Nov 062007
 

Board,

A debate continues to exist between mankind on whether morality is fundamental or relative. Does underlying foundational truth define our moral actions or does civil indoctrination determine our morality and ethics; are actions truly good or evil?

I believe both a foundational truth of good and evil and our relative understanding and adoption of the truth of good and evil exists. What say you?

Sincerely,

Eretz Israel

Jul 282006
 

This project is an ongoing effort to gather those verses in the Bible, particularly the New Testament, which we believe have a hidden (or even direct) metaphysical or mystical meaning. We also hope to comment on these verses, as well as gather commentary from various mystical writers on these verses and topics, and parallel passages from the writing of other religions. The point of this project is to demonstrate that the “Perennial Philosophy” is, in fact, something that can be illustrated from the pages of the Bible.

In collecting these passages, we will follow the general outline of the “Perennial Philosophy” – which is described by Huxley as “— the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being” We have established, then, the following outline, into which we wish to collect and organize the passages in question. This outline is reproduced in the menu selections for the “Hidden Gospel” project. Please feel free to comment on any section, and we will consider your comments in future versions. :

Metaphysics: There is a Divine Reality behind the world of things and lives and minds It is uncreated It pervades all things It is paradoxical (panentheism) It uses both good and bad It leaves us free but compels us It is beyond reach or description, beyond all opposites

Psychology: There is something in the soul that is similar to or identical with the Divine Reality It is divine It is separate from the ego The ego is selfish, insatiable and craves divinity It is the true self It does not have the desires and limitations of the ego

Ethics: Man’s final end is knowledge of that imminent and transcendent Being. The ego must be killed By purification By detachment and selflessness By humility and obedience But it cannot be achieved by effort It is a gift It is by grace It is a realization Mystical union is achieved It is a rebirth It is the kingdom of heaven now Two kinds

Effects: Effortless morality Extraordinary powers Supreme peace and happiness Absolute freedom Identification with the divine

Jul 272006
 

Explorers of the “inner world” of human consciousness – mystics, shamans, monks, prophets and students of metaphysics as well as (in more recent times) scientists in such areas as psychology and congnition – have discovered and mapped out a number of very interesting states of awareness which human beings can achieve.

These states of awareness can involve experiences like the following:

A profound experience of the essential unity of all things.

The dissolving of boundaries between self and other, object and subject.

An experience of a profound stillness underlying all things.

A sense of absolute love.

A sense of complete bliss.

A sense of great intelligence and purpose underlying all things.

I’ll keep the list short for the time being. To explorers returning from these states, the normal world, and the normal state of awareness can seem, in comparison, to be an illusion, or even an illness. With practice, the inner explorer can learn to carry some of this awareness with him back into normal life. Some people, in fact, achieve this awareness in a sudden, shocking experience and retain much of it on a semi-permanent basis.

Individuals with this altered perspective offer interesting observations about our normal human problems. Our real true, essence and identity, say these teachers, is this universal, loving, interconnected reality. Nearly all our human problems, say the teachers, arise from our seeing ourselves as separate entities, cut off from and in competition with, all the other separate, isolated entities.

To the mystic, pride makes no sense. All things are one. No imagined part of the whole is more important than any other part..

To the mystic, greed and theft makes no sense. Why take from one part of the whole to give to another part of the whole?

To the mystic, violence makes no sense. Do the branches of one tree war with each other? Why should one part of the whole hurt another part of the whole?

Now it’s true that by teaching social mores, it is possible to instill a minimum standard of behavior in most people. You can make people afraid of the law, or afraid of the wrath of God, or afraid of public ridicule. You can promise them rewards for obedience and punishments for failure. This will work to some extent (and is probably critical for society to survive at all) If you are particularly successful, you can get quite a few individuals motivated primarily by pride – by the desire to see themselves as decent, moral people and collect the psychological reward that the mores permit to such people.

But with all your mores, you are still contending against the basic limited, isolated perspective of the individual ego. Individuals will still feel great motivation to break social mores when they can get away with it if those mores conflict strongly enough with their individual desires.

The mystic, on the other hand, is in an entirely different position. The mystic is loving and generous and humble and peaceful simply because these are the only behaviors that make sense in the alternate awareness. There is no need to enforce social mores on the mystic. In fact, the mystic, in the role of prophet – is likely to be one of the first to point out the injustices and inequities associated with whatever version of the social mores you are working with.

— Ok, moving to the realm of the religious It is my belief that experience of the alternate awareness is in fact a glimpse of the reality which underlies all higher religion. Different religions use different vocabularies to describe it, and add quite a few other trappings and extras. You ask whether when I say that the guidance of the Spirit is the key, whether by “Spirit” I mean the soul of the individual, or the Holy Ghost. But the problem is that at this higher level of awareness, the two tend to merge. The higher Self IS God, and is the Spirit, which is also the Holy Ghost. So when I say the guidance of the Spirit is necessary, I mean an openness to this alternate awareness.

Now it’s quite true that many religious people aren’t operating from a knowledge of the alternate awareness. For them, Christianity is simply a divinely dictated set of social mores, enforced with eternal rewards and punishments. And this isn’t a bad thing, from one perspective. God is a more omnipresent observer and enforcer, in this system, than any policeman.

But I think there is a lot of evidence in the scripture that Jesus and the prophets before him and the apostles after him were actually calling on as many as possible to make the jump to a higher awareness perspective of morality. A few examples:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts [as opposed to outward law]; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31: 33–34)

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45)

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph 3:16–19)

Turning at last to the point on which I believe we might disagree. I expect you would probably say “All this inner awareness stuff is fine – but it’s not real. It’s just something in your own mind”.

I don’t accept that things that the things in the “inner world” are less real than the things in the outer. In fact, I think the opposite is probably true. The outer world only has reality by virtue of being present in our own minds. The experiences of the inner world are capable of systematic, repeatable observation just as the experiences of the outer world are, and are just as “real” – although they are a different order of reality.

Jul 272006
 

Allow me to propose something of a “middle” position on this issue. I entirely agree those who say that moral relativism as defined is not logically coherent. In discussing this in the past with humanists, the conclusion that was reached was them saying, if I can paraphrase “I don’t really worry about it being logically coherent, I just try behave in what I see as a moral way.” At the same time, I agree with relativist’s fear of what can occur in the name of moral “absolutes”.

I was recently reading a book by Robert Pirsig titled “Lila – An Inquiry into Morals” (Pirsig is the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) that had an interesting perspective on this issue.

To Pirsig, the fundamental reality is Quality – the “Good”. The primary experience of quality is dynamic. It is constantly leading you to new insights, constantly trying to progress and advance. The trouble is, the absolute freedom dynamic quality (or morality) begs for can be chaotic. It can quickly end up destroying the foundation it sits upon. To prevent this, dynamic quality creates static structures to preserve the gains of the past and keep us from slipping backwards. The trouble is that these static structures tend to try to run the show and suppress dynamic quality in it’s advance. In the tension between these two – dynamic and static quality – we progress.

The static structures are things like the 10 commandments, the Constitution – human laws and religious systems of morality. These represent moral GOOD – at a particular static moment. It’s clear that in some ways, we have morally progressed beyond the Jews who received the Mosaic law (things such as slavery, women’s rights, the treatment of children, etc. ) This is not to criticize the Jews and their morality, which was quite an advance for the time. Without their static morality, our advances would probably not have been possible. Human laws, such as the Constitution, are wise when they incorporate processes for dynamic quality to influence and eventually change the static structures. The same things happens to religious systems of morality. Jesus himself seemed to devote a lot of time to making morality a more dynamic thing. Generations of rabbis and theologians spend a lot of energy adapting the principles of morality to their own generations. This doesn’t consist in tossing the 10 Commandments aside, but in refining our understanding of the Good to which they point.

There is an absolute in morality – you might call it a direction. Whether you call this God or simply regard it as a hypothetical absolute, it is the direction dynamic quality attempts to lead us toward. Some human and religious moral laws are farther down this road than others. However, there is no static standard – no absolute moral rulebook – that will give you the perfect moral quality in every situation.

The difficulty comes when we put forth that a particular static interpretation of morality is a God-given absolute that it is blasphemous to examine, interpret or adapt. You see the subtle trap? “Because there is an Absolute to which morality points, MY particular interpretation of THIS particular static embodiment of that morality IS one and the same as that Absolute.”

We like to think, when we develop our static systems of morality, that we are taking clear absolute moral principles and applying them to our situation. I suggest that what we do more often is this – we have an inner, dynamic sense of what is right and wrong and we tweak and fit our “moral absolutes” until we come up with a system that seems to give us answers that agree with this inner dynamic sense as often as possible. It should be noted, however, that this “dynamic sense” is building upon all the static systems that have gone before. If you start out as a barbarian warlord, your “dynamic sense” of morality isn’t going to lead you to ideas of egalitarianism and intellectual freedom the next day. You will end up going through the intermediate steps first and building upon them dynamically.

Jul 272006
 

While thinking about the issue of Gnosticism and the problem of evil, I suddenly had what was (to me at least) a very powerful “ah ha” moment. Of course, once written down and shared, it will probably seem mundane or even stupidly obvious. But at the time it was like a bolt of lightening from heaven.

The insight was this: Whatever the literal truth or falsehood – Gnosticism is actually a very perceptive metaphor on the problem of pain and evil. It hit me as I was reading something in a Gnostic text and realized it was very similar to something both Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber had said. Both these writers point out a particular hierarchy of being – one I think we would all agree with. You can divide it up in more than one way – but it goes something like this:

The Hierarchy of Being

The foundational structures of the cosmos are physical – in the sense of being governed by chemistry and physics. Then there are biological structures built from the physical. Then there are social structures built from the biological. Then there are the mental structures of ideas that are built from social dialogue. You can add a layer of spiritual structures, but since that will be an item of dispute, let’s just lump it in with mental for the moment. Each of these structures is built on the preceding ones. Biological systems use physical systems. Social systems use biological systems (people) and physical systems (technologies). Mental systems use social systems (communal dialogue), biological systems (our brains) and physical systems (the neurochemistry of the brain).

Contrary Purposes

Now for a critical observation – each of these levels have entirely different – even contradictory – purposes, laws and goals. For example, entropy (The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to devolve into a state of inert uniformity and disorder) is a fundamental principle of the physical cosmos. But biology is in a state of war with entropy. Biology is a system for increasing the order and energy in the small local pocket of it’s own system. Biology has its own laws and goals – which center on the survival of the individual organism and its reproduction at the expense of all else. But at the social level, these biological goals – unchecked, become evils. Societies may choose to sacrifice their own individual members for the good of the society – if they threaten the social stability, for example. Then from these societies and their interactions, systems of ideas arise. And what a society may see as “good” for its survival and prosperity (slavery for example) the arising system of ideas may see as evil. In the West, we have a developed a system of ideas which demands that we tolerate (for the sake of the IDEA of liberty) the existence of certain things which may pose a danger to the social order – reformers or crackpots as the case may be.

The point is, at each point in the hierarchy of being, the “good” and “evil” of the lower rungs on the ladder may be (and often ARE) very contrary to the “good” and “evil” of the higher rungs. Let’s take a bad genetic illness like Harlequin Baby Syndrome. From our point of view in the social and particularly mental spheres of being, this seems quite obviously evil. It is hideous and causes great physical and emotional suffering. On the other hand, from the point of view of biology, it’s not bad at all. Genetic variability is what drives the whole process. If we didn’t have a thousand mutations or genetic combinations that resulted in death and pain, we wouldn’t have the one that turned proved to be useful in some particular way. Suffering and death are simply failed experiments that weed out unfit genetic combinations.

The higher levels cannot normally disregard the rules and laws of the lower levels. They simply find ways to work around them or compromise with them to achieve their purposes.

Spiritual Metaphors

Let’s return to the Gnostic metaphor, then. The Gnostics saw the god of creation, the demiurge or “half-maker” as a somewhat ignorant figure, full of arrogance, petty jealousy and capriciousness. From the ideas above, we could say that the demiurge represents the physical/biological systems, as seen from the point of view of the mental/spiritual systems. It’s interesting that as gnosticism developed from its earlier roots, the demiurge was increasingly seen as not just immature and ignorant, but positively EVIL, along with the material world he organized. Orthodox Christianity has been more reluctant to condemn the material world, but still tries to insist that God governs the whole cosmos in accordance with the higher (mental/spiritual) notions of “good”. The idea that “good” changes from one level to the next would probably rub the wrong way and be seen as making morality “situational”.

A Symbolic Example

This idea of good and evil changing from one level to the next has an interesting illustration in world symbology – specifically the symbol of the snake. Ken Wilber points out that serpents can be seen as symbols of good OR evil in many different religions – including Christianity. For example, the serpent represents Satan in the garden on the one hand, but when Moses raises up a serpent on a pole to heal the Israelites, it is taken to be a symbol of Jesus.

In Hindu/Buddhist symbolism, the snake represents Kundalini energy – the basic life/god force of the cosmos, which works it’s way up the energy centers or “chakras” of the human body as it spiritually progresses. It’s starts at the base of the spine, at a center representing the physical systems, and works it’s way up to above the crown of the head, representing the highest spiritual centers. Wilber points out that when the snake symbol is used as representing “evil” it is seen at the lower levels of the body (the typhonic gods, for example, or the goat-god baphomet), and at the higher levels of the body, it represents “good” (Buddah and other deities are seen with cobras shading the crown of their heads). It is not that the physical levels are “bad” – they are only seen as bad when we fixate on or descend to the lower physical/biological or social levels as the expense of the mental/spiritual levels.

More Refinements

The categories I have been using, by the way, need not be divided so broadly. Within each level of being, there may be many sub-levels. For example, there are many types and classifications of social and mental systems. A new and higher social or mental system may find its notions of “good” and “evil” quite different from an earlier one.

Implications

How do we view the problem of evil from this hierarchical perspective? What looks to us humans as “unnecessary suffering” from our perspective is usually the “good” of a lower order interposing itself in our own “good”. Theoretically, of course, it could always be the good of a higher order interposing itself in our own “good”. For example, our programs of selective breeding produce species that, while they serve our purposes nicely – are actually LESS fit for survival. If biology had an independent mind and could speak, it might accuse us of corrupting things. Which brings up another point. A lower level is utterly incapable of reacting according to the “good” of a higher level. If there are levels of being above our own – we might be quite unequipped to understand “good” and “evil” with respect to them – until we reach that level ourselves. In fact, if the system I have mapped out here has any predictive value, it would probably say that at the next level, the “goods” and “evils” of our MENTAL or philosophical/religious systems are quite incidental to a much greater spiritual good. The angels or higher beings may be as unconcerned about the truths of our philosophies and dogmas as we are unconcerned with “corrupting” natural selection by breeding prize milk cows.

If we look at God as being present at every level of this hierarchy, working within it – we are simply faced with the fact that there are different ideals of “good” at different levels of being.

“Evil” is simply the interplay of different levels of “good”.

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