The Imperial Church and the Counter-Reformation

There are some conclusions in McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary about the divided brain that are probably imprudent or dubious. One of those things is the suggestion that the Protestant Reformation (and its iconoclasm) or “the German Revolution” represented a shift or emphasis towards the left-hemisphere attention of the brain, and then one damned thing followed another afterwards (English Glorious Revolution, French Revolution, American Revolution, Russian Revolution). Of course, you cannot discount the role of neurodynamics in any of this, but the idea that Reformation and Counter-Reformation can be easily accounted for in terms of brain bilateralism strikes me as a bit facile and imprudent. One must, after all, distinguish between an original, vital inspiration that founds a new era and its later decayed and exhausted corpse — the era’s degeneracy and decadence.

And so, Reformation ends in fundamentalism, Renaissance ends in reductionism, Enlightenment ends in cynicism, and the Age of the Church that preceded the German Revolution had already ended in dogmatism and a deficit of caritas and faith, as proved by the Inquisition.

It may well be that the left-hemisphere of the brain (the one associated with perspectivism and ego-consciousness) is an elephants’ graveyard, where the elephants produced by the right-hemisphere finally go to die; where originating, but now devitalised and exhausted intuitive values and inspirations originating in the “first attention” of the right-hemisphere finally end up as cliche, formula, dogma, system — dead things. So, it could well be argued the exact contrary (and I will do so) that the German Revolution was the revolt of the right-hemisphere against the dead and deadening things of the left-hemisphere, and not vice versa.

There’s no question that Reformation and Renaissance breathed new life into the corpse that had become “Christendom”. The secular name “Europe” for the continent only begins with the decay of an Age of Faith that had evidently lost its faith and was left only with the empty shells of faith called “belief”, “dogma”, “doctrine” — the hollowed out remnants and residues of what were once vital inspirations and values that Luther attempted to return to, and which also brought with it a movement towards secularism and secularisation. Theology morphed into ideology with the Enlightenment, but that was also a gradual process. There is a danger here of associating the “secular” with the hyper-activity of the left-hemisphere of the brain (which I will call “the second attention”) inviting the suggestion that the “counter-reformation” was associated with the superior “first attention” of the right-hemisphere of the brain. This is a conclusion that goes too far, and is, in my estimation, quite dangerous, for all the reasons I posted earlier about the Modern Age and the Counter-Reformation.  It ain’t necessarily so.

One of the fruits of the German Revolution/Protestant Reformation was the separation of Church and State. Do we really need to suggest that this separation of Church and State, religion and politics, the sacred and the profane, the ecclesiastical and the secular, has its roots in left-brain/right-brain rivalry and the divided brain? There is, to be sure, an implicit connection of all this with neurodynamics. How could there not be? The brain is involved, after all. But I’m not sure it’s really fruitful to put it this way.

As I’ve noted before, the secular ideologies of liberalism, conservatism, socialism, even anarchism, have their roots in the Gospels, and in the schisms and sectarianism of the Reformation. The separation between State and Church also brought with it the translation of theologies into ideologies. The secular ideologies are, as it were, splinters and fragments of the broken cross, now become mutually estranged from each other. The process of secularisation really begins when Luther closes the monasteries, and sends tens of thousands of monks and nuns into the secular world all armed with the theological convictions, and all aflame with the spirit of revolution. But even in Mr. McGilchrist’s terms, that “flame” does not come from the left-hemisphere of the brain, but from the right-hemisphere.

There are, besides, other institutions of the Modern Era besides State and Church. There is also the University and the Corporation. These have been, pretty much, the four pillars of the Modern Era, each with different functions, tasks, and purposes, although complementary tasks and functions and purposes. And so, they should remain separate, but related. That is to say “integral”. But the danger today is that a mistaken understanding of “integral” means the imperial or the assimilatory. And today, it is the Corporation that is attempting to usurp all of them. In the past, it was the Church, then it was the State. Dark Money and Dark Power is really the work of the corporatocracy.

Political Christianity (or Political Islam) represents a confusion of the sacred and the profane, the religious and the secular — a confusion, not an integration. This confusion is, indeed, the work of the left-hemisphere of the brain, which has become hyperactive at the expense of the “first attention” of the right-hemisphere, now designated as “the unconscious” only because the mode of attention of the left-hemisphere ignores it and inhibits its expression, leading to “the wrath of God”, as it were. It’s angry about that, and that’s usually the trigger for what we call “revolution”.

When the vital energies of the human form are denied, they turn to wrath. That’s the meaning of the Jekyll and Hyde problem (or Nietzsche’s “Dionysian madness”). The vital energies of the human form are the predilections of the right-hemisphere of the brain, as Mr. McGilchrist correctly notes. But the wrath of the right-hemisphere becomes the anxiety and paranoia and a premonition of the “uncanny” of the left-hemisphere — those things which are fairly typical of transitional eras. The wrath of Luther, the wrath of Cromwell, the wrath of Robespierre, the wrath of Lenin — all pretty much the same “wrath”, but a wrath that didn’t understand itself, but which probably only understood itself in the mythologies of William Blake and his “four Zoas” — the suppression of the vital energies by the false god “Urizen”. And it’s surprising that McGilchrist doesn’t mention “Urizen” at all, who is the “rational self-interest”, and who has his throne, as it were, in the left-hemisphere of the brain. He could have devoted a whole chapter to Urizen as the avatar of the left-hemisphere’s “mode of attention”.

But, to conclude, I’m quite uncomfortable with the suggestion that the Reformation was a “left-hemisphere” phenomenon. It’s necessary to distinguish between an era’s vital period and its devitalised period when all its originary inspirations are exhausted of value, which we call nihilism, and now “Late Modernity” or “post-modernity”. Fundamentalism, reductionism, dogmatism, and cynicism — these are the symptoms of exhaustion or “loss of the vital centre” as Gebser would put it.

I’m close to finishing McGilchrist’s book, at which time I’ll go over it in detail and see how it links in with the themes of The Chrysalis, William Blake, and so on. My one concern, to date, is that some of it may well be construed as a justication for Counter-Reformation, for it could easily be construed that way — as an answer to the ills of modern rationalism and Late Modernity, when the problem is not to roll back the Modern Era but to transform and transcend it, which can only be accomplished by integrating it into a greater whole.

But, I’m called away again for a few days and won’t be writing about that soon. As usual, though, I will have opportunities to respond to comments while I’m away.



21 responses to “The Imperial Church and the Counter-Reformation”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Forgot to mention. I don’t think the present Pope is at all interested in “the imperial church”, the restoration of Holy Roman Empire, or counter-reformation. He’s got other more pressing interests. But there are unregernate and incorrigible reactionaries in the Church (and it’s well known) who haven’t given up the ideal of the Church “militant and universal” and who are no better in that respect than these ISIS militants. It is also a mistake (common in the media especially) to interpret the Pope’s theological concerns in terms of secular ideologies (“liberal” or “left” etc, etc) which is putting the cart before the horse, because ideology was derived from theology, from the Gospels, and not vice versa.

    Just thought I’ld mention that.

      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        Scott – I have never read any of Carlos Castaneda’s books. What books of his should I own.

        • Steve Lavendusky says :

          The one thing McGilchrists book has done for me is to solidify my conviction that truth must be of this world and that spirituality must include the physical, and that a full and meaningful life cannot be lived in either the imagination or the abstractions of the intellect alone.

          • Scott Preston says :

            This is called “post-metaphysical”, and is something that is usually associated as beginning with Nietzsche (or existentialism more generally) — his attack on “otherworldliness” at the expense of living in “this world” and the life of the body. People misunderstand the meaning of “post-metaphysical”, however. It does not mean “profanation” of the sacred. Quite the reverse. As usualy, Rumi has it down pat

            Through your loving
            existence and nonexistence merge.
            All opposites unite.
            All that is profane
            becomes sacred again

            Likewise, post-metaphysics is the meaning of Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” — it means transcending the opposition of sacred and profane, secular and spiritual, or mind and body, etc, etc. In other words, “coincidentia oppositorum”. And that’s what McGilchrist’s book is all about, in effect — “conjunction of the contraries”.

        • Scott Preston says :

          All of them, really. But they should be read in the order they were published, because Castaneda’s earlier books are a bit naive, and only later does he come to realise that himself — after about the fourth book — until, that is, he reaches that point that don Juan called “claiming knowledge as power”. That’s basially the entire meaning of Castaneda’s journey as recorded in his books. So, they must be read in order — otherwise, that meaning is missed.

          I will, of course, be spending a good deal of time once again with Castaneda in light of McGilchrist’s book as well. It accounts for Castaneda’s experience perfectly.

          But, the initial four books should be read in order:
          Teachings of Don Juan
          A Separate Reality
          Journey to Ixtlan
          Tales of Power

          Only after these four should you tackle the remaining ones, because afterwards Castaneda starts to come into his own, so to speak — after his famous “leap into the abyss” which concludes Tales of Power. But the introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Teachings of Don Juan is definitely a treat. It was Castaneda’s final statement about the riddle of his years as a student of don Juan, and all of it with one aim — as don Juan called it “unfolding the wings of perception”.

          I’ve defended Castaneda’s writings in the past against charges that the hoaxed the whole thing, with reasons why that could not be the case. McGilchrist’s empirical “divided brain” approach provides even more substantial evidence that it was not a hoax, because it can be accounted for in terms of the divided brain. And, so, I’ll be spending a lot of time on that again.

          In any event, I’m on the home-stretch with McGilchrist’s book, so I may begin blogging about it starting this weekend.

          I’m also pleased — very pleased — about the resonances between McGilchrist’s book and Gebser’s work on consciousness structures. Remarkable correspondences with neurodynamics. In fact, I was surprised that Gebser wasn’t known to McGilchrist except by name only (I’ve confirmed that with McGilchrist via email and have encouraged him to have a look at Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin for parallels, which I think he’ll now do).

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    It seems to me that separating things in order to create more efficient, accurate, and harmonious functionality sometimes makes a lot of biological sense (two eyes as opposed to one, two ears as opposed to one big one, two legs, two hands, etc.). But this separation shouldn’t necessarily point toward competing functions.

    It is really wonderful to read your analysis of McGilchrist’s work. Thank you for taking the time to do that. I look forward to your upcoming essays on this.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Unification without conversion. This is not odd,but it is the proper move toward the trend of the time which all sane people are pointing, to the oneness of consciousness. The unity of consciousness, we are all drinking from the same spring despite the apparent differences,in culture, in race and in religion. As it is said ,the idea that her time has come, can never be stopped. It is time that we recognize the primordial unity of our religion.

    • alex jay says :

      “Unification without conversion.”

      Funny … your statement recalls the distinction Scott made many posts ago between “integration” and “assimilation” (very topical today in the way that the terms have become mistakenly interchangeable). From my understanding of Scott’s distinction (correct me if I’m wrong?), integration would allow different interpretations – historical and cultural – to co-exist within a set environment of an established location dominated by the majority of its inhabitants (Alexander the Great understood this); while conversion, or assimilation, would deny that distinction, and force and enforce a dogmatic/totalitarian interpretation by the dominant power structure within that sphere of control – i.e the history of both Christianity and Islam, which, I believe, have far more to do with political power than any grandiose higher spiritual purpose.

      Now, if the pope (refering to the post) is talking about “integrating” the wealth of our shared religious experiences (compassion being the common denominator of all religions) that’s great! However, if, as some “conspiracy theorists (big LOL), suggest that there is a globalist agenda to “assimilate” religion along with an one-world army, a neo-feudalist economic system controlled by the banksters, and a technocratic devolution of the human species under their control etc., then the pope is either naive or a shill?

      I don’t know? Present times confuse me because “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (W.B. Yeats).

      “We live in the best of times/worst of tmes???? … or … “the old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters” (Antonio Gramsci).

      Ain’t that a fact …

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes. Now is the time of monsters indeed. Hence Nietzsche’s warning about going to fight monsters — “if one goes to fight monsters, one must take care not to become the monster oneself”. We can call the time of monsters “havoc” or “chaotic transition”, too. And, of course, Seth’s warning (or Gebser’s for that matter) about the human race now coming perilously close to self-annihilation.

        All of which means, that (as Nietzsche, Aurobindo and others have also expressed it) the human race must now transcend itself or perish. There are no other options.

        • Steve Lavendusky says :

          Nietzsche argued that reason is not the primary function of the human mind. He argued that human behavior is more often directed by nonrational forces as instinct, inspirations, drives, etc. He argued that we should stop drowning the other dimensions in order to live a more authentic existence. Are we ready for the Megapolis, for genetic manipulation and programmed intellect. For synthetic food and drink. To work at some Orwellian task for a nameless government to no end? Our beleaguered earth, is an atrocious mess and its our fault. We are coming perilously close to self-annihilation. Do we know what time it is?

          • Dwig says :

            Wendell Berry, speaking about the importance of place, said “if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are”; I suppose this is true of knowing when you are as well.

            • LittleBigMan says :

              ““if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are”” – Wendell Berry.

              Deep and insightful! Thank you, Dwig. I can see the truth in that statement as I reflect back on the development of my own personality.

          • Steve Lavendusky says :

            You often mention “Coincidentia Oppositorum.” If you want a great book on the teachings of Nicholas Cusanus and his De docta ignorantia order the book THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE COSMOS IN RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY by Ernst Cassirer. Beautiful !

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Love and compassion has only one interpretation, leave the misinterpreters and open your box to include everybody, that is everyone. There are always, those who wear darkness and those who wear light, The opposites that keep life running.The human has been given the tool of interpretation to establish his unique self without falling under the carpets of others. Do not be confused,life is not a laughing trip,tension and self-respect is a must and one has to be careful not to follow the misled. Once one be truthful,just and honest, it does harm him to be a jew,a christian, a moslem, etc.Our present tragedy resides in lie and in the falsification of everything beautiful. Peoples are unaware that there is a standing moment in there life, now or afterward to be asked about what have they put in their box.

    • alex jay says :

      “Love and compassion has only one interpretation, leave the misinterpreters and open your box to include everybody, that is everyone.”

      First: “Love and compassion” is not an “interpretation”, it’s a cosmic constant – more certain than the speed of light – which brought the universe into being and central to all religious roots (I thought I said that, so I’m not sure what you mean by “misinterpreters”?). “Open your box” (?) : I do not subscribe to boxes of any sort, as boxes are prisons and I’ve spent my life escaping from them, and any dogma is the biggest “box” of them all whether religious or scientific. You see, only in a box can enthropy occur. In an open system (outside the box), the possibilities of chaos into order are endless and visa versa, as Heraclitus intuited in his conclusion that everything is in a state of flux.

      Second: “Do not be confused,life is not a laughing trip,tension and self-respect is a must and one has to be careful not to follow the misled.”

      Who is leading? Seaking for myself: Nobody!

      As far as “life is not a laughing trip”: you must must be joking (pun intended)! Even the ancient Greeks understood the fine line between tragedy and comedy (back to Khayyam’s “a hair separates the false from the true”). Life is a divine comedy (thanks Dante), and in the absence of having a grand ol’ chuckle on the man-made absurdity of it all, one would go insane (quite a few philosophers did).

      God is laughing! We just project it, as we projected the very idea of our various interpretations of the undefineable/unconceivable. The One with no name …

  5. Scott Preston says :

    By the way, came across this website called “The Medicine Owl” which has some real gems of poetic insights collected together– Hafiz, Rumi, the great Sufi masters, but also some others. Well worth a visit

    • LittleBigMan says :

      Thank you for linking to this website. I like that “Medicine” is in the name of the website, since those poems are meant to be medicine for what goes on on the inside.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Alex, all concepts that have only one interpretation are cosmic constant, I really admire your refusal to enter any box and your refusal to be haunted by outside ghosts. As Rumi Said, all opposites unite,all that is profane, becomes sacred again or as Gibran said joy and sorrow are inseparable.
    Thank Scott for the prescriptions of the owl that pour with a highly remedial aroma.

  7. InfiniteWarrior says :

    “that ‘flame’ does not come from the left-hemisphere of the brain, but from the right-hemisphere”

    Does it? I don’t know. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of room in McGilchrist’s interpretation for the mysterious origin of things, i.e. the “heart”.

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