Monday, 11 September 2017

A truly scientific-spirited Christianity (from 1902)

(Rudolf Steiner writing:) Natural scientific thought has deeply influenced the formulation of present-day ideas. Those who are alert to the pulse of the times must take this trend into consideration.

Ideas derived from natural science conquer our thought-life with gathering momentum, and our unwilling hearts follow hesitantly and with apprehension. Not only the number thus conquered is important: there is a power inherent in natural scientific thought which convinces the observant that a modern conception of the world cannot exclude its impressions. This method of thought has gained widespread recognition and attracts people as if by magic.

The situation is not altered by the fact that isolated individuals can see how true science, through its own power has “long” led beyond the “shallow doctrines of force and matter,” taught by materialism. Far more important are those who boldly declare that a new religion should be built on natural scientific ideas. 

Even if such people seem shallow and superficial to those who know the deeper spiritual requirements of humanity, nevertheless they should be noted. And those also must be considered who have allowed their heads to take precedence over their hearts. 

These people are unable to free their intellects from natural scientific ideas. They are oppressed by the need for proof. But the religious needs of their souls cannot be satisfied by these natural scientific ideas because science offers too comfortless a perspective for their satisfaction. 

Why be enthusiastic about beauty, truth and goodness if in the end everything is to be swept away into nothingness like a bubble of inflated brain tissue? 

This is a feeling which oppresses many people like a nightmare. Therefore scientific ideas also oppress them, pressing their claims with tremendous authoritative force. 

As long as they can, people remain blind to the discord in their souls. They think in accordance with natural science - so long as the experience of their senses and logic demand it, but they keep to the religious sentiments in which they have been educated, preferring to remain in darkness concerning these matters, a darkness which clouds their understanding. They have not the courage to struggle through to clarity.


There can be no doubt whatever that the method of thought derived from natural science is the greatest power in modern spiritual life. And one who speaks of the spiritual concerns of mankind may not pass it by heedlessly. Nevertheless it is also true that the method by which it attempts to satisfy spiritual needs is shallow and superficial. 

If this were the right method the outlook would indeed be comfortless. Would it not be depressing to be forced to agree with those who say, “Man is a machine into which we put what we call food, and produce what we call thought. Think of that wonderful chemistry by which bread was changed into the divine tragedy of Hamlet!” Countless people, influenced by the natural scientific method of thought, seem compelled to assume an attitude in line with the above quotation, even when they believe they are not doing so.

But are the demands made by natural science really as they are described by some of its representatives? The behavior of these representatives themselves proves that this is not the case. Their behavior in their own field is not such as many describe and demand in other fields. Would Darwin and Haeckel ever have made their great discoveries about the evolution of life if, instead of observing life and the structure of living beings, they had gone into the laboratory to make chemical experiments with tissue cut out of an organism? 

Let us really follow in the footsteps of these explorers who appear as monumental figures in the development of modern science! We shall then apply to the higher regions of spiritual life what they have applied in the field of the observation of nature. 

One who is investigating the nature of spirit can only learn from natural science. He really needs only to do as science does. But he must not allow himself to be misled by what individual representatives of natural science would dictate to him. He must investigate in the spiritual domain as they do in the physical, but he need not adopt their opinions about the spiritual world, confused as they are by their exclusive consideration of physical phenomena.

We shall act in conformity with natural science only when we study the spiritual evolution of man just as impartially as the naturalist observes the material world. We shall be led to higher methods which, although they cannot be those of natural science, yet hold good in the same sense.

The above has been edited, by me, from the first section of Christianity as Mystical Fact by Rudolf Steiner, published in 1902.


My comment: It is telling that Steiner wrote the above analysis more than a century ago, yet we are certainly no further forward with this core, essential problem of our civilisation; indeed we are considerably further back from it - since it is hard to imagine any diagnosis so accurate being publised today.

Modern rigrous thinking has now narrowed the options down to acceptance of the scientific world view as authoritative and accepting the wholesale spiritual (then physical) destruction that this brings; or rejecting scince (either in totality, for the more rigour thinkers, or else rolling it back to some earlier civilisational level and holding it just-there - for those who allow themselves wishful thinking).

But the very possibility of a spirituality that is truly-scientific in method has essentially disappeared from Western apprehension - it is no longer even comprehensible (and this includes nearly all of Steiner's modern self-styled followers whom I have encountered in print; because the whole Anthroposophy movement has been fundamentally corrupted/ inverted by the incoherent and anti-Christian evil of New Leftism).

Yet Steiner was correct in 1902. He was, as Owen Barfield saw - completing the movement of human consciousness which began with the Romanticism of Coleridge and Goethe. Steiner was (in 1902, although this became sadly obscured and muddled in his later over-production of lectures and writings) decribing in outline the necessary basis of a true Christianity; both satisfying and robust.

This was based upon Steiner's philosophical breakthroughs in what he termed 'epistemology', but was actually metaphysics, leading up to The Philosophy of Freedom published in 1894.

Steiner described the reason for, and the basic method to attain, what I have been calling Primary Thinking - which is itself the true scientific attitude applied to human consciousness, and thence to Christianity.

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