Working the Truth Out

Among all the proofs of the efficacy of loving, none is more compelling to me than the existence of institutions of learning. I am one of the most favored and grateful recipients of the investment made by others in discovering and sharing the truth.

During my freshman year at UC Berkeley, my dorm roomie was a talented pianist named John Schmay. John would sit down at a piece of music and spin out a million notes in extemporaneous composition that wandered effortlessly across musical genres. He tried to tame the volcano within through meditation at a self-made Buddhist shrine. Inspired by that example, I turned within as well. As the year progressed, through meditation I had a series of conscious transitions, an opening of doors to ever larger realms of truth. I realize now that those transitions were facilitated by others, and reflected a judgment that I would be respectful in my navigation of those halls.

Since leaving the UC system (I worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the first eight years of my professional life), I have tried my best to bring the gifts of truth into my work in the commercial world. It is an ongoing struggle. Our hierarchical corporate structure and the legal framework of property rights both support and sustain the exercise of tyranny. This is expressed in a psychology of management prerogatives that extend, in the most aggressive case, to the idea that a supervisor has a right to untrammeled access to the sources of truth in our minds. In my own case, access has been sought through appeals to lust and greed, and when those failed, through raw threat to my survival and the survival of those I love.

Of course, as one that has surrendered fully to Christ, this is all terribly wearisome. I don’t own the truth; I don’t control the truth that flows through me. Having been given the gift of wandering in it, perhaps to a greater degree than anyone now alive, I perceive that remit to be a jewel precious beyond measure, and something that death will not steal from me. It will only interrupt the process of living that allows truth to manifest itself in the world through me.

Paradoxically, upon realizing that none of the afore-mentioned inducements will gain access to the truth that reaches out through me, a subtle psychological shift occurs. Instead of negotiating an exchange of value, the world itself is raised as a threat to the survival of the truth in me. The assertion of authority is not one of merit, but rather a claim of allegiance from one providing protection. Of course, this is always the last resort of the tyrant. When they no longer can command weakness in their subjects, they manufacture enemies without.

What has been essential to me, in working through this resistance, is to recognize that it is not the specific individuals that concern the truth. They are merely attempts to manifest a pattern of relation that has engendered habits of thinking – just as I manifest a pattern of relation (unconditional love) and habits of thinking (a relentless plunging into the veils that hide the truth).

Having exhausted the resistance of ownership, in America the next barrier is the defense industry, the enormously voracious “protector of liberty.”

So last night I awoke to a dream of captivity to Jihadi John, the target of yesterday’s drone strike in Syria. As I was injected into the scenario, I firmly resisted the garb of a victim, instead asserting that I saw this as a demonstration that would undermine the rhetoric of fear. Firmly enmeshed in the illusion of captivity, I shared with the jihadists that I had never finished reading the Qur’an, and asked them to provide me an English translation. With that link established, I offered them the truth as I understood it, opening my heart to reveal the love that I have received, eclipsing in measure any claims of my worth.

In that moment there was a lifting away. Something gave way, an ancient predatory spirit that has roosted in the Middle East.

Gently I asserted to the jihadists, “Isn’t this the goal you desire?” Their affirmation spread throughout the region. I then became one with that spirit that watches the world from outside, gently guiding our hearts, spreading the hope that one day we will stop fearing the consequences of receiving it – foremost being the power that it brings to elaborate wills that are not yet strong enough to resist the self-tyranny that is our self-concern.

And to my countrymen, I then turned to ask, “Did you really believe that the truth needs protection?”

You can run but you can’t hide.

It is that which is.

We were/are/will be that which we were/are/will be.

Whitenessing the Truth

My response to Sera Beak’s “Redvolutionary” theology has been pretty passionate, and I’m planning a post on programming to let things cool down. But before I do, I’d like to elaborate the claim that I made yesterday: “There’s so much more for you than that.”

Perhaps the most popular spiritual autobiography at the opening of the 20th century was that of the “little flower”, St. Terese of Lisieux. While I was at first disturbed by Terese’s testimony to desire to die so that she might embrace Christ, I have come to understand that her recorded life was probably a last parting from those that were bound to her in family, in particular her father.

What was she releasing herself into? The answer is given to us in her revelation of a vision: Terese found herself in the company of three veiled women. One of them, Teresa of Avila, was the founder of her penitent order, and a woman who famously experienced an erotically ravishing love from Christ. Teresa parted her veil for the daughter of her grace, and Terese reported being bathed in the purest light. With an embrace, Teresa offered this paean: “Christ is well pleased with you.”

Why do these women hide their light from us? I offer a parable in that regard in Golem. We here on earth are a mixture of grace and corruption, a mix that cannot be sundered easily. When the pure light of truth shines upon us, the corruption must flee or be destroyed. The light is veiled because, as Moses was warned in Exodus, those not prepared to receive it will by destroyed by its power.

With the saints encountered by Terese, so it is with Christ [NIV 2 Peter 3:9]:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

And so to experience life in the fullness of its beauty. Can you imagine, ladies, what it would be like to have souls passing through the healing cauldron of your womb, not in a brief spasm, but as a steady stream that grows into a mighty river?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

[NIV Rev. 22:1-2]

Please follow me here: Eve had her own gifts to tend, and to share them with men was never going to work. You, O woman, were meant to manifest the Tree of Life.

Truth to Tell

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

-Neil deGrasse Tyson

As a physics student, my undergraduate curriculum was dominated by physics and math classes. Even then, though, I had a penchant for philosophy that culminated with Paul Feyerabend’s course on the philosophy of science. I didn’t do terribly well in those classes, having a fundamental misconception regarding the purpose of the term papers. Rather than summarizing the text, I always set out to propound novel thought. The teaching assistants were not amused.

Feyerabend may have read some of what I had written, however, because he called on me in his final lecture and asked me to offer my thoughts on the scientific process. Never one to deny credit where it was due, I began “Well, my father says…” which caused the rest of the class to erupt in laughter. Paul waved his hand and told me “Write a book some day.”

deGrasse Tyson’s observation is representative of the philosophy of those inspired by the engineering marvels of the industrial age. The associated advances in the public welfare seemed to demolish all the works of the past. Philosophers did see the scientific mindset as a matter of concrete truth. But it is far more and less than that. “Less”, because the equations that we teach in introductory physics are wrong. A ball doesn’t fall in a parabola because it is subject to other forces than gravity – air drag is one. What the solution without drag offers is a sufficiently good approximation for most engineering applications. “More” because the engineers so empowered change the truth that we experience. They create microchips and vaccines, things that would never exist in the natural world.

What I had concluded, a few years after taking Feyerabend’s course, is that science is not important because it tells us what is true. It’s important because it guides our imaginings into what is possible. But if you talk to most scientists, that isn’t why science inspires them. Most of them study science because they want to do what others believe is impossible. That was certainly my case – when I went off to college, in the middle of “Whip Inflation Now” and the first OPEC oil crisis, it was with the stated aim of “figuring out how to break the law of conservation of energy.” I wager that many creative scientists feel the same – they actually don’t want to believe their science. They want to prove it wrong.

I know that was the conclusion of my own journey into understanding of the nature of spiritual experience (follow the menu to “New Physics”), and so see a certain myopia in Tyson’s statement. This came to the fore one Saturday afternoon during a workshop run by Tom Owen-Towles, the foremost modern theologian/philosopher in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. In responding to a point Tom made, I offered my observations of the nature of our engagement with the divine source. Before I could get to the main point, a loud, sneering snort came from the assembly behind me. I turned around to face the originator, a man older even than I, and then proceeded to make my point. For the next five minutes, I felt pressure building from my antagonist, and just let it flow into me, finally broadening the focus to embrace the community of atheists that he represented. When I had their full attention, I sent this thought: “And yet here I am.”

And so my response to deGrasse Tyson is this: “You receive love from an inexhaustible source. Whether or not you believe it, I am glad that it is true.”

The Standard of Truth

I first read F. Scott Peck, the psychologist and Christian philosopher, back in college. (Ouch! Was that really 1984?) The Road Less Traveled crystalized the wisdom he gained in trying to balance the scientific practices of one-on-one therapy with the creation of networks of support that enabled healing to become a practical way of living for the patient.

One of the greatest causes of psychological distress, as well as the greatest impediment to healing, was the simple confusion that “love” was something that the giver felt. Peck completely rejected this in the case of the confusing loss of ego boundaries that we know as romantic love, applying to this particular form of madness the technical term “cathecting.” That’s close enough to “catheter” that I find it almost repulsive.

Peck’s writing sent me off down a path of rational loving that is just terribly confusing to most people. I don’t expect to feel good when loving somebody until my love actually manifests itself in a way that means something to them. I know that I’ve succeeded in that process when they come and say “Thank-you for loving me.” Ultimately, that’s the only meaningful evidence of my love. I do still offer “I love you” to my intimates, because it’s a comforting token, but I know full well that it doesn’t give me any claim on them until they give me “thank-you” back.

The most awe-inspiring part of this process is the depth to which people reveal themselves, and the tenderness of the engagement. The experience is very much like the “cathecting” that Peck described: it’s a deep surrender of ego. It’s different, however, because I’m not projecting myself into them. I’m actually acting as a doorway of sorts, and on the other side of the doorway is God. In looking into them, I’m simply showing them how I accept God, and letting them use that as an example for their own acceptance.

This is the source of the confusion, particularly to women of child-bearing age. They think that they’re falling in love with me, when in fact what they’re falling in love with is the source of perfect, infinite, unconditional love that reaches out to them through me.

That divine love is the love that forgave Cain, the first son, for the murder of Abel, the second son. It is a love that knows no rules, no boundaries. It is the love that manifested itself on the cross in the ultimate act of forgiveness.

Are rules imposed upon us in this relationship? Only one: to humbly accept that our love can never be so perfect, and thus to surrender ourselves as the conduit through which that love flows to others.

Is that hard? Yes, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. The reason is that, after we’ve all broken down our egos and learned to offer our hearts up in service to one another, we still have to figure out how to stay alive in this world long enough to make some progress in healing it. That means deciding what we’re going to do, and often it really doesn’t make a difference, in the big picture, whether we eat Chinese or Mexican take-out tonight. But if we all say “you choose”, then nothing ever happens. And if we always insist on making ourselves happy, then our partners will eventually get tired of never having their preferences honored.

The example might seem silly, but when you’ve got a two-career family, and job offers in two states, the decisions become more difficult and painful to resolve.

And so we look for rules – something hard and fast from God that will help us prioritize. In Judaism, those rules were pretty much designed for men (which I interpret as reflecting our weakness). Rules provide structure, and can be a useful spiritual tool. We simply stop investing our egos in practical matters, and move on to spiritual ones.

But the New Testament is about creating people that live outside of the rules, and Acts demonstrates Jesus’s success in that endeavor. After the healing of a cripple, the Sanhedrin throw Peter and John in jail, but eventually are forced to relent, because, as the Scripture says [NIV Acts 4:13-14]:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.

And so this brings me to the point of this message: the standard of truth, as Jesus always said, is the faith that gives you the courage to give and receive healing. Remember, Jesus never, ever said “I have healed you” – he always said “Your faith has healed you.” Divine love can reach out through us, but unless the target of that love accepts it, no benefit will come.

So believe in what heals you. Allow others to take comfort in the healing that their faith brings to them. And open your heart to each other so that the truth of your healing can be seen to all. For that is the testament that Christ begs for the world to see: not a labored adherence to rules and conditions, but a joyous revival of truth, hope and life in those that once suffered with lies, fear and death.

And you ministers: if you can’t offer the kind of healing described in Acts, please humble your egos to the ultimate authority when your congregants tell you that the rules don’t work for them. Just agree that they need to find a spiritual home elsewhere, and part without prejudicial words on either side.

And for those ministers with the courage to recognize that you have guided your congregation through experiences that have moved them beyond the need for rules: Well: “God Bless You!” and “Welcome to the Journey!”

Truth in Creation

Reconciling science and spirituality is a fool’s quest. The peace-maker is confronted with antagonistic camps both convinced that they are in possession of truth. Telling the two camps that they are half-right means that both of them try to shout you down.

Scientists base their claim to inerrancy on their method of discovery. They argue that to understand the world, we must first describe it. Analysis of our records may reveal patterns of experience: for example, certain types of “clouds” may bring “rain”; other types of clouds do not. The scientist codifies those conjectures as falsifiable statements. For example, “strato-cumulus clouds do not bring rain.”

Now these conjectures are important to societies because predicting rainfall is essential to agriculture. Bad predictions are not just a philosophical matter: if grain is planted at the wrong time, the community may suffer, or even perish. Thus the sophisticated scientist receives social approval and perhaps power. This enables them to attract followers to aid them in extending the reach and accuracy of their predictions.

Scientists tend to forget that creative connection. Society does not reward scientists for discovering the truth. It rewards them because possession of understanding enables truth to be created. The community is grateful not because it understands clouds, but due to the increase in the overall yield of their crops.

When scientists argue, society can determine the truth of their claims only by running experiments. In a wise culture, sudden change is not often pursued. Rather, most grain will be planted according to established methods, and each scientist will be granted a portion to manage according to his theory.

Now comes the real difficulty: let’s suppose that one scientist plants his grain in rich soil, and the other plants in sand. Obviously, the yield will be affected by those differences. To prevent these other factors from confounding comparison of their results, scientists attempt to control carefully the initial conditions. Ideally, they would be granted alternate rows in the field.

But there’s another condition that is necessary to the success of science. Let’s suppose that the genetic code of plants was unstable. While the example is ludicrous, imagine that seeds taken from corn might sprout as apples in the next generation, and then as thistle. Or worse – what if the corn turned into thistles mid-way through growth?

The scientist might say “Well, that’s not what happens,” and go happily on his way. But the problem is that this is exactly how people develop. Parents do not produce duplicates, we learn from experience, and we change our view of the world as we age.

In part for this reason, scientists have come to distrust the evidence of their senses. The variability of human sensation means that two observers may see different colors, hear different pitches, and judge weight differently. These discrepancies become critical when scientific theories move beyond simple correlations to precise mathematical prediction of timing and effect (such as became possible with Newton’s theory of gravitation).

Furthermore, our bodies are composed of smaller elements, and obviously our senses cannot penetrate the mechanisms of their own operation. Understanding of those mechanisms enables us to design sensors with finer and more reliable operation than the human senses. Scientific instruments are far more accurate than the human senses.

The advocate of religion considers all of this activity, and while often grateful for the bounty that science makes possible, observes that it has absolutely no impact on human behavior. Worse, science amplifies the destructive capacity of predators. Because it is far easier to break and wound than it is to create and heal, science makes antisocial behavior far more deadly. The great wars of the twentieth century are proof of this thesis. In our time, we can see the effect of tyrannies that wage war on their populations in the developing world.

This is amplified by personal experiences that beset people that the scientist would consider to be “undisciplined” in their thinking, or perhaps just weak of mind. The scientist has tools for organizing his thoughts: logic, dispassion, and rigorous terminology. This makes him often immune to the experience of the scullery maid on the estate of the nobility. This was characterized for me by an Englishman who offered that servants were told “for their own protection” to turn to the wall when a great lord passed.

I had a related experience during my post-doctoral research, being invited to a meeting with a new employee. I found myself wondering “Why am I here? This has nothing to do with me.” The fellow suddenly turned to me, a look of wonder on his face, and my supervisor broke up the meeting. As he left, my peer said “Gee, thanks.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, having never met someone that was capable of turning my mind. Having “grown up” somewhat now, I refuse to dance with women under the influence of alcohol because they fall into me and can’t get out.

It is in their need for protection of their personality that the “weak-minded” turn to religion. They lean on the strength of the great spiritual avatars that emanate a protective love. Being told by a scientist that they are delusional is a complete contradiction of their experience of life, and in many cases attacks the basis for trust in the relationships that they depend upon for survival. Is it at all unusual that some among the faithful see science as a tool of the devil?

So let’s return to the original problem: how do we reconcile science and spirituality? The scientist finds power in controlling the parts of reality that lack personality. The religious leader finds power in preventing conflict among the population that does the actual work. In both cases, the society benefits not because the truth is known, but because new and creative possibilities are revealed.

Am I the only one that perceives mutually supportive endeavors? Without love, science destroys more then it creates. Without knowledge, religion cannot protect us from the harsh realities of nature.

The scientist allows us to make objects that would never be found in nature. The religious leader builds communities that work in harmony. In combination, they enable us to create a world that we can all live with. Why don’t we stop arguing and get on with it?