Wednesday 30 March 2022

When 'spirituality' become merely materialistic - lessons in "defense against the dark arts" from Rudolf Steiner in 1917

One of Rudolf Steiner's deepest prophetic hints was from a series of lectures in late 1917 which were collected and published in 2004 under the title Secret Brotherhoods and the Mystery of the Human Double

(All the lectures are also available free on the Rudolf Steiner Archive as GA 178, although these translations are less comprehensible than the 2004 collection.) 

I have been re-reading these remarkable works - as always sifting and reinterpreting Steiner's valid 'raw insights' from the (wrong) metaphysical schema and his frequent errors of overelaboration. 

Steiner's prediction was that through the twentieth century and into the next, the demonic powers, assisted by their human servants (i.e. the 'secret brotherhoods' of the book title - nowadays broadly corresponding to the highest human levels of component institutions of the global totalitarian System) would have the primary strategy of convincing the masses that this is a wholly material world

This is the ideology we may call leftism; but which is in essence identical with philosophical materialism/ positivism/ reductionism/ scientism. 

Indeed, so successful has this strategy been, and so dominant and habitual its world-view, that we do not have a generally-accepted name for it! Why name what (nearly-) everybody believes?

The reason behind this materialism project is demonic, in the sense that it is the most effective way of achieving mass damnation. 

In the past, it was necessary to induce Men to reject Christ and choose Hell in an explicit kind of way; but with global materialism Christ, God, creation, and the whole spiritual world are simply regarded as not-real, nonsense; a childish and foolish delusion.

The question of Jesus Christ has not been refuted by materialism, it has instead been rendered incomprehensible, meaningless, absurd! Which is far more effective.  

But the plan of materialism needed to account for Man's perennial seeking for 'spiritual' meaning; for something beyond the mundane - and Steiner perceived that therefore there would need to be ways of rendering and reducing 'the spiritual' to the material. 

So that people who regarded themselves as spiritual would actually conceptualize 'spiritual' in a materialist way - without realizing the fact!

And this is precisely what has happened with the New Age tendency in spirituality; which itself evolved and expanded from roots in 'Eastern' or 'Perennialist' Beat Generation in the 1950s, then 1960s Hippy spiritualties.  

What happens in such 'spiritualities' is that the spiritual is very rapidly 'operationalized' as something material. 

Most obviously there tends to be a focus on this world rather than life beyond death; thi world is seen as the most urgent, the most important, the most real - eventually the only really-real. Therefore, the New Age assimilated to mainstream Leftist political ideologies and projects...

Perhaps the commonest example is when spirituality or consciousness is interpreted as an abstraction therefore not as personal - and using terms from physics; as when New Agers talk - and think! - about spirit in terms of energy, light, vibrations and frequencies. 

Another spiritual reduction is when there is a focus upon Healing - and the bulk of New Age spirituality gravitates towards some model of Healing or Therapy - which is both this-worldly, and rooted in feelings, which are substantially material phenomena since they depend on the body and brain, and can be (to some extent) manipulated and controlled.

Thus we arrive at the typical New Age spirituality - rooted in this world, and in feelings; and spiritual practices (such as meditation) become a type of psychotherapy.  

Ironically, Anthroposophy has itself taken exactly this path into materialism; and (in its institutional manifestations) has consequently become assimilated into mainstream materialistic leftism. This tendency towards abstraction (including physics metaphors) is seem in Steiner's metaphysics, and his explanation of the nature of Christ. 

And the energies of 'Steinerism' became focused on the institution (Anthroposophical Society) rather the individuals; and on the 'applied' materialistic and this-worldly aspects in medicine, education, agriculture etc. 

Furthermore (and Steiner himself had encouraged this) the legacy of Steiner became materialistic - with 'expertise' being understood in terms of comprehensive and accurate scholarship of 'what Steiner said' on this, that and the other - regarded as de facto infallible. 

Therefore, Steiner's greatest 'disciples' - who are all more or less 'heretical' in terms of the materialist orthodox interpretations rooted in 'what Steiner said' - have been largely ignored, rejected or unnoticed - for example Valentine Tomberg (expelled), Owen Barfield (marginalized), or Joseph Beuys (unnoticed). 

Looking back over the past century we can easily see that Steiner was profoundly correct about the way in which materialism has triumphed - explicitly in the realm of public discourse; and implicitly in a great deal of the 'spirituality' of today; which is characterized by abstraction, usage of 'scientistic' vocabulary and concepts, and a focus on 'therapy and 'making this world a better place'.  

What is needed is almost the opposite - and Steiner also said this in these lectures; which is to regard the universe as a creation populated with personal Beings - not abstractions; and therefore true spirituality as consisting in a personal relationship with the many spiritual-Beings - such as God, Jesus Christ, angels, the 'so-called dead', and indeed aspects of other Mortal Men.  

And, on the other side - the side of evil; the capacity to recognize that evil is also personal not abstract; therefore purposive, not accidental. 

From this comes our only genuine defense against the dark arts of evil which is recognition, understanding, and rejection - rejection by means of affiliation with God, which (as of 2022) must come through commitment to following Jesus Christ.  

Note: the term 'defense against the dark arts' is a reference to the Harry Potter series of novels; which I am currently re-reading with pleasure and profit. 


agraves said...

The deadly combination of materialism and Freudianism has led to doubt about any possible Spirituality existing in man. Even devout Catholics, when told about a communication from a deceased relative, consider such contact as a hallucination or deception deriving from their unconscious motivations or wish fulfillment. And yet they openly pray to a saint in hopes he will help them with their situation, even tho said saint has been dead for centuries. Many people do receive communications from the deceased but do not give it any credence as they have no way to judge for themselves how to understand such things. It is probably true that most deceased give up trying to reach the living since they simply aren't listening.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - Part of it is that it is less often a matter of 'communication' than 'direct knowing'. In other words, as we have gradually - through centuries - become largely incapable of *perceiving* the spiritual, we have developed a compensatory ability to *know* the spiritual (directly, in our thinking). So I think we nowadays can (indeed do) *know* things about the dead whom we loved, and have that kind of continuing relationship - and also the communications such as seen-visions and heard-words are more likely to be hallucinatory (although not necessarily - but they do tend to occur in altered states of consciousness which are less reliable, more prone to self-deception and with impaired memory).

agraves said...

Thanks for the elaboration Bruce. I agree that some visions and heard-words can harken back to Jaynes' "Bicameral Mind" but not all. If you ever asked a Spirit if they were present and had the lights in the room flicker on and off a few times you would know that they can be really present. However, given the level of brain washing today even such experiences can be doubted.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - "If you ever asked a Spirit if they were present and had the lights in the room flicker on and off a few times you would know that they can be really present. "

Such events are (as a generalization) intended only for the recipient, not for public proof which nowadays is immune even to large miracles (such as Fatima), and indeed often reacts strongly against them; therefore I tend to believe they should be kept private for that reason.

Yet, such an event when caused by a spirit could have good or evil spiritual provenance. It is clear from the history of spiritualism that such perceptual situations are abused by evil spirits in many ways.

In other words there is no safe nor unambiguous 'event' or perception that can compel belief or conversion in any particular direction. As usual nowadays, each is responsible for his own soul.

William Wildblood said...

Most people who take to the New Age therapeutic type spirituality do so because they want something, peace, healing, bliss, freedom from pain etc. But this is a materialistic (self-centred) motive to start with. Real spirituality may well provide an increase in suffering not a diminution of it but to the true disciple that is ok because he is looking for truth not pleasure, even if that is called spiritual pleasure.

Pletho's Ghost said...

"New Agers talk - and think! - about spirit in terms of energy, light, vibrations and frequencies"

I'm reminded of the luminous transfiguration of Jesus Christ during which he shone with light and also the reports of luminosity and radiance of light by some saints particularly in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

It seems to me that Anthroposophists want to Anthroposophy to become mainstream and integrated into the culture at large hence they have adapted and rearticulated Anthroposophy to be acceptable to the globalist leftist ideology/The "System". For example when leading Anthroposophists bent over backwards to downplay Steiner's insights into the different qualities of the human races during the race hysteria which began in earnest around 2016 so as not to labelled as "racists".

And psychotherapy therapy is fine especially if it's done in a Christian context. Resolving anger and anxiety for good by tracing these mental pathologies back to their earliest moments in childhood is very good and I would claim necessary for one's attainment to spiritual perfection. Negative mental states such as wrath and anxiety and melancholy are the result of soul wounds and when we are experiencing them we feel separated from the grace and love of the Lord. Through the mercy of God we can be healed of these wounds however.

I wasn't aware that Anthroposophists ignored Barfield. That's interesting... I love Barfield and Tomberg and Steiner although I'm not an Anthroposophist.

Very good essay!

Lucas said...

Hi Bruce, this is off topic but you and others may be interested. If it's not fit to publish that's not a problem.

Last night was the State Memorial Service for Shane Warne, probably the greatest leg-spin bowler ever, and a larger-than-life Australian public personality, who died a few weeks ago aged 52 (possibly hastened by the latest peck, of which sadly he was an enthusiastic public booster).

Tens of thousands of people attended in person at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and every free-to-air commercial network in Australia broadcast the service live and commercial free, a three hour event.

What I found striking about the event were mostly things that were not mentioned.

1. No mention of Warne's ex-wife, with whom he had three children. Not even her name was mentioned in passing by any of the many speakers, including family members. The three adult children were present and spoke eloquently.

2. The vague belief expressed by everyone that Warne was both "still here" "would be wathing over us" etc. and that they would all see him again at some point in some type of afterlife. What said afterlife would be like, how it would come about was of course not mentioned and not mentionable.

3. No mention at all of God, Jesus Christ or Heaven, of course.

None of this is to presume at all to knowing the state of his soul or desires. I tend to think that God is lenient towards those who drink fully from life's possibilities out of a high energy zest for life, rather than as many do, for calculated personal gain. Warne's charity work was absolutely genuine and often done without cameras or journalists e.g. after the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

It was just very striking to see the contemporary metaphysical confusion on displayed so prominently and publicly. The unanswered questions were slapping me in the face the whole time and yet most people live with the dissonance.

Anyway, I thought of you when I was watching this last night.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucas - "The vague belief expressed by everyone that Warne was both "still here" "would be watching over us" etc. and that they would all see him again at some point in some type of afterlife."

I think this stuff comes from a mixture of motives - the desire for public display of empathy, i.e. trying to prove one is not really a callous-selfish psychopath (which many or most in public life actually are!)...

Some of it is a perplexity at the phenomenon of death, and that - with death - no sense can be made of life under our mainstream ideology/ belief-system.

Some of it seems to be a deniable subversion and mockery of Christianity; subtly asserting that this afterlife/ Heaven stuff is all make-believe nonsense... but condescendingly pretending, and playing along, to humour the 'weaker brethren' present, who cannot accept that death is mere annihilation.

The fact is that Warne's genius was all channeled into cricket - playing, analyzing, commenting, coaching etc the rest of his life strikes me as a mixture of sadness and an increasingly absurd immaturity (e.g the hair implants and plastic surgery).

And that world of cricket is increasingly contaminated with the totalitarian-left ideology-politics; so you get the weirdness of Warne advising us about health, commenting on race in an approved fashion etc.- as the game (like all sports, especially professional sports) is dismantled and corrupted.

If cricket survives, so will Warne's legacy - but if things continue along present trends and cricket becomes merely a public display of Establishment-approved themes, then Warne will be forgotten.

Jack said...

I've been struggling with something spiritually. That something is the self, and the relation of the self to 'spirituality'. All the classic spiritual texts I read seem to me to imply that one must abandon oneself in order to attain the higher reality, however that is conceived. But all my spiritual effort seems to have brought me to the conclusion that I need to know myself, and even 'believe in myself'. This conclusion irritates and confuses me. For starters, 'Believe in yourself' sounds just like the inane pop wisdom we're constantly told in all forms of contemporary media; but more importantly, how do we distinguish between a properly wise and spiritual 'believing in yourself' from mere egotism? I'm always tempted to say, "I don't want to believe in myself, I want to believe in God", but all my efforts in that direction (trying to get rid of myself) have been absolute dead-ends that have brought me no closer to God or any spiritual realisation; on the contrary, it seems to lead me to total stagnation every time. Every time I turn to a spiritual book or a spiritual precept, I get the feeling that I'm devoting myself to something too abstract and missing the point, missing my real self that I'm somehow supposed to know and believe in, even follow. I have found classic Buddhist texts (Ch'an/Zen texts in particular, I highly recommend John C H Wu's 'The Golden Age of Zen Buddhism') that talk about ridding oneself of every abstraction (including "Buddha") in order to get directly at the self; but for me in my contemporary life, even reading these texts transports me to an archaic and alien setting (the medieval Buddhist temple) that is an abstraction from who I am here and now; so not even these texts explicitly about being one's self are helping me to be my actual self. I'm also tempted to feel guilty for trying to believe in / follow myself in this way, because I'm afraid I'd be moving away from God, although all my prayers and insights seem to be telling me the opposite, that the only way to get to God is through myself. I wonder if the radical spiritual, conceptual, and cultural changes of the past few centuries have made the self so different that "believing in oneself" is potentially valid and spiritually useful in a way it wasn't in the distant past.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack I can suggest you word search this blog for - real divine self - on the one hand and - oneness - on the other.

But the ultimate answer will derive from you metaphysical assumptions/ beliefs regarding the ultimate nature of reality. Matters such as: Do you believe in God the creator - a personal God - the Christian God? Is there only one fully divine being, or more? Do you believe that creation is alive and conscious, consisting of Beings? etc.

You can only understand whether the self is a divine thing, or an obstacle to enlightenemt - if you know what kind of reality we inhabit.