Saturday, 1 June 2019

The Fall and the Rise

Somebody asked me how I could square the idea of a fall with the theory that we are evolving to higher states as I believe in both of these and, at first sight, they might appear contradictory. If we once lived in Paradise and knew neither good nor evil, how could we ever change? Why should we ever change?

That's a good question but I think the two ideas can be reconciled without too much trouble.

We were always intended to evolve from unconscious to conscious oneness. That is, from a state of passive non-separation from life to a creative union with it in which we could wield its powers in love. God created us as individuals and we were intended to grow to personal godhood through expressing our individuality. A static condition was never envisaged. But something went wrong and this evolution is consequently harder and longer with more suffering involved. But it still proceeds towards the always intended goal of divine union.

If Adam and Eve had not sinned by disobeying God then sin and death would not have entered the world. I am not saying that I believe in the literalness of the account in Genesis but it does contain a very profound truth presented as a simple story which all can understand. What actually took place probably did not occur in the physical world at all and was unlikely to have been the responsibility of just two individuals. It seems more reasonable to speculate that humanity as a whole, such as it was at the time, took a collective wrong turn, no doubt instigated in part by the forces of evil as the story says, and the result of that was a descent to a lower dimension of being in which full separation from the creative source of life was known. This had the knock-on effect of allowing for the development of individual consciousness but also meant there was nothing to stop that development from proceeding into permanent separation from God with no chance of a return until Christ was born to give that chance to those who would accept it.

If Adam and Eve had not fallen I believe they would still have developed as individuals but in an environment in which their growth proceeded without pain and suffering, and in an orderly way that was what you might call spiritually organic. It would have been a natural progression, as a tree grows or as physical growth occurs in human beings. Now, our spiritual growth is uncertain, sporadic and may not even occur. Without the Fall growth would have been rhythmically arranged, like seasonal change, and without pain. Because of the Fall it involves much greater hardship and is not inevitable.

God can bring good out of evil. The Fall was evil. I think that those who theorise that it was an intended part of the cycle of growth, on the basis that knowledge of good and evil allows for self-consciousness and the growth of mind, are mistaken. These things would have happened but they would have happened in a different, presumably better, way. God did not mean to leave Adam and Eve, nascent humanity, sitting in the Garden of Eden picking fruit forever. He meant them to become gods themselves, beings in whom (perhaps in contradistinction to the angels) spirit and matter were united and who could create something new out of that union. (Note: this is where those who acknowledge the reality of duality are more spiritually perspicacious than those who espouse a purely monistic philosophy - as long as their duality is grounded in monism.) He meant them to evolve according to the root meaning of that word which is to unfold. So this evolution is not of the Darwinian kind but the unfolding and expression of already present, albeit in a rudimentary form, elements. 

Human beings fell into a lower state of being through the misuse of their free will. But they can rise in the same way by reorienting their will to divine reality. I don't know if this can only be done through Christ but I do think it is best done through Christ. Before his advent the way to escape the prison house of matter (in that it had become separated from God, not absolutely because then it would cease to exist but apparently) was by renouncing it in the manner of a Buddha. But Christ, through his life and death, reopened the connection between spirit and matter and enabled the union between the two to take place which they first fully did at his Ascension. Christ brought the light of spirit to the darkness of matter and gives us the opportunity to do the same. 

If we had not fallen we would still have risen from Paradise towards Heaven (looking at those things in terms of conscious connection to God) but this would have been a natural process. Now it's not natural but it's possible that through the experience of sin and death something is gained by those who overcome them that would not have been available to us before. Might that be a deeper awareness of the reality of love?


Unknown said...

You know, it strikes me that you are very much in the camp of 20th century writers on religion who tried to "update" religion and "fuse" it with modernity and modern ideas, like the New Agers, etc.

This was very characteristic of the 20th century, and many writers attempted this.

I don't think it will work, though. These movements all failed.

I think because religion means surrendering self to a higher power, or the Other, and this is true to our actual nature and the sort of being a we are. Modern ideas are about self development and individual independence and the like, and this is just a misunderstanding of our nature, it seems to me.

We are fundamentally interconnected and dependent on God, and the more we deny this the more we suffer and are alienated.

I think your efforts to fuse modernity with religion are one last thing humanity must try before we return to real religion - as such, it is still part of the modern project.

But I wish you luck, and we each have to follow our path.

William Wildblood said...

For me it's not a question of fusing religion with modernity but I believe that God moves through time by which I mean that consciousness does evolve. I don't think the modern mind has nothing to contribute to the religious impulse but that it can, when properly submitted to that impulse, add something of its own which is an advancement on what went before.

Many moderns have tried to submit religion to modernity which is the wrong way round. But if you submit modernity to religion, it can, as I say, add something. I agree about surrendering self to a higher power but the submitted self is not just nothing. It has its own quality.

So it's not about self advancement or self development but the self can advance and develop in God. We have to get things the right way round though for that to happen and this 20th century spirituality and all the New Age stuff has not succeeded in doing for the most part.

thanks for reading even though you disagree with me!

edwin said...

I don't know that we can "return to true religion." Truth is not static, but dynamic; not a dogmatic formula or fixed feeling, but a growth in creative love. St. John's Gospel is about going forth and bearing fruit. We are supposed to use our talents in a way that increases or enlarges them. In every age we see in certain quarters a nostalgia for the good old days: a time when men were more in their right relation to God and to one another. It's possible that some epochs are more conducive to spirituality than others, but it is also possible that what is best lies before us, not in the past. I think you are right, William, about our advancing and developing in God. The Fall, it would seem, set us on a path that goes in one direction. There is no return to Paradise as it was originally; the angel with the flaming sword should tell us as much. However we conceive of the Fall, it appears to have something to do with the self-awareness of our bodies and our means of procreation ("Who told you that you were naked?") and our having now to choose between good and evil, i.e. freedom to sin. There is a vertical dimension to our moral lives and we either look up or look down. Christ said we must be born from above to see the Kingdom of Heaven. The implication being that we can choose to settle for what is below, for that which is earthbound. Tradition locates hell at the center of the Earth, symbolically if not literally. If we are to reach Heaven, we must rise from the Earth, from our attachment to all that would drag us down to what is basest in our appetites and emotions.In this sense, we are always in danger of falling. If all we had to do was surrender to a higher power, then much of what Christ said would be meaningless or superfluous. He spoke to us as though we are, to a significant degree, responsible for our fate.

Unknown said...

Thanks for explaining William.

I regard modernity as merely a one sided emphasis on certain aspects of reality - individuality, the material world, logic, rationality, freedom, etc.

These things are not bad, but they do have to be integrated into the proper framework, and balanced with their opposites.

So its not like every aspect of modernity is incompatible with real religion.

I like reading you because a large part of what you say is part of that old style religion.

Unknown said...

Edwin, old religions emphasize God - they believe the purpose of man is to glorify God.

I believe C.S. Lewis said man is born to adore and obey.

Your comment above, reads more like a paean to Man and his powers. It is very much in the modern spirit of emphasizing man's power and greatness, and his freedom and individuality.

I am not sure this is an alternative to the modern world and mainstream thinking.

Now, I am not necessarily critiquing your position, just contrasting it with traditional religions and drawing out its affinities with modern themes.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I found the standard account of the Fall, with Original Sin, to be a stumbling block - they do not ring true and are incompatible with the basic assumptions (a Good God who is our Father etc). What I have arrived at can, however, be mapped onto the basic scheme of the Fall, but not with Man disobeying God by sinning etc.

Rather, all Men chose incarnation in mortal life which is a world where it is impossible to avoid sin - because everything is always changing (except our divine soul, which is not - however - in control).

In other words, there is a division of life into a pre-mortal spirit eternity; this finite mortal life of incarnation; and (since Jesus) a post-mortal eternity as resurrected - hence incarnate, immortal divine beings.

William Wildblood said...

Bruce, I don't know anything about original sin but I do think that this world and human beings who are in it have been 'marred' in some way and that the idea of a Fall as described in Genesis makes intuitive sense. The question is was this fall into matter a natural part of overall spiritual unfoldment or was it a greater fall than it need have been? Is matter itself damaged in some way? I tend to think that was the case and that without this damage Christ would not need to have died.

But it's a complicated issue that will only be resolved when we no longer ' see through a glass darkly' and I'm content to wait until then for the full explanation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I don't see it as being marred, but as mortal Man being a work in progress.

I don't believe (as a whole - but of course individuals vary) Men ever were superior to what we are now - except in the sense (this being a close analogy) that young children are (on average) superior to adolescents.

Adolescence is a more advanced state of consciousness; but it is a time when many or most people experience a spiritual decline, and all people experience a greater risk of spiritual decline.

But if we want to become adults (and I understand that God wants us - at least some of us, to become adults), then we must go through adolescence - there is no other way to become grown-up.

So I see our marred or fallen state in mortal earthly life as developmental, rather than a fall from primordial perfection/ superiority.

William Wildblood said...

What I think is something like this.

Man is certainly a work in progress but that progress has been held up and will in some cases be curtailed because a number of spirits rebelled against God, either dragging down others with them or else, because our consciousness does in some sense influence our environment, damaging the material world so it doesn't properly reflect its Maker as it otherwise would have done. The Fall of the Angels is also responsible, probably more so, for this.

So it's not a matter of having been superior in an all-round sense in the past but of having, through a misuse of free will involving pride, attending more to our own ego than to our creator, caused the intended evolutionary process to go off the rails and to be much harder and less of a smooth run than it ought to have been.

I think the Fall into duality was a necessary part of our spiritual unfoldment but did it have to be such a severe form of duality and separation as it has been? Christian teaching says sin and death entered the world with the Fall so it may be that without that these would have been very different or not existed at all. We would clearly have had to have died in some sense but the element of suffering might not have been present or not to anything like the same degree.

It’s also interesting that Buddhism has its own version of the fall in its doctrine that suffering is inherent in life.

I wonder if the entry into adolescence might somehow reflect the initial Fall because you are absolutely right that a child changes dramatically and in many ways for the worse then. I know I did.

However all this is academic really. All that matters is that we turn to God now and do so in a way that engages with him creatively rather than just passively as might have been sufficient at one time.

One last thought. Didn’t Lewis and Tolkien both believe in the Fall?

edwin said...

If our individual development from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood and its stages recapitulates the cosmic development of man through the unfolding of the Logos, then adolescence may indeed represent the breaking away from dependence on external forces that guide and shape and protect us and an assumption of responsibility to carry our destiny forward within our given circumstances. This is perhaps why it is such a difficult time for us: we feel the painful loss of innocence and are confronted with a world of possibilities that is overwhelming. It takes some time to sort it all out and we look for models to follow until we arrive at our own individuality, during our early adult years, at which point we look back with some derision at all the silly imitative behavior of our teens. As for the question of whether there had to be a Fall, this seems to me to take us to the question of predestination: man determined or man determining. And this question is almost always framed in the context of cause-effect as understood in the physical world. Freedom, if it is real, means that a preconceived effect becomes the cause. This is not how things are in nature, but only in human beings.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - To answer your question - yes, Tolkien and Lewis both believed in the Fall; and Tolkien very much so. This was, of course, a key element in both Roman Catholic and Church of England Christianity of their era.

My feeling is that your understanding of the Fall has a metaphysical difference from that of both T and L - I think both of them would have regarded the Fall as predestined (to use the distinction that edwin introduced) - in that it could not have been otherwise; was foreknown and was accounted for.

And with that we come up against the old problem that if God foreknew the Fall, then there was no freedom for Men - and the usual 'answer' to this that God is outside of Time and sees past, present and future simultaneously in a way that 'therefore' does not affect our freedom.

The argument is in Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy, and is developed from Platonism; and is emphasised in CS Lewis's Mere Christianity lectures with reference to the efficacy of prayer. The recording of Lewis's actual wartime broadcast happens to have survived:

At one time this was an argument I accepted, but after living with it for a while I found I could not accept it, because it has implications which - in the end - destroy the historic nature of Christianity and devalue (completely) the significance of mortal life. I (coincidentally?) refer to this in today's blog post on Romantic Metaphysics.

Unknown said...

The modern world cannot accept the idea of the Fall - the idea that there is anything fundamentally wrong with humanity is against the modern worship of self and humanity.

It is also against the superficial optimism of modernity, that we are improving as a species - the modern idea of progress.

As against the deep optimism of old religion, that sees humanity as saved in a deep and ultimate sense but acknowledged that it is not improving as a species.

Modernity has clearly failed and led to widespread misery and dysfunction - so its very important to identify its key ideas and themes.

The most tragic thing in the world would be if we carried over the dysfunctional themes of modernity into our attempts to revive religion.

At the very least, we must be quite clear eyed about the provenance of our ideas and their affinities.

Unknown said...

I wonder if this is not a task for the next generation.

While people like Bruce Charlton are to be applauded for being some of the first to attempt to break out of modernity, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that most people from this generation cannot fully do it.

They are too imbued with the spirit of modernity and all its themes and ideas, its worship of humanity and self, its addiction to intellectualism and over thinking things, its allergy to genuine mystery and humility, it's ego and narcissism. This is not their fault - few if any can truly rise above their generation.

William seems to have benefited incalculably from his long stay in India, an antique land, which is I suspect why he has been better able to rise above his generation and include so many themes of the old religion, and avoid much of the modern superficiality.

But we all have our parts to play and must do the best we can.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Bruce. I've never heard that before or, indeed, Lewis's voice at all. He sounds very avuncular which I like!

Surely foreknown and predestined are different things? Actually, I would go along with the 'usual answer' as the best for the time being working hypothesis. Like you, I do think that time is an essential ingredient of reality since without it there is effectively nothing going on, no relationship and all growth and change are meaningless, but I also think that there is a level of spiritual being in which the future is seen as the present (as well as the past experienced in the same way). How would that devalue the significance of mortal life? We would still need the experiences garnered in time to reach full spiritual consciousness.

The way I look at this is simply to accept two apparently contradictory thoughts. Human beings have free will on the one hand. God knows the outcome of the exercise of that free will on the other. But his knowledge does not determine our action.

edwin said...

This whole discussion brings us up against the question: how and from where do human thoughts and actions arise? If we are free, that would mean that we can act without external determination, either by physical nature or an almighty creator. Whence comes our freedom? And what causes us to choose one thing over another if not some previous conditioning? We appear to be led into an infinite regression. And if we are not free, then why do we exist at all as conscious beings burdened with moral ideas and seeming responsibility? Conventional religion offers no satisfactory resolution. It may be that freedom is not intrinsic and complete, but a developing quality. We may be emerging into freedom from states bounded in natural cause-effect. The light, the Logos, is shining in the darkness. But this, too, is begging the question, for why then should only some of us turn to the light and others prefer to remain in the darkness?

Unknown said...

Edwin -

It need not be so complicated, and old religion offers a satisfactory and simple solution that has worked for millions of people throughout history, many of them the most subtle intellects humanity has ever produced who were deeply familiar with all subtle philosophical analyses you or I are familiar with.

Freedom is merely a modern idea, and part of the package of ideas that makes modern life so unsatisfactory - old religion emphasizes our dependence on God, not our freedom.

There is an implicit order in the universe - God or Tao - and humans were created to follow this order and be in harmony with it.

Simply put, obey God, like good children.

By doing so we fulfill our natures and glorify God, our creator. We thrive and find happiness in this world even amidst suffering and troubles, and gain eternal life.

However, we have the freedom to rebel against this order, the freedom to prefer our own counsel and our own will, and to oppose God - we can try and become 'adults' out of pride, enamored of our own power and will. But we were created to be children in a family, dependent on each other and God.

Even more, we cannot on our own choose to obey God and follow God's order - we need God's help. On our own we are too weak. Gods help us called grace.

Understanding our true human natures and status is essential to salvation and happiness - getting this wrong means wandering endlessly in the labyrinths modernity, a burden to ourselves and to others.

We are not - and not meant to be - truly free. Our nature is to find freedom in servitude to God. By obedience to God do we become free.

As you note, casting off the yoke of God merely means a new kind of servitude and not freedom at all - a servitude to our conditioning and our fallen nature, which many of us, then, try to apotheosize.

Modernity imagines that casting off Gods yoke means freedom - when it knows better than anyone that we merely become slaves to ourselves.

How do we know any of this true? The same way we humans know anything - through experience, intuition, imagination, and observation.

Modernity with its belief in freedom has led to disaster - and the peace of God comes from willingly accepting ones status as child of God.

One must taste this for oneself often before one can truly believe it - that is why so many religious conversions follow upon some long course of self effort and self will finally collapsing in futility.

We cannot accept our radical dependence on God until we exhaust the illusion of our independence.

That's why often the best thing you can wish for someone is a complete collapse of their self will following some catastrophe of all their hopes and plans :)

Unknown said...

At a certain point, one can simply choose to have Faith - because yes, all our laborious ratiocinations don't really make sense of it all. There is always done lacunae left over.

When we finally grasp that our logic is inadequate, we are finally ready to have Faith.

That logic can explain these things is merely a modern conceit, and part of modern suffering.

However, for many of us moderns, we first have to go through this wrestling with logic to see its futility.

May we all get through that phase as swiftly as possible!

William Wildblood said...

I always remember being very struck by this phrase from the Book of Common Prayer. In his service is perfect freedom. I think this sums it up. Our freedom, given by God, is best exercised by returning it to God from whom we then get it back filled with himself. It is as though we can only know God when we have the opportunity to reject him.

Regarding edwin's interesting point about the source of our freedom, I see this as just an aspect of being an individual and therefore tied up with love. Only a free soul can love.

Unknown said...

William -

It sort of reminds me of technology - by accepting the laws of nature, we acquire great power. By rejecting those laws, we remain powerless. Power here comes through servitude.

So too in the life of he spirit - we grow in spiritual stature by accepting God's reign, by obeying him and serving him, not by insisting on our own independence and our ability to take our own way.