Thursday, March 1, 2012

Responding to Barfield, Part 6: Three Problems (Two Theological, One Scientific)

[Back to Part 5]

I always want to know, what does all this stuff really mean? How does it change how I look at the world and how I act? Barfield addresses this in scattered places throughout Saving the Appearances, and I've pulled out four areas, two theological and two scientific, in which he makes specific interpretations or recommendations that I want to think about. The first three: Eucharist, the Fall, and cancer research, are shorter and I'll put them here. The fourth, evolution, is more central and longer, and that will be part 7.

This writing is fueled by Barfield's view of the importance of participation combined with the avoidance of idolatry. Remember that "original participation" is, historically, living in a world of gods and spirits, animism or polytheism of some sort. Science has removed those gods and spirits (and according to some overzealous proponents threatens to remove the Creator himself), but Barfield's underlying message is that science too has become an idol and has cut us off from the participation in the world that was the silver lining of the gods and spirits. Barfield suggests that we move forward to "final participation" of realizing we are part of this system, that our scientific hypotheses are valid but limited, and that we can now put things together again in a poetic approach to understanding/seeing the world and its connections in which we understand that God is both the transcendent creator and the immanent, nearby spirit who holds all things together in Christ. He puts it this way:

p.172 “Original participation fires the heart from a source outside itself; the images enliven the heart. But in final participation – since the death and resurrection – the heart is fired from within by Christ; and it is for the heart to enliven the images.”

What more vivid form of participation is there than eating and drinking, taking in material from outside yourself and bringing it to become part of you, a participating part? The weird Christian theology that we eat and drink Christ in the Eucharist starts makes sense as Barfield's participation:

p.170 “[T]he tender shoot of final participation has from the first been acknowledged and protected by the Church in the institution of the Eucharist. For all who partake of the Eucharist first acknowledge that the man who was born in Bethlehem was ‘of one substance with the Father’, and that ‘all things were made’ by him; and then they take that substance into themselves, together with its representations named bread and wine. This is after all the heart of the matter. There was no difficulty in understanding it, as long as enough of the old participating consciousness survived. … But, by the physical act of communion as such, men can only take the Divine substance, the ‘Name apart’ directly into the unconscious part of themselves; by way of their blood.”

We could make some atoms in the bread and wine radioactive and trace them -- a few hours later some parts of you would be glowing with radioactivity. (Just a thought experiment!) The bread and wine become part of your system, and since they are part of the body and blood of Christ, he is in you, the suffering servant and the lord of all, the word of God who created the world and holds it together. That's powerful.

Another aspect of the "participating consciousness," as Barfield puts it, is that it is communal, just as words must be shared/spoken between at least two people to be truly part of a language, to truly convey meaning. Because participation is by definition communal (you're "participating" with/in something else), communal bonds and sharing are taken for granted, and something like the fact that the stain from the first human's sin infects all humanity is much more obvious. It doesn't require a "mode of transmission" through genetic material or cultural degradation, it's just obvious that we all participate with each other with our words and that one person is not an island from the others, and can therefore effect the others. So Adam's sin can infect me -- and it can be reversed by the Second Adam as well:

p.183-184 “For instance, a non-participating consciousness cannot avoid distinguishing abruptly between the concept of ‘man’, or ‘mankind’, or even ‘men in general’ on the one hand and that of ‘a man’ – an individual human spirit – on the other. This difficulty did not arise to anything like the same extent as long as original participation survived. Therefore our predecessors were able, quite inwardly, to accept the sin of Adam as being their original sin also. And therefore we are not – because, for us, Adam (if he existed) was after all – somebody else! This has brought with it the loss of the concept of the ‘fallen’ as an essential element in the make-up of human beings; which in its turn is responsible for the devastating shallowness of so much contemporary ethics and contemporary psychology. … When the evolution of phenomena is substituted for our supposed evolution of idols, it will, I believe, be seen without much difficulty that the evolution of the individual human spirit has always proceeded step by step with the evolution of nature; and that both are indeed ‘fallen’. The biological evolution of the human race is, in fact, only one half of the story; the other has still to be told.”

Sin is a brokenness in seeing and acting, and the way we see and act are tangled up with our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and neighbors, partially through words and partially through actions. This web of perception was distorted and tainted by the very first person, and has been ever since -- with the one exception of Christ, who showed us how to step outside of that selfish entanglement.

Notice how evolution is part of Barfield's previous quote. Since he's all about words, his discussion is about the body that speaks the words and its biological development as much as it is about spirit and sin (hold that thought for Part 7). The fragmentation and specialization of language that he highlights -- the same fragmentation that is reversed when we put things together through poetic metaphor -- finds its apogee in the highly specialized and precise language of science. This is a natural consequence of the increase of knowledge but is also something to be recognized and reversed, at least at one level.

For all his positive statements about evolution, Barfield is brutal on the subject of chance. For Barfield, statements about the randomness of the universe are a major factor accelerating the fragmentation of knowledge, and who can deny that fragmentation of knowledge is only increasing recently (politically, socially as well), catalyzed by technology?:

p.145 “The hypothesis of chance has already crept from the theory of evolution into the theory of the physical foundation of the earth itself; but, more serious perhaps than that, is the rapidly increasing ‘fragmentation of science’ which occasionally attracts the attention of the British Association. There is no ‘science of sciences’; no unity of knowledge. There is only an accelerating increase in that pigeon-holed knowledge by individuals of more and more about less and less, which, if persisted in indefinitely, can only lead mankind to a sort of ‘idiocy’ (in the original sense of the word) – a state of affairs, in which fewer and fewer representations will be collective, and more and more will be private, with the result that there will in the end be no means of communication between one intelligence and another.”

It bears repeating that this is not anti-science in anything but the philosophical mode of what people mean by "science." It is anti-materialism, but pro-rationality as long as that rationality is kept in context and in community. Even though I titled part I "Pre-history never happened," the models for pre-history are worth looking into, investigating, and figuring out. We just must always remember that they are models:

“The employment of ‘models’ for the purpose of thinking may be very well; for the purposes of exposition it may even be essential – as long as we know what were are doing and do not turn the models into idols. And we shall know what we are doing with pre-history, when we have firmly grasped the fact that the phenomenal world arises from the relation between a conscious and an unconscious and that evolution is the story of the changes that relation has undergone and is undergoing.”

Ok, that last sentence, even I don't really get and I've read two of Barfield's books. So we're not there yet, right? But Barfield puts forward an example of a scientist who saw things and put things together, and did better science, as a result of looking at the world the way Barfield was. This scientist is Rudolf Steiner. I don't know that much about Steiner, actually, but I can tell you some scientists think in the mode that Barfield describes, and that this is a valid form of progress in cancer research:

p.140-141 “Cancer is a process of generation, and once we admit the concept of the potentially phenomenal, we must see that generation is not a transition from not-being to being, but a transition from potential to phenomenal existence. Steiner’s method, based on perception of the potentially phenomenal, was to diagnose a pre-cancerous condition of the blood, a condition not yet detectable by physical symptoms, and thus to take the disease at a stage where it answers better to treatment. … Steiner showed that imagination, and the final participation it leads to, involve, unlike hypothetical thinking, the whole man – thought, feeling, will, and character – and his own revelations were clearly drawn from those further stages of participation – Inspiration and Intuition – to which the systematic use of the imagination may lead.”

Steiner seems to be a polarizing figure. C.S. Lewis had a negative view of him, and questions about Steiner's writing and thinking are one of the major faultlines I can find between Lewis and Barfield. This is probably one of the reasons that Lewis called Barfield the "Second Friend" in Surprised by Joy:

"... the Second Friend is the man who disagrees with you about everything... Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. he has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one... How can he be so nearly right, and yet, invariably, just not right?"

I want both Lewis and Barfield to be my friend! I find this example to be something I can at least mull over and think about. What was different about the way Steiner looked at science? And how can we look at science in a similarly different way now? How does this go together with some of H. Gilbert Welch's argument that now we pre-screen too much for cancer because we're thinking of things too mechanically, too analytically? What is the role of Inspiration and Intuition in science?

What do you think?

[Forward to Part 7]

No comments: