the history of western spirituality - from the Celestine Prophecy
JAMES REDFIELD, in The Celestine Prophecy, has this to say about the history of western spirituality and cultural values:
To understand history you must grasp how your everyday view of the world developed, how it was created by the reality of the people who lived before you. It took a thousand years to evolve the modern way of looking at things, and to really understand where you are today, you must take yourself back to the year 1000 and then move forward through the entire millennium, as though you actually lived through the whole period yourself in a single lifetime.
Imagine yourself being alive in the year one thousand, in what we have called the Middle Ages. The first thing you must understand is that the reality of this time is being defined by the powerful churchmen of the Christian church. Because of their position, these men hold great influence over the minds of the populace. And the world these churchmen describe as real is, above all, spiritual. They are creating a reality which places their idea about God's plan for mankind at the very center of life.
You find yourself in the class of your father-- essentially peasant or aristocrat-- and you know that you will always be confined to this class. But regardless of which class you're in, or the particular work that you do, you soon realize that social position is secondary to the spiritual reality of life as defined by the churchmen.
Life is about passing a spiritual test, you discover. The churchmen explain that God has placed mankind at the center of his universe, surrounded by the entire cosmos, for one solitary purpose: to win or lose salvation. And in this trial you must correctly choose between two opposing forces: the force of God and the lurking temptations of the devil.
As a mere individual you aren't qualified to determine your status in this regard. This is the province of the churchmen; they are there to interpret the scriptures and to tell you every step of the way whether you are in accordance with God or whether you are being duped by Satan. If you follow their instructions, you are assured that a rewarding afterlife will follow. But if you fail to heed the course they prescribe, then, well... there is excommunication and certain damnation.
The important thing to understand here is that every aspect of the Medieval world is defined in other-worldly terms. All the phenomena of life-- from the chance thunderstorm or earthquake to the success of crops or the death of a loved one-- is defined either as the will of God or as the malice of the devil. There is no concept of weather or geological forces or horticulture or disease. All that comes later. For now, you completely believe the churchmen; the world you take for granted operates solely by spiritual means.
The Medieval world view, your world view, begins to fall apart in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. [In addition to the Black Plague becoming endemic to Europe], you notice certain improprieties on the part of the churchmen themselves; secretly violating their vows of chastity, for example, or taking gratuities to look the other way when government officials violate scriptural laws.
These improprieties alarm you because these churchmen hold themselves to be the only connection between yourself and God. Remember they are the only interpreters of the scriptures, the sole arbiters of your salvation.
Suddenly you are in the midst of outright rebellion. A group led by Martin Luther is calling for a complete break from Papal Christianity. The churchmen are corrupt, they say, demanding an end to the churchmen's (p24) reign over the minds of the people. New churches are being formed based on the idea that each person should be able to have access to the scriptures personally and to interpret them as they wish, with no middlemen. [Not quite the truth, but with the advent of the printing press, this was the effect of increasing literacy and the availability of the printed word.]
As you watch in disbelief, the rebellion succeeds. The churchmen begin to lose. For centuries these men defined reality, and now, before your eyes, they are losing their credibility. Consequently, the whole world is being thrown into question. The clear consensus about the nature of the universe and about humankind's purpose here, based as it was on the churchmen's description, is collapsing-- leaving you and all the other humans in western culture in a very perilous place.
There was a tremendous upheaval. The old world view was being challenged everywhere. In fact, by the 1600s, astronomers had proved beyond a doubt that the sun and stars did not revolve around the Earth as maintained by the church. Clearly the Earth was only one small planet orbiting a minor sun in a galaxy that contained billions of such stars.
This is important. Mankind has lost its place at the center of God's universe. See the effect this had? Now, when you watch the weather, or plants growing, or someone suddenly die, what you feel is an anxious bafflement. In the past, you might have said God was responsible, or the devil. But as the medieval world view breaks down, that certainty goes with it. All the things you took for granted now need new definition, especially the nature of God and your relationship to God.
With that awareness... the Modern Age begins. There is a growing democratic spirit and a mass distrust of papal and royal authority. Definitions of the universe based on speculation or scriptural faith are no (p25) longer automatically accepted. In spite of the loss of certainty, we didn't want to risk some new group controlling our reality as the churchmen had. If you had been there you would have participated in the creation of a new mandate for science.
You would have looked out on this vast undefined universe and you would have thought, as did the thinkers of that day, that we needed a method of consensus-building, a way to systematically explore this new world of ours. And you would have called this new way of discovering reality the scientific method, which is nothing more than testing an idea about how the universe works, arriving afterward at some conclusion, and then offering this conclusion to others to see if they agree.
Then you would have prepared explorers to go out into this new universe, each armed with the scientific method, and you would have given them their historic mission: Explore this place and find out how it works and what it means that we find ourselves alive here.... So you sent these explorers out to find the true nature of your situation and to report back.
The Manuscript... says that at this point we began the preoccupation from which we are awakening now. We sent these explorers out to bring back a complete explanation of our existence, but because of the complexity of the universe they weren't able to return right away....
When the scientific method couldn't bring back a new picture of God and of mankind's purpose on the planet, the lack of certainty and meaning affected Western culture deeply. We needed something else to do until our questions were answered. Eventually we arrived at what seemed to be a very logical solution. We (p26) looked at each other and said: "Well, since our explorers have not yet returned with our true spiritual situation, why not settle into this new world of ours while we are waiting? We are certainly learning enough to manipulate this new world for our own benefit, so why not work in the meantime to raise our standard of living, our sense of security in the world?"
And that's what we did. Four centuries ago! We shook off our feeling of being lost by taking matters into our own hands, by focusing on conquering the Earth [the use of the word conquest hand in hand with technology was common in late 19th and early to mid-20th century thought] and using its resources to better our situation, and only now, as we approach the end of the millennium can we see what happened. Our focus gradually became a preoccupation. We totally lost ourselves in creating a secular society, an economic security, to replace the spiritual one we had lost. The question of why we were alive, of what was actually going on here spiritually, was slowly pushed aside and repressed altogether.
Working to establish a more comfortable style of survival has grown to feel complete in and of itself as a reason to live, and we've gradually, methodically, forgotten our original question... We've forgotten that we still don't know what we're surviving for.
Have you grasped the Second Insight? Do you feel as if you have a (p27) clearer perspective on the human world. Do you see how preoccupied everyone has been? This perspective explains a lot. How many people do you know who are obsessed with their work, who are type A or have stress related diseases and who can't slow down? They can't slow down because they use their routine to distract themselves, to reduce life to only its practical considerations. And they do this to avoid recalling how uncertain they are about why they live.
The Second Insight extends our consciousness of historical time.... It shows us how to observe culture not just from the perspective of our own lifetimes but from the perspective of a whole millennium. It reveals our preoccupation to us and so lifts us above it. You have just experienced this longer history. You now live in a longer now. When you look at the human world, you should be able to clearly see this obsessiveness, the intense preoccupation with economic progress.
The Manuscript says the preoccupation was a necessary development, a stage in human evolution. Now, however, we've spent enough time settling into the world. It's time now to wake up from the preoccupation and reconsider our original question. What's behind life on this planet? Why are we really here?
A thousand years ago we had lived in a world where God and human spirituality were clearly defined. And then we had lost it, or better, we had decided there was more to the story. Accordingly, we had sent explorers out to discover the real truth and to report back, and when they had taken too long we had become preoccupied with a new, secular purpose, one of settling into the world, of making ourselves more comfortable.
We discovered that metallic ores could be melted down and fashioned into all kinds of gadgets. We invented sources of power, first [water and wind, then] steam then gas and electricity and fission. We systematized farming and mass production and now commanded huge stores of material goods and vast networks of distribution.
Propelling it all was the call to progress, the desire of the individual to provide his own security, his own purpose while he was waiting for the truth. We had decided to create a more comfortable and pleasurable life for ourselves and our children, and in a mere four hundred years our preoccupation had created a human world where all the comforts of life could now be produced. The problem was that our focused, obsessive drive to conquer (p29) nature and make ourselves more comfortable had left the natural systems of the planet polluted and on the verge of collapse. We couldn't go on this way.
The Second Insight did make our new awareness seem inevitable. We were reaching a climax in our cultural purpose. We were accomplishing what we had collectively decided to do, and as this happened, our preoccupation was breaking down and we were waking up to something else. I could almost see the momentum of the Modern Age slowing as we approached the end of the millennium. A four hundred year old obsession had been completed. We had created the means of material security, and now we seemed to be ready... to find out why we had done it.
How to connect is not just one insight; it's all of them. Remember in the Second Insight where it describes how explorers would be sent out into the world utilizing the scientific method to discover the meaning of human life on this planet? But they would not return right away? Well, the remainder of the insights represent the answers finally coming (p36) back. But they aren't just coming from institutional science. The answers... are coming from many different areas of inquiry. The finding of physics, psychology, mysticism, and religion are all coming together into a new synthesis based on a perception of the coincidences.
We're learning the details of what the coincidences mean, how they work, and as we do we're constructing a whole new view of life, insight by insight....
You have to understand the history of science. Think about the Second Insight for a moment. After the fall of the medieval world view, we in the west suddenly became aware that we lived in a totally unknown universe. In attempting to understand the nature of this universe we knew we had to somehow separate fact from superstition. In this regard... scientists assumed a particular attitude known as scientific skepticism, which... demands solid evidence for any new assertion about how the world works. Before we would believe anything, we wanted evidence that could be seen and grabbed with the hands. Any idea that couldn't be proved in some physical way was systematically rejected.
This attitude served us well with the more obvious phenomena in nature, with objects such as rocks and bodies and trees, objects everyone can perceive no matter how skeptical they are. We quickly went out and named every part of the physical world, attempting to discover why the universe operated as it did. We finally concluded that everything that occurs in nature does so according to some natural law, that each event has a direct physical and understandable cause. Scientists have not been that different from others in our time period.... The idea was to create an understanding of the universe that made the world seem safe and manageable, and the skeptical attitude kept us focused on concrete problems that would make our existence seem more secure.
With this attitude... science systematically removed the uncertain and esoteric from the world. We concluded, following the thinking of Isaac Newton, that the universe always operated in a predictable manner, like an enormous machine, because for a long time that's all it could be proved to be [that was the only analog construct which showed proven results in the 19th- and 20th centuries]. Events which happened simultaneously to other events yet had no causal relationship were said to occur only by chance.
Then, two investigations occurred which opened our eyes again to the mystery in the universe. Much has been written over the past several decades about the revolution in physics, but the changes really stem from two major findings, those of quantum mechanics and those of Albert Einstein.
The whole of Einstein's life's work was to show that what we perceive as hard matter is mostly empty space with a pattern of energy running through it. This includes ourselves. And what quantum physics has shown is that when we look at these patterns of energy at smaller and smaller levels, startling results can be seen. Experiments have revealed that wen you break apart small aspects of this energy, what we call elementary particles, and try to observe how they operate, the act of observation itself alters the results-- as if these elementary particles are influenced by what the experimenter expects. This is true even if the particles must appear in places they couldn't possibly go, given the laws of the universe as we know them: two places at the same moment, forward or backward in time, that sort of thing.
In other words, the basic stuff of the universe, at its core, is looking like a kind of pure energy that is malleable to human intention and expectation in a way that defies our old mechanistic model of the universe-- as though our expectation itself causes our energy to flow out into the world and affect other energy systems. Which, of course, is what the Third Insight would lead us to believe. Unfortunately, most scientists don't take this idea seriously. They would rather remain skeptical, and wait and see if we can prove it.
The Third Insight brings a transformed understanding of the physical universe. Sometime near the end of the second millennium, it predicted, humans would discover a new energy which formed the basis of and radiated outward from all things, including ourselves. The human perception of this energy first begins with a heightened sensitivity to beauty.
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