Thursday 29 November 2018

The problem of Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophical Society

I continue to engage with the work of Rudolf Steiner, and continue to find him to be A Problem!

In the first place, it is important to acknowledge that the problem arises from the fact that Steiner was a genius of first rank importance in our cultural history - and therefore is thoroughly deserving of the most careful and sustained consideration.

To put it the other way around; it would be hazardous to leave-out Steiner from our thinking. He is certainly not indispensable; but we, at least, would each need to discover Steiner's contribution from other, often related and influenced-by sources (such as, in my experience, Barfield and Arkle; and Mormon theology) plus personal meditation.

But - within the overall context that Steiner is someone who made a deep and vital contribution; he comes-across as one of the most maddening and off-putting of writers!

I think this is due to the unfortunate historical fact that Steiner built an organisation, a movement, around his philosophy - the Anthroposophical Society; and that this became an institution; and that this institution has become the sole source of Steiner's legacy... Steiner and his work comes down to us, as it were, inside the Anthroposophical Society.

The further problem is that mainstream intellectual culture (partly, but only partly, because of this institutional capture) has completely ignored Steiner. So there is no independent tradition of engagement that takes Steiner with the extreme seriousness he deserves.

And for the Anthroposophical Society; it is clear that Steiner's work is regarded as primarily a vast and (apparently) systematic collection of set of spiritual scientific facts. Thus Steiner expertise comes in the form of people with an encyclopaedic knowledge of what Steiner wrote and (mostly) said on hundreds of topics and in hundreds of thousands of words.

This is a Big Problem, because We get Steiner via his Society, and the Society regards Steiner as systematic and vast; so that in practice we are confronted with an 'all-or-nothing' demand.

If we are to take Steiner seriously, we are asked to take him whole - and this means either a lifetime's work of reading and comprehending more than a hundred dense books, or getting him secondhand and through the lens of the Anthroposophical Society - for whom Steiner's nature and oeuvre are regarded as essentially perfect and infallible.

This sounds exaggerated, and I suppose Anthroposophists would strenuously deny it!; but I believe that it is literally correct.

The situation seems to have arisen from a contradiction in Steiner's teachings, and another contradiction between what he said and what he did... but noticing and taking-seriously this kind of contradiction is exactly what the Anthroposophical Society regards as tabu. 

Indeed, it was because Steiner despaired of having his early philosophical works noticed by 'mainstream' intellectual culture, that he began to put his energies into lecturing to various niche audiences - an educational groups for socialist workers, Nietzchians, Theosophists and then forming his own Theosophical off-shoot called Anthroposophy. But in principle, Steiner might not have done this, might have remained 'independent'; and his books then would have come down to us as the work of a spiritual philosopher analogous to Coleridge, Emerson, Nietzsche, William James or Owen Barfield.

In a nutshell; the AS regards Steiner as systematic - therefore all-or-nothing; and the Society regards the person of Rudolf Steiner as wholly-well-motivated - but I do not.

Instead, I regard Steiner as a significantly-flawed individual; whose work is deeply self-contradicting, in multiple ways. And therefore to take Steiner whole is to lose his essence and to dissipate his importance.

Thus, I believe that we must be selective in reading Steiner; and this selectivity is not just in superficial details but in primary aspects of his legacy. As we read Steiner we need to recognise contradictions, and to take sides - accepting the valid, and rejecting the wrong. We also need to recognise the man's flaws, errors, and mistakes - and not to assume that he always meant well, nor that he was always truthful, nor that everything he did (or that happened to him) was For The Best.  

The difficulty is - as I said - that Steiner comes to us inside the Anthroposophical Society, and all Steiner expertise is among Anthroposophists. So someone who wants to engage with Steiner as a major Romantic Christian and as an autonomous thinker is compelled to set himself against all this! - and to contradict those who know far more than he does!

This can, however, be done coherently by regarding Steiner as primarily a metaphysical philosopher, and regarding his teaching as primarily about each individual using this metaphysical understanding to attain a different and higher state of consciousness. The millions of 'facts' (i.e. the findings of spiritual science that Steiner provides in his later work) should therefore be regarded as merely suggestions.

In a nutshell, we can choose to regard Anthroposophy as a way or path; and to reject (in part or in whole) the vast collection of facts and theories by Steiner (on subjects such as cosmology, evolutionary history, politics, agriculture, medicine, education, dancing, music, drama, bees etc. etc.)

And finally, Steiner must be regarded as a Christian, and his whole philosophy as making sense only within a Christian framework.  

For Steiner, Christianity is mandatory. Everything of primary value that Steiner said needs to be understood within a specifically-Christian frame.

And, significantly, Christianity is perhaps the only aspect of Steiner's legacy which is Not, in practice, taken seriously by the Anthroposophical Society.

Advisory note added for Romantic Christians: Do read Rudolf Steiner, anticipate learning from one of the great thinkers of all time and one of a handful of the most important thinkers for modern Westerners; but read selectively and critically - being prepared to reject the bulk of what he says. Focus on the early three philosophical books (GA 2, 3, 4) - up to 1894 - but don't restrict yourself to them. Interpret the later books in light of the early three. Understand that the whole must be interpreted in light of the foundational fact (for Steiner) that the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ is the centre and most important 'event' not just in the history of human society, but in the history of the earth - and indeed the history of all creation.

Monday 26 November 2018

Traditionalist Christianity, Biblical inerrancy and their residuum of unresolved positivism

The deep and ineradicable problem with all forms of backward-looking, traditionalist Christianity is explained by Owen Barfield's idea of 'RUP' - the Residue of Unresolved Positivism.

Of course, understanding the full power of this critique depends upon accepting the idea that human consciousness has developed/ evolved; such that throughout Man's history possibilities are closed-off, as other possibilities emerge. Nonetheless the negative critique can be appreciated even without this; if we take into account what is known about the Hunter-Gatherer societies that preceded the agricultural - and if it is acknowledged that the conditions of H-G societies were closer to Man's natural and spontaneous behaviour.

Anyway; the insight is that all agricultural-based - or 'agrarian' - societies are a development from H-G conditions, and contain ways of life that are specific to them - they are an historically-contingent society, as we can now appreciate since we are aware of the H-G societies that preceded them and the post-industrial revolution/ modern societies that replaced them. The Agrarian are 'middle' societies. It is an historical fact that Christianity emerged and grew in developed-Agrarian societies - and many of its features were (either therefore or contingently) those of such Agrarian societies (and probably-therefore have declined since) - for example Christianity depends on literacy (which was not a feature of H-G societies), sedentary settlement, social-function hierarchy and specialisation - eg. a priesthood, an institutional church... and so on.

Furthermore, Christianity emerged and grew in societies where people were less able to attain direct contact with the 'spirit world' than H-G societies, and less 'animistic' than these societies; but much more spiritual and animistic than modern societies.

To put it another way, the agrarian Christian societies were not as positivistic/ materialistic/ reductionist as modern societies, but far more positivistic than H-G societies. This Agrarian positivism is evident in - for example - their highly systematised, formal, abstract theology; their dependence on literacy with its requirement for interpretation, memorisation, analysis and synthesis of texts; the existence of specialised systems of law and philosophy - and so on.

For instance; any system of Christianity based-upon the textual inerrancy of The Bible (which underpins much 'evangleical' Christianity of the post-industrial modern era) is significantly positivistic.

In other words, all backward-looking traditionalist Christian systems have a great deal of positivism in them - a great deal of materialism; with the consequent distance from the livingness of the world, the experience of the spirit realm and instead the experience of alienation (only sometimes and temporarily overcome in specialised situations such as ritual and prayer).

If it is agreed that we moderns need to get beyond positivism/ materialism, going back to traditionalism, going back to The Bible, just Will Not Work. We would need to do something more, and different.

Friday 23 November 2018

Individuality and incarnation

The faceless massed hosts of Heaven? No, not really....

The most powerful argument of 'modernism' is probably its positive attitude to, its advocacy of, individuality. It's interesting how often the argument comes down this - and serious Christians nearly always seem to end up arguing against individuality and in favour of some kind of communalism, some kind of subordination of the individual to the group - or to God.

Now, this is wrong - I think we feel it is wrong, at a deep intuitive level (I certainly do).

Furthermore, mainstream modern materialist Leftism is in practice strongly anti-individual (ie. totalitarian); while Christianity requires an absolute agency of each individual.

But how did this confusion arise - with so many people, for so long, arguing on the wrong sides?

I think the root of The Problem is, as usual, metaphysical - it relates to mistaken fundamental assumptions of most Christians concerning reality. The particular assumption relates to incarnation, the embodiment of humans - how and when this happens...

I think most Christians start from an unspoken and unexamined assumption that all Men were - to put it crudely - stamped-out as identical incarnate souls (probably) at some point between conception and birth; and all differences have arisen since then. The (wrong) assumption that all of us started-out The Same, and that individual differences we observe in this world are an unfortunate consequence of mortal corruption - and so the supposed-aim is that (in resurrected post-mortal life) we ought-to end-up as again The Same. This is envisaged as being absorbed-into a uniformity - as when Heaven is pictured (usually mentally) in terms of massed and apparently-uniform hosts, choirs, worshippers, praisers, armies, obedient classes of persons.

(Yet, surely, this conceptualisation clashes absolutely with the life and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels?)

In contrast, my contention is that the incarnation of Men is fundamentally like that of Jesus Christ. It is accepted by most Christians that Jesus was alive (co-eternally with The Father) before he was incarnated on earth; and (as is standard doctrine for Mormons) I believe that the same applies to all Men.

If such a pre-mortal spirit existence is accepted for all Men, and not for Jesus only; then this harmonises easily with the understanding that we, each of us, always-were distinct individualities. We were each unique individuals from eternity, from before we were conceived or born - we were born as unique individuals - and that is our ultimate and divine destiny.

Our Christian God, the creator, does not want same-ness, does not want people to be identical with one another: the plan always was and remains that we are unique individuals who should live together in-love.

And this is why love must be central to Christianity - it is by love (as we may glimpse in the best mortal marriage, family or friendship) that different individuals may live, work, create together in harmony and with a mutually-reinforcing (synergistic) effect.

The original Problem for God was therefore (in a very simplified sense) how to create this reality in such a way that already unique individuals would - voluntarily, by choice, in knowledge, over Time - reach a situation in which all would create-together in a wholly-harmonious and mutually-reinforcing way.

God has no interest in making everybody the same, or subordinating the individual - except sometimes as a matter of temporary expediency during the long period of learning. But the primary nature and goal of God's reality is of individuals working towards a loving harmony of creation.

Therefore, I regard the modernist materialist advocacy of individuality as a perversion and distortion of what God really does want. And I regard the standard mainstream Christian opposition to this individuality as an error; induced by the temporary expediencies of what might be termed 'social policy' or 'church order' - which are important but not fundamental Christian Goods.

How to read Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom

There is, perhaps, no more-important book that The Philosophy of Freedom (PoF) by Rudolf Steiner; yet it is, of course, limited in its scope - and potentially misleading.

Steiner himself apparently took several years to see its limitations (after-which he became a, very-unorthodox, Christian), and never properly acknowledged the fact that PoF was written from something like an anarchist/ Nietzschian/ anti-Chrstian stance. He pretended that the later Christian and spiritual metaphysics was latent in, and implied by, the PoF - which untruth makes the book extremely bizarre, and deeply puzzling to the spiritual-Christian reader...

It is possible to read PoF as a free-standing and self-justifying work; and indeed I think it likely that that is the best, perhaps the only, way to understand it. Contextualising the work can only come after it has been understood. So I would recommend accepting the book's implicit premises while reading it - until the overall thesis has been grasped. There is a useful website called The Philosophy of Freedom which does exactly this.

This way of reading PoF accepts Steiner's assertion that he has proved his thesis with 'evidence' (evidence from logic and introspection) - and it therefore accepts the book's self-designation as epistemology - and its function in terms of a libertarian-anarchist rationale for absolute individuality.

But further reflection reveals that PoF is metaphysics, Not epistemology; it is asserting a thesis about the structure of reality, not merely about knowledge of reality. But only if PoF were true epistemology (and only if epistemology could deliver on its promise of assumption-free knowledge - which in fact it cannot ever do!) could PoF legitimately use evidence to prove its thesis - since if the thesis is true, it changes the nature of what-counts-as evidence. And this is to assume what is being proved - and so the argument undercuts its own legitimacy.

At the level of epistemology (as is usual/ universal with epistemology), PoF is therefore circular reasoning - and the reader can only choose either to enter the circle and believe its truth; or else reject it. And on what possible legitimate grounds (other than prior metaphysical assumptions) should he make such a decision?   

PoF leaves-open such questions as why reality really-is the way that it is described by PoF; and if it was - how could we ever know the fact?

Most importantly, the book simply asserts that freedom is the ultimate value - which many or most people would dispute. PoF asserts that a real morality must be independently arrived at and embraced wholly by the individual from his own resources - yet this is the opposite to traditional ideas; and there is no way (other than a kind of mockery) rationally to argue that the one morality is better than the other; except by asserting the (assumed, never proved) primacy of freedom, autonomy, agency...

Furthermore, in order to explain clearly; PoF presents a very simple model of how cognition is inserted into the world, which it splits between sensory phenomena and the concepts requires to make sense of them. This is very helpful, but must be transcended since, again, it is a circular model and gives no idea of how we could know its truth, or its limitations.

(Did Steiner personally observe his consciousness being instered into the world, and the effect it had? Does he personally know what life without/ before consciousness is like? Can he compare individual morality with universal morality to confirm that they are one? Clearly not - so where does this knowledge come-from?)

None of these limitations to PoF are a significant problem if we read it from the Christian metaphysical perspective that there is a loving creator God, we are his children; and creation was set-up and continues mainly to make possible the development of human consciousness towards a divine situation in which freedom/ autonomy/ agency are indeed prime goals.

From such a perspective PoF is revealed as being about both individual agency and the cohesion of reality; because they are the same. The true concepts by-which we understand the perceived world are the same as those of God's creation; and the truly-agent individual is able to participate in God's on-going creation - which is the purpose of the evolutionary-development of consciousness towards freedom and autonomy.  

But we need to bring this metaphysical perspective to our reading of PoF - it is not to be found within the work itself.

My advice is to do just this - and then to read it!

Friday 9 November 2018

Romantic Christianity explained

To define Romanticism with precision has proved impossible - because it is a movement, a phase in human consciousness; but those who feel it will recognise it when we see it.  

To be included in this list, one must be both Romantic and Christian (and be someone whose work I personally respond-to):

William Blake
William Wordsworth
ST Coleridge

Then came several generations during which the Romantics were not Christian, and the Christians were not Romantic. Exceptions include George Macdonald and GK Chesterton, who link between the early Romantic Christians and the Inklings. Both of these I somewhat like, especially GKC - but I am unable to engage whole-heartedly.

Charles Williams
JRR Tolkien
CS Lewis
Owen Barfield

William Arkle

Current representatives of whom I am aware include Jeremy Naydler, Terry Boardman, and the Albion Awakening bloggers: William Wildblood, John Fitzgerald and myself.


The influence of Rudolf Steiner is evident; since although Anthroposophists are extremely rare in England - Barfield, Naydler and Boardman are all of that ilk. This is evidence that Romanticism fits most comfortably with heterodox Christianity - despite that Tolkien (Roman Catholic) and Lewis (Church of England) were orthodox in their practice. Indeed; Blake, Barfield (for much of his life), Arkle and most of the currently alive people - are (I believe) essentially unaffiliated Christians; whose religious and spiritual practice is mostly and in-principle individual rather than communal.

The Steiner link is also important because Germany was the other great origin of Romanticism - with Herder, Goethe, Schiller etc; however until Steiner's 'conversion' in about 1898; the German Romantic literary tradition was not really Christian. An exception is Novalis - the father of Romantic Christianity in Germany.

There are not many on this list; because I don't know of many Romantic Christians. It is a job still to be done, by each individual - since Romantic Christianity must be experiential (knowing 'about' it does not suffice).

However, I regard both Barfield and Arkle as having essentially done the necessary work and, uniquely, achieved Romantic Christianity: both in their theory and in their living.

Mainstream Christianity still tends to regard Traditionalism as a 'safe' path to salvation; and theosis as too 'risky' - and Romanticism is about theosis.

But for the Romantic Christian there is no 'safe' path in the modern world; and traditionalism has in fact become impossible (judged at the deepest level of motivation); as well as sub-optimally desirable. We feel that, in modern conditions, salvation requires theosis; so a purely salvation orientation can only be a kind of 'rescue' procedure.

Because ultimately Romanticism is not a 'reaction' against the Industrial Revolution, modernity and bureaucracy; rather, Romanticism is a positive path of divine destiny, concerned with human evolutionary-development of consciousness.

The aim of Romantic Christianity is (implicitly) to attain the divine form of cosnciousness (what Barfield termed Final Participation) as the primary goal of mortal life at this era of history. In different words: the aim is to restore the unity of Life - including the healing of the split between mind and matter, subjective and objective... to cure the malaise of alienation.

Romantic Christianity is both theoretical (metaphysical) and practical (experiential) - ideas and living both need to change; because otherwise the two aspects will be at contradictory, at war - and therefore unattainable in life.

The Romantic Christian demands that life be Christian - as its root and frame; and also demands that life (including Christianity) be Romantic - therefore it cannot accept the ultimate of primary necessity of System, organisation, institution, bureaucracy... these are all to be regarded as evils; even if, sometimes (in mortal life); expedient or even temoprarily-necessary evils - evils that challenge us to love, faith and hope; and to grow.

Love and creativity are the goal; with creativity as located in thinking, and thinking regarded as universal and primary. 

Monday 5 November 2018

Christianity without scripture - is it possible?

Not, of course, the specific person, his name and history; but yes.

Since we can have a relationship with the Holy Ghost, and have the possibility of direct knowledge from the Holy Ghost; we can know Jesus without being told.

We can know from death and its implications, that we need a saviour - who could offer us eternal life.

We can know from life and its problems and limitations, that we need to become divine; that we need theosis: we need to become Sons of God.

Thus we can know what we need and that we cannot get it for ourselves; and we could learn - directly from a relationship with the Holy Ghost - that we have, in fact, been granted what we need - if we choose to accept it.

So, even if there was no Bible, or we had no access to Scripture, or if it had been corrupted; or if Christian churches were absent or corrupted - we could come to know and love Jesus Christ.

(The above is, indirectly and with significant modifications, derived from some of Rudolf Steiner's insights; in his writings on Christianity.) 

Saturday 3 November 2018

Incarnation BC?

Although most Christian apparently don't have this attitude; I find personally it hard to reject-outright the idea of reincarnation.

This mainly because (it seems) that most people, through most of human history, have believed in the reality of one or another form of reincarnation - plus several of the more modern thinkers whom I most respect believe in reincarnation, apparently from directly intuited personal experience.

However, I find that the Gospels tell us that Jesus taught all Men are resurrected after death - not reincarnated - and make their choice of Heaven or Hell. On the other hand, the Gospel discussions of whether or not John the Baptist was some kind of reincarnation of a prophet seem to confirm that, at least until the advent of Jesus's ministry, reincarnation was regarded as possible - if not universal. 

One way I make sense of this is that I think modern religions tend to fall into one of only two categories - either they believe in some version of reincarnation with spirits returning to inhabit a series of bodies; or else that each human spirit is formed at a time related to incarnation. But these two are not the only possibilities.

A further alternative is seldom known or considered - that an eternal pre-mortal human spirit was alive before incarnation, death and resurrection; in other words that the full potential span of human life falls into three stages: pre-mortal spirit, mortal incarnate, and resurrected incarnate.

(However, given the role for agency and choice, presumably it is possible to choose not to be incarnated, and to remain as a pre-mortal spirit. This would presumably be the situation of some angels - who are either awaiting incarnation, or else have - at least currently - declined the offer of incarnation. And it would be the situation of demons - who reject incarnation along with rejecting God's plan for creation and the Love necessary to its accomplishment.)

This three stage understanding of human life (which is the Mormon view) is the one I regard as true - and my interpretation of those modern people who believe in the reality of reincarnation is that they have not sufficiently seriously considered this alternative. That, for example, they have misinterpreted their intuited memories of pre-mortal spirit life (which may include historical actions in this world, and with people in the past) as being incarnated life. In other words, they remember previous spirit lives, but simply assume that these must necessarily have been incarnated lives.

On the other hand, since reincarnation was apparently a possibility for John the Baptist, it is also possible that some modern people happen also to be reincarnates who, like John the Baptist, are spirits that have returned to fulfil some particular function, do a particular job... So when such people seem to recall a previous incarnate life or lives, maybe they are correct.

I find it striking that so far as I know, all simple, tribal, hunter-gatherer type societies believe in reincarnation - in the form of a 'recycling' of spirits within the tribe over time. The concept is apparently that there are implicitly a fixed number of spirits (or souls) who are reborn some time after death - so that the same set of personalities recur across the generations. My presumption is that such societies self-understanding will have been broadly correct - so this would imply that there used-to-be a, probably universal, system of reincarnation.

Most sedentary (i.e. settled, non-nomadic) totemic and pagan societies apparently either believe in some version of reincarnation, or else they regard life after biological death as being something like Hades or Sheol; that is continued existence of the spirit or soul in a ghostly, demented half-life of present-awareness without agency. Again, I would tend to accept that these people correctly understood their situation - at least in essentials. So, it is possible that this 'underworld' represented the time in-between reincarnations; or that some people/s (e.g. the Ancient Hebrews or Greeks) chose Not to reincarnate - but remained in Sheol/ Hades... implicitly awaiting the Messiah/ Saviour.  

If we accept that the situation up to the time of Jesus's incarnation (i.e. approximately the years BC) was as above - that biological death was followed either by a a kind of suspended animation like Sheol, or else a reincarnation from such a state. Then the further possibility is that this situation was changed by the work of Jesus; and from some point AD onwards - probably the time of Jesus's own resurrection - spirits were resurrected instead of being reborn.

This also applied to the spirits at that point in Sheol/ Hades - some of whom were resurrected at the same time as Jesus. But - given the importance of free choice - it may be that resurrection could be refused, and that some of these may have a job still to do as reincarnates.

If so, modern people who believe they recall earlier incarnations may either be recalling their pre-mortal spirit lives; or they may be people who recall an incarnation (or more than one) before Christ's work in making resurrection, and who have returned to incarnation for some particular purpose.

Friday 2 November 2018

Coleridge and 'Psychoticism'

Some years ago I wrote about the high-Psychoticism Christian: the 'good Christian' who was not nice,  not sociable, conscientious, organised - who was impulsive, easily bored, bad at sustained endeavour; a man who nearly-always failed to follow-through on his resolutions.

And I later wrote about how such high-Psychoticism persons potentially have a vital role to play in Christianity - because for all its disadvantages; high-P is needed for creativity, and that integrity which depends on immunity to social conformity.

I now realise that Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is a great example of exactly what I meant.

Coleridge was a deep and devoted Christian, and had a wide and deep influence through his life and beyond - affecting Anglican practice and theology (via disciples) all through the nineteenth century.

Coleridge was also a long term opium addict, a frequent drunkard; he all-but abandoned his wife (luckily she and the children were well looked after in the house of her brother in law, Coleridge's friend Robert Southey); and he passionately loved another woman (but entirely chastely).

His life was chaotic in the extreme, he was moody in the extreme, short-tempered, impulsive, inconsistent; he missed appointments and broke arrangements; he failed to finish (or even begin) nearly all of his large projects.

But Coleridge acknowledged and repented his sins; he regretted the way he was, he tried to reform but couldn't. He was what he was - he was made that way.

While what he did was nearly all flawed (requiring tremendous and sustained concentration - or else scattered notes, hints, scraps), and was far less in amount then he was capable of doing; nonetheless Coleridge was perhaps the most significant philosophical thinker of his time. As a conversationalist (or rather monologist) he was apparently supreme; and sometimes he was a lecturer of astonishing power - and thus sufficient of his great potential was somehow made available.   

Christianity has this great strength - and we must never forget it - that repentance is more important than behaviour; and by Jesus Christ repentance is available to everybody at ever time and in an inexhaustible supply.

Much of Coleridge's life needed repenting every hour of every day for decades - but that was not a problem - that well can never run dry.

And thus Coleridge was a truly great Christian, although in many ways a bad man.

In this age, these end times, when institutions are corrupt and obedience and hard work are turned to evil ends; it is possible that only someone of the Coleridge type has the creativity, independence and courage to provide what is needed.

Not as a Christian leader, of course! That would be a disaster. But as an educator, clarifier, explainer, encourager, and as an inspirer.