Monday 30 October 2023

Erecting a "middle realm" between the private-subjective and public-objective is a Dead End

Through the twentieth century, but especially since the late 1960s - and associated with Hippy/ New Age spirituality - there have been many repeated attempts to erect a middle realm to mediate between the private and subjective realms, and the public and objective realm. 

In other words - for many people The spiritual problem of modernity is alienation: the severing between subjective and objective - and the consequent denigration of the subjective; so that modern people experience life as a personally-purposeless and -meaningless, temporary and brief, state of mere-existence in an indifferent universe, which is operating on the basis of randomness and mechanical causality. 

In the pre-modern era, this situation was - to varying degrees - ameliorated by "the church"; which provided a shared, public, 'sacred-realm' of ritual and symbolism. 

This meant that the individual had an indirect (because mediated) relationship with divine reality; yet the symbolism and ritual was (although intermittent) so effective in bridging the gap, as to enable engagement ('participation') between Man and reality; making life broadly tolerable, and sometimes spiritually-fulfilling. 

Due (I believe) ultimately to changed in Man's consciousness, the symbolism and ritual lost its connecting-power; and left modern Man bereft and alienated. The new and traditional 'middle realm' systems were, implicitly, an attempt to replace what the churches had once provided. 

There have been, and are, many middle realm systems. 

One, and the most explicit, was provided by CG Jung and various neo-Jungians such as Joseph Campbell and James Hillman. Such people envisaged an underlying, mostly unconscious, collective "objective psyche"; shared by all Men in all times and places. 

The idea was that modern, subjective Man could engage with this middle realm of the Psyche as a kind of symbolic/ ritual bridge - accessed via meditation, dream, psychotherapy, personal creativity (arts, crafts) etc.  

Such Jungian ideas provided a rationale for a massive resurgence in occult traditions and new systems of symbol and ritual; which had the advantage over traditional churches of novelty and abundance. Novelty and abundance together overcome habituation and fatigue; so that a whole life could be spent in exploring, sampling, and permutating spiritual systems selected from the New Age smorgasbord.  

So, there have been big revivals of astrology, Tarot, alchemy, , numerology, Neo-Platonism and the like; and new systems based on UFOs, crop circles, geomancy, earth energies, cosmic radiations - and a multitude of healing therapies with spiritual implications. 

I'm afraid I regard all such attempts as essentially misguided because regressive, hence ineffective. 

And indeed, despite great hopes for a "New Age" inspired global spiritual revival, the world has become more and more materialistic, bureaucratic, and totalitarian. Spirituality (as well as religion) has been eliminated from the public realm in the West.

(Or, at the least, reduced to reactive, insincere, and ineffectual rhetoric - such as the regular call from-and-to explicit atheists to 'pray' for such-and-such victims. Politics now - very obviously - drives religion; and spirituality merely fits-around prior left-ideologies such as antiracism, carbon-environmentalism, socialism, feminism, healthism etc.) 

Middle realm construction and advocacy is misguided, ineffectual and a dead-end. 

What actually happens with such middle realm constructions, is that they become absorbed-into materialism. Instead of making a bridge connecting modern Man from the material to the spiritual; these systems either do nothing but provide lifestyle options...

Or else the rituals and symbols crystallize into the material to become large, difficult and complex systems - the preserve of experts and professionals - standing between the individual and the spiritual in much the same way as institutional churches. 

This is why I am filled with a mixture of boredom and dismay whenever I come-across one of these middle realm systems; describing some large/ difficult-to-understand/ complex layer of ideas; or purporting to give 'information' or 'teaching' concerning the higher or spiritual world (which spiritual world always seems to resemble a complex, hierarchical, multi-specialized, multi-national corporation, or bloated state bureaucracy!). 

These middle realms purport to be bridges and mediations; but I see just-another barrier.  

After many centuries during which the effectiveness of mediation has progressively dwindled; and all churches and religions have become corrupted to the agenda of this-worldly, materialist-leftist, socio-politics; we are now confronted by a situation in which our choice is either to abandon the subjective along with the spiritual (and accept our status as depersonalized 'units' in a transhumanist world)...

Or else: To approach reality (including God) directly and (as much as possible) un-mediated. 


GunnerQ said...

"In other words - for many people The spiritual problem of modernity is alienation"

I've been thinking about alienation. The reality is sinking in, that American society has no place or concern for the American people, Christians particularly. We're just replaceable inhabitants to all the Powers That Be.

I scanned a headline about a city in Florida installing multiple license plate readers with the help of some Federal grant money. When locals complained, police replied that they already scan license plates manually, so the cameras aren't anything different.

Never mind the difference between checking a specific license plate, and maintaining a database of everywhere a license plate goes. The important part here is the police department didn't bother to ask the people they would using the technology on, err, "on behalf of", if they wanted it. The police wanted it, so they did it, and when the locals complained, their objections were dismissed. This, in a state with a reputation for conservatism. Whatever that is these days. It ain't "representative government".

Your vote won't matter. Your voice won't be heard. You aren't wealthy enough to buy respect.

Christianity has become like that, too. Sure, you can go to church. Sing songs. Bake cookies for the holiday festival. But you'll never be allowed to participate. You'll never be allowed the chance to teach, or even speak uncomfortable opinions, or be a leader of some group. Gifts of prophecy, healing and (lay) leadership won't be granted opportunities. You'll never be a hero unless you take a bullet for the pastor, and it won't be his fault if he's ever offended a single enemy of God.

Even when you get a chance to communicate with an authority figure, your words don't get heard. The politician, police chief and pastor all listen to you only long enough to cast a word-spell designed to make you go away.

Perhaps people are creating "middle grounds" as a cope to the reality that the institutions no longer care about them. As you've pointed out, we must approach God directly at this point in time, without institutional or ritual assistance. For most people, that's very hard. That's why those institutions and rituals were created in the first place.

One can almost forgive them for lashing out and experimenting with alternatives, except that what God wants has never been those institutions and rituals. He's always wanted us to own our faith, to internalize it and approach God on our own initiative.

This might be the hardest time to be a Christian... but perhaps, this is also the time that God is most pleased with our efforts. We face a world from which we are wholly alienated, and instead of negotiating with the world, we remember that God said it would be this way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GQ - I think you may be talking mainly about what used to be called Civil Society in the 1990s - the layer of institutions between the state and the individual, and the idea that they should be distinct from the state.

Civil Society was theorized to distinguish totalitarianism from - whatever the other thing was. But the CS idea was taken up and made into a thing, and adopted by George Soros... and anyway, civil society (in the UK) has been substantially destroyed since the millennium by the usual New Left mixture of mandatory bureaucracy and regulations, subsidies and taxes - so all clubs, professions, institutions etc. are now officially supposed to pursue the Litmus Test issues as their primary function.

Anyway - my stuff about the Middle Realm was supposed to be more psychological than sociological; more about the spiritual than the social; the idea (or belief, or practice) that there is a necessary layer of spiritual reality in between the individual and God - that we cannot relate directly to the divine or to reality, but only via this Middle Realm.

I think these Middle Realm possibilities have dwindled to ineffectuality, and we are faced with either an unmediated relationship with the divine - or none at all.

Much the same could, indeed, be said of society.

Inquisitor Benedictus said...

What about the internet? You seem to be acting as a mediator here in a kind of cyber-spiritual hermitage. Monk/hermits have long served as "spiritual professionals" in a larger religious-institutional context. Blogs like this one serve a similar function in a global spiritual-religious temperament which is an amalgam of traditional religious, humanistic, and esotericist influences. This online "noosphere" is part of an emerging middle-realm of human intersubjectivity and spiritual communication (of both good and evil spiritual entitie).

Bruce Charlton said...

@IB - I'm not sure what point you are making about the internet. Are you suggesting it serves as a spiritual Middle Realm of the same kind as the church or systems of symbol and ritual?