THEOSOPHY, Vol. 36, No. 8, June, 1948
(Pages 361-365; Size: 14K)
(Number 2 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
II: ATTITUDES ON "MORALITY"
IF there is a reality of moral evolution, the only significant motions of the soul in any age are efforts to achieve a higher life. There must be nourishment for its aspirations, and, if sufficient sustenance is not found among conventional presentations of morality, the soul must either stop moving or experiment with new views. This latter, perhaps, is precisely what has been happening during the last three-quarters of a century in the realm of personal morality. Since orthodox religions were not revolutionized with new inspiration during this important transition period, they shortly came to be of no use at all. In Theosophical terms, the evolutionary intensification of mental and psychic powers demanded something more than religious ritual and superstition, and any religion which failed to provide a rational basis for morality was doomed to die.
The Theosophical Movement evidently includes cycles of both reform and revolution. The periods of reform are marked by the efforts of those agents who provide the means for an expanding of the moral energies already linked to accepted religious beliefs. An Eastern tradition suggests that the Buddha was a revolutionary as Gautama, but a reformer as Sankaracharya. Perhaps the greatest theosophists distinguish themselves by knowing when to favor reform and when to recognize the occasional necessity for thorough-going revolution. "Revolution," it seems, does become necessary when the mass of people show a readiness to desert the old creeds, for this is indication that no longer does any breath of moral inspiration animate the words of their codes and symbolisms.
The legends of Christianity were universally known, for instance, during the nineteenth century. The publication of Isis Unveiled called attention to the identity in tradition at many points between the Christian story and the story of the great religions in other lands. Those who knew and instinctively respected something in the description of the Holy Trinity, of Jesus on the Mount, and of the Virgin birth of the Saviour, were given opportunity to utilize the comparative religious studies of Mme. Blavatsky, and to approach "theosophy" by reflection upon them. Yet today, how many have one-tenth of the nineteenth-century familiarity with these Christian teachings? And when the mind of the age once deserts, there is no return -- nor has there ever been. The gradual abandonment of Christianity by the average man left the "brave new world" without any accessible source for faith in moral idealism, save that of a popularly discredited Theosophy itself. The fine men of religion who still ennobled orthodox Christianity were fewer in number. The most inspiring Christians became simply humanitarians: the doctrines had died for them, too. The Christian religion was dead, even though the way of life attributed to Jesus might be a spiritual reality in the lives of many men.
There is, in a strict sense, no such thing as "social" morality. All morality is personal. The word "moral" implies an individual or personal grasp of principle and the individual or personal effort to apply it. Social conventions, whether they relate to standards of business or marriage or to international rules of warfare, have nothing essentially to do with morality, but provide the mental and emotional environment in which a man's choices must be made. Notions characteristic of our time, concerning the nature of man, tend towards the obscuration of this fact -- morality being conceived as a necessary compromise between conflicting pressures in family or social life. Morality is currently thought of in terms of laws and accepted customs, but this presents us with a serious psychological difficulty, for no one can truly have his heart in a morality he is trying to practice on such a basis. To believe that certain restrictions and conventions are a good sort of compromise for the majority does not mean that the individual so believing will always desire to follow them, nor that he will expect to. Any compromise-morality inevitably sets up a persistent dissatisfaction in the mind -- "Could I get more out of this arrangement if I were clever?" Deviations from a morality considered to be simply a "norm" of behavior are regarded only from the standpoint of expedience or inexpedience. There is no clearly recommendable line of motivation which the modern man may strive to reach.
This is an old question indeed. The central theme of Plato's Republic is the difference between the way of thinking represented by Socrates and that of Thrasymachus, the latter arguing that if society thinks one to be virtuous, that is all that is necessary. Men in general have adopted the position of Thrasymachus, because the emphasis of theological Christianity was upon the external strictures of morality rather than upon morality itself and because it is very hard to unlearn this attitude of mind.
In political terms, the vogue of "scientific materialism" which followed the death of traditional religion was simply the doctrine of the mass man. It was the belief that men could only help themselves and the world they lived in by social planning -- this faith in "a new world now" was not an outgrowth of the viewpoint which inspired the founders of the American Republic, for there was a subtle and damaging essential difference. Washington, Jefferson and Paine believed in the reality of soul and spirit. The twentieth century does not. Therefore, while the social planning of the Founding Fathers expected and encouraged the best from man, today's plans show that only the worst is really expected. Twentieth-century "planning" has principally been devoted to finding ways of protecting ourselves from each other, for we believe that since we are all driven primarily by brute instincts, the smart thing is to know the laws of the jungle better than other people do. This is a root attitude in respect to morality. It encourages men to fight each other, whether via class struggle, competitive business, or in international war, and is also a subtle influence in relations between men and women, though here the majority of serious conflicts are psychological.
It is, in fact, in those areas of experience symbolized by the word "marriage" that the assimilated philosophy of any age, whether good or bad, has its greatest force of impact in determination of the course of human lives. Within those relationships which involve both emotional interaction and the issue of children, man faces his widest range of problems, and as he comes to think and act in what appears to be only a "personal" situation, so will he in time come to think and act in respect to education, economics, politics and religion. Here man must come to some sort of terms with his own animal energies; here he must meet another human being faced with the same problem, and here both of them must move toward the establishment of some sort of practical philosophy which clarifies distinctions between vagrant desires and the needs of the soul.
The field of inter-relationships between men and women is known to be important by all save the few who seek to escape difficult problems by denying that any significant issues are focussed on the psychic plane. But its importance is interpreted almost entirely in materialistic, rather than in philosophical, terms. From the theosophical point of view, it is therefore a problem falsely stated, and not open to constructive discussion in its prevailing context. To talk about "sex problems" as such is to imply that matters of psychic maladjustment may be corrected on the physical plane, which is to admit a fallacious premise. There are problems in plenty, perhaps the most difficult of our age, which involve physical inter-relationships, but their root and origin is in every case mental and moral rather than physical.
Following the impact of the "Darwinian school," with its concept of man as a slightly refined animal, Sigmund Freud pioneered a series of investigations in forms of sex motivation, and the hypotheses he evolved to interpret his observations were regarded as a new and complete revelation. A "science of sex" arose -- in reality, another cult -- and the majority of people came to consider "sex" the central engrossing problem which, though specialized, has much to do with all human behavior. Books on the subject, involving every conceivable phase of physical and emotional relationship, are always best sellers, and, almost without exception, the modern novel is orientated around the fascination of eroticism. The whole pre-occupation with a single phase of human experience stems from the impact of the animalistic interpretation of all human behavior. Men are simply seeking escape from a world made drab by lack of creative moral inspiration -- in other words, a world bereft of philosophy.
The overt nature of present pre-occupation with "sex" is an undeniable feature of the mind of the age. In order to understand this trend, it is necessary to realize that for many centuries every feeling and impulse of the physical man was supposed to be evil. Today, by an inevitable swing of the pendulum, each physical impulse is welcomed as a possible road to happiness. Neither extreme, however, can reveal truth. In Theosophical terms, the realm of the senses can neither be good nor evil in itself, for "good" and "evil" pertain to the way man lives in the sensory world. Those who are psychologically bound to physical sensations by lack of understanding are in nearly the same case as were their sin-ridden forbears, though the pre-occupation is now positive instead of negative.
A man's actual "behavior" is never as dangerous, whatever it may be, as is the lack of faith in one's own moral strength and significance. Until men have adequate encouragement to seek out a "higher life," their actions may properly be regarded as more confused than evil -- and much of the confusion may be traced to various religious pronouncements against any possibility of a life consecrated to a natural harmony between body and soul.
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
"ERROR OF ECCENTRICITY"
The fundamental truths are all men's property. Whether or not we live by them, we all know them, with a deep instinctiveness. In the realm of human conduct, particularly, I do not suppose it is possible for any man, however acute or profound his mental processes may be, to say anything bearing the stamp of universal truth that many other men, in equivalent words, have not said before him.... The desperate effort to be original has led many a young writer into stony pastures.... T. S. Eliot, in one of his percipient moments, pointed out that it is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. How could he be, when these are the common property of mankind, evoked by the same stimuli through untold generations of men? One error, he remarked, "of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all."
The fear of saying what has been said before is one of the least formidable fears that any writer has to face. There always comes a time when something needs to be said again.
--J. DONALD ADAMS
MIND OF THE AGE
III: THE PERSONAL DILEMMA
(Part 3 of a 15-part series)
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