Sunday 3 July 2016

Potential problems of religious ritual and worship - by William Arkle

Edited from the chapter 'Levels of Consciousness' in William Arkle's  A Geography of Consciousness (1974) pp 122-3.

Ritual can evolve when individuals are trying hard to keep their consciousness tuned to the intuitive and ideal levels of awareness in the face of low-level attitudes which are prevalent in the world about them.

Ritualistic behaviour prevents the attention of the individual wandering onto other things such as the hundred-and-one practical issues that arise in physical level existence. The physical action of the ritual enforces the desired focus upon high ideals and does not leave room for other physical perceptions to intrude.

But that repetition of the ritual is also dangerous, for the reason that it enables the mind’s automatic systems to take over that process which lends itself perfectly to the task for which these automatic systems developed, namely, to do standard repetitive tasks. So while the adherent to ritual is closing his consciousness to outside interference, he is also prone to numb it all together; since there will be nothing for consciousness to do when the automatic systems have once got hold of the ritual.

This would all be fine if we belonged to the angelic form of evolution, because angels are meant to enjoy such repetitive behaviour; and no doubt this aspect draws them to the ritual.

But this is a complete disservice to human evolution unless it is on a very small scale, for while ritual may enable something of the angelic attitude and presence to be sensed; it does at the same time invalidate the main purpose which is to achieve self-conscious understanding of divine nature and aspiration.

A few sincerely felt moments of deep concern for this divine aspiration are therefore of far more value in the end than hours and years of partly-felt and partly-mechanical requests for help, forgiveness, undeserved benefits and ultimate safety. Thus religious ritual often degenerates into a sort of spiritual insurance scheme.

We can also see that even worship, when it is not a high and natural form of love, creates a dichotomy. For how can we consider ourselves in our own divine right while we are worshipping that right? The very basis of worship is to keep the object of our worship at a respectable distance in deference to its untouchable qualities.

We cannot therefore be expected to enter into these qualities and at the same time worship them. We can only enter into them if we self-consciously and simply love them. 

(by William Arkle) 

Note: I have changed Arkle's term 'computer' to 'automatic systems'; and his term 'entity' to 'angel' to assist clarity. By computer/ automatic systems he means the same as Colin Wilson does by 'the Robot' - that is the learning systems which tend to 'take over' any repeated skilled task and make it unconscious; for example when learning to drive a car. This is extremely useful.

But such automatic systems also take over higher and edifying activities like listening to or performing music, reading literature, and loving human relationships - and also religious worship. These then become automatic and lose their power. Life itself becomes automatic, and we become detached from it: trapped and cut off in our own consciousness (a very typical modern condition) - craving novelty and change in order to escape the automatic world - but every novelty soon becoming stale and the expectation of change becoming automatic

Arkle is lucid on the way in which the traditional stance of worship (as the term and activity is generally understood) can serve to prevent theosis - to prevent what is Man's primary reason for being an incarnated mortal, that is to develop towards divinity. If our task is to become more-divine, then a stance which emphasises the gulf between us and God could easily become an obstacle rather than an aid. If that gulf is felt as impossibly vast we are paralysed rather than en-couraged.

Furthermore, if (as Arkle argues elsewhere, and I believe to be true) the ultimate reason for creation is to raise some Men up to the same qualitative level with God (that is, to enable Men to choose this path and ultimate goal) such that at some point beyond death Men may 'grow up' to become divine friends and companions to God and participate in the work of creation... then the focus needs to be on similarity rather than difference - we need to learn to feel the divine in us and build upon it, rather than focusing on our deficiencies and inabilities. 

The basic stance of human life is supposed to be positive, active, creative - with full but secondary acknowledgement of our incapacity and tendency to sin and err. We are meant to strive cheerfully, in a care-free and indomitable manner; try and fail and repent, then strive and fail again; learning and growing spiritually in the process. 

We need to think of God as our Father (with us as his children) more than as our King (with us as servants or slaves); in the sense that Men are not trapped in a divine caste system, but we are assured we can grow-up to be like him, as Jesus did - blazing the trail for us.  

Insofar as ritual and worship helps this awakening and developing, it is good overall; insofar as ritual and worship numbs, demoralises and paralyses - it is bad. 

1 comment:

Nathaniel said...

It is a good point! I think we need ritual to try and pass-on knowledge - as all churches have (incorporated to some degree. Maybe in this way even if it skips a generation, or some people, it can be efficacious for others. It does feel like an error though to mindlessly/automatically repeat things and demand it is needed still, like a "spiritual chore" or something.

I easily fall into the automatic repetitive mindset, and the pagan error or feeling that I need to repeat these proscribed actions to propitiate God - but I've also experienced the change where the words of the memorized prayer become more real for me, I start to really identify and believe what they say more than before.