Wednesday 24 April 2019

That monotheistic feeling... contrasted with Christian multiplicity of agent Beings

If man wishes to build for himself a world conception, he rightly strives toward harmonizing the individual parts...

One who approaches the world with the expectation that everything must explain itself without contradiction, as if it arose from an undivided foundation of the world, will experience many disappointments when he faces the world and its experiences in an unprejudiced way. It is traditional for the human being to treat all that he perceives in the world according to a pastoral world conception, in which everything is led back to the undivided, divine, primordial foundation; everything stems from God and therefore must be understandable as a unity.

This is not the case now, however. What surrounds us in the world as experience does not stem from the undivided primordial foundation. Rather it stems from spiritual individualities different from one another. Different individualities work together in all that surrounds us in the world as experience. This is how it is above all...

Various individualities work together in influencing these events that are relatively independent of each other. If you do not take this into consideration, if you assume everywhere an undivided foundation of the world, you will never understand these events. Only when you take into consideration what is to a certain degree the ebb and flow of events, the varied individualities who work with or against one another, only then will you understand these things in the right way.

This matter is indeed connected with the deepest mysteries of human evolution. Only the monotheistic feeling has veiled this fact for centuries or millennia, but one must consider it.

If one wishes to progress today, therefore, with questions of a world conception, above all one must not confuse logic with an abstract lack of contradiction. An abstract lack of contradiction cannot exist in a world in which individualities are working together independently of one another. 

A striving for conformity will therefore always lead to an impoverishment of concepts; the concepts will no longer be able to encompass the full reality. Only when these concepts are able to take hold of this world full of contradictions, which is the true reality, will they be able to encompass the full reality.

From Individual Spirit Beings and the Undivided Foundation of the World: Part 2 by Rudolf Steiner.

This particular section of a lecture by Rodolf Steiner jumped out at me; because he shares my own understanding that monotheism is an understandable but misguided urge; one that can only be achieved by an 'impoverishment of concepts', an ignoring of primary and intuitively-known realities, that - in the end, and especially at present - plays into sustaining this age of secular materialism.

In other words, a highly abstract monotheism, one that primarily asserts the unity of the world, is hostile to our intuitive knowledge of the multiplicity of agent Beings in reality. This world is Not merely 'aspects' of a primordial unity; it is a Society of Beings.

And this is why, for Christians, Love is the primary necessity; because it is Love which harmonises, and aligns the purposes of Beings into a participation in creation - Beings whose wills otherwise would be chaotically at war.

Christians are One in Love and Purpose - not in monotheistic Being. 

There is a qualitative distinction between the false monotheistic harmony of unity, and the true Christian harmony of Love.

This is why it is important for Christians to acknowledge that in deepest truth they are not monotheists, nor are they 'Trinitarian' monotheists - but that Christianity implicitly acknowledges and works-with the genuine autonomy of many, many Beings.


Kristor said...

On the other hand: Exodus 20:2-4.

dearieme said...

@Kristor: but that passage isn't monotheistic. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" isn't a claim to be the only God, it's a claim to be Top God, a Zeus or an Odin.

If the people who say that the Jews picked up monotheism from Zoroastrians during the Exile are right, that presumably means that Exodus 20:2-4 was written before the Exile. Or was it written by someone who rejected Zoroastrian notions? Nobody knows, I assume.

Adil said...

I agree. There are many left-isms in the world, and their common theme is compressing reality in favor of One Big Idea that pleases the many with a fast-food worldview. What is important in this mentally obese age is to go below concepts and language, to find out what is really happening. The apparent diversity of our age is actually a futile attempt to spice up an underlying sameness and spiritual dryness. An abstract monotheism to cover reality - which is too multi-layered and slippery to be confined into a box. This kind of unity is forced, and does actually reflect a lack of spiritual oxygen and inner harmony. But real Christianity acknowledges the plurality and individuality of the world as purposeful, and encourages us to instead find natural communion in love. This means not transgressing reality and acknowledging it as the untouchable domain of God. The purpose is making something that is greater than the sum of its parts, by harmonizing not dissolving them. Like an ongoing composition that leaves the door open as to not lose sight and light of the untangible path to Heaven. Our modern forced order is afraid of the unknown and thereby closes the future by short-sighted easy thinking. The entry to Heaven is effectively blurred out.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

As I've mentioned before, this goes against your oft-stated belief that our experience is tailor-made for us by God and is exactly what we need. In fact, it is the work of "varied individualities who work with or against one another" and as such does not have a single overarching purpose for which it is designed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I don't see it; unless one has an 'absolute in every respect' understanding of 'tailor made'.

Since agency is real and multiple, God works by arranging the circumstances of agency.

Chent said...

As a Catholic, I am not afraid of different individualities: we call them angels, humans (including saints), the Virgin Mary and the Persons of the Holy Trinity. This does not deny that there is one God.

The same way, hinduists have multiple gods (Christians we call them angels and demons) that are manifestations of Brahman, the One God.

I guess Protestantism wanted to remove that and Mormonism is a reaction against it to end up in polytheism. I get the atraction of metaphysical Mormonism because it is simpler and makes more sense than metaphysical Christianity. It is reducing the mystery to human categories, in a rational way compatible with modern philosophies. This makes it irresistible to brainy guys that want to have everything in a neat theory.

Bruce Charlton said...


It isn't a matter of reducing the mystery, but a different kind - it is a metaphysical shift from a monist universe - with everything going back to a single point of being and origin; to a pluralistic universe with multipe points of being and origin.

In a sense, this is a theorising of what is natural and spontaneous to tribal Man, and to children. That's how I see it, anyway - I see that my task is to make conscious and explicit the truths that used to be unconscious and implicit.

In another sense it was something new unders the sun - being 'naively' stated by Joseph Smith and not theorised until a couple of generations later by Mormon intellectuals and by the philosopher William James (in his 'pluraistic universe' and other works). James regarded this as the single most important philosophical distinction, but so far as I know hardly anybody has followed him in this, and hardly anybody has agreed that reality is pluralist.

Outside of Mormonism there is Steiner and Barfield who were actually working on this basis - and I can't really think of anyone else except ST Coleridge - who was probably the first and greatest - but who I find all-but unreadable and can only understand via Barfield's book, so perhaps that is rather too secondhand.

There are a few Mormon theologians that I am aware of who work-out the consequences of pluralism, but I gather that most Mormons (including the leaders) don't really think about philosophical-metaphysical matters, don't regard them as particularly important - and it seems that many Mormons reference back to a very classical/ mainstream kind of theology (with a few name changes), which is not truly compatible with a pluralistic reality.

Kristor said...

@ dearieme: In all her dispensations, Israel has always recognized the existence of many gods – of angels and demons. In fact, almost all religions feature a hierarchy of supernatural beings with a single high God at the top and origin of all things. Genesis 20:2-4 was a warning to the Israelites that they should by no means commit the category error of mistaking any of the lesser gods for the only true God who is the ultimate origin of all things and alone rightly worshipped.

So monotheism does not rule out the plurality of causal agents Bruce rightly notices. That was all I meant.

NB: monotheism is not monism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor, in almost all mainstream Christian theology, Catholic and Protestant - monotheism is indeed - very much - monism.

Creation can, however, be understood as having a single origin - but in a pluralist universe.

Jonathan said...

Bruce, where can I find this William James discussion of pluralism? What is the title of the book/essay? Thank you.

Bruce Charlton said...

jonathan -

Kristor said...

I should have written: NB: monotheism is not monism, simpliciter. It depends what you mean by monism. If you mean substance monism, on which there is only one type of thing, then Christianity is not monist. If you mean existence monism, on which despite appearances there is only one thing, then Christianity is not monist. If you mean priority monism, on which there is some basic thing that is prior to all others, then Christianity (like almost all religions) is monist.

If there is more than one basic thing, then creation cannot have a single origin, precisely because it has in that case a plural origin – or rather, origins.

Is there more than one basic thing? To answer that question, we need first to understand what a basic thing must be like.

1. A basic thing must be simple. It must not be composed of other things, for if it were, those other things would be its bases, and it would not itself be truly basic.

2. A basic thing must not be contingent. If it were contingent, its causes would be its bases, and it would not itself be truly basic.

3. A basic thing must be immutable. If it were mutable, it would be both contingent on and composed of other things, which would be its bases, so that it would not itself be truly basic.

4. A basic thing must be necessary; for, if it were not necessary, it would be contingent, etc.

5. A basic thing must be eternal; for, if it had come into being, it would be contingent, etc.

6. A basic thing must be ultimate. If it were subultimate, there would be some greater thing or things that, as greater, conditioned it. Those greater things then would be its bases, and it would not itself be truly basic. Thus to say that a thing is basic just is to say that it is ultimate, and vice versa.

7. A basic thing must be perfect along all dimensions of perfection. If it were not thus perfect, it would be subultimate, etc.

8. A basic thing must be singular. There cannot be more than one. If there were more than one basic thing, each would condition or limit the others, and so each would be conditioned or limited by the others. In that case, all of them would be bases of each other, and none of them would be itself basic.

9. A basic thing must be prior to all other things. If it were posterior to any other things, those things would be its bases, and it would not itself be basic.

And so forth.

Evidently, if there are any basic things at all, there can be no more than one of them. Either there is one basic thing, then, or there are none. If there are no basic things, nothing is basic to anything. In that case, nothing has any bases. There is then at bottom no reason or cause or basis or foundation to things; no order or coherence or integrity; no world, in other words. But there is a coherent world, so it cannot be true that there are no basic things.

So there is one basic thing.

Which is a good thing, for if there were not, then there were nothing, and then no such thing as (in particular) our world, or any other.

The fact of the one basic thing enables all other things. It is therefore understandable why all men have felt the monotheistic urge that Steiner notices. It is the urge to comprehend a world that can in principle be intelligently comprehended (however partial our comprehension in practice) because it is thoroughly intelligible on account of its integral and orderly coherence. No coherence of things, no order and integrity in their mutual coordination, then no world. We find ourselves in a world, mirabile dictu. In it, things happens coordinately, regularly, lawfully; they adjust themselves to each other immaculately. This world must therefore be integrally orderly and coherent, and therefore intelligible; for the coherence of things consist in part in mutual intelligibility of things.

If the monotheistic urge is doomed to frustration by the intractable chaos of things, why then there is just an intractable chaos, not a world; and then we can have no basis for asserting anything at all, *including the assertion that there is an intractable chaos of things.*

Nathaniel said...

Bruce, do you not think that the most high LOVE/TRUTH/SOURCE is what Jesus refers to?
and would we not describe PURE LOVE as something which springs forth creation/triggers creation.