Monday, March 26, 2007

Christianity invites us to think in authoritarian terms

I do not understand why enlightenment is eing given such a reductive reading when it was itself such a contentious space, filled with all sorts of divergences. The most important things I take away from enlightenment are the ideals of autonomy, the egalitarian, departure from the unquestioning acceptance of authority, and the investigation of the world through our own abilities. I take it that this can lead to many things besides procedural liberalism. For instance, Marx comes to recognize the abstract and one-sided nature of the Lockean individual, discovering the social field in which individuals come to be. This isn't the rejection of enlightenment, but the ongoing process of auto-critique internal to enlightenment itself. Adam has suggested that I am non-dialectical in my relation to history and religion, and perhaps he can show me this through a series of good arguments. For instance, the cat I haven't let out of the bag on my end is that I have worries about the possibility of eradicating the religious as a place (apart from what fills it), by virtue of the way in which the incompleteness of the symbolic calls for an "irrational" supplement to halt its endless sliding. *This* sort of argument is one that I don't know how to respond to and one I find very interesting. There's a reason theological forms of thought repeat throughout history in relation to groundings and narratives of origins that isn't simply accidental, though the manifestations or ways in which the empty place is filled out are accidental.
Alex, you make an interesting point with regard to reason and Hume. It is likely that I lack a very precise definition of reason, as I see this investigation of the passions that Hume undertakes as part and parcel of reason. Here I'm inclined to follow Hegel and argue that reason must have a dialectical identity with unreason in order to know itself as reason. Incidentally, Hegel argues that this dimension is ineradicable and that it would not be desirable to eradicate it. A lot of this discussion has thrown about the term "reason" without any of us bothering to clarify what we mean by it. So far only Anthony has made such an attempt, providing a sort of heuristic definition. It could be that we're actually far closer than we suspect or that we're talking about entirely different things. Minimally, I do not think we can ignore things such as the passions, desire, jouissance, the unconscious, identification, etc., in discussing these issues or reason. This is one of the reasons that I'm so interested in psychoanalysis. For me Spinoza and Hobbes are exemplary in this regard. Hobbes provides a sort of "physics" of the passions in Leviathan, while Spinoza develops an elaborate psychology in the Ethics. I am not endorsing all the P's and Q's of these analyses, only suggesting that, especially in the case of the latter, recognition of this dimension of thought is central to the enlightenment project as conceived by some thinkers.
Nonetheless, I still have difficulties with your comparison of Jesus and Socrates. There are a couple of different ways in which one could go with this. On the one hand, it could be pointed out that the parables are designed to be enigmatic, thereby opening the possibility for a detachment from authority. A good friend of mine here, a Mormon who teaches Bible classes at his temple, who is a philosophy professor in my department, and does brilliant work on Badiou and Marion, teaches the Gospels as a sort of Lacanian analysis. The ideal Lacanian interpretation (in the clinical setting) is polyvalent, allowing for a plurality of interpretations on the analysand's end. On the one hand, this leaves the analysand in a position of never quite knowing what the analyst himself thinks, thereby fostering separation from the idea of a master. On the other hand, the analysand progressively comes to discover the structure of their own transference in this way and must take responsibility for how he "actualizes" the meaning of the interpretation. Jesus seems to speak in a very similar way, that is riddled with irony in much the same way that Socrates' words are always filled with irony. Jesus then would not so much speak the truth as allow others to discover their truth.
On the other hand, this ironic or Socratic Jesus does not seem to have been taken up by the subsequent church at the popular level except in high level theology texts and among rare figures like Kierkegaard. Rather, Jesus seems to be treated as a king that speaks the truth, that *tells* us what the truth is. Jesus's words, unlike Socrates', are true because of who he is (the son of God), rather than because of *what* he says (where the individual speaking becomes irrelevant). It is in this regard that I say there's a strong split between religion and philosophy in its *concrete practice* (rather than it's idealized articulation). Christianity invites us to think in authoritarian terms by virtue of its attachment to a guru that is the truth by virtue of being divine, and this attachment to authority comes to bleed through in concrete social formations by analogy, such that authority comes to be treated in an unquestioning fashion. I don't think this is something that can really be denined when we look at actual Church's and believers throughout history and the politics they've often been connected to. I would be very interested in seeing a genuine alternative that doesn't simply articulate itself in academic treatises addressed to other academics, but in real practice. I think the early Baptist church went some way in this direction before the Convention, as have the Liberal Catholics and Unitarians more recently. Sadly these populations have been such minorities within the American context that it would be dishonest to suggest that somehow they negate what is predominant in American religiousity. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 09:37 PM

Saturday, March 24, 2007

But you wouldn’t hire a motor mechanic to explain to you about art history

alan kazlev Says: March 23rd, 2007 at 6:35 pm [This is the classic occultist dodge: one is said to not “understand” an occult scene.]
And understanding is based on experience. Academia, physicalism, agnosticism, pomo relativism, and the ordinary “man in the street”, all do not have any experiences of non-physical states of existence. Not having experienced these things, they then reject them, because these realities don’t fit into the consensus paradigm of secular modernity that postmodernism is a part of.
Qoth Shakespeare in a line that has become a cliche but is nonetheless still as true now as ever: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet Act 1. Scene V).
[Nothing matters to the occultist/esotericist/traditionalist/guenonist/neofolkite but their own little elite incomprehensible magic circle. Postmodernism is Jewish, but at least knows that occultism is, and has always been, a sham]
A knee-jerk response like the above makes one consider psychological factors. Something I said has obviously touched a raw nerve!
Consider the resistance to occultism and esotericism that many more conservatively minded people have (I don’t mean politically conservative, I mean secular or religiously conservative, not wanting to explore or acknowledge possibilities beyond one’s own belief system). Looking at it psychologically, you will find that this resistance to anything outside one’s own sphere of understanding and belief is based ultimately on fear. Psychologically, the secular materialist, radical agnostic, and exoteric religionist all tend to build up a wall of fear (which they are generally not even aware of), because they themselves can’t conceptualise anything beyond the five senses. Hence they think what is being said must be crazy, and they project that quality of craziness that they are imagining onto the person saying or writing about these things.
Add to this the sublimional conditioning by the Church (such as the Exorcist movies, based on Catholicism), and the fear-based suggestions by mainstream media (like the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of some 15 years back that was reported as fact by the straight-faced mainstream media). None of which is based on authentic occult or esoteric understanding, it doesn’t have the slightest connection. But it still helpss pump people full of fear regarding this subject by association with the world “occult”. So Christians will use bible language, and sceptical agnostics will use academic language like “guenonist” and “neofolkite”, in an effort to banish the threatening possibility that maybe there may indeed be something beyond their own limited and claustrophobic belief-system.
Sorry to be so cynical
I did google that book you referred to. By the way, I don’t follow newspaper astrology columns either.
It is also worth pointing out that many of the world’s greatest occultists were Jewish; Abramelin, Max Theon, Israel Regardie… and of course the Kabbalah, one of the greatest occult systems ever developed, is Jewish esotericism that is even accepted by many ultra-orthodox (such as the Chabad Hassidism).
I do not wish to criticise the great value pomo has as cultural criticism. But you wouldn’t hire a motor mechanic to explain to you about art history. Why believe a sceptical agnostic when it comes to esotericism?
It has always been my position that a true integral philosophy has to take iunto account occultism, something Wilber has been unwilling to do, perhaps for fear of offending mainstream academia (who still consider him a New Age crank in any case; check out some of the discussion in the Ken Wilber talk page archives on Wikipedia). This is why the Integral movement has to go beyond Wilber, to accommodate people like Gebser and Aurobindo.
alan kazlev Says: March 23rd, 2007 at 7:18 pm Hi Edward, Yes, good point! Regardie is not in the same league as Crowley or Mathers or Theon or Blavatsky! Mea culpa. His contribution was really in popularising the Golden Dawn and also providing another perspective on people like Crowley who had been over sensationalised (something Crowley himself seems to have encouraged).
There are many lodges that trace descent and authority from the GD. GD Kabbalah is very different to the original Judaic form. Read Gershom Scholem for an excellent introduction to Jewish Kabbalah. The genius of the GD is that it constituted - through Mathers, one of the greatest esoteric syncretists of the 19th century, he was an \”integral occultist\” if you want to use the Wilberian definition of the adjective) a synthesis of all practical occult knowledge that was known at the time (just as Blavatsky did for the theoretical side). However the GD still represented a Hermeticised form of Kabbalah, notwithstanding Mathers\’ The Kabbalah Unveiled (which was an english translation of a latin translation and interpretation of the Hebrew original). Dion Fortune presents a good theoretical introduction to GD/Hermetic Kabbalah.
I do remember Edward that rather than poo poo your experiences I was actually very impressed to hear that you ahd previously been involved in a Hermetic lodge. My apologies if I didn\’t articulate this. However I was and am disappointed that you haven\’t carried those insights through to your current understanding. The insights of GD practical magic are such as to completely overturn secular physicalism and radical agnosticism. Especially because practical magic has real effects, and these effects cannot be explained within a conservative secular paradigm. Like so many things, they are anomalies, that have to be resisted, denied, explained away, and ignored. In this context Thomas Kuhn\’s paradigm hypothesis, and its further applications by people like Charles T. Tart (Transpersonal psychology) and Fritjof Capra (New Paradigm/New Age - see The Turning Point) is extremely pertinent.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Christian story is no longer the de facto organizer of reality

Indistinct Union: Christianity, Integral Philosophy, and Politics Exploration of Unity Consciousness, Christian Life, Integral Thought, and the Future of Politics in a Post-Postmodern World Saturday, March 17, 2007 Varieties of Christian Theology Chris Dierkes
There are four basic theologies in current Christian discourse: fundamentalist, conservative, liberal, liberation [My own work is an exploration of a fifth--namely an integral theology. Also missing from that list is mystical theology which is not to be subsumed completely under integral but gets short shrift in theological discourse].
  • By fundamentalist I mean a belief in the inerrant literal Word of God for all doctrine and morals as found in the Bible. Common in English-speaking evangelical churches, Pentecostalism, Southern American Baptist Churches, born agains, etc.
  • Liberation theologies works from the starting point of the experience of the poor and marginalized of our world. They are the context and medium (a 3rd magisterium after The Bible and Tradition) of God's word and salvific liberating praxis/action in our world.
  • Liberal theologies start with human experience and culture. Liberation theology can be considered a sub-set of liberal but generally liberal support a middle class status-quo socio-economic structure and tend to focus on issues like women's empowerment, gay and lesbian struggles, anti-war, etc. The upside is an ability to listen to the Spirit working outside the Church. The abolition of slavery is a great example, as well as women's ordination (women's rights grew outside the Church). The downside is that it can often be unclear how one is different than social-political liberation movements.
  • Conservative theologies--modern conservative theologies as opposed to fundamentalist modernizers--start with the Christian story and emphasize non-comformity to society (as do liberationists but with different aims and for different reasons). The upside (usually) a stronger sense of identity and of one's sacred story/narrative. The downside, in a postmodern world how does one argue that this story is any different/better than all the others? As well as possibility of being so story focused that the human element of the church and ethics is left untouched, leaving oppressive structures in place.

An excellent summation of Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) and his modern theological outlook here from Commonweal. Benedict is one of the greatest of these modern conservative theologians. Another great Catholic modern conservative theologian is Hans Urs von Balthasar, a influence on Ratzinger. Ratzinger's biggest influences are Augustine and Bonaventure (13th century Franciscan Augustinian). In Protestantism, the name most associated with modern theological conservativsm is Karl Barth. I've been getting more interested in the work of Hans Frei and the rise of what I call postmodern conservatives. Alisdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauwervas, and John Milbank I think fit this category. (Ross Douthat too?). They promote a conservative ethos and communal reflection but do so in a postmodern worldframe.

Frei described his theology as "post-liberal." (Commentary here). Frei's work opened up avenues in Biblical studies towards literary theory and narrative study to the Biblical text. Prior to that in source criticism and form studies, the Bible had been read for historical content or sitz im leben (life-situation) of the stories, either in oral or literate culture.

Frei began to notice that the stories were crafted no matter what the sources and/or original form/life situations of the texts, especially in their hypothesized oral stage. These conservative theologies of the narrative variety have gained a strong following in terms of music, aesthetic, and dramatic portrayal of the Christian story in more evangelical circles. Some of these reflections are high quality--sadly a lot more is not (Christian pop & rock).

The issue all of these theologies struggle with, as Frei himself knew, was the move from an assumed Christian story/worldview to the rational Enlightenment modernist one (and now postmodernist worldscape). Once the Christian story was no longer the de facto organizer of reality, then what?

Liberals tended argue either for eternal truths from the text (Jesus as Great Moral Teacher for example) or the Bible as History (Historical Jesus Studies). Evangelicals, born agains, and charismatics Pentecostals have generally given up on the story and engagement with the world and can easily fall into individualistic experience based theologies and churches.

These conservative traditions---Balthasar and Frei especially--retained this notion of proclaiming the story, the narrative and seeping the world in the Christian vision. Like I said it has its limitations as an absolute path, but I'm finding that I've neglected this lineage and need to find more outlets for it. Don't know what that means for now but keeping it as a pray and desire of my heart. posted by CJ Smith @ 9:22 PM 0 comments

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dawkins, Dennett, and their cohorts

Go Away, God By Sam Kornell, March 8, 2007 Assessing Recent Attempts to Alienate the Divine and Elevate Atheism by Sam Kornell, a regular contributor to The Independent.
During the last year or so, a bushel of books has been published about why we should do away with God — or at least consider it. Among the most famous are The God Delusion, by the biologist Richard Dawkins, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett. Despite popular acclaim (both are bestsellers), neither book has met with much enthusiasm among reviewers, who have accused the authors of preaching atheism as though it were science, capable of refuting the infinitely elastic claims of theology.
Of the two, Breaking the Spell makes the subtler claims. Dennett argues that religion, by unwritten proclamation, enjoys an amnesty against criticism unknown to any other field of human thought and behavior — an unwarranted amnesty. He then goes on to show how logically and even spiritually impoverished religious faith has become in much of the country, pointing to the spread of market-based evangelical churches, where God’s purpose seems to be aligned with the crassest self-help books: Here’s how God can help you with your finances and love life.
Dennett also points out the phenomenon, which he refers to as “belief in belief,” by which many self-identified people of faith now operate. That is, belief in religion entails accepting certain doctrines as true, whereas belief in belief only means accepting that certain doctrines are desirable. By adhering to the second, one avoids the messy and difficult task of actually engaging one’s faith, and gets instead wish fulfillment: You want to be part of a higher meaning; you say you are; you are. But religious faith and spiritual searching are not so easy, and Dennett rightly deplores the vacuity of proclaiming one’s “spirituality” — as though it were a tool of self-promotion — without actually grappling with the difficult issues religion and spirituality pose.
As for The God Delusion, Dawkins essentially offers an overview of theological debate from Thomas Aquinas to Nietzsche, pointing out that the pro-God-ists have taken a lot more hits in the last few hundred years than they’ve dished out. The match likely culminated with the mid-19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who finally just stepped off the canvas: Yes, he said, to believe in God we must defy reason; but we want to believe in God; therefore, we must make a leap of faith, bounding over the chasm reason presents, to land safely in the warm embrace of blind conviction.
But then Dawkins, and to a lesser extent Dennett, did something that critics did find easier to deny, or at least reject, which was to argue that most religion (Buddhism being a notable exception) is fundamentally opposed to the flourishing and progress of the human species, representing a way of thinking built around ignorance, illogic, and unreason, and dedicated, for the most part, to spreading these attributes as far and wide as possible, at the tip of a sword if necessary.
Critics responded by pointing out that religion hasn’t an exclusive claim on slaughter and tyranny — look at Stalin and Mao, they suggested, who were both secular mass murderers of millions upon millions. Yes, the critics said, God and dogma have caused a lot of terror and torment, but were there no gods and no religious dogma, the endless immolation of every living thing would still be the predominate rule of human existence. Engaging in the hypothetical history required to indict religion in contrast to secularism is bound to be a fruitless task, they said; as the poet T.S. Eliot once observed, to ask whether we would have been better off without religion is to ask a question whose answer is unknowable.
But there is a more interesting dynamic at work in these books. What Dawkins and Dennett seem to be doing on at least some level is reacting — with the anger of an unbeliever who has been unremittingly proselytized his whole life by people and institutions who believe they know something he doesn’t, and who, in their warm pity, want to let him in on the big secret. “But look at your big secret!” they each say. “It’s a ridiculous pile of anachronistic nonsense and ignorance, dated and unnecessary, and, in fact, illogical. It’s nasty and exclusive — when it’s not evangelical. If it’s Biblical, it can only be adhered to in bits; most of it is too bizarre, amoral, immoral, irrational, and untrue (6,000-year-old earth; Noah’s Ark; etc.) to countenance. The same goes for the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita. You believe in God in spite of history and discernable reality, not because of it!”
Within this tête-à-tête between belief and non-belief lays the crux of the issue at hand: proselytizing. There are very few of us who enjoy being proselytized, and Dawkins, Dennett, and their cohorts are getting in a couple of digs at the entrenched movement of religious society against the unconvinced. The digs are by and large legitimate — as any undergraduate religious studies major can tell you, the intellectual subtleties of St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and Immanuel Kant notwithstanding, reasoned justification for God ended around about the time of David Hume, in the mid 18th century. When Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” he didn’t mean God had died, he meant that, morally and reasonably speaking, God’s existence could no longer be argued for — and he was right.
Yet people want to believe in God, and for many of them, doing so is ennobling and enriching. Christ’s fraternity with the poor, Muhammad’s invocation of God’s compassion and forgiveness, the mysticism of the Upanishads — these are things that help us inhale life’s tremors and exhale equanimity. And they can help us to understand and appreciate that which is alien to us. So perhaps Kierkegaard was right: Even if it takes blind faith to do it, embracing one’s desire to embrace God is perhaps not such a bad thing. Of course, as Dennett points out, to take such a course of action would be to believe in belief, not to actually believe. For actual belief, I like to think of Philip Roth. Roth summarizes, in his gloriously funny book Operation Shylock, Jewish religious faith thusly:
 God sent Hitler because God is crazy. A Jew knows God and how He operates. A Jew knows God and how, from the very first day He created man, He has been irritated with him from morning ’til night. The goyim smile: God is merciful, God is loving, God is good. Jews don’t smile — they know God not from daydreaming about Him in goyisch daydreams but from living all their lives with a God who does not even stop, not once, to think and reason and use His head with His loving children!
Now there’s a God I can sign onto. But I’d rather not. The Santa Barbara Independentvoices home » opinions » voices

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

That Being who sees, foresees, and directs all things

Michael and Jana Novak Britannica Blog - March 6th, 2007
First of all, Biblical religion holds that the Creator is intimately concerned with the inner conscience of human beings (the principle Jefferson draws on in his Statute for Religious Freedom); and also that in reply to our prayers (“ask and you shall receive”), the God of the Bible “interposes” his divine action into the affairs of men, the rise and fall of nations, and even the inner thoughts and inspirations of human individuals.
Secondly, the Biblical God “who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time” (Jefferson). He invited us into friendship with Him–the friendship of free women and men, not slaves. As William Penn put it, if friendship, then freedom. From this insight flowed the Liberty Bell of Philadelphia. Thus, biblical religion conceived of history as a long-term effort to bring human freedom into fruition across this planet (“Go teach all nations”). As the historian Lord Acton wrote, the history of liberty is coincident with the history of Judaism/Christianity.
In other words, the Biblical God is “the god of liberty.” It was for liberty that the Creator made the world. It is by giving humans liberty that He made them “in His image.” Unlike the Greek Fates, the Biblical God is sovereign and free; unlike the Muslim Allah who is pure will (over-ruling reason and law), the Biblical God is the light that suffuses the intelligibility of all natural and human law, and all individuals and events. The Biblical God lives liberty through, not license, but self-government under law: “Confirm thy soul in self-control/ Thy liberty in law.”
In our book, Washington’s God, we list three full pages of the names of God (about 100 of them) used by Washington at numerous times and in many contexts. Many of these can only be understood in the light of the Biblical God, and the rest are at least consistent with earlier Christian traditions for speaking of God (often language adapted from the classical philosophy of Athens and Rome, such as some of the names by which Aquinas called the God reached by philosophy “The First Cause,” “Final Cause,” and “Pure Act,” “Great Governor,” “Disposer of All Events,” and the like).
Herewith 19 of the 102 names used by Washington, as we listed them in an appendix to Washington’s God: “Creator,” “Divine Author of our blessed Religion,” “God,” “Allwise disposer of events,” “All Wise, and all Powerfull [sic] Director of Human Events,” “Author of the Universe,” “That Being who sees, foresees, and directs all things,” “Benign Parent of the Human Race,” “God of Armies,” “Great Author of every public and private good,” “Great Creator,” “Great Disposer of Human Events,” “Great Searcher of human hearts,” “Jehovah,” “Jesus Christ” [found only once], “Overruling Providence,” “Supreme Arbiter of Human Events,” “Wise disposer of all Events,” and “Wonder-working Deity.” To use both philosophical and biblical names for God stands in a long tradition, indeed...
Diderot’s hideous boast of “strangling the last king with the entrails of the last priest” has always struck us as a signal of the bloodthirstiness of the French Enlightenment (in 1789), as compared with the calm appreciation for religion characteristic of the British Enlightenment. No Anglicans would have spoken so about strangling their king, the head of their church. Following Gertrude Himmelfarb, we systematically differentiate the Anglo-American Enlightenment from the German and, especially, the French.

Monday, March 05, 2007

An assurance of safety and a temper of peace

Darwin’s God By ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG In the world of evolutionary biology, the question is not whether God exists but why we believe in him. Is belief a helpful adaptation or an evolutionary accident? Homepage: March 4, 2007 (Page 8 of 11)
Belief is our fallback position, according to Bering; it is our reflexive style of thought. “We have a basic psychological capacity that allows anyone to reason about unexpected natural events, to see deeper meaning where there is none,” he says. “It’s natural; it’s how our minds work.”
Intriguing as the spandrel logic might be, there is another way to think about the evolution of religion: that religion evolved because it offered survival advantages to our distant ancestors. This is where the action is in the science of God debate, with a coterie of adaptationists arguing on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief.
The trick in thinking about adaptation is that even if a trait offers no survival advantage today, it might have had one long ago. This is how Darwinians explain how certain physical characteristics persist even if they do not currently seem adaptive — by asking whether they might have helped our distant ancestors form social groups, feed themselves, find suitable mates or keep from getting killed. A facility for storing calories as fat, for instance, which is a detriment in today’s food-rich society, probably helped our ancestors survive cyclical famines.
So trying to explain the adaptiveness of religion means looking for how it might have helped early humans survive and reproduce. As some adaptationists see it, this could have worked on two levels, individual and group. Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life . . . an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.”
Such sentiments, some adaptationists say, made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obedience and sober living. The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because they were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare.
One of the most vocal adaptationists is David Sloan Wilson, an occasional thorn in the side of both Scott Atran and Richard Dawkins. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, focuses much of his argument at the group level. “Organisms are a product of natural selection,” he wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society,” which came out in 2002, the same year as Atran’s book, and staked out the adaptationist view. “Through countless generations of variation and selection, [organisms] acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. My purpose is to see if human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense.”
Wilson’s father was Sloan Wilson, author of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” an emblem of mid-’50s suburban anomie that was turned into a film starring Gregory Peck. Sloan Wilson became a celebrity, with young women asking for his autograph, especially after his next novel, “A Summer Place,” became another blockbuster movie. The son grew up wanting to do something to make his famous father proud.
“I knew I couldn’t be a novelist,” said Wilson, who crackled with intensity during a telephone interview, “so I chose something as far as possible from literature — I chose science.” He is disarmingly honest about what motivated him: “I was very ambitious, and I wanted to make a mark.” He chose to study human evolution, he said, in part because he had some of his father’s literary leanings and the field required a novelist’s attention to human motivations, struggles and alliances — as well as a novelist’s flair for narrative.
Wilson eventually chose to study religion not because religion mattered to him personally — he was raised in a secular Protestant household and says he has long been an atheist — but because it was a lens through which to look at and revivify a branch of evolution that had fallen into disrepute. When Wilson was a graduate student at Michigan State University in the 1970s, Darwinians were critical of group selection, the idea that human groups can function as single organisms the way beehives or anthills do. So he decided to become the man who rescued this discredited idea. “I thought, Wow, defending group selection — now, that would be big,” he recalled. It wasn’t until the 1990s, he said, that he realized that “religion offered an opportunity to show that group selection was right after all.” 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer, has written recently for the magazine about the neurobiology of lying and about obesity.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The real saviour will be seen as evolution itself

It is interesting to note that Stephen Jay Gould is a Marxist, and has himself commented on the connection between his "punctuated equilibrium" theory of evolutionary leaps and the Marxist idea of social evolution through successive, rapid changes (revolution). This connection sheds further light on Fr. Seraphim's prediction that spirituality will be added to communism to form the religion of the future.
In discussing the "God" of the new religio-scientific synthesis, we should comment here on an apparent contradiction in Fr. Seraphim's prognosis. In one place Fr. Seraphim says that the new God will be that of the deism of Freemasonry and the Enlightenment, and elsewhere he says that Teilhard is the predecessor of the New Religion -- and Teilhard, as we have shown, was a panentheist.
Upon close examination, however, the difference between deism and panentheism is seen to be more one of degree than of substance. In his Survival Course, Fr. Seraphim pointed out that, "in terms of religion, deism was perhaps the most typical movement" of the Enlightenment, but at the same time the deistic philosophers of that time replaced God with "Nature" as their central concept, and some called God "the soul of the world." Fr. Seraphim described the Enlightenment ideal as follows: "Nature ruling over everything, the mysteries of Nature being discovered, God still being in His heaven although not doing very much, and scientific knowledge progressing over the whole world." The Enlightenment thinkers were fully in the tradition of modern science, which arose during the Renaissance out of a kind of "natural mysticism" -- and even, as in the case of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), out of the marriage of science and total pantheism.
In his book The Making of the Modern Mind, J. H. Randall, Jr., writes that, in the Enlightenment, the ideal of the Natural was "that which men wanted to realize themselves; and it easily passed over into the Divine. Nature was God's model for man; nay, it was the very face of God himself." In this way, Enlightenment deism passed over not into pure pantheism, but into a kind of deism/panentheism. Enlightenment thinkers kept their impersonal deistic God "in heaven, not doing much,," but their religious interest became directed toward the "face" of God which they identified with impersonal Nature.
If Teilhard de Chardin is indeed the prophet of the future combination of science and religion, then for the most part this combination will be not purely pantheistic, but rather deistic/panentheistic. It will be remembered that Fr. Seraphim called the famous evolutionary scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky a "deist" after reading Dobzhansky's "theological" statements -- and Dobhzaansky was an admirer of the panentheist Teilhard de Chardin.
But it is a secondary point just how far the future combination of science and religion will go on the scale from deism to pure pantheism. The main point is that, unlike the scientific materialism of today, the religio-scientific synthesis of tomorrow will have a "God," and it will not be He Whom Teilhard disparagingly called "the Father-God of two thousand years ago." It's "God" will be vague, and it will not be Personal.
The same can be said of the "Christ" of the New Religion. Already we can see within the mainstream culture a concerted effort to reinterpret Christ so that He is no longer threatening to the fallen human nature and to the devil -- so that He is no longer a Saviour.
If, according to the neo-pagan view, both we ourselves and Christ (together with everything else) are but diffusions of the Divine Nature, then there is nothing for Christ to do but guide us back to gnosis of what we already are. This idea, of course, is precisely the idea that is now being promoted under the guise of being the authentic, esoteric teaching of Christ. In actual fact, it is but a revival of the ancient gnostic heresy, based on pagan philosophy, that was rightly condemned by the early Fathers.
Ken Wilber speaks of the teachings which are being "rediscovered" in the gnostic texts:
Quote:It is obvious from these texts that Jesus' primary religious activity was to incarnate in and as his followers, in the manner, not of the only historical Son of God (a monstrous notion), but of a true Spiritual Guide helping all to become sons and daughters of God.... Elaine Pagels points out that there are three essential strands to the esoteric message of Christ, as revealed in the Gnostic Gospels: (1) "Self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the [highest] self and the divine are identical." (2) "The 'living Jesus' of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance." (3) "Jesus is presented not as Lord but as spiritual guide." Let us simply note that those are precisely tenets of Dharmakaya religion.
Here is a clear example of the denatured Christianity of which we spoke earlier. Christ is seen as a vague concept of ultimate Good, the belief in Him as the only begotten Son of God is rejected as a monstrous notion, and the idea is put forth that we ourselves can be just like Him. This is a crucial element in the "religion of the future," for by it the Antichrist will actually be convinced that he is another incarnate Son of God.
In an outward way, the imitator of Christ will appear as a kind of saviour, solving man's economic and political problems and offering to satisfy his spiritual aspirations through what Fr. Seraphim called a "melting pot" of science and world religions. On a deeper level, however, the real saviour will be seen as evolution itself, moving forward in a natural development of this world into the Kingdom of God. The last great deceiver, who in the end will pretend to be Christ, will be seen as but another magnificent product of evolution.
Rose, Fr. Seraphim (2000). Genesis, Creation, and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision. Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000, pp. 557-567. March 02, 2007 Permalink

Friday, March 02, 2007

A place of peace/tranquility/happiness where all the inhabitants are enlightened

Shambhala Library > Reference > Wikipedia
In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (also spelled Shambala or Shamballa) is a mystical kingdom hidden somewhere beyond the snowpeaks of the Himalayas. It is mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Kalachakra Tantra and the ancient texts of the Zhang Zhung culture which pre-dated Tibetan Buddhism in western Tibet. The Bön scriptures speak of a closely-related land called Olmolungring. Shambhala (Tib. bde 'byung) is a Sanskrit term meaning "place of peace/tranquility/happiness". Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have taught the Kalachakra tantra on request of King Suchandra of Shambhala; the teachings are also said to be preserved there. Shambhala is believed to be a society where all the inhabitants are enlightened, actually a Buddhist "Pure Land", centered by a capital city called Kalapa. An alternative view associates Shambhala with the real empire of Sriwijaya where Buddhist master Atisha studied under Dharmakirti from whom he received the Kalachakra initiation.
The Western fascination with Shambhala has often been based upon fragmented accounts of the Kalachakra tradition, or outright fabrications. Tibet was largely closed to outsiders until very recently, and so what information was available about the tradition of Shambhala was haphazard at best. The first information that reached western civilization about Shambhala came from a Portuguese Jesuit priest and explorer, Estêvão Cacella, in early 17th century.
During the 19th century, Theosophical Society founder H.P. Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth, giving it currency for Western occult enthusiasts. Later esoteric writers further emphasized and elaborated on the concept of a hidden land inhabited by a hidden mystic brotherhood whose members labor for the good of humanity. The mystic Nicholas Roerich and the Soviet agent Yakov Blumkin led two Tibetan expeditions to discover Shambhala, in 1926 and 1928.
Madame Blavatsky, who claimed to be in contact with a Great White Lodge of Himalayan Adepts, mentions Shambhala in several places without giving it especially great emphasis. (The Mahatmas, we are told, are also active around Shigatse and Luxor.) Blavatsky's Shambhala, like the headquarters of the Great White Lodge, is a physical location on our earth, albeit one which can only be penetrated by a worthy aspirant.
Later esoteric writers like Alice Bailey (the Arcane School) and the Agni Yoga of Nicholas and Helena Roerich do emphasize Shambhala. Bailey transformed it into a kind of extradimensional or spiritual reality on the etheric plane. The Roerichs see its existence as both spiritual and physical. Related "hidden land" speculations surrounding the underground kingdom of Agartha led some early twentieth-century occultists (especially those associated with Nazi or Neo-Nazi occultism) to view Shambhala as a source of negative manipulation by an evil (or amoral) conspiracy. Nevertheless, the predominant theme is one of light and hope, as evidenced by James Redfield's and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's respective books by that name.

Diderot’s vision of a heavenly city on earth where the last priest would be strangled with the entrails of the last king

Michael Novak and I are friends, and though we disagree about the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers (see his post in response to my original blog on this subject), we share a common conviction that civil discourse and honest argument are the best paths to heaven. Michael’s posting on Tuesday was a model of the abovementioned civility. I hope my response can meet the same standard.
The core of our disagreement, as I see it, is the definition of religion. If the definition is quite broad, the belief that there are providential forces at work in the world which mere humans can never fully understand, or the belief that there are certain rights (i.e., life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) that should be granted a semi-sacred status in America’s “civil religion,” then all the prominent Founders were religious.
If the definition is more narrowly Christian, to include the belief that Jesus was the divine son of God, and the belief there is life after death in a heavenly location where the saints communed everlastingly with God, then the matter gets much messier. Different Founders took somewhat different postures on these issues, and several of them changed their positions during their respective lifetimes.
Hamilton, for example, was an agnostic and deist for most of his life, who regarded attendance at Episcopal services as a social obligation rather than a devotional occasion. At the Constitutional Convention, when Franklin (of all people) proposed that the delegates invite a minister to bless their deliberations with a prayer, Hamilton observed that “I see no reason to call in foreign aid.” But in the last few years of his life, after his eldest son was killed in a duel defending his father’s honor, Hamilton became much more devoutly Christian, a decision that probably led to his death on the plains of Weehawken when he chose to waste his shot at Aaron Burr.
Jefferson was generally regarded as an atheist by most New England clergy and newspaper editors. (The president of Yale College once threatened to revoke the degree of any Yale graduate who voted for that man from Monticello.) In response to these attacks Jefferson prepared his own edition of the New Testament (still on sale at Monticello). But his correspondence with British Unitarians at the time clearly shows that Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, but rather regarded him (or Him) as a wonderful role model, much like Socrates.
Adams began as a Congregationalist, though a staunch opponent of New Light evangelicalism, then ended up a Unitarian. His endorsement of a religious establishment in Massachusetts was rooted in political rather than religious convictions, a conservative belief that social change was always best when done gradually. In the famous correspondence with Jefferson in their twilight years, both men envisioned heaven as a place where they could continue their argument about the true meaning of the American Revolution and Adams could accost Benjamin Franklin for his depravities and inflated reputation. On the question of life everlasting Adams embraced a version of Pascal’s Wager. To wit, one might as well presume it is true, because if it proves incorrect one will never know it. Again, the Adams view of Christian doctrine about everlasting life was always driven by concerns about its function as a brake on human crime and misbehavior. “If it can ever be proved,” he noted near the end, “that there is no life ever-after, my advice to every man, woman, and child would be to take opium.”
As Michael has noted, George Washington always believed that American victory in the War for Independence was, as he said, “a standing miracle,” guided by other-worldly forces that he referred to as “providence” or “destiny.” He seldom used the word “God.” I regard him as a pantheist rather than a deist because he believed these other-worldly forces, whatever we called them, had earthly presences. Like Hamilton, he regarded his attendance at Episcopal services as a social obligation. In his last hours no ministers or chaplains were invited to his bedside. He died as a Roman stoic more than a Christian believer.
Two final points. The common conviction that bound together most of the Founders was the belief in the complete separation of church and state. As products of the Enlightenment, they shared Diderot’s vision of a heavenly city on earth where the last priest would be strangled with the entrails of the last king. This was a radical doctrine at the time, and even now in Iraq we can see that it is an idea yet to be regarded as, shall we say, self-evident. Let me acknowledge that it was easier to implement in the United States than elsewhere, because the vast majority of the populace were practicing Christians of various denominations that shared core values, and also because there was a century-old tradition of religious toleration generated by the multiplicity of sects. That said, it seems to me that the central legacy of the Founding Fathers was a “hands off” policy towards any specific religious doctrine. No faith was to be favored.
Finally, Michael has argued, quite correctly, that the secularists in this debate have their own prejudices, just as do the evangelicals. At the theoretical level, I concur. But at the practical level, out there on the lecture trail and the call-in radio shows, the evangelicals are the dominating influence. They care more about this debate than the secular humanists, they have the most edgy agenda, they seem to have more at stake. As with the creationism debate, they bring the energy of believers in a lost cause. I respect them, want to put my arms around them, regard Michael as their ablest defender, but in the end believe that this is a nation of citizens rather than Christians.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Seventy years after Heard’s manifesto

March 2007 Prophet Motive From Ego to We Go By Daniel Pinchbeck
When I was in my twenties, literature was my ruling passion, and my heroes were writers like Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Virginia Woolf and Henry Miller. I longed to emulate the passionate intensity of their prose, and the “negative capability” which infused their characters with recognizable life. When I passed through the crucible of my own transformational process, I lost interest in novels and discovered a new pantheon of intellectual heroes. These days, I find the same level of electrical engagement that I used to find in novels in the works of thinkers whose central theme is the evolution and possible extension of human consciousness. This varied group is made up of mystics, physicists, philosophers, cosmologists and paleontologists — the roster includes Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, Edward Edinger, Jean Gebser, Teilhard de Chardin, F David Peat, Sri Aurobindo and Gerald Heard.
For me personally, most contemporary fiction, like most current film, has an increasingly retrograde quality. In their efforts to make their audience identify with a particular drama or trauma or relationship saga, these products seem almost nostalgic. We live in a culture that continually seeks to entertain or at least distract us with an endless spew of personal narratives, whether paraded on lowbrow talk shows or parsed in literary novels. If you step outside of the cultural framing, you suddenly become aware of the mechanism that keeps us addicted to the spectacle — and, above all, hooked on ego. Our entire culture is dedicated to inciting and then placating the desires and fears of the individual ego — what the media critic Thomas De Zengotita calls “the flattered self.”
Although they use different language to define it, the various theorists on the evolution of the psyche all agree that the crux of our current crisis requires that we transcend the ego. They suggest that the stage of material progress and scientific discovery we attained in recent centuries is not the end of human development, but the launching pad for another stage in our growth. However, this next stage differs from previous phases in one essential way — it requires a “mutation in consciousness” that can only be self-willed and self-directed. According to this paradigm, it is as if physical evolution has done billions of years of work on our behalf, to get us to this point. Right now, it is our choice whether we would like to go forward, or fall by the wayside like untold millions of other species, who over-adapted to one set of conditions, and could not recreate themselves as their environment changed.
In his influential book, Pain, Sex and Time, the British polymath Gerald Heard defined three stages in human evolution — physical, technical and psychical. “The first is unconscious — blind; the second is conscious, unreflective, aware of its need but not of itself, of how, not why; the third is interconscious, reflective, knowing not merely how to satisfy its needs but what they mean and the Whole means,” wrote Heard, who believed we were on the cusp of switching from the technical to the psychical level of development. As we enter the psychic phase, we shift “from indirect to direct expansion of understanding, at this point man’s own self-consciousness decides and can alone decide whether he will mutate, and the mutation is instantaneous.” Originally published in 1939, Heard’s book has just been reprinted in the US; it was James Dean’s favorite work, and inspired Huston Smith to turn to religious studies.
Despite its antique provenance, Pain, Sex and Time remains “new news” for our time. Heard viewed the immense capacity of human beings to experience pain and suffering, and the extraordinary excess of our sexual drive compared to our actual reproductive needs, as signs of a tremendous surplus of evolutionary energy that can be repurposed for the extension and intensification of consciousness, if we so choose. “Modern man’s incessant sexuality is not bestial: rather it is a psychic hemorrhage,” Heard wrote. “He bleeds himself constantly because he fears mental apoplexy if he can find no way of releasing his huge store of nervous energy.” Heard foresaw the necessity of a new form of self-discipline, a training in concentrating psychic energy to develop extra-sensory perception, as the proper way to channel the excess of nervous hypertension that would otherwise lead to our destruction. He thought that we would either evolve into a “supraindividual” condition, or the uncontrolled energies would force us back into “preindividuated” identifications, leading to nationalist wars and totalitarian fervors, and species burn-out.
A sign I saw at last year’s Burning Man put it succinctly: “From Ego to We Go.” As the climate changes and our environment deteriorates, we are being subjected to tremendous evolutionary pressures that could push us beyond individuation, into a deeply collaborative mindset and a new threshold of psychic awareness. Seventy years after Heard’s manifesto, whether or not we want to evolve as a species remains an open question. But the choice is in our hands. Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002) and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). His features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Wired and many other publications. Recommend this page to a friend