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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Healing Factors for the Social Organism
GA 198

I. Materialism and Religion

17 July 1920, Dornach

I should like to recall once again those things I mentioned at the end yesterday about the paradox in the character of our present time. It seems to me that no time has had to be characterised in this way, in its outstanding representatives, as just our own present time. Just think for a moment—let us properly state the facts once again—yesterday I have to speak of an outstanding man of the present, a man of whom I could say that he has developed completely out of the so-called spiritual substance of the present—Oswald Spengler. Without a doubt he is immediately one of those who have won the greatest possible influence over the youth in Central Europe, and that one will have to reckon with this influence. But one sees, as I mentioned yesterday, this influence reaching out far beyond Central Europe. The “Times” have published an article about what is in Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, and it is indeed an outstanding phenomenon that, with the decisiveness one is accustomed to today among the so-called professionals, a man who is equipped with 12 to 15 sciences which he has completely mastered, strictly proves that at the beginning of the 3rd millennium our western culture must fall into decadence and barbarism. It is a significant phenomenon that by the same means, the same way of thinking and research with which our times thinks itself to have achieved so much, someone proves clearly and distinctly that this civilisation will have to completely disappear in so short a time.

Here we most definitely do not have to do with a view of things that is restricted to belles lettres or the Sunday supplements, as so often in the present; we have to do with something which appears with the heavy equipment of professional expertise and, above all, we have to do with a man of genius. This man of genius applies western science for the purpose of laying the foundation for the view that the culture of the 17est is heading for destruction. And yesterday, so as to comprehensively characterise Oswald Spengler I had to tell you the most extreme paradox. I had to tell you that this Spengler, without a doubt, is a man of genius, but that he says the greatest foolishness. I have cited examples of this for you; so that we stand before the remarkable experience in the spiritual life of the present, that genius and foolishness are linked together. That is, in general something characteristic, that the most remote extremes are linked in the present, and one would most certainly get a feeling for this so disturbing linkage if, on the other hand, one did not live on in such a somnolent manner.

For I just imagine that if such things were spoken of, as I did yesterday about Oswald Spengler, at a gathering 130 years ago, in Central Europe, then such a gathering would have ended in a complete uproar, because at that time people were still awake! This is a general phenomenon, that the paradoxes interweave in our time, and that human beings are extremely dulled in regard to these paradoxes, because, fundamentally, the spiritual element makes absolutely no impression any more upon men of the present.

And I have to say a second thing to you, that this Oswald Spengler is an eminently intelligent man, that one has to be so intelligent as he is, so as to be able to produce such grandiose stupidities such as he has produced. I'll add to this remark, that there are enough dumb clowns around who have reproached me, saying for example, that regarding the one and the same phenomenon I have said now this, now that. I have taken the liberty yesterday to say on one and the same evening two things about one personality: that it is a genius and a fool, intelligent and grandiosely stupid. Today we are experiencing such things. And not until these things are understood earnestly, that we are able to experience such things today; that these things do rise up out of the depths of our present day consciousness—not until one gains such an insight into the necessities of our time—not until then will one really gain an insight into the deep significance of spiritual science as it is here intended.

There is connected with what I have had to characterise in this way, the change in the usages, the whole application, that one makes regarding supersensible knowledge. I have presented to you yesterday how for millennia in the mysteries the supersensible knowledge was protected, how it was taken for granted that one remained silent about them. I have told you that today something completely different has become necessary. In spite of the fact that it has just become clear that remaining silent, even in regard to the outer situation of protection of my lecture cycles could not be achieved, nonetheless we must strictly hold to the line, that certain truths, even those which reach to the highest levels, are to be dealt with quite openly in the public. We can no longer succeed in remaining silent as we have experienced it in the ancient secret societies or even in the mysteries, not in our present time in which there are so many people who have the "proofs" that we have “gloriously brought about so much progress.”

Today it is absolutely necessary that we have a certain democracy. Since more than a century democracy has been a necessary demand of our time. And as little as it can be done away with that always only single spiritual researchers are able to exists so much more will it also be necessary in order that the social life be founded in the proper way, that just the wisdom gained from insights into the spiritual worlds are to be carried into the broadest circles. How necessary that is can become clear to you from the following consideration—a consideration which is again of the sort which many reactionary backwards but otherwise admirable representatives of certain secret societies find highly offensive when one communicates such things today.

You know of course that the traditional religious confessions actually speak only of immortality, that is, they think that in their sermons, in their theology they ought to speak only of the continuing of the soul after death. Indeed, in theology, and in the sermon not only is nothing else spoken of but the continuing existence after death, but also in the traditional European confessions it is even declared to be heathen and heretical if one speaks of pre-existence, of the life of the soul in the spiritual worlds before birth or even before conception. I have also characterised for you why that gradually developed in the course of the European spiritual streams. To what actually does the representative, the advocate of the traditional religious confessions speak? Fundamentally it only speaks to the refined egotism of the soul. They bring forth on behalf of immortality nothing other than what human beings want to hear from out of their egotism, because out of this egotism they long for, they yearn for life after death.

This covetousness is pandered to in thousands and thousands of sermons and theological and religious writings. Because human beings do not want to be obliterated in death, the appeal is made to the instincts of this refined soul egotism, and from this point of view human beings are brought up to believe in immortality. However, for what is the actual eternal element in man, and about which one cannot speak if one does not speak of pre-existence, there is very little feeling for that. In the European languages we do not even have a word corresponding to it. We have the word “immortality,” but we do not have the word “unbornness.” We would just as much have to have the word “unbornness” available, if we really pursue the eternal element in the human soul, as we do also have the word “immortality.” We merely negate the passing away at the end of life, in that we place a negative prefix in front of mortality, and speak of “immortality.” We have no accustomed word such as “unbornness.” Some such word must however find its way into life. For if one speaks to the human being of “unbornness,” then one cannot appeal to their egotistical soul instincts. I should like to say: immortality will become understood as a matter of course, if one grasps unbornness in the right way; but this unbornness makes life more uncomfortable than most human beings want to have it and, above all, as the representatives of the traditional religious confessions would like to have it.

All that does not have a mere theoretical significance, that also has a thoroughly practical and real significance. For such a truth as I have mentioned here several weeks ago we must not take too lightly. I told you: today one actually saw only in the theoretical, academic, doctrinary sense that human beings are materialistic. One actually means: they think materialistically. But what is actually meant when one says: human beings think materialistically? One thinks along these lines: people think wrongly because materialism is not right; human beings do indeed have an immortal soul, the actual being of man is spiritual, therefore materialism is false. Thus one must simply fight materialism and in theory strive for what is right. That, however, is not what really counts, but the matter is to be considered in this way. Certainly, in the first place man's being is soul-spiritual. Let us suppose that this is the soul-spiritual being of man. (sketch outline of head & body). But after conception or birth, this soul-spiritual element builds up a complete imprint of the soul-spiritual element. Everything that is soul-spiritual is imprinted in the bodily physical. Now you can experience two things. You can experience that human beings become acquainted with such thoughts that are fetched out of the spiritual world, such as stand in our Anthroposophical books, thoughts which the materialists take for nonsense, as the materialists hold to be fantasies if one thinks such thoughts, One does not oneself have to be a spiritual researcher but if one thinks with the soul-spiritual element, then the bodily physical element is a faithful imprint of it. However, if one is a mature researcher in the present, and if in ordinary life one thinks in denial of the soul-spiritual element, then one thinks with the ordinary physical brain, and then one becomes only an imprint of the material element. If one denies the soul-spiritual element, then one really becomes a materialist. Thus, the materialism is right, it is not false! That is the essential thing! One can take things so far, that one does not represent a false view if one stands for materialism but, that one has fallen so far into matter that one really thinks materialistically; therefore the material theories are correct. The most essential character of our time therefore is not that people think incorrectly if they are materialistic, but the most essential characteristic is just that the majority of human beings become materialistic in that they deny the soul-spirit element and think merely with the physical body; they bring forth with the physical body an imitation, a bogus image of the life of soul. In that we fight materialism, we do not have to do with a mere reversal of theory, but rather we have to do with a decision of the will to tear oneself loose from the material, so that we not become merely theoretical materialists, but rather so that we do not sink down into the material-element, so that materialism shall become incorrect. It is correct for our time; it must become incorrect! We must apply our power for this, that materialism became incorrect. Thus this is not dealing with mere reversal of theories, rather this is dealing with inner spiritual deeds which humanity in our time must carry through so as to tear itself loose from materialisation.

With this, however, a great and significant truth is connected. The traditional religious confessions speak merely of the post-mortem life, the life after death. We know from our literature and lectures and other presentations that it is completely justified to speak of this post-mortem life, this life after death. We also describe it faithfully in its details. But we do not speak out of the same spirit as do the traditional confessions; we speak out of a different spirit. We speak out of the spirit of knowledge, not merely out of the spirit of a stupid belief. However, the traditional confessions speak just to the egotism, the refined soul egotism, and they refuse with all their strength a pre-birthly life. Just look at how the traditional confessions look at the supposition of a life prior to conception in such an emphatically heretical way. Naturally, along with preexistence there is necessarily connected the insight into repeated earth lives; but along with the fight against pre-existence there is naturally connected at the same time the fight against repeated earth lives. But in that only the post-mortem life, the life after death is reflected upon in the theological and religious presentations, in the sermon, the human soul is worked upon in a certain way; feelings and sensings enter into the human soul.

The human soul is formed in a certain manner. It is not correct to say that a human soul through which thoughts have passed such as those in my Outline of Occult Science looks just the same, as a human soul to whose egotistical instincts one has appealed in the mere traditional religious way in regard to post-mortem life. I have often drawn your attention to the fact that real logic, the life of spiritual impulses is a different one than mere thought logic. I have often mentioned the example of Avenarius who has taught here in Switzerland at the University of Zurich. He was a very sincere solid bourgeois, a good citizen; he lectured in his materialistic philosophy, and no one could say anything other than that he has been a solid person who has fit himself into the ordinary citizen philistine customs At the beginning of the 20th century if you had asked those peoplemr, who were then in Russia because they were Bolsheviksi, what their official philosophy was, then you got the answer: the philosophy of Avenarius; that is the official philosophy of Bolshevism.

Naturally, is someone is a clever philosopher, a good logician, and he studies the philosophy of Avenarius and draws conclusions from it then most certainly Bolshevism is not the outcome—that comes from something completely different. However, life draws a different conclusion, than the conclusions of logical thinking. In life, when the third generation has arrived, then Bolshevism appears as the philosophy of Avenarius. That is the logic of life. One penetrates into that when one takes up spiritual scientific knowledge. With merely abstract intellectual logic one remains static, if one only takes up what results from present day natural scientific or religious world views.

Such a difference, as in the both kinds of logic, also exists for the working of the traditional religious confessions, and for the working of spiritual science, such as is anthroposophically intended here. For people who spice their base attacks on Anthroposophy with a few pithy phrases—that our Anthroposophists then usually fall for—they often say: we theologians fight just as much for the supersensible as the Anthroposophists, and therefore in a certain way we are comrades in arms. Often, after the basest attacks have been made, this phrase is added, by those who in our own circles are taken to be the ones with goodwill. Indeed, one has the striving not to really seriously look at what is really at work here. Nonetheless, the logic of facts is quite a different one. If you draw the conclusion from the logic of facts from what is said about post-mortem life in the pulpits in that one appeals to the refined soul instincts, the refined egotism, then it could look as though a life was striven for beyond that of the senses, a life through which the soul, after it has passed through death, is to enter into the supersensible world. But that is not so. Rather, just through the fact that in a one-sided way, theoretically, the religious confessions have nurtured the idea of the mere post-mortem life through centuries and millennia, just through that the denial of the supersensible world has been gradually generated, in terms of real logic—just through that, in reality, materialism has been brought about. For even though in the head, one lets oneself be instructed by faith regarding life after death, the subconsciousness strives toward concluding this life with earthly mortality. And whereas the churches have decided to merely speak to the convenience of the instincts of human beings regarding immortality, that materialism was applied in European culture and its American offspring, which actually in the inner being strives entirely in the direction of closing life with earthly death. But those materialists who today strive theoretically, and socially, in that they want to make arrangements, social arrangements which are only reckoning with life up until death, these pure materialists draw the faithful logical consequences, right on into Bolshevism, which the religious confessions have furthered in the human beings within occidental culture. For merely to talk about immortality after death, means to generate, in the subconscious, the yearning also to die in the soul along with physical death. That is the truth of which I wanted to speak to you today. This yearning, to want to know nothing of a life in the supersensible realm, has been magnified just through this one-sided speaking about the eternal after death.

If one does not seriously take in this truth, then one does not have an insight into the connections in which the present European and American civilisation stands in regard to the past. Because standing for a mere life after death, is to educate in the direction of the subconscious yearning, to conclude life with physical death. As one has to say: there are already a large number of human beings in the so-called civilised world, who actually in their subconscious bear the very intense yearning to want to have nothing to do with the ideology of a life after death, and want life to conclude with physical death. All those human beings, from whose hearts there issues forth the materialistic world view, have in their subconscious actually the most intense striving to be obliterated in physical death. Even if in their upper consciousness they subscribe to the illusion, because their egotism cannot bear anything else but the desire to life after death, their subconscious strives to be obliterated in physical death.

The reality, in truth, is even more serious. Namely, if the human being with sufficient intensity, for a sufficiently long time develops this subconscious yearning that he will be destroyed by physical death, then he will be destroyed by physical death. Then what is present as the soul-spiritual element and had created its own image will cease to have a significance; then it once again unites itself with the spiritual worlds and loses its egohood. The image of the egohood becomes Ahrimanically transformed, and the Ahrimanic powers get what they want; they take over the earthly life. This means that a large portion of the present civilised world is striving towards not continuing the civilisation of the earth, but towards making people really die and handing over earthly life to very different beings than what human beings are.

It is of no use today not to point out these things. It is of course uncomfortable to have to accept these things, and it is much more comfortable if one only had to say—materialism is false; so one gradually converts oneself to a better view of the world. No, such things are of no use to us. What human thoughts are, become realities, and material thoughts gradually become material realities. However in our spiritual science we are not concerned just with theories, but with things that are realities in the human being, and as long as one does not fully grasp that we are concerned with matters that are realities in human beings—just so long does one not grasp either the depth of Anthroposophically intended spiritual science, nor the great seriousness concerning the cultural necessities that have to be looked at in our time.

Thus you see that our time is in danger of destroying the culture of our earth - not merely nurturing false views, but bringing forth images of these false views in the human beings themselves, and leading humanity away from its eternal existence.

I know how strong the longing of human beings is ever and again not to look at such truths, for when one makes clear some such truths, then people repeatedly come and say: but isn't there also the possibility that also those who do not directly want it may be saved? Certain representatives of religious confessions have an easier time with this. They impart, to those who really only want a kind of “nice old aunt” religion, that indeed, not through their own inner deeds do they become participants in the spiritual world, but that they only have to submit themselves passively to their belief in Christ, then Christ will save them. That is just the great difficulty that one has when one seriously wants to stand for spiritual science, that one may not speak to what is “so comfortable” in human beings.

For many a person would like to be a good Anthroposophist; but then his aunt does not want him to do that, and he does not wish that the aunt should lose her individuality; and then at the very least, the intensity of his Anthroposophical conviction is very strongly curbed. Many of you will know how very much I point to reality in these things, which hinder that earnestness is connected with Anthroposophical spiritual science, that must be connected with it. I have also already said here; materialism is not damaging merely for the reason that it cannot lead people theoretically to spirit knowledge—but also, firstly for the reason that I have mentioned today that the human being in fact becomes increasingly material when he allows the materialistic thoughts to work upon himself, and also, secondly, that in the further course of cultural materialism is condemned to not be able to research the secrets of matter. We have held a course here for doctors and medical students. It consisted in this, that Anthroposophical science was applied in the concrete sense, so as to demonstrate what the knowledge of the healthy human being and of the sick human being is. One showed, at least as a beginning, that out of a spiritual manner of consideration, one can know the being of the brain, the being of the teeth, the being of the bones, the spleen and the liver. Material science cannot do this. Materialistic science cannot come to a knowledge just of matter and of material existence. You can really see this in a single symptom.

Look at present day psychiatry. Psychiatry currently is nothing else than a description of abnormal soul life as it appears in the life of the soul. Now every so-called mental illness has its correlation in a material element. If someone has this or that confused idea, then the spleen or the lung is not in order; but the connection between the soul-spiritual element and the material element (which itself in reality, is also a soul-spiritual element) is only to be recognised through spiritual science, not through materialistic science. This materialistic science is simply condemned to make able to cognise the being of matter itself, therefore also, for instance in medicine many people they cannot help, because then one must help them with an essence of matter. One must even be able to help the mentally ill with a material essence. If one would seriously gain the knowledge that rests in the depths of Anthroposophically oriented spiritual science, then one would even bring about the streaming of spiritual scientific knowledge into the material existence, and therewith also into the social life. Therefore it was something to be taken for granted that the view of the threefold social order would result from this spiritual science, for all other knowledge of the present time is simply too little intensive, is too much mere thought knowledge and does not take hold of the realities—and therefore it can also not work into the social life. Just in connection with the social considerations I have often said: one speaks today of social ideals; one says that whole countries are to be set up socially; one speaks of nothing else today but socialism. Yet at the same time no period were so antisocial, at no time in their instincts were human beings so antisocial as today. Indeed, today people bypass each other without taking notice of anything. In a certain degree no one sees into the other person. Why, then?

One can either recognise, as is the case in our Anthroposophically oriented spiritual science, a supersensible world above our world. You know that we do not speak like the vexatious pantheists of a spirituality “in general.” We talk just the same as here upon earth of an animal, a plant, or a mineral; thus we talk, raising ourselves up from the realm of man to a realm above men, to a realm of angels, a realm of archangels etc. We talk of concrete spiritual beings, that is, we raise ourselves to the knowledge, to the insight into the essence of beings in the spirit. One can either do that—or one cannot do that. But if one does not do that, as we have done in occidental culture for centuries, what then results from this in terms of the logic of reality, not just with thought logic? The consequence is that one has no more sense, no more feeling for the soul-spiritual element; for in its actual configuration the soul-spiritual element can after all only be thought by us in the super-sensible element. One loses the feeling for the soul-spiritual. But if one meets another human being if one wants to know the whole man one should indeed also reach out to the soul-spiritual in man, reach out to a soul-spiritual element! One can, however, not find the soul-spiritual in the physical human being, if he has not first acquired the sense for the soul-spiritual element through thinking in the supersensible element. Whoever shies away from intercourse with the gods also loses intercourse with the supra-physical human being, with the human beings who live here on earth. For whoever has no sense for intercourse with the gods, he will only see the physical body, not the soul-spiritual element—that is, he will come to no unfolding of the soul-spiritual life. We need, simply, the intercourse with the gods so as to be able to fulfil the intercourse with our fellow men in the proper manner, and we need this intercourse with the gods, so that our soul-spiritual component turns to these gods—not just our thoughts, where we become pantheistic or something—but our entire human nature has to turn to them.

This last truth the Catholic Church, in its way, has understood very well, for what does it do? It does not limit itself merely to instruction in the catechism, which one can bring about in man through abstract theological conceptions, but also it serves out the altar sacrament as a sacrament, and it faithfully inculcates in its believers, that Christ is really contained in the sanctissimum, that Christ actually goes the way that otherwise the metabolism goes, when the altar sacrament is consumed. There are among you perhaps all too few who can properly evaluate the whole significance of what I now say, because perhaps only the least of you know in what form the altar sacrament is brought to meet the Catholics. There really lives in the altar sacrament something of the Original Wisdom, of the giving over of the entire human being to the divine. Therefore it can occur that such a letter to the faithful comes about such as that one which was issued not long ago by an archbishop that contains the explanation that the priest is mightier than God, because the priest is in a position to force God to be present in the altar sacrament, the sanctissimum. God has to be in the host, if the priest wills it. This it stands in the letter to the faithful by an archbishop which was issued just a few years ago. That is the Catholic attitude. The Protestant or Evangelical finds this to be completely unmentionable. The Brahmins in India would have taken this for granted from his viewpoint. Here there lives on in Catholicism something which belongs to the most ancient constituent parts of the original world wisdom and only has to be properly understood, and naturally may not be transformed from white magic into black magic, as it has happened in that letter to the faithful. But it lives in everything which I should like to say has developed as the aura of the altar sacrament in Catholicism, there lives the impulse: you should not only in your thinking, in your abstract thinking, turn to the divine: you should also, for example turn yourself with the same longing that lives in hunger. You go toward God not only in that you think; you go towards God in that you eat at the altar, and the God who lives in matter takes the way through your body, that everything in your metabolism takes. You unite yourself, materially, with your God! In the spreading of this attitude there lies the secret of a tremendous power. This secret of a tremendous power must not be overlooked, most certainly not now when the Catholic Church has the intent to direct its victory parade through the entire occident and the American arm,

In one of the first of my writings, The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World you will find knowledge described, and in a particular passage of the next appearing Outline to the Second Volume of Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings, you will find knowledge (thus, for what is a spiritual occurrence) described by the word “communion”, knowledge is the spiritual communion of humanity. I do not know how many people have understood the entire historical and cultural significance of this word, this sentence in one of my very first writings. For in this sentence, this was given the leading over of the materialistic grasp of community with God, to a spiritual grasp of community with God. The transformation from bread into the soul substance of cognition.

If one would recognise the overall connections of what it was attempted to give, since this little book, The Theory of Knowledge, with what then has been given in Anthroposophically oriented spiritual science, then one would have an insight into what has to be held as necessary from the Anthroposophical side, in order to really permeate with understanding what must stream into the present social life for its healing. But this earnestness that recognises such connections is lacking very often in the sleeping souls of the present, thus one takes little account of what paradoxes the life of our time actually brings, and what makes these paradoxes necessary in life.

Yesterday I had to speak to you of the paradoxes in life out of the characteristics of our present age. Now I ask you to become acquainted with speeches that were given by outstanding bishops or archbishops at prominent events of the present in the general sense. Then you find how for instance in the recent speeches of an archbishop in Munich. Friesing, which truly is very interesting to read, it is presented how the workers of the present are again to be won over for Catholicism, the intelligentsia and the workers. There you find a speaking, to be sure, out of the decadence of a spiritual substance in decay, and yet even so out of a spiritual substance, and at first you must connect to something which at first appears to be abstract, if you want to get behind what the reality is here. That archbishop of Munich, Friesing says, for instance: Catholicism must once again win over the workers. And he then mentions the various conditions concerning how Catholicism can win over the workers of the present for the Catholic Church. One must not counter such speeches today with the confrontation. Indeed, you have certainly had time enough to win over the workers since, according to your view, Catholicism through the pontificate of Peter in Rome was founded. If today you find it necessary to speak of again winning the workers and the intelligentsia, then that confirms that with what you have presented for centuries, you have lost them. If you thus still want to present the same things, can you then subscribe to any other view as to say to yourself, that you will again attain the same as you have previously attained—namely that you will lose those whom you wish to attain for yourselves? Does not one implicitly confirm that one did not act correctly, if one finds it necessary to speak in this way today about the winning again of the uneducated as well as of the intelligentsia?

However, present day humanity does not see such contradictions. Just that is what is necessary, that one sees such real contradictions. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that one has a deep insight into such things. It is true, man does have a soul-spiritual element, but we live in an age in which it can be denied. It is not that the materialistic theory that the brain thinks is incorrect. No, but when the human being denies his soul-spiritual element, then the brain begins to think like a robot. But if man does not want that his brain thinks, if he wants the soul-spiritual element to think, then he has to turn to a spirit-soul element that tears this thinking loose from matter. However, the tearing loose from matter, from this true materialism, is not merely the taking on of a different world view, but it is something that has to be taken hold of by the entire human being; it has to be torn loose from mere material existence by the whole human being. For man does not become only materialistic when he denies the spiritual element; he becomes himself more materialized when he denies the spirit. He becomes merely an image of the spiritual, he becomes materialized, which Ahriman can simply dissolve into the Ahrimanic universe, and will merely continue to work on further as a dependent impersonal member of it—whereas if he understands the Mystery of Golgotha in the right way, he is called upon to maintain his ego and to continue the progress of earthly civilisation.