Tuesday 31 May 2022

Working with a spiritual mentor

All my major spiritual mentors communicate with me via books, and most of them are dead. Many of them are included in the lineage of Romantic Christians

An advantage of this arrangement is that it is easier to discern and filter the intentions, words and ideas of a dead Mentor, as compared with a real-life Master - for whom it often seems to be a case of 'all or nothing'; full compliance and obedience, or else expulsion.  

Yet what we want to do, and ought to do - if our relationship with the dead is to be a living one - is to engage actively with their thought. 

But engagement goes through phases...

At first, there usually needs to be an 'absorptive' period of trusting immersion

I need to read an author essentially uncritically, on the 'working hypothesis' that he was right - if I am to to develop the capacity to see things from his perspective, and to understand him 'from the inside'. 

This is an exercise in empathy, in sympathetic resonance - and could be spiritually harmful, if the author was evil. 

So, I think we ought not (as a rule) deliberately to engage deeply with someone who we believe, or seriously expect, to have evil intent or affiliations - because to do this we must ourselves become evil... at least temporarily. 

To follow this advice means we must accept that we will not always truly (i.e. empathically) understand the perspective of evil. So be it - it is not necessary to understand evil to eschew it and hold to good.  

But, of course, we may have experienced this evil ourselves in the past, and repented. This is the potential value of Christian converts, and repentant sinners generally - in particular respects they may have a deeper, because personally experienced, understanding of evil. 

For instance, I think that I probably have a deeper and more accurate understanding of atheist ways-of-thinking than do many cradle Christians; because I was that way myself for many decades, and thought critically about atheism and Christianity considerably - while still an atheist. And this understanding has its uses.  

That aside; in my experience after the initial phase of passive and largely un-critical absorption which leads to understanding but not towards truth; a second discerning phase of active engagement with a mentor invariably involves evaluation, selection, different emphasis, extrapolation - and contradiction. 

The end result may be that I end up disagreeing with most of what a mentor has said - regarding him as having made fundamental errors; while yet acknowledging his importance in bringing me to certain key and vital ideas. 

Here is a problem with the societies and organizations - or even friendship groups - that grow-up around influential spiritual teachers; because these typically do not get beyond the first phase of passive and un-critical absorption; and resist approaching the Master's work with critical discernment. 

As an example, I regard Rudolf Steiner as an important spiritual mentor - and I continue to engage actively with his work. Yet I regard most of what Steiner said and wrote as wrong; and therefore I find the Anthroposophical Society which he founded - and via which Steiner's legacy has been almost wholly preserved and disseminated in the century since his death - to be... mostly wrong

Furthermore, I find the AS attitude to Steiner to be idolatrous - which has the effect that the AS membership live and think in a way almost the opposite of what Steiner advocated in his deepest and (to me) most significant writings. 

Because Anthroposophists regard Steiner as de facto inerrant; the time and effort expended on absorbing the massive quantity of (I would say) his superficial and false quasi-factual statements concerning every topic under the sun (and elsewhere); utterly overwhelm and bury any possibility of understanding and attempting to live in accordance with Steiner's much fewer - but core, deep and harder-to comprehend - spiritually and philosophically vital teachings.  

But much the same attitude to mentors applies to Christianity - or should; taking into account that Christianity is the most fundamental understanding, upon which all others depend. 

Just as the only way to relate positively and helpfully to Rudolf Steiner is to eschew the authority of the Anthroposophical Society and explore his thought independently and individually; an analogous attitude ought to apply to Christianity if our engagement is to be alive and active. 

It seems likely that in the past most (if not all) Christians remained in the state or phase of absorptive, passive and immersive engagement with Christianity via whatever Church was dominant in their place of residence. 

But here and now, as the churches are already, and increasingly, corrupt and self-contradictory; the challenge is that simply in order to remain a Christian - we need to move into the second phase of discerning engagement with our faith.

That is: Christians should be prepared to enter the second and discerning phase of engagement; in which active engagement may lead to testing for coherence, selection, different emphases, extrapolations and contradictions of ideas that previously were absorbed passively and in-a-lump. 

If such an engagement is to be positive (and Christian), it must be well-motivated - it needs to be rooted in honesty and the desire for truth and goodness (and not, therefore, an excuse for self-gratification, nor a rationalization of wishful-thinking). 

Yes, it is hazardous to approach Christianity in a discerning fashion: and yes, the personal motivations may be corrupt, hence corrupting. 

But the worldwide mass apostasy especially evident since 2020; and the obvious corruption of self-identified Christian church leaders and officials (and of many church-active laity) - those who expend their primary efforts in pursuit of leftist ideology and support of the global totalitarian projects - is equally clear. 

There is no valid spiritual path without hazard. 

It is not just 'hazardous', but spiritually lethal, to maintain 'phase one' - absorptive and accepting relationships with a Church (or other claimed spiritual authority). 

It is time to move-on to phase two.


Lucinda said...

This lines up very much with how a good parent should want the relationship with their children to be.

I was telling a mom-friend of mine that life is unavoidably traumatic. Our children just can't get from the point of complete helpless dependence to a point of free independence without the traumatic experiences that make immersive trust in the parent untenable. (Though it's worth being deliberate in discerning what experiences are to the purpose and which are just demoralizing.)So just as the mentee must move on to phase two, the mentor must learn to want this for the mentee, even if it's traumatic for both parties.

What I see in the churches is an extension of this mommy-delusion, that conversion need not be necessary if the child is raised right. God is helping individuals grow up, one way or the other. Some may need time as earnest atheists, some may need time as sinfully compliant church goers. The necessary thing is to recognize the actual results of one's beliefs as an individual and how they play out in reality. Alienation is the only way to ensure free association which is a bedrock for true love.

I would say that "honesty" has it's limits, as a parent. I tell my young child not to go in the road because of a bunch of things they can't comprehend? It's not going to work. When they are young, they operate on the level of receiving parental approval. Alienation comes before comprehension. But sometimes people speak about honesty as if it can prevent alienation, but to prevent alienation is to prevent eventual comprehension. Which is why I can see the good you pointed out in your post "In what ways might Men better serve God's purposes in these times, than ever before in history?" What better way for God to help us move on to phase two? Similar to the way a parent shouldn't be making life comfortable for teens who should be moving out. (This comes more naturally to my husband than to me, I admit.)

Rui Artur said...

I agree about the primacy of discernment over obedience, but is it not the case that this is not possible for the majority - in practice if not in theory? I don't see the change you see in mentality (or consciousness). The majority was always composed of followers. And it remains so (in some respects, perhaps even more so than before). Is there any way out of this? 'many are called, but few are chosen', especially in the end times?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - Good comment.

I think that one of the worst aspects of these times, however, is the fear that stepping off the path will lead to a growing child be so swept away by the force of top-down, celebrated and pervasive evil in the world now, that (what with sin feeding on sin) they may go so far astray as never to get back on track.

But, in the end, we must have faith that the creator can always make space and opportunity for repentance, when any heart has a spark of desire for it.

@RA - The change in consciousness through history is not the kind of thing that can be proved by evidence - it is a metaphysical assumption. Modernity assumes no change, and all evidence is interpreted on that basis.

So, to evaluate the idea of developing consciousness you would need to, want to, make the hypothesis of change; and then see how that different assumption affects your understanding and relationship with the world.