Thursday 3 August 2017

Reincarnation and our ultimate divine destiny: two significant points where I disagree with Owen Barfield

Despite that I have been persuaded by almost all of Owen Barfield's philosophical and historical analysis; there are two important points where I believe he is mistaken. There are his view of reincarnation and his description of the ultimate destiny of each Man.

Barfield's view of reincarnation is that it is vital to the evolution - that is the developmental unfolding - of human consciousness. He sees the history of life in each person as a matter of living-through different eras of consciousness, with (to simplify) each human spirit reincarnated in each era - so that each of us can learn from the very different experiences of consciousness prevailing in the evolution of earth and society.  This process is building toward a ultimate state of divinity that will place each willing person onto a par with God.

Where this is all going is described in Barfield's 1944 collection of essays Romanticism Comes of Age in terms of a U-shaped curve. The human spirit began as spirit in a unity of blissful close communion with God - not incarnated and without a sense of self but conscious - indeed almost universally conscious, immersed-in-consciousness but not differentiated from it. Through the history of reincarnations the plan is for each spirit incrementally to go down the left side of the U; at each descent becoming more separate - until at the nadir of the U our self becomes utterly separate-from and autonomous-of God - with a distinct sense of 'self', but without consciousness of anything else.

At the extreme bottom of the U we are just detached selves, and regard other selves, indeed the whole of reality, as uncertain. We become alienated - even from our own thinking; which we come to feel is separate from our-selves.  In sum we are utterly free in thought - but confined within the bounds of our subjective selves, and unaware of any other reality.

Then Barfield describes a re-ascent up-the-other-side of the U; recapitulating the previously negotiated states of consciousness - but this time retaining our distinctive sense of self, hence our freedom. The ultimate, and fully divine, destiny of each Man is therefore intended to be a non-incarnated spirit life, again in blissful close communion with God, but this time having acquired our selves and our freedom. Thus we become as God: fully free, fully conscious.

My difference is that I regard reincarnation as possible but very unusual (for example the New Tetstament discusses the possibility of whether John the Baptist is some kind of reincarnation of an earlier Hebrew prophet; whether it is true it is certainly regarded as possible.) - but reincarnation is not a necessary nor an an intrinsic part of the process of divinisation.

And I regard ultimate human destiny as like God the Father, but not as an unincarnated spirit state, instead as an eternal resurrected life, with a body (like God the Father); and not in any kind of literal unity or communion - but instead in a harmony with God that is like an indestructible and total state of human love; but love of the same kind - yet elevated to the highest level - that we know from marriage, family and the very strongest friendships.

In other words, I accept the three stage Mormon description of human life as first pre-mortal spirit children of God; then life on earth as mortal incarnates; then death and resurrection to eternal embodied life - just as both Jesus Christ and God the Father are embodied. In essence, incarnation is seen as a higher state than spirit existence.

This is probably why reincarnation is so rare - and perhaps is not exactly re-incarnation in Barfield's sense when it happens - because embodiment is seen as a higher form of life, so there is a reluctance to reverse it once attained (and perhaps it cannot be wholly reversed - spirit life after death seems to be a very partial, and unhappy existence - probably without memory, self or freedom; which was why Christ's gift of resurrection was such Good News and so necessary).

I account for the differences between myself and Barfield, while nonetheless asserting that I am correct, by the assumption that Barfield (and his master Steiner) misinterpreted memories and visions of our pre-mortal spirit life as being life between-incarnations; and that they accepted the common mainstream Christian assumption that God the Father is a spirit and lacks a body.

My assumption is therefore that Barfield (and Steiner) had correct but partial intuitions, which they misinterpreted.


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