Friday, 29 April 2016

What if The Lord of the Rings really *had* been an allegory of World War II?

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/what-if-lord-of-rings-really-had-been.html

Insanity is not subtle - if you need to explain it, there is no point in explaining it

I spent a year in the 1980s working as a psychiatrist participating in the admissions rota where I would cover all the medical work necessary in a large hospital overnight or at weekends.

Quite a few of the patients were brought in by the police, by ordinary police officers - who had been called to some incident and recognized that the person involved was 'mad not bad', and so brought them in for psychiatric evaluation instead of putting them into the cells.

The police were never wrong, in my experience. The people they brought in were always crazy - it was just a matter of sorting out what kind of crazy. In other words, an ordinary policeman was able to tell when somebody was insane - it was a matter of common sense (plus relevant experience).

But now? Craziness is built-in, high status, a marker of 'goodness' - increasingly compulsory.

It is hopeless to try and explain why crazy things are crazy - if they really are crazy, then everyone knows. But apparently everyone does not know - there is a bland acceptance of the insanities of political correctness which means that we are in the position of trying to explain, argue, prove that something obviously crazy really is insane...

Of course, this is characteristic of dealing with insane people - they have no insight. That is the nature of insanity - akin to nightmares in which we accept whatever extreme craziness and illogic the dream brings, after a the merest brief twinge of puzzlement. 

Indeed, such is the extremity of the situation, that the insane people label normality as crazy. And here is a clue....

The situation has arisen and continues because in the modern West normal people are impaired. They are indeed so impaired that they cannot do what every policeman used to be able to do - which is to recognize crazy.

What is the cause of modern impairment? Well, I have argued two main causes on this blog: genetic damage - population wide mutation accumulation over the past several generations (i.e. the posts labelled 'mouse utopia'). That means that nearly everybody is ill, and lacks spontaneous instincts which used to be taken for granted. People accept insanity because they are too sick to notice or be bothered.

On top of this is secularism: the atheist assumptions of all significant public discourse in the West: the assumption that there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, no supersensible realm - no transcendental purpose, no objective universal meaning to life... and the rest of it.

The developed world is itself insane because it has deleted religion; and Man without religion is insane.

Religion (of some kind) is natural, spontaneous, built-in. All societies everywhere have always been religious (a tiny minority of atheists make no difference) - life without religion is new, uncharted territory for humans. But now a whole public world and discourse of religious understandings, interpretations, explanations - religiously framed laws - religious reasons for significant actions of the state and of individuals etc... utterly gone.

The insanity of Man without religion was not immediately obvious, because the generations overlapped, and for many decades people were brought-up on a religious basis, and only abandoned religion in adulthood. But there was a tipping point evident in the mid-1960s, and now for fifty years (two generations) the West has been ever-more-completely functionally atheist (especially considering that most mainstream self-identified Christians have such a feeble faith that it makes zero observable difference in any way; not even to the litmus test issues of sexuality).

My overall impression is that although Modern Man is genetically impaired such that his instincts are weakened and deranged; even this is not sufficient to make him lose his basic orientation and discernment when religion is strong.

A strong religious society is, substantially, antidote to the behavioural impairments of mouse utopia.

This can be seen in the most profound marker of modern decline: the sub-replacement fertility universal in the entire developed world (less than two children per average women, usually much less when new immigrants are excluded) - this is (obviously!) a short path to irreversible decline and extinction.

Yet serious religion is indeed an effective antidote to sub-fertility - even among the very craziest sub-populations (i.e. the intellectual elites).

So - when confronted by the normal everyday experience of trying to explain to insane people why something insane really is insane... take a step back. Remember that it is the basic metaphysical framework which is wrong - it is the deletion of religion from life which is crucial.

Man must have religion and there is no arguing with 'must'.

Legitimate and constructive discussion is merely concerned with the choice of which religion.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The innocent are full of bitterness and resentment, while the worst are full of passionate intensity

There have been situations when I was attacked in the past, where I felt the attack was without justice, that I had been harmed and that I was blameless. But perhaps precisely because of my innocence, my response was self-righteous and proud. I egotistically 'took on' the opposition, and became increasingly angry and vengeful.

The question of whether such a response is 'effective' in the real world then becomes irrelevant - because one has been corrupted.

I have experienced this in myself - and I have seen it in others - many others over the years. When somebody has been genuinely wronged and they are genuinely innocent, it is a special hazard - or so it seems to me. Such people may destroy their own lives in bitterness and resentment; and are very resistant to repentance because they feel themselves so much 'in the right' and therefore regard any attempt to help them 'move on' as taking sides against them.

This is an absolute tragedy, a waste of a mortal life, when a person will not let go of his or her grievances (against a parent, spouse, nation, race, bigot or whatever). Whether or not the grievances are 'legitimate' this strikes me as one of the commonest and deepest sins among older people - even without encouragement - but of course this is a sin which is encouraged by our culture of resentment and victim groups.


Note: As CS Lewis also said somewhere, on the other side of the coin: it is a grievous thing when one's own selfish, spiteful or simply careless actions have led to this sin in others - and may well have happened without one's knowledge.

1987 memoir of Durham University, a book club, and my first contact with Charles Williams

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-initial-appeal-of-charles-williams.html

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

General Intelligence is a Goethian Archetypal Phenomenon - a draft paper

http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/general-intelligence-is-archetypal.html

We are worse-off than mouse utopia - because of evil leaders

Reader may recall the Mouse Utopia experiment as interpreted by Michael Woodley and myself in terms of mutation accumulation, and my crude attempt to apply this to modern Britain:
http://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/if-humans-are-recapitulating-mouse.html

It seems ever more obvious that the mass of people in the West are behaving in ways consistent with significant genetic damage - that shows itself in terms of social and sexual maladaptation, and a kind of 'indifference' to survival trending over into self-destructive (extinction-seeking) attitudes.

The idea is a group-selectional concept (which I got from the great evolutionary theorist WD Hamilton - in the second, 2001, volume of his collected papers Narrow Roads to Gene Land) that when an animal is carrying a significant mutational load, it will cease to struggle to survive and may even allow itself to die (or seek death) because its own elimination will tend to benefit the rest of the group (e.g. by dying it will cease to consume resources, leaving more for the 'fitter' members of the species; furthermore, and more importantly, it will eliminate the mutated genes from the gene pool - this was plausibly seen in the Mouse Utopia experiment with the increasing prevalence of non-reproductive sex and solitary behaviour among the males).

But this 'self-sacrifice' for the good of the species is only useful when the 'mutated' individuals are relatively rare, and the rest of the group have 'good genes' and are low in mutations. The thesis of Mouse Utopia is that the whole population of post-Industrial Revolution countries have suffered mutation accumulation (mostly due to the near elimination of intrauterine and childhood mortality which used to run at more than half of conceptions) for periods that vary between maybe seven to ten generations - going back into the 1700s in England for the upper classes to a few generations less for the lower classes (because there was a lag before the lower classes benefitted from the decline in mortality rates).

However, when the mutated individuals make up the majority, or indeed the entire population, then this indifferent, passive, extinction-accepting/ seeking attitude becomes near-universal - as we see today.

Clearly the parallels between mice and men cannot be assumed! - nonetheless, this may not favour men. Things are worse in modern Britain (and the West generally) than in the Mouse Utopia experiment in at least three respects:

1. The mice were cleaned and provisioned by the lab workers, so did not have to care for themselves;

2. The mice were protected from predators and colonizers - which they would have certainly been unwilling to resist;

3. The experimenters were benign and did not take advantage of the situation.

But in The West, including Britain, we do not have these advantages - we have to provision ourselves, we are unprotected from predators  and colonizers and our ruling elites have an aggressive attitude that aims to encourage extinction and to seek and suppress any remaining adaptive and self-preserving behaviours.

So while Mouse Utopia did not reach extinction for several mouse generations even after reproduction ended altogether, because the last of the sheltered and pampered mice lived long (and passive!) lives - the timescale to elimination, in terms of human generations, would presumably be much shorter for the modern West.

It might be assumed that men had an advantage over mice in being able to understand what is going on, and do something about it - however, in practice, this is not the case; and it seems we will stumble to our demise just as ignorant of its causes as if we were mice.


Added clarification: Our ruling elites are not evil due to being genetically damaged by mutation accummulation - that does not make people evil, but merely diseased, biologically un-fit; instead our leadership class are (on the whole) evil because they have chosen to serve evil - in other words, chosen purposively to destroy that which is good.

(Note: Acknowledgment is due to Michael Woodley for ideas included above which he described and we developed in conversation yesterday.)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The modern desperate need for utopia (and Heaven)

It strikes me that one great appeal of the best (from my perspective the best!) fantasy novels, is their depiction of utopia in the sense of not an ideal but a 'good' society - and that this is a thing which is otherwise almost wholly lacking in modern culture.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has an unmatched range of good, believable and powerful appealing societies: The Shire, Tom Bombadil's little world, Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Rohan, Minas Tirith - take your pick!

Lesser fantasy fails to provide any such vision of the good life (and is praised by mainstream literary critics for this lack - which they assert, from their nihilistic and purposively-destructive roots, makes it 'dark', 'edgy', 'realistic' and 'subversive' - the ultimate accolade of those who are ultimately motivated by despair and hatred) - and therefore cannot provide what we so desperately need.

Because utopia is a selective microcosm of Heaven, and Heaven is necessary for Hope - and Hope is a necessity for the good life.

What I would love to see is believable and realistic descriptions, creative depictions and speculative discussions on the subject of Heaven; and perhaps fantasy is the best vehicle for this at present.

Heaven has become (and not merely by accident - but also by purpose) unimaginable to modern man. Thus Heaven has become ineffectual: it must therefore be made imaginable, we need actively to imagine Heaven, and to engage with this imagination.

The Inklings and writers' groups - a review of Glyer's 'Bandersnatch'

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/review-of-bandersnatch-by-diana-pavlac.html

Monday, 25 April 2016

A critique of Rudolf Steiner's early work on Goethe's philosophical perspective

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-incompleteness-of-argument-in.html

The cosmic, objective Christ (a thought experiment)

Imagine that we knew nothing about Christ - that his life had been obscure, that there had been no gospels, that all evidence and memory of him had been lost.

Would the existence of Jesus then have any value?

Yes - because the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was of objective, cosmic significance - even if nobody alive knew anything about it!

In other words, Christ achieved at least two things which have permanent and universal value even if we know nothing about them: he took away the sins of the world; and he made it so that when every person dies he or she will be resurrected.

Those who knew or currently know nothing of Christ during mortal life, will be made aware of these true facts after their death; and will face a decision and judgment about whether they accept Christ's offer of salvation.

This is simply a fact of reality, independent of human knowledge, belief or experience. This is the cosmic, objective significance of Christ.*



*There is, of course, a lot more to Christ than this! But this much is given.  

The modern impossibility of politics for Christians

When I first became a Christian, some seven to eight years ago, my first instinct was to look for a 'reactionary' politics that was strong enough to defeat the long tide in favour of secular Left progressive radical destruction in The West.

But that was grossly to underestimate the extent to which Christianity has been defeated. It took me some time to recognize that politics has long since become impossible for Christians - because politics requires some grouping of people that can wield power - and there is no such group of any significant size and strength (and no possibility of an alliance).

Some Christians in the public arena, including blogs, are forever addressing a totally imaginary audience of like-minded persons - trying to stir them to effective resistance and positive action. There is no such audience.

The fact is that the Left has already won in the secular public arena (and the public arena is wholly secular in its baseline assumptions)  - Christianity is on the ropes, and continuing their job is easy because it is easy to destroy, and very difficult to build.

A single person, one saboteur, can therefore inflict immense damage - especially when he or she is a head of state, chief executive of a major corporation, wealthy, a senior judge, prestigious media figure professor or the like... and there are many, many such persons at work and active. The Left is organized in its work - especially at the highest levels - but it hardly needs to be organized

The mass media is overwhelmingly dominant in people's lives; and is overwhelmingly anti-Christian and anti-Good in its content - more importantly the form of the mass media is anti-Christian, anti-religious, anti-Good.

In such circumstances Christians need to be far more realistic and honest than they are. Even suppose that - by some ludicrously unlikely series of coincidences - a Christian leader and government found themselves in charge of a Western nation, they could not do anything significant to reverse the trend towards destruction of the good because the Western populations are so widely, deeply, thoroughly corrupted: the mass majority do not want to be 'saved' and will exert themselves (in so far as they exert themselves over anything) to continue along the path to physical and spiritual destruction.

Having made a plain, simple and realistic appraisal of the actually existing situation; it is very clear that the active Christian must be active in the religious sphere and not in the political sphere (it is no coincidence that the pseudo-Christian majority of anti-Christian subversives who dominate the mainstream Churches are so keen on political 'engagement').

The serious Christian nowadays must be working to sustain the faith, to spread the faith (evangelism) and to deepen his own faith and that of others - as best he may and confident in the activities of imperceptible influences - and that is where his main energies need to be directed.

Time and effort expended on politics is time invested in aiding the enemy.  

**

Further reading:
http://thoughtprison-pc.blogspot.co.uk
http://addictedtodistraction.blogspot.co.uk

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Durham University Ramblers - a great conversation group

Probably the most enjoyable and most worthwhile regular group of which I have been a member was the Rambler Club in the School of English at Durham University, late 1980s.

The name came from the fact that the group was focused on reading one essay per week from the 208 essays by Samuel Johnson published as a periodical called The Rambler from 1750-52. I was lucky enough to be asked to join for the last 20 or so weeks, completing the sequence - I infer the group had previously been meeting for at least seven years (since the group met only during term time, which lasted 27 weeks but some weeks would be missed to due exams). After finishing Johnson's Rambler, I believe they moved on to the Adventurer and Idler essay sequences. 

There were four 'core' members (which seems common for many lasting groups) of common interest. The 'Chair' was Derek T, whose characteristics were a nimbleness of wit, fertility of ideas, and a crisp phraseology - he tended to talk the most and shape the debate. The second most frequent speaker was David C - who was the most open-hearted and emotional speaker - he would also tend to give the conversation a dark and pessimistic turn. David F spoke only when he had something considered to say - with some diffidence, but always respectfully listened-to because his statements had a background of deep thought. Tom C was the oldest and most distinguished member, he beamed upon proceedings with a benign air - and he was turned-to to settle disagreements of fact, or he would chip-in with a 'crowning' verbatim quotation from a memory exceptionally well-stocked with the classics; especially Shakespeare (upon whom he was a great authority).

The structure of each meeting was quite simple. The timing was about an hour, people arrived carrying a packed-lunch, either having read the essay already - or, if not, then being given a photocopy to read while others arrived. Then the conversation would be kicked-off by Derek, who would usually take charge of moving it on or redirecting it as necessary.

The Rambler essays were essentially a stimulus to conversation, and the conversation was 'moral' in theme - typically beginning with whatever moral point the essay had emphasised, but evolving unpredictably according to the mind of the group and their interactions.

And the conversations were superb - due to the quality of the participants - especially the informal chairmanship of Derek T, and the necessary degree of structure. Behind the formal structure - and, I think vital to the success for the group - was a common purpose or philosophy; which was 'anti-critical'. These were hard-working and experienced teachers of English in one of England's premier universities who yet were very sceptical of the validity and value of mainstream 'literary criticism'; and were seeking a more personal, heart-felt and spontaneous way of discussing literature. By my estimation, they achieved it. 

I have attended and tried to form many small conversation groups, sporadically over the years - and they are in my experience, seldom at a high level and always very difficult to sustain - so I feel privileged to have participated in one of the shining exceptions; albeit briefly.   


Friday, 22 April 2016

The Inklings and the evolution of consciousness

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/if-barfield-is-accepted-as-inklings.html


Plus - at last! - an Inklings Group Portrait! (Not by me.)

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/the-inklings-in-group-portrait.html

God and sexual morality

Some people - most modern people, apparently - say that find it hard to believe that God - or, at least, the Christian God of Love - would exclude certain sexual behaviours, acts and identifications: would regard them as sins.

This labelling of sin seems to them arbitrary and unbalanced... it can indeed be made to sound ridiculous, to the point that through the twentieth century official public sexual morality was first - but only very briefly - made 'free', then now it has been inverted, with the 'normal', natural and traditionally Christian sex and sexuality becoming the problem; precisely because Christianity regards some acts and attitudes as sins... 

Of course, this whole matter hinges on the reality and nature of sin; and public discourse has long since regarded sin as unreal (arbitrary, artificially defined and open-endedly subject to re-definition) and has degraded the concept of sin to the point of ridiculousness - or indeed evil. The major modern moral inversion is that those who believe in the reality of sin are regarded as the ones who are evil.

Those who advocate what used to be (not long ago) regarded as sexual sin are nowadays treated as the virtuous ones and rewarded with praise and status (and material goods!) both by official culture and the mass media - they apparently 'solve' the problem of sin by dissolving the concept of sin and making it a matter of personal preference and freedom and the sacred pursuit of happiness. So long as the consequences of some behaiour can be portrayed (in official and media sources) as potentially happy, self-respecting, and kind - then that is taken to be the proof of rightness.

(And any contradictory evidence of consequent misery, suffering, despair following sin... is blamed upon those who 'label' the behaviour as sin. Essentially, this is Catch 22 in reverse!) 

At any rate, in a world of establishment and counter-cultural moral inversion - to focus on the sin of acts and behaviours has become counter-productive - even when true. I think the key to a response is regarding morality positively, as what God most wants us to do.

*

This differs among Christian churches - which is a source of weakness that has been exploited - but for the CJCLDS it is clear from multiple revelations and the teaching of living prophets that God most wants us to marry (I mean really marry, with a person of the opposite sex), stay married, have children, and live in loving families.

For Mormon believers, the primacy of marriage and family is not some bit of moral teaching 'parachuted' in from above, but something built-in from the ground upwards; from the basic metaphysical understanding of reality: the 'whole' human is ultimately (at some point, perhaps extremely remote, in post-mortal life, when Man has progressed to the fullest divinity) a complementary, irreducibly dyadic combination of an exalted man and a woman bound together by love.

'Celestial marriage' is the aim, and it is the completion, of Man.

This is the clear ideal - and this is what is taught, supported, worked-towards...

Now, there is compassion and help for those (which may be a majority) who for a multitude of individual reasons of many types, cannot do all of this (or indeed any of it) during this mortal life - and there is therefore a second strand of the ideal life of celibacy - it seems that this may be part of God's plan for some individuals during this mortal life, if not eternally.

There is of course the significant matter than the great majority of people will fail to live perfectly by the ideal; they will probably fail many times, in many ways both great and small, and they may not be able to stop failing. These are not 'damned' nor lost to salvation but they are required to 'repent' - i.e. required to acknowledge the ideal and their failure to attain it.

(And not, for example, to say that their failure is actually success; especially not to assert it is a superior kind of success: which is the norm in modern public discourse.)

But it is forbidden to argue and teach that 'other sexual ways' (of any kind) are either equal or superior to that which God has clearly said is the ideal. Anything other than the ideal must be acknowledged as sub-optimal.

The serious sin is not so much in doing otherwise than the ideal, but in assuming or arguing otherwise, or saying that sex and sexuality 'don't matter'; in making laws and regulations on that basis, or in failing to repent (i.e. acknowledge the sub-optimality of) other behaviours. 

*

I think that sexuality (in our era) shows clearly the two somewhat different requirements for public and private morality. Public morality (as a part of 'politics' - law, regulations, economic incentives etc.) must be, can only be, simple and clear.

If morality is not presented simply and clearly, then it will in practice be interpreted in a simple and clear way - whether we like it or not.

So public morality will always be simplistic and harsh - just as is our current politically correct morality simplistic and harsh, but in an inverted way than the past. And it is the job of individuals to soften and nuance this simplicity and harshness when appropriate, in individual instance, based upon wise judgement and not on rules.

We cannot expect, and we will not get, perfection in attitudes, justice or anything else - there will always be a bias, and we must make a choice of which direction 'the system' is biased towards: morality (as in the past) or anti-morality (as at present). 

*

For Christians there is the 'problem' of being strong and able to resist being swept into secularism, while remaining compassionate and empathic.

There is no rule for this - but some types of strong Christianity are brittle and if they yield an inch they seem to collapse altogether; while other types seem to be able to be strong without harshness or encouraging hate: strong in will but soft and warm in heart.

I think this ideal of strong-and-loving, tough-and-soft, clear-and-warm... is made easier by regarding sin as failure to live by the ideal, rather than in terms of specific acts and attitudes being sinful in and of themselves.

What has made the modern sexual revolution such a devastating anti-Christian force is that it has managed to reduce sex and sexuality to be considered as discrete and detached acts, which seem trivial and arbitrary, and therefore not the kind of thing to have eternal significance.

Christians should not fall into this prepared trap - but try to make clear (not least to ourselves) that sexual sin is mostly a matter of failing to live by divinely ordained sexual ideals; but this failure is not of itelf the major problem in modern life: the major problem of modern life is denying the truth that God does have a plan, an ideal, for human sexuality and sexual life; and that we know (because we have been clearly told) the basic structure of this plan - and that when we (so often ) fail to live by the plan, we muct acknowledge ('repent') these failures.


**
But if you don't know, here it is:
https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng

Thursday, 21 April 2016

The link between the evolution of consciousness and reincarnation in Owen Barfield's thought

Owen Barfield's central idea, and the one for which he is best known, is the evolution of consciousness - meaning that the nature of human consciousness has changed throughout history such that people in different eras and places had very different relationships with the world: these changes fall into three general categories of Original Participation, the Observing Consciousness and Final Participation.

He traces the evolution of consciousness mainly by observing the characteristic changes in the meaning and usage of words, which seem to display a cohesive development - and also looks at other cultural evidence. Barfield's idea of evolution in this regard is not natural selection, but a developmental process (akin to the growth and differentiation of a living entity): the emergence and unfolding of human destiny, interacting with the agency and free will of individual humans.

What is seldom appreciated or emphasized is that for Barfield the evolution of consciousness is divinely designed, and bound-up with reincarnation. To put it concisely, the reason for the evolution of consciousness through history is that this provides the necessary conditions by which successive reincarnations of  human spirits may learn what they require to develop towards divinity.

So, for Barfield (although this is hinted at much more often than made explicit) it is God who 'provides' the evolution of consciousness in order that reincarnating human spirits may have the necessary experiences they need to growth towards the ultimate goal of Final Participation - whereby firstly, and stepwise, the Ego or Self has become separated from its original 'unconscious' immersion in the environment and strong in its purpose and will - awake, alert and in-control; then secondly the now strong and purposive Self/ Ego comes back into a participatory relationship with The World.

To underlying rationale (the 'point') of the evolution of consciousness is, for Barfield, bound-up with the reality of reincarnation; and therefore those (such as myself) who disbelieve in reincarnation as the normal human destiny, yet who believe in the evolution of consciousness, need to be clear that we differ from Barfield; and are, indeed, denying the main reason for evolution of consciousness as Barfield understood it.

To put it bluntly: those individuals who are sympathetic towards Barfield's core idea of the evolution of consciousness yet who do not believe in reincarnation, need to explain what the evolution of consciousness is for - if not to provide the conditions necessary for educating the reincarnating human spirit.  

**

Note: My personal 'take' on reincarnation is that it is not the normal human destiny - but that reincarnation happens to some individuals for particular purposes - for instance, a sage, prophet or saint may be a reincarnate who has returned to assist in the divine work - indeed I suspect that many of the wise intuitive individuals such as Rudolf Steiner and perhaps Owen Barfield himself, who claim direct personal knowledge of the reality of incarnation, are themselves actually some of these rare and atypical persons. As a believer in Mormon theology, my explanation for the evolution of consciousness is that humans have a pre-mortal spiritual existence before being voluntarily incarnated into life on earth - and the evolution of consciousness allows pre-mortal spirits to be 'placed' - by God - into the historical era which best addresses their personal spiritual needs: i.e. their specific needs for mortal experience of a particular kind.

http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=reincarnation 


Empathizing and Systemizing - evolutionary paper pre-published and open for review

Those who are interested by the personality traits of Empathizing and Systemizing, as defined and elucidated by Simon Baron Cohen, may like to read and perhaps comment on a theoretical paper now online at The Winnower in a pre-archive version:

https://thewinnower.com/papers/4249-evolution-of-empathizing-and-systemizing-empathizing-as-an-aspect-of-social-intelligence-systemizing-as-an-evolutionarily-later-consequence-of-economic-specialization

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The centrality of John's gospel to reading and understanding the Bible

It is clear that modern people - me included - find it very difficult to 'read the Bible' - even if that reading is largely restricted to the New Testament.

The experience is too often confusing rather than enlightening, misleading rather than clarifying; and the reigning rival paradigms for reading the Bible - either regarding the book as 'inerrant' on a line-by-line basis, or else regarding it as if it was just another historical document to be dissected by scholars - both do more harm than good by regarding the text as if it were a mosaic composed of detachable and autonomous words and sayings.

Here is a concrete suggestion that I have been using for a while: I regard John's gospel as the central text of the Bible, and read outwards from that to the other Synoptic gospels, the rest of the New Testament, and then to the Old - regarding them mainly in terms of explaining and expanding the message of John.

The reasons I regard John's gospel is central are manyfold: that it was written by a disciple, eyewitness and participant in the events; the disciple that Jesus most loved and who was most faithful to Jesus; the only disciple who remained loyal and did not hide after Jesus's arrest; the only disciple who was present at the crucifixion, standing with the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - where Jesus from the cross entrusted to John the care of His mother; who responded to Mary Magdalene's news of the risen Christ and who ran faster than Simon Peter to arrive first at the opened tomb; the disciple who did not die but is still alive today and with us - ministering until the second coming; and the Biblical author whose gospel is unmatched in its beauty, coherence and the goodness and newness of its message.

I think that reading John as a whole (in the Authorised Version, the King James Bible - which is the only divinely-inspired English translation) gives us the gospel, the good news which Christ was; and does this in a way that is uniquely authoritative, and at the level of the highest poetry - which is the only language capable of whole-truth.

John's Gospel is the very heart of the Christian message: and surely that is what we most need and the obvious place for our understanding to be located.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Death, Hell/ Sheol and Eternal Life - and the parable of Lazarus and Dives

I cannot shake the conviction that Christians often misinterpret Christ's message by misunderstanding what is meant by death, 'hell and eternal life - when they occur in the Gospels.

My understanding is that Hell refers to what is called Sheol in the Old Testament - and this refers to the Ancient Hebrew belief (which is indeed shared by many pagans) that death means death-of-the-body and that afterwards the severed-soul continues to live in a shadowy realms as barely conscious souls that have lost memories, their sense of self, lost their will and purpose - and simply subists moment by moment in a state of 'lostness'.

In other words, if we are to take mortal human comparisons, 'Hell' is more like a state of severe dementia than like a state of being perpetually tortured.

The reason that Hell is like dementia is exactly that the soul is separated from the body. Therefore, when Christ offers us the gift of eternal life, what he is offering is the resurrection whereby the soul is restored to the body.

So the good news of Christ, which gives the name to the gospels, is that we are all saved from the state of demented spirits in Hell/ Sheol.

Heaven and Hell are therefore properly what happens after resurrection - and the overall tenor of the gospels is that what happens after resurrection is greatly preferable to Sheol. What exactly Hell is like is metaphorically described in very unpleasant terms - but nonetheless Hell is a chosen state; and we know from our own experience that even in mortal life there are many people who choose to live in some version of Hell - alone, tormented with burning regrets - but utterly locked into this state and inaccessible by pride and defiant despair.

We need this framework because, without it, it is so easy to misunderstand references to Hell. For example, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (aka. Dives) there are horrible depictions of Hell - but the point of the parable is not the literal truth of such depictions but the last verses 29-31:

Luke 16:
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

The point of the parable is clearly not to give us a literal description of 'what it is physically like' in Hell but to emphasize the adequacy of existing revelations and therefore the absolute necessity for faith: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
In other words, there are some people for whom there is never enough evidence - they always want more, and more, and more 'proof'; because all evidence without exception requires interpretation.

Not everyone who saw that Lazarus rose from the dead - or Jesus - was thereby converted - maybe they didn't really die, maybe it was a trick, maybe they had experienced an hallucination?
Most people who experience miracles are not converted by them - they find some other explanations, or they say (quite accurately) 'yes - but...'

Anyway - let us not get distracted from the good news by misinterpreting it as being bad news - ie, the fallacy that Christ came in order to send everyone to a Hell of perpetual torture excepting a few who successfully negotiated that obstacle/ assault course which is human life.

The tortures of Hell are self-chosen and self-inflicted - and none the less real for that; but Hell is not a matter of being tortured because that is what God wants. It is because that is what the inhabitants have chosen. The real horror  of Hell is that people really will, really do - in mortal life, choose this.  

Monday, 18 April 2016

Romanticism comes of age... Owen Barfield's insight

Romanticism Comes of Age was the title of a collection of essays published by Owen Barfield in 1944, and also of the biography of Barfield by Simon Blaxland-De Lange in 2006.

This matter of Romanticism is one of Barfield's major statements with relevance to our times - he is saying that Rudolf Steiner's core insights are the completion of what began with the Romantic movement, and they are a necessary next step for human spiritual evolution (ie. the divine destiny for Man).

I will summarize my understanding of this matter, including adding my own framework.

1. In ancient times, especially during the hunter gatherer era, Man lived undivided from, immersed in, his perceptual environment - and mostly lacked self-awareness or a sense of separate consciousness. This was termed Original Participation by Barfield.

2. From the 1700s there was a new era of alienation for Western Man - in which consciousness becomes isolated from perception; heralded by the work of Descartes and Newton, and implemented by the Industrial Revolution. Barfield subdivided this according to the stages of its gradual increase - but sometimes termed it the era of Observing Consciousness - because Man seemed to himself to be cut-off-from and observing 'the world' - and eventually even his own thoughts.

3. At the same time, the means for healing this dichotomy by moving forward to a new era of consciousness - what Barfield terms Final Participation. This impulse, mostly unconscious, began to emerge in the Romantic movement  - associated with such English poets and thinkers as Blake, Wordsworth and (especially) Coleridge - this rapidly spread to Germany via the likes of Herder and Goethe - and then to the USA with Emerson and the circle of New England Transcendentalists.

4. The unconscious impulse towards Final Participation strengthened the longer it was resisted or, often, perverted into a regression to the previous phase of Original Participation - with notable Romantic Revivals in the late 1800s-early 1900s, then again from the 1950s culminating in the middle-late 1960s.

5. The current phase is one of un-integrated oscillations (within individuals, and within culture) between the deal bureaucratic official world of alienated Observing Consciousness and regressive, instinctive, attempts at Original Participation (often by inculcating altered states of semi-awake consciousness with dreamy trances, intoxications, sexuality as a focus for life, and other types of regression).

6. This has led to the characteristic pathologies of our time; including in Christianity which is mostly divided between Observing and Original Participations.

7. What is needed, ever more desperately, is to move forwards into Final Participation - but this must (according to both Steiner and Barfield) be within the context of a truly Christ-centred Christianity (no matter how 'heretical' or unorthodox - Christianity must be Christ centred as its primary reality).

So this is the challenge, the necessary dual destiny, both for non-Christians and Christians - to adopt Christianity as the primary framework and within that to move towards Final Participation.  


Sunday, 17 April 2016

A Thoreau morning

This was a Thoreau morning - the kind of morning which always makes me think of Henry David Thoreau - his Journals, the memoir Walden, or some of the essays. The weather was sunny, the temperature below zero (unusual for this time of year), the birds were singing - spring just becoming visible even in the trees.

For decades, ever since I first encountered him in my mid-teens, Thoreau represented a kind of ideal for me - the life he described always eluded me, was always beyond my grasp - but it was about the best I could imagine (especially if I was trying to do without other people as much as possible - to be autonomous).

Always out of grasp because it required a certain kind of person to be content and fulfilled with that life of solitude, contemplation, walking and writing (mostly journalizing - for private consumption) - and I am not that kind of person: not really.

But then, neither was Thoreau. The life, and the person who was fulfilled by it, was a literary creation - not something which Thoreau actually did, any more than I myself did (i.e. momentary glimpses only). Thoreau's real life was very different - and indeed much more mundane and normal.

But even as an ideal, with the perfect Thoreauvian person living in the ideal situation and everything going according to plan - is not enough, is indeed radically incomplete and does not make sense even by its own account.

It is a vague and appealing daydream - a daydream in which the epiphanic moment is somehow expanded into forever - yet the same daydream itself denies the reality of 'forever' and claims that the momentary epiphany is enough (and all that there actually is).

As a guide to life Thoreau was the best I had, for a long time: the pinnacle - yet paradoxical, self-refuting, incomplete - and based on a literary creation and aspiration; not on achievement. 

The Thoreauvian perspective still retains a powerful appeal to me - but to suppose it is enough now seems absurd; to suppose it could replace and go beyond Christianity seems ludicrous... Clearly the Christianity of Thoreau's time was one which saw God more as a tyrant than a loving Father, clearly it was a Christianity which depicted this world as dead, purposeless, unmeaning, uncommunicative. It was almost intolerable (a kind of living death) for a man of Thoreau's sensibility.

But how I wish Thoreau had put his genius into expanding and refocusing Christianity - so it could contain those wondrous attributes he had in his writings - rather than in mocking, rejecting and attacking it...

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Why are we alive now? - and so many of us! (Opposition in all things)

We live - in the West - in times of unprecedented physical comfort and convenience - and unprecedented spiritual darkness.

Most of the darkness relates (more or less directly) to sex and sexuality - the sexual revolution has been used as both a lure and a battering-ram to subvert and destroy religion (specifically Christianity), to hollow-out and recolonize its institutions as inverted parodies of the truth.

So why have you and I and so many others been born into this situation? (You can be sure there is a reason why we are born here and now, and not some other time or place.)

Given that God is our loving Father, the reason must be some version of 'for our own ultimate good' - or 'because this is what we, personally, most need'.

Everyone's case is different - indeed unique - but I suppose that the main source of 'opposition' to good in our time does seem to imply the main necessity of our souls.

Presumably, many of us alive today most needed strengthening by this particular type of opposition - that the sexual domain was (in some way) the particular weakness of our pre-mortal selves - the main factor holding us back from spiritual progression, perhaps.

At any rate, overall the particular nature of corruptions and temptations - of opposition - in our time and place must be some kind of tough love, or bitter medicine; a necessary challenge for our particular souls and the souls of Men in general: a kind of make-or-break opportunity to deal with some extremely serious problem.

**

These are reflections on Elder Oaks's talk at CJCLDS General Conference earlier this month. 
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/04/opposition-in-all-things?lang=eng