Some modest thoughts on the autonomy of spiritual insight.

To acknowledge anthroposophy means to spiritually experience what anthroposophy expresses. At Steiner’s time, spirituality often found its expression in religious belief. Religious belief can be based on two sources, one is dogma, the other is religious experience.

Dogmatic belief is in a certain sense blind, it naively follows a given commandment out of feelings such as trust, fear or even indifference. Spiritually seen, deep and profound forces can be at work behind dogmatic belief, such that one cannot take on a wholly critical view of dogmatic belief. What can be said however, is that this kind of belief cannot be the starting point for true spiritual insights, although such belief could under certain circumstances lead a person to advance to such a starting point.

Such a person seeks to peer into spiritual worlds, but finds a void, and is therefore forced to believe that such a world exists, so to speak. One worldview might appeal more to some persons, while others will be drawn to yet other worldviews. And so one holds to a set of dogmas, which helps the individual fill in this void that exists within. And this void then really exists within, because the individual spirit feels that it belongs to a spiritual whole. If the individual spirit cannot tap into and connect with this whole, it withers to a certain extent.

Religious experience is different from dogmatic belief, but is also related to this kind of belief. A religious experience often begins with some kind of dogma, but unlike a dogmatic belief, this belief is experienced by the individual in such a way that it allows him or her to experience something spiritual, to be met by something genuinely spiritual.

In this way, religious experience is also a kind of spiritual experience, but differs from spiritual insight. What differs here is that this kind of experience can be non-recurring, and that it’s not dependant on the individual. A breeze may let the sun shine through the curtains, but spiritual insight lets the individual draw aside the curtains and see for him or herself.

My point is that only when we take matters into our own hands can we acquire true spiritual insight. This realization also means that we are called to reject authorities on spiritual matters. The question that’s driving me as a spiritual scientist is therefore how such an insight and autonomy can be acquired on spiritual matters.

In regards to Rudolf Steiner, who is the authority on anthroposophical matters par excellence, I see things in the following way; we are like students who are eager to learn the art of painting, and we do not shy from grabbing the brush and setting to paint. But whoever aspires to greatness, must also learn from the great masters. What would painting be without Michelangelo?

Obviously, for someone who has never drawn, never studied the nature of color and the mixing of colors, never studied perspective etc., it’s not that easy to see why Michelangelo was brilliant. Likewise, Rudolf Steiner is a person whose brilliance can only be seen, when one attempts to go down the same path that he went.

A great advantage of our time is the fact that we feel a certain hostility towards dogma, which means that we cannot accept authorities on spiritual matters. The drawback is that we’ve lost the capacity for religious experience. This drawback is however also a great advantage, it means that spiritual insight must be autonomous, must stem from ourselves.

Despite these facts we stand facing the spiritual worlds as a dark and quiet void, a nothing. So how do we draw aside the curtains? Steiner once said that up until modern times the gods intervened in human affairs to help mankind, now however, mankind has reached a point of maturity in which the gods have nothing more to offer mankind. An odd turn of events, where now the gods are waiting quietly, and mankind is in the position to return the favor.

But how? In my next posts I’ll look at some lectures and writings of Steiner, where he gives what I feel is an adequate answer to these questions. Here is an excerpt from a poem of Goethe’s, which Steiner quoted in his first lecture, and which I believe sheds some light on the question of spiritual knowledge:

So doth the Hero mightily inspire
His equals through the chain of centuries:
The heights a noble spirit can attain
May not be mastered in life’s narrow span.
Hence also after death his soul continues,
Not less creative now than when he lived;
The noble deed, the beautiful idea
Strives deathless on, as mortally it strove.
So thou, too, livest through unmeasured time
In fields of immortality sublime.

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