Friday, May 27, 2016

Spiritual, but not Irreligious

Recently a friend I knew through Andrew Cohen’s former community did a TED talk about the fall of EnlightenNext. While never a student myself, I drew much energy for a few years from this community and still have many friends who were part of it. While Sam Rosen’s experience with the collapse were not directly my own, I appreciate how he distills his own journey in such an eloquent, honest way. 

Sam then appropriately questions for those still open to the spiritual, well, what now? Certainly this has been part of my process too, although I’ve had my feet in a couple camps. Sam is convinced that any “new” spirituality has to be evidence-based, in the sense that we can bring in the phenomenological/hermeneutical modes of expression to it. I am not so sure about that. Personally, I find an evidence-based spirituality too dry. I’ve encountered some “Buddhists” who love to geek out on states of mind, and while this may be fruitful for a while, it doesn’t feel alive to me.

To really gather a community of like-minded souls in the fullest sense, there has to be imagination, inspiration, exemplars, intellectual coherency, heart, humility, purpose, meaning, and so forth. In other words, any true religion has to bring in all the elements that make us whole. While spirituality may be all about internal experience, religion is the pursuit of total reality! 

Can you imagine if Jesus tried to distill his teachings into evidence-based dogma, instead of the symbols and metaphors of love and truth? As Ratzinger once noted, “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead an encounter, a love story, an event.” And it’s that sort of very human/divine thing that has brought people together for a couple thousand years.

I sometimes feel frustration that many of my peers have so much resistance towards traditional religion. And yet I completely understand why they may not relate to the anachronistic expressions of it. However, I also don’t buy any progressive spirituality (a.k.a. New Thought) is going to do things any better. They tend to be abstract, less imaginative, hubristic, and way too clever. CS Lewis noted that “to prefer abstractions [over mythology] is not to be more rational; it is simply to be less fully human.” And so, while I sometimes drawn to new creative expressions of Divinity, I am not so sure we should be tossing away the roots of those seeds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Let Chaos Rule (to a point)

I decided to tackle a book that found its way in my social media circles called The Singularity and Socialism. This book referenced many people whose work I was already familiar with, such as Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil, Hayek. So I thought why not? Provoking title too. Basically this is a pro-libertarian techno-optimistic book that brings in the ideas of complexity and chaos theory to the world of economics. And I have to say I agree with much of it, because let’s face it, we can’t doubt that the change Hericlitus talked about 2500 years ago is just getting more rampant! And that makes it near impossible to centralize all the knowledge that has accumulated from the top-down.

Townsend goes on to mention that “Hayek began as early as the mid 1930’s to begin to think of the market and economics as well as all social phenomenon, culture and civilization, not as a given and static condition reacted to by discrete autonomous rational actors and created by omnipotent rational planners from on high, but as interdependent yet heterogeneous interacting agents who are constantly evolving and bringing about an emergent and spontaneous order that is constantly adapting and changing to, and discovering, new information, just as the cells in complexity theorists computer simulations act.” Yup, so try to wrap your heads around that Federal Reserve. Just can’t happen, but they can play chess for a while until the queen gets taken out!

Hayek probably was one of our first systems theorists, and got that the world does not lead by intellect alone. Hayek observes: “It is not our intellect that created our morals; rather, human interactions governed by our morals make possible the growth of reason and those capabilities associated with it. Man became intelligent because there was tradition –that which lies between instinct and reason– for him to learn. This tradition, in turn, originated not from a capacity rationally to interpret observed facts but from habits of responding.” Now, that makes sense to me. We are not purely rational agents. And that explains all the dumb and beautiful things we do too.

So why do so many insist that government should solve our economic woes? Again Hayek makes a lot of sense when he says, “the main lesson which the true liberal [classical, not modern] must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion.” You see, if you don’t have real religion, you’re going to make one up through some utopian impulse. And that’s one of our many fallibilities… so better to get real religion and let Caesar have what is Caesar’s!

Townsend’s book has many good insights. One shortfall is he doesn’t seem to ground himself in any real religion, so I have my doubts that market forces alone can cure all social ills. But more on that later!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Building the Muscle of Faith with Doubt

Whether we like it or not, we are all ironists or post-ironists, and probably unwilling to stand too firmly on any particular stone. The days of accepting a worldview of belief as given are over for most of us. We all have to work at it, if we care, or just we’ll get indoctrinated into whatever sub-par cultural belief system you are swimming in. 

The academy did a good job on many of us, although I was an engineer and escaped much of the humanities-psychobabble. But then again, I ended up liking post-punk music and counter cultural women, so that was it for me too. Now, I am trying to grow up and realize I need to look into my beliefs more carefully, along with the doubt that accompanies it.

Doubt isn’t a new thing, and we can’t discount that even most of our highly traditionally religious forefathers went through a mad dose of it from time to time. In fact, it was probably more difficult then, because you had to keep a stiff upper lip about it, and also feel a ton of guilt about it.

These days having doubt leads to unliking your favorite facebook meme or group. We have so many options as to where we lay our hat, and it’s easy to get lost in the Chinese buffet without ever having to pay the bill. I tried some Druidism last month, this month I’m going to take on Zen.

But that isn’t the doubt I’m talking about. That’s just moving from one distraction to another and not taking any belief seriously. The kind of faith I am referring to is one where you orientate your entire life around it, and when you do that, any doubt that creeps in is going to be sort of scary because the stakes are so high. You may have a whole community of people that you’re associated with because of this faith. You may have married someone with that faith. Maybe your children are part of it too. So when doubt creeps in, you start to see structures around you starting to crumble that you are not ready or willing to deal with.

But doubt can be a good thing too. It really forces us to think for ourselves in a way no outside authority can offer. It’s all about interiorizing and becoming self reliant, and that can only come about with some internal struggle. It’s like lifting weights for a few years until you’ve got some pipes. While the doubt may always be there, you won’t cave in to it. No pain, no gain: no doubt, blind faith. 

(Note: I am using faith and belief interchangeably, but faith is more a product of soul while belief is more a product of mind. Still, they work together.)  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Divorce is Forever!

Okay, why another blog? Why me? I believe I have something to say and, at this point, no one who will listen. Now, that's divine inspiration! Because whom else do I need to satisfy? And so we begin with the The Great Divorce. Being someone who reads lots of spiritual material, surprisingly I have been late to the CS Lewis party. But now I get it. He was a brilliant writer, who could bring in intellectuals who would otherwise get the Jesus-willies from bible thumpers. I get that too. We all have our own doors to God, and sometimes the preacher man just won't do. But what does it for me is a brilliant, exalted mind whose intellect is in service to something higher. So he's a smart dude, but isn't all pedantic about it... like some of those Harvard students I hear on the T sometimes. This book is a modern version of Dante's Inferno. But there is no Virgil and Beatrice. Just ghosts and spirits, lost souls and saved souls, seen on a bus ride through the heavenly and hellish realms.

Along the tour, we encounter many stories with a deeper message. For me, the most moving was we encounter a Spirit named Sarah Smith, who evidently saved many souls while she was on Earth. Eventually she comes across a Ghost who used to be her husband. This Ghost leads around a ventriloquist-like puppet, which Lewis names the Tragedian, that speaks for him. The Tragedian claims to have been worried about the Lady, distressed that she was there without him, believing she must have missed him terribly. But she denies this, explaining that “There are no miseries here” and that she has been perfectly happy without him. The Tragedian is shaken by this, and as the conversation ensues the Lady acknowledges her love on Earth was based on need. The Tragedian grows increasingly angry as he realized she does not need him, and does not take pity on him. She tells him, “I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.” The Tragedian has chosen his fate, and she will not coddle him anymore. Lewis makes it clear that hell exists only because souls refuse to see heaven.

Louie CK has a funny bit where he mentions "divorce is forever." This is mostly true in the horizontal sense, but it is definitive in the vertical expanse. Of course, the Divorce Lewis alludes to is the demarcation between heaven and hell. While many postmodern relativists take issue with these distinctions, they can't deny it if they take an honest look at themselves and how they live their lives. There is a conscious part of ourselves that knows the difference between living rightly and wrongly. Sure there are grey areas to life, but when it comes to intentions, means, and ends we can do our best to make contact with reality, and then choose accordingly.