a spiritual lever

Talking on one of the blog threads about what ‘spiritual’ really means (not for the first time, but for the thousandth time, so far getting nowhere, not even to a dictionary), I found Jelle van der Meulen’s new blog post about anthroposophy and anthroposophists particularly fun to read. Because those are two other concepts that, together with ‘spiritual’, cause some confusion, for sometimes quite inexplicable reasons (and sometimes for explicable ones). Basically, people don’t mean the same things when they use these words. Some people think it’s about adhering to a certain body of beliefs — found in the works of Steiner — while some other insist it’s a method or a tool for finding… something, for yourself, for the world, and so forth. Is an anthroposophist a person who identifies as an anthroposophist, a person who believes in or adheres to certain doctrines or a person who ‘experiences’ certain things or take a certain path or a certain attitude to life, humanity and the world? With van der Meulen’s definition, the confusion is not actually lessened:

Anthroposophen, egal ob sie sich so nennen oder nicht, erkennt man daran, dass sie sich danach sehnen, die Welt und das Leben aus delikaten Herzensgründen weiter zu gestalten. Menschen die DAS wollen, sind Anthroposophen.

This may be a sympathetic definition, depending on one’s interpretation of it and one’s inclinations. I don’t find it unproblematic. Basically, as I understand it, it means people who don’t even know about anthroposophy can be anthroposophists anyway. Which may seem ok from some viewpoint but questionable in some other ways (it could even be seen as offensive by people who reject what Steiner taught — although clearly such people define ‘anthroposophist’ in an other way, too). But to carry on a conversation using this definition of ‘anthroposophist’ would be very complicated indeed. It’s much easier, and more pragmatic, to use a definition of ‘anthroposophist’ that takes its starting point in the actual beliefs and ideals a person embraces, in this case those of anthroposophy. (This is not to say that the person must dogmatically follow every tenet; one could even say, if one wanted, that such dogmatism could contradict the intent of some other tenets…) Of course there’s another definition — there’s another hurdle right there. Anthroposophy itself. So to turn from the anthroposophists to the teaching/the worldview/the spiritual science/the path of knowledge/the being of anthroposophy/whatever (yeah, oh dear), that’s equally complicated. Unless you simply define it as the body of ideas taught by Rudolf Steiner, whether as content or as a ‘path’, and embraced and disseminated by his followers (the anthroposophists!) since. Van der Meulen wants a definition (or in this instance an anti-definition!) that I’ve come across many times before:

Ich habe auf diesem Blog öfters betont, dass die Anthroposophie nicht als Ideologie oder eben als Lehre zu verstehen ist. Wenn man meint, dass die Anthroposophie bestimmte „Wahrheiten“ innehat, die das ganze Leben und die ganze Welt „erklären“ können, hat man ihr Wesen noch nicht erfasst.

That is, a definition of what anthroposophy is not. Then, to be fair, he does give some nice indications to what it might be. (Read!) The problem is, as so often, that anthroposophy becomes so broadly defined or described as to be impossible to discuss as anthroposophy. And we end up with a world full of ‘anthroposophists’ who have never heard of Steiner or anthroposophy. Perhaps? Although one part of his ‘definition’, seeing anthroposophy as a lever or deciding event, does suggest or presuppose familiarity with anthroposophical… teachings? But lots of people take initiatives, bring initiatives into the world, without being anthroposophists (and, on the contrary, some anthroposophists appear remarkably passive — but perhaps they aren’t ‘true’ anthroposophists?). The basic, and crucial, difference is that when anthroposophists bring anthroposophical intiatives into the world they are, in some way or other, connected to the teachings (!) of anthroposophy. They are there to further ideas or ideals that you find in anthroposophy (or in reading that guru, you know).

I don’t know. All I am sure of is that for many anthroposophists — who then, perhaps, aren’t anthroposophists? — it seems anthroposophy is a teaching to apply and to follow. It consists of practical guidelines, not only of a path to finding your own truth or making up your own guidelines or to finding your own ‘self’ or seeking your own, individual experiences. How many anthroposophists actually make it to this level at all:

Die Anthroposophie fängt nicht mit Vorstellungen, sondern mit einem ereignisstiftenden Wollen an, das auf der Ebene des Erkennens manchmal mit kräftigen Intuitionen und auf der des Fühlens mit tiefen Sehnsüchten einher geht.

? Even if it is all about where anthroposophy begins (not where it results or ends) — do people get to that beginning? And the point here — is it useful or even possible to carry on a discussion about anthroposophy based upon such an understanding of what it ‘is’? Does it suffice for public discourse or even plain conversation? Wouldn’t we be perpetually talking beside each other (the way we are, all the time, by the way, anyway…) because the definition is sufficiently broad to allow for exactly every conceivable kind of misunderstanding? There is no ‘is’ to talk about. With only a beginning, you can end up anywhere.

(Which, by the way, I feel highly sympathetic about. Personally.)

5 thoughts on “a spiritual lever

  1. I like the ‘talking beside each other’ bit. It’s more poite than talking past each other,(invisible author) and more companionable.
    The ideas of what anthroposophy and other beliefs/ideas might be all seem to include longing or wanting something. I think that is the problem with it for me – just because people want or even need something, doesn’t make it more likely.

  2. To be perfectly honest, it’s an unconscious choice of words based upon insufficient knowledge of the nuances in English! But you’re right — talking beside is much preferable, and pretty much what goes on, too. There isn’t so much talking past as there is parallel talking.

    Correct, of course. It doesn’t. Somehow it doesn’t stop people from longing; and sometimes longing for earthly things, like money or love (if that’s earthly enough) or whatever else, isn’t much different from longing for multiple life-times. Depending on where you stand, to obtain whatever it is that you desire can be equally unlikely as achieving something of a supersensible nature.

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