Friday, June 14, 2013

Original Synthesis

We're still cogitating this provocative Jesus Purusha isness. I haven't actually finished the book, as I need to think about what the author has said thus far before proceeding further. At times he gets either a little murky or else doesn't clearly explain what he means in plain lowman terms.

I imagine that being a shut-your-trappist monk in an ashram can do that to a guy. Without an interlocutor to occasionally squinch up his face and go dude, whaaaaa?, you might not get the feedback you need in order to know when you're starting to sound chopraesque, which is to say, either too vaguely gaseous or too idiosyncratically solid. You need to have some meat in the muddle and be able to speak with a pliable substance that is neither too unyielding nor falls apart as soon as you chew on it.

Davie speculates that instead of just the usual distinction between primitive Palestinian-Jewish and Hellenistic stages -- or layers -- of Christianity, we need to supplement them with a third. Primitive Christianity could have ramified in different directions, and did ramify in different directions, hence all those early struggles to define orthodoxy and exclude heterodoxy.

Speaking of tossing, we may need to coin a neologism, "orthoheterodoxy," for those elements of Christianity that are considered outwardly heterodox but are inwardly -- which is to say esoterically -- necessary in order to make sense of the faith.

I would suggest that this whole book is exploring such orthoheterodox territory -- things that must be acknowledged as true, but which the authorities would prefer to keep quiet due to the danger of misunderstanding. I can't say I blame them. Milk and meat and all that.

Meister Eckhart, for example, might be the most important orthoheterodox theologian, and it is quite easy for the illwilled or smallbrained to make mischief with him. The best defense for this is to understand orthodoxy, and to always place what he says in that context. He's definitely not trying to venture outside the faith, but simply providing imaginative ways to explore it.

Same with Davie. He is quite clear in affirming that he is not trying to challenge orthodoxy, but illuminate it with some novel pneuumatic tools.

Here's the deal: the Christ-event is, yes, an event, but it is first and foremost a non-event, in the sense that it transcends history. You might say that it is much larger than history -- indeed, is the source of history -- and yet, must play out in time.

Therefore, whatever we might say about it is always attempting the impossible, like trying to describe a three-dimensional reality in two dimensions. If we forget this, we are inevitably drawn into a form of concretized mythological idolatry, worshiping a god of our own invention.

Davie suggests that there is a kind of implicit dialectic between Judaism and Hinduism, as if they represent two tendencies of the religious brain. Indeed, this idea converges nicely with our recent series of posts on the differing worlds of the right and left brain. Naturally, it is not a matter of either/or, but both/and (and more!), and Davie suggests that Christianity is precisely this both/and original synthesis.

Remember, you can just play with the idea. You don't need to believe or disbelieve at this early juncture.

Truth is one, of course. But it is also uncontainable (by man) in the sense alluded to above. Thus, Davie speculates that two major halves of this truth are emphasized by Judaism and Hinduism (also remember that neither is absent in the other; it's just a matter of emphasis).

Let's begin with the Creator/creature distinction. In Judaism the stress is on their differences, while in Hinduism the stress is on their identity, i.e., Atman is Brahman. The Ultimate is present to both, one via identity, the other via difference:

"This apparent opposition will in turn reflect the inability of the unaided human mind to think them both together," at least until encountered in the form of "the Incarnated One." Then the inference is that Hinduism is in fact true, albeit for one person. But in any event, this is a stumbling block to the left brain.

In Judaism you might say that the emphasis is on God's transcendence, while in Hinduism it is on his immanence. In the case of the former, "the only way in which [God's] transcendence of the world can be demonstrated is by divine suspension of, or irruption into, the processes of nature, and by divine acts of intervention in human history" (Davie).

Conversely, with the immanentized deity of Hinduism, we have the perception that "Nothing is external to God." Creation here is a kind of "self-projection" or emanation, as opposed to a distinct act of separation (and some would say "divine withdrawal," or tsimtsum, just to emphasize the God/world distinction). In Hinduism continuity subordinates discontinuity, but this also brings with it the potential danger of pantheism that Judaism so jealously guards against.

Which, as the crock ticks down, reminds me of a story Schall Turner tells in his On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait. I'll just summarize. Regarding the seeming opposition between God's omniscience and our free will, he suggested to a friend that Protestants are "either/or" while Catholics are "both/and."

However, his perceptive colleague reminded him that if this is the case, then it's a choice between either "either/or" or "both/and," so either/or wins.

Therefore, it must be a choice between "either/or," or "both/and," and/or "both/and and either/or," and only the latter is fully ortho-hetero-paradoxical.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

So Many Worlds, So Little Time

Davie writes that "Although Christian theologians have frequently spoken of the Unacknowledged Christ of the Vedanta, they have been strangely silent about the Unacknowledged Vedanta behind Christianity."

This is unfortunate, because, as alluded to yesterday, the metaphysical principles embodied in Vedanta -- i.e., the Upanishads -- "can be shown to supply the logical precondition of orthodox Christianity."

Certainly they provide a better fit than, say, the dualistic Platonism that some of the early fathers over-relied upon in order to make sense of their new revelation.

More generally, if Christianity is truly universal, there can be no objection to assimilating ideas and concepts from other cultures in ardor to advance our understanding.

True, Christianity is also a historical religion, which can at times work counter to the idea of universality. For example, if the arc of salvation runs only from Jerusalem to Rome, that excludes an awful lot of history. Perhaps we need to reframe the command to preach to the four corners of the world.


There is the exterior world, of course, but more importantly, there is also the interior world. If you take the command literally, you might as well stand alone on top of a mountain in some far off corner of the earth, yelling into the wind.

No, the point is, you have to reach the people who inhabit those corners.

We've all heard about the "first world," "second world," "third world," etc. Every once in awhile it occurs to me that I need to write a post about how there are also various internal worlds in different stages of development.

Starting back-to-front, Professor Wiki says that the 4th world consists of socially excluded sub-populations (even if living in the first world), and hunter-gatherer, nomadic, pastoral, and subsistence farming peoples living beneath the modern industrial norm.

Third world peoples have entered history, and are at least starting to develop, while first world countries are completely there. The second world might be thought of as an attempt to arrest time -- as in the case of contemporary progressives -- via a planned economy.

But as we know from baneful expedience, any effort to control a self-organizing structure from the top down results in chaos, so the second world ends up tending toward the third, as we see in Obamaworld -- e.g., record numbers of people on food stamps and disability, millions giving up on finding work, etc.

How would the above scheme apply to the interior worlds? I suppose you would say that progress in this domain represents a conquest of dimensionality, as we have discussed in the past.

I'm starting to run out of time, but it occurs to me that the interior analogue of the second world would also tend toward the third and fourth, as it involves a rejection of time and of verticality. As we know, there is nothing progressive about progressivism.

Hmm. While searching for something else, it occurs to me that I might have adequately discussed all this in the past, e.g., Pimp-Slapping Obama and Conserving Our Metaphysical Dream of Progress, Universal Religion and the Many Worlds Hypothesis, and Just One Thing I'd Like to Know, How You Stay High, and Live So Low.

Down to 12 minutes. Time enough to say that the fourth world is diffuse mythological/magical, the third world centralized mythic/magical authoritarianism, the second world progressive / leftist / fascist / socialist / atheist statism, and the first world the vertically informed horizontality of American-style classical liberalism.

No time to read them, but probably some more relevant posts under this heading.

And now 5 minutes to spielcheck.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Render unto Lois Lerner what Belongs to Obama... or Join Apparatchiks Anonymous!

In a chapter on Islam, Caldecott points out that -- very much in contrast to Christianity -- it endeavors to overcome "the gulf between man and God" via politics, i.e., "by attempting to establish a theocratic state."

Conversely, "the very fact that Christians were not 'under the law,' made possible the modern conception of a purely secular state..." Indeed, many writers locate the foundation of the secular state in Jesus' advice to fork over to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

However, I wouldn't be so quick to link Jesus to a particular political philosophy, at least based on that crack alone. Clearly, he is making a statement about spiritual priorities and about the overall purpose of life. He's not enunciating a theory of governance. Besides, context is important. What would he say in Nazi Germany? "Render unto Hitler what belongs to Hitler." I don't think so.

Anyway, I think we can all stipulate that there is, by definition, a gulf between man and God. How to bridge it? First of all, it is axiomatic that man cannot do it from his side alone, otherwise he would be God (or God would be him, to be precise).

The diverse religions are essentially defined by their differing methods of divine linkage. Both Islam and Judaism do so via conformity to the Law. Buddhism and Vedanta do so by illuminating and eliminating one of the partners from the law firm, i.e., satori and moksha, respectively. Christianity bridges the gap from the other end, via the Incarnation.

Thus, in a way -- and I don't intend this as a critique, just a description -- only Christianity can literally do the job (at least for one person), since again, no matter how perfectly we conform to the law, we will not somehow be transformed into God. What distinguishes Christianity is the claim that the task has been accomplished, and that we may participate in it via divine adoption.

About that ontological gap between heaven and earth. It is interesting how similar leftism is to Islamism, because both approaches attempt to force salvation on us via politics. Obama is just the latest nitwiteration, nor is he the last, since leftists, by definition, do not learn. Leftism cannot be corrected or cured, only awakened from.

But every "from" implies a "to," so I might add that -- similar to alcoholism -- there is no non-spiritual cure for leftism. Note that the alcoholic shifts his allegiance from the bottle to a "higher power" that can restore him to sanity -- to O, as it were. Just so, the leftist must transfer his allegiance from the state to that very higher power who created us free and equal to begin with, prior to the state.

(Reminds me of an old post called Apparatchiks Anonymous, reprinted at the end for your amusement.)

This might be an opportune time to discuss another recent (for me) book, called Jesus Purusha: A Vedanta-Based Doctrine of Jesus. Caldecott mentions it in The R of B, so I picked up a copy. For only 57¢. Yesss!

The incongruous cover of the book makes it look like some kind of vaporous new age crock of native American Choprababble, but it is anything but. Almost all books are too long. This is one of the rare exceptions that is too short. It's rather dense and concentrated, and some of his definitions are on the idiosyncratic side.

In any event, it's not so much a Vedanta-based doctrine of Jesus -- in which Jesus is demoted to guru, swami, divine salesman, or even avatar -- but rather, a Christian assimilation of the Upanishads. It strikes me as completely orthodox, and does no violence whatsoever to the creed in order to make it fit into a vedantin metaphysic. Thus, it is not some shallow attempt at ecumenism, integralism, or synthesis, but a real metacreative brainwave.

However, I'll just stick with the parts I understood, since this guy seems to be above my praygrade.

The book takes the form of a series of letters "from the ashram of Jesus Purusha" to an English monk, setting out the theological position of the former. In so doing, he attempts to explain to the monk that his approach is not only orthodox, but highlights previously unappreciated implications of orthodoxy, since Vedanta provides the linguistic tools to do so.

Indeed, Davie shows that the metaphysical underpinnings of Vedanta supply "the precondition of orthodox Christology" -- the metacosmic principles by which something as flat out strange as Christianity is even possible, let alone true. It definitively relieves us of the need to appeal to myth or miracle in order to pull it all together. Which most Christians don't seem to mind doing, but that's no way to convince the rabble in the skeptic tank.

Davie speculates on the possibility of contact between India and ancient Palestine. Why not? Then again, who knows? Given the very nature of vertical murmurandoms, they will obviously strike down in distant temporal and geographical locales. Thus, we shouldn't be surprised that the Vedas announce that "In the beginning there was only Prajapati. His word was with him. This word was his double." Same memo, slightly different formulation.

This I found most provocative. Let's say that Jesus, instead of appearing in Palestine, had been born in India. He is gathered with the disciples, and asks the question, "Who do you say that I am?"

How would "an Indian Simon Peter" have responded? Yes, "thou art the Son of the living God." Except that in India, this would have been something of a commonplace, owing to the avatar principle.

No, this would have to be something different from your garden variety mangod. Davie suggests that the title "Christ" can mislead, since it is wedded to a specifically Jewish worldview. Is it possible that this title is part of a larger category?

Davie suggests that Simon Peter would have responded with something to the effect of, "You are the eternal Purusha," which is to say the "cosmic man" made flesh. This is very different from the usual Atman = Brahman available to all mortals as part of our standard equipment.

You might say that this realization (of Atman = Brahman) is equivalent to the Judeo-Christian doctrine that we are created in the image and likeness of God. That being the case, every man is ultimately God (i.e., is "not other" than God), even while God is obviously no man.

But to say that Jesus is the Purusha is another thing entirely. He is not a mangod, but rather, the Godman.

And with that, I'd better stop for the day. To be continued.


As promised, the Apparatchiks Anonymous 12-step Program:

1. We admitted we were powerless over the intoxicating dreams of socialism, and that our lives and governments had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a power far greater than our own omnipotent egoic fantasies of total control could restore us to true liberalism.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the Source and Guarantor of our liberty.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of the well-intentioned failures and frank evils of socialism.

5. Admitted to the Creator of our Liberty, to ourselves, and in a live phone call to C-SPAN, the exact nature of socialism’s wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have the Creator of Our Liberty undo our college education and remove all these defects of ideology.

7. Humbly asked Him to cancel our subscription to the Times.

8. Made a list of all races, genders, and classes our government programs had harmed, and became willing to make amends by ignoring their constant whining, and preferably laughing at them.

9. Made direct amends to such people by realizing we have nothing to apologize for.

10. Continued to take a personal inventory, and when we were again tempted to abuse ideology for the purposes of blotting out reality, just got drunk instead.

11. Sought to improve our conscious contact with the Source of our Liberty through prayer, meditation, and listening to Rush Limbaugh.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other leftists, even if it meant being denied tenure, disinvited to dinner parties, unfriended, and generally slimed by our intellectual inferiors.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cosmic Desire: What Make a Bulldog Hug a Hound

I want to articulate some lust wishes before moving on from Being Alive. Caldecott asks the key question: could Life itself "be a transcendental" in the manner outlined by Christopher Alexander? I don't think there's any doubt about it, because otherwise who or what is Good, True, Beautiful, and One? Something dead?

"Of course, for Life to be regarded as a transcendental, it would have to be in everything, not just biological organisms" (ibid).

I frankly don't see this as a huge conceptual problem, or requiring any kind of great ontological leap. Rather, the converse: you actually need a leap of faith and a heap of credulity to imagine this whole manifestivus comes from, and returns to, death, truthlessness, ugliness, and ir-irreducible multiplicity.

"If God is life in the highest sense," then this life revolves around "self-giving and self-receiving" (ibid.). As we have already discussed, this is exactly how a living system maintains life: one doesn't want to stretch the analogy, but life itself is always rooted in exchange with the other. It's just that in God, the self is the other and the other is the self -- or, they are distinct but undivided.

But here again, it is possible to look at the ecosystem through the same spooktacles. I've mentioned before Alan Watts' quip that there can be no radical distinction between, say, the honey bee and the flower. So intertwined are they, so interdependent, that the one cannot live without the other. It is as if each is an external organ of the other -- except there must be some sort of "interior glue" holding them together.

Which reminds me. One afternoon in... let's see, must have been 1986. I had just passed some sort of written exam for my doctoral program, and was having a little celebration with myself. Not a major buzz, just a few be-ers while sitting on the balcony of my apartment in Pacific Palisades. (I even remember the soundtrack of the moment: REM's dreamy Fables of the Reconstruction.) It was springtime, and the birds were quite active, darting in and out of the trees. You know. Randy. Libidinous.

While contemplating the scene I fell into a sort of light trance, as it occurred to me that it wasn't the birds who were doing this. How to explain... It was as if I intuited the underlying "desire" of nature, just flowing through the birds at that moment. After all, nature revolves around this abstract desire, filtered through everything from bacteria to Bach.

And what is this desire? Yes, it is in the service of life. And it's a self-giving, or self-abandonment, except it doesn't become conscious until it reaches the human plane.

Think of all those Medieval stories of courtly love; or come to think of it, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.

Again: self-abandonment seems to be the essence of love, and would therefore be the inverse of narcissistic self-love. Which is why the encirclopedia says that everything about God must be completely unnarcissary (p. 10).

Bottom line: Brofessor Dixon was quite right about the generalized nature of this metacosmic desire:

Why do all these men

Try to run a big-leg'd woman down?

Why do all these men

Try to run a big-leg'd woman down?

Must be the same old thing

What make a bulldog hug a hound

So, God's interior activity "must be reflected throughout the creation. The existence of a thing is a receiving and a giving of itself" (Caldecott, emphasis mine).

And interestingly, while the self-giving High Life becomes articulate in man, so too does its inapposite mumbler, for only lowlife humans can "fail to be fully what they are or should be, and fall short of the real" (ibid.).

I just thought of a bumper sticker. That no one will understand. Still, here it is: Entropy: Don't Fight it, Join it!

In other words, as Caldecott explains, the essence of human life is not to simply "exist passively" or "merely to resist entropy," but to love actively, which ultimately implies -- well, if Jesus is the cosmic person (we'll be swimming this Ovocative nocean at length later), the human quintessence, then the implication is Jesus; or, more precisely, the self-abandoning -- and therefore, other-serving -- contours of Jesus's life.

Since the transcendentals converge, being alive would have to be an expression of truth, and vice versa. We all know phonies, don't we? But Caldecott suggests that (he's actually quoting Alexander here) most human beings "are not fully true to their own inner natures or fully 'real.'" Thus, "When you meet a person who is true to himself, you feel at once that he is 'more real' than other people are."

And not only. For I myself am more real in the presence of a real person, and indeed, will have a hard time being myself, or selfing my being, should I fail to discover those person(s) without whom I am not real.

Monday, June 10, 2013

God is the Superglue

We're still discussing what it means to be Alive.

Now that I think about it, I don't know that we can know what it means to be alive, for the same reason we can't know what it means to be conscious (or the eye can't see vision). The categories of being alive and conscious are simply the conditions of knowing anything.

Nevertheless, even if the problem isn't soluble, it's thinkable, at least with the proper tools. Caldecott suggests that life "unites, binding many parts into a single whole." I might add that it is both a dynamic wholeness and a timebound wholeness.

In other words, a nonliving entity can still be a whole -- a unit -- but it is a whole in space only. When the body becomes a corpse, it has made the transition from spatiotemporal wholeness to mere spatial wholeness -- until even that decays and dissipates, since there is no longer any interior principle -- the soul -- holding it all together.

Bearing this in mind, Caldecott goes on to say that the "secret of life" must have something to do with "memory, understanding, and love," to which I would add the very important and expensive category of anticipation, in order to account for the future-orientation of life, to go along with past (memory) and present (understanding). And again, each of these must be dynamic, not static.

That is to say, as alluded to in the previous post, our lives must be open systems at each level of existence. Obviously we will die if we do not exchange matter and energy with the environment, but the same holds true of information and emotion. Babies will literally die -- or at least become sickly and stunted -- in the absence of love, and what is sickness but an absence of wholeness (health and whole being cognates)? And the typical low-information liberal is dead from the neck up and the heart in. Stupidity kills!

Now, "When Christians speak of immortality, we are referring to the existence we receive when God remembers, understands, and loves us" (ibid). Tomberg makes the same point somewhere -- that just as death is related to sleeping and forgetting, life is related to awakening and remembering. Brings to mind the second criminal, who said to Jesus: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

Reflecting on love and memory, Caldecott says that "in our own love for others is revealed that interior dimension through which we ourselves are renewed and resurrected." Not so sure about that last one, since human love, in the absence of divine intervention, is also the most painful kind of crucifixion.

An elderly Catholic neighbor of mine told me the story of losing his five year old son to leukemia back in the early 1960s. That's crucifixion, and it is precisely the dilemma that urgently introduces the need for renewal and resurrection. But how?

I wish I could remember the whole story -- it's probably been 10 years -- but he told of how, in the hospital, he had the experience of a kind of unimaginable peace descending from above. That doesn't mean he didn't grieve -- even Jesus cries at Lazarus's grave -- but it does mean that the ingression of divine Love and Recollection assured him that somehow everything was going to be alright in the end.

I'm also now remembering a patient who worked in a jewelry store and was involved in a robbery. While one monster was ransacking the place, the other monster had her on her knees with a gun stuck in the back of her head. She began praying, and again described the descent of a kind of total peace. Whereas before she had been thinking about her orphaned children and widowed husband, now it was as if she were being offered a preview of heaven.

Could it have simply been shock? I don't think so, because I've seen plenty of traumatized people whose minds shut down in the midst of the trauma, and it is more analogous to a photographic negative of the above; instead of widening, there is restriction; instead of vivid feeling, there is numbness; instead of peace, there is deadness.

In these latter cases the trauma isn't healed, but is merely kept in psychic escrow for later processing. The person has the traumatic experience, but it comes out later in piecemeal fashion, in the form of symptoms of PTSD.

But the woman referenced above didn't even need treatment. I saw her once, and that was it. I informed her of all the usual symptoms of PTSD, and instructed her to call me if she were troubled by any, but I never heard from her again. (I might add that I didn't have the sense that she was merely in denial; rather, it seemed to me that her preemptive healing was deep and robust, not brittle and superficial.)

Caldecott next goes into a discussion of Christopher Alexander, whose works we toyed with during the month of March. Alexander believes -- as does The B'ob -- that Life Itself is not, and cannot be, just a highly improbable concentration of local complexity in defiance of Big Entropy, but that it must be a more general property of the universe. It's frankly everywhere. It's just that it is brought out more intensely and vividly under certain local conditions.

I see that I said as much on p. 61: "Thus, while life arose through the universe, by no means are we justified in saying that it was a dead universe" -- if only because in a relativistic cosmos we must look at the time dimension in a different manner. If time is spatialized, then it becomes obvious that life is everywhen. You might say that the cosmos spent nine billion years just clearing its throat before uttering LIFE! some four billion years ago.

To quote the B'ob again, in order to comprehend our metacosmic egosystem, "we must read the fine print represented by Life itself, not just the large-print, condensed version produced by physics" for the consumption of cardiomyopic flatlanders.

I mean, I just don't see how one gets from non-life to Life in any other way: "Alexander argues that matter and space are not 'dead' but possess degrees of life..." (Caldecott). Only because the cosmos is already a field-like structure can we have the field-like structure of life -- which again forms a field in space and time.

Temporal glue. That's what life is. Regular glue only holds together things in proximity, but temporal glue holds together everytime from embryo to old man. And transtemporal glue affixes the latter timestream to O. Come to think of it, you could say the Trinity is a kind of dynamic glue, the glue being a very frisky love eternal.