Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Cosmic Suite: Open Your Ears and Listen to Reality!

As mentioned in what turned out to be last Sunday's musical thread, I've long thought about devoting one post a week to the subject of music, since it is one of my three favorites of the seven slackraments of Raccoon life.

One commenter said something to the effect that music was the one thing that had kept them connected to spirit during their years of wandering in the absurcular desert. I was probably the same way. The attraction to music itself was a kind of mystery that demanded an explanation: how can we be so deeply attracted to, and moved by, something that has no evolutionary utility whatsoever? Yes, yes, there is a Darwinian explanation for everything: short, plausible, and wrong, so let's move on.

Anyway, feel free to consider this an open thread. I'm just going to begin blah blah blogging as usual, except instead of free associating in the realm of language, I'm going to switch octaves and improvise in the key of music. More often than not, this is a hazardous venture, since words about music rarely reach their target. A lot of writing about music is pretty tedious, and only of interest to the person writing it. There are some gifted music critics, but most are such bad writers to begin with that even if they had a good idea, they couldn't express it properly.

Really, it's not that different from theological writing, is it? What percentage of it is not only bad, but probably wrong as well? Who knows, but I would say the great majority. I'm currently trying to read this new critical study of Van Morrison, but it quickly got bogged down in vague, flabby, excessive, and sometimes pretentious bloviating. There might be some good things in it, but it is badly in need of an editor. It reads like a first draft.

Right there -- there's a good topic: what are some good books on music? I'm always on the lookout for any. In fact, I was very much searching for any in the course of writing my book. I looked high and low, from baritone to falsetto, but the most useful one I discovered was Victor Zukerkandl's Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. As you can see, the book is so obscure that it doesn't even have a single review, and is ranked like #650,000.

But the reason why I was in search of such books goes back to what I said above in the first paragraph about how music had always kept me connected to spirit, even back when I was a frivolous and drunken fratboy without a frat. Among the rejected titles for the book was The Cosmic Suite, the idea being that it is structured like a symphony with four movements: Matter, Life, Mind and Spirit. Those first few pages with all the crazy writing are supposed to be like the whatchamacallit at the beginning of the symphony that introduces all of the themes that will be explored and developed later, like the da-da-da-DUM that Beethoven stole from the Electric Light Orchestra.

I think I mentioned this somewhere in the book. Here it is, pp. 22-23. Regarding the four movements, Gagdad writes that

"If I may borrow a musical analogy" -- please, go right ahead. Just return it when you're done -- "I see these modes of being as the four great 'chords' constituting the song of existence. As improvisational (i.e., jazz) musicians can tell you, when they perform a solo, they are attempting to trace a coherent line, an artistically true and beautiful pathway through the chordal structure of musical space. At each step along the way, there are literally an infinite number of potential pathways through the chords, some of which will be 'complete' and musically satisfying, others banal, predictatble, and unable to explicate the musical potential implicit in the chords. This is my best attempt at such a solo, with the full understanding that there are any number of fellow improvisational scholars who would 'run the changes' differently."

Come to think of it, this would be my all-purpose response to any and all trolls: hey, it's jazz, baby. If you think you can do better, pick up your axe, get on the stage, and show us! No one is excluded from a jam session. But if you get into a cutting contest with another player, you had better have some chops. Don't just be a music critic. Rather, show us what you got! Our feelings won't be hurt. As I just said, we are well aware of the fact that other musicians will run the changes differently, so stop blowing so much and blow cat blow!

Indeed, no two people will ever run the changes the same way, unless one of them is just copying the other. Interestingly, our unique personhood extends to the realm of music, so that no two musicians ever sound the same. What's especially odd about this is that people playing the idential instrument sound entirely different. On tenor sax, Sonny Rollins sounds nothing like John Coltrane, who sounds nothing like Stan Getz, who sounds nothing like Pharoah Sanders, who sounds nothing like Wayne Shorter, who sounds nothing like Booker Ervin. Is one of them "wrong?"

It's even weirder with piano, where there isn't as much apparent "flexibility" in the instrument. It reminds me of something a musician once said of Thelonious Monk: man, he's the only cat I've ever heard who can bend the notes on a piano.

As you can see in the sidebar, I'm currently reading the Summa of the Summa, one of the virtues of which is the helpful footnotes. Therefore, you can both read the book and read a reader who already understands it. More to the point, Thomas wrote in such a manner that he tried to exclude himself from the discussion, which you might say is the opposite of a jazz mentality, in that the former is aiming for universality rather than individuality. Therefore, important passages can come and go without Thomas saying to the reader, NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT!

So someday, after my book is in the public domain and I am no longer receiving my annual double-digit royalty check, I hope some slavish devotee will come along and publish a Summa of the Coonifesto, and insert footnotes that say NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS WAS THE B'OB'S THE TAKEAWAY POINT! Because one of those points is the above paragraph regarding the musical structure of the book and the cosmos it attempts to sing.

As mentioned, I looked everywhere for books that treated the cosmos as a giant symphony -- or jam session -- but found none (except for one by a new age pneumababbler). So it was down to me. As I indicated in the book's joycetification, it's easy enough for some toothless banjo-picker sitting barefoot on a little bridge of tenure to drone on and on in the key of matter or Darwin or Marxism or whatever. Okay, we get it. But if you're going to try to play the whole cosmic suite, you'll need to master a few more instruments, not the least of which being theology and metaphysics. To try to play the cosmic suite without metaphysics is like trying to play the symphony without the violin section. Indeed,

"The universe is like a holographic, multidimensional musical score that must be read, understood, and performed. Like the score of a symphony, it is full of information that can be rendered in different ways. The score can support diverse interpretations, but surely one of them cannot be music does not exist."

Again: NOW PAY ATTENTION HERE, MORON, BECAUSE THIS IS THE TAKEAWAY POINT! And it really is. The cosmos is a very different thing when you extricate yourself from your little scientistic box that neatly encloses it in quantities, and instead regard it as fundamentally -- I said FUNDAMENTALLY! -- musical.

This goes back again to the first paragraph of this post, and how our attraction to music is a mystery that demands an explanation. In my opinion, we are attracted to music for the reason that it imparts real knowledge of reality. Indeed, you could even say that we love music because we are music. Zuckerkandl comes close to saying this when he writes that

"The knowledge of space that hand and eye possess is exactly matched by their ignorance of time.... A true image of time must be an image for the ear, an audible image, an image made of tones.... Thanks to music, we are able to behold time."

So listen to your life, and hear how it is an individual solo, and yet, part of a much larger composition situated both in space and time -- and eternity:

"For at the end of the day, we are each a unique and unrepeatable melody that can, if only we pay close enough attention to the polyphonic score that surrounds and abides within us, harmonize existence in our own beautiful way, and thereby hear the vespered strains of the Song Supreme" (Gagdad).

Oh, and one last helpful tip from my future collaborator: PAY ATTENTION TO THAT LAST POINT, MORON, BECAUSE IT WAS REALLY IMPORTANT!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Faith in Reality and the Light of Belief

I was just thumbing my nous through the Coonifesto, looking for a certain passage on faith, when I found something else to sneeze at: the heading on p.207, Insert Your Deity Here. This has to do with the ultimate empty category, or "divine placeholder," that is O.

What it means is that O is where you insert your deity. But in reality, O is where God inserts himself, so to speak. It's that setting you leave for him at the table, the light you leave on for him in the window. The difference between 1 and 1O is just O, but look at the difference it makes! You get ten times the reality by simply adding a little O to 1 self.

The above account no doubt appears a little silly, but as I will proceed to demonstrate -- I hope -- is that what we call "faith" is the only appropriate mode with which to approach the ultimate reality of O. Let's get to it.

Yesterday I mentioned the unique bipolarity of faith, in that, by its very nature, it involves a combination of certitude and uncertainty (not doubt, which is another thing entirely, more on which below).

Pieper -- following Thomas -- calls it "an element of perfection and an element of imperfection," although I'm not sure that's the most adequate way to describe it, because again, faith as such is the most "perfect" approach to O. A perfect adequation to O would of course make us God. But so long as we are men, we can obviously never fully encompass O; no matter how much of O we "contain," it still orthoparadoxically contains us. It is both immanent and transcendent -- and immanent because transcendent.

Pieper goes on to say that "the perfection [of faith] inheres in the firmness of the assent" -- in other words, "I am one hundred percent convinced of the reality of O." But the imperfection has to do with "the fact that no vision operates -- with the result being that the believer is troubled by a lingering 'unrest'."

And "unrest" may not be the most accurate word, since there is apparently not a perfect translation for cogitacio. "Unrest" implies a certain "lack," when I again insist that this lack is like... you know, like our friend Lao-tzu always says: we mold the clay into a cup, but it's the emptiness inside that we actually use. Or, we build a house in order to live in the space inside. We don't live "in the house," but in the space it protects.

I could really get sidetracked here, since the Tao Te Ching is such a fine treatise on living with the attitude of faith in O. Some quick examples: The Tao is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.... The more you use of it, the more it produces. Like O, it is empty yet inexhaustible. Or, you could just refer to the opening and closing and opening passage of the Coonifesto: fount of all being / unborn thus undying / beginning and end of all impossibility / empty plenum and inexhaustible void.

Back to Pieper and the "mental unrest." He explains that it really connotes a "searching investigation" or "probing consideration," a "mental reaching out for something not yet finally found." It is a linking together of the Yes! and the Yes?, the latter of which is absolutely distinct from a soft and flabby "maybe." The Yes! signifies the real presence, while the Yes? signifies the necessary absence that will be perpetually filled by faith.

So the mental unrest does not go back and forth between, say, "maybe" and "maybe not." It's much more radical and polarized than that. And it is this "polarity" that renders faith dynamic and capable of "work" -- just as the positive and negative poles of a battery create the possibility of work. The negative pole of the battery obviously isn't "nothing." Indeed, we could call negative positive and positive negative if we like.

The real negative only occurs when positive and negative -- the already and the not yet -- are no longer polarized but at equilibrium. And please note that the latter hardly implies any "complete oneness with reality," despite superficial similarities. Some of our competitors praise this state of pseudo-samadhi as the highest reality, when it is often just an elimination of the tension we are discussing here. One of our own trolls tries to sell this blobby notion of "I am you, you are me," but again, this is all wrong. When I visit ultimate reality, I want to be there. Nor do I want to be someone else, especially some people.

As Pieper explains, "doubt" or "opinion" also involve a "mental unrest," but it is of a fundamentally different kind. For example, both doubt and opinion wish they could be certain, since both are of limited value as they stand. Once they are fulfilled, then "the discursive movement back and forth" comes to an end. Once "the conclusion is reached, all that belongs, so to speak, to the past."

But in the case of faith, the "conclusion," or "assent," is only the beginning. Furthermore, its greater part -- greater by far -- is in the "future." The faithful self -- (o) -- remains within a perpetual "searching and pondering of what it believes." In fact, I'm doing it right now.

Now, perhaps you will have noticed that this is quite similar to what motivates the real scientist. And this is indeed the point. I won't rehearse Polanyi's whole argument here, but a real scientist could never be a slave to "materialism" or some similar metaphysic of the dead and settled past. Rather, he maintains a vibrant, living and evolving relation to O as it manifests in the plane of appearances.

I mean, c'mon. Try reading the Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists. No, they are not correct in all the metaphysical details, but at least they didn't try to enclose O in some manmade little formula like "random error + reproductive success." The latter represents the kind of certainty that makes it strictly impossible to have faith in reality. Indeed, how can a random accident even speak of "reality" with a straight face?

For when a Raccoon speaks of "faith," he means assent to complete nonsense -- the nonsense of O. For to imagine that O could ever be a kind of sensual object is the height of nonsense. But once one acknowledges O, then all reality is illuminated by the light of belief, including, of course, the "material world."

Our trolls are pretty dense, but the other day, I bet one of them that he couldn't summarize the Raccoon philosophy despite having been a faithful reader for many months. Somehow he has convinced himself that we believe the natural world to be "a rather dead mechanical assemblage." Talk about projection! It is specifically because of O that the world is so alive, so lovely, so interesting, and so worthy of our being in it.

Oh well. Let the dead bury the tenured.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Dateline Earth: Fog in Language, God Cut Off

The uniqueness of the mode of faith rests in a certain bipolarity of rest and action, of certitude and uncertainty.

In fact, before going any further, I want to again highlight one of Toots Mondello's greatest concerns, which had to do with the excessive saturation of religious terms.

"Faith" is a case in point, because the word has immediate associations that are generally wrong, plus everyone uses the word as if they know what they are talking about. A word is saturated when it can no longer accumulate new meaning based upon experience, but simply is what it is -- like a sponge that can hold no more water.

Naturally, this is sometimes appropriate. There is nothing wrong with the word "chair" being saturated. A chair is a thing to sit on, and that's pretty much it.

But as we move up the ontological food chain, words can become more problematic. It reminds me of something Stanley Jaki once said. From a distance, language can appear to be a "solid" thing. But it's really more like a cloud, in that if you try to get up close in order to examine it directly, it dissolves into a kind of boundaryless fog. Proceed even further, and you run into Noam Chomsky.

As an aside, this is one of the benefits of studying Thomas, not to mention Schuon, who is able to describe the transnatural planes with an objectivity, precision, and detachment that actually surpasses our ability to describe nature, since the latter is very much dependent upon perspective and other subjective factors, whereas metaphysical principles such as being are quite precise, if unsaturated.

In fact, Schuon addressed this directly in his Logic and Transcendence, noting that "writings falling outside the fields of science and modern philosophy tend to suffer from being associated with ideas that are usually inadequate, and they are immediately consigned by most people to categories having disparaging implications," such as "occultism," or "Gnosticism," or the new age mob of mystagogues masquerading as mystics.

Thomas said that this was because science involves more perfect knowledge of less perfect things, while theology deals with less perfect knowledge of more perfect or noble things. This results in conflating confidence, or certitude, with objectivity, when the opposite is true: only God can be truly objective. To conclude that man's subjective view of nature is the height of objectivity is actually laughable.

I'm not sure if I've done justice to Thomas, but I believe Schuon would disagree about our knowledge becoming less certain as we approach the Absolute. It is less saturated to be sure, since the Absolute can never be saturated by language. Obviously it is "bottomless," or "endless," so how could mere human signifyin' jive ever fill it?

This is again my purpose in using the symbol O instead of the symbol God, since the former reminds us of the apophatic "unsaturatability" of God. Perhaps we can compromise and say gOd. (This is why, of course, the Jews had an unpronouncable name for God.)

Interestingly, Thomas is quite aware of this issue, which is why he actually emphasized the eternal mystery of O: "Because we are not capable of knowing what God is but only what He is not, we cannot contemplate how God is but only how He is not." Even for beginners, he cautioned that "this is the ultimate in human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know Him."

How different this is from approaches that saturate God with subjective human ideas! This is hardly to say that we can have no knowledge of God, only that our knowledge can never be complete.

It's really not fundamentally different from our knowledge of any other person. No matter how well you know someone, you can never have complete knowledge of them. A person -- since he is the most adequate analogue of God in the herebelow -- can never be saturated, even though, at the same time, man-as-such clearly has an unvarying nature. He has form, but the form is "empty" until filled out by life experience (which clearly distinguishes man from any kind of "blank slate").

In reality, a person is in the paradoxical position of being the (relative) ultimate in both knowability and mystery. You can know much more about a person than you can about a rock. And yet, the person is much more mysterious, since the mind is infinite. If Mozart or Shakespeare were alive today, they'd still be cranking out mysterpieces.

And, of course, at the end of his life, Thomas was granted that vision of the other side of O. He was plunged into its radical mystery, to such an extent that all he had written seemed to him insignificant in Light of it.

Please understand what this means. It is not to devalue what he had written. To the contrary, it is as if Bach were ushered into the very source of music, in Light of which his magnificent body of work would sound like so many jingles and ditties. Or even as if James Brown were taken up into the eternal spacecraft of cosmic funkmanship, where his own seemingly inexhaustible funkiness would appear comparatively funkless.

Where were we? Oh yes, the exactitude of our maps of hyperborea. I'm not going to dwell on this at this juncture, except to say that we can actually see the unseen with these maps, in the sense that we can understand, say, the geographical relationship between Chicago and New York without having to visit them.

Indeed, to a certain extent, the abstract map provides information and perspective that no amount of empirical knowledge of New York could ever provide. One could spend one's whole life in Manhattan and not even know about the rest of the country, as proven every day by the New York Times. It's like the old crack about England: Fog in Channel. Continent Isolated.

In fact, the materialist might say: Fog in Language. God Cut Off. But of course, we are the ones who are isolated and cut off from God, unless we make the attempt to swim the channel -- and, of course, if God tosses us a line.

It is very much like our barbarous troll, whose contempt for religion in general and Christianity in particular "amounts to asserting that every religion can be reduced... to the crudest possible concepts.... It is pointless for us to insist on the inanity of this hypothesis, presented as if it were a certainty; it is enough to take note of its existence" (Schuon).

I mean, what can one really say in response to someone who says, "Duh, Christianity is just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Clinical inanity noted. Move on.

But this is not all his fault, for Christianity generally does a poor job of explicating its intellectual -- by which I do not mean the mere intellectualism of the tenured -- pillars. Indeed, it is often responsible for publicizing itself in terms of "the crudest possible concepts." I know this, because I was once one of the very people who rejected it based upon those crude concepts. Religion must be defended on two fronts, from an incoherent scientism on one side, and an incoherent religiosity on the other.

Long post short, this is why in the Coonifesto, I used the symbols (o) and (---) in order to avoid the more saturated term, faith.

Gotta get ready for work. To be continued....

Here is a good map of the world from the perspective of New York. Just replace Manhattan with "ego" and "rest of world" with "reality."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Will to Believe and the Willfulness Not To

I think that faith has a lot to do with first principles. No matter who you are -- atheist or believer -- you must have either explicit or implicit principles that cannot be justified by those principles, but are nevertheless present in your every judgment. Know a man's first principles and you pretty much know everything else, including his last end. Garbage in, garbage out. Materialism in, atheism out.

Saint Thomas discusses this in the first question of the Summa, pointing out that the science of theology is no different than any other, in the sense that it proceeds by drawing out the implications of first principles that are taken on faith, i.e., revelation. I'm not sure what this or that scientist would say are his first principles, because most scientists obviously don't bother with metaphysics, any more than your auto mechanic bothers with the physics of motion. And scientists who do dabble in metaphysics, such as Dawkins, are just incoherent.

The deeper point here is that it is impossible to think ourselves "all the way to the bottom of the cosmos," so to speak. Rather, at some point a free act of faith is required, emphasis on both words, free and act.

What this means is that the will is actually prior to the intellect, in that no one in a free society can force you to believe anything. At some point you have to choose to believe, even if it is choosing the idea that the laws of physics are an adequate explanation for everything.

Ideally one makes this choice consciously, but generally speaking, only religious people do this (at least in the west). In other words, everyone understands that an intrinsic aspect of religion is belief in the idea that the absolute principle has revealed itself to men. But as I have said on many occasions, the irreligious person usually believes the same thing, only implicitly and unconsciously, or in a garbled manner. There are very few genuine nihilists who have no faith in anything.

It should not be surprising that in our particular civilization, people who are supposedly ideological opposites are actually rooted in the same principles, for example, that the world is intelligible to human intelligence. This is not something that is believed in the Islamic world, since its first principles differ radically from ours. A major reason why the Islamic world has not "developed" is that their first principles make it impossible. To say that man may know natural things with his natural reason, independent of God, is just not kosher there.

Christian civilization has a much more expansive view of God, and with it, a much deeper appreciation of man's intrinsic dignity, nobility, and value. Here we are able to "partner up" with God and discover real truths about the cosmos.

But in Islam, God has no partners: there is no God but God. The idea that the Absolute would actually incarnate as a man is unthinkable and heretical. This is why the Koran makes allowances for Jesus, but only as a second rate prophet, certainly not as the Word made flesh.

But this distinctive idea of the enfleshment of God's Reason is again central to our civilization, whether you like it or not. The main difference between the believer and the atheist is simply in how far to take this principle. The atheist arbitrarily stops his journey into Truth midway, -- where it remains suspended in miderr, grounded in nothing -- whereas the believer remains focused on the only possible source and end of Truth, which is God.

To put it another way -- Saint Thomas's way -- "Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose..." This is another way of making Wilber's point that a deeper explanation both transcends and includes a lower or more shallow one, say, the way in which relativity transcends and includes Newtonian physics.

But it also means that the value of science is determined by its end, which, in the end, is none other than ananda, or "celestial bliss," or heaven if you like. On first consideration this may sound strange, but again, it is simply a result of drawing first principles to their final deustination. All of you are aware of that tingle of delight that occurs when you grasp a deep truth. Now, just magnify that. That's ananda, baby.

To paraphrase Kreeft, things are either meaningful or they are not. This is a true either/or, for there is literally nothing in between. If things are not ultimately meaningful, then they are not meaningful, period.

Now, are things ultimately meaningful? The believer says yes, which is admittedly an act of faith. The atheist/nihilist says no, which is unadmittedly an act of faith. The difference is that our faith is rooted in Reason, whereas his is not, for the atheist has no real reason to believe anything at all.

Was that clear? This is the difficulty of "arguing" with a nihilist troll, when argument with him is impossible, precisely. It is impossible because a genuine argument can only take place if one's interlocuter has explicit principles to defend. If he has no principles, then he is just caviling, which is a very typical narcissistic defense, in that the clinical narcissist -- who is often developmentally arrested at the age of two or so -- can say "no" but not "yes."

In other words, this type of narcissist is very clear about what he doesn't like and doesn't believe. But to believe and defend requires a clear yes to things that are beloved (be-lief is related to be-loved).

Those of you who have had a two year old understand this well. In being defiant or negativisitic, the child is not trying to be difficult. Rather, he is simply trying to establish his boundaries as a separate individual. And obviously, his first attempts to do this will be clumsy and ham-handed, just like the first time he picks up a pencil.

But as Bobby Knight once said of journalists, "all of us learn to write in the second grade, but most of us go on to better things." It is the same with narcissism. All of us learn to say no by the time we're two years old, but most of us go on to saying yes to better things, e.g., truth, love, beauty, God, etc.

In contrast, the atheist spends his life saying no to God. Whether this is a result of a primitive boundary issue depends upon the individual case. It would be true of the militant atheists I have known, but I doubt if it applies to the person who is just indifferent to God. They usually have a different sort of malady.

Now, the "yes" of faith is not without its potential problems and pitfalls -- for example, "blind faith," or a bogus certitude of things about which man can never be certain. Faith is not certitude.

But nor is it doubt, opinion, or supposition, which all have their own distinct definitions. I believe that Thomas distinguishes it from knowing, but as I mentioned yesterday, I believe it is a variety of knowing, or a tacit foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths, very much as Polanyi describes the attitude of the scientist, who can somehow distinguish between potentially fruitful and fruitless avenues of discovery.

It reminds me of this: have you ever had the experience of knowing that you don't know something vs. knowing that you do, but just can't remember it? Often I will have the instantaneous experience of knowing I don't know something, and that there is no point in trying to recall it. But other times I have the instantaneous experience that I do know it. And I don't necessarily mean that I can recall the answer if I try, but that the answer is knowable.

The closest approximation I can think of at the moment is a certain ability to know whether or not there is potential humor in a situation, or whether it's not worth the try -- for example, in coming up with a funny caption for a photo. Somehow, a part of me is able to instantaneously know whether I will be able to come up with a gag, before I've come up with it. Often I have the strong feeling that I know there's a joke here! Keep trying! I should add that this is a very different dynamic than forced humor, which is usually a result of ignoring the voice that says "no gag here. Move on."

So, just as we can smell the potential humor in a situation, or sniff the potential discovery in the data, we can sense the sacred -- the presence of God -- in certain beliefs and principles. Otherwise, no one would believe. Everyone would be exactly like the atheist who looks at Christianity and says "what a bunch of nonsense. No point in exploring that avenue." In the words of a particular two year-old of our acquaintance, "it's just a very long-lived personality cult. I should cleave to Jesus because he said so and lots of other people have too. Forgive me if I'm not the least bit interested."

Nothing in, nihilism out.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The "Faith" of the Tenured vs. The Faith of the Wise

Pieper begin his discussion of faith by first defining the meaning of the term, since most people have no idea what it actually means in a religious context, most especially the tenured. The latter might define it as "practical certainty about matters that cannot be justified adequately," or "objectively inadequate acceptance of something as true." Ironically, this definition certainly applies to their beliefs, but this is only a static imitation of the dynamic faith that applies to O.

For example, since he's going to keep posting it again anyway, I might as well tell you that our blind troll really, really, wants my readers to know about this biologist, Ursula Goodenough, who has her own ideas about nature and religion, and that they differ from mine. He wants you to know that he is a victim, a victim I tell you, of my tyrannical "censorship" because I do not want my cult members to be exposed to an alternative doctrine that might liberate you from my clutches blah blah blah.

The review at the top says that she espouses "a kind of religious naturalism that will not be unfamiliar to readers of New Age literature." I certainly don't want my readers to know about that secret. I mean, I'd never alert them to those other demented, I mean brilliant theologians who have successfully reconciled spirit and nature!

As an asnide, as you all know, there is way too much material on the internet for any person to deal with even a fraction of it. However, I've discovered a shortcut that I recommend to others. When you read an editorial, don't necessarily waste your time with the whole thing. Rather, stop reading the moment you encounter a statement that is irretrievably stupid. I think you'll find that with most leftist, atheist, or materialist (or naturalist, or whatever their calling themselves these days) material, you often cannot get past the fatal flaws of the first sentence. ("Materialist material." Heh.)

A case in point is Goodenough's book. I'm sure she's a nice lady and a good scientist and everything, but as it pertains to metaphysics, she is strictly amateur, a dabbler, a Sunday painter. While her musings may be goodenough for the tenured, they are just a reminder of some old blandmarks we saw long ago in the foothills of our journey. Breaking news: nature is sacred. But it is specifically sacred because of its metaphysical transparency, because of the divine energies that shine through it, not because it "obeys the laws of physics." Sacred is an ontological category, not a side effect of math.

Furthermore, she has the self-regard to "think through" things that have already been fully thought through by people much more brilliant -- not to mention illuminated -- than she will ever be, so the whole exercise is rather childish.

Really, it's just a way to create a kind of faux religion that will be acceptable to the NPR listening/Slate reading/MENSA geeks who hate religion on its own terms. Let me be clear: there is nothing whatsoever wrong about demonstrating the compatibility of science and religion, which obviously cannot not be compatible, since truth is One. Problems only arise when the latter is reduced to the former, which is a cosmic impossibility.

Anyway, I couldn't get past the very first sentence of the book: Everything in our universe, including the Earth and its living creatures, obeys the laws of physics, laws that became manifest in the first moments of time. Oh, really? What is this, a premise? A conclusion? A faith?

Whatever it is, it is plainly wrong by its own lights, for if it is true, it is a truth that clearly cannot be reduced to the laws of physics, on pain of eliminating not only its own truth, but the very possibility of truth.

But this is what materialists -- excuse me, naturalists -- do. They begin with their implicit prejudicial faith in matter, and then conclude that matter (or the "laws" that "govern it") is all there is. This woman may call herself "religious," but there are certain intrinsic heresies in theology that in our view immediately place one outside the domain of theology -- for the same reason that there are intrinsic scientific heresies that place oneself outside the scientific world view, say, belief in miracles as a scientific explanation.

I'm not necessarily criticizing Goodenough. She's obviously a sincere person who is trying to figure things out on her own, but that's a big part of the problem. Again, intellects far more exalted than hers have already figured it out, e.g., Aquinas, Eckhart, Schuon, etc. No, these three do not agree in all the details. That's not their job. Rather, that's my job -- to reconcile the knowledge of those who truly know, and in turn to reconcile that with what science "knows."

This is precisely what Aquinas attempted some seven or eight centuries ago. We're getting a little sidetracked here, but I think it's important. As Pieper emphasizes, first of all, Aquinas had the proper qualifications to approach the subject, in that he was objective, dispassionate, and pure, an adjective that the tenured would just laugh at as irrelevant at best.

But hear us now, believe us later: there is no knowledge of higher things in the absence of purity, for you will just bring your impurities with you and confuse them with reality. Purity is to theology what, say, integrity and intellectual honesty are to the scientist. Without it, nothing they say can be trusted.

This is not something that only applies to theology, but to psychology as well. When a mentally ill person opines on the nature of the mind, what do you suppose he sees? Obviously, job one for the true metapsychologist is the sufficient insight and self-understanding to have at least recognized one's mind parasites, even if one hasn't fully domesticated them. This requires a level of personal honesty that most people do not possess, not for conscious reasons, but for unconscious reasons, since the very purpose of psychological defense mechanisms is to blind the person to his own true motivations.

Thus, applied to the domain of spirit, sincere humility is the minimum requirement. To paraphrase Thomas, the first-born daughter of unchastity is "blindness of spirit." Pieper goes on to explain that "Only he who wants nothing for himself, who is not subjectively 'interested,' can know the truth." Again, remember what we were saying yesterday about the suspension of memory, desire, and understanding.

Also, Pieper emphasizes that Thomas was, above all else, a teacher. True, he was probably the greatest philosopher who has ever lived, but he would have been the last to characterize himself in those terms. Rather, he mainly prayed for two things: truth or wisdom and the ability to impart it to others. Oh yes, and a third thing: that "his life would not outlast his teaching." Since there was no internet in those days, -- I think that's correct -- this was by no means assured, especially since Thomas left not a single disciple at the time of his death. We're lucky that someone didn't just toss it all in the nearest dumpster.

"To lead a man from error to truth -- this he considered the greatest service which one man can render another." Amen! More: "Teaching is a process that goes on between living men" -- and I might add that both needn't technically be merely "biologically" living, for as I have said on many occasions, it is very much possible to have a vibrantly living relationship with a teacher who is no longer on this side of the veil. In fact, if you don't have such a relationship with at least one such person, ur probbly doin it rong.

"The teacher looks not only at the truth of things; at the same time he looks at the faces of living men who desire to know this truth. Love of truth and love of men -- only the two together constitute a teacher."

And by no means does the study of philosophy involve merely learning "what others have thought but to learn the truth of things." Again, the true teacher does not impart (k) but facilitates (n). Thus, it is fundamentally impossible to impart the truth of O through (k), rather, only its outlines and shadows. A third thing is required, what I symbolized in the book as (you know, that equal sign with wavy lines). This is how (n) is imparted from one soul to another.

Thus, none of this is irrelevant to our discussion of faith, which is above all else a tacit foreknowledge of as yet undiscovered truths, so that faith itself is already an aspect of the truth it seeks. Fathermore, even -- or especially! -- God has an analogue of dynamic faith within his person: "The divine archetype of faith is the 'yes' which God says to Himself; it is the Logos which on the one hand mirrors the Divine Infinity, and on the other hand refracts it" (Schuon).

I'll leave you with some more typically lucid words of Schuon:

"Faith is the participation of the will in the intelligence; just as on the physical plane man adapts his action to the physical facts which determine its nature, so also, on the spiritual plane, he should act in accordance with his convictions, by inward activity even more than by outward activity, for 'before acting one must first be,' and our being is nothing else but our inward activity. The soul must be to the intelligence what beauty is to truth, and this is what we have called the 'moral qualification' that should accompany the 'intellectual qualification.'”

The wife just captured a fleeting image of this water sprite in the backyard with her phone:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Religion is Spiritual. The Religion Business Isn't. Or, God is a Swingin' Cat

That was fun yesterday. I've always thought about devoting one post a week to music, maybe on Saturday or Sunday. Good topics would include how to go about collecting this or that artist, good starter CDs for exploring new genres, how to assemble a bitchin' hi fi system for little moolah, or the perennial debate over who was the cutest Monkee.

Our discussion of the theological virtue of hope is complete, and so we move on to faith. I hope it goes well!

We had begun discussing faith several weeks ago, but for some reason jumped ahead to hope. Actually, I just checked the arkive, and we began this discussion on June 11. But then on the next day I skipped ahead to hope. So if you want the prequel to today's post, here 'tis.

In rereading it, a few passages stand out. Example:

--"In speaking to men, God does not cause them to know objective facts, but he does throw open to them his own Being" (Pieper; emphasis mine). Do you see the profundity of this statement? When he communicates, God quintessentially communicates his own essence -- which, on our end, is subjectively accompanied by awareness of the sacred. And awareness of the sacred is nothing less than innate consciousness of the presence of God (Schuon).

--This revelation of being is only offered to us, never forced.

--The "content" of revelation is ultimately Revelation as such, which is to say, a loving invitation to "participate in the divine life." Which in turn is why faith is so critical, for faith is essentially the acceptance of God's offer -- or of his self-revelation, to be precise. "Divine revelation is not an announcement of a report on reality but the imparting of that reality itself" (emphasis mine).

--The statement I love you is a direct and intimate revelation of the deepest identity of the one who loves. Thus, there are three elements unified in the one utterance: the "self-witnessing" of the I who loves; the affirmation of the present reality of love; and the revelation that one is beloved.

--Which is why in God, one must not draw an artificial distinction between love and knowledge, for his revelation is a direct transmission of his loving nature, of love, and of our belovedness in God. Divine communication and comm-union are one and the same.

While I'm thinking about it, the psychoanalyst W.R. Bion, one of my most important influences, is reminding me that in order to properly conduct psychotherapy, -- or write a post -- one must approach the session with an attitude of faith, by which he means the suspension of memory, desire, and understanding.

The reason for this is that in order for new meaning to emerge, we must try to avoid superimposing our present understanding upon things. This is because it is quite common -- most especially among the tenured -- to unconsciously use knowledge as a defense against being. Being is "void" of knowledge, so to speak. It is simply the state of raw awareness.

Or, better yet, it is O. My use of the symbol O is borrowed from Bion, who applied it to the "ultimate unknowable reality" that exists between two people, in particular, the two people sitting there in the consulting room. Think of all the superficial mechanisms we use to avoid genuine contact during the day. This is not to criticize these mechanisms, for they are necessary. No one expects you to pour your heart out to the bank teller or dry cleaner. Rather, we have ritualized ways of interacting with others.

But in so doing, one must be aware that one is eclipsing O. Problems only arise when one's whole life involves the foreclosure of O, so that there is no genuine openness toward, and contact with, the other -- which is none other than at-one-ment with being, since being is communion (again, we'll be expanding on this idea later, so at this point you'll just have to, er, take it on faith).

I hope this doesn't sound too abstract. To the contrary, when I write, I hope always to keep everything very experience near, so that we never venture too far from O. When I write these posts, I am writing from O, in the sense that they are purely spontaneous -- an exercise in the suspension of memory, desire, and understanding. No technical terms, no evasions, no ulterior motives, no goal, just me here witnessing being.

And I hope this gives the writing an energy and a momentum in which it is possible to "participate." I want to induce the same experience in others, not of what I'm thinking, but of how I'm thinking it (or how it's thinking me, to be exact). If it doesn't work for you, hey, you get what you pay for. All I know for sure is that it works for me.

And as a matter of fact, this touches on some of the subjects discussed in yesterday's musical thread. I am quite sure that Jack will agree with me that there is an infinite difference between simply playing a song one knows, vs. radical improvisation, through which one hopes to have an encounter with music itself.

In order to do that, one must of course "suspend memory, desire, and understanding," something that is very difficult to do, especially when one is performing live in front of paying customers. What if it doesn't happen? Better to just stick with the script and give the people what they want, the same stupid song performed in the same way they heard it on the radio 40 years ago.

One reason why I hesitate to do any live speaking, is that it's one thing to abandon my self to the inanimate google machine, another thing to do so in front of strangers. Again: what if it doesn't happen? Better to stick with a script. Can you imagine being one of those people who go on the "lecture circuit" and deliver the same stupid speech over and over? It doesn't matter who it is. It's just dead language. Why not just get it in a book? I suppose seeing the actual person is a kind of faux-O.

Back to music. Imagine the degree of faith it requires to stand up in front of thousands of people and take a leap into the unknown. Again, it's one thing to do it in one's bedroom, another to do so in public. Of non-jazz artists, Van Morrison is one of the few performers who really does this. But because he does, it is possible that you can spend one or two hundred dollars to see a live performance in which it doesn't happen. Personally, I wouldn't be able to stand the guilt. I'd want to either give a refund or have a do-over.

I just so happen to be reading a new critical study of Morrison, Hymns to the Silence, which, when you think about it, is a marvelous title, since it goes to exactly what we're discussing here: the music, or thought, or God-awareness -- the encounter with Being -- that can only emerge from the silence of O. It must be O --> (n). Again, (k) --> O is just a defense against being.

Here are some passages I've highlighted from the book: "I don't want to just sing a song. Anyone can do that. Something else has got to happen." Elsewhere he says "it's a momentary release... the minute it stops, it's gone." Again, it's very much in the moment. Leave the moment, and you leave O.

Or how about this: "Blues isn't to do with black or white... blues is about the truth, and blues is the truth." Here again, it would be easy for the musical sophisticate to dismiss blues, based upon its simple structure and rudimentary instruments, but this would be to miss the point, precisely. Just as God "throws open his own being," it is possible for a gifted performer to "throw open the being-ness of music," so to speak. I mean, Aretha. James Brown. Ray Charles. C'mon.

Here's another good one: when Morrison was starting out, "I wanted to make my own blues, my own soul music, to do something of my own with it." Not necessarily a new form or style. To the contrary, he wanted to use the existing framework and infuse it with his own musical being in order to impart the present reality -- or real presence -- of music.

This is so far removed from the world of commercial music that it's two different realities. He is not creating a product to be "consumed" by others. In fact, the true artist generally must create his audience, not "find" it; or simultaneously create and find, shape and impart. (One thinks of Jesus, who had to do the same with the disciples, who often didn't get what he was on about, and still don't.)

As Morrison has said, "Music is spiritual. The music business isn't."

O, my little ringtailed ones, how tragic that the same can often be said of religion: "Religion is spiritual. The religion business isn't."

Where does one go to find swingin' jazz theology -- I mean le théologie hot!, not the cerebral and detached cool kind?

Jazz is not a kind of music, it is an approach, and it applies to how one goes about finding their voice, relating to a tradition, stepping into the unknown and swinging. --Ben Sidran

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nature vs. History: The Truth of Evolution and the Evolution of Truth

Yes, you could say that "life evolves." But you could also say -- with more plausibility, I might add -- that evolution lifes. First it maths, then it matters, then it lifes, then it minds, and finally it spirits. But where did all that lovely math come from "in the beginning?" The materialist says yada yada, while we say O.

Who's right? We are. But even if you believe the question is unanswerable, I think that if you think a little harder, you will realize that the materialist is not only incorrect in his metaphysic, but that he cannot possibly be correct.

Now, there can be no "biology of truth," any more than there can be a "physics of intelligence" -- that is, unless you inhabit the inverted cosmos of those dwellers in the Land of Flat. The very notion is absurd, and could only be plausible to someone who couldn't find the aseity of O with both hands and a road map.

For O is not a "God of the horizontal gaps" but of the eternal source that gives birth to each vertical moment. Conversely, the omnipotent randomness of the Darwinian is truly a god of the saps, a dopiate for the scientistic masses to preserve their dogmatic slumber and prevent them from being disturbed by those annoying promptings that emanate from the vertical. Zzzzzzzzzz... Wake me when I'm tenured.

While there is obviously truth in biology and physics -- this being a logoistic universe -- it is absurd to suggest that either is the truth, for truth must be anterior to existence. To suggest that existence is anterior to truth is the fundamental error of all materialists, atheists, and neo-Marxists leftists. Of course they could be right. But if they are right they are wrong, for to derive truth from history instead of nature is to derive no truth at all, just a forever shifting mindscape of perishable opinion.

I was reminded of this again in this devastating new critique of contemporary liberalism, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State. The flight from Nature is ultimately at the root of liberalism's intellectual incoherence, because once you make that first false step into a parallel looniverse, there's no turning back. Unless you turn back, which they refuse to do.

People wonder why liberalism is such an ad hoc, intellectually negligible, feeling-driven enterprise, but they shouldn't. As Voegeli explains, our Founders embraced nature as their first principle -- and when they referred to "nature," they did not mean it in the sense of material nature, but the "nature of things," i.e., reality. In contrast, the progressives rejected this reality of nature, and located truth in history. Thus, for example, since man has no nature, he can be molded by the state into whatever the progressive wishes. There is no objective truth, or morality, or beauty, so normless multiculturalism becomes the norm.

Now, the soph-evident presence of "intelligent design" in our cosmos by no means proves the existence of God, much less the Judeo-Christian God (since real faith requires.... faith, about which we will be posting tomorrow). Rather, it merely proves the existence of intelligence, which is to say, Truth (being that the former is a function, or descent, of the latter -- no Truth, no intellect, no shoes, no service).

The point is, the recognosis of cosmic intelligence merely permits one to disinvert reality to your birthday party, so that one is once again living in a right-side up cosmos and can receive God's presence. In the words of Petey, this is to Return your soul to its upright position and come in for the promised landing.

Yes, this is where the real funwork begins -- your summa vocation -- because now we're back at the humble bottom (instead of the fake promethian top of a grandiose scientism), and must carry out the hard work of spiritual evolution, or realizing what you only know. In short, we move from the materialistic penthouse to the spiritual repenthouse, where we pent and repent again as necessary in order to keep our metanoia fresh and clean.

"Faith" is the gap between what we know and what we shall realize, so long as we cultivate virtue, sincerity, and simplicity, and breath within the space of our silent aspiration. But the more one realizes, the more justification for faith one possesses, until it becomes the norm to simply live in the perpetual uncertainty of an open and unsaturated faith, symbolized in the book by (o) and (---).

In so doing, one lives close to the cosmic spring where the vertical waters flow down into creation on a moment to moment basis. Or, to adopt the mystical formulation favored by Coons, we loiter on the threshold of the transdimensional doorway, looking for handouts from Petey, who usually comes through if he's not too terribly busy.

Biology is about "the adventure of life," whereas a Raccoon is more interested in the "adventure of consciousness" which is the very point of the former.

For us, Life Itself proves that there really is such a thing as a free launch, so we don't spend a lot of time worrying about how this wonderful means of ascent appeared in the supposedly dead and meaningless cosmos of the Darwinians. The point is, it's here, and we're going to take advantage of it. We're going to have our fun in spite of the narrow-minded and scowling Darwinists who think they hold the prison keys to the cosmos. But doors and windows to heaven are everywhere.

You see, the blinkered Darwinist thinks that life only points down and back to the dead matter out of which it was magically given birth. But for the Raccoon, life is a symbol (symbol meaning "thrown across") that always points "up" and "in." We do not see life as a circular series of lateral mutations, but an open spiral that ultimately rejoins whole and part, absolute and relative, time and eternity, center and periphery, man and God.

Our existence is a vertical lifeline thrown down into dead matter in order to divinize and redeem it. And human beings are the "axis" or "pivot" of the whole innerprize. Deep down we all recognize this, albeit often in a garbled and perverted manner, for example, the environmental hysterics or the pompous and deluded LGFers who know they are superior to biology, but have no idea how or why.

Life! If Darwinism is all there is, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, hnnn, say it again! It is difficult to respect the reductionistic Darwinist who lacks the rudimentary intellectual honesty and the courage of his absence of convictions to be a real nihilist. He has his feet planted in the soil of Judeo-Christian values, even while he has his head planted in his ass.

I'll take Nietzsche over them any day, in whose writing one may at least sense the giddy abandonment of living in spiritual free fall, and feeling satan's stinky breath along one's keel!

My own re-cognition that life is not a Darwinian loway but a spiritual highway is memorialized on Page 87, where it is written,

But then something altogether surprising happened. From our vantage point outside time, we now see that the boundary of life did not end with its own little precarious little dance along the precipice of non-being. Rather, we see that life was bound by two infinite frontiers, one side down and back into dark death and obscure material dissolution, the other side up and beyond, into more subtle regions of Mind and Spirit. Crossing that radiant upper threshold we are witness to...


I am hardly the first to have experienced (?!). The sacred WTF?!!! is re-enacted by Raccoons from all over the world every March Forth, as soon as we "open our eyes" in the "morning," innocently view creation like a newborn Adam in paradise, and, like our ancestral furbears, blurt the words in wide-eyed astoneagement:

WTF is going on here?!!!

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