Saturday, January 19, 2008

All in the Family: Interior Development and the Micro-Evolution of Man

One book that influenced me along the way was Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, which is packed with fascinating details about what life was like for pre-modern Europeans. In contrast, A Secular Age is so dense and wordy that I'm having a little difficulty getting through it. Reminds me too much of school -- one of those books I should read, but don't really want to. Oh, the things I do for my readers.....

Surprisingly, Stone's book has only one amazon review, but it's pretty spot-on: "It is an excellent source of information for genealogists trying to understand the motivation of ancestors whose actions seem incomprehensible today. By providing detailed analysis of family relationships from 1500 to 1800 in England, Mr. Stone has given us all an insight into thought processes and values that are very different from our own. The book would be equally valuable for anyone trying to understand the everyday lives of people in another time, to historians, to authors doing research for historical novels or plays, or simply to anyone who wants to take the equivalent of a ride in a time machine."

Having said that, I think I read somewhere that Stone was a Man of the Left, so I have no idea if he had some other agenda in writing the book (e.g., "deconstructing the family" or "queering the patriarchy"), but it seems hard to fault his data. It certainly rang true to me, because the one thing I always wanted to know about history is, "why were people so freaking crazy?" One of the things that made history so boring to me as a young kit is that it was just a chronicle of insane behavior, with no explanation for why people were so nutty.

Not until I began studying psychohistory did things begin to add up. Now I wonder why history isn't even crazier than it is. As Woody Allen said about the Holocaust, the only question is why it doesn't happen more often. At the same time, the psychohistorical perspective has added to my gratitude for being so fortunate to live in the United States at this particular time. Judged by the standards of historical precedent, every day is a miracle.

In any event, Stone begins by pointing out the four key features of the modern family -- again, things that we probably just take for granted, but which, from the point of view of developmental psychology, could hardly be of more earth-shattering consequence. If we fail to understand how different we are from our furbears, we will just project the present onto the past, and thereby not really understand it at all. The four features are

1) "intensified affective bonding of the nuclear core at the expense of neighbors and kin"; 2) "a strong sense of individual autonomy and the right to personal freedom in the pursuit of happiness"; 3) "a weakening of the association of sexual pleasure with sin and guilt"; and 4) "a growing desire for physical privacy." All of these trends were well established by the mid-18th century in the English middle and upper classes.

However, it's not as if it were a linear process of evolution. Rather, Stone describes it as more analogous to an archaeological dig, in which different layers and strata are copresent, revealing very different "psychoclasses" (deMause's term), so to speak, living side by side. This is no different than today. For example, in my work conducting psychological evaluations of a culturally diverse population, I see the vast "vertical" differences between different cultural practices and beliefs, especially with regard to childrearing. For the left, these differences are purely "horizontal," which is why, for example, feminist groups have been so conspicuously silent about the greatest global threat to the well-being of women, Islam.

As Stone writes, "older family types survive unaltered in some social groups at the same time other groups are evolving new patterns." One of my beefs with the Democrat party is that they make transparent appeals to more primitive mentalities and psychoclasses, which probably constitute the majority of their constituency. The appeal of a John Edwards is strictly limited to the very stupid and very angry.

Oddly, the left is a combination of the over-educated (or uselessly educated), the fortuitously wealthy (i.e., Hollywood, the MSM), and the psychoculturally primitive, the latter of whom are ceaselessly manipulated by the former because it makes them feel good about themselves, even while guaranteeing that their largely self-generated problems will continue -- which may be the whole point, as the contemptuous leftist requires people to whom he can feel morally and intellectually superior under the guise of "rescuing." Look at the flack Obama is getting from the Clintons for being an ungrateful negro. Doesn't he realize that without LBJ, that goddamned nigger preacher (as President Johnson called King) wouldn't have accomplished a thing?

Let's not get sidetracked. With regard to marriage, it doesn't surprise me at all to learn that what we take for granted as modern companionate love, just didn't exist in the pre-modern world. Rather, through the middle ages, marriage was basically "a private contract between two families concerning property exchange, which also provided some financial protection to the bride in case of the death [or desertion] of her husband." I can't help thinking that most people literally couldn't fall in love, for a whole host of developmental reasons, not the least of which being that the foundation and possibility of love is laid down in the first two years of life, during the critical period of bonding and attachment to our parents. If you consider the incredibly callous way in which children were treated (which we'll get into below, both today and in subsequent posts), it is not surprising that earthly love was not on their psychological radar.

This is not to say that pre-modern marriages were entirely loveless. Again, remember the idea of the psychohistorical "strata." It's just that by the 17th century, as described by Spierenburg, there emerges an unprecedented "romantic ideal," along with the greater choice of a partner. At the same time, the "emotional distance" between family members begins to shrink. Before 1700, wives and children typically open letters with"My Lord Husband" or "My Lord Father," and use very formal and stiff language. From the age of 7 or 8 -- or whenever they were capable of doing so -- children were simply put to work. They were mainly regarded as an economic resource, not a cherished object of emotional intimacy. There was a much higher rate of accidental deaths of children, partly because parents just paid so little attention. I look at my son, who is admittedly on the "spirited" side of the continuum, but he would have been dead in five minutes without a body on him at all times, something that would have been quite difficult in the pre-modern world, when everyone was working from sunup to sundown.

One reason we are so much more empathic toward our children is that most of us remember what it was like to be young -- we remember the ecstasies, the frustrations, the fears, the rages. But we know that people who were traumatized during childhood generally don't remember it all that clearly or accurately. In fact, the more they were traumatized, the more they tend to act out the trauma as adults, often toward their own children, as a pathological form of "recollection." I always find it fascinating to interview such a person, because as you get close to the trauma, their mind begins generating "flack." They start to lose coherence in the most striking manner. Not uncommonly, linear history breaks down altogether. I call this a "dimensional defense," as they essentially break up time into incomprehensible "bits" that prevent them from being synthesized into an unwanted meaning.

Along these lines, Spierenburg writes that adults were so preoccupied with their own concerns, that "they never seemed to remember what it was like to be young." Not surprisingly, there was "a large measure of indifference" toward sucklings in particular. Any parent who had the financial means to do so, simply placed the infant with a wet nurse, even though (because?) this greatly raised the chances of mortality. Stone cites much evidence of "culpable neglect" for the astonishing rates of infant mortality, from lack of attention in the first few critical weeks of life to outright abandonment of the child. Even if left at a the doorway of a church or foundling hospital, the rate of death was astronomical.

Hazards were everywhere -- death from fevers during teething, worms, contaminated water, poisonous pewter dishes, inadequate milk supply. Dead and butchered animals were left to decay in the street, latrines were adjacent to water supplies, open pits were used as common graves, only covered over when full. "In 1742 Dr. Johnson described London as a city 'which abounds with such heaps of filth as a savage would look on in amazement.'" Human excrement was everywhere, which lead to constant outbreaks of bacterial stomach infections. The medical profession "was almost entirely helpless," since even their theories of disease were catastrophically wrong. Not a single disease was properly understood. For example, a doctor might treat cataracts by blowing dried and powdered human excrement into the eye.

Spierenburg writes that "when a child died, the parents felt hardly any grief, thinking the loss of one would no doubt be compensated by another birth." In the contemporary West, we call such a person "Schizoid" -- that is, someone who is curiously indifferent to intimate relationships. It's more common than you may realize, and in fact, most "normal" neurotics might have some schizoid "envelopes" that essentially form closed sub-systems within the psyche (this would be a typical form of mind parasite).

Consider the "great" Rousseau, who had five children with his companion, but abandoned them all without a moment of remorse. In a letter, he casually commented that they were all "put out as foundlings. I have not even kept a note of their dates of birth, so little did I expect to see them again." None of his contemporaries -- including enemies -- chided him for this.

Even under the best of circumstances, about half of children had lost at least one parent by the time of adolescence. So to say that attachment, bonding, and intimacy could not flourish under such circumstances is not to criticize them. Again, the great mystery is how modern people broke through that emotional barrier and became.... modern people.

Stone writes that in order to "preserve mental stability," parents were naturally "obliged to limit the degree of their psychological involvement with their infant children." Even when wanted, "it was very rash for parents to get too emotionally concerned about creatures whose expectation of life was so very low." In fact, multiple children would often be given the same name, assuming that only one would survive to carry it into the future. It cannot be coincidence that, as infant mortality begins to fall in the mid-18th century, we see a corresponding great rise in affection and intimacy in general.

Stone concludes that "it is impossible to stress too heavily the impermanence of the Early Modern family." None of its members "could reasonably expect to remain together for very long, a fact which fundamentally affected all human relationships."

To be continued....

Friday, January 18, 2008

Inner Space: The Final Frontier

The pupil of the eye performs a function on the physical level which aptly symbolizes that of the self, inasmuch as the latter is the nexus through which all experience and all kinds of knowledge must pass. None of the contents of experience can be unaffected by this relation, since things received always take on the qualities of the receiver.... For this reason, misunderstandings of the self lead to misunderstandings of everything else. --Robert Bolton, Self and Spirit

The first thing we must understand is that the cosmos is always refracted through a modified primate brain -- that the world comes into being in the transitional space between subject and object. The world is not experienced directly, but is always a form of our sensibility, and is therefore limited by our ability to comprehend it. This is why our understanding of the world can evolve and deepen, unlike any other animal, for whom the world is just "given" in an inalterable way. Only humans can "see beneath the surface" in an inexhaustible way, since they are not limited to their physical senses.

Now, the same thing applies ipso facto to the transcendent planes. We are able to see of them what we can, but quite obviously, not everyone sees as much or as deeply or as far, any more than all men are Wayne Gretzky. This is why two people can read the Bible and arrive at such radically different interpretations -- which will not just differ "horizontally," but vertically.

But as I was saying a couple of days ago, this is where metaphysics can be helpful, as it eliminates interpretations that just cannot be -- what Schuon called intrinsic heresies, those conclusions that are "contrary not only to a particular perspective or a particular formulation, but to the very nature of things, for [they] result, not from a perspective legitimate by nature and therefore 'providential,' but from the arbitrary judgment of a mind left to its own resources and obliged to 'create' what the intellect when paralyzed -- fundamentally or accidentally -- cannot transmit to it."

This is why I say that religious fundamentalism is analogous to scientism, in that both severely restrict O to their own narrow manmade judgments, which they then naively absolutize. Neither one recognizes that their image of the Real is restricted to their ability to know it. If one wishes to penetrate more deeply into reality, "it is essential that it be 'upwards' and not 'downwards': dogmatic form is transcended by fathoming its depths and contemplating its universal content, and not by denying it in the name of a pretentious and iconoclastic ideal of 'pure truth.'" In other words, more often than not -- in science, in psychotherapy, and in religion -- "truth" is the greatest barrier to the evolution of Truth, or O-->(n).

Bolton makes an important point that serves as a good segue back to our discussion of Taylor, which is that "Exoteric religion, however sincere, allows people to go on believing themselves to be solely what they appear to be to other people. Deeper insights into the self lead outside the exoteric, and are usually resisted in a mistaken belief that this must be a danger to orthodoxy." This often results in a situation directly antithetical to the purposes of religion, in that the most conventionally devout can have the least insight into the nature of the self. These are the grinning robots who give us the Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Joseph Smith, or Ken Willies.

Jesus famously asked, "who do you say that I am?" The answer partly depends upon what we mean by "I" as applied to Jesus and to ourselves. There is always going to be a gap between the I AM and what we can say about it, which is true of the relation between any two subjectivities, or I AMs. The better you know someone, the more you can say about them, but there is always a limit to what you can say, since you are not them. Nor are you even fully yourself, as that relationship is subject to evolution as well. When you were a child, you understood as a child, but even today, you are hopefully a child in relation to the man you'll someday be. Who, with luck, will also be as a little child in relation to its own manchildish future.

In A Secular Age, Taylor goes into great detail about the contextual limits to the imagination of the self, limits which have changed drastically over the centuries (I just don't have time to cite 700 pages of documentation). A few readers keep insisting in the teeth of this evidence that "folks is folks, everywhere the same." To the extent that they truly believe this, even after examining the evidence, then it's just a statement about themselves, not about reality.

For example, people who live in the modern West just take the idea of the individual as a given -- as if it has always existed, or as if it exists for everyone, say, in the Muslim Middle East, instead of being an exceptional deviation from all mentalities that came before. But in its own way, the difference between reflective individual minds and the unreflective group mind is as striking and unexpected as the difference between man and animals (and no, I am obviously not equating primitive groups with animals, or diminishing their humanity -- I'm explaining the phenomenon instead of explaining it away in the manner of cultural relativists).

In the West, we first experience ourselves as individuals (i.e., "all men are created equal"), and only then "become aware of others, and of forms of sociality" (Taylor). But in all human groups until quite recently, this formulation was literally unthinkable. So much was your identity embedded in the group, that you wouldn't know who you were in its absence. You would be utterly lost, a nothing and a nobody. Banishment from the group was existential death. It's somewhat like trying to imagine if you were the opposite sex. For example, so much does the normal male identify with his sex, that he can't imagine what it would be like to be John Edwards.

Again, Taylor traces this unprecedented change from immersion in the group-mind to the ability to conceive of ourselves as free individuals and "to have our own opinions, to attain our own relation to God, our own conversion experience." But ironically, Taylor believes that this was actually a sort of "delayed reaction" to the implicit metaphysics hidden in plain sight in scripture. For example, in the New Testament there are numerous calls "to leave or relativize solidarities of family, clan, society, and be a part of the Kingdom." This is actually a mind-blowing idea, especially in the context of the times (not to mention a culture- and state-blowing idea, as you are called to solidarity with a higher mind, i.e., the "body of Christ"; nothing could be more radical and subversive to the "powers that be").

In fact, it would be hard to imagine a more radical idea, because this "new inwardness" was going against the grain of all human and religious organization prior to that time. No wonder individualism only arose in the West, and that it took another 1600 or 1700 years for it to begin happening on a widespread scale! It was literally like trying to evolve a third eye or some other new organ. Because that's what the Self is: a new immaterial organ (to be perfectly accurate, it's a subtle material) for navigating around the hyperspace of human subjectivity, which is infinite at its outer inner reaches. You might say that religion tracks the outer reaches of inner space, while science tracks the inner reaches of outer space, whereas my book shows how the two meet in the muddle of the mount, if you'll just be an accomplice to my literary climb.

That's what I meant when I wrote in the introduction, "The aim of this book is to bore through the cosmic mountain from both sides: from the inside out, where science explores a world of diverse material objects and forces to which we are subject, and from the outside in, where the teeming multiplicity of the world is synthesized in the transcendental human subject. Is there a center where these two shafts could possibly meet?"

Well, yes. But only if you understand the mystery of who I AM.

For the more one discovers of God, the more one finds one has to learn. Every step in advance is a return to the beginning, and we shall not really know him as he is, until we have returned to our beginning, and learned how to know him both as the beginning and end of the journey. --Fr. Bede Griffiths, The Golden String

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Don't Poop Under the Dinner Table, and Other Rules of Etiquette

I guess I'll be going back and forth between topics for a while, but I want to get back to Taylor's A Secular Age and ponder a few things I read yesterday. Again, the central question his book addresses is how human beings "moved from a condition in 1500 in which it was hard not to believe in God, to our present situation just after 2000, where this has become quite easy for many." In ways that never existed before, even nominally religious people are quite content to pursue goals that are purely immanent and to enjoy activities that take no account of the transcendent. This can be easily proved by the existence of NASCAR.

Some people seemed puzzled by my statement the other day, to the effect that a contemporary religious and secular person will probably have more in common with each other than either of them do with a pre-modern person or NASCAR fan, but it's difficult to avoid that conclusion. How many contemporary religious people would actually like to eliminate the secular realm, as the Islamists wish to do? Until a few hundred years ago, all of mankind was completely swaddled in religion. There was no "space" outside it. The very possibility of skepticism just didn't exist.

Likewise, it wasn't as if people converted from godlessness to Christianity. Rather, it was simply a change of allegiance from one god to another, usually for a better deal. No evangelist had to begin "from the ground up" and lay a basis for why God exists and religion is necessary. It was completely and totally self-evident. A book such as mine would have been even more superfluous than it is today: "Of course the universe was created. Of course life didn't arise by accident. What's your point?"

But today, for the vast majority of people, God is anything but self-evident. In my case, as I was saying yesterday, it wasn't until I tapped into the esoteric and Hermetic tradition of Christianity that it made any sense to me at all. I was then able to use that as a "bridge" to more traditional forms, and it all began to add up.

I think it was also much easier for pre-modern people to be religious because life was so short and unpleasant: "Lousy food. And such small portions!" Plus, no one understood how anything worked or why anything happened. I think of Buddha, or the early desert fathers, who withdrew from the world in order to have a direct encounter with God. As much as I admire them, what were they giving up? Life was so obviously transient and full of pain, that the Buddha must be counted as a champion of the obvious. "Life is suffering. Gee, ya think? What would you like us to do, name a religion after you?"

I was particularly struck by Taylor's discussion of the "civilizing process" that commenced in Europe in the 16th century. I touched on this in my book, on pp. 162-166, but there again, that section could easily be expanded into a whole book. (In fact, it has, for example, Norbert Elias's classic The Civilizing Process.) It turns out that you can learn a lot about people by looking at the etiquette books of the time, to see what was required to be a polished gentleman and stand out from the uncivilized rabble -- by the things that were and weren't taken for granted.

For example, when dining with others, don't blow your nose with the tablecloth. When walking with a companion down the street, it is not a "very fine habit," "when one comes across excrement... to point it out to another, and hold it up for him to smell." Do not defecate in public places, either in the middle of the street or down the hallway. Don't just walk around naked.

Neil Postman also discusses this in his excellent The Disappearance of Childhood. People "were not shamed by exposing their bodily functions to the gaze of others.... The idea of concealing sexual drives was alien to adults, and the idea of sheltering children from sexual secrets, unknown.... Indeed, it was common enough in the Middle Ages for adults to take liberties with the sexual organs of children.... In the Middle Ages there were no children because there existed no means for adults to know exclusive information..." Manners, literacy, disenchantment, individualism, boundaries, and the interior self all arise simultaneously.

In his book, Elias devotes an an entire analysis to "the rise of the fork," which symbolized a more general trend toward refinement of manners, or self-restraint, courtesy, psychological boundaries, and recognition of the other as a separate being. Prior to the 16th century, everyone just ate with their hands from a common bowl, and this persisted in the lower classes into the 19th century. In a way, the civilizing process tracks along with the development of shame, or at least putting it to an entirely new purpose. As Taylor writes, the civilizing process is a matter of learning to feel shame "in the proper places."

Thus, what may appear to be a trivial change in manners on the surface signifies a much deeper psychological change, in that people are beginning to be aware of their own psychological interior, and how they appear to others. Prior to this time, people are much more like children, with no shame whatsoever about bodily functions, about expressing emotion with no restraint, or about acting on violent or sexual impulses without reflection. Ironically, it is only with the development of the individual that intimacy can begin to develop, which you might say is the unashamed sharing of two people, interior to interior, or "psychological undressing."

It's easy to criticize the Catholic Church, but the point is, they were just reflecting the average mentality of the time. A day-to-day chronicler of papal life tells of how, at a Vatican banquet in around 1500, the Pope watched from a balcony "with loud laughter and much pleasure," as his illegitimate son "slew unarmed criminals, one by one, as they were driven into a small courtyard below" (Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire). One could cite hundreds of similar examples. People were just fascinated with the most barbaric expressions of sadistic violence, in a way that we only express in disguise by, say, watching horror movies or NASCAR crashes.

Since there was no interior self, there was no need for privacy. The typical home of even a prosperous peasant centered around a bed made of straw pallets, "all seething with vermin. Everyone slept there, regardless of age or gender -- grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, hens and pigs -- and if a couple chose to enjoy intimacy, the others were aware of every movement." One wonders as well if they weren't perpetually intoxicated: "Under Henry VII and Henry VIII the per capita allowance was one gallon of beer per day -- even for nuns and 18-year-old children." After all, you were taking your life into your hands if you drank water. Because of malnourishment, the average man stood 5'5" and weighed 135 pounds. Because of the toll of childbearing, "a young girl's life expectancy was twenty-four." Marriages typically lasted only six or seven years, since few people surpassed the age of 40, by which time they probably looked and felt 70 (Manchester).

Not only was skepticism unheard of, but childlike credulousness was the norm. Taylor traces the psychological "disenchantment" of the world, which made it possible to study the world objectively, and thereby give rise to science. But before the development of psychological boundaries demarcating a distinct interior and exterior, the world was teeming with psychological content projected outward. Everyone just "knew" that the air was filled with ghosts, ghouls, incubi, the spirits of unbaptized infants, water nymphs, sprites, fairies, and vampires. Many of the burial practices we maintain today were developed in order to make sure that the dead person stayed dead, and did not come back to haunt the living (Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality).

My children, this post has become rather rambling and unwieldy, without ever getting to my main point. To be continued....

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Follow the Depth

The pneumatic is a man who identifies a priori with his spiritual substance and thus always remains faithful to himself; he is not a mask unaware of his scope, as is the man enclosed in accidentality. --F. Schuon

I suppose one of the secrets of keeping my readership quite... er, "compact," is the ability to alienate people of all persuasions. Only a masochistic leftist is going to read more than one post here. A new-ager or integralist might initially be drawn in, but then be repelled by my traditionalism and moonbat-battering. Traditionalists are put off by my evolutionism, while many Jews (not Lisa, of course) and followers of eastern religions might be put off by my Christian slant. But many Christians are eventually put off by my neo-Vedantin orientation, not to mention my esoteric and Hermetic understanding of Christianity. Today perhaps I'll alienate the rest, and finally have some solitude.

With that in mind, what follows is not actually an attempt to start or continue an argument, but a rambling exploration of some important principles. I'm just talking to myself, Coon to Coon. Feel free to listen in.

AT in LA writes that:

There really isn't such thing as Christianity. Only Christ and His Church. His authenticity and authority, or not. For each of us, we are able to receive what we are disposed to receive, and that is the rub. He is who he claimed to be and rose from the dead, or the whole thing is a sham with some nice teachings and miracles thrown in. And that's not my opinion or position, but the claim put forward to us all.

Not to be pedantic about it, but there must be such a thing as Christianity, or we wouldn't be able to recognize it. Something only exists by virtue of being defined, even if we can't fully understand the definition. It reminds me of when physicists say that time doesn't exist. Oh really? It takes time to recognize time, let alone deny its existence. More importantly, the archetypal quality of duration, or "eternity extended," transcends anything physicists can say about quantitative time. Put another way, it takes a minimum of 13.7 billion years to produce a physicist capable of making such a self-refuting statement. And that's the law.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that an "archetypal Christianity" exists, but that Man's definitions of it perpetually -- and perhaps necessarly -- fall short, for reasons related to Plato's allegory of the cave. However, in my opinion, this is where esoterism, metaphysics, and Hermeticism come to the rescue, as they all deal with the fundamental cosmic principles that simply "cannot not be," and which religion is here to disclose in a way that the average Man can understand.

I align mysoph with Saint Augustine, who wrote that "What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian." What a profound statement! I would only add that this true religion never existed "on earth," since it is archetypal. It is the archetypal form in light of which the substance of religion can be seen. But perhaps the most paradoxical thing about it is that it is not superior to the form it takes, any more than the idea of Mother is superior to your dear old Mom, or the baseball rule book is superior to a game.

The "already existing true religion" is the "root religion" of all mankind, bearing in mind that the Tree of Life has its nonlocal roots aloft, its local branches and district offices down below. Because it exists, people could (and can) recognize and understand Christianity when they heard it. Otherwise, Christianity would simply be an absurdity, which it obviously isn't. True, many modern intellectuals regard it as one, but that's only because they aren't intellectuals in the true sense of that word, which means to have an awakened intellect, or nous.

In essence, these sleepwaking clockjockeys down in flatland try to understand transcendent reality with senses and modes adapted to, and reflecting, the material world. But the lower cannot comprehend the higher, since the lower is a descent, or involution, of the higher. That being the case, we can only evolve toward the One because the One is involved in the many -- which is just another way of saying that everything (including, of course, the mind) is made of language, or the word. If it weren't, we couldn't read reality like a book.

It is perfectly true that Christianity cannot be understood by the ego or profane mind, but that doesn't mean it can't be understood at all. In fact, many Christians who say so are under the same illusions as the modern skeptics, except they're just not as proud of their minds. ("God said it, I believe it, that settles it.") You might say that they believe it because it is absurd, as a kind of defiant alternative (but on the same plane) to the ego's verdict that all of reality is ultimately absurd. Nevertheless, there is obviously a deeper part of theirwholes that Christianity "speaks to," even if they only dimly apprehend its dimensions and coordinates.

What is the part of us that recognizes and understands the "divine message," or (n), since it is obviously a necessary condition for the earthly existence of Christianity? More on that later. For now, let's just call it (¶). In the absence of (¶) there can be no (n), for the same reason that in the absence of ears there can be no sound. Let those with ears hear! More fundamentally, let ears be the material instantiation, or descent of the cosmic archetypal principle of sound. This is the sacred syllable, AUM, "which is in all the scriptures -- the supreme syllable, the mother of all sound" (Taittirya Upanishad), for A-u-m-en are created equal.

Thus, if Christianity is true, it must not only echo the a priori meta-cosmic principles, but -- for the faithful -- be an essentially "perfect" instantiation of them, a luminous obscurity seen "through a glass darkly," but seen more clearly with the eyes of faith. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect" = work at being a more accurate immanent image of the transcendent Principle. Just because you can never achieve perfection in this life, it doesn't mean the Principle doesn't exist or that you should stop trying to reach it.

I suppose it comes down to the question of how much Truth may be discovered by Man in the absence of revelation. I'm guessing that the sort of Christian I alienate would be the type who insists that we cannot really understand these ultimate principles, but simply have to accept on faith the ones that are revealed to us, even if they seem illogical, clash with everything else we know to be true of the world, and do not appeal to the intellect. Call me promethian, like great aunt Mary, but I just find this unacceptable.

I believe there are close to 60,000 groups/sects/denominations that might all label themselves "Christian", but many hold central beliefs that are opposed to one another. This is clearly impossible and it's no wonder people are reluctant about it and even get, as Bob would say, the Jesus willies, when a lot of what passes for Christianity has little to do with Christ.

The fact that there are 60,000 interpretations of Christianity should tell us something. Not that they are false, but that most of them are attempting to describe a hyperdimensional manifold with eyes designed for only three dimensions. On the horizontal axis, things are either true or false in the unambiguous scientific sense. But only on the vertical axis can you get into "profound truths," some of which might even superficially contradict one another.

Speaking only for myself -- as something of an inside outsider or outside insider -- I find the most consistently "full" elaboration of this hyperdimensional object to abide within Orthodoxy, with certain vital Catholic contributions added later, for example, Meister Eckhart, whose vision might well be most compatible with my own. (In the near future, I hope to do a series of posts to explore his thought in great detail.)

Statements of higher truth never merely contain what they contain. Rather, they are activated in unpredictable ways upon contact with them by one's own gnosis. This is why Schuon says that "there is the order of principles, which is immutable, and the order of information -- traditional or otherwise -- of which one can say that it is inexhaustible."

Obviously even in my own faulty way, my wording or unintentional tonality may cause some to say, "here we go again, another naive 'Christian.'" But all I would say is, look into it yourself. It's a big claim. It's very unique to human kind and our history. We are all imperfect and faulty souls. Don't let the "Christian" be the stumbling block to Christ.

Not to be pedantic again, but something can't be very unique, only unique, since uniqueness cannot be surpassed. Irrespective of its uniqueness, the esoterist nevertheless goes one step further, and always asks by virtue of what principle is this true? So let's say that Christianity is uniquely true. Nevertheless, the Coon in me wants to know, "by virtue of what principle?"

For example, if we "reverse imagineer" Christianity, there must be an a priori principle that allows the Creator to take human form, unless the Creator just makes it up as he goes along, like Allah. Likewise, there must be an immanent principle that allows the mind of man to be a witness to Christian truth. In the absence of these principles, then Christ could not have appeared and we couldn't have recognized him anyway; unless you simply insist that this is true, regardless of whether you really understand it. Again, I find such a view unacceptable. This was the Christianity that was foisted upon me as a child, and which caused me to unfortunately reject all Christianity out of hand by the time I was 10 years old.

As Schuon has written, "The very word 'man' implies 'God,' the very word 'relative' implies 'Absolute.'" This is an example of another principle that cannot not be. You could say the same for other irreducible polarities such as time and eternity, spirit and matter, form and substance, freedom and determacy, fate and providence, quantity and quality, individual and group, conscious and unconscious, and others.

I suppose my bottom line -- and this will no doubt smell blasfumy to some -- is that Christianity can be true, but it cannot surpass Truth. While the human mind is "made of truth," it only exists in potential until it is realized. Once you walk the blank into God's arbor and your wood beleaf, the coonundrum ends and the Great Mystery begins. And it is a "mystery in motion," otherwise known as an adventure -- the only one that really Is and has ever been: the adventure of consciousness. Don't listen to the others, most of all me. Just follow the depth, for O is nothing if not deep.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When the (O)ther Comes Crashing into History

Religion, first of all, is rooted in a genuine encounter with the Other. Petey symbolized this as (?!) in my book, I suppose in order to capture both its immediate and undeniable presence, but also our simultaneous inability to contain or account for it. It's "here," but what is it? It truly is Other, and we need to meditate upon this relationship, not just ignore or superficially accept it, since it is without a doubt the weirdest thing in existence after existence itself.

Here it is important to emphasize that the encounter with the "raw" Other is prior to religion. For example, none of the people who actually saw Jesus in the flesh were Christians. And who knows -- to be cynical about it -- perhaps they wouldn't even have seen him if they had been. The Christianity only came later, as an attempt to comprehend ("hold in the hand"), memorialize, and "extend" the contact. But anyone who thinks this is an effective substitute just hasn't been paying attention. Of course it can be, but much depends upon what the individual brings to the program. Transfigurers don't lie, but you can't say the same for all their followers.

Now clearly, all human cultures throughout history and prehistory have had encounters with the Other, and in fact, as Taylor points out, they are generally founded upon this contact. Culture comes from cult, and when you get right down to it, all cultures are cults that extend back into an atemporal mythology, or "sacred time," when their founding heroes walked the earth. This isn't just true of religions, but of secular societies as well. Look at the way the Soviet Union mythologized their founding, or the transparent manner in which American liberals create substitute religious idols such as FDR, JFK, MLK, ACLU, and other graven initials.

As Taylor writes, the political organization of all pre-modern societies was based on adherence and fidelity to some notion of the Other, which forms the basis and the possibility of their unity. This is one of the reasons why a purely secular society cannot survive, because they can only have the pluribus but no true unum. Under the OMbrella of the unum all men are brothers, but in the shadows of the pluribus, all men are a nuisance.

Primitive societies recognize this, which is why they always revolve around the sacrifice, which is the ritual re-enactment and re-collection of their primordial unity. It dissipates anger, aggression, paranoia, and other mind parasites by projecting them into the sacrifical "container," and then doing away with the container. Does it work? Yes, but it must be repeated again and again, because the mind parasites always return, thus requiring ongoing ritual sacrifices to maintain unity.

This can be seen today in a myriad of thinly disguised ways, especially in the liberal media, who you might say are the sacrificial priesthood of the secular elite. They choose the victim, rip out the heart, drink the blood, and mindlessly move onto the next victim. Yesterday it was American GIs. Today it will be someone else to "unite" the left. This is the true meaning of victim, by the way. The 3000 who perished in the Twin Towers were victims of Islamic human sacrifice, just as George Bush has been a perpetual voodoo doll for the media priesthood.

I believe it was Gil Bailie (following the work of Rene Girard) who said that human sacrifice is "unanimity minus one," which is as close as human beings can get to total agreement on the horizontal plane (his book is highly recommended).

Here we can see how one of the "purposes," if you will, of Jesus, is to transpose this ineradicable urge to sacrifice to a "higher key," so to speak, thus uniting all humans as brothers. It is intended to be the "ultimate" sacrifice and therefore the final sacrifice, thereby being a permanent memorial to this unique encounter with the Other, which can be meditated upon "endlessly," instead of compulsively and repulsively acted out again and again in the manner of, say, the Aztec or the New York Times editorial pages.

Taylor attempts to outline the lineaments of the Other, writing of the abiding human conviction that "Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity or condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worth while, more admirable, more what it should be." It is also experienced as a moving and inspiring "place of power"; at times we may catch glimpses of it from afar, while other times it can come crashing through more dramatically in the manner of (?!), or, for the secular person, (WTF?!). It is "an experience which unsettles and breaks through our ordinary sense of being in the world, with its familiar objects, activities and points of reference."

Ultimately, this is the only way you can really prove the existence of God to your own satisfaction (but never to another). You can't just take somebody else's word for the word. I mean, there are perfectly sound and reasonable ontological arguments for God's existence, but they tend not to "take root" in the absence of a pretty dramatic or harrowing (?!). Put another way, once you've had the (?!), then religious stories and explanations begin to make sense, from Moses on Sinai, to the disciples atop Mount Tabor, to Paul on the road to Damascus, to innumerable contemporary examples. In fact, I love reading and collecting these stories of (?!), as, taken together, they begin to create a composite portrait of O, which no single surface could possibly scratch.

Again I return to the comment a couple of days ago to the effect that "Jesus is the truth, and it is only for us to surrender to it." Yes, yes, fine, I'll certainly go along with that -- although I'm not one of those people who limit Christ to Christianity. The same reader asked what sort of Christian I am, or "who do I say Jesus was?," or words to that effect. First of all, I make no claim to be an orthodox anything except Transdimensional Raccoon. If I were anything else, I'd just be lying to you and you wouldn't be able to see right through me anymore. I don't think about it all the time too much, but when Purusha comes to Shiva, I suppose I would just say that the strangest damn thing that has ever happened or could happen would be for O to actually take human form. Is such a thing possible, or only inevitable?

It reminds me of something nine year-old Terence McKenna said to his mother after reading The Doors of Perception: "Mom, if even one tenth of this is true, we've got to do something about it!"

Whatever will we do about O?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Living in a Bersercular Age

The central question in Taylor's A Secular Age is how human beings went from a situation just a few hundred years ago, in which naive religious belief was the "default" position and unbelief was unthinkable, to our current cultural situation in which people naively believe that unbelief is the default, or "natural" position, and that belief is somehow superimposed, so to speak, on that.

To a certain extent, this simplification is true. For example, even for contemporary believers, their belief is an option or a choice, at least in the West. For our Islamic enemies, belief is clearly not a choice, since it's difficult to believe anything when your head has been removed from your body.

But for the radical left as well, unbelief might as well not be a choice. It's just a naive, unreflective, and kneejerk stance, for example, in our fully secularized academia. Therefore, it seems that only in the freely religious society is the believer able to exercise his freedom to choose God. This is clearly one of the things that makes the United States (and a few other places) so unique and valuable.

Just as love isn't love if it is compelled, only if you are free to reject faith is faith truly meaningful. For this reason alone we could say that the present age (at least in the modern West) is -- at least potentially -- more spiritually "evolved" than premodern societies where faith was taken for granted and not freely chosen. Really, the main purpose of my book was to make religion relevant to modern minds who might otherwise be caught up in the cultural template of naive unbelief, and therefore miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

I have heard it said that both Christianity and modern rabbinical Judaism were distinct but parallel developments that grew out of the matrix of a more "primitive" Judaism. Despite doctrinal differences, what unites them under the surface is the "interior" turn they reflected in the first century AD.

For example, after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, Jews were forced by circumstances to go from a more exteriorized and ritualistic form of worship to a much more interior understanding, as reflected in the development of the Talmud. It was presaged in the allegorical approach of a Philo Judaeus (20 BC - 50 AD), whose style of thought is remarkably similar to early Christian fathers from Origen to Denys the Areopagite.

Likewise, I think something analogous has happened in the last few hundred years, in that both secularism and contemporary religiosity grew out of a religious matrix in response to the challenges of modernity. Just as there might be a deep "pneuma-cognitive" structure uniting Christianity and Judaism, there might be one that unites the seeming opposites of secularism and modern religiosity, which have worked dialectically to produce a deeper understanding of reality -- but only where both have been allowed to flourish, most notably, in the United States.

The "culture war" -- which is very real -- does not -- or at least should not -- involve the effort of one side to vanquish the other. The religious side actually understands this much better than the angry and paranoid secular side, since there is no remotely serious movement that aims to return to a premodern mode of government, in which religious authorities control all aspects of life. Rather, the argument is over the middle area, where the two overlap. For example, secularists want to ban religion from our schools, but no religious person wants to ban secularism.

Either way, it is again totally naive to think of secularism as a sort of religion-free zone, without any distorting preconceptions of its own. In fact, if we want to stand back and take a more disinterested view, we can see that the forces of secularism and religiosity have worked dialectically over the past several centuries to produce something greater, at least in the United States. This was certainly implied in Mead's God and Gold, which I discussed in tedious detail in a series of posts a couple months back.

Religious believers may be naive in failing to realize how secularized their minds are. This was implied in a comment the other day, to the effect that Truth was revealed two thousand years ago in the person of Christ, and that it is only for us to surrender to it. Again, Taylor's book traces the remarkable journey which has taken us "from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others." In the past, it was quite easy and "natural" to be a believer, whereas now -- especially if you live near a big city, as I do -- it is a constant challenge, as you must run counter to all of the forces around you. Indeed, I am a Mighty, Mighty Man.

Thus, even to say that we must "surrender" to "Truth" is a metaphysically loaded statement, full of preconceptions and problematics that did not exist two thousand years ago. What ever happened to the human mind that allowed it to conceive of and make such a profound choice? And is the freedom to do so a good thing or a bad thing? No one thought so until quite recently, and most of the world still doesn't think so. No one in Saudi Arabia is given the freedom to be a Muslim, just as, for all practical purposes, no one in liberal academia is free to be, say, a Christian historian in the manner of Christopher Dawson (whom we also discussed in detail in a series of posts a while back), much less a Christian biologist or physicist.

In my years of training to become a clinical psychologist, I never encountered a single idea from the extraordinary wellspring of Christian psychological thought from Augustine to the present day -- which is one of the reasons why the field is so off its rocker, for example, reducing man to animal impulses and desires instead of human virtues and responsibilities. The situation is positively kooky, one more reason why I could never be a therapist and instead had to invent the field of coonical pslackology. But nearly all professional organizations have been similarly hijacked by the forces of secular extremism.

Well, we're already up to page 3. Only 773 more to go.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Becoming Somebody on the Way to Being a Big Nobody

To post or not to post.... It's getting late, and I have a lot of work to do.... plus I want to watch the football games.... and I have a long day tomorrow.... and I get even fewer readers on Sunday anyway. I wonder how few readers I actually have, if you subtract the google searches, like "grandma's old underpants?" I know we've covered a lot of ground, but I don't remember dealing with that particular topic. Like anyone else, I have my thoughts on the subject, but I pretty much confine them to the study group.

Here are some google searches from just the last 100 visits: real-reality sex, carry on montesquieu, adultolescence, religions that don't believe in god, what is meant to polarization of dissolved oxygen probe blog, kaiser willys, Kant and the Phenomenon of Inserted Thoughts, im 28 days reg for my period trying to have a baby my period was supposed to be yesterday, crack cosmos 07, torrent spiritual reality, laughty america, women without cloth, and 7 levels of human. Perhaps I should use these for the blog description at the top.

There are two possible directions I could go in this morning.... three, if you count "nowhere." That's another thing -- I'm trying to find the time to make some headway with Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, which is almost 800 pages long and not an easy read. It's a very important book, and one that I will be spending a lot of time discussing in future posts, partly as a way of assimilating the material, but also to show how it relates to my book. But first I have to read it. Thus far I'm only up to page 96.

I could never be an actual scholar like Taylor, but I'm certainly glad they exist. However, I feel that my task is to assimilate these "lower" truths (and I certainly don't mean that in any pejorative sense) into a more unified vision of the whole. As I once mentioned five or six or more times, I wish my book could have been spiral-bound, as an objective correlative to its interior circularity.

But I also had the idea that it could serve as a cosmic holodex, whereby readers could just insert new material to flesh out certain areas that I had to compress due to the challenge of packing 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution into 300 pages. The point is that, just like the cosmos itself, the book could expand from within, and the reader wouldn't have to just drive off my cliff notes.

Here, I'll show you what I mean. The portion of my book covered by Taylor's 776 pages is basically six pages long, from the bottom of page 174 all the way to the middle of page 180. As I wrote at the beginning of that passage, "There is a wide range of scholars, including Charles Taylor, Eli Sagan, Weston LaBarre, Lawrence Stone, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, and Norbert Elias, who have recognized that human nature is not a universal 'essence' that has remained unchanged throughout the course of history, and that it has only been quite recently -- mostly in the past three-hundred years (with notable exceptions, of course) -- that our notion of the modern self has become the norm."

That was a somewhat careless way to express it, since I actually do believe there is an archetpyal human essence, a point I flesh out in the next chapter. The coonologically correct way to have said it would be that "more humans than ever before now have the freedom and opportunity to realize their true nature, i.e., to individuate and become who they actually are." For most of human history this was an impossibility, just as it is in many cultures today. In fact, the point is clarified in the last sentence from that section on page 180:

"[T]he extent to which a culture is able to do this [i.e., allow self-actualization] is its only moral claim to power [I should have said something like 'measure of intrinsic value']; but since each person is unique, it is not possible for a culture to define the exact endpoint of development, as this would impede the free discovery of one's own essence -- both words must be emphasized, for one's essence must be freely (without compulsion) discovered, and freely discovered (not 'given' by some external model or teaching)."

There again, I'd clarify that to say that we must realize our particular archetype, but then assimilate it into the universal, a point which I believe becomes clearer in the subsequent chapter. That is what I mean by the next sentence, but then it must be surrendered to something higher. Therefore, it is wrong to imply that external models are to be discarded. To the contrary, most Christians would consider, say, Jesus, to be the universal "omega man" toward which our individual self is oriented.

But it must be an individual self, not just a caricature, an instrumental ego, or a collective self. At least in today's world. Circumstances were obviously different in the past, when people were much more anonymous, and partook of a sort of "group self." Indeed, this is one of Taylor's main points, which he supports with abundant documentation.

The implications for theology and metaphysics are of tremendous importance to our world, and need to be explicated. Unless we do so, it will be difficult for secularized people to comprehend how religion relates to their psychohistorically hard-won particular self, especially since religion has in the past been clearly at odds with individual development as a result of its faulty or limited understanding of Man's true role in the cosmic spiritual economy -- which is a full employment economy, by the way. Which is sort of the point, since everyone's got their own unique job to do and mission to accomplish within the context of the Whole.

Which brings us to a comment left yesterday, to the effect that Truth has been revealed in the person and divinity of Christ, and that it is only a matter of the person surrendering to it. Yes, perhaps, but much depends upon what is meant by "person," because, as Taylor shows, it had a very different meaning 500 years ago than it does today. His argument is way too subtle, rich, and detailed for me to get into at the moment. But I will. Right now I need to get to my unReal work.

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