Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The Case for Geocentrism
My apologies to the readership for the long delay in posting. I have been involved in a monumental reading project -- "Galileo Was Wrong," by Robert Sungenis, Ph.D. This book, not yet available in print format, is available on CD from a website of that name. It is probably the most comprehensive, detailed, and meticulously documented survey of the geocentric theory available in the world today - over a thousand pages of discussion, argument, narrative and illustrative material elucidating the cosmic position of our earth in the universe.Not being a scientist, I am not qualified to comment in depth on the book's technical aspects. There is an enormous body of knowledge, scientific, historical, and theological, encompassed in its pages. I must admit I was quite surprised to learn, for example, that no one has ever actually "proved" that the earth moves. A large section of the book is devoted to the famous Michelson-Morley experiment(s) (1880's) which found that a light beam discharged in the direction of the Earth's assumed motion showed virtually no difference in speed from a light beam discharged north to south or south to north. Thus the experiment failed to detect the Earth moving in or against space.I was also intrigued to learn that astronomic findings have discovered that galaxies and quasars are arranged in periodic distributions around the Earth, and that the Earth sits at the center of the highest concentration of matter in the Universe. Tegmark, an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that there is a universal orientation around Earth's equatorial plane -- a finding labelled byte journal New Scientist as the "axis of evil" because it confounds the Copernican Principle. Jonathan Katz (2002) remarked that the Copernican or cosmological principle -- if averaged over a sufficiently large region, the properties of the universe are the same everywhere; our position is unremarkable-- "is the foundation of nearly all cosmology."This cosmological principle is a kind of astronomical uniformitarianism, and scientists did not welcome findings related to periodicity - whether of galaxies, quasars, gamma-ray bursts - because they showed evidence of Intelligent Design.Sungenis argues that the contortionist Relativity Theory of Einstein was basically the result of the failure to correctly interpret the findings of Michelson-Morley. One of the important issues of the time concerned the question of the ether - a postulated medium of space which would allow for the propagation of light and gravity. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity denied the ether, but some years later with the General Theory, the concept returned in some form. The discussion of the fate of the concept of the ether, and how it ties in with that of gravity, is fascinating.The concept of gravity is thoroughly explored, and Sungenis and his co-author venture to discuss what gravity is as opposed to merely how it can be described mathematically - an important distinction to bear in mind, given that one of Sungenis's main points is that moderncosmology has become a mathematical maze with ever-diminishing experimental evidence. One of the most fascinating sections of the book is Sungenis's discussion of the findings of Quantum Mechanics in relation to the teachings of Genesis about the 'firmament.' He argues that space is indeed a firmament, composed of a sort of lattice-like structure of stable electron-positron pairs that possesses a granularity and concentration far finer and denser than ordinary matter. He cites Menahem Simhony, who estimated that the number of these pairs in one cubic centimeter of space is 6x10 to the 30th power, with a binding energy of 27 quadrillion kilowatt hours - yet this energy is a million times smaller than the binding energy of the atomic nucleus. This is the "ether" that fills the so-called empty space within the atom. Thus, he explains:
"Since, however, the ether does not penetrate the atom's individual particles (protons, neutrons, etc.) these atomic particles thus account for a percentage of the mass of the atom. But since the atomic particles are less dense than the ether, yet they occupy space in the atom, this means that the total density within the atom will be slightly less than the density of ether outside the atom. This imbalance will cause what can best be described as a partial vacuum in the ether, and the ether will seek to correct the vacuum by attempting to come to equilibrium. Here is the key: the effort to correct the vacuum is the cause of gravity." [Emphasis his; p, 686]
There is no question that Sungenis is a biblicist, and relates the geocentric theory to the work of the Creator. Whether or not the geocentric view is correct, the deep interest this book affords is to look at modern cosmology from the perspective of geocentrism - and to look a number of scientists who go to great lengths to avoid it. Modern physics interprets the electropon lattice as "the creation and annihilation of matter," because it has been found that the application of sufficient energy will cause these electron-positron pairs to "pop out" and disappear. Somehow, the image of scientists shooting holes in the firmament sticks in one's mind. Surely, there is a better way!I hope to write more at length about this remarkable book in the future, In the meantime, see my related post: "An Earth-Centered Universe - Again?"
Labels: Galileo, geocentrism, Robert Sungenis
posted by Caryl at 9:27 AM 0 comments
Friday, September 22, 2006
Geocentrism Two: The Big Bang is a Big Bust
Galileo Was Wrong has three main themes: 1. Arguing the scientific respectability of geocentrism; 2. Presenting the Scriptural and ecclesiastical arguments for geocentrism (to be published in the second volume of the work); and 3. disproving Big Bang theory. Along with these three main themes there are two important sidelines: the explanation of gravity and the ether.
The first volume of the work contains the scientific, mathematical and physical arguments for geocentrism. Closely interwoven in these arguments, or rather in effect simultaneous with them, are disproofs for the Big Bang theory, since it was by means of Big Bang that scientists thought they would lay the ghost of Ptolemy forever to rest. It didn’t quite turn out that way, because one of the paradoxes of Relativity theory is that geocentrism emerges as a position equally valid as heliocentrism. It is possible to make what is called a ‘coordinate transformation’ by taking any point as the center of dynamics. The mathematics works out in both cases, whether one takes the Earth as stable and the heavens moving around it, or the Earth as moving and the heavens stable. 
Sungenis is particularly good at uncovering the “emotional atheism” of Copernicanism (rather ironic, as Copernicus himself was a canon of the Church and Kepler believed his harmonic heliocentric theories were in tune with the music of the Holy Ghost). This undertone led to the “principle of mediocrity,” which supposedly indicates “modesty.” Scientists never tire of repeating that it is more “modest” to believe that we occupy a minor planet in an indifferent part of the universe, whereas our arrogant forebears believed they inhabited the center. Actually, in the ancient system the earthly realm was, at least according to Aristotle, considered to be inferior to the heavenly spheres. The “sublunary” sphere was the sphere of imperfection and corruption; the celestial spheres, on the other hand, manifested the principle of perfection, as evidenced by their motion in perfect circles.
“Modesty” does not at any rate appear to be the outstanding characteristic of the devotees of Big Bang theory. Aside from their historical ignorance, they are also cavalier about facts. They would have us believe that the entire universe bloated up from a size less than a dot on this page in an instant of time, creating the massively organized and ordered structures out of an initial cosmic explosion.  It’s not science; it’s magic. It disregards the law of Entropy, one of science’s most respected laws, by pretending that order can magically distill out of chaos. Thus Big Bang theory is a sort of counterfeit creatio ex nihilo that makes a mockery of even the best fruits of genuine science – e.g. the discoveries of the laws of thermodynamics.
This “inflationary” scenario is the real emotional ground and tone of our era, providing not only a convenient model for capitalist expansionism, but also enabling a kind of infinite and indefinite moral postponement. One never has to reckon with anything, least of all limits, and why be bothered with stewardship or sustainability, since there is always new space being created? Not that it will help us much, but still the theory is attractive for those for whom “economy” means finance and “science” means getting grants. Somebody is always there to fork out the money. Big Bang means never having to call anywhere home, for future possibilities always beckon, and the so-called “facts” can always be made to conform to the promiscuous agenda. The theory gives employment to a lot of people who are good at math, but as astronomer Gerard de Vaucouleurs put it (1970), there has been a loss of empirical evidence and observational facts to accompany the multiplication of fictitious properties of ideal (i.e. nonexistent) universes.
So, although Sungenis is correct when he remarks about these BB theoreticians, “What a wonderful world they have created for themselves, a world in which they can be judged by nothing bigger than themselves,” this is true in the sense that these theoreticians have been busy getting God out of the picture and making matter either eternal or self-created. Yet, on the other hand, making a universe out of equations is not small potatoes either, and even the most self-inflated heads in the Big Bang establishment do have to produce papers that pass the peer-review muster. It may be a case of collective delusion, but it is a difficult and rarefied delusional world up to three, four, or ten decimal places that has to be dealt with. This illustrates the truth of the Chestertonian maxim: a madman is not one who has thrown out reason; it is a person who has thrown out everything except reason.
When Sungenis argues geocentrism he means geocentrism: i.e., the primacy of the creation of the Earth, and not some nebulous entity or force like light, quantum fluctuations, or energy. What he is less adept at doing, or perhaps does not even attempt to do, is to explain why we are thus saddled with this view of the world. Sungenis does not delve into the question of the evolution of consciousness or historic necessity. For, after all, we are indeed saddled with the Big Bang theory and it will not disappear without a struggle, although there are a lot of holes being nibbled out of its edges. He does make the compelling point that people believe that scientific progress is inevitable. Faith in “progress” has obscured the more difficult and skeptical achievement of realizing that people, and perhaps whole societies, can take a wrong turn, and that it may take years, even centuries, to get back on the right footing. Magic and self-assurance make a bad marriage, and conjuring the world to one’s liking is bound to prove fatal in the end.
Nevertheless, there has to be some divine reason for all this confusion. My take on this is as follows: We human beings are a part of the world, and there is a true, real, physical-energetic background for our emotional, intellectual and spiritual strivings. Now this background can probably be described in a number of different ways, but its discovery and description happens to coincide with human history, or rather takes place within it. It was probably bound to happen sooner or later that people would become enamored of their own intellectual powers, that they would discover the seemingly independent and self-compelling power of the intellect. From thence is but a short step to believing in its self-sufficiency – that is, the self-sufficiency of reason and (by extension) of humans themselves. That is to say, the fundamental irrelevance of God. Thus is born the inflationary self-conception, which is anything but modest, But the universe obliged us by providing at least a few tantalizing glimpses of how it might be true – such as the redshift factor  and the cosmic microwave background radiation. 
To continue with my psycho-somatic explanation: this process of enamourment, with its discoveries and assumptions, followed along the heels of the men of the 16th and 17th centuries who were developing the heliocentric theory. There is surely a genuine core of validity to heliocentrism to the degree that it represents the ‘solar Logos’ – that is, the ability to think dispassionately, the aspiration that human thinking should not only produce light but also radiate warmth, the ideal of an intellectual consciousness that is beneficiently and creatively centrally radiant rather than egotistically grasping and ultimately draining and depleting. These are ideals of heliocentrism that have very much to do with the attainment of true modesty, if not humility.
We all know the kinds of corruptions that have ensued. With heliocentrism, people took a historical step toward the grasp of thinking for its own sake, and the attack of the ‘Demons’ – within and without -- has not ceased since. If anything, the egocentrism has magnified to the point of making science almost unrecognizable. It has not been enough to banish God from the cosmos. The equivalent issue is the derision and demotion of truth. At some point heliocentrism and Big Bang must again yield – to a new willingness not only to consider the Earth and the Sun, but to accept the Moon – that is, symbolically, the feelings and less-conscious background of human life that give us our moral tone, our historical coloring, our dim but recurrent yearnings for deeper understanding. Pure sun-consciousness is too much; we need the dimmer light of the moon and of twilight, in order to 'dream through' our sensory impressions. And especially do we need to 'sleep them through' - we need the full depths of Night as well, to allow our impressions to go into the prelude of dreaming and thus to sink into forgetfulness. The correlatives for sleeping, dreaming, and waking are, cosmically, Earth, Moon and Sun.
Only when the manifold cosmos is balanced, like a stool, on the three cosmic objects of Earth, Sun, and Moon, can we begin to approach the Universe with the depth of soul and patiently-won humility that our human stature demands. Unless we can find our way to this understanding, we will continue to be the spectators and gullible victims of the increasingly ugly sport called "The Triviality and Tyranny of the Intellectuals."
 Cf. Bertrand Russell: “…all motion is relative…to say more for Copernicus is to assume absolute motion, which is a fiction.” (1958) Arthur Lynch: “The movements of the two bodies (i.e. sun and earth) are relative one to the other, and it is a matter of choice as to which we take as our place of observation.” The Case Against Einstein, [1930’s]. I. Bernard Cohen: “There is no planetary observation by which we on Earth can prove that the Earth is moving in an orbit around the Sun… Furthermore, the daily rotation of the heavens is communicated to the sun and planets, so that the earth neither rotates nor revolves in an orbit.” Birth of a new Physics, 1985.
 Philip Morrison: “It is deceptive to maintain for so long the very term that stood for a beginning out of nothing.” “The Big Bang: Wit or Wisdom?” Scientific American, Feb. 2001.
 Redshift refers to the observation that light from distant galaxies tends to redden, a phenomenon interpreted to mean recession velocity, i.e. that they are receding from us. This interpretation was given by Hubble, who discovered it, although he also maintained doubts about it – a fact often not mentioned. The recessional velocity theory became the keystone for the ‘exploding universe’ concept when it became apparent that it was not enough merely for the universe to be expanding – because, if that were the case, it would mean that the distant galaxies were flying away from us faster than the speed of light – another no-no according to Relativity. Thus ‘expansion’ became ‘explosion’ -- located in some conveniently distant past that you could sweep under a rug called ‘Singularity’ and more or less forget about. Astronomer Halton Arp challenged this interpretation arguing that higher redshift simply means younger matter. He reports his findings in his book, Seeing Red, and tells the story of the many obstacles placed in his path by the science establishment which is ferociously wedded to the concept of expansionary universe – Arp was denied use of the telescope, his articles were not reviewed or negatively reviewed and not published, and people dealt with his findings and ideas dismissively, etc. etc.
 The cosmic microwave background radiation was the most powerful predictive tool of Big Bang theory, which said that the universe should have a background temperature, although it did not specify what that temperature was. A problem for Big Bang, however, is the even-ness of the CMB- it hardly varies at all from 2.73°K. It’s hard to figure out how galaxies and other massive objects could form given this nearly invariant radiation temperature. Big Bangers postulate that the universe is “isotropic and homogeneous” when it suits them to deny certain facts about the Earth’s position, while in other situations the homogeneity and isotropy of the universe proves to be rather embarrassing. I hope in a future post to describe recent findings that argue that the CMB temperature, not far above absolute zero, is the boundary-interface between positive and negative energy in the universe – the portal to the etheric realm.
Labels: Big Bang, Galileo, geocentrism, Robert Sungenis
[Undated Post-October, 2006]
Rediscovering the Moral Law - through Physics (I)
In today’s post and several following I want to make the attempt to pull together several threads from scattered sources. I will discuss certain findings from challengers in physics, geocentric theory (Galileo Was Wrong), Dirac’s Equations, and the concepts of the ether, the firmament, negative energy and kenosis. I think there is a new understanding of the moral just beneath our fingertips, but it lies there like a faint gauze, a veil - not yet lifted into consciousness. People who are scientifically literate may cringe at my philosophical orientation, but perhaps there is a place for the person with the big picture, the synthesizing gaze. Metaphysics is the cosmic view, after all, and the astronomer George F. R. Ellis remarked that it is inescapably present in scientific theories about the universe. "What I want to bring into the open is the fact that we are using philosophical criteria in choosing our models. A lot of cosmology tries to hide that." (From the Profile: George F.R. Ellis, Scientific American, Oct. 1995) This message was not particularly welcome in the cosmological community, which apparently likes to think of itself as above such mortal considerations as philosophical preferences. I will discuss Dr. Ellis's findings later in this series.As readers to this site may know, I have posted two previous entries dealing with Robert Sungenis’s book, Galileo Was Wrong, which is shortly to be released in print. In accordance with his biblical and geocentric view, Mr. Sungenis argues that the “firmament” was created by God on the Second Day, as stated in Genesis:Gen.1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst ofthe waters; and let it divide the waters from the waters.1:7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters whichwere under the firmament from the waters which were above thefirmament: and it was so.1:8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening andthe morning were the second day.Sungenis argues that modern science is discovering that space is, indeed, “…filled with something. Not only is it ‘something,’ but because its dimensions are in infinitesimally small scales, it fulfills the definition of a ‘rigid body,’ and therefore allows for instantaneous transmission of any force.” Sungenis comments that it was Einstein’s failure not to consider the possibility of a ‘rigid body’ that led him down the wrong path to Relativity. Thus he was led to speculate that space was a vacuum and that gravity, for instance, was caused by the bending or distortion of the space around large bodies.On the contrary, Sungenis and geocentrist Gerardus Bouw argue that the extreme density of this infinitesimally small-scaled particle network enable it to act like a ‘frictionless fluid,’ hence objects – whether light or clusters of stars – can move through it with no resistance. Bouw writes: “The firmament is like a huge solid block… At the same time, its granularity is so superfine that it also behaves like a superfluid… Only on extremely small scales, distances on the order of a Planck length, does the firmament show through…It is a superdense, created medium which mimics a plenum. .. It reacts instantly to any changes within it... Material objects can only become vaguely aware of its existence on extremely large scales (of the order of the size of the universe) and on extremely small scales (of the order of sub-nuclear particles). …”A good part of the argument in Galileo Was Wrong correlates the findings of modern physics in the sub-nuclear realm with the fate of the concept of the ether, which, of course, in the discussions of modern physicists, had nothing to do with the geocentric theory. It is therefore necessary to discuss the “firmament” or ether concept as held by non-geocentric thinkers. Accordingly, we turn to one of these in the next segment of this paper.
Labels: Einstein, ether, firmament, Galileo, geocentrism, George F.R. Ellis (Astronomer), relativity, Robert Sungenis
posted by Caryl at 3:43 PM 3 comments
Rediscovering the Moral Law- (II)
D.L. Hotson’s "Dirac’s Equation and the Sea of Negative Energy," published in Infinite Energy (Part I: 43:2002; Part II, 44:2002)
Note: These articles are published on the Web. See note at end of article for site information.Don Hotson argues in these two superlatively written papers that physics got off track in 1934 with the "emasculation" of the equations of Paul Dirac (1902-1984). The solution to Dirac’s equation finds four different kinds of electron: an electron-positron pair with positive energy and an electron-positron pair of negative energy. The physics community could not accept the "politically incorrect" notion of negative energy, hence Dirac’s equation was truncated and the numbers were fudged to account for only the positive energy aspect of the equation. As Hotson puts it, "The Dirac equation was a direct threat to the reigning paradigm. As Dirac noted, physicists had always arbitrarily ignored the negative energy solutions. If they were real in some sense…they had all been mortifyingly, catastrophically wrong all these years, ignoring exactly half of reality. And that other half of reality, alarmingly, seemed to resemble the anathematized aether."What is "negative energy"? Hotson reminds us that it is thanks to Benjamin Franklin and his famous kite experiment that the electron, the very unit of electricity, was given a minus sign. Had Franklin assigned to what was flowing a positive sign, we might not have had such a hard time accepting the concept of ‘negative energy.’ "Matter(mass)," says Hotson,"is positive energy, [and] our reality has a large positive energy balance." We get by on "single entry bookkeeping" that treats positive energy as the only kind of energy.But we observe symmetry all throughout nature: charges come in positive and negative, particles are symmetric between matter and anti-matter. Only in energy do we deny that such a symmetry exists. The fundamental symmetry of nature comprises two basic forces: that which binds and coheres, and that which frees and loosens. One may call the first the impulse of generality, unity, relating, and the second the impulse of individualizing, distinguishing, and singling-out. In physics the binding or cohering forces saddled with the negative sign are gravitation, the strong nuclear force, and the Coulomb force between unlike charges. The loosening and explosive forces, on the other hand, carry the positive sign – notably the repulsive Coulomb force between like charges.Is not the whole ‘Big Bang’ theory in effect a declaration of the monopoly of the positive or explosive force? – a case of positive-energy explosive-individuation gone haywire. Accounting for the stability of the universe then becomes a problem, and how this high-temperature explosion settled down into the humdrum even temperature of space that we call the "cosmic background radiation" of 2.73˚K in a relatively few million years – well, this is not exactly clear.Now is the time to introduce a new player – the Bose-Einstein Condensate. What is referred to by this cumbrous piece of terminology is how things behave at very cold temperatures, such as 2.73˚K. It is what is called superconductivity – which is the state in which negative or binding energy overcomes the tiny residual positive or freeing energy so that all the particles are governed by the same wave function. The BEC "is a transition from an incoherent population to a coherent matter wave." (Nature, Sept 2006) As physicist Robert Laughlin put it: "The similarities between the vacuum of space and low-temperature phases of matter are legendary in physics...In fact, the more one studies the mathematical descriptions of cold phases, the more accustomed one gets to using the parallel terminologies of matter and space interchangeably." (From his book, A Different Universe, quoted in Galileo Was Wrong, p. 480.At these low-temperature states, matter "binds closer and closer together until it becomes all one thing." (Hotson) Every constituent of this so-called BEC is in the same state and acts as one. According to Hotson, this Bose-Einstein configuration is the negative-energy "sea" in which we are immersed. It is in the nature of the BEC configuration to expel all positive energy, which it cannot tolerate. Thus Hotson’s explanation for our life, with its large positive-energy balance, is that it is the "expulsion" – or less delicately, the "defecation" – from the configuration of negative energy that holds this universe together. It is not altogether an appealing image, although it does make intuitive sense.It might be possible to understand this state of matter in a "sleeping" state. When we are falling asleep, we must "expel" consciousness, which can be understood as a form of positive energy. When we are in deep sleep, we are perhaps in a type of Bose-Einstein state - or as near to it as is possible in human experience. In any case, it is fascinating to consider that the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation - about 2.7˚K - is approximately the boundary-state between positive and negative energy. This would explain the even spread of this temperature background much more compellingly than the idea of a rapid cooling-down from the Big Bang.Note: Infinite Energy magazine has a great website with all kind of articles. Don Hotson's articles are located at the following links: http://www.openseti.org/Docs/HotsonPart1.pdfand http://www.openseti.org/Docs/HotsonPart2.pdf . These links were sent to me by Don, who paid me the huge compliment of writing that "I have not seen a review or synopsis of the Dirac stuff as cogent and well-written as your blog." Pretty good for a gal whose knowledge of physics goes no further than F=ma! I don't know if these links are the same as the magazine website or different ones. Anyhow, for intellectually challenging reading material, these articles are a great!
Labels: Big Bang, Dirac's equations, Don Hotson, negative energy state, physics
posted by Caryl at 4:08 PM 1 comments
Friday, October 06, 2006
Rediscovering the Moral Law - (III)
Enter “The Electric Universe”There is another group of physicists whose work is now just beginning to penetrate mainstream science. This group, working in the area of what is call plasma physics, argue that the dynamic forces of electromagnetism play a much greater part in holding the universe together than gravitation. The universe is full of these “plasma clouds” – huge diffuse structures of ionized, or electrically charged, particles.The term “plasma” for these clouds was given because they arrange in life-like and self-organizing patterns – hence the term was borrowed from one of the constituents of blood. From a 2000 press release, “Immense flows of charged particles discovered between the stars,” more than 99% of all observable matter in the universe is in the plasma state. “In contrast to the first three states of matter most familiar to us on Earth: gases, liquids, and solids, plasmas generate and react strongly to electromagnetic fields. [They] are also prodigious producers of electromagnetic radiation. The Sun is a plasma, as are all the stars and interstellar space…” (The picture at left is a solar prominence, showing the plasma state.)We know of the plasma state on Earth in the form of lightning, fluorescent bulbs, flames, the flow of currents in conductors and semiconductors and the aurora. It is not without interest that some of the leading scientists in the plasma field were of Scandinavian origin, where aurora research has been carried on for years. One of these, the late Hannes Alfven, in his article, “Cosmology in the Plasma Universe: An Introductory Exposition” (IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science 18(1): Feb. 1990) brings us back to the Dirac Equation when he notes that it must be legitimate to ask whether the plasma universe is symmetric, or does it consist of exclusively ordinary matter. “As the second alternative is treated in a gigantic literature it is appropriate that we here concentrate on the first alternative. If this is correct, an unprecedented change in astrophysics would occur.” The question of “symmetry” here points to the Dirac “negative energy” concept, although Alfven is framing the question in terms of matter rather than energy.Nevertheless, a universe full of “living electricity,” where energy is transmitted over vast distances, is a very different picture from the idea of the universe we are accustomed to. A universe of stars and galaxies powered by electricity – “the stars are like streetlamps,” one writer remarked – is a very different place from the universe of Einsteinian-Big Bang cosmology powered by thermonuclear processes.Perhaps the outlines of a new cosmology is beginning to appear. The Sea of negative energy, ether, plasma universe – do not these things portend vitality, a quality sorely lacking from the science of the past 400 years? For it seems that with modern science, to understand something is to kill it. The universe, however, has been beyond our powers to destroy, so we have merely described the act of creation - “Big Bang” – in terms indistinguishable from an act of destruction.But how does the plasma concept fit in with the ether? I wrote Robert Sungenis, whose book, Galileo Was Wrong, discusses plasma cosmology in some detail. I asked him if plasma=ether=firmament, or whether they are different things. He wrote back, “As for the ether, it would be the physical substance of the firmament, but plasma is just a form of energy, fire being one of those forms.” To Don Hotson I addressed essentially the same question, leaving out the question of the firmament. I wrote, “Are the Dirac equations a further refinement, or presupposition of, the electric-universe-plasma physics model? And is this model of electron-positron pairs to be understood as the ether?”He wrote back: “I consider the Dirac findings to parallel and complement the electric/plasma universe. The unique behavior of plasma stems from its close connections to and regulation by the Big BEC. In this model, epos (i.e. electron-positron pairs) are themselves waves, and so must be considered to be waving in something (some medium) which would strictly speaking be ‘the ether’ as it determines the permittivity and permeability of ‘the vacuum, hence the velocity (‘c’) with which epo waves move, hence the velocity with which ‘light’ is carried by them.”Hotson and the plasma cosmologists are ‘steady-state’ theorists. Hotson thinks of 'our reality' as the ‘exhaust’ from the “sea” of negative energy that creates, powers, and maintains everything that is. We live in a positive-energy world, humanity being the chief representative of this. Within the human world, the capacity of intellect in particular is ‘positive’ – that is, seeking to individuate, distinguish, analyze, break apart, unbind. From this perspective, it is not difficult to see how a human consciousness exclusively oriented towards intellectual or mathematized analysis will lead over into a ‘Culture of Death.’ This is the real foundation for the social upheavals of our time, in which intellect has succeeded, like Einstein’s gravity, in ‘bending’ everything else in its sphere. But what it cannot do is bend itself. It cannot give convincing reasons for coherence, stability, union. Perhaps the intellect rejects 'negative energy' with as much vehemence as the Bose-Einstein Condensate rejects the positive energy.In the meantime, we discovered the physical electricity, so to speak, rather than its cosmic counterpart, and we proceeded to ‘electrify’ everything on earth. But you have to ask whether the ‘earthly electricity’ to which we have subjugated all of life is a true picture of the cosmic electrical universe, or whether it may be a ‘fallen’ picture of it. The ‘cosmic’ electricity is a study in life-forms, a living dynamic of energy. It represents the transfer of vital energies with life-sustaining powers over large distances. Here is the concept of positivity contained, balanced by all the other forces in the universe. Odd that we should have given such a transfer of energy a ‘negative’ sign!Whereas, on earth, the electricity that we harness and use is like an additional injection of ‘positive’ energy on an already positively-maximized human situation – it’s like injecting sugar into a diabetic. It is perhaps for this reason that Ernst Lehrs, author of Man or Matter, remarks that “…with every act of setting electromagnetic energies in motion we interfere with the… balance of our planet by turning part of the earth’s coherent substance into ‘dust.’ Thus we may say that whenever we generate electricity we speed up the earth’s process of cosmic ageing… It was man’s fate to remain unaware of this fact during the first phase of the electrification of his civilization; to continue now in this state of unawareness would spell peril for the human race.”I will continue with some of these themes in the next post.
posted by Caryl at 4:33 PM 0 comments
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Rediscovering the Moral Law - (IV)
The Moral Law, Negative Energy and KenosisLet this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God;But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men;And being found in fashion like a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross. Phil 2: 5-8 (King James)Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Revised Standard)George F.R. Ellis is an astronomer and professor of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. During the period of his studies at the University of Cambridge in England – where he consorted with Fred Hoyle, Stephen Hawking and other luminaries – he left Anglicanism and became a convert to the Quaker faith (Religious Society of Friends). During the following years of his career in South Africa he has been active in the anti-apartheid movement and in other efforts for social justice.In 1978 Dr. Ellis published an article in New Scientist which caused a frisson in the Copernican Establishment – some saw it as an "earthquake." In a later review in Nature, P.C.W. Davies described Ellis’s theory as nothing less than an abandonment of "the entire conceptual and philosophical foundation of modern cosmology." Ellis had proposed a spherical dipole universe in which Earth occupies the South pole and the detritus from the Big Bang occupies the North pole. It was enough to set the Establishment’s teeth on edge, because, as Ellis had himself acknowledged, "it is believed to be unreasonable that we should be near the center of the Universe." Even though his article had not exactly argued that we are a center in the geocentric sense, the hint of even a "secondary" center was enough to set off a considerable gnashing and grinding of teeth. Interestingly, Ellis argued that our "centrality" (opposite the Big Bang pole) was for biological, not cosmological reasons. Life would arise in a part of the universe that was not too hot, and such was the part occupied by the Earth in the cosmos.In 1995, Scientific American published a profile of Dr. Ellis in their October issue. It described briefly some of his more recent work as a critic of the inflationary, or "critical density," model of the universe. In that model, the magical Big Bang pops into existence and blows up until it reaches a "critical density," at which point it will self-puncture and we all return to Valhalla.However, the bulk of the article was devoted to Dr. Ellis’s spiritual and ethical outlook. In contrast to evolutionary biologists and postmodernist philosophers, Ellis believes in the existence of a universal moral law. He takes the New Testament concept of kenosis as his central theme in arguing that "the foundational line of true ethical behavior… is the degree of freedom from self-centeredness of thought and behavior, and willingness freely to give up one’s own self-interest on behalf of others."The kenosis or self-emptying concept comprises a very small passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is in its way a remarkable compression and condensation of the whole New Testament story of Jesus – it epitomizes the life of Jesus as, in turn, that Life epitomizes human life in general.I was struck by Dr. Ellis’s view and, not being afraid of audacity, I sent an e-mail to Dr. Ellis expressing my interest. In my unpublished novel, After the Crash, there is a short chapter that deals with the theme of kenosis. That novel, set in a not-too-distant future of fossil fuel depletion, sees the arrival of a certain type of person whom I call the "Silencer." Silencers are men (and there are reasons why only men can be Silencers) who have developed the faculty of empathic self-emptying love to an extraordinary degree, and they appear in a society where people are racked by voices in their head – tormented by the vocal remnants of the hydrocarbon era. I enclosed in my e-mail to Dr. Ellis this short chapter – being only 5 pages, it was not too lengthy to send as an attached file.Dr. Ellis kindly replied, and sent me his 10-page essay, "Kenosis as a Unifying Theme for Life and Cosmology." In this essay he argues that kenosis provides "the key to understanding the deep nature of creation, in the sense that it provides the metaphysical underpinnings of cosmology as well as ethics." He believes that the self-sacrificial love which kenosis teaches is a central element in the Christian religion, and probably a major strand in all religious traditions. In terms of cosmology, kenosis points to the fact that "the fundamental aim of loving action shapes the nature of creation and of transcendence in practice… Thus we take seriously the concept that the purpose of the universe is precisely to make this kind of sacrificial response possible." He says that the Creator could have ordered things differently, "but has voluntarily and specifically restricted the nature of creation to that required for this purpose. This states the metaphysical basis underlying cosmology and hence determining the nature of physics." But then follows a disappointing sentence: "Science cannot provide such a metaphysical basis."That science does not provide such a metaphysical basis I would agree. But to say that it cannot is to assume that science will never be able to advance beyond its present condition – or to assume that today’s science is the final word. But already the picture of the negative-energy universe energized by electrical or plasma phenomena opens a whole new window. Can the concept of kenosis fit in with this new picture?First of all, while the intellect may be understood as ‘positive,’ a more holistic view sees the positive intellect as but one part of human nature. There is an ‘integrative’ principle, or rather, state, towards which the intellect can act as a mirror, but which in itself it is unable to grasp. For this integrative state is indeed the issue of our very embodiment, our incarnation as individual men and women expressing the male or female side of ‘human nature.’Perhaps this integrative state is analogous to the negative energy concept, in the sense that it cannot be ‘seen’ or ‘weighed,’ but only measured by its effects. "Ye shall know them by their fruits." In what is called ‘negative energy’ we find the principle of coherence, that which causes things to bind and hold together, and it is a causative principle which does not allow things to be ‘taken apart,’ in intellect-fashion. In this negative energy condition, things can only be born and appear as wholes – and this idea reappears today in the Intelligent Design movement, which insists that manifestations of complex life could have only arisen in this fashion, and not in the Darwinian piecemeal manner.In order to ‘grasp’ the negative-energy state (and ‘grasp’ is not really the right word, for it implies the positive conceptual activity) the intellect must undergo a type of ‘kenosis,’ an emptying-out. It has to lose its ‘grasp’ in order to be able to experience the cohesion of things in its own being. This act of renunciation does not come easily, for the intellect at all times craves the fullness of its own productions – even if this fullness is artificial, and even if it knows that can only create an ‘artificial plenum.’ The idea of ‘emptiness,’ for intellect, is reprehensible and seemingly ‘unnatural.’A deeper look at human life shows, however, that ultimately man becomes dissatisfied with his artificial creations, whether of material goods or scientific paradigms. The past few hundred years of Western history have been characterized by a strong acclaim and emphasis upon man’s creativity – whether in art or science. Once nature was no longer seen as the manifestation of divine being, and imitation of nature no longer sufficed for an artistic principle, it was thought that human beings could, so to speak, reinvent it. We are living through the last phases of this theory of art – and perhaps the most toxic phase. For this notion of creativity has penetrated all the way to the genetic levels, and scientists and their funders and followers are eager to reinvent and correct what they see as nature’s shortcomings - for sale, of course.I doubt that this phase can endure if the human race is to continue. The rediscovery of the principle of renunciation, of the empty space that allows for the unfolding of events, of the ‘hollow zone’ which so much resembles a womb – these understandings will signify the real beginning to the practice of kenosis. For kenotic self-emptying makes possible the continuation of the life world, and it is ultimately (and intimately) allied with the concepts of participation and procreation. Only one who lives in this integrative state is truly capable of being there while not being there, of "is" and of "is-not," of being self while renouncing self. "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." The gift of kenosis is what allows us a glimpse into the deep coherence of Creation.
Labels: developmental thinking, George F.R. Ellis (Astronomer), kenosis, moral law, negative energy state, participation, procreation
posted by Caryl at 5:10 PM 2 comments
"Truth turns ashen"
Posted in memory of the blasted and charred children of Lebanon.
Choice of Weapon
Our world has been numbered by men with bombs,
And by the women who rule them with clipped
And merciless speech. They play at destruction;
Their gods are false; they are proud and heartless.
On the spit of their tongues truth turns ashen,
As it gets done.
posted by Caryl at 10:26 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The Zionist Face of First Things
Destroying Christianity for Israel
The journal First Things, the premier religious journal in the USA, maintains a web log to which their contributors write. It does not, however, allow for the posting of comments by readers. Perhaps the editors of that magazine are unwilling to have readers challenge the neoconservatism which now passes for Christianity according to First Things.I wish to comment on Wilfred McClay’s recently posted piece (Aug.23) in which he derides David Ray Griffin’s new book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, the Westminster Presbyterian Press for publishing it, the Catholic critiques of the Iraq war and American foreign policy, and everybody else who disagrees with the Bush Administration’s handling of world affairs. The enemies list is growing very long indeed, but the rhetorical skills of the neoconservative apologist seem to be growing rather dim.Indeed I was sorry to read this disparaging and in many ways incoherent piece by Wilfred McClay. He wrote an excellent essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson some years ago which showed great acumen, and I have always considered him a thoughtful writer.He begins by acknowledging his association with the Ethics and Public Policy Center of Washington, D.C., which was founded “to combat the perception that an intellectually and morally impoverished understanding of the dominant American religious traditions had rendered those traditions useless, or (as in the lamentable presidency of Jimmy Carter) worse than useless in guiding Americans’ thinking about a sensible and responsible foreign policy.”Whew. This is quite a mouthful. But what he seems to be saying is that dominant American Christianity was not quite committed to the project of Empire, and that the people at the Ethics and Public Policy Center were determined to rectify this mistake, perhaps by furthering the alliance with Zionism. But why the dig at Jimmy Carter? Mr. Carter was the last president we had who acknowledged limits to energy use – there was the famous scene where he spoke from the White House wearing a sweater, because he kept the thermostats down. Mr. Reagan tore down Mr. Carter’s solar panels upon arriving at the august office. So much for the turn to a modicum of energy realism.No doubt there were lamentable things that happened in Mr. Carter’s tenure, just as there have also been lamentable events in the presidencies before and after Mr. Carter -- but this snide disparagement of a good and decent man is wholly unwarranted.Mr. McClay then goes on to praise Mr. George Weigel “in stimulating valuable thinking about the nation-state, war, and peace that is both strategically sound and theologically informed.” Concerning this last point I must demur. Mr. Weigel claims to be a Catholic, but he evidently holds no respect for Catholic Just War teaching. Both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have condemned the Iraq invasion, but apparently this effort for peace means nothing to the Country Club neo-Catholicism of George Weigel.It gets worse. Mr. McClay describes the news that Westminster Presbyterian Press is publishing David Ray Griffin’s book as “jaw-dropping.” The book itself he refers to as “a crackpot September 11 conspiracy book.”Now it is one thing to describe Mr. Griffin’s thesis in that book as shocking – which it is. But it is quite another to dismiss it in the cavalier way that Mr. McClay does. I would just like to ask Mr. McClay if he has given any thought to how Building 7 came down? It was not hit, and collapsed in a matter of seconds. Such facts – and there are many – point to a raft of troubling issues not dealt with in the “secular press” or by the government’s report. But then Mr. McClay adds insult to injury when he says that the appearance of this book “underlines the more general point that the most important intellectual and institutional expressions of the Christian faith, including Rome and Canterbury, have found almost nothing of value to say about the current Middle East crisis..."”etc. The phrase "including Rome” is linked to an article in The Weekly Standard, neoconservative magazine sans pareil. This link consists of an article by neoconservative Joseph Bottum, “The Sodano Code: The Vatican’s stale policy on the Middle East,” which is a condemnation of the Vatican’s “functional pacifism.” Bottum writes that, “The Vatican was never anti-Israeli, and it certainly never condoned or praised terrorism. But, bit by bit, Rome’s advisers and experts on the Middle East came to be those whose first impulse was to take the Arab, and particularly the Palestinian, side in any dispute….”Imagine that – taking the Arab side! What an affront, even to acknowledge that there might be two sides to the conflict. Aside from the intellectual dishonesty of the Bottum piece, and its transparently Zionist bias, I find it amazing that McClay had the temerity to link to an article in the Weekly Standard as an index to Catholic thought. If this was not sufficient, however, McClay urges us to read the right sort of people – his people – Norman Podhoritz, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn, Christopher Hitchens – all of whom are neoconservative courtiers and who are foaming at the mouth against Islam. Finally, Mr. McClay concludes his little diatribe by taking shots at those who criticize the “Christian pretensions” of George Bush et al. Now some of these critics who worry about “theocracy” and the like are, I agree, a little over the top. But notice how McClay refuses to engage their arguments, saying that, because they disagree with the neoconservative dogma, they can be “safely ignored and dispensed with.”First Things had a great moment about a decade ago. It published a brave issue about “The End of Democracy?” which ruffled a lot of feathers in the Zionist sector which supports the magazine. Mrs. Gertrude Himmelfarb, for one, resigned her membership on the Board.Since that time First Things has settled down to be a reliable echo chamber for the doctrine that Might Makes Right and There Is to be No Discussion. And since that time its editor, Father R.J. Neuhaus, has converted to Catholicism. Despite this, I find it alarming that First Things has become the premier intellectual-Christian apologist for neoconservatism. I fear that Father Neuhaus has been swept up, not into Catholicism, but into the Zionist delusion, and that he is not aware that the Zionists now have set their sights on the Catholic Church. For the true teachings of the Catholic faith – and some renegade Presbyterians – are all that is left of Christianity’s retaining wall against the Zionist annihilation of American politics.Mr. McClay will be cheering it on, but for Father Neuhaus, a good and decent man, I tremble. It would have been better if he had remained a Lutheran, than to let these wolves into the fold! Labels: Christianity, First Things, Israel, Zionism posted by Caryl at 5:41 PM 1 comments
Monday, July 31, 2006
Words cannot express the horror I feel at the killing fields of Lebanon. And words cannot express the horror I feel at the treacherous American enablers of Israeli savagery. It is impossible to see through the darkness that has descended upon us -- on the one hand the abandonment of any pretence of “just war,” the extinction of all criteria of restraint, proportion, international law and all canons of decency. And on the other: the unleashing of sheer bloodlust accompanied by the bellowing and braying of the triumphalists like Michael Barone. He was quoted recently by the Catholic blogger Oswald Sobrino: “…What Barone points out is that the Bush administration is right to do things differently this time: no pressuring of Israel to stop military action prematurely, no rushing to engage in shuttle diplomacy that is an unmistakable signal of weakness to the Middle Eastern mentality, and no more pleas for Israel to give up land. Appeasement did not work with Hitler because Hitler would never give up his ambition of conquering all of Europe. Appeasement does not work with those now attacking Israel because they will never give up their ambition to destroy Israel. That means that the table has to be overturned. The game as played for years now favors the irrational who seek the destruction of Israel. So it's time to turn the chess board over: to create a new playing board with new facts, not to stick to the same dysfunctional constraints and parameters of the past. That's a revolutionary approach. Let's call it a "paradigm shift" so as not to alarm unduly the academic types who pontificate over foreign affairs.” That a Catholic writer should be espousing this neoconservative doctrine of destruction is ignominious and shameful. I thought the authors of the Catholic Neocon Observer Blog should be aware of Mr. Sobrino’s change of allegiance from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gospel of Pure Revolutionary Destruction, so I sent them an e-mail about it, as follows:Hey Tom,Instead of going after Stephen Hand, who is strongly anti-war, why not address the neocon Catholic Oswald Sobrino - at this link -http://catholicanalysis.blogspot.com/--I think you should challenge Mr. Sobrino, who quotes the self-intoxicated Charles Krauthammer about what a great thing to bomb the Lebanese people. In fact Mr. Sobrino seems to fall over himself to ingratiate himself with the barbaricons. Plus he quotes Michael Barone, Victor Hanson, and other neocon apologists ad nauseum about how the "Arabs only want to destroy Israel" and "no negotiation is possible" and let's have a complete paradigm shift, i.e., annihilate them! It is simply unbelievable to me that a man of Mr. Sobrino's intelligence can have absolutely no feeling for the Arab point of view and no willingness to try and enter into it. And I do believe that Mr. Sobrino is a good man, who has written some good pieces on Catholic theology. But I have stopped visiting his site because of the incredible sickening neocon self-righteousness which he parades as Deep Truth. This seems to me an utter betrayal of the Catholicism he claims to profess.Regards,CJ...I copied Mr. Sobrino to this message, and received a message from him:Dear Caryl Johnston,I strongly disagree with your personal attack on me! You have slandered and libelled me to others. You have given false witness against me to others. I have never said or written anywhere that we are to annihilate Arabs.I must vigorously correct and rebuke you. Please stop the false witness for your own sake. You are damaging yourself and failing to do good for anyone. State your views vigorously, but without slander or libel or personal attack. That's my honest advice and counsel to you.I hereby give you immediate notice to cease your slanders against me. Argue your case, but don't personally attack or defame me or others. You do not serve your cause in that way.Oswald Sobrino, J.D.CatholicAnalysis.blogspot.comTo which I responded in this wise:Dear Mr. Sobrino,Thank you for writing. I have not "slandered" you or personally attacked you. In fact, I complimented the quality of your theological reflections. I expressed strong disagreement with your alliance with the neoconservatives, who are brutal apostles of "Might Makes Right" and should have no place of esteem in the hearts of Catholics.Sincerely,Caryl JohnstonTo which Mr. Sobrino responded:You are wrong. You slandered me. Desist from hysterical outbursts and get yourself to a prudent and mature confessor as soon as possible.Oswald Sobrino CatholicAnalysis.blogspot.comIsn’t it amazing that someone who fills his website with the Culture-of-Death promoters and warmongers --Charles Krauthammer, Michael Barone, Victor Davis Hanson, etc. -- about how justified Israel is in bombing Lebanon into rubble, burning and decapitating children, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees and destroying civilian life, - well, isn’t it amazing that such a man is wholly unable to process the fact that someone disagrees with him? Mr. Sobrino in his replies certainly seems to reveal the profile of the coward/bully.I am very sorry to have to say it, because I did read Mr. Sobrino’s site in the past and often appreciated it. But after Katrina struck New Orleans I began to have doubts about Mr. Sobrino – a New Orleans native – who seemed to have nothing good to say about poor Ray Nagin and seemed to be endorsing the creative destruction of our government’s handling of the crisis. Perhaps Mr. Sobrino really does believe in Barbara Bush’s statement that the poor black people in that city really did appreciate being herded like animals into stadiums with dysfunctional plumbing and no water?I think that Mr. Sobrino would benefit from reading Toynbee – if indeed it was Toynbee who pointed out that no nation has survived the extinction of its ruling elite. The ruling elite in the USA was the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who have now, for all practical purposes, have become wholly allied with the Jews. In the meantime the Protestant Church has become a laughingstock. The Jewish-Protestant alliance has been building for a long time, but certainly since the Kennedy assassination. It was a Catholic Kennedy – flawed man though he was – who was disturbed by Israel’s nuclear ambitions and sought to curb them. This didn’t play well in Israel.Is Mr. Sobrino at all aware of the Jewish preponderance in the media and the popular culture venues (Hollywood)? I think not. Did Mr. Sobrino even mention that Pope Benedict XVI has called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon? No sign of it. Has Mr. Sobrino a thought at all for the noble tradition of Catholic just war teachings? Apparently not.So I ask: who is Mr. Sobrino pretending to be? I think Mr. Sobrino is one of these Country Club Catholics who despises the liberal cafeteria Catholics for disregarding the teachings of the Church regarding sexual morality, while he himself despises and disregards Catholic teaching about war, economy, mercy, justice, proportionality.If he hopes to ingratiate himself with the Ruling Class he will soon find out that there is no Ruling Class worthy of the name left in this country – they have all become Israelophiles and disciples of the Deuteronomic doctrine of pure destruction: “…thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eyes shall have no pity upon them… the Lord thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed… And the Lord thy God shall destroy them with a mighty destruction until they be destroyed…” This is the kind of thing that caused Simone Weil to reject-- with utter loathing -- her Jewish heritage. The Old Testament, she said, was a "tissue of horrors.” The Judaism of Deuteronomy shows itself to be the only religious teaching in the world committed to absolute destruction – a commitment which, it is important to add, was perceived, and strongly condemned, disavowed in the prophetic tradition of Israel: “Hear the world of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” Hosea 4:1 But modern Israel has spurned its ancient prophets. I have said it before, and I will say it again: in the havoc that Israel will unleash upon the world, there will be a remnant of the faithful Jews who will realize that Jesus Christ is the essence, justification and deliverance of Jewish history into God’s hands. Perhaps, in that late hour, their hearts will turn to conversion, and they will weep for the little children whose burned bodies lie on the hills of Lebanon, in silent testimony to the power of “Jewish vengeance.” posted by Caryl at 5:12 PM 1 comments
The Universal State
Saturday January 13, 2007
In A Study of History, Arnold J. Toynbee [April 14, 1889 - October 22, 1975] studies the genesis, growths and breakdowns of world civilizations but ultimately pursues the question of the role of the higher religions in history. Writing in the middle of the 20th century after having witnessed two violent World Wars, Toynbee’s mind regarding the role of religion underwent a sharp metamorphosis from his earlier views, which were more in line with late 19th-century rationalism and optimism. Instead of seeing the reproduction of a civilization “as an end in itself,” he becomes converted to the view that civilizations play a secondary and subordinate role in the history of religion. The best fruit of a “Universal State” such as ancient Rome may have been that its existence made possible the arising of Christianity. That is, the importance of civilizations may lie in their effects upon Religion, and not the other way around. This view was held by the Church Fathers Ambrose and Augustine, and later argued by Bossuet, the French historian. Gibbon’s history of the Roman Empire, which argued that the collapse of Rome was “the triumph of barbarism and religion” – a view certainly not friendly to Christianity – helped to fuel the unfolding rationalism of post-Reformation Western society. Toynbee, looking at all of this from the perspective of the “last generation of Western neo-pagans” – those “rational, unenthusiastic and tolerant” men who were swept away in the cataclysms of the 20th century, finds Gibbon and his heirs mistaken. For the “Universal State” is already symptomatic of spiritual decline. But that such a State should die fruitlessly – for such would its death be, if it were seen as an end in itself-- it would mean that human life was “a tragedy without a catharsis.”Toynbee thus turns his interest from seeing civilizations and their climactic “Universal States” not as ends, but as the means, through their agonies of dissolution, of giving birth to the Higher Religions. Such a view would not have been welcome in the high tide of Western post-Reformation civilization, riding high on its scientific discoveries  and in the process of re-instituting “the worship of Leviathan.” He comments that
Westerners of the writer’s generation not only took it for granted that the Christian Church had served its turn in bringing a new civilization to birthin the West; they looked upon this new civilization as having been immature so long as it had remained under Christian auspices; and after having waited with impatience for it to get through its medieval Christian childhood, and having joyfully greeted the repudiation of its Christian origins with which it had celebrated its coming of age, they had focussed their attention on the rise of a Modern Western secular way of life…(p. 446, vol VII)
But what if this secular movement that so elicited their admiration were merely one of “the vain repetitions of the heathens” – “an almost meaningless repetition of something that the Hellenes had done before them, and done supremely well – then the greatest new event in the historical background of a Modern Western Society would be seen to be … very different. The greatest new event would then not be the monotonous rise of yet another secular civilization out of the bosom of the Christian Church in the course of these latter centuries; it would still be the Crucifixion and the Crucifixion’s spiritual consequences.” [Italics mine]Perhaps the “agonies of dissolution” of Two World Wars made people in England and America momentarily receptive to Toynbee’s message -- as indicated by the cover of Time Magazine -- but I think his hope that it might strike a deeper root has gone unfulfilled. Toynbee’s encompassing yet detailed vision of human civilizations has been succeeded by the scrapings of little men and little women, generations of the small-minded, positivists, data-gatherers, pontificators of progress, anti-spiritual and anti-metaphysical to the bone. Yet I think that Toynbee’s canvas is as large and as generous as the view of the world offered by Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, only it is more accessible than the latter because it is oriented towards the known world of history rather than the unknown realm of the occult and the spiritual. Yet both of these large canvasses, had they been received in the spirit in which they were offered, would have had the power to set Western culture upon a new path instead of the terrible hardening of the arteries and suicide of intelligence that are everywhere in evidence today. Fantasy and technology have come to occupy the niche formerly assigned to the operations of intelligence, and almost no subject in the so-called “human affairs” departments – which include everything from diplomacy to painting – has any grounding any more. Such departments of knowledge only exist in the sense of being related to words that once carried with them certain obligations about life and “deportment.” But all “deportment” has been vacated to the status of mere “departments,” and the message about how to live one’s life in these “departments” of knowledge has been lost.The generations of Western mankind have been succeeded by a generation of mayflies, all buzzing fretfully yet with zealous unanimity toward the creation of the Universal State of Incoherence… with the climate, politics, economy, and everything else not far behind. Truly, Toynbee came at a time and with the message of a pearl of great price – the pearl of wisdom gained through suffering. It was a rare, unique, and unrepeatable historical opportunity for Western man to expand, deepen and integrate his intelligence through a Christian re-appropriation of his history.It was an opportunity murdered, missed, lost, squandered, obliterated, buried -- as far as I can tell, for the past five decades in the history of the West, for now, and to all appearances for the foreseeable future. But whether that promise can reawaken remains the centrally important question of our being. This is the challenge buried in our souls and in our history that cries out for response. “…universal states arise after, and not before, the breakdowns of the civilizations to whose bodies social they bring political unity. They are not summers, but ‘Indian Summers,’ masking autumn and presaging winter. In the second place, they are the products of dominant minorities: that is, of once creative minorities that have lost their creative power…Universal States are symptoms of social disintegration, yet at the same time they are attempts to check this disintegration and to defy it.” Pps.3, 4, vol VII] “One of Man’s fundamental and perennial errors – an error that is both an intellectual and a moral lapse – is to idolize discoveries of his own making that enhance his power.” P. 468] Such ones attacked Toynbee’s work as “metaphysical speculation dressed up as history” – the worst word in the modern vocabulary being, apparently, “metaphysical.”It is interesting that, of Western philosophers contemporary or later than Toynbee, only Ortega y Gasset really heard the message of life, and turned his philosophy to its good account in his essays on “vital reason.” Yet even Ortega was not wholly in Toynbee’s camp. He thought that Toynbee showed too little esteem in being English – and he thought it boded ill for the future of the world that such a man felt no particular partiality for his own people and nation. Kedourie, an economist, attacked Toynbee for not taking responsibility for the retreating British Empire and in failing to uphold democratic values in countries it had once controlled. But in the light of Toynbee’s view of “Universal States” and their imperialism, this criticism seems to beg the question of the very spiritual disintegration that A Study of History was in large part describing. But in a more particular sense, especially in relation to Palestine, this criticism does not seem just. Of Palestine, Toynbee remarked that it was not just a local tragedy, but “a tragedy for the world.” He was very aware of the menace to democratic values represented in the fate of Palestine. Perhaps Toynbee's views on this matter were especially unwelcome in the circles of our culture, which already viewed with distrust his comprehensive view of history, deeply informed by a Christianized intelligence.
Posted by Caryl at 6:08 PM 4 comments 4 comments:
Caryl,What are the benefits studying Rudolph Steiner? I ask because I am reading Barfield's Saving the Appearances and would like to try reading Steiner again. However, I am feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of his work and am put off by some of his bizarre theories.
Hi Peter-You have asked an important question, and one that would demand a posting, perhaps several, to answer. There is a mass of material in Rudolf Steiner's opus that is off-putting, bizarre, and all but inaccessible to the modern mind. Most of my reading of it, such as it was, occurred in an earlier phase of my life. In the years since I have been actively critical of many parts of it. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, my mind was greatly enriched by the encounter with Anthroposophy. This mental enrichment is a different category of "knowledge" from empirical, factual, true-false or other conventional approaches, and what it does is to build a sort of structure in the soul - a kind of echo-chamber for future growth. It is like a theory of "resonance," or something of the kind - which is very different from the more familiar "correspondence" test of cognition. "Resonance" in fact points to the existence of the etheric body, which is thought to be a supersensible medium of growth underlying the faculties of memory, imagination, regeneration,rejuvenation, healing, etc. Once you begin to sense that Anthroposophy aims to strengthen the etheric body rather than the intellectual faculty, you begin to get a sense for what it is about. Whether Steiner was "successful" or not is a different issue - perhaps he wasn't. But it's the only ball game in town, as far as I can tell - that is, in terms of its understanding of the nature of man and man's "supersensible" organism. But I know exactly what you are saying and feeling. I recommend reading Barfield, as you are doing, and also the priest of the Christian Community, Emil Bock, who wrote "The Three Years" (on the Life of Christ) and many other works on the Old and New Testaments. These two men are the best fruit of anthroposophicalpath and go far in explicating it and making it comprehensible.
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John Beck said...
Caryl, hi - thanks for this very interesting commentary. There is a point of connection between AJ Toynbee's crucifixion statement you quote, and an observation of Steiner's. He said that modern science reflected a reaching of the stage of Good Friday, and getting - for now - stuck there.I also feel your description of the effect of studying Steiner is very apt. His whole method was artistic, based on Goethe's legend/parable of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. I finally recognized that Steiner gathered up jewels of insight and made them available for us to put into the river of our pre-conscious mind, out of which a bridge to spiritual experience arises.Just from the quality of what you are sharing, I would say that Steiner succeeded. "Following" him was never the goal, becoming capable of following oneself is the goal.
Labels: Anthroposophy, Arnold J. Toynbee, Christianity, Ortega y Gasset
A Study of History. Vol. VII Oxford, 1954.
Chapter Seven: Universal Churches
I have been reading in Arnold J. Toynbee’s magisterial A Study of History and wish to share some thoughts from his Chapter Seven, on “Universal Churches.” He argues that the four higher religions in the world today – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Mayahana Buddhism – were able to preserve the germ of life from a parent civilization in the process of collapse to the arising of a new one. He notes that in the time of his writing (~1952) all eight extant civilizations had in their background some universal church through which they were affiliated to a civilization of an older generation. After the stage of “Primitive Societies,” he names the “Primary Civilizations” (all derived from primitive societies) as the Egyptiac, Andean, Mayan, Sumeric, Indus Culture, Minoan, and Shang Culture. Secondary civilizations deriving from these are named as the Yucatec, Babylonic, Mexic, First Syriac, Hittite, Indic, Syriac-Hellenic, and Sinic.
The Higher Religions created, adapted, or adopted from the "internal proletariats” (abbreviated “i.p.”; about which more later) of the Secondary Civilizations are the following:
Judaism, Zoroastrianism (i.p. of the Babylonic)
Hinduism (i.p. Indus)
Islam (i.p. Syriac)
Isis-worship, Cybele-worship, Mithraism, Christianity, Manichaeism (all of these from the i.p. of Hellenic Civilization),
Neoplatonism (adapted by i.p. from philosophies of Hellenic dominant minority),
Mayahana (through Hellenic i.p. via philosophy of Indus dominant minority and adopted by Sinic i.p.),
Neo-Taoism (adapted by Sinic i.p. from one of the philosophies of Sinic dominant minority)
The third-generation or Tertiary Civilizations derived from the chrysalis churches constructed by their internal proletariats are primarily:
Hindu (derived from Indic through Hinduism)
Iranic~Arabic (derived from Syriac through Islam)
Orthodox Russian Christian: all these derived from Hellenic through Christianity
Far Eastern, Korea, Japan: derived through Sinic through the Mayahana
Sunday, January 21, 2007
In A Study of History, AJT defines “etherealization” as the transference of words from a secular to a religious meaning and usage, a process which, he notes, may be considered as “a symptom of growth.” Toynbee’s inquiry, commencing with a study into the genesis, growths and breakdowns of world civilizations, leads to the question of the role of the higher religions in history. Writing in the middle of the 20th century after having witnessed two violent World Wars, Toynbee’s mind regarding the role of religion undergoes a sharp metamorphosis from his earlier views, which were more in line with late 19th-century rationalism and optimism. Instead of seeing the reproduction of a civilization “as an end in itself,” he becomes converted to the view that civilizations play a secondary and subordinate role in the history of religion, and that the best fruit of a “Universal State” such as ancient Rome may have been that its existence made possible the arising of Christianity. That is, the importance of civilizations may lie in their effects upon Religion, and not the other way around. This view was held by the Church Fathers Ambrose and Augustine, and later argued by Bossuet, the French historian. Gibbon’s history of the Roman Empire, which argued that the collapse of Rome was “the triumph of barbarism and religion” – a view certainly not friendly to Christianity – helped to fuel the unfolding rationalism of post-Reformation Western society. Toynbee, looking at all of this from the perspective of the “last generation of Western neo-pagans” – those “rational, unenthusiastic and tolerant” men who were swept away in the cataclysms of the 20th century, finds Gibbon and his heirs mistaken. For the “Universal State” is already symptomatic of spiritual decline.[1. “…universal states arise after, and not before, the breakdowns of the civilizations to whose bodies social they bring political unity. They are not summers, but ‘Indian Summers,’ masking autumn and presaging winter. In the second place, they are the products of dominant minorities: that is, of once creative minorities that have lost their creative power…Universal States are symptoms of social disintegration, yet at the same time they are attempts to check this disintegration and to defy it.” Pps.3, 4, vol VII] But that such a State should die fruitlessly – for such would its death be, if it were seen as an end in itself-- it would mean that human life was “a tragedy without a catharsis.”
Toynbee thus turns his interest from seeing civilizations and their climactic “Universal States” not as ends, but as the means, through their agonies of dissolution, of giving birth to the Higher Religions. Such a view would not have been welcome in the high tide of Western post-Reformation civilization, riding high on its scientific discoveries [2. “One of Man’s fundamental and perennial errors – an error that is both an intellectual and a moral lapse – is to idolize discoveries of his own making that enhance his power.” P. 468] and in the process of re-instituting “the worship of Leviathan.” He comments that
Westerners of the writer’s generation not only took it for granted that the
Christian Church had served its turn in bringing a new civilization to birth in theWest; they looked upon this new civilization as having been immature so long as it had remained under Christian auspices; and after having waited with impatience for it to get through its medieval Christian childhood, and having joyfully greeted the repudiation of its Christian origins with which it had celebrated its coming of age, they had focussed their attention on the rise of a Modern Western secular way of life…(p. 446)
But what if this secular movement that so elicited their admiration were merely one of “the vain repetitions of the heathens” – “an almost meaningless repetition of something that the Hellenes had done before them, and done supremely well – then the greatest new event in the historical background of a Modern Western Society would be seen to be … very different. The greatest new event would then not be the monotonous rise of yet another secular civilization out of the bosom of the Christian Church in the course of these latter centuries; it would still be the Crucifixion and the Crucifixion’s spiritual consequences.” [Italics mine]
Perhaps the “agonies of dissolution” of Two World Wars made people in England and America momentarily receptive to Toynbee’s message, but I think his hope that it might strike a deeper root has gone unfulfilled. Toynbee’s encompassing yet detailed vision of human civilizations has been succeeded by the scrapings of little men and little women, generations of the small-minded, positivists, data-gatherers, pontificators of progress, anti-spiritual and anti-metaphysical to the bone. [3. Such ones attacked Toynbee’s work as “metaphysical speculation dressed up as history” – the worst word in the modern vocabulary being, apparently, “metaphysical.”] Yet I think that Toynbee’s canvas is as large and as generous as the view of the world offered by Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, only it is better and more accessible because it is oriented towards the known world of history rather than the unknown realm of the occult and the spiritual. Yet both of these large canvasses, had they been received in the spirit in which they were offered, would have had the power to set Western culture upon a new path instead of the terrible hardening of the arteries and suicide of intelligence that are everywhere in evidence today. Fantasy and technology have come to occupy the niche formerly assigned to the operations of intelligence, and almost no subject in the so-called “human affairs” departments – which include everything from diplomacy to painting – has any grounding any more. Such departments of knowledge only exist in the sense of being related to words that once carried with them certain obligations about life and “deportment.” But all “deportment” has been vacated to the status of mere “departments,” and the message about how to live one’s life in the “departments” was lost. [4.] It is interesting that, of Western philosophers contemporary or later than Toynbee, only Ortega y Gasset really heard the message of life, and turned his philosophy to its good account in his essays on “vital reason.” Yet even Ortega was not wholly in Toynbee’s camp. He thought that Toynbee showed too little esteem in being English – and he thought it boded ill for the future of the world that such a man felt no particular partiality for his own people and nation. Kedourie, an economist, attacked Toynbee for not taking responsibility for the retreating British Empire and in failing to uphold democratic values in countries it had once controlled. But in the light of Toynbee’s view of “Universal States” and the likely connection of such States with imperialism, this seems to be an instance of the very spiritual disintegration that A Study of History was in large part describing. But the criticism was not just especially in relation to Palestine, which Toynbee remarked was not just a local tragedy, but “a tragedy for the world.” The question that this raises, uncomfortably, is that Toynbee views in general on history, and specifically on Palestine, would not be welcome in a Western culture becoming ever more “judaized.”
The generations of Western mankind have been succeeded by a generation of mayflies, all buzzing fretfully yet with zealous unanimity toward the creation of the Universal State of Incoherence… with the climate, politics, economy, and everything else not far behind. Truly, Toynbee came at a time and with the message of a pearl of great price – the pearl of wisdom gained through suffering. It was of the altogether rare, unique, unrepeatable historical opportunity available to Western man of deepening and integrating his intelligence through a Christian re-appropriation of his history. An opportunity missed, lost, squandered, as far as I can tell
Toynbee uses the word “etherealization” to describe the process of the transference of words from a secular to a religious usage, noting that this is a “symptom of growth.” In this post I want to record some of his examples, noting the secular derivations and the later religious meanings of the words, which we may call the “upslope.” On the “downslope,” the process is reversed: a religious or spiritual meaning loses its aura and sinks into materialization, if not materialism.
First, a brief remark about “etherealization.” “Ethereal” in common usage is associated with faintness or ghostliness, a not-quite-material presence, which is a very English, very empirical way of looking at it. It would be characteristic of the physical-science bent of the English mind to look at it that way – “ethereal” is less palpable, therefore “unreal.” It has a different connotation in the traditional meaning of the word, where “ethereal” is the but adjectival form of “ether,” a Greek-derived word for the heavenly realm – space or the “firmament.” Debate over the existence of an ether in space occupied much the early 20th century physics and astronomy, which culminated with Einstein. Though the debate seemed to have closed down for good – “No, Virginia, there is no ether in space” – in reality this may not be the case, and just what it is when we talk about “ether” remains something like an unwanted relative – the person you know you must invite to the family gathering, but for the life of you, you wish you didn’t have to.
The key to the “ether” is life – at least to the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner, which claims the existence of the etheric realm as the basis of the life-processes in plants, animals, and man. The “etheric body” is not exactly what we mean by a “body,” and it is only perceivable by a clairvoyant. And yet remembrances of this stratum of man’s being haunt us all through history. The halo, the crown, and the headdress are evocations of the “etheric body” which was once perceivable (in a visionary way) as protruding from the head. It is only when this living membrane “contracted” to the sphere of the brain, that mankind could be the possessor of thoughts in the modern (or even pre-modern,) sense.
This stupendous event of compression or contraction is commemorated in the story of Abraham, the First Patriarch, who, it is said, spent his early life in a “cave.” This was a way of sheltering himself from the purview of Nimrod, but the metaphoric connection of cave and brain is recognizable. The skullcap of latter-day Jews also hearkens to this compressive view of the etheric membrane, shrunken into the cranial cavern. This “compression” of the etheric to the brain and the removal of thoughts and feelings from the participatory life in nature has characterized the Jews all throughout their history.
In Steiner’s view of human developmental history, this contraction of the etheric body was a necessity for the arising of an independent life of thought and of the possibility for freedom of individual persons. But the process that Abraham initiated in circa 2000 B.C. has been turned around, today, circa 2000 A.D., to the opposite danger, which is an excessive “retreat” of the etheric into a ghostly intellectualized thinking. The modern West in particular exhibits this fatal danger of loss of vitality in thinking, partly because the science that the West has developed has never resolved its intrinsic conflict regarding its own method of knowing. Is knowledge to be viewed as an “alien” condition – that is, as non-participated, cut off from its life ground, and therefore “objectified,” or is it better understood as a process of participatory rationality, in which knower and known are in a dynamic of mutual relation? The rebels against the “alien” view were first numbered among the Romantic poets, and they have been joined in later years by some historians and even scientists. But the rebels have not yet succeeded in winning a decisive victory, and the Tower of Babel continues to mount. We can recall that before it was a story about language, the Tower of Babel was a story about the will to power and the imposition of a deadening uniformity that suffocates the diverse manifestations of human consciousness. We have that uniformity today in the form of mathematics, statistics, and reductionism – a universal language useful for science, but in the long run perhaps fatal for the sustenance of civilization.
But before going on to the meanings in language liberated through the process of “etherealization,” I would just add that the etheric realm is by no means confined to the process of generating thoughts or new meanings from words. Living processes, that is, forms of the etheric, underlie the faculties of memory and imagination as well. Their biological dimension in regeneration, rejuvenation, growth, and embryonic development, are now presenting themselves to the eye of science as externalized objects (or what could be called “objectified processes”) subject to manipulation. Modern-day ethics flails about these realities with limited success in curbing them but without seizing on the central issue, which is that the deadening materialization of human thought is now grasping into these dynamic processes as if unconsciously seeking to fulfill what it lacks. Being thus a form of “wish-fulfillment” rather than of moral growth, this modern technique is predatory and destructive. But if approached in a spirit of complementarity or marriage, the life-liberated consciousness of man could meet life’s unfolding stages more fruitfully – even “procreatively.” The unfolding stages of life would then be recognized as symbolizing definite stages of intellectual and spiritual growth in mankind, and their vulnerability would evoke a chivalrous spirit of protectiveness rather than the vindictive strain that has accompanied science like an undercurrent from its beginnings. 
The real discovery and perhaps even the harnessing of etheric forces awaits a more spiritualized thinking, a thinking in participation with life and not, as we have come to expect and dread, a thinking that is alienated from, and striving against, life.  Our time calls for a new Abraham, but one who will recapitulate the achievements of the first Abraham in reverse. That is, the “new Abraham” must embody a participatory rather than a separated rationality. Human thinking needs a regenerative act. It needs to acquire life-characteristics consciously. This will be very difficult, for it is a moral, not solely a cognitive task. Why? Because the “moral” is always embodied in particular circumstances, that is, the mores, the customs or ways of a particular part of mankind. These customs, habits, cultures, events and particular histories are what enable us to achieve thinking in the first place, and they presuppose and elicit our participation, yet modern science as it has come to be practiced today discourages this participatory outlook. A regenerative act of human thinking will mean a different view of science as well.
The particularity of words is a good place to start the discussion of “etherealization,” for in the process of the acquisition of a new meaning, or the liberation of a meaning to a religious or spiritual dimension, we are watching the historic occasion of the mind regenerating itself. It is man acquiring a new dimension of himself, and this is why Toynbee calls the process a “symptom of growth” – although I do not sense that he possessed an exact knowledge of the etheric process underlying the “symptom.”
Here are some words and their developments of meaning:
Ecclesia – in Athens, a general assembly of a citizen body meeting to transact political (as opposed to judicial) business. In Christian usage it came to mean both a local Christian community and the Church Universal.
Laity- archair Greek laos, for people, as distinct from those in authority
Clergy – Gk. kleros, “lot,” as e.g. an allotted share of an inherited estate – Christians adopted it to mean “the portion of the Christian community that God had allotted to Himself to serve in his professional priesthood.”
‘Orders’ –(ordines) politically privileged classes in the Roman State, e.g. ordo senatorius, ordo equestris
Overseers – episkopoi – Spartan State for members appointed to supreme executive office by election but who served as constitutional despots during their term of office
Scriptura - vocabulary of roman inland revenus, a tax payable for the right to graze cattle on certain public lands
Testaments – diathekai, Gk and L. testamenta, -- thought of as equivalent of legal instruments which God had declared in two installments
Ascetic – Gk. askesis, physical training of athletes
Anchorites – Gk. anachoresis – withdrawal from productive economic activity as protest against heavy taxations
Solitaries, monks, monachoi – a creative contradiction, a society of solitaries. In previous Latin usage the word meant something combining the meanings of a quarter sessions and a chamber of commerce
Liturgy – Gk. leutourgia – ‘public service,’ when originally informal proceedings had crystallized into a ritual
Holy Communion – L. sacramentum, a pagan Roman rite in which a new recruit was ‘sworn in’ to the Roman Army. In the Latin Church this dual meaning, sacrament and military oath, was present from the beginning. In the Greek, koinonia (L. communio) both signified participation, but first and foremost membership in a political community
Transgression – Gk. parabasis, term of art in Attic drama meaning the parade of the chorus from one side of the theater to the other. In Christian language, a figurative ‘side-step’ in the spiritual sense of sin
In the downslope, meanings regress from a religious to a secular significance:
Cleric – to “clerk,” one who engages in minor office work (England) or store salesperson (US)
Communion- “waged in ever grosser terms for an ever more material stake.” In 14th c. Bohemia, the issue was Communion for both clergy and laity. By the 20th century it came to be associated with the struggle for economic equality in the adoption of the term ‘Communism.’
Conversion – no longer of souls but of coal, hydropower and oil. To a financier, conversion means the rate of interest on a loan to a lower rate than originally guaranteed. To a detective – the misappropriation of funds, “which distinctly indicated that funds were the commodity in which Modern Western Man had reinvested the treasure his Christian forebears had once placed in his soul.”
Salvation – salvage, rescue of junk; salve, an ointment; saved, savings – money deposited in a bank.
The older Latin meaning of Salvator was ‘conservator,’ for which our usages ‘a conservative estimate’ or ‘a conservative figure’ bear some faint lineage. But, Toynbee continues, “it would be difficult to whitewash the meaning of ‘conservative’ in 20th century politics – that is, a supporter of the political party devoted to defence of material vested interests.”
The “liberation” of meaning is also to be found in other fields. To take a random example, Kepler used the term ‘focus,’ [foci] from the Latin for ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace,’ for the orientating points of his ellipses. The development of meaning through analogy and metaphor is a huge area of language and thought.
 See earlier post on research of Don Hotson and Dirac’s equations, “Rediscovering the Moral Law, Part III,” Oct 6, 2006.
 Once the religious factor was dismissed (i.e. awe at the divine handiwork of Nature) man could indulge simultaneously his resentment of Nature’s powers with his equal covetousness to acquire them.
The field of modern economic thinking is the prime example of the suppression of the etheric or life-forces. See my review of John McMurtry’s Value Wars: The Global Market Versus the Life Economy, in an earlier post, “The New Sabbatarianism, Part Two” (December 2, 2006).
February 8, 2007
Comments on H.R. Trevor-Roper’s “Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium,” Encounter, June, 1957.
The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote a long dismissive piece on Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History for Encounter Magazine in June, 1957. This article may have done more to sink Toynbee’s reputation than any other critical notice, and as it is a window into the world we have today, it seemed to me of interest to discuss it.
First of all, I should say I have not read all of Toynbee’s twelve volumes, so I am at a disadvantage in commenting on Trevor-Roper’s criticisms. On the other hand, it is difficult to ascertain just what T-R’s criticisms consist of. He begins by asserting that Toynbee’s opus “has not been well received by professional historians,” with almost every chapter of it “shot to pieces by the experts,” but that he does not intend to discuss its historical truth or falsehood, its empirical validity or invalidity. We are thus given to understand that Toynbee has errors, but not just what those errors are. He finds it an interesting phenomenon of the time, and notes that Toynbee’s opus is popular with the masses – “as a dollar-earner, we are told, it ranks second only to whisky.”
The main charge that T-R levels against Toynbee is that Toynbee does not believe in rationalism. “In spite of its Hellenic training, his mind is fundamentally anti-rational and antiliberal.” Well and good. But it would have been more honest if T-R had stated more forthrightly, “I do not like it.” Instead, he charges Toynbee with an “obscurantist” message – which he likens, in a later passage, to Belloc and Chesterton. Chesterton “obscurantist” ? One may dislike Chesterton’s message – and if one is not Christian or Catholic, one will probably not like it – but it impossible to read Chesterton without getting his message. Chesterton is anything but “obscurantist.” My point is that T-R dislikes Toynbee, Belloc, and Chesterton, and he probably dislikes Christianity – although he doesn’t actually say so. But instead of owning to his dislike, he climbs a little platform called “rationalism” and from there, throws stones at Toynbee and the defenders of Christianity.
As for anti-rationalism: there is a difference between anti-rationalism and what I find in Toynbee, which might be called “integralism." The soul has many parts, and reason or rationalism has a place, but not pride of place. But that reason or rationalism should have a “place” is an idea inherently distasteful to the modernist mind-set of Trevor-Roper.[Milton’s Satan expresses this view of placeless, timeless, discarnate and ungrounded Reason when he enters Hell to take possession of it: “… and thou profoundest Hell/Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings/A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.” Paradise Lost, I, 251-3] But the second point to be noted about the modernist reason is, when it is not viewed like a Satanic machine – that is, not dependent upon the personal or the circumstantial, it can be deployed as a useful accusation to mask likes and dislikes. Trevor-Roper calls reason that which he likes, and he calls unreason or anti-rationalism that which he dislikes. For example, he accuses Toynbee of being “moved by a detestation of human reason and all its works.” This is a little hard to believe. Toynbee states at the outset of his investigations that he wants to bring forth an empirical study of the phenomenon of “human civilizations,” and he spends a great deal of time discussing the problem of how you can go about studying the empirical facts of something which has been known to occur only twenty-one times, or of which there are only seven living cases and fourteen extinct ones to be found - civilization having only been in existence for some 6,000 years. This is his thesis, which he presents through rational argument, narrative, example, illustration, description and the demonstration of concrete instances. In arguing this thesis – in a clear, though admittedly at times complex prose style - he discusses the laws of statistics, historical sources, theories of primitive or pre-civilizational man, sociality, race, environment, the views of scientists regarding the age of the earth and the cosmos – and all of this (hardly an exhaustive list of his “incidental” or supporting topics) merely in the first volume before he actually turns to discussing societies. This is “antirational”?
Evidently, T-R considers the vast foundation of Toynbee’s learning to be merely the normal acquirements of an Englishman of his time and class, and thus hardly meriting comment. Is this merely a historical blind spot or does it point to a deeper failure to grasp what is comprehended in the spiritual nature of man? An anthropologist once remarked that humanity is but one generation removed from barbarism The spiritual nature of man is the crux of Toynbee’s thesis, and goes far in explaining why civilization is a rare fruit on the human tree, and why it is perpetually in danger of being lost. My sense of Toynbee thus far is not that he welcomed the prospect of the defeat of Western civilization (his “messianic defeatism,” according to T-R) so much as he realized its uncertainty – its fragility. Sub specie eternitatis is, after all, only the consciousness of shipwreck. [Ortega y Gasset: “I am only interested in the thoughts of shipwrecked men.” A religious – as distinguished from a philosophical or even historical cast of mind.]
If nothing else, Toynbee’s emphasis on the importance of religion to civilization ought to serve as a warning to the danger that reason faces when reason becomes All in All. When Reason becomes God, it soon degenerates to Unreason and further into a crusading zeal for Destruction. We are seeing this dynamic play out today, with horrifying consequences.
All of this, of course, lies far into the future, at least where Trevor-Roper was concerned – though perhaps not too far. It seems to me a historian, like any student of human affairs, ought to examine first his own presuppositions and ask whether his own rationalism is reasonable, and secondly, whether his rationalism is merely a mask for his likes and dislikes. And on this point again Toynbee, who in one of his later volumes devotes quite a bit of discussion to the new researches of C.G. Jung and psychology, seems more integral – more developed and open than his critic. See, for example, the discussion in Volume Seven – “… for the Subconscious, not the Intellect, is the organ through which Man lives his spiritual life for good or evil. It is the fount of Poetry, Music, and the Visual Arts, and the channel through which the Soul is in communion with God when it does not steel itself against God’s influence…” pp500 et seq. It is not only that Hugh Trevor-Roper could not have written this. He appears unable even to appreciate it. And “appreciation” too is also an important part of the story of a reasonable rationalism, attesting to the capacity of reason to throw light onto hitherto neglected aspects of its comprehension, and thus setting out possibilities for future growth.
Toynbee may not have understood that the idea of the Subconscious from psychology would metamorphose into new dogmas of determinism – that it was not altogether the liberating idea it may have initially appeared to him to be. Nevertheless, Toynbee’s quest is keyed to the search for the whole man, the wholeness of the person who is more than an intellect wired to a body. It is only the human being in his wholeness who can create and sustain a civilization. In this sense Toynbee’s interest in what were, for his time, new discoveries in the field of psychology is understandable. They seemed to promise a way toward the whole in an era in which the Western mind was ferociously closing down all its options of being except the one offered by a monotonously intellective rationalism.
It is true that Toynbee and Trevor-Roper inhabit different universes. Toynbee is on a spiritual quest, and because his mind is oriented spiritually, he is not impressed by the things in which Trevor-Roper takes such pride – such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, modern science and modern rationalist civilization. Toynbee always looks above and below; Trevor-Roper looks straight ahead, and thus to Trevor-Roper, Toynbee’s attitude toward Western civilization was one of “messianic defeatism.” But blinders that serve a horse ill-serve man – though men of these latter days often conceive of themselves as beasts – though never beasts of burden but rather beasts of conquest. [3. A perhaps ironic culmination of Darwinianism.]
These are two different kinds of men: the man of the distance and the man of the age, and the tensions between these two different human types have long been a theme of history and myth and perhaps even politics – Cain and Abel, Prometheus and Epimetheus, liberal and conservative. [4. Toynbee’s work is rich with allusion and reflection on Greek mythology. In V. IX, pps 149 et seq he makes much Atlas and Anteaus. – the “Atlantean stance and the Antaean rebound”. Atlas has to hold up the weight of the Heavens upon his shoulders; Antaeus could not be defeated so long as he was able to evade his enemy’s grasp and touch the earth once again with his feet. Toynbee’s finds in these two contrary movements great meaning for the historical fate of civilizations responding to challenge. The danger of the Atlantean stance is to rigidify into “mimesis” and obsession. The Antaean rebound enables new beginnings, the reappropriation of culture from the depths.] This leads up to our final point.
Trevor-Roper’s essay is twenty pages long, and exactly half of it argues that Toynbee believed himself to be the Messiah of a new civilization that would arise in the decomposing heap of Western civilization. Since I have not read the tenth volume of A Study of History, in which according to T-R Toynbee reveals himself as said Messiah, I will wait to reserve judgment. But I think Trevor-Roper’s charge here is interesting for what it says about the psychology of “mass man” – the type of man of our time who resents the exceptional man, even the idea of superiority. I would go so far as to say that if even Toynbee thought of himself as a sort of new historic type – thus violating one of our most cherished beliefs, that of equality – that it is not in how he saw himself that is the issue, but how he saw everything else. The twelve volumes of A Study of History seem to me to justify the view that Toynbee was an exceptional soul. He is vastly learned, knowledgeable in several languages, in religion, mythology, literature, conversant with the science of his day, and attentive to a vast range of details of human societies in a cosmopolitan range of races, cultures, and circumstances. Given the generosity of his vision of civilization and his steadfast loyalty to the Christian – and Protestant – religion in which he was raised, I’d say that even a Toynbee claiming to be a Messiah is a better bargain than Trevor-Roper as a critic. Toynbee’s faults need to be measured against his striving to comprehend the supernatural in the context of the historical. His day is yet to come. Trevor-Roper’s day is over.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
My nephew, Henry Johnston, a senior at Grove City College, has posted an interesting reflection on "The New Physics" (March 1, 2007) on his new blog, Reroute To Remain a.k.a. Wings Are Burning.
"I have been thinking recently about the implications of the New Physics (that which has come about in the 20th century) in the realm of philosophy. Of course physics and philosophy are really just two sides of the same coin, and have no business being separated. In a recent discussion over a certain theological point with an acquaintance of mine, I invoked the findings of modern physics in countering his argument. He stared at me blankly. For him, theological Truth sits in one little box and scientific Truth sits in another, and never the two shall meet. Modern physics, however, is confirming the cliché that 'it's all connected.' I am finding that this new paradigm is guiding my thought more and more…"
Henry brings up the point that the findings in quantum physics, that the position and momentum of a subparticle cannot be determined simultaneously was, from the standpoint of classical Newtonian physics, nonsensical or paradoxical. It would seem to undermine the most cherished claim of science, which is to discover and confirm predictable patterns in nature. Unpredictability in nature confronts science with the terrifying possibility that perhaps its methodology is not the infallible key to control that it is cracked up to be.
My purpose in this post is not to explore this particular issue, but rather to zigzag to a larger question relating to the nature of paradoxes. Skeat’s Etymological dictionary defines paradox as "that which is contrary to received opinion; strange, but true." From the Greek, para, beside + doxa, opinion or notion, from dokein, to seem. We may contrast "paradox" to "orthodox," that is, "of the right faith," from orthos, upright, right, true. Skeat’s links the Greek orthos to a cognate in Latin, arduus, meaning "high," from whence we must get arduous.
Orthodoxy is indeed an arduous path for many, especially when it concerns religion. But paradoxy is also difficult, perhaps for different reasons. Orthodoxy appears to be inherently more "sociable," having to do with our membership in a believing community. Paradoxy, on the other hand, suggests that kind of uncertainty inheres to existence itself through our thinking. Paradoxy prods us not to think too much of our own thinking; orthodoxy relieves us – not from thinking – but from thinking that thinking will bring salvation.
Perhaps I have just tricked myself – or you, dear reader. I have just said that, in effect, there is not much difference between the paradox and the orthodox. This is not exactly what I intended to say. What I intend to argue is that the orthodox, -- "rightly understood" – is the true home, haven, and goal of the paradox. The purpose of the orthodox is to free us for the paradox. The purpose of the paradox is to enable us to understand the orthodox.
What a muddle! I assure you, dear reader, that despite this inauspicious beginning, that I have a goal in mind, and a purpose for this post, which goal and purpose will ultimately have a bearing on both science and religion – perhaps even to E=mc2, the Uncertainty Principle, and the Virgin Birth. Well, maybe not E=mc2 . That may be more even I can manage! But at least to the other two. But let us start with the third of these propositions, the Virgin Birth.
Readers of this site should know by now of my fervent admiration of the work of Arnold J. Toynbee, historian, and of my desire to do all that I can to further his work, elevate his reputation, and encourage people to undertake reading his unabridged Study of History –a massive work of 12 volumes which in my opinion is the most spiritually prescient work of the 20th century and the true flower of the modern Western consciousness. Indeed, the eclipse if not sinking of Toynbee’s reputation is symptomatic of a West that has lost its bearings, its heroes, and sense of purpose. In A Study of History, the threads of all of human history and civilization were joined together into a coherent view of what constitutes human purpose and destiny. But joined-up threads do not yet make the fabric. Threads have to be pulled through the needle’s eye – the ever-difficult task of focussing vision to argument. The task involves the soul as well as the intellect, and that is what we experience as "depth." "Depth" is both personal and universal, particular and historical – the large understanding reflected in the glance of a detail.
Depth is what we are missing today in the life of Western societies. Our life today is merely intellectual – which is to say, shallow and propagandistic. But not even Toynbee was able to maintain this quality of depth in everything that he wrote. In his autobiographical book, Experiences (1969) Toynbee wrote an essay on Religion – "What I Believe and What I Disbelieve." It was for him a way of setting the record straight – that he was, despite his high estimation of religion all through A Study of History – a modern Western "agnostic." He writes – "When I was an undergraduate an Oxford I became an agnostic, and at first I concluded, from my loss of traditional Christian orthodox belief, that religion itself was an unimportant illusion. Now, more than half a century later, I am still an agnostic, as the sequel will show, but I have come to hold that religion is concerned with a reality, and that this reality is supremely important."
This essay is interesting from many points of view, but the section "My inability to pass the tests of religious orthodoxy," is curiously static – although perhaps the same could be said of some of the tenets of orthodoxy that Toynbee was unable to accept. Consider what he says of the Virgin Birth – "I reject[ed] the doctrine of the Virgin Birth because I could not reconcile it with an already established belief of mine in ‘the uniformity of Nature.’"
Given the purely physical facts of purely physical reproduction and a purely physical Nature, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth sounds absurd. It is, at the very least, a paradox – Virgin Birth, Virgin Mother.
I would like to suggest that the doctrine of Virgin Birth is a type of formulaic paradox – which, just because it was so paradoxical, had to find a home within orthodoxy if orthodoxy was to remain dynamic. Christianity, in fact, may be a religion of "formulaic paradoxes" precisely because of the momentous nature of its teaching: that is, the spiritual or the symbolical becoming actually historical. Christianity as a whole is a "Virgin Birth" in this sense.
But to begin to understand the precise doctrine of the "Virgin Birth" it is necessary to take yet another step.
We live on the physical plane; we speak and think on the symbolical plane. These two realities are so intertwined that we do not give them much thought, and the tendency of modern society for the past several hundred years has been increasingly to "collapse" the awareness of the symbolical plane into the literal dimension. We forget that, in every examination of the facts of the physical world, we are wielding symbolic concepts, judgments, living or dead metaphors, habits, assumptions and presuppositions.
The awareness of the symbolic dimension in which we think, speak, and understand, was certainly present to a much greater degree among the medieval and earlier societies. The human participation factor was part of the game. Yet it was not called the "human participation factor" – in the dry language of modern abstract thought. Rather, the world was a dynamically interconnected enterprise of spiritual agency or agencies, and human beings participated in this dynamic nexus by virtue of their cognizing consciousness. It was a world "within and without" – as the Book of Revelation puts it – and the withinness and withoutness were not so clearly marked as they are in post-Cartesian times. Thus, in the New Testament, pneuma means both "wind" (without) and "breath" (within). The dynamic principle was perceived – but it took form in both the outer as well as the inner world. The "spirit," which is yet a third meaning of this word, encompasses both the inner and outer meanings – "it goes where it wills." The Holy Spirit moves in the heart as in the world - in the inwardness of man and in the outwardness of events.
But to return to the Virgin Birth: I think that this doctrine can be accepted as "literally true" only in the symbolic, participated sense of reality. Whereas, if one sees the world in purely literal and physical terms, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth could not be understood except in a symbolic sense.
This gloss on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth may not be exactly orthodox in the strictly Catholic sense of the word – or it may be slightly to the paradoxical side of that orthodoxy. For I too understand in some sense the "agnosticism" which Toynbee confesses to be his default position. I was raised in anything but a religious environment, and the conversion to Catholicism would not have been predicted – to use that word – for one of my background. Yet, for me, accepting the truth of the Virgin Birth in its literal meaning has not been an obstacle for me – because my understanding of the world is highly charged with symbolism and participation. I have always been highly aware of words, and of the uses and senses we put to them, as well of their histories and connotations and the social and intellectual circumstances in which they came to birth, and thus I never could glide over the significance of using words to "get to" the literal truth of anything. "Literal truth" in that sense becomes a mere superstition, which is being entangled up in words without being aware of it – that is, without being aware of our own participation in them. Superstition, after all, is only the most enduring form of determinism – the view of the world with no freedom.
Science will devolve into mere superstition in the end unless scientists return to a sober study of philosophy and perhaps as well to the use of real, as distinguished from mathematical, language. There are already many dangerous signs that this regression into fatalism is occurring. The "Uncertainty Principle" may have been an early sign that modern science sensed this danger of fatalism – but in characteristically modern (i.e. nonparticipated) terms this insight was confined to the behavior of particles in the "outer" world. But of itself I do not think this is enough. The retreat into a mathematized, as distinguished from a real and participated, world, is a luxury we can no longer afford, because the effects of the mathematized science on the real and participated world have become acute, destructive and deleterious. But it only the real and participated world, and all of us who live in it, who can put some limits to the "will to power" which has become the trademark of modern science. The relationship between the will-to-power and the regression to fatalism have not been sufficiently explored – Lord Acton’s famous saying, "Power tends to corrupt" notwithstanding.
It was Toynbee’s great purpose in A Study of History to remind Western man of his religion and thus renew the possibility for new beginnings from within. It was thus he hoped to forestall what he saw as signs of sclerosis and fatalism in Western society. True, in his autobiographical essay he missed seeing the participatory-dynamic hidden within religious orthodoxy-paradoxy. But Toynbee’s failure in this instance should not cause us to allow his achievements to sink into oblivion. If anything, it should spur us to attempt to complete what even in twelve volumes he was unable to say.
We need to re-dynamize ourselves – by remembering the paradoxy in orthodoxy.
Posted by Caryl at 1:07 PM 3 comments 3 comments:
We’ve talked about this before --- Ortega’s comment about Toynbee:"It seems as if in the heart of this man doubts have started to ferment about whether or not it makes sense to keep on being English. As these doubts cannot be attributed to trivial matters, or to topical or superficial causes, such as, for example, membership in the Communist party; and as, in addition, we find something similar in the hearts of the best Englishmen, we have the impression of having touched lightly one of the most delicate and perhaps most decisive facts of our age. We have to approach and understand with great respect this hidden spiritual state, ... because in it lies nothing less than a great secret about the future for all of us."Do you think that this comment is accurate, fair ? If it is accurate, then only with difficulty can one see Toynbee as anything but a symptom of a problem --- which problem I suppose would have to be labeled ‘‘demoralization of the European peoples.’’
Hi Pauley - What an honor to hear from you!I was aware of Ortega's judgment on Toynbee, and I discussed it with no less an authority than John Lukacs - who himself does not seem to be altogether pro-Toynbee. However, he said he thought Ortega's statements about Toynbee were "unfair."I don't think that Toynbee contributed to the "demoralization" of the West. People have criticized him on a number of issues. He became, in later life, a kind of "Green" - and attracted to Buddhism. He criticized the US for the Vietnam war. He criticized materialism and racism. Granted, some of these notions have been later misused, but I think that,whatever faults Toynbee may have had, the relative neglect of his work speaks much more to the demoralization of the West than what was actually in the work. A Study of History is a kind of large-minded poetic epic, in prose, of history - and Western society has become increasingly anti-poetic and small-minded in its attitudes.Toynbee is a great adventure. So, in this instance, I think Ortega may have been somewhat premature in his judgments. But this is the only instance I know of where Ortega y Gasset was possibly less than great.
Henry Johnston said...
I think this is an extremely insightful post, one that I have been thinking about for a while now. I have wanted to comment, but frankly haven't been sure I have correctly oriented myself to what is being said here. I sense in the argument Caryl has laid out an important analysis of the categories we have been using in the post Cartesian world. If I understand correctly, Toynbee's dilemma of faith revolves around the modern tendency to attempt to analyze everything in terms of the physical plane even though the very mode in which our thought processes work cannot be separated from the symbolic. Perhaps therein lies the contradiction; thought which has to be symbolic in nature is using this very characteristic to discount the symbolic. I would love to hear more comments on this as well as a fuller explanation of the implications of this gloss on orthodoxy. This line of thinking appeals to me because I find myself sympathetic to Toynbee's seemingly reluctant agnosticism. I have for a long time been thinking that I am somehow missing something in my either/or categories.
The Tears of Things
March 10, 2007
This post is a continuation of the dialogue that has begun on this website and continued, at a tangent, on my nephew’s website, http://wingsareburning.blogspot.com/ in reference to what could be called “the general will to life among Western Euro people.” The dialogue was sparked by Henry’s post “The Seeking of Asylum,” in which he writes: “I wish to speak about the propensity of the brightest and most capable young people of my generation to seek their place overseas and in other cultures.” He concludes that: “Perhaps the distant cultures are a refuge from the guilt-mongering, anti-vitality, anti-masculine, anti-culture nature of our present country. After all, we live in the most unnatural of conditions right now, where men are disparaged or simply poked fun at (have you seen how almost every single television commercial depicts men?), where white people are under a self-inflicted, suicidal attack from their own treasonous elite. It is perhaps the only culture where we are told to feel guilt at the circumstances surrounding the very founding of our country. Our folklore is scorned or forgotten. It seems that in the context of this homogenization/demoralization, we are being compelled to do what no human can ever do; namely live without a history, community, or sense or strength. And it is from this most unnatural circumstance that our youth flee. In a strange irony of the modern world, the adoption of an utterly alien culture is the only way to have an identity which we can be proud of, and communities that are not denigrated.”
Paul (my brother and Henry’s Dad) commented by picking up a conversation that had previously been unwinding on this site in reference to Toynbee: “There is so much in it to comment upon that I hardly know where to start. I’m tempted to drag out yet again Ortega’s comment about Arnold Toynbee ---- ‘It seems as if in the heart of this man doubts have started to ferment about whether or not it makes sense to keep on being English......’ and further on ‘... we have to approach and understand with great respect this hidden spiritual state, ... because in it lies nothing less than a great secret about the future for all of us.’ I asked Caryl about this, and she replied: ‘I was aware of Ortega's judgment on Toynbee, and I discussed it with no less an authority than John Lukacs - who himself does not seem to be altogether pro-Toynbee. However, he said he thought Ortega's statements about Toynbee were ‘unfair.’”
In this post I want to talk about a few aspects of Toynbee’s biography that may have given Ortega y Gasset the sense that in Toynbee’s work there was percolating a spiritual undertone of “demoralization,” specifically in relation to “being English.” While I do not agree with Ortega’s specific charge, I do think that there are currents in the Toynbee phenomenon taken as a whole – the life and the work - which raise questions about being Western and modern – and what being Western and modern means in relation to Christianity. These questions may be subtle, but I think they are also important, and perhaps by addressing them we can get another handle on the questions raised by Henry’s post.
The first thing to note is how frequently in his letters, and also in The Study of History, Toynbee alludes to the First World War and the fact that half of his classmates and school fellows lost their lives in that conflagration. Toynbee’s own exemption from military service was owing to an episode of dysentery he had contracted while travelling abroad. There was in Toynbee a strain of “survivor’s guilt,” of which he seemed to be aware, and which was later exacerbated during his divorce from Rosalind Murray. In a bad moment, she had accused him, on another issue, of “cowardice” – but it seemed to touch upon this former one.
Toynbee had been much in love with the aristocratic Rosalind, the daughter of Gilbert Murray, the classicist. Perhaps he had indeed treated her too much as a “goddess” – as his father-in-law once told him. Three sons were born of their union – Tony, Philip and Lawrence. Toynbee was not a “hands-on” father – if not absent, he was frequently absorbed by his work. His son Philip later wrote in a memoir: “[Toynbee] simply had no understanding of children and young people, and no great interest in them either. My two brothers and I attracted his attention largely as nuisances. How clearly, even today, I can see his head poking out of the window of his study, his face a mask of nervous irritation, as he sternly reproved us for making too much noise.” The oldest son, Tony, shot himself “in a fit of pique,” and died a few days later on 15 March 1939. Philip was devastated and considered putting an end to his own life as well. But after a youthful fling with Communism he settled down eventually into a writing career. Both sons married and produced, between the two of them, eleven grandchildren – all girls with the exception of one male grandchild.
Lawrence, the youngest, had always been Rosalind’s favorite. When she converted to Catholicism in 1932, she brought Lawrence with her into the fold. Lawrence was educated at Ampleforth Abbey, a Benedictine establishment. While visiting Ampleforth in 1936, Toynbee met Fr. Columba Cary-Elwes, a monk with whom he carried on a correspondence lasting for 39 years. These letters, gathered into the volume An Historian’s Conscience: The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, (Beacon Press, 1986) form an illuminating record of this time – full of upheavals both historical and spiritual. And by no means are all the “illuminations” those of Toynbee himself. Fr. Columba’s side of the correspondence illuminate some of the weaknesses in Toynbee’s philosophy as well. This loyal son of the Church was unable to convert Toynbee to Catholic Christianity but his penetrating comments helped to ensure a strong Catholic “presence” in The Study of History.
In 1937 Toynbee stated his mission: “I am trying to digest a large lump of modern knowledge and understanding of the material world which has grown up (so vigorously but yet so lopsidedly and without deep roots) during the last 250 years, and to re-place it in the Christian setting from which it has broken out.”
Fr. Columba was a great admirer of The Study of History, comparing it both to the Civitate Dei of St. Augustine and the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. But, he wrote – “You have not yet made the deepest synthesis of all – that between faith and reason, and the message will be blurred.” He believed that modern humanity was “too smug” in not baptizing science as St. Thomas baptized Aristotle. He disagreed with Toynbee on the matter of “assertiveness.” Toynbee had written that “Wherever one sees self-assertiveness, one can be sure one is not in God’s presence.” Fr. Columba pointed out that “a Truth may be asserted for its own sake, or because it is your Truth. In the latter case you have pride, in the former not.” Not to assert Truth, in fact, is to “fail in charity” – for “good diffuses itself.”
Fr. Columba’s learned to appreciate Toynbee’s “ecumenical” approach to religion, but he also noted: “You are trying to be fair to all religions. One tends on those occasions to be unfair to one’s own (family) (religion).” Toynbee acknowledged the justice of this remark – “What you say about leaning over backwards from one’s own religion in trying to be fair to the others is very true.” In 1959 Toynbee confessed that the “uniqueness” of Christianity was, for him, the stumbling-block. In a revealing comment, he once wrote that “Our spiritual vocabulary is entirely analogical (e.g. spirit = breath). This is why I believe the different descriptions refer to identical experiences.” This remark puts me in mind of something Owen Barfield once said about language - in connection with translation, what is of interest is the slightly different thing that is said. For example, tree, arbre, Baum, all refer to the same thing, but are they really the same? Where the Englishman sees primarily the trunk, the Frenchman emphasizes the boughs and the German sees the root. It is the same with spiritual language, only in this case there can be no “identical experiences” if spiritual reality concerns spiritual Beings.
Something of this notion comes through in Fr. Columba’s reply, when he pointed out that the language used to describe spiritual reality refers to different “levels.” The question of the different “levels of Being” may essentially demarcate the Protestant from the Catholic sensibility. Rosalind Toynbee, in her book written after her conversion about her agnostic father, The Good Pagan’s Failure, “… attributed the triumph of barbarism and egalitarianism in the late 1930’s to the abandonment of the Catholic view of the human and celestial hierarchy.”
Toynbee occupied a middle ground – or perhaps a no-man’s land – between a secular-academic world that criticized him for his view of faith and religious imagery (Pieter Geyl, the Dutch historian, wrote: “God became man in Christ is to him the veritable sense of history”; the views of Hugh Trevor-Roper have been previously described in an earlier post) and a Catholic sensibility which may have felt at times that Toynbee’s religion amounted to no more than “an eradicable belief in his own religiousness.”) (The quote is from George Gissing’s description of an Englishman’s religion; cited by Maurice Samuels, The Professor and the Fossil (1956). Toynbee’s book did not win many friends among the Jewish community because he believed that Judaism was a “fossilized” religion.)
Perhaps it is owing to the fact that The Study of History occupied a kind of “nebulous” area, failing to commit itself wholly to one side or another, that Toynbee himself finally saw his work as “really a myth about the meaning of history.” Yet it is just in the sense of “mythology” that I find Toynbee’s History so appealing. For what kind of mythology will become possible for mankind in the modern, modernist, and postmodern dispensation? What kind of zest for life or raison d’être is possible for us, who have lost all of our “naïve beliefs” and unself-conscious hopes and strivings?
In this respect, Toynbee’s encounter with Henry Luce is revealing. Toynbee’s work was initially highly favored by Luce and Time Magazine. But the two men had their differences. Luce said: “Toynbee regarded America as simply a peripheral part of European civilization. I regarded America as a special dispensation – under Providence – and I said so. My spiritual pastors shake their heads about this view of mine. They say it tends to idolatry – to idolatry of a nation. I knew well the dangers of that sin. But I say we must have courage to face objective facts under Providence.”
So I want to conclude with two remarks. I think that Toynbee did have conflicts about being a man, a father, a Christian, and about rationalism, science, and maybe even “being English.” But believing in being what one is – English or American – is a danger when this self-belief is disconnected from the kind of “pastoral counsel” that Henry Luce alluded to. I think that Ortega criticized Toynbee’s weakening of self-belief without seeing how The Study of History was an attempt to counterbalance and to overcome it. The Study of History is in fact an enormous attempt at “pastoral counsel” by reminding Western mankind of its origins and also, about the nature of the historical enterprise itself. The mythos comprises the poetic language – and scholarly bulk – of the work itself. The lesson is lacrimae rerum - the “tears of things.” It is this lesson which we Americans, in our reckless march to Empire, seem unable to hear.