The Value of Religious Ideas

“And they relate that while… Manuel sat cosily… and noted how the snow was drifting by the windows, the ghost of Niafer went restlessly about green fields… in the paradise of the pagans. When the kindly, great-browed warders asked her what it was she was seeking, the troubled spirit could not tell them, for Niafer had tasted Lethe, and had forgotten Dom Manuel. Only her love for him had not been forgotten, because that love had become a part of her, and so lived on as a blind longing and as a desire which did not know its aim.” — Figures of Earth, James Branch Cabell.

This quote poignantly expresses a modern problem which is yet as old as humanity. It came into being with consciousness: you know, the mysterious complex of associations by which nature evolved a sense of personal identity for each individual of our species. (It grows out of your childhood, its foundation too dark and ancient for memory or knowledge.) Its greater purposes can only be surmised, though we know much about its immediate advantages.

The capacity to think, to learn and anticipate causal effects in the environment, along with the evolution of social instincts, were unique in nature. A basic quality of personal identity was its conflict with its inborn social structure, and the tension between them yielded creative energies which excelled other beasts. The conscious/unconscious exchange between individual and group was a catalyst for development so sweeping, it changed the face of the earth.

(Over your own centuries, it changes your face, too, often in ways unknown to you; for, the partial complex also has hidden liabilities. You can’t see them; they impose an invisible fence around everything we do…)

The fear, uncertainty, and confusion caused by its inner conflicts produced unconscious defense-reactions which compelled it to cling to the security of an illusory present as long as it could. Only the tension of creative conflicts endured by certain individuals pushed it forward into an irreversible future (the nature of time perception).

(You may remember the psychic distress which sparked awarenesses of yourself in your own primitive history — or they may return only as fleeting images and feelings at night, when the “old brain” recalls them in its own strange way to sketch out your tomorrows.)

The unconscious energy intended for its development naturally guided it toward solutions for relieving it. Beyond the demands of physical survival, a kind of psychic devotion slowly differentiated itself. It was the “excess” energy reserved for inflicting the painful tension of conflicts meant to guide the beast toward its still-evolving human potential.

(You actually resembled this beast psychically when you were in grade school, preparing you for the medieval stages of puberty and young adulthood.)

The battle for survival shifted more and more onto a psychic plane, and “the unbearable surfeit of energy” (as Jung called it) — the reserve intended for development — presented existential religious and philosophical problems as a means of stimulating self-discovery. They were so fundamental to human nature, they were innate in it as a blind longing, a need, which could only be filled through devotion to it.

(You were probably beginning to think about ideas of God, spirits, ghosts, even your dreams at that time, weighing your feelings against what you’d been taught — if your attention wasn’t constantly diverted by electronic devices. In any event, you would be soon to fall headlong for a very attractive image which would entice your development further — its conflicts and compromises, too. This is where the love factors in.)

Though the tensions steadily evolved into ever higher aims, the silent anxiety and clinging to the security of the known convinced the general consciousness that it had attained to its final stage at every temporary signpost. Only when very grave conditions threatened it through the unintended consequences of its repression and its hostile projection onto others was it slowly driven to change its notions of inner reality.

New ideas circulated through mythic messengers, creative individuals, designed to make the partial complex reflect on itself, to re-orient it — to guide it out of the grave conditions it had half-created…

(This was when your philosophical and religious education had long since ceased and mass illusions of ego/intellect and the certainty of rational thought stopped up your ability to observe what was happening inside you; you were carried along in the collective frenzy, never thought about where you were; you were seized by vague desires that couldn’t be repressed or satisfied; you got depressed, had obsessive thoughts, felt compulsive urges, misplaced hostilities, became moody and sensitive, took “medicine” to relieve stress or help you sleep.)

So nature decreed. For a split consciousness with limited, personal notions of time, however, spiritual ideas required centuries of upheaval to take root. Only when enough individuals had reflected on the need for them were the rest drawn to participate in the task of lifting humanity out of the heavy burden of its primitive heritage — and its flighty rejection of it. Nature also decrees that each is bidden to confront it anew on a higher level with every generation.

If you’ve never experienced such things, I leave you with this statement by Cabell from the same book quoted above:

“But of living persons, I dare assert that you will find King Helmas appreciably freed from a thousand general delusions by his one delusion about himself.”

Read more about this inner confrontation with psychic reality here.

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