For double the vision my eyes do see,
And a double vision is always with me:
With my inward eye 'tis an old man grey;
With my outward a thistle across my way.
Chapter One - The Double Vision of Language
The Whirligig of Time, 1925-90
Primitive and Mature Societies
The Crisis in Language
Chapter Two - The Double Vision of Nature
Natural and Human Societies
Criticism and Civilization
The Redemption of Nature
Chapter Three - The Double Vision of Time
Space and Time
Time and History
Time and Education
Chapter Four - The Double Vision of God
Gods and God
Hebraic and Hellenic Traditions
The Humanized God
The first three chapters of this book were delivered as lectures at the Emmanuel College alumni reunion on 14, 15, and 16 May 1990 at Emmanuel College. Although various lectures of mine that were addressed specifically to Victoria College are in print (e.g., No Uncertain Sounds 1988), this is my first publication devoted specifically to Emmanuel College. I was very pleased that the lectures coincided with Douglas Jay's final year as principal, and consequently can be regarded as in part a tribute to him. I say in part, because I had also hoped to make this small book something of a shorter and more accessible version of the longer books, The Great Code and Words With Power, that I have written on the relations of the Bible to secular culture. Many passages from the longer books are echoed here, in what I hope is a somewhat simpler context. After writing the lectures out in their final form, however, it seemed to me that the total argument implied by them was still incomplete, and I have therefore, after considerable hesitation, added a fourth chapter.
The fact that these lectures were addressed by a member of The United Church of Canada to a largely United Church audience accounts for many of the allusions, for some of the directions in the argument, and for much of the tone. As is utterly obvious, they represent the opinions of one member of that church only. And even those opinions should not be read as proceeding from a judgement seat of final conviction, but from a rest stop on a pilgrimage, however near the pilgrimage may now be to its close.
University of Toronto
I begin with a date. In 1990 The United Church of Canada, founded in 1925, reached an age often associated with superannuation. Only a minority of its members now recall church union, and there are still fewer who acquired, as I did, their elementary religious training within the pre-union Methodist church. In Methodism, even of the episcopal variety to which my family belonged, there was an emphasis on religious experience as distinct from doctrine and on very early exposure to the story element in the Bible. Such a conditioning may have helped to propel me in the direction of a literary criticism that has kept revolving around the Bible, not as a source of doctrine but as a source of story and vision. It may be of interest to explain what effect I think this has had on my general point of view on the world today, apart from the peculiar features of what I have written.
History moves in a cyclical rhythm which never forms a complete or closed cycle. A new movement begins, works itself out to exhaustion, and something of the original state then reappears, though in a quite new context presenting new conditions. I have lived through at least one major historical cycle of this kind: its main outlines are familiar to you, but the inferences I have drawn from it may be less so. When I arrived at Victoria College as a freshman in September 1929, North America was not only prosperous but in a nearly hysterical state of self-congratulation. It was widely predicted that the end of poverty and the levelling out of social inequalities were practically within reach. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, the reports were mainly of misery and despair. The inference for general public opinion on this side of the Atlantic was clear: capitalism worked and Marxism didn't.
Next month came the stock market crash, and there was no more talk of a capitalist Utopia. By the mid-thirties the climate of opinion had totally reversed, at least in the student circles I was attached to. Then it was a generally accepted dogma that capitalism had had its day and was certain to evolve very soon, with or without a revolution, into socialism, socialism being assumed to be both a more efficient and a morally superior system. The persistence of this view helped to consolidate my own growing feeling that myths are the functional units of human society, even when they are absurd myths. The myth in this case was the ancient George and dragon one: fascism was the dragon, democracy the maiden to be rescued, and despite the massacres, the deliberately organized famines, the mass uprooting of peoples, the grabbing of neighbouring territories, and the concentration camps, Stalin simply had to fit into the role of the rescuing knight. This was by no means a unanimous feeling - among Communists themselves there was a bitterly anti-Stalin Trotskyite group - but it extended over a good part of the left of centre.
That cycle has completed itself, and once again people in the West are saying, as they said sixty years ago, that it has been proved that capitalism works and Marxism does not. With the decline of belief in Marxism, apart from an intellectual minority in the West that doesn't have to live with it, the original marxist vision is often annexed by the opposite camp. Going back to the competitive economy that Marx denounced, we are often told, will mean a new life for the human race, perhaps even the ultimate goal that Marx himself promised: an end to exploitation and class struggle. Hope springs eternal: unfortunately it usually springs prematurely.
The failure of communism, or what has been assumed to be communism - it was more accurately a form of state capitalism - is apparently a genuine failure, but it would be silly to return to the 1929 naiveté. Marxist economies may be trying to survive by making extensive reforms in an open-market direction, but capitalism only survived the last half-century by abandoning the more nihilistic aspects of laissez-faire and making equally extensive reforms in a socialist and welfare-state direction. For all the see-sawing between nationalizing and privatizing, the permanent effects of the Roosevelt revolution in the United States, and parallel revolutions in Western Europe, make it impossible to put any confidence in back-to-square-one clichés.
In capitalism there is both a democratic and an oligarchic tendency, and the moral superiority of capitalism over communism depends entirely on the ascendency of the democratic element. Most citizens in North America, at least from about 1945 on, were only subliminally aware of living under a capitalist system: what mattered to them was political democracy, not the economic structure. Similarly news analysts today put their main emphasis on the growing disillusionment with all forms of ideology in Eastern Europe, and the emerging feeling that systems do not matter: it is only freedom and dignity and the elementary amenities of civilization that matter. The view of Hegel that history was progressing through conflicts of ideas toward an ultimate goal of freedom was reversed by Marx into a view of history that identified the conflicting elements with materialistic forces, especially instruments of production and the class struggle over their ownership. Through a good deal of the twentieth century, it was generally assumed, even in the non-marxist world, that Hegel's main contribution to philosophy was in getting his construct stood on its head by Marx. But now the original Hegelian conception is being revived, and the revolutions of our day are sometimes seen as manifestations of an impulse to freedom that may put an end to history as we have known it.
Freedom alone, however, is far too abstract a goal. As Heine said, freedom is a prison song: those who care about it are those who have been deprived of it. History tells us that, ever since Adam's six hours in paradise, man has never known what to do with freedom except throw it away. Involved in the Christian conception of original sin is the perception that no human society is likely to do anything sensible for longer than the time it takes to break a New Year's resolution. Despite this, I think there is a real truth in the notion of an impulse to freedom, but it needs to be placed in a broader and more practical context.
Human beings are concerned beings, and it seems to me that there are two kinds of concern: primary and secondary. Primary concerns are such things as food, sex, property, and freedom of movement: concerns that we share with animals on a physical level. Secondary concerns include our political, religious, and other ideological loyalties. All through history ideological concerns have taken precedence over primary ones. We want to live and love, but we go to war; we want freedom, but depend on the exploiting of other peoples, of the natural environment, even of ourselves. In the twentieth century, with a pollution that threatens the supply of air to breathe and water to drink, it is obvious that we cannot afford the supremacy of ideological concerns any more. The need to eat, love, own property, and move about freely must come first, and such needs require peace, good will, and a caring and responsible attitude to nature. A continuing of ideological conflict, a reckless exploiting of the environment, a persistence in believing, with Mao Tse-Tung, that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, would mean, quite simply, that the human race cannot be long for this world.
The Cold War gave us a Soviet Union upholding an allegedly materialist ideology, at the price of chronic food shortages, sexual prudery, abolition of all property except the barest essentials of clothing and shelter, and a rigidly repressed freedom of movement. The United States offered vast quantities of food and drink, indiscriminate sexual activity, piling up of excessive wealth and privilege, and a restless nomadism - in other words, full satisfaction of primary concerns on a purely physical level. An evolution toward freedom, however, is conceivable if freedom is a primary concern, if it belongs in the context of enough to eat and drink, of normal sexual satisfaction, of enough clothing, shelter, and property.
The immediate concern of freedom is still a physical one: it is a matter of being able to move about without being challenged by policemen demanding passports and permits and identity cards, and of not being excluded from occupations and public places on the ground of sex or skin colour. I should explain also that when I speak of property I mean the external forms of what is 'proper' to one's life as an individual, starting with clothing and shelter. These also include what may be called territorial space. A Hindu hermit meditating in a forest may need next to nothing of clothing and shelter, and no possessions at all, but he still needs space around him.
The United States, Japan, and Western Europe have been much more successful in achieving stage one of primary concern: as compared with the formerly Marxist countries, they are more attractive and more comfortable to live in. But the legacy of the Cold War is still with us, and not only does an adversarial situation impoverish both sides, but both sides catch the worst features of their opponents. We have seen this in the McCarthyism that imitated the Stalinist show trials, the McCarran act that imitated Soviet exclusion policies, and the interventions in Latin America that imitate the Stalinist attitude to the Warsaw Pact countries. Something at the very least, is still missing.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil to improve the desert economy by turning stones into bread, he answered, quoting Deuteronomy, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by prophecies as well. That is, primary concerns, for conscious human beings, must have a spiritual as well as a physical dimension. Freedom of movement is not simply the freedom to take a plane to Vancouver; it must include freedom of thought and criticism. Similarly, property should extend to scientific discovery and the production of poetry and music; sex should be a matter of love and companionship and not a frenetic rutting in rubber; food and drink should become a focus of the sharing of goods within a community. I pass over the violence, the drug addiction, and the general collapse of moral standards that accompany overemphasis on the satisfying of physical wants, because one hardly needs to be told that they are the result of a lack of spiritual vision. The obvious question to raise next is, What is the difference between the spiritual aspect of primary concerns and the secondary or ideological concerns just mentioned?
I think the difference is expressed in two types of society, one primitive and the other mature. A primitive or embryonic society is one in which the individual is thought of as primarily a function of the social group. In all such societies a hierarchical structure of authority has to be set up to ensure that the individual does not get too far out of line. A mature society, in contrast, understands that its primary aim is to develop a genuine individuality in its members. In a fully mature society the structure of authority becomes a function of the individuals within it, all of them, without distinctions of sex, class, or race, living, loving, thinking, and producing with a sense of space around them. Throughout history practically all societies have been primitive ones in our present sense: a greater maturity and a genuine concern for the individual peeps out occasionally, but is normally smothered as society collapses back again into its primitive form.
The reason for this is that we all belong to something before we are anything, and the primitive structure has all the vast power of human inertia and passive social conditioning on its side. Fifty years ago, the great appeal of Marxism to intellectuals in the West was that it renewed the emphasis on primitive social values, providing a social gospel with the right answers in what purported to be not only a rational but a scientific system. Many conservatives of that time preferred a similar structure that some Roman Catholic intellectuals believed they had discovered in Thomist realism; people who simply hated human intelligence turned fascist. In the United States only a minority wanted to buy any of these nostrums, but the Americans had their own primitive mattress to sleep on, the American way of life, with all its anti-intellectual cosiness.
What I am expounding may be called a bourgeois liberal view, which throughout my lifetime has never been regarded as an 'advanced' view. But it may begin to look more central with the repudiation of marxism in Marxist countries, the growing uneasiness with the anti-intellectualism in American life, and the steadily decreasing dividends of terrorism in Third World countries. The ascendant feeling in Eastern Europe now is that a collective ideology is no longer good enough for human dignity. What triggered the feeling, we said, was the failure of communism to provide the physical basis of primary concern: food, possessions, and free movement. Even on the physical level, primary concerns are still individual: famine is a social problem, but it is the individual who eats or starves. But the spiritual form of these concerns is the sign of the real failure.
The spiritual form of primary concern, then, fulfils the physical need but incorporates it into the context of an individualized society. The ideological or secondary concern may be the same in theory, but its subordination of individual to social needs constantly frustrates, postpones, or circumvents the fulfilment of the primary ones. Where there is no awareness of such a distinction there are often arguments, in cultural circles particularly, contrasting socially engaged and activist art, where every book or film or picture is or should be a political statement, with introverted or ingrown creativity that concentrates on subjective feelings. The antithesis is false because it is an antithesis: in a mature culture it would disappear.
I said than an adversarial situation like that of the Cold War impoverishes both sides. The one adversarial situation that does not do so is the conflict between the demands of primary human welfare on the one hand, and a paranoid clinging to arbitrary power on the other. Naturally this black-and-white situation is often very hard to find in the complexities of revolutions and power struggles, but it is there, and nothing in any revolutionary situation is of any importance except preserving it. When we see it, we can realize that the difference between ideological and spiritual concern is, among other things, a difference in language. Before I can clarify this point I must turn to the confrontation of primitive and mature social impulses in the history of religion.
Religious organizations are much more bound than the better secular ones to what I have called the primitive form of society, the supremacy of social authority over the individual. It frequently appears to be practically an element of faith that the interests and reputation of the church as a social unit must take precedence over the welfare of the individuals within it, a faith rationalized by the claim that the two things are always identical. Church authorities appeal to a revelation from God, or a corresponding spiritual power beyond the reach of revolutionary uprisings, of which they are the custodians and definitive interpreters. In many respects the twentieth-century Cold War repeated the later stages of the situation that arose with the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Then, a revolutionary movement, at first directed mainly toward a reform of abuses in the church, showed signs of expanding and breaking open a tightly closed structure of authority that claimed exclusive and infallible powers in both spiritual and temporal orders. What was centrally at issue was reformation itself, the conception of a church that could be reformed in principle and not merely through modifying the corruptions that had grown up within it. The Reformers thought of the church as subject to a higher criterion, namely the Word of God, and as obligated to carry on a continuous dialogue with the Word while in a subordinate position to it.
Established authority reacted to this movement as established authority inevitably does. The Council of Trent gives an impression of passing one reactionary resolution after another in a spirit of the blindest panic. Yet the Council of Trent succeeded in its main objective, which was to persuade Catholics that post-Tridentine Catholicism was not only the legitimate descendant of the pre-Reformation church, but was in fact identical with it. The logical inference was the claim of a power of veto over the Bible, a position set out in Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, where a historical dialectic takes supreme command in a way closely parallel to the constructs of Hegel and Marx.
There was also, of course, the argument that basing the church on justification by faith alone would lead to the chaos of private judgement and subjective relativism. What is important here is not the validity of such an argument but the fact that the main Reformed bodies tended to adopt it. When it came to establishing the Word of God as an authority, the Reformers themselves could only become the accredited spokesmen of that authority. And so the real reformation towards a more mature society of individualized Christians was betrayed by Protestants as well as opposed by Catholics. A historian might see the Lutheran and Anabaptist movements as primarily emphasizing different aspects of reformation, but Luther himself showed the same enthusiasm for killing off Anabaptists that, in the twentieth century, Communists showed for killing off Anarchists.
Many of the greatest spirits of Luther's time, such as Erasmus, looked for a movement toward a far greater spiritual maturity than either Reformation or Counter-Reformation achieved, and tried to hold to the standards of a liberalism that would transcend both the Roman Catholic status quo and its Lutheran and Calvinist antitheses. But for Erasmus, or for Rabelais, there was no attraction in a more hardened and sectarian version of what was already there.
So both sides took the broad way to destruction, with the bloody conflicts of civil wars in France and Germany, along with a war of Protestants fighting each other in Britain. In the course of centuries the adversarial situation gradually subsided into a cold war instead of an actual war, which, however, did not eliminate, any more than its counterparts have eliminated in our day, endless persecution within individual nations. This cold war situation lasted roughly until our own time, when Vatican Two and ecumenical movements in Protestantism have begun to show how out of touch such antagonisms are with both the conditions of contemporary life and the spirit of Christianity. Religious parallels to the current political demands for greater individual autonomy sprang up in the more liberal Protestant circles in the nineteenth century and are now breaking into Catholicism on all sides, though still officially inadmissible to the upper hierarchy.
In the course of time the movement begun by the Reformation did achieve one major victory: the gradual spread throughout the Western world of the principle of separation of church and state. Something of the genuine secular benefits of democracy have rubbed off on the religious groups, to the immense benefit of humanity, and depriving religion of all secular or temporal power is one of the most genuinely emancipating movements of our time. It seems to be a general rule that the more 'orthodox' or 'fundamentalist' a religious attitude is, the more strongly it resents this separation and the more consistently it lobbies for legislation giving its formulas secular authority. Today, in Israel and in much of the Moslem and Hindu world, as well as in Northern Ireland and South Africa, we can clearly see that these religious attitudes are the worst possible basis for a secular society.
This principle applies equally to the dogmatic atheism and the anti-religious campaigns that Lenin assumed to be essential to the Marxist revolution. I was in Kiev during the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, and it was clear that seventy years of anti-religious propaganda had been as total and ignominious a failure there as anything in the economic or political sphere. In short, any religion, including atheism, which remains on the socially and psychologically primitive level, in the sense I have given to the word primitive, can do little more than illustrate Swift's gloomy axiom that men have only enough religion to hate each other but not enough for even a modicum of tolerance, let alone anything resembling charity.
Michael explains to Adam, in the last book of Milton's Paradise Lost that tyranny exists in human society because every individual in such a society is a tyrant within himself, or at least is if he conforms acceptably to his social surroundings. The well-adjusted individual in a primitive society is composed of what Paul calls the soma psychikon, or what the King James Bible translates as the 'natural man' (I Corinthians 2:14). He has, or thinks he has, a soul, or mind, or consciousness, sitting on top of certain impulses and desires that are traditionally called 'bodily.' 'Body' is a very muddled metaphor in this context: we should be more inclined today to speak of repressed elements in the psyche. In any case the natural man sets up a hierarchy within himself and uses his waking consciousness to direct and control his operations. We call him the natural man partly because he is, first, a product of nature, and inherits along with his genetic code the total devotion to his own interests that one writer has called 'the selfish gene.'
Second, he is a product of his social and ideological conditioning. He cannot distinguish what he believes from what he believes he believes, because his faith is simply an adherence to the statements of belief provided for him by social authority, whether spiritual or temporal. As with all hierarchies, the lower parts are less well adjusted than the upper ones, and 'underneath' in the restless and squirming body, or whatever else we call it, is a rabble of doubts telling him that his intellectual set-up is largely fraudulent. He may shout down his doubts and trample them underfoot as temptations coming from a lower world, but he is still what Hegel calls an unhappy consciousness.
For reassurance, he looks around him at the society which reflects his hierarchy in a larger order. A society composed of natural men is also a hierarchy in which there are superiors and inferiors, and if such a society has any stability, one draws a sense of security from one's social position, even if it is 'inferior.' Disoriented inferiors, of course, are the social counterpart of doubts, and also have to be trampled underfoot. It is easy to see why the two most influential thinkers of the twentieth century are Marx and Freud: they are those who called attention, in the social and individual spheres respectively, to the exploitation in society, to the latent hysteria in the individual, and to the alienation produced by both.
Inside one's natural and social origin, however, is the embryo of a genuine individual struggling to be born. But this unborn individual is so different from the natural man that Paul has to call it by a different name. The New Testament sees the genuine human being as emerging from an embryonic state within nature and society into the fully human world of the individual, which is symbolized as a rebirth or second birth, in the phrase that Jesus used to Nicodemus. Naturally this rebirth cannot mean any separation from one's natural and social context, except insofar as a greater maturity includes some knowledge of the conditioning that was formerly accepted uncritically. The genuine human being thus born is the soma pneumatikon, the spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:44). This phrase means that spiritual man is a body: the natural man or soma psychikon merely has one. The resurrection of the spiritual body is the completion of the kind of life the New Testament is talking about, and to the extent that any society contains spiritual people, to that extent it is a mature rather than a primitive society.
What concerns me in this situation is a linguistic fallacy, the fallacy that relates to the phrase 'literally true.' Ordinarily, we mean by 'literally true' what is descriptively accurate. We read many books for the purpose of acquiring information about the world outside the books we are reading, and we call what we read 'true' if it seems to be a satisfactory verbal replica of the information we seek. This conception of literal meaning as descriptive works only on the basis of sense experience and the logic that connects its data. That is, it works in scientific and historical writing. But it took a long time before such descriptive meaning could be fully mature and developed, because it depends on technological aids. We cannot describe phenomena accurately in science before we have the apparatus to do so; there cannot be a progressive historical knowledge until we have a genuine historiography, with access to documents and, for the earlier periods at least, some help from archaeology. Literalism of this kind in the area of the spiritual instantly becomes what Paul calls the letter that kills. It sets up an imitation of descriptive language, a pseudo-objectivity related to something that isn't there.
In the early Christian centuries it was widely assumed that the basis of Christian faith was the descriptive accuracy of the historical events recorded in the New Testament and the infallibility of the logical arguments that interconnected them. This pseudo-literalism was presented as certain without the evidence of sense experience, and belief became a self-hypnotizing process designed to eke out the insufficiency of evidence. The rational arguments used were assumed to have a compulsive power: if we accept this, then that must follow, and so on. A compelling dialectic based on the excluding of opposites is a militant use of words; but where there is no genuine basis in sense experience, it is only verbally rational: it is really rhetoric, seeking not proof but conviction and conversion. It is seldom, however, that anyone is convinced by an argument unless there are psychological sympathies within that open the gates to it. So when words failed, as they usually did, recourse was had to anathematizing those who held divergent views, and from there it was an easy step to the psychosis of heresy-hunting, of regarding all deviation from approved doctrine as a malignant disease that had to be ruthlessly stamped out.
I am, of course, isolating only one element in Christianity, but cruelty, terror, intolerance, and hatred within any religion always mean that God has been replaced by the devil, and such things are always accompanied by a false kind of literalism. At present some other religions, notably Islam, are even less reassuring than our own. As Marxist and American imperialisms decline, the Moslem world is emerging as the chief threat to world peace, and the spark-plug of its intransigence, so to speak, is its fundamentalism or false literalism of belief. The same principle of daemonic perversion applies here: when Khomeini gave the order to have Salman Rushdie murdered, he was turning the whole of the Koran into Satanic verses. In our own culture, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale depicts a future New England in which a reactionary religious movement has brought back the hysteria, bigotry, and sexual sadism of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Such a development may seem unlikely just now, but the potential is all there.
For the last fifty years I have been studying literature, where the organizing principles are myth, that is, story or narrative, and metaphor, that is, figured language. Here we are in a completely liberal world, the world of the free movement of the spirit. If we read a story there is no pressure to believe in it or act upon it; if we encounter metaphors in poetry, we need not worry about their factual absurdity. Literature incorporates our ideological concerns, but it devotes itself mainly to the primary ones, in both physical and spiritual forms: its fictions show human beings in the primary throes of surviving, loving, prospering, and fighting with the frustrations that block these things. It is at once a world of relaxation, where even the most terrible tragedies are still called plays, and a world of far greater intensity than ordinary life affords. In short it does everything that can be done for people except transform them. It creates a world that the spirit can live in, but it does not make us spiritual beings.
It would be absurd to see the New Testament as only a work of literature: it is all the more important, therefore, to realize that it is written in the language of literature, the language of myth and metaphor. The Gospels give us the life of Jesus in the form of myth: what they say is, 'This is what happens when the Messiah comes to the world.' One thing that happens when the Messiah comes to the world is that he is despised and rejected, and searching in the nooks and crannies of the gospel text for a credibly historical Jesus is merely one more excuse for despising and rejecting him. Myth is neither historical nor anti-historical: it is counter-historical. Jesus is not presented as a historical figure, but as a figure who drops into history from another dimension of reality, and thereby shows what the limitations of the historical perspective are.
The gospel confronts us with all kinds of marvels and mysteries, so that one's initial reaction may well be that what we are reading is fantastic and incredible. Biblical scholars have a distinction here ready to hand, the distinction between world history and sacred history, Weltgeschichte and Heilsgeschichte. Unfortunately, there is as yet almost no understanding of what sacred history is, so the usual procedure is to try to squeeze everything possible into ordinary history, with the bulges of the incredible that still stick out being smoothed away by a process called demythologizing. However the Gospels are all myth and all bulge, and the operation does not work.
As the New Testament begins with the myth of the Messiah, so it ends, in the book of Revelation, with the metaphor of the Messiah, the vision of all things in their infinite variety united in the body of Christ. And just as myth is not anti-historical but counter-historical, so the metaphor, the statement of implication that two things are identical though different, is neither logical nor illogical. It presents the continuous paradox of experience, in which whatever one meets both is and is not oneself. 'I am a part of all that I have met,' says Tennyson's Ulysses; 'I am what is around me,' says Wallace Stevens. Metaphors are paradoxical, and again we suspect that perhaps only in paradox are words doing the best they can for us. The genuine Christianity that has survived its appalling historical record was founded on charity, and charity is invariably linked to an imaginative conception of language, whether consciously or unconsciously. Paul makes it clear that the language of charity is spiritual language, and that spiritual language is metaphorical, founded on the metaphorical paradox that we live in Christ and that Christ lives in us.
I am not trying to deny or belittle the validity of a credal, even a dogmatic approach to Christianity: I am saying that the literal basis of faith in Christianity is a mythical and metaphorical basis, not one founded on historical facts of logical propositions. Once we accept an imaginative literalism, everything else falls into place: without that, creeds and dogmas quickly turn malignant. The literary language of the New Testament is not intended, like literature itself, simply to suspend judgement, but to convey a vision of spiritual life that continues to transform and expand our own. That is, its myths become, as purely literary myths cannot, myths to live by; its metaphors become, as purely literary metaphors cannot, metaphors to live in. This transforming power is sometimes called kerygma or proclamation. Kerygma in this sense is again a rhetoric, but a rhetoric coming the other way and coming from the other side of mythical and metaphorical language.
In the Book of Job we have the rhetorical speech of Elihu, defending and justifying the ways of God; then we have the proclamation of God himself, couched in very similar language, but reversed in direction. The proclamation of the gospel is closely associated with the myths that we call parables, because teaching by myth and metaphor is the only way of educating a free person in spiritual concerns. If we try to eliminate the literal basis of kerygma in myth and metaphor, everything goes wrong again, and we are back where we started, in the rhetoric of an all-too-human effort to demonstrate the essence of revelation. The reason for basing kerygma on mythical and metaphorical language is that such a language is the only one with the power to detach us from the world of facts and demonstrations and reasonings, which are excellent things as tools, but are merely idols as objects of trust and reverence.
Demonic literalism seeks conquest by paralyzing argument; imaginative literalism seeks what might be called interpenetration, the free flowing of spiritual life into and out of one another that communicates but never violates. As Coleridge said (unless Schelling said it first), 'The medium by which spirits understand each other is not the surrounding air, but the freedom which they possess in common.' As the myths and metaphors of Scripture gradually become, for us, myths and metaphors that we can live by and in, that not only work for us but constantly expand our horizons, we may enter the world of proclamation and pass on to others what we have found to be true for ourselves. When we encounter a quite different vision in, say, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Confucian, an atheist, or whatever, there can still be what is called dialogue, and mutual understanding, based on a sense that there is plenty of room in the mind of God for us both. All faith is founded on good faith, and where there is good faith on both sides there is also the presence of God.
The same thing is true of variations of belief among Christians. Some prominent cleric may announce, after much heart-searching and self-harrowing, that he can no longer 'believe in' the Virgin Birth. What he thinks he is saying is that he can no longer honestly accept the historicity of the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. But those stories do not belong to ordinary history at all: they form part of Heilgeschichte, a mythical narrative containing many features that cannot be assimilated to the historian's history. What he is really saying is that some elements of the gospel myth have less transforming power for him than others. His version of Christianity could never have built a cathedral to Notre Dame de Chartres or written the hymn to the Virgin at the end of Dante's Paradiso, but his version is his, and that is his business only. However, if he had been a better educated cleric he would not have raised the point in the wrong context and created false issues.
The Epistle to the Hebrews says that faith is the hypostasis of the hoped-for and the elenchos or proof of the unseen. That is, faith is the reality of hope and of illusion. In this sense faith starts with a vision of reality that is something other than history or logic, which accepts the world as it is, and on the basis of that vision it can begin to remake the world. A nineteenth-century disciple of Kant, Hans Vaihinger, founded a philosophy on the phrase 'as if,' and the literal basis of faith from which we should start, the imaginative and poetic basis, is a fiction we enter into 'as if' it were true. There is no certainty in faith to begin with: we are free to deny the reality of the spiritual challenge of the New Testament, and if we accept it we accept it tentatively, taking a risk. The certainty comes later, and very gradually, with the growing sense in our own experience that the vision really does have the power that it claims to have.
I use the word 'risk' advisedly: I am not minimizing the difficulties and dangers of an imaginative literalism. All through history there has run a distrust and contempt for imaginative language, and the words for story or literary narrative - myth, fable, and fiction - have all acquired a secondary sense of falsehood or something made up out of nothing. Overcoming this perversion of language takes time and thought, and besides, there are as many evil myths and vicious metaphors as there are evil doctrines and vicious arguments. But the author of Hebrews goes on to talk, in the examples he gives after his definition of faith, about the risks taken by vision, and he suggests that such risks are guided by more effective powers than merely subjective ones. Besides, we are not alone: we live not only in God's world but in a community with a tradition behind it. Preserving the inner vitality of that community and that tradition is what the churches are for.
I have been trying to suggest a basis for the openness of belief that is characteristic of the United Church. Many of you will still recall an article in a Canadian journal that emphasized this openness, and drew the conclusion that the United Church was now an 'agnostic' church. I think the writer was trying to be fair-minded, but his conclusion was nonsense: the United Church is agnostic only in the sense that it does not pretend to know what nobody 'knows' anyway. The article quoted a church member as asking, If a passage in Scripture fails to transform me, is it still true? The question was a central one, but it reminded me of a story told me by a late colleague who many years ago was lecturing on Milton's view of the Trinity. He explained the difference between Athanasian and Arian positions, and how Milton, failing to find enough scriptural evidence for the Athanasian position, adopted a qualified or semi-Arian one. He was interrupted by a student who said impatiently, 'But I want to know the truth about the Trinity.' One may sympathize with the student, but trying to satisfy him is futile. What 'the' truth is, is not available to human beings in spiritual matters: the goal of our spiritual life is God, who is a spiritual Other, not a spiritual object, much less a conceptual object. That is why the Gospels keep reminding us how many listen and how few hear: truths of the gospel kind cannot be demonstrated except through personal example. As the seventeenth-century Quaker Isaac Penington said, every truth is substantial in its own place, but all truths are shadows except the last. The language that lifts us clear of the merely plausible and the merely credible is the language of the spirit; the language of the spirit is, Paul tells us, the language of love, and the language of love is the only language that we can be sure is spoken and understood by God.
I have taken my title 'The Double Vision' from a phrase in a poem of Blake incorporated in a letter to Thomas Butts (22 November 1802):
For double the vision my eyes do see,
And a double vision is always with me:
With my inward eye 'tis an old man grey;
With my outward a thistle across my way.
The surface meaning of this appears to be that Blake is adding a subjective hallucination to the sense perception of an object, and that adding this hallucination is what makes him the visionary poet and painter that he is. If this is what Blake is saying, he is talking nonsense, and Blake very seldom talks nonsense. The general idea, however, seems to be that simple sense perception is not enough. We may be reminded of a well known bit of doggerel from Wordsworth:
A primrose by a river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.
Well, what more should it be? If I were a primrose by a river's brim, I should feel insulted.
Clearly a good deal depends on what is meant by 'more.' If it means something in addition to the perception of the primrose, we seem to be headed for some kind of deliberate program of disorganizing sense experience of a type later proposed by Rimbaud, who said that the poet wishing to be a visionary must go through a long and systematic unsettling (dérèglement) of sense experience. But there seems to be something unreliable about this program, if it had anything to do with the fact that one of the greatest of French poets stopped writing when he was barely out of his teens. If, on the other hand, Wordsworth is simply speaking of seeing the primrose itself with a greater intensity, that may be part of a 'more' stable and continuous process.
We have to give the context of what Blake says at this point, as we shall be referring to it later. He has acquired, he tells us, a double-double or fourfold vision, although it is still essentially twofold, in contrast to what he prays to be delivered from:
'Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
And threefold in soft Beulah's night,
And twofold always. May God us keep
From single vision and Newton's sleep!
However paradoxical his language, Blake is not recommending that one should try to awaken from the sleep of single vision by seeing two objects instead of one, especially when one of the two is not there. I think he means rather that the conscious subject is not really perceiving until it recognizes itself as part of what it perceives. The whole world is humanized when such a perception takes place. There must be something human about the object, alien as it may at first seem, which the perceiver is relating to. The 'old man grey' is clearly an aspect of Blake himself, and stands for the fact that whatever we perceive is a part of us and forms an identity with us.
First, there is the world of the thistle, the world of nature presented directly to us. This is obviously the world within which our physical bodies have evolved, but from which consciousness feels oddly separated. Nature got along for untold ages without us: it could get along very well without us now and may again get along without us in the future. The systematic study of nature, which is the main business of science, reflects this sense of separation. It is impersonal, avoids value judgements and commitments to emotion or imagination, and confines itself to explanations that are largely in terms of mechanism. This is the view that Blake associates with the outlook of Isaak Newton, and although Newton was a religious man who saw many religious implications in his own science, there is a sense in which Blake was right. There is no God in the scientific vision as such: if we bring God into science, we turn him into a mechanical engineer, like the demiurge of Plato's Timaeus or the designing watchmaker God of the various Christian and deistic attempts at natural theology.
True, science has abandoned narrowly mechanistic explanations in one field after another since Blake spoke of Newton's sleep. It is sixty years since Sir James Jeans, in The Mysterious Universe, gave God a degree in mathematics rather than mechanical engineering, mathematics being a field that admits of paradox, even of irrationalities. It is an equally long time since Whitehead criticized the conception of 'simple location' that underlies Blake's polemic against single vision. But scientific explanations are still mainly non-teleological, confining themselves to the how of things, though there are signs that science may be coming to the end of this self-denying ordinance.
The first aspect of the double vision that we have to become aware of is the distinction between the natural and the human environment. There is the natural environment which is simply there, and is, in mythological language, our mother. And there is the human environment, the world we are trying to build out of the natural one. We think of the two worlds as equally real, though we spend practically our whole time in the human one. We wake up in the morning in our bedrooms, and feel that we have abolished an unreal world, the world of the dream, and are now in the world of waking reality. But everything surrounding us in that bedroom is a human artefact.
If science is more impersonal than literature or religion, that is the result of certain conventions imposed on science by its specific subject-matter. It studies the natural environment, but as part of the human constructed world. It discovers counterparts of the human sense of order and predictability in nature, and the scientist as human being would not differ psychologically from the artist in the way he approaches his work. The axiom of the eighteenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico was verum factum: we understand nothing except what we have made. Again, it is only the human environment that can be personal, and if God belongs in this distinction at all, he must, being a person, be sought for in the human world.
As the natural ancestry of humans is not in dispute, it was inevitable that at some point the question should be raised of how far a 'natural society' is possible, and whether man could simply live in a state of harmony with nature, instead of withdrawing his consciousness from nature and devoting his energies to a separable order of existence. Such speculations arose mainly in the eighteenth century, in the age of Rousseau. They have not stood up very well to what anthropology has since gleaned from the study of primitive societies. There seems to be no human society that does not live within an envelope of law, ritual, custom, and myth that seals it off from nature, however closely its feeding and mating and hunting habits may approximate those of animals.
When our remote ancestors were tree opossums or whatever, avoiding the carnivorous dinosaurs, they were animals totally preoccupied, as other animals still are for the most part, with the primary concerns of food, sex, territory, and free movement on a purely physical level. With the dawn of consciousness humanity feels separated from nature and looks at it as something objective to itself. This is the starting point of Blake's single vision, where we no longer feel part of nature but are helplessly staring at it.
Thomas Pynchon's remarkable novel Gravity's Rainbow is a book that seems to me to have grasped a central principle of this situation. The human being, this novel tells us, is instinctively paranoid: We are first of all expressly convinced that the world was made for us and designed in detail for our benefit and appreciation. As soon as we are afflicted by doubts about this, we plunge into the other aspect of paranoia, feel that our environment is absurd and alienating, and that we are uniquely accursed in being aware, unlike any other organism in nature, of our own approaching mortality. Pynchon makes it clear that this paranoia can be and is transformed into creative energy and becomes the starting point of everything that humanity has done in the arts and sciences. But before it is thus transformed, it is the state that the Bible condemns as idolatry, in which we project numinous beings or forces into nature and scan nature anxiously for signs of its benevolence or wrath directed toward us.
The Bible is emphatic that nothing numinous exists in nature, that there may be devils there but no gods, and that nature is to be thought of as a fellow-creature of man. However, the paranoid attitude to nature that Pynchon describes survives in the manic-depressive psychosis of the twentieth century. In the manic phase, we are told that the age of Aquarius is coming, and that soon the world will be turned back to the state of innocence. In the depressive phase, news analysts explain that pollution has come to a point at which any sensible nature would simply wipe us out and start experimenting with a new species. In interviews I am almost invariably asked at some point whether I feel optimistic or pessimistic about some contemporary situation. The answer is that these imbecile words are euphemisms for manic-depressive highs and lows, and that anyone who struggles for sanity avoids both.
We do emerge, however, to some degree, from the illusions of staring at nature into building a human world of culture and civilization, and from that perspective we can see the natural environment as the 'material' world in the sense of providing the materials for our unique form of existence. Practically all of our made world represents a huge waste of effort: it includes the world of war, of cutthroat competition, of stagnating bureaucracies, of the lying and hypocrisy of what is called public relations. Above all, it has not achieved any genuine rapprochement with nature itself, but simply regards nature as an area of exploitation. Where God may belong in this duality we have yet to try to see, but as he is not hidden in nature, he can only be connected with that tiny percentage of human activity that has not been hopelessly botched.
The reason for this is that we have been separated from nature but are still regarding it as a mirror of ourselves, from within the prison of Narcissus. In the state of nature there may well be a good deal of what the anarchist Kropotkin called, on the basis of the studies that he made of the subject, 'mutual aid.' But what are more obvious and picturesque in nature are the patterns of tyranny and anarchy that are constantly appealed to by rationalizers of bad social systems. The communities formed by animals are full of hierarchies and pecking orders, of females forcibly seized by stronger males, of fights over territorial disputes, and the like, even if they fall short of the total obliterating of the individual that we see in communities of social insects. There are patterns of laissez-faire anarchy, too, in the hunting of predators like the great jungle cats: calling the lion the 'king of beasts' helps to reassure us that a society in which the predators are the aristocracy is the right one for us as well.
But humanity's primary duty is not to be natural but to be human. The reason why idolatry is dangerous is that it suggests the attractiveness and the ease with which we may collapse into the preconscious state from which we have been trying to emerge. As long as idolatry persists, and humanity is seeing in nature a mirror of itself, it forms primitive societies (in the sense used earlier) as an imitation of nature. Nearly all human history shows one society after another sinking back into the order of nature as thus conceived, setting up regimes of tyranny and anarchy in which mere survival is all that is left of human life for the great majority. Human beings get along as best they can in such a world, but the human spirit knows that it is living in hell.
While humanity is continually sliding back into a state of nature to which it is totally unadapted, there is still a steady process of work that transforms the natural environment into a human one. In the Bible the images of this transformation, the flocks and herds of the animal world, the harvests and vintages, farms and gardens of the vegetable world, the buildings and highways made from the inorganic world, symbolize the fulfilling of what I call human primary concerns. This process is a social and communal enterprise, and if tyranny and exploitation are relaxed for a moment, the genuinely social virtues of cooperation and neighbourliness soon emerge. But the energy of social work, though certainly intelligent and conscious, tends also to be uncritical and instinctive.
In the nineteenth-century work that transformed Ontario from a forested environment into an agricultural one, there were many largely unexamined assumptions: the immense destruction of trees and slaughter of forest animals were necessary to 'clear' the land, and nothing else needed to be said about it. In the twentieth century a largely farming and small-town population was transformed into an urban one, a process again largely uncritical. But eventually certain crises, especially pollution and such questions as what to do with our garbage and sewage, force us into a criticism of what such work is doing. Here we have moved into a higher power of consciousness and a new dimension of concern.
In the construction of the human world we recognize two elements. One is the element of work, which is energy expended for a further end in view. The other is play, or energy expended for its own sake. In the animal world play seems to be important mainly to young animals, and to have the function there of a kind of rehearsal for more mature activities. In the human world play is more complex: it opens up a world of freedom and leisure out of which the typically human form of consciousness comes, and it produces the creative arts. In communities preoccupied with physical labour, the members of such communities are usually regarded as either manual workers or slackers, and the creative arts are often thought of as socially expendable, or even irresponsible. But just as the play of puppies indicates something of what they will be as grown dogs, so the creative arts set up models of what I have been calling primary concerns. Fiction and drama in literature, I have said, depict people making love, gaining property, wandering off on adventures, struggling to survive. Some aspects of literature, such as the comic and the romantic, lean in the direction of wish-fulfillment; the tragic and the ironic emphasize frustration and maladjustment. This latter especially means that in the verbal arts at least a creative and a critical element are inseparable. In fact Matthew Arnold even spoke of poetry as a criticism of life.
Every human society is mired in all the miseries of original sin, but we never fail to find something in its culture that is attractive, and not only attractive but communicable, speaking directly to us across the widest abysses of time or space or language. With simpler societies we find most of this sense of a kindred human spirit in what are called useful arts: pottery, textiles, basketwork and the like, which are preserved in museums for their potential contact. It used to be that the fine arts were ranked above the useful arts, which are obviously closer to the world of work, on the analogy of the old social ranking of a leisure class above a working class, but this tiresome nonsense is now abandoned. We no longer think of leisure and work as associated with different classes, but as alternating activities within all classes, so far as we still have classes. What is relevant is that the useful arts may be well designed or badly designed, and may include or exclude ornament. Design and ornament both imply some transcendence of the world of work.
The connection with work, however, makes it clear that creative and critical energies come from human society as a whole. They give the individual a far greater importance in the work of society, but they cannot be simply 'subjective' if by subjective we mean something confined to the individual psyche. Psychology has much to say about the creative process, and psychology, though it is increasingly concerned with group therapies, still takes the individual as its main base of operations. Freud was the first to link the dream within the individual, which expresses the primary concerns of the individual, with the myths that are the main verbal culture of primitive societies and go on to form the shaping narratives of literature. But literature, even in its most mythological phases, communicates, and the dreamer cannot, without special training, understand his own dreams. Jung went a step further in identifying a collective unconscious, where we find images representing rudimentary designs of the human cosmos. But the collective unconscious is by definition still unconscious. The arts, said Plato, are dreams for awakened minds: only a collective consciousness can perform their communicating tasks.
I spoke of the sense of individual integrity as the sign of a mature society, but the isolated individual, even when equipped with a conscience and a private judgement, is essentially a sleeping animal: he can pursue his primary concerns on a physical level, but his creative and critical powers cannot extend beyond dreams. Luther did not say at Worms, 'Here I stand, because my conscience and private judgement tell me to.' He said, 'Here I stand, until I can be convinced otherwise by arguments drawn from the Word of God.' His individuality was rooted in his social and religious conditioning, growing out of them as a tree grows out of its roots; but it was not a simple expression of conditioning, or we should never have heard of him again.
The creative impulse, however central to all that is best in human life, has still much in it of what a more old-fashioned way of speaking calls 'instinctive.' It certainly employs intellectual and rational powers, but often circumvents them, working by an intuitive skill or flair that avoids explicit formulation. For many creative people consciousness would only be a self-consciousness that would block and frustrate them. Let us turn to the critical faculty. The Book of Genesis tells us that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, devoting six days to work and one day to the contemplation of what he had done. It adds that as this forms part of God's activity, it is a model for man to imitate. Man's consciousness of being in nature though not wholly of it is potentially a sabbatical vision, and one which includes a more leisurely and detached vision of what he is doing and why he has done it. This kind of leisurely freedom of consciousness is part of what is expressed by the word 'liberal' as applied to education.
New categories of consciousness, such as those expressed in such words as beauty or ugliness begin to arise here. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold again, many things are not seen in their full reality until they are seen, not necessarily as beautiful, but as existing within the context of beauty. Arnold was followed by Ruskin and Morris, who insisted that the reality of Victorian civilization was bound up with the sense of how much ugliness was included in it. For us too, no one who drives through the Ontario countryside can miss the reality of beauty in the woods and crop lands and running streams, or the reality of ugliness in the outskirts of towns and cities. It follows from all we have said about the priority of social to individual consciousness that such helplessly subjective formulas as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' will not do, however flexible such judgements may be. If there is not a consensus of some kind, we are not working with very useful conceptions.
The word beauty went out of fashion for a long time because it was subject to heavy ideological pressures of the wrong kind. Whether applied to Mozart's music or Monet's painting, to a nubile young woman in a bikini, or to the trees, flowers, butterflies, and sunsets that we see in nature, it tended to be associated with a sense of what was comfortable or reassuring. Entering the young woman with the bikini in a 'beauty' contest seems to imply that only young, healthy, and, very often, white, bodies can be beautiful. We may come to understand that our sense of the reality of beauty grows in proportion as we abandon this exclusive rubbish and discover beauty in more and more varieties of experience. But something of the static and established convention clings to the word. William Morris urged us to have nothing in our homes that we do not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. The shift in the verb is significant: as we saw earlier, belief, like beauty, often seeks the goal of reassurance rather than discovery.
I think we can use our conception of primary concern to come to a more satisfactory criterion of beauty and ugliness. These concerns, food, sex, property, and mobility, obviously have to be central in all the work we do to build a human environment out of the natural one. When the work-energy relaxes to the point at which leisure, contemplation, and critical evaluation begin to supplement it, we start thinking in terms of what in the environment is genuinely human and what is, as we say, 'dehumanizing.' What we accept as beautiful or attractive or in accord with the way we want things to be has some connection, however indirect, with the satisfying of these concerns, and what we call ugly or dehumanized - air choked with pollution, land turned into waste land by speculators, infernos created by technological idiocies from Chernobyl to Exxon Valdez - with the frustration of them. For a long time the established powers in society looked at their civilization and said, 'Probably much of it is very ugly, but that doesn't matter as long as we make profits out of it, and certainly nothing is going to be done about it.' When it becomes clear that ugly is beginning to mean dangerous as well, however, the point of view may slowly change.
The greatest of all philosophers who took criticism as his base of operations, Kant, examined three aspects of the critical faculty. First was pure reason, which contemplates the objective world within the framework of its own categories, and hence sees the objective counterpart of itself, the world as it may really be eluding the categories. Second was practical reason, where a conscious being is assumed to be a concious will, and which penetrates further into the kind of reality we call existential, even into experience relating to God. Third was the aesthetic faculty dealing with the environment within the categories of beauty, a critical operation involving, for Kant, questions of the kind we have just called teleological, relating to purpose and ultimate design.
For Kant, however, the formula of beauty in the natural world at least was 'purposiveness without purpose.' The crystallizing of snowflakes is beautiful because it suggests design and intention and yet eludes these things. To suggest that the design of a snowflake has been produced by a designer, whether Nature or God, suggests also that somebody or something has worked to produce it: such a suggestion limits its beauty by cutting off the sense of a spontaneous bursting into symmetry. 'Fire delights in its form,' says Blake, and Wallace Stevens adds that we trust the world only when we have no sense of a concealed creator.
The argument of Kant's Critique of Judgement thus turns on the close connection between aesthetic and suspended teleological judgements. This is connected with the fact mentioned earlier, that scientific explanations tend to the mechanistic and avoid the teleological. Science is concerned with the parts of a whole: teleological explanations reason from the whole to the parts, and science cannot adopt this perspective unless the scientist is prepared to say that he understands the mind of God or the hidden designs of nature. What teleology we do have is surrounded by a very limited human perspective. Isaiah may imagine a state in which the lion lies down with the lamb, but we live in a state in which the lion could not exist without eating lambs, or something dietetically equivalent. If the lion had a teleology, he would say that lambs exist for the purpose of being eaten by lions; if the lamb had one, its view would be that lambs exist for the sake of being lambs, and that lions are an unwarranted and evil intrusion into their world. So naturally, when we come to the human view, we tend to assume that nature was created for man to exploit, man being the predator set in authority over all other predators.
It is clear that within the last two or three decades we have come to something of a crisis in our view of the relation both of human beings to one another and of the relation of the human to the natural environment. The questions of teleology, of the purposes and final causes of our existence, cannot be ignored much longer, even if we cannot as yet consider such questions outside the human perspective. All around us we hear demands for a society where the concerns of everybody should be recognized, where there is enough peace and freedom to enable human beings to live with full human dignity and self-respect. The Gospels suggest that the ultimate reason for wanting to live in such a world is that only in it can there be any real love. In the civilized state of humanity we love those who are close to us: for those farther away we feel the tolerance and good will which express love at a distance. In the pure state of nature we feel only possessive about those close to us, and hostile and mistrustful of those further away. The latter do all sorts of vaguely irritating things, like speaking different languages, eating different foods, and holding different beliefs.
However, the immense increase in the speed of communication today has also increased our sense of involvement with people at a distance, and even people who are totally alien to ourselves in their mental processes. It is difficult not to feel some involvement even with the fantasies of a psychotic murdering women who want to be engineers. One hopes that underlying the drive toward peace and freedom in our time is an impulse toward love growing out of a new immediacy of contact. The word love may still sound somewhat hazy and sentimental, but it does express some sort of crisis: 'We must love one another or die,' as W. H. Auden says.
Such love readily extends from the human to the natural world, and the feeling that nature should be cherished and fostered rather than simply exploited is one of the few welcome developments of the last generation or so. Here, again, love at a distance expresses itself as tolerance: if we can't exactly love sharks or piranhas we can still be curious about them, study their habits and leave them alone to fulfil their function in maintaining the balance of nature. The balance of nature, as these examples show, is amoral but not immoral: standards of morality are relevant only to the human world. What is immoral is humanity's inept interference with the balance of nature that has encouraged pathological developments like Dutch elm blight or the presence of lampreys and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.
To recapitulate, with the coming of consciousness humanity is sufficiently detached from nature to see it as an objective order. Apart from the efforts at survival, we are impressed with nature's size and strength and our own littleness and insignificance. This is the stage in which we find the numinous in nature, the stage that the Bible calls idolatry and that Blake regards as continuing in the mechanistic scientific outlook that he symbolizes by the name of Newton. In the next stage we realize that human values are to be found only in the human world, and that God, as distinct from the gods created by man out of nature, is to be sought for through human and social means. With words like beauty we begin to get some glimpse of Blake's 'threefold [vision] in soft Beulah's night.' Beulah for Blake is the earthly paradise, the state of innocence, the peaceable kingdom and married land of Isaiah 11:6 and 62:4. Beulah in Blake is much the same as the holiday world of the imagination that I identified earlier with literature and the other arts, where there is entertainment without argument. Blake describes it elsewhere as a place 'where no dispute can come.' What he meant by a fourfold vision is beyond our present scope.
There is always something of the kindergarten about garden-paradises: in Isaiah's peaceable kingdom the predatory animals converted to a new way of life are led by a child, and Adam and Eve, living in a garden planted by a benevolent parental figure, are also clearly children whose curiosity and lack of experience get them into trouble. We normally think of an earthly paradise as a world of beauty, and the word beauty, as we saw, has inherited some of these immature and overprotective associations. It was for this reason that the eighteenth century added the conception of 'sublime' to the conception of beauty. The sublime conveys the sense of the majestic and awful in the natural environment: that is, it preserves something of the alienation that we can find exhilarating rather than humiliating. With the present feeling for the importance of 'wet lands' and the like, we begin to understand what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant by his line 'Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet' and take one more step toward envisaging a human order that has come to terms with nature on something more like nature's own terms.
We see, then, human beings continually trying to struggle out of the atavisms of tyranny and anarchy, knowing that they are better than these conditions, repeatedly forced back into them by all the perversities of their own will, yet never quite losing hope or the vision of an ideal. Such an ideal has to be present and realizable, as opposed to the dream of restoring a paradise lost in the past, or in what is symbolized by the past.
From what has been said already it is clear that this realizable ideal is the spiritual kingdom revealed by Jesus in the Gospels, which is something that only Paul's soma pneumatikon can even understand, much less enter. The program of spiritual awareness laid down in that tremendous philosophical masterpiece, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, turns on two principles that are relevant here. First is Hegel's introductory principle, 'The true substance is subject.' That is, the gap between a conscious perceiving subject and a largely unconscious objective world confronts us at the beginning of experience. All progress in knowledge, in fact in consciousness itself, consists in bridging the gap and abolishing both the separated subject and the separated object.
At a certain point, for Hegel, we move from the soul-body unit, Paul's natural man, into the realm of Spirit (Geist: the first translation of Hegel's book into English mistranslated Geist as 'mind,' which confuses, among other things, the whole religious dimension of Hegel's argument). Spirit, says Hegel, enters the picture as soon as 'We' and 'I' begin to merge, when the individual speaks to a discriminating and independent unit within his society. In his 'substance is subject' principle Hegel continues a philosophical tradition going back to the Latin church fathers, brooding on the relation of person and substance in the Trinity and translating hypostasis not as substantia but as persona. The problem is to define what is at once spiritual and substantial, the spirit which is also body. The mirror, where a subject sees an object which is both itself and not itself, is a central metaphor of knowledge, and such words as 'speculation' and 'reflection' point to its importance. Hegel is in search of a self-awareness that culminates, for him, in 'absolute knowledge,' where we finally break out of the mirror, the prison of Narcissus.
A celebrated ceramic known as the Grecian urn, which some scholars believe to have been a piece of Wedgwood pottery, informs us, in the context of an ode of Keats, that
Beauty is truth, truth beauty: that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
We have seen that a knowledge of ugliness, in both human and natural worlds,is just as essential. Again, gaining knowledge of the physical environment in the natural sciences is a pursuit of truth, even though we accept the fact that there are no permanent or final truths in science or any other human discipline. But truth always has a 'whether we like it or not' element about it, and it is difficult to separate liking or repulsion from the beauty-ugliness category. Keats saw things with an intensity that only the highest genius combined with tuberculosis can give, but here he must be speaking from a different and more idealized context.
I think Keats means that truth and beauty are both fictions, both something created by humanity out of the natural environment. One is concerned with the ordering of what is there, the other with the vision of what ideally should be there. In actual experience these two things are always different, but that is because actual experience is largely unreal. The world in which the real and the ideal become the same thing is by definition real, even if we never live in it. Truth is beauty only if the spiritual is substantial.
This understood, it is clear that the pursuit of truth in science, or anywhere else, opens up an infinite number of roads to beauty. Similarly, there may be, first, a great beauty in a literary structure which is detached but not turned away from the social and natural worlds, regardless of the content, which, because it may reflect any aspect of life, could be squalid, obscene, or insane. Second, imaginative structures contain a vast amount of truth about the human condition that it is not possible to obtain in any other way.
So Matthew Arnold's definition of literature as a criticism of life is a great deal more than a paradox. Creation includes criticism as a part of itself. For Kant, as we saw, aesthetic questions were bound up with the critical faculty of judgment. Critics have been deluded into thinking that their function is to judge works of art, but their judicial role does not go in this direction at all. They do not judge the writer, except incidentally: they work with the writer in judging the human condition. The writer may let them down: there is as much falsehood in literature as there is in any area of human utterance. To give a random example, the adoption of a 'socialist realism' program in Stalinist Russia meant that every Soviet novel had to lie from beginning to end, or its author would find himself in a concentration camp in Siberia. In other societies authors may struggle to tell the truth as they see it, but they are limited beings in a limited society, and what they say will reveal both kinds of limitation. That is why we have to have a tradition of criticism that keeps studying and commenting on the literature of the past, recognizing its relation both to its own time and to the critic's time. Out of this may come, eventually, a consensus that will broaden and deepen our understanding of our imaginative heritage.
The previous chapter drew a distinction between primary and secondary concerns, in which the secondary ones were ideological and the primary ones physical, though the physical concerns needed a spiritual dimension. This immediately raised the question of the difference between secondary concerns and spiritual primary ones. I answered this tentatively by saying that secondary concerns referred to 'primitive' societies that absorbed the individual into the group, and that the spiritual primary ones existed only in 'mature' societies that existed for the sake of individuals. We can perhaps see now that what we have been calling criticism in the larger sense as a process that takes over from the critics is the key to the distinction.
We have to have this critical approach in all the arts, and in fact in every aspect of life, so that the word criticism expands until it is practically synonymous with education itself. It covers all we know on earth and most of what we can know, if not quite, perhaps, all we need to know. In religion, too, we must keep a critical attitude that never unconditionally accepts any socially established form of revelation. Otherwise, we are back to idolatry again, this time a self-idolatry rather than an idolatry of nature, where devotion to God is replaced by the deifying of our own present understanding of God. Paul tells us that we are God's temples: if so, we should be able to see the folly of what was proposed by the Emperor Caligula for the Jerusalem temple, of putting a statue of ourselves in its holy place.
Criticism in the human world, however, is inseparably bound up with creation. We also think of God as above everything else a creator, as the opening sentence of the Bible tells us he is. I said earlier that we have abandoned the snobbish social analogy in the distinction between fine and useful (or 'minor') arts, but another distinction of some importance is involved here,in a different context. We normally say that people 'make' baskets and pots and textiles, but 'create' symphonies and dramas and frescoes. Traditionally, however, we ignore this distinction when we speak of God as having 'made' the world. To call God a maker implies that divine creation is a metaphor projected from something that man does, although the Hebrew word for 'created' (bara) is never used in a human context. There is something denigrating to God in regarding him as a maker, as preoccupied with ingenious designs, to be complimented, as he was by natural theologians in the eighteenth century, in his cleverness in dividing up the orange into sections for convenience in (human, of course) eating. It was this consideration that led Kant to his 'purposiveness without purpose' formula for beauty. God did not make a humanly useful world; his creation relates to a world, or rather to a condition of being, that exists for its own sake, and for his. For a designing craftsman-God, a super-Hephaestus, there would have been no point in a sabbatical vision to become the model for an expanding human consciousness: only a creating God would provide a Sabbath, and with it the escape for man from natural into spiritual vision.
In the first chapter I tried to distinguish spiritual language, founded on the principle that literal meaning in religion is metaphorical and mythical meaning, from natural language, which is founded on the principle that the literal is the descriptive. In the second I tried to distinguish spiritual and natural visions of the spatial world. The natural vision of space is founded on the subject-object split, and whatever is objectified in ordinary experience is 'there,' even if it is in the middle of our own backbones. At the centre of space is 'here,' but 'here' is never a point, it is always a circumference. We draw a circle around ourselves and say that 'here' is inside it. What is, in the common phrase, neither here nor there does not exist, at least in space.
As natural perception develops, the 'here' circle keeps enlarging: the very word nature, the sense of the objective as an order, shows how far we have gone in overcoming the subject-object split. In proportion as spiritual perception begins to enter the scene, we are released from the bondage of being 'subjected' to a looming and threatening objective world, whether natural or social. In the spiritual world everywhere is here, and both a centre and a circumference. The first book of philosophy that I read purely on my own and purely for pleasure was Whitehead's Science and the Modern World, and I can still remember the exhilaration I felt when I came to the passage: 'In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.' This was my initiation into what Christianity means by spiritual vision.
We saw that we have two stages to pass through, the natural and the social, before the spiritual vision of space is fully emancipated. I now want to distinguish the spiritual vision of time from the natural one, and here again we have a distinction between time in the physical world and time in the social or human world. the latter being what we call history. Philosophers have been extremely profound about time: I do not have enough philosophy to be profound, so I shall have to settle for simplicity, which in a technical subject always means being simplistic.
In our ordinary experience of time we have to grapple with three dimensions, all of them unreal: a past that is no longer, a future that is not yet, and a present that is never quite. We are dragged backwards along a continuum of experience, facing the past with the future behind us. The centre of time is 'now,' just as the centre of space is 'here,' but 'now,' like 'here,' is never a point. The first thing that the present moment does is vanish and reappear in the immediate past, where it connects with our expectation of its outcome in the future. Every present experience is therefore split between our knowledge of having had it and our future-directed fears or hopes about it. The word 'now' refers to the spread of time in between.
We know nothing of the future except by analogy with the past, and analogy tells us that we are mortal. It even seems probable that the basis for consciousness, Paul's soma psychikon, is the awareness that the uneasy pact between soul and body will dissolve sooner or later, whether the soul is confident that it will survive the separation or not. Meanwhile there is, coming from the bodily side, a will to survive of which the motor force is usually called desire. The continuum of desire consists largely of avoiding the consciousness of death, and acting on the assumption that we are not going to die at once. This means that our life in time is a conflict of desire and consciousness producing a state of more or less subdued anxiety, and all the higher religions begin by trying to do something about that anxiety. Buddhism tells us to extinguish desire and cut off the anxiety rooted in the past; the Gospels tell us to take no thought for the morrow and cut off the anxiety rooted in the future.
We may talk about a beginning and an end to time, but we cannot realize such things in our imaginations. Whether we speak of a creation by God which began time (that is, our experience of time) or of a big bang many billions of years ago, the human mind cannot help thinking that there must have been time 'before' that. St. Augustine was bothered by this question, which he raises several times, notably in a famous passage in the Confessions, where in effect he answers the question, 'What was God doing before creation?' by saying, 'Preparing a hell for those who ask such a question.' If we were to guess at the repressed elements in the saint's mind when he wrote this, they might well have run something like this: If you ask God what happened before time, you embarrass God, who probably doesn't know either, and as God hates to be embarrassed, you are risking a good deal by asking.
Life in time represents the revolt of the finite against the indefinite. Time never begins or ends; life always does. Our experience of the present moment, or now, where 'now' is the spread of time between a second or two of past and future, repeats in miniature the whole sequence of our lives. Life in its turn is founded on the alternating movements in time, the cyclical patterns that give us light and darkness, summer and winter, and any number of other cyclical rhythms not yet wholly understood. The relation of life and time to language follows similar patterns. For animals, what corresponds to speech seems to have its roots in the rituals that are punctuation marks in the flow of time, and crucial points in its cycles. Thus we have mating rituals, territorial rituals, rituals of hostility to an invader, or of solidarity within a group, usually connected with communication by sound, as in the songs of birds. The same associations of speech with erotic or hostile or socially binding rituals reappear in human life. But in human rituals we have a more complex factor.
In some societies rituals may be observed on a more or less unconscious basis. If asked why such rituals, which may be very elaborate and apparently significant, are performed, such a society may have little to say to a visiting anthropologist except 'we have always done this.' But it is more usual to have some explanation of ritual at hand and to recite it as an essential part of the ritual itself. Such an explanation regularly takes the form of a myth, or story (mythos), recounting some event in the past of which the ritual is a commemoration or repetition, in the same way that Christmas commemorates and repeats the birth of Christ, even though we do not know the day when Christ was born. A myth in its turn is part of a mythology, or interconnected group of myths, many of them growing out of the rituals of a society's liturgical year. And, of course, the myth springs out of life, not time: it performs the same revolutionary and arbitrary act of beginning and ending.
In the Athens of the fifth century BC, a momentous step in human consciousness occurred when the rituals associated with Dionysus developed into drama, and the great evolution of what we now call literature out of mythology took a decisive turn. The specific literary genre produced on that occasion was tragedy, and tragedy, as analyzed by Aristotle, exhibits the same shape, a parabola in which 'now' is spread between a past and a future that we have been looking at, though of course on a larger scale. Oedipus, for example, is a humane and conscientious king of Thebes, whose kingdom is ravaged by a drought. The gods are angry, and it is his responsibility to find out why. He consults and oracle, the prophet Tiresias, and is told that he himself killed his father long ago and is now living in incest with his mother. Oedipus had no knowledge of this, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. So he tears out his eyes in a revulsion of horror. The knowledge that Oedipus gets from Tiresias about his own earlier life constitutes for him the moment of what Aristotle calls anagnorisis, which may be translated as either 'discovery' or 'recognition,' depending on whether one remembers it or not. As a structural principle in tragedy, anagnorisis is a point of awareness near the end that links with the beginning, and shows us that what we have been following up to that point is not a simple continuum but something in the shape of a parabola, a story that begins, rises, turns, moves downward, and ends in catastrophe. This last word preserves the downward-turning metaphor.
This parabola shape occurs at every instant of our lives. Every experience is a recognition of having had it an instant earlier. It follows that the past is the sole source of knowledge, even though it extends up to the previous moment. The same parabola shape encompasses our entire lives. As we grow older, we find our childhood experiences becoming increasingly vivid, and the speech of old men is full of reminiscences of early life. One reason why such reminiscence is apt to be tedious is that these memories are mainly screen memories, memories not of what happened but of what they have reconstructed in their minds since. However, if they recalled what actually happened it might well be even more tedious.
The great achievement of Oedipus' life came when he encountered the sphinx and was asked the riddle, What animal crawls on four legs, then walks on two, then staggers about on three? The answer, of course, is man, who in the tragic perspective is thrown blindly into the world, rises from the ground to an erect posture, then sinks slowly back toward the ground again. Some years ago an anthropologist visiting one of the South Sea islands (Malekula) found an interesting myth there. When a man dies, he meets a ferocious monster who draws half of an elaborate pattern in the sand: if the departed spirit has not been taught the other half of the pattern, and cannot complete it, the monster devours him. Similarly, what the sphinx gave Oedipus was only half of the tragic riddle of man: it was Tiresias who enabled Oedipus to complete it. Completing the pattern did not save him; it destroyed him, but Oedipus was living in this world, where completed patterns are normally tragic. Since Freud's work a century ago, we have come to understand that everyone's life repeats the Oedipal situation, and, more generally, that our character and behaviour are based on patterns formed before we can remember forming them.
Aristotle explains that a tragic action is usually set off by an overweening or aggressive act on the part of the hero, which disturbs the balance of nature, angers the gods, or provokes retaliation from other men. The aggressive act is called hubris, and the restoring of order after such an aggression, which takes the form of a tragic catastrophe, is called nemesis. But long before Aristotle, the philosopher Anaximander had suggested that merely getting born is an aggressive act, a rebellion of life against time, and that death is the nemesis or restored balance that inevitably follows. Tragedy is thus a special application to life as a whole, though more striking, because the tragic hero is usually larger than life size, and his death proportionately more remarkable. Time itself seems to have no purpose except to continue indefinitely, and we are often told that it will eventually pull all life down into a heat-death in which no form of life will be able to come to birth at all. This law of entropy applies only to closed systems, and there is no certainty that the entire universe is a closed system or even that there is a universe, but the law sounds so pointlessly lugubrious that it instantly carries conviction to many people.
In the metaphorical diagrams that we always use in discussing such subjects, time inevitably has the shape of a horizontal line, the 'ever-rolling stream' that carries us along with its current. Life with its beginning and ending forms a series of parabolas, of rises and falls, along this line, following the cyclical rhythm that nature also exhibits. So far as our experience goes, the manifestations of life are always new: the eggs and rabbits of this Easter are not those of last Easter. For religions that accept the myth of reincarnation the same life may appear over and over: this doctrine does not seem to be functional in the biblical religions, though the Bible has parallel conceptions based on metaphorical identities. In Revelation 11:8, for example, Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion are all 'spiritually' (metaphorically) the same place.
In any case, if time is metaphorically a horizontal line or something that moves that way, is there a vertical dimension to life that a conscious mind can grasp? Most religions, certainly the biblical ones, revolve around a God who is metaphorically 'up there,' associated with the sky or upper air. In Christianity, Christ comes down from an upper region (descendit de coelis, as the creed says) to the surface of this earth, then disappears below it, returns to the surface in the Resurrection, then, with the Ascension, goes back into the sky again. Thus the total Christian vision of God and his relation to human life takes the metaphorical shape of a gigantic cross.
Let us turn now from the natural context of life in time to the social and human context we call history. here we have, first of all, the unceasing flow of time to which society adapts in the form of what Edmund Burke calls the continuum of the dead, the living, and the unborn. It is this social continuum out of which we grow, and it is clear that an impulse toward social coherence and stability is as deeply rooted in the human consciousness as anything can be. I cannot think of any society in history that has disintegrated simply through lack of will to survive. Consequently I do not believe what I so often hear from the news media today, that Canada is about to blunder and bungle its way out of history into oblivion, leaving only a faint echo of ridicule behind it.
Burke felt that this continuum of society was the true basis of what is called the social contract, and that to discover what a society's contract is we should look at its present structure. Much earlier, Thomas Hobbes had come up with the myth of an original contract in the past, one which began history as we know it. According to this, human individuals, finding life unbearable in isolation, got together to surrender authority to a leader. Of course Hobbes's individuals could never have existed except as members of previous societies, but his version of the contract has its own mythical integrity. In a state of nature man faces what is still largely unknown, and whenever man is faced with the unknown he starts projecting his fears and anxieties into it. He projects, in this case, a whole cosmos of mysterious external authority, beginning with the gods and including the laws that are usually thought of as coming to a society from an external or objective will lost in the mists of time. The next step is to see a concrete manifestation of this external authority in his own society. At the beginning of recorded history societies are dominated by rulers with gods supporting them, a fusion of spiritual and temporal authority most complete in Egypt, where the Pharaoh was an incarnation of God. The West Semitic peoples preferred to think of earthly rulers as adopted (or 'begotten,' as in Psalm 2) sons of God, but both forms of authority were present and each reinforced the other.
The vertical dimension of a God above man was thus, from the beginning, bound up with the conception of authority and a hierarchical society. In Christian metaphor God has always been a king, a sovereign, a ruler, a lord; and earthly rulers, whether spiritual or temporal were only too ready to claim that they were the representatives of God on earth. In the course of time other conceptions proliferated: of a chain of being stretching from God at the top to chaos at the bottom, of a universe stretching from the presence of God beyond the stars to the centre of the earth, and various others. In the later eighteenth century, with the American, French, and Industrial revolutions, the assumption of the divine right of rulers and of an ascendant class to be perpetually on top of society began to be questioned. But questioning the visible aspect of external authority soon led to questioning its invisible aspect as well.
In the later nineteenth century, with the rise of Marxism and Nietzsche's proclamation of the death of God, the vertical dimension of the cosmos disappeared for many people, and only the horizontal, or historical, dimension remained. The metaphor of William james contrasting tough-minded and tender-minded people is very central to most of us: we all want to be tough-minded, capable of grappling with things as they are and not taking refuge in consoling but outworn formulas. And for many the religious dimension of existence was by definition a tender-minded attitude. But although it was common, and still is, to hear people say, 'I believe only in history,' it is not easy to see what there is in history by itself to believe in. The record of humanity from the beginning is so psychotic that it is difficult not to feel, with Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, that history is rather a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.
Marxists, for example, though always vigilant to pounce on anyone who suggests the reality of a vertical dimension of being as totally lacking in 'historicity,' are really looking for the redemption of man within history, the 'historical process' of Marxism being assumed to lead to the end of history as we have known it. Michel Foucault, in his book The Order of Things, studies the shift from 'classifying' systems of thought which arranged things along hierarchical and vertical patterns of authority, and which dominated culture down to the eighteenth century, to the 'causal' or historical systems that succeeded them in the nineteenth. He remarks, 'The great dream of an end to History is the utopia of causal systems of thought, just as the dream of the world's beginnings was the utopia of classifying systems of thought.' But the Marxist historical process appears to have betrayed the millions of people who have tried to live by it, and perhaps it is time to re-examine our visions of history and time.
Let us go back to our first principle. Just as when we pull a plant up by the roots the surrounding soil will cling to it, so when we examine our experience of the present moment we find it surrounded by the immediate past and future. The Bible sees the relation of God to time as an infinite extension of the same principle. The metaphors of creation and apocalypse, at the beginning and end of the Bible, mean that in the presence of God the past is still here and the future already here. The coming of Christ from a human perspective is split between a first coming in the past and a second coming in the future. The existence of the New Testament, by making this historical-prophetic event a verbal event, transfers not only the pastness of the first coming into our own present, but the futureness (there has to be such a word) of the second one. The vision of the future as already here is not a fatalistic vision: it means simply that we do not have to wait or die to experience it. We speak of the eternal presence of God as timeless, but once again the language fails us: we need some such word as 'timeful' to express what the King James Bible calls the fullness of time.
The movement of the biblical narrative from creation to apocalypse, though it takes place entirely within the present, is not a closed cyclical movement: it moves from a creation to a new creation. The new one is also the old one restored: it is new only to mankind, and represents not only a new but an enlarged human experience. Similarly in the Book of Job, God intervenes in the dialogue to describe to Job the past creation that Job never saw. But, once brought into Job's present experience, it becomes a new creation in which Job is no longer a mere spectator but a participant. The restoration of Job takes place in the immediate future, but it is already incorporated in the vision. Yet the future promise is an essential part of the vision, because, as Eliot says, only through time is time conquered.
Again, Ezekiel's vision of dry bones (37) was probably, in its original context, a vision of the restoration of Israel from captivity, a future event to Ezekiel. Christianity regards it as a prophecy of the resurrection begun by the resurrection of Christ, again a future event. But there is another dimension even to the Christian view, the dimension that the Book of Revelation (14:6) calls the everlasting gospel. For Paul, the Messiah was the concealed hero of the Old Testament as well as the revealed hero of the New. The prophecy includes the future but is not fixated on the future. What Ezekiel was really seeing, then, was actual resurrection, a vertical movement from a dying present into the living presence of the spiritual body. And although Jesus often speaks of his spiritual kingdom in metaphors of the future, he makes it quite clear, in the parable of the talents and elsewhere, that it is not a good idea to throw away our lives on the assumption that an 'after' life will be a better or easier one.
History is the social memory of human experience, and in writing about it we look for beginnings and ends, even though these beginnings and ends are at least partly a technical verbal device. We also impose narrative patterns, like Gibbon's 'decline and fall' for the Roman Empire or Motley's 'rise' for the Dutch Republic, to give shape to our understanding. There is thus a combination of continuity and repetition in history-writing, and the repeated or sequential themes are a mixture of fact and organizing fiction, or myth. From Vergil to Nietzsche there have been occasional visions of history as totally cyclical, an unending movement of time in which the same events recur indefinitely. There seems to be better evidence, however, that time is irreversible, and general cyclical views of history are not convincing. That there are cyclical elements in history, that is, recurring patterns that exist in events themselves and are not simply fictions in the mind of the historian, seems inescapable.
A very frequent primitive view of history is that it consists of a series of re-enactments in time of certain archetypal myths that happened before human life as we know it began. In some societies this dominance of repetition over history is so powerful that in a sense nothing ever happens. In the Egyptian Old Kingdom a Pharaoh may set up a stele recording his defeat of his enemies, with the enemies, even their leaders, carefully named. It seems like a genuine historical record - until scholars discover that it has been copied verbatim from another monument two centuries older. What is important is not that the Pharaoh won, but that he continues to say that he won, in a ritual pseudo-history where no defeat ever can occur. This obliterating of history is much the same as the incessant rewriting of history in totalitarian states, which turns history into a continuous record of the infallibility of the ruling party.
Sometimes this sense of repetition develops a movement to create a new kind of history by reincarnating a myth out of the past. The patron saint of all such efforts is Don Quixote, who tried to force the society around him to conform to a lost age of chivalry. We note in passing that no previous age thus invoked ever existed: quixotic versions of history are secular parodies of the Christian view of the Fall, and, as Proust says, the only paradises are those we have lost. The Nazi movement in Germany purported to be a re-creation of a mythical heroic Germany, though it soon became clear that what the Nazis were interested in re-creating were infantile sadistic fantasies. The reason is obvious: infantile fantasy is all that really presents itself to the quixotic mind. Even the garden of Eden, as we saw, was really a place of immortal childhood.
Karl Marx had something similar in view when he spoke of events occurring first as tragedy and secondly as farce. He was thinking, among other things, of the French Second Empire, where Napoleon III became emperor simply because his name was Napoleon. It is true that the end of the Third Reich was not worthy of the name of tragedy, and was more accurately a hideous farce, though a farce that only the devil would find amusing. Other attempts to live in a myth abstracted from history, such as the nineteenth-century Utopian communities in America and the Quebec separatism inspired by the motto je me souviens, are closer to the skewed pathos of Quixote himself.
There is a corresponding fixation on the future. In Christianity this usually takes the form of a fearful expectation of a second coming or simply a postponing of spiritual life, of the 'some day we'll understand' type, the assumption that death automatically brings enlightenment. Secular parodies of this take the form of beliefs in revolution or progress, and in their demonic form employ the tactic of sacrificing the present to the future. Such visions can be quite as horrible in their results as in their fascist counterparts. It seemed logical in Stalin's Russia that if hundreds of thousands of kulaks were murdered or sent to concentration camps far away, Russia might have a more efficient system of collectivized agriculture within the next century. But such means adopted for theoretically reasonable ends never serve such ends: they merely replace them, and the original ends disappear. All that the murdering and persecuting of kulaks accomplished, in short, was the murdering and persecuting of kulaks. The operation was not simply evil, it was unutterably futile, for in far less than a century the Soviet Union realized that it needed kulaks again. There is no reason to feel complacent about Stalin's Russia, however: many Canadians defend the destruction of their country by such phrases as 'you can't stop progress,' unaware that 'progress' in such contexts is an idol on the same level as the legendary Hindu Juggernaut or the Old Testament Moloch.
Hitler and Stalin between them are sufficient commentary on an attitude to time and history that becomes obsessed by its relation either to the past or to the future. We saw also that there is an element of repetition in time, in life, and in history. Let us look at this element of repetition in human experience. There are two kinds of repetition: one is inorganic, a matter of merely doing the same thing over and over; the other is habit or practice repetition that leads to the acquiring of a skill, like practising a sport or a musical instrument. Inorganic repetition is precisely what the word superstition means: binding oneself to a continuing process that is mere compulsiveness, often accompanied by a vague fear that something terrible will happen if we stop. The acquiring of skill transforms mere repetition into something that develops and progresses. If we ask what it develops into or progresses toward, we may provisionally say something like an enlargement of freedom: we practice the piano to set ourselves free to play it. In any case, this kind of directed repetition is constantly turning into larger and more complex forms of itself: it seems even to be reduplicating the process of life, where embyro turns into infant and infant into adult.
Acquiring a skill in human life is possible, so far as we can see, only for the individual. But the social basis of individual life may provide, in its institutions, a continuity, a sense of stable and relatively predictable movement in time, on which the individual can build his directed repetition. The Church, with its sacramental system and its constant proclaiming of its gospel, exhibits a continuity of this type: so does law, with its dialectic of precedents, and so does education, so far as education presents the repeating elements of knowledge from the alphabet and multiplication table onward. It may seem strange to speak of living a religious life in terms of acquiring a skill by practice, but there is a parallel: the New Testament writers constantly use such phrases as 'without ceasing' when exhorting us to continue the practice of prayer or charity.
When the Preacher said that there was nothing new under the sun, he was speaking of knowledge, which exists only in the past, and where nothing is unique. The passing of experience into knowledge is closely related to the tragic vision of life. It is part of a reality in which at every instant the still possible turns into the fixed and unalterable past. We feel partly released from this tragic vision when we are acquiring skills, getting an education, or advancing in a religious life: there we are exploiting our memory of the past to give direction along the present. Consequently the Preacher also said, 'To every thing there is a season.' Here he was speaking of experience, where everything is unique and everything is diversified. What he means by wisdom is a double movement: it starts with present experience disappearing into past knowledge, but then reverses itself and becomes past knowledge permeating and irradiating present experience. What sounds at first like pessimistic melancholy turns into something very different as he goes on and begins to say things like 'Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart.' Wisdom for him is a force moving against the normal flow of time, going from the 'vanity' or emptiness of the past into the fullness of the present, and the process is a constant liberation of energy.
Thus the tragic aspect of time in which every moment brings us toward death, and in which we know only what has been, and neve what is or is going to be, is counteracted by the directed and progressive attack on time that underlies all genuine achievement in everything that matters, in religion, in education, in culture most obviously. This building up of habit through incessant practice creates a new vertical dimension in experience, though it grows from the bottom upward and through the individual, however much the individual may depend on a social consensus in church or university. This vertical dimension is once again a hierarchy and a structure of authority, but these words no longer relate to temporal authority or to the supporting social structure. No human being or human institution is fit to be trusted with any temporal authority that is not subject to cancellation by some other authority. Spiritual authority, which is alone real, inheres in such things as the classic in literature, the repeatable experiment in science, or the example of the dedicated spiritual life; it is an authority that expands and does not limit the dignity of those who accept it. All personal authority in the spiritual world is self-liquidating: it is the authority of the teachers who want their students to become their scholarly equals, of the preachers who, like Moses (Numbers 11:29), wish that all God's people were prophets.
The hierarchy I spoke of begins with the bottom layer of the human psyche, or what is called the unconscious, a chaos of energy quieted and ordered by the repetition of practice. A pianist may come through practice to play thousands of notes in a few moments without consciously attending to each one. But there is of course a consciousness attending all the same, the faculty I have linked to criticism, which does not stop simply with self-criticism, but goes on to a conscious awareness of the historical context of what one is doing. The functionaries of churches and schools and courts, when they become entrenched bureaucracies, may at any time retreat into superstition, simply handing on what has been handed to them. Criticism is one of the forces that can strike a new energy out of a dormant one: it approaches the past in a way that relates it to contemporary life and concerns. Works or literature, music and the other arts do not, apparently, improve or progess with time, but the understanding of their meaning, their importance, and their function in history can and to some extend does improve. In Christianity, while we do not think of revelation itself as progressing, the human response to it clearly can progress. In the sciences criticism is even more deeply rooted. In science every new discovery attaches itself to the total body of what is already known, so that with every major advance the whole of knowledge is created anew.
When one is a beginner, this attempt at reversing the flow of time by progressive achievement is attracted toward a future goal, the goal of mastery of the skill. But at a certain point the future is already here, the sense of endless plugging and slugging is less oppressive, and the goal is now an enlarged sense of the present moment. One has glimpses of the immense foreshortening of time that can take place in the world of the spirit; we may speak of 'inspiration,' a word that can harly mean anything except the coming or breaking through of the spirit from a world beyond time. One may, as I have done myself, spend the better part of seventy-eight years writing out the implications of insights that have taken up considerably less than an hour of all those years. Here the shadow that falls between the present moment and the knowledge that one has lived through the present moment has disappeared, and experience and the awareness of experience have become, for an instant at least, the same thing. When this happens in a Christian context, we may say that the human spirit has found its identity with the spirit of God, and ought to know now, even from the split second of insight it has had, what is meant by resurrection and deliverance from death and hell.
For about two decades in this century a vogue for Oriental techniques of meditation, Indian yoga, Chinese Tao, Japanese Zen, swept over North America. The genuine teachers of these techniques stressed the arduous practice that was essential to them, and pointed out the futility of trying to avoid the work involved by taking lysergic acid and the like. The goal was enlightenment, the uniting of experience and consciousness just mentioned. There was some gullibility and groupie mentality in these cults, especially among those who were ready to believe anything that was Oriental and nothing that was Western. For them such words as samadhi and satori, as they had not read the New Testament, did not connect with such conceptions as 'born of the spirit,' 'fullness of time,' or the sudden critical widening of the present moment expressed by the word kairos. But some analogies may have come through by osmosis.
For example, the Oriental scriptures tell us that very advanced stages of enlightenment bring miraculous powers of various kinds, including healing, but that these powers should never be regarded as more than incidental by-products, and may even distract one from the real goal of liberation. If so, the miraculous element in the Gospels, which describe a life lived on a plane of intensity that none of us have much conception of, should cause no surprise, and there are clear indications that the gospel writers were more impressed by Jesus' miracles than Jesus himself was. Jesus performs his miracles with reluctance, almost with irritation; he imposes secrecy on those he cures; he tells his disciples that they can do as well as that themselves. But the Oriental analogues may begin to give us some faint notion of what Heilsgeschichte or sacred history really talks about.
I mention these cults because the seem to me to be an aspect, even if a minor one, of a general weariness with history, with being bullied and badgered by all the pan-historical fantasies of the nineteenth century, of Hegel and Marx and Newman and Comte, who keep insisting that by history alone can we be saved, or rather by putting some kind of construct on history that will give it a specious direction or meaning. Even the arts may sometimes give an impression of wearing out their historical possibilities. The most profoundly original artist still forms part of a larger process of cultural aging: the music of Beethoven could only have come later than Haydn and Mozart and earlier than Wagner and Berlioz. And while we are not likely to tire of Beethoven, the cutural tradition he belongs to may reach a point of exhaustion where it becomes oppressive to carry it on without a major change.
I sometimes feel that we may be in such a period of doldrums now, with so many artists in all fields circling around over-explored conventions of literary irony or pictorial abstraction or architectural conventions that have produced the loveless and unloved erections contemplated by Prince Charles. However grateful we may be for the many writers and painters and builders we have who are so much better than that, I sense a longing for some kind of immense creative renovation, which, I should imagine, would have to be the product of a large-scale social movement. Earlier in the century a proposal for such an awakening would automatically have been responded to with the word 'revolution,' a donkey's carrot still held before the student rebels of the sixties. Revolutions, however, are culturally sterile: they weaken the traditions of the past but put nothing in their place except second-rate versions of the same thing. I think the real longing is not for a mass movement sweeping up individual concerns, but for an individualized movement reaching out to social concerns. Primary concerns, that is: food, shelter, the greening of the earth, and their spiritual aspects of freedom and equal rights.
The provision in the Mosaic code for a jubilee year showed a profound insight into the psychology of human beings living in time. I said earlier that cyclical visions of history lack convincingness, but that cyclical elements in history clearly do exist. One of these is the one so heavily featured in the Bible, the cycle of bondage and release, the cyclical oppression and restoration of Israel. We celebrate the resurrection every Easter, but Easter by itself does not suggest ressurection; it suggests only the renewing of the cycle of time, the euphoria with which we greet the end of winter and the coming of spring. There is a similar euphoria in society when a tyranny comes crashing down and proclamations of freedom and equality are voiced on all sides. We heard this euphoria a few years ago in Haiti and in the Philippines; we are hearing it now in Eastern Europe. But we cannot trust it permanence; far less can we trust the effect produced by it on us. There are people trying to get rid of an unworkable economy with its unworking bureaucracy and there are neo-Nazi skinheads; there are crowds demonstrating for freedom and crowds demonstrating against minorities; there are revivals of free discussion and revivals of anti-Semitism. One hopes for a society that can remember on Tuesday what it thought it wanted so desperately on Monday, but on the human plane even the pressure of primary concerns, food and shelter and freedom to move and talk, cannot always be relied on to preserve such a memory. As Coleridge said, 'I could weep for the criminal patience of humanity!' Perhaps the most effective help may come from the mammon of unrighteousness: from greed and self-interest and xenophobia and the conflicts they bring with them, when harnessed against their will to better causes.
I have not spoken of the providence of God, because it seems to me that the providence of God operates only in its own sphere, not in the sphere of human folly and frivolousness. I think immense changes could be brought about by a Christianity that was no longer a ghost with the chains of a foul historical record of cruelty clanking behind it, that was no longer crippled by notions of heresy, infallibility, or exclusiveness of a kind that should be totally renounced and not rationalized to the slightest degree. Such a Christianity might represent the age of the Spirit that the thirteenth-century Franciscan Joachim of Floris saw as superceding the Old Testament age of the Father and the New Testament age of the Logos. Such a Christianity would be neither an inglorious rearguard action nor a revolutionary movement creating suffering and death instead of life more abundantly. It would be a Christianity of a Father who is not a metaphor of male supremacy but the intelligible source of our being; of a Son who is not a teacher of platitudes but a Word who has overcome the world; and of a Spirit who speaks with all the tongues of men and angels and still speaks with charity. The Spirit of creation who brought life out of chaos brought death out of it too, for death is all that makes sense of life in time. The Spirit that broods on the chaos of our psyches brings to birth a body that is in time and history but not enclosed by them, and is in death only because it is in the midst of life as well.