Journal Gleanings from This Week

Reading Coleridge

[February 17, 2011] I’ve been reading Richard Holmes’ biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. On page 204 of volume 2 Coleridge is reflecting about the need to recognize mystery in order for knowledge (including science) to have any vitality. Mystery must accompany realism or else realism loses its interest, the divine must accompany the human, divinity createdness (though for Coleridge—at this point—this is still the Platonic ideal and its image). This is the basis of Western Civilization—which since its inception has continually been under assault by either Docetism or Materialism. The death of Western Civilization will be from this internal attack on its own heart from either side. The question that matters to me is whether this heart has ever emerged. It has—in the insights of individuals; but has it ever done so in society? I’m afraid that though this polarity has correspondences in other societies and civilizations, the same core is missing. The heart is always where the revelation of Jesus is, even though where the revelation is, the heart seldom seems to emerge.  Platonism led to the explication of the doctrine of Christ during the first eight centuries of our era. But the East Asian philosophical framework has not yet done so (though it could); it is still where neo-Platonism was.

In writing about Theresa of Avila, Coleridge sees that our deepest longing and sorrows—sexual, erotic, imaginative, etc.—are not just empty illusions, because everything and everyone disappoints us, but are in fact our longing for God. “The sensation of the want supplying the sense of the Object wanted!” Either “God” (there is no doubt of God’s reality, but here “God” refers to our concept of God) is a metaphor of the human fact of our longing, the ultimate symbol of its infinity, OR our human longing that falls on this or that persona or fantasy is only a metaphor of God. OR in the human psyche (the soul), these are both true simultaneously: the symbol of God is a metaphor of our intense longings which themselves are really longings for what is beyond the symbol. Both “God” and the objects of our fantasies are metaphors. What are not metaphors are our longing itself and the reality of God.

The Problem of Violence

[February 20, 2011] I’ve been reading a book on Robert Rogers (French and Indian War) and I also watched the film Avatar again. They both evoked thoughts about violence. Is violence justified—for example, on the part of the native Americans or the Na’vi—even when it has no chance of success? It seems that it is psychologically necessary even if it is not logical in terms of its outcome. The psychological necessity seems to create a moral necessity. It nevertheless releases the power of violence, the immorality of which then tends to take over until it exhausts itself.

If your own inner structure were to keep you free of violence’s power—if that were possible in any real world—it could not give the same immunity to your enemy. If your enemy must be stopped—which is where violence is at first justified—to react with “love” may well be a way of giving your enemy what he wants (it would just be doing so in a way that would surprise him). The enemy might be changed by your “love,” but so would you be, for you have given ground to that which you oppose—and maybe ought to oppose. The imposition of the enemy’s will over you sometimes must be opposed, perhaps even by violence, or the alternative may be your own non-existence, which you may be facing in any case. The violence that you use to resist your enemy’s violence will call forth your enemy’s violent reaction, and you must be prepared for that. Your enemy may in the end destroy you. But until then, you have maintained your freedom and your self (if possible), and may have become even stronger through your resistance. Or your violent resistance changes you! Even then, however, the change in you that results from your sustained resistance, if it can be maintained without hypocrisy and without loss of self, is better than the change that results from giving in to your enemy’s will.

But is this argument true? The problem is that when we take up violence we succumb to the necessity of violence and thus become its instrument, and thus lose both our freedom and our self. It seems as if we lose our self if we do not resist and when we do!

Is there some value to the self (the soul) that is authentic, that must be kept if personhood is to be preserved? Or does personhood allow the annihilation of the self? The spiritual person includes the soul of the person; spirit is inclusive of the soul (when the soul is freed of—no longer identified with—its rebellious delusions). Otherwise, the person disappears in a docetic delusion of spirit. The truth of the person, reality, trumps “non-violence,” then. When “non-violence” is a surrender to the will of the enemy, even if it is only a cultural surrender, it is a docetic lie. The soul needs to be saved, even at the cost of the body—for the soul (I mean a genuine spiritual soul) is not a religious entity (a delusion) but the personal self. Resistance is demanded, then, though it must come out of fidelity to the authentic self and faithfulness in it.

Non-violence, however, can be a force if there is no compromise with the enemy. Sometimes, however, the necessity of stopping the enemy takes precedent. Thinking this way is fraught with impossibilities but can the alternative—self-destruction through non-violence—be justified? In fact, neither violence nor non-violence can be justified unless you can maintain yourself in truth and escape the delusion of violence (the “necessity” of it) once it begins. One must live continually as a warrior: not only when evil must be stopped, but one must be at war with oneself—keeping oneself pure of the power of violence—in order to be able to wield violence when one ought. As always, this can happen only for oneself. It is not possible in the world. There—in the world—one must be present in one’s own free self, powerless to change the world but at least being a rupture in the fabric of the world’s whole cloth by one’s own resistant presence within it.

It is not a question of violence or non-violence then. Non-violence can sometimes be wrong, while violence always evokes the god of violence. The “god” of violence must be recognized and always opposed, even if—ironically—by the use of violence, as when one resists its power wielded by another. Our totalitarian world is always violent. We need, however, to preserve a free zone within it, an independent zone or place, where the power of violence has no sway over us.

The Mystery of Sacrifice

[February 21, 2011] I thought more about the movie Avatar and how Jake Sully saves the Na’vi people. It was his effort but above all his sacrifice that won him favor with and got the attention of Eywa, the deity. Ultimately it was only Her supernatural aid that saved the day. Sacrifice “awakened” the deity. This is true internally. The internal sacrifice of the soul awakens the spirit and revives the soul. This always seems to be the pattern. But sacrifice can also be misunderstood: an attempt at sacrifice can actually be suicide—as when one tolerates abuse. The victim sometimes thinks that what they suffer for the sake of their abuser is a sacrifice when it is really submission. Sacrifice takes place is when one fights back.

 Another motif is that salvation comes from reliance on nature—not a power that we can evoke for ourselves (which is what magic—and technology—is), because Eywa “does not take sides”—but a reliance on nature’s own drive towards life—or rather, the “balance of life.” This is nature as opposed to artifice (and art as opposed to manufacture, up to a point). Our spirit is aligned to nature (not the artificial), and nature—the principle opposing entropy, drawing us to the future, the Omega Point—is life. The turn away from nature is death and it is in the fight against “death”—or what makes death—that we find sacrifice, the sacrifice of the soul (on the altar of its death) that is the seed-sowing of the soul’s more natural life (a life imbued by spirit). What is sacrificed?

It is in sacrifice that love comes into bloom and finds its fulfillment—for the other theme of Avatar is Jake’s love for Neytiri. Her love for him “dies” until Jake “repents”: he takes a decisive step for which there can be no going back—an act that involves faith and ultimate risk, and which is also a complete turning away from the old world of humanity’s supposed “cultural” achievement. All this is true; he burns his bridges even when there is no hope of success. In the end, he literally resurrects in a new world.

Ken Wilber, a thinker I love, is wrong to miss the Coleridgian distinction between creation and world, between one “world” and the other. He clarifies for us all the distinction between the singular and the collective in his upper and lower quadrants, but he does not pay attention to the powers that have emerged from the gestalt that takes place in the collective cultural sphere. His view of the recent course of human evolution as “natural” is too optimistic. It is possible for evolution to go awry, to shoot far astray, and for there to be metaphysical evil beyond the imbalance of yin and yang, an evil that is no longer natural. Evolution can take place too fast. The cascading effect that we see today indicates a fall into chaos and dissolution, a runaway affect that will crash, a loss of control and equilibrium, a “system failure” that can only be stopped by a major crisis, from which there may or may not be a recovery. Humanity is in armed revolt against the principle that is moving evolution towards its end, and humanity may be doing so unnaturally.

Nature and Art

[February 22, 2011] The spirit finds relief and sanctuary in nature. But what must one do with the soul that opposes spirit? We can distinguish in our soul two opposed but intermingled propensities. The soul rebels against life and seeks to create its own autonomous “life” in the form of the “world” of human dominance, etc. However, the soul also longs for life—as in its love for another, its love of beauty, its love of wisdom, and its connection to children and nature and community. In every soul there is this good. The bitter thing for each of us is the presence of the first propensity, which is an alien force (or forces) that subsumes us—it takes possession of us from the outside—even though we ourselves have created it. It starts in us individually, but only rudimentarily. Only in its collective form does it become “alien”; but then it comes back to us individually and latches onto our little contribution to makes us its own.

The soul does not extricate itself until it first is enlightened and makes a choice and then a sacrifice, the sacrifice of itself, on the basis of a choice for life, for freedom, for the real, the beautiful and the good (understood spiritually—for apart from spirit there is no reality, no beauty, no good), for spirit (as understood inclusively, not the docetic abstraction of it, which is only a delusion of the soul). This sacrifice is the death of the soul even as it is a choice for the soul’s real life. Here lies the irony of the Cross, the archetypal irony that pervades all myth.

Christianity becomes the archetypal literary theory, as literature—in its appeal to the human heart—aims to express its truth, and longs for the realities expressed by the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Theosis (the inversion of In-carnation, Divinization). This truth is at the core of all culture, that is, culture in the sense of art as opposed to artifice, before the cascading affect of evil enters, where our delusions are mistaken for the ultimate.

Ironies

Yet Christianity itself has not directly produced the beautiful, although it has produced much good (as well as evil). Perhaps it is its war against the physical, its Manichean split of the physical into good and evil—the “sexual” being evil and the “religious” being good. The sexual obviously can be evil but it is also the form of much goodness (and beauty and truth), but marriage as a religious institution does not necessarily change it into the good. Instead, marriage, like sex itself, can be good and evil. As an institution it is more evil than good. It is only love that makes it any good (though sometimes it must express itself as duty to the spouse out of love for the children). The “world” has compromised everything. Remove the institution and a more natural form of devotion may arise within a more natural community.

Christianity as an institution is likewise evil, and is itself the shadow cast by its own light. The light is pure goodness. But its shadow is its opposite—anti-spiritual, anti-creation, anti-personal, anti-Christ.

So what can one do? “I have set before you life and death. Choose life.” Always choose life, even if one must die in the process: the life of spirit, that is, not just biological continuation. One must live in this world, but one can always choose nature, real art as opposed to artifice, beauty, love, personal community, truthfulness, and when a choice is possible, choose to deny death, dis-spirited “flesh,” the world, ugliness, utilitarianism, impersonalism, delusion, control and violence.

Ultimately, thinking again of the self-defense of native people, to kill is not always the violation of personhood, the violence act is not always violent in nature—if it is the only way to save a person, or the personal reality of human nature. To stop the violence of a person who refuses to be a person (such as Colonel Miles Quaritch), who is opposed—with violence—and is an ultimate threat to spirit, to life, to that which is personal, to reality, is not a violation of this person, even if the only way to stop him is to kill him. So the Na’vi’s defense of Pandora (in Avatar) is justified, though soldiers are killed. What a serious thing to ponder!

[February 24, 2011] My conclusion is that humanity, modern development, this, is headed on a collision course with its limits. Far from being the next stage of evolution, the imbalance and cascading affect shows that something is terribly awry. The population level will drop off suddenly and we will, if we survive at all, have to renegotiate the way to be.

I mean to be an artesian of meaning. What means anything? We “return” to nature to rediscover spirit. It is questionable how “Edenic” aboriginal people were. They were more connected to nature but they were so unconsciously, still in the realm of symbols. But their practice of slavery, warfare and torture tells another story about nature. Their inability to “see” the other, their “tribalism,” scapegoating, projection onto others, and so forth, does not evince a high level of self-awareness. A “return” to nature must be a recovery from the “world” to a greater sense of spirit. This means too that knowledge needs to recover from digital data back to a beholding of the whole—a seeing of continuity and context. We are on the verge of great awareness, I think, but at the same time the force of culture is in the opposite direction, towards dis-awareness. It is interesting how both affects are present but one is so infinitesimal compared to the other. While the academy breathes slightly of one, it is pervaded by the prejudice of the other, by small-minded bigots of the left. Militant atheism is an example of this kind of bigotry that uses new insights and awareness to cut the legs off the torso. Ironically, if atheists are right there is no ground for them to make their case. If post-modernists are right, they too have no truth but are simply manipulating the market of ideas to their own advantage. If progressive liberal Christians are right, then their appeal to Jesus is less than irrelevant; it is counter-productive.

The revelation of Jesus is the “call” to the Cross (the choice and the sacrifice of the self) as the way to deification. But the misconstrual of that revelation spawns evil. Nevertheless, all the aid of philosophy and psychoanalysis only helps to make the revelation clearer. The new light, however, can also lead to darkness when it becomes reductionistic: the whole must not be forgotten or overlooked, the whole, that is, inclusive of spirit and nature and the subconscious. 

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