Some readers of The Light Invisible know that I’ve been working on a book project — I’m happy to report that The Inner Church is the Hope of the World: Western Esotericism as a Theology of Liberation has now been released! The book has encompassed most of my thinking about esotericism and theology since I graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 2015, and I managed to keep working on it even while the Poor People’s Campaign took up most of my time (and that made its mark on the book, too). Click here for more info!
The radical French philosopher Georges Bataille and the English magus Aleister Crowley at first seem to have much in common—both explored the darker sides of eroticism and their links to spiritual experience, both were evocative writers expressing philosophical standpoints considered beyond the pale of polite early twentieth-century society, and both sought a rapturous mystical dissolution of the ego-bound self, a union with what traditional mystics would call the One or the All. But their understandings of the end of the mystic’s quest differ greatly—even to the point that, according to orthodox Thelema’s conception of the magician’s supreme goal of “crossing the Abyss,” Bataille could be labeled a member of the vilified Black Brotherhood, that society of Dark Adepts who ultimately fail in their spiritual task. (Bataille, of course, would probably revel in the transgressive identification.)
As you might have noticed, there has been a lack of recent updates here on The Light Invisible — I’ve been very busy with a number of other projects. Readers of this blog might be happy to know that most of my esoteric work at the moment has been directed toward writing a book manuscript on Western Esotericism as a Theology of Liberation, which will hopefully see publication next year.
But the primary reason I’ve been unable to write for the blog has been my day job in communications and organizing. Through my work with the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, I’ve been engaged in communications work for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, the effort to reignite Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign for today. I outline the approach of the new PPC — specifically, the necessity of the unity and leadership of the poor for any attempt at national moral revival — in a recent piece for Religion Dispatches.
Despite the massive abundance we have created on this planet, there are a few with unimaginable wealth and a lot who are not even getting their basic needs met. All of these powerful tools we have developed are neutral in the hands of men. They can be used to empower us or enslave us, for us or against us. As a human being alive at this time, you get the unique opportunity to play a role in choosing and forging the direction of civilization in arguably its most crucial moment. We are at the precipice of change. You can choose to embrace the Spiritual Revolution that is upon us and unite globally for the highest good of all. We can choose to evolve our outdated systems and co-create economic and social systems that serve us all. Urth is the collective utopian future vision of a transcendent civilization sharing love and abundance. The Church of Urth is a non filed association of churches which functions as a global vessel to manifest that vision of Urth. This universal platform gives people the opportunity to make a stand as one that the fate of our species is more important than being right. When we are able to stop trying to dominate people and start collaborating, stop trying to enslave people and start trying to love and empower them, then anything becomes possible. That is Urth to me.
Sounds pretty good, right? Some of it is even reminiscent of language you might find on this very blog. We do live in a society with rising inequality and poverty in the midst of massive abundance. The tools and technology we have created are in fact neutral, and can be used to support either oppression or liberation. Uniting globally in a Spiritual Revolution that creates economic and social systems that might serve us all is a laudable goal. It would be great to live in a “transcendent civilization sharing love and abundance.” All fine sentiments.
In a previous essay, I described how Aleister Crowley’s (and, by extension, many modern magicians’) views on sexuality are theologically deficient. Crowley follows the course of modern Protestant thinkers like Ludwig Feuerbach in employing a univocal view of reality, in which words describing the properties of God mean the same thing when applied to created objects such as people or things, even if the degree meant is vastly different. This is opposed to an analogical view of reality (which is the normative position of Catholic Christianity), in which, since God is transcendent, human concepts like goodness or beauty can only ever analogously apply to God, and negative statements — God is not good, God is not beautiful — must be equally true.
Recently a discussion came up at the Kairos Center about the way theologians, writers, and public intellectuals brand movements or schools of thought. I raised the example of conservative pundit Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option — the idea that, as conservative Christians have essentially lost the culture war in American life, they should follow the example of St. Benedict of Nursia and withdraw into small, countercultural communities of work, prayer, and contemplation. There, as in the monasteries of the early medieval period, they can weather the storm of the “barbarian takeover” of what remains of Western Christendom, and preserve what is valuable for future (and perhaps more amenable) generations.
We live in an era of great plenty, in the midst of an abundance unprecedented in human history. Yet we also live in a time of artificial scarcity — calls for austerity, rationalistic excuses for massive economic inequality, and attacks on the poor in the name of a death-dealing morality masquerading as level-headed budgetary concern. While the poor are told that they need to choose between healthcare and iPhones, the rich find it acceptable to spend thousands of dollars on exclusive music festivals held on private islands. On left and right, a fatalistic obsession with the temporary autonomous zone — brief moments supposedly free from the control of restrictive and rapacious neoliberal capitalism — replace speculative visions of a better future that once drove both the political imaginaries of social movements, and the utopian dreams of the occultists, esotericists, and fringe religious communities. In the memorable phrase of Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams, and Armen Avanessian, “the future has been cancelled.”
Stephen K. Bannon — political strategist, filmmaker, financier, and … occultist? Really: multiple sources have reported that Donald Trump’s advisor, right-wing populist, and former Breitbart News editor Steve Bannon has a penchant for the occult and the esoteric. Bannon had notably cited the early twentieth century Italian esotericist, traditionalist, and Nazi affiliate Julius Evola during a 2014 conference with traditionalists at the Vatican. More recently, Mitch Horowitz — author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped our Nation — wrote in Salon that, after the 2009 publication of his book, Bannon had called the author to express his “deep interest in the book’s themes,” encouraging Horowitz in his work on his next volume, an exploration of the positive thinking movement in American life. Horowitz goes on in his article to give a history of American conservatism’s interest in occultism and New Age mysticism, including Ronald Reagan’s use of Manly P. Hall’s esoteric ideas about America’s “secret destiny,” Donald Trump’s belief in the power of positive thinking, and the Freemasonic symbols in the Great Seal of the United States.
Another set of notes I wrote a few years ago, this time on the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s statements on divination, astrology, and magic. I remembered these notes and decided to publish them here after spending the last couple of weeks thinking about the Christian doctrine of theosis and how it relates to the Western esoteric tradition (specifically the Golden Dawn tradition) — namely, as the West’s equivalent to the Eastern tradition of hesychasm.
In 1893, the first Parliament of the World’s Religions was convened at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This historic event brought together representatives from a number of world religions, including one of the first introductions for Americans and Western Europeans to the religions of Asia on Asian terms. Swami Vivekananda gave a famous speech at the Parliament and received a standing ovation from over 7,000 listeners. Soyen Shaku, the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States, made his American debut at the Parliament, and his speech was translated into English by his young student, D.T. Suzuki. The Parliament is considered to be the birth of the modern interfaith movement, and the first formal interfaith gathering to be held in world history. Since the first Parliament, the event has coalesced into an organized movement with regular occurrences, with other historic Parliaments held throughout the world over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.