Friday 28 April 2017

The lazy, sub-human passivity fantasy - but we need to be active, purposive, conscious and free

I find that a snare of spiritual and religious life is the desire to take an essentially passive role and be overwhelmed into assent.

The notion that if only we would stop resisting; then we would quite naturally and spontaneously be convinced and coerced into the proper frame of mind, perspective, way of behaviour.

The idea that a spiritual/ religious awakening/ rebirth - to be valid - ought to hit a mass of people like a tidal wave or a blast of electromagnetic radiation or a mind-warping, psychedelic drug - smashing us into some new mental conformation by main force, whether we like it or like-it-not...

But I am sure that all valid spiritual and religious change is agent - that is, it must come from our freedom, from our true-self thinking;not from animal instinct, nor from derangement or disease or devolution; and indeed I have become ever-more aware that the particular task of modern Man in the modern situation is actively, explicitly, deliberately and by choice to move forward along the line of full consciousness of phenomena.

Modern spiritual rebirth therefore cannot happen without each of us as individuals knowing that it has happened; furthermore it cannot happen unless we will it to happen, want it to happen, work for it to happen... perfectly consciously and explicitly.

The spiritual laziness and self-blinding and self-indulgence of modern Western Man knows no bounds! Yet if we wish to move forward, we must discard our passivity fantasy, our notion that only what is overwhelming and external is 'real' - and accept that we are destined and intended and supposed to be conscious agents - like God.


NOTE added: Many people believe that only if one is overwhelmed - emotionally, viscerally - is a conversion experience authentic. This seems to be the lesson of some conversion stories from earlier cultural eras - and it was the implicit basis of 1960s countercultural spirituality based on delirious altered states of consciousness (shamanism, drugs, sex etc).

Yet it is characteristic of modern culture that we distrust the validity of any such experience - and disbelieve (in practice) anything which is 'unconscious', 'instinctive', 'nonrational'.

(Despite two centuries of exhortations that our lives should be utterly 'natural', spontaneous, child-like, a restoration of original tribal spirituality... the cultural trend has been unrelebntingly in the opposite direction. We now live under micro-managerial totalitarianism with an all intrusive and pervasive and addictive mass media. A return to instinctive spirituality is just Not Going To Happen.)

This combination of assumptions has been a major reason why spirituality (and serious religion) has been driven utterly out from the domain of public discourse and to the fringes of life, to private subjectivity and 'lifestyle'.

It seems clear to me that for our time and place, spiritual experience must not be either/ or; either bureaucratic materialist rationality or unconscious instinct - but needs to be fully conscious and explicit while also being powerfully intuitive - hence convincing. This combination does not 'come naturally' which is why our spiritual future is one of deliberate purpose and choice... or else it won't happen.


William Wildblood said...

That's a great insight, Bruce. Spirituality is all too often associated with passivity, letting go and not resisting etc and though these are certainly part of it they are not the whole. It's the old story of rejecting selfhood instead of fulfilling it which is, I believe, the higher option. Of course, this fulfilment must be within the context of renouncing the old, fallen self and moving into a higher understanding of the self in God but still God must want a positive contribution from us as individuals to increase the value of creation and not just passive acquiescence in his being. Otherwise what's the point from his perspective?!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Thanks! Although, I have to admit that I got this idea from Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner.

August said...

I have been struggling with this for years. Seems nearly impossible to circumvent, unless I play agnostic or something. Even while being aware of it, prayer seems to create a mindset of passivity.

Production, I notice, is particularly tough. Study, reading, even working out- things easily done alone- easier to do.

It must be that we must develop will, whereas the progressive hack on our tradition seems to be that they taught us not to develop will, but to wait for God's will to be manifested. Since that isn't the way it works, they happily use whatever energy we have to do their will via the institutions. But, even after we figure things out we need the will, which does not seem to be a easy to build as muscle.