Thursday 29 December 2022

Being a Romantic - and the Notion Club Papers

[Jeremy]: Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical, and less prosaic, if you like.

From The Notion Club Papers, by JRR Tolkien.

It is often said that nostalgia is merely a selective memory of the past "seen through rose-tinted spectacles"; but that ignores the sometimes different quality of the past, which is captured in the quotation above. 

In other words, we mythologize our past - and the past of our tribe, culture, nation - not by leaving-out the bad stuff, but because the past actually was "more poetical, less prosaic". 

For instance; when I look back on my education, my working years, or my engagement with literature and music; I perceive a trajectory from the somewhat mythic and poetic to the historical and mundane, which was substantially to do with how I experienced life - and not just a product of the retrospectoscope through which I view them. 

And those periods of my life when, for whatever reason, my life lacked this mytho-poetic quality, lacked "shapeliness"; I both knew at the time, and recall it now. In other words, I am not nostalgic for the mundane times - no matter how 'worldly-successful' or 'pleasurable' they may have been or seemed at the time. 

And I have read enough first-person contemporary accounts of the past (memoirs, diaries, letters etc) to realize that things seemed different then from how they seem to us now. 

Regular readers will be familiar with my favoured explanation of the development of Man's consciousness as understood by Rudolf Steiner and (especially) Owen Barfield; such that both our individual development and the development of (at least Western) societies has been affected by a divine-purposive change in Men's consciousness (both individually, and on average through time).

The past has a different - more mythical and poetic - quality, because we ourselves, or past men, had a different relationship with each other and the world; such that there was not then the same boundary as we now experience between us and them, inner and outer, subjective and objective, the individual and his culture or environment. Nor the same boundary between Men on the one hand, and animals, plants and landscape. 

Then we were - to a significant extent - immersed-in all these other things and reality was different for us-as-we-were-then differently from us-as-we-are-now. And it is this immersion that distinguishes myth from history. 

I am one of those people who regard this matter as of central importance to my life, and life-in-general; and who desire to live again in a more poetic and mythic way.

In other words, I am A Romantic - and have been since my early teens (although there have been significant phases when I fought this trait of mine as strenuously as I knew how). 

It was, indeed, this Romanticism that kept me away from the truth of Christianity for so long; because Christianity-as-is does not (or does not adequately) address this problem of Romanticism - indeed, some Christian Churches and theologies make matters even worse from the point of view of draining the 'magic' from life and history.  

And it is this which drove me to seek, discover, and co-create this Romantic Christianity which I - and a few others - are expounding. Of course I regard Romantic Christianity as True-er and Superior-to other ways of Christianity - but I would not have had the long term drive to seek/ discover/ create Romantic Christianity if it had not been for the intractable trait of Romanticism in myself; and my dissatisfaction with any world-view, religion or ideology that denied it. 

Monday 12 December 2022

Reflections on CS Lewis after reading Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in primary school - perhaps after watching a dramatized version on television; then The Silver Chair - but did not read any other of the Narnia Chronicles as a child. Indeed, I did not read them until the past decade, after I had become a Christian; and I came to the books via Brian Sibley's superb BBC Radio dramatizations

Yest, despite this very delayed, and rather gradual, path to appreciation; I now recognize the Narnia books as among the very best of their kind - and I return to re-read (and/ or re-listen) over and again; and have read several books of scholarship and analysis about them. 

Of these, Planet Narnia stands-out as the most impressive and memorable - not just for its insights into the world of Narnia, but also because it contains a great deal of absolutely fascinating and valuable information on the medieval world view, in particular the 'astrological' cosmology.   

Planet Narnia puts forward the interpretative key that each of the seven Narnia books is presided-over and permeated-by one of the seven medieval 'planets' - Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. 

I found Ward's evidence and argument completely convincing - which means that this is a remarkable and rare example of literary criticism - in exposing a major aspect of a major author's major work; that had been (apparently) completely hidden and undiscovered for more than half a century. 

I read the book a couple of years after it was published, and have just been re-listening to the audio version - and am impressed anew at the detail and thoroughness with which PN is argued. 

But this time of reading, my own understanding of Christianity has moved far away from that of Lewis - which was, pretty much, where it began; since Lewis was very important in my own conversion. 

Now, I find myself somewhat amazed, and rather appalled, at the complexity and subtlety of CS Lewis's style of Christianity, both his personal faith and his public apologetics and devotional work. 

Lewis has long had the reputation of being a plain speaker and tough arguer - yet his discussions of Christianity - of the nature of God, the nature and mission of Christ, the nature of virtue and sin, and so forth - seems to demand quite extraordinary powers of concentration, memory, and contextual scholarship. 

Now, my feeling is: This cannot be right! 

It (surely?) cannot be necessary

It (surely?) cannot be that the 'religion' (shall we call it?) founded by Jesus would really be such as to need such an apparatus of specific expertise and authority - given that God created this varied and changing world, and a multitude of extremely different individual people living in a very wide range of social circumstances...

Lewis does as good a job as anyone of 'explaining' the inexplicable aspects of traditional Christianity; but I now feel sure that the inexplicable aspects are the consequence of human misinterpretation - not a part of God's plan or Jesus's ministry.  

In other words, the 'explanations' do not really explain - they merely kick the can - when they ought to be challenging the premises. Like 'explaining' my evil by Adam's transgression, or Adam's evil by the devil, or blaming the devil's evil on his prideful rejection of God... 

None of these displacements get any closer to explaining how there is any evil At All in a creation made by a wholly-Good God; if that God is also assumed to have made everything from nothing and been omnipotent.

(The simple answer is that God is Not omnipotent - whatever that really means; and Jesus never said he was! Indeed, Christianity depends on God Not being omnipotent.)  

Or; Lewis does as good a job as anyone of the explaining how Christ is both God and Man - when God is regarded as both wholly transcendent and wholly immanent. 

Or how God lives out of time and knows all that happened and will happen - yet Man lives in time, and has free agency. Or how God is both a monotheistic unity; and also divided into three persons.  

But in the end, these are just hypnotic word webs that are attempting to enable belief in inherited incompatible doctrines.  

But how is it that incompatible doctrines were not a problem for so many centuries? Lewis himself shows us the reason - and why what once worked as Christian belief, no longer works. 

CS Lewis was indeed, as he claimed to be, a 'dinosaur' - the last of the medieval minds. He was a Man whose mind was essentially medieval - which (by my understanding) was a transitional mind between the pre-historic almost-unconscious and immersive simplicities of animism, and modern alienated individuality. 

This middle consciousness has both elements of ancient unconscious participation and also (to an exceptionally high degree, more than modern Man) the abstracting and intellectualizing tendency. 

It is, indeed, the automatic and instinctual spirituality, mysticism and supernaturalism of a mind like CS Lewis's; that enables him to embrace such logically rigorous complexities of theology - without destroying his faith. 

It was because Lewis (like the medievals) had a foot in the ancient animistic world of a universe of Beings, that he was able wholeheartedly to embrace a faith rooted in abstract reasoning. One foot in the past, the other in modernity; his mind's instinctual unconscious irrationality was strongly operative, even when he was using cold logic, discussing detached attributes and aspects, or deploying reductionistic, analytic modelling of reality.

We Modern Men find that abstraction and intellectuality deaden and demotivate; and then they become dishonest. Lacking such a foot-in-the-past and the consequent prior motivational truthfulness, then rigour dissolves into expediency (as we see with the near-total corruption of science over recent decades). 

Instead of combining unconscious rootedness with explicit rigour; Modern Man oscillates-between incoherent, vacillating emotions - and lying, manipulative modelling.

We have inherited much the same - and incoherent, off-centred - doctrines of Christianity as in Lewis's day; but have lost our roots in spontaneous tradition and common sense. 

Typical, representative, modern Man is severely innerly-de-motivated; such that he cannot resist the short-term expedient. 

But those who recognize the unsatisfactoriness of  the typical mainstream modern condition no longer have the Lewisian possibility of sustaining a serious and motivating Medieval consciousness. 

Such is Lewis's charisma, and our gratitude to him for his unequalled success as a Christian apologist in modern times; that there is a danger in trying to emulate his faith and its basis. 

However; emulation is not possible - we, now, are fundamentally different consciousnesses from Lewis; and to attempt to replicate Lewis is merely to mimic. 

And (de facto) mimicry is grossly insufficient as a basis for Christian living in these End Times.  

So we can learn a great deal from CS Lewis; but should not try to replicate and sustain his theology. Many of those who tried to do sustain Lewis's specific metaphysical and theological ideas - and his lifestyle advice -  have, so far as I can tell, failed the Litmus Test issues of our time. 

That is; rigorous, high-status, Lewis scholars and disciples often have converged with mainstream totalitarian leftism - and thereby (overall) joined sides with the powers of evil and against God. 

In other words; one can be a devoted Lewisite, and live as a Lewisite Christian - yet be an enemy of Christ!

So far, so depressing! Yet this disastrous (albeit covert) mass apostasy has a positive aspect. 

If we can recognize that someone can adhere to the letter of CS Lewis's theology and doctrines (and the same applies for all other theologies and doctrines) - yet not be a real Christian; this implies an opposite: that real Christianity is separable from metaphysics, theology and doctrine

If we can recognize that being a real Christian has independence from Lewis's specific metaphysics, theology and all the rest of it - and at the same time can recognize that the Narnia Chronicles are imaginatively-permeated with a real, various and rich Christian spirit...

Then maybe the path is clear to understanding what it is to be a real Christian independently of the classical and traditional structures that came to us via the middle ages

The path is opened to a Romantic Christianity that motivates us to adhere to the side of God and the commitment to follow Jesus Christ through the pressures and corruptions of these End Times - while also recognizing a common real-Christianity, and the possibility of genuinely-Christian alliance, across many denominations and churches. 

Understanding Owen Barfield, despite Owen Barfield's comments!

One of the difficulties about understanding Owen Barfield, is that he did not really understand himself! 

I mean that Barfield did not really understand the nature of his own philosophical work; and thereby said some misleading things about it. 

Barfield's major work was Saving the Appearances; and in his introduction to the 1988 edition of this book (which are Barfield's first published, and framing, words in the reprinted editions since then), Barfield tries to provide a helpful framework to avoid what he terms a misunderstanding, and a difficulty

What Barfield regards as the 'misunderstanding' is that "some readers have treating the work as claiming to provide a complete metaphysical theory of the nature of reality. Not so". 

(Leaving aside the weasel word "complete" - because nothing finite ever is complete...) 

But Of Course Barfield is exactly providing a metaphysical 'theory' of reality! Metaphysics is that philosophy which deals in the fundamental nature of reality; and Barfield is claiming in StA that reality is inextricably consequential of both 'chaos' and consciousness; because chaos is meaningless and unknowable without consciousness. 

Also, Barfield asserts that consciousness has changed through time; and therefore (says Barfield) reality itself (and not just perception of reality) has changed through time: "Nature itself [has] changed in the course of time in a mode not covered by the doctrines of biological evolution".

Furthermore; without consciousness (says Barfield) - there is no knowable reality - only chaos

So that from Barfield's assumptions: it is incoherent to theorize about a world without consciousness

Thus, a cosmology which - like both Big Bang and Steady State theories - speculates on the formation of a non-alive universe in the absence of consciousness is not so much mistaken as simply incoherent; as are similar speculations on the formation and evolution of an inorganic earth before the advent of Life.  

Barfield's (drawing heavily upon Rudolf Steiner's - albeit not identical-with Steiner) is indeed a fundamentally different understanding of reality than anything in the Western or Eastern mainstream of philosophy or theology. 

Therefore, whether Barfield acknowledges it or not: in StA he is indeed "doing metaphysics", and proposing a particular metaphysical description. 

Barfield claims he "tried to preserve neutrality towards all such [metaphysical] speculations, by referring to objective reality (that is to say, reality insofar as it is independent of our awareness of it)... sometimes as 'the particles' and sometimes as 'the unrepresented'. 

But this is not neutrality - because neutrality in metaphysics is impossible. 

Barfield's conceptualization of 'objective' as 'unrepresented'/ 'particles' is itself a metaphysical division and definition.  

Barfield then says: "The subject of this book is not the nature of reality; it is the evolution of consciousness". 

This translates as Barfield saying he is not doing metaphysics, but is (implicitly) doing a kind-of 'science' that he claims to be independent of ('neutral' about) metaphysical assumptions. 

So, Barfield's detailed account of the way that word-meanings have changed through human history; is claimed to be (in effect) 'empirical' and independent of metaphysical assumptions. 

But this is false, because Barfield's understanding of the implications of meaning change being located in consciousness; and consciousness being inextricably a part of reality; are excluded by the implicit and unconscious metaphysics of mainstream linguistic history. 

The changes of word meaning through history are interpreted using a very different and incommensurable significance than that which Barfield proposes - and the mainstream linguists would regard Barfield's interpretation as bizarre and obvious nonsense. 

Likewise, astro- and geo-physicists would regard Barfield's assertion that their theories of the formation of the universe and of earth were incoherent - because excluding any "observing consciousness" from such theories - to be absurd nonsense. 

Such physicists would almost certainly assert that their theories 'work' empirically, have been cross-checked by multiple mathematical analyses and physical observations - and that there is just No Problem.  

The difference between Barfield and the physicists is precisely metaphysics: each is arguing from different basic assumptions concerning the nature of reality. 

My understanding of Barfield is that he was Just plain wrong about what he was doing; just as Rudolf Steiner was wrong in The Philosophy of Freedom

Barfield claimed to be doing 'science' and Steiner claimed to be doing epistemology; but in fact both were doing metaphysics: both were (in these works) putting forward a different way of describing ultimate reality from that which was mainstream. 

This wrongness had an unfortunate effect in terms of obscuring the reader's understanding; because a convinced reader is given the false impression that Barfield and Steiner have 'proved' their arguments in a neutral fashion (which ought to be universally acceptable); rather than having provided a radically different framework for the structuring of arguments. 

Furthermore, by failing to notice that they themselves are 'doing metaphysics'; Barfield and Steiner both leave out God as a primary explanation for their understandings of reality. 

I have said before that it would be Much easier for the reader to understand Saving the Experiences if Barfield had set-out at the beginning that the 'evolution of consciousness' which Barfield describes is a divine plan, which aims at the incremental divinization of Man towards the level of God as creator.

Lacking this structuring and explanatory reference to God; Barfield's attempted-neutral description of the evolution of consciousness sounds like he is proposing a kind of 'law of nature' - a biological principle that sounds like a rival theory of the same kind as mainstream biological evolution by natural selection.   

I believe the consequences of this confusion can be seen in most of mainstream Barfield scholarship since the 1960s; and this has been exacerbated by a failure to engage with the work of Rudolf Steiner. Yet, if we begin by stating Barfield's metaphysical assumptions as such, including the presence and role of God; it really is not difficult to understand - because then its validity does not hinge on understanding and following complex, multi-step arguments or evidence.