When equality is enforced in the social or political fields, there is a general lowering of the average level of society to that of the lowest individuals, because it is infinitely easier to do that than to create a standard higher than that existing before. ~ Mieczyslaw Demetriusz Sudowski [aka Mouni Sadhu]
Atheist, Pagan, and Christian
An atheist, a pagan, and a Christian walk into a bar …
If it sounds like the beginning of a joke, I forgot the punch line. If it sounds like the beginning of an interesting conversation, you will be disappointed. A fruitful conversation will have a terminus and a way for the participants to agree on when that terminus has been reached. This necessitates something in common. If they appear to have little in common in terms of outer form, then they must determine if there is a higher principle they can agree on. For example, you would not debate the colors of M & M candies with someone who is color blind, but you could discuss things like texture and taste.
To return to our bar hoppers, we first need to define their positions metaphysically, in line with Guenon’s suggestion that all religious positions can be restated as metaphysical positions.
An atheist denies that there is a transcendent unifying principle. There are only things and events; the role of a thinker is to arrange, catalog, and formulate theories about them. As for religious phenomena, all events are on an equal footing. There is no (consistent) way to distinguish an enlightened sage from a televangelist.
A polytheist claims there are multiple, independent principles underlying the cosmos. When personified, they appear as gods and goddesses. Since no one of them is absolutely supreme, conflicts or even battles arise among them. A man finds himself at the mercy of their fickleness: one god may bless them, while another actively thwarts him. If the pagan does admit a higher principle, it is called “fate”, to which gods and men are both subject. Pagans pride themselves on loving that principle even though it doesn’t love them back. That principle is unknowable and is experienced as power. It has no purpose, so one’s human, all-to-human, life consists of one damn thing after another, endlessly repeated in cyclic regularity.
The monotheist accepts that there is one ultimate principle of the cosmos, the one God, with an indefinite number of states of being between that principle and man. Man’s task is to ascend these transhuman states to the best of his abilities. Ultimately, through grace and persistence, in an act of integrating wholeness or theosis, he transcends all states to become One with the divine.
Chattering and Resolution
Obviously, I am describing an esoteric conversation, which reaches “to the very presuppositions of all thoughts”. Anything else is idle chattering by which we construct an ersatz world as Heidegger describes. In our imaginary conversation, the atheist is the least common denominator, so we are limited to describing discrete events without grasping their essence. It is the intellectual equivalent of picking up sticks and putting them into a pile; the pile itself is meaningless. Even beavers gather sticks and create something superior to the sum of its parts.
To expect an intellectual dispute to be resolved in this way is to expect your bowl of alphabet soup to spontaneously spell out the meaning of life. Principles cannot be derived from accumulating facts, but rather facts must be understood in the light of principles.
By folk religion , we mean the exoteric religion practiced by the mass of people. Esoterists, unlike the cultured despisers of religion, understand the necessity for that and avoid scandalizing them. Shallow thinkers consider folk religion as a form of “control”, although it is unclear by whom and for what purpose. Rather, it is a way to elevate their spirit in mythological terms; actually, they are spiritually superior to those who would critique them from an allegedly “higher” point of view. In this, we agree with Arthur Schopenhauer, whom we regarded at one time as our educator, and still respect despite his Kantianism. He wrote:
All that can be thought only generally and in the abstract is quite inaccessible to the great majority of people. Thus, in order to bring that great truth of self-transcendence into the sphere of practical application, a mythical vehicle for it was needed everywhere for this great majority, a receptacle, so to speak, without which it would be lost and dissipated. The truth everywhere had to borrow the garb of fable, and in addition, had to try always to connect itself in each with what is historically given, and is already known and revered. That which sensu proprio was and remained inaccessible to the great masses of all times and countries with their low mentality, their intellectual stupidity, and their general brutality, had to be brought home to them sensu allegorico for practical purposes, in order to be their guiding star.
Those cultured despisers also mock the folk religion for their alleged ignorance or their failure to live up to the higher standards of its doctrines. On what grounds? Metaphysics is the queen of sciences and is accessible to the few. We esoterists are not egalitarians so we accept with calm detachment the inability of the many to understand and fulfill the highest aspects of doctrines.
A common criticism of Christians by the pagans, is that the Christian folk religion incorporated elements of the earlier paganism. We have never denied it, to the contrary, we have called attention to it. Furthermore, we have insisted that it is not restricted to folk religion, but also to the greatest minds of the Middle Ages, including Dante and Boethius. This is hardly a reason to reject Christianity, but rather to reject paganism, since everything of value in it has been incorporated into the folk religion, not to mention the esoteric religion. In The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade mentions the same phenomenon and comes to the same conclusion:
The customs and beliefs of European peasants represented a more archaic state of culture that that documented in the mythology of classic Greece. It is true that most of these rural European populations have been Christianized for over a thousand years. But they succeeded in incorporating into their Christianity a considerable part of their pre-Christian religious heritage which was of immemorial antiquity. It would be wrong to suppose that for this reason European peasants are not Christians.
We must recognize that their religion still retains a cosmic structure that has been almost entirely lost in the experience of urban Christians. We may speak of a primordial, ahistorical Christianity; becoming Christians, the European cultivators incorporated into their new faith the cosmic religion that they had preserved from prehistoric times.
Another shallow idea of the cultured despisers is that religions use guilt, especially about sexual matters, as a means of control. Again that defies any logic. First of all, guilt is the natural feeling for a transgression; someone who never feels guilt is called a sociopath, and that is a bad thing, in case you didn’t know. To the contrary, deeper thinkers will see that sex is itself the power that is used for social control and repression. Religion provides a buffer against that form of control.
Choosing My Religion
So by now, we have demonstrated the value of the exoteric, or folk, religion, particularly the dominant form it has taken in the Western Tradition. Some may reasonably ask, then, why we should prefer it. Perhaps a parable will help. Peter fell in loves with a woman, and told her, “Honey, I love you above all other women. No other woman could make me as happy as you do.” When Paul fell in love, he told her, “Honey, I really love you, but to be honest, there are probably 5 or 6 other women who could have made me equally happy.” Do I really need to create a poll question to decide whether Peter or Paul has chosen the better path? But then we would have to mention Ralph who is still waiting for the woman who is good enough for him; discretion prohibits us from describing how he spends his Saturday nights. Just remember these wise words from the Lovin’ Spoonful, regarding the need for decisiveness, loyalty, and faithfulness:
Did you ever have to make up your mind
Pick up on one and leave the other behind
It’s not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind
Did you ever have to finally decide
Say yes to one and let the other one ride
There’s so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide
Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote a small monograph, titled Hinduism and Buddhism, that shows their inner identity on the esoteric level. As we have mentioned several times, AKC also pointed out the Western Christian texts that have the same esoteric teachings as those Asian religions; those who cannot recognize it in the West, certainly cannot recognize it in the East. Hence, we can make a very plausible case that Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Christianity represent the peaks of the religious experience of the Indo-European people. A century before AKC, Schopenhauer came to the same conclusion, based on his understanding of the inner state of consciousness that these three traditions lead to. He wrote, although we would substitute “metaphysics” for “philosophy”:
Thus Christianity, Brahmanism and Buddhism are to be regarded as sacred vessels in which the great truth, recognized and expressed for thousands of years, possibly indeed since the beginning of the human race, and yet remaining in itself an esoteric doctrine as regards the great mass of mankind, is made accessible to them according to their powers, and preserved and passed on through the centuries. Yet because everything that does not consist throughout of the indestructible material of pure truth is subject to destruction, whenever this fate befalls such a vessel through contact with a heterogeneous age, the sacred contents must be saved in one way by another vessel, and preserved for mankind. Philosophy has the task of presenting those contents, since they are identical with pure truth, pure and unalloyed, hence merely in abstract concepts, and consequently without that vehicle, for those who are capable of thinking, the number of whom is at all times extremely small.
Still not convinced? Although I will probably treat this topic in more detail at another time, since it is in sharp agreement with Guenon and Schuon, I will provide a couple of quotes from Mouni Sadhu:
Changes of religion are usually meaningless and without any profit for the person concerned. Therefore I don’t not believe in all the missions directed to people who already possess their own religious philosophy expounded by one or another of the Teachers of humanity. I cannot see any gain for an intelligent Christian who knows much about his divine Master Jesus to be “converted” to Hinduism or Buddhism.
According to the teachers, the divine Jesus was the avatar of the Logos, who brought saving gnosis. He demonstrated this with power, or miracles, which is the criterion used even by Julius Evola. Legends of miracles cannot be arbitrarily rejected without rejecting all such. Given everything else written above, those credentials should be decisive.