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.


10 responses to “Revolution and Reaction; or, Leaps of Faith in a Faithless Age”

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s nice. And perhaps an acceptable way for those who don’t believe that awareness can exist apart from the physical body to appreciate the role of death.

      I’ld like to take a moment though to explain something about the “unbounded spirit” in connection with death and Bolte-Taylor’s experience (and mine too). For the time being, let’s consider it a proposition and a different way of thinking about it.

      Many people have a problem thinking of the soul or the awareness as something trapped inside the body. They can rightly question how the fathomless and unbounded — the “Life Force Power of the Universe” — can exist inside the bounded and defined anyway. And it’s a fair question. Bolte-Taylor speaks of feeling like “a genie uncorked from her bottle”. But the fact is, she was never really in the body at all. The body is like a lens, for focussing awareness as consciousness, but you will never find the “seat of the soul” in it because the seat of the soul isn’t in the body, only a portion of its awareness is focussed there. That is my experience. That is my proposition here. Bolte-Taylor simply woke up to what she was essentially — a being not fully embodied.

      In her talk, Bolte-Taylor, for example, comments how she seemed to be watching herself from outside while she was jamming away on her cardioglider, then later so expansive she lamented how she was ever going to fit that expansiveness back inside “the tiny little body”. It now appeared microscopic to her. I had to giggle a bit at that because you can’t fit the You of you into that tiny little body. It won’t fit.

      The essential self is always the unborn. Nature is the “realm of the born” (as the name means), but the soul remains unborn always. That’s the gist of the Zen koan “show me your face before you were born”. Your “face”, meaning the body, is a lens for focussing awareness within physicality but the soul itself never occupies physicality. That which is unborn doesn’t die either. That portion of the soul’s awareness focussed in physicality simply returns to its source. Although it definitely experiences the death of the physical organism through that portion of incarnate awareness, it remains untouched by it.

      The steps to “cosmic consciousness” in Bolte-Taylor’s experience seem pretty straight forward: first, her sudden perception of her body as something strange and alien, followed immediately by her awareness of herself from both inside and outside her body, third the “surrender” on the way to the hospital, and then the discovery of her essential nature as an expansive energy awareness, and then her perception of her body as a teensy-weensy nearly microscopic thingy.

      The descriptions of “enlightenment” pretty much follow this same pattern. What we call “soul” isn’t inside the body. We are inside it. For this reason I think, Gebser wants to get away from the “pyramid” model of consciousness to the “sphere”. Makes perfect sense in those terms.

  1. davidm58 says :

    My friend T. Collins Logan has recently posted on “Faith as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character,” and, interestingly, he’s come to many parallel conclusions as posted above.

    “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…”

    T. Collins:
    “…“faith” has nothing to do with belief. Instead, it describes a quality of character, a mode of being and doing, a deliberate intentionality – none of which necessarily needs to be associated with particular beliefs.”

    “…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 … 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…”

    T. Collins:
    “In a sense, I believe pistis [the Greek word translated as “faith”] ultimately becomes a stripping away of distractions, a distillation of effort, so that there is nothing else left but the fire – the consciousness of consciousness – which is the highest order of love; the Godhead beyond being-in-itself; the Absolute. And this, in turn, continuously manifests as integrity of mind, heart, spirit, being and will – all working in unison, dancing to the same music, filled and energized by the same flame. For me this is the essence of loving skillfully, of demonstrating coherent faith through compassionate action, of developing spiritual reliability and trustworthiness.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Your friend is quite articulate. I’m enjoying reading his blog about his experiences.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Your friend, I see, is a libertarian socialist. Blake’s own political motto is “The Arts, and all things in common”, which pretty much amounts to the same thing (the Arts for Blake being all works of the “Imagination”, including science which he saw as being essentially an art and a work of the imagination too).
      One could really write a whole book unfolding the meaning and implications of Blake’s “The Arts, and all things in common”.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    interesting article in today’s Guardian by evolutionary ecologist Sara Lewis, “In Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies, I describe the overwhelming rush of rapture I experienced when I first saw the synchronous fireflies of the Great Smoky Mountains in the southeastern United States. Watching their waves of light rippling down the hillside, I felt like I’d fallen out of time. Not only had cause and effect become meaningless, but wonder had transported me to an eternal present where past and future both evaporate.”

    Unable to “do science” in that state (which we would call “aperspectival” perhaps), she had to wait until the next day before she returned to regain perspectival composure. Quite interesting

    She makes some very apt observations about this tension between science and imagination (or wonder) that are quite relevant to Gebser studies.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    It is another good search in the endless treasure. I come to understand god as a system of names and concepts to be understood by the humans, without indulging in the battle of his unknowable essence thus avoiding the conflict that may arise from the different interpretations. Sufis understand religion and its demand for worship, as work for the embodiment of god beautiful names in the humans sphere thus busing themselves with doing the beautiful that left them with no time to do the ugly. I see in the dichotomising of the whole into parts and staying with the parts and forgetting the wholeness resides our malady. Realizing that not every things are known is a call for discovery .but claiming that every things are knowable and denying the unknowable behind this infinite reality that contains infinite possibilities is arrogant and in defiance of the required appreciation and respect this awesome majestic creation demands, and recognizing the limitedness of the human without the showers of his grace and benevolence. They say the ignorant denies what he can not comprehend and sometime out of arrogance. We need both curiosity and awe,both motion and emotion both artist and scientist providing they are honest and sincere in their search for the truth behind everything. Our universe is never in a state of stillness to be captured and thus stopping with one interpretation is not healthy. Ephemerality is the stamp of our universe and our humanity therefore one should not stop with the acceptable of today because the tomorrow may come with something different. Tomorrow is put there for human development, if there is no human betterment there is no need for tomorrow. As the saying of the ancients goes,, according to the effort is the reward, this is in this one and in the second one is greater who is blind in this one is more blind in the next. It is so unfortunate that our world is filled with educated people, but there is no change for the better. What a tragedy. I am glad to see the voices of Blake and Gebser and the like are being activated by your commendable work Scott, not forgetting your innovative contribution in that context and others. thank you.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve learned that a friend, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of months, committed suicide last week. He stared into the abyss and it stared back into him. What brought him to that I don’t know, but reportedly he performed strange acts of self-harm and self-mutilation for a couple of days before shooting himself. It’s a tragic thing.

    Nietzsche’s own “stare into the abyss” was his own contemplation of suicide. “The thought of suicide is a great comfort” he later wrote. But it was also a test of faith in life, and every existentialist begins with this very root question: why not suicide? The answer they give from grappling with that question and the abyss constitutes their faith. Faith, then, is the power that aids us to survive the abyss of nothingness in those terms. Faith is the power to survive and outrun that “stare into the abyss”.

    My friend lost that struggle with the abyss. So will many, many more.

  5. abdulmonem says :

    I am sorry for your friend but it seems he was not fortified by the citadel of faith the power that aids us,as you said,to overcome the experience of facing the abyss as one of the main obstacle in the journey to him. From him we started and to him we return.

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