Thursday 8 June 2017

Why do we (you and I) live in this spiritual desert?

Since nothing is random or uncaused, and God is our loving Father; and since this modern world is a spiritual desert - then why are we here-and-now?

Why were we placed here, why - perhaps - did we choose to be placed here and at this most unspiritual and antireligious of times?

What possible spiritual benefit can a modern life bring us?

The answer, in a nutshell is: Living here and now compels us to reach inward to our true, divine self; because other (past) sources of Christian guidance are (for nearly all of the people in the world) either absent or corrupted. 

We must become active agents, we must become spiritually - Christianly - autonomous to a degree not seen before.


Our faith tells us that God would not allow any of his beloved children to be placed in this era and situation unless there was a very good reason: something of which we, personally, have great need.

Yet this situation is one in which the Christian religion is absent (from many parts of the world), or essentially abandoned and corrupted (in the developed nations). All the usual sources of guidance are tainted - tradition, scripture, hierarchical authority, philosophy... all are much more likely to do us harm than good if we go to what is most available and accept it uncritically.

We can get nowhere without discernment. 

Therefore spiritual passivity is - for us, here and now - ruled-out.

When the human aspects are all tainted or unobvious, then a policy of subordination and obedience are much more likely to do us harm than good; because we would probably be serving the Enemy rather than God.


In modernity we are brought to a state of utter isolation of our selves, and a loss of confidence in the reality of the world and of that self which is all we can experience. And our self and the world is dead, inert, passive and perceived as unliving - an accident, merely an illusion or delusion of our own limitations. We cannot perceive God, Jesus, angels; and even other people are merely shadowy entities justified only be the comfort or pleasures they provide.

We have so decisively lost the ability to know the external environment, that we regard it as a product of our minds; yet our minds are (in mainstream understanding) merely temporary, contingent, arbitrary collections of brain circuits - unreliable, prone to malfunction and doomed to extinction.

This is the state of nihilism when nothing is really-real and despair is inevitable and ineradicable.


So why are we here and now?

When there is no reliable external guidance, we must look within: and must means must, because there is no alternative.

Our Loving Father, the Creator would not have placed us here unless we had the resources to attain salvation and to make steps towards theosis (becoming more divine).

Since these resources are not to be found outside us, then everything we need must be found within -  and by invisible, spiritual means of communication. 

Specificially, what we need to begin is found within, and everything else follows as consequnces.


We must look within to find and feel our internal spiritual compass - that which is divine and eternal within each of us; that in us which is a child of God (still merely a child, but certainly that!).

Once we have located that inner reality; then - and only then - we can look outside; look (that is) not by our senses but directly to the world of spirit: open our real selves to to direct knowing and personal revelation from God, and the personal friendship of Jesus Christ.


That is why you and I are here and now; because what we personally most need, is to learn to find God within us.

Modernity is, indeed, a harsh spiritual lesson - but presumably that was the only kind of lesson that you and I were capable of learning.

(Earlier people in earlier generations, or people in different parts of the world, have other things that they need to learn . I am here talking about a reason why living in The West, the developed nations - is the best realistically-possible thing for some people; people such as you and me.) 

And of course this is a lesson each and every one of us absolutely needs to learn if we are ever to develop from the passive state of being immature, externally-driven, dependent-children of God into what he hope for us to become: active, agent, autonomous grown-up 'friends' of God (and ultimately perhaps spiritual parents in our own right); at a level where we can fully participate - Son or Daughter of God - in the great and endless divine work of love and creation.



William Wildblood said...

This is a very good point. When the outer world is corrupt and crumbling we are forced inwards and must find the truth within ourselves with the proviso that we should then measure that truth against the yardstick of traditional wisdom.

It all points to the huge importance of our free will in God's eyes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William. Yes, free will is of the essence to God's hopes and plans for us.

In my methaphysical view, free will is built-in, as a potential; and *ultimately* God could not over-ride it (even if he wished-to - which obviously he does not!). I mean, we can be compelled to *act* in some specified way, but we cannot be compelled to think in some specified way - thought is always free IF we choose to take-up that freedom.

My understanding is that there is an element (typically small) of our thinking that is 'real, uncaused and entirely 'creative' - but this can be (typically is) overlaid with superficial induced or automatic thinking.

Indeed, this superficial, and 'caused' thinking (much like automatic processing in a computer) can become an overwhelming habit - especially in the modern mass media micro-managed world.

It is getting past our passive, habitual, caused thinking and 'down' to this real and creative thinking that seems to be the key to starting the process.

For most people, this would involve some kind of cutting-down of stimulus, withdrawal from the media and social pressures, stopping busyness - and instead inducing stillness, quietness, and a kind of 'listening'.

Anyone can do this if they make it a priority; but there will come times in our lives in which - if we don't do it voluntarily - the necessary conditions may be forced upon us (by divine or spirit action, for our own good - so that we do not waste our lives in automatic existence); for example by a prolonged illness, some kind of waiting for a long period without available diatraction, or enforced solitude. Sometimes, events will be 'organised' so that this happens to us - however we may try to prevent it.

(Stuck at a remote bus stop for two hours of wiating, nobody else there - then the mobile phone breaks!...)

We certainly can't be *made* to do real thinking, and distractions are always possible - but we can be (will be) put into a position when there is nothing *stopping* us from discovering a glimpse of our real selves... except our own determination *not* to do it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aaron - Your summary is mostly correct factually, but I feel you miss the basic metaphysics of my belief - it all sounds rather disjointed, and complicated - when it is actually pretty simple.

The basic shape of life is given in this Mormon missionary manual -

Keeping this framework, I have clarified some aspects for myself from the ideas of Owen Barfield and William Arkle, mostly. William Arkle, has given me a clarity of the divine purpose - what God wants from creation, why he wanted children, what he hopes from us...

In general, I feel it has been a mistake for Christianity to (as I see it) squeeze itself into the abstractions of pre-existing Classical Philosophy (whether Plato/ Neo-Platonism or Aristotle) - in the attempt to match the Christian (and Ancient Henrew) God the Father with the God of the Philosophers having abstract properties such as omniscience, lacking body/ parts/ passions, and operating outide linear sequential Time...

Joseph Smith read the Bible in a very simple and common-sensical way, and found it made good sense - and indeed many of the intractable problems of Classical Theology were solved. In doing so he created the pluralist, evolutionary metaphysics which makes intuitive sense to me.

wrt Evolution - this is the pre-Darwinian evolution: evolution as an unfolding, a growth and development, a destiny. It is pretty much the opposite of Darwinian evolution by selection.

That'll do for now...

Aaron said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to clarify that for me, Bruce. I appreciate it.

Yes, I can see how evolution as destiny and unfoldment (teleology), is basically the opposite of random, undirected Darwinian revolution. That is quite true.

But destiny as a process of salvation - as "escape", liberation, transcendence - is very different from destiny as a process of teleological unfoldment, of course.

Salvation is outside the entire "family" of evolution based positions, as it were....

I take your point about "transcendence", also - it isn't specifically found in the Bible in that form, and its fully fleshed out version is Neo-platonic and perhaps gnostic, although it is a universal position found all over the world - Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism, Mysticism, etc.

Personally, I think the this world/other world as polarities has a kind of natural inner integrity and logic to it, but I understand you do not accept it.

However, the specific message of Jesus does seem to be about "negating" the world to a very large degree, (Sermon on the Mount, etc), and that, together the Fall, and the mystical elements of the Gospel of John, does seem to lead naturally up to the metaphysics of "transcendence" , or at least fit well with it.

But this is mere quibbling..

In the end what truly matters is our religious we yearn for the beyond human or is the perfected human enough? Do we yearn for the beyond-world or is a perfected world enough? Does the human, and this world, even admit of perfection at all, or only hint at it, and attaining true perfection would involve a "new birth" beyond any current thought-categories? Transcendence or perfection?

Is the sphere of mind - consciousness - even intensified mind, sufficient, or do we go beyond mind to "spirit", which transcends it? Or do we, as you say Bruce, need something more concrete and specific and expressible in terms of this world?

And no amount of scriptural interpretation can answer is an individual choice, an individual intuition, an individual sense...

We can only flesh out the implications of our positions and see if this sheds further light on our choices.

But thank you for elucidating, Bruce, and helping me figure out my own religious positions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aaron - I have been of the Neo-Platonist persusasion myself - and certainly feel a strong appeal from the focus on transcendence. However, I found that - ultimately - it does not value this mortal life and world. Mortal life is seen as an error to be overcome, something to be got through ASAP, indeed - why bother with mortality in the first place? WHy not 'go to Heaven, go directly to Heaven, do not pass go, do not collect 200 pounds...).

From the Neoplatonic Christian view, mortal life seems incompatible with a loving creator (either he designed things badly, or isn't very loving). If earthly ife is only a shadowy picture of reality, then why bother with earthly life?

The task of metaphysics, as I see it, is to explain why mortal life is important enough to be created and 'taken seriously' - yet to set mortality into the context of eternal life.

Another factor is to explain why incarnate (resurrected) eternal life is superior to life as a spirit - this is another area where classical theology seems to fail.

William Wildblood said...

As I see things we have to develop a real individuality before we can go beyond that and reach a conscious I-Thou union with God and so know love in the full spiritual sense. The pronounced duality experienced in this material world enables us first to develop the self and then, if we follow the spiritual path as we should, to transcend the limited identification with it in the union with God.

Aaron said...

Bruce - indeed, for salvific religion, this mortal life does not really have value in its current form - in its current form, it is the result of error or tragedy, the "Fall" - it is something we must be liberated or saved from, "transcended".

I do not see why, logically, we "need" to see this mortal life as having value?

You might say an all-loving and all-powerful God would not create such a world...

Well, of course, the standard response is that we lack access to all the data, and if we knew what God knows, we would understand...

One might say that this is too mysterious, and man must choose between an all-loving or an all powerful God...

However, your choice, that God is not all powerful, creates just as much mystery as it solves. If God is not all powerful, then there are other forces and principles at work, which we have not explained..

So the "quantity" of mystery does not really change, which is why it was never considered a decisive solution in the past.

Whatever solution we adopt, We cannot get away from mystery it seems...

Moreover, if we say God is not all-powerful, that in itself could explain the Fall - so the decision to see the world in its current form as purposive does not necessarily follow..

In fact, to see the world in its current form as justified and purposive if we place it in a larger context is really to deny metaphysics, and merely extend physics.

The "metaphysical insight", if you will, is the sense that this world as it stands is radically flawed, inadequate, and incomplete...if this intuition is "explained away" as only apparent, if our physical world is really "justified" - intended and purposive, just as it is - when seen in the context of a larger whole, then we have merely created a more comprehensive physics.

There is no "meta" - we have not gone beyond the world (physics), have not "transcended" it, but merely extended its domain...

Transcendence, it can be seen, is "inherently" salvific - , as you correctly note at the outset, Bruce. If this our world is indeed justified from a large perspective, then we have no need to transcend it - at most, we need only reach higher levels within it...

And this is, indeed, your solution, Bruce, no? I believe you have said that you conceive spirit as another kind of matter, and your conception of God is of a physical being.

In effect, your solution is to reject metaphysics and create a more comprehensive physics. To extend the domain of the world instead of transcend it.

It cannot be the "task of metaphysics" to explain why this world is intended and purposive. That can only be one possible solution to the "metaphysical quest" which in effect, denies the validity of the quest when seen from a more comprehensive physics.

Which is a perfectly legitimate solution, and your position is completely consistent.

Well! Thank you for this discussion, Bruce - you have indeed helped me clarify my thinking, as well as helped me to understand why your positions make complete sense within your own assumptions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aaron - Metaphysics has nothing to do with physics as such (the name just references the position of some text in a manuscript of Aristotle's) - Metaphysics is the philosophy about our primary assumptions concerning reality. Mormonism has different primary assumptions from other types of Christianity. This, in itself, shows that Christianity transcends metaphysics - if we let it...

Aaron said...

Wiiliam -

The problem with developing our individuality in this world is that it develops the finite phenomenal self - the "skandahs", as the Buddhists say.

The way to reach the transcendent Self has always been thought to be precisely a process of "reducing" the phenomenal self - a negative process.

I am curious - do you accept this schema of a phenomenal and transcendent self (perhaps a lower or higher self)? And do you think the transcendent self can be "developed", or only "reached"?

Bruce - certainly, Christianity can co-exist with many different primary assumptions about reality, and I would consider Mormons to be fully Christian. There are many deeply attractive features to Mormonism, as well.

I would say our assumptions about primary reality are less important than a "feeling" about the world and our destiny within it - do we want "more than" this phenomenal world, or "more of" this phenomenal world? We then build our metaphysics based on this "sense of life".

In the end, what separates us is that I am far more "pessimistic" and you are far more "optimisitic".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aaron - I think Christians need to reflect that the gospel is 'good news', and Christ's message was regarded at the time as one of great hope, and indeed ultimate optimism. So however we frame it - Christianity ought to be a very positive religion. Pascal said it was the best possible religon. The big question ought *not* to be whether it is positive, but whether it is true. If or when Christ's message seems a miserable affair, we can be confident that we have misunderstood it!

Aaron said...

Yes, I agree with that, Bruce -

But liberation from misery and inadequacy seems like very good news indeed...

I do not see Chris'ts message as a 'miserable affair' at all, but as one of the profoundest hope...

It is only "pessimistic" about our earthy life, not our ultimate destiny.

True pessimism would be this life is misery, and there is no escape. Perhaps Existentialism in some forms is like this.

Westerners used to think Buddhism is a pessimistic religion for similar reasons, but in an ultimate sense, it is highly optimistic.

William Wildblood said...

Aaron, I don’t find thinking in Buddhist terms is helpful for me any longer. I think our individuality is a real, God given thing and we have to develop it in a spiritual sense, grow intellect and imagination, ability to act and be creative etc, but, at the same time, go beyond a limited identification with it into a deeper union with God. But there has to be something to achieve this union.

I think Buddhism confuses the personal, separate self or ego which is a mind created thing with the real individuality which is a spiritual thing and which, when it has developed sufficiently, can join in the fully conscious union with God.

I don’t think you need to reduce individuality, God wants strong individuals in his kingdom, that’s why he created us, but you certainly do need to reduce and then cease entirely your unique identification with it. Go beyond it rather than to eradicate it. Eradicate the ego, yes, but not the individual. For me Buddhism tends to cure the sickness by killing the patient while Christianity heals the split in the soul.

The caterpillar has to grow before it can metamorphise into the butterfly. True, it does have to give up its identity as a caterpillar if that metamorphosis is to take place but the butterfly is the caterpillar metamorphosised. It is still there but now a butterfly rather than a caterpillar.

I base this on the teachings of Christianity, my own intuitions on the matter and my personal experience with discarnate teachers who I regard as demonstrating its successful achievement.

Bruce Charlton said...

Continuing from the above - Buddhism (and Hinduism) share that problem with Platonic Christianity of regarding mortal life as ultimatelyt useless, an error and a waste of time.

The obvious conclusion is that we should get mortality over and done with ASAP, indeed help things on their way with suicide - therefore Buddhism and Hinduism must have a punishment for suicide in terms of inferior reincarnation and Platonic Christianity had to make suicide into a mortral sin.

Aaron said...

Thank you, William.

These distinctions are not just Buddhist, but are in Christianity as well.

But I understand if you do not find them helpful. I confess I do not quite understand what you mean really with regard to self, but will continue reading you and others, and things will get clearer in time.

Bruce - not exactly.

For Buddhists suicide solves nothing. The point is to "reach the other shore" - a state beyond this world (not extinction).

To achieve this, one must follow a rigorous Path in this life. Suicide would merely get you reborn in this life. It would be pointless. It's a misunderstanding.

For Christians, as well, one's status in the next world is determined by how well one has "given up one's Life" and followed the path of Jesus in this world.

Mere suicide would not achieve the desired goal. The task would have been left undone.

These really are viable, coherent alternatives to your positive path of self-developement, even if you dislike them and disagree with them.

Each must surely choose for himself after understanding correctly the different paths - which is why I was at such pains to understand you, Bruce.

Tbh, for a long time I did not see clearly how your ideas related to traditional Christianity, and I thank you for this discussion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Aaron - Yes, that's just what I said. My point being that when this mortal life is intrinsically devalued, then there has to be a punishment for suicide emphasised.

This is when doctrineless (non-religious) Zen is ultimately incoherent - since if life is suffering, and detchment is the solution, then the only syre detchment is suicide; therefore some punishment for suicde must be smuggled in... and the consequence is that mortal life is made *even worse!* (since we are not allowed to escape it by suicide).

Small wonder that so many Christians have ended up with an idea of God as some kind of tormenter rather than a loving Father! Such a God puts us into a world where suffering may be terrible, made us so we are inevitably going to sin, and closed off any escape.

Mortal life is seen as an obstacle course beset with man-traps into which which almost must fall; the primary hope of mortal is to endure and repent... small wonder that most people failed to imagine a believable Heaven at the end of all this!

This vast complex tangle of contradiction is ultimately unneccessary - and it probably arises from nothing more noble than the stubbornness of early Christian intellectuals unwilling to give up the status deriving from their expertise in pagan philosophy...