Johannes Kiersch has published a new book. It’s a compilation of essays published before — most (not all) of them were previously unknown to me. They’re all more or less critical of the state of contemporary anthroposophy. The most telling passages speak of dogmatism, literalism and being closed off to the world; they speak of a suffocating climate and of wanting to preserve the teachings in their pristine form rather than bringing or transforming whatever is there to life anew. Of course, Kiersch, polite and tolerant and rather soft-spoken in general, doesn’t put exactly it like that, but you can tell he’s strongly critical towards certain phenomena in the anthroposophical world. He believes that while the unquestioning enthusiasm and the uncritical, unrestrained commitment of the first anthroposophists was paramount to the movements initial growth, a similar kind of attitude can’t be justified at this time — even less so when it leads to stagnation and a kind of barrenness. Or to an “occult prison”.
There isn’t a lot that will strike people as exactly new or revolutionary in terms of the criticisms — much of what he says is fairly obvious, and not a few people have made similar observations before. What is perhaps more important in this case is who makes them. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but it often is. Kiersch’s standing in anthroposophical circles makes it a different, even if not unique. What is also important is his long-time and extensive experience from inside the movement. (And perhaps what also matters: he’s loyal towards anthroposophy itself. Although I’m sure there are plenty of nutcases who will view it differently.)
One thing that strikes me as particularly interesting — not just with this book or the particular arguments of Kiersch — is the discussion about the connection between esotericism and secrecy on the one hand and the need for openness on the other. I get the impression that although Kiersch doesn’t mourn the loss of secrecy with regard to the class lessons, for example, perhaps knowing that it was impossible anyway, at the same time he believes in a role for secrecy in esoteric endevours.
He’s got a point, I suppuse. Esotericism, by its very nature, does contain elements – new or old, collective or individual — that aren’t out there in the open; it’s not practiced or manifested in the manner of an exoteric church. Obviously. But what matters here is that his starting point is what he thinks anthroposophy should be, not dogma but a kind of living experience (or whatever the words we choose). This, I guess, makes it to an extent inevitably individual and also constantly mutable, thus harder to define (which comes in handy — especially when for strategic reasons one wants to be less transparent — as I’ve noted before). He thinks (it seems to me) that a certain amount of simply shutting up would be good, and would prevent misunderstandings of what anthroposophy is. Well, perhaps. I’m largely in favour of openness — depending on what we’re talking about of course. But a minimal requirement, considering anthroposophy’s role in society, is to be open enough to let people inform themselves properly about what it is. This, it should be self-evident, is different from an obligation to divulge anything about personal spiritual experiences, meetings with the Guardian of the Threshold or whatever people go through or insights they have.
Kiersch is perhaps a bit too sophisticated (though I’m not sure he’s entirely undogmatic himself). It’s rarely the supposedly more complex esoteric ideas or deeper insights that — if they are even noticed at all, obscure as they are — cause any general havoc or confusion or bring anthroposophy into disrepute, but rather the oftentimes banal yet grandiose twaddle of anthroposophists who treat anthroposophy as a set of revealed, eternal truths, regardless of how far-fledged and removed from reality. The craziness isn’t somehow in short supply. And, if anything, the danger is that while comparably reasonable people unnecessarily practice restraint and secrecy, the literalist and fundamentalist loons disseminate their thinking — or lack thereof, as the case may be — more generously, and will be heard more widely.
In short, the book contains a lot that’s worth attention. Kiersch is very reasonable.