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From Mythic to Rational Consciousness

31 October 2010

A few weeks ago I spoke about states of development of Conscious awareness. I am beginning to explore in my reading the idea that Spiritual development can be understood as the evolving of conscious awareness, and that this can be understood both as the development of human societies, of the human person and of spirituality.

A book I have found helpful is by Jim Marion (Author, Teacher of Christian Spirituality and Public Policy Lawyer) titled “Putting on the Mind of Christ; The inner work of Christian Spirituality”

Marion talks about states that can be applied to stages of our human development, they can be applied to stages of our Cultural/Social development, as well as being states of consciousness of faith that we all might evolve through at various times in our life.

The basic states of conscious awareness Marion describes are:

Archaic (could be understood as the Stone Age of human societies, the period from birth to age 3 in an human person, and a spirituality primarily dominated by sensations and impulses).

Magic (could be understood as tribal cultural stages of human societies, age 2 – 7 in a person and a spirituality of Magic words and ceremonies).

Mythic (Understood as the Empire stage – conquering the world, ages 7 – adolescence in a person, and the spirituality of God who sets the rules and roles, concrete and established forever).

Rational (Humanity developing abstract thinking and universal principles – all are created equal. Social analysis and criticism of assumed conventions and roles. It is the age of adolescence in a person, and the spirituality of the individual – my vision, my future, my contribution to society).

Pluralistic …… and so on.

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his Ninety-five Theses on the castle church in Wittenberg and jump-started what we now call the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation had a profound impact on the greater transformation of the Western World, and the intellectual and scientific age that was to come.

All of you are probably much better historians than I and so I don’t wish to go over the whole of the reformation period. But some dot points will help to arouse the memory for us.

The reformation occurred around a number of significant factors.

1. Break with Roman Empire and Roman Church. This was to do with both corruption of the clergy (selling of indulgences, greed of popes and increase in taxes for the benefit of Church wealth), and the rise of the individual (movement away from Communal life of the monastry).

2. Rise of Education and intellectual empowerment for ordinary folk.

3. Printing Press which lead to democratized knowledge, technological development, biblical language in the vernacular and launched theological scholarship and textual analysis.

While in many ways a liberation and appropriate attack on Church corruption, the Reformation also failed to realize its own misguided idealism of the bible. First, when Luther burned the books of Catholic canon law at Wittenberg’s Elster Gate on December 10, 1520, he symbolized an important Protestant distinctive. Luther wrote, “What else do I contend for but to bring everyone to an understanding of the difference between the divine Scripture and human teaching or custom?” Calvin objected to the “tyranny of human tradition which is haughtily thrust upon us under the title of the Church.” The Reformers did not reject tradition outright, but they objected to the elevation of tradition to the status of Scripture.

The Reformers placed the Scriptures above the church. They insisted that the Bible interprets itself, and that through the Holy Spirit, God instructs its readers in a direct and individual manner rather than binding their consciences to the supposedly reliable teaching of the church. Rome knew that encouraging individuals to read the Bible for themselves, in their own vernacular, would undermine the authority of their hierarchy. Thus, the Roman Index of 1596 prohibited translations of the Bible into everyday vernacular, and publically burned such Bibles as they could find. Rome also rightly predicted that sectarian zeal devoted to private Bible-reading would fragment the church into scattered shards.

The Reformation became a debate about interpretation of scripture and the Reformers’ cry was ‘In scripture alone’. The affirmation was on the individual, leading to the discovery of the priesthood of all believers. The centrality of scriptures for the individual was paramount. The WORD prevailed over image, over the ear and the eye. Sacraments were drastically reduced and made subordinate to preaching. The liturgical centre was rearranged with the altar being replaced by a central pulpit. One of the reactions of the Reformers was against the selling of indulgences, emphasizing not on what people could and should do for their salvation but on what God had already done in Christ.

The churches of the Reformation were involved in a battle for sheer survival while protestant reformers were consumed in arguing their doctrinal interpretations of the bible. The painful disagreements between the Catholic and Protestant Church placed the focus on interpretation of the scripture and correct formulation of doctrine. Catholics reinforced tradition, protestants reinforced the precise, original and unchanging word of God. At the same time the Protestant Church split into sects, each with their own doctrinal basis and interpretation of the bible. Eventually Lutherans divided from Lutherans, reformed separated from reformed, each group justifying its action by appealing to the marks of the true church, with an emphasis on correct teaching and preaching and pure doctrine.

In the midst of this conflict anything that lay outside the tradition or scripture was branded as suspicious, potentially heretical, and to be silenced even by force. Christians tortured, burned, beheaded, and quartered each other over the nature of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. From the Peasants’ War in 1525 until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War, there were few times and places without barbaric warfare.

What emerged though at the same time was a new rational conscious awareness in the world. Prior to this period the view of Cosmology was that the earth was the centre of the universe and everything revolved around the earth in a uniform manner. Everything was fixed. Whereas the church had been in partnership in cultural advances up until this point, a new awareness was sacrificed in the interests of doctrinal orthodoxy. The classic example of this is the churches condemnation of Galileo. Copernicus and then Galileo described a Sun-centered planetary system as opposed to an earth-centered system. What then developed from the 1600s on was that science and culture developed without reference to the Christian church.

Newton, for example, although a devout Christian, developed his theories not on theological assumptions of the Myths of the Church, but said that the universe functions according to laws that could only be expressed mathematically.

However, the new paradigm of rational conscious awareness was not taking place in society as a whole, but was being conducted in the world of science and philosophy in the Universities and Halls of academia, particularly in London and France. Most people were still coming into a world to be greeted by Christianity of one form or another which would then mould them and guide them through life. Church historian Stephen Neill gives a description of the situation in England at the time which probably described the church in every country in Europe at the time.

“ The church was defined by what was happening inside its four walls. The church was the place where the gospel was taught purely and the sacraments administered rightly. It is a place where something is done, not a living organism doing something. Such definitions”, Neill says “call up a vision of the typical English village of not more than 40 inhabitants where all are baptised Christians, compelled to live more or less Christian lives under the brooding eye of parson and squire. In such a context, all are in some sense Christian and need to be safeguarded against error in religion and viciousness in life.”

In the university halls, however, matter was not passive but was a dynamic, which obeyed its own laws. It is not God who makes the world go round but a dynamic energy of causes and effects, which flow from one to the other. God might exist, but had not revealed “secrets” to humanity in the church. What emerged then following the Reformation was a challenge to both the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church that there was no salvation outside the church.

What intrigues me is this concept of the evolution of states of consciousness, both as a universal principal, a cultural and social principal and as an individual principal. If we look at Marion’s outline of Mythic conscious awarness he says the World view in this state is concrete, definite and one of rules and roles. It is the state of law and order and conformity. What the authority figures say is right and wrong, is right and wrong. God is imagined as the Good Parent. Earthly fathers are made in the image of the heavenly father. Within the mythic view, my country is best, my religion is best, other beliefs, nationalities, etc., are inferior, I am rewarded if I am good and punished if I am bad based on the concrete rules established by the authority figures. God is above – meaning separate and greater. I can petition God to work wonders like I can petition the authority figures, kings, etc. God made the world, the earth is the centre of the universe.

Within the Mythical view my sense of worth is based on obedience to the rules. Religion is not learned but assumed, the tradition is passed on and inherited. Beliefs are defended and it is important for others to agree with my view. It is the world view that believes governments and society should be in line with the mythic views of the religion – for example, that we should be a Christian Country and worried about being taken over by the Muslims. In the mythic view we are suspicious of those who do not believe the same.

It was the mythic consciousness that lead to the Crusades, the Inquisition, that lead to the 30 year war between Catholics and Protestants – it is the mythic consciousness that has killed millions in the name of religion. Our present day war on terrorism since September 11, 2000 has all the rhetoric and marks of a mythic worldview. It was a mythic world view that meant cultures sought to build empires by conquering the world – it was a universalism based on my truth.

Marion says that Rational Consciousness is the development of abstract ideas and universal principals, developing rational and logical thinking. He says that when the church is challenged by rational consciousness there is the attempt to reassert concrete beliefs and confirm literal understandings of the Christian myths and doctrine. This is evident in the Uniting Church presently where a number of discussions happening at the Assembly level that challenge our thinking are being met with Doctrinal argument.

Marion says that the Spirit wants us to evolve in our conscious awareness. He says that all states are important for our healthy development, but they are not ends. We are to evolve as a universe, an humanity, and an individual in our awareness. Rational consciousness takes place at the level of reason, the analysis and criticism of conventional roles and rules. What emerges is that the laws of science are no longer limited to religious myths. The Reformation took place within a worldview that was at the Mythic state. Perhaps unintentionally it became the catalyst for the evolution of the rational. The Reformation gave rise to some of our great scholars, and later the great enlightenment scientists and philosophers, many, who in spite of their rejections of the myths of the church, remained devoutly Christian.

In the Reformation, arguments over creeds and doctrines lead to the church emphasizing the bible and theology as the means to salvation. In the meantime Newton, Galileo and others where exploring the universe and discovering new theories by which we might know ourselves.

Christianity as an institution has dragged its feet – kicking and screaming, as in the case of Galileo. But in the Western World it has also been the birthplace of the great thinkers.

Over the coming weeks I would like to explore further the concept of an evolving conscious awareness. The enlightenment period lead to even further shits and challenges for the mythical consciousness and one might suggest has paved the way for a shift in our present age from a rational to a pluralistic conscious awareness.

The future for the Church and for Christianity will not be in repeating history and bunkering down and hoping beyond hope that our tradition will be inherited. It will be as the church discovers its heart, and explores the cosmos, becomes a place of intellectual and philosophical integrity, and in the words of Lloyd Gearing – that religion again becomes the dimension of culture that reflects its inner meaning.

Awaken to a new perspective – a new reformation is upon us…a new conscious awareness.

May peace be with you……

Greg

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