Saturday, May 30, 2015

Death before life...

The following is the text of an email (edited)  I sent to a friend, an anthroposophist,  who loaned me George Ritchie's book, Return from Tomorrow: 

Hi....Thanks for loaning me this book. The near-death-experience-movement awakening has been seemingly spearheaded by a Southerner, George Ritchie, and later Raymond Moody, who was also Southern and Christian. Since that beginning, this movement has exploded into the New Age circuit, with a loss of its original Christian focus.

Ritchie's book contained important moments of moral awakening, and this is also something frequently absent in subsequent New Age accounts of after-death experience. For example, note the following passages as he recounts his efforts to integrate his experience into the ongoing path of his life:

~the overcoming of self (“I wondered if we always had to die, some stubborn part of us, before we could see more of Him,” p. 112), 
~the strong sense of purpose to life on earth (“God is busy building a race of men who know how to love,” p. 124) ;
~the awareness of the need for ethics in society (“If we were truly entering the age of atomic power, without knowing the Power that created it, then it was only a matter of time until we destroyed ourselves and our earth as well,” p. 121).

I have to wonder if this afterlife consciousness movement had the potential for a deeper awakening for America which it has somehow failed to attain. The flowering of interest in afterlife experiences in the USA staring in the 1940’s might be loosely compared to the flowering of the Romantic poets in 19th century England. In both cases it seems to me there was the attempt to get away from excessively "objectified" or reductive speech.
What might a true maturation of the afterlife narrative mean?
It seems to me that the potential of this afterlife awareness was well enunciated by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in his book, The Christian Future, published in 1946. He is talking about life in America, the polarity of suburb and factory (yes, we actually still had manufacturing back then) and he says that this environment “is perfect for production and education, and impotent for reproduction and creation.”  It is against this background, he says, that “we have to discuss the qualities necessary for creating future communities.” The heart of his message is this:
“…This creation of Future is a highly costly and difficult process. It can be done but it does not happen by itself. The progress made so far as always been a progress by Christians; especially in the natural sciences, progress is the fruit of Christianity. For Christianity is the embodiment of one single truth through the ages: that death precedes birth, that birth is the fruit of death, and that the soul is precisely this power of transforming an end into a beginning by obeying a new name.” (p.10)
George Ritchie’s experience was the true beginning of his life’s deepest purpose. But how can an individual’s discovery of purpose through such an experience be fruitful for the society as a whole? This is the question that awaits America – an America which in 2015 is so bloated with corruption and incompetence that it has become a danger to the entire world. America needs a near-death encounter  to gain the possibility of wisdom. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Beyond the Fringe...Not

I picked up a book at the library--Fringe-Ology, by Steve Volk (HarperCollins, 2011). Steve Volk is a Philadelphian and has written and published in local publications. I was curious to see what he had to say.

The subject is the vast incommunicable distance between the followers of hard science and those of spirituality, ESP, after-death communication--the whole "New Age" raft of post-religious searching.

Volk himself seems to be more in the hard science camp, and his book was, to me, too apologetic, as if he were somehow to be banished from the inner circle of bien-pensants because of his openness to certain ideas. There were some bizarre experiences in his childhood home--strange rappings and knockings. The family finally called in a priest; the knockings, in one last dramatic flourish, stopped. There isn't much in the way of research or explanation, nor--if truth be had--real drama.  But the lack of dramatic quality in so much modern writing and literature is a topic for another day-- not the occasion for this brief note. (1)

What sparked this brief note was Volk's account of how quantum physics plays a part in the theory of consciousness. He discusses Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, who came up with something called "orch-OR" or the "orchestrated objective reduction," described in these terms:

" 'The observer effect, in which the wave form is said to 'collapse' into a particular state, is consciousness;   each conscious moment is a collapse.' The Penrose-Hameroff model relates collapse of the wave function/consciousness to fundamental components of the universe--like the properties of space and time. They cannot be explained or reduced because there is nothing to reduce them to."

I could not help thinking that this description sounds like an elaborate, even highly baroque or rococo, detour to get to the fundamentals of human interaction. Those fundamentals are to be found in grammar, not in quantum physics.  It seems to me that a study of Rosenstock-Huessy's writings would help the scientist climb down from his head perch and become aware of his speech, his hands and his feet-- :All language is an attempt to enact the processes of the cosmos always and everywhere," Rosenstock wrote in "How Language Establishes Relations." There's something about our contemporary intellectual culture that keeps coming across as a parody. It's as if people had forgotten something even more basic than the alphabet, like how to say "thank you" or shake hands with somebody.


(1) Indeed. "The greatest temptation of our time is impatience, in its full original meaning: refusal to wait, undergo, suffer. We seem unwilling to pay the price of living with our fellows in creative and profound relationships. From marriage to teaching, from government to handicraft, man's relation to man has become segregated, impatient, non-committal in the machine age. To be non-committal means to keep all relations without important consequences, to rob them of their reproductive, fruit-bearing quality." Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future,1946, 1966, HarperTorchbooks,  p. 19. The lack of dramatic quality in so much modern poetry and singer-songwriters seems to me related.