Saturday, October 13, 2018

Teal Swan's Most Powerful Video To Date

I've had a love-hate relationship with the spiritual teacher Teal Swan for about five years now, but this is the most powerful thing I've ever seen her do. She is emotionally "speaking from," first, the part of her that likes traditional gender roles, and, second, the part of her that hates them, in order. It made me want to cry. Please watch.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Christ in the Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas was always one of my favorite movies. Jack Skellington longs for something more, something he can't find in Halloween, something new, something different. He is just a skeleton, and he longs for life. He is empty, but he longs for fullness. So he goes into the wilderness, into the periphery, into the Underworld, and he finds a tree, a tree with a Christmas sign on it. And as he falls into it, he discovers exactly what he had always longed for.

Christmas is what we all long for, really. Christmas is what's real, the time when men open their shut-up hearts freely and give without restraint. Christmas is being free of oneself, being free of the burden of being oneself, of looking only to the other, of letting the other be born in you, of receiving the gift of the other. We are not the point, after all. We are just a frame, a canvas, where the other can be revealed, where the ultimate other, the ultimate point, God, can reveal himself, where he can be born in us, in our manger. We are skeletons, not the flesh, not the heart, not Christmas. Christmas is born in our ribcage, but we are not what is born. What is born is Christ, and Christmas is the gift of Christ, the grace of Christ, his birth and rebirth in us perpetually, the link of love that binds us together.

But we cling to it, like Jack Skellington. This year, we say, Christmas will be ours. And we ruin it. We clutch onto it with our bony fingers, we cling, we say "mine!," and the gifts no longer give. The bread of life, God's mess of pottage, we claim as our own. The flow is dammed. The son of man has nowhere to lay his head. But God is relentless. Though we have held Santa Claus captive, though we have appropriated what can never be ours, he will exaggerate our grasp until we can't hold on anymore. Until we give up. Until we say "God, I can't do it anymore. Take over. I will just be a skeleton, forever and ever. I am not You." And then we realize that "Yes, I am a skeleton! I am my body and its poverty. We humble ourselves. We don't raise our ambitions to God's throne, to Santa's sleigh. We become dust.

And in that moment, everything changes. No longer trying to capture Christmas, no longer appropriating, skeletonizing it, Christmas comes for the very first time. Christmas is a gift, after all, and gifts can never be demanded, never captured. Christ, the ultimate gift, is born in our hearts. Flesh begins to grow on our skeleton, a flesh that we aren't, God's flesh, on our skeleton. We are remade in His image. His face becomes ours. And though we have died, because we have admitted that we are nothing but death ourselves, we are reborn. We are resurrected. We fall upon God's neck, weeping. Christ is born. And Christ never stops being born.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Why Everyone is Miserable Right Now

An unlisted, experimental attempt at collective psychology:

I'm not doing well at the moment. Neither are many people I know. My friend said that he noticed how "everyone is miserable" right now. That got me thinking: if he's right, why?

My answer: we're all responding to a collective Ur-event that would integrate the parts of us we don't want to look at, but instead of letting those parts in, we're rejecting them, and we're becoming exaggerated caricatures of our conscious attitudes.

This could be projection, but I suspect it's not. Anyway, I give a solution to the problem that, if I'm right, could fix it. Watch.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

My Testimony (Why the Book of Mormon Opens History)

An attempt at a testimony:

I could have left the Church a long time ago. I have more than every reason to - I went to Westminster as a philosophy major, for heavens sake. Statistically speaking, I *should* have apostatized. I also know about all the skeletons in the Church’s closet, and I know firsthand the injustices that can be perpetrated by church leaders both local and general. But I’m still here. And the *reason* I’m still here has to do with my understanding of history and covenant.

What is history? Is history what *really* happened, what *factually* happened? Is it *only* this? If you think so, you share in a bias that westerners have held that, put under scrutiny, is not only not very old, but is also inconsistent. For one, most (if not all, I’m open to exceptions but haven’t found any) indigenous cultures do not treat history as something that happened in an irrretrievable past. The past is something that we can return to, something we can act out and accomplish. Ritual, for them, is an attempt to return to *first* time things were done, to do things in the same way that the mythical ancestors did them for the first time, and so make action something that isn’t only a function of something “discovered” in the past tense but a present-tense, repeated, ongoing “discovery.” The past isn’t dead but repeats itself whenever we return to it in ritual. If you’re noticing parallels to the temple, this isn’t an accident, but I’ll hold off of that for now. To assume that history, however, is merely something that happened factually in the way we naively assume today not only ignores that this seems to be the default setting of human beings but also ignores the fact the all-seeing eye of history is purely hypothetical, never has, and never will exist. Though we can retrieve accounts of the past, artifacts from it, and though this is very very useful and sorely needed in many ways, it has the drawback that (like all modes of knowledge nowadays) it assumes it can understand something without at the same time *enacting* something in it. History places no demands on the historian to act in a certain way. Of course, history demands good historiography, and the study of history can demand good action from what you learn there. Not contesting that. Instead, I mean that the historian (like the chemist with his test tube or the biologist with her dissected animal corpse) assumes wrongly that she can understand history from the outside, by *describing* it, and not by acting it out. If this *were* the case, the study of history would be sacred ritual. But it isn’t.

To summarize my point so far, you can only ever understand something completely by *putting it on* and *acting it out*. To describe from the outside, and to assume that description can suffice, is to confuse motricity and perception, to confuse time with space, to confuse verbs with nouns and the present tense with the past tense.There is no all-seeing eye, no view from nowhere. For if there were, it would not be able to see the conditions for its own seeing, the lens of its own eyes or the back of its head, in the same way that a book which purports to include everything can’t exist because if it were to include everything, it would have to include itself, which would then include itself in this itself, and never get to the point but only regress indefinitely. This infinite regress that happens when you represent representation, by the way, is not only what you see when you face two mirrors against each other but also what happens when you take psychedelics and you see the mandalic flower tunnel that leads off into infinity. Sight is cracking under the perception of sight and reality (i.e. The participative, self-transcending, motor factor that precedes sight) is making itself clear. But that’s neither here nor there (literally...ha!).

So when I hear things like how the Book of Mormon has little to no historical evidence (open to correction here) or how there were no horses or wheels in ancient America, this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The Book of Mormon is still true even if it has no evidence, even, crucially *if it didn’t happen in history*. Why? I’ll put it a few ways. First, to paraphrase Joe Spencer, it’s not because its history or lack thereof is or ever was in question or, really, the point; it isn’t; its point is to call *your* history into question. In other words, the Book of Mormon is an act of updating history as a closed system, and history is closed, as I talked about above, because it posits an object without a subject. The Book of Mormon gives you no such luxury. Like no other book from the time period, it *addresses* and *challenges* you. *You*, the reader, the one who then has to either accept or reject its challenge and who, thereby, is cast in and acts out a role *that the Book of Mormon itself put you in.* There’s a reason the church’s exoduses parallel the journeys in 1 Nephi, Mosiah, and Ether, a reason why missionary accounts are often so similar to stories from ~Alma 20, even a reason why the typical ex-Mormon claims (this is just confirmation bias; you lay clergy are, somehow, after our tithing money) parallel Korihor’s soliloquies: these people are all responding to the Book of Mormon’s claims about itself in ways that make them, unwittingly, cast as types of people in the Book who were, likewise, also responding to scripture. The Book is a call to action, an action *itself*, that not only describes the action it is but also furthers it. I.e. It is proprioceptive: it not only describes, not only acts, but, in acting, describes itself, and in describing, acts itself out according to its description of itself. This, like the psychedelic tunnel with perception, is a window out of and into history that, crucially, *remakes history in its image.* You don’t have to believe in it to help accomplish its project in this way. You just have to read it. Your reactions will do the rest.

But I, for one, want to be on the right side of (this rip in) history. And that’s where the covenant bit comes in. The Book of Mormon is a covenant in the sense that, if I believe it and act in the way it commands me to act, I will then receive blessings in the way that it decribes: i.e. I will receive a witness that it is true, will speak with the tongues of angels, will become sanctified in Christ. The Book of Mormon is, then, an “If-then” statement, a proprioceptive if-then statement, a description of a chain of events where it and its effects on me are among those events. I want those blessings, I want to speak with the tongues of angels. Moreover, I want the world that the Book of Mormon promises is possible: a world without contention, a world with centuries of peace, a world where the daughter(s) of Zion arise from the dust and put on their beautiful garments. So I try to follow the commandments, and I try to obey the covenant.

This is how I see the Church at large. It seems out of its depth at times, it reeks of hierarchy and senility, but it is predicated not only on the opening into history that the Book of Mormon (and prayer, patriarchal bessings, and the temple ceremonies, etc.) is and are, but also on the continual capacity to revise and update based on that opening. The brethren are mortal men cast by the Book of Mormon, God and their encounter with both in certain ways, and they are trying to act out those roles with unwearying (if sometimes uninformed or tactless) diligence and faith. And it shows. General Conference talks have a profound effect on me often *without regard to what the speaker says.* It’s because something in it speaks to me from that place before, above, and within time, reminds me of the covenants I have made, teaches me how to be me in God’s way. I will not apologize for my faithfulness in and to the Church. God is at the helm, and what this means is that we are each cast in a role based on our reactions to the divine impulse in the Book of Mormon and everything that came from it. We will transform the world if that Book has its way, and I intend to assist in that process, the way it hisses forth from generation to generation, the way Zion strengthens her stakes and enlarges her borders forever and ever, the way God transforms history.

I say these things, as I occasionally do online, in the name of Jesus Christ, my savior. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Response: The CES Letter (Why Jeremy Runnells is Halfway to Neckbeard)

Just re-read Runnells' CES Letter. A few troubling things about his approach:

1) He assumes that the only valid mode of viewing the world is one of western rationalism from the last few centuries. Never mind that this point of view is a historical aberration compared with the vast swathes of human history and pre-history (tens of thousands of which were unchanged in shamanic, tribal systems). Never mind how this rational aberration is associated with western imperialism and is, arguably, its root. Never mind how talking about "magical thinking, superstitious, inconsistent, and treasure digging men" as Runnells does uses the same kind language that we *could* use to describe, say, indigenous tribes in Africa or the Amazon in ways that we would find deeply offensive and subject to imperialistic bias.

2a) Along the same lines, he assumes that a vision can only ever be "imagination." Not only is this part of a centuries-long act of making the imagination, the psychic factor, into an enemy, something that can't be real (part of the above rational-imperialistic factor), but this attitude ignores that imagination is a) something *very* real, at least subjectively (ask someone suffering from schizophrenic hallucinations), and b) is arguably real in a way that is ontologically primary. There is no encountering the world *without* imagination (that's not a couch; that's a bunch of quarks).

2b) Moreover, I consider that part of the essay nonsense because I and many other people I know have had super-sensory experiences (i.e. visions) that are both difficult to explain scientifically and self-evidently real to us. You can say visions are *mere* hallucinations, but (in the words of Swedenborg, who not only had visions, but had visions that told him things he shouldn't have been able to know) "by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt."

3) He just skips over the fact that the Book of Mormon is remarkably self-consistent and the witness accounts to the translation process (some of them by enemies) that say he just dictated, line-by-line, sometimes picking up mid-sentence from where he left off. He also ignores that the Book of Mormon's history has a remarkable internal consistency (both in terms of time, geography, internal reference, and narrative voice, though, to be fair, he gives an explanation of the Book's geography that could explain it in that realm). This is a human impossibility. That didn't stop it from happening, however, not only with people like Joseph Smith but also with Helen Schucman, the one who received the book A Course in Miracles and (no doubt) others.

4) And, the piece de resistance, this work is about history and historical weirdness and inconsistencies. He seems to only be concerned *about* history. Never mind the problem of gay marriage or about the dysfunctional sexual complexes acted out and perpetrated in the church at large. If there's going to be a problem in the Church, says Runnells, it's going to be the fact that Joseph Smith was a treasure seer. I *like* weirdness, everything New-Age and woo-woo, and the fact that Runnells sees it as something *self-evidently* worth rejecting is symptomatic of not only Runnells' biases but also the biases of the people swayed by the letter. I have no patience for people who leave the Church because of history. None. Leaving for political or present-day practical issues - I respect *that*. It means you care MORE about the living than the dead, more about people than ideas. But if you're going to leave because of dowsing rods and peeping're halfway to neckbeard, bucko.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Response: Why People Leave the Church and Never Come Back (With Weeping Angels)

So this is a fantastic article that you should read. It's devotional, upbuilding, and real. I had two sets of thoughts while reading it:

Why People Leave the Church and Never Come Back

First, I realized how perniciously focused we are as a church culture on how much either I or other people measure up to certain expectations, be they commandments or mere norms, and how much we equate both a) commandments and norms, and b) the act of measuring up to these expectations with the act of obtaining worth. This is wrong. Worth is not a function of following norms or even commandments. Worth is a way I conceive of myself that, if I adopt this conception as an assumption or an act of faith, will both justify that assumption insofar as I believe and act on it and lead me to follow commandments as an expression of love for He who loves me and whose love is presupposed and believed in with that assumption.

Second, I realized that I haven't experienced judgment from church culture for a long time, even though I used to, and even though I'm probably more unorthodox now than I was then. I wondered why this was, especially considering that others can and do experience said judgment. I came to the provisional conclusion that it's because I stopped considering *myself* as unorthodox a few years back. It makes me wonder how much of judgment from others is a function of self-judgment (as well as vice versa, which is also very true), since perhaps insofar as I treat myself as someone who belongs, the others in my group will treat me in the same way I treat myself. Judgment or the lack thereof, then, are maybe acts of of reciprocal "role-casting," where the role I/the group casts me in is the same role the group/I cast me in. This is a problem. How do you break the cycle? I'm not sure how I did it, and I don't know if it would be as easy for someone who, say, struggles with same-sex attraction. But here are some thoughts anyway:

To stop casting myself or others in a problematic way that reinforces itself cyclically over time, I'd need to realize that this cycle is, first and foremost, a way of organizing my being-in-the-world that gives certain elements of my being-in-the-world (me, you, the church, the bishop, that guy, that girl, God) certain significances. This is always true, and (crucially) it is objectively true across persons. I am "the one who is judged" both to me and to others. Since our motor, affective models of the world and our collective situation in it cohere together, reciprocally co-implicate, and depend on each other, affective "roles" for certain people or types of people will reinforce themselves across time. This is true politically: a liberal person is someone who is cast both by themselves and by conservatives as "the opponent of conservatives." That, funnily enough, is something that almost everyone agrees on across the spectrum, in this era of partisan politics: "That conservatives are the opponents of liberals and liberals are the opponents of conservatives." But I digress.

To heal from this state where these co-implicating significances rule ( like "I am an unorthodox person," say), we'd need to introduce not merely a new meaning but a new meaning-generative complex. That is, I not only need to reconceptualize myself (since this would use and operate within the same mode of conceptualizing; I'd just, maybe take a different role in the same generative system; I'd become someone orthodox, but then someone else would take the unorthodox role and I'd be the aggressor instead of the victim) but instead change my *method* of conceptualizing *and* reconceptutalizing both myself and the world. I'd need to *signify* in a different way.

This can happen in innocuous ways, like with me above. For instance, a mode of representing both me and the world can expire, and a new one can take its place. You can never will this, obviously (since the will would come from the old representative place), but it can happen incidentally. But you can pray, and not just to God. If you ask for a representative state to represent itself in you, it often will, without you knowing. These representative modes of beings are archetypes, gods, if you will, and can be talked to and acted from. And you can "fake it till you make it." In the same way that deliberate rhythmic breathing in bed will turn into sleep's deep breathing on its own, and in the same way that the Dionysian initiate would *become* Dionysus by mimicking him in the mystery center, if you pretend that you're orthodox, you eventually will be.

But, interestingly, *sin* is a generative, representative state like this. We are all born into this state. We can't get rid of it. But Christ can. Christ is the factor in me that not only gives me something to know or learn (i.e. a different way of seeing myself) but more importantly gives me a different way of knowing and learning. Christ does not operate within our modes of representation; he doesn't work with these reciprocal co-implications; he breaks them open. He frees us from the prison not only of our thoughts but of our systems for generating thoughts.

And how does this work? Not by our works (those works represent themselves, of course, from a mode of "working" that is itself sinful, is itself what Christ is here to save us from), and not by a mere verbal declaration of faith (which also comes from a sinful place). Instead, Christ's redemption and liberation comes by magnifying the sinful mode of working and speaking in us until, in a moment of despair that we can't plan and can't facilitate, we abandon the representative model at the lowest level of representation, of what precedes representations, words, or works themselves, on the level of *representing*. Why? Because it consummates itself and you don't go down with the ship.

Two parables to illustrate this point: first, if you do zazen in full-lotus pose with your ankles above your knees, and if (like me) you're not too flexible, it will hurt. But then you'll realize that the reason it hurts is because the regular muscle tension in your legs (i.e. what *situates* and *represents* your movements) has been exaggerated to the point of pain. So you relax them. And then you realize...wait...I *can* relax them. I can do that? Oh...*that's* what peace feels like. I had forgotten.

Second, the episode "Blink" of Doctor Who's third season ends with an almost insoluble problem: Sally and Larry (I looked up their names!) are trapped by weeping angels in the Tardis, but, oh no!, the Tardis is disappearing and the angels are surrounding them. They will die. It is certain. How could it not be? But in the Doctor's genius, the angels, who turn themselves to stone if ever looked at, are *looking at each other*. In the moment of despair, in the moment of hopelessness, is when evil destroys itself in its own crossfire (this type of escape is also, btw, a crucial plot point in Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary, which was written by the same guy).

So, in short, evil needs to be let out and allowed to self-destruct. The painful, sinful representative mode must exaggerate itself to the degree where the mode *as such* becomes apparent and not just what that mode represents. But you can't expedite the process. The only thing you can do is pray to God to do so, to pray to be surprised by the grace of despair and, thereby, by the freedom that flees despair's shipwreck, the Ark that survives the Flood.

But I lie. You *can* expedite the process. But not directly. Instead, you must give God something to work with. Every time you read scripture, you give the aspect of you that can and will liberate itself in this crisis tools to a) liberate itself, and b) to allow evil to condemn itself (a and b are the same). Good, or God, does not condemn evil; He and it disclose evil as evil and let evil destroy and condemn itself. God loves the souls in Hell (as we all are, to an extent) too much to do anything but expel it slowly.

Why Jordan Peterson Lives in the Signifying Present and Sam Harris Lives in the Signified Past

I just watched the first debate of Jordan Peterson with Sam Harris on YouTube. 

I haven't watched debate #2 yet, but I will. From what I saw so far, this debate displayed the following existential conflict: the capacity to order language and ideas across time, which operates and functions at the level of and functions in, though, and as the a priori, distinguishing, demarcating, meaning-creating centers of activity that precede, transcend, update, and unify meanings (displayed by but never explicitly stated by Peterson), vs Harris' capacity to (only) move ideas and meanings around, which relies on acts of distinguishing, demarcating, and meaning-creation which

a) he's unconscious of

b) were done by others in the past,

c) he doesn't understand the nature of,

and d) he will only admit exist with pressure. And he does (they both call them, I think unhelpfully, "intuitions")

Sam's big idea is that meaning is a function of accounts of what is (facts, in other words), but implicit in Peterson's point (as far as I can tell; he struggles to say this explicitly; I sure did too; English is not a language that lends itself to this kind of thinking) is that meaning is a function of activities that

a) ontologically precede accounts of what is, that is, facts (since it's not clear how an account of what is, which is an act that occurs at a given moment, can also give an account of that in what is that transcends said moment and only exists in, through, and as that transcendence, which is, itself, an activity that creates what is in its wake),

b) transcend accounts of what is (for the same reasons),

c) update accounts of what is (since an account of what is can be demonstrated as wrong by certain new accounts of what is, or facts, that become apparent to us, and since this "becoming apparent" is itself an activity that cannot be accounted for as fact, since it exists in, through, and as the act of transcending accounts of what is),

and d) unify accounts of what is (since this level of activity, as what exists in, through, and as the perpetual transcendence of the accounts of what is that occurs across time, is what allows us to posit that two elements of an account of what is can cohere in some meaningful way as the same account).
In other, much shorter words, Harris moves around elements of meaning that have been situated, whereas Peterson operates at the level of what situates meaning, of meaning (the gerund) itself.

This isn't arbitrary

a) because it's not clear how we can have meaning at all, to not succumb to nihilism, without centers of meaning that precede, transcend, update, and unify individual meanings,

b) because in order to allow one word to succeed another over time instead of another, I have to choose it for some generative, meaning-creating reason, to participate in an activity that privileges one value over another and thereby creates one meaning and not another.

c) because people have different such modes of letting words succeed each other in ways we can talk about and discuss.

d) because these centers of generative activity are, put differently, that which privileges one value over another in action (like speech or writing) are, therefore, what exists in and through meaningful action, are, therefore, what exists as the reason I choose that act over another, and are, therefore, the moral intuitions that Peterson and Harris both agree exist and can't be explained away

and e) because these generative centers, as what unifies a chain of signified meanings across time, is by definition *narrative," and we enjoy narrative as a culture.

TL;DR: Harris lives and works in the signified past and Peterson lives and works in the signifying present. Harris sees meaning as a function of facts, of accounts of what is; Peterson sees meaning as a function of the generative centers that precede, transcend, update, and unify accounts of what is, i.e., moral intuitions. Harris operates only using the logic of "meaning" as a noun, where Peterson also operates at the level where he can use "meaning" as a gerund. The former is trapped by what has been signified and can only see what precedes, transcends, updates, and unifies what has been signified as arbitrary nonsense. The latter knows that this preceding, transcending, updating, unifying activity is not nonsense but is a) the condition for any sense, and b) intelligible and something we can discuss.

Btw, I suspect that Peterson hasn't articulated this to himself, but this distinction seems to be at the heart of their disagreement and, more broadly, certain philosophical conflicts in general (like whether or not Heidegger is saying anything but nonsense).