Revolution and Reaction; or, Leaps of Faith in a Faithless Age
I want to spend some time this morning on the issue of the “double-movement” characteristic of Late Modernity and identified by Jean Gebser as the incipience of a new “mutation” of consciousness — as the increasing dis-organisation of an old structure of consciousness (the perspectivist) simultaneous with a re-organisation presently leading to a new structure of consciousness. This polarisation, which lies at the root of what we call “the culture wars”, is the issue of revolution and reaction, which follows certain laws of energy and dynamics which we refer to as “karmic”. But this double-movement or polarisation may also be present in one and the same personality and not just culturally or socially. In fact, this double-movement is pretty much what we mean by “stress”, leading into distress of the personality and is equivalent to what we call “crisis”. Crisis is sometimes described as the coincidence, or conflict, of push and pull forces, or revolutionary and reactionary forces.
These forces have some surprising roots also in the conflict between belief and faith, for they are strictly speaking contrary forces that have also become confused in the mind as much as the whole and the totality.
Our confusion about belief and faith is a result of our insensitivity and lack of insight into the meaning of time and temporicity which is the issue of the secular order, for secular means time and the ordering of the times (Blake refers to the secular order as “Generation”, which is a direct translation of the meaning of “secular” and which is also related to the word “sex”. Nature means “realm of birth”). The “double-movement” perceptible in contemporary events is, in one respect, owing to man’s inherent double-nature, as secular or mortal being (embodied) and as immortal soul, or what we call “eternal” or timeless.
If it were not for the fact of this double-nature of the human as mortal self in time and immortal soul already timeless, man could have no inkling of a distinction between the finite and the infinite, nor the secular, or temporal, and the eternal. The coincidence of the immortal with the mortal (or transient, or impermanent) is reflected in the ambiguity of the word “Now” or “present”. Now is both momentary and transient and yet simultaneously ever-lasting as “Eternal Now”. This uncanny coincidence of apparent opposites is owing to man’s fundamental double-nature as embodied being. This double-nature is the meaning of Iain McGilchrist’s book on neurodynamics The Master and His Emissary, which is really quite an outstanding work (corrobrated, as noted previously many times, in neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s immediate experience as described in her talk on her “Stroke of Insight”)
In those terms, the root confusion is owing to a failure of discerning reason, that is, to discern between the immortal and mortal aspects of our natures as embodied being, or what we call “soul” and “mind”, or the awareness and consciousness, or the whole and the totality, or why we continuously confuse higher with lower things, such as wisdom and knowledge, or universality with uniformity, also belief with faith, and why Now is paradoxically simultaneously both ever-lasting All-at-Once and yet momentary and fleeting.
This coincidence of the infinite within the finite, and the eternal within time is the root paradox that lies at the heart of Buddhism, for example: nirvana and samsara are the same; nirvana and samsara are not the same. Nirvana and samsara correspond to the whole and the totality respectively. Now is always the gateway to the infinite and eternal, always the ever-present and in its aspect as “moment” is nonetheless the true “eye of the needle” of the parables. Yet the eye of the needle, which is Moment, is the gateway to the “kingdom of heaven”.
Samsara is, once again, what William Blake calls “Ulro”, the Shadowland — the realm of illusions and delusion, of semblances and simulations that we’ll also call “totality”. The architect of the Ulro is the false god Urizen, who is called “Selfhood” and who is McGilchrist’s “Emissary”. The Emissary is Urizen, and in Buddhist tradition his name is “Mara”, Architect of samsara as Lord of Illusion, and who Buddha also calls “ego”. The old saying that “Satan is but the ape of God” applies to the usurpation of “the Master” by the Emissary, who is the mortal self. The usurpation takes the form of mimickry or co-optation where the image (the shadow or idol) assumes greater reality than the origin, which proceeds from “the Master”. This is how the Ulro is constructed and is the mode of consciousness called “sensate”. The contrary mode to the sensate is what we call “intuitive” or “empathic”.
All this is also implied in Henri Bortoft’s fine essay on authentic and counterfeit wholes. (We have Mystic Sofa to thank for that recommendation).
With this in mind, let’s turn to the issue of belief and faith, which are usually used synonymously, but which are actually contraries. They have to do with manifestations of time. Rosenstock-Huessy would describe these as “trajective” or “prejective” orientations, respectively. Belief is always about things known (whether they are true or not is another matter). By belief, one is forwarded in ways known from the past. Faith, however, is the power that aids us in surviving the present. It is implicit or tacit knowing and maybe despite and maybe in spite of what the ego-nature believes. A “leap of faith” is about the future, which is always the unknown, an always bold and daring leap into the untried and unknown. One can have no belief about the unknown except that it is the unknown. “Future” is never the known or expected, otherwise it is simply a linear continuation of the past. Real future is always the unknown and unexpected. It is a discontinuity in the temporal flux. Future is what “irrupts” into presence, as Gebser aptly puts it which describes more a fountain than a train (in fact, Blake uses the image of “fountain” for the same meaning of “irruption”). It is the mortal self, or “mind”, that translates these “irruptions” into dimensions of time or space.
In William Blake, this is represented in his saying: “The cistern contains. The fountain overflows”. The cistern is the Emissary, and is the ego-consciousness, and its containment is belief. The fountain is the Master, and is the soul, and its overflowing is its knowing and its knowing is called faith. But this very fine and illustrative metaphor comes also with a caveat for the cistern: “Expect poison from the standing water” or “‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.”
This is the very thing that is called today “zombie logic”. That is to say, belief systems can become very stagnant and reactionary, like standing water, and quite in defiance of the promptings of the soul, which are the promptings of faith. The clinging to out-moded belief systems in defiance of the fountain-like “leaps of faith” of the soul is very connected with the denial of death, which is also faithlessness. The denial of death is the unwillingness of the Emissary or mortal self to relinquish control, even by clinging to beliefs which have become morbidly self-destructive.
Thus, you see that belief and faith are actually very contrary. Faith is the “knowing” of the soul or Master which is absolute confidence in the terms of existence. Belief is the “knowing” of the Emissary or ego-consciousness, and these may indeed get out of sync, as it were, which is the state we call “dissociation” or “self-alienation” and self-contradiction, and which may manifest also as duplicity in thought and deed, particularly when speaking of “the return of the repressed”. Polarisation can become a conflict between belief and faith in one and the same personality as well as the culture. Decadence is, in effect, belief without faith. This is what is called “reactionary”.
Faith has much deeper roots than belief. And the real challenge and obstacle of our time is the necessity of making a “leap of faith” into the unknown and untried in a faithless age that is given over to the denial of death. The knowing of the soul is its faith that it will survive many deaths, and is not a slave to time or death which are always the worries of the mortal self. Faith is not belief. It is this implicit knowing of the soul.
And so, you see, I hope, that the confusion of belief and faith is parallel to, and also consequence of, the confusion of totality and the whole. The whole alone is the real, and the totality or Myriad is but the mimickry or semblance of the whole. And just so, belief is only reflection, and also mimickry and semblance of faith. The reactionary is always strong in belief, but weak of faith. He does not know the necessity of dying at the right time.