THEOSOPHY, Vol. 37, No. 7, May, 1949
(Pages 311-315; Size: 15K)
(Number 13 of a 15-part series)
MIND OF THE AGE
IT is characteristic of students of Theosophy to feel that they are fortunate in possessing a source for a constantly positive or constructive attitude toward every human experience. In psychological terms, the karma of materialism, be it religious or pseudo-scientific, is the malaise of Negativism. So inevitably and yet so subtly do man's "negative" tendencies link themselves with our cultural patterns that a careful analysis of them is imperative if we are to attempt to understand the "Mind of the Age." Efforts to correct the dominance of negativism, in order to be fully effective, must be directed at all phases of pessimism and frustration, whether they reside in personal attitudes, unconscious habits, or political, social and educational institutions.
The most obvious reflections of negativism are to be found in the dominant psychic atmosphere of most modern writing, especially in those instances where the author seeks to introduce us to the mental life of a more or less "average" man -- which is the only sort most writers choose to write about. In the works of such popular authors as John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham and Frederic Wakeman we find nearly every page suffused with the "sophisticated" attitude that life is a frustrating story without a point. Aside from the romantic stereotypes of magazine serials and of the you-will-forget-this-novel-in-an-hour writing, the characters of modern literature uniformly fail to find any clear solution to the problem of internal dissatisfaction. Man is not supposed to be capable of transcending difficulties: he merely moves, largely by circumstantial impact, from situations that are relatively "happy" to those that are relatively unhappy or vice versa. The swing of the pendulum is now preponderantly in the former direction. The typical men and women of most modern novels become unhappier as the story proceeds, although they are momentarily allowed the respite of pleasant emotional stimulations.
Man's cynicism in respect to man has a long history. It is, of course, rooted in the concept of original sin or, as some recent return-to-religion essayists have it, to the concept of "personal unworthiness." Christian theology, we must remember, largely eliminated the dignity of the individual by implying that each man attains significance only as an instrument of a higher power. If one advanced in ecclesiastical ranks he became a wielder of power part of the time and an instrument of God's power at other times. But even in this instance he meant little of himself and by himself. Here we have one of the psychological roots of what has been clearly termed a "power civilization." Developments following the industrial revolution accentuated this trend. Just as the Church had its ruling class, so did the new industrial economy evolve its overlords. Political morality has therefore become a power morality, which means that in our social life we expect to substitute expediency for morality, and that it is only in our personal living that we occasionally concern ourselves with anything so petty as purely "moral" obligations.
The French revolution was a belated and abortive attempt to instill the philosophy of the dignity of the individual man into politics. The preceding formation of the American Republic had been more fortunate, since the Constitution of the United States still retains vestiges of the desire of Jefferson and Madison and Paine to bring an end to the separation between public and private morality. But by 1850 there had also occurred in the United States something that has recently been called "the second American revolution." Factional struggles for control of the many segments of the new large industries reproduced the immorality of pre-1776 political intrigue in a new area -- the economic life of the nation. And as we moved towards monopolies and other tremendous concentrations of economic power, the influence of wealth upon both local and Federal government became pronounced -- something publicly revealed with painful clarity by the Teapot Dome scandals and other episodes involving the unhealthy mingling of economic and political motivations.
Our general widespread cynicism in regard to all politics is nevertheless, for America, a retrogressive phenomenon. The idealism inspired by the spirit of the Founding Fathers was once a profound influence upon the development of our political and cultural traditions, even though after the middle of the century it lived only in the hearts of the few. Yet a certain idealism was associated with the entrance of America into the first World War. Many infused into their participation in the "crusade" a reborn spirit of dedication to the principle of human freedom. But, caught somewhere in the discrepancy between noble ends and expedient means, the general mood turned from half-hearted protest to sneering acceptance of inevitable human chicanery. People felt they could no longer pretend there was any "law" in human affairs, save the law of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.
In connection with war-participation, the history of our Christian churches is of considerable interest, for the churches mirrored the moral half-heartedness of millions who felt that they were "forced" to renounce the ethical credo of Jesus, the "Prince of Peace." If one endorses a war as a politician or as an industrialist, he may at least be allowed to retain that portion of self-respect which comes from consistency. But when a churchman accomplished the marvelous maneuver of having Jesus sanction, however indirectly, the slaughter of other human beings, the self-respect of consistency certainly cannot be maintained. Despite innumerable attempts at rationalization it is clear that Jesus was unequivocal on the matter of violence. It is reported that when Peter drew his sword to defend his Master Jesus said, "Put up the sword into the sheath; the cup which the father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" This, in the opinion of a British essayist who attempted to deal honestly with the ethical dilemma of the Christian world during World War II, even though not a Pacifist, "is the true attitude of the follower of Jesus -- to accept Pacifism and all its dire immediate consequences, not expecting an immediate miracle, but knowing the outcome of this struggle sub specie aeternitatis. Most of us are not equipped with the moral grandeur that makes this attitude possible. The Church -- all the churches -- if they are to save their souls and in the long run save the world, must declare without equivocation that they are on the side of the Pacifists."Otherwise, I am convinced [continues this writer], they will surely perish, and, even now, it is a question whether they are not too late, whether that organization called the Church is not, by its refusal to take the hard way, reduced to a bubble, a simulacrum, which, apparently rounded and substantial, is destined to perish at a breath. (And Another Thing, by Howard Spring, Harper & Brothers, 1946.)Mr. Spring apparently recognizes that the core of the inspiration to be derived from the Prophet of Nazareth is his moral idealism. Jesus expected of others, as well as of himself, actions befitting the "Children of God." Insofar, then, as Christianity has devoted itself to the high moral expectancy of its Prophet, it had warded off the countering psychological influence of priestly emphasis on the doctrine of Original Sin. But whenever the Churches have been challenged to battle by concentrations of political power, they seem to have succumbed. During wartime the Church "cooperates" with the State.
Again, in the words of Mr. Spring:It is precisely in time of war that the Christian Churches awaken to a more than customary activity, associating themselves to the hilt with the national cause. It is interesting and significant that in Russia, where the divorce between Church and State was deeper than in any country in which Christianity had made its influence felt, the movement towards an understanding between the two took momentum in wartime. And, indeed, it is not difficult to understand that in a time when thousands must die and inflict death, the Church's sanction of the manner of their death and killing will be an asset of enormous value to the state.Our Churches have always said that we must not utilize brute force in the ordering of our personal lives, but the Church has never found the courage and ability to actually attack these practices in international affairs or even in regard to political maneuverings. The real reason why the separation between Church and State has become so important for all those concerned with the rights of man is because we have had only one sort of State, a power State. If religion and State were to become united, in a cycle when the latter exercised the greatest control, we would have the termination of all opportunities for free choice and we would have to accept in our personal lives the same deification of power which has become commonplace in political terms.
In Russia this sanction could hardly be more generously accorded. The Orthodox Church there has not only called upon Christians all over the world to join in the extermination of Fascism but also "condemns those who call for mercy in the name of forgiveness." This is reported in a message from the British United Press and Exchange, recorded in the newspapers of February 7th, 1945. It is worth noting these facts with some particularity, for, even amid the craziness of the modern world, this is the first time, so far as I know, that a large section of the Christian Church has clearly stigmatised mercy and forgiveness as properties to be condemned. We have moved a long way from the God whose property is always to show mercy, and from forgiveness unto seventy times seven. I am not at the moment asking whether this attitude is necessary to man in the condition to which he has reduced himself. I am simply pointing out that here we have a church officially promulgating a view which could not be more profoundly different from that which the founder of the church advanced as the only one that could bring man into accord with the will and purpose of his heavenly Father.
During medieval times, the Church was comparatively far more powerful than it is today and the State was even weaker. The mechanisms of "spiritual" control have grown rusty, while totalitarianism has become the way of life for the modern nation. But if the spirit of the Inquisition can be so easily reincarnated in a political setting, its rebirth in the realm of religion and personal morality can also take place. Such a consummation would be complete nihilism from the standpoint of the evolution of soul; yet this trend is supported, however unconsciously, by every negative attitude of mind.
If our moral-expectancy for the human spirit is slight, we can have only one philosophy, that of hate and fear. In Theosophical terms, the commencement of all "negativism" is on the battleground within each man's psychic nature. None of us become sensual and greedy or brutal without having somehow rationalized ourselves into acceptance of man's weakness, or degradation. These things cannot be forced upon us by the State or by "economic overlords" or by the Church unless they are first accepted by individuals in their opinions of themselves and their fellows.
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:
"THE BLACKNESS OF THE SHADOW"
The Buddhist, the Hindoo, and the Mohammedan ... have not actually constructed a theology based upon the inversion of the original principles of their religion. Their light has died away till but a faint flicker remains; but Christians have developed their social and political morality out of the very blackness of the shadow thrown by "The light of the World."
--"A TURKISH EFFENDI"
MIND OF THE AGE
XIV: GREAT EXPECTATIONS
(Part 14 of a 15-part series)
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