Thursday, August 25, 2016

Transcending and Hardly Including

I recall having a conversation with a friend a while back about some geopolitical conflict, and he remarked that he didn’t see any point to the nation-state. He said that our geographical borders don’t matter anymore, and we should be transitioning to a global village. I didn’t flinch when he said this, because it wasn’t that long ago when I sort of believed the same thing. I repeated the citizenry of the world mantra, believing it was a more sophisticated and evolved point of view. Heck, I even had affirmation with the worldcentric Integral folks who espoused this perspective within their community.

David Gelernter came up with a clever phrase for this condition: Post-Religious Globalist Intellectuals, or PORGI’s.

Back in the day, being a PORGI made you feel like you were one of those cool, mod-looking guys who would sit in coffee shops in the French New Wave films of the 60’s. Or that’s at least the way I saw myself.
Truthfully, it really was a cop-out on my part due to my ignorance around history.

Gelernter says, “If you are torn out of history, unplanted and uprooted, your natural loyalties to your nation and religious community disappear. You can float free and easy like a helium balloon above ordinary people and their little loyalties. You can live for the moment, flying high, having fun and drifting comfortably with all the other helium balloons… PORGI Airheads see America as a mere multicultural grab bag with no more unity or purpose than the “gorgeous mosaic” inside a box of assorted cookies. And every other nation is assumed to be the same.”

I believe PORGI’s mistaken abstractions for the real. And yet, the more abstract our concepts become, the more they become alienated from the real and our Being. All those German philosophers and the Dewey’s of the world did a good job infiltrating our educational system where many concrete principles were torn down. In place of that, we are left with some post-Kantian secular morality mashed-up with feel good collectivism that fails to care for the particular.

Dennis Prager says, “The person who has ties to his country, his religion, his family, his friends, his volunteer group, his local community, his college, his coworkers, and so on is a far better person than one who only has ties to humanity. One does not— because one cannot— have ties to “humanity” that are as strong as the ties one has to a specific group. No normal person reacts to a plane crash that kills passengers from a distant country with the same emotional intensity that one feels toward a plane crash that kills fellow nationals.”

It may be reconciling a PORGI mindset with a more traditional one is futile. But in actuality, it may mean that we need to align our beliefs with our concrete actions in everyday life. Consider it a sort of homecoming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Divine Comedy Will Be Televised

We are always tested in ways we can’t expect. I am feeling a tad overwhelmed with the expense and maintenance that will be required for my recently diagnosed diabetic cat. But he’s really a sweety though… 
See, I told you! So I suppose he’s worth it.

It brings me back to the suffering that we struggle with and the absurdities that we put ourselves through. Peter Kreeft said it best: “Life is neither a tragedy nor a comedy but a tragicomedy. If we do not both laugh and cry at life, we do not understand it.”

So what’s the Divine Plan in all of this? Theologians have been taking on the subject of tragedy for eons. There are religions built around suffering (Buddhism). Many of us don’t seek out the need for spiritual comfort until we’ve come across some real setback. And while I spend more than enough time feeling sorry for my shortcomings, I want to touch on the comedy part for a bit.

I mean, does God have a sense a humor? Not in a perverse sort of way that His creation would be trivial entertainment (or maybe that’s why God created MTV). But in the way that our God-given humor opens something up in us, releasing us from anxiety and fear, and making some-thing more accessible. 

I always enjoyed good comedy. But how do I define good comedy? Let’s face it, a lot of so-called humor is mean spirited. I’ve known many people in my life who have used comedy as a crutch. It gets you only so close to them, so you won’t know what jerks they really are. And many professional comedians aren’t pleasant people to be around. But every so often you get a good comedian who cleverly points out the absurdities with heart. For instance, Louie one such example…
There’s a lot of nuance to this sort of comedy, and Louie is a master at it. While he’s not afraid to go into those dark places, he can come out the other side with a lot more light shining in. You can’t help but go for the tragicomedy ride and be released. 

I recently got to see a test screening for a film yet to be released, coincidentally called The Comedian. It stars Robert De Niro and is directed by Taylor Hackford. While I don’t want to offer too much of a review, since it’s not quite in the can (as they say in Hollywood speak), I will say it has potential to be a good film. There are many well written scenes, and De Niro’s acting is a return to form from the lightweight stuff he’s been doing as of late. But the scenes that were the best were the ones that felt spontaneous and joyful. So when we mention the Divine Comedy, it must be some of those same qualities that comes through from above and in time.

Humor is antithetical to suffering in that it’s not contracted. But it’s also complementary in that we can only appreciate humor in relation to suffering. We wouldn’t understand it otherwise. I believe it was Mark Twain who originally said humor is tragedy plus time. So there’s the tragicomedy in a nutshell. We all suffer and experience tragedies to various degrees, however, over the long haul of deep time it’s one heck of a cosmic joke!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Full Range of Experience

There was a time when I did not trust my deeper experiences as being divinely inspired. I believed that there was only a supreme spiritual experience for those who have become enlightened as defined by some Eastern mystical teaching (often seen as the experience beyond experiences). While radical non-duality is a higher realization than most, it is not the only experience that matters, or even one that may matter for most.

And as we've come to see, many highly realized beings, through their ethical misconducts, have affirmed the necessary, but not sufficient notion. Moreover, I will add it may not even be necessary for most.

As such, I’ve come to appreciate in Spitzer’s attempt to integrate these experiences that we may take for granted. There are many ways that the Divine appears in us as laid out in the following diagram (taken from his book):

"The above transphysical activities and contents are the mediating ground through which man’s self-consciousness interacts with divine self-consciousness, particularly in the experience of the numen and the sacred, the awareness of moral authority through conscience, and the awareness of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. They are also the vehicle for appropriating and interpreting love (empathy) and beauty (aesthetics) on both the temporal and transcendent level" (Spitzer).

Now, unless you're completely fallen as an infra-human shitehead, you're going to have these experiences quite often. The issue is whether or not you're open to where these events may be arising from. If you can't see beyond your little box, then you are just the box.

And it's not a small boxy matter, because these transphysical activities can affect the way you see yourself, your meaning in life, what sense of dignity you have, and what is your destiny.
But some folks are no fun. All they want to do is disregard the higher, so they can regard them-little-selves. They see their best moments as anomaly or something unreal. Instead, if they could see themselves as potentially as good as their best moments, then things would start to get interesting. Augustine summed it up best when he said, "God is more myself than I myself am."

"If we are open to the full range of God’s interior manifestation, we will see that He is not a disinterested God (e.g., the god of Aristotle or Einstein), nor a dispassionate God (the god of the rationalists), but rather a God who is calling us to develop our virtuous character, and to share it with the world, a world that is in need of everything we could offer—teetering on the brink of darkness" (Spitzer).

We always guided by a sense of presence beyond the temporal and material. The clues are there, we just need to see where the pointing is coming from.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Space in Between Part 1

When we consider the extremes of the polis, the individual is at one end and the state at the other. While the libertarian may privilege the former and the socialist the latter, there is a middle ground to consider that is more nuanced, fragile, pervasive, and enduring than either end of the spectrum.

I guess you could call it culture. And not just culture as artistic expression (which is the way we usually think of it), but as history, character, idiosyncrasies, norms, morality, religion, family, communal bonds, and markets. 

In other words, our sentimental attachments, implicit knowledge, and social bonds matter more than what the atomistic individual can entail or the impersonal, utilitarian state can deliver. 

Why is this important? First, we know no man is an island. We are always in relationship. And these relationships, although not always made explicit, do provide some cohesion for a civilization to flourish. And also, while a state can provide services, it can never care. It is a cold impersonal entity that adheres to its own ends to the point of diminishing the private powers it serves. Moreover, a top-down state can never cultivate civilization in quite the same way traditional practices, which evolved and survived through generations of trial and error from the bottom-up, can.

William Gairdner says, “we are predominantly creatures of self-interest, passion, instinct, and emotion, and the restraints on these features of our being must come not only from ourselves, but from socialization via long experience, good habits and manners, customs, and prudence (doing the right thing in the right way at the right time).”

“In this sense, each and every human being is always “in the middle”— benefiting from past generations in the present, while observing obligations to future generations, who will in turn benefit from us, and so on, as long as civilization endures. The persistent emergence of unintended consequences following radical change should serve as a brake on all hasty social reform.”

Much of this requires the virtue of gratitude, in that we need to appreciate what works in society, rather than coming from the outrage at what doesn’t work. For those on left who yearn for social progress, this does not come easily. 

They have a saying in Brazil, “Deus é Brasileiro,” meaning God is Brazilian. This saying has two meanings: the more literal one in that it has the natural resources of a tropical paradise, and the other in that its society is on the verge of chaos and yet does not seem to ever fall apart. And so there must be a higher Being nudging things along to be grateful for.

And while America has a lot more to be grateful for than Brazil, there is always a sense that more can be done. But to what ends? And do we any longer have a tacit agreement as to a common ends? (Bruce Charlton has an interesting take on this.)

Part of that common ends may be conserving our traditional practices as we proceed with our reforms.

Human warmth in a society diminishes by the same measure that its legislation is perfected.  Nicolás Gómez Dávila

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Two Poles of God + You = Trinity

Rudolf Otto explored the numinous experience of God, and explained it as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self." And unlike some mystics, he saw the experience as both terrifying and fascinating.

Spitzer notes, “Otto’s first pole of the numinous experience (the mysterious, daunting wholly Other) was primary in the development of religious consciousness, while the second pole (the fascinating, desirable, good, and caring Other) gradually manifested itself later.” This would line up with the quality of God we see expressed in the New and Old Testament.

Augustine once wrote, “The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” Theologically this may appear as progress, but is it really? 

R.C. Sproul says, “Progressive revelation is not a corrective, whereby the latest unveiling from God rectifies a previous mistaken revelation. Rather, new revelation builds on what was given in the past, expanding what God has made known.”

So as Spitzer sees the experience of God expanding in the numinous, it appears it did so also through revelation. This expansion allowed the idea of God to not be reduced to a sort of monadism, but to be seen and experienced fully as an expression of the Trinity. In this, all three persons of the Trinity are the same person, but that they behave in unique “modes” at different times. 

Sproul says that “God was initially the Creator, then became the Redeemer, then became the Spirit at Pentecost. The divine person who came to earth as the incarnate Jesus was the same person who had created all things. When He returned to heaven, He took up His role as the Father again, but then returned to earth as the Holy Spirit. As you can see, the idea here was that there is only one God, but that He acts in different modes, or different expressions, from time to time.”

Getting back to Otto’s work, it very well could be the Father’s terrifying, daunting presence, and the Holy Spirit’s fascinating, caring invitation can lead in one’s experience Divine Communion as God’s child. This is the Trinity as practice and numinous experience.

L. Ron Gardner says, “The term “Divine Communion” is also a fine synonym, because the term “Divine” refers to the two “vines” of Ultimate Reality— Soul (or Consciousness) and Spirit (or Light-energy), and the act of communion pertains to the disciple’s yogic attempt to unite these within himself.” 

So while some may see Divinity all ultimately as one, the experience of God is best served form a triadic perspective  three relationships in one. All in all, it is up to us to be open to receiving Light-energy while being present to Him and becoming part of this vertical, radical relationship.

“The Father, the Divine Being-Consciousness, is omnipresent and omnipotent; in other words, all-pervading Presence (or radiant Space) and Power (or Spirit-energy). The Son, the disciple’s Self (or Buddha)-nature, is the same Presence as the Father’s, but the disciple cannot realize his True nature as the Son (or Christ, or Self, or Buddha) until the Father’s Power (or Spirit-energy) blesses him to the degree of full en-Light-enment. The Holy Spirit is the Father’s dynamic Power, or Light-energy. It is deemed a separate or unique Person or Body to differentiate it from the Father’s static nature as Presence (or Source).” – L. Ron Gardner

Friday, August 5, 2016

Antiheroes Save the Day (but not the Life)

I happen to catch NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour this morning, as it gives me a snapshot into the current landscape of film, music, books, and so forth. 

Often, there is much pap to traverse. Such as today's review of the film Suicide Squad. It sounds like a hot mess, and not something I would be inclined to see. I do like some superhero films, especially Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but I find many of them to be CGI franchised nightmares these days.

The reviewer Glen Weldon did make one poignant point (beyond disliking the film) in regards to this new trend in the antihero, and I am somewhat paraphrasing parts of it:
As a culture we embrace the antihero because we think it's more sophisticated. We recognize the world is not black & white, and moral ambiguity and ambivalence is more real. We tell ourselves that and we are smug about it. But the real reason we are doing it and we embrace the antihero is because we don't have the guts to embrace the hero. We are too cowardly and too cynical to believe in the hero. We distrust ideals because they are too hopeful and sincere. If we believed in heroes that embodied these ideals, it actually would mean we'd have to risk something, to put ourselves out there, to be hopeful and sincere, and to look hokey and uncool. So this film is made for fanboys who live inside that default reflexive cynicism that risks nothing and is therefore lazy. It doesn't put itself out there to try to separate itself from everything we are seeing.
While I am prone to the darkness and gritty reality in many films these days, I have to agree that this is quite the quagmire we got ourselves into. We can no longer believe in goodness, to the point where it is completely uncool to do so. And the few groups with the courage to have convictions, such as Islamic terrorists, some social justice warriors, and a few straggling communists, have distorted the idea of good to the point where it has either been inverted to evil or diffused into some bland meddling compassion.

For the rest of us, there is that niggling question that many of us just can't answer (from Sebastian Junger): 
“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”
Truth can not be good, unless accompanied by Virtue. And it was always the exemplar of the superhero that held this position. So if we are not able to allow ourselves to get lost in entertaining fodder with such affirmative values anymore, how are we to expect our deities and prophets to do any better?

I suppose we need to call the Batman.

The actions of the great heroes show us not only how to act, but why we ought to act that way; they give us clues about the end and goods for which we should be living, and show how certain actions fulfill those ends or goods.  Robert Spitzer

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Unbearable Simplicity of Being

Richard Dawkins, a favorite materialist whipping boy, loves to lambaste the idea of God. One of his primary arguments is that a Creator would be more improbable than anything it creates because it would have to be more complex.

So is he right to assume that God would have to be complex? (I know I like to tell people I’m sort of complex, but not that complicated.)

Spitzer takes this topic on in noting that “since Plato, and more explicitly, Thomas Aquinas, a rationale was developed for precisely the opposite contention, namely, the absolute simplicity (noncomplexity) of God.”

Here’s the trap that all materialists get into: they are stuck in their own closed loop. If you are trying to deduce the nature of reality from a vantage point that is restricted (or reductionistic), then the results will be also be limited. “Dawkins (and some other scientists) has a difficult time understanding how an absolutely simple reality can think, but if one takes thinking out of a materialistic context (e.g., a brain or a machine) and views it instead from the vantage point of a “completely unifying acting power”, the problem vanishes.”

And it’s a leap that is that simple.

We know that reality must have at least one uncaused cause, because otherwise something would have to come from nothing. And we know that is not possible. So something has to come from something or reality would be nothing.

Even physicist Stephen Hawking acknowledges that something must transcend the physical cosmos, and asks the provocative question: “Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

But let’s say complexity would be possible for an uncaused cause, why would this not work? First, complexity entails parts and parts are restricted. And if the uncaused cause is the pure act of existing through itself, then there can be no restriction. It must simply be the whole that creates the parts.

“No amount of complexity of restricted parts will ever be able to generate an unrestricted act of mentation, because in their totality they will always be restricted.”

And while God may not have parts, could He have relationships? “In brief, if an uncaused cause must be unrestricted and absolutely simple, then it can be in perfect relationship to itself (like an act of self-consciousness) where there is no differentiation of parts, but only differences in relationships within its self-reflective act.”

I see an opening for the Trinity here.

So from the perspective of the materialist, all this amalgamation of physical and metaphysical evidence may not suffice as proof. And while that may be part of the plan all along, so that faith can step in, it may also be a good enough inference.

“[John Henry] Newman held that truth claims did not have to be grounded in an infallible source of evidence or in a strictly formal deduction. They could be grounded in the convergence (complementarity and corroboration) of a multiplicity of probabilistic evidential bases. In so doing, certitude would not be grounded in one base alone, but in a multiplicity of likely or probable evidential bases. Thus, even if one (or more) of these bases undergoes modification, the certitude intrinsic to the convergence remains intact (though it may be lessened).”

And that’s good enough for me.