This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Remarks on unity and division

“We are members, one of another.” There is the truth of man in his relation to other men, and the lie of all individualistic anthropologies, social theories, and political philosophies. Man does not live iwth other men as a necessary evil. He is a social being and needs them in order to fulfill himself, because he cannot do it alone. They help him realize himself, because like him, every “other” is also an expression of the mind of God, and each “other” carries in his heart the same kernel of God’s presence, which we have called the Self, and Self is not separate from God but is identifiable with Him. The profound truth of this is, as the Scripture above suggests, that we are all parts of one another, because we are all members of one body.

Insofar as we set up divisions between ourselves and others, seeking to define ourselves by our differences rather than unifying ourselves through mutual concern and understanding–insofar as we define our relation to others by the barriers we erect between us–we tear the Body of Christ apart, rending “member” from “member,” flesh from flesh, until we have made of Him a bloodly sacrifice. We do this every day, perpetually.

Now you are in a position to understand the true doctrine of the Crucifixion, and the meaning of Christ’s historical crucifixion, which was the expression in time of this metaphysical truth. You are in a position to see that Christ’s historical Crucifixion was not the result of some legal process on account of a sin that happened at one point in time and committed by one man. His historical crucifixion was the manifestation at a specific time and place of the perpetual Crucifixion that happens at every moment of every day, acted out in man’s animosity toward man, toward his own self, toward the world, and through all these things, toward God. We rend God at every moment.

Follow this logic: To become real, to truly become a ‘person,’ we must know the Self and the Self must live through us. This Self is also present in others, and if we know it and love it truly we will know it and love it in others as much as ourselves, and we will see that insofar as we are ‘real,’ we are one body even if we persist in life in separate physical bodies. From this we can see that the man who lives in division, we see others only in their separateness, does not know the Self, and has therefore not discovered his own identity. He is not real. The man who defines himself in terms of his separateness is not a ‘person,’ he is just an individual, and any self he thinks he has is not real.

The great danger of trying to become real by distinguishing ourselves from others is that we cannot in this view ‘live and let live,’ however much individualism might pay lip-service to that notion. I must distinguish myself from my neighbor. This can be accomplished by adding things to myself, but it can also be done taking things from my neighbor. I can increase, or my neighbor can decrease, and both enable me to accomplish what I crave, which is distinction plain and simple. Since it is very often easier to diminish others than it is to improve ourselves, we will be driven to seize every chance we get to diminish others. We must, lest we lose our reality. To become real in this way of living, we must hate other men. We can never love them.

Do not spend your life admiring the distance between you and someone else, especially if this involves looking down on them. Remember the words of the Pharisee at prayer: “I am not like other men.” Defining one’s goodness, one’s self, in this way, is to live in death.

In Christianity, there are few heroes more respected than the martyrs of old. Thus, in Christianity, pride often takes the form of a believer who insists on being a martyr.

Due to the emphasis and honor placed on martyrdom, and a kind of romanticizing of the Christian life as a constant experience of persecution by “the world,” a Christian population that has grown tired of loving those “on the outside” will fall into the grips of a martyr-complex. It will insist on seeing itself as a persecuted minority, not because it is necessarily being persecuted, but because people everywhere have become tiresome. It will embrace the martyr-complex because this reinforces its pride and justifies its social impotence. Such a Christianity does tend to be despised by the world, but it is despised because of its arrogant and condescending attitude toward all of the ‘unsaved,’ and not for its Christ-likeness, which has by that time largely disappeared.

Regarding the human conception of holiness, and the judgement of other men, it is good to keep in mind that Christ was put to death because he did not measure up to man’s idea of God’s holiness. When you are looking out at the world and wondering how men can be so profane, so blind in comparison with yourself, remember that Christ too sounded profane to the learned of his time. I point this out not because I think you should entertain some kind of false humility wherein you pretend that profane men are not profane, and ignorant men not ignorant, but mostly so that you will keep in the back of your mind a warning: we tend to insult that which is alien to us, and when Christ presents Himself to me in the form of my ugly obnoxious neighbor, he will certainly appear alien. I need not pretend that my neighbor is not ugly or obnoxious, but I do need to remember that he too carries Christ in his breast, even if that presence is not manifest in his words or actions, and even if he is completely blind to it. This should help shield you from a certain degree of pride regarding your own holiness.

If our identity and real truth of our being is to be found in union rather than separation, what of solitude? Is solitude not permissible or healthy? The answer is that solitude is not only permissible but is essential when it comes to the realization of the Self and contact with the Absolute, but that it does not accomplish this by itself. Solitude is not an end, but a means. It allows us to gather our powers in silence and unravel psychic knots so that we may return to the world and the people within it with renewed life.

We are windows through which the light of God shines into the world. Solitude is the time spent cleansing and repairing the window so that it might permit the most possible light to pass through. Solitude is never the closing of the shutters.

One of the primary dangers of solitude is that it exposes us to spiritual enemies in a way that cannot happen when we are in intimate contact with others. In other words, in solitude we allow ourselves to be immersed in the unknown, and while that is necessary in order to encounter God, it also permits temptations and harassments from below.

Intimate contact with other people can act as a cure for demonic harassment. Brotherly love is a kind of exorcism. He who seeks solitude because he is unhappy will often become completely miserable in solitude. He who chooses to be alone because he cannot stand to be in the presence of other men will flee into the wilderness where only his demons will dwell with him, and he will be at their mercy.

Solitude permits us to draw ourselves together, to have a center, and to become a unity in ourselves, in the image of the One God, who is Unity Itself. And only by becoming whole do we build the strength to face the world and to bring unity into it through us. We begin with inner work but we manifest it outwardly. Solitude empowers us for this.

Another danger of solitude: the tendency of the ego, voice of the false self, to carry on a never-ending dialogue with itself. It will enter into speeches, diatribes, fantasies, and slanders, and you will find that there is no end to its fuming if you do not check it. Never confuse this with meditation, much less prayer. It is rather a preview of hell.

Never idolize solitude, and never seek it for itself, because it pleases you. Much like worldly power, it should not be given to those who demonstrate a craving for it. If you find yourself craving solitude constantly, and despising people merely for getting in the way of this craving, then you had better be careful.

I do not write all of these warnings because solitude is an evil. Remember, I’ve said that it is necessary for any kind of progress. Just keep in mind that very few men in the history of the world have been called to solitude as a vocation. Are you one of them? Perhaps, but it is very unlikely. And if you are not one of them, then you must know that you not only benefit from the presence of others in your life, but you need them to maintain a balance between your inner and outer worlds. However appealing it may seem to isolate yourself from others, unless you are the exception (and in the Dark Age there are few exceptions), then one of the most valuable aids to spiritual development that you will ever obtain is a spouse. Like a handrail on a decaying staircase, they will time and time again keep you from falling, and with their stabilizing influence you will climb higher than you ever could by yourself alone.

Now that I’ve warned against the toxic yearning for solitude that drives us to escape from society, I should warn against the opposite danger: the desire to plunge into the crowd to escape oneself. When you find yourself constantly driven to ‘socialize’ and are uncomfortable anytime you are alone with yourself for any period of time, you ought to take care to find out what it is that bothers you. It is in these moments, remember, that you are given the opportunity to see yourself for what you really are. Many cannot tolerate such a prospect, since they despise themselves on some level, so that anytime they feel such a vision about to occur, they get up and run to the nearest crowd. In that crowd they are able to ‘lose themselves’: they are hiding from their true self by running into the herd, where their shadow self can pretend to be real and where its reality will not be called into question. And since the crowd does not call into question the reality of our false selves, neither do we.

The impulse to plunge into the crowd is evidence not only of a fear of our true identity–it can also be evidence of a fear of other people. It is possible to escape from people by drowning yourself among them. Think of those people you know who are ‘social butterflies’ and who seem to have a real desire for human contact, but then you try to have a real, meaningful conversation with them and they are repelled by you. They do not really crave intimate human contact, and in fact they cannot stand it. They love the crowd because the crowd permits of only a passing familiarity between its members. Real conversation, real intimate relations, are not possible within the crowd. We might meet someone in the crowd, but to really know them and to encounter them as they truly are, we must go somewhere more quiet. We must step away from the hustle and bustle and noise and open ourselves to them alone. If you are often driven into the crowd, and if you tell yourself this is because you love people, you should reflect on how many of those people you actually know on an intimate level, and how many you permit to know you in that way.

There is contemplation of the Self, and there is self-contemplation. The first is the goal of contemplation, and is a precursor to the vision of God known as beatitude, and it is at the same time the fulfillment of the age-old adage to ‘know thyself.’ The second, self-contemplation, is a narcissistic fixation on the ego and an inability to silence the workings of conscious mind: the rational faculty, its emotionally driven ravings, its fears. To enter into the dialogue is the death of contemplation. It is circular, driving us back against the rocks of our own impotence and frailty until we learn to despise self-reflection because of how it torments us.

If you feel the need for solitude, do not deny it, but do not let it go untested. Just because the impulse is authentic does not mean that you will act on that impulse in a healthy or appropriate way. You might begin with a very sincere need for solitude, kindled in you through the awakening of the Self, and that is the beckoning hand of God which you should never refuse. But if this is the case, you will not be asked to alienate your wife or children, or neglect your worldly vocation, or grow in resentment at your obligations, just to find that solitude. In other words, be careful how you seek your solitude, that you do not turn something good into something ugly.

Plunge into solitude so that you can find men in God; plunge yourself into the world so that you can find God in your fellow men. He is to be found in both places, and to seek Him exclusively in one or the other direction will cause you to lose all perspective.

If you asked me which was more dangerous: the solitude of the person in the anonymous crowd, or the solitude of the person in the wilderness, the answer is difficult. The man in the crowd is responsible for everything that happens to him inside and out, with no one to help him. He is almost certain to fail. But the man who joins the anonymous crowd, he is responsible for nothing at all, including his own identity. He cannot therefore fail, but he also ceases to be a person, because one of the essential elements of personhood is responsibility.

A man who lives alone is not necessarily isolated; a man who lives with others does not necessarily communicate with them.

To have communion with those around us, we must have some way of communicating with them. Modern mass society has gone very far in the obliteration of communication, setting up for itself a whole host of counterfeits. The internet, the television, the radio, the bombardment of the sense with messaging we cannot recognize and cannot guard against…all of these things manipulate thought and condition the mind to work in terms of pre-packaged responses to familiar ideas. No one speaks to one another–they only regurgitate cliches. This is easy enough to see in any ‘political debate,’ whether on the White House lawn. There is no thought, there is only the repetition of slogans. Only the man who is real, who has found his identity outside the mass, can offer anything that is truly his own to the world; everyone else can only return what they have been given and repeat when has been impressed upon them. Man is not necessarily a ‘product of his environment,’ but this is what the mass-man becomes.

Perhaps the worst kind of solitude you will ever experience occurs when you realize for the first time that you cannot communicate anything meaningful to the people around you. You can speak to them, but if you want to be understood you must stick to the talking points they saw on the morning news, or the weather, or the latest reality television show. Should you actual bring up something for which they are not conditioned, you will receive a blank stare, a confused dismissal, or ridicule.

He who has a self is a person; he who only has a false self is an individual; he who has no self whatsoever because he has surrendered it to the crowd is not even an individual, but an atom. The most obvious example of such a person is the politician who will do quite literally whatever the people or his donors ask of him, but the politician is only the most widely recognized specimen of a type of creature who is far more common than you think.

Solitude is interior, and that is why it is possible for it to occur, or not to occur, both in a crowded room or on a mountaintop.

You will have gifts that others do not, and if these gifts happen to be intellectual or moral, it will be tempting to see in them a kind of separation between yourself and others who are weaker of mind and character. But God does not grant you these things for you to enjoy alone. Are you not ‘members one of another’? One is strengthened in the service of the rest, for the sake of love. You are the door through which God enters and ministers to others, and this takes the form of your talents. Of course, we must acknowledge the fact that others might reject you, and will not allow you to use your gifts. This is very much the case for all wise men in all of history–they received perhaps the highest gift of all, and they are usually rejected when they try to use it for the benefit of others.

Moral uprightness is necessary, but I would recommend that you not make too much of it. Certainly don’t take it as seriously as contemporary Christianity would advise. This is because we live in disordered times, and as a basic doctrinal principle, it is harder to be upright in this age than in previous ages, and the problem is that moralists are always using an abstract standard to condemn and excuse, and they have no idea how to account for the general decadence. Muhammad said it truly: in the beginning, a man who neglects a tenth of the law will be condemned; near the end, a man who accomplishes a tenth of the law will be saved. Such is the traditional view of things near the end.

If you focus too much on morality, making the terrible mistake of seeing it as the end-all-be-all of the spiritual life, you will fall inevitably into two evils. First, since you are not perfect, you will be too hard on yourself for your failings; second, you will compare yourself to others and you will have to find all sorts of sin in them in order to assure yourself that you are better than that. By holding morality at the apex of your religious life, you will tremble at the fact that you are not much better than everybody else. You will hate yourself and others, all on account of a set rules that, although extremely important, are not the ‘one thing necessary,’ which is the love of God.

Do not be virtuous for the sake of virtue, because then you will become fixated on your own virtue and you will fall into self-admiration. And that is called pride, and you will discover that you have been virtuous for the sake of a vice. If you wish to practice virtue, it had better be as a means to the realization of God in yourself. That is why I will insist again that morality and the pursuit of virtue are always of secondary importance–means to an end that is found elsewhere.

If you only think of yourself in terms of the sensational things you plan to do with your life, or in terms of your holiness, such that you cannot conceive of yourself without either a king’s crown or a saint’s halo, you will miss the vast majority of opportunities that God places before you, since they generally require you to recognize your mortality more than you immortality, your humanity more than your divinity, and your mediocrity over your excellence.

You can never possess God until God overwhelms you and possesses you, and only at that point does the “you” that God had in mind come into being. This is why it is said that you must die before you can live.

When God’s love flows through me into the world, you receive it from a direction that it would not otherwise have come. No one else could have provided this but me. When God’s love flows through you also, then the presence of God’s love in the world is doubled, and the world becomes a better place, and so on with every heart that becomes a conduit for the Absolute.

We are called to grow in unity “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” We are one body, and it is the body of Christ. In our hatred, we sacrifice that body, and in man’s atrocities toward other men, God permits Himself to be murdered. This is the meaning of the eternal Crucifixion, of which the historical crucifixion was only a reflection in time.

Remember that even the saints grated on their companions, and we can be certain that saints grated on each other. Thus, even the most holy among us and the most refined have not been refined enough to do away with that ‘separateness’ of fallen man.

You will always feel division between you and others. Small reprieves may come, but by and large, sooner or later, you will feel the agonizing loneliness that reminds you that you are separate from them by a chasm and cannot be bridged in this life. Every living person experiences this, and in response to this pain, every living person has two options: they can love or they can hate. Choose.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that those who show love are loving because they don’t feel the separation that you feel. They feel it. It is part of the human condition to feel it. But they have made the decision to meet pain and loneliness with love and not hate.

The discord between my neighbor and I is like a broken bone in Christ’s mystical body. Hatred is the fearful avoidance of the pain that comes with resetting that broken bone into its proper place. Hatred fights tooth and nail to avoid reunion. It is terrified at the prospect, and will come up with any number of rationalizations as to why reunion cannot occur.

Those who feel the agony of loneliness, and hatred is a type of anger that is a response to loneliness. Some take this hatred and aim it at themselves, and punish themselves. Some punish others. Those who punish others tend to create for themselves a blood-drinking God, and in the name of this God wars are waged, the poor are trodden underfoot, and the weak are everywhere abused. The weak are the chosen targets of this kind of hatred because at root it is fueld by the hatred of one’s own weakness and unworthiness. The more readily a person or group or party wages war on the weak or the ‘unworthy,’ the more we can be certain that they are fighting to escape the knowledge of their own inner ugliness.

Some people hate their own inner ugliness, and they think they can make themselves beautiful by attacking the ugliness of the world, and the result is that they become uglier and they make the world uglier. Hate is not only murderous, it is also suicidal.

In remedy to hate, in summary of all Christian doctrine, in summary of everything I’ve said thus far, you need only remember this: ‘I in them, and Thou, Father, in Me, that they may be made perfect in One…And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.’

A silent environment, physical isolation, the desire to compose oneself in this context and reflect: all of these are, I must emphasize, good things and not only good but necessary for realization of the Self. However, they are a means to that end only and all that it implies. If you seek these things for themselves or for any other end, then you will end up abusing them and there will be no profit in in.

I suggest, as a safeguard against toxic solitude and a support to true solitude, that you avoid a ‘lifestyle of solitude’ at all time, but at the same time ensure that you have some place, or several, that can provide physical solitude in some degree. This can be a room or a corner or a place near your home, so that when you delve into your inner work, you can “enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret.”

I do not recommend using churches as places of solitude, even if you find yourself led to attend one regularly. I mean this especially when it comes to ‘contemporary’ churches. In them there is nothing that has not been overcome by modern tendencies, and the environment created there is contrary to inner work. They are not plain, and so they cannot induce the sense of inner poverty that is needed; they are designed around the idea of worship as a kind of entertainment, and those grounds they tend to ‘stimulate’ the senses rather than quiet them. Not every church fits this description, of course, but most do, and you should be aware of this.

Should you enter a church and see a television, know that you are not in a church.

One final warning about solitude. Never allow yourself to adopt a habit of solitude simply because ‘you like to be alone.’ To adopt this mentality is to open a doorway to Hell.

That is all I have to say about solitude, and it is probably more than what needed to be said. The reason for that is probably that I myself tend toward solitude and have gotten it wrong in every imaginable way, and I would not have you follow my example if at all possible.

Detachment has much to do with the capacity for solitude. A man who is ‘attached’ to things must take them with them everywhere he goes. Not always physically, of course, but within himself. They possess a part of his mind, and he carries them through his desire for them and they demand his attention. How can someone with unwholesome or excessive attachments ever have solitude when so many things–even things so small as a cell phone–cannot be set aside for a few moments without nagging at his awareness? Thus, we again discover that the traditional preaching against attachment to ‘things’ is not because those things are somehow evil, but to make us aware that our desire for them so easily becomes unhealthy, and we use these things to build barriers between ourselves and inner freedom.

What was said above regarding things is equally true regarding one’s appetites. A person who cannot say no, or refuses to say no, to his hunger or his tastes or his lust or any other passion is someone who is not free. Hence the emphasis on the discipline of the body and the appetites, which seems so overbearing and insane to the modern world, which prefers that everyone gratify every craving immediately and without a moment’s thought.

As a general principle, no inner work is possible without some form of ascetic practice.

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