Saturday, December 05, 2009

The First Oecumeaningful Council

I don't know if too many readers will be interested this intramural squabble within the Traditionalist camp. Some of this material might be a little too inside graceball for even some of our regular readers, so perhaps it's good that I'm doing this on a Saturday, when no one's paying attention anyway.

But for me, it's as important as, say, those first seven ecumenical councils (oecumenical in the Anglo world) that determined the essential contours of Christianity for centuries to come. Interestingly -- because I didn't know the exact figures before I scanned this article -- different branches of Christianity accept various councils up to a point, and then break off and ignore the rest.

According to the wikipedia article, the Assyrian Church was content with the first two, while the Oriental Orthodox made it to three. Anglicans, most Lutherans and some Protestants accept the first seven (albeit with reservations, conditions, escape clauses, and loopholes), all of which took place prior to the great schism between Eastern and Western forms of Christianity. Afterwards, the Roman church just kept on having councils, now numbering twenty one. Nontrinitarian churches accept none, which I frankly do not understand.

There was a time -- you all remember Oldbob -- when I would have considered such debates to be analogous to arguing over the exact dimensions of unicorn horns, but I am now quite convinced of the critical importance of correct doctrine. Most people routinely believe heresies that are not only incorrect, but couldn't possibly be correct. And not just religious people; the problem with atheists, Darwinians, and secular leftists is that they all, in one form or another, embrace various intrinsic heresies, in the sense that they are grave offenses against the Real -- "ontological errors" or "epistemological sins."

One such intrinsic heresy, for example, would be the absurd doctrine of "absolute relativism." Another would be the truth-killing doctrine of materialism. Yet another is the virtue-destroying belief in moral relativism. Such doctrines are not just wrong but intrinsically evil, and bring nothing but confusion, misery, and destruction in their wake, for they undermine man's very reason for being by abolishing truth and virtue.

For those several billion of you who have not read my book, we use the symbol O to stand for "ultimate reality," whatever that reality is. This is for several reasons. First, we want to avoid saturating this reality with various preconceptions before we even start.

But perhaps even more importantly, real knowledge of O can only be gained through personal experience. It is not at all analogous to scientific (which is to say, strictly empirical or rational) data that can be handed from head to head without loss of information. This is something atheists seem incapable of grasping -- that when, say, the seers of the Upanishads speak of O (which they call Brahman), they are speaking from personal experience that excludes the atheist, precisely.

Nevertheless, it is possible -- and in many ways inevitable -- to reify O, as we saw above with regard to the ecumenical councils. Some people say, "that's enough for me. I get the picture," and then stop there. The problem is, we need an accurate map and good guides, but we still need to explore the territory on our own.

The fact of the martyr is that O, among other things, is "ceaselessly flowing" into what we call "reality," so that it is actually strictly impossible to corral it into a limited description. To put it another way, it is not possible for humans to contain what is by definition uncontainable. As soon as they do contain it, they have in a sense damaged it. And sometimes they can frankly murder it, as in the case of the Islamists, who imagine they worship God when in fact they cannot tolerate Him (a kind of reverse image of Darwinians, who imagine they are in contact with the ultimate truth of humanness, when they are heavily defended against it).

So you could say that those early ecumenical councils were indeed "debating" the nature of O -- except that "debate" is not quite accurate, since the goings-on were deeply infused with, and shaped by, a grace (↓), without which these would have indeed been mere academic exercises instead of orobic verticalisthenics.

Now, one of the main things the councils hammered out was what we might call the trinitarian nature of O. They certainly did not intend to say that this is just a relative human understanding, and that the "real God" is something else, like the "beyond being" of the Traditionalists. You might say that O is indeed a circle, not a static point; and it is a dynamic circle, a unity-in-diversity and diversity-in-unity with a kind of ceaseless "interior flow."

Clearly, in the Christian conception, O is not analogous to the "static Brahman" of Vedanta -- which, by the way, Aurobindo experienced and found to be valid as far as it goes. But he went beyond this, to conclude that what we might call the "creative word" was part of a deeper process involving the interplay of the dynamic and static aspects of Brahman.

I find this to be quite close to the Christian understanding -- close enough for graceball -- in that to realize the static Brahman is analogous to realizing only one part of the Trinity -- call it the "Unbegotten" -- and then calling it quits. But the Son is generated by the Unbegotten, just as the Holy Spirit flows in that open circle of Love and Truth between them. If that weren't the case, then we wouldn't even be able to participate in the "divine circle" to begin with.

Again, the point is, I don't see how this can be reconciled with the Traditonalist view that the Trinity is ultimately on the side of cosmic maya, and that the real Absolute is a radically apophatic "beyond being." For one thing, the "beyond being" can never be experienced by a human, if, as Bolton says, experience "is by definition a relation between a subject and an object." The beyond being is very much the absence of experience, i.e., the turiya, or "fourth," that we (un)experience in a state of deep sleep. Either this is the highest state, or it isn't. I don't believe it is. Rather, I think it is just a part of the "rhythm of O," for I don't believe there is sleeping without waking, and vice versa.

Again, it seems to me -- and to Bolton -- that the radically nondual monad of turiya is just the mirror image of modern materialistic nihilism. Not only is it the denial of the Creator, but with it, the inevitable devaluation of the creation. To put it another way, the creation is only of any value at all if it is indeed a creation. If it isn't, then it is ultimately worthless, for it has only the worth that contingent beings fancifully assign it. And in terms of metaphysics, "contingent worth" is a contradiction, like "convenient truth."

But the Raccoon affirms creation. We believe that existence exists for a reason, and that the world is not just a big mistake (or coincidence, which amounts to the same thing). The world is worthy of our being in it, and life is worthy of our living it. And they are worthy because they have a value which is derived from the interior nature of O, not negated by it.

Where there is no creation, there is no relation between the world and Divinity (however understood), and therefore no reason why even the most holy or spiritual life should ever connect with the Divine.... [O]ur being created, if true, must be the deepest ontological truth about us. In this case, religions which deny creation would thereby deny any hope of valid self-knowledge, which is ironic, because they typically are devoted to self-knowledge above all else. --Robert Bolton, The One and the Many

Friday, December 04, 2009

Quacks in the Foundation of the West

This question of the One and the Many is not an abstract or impractical one, because if you get it wrong, then the very foundation of your worldview will be built on illusion. Either the individual is real, as Christians believe, or it is not, as Buddhists, secular leftists, new age knuckleheads, and Darwinians believe. But just look at the dreadful cultures built by the latter! Would you really prefer to live like a drone in the Chinese anthill, secure in the knowledge that at least your illusory individualism is not permitted to take root?

I didn't originally come at this question from a religious standpoint, but from a psychoanalytic one. Modern psychoanalysis revolves around the question of human psychological development, which occurs within the context of separation and individuation from the primary objects of attachment ("Object Relations"). The problem is, few psychoanalysts are religious, whereas few religious people have much knowledge of psychoanalysis.

One prominent exception is A. Hameed Ali, who writes under the pen name of A.H. Almaas. A lot of what he says is cultish BS, but he did write a couple of good books on object relations and spirituality, The Pearl Beyond Price: Integration of Personality into Being, an Object Relations Approach (1988) and The Point of Existence: Transformations of Narcissism in Self-Realization (1996). It's been a while, but at the time I read these, I remember being very impressed with his synthetic grasp of object relations theory, which he seemed to intuitively understand better than many of my teachers in graduate school. The main problem, in addition to the cultlike features, was a superficial and gimmicky application of the ideas in terms of "treatment." And since then he's gone off the rails entirely, into Deepak land. Thus, feel free to download the books into your melon, but beware of viruses.

But the main point is that the psychologies of the East -- because of their blanket condemnation of the ego -- tend to be naive and mythological at best, perverse and destructive at worst. And not just destructive of of the individual, but of cultural progress as well. As we have discussed in the past, there is a good reason why science, human rights, freedom and democracy developed only in the Christian West. They did not develop elsewhere because they could not develop elsewhere.

And this is precisely where the psychospiritual intersects with the psychopolitical and bifurcates into what I would call "metaphysical conservativatism" and its various gloomy alternatives. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading George Nash's splendid Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism, which is helping me to appreciate some of the subtleties of this question. For conservatism is rooted in individualism and all it implies. Hayek (quoted in Nash) lamented that "I wish I could make my 'progressive' friends... understand that democracy is possible only under capitalism and that collectivist experiments lead inevitably to fascism of one sort or another" and "to the suppression of freedom." And quite obviously, in the absence of freedom there is no individual, since the individual is "freedom lived," while freedom is "individuality permitted."

Now, one thing individualism implies -- as we shall see -- is God. Therefore, ideologies that promote individualism in the absence of God (and this includes some varieties of conservatism, e.g., Ayn Rand) are not only intellectually bizarre but frankly destructive and disorganizing. Pagan statism and genuine theoliberalism stand at antipodes. But it is equally true -- at least in my opinion -- that certain strands of the so-called "religious right" are not at all conservative, but quite plainly warped products of modernity, since they stand outside the perennial Tradition.

Speaking of which, I think I've finally figured out what a Raccoon is. If anyone asks, just say an "improvisational orthodox bohemian classical liberal neo-traditionalist." That ought to cover it. You could say that -- to borrow a phrase from Nash -- we affirm the "unorthodox defense of orthodoxy." The true dynamic axis of conservatism is "the unity of tradition and liberty," in which we are free to become who we already are, and all that implies; and it surely implies certain cultural and political conditions which make it possible, including private property, limited government, and moral and epistemological absolutes.

Nash makes the very useful observation that one of the main differences between contemporary left liberals and conservative classical liberals is that they embrace divergent forms of modernity. In the case of the left, their "new modernity" revolves around

"relativism, negation, and despair. Where the 'old modernity' [that would be us, not to mention America's founders] asserted that certain truths were self-evident, the new modernity denied that universal truths exist.... Where the old modernity tended to be rationalistic, the new modernity explored the irrational and the absurd. Where the old modernity offered liberation from external constraints -- from the barriers of class, race, national origin, and arbitrary government -- the new modernity preached liberation from inner constraints -- from traditional morality, from artistic convention, from rationality itself."

So we are ultimately dealing with a "clash of modernities," or you could say modernity and postmodernity. For the person in the grip of postmodernity, the modern sounds frankly "old-fashioned" and irrelevant. I know this, because I used to be one of those defective people, the reason being that I spent so many years in the zeitgeistapo of the Postmodernity Indoctrination Center, i.e. graduate school.

Back to Bolton. Let's begin with some definitions. Monism, he writes, "teaches that there is only one real substance, regardless of appearances, whether that substance be understood as spiritual or material, and whether or not it is identified with God." Thus, you can affirm that "all is matter" or "all is spirit," but both are affirmations of monism. Form is obviously discounted and devalued, since form is merely the outward manifestation of something more "real," either "energy" on the one hand, or "consciousness" on the other.

Therefore, strictly speaking, neither version of monism can be supported by logic, since logic is swallowed up in the One, along with everything else. This is why we say that there is not much practical difference between the idiocies of, say, Deepak the Quack and Charles the Queeg. Both men imagine they fly above logic, when they actually fall far beneath it.

To be continued....

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Una and Saguna*, or the Juan and the Manny

The One and the Many: A Defense of Theistic Religion. I think I'll just go through the book chapter by chapter, and offer my reflections, refractions, and refreshments. All of Bolton's books are worth reading; while challenging, I think this has partly to do with his style of writing, which sometimes comes just shy of complete clarity. But when you're as brilliant as he is, there are probably few people to talk to and thereby fine-tune the message. I believe we've reviewed each of his other books in the past (they can all be found in the metaphysics aisle of the Raccoon Store).

The question of the relation of the One and the Many is a perennial one, not just for theology but for philosophy. Really, it might be the first question that confronts man in his awakened state (which is to say, Man): what's more real, or more fundamental, the One or the Many? The unity or the multiplicity? The Dodgers or Manny Ramirez? Is the One merely an abstract sum of the Many, or are the Many merely a concrete emanation or feature of the One? The manner in which you resolve this question at the outset will determine a multitude of logical corollaries and entailments that follow. Watch that first metaphysical step, for it is indeed a doozy!

For example, if multiplicity is considered the primary reality, this implies a metaphysic of logical atomism -- a universe of autonomous parts that are not only separate, but external to one another other, like billiard balls. But if the One is the ground of reality, then everything we perceive as separate is actually part of a higher unity with interior relations.

In the latter view, the One cannot be the sum of the parts -- a mere agglomerate, or blob -- but the parts must be organismically related in the manner of biological form. Obviously, the parts of one's body are in no way radically separate from one another, but deeply related. Their "parthood" only exists in light of the functional wholeness of the body. Each part contains the genetic blueprint of the whole, and yet, "knows" its place in the overall scheme.

In fact, we can even define pathology as an oppressive wholeness that denies the reality of the parts, or, conversely, a part that begins acting autonomously, split off from the whole (e.g., cancer, in which cells "rebel" against the body, parts against whole, scalp against Robin, or diabetes, where it's my pancreas vs. the "friendly fire" of an excessively vigilant immune system).

Right away, I think you can appreciate some of the political implications of the One-Many duality (which as we will later see, is actually a complementarity). For example, Islamists wish to eliminate the individual through the imposition of sharia law, while the left wishes to do so through the massive and intrusive state -- for the bigger the state, the smaller the citizen.

In contrast, libertarians exalt the part (the individual) to the exclusion of the whole (the spiritual community), which is why true conservatives can only have an uneasy relationship with them. Not surprisingly, capital-L Libertarians (i.e., Paulians, Randians, and members of the party of one) split off entirely from the conservative insurrection, which is why they will always be an insignificant minority, or chaotic herd of eccentrics.

Anyway, back to Bolton. He notes that "the ways in which these questions are answered are vital for any understanding of the way in which God and the world are related." And -- not to get too far ahead of ourselves -- it just so happens that orthodox Christianity, in addition to its other virtues, provides the most comprehensive solution -- indeed, the only solution -- to this primordial conundrum.

Certainly materialistic science cannot resolve it. Rather, it just makes it go away by denying half the complementarity, even while sneaking the denied half in through the back door. But they're not very clever or subtle about it. For example, to even say "cosmos" is to affirm a transcendent oneness of which we are all participants. Indeed, the practice of science is not even possible -- let alone intelligible -- in the absence of an intuition of the One; for to paraphrase Huxley, all science is the reduction of multiplicity to unity.

Bolton agrees that the relation of One and Many is hardly an abstract or impractical question. Again, it underlies the fundamental divide between left and right, theist and atheist: "The manner in which the relation of the One and the Many is understood, however confusedly, has an influence which extends even to politics" -- and not just party politics. For example, the American system of government was deliberately set up so that the One (the executive) would be balanced by the Many (the congress), with a "holy spirit" (the Law) in between.

Now, as we all know, some of the degraded (or at least diminished) forms of contemporary religiosity often engage the will and sentiments to the exclusion of the intellect, and that's what theo-Coonservatism is here to redress: wisdom and what to do with it. But as Bolton explains, "for many Westerners, spiritual wisdom is taken to mean a supremacy of the One to an extent which makes everything else unreal." To simplify matters, we can say that these approaches to Spirit are purely "ascending" (↑), so that they represent a neo-Platonic flight from multiplicity -- maya -- or a journey into the One.

Now, for those of us who believe in Divine revelation, this is rather problematic, to say the least, for it "can only mean that revelation does not really reveal anything, since this approach equates the contents of revelation with externals and inessentials." In other words, if the nondualists are correct, then everything -- everything -- on this side of the One is ultimately unreal, including God, revelation, value, love, beauty, you and "I" (meaning any form of "other" or interior self in relation to it; indeed, all relation is negated as well).

We can see this play out in the antipathy of Eastern religionists to what they call the "ego." Quite clearly, it is impossible to reconcile such a view with the Western appreciation of the individual. It appears that something must be lost in the translation between "ego" and "individual," because, as Bolton emphasizes, the latter, "in its best forms... is the source of everything of lasting value, whether spiritually or naturally..." But for the Ascenders, "it is as though the moral tension which belongs with personality [is] no longer experienced as an adventure and a challenge, but only as a burden." No ego, no problem. But also, no science, democracy, capitalism, dynamism or progress. For me, that would be a big problem.

To value the individual is by no means to deny the One. Indeed, the individual can have no real value -- let alone infinite value -- except in relation to the One. As Bolton explains, "The natural life by itself always tends to greater multiplicity, and therefore to self-dissipation...." In other words, ironically, an excessive concern with the autonomous separateness of the ego results only in further fragmentation. Based on observations of people I know, this is because, in order to maintain the illusion of separateness, more and more reality must be denied, in the manner of radical Darwinists, whose theory is rigidly consistent, but at the cost of an absurd and truly childish incompleteness. Thus, a Darwinist can only be a "pseudo-individual," not the kind we are talking about.

But another deep irony is that the anti-modern religionist can find himself in the same leaky boat, only on the far starboard side: "Monistic [i.e., materialist] and non-dualistic thinkers are more at home in this ethos than they care to admit, and they play their part in the prevailing cult of reduction, no matter how unintentionally, while they want to express the wisdom of tradition" (Bolton).

However, some materialists are actually happy to admit it. For example, the lowbrow atheist Sam Harris seems to have no problem with Eastern approaches that really amount to no more than a kind of glorified self-hypnosis. Thus, he unwittingly but inevitably (because of the a priori rejection of wisdom, or the Word) embraces the most flagrantly anti-intellectual forms of spirituality, a la Deepak Chopra and his grubby ilk.

To be continued....

*Saguna Brahman

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Gastrocosmology and Theophagy: Eat, Drink, and be Mary

New topic: Robert Bolton's very important The One and the Many, which I read a couple of months ago, but only now have time (I hope -- it's going to be a busy month) to review. This book made a huge impression on me at the time, and the least I can do is try to remember why.

That's no joke. As I've mentioned before, the purpose of reviewing these books -- some of which require ten, twenty, thirty or more posts -- is to actually assimilate their content. This is especially important with books of this caliber, which are not merely "books" but "transmissions," so to speak.

In other words, it is not just information that is being conveyed, but a whole plane of being, without which the information makes no sense. It's analogous to when you must first download an application in order to do something with your computer (and always be careful about what you download -- one must beware of hidden viruses, especially retroviruses that only manifest later).

And when I say "assimilate," I mean this quite literally. It is analogous to eating, which somehow results in the pizza or apple or broccoli weaving itself into your own substance.

How does this actually happen? Who knows. But there is a certain sequence one must follow: preparation, taking in, chewing, swallowing, breaking down, digesting, etc. And there are things that can go wrong -- deeply wrong -- at each one of these stages. It would require too much of a sidetrack to get into details, but this is one of the bases of Melanie Klein's theories of psychological development, which formed the basis of Bion's thought.

For example, in therapy, you give the patient an "interpretation," which is like a kind of psychic/emotional food intended to result in growth. But what will the patient do with it? You have no control over that. And you'd be amazed at the range of possibilities that deviate from "assimilating" and "understanding."

Some people spit it out immediately. Others swallow it so quickly without chewing, that there's no time to think about it, and then they ask for more (which excludes gratitude). Others are so emotionally starving that they just want to be fed more interpretations for the feelings of intimacy with the therapist-mother (thinking about the interpretation would imply too much separation). Others store it in their cheek, and then chew on it by themselves only after they have safely left the session. Others swallow it, but vomit it out afterwards. Some are hungry again an hour later ("Chinese psychiatry"). Some bring their own food to the session, and try to feed the therapist. Some pretend that they feed themselves, and that they do not require anything from the outside. Some accept the nutrition, but not the generous spirit in which it is given, splitting off the one from the other. Some devalue it as a toxic poison; others idealize it as manna; and so on.

Yes, it probably sounds crazy until you see it in practice. Then you realize that it is crazy.

The subtitle of Bolton's book is A Defense of Theistic Religion. Why "theistic religion?" Isn't that a pleonasm, a redundancy? No, not at all. For Bolton is a dissenter within the Traditionalist camp, which, as we have noted in the past, sees a "transcendent unity of religion," but at the cost of essentially downgrading the personal God to a secondary principle (if you're not yet familiar with Schuon's metaphysics, don't worry -- everything will become clear as we proceed).

That is, the Guenon-Schuon school of Traditionalism reconciles the major orthodox revelations by essentially situating them within a closet nondual (advaita) Vedanta. Therefore, their first principle is the "beyond being" of the nirguna brahman, in which personal identity is completely swallowed up and obliterated. If you dine with the Brahman, bring a long spoon!

Indeed, there's no way of getting around it: not only are you on the side of maya -- or cosmic illusion -- but so is the personal God. Both you and God are ultimately absorbed in the One; which, to extend our little gastrointestinal metaphor, is a little like eating the pizza and becoming the pizza instead of vice versa. For this is the ultimate goal of traditional yogic practice: to throw oneself under the cosmic bus, and merge with the Infinite. No self, no problem.

Now, I've greatly simplified the nondual position, but nevertheless, there is no way to reconcile it with a metaphysic that places the personal God at the top of the cosmic hierarchy. Only one approach can be the absolutely correct one. It is in this context that Bolton's book is "a defense of theistic religion." However, as we shall see, the arguments he puts forth cut both ways, into nondualism on the one hand, and materialism on the other.

In fact, one of Bolton's most provocative insights is that nondualism is ironically a kind of approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable to the soul who has been so shaped by modern materialism that it can no longer accept traditional religion. For nondualism and materialism share the underlying commonality of being intrinsically monistic, whereas Christianity is intrinsically dualistic (and actually trinitarian, but we'll get to that later). In a way, nondualism is a mirror image of materialism, for neither has a place for the individual human soul as a truly real reality.

Another important point raised by Bolton is that nondualism isn't actually the only interpretation of the Vedas, let alone the predominant one. That is, there are dualistic interpretations of the Vedas that are compatible with Western religion, most notably, in Ramanuja, who came a couple hundred years after Shankara, and disagreed with the latter's radical nondualism. I used to think that Ramanuja was a kind of degeneration from Shankara, whereas now I would consider him an evolution to a higher and deeper understanding.

Well, I don't think I have time to actually get into the book this morning. Just consider this a desultory preramble. To be continued...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fairy Tales of the Dead & Tenured

If the number of comments is any indication, interest in this debate with myself seems to be losing its fire, so let's trundle to the phoenix line. There are only four more arguments. Maybe we can quickly reduce them to ashes, and move on.

Oldbob says that Christianity teaches that the heart of man is "totally corrupt," and asks how then could religion not be marked by cruel practices and incredible beliefs?

Excuse me. Your point being? I believe the question answers itself: man is indeed not only "a" problem, but the problem; and not just with regard to religion, but in, oh, let's say, climate science. Weathergate is only the latest version of Applegate, of man eliminating certain inconvenient data in order to make himself a god, or obtain tenure, or rake in grant money, or win an Oscar, etc.

In fact, as I pointed out in my book, man is actually the only problem in the entire cosmos, is he not? Before the appearance of man, there were truly no problems (I hate to agree with the radical environmentalists, but they've obviously incorporated a warped version of the Fall into their neopagan religion). And I don't often find myself agreeing with Stalin, but surely he was right about his guiding credo: no man, no problem. The problem is, without the problem of man, there are no solutions either, least of all genocide.

Speaking of which, I'm currently reading a wonderful new book by George Nash (who wrote the classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945), Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism. Among other virtues, it's full of pithy little gems such as this one by George Gilder, which sounds like it could have come straight from Petey's piehole: "Our greatest and only resource is the miracle of human creativity in a relation of openness to the divine." Or, you could simply say O --> (¶).

Or how about this beaut: Conservatism is "ultimately and essentially spiritual in character. The personal virtues it celebrates... require an 'openness to transcendence' and acceptance of the God-given nature of things.... [C]onservatism properly understood is not only a philosophy of government but of self-government," not simply a meditation "on what to think but on how to live." Not just a philosophy of liberty, but of what to do with it, for if freedom does not converge on truth and virtue, it is nothing. Just so -- and for the same reason -- "Man is what he is, or else he is nothing" (Schuon). God or nothing. Take your pick.

Not just what to think, but how to live. Does this not replace reams of superfluous left wing books, bumper stickers, and baccalaureates? For the essential difference between contemporary conservatism and vulgar leftism is that the former is interior and interiorizing while the latter is exterior and exteriorizing. Thus, conservatism is humanizing, while leftism is literally "animalizing."

And this inevitably follows from the metaphysical relativism of the left, which fragments into a multitude of omnipotent victims, all buffeted by exterior circumstances, with no spiritual locus of control and therefore human dignity. For the left, God is not dead. Nor is he the victim, who is more like the saint or prophet; rather, he is the creator of victims, for the power to confer victimhood is the royal road to leftist control. Victims are the bridge between political theory and political power. No victims, no left. Conversely, a world of "people who know how to properly live" would render the left utterly superfluous. Ironically, like a waterwheel, their power is generated by man's perpetual fall.

Oldbob next says that even if free will is used to account for moral evil, it cannot be the basis for natural evils such as birth defects and other tragedies. Yes, this is true enough. Free will does not account for accidents "below" the human realm. So why are there such things?

Frankly, I have never regarded this as a big mystery. Everything inevitably deviates from its ideal, or there would be no possibility of freedom, truth, and beauty. To ask "why is there evil?" is to affirm that there is good. Freedom and necessity are the warp and weft of the fabric of being, and again, nothing could go right unless there were the possibility of it going wrong. This is earth, not heaven. Thus we hope for "Thy will to be done," herebelow as it is thereabove.

Hoo boy. Where to begin?: "Morality cannot be based on religion.... It is our own moral insight which tells us if anything is worthy of worship. How do we know that God is good if we do not know before hand what good is?"

Well, we do know beforehand what good is, and it is not thanks to the random copying errors of natural selection. To suggest the latter is to abolish morality, precisely.

Again, I do not mind that there are scientistic Darwinians who elevate random error to the ultimate truth. It only bothers me that they do not have the courage of their absence of convictions, and instead steal from Christian morality, as if it is normative for the human species of their dark fantasies (I mean, as if morality is normative, not stealing).

All forms of existentialism -- which is to say those doctrines that reduce essence to existence, spirit to matter, and humanness to selfish genes -- postulate "a definition of the world that is impossible if existentialism itself is possible." Again, if Darwinism is true, it is false, for it allows for no adeqation to a transcendent but ontologically real dimension of moral absolutes.

Lastly, a brief diatribe on "the bizarre idea of immortality." Why bizarre? Here are some of the human realities that are truly bizarre and unexpected in a supposedly dead and closed material cosmos: life, consciousness, love, truth, beauty, virtue, selflessness, saintliness, poetry, music, humor, children. In the face of these realities that open us to the transcendent, it is the concept of absolute mortality that is bizarre and in need of explanation. Who said this is a fundamentally dead cosmos, anyway? I guess dead men do tell tales. Call it "perish and publish."

Farewell, Oldbob. See you in a couple of decades.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Veiling and Reveiling God and Reality

no time to spell-check....

Five more arguments to go before we're finished abusing Oldbob. For what it's worth, one of them contains a topical reference that leads me to believe this crockument is older than I had thought -- perhaps from 1980 or thereabouts. So that's a relief. At least I wasn't so dense for as long as I had thought. Nevertheless, this cannot detract from the timelessness of the arguments -- which is to say, timelessly bad.

The next one is actually quite important, not for its own sake, but for its counter-argument, which is probably too subtle for Oldbob to comprehend. He claims that "The mystic brings his theological beliefs to the mystical experience; he does not derive them from it." Now, the first thing one would say in response is, "how would you know? Here's a tip: you might want to actually undergo the experience before propounding sand on it."

Part of what Oldbob says is no doubt true. But it is a banality at best, more likely a barbarism. It is a barbarism because, as Richard Weaver discusses in Ideas Have Consequences -- and I'll just paraphrase from memory, so I can move this along -- it is a characteristic of barbarians, most especially postmodern ones, to insist that reality can be grasped "barehanded," so to speak, without all of the civilizing veils that give it substance and depth. This is to substitute "fact" for truth.

But contrary to what materialists would assert, the spiritual adventure is not an escape from the world but a pilgrimage to God on the very forms that constitute the ladder of ascent. Yes, a ladder is just a form, but try climbing out of a rathole without one. You can try to lift yourself by your own buddhastraps, but you won't get far.

Not sure if this is an actual quote from Weaver, or me paraphrasing: "Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality, looking upon the veils of decency as obstructions that it will strip aside. But behind the veils is a reality of such commonplace that it is merely knowledge of death." It creates a tyrannical flatland with no way out, since there is no way in and up, no Realsymbols to serve as bridges between worlds.

Let's dumb this down a few notches, so that even Oldbob might understand. What if we banned clothing -- those phony and hypocritical veils of decency -- so that everyone walked around naked. Would this enhance the experience we call "intimacy," or would it detract from it?

Obviously the latter. In the absence of clothing -- and its removal -- there can be no real physical intimacy, for there is no intimacy to reveal. Similarly, promiscuity is not just an absence of intimacy, but a defense against it. Like pornography, it is the negation of real intimacy; by showing everything, it reveals nothing.

Theodore Dalrymple made the same point about incontinent emotional display in his Our Culture, What's Left of It. He writes that "A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess." The absence of emotional restraint to which Dalrymple refers does not liberate; rather, it enslaves one to the lowest order of reality, since it abolishes all of the others in its blind quest for "authenticity." Depth is cashed in for mere sensation.

There is nothing wrong with sensation per se, but when it is stripped of its human context, it becomes something less than human. A refined sensation is no longer the same thing as a raw sensation, any more than a lighting bolt is the same as the electricity that runs your computer. Context -- which is to say, form -- is everything. The soul -- another form -- is not merely an inconvenience between you and your appetites.

Elsewhere Dalrymple observes that the "loss of a sense of shame means a loss of privacy; a loss of privacy means a loss of intimacy; and a loss of intimacy means a loss of depth. There is, in fact, no better way to produce a shallow and superficial people than to let them live their lives entirely in the open, without concealment of anything."

For example, that pervert who apparently kissed another man on national television last week would no doubt argue that he was striking a blow for greater "openness," or some such nonsense, when he was actually destroying one more veil of decency that makes privacy, intimacy, and depth possible. I could add that the left in general is shameless -- and proud of it -- but of course you knew that already.

Appearances do not always deceive; sometimes -- especially as they pertain to "revealed" appearances -- the appearance is the reality, or at least a point of entry into it. Imagine someone arguing that we could have the pure experience of "art" if only we could eliminate all of these deceptive paintings, poems and symphonies. No doubt some postmodern painters and composers have tried. As Andy Warhol said, "art is what you can get away with," just as for Deepak and his ilk, spirituality is what you can get away with.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Quack Magic of Atheism

Let's send Oldbob packing, that he may sooner embark upon the surprising journey into his future, here among the living. Time to finish up with his lame but loud arguments for the non-existence of God, and move on to a new topic. Doctrinaire atheists and anti-Christian zealots can be clever, cute, nasty, and sometimes even intelligent, but they are rarely deep, nor will they ever be known for their wisdom, wisdom being a human commodity, and religion vouchsafing the very essence of integral humanism.

We begin with another charming absurdity that is hoisted by its own retardedness, "Every intellectual construction of man will reflect his own nature, and God is no exception." Okay, fair enough. Question. How does this assertion escape its own circular logic?

What, twenty five years later, and we're still waiting for Oldbob's answer. Amazingly, atheists still put forth variations of this crude argument, which means -- sadly -- that they are very likely the same person at 50 that they were at 25 (only worse, since, for human beings alone, failure to grow is a kind of living death). For this is the type of argument that comes out of a college bull session or Bill Maher panel, not any actual contact with, or adequation to, the subject it pretends to comprehend.

As usual, Schuon slices like a flippin' hammer: "Relativism reduces every element of absoluteness to relativity while making a completely illogical exception in favor of this reduction itself.... [I]ts initial absurdity lies in the implicit claim to be unique in escaping, as if by enchantment, from a relativity that is declared the only possibility."

Checkmate, you ankabiters.

Atheism is metaphysical magic. Religion is its opposite -- not to say that people don't inevitably incorporate magical and wishful thinking into their religion, man being what he is. There is surely a valid place for magic in the psyche, except that there are healthy and unhealthy expressions of it. A person robbed of magic would be a lifeless bore, a kind of dry "logic machine" who replaces truth with compulsive doubt. We love children because they are so spontaneously alive with the magic of existence. As they grow, they transcend the immediacy of this state, but (hopefully) do not eliminate it, or they end up like the dead and tenured.

Next, the inevitable attack on faith misconstrued: "Even saying that 'my belief is based on faith' takes on meaning only if I am able to define what it is that I have faith in."

Nonsense. Faith is simply a preluminary assent to that which one cannot possibly comprehend at the outset. Faith applies to every discipline, not just religion. Imagine a great artist -- Shakespeare, Beethoven, Dante -- whose work far exceeds our ability to fully appreciate its depths. Fortunately, there exist experts -- a "community of the adequate," living and dead -- whose testimony assures us that there is indeed a "there there" if only we allow ourselves to be shaped by the object instead of imposing our own preconceptions on it. Faith is simply openness to the Transcendent Other.

Next, another old canard: "It is clear that particular religious beliefs are mistaken, since all religions disagree and cannot all be right." First of all, this ignores the manner in which orthodox religions can be reconciled on the interior, esoteric plane (even if not fully eliminating certain important distinctions).

But even more basically, this is like saying that "it is clear that physics is mistaken, since relativity and quantum physics cannot be reconciled," or "it is clear that science is mistaken, since there is no way to reconcile the truths of psychology and neurology." Sometimes the opposite of a real Truth is a trivial one.

Another bonehead argument that is conveniently put forth by atheists: "I don't have to prove that God does not exist. Atheism is obligatory in the absence of any evidence for God's existence." Interesting word, "obligatory." Why is an animal obligated to anything, much less something as abstract as metaphysical truth that he cannot know anyway?

But in any event, since all cultures and the vast majority of human beings have always intuited the transcendent reality that surpasses them, it takes real chutzpah to simply ignore this experience as if it doesn't exist. Atheists are a tiny exception, not the rule. How did they get here -- especially if, as sociobiologists maintain, religion is "hardwired" (whatever that means) into our species? Once again, atheists escape their own verdict by an act of magic -- like an asexual person arguing that humans are hardwired for sex.

The next one out of the deck is the old "religion only existed because man was so ignorant" card. You know, "when I was a kid, I couldn't figure out how the presents got under the tree, therefore Santa must have come down the chimney."

But this no more invalidates Christmas than it does science. For example, try reading a history of medicine. Just because it had a lot of erroneous ideas a century ago, doesn't invalidate the field today. Indeed, one doesn't even have to go back that far. I remember ten years ago, doctors insisted that carbohydrates were good, and fats were bad. Now we know that it's much more complicated than that.

But even more generally, science didn't even emerge until the 17th century, and only in the Christian west. Prior to that -- and this is an argument Ken Wilber has elaborated at length -- it was as if various realms of human inquiry were mixed together, not just religion and what came to be called science, but politics, art, and pretty much everything else. This is not to condemn religion, since differentiation obviously requires time. It's like condemning the man because he was once a simple sperm and egg. In many respects, evolution is the higher unity of increased differentiation.

Thus, for example, today it is possible to unify science and religion in a much deeper way than was possible 300 years ago. Indeed, to fail to achieve this synthesis (let alone attack it) is not evolutionary, but explicitly anti-evolutionary, or regressive. The highest unities are always unities of opposites -- male-female, spirit-matter, mind-body, order-chaos, absolute-infinite, chance-necessity, etc.

Couldn't quite finish off Oldbob. He says "it's just a flesh wound." One more post to go.....

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