Why I Am Embracing Christianity: First Statement - The East Within the West

Today it is often impossible to discuss Christianity with non-believers: the words in which its core mission are expressed are simply too loaded with the baggage of politics, history, and the residue of probing philosophical investigations. Hence it has become all but impossible to represent the perspective from the inside of a genuine belief in God, the Monad, the All-In-All, in a way that will electrify the mind, or rouse the soul from its slumber.

I have recently flummoxed many of my readers by re-embracing my lapsed Christianity. I do not like the word 'conversion' and do not see myself as a 'convert'. What I am experiencing feels more like a fulfillment or reconciliation of various disconnected fragments of thought that had been bouncing around in my mind -- or we could say, perhaps: I feel I have finally obtained an instrument with which I can whack away the thorns and weeds which have been covering my eyesight for some time now. I do not claim to have anything original to say on these matters, although I hope I can help point the way toward the path of illumination, for those who have eyes to see. On the other hand, since I can offer only my personal testimony and study as evidence for what I claim, the reader ought to take anything I say with the appropriate grain of salt.

I do not believe that anyone can reason his way to belief in God through his own devices. Rather, he must prepare the ground for the experience by which the essence of God can be revealed to him. Catholic intellectuals -- like John Paul II -- pushing the likes of Thomas Aquinas, with his 'proofs' of God's existence, and the high-minded likes of C.S. Lewis, with his gimmicky 'trilemma', or those still pushing Pascal's Wager -- are all wasting their time. Our knowledge of the material world has become too vast and too deep; reconciliation of belief in the existence of God to what we know about the world requires something truly out of the ordinary. As mankind digests more and more of the Apple of the Tree of Knowledge, we grow more distant from the Holy Spirit and from God. We require something more like what Socrates evokes in the Meno: like the rainbow fish, he stuns his interlocutors -- into a state of perplexity. Only a direct encounter with the reality of Beyond-Being, of transcendence, can prove its reality, and its relevance. No abstract argument will do: it is something which must be revealed to someone. Reason can tell us the conditions under which revelation is most likely to take place, and it can speculate about what revelation might mean, but only a direct encounter can ultimately supply the evidence demanded by today's skeptics. 

I would wager that most people already have, without knowing it, some direct realization of the Holy Spirit, and of the soul, which participates in the 'overmind' of the Holy Spirit and whose nature is oriented toward beauty and harmony; it corresponds to what Sigmund Freud deemed the 'oceanic consciousness,' which he called the origin of all religious sentiment, while acknowledging that has never personally experienced that state. The 'oceanic' nature of this consciousness is the esoteric significance of the sacrament of baptism in water, although the 'higher' baptism is that which takes place in the soul, as one's eyesight into this mode of 'seeing' life 'breaks in' and recognizes the Holy Spirit for what it is: an intermediary between God and Man. Many people report that music 'takes them places.' They are more right than they know: overwhelmingly, they are experiencing a withdrawal into the perception of the soul, as their attention fixates on the beautiful arrangement of the music and temporarily reconciles emotional tensions that ordinarily remain at odds in everyday life. This way of perceiving can go deeper and deeper -- into a euphoric and alien mode of experience. The Orthodox call the process of training these faculties theosis: a seeking of unity with God; they say this is the meaning of life.

Soul is not all there is to our inner faculties, although it is the most accessible; Spirit is distinct from Soul, although only a beautifully harmonized soul can serve as a vehicle of ascension toward Spirit. The 'realm' of Spirit is also the realm of the Monad, or, God; philosopher-mystics like Plotinus and Proclus claimed to have perceived it directly. The esoteric vision of Christianity seeks to emulate the incarnation of God in the man of Jesus so that we may become more like God ourselves. As Clement of Alexandria writes: "For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God." 

Christianity, in this sense, is the East within the West; it resembles Hinduism and Daoism as much as it resembles Judaism or Islam; it is the mystical counterweight to the metaphysically and epistemologically individualistic rationalism and empiricism that is so characteristic of the West: that which takes the realities of the Self and Being for granted. Modern science and philosophy is approaching a point of maxing out on these assumptions; it is, through postmodernism and quantum physics, unveiling the indeterminacy of the subject, the intertwining of perceiver and perceived, and the instability and interdependence of concepts -- and the most reliable defenders of Enlightenment thought are unable to rebut these theories and have resorted to attempts at laughing them out of contention. It will not work. 

What will work is an integration of Eastern thought into modernity. By Eastern thought I mean that which recognizes the reality of Beyond-Being and the indeterminacy and interconnectedness of any sense of our individual 'selves.' In the past, Christianity has not recognized itself as the East within the West; in this vision, therefore, we as Westerners in philosophic crisis must rediscover and rehabilitate the tools already in front of us. The West is not done with Christianity, and Christianity is not done with the West. If rationalism and empiricism, and their fruit, technology, build up the I, or the Ego, or the Self, Christianity helps to tear it down; reconciliation of our consciousness to divine consciousness, Man to God, requires an emptying of self, a recognition of our limitations, our dependencies -- it requires an education in the highest kind of humility. The West is in dire need of it right now -- and so am I, which is why I wish to submerge myself into Christianity. I wish to learn more fully how to empty myself into God.

Of course, in a very important sense, Christianity stands or falls on the incarnation and resurrection. When I contemplate the incarnation, I can believe that the Monad manifested in the person of Jesus -- with the important qualifier that through Jesus, God has called us all to become 'sons of God'. The mystery of the resurrection eludes me, but I have arrived at a place at which the faith makes enough sense to me as a whole that I imagine my understanding is lacking rather than the faith, and so I choose to be open to the Mystery; I choose to embrace the teaching handed down across the ages in the faith that more will be illuminated to me in time. The incarnation and crucifixion are vital patterns guiding our lives in God, regardless. All new orders, whether in a polity or an individual, require a destructive or deconstructive phase, only after which the renewal or redemption can take place. When we have awakened to the reality of God, we must put our personalities through a crucifixion-in-miniature, to empty ourselves of attachments to worldly things and sublimate them into the love of God, which renews, redeems, and makes beautiful again all that was first given up. Only then can one be 'born again' as a 'child of the kingdom.' Christianity echoes both Heraclitus and Nietzsche here, the former of whom declared that 'the kingdom is a child's; eternity is a child at play,' and the latter of whom said that maturity consists in once again discovering the mentality of a child at play.

This vision of Christianity must strike many as radical. This is as it should be, for God is at all times and places mysterious and elusive. Any authentic openness to the Mystery must therefore require a giving over of oneself, a transformation of perspective. Christianity must not be permitted to be a blank check to engage in an endless cycle of sinning and repenting; neither is it a fossilized list of rules to obey in order to score points with God. Religion must be about reconciling man to the divine; life requires an answer to the religious questions. Although I have at times fled into the arms of the Eastern traditions, I ultimately had to conclude that the West already has a spiritual order: Christianity -- and it is perfectly capable of serving as the vehicle of spiritual renewal for the West in 2018 -- and for me as an individual.

Alex Knepper