Secret Agent Man

 

Possession

The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.

 

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg

Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Influence

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.

256px-Fleming's_paperback_Bonds

Agency

The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.

 

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The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.

 

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers

Divine

File:Vico La scienza nuova.gifTo divine something is to appeal to the gods for their power of knowing. To use that power to foretell the future is called “divination.” In Giambattista Vico’s classic book New Science, he associates the modern sense of God as divine, meaning “blessed” or “holy,” back to the pre-Christian or pagan sense of having supernatural powers of predicting and knowing.

“By contrast, the pagans embraced an imaginary providence, for they fancied the gods as physical bodies which foretold the future by signs apparent to the senses. But whether true or imaginary, this attribute of providence led the entire human race to call God’s nature ‘divinity’. They all derived this name from one and the same notion, which in Latin was called divinari, to foretell the future.”

Vico sees the similarities between pagan practices in the near east as a direct influence on the later worship and practices of the Abrahamic religions. Overtime, each of the near eastern pantheons developed a hierarchy among the gods. Perhaps this shift of power accounts for the more recent consolidation of the many gods into one.

I sense too that the shift away from polytheism towards monotheism reflects a shift in consciousness to where our animal senses are no longer a unified experience within a tribe. The loss of the unifying power of a tribal consciousness creates a sense of ownership thereby shifting the source of power onto an individual. You might even say that this shift creates the very distinction between individuals and groups.

Portrayals of a bearded and long-haired Jesus began to emerge in the early 4th century, such as in this work from the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. Inspired by depictions of the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon, the bearded version would become the most commonly recreated adult Jesus. http://ilfattostorico.com/2013/12/25/qual-era-laspetto-di-gesu/

Unlike tribal cultures, city-states are organized through the rites of family and a principle of ownership. Slowly over time, a sense of ownership has permeated every facet of human life, but more importantly, it now shapes our sense of identity. Where in tribal societies the stories came from the gods, our stories now come from a single source, i.e., God, and in the post-Christian west, from each individual subject.

“Long ago, Noah’s three sons renounced their father’s religion, which by its rite of marriage was the only thing that preserved the society of families in that state of nature. There followed a period of brutish wandering or migration, in which first Ham’s tribes, then Japheth’s, and finally Shem’s, were all scattered throughout the earth’s great forest.”

After generations of wandering in the “primeval forest” some of the scattered tribes began to settle and adopt several critical rites which led to the development of what we now call civil laws and civil society.

“These principles are (1) divine providence; (2) solemn matrimony; and (3) the universal belief in the immortality of the soul, which originated with burial rites.”

Vico then states “they were shaken and roused by a terrible fear of Uranus and Jupiter, the gods they had invented and embraced.”

“Through protracted settlement and the burial of their ancestors, they came to found and divide the first dominions of the earth. The lords of these domains were called giants, a Greek word which means ‘sons of the earth’, or descendants of the buried dead.These lords were considered patricians or nobles: for in this first stage of human civilization, nobility was justly ascribed to those who had been humanely engendered in fear of divinity.”

“Engendered in the fear of divinity” or in the gods’ power to know all that humans fervantly wish to know. To be all-knowing is, among other things, a survival skill that moved human civilization from small tribes of hunter-gatherers to agriculturally based nation-states. To cultivate the land requires the knowledge and study of time, including the cycles of weather. The practice of divination is the beginning of what we now call science which continues to influence all aspects of what it means to know something.

To map the heavens, as astrology does, seeks to understand and respect the correlation between the world as it is; time, her seasons and our needs. It’s no wonder that the deities were located in the vastness of the heavens. To look up and outward to a seemingly boundless expanse might itself account for the notion of infinity. To cultivate the people, along with the land, also requires the god’s help:

“These first fathers of the pagan nations possessed all four of the classical virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. They were just in their supposed piety of observing the auspices, which they believed to be Jupiter’s divine commands. (From his Latin name Ious, Jove, derived the ancient word ious, law, which was later contracted to ius, justice. And in every nation, justice is taught together with piety.) They were prudent in making sacrifices in order to ‘procure’ omens, that is, to interpret them properly, and thus to take proper care to act according to Jupiter’s commands. They were temperate by virtue of their marriages. And, as noted here, they also possessed fortitude.”

Vico traces our Judeo-Christian cultural sensibilities directly to pagan antiquity. Although our modern definition of “divine” can mean anything from a brand of chocolate (yum!), to God as the Divine and Holy one, the association of divinity to the primal necessity of knowing, expresses both the value and power that all knowledge has held for us throughout the ages.

But, to lose a cosmology which at one time enabled us to directly experience a correspondence between each other, and the world we inhabit, is to suffer a great alienation and aloneness. We moderns, because our use (and abuse) of power comes through a pronounced sense of individuality, seem to think it’s a matter of our choosing which direction our lives and the future of the planet are headed. I am beginning to question just how true or not that notion is. If predicated on a faulty premise, maybe there’s more to the story. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“Our present civilization quite obviously lacks any unifying principle. The degree of unity which the vague term ‘modern civilization’ implies is in many ways a ‘unity of disunity’, the peoples involved being given a superficial coherence by the spread of technology and by common acceptance of certain ways of thought whose very nature is to create further disintegration.”
Alan W. Watts, The Supreme Identity

Except as noted, all quotes from Vico, Giambattista (1999-04-29). New Science (Penguin Classics). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Birthing 2014

This post is an updated version of a post from Christmas 2013:

What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas day and in each new life, and in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way into the mystery that is life.

I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan

“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin

But not only a new birth, not one time, but repeatedly throughout a lifetime and many lifetimes.

 
File:Matthijs Maris The Bride, or Novice taking the Veil, c 1887.jpg“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham

“Masks of the infinite” because who can look into the face of divinity and live? For instance, how difficult is it to look intently into another’s eyes before looking away, or to ponder the depths of either the beauty or horror of this world, or to receive a full presence of true awe? Have you ever experienced a feeling so intense that it literally took your breath away? How difficult it can be to openly and fully receive something not yet known, seen or wordless without turning away and reaching into the safety of the known to identify it and name it. Ah, we say, that’s just…, or that is…which immediately removes the danger and fear of the unknown. “I know, I know,” we say, but do we?

“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself.
God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at.
… [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin

Nietzsche’s freedom is everyone’s freedom, on the one hand to err, ignore and discount the mysterium tremendum and awe of being alive by always knowing, and on the other to bring into expression new possibilities of the numinous. But, in order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must find our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection, curing us of the blindness of literalism, and giving us the second sight to see, at least imaginally, the Face of God in all of creation.

“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin

Not so much through belief, but through the experience of seeking that twin, our guide and angel, do we begin to know ourselves and others as persons, as masks of God.

“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now – Amy Grant

Christmas MorningPeace on earth, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

Say Yes Quickly

Below is one of my favorite poems by Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi. This one is a translation by the American poet, Coleman Barks.There is an interview with Coleman here, in which he speaks to the idea, near and dear to my heart, that ecstatic states are not necessarily limited to transcendent, meditative states that one patiently works years to experience, but a profound joy experienced in the course of mundane, commonplace occurences.

“Barks gave a precise definition of ecstasy in that Moyers interview: “each moment [is] solid and actual, yet numinous, shot through with divine light and guidance.” He also gave a telling anecdotal definition of ecstasy when I asked him more recently to define it: “I was with my granddaughter, going around the yard lifting up stones to see what was there — there’s always something good, something interesting — and a woman walking by on the street just turned her head and said, ‘You’re going to spoil her.’ This universe is just so incredible that we’re all spoiled, and it’s okay. Rumi said, ‘The eye is meant to see things; the soul is here for its own joy.’ “

I first heard this poem read by Robert Bly at a conference I attended back in the 1990’s. Perhaps you’ve heard it? If not, or if so, enjoy!

Say Yes Quickly

Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.
You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.
Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.
Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where
you go on the street, the street
where everyone says, “How are you?”
and no one says How aren’t you?

Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and torn tonight,
thrashing in the dark. Inside you
there’s an artist you don’t know about.
He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know
and have never seen.

Is what I say true? Say yes quickly,
if you know, if you’ve known it
from before the beginning of the universe.

Primordial Necessity

My impatient fate
Approaches me,
Stepping zealously
On the air.
It approaches me quietly,
Without noise,
It comes from
The remote area.
And I feel
That in no time,
It’ll open
With its burning fingers
The sacred, the whitest
Door of mine. Tsira Gogeshvili

“Original Sin is accounted for by the sin in the Originals. Humans are made in the images of the gods, and our abnormalities image the original abnormalities of the gods which come before ours, making possible ours. We can only do in time what gods do in eternity. Our infirmities will therefore have to have their ground in primordial infirmity, and their infirmities are enacted in our psychopathologies.” James Hillman

For James Hillman, revisiting our pre-Judeo-Christian past, returns us to a polytheistic world in which the gods were both many and varied. Taking us back in time, prior to the modern scientific view, where reason now denigrates ancient cosmologies as anthropomorphic fantasies with little or no value, Hillman recalls for us what is lost in limiting divinity to the one God.

The Abrahamic God, psychologically speaking, condenses all divine power into one transcendent power, with admission left for only one Adversary down below; the Devil. This condensing forces an entire pantheon of ideas underground – for the gods personify archetypal ideas, images and powers – absorbing them into Abrahamic religions as either friend of the Devil, or friend of God. An entire pantheon reduced to two primordial powers forever at war with each other, battling over ownership and fate of us mere mortals.

My purpose here is not so much to bring more conflict to the competition of beliefs or ideas, but to turn to the Greeks, ironically because we do not share their beliefs, for an understanding that imagining through myth and story are primary; before belief. Seen through the lens of fantasy, Greek mythology, as the Neo-Platonist writers of the not too distant past understood, displays affliction and suffering as belonging, necessary and creative in ways we moderns may have lost sight of.

For the Greeks and other pre-Judeo-Christian polytheistic worldviews, each god personified a distinct nature or image, and through story displayed their characteristics and interactions with each other in a world alive, moving and fierce, and yet, divine, universal, unchanging.

But what does a polytheistic view do for us that a monotheistic one does not? For Hillman, polytheism offers us an articulated view of our nature through images and stories, and especially pathologies, or where we suffer. Sin then is not only, as some Christian theology understands it, an absence of the presence of the divine, but through necessity, a compelling or exaggerated influence of one of many gods, shaping the style, character and fate that befalls us. Evil here can then be attributed to a compulsion, habit or addiction to one aspect of any one of the gods, not only to that of the Evil One. It’s as if the early Judeo-Christian consciousness rounded up all the gods, split them into opposing forces, leaving us with the opposition of Good vs. Evil, an unbearable tension in need of its own redemption, for nothing is purely good or evil.

Perhaps the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, when imagined as a shift in consciousness rather than a deliberate man-made manipulation, can itself be seen as an aspect of the goddess Ananke, a necessary shift. The monotheistic shift in consciousness has brought us the gift of rationalism, and objectivism, both of which have led us to the ideas and discoveries of science and technology. Although we can and do argue the merits of different styles of consciousness, that argument is itself a display of the objectivity of a monotheistic style of consciousness. We cannot, I believe, undo a style of consciousness through an awareness of it only, but we might gain an understanding of the nature and value of imagination inherent in the mythologizing that remains present in us, regardless of belief.

Polytheistic consciousness is perhaps a more deeply immersed and subjective experience of a world animated and alive. The shift away from that state allows us to amplify the sense of ourselves as separate from the environment, and to imagine the world into things unto themselves, with being and function independent of us and each other. The nuance of each god that gets lost in the monotheistic experience can be regained when we look to the images of the gods, recognizing in them primary, or archetypal influence; the source of all bounty and affliction, ever bringing us gifts through the limitations we are bound by through the infirmities we suffer.

Aion or Chronos, bound by Necessity

“Man is as much in the image of the gods and goddesses when he is ludicrous, enraged, or tortured, as when he smiles. Since the gods themselves show infirmitas, one path of the imitatio dei is through infirmity. Furthermore, it is this infirmitas of the archetype that can be nurse to our wounds and extremities, providing a style, a justification, and a sense of significance for ours.”

Ananke

In one version of the Greek myth of creation, the two primordial gods, Kronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity), were entwined together, and “circled the primal world egg in their coils and split it apart to form the ordered universe of earth, sea and sky.” Wiki

The first movement, or cause within the cosmos is this embrace of time and necessity. Hillman sees these archetypal figures with their influence on us as that which engage us through the archetypal structures, or gods, themselves. Hence they are Necessity Herself, primary to all we are and become:

“Necessity in Greek mythical thought is spoken of and experienced in pathologized modes.”

What is meant by the word Necessity, who is Ananke? Hillman provides a list of semitic roots from the works of Heinz Schreckenberg: narrowing, throat, surrounding, embracing, strangling, to wind tightly around the neck as the neck-band of a slave, a necklace or yoke.

In a variation of the myth, The Moirai were described as ugly old women, sometimes lame. They were severe, inflexible and stern. Clotho carries a spindle or a roll (the book of fate), Lachesis a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe, and Atropos (Aisa) a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument. At other times the three were shown with staffs or sceptres, the symbols of dominion, and sometimes even with crowns. At the birth of each man they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. Shown here in a Flemish tapestry, Triumph over Death, ca 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ananke is that unseen binding or limit through her entanglement with Kronos, or time, that creates the world: the Heavens, Ge, the earth, all the gods, mortals, plants and animals. Necessity then, is experienced in our environment, the place of our being, and in the relations of family, community, obligations, servitude, all of which, as Hillman says, “governs our being.”

She also has associations to the Underworld, operating as an invisible psychic force. She herself is imageless, which Hillman suggests accounts for her compelling force upon us that leads to our afflicted states. She is blind necessity underlying all images that capture and compel us into mythological states experienced as reality.

“To use the word “reality” implies an ontological condition that cannot be otherwise. Therefore there must be something unalterably necessary about images so that psychic reality, which first of all consists in images, cannot be mere afterimages of sense impressions. Images are primordial, archetypal, in themselves ultimate reals, the only direct reality that the psyche experiences. As such they are the shaped presences of necessity.”

Ananke’s constraints that lead to our afflictions are the theme of Hillman’s essay titled, Athene, Ananke, and the Necessity of Abnormal Psychology that move from a general discussion of Ananke, into a deeper discussion on the relationship between necessity and affliction. Taking his cue from Plato, Freud and Jung, Hillman sees the constrictions of necessity as a first cause, that which then calls for Nous, or reason through persuasion for the presence of “creating principles.” Hopefully, more reflections to come in a later post. Here’s a quote in closing:

“You may have noticed that I continue to call pathologizing a creating activity. Plato presents ananke in a similar manner. He assumes it to be an arche, a first principle not derivative of anything else. It is also a creating principle entering into the formation of the universe. And it is necessarily always there, not gradually overcome through the extension of the rule of reason. As the demiurge never wholly reduces chaos to order, so reason never wholly persuades necessity. Both are present as creating principles, always. “In the whole and in every part, Nous and Ananke cooperate; the world is a mixture resulting from this combination.” 

Except as noted, all quotes from Hillman, James (2012-11-24). Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The Holy Birthing

If Christmas is about a birthday, and the Holy birthday of the Christ child, what is it that is trying to be born in the repeating of this holiday each year? Why do we celebrate birthdays or Christmas? What does the ritual want with us? What is it that is born, again and again – on Christmas and in each new life, or even in each moment of everyday? Perhaps it is symbolic of another ongoing kind of birth – the birth that brings renewal throughout our lifetime as we spiral our way through to another new year.

I ask myself, what is it that is trying to be born now, in me, in you and in the world?

And isn’t is so fitting that Christmas is celebrated between the Solstice, the longest night when the darkness nearly overcomes the light, and the birth of the New Year? Is Christmas then a twilight moment?

“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan

“The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth.” Henry Corbin

I was so struck by Tom Cheetham’s remarks on what is called The Test of the Veil in Sufism and also the coincidence of being at this point in the book on Christmas Eve, that I wanted to share some of his words and quotes by Henry Corbin here with you.

 
File:Matthijs Maris The Bride, or Novice taking the Veil, c 1887.jpg“Insofar as anything is perceived as determinate and comprehensible, to that degree it is a Veil of the divinity. And yet in truth all things are masks of the infinite, and their being is the gift of God. All things are organs by which God contemplates Himself and are not other than He. To overcome the Test of the Veil requires that we not become trapped in the literal face of any being, that we not idolize it but rather see in it a Face of God.” Tom Cheetham

He is discussing nihilism and confronting it head on. This speaks to a nagging sense that I have had since childhood which perhaps many of us experience. Why be there anything? Have you ever stared out at the vastness of the night sky, or looked at child’s face, struck by awe for what can’t be known or understood and thought to yourself, where and who are we? Why is there anything at all? And more amazing than the fact of our existence, we know we’re here, or somewhere anyway.

“For if God is known and witnessed by an other than Himself, it is because there is such an Other. However, for there to be an Other, there must be this opacity, this darkness of a being that stops at itself, at the non-being of its pretensions, its ignorance, or even its devotions. If he claims to be an Other, he cannot look at God, as God can only be looked at by Himself.
God can only look at a world which is his own gaze, that is his own eyes which look at him from this world. This is why a world which wishes itself other (either by agnosticism or by piety) is not a world that God looks at. Literally, it is a world that God does not look at.
… [And] there must be a world that God does not look at so that Nietzsche’s tragic exclamation of the last century: God is dead can resound and spread in it. Uttered from the West and since then echoed in all consciousnesses, this cry is precisely what, for a Sufi, is experienced as the Supreme Test, the Test of the Veil , and, facing up to this Test, Sufism opens the way precisely for one who wishes to pass through it.” Henry Corbin

In order to pass through the test of the veil, Corbin says we must look to our angel, a divine being that is a face of God. Without the accompaniment of the Angel, we feel abandoned, because we are without a guiding presence which creates a vertical connection curing us of the blindness of literalism, giving us the second sight to see the Face of God in all of creation.

“The paradox of monotheism is equally the paradox of individualism, for the Angel as a Face of God is linked to the soul of whom it is the Twin in a bond of love that is essential for the being of each. Nietzsche’s cry requires a world that God does not look at, a world without His Face, a world that is, without Angels. But in such a world the reality of the person begins to fade. For if God is dead, then so are we.” Henry Corbin

“On the one hand there is the doubt of the intellect, of the philosopher, who, as Corbin says, demands rational proof for realities to which such proof cannot apply. For rational doubt assumes that human reason can cast its net over everything and extend its reach to capture even God. It is this hubris that drives much of modern culture. We are liberated from it if we can take to heart the words attributed to the nineteenth-century British scientist Lord J. B. S. Haldane: “The universe is not only stranger than we suppose , but stranger than we can suppose.” “ Tom Cheetham

Peace on earth, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday everyone!

Cheetham, Tom (2012-07-03). All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings (p. 220). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.

God Only Knows

Dear Mr. Bloom,

I love your books. I have read The Lucifer Principle, Genius of the Beast and The Global Brain and am currently reading The God Problem. So, I am a big fan even though we may disagree about God and the Problem…although I do agree that what we call God and how we define God is a problem.

You are one of my favorite writers, thinkers, scientists and historians, and I enjoy your amazing encyclopedic knowledge of cultures, systems and organization. I love your books for feasting off your hard work and appreciate your laboring to articulate many vital insights about the stream of human knowledge.

I don’t generally read books based on someone’s beliefs, but rather for how they say what they say. I love language perhaps as much as you love math. Through language we enhance our ability to think, imagine and understand. Language is a powerful influence and big part of what makes us human- changing us even if we don’t realize it.

Now, a word or two on the heresies you listed in your book. In your attempt to not only debunk the existence of God, but then to blame the presence of evil in the world on him and his believers, it is equally clear that God does not equal God, in the same way that you show that A does not equal A. Even the most learned religious scholar or saint cannot claim to know or understand completely a power such as the first cause, creator of the universe would most certainly be. So just as A does not equal A, God does not equal God.

While it is true that God’s believers are quite culpable in the share of the evil done by man, and that their behavior may sometimes discourage a belief in a God, that does nothing to prove or disprove an existence of God. The moral nature of God or of believers says nothing about the truth or nature of God’s existence. If God were in fact proven to be the perpetrator of evil, you could choose to dislike him and wish to take away his power, but it would do no good to not believe in his existence. While it is possible to disprove the existence of what or who God is by defining God as something disprovable, you may not be able to disprove the existence of God as defined by myself or others. In order to disprove God’s existence you must first define what you mean by God, yes?

Just as importantly, the deficiency in our ability to have knowledge and certainty about the nature of God, should there be one, says much more about us than about the nature of God. Same rules apply to the progression of our knowledge of science and the nature of the cosmos as to the nature of a god that might exist. I know that positing an existence assumes something where science claims no assumptions, but what we know is always assumed when framing a world view. So, assuming the existence of some form of higher intelligence that one chooses to call God, is a lot like the scientific assumption that the world is intelligible. Something is always assumed, whether you believe in God or not.

When A does not equal A, and I truly believe that can sometimes be correct having spent a large chunk of my life’s energy pondering the nature of identity, it should be clear to us that in every attempt to define any thing, we risk falling short of the complexity and variability of the thing in question. We think and define things and events into an identity, which is why to get to the truth or at least closer to the truth, we must not only think. Knowing this much we accept that we know very little, directly or absolutely. Most of the time we can only approximate the nature of things, and most of the time that is enough. But we have lots of tools to enhance our direct knowledge and test what works. But as much as I accept that I can never prove God’s existence, I also accept that non-existence cannot be proven either. But, I don’t think most arguments for atheism are really about God’s existence. Allowing for the existence of God is either a useful way of understanding life or it is not.

I am surprised that as a lover of science and an historian, you would grant that an understanding of nature and the cosmos has benefitted greatly by the evolution both of life forms and of human scientific understanding, but that you cannot grant that an understanding of God may also undergo an evolution. Perhaps your hope and wish for a world in which evil, and specifically human evil, are eliminated, are leading you to believe that the human mind cleansed of a belief in God could one day lead us into a world of peaceful coexistence with each other and all of nature – but that belief is not very scienctific at all, rather it is an oversimplistic moral imperative.

Aquinas argued that evil is the absence of good, in the same way that cold is the absence of heat. There isn’t really any such thing as cold, but only varying degrees of heat. By comparison, evil is a condition in which we find very little, or seemingly no good, but does not exist as a thing itself. Rather than asking why is there evil, a better question might be why do we perceive it, care about it, and react to it? Do other animals make these judgments? Sure, they experience fear and an instinct for survival but do they judge it? No, if they did we’d see birds getting together after being attacked by the neighborhood cat to plot and execute their revenge.

But because humans partly think and imagine the nature of existence as well as using their senses, they do plot, plan and try to subjugate or eliminate their enemies. Humans also sense that because there is existence, and therefore intelligence, that there must be some powerful force, more intelligent than ourselves or anything we can imagine, that drives all of existence. Otherwise, why does anything exist, and especially exist to know in the way that we do?

Science is what tells us how things, as we are able to perceive and imagine, do what they do, from the smallest particle to the larger organization of the cosmos. As yet, science has not told us why there is anything at all, even though positing a big bang beginning or multiverses, or string theory. The problem of God is the problem of the primary cause, the very ground of being. The fact that some humans use God to justify evil acts, does nothing to prove or disprove God’s existence. I don’t like that evil is perpetrated on others in the name of God anymore than that evil is perpetrated on others in the name of convenience, or ecology, or science, but it doesn’t make me disbelieve in science.

Sincerely,

DK

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