Friday 21 February 2020

How does human consciousness 'evolve' (develop) through history, if there is not reincarnation?

Almost everybody who believes-in the evolution of human consciousness, also believes-in reincarnation - but not me.

While I think it probable that reincarnation was usual before the advent of Jesus Christ; I don't believe that reincarnation has been normal since then, at least among Christians - and has indeed been very exceptional (or absent). This for the simple reason that Jesus came to bring resurrected and eternal life in Heaven to his followers, and my assumption is that resurrection happens soon after biological death - which combination (as I understand it) rules-out reincarnation. (although perhaps not something like projected avatars...).

However I also believe that through history (and pre-history) the consciousness of men has developed according to a divine plan or destiny (consciousness has 'evolved' in an old sense of the word). In other words, Men at different points in history have thought and experienced differently - and this is evolutionary-development of mind is (of course) reflected in language (as documented by the work of Owen Barfield), religion, society, science, art and everything else.

But the key point is that socio-cultural change is driven by the inner change in human consciouness - and that inner change has inner causes - and not (or not primarily) the other way around (as most people suppose).

However, if for the past c. 2000 years at least, human souls have one mortal life, and if therefore we can experience only one mode of consciousness and one era of evolutionary history - then what is the value of an evolution in consciousness? Why have consciousness changing through human generations - if, for each individual person - consciousness is Not changing?

My answer is that each of us is unique, therefore each of us needs different experiences in our (one) mortal life; and the evolution of consciousness is a way that God uses to give individual human spirits the many types of experience that each needs.

Other ways of providing different experiences come from different families, different social circumstances, nations, levels and types of civilisation etc. But one of the important ways in which mortal life is tailored to the needs of individual incarnating spirits is through the phases and stages of the development of consciousness.

So that the simple hunter gatherer societies had (in important respects) a very young-child-like consciousness even among adults. Medieval Europe was essentially rooted in the developmental stage of an older child (with its fixed symbolism, hierarchies and rituals). Modern society is essentially the adolescent stage.

And there has never yet been (except among individuals and small temporary groups, perhaps) any time and place where the adult form of consciousness has prevailed - although that is the task of our stage of evolution: i.e. to become properly adult in our consciousness.

Our task (here and now, in The West) is to grow-up spiritually; to attain (and this must be an active and conscious choice, which is a reason why it has not yet happened) what Owen Barfield called Final Participation.


a_probst said...

" assumption is that resurrection happens soon after biological death..."

That makes more sense to me than the notion some Christian sects have that souls are kept 'on ice' and unaware until the Apocalypse (so never mind praying intercession of the Saints).

Bruce Charlton said...

@a-p - I think this bizarre idea comes from the wrong teaching of Jesus's second coming - as something for Jesus to do when he comes again; and that second coming idea (absent from the Fourth - 'John', most authoritative gospel) seems to be merely a sop to the Jewish Christians who noticed that Jesus did not fulfil the political Messiah prophecies - asserting he would come back to finish the job, and make a perfect society on earth.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

The second coming idea is part of it. The other part is that Biblical resurrection (of Lazarus and Jesus) leaves an empty tomb. It is thus natural to conclude that those whose physical remains are still in their tombs have not yet been resurrected.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - It may be logical to conclude that, but I must acknowledge it never occurred to me! For me there was an earthly body and a heavenly body - and the tombs didn't come into it except as accidental factors (earthly, contingent, expedient, temporal). At any rate, it seems a vast stretch from empty tombs to the second coming - with its difficult-to-dodge implication that Christ partly-failed first-time-round!

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Bruce: Your mention of reincarnation reminds me of a thought I had recently.
If one comes to believe that reincarnation is possible, does it follow that reincarnations must be in historical temporal sequence?
To the extent I had thought about it (not much), I presumed that a human soul's subsequent incarnations - if they happen - would occur in time-order as we know it: Incarnation 1 ca. 2000 BC; Incarnation 2 ca. 1000 BC; and so on... But is that necessarily so? Could it not just as easily be: Incarnation 1 ca. 2000 AD; Incarnation 2 ca. 300 AD; Incarnation 3 ca. 1100 AD; and so on, back and forth in historical time to achieve whatever purpose God has in mind for that soul? The sequence of reincarnations as the soul experiences them need not be tied to the historical sequence of the times into which that soul is born.
That would appear to contradict the Steiner/Barfield/Charlton view of evolving consciousness, however. One objection I have to that idea is that great men of the past don't appear less mature than men today. For example - using only Christian religious figures - is Bernard of Clairvaux (ca. 1100) markedly more mature than St. Augustine (ca. 400), and is either less mature than Pope Francis? Looking father afield, are any of them more mature than Saint Paul (ca. 50 AD) or Moses (ca. 1300 BC)? And while we're at it, is Mohammed (ca. 600) in any measure more mature than Moses or Paul?
Curious about what you think of this. HRS

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - I regard time as linear and sequential, and an intrinsic aspect of reality. Indeed, I believe this is view of time intrinsic to Christianity, which is - perhaps more than any other religion - based on an actual historical event that changed everything.

Of course, I'm aware that Christian theologians have gravitated to an abstract Platonic idea of God outside of time, surveying all times simultaneously etc; but I think this is wrong; and was introduced mistakenly because early theologians were trying to force Christianity into the pre-existing mould of Greco-Roman philosophy; which included the omni-'God of the Philosophers' - defined by abstract attributes rather personhood and relationships.

It was one of the great achievements of Mormonism to provide Christians with a metaphysical way of dispensing with this vast and alien philosophical substructure that had distorted Christianity and made it incoherent and confusing for so long.