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.