Thursday, 16 May 2019

Some understanding that the individual is ultimate, is perhaps the major spiritual superiority of Modern Man

Modern man is inferior to past Men in many, probably most, respects - and it seems likely to me that there are more evil people alive now in The West, in total and as a proportion, than in the past and elsewhere. However the news is not all bad! - and Modern Man has one important superiority that may, in the end, prove crucial to his salvation and spiritual progression towards divinity.

That superiority is his sense of being an unique individual, who bears an ultimate responsibility for himself - as contrasted with being a person defined by a social role or social group (caste, class, profession etc). .

Of course, this understanding is partial and distorted, and has been largely inverted in its significance (for example being diverted into the pseudo-identities of the hedonic sexual revolution; or diverted into the materialist and resentment politics of socialism, feminism, antiracism etc).

But (I believe) underlying such materialist distortions and inversions there is a solid but unconscious spiritual knowledge that we should only be satisfied when we are fulfilling our own and unique destiny. 

Modern Man is unaware of this underlying knowledge, because he denies the reality of the spiritual; but it is there - and indeed it can be seen in his dreams and fantasies, as well as in the perversions of Leftist socio-politcs. The result is an intractable self-contradiction: Modern man hates to be defined, even as he embraces victim definitions; wants to be free even while insisting on totalitarianism; craves depth and connection and love - even while agitating for ever more and intrusive and mechanistic bureaucracy...

What is necessary is easy to state, difficult to achieve: awareness of what is unconscious, understanding that this is spiritual (not material) in nature; and living by this in one's thinking: a transformation of our thinking to embrace intuition as primary.

But this would not have been possible for many or most people in the past - even in theory; because apparently this aspect of human consciousness - this individuality - has developed, unfolded and spread-out, throughout the history of Man.

Now - we are (in the West) in a situation where it has happened; Modern Man, Now, just is an individualist, just is intrinsically and immovably dissatisfied by anything less than an unique destiny tailored to his distinctive nature.

There are innumerable ways this can be, is being, distorted (such as the offer of fake individualism in virtual reality, or fashion, or pick and mixed from a narrow spectrum of mandatory choices...).

But this is the destiny of men, as divinely ordained, and I think Christians therefore need to accept individuality as given, and work with it, in the direction God hopes for us. 


Andrew said...

One of your most important posts. Thank you.

-Andrew E.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Andrew - Thanks. This insight was only reached by me after exhausting all the alternatives... I took a long way around.

Francis Berger said...

Yes, I agree with Andrew. This IS an important insight. What you have brought up here is vital going forward, but the kind of individualism makes all the difference.

Atomized, egocentric, alienated individualism is suboptimal and counterproductive from a spiritual perspective (as you point out). I recently read something by Berdyaev (I know, I'm fixated) that addresses this exact issue .

He drew a distinction between the individual and what he terms "personality." I'll write a post about it. It could add something helpful to this theme.

Adil said...

As Barfield stated, Jesus descending introduced the concept of "I" into human consciousness. Therefore, the risen Christ heightened self-consciousness in the west. Paganism had not yet descended from collective submersion with the gods, to develop individual earthly selves. It seems to me new age philosophy wants to revert Christ and go back to this more primitive stage, by not taking responsibility for the Christian impetus. Indeed with Jesus God decided to share his crown with human individuals. We can compare this to Islam, which has not been able to make this leap by being stuck in Old Testament consciousness, where God has not shown his face nor shared his power - thus has not given birth to Christ. If consciousness evolves, then perhaps religions are not exclusive to eachother but rather represent different stages in the evolutionary spectrum.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - Yes, I agree that something of this kind happened; although I have not really been able to think this through 'for myself' - so I don't really feel I understand it properly.

Steiner (and probably Barfield) had a certain abstraction (and favouring of the purely spiritual over the incarnated) that I think is mistaken, and this clouds their description of 'how' Christ affected self-awareness.

(Indeed, they both seem to distinguish The Christ as spirit, from Jesus the person, which I regard as an error leading to further errors.)

William Wildblood said...

I think the distinction Francis makes (via Berdyaev) between individuality and personality is a good one. The first is something like the human soul as created by God and the source of who we are and what we are. It is our self and our quality and what we need to develop. It is good. The second is the corruption of that soul by egotism, the sense of separateness and so on, probably coming about through being in a material environment in which we feel we are on our own. This is what we need to overcome to make our way back to God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Yes, this is a vital distinction. I 'got it' first from William Arkle (Geography of Consciousness) - he regards finding and living-from our real (which is divine) self as an indispensable task.

Our materialist society is all about the personality, ego, self aggrandisment, pride etc - and I think that Christians have often been so concerned to avoid this taint that they have veered over into a more Eastern attempt to annihilate The Self, and be absorbed-into deity.

But the individual (real) sef is absolutely necessary to Christianity as it ought to be - what with Jesus being a specific Man, and indeed, by all accounts, a very vivid and utterly distinctive individual; with strong emotions, love for specific other people etc.

This does not mean we ought to model upon Jesus's specific behaviours - but it does mean that we should be as true-to-our-selves as he was.

My understanding of Heaven is therefore utterly different from the Eastern Nirvana-like goals of existence - because Heaven is full of distinctive individuals; bound together by Love, and Not by similarity.

Adil said...

So the equation seems to be this: In the Old Testament, God is still based in the Ego. Religion is a purely collective/tribal thing where people externally submit to a remote, impersonal, all-encompassing Ego. With the birth of Christ, God descends into the Self - awakening the individual, lending credence to the soul. This instantiates western civilization, which in modern times backlashes into corruption, collectivism and Personality worship.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - (Sorry if you already know the following - but I take the opportunity to set things out again but differently for my own benefit, and any other readers unfamiliar with it.)

I get my understanding mostly from Owen Barfield - eg. in Romanticism comes of Age and Saving the Appearances (and bits of Steiner, and Jeremy Naydler) and see the process as beginning in pre-history - with the hunter gatherers - who lived immersed in a much more group-ish, unconsciously inter-communicating way. The Ancient Egyptians begin the process of detachment of the self from the divine, and later from the environment - leading to our current relativism and nihilism. To contact the divine, the Ancients needed more and more rigorous ritual. Magic became a initiate craft instead of universal.

The Old Testament Jews seem to have introduced the strict prohibition on idolatry, and of ever greater abstraction of God, and an infinite distance of nature between Man and the divine; which also represented the beginnings of significant alienation.

But what is not always clear with such accounts is the direction and source of causality. The idea is that the process is driven by God, and originates in the changing consciousness of Men; so that culture initially follows the change in consciousness (even though culture then also reinforces the change).

By this account, the present change of consciousness began around 1750, and was first apparent with the beginnings of Romanticism, the invention of the novel, and obvious (in Britain) with people such as Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth.

So, from around 1800 it was increasingly obvious that people were much more individualist. But the key difference between This change in consciousness, and all previous developments, is that This time the change must be volunarily and consciously embraced. This has not happened (or, only rarely). Mostly, God and the entirety of the spiritual is rejected and denied.

Another path is that it is accepted, but Christianity is rejected.

Romanticism has been distorted into such channels as utoian politics, aestheticism and sex-as-a-way-of-life.

In Steiner's understanding; the most recent change of consciousness has been rejected consciously, but has happened unconsciously - emerging in various materialist ways.

Mainstream Christianity has almost wholly rejected Romanticism, which is regarded as anti-Christian - and the attempt is made to revrt to some earlier stage of culture; but this cannot work because by now nearly all Men are romantic, their consciousness has changed - so it is simply not possible to return to any earlier stage of social organisation.

Adil said...


It might be useful to contrast that with what I've read on Jung's psychological evolution of religion, which goes like follows:

1. Animism - idolatry

The first stage of the psychological development of the 'god image' is animism, where God is imagined in everything. A participatory experience where everything is magic - akin to how the world is for baby.

2. Matriarchy

The mother becomes God. In primitive times life revolved around small villages where women kept things together, and where human groups lived far apart and there was no need for warfare. Mothers produce life and take care of the family, so everything revolves around the mother. When we are children, our mothers seem like goddesses.

3. Hierarachical polytheism

The father starts to make his presence. Society at large occurs when we need rules and services to continue, and the father is the enforcer of the rules. It is polytheist because every family has a father and there are many family gods in a community. When human communities began bumping up against one another, the fathers were the negotiators, like local gods going out to protect the village and fight for it.

4. Tribal Monotheism

Many groups get together and fight, tribe against tribe, like in ancient Greece. The the tribal chieftain is the god. One person is leader, everybody knows who is in charge. Members worship one thing like fans and a football team. Abrahamism is born - God makes a covenant with a chosen people.

5. Universal Monotheism

One God, spread across more than one country and many tribes - recognizing there is something outside the collective unconscious pushing us. God is worshipped like a theological projection, as a religious image. In such a form, it is not yet realized as a psychic reality; as an aspect of psychological experience.

6. Individuation – The Objective Psyche

The challenge of modern man. Jung discovers the trans-personal center - a psychological layer that goes over universal monotheism. The goal being to participate in the continuing incarnation of the God image. Jung's point is that that image of the incarnation of Diety in a human being, which was at-least symbolically manifested in Christ, is now to be empirically realized by individuals. The Ego, in the process of establishing a conscious living relationship with the Self becomes the ground for the incarnation of Diety. The achievement of consciousness of the Ego-Self Axis, the connecting factor between the Ego and the Self (The Holy Ghost), brings about a realization that the Ego is manifesting in its life a transpersonal purpose and being.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Eric - Thanks.

One is never sure with Jung, and I think he probably became objectively a Christian at the end of his life; but his scheme is one that does not regard God as a reality in the usual sense of real.

i.e. He regarded God as a psychological reality, shared between all Men; but not as the creator. So I would say that this scheme refers to the psychological evolution of the 'image' of God in men's minds.