Two Austrians Fled a Third… And Found Refuge in the Truth

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I’m not going to apologize for being thoroughly pessimistic in the past month of posts; or if I do ask pardon, then I should start by craving it of myself.  I have to live with me—and it ain’t easy these days!  When a few national commentators dare to go off the script and mention the number of suicides that our lockdown will inspire, I know exactly what they mean.  I’ve never been less afraid of death.  I keep thinking of the first words uttered by Sophocles’ Teiresias when the blind prophet is led onto the stage of Oedipus Tyrannos: “What a fearful thing is thinking when it brings no profit to the thinker!”

Stay busy: yes, that’s always good advice.  I’ve been in “lifeboat” mode now for several months, really.  By that I mean that I have given the ship up as lost and am occupying myself with considering alternatives for possible survival on the dark, cold sea.  Only since President Trump has begun signing off on multi-trillion dollar “stimulus packages”, though, have I actually been consuming distinctly less political commentary from sources I used to trust.  There’s too much stuff that begins, “This is our last chance,” or, “We need to act immediately if we are to avoid disaster.”  Wrong.  The last chance has come and gone.  Those spending bills were one helluva big iceberg that just carried away half of our hull.  I can’t tolerate any more evasion of such hard facts.  Lower the damn lifeboats.

But survival does indeed call for profitable thinking… so disillusion and even pessimism mustn’t turn to abject despair.  We’ve lost the big one: now let’s win some little ones.  I scarcely know where to start.  I continue my routine of trying to acquire greater understanding, however, as a retired academic who mucks about in his infant orchards much of the day.  I’ve begun reading two works that I probably should have read long ago: Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.  As part of my regimen, I try to read new books in one of the non-English languages that I’ve studied for years—not in the illusion that I’ll ever “use” them in the future (whatever that means), but just because I hate to let a skill lapse into decay.  You fire up your old Triumph and give her a little spin around the block once a week, not because you’ll ever seriously use the thing for transportation, but because… well, she deserves not to die if keeping her alive costs so little.

So, anyway, here I am reading Popper in Italian and Hayek in Spanish.  (Somebody might murmur wryly, “You’re going to need that Spanish”… but, no, the Spanish I read isn’t anything remotely like the jabber we hear at Wal-Mart.)  The irony is that both of these men came to English as a second language; so I’m accessing their thoughts through a tongue into which the original text has been rendered—but that text itself represented a tongue with which they struggled.  Could there be a better illustration of the Spirit taking serene shape above a great cacophony of words? We are one, even in our misery.

I haven’t actually read quite a third of either book at this point, but I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.  Hayek’s much-reprinted classic is littered with forewards and prefaces in the early going.  I infer from all the explanations and further explanations that he was greatly surprised by the work’s success, especially in the U.S.; that he was nevertheless dismayed at how it had become caught up in a political tug-of-war as Joe McCarthy brought to public attention the degree of communist infiltration in our society; that he had never intended to condemn all kinds of government “planification” out of hand or to declare that their presence made totalitarian rule inevitable; and that his primary concern was simply that exposure to the notion of paternalistic government begins a long, long process of corrupted and surrendered freedoms.  There is a mildness to this man, I find, that indeed makes him an unlikely dynamo at the center of a whirlwind.  I see in him an apt illustration of a phenomenon we’ve come to know only too well: the slanderous caricature by the Left of anyone who dare question centralist, statist orthodoxy.  McCarthy himself was thus tarred and feathered, and with scarcely more reason.

For my own purposes, considering where I am (i.e., deep in the hole of despair), I find a kind of comfort in Hayek’s big picture—a comfort, of course, which he would have been chagrined to provide.  He obviously believed that we yet had time to reverse course in the Fifties, and even the Seventies (when the final edition of Road to Serfdom appeared).  I suppose we probably did have time, even in the Nineties… but instead of regretting our bite of the apple, we came back and stripped the tree (with no less zeal during the two terms of George W. Bush than in any other era).  The air of fatality which Hayek so heroically rejected settles, in retrospect, quite heavily over the past thirty years or so.

My son’s generation, in short, was not sold down the river into slavery only by Pelosi/McCormick “stimuli” and President Trump’s compliant pen.  The dark stranger has been riding down the road since that distant day when we might first have spotted him exiting the mountain’s pass.  And here I’ll toss a bone to the enemies of capitalism and slanderers of innocents like F.A. Hayek: our ravenous appetite for ease and convenience is deeply implicated in our rush to greet this sooty rider.  We’ve been reared, at least since the end of World War II, to desire more stuff, cheaper stuff, and stuff of ever greater frivolity.  The market made us such uncritical, undisciplined consumers.  The cry that spurred us on from the new screens before which we were reared was, “Get it now, cheaper than ever!  You deserve it!”  Has not such thinking fed—yes, inevitably—into the yet more seductive cry, “Get it now, paid for by the rich!  You’d already have it if they hadn’t stolen it from you!”  The devilish rhetoric of the sell was indeed inevitable.  It was our response that might have offered up resistance… but, you know, getting something free at the expense of “the rich” is an even better deal than getting it cheap at the expense of Chinese slave labor.

Karl Popper seems an odd companion in this discussion.  I was surprised, upon consideration, at how perfectly The Open Society slides right in.  I had no initial inkling that the book was a study of Plato’s utopian project in The Republic… and I was a little let down, honestly, upon making that discovery.  Why would the previous century’s premier philosopher of science (as I like to think of him) be scribbling away like the antiquarians with whom I attended graduate school?  Popper’s footnotes, indeed, were so voluminous that they posed a major obstacle to finding a publisher for the book.  Among additional obstacles were the author’s self-imposed and shifting exile as Hitler tightened his grip on Central Europe, his struggles with the English language (as I’ve noted), and his need of American friends and contacts to mediate as he met with one rejection after another from publishing houses.  Hayek was running up against exactly the same barriers at the same historical moment.

But at least one Austrian was tackling the central ideological issues of our time, while the other was retreating to… Plato?  Not a retreat, however: no, but rather a recognition that these very issues were not at all distinct to our time, but were embedded in the human condition.  As I muddled through the first pages of Popper’s tome (its title grotesquely caricatured by George Soros, that living master of satanically torturing words to mean their opposites), I made the further error of supposing that he was just thrusting his personal preoccupations where they didn’t belong.  What had Plato to do with Hitler and Stalin?  (And both Popper and Hayek, by the way, realized that those two miscreants had issued from the same sulfurous ideological womb.)

I won’t exhaust both myself and the reader by trying to encapsulate Professor Popper’s reading of Plato. A brutal compression would be to say that Plato, everybody’s most admired philosophical transcriptionist, is unmasked as having commandeered the reputation of Socrates—everybody’s most admired philosopher—to sell a totalitarian vision.  (Just one example: Socrates’ “a man with power should always beware of his ignorance” becomes Plato’s “a man with power should be purged of ignorance”.) It’s all finely reasoned and meticulously documented, I promise you: hence the merciless footnotes. Yet I had never heard a peep about such interpretive possibilities during all my years in the academy.  By the way, that interpretation turns out to fit.  It isn’t the whimsy of an expatriate who subconsciously imposes the shadow of the dictator he so detests upon every bird, cloud, and blade of grass.  It’s all perfectly convincing.

By way of illustration, I’ll confine myself to the Platonic theory of Forms or Ideas.  I recall being exposed to this first as a college freshman, and thinking, “Those ancient Greeks… what a strange lot!  Did they really think that we’re born with a Table Archetype in our heads that allows us to recognize a table?”  Plato was offered up in just such incoherent, irrelevant terms; and, as I say, nothing I later heard in any ivory corridor added any profundity to my initial impressions.

Popper’s view, however, makes of the Forms something very like what I’ve written of recently as “future worship”: the adoration of hazy objectives, that is, merely because they exist in “tomorrow”, where we’re assured of having transformative superpowers.  It is an irony, to be sure, that Plato’s gilded castles exist in the remotest of yesterdays—in the atavistic Heroic Age when men feasted with gods.  Yet behind the irony is the link which binds Hitler and Stalin, Nazism and communism.  Both visions take as their destination a point whose access—whose mere reality—cannot be validated by current perceptions, common sense, and humane moral imperatives.  Both require that we become something we’re simply not; or, inasmuch as they acknowledge our being unequal to the task, both urge upon us the acceptance of a superman or a super-race.  Both concede that the Peerless Leader’s superior authority cannot be logically deduced or rationally defended.  Both demand of us, therefore, that we embrace a cultic fanaticism—that we suppress our individuality and merge ourselves into an obedient herd.

Precisely.  This is true, it’s brilliant… and it’s disparaged or ignored by our academic institutions and broadcast media as they condition forthcoming generations to chew the cud of totalitarianism.  Add Hayek to Popper, and you have an all-too-prophetic warning that the adoration of the Charismatic Leader who solves all of our problems for us is forever leaking into human societies, drop by drop, decade after decade. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us about our self-destructive craving for kings?

How is the combination implied in “permanent collapse” possible, I wonder?  How can things forever be deteriorating in Hesiodic fashion if there were no genuine Heroic Age at the head of all the fallen dominoes?  If we have always been as we are now—flawed, corrupt creatures in need of a redeemer outside our earthly time frame—then how can we also always be getting worse? Since we’ve always been bad, how do we manage to keep doubling down on it?

I don’t know, my friends… but such is the truth, or what little we can see of it.  Perhaps it is our societies that are forever coming unraveled—and perhaps it is only redeemed individuals who forever keep bits and pieces of them from careening over the precipice: just enough for yet another try where the run-off of Eden’s gentle rain puddles.

The Comforts of Midnight: Peace in a Dying Republic

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In New Jersey, police go door to door searching for New Yorkers who may have fled their state’s quarantine.  In Vermont, grocery chains are forbidden to sell gardening items.  In Walmart’s across the nation, customers are being held to a trickle at points of entry.

In Fort Worth, a judge suspends private property rights.  In Laredo, citizens are fined up to $1,000 for not wearing masks.  His Excellency Dr. Fauci proclaims on national media that everybody everywhere should be required to wear a surgical mask.

In Florida, a minister is arrested for holding worship service; in the Greensboro area, four ministers are cuffed for violating a stay-at-home order as they peacefully protest outside an open-for-business abortion clinic.  In New York City, the mayor exhorts citizens to report any active worship service to law enforcement (though New Yorkers continue to patronize their less-than-sanitary—but fully operative—subway system).

Stories of employees being stopped and questioned by cops as they drive to their “essential” jobs are everywhere.  Meanwhile, criminals are quickly processed back into “healthy” communities from the “unwholesome” quarantine of their jail cells without a second look from authorities—while gun stores are shut down because their service, though now more imperative than ever, is deemed “non-essential” by many a local tinpot dictator.

I really need some sort of meditative excursion if I am to hold myself together.  Perhaps this column’s exercise Is my version of the saccharine “My Favorite Things” ditty from The Sound of Music.  Ugh, how I hated those musicals whose records my sister would play daily back in the days of… of the Vietnam War on TV, and of us young teenagers wondering if we would live to see twenty.  But there you go: CoronaVirus isn’t the first television-borne panic in our history.  Furthermore, the Vietnam terror (unlike this one) was all too real for thirteen-year-olds around the nation.  Body bags were traveling at much more than flu-season rate, and they were filled with the remains of many who were scarcely old enough to shave.

Hence one “favorite thing” that a father might remember in these days of a collapsing republic is that his boys, at least, are relatively safe.  My son hasn’t grown up with the draft and slaughter in a faraway rice paddy looming over his horizon.  Thank God for that.

There’s no doubt that the United States of America is rotting, rotting even as it clings to life.  The President is readying the way for yet a fourth “relief” bill (as opposed to letting us get back to our lives, and to the inevitable deaths associated with normal living).  As a republic, we’re now moribund for sure—worse than if CV-19 were in fact bubonic plague.  Our economy is DOA.  Even without the legal alien work force that Mr. Trump wants to multiply (as citizen unemployment skyrockets)—a diaspora that sends billions of American dollars “home” every year—we have no chance of ever paying off our debt.

Our constitutional freedoms are all lying in the morgue.  This very column may be banned from the Internet as “uncooperative”: news about the round-the-clock labors of Wuhan’s crematoria has certainly been nixed.  We dare not even mention that COVID-19 began in China, let alone that the bats in which it incubated were not, in fact, sold in Wuhan’s “wet markets”.  Our media simply parrot the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda like feather-brained pets, while also churning out hysteria-on-steroids “exclusives” and streaming contextless figures across the screen.  This past week, for instance, a local broadcast offered a nurse’s self-interview before her iPhone, the gist of which was that she preferred staying home with her kids to risking the most lethal infection she’d ever seen in her young career.  Terrifying, indeed… and also fully within the bounds of subjectified, disoriented panic-baiting.  A free republic without objective sources of information cannot stand.

Yes, but… but moonlight sometimes filters through the clouds even at midnight.  At least on our present course, the Chinese won’t be releasing a truly deadly virus on us—maybe another of the 1,500 species of CoronaVirus reported (or not reported) to exist within their treaty-violating biochemical labs: one whose mortality rate is 90 percent rather than something like .067 (assuming with the ever-speculative Dr. Fauci that more than 200 thousand of us die by September).  Given our present panic, the Chinese have seen all they needed to see.  Xi Jinping won’t be allowing Little Rocket Man to microwave our power grid with an EMP.  Our future is assured as a Chinese colony—a consumer of Chinese goods and supplier of sensitive technology to China’s colonization of the solar system and beyond.  (As of this moment, our spendthrift Congress as done nothing to wrest the manufacture of penicillin and other vital drugs from the PRC.)  Just as we’ve surrendered all our constitutional rights to be safe from a death that almost certainly won’t come from CV-19 (and certainly will come from some direction, one day or another), so the same spirit of surrender ensures that the Xi’s China won’t waste any nukes on us.  Thanks for that, Lady Moon.

Or why should we have to fear a showdown with Russia now, whose state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal could strategically vaporize our nerve centers while we’re still trying to launch missiles that haven’t been tested in forty years?  The Russians, like the Chinese, have to be entirely cool with what they’re witnessing on our panicked shores.  Solzhenitsyn’s generation was stacked into boxcars like sardines, shipped to Siberia with only compressed bodies for heat, debarked in snow drifts, and marched barefoot to tent cities where they were served a piece of frozen fish once a day.  These Americans… you tell them they could die of a cold, and they dismantle their free society before your eyes.  Why launch a war against them?  What’s to fight?

We have no real enemies any longer.  We have bundled ourselves into a gift package and stuck a bow on it: our enemies may simply wait for delivery.  Peace, brother.

I am actually thankful for Putin, in a way, because I know that he sees Russia’s future as it appears in Xi’s tea leaves.  I know he must understand that the Chinese dragon is slavering to devour Manchuria… and then on from there.  Putin will need all the allies he can get.  Obviously, the West Coast of our mighty nation is poised to become Xi’s whore, the latest addition to his harem.  The drug cartels that have already taken over Mexico are conduits for Chinese poisons throughout the Southwest.  I can well imagine them doing double duty as a sort of freelancing beachhead against emasculated border-security forces.  Haven’t they already won D-Day?  Didn’t Mr. Obama, in unguarded moments, speak longingly and lovingly of an armed national police force—and did his “Justice Department” not arm MS-13 and the Zetas?  All that remains is for the Chinese paymasters of today’s anarchic “resistance” to rumble in and mop up, at least among the Pacific states.

But the South?  But Middle America?  As we fragment into virtually impotent pieces, perhaps some of us will be wooed by Vlad.  I feel sure of it: he’s already making nice to Israel—and we Southerners trust Israel more than we do Washington.   I’m confident that we would choose Russian bestialization over Chinese insectification.  I devoutly hope we would.  I’d rather deal with Denisovan Man than with the Fire Ants.  Putin at least makes favorable noises in the direction of Christianity (unlike, say, the mayors of New York and academic ant colonies like Athens, Georgia).  Aleksandr Dugin has advised him that human beings are incapable of ruling themselves… and, well, what did the history of the late, great United States do to disprove that theory?

Yet if Christianity is true—and I would sooner die in the illusion that it is so than live in the “reality” that it is not—then all of them, Xi and Putin and the Kim clan… the Trumps and the Obamas, the Pelosis and the Clintons and the McConnells and even His Excellency Dr. Fauci… all of them must come to naught in their worldly empire-building, their progressive vision of a wholly safe, wholly organized, wholly gilded future.  I made a video a few months back wherein I said that if a home invader hauled me out onto the lawn at midnight, had his lieutenant keep a gun to my head as he ransacked my house, and then gave the order to hit my off-switch as he packed up, my last sight of this world as I bled out might be the stars of Orion and his Dog.  Betelgeuse, Altair, Deneb… Sirius… they would be beautiful, as beautiful as ever they were on those evenings of my teenage years when I’d crouch behind a telescope and dream of the life before me (a life without Vietnam).  And now true life would yawn majestically before me, and the constellations would frame its gate.  Not only that… but from my new life, my real and eternal life, I would cast a quick glance back at the punk who’d just executed me and his master—and I would see the pitiable agony of their souls shriveling away to nothing, to trash blowing in the wind, as time opened out into its eternal present.

Thanks for that, Lord of All.

Somewhere between here and there, Xi Jinping may get a tiny taste of his just comeuppance while his paltry flesh yet draws this world’s foul, disease-laden air.  His own people, tired of being reduced to ants, may rise up and smother him in their machine-gunned bodies.  For the corpses of Solzhenitsyn’s comrades in torment, Putin has expressed compassion once or twice; but he and his confessor Dugin may find that such expressions are inadequate—that the corpses won’t stay buried.  The puppet-masters pulling the strings of Middle Earth’s Faucis and Comeys and Brennans and Barrs… the Soroses, the Gateses, the Davos crowd, the Club of Rome (and yes, they’re all plural, all legion and ever-renewing in Earth time)… will find no real peace: certainly not in the next world, but not really even in this one.  Indeed, all of them will turn forever on the racks where they have cleverly bound themselves: turn in torture for a time here and now, and then forever more on that “throne of God” which they fashioned for themselves.

In the meantime… in “mean time”, middle time… there’s no point in deploring my fellow citizens’ cowardice, incuriosity, subjection, and infantilism.  We are merely what we are, if we refuse to become what we might have been in our Creator.  One fights awhile among comrades who don’t care against a foe who won’t come into the open… and then one lies down, bleeds out, and takes the gate through Orion.

Thanks for that.  Midnight is beautiful.

How to Take a Wrong Turn on the Climb to Heaven

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Ever since I passed along to him a short anthology of Near Death Experiences compiled by a practicing physician, my son has sustained a lively exchange with me on the subject.  Being young, he is impressed by such “hard evidence” of life beyond the reality we know.  (Our nation’s school system, from bottom to top, certainly hasn’t given his generation any aesthetic or philosophical inkling of an empirical approach’s inadequacies—so empirical testimony against mere empiricism becomes very powerful.)  Personally, I’m always just a bit leery of the NDE.  It’s not that I’m an incorrigible skeptic.  On the contrary, I’m one of the few people you’re ever likely to know with years of grad-school conditioning in his past who believes that extra-terrestrial life (or its projection through an ingenious fleet of robotic minions) has probably visited our solar system.  I don’t think I’m particularly narrow-minded.

No, the problem I have with the typical NDE is the implications that over-excited chroniclers tend to draw from it.  The surrounding discussion often has the tone of boundless, almost delirious optimism.  “You see?  All is really sweetness and light!  It’s all love—love for everyone!  All is forgiven!  It’s just one great warm embrace!  All is swept up into the… the cosmic All!”  Okay, let’s stop and ponder that.  No justice for mass-murderers like Stalin and Mao (add Hitler if you like… but don’t forget Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and King Herod).  No motive to try harder in this terrestrial existence—to “seek the kingdom”.  No reason why sincere sorrow and repentance are anything but wasted time.  Lighten up!  All you need is love!

In their defense, I will say of most NDE witnesses that their encounter is brief, dazzling, and (by definition) limned by the incomprehensible.  They’re not the ones who seek to graft sweeping metaphysical conclusions onto their out-of-clock-time ecstasy (a word which literally means “standing outside of”).  They were abruptly jolted from their body… and then they found themselves bathed in light and soothed by predeceased friends and family.  As far as I know, most of them haven’t borne back a message about how the universe is put together.  They merely reiterate with John the Gospelist, “True love hath no fear.”

Dr. Eben Alexander’s kerygma from the Beyond is not so modest.  My son forwarded this YouTube link to one of the good doctor’s many public presentations.  Alexander’s case has received special attention, apparently, because 1) he himself was a neurosurgeon who had practiced for two decades when a seizure caused his brain activity to flatline, 2) he was thoroughly agnostic at the time of the incident, and 3) his brain was so very moribund for days that no sort of short-circuiting or “flame-out” could have accounted for his visions.  Clearly, something very extraordinary happened in this man’s return to corporeal life, if not in his hours of unverifiable transit through another life.  He should have been dead—quite dead.  The feeding tubes had actually been removed from his body for days before his recovery.  His revival was miraculous.

And, yes, Eben Alexander experienced virtually all of the classic NDE moments: the dark tunnel (in more static form), the indescribably bright light at its end, an angelic chorus, the warmth and limitless love of innumerable figures… but he claims to have been entrusted with uncharacteristically specific information, besides.  He was told (in a degree of detail that Dante would have envied) that the universe is unfolding according to a great plan—and that this plan involves reincarnation.  We are to return to life in better-informed stages that, collectively, will set our planet—and other planets in other galaxies, eventually—on a hyperbolic path of intersection with heaven.

An unimaginably beautiful woman (who was plainly not some morph of the divorced Mrs. Alexander) was the doctor’s Beatrice during this revelation.  I note in passing that I’ve never read of any other NDE where Miss Universe puts in an appearance and spiritually fondles her visitor.

I’m being a bit facetious now.  It’s a way to send some of my irritation through an escape valve.  In my opinion, Dr. Alexander had a fully legitimate encounter with the unspeakable bliss that awaits us beyond this Vale of Tears… and he proceeded, consciously or otherwise, to finesse some of its contours into a form more marketable than the raw material would have been.  His book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for years.  His speaking honoraria have likely dwarfed his surgeon’s income (which, in itself, constitutes a small miracle).  He has chatted intimately with Oprah before a global audience, and he routinely gives presentations even for medical personnel thanks to his lab-coat cred.  I gather that he is involved in some sort of cutting-edge tech company that aspires to point the medical-scientific community’s nose more directly into metaphysics (or its ears: the technology has to do with harmonious sounds and healing).  Life has become pretty good for Eben Alexander—and, of course, I mean life on “this side”.

How many of these dark terrestrial tunnels would be beaming with warm gold-and-silver light at the end if Alexander’s testimony had remained (as NDE’s usually do) within confines of direct personal experience, without the peek at a cosmic playbook?  Wouldn’t that more typical result have smacked of… well, Christian orthodoxy?  Didn’t the “reincarnation” message sweeten it sufficiently that Oprah would line up to drink the Kool-aid?

On the one hand, I fear that my response may be too caustic.  After all, Alexander’s narrative is not so very far off the track of other NDE’s.  Maybe he just misspoke at key points, or maybe I have misinterpreted something he said.  I myself believe that the afterlife must surely be an occasion for “linking up” with innumerable other souls—for begging and granting pardons, for getting the whole story of what happened, for healing and growing strong as something yet more magnificent emerges.  Perhaps the abuse of the word “reincarnation” was this man’s clumsy metaphor for a reality whose approach to God is so near, and so ever-more-near, that only the notion of an utterly regenerated body in an entirely different life can convey the thrill.

And yet, that higher, deeper life cannot be entirely different.  This life matters.  Morally—spiritually—it must matter.  What we do is what we are: it is the “here” from which we must depart to reach “there”.  It’s not a prison, or need not be.  God’s will is not that we suffocate forever within the folly of the narrow walls we build around ourselves.  In the recognition of our folly, however, lies the key to the gate.  We cannot become better than our fleshly form—that temporary cast in which we have so distorted God’s image—if we turn out never to have existed physically, in the first place.  Our human individuality must not become an irrelevancy.

Such cancellation of our individual worth as creatures is where I see Eben Alexander wandering dangerously off the track.  He sings off-key.  His hymn sounds to my ear like secular progressivism with a mystical tingle in the background.  The confessional note—the admission of past error that signals true growth, and also the joy of dissolving another’s guilt over injuries done—isn’t audible.  Instead, we are ushered into a no-fault vision of things getting better and better and better… things on this earth, since reincarnation is the engine driving the ascent.  Alexander even offers the Gnostic heresy’s hint that souls are reincarnated as justification of his thesis, and he tosses in the rumors of Christ’s day equating John the Baptist with the resuscitated prophet Elijah.  A proper Christian faith, apparently, ought to become more Hindu.

The first time I encountered this infatuation of the theoretical scientist with the most ancient religions on earth was, I suppose, in Carl Sagan.  It probably goes back much farther.  Its pedigree, at any rate, must surely transmit a load of progressivist DNA through every branch of the family tree.  The better here-and-now’s the thing—not heaven, not metaphysical bliss: no, bring it down here, and put us now on a path to reach it!  That’s a slightly more spiritual version of launching the Starship Enterprise (but not really—just more spiritually adorned).

You see, Dr. Alexander, our world is not getting better and better in any way that I can discern.  It may be getting worse and worse… but I’m willing to attribute such pessimism to the filter of my own rather depressive predisposition.  It’s certainly not sprouting wings as more enlightened individuals return in new bodies—and, by the way, utterly purged of their former individuality.  You say, Dr. Alexander, that many very curious cases of ESP involve children who recollect images or events from previous times and far-flung places.  Yes, those interest me, as well.  But wherein do you find evidence that these children a) preserve the character of Captain MacKay who died on the field of Culloden or, more importantly, b) display any moral awareness beyond their years?  What are you thinking, man?  What world are you living in right now, as you bow to your applause and shake Oprah’s hand?

Do you consider that you yourself have become a better man than before, though you have failed to learn—Other World Journey notwithstanding—the moral necessity of individual coherence?  Say you’re indeed better; but you are still Eben Alexander, are you not? So may we expect the better Eben within minutes of your eventual death, as your soul flutters into a newborn? Right now, then—message and all—you’re just the old, inferior Eben… have I got that correct? Or have you been permitted to transport certain revelations despite your lack of corporeal upgrade? I like much of what you propose.  I, too, love the idea of using sound to access a clearer, cleaner state of consciousness; I’ve long suspected in my own life that our urban environment damages our minds with its sheer cacophony.  But… but Doctor, why must you insist that Beatrice bestowed upon you the secrets of this healing power so that we might go forth and Conquer the World for Goodness?

Oh, how I dread that formula, in all of its versions!  World conquest—and always, always for “goodness”!  Millions of hearts have coddled it, if their tongues have not exactly expressed it… and not all of those hearts, by any means, were bad ones from the outset.  Yet none was ever made better after nursing such a spiritual virus.  This world is imperfectable: at best, we hold our own against sin.  True hope lies elsewhere.

Perhaps I’m especially distressed by Dr. Alexander’s video because I have just published The Eternal Moment: Seeking Divine Presence in the Present on Amazon.  You can read there at much greater length of my concern over “future-worship”, our time’s dominant form of idolatry, if you’re interested.  I urgently suggest that you get interested.  Beware of “ascending” staircases whose bottom step rests upon today’s earth and whose top step merely reaches tomorrow’s earth, or the next day’s.  Such climbs tend to go steeply downward, from heaven’s perspective.

Crosscurrents: God’s “Presence in the Present”

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I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about current events–yet I don’t wish to pollute my or anyone else’s celebration of the birth of Hope with excessive brooding over our ephemeral world.  Allow me, then, to share with you one chapter from the rough draft of a book that I plan to see finished in 2020.

I intend for this final chapter of the book’s first part to summarize by compacting several assertions made about the “numinous moment” or “event outside of time”.  Yet before I attempt that act of stitching together, an analogy may be helpful.  I’ve been racking my brain for an adequate one—for a parable, almost, that could convey to our linear-thinking minds how real time might match up to time as we know it.  I at last came up with something akin to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Imagine that you are walking across fog-strewn terrain toward a vague but steady light source.  You really have nowhere else to go that offers any apparent sense of destination; for the mist curls so thickly about your feet that you can’t even see your shoes, and that shimmering beacon on your horizon is your single reference in the soupy haze.

Unrevealed to you, then, in any very clear manner is the enormous but very gradual staircase across which you walk.  Its steps are suited to a giant’s feet, each being perhaps three yards wide; yet despite their great breadth, they rise by only an inch at a time.  You’re actually cutting across these stairs at a broad angle.  The result is that you can advance for fifty or sixty yards along one step before you stumble into the next one’s rise.  Naturally, since you can’t see your feet, you conclude at every mild stumble that the ground beneath you is a bit uneven.  You have no notion of slowly ascending a great staircase rather than moving ever forward toward the light which—you hope—will be the refuge liberating you from the milling gloom.

Those stairs that come at your progress laterally and throw it off balance once in a while are, of course, meant to represent the “outside of time” moments that subtly take us by surprise once in a while… and then, usually, are forgotten at once, since we assume that our attention should be fixed on forward motion.  The biblical phrase “stumbling block” had a part in helping me weave this strange analogy, for we indeed tend to treat such moments as interruptions or distractions.  We dismiss them with whatever explanation is ready at hand and get back to the serious business of “progress”.  Yet what could be more serious, in a spiritual sense, than climbing the giant’s staircase and seeing where it takes us?  If only we knew that it was there beneath the haze—that the little trips that sometimes throw us off stride all have an order!  But our senses aren’t equipped to provide such information directly.  Any knowledge of the stairs would have to be pieced together with extreme patience, most of it requiring a certain amount of inattention to that forward motion we think so full of promise.

For what kinds of experience, exactly, should we keep an eye peeled?  In the course of Part One’s ramble, I believe I have volunteered three at various points.  The first would be personal experiences that have stubbornly stayed with us for years, many (perhaps most) of them deeply rooted in childhood.  In discussing the sort of encounter that I myself recall as having knocked me off my stride and stood me upright, I did not mention anything as numinous as an angelic visitation, a message delivered in God’s voice, or a Near-Death Experience.  That’s because I have never lived through any event of the kind.  I suppose that those of us to whom God does not speak plain English in a deep, unmistakable voice have a little trouble fully believing those who claim to have been so contacted.  We don’t necessarily disbelieve them… but we wonder if their personality may be of a naive and very excitable type.  Everybody has dreams, and some of us have vivid dreams.  (Here I may include myself: my dreams are always in color and sometimes more “high-def” than any waking experience.)  A stable person understands, though, that you take a dream with a grain of salt.

Near-Death Experiences I find to be far more intriguing.  No doubt, some people massage a rough stay in the hospital until it looks like a trip to the Beyond, just as some people innocently mistake an escaped balloon that catches the sun’s last light for a UFO.  When so many witnesses of sound mind and solid character, however, testify so resonantly to the presence of something that greeted them as their vital signs flat-lined, I can’t wave their words aside.  (For that matter, a seasoned pilot makes a very good UFO witness—and there are several such reporters of strange aircraft.)  In attempting to retrieve a particular title for citation here, I found that the medical doctor/author whose name eludes me is veritably buried on the Internet under a mass of similar professionals who have documented the NDE over the past forty years.  Take your pick of them all.  It’s a pretty impressive witness list, however you arrange it.

But, no, I have presented in my discussion no such mind-boggling evidence.  The encounters I tried to describe do not grab you by the lapels, shake you, and announce sonorously, “I come from the other world!”  They simply don’t fit into the routine… and they fail to fit in after a fashion that you can’t forget, because it so insistently seems to mean something.  Just what it may mean, you never manage to decide satisfactorily.  It’s there, sticking out… and you can’t smooth it away as the reasonable effect of some handy nearby cause.

Which brings me to a second kind of experience, and a clearly related kind: art.  If I had to define an art object (or if I were given the chance to do so—for this is my wheelhouse), I should start by saying succinctly that it “expresses the inexpressible”.  Then I should probably try to express myself better and end up making a mess of my definition… because the paradox here is ineradicable.  A work of art assembles material impressions in such a way as to leave you convinced that their collaboration encodes a vital message, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  You proceed to write an article or a book about the work, if you’re a scholar—and the more words you weave together in trying to nab the message, the more fish slip through your net.  What we academic types always seem to miss about art is its most fundamental characteristic: that it forever points to something not quite there.

Art, I’m convinced, is an angel that God sends to all of us.  The winged visitor might be a painting, a temple, or a mere tune—or the simple-seeming lyrics of the tune; but whatever his specific shape, the cherub manages to whack us lovingly upside the head and make us stumble a little on the invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  All true art calls us to faith.  It does so just by nudging us out of our determined forward stride for an instant.  Its subject by no means has to be the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, or anything related to any item of orthodox belief.  When I was an officer in a regional division of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, a lot of paper- and article-submissions passed under my eye—and the vast majority addressed some issue in the work of John Milton, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, or some other overtly Christian writer.  I always regretted such narrowness of focus in our undertaking.  I wish we could have faced the academy head-on with the confident assertion that all true art comes from God.

For the academy needed a good stiff slap in the face—or punch in the nose—from those of us whom the angel had smacked… but we instead huddled around “our” authors who, for the most part, had been banished from contemporary college classes, anyway.  As I described in an earlier chapter (and will not reiterate now), our ailing culture’s intelligentsia have exploited the free pass we gave them to dismantle art entirely, presenting its essential mystery as no more than a cheap kind of hypnotism practiced by the powerful upon the oppressed.  That thick-headed, empty-souled program of demoralization should never have been allowed to pass unchallenged.

But it was… and so, as a culture, I think our sense of the mystical lurking in material things all around us took refuge in nature.  Again, the overlap with other kinds of numinous experience is obvious.  Many of my personal “outside of time” moments involved a particular natural setting, and many of the arts draw heavily upon nature, as well.  In their quasi-scientific zeal to explain everything away in some “sensible” deterministic fashion, our intellectuals like to attribute our visceral bond with nature to a genetically hardwired response to life on the savanna.  Of course we like trees!  They represented safety from lions when we were naked apes.  Of course we like purling streams!  Every living creature needs water, and water that runs swiftly is least apt to cause illness.

You can hardly win at this game if you protest, “No, it’s not the tree’s height and the stoutness of its limbs for climbing that I like.  It’s the intricate play of shadows in the pine needles—it’s the soughing of the branches in a breeze.”  What do you know?  You don’t have a Ph.D.!

One of the responses that most fascinates me is the one we register to distant sounds.  A far-off train whistle or dog’s bark… such “racket” can induce a deep sense of peace when, a mile or two away, it is scarcely heard.  Isn’t that because of its delightful (yet painful—delightfully painful) hint that even the most energetic spurts of life are but bursting bubbles on a vast ocean’s surface?  The abyss of meaning here is grandly unfathomable.  And how on earth would the evolutionary biologist disarm such a spiritual phenomenon?  Would he say that our apelike ancestors of course perked up when they heard distant sounds, because those were warnings of approaching predators?  But the approach of a predator would ignite an impulsive fear, not stir up a leisurely meditation—and to argue that the reaction has evolved as we have become less susceptible to predators might explain a diminution of fear, but couldn’t conceivably explain the emergence of pleasure.  Why can our “best and brightest” not accept that their explanations won’t reach every nook of the forest?

I will wander off target again if I don’t take care… but I might point out, in passing, that even we non-scientists are now sabotaging our relationships with nature through intrusions of progressive thinking—through cultic outbursts of “future-worship”.  We can’t simply let the indefinite play of light and shadow in a forest or down a mountain glen speak to us of the unspeakable: we have to bend that moment into “activism”.  We must “save nature” by outlawing the removal of underbrush and deadwood, by replacing mines with the “renewable energy” of wind turbines.  In the process, we create tinderboxes that will incinerate millions of acres in the next wildfire, and we erect killing machines that slaughter hawks and other high-flying species by the tens of millions annually… but we sleep better at night, because we have come home from our nature hike with a “mission”.

I’m no fan of the internal combustion engine.  I recall dropping a word or two about my long walking tours in Ireland and Scotland, and I routinely walked to and from work before my retirement.  I’m not out of sympathy with the general distaste for our high-tech pace of living—not at all.  But, please… let nature live!  Don’t be the doctor who starts cutting out organs when a little bedrest would cure the patient.  After putting up bluebird houses around our property, my wife and I have seen families of bluebirds a dozen strong congregate around the watering dish almost daily.  That’s a good feeling.  We don’t really have to go beyond that and agitate to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline—which will cause yet more meadowland to be put under the plow, which will destroy yet more wildlife habitat.  Every experience of nature doesn’t have to feed into a political agenda… does it?

To the extent that it does, or that we let it do so, we seal off what may be perhaps our decaying culture’s final portal upon the numinous.  I have come to adopt a single word in my thoughts for the ungainly phrase, “numinous experiences”, which I shall begin using from here on out.  I call these “outside of time” encounters, or smacks in the side of the head, or glimpses out the train’s window, or nudges off the tunnel’s track… I call them crosscurrents.  We need to yield to these rare transverse currents whenever they briefly stroke us: we need not to attempt to wrestle them onto a vector that parallels our forward motion.  They won’t go there.  They are all telling us the same thing, and it is this.  “The purpose of what you do is not the purpose you offer when explaining what you do.”  Our actions are indeed purposive, if we are good people—but not purposive in any sense that we can define, since their ultimate objective is not of this world.  When we nevertheless succeed in reducing our explanations and definitions to terms that make complete sense in this world—and when we thereafter adjust our actions to suit the verbal formulas we have produced in mutilating efficiency—we become less good.  We lose touch with the spirit.  We skew our forward motion so that we no longer trip over the occasional, invisible step of the giant’s staircase.  We proceed, instead, along a perfectly flat surface, paying attention only to its “corrected” smoothness that permits a speedier advance… and we climb the staircase no farther, nor do we even notice that we’re straying from the beacon at our lower level.

A Fearful Future Designed by Fearless Idiots

I’ve evaded this issue for months; I evade it every day.  I politely step around it as one might smile distantly at a visiting relative over the holidays who shows up with a cold.  I don’t utterly ignore it… but I sidle away, postpone, and break off in mid-thought to address more “pressing” matters.

The future.  I happened (don’t ask how) upon a collection of off-beat essays by a late twentieth-century author, now deceased, named Giorgio Manganelli.  A particularly long piece comments on a just-published (back in about 1980) anthology whose distinguished contributors anticipate what life in 2000 will be like.  In other words, I was reading a wry satirist’s view of several views of the near future from my own view almost twenty years later than that near future.  It’s an uncomfortable experience… and the pathos is a little too keen for me to delight in the absurdity.

Forever present in the human animal, apparently, are certain projections about the future… which would lead one to believe a) that notions of tomorrow are hard-wired in our imagination, and b) that the “real future” may be shaped quite deterministically by this stubborn hard-wiring.  There are the visionaries who foresee the resolution of all problems (without defining a “problem” while preserving any sense of human nature) by technology.  Cancer?  Cured.  Illiteracy and ignorance?  A computer chip implanted.  Traffic congestion?  An air-buggy in every floating garage.  Then we have this giddy band’s dark cousins, the visionaries who see right-wing generalissimos under every bridge just waiting to blow the high-tech train off the rails.  The less lyrical, more clinical prophets possessing an actual background in science will describe a society whose citizens are telepathic or semi-robotic without stirring in un-scientific words like “good” or “evil”… but one can sense their myopic eyes glowing in excitement through the print.  Dour moralists, on the other hand, will point to the script of Sodom and Gomorrah and advise the hasty construction of another Arc.

I remember an edition of My Weekly Reader that must have passed through my hands when I was in first or second grade.  I won’t attempt to peg the year… but let’s just say that 1980 may have been to those estimable publishers of educational matter what 2000 was to Manganelli’s elite commentariat.  What I truly remember—all I truly remember—from that delightfully newspaper-scented front page is the bichromatic image of a monorail.  Yep.  By 1980, well within my generation’s lifetime (we hadn’t heard the word “Vietnam” yet), all of us would get from A to B by hopping aboard a whirring, slightly subsonic centipede.  We’d go everywhere that way: to grocery store, to church, to ball park and movie theater.  There would be no on-board crime, no risky drop-offs at midnight… and cost?  What’s cost?

Apparently, a large portion of California’s current population recalls the same My Weekly Reader issue, was just as impressed by it—and has not learned in the intervening decades about factors like blown budgets, tax hikes, government waste, contractor fraud, zoning laws, and the inviolable limits of three-dimensional space.  I’m surprised, frankly, that the late great Governor Jerry Brown didn’t substitute a teleportation system when his Pacific-corridor bullet-train went bust.  The current governor, I believe, has in fact teleported to us from some other planet… some planet rendered uninhabitable by his race’s brilliant engineering.

Meanwhile, the future continues to arrive on its own terms.  Every day, tomorrow becomes today; and every day, today preserves qualities of yesterday that we had hoped never to see again but did virtually nothing to eliminate.  That’s why the future… yes, I’ll say the word: that’s why the future frightens me.  Because what frightens me is ourselves.  We don’t learn.  We never learn.  We keep turning the page expecting the tragedy to end and a comedy to carry us the rest of the way through the book—as if we were merely browsing through a book, and not writing it.  The boldest (i.e., most insane) of us express a keen interest in scribbling all over a fresh page, but… but they didn’t read the earlier pages, where the tragedy was ignited precisely by a zeal for erasing everything and starting from scratch.  We are held in thrall by the most incorrigible idiots among us, who also seem to have the most energy and the “boldest vision”.  Why wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t you be bold, too, if you knew nothing about history, resisted acknowledging anything about your nature, and indulged your selfish whimsy as if it were the voice of God telling you how to arrange everybody’s life perfectly?

What could possibly go wrong with such “dreaming”?  How many graduating high-school and college seniors have just been exhorted by impressively idiotic speakers to dream their way out of the present’s miseries?

The very act of writing these paragraphs today, as it turns out, has proved another sly evasion of the future on my part; for I have written in very general terms about the futility of forward-aimed thinking, but not about several specific details of tomorrow—or this afternoon—looming so plainly as to be almost unavoidable.  I wasn’t always such an escape-artist.  When I was childless and single, I used to spend hours trying to bore straight into the future’s thickly veiled face.  Now that I have others to fear for, I can scarcely tolerate the misgivings that the stare-down produces in me.  That cavernous gaze is too similar to the Grim Reaper’s empty sockets.

John the Gospelist writes in his first epistle, “True love hath no fear.”  I’ve never understood that one, honestly.  It seems to me that those who truly love are precisely those who would truly fear.  The idiots with their designs unrelated to anything of the past or to any shred of common sense or practicality, in contrast, seem to be as fearless as lions… or as fearless as tripping addicts who imagine themselves lions.  I understand, from the perspective of genuine faith, that all things of this world end and that all worldly devices and desires are condemned to nullification… but that, in the ultimate comedy, none of the vast desolation matters, since this world is not the real world.  Nevertheless, as a traveler—a drifter, a vagabond—making his way through this futile, trivial, vainglorious, ridiculous world, I cannot completely inoculate myself against the anguish of gullible children who must watch the idiot-dreams of idiot-prophets explode one by one.

Heaven, maybe, has monorails powered by moonbeams.  I’d never thought of My Weekly Reader as a proselytizing instrument… but that’s exactly what it was.  Childhood dreams become reality where adult corruption is forever washed away.  That location is not right here, awaiting just another sunrise or two.  It never will be.

Panic Attacks: The Canary Stops Singing

Panic attacks, by definition, are irrational.  They tend to have a specific cause, at least at the beginning; but the element of panic becomes fully, painfully discernible when the merest mental movement in the direction of the “raw” area instantly elevates heart rate and sends up blood pressure.  Veins pound in the head, ears ring, breathing becomes almost as difficult as if one were suffocating… and perhaps the worst is the fear that lingers after the event passes; for, since the attack appeared from nowhere, it might reappear at any moment without notice.

These observations are not simply the fruit of browsing the Internet: they describe my own experience of attacks.  The odd thing is that I hadn’t suffered them for years… until the past couple of weeks.  They used to be almost crippling when, as an academic, I held tenure-track jobs and would grow aware (as I inevitably did, it seemed) that I was doomed to be turned out of house and home for causes over which I had no control.  (On two such occasions, for instance, I had rendered myself persona non grata unwittingly by publishing scholarly articles: small schools nourish large egos, and I had stolen a little sunlight from people who craved every beam.)

Why I should be revisiting this hellish terrain in retirement is somewhat mysterious to me.  I suppose the closest thing to a specific cause was my reflecting that I might be invited to jury duty one fine day—and then I would have to enter into elaborate and humiliating explanation of my inability to sit still for hours on end, thanks to a shrunken bladder.  (Yeah, I know: this is a natural part of aging—but I also tend to trace it to a period of overexposure to an ancient generation of computers that featured cathode ray tubes.  Those months catalyzed other nagging problems, as well, at which “medical professionals” sneered and scoffed… part of the reason why I stay away from doctors and treat myself with homeopathy.)

I don’t like being under the power of other people, for the very real reason that my experience of such relationships has taught me that they veer to the abusive, sooner or later.  I certainly see nothing in the world of politics that inclines me to reconsider my “problem with authority”.  Very nearly being saddled with a socialist governor last fall just after moving to the state of Georgia did nothing to calm my nerves; watching the movement to enfranchise masses of people who have entered the country illegally hasn’t pacified me; and trying in my own paltry way to assist a man serving three life sentences for crimes he didn’t commit has opened up a whole new vista of abused authority to me.

Add to that my ongoing battles to have FedEx, UPS, and the USPS deliver packages all the way to the end of my half-mile driveway… then the ever-present knowledge that my son now lives a thousand miles away in a city that wants to fund the heroin habit of its drug addicts… and, well, retirement hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses.  True, we can always find things to worry about; but when I was working, at least I had to ignore the horizon’s clouds for hours on end and address the tasks at hand.

I still have such tasks—and working on my garden or in my nascent orchard is, indeed, just what this doctor ordered.  As I lowered my shovel from an innovative type of raised garden bed yesterday, attracted by what I had long supposed to be turkey calls, I discovered a V of cranes making straight north… and then another.  The peace I felt at that moment utterly annihilated whatever serpentine shadows were coiling within me.  And even indoors, I can write, as I am doing now.

What I cannot do is, in a moment of foolish confidence, revisit the origins of the panic with a view to unraveling them rationally.  After every sequence of calm explanation and reasonable solution, a voice howls back, “But people are not reasonable!  Your behavioral autopsies have no relevance, no bite—people will do whatever their black hearts urge them to do!  Their hunger for power upon more power is insatiable, even to the point of self-destruction!”  And then another tailspin and another nosedive… all thanks to the attempt to be rational.

I understand why some sufferers cling to crosses.  I’ve tried that.  It may work a little bit for a while.  One really does have the sensation, you know, of fighting with the devil—with an assertive force of lunacy that wraps every effort at dispassionate analysis into an obscene adornment for his tail.  The Cross: “See this!  Stand back!”  It works better for hearts not so dominated by the mind as is mine.

At some point, my mind asked, “What does it work at all, even for a little?  What does the Cross represent that frightens this devil away?”  My son counseled me to live in the present moment and not allow questions about the invisible future to torment me.  He is all aglow with Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now (at least for now).  I began reading the book and, I confess, found myself immediately challenged to overcome the man’s aura of millenarian charism, his ecstatic “my light would transform the world if only the world could rend the veil before it”… his egotism.  At last, in a Tolle-like revelation, I toyed with the notion that living in the Now is precisely the wrong way to beat the devil—that the devil, in fact, enjoys the suffocating confines of Now and can cut the soul’s mooring very adroitly within them.  Or to say it from another angle: the true Now is Always.  The Cross is that Now, that Always within which a lifetime of struggles is but one moment.  To continue in the struggle, to insist upon the struggle’s purpose and ultimate success, to understand its victory as already secure merely by virtue of a struggle’s being made….  We win when we refuse to slide easily downstream.  We ride a rising tide that absorbs all streams into the great wide ocean.

Does Tolle reject that Now Is Always in his Always Now?  I’ll have to read the book through.  But the fact that my son has been able to allay his own devils with Mr. Tolle’s help advises me that young people in our aging and ailing society stand in grave need of a guru—a doctor who doesn’t simply laugh at their anguish and tell them that it’s imaginary.  To be sure, many gurus are false prophets: perhaps most.  Having such power over impressionable hearts is a heady drought, and few can resist its intoxicating effects.  None of that neutralizes the evidence that we were not made to lead the highly artificial lives that progressive technology has imposed upon us.  Though only two people in a hundred (according to Wikipedia) suffer panic attacks such as mine, I find it more than a little likely that our current political nuttiness is symptomatic of a collective panic.  What is the unhinged, hysterical insistence upon the planet’s impending meltdown if not the distorted cry of a generation cut off from its natural roots?

I wish these children of the iPod and iPhone were not so trusting of the very types whose lust for power could indeed render our lives unlivable—therein lies a major component of my own disposition to panic.  But I do understand the refrain of, “The sky is falling.”  Individually, we must strive to live in that completed moment when the sky has already fallen rather than, collectively, trying to build artificial staircases to the zenith.

 

Body, Soul, Self… and Things That Grow Between Them

It took me four months of off-and-on labor, stolen daily from other needful tasks… but at last have I cleared and leveled a tract of land measuring about half an acre.  I don’t entirely know why I did it.  Part of the reason was simply to create a buffer zone between our living space and the area’s more aggressive wild critters.  Part of it, too, was a rather wishful notion that we might some day have grandchildren playing in the space, which I have come to call my “field”.

An old cedar remains intruding slightly upon the field’s otherwise well-squared boundaries.  If it had been merely a pine sapling, I wouldn’t have left it standing—for the young pines are so greedy for sunlight that they tend to choke each other off, anyway.  But cedars are rare, and they also appear to be more abundant in their rarity as dead trunks strewn throughout the forest than as upright, vibrant pillars of bark.  Some disease must be decimating them locally.  This one, too, may not be around for long.  I decided that I should allow it to enjoy whatever time it has left in peace.

Now, what if I were a young woman bearing a child?  What if I faced a choice between clearing out that “underbrush” which impeded certain routine functions or, instead, letting it grow to term?  I could say, “It’s my body, and I don’t want this thing here just now.”  I could say, “I have other plans for that space.  This is inconvenient.”

In the same way, the field I have created is on my property… yet I decided to leave the cedar standing, because I felt that asserting my right over the land by taking the axe to everything in my way would be wanton.  If a tree can elicit such consideration, then why cannot a human sprout receive the same consideration?

The analogy is absurd, the young pregnant woman would respond.  One does not own a piece of land as one owns one’s body.  But is this as valid an objection as it appears? I am not rock and soil—but neither am I mere flesh and blood.  As I approach the threshold of old age, I grow ever more aware that the body is a rented space that I occupy but cannot bend precisely to my will.  Weather wears away the most ambitious acts of human cultivation… and time wears away the body’s responsiveness to will and whimsy.  Maybe if the young woman understood this, she would not be so hasty to take the axe to the small plant trying to spread leaves within her.

She insists, however, not only that the body is hers, but that it is her.  The unwanted “weed” will create physical pain for her that my cedar would never create for me.  This would be a curious argument, though, for “clearing the cavity”; for the woman chooses to uproot something so much a part of her body—herself—that it drums upon her nervous system, whereas I have allowed an organism to remain alive which isn’t integrated into my perceptual receptors in the least.  One would think that the “growth” legitimately belonging to its host would have a greater claim upon preservation.

Yes, we amputate cancers (or attempt to do so)—but in this, we recognize that our body is a mere vehicle or rented property: a temporary cubicle for the spirit.  We do not amputate a thumb because it’s sore, since we understand that it is among the furnishings entrusted to us by the lease.  Is the embryo a cancer or a (sometimes) sore thumb?  Is it a remarkable amenity occasionally and naturally available to the female physique… or is it an invading parasite that threatens to shut down the whole system?

To return to my previous terms, is the embryo the beginning of a new shell that will convey a new soul… or is it an intrusion upon the woman’s “me”, the bodily presence which completely defines her identity?

Much discussion on this subject has grown contradictory, in that the woman who insists upon a one-to-one correspondence with her body is also often waging war with that body.  A fetus is not a cancer.  Its appearance brings to fruition something that a healthy female body is designed to accomplish.  Yet many women appear so belligerently opposed to their natural endowments nowadays that they not only demand the right to amputate the fetus: they even want their reproductive organs changed.  An academic of some sort, I hear, claimed on television last week that breast-feeding is unnatural.  Some women, though not opting to carve up their bodies, decide that the “they” inhabiting said bodies is of the opposite gender; and some insist that this gender can vary with each day on the calendar.

I wonder… in these preposterous contradictions, might we be witnessing the pitiful struggle of the spirit to declare itself in a decadent age when spiritual reality is everywhere formally denied?  Is “gender dissatisfaction” the suffocating soul’s incoherent protest, “I am here—and I’m not the body I occupy?”  Is the passion for abortion (and it is a genuine passion, especially when one considers with what ease pregnancy might be avoided these days) not a similarly garbled protest?  “I am not a baby machine!  That’s my body—I am not my body!  See?  I take this baby and… and I shred it!  I flush it!”  The act is some kind of vendetta.  I find it comprehensible (as the insane can become comprehensible if you allow for self-annihilating energies) in no other way.

Of course, when a fundamental contradiction is admitted into a system, its ripples spread everywhere.  Hence the same women who declare independence of their body by amputating or mutilating its rebellious members also insist that they must obey all biological drives and urges instantly (as self-expression!); and yet more absurdly, they would revile someone like me for clearing his land and “raping” nature.  The suppressed awareness of their own wanton disrespect of nature is transferred to me when I seek to husband nature so that artificial growth patterns may more healthily sustain both plants and animals.

When any human being denies the reality of the spirit, every other reality in his or her life suffers distortion.  Up at last becomes down… and the inverted cross, by the way, is the premier Satanic symbol.