Saturday, June 6, 2020

Protest Thyself, Too!

“A crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk is but a tickling cymbal, where there is no love.”  — Francis Bacon

We live in interesting times. Come on, they are always interesting. But maybe not always so crazy. What has happened to our inverted culture? Psychological projections run amok “the other.” The media has us believing there is racial brutality everywhere. Education has us believing we should self loath for perpetuating this brutality. Guilt is all abound, and the white person becomes a slave to a narrative of self-abasement. Black people are used as ponds to get approval and alleviate this pain for the white person. It does nothing for black people, and it creates a culture of victimization. It also allows the virtue-signaling white “noble sufferers” to wield power and control. The white sufferer can now be empowered to bully others for their perceived complicity. It's a viscous cycle that is divorced from data (facts) where things are not so bad in reality, but evidently pretty bad in our heads.

I have never been called to protest that much. While I may not be civic in nature, when it comes to protests it's rather I don't feel authentic in group fear mongering. It's often a collective indoctrination for those who can't think for themselves, or an outlet for those that need to project infantile emotions that can't be moderated in a silent room. 

All in all, it's mostly a misuse of energy.

Paul Tillich acknowledged we are always projecting, but he also acknowledged there is a Screen we can't project. But it seems we forgot about this: “Imagine a 10 x 10 x 10 foot room. In the center is a 1 x 1 x 1 foot cube. All the Insanity in the World is in the Cube. I am this Cube. But even more Importantly, I am the Room” (anonymous social media post).

The Screen or the Room is the focal point that shows how divided we are, not just among each other, but mostly in our own hearts. We are all complicit to Sin; however, we are never going to alleviate our transgressions until we take a good heart look at ourselves.

Thomas Merton noted, “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” It's not just about the police, Trump, America's history, or white people. There is something deeper within the human condition: the ability to inflict harm onto ourselves and others is part of history and it has never been isolated to one group. All ethnicities, races, creeds and skin colors have “practiced” it.

All our ancestors, over thousands of years, have dealt with minority status in one form of another. Those in power have corrupted, as that is what power does when it is in the hands of the fallible human. The difference is from where we identify with this fallenness: are we the weight of history, or do we bear the weight of history? And from Whom can save us from it.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Complacent Gadflies

Our ancestors from ancient and medieval times always had a preexisting tragic view of life, and not a therapeutic view of life that people have today. And that tragic view of life assumes we are here to struggle for a finite time of existence, and therefore risk and loss are always part of life. Shit happens, and we die (and we definitely die so we'd be better to live from that context).

In recent times, we've have so much comfort made available to us to the point where many can't relate to struggle. When that happens, you're also less likely to assume any risk and more willing to transfer it to the state. We can see it with this pandemic. I'm not going to risk getting this virus (assuming I can), and the government better protect me with as much security and safety it can (or it can't...hence the looming debt crisis we are creating). This isn't austerity, but recklessness. And it doesn't make for a resilient and dynamic society in the long run.

In all this pursuit of comfort, we have fallen into an underlying restlessness. Ross Douthat discusses this from the angle of decadence. And decadence may not always look the way you'd expect. We may think that a decadent society would eventually fall into utter chaos and evil, but it seems it's more likely it would fade into whimper of cultural and economic stagnation.

Douthat notes, “A society that generates a lot of bad movies need not be decadent; a society that just makes the same movies over and over again might be. A society run by the cruel and arrogant might not be decadent; a society where even the wise and good can’t legislate might be. A poor or crime-ridden society isn’t necessarily decadent; a society that’s rich and peaceable but exhausted, depressed, and beset by flares of nihilistic violence looks closer to our definition.”

So we may not see the dystopian apocalypse played out in so many films, but something much more boring. Let's even consider this current lock-down playing out: it is painfully dull. 

This even explains all the outrage culture and tribal polarization, mostly playing out in the online world (even before the pandemic). 
“In an age online frenzy, there is an understandable fear that some kind of cultural-political cascade will carry our society downward into a similar kind of civil strife. But it may be that the nature of our decadence, our civilizational old age, makes that scenario unlikely, and that our problem is a different one: that our battles are sound and fury signifying relatively little; that even as it makes them more ferocious, the virtual realm also makes them more performative and empty; and that online rage is just a safety valve, a steam-venting technology for a society that is misgoverned, stagnant, and yet ultimately far more stable than it looks on Twitter” (Douthat).
The real issue with decadence is the inability to see our lives are more than about us. There has to be something more to live for than our own safety or comfort. If that's our primary aim (safety first!), then we lose our ability to truly be creative, resourceful, and resilient. We live in fear of losing the material things that matter least, and never aspire to the immaterial riches that matter most once we lose those material things anyways.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

UK Post-Punk Soul Sounds — 80's Style!

Time for a lighter post. When I look at my musical preferences, much of it seems a bit eclectic, but I've never been accused of being musically sophisticated or drawn to technical proficiency. I often find myself gravitating to soulful, majestic melodies and off-beat song structures that move me viscerally. I'm also guilty of a romanticized, wistful nostalgia that can verge on sentimentalism on my worst days.

The blue-eyed soul/synthpop sounds of the UK also fell into a romanticized nostalgia for the 1960's R&B soul music that originated in the states and before making its way over the pond. In the 1980's, this movement was located primarily in Northern England, and eventually made its way to other parts of the UK while taking on other influences from jazz, funk, reggae, and punk.

This refashioned post-punk soul sound in the UK had less divide between black/white music/musicians than the US at the time. Certainly many of the blue-eyed musicians took on front and center, but there were always more diverse musical lineups supporting these acts. I just want to highlight a few gems that come to mind...

The king of the mod revival in 80's (a subculture movement unto itself that had more emphasis around jazz, scooters, and 60's fashion) was Paul Weller. Certainly his work with The Jam and his solo stuff continues to inspires generations, but it was his diversion to the more soul-ridden The Style Council that caught my attention. You take a song like “Shout to the Top, and you'll find an urgent rhythm filled with gorgeous melodies and high-caliber craftsmanship. I never tire of this song, and it's always a highlight at his live performances:

I actually first heard about Orange Juice after reading Simon Reynold's Rip it Up and Start Again since they did not have much exposure in the US. Reynolds says, “Orange Juice talked and acted in ways that broke with rock's rebel swagger and postpunk's militant solemnity. They were literate, playful, witty, camp.” As I explored their music, I found myself loving Edwyn Collin's infectious voice, and the jaunty jangle guitars and choppy rhythms. Their debut single “Falling and Laughing” draws you with its unabashed romance and Collin's shy and sensitive vocals. It's so pure in it's sacred confession for love: 

More recently, I watched this short film about Dexy's Midnight Runners that explored all the incarnations of Kevin Rowland's band and various projects. I've always enjoyed their music in the early 80's, more specifically their first major hit “Geno” and the album The Celtic Soul Brothers that contained the mega-hit Come On Eileen. But I was less familiar with their follow-up commercial failure, 1985's Don't Stand Me Down. In this project, Rowland got away from his Irish vagabond look from the prior album, and decided to take on an investment banker like appearance. In the following delicious 12 minute song, This is What She's Like (and the promotional video is gorgeously shot also), there are these interesting comical dialogues that take on subjects like the ruling class, while at the same time trying to cheekily be a part of it. The song maintains this epic quality of high-energy folksy violins & mandolins and soulful vocals that has been a staple in much of his work. This is probably a forgotten classic:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Covid Conspiracies and the New Age of Mistrust

Crisis brings out the best and worst in us, so why should this pandemic be any different. What is different these days is our relationship to trust. Because if you can't trust in God, then you certainly can't trust yourself. And then forget trusting all the other authority figures out there. And that's not the say some authority figures, like public health experts, can't be wrong. In fact, they're often wrong! But to see it through the lens of deception, paranoia, and deluded hubris says more about the viewer than the viewed. 

This article (‘Conspirituality’ — the overlap between the New Age and conspiracy beliefs) by Jules Evans hits on some high points on this topic. We see the makers of 5G, along with Bill Gates, are part of a global eugenics plot by the Illuminati puppet masters. And forget about the forthcoming vaccine that may mitigate measures, as that is part of the plan to inject nano-surveillance devices in all of us. I do have give kudos for such far reaching imaginations, albeit distorted ones at that.

And here comes the nub of the issue: we have undermined the sober metaphysics of traditionalism for the intoxicated magical-thinking of paganism. Whether it's the pollyannaish view that we are the chosen ones to usher in a new global consciousness, or a pessimistic view that we are the clever few who are on to the Establishment's plot to take humanity down, it all comes down to a lack of trust in a unifying God—where good and evil is seen within ourselves rather than between ourselves.

It's not that New Agers don't believe in God, they've just reduced Him into a silent partner. Mix in some ‘benign schizotypy’ that is validated through internet culture, and you've got a religion of disorder.

Thomas Merton was on to this back in his day before all of this craziness, when he said:
“The notion of dogma terrifies men who do not understand the Church. They cannot conceive that a religious doctrine may be clothed in a clear, definite and authoritative statement without at once becoming static, rigid, and inert and losing all its vitality. In their frantic anxiety to escape from any such conception they take refuge in a system of beliefs that is vague and fluid, a system in which truths pass like mists and waver and vary like shadows. They make their own personal selection of ghosts, in this pale, indefinite twilight of the mind.” 
Merton then goes on to say that: “They take good care never to bring these abstractions out into the full brightness of the sun for fear of a full view of their unsubstainability.” That may have been true in his time, but certainly not now. Today, their lack of modesty is taken over by an overzealous pride—albeit sometimes couched in the anonymity of debased social media chatter. 

Such hubris by conspiracy types is used to overcompensate for their fragile relationship to Truth. Without a vertical authority, they have no leg to stand on since there is no Source of intelligibility holding them up. As such, these views are often fragments of a disordered mind that can not rest in a Father's trusting embrace.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Free to Be an Island Unto Ourselves or Be with God

David Walsh says, “Men generally know what they should do; they simply refuse to do it.”

It's like we are condemned to Truth and to distort it at the same time. It's probably like the song says: if loving you is wrong, [then] I don't want to be right. And I've chosen the wrong on more occasions I want to admit outside the sacrament of reconciliation.

Often the deep answers to life are not complicated, but rather simple. That doesn't mean they are easy. We have many competing interests and motivations, sometimes conscious and sometimes not, taking on our deeper conscious. We'd often rather fight or flight than fall in line in Truth. And there is no good reason for it.

Walsh notes, “The deliberate choice of darkness and self-destruction, in the face of the appeal toward light and self-actualization, knowing full well the futility of the choice as incapable of changing the outcome, is a radical unintelligibility.” Yes, I think that's a fancy a way of reiterating Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

And yet, sinners gonna sin.

Moreover, this “discloses the precarious character of our exercise of freedom.” From the get go, our freedom in never really autonomous. We are always responding to something beyond our control—such as a pandemic or a crazy girlfriend or a nasty tweet. Sometimes these forces can even be supernatural, making the need for grace to be every more present. Yet, man has a funny way of picking himself by his bootstraps to attain a haughty self-sufficiency. Grace be damned, he thinks.

Thomas Merton says, “We get tired of this “faith” that does not do anything to change reality. It does not take away our anxieties, our conflicts, it leaves us a prey to uncertainty. It does not lift all responsibilities off our shoulders. Its magic is not so effective after all. It does not thoroughly convince us that God is satisfied with us, or even that we are satisfied with ourselves (though in this, it is true, some people's faith is often quite effective).” Which just goes to show you, that our freedom is “a drama enacted between the poles of certainty and uncertainty” (Walsh). So we'd rather be an island unto ourselves—where we can be certain of our insanity rather than be uncertain of a God who is with us.

The first choice always has to be taken alone. Walsh insightfully expounds,
“The mystery between our freedom and and the knowledge that structures and directs it is that the latter emerges only to the extent that it is actualized. The more we respond to the glimmerings that first attract us faintly, the more they become beacons of light irradiating the path before us with unanticipated intensity. A reality that had previously seemed to offer us unlimited choice now works to constrain us within its imperious demands. Not that we ever lose the capacity to turn our backs on the higher life that calls us. But the more we respond in fidelity to its appeal, the less attractive the option of closure appears to us. We have been “captured” by the strength of that higher reality. The option of turning aside is always there, but why would we want to exercise it when it means the loss of the only reality that counts? A human soul grows to the point that it begins to measure itself and all that it does in light of the truth of that higher reality. Rejection can still occur, but what can pull us back to a life of falsehood and meanness? The attraction of virtue and the emptiness of vice have become unmistakably clear, to the point that we might even say we have no choice.”
The first choice becomes the no choice, indeed. Our free will becomes Thy will.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

God Going Viral

“Let me not squander the hours of my pain” — Rilke

So how does an existential event like this impact me? Sure, there is the anxiety and fear. But here are the gifts: reconciling with an estranged father, reconnecting with old friends and girlfriends, checking in with neighbors and people in the community, and the feeling of solidarity with humanity and a deeper love of God.

That doesn't negate the suffering and evil. But is this by chance or intention? Is there a justified reason for such things as pandemics? Well, those our questions above my pay-grade. But for anti-viral shots and giggles, let's take a stab.

You got the people who believe God is neither transcendent and immanent (secularists). Those who think God is transcendent but not immanent (deists). And those who think think God is immanent but not transcendent (pantheists). They all got some excuse for this, but it's either too one-sided or completely incomplete.

If we take the Judeo-Christian perspective, we know God is transcendent. So He is responsible for the first cause of the building blocks for creation. But all those secondary causes: stars exploding, viruses forming, politicians bickering; those are just accidents from one view and God's infinite schema from another. We just can't explain it all as a singular event when there are so many moving parts in God's plan. So viruses just want to do what viruses do. Sadly, politicians do too.

Yet also from the Judeo-Christian perspective, God is imminent and still with us during these trials: “the earth is full of His glory.” As I recently heard Paul VanderKlay say: “Tolkien is not in the Lord of the Rings, but yet he is everywhere in the Lord of the Rings.” So while we have our own agency, it is not in competition with God's agency (strange attractor that it is) either. He's in the play, feeding us lines every so often. There's always the perpetual interplay of freedom and destiny.

Still, as Rutledge notes, evil is not nothing. We can't really just say it is an absence of Good, but more like a negation. She notes, “if we speak of evil simply as absence, we are in danger of abstracting its malign effects, or distancing ourselves from them.” And that's not how we need to engage in this moment. Evil has it's own force, although not ontological as God would be. We can't explain it away, and it has it's own explanation that we can't truly understand. Rutledge says the best response to this is often silence—a silence that may bring closer to an authentic response that words would never accomplish.

So while evil and suffering can make you struggle with God, it can't negate His existence. There's the famous quote by Rabbi Milton Steinberg that sums this point up: “The believer of God has to account for the existence of unjust suffering, the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else. So let me struggle with God.”

Maybe instead of trying to answer the big questions around God's relationship to crises like what we are currently going through, it is probably best to answer what is our relationship as individuals to all of this. As Bishop Barron recently said, let's instead consider “what is the opportunity for love that has opened up to me in this moment?”

Friday, March 13, 2020

It's Not that Modernity Was a Bad Idea, We Just Weren't Ready for It

We are enslaved by a system that despises art and has no room for love and reverence; and so we can be excused if we think sometimes that the end draws near; the soil is stale. Unless there can be a rebirth, our world is doomed, and it must be a rebirth of reverence. — Father Gerald Vann (from Contemplative Day Book)

The looming pandemic crisis is a time to take stock. I have no idea how this will play out, but I am almost certain we are in the midst of a reckoning that we haven't seen in a few generations.

The Steven Pinker's of the world have preached about the better angels of our nature becoming more commonplace through modernity. And there is much to appreciate with Pinker's work. But I think he fails to see as we got better at perceptibly organizing our systems that gave us the mirage of our halos, we also got good at outsourcing our individual wisdom. As Rutledge says, “although it is indeed possible to organize better societies, the project to create a better human being is beyond the capacity of of humankind. The veneer of civilization is very thin, now as always.” 

In the advent of all this informational advancement, we became soft in character. Moreover, we allowed all the mysteries in science and technology to undermine the depth of spirit and religion.

And now we will come to see we are not so advance after all. A hidden enemy will make its way through much of civilization, and while the fatalities will be low percentage-wise, the systemic outcome from this will play out for years within our already fragile institutions.

Am I being too pessimistic? Yes, maybe.

So I will say I do believe we will endure, too. As to whether we make better choices post-pandemic remains to be seen. This young generation, who appear to be less impacted by the virus, will have that opportunity.

In spite of what will come of a new direction, Father Stephen Freeman makes this astute observation: 
“A long litany of slogans enforce the notion that “changing” things, even in the slightest way, is how a life should be measured. It is the very essence of the lie that is modernity. We simply are not in charge of history. Even those who imagine themselves (or whom we imagine) to be the great influencers of current events are not in charge of history. Hitler and Mussolini were not in charge of history. Churchill and FDR were not in charge of history. No one holding political office (nor all of them together) is in charge of history.
God alone is in charge of history.”
Certainly, God could not have offered more testing kits and face masks. But we could have remembered Him more—instead of being preoccupied with silly things. It would have ordered us more to what matters.

I hear a few say prayer will not get us through this, but who said prayer is meant to do anything worldly? There may be other intentions for it that are not of our own. A friend passed along this quote: God provides minimal protection; maximal support.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Sick Souls and the Universal Malady

In a recent conversation with a friend who joined a Richard Rohr group, she was telling me about how much she appreciated the group's avoidance of using terms like ‘sin’ since God is all about love and we are made in His image. On that same note, we often hear of these vague political slogans that sentimentalize humanity: ‘Love is love’, ‘Not me, Us’, or ‘Better together’. This orientation is really not all that new. It is all part of the Gnostic move to cast out distinctions between man and God, and falsely elevate ourselves into guileless mini-gods. 

In her terrific book, Fleming Rutledge says, 
“It is the lazy person's way of receiving data about life, without struggle. It is apparently very important to us to believe in innocence. Such a belief is a stratagem for keeping unpleasant truth at bay; it is a form of denial.”
But in Truth, it is God made us free first, and in that freedom we can choose to make choices. And more often than not, these choices are motivated, as you would expect, by and for the self—leading Solzhenitsyn to recognize the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. It is not us verses them, but us against God.

Rutledge notes, “Sin is not individual transgressions, but a universal malady.” She also points out how the elderly preacher in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead muses, “There is never just one transgression. There is a wound in the flesh of human life that scars when it heals and often enough never seems to heal at all.” Yes, even Chesterton affirmed that “Original Sin…is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” Just look around you, as well as yourself.

It would seem that we don’t need just some adjustments and improvements, but we must lay down our arms (to paraphrase something CS Lewis once said). We are agents of Sin; quite good at partaking in it, while poor at breaking its grip.

I feel it in my own bones; as much as I have orientated my life to prayer, meditation, spiritual study, and the sacraments, I sometimes feel my transgressions can’t be overcome by any determination or resolve I may possess. Lately, I have been attending daily mass more often, not so much for anything it can do for me, but to give myself over to what must be done to me in my praise. It gives me a hope that does quantify itself to any particular goal.  

Are there just as many sick souls in the Church as there are outside of it? Probably more, for it is recognition of our sickness that makes the difference. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, first step: admit you are powerless and your life is unmanageable. “The measure of the Church, therefore, is not the presence of sinners. That is not surprising. It is the presence of forgiveness, the operation of grace through the sacraments, and the production (eventually) of Saints” (Paul Williams). I don’t have saintly expectations, but there is hope that the criterion of Truth that will be used to judge me is beyond me. 

From a certain lens, the beauty of our imperfections allows us to be an apprentice and a teacher, being a receiver and giver; as a reciprocal relationship is formed vertically and horizontally. Yes, we are always in relationship and there will always be a hierarchy in that relationship. We admire those who are more saintly than us in many respects, and take an active part in being compassionate to those who struggle with sin greater than us.

But even still, this does not let us off the hook: reconciliation requires struggleRutledge takes on that Sin has a twofold aspect that needs to be contended with: 
“(1) Sin is a responsible guilt for which atonement must be made. It follows that the crucifixion is understood as a sacrifice for sin. (2) Sin is an alien power that must be driven from the field. All human beings are enslaved by this power and must be liberated by a greater power.”
The sacrifice made by ourselves and by Christ is “not a weakness, but an alternative mode of power” that can overcome the universal malady. We are all complicit, always, in Sin and yet have been granted the Power to repent and sacrifice ourselves beyond it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ain't No Place for Sissies

It was Bettie Davis who coined the phrase “old age ain't no place for sissies.” As someone getting closer to that train stop, relatively speaking she's spot on. Absolutely speaking, I would say seeking God (or allowing God to seek you) tops the list. Too many think they want to find God, wake up, be Self-realized, when it's just ego trying to feel good about what it's doing for itself. (“Those who turn to God for comfort may find comfort, but I do not think they will find God.” — Mignon McLaughlin)

While the journey to God may be simple from a certain vantage point, it's not necessarily all that easy. Just take a look at the path Bernedette Roberts laid out that she went through (assumingly similar for many others also)... 
From Bernedette Roberts “The Christian Contemplative Journey”
Sure, there a some priceless experiences. But there are the dark nights, the voids, and all this ending in an annihilation. What ego—in his/her right, contracted mind—would want to go through this? Mine sure doesn't on some days; it would rather stream Netflix, play out lustful thoughts, and fear the Coronovirus.

I recently read a radically honest book by David Carse. He notes, 
“If you're going to do anything, do this. First, figure out whether this waking up, this enlightenment is really something you want. Do you really want to die? Do you really want for 'you' not to exist; and for living to continue, if it does, not as who you know and love as yourself but as a hollow husk with impersonal Consciousness blowing through it? If this is what you want (how can you possibly?) then you are talking about waking up from the false dream of individuality, and then you can proceed. Your thinking, your praying, your meditating, your asking questions at satsang, whatever you 'do,' will be with the realization that what you think you are is illusory, and with the intent of exploding, obliterating, that illusion called 'you.' Can you 'do' this? Of course not; 'you' is a dream character following its role in the dream. But who knows what that role calls for? If that role calls for this character to wake up, then it has to start somewhere, and the character may find itself engaging in things that will ultimately bring about its own death. Not physical death. These are disposable containers; look around, they're being recycled constantly. Rather, real death, as real as death gets. Death of the one who cares.”
Okay, you've got my attention! Carse continues,
“If you decide that what you really want is something other than this complete and ultimate 'waking up,' then bless you. Have a wonderful life; enjoy the incredible edible banquet of material and spiritual and psychological and New Age goodies that are out there. Grow and expand and change and develop and improve your life immeasurably; evolve and become more mature and deeper and wiser and more beautiful. Discover your higher self and your higher purpose and fulfill them. I mean this absolutely sincerely; and even, I notice, with a touch of delicious wistfulness from what's left of the david thing. This is not in any way some kind of second class status; there is no such thing. Take what the dream has to offer; that's what the dream's there for, to be enjoyed. Consciousness only enjoys it, only perceives it at all, through the dream characters, and there have to be some through which can be experienced enjoyment of the whole panoply of the spiritual marketplace. But in that case don't come here talking about waking up; that just doesn't make any sense at all.”
Fair enough. But the issue is once we get a taste or intuition of something more, we can never go back and be the same. It's as if you're selling yourself out for who you're really not. We may enjoy the finite rewards at times, but the restless heart will always endure until the search is over for the infinite. We will always have a felt sense of, what David Walsh calls, “the unspoken irritant of all our aspirations” in the background. 

As such, I'm willing to suffer and sacrifice myself for what is.

As a reminder to myself, Sister Wendy Beckett (from Spiritual Letters) offers this precious insight:
“Patience is far more profound and more all-embracing than it appears to be. To enter deeply into patience means accepting our lowliness and, equally, his power and will to transform us.
Reality is his message and patience leads straight to it. We seem to see our shabbiness and conclude we are getting absolutely nowhere. It may not be so at all. We long to push ahead, to ‘take it by violence’. But helplessness, accepting the ordinariness of our day is the divine means of purification: all this is painful. So my first word is patience. Affirm his power; wait in trust. And my second is to remind you that pure love is usually experienced as nothingness. If all is his, what is there left for self? So never seek to judge from how it ‘feels’. To go on and on and never see anything ‘happening’: what trust we need!”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

We Can’t Explain God and Ourselves Away

The concept that the path is the goal and the goal is the path seems like an irreconcilable tautology. What are we trying to say here? It's definitely like saying the means is the ends and the ends is the means. In a spiritual practice, we can often throw the baby out with bathwater, and focus on the gifts without the repentance. In other words, we want the experience of God without ever obeying Him. Esoteric is prioritized before exoteric, when instead it should be proportional to each other.

Bernadette Roberts says, “Where people regard knowledge as a means and experience as an end, I regard experience as a means and knowledge as the end.” So while experience matters, it also matters what is experientially learned. She continues: “In other words, if the means (religion) is not proportionate to the end (Truth), or if the means did not already contain the goal or end to be realized, then religion cannot get us to the end and would be valueless as a means.” It would seem that we can't disconnect the mystic from their religion!

Some skeptics may argue that mystics always end up reiterating the same truths they began with. But we can't have spiritual experiences from a blank slate. Non-symbolic experiences have to be expressed through the symbols we embody prior to our realizations/revelations. We are always mediated in any experience.

Roberts says, “What is ironic about this complaint is that he [the skeptic] does the same thing. What he starts out believing about religion and mystical experience he ends up believing, his conclusions are no different than his premises. Should one's premises be wrong or false, of course, then his conclusions could never be right—it would be logically impossible. So everything depends on the premises you start with because it dictates what you will, or can, end up with.”

So here again, first principles matter—as our experiences only confirm them! Besides, you will never experience God directly as Cause (only Effect), because God is beyond experience. So while we're on this side of the grave, we can only work with what He gifted to us.

If you've traveled in neo-advaita circles, as well as some Buddhist camps, you'll hear about nonduality. The realization that subject and object collapses and all is not-two. But this may be more of a concept than a reality. I've never been comfortable with people expressing their nondual realizations, as if everything can be explained away — including a God, a world, and themselves. Just watch this who's on first performative dance known as the “advaita shuffle” (As a side note: I like Tony Parsons as a person from what I can tell, it's just the approach I find problematic.) This approach just takes the easy way out, that in long run won't make things easier for anyone trying to include and discern all aspects of reality.

Roberts says, “The fact of our natural oneness with God neither makes us God nor robs us of a Godgiven individuality. We are like dependent babes in the womb, dependent yet separate.”

If we look at the dualities of subject and object, absolute and relative, God and man, Atman and Brahman, transcendence and immanence, whole and part; then we then have to ask “If all these dualities are negated, how could we possibly end up with "one" – one anything? Negate these dualities and nothing remains to be called "nondual".” 

Negate all dualities, and you are pretty much left with nothing. But last time I checked, there is definitely a something rather than a nothing. Our chosen realities cannot really be independent of our discriminating individuality. Any union is a fusion of God’s attributes, but not a union with God that our identities become fused. Reality exists, and we participate in awareness of this as persons.