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In Defense of “Man”

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 15, 2017

Not Even Wrong


Not suddenly as you or I measure time, but suddenly according to the stately cadences of historical events, we have lost, if not yet our species, at least, and ominously, our name for it.  At some point in the not very distant past, “Man” vanished…not extinguished as an  organism, but as an object of consciousness.  For where there is no name there can be no consciousness, where there is no consciousness there can be no science.  Today there is no longer a science called Anthropology worthy of its name, for the name has been banished.   I don’t mean the entertaining science of bones and basket weaving and many other shining objects which is offered in college curricula as “Anthropology.”  I mean Anthropology in the most specific of species-centered meanings, inquiry into that simple question….”What is…what is…[bleep!].”   It is a question which can scarcely be asked today, let alone answered.

This masking of “Man” strikes me as an important development which deserves an extended and serious discussion.   To that end, some ground rules are necessary, concerning which I have some good news and some bad news.  Here goes both:  Sex will not be mentioned in the course of this article.  I have no interest whether the reader be sex-crazed or celibate, male or female or anywhere on the spectrum in-between.  I am only interested in whether you think this Anthropological murder mystery is worth of your time and consideration.

If you concur, then the omission of sex and his/her ugly sibling “gender” is good news indeed, because these things are monumental and, I would argue, intentional, distractions from the difficulties involved in Philosophical Anthropology.  Those bad news bears,  non-adults who think sexuality is the central, nay exclusive, issue in life, can adjourn to their favorite safe space, the Reading Room on Gender, where they can reinforce their own bias among those vast collections of literature which are supplemented daily by our subsidized scholars and their media mimes.

Now to be sure, there are other rabbit paths leading away from the essential inquiry, its just that sex and gender are the most obvious, if not the most obnoxious, and hence need to be eliminated first.  However, those other anti-Anthropological rabbit paths, though less celebrated, become increasingly subtle as the core of the problem is approached.  In any subject, the task is hard enough when we have been force-fed the wrong answers…the real difficulties start when we realize that we started off on the wrong foot by asking the wrong questions.  Today, when we encounter the fundamental question of  Philosophical Anthropology, to paraphrase the incidentally sexy but essentially humane Erin Brockovitch, “..all we have is two wrong feet and damn ugly shoes.”  We don’t know”bleep!”…and the absence of the word doesn’t help.

If we wish to restore that lost science, it will prove necessary to go back and wrap our brains around that simple word “Man” which was once the standard English term for the class of all human beings, much like its French equivalent “l’homme” etc..  Man has long since disappeared out of scholarly, correct and polite language , which means pretty much everywhere, since in casual idiom, if we discount “Man oh man!” and similar oddities, the universalizing nomenclature of Philosophical Anthropology is worse than useless.  After all, you can tell a good joke about Poles, or rabbis, or priests, or homosexuals, or women, and yes, even about “men” qua the male gender, but its hard (short of aliens or the envious algorithms of The Matrix) to envision a “Man” joke.  However, while the comedians won’t notice, there might be a few instances where, for the health of civilization, the ability to have a word for the human species could come in handy.  From this, we can derive another important consideration, once “Man” has been abolished, it  is unlikely to be missed by the broad masses.  The only people who are likely to be bothered are a few specialists in what it means to be a unique species, and these specialists are generally regarded an over-serious, isolated and boring bunch.  Likewise, if the word “epidemic” and all synonyms for “epidemic” were outlawed, the only people likely to get in a panic would be epidemiologists.  Everyone else would get along quite splendidly…at least for a while.

To be sure, the abolition of “Man” and the Abolition of Man, as per the essay by C.S. Lewis are not identical.  The latter concerns the weakening of the species, the former concerns the loss of its name.  Indeed, the distinction between signs and things signified is another treasure which must be jealously guarded against the ravages of post-modernity, which is trying to slouch its way back towards a magical worldview.  Be that as it may, we can still surmise that in the defense of something it might prove essential to be able to speak about it.

On the other hand, we have to make especially sure we don’t get lured down another popular rabbit path, a highly respectable path none the less leads away from the Anthropological core: The path of language.  For example, we could easily lump this abolition of “Man” (the word) together with similar language “correction.”  Pointing out the absurdity of these corrections is the strategy of many conservatives, such as British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who talks about the way that gender neutrality reforms have “violated the natural cadences of the English language.”   On an esthetic level, there may still be some residual irritation at “people” (or similar substitutes) in lieu of “Man”.  Yet, while this is good Edmund Burke-vintage common sense, it heads off in a trivial and logic mincing direction, of the kind favored by British analytical philosophers and American word-pundits in the Bill Safire tradition.  It expresses a futile, rearguard, hope that inane reforms, like the substitution of his and hers by “hez” can be reversed by a return to  convention, or even mutual rationality.  Rather, the Postmodernist hoards are not likely to be stemmed by a grammar policeman, policewoman, or even policeperson holding up a gloved hand, shouting “Stop!”  Its not that the “reforms” can’t be exposed as illogical and unappealing, its that they are just the tip of the spear carried by acolytes in a far deeper struggle.

Whether the war over language is winnable, I maintain it is the war against Man (as a concept) which is primary, a battle with ideological motives rooted in the hoary past.  Call it a “conspiracy” if you will, keeping in mind that conspiracy is just  popular philosophy prosecuted by cadres of minimally educated but highly motivated minions.  The generals in this conspiracy knew that they could not launch a frontal assault on Man (a.k.a. the human race), so they focused their attention on “Man” at first as a concept and then as a word.  This history of this war is better measured by centuries than by decades and has taken many a convoluted turn.  Hence my belief that contemporary Feminism is, at best, a secondary effect.  It is the Amazon battalion thrown into the breach of the citadel after the the groundwork had been patiently laid and the initial battlefield secured.  That crucial battlefield was anthropology, and not what one is liable to think of as the field of anthropology, but its philosophical cousin, that key science of all sciences, namely, the “Philosophy of…[bleep!]…”

A good “Man” is wrong to find

One can admit something exists and is important without idolizing it.  There was all too much idolization of the human race after the Renaissance and building up to the Enlightenment, a period bookended by Pico de la Mirandola’s On the Dignity of [Bleep!] and Alexander Pope’s Essay on [Bleep!] tomes which style and economy have rendered, perhaps mercifully, unreadable today.  In those days, whenever errant scholars ventured too far from the Pauline/Augustinian double anthropology of fall and redemption, it spelled trouble.  However, personal repentance generally put a  limit to the damage which could be inflicted before the toxic juice of self-worship became endemic to society.  Mirandola befriended and was converted by Savonarola, that misunderstood Catholic puritan, while at least Pope never became the Pope nor were his verses rendered into binding encyclicals.  Savonarola taught the early humanists the secret of Christian Anthropology, that Man is both sacred and bad.  For his tuition, and other causes, he was burned at the stake.

The last child and virtual apotheosis (that is, one “made into God”) of the early modern period was Voltaire, who’s hatred of religion was legendary.  None the less, even Voltaire had too much common sense to think that his animus towards Christianity could be transmuted into a new and living faith.  He noted that “It is easy enough to start a new religion, all you have to do is get yourself crucified and then rise from the dead!”  In recent years, the late Rene Girard has documented Voltaire’s insight with numerous case-studies, illustrating how most human religions originate in scapgoating, death, and subsequent apotheosis.  However the wily Voltaire could see where all this was heading, and limited his disciples to the “cultivation of  their gardens” i.e., the enjoyment of a quiet and restrained sensuality.  We might call this soft-core Humanism, or the humanism of the self.   This early modern Man-ism, which today is probably the most popular (albeit unconscious) religion on the planet, is little more than a recrudescence of old Epicurus, whose famous doctrine Paul once debated on the field of Athenian Mars.  At worst the virtues of this philosophy, such as conviviality, apolitical repose, refined aesthetics etc., are disguised vices, vices centered on feelings.  Think of the the steriotypical Country Club Republican of today’s America.  Such people are pathetic, but not in any superficial sense of the word, since the purpose of their  life is “pathic”…that is, to have feelings, high quality feelings.

Hard-core Humanism was a novelty of Voltaire’s rival, J. J. Rousseau.  In contrast to the soft doctrine, here the object of action is the ideal of Man, not the feeling-satisfaction of individual human beings.   It was Rousseau who managed to transmute the Enlightenment’s carping animus against Christianity into something resembling a true religion.  As the founder of this new religion, which has variously been termed Modernism, Humanism, Socialism and much else, Rousseau should have found himself subject to the pitiless Law of the Scapegoat.  However he eluded martyrdom, and not just because he died a natural death nineteen years prior to the outbreak of the revolution he had inspired.  Rousseau’s Man differed in important ways from both Christian and Renaissance conceptions, which were predicated on either a personal God, or at any rate, a hierarchy of beings of which the human race was but one link in the chain of existence.  Although initially disguised by Deistic code-words, the new religion lifted up Man as the Head of the Cosmos.  Since this Man was a collective, it was not expedient that any individual anti-Christ need suffer the Law of the Scapegoat.  If there were to be any suffering, it would only be in accord with the tyrant Caligula’s wish for the Roman people, “If only they all had but one neck!”  In principle, the head which lifts itself too high gets chopped off.  Caligula himself  proved  no exception to the rule.

At all events, by the 2nd or 3rd  year of the Human Revolution (c. 1793AD) modern technology had outstripped antiquity, democratizing death and allowing Caligula’s dream to come true.  The guillotine enabled the disciples of Rousseau to liquidate the old political class en mass, and then in a predictable turn of events, those disciples themselves mounted the scaffold, suffering a kind of mechanical crucifixion to the god whom they had lifted up, Man.  It was a collective crucifixion to a collective god, for this “Man” was not the same as in the soft Humanism of Voltaire, which was just a category designating a collection of individuals.  Rather, this post-Rousseau “Man” was, if not quite a concrete organism, at least cohesive enough to have a single will, a doctrine as lethal as it was democratic.

The carnage of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period was not repeated in Europe until 1914 and thereafter, after which great quantities of men and women again began to be killed as a consequence of political and military action.  Here  we would like to inquire whether this carnage (lit. carnal death) was in some sense related to the death (or life) of an abstraction.  Is there a relation between the death of humans and the death of “Man” as a concept and a word, and if so, is that relation positive or negative?  The example of the French Revolution would seem to caution us against a laudatory Humanism, on the suspicion that the higher the ideal of “Man” is lifted up, the more human individuals are likely to be subjected to political violence.

At this point in the argument however, such a conclusion would be premature.  The period between the exile of Napoleon and the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, which saw relative calm in European politics was conversely that period which witnessed, for good or ill, a wholesale revolution in popular concept of “Man” under the impact of Evolution, Marxism, and Psycho-analysis.  However none of these epicenters of scientific upheaval were directly concerned with Anthropology, at least Philosophical Anthropology, rather they were centered on the cognate disciplines of biology, economics, and psychology.

More to the point, none of these revolutionaries set out to solve the problem, “What is… [bleep!]…”   However others took up that now forbidden question, and we should try to pick up their tracks from where they left off in the tumult of 19th century thought.

Philosophical Anthropology: The Conspiracy Thickens

Today if you mention “Illuminism” it is likely to conjure up secret societies, occultism and political skulduggery, critical investigation into which is no doubt important and proper.  However in the literary salons of Europe and America during the 1840s and 185os Illuminism had a second, though in all probability related, meaning.  It referred to the then-novel research which today’s theologians refer to as the “Higher Criticism.”  If you know about, say, the “Jesus Seminar” then you pretty much know what Illuminism a.k.a. “Higher Criticism” was, except that the contemporary Seminar is pretty much an isolated rehashing of themes which were treated with greater plausibility and seriousness 170 years before.  Those earlier 19th century critics of religion were advancing along the front of a broad intellectual movement which was in the early stages of transiting from spiritualism to materialism.  The cynosure of the movement was Germany in the years following, and in reaction to, the death of philosopher G.F.W. Hegel.  To simplify a very complex way of thinking, many people of that time had accepted Pantheism, the idea that the universe and God are the same thing.  Since most people are not very quick on the uptake, and are willing to sign on to a belief systems before they grasp all of its correlative implications.

Thus, many a happy Pantheist, circa 1840AD, was surprised and saddened to learn that their system no longer permitted them to believe in the personal divinity of Jesus, whom they had hoped to retain as a spiritual hedge in spite of their infidel inclinations .  They should have figured this out from reading Hegel, but it took the shock treatment administered by some young, radical, German intellectuals of the time (a.k.a.,  the Illuminists, Higher Critics etc.) to rub the noses of these au currant ladies and gentlemen in the compost of atheism.  After a halfhearted embrace of Pantheist ambiguity, some among the elite classes of Europe were again courting hard-core, Rousseau-vintage, Humanism, very much along the lines of the original French Revolution of 1789, albeit the European political revolutions of the 40s didn’t amount to much.  This time, humanism broke out with more scientific rigor and less heartfelt enthusiasm, “Man” was made the vehicle of those hopes and dreams which had previously been invested in God.  Moreover, the unprecedented technological progress of the times were conducive to putting faith in human works.

Yet those works, splendid as they might be, begged the nature of their creators.  What was the essence of Man?  Or as we would say today, “What is the essence of….[bleep!]?”  Amazing though it might seem in retrospect, some people of that era actually took the time and pains to ask the Anthropological question.  The man who best serves as archetype of those questioners, actually proposing and discarding several solutions over the course of his life, was the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).  One thing that can be said of Feuerbach, even if we dismiss him as a serial wrong-guesser who justly earned posthumous obscurity, was his persistent and scrupulous engagement with the Anthropological question.  His best remembered quote,”You are what you eat!” might ornament a nutritionist more gloriously than a philosopher.  Yet we must consider that, as a thinker, he was an anvil and not a hammer, pounded left and right by forces which were not just making Modernity but shattering the classical mirror of Man (better known to us as “bleep!”).  Feurerbach’s lifetime bracketed an epochal turn in human self-definition, a turn which Feuerbach didn’t initiate so much as chronicle.

Therefore, meditate on the chronological sketch below and notice how the the turn from Anthropology to anti-Anthropology transpired in the space of a specific, species-haunted, generation.  I know this narrative will be easy to dismiss as a curmudgeon’s rant on “the origins of the left”  but if you visualize the broad movement behind, and independent of, individual intentions will you grasp  its Anthropological significance.  In spooky confirmation of a simultaneous and  universal (or at least pan-Western) turn of thought, the history of early Positivism could be adduced as  a development in synchronicity with Idealism, but in this case the decapitation of Man being conducted by French, and allegedly “conservative” social scientists from August Compte to Emile Durkheim.  But I rather prefer the bold and brooding history of Anglo-German radicalism.

1804  death of Immanuel  Kant, birth of L. Feuerbach

1806 Hegel publishes his Phenomenology, consciousness posited as the motive force in the history of the world, subjective (individual) consciousness conditioned in a “dialectical” relationship to objective (collective) consciousness.

1818-19 Lectures on the History of Philosophy, S. T. Coleridge introduces German Idealism to the English reading public, slowly Idealism will replace the reigning Scottish “common sense” philosophy in the English speaking world.

1831  death of Hegel

1835 Life of Jesus, by Strauss

1841 The Essence of Christianity by Feuerbach

1843 The Essence of Christianity translated by George Eliot

1844 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, critical of objectivity and lack of political engagement in speculative Anthropology

1847-48 Revolutions in France and central Europe

1848 The Communist Manifesto

1850 The Great London Exposition, popular vindication of applied technology over philosophical and scientific theory

1854-56 Crimean War (only major European war between 1815-1914)  Nightingale, progressive transfer of humane care from family and church to state

1859 Charles Darwin, the Origin of Species, natural selection adduced as motive force in natural history

1860 Essays and Reviews, English theologians embrace the methods of Higher Criticism

1861-65 American civil war, first modern “total” war

1861 Marx, Capital vol. 1 published

1871 Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man

1872 Death of Feuerbach

Note that at the outset Man was The All-In-All, but at the end of the period, not even the  child of a monkey, rather, a scion of some anonymous animal.

In The Essence of Christianity Feuerbach attempted to equate God with “good.”  In his view all the things which were posited of a Supreme Being were actually virtuous attributes of the human species-being.  Justice, mercy, love, fidelity, etc., were human characteristics, which had been mistakenly projected on to an alienated figment of the collective imagination and deified.  However, and here’s the rub, the human individual had no more ultimate reality than God.  Feuerbach’s Man was not men, or men and women, or even people, but the species as a collective.   Individuals were mortal but the species was immortal.  Man was God, Man was good, and Man would live forever.  At the time it seemed like a grand faith, a devotion to something tangible which might give meaning to the limited and fragile life of individuals.

Feuerbach’s intention was  to make a smooth transition from the crypto-Pantheism of Hegel, to a less infatuated, more earthy, Humanism.  Yet  his critics were were more likely to see this continuity with idealism as contamination by unrealistic nonsense.  As thinkers more cunning and sanguinary than Feuerbach were quick to point out, this alleged Human species-being never managed to will anything concrete and  unanimously, but rather, all real  history has been the history of antagonistic groups engaged in fratricidal strife.  For the critics, the ultimate meaning of history was far better illustrated by victorious parties dancing on the graves of the defeated than a universally inclusive chorus singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  According to Karl Marx the antagonistic parties were economic classes, and to some extent nations.  Today we would add genders, races, religions, and even sexual orientations.  Under fire from its radical critics, Human species-being quickly melted into the solvent of class analysis.

Small wonder that Marx happily discarded Feuerbach’s anthropology for the naturalism of Darwin, at one point seeking (and being refused) permission to dedicate Capital to the British naturalist.  Darwin’s system was founded on the assumption of conflict and competition, not the deduction of human from divine virtues.  Feuerbach continued to revise his system in the direction of increasingly consistent materialism, but was no longer in the forefront of a generation which had jumped from philosophical speculation to natural science, now that the latter was backed up by the prestige of  rapidly developing technology.

More significantly, the capital which Darwin did not endorse was the capital M in Man.  In classical anthropology Man had been one of the primordial kinds, as in Spirit, Man, Animal, and Mineral.  Naturalists from Aristotle to Buffon had recognized that  qua organism, the human body was akin to other mammals, and especially to apes and monkeys.  However in a consistently despiritualized science, the one human species was no longer set apart from the myriad of other animals, but rather fell under the same biological and ethological constraints as any other organism.  This reduction may have deeply bothered Darwin personally, but as a scientist he never really posed the Anthropological question the same way that Feuerbach had done, rather he was resigned to viewing homo sapiens as a single object within the purview of the natural science.  In spite of the title, after The Decent of Man, Man ceased to exist as a problem for natural science.  Or more precisely, from a Darwinian point of view, Man, as a unique aspect of the world, had never existed to begin with.

From Man to “Man”

We began by hinting that the loss of “Man” was a harbinger of the death of our own species.  After some clarification we can now understand that the situation is rather worse than we had initially feared, in that, conceptually, Man was killed off sometime in the middle of the 19th century, while “Man” (the word) actually survived the concept by more than a hundred years.  To maintain clarity, we must remember that there are actually three deaths.  First, the death of the concept, second the death of the word, and third, and yet to happen, the actual species extinction of homo sapiens.  That the third death is yet to happen should not imply that it necessarily will, it is only a hypothesis.  None the less, the three deaths are cognitively related.  In particular, the death of Man (the concept) at the hands of Darwinism, is strongly associated with the putative mortality of the species.  If Man is subject to species extinction, as are all organic taxa according to the laws of natural selection, then Man cannot be considered a primary aspect of the world.  As an analogy, consider the concept of “states of matter” which are generally accepted as uniform, or at least ubiquitous, aspects of nature.  If, say, all liquids could disappear from the cosmos, it would put the schema of “states of matter” in serious doubt.  Something of that nature is what has happened with Man, due to the anti-Anthropological turn circa 1860.

Now, would it be too wicked for me to suggest that while Man is not a “species” in the same sense that felix domestica is a species, none the less Man bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat, that enigmatic creature of the proverbial nine lives?  Not only did the word “Man” persist far longer than one might have expected, but Anthropology entered a period of great fruition after the death of Darwin.  Here I’m not referring primarily to what people ordinarily think of as “Anthropology”, the post-Darwinian people-within-nature paradigm which covers everything from bones to basket weaving.  Be wary that, just as in politics, where the nomenclature for everything gets twisted around to its opposite, and we now are forced to call socialists “liberals” in similar fashion those post-Darwinian scholars who no longer believe in a human essence are liable to call themselves “Anthropologists.”  In fact, they are mostly anti-Anthropologists who just want to study the secondary attributes and accidental properties associated with human beings.   Granted, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and on the whole these so-called Anthropologists are not a bad lot, being no more consistently anti-Anthropological than the other professionals who have have inherited scattered fragments among the human sciences.  If the so-called Anthropologists have any besetting sins, those would be 1) they stole the name away from genuine Anthropology, 2) some sub-schools were virulently anti-cognitive, for example the ethnologist Franz Boaz who never saw a theory that he didn’t want to grind down into a powder of facts, 3) others, notably the Structuralists, were hyper-cognitive, and sought to gin up a Theory of Everything, based on some attribute (usually kinship or language) of human thought or behavior.

The anti-Anthropologists who called themselves “Anthropologists” loved “Man” (the word).  After all, it was their schtick, and made a nifty title for textbooks, even textbooks written by sophisticated Darwinians and Marxists who knew that human species-being had gone out of fashion with Feuerbach.  In the meantime, anything on two legs with an opposable thumb would do, and it was all great fun until Feminism put the kibosh on that particular branding.  None the less, so-called  “Anthropology” took the ban on “Man” in stride, since their usage of the term was based on a consistent nominalism, if not on a conscious memory of the anti-Anthropological roots of modern natural science.  Fortunately, due to the exclusion of classical languages, undergraduates could still take “Anthro” and not worry their heads that banned “Man” had never meant just  andro…indeed, that it had meant much more than both andro and gyno put together.

Yet, I wanted to mention the 2oth century miracle of Anthropology, not so-called “Anthropology” but genuine Philosophical Anthropology, as it flourished after, and in spite of, the anti-Anthropological turn of the previous generation.  If I thought that Man were a mere species and not an attribute of Created Being, my inclination would be to classify it somewhere within the family Leporidae, as a mammal with a capacity for making unexpected intellectual leaps, and multiplying thoughts faster than other species can reproduce their genes.  To that end, what great broods have been spawned, not just among the anti-Anthropologists, which is only to be expected, but even among genuine Anthropologists during the 20th and even 21st centuries!

Now remember, when I heap praise on the battered remnants of genuine, philosophical, Anthropology, I’m only lauding them for asking the right question, namely: “What is…[bleep!]”  And by now you understand what “bleep!” is and that a Philosophical Anthropologist is one who would know and say that “bleep!”=Man, and that possibly we should even come out and say “Man” when we mean Man.  I am not saying that many, or even any, of these Anthropologists have answered the question correctly, although I think there is an answer, and that some have made a closer approach to the correct solution than others.  Naturally I have my own views, but I would consider anyone a legitimate Anthropologist who asked the question aright.

There are schools of Philosophical Anthropology of every description.  Some are religious, some are frankly atheistic, but even the most starkly atheistic Anthropologists demure from post-Darwinian naturalism in positing something unique and essential about the human race.  In that sense, all Anthropologists, from atheists to Christians, are tendering a kind of “minority report” against the consensus view of modern science and society.  An atheistic, but genuine, Anthropologist might posit that the human race has a unique responsibility to conserve the cosmos and bring it to its best potential.  Countering this, the consensus view would maintain that such an assertion was errant nonsense, an arbitrary projection of human values into the unthinking and unthinkable void.

In a brief treatment, it is impossible to do more than allude to all the speculative “minority reports” which have been filed by Philosophical Anthropologists against the hegemony of post-Darwinian naturalism.  No doubt many of these speculations have been wrong-headed, but they have at least kept a window open to world-views outside the standard narrative.  If I had to pick a representative of the type it would be Max Scheler(German, d. 1928).  Feuerbach’s anthropolgy began with materialistic idealism and sloped inexorably down to idealistic materialism, however Scheler’s thought described a parabola, which at its height sought the divine in Man.   Personality, both Divine and Human, was arguably Scheler’s main concern, however his reluctance to deal with the limits imposed by a temporal creation, as per the Judeo-Christian scriptures, subordinated individuality to the vague infinity of deep time, a dilemma similar to that encountered by the ancient Gnostics.  Abandoning his initial, and intentionally Christian, viewpoint, Scheler made the alarming discovery that, in precluding a personal God, the amoral instinctual urges of the Cosmos were far stronger than  any principle of spiritual form or sentiment.   The intellectual public in Germany and beyond, repelled by such otiose metaphysics embraced existentialism, a doctrine which gave up on the reality of anything but individuals.  Anthropology once again retreated to the shadows.

In retrospect, Feurebach and Scheler seem like tragic figures who lifted up Man, in one or another guise, as a god, only to see their systems crushed down by more consistently nihilistic doctrines.  However it doubtful whether their contemporaries saw the loss of Anthropological hegemony as something to be lamented.  Rather, they were relieved to be unburdened of Man, just as they had greeted the earlier, and logically prior, “death of God” with satisfaction.

The return of Man, and the return of “Man”…which, both or neither?

The operational assumption is that people can get along perfectly well without a conception of their own species occupying a special place in the system of the world.  Underlying this assumption is the more fundamental axiom that the natural science narrative is our default outlook on the world.  After all, its “natural” is it not?

However the “minority report” of Philosophical Anthropology raises the  specter of a completely different world, a world in which the unique bearers of the divine image have been persuaded that they are but one of a myriad of animal species.  By this account, the conceptual framework of natural science within which the image bearers were circumscribed, was not so much a “discovery” as the imputation of a belief-system.  From this perspective, it is naturalism, not the classical Man-centered cosmology, which is fabulous.  To get the masses of humanity to believe such a deflating fable in the course of a few centuries, has been a superbly effective triumph of propaganda.  Although we have some hints as to who has disseminated this propaganda, the question of in whose interest it was disseminated remains enigmatic.

Within the English-speaking world, the banner of the old classical Anthropology (Christian or secular) was “Man.”  The banner was not furled up until long after the cause was lost.  Yet the banner itself was essential, so essential that the high command of anti-Anthropology decided to send in the Amazonian battalion to haul it down under the pretext of the gender wars.  Lost in the confusion of that particular skirmish, was the deep import of having a proper name for that key nexus of Creation through which the Divine, ideally, was to communicate its dominion over the visible world.  “People” is more than just an innocent substitute for “Man”, since, being a plural, it serves as a pretext for importing the entire philosophy of nominalism into the human sciences.  Nominalism views entities (you and me and the cat and the carpet) as capable of being grouped into any category which happens to be convenient.   Who’s convenience?

It can be safely inferred that this is a view well suited to those who want to abolish the boundaries between species.  Perhaps now the reader can see the relevance of all the preceding esoteric Anthropology, for looming on the event horizon of our world are a thousand crises brought about by relation of the human to the non-human.  Indeed, we are conjuring up new categories of non-humans day by day.  AI and aliens, robots and Chimeras, not to mention all those entities of the natural and spiritual world who are ancient in human lore.  I eagerly await the rebirth of the “dinosaur” from its amber-encased DNA.  Or will it be a dragon?   Names make a difference.

None the less, we proceed without caution, for the night-watch has been relieved of its duties as the evening of human history encroaches.  Isolated voices cry out, “There may be a problem here!” and anxiety is ubiquitous, but few are willing to “get real.”  This is not an accident.  The “real” tools, nay, the “real” weapons with which we might have fought were long ago taken away and beaten, not into plowshares, but into the bars of zoological confinement for what remains of the dignity of Man.  The “real” tools were realistic in a properly philosophical sense, exalting created kinds as the unalterable building blocks from which God created our world.  Such was Man.  Hence the necessity of having a personal name for the species.

Will Man come again?  I think so, but more on the basis of faith than calculation.  In the meantime others look towards a rapidly accelerating future, and begin to realize that “Nature” is hardly a better idol than secular Man, that the sense of “nature-in-itself” is an illusory effect of what psychologists call normalcy bias.  None the less, something is approaching, we know not what.  Intellectuals call it “the end of history” while technologists speak of “the singularity.”  Most just ignore it, but it will come nonetheless.









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Dammit Man!

Posted by nouspraktikon on May 18, 2017

A Pickup Placard Peccadillo

Driving along a trunk route of my community I was “shocked, shocked I tell you!” (well, kinda) to see an advertising placard on a pickup blazoned with the unique corporate moniker Dammit Man!  Dammit Man?  Not, mind you, a bumper sticker, but the name of the firm!  Well, context is everything, and from the barrels and tools in the back of Dammit Man’s pickup, it was evident that the  cussing commercial was advocating the services of a lawn care and cleaner-upper specialist.  Since my town is full of trees, deciduous and otherwise, there is a huge market for lawn waste removal.

Thus it took me less than two seconds to figure out the reference, which is a mark of good ad copy in itself.  Clearly, Dammit Man! was an unexpurgated expletive prefacing the tacit, but easily guessed proposition: “Dammit man, how did you get that lawn cleaned up so well…and in record time!”  Perhaps a local ordinance needs to be passed prohibiting foul language appearing as part of a corporate logo.  I suspect that most of our churches would line up in support of the motion.

However that really misses the point, both of the joke and the phrase itself.  Somehow I suspect that the Dammit Man, whether or not he can dispatch decaying vegetable matter with the celerity implied by the slogan, is a better Christian than most of us.  He has that seldom mentioned but welcome Christian virtue: Hilarity…or in plain language, a sense of humor.  It is the note of the pilgrim who is both seasoned and sincere on the spiritual path.

(And , incidentally, since I can’t resist a snarky soliloquy, this virtue was notably absent from the recently trounced politician who bore the name!)

On a deeper level, “dammit” is not an obscenity but an imprecation, and since we really don’t want to send our lawn-care specialists to the infernal regions, at least if they have done a good job, the expression in context has to be taken as an effusion of rare praise, not condemnation.  Therefore, since the vendor is praising himself using a curse word, the ultimate intent is humorous, even if the humor doesn’t exclude the likely “damn” goodness of the lawn care specialist.

But of course, real damnation is no laughing matter.  By “damnation” I don’t just mean the final, definitive judgement of sin before the throne of God, I mean condemnation in the broadest sense.  Every atheist dog-and-pony show purports to demonstrate that “damnation” was an innovation foisted on mankind by the God of Abraham, or rather by His ameneusis.

However damnation, in the broad sense of condemnation, is not something which we would have to wait on revelation before we learned of it.  True, when we consider “last things” there are some elements which natural reason could never have guessed, such as the immortality of the resurrected body, either for good or for ill.  That knowledge only comes from revelation, and admittedly it complicates things.  But that is not what we are concerned with at present, however much atheists would like to “put God in the dock.”

Rather, we are talking about what happens when human beings put each other “in the dock” or to paraphrase what Voltare said of God, “If damnation didn’t exist we would have to invent it.”

My contention is that we did.


When Man Damns

Indeed, damnation, rather than being fostered upon the human race by bad religions (Abrahamic or otherwise, indeed, there are Buddhist hells, and nasty ones at that) is an intrinsic category of the human mind.  Just as Adam Smith told us that “humanity has an intrinsic propensity to truck and barter,” likewise there is an “intrinsic propensity to damn” which has been shared by all human beings since the time of that Adam who was the progenitor of Mr. Smith and the rest of us.  For though the human race has no brimstone (or at least it didn’t prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) it has the faculty of condemnation in abundance.

Consider that we get our English word “damnation” from Latin.  Now in secular history the most revealing instance of total condemnation is the custom of damnatio memoria which was exercised from time to time during the Rome’s late republic and empire.  After an unpopular politician or emperor had been removed, either by natural causes or assasination, the Senate, by official decree, would order the erasure of all inscriptions mentioning the tyrant, and the removal of all his statues from public view.  Historians dispute how often and how effectively this rite was observed, but the intention was clear.  The victorious party in the Senate wanted to consign all memory of the condemned emperor to oblivion.

This desire to condemn and erase the past, or at least that part of the past connected with unpopular personalities, was by no means a uniquely Roman obsession.  Rather, contrary to the intentions of the Senate, the abundance of historical records during the Classical period, combined with a human delight in monstrosity, has assured an unwonted immortality to such “damned” creatures as Caligula and Nero.  Among more ancient civilizations, the local equivalent of the damnatio memoria was more effective.  Until Carter’s discoveries in 1922, Egyptologists had no more than an inkling of King Tut’s existence, since the boy monarch and his heretical Sun-worshiping dynasty had been rubbed out of the historical record by pious defenders of Egypt’s polytheistic faith.  This remarkably effective act of collective forgetfulness endured for three thousand years.  But as the saying goes, truth will out.

However we must go beyond the early civilizations to primordial times if we want to find the origins of damnation.  Was it not Cain who first issued a decree of oblivion to his brother?  He did not just murder, but buried Able, for we know that “his blood cried out from the ground.”  The mind of Cain, full of wrath, was inconsolable at the offense of Able.  And what was that offense?  Surely that his brother had been judged acceptable in the eyes of God, while he had been found wanting.  Cain had the choice of repentance…or, or what?  The only way to restore reality to its pre-judgement status was to erase the very idea of Able as an alternative to Cain.  It wasn’t enough to just terminate Able’s existence (murder), it was necessary to deny that Able had ever existed (burial).

If there had been no outside observer, it would have been the perfect crime.  However the Holy Spirit was recording the incident for our benefit.  Cain did have a brother, and though he failed as his “keeper” neither did he succeed as his “thrower-awayer.”  In this first case, and ever since, it has been hard to make the damnatio memoria stick.

If there is a God, history is for keeps.

The Rise of the Orwellian Memory Hole

As God-centered world views have been nudged aside by various forms of Humanism, especially the most consistent form of humanism, Marxism, the damnatio memoria has experienced a modern renaissance.  Instead of statues of Caesar being removed from the Roman forum, the images of Stalin’s rivals were airbrushed out of the picture.  Before…

And after…

This process was frequently repeated until only the reigning god, “Uncle Joe” himself, remained.

Marxism is not only the last stage of humanism, but it brings to moral completion the views of time that are implicit in all forms of secularism.  According to this world-view, only the visible world is real, and all unseen worlds are either imaginary or manipulable fictions.  This means that the present always has domination over a past which has disappeared from sight and only exists in archival or artifact form.  Thus the past is worse than non-existent, it is plastic in the hands of the present…liquid, and ripe for liquidation.  To the primordial animus which the human mind harbors towards its rivals, past, present, and future…Marxism has added a theory of history which grants moral superiority to whatever faction has most recently emerged from the struggles of time.  Add to this a penchant for organization and propaganda, and one gets a veritable “science of damnation.”

As Marxism has become the hidden, but hegemonic, ideology of America’s academic and journalistic institutions, this penchant for damning the past, rather than trying to understand it, has ascended to power.  Today, in the world of Photo-shop, Stalinist airbrushing seems crude and cartoonish.  But what can be done with the more substantial archives of the past, those made of bronze and stone?  Sadly, we discover that they are scheduled for removal in cities across the nation.

Like the busts of Caesar, the generals of America’s public squares are disappearing, and not just those who fought for the South during the disturbances of 1861-65.  One wonders how long Andrew Jackson, who conquered New Orleans from the British, will be left unmolested.  Certainly, Jackson was a flawed man, but none the less a man whom it is important to grapple with in order to understand vast chunks of American history.  He is now high on the list of those scheduled for the damnatio memoria.

And who shall replace General Jackson?  Dr. King perhaps?  Whomever it might be, it will not be someone who will be able to escape the gnawing criticism of the future.  New values and new demographics will come to the fore, and then the politically correct heroes of today will themselves fall victim to future damnatio memoria.  I believe it was Chateubriand who observed, “Like Father-Time, the revolution devours its own children.”  And what does this devouring consist of but a desire to see the past as totally evil, and the present as justified by its condemnation of the past?  However this is ultimately a suicide pact and a self-imprecation, since time flows onward, and in the Marxist view this flow is not morally neutral but a process of continuous judgement and re-evaluation.

History, thus construed, becomes a pyramid of skulls with a small band of executioners at the top.  From time to time there is a new work shift and the past shift’s executioners become the next band of victims, hence providing more skulls for the pyramid, ever growing in height and volume.  This is as good an illustration as any of the human form of damnation.  It is a damnation which, if not eternal, is at least infinite.  For time has no end.

Except that, in the Christian view, it does end, and the infinite damnation that humanity wished upon itself is eclipsed by eternity.

It makes me sad.  And I wish I had the innocent guile of that bold lawn-cleaner to say,  “Dammit man!  Stop your damn man-damning man!  Just look, listen….and repent!”


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The Culture Conspiracy: A critical investigation into the destruction of civilization (Introduction)

Posted by nouspraktikon on April 10, 2017

The Culture Conspiracy

This is the first installment of a multi-part series on how the modern “culture concept” has, as a complement to the theory of evolution, demoralized and degraded civilization, or actual “culture” in the original intent of that word.  While it is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the topic, the investigation will try to hit on all the major aspects of the problem.  Tentatively, it will be organized along the following themes,

  1. The Great Baton Pass
  2. The Measure of Man vs. the Measure of God
  3. From Custom to Culture
  4. Erasing the essential Civilization/Barbarism distinction
  5. From Kant to Hegel: From the individual to the species
  6. From Hegel to Boaz: From the species to the people
  7. The Super-organic, the Spiritual, and the Ugly
  8. The Enigma of Innovation
  9. Man Makes Himself Part II: From Custom to Customization
  10. Beyond the Culture Concept

Though each of these contains enough to provide a mini-course in itself, in its present state the work is likely to appear as the outline of a syllabus rather than a detailed treatment of the subject.

Introduction: The Culture Conspiracy

Suppose you were able to travel back in time to the mid-Victorian era.  Just to pick a date, let’s suppose it were 1859, the year in which Darwin published his master work, Origin of Species.  You arrive in London, England and are able to established communications with a middle class person, of either sex, and ask them two questions about the future.  First, do you expect technology to improve in the future?  Second, do you expect culture to improve in the future?  If I am not greatly mistaken, the answer of a well-informed Londoner of 1859 would be a resounding “Yes!” to both questions.

Next, through the magic of your time-traveling you offer them a vista of life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Now they are able to judge whether their optimistic prophecies have been vindicated.  There is no need to waste time on the answer to the first question.  The mid-Victorian would find the technological wonders of the present to be little less than a magical transformation of the human environment.  Even if the lady or gentleman in question were a Luddite, or like Mr. Butler, apprehensive of “machines” in general, they would be forced to admit that the machines had won the day, whether or not the technical triumph was in the long range interests of the human race.

And what of culture?  If cultural optimism were vindicated in proportion to the Victorian’s technological optimism, what wonderful variations on Moore’s Law might one expect?  In the year 2017 music would be one-hundred times more sonorous than Mozart, paintings one-hundred times beautiful than Turner, the law-courts one-hundred times more just and expeditious, families one-hundred times more peaceful and harmonious,  architecture one-hundred times more symmetrical and stately,  and the religious life of the average man or woman one-hundred times more pious.

I am sure everyone understands that such exaggerated expectations would suffer bitter disappointment.  But I would go beyond that and hypothesize that our representative Victorian would judge that much of culture had regressed rather than progressed.  Looking around at a population dressed in t-shirts and jeans, the well-dressed Victorian might assume that he or she (especially she) had landed in a sartorial dark ages.  Dress might be the most ubiquitous and offensive sign of cultural degeneration, but further investigation would reveal a myriad of aspects in which 21st century culture had decayed far beyond the lowest level of Victorian expectations.

Art might be cheap and easily accessible but so primitive, cartoon-like or commercial that the Victorian time-traveler would deem it rubbish.  Language, (unless our Victorian were a rater in Her Majesty’s Navy)  would have become unutterably vulgar.  Human relations would have become broader but shallower, and the family reduced to just one of the many nodes of association provided for the convenience of individuals.  The poor-house and the debtors prison would have been abolished, but by the year 2017 debt would have become the primary nexus holding the economy together.  Indeed, from the point of view of a middle-class Victorian, by the year 2017 society itself would have become one giant debtor’s prison.

This is not even to speak of the actual prisons of the 21st century, or the fact that Jack the Ripper (still in the future for 1859) would spawn, like some forensic Adam, a class of registered and unregistered offenders.  Finally our representative Victorian, even if not an enthusiast for the works of Herbert Spencer, might dimly recognize that by the standards of classical liberalism, the 21st century state had itself become a criminal network, engaged in perpetual borrowing and taxation for extensive regulation at home and endless warfare abroad.

Having safely deposited our Victorian time-traveler back to the homely 19th century, and drugged him with the obligatory milk of amnesia so that history won’t be spoiled, a familiar figure enters from stage left to deliver a soliloquy.  This is Mr. Carping Critic, who objects to the whole little drama.  He claims that our whole little experiment is a sham, based on false premises from the start.  He says that the two questions were apples and oranges from the start, and that the “no” verdict to the second question rests on biased judgment.  He says that when we jump from technology to culture we go from the measurable to the intangible, and we have entered into that shady region of values where nobody’s opinion (even that of a time-traveling Victorian) is more objective than that of someone else.

From the point of view of Mr. Carping Critic, the Victorian’s view of art is just an outmoded taste, so of course we should expect a negative verdict.  If the growth of the prison population is viewed negatively, it just shows the enduring grip of pastoral romanticism over the advantages of cozy confinement.  And so forth and so on in every department of “culture” since after all, culture is a matter of values, and as we all know, values change.  The seal of the entire argument is the whole ridiculous subject of clothing, which our time traveler had nothing better to venture than the opinion of a bigoted prude.

With that coup de grace, Mr. Carping Critic thinks he has stripped the Victorian of her secret!

I cannot refute Mr. Carping Critic on his own grounds, since they are not grounds at all, but the quicksands of a shifting and relativistic doctrine.  However it is a doctrine which has a history and that history can be exposed and criticized.  Indeed, I will go beyond Mr. Carping Critic to criticize the one concept which remains beyond criticism for him, namely “the culture concept.”  Yes, he is right to say that the time-traveling questions were not consistent, for in 1859 the word “culture” hadn’t quite assumed the connotation that we give it today.  Soon that would change, and it would change in such a way that people would no longer be as confident about making statements about objective reality as they had previously.

I think, in contrast to Mr. Carping Critic and his ilk, that objective reality, not just in the natural but the human world, continues to exist, and that an inability to talk about it puts anyone thus incapacitated at a severe disadvantage.  However our inability to talk about human affairs objectively is the end result of a kind of conspiracy, a conspiracy that started long ago and today has come to fruition in a multitude of crises.  In subsequent installments I will unmask this conspiracy… the culture conspiracy.

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Surrealism, the backdoor between Marxism and the Occult: The case of Frida Kahlo

Posted by nouspraktikon on August 2, 2016

Pictures at an exhibition:  Beyond political correctness to Marxist memorial

The press release from the Harn Museum of Art (an institution associated with the University of Florida) read as follows,

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) known for her self-portrait paintings, was among the most photographed women of her generation.  In addition to the photographic works of Kahlo, the exhibition will include a PBS film “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” two works (a drawing and a painting) by Kahlo and ancient and contemporary Mexican ceramics and sculpture from a local collector and the Harn’s collection.

What the press release did not mention, but which is sufficiently illustrated by the documentary film, is that Kahlo was a life long leftist who’s Marxism became increasingly enthusiastic over the course of her tumultuous and troubled life.  None the less, the tone of the film and the exhibition are laudatory, not critical, and one has to wonder why PBS and the Harn are now shamelessly promoting the worship of  Marxist icons?  Kahlo’s passion for her husband Diego Rivera (1886-1957), who raised the Mexican mural genre to the status of political art, did not preclude an adulterous interlude with exiled Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  Neither did any lingering sentiment for Trotsky prevent Kahlo from memorializing his murderer, Joseph Stalin, with art and adulation.

Although the information set forth is intended to portray Kahlo sympathetically, the narratives and pictures are sufficiently candid to tell a different story from that intended by their politically correct sponsors.  These sponsors seem to be relying on the historical ignorance of the general public to omit the context in which Kahlo and her associates’ life and work transpired.  For example, one is not supposed to recollect that Christianity in the Mexico of the mid-twentieth century had been suppressed with a vehemence and violence that aspired to emulate conditions in the Soviet Union itself.  However, if we are able to restore this context, then the exhibition and film do become vastly educational, albeit not in the sense that its sponsors intended.

Surrealism, art, and agitation

From the first it needs to be kept in mind that Kahlo was never an isolated artist, but rather part of that larger movement which called itself “Surrealism.”  As an emigre from France to Mexico, Kahlo was a major force in the regional propagation of the movement, but not its leading international star.  Although historians classify surrealism as an artistic movement, its originators deemed it a revolutionary philosophy, one which was capable of altering human perception to such a degree that it would facilitate social and cultural transformation.  The mastermind of this movement was Andre Breton(1896-1966).  Breton was not only a mentor of Kahlo but a social acquaintance, the PBS documentary even mentioning an alleged lesbian relationship between Kahlo and Breton’s wife.  Be that as it may, Breton’s theory found a natural conduit to the masses in the work of Kahlo and other disciples.

Though Breton was a Marxist, his artistic theory was far to the “left” of mainstream Marxist aesthetics of the time, which was trying to promote the stodgy doctrine of Soviet Realism which reduced all art to a kind of photography of sense impressions.  Like kindred theories which were starting to make waves in the ’20s and ’30s, notably the Frankfort School’s critical theory and Antonio Gramci’s cultural Marxism, the Surrealists felt that the bourgeois  mind could not simply be chopped off from the shoulders of material reality.   Rather, it required transformation, and the Surrealists felt that they, being revolutionary geniuses, had devised just the right formula to bring about the desired result.

The essence of the theory was that the human mind had been confined by logic to conform to an artificial matrix of perception.  A particular kind kind of logic, explained by Aristotle but thought to be natural and universal, was responsible for the way human beings, at least in the West, categorized the world given by the senses.   Thus normally, the sensory manifold was interpreted as evidence of discrete entities (such as rational persons) their qualities (such as owning their bodies and property) and relationships (such as the binary distinction between justice/injustice). Contrary to this “common sense” doctrine, the Surrealists felt that if bourgeois civilization were to be overthrown, these categories needed to be neutralized and overcome.  The avenue by which the human mind was most liable to reconditioned away from what had previously been defined as “sanity” and “reality” was art, especially graphic and photographic recombination and mutation of common scenes.

Whereas the Soviet Realist wished to reduce all perception to a logic of despiritualized bodies interacting in time and space, the Surrealist wished to abolish logic completely, and reduce the mind to a series of kaleidoscope impressions, devoid of any supervening criteria of judgement of as to whether the sensations were illusory or genuine.  In contrast to the doctrinaire Realists, the Surrealists wished to retain psychology at the heart of their world-view.  This was tremendously appealing to a varied assortment of intellectuals and artists who’s narcissistic tendencies made them unlikely candidates for the kind of impersonal doctrine being dished out to rank-and-file Communists.  Frieda Kahlo, who’s self-constructed image appears repeatedly in the exhibition, is clearly an instance of such a comrade-narcissist.

Frieda Kahlo, from Shamanism to Stalinism

In the minds of Breton’s European contemporaries, Surrealism’s psychologization of perception was expected to destroy bourgeois idealism, striping the mind of reasonable objections to the assault of the strong material forces which were destined overwhelm civilization.  These forces, industrial, military, economic, and demographic were all material in their foundation.  Therefore critics of Communism who have ventured to apply terms such as “demonic” and even “Satanic” to the movement have been accused of hyperbolic expression, if not outright paranoia.  After all, an atheist, whatever her or his faults, is an unlikely candidate for demon-worship.

However, would not the Surrealist movement, in striping the mind of rationality, leave it prey to not just brute natural forces,  but also to preternatural entities, if indeed the latter have any objective reality?  In the absence of characters such as Frieda Kahlo, such a hypothesis would be purely conjectural.  However we can see in her art the portrayal of a parallel world which seems to have more in common with the shammanic visions portrayed by Carlos Castennada than the pop leftist Parisian cafes which Frieda Kahlo despised.  Whatever their differences in world-view both the sorcerer and the commissar seek to attain unlimited power without the burdens of ethical constraint, and it is no accident that a disciple of Andre Breton was able to break down the partition between two of hell’s antechambers.

Does this mean that there was no value to the art of the surrealists or to the teaching of Frieda Kahlo?  Not necessarily, however the ultimate value of any work lies in to whom that work has been consecrated.  Not to consecrate at all, out of human pride, is to assume a godless universe and thus to consecrate one’s work to demons, should they happen to exist, by default.  The first assumption was implicit in the ideology of the Realists while the latter was worked out in the practice of the Surrealists.  Indeed it may be that, as Frieda Kahlo rightfully insisted, there is more to art than painting endless stereotypes of boring floral arrangements, but hopefully we can become creative without denying the primal Creator and consequently taking the full credit for our own spiritual and physical mutations.  Salvador Dali, the archenemy of Andre Breton, was as creative as any of the leftist cult’s artists, but he possessed two qualities which tend to escape armchair revolutionaries, devotion to God and a sense of humor.

Some people will come away from the Frieda Kahlo exhibition in awed reverence, others, more discerning, will feel vaguely nauseated.  Nobody is likely to leave laughing.



[NB God willing the series on Christian Anthropology will be extended in the near future, however it was thought expedient to interrupt with a few out of series posts…thanks as always to my patient readers]


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Christian Anthropology Pt. 5 The Anthropological basis of knowledge

Posted by nouspraktikon on July 30, 2016

A Recapitulation

To summarize what has be said in the discussion, let’s pose the same content in the form of questions and answers.   First, do we live in an impersonal universe?  No, we live in a personal universe.  Next, do we live in a persistent chaos inhabited by multiple personalities?  No, we live in a created order authored by a creating Personality.  If so, can we know this creating Personality directly?  No, we can only know this Personality analogically using categories immanent to our own being and applying them to the Creator Being.

If one accepts these assertions then a number of important correlative theses obtain.  First of all ethics is the key to metaphysics, not the other way around.  Second, anthropology is the master science, on the one hand, in preference to physics, and on the other, in preference to theology, or more precisely theosophy.  This latter proposition requires some elaboration, since it might scandalize religious minds who are only looking at the proposition superficially.  If we state that anthropology precedes theology and perhaps excludes theosophy altogether, are we not setting up Man as a higher object of devotion than God?  Bear in mind that that purpose of this series of essays is to distinguish Christian Anthropology from Humanism, which entails disentangling what we know from what we worship.  Therefore, the analogical knowledge of God via anthropology is being distinguished from heretical forms of gnosis.  In other words, we are comparing different methods of knowledge rather than different kinds of being.  Paul called the royal road to knowledge which travels through Christ the “epignosis” which is Greek for “full knowledge.”  This orthodox, mediated, gnosis contrasts sharply with the unmediated gnosis of the heretics.

To “Grock” or not to “Grock

A contemporary reader confronted with a phrase like “the unmediated gnosis of the heretics” is probably wary of getting dragged into a discussion of the Manacheans, Valentinians, Basilideans and other exotic species of ancient philosophers.   On the other hand, readers of Eric Voegelin are apt to be prejudiced (either for or against) a usage of “Gnostic” which is only too broad and contemporary.  Yet, heretical gnosis, in the sense intended here is both perennial and specific.  There was a huge influx of this kind of thought in the third quarter of the last century (typically referred to as “the sixties”) and its influence persists into the present day.

If we want knowledge of God without availing ourselves of a mediator, then we are in a severe predicament.  We must “break through” into a plane of Being which is altogether superior to our own level of existence.  This is the task which the advocate of “unmediated gnosis” feels to be almost, but not quite, beyond the capacity of human endeavor.  This “not quite” qualification on the otherwise total impossibility of transcendental knowledge, is usually claimed on the basis of some secret path which leads to heaven’s back door.  In “the sixties” this kind of a path typically either involved drugs or yoga or some combination of both.  In one specimen from the period’s literature an Earth man who had been raised on Mars by aliens was capable of breaking through at will onto the level of ultimate reality.  The experience was called “grock” or “grocking.”  Even in a period when it was thought that intelligent alien life was likely to be living on Mars, a human being raised by Martians was clearly a rare breed, an exception that proved the rule that transcendental knowledge is impossible for all but a few…an elite.

Being an elite project, unmediated gnosis always begins with great conviction and sincerity.  There is nothing feigned about it, yet is has a short shelf life and is quickly replaced by cheap imitations.  During and after the sixties, the entheogens (literally “god-engendering pharmaceuticals”) of the drug researchers were gradually transformed into recreational drugs, and the yoga of the sages was adulterated and marketed as a physical fitness program.  Few ever “grocked” and those who claimed success as often as not returned from their altered state with tales of nightmares rather than paradise.  The pioneers continued to market their enlightenment experience, but of course they were advocates in their own cause.  For the rank and file “ecstasy” gradually lost its original meaning of transcendence and came to mean the optimization of pleasure through peak experiences.

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The Christian, and indeed Human, case against Hyper-Eroticism in any form, stripe, or color!

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 18, 2016

Today’s Secular Nihilism is fueled by Hyper-eroticism at the popular level

It started with the heterosexualists,  now its the homosexualists, but it won’t stop there, pederastry, human/machine sex and intra-species sex are on their way to a local community near you!   Lions and tigers and bears, O my!

Let’s back up a bit.  Let’s go back to at least the Hugh Hefner era of American culture, when people discovered that promiscuity and infidelity were as “cute” as a Playboy bunny.  Secular heterosexualists squandered their right to feel moral outrage at any further form of erotic deviation once that critical line had been transgressed.  After a few nanoseconds of moral hesitation, Christians followed their secular brethren.  Today its called “fifty shades of grey.”

But we really need to go back further in time than the Great Cultural Stumble of the 1960s.  I must indeed confess that this writer has been a great stumbler, and now is a less than great stutterer trying to not to expurgate (only Christ can do that!) but rather to explicate the dangers of hyper-eroticism.  The teachings which we have tossed down the memory hole regarding the dangers of sex to human rationality and social relations are recorded in the Bible, and even in pagan writings which pre-date the New Testament.

The Wisest among the Pagans understood that Eroticism was sub-Human and needed to be excluded from any definition of the Human essence

Although sexual liberationists rail against the Judeo-Christian tradition, the prohibition of sundry sex practices is not unique to the Scriptures.   Pagan societies world-wide have suppressed eroticism and channeled sexual energies into narrow institutional forms.   The world view of pre-Christian anti-eroticism found rare but concise expression in the works of Aristotle on the soul.

Aristotle saw the soul as a hierarchy of functions with rationality (the defining human essence) at the top.  Next was the animate level, the source of will, drive, and locomotion.  Below this is the vegetative level, the level of growth, nutrition, and reproduction.  Sexuality is an attribute of this level, two down from the top!

One hears, “Don’t be a mere animal and give in to your sexuality!” Yet in Aristotle’s scheme this gives the sexual instinct too exalted a place.  A bit of observation will show that old Greek was on to something.  Consider how animals change their temperaments during their “rutting season” and  how they become something “beside themselves” driven into an instinctual pattern of behavior.

But the objection is made that Human Eroticism is more than natural sex.  It involves the aesthetic imagination, moral obligations, and other noble traits.  Should we not celebrate sexuality is a premier quality of our humanity?  This has been a mainstream view since the rise of Humanism in the European Renaissance.   Post-Christian neo-paganism has striven to glorify eros in a way that the original pagans like Aristotle would have found foolish.

Which brings us back to the question: What is the authentically Christian view of eroticism?

The Christian View of Eroticism:  Always Dangerous, Potentially Evil

Sexuality is an inescapable aspect of embodied existence, but this doesn’t mean that it is morally neutral.  One benefit conferred by the doctrine of the Fall is that we need not concur with the (psudo-) Enlightenment view that “this is the best of all possible worlds.”  We can be critical of nature.

Human eroticism, precisely because it adds an imaginative/aesthetic component to gross sexuality (which is passive and sub-animate to begin with) creates a lever for spiritual seduction and manipulation by non-human forces and entities.  What these non-human entities might be is a subject of legitimate debate.  At the very least, the impersonal propagandistic and commercial forces of the modern world are constantly accessing this lever into the consciousness of countless individuals through the instrumentality of the mass media.

Scripture explicitly refers to the invasion of human souls by preternatural entities.  However in general we only see the outcome of these cases, as with the exorcisms performed by Jesus recorded in the Gospels.  Due to the economy of scripture, we do not have vast tomes of material on demonology and the etiology of psychic disturbances within its covers.  We are expected to read scripture as “chapter headings” related to outcomes, and then infer the antecedent causes.  Once we habituate ourselves to making such inferences whole new worlds open up, for we are reading with the “common sense” of the Apostles, not the impoverished “common sense” of modernity, let alone the rank nonsense of post-modernity.

For the Apostles, the wisdom of Aristotle was child’s play.  But both the Apostles and Aristotle would have concurred that erotic play is not a form of childish innocence.  It is play in the garden of good and evil…and after the snake shows up, just evil.

Concluding (and I think quite Scientific) Postscript

This is not to say that whatever people do in the privacy of their bedroom, whether it be straight or gay, happy or sad, will necessarily drag them down into the maw of hell.  Rather it is collective malady, for what is uniquely abominable in the dialogue of contemporary civilization is the contention that sexuality should be the core identity of every human being.  This  erotic Anthropology, with its implicit definition of the species as that with “the most intense and creative expression of sex” soon flips to its antithesis, a carnal race in thralldom to machines or alien spirits.  This is not the species that was intended by God to have dominion over nature.  It is just old Adam, coming to the end of his weary tether.

Fortunately there is a different way.  Paul allows us a spouse, “lest we burn.”  Jesus goes even further and exalts the way of the eunuch.  Usually this is interpreted as a plea for celibacy, although a few such as Tertullian have hypothesized that Jesus was a non-sexed being.  Thus, whatever else he might have been, Jesus was not “hot” according to the usage of contemporary slang.  Not “hot” but managed to do quite a lot!

Can we go and do, or rather not do, the same?

The answer of course,  is a resounding “No!”…without the aid of the Holy Spirit.  But with Him, anything is possible.



Posted in Anthropology, Charismata, Christian Education, Christianity, Culture & Politics, Esoterism, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

The Arcana of “The Lovers”

Posted by nouspraktikon on February 14, 2009

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

By the way, nobody seems to know who, if anybody, this St. Valentinius was.  Valentinius means “valorious one” in Latin, or something like that, so if you picture “Prince Valient” from the old comic strip you won’t go far wrong.  At one time I thought that it was a recrudecence of Gnosticism which had somehow been preserved in the Catholic calender, since there was a famous heresiarch named Valentinius who lived in Alexandria during the 2nd  century, but I have now come to doubt that hypothesis.  As it turns out there were at least half a dozen saints who had local cults named Valentinius in places ranging from Romania to France.  But this too, has become a dead letter, in so far as some pope or council a few decades ago, in a fit of rationalism, decided to dump the whole lot of them.  Needless to say this has never fooled the common people, who in their own cunning perspecacity know perfectly well who is and is not a saint, the genuine saints being, of course, St. Nicholas, St. Valentine, St. Martin of Tours, St. Martin Luther, and St. Martin Luther King.

And of course this blog also has its two patron non-saints, or perchance patron sinners, Pico della Mirandola and Valentin Tomburg.  Both of these are long shots, albeit not impossibilities, for sainthood within the cannons of the Roman Catholic Church, but as far as I am concerned here, few voices speak to the dynamics of modern spirituality as well as Tomburg.   This is slight commendation, since Tomburg’s modernity, like Mirandola’s renaissance, is a very dark place, spiritually speaking.  But we have to work with what we have, and it is better to light one taiper, however slender, than to curse the darkness.

This morning I drew the lover’s card from my tarot pack.  For better or worse I was working with the Connally Tarot, and as I explained in a previous post, Connally has bowlderized many of the spritual arcana of Christian Hermeticism.  It shows a naked man and woman tristing under cherub and a solar disc.  In other words, it is less an alegory of profane love than an indicator (as in the case of divination or meditation) of profane love itself.  This is only the first level of interpretation for the Arcana of The Lovers.  However it is not to be dispised on that account, since all further levels of interpretation are based on the literal.  In that regard, one must become a fundametalist before one proceeds to mysticism.  The Arcana of the Lovers would make no sense to some being (like the proverbial man from Mars) who had never experienced sexuality or gender differentiation.  Any sort of sexuality might do, since they are all permutations on the fundamental structure of male/female polarity…but it is inadmissable that a soul capable only of nongendered abstract thought could ever be initiated into the mystery of the Lovers.  Even Socrates, for all his brilliance and mysogeny, had to learn this secret from an Athenian prostitute, as  he recounted in the Symposium.

Needless to say, it is perilous to dwell exclusively on the level of sensuality, and so the next higher level of interpretation is that of moral alegory.  This is well illustrated by the traditional Marseilles Tarot decks (pictured below) and derivatives such as the Oswald Wirth tarot.  Significantly in these traditions the name of the mystery is rendered in the singular, “the lover” in so far as a single male has been interposed between two alegorical females, with the cherub menacing one with an arrow from his quiver.  The females represent profane and spiritual love respectively, with the male at the point of decision between the two.  A valuable meditation for anyone in any circumstance, but in particular for anyone on Valentine’s day who has had the (mis- ?) fortune of getting more than one box of chocolate!

However the moral interpretation, however essential, is only the anteroom to the higher mystical understandings of Hermeticism, which concern the alchemical wedding of the anima and the animus, or to put it in non-latinate terms, the higher and the lower self.  This is a tricky bussiness since there is much imposture within the human heart and what is “higher” or “lower” at any given time is a difficult matter for dicernment.  For example there is a stage in development when people assume an identification of “higher” with the reasoning faculties and “lower” with the emotional life, but this  is a gross oversimplification upon which many a soul has been ruined.  A great deal of ink (or rather electrons these days) has been spilled over the methodology of the alchemical wedding, and I, for one, have been back and forth through the Collected Works of Carl Jung on it.  But in the final analysis, Tomberg is right, one just has to pick an iconographic system (Tarot in this case) and start doing the meditations.

Finally, it is important to understand that progress in one’s meditations depend entirely on the operation of the Holy Spirit and not on any artificial time table or schematic one posits in one’s head.  To this end, it is none the less helpful to compare notes with wayfarers who have been on the path before, and I find Tomberg’s Meditations on the Tarot servicable in that regard.  In Tomberg’s treatment of this Arcana we find a fourth level of interpretation beyond the literal, the moral, or even the alchemical, in so far as he identifies the fourth, fifth, and sixth (lovers) tarot cards with the evangelical councils of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Now for anyone to be meditating on chastity on Valentine’s day would seem, by the common standards of this world, to be a bit odd to say the very least, yet there is an irrefutable logic, or rather logos, which flows from profane love up through the alchemical wedding of the soul and then back towards engagement with the world,  not on the basis of desire, but of chastity.  This is the dialectic of the soul as it travels from secular time to the empream of the non-temporal and then back again into the Herecletean flux.  If you read Tomburg’s chapter on the lovers you will see that a mediation on the Lovers will solve any doubts you have about the created nature of the world, in so far as a vision of the  paradise described in the book of Genesis, validates the doctrine that the world was created through divine fiat.  None the less, one is not permitted to enter, in so far as postlapsarian humanity is forced to dwell not in that antechamber of eternity called paradise, but astride the horizontle pseudo-eternity of infinite linear time.  Tomburg shows a great measure of intellectual chastity in refusing to compromise the perpendicular infinities of the verticle and the horizontile worlds, in contrast to those forms of gnosticism which try to butress, as it were, the two infinities with a convenient mixture of creationist and perpetualist mythologies, a slanting plane which we generally refer to as “evolutionism.”

Thus we see that chastity can be raised the the level of an intellectual virtue, which is one of the reasons why it is considered a genuinely Christian and evangelical virtue, rather than simply the department of prudence having to do with avoiding sexual risk-taking, as in “she’s such a prude!”  This is because, rightly considered, chastity is the eroticism of concentration, as opposed to promiscuity which is the eroticism of dispersion.  Of course this involves turning down the importunities of fleshly lovers in favor of God, for monastics absolutely, and for the married through “Mary” to Christ.  For occultists it means that one must be warry of the intrusions of lonely entities, whether these be real or figments, who have wandered out of faery land in quest of impossible human love.  But most important of all, in our day and age, is the chastity that a spiritual warrior must have in the face of the terrible ideological constructs of the modern world, for these are precisely the “adulteries” of which the prophets and the apostles warned.  To resist these seductions is, in truth, beyond the powers of the unaided human spirit, and one can only pray for the grace of strength, the eroticism of concentration, and the mystery, sometimes called the arcana, of true love.

The Lover

The Lover

Posted in Christianity, Esoterism, Tarot, Traditionalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

St. Jerome and the Christian Kabbalah

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 22, 2009

Was the Western Church “Kabbalistic” from Ancient Times?

In the discourse of comparative religion and historical studies, that is to say the standard academic view of people like Gersholm Scholem, a movement designated by the word “Kabbalah” itself doesn’t go back much further than the 12th century, that is to say the presumed date of the Bahir, and then only as a preocupation of Rabbinical Judaism.  Christian Kabbalah is pictured as only a late and imitative phenomena starting in the 15th (Pico della Mirandola) or even 16th (Reuchelin)  centuries.  However this begs the question of what we mean by “kabbalah” since as Scholem himself pointed out it was just a repackaging of a perrenial stream of  “mysticism” one which not only antedated the European middle ages, but included Christians as well as Jews.  For Scholem the Christians in question are members of small Gnostic sects such as the Marcosians, a rather libidinous group which flourished around the second century in Gaul.  The consensus seems to be that even the proto-tradtions which existed before being designated “kabbalah” were either an exclusively Jewish affair or at most one shared by highly deviant forms of Christianity.  Rarely is it suggested that there could be anything “kabbalistic” about orthodox Christian theology during the patristic age.

Of course this would be so if we allow Kabbalah to be defined as, to take one of Scholem’s titles, “Jewish Mysticism” or more inclusively, but improbably, “Any Western spirituality in which mysticism shades imperceptably into magic.”  No orthodox Christian theology, either Eastern or Western, could define itself in such terms.  But if one were to define kabbalah as, say “Any hermenutic basing itself on a mystical interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures”…which strikes me as a more cogent starting point, then the possibility of a kabbalistic patrology seems much more plausable.

J.N.D Kelly on Jerome:World-Class Genius or World-Class Jerk?

If we are searching for a kabbalist among the church fathers then the obvious place to start looking is in the life and works of Jerome, provided, that is, we accept the last of the above definitions of Kabbalah.  Jerome was the first church father to reintroduce the study of the Hebrew scriptures as the basis of Christian Biblical studies.  This “hebraic turn” which largely effected the West via Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (which used the Jewish Tanach as the basis for its Old Testement) is not entirely non-controversial.  Although the consesus view, at least in the West, is that Hebrew would naturally be the ur-source of the scriptures, there is also a feeling, among Eastern Christians and their sympathizers, that the Septuagint (LXX) is not only a more coherent text from the Christian point of view, but as a redaction from the Hellenistic 3rd century BC, may in fact represent a deeper strata of textual matter than any Tanach which Jerome could have had access to by the turn of the  fourth/fifth centuries AD.

Apart from the matter of not having the cognitive or linguistic tools to broach this rather dangerously divisive issue, I think there is something to be said for leaving the whole matter moot, and relocating the difference between the LXX and the Tanach/Vulgate at the level of methodological preferences.  Moreover long as one has some tolerance for anachronistic labeling (and lets face it, all thinking about the past would grind to a halt if one did not) I propose that there is nothing at all absurd about calling any alegorical reading of the Tanach or a Tanach based text for Christian hermenutic purposes “Christian Kabbalah” while alegorical readings based on the LXX may be catagorized as extra- or non-kabbalistic.

If one accepts the above premise, then the first Christian Kabbalist was not Pico della Mirandola, or any other Renaissance or medeval dabbler, but non other than St. Jerome himself!  Well then, so what?  Everyone knows that he was the man who gave the West its first “standard” Bible, but apart from that, who was this guy?  As a matter of fact I happen to be readingJerome His Life Writings and Controversies
by J.N.D. Kelly.  Kelly himself is a sound scholar and talented writer but his irritation with Jerome’s flawed personality shows through, turning the book into a kind of anti-hagiography.  Jerome did have a nasty streak in him, one which tended to progress as he got older, and Kelley spares us none of the details.  Secularist readers (I’m not apprised as to what Kelly’s own religious views are) will of course put this down to supposed Christian “resentment” in combination with the frustrations of celibacy.  However a close attention to Kelly’s narrative shows that a more plausible explanation is the stress attendant on membership in the late Roman political-ecclesiastical class.

For all of that, and admitting that Kelly’s work in its time (the ’70s) was a needed correction to previous encomiums, I found that the biographer’s prejudices extended to more than taking the Jerome cult down a peg or two.  He puts down without comment the remarkable fact that Jerome’s advanced diciples (at least Paula, a woman who was a kind of celebate partner to him) chanted the Psalms in Hebrew.  To me this is a remarkable observation.  We commonly think of translators as standing between the original and the people who are to be the recievers (there’s that word again!) of the translation-object.  But here we have Jerome dishing out the “real stuff” to Paula and who knows who else!

Not only is the virgin Paula chanting in Hebrew, but Jerome sees fit to enlighten her, while explicating the accrostic psalms such as Ps. 118/9, on the letter-meanings of the Hebrew alphabet…for example that Beit is “house” and that Gimmel is “fullness” and so on.  In any other context this would be recognized as the Literal Kabbalah, but Kelly passes it by with a sneer at Jerome’s “self-delusion.”  Of course it seems to be self delusion because the whole thing seems pointless, except possibly as a mnemonic, as long as one is wedded to the opinion that there is nothing contained in the Bible but a narrative of historical events.   Confusingly, this fundamentalist anti-mystical hermenutic is also called “literal” in the sense of a plain meaning, whereas literal, when used as an adjective in Literal Kabbalah, means a hidden layer of (letter) meaning underneath what modern linguists would call the morphological level, i.e., words and parts of words which bear meaning in ordinary discourse.

So what Jerome was teaching Paula was Kabbalah, just as you or I speak prose even if we dont call what we are doing “speaking prose.”  Whether Paula quite understood what Jerome was trying to communicate is another question, for elsewhere Kelly indicates that Paula was more interested in the history contained in the Bible than any alegorical or hidden meanings.  Kelly also doesn’t go particularly deep into what motivated Jerome to translate the Tanach into Latin in the first place.  We presume that we know the answer already, so the question is not even worth raising.  For example we presume to know that any Hebrew text would be original compared to any Greek text which would be derivative.  As I have have already indicated there are doubts about this.  At any rate it is safe to say that Jerome felt he was getting closer to the original sources with Hebrew.  Another and related motivation would be making an end run around the Eastern church’s “patent” on scripture, and giving the Latin West a “more original” Old Testment than the LXX.

That much any historian could figure out, but Jerome, with his great thirst for deeper and deeper levels of meaning, certainly had additional motivations in approaching the Hebrew text.  From his teaching of the acrostics to Paula it is evident that he was familiar with the idea of concealed meanings at the letter level, and perhaps even the matrx like ways in which letters could be recombined to yeild alternate readings on the discursive level, something which would have been impossible with a Greek text like the LXX.

Wordsmith scholars like J.N.D. Kelly, however good they may be at their own arts, are unlikely to pick up on the significance of this hidden dimension.  They use narrative accounts of historical concretes and project them back to some psychological or material factor to explain causes and effects.  Thus Jerome’s translation of the Tanach into Latin must, on a priori grounds since we presume the Literal Kabbalah to be nonesense, have been based on scholarly ambition, sectarianism, or subtle “resentment” rather than genuine curiosity.  However I suggest that, however encrusted by worldly barnacles, the element of curiosity was salient.

Curiosity, Licit and Illicit

However, even admiting the hypothesis that there is a kabbalistic strain in mainstream Western Christianity going back at least to the time of St. Jerome, the question of whether Kabbalah can be embraced as part of the legitimate deposit of faith remains uncertain.  We must recall that Pico della Mirandola’s theses were rejected by the see of Rome, and that Mirandola himself submitted to this judgement, later distancing himself from kabbalah and becoming a diciple of the Dominican monk Savanarola.  Many things separate the fourth century of Jerome from the fifteenth century of Mirandola, the popularization of the word kabbalah to discribe the various arts under discussion being only one of them.  For one thing Jews and Christians had had ten more centuries to become estranged and develop doctrine in diametrically different directions.  So when Pico della Mirandola presented this more intensely Jewish kabbalah to the public, and further mixed it up with the resurgent paganism and magic of the Renaissance, it was clear that its chances of replacing Thomism as the official philosophy of the Western Church were slim indeed.  A second round of this battle was play out within Protestantism.  However Protestanism having already adopted the philosemetic attitude of Jerome and playing its hebrew cards against Catholicism, drew the line at the “joker’s wild” gambit of invoking the Kabbalah.   Within Lutheranism the Christian Kabbalists, under the new moniker of “Rosicrucians” lost out, first to Lutheran scholastics and latter to modernists.  Even such a dedicated Christian Hebraist as Issac Newton loathed the Kabbalah as a manifestation of Jewish backsliding into magic and paganism.

But this accusation of “illicit curiosity” leveled against the Kabbalah during the Renaissance was, I am maintaining, already aimed against nothing more than a second, and second-best attempt, to adopt the full implications of Hebrew allegory in the West.  The first time around, under the auspices of Jerome, it had already been tacitly adopted in a much purer form.  That it was not called “kabbalah” did not keep it from informing peoples expectations of mystical exegesis, even during those centuries when Western Christians had ceased to use Hebrew as a scholarly language.  However this doesn’t mean that it was entirely non-controversial, and that some Western usages didn’t appear strangely Jewish to Eastern Christians.

Was even this early Christian “kabbalism” which came in with Jerome entirely licit?  The history of Protestantism, or rather of extremist Protestant sects, suggests that it was not entirely without dangers.  There has always been the danger of a highly Hebraized Christianity retroverting to Ebionism, or some such doctrine which sees Jesus as a very good man in the service of the Almighty.  Since Ebionism has been in disarray for some time, that too provides little hope of a resting place, and one might go further and embrace the doctrine of the Talmud, that Jesus was actually a bad man and a heretic.

Be that as it may, none of this came to pass with Jerome.  Indeed his studies of the Hebrew scriptures drove him further and deeper into an orthodox outlook.   He consistently maintained that at many points the Trinitarian and Messianic implications of scripture were actually clearer in the Hebrew text than the LXX.  A cantankerous crumudgeon he may have been, but his reputation has remained solid among Christian thinkers of every confessional stripe.  True if we were to say that he was the first Christian to receive the batton of the Kabbalah from the teachers of the Jews, people may cavil that this represents development in doctrine and not, as Jude (i.e. “the Jew”) wrote “the faith recieved once and for all” from the apostolic generation.

And might not someone demonstrate that the apostles themselves were Kabbalists?  Indeed someone might, but not me, at least not now, for even these few random observations on Jerome have taxed my wits.  But do give it a thought.

Posted in Christianity, Esoterism, Kabbalah, Theology, Traditionalism | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Valentin Tomberg on the reality (and unreality) of Evolution

Posted by nouspraktikon on January 10, 2009

The Hermit

The Hermit

A doubly “Hermetic” meditation

Although I don’t claim to have understood all the myteries touched on by Valentin Tomberg’s masterpiece Meditations on the Tarot, and am unlikely ever to do so, it is sufficiently clear to me that its ninth chapter “The Hermit” contains the methodological key to the whole. Indeed, Tomberg, who concealed his name in the work’s title but otherwise was quite forthcoming in his explanations of the arcana, states as much in the text.

I have often thought of using this blog as a venue for an extended commentary on Mediataions on the Tarot, but the work is so massive and dense that any systematic treatment would take more time and energy than is available to yours truely. None the less if one were to start a commentary the best place to begin would be the middle rather than the beginning, since the work is itself organized around the principle of an unbound codex, or what we call a “deck of cards”…i.e. its structure is geometrical rather than sequential. Cartomancers, for example, lay the tarot cards out in various geometrical spreads for purposes of divination. Of course, divination is not the use which Tomberg, a Christian mystic, puts the tarot to. Rather he uses them as iconographic clues to tease out “arcana” or keys to wisdom.

That is to say that as the cards are meditated on, a certain chain of ideas begins to suggest itself, hopefully leading to the resolution of some previously intractable philosophical problem. In my opinion, and evidently Tomberg’s, this use of the cards as a philosophical machine is far more interesting than divining to see who you are going to have lunch with tommorrow. Of course the answers that one arrives at using this Hermetic method may not be the optimal ones, something Tomberg readily concedes, however in my experience it sharpens the acuity with which the problems can be grasped.

The chapter on the Hermit serves as a kind of methodological template of this meditative proceedure, and Tomberg has the audacity to “resolve” within the space of less than a dozen pages three of the toughest antinomies in philosophy: 1) realism vs. idealism, 2) universals vs. particulars, and 3) science vs. faith. It would be double hubris for me to attempt (within the ambit of one post) a satisfactory commentary on Tomberg’s Hermeticism of the Hermit Card, but as a sort of apendix to question three “science vs. faith” he casually throws out a) and explanation of the Fall, and b) a theory reconciling Creation with Evolution, and I would like to draw out some of the remarkable implications which his writing contains on those topics. At any rate, perhaps one can see why this book, a commentary on a traditional source of symbolism, itself requires a sub-commentary!

The Fall of Man and Evolution

Since the two topics, as treated by Tomberg, are interconnected, I’ll deal with them under the same rubric. First of all there is the very interesting exegesis of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowlege of Good and Evil Heb.עץהדעתטובורע the fruit of the etz daat tov va rah. Now this is taken in anti-theistic hermenutics to be a prohibition on acquiring the means to make moral disinctions, which is obviously the sort of tyranical limitation which purveyors of the Promethean model of human-divine relations are wont to assume.

Tombergs understanding of the fall, and I am calling it his understanding because I have never encountered it anywhere else, though for all I know there may be circles where it is a commonplace…completely obviates what might be called the tyrannical command theory. But that is just a bonus of the theory, for at a more salient level it provides a critical tool for unravelling the conundrum of Creationism/Evolutionism. I call this Creationism/Evolutionism antinomy a conundrum because we have on the one hand what would seem to be a crude myth which leads to all the moral insights upon which a theory of human dignity must be based, and on the other hand a superbly sophisticated scientific theory which leads to moral obscenities and possibly the destruction of the human race.

So what theory of the Fall does Tomberg have in mind which will allow him to resolve this antinomy? First of all, let me paraphase what is evidently the intention of the Meditations, for while the expression does not occur quite as explicitly in Tomberg, or rather in the rendition of his English translator Powell, the forbidden fruit was actually that of the knowlege daat which grants empowerment regardless of good or evil consequences hatov va rah. In other words the Fall-inducing knowlege is none other than the kind of instrumentalizing, pragmatic knowlege by which science grants power to the human race, a knowlege which will inevitably have both good and bad consequences. But then, from the point of view of Adam and Eve, consequences be damned…pun intended.

Now if Tomberg left it at this we would have a kind of Manicheanism, perhaps of the fashionably contemporary Green variety. Moreover, Tomberg is, like Augustine of Hippo, a kind of ex-Manichean…yet in some ways even more interesting than Augustine, since we do not possess any Manichean writings by the African bishop, but we do have a double Tomberg corpus, one Anthroposophical and one Catholic. Furthermore, just as Augustine could see certain things about Catholic doctrine which eluded his contemporaries precisely because he had labored long in the fields of Manicheanism, likewise Tomberg, without the background in Rudolph Steiners teaching would not have been in the position to baptize the Tarot, somewhat after the fashion that Augustine baptized ancient philosophy and rhetoric.

Therefore Tomberg invokes the image of the serpent as the image of temporal evolution and human progress as lineal empowerment. However he never goes so far in the direction of Manicheanism as saying that Satan is the God of Evolution. This is because he sees the horizontile path of the serpent of knowlege as one arm intersected by the verticle path of salvation, the Tree of Life. Indeed, the Tree of Life is none other than the Cross, upon which the serpent must be crucified. Therefore even modern science, which is so obviously Satanic in many of its manifestations, is capable of redemption. Likewise, knowlege of an evolving cosmos, as long as it is seen as pragmatic understanding rather than a credo or a total world-view, is capable of being baptized to the service of Christ.

Having epitomized what is clearly the salient insight in Tomberg regarding the Hermit card, I hope you will read the chapter yourself and make further commentary. You, whoever you may be in your annonymity.

Posted in Christianity, Esoterism, Kabbalah, Philosophy, Tarot | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Indispensable Arrow of Time: A Critique of Pure Amillenialism

Posted by nouspraktikon on December 27, 2008

Who was Joachim of Flores and what is it to you?

Recently, the Archdruid Report, which seems to be an energy and culture (!) blog has been the latest intellectual rif off of that old Eric Voglintheme: fanaticism in modernity is the after effect of Gnostic and Apocalyptic thinking which somehow took over the West, if not withthe rise of Christianity in late antiquity, at least with the seedy underground of medeval mystical movements.  Although the Archdruid may have other objections, the standard Voglinian battle cry is: Don’t imantantize the eschaton.

Of course this strikes a respondant chord withanybody who has had to cope withranting street preachers, illustrated sandwitch men, endtimes clockwatchers, and doomsday survivalists.  And, according to the Voglinites, it doesn’t stop there, it goes on to more sophisticated and scientistic versions of pro-green, post-gender, plus-perfectionist apostles of modernist utopias.  All of this is admitedlyhighly obnoxious.  Furthermore with a little scholarship anyone can prove to their satisfaction that there is an uniterupted intellectual pedegree stretching from Joachim of Flores to Leon Trotzky.  In other words, these people, whatever their differences, all hold in common a view of history which is moving forward towards some sort of summa bonum, an endstate so wonderful that any means might justify the end.

This, in short, is the brief of the Voglinians, and to a lesser extent, those like the Archdruid who embrace and propagate what might be called his “critique of millinarianism.”  Now while I’m a fan of Voglin myself, it seems to me that he has a tendency to reach too far in proving his point.  His treatment of Joachim of Flores is a case in point.  Joachim was a Cistercian monk of the 12thcentury, an intellectual speculator on scripture and prophecy, and while he may have made a number of rash statements about the relationship of the persons of the Holy Trinity, to my knowlege he never actually killed anybody.

This latter point I consider rather important, because Voeglin, Popper, and other critics of “historicism”…or rather a historicism projected back on pre-20th century thinkers (sometimes very pre- indeed!) is an attempt to establish guilt by association between these philosophers ( or theologians if you will) and MesseursHitler, Stalin, Pol Pot et al.  The most proximate culprit is usually G.F.W. Hegel with his “march of the Idea through history” and “the real is the rational and the rational is the real.”  Admittedly not exactly Hiter’s style, but just concrete enough for Karl Marx to flip on its head and turn into something as evil as Communism…or so the story goes.  I used to try to defend Hegel as an edifying and rewarding read…but these days I leave that to the professionals of the Hegel Society.

But when we get back to Joachim of Flores, it is hard to see in what sense he is the ancestor of modern totalitarianism.  Still, there must be something to the Voeglinian idea that there is a certain way of thinking about time which is evil and leads to mischief on a massive scale.  In the case of Joachim of Flores, while it might be hard to pin a murder rap on a monk, we might get a conviction on the grounds that drove a lot of people insane.

Fast forward from the 12th to the 13th centuries (yes time elapsed in the middle ages just as it does today).  Now an evangelical movment has broken out in Europe initiated by Fracis of Asizzi.  Like all movements it develops its extremist wing, called the “spirituals” who insist on poverty, reform of the Church, and the immanence of the Kingdom of God.  Now who do the “spirituals” latch on to as their chief theoretician but Joachim of Flores.  His trinitarianspeculations embrace a three part division of history, 1) the age of the Father, which corresponds pretty much to what previous theologians had called the dispensation of the Law,  and 2) the age of the Son, which corresponds pretty much to what had been called, without qualm the dispensation of Grace.   The problems started with 3) the age of the Spirit, which corresponds to nothing in traditional theology, but does seem to logically entail a time of freedom and inner guidance which had hitherto seemed properly restricted to the afterlife in Heaven, but now was brought down to Earth as just society, and in the case of the 13th century “spirituals” one built on the principles enunciated by St. Francis.

It was to be a bloodless revolution…yet it was heady stuff, probably enough to put someone off their rocker.  Take the case of Jacquomo da Todi.  Yes, he was a monk, not a gangster…but he, how shall we say, managed to upsetpeople.  Suffering from guilt after the deathof his young, pious wife he began acting strange and acquired the name Crazy Jack.  He wore nothing but rags and sometimes he crawled on all fours,  once he came to a party tarred and feathered…by himself.  He hung out with the “spirituals” and even wound up as one of their leaders.

So there you have it, apocalyptic thinking drives people insane.  It’s not quite the same as being an accomplice to murder but it will certainlydo for your average veteran from the left side of the culture wars, for whom one streetpreacher is worth any number of Hitlers or Stalins.  There is no doubt about the fact that a millenarianmentality can be seriously dangerous to your health.  I’m not being entirely facetious either.  Anyone who has lived for an extended time in the Bible belt will notice certain kinds of mental illnesses, like people who, whenever there is a loud noise, think the world is coming to an end.  No doubt psychiatrists could multiply these examples.

Immanentize that Eschaton Baby!

And yet, aren’t we throwing out the baby with the bathwater if we ban all millennialism to the realm of dangerous heresy?  Without the eschaton we loose something, we loose our dreams…not just the dreams which drive us mad, but the dreams which drive us sane as well, because without dreams we are victims of a deterministic world from which, since we are unable to improve it, we must seek to escape.  The opposite of the immanent eschaton is not sanity or prudence…because a restless dissatisfaction with the reality of our age is somehow built into the human conscience.  Rather, the opposite of millennialism is quietism.  Quietism is the real “opium of the masses” it is a religion which despairsof any amelioration of the human condition, and seeks to dull the contact with reality until ultimate liberation is met withat the time of death.

Christian millenarianism might be seen as a vector between the horizontal of progressive Futurism and a verticle Amillenarian spirituality.  If the latter is Quietism, then the former is the religion of the Antichrist, or rather even if there is no Antichrist, Futurism would be guaranteed to give birth to one.  Change for the sake of change, power for the sake of power…yes, when the arrow of change runs parallel to the surface of the Earth it turns demonic, it becomes the religion of Stalin and Pol Pot.

But when the arrow of human spirituality points directly upward, rejecting this Earthas the abode of “the flesh and the devil” and consequently incorrigible, the result can only be defective from a Christian point of view.  It might be an allowable view from the perspective of certain forms of Mahayana Buddhism, to forsake this world for a Pure Land separated from all pain, but this is a kind of idea fundamentally alien to the gospel.  True, the gospel, as expressed in the works of John the Apostle and elsewhere is quintessentially spiritual…but the gospel contains all essences, not just the quintessence.   The Incarnation breaks through into history and forms a bridge between the spiritual and the mundane.

Perhaps the best way to think about it is thus: Yes, heaven is our destination, and yes, linear future progress will at some point turn negative and destructive of the human race, but the gospel requires a certain worldliness to gain “traction” in the secular world, a vector between the vertical and the horizontal which will lift us up, as upon wings.

Today there is danger not just from “millenarian” but also from amillenarian, when the latter takes the form of Nietzeche’s”last men” who simply blink at the world as it passes by faster and faster, having given up on the false ideal of progress they resign themselves to the reign of Heraclitean flux.  If the eschaton devours space and makes it secondary, amillenarianism devours time and specialiseseverything.  Having no common dream the human race falls into fragments, each country, each race, each individual maximizing their own values in a world devoid of the common denominator provided by the arrow of eschatological time.  The positive fanaticism of the Spiritual Franciscans is thus replaced by the negative fanaticism of, say, the Bloomsbury Group, where each individual strives to perfect his or her own aesthetic world apart from God or the people of God.

So two cheers for the arrow of time…let’s just remember that its a dangerous weapon and not point it an anyone. 

Written on the Feast of St. John the Apostle

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