modern life for the spiritually sensitive

this is a funny lecture on technology and the spiritual (Technology and Art: Their Bearing on Modern Culture). It is funny because Steiner so clearly mocks the exact behaviour typical of anthroposophists. And anthroposophy does just what he warns it against doing: focuses on material things — painting the walls in the right colours, avoiding modern technology and other advancements — and withdraws from society, preferring a secluded lifestyle… Nowhere is it more apparent than in the raising and education of children, given that parenting always seems to include a certain amount of unhealthy obsessions bordering on fundamentalism: children should be sheltered from modernity, and instead be surrounded by colours, materials and shapes that lull them (and restrict them, in my opinion) — according to waldorf philosophy. But doesn’t Steiner actually say this is essentially wrong? He does speak, of course, about adults — anthroposophists — here:

“Naturally I say this without making the slightest implication, either general or specific, for in speaking of such a thing one immediately opens the way for the passing of judgments. What I mean by this arrogance is that someone may say to himself: ‘I must guard against exposing my own body to these destructive forces; I must strictly protect myself from all the influences of modern life, retire into a sanctum with the right surroundings and walls painted in colours suitable for spiritual sensitivity, so that none of the adjuncts of modern life may come into contact with my bodily constitution.’

“The last thing I want is that what I say should have this effect. All desire to withdraw, to protect oneself from the influences of unavoidable world-karma, emanates from weakness. But it is Anthroposophy alone that can make the human heart and will vigorous enough to develop the force which arms and strengthens us in face of these influences. Any kind of advice to withdraw from modern life, or to engage in a sort of hothouse cultivation of the spiritual life, should never find favour in the sphere of our movement. … Although it is understandable that weaker natures would like to withdraw from modern life into communities where they will be untouched by it, it must nevertheless be emphasised that such an attitude is not the outcome of strength, but of weakness of the soul.”

So far he’d seem almost sane. Well, I said almost (as long as we’re able to ignore the presence of ahrimanic beings and the spiritual world that appear in the sentences following these). But then further down, we learn this stuff:

“We demolish physical Nature and thereby release the nature-spirits, chasing them as it were out of the sphere assigned to them by the Jahve-Gods into the realm where they can flit around in freedom and are no longer shackled to their allotted habitation.”

And he’s quite clear about the result of technology and science: ahrimanic spirits (in another lecture, he speaks about how Ahriman finds his prey in the most gifted of men, and that ahrimanic spirits can “penetrate human souls, permeate human bodies” and then “it is Ahriman who looks out of his eyes, Ahriman who moves his fingers, Ahriman who blows his nose, Ahriman who walks” (Steiner, Karmic Relationships (vol 3 lecture X)). Earlier in history, he believes (this is again from the lecture on technology and art), men did not

“fill themselves with the Ahrimanic spirits living in the products of technical science, but with the normally progressing nature-spirits which — if one may put it so — the good Spirits of the Hierarchies have united with all the processes and activities of external Nature.”

Paradoxically, modern technology is destructive to the human spirit and soul, but at the same time:

“There would be no greater fallacy than to say: We must rebel against what technical science has brought to us in modern life, we must protect ourselves from Ahriman, we must withdraw from this modern life.”

And then continues by calling such an attitude “spiritual cowardice” — no wonder he managed to confuse generations of adherents. Some still seem utterly unable to make sense of his recommendations.

“The real remedy lies, not in allowing the forces of the soul to weaken and to withdraw from modern life, but in so strengthening these forces that its pandemonium can be endured. World-karma demands a courageous attitude to modern life …”

Isn’t this courage somewhat lacking in the anthroposophic setting? It just seems so to me.

“[A] real understanding of modern life makes it evident that through the milieu of applied technical science we pass into an Ahrimanic sphere and allow ourselves to be filled with Ahrimanic spirituality.”

Wouldn’t it have been so interesting if Steiner had lived today? I think he would have liked computers and the internet. Actually, yes, I believe this, and not because of a presence or absence of ahrimanic spirits. Instead: because he would have seen technology provide a soul-filled medium and a manner of communication that reaches far beyond the actual technical devices. The internet, a being in itself, with its own soul. (Isn’t it really very luciferic, actually? Perhaps the luciferic beings have infiltrated the ahrimanic dwellings, and are now balancing it all out! Yes, I do think so: ever since Steiner’s times, technology has become increasingly luciferic.)

Anyway, he goes on, and says thatyou can’t protect yourself from these ahrimanic spirits by attempting to hide from them:

“if anyone were to long to retire permanently into a sanctum with suitably coloured walls, as far away as possible from anything like a factory or a railway, and thus withdraw completely from modern life — even so there are many other ways whereby the Ahrimanic spirituality can be led into his soul. He may tear himself away from modern life, but modern spirituality finds access to him nevertheless.”

The solution is to balance ahriman with more luciferic activities — like artistic ones. He claims the task

“is to strengthen the soul by permeating it with the impulses that come from Spiritual Science and spiritual research, so that it is armed against the influences of modern life, can hold its own in spite of all the surrounding hubbub, and be able to find its way through the tumult and din of the Ahrimanic beings into the spiritual-divine world.”

He also says, in another lecture (already cited above: Steiner, Karmic Relationships (vol 3 lecture X)) that the anthroposophists must be a part of the time they live in, part of that which current life, and not to “paddle in the Timeless”:

“Beside the fact that we are human beings pure and simple, we must be “contemporaries” of our age. Some people think it is possible in a given age to be a human being pure and simple, but this too would lead to our downfall. We must also be men and women of our age. Of course it is bad if we are no more than this; but we must be contemporaries of our age, that is to say, we must have a feeling of what is going on in our own time.”

“Now it is true that many anthroposophists let their minds be carried away from a living feeling of what is present in their time. For they prefer to paddle in the Timeless. In this respect one has the strangest experiences in conversation with anthroposophists.”

But, then… conversation with Steiner would have been a sort of strange experience too. He would, I imagine, say to me things such as this (it’s certainly fitting, isn’t it?):

“We see the tragedy of it when we come to consider the great gifts and noble qualities of many of those who are materialists. For after all, there can be no question but that they who in this time of great decisions do not find their way to the foundations Spirit, will suffer harm in their soul-life for the next incarnation. Great as their qualities may be, they will suffer harm.”

6 thoughts on “modern life for the spiritually sensitive

  1. Yes, you’re absolutely right. But it would have to be a silver Macbook light with additional memory and access to Apple Support through a Higher Portal.

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