In a lecture given on 30th January 1924, Rudolf Steiner spoke of the qualities needed in the people who wished to become members of the First Class of the School of Spiritual Science. Among other comments, he said this:
(…) “it is necessary that everyone who wishes to belong to the Class should ask himself (sic) whether he really intends to be one of those who from the outset will not only stand for the anthroposophical cause before the world but will be a courageous representative of it in every way.”
Steiner recognised that, if you were not only to call yourself an anthroposophist but also to let other people know that you are, it requires courage. Why is this? It is surely because to identify yourself as having belief in a larger reality than that which most people subscribe to, is to invite others to heap scorn, and even hatred, upon you; you have made yourself different from the commonsensical view of the majority in the West and thus you are an offence to their idea of what is true and obvious to all right-thinking people.
But despite this, we are all human beings, struggling with life as best we can, and sharing many more things than those which separate us. So how, while staying true to our beliefs, can we connect with one another in ways which respect our differences?
For making connections with others is at the heart of it. As Justus Wittich, a member of the Vorstand (Executive Committee) at the Goetheanum, wrote in the January 2020 issue of Anthroposophy Worldwide: “The Anthroposophical Society could become a global association of people who stand up individually and courageously for human dignity and for shaping the world out of spiritual insights. The motto we have chosen for this year’s Annual Conference from Rudolf Steiner’s Letters to Members reflects this: ‘Connecting with the world willingly out of love’. “
Yes, I completely support that aspiration, although I wish the Goetheanum could go a bit further in actively putting before the public eye spiritual research about contemporary issues such as Covid-19. If it could make a connection with the wider public, then it might stand a chance of becoming that global association mentioned by Justus Wittich. But here is our dilemma: how, in this age of atheist materialism and disbelief and disparagement of anything that smacks of spirituality, can the anthroposophical movement find its relevance and connect with other points of view?
As a blogger on anthroposophical themes, I come up against this dilemma quite frequently, because some other people simply have no way of understanding or even tolerating what I am trying to convey about the potential relevance of anthroposophy to all human lives. Here, for example, is a Tweet I received after my recent post on Coercion and the Covid-19 Vaccines:
Dunning-Kruger compliant drivel excused by #Steiner #anthroposphy barmpottery. Riddled with the usual oft-debunked #antivaxxer tropes. See http://docbastard.net/2019/03/busting-vaccine-myths.html… to counter the scare-mongering on aluminium, formaldehyde, thimerosal (mercury) etc. Oh, and they’re not untested
I didn’t know what the reference to Dunning-Kruger meant so I looked it up: apparently it is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognise their own incompetence. Well, thank you, kind sir.
I also had a look at the docbastard website but don’t recommend you do the same, unless you are unoffended by frequent use of the ‘F’ word and violent, aggressive, sneering language. All I would say is that I don’t think the guy who wrote this is likely to achieve a meeting of minds with low ability people like me.
More representative of different views from my own, as well as better exemplars of civilised discourse, are those such as the Financial Times journalist, to whom I sent a link to my previous post after seeing an article in his newspaper about what he calls ‘Vaccine Hesitancy’. He was kind enough to reply:
Thanks for writing. I think we have different ideas of freedom. For me freedom is the freedom to go into an office or a restaurant or get into a plane without having to fear that there’s a high risk that someone else in it will give me a dangerous disease, which probably wouldn’t kill me at my age but could severely damage my organs or just give me the worst flu of my life. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, fine. I don’t think the UK govt or any other in the west will force you to. But you shouldn’t expect the freedom to then go around infecting everyone else. I should remind you that childhood vaccinations are compulsory in large numbers of countries and have been so a long time.
Sorry to disagree, keep well.”
His comment really brings home to me, as if I didn’t know it before, that this whole issue of vaccination presents all of us with a genuine moral dilemma:
- Should I have the jab as my contribution to the common good and herd immunity?
- Although I don’t want to have it, do I still go ahead as a kind of sacrifice to the altar of the collective?
- Or do I decide to stay true to my belief, refuse the jab and be perceived as selfish by others?
I replied as follows:
“Thank you for your reply – I appreciate your taking the time to do this.
I’m not sure that we do have different ideas of freedom, as I, too, would like to be able to enter an office, restaurant or plane without feeling in danger. But even after you have had the jab, you will still be wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing, as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer in England, Jonathan Van-Tam, has indicated in this short YouTube clip:
Second, no-one yet knows whether the jab will give you immunity and if it does, for how long that lasts. Nor do we yet know whether, if you are an asymptomatic spreader, it will prevent you from infecting others.
Third, I don’t expect the freedom to go around infecting everyone else. I am the manager of a small residential care home for adults with learning disabilities and I have to be ultra-cautious; I swab-test myself and colleagues every week and our residents every month; we use PPE and we are scrupulous about hand washing, infection control etc. As workers in a care home, we will be high on the priority list for the new Pfizer vaccine – but neither I nor my colleagues want to have it.
My wife, who is a reflexologist with several GPs and surgeons as clients, tells me that these NHS staff don’t want to have it, either – why do you think these professional medical staff are also reluctant?
Now it may well be that my blog post was not a balanced account, as I was writing it in the white heat of indignation – but if I were to add anything, it would be to say that there are far cheaper and safer ways to protect oneself against Covid-19, ways that can’t be patented and profited from and could be mass-adopted if the government were to advocate them. But that would have made it far longer and probably wouldn’t have made it any less contentious.
Thank you, and all good wishes.”
Reflecting on these exchanges, I am very aware of the gulf that lies between my views and the views of so many other people, as typified by that journalist. If he had taken a look at other posts on this blog, he might well conclude that he was reading examples of the mystical ‘barmpottery’, of which my Twitter correspondent accused me.
Is there anything else I could say to people who have quite different perspectives from my own, that might help to create more understanding between us? I might say that I would like to know exactly what is being injected into my bloodstream and how it has been created; I could say that the record of Big Pharma over the years has not inspired me with trust in their integrity or moral judgments; I could add that none of the politicians who are exhorting us to have the jab seem to be taking into account what human actions might have created the pandemic in the first place. I might ask: can we not all see that instead of going back to how the world was before Covid-19, it was that kind of mindset that has brought it towards us? Is that the way we wish to live our lives? Is that what human beings are?
If I were to say such things, they might get us into a reasonable dialogue; but if I were then to introduce some more esoteric concepts from anthroposophy, for example about what a human being really is, the other person would most likely start to shake their head and write me off as insane.
Even someone as sympathetic to anthroposophy as is Hans van Willenswaard, who brings a Buddhist perspective to his comments on this blog, has questions about the effectiveness of anthroposophy in the world:
“The question, which also now can be applied to the numerous COVID-19 dilemmas, is whether ‘the esoteric’ spiritual science, is more effective in preventing/solving war and crisis than exoteric activism?
What are the lessons we could learn from the failed top-down political threefolding campaign shortly after World War I; and from the ultimate destruction of the First Goetheanum by fire, even though it had survived the war thanks to its position in ‘neutral’ Switzerland?
Can anthroposophy be effective vis-a-vis the COVID-19 crisis (+ climate emergency; + economic downturn; + painful inequality; + technocratic authoritarianism and + social/cultural divisions) if we are not better able to integrate the esoteric with the exoteric and shape the movement beyond the anthroposophic ‘silo’?
My answers to these questions, in the same order in which Hans asked them, are as follows:
1. Does ‘exoteric activism’ actually prevent or solve wars? For example, did Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, set up after the 1914-18 war, prevent the 1939-45 war? Obviously not. Has the United Nations prevented any wars since 1945? I can’t think of any. Can anyone point to examples of exoteric activism which have averted war? Probably not, although one could argue that organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Medecins Sans Frontieres etc have been effective in galvanising public opinion for change – but it’s not fair to contrast this with spiritual science, whose role is entirely different from that of activist organisations.
2. Spiritual impulses, important though it may be that they are brought forward at a particular time, do not necessarily find fertile ground for their reception. This was true for threefolding and perhaps it was generally true for anthroposophy as well, given that Steiner’s ambitions for anthroposophy have to this day not been realised. Does this mean that these impulses should not have been introduced to the world? Absolutely not, because the results, although fewer than Steiner might have wanted, have been nevertheless totally worthwhile and are still capable of engendering new possibilities and worthwhile initiatives into the world – and we don’t know what these seeds sown in the last century might yet bring forth in the future.
3. Because the insights of spiritual science are not yet shared by a critical mass of human beings, humanity continues to create difficult karma for itself; and as with the Covid-19 vaccines, it chases after ‘solutions’ that miss the point and perpetuate in different ways the mistakes that led to the original crisis. What I’m not clear about is whether the ‘critical mass’ that will make the difference could be (a) a small number of people acting as a kind of homeopathic dose within the body of humanity; or (b) whether it really is a question of vast numbers of people being brought to a point of total crisis before real change can happen. I fear that (b) is the more likely option, but I hope I’m wrong – and in any case I choose to be in (a).
To bring this discussion back to the personal, how can I stand in the world as an anthroposophical blogger and communicate as such with other people without it ending up in complete deadlock and misunderstanding?
Here, I think, we cannot do without Rudolf Steiner’s concept of the Twelve World Views, as expressed in his book The Philosophy of Freedom. Steiner contends that truth is expressed in twelve different ways, each one of which has its own justification – which in turn means that someone with whom you have a serious disagreement may just be looking at a different and perhaps equally valid part of the truth. There is an excellent exposition of this here. Do please have a look and try to identify which is your own predominant world view.
So, if my truth and your truth are both facets of a much larger truth, and if we can both acknowledge that that is a possibility, we ought to be able to find ways to avoid falling-out over who is right and who is wrong. This is surely one of the greatest challenges facing human evolution, because people who are convinced that they are right and everyone else is wrong will continue to perpetuate division – and are ultimately capable of going to war to impose their truth on others.
We are currently in the grip of a pandemic which has put fear into millions of people. Responsibility for dealing with this is being given over to forces beyond our control. If we can but realise it, we have the opportunity at this time to make significant changes through our own resolve and will forces. As an anthroposophist, I believe that I was born into this world so that I could be in physical incarnation at this time of trial, because it is only here on Earth that certain things can be achieved. What is it that I need to do at this time? Surely it is to develop, out of my own free will, a renewed capacity for love – love for myself, love for others and for all creation. Love that can be shared with others and that can bring healing to this Earth, at all levels of existence.
As Rudolf Steiner put it in his lecture “Love and Its Meaning in the World”:
“Our egoism gains nothing from deeds of love — but the world (gains) all the more. Occultism says: Love is for the world what the sun is for external life. No soul could thrive if love departed from the world. Love is the “moral” sun of the world. Would it not be absurd if a man who delights in the flowers growing in a meadow were to wish that the sun would vanish from the world? Translated into terms of the moral life, this means: Our deep concern must be that an impulse for sound, healthy development shall find its way into the affairs of humanity. To disseminate love over the earth in the greatest measure possible, to promote love on the earth — that and that alone is wisdom.”
Can I find that wisdom and live my words?
If I and others who have similar views are not able to rise to this occasion, this enormous opportunity for a better future direction, then surely we will continue to experience, with everyone else, each of the coming crises resulting from the shared karma of humanity.