Friday 25 December 2015

Alienation, to some minimal degree, is always a part of the mortal human condition

By William Arkle 

If we consider the relationship between human consciousness and the spiritual or divine consciousness - then mortal Man is alienated from the divine to some - very varied - degree; in the sense that there is always a sense of separation that must be overcome.

Even in the most spiritual societies, there is a need for some act of will or, more often, ritual process, in order to overcome this alienation.

Among animistic hunter gatherers, the shamans will undergo fasting, or prolonged dancing, or drumming, or something like lucid dreaming - in order to reach a state of transformed consciousness in which the spiritual realm may be contacted. In ancient Egypt, there was a prolonged and elite training, and many symbols, talismans and rituals, to bridge the gap between the mundane and the divine.

Among Hindus there is the discipline of yoga, among Zen Buddhists there is the prolonged training of sitting, and monastic disciplines.

Among Christians there are the monastic traditions, rules and supervisions of Eastern and Western Catholicism - fasting, vigils (prolonged wakefulness), sustained and repeated prayer, and other ascetic practises.

Modern man is, of course, far more alienated than any of these. Indeed, it seems that some Men are wholly alienated - and never at any times in their waking life achieve a bridging of the gap between human consciousness and the spiritual realm (and they regard dream consciousness as a mere delusional epiphenomenon).

So severe is modern alienation that I regard it as the most subjectively obvious of spiritual pathologies - modern Man's existential aloneness, his sense of being cut-off from the spiritual and the divine is probably more acutely painful than his lack of meaning and purpose in life. Modern man's alienation is, indeed, apparently so severe that he feels dead-inside.

Alienation can be solved by a fundamental change in conscious attitude - but to be effective this change must be accompanied by a new metaphysical system that regards the new consciousness as potentially real (therefore not merely a delusion, not just wishful thinking).

But the Christian needs to know that alienation is not all bad! In the sense that our aim is a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost - and relationship entails separation.

Our goal is not an obliteration of our consciousness, not a fusion with the divine nor an absorption into the divine - not a loss of self - instead a loss of false selves and a living from our real self in a loving relationship.

What of those who do not want to retain the self, but who do want to become One with the divine? My understanding is that this is allowed by God - although it is not what he most wants for us and from us. Since it was God who (necessarily) unilaterally gifted us with consciousness, He is aware that there are some who prefer not to accept this gift - and it is a gift which must be accepted voluntarily, without coercion. So we can take back this gift and return to the primordial state of non-consciousness (in a state of eternal bliss in the present).

But for Christians we should not crave such a state, because we have Love as our primary value, which entails relationships, which entails consciousness. There is always therefore some barrier, some line between our-self and other-selves - some element which could be termed alienation.

What we need is to be able to cross this line more easily and more often - to the degree of becoming aware of, communicating with, the spiritual and divine realms. 

This is a secret world - consider Arkle's businessman painting above. The man is in the loving, caring embrace of a spiritual being - is he aware of the fact, or is his awareness turned away? The picture is enigmatic, and we would have no way of knowing how the man is experiencing the situation.

But the benign divine and spiritual realm is always there, waiting for our attention, hoping for our communication, yearning for acknowledgement of the loving relationship.

Happy Christmas.


David said...

Happy Christmas Bruce and best wishes for you and your family in the New Year!

Geraint Apted said...

When you describe other cultures and their ways to know the divine, you mention methods which are often long and involved, requiring endless repetition until the person achieves his aim - conscious and determined training is involved.

In Christian societies, even in the past, when people attended church and said prayers every day, I have strong doubts that many achieved the sort of state that I think you mean. In the monastic orders, where the whole lifestyle was geared towards knowing God, some no doubt achieved that state through prayer, fasting, silence, stillness, etc.

I have no doubt that these things work, but surviving on a day to day basis in the modern world where people have jobs and domestic family duties must surely utterly defeat this sort of spiritual pursuit. There is no time left to do it in.

I'd seriously like to know how ordinary people are to do what the 'wise men' (or yogis or sufis or monks or magicians, or whatever one might name them - all essentially the same thing as far as I can make out) do.

If I had to create book titles for a 'how-to-do-it' manual on this subject, they would be:

"Theosis for the busy housewife and mother"
"Shaking hands with the divine for shattered Executives"
"Quality time with God when junior has measles"
"How to prioritise God when your manager wants the sales figures - NOW"

Etc, etc.

This is our modern problem. But there must be a way without quitting job and family. If there isn't, then it follows that theosis is an unreal dream for most people. It is worrying.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Thank you, and a Happy hristmas to you.

@Geraint - I don't think that busyness is the problem - or at least not the core problem because busyness is chosen in order to attain moeny and status; and in the past people worked much longer and harder than they do at present - amny were literally worked to death.

As for combining a 'normal' responsible and engaged modern life with spiritual awareness - my understanding is that quite a lot of active Mormons are able to do this - times for reflection and contemplation are built into 'the schedule' - e.g. by taking the Sabbath seriously, keeping family home evening, attending the Temple and so forth.

(BTW - I am not a Mormon - nor am I busy!)

Something similar applies to some of the 'low church' Protestants I know who organize their lives around their faith.

It is mostly a question of priorities.

Nicholas Fulford said...

You forgot to mention the use of entheogenic plants and fungi. These were tools in the kit of many shamans in aboriginal cultures. They have also often been used and abused by moderns in their attempts to overcome the "existential crisis" to varying degrees of success and failure.

Alienation is often visceral, accompanied by disgust and revulsion. It should be an indicator that a person and human society are ill. Religions often propose that their particular metaphysics is the basis for overcoming alienation, and to be fair, for some people and social groups they work. But with so many religions and cultures with often very diverse and incompatible rituals, beliefs, and values; it is a terrible problem to avoid extremism. If human societies - religious and otherwise - were largely isolated from one another by a wall, much as evolutionary islands have been in the ecology, then the problem would not exist. It is due to the proximity of so many competing philosophies and religions, which we are now stuck with, that this is largely anachronistic. (The exceptions are a few self-isolating groups such as the Amish, and the very few still geographically isolated indigenous peoples.)

To overcome alienation in our age is going to be a very challenging problem. There is individual alienation, religious alienation, cultural alienation, economic disparity, and alienation from the natural world. Reverting to isolated societies is probably not viable - without an extreme set of events. Any single worldview or religion would have to overcome and displace competing ones in a way that is obvious and visceral. Without that, alienation will be the new norm, and a most unsustainable and unwelcome one.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nicholas - BTW: My understanding is that the use of 'drugs' by shamans is likely to be historically recent, since most hunter gatherers do not have access to them. The contrary view is largely an artefact of shamanism having come to generalization by the fictions-pretending-to-be anthroplogy of Carlos Castaneda. A few tribal people have used consciousness altering agents for religious purposes, but this is rather rare and recent.

Geraint Apted said...

Bruce: "What we need is to be able to cross this line more easily and more often - to the degree of becoming aware of, communicating with, the spiritual and divine realms."

I concede that the busy executive can prioritise differently and make time to "cross this line". But how? What is the method? Is there a method? Is it just simple prayer? Is it a form of meditation? Is it bible study? Is it listening to priests? Is it through discussion with others? Is it mystical? Is it rational? Drugs? Chanting? Weeks of silence? Eyes closed? Eyes open? Astral travel?

Religions have had various methods, which can be taught.

Have you got a way that enables you to "cross this line"?

John Fitzgerald said...

@Nicholas - I think this is what Colin Wilson tried to do in his oeuvre - to create a sense of meaning and purpose, both individual and corporate, that taps into what the disparate religions try to achieve ( i.e replace alienation with meaning) without actually being a religion itself. Evolutionary existentialism, he called it.

All the very best to all,


Bruce Charlton said...

@GA - William Arkle is insistent that this is something that each person needs to establish for themselves by study, thought, trial and error (and repentance, when things go wrong - as they will) - otherwise, any 'method' becomes a tyranny, and the means becomes the end.

As can be seen in so many 'schools' of esotericism or spiritual training: they regard all Men as essentially identical, and attempt to force them all through the same tube.

No, this is something we muct do as individuals, something we must take personal responsibility for.

The reason can be understood in terms that the main problem is that our true selves are hidden and dominated by false selves (constructed by interactions with our surrounding, and by laziness and pride etc), who are doing the wrong things, and doing them automatically/ efficiently, and making responses which keep us alienated and make it worse.

For many people nowadays, the overwhelming problem is mass media addiction - their minds are taken over by the patterns of cognitions they have passively had imposed by many hours per day plugged into the mass media. So a media withdrawal programme may be the first step.

Junnies said...

spiritual teachings teach that the normal human is estranged/alienated from their true self, mistaking their ego/false personality to be who they are. from this alienation springs all manner of discontentment and negativity, and the problem of evil is explained by people trying to cover that spiritual hole in themselves.

spiritual enlightenment or self-realisation is thus the path of burning away all that is false and getting in touch with one's true self, the inner divinity and kingdom of heaven that is within.

taking the above to be true, how does one actually 'do' the work required? spiritual teachers teach various methods, all of which are very simple to do. self-inquiry, self-surrender, living in the present moment. the most important thing is to understand how the ego/false personality operates, how its very structure creates conflict, separation and alienation.

Adam G. said...

Bruce is absolutely right that you are going to have to customize your recipe. It's like dieting in that not every diet works for everyone, only more so.
But here are some thoughts: remember that many monastics did and still do have jobs or professions. They weren't just in a cell contemplating. So the monastic structure was the scaffolding for their day, not the whole of it. I sometimes think of my family as my own little monastery: we have our things we do daily and our little rites. The biggest among them is probably the family dinner.
Also, Mormon authorities have been suggesting a lot recently that constant social media exposure is a mind killer. Most of us have little moments of downtime during the day that we fill with texting, twitter, or earbuds. Bruce C. is right that going cold turkey at first would help.

Adam G. said...

@GA--one other thought: jollity is usually a better spiritual prep then solemnity. We just finished singing Good King Wenceslas around the breakfast table--goofily, with much forgetting of words--with interruptions for some of John C. Wright's jokes about it--and the presence of the Spirit came strong at the end nonetheless.

Geraint Apted said...

Bruce - thank you, your comments were helpful.

This seems to work for me:

Each person needs to find his own way to meet the divine

Each person is personally responsible for his own spiritual development.

But everyone who is serious about spiritual progress needs to do certain things.

The first thing is to recognise and absorb the fact that our true selves are hidden and dominated by false selves.

False selves are constructed by

1 interactions with our surrounding
2 laziness
3 pride

False selves do the wrong things automatically and efficiently keeping us alienated from divine reality.

Our minds are taken over by the patterns of cognition they have passively had imposed.

The second thing is to recognise that spiritual progress is not easy, and it will require work, involving,


False selves will continue to operate, and errors made, which lead away from spiritual progress.

The third thing is to recognise that conscience will tell us when we are straying from our true path.

We will feel guilt.

We need to reflect on guilt until we understand why what we have done is wrong, and move into,


We need to act on remorse and repent.

Where it is possible, we should set matters right, and pray to the divine for the help given in making things right.

Where we cannot set matters right, we should pray to the divine to ask forgiveness and for strength not to repeat the error.

The fourth thing is to recognise and acknowledge that the conscience is,

the manifestation of the higher or true self, and that it is divinely given, and

the true self is the divine within each one of us, and

the true self is made of the same ‘stuff’ as the Holy Spirit, and
the Holy Spirit will help the true self blossom if we are serious in our intent to progress spitually.

Geraint Apted said...

I had not read this letter before.

I think it really makes clear what is to be done in our times.

I also find it fascinating when Pope Francis says:

"Above all, you ask if the God of Christians forgives those who do not believe and who do not seek faith. Given the premise, and this is fundamental, that the mercy of God is limitless for those who turn to him with a sincere and contrite heart, the issue for the unbeliever lies in obeying his or her conscience. There is sin, even for those who have no faith, when conscience is not followed. Listening to and obeying conscience means deciding in the face of what is understood to be good or evil. It is on the basis of this choice that the goodness or evil of our actions is determined."

Commentators have said that the Pope is saying that even atheists are saved if they turn to God 'with a sincere and contrite heart'.

On the face of it, the Pope's words sound like nonsense because the atheist is forgiven if he 'turn[s] to Him with a sincere and contrite heart'. An atheist is not going to turn to God. If he does, the moment he does so, he is no longer an atheist.

Perhaps the Pope is using trick language.

Perhaps his message is that God does not forgive unbelievers, unless they turn to Him through faith in Christ.

I don't think so. From what follows, the Pope really does mean that atheists can be saved.

When the Pope goes on to say that the unbeliever must follow his conscience, the letter makes more sense. Conscience becomes the unbeliever's guide to good and evil. There is the implication that conscience acted on is like faith in God, even if the person is an unbeliever. If that is what the Pope means, surely it follows that where evil is chosen, if conscience stirs the atheist, and he rights the wrong, then forgiveness from God is obtained.

This reminds me of the part in CS Lewis's 'The Last Battle', where Aslan talks to Emeth, a Calormene.

When Emeth meets Aslan, Aslan tells him that "all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me" and further explains that "no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him". He explains that Emeth's pious devotion, because it was rooted in a love of justice and truth, was really to Aslan rather than to Tash.

In the same way, perhaps Christ accepts the atheist with a working conscience who listens to it, and acts on it, as coming to God the Father through him, even though the atheist does not know it.

This could be seen as the flame of the Holy Spirit working in the atheist, leading the atheist to choose good over evil in a fallen world where Sin is the default setting.

If this is a true interpretation of God's mercy, I find it astonishing, exciting and completely beautiful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Geraint - I think you have probably arrived at a reasonable conclusion, but from rather different premises and with a different metaphsyical basis, from my own.

This matter has always been a problem for Christians whose faith is - as it should be but seldom is - based on the foundation of God's love for us; and understanding that our conceptualization of Christianity must always be compatible with this primacy.

I am skepical of the genuine Christianity of Pope Francis (I think he *may* be a Leftist Fifth Columnist). Also I am not convinced by the *specific* theology of Emeth's salvation (nor of Lewis's Platonism) - but leaving minor philosophical quibbles aside, I am sure that something of the sort must apply; and that The Last Battle is inspired and profoundly truthful at the level which really matters.

When the heart solidly endorses the findings but this runs into theological problems, then we need to be prepared to set-aside the theology - because Christianity is bigger than its theology; and a simple child, or an ignorant and unintelligent man, may personally be among the very best (and most inspiring, and most evangelically effective) of Christians.

(This despite that intelligence is indeed a primary Christian value, especially at higher levels of theosis - and Man's destiny is for unimaginable levels of intelligence (and also creativity) - this is only so when intelligence (and creativity) operate within the perspective of Love.)

Geraint Apted said...

I admire Lewis very much. This afternoon I searched on his name and enjoyed reading about him and his works. Then I cam across this:

I couldn't believe what I was reading. I was very much surprised.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GA - I'm surprised that you are surprised - although I suppose it is surprising that AR read CSL in the first place. But that she hated AoM is as expected - and she clearly realized that it was aimed at her (or people with views such as hers).

Geraint Apted said...

I found what I have copied below on a web site (see link above) that ask questions about the divine.

Is this how Mormons see human beings developing, or is human development very different?

I'm asking because as I understand it, Mormons believe that humans can become God-like in some way, and be companions of God.

"Question: "What is the hypostatic union? How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time?"

Answer: The hypostatic union is the term used to describe how God the Son, Jesus Christ, took on a human nature, yet remained fully God at the same time. Jesus always had been God (John 8:58, 10:30), but at the incarnation Jesus became a human being (John 1:14). The addition of the human nature to the divine nature is Jesus, the God-man. This is the hypostatic union, Jesus Christ, one Person, fully God and fully man.

Jesus' two natures, human and divine, are inseparable. Jesus will forever be the God-man, fully God and fully human, two distinct natures in one Person. Jesus' humanity and divinity are not mixed, but are united without loss of separate identity. Jesus sometimes operated with the limitations of humanity (John 4:6, 19:28) and other times in the power of His deity (John 11:43; Matthew 14:18-21). In both, Jesus' actions were from His one Person. Jesus had two natures, but only one personality.

The doctrine of the hypostatic union is an attempt to explain how Jesus could be both God and man at the same time. It is ultimately, though, a doctrine we are incapable of fully understanding. It is impossible for us to fully understand how God works. We, as human beings with finite minds, should not expect to totally comprehend an infinite God. Jesus is God’s Son in that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). But that does not mean Jesus did not exist before He was conceived. Jesus has always existed (John 8:58, 10:30). When Jesus was conceived, He became a human being in addition to being God (John 1:1, 14).

Jesus is both God and man. Jesus has always been God, but He did not become a human being until He was conceived in Mary. Jesus became a human being in order to identify with us in our struggles (Hebrews 2:17) and, more importantly, so that He could die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (Philippians 2:5-11). In summary, the hypostatic union teaches that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, that there is no mixture or dilution of either nature, and that He is one united Person, forever."

Bruce Charlton said...

@GA - No, that isn't the Mormon view of the nature of Christ.

Probably your best bet is to look up such question on the LDS web site

Maybe backed up by the Enclyopedia of Mormonism

This FAIR Mormon Wiki may provide more references

BUT - in Mormonism the primary way to understand is by knowing the narrative, the story. The Plan of Salvation is probably the main story:

Geraint Apted said...

"Our Heavenly Father gave Adam and Eve agency, or freedom to choose. He commanded them not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obeying this commandment meant they could remain in the garden, but they could not progress by learning from experiences and challenges. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and they chose to do so. This was part of God’s plan. Because of their decision, they were separated from God’s presence physically and spiritually. They became mortal, that is, subject to sin and death. They were unable to return to Him without His help."

I'm sorry to say, but I find this Mormon belief quite unpleasant. From what is said, it appears that Satan was used by God as his agent provocateur - that it was "part of God's plan" that Satan would tempt Adam and Eve, so they would fall and be able to "progress by learning from experiences and challenges" outside of Eden.

My inner being says a strong no to this idea. It turns God into a calculating and devious character who was pretty sure Satan would attempt the temptation as soon as God's back was turned. God used the most evil being in creation to promote evil? No.

Yes, Adam and Eve had a choice. Yes, Satan tempted them. But, devious calculation on the part of God? No. It must be faulty thinking.

Following through, it must mean that God wanted Adam and Eve to disobey Him, to sin, and then to be cast out of Eden. It also follows that He wanted Satan to tempt them further, and tempt their descendants, so that they would have to choose good or evil. It follows that these choices would lead to salvation or damnation.

Mormon belief says God's children were given the choice to come to earth to live in a sinful world, forget that they were His children with a pre-mortal existence, and take their chances with salvation and damnation.

Why would any pre-existing spirit willingly submit to such a test? They were already in heaven, in the presence of God. It makes no sense to leave. I understood that Mormons beleived that theosis on earth is a thing to be striven for, but that theosis would continue after death for the saved in any case.

Why volunteer to come to earth to an imperfect world, when it is already admitted that in heaven, theosis continues for the saved when they return? Pre-mortal souls are in heaven already. Surely, they can avoid the horrors of an imperfect earth, temptation and sin, and instead, just carry on with theosis without the necessity of descending to earth.

I remain unconvinced of the Mormon position. Is there anyone out there who can explain to me why it can and does work? I am sincerely interested.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Geraint - wrt The Fall - I distinguish between descriptions of what happened, and human explanations of why they happened - which may or may not be well expressed or properly understood.

For Mormons, having a body is higher than being just a spirit - the potential is much greater. Jesus had to become incarnated to become as fully divine as his Father. Same with us.

I don't think we forget, because clearly we don't and many people through history have had some memory of pre-mortal life. But that the prem-mortal and mortal states are so qualitatively different - probably in terms of the experience of time, that there cannot be clear and explicit memories - but more like the memories we have of dreams (only even less clear).

I think another vital aspect of mortal life is experience, increase of knowledge and understanding. As Arkle says, we need to experience hate as well as love, and we get that in mortal incarnate life on earth (if we live long enough). That is, we need to be tempted, as was Christ.