THE FALL OF IDEALS
From H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles, Vol. I.
Articles by HPB
|ALAS, whether we turn East, West, North or South, it is but a contrast of externals; whether one observes life among Christians or Pagans, worldly or religious men, everywhere one finds oneself dealing with man, masked man--only MAN. Though centuries lapse and decades of ages drop out of the lap of time, great reforms take place, empires rise and fall and rise again, and even whole races disappear before the triumphant march of civilization, in his terrific selfishness the "man" that was is the "man" that is--judged by its representative element the public, and especially society. But have we the right to judge man by the utterly artificial standard of the latter? A century ago we would have answered in the negative. Today, owing to the rapid strides of mankind toward civilization, generating selfishness and making it (mankind) keep pace with it, we answer decidedly, yes. Today everyone, especially in England and America, is that public and that society, and exceptions but prove and reinforce the rule. The progress of mankind cannot be summed up by counting units especially on the basis of internal and not external growth. Therefore, we have the right to judge of that progress by the public standard of morality in the majority; leaving the minority to bewail the fall of its ideals. And what do we find? First of all Society--Church, State and Law--in conventional conspiracy, leagued against the public exposure of the results of the application of such a test. They wish the said minority to take Society and the rest en bloc, in its fine clothes, and not pry into the social rottenness beneath. By common consent they pretend to worship an IDEAL, one at any rate, the Founder of their State Christianity; but they also combine to put down and martyrise any unit belonging to the minority who has the audacity, in this time of social abasement and corruption, to live up to it.
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Do we not all know such self-devoting men and women in our midst? Have we not all of us followed the career of certain individuals, Christ-like in aspirations and practical charity, though, perhaps, Christ-denying and Church-defying in intellect and words, who were tabooed for years by bigoted society, insolent clergy, and persecuted by both to the last limits of law? How many of such victims have found justice and the recognition they merit? After doing the noblest work among the poor for years, embellishing our cold and conventional age by their altruistic charity, making themselves blessed by old and young, beloved by all who suffer, the reward they found was to hear themselves traduced and denounced, slandered and secretly defamed by those unworthy to unloosen the latchets of their shoes--the Church-going hypocrites and Pharisees, the Sanhedrim of the World of Cant! . . .
Thus, out of the many noble ideals trampled practically in the mud by modern society, the one held by the Western World as the highest and grandest of all, is, after all, the most ill-treated. The life preached in the Sermon on the Mount, and the commandments left to the Church by her MASTER, are precisely those ideals that have fallen the lowest in our day. All these are trampled under the heel of the caitiffs of the canting caste de facto--though sub rosa of course, cant preventing that they should do so de jure--and shams are substituted in their place. . . .
The great scandal of modern religion as a rule of life is, that taking modern Society all around in a broad way, it does not command any attention at all. It has failed not so much to show what ought to be done and left undone--for of course even the maxims of the church as far as words go, cover a great deal of ground--as it has failed to show with any adequate force why this or that should be a guiding principle. The modern church, in fact, has broken down as a practical agency governing the acts of its followers--i.e., of the millions who are content to be called its followers, but who never dream of listening to a word it says.
Fully conscious that a great deal it says is very good, its exponents (blandly ignorant how bad is a great deal of the rest) think it is owing to the perversity of mankind that people at large are not better than they are. They never realize that they themselves--the Dry Monopole of social wines--are primarily to blame for having divorced the good codes of morals bequeathed to them from the religions of all time, from the fundamental sanctions which a correct appreciation of true spiritual science would attach to them. They have converted the divine teaching which is the Theosophy of all ages into a barbarous caricature, and they expect to find their parrot echoes of preposterous creeds a cry that will draw the worldlings to their fold, an appeal which will stir them up to the sublime task of spiritualizing their own natures. They fail to see that the command to love one another must be ineffective in the case of people whose whole conceptions of futurity turn upon their chances of drawing a lucky number in the lottery of the elect, or of dodging the punishment that would naturally be their due, at a happy moment when the divine mind may be thrown off its balance by reflecting on the beauty of the Christian sacrifice. The teachers of modern religion, in fact, have lost touch with the wisdom underlying their own perverted doctrines, and the blind followers of these blind leaders have lost touch even with the elementary principles of physical morality which the churches still continue to repeat, without understanding their purpose, and from mere force of habit. The ministers of religion, in short, of the Nineteenth Century, have eaten the sour grapes of ignorance, and the teeth of their unfortunate children are set on edge. . . .
Of all the beautiful ideals of the Past, the true religious feeling that manifests in the worship of the spiritually beautiful alone, and the love of plain truth, are those that have been the most roughly handled in this age of obligatory dissembling. We are surrounded on all sides by Hypocrisy, and those of its followers of whom Pollock has said that they were men:
Who stole the livery of the court of heaven,
Oh, the unspeakable hypocrisy of our age! The age when everything under the Sun and Moon is for sale and bought. The age when all that is honest, just, noble-minded, is held up to the derision of the public, sneered at, and deprecated; when every truth-loving and fearlessly truth-speaking man is hooted out of polite Society, as a transgressor of cultured traditions which demand that every member of it should accept that in which he does not believe, say what he does not think, and lie to his own soul! The age, when the open pursuit of any of the grand ideals of the Past is treated as almost insane eccentricity or fraud; and the rejection of empty form--the dead letter that killeth--and preference for the Spirit "that giveth life"--is called infidelity, and forthwith the cry is started, "Stone him to death!" No sooner is the sacrifice of empty conventionalities, that yield reward and benefit but to self, made for the sake of practically working out some grand humanitarian idea that will help the masses, than a howl of indignation and pious horror is raised: the doors of fashionable Society are shut on the transgressor, and the mouths of slanderous gossips opened to dishonour his very name.
Yet, we are daily served with sanctimonious discourses upon the blessings conferred by Christian civilization and the advantages offered by both, as contrasted with the curses of "heathenism" and the superstitions and horrors of say--the Middle Ages. The Inquisition with its burning of heretics and witches, its tortures at the stake and on the rack, is contrasted with the great freedom of modern thought, on one hand, and the security of human life and property now, as compared with their insecurity in days of old. "Is it not civilization that abolished the Inquisition and now affords the beggar the same protection of law as the wealthy duke?" we are asked. "We do not know," we say. History would make us rather think that it was Napoleon the First, the Attila whose iniquitous wars stripped France and Europe of their lustiest manhood, who abolished the Inquisition, and this not at all for the sake of civilization, but rather because he was not prepared to allow the Church to burn and torture those who could serve him as chair à canon. As to the second proposition with regard to the beggar and the duke, we have to qualify it before accepting it as true. The beggar, however right, will hardly find as full justice as the duke will; and if he happens to be unpopular, or an heretic, ten to one he will find the reverse of justice. And this proves that if Church and State were un-christian then, they are still un-christian, if not more so now.
True Christianity and true civilization both ought to be opposed to murder, however legal. And yet we find, in the last half of our departing century more human lives sacrificed--because of the improved system and weapons of warfare, thanks to the progress of science and civilization--than there were in its first half. "Christian civilization," indeed! Civilization, perhaps; but why "Christian"? Did Pope Leo XIII personify it when in an agony of despair he shut himself up on the day when Bruno's monument was unveiled, and marked it as a dies iræ in Church History? But may we not turn to civilization, pure and simple? "Our manners, our civilization," says Burke, "and all the good things connected with manners . . . have in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles. . . . I mean the spirit of a gentleman and the spirit of religion." We are quite willing to test the character of the age by these ideals. Only, it has always been hard to say just what definition to give to the term "gentleman"; while as to religion, ninety-nine out of every hundred people one meets would, if asked, reply in such a fashion as to make it plain that they had confounded religion with theology.
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But perhaps we have to look for true Christianity and true civilization and culture in the modern higher courts of Law? Alas, there are modern judges of whom their Lord (our Karma) would say, "Hear what the unjust judge sayeth." For, in our day, the decree of justice is sometimes uttered in the voice of the bigots who sit in Solomon's seat and judge as the Inquisitors of old did. In our century of Christian civilization, judges emulating their predecessors of the tribunal of the sons of Loyola, employ the more exquisite instruments of moral torture, to insult and goad to desperation a helpless plaintiff or defendant. In this they are aided by advocates, often the type of the ancient headsman, who, metaphorically, break the bones of the wretch seeking justice; or worse yet, defile his good name and stab him to the heart with the vilest innuendoes, false suppositions concocted for the occasion but which the victim knows will henceforth become actual truths in the mouth of foul gossip and slander. Between the defunct brutal tortures of the unchristian Inquisition of old, and the more refined mental tortures of its as unchristian but more civilized copy--our Court and truculent cross-examiners, the palm of "gentleness" and charity might almost be given to the former.
Thus we find every ideal of old, moral and spiritual, abased to correspond with the present low moral and unspiritual conceptions of the public. Brutalized by a psychical famine which has lasted through generations, they are ready to give every ideal spiritual Regenerator as food for the dogs, while like their debauched prototypes, the Roman populace under Nero, Caligula, and Heliogabalus, they crowd to see bull-fights in Paris, where the wretched horses drag their bleeding bowels around the arena, imported Almehs dancing their loathsome danse du ventre, black and white pugilists bruising each other's features into bloody pulp, and "raise the roof" with their cheers when the Samsons and Sandows burst chains and snap wires by expanding their preter-natural muscles. Why keep up the old farce any longer? Why not change the Christmas carol thus:
Gladiator natus hodie.
Or change the well-known anthem after this fashion:
"GLORY TO GOLD IN THE HIGHEST
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In a world of illusion in which the law of evolution operates, nothing could be more natural than that the ideals of MAN--as a unit of total, or mankind--should be forever shifting. A part of the Nature around him, that Protean, ever-changing Nature, every particle of which is incessantly transformed, while the harmonious body remains as a whole ever the same, like these particles man is continually changing, physically, intellectually, morally, spiritually. At one time he is at the topmost point of the circle of development; at another, at the lowest. And, as he thus alternately rises and sinks, and his moral nature responsively expands or contracts, so will his moral code at one time embody the noblest altruistic and aspirational ideals, while at the other, the ruling conscience will be but the reflection of selfishness, brutality and faithlessness. But this, however, is so only on the external, illusionary plane. In their internal, or rather essential constitution, both nature and man are at one, as their essence is identical. All grows and develops and strives toward perfection on the former planes of externality or, as well said by a philosopher, is--"ever becoming"; but on the ultimate plane of the spiritual essence all Is, and remains therefore immutable. It is toward this eternal Esse that every thing, as every being, is gravitating, gradually, almost imperceptibly, but as surely as the Universe of stars and worlds moves towards a mysterious point known to, yet still unnamed by, astronomy, and called by the Occultists--the central Spiritual Sun.
Hitherto, it was remarked in almost every historical age that a wide interval, almost a chasm, lay between practical and ideal perfection. Yet, as from time to time certain great characters appeared on earth who taught mankind to look beyond the veil of illusion, man learnt that the gulf was not an impassable one; that it is the province of mankind through its higher and more spiritual races to fill the great gap more and more with every coming cycle; for every man, as a unit, has it in his power to add his mite toward filling it. Yes; there are still men, who, notwithstanding the present chaotic condition of the moral world, and the sorry débris of the best human ideals, still persist in believing and teaching that the now ideal human perfection is no dream, but a law of divine nature; and that, had Mankind to wait even millions of years, still it must some day reach it and rebecome a race of gods.
Meanwhile, the periodical rise and fall of human character on the external planes takes place now, as it did before, and the ordinary average perception of man is too weak to see that both processes occur each time on a higher plane than the preceding. But as such changes are not always the work of centuries, for often extreme changes are wrought by swift acting forces--e.g. by wars, speculations, epidemics, the devastation of famines or religious fanaticism--therefore, do the blind masses imagine that man was, is, and will be the same. To the eyes of us, moles, mankind is like our globe-- seemingly stationary. And yet, both move in space and time with an equal velocity, around themselves and--onward.
Moreover, at whatever end of his evolution, from the birth of his consciousness, in fact, man was, and still is, the vehicle of a dual spirit in him--good and evil. Like the twin sisters of Victor Hugo's grand, posthumous poem "Satan"--the progeny issued respectively from Light and Darkness--the angel "Liberty" and the angel "Isis-Lilith" have chosen man as their dwelling on earth, and these are at eternal strife in him.
The Churches tell the world that "man is born in sin," and John (1st Epist.iii.,8) adds that "He that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning." Those who still believe in the rib-and-apple fable and in the rebellious angel "Satan," believe, as a matter of course, in a personal Devil--as a contrast in a dualistic religion--to a personal God. We, Theosophists of the Eastern school, believe in neither. Yet we go, perhaps, further still than the Biblical dead letter. For we say that while as extra-cosmic Entities there is neither god nor devil, that both exist, nevertheless. And we add that both dwell on earth in man, being, in truth, the very man himself, who is, as a physical being, the devil, the true vehicle of evil, and as a spiritual entity--god, or good. Hence, to say to mankind, "thou hast the devil," is to utter as metaphysical a truth as when saying to all its men, "Know ye not that god dwelleth in you?" Both statements are true. But, we are at the turning point of the great social cycle, and it is the former fact which has the upper hand at present. Yet, as--to paraphrase a Pauline text--"there be devils many . . . yet there is but one Satan," so while we have a great variety of devils constituting collectively mankind, of such grandiose Satanic characters as are painted by Milton, Byron and recently by Victor Hugo, there are few, if any. Hence, owing to such mediocrity, are the human ideals falling, to remain unreplaced; a prose-life as spiritually dead as the London November fog, and as alive with brutal materialism and vices, the seven capital sins forming but a portion of these, as that fog is with deadly microbes. Now we rarely find aspirations toward the eternal ideal in the human heart, but instead of it every thought tending toward the one central idea of our century, the great "I," self being for each the one mighty center around which the whole Universe is made to revolve and turn.
When the Emperor Julian--called the Apostate because, believing in the grand ideals of his forefathers, the Initiates, he would not accept the human anthropomorphic form thereof--saw for the last time his beloved gods appear to him, he wept. Alas, they were no longer the bright spiritual beings he had worshipped, but only the decrepit, pale and worn out shades of the gods he had so loved. Perchance they were the prophetic vision of the departing ideals of his age, as also of our own cycle. These "gods" are now regarded by the Church as demons and called so; while he who has preserved a poetical, lingering love for them, is forthwith branded as an Anti-Christ and a modern Satan.
Well, Satan is an elastic term, and no one has yet ever given even an approximately logical definition of the symbolical meaning of the name. The first to anthropomorphize it was John Milton; he is his true putative intellectual father, as it is widely conceded that the theological Satan of the Fall is the "mind-born Son" of the blind poet. Bereft of his theological and dogmatic attributes Satan is simply an adversary,--not necessarily an "arch fiend" or a "persecutor of men," but possibly also a foe of evil. He may thus become a Saviour of the oppressed, a champion of the weak and poor, crushed by the minor devils (men), the demons of avarice, selfishness and hypocrisy. Michelet calls him the "great Disinherited" and takes him to his heart. The giant Satan of poetical concept is, in reality, but the compound of all the dissatisfied and noble intellectuality of the age. But Victor Hugo was the first to intuitively grasp the occult truth. Satan, in his poem of that time, is a truly grandiose Entity, with enough human in him to bring it within the grasp of average intellects. To realize the Satans of Milton and of Byron is like trying to grasp a handful of the morning mist: there is nothing human in them. Milton's Satan wars with angels who are a sort of flying puppets, without spontaneity, pulled into the stage of being and of action by the invisible string of theological predestination; Hugo's Lucifer fights a fearful battle with his own terrible passions and again becomes an Archangel of Light, after the awfulest agonies ever conceived by mortal mind and recorded by human pen.
All other Satanic ideals pale before his splendour. The Mephisto of Goethe is a true devil of theology; the Ahriman of Byron's "Manfred"--a too supernatural character, and even Manfred has little akin to the human element, great as was the genius of his creator. All these images pale before Hugo's SATAN, who loves as strongly as he hates. Manfred and Cain are the incarnate Protests of downtrodden, wronged and persecuted individuality against the "World" and "Society"--those giant fiends and savage monsters of collective injustice. Manfred is the type of an indomitable will, proud, yielding to no influence earthly or divine, valuing his full absolute freedom of action above any personal feeling or social consideration, higher than Nature and all in it. But, with Manfred as with Cain, the Se]f, the "I" is ever foremost; and there is not a spark of the all-redeeming love in them, no more than of fear. Manfred will not submit even to the universal Spirit of Evil; alone, face to face with the dark opponent of Ahura-Mazda--Universal Light--Ahriman and his countless hosts of Darkness, he still holds his own. These types arouse in one intense wonder, awe-struck amazement by their all-defiant daring, but arouse no human feeling: they are too supernatural ideals. Byron never thought of vivifying his Archangel with that undying spark of love which forms--nay, must form the essence of the "First-Born" out of the homogeneous essence of eternal Harmony and Light, and is the element of forgiving reconciliation, even in its (according to our philosophy) last terrestrial offspring--Humanity. Discord is the concomitant of differentiation, and Satan being an evolution, must in that sense, be an adversary, a contrast, being a type of Chaotic matter. The loving essence cannot be extinguished but only perverted. Without this saving redemptive power, embodied in Satan, he simply appears the nonsensical failure of omnipotent and omniscient imbecility which the opponents of theological Christianity sneeringly and very justly make him: with it he becomes a thinkable Entity, the Asuras of the Puranic myths, the first breaths of Brahma, who, after fighting the gods and defeating them are finally themselves defeated and then hurled on to the earth where they incarnate in Humanity. Thus Satanic Humanity becomes comprehensible. After moving around his cycle of obstacles he may, with accumulated experiences, after all the throes of Humanity, emerge again into the light--as Eastern philosophy teaches.
If Hugo had lived to complete his poem, possibly with strengthened insight, he would have blended his Satanic concept with that of the Aryan races which makes all minor powers, good or evil, born at the beginning and dying at the close of each "Divine Age." As human nature is ever the same, and sociological, spiritual and intellectual evolution is a question of step by step, it is quite possible that instead of catching one half of the Satanic ideal as Hugo did, the next great poet may get it wholly: thus voicing for his generation the eternal idea of Cosmic equilibrium so nobly emphasized in the Aryan mythology. The first half of that ideal approaches sufficiently to the human ideal to make the moral tortures of Hugo's Satan entirely comprehensible to the Eastern Theosophist. What is the chief torment of this great Cosmic Anarchist? It is the moral agony caused by such a duality of nature--the tearing asunder of the Spirit of Evil and Opposition from the undying element of primeval love in the Archangel. That spark of divine love for Light and Harmony, that no HATE can wholly smother, causes him a torture far more unbearable than his Fall and exile for protest and Rebellion. This bright, heavenly spark, shining from Satan in the black darkness of his kingdom of moral night, makes him visible to the intuitive reader. It made Victor Hugo see him sobbing in superhuman despair, each mighty sob shaking the earth from pole to pole; sobs first of baffled rage that he cannot extirpate love for divine Goodness (God) from his nature; then changing into a wail of despair at being cut off from that divine love he so much yearns for. All this is intensely human. This abyss of despair is Satan's salvation. In his Fall, a feather drops from his white and once immaculate wing, is lighted up by a ray of divine radiance and forth with transformed into a bright Being, the Angel LIBERTY. Thus, she is Satan's daughter, the child jointly of God and the Fallen Archangel, the progeny of Good and Evil, of Light and Darkness, and God acknowledges this common and "sublime paternity" that unites them. It is Satan's daughter who saves him. At the acme of despair at feeling himself hated by LIGHT, Satan hears the divine words "No; I hate thee not." Saith the Voice, "An angel is between us, and her deeds go to thy credit. Man, bound by thee, by her is now delivered."
O Satan, tu peux dire á present: je vivrai!
The whole conception is an efflorescence of metaphysical ideality. This white lotus of thought springs now, as in former ages, from the rottenness of the world of matter, generating Protest and LIBERTY. It is springing in our very midst and under our very eyes, from the mire of modern civilization, fecund bed of contrasting virtues. In this foul soil sprouted the germs which ultimately developed into All-denying protestators, Atheists, Nihilists, and Anarchists, men of the Terror. Bad, violent, criminal some of them may be, yet no one of them could stand as the copy of Satan; but taking this heart-broken, hopeless, embittered portion of humanity in their collectivity, they are just Satan himself; for he is the ideal synthesis of all discordant forces and each separate human vice or passion is but an atom of his totality. In the very depths of the heart of this HUMAN Satanic totality burns the divine spark, all negations notwithstanding. It is called LOVE FOR HUMANITY, an ardent aspiration for a universal reign of Justice--hence a latent desire for light, harmony and goodness. Where do we find such a divine spark among the proud and the wealthy? In respectable Society and the correct orthodox, so-called religious portion of the public, one finds but a predominating feeling of selfishness and a desire for wealth at the expense of the weak and the destitute, hence as a parallel, indifference to injustice and evil. Before Satan, the incarnate PROTEST, repents and reunites with his fellow men in one common Brotherhood, all cause for protest must have disappeared from earth. And that can come to pass only when Greed, Bias, and Prejudice shall have disappeared before the elements of Altruism and Justice to all. Freedom, or Liberty, is but a vain word just now all over the civilized globe; freedom is but a cunning synonym for oppression of the people in the name of the people, and it exists for castes, never for units. To bring about the reign of Freedom as contemplated by Hugo's Satan, the "Angel Liberty" has to be born simultaneously and by common love and consent of the "higher" wealthy caste, and the "lower" classes--the poor; in other words, to become the progeny of "God" and "Satan," thereby reconciling the two.
But this is a Utopia--for the present. It cannot take place before the castes of the modern Levites and their theology--the Dead-sea fruit of Spirituality--shall have disappeared; and the priests of the Future have declared before the whole World in the words of their "God"--
Et j'éfface la nuit sinistre, et rien n'en reste,