“It is in the very dogma and authority that you distrust …”

Once you get the knack of talking to the other side, any little journal entry may turn out to become an entry into a new dimension. Sometimes you get knocked for a loop.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading The Everlasting Man. GK Chesterton isn’t always careful enough about distinguishing between what he knows and what he only thinks he knows. Speaking of that –

Mr. Chesterton, I admire your writing and your spirit, as you no doubt know. I particularly like the cavalier way you dismiss certain prevalent superstitions, and wonder if I have not unconsciously aped you in adopting some similar manner. I keep thinking to write about spirituality and our culture but haven’t yet, except in passing. Any advice, criticism, comment?

You have the proper attitude but you seem to be doing things the hard way. If you have a place to stand, you can stand firm easily enough – but how can you do it when standing on shifting sands? It is in the very dogma and authority that you distrust that you will find the solid place on which to put your lever, to move the world or at least yourself.

Your friend asks if you are going to make her into a religious fanatic. You thought, “better than an anti-religious fanatic,” which is not a bad rejoinder – but what of the fanaticism of nowhere-land? What of the fanaticism implicit in the stance that holds that you must never come to bedrock truth, lest you run aground? It is true, life in time may be seen as a river. But do you want to spend all your time floating, and never get out to stretch your legs?

To leave off metaphor and simile, let me say it this way. You have in Catholic doctrine the results of 15 centuries of considered deliberation upon the gravest subjects: the nature of the physical and nonphysical world, the nature of life and death, the conditions actually facing us as we function within these limits. These are bedrock questions, corporately and collegially considered and reconsidered, then codified and made accessible and – most importantly – made practical. Is this of no practical value to the seeker after truth? Is it not true that one ignores such an effort and such an end-result of such effort only out of fear?

Surely it is clear that someone who is afraid to look too closely into an argument is afraid that the argument may convince. One afraid of another’s thought can only be afraid that to lose ignorance of that thought is to lose the ability to withhold consent. No one is afraid to investigate what he knows in advance is nonsense. No one fears to expose error in others – but it is far from unheard-of for one to fear exposing errors dear to his own heart.

So it comes to this: If you fear to examine something, you must at least suspect yourself of hiding from the truth.

And it comes therefore to this: If you pretend to examine the subject while willfully refusing to examine the bulkiest object in the room, others may be pardoned – must be pardoned – for questioning your sincerity.

This is not to say that in order to investigate a subject, one must investigate every bit of evidence, every current of thought. But just as in academics so in metaphysics, you have a duty to demonstrate familiarity with the major works in the field. To be ignorant of the central work is to have an inescapably flawed vision of the field in question.

I do see that. Thank you. It’s a little overwhelming, though. I am no theologian.

No, you are, instead, a solitary explorer. If you prefer wandering around without maps to risking your ignorance of the terrain by glimpsing the most certain features of the landscape in a map, that is your choice. But even a bad map well used is better than none at all – and how much more so a good map!

It is a convincing argument, but I don’t think I will wind up back in the Catholic Church.

Then there isn’t much to fear, is there, in looking? But you might find that you have not ceased to be a Christian, unknowingly – and in that case, you may find that you have not ceased to be a Catholic just because you removed yourself as a communicant.

Interesting thought. I guess we’ll see.

11 thoughts on ““It is in the very dogma and authority that you distrust …”

  1. OK, I may be new to really understanding this. This is a little outside my experience. Are you saying that someone is talking to G K Chesterton? Is it you Frank?

  2. Yes. I have found that talking to others on the other side isn’t difficult, and in various places have attempted to show how it is done. As usual there is the question of whether “I’m making this all up” but in these things (as in life in general) there is no certainty to be found.

  3. Fifteen centuries? Hah! That’s a miniscule drop in the cosmic-historical bucket. As one of my favorite authors, Daniel Quinn, writes in his novel, Ishmael, “Man lived harmlessly on this planet for some three million years, but the [so-called “higher” civilizations that began with the agricultural revolution] have brought the whole thing to the point of collapse in only five hundred generations.” The animistic-shamanistic tradition has a much greater lineage (and far better track record, I might add, in many respects) than any of the johnny-come-lately religions of our eastern or western “civilizations” (or barbarisms, depending upon one’s point of view).

  4. I like G.K Chesterton….well, I mean his writings. I know you have talked to some on the “other side”, but it surprises me that it would be G. K. Chesterton. I don’t know why. Emerson seems different to me, because he was an artist more than I think of G. K Chesterton as a sort of philosopher or something. This really is out of my experience…..althought I did once think I talked to a friend’s grandfather.

    Joe- You sound bitter. Am I wrong?

  5. Hi Sherry,

    No, not bitter at all. I know Frank and he knows that I get carried away in my rhetoric at times. It’s just a stylistic quirk. I do think we need to question a lot of assumptions we carry around with us and usually don’t question, like our own superiority and the idea that our way–the way of what we call civilization–is the only or best way to live. It seems to me that the peoples who were technologically inferior were spiritually superior, and that civilization is basically spiritually bankrupt. We can learn from the past, but not that part of the past that caused the problems to begin with. The solutions lie elsewhere.


  6. Hi Frank. I was once described as a trance medium, but I don’t know if a description does this justice. I do know, in my case, that when spirit uses me to speak, the sum of my life experiences and wisdom is the clay they have to work with. Does this mean what I say is accurate? I believe as accurate as the filter it has traveled through allows it to be. 100% filtered is not the same as from the horses mouth. Close, but not the same. I’m not doubting you at all that this is G.K. Chesterton. You’re the perfect conduit for the message to come through. The way you write, and, I imagine, think, makes you malleable enough for spirit to work with you. If G.K was using me, he’d be sharing emotional parts of his life and not so much academia. This is what I’m good at. I’ve lived in an emotional stew of drama for most of my life.

    Thinking and sharing.

    Also, Joe, a spirit/angel calling himself Ishmael, channeled through me the other night. A prophet? He had the same message as Moses or John the Baptist, but he was a collective energy rather than a singular identity.

    Cheers everyone.

  7. Joe-

    I agree with the idea that we need to question a lot of the assumptions we carry around. And sometimes it takes a shock to make us do that. I had a friend who went to Africa on a mission trip and a mutual friend of ours was talking about the experience and about how these people had no electricity or TV’s ect and I said………I envy them. They thought I was nuts. Thomas Merton calls it our “illusion of self”, the idea that we think we have it all figured out when in reality we have drifted so far from who we are spiritually that it is only an illusion, not reality. The thing is and I have to say this up front because Frank and I have hashed this over a lot, if you think like Frank, we are probably talking about two very different paradigms of spirituality.

    Anyway, I am glad you are not bitter and that I must have just read a whole lot into what you wrote. I see you have written a book.

  8. Sherry—
    Yes, I think we’re on the same wavelength. Not long ago, I made an offhand remark in one of my classes about recalling a time before personal computers and cell phones. The students looked at me like I was a three-headed dinosaur. “What did you do?” asked one student incredulously. He was serious. This was no joke to him. Well, as I recall, when we were kids we invented games, role-played being superheroes, explored the creek near my friend’s house, and in general used our imaginations to amuse ourselves. We didn’t need to be entertained all the time. Technology has not automatically improved life, and it has not improved learning. In fact, I would argue just the opposite. Education today is “edutainment.” The real problem is that the inner life is not cultivated, and it is what we call “imagination” that is the true source of freedom and genuine power. (Bob Monroe’s Hemi-Sync is an anti-technology technology, as I see it—a hair of the dog.) But this push to “innovation” is all part of the external control paradigm to which we are still collectively wedded, and to which the higher religions (including the middle-eastern monotheisms) contributed an essential prerequisite by separating the divine from nature–and, in the case of Christianity, further demonizing nature as sinful, fallen, corrupt. St. Augustine declared that nature and spirit are at war with one another, and in that war we must fight on the side of spirit as against nature (including our own evil and untrustworthy nature). Such ideas never resonated with me personally. But apart from that mild idiosyncrasy, I also think they are at the heart of our collective dysfunction. This was a large part of the argument I made in my book.

  9. Joe-
    Hmmmmmmmm…….Did St Augustine really say that nature and spirit are at war with one another? Oh, I think I get it now. He was saying that our sinful nature and our sprirt are at war with each other. I would have to agree with that. Paul said in what my Bible study affectionately calls the “do-do” chapter that the things he knows are the right things to do are not the things he does, but the things that he knows he shouldn’t do he often does. I think that sums it up. 🙂 Thank you.

    I see this all the time. I do something that seems okay to me at the time, but when I think about it, it is very judgmental or unloving and that is not the way I want to be. Unless what I did was really hateful I can go back and apologize or in some way make up for my mistake, but none the less I still do things I don’t want to do and don’t do things I want to do. Don’t you ever feel a conflict within?

    I think Christianity has changed a little since St Augustine. I think we are seeing an interpretation of scripture that maybe they didn’t see back then. I grew up in the hell fire and brimstone era and although they weren’t totally wrong, they missed Jesus’ point about love. I read the writings of Paul and I see a lot of that idea in them, but he also is very clear that without love we can be like clanging cymbals that cause people to just want to cover their ears and yell for us to stop. I think the “hellfire and brimstone” was the prepsychology age. I think back then they didn’t know about the psychological affect that would have. I don’t think they had any knowledge they could be messing up the minds of a whole generation and turning them away from the very thing they hoped to draw them to. I think even back then without technology people were not aware of their spiritual side. Well the mystics were, but not the average evangelist or person. We grow with time and understanding. Today we are becoming more aware that everything is spiritual and that being created in the image of God is not just a christian thing, it is a human thing. We are all in this together and some are aware there is more and some just keep searching for “God knows what”.

    Did I get off the subject? So your book is about how technology has caused dysfunction or how external control has caused dysfunction, the latter of which you attribute to religion and maybe specifically christianity? There was something you said that popped out at me……… The inner life is not cultivated…… I agree in general, but my inner life is what I have probably spent my whole adult life examining and cultivating. I find others who are the same and I have read many books on the subject so there has to be others who do. Then there are those who live in monasteries ect who only live by the inner life. Now I am rambling.

  10. Sherry–

    The term “conflict” is part of the conceptual scheme that I would jettison. Augustine was an urban intellectual and power-player in the late Roman Empire. He frequently employs political metaphors specific to that milieu—especially martial metaphors—to describe psychological and metaphysical processes. So he talks of Adam and Eve’s illegitimate “rebellion” against God (in disobeying his order not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge), and God in turn afflicting humans (as part of their just punishment for same) with an inner “war” of the (human) faculties of reason, desire, and will. The whole cosmic “war” between Good and Evil is part and parcel of this type of thinking, which has predominated in western monotheism ever since.

    My own thinking is more Taoist in flavor. I prefer to describe natural processes (of which metaphysics and psychology are but aspects) in terms of ecological balances and imbalances of energetic processes—a little too much Yang here, not quite enough Yin there, and the like. (Following this theme, all the biblical monotheisms are far too Yang in their sensibility.) The Taoists remained closer to indigenous Chinese shamanism, and in all the animistic traditions you find the symbol of the circle, expressing the idea of a balance/imbalance of energy systems. (Bob Monroe spoke in these terms, too–which may be one reason why I find his approach to be so congenial. Plus he jettisoned all the old religious and scientific vocabularies when it came to describing non-ordinary states of consciousness and non-physical realities.) Thus many American Indian tribes have the medicine wheel; Black Elk spoke of the “power of the hoop,” and so forth. In this view nothing in nature is intrinsically “evil”. It’s a question of how everything fits together. I would have to agree.

    As far as the quest for the historical Jesus and his message is concerned, disentangling the original core from later accretions is a difficult, if not impossible task. Christians have been debating the “true identity” of Jesus ever since the beginning of the religion, and it is a conversation likely to continue to its end. It’s hard enough to know what someone is thinking when we have their very own words to dissect (sometimes we don’t mean what we say or say what we mean, plus the complexities of interpretation are legion.)
    But in the case of Jesus, he wrote nothing himself. We mainly have only second-hand sources from inside of the Jesus movement. St. Paul didn’t know or hear Jesus while he walked the earth—he claims only to have encountered what he claims was the “risen Christ.” As for the authors of the gospels, no one really knows who they were, and the earliest of the synoptic accounts—the Gospel of Mark—was published in 70 CE, nearly forty years after Jesus’ death. This leaves a mystery, if not quite a blank screen, upon which the beholder is free to project subjective needs and preoccupations. The “real” Jesus is, I suspect, a mirage.

    In any case, this must be my last word for a while, as I am off to the woods of Maine for the summer, where there are lots of pine trees but infrequent and unreliable Internet access. Cheers to all!

  11. Joe-

    That is just a sad commentary. Obviously you do have some bitterness. Many people have been misguided in their thinking because the Bible is not something that can be flippantly read and understood like some books, but that seems to be what people think.

    I am not an authority on the Bible, but I have spent much of my adult life studying it and searching it for truth. We all find what we are looking for. If our desire is to find things to be skeptical about that is what we will find and toss it aside as achaic and irrelavant. On the other hand, if we want to find wisdom and truth, it is there.

    First of all, in the first couple chapters of the book of Genesis we see God creating the world and after each increment of creation God said “it is good” and when he created man he said it is “very good”. So where did you get the idea that the Bible calls so much evil? Second, the story of Adam and Eve didn’t happen way back then, it “happens”. It wasn’t disobedience that got them in trouble, it was that they didn’t trust God or what He said or that He loved them and provided so much for them. Kind of what you said in your commentary above…….God and what He says in the Bible cannot be trusted. It happens TODAY.

    If you would be willing to take a fresh look at the Bible with someone who can help you understand it instead of following blindly the teachings of some who have not really gotten to know the Bible I think you would get a different feeling for the Bible…….a love for it. In Ephesians 1:7-10 it talks of redemption, forgiveness, lavish love, and things that bring joy. Odd that you see the Bible as irrelevant and archaic. Maybe while you are in the woods in Maine (and may I say I would love to spend my summers in Maine) you might just look at the trees and the sunsets and the moose ect and say…..yeah, it’s all good. Just as the Bible says. Taoist assumes you can have it all by being good by your own power. The Bible says….you can’t always make the right decisions, but no problem, God is willing to come to you and help and to lavish you with love in the process.

    What if Robert Monroe was misguided and instead of looking for truth and wisdom he was only looking for skepticism. He found what he was looking for. God is not a puppetmaster, he gives us freewill. Perhaps you have been following blindly.

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