Friday, June 06, 2014

At the Same Time and On Another Level

Yesterday was of course a melancholy day, so sleep was a welcome reprieve. Fell in at 9:30 but awoke at 3:30, and when we say that Ben is in our thoughts, we mean this literally. But one thought provokes another, especially when one is in that half-dreaming state.

Half-dreaming state... Aren't we always more or less in one? And if not, why not? What's wrong with you? No imagination? What's the alternative? Living inside a math book?

Sure, why not? Renowned infertile egghead Richard "Vanilla Thunder" Dawkins sez We Shouldn't Read Fairy Tales to Children, As That Encourages Them to Believe in the Supernatural and Therefore God, and that is a form of straight-up child abuse to nurture a child's imagination.

Now, one of us is way wrong here, but not on the surface. I think we can all agree with Dawk when he makes the brilliant observation that "There's a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog -- it's statistically too improbable."

Except that it's not interesting, it's banal. It's a truth, but a trivial one. It's also a form of naive category error, in that he applies one form of logic to a statement that clearly entails another. Since we all know that frogs do not transform to princes, we need to dig a little deeper to comprehend how the story can be true on another level.

Which reminds me of the title of a book, But at the Same Time and On Another Level. So yes, frogs don't turn into princes, but at the same time and on another level... And terrestrial life may end in biological death, but at the same time and on another level...

Speaking of titles, I often think that if I could only find it, then I could instantly produce the next crockbluster, since it would organize the 3,000 posts contained herein. Candidates are jotted down everywhere. Here's one: Just Wondering. Right? Because that's what it is, just nine years of quietly wondering out loud.

Here's another: Food for Meta-Thought.

Hmm, here's a joke I've never been able to work into a post: "Chas Bono spent his early life abroad." Which reminds me of one from yesterday that I'll probably never use. Did you hear that Michelle Obama wants to run for the Senate? Just a misunderstanding. What she said was she'd love to have Barack's seat. Must we politicize everything? She was talking about anatomy.

Man in the Cosmos and the Cosmos in Man. Learning Through Cosmosis. Pneumatic Trialogues in the Wild Godhead. Slack: Flying on Wings of Leisure. The Encephalization of the Cosmos.

A note to myself: what is the cognitive opposite of discovery? An important question, since the left is so adept at undiscovering settled truths.

An unused pun: the unquantifiable is what counts.

Back to Dawkins for a moment. The problem is, there's no I in science. Literally, since physics, biology, or neurology can in no way account for this mysterious interior stranger. Talk about statistically unlikely! If dead matter can transform into a living I, then I don't see a problem with frogs evolving into princes.

Why is this post so frivolous? As mentioned, I woke up thinking of Ben. My mind went to the only two significant losses in my life, my father in 1984 and my sister-in-law in 2002. I am then reminded that my father was 58. Hey, I'm 58. Patti was 57. Once you hit your 50s, then you should know that death can happen at any time. If the median is 78 or whatever, it means that half will die before that.

My father wasn't in good shape, I am. Yes, I have diabetes, but I'll bet my blood pressure, cholesterol, and even blood sugar are lower than yours. Doesn't matter. They say that for something like a third of the cases, the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death, no matter what we do to try to prevent it. That's what you call sobering.

As I said yesterday, there is ample reason for despair, and seemingly no rational reason for happiness, contentment, and joy. I know that in my case, I've always been preoccupied with death. It started when I was about 13, and it's never been far from my mind.

You'd think this would be a recipe for a morbid personality, but despite living in this vale of tears, I've always been susceptible to episodes of completely unreasonable joy or contentment or mild bliss. It's rare to go a day without these superfluous consolations. And they are wholly vertical, in the sense that they are completely unrelated to horizontal circumstances -- although I should add that I've never been tested in the way Ben is being at this moment. Indeed, it isn't difficult for me to imagine circumstances in which the world would be enveloped in unrelieved darkness, and the joy would be lost forever.

Nevertheless: the light will return precisely because it is unreasonable. It is a divine gift, because there is no earthly reason to have it, especially now. Yes, this qualifies as a banality, but at the same time and on another level...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Posting in the Face of Futility

Can't really say I feel like posting anything. Just learned that our longtime, much beloved reader Ben's wife, Patti, died in her sleep yesterday morning at age 57. I wish we could offer more than our thoughts and prayers, and I wish words didn't always fail me under these circumstances. Maybe it's because I rely too much on words -- expecting them to do too much -- but there is always that point that they just bounce off the target, Death being the worst offender of all.

Is there anything one can say beyond expressions of sympathy and support? Not to minimize the latter, but all of us want to know: WTF?! At times like this, life seems almost calculated to break our hearts, and the more we invest in it -- the more we love, care, and treasure -- the worse the heartbreak. Is this any way to run a cosmos?

They say that one of the biggest differences between men and women is that women will tend to just empathize and "be there" for someone in emotional pain, whereas men try to find practical solutions. To which I'm sure Ben can testify! A fellow might think he's come up with the Perfect Solution, and the next thing he knows, he's having the conversation with the flying plates (metaphorically speaking. At times).

I've mentioned before that in graduate school, students had to be involved in mandatory group psychotherapy. A female student was going on and on about some sort of problem with her marriage. I chimed in with what I thought was some choice advice, to which she responded with words to the effect of, "no, jackass, I don't need advice. I just need to express myself and feel understood."

Right. Got it.

Even so, the first thing I want to do is Consult the Elders and try to wrap my mind around it. In short, I can't help being me, jackass or no jackass.

I pull down a volume of Josef Pieper, and open to a couple of chapters called The Art of Not Yielding to Despair, and "Eternal Life" (quotation marks in original). The former touches on the persistence of Hope in the face of the End.

We all know the end is coming one way or the other, so by all rights we should always be in a state of despair, for it implies that "everything we do in this corporeal existence is deprived of value by the fact that in the end we all must die." Thus, "the ability not to yield to despair when confronted by the fact of death... is a matter of great practical concern to us all."

So there it is: we have every rational reason to feel hopeless and bereft of meaning.

But that is not what life is like. Indeed, life itself is a kind of audacious expression of hope, is it not? I say this because by definition it is always reaching beyond itself to an unknown future state, in defiance of all reason.

But it is the same with our spiritual life. Like life, our souls have a "not-yet" structure that points to a fulfillment that cannot occur on this plane, in any "here" or any "now" this side of death. It is very much as if our spiritual life points through and beyond death, to another reality, despite the evidence of our senses. For this reason, despair is the exception, not the rule.

So, our spiritual life is oriented to a future life, which we would say is the real object of our hope. In other words, the "not-yet" alluded to above is precisely the object of spiritual hope. We are attracted to it, just as we feel its pull. "Hope" is just the name we give to this process -- again knowing that the Hope cannot possibly be fulfilled on this side of death. Thus,

"the man who truly hopes, like the man who prays, must remain open to a fulfillment of which he knows neither in what hour nor in what form it will finally come."

In another chapter, Pieper cites the last canto of an obscure and somewhat awkwardly translated early 19th century poem that reads,

When my eyes their final tears have shed / You beckon, call me to divinity. / A man, a pilgrim, lays down his weary head, / A god begins his passage instantly.

Which I take to mean a new life in the orbit of the object that had previously been only darkly known via faith and hope.

And please forgive any unhelpful jackassery.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Obama the Blightbringer

About the satan business alluded to in yesterday's post: I don't care what anyone says, but there is without question an anti-divine force or energy in the world. You can personify it if you like in the form of Satan, but that's not strictly necessary.

Analogously, long before Newton came along, people had had abundant experience with the force of gravity, even if they were way off about how it actually worked.

Indeed, even now we can only pretend to know how it really works, but this detracts not one bit from the fact that we all have first hand experience of it.

I like Schuon's distinction between the satanic and the luciferic: the latter is more passively dark while the former is actively and aggressively anti-light. Thus, most typical liberals are merely luciferic (and usually with no conscious intention of wanting to be), while doctrinaire leftists are actively demonic, hostile to the light.

I don't often read David Horowitz because he's too glum and depressing -- the temperamental opposite of the Happy Warrior -- but his Black Books of the American Left and of Progressivism are state of the art indictments of the dark political magic of the Nemesis or of the Hostile Forces, whichever you prefer.

The conservative temperament -- irrespective of particular beliefs -- tends to identify the locus of control within, while leftists overwhelmingly externalize control, which is to say, feel powerless over their lives. They then make the delusion come true by empowering the state to diminish our liberty and personal autonomy. In other words, they force external reality to comport to their feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and dependency, thereby normalizing what is humanly abnormal.

Which is why, to reiterate what was said in yesterday's post, the Hostile Forces are like a kind of gravitational attraction that pulls our "most central faculties into the outer part of the soul," with the result that they are imprisoned "in attachment to the counterfeit objects which he [the Evil One] has forged for their perception."

This is indeed one of the Critical Principles upon which your whole life hinges: will you turn down and out, toward the world, or up and in, toward the Light? This is the fork in the ontological road confronting us at each and every moment, allowing us to reenact or resist the Fall, depending.

Again, think of gravity, or of two massive objects pulling us in different directions. To extend the analogy, one is a bright star, the other a black hole.

This also answers the perennial question of why man -- mankind -- is such an assoul. It is specifically because man is the highest of all creatures. But because his lofty faculties can be pulled one way or the other, it means they can be captured and corrupted. As alluded to in yesterday's post -- and this is another important principle -- the corruption of best is the worst.

Example? Too numerous. But just consider how the left infiltrates every good and decent institution or tradition and corrupts it from within, from marriage, to the Boy Scouts, to higher and lower education, to the Constitution, to the military, you name it, they deploy their higher faculties in the service of darkness.

As Lings expresses it, "just as man who was the highest of all earthly things becomes in his degeneration the lowest," so the "faculties which were the most precious elements in his soul become the source of all its subsequent disorder..." Intelligence gone bad is the problem of Our Time.

Let us reluctantly stupulate that Obama is a really smart guy instead of the affirmative action mediocrity he is. Just what has he done with this brilliant intellect? Before he became president, thankfully, nothing. But once he gained real power, he was able to transition from mere darkness to real hostility to the Light. "Lightbringer" indeed. More like blightbringer.

In order to further our understanding of this process, we need to bring in the Horizontal and the Vertical. Religion has to do with vertical remembrance, not just of doctrine per se, but of verticality as such.

In other words, doctrine doesn't just resonate with inner truth, but also serves to strengthen and vivify the "rememberer" -- which is why we call it verticalisthenics. For me, blogging is my daily verticalisthenic exercise. And it is aerobic as well, since this involves breathing in the spirit, or pneuma.

This vertical remembrance also tends to pull us away from the "world," not in its created reality, but in its delusional collective appearance. The world is still big. It's the people that got smaller.

As Lings reminds us, "the least particle of certainty that can be had about the next world must necessarily have come down from above..." It is through this that we are drawn "from the outer part of the soul to its centre, where the vertical is to be found in all its fullness..."

At the very least, this vertical dimension has four main divisions; let us call them the worldly/terrestrial/material; second, the psychic/intellectual/rational; third, the celestial/heavenly; and fourth, the unmanifest, the ground, the ultimate source of Slack.

And remember, this hierarchy can in no way be understood from the bottom up, a la the absaridity of desiccated scientism. Rather, it is a projection from the top down, which is precisely why each level has traces or "memories" of the one immediately above.

"This dimension is in the nature of things: like a star that falls from the sky, every Revelation leaves behind it a luminous trail of higher truths."

Now, the world, being created, is a nonstop revelator ride. In order to prove this to yourself, just look at all those luminous trails -- trails of truth and beauty -- leading up and out.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Instinct is to Animal as Intellect is to Man

A few weeks ago I was bobbling on about how man is entitled to ultimate truth.

Think about that for a moment: a human being without truth to orient and guide him would be like an animal deprived of instinct. Take away the animal's instinct, and what does it do? I suppose it would just blunder around for awhile before dying of stupidity. It wouldn't know what was important, what was dangerous, what to ignore, whom to mate with.

In short, such an animal would be no better than the average college student.

Truth and certainty are related, in the sense that truth is what is certain.

However, the relation is not symmetrical, in that certainty does not necessarily equate to truth. But certainty always borrows from truth, in that there is no reason to be certain about anything unless one implicitly believes it to be true. Thus, certainty is -- or should be -- a kind of reflection of the inwardly perceived light of truth.

Which it often isn't. For example, people who believe in the redefinition of marriage are conspicuous in the moral certitude that theirs is the only possible correct stance. No one doubts their certitude, but do they have the truth? Likewise, no one doubts Michael Mann's certitude about manmade global warming. But if he's so certain, why does he have to lie about it?

But let's get back to the truth to which man is entitled. To say man is entitled to it is to say that he doesn't have to seek it out and acquire it in the usual sense, just as each generation of birds doesn't have to learn anew why it might be a good idea to winter in Florida. You might say that the bird is entitled to such knowledge by virtue of being a bird.

We've discussed in the past how the human infant has a number of genuine cosmic entitlements, such as a loving and committed mother and father, secure bonding and attachment, ministration to his needs, mental stimulation, etc. But do our entitlements end at the age of five? Or might there be a new set of entitlements?

Even public school advocates pretend to believe a child is entitled to an education, which is another way of saying that the child is entitled to truth. Mrs. G informs me that she heard Dinesh D'Souza yesterday on Dennis Prager, discussing his new book on what a world without America would be like. In the interview he mentioned that victims of public school indoctrination are not only deprived of truthful history, but are systematically abused by inculcating them with crudely false histories, or deeply flawed maps of reality.

To return to our animal analogy, this would be like teaching birds to fly north for the winter, which I'm sure is against the law in liberal states. To answer D'Souza's question, a world without America would be a world with far less light and truth, or at least truth and light will have lost their main protector. Truth would have to go completely underground, as it does in Islamic nations or elite universities.

The above thoughtlets have been inspired by The Book of Certainty, even though I would not recommend the book unless you have a specific interest in Sufism. There's a lot I didn't relate to at all, but a few useful nuggets here and there.

For example, Lings writes of how in all parts of the world there exist traditions that speak of a time when man lived in paradise. Thus, it seems that this is again analogous to animal instinct, since it is an archetypal idea which man seems to be born with. But what is an archetype? I would say that it is for humans what instinct is for animals. Instinct, of course, takes place on the terrestrial plane. As such, an archetype might be called a "psychic instinct," of which there are many.

For a psychic instinct to be worthwhile, it must conform to truth -- just as the animal instinct must obviously be in conformity to the physical environment in which the animal lives.

However, the demonic relativists who rule the educational establishment deny that man is conformed to truth, which is to say, the Absolute. In William Gairdner's excellent Book of Absolutes, he shows what absolute nonsense this is. In it he has chapters on the many universals of human life, the constants of nature, universals of moral and natural law, and our seemingly "hardwired" human instinct-intuitions.

The question is, exactly what are these archetypal stories of paradise intending to convey? Or, what is the principle they transmit?

Lings suggests that, at the very least, they imply two very different spiritual stations that conform to different degrees of certainty. Within paradise there is the Truth of Certainty (see yesterday's post), whereas outside paradise we usually begin with the Lore of Certainty -- or what might be called rumors of God.

I'm guessing that religion isn't strictly necessary in paradise. Rather, it comes into being after exile from paradise, what with its Lore of Certainty.

Now, if man is the microcosm, it must mean that this paradise is a state of mind, or better, a station. "The kingdom of heaven is within," and all that. We do not say it is a mere state of mind, because this implies something subjective and fleeting. It is more like telling the bird: "the kingdom of Florida is within. Just pay attention to your instinct, and you will find it." It does not mean: "just imagine you're in Florida, and you're there."

There is paradise, and there is the fall. What is this latter all about, and why does it keep happening? How does this corruption enter paradise? Lings suggests that a man with the Truth of Certainty cannot be deceived. I suppose it's like the old saying that you can't cheat an honest man.

Only a person who is already drifting from the Truth of Certainty can be seduced with likely stories, false promises, counterfeit truths, fairy tales of the tenured, ontological forgeries, and extended warranties.

So, let's just agree that man is susceptible to shiny and attractive lies. That being the case, just as in a market economy, Satan comes forward to fill a genuine need. Seriously, he's only responding to the constant demand for comforting or exalting Lies, so he is is without question the most merciful humanitarian. He -- whoever he is --

"ceaselessly promises to show man the Tree of Immortality," and in so doing gradually erodes "the highest and most central faculties into the outer part of the soul so that he may imprison them there in attachment to the counterfeit objects which he has forged for their perception."

Furthermore, "It is the presence here of these perverted faculties, either in discontent in that they can never find real satisfaction or finally in a state of atrophy in that they are never put to their proper use, which causes all the disorder and obstruction in the soul of the fallen man."

Which goes to the old crack that "the best when corrupted becomes the worst." Thus, fallen man is a beast at times and a wuss at times.

If there were no devil, we would have to invent the DNC. Or the ACLU. Or Marxism. Or radical feminism. Or Islamism. For there is only one way to stand, many ways to fall.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Studying God in the University of the Cosmos

Read a certain book over the weekend with the intriguing title, The Book of Certainty. Yes, it is by a Sufi, but Sufis have a quite universalist perspective, and this book goes precisely to the universal principles that underlie religion per se.

First of all: is that even true? Most thoughtful people will probably agree that, say, moral codes exemplify universal principles that are accessible to man's reason, i.e., natural law.

But what about revelation? Does revelation exemplify or instantiate or conform to higher and more general principles, or is it utterly sui generis, a thing in itself that can't be related to anything else?

If so, then the vertical ingression will be literally impossible to understand, and will have to be taken on faith alone. It will be like a fact completely isolated from all other facts, and therefore unsusceptible to systemization or contextualization.

And many fundamentalists and evangelicals embrace just such a view, e.g., "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." Don't bother asking how or why, just accept it. Which is fine for them. But people are different, with different needs.

Sui generis means, of course, one of a kind; it is a class of one (and therefore not a class), utterly unique and irreducible to anything else. One of the universal principles that animates the Christian West in general and the United States in particular is that human beings are sui generis, each a unique and irreplaceable unit of humanity.

Even so, a human being as such obviously isn't a radical novelty. Rather, he is the unique expression or mixture of certain universal elements such as intellect, will, and emotion. He may be unique, but he is still human.

But although we use the word "God," God is not really a member of the class of gods -- at least if one adheres to monotheism. If this is indeed the case, then God is radically incomprehensible, for there is nothing whatsoever to compare him to.

To which I say: YesBut God must still have a nature to which he himself conforms, unless he is either complete chaos on the one hand, or arbitrary and unpredictable willfulness on the other, a la allah.

In fact, if one sticks to this antirational logic, it is unclear how we could know of or even entertain the idea of such a unique entity. This would ultimately amount to saying that intellect is the problem, and this makes Bob uncomfortable because Bob cannot understand why our most precious gift would turn out to be a curse when it turns to the higher and highest realities. Bob wants to ask: what is the principle that explains why intelligence should ultimately be rooted in stupidity?

I will admit that my mind is always on a mission to detect ideas beneath appearances, or the principle beneath the manifestation. This is how both science and reason proceed (not to mention psychology), each under the assumption that events exemplify principles.

It is admittedly difficult for me to chuck my whole self -- which is, after all, a sui generis gift from God -- in attempting to comprehend the giver of the gift. The question is, is this trait of mine a stumbling block or a foothold, a promethean problem or the humble solution?

Along these lines, Stark suggests that theology really only developed in the Judeo-Christian world because of certain principles, including the principles that God is reason and man is in the image of God. With these two extremely generative principles, just look at what results!

Stark writes that "The most fundamental key to the rise of Western civilization has been the dedication of so many of its most brilliant minds to the pursuit of knowledge." Well, isn't that what brilliant minds do?

No, not at all. The minds Stark has in mind did not devote themselves to illumination, to moksha, to nirvana, to enlightenment or even to wisdom but to empirical facts on the ground, so to speak. "And the basis for this commitment to knowledge was the Christian commitment to theology."

Er, how is that? Well, theology -- for example, the sort of theology we routinely discuss here -- "has little in common with most religious thinking, being a sophisticated, highly rational discipline that has roots in Judaism and Greek philosophy..."

It "consists of formal reasoning about God," with an emphasis "on discovering God's nature, intentions, and demands, and on understanding how these define the relationship between human beings and God." This presumes "an image of God (one God, not many gods) as a conscious, rational, supernatural being of unlimited power and scope."

So, God is not limited by our principles, but that doesn't mean he cannot be illuminated by them. Contrast this with mainstream Islam, which "rejected science as heretical" because it implies that Allah is limited by natural law.

Back to this book on certainty. First of all, there are levels of divine certainty, just as there are with the terrestrial world. The author uses the example of fire: there are people who have heard about fire, and there are those who have seen it. Then there are those who have been warmed and even consumed by it. You could say that to be consumed by fire is to be annihilated and reborn in the living presence of God, but we're getting ahead of oursufis.

Analogously, we could say that there is the lore of divine certainty (scripture), the eye of certainty (gnosis), and the truth of certainty (illumination or union). You could say that the first involves hearing the divine message and feeling it "click" inside. It sounds "right," even though you have no conscious idea of why this should be the case.

But as we progress, that initial click begins to be be filled out by knowledge. It is like a seed that sends out shoots in all directions, and begins reorganizing the psyche in new ways.

This is followed by the truth of certainty, which is reserved for the genuine saints and sages who sing the song supreme because they have been singed by the flames.

Such a "universal man" eternally realizes "the Truth that he is nothing and yet that He is everything" -- which kind of exemplifies the principle that the poor in spirit are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, or that the most humble is the most exalted, etc.

As it so happens, this can be geometrically depicted with a cross, "which is another symbol of the Universal Man in that the horizontal line represents the fullness of his earthly nature, whereas the vertical line represents the heavenly exaltation..."

To be continued...

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