Suspending Disbelief in Thelema
This involves a premise and a contemplation I had been working on since the 1990s, when we would frequently debate, on the old Usenet group, alt.tarot, the meaning of life, and Thelema. Particularly, as the debates sometimes went, the question was whether you had to believe in all that seeming nonsense Aleister Crowley claimed about the Thelemic creation myth—was Aiwass really there or was he a projection of Crowley's imagination manifesting a higher part of himself?—to do or get Thelema? Was faith required in other words, and how would it manifest exactly?
Frequently, because of my rather skeptical approach to all our topics, especially the creation myths of Tarot—which helped to inform Crowley's own ideas and approach—I was often asked what I believed. This question was often posed to me as a way of suggesting that no honest answer could be forthcoming except "nothing", and this would have its own damning implications for me. But it was in fact one of the possible, true, answers. Nevertheless, I had a scheme in mind for how I would process the nothing, and the seeming lies and liars that are our founders and makers of occultism. Basically, it involved my applying my experience of cinema to my experience of Tarot and the occult.
The following was originally published December 1, 2009
Six years ago, [i.e., in 2003] I explained my view of religion, and how that informed my approach to Thelema. I would say that explanation still applies for me, with perhaps the addition of a new insight: it is not always possible or worthwhile I would say to know, deeply and well compartmentalized, that something for which you have cinematic faith is being run by a man behind the curtain. After all, if you did pull back that curtain, put your hands on the man, and turned him about to look him in the face, you would be seeing your own reflection.
Increasingly, I realize that this is not a world that can stand or nurture much bleak truth, and truth for short-lived, fragile mortals is so often very bleak. Yet, to evade it, to flee it, hoping that the Holy Distraction Angel will save you from pain one more day, is an unsatisfying option for many of us. And also, we appreciate and seek the sweetness of irony. By this I mean it is very satisfying to contemplate that what goes up, inevitably comes down. It is also the case, though this part of the Wheel is often ignored, but what is down will in some form inevitably rise. Thus, an appreciation of truth should involve an insight about the complexity, inadequacy and self-negation of every Break—which is every incomplete truth, which is of course ALL of them.
Example, thinking of certain aspects of my personal truth:
I am an atheist, who nevertheless reads and acts in accord with religious principles (not all of them congruent either). Certainly, I am also a reader and contemplator of philosophy, and I reject the necessity of religious experience and explanations, but this mode of exploration has its limitations, which are not less useful or valid because they are sometimes frustrating—or bleak.
And lastly, while I very much appreciate the vision and gifts of science, even more than philosophy it operates within a narrow scope of concerns and knowledge. Within the lifetime of our species, and certainly any of us individually, we may come to know many things from science, but we shall never know any deep and penetrating singular Truth of the cosmos. Human science cannot see that far, and it never shall. In fact, ironically, the longer we go, the less we will likely know, as the Cosmos expands increasingly out of our reach and knowledge.
Anyway, having now written an introduction longer than the explanation, here it is (from a June, 27, 2003 Usenet posting called "Thelema, Religion, and Dishonesty"):
Finding value in religions, in the ideas of them for example, while keeping a distance from faith in their claims about absolute things (such as the nature of God) is not so difficult really. But, at some point, as you would do at a movie, you must suspend your disbelief to get the most out of it.(jk)
In other words, accept what people say as if it were true. In that way, for example, you can read Crowley's writings, understand he's playing a complex psychological game by constantly dancing around the Thelemic Maypole of fiction, and yet still appreciate it when he says something interesting. And that doesn't require you to imagine yourself a "philosopher" instead of a believer. It just requires you to be an interested and attentive reader.
On the other hand, it's helpful to recall at some point that it's just an entertainment of the lights, not necessarily the truth. And when the facts don't fit, and the true believers throw one when you ask a simple question, just recall you're not employed by their mania (no matter how many little dolls they poke pins into).