which is one reason we know life is not the same as biology.

Hmm. I see that an atheist commenter registered a complaint last night which I do not understand. Nor do I understand why an atheist would have the slightest bit of interest in my blog. I mean, I certainly have no interest in something as intellectually shallow and fatuous as bonehead atheism. The only reason I write about it is to try to help rescue people from its dreary clutches.

Anyway, the commenter wrote that he disagreed with paragraph four from yesterday, in which I said that "in reducing himself to matter, the secularist covertly elevates himself to God, since nothing is higher or lower than anything else -- thus, with a single metaphysical error, the humanist makes a God -- and an ass -- of himself." What I meant to say is that there is nothing lower -- or higher -- than an atheist. Not even -- or especially -- nothing, which is to say, everything.

In response, anonymous wrote that "I just don't see how when somebody doesn't believe in God they 'covertly escalate' their status to God level. God is a not a rank, God is supernatural, and if you don't believe in God that doesn't make you supernatural."

Yes, it does, since belief and rank are both supernatural. The human ability to think is ontologically distinct from matter. To be specific, it is higher. I don't know how it is possible for someone to not know this unless they've received a pretty thorough secular brainwashing.

Therefore, hierarchy exists in the cosmos. Again, a thoroughly banal observation, and I apologize for being repetitive. Hierarchy may only be known because it inheres in light of the Absolute, in the form of degrees of being. In other words, one cannot derive the greater from the lesser.

Specifically, one cannot derive thought -- much less, truth -- from matter. Quality is not just another form of quantity. Nor can semantics be derived from syntax. That is, Truth is not merely the correct arrangement of words. Rather, especially when discussing the deep metaphysics of the cosmos, it is the Truth -- or the Word -- that arranges the words, from the top down. Yes, you could say that I am typing in tongues right now.

Now, if a series of things is hierarchically ordered, it is conditioned from top to bottom and cannot be what the good Hegel called a "bad infinite." Or, if it is horizontally infinite, it cannot be conditioned from top to bottom, and there can be no higher or lower.

It is like the difference between pouring milk into a glass vs. pouring it onto the floor. Because there are archetypal degrees of being -- or evolutionary stations -- when God pours out his creative grace in the form of his involution, the cosmic glass "fills up" -- both personally and impersonally (i.e., whether you are discussing "matter" [which is simply "frozen" or congealed mind] or "mind" [which is an echo of the divine shakti, light, or conscious force]).

Thus, it is not a matter of whether or not you think you believe in God. Rather, to the extent you believe in man -- that man exists and is something clearly distinct from matter and from mere animals -- then you necessarily believe in God. It's just common sense. As Schuon points out, "The very word 'man' implies 'God,'" just as "the very word 'relative' implies 'Absolute.'"

Man is intelligence, the same intelligence that is woven into every corpuscle of this living cosmos. If you want to know what a living and thinking cosmos looks like, you are looking at one. If it were not a living and thinking cosmos, you wouldn't be living here thinking about it. Truth and Life must be nonlocally anterior to their local manifestations, or they would be a strict impossibility, an absurdity -- even a ghastly monstrosity, a cancer on the body of nothingness, as one fellow put it.

And if man is intelligence, he may know truth. Or, to put it another way, if man cannot know truth, then he is not very intelligent, for he "knows" only error, and error is no knowledge at all. If such were the case, man really would be a know-nothing nobody, no better than nothing else.

Now, do not confuse the words I am using with the truth I am conveying. God is inexhaustible, and always transcends any of our formulations of him -- just as DNA could never exhaust Life, nor is there a single mathematical equation that could exhaust mathematical truth -- much less, explain how it is that mathematical truth can be woven into the cosmos, just waiting for our minds to discover it.

Religious truth must be experienced, not just known. Therefore, it requires an irreducible cosmic category called experience or conscious being. There is no atheistic philosophy that can account for being, let allone, conscious being. There can be no conscious being unless there is a Conscious Being. Religion is simply the "scientific" inquiry into (and return to) this Conscious Being.

It's as simple as that.

However, needless to say, approaching this Conscious Being is very different from the study of matter, in which case we may create a bright (but artificial) line between mind and matter, or subject and object. But there is no such bright line in religion, since it involves a subject attempting to understand its own source -- like an eye trying to "see" vision, or a hand trying to grasp grasping. Therefore, in the final analysis, God is both the subject and object of religion. He is what is known, but he is also the knower. To paraphrase Eckhart, "the same eye with which I see God is eye with which God sees me."

As such, a big part of spiritual development simply involves "getting out of the way," something that the postmodern, egocentric narcissist has a great deal of difficulty doing. Why? Because he is proud. And why is he proud? I have no idea. You'll have to tell me, for there is no reason for a meaningless clump of matter to feel proud of itself. Unless -- unless it covertly thinks that it is God. Then atheism makes total sense, for it proves the existence of God.

Look at it this way. As Schuon writes, "To say that man is the measure of all things is meaningless unless one starts from the idea that God is the measure of man, or that the absolute is the measure of the relative, or again, that the universal Intellect is the measure of individual existence; nothing is fully human that is not determined by the Divine, and therefore centered on it. Once man makes of himself a measure, while refusing to be measured in turn, or once he makes definitions while refusing to be defined by what transcends him and gives him all his meaning, all human reference points disappear; cut off from the Divine, the human collapses."

Does this lucid paragraph require any further explanation, or would that simply be repetitive?

Perhaps just a little. After all, there are always new readers, people coming and going, for whom this is not the same old same moldy sayings.

Three things you must know about man on pain of not being one: that man may know truth; that man is free; and that man may transcend himself by dispassionately discerning good and evil. And if we can know the truth or will the good, then we must do so, no?

Another way of saying it is that man is made of truth, will, and virtue; or knowledge, freedom, and beauty. The point is that our knowledge frees us from matter; that our freedom liberates us from animal instinct; and that our beauty frees us from meaninglessness.

There is nothing more beautiful than God, and in fact, nothing so beautiful could possibly be untrue. But only if you experience the truth of this beauty in the depths of your opened -- or possibly broken -- heart. You will know this is happening if you shed tears of joy upon hearing it, which occurs when we touch the divine plane, and are thereby touched -- or when the prodigal subject returns to the loving embrace of its Subject.

That's it for today. He's up.

To say that man is made of intelligence, will and sentiment, means that he is made for the Truth, the Way, and Virtue. In other words: intelligence is made for comprehension of the True; will, for concentration on the Sovereign Good; and sentiment, for conformity to the True and the Good. Instead of "sentiment," we could also say "soul" or “faculty of loving,” for this is a fundamental dimension of man; not a weakness as it is all too often thought, but a participation in the Divine Nature, in conformity with the mystery that “God is Love.” --F. Schuon

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