Life in tutorial mode

Screenshot The Sims 2

Happiness abounds when you are playing an easy game and have someone to help you who knows the game much better than you do.

Watching my own melodrama about a normal human jaw infection, I am reminded of a humorous essay I read in Reader’s Digest as a child, called “There is nothing as sick as a sick man”. (Or husband, the same word is used for both in the Norwegian translation.) The gist of it was that her husband would react to the slightest physical ailment by going into full patient mode, lying down and demanding attention, nursing and special treatment.

In real life, women are far more likely to see a doctor than men, and men are more likely to die than women until around the age of 90. But of course there are ways in which women are tougher than men. As I thought to myself as I clutched my hurting jaw: “At least I’m not bleeding from my genitals.” And childbirth not only feels like you’re going to die: It still happens, although the incidence is much reduced, especially in the developed world outside the USA.

Not without reason did left-wing writer John Scalzi write that straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. He was wrong about that, but not by much. Of the reasonably large categories, it is surely true. (Unless you have very specific life priorities, like being approached romantically by members of the opposite sex with no initiative needed on your side.)

But below the easiest normal difficulty setting in some video games, like “Settler mode” in Civilization, there is sometimes also a tutorial mode, for the absolute newbie who not only needs the game to be easier than the easiest setting, but also needs to be explained in detail how to go about the basic tasks of the game. And this, dear reader, is how I’ve largely lived my life. Or so it seems to me.

***

Let us first look at the difficulty level. There is white privilege, and then there is the whitest of privilege: Being ethnic Norwegian in Norway, a country routinely declared the best to live in by the United Nations. Pretty much the richest country that is not a gentlemen’s club with a flag, it is also known for all kinds of equality and small differences in income. Actually I am not rich by Norwegian standards. In fact, my income is barely working class despite now working full time. I am not unionized, so I have basically only had cost-of-living-adjustment during the almost 40 years I have been employed. I’m still pretty well off by global standards, but more importantly, a lot of things don’t cost noticeable amounts of money. Education didn’t, on the contrary I was paid for it for a while. Health care? Just a symbolic sum to keep hypochondriacs like me from circling around the clinics like moths around a lamp. Pensions savings? The state does that.

But as I say elsewhere, socialism fails because it can only redistribute money, and money is not really that big a deal except when you don’t have it. The state cannot redistribute health, intelligence, beauty, strength, endurance, wisdom, charisma… OK, I think I veered a bit into roleplaying game territory there, but you know what I mean. Not all of us are born with the same stats, and then there is the whole thing about being raised by sane adults. No, I don’t have maxed stats all across the board (strength is pretty low, and I’m not exactly attractive) but I got a large helping of intelligence just at the start of the time when that has become useful. It must have happened during my childhood, I guess, because most of my classmates clearly hadn’t gotten the memo until middle school.

In addition to general intelligence, always a good thing to have, I was also born to be hyperlexic. Autism spectrum hyperlexia is listed as disability actually, and in its most extreme forms that can be true. I got away easy though: I am nearly faceblind so I don’t recognize my coworkers if I meet them outside of work for instance, and I have a hard time meeting people’s eyes without creeping them out. Evidently there is something alien about me. But on the plus side, I could read at near adult level when I started school, and I have kept reading until now (although lately it has been less books and more Internet). I can’t speed read, but reading at a decent clip I can absorb pretty much anything just by plowing through it once, if I have the basic background knowledge to understand most of it.

My health was pretty bad in my childhood due to exercise asthma. Not only was it scary, but it set my physical development back by a couple years. I actually reached puberty quite a bit after my classmates, and was slow and weak and clumsy compared to them all the way. But after puberty this problem disappeared, and my health has been tutorial mode too for the most part. The fact that a mild jaw infection makes me start mourning myself should be proof enough of that, I guess.

Finally… I hesitate to even bring up this, but evidently my sex drive is actually lower than usual, not higher as I thought when I was young. It was actually lower then too (perhaps especially then) but I did not know, because I was generally surrounded by extra pious Christians, to whom chastity was very important. It was not a matter of whether or not to have unmarried sex, but whether you could always avoid looking at the opposite sex with the intention of desire, as Jesus admonishes us. “Extra virgin”, as they say these days. So that is how I spent my best years. By the time I was in my 20es and realized that I was not going to marry (out of consideration for the poor wife if nothing else) I already knew that I could live without sexual intimacy. (Also, how to wash my own clothes.)

***

But apart from being ridiculously easy, tutorial mode also has the benefit that some person who is not actually there – presumably the maker of the game – is teaching you step by step how to do things, from the simple to the more advanced. And true to form, the helpful Presence from Heaven (I assume that’s where it is from at least, strange as that might seem given my level of virtue) has been watching over me for decades, commenting where needed and pointing me in the right direction. I don’t actually hear voices, which may be just as well, it is more a telepathic thing, like sharing of mindspace? I guess you’ve got to have been there.

Anyway, this is not really something that should be talked about in detail, it is too intimate for that. But the point is, I usually don’t need to be in doubt. Sometimes I am, but then I often realize later that I was in doubt only because I did not want to follow the tutorial. Generally though it is incredibly carefree to have an invisible, loving older brother watching over you like that. (I actually had a loving older brother when I was a kid, the second oldest one. He’s a living saint as far as I know and there are definitely some similarities there. Maybe psychologists will decide that I created my invisible friend in that image, but I doubt I am such an awesome person that I can create someone wiser and more conscious than myself!)

And that is why what I truly fear is not death itself, but being separated from the one who has loved me and guided me all this time. If the universe is a fair and just place, I have hell to pay after a life like that. For despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode for all these years, I have accomplished nothing of value. That said, I have enjoyed my life greatly. When I play The Sims, I guide them in such a way that they can accomplish their goals that give them lifelong happiness, while at the same time they have all their needs met and have a good time along the way. And I take a sincere joy in seeing the little imaginary people go cheerfully about their worthless lives in unshakable happiness thanks to my guidance. I can only desperately hope that my own higher-dimensional guide feels the same way about my own happy but ultimately insignificant life. And, of course, that I am saved in the Cloud when the hardware eventually breaks down.

A small, late repentance

Screenshot anime Kamisama Memo

The voice in my head sometimes just… slips out. And that is the best part of me, I think. People seem to find it valuable, which I can’t say about my life as a whole.

I was thinking of buying something non-food today, and noticed myself thinking: “Nah, let’s first wait and see if I survive this week.” And that’s when I realized I should probably write a bit again.

Actually it is not statistically likely that I’ll die soon, it is just a bit less unlikely than usual. It is not like I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness or have decided to row across the North Sea. It’s just an upper jaw infection that has shaken off one antibiotic and is now barely contained by two others, while I wait for a jaw surgery on Friday. Also, when I had the same surgery on the right side, I had an adverse heart rhythm reaction. I survived that, but that was five years or so ago. So yeah, it should be interesting. A reminder of the mortality of body and soul. Spirit not so much. And I should probably say what I think about that, just in case.

***

To be honest, I think there is a fairly large risk that my soul will perish in Hell, for certain values of “soul” and “hell”. Now, this may not sound like a glowing recommendation of my doctrine, but think about this: How much of a connection is there really between self-esteem and actual performance? If you have been in the workforce for almost 40 years, as I have, you should have learned that this is a pretty shaky link. In particular, we have what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, namely that truly ignorant people don’t even know enough to know that they are ignorant, and truly unskilled people cannot estimate the skills of others, or how much skill they lack themselves. As the joke goes: “Do you play the piano?” “I don’t know, I have never tried.”

This seems to also be the default position of the religious person. I read in passing some years ago that the average American was far more certain of his own salvation than that of Mother Theresa. (And this was before the atheist campaign to portray Mother Theresa as a terrible person who misused large amounts of money and caused untold suffering to promote her own glory.)

And I started out no differently: As a child, I have no memory of my parents teaching me about religion, let alone hear them pray or see them read the Bible. I tried to read in my grandmother’s Bible, but she got very upset and made sure that never happened again. But at one point during my childhood, I found an old Bible on a dusty shelf in a room we mostly used for storage. It was in archaic language and even the typesetting was unfamiliar, and some pages were missing. But I devoured it. I read about the prophets of God and decided to become one. (A prophet, not a God. That came later.) The appeal, in my vague memory, seems to have been the work benefits more than the final reward: Being able to call down fire from Heaven or summon bears to tear apart those who insulted me. (Elijah and Elisha respectively. I loved that part of the book.)

When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad and their message of becoming perfect according to the conscience, it seemed a great match for me. I wasn’t perfect yet, but it wasn’t that far off, I thought. I certainly had a solid lead on most other humans, surely?

And so I studied the Bible again. This time, after drinking of the spirit that was in the Church, I was able to also understand the New Testament, finally. Well, with the exception of the Apocalypse. I am really not sure why that one was included and the apocryphal Book of Wisdom was not, I would have swapped those. I was quite enamored of the Book of Wisdom and of wisdom as a whole. And so I prayed sincerely to God, as Solomon is said to have done, that God might give me the Spirit of Wisdom from Heaven. This also came to pass, or so it seems to me. In the decades since, when someone asked me or talked with me with sincerity – whether it was about the Bible, or some deep matter that is not directly covered by the Bible, or about their personal life, or even about work – the benevolent Divine Presence would reveal to me what was needed, then and there. I would be amazed at the depth of wisdom and insight, because it would often be new to me as well, or at least clearer than I had seen it before. There seemed to be no end to this, like a well that refills itself no matter how much you draw from it.

But the truth is that this was not my personal, acquired wisdom. I now believe that what I had received, and what I had truly desired, was what the Norwegian Bible calls “visdoms tale” (wisdom’s speech), as in 1. Corinthians 12: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit.” And if you turn over to the next chapter, there is a harsh lesson on these things:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That doesn’t mean it didn’t work or wasn’t true, but it was a gift of grace that just passed through without any merit to me, because it was not my love, only God’s.

That is how I see it now. And Christ himself is quoted as saying: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” That doesn’t mean the prophecies were false or the demons were not driven out, necessarily. But it did no good for those who did it, evidently.

So yeah. My optimism is somewhat muted. That does not mean that I don’t believe in what I said. I just don’t believe in myself. I really ended up doing very little for others, despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode. In the end, I do not know whether I did more harm or more good. I suppose if there is a reckoning for me in the hereafter, I will know for sure. I am honestly not sure what way those scales would tip. But the real problem is my sins of omission, the endless list of good things I could have done but didn’t.

***

This isn’t depression. I have no desire to kill or harm myself. I don’t want to curl up in bed all day. I don’t suddenly start crying. I don’t lack energy. (I mean, sure I am lazy, but I usually walk for half an hour or two on a nice day, and am usually busy reading, writing or playing rather than staring at moving pictures for hours on end.) It is just that the snow has melted, the white fluffy cover that made everything look so clean and smooth. And beneath is the dead grass of last year, the rotting leaves, the sticks and stones and the trash that was left by the wayside and covered by the concealing snow of grace.

And in this lies my hope, in the warm sun that melts away the fluffy illusions I love. If I were to choose to believe what is comfortable, if I were to continue thinking that I’m at least better than the publican and the sinner and the pagans and the gays and the sluts – as if I had walked even around the block in their shoes – then I believe I would be truly lost. But there is still the tiny voice inside that cries: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and “Remember me when you come in your kingdom!”

But my soul in the sense of my personality, my habits, my accumulated choices, all those things that were called by my name, all I cherished and took pride in… I think that will all shrivel and be undone. You may call that Hell, I guess. It is not a Biblical word after all, just a loose translation of many things: Sheol and Hades, the grave and the fading memories of life. Gehenna, the continual dumpster fire where corpses of criminals and unclean things are burned. Like the pages of a worthless book that shrivel and burn, one after another, until there is only ashes left. Looking back on my life, this seems to have already begun. Page after page shriveling and turning to ashes. And that may be a good thing. Whether this week or in the middle of the century, my body shall return to the dust; but I believe that my spirit shall return to God, who gave it.

And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

Devotion to the Christmas Star?

Picture “borrowed” from another Christmas song on YouTube.

I don’t think I wrote about this last time I listened to it. After all, this song is in Norwegian, and I am not sure I have any Norwegian readers these days.

Sonjas sang til julestjernen (YouTube)

The song is taken from an older version of the screenplay Journey to the Christmas Star which you can find elsewhere. The song seems to have been replaced in modern versions, perhaps because it was deemed crypto-Christian. That said, in the Norwegian text (where Christmas is still called by its pagan name yule, or “jul” in Norwegian) there is no religious reference at all. You’ve got to have been there: Unless you have personal experience of religious devotion, you will likely not see anything religious about it at all. I cannot translate it into English poetry, alas, but I can translate it into English, so you can see for yourself.

Christmas star, may I have you?
Once a little girl was asking.
Would give a kingdom
To know you.

Christmas star, begone!
said a bitter king later.
Dark you turned, and dark the times
-must you hide yourself?

Christmas star, come to me!
You have caused us grief and pain;
Look, I give you now my heart,
let me kindle you.

Christmas star, stay with me!
It is good to see you shine.
You must never again disappear,
never forget me.

(The story of the screenplay tells about a small princess who goes out in the forest to find the Christmas star, and disappears. The queen dies from heartbreak and the king curses the Christmas star, an actual bright star in the sky. It disappears, and the kingdom is cast into darkness and despair. Years later, the girl who was actually caught by robbers, manages to get away and ends up in the castle. But she has forgotten that she used to be a princess, and nobody recognizes her except an old dog. When she learns of the plight to the kingdom, she decides to go search for the Christmas star. She overcomes great adversity by receiving help due to her kindness and her selfless quest. Eventually the Christmas star is returned to the sky, in the process acknowledging the princess, who in the meantime had been replaced by an impostor. There is absolutely zero reference to the Biblical “Christmas star” that supposedly guided some astrologers, magi or “wise men” to come worship the infant Christ. Norway is a thoroughly post-Christian country and religious propaganda in public is frowned upon, especially toward children.)

The song stays entirely within the narrative of the screenplay, and most people hearing it would probably never notice the crypto-religious undercurrent. Yet when I came across this song some months ago, I was moved to tears, because this is, very briefly, the archetypal story of innocent devotion, loss, repentance and return, mature devotion. Many Christians will be familiar with this (I less so, personally, since I was not raised as a Christian exactly). And for that matter probably also devotees of Krishna, Rama, or even Lakshmi; but I don’t think they were ever associated with the Christmas Star. And that’s just fine with me.

Limits of book-happiness

Screenshot anime Hackadolls

We came here to advance you… with books!

Looking back on my entries from around 2010-2012, I can’t help but notice how upbeat and optimistic and confident they (and I) seem to be. A number of things came together to cause that emotional boom. And those things were not of a very personal nature, either.

For some years earlier, I had felt very unique. I was sensing in a shadowy way a great outline of a spiritual reality, or at least a reality of the soul, a pattern beyond the static of everyday flailing and busy-ness. It baffled me that nobody else was seeing this. I felt like when I am passing through town and suddenly see a bright rainbow in the sky. I stop and look at its beauty but at the same time I am aware of the hundreds of people around me who just hurry to their next destination or watch their smartphone or for any other reason never lift their eyes. I guess when they come home, if they were asked about their day, they will say: “I made progress on the contract”, “I had a difficult customer”, “I missed you”; while I would say: “I saw a beautiful rainbow”. So it is not either of us is lying, but we are looking at different things.

But then I found some people who were looking in the same general direction. First only New Age people, and … well, they did not strike me as the brightest candles on the menorah. Kind of positive in a Golden Retriever way, so not bad company but not like me. But then I found One Cosmos, the blog (and the book, which is pretty good actually) and this psychiatrist trying to look at spiritual experiences with fresh eyes, taking them as a primary experience of reality rather than trying to explain them away as being some kind of side effect of something else. But most interesting to me, he was a voracious reader and recommended a number of books on the topic. The books were kind of hard to read, although the more I read his blog, the easier it became to read the books he read. But something else happened at the same time.

I discovered the Japanese new religion Happy Science, founded by the remarkable genius Ryuho Okawa. At the time he had already read thousands of books and also experimented with various forms of contact with the spirit world, and synthesized this into a new religion. Eventually he kind of came the conclusion that he was God, something I found deeply disappointing. (I’ve seen people come to the same conclusion over in the New Age society, and it generally doesn’t end well. As I have said before: I have seen a number of guys say “I am God”, but I have never seen a woman say “My husband is God”. Sure enough, Okawa divorced a while later.) But before then he had written a number of very interesting books, and I was rather shocked to see that he described very clearly many of the things I had seen as if through frosted glass.  There were so many things I recognized when reading about them.

After having read the luminous prose of Mr Okawa, it became easier to read the heavier books by various saints and sages and the people who love them, and I was building myself a “Bookshelf of Happiness”. I had this grand dream that simply by reading enough books, I would become transformed to a higher being. Well, it felt like this process had begun at the time. Nor was it my first experience of that sort. When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad, popularly known as “Smith’s Friends”, I had my first and most important influx of spiritual understanding, in which the Bible came alive to me. (This kind of faded once my income grew, as the Bible had foretold.)

There were a lot of good books, some of which are referenced in my writing during those years, but eventually this phase of my life began to fade. Gradually I started to suspect that reading Books of Timeless Truth and doing Brainwave Entrainment was not enough to transform me into a weakly godlike superintelligence, as I had hoped. There is still this small, dark, noisy, seething little ball of selfishness, the ego or small self, which self-identifies as me and does not want to give me up.

It could certainly be worse. I live a decent life by human standards, but that is not what I was hoping to live and die as. As long as I remain at this stage, I am at great risk of disruption and unraveling, like any mortal. I am protected day to day from great calamity by the undeserved kindness of the Light, like a village idiot being gently but sometimes firmly turned away from danger. Well, that is pretty much the best possible human condition, but I had not expected to end my days as a human.

“I said: You are gods, all of you are children of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” -Psalm 82, verse 6-7.

Elephant heresy

Screenshot anime Ichigo 100%

“I want everyone in the world to know!” When we have experienced something amazing and life-changing, it is natural to want everyone in the world to know. We do not care how we look, we may not even care that others may be hurt in the process. The Truth must out! But sometimes that doesn’t end well.

There is a certain irony in this, given that I am considered a heretic even among heretics. I also wonder whether I have run off to proclaim on the Internet about too many things of which I know too little, without having the required 90% of the iceberg below the surface. But still! The world needs to know this too, right? “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are gone forever.” Although I wish someone else would say it.

What follows is an answer I gave to a question on Quora, the moderated questions-and-answers site. I have rendered the question in italics and my answer in bold.

***

Is it better to be a heretic than orthodox on religious matters?
Doesn’t being a heretic mean you had the mental and intellectual fortitude to defy commonly-accepted norms of belief (orthodoxy) in order to know God better? Orthodoxy is stagnation and conformist by definition, right?

Heresy could also mean – and I believe it often means – that you jump to conclusions based on a little experience.

You may have heard the metaphor about the blind men and the elephant. Each of them touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with his own impression of what an elephant is. This metaphor is sometimes used about different religions, or about the varieties of religious experience. But the interesting thing in our context is that a person who has never been within a continent of an elephant may still have a better understanding of it than someone who briefly touched the trunk and then ran away, his life changed forever by his personal experience of the living elephant.

When someone has a particularly intense spiritual experience or revelation, a temptation arises to reject tradition and focus on the one thing one knows with inner certainty, downplaying other aspects. But as a religion or sect acquires more members and exists over time, it inevitably grows into the same wide range of circumstances and personalities. Having rejected the old tradition, it is now tempting to fill the blank spaces with logical extensions based on the existing body of experience. But if you fill out the entire elephant with what would be logical based on the trunk, you end up with a very different animal.

Spiritual frogs

Screenshot anime

“It is Christmas, but Santa won’t bring me a girlfriend!” When the magic of religion fails to deliver material results, back into the pond we go to survive and reproduce.

It is kind of understandable that people turn to materialism. After all, spirituality borders directly on insanity. I still remember a young friend of me painfully insisting: “It has to be spiritual!” He was on leave from the psychiatric hospital, having had a severe breakdown some time earlier. He was one of the smartest guys I have met, and a very sincere Christian with high standards of morality, especially for himself. But he could not stomach hearing his friends and family talk and laugh about earthly things. “It has to be spiritual!”

No, it doesn’t have to be spiritual, because we humans are spiritual amphibians, like frogs. The frogs are hatched in water and grow up there, eventually being able to peek out of it, and they grow small limbs that grow bigger, while their fish-like tail shrinks over time. But even though they climb out of the water in their early youth, they never become truly independent of it as long as they live. They have to return to the water regularly, and this is also where they lay their eggs, starting the process all over again.

We humans are also born into a lower world, the material world. And we don’t outgrow it as long as we live. We need our daily bread, but we do not live by bread alone. If we do, we become beasts, much as some salamanders who spend their entire life in water like a fish. The frog spends much of its time in air, and normal humans also live in two realms: The material and the spiritual. You can live fine in matter alone, but then you are a human only genetically, if that. Most people who think they are materialists are actually far from it,

In its most extreme form, materialism is either stupid or insane. The stupid is when people say “the mind is a product of the brain”. This is about as intelligent as “My computer does not need software: I just turn it on and it works!” Before the computer age, we could compare it to a chemist who analyzes a book, finding only paper and ink, no magic component called “meaning”. If he were to weigh the paper and the ink before and after printing, he would be able to conclude scientifically that nothing was added by the printing process. In other words, reading is pure superstition, physically impossible. And yet it happens, because humans are not like your average animal. We live in an extra layer of meaning, which extends quite a bit beyond the “smell of food means food” layer of meaning we share with our furry friends.

In dogs, the sense of meaning can be extended a little bit, as in the famous Pavlov’s dogs. He would ring a bell before feeding them, and eventually they would salivate from the sound of the bell alone. But humans don’t just breach the surface of meaning, we tend to spend pretty much our entire day in that realm, returning only for survival and reproduction. My friend who insisted that everything “must be spiritual” had early developed a healthy fear of sexuality, as well he should: Few things can as rapidly pull people back in the material realm. In civilized cultures, the concept of “romance” – of spiritualizing sexuality – is one of the most difficult, and some never really get it. And this is also where a whole lot of people decide that the dry land is not for them, and jump back in the pond of materialism.

I believe it is a terrible mistake to push people into the spiritual. A lot of trouble comes from being too fast with this. Just because the tadpole has grown small limbs does not mean they should be pushed out of the water. They will follow the adults up in the air naturally, given time. But if we try to pull them up, they are not ready to live there, much less to wander far from the pond. When people move too fast and too far away from the material pond, insanity sets in, either personal or collective. Weird memes take root, and the sun and the moon are pulled across the sky by invisible pink unicorns.

Religion contains a lot of weird stuff, which is as meaningless on its own as the magical invisible component of writing is to our book-analyzing chemist. When we insist that the spiritual exist in the material world, we come up with magic. It is true that any sufficiently advanced spirituality is indistinguishable from magic, but we should take great care to not pretend that God literally “exists”. (Technically, existence is different from being.) For to say that God exists in the world would be to say “the house is in this room”, and this is both true and false simultaneously. This is why religion needs the incarnation, to represent the house inside the room of the material world. Although a philosophical religion such as Buddhism does not have incarnations, the large mass of simple Buddhists still see the Buddha as such. Some religions venerate holy books or other holy objects, or holy places. Material things imbued with the sacred. But to the salamander who never leaves the water, these things are pure superstition. And that is exactly correct, for them. If they were forced to venerate such things, it would be pure magic, like an illiterate person forced to recite the text of a book while staring at it, without having any idea of what reading and writing really is.

Spirituality is experiential. It is something you experience, or you don’t. If you have been exposed to an elaborate description of the spiritual realm while you were still a tadpole, it can actually keep you from seeing the real thing. While you are a tadpole, everything you learn about the dry land is only in your head, a mental model. And it is possible to grow up and expand and refine that mental model, becoming a theologian without ever noticing the reality of that realm, always thinking of one’s own mental model as the real thing. Even as an adult frog, living most of your workday in abstractions, you will still regard the magic system in your head as the spiritual world, and the material world as the real world.

But only an idiot or a low-functioning autist can actually be a practicing materialist. The moment we start believing in such things as truth or beauty or goodness, we start poking our head out of the water and enter a realm where our furry friends can never follow us. Certainly a dog can be more loyal than your best two-legged friend, but the dog has no concept of loyalty as such, even if he incarnates it. A bird that pretends to be wounded to lure a predator away from her nest is likewise a heart-rending example of love, and yet she has no concept of love as such. Only we can see such things.

“Proof of God is abundant for those who do not need it.” But for those who are smart and learn too much about the dry land when they are still tadpoles, there is a risk that they will first swim in the water insisting that they are on land, and later walk on land insisting that they are still in the water. And that is a damned shame, because both of these are beautiful worlds, and a mature human should live in them both.

Brownian motion of the soul

Illustration of Brownian motion

They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around. (Image credit: Wikipedia.)

Some weeks ago I came across the song “Divisionary (Do the right thing)” by Ages and Ages. It seems to be a curious mix of wisdom and paranoia. Not that I am unfamiliar with that. The repetitive chorus: “Do the right thing, do the right thing, do it all the time, do it all the time” reminded me of myself as a teen. Unsurprisingly it is really hard to do the right thing all the time when you don’t understand yourself or the world in which you live.

You can hear the song on Spotify, that is what I did, but be warned that it is not entirely light. There is anger and fear in it too. Handle with care, although it is certainly better than the evening news. But we’re getting to that.

Among the words of wisdom floating around in there was this word-painting:
They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around.
So if you love yourself, you better get out
Get out – get out – get out now!

Well, that’s easier said than done. We’re getting to that too. But let us look a bit closer at this not moving but moving around. It is important. This is a basic tenet of my religion, if you will put it that way. But first let us conjure up some more images.

Most colored or murky liquids such as ink or paint consist of tiny particles suspended in a clearer liquid such as water, alcohol or some kind of oil. This clearer liquid is called the solvent, and after we dissolve another substance in it, it is called a solution. (This is why we who took high school chemistry say that alcohol is not a solution – it is a solvent! ^_^) It is the same process that happens when you dissolve sugar in tea or coffee, except sugar is almost colorless so you can’t see how much there is of it in a sweet drink. (Just as well, say I!) The sugar does not change its basic nature by being dissolved, there is no chemical reaction. It just falls apart into tiny particles which are suspended in the liquid.

If you have a beaker with clear water and put a drop of ink in it, the ink will not stay in drop form for long. It will begin to spread into the surrounding water. If you look at it in a very strong microscope, you will see that the tiny ink particles are moving restlessly around in the water, even when the beaker is standing completely still and is not being heated or cooled. There is always in any liquid or gas this feverish motion, but it is random. They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around. We call this microscopic dance “Brownian motion”. The Wikipedia page has some great animations of it. (Warning: Possible epilepsy triggers.)

***

And this, dear choir, is my sermon today: These particles moving around getting nowhere? They are us humans, in this world. We ain’t moving, we’re just moving around. If you love yourself, you better get out, NOW. That’s what religion is all about, or was meant to be at least before it became a cozy club. It was meant to be an escape hatch from the world where we just wash back and forth thinking that we are moving forward but getting nowhere, thinking that we are alive because we are moving but in the long run we are all dead.

I keep seeing people say that religion is a comfort. Yeah, to me it is as comforting as a fire alarm going off while I dream. What would be really comfortable would be to smash the fire alarm and go back to sleep, dreaming that everything is fine. And so this is also the general attitude of this world. The light shines in the dark but the dorks won’t accept it. Everyone has accomplishments they either have achieved or want to achieve. Graduation. Engagement. Employment. Marriage. Promotion. Having a child. Buying a house. Managerial position. Divorce. Winning a court case. Retirement. Mediterranean cruise. See Naples and die… Wait, the “die” part was not what we looked forward to, but it happened anyway. Luckily the children are around to continue the Brownian motion. They should be just about ready to divorce by now if you lived well into retirement. Be sure to leave some inheritance, lawyers need a car and a house too.

I have a hard time writing about this stuff, because obviously people would want me to demonstrate it with my own awesome spiritual achievements. Preferably with miracles thrown in. But I am not the way and the life. I’m just telling it as I see it. I am not giving you the escape hatch from the world of randomness any more than a tourist is the builder of the Eiffel Tower. At best I can point you in the right direction – but you probably know the right direction already? It is moving that is hard.

Moving around is easy in comparison. But moving purposefully is like swimming in strong currents – sometimes you make surprising progress when the current is going your way, then you come into another current and is thrown way off course, or sent back to start, so it seems. But what you don’t see is where you had been if you had not started moving. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The path of eternity begins with a single thought.

Frithjof Schuon: “The Fullness of God”

The Realm of Light. Anime

Somehow, this part of the movie “The Laws of Eternity” reminds me of Schuon, and the other way around. I believe the Japanese illustrator tries to show the various luminous souls being connected by beams of Heavenly Light. Somehow the light of Frithjof Schuon has come much closer to me this year.

Something unexpected happened this year: I became able to understand Schuon. I have mentioned before, how I perceived him as being “high above me”, like one of those luminous lights in the sky, metaphorically speaking. When I tried to read his books, I felt like I was facing sheer cliffs or at least rocky outcroppings of precious stone, like diamond or sapphire: Immensely valuable, but unassailable and impossible to take with me. But if I could understand a sentence or two here and there, I was happy: Even a pebble is a good catch in the land of jewels.

By the time I started reading this particular book, early this year, the books were still largely unassailable. I have read two of them off and on through the year. By the time I approached the end of the other book, I began to understand. I am not sure how or why, but now it is rather normal reading. I do not necessarily agree with everything, but that is to be expected. Few people have agreed with Frithjof Schuon, but many more have been inspired.

I have no doubt as to Schuon’s sincerity and personal piety; it is attested by those who knew him during his lifetime, and also shines through in his writing. But his theology is … not for everyone, certainly, and maybe not even for me in part. For instance his Mariology, that is to say, the teaching of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an avatara of the Divine Feminine. I am led to believe that this is pretty close to the mainstream view in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as they both honor her with the name Mother of God and attribute to her various attributes above and beyond those of other saints. I don’t say that this is wrong, but nothing of the kind has been revealed to me or validated to me.

Certainly the Holy Virgin is the archetype of the Church, as the growth of the Christ-life in us (if it ever happens) depends on the same properties, spiritually speaking. (We are not speaking about the physical virginity here, as this is merely the outward sign of the inward purity of her heart which is the actual condition, surely. We are not going to give birth to the new life physically, after all.) But beyond that I don’t understand the big deal, personally. I’d rather not multiply the number of saviors beyond necessity.

As for Schuon’s teachings about the Trinity and specifically the Holy Spirit, I dare not repeat these, hardly even to myself. That is not to say that they are wrong, but I have an understandable phobia when it comes to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in whichever form. Better for a man such as I to say nothing, since I have not been authorized to speak on this matter. To speak even a truth without understanding it is highly dangerous. We were not born (hatched?) as parrots, so should not live as such.

Things being this way, I hesitate to recommend this book to the ordinary Christian. And this is a book about Christianity specifically. Even then, it contains numerous references to other great religions, particularly Islam but also the Vedanta branch of Hinduism.

I have a feeling that I have written this before, but it could just be from the large number of failed attempts to write a review of this book. I should just read it again from the start, I guess. Perhaps I will be able to savor the parts I understood (and there’s some really good stuff in there) the next time. I certainly don’t regret buying it or reading it. I just can’t think of anyone I would dare recommend it to. They probably exist, I just can’t think of any.

That was pretty tame, but I have deleted more about this book than I have written about most others. There has to be an end to that.

“Prayer fashions man”, a takeaway

Screenshot YouTube,

“I want to give myself a prayer for the future, so that I can be sure to find happiness” (from the song Remedy by Maaya Sakamoto, a light-filled song I have praised before.)

Warning: This entry is about religion. Feel free to skip if you are not a transdimensional Raccoon. Excess sanity points recommended for entry.

I wrote in my previous entry about the book Prayer fashions man, by Frithjof Schuon, and how I could not in good conscience recommend it because it scatters so many automatic beliefs that are necessary for most people to function normally. You don’t want to end up with your ego crushed like a fallen egg, where all the kings horses and all the king’s men can’t put back together the carefully created bubble of delusion that was your former “self”.

There are however scattered parts of the book that are harmless and even helpful even to us who are not certified saints and advanced mystics. I would not be surprised if different people came away with different jewels that seem to have fallen from the crystal mountains and boulders that make up most of Schuon’s writing. So I want to dedicate this entry to a few small things I learned.

One was the importance of divine names and ritual prayer, and the connection between them. In the past I considered names simply pointers, to be conveniently ignored once one knew what they pointed to. That may indeed be true for ordinary nouns and even the names of lesser beings, but Schuon is convinced – based on ancient Scripture, the practice of the great world religions, and his own direct intuition of metaphysical Truth – that the Divine Name has immense power on a plane that intersects with the soul. It may be said to be a kind of magic, although of course Schuon does not consider that for a moment. He was a spiritual scientists of high rank, and just as “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, we can conversely say that “sufficient understanding of magic is indistinguishable from science.” Or more precisely, one man’s magic is another’s science.

Indeed, I see Schuon as a sort of spiritual equivalent to a professor teaching students of engineering. For the ordinary user, a cursory understanding of electricity is enough, as he just needs to flip the switches and things work as if by magic. Indeed, religions as we know them today may be compared to large houses equipped with various devices powered by an energy as poorly understood by the religious as electricity is poorly understood by the unqualified user. The founders of the world’s great religions, and their disciples again, understood quite well what they did. But over time there were engineers of religion who harnessed the “wild power” that had ingressed into the world through the breach of the world’s walls from above. Like engineers here in Norway put some beautiful waterfalls in pipes to power the country with electricity, it may be said that there were great theologians who harnessed the spiritual power through devices such as ritual prayer, sacrament and necessary dogma. In each religion, there are parts that are meant to fit together. Picking and mixing from different religions is a dangerous thing to do unless you have the necessary religious engineering education.

Even in the dry periods of a religion when there are no great mystics, the “devices” of the religion continue to function as long as left undisturbed, at least sufficiently to save the souls of those who use them faithfully. This is not to gainsay the quote attributed to Krishna, that the priesthood is like those digging wells in a land flooded by water. If there was in such a “dry age” a soul whose eyes was opened to the overwhelming presence of the Divine, they would find it everywhere. But for the most part, people cannot taste the Living Water until it is “pulled up” through the devices built into the particular religion. And it is good that they can get to it that way.

By my light, I have largely considered ritual prayers to be for others, for those who rarely if ever felt the Divine presence, for those who simply flipped the switch and had no interest in knowing how it worked. It can be said in truth that I pitied them, and in this there is an element of looking down on the other. I was privileged, and I knew that this was by grace alone, not something I had earned. But there was still a feeling similar to a genius surrounded by idiots. Even if you know that you inherited your genius by genes before you even had a single brain cell, the fact remains that the people around you are still idiots.

But perhaps not. Given the power and the usefulness of sacraments and common prayers, perhaps I could gain something from them that I do not currently have. And also, perhaps others could gain something from me using them.

There is, according to Schuon and also some Orthodox literature which resonated with me, a certain community formed by those who partake in a particular tradition. As one Orthodox teacher so vividly explained, when the congregation is gathered for mass, there is also present a great number of souls who have lived before and gathered in the same way for the same purpose; and even those yet unborn, who will after our time gather likewise: They are all present together and united. We pray for them, and they pray for us, when we pray the same prayer together.

I had my own revelation of this years ago, which I briefly mentioned on these pages. As for the Lord’s Prayer, there is a line that says: “Give us this day our bread for the day” (or “Give us today our daily bread”). As I mentioned for God that I did not really need anymore bread for this day, God replied: “Us.” Meaning that I pray not simply for myself, but also for those who still don’t have bread for the day. (Of course, this revelation should probably be followed by at least a visit to The Hungersite, if not more.)

It is not accident, says Schuon, that the Lord’s Prayer (OUR Father, who art in Heaven…) is using collective pronouns. Ritual prayer is by its very nature collective, and it for the same reason somewhat mandatory. It fulfills a different function than the free-form individual prayer. It is our obligation to pray with those whose need we may not have, and likewise they pray for us in our need.

***

And then there is the power of the Holy Name. Actually, each religion usually has several Holy Names, any one of which can save. Saint Paul says that there is no other Name in Heaven or on Earth by which we can be saved than Jesus’ name, and this is generally thought to be simply the name “Jesus” or some similar spelling. Yet one may notice that Jesus makes a big deal out of this, at the time of his Last Supper, that he had revealed to them the name of the Father and preserved them in it. Yet there is some disagreement among Christians about the name of the Father. Jehovah’s Witnesses obviously think Jesus meant the name “Jehovah”; to them this is blindingly obvious, since this is the only name God personally gives to one of his trusted servants who asks him earnestly what Name to use. Some other Christians however believe that the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is Jesus. Yes, all of them are Jesus. However, when Jesus is quoted as referring to God, he almost always refers to him simply as Father or The Father.

To summarize, in Christianity we could in good faith claim that Jesus, Jehovah (or Yahweh), God, or The Father, are all Holy Names, Divine Names. Schuon also refers to the Divine Name as a Revealed Name. Any of these names then are used in the revealed Scripture. In addition there may be later revelations after the Scripture was completed, and Schuon argues that the name of Mary is acceptable for Catholics at least, although he cautions that it should not be used exclusively but together with the name of Jesus. Well, obviously not all of us are Catholics, and as such we may not simply be permitted to walk into their tradition and abscond with their holy names, unless we are Raccoons I suppose. But the Gospel was meant to be preached to all nations, so the gospel should be OK.

After considering this earnestly, I have realized that the Lord’s Prayer does indeed start with a Divine name: “Father”. It is probably for this reason that Jesus cautions his disciples to not call anyone on Earth “Father” (something the Catholic Church, among others, seems to have a problem with). Ever since I was a teen, I have also tried to make sure to refer to my earthly father with a qualifier, not as a sign of disrespect, but so as to not take God’s Name in vain.

In light of this, I have decided to follow Schuon’s advice to try to solemnly present a formal prayer three times a day: In the morning, during the height of the day, and before going to rest. For this purpose I have taken the advice of Christ and chosen the Lord’s Prayer, or Pater Noster. While I seek to present this solemnly and soberly, without undue distraction, and with mindfulness, I also take Schuon’s advice to not seek to imbue the prayer with personal soul energy. This is unnecessary and unseemly, because the Holy Name has more than sufficient power. There is no need to engage emotionally and tire oneself as if we were carrying the Name rather than it carrying us. If we believe in the power of the Name to save and transform us, that is sufficient. It does not require our power, it requires our presence. As the voice in my heart explains: “It is not the energy you put into eating that nourishes you, but the food. Eating is still necessary, but it does not feed you; the food does. Grace is like that.”

Until this month, I could not have done this because it would to me be a step back, to a more primitive and magical thinking about religion. That would indeed have been true. But now that I have been explained in great detail how and why it works, it is different. Even if you are an engineering students, you are still allowed to sometimes just flip the switch! ^_^

(PS: After uploading this entry, I found a reference to the Didache, the 1st-2nd century summary of the teachings of the Apostles, recommends citing the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. Small world!)

 

“Prayer fashions man”, a review

Screenshot anime Denpa Onna

“When I think about it, I always wonder how much I really understand.”  In this age of social media, when we can surround ourselves with idiots at the touch of a button, it is good to read something that makes me wonder if I’ve really understood anything the way it should be understood.

After months, I finished reading this book, Prayer fashions man, by Frithjof Schuon. As I wrote in my Goodread review: “This book is awesome; don’t read it!”

This requires some explanation, for those who don’t know about Frithjof Schuon. He was a fairly prolific author in religion and metaphysics, following a tradition that is known as Sophia Perennis, the perennial wisdom. It is fairly well described in Wikipedia, and I quote (partly to circumvent future edits there):

“Perennialism is a perspective within the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown. According to this view, each world religion, including but not limited to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Sikhism, and Buddhism, is an interpretation of this universal truth adapted to cater for the psychological, intellectual, and social needs of a given culture of a given period of history. The universal truth which lies at heart of each religion has been rediscovered in each epoch by saints, sages, prophets, and philosophers. These include not only the ‘founders’ of the world’s great religions but also gifted and inspired mystics, theologians, and preachers who have revived already existing religions when they had fallen into empty platitudes and hollow ceremonialism.” 

Yes, this view of religion’s history is strikingly similar to that of the Japanese religion Happy Science, with the notable exception that Schuon and friends didn’t claim to be God or Buddha, and tended to live an austere and secluded lifestyle. I personally find it easier to accept religious teaching from ascetic and taciturn people who receive little of no financial gain or fawning adoration for their efforts.

Be that as it may, Schuon is always a hard read. His words are like crystals, beautiful and precise but hard. Even now, being more familiar with Schuon, I cannot really read his books like textbooks. Rather, I have to read them slowly and wait for bits and pieces of  them to cause a sort of “vertical recall”, similar to a memory but of something I have never learned before. It is this “timeless memory” which remains, often as not, and it may not be directly spelled out in the text.

One may wonder whether he is making his text hard to read on purpose, so as to keep away the casual reader. If so, that is probably a good thing, for when you begin to understand what he writes, it is natural to become deeply disturbed. I don’t really recommend his books for those who are doing well in their religion, for it will almost certainly cause them to either reject their simple faith or the book, possibly both. I also don’t recommend it for the atheist who does well without religion, for he will find it foolish and will also find that Schuon regards him as more foolish than a beast.

I would recommend this book to the rare breed of spiritual offroad adventurer, who finds light in many faiths, but also shadows there, and who is bothered by the superficial nature of modern religion and modern life as a whole. (To Schuon, “modernity” is almost a curse word.) And I would recommend it to those who once were believers, but who grew up and their religion did not grow up with them, those who now feels that there was some goodness in their faith, but it was ultimately just a bunch of humans trying to do something that was far beyond them. For them, it may be useful to look behind the stage, perhaps. If so, I would recommend they start with the last chapter, and read only that for a while. It is the most “humane”, the easiest to read and the most practical part of the books, I think.  I am certainly glad I read it. I hope to live long enough to read it again once it has had time to either change me or be forgotten. But I doubt it can be forgotten.

Madness is not the only danger in books. There is also the danger that something may be seen that cannot be unseen. Whether I walk in this new light or not, I may be judged by it. As I said, this is not a book to take lightly, and I cannot recommend it to just anyone.