Wednesday 2 November 2022

Owen Barfield is good for your health!

Owen Barfield's master work is probably Saving the Appearances (1957). It is beautifully written, but not an easy read - not easy to understand in its implications. 

Yet if it can be grasped in its properly Christian implications, and if this understanding can be brought into everyday living; StA can be an instantly and lastingly, positively-life-transforming book!

Perhaps its core message is that we are co-creators of the world as we know it. 

This means that - as wee look around us, that tree, cloud, river, or office block - are all knowable as such only by our personal contribution. 

Whatever raw-reality is purely 'out there' has no meaning, it is a mere chaos - and it is Man's consciousness that (in context of the primary reality of divine creation - a creation in which we necessarily share as children of God) makes it possible to perceive one thing as different from another; to recognize, to know. 

This can be an inspiring way of living! 

If we are confronted by some beautiful landscape or work of art, then we should realize that we have been a necessary part of making it so. Beauty is not just out-there, but also in-here

This is an immensely encouraging fact to bring to mind - and certainly good for one's mental health!

On the flipside, because modern Man has a very high degree of agency, and is cut-off from spontaneous immersion in divine creation; this 'making of the world' has become for us (substantially) an active and conscious choice. 

We participate in ugliness, in immortality, in lies - much as we participate in the highest and best values.  

We are personally responsible for co-creating evil, as we are for participating in the reality of good. 

Yet, by Barfield's account; this does not leave us helplessly torn between good and evil; but able to choose between them. 

We - each and personally - choose whether to make our commitment, our affiliation - to the one... or to the other. 

Indeed (here and now, at this phase in our development), if we are to affiliate to good, this must be a conscious choice; whereas if we refuse to make a choice, then we are doomed passively to absorb whatever evil The World happens to be pushing upon us. 

(We could think about this in terms of the concepts by which we understand the facts of the world. Either we choose to understand the world in terms of the concepts of divine creation; or else we will by-default understand the world by the concepts which dominate public discourse - via the mass media, state bureaucracy, corporations; the arts, educational and research systems etc.)

Thus Barfield provides both a conceptual framework by which we can - in our actual lived experience - know that we are essential co-creators - in part - of the world around us; so we know ourselves to be involved in the world: in that landscape, makers of that painting, creators of that insight... 

And also Barfield provides the basis for understanding that we are free - we deserve credit exactly because we deserve blameresponsibility is another word for freedom. 

Our conscious choices do not just affect the world; they make the world


Mia said...

This explains the war on noticing.

Sean G. said...

We are collaborators with the beautiful landscape— this is clearly true! Which means the landscape must contain beauty but it is not sufficient. We must bring something to the table.

Applying this concept to scripture, there is real power in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, but without our interaction it is just words on paper.

It’s always nice to see in writing what I’ve been struggling to put into clear words. And I still haven’t read Barfield!

Jack said...

A question I really want answering is why the fundamental spiritual concept of our age is "meaning". The inner conflict seems to be to find "meaning" (to life, to suffering, to humanity, to personhood) as opposed to collapsing into the abyss of the "meaningless".

Older spiritual concepts like Reason or Logos, Way or Dharma or Tao, Law, Virtue, Holiness, Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Being, etc, are still relevant; but Meaning is more central to the spiritual current of our age than any of these.

I used to think Meaning was just a superficial, modern way of alluding to these more ancient ideals, but now I think it's more profound and has a real content of its very own, peculiar to the people of our times.

I wonder if Owen Barfield has something to say about this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - I think the reason that there is a search for meaning in modern spirituality, is that our official world view has replaced creation with accident, and meaning with some combination of rigid determinism and randomness (neither of which allow for meaning).

So people want meaning, but fail to realize that 1. there cannot be meaning without purpose; and 2. cannot be purpose without a creator; and 3. purpose will not be personally relevant unless the creator loves us as individuals, and is working (via creation) to make it possible for each person to realize his purpose/s.