Sunday 10 March 2024

Abraham gets only 60% for "obedience" with respect to sacrificing Isaac; because God Most values "un-obedience"

William Arkle distinguished a way above and out-from the traditional dilemma of obedience versus disobedience to God; by considering the question from the larger perspective of God's creative intention with respect to Men (discussed in the post following this). 

In an letter to Jon Flint* (that I have slightly edited below), William Arkle discusses the Bible episode in Genesis 22; when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Issac - and obeys this instruction; but God intervenes and stops this at the last moment. 

When Abraham "passed" his test over his son's killing, to my mind he only got 60% for obedience. 

If he had said to God "This is not like you, I won't do it", he would have got 100 for unobedience. 

Thus God could foresee problems with the Jewish people

Arkle explains that un-obedience to God arises-from the black and white of disobedience and obedience being in conflict. 

In other words; what God most wanted was not that Abraham would obey, or disobey, a specific instruction that he regarded as coming from God; but that Abraham would instead recognize that the real and proper question was at an altogether larger and more general scale.  

Neither dis-obedience nor obedience was required, but un-obedience. 

What arises from this conflict is unobedience, which is a condition beyond the relatively automatic stages of dis-obedience or obedience, and has become autonomous and calculated and chosen.

Both disobedience and obedience are sub-optimal. 

Arkle suggests that dis-obedience to God can become addictive, leading to a psychotic condition where the disobedient person becomes driven, and almost unable to choose - like a junky. 

I think Arkle partly means that disobedience is usually done for short-term and hedonic reasons, and that an hedonic (immediate-pleasure-seeking) attitude to life carries all the lethal consequences of heroin addiction: its hedonic effectiveness always diminishes; getting pleasure gets to be all-consuming; life, thought, motivation become focused around blindly serving the agent of pleasure. 

Disobedience to authority is therefore self-destructive, like the negativism of a young child who does the opposite of what he is old - something which would rapidly be lethal, unless loving parents were available to step-in. 

But on the other side; while obedience is necessary and good in children; for grown-ups too much obedience can also be harmful; as seen in Abraham obeying an order that (if he truly understood and knew God) he should have realized was incompatible with God's Goodness - hence could not truly have come-from God. 

Arkle comments that "oneness" teachings (so common in New Age spirituality) lead towards oneness becoming a form of "super-obedience", in which the individual is taught to regard himself as "a nothing" - incapable of discernment. 

In other words, with oneness, the individual disappears-into the divine so that "obedience" is utterly impersonal, unchosen, automatic - not so much obeying as annihilating all possibility of anything else, and becoming an unconscious cog in the divine-mechanism.

Thus obedience, taken to the ultimate, tends to an un-Christian (more Hindu or Buddhist) ideal of the goal of consciousness and free will (and being itself) being dissolved-into the immanence of the divine. 

To put it another way; obedience to God should not and cannot be the highest ideal without becoming unChristian or anti-Christian. 

Obedience is only valid within the larger and modifying context of knowing and loving God; and God's ultimate wish for us is that we should transcend obedience to become an un-obedient participant, and eventual collaborator, in God's creative work

*I have reviewed a selection from these letters.

Those Arkle moments... Something I do when threatened by incipient angst-despair

It is more than a decade since I engaged seriously with the work of William Arkle - at first on this blog and the archive blog previously linked, culminating in writing sleeve notes for a CD of his music and an introduction for a new edition of his first book

As usually happens with writers who have made a significant and lasting contribution to my philosophy of life; I have pretty much ceased to re-read entire works by Arkle - but have instead "assimilated" some of his special qualities into my memories; where I can get access to them, and benefit from them, by thinking. 

I have always - since I first heard of Arkle back in 1977 - had an inkling of this potential benefit, as if I sensed it there but just out of sight, around a corner. I needed to spend some time marinating in Arkle's writings (and, to a lesser extent, his pictures) before I "caught" this quality for myself. 

Among Arkle's particular, indeed unique, qualities that I value; is a positive and quietly confident attitude to reality. This has been something that has often lifted me from an oppressive mood of one sort or another - from existential angst about "the human condition", or fear about what might happen, or despair over the direction of the world; or small scale things like confusion over what I ought to be doing or ruminations over "wasting my time". 

Arkle's approach to life - which, according to those who knew him well, he seems personally to have exemplified to a considerable degree, is one that cuts-free-from and rises above such negative broodings, disappointments, and the sense of being trapped by external circumstance. 

Indeed, there are few others who are able to do this for me, and nobody else so strongly - perhaps because Arkle goes beyond the double-negation of palliating life; and sets the whole thing into an eternal adventure of what might be termed deification (or theosis, sanctification, divinization... but with a particular meaning). 

In other words, the idea that the primary purpose of God's creation was to enable each of us who wants this, incrementally to develop towards the same nature and level of God* - so as ultimately to become not only a participant in divine creation (which we already are) but a friend of God, and a co-creator

There aren't many other thinkers or theologies who can inspire me in this very practical and immediate way - and so I continue to value and refer to William Arkle. 

*Arkle's point is that although God is prior to all other Beings, because the primary creator within-whose creation we dwell - this is analogous to the relation of parents with growing children. When a child has fully grown-up, the ideal loving relationship between child and parents should have changed from the authority/ obedience-based relationship of early childhood, to one of harmonious "collaboration" between mature individual persons. That possibility is what Arkle envisages as God's goal in creation - not so much as an end-point, but as a step towards qualitatively greater and ever-expanding creative possibilities.  

Wednesday 2 August 2023

We should not lose our-Selves in communing with God -- or, at least, only partially-temporarily, as a means of learning...

Perhaps it is driving the principle too far to say that Being with God is less than Being with Self?

It is something which depends on the way we understand this statement. If we give-up our own individuality in order to be God's own Self - as some, it seems, are trying to do - we simply become God's own Self again, and lose our own identity. This means we are no longer in the context of the statement anyway, as there is no Us anymore. 

If it is a temporary at-one-ment, we can absorb a lot of God's presence quality, and therefore grasp the way His feelings and mind work...

We may still feel that we can know us-being-ourselves better than we can know God being God. It's the Teacher/ Pupil situation again, in which the Teacher wants it to become the Teacher/ Teacher situation - as Friends. 

Excerpted from a letter by William Arkle of 15th September 1995; to Jon Flint

This short statement by William Arkle seems to highlight the problem with aiming at oneness with God (or Deity); as so often advocated by Eastern-Influenced spiritual people nowadays; including many self-identified "Christians" whose implicit aims are actually oneness, rather than resurrection and Heaven. 

The problem is that if oneness with God is achieved, then we are no longer ours-selves, and therefore are no longer a part of the situation (the "context of the statement").

And therefore aiming at oneness is a species of the mainstream atheistic assumption that this mortal life is destined for annihiliation. Oneness spirituality may amount to little more than positively embracing the unavoidable annihilation of mind and body posited by secular materialism. 

[Which may be why mainstream secular materialism - even globalist totalitarianism - is happy to advocate and support oneness spiritualties - such as 'mindfulness' and (Westernized versions of-) Buddhism, Hinduism and the like.] 

But Arkle also mentions that a temporary, and somewhat incomplete, enhancement of oneness; can be considered a way of learning more about God's nature and motivations

In other words, some partial elements of the kind of passive, immersive, un-selfing, not-thinking meditation advocated by oneness advocates; can be a way of getting-to-know God better. 

A good old-word for this is communion - and may lead to making a useful distinction between the Christian seeking of comm-union with a personal God; and the "Eastern" aim of union with an im-personal God (Deity). 

The value of communion is obvious*; even when it occurs on the way to a temporary state of experienced-union - which by definition (if complete) is not experienced, neither is it remembered - because there is no Self either to experience or to remember what has happened.

Therefore communion with God ought Not to proceed to union, assuming we desire to learn and benefit from our knowledge of God. 

Union is good only for escaping from our-Selves, since it annihilates all experience of being...


*I would go so far as to say that nothing is more valuable to a Christian than a solid and faithful knowledge of God's nature and motivations; since this can serve as the basis of discernment and guidance though all manner of confusions and deceptions; including those propagated by the Churches.

Monday 15 May 2023

The perilous necessity of seeking enchantment (The 'romantic life' as a fact of nature.)

I have been re-reading that most inspiring of essays: On Fairy Stories, by JRR Tolkien; and considering the need some of us feel (in the 'modern world') for enchantment

Tolkien describes how this can be found in the best of Fairy Stories - or what we nowadays, since Tolkien's essay, term 'fantasy' literature. 

But what of 'real life' - of our lives outside of fairy stories? What of our disenchanted mundane lives? Is there any kind of 'cure' for disenchantment - something in-addition-to our leisure-time and recreational immersion in artistic recreations of faery?

What should we do when we awaken from the enchanted realms of a fairy story, and find-ourselves back in the mundane world?

Such questions are the basis of the 'romantic' impulse; and for people such as Tolkien (and myself, and many others) they are unavoidable and compelling matters; they are matters of life and death. 

We can try to ignore or drown-out the 'horns of Elfland' - the call of enchantment - but we will always be comparing our actual lives with the possibilities experienced in 'fairy stories'. 

For us, the prospect of life stretching ahead is intolerable without enchantment; so it is not a matter of whether we pursue enchantment; but how

Yet, as Tolkien often emphasizes; this seeking of an enchanted mortal life is perilous; just as true faery is perilous. He frequently depicted this - most explicitly in Smith of Wootton Major, most pessimistically in his poem The Sea Bell; and it forms the background motivation to the embryonic plot of The Notion Club Papers

The fundamental problem is that mortal Men in this world cannot attain any Good with permanence - because that is the entropic nature of our-selves and the world; and from the fact that such joys are subject to 'habituation'/ tolerance/ fatigue - so that they cannot be sought directly and repeated 'stimuli' (use of symbols, rituals, or exposure to art-works) will decline in effectiveness. 

Many have tries to create for themselves an enchanted life; all have failed - in the end we are up-against our own corrupt and limited natures. 

Many, many people have ended up in the tragic situation depicted at the end of The Sea Bell; unable to forget, yet unable to attain, 'faery' - and finding no consolation in 'the world'. 

A Christian can and should be consoled by the ultimate prospect of resurrected life in Heaven; which is (as Tolkien makes clear at the end of his essay) the only possible actuality of that which we glimpse in faery. It is resurrection that makes the quest for enchantment a matter of truth rather than delusion. 

Yet, that still leaves the problem of how we structure our earthly lives in the years ahead... indeed in this day, and this moment...  

A further problem is that the consciousness of Modern Man has developed so as to become so resistant to enchantment - that there seem to be many people who claim not to experience it, not to want it. 

And there are others who (whatever they may they claim) seem never to experience any kind of enchantment; but instead seem (so far as I can tell) to live disenchanted lives; to the point of being hostile to the whole idea - and regarding any taint of romanticism is childish, insane or evil

Sadly, many self-identified Christians are of this aggressively disenchanted type: the kind of Christians who regard any whiff of faery, magic, romanticism as indicating the stench of Hellish brimstone (and who regard Tolkien himself as one of the devil's party). 

I say 'sadly' - because, despite that the quest for enchantment may be personally tragic; not-to-want it at all, and to regard enchantment as stupid, malign of delusional, strikes me as a kind of self-maimed half-life. 

I cannot help feeling sorry-for such people - even when they are frustrating or maddening to deal-with. 

My best positive suggestion, that I have discussed many times before on this blog; is to apply some of the lessons of Owen Barfield's concept of Final Participation - which I have further analyzed into concepts such as Primary Thinking and heart-thinking. 

In particular; the idea that - instead of seeking an overwhelming and immersive experience of enchantment, of faery, such that we hope to experience 'being there', inside that world -- we may choose to seek to participate-with such a world in the realm of purposive conscious thinking

Instead of (mentally) lowering-our-selves-into enchantment, instead of sinking-into a dream-like realm; we might instead aim to rise-above the mundane: to weave our conscious thinking with thoughts of (experiences from?) faery. 

This Final Participation is not a final answer; because there is none on this side of death; but engaging with an assumed living and potentially present realm of faery is something that lacks some of the problems of the more usual attempt at 'travelling'-into/ dwelling-within faery - not least because it is immune to that loss-of-effectiveness that plagues all attempts to lose-ourselves. 

With the Final Participation idea; we do Not try to lose our-selves or our awareness of this-world - but aim instead to remain our-selves; indeed to expand and strengthen our-selves as we encounter enchantment; which can be done by aligning our motivations with that which is Good in faery.  

Such is difficult because it is a creative activity; and creating just-is difficult. Also because it entails the discernment of what is Good in our-selves and 'the enchanted' - and working-from that.

But - however difficult, intermittent, and only-partially-successful, is such a creative endeavor; it is nonetheless something that provides a very deep level of satisfaction, and a potential for profound learning.

So, Final Participation in faery seems like a valid Life Quest for those of us for whom a 'romantic life' is a fact of our natures. 

Sunday 14 May 2023

Review of Divine Friendship (2023) - An aggregation of Arkle's analects; edited by Jon Flint

Divine Friendship: An aggregation of Arkle's analects

Edited by Jon Flint. Independently published on Amazon Kindle, 2023. 77 pages. 

Current price: 77 pence Sterling; 1 US dollar 

Jon Flint, who was a friend and collaborator of the author, has edited a short collection of William Arkle's writings on the subject of Divine Friendship; which was probably Arkle's core theme - the understanding of which can be a key to Arkle's larger philosophical ideas.

Arkle is one of a handful of authors that I regard as of primary importance in developing my attitudes and understandings of life and reality. But I am the first to acknowledge that it is difficult to grasp his meaning and significance. 

Arkle's major work was A Geography of Consciousness, 1974; republished 2019 - to which I contributed a new introduction. But GoC is a tough read in parts, with its analogies from physical science and strategy of building-up the argument from basic assumptions. 

The Great Gift of 1977 is much more accessible, with its paintings and poems; yet such is its richness of ideas and images that they are perhaps difficult to navigate and synthesize. 

Jon Flint takes the different approach of collecting a variety of forms of communication, spanning more than two decades of Arkle's later life - all focusing on the same theme.

This theme is that God the creator most desires from us his children that (eventually) we might grow-up to become mature 'friends' that can share in the divine work of creation. 

Simple to state, but easy to misunderstand! - not least because 'friend' has become such an enfeebled concept in this era of social media, and yet the English language offers no alternative better substitute.  

The collection begins with a verbal transcription taken from an informal live lecture, so we can get an idea of Arkle's conversational style; and of how he explained things person to person. 

Then there follow relevant excerpts from four of his books, the two mentioned above, plus Equations of Being; and including the entirety of his self-published pamphlet God: the Player Friend (1992); which, until now, has been almost impossible to obtain.

A further 'angle' is provided by extracts from Arkle's personal correspondence to the editor Jon Flint, written from 1986-1999. I found these very valuable - indeed, Jon Flint has previously allowed me to read a much larger selection from this correspondence; which is so good that I have read it at least four times through, already! 

I hope that, at some point, this more-complete correspondence between Arkle and Flint might be published in its own right; but in the meantime Arkle's admirers will welcome this 'taster'; and indeed the volume as a whole. 

Nowhere else could you obtain so much spiritual nourishment for less than the price of a bar of chocolate!

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Contra Arkle - resurrection supersedes reincarnation

Reincarnation seems to imply (if not to entail) the eternal primacy of spirit life (unembodied, 'pure' spirit) above incarnation (embodiment). 

That is; with reincarnation Men are primarily - first and last - spirit forms; and the history of a Man's being begins with being-a-spirit and ends with being-a-spirit. 

This spirit undergoes a series of incarnations which may be (eventually, according to some versions of reincarnation) aiming-towards eternal status as a spirit. The spirit learns-from - or is otherwise affected-by - an incarnation; however, it is only the spirit which persists. 

Or else there is an unending cycle of (re-) incarnations (and perhaps transformations, for instance to other beings such as animals) through-which the spirit moves serially. But, equally; only the spirit is eternal, with the multiple incarnate forms being left-behind. 

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his promise of resurrection to all who follow him, implies a final incarnation. 

Resurrection (which is an eternal embodied state) is thus implicitly regarded as having a higher status than that of pure spirit. 

For me this means that when someone becomes a Christian, he expects (or at least hopes) that his death will be followed by resurrection; and therefore Not by another reincarnation. 

Against this understanding are ranged several of my spiritual mentors such as Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield, and William Arkle. 

Steiner and Barfield are explicit that the ultimate and eternal aim of Man is to be a pure (discarnate) spirit; and that incarnations are 'merely' a series of 'descents' into the material, from-which the spirit is intended to learn. 

For Steiner, Barfield and Arkle; the physical world, incarnation and bodies were obstacles that had certain advantages for learning particular life-lessons - but were ultimately intended to be dispensed-with. 

William Arkle regarded multiple reincarnations over a vast stretch of history (some on earth, some perhaps elsewhere) as an essential element in the 'schooling' of the spirit, in the long and slow ascent of those who choose this path, towards full divinity. 

My feeling has always been that Arkle was unclear about the role of Jesus Christ. He described ways in which Jesus was helpful; but did not provide any account of why Jesus was 'essential' to the ultimate goal of full divinity - or why the possibility of 'following' Jesus made a decisive difference. 

My own understanding of the 'educative' function of this mortal life, which I developed-from Arkle's thinking rather than deriving it from what he explicitly said; is that our mortal life is indeed (as Arkle describes) as being like a university tailored around our specific personal needs. 

But I see this life now as the chance to learn one or a few specific 'lessons' that are necessary to our full spiritual development. For example, we need to recognize and repent particular sins; or we need to love another person or persons, in order to be able to want to make that eternal commitment to live-by-love which is needed to want to enter Heaven. 

Each person's actual (here-and-now) life is therefore being arranged by God for his or her very particular needs - needs which he brought into this life from his or her distinctive state of being as a pre-mortal spirit.

This is why I see no absolute need for a Christian to experience multiple incarnations. After Jesus made it possible for those who loved him to follow him (rather literally) through death and to resurrected eternal life in Heaven (as described in the Fourth Gospel), then multiple reincarnation was no longer needed - and was indeed impossible for the resurrected Man experiencing Life Everlasting.  

I can only regard this combining of Christianity and reincarnation as an error - a metaphysical* incoherence. A failure correctly to discern and understand the core teaching of Jesus Christ and the demonstration that was his life, death, resurrection and ascension.   

And I think the source of this error lies in the (common, almost universal) failure to regard the Fourth Gospel (termed 'John') as the primary Christian scripture; because this text seems to state quite explicitly (and repeatedly) that followers of Jesus can expect resurrection to life everlasting after the death of their mortal bodies: which clearly (so it seems) excludes the possibility of reincarnation. 

A Christian who built his faith from the Fourth Gospel would (surely?) cease to expect - and to want - any further reincarnation? 

*Note - By metaphysical incoherence I mean a matter of incompatible primary assumptions; which therefore has nothing to do with 'evidence' or 'observation', because metaphysical assumptions frame the nature and status of evidence and observation.

Further Note - I am not saying that there never was reincarnation; in the contrary I assume that it certainly has happened in some times and places, and possibly continues to happen. What I am saying is that following Jesus Christ to Heaven necessarily terminates the cycle of reincarnations. 

Friday 21 February 2020

Is God's creation play, or from overflowing love?

If the primal reality of God is imagined before the beginning of creation, and if God is single and personal; then creation can be understood as God's 'play'.

This is made simple and explicit in God, the Player Friend; a rare 42 page booklet self-published by William Arkle in 1993, which I only discovered-about a couple of weeks ago, and which I am currently reading.

Typically (and valuably) Arkle boils it down to God alone becoming bored with a world in which everything was caused by himself; and from this dissatisfaction manifesting creation so that divine 'Friends' - that is, fully-developed men and women - could gradually evolve, and become genuinely independent sources of surprise and innovation.

As so often, much hinges upon the primary assumptions; and here Arkle makes the primary assumption that the beginning of everything - God - is a unity. When this is the assumption, then I think it is 'inevitable' that there is an 'arbitrary' quality of 'play' about everything in creation.

Reality is because creation is more 'fun' than no reality; as Arkle sometimes put it.

When creation is driven by something negative like boredom, and negativity is cured by the independent play of other agents or actors; then we get this kind of double-negative theology which I always regard as secondary.

Yet, if creation is dynamic, expansile (as I believe) then it must indeed be motivated by some kind of (negatively) discontent, or (positively) yearning.

My own understanding is different from Arkles, and is pretty-much the Mormon Christian theology; which is that 'in the beginning' God was two, a dyad, man and woman, Heavenly Father and Mother.

By this understanding there never was 'unity' - unless the unity is regarded as being divided in twain. The 'unity' comes from Love: love between our Heavenly Parents, which eternally 'binds' them (in a 'celestial marriage'). That is my primal reality.

The primal reality is therefore one that is dynamic, as love is dynamic; and it is one of yearning, as love contains yearning. By my understanding, then, creation is the result of an overflow of this yearning love; so that there be more autonomous, agent, independently-creative persons to love.

This is a familiar motivation arising between a loving husband and wife: the positive desire for children to expand the scope and possibility of love. The married couple's aspiration for pro-creation (and also to create a home, a family, ideally one that is ever-growing and inter-linking - with all that entails in terms of the context for such growth) is thus seen of a microcosm of the divine impulse to creation. 

The classical 'Trinitarian' formulation of Christian theology 'has it both ways' in asserting that God is both undivided-unity (with no sex) and hence of its nature static and self-sufficient; and also a triad of Father, Son and Holy Ghost (with no sex) - who are different enough to be bound together by love, hence dynamic and motivated to grow.

By this classical account; sexuality is secondary, temporary, inessential; whereas for Mormon theology sexuality is primary and causal; deriving from the nature of God - our Heavenly Parents. 

I can make no rational sense of classical Trinitarianism; but as a form of words, it covers all the bases!

However, for me, God must be either one or more-than-one; and my understanding is that God is (or rather was, primally) two. And these two were a man and a woman. And their love was the fount of creation.