The Empire Never Ended

Make no mistake, the spirit of Nero is alive and well in our world.

You may be asking yourself why I’m worried about what’s happening in Russia or Kazakhstan.

Well, there are a number of factors:

1. Vladimir Putin and his policies have a lot of fans in the US and Europe, both among ordinary people and among politicians. Apparently, according to my father’s observations, there are some Alt Right-affiliated groups here in the US right now that have pledged their allegiance to him and have his portrait up in their meeting halls. There is a very good chance that we could soon fall under his sphere of influence if the Alt Right has their way. Even if we are not directly under their influence, if even a few countries outside the former Soviet Union follow suit, we’ll have a situation where these sorts of policies have become the norm globally, and that’s not good.

2. Fears of terror attacks are at an all-time high, so much so that people are willing to consent to all kinds of stupid laws under the guise of their own safety. Already we have extrajudicial kidnappings, espionage, and murders. How long before a major terror attack causes that to mushroom into even more problems? In a novelette I wrote last year, I predicted that some time in the 21st century, a General Religions Act would be passed in the US which would basically outlaw everything but mainline Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish groups. It would be touted primarily as a means of punishing Muslims, but it would be enforced arbitrarily against groups considered inconvenient by the state.

3. The church I am involved in has services in a home chapel. Services in homes are precisely the sort of thing that is being targeted in the former Soviet republics.

4. The Gnostic tradition includes many groups that are the subject of the sort of conspiracy theories very popular among the Alt Right. Among my acquaintances are a host of esoteric types, and although I am not a member of an esoteric group (my church is exoteric, meaning we have no secret initiatory orders), I am concerned that paranoia will eventually spill over. My lot’s thrown in and I’m not going to assume that any anti-Esoteric movement is somebody else’s problem.

Let me be clear: I’m not going to cut and run. I am done running. I will take whatever consequences come my way for the path I have chosen and, in the spirit of those who came before, I will be faithful and steadfast against all threats. But I would much rather not have to worry that these sorts of policies might become the norm globally.

More Sources

Some additional sources that might help the reader understand Phil’s work, in no particular order.

An in-depth examination of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood:

The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz (pdf format):

The Bardo Thodol audiobook:

The Nag Hammadi Library (html format):

The site this is on, the Gnosis Archive, is also one of the best sources for Gnostic texts on the Web and I have used and linked to it multiple times here.

More to come.  Much more.

More Thoughts on the Future of Religion, Part 1

This will be an age of great upheavals when it comes to religion.  Old ways are on their way out and new ways are on their way in.  Traditions that do not stand the test of time will topple like dominos and those traditions worthy of keeping or reviving will become the new norm in a broad number of faiths.

It’s already happening.  The West is in crisis and many people no longer feel that traditional religion has been a positive role in their lives and many have given atheism serious consideration.  However, rather than seeing a broad trend of disaffected people remaining atheistic, I think we’ll see a wide array of responses.

Of course, many religions are simply changing to keep with the times.  Pope Francis made big news recently with his endorsement of things like the life sciences and compassion toward the LGBT community, things that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago; but it’s also refreshing to someone who isn’t obsessed with the apocalyptic idea that society is going insane due to a lack of traditional values.  There are those of us who believe that society is going insane because our old ways have brought us to a place where we can no longer use them to find our way and we must find new ways forward now.  Increasingly, that attitude has confronted religions that have had their relevance challenged the most, and many of them are finally understanding that they have to grow or the day will come when they will no longer be a voice that anyone will listen to, like the priests of the Roman gods were by the 2nd century.

The religions that change the least seem to have the most defections.  I’m one of at least two or three people I know who was raised Southern Evangelical, became a progressive Christian, then an atheist, then a Pagan before moving on to various different systems we were comfortable with.  That exact trajectory.  This is very much a millennial phenomenon.

Part of the reason for all that bouncing from one religion to another has to do with our culture of information addiction.  Mine is the generation that spends hours reading Wikipedia, or culture-savvy sites like Snopes or TV Tropes.  Once we get going on a religious trajectory, we find that unlike any generation before us, we have a massive library of nearly every sacred text in existence right at our fingertips.  I cannot emphasize what a drastic change that is; it makes the introduction of the Gutenburg Bible in the 15th century or the advent of the first English translations of Eastern religious texts in the 19th and 20th centuries seem like child’s play when you think about the scale and scope of what the DIY adept can learn, and it’s all free.

Provided the powers that be don’t shut down sites like the the Internet Sacred Text Archive, over the years more people who feel the need to cross-examine their beliefs will begin to adapt many ideas and find expressions of religion and spirituality that suit them.

Furthermore, some of us have learned that the beauty of freedom of religion is that once we’re out of our parents’ homes, we can observe whatever religious practices we want and we’re free to stop following those practices if they don’t work for us.  This is a very wonderful and liberating thing when you realize you really do have some expectation, in the West at least, of your explorations being respected and protected from interference by dominant groups.  The right to unpopular opinions has been my generation’s greatest tool for exploring ideas that work even if it is abused by some people.

Many people in my generation use the term “spiritual” to differentiate themselves from established religions, but the term is vague and poorly defined.  It can encompass many things and I think over time, a vocabulary will emerge to identify the traits of these myriad new strains of thought rather than simply describing them in the broadly non-commital term “spiritual.”

Religion is not dying.  It is surviving and adapting to a crisis of culture where we suddenly find ourselves near the end of the modern era asking ourselves, “what comes next?”

In part 2, I’ll discuss what the character of the new religious spirit is and what the religion of the next era will aspire to.

After Some Thought…

After it became clear in a recent entry that I was still unsure about my beliefs, I had to stop and think about what my beliefs really were.

It seems that over the years I’ve actually become quite comfortable as a Gnostic syncretist with my own very personal pattern of beliefs and practices that would never fit any mold.

That said, I do seem to take a lot from Christian Gnosticism and Hermeticism.  If I allow myself to pick and choose the pieces of various Gnostic systems, my beliefs begin to resemble those of the Rosicrucians and the Cathars though I also draw a great deal more directly from Buddhism.

I could do worse than to give fuller trust in this hybrid strain of Gnosticism I follow, and focus on my own life and growth before I try to reach out to others.  I feel like it has helped bring some focus to my life and given me a tool to integrate some strange things that have happened to me with a sort of freedom of interpretation that most religions don’t offer.

Even if I don’t intend to lead others, I think I’ve found a very real spiritual affinity here, one that goes back perhaps multiple lifetimes.  I’ll give it a go.  I’ll make the leap and call myself a Gnostic rather than simply treating Gnosticism as an “interest.”

On Starting Religions

I mentioned a couple entries ago that I had toyed with the idea of starting a religion as a bid to maybe give myself a karmic edge (which I considered to be an act of bargaining with the curious fortune of having been who I was in a previous life) but I think the subject deserves more discussion because it’s something I’ve thought deeply about.

First of all, in my life I’ve seen both the very best and the very worst religion can bring out in a person.  I cannot bring myself to see it as unilaterally “bad” or “good” in any respect because you can’t make any such statement without a broad generalization.  I’m familiar with Dawkins and Hitchens’ arguments that religion has nothing good to offer, but I find that their work isn’t very durable outside of a modernist framework.

For me, the considerations come down to what good starting a movement could actually do and what potential for harm it would cause to have someone as flawed as me leading it.  I could go into it swearing up and down that I’ll never be a Rolls Royce guru, but what would happen if I started a big enough movement that I could afford a Rolls?  Would I find a way to excuse my lack of altruism through some ‘greater good’ reasoning and get a blinged-out Phantom, or would I adhere to the same vow of poverty I ask of those I reach out to?

Also, many groups started with the best of intentions soon devolve into sinister cults when a leader becomes too egotistical at being the head of a large congregation.  Would that be my fate too?  Supposing I were to start a Cathar revivalist sect that stressed minimal living as a means of nonviolent revolution by de-funding the military-Industrial complex, only to become paranoid and move my congregation out to a fortified compound in the middle of nowhere?  It could only go downhill from there.

On the other hand, if I simply put an idea out there without taking a leadership role, I’m equally afraid of losing control of it to the point where it becomes a liability.  I could try to create a movement with no leaders, but I’ve been involved in such movements before; generally, my experience tells me that if no one assumes a leadership role, then by default leadership falls to those who do the most to organize and solidify a movement and those people don’t always have the best intentions.

Also- and this is very important- how much of what I preach am I willing to believe wholeheartedly?  My views have shifted so many times in my life, how can I hope to be consistent?  Once I start a movement, I have to devote my life to that movement and I am unsure if I am capable of such constancy.

Another consideration: having a past life like Phil’s puts me in a tremendous double-bind.  I genuinely feel that a Cathar revivalist sect could be a good vehicle for the sort of enlightened Christianity Phil envisioned, and it would be a powerful testimony to talk about how the remembrance of past lives changed the trajectory of my life forever, but it would also look cheap and silly to most people.  Also, I’m sure the media and the blogosphere would draw unwelcome parallels to that South Park episode about Scientology even if I intended to create something that could enrich lives and requires no money to be involved in.

I must admit though, I see Scientology billboards on buses and trains downtown and I’m deeply frustrated.  Nobody took Hubbard’s little cult seriously back in those days, and I’m sure back when I was Phil I couldn’t have imagined that Scientology would become the monolithic destroyer of lives It’s become.

I want so badly to become the antithesis to L. Ron Hubbard and create a movement that restores lives and heals hearts.  I want so badly to stand before David Miscavige and say “And where is L. Ron now?  I came back, he did not!  You can threaten me and you can mock me, but I’ll be back again and again until your little cult is destroyed!  Be gone, you liar and thief!  You may promise enlightenment, but I deliver!”  But in reality I know that it would never play out that way, even if I had the support of other movements against scientology, if for no other reason than no one would take me seriously.

Even if I had a stronger case for having been Phil than I do, I feel like have too many regretful facts about my past to be a public figure.  I have no ethos, and I’m sure there’d be plenty of people who already dislike me who would be happy to tell the media all the dirt they know about me, about every prejudiced remark I made or every fetish I have, or everyone I slept with back when I was getting it out of my system.  I’m sure my fluctuating political alliances would come up too; they love giving people who change their mind in earnest a hard time for being “inconsistent.”

And so I have to cure myself of these romantic notions of being hailed as an ascended master returned to bring good news and free the oppressed, even if I have the best intentions, because I know that good intentions are only half the equation.  I can’t bargain my way out of the helplessness of being an obscure writer scraping by on the West Coast once again, with no recourse to past achievements to help me do something amazing.  If I want to be amazing this time, I have to build up from nothing.  It’s a harsh reality but it’s the only sound and solid way to go about my life.

I can get my head around it; just wish I could get my heart around it.

Public Perception Versus Actual Experience

The following was from’s article on reincarnation.  Keep in mind that throughout their article- which glosses over the ideas long traditions in Eastern faiths and focuses heavily on New Age spirituality and Scientology, this paragraph is the sum total of their actual argument against the subject:

Finally, since there is no way to tell the difference between a baby with a soul that will go to heaven or hell, a baby with a soul that has been around before in other bodies, and a baby with no soul at all, it follows that the idea of a soul adds nothing to our concept of a human being. Applying Occam’s razor, both the idea of reincarnation and the idea of an immortal soul that will go to heaven or hell are equally unnecessary.

Though this is technically right in strictly scientific terms, I have one crucial problem with this: it only addresses religious belief in reincarnation and treats it like a religious issue.

My experience has been the opposite; since recalling apparent past lives, I’ve actually approached religion largely as an outsider.  My views are decidedly less cynical than those of the average Internet antitheist, but I have not, to date, given my devotion to any one religion and my explorations of religion in general are secondary to the fact that I had a weird experience.  I kind of like Buddhism and Gnosticism, but I’m not there yet and I’m in no hurry to convert to anything.

To discredit someone who was using reincarnation as a handy explanation in a religious context, SkepDic’s explanation works.  But like so many similar arguments, it’s based on a narrow and caricatured view of the subject and its persistence in culture and doesn’t address the complexity of individual experience that defies the label of “religious.”  It’s easy to discredit Scientology, though, so they go for the easy victory with gusto, even if it is a bit like picking on the slow kid in class.

Beyond Politics

I’m starting to think this latest wave of despair is more than just frustration with politics… it usually is with me.

Sure, I’m genuinely afraid that my country might violently implode in a concentrated blaze of misdirected patriotic fervor, and that lefty trannies like me might be the first ones they come for.  I have the distinct misfortune of being what you might call a canary in a coal mine.  After all, it isn’t like politically-motivated mob violence that is tolerated by an indifferent power structure would be anything new in the history of the world, and considering some of the vitriol leveled at people like me in recent years, I’m not optimistic.

But for now at least, they’re not coming for us.  I have to be honest with myself, this isn’t about some amorphous future threat so much as it is about my profound lack of anything solid and dependable to believe in.

I can’t say I believe in my own abilities, or in the power of love or friendship.  I’ve seen those things fail so many times that they seem as unreliable as almost every car I’ve ever owned in this life or the last one.  True, my partner and I have been together almost 9 years, but in that time we’ve very nearly pissed each other off a number of times.  I have kept our relationship alive precisely because I realized what a delicate thing a relationship between two scared people just trying to survive together really is.

I’m profoundly insecure about my writing too.  I hear that wasn’t so much the case in my previous life but I don’t have the skill- or at least the reputation- that he had.

And what about religion?  What about it indeed…  I’m stuck in a perpetual agnosticism fueled by equally-strong misgivings about belief and unbelief.  At times the easy path of determined atheism seems like a cozy place to vest my trust in, but I distrust it precisely because it is so easy to tune out every possible argument for the existence of God and focus only on debunking the most common ones while trying to look clever.  I even did that for a short time; after a while I got tired of my own smugness and had to agree that I really don’t know.

But really, does the universe have a purpose for me that I’ll live long enough to fulfill?  Maybe.  Damned if I know what that is.

Is there a God that loves and cares for us and wants the best for our souls?  Maybe.  Admittedly the gulf of doubt has widened for me in this life and I wish I had something solid to believe in, but nothing yet.

I am left only with the notion that I may have spoken to God in a previous life and somehow have no memory, along with vague memories of a medieval a priori mindset that took the proposition “God exists” as a more natural fact than I ever felt in this lifetime, even as a child; the faith of modernity is always tinged with doubt.  Where that certainty used to lie is a gap that I have been trying to fill for most of my life.

But when I go to the polls?  I know exactly what I’m voting for.  I can have a solid stance on LGBT rights or cannabis legalization, because these are things you can see a ready and tangible effect from.  They’re things you can win a debate about with confidence and that you can make someone look ignorant about in a hurry.  It’s a reassuring game because it’s a game I have won in the past and I know I have a chance at in the future.  I can’t have that certainty with religion.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that my political beliefs are the only thing I have that is solid any more.  I’m anti-war, pro-labor, pro-LGBT rights, pro-democracy, anti-plutocracy, pro-weed, pro-environment, and anti-censorship.  I do not support a government-sanctioned ban on abortions but I would never recommend one to someone who had the option of adopting; other than that my political ethos is a sort of negative utilitarian one (i.e. the action that does the least harm).  This hasn’t changed much across at least two lifetimes.

But it seems that when it comes to what I believe about myself and about God, I have no foundations and I am woefully unprepared to face another incarnation, if that is truly what waits for me.  If reincarnation is fact, I don’t believe you can die with the correct state of mind and be as unsure of your beliefs as I am.