Iniquity and Hubris

You probably all know the saying from the New Testament that runs: “the wages of sin is death”, and you may wonder what that really means, since it seems so contrary to the evidence of your experience. Likewise “those who live by the sword, perish by the sword” may seem untrue by the evidence of your own eyes, since the rewards of imperialism, violence, and warfare often seem great compared to the actual or potential punishments. I even once heard a song by the songwriter Randy Newman that expressed his dismay and disappointment at seeing how the unjust and criminal often seem to thrive by their activities, while the innocent seem to suffer the consequences.

However, the “wages of sin is death” is the karmic law by another name — the law of action and reaction. The problem is not that the law is in error. It is more the case that we completely misunderstand the meaning of “sin”, which has become very distorted. Ironically, belief in “sin” in the purely religious sense is itself sinful.

I once read a book by a scholar of the classics in which he stated, very naively, that he admired the pagans (the Greeks) because they had only one sin — hubris — compared to the seemingly endless number of sins possible to Christians. I had to laugh out loud at such foolishness and naivete, because the exact contrary was true. It is really a perfect example of being unable to see the forest for the trees. Hubris (or hybris, which is my usual preferred spelling) and “sin” have exactly the same meaning — “transgression” or exceeding a limit. As the many stories and myths of the Greeks testify, they were extremely afraid of hubris. “Nothing too much” or “Nothing to excess” or “moderation in all things” — the so-called rule of the Golden Mean — was inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Greeks feared hubris or excess because of retribution of Nemesis and the vengeance of the Furies or Erinyes. Another name for Nemesis was “Adrasteia” — the “inescapable”, the inevitable, the inexorable.

“The wages of sin is death” and Nemesis as the consequence of hybris have exactly the same meaning. A lot of Greek philosophy is simply the attempt to understand what and where “limit” was, because the Greeks lived in mortal fear of exceeding limits. “Know thyself” was the corollary to “nothing in excess”. And where Nemesis judged the hybristic, this role was assumed by Jehovah amongst the monotheists. “Judgement is mine, saith the Lord”, and this role became the “Invisible Hand” of the so-called “free market” which distributes rewards or punishments indifferently and supposedly “rationally” and “justly” according to merit (or demerit), and is something of a continuing superstition.

They are all just so many interpretations of the karmic law of action and reaction, and of the process of enantiodromia or reversal of fortune at the extremity.

The Church doctrine of the mysterium iniquitatis (“the mystery of evil”) expresses something of the confusion, puzzlement and perplexity about the nature of sin and limit and transgression of limit also. The very word “iniquity”, however, which corresponds to the meaning of hybris, already provides a clue to the interpretation of “evil”. It means “inequitable” or “unequal”. Wickedness is injustice, and injustice is the inequitable. So, the “arrogance of power” and “pride goeth before a fall” are also connected in meaning to hybris and iniquity and the fruits of the karmic law in action and reaction.

“Sin”, “hybris,” and “iniquity” have become so muddled in people’s minds that they have either abandoned it as meaningless or, misunderstanding it, have become paralysed by belief in it. For much of Western history, in fact, fear of “sin” and transgression and the judgement or “fear of God” have served only to repress, suppress and inhibit the fuller development of human consciousness. That was Blake’s complaint against both religion and politics, which he represented altogether in the form of his mad and savage Zoa “Urizen” (Jehovah) and his “Ancient of Days”.

Blake knew full well what “sin” and iniquity were long before Nietzsche attacked “moralism” and our distorted, if not perverted, notions of “good and evil”, and they weren’t what the law and morality, or State and Church, made of them. it is the disintegrate and dissolute condition of the human form that makes for the “iniquitous” situation. Here, once again, I ask you to compare Blake’s “fourfold vision” and his “four Zoas” to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, and these also to the present dissolute state of politics at our “end of history” as discussed in the last few posts

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

And I will suggest, once more, that you compare these patterns to the Sacred Hoop, the Christian Cross, and the Buddhist Vantra, and Carl Jung’s “four psychological functions” for comparison

Sacred Hoop Symbol

Sacred Hoop Symbol

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

The Four Evangelists in The Book of Kells

Buddhist "Vantra" -- Mandala of the Integral

Buddhist “Vantra” — Mandala of the Integral

Jung's four psychological functionsThis is the fourfold vision. This is the shape of the human form or human mold or archetype (call it what you will). So given these, and with the aid of Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”, we are now in a position to know what “iniquity”, “sin” and hybris actually are. It is the unequal development of the human form in which we mislocate the vital centre to only one arm of the cross of reality — the margin and periphery — and call that “the centre” and alone true and valid, while the other functions and aspects of the human form are repressed, oppressed or suppressed as “invalid”. “Evil” or iniquity, is the loss of the sacred balance. The “whole” is the Holy.

So, we can interpret the meaning of “the wages of sin is death” and of Nemesis as the “inescapable” consequence of hubris by understanding the cross of reality. It is the uneven or inequitable expansion (or contraction) of the cross of reality, the loss of the “Sacred Balance”. That is what we also refer to as “bias” or “prejudice” (or, for that matter, bigotry or fanaticism). The mutual struggle of Blake’s Zoas against one another for supremacy and dominance (having forgotten their primal unity) is reflected daily in our contemporary incoherent politics, as noted in the last few posts. Political orientations are also “emanations” of the four Zoas, and the struggles and conflicts of the Zoas are mirrored in those of politics.

The Quadrilateral of Politics

The Quadrilateral of Politics

These, too, are all valid aspects of the fourfold human, variously interpreted as “mind, body, soul, and spirit”. As such, our politics today are in disarray and confusion because our consciousness functions are in disarray and confusion.

This recurrent fourfold pattern is common to virtually all cultures, and therefore more than anything else qualifies as being a true “universal”. This is also true of Islam as well (but perhaps only consciously so in that marvelous mystical branch of Islam, Sufism, and I’ll talk more about that later). Because of this universal, a universal history of the human experience and a common consciousness of that history is possible, in fact it is urgent if we are going to avoid Nemesis. In fact, a universal history of the complete human experience of the Earth would be the greatest accomplishment and achievement of “integral consciousness” itself, for it would in effect be a reconciliation of Blake’s warring “four Zoas” also, realised as “Albion” — the integral human also called “the Last Adam”.

For it should also be apparent that Rosenstock Huessy’s “cross of reality” provides the model of logic that Gebser hoped for to account for his “civilisations as structures of consciousness”. Gebser was acutely aware that his powerful intuitions needed a robust logic to account for them, and he looked forward to a champion who would eventually provide that logic. Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” and cross of reality provide that robust logic, for it should be apparent that Gebser’s five structures of consciousness as civilisations — the archaic, the magical, the mythological, the mental-rational, and the prospective integral — map to the cross of reality, too, as being aspects also of Blake’s “four Zoas” and their unification as the fifth or quintessence — “Albion”.

Just so, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism need to “come to terms”, as we say. They are all valid aspects of the multi-form human, expressed as the ‘cross of reality’. That would be integralism — as “healing” or “making whole”, which is what the word means. But that will not happen until there is a change in human self-understanding. For as Blake knew, the healing has to happen within first.

“Iniquity” or “sin” and hubris exists where one function (or one party) tries to gain exclusive or exceptional domination over the others. But that results eventually, inescapably, in Nemesis — in dissolution and disintegration — “nihilism” by another name. That’s also why no totalitarian or authoritarian state ever endures, or why a “wrong social philosophy leads to a wrong society”, as Rosenstock put it. Reductionism and fundamentalism are equally dissolute.

“The wages of sin is death” belongs to the ecodynamic laws of society, expressed as the cross of reality. So too “the sins of the fathers shall be visited down to the third and fourth generations” is not a religious principle at all, but a sociological one, because the consequences of the “sins of the fathers” must reverberate and pass through all four arms of the cross of reality.

In a future post, I’ll also want to relate all this to what Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan, called “the four enemies of the man of knowledge” — fear, clarity, power, old age. The cross of reality and Blake’s fourfold vision also help us to understand the full meaning of that.

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2 responses to “Iniquity and Hubris”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    Integral consciousness requires integral perspective, fragmentation never leads to wholeness and the four divine attributes the first, the last,the seen and the unseen are fundamental in the whole process of human growth since the divine is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. Thank you Scott for your beautiful attempts to intuitively reveal the old wisdom in the new. It is the road for sincerity, the divine call for truth.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    An outstanding essay. I have to admit, though, that I had to read it twice to begin to grasp its depth.

    You can count me in among those who didn’t understand the real meaning of “wages of sin is death,” neither did I understand the meaning of “sin” as being off-centered; that is as it is meant by that of The Sacred Hoop or Rosenstock-Huessy’s mandala.

    The mere awareness of the meaning of the aforementioned mandalas is liberating and enlightening.

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