Welcome to the Wholly Orders FAQ Page
Here you may find some answers to your questions about Wholly Orders. When it comes to the more profound issues, the kind not listed in any FAQ, stay tuned to the podcast, and we will explore them together.
Some (but not all) of the following material overlaps with material covered in the introductory episode of the podcast.
What is your name?
Where are you from?
Kansas. I’ve lived all over, but Kansas is the place where I grew up, and to which I always return. I live outside of Kansas City.
What does the view of the Western tradition look like from your neck of the woods?
When I was young, the “Western tradition” felt a bit distant. It seemed something walled off from the here and now. Kansas City has a fantastic art museum. I worked there as a student in the summer. I’d go there to commune with Rembrandt and Caravaggio, sometimes having an entire room to myself for several minutes. On the half an hour or so that it took to drive home, I’d try to hold the feeling.
I often wondered if there was anything left for us in Western thinking and philosophy. Like many other spiritually-minded people in my generation, I sought refuge in the Eastern traditions. I got into Zen and eventually moved to Japan. Yet my practice went from diligent but to disillusioned. I learned from experience the truth of the adage: wherever you go, there you are. The spiritual quest there felt like a failure back then. Maybe that’s just because I still wasn’t quite ready to accept what I had gained from it.
In Europe, I visited plenty of museums and cathedrals. They were great, of course, but the feeling of distance remained. My most profound states of reflection came in dialogue with friends on evenings on the Rhine, or walking around Florence. Western tradition lives in us, not in monuments or artifacts.
If one needs external ornamentation in order to feel a connection to a tradition, one is looking at tradition as a dead and static thing.
The wisdom tradition of the West is alive and well in those who engage it, wherever they are. We do this through contemplative thinking and dialogue.
Are you some type of authority on the Western tradition?
I bristle at the notion of being called or thought of as an authority. Even the language of social media bothers me. Yes, by all means, “follow” me on Twitter, but please, do not follow me.
Of course, I understand why people might want to know something about me, some credential(s). I have no problem answering those questions. Yet at the same time, when it comes to the search for wisdom, the emphasis should be on the search.
I am using the rich history of Western tradition much more in order to ask questions than to provide answers. Yes, I do see the irony in using an FAQ to make that point.
Looking into these topics could serve us well at this time, when there are so many problems in the Western world. It’s not out of a sense of authority that I am stepping forward. Rather, it comes from a feeling that it’s time for me to do my part.
To the extent that it may matter to some, I do have academic credentials as well. I have studied the Western tradition in some depth.
What are your academic credentials?
I have a Ph.D. in German literature. My dissertation was on Goethe’s Urfaust fragment. I also have two M.A. degrees. One is in philosophy, with an emphasis on phenomenology and existentialism. The other is in German literature, with a specialization in the late eighteenth century. I wrote a Master’s thesis on Herder. In addition to my studies in the US, I also spent a one year each abroad at two different German universities during (post-)graduate study.
Anyone interested in more detail, including links to some of my academic work, should check my profile on academia.edu.
What is your background in philosophy and contemplative thinking, etc?
I attended a Jesuit liberal arts college. In those days, one was required to take 12 hours of philosophy, regardless of major. By the end of my first course, I knew that this was important. I added philosophy as my second major after starting in political science. For this fateful decision I have the Jesuit tradition to thank!
After that, I pursued my first M.A. at another Jesuit university, also in philosophy. The program covered the history of philosophy extremely well. My main focus was Heidegger. Still, I wrote more about Aristotle and Aquinas on my exams than anyone else. My M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in German literature were outside of the Jesuit framework. In both cases, I was fortunate enough to work with directors who were supportive of me pursuing my philosophical interests.
As far as nondual thinking and mysticism goes, my interest started in my late teen years, when I read Alan Watts’ classic, The Way of Zen. Later I grew interested in Heidegger’s subtle engagement with Zen. This prompted me to move even more in that direction.
Eventually, I moved back to the Western contemplative tradition. In studying the towering intellectual figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Germany, there are a lot of mystical elements that enter the picture. They are also informed by the confessional debates of previous centuries. These writings were very much a part of the discussion for many of them, even if only privately and in literary parlors. But it really helps to know this material if one is to begin to understand the background of some other famous literary works.
But I am not merely interested in the contemplative tradition from an intellectual standpoint. After a metanoia experience some years ago, I began to read Meister Eckhart’s sermons, which really helped to bring my philosophical and contemplative interests into more of a spiritual practice.
What led you to create a podcast?
I realized that my internal goals were moving away from that which is the norm in institutional academia. Or maybe that the norm was moving away from me. Put diplomatically: my ‘norm’ is to pursue the life of the mind, not to mind the lives of others.
A lot of Gen Xers like myself grew up with a romantic notion of the university being a place, if not the primary place, where people are free to explore ideas. Saying something like that now is to date yourself instantly.
For me, ultimately, this decision was not about quitting my path, but about being able to continue it, unencumbered. I started looking for creative ways to express not just what I have learned, but also to maintain the exploration.
When talking with a very dear friend, I suddenly found myself blurting out the idea of doing a podcast. His reaction was one of encouragement. The idea quickly built enough inertia that I realized that I would later have regrets if I didn’t try it.
But why podcasts, specifically?
I’ve had a love of radio since I was a boy. By extension, I’ve been a big fan of podcasts since the inception of the medium. There’s something about this medium that is very special and different from other media. I think that it is the one-to-one contact between speaker and listener. If done right, it feels like a dialogue is taking place, and invites the listener to respond. There is a directness and frankness in podcasting that seems nearly impossible to experience in other media.
Who is your ideal audience?
Those who fit the old expression of having an open mind, but not so open that their brains are falling out.
Those who can encounter different viewpoints and ideas without becoming angry or offended. Ideologues are probably a bad fit.
Those who sense that something is wrong with the way in which the world is represented to us, or maybe better said, the way that we have learned to represent it to ourselves.
Those who find the presumption of continual progress vaguely Orwellian.
Those who can discuss both the sacred and science without feeling conflicted.
What is the goal of the podcast?
I’d like to examine the Western philosophical and spiritual tradition in a way that reflects my interests and background.
To this I bring academic rigor, while getting rid of the ideological content and consensus bias that one often finds in academic life. I try to discuss things in clear language to the extent possible.
Clarity is also important for another reason. I am often discussing nondual thinking, mysticism, etc., These topics often get woolly or saccharine treatment in non-academic forums. In the latter case I am speaking especially of the fuzzy language in the New Age.
I hesitate to even use some terms lest I be misunderstood, because of the popular connotations. If you are looking for pop philosophy, gurus or secret teachings, you won’t find anything like that here.
Are you an armchair philosopher, or have you actually experienced other cultures and explored philosophical ideas outside of the Western world? Examples?
Aside from my time in the ivory tower, I have been a bit of a wanderer, although a purposeful one. I’m the type of person who would rather visit another country for a year than to take a whirlwind tour of seven countries in two or three weeks, because I like to immerse myself in that culture and get to know it. I took some years off between the two M.A. degrees, in order to do just that sort of thing.
I lived in Japan for over three years. For many years before and after that I maintained at least a casual interest in Zen, with some serious za-zen practice from time to time. Dōgen’s writings have long been of interest to me, and from the contemporary period, I find Shunryū Suzuki’s work Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind to be quite profound, and vastly underappreciated in its elegantly simple presentation of the mystical path.
Which philosophers/thinkers/poets have most influenced you?
Heidegger was the largest single influence on my thought in my twenties. His vision of the Western philosophical tradition and of technology were and are of great importance to me. In large part my turn to poetry came from my reading of Heidegger.
Meister Eckhart himself is an important influence as well. I’ve turned back to him numerous times over the past 20-25 years. Especially during what I can best describe as a metanoia experience some years ago, to which I allude in the opening of the first season, and then explain in greater detail in the second season. For me there is no holistic thinking without a sacred dimension. Meister Eckhart helped me to reconnect to my Catholic upbringing.
Goethe is a great influence, and was the focus of my dissertation. His yoking together of poetry, philosophy, and science is something that I greatly admire. The influence of Goethe also led me to examine the work of more contemporary philosopher-scientists such as David Bohm and Henri Bortoft.
I have long had a strong interest in poetry and poetics. Herder’s poetics, for instance. I am also particularly interested in the poetic response to mechanistic science and the technological. This interest is really central to the first season of the podcast, as I explained in my talk at Harvard Divinity School in late 2018.
There are too many poets to list here, but I will mention a few. Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Novalis, Rilke from the German tradition. Blake, of course, and really all the English Romantics.
And then there are those who write about sacred tradition, which is really where my thinking is headed these days. I’m much more Catholic than Romantic, in fact.
I’m interested in many philosophers, poets, historians, and theologians in the Catholic tradition.
These days I am reading Catholic thinkers in many different fields and backgrounds, such as Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Christopher Dawson, Walker Percy, etc.
While my own traditionalism is more of the Catholic variety, as I make clear in season two, as opposed to perennialism, I’m also quite interested in the traditionalist approaches of Kathleen Raine and Philip Sherrard.
Along with Sherrard, there are other Orthodox thinkers in whose work I have an interest. Nikolai Berdyaev, for instance. And Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, of course.
Do you frequently reference specific philosophers/thinkers/poets in your podcast? Are you basing your podcast on specific works?
I would and will reference any of the above-mentioned, and many more. [See answer to previous question regarding influences.] My podcast is not based on specific works, necessarily.
Nor is it meant to be merely an exposition of any or all of these thinkers ideas or their collective bodies of work. It is a creative endeavor on my part, resulting from a variety of influences with my personal experience.
What kind of a podcast is this?
One thing that I would like to stress is that this podcast is a journey and not an end. It is definitely not meant as a series of lectures.
Also, given the broad use of the term ‘philosophy’ on the internet these days, I should also like to make something clear.
I mean philosophy in the classical sense — the love of wisdom. Not in the sense of anyone’s personal or life philosophy.
Where does the name “Wholly Orders” come from?
Of course, part of it is a play on the words ‘holy orders’ in the religious tradition, with an allusion as well to the type of holistic perspective that I am describing in this project. However, it’s also a nod toward David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order.
I’ve noticed that you place emphasis on the words “Western” and “Tradition.” Is this site about politics?
That might be hard for some people to swallow. These days almost anything that anyone says or does these days is judged politically. It’s appalling, really, and not a sign of a healthy society. There are people out there using terms like Western and Tradition in a very political manner. If you react to terms like Western or Tradition either in abject horror or chauvinistic pride, you’ve probably let some ideology get the better of you.
A holistic point of view must get beyond the limitations of ideology. Ideologies rely on gross reductionism and abstraction, forcing all experience and phenomena into pre-determined categories.
Ideologies tend to get more radical, sweeping and reductive as they try to iron out the wrinkles that they cannot explain. Narrowing one’s perspective might bring some comfort, but, I would suggest, causes more problems than it solves.
Please don’t mistake this as a “neutral” position regarding all ideologies. I could not be more opposed than I am to the ideological trends of academia, for instance. But my position is informed by something far greater than an ideology.
Why is creativity important, and how does it find expression in your life?
Creativity, and by extension, the imagination, is, for me, the highest faculty of the human being.
There is no reason that we should surrender this birthright, but we are pressured to do so in many ways. We are taught to see things in a certain way, and the imagination then recedes into the background. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” says Wordsworth. And then, two lines later, “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
The best argument for creativity is not really an argument. It is simply taking up the act of creating, and letting others see the fruit of that work.
At the moment I have to say that this project is my chief creative outlet. Building this platform, hoping to reach others interested in similar ideas, speaks to my soul. It’s a sort of my high-tech version of ‘message-in-a-bottle.’
Are you an artist or an observer only?
I would say both. There is an element of observation and commentary in what I am doing. Yet there’s also an attempt to step in during this chaotic time with something creative, constructive and centering.
You might say that this project marks my transition from being an academic observer toward becoming a public artist.
What do you mean when you say 'mindfulness'?
Contemplative thought in the sense of being attentive to your own attention.
It’s really about learning to observe, to the extent possible, without defaulting to the collective representations and understanding. Letting beings be, as opposed to making them correspond to ideas.
Also, I know that this term is also a buzzword for the New Age. I don’t mean that sort of navel-gazing line of ‘self-improvement.’ I mean the type of attentiveness and observation that one finds in poets like Goethe, philosophers like Heidegger, mystics like Meister Eckart, and scientists like Henri Bortoft and David Bohm.
What do you mean when you say 'holistic'?
Appreciating the big picture, in the sense of not mistaking the parts for the whole, not even the sum of the parts as the whole. Also, not understanding the whole as fundamentally separate from the parts, either, but as an implicit order within them.
I certainly don’t mean the sort of New Age catchall use of the term. “I’m one with everything” blah blah blah.
Think phenomenology and hermeneutics, not the ‘self-help’ or ‘personal growth’ nonsense out there.
There seems to be a shift in your presentation from Season One of the podcast (August 2017 - April 2018) to Season Two (March 2019 - present), namely, your emphasis on religion and your Catholic faith. Is there anything in particular that brought that about?
Many small things, really, but it all started with my intuition telling me toward the end of Season One that Philip Sherrard (who came from the perspective of the Greek Orthodox tradition) was absolutely correct in his assertion that wholeness presupposes the sacred.
In 2017 I didn’t set out to make a “Catholic” philosophy podcast, as I think is evident from the first season, when I took much more of a big tent approach to the philosophical issues involved in the discussion. Yet I did make subtle nods to the faith, and promoted the work of Meister Eckhart. Many Catholic listeners picked up on these things, and I was actually quite humbled by some of the responses that I had from listeners who appreciated those references.
Yet I also realized during my extended hiatus that my discussion of a poetic approach to wholeness, one that includes the sacred, owed much more to my Catholicism than I had realized. Acknowledging that is a matter of basic intellectual honesty. It is also a recognition of that which the Catholic tradition has to offer us in these troubled times, which many today (including Catholics) have forgotten, or worse, would rather ignore, deny, or even suppress.
That tradition is important not because it is “old,” but because, unlike the intellecual fads and ideologies of today, it connects us to the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, and to a dimension of faith, one that is sorely missing in the fragmented and flattened (post-)Enlightenment worldview of technocratic neoliberalism.
It also connects us to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in a way that calculative thought does not and cannot.
And as I do relate to the Catholic tradition in more than a detached, academic way, I would have no objections or qualms about anyone considering this to be a “Catholic” podcast, although I have no imprimatur, of course.
Yet many of those who have written me with quite deep understanding and appreciation of what I have been doing in the second season are not themselves Catholic.
And I must also emphasize that I remain, just as before in the first season, willing and interested in engaging in dialogue with people who are interested in the same things that I am, regardless of whether or not they are Catholic.
I’ve always operated with the assumption that people who listen to this program don’t want me to water anything down, or to cater to the trends or fashions of the times, or to hold back when it comes to talking about the truth of any matter.
I see Season Two as building upon Season One by delving more fully into the dimension of faith. I can see why those who do not have such faith might see this as narrowing things down, but in truth, it is more about liberation from the flattened form of thinking that has prevailed since the Enlightenment took its place in the Western mind and began trying to extirpate the sacred.
What (type of) traditions are you promoting?
That’s an excellent question.
My formal studies have either been in the Jesuit tradition of presenting philosophy in the context of intellectual history, or in the true tradition of Germanistik as it has classically been taught in Germany, in which one studies the history of the language and literature from its inception to the present.
We cannot put ourselves in the position of those in the past, but we gain wisdom from listening to their voices. There is no profit in condemning them and writing them off as irrelevant.
The past is prologue and helps us to understand our current perspective. The ideological extremists in our midst, who want to erase all tradition, are themselves part of a tradition. One with a poor track record. The same goes for some of the would-be “defenders” of tradition.
Ideologies, identity politics, etc., do not interest me. When it comes to these things, the Christian tradition calls for being in the world, but not of it.
I am promoting the Western contemplative tradition. This includes not merely contemplative thought in the sense of philosophhy, but also the sacred religious tradition, especially the Roman Catholic tradition.
I am also promoting the tradition of poetry, poetics, and the poetic canon.
With respect to some of the terminology that I use, I am also not at all prepared to cede words like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘holistic’ to the New Age gurus that abuse and distort them. These terms reflect essential aspects of the contemplative
As ridiculous and unlikely as it may seem, I’m going to paraphrase Bono here. In Rattle and Hum, he introduced ‘Helter Skelter’ as the song that a certain depraved individual “stole from the Beatles.” Then he said, “We’re stealing it back.” Well, that’s how I feel about terms like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘holistic.’ These are the terms that the pseudo-philosophers stole from the contemplative tradition, and we’re stealing them back.
What do you do when you're not reading and writing?
I enjoy cooking, meditation, and listening to obscure podcasts or old radio programs.
I am a friend to all dogs, and am blessed to have a rescue dog.
I tend to be a bit more DIY with each passing year.
Many have told me that my sense of humor runs slightly dark and very, very dry.