Category Archives: philosophy

spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments?


Foto0067Note beforhand: this is basically a personal story based on my own experiences with enlightenment naturalist fundamentalism as a supernaturally minded Christian, but other totalitarian paradigms ( with Christian fundamentalism in all its forms as another good example, modernist ideologies are often completely absolutitist!) can give roughly the same problems as described here. So I think, if you can pierce through my Christian and esotheric lingo here that any person who’s ever gone through a deep paradigm shift or conversion should be able to get something out of this, and recognise the problem of the old obsolete worldview coming back and trying to invade and subjugate their world again. So bear with me, while this post is mostly my story from a supernaturalist Christian POV, I also will try to find a more general outlook on the subject too that might be helpful for people of completely different persuations…

You’ve all seen my title, which might be one of my weirder and more obscure ones… What on Earth do I mean with a hermetic-sounding title as ‘spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments’ and why would anyone be interested in it? To explain that I have to tell you a part of my own story but before I start I will give some general notes:
* I use the word paradigm for something like worldview, underlying system of thought through which one sees and interprets the world.
*The paradigm from which I write this myself will be a bit spiritualised, and because it fits my purposes most I might sometimes treat paradigms and thoughtsystems further on as if they were living entities of some sort.(classification somewhere in the order of thoughforms, family of egregores and mass-thoughtforms and probably closely related to illustrous entities as the zeitgeist) You can take that literally if you really want  but it works exactly in the same way if you see it just as a psychological tool to visualise some concepts… I’m completely agnostic on this matter actually…
* I will use the word ‘supernatural’ for things relating to both the Divine Uncreated and the spirit world or anything else beyond what the current consensus of science regards as the laws of nature. This is probably because I’m too lazy to find a more accurate word in the lingo of some weird niche, or maybe because I already have enough of that in my text already…
The supernatural paradigm is this the worldview in which the material world is only one dimension of the actual Reality, with other dimensions including a spiritual dimension to the natural world that are out of reach of our natural senses. I use it quite broadly.

Let’s start the story now…

I grew up as a pentecostal kid in a very secular country, with an awareness of what could be called lazily the supernatural world -even if I hadn’t always been given a very balanced understanding of it in that environment- and have been living in that awareness ever since. This doesn’t mean that I’m a great mystic at all, but throughout my life I have always had my encounters with God, answered prayers and very sporadically other things in the invisible world too. I’ve always known on a deeper plane that the rational that there is a whole invisible dimension to Creation, and an even more grand Uncreated dimension that’s intertwined with the created… And I dare say that just being alive affirms this ‘supernatural paradigm’ every day…

I know that I am in a minority with this outlook in a (post-)modern secular society, and I probably lost a lot of readers with that first paragraph alone… These are things one does not talk about. Some people I know would even suspect that my mental health should be checked after reading such things. (You know, believing in imaginary friends is clearly a mental illness…) So would not even be inaccurate to say that I’m ‘in the closet’ most of the time about this part of my person as an intelligent Westerner in a secular world. Always, from the age of a child on, I’ve known that there was no other option but live counter to the dominant paradigm around me. I’ll always be out of the box…

This might not be that unnatural for a pentecostal kid in a very secular post-Catholic world, although I assume other personalities might find other coping mechanisms than I did… I never had much problems having different paradigms next to each other. Being part of a religious minority that’s virtually unknown to the general public can have that effect on you. And here probably also lies the root of why I am incurably postmodern: There wasn’t much option for me with the personality type that I have to let the worldviews exist next to each other in one way, as different pictures describing the same world while focussing on certain things, but sadly enough ignoring/denying other parts of reality too. None of the paradigms will ever give a complete outlook on the world, they are all like small windows on a bigger landscape…

To continue my story: as a teenager my parents became part of a vineyard churchplant -of which I’m still a part- so I always remained connected to the Christian supernatural paradigm through my church, even though it’s generally not the most energetic charismatic churchon the planet… But late in my teenage years and in my twenties I also started opening my world and reading other branches of Christianity, as well as people of other persuations, later including interreligious dialogue with a lot of interesting and very different people.
It was not just books and people, but from the early 2000’s also the internet even exposed me to more different ideas and traditions. And then suddenly I found myself in the middle of the ’emerging church dialogue’, that gave me words to describe that I was indeed ‘postmodern’. But it lacked greatly on other aspects, like the supernatural dimension of this world, and more than before it opened me up for a more ‘liberal’ Christianity that tended (for me) to synchretise with modernist enlightenment materialism and a more naturalist wordview. With exploring the postmodern side of my faith I opened a door in my Christianity for something completely opposed to it but prevalent in some contemporary versions of it.

At the same time I encountered another paradigm that could never be mine, and one that some people clung to in a very totalitarian way that demanded the rejection of all other paradigms. I’d always lived in a world where the supernatural was ignored or even rejected by the standard paradigm, but the atheism I encountered went much further, and was agressive and totalitarian in a way that reminded me of the fundamentalism in my religion that I had distanced myself from long ago. Using ‘science’ and reason in the same way as ‘the bible’ and very weird things called ‘the bible’ that were actually far-strected interpretations of it on were used in religious fundamentalism, there people wanted atheism to be the only option in the world, and regarded anything that could be seen as supernatural or religious as unscientific, irrational and stuff for people of a lower intelligence. (Very French revolution, but without the guillotines?)

I’ve always found it hard to converse with this kind of people for some reason…

This agressive ‘new atheism’ was too far from my mode of being to ever compel me in the least, but there were other ways in which enlightenment reductionism denying my supernaturalist paradigm sneaked into my religious worldview to open the doors for this mode of thinking. Through the emerging church and other more liberal versions of my faith, and certain people around me or on the internet,  the ‘supernatural’ dimension became more and more disconnected from my operating worldview… even though the world I lived in was still supernatural in practice. In the end it felt a like being sucked down into a paradigm that was never mine to begin with but actively tried to erase certain dimensions from my world… (I do think I have at certain times spent too much time discussing on fora on the internet where a very agressive version of the new atheist ideology hung as a group spirit, trying to push me into a corner until I’d accept that its worldview is the only possible valid one. This probably put some anchors in me for the thing to get a foothold inside of me…)

Now, I want to be very clear that I surely love science and am often fascinated by its findings, and in between its limits science is possibly one of the most efective systems humans have ever created. Learning about science is one of the things I will never stop to do… I also don’t have a problem with people not sharing my religion or not believing in God… But I do have a problem with reductionism, and people who want a world restricted to what they can understand through ‘science’ -and manipulated by technology- while shutting out everything else…  When I read. things (or speak to people) that promote a certain kind of enlightenment-atheist ideology it feels (and this is a weird visualisation probably) like some kind of miasma is sticking to me, trying to get inside of me, numbing some of my unnamed senses and trying to pull me. It’s much more nuanced and less spectacular than what my description  probably sounds like when written down like this, but it’s the best way I can describe it.

There is something very disorienting in an having to fight an agressive paradigm that’s actually already obsolete to you but that is very dominant and seems in a sense completely compelling when exposed to a higher dose of it, even though it actually contradicts the very core of your own being. (Bring in narnia-metaphors… drumroll…) The whole thing itself like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk, and insist on a world of non-talking beasts. Or even like the witch with the silver chair, telling the children and the prince that there is no upper world, no sun, no Aslan,.. And so on. It al sounds very ‘reason’able, but if you’d take a step behind and take a deeper view it feels somehow like there is more behind it. The (un)spiritual miasma that sticks to me, and numbs my senses and control what comes in to tha point of only being able to see the world through naturalism/materialism. This is extra weird since that wordview has never been part of my ‘working pantheon of paradigms’ and obsolete to me from the beginning on. Why would it even try to creep in and take over?

So I guess this is where the part of spiritual warfare comes in. No matter if you take this term more literally or as a psychological metaphor, the effect is the same: an invading worldview that you have left behind and don’t want can try to take over your perception of the world, and your modes of thinking. I think it’s important to be aware of  such things, to learn to recognise how it happens, and so be able to stop the attacks…

So this was my  story, which outlined the problem of spiritual warfare against aggressive paradigm fragments in a very specific casus based on my own experience.What we should do now is look at the problem in more general terms, and at possible solutions.

When it comes to the solution I have less experience in succesful overcoming the problem (I’ve only been understanding the problem in these terms for a few days now) so I will be much shorter, -this post is way too long already anyway-:

I’m not that sure I can tell you the best way to fight invading paradigm fragments, but being aware of them is probably the best first step to start with. It’s always much easier to fight something when you’re aware of it than when it want to take you over while you don’t have a clue that anything is happening…

But I used the metaphor of spiritual warfare. Maybe if we are aware of such things it’s not such a bad idea to visualise them as entities trying to invade your inner world and expel them in the name of Jesus, that’s very effective for Christians. People of other spiritual paths can take their own rituals of banishing or expelling.  That’s something that might work for me at least, even though it’s most likely a psychological tool…
(It doesn’t have to be an actual entity to react positively to being sent away in the name of Christ. Sending negative thoughts away in the name of Jesus (or taking them capture in Charismatic lingo) can also be very effective.)

I do think that throughout my text here I already gave the general description of the problem: a paradigm that has been already discarded and has been rendered obsolete, but that nonetheless tries to come back to take over your whole outlook on the world. It could, if it works better for you, also be visualied as a mental computer virus too, that tries to rebuild your whole operating systems from fragments that get inside and reform it according to the will of a very totalitarian tradition.

It is not the case in my example, but if that totalitarian tradition has once been your total worldview the spiritual battle might be a lot harder even. Note that I took a very specific example but that even for me there are other paradigms that try to invade sometimes. I can have the same kind of problems with fragments of other paradigms that make no sense to me at all anymore that come back -the fundie influence on my childhood pentecostalism, the weirdness of Charismatic Christanity- but I rarely encounter those in such a dominant way personally. Another very invasive ideology that seems to want to take over my theology sometimes is a very agressive and  totalitarian form of calvinism that is virulent on the internet…

So, for those still with me here: if any of my readers know of another effective way of expelling or ‘banishing’ paradigm-frangments that keep on sticking to you, trying to invade you again while you know that the paradigm is obsolete, please tell me.

If you find that I’m talking absolute nonsense please ignore me, this is probably not meant for you…

peace

Bram

The laws of the universe?


This is something I’ve been trying to put into words for quite a while now I think:

The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on this planet for the last few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws, whereas they are only the remote results which the true laws bring about more often than not on a kind of accident.

(C.S. Lewis, one of the characters in ‘that hideous strength’)THS

Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…


Today we’re going for a trip to explore some paradigm shifting. We will revisit some of the oldschool ’emerging church’ topics, but that will only serve to better be able to venture far into grounds where both angels and academics fear to tread (and maybe not without a reason) like the obscure postmodern occult art of chaos magic. Although for the regular readers nothing here should be a big shock…

Sa new kindo, on to paradigm shifting or a change of how one understand Reality and the rest… Let’s start on more or less safe ground and firmly inside of cliché emerging church territory with some C.S. Lewis quotes lifted from Brian McLaren’s vintage emerging church classic ‘A New Kind of Christian’. (It seems that the EC prophecies of the emergence of a new and better form of Christianity can be filed with a lot of end-times madness and hypercharismatic promises of a ‘great revival, but the ANKOC trilogy remains worth re-reading nevertheless)
It is from Lewis lesser known book ‘the discarded image’ that talks about medieval literature, but the last chapter is about the paradigm-change between the medieval and modern world. And Brian McLaren got it more than right here in that this chapter has a lot of insights that are able to help us understand the modern-postmoden paradigm-shift. I will give you the extended version:

It would therefore be subtly misleading to say ‘ The
medievals thought the universe to be like that, but we
know it to be like this’. Part of what we now know is
that we cannot, in the old sense, ‘ know what the universe is like’ and that no model we can build will be, in that old sense, ‘ like’ it.
Again, such a statement would suggest that the old
Model gave way simply under the pressure of newly discovered phenomena-as a detective’s original theory of the crime might yield to the discovery that his first suspect had an unassailable alibi. And this certainly happened as regards many particular details in the old Model, just as it happens daily to particular hypotheses in a modern laboratory. Exploration refuted the belief that the tropics
are too hot for life ; the first nova refuted the belief that the translunary realm is immutable. But the change of the Model as a whole was not so simple an affair.
There is no question here of the old Model’s being
shattered by the inrush of new phenomena. The truth
would seem to be the reverse ; that when changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old  Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently tum up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.

Lewis is talking here about the historical shift in worldview which madeCSLewis_Pipe the old way of looking at the world impossible. And yet the ‘proof’ of the new worldview had always been there, and had only ‘turned up’ because people looked for them.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing 1 Cor 13 here)  Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have and all we can have. No paradigm or ‘model’ as Lewis says it will ever explain our world completely accurately, and every model has its weak sides and strong sides. Key here is Lewis’ last sentence: “Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.’ Reality is like the elephant in the parable, and we are the blind men who only have one part of the elephant and try to reconstruct a whole ‘theory of the Elephant’ from one bodypart of the animal.

Why do we even assume that the human brain is able to fully understand the universe around us? As a Christian believing in a Creator God that made us in His image I already find it a bit too much. But if I were an atheist such a illusion would for me only be a lingering relic from naive belief in a Creator…

What I would propose when it come to these things is just a humble epistemology. Acknowledge that any paradigm is just ‘seeing in part’ and that there’s a strangeness in the universe that makes it simply unable to just pin it down to one paradigm. Sometimes different models that cannot be reconciled do accurately describe the same thing. (Even in modern science that is true: look at light, which can be described as both a particle or a wave. Both paradigms work and can be used to explain different things, but they are in fact mutually exclusive and at the same time both true!)

Maybe that sounds too postmodern to some, but note here that I do still have a Ground, even when it cannot be Pinned down, or grasped. Truth and Reality do exist, even if they defy complete description and understanding, and even if different understandings of it can be both accurate in a way and completely exclusive of each other.  Real hardcore postmodernists will most likely not have such a ‘Ground’, which is a completely different story altogether

Groundless postmodernism, even more than my moderatie ‘humble epistemology’ is a radical meta-paradigm that makes all other paradigms invalid, and that makes every use of a paradigm pragmatic. Nothing is true, but still we believe things because it helps us in some way. We can’t be Groundless all the time, so we take on a worldview for the moment…

But there’s more we can say about paradigm-shifting. Up until now I’ve been just talking about understanding and describing the universe, as is done for example in science. Which is important, but only the first step. The second step is reacting to the universe, and often also manipulating it in various ways. We are not just spectators in this world, we are living in it, connected to it, and we need to interact with it…

And our paradigm is very important here. The way we view the world around us does change the things we’ll do with it. If we do not believe that there is a land on the other side of the ocean we won’t make a ship to go there. If we don’t believe something can be don’t we won’t try it, etc…

But like I wrote this ‘power of belief’ can go further. Like the song says, there can be miracles, if you believe…

Now what do we get if we combine groundless postmodernism in which no paradigm is true with the power of belief and magic? This is not a rhetorical question, as the answer is an existing occult tradution; Chaos magic (or magick in the Crowleyan spelling) is what you get when you combine Groundless postmodernism with pragmatism and the idea of ‘belief as a tool’. I don’t think you can go further than that into postmodernism than pragmatic paradigm-shifting-at-will as a tool, it does outpostmodernise the most postmodern postmodernist and its implications are far-stretching.

Yes, pragmatic paradigm-shiftng-at-will! While Lewis and McLaren wrote about paradigm shift as something that happens with a society when the world cannot be viewed in the same way any longer, and the emerging church generally saw it as something happening once in a lifetime (or a few times). Chaos magic starts from the idea that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. (Which is derived from Aleister Crowleys ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and can end up not far from Voldemorts ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it’…)
So it does not matter whether or not a paradigm is true, if you need it you ‘climb into it’ and exercise enough belief to accomplish your purposes. Andrieh Vitimus describes it like this:

“The most telling thing about a chaos magician is their ability to change their beliefs and paradigms at will. This is a complete change of perspective on the world that they live in to be able to see their reality from a different point of view. If you think about it, this would mean one day a chaos magician might be a Christian, while the next week they would be a Buddhist. These two philosophies are radically different in their orientation towards the world and an adoption of either worldview would have implications towards the person’s daily actions and attitudes. Chaos magic will demand that the practitioners be able to meaningfully switch between any beliefs about themselves, others, and religious beliefs. To the chaos magician, beliefs are choices. Belief is the tool that empowers the magic.”

(And yes, chaos magic can be pretty dark stuff. Invoking made-up dark gods like Thanateros (god of death achaosnd sex) or fictional ones like Chtulhu seems to be popular for example among chaotes. But that’s outside of the scope of my post about paradigms now, and the same principles could work without this dark side and without invoking any deity at all.)

I’ve written before about ‘belief as a tool’ and magic, and I do believe in this power. But on the other hand I also believe it has its limit. Even chaos magicians pragmatically try a lot of paradigms and discard those that don’t work… Pragmatism tries what works, and in that process a lot of things are thrown away that don’t work. Not every paradigm is equal, even in Groundless postmodernism or chaos magic.

There is something scandalous in the pragmatic combination of ‘belief as a tool’ and paradigm-shifting in a Groundless postmodernism. Is it an echo of a snake whispering ‘you shall be like gods’ and the temptation of a Power that isn’t safe for a mere mortal to wield?

There is another limit. One cannot put the sun in a bag and make slices of cheese from the moon with mere positive affirmations and choosing the right paradigm. Even if we would have a lot of power to create our own universe we are not solipsists. There are other powers in the Universe that might be stronger than us. There are solid things in Reality that won’t liquify or even go out of our way no matter how hard we believe they will. The power of belief is strong, but even if it can change our percerption of reality, and in some cases affect Reality sometimes, it is not able to change the real inner structure of reality. And sometimes our perception of is only an illusion.

Let’s go back to where we started, to C.S. Lewis. In the chronologically first book of Narnia, ‘the magician’s nephew’ we do find a arrogant ‘magician’ named uncle Andrew, who’s by accident present at the Creation of the world of Narnia. The poor soul does have a lot of modern sensibilities though (a lot of colonial and capitalist ambitions that would turn Narnia in a hell and made him richer if could accomplish them…) and the idea of talking animals does not work for him. After a while he isn’t even able to hear them talking even if he would want to. He just hears growling and hissing and barking of a bunch of wild beasts, while they are actually are discussing what they would do with the guy…

Yet the animals are still talking…

Dwarfstable

Another example of this comes from the last of the Narnia book, the last battle, where a bunch of dwarves have been put in a stable by the enemy, but are not able to see that the door worked as a portal to the Land of Aslan. The lion Aslan wants them to open their eyes, but all they want to see and can see is still a stable. They keep on mumbling that “the dwarves are for the dwarves” and that no-one will be able to take them in, stuck in an illusion they can’t get out that is only kept in place by the power of their belief.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have.

And after all we should watch out for illusions and lies…

What do you people think?

A prayer in C to an absent God (Lilly Wood and the Prick)


There’s a song that’s been playing on the radio a lot here in Belgium, and that is actually a big hit in this part of Europe at the moment. It has an irritating electronic beat and a looped guitar-riff that would be okay if it wouldn’t be repeated endlessly to go on on beyond forever. It also has the capacity to stay in your head until the seas will cover land and man will be no more.

Since the lyrics had something weird (like repeating something about not forgiving someone) and since I was just curious what the bleep this song was that I heard everywhere I went to google for an answer. I found out that the song in question was called ‘prayer in C’ (Robin Schulz remix) and made by some French folkband called Lilly Wood and the Prick. (not that you hear that much folk in the remix…)Lilly_wood_the_prick_and_robin_schulz-prayer_in_c_(robin_schulz_remix)_s
So I looked up the lyrics, and it turns out to be indeed some kind of prayer, but one to an absent, or maybe even non-existent God that lets evil happen. In the first verse the addressed one is blamed by the singer for ‘never saying a word nor sending a letter’ and will not be forgiven for that. The rest of the song gets more apocalyptic about life ending (both individual lives as human life and all life on Earth), and the addressed one will not be forgiven, not by the singer and not by starving children whose houses are destroyed. And when men and later even life will be over, it will not even be able to forgive itself.

I’d say that this is quite a bitter prayer, not? There’s a lot of anger directed to some god of sorts, for not letting anything know, for not saving this world, for the coming demise of humanity and life on Earth… It seems like the addressed one is either absent or disinterested as some deistic deity that put the world together and then took off its hands, or even completely non-existent.

I always found it strange how some people talk to a (to them) nonexistent God and get very angry with it sometimes. As if they would have wanted some kind of God to exist, that isn’t there.

(Another song in that category would be XTC’s ‘dear God’, which is both musically and conceptually more sophisticated, but misses the bitter apocalyptic dimension of this otherwise happy dance tune…)

Edit: Several people including Adam in the comments have been pointing out that the first word of the song is actually ‘Jah’, a short version of the biblical divine name JHWH. Very popular with rastafarians and bands like POD as the preferred name to address God. It’s also used as such in the never translated Hebrew sentence ‘Hallelujah’, which means ‘praise Jah!’.  I can’t even believe that I missed that.

Prayer in C (Lilly Wood and the Prick)
Written by Benjamin Cotto & Nili Hadida

Jah, you never said a word
You didn’t send me no letter
Don’t think I could forgive you

See our world is slowly dying
I’m not wasting no more time
Don’t think I could believe you

Jah, our hands will get more wrinkled
And our hair will be grey
Don’t think I could forgive you

And see the children are starving
And their houses were destroyed
Don’t think they could forgive you

Hey, when seas will cover lands
And when men will be no more
Don’t think you can forgive you

Jah, when there’ll just be silence
And when life will be over
Don’t think you will forgive you

(If you hear this older live version of the original folksong you’ll hear that the first word actually does sound more like ‘God’ than like the vague ‘ya’. Also keep in mind that the people who made this song probably do have French and not English as their first language.)

What do you people hear in this song?

Knowledge about God or knowledge of God? (Sadhu Sundar Singh)


I will post thiSundars quote from the Indian Christian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh without much comment. I speaks for itself.

It surely makes one think about ‘it’s a relationship, not a religion’… (if we have a very narrow modern definition of ‘religion that is) Our goal as Christians is not just to have knowledge about God, or like the apostle says, ’You believe that God is one, and that’s good, but the demons do that too, and they tremble’… Unlike what some fundamentalists (and maybe gnostics if I interpret their name rightly) seem to believe, right head knowledge alone has never saved anyone… Acting upon it might actually be interesting…

(Assuming that the ‘head knowledge’ is always right, which isn’t always the case either, neither among fundies nor among liberal modernists…)

I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet.

When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.

I do not condemn theologians wholesale, but it is unfortunately the fashion in Western thinking to doubt and deny everything. I protest this tendency. I never advise anyone to consult theologians, because all too often they have completely lost all sense of spiritual reality. They can explain Greek words and all that, but they spend too much time among their books and not enough time with the Master in prayer. It is not that I oppose all education, but education without life is certainly dangerous. You must stop examining spiritual truths like dry bones! You must break open the bones and take in the life-giving marrow.

Isn’t it ironic how easily we look at the finger pointing to the moon and even forget the moon?

Shalom

Bram

Charles Fort as the ultimate free thinker…


charles Fort“So, by the damned, I mean the excluded.
But by the excluded I mean that
which will some day be the excluding.
Or everything that is,
won’t be.
And everything that isn’t,
will be
But, of course,
will be that which won’t be”
– Charles Fort

I’ve written before about ‘anomalist’ Charles Fort as a required reading for thinking people. He was a ground-breaking writer about the paranomal, who also had a very interesting philosophy of how the world works. I don’t agree at all with either, but he’s still very interesting to read. What also can be said about him is that his work does not align with any tradition (let alone the dominant paradigm of his time and culture).  So if such a thing as a free thinker exists, Charles Fort is one of the best examples I have ever encountered.

Some people right now do seem to have a very weird idea of what a ‘free thinker’ is. Basically for them its just someone who agrees with everything they believe and aligns with a very strict line of rigid enlightenment thought that denies all the supernatural and treats ‘science’ in the same way as some religious fundamentalists treat their holy book. (Which is completely the wrong way anyway and a modern phenomenon…)
But let’s not even get into this kind of freethinkerism. Anything who puts a lot of rules rules up to define what ‘free thought’ and what is not is lost in Orwellian Newspeak at best… A lot of things can be said about ‘new atheism’, but calling them and their very strict tradition ‘free thinkers’ is just a tragic illusion…

A free thinker (if the term has any meaning at all) is an original thinker that is not at all invested in affirming any existing line of thought. A real free thinker is not bound by any tradition, and will most probably come up with ideas that shock everyone. He or she will say things that no-one wants to hear, and he or she will not be listened to by most people.

A real free thinker is often a lone heretic.

In some times and cultures people like that get executed, because they can be considered dangerous and become persecuted, since they do question every basic assumption. They show that there is no reason to take the dominant paradigm for granted, whatever it is that the majority believes. Which is always risky…

So, there is a role for free thinkers that makes them incredible important. They are heretics like I said. They are the ones that plant seeds to break with the traditions that have hardened and might be completely beyond criticism sometimes. Even if we can’t follow them, they still should help us to see that our certainties are very relative. And they are ironically the only possible starting point of new movements, new traditions. They bring on renewal and reformation, and are agents of change…

Does this mean that ‘free thinkers’ will be right all the time? Not at all. A lot of them will be completely wrong, while a lot of the people inside of certain traditions will often be much closer to being right. Some of them will just be full of wacko nonsense even. Some others do have the gift of seeing what’s wrong but not really a clue about a more valid alternative. But even those freethinkers should not be ignored. Questions should be allowed, answers should be questioned.

To use Forts terminology, the ‘damned’ should be acknowledged and their existence affirmed.

There is an interesting paradox here though: a real free thinker will remain alone. A follower of a free thinker is just a follower of someone elses though, and will never be a free thinker. From the moment people start following him you get a second generation of thinkers that build a tradition around him, and the real freethinkerism is lost already. People will build a system around the ‘free thinker’, which will end up having walls, and some kind of orthodoxy that decides who does and dos not follow the original guy. And in this stage even schism can come up, and other interpretations, and so on… You can even get a reversal, in which the original consensus becomes ‘damned’ and excluded, and what once was an alternative proposed by a freethinker is now the rigid orthodoxy, which in most cases means that there’s progress in certain ways, but in other ways things have been lost too in the new dogma…

The stage of a free thinker can only last for one generation, for one single individual even. A group of agreeing freethinkers is an oxymoron (or at least a statistical improbability as they should come separately to the same conclusions) and a tradition of freethinkerism is even more a contradictio in terminis… Or like I said, delusional Orwellian newspeak…

The view that by definition free thinkers are right while the ‘bad’ traditions are wrong is very naive and not very realistic. (Are there really people who believe that you can say ‘follow your own reason’ to everybody and then have everybody come to the same conclusions as they do themselves? Are people so delusional?) It is as nonsensical as the opposite idea that the traditions are right and the freethinkers are always wrong. Every tradition has good and bad points, and the free thinkers often (in the positive cases) are the ones who see the bad points, the blind spots, or the unintended consequences of a line of thought that end up somewhere horrible…

Let’s take Charles Fort for example. His thoughts are completely out of the box sometimes. He does not seem to follow any dogma of his culture (including the ridid rules of freethinkerism) and sometimes comes to conclusions that make one genuinely scratch his head… But their originality alone shows us how much our way of thinking is pigeonholed into very rigid paths.

That’s why we need free thinkers

(And why we need to read people from other times, other cultures, and expose ourselves to as much diverse views as possible! The dominant paradigm is always way too narrow to give us a balanced outlook on reality…)

We’re one, but we’re not the same… (or how different identity doesn’t have to mean violence!)


krishnamurti
I regularly see this quote together with this picture on facebook, sometimes in certain groups, sometimes posted by people on their wall. It’s from the Indian Spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), the guy on the picture, and it interesting to ponder about for a moment, so I’ll give it here:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

Did you read it and take your time to think about it?

Interesting quote, and good one to investigate the complications of this line of thinking. I can already say that completely disagree with it, and I do think there is something very dangerous in this line of thought.

It is true that people regularly do use their identity to separate themselves from the rest of mankind, and that can easily lead to violence. I completely agree that this is a problem.

Where I completely disagree is with his solution and conclusions. Krishamurti seemingly wants to erase all identity because the violence lies in accepting that we are different. This will never work, since we ARE different already, and we can never be the same. That would need denial of both our indentity and that of the other, and does only erase ourselves.

People in Belgium have a different culture from people in India. We don’t have to hide that. Christians and muslims and hindus believe different things about God. We should not ignore that. We all look different, have different styles of clothes and hair and music and so on.

We should not ignore our differences. I’m not even sure it would lead to less violence. And besides, we do not have to be all the same. We have to understand and celebrate our differences. The problem is not that we are different, the problem is that we are stupid enough to think that differences have to lead to violence. Difference is actually not something that we need to overcome to find harmony, but it is essential. To quote Dolores Nurss one of my facebook-friends who is a lot wiser than me:

“The problem does not lie in there being Self and Other. The problem lies in assuming that Self and Other must conflict. Separation is indeed an illusion, but another name for Illusion is Art. The story of separation opens up a space for love.”

Surely we should be ‘concerned with the total understanding of mankind’, but we do have an identity, and everybody is different. There is no neutral, and every view is from a certain point of view. We cannot have a total view, and will never be unbiased. (No matter how much we tell ourselves and other that we are!) Our identity will always influence our way of interpreting the world and react towards it.

The total understanding of mankind will be an understanding of all men together or it will just understand nothing and project some pseudoplatonic ideal unto ‘man’ that is just made in the image and liking of whoever came up with it. We cannot understand mankind apart from all our differences…

Erasing differences, especially if we want to replace them all by some superior neutral position we think we have becomes only one more exercise in violently trying to take away the identity of the other and put our own in its place. But if you’re convinced of your own ‘neutrality’ as most moderns are you aren’t even able to see that.

Take for example the modern approach to religion that way too often just ends u up in saying ‘all religions are essentially the same, and they ultimately have the purpose to teach this one thing, which almost always is the thing the speaker himself does believe… How can this not be self-deceit. The religions are not the same, cannot be the same, and just saying they are all the same does not take them serious at all.

Differences do not have to lead to separation, they are just needed to be able to be together as a whole.

Every ecosystem on earth consists of a lot of very different species. All of them are different, all of them are needed. And then there are different ecosystems too. All kinds of differences. And yes, nature is more violent than rational beings created in the Imago Dei are supposed to be, but even in the violence of nature there is harmony, and the differences are needed. (Think also about what Paul of Tarsus says in the Christian scriptures about the church being a body, and every bodypart being needed. A body cannot be only eye or only nosehair…)

The story of separation opens up a space for love.”

That’s also why the trinity is such an interesting Christian doctrine: 3 persons in one Supreme being, being one and three at the same time, completely relational and loving towards each other in perichoresis.

And this caleidoscope of diversity is part of the Christian vision. All of it is to become part of the Divine Vision. In the last book of the New Testament, John the revelator describes a very diverse crowd:

9 After this, I saw a large crowd with more people than could be counted. They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood before the throne and before the Lamb. They wore white robes and held palm branches in their hands, 10 as they shouted,

“Our God, who sits
upon the throne,
has the power
to save his people,
and so does the Lamb.”
 
So all races, tribes, nations and languages are welcome, as they are before Gods throne. They don’t have to become something they are not. God does not want everyone to become like Westerners or American or moderns or medievals… God loves the diversity.
 
God loves the unfolding diversity of creation, and of humanity. We don’t have to be the same, don’t have to become the same. We don’t have to be molded to some ‘neutral’ standard that is illusory anyway.And we definitely do not need to let our differences lead to violence and separation.
 
That is an insult to creation…
 
What do you people think?