Sunday, March 18, 2007

Heading into Holy Week...

The immunity of Christians to arguments demonstrating the contradictions between the Bible and the physical world is hardly surprising, since they refuse to accept arguments that demonstrate the self-contradictory nature of the Bible itself. Treating the Bible as a pure text, measured only be its internal consistencies -- with its two different creation stories, two different sets of ten commandments, and even two different crucifiction dates -- one quickly sees that there is no possible way to accept the absolute truth of every word, and yet millions of Christians manage to do it.

The structural differences between Christiantiy and the Eastern Religions can be observed in the difference between meditation and prayer. Meditation improves the apparatus of understanding in order to better deal with the internal and external worlds. A clear mind can grasp the emptiness of intellectual constructs, and live inside the moment without intellectual residue from the past or special expectations from the future.

That's the theory, but what happens in actual practice? The Tibetans say that "focus without compassion is like a bird with one wing", and this understanding has evolved as a response to the very real psychological dangers that await people who practice meditation without the proper framing context. Exercises that increase individual power are only undertaken alongside exercises that increase social compassion. Without the balancing exercises to promiote compassion, as people are in the process of clearing the minds, a type of megalomania can easily set in, and they nourish themselves with secret fantasies of their superiority to other people or they use their slightly improved minds to pursue all sorts of worldly goals. Thus we have the new age contradiction that the pursuit of enlightenment gives people the tools become even less enlightened.

There is something deeply sinister about the relationship between New Age movements and fascism. The deep fascist sympathies of Jung and Eliade are hardly a coincidence, since one of the natural psychological consequences of amateur spirituality is the dissolution of ego boundaries which leads to an exaggerated sense of superiority to others, which, like a tyrannical child, is insistent on the exstirpation of all forces that refuse to yield to its will. Eastern spiritual exercises are very difficult, and potentially toxic when adopted piecemeal.

Christian prayer bypasses all of this with a simple solution. Prayer, which blends focus and compassion into a single stream, can achieve the practical wisdom of Eastern traditions without the genocidal risks of New Age philosophies. Since their faith makes no sense, fervent prayer is the only refuge for the faithful and an intellectual understanding of Christianity is a dead end, with the contradictions being avoided through faith and surrender.

In traditional Christian cosmology, the rule of thumb is that Selfishness leads one towards Satan, and almost everything else takes you to God. True Christians do not necessarily doubt that prayer for personal goals is effectual, but, if I were Satan, and it were my job to undermine spirituality, I would reward false spirituality with material gains. Suddenly, the wild popularity of "the secret" takes a nefarious cast. In the most basic cosmological way, it opens a direct path for Satan's domination and undermines the whole point of religion and spirituality. If "the secret" works, it is only proof that Satan is real, and that the people in charge of our culture are leading lambs to the slaughter.

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