Friday 26 June 2015

Two problems with Mystical Christianity (e.g. Swedenborg, Blake, Whitman, Steiner) under modern conditions

Since I advocate and practice a type of Mystical Christianity, I need to point out the severe problems with this kind of spiritual life, under modern Western conditions.

The problems are specific cases of Conquest's, or Charlton's, Second Law:

Which is that - nowadays - unless an institution or organization or church is primarily Christian, it is not Christian at all, but instead some version of New Leftism, Liberalism, Progressivism or Socialism.

This applies to mystical practice, as it does to everything else from charities, through educational institutions, and science and economics, to arts and hobbies.


1. People who take the mysticism, and leave the Christianity.

In other words, they gain the partial benefits of mysticism - in feeling more alive in a living world - but stop at that point. They do not proceed to the Christianity. They never achieve or accept an understanding of the purpose of life; but live in transcendental moments that lack any discernible meaning, and which are typically (almost invariably) de facto threaded-together by mainstream secular Leftism, including the perspective of the on-going sexual revolution.

2. People who focus on the mysticism in order to be able to ignore the ethics. They use their mystical knowledge and experiences in order to discard moral constraints that are part of real traditional Christianity - especially where these liberations are validated by modern mainstream Leftism; and especially when they are motivated to take advantage of sexual liberation (various kinds of sex outwith traditional marriage) for themselves.

In effect, they use mysticism as a rationale for rejecting (they would say transcending) the basic ethical constraints of traditional Christianity.


For example,  the poet and illustrator William Blake was a mystical Christian, but the large academic industry based upon him are not Christian - but instead use Blake to validate a primarily socio-political agenda.

For example, Jacob Bronowski wrote an early and very influential book which was instrumental in the late 20th century re-discovery of Blake - William Blake: a man without a mask. Bronowski was hostile to both Christianity (becoming a very well know atheist humanist), and he was also hostile to mysticism. His book (beautifully written and very informative) yokes Blake to a radical, revolutionary political agenda.

Later Blake scholars approved Blake's mysticism, but not his Christianity - Kathleen Raine (with her eclectic 'spiritual values') would be a representative of this. Among the millions who have studied Blake at college over the past couple of generations, I would be surprised if any had been converted to Christianity since that basic of Blake's thought is relativized into insignificance, grossly de-emphasized - and generally simply disregarded.

Something similar applies to Walt Whitman - although Whitman's Christianity seems to have been less profound and foundational than was the case with Blake.


Similarly, the religious and spiritual organizations founded by Steiner are now dominated by typical Leftist concerns of a New Age type (progressive education, alternative medicine, organic horticulture and environmentalism). Steiner himself focused everything in his vastly detailed system of Spiritual Science firmly and explicitly on Christ - but that has become an optional extra, and in practice left-out.

I suspect that Swedenborgians have gone the same way - but I am not sure.

(For some Westerners, Eastern Orthodox is treated in this kind of way - because Orthodoxy minus living in an Orthodox country - with an Orthodox monarch and church-focused way of national life - can be seen as simply a de-ethicized, eclectic, pick-and-mix Christianized spiritual option. 'Celtic' Christianity would be another version.)


Mystical Christianity is - in and of itself - valid. It is just that in our modern cultural context, in practice, it is extremely prone to corruption.

Therefore, to recommend any type of Mystical Christianity is very risky.

However, I believe it is a risk that needs to be taken - because for some people this is the essential path-into Christianity. For these people, if there is no Mystical Christianity, then they will not be Christians.

So, cognisant of the risks, I want to develop a path through mysticism and into Christianity.


The apparent corruptibility of Mystical Christianity is therefore a serious problem, but one which I hope may be tackled and solved. Because (to reiterate) for many disaffected people in modern life, the main problem is alienation, feeling cut off from Life - and that is what most demands to be addressed.

This is why the likes of RW Emerson, and Jung, and Joseph Campbell have been of such interest to Westerners - because they address the most pressing problem.

In The Power Of Myth Campbell hit the nail: People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about. 
My position is that Campbell was dead right when he said 'that's what we're really seeking'; and dead wrong when he said 'that's what it's all finally about'. Campbell's perspective offers real and immediate spiritual benefits; but its built-in anti-Christian perspective means that the adherent then 'gets' stuck'.

The very effectiveness of mysticism - although only a partial effectiveness, indeed may serve to prevent the next step, into Christianity.


I know this from personal, lived experience. I was in that position for a long time - more than two decades, during which I pressed forward all the time towards a completing and fulfilment within this 'Romantic' Transcendentalist position but never got any further because - from this perspective - there is nowhere to go.

One is simply told to be satisfied with a life without purpose - a life of isolated epiphanies.


What is required is a spiritual discipline that starts with mysticism in a Christian frame, which presents the path as a seamless progress from mysticism into Christianity - this being set out from the beginning.

But my impression is that this path is not available in any institutional, organizational or church setting; it is therefore a path which must be traversed alone.

Therefore, my current advice (for what it is worth!) would be for would-be Mystical Christians to embark on the spiritual path, but always with the aim of a specific denomination in-view - e.g. to become a mystic en route to becoming an Evangelical, Western or Eastern Catholic, Mormon or whatever...

This may, or should, help to keep the mystic within the protections (if not on-the-rails) of real Christianity; I mean, within bounds of moral teachings and focused upon Christ - and away-from the siren seductions of New Leftism and the 'liberations' of the sexual revolution.    


Palamas said...

Good points on the cherry picking (that is, transcendence without ethics or dogma). To adapt to this secular time, it could be best to frame the ethics in a purely utilitarian way.

For instance, any physical fitness regimen prescribes and proscribes. Count your macros, exercise in this way on that day, avoid beer and pizza, etc. It's understood that following the guidelines -- no, the RULES -- would optimize one's path to their physical fitness goal.

Likewise, rules of moral conduct are, in my opinion, best couched in a language that emphasizes the utilitarian, functional aspect. Don't lie, receive communion, don't fornicate, pray often, do good works, etc. Not because God will be pleased, but because it can optimize how "prone" you can become to an indwelling of Grace and, eventually, revelation of the Truth.

Albrecht said...

Wait a minute. Just this week I discovered Curtis Childs's videos myself. As the late Lawrence Auster would have said, "synchronicity." (Or are you on the Swedenborg mailing list, too?)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alb - Ha! No, I don't know much about Swedenborg and have no kind of involvement at all - I recently read Gary Lachmann's biography, and RW Emerson's essay in Representative Men and tried a few of his books, but I seem to be on a different wavelength - so I'm grateful for these vids.