The Idolatry of Space
“The maxim is this: that the antidote to excessive indulgence is development, not restraint. When the young psychologist feels that he is getting altogether too abstract, too intellectualistic; that he is taking logic too seriously and forgetting ‘Life’, let him meet the situation by – taking logic a little more seriously still! Only this time let him do so of his own free will.”
-Owen Barfield, Psychology and Reason
We discussed in a previous post how, polarly opposed to the force of Gratitude, there is the force of pride. Pride is the inevitable consequence of mistaking one's own creations for the functional equivalent of Reality itself. This conflation of one’s own creations with Reality results from our lack of knowledge and our fear of uncertainty. Specifically, the fear of confronting, and therefore knowing, our own limitations. Our conscious awareness of these limitations, and the possibility of overcoming them, manifest in our experience as Gratitude, while our unconsciousness and epistemic pessimism manifest as pride. The prideful conflation of one’s own creations for Reality itself is what spiritual traditions also refer to as "idolatry". Many of us will claim to 'believe' in a Reality beyond our current experience and knowledge. We will say that we have not idolized any of our own immediate perceptions or conceptions of the Cosmos. These outward representations, however, are never the pragmatic standard by which we test claims to knowledge. Instead, we measure them by their inner meaning, i.e. how the concepts underlying the claims function in our perceptions, thoughts, and reasoning; how they practically influence those things as we go about our lives.
The most challenging aspect of idolatry in the modern age is that, when one idol is sacrificed at the altar of Gratitude, another idol immediately materializes from the summit of pride to take its place. This ‘mysterious’ regeneration of idols is deeply woven into our intuitive experience of abstracted spatial dimensions. We should first understand how the dimensions of space function in our experience. One helpful clue is embedded in Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, which mathematically demonstrated that our experience of Time is inseparably bound to our relative ‘motion’ through space. That is, our 1st-person experience of Time is always related to purposes and goals of living agencies in relation to the objects of our thoughts, feelings, or desires; the telos they are moving towards. Spatial dimensions reflect what purposes we or others want to accomplish and how we or others want to accomplish them. For a more thorough exploration of this dynamic, one could refer to my essay on a phenomenology of mechanism. This relativistic understanding of Time-experience, in relation to our own meaningful activity, is practically beyond dispute across all fields of modern science which have studied the relation of space and time.
“[Schopenhauer and Schelling] did not see that intellectualized time is space, that the intelligence works upon the phantom of duration, not on duration itself, that the elimination of time is the habitual, normal, commonplace act of our understanding, that the relativity of our knowledge of the mind is a direct result of this fact, and that hence, to pass from intellection to vision, from the relative to the absolute, is not a question of getting outside of time (we are already there); on the contrary, one must get back into duration and recapture reality in the very mobility which is its essence.”
- Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind
Space, then, is the way in which the intellect eliminates Time to fix phenomena in ‘place’ for measurement and analysis, thereby moving us closer to various purposes and goals embedded within our ideations. When I wake up in the morning and have the idea - “go make coffee to help me stay awake” - the mobile duration of this idea, and all ideas nested within it, is abstracted into spatial dimensions which assist me to fulfill the intention of the idea. These abstract dimensions allow me to link, through my thinking activity, objects to other objects, “causes” to “effects”, in ways which reliably manifest a cup of coffee for me to drink. We are habitually eliminating Time with space in this way when remaining within the confines of intellectual perception. It should be clear that such a mental habit was absolutely necessary for the maturation of our Ego-“I” who freely thinks and analyzes phenomena for precise content of perception. Just as a child must eventually evolve his “I” into a subject capable of confronting the world content to win his independence, so too must the individual human during the course of his day, and so too must all of humanity during the unfolding of its collective history.
“To think what is true, to sense what is beautiful and to want what is good, hereby the spirit finds purpose of a life in reason.” – Johann Gottfried Herder
When we idolize space, however, we have cut ourselves off from the evolutionary path which would also allow our intellectual cognition to overcome its own spatial limitations. That is especially the case in our age of modern perceptual-enhancing technologies, which act as a synthetic substitute for naturally evolved cognition, freed from the shackles of abstract space-time. Nature politely requests, or sometimes rudely demands, that we begin training our vision on the evolving target of cognitive development and maturity, which allows us to rediscover the depth structure of meaning underlying her appearances – the True imaginations (thoughts), the Beautiful inspirations (feelings), and the Good intuitions (desires) which weave through her body and make her fragmented appearances whole again; resurrecting them into a richly meaningful and eternal life. Modern technology, however, fixes our sight within the spatial construct and keeps it trained on the same old materialistic goals of money, sex, and power.
This modern idolatry of space encompasses ideologies of all variations in the modern age – rationalism, scientism, materialism, post-modernism, post-[insert ‘ism’ here], mysticism, and religious fundamentalism. It is an idolatry which overarches all other forms of idolatry, and that is exactly what makes it so difficult to perceive and address. Religious and spiritual people will especially fall into this trap because they feel that they have already overcome idolatry via their intellectual understanding of it. When we feel that we have overcome idolatry is precisely when we are most vulnerable to it, because we have lost all incentive and motivation to search out the deeper currents of idolatry through which our thinking is still flowing. The devout and dogmatic religious will especially balk at the notion that they engage in idolatry, because it undermines the pride they take in strict adherence to their religious faith. Yet the scripture of that faith could not be any more clear in its warning against the ever-present temptation of idolatry.
“You shall not make for yourself a graven image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." - Exodus 20:4
Space is the graven image of intellectualized Time which undergirds all other graven images. One cannot even think or speak of “heaven above”, “earth beneath”, or “water under the earth” without also presupposing the abstraction of spatial dimensions. To be clear, I am not asserting that the ancient Hebrews were expected to overcome spatial abstractions at the time of Moses. Rather, I am suggesting that the Ten Commandments marked the beginning of the Divine preparation of His ‘temple’ on Earth, so that His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. The Christian spiritual tradition recognizes Christ incarnate as the archetypal fulfillment of the fully human and fully Divine temple on Earth, and further encourages us to perceive how each individual alive on Earth today can be transfigured from the image of idols into the image of Christ over our meaningful Time-experience. It is now well past Time that modern man sacrifices abstract space and begins preparing his own ‘temple’ for the Christ within; to realize the fruit expressed in the immemorial words of Saint Paul, “it is no longer ‘I’ who live, but Christ who lives in me”.
“What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” -2 Corinthians 6:16
All that is required for this preparation of our temple, at first, is our own spiritual thinking activity. It is this activity which can begin forming constellations of ideas which are in harmonic relation to each other, and which also act as symbols pointing towards even more harmonic relations yet to be discovered. By remembering that these ideal constellations are symbols, we proactively ward off the force of spatial idolatry. One form of this idolatry, which is seldom noticed by those within the Western religious traditions, is related to the notion of an eternal soul. Most spiritual traditions accept the reality of an eternal soul, but fail to perceive any of its activity before incarnating into the spatial world or disincarnating from the spatial world. The most fanciful speculations end up filling this gap in our spatial perception. Perhaps these souls are waiting in a ‘storage bin’ for souls before and after they incarnate into their single spatial lifetime, and, in the meantime, they have fallen fast asleep with their soul-eyes closed.
It is the idolatry of space which convinces many people that such childish speculations are necessary, since, in their minds, it is simply inconceivable for souls to be existing, perceiving, desiring, feeling, or thinking through content of a non-spatial realm. It is inconceivable that knowledge from the non-spatial realm can be brought back to the spatial realm for the benefit of the incarnate souls. All of that is despite the doctrine of God’s Incarnation, which is the clear archetypal image of such a positive feedback of soul-experience occurring. Everything beyond the horizon of intellectually spatialized vision is simply converted into a black hole of experience for the modern soul; a blank canvas onto which its own unexamined desires can be projected. “Heaven”, the “afterlife”, “purgatory”, and similar abstract concepts become fictitious corporate entities which are functioning as the alter-ego of the individual. The alter-ego is what Jung also referred to as the “shadow”-self who harbors all our darkest, i.e., most unexamined, thoughts, feelings, and desires.
"I suffer my agony between two madmen. I enter the truth if I descend. Become accustomed to being alone with the dead. It is difficult, but this is precisely how you will discover the worth of your living companions. What the ancients did for their dead! You seem to believe that you can absolve yourself from the care of the dead, and from the work that they so greatly demand, since what is dead is past. You excuse yourself with your disbelief in the immortality of the soul. Do you think that the dead do not exist because you have devised the impossibility of immortality? You believe in your idols of words. The dead produce effects, that is sufficient. In the inner world there is no explaining away, as little as you can explain away the sea in the outer world. You must finally understand your purpose in explaining away, namely to seek protection."
- Carl Jung, Liber Novus
Other spiritual worldviews of a more mystical persuasion have concluded the answer to this spatial idolatry is to deny the existence and utility of space altogether as absolute "Maya"; to write off human endeavors occurring within space - endeavors aimed at precisely knowing the existential sources of our existence - as mere fantasies of the ‘personal’ mind. This mystical mindset is yet another, albeit harder to notice, manifestation of spatial idolatry. It does not mistake the spatial world for Reality itself, but it condemns human knowing to the spatial world for our entire lives within it. Therefore, the only world we can systematically perceive, know, evaluate, or even speak logically and coherently about is the spatial world. It is easy to discern how this roundabout idolatry, for all intents and purposes, once again worships the graven images of space and denies the knowledge of non-spatial spiritual realms. It seeks to explain away the need to explain the soul's immortality; to absolve itself from the 'care of the dead' and from the work they demand of us.
As Barfield observed at the outset of this essay, we will only overcome the idolatry of space through space itself, and that is only IF we do not arbitrarily cease our reasoning through spatial phenomena whenever we reach our desired conclusions. By logically reasoning back through the shadowy idols of spatial dimensions, we can begin to perceive the ideal sources of Light who cast them with ever-increasing clarity. Once we come to realize space itself as the overarching idol of our current stage of cognitive metamorphosis, it will be much easier to perceive how all phenomena occurring within these spatial dimensions are also potential idols. If Reality is durational, rather than spatial, in its mobile essence, then all such spatial phenomena are reflecting moments of an organic and cosmic Unity. The latter is then seen as a living organism who is evolving through our own ideational activity. To cease our logical reasoning through these moments - to fix them in space and idolize them - is nothing less than inviting stagnation, decay, and death.
"And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." - 2 Corinthians 8:10-12