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The Karma of Materialism

Schmidt Number: S-3400

On-line since: 30th September, 2016

Lecture IX

September 25, 1917

A point has been reached in mankind's evolution when the riddle of existence becomes ever more significant for the human soul. Some are aware of the riddle but there is little inclination anywhere to seek ways and means of solving it.

Today I would like to point to an aspect of the riddle which many people come up against in everyday life. There are those who ask: Why is it that all over the world there is a discrepancy between man's intellectual and moral development? At present man's intellectual development expresses itself mainly in what could also be called, with more or less justification, scientific development. Most people's view of life is based on natural science. And what things has man not produced thanks to his intellect! I need not enumerate all the external products which make up our materialistic culture. When one thinks of all the ingenious means it has so far produced for destroying human life, for enabling men to slaughter one another, then, leaving aside all moral considerations, one must concede that the intellect has reached a certain high plateau in its development. Just think of all the scientific ingenuity necessary to produce all those instruments of death with which men mangle each other, causing untold suffering.

One can think of much that is negative and also of much that is positive in what has come about as a result of man's highly developed intellect. It has certainly progressed with unprecedented speed especially in the last centuries. Occasionally one comes across remarks made by the few who have noticed the glaring contrast between intellect and morality. Already years ago in his famous work The Riddle of the Universe, Ernst Haeckel pointed out how man has progressed intellectually but in regard to morality he has in many respects remained at a primitive stage. There are also others who have remarked on this discord which tends to be noticed by persons who are awake and sensitive to what goes on in the world. However, due to modern man's lethargy and love of ease, people fail to become aware that only spiritual knowledge can throw light on these profound problems with their far-reaching consequences for the human soul. If one is to find one's way through the complexities of present-day life no other possibility exists than to attempt to understand them in the light of spiritual science. Anyone with a feeling for reality finds it painful to witness the unease, the unwillingness that exists all over the globe to face openly and courageously the things that are happening both above and below the surface of events. Today people are apt to deplore immoral measures taken in the past. This seems strange in view of the fact that they fail to judge what goes on at present all over the world which is far worse than anything that has happened before in human evolution. Let us for once look at the relationship between man's intellectual and moral development in the light of spiritual knowledge.

Our first enquiry must concern what exactly takes place in the human being when he is engaged in intellectual pursuits. What aspects of our being is active when we formulate scientific thoughts; i.e., when we investigate external phenomena? We reflect on the laws of nature to enable us, through understanding them, to form appropriate mental pictures. This activity engages parts of man's being which are the most mature. When we look at what is today the foundation, the tool of the intellect then we are looking at those aspects of man which were developed and incorporated into his being in the course of the ancient Saturn, Sun, Moon and the present Earth evolutions. When on the other hand we seek to understand the foundation of man's moral development we cannot refer to such mature constituents of his being. In regard to his moral evolution we are dealing with comparatively much younger members of human nature. In actual fact only man's 'I' can be said to be moral in the true sense. But, as I have often said: man's 'I' is the baby among the members of his being. Even in regard to the astral body, incorporated into man's being during the ancient Moon evolution, one can speak of moral impulses only insofar as the astral body, being intimately connected with the 'I' during life, may receive moral impulses from the latter. It must also be borne in mind that the 'I' and astral body have a comparatively independent existence; every night when we fall asleep they free themselves from the physical and etheric bodies. They are then in a state of complete unconsciousness and therefore cannot receive moral impulses.

The following is of great importance but somewhat difficult for modern man to understand: Every time we awake from sleep we enter, with our ‘I’ and astral body, into our physical and etheric bodies; i.e., into the oldest members of our being. These members, having evolved through the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions have attained a certain degree of perfection which makes them pre-eminently suitable tools for the intellect. Their degree of perfection is something that is inborn in them and manifests as intellectual proficiency. If the 'I' and astral body were not added to our physical and etheric bodies we would in a certain sense be thinking machines; we would be scientific automatons. In accordance with their nature our physical and etheric bodies do in fact act automatically in certain ways. It is only because the ‘I’ dwells in them that they are capable of further development on earth. But the ‘I’ could do little towards perfecting the physical and etheric bodies, even in regard to their intellectual ability, if it were not transported every night into sleep. We attain our best forces, also in regard to intellectual development, during sleep. It is because the physical and etheric bodies are perfectly developed tools that the already existing intellectuality can become further developed by what the 'I' has received from the spiritual world during sleep and bestows upon them on waking. During waking life we have in addition our consciousness which we attain by virtue of the physical and etheric bodies. We have at present no comparable consciousness as far as the ‘I’ and astral body are concerned. This should be kept well in mind. Man believes he knows his ‘I,’ but in what sense does he know it? If you have, say, a red surface and cut a hole in it through which you look into darkness; i.e., into nothingness, you will then see the red surface and the hole as a black circle. You look into nothingness. In your inner life you see your ‘I’ the way you see the black circle in the surrounding red. What man believes to be perception of his 'I' is in fact a gap in his soul life. Though nothing is there, or very little, man believes he perceives his ‘I.’ In actual fact all he sees is what his brain reveals to him through his etheric and physical bodies. In the present phase of evolution man has not come very far in perceiving his own ‘I’ while in a physical body between birth and death.

We are unconscious during sleep, but during the day, while awake, we are still unconscious as far as our ‘I’ is concerned. Yet morality must be implanted into the ‘I.’ So you see, as far as morality is concerned — compared with his intellectuality — man is very much a baby. That is the deeper reason why it is so difficult for man, during earth evolution, to advance morally, while intellectually he progresses with comparative ease.

In a periodical founded during the war entitled The Bell an article recently appeared discussing the discrepancy between intellectual and moral development. Despite its name, The Bell seldom rings out much sense; according to its opinion on this matter, the discrepancy can be traced to the fact that intellectual development has come about under capitalism, in other words during a time when rulership was in the hands of the few, whereas moral development will come about only when socialism has been established. Well, idealists insist that the earth will become paradise when idealism gains the upper hand. Materialists make the same claim for materialism while, according to liberals, paradise comes about when liberalism is generally accepted. So naturally socialists see paradise as the realization of socialism. These views are all incredibly naive. They are in fact so many trite illusions all of which demonstrate that, while modern man is beset by problems, he still will not rouse his thinking — and on thinking it at first depends — to the irksome task of penetrating into the realm of spiritual experience. Anyone who will really think can penetrate to spiritual reality. Our age that prides itself in its thinking knows thinking the least.

The discrepancy between intellectual and moral development can only be explained when seen in the greater contexts just outlined. But the article in The Bell comes to the conclusion that as long as there are individuals who are intellectual, intellectuality will continue to develop, whereas moral life will reach a comparable development only when all people are merged within a socialist order. Thus capitalism is supposed to be favourable for intellectuals who are scientifically inclined, while socialism will be favourable for moral development. The reality however, is very different, for interest in the spiritual world must take hold of man if morality is to develop to the same extent as intellectuality has done. Men must become able actually to behold the spiritual forces and impulses that surge and pulsate through the world. There are many reasons why this is highly uncomfortable for modern man. For example, when someone embarks upon developing his thinking, in ways I have often described, his thinking becomes capable of functioning in the spiritual world. This means that in his thinking he experiences the spiritual world as a reality. This leads him of necessity to develop something else which has declined during our materialistic age, namely, an inner feeling of responsibility.

People whose view of life is based solely on their natural-scientific knowledge and observations are determined, in the way they think, by external events. Their thinking is as it were attached to the leading strands of the external phenomena and guided by them. The concepts they acquire enable them, up to a point, to understand external events. However, this kind of thinking in no way suffices to recognize moral and social issues in their reality; let alone find solutions to moral and social problems. In order to achieve this one must be in contact with spiritual reality, which however creates in the soul a strong feeling of responsibility for one's thoughts. One will not permit every arbitrary train of thought to go through the soul but only such which are, as it were, fit to be seen by the Beings of the Higher Hierarchies. Proclaiming freedom for nations is not a concept fit to present to spiritual worlds; it illustrates the kind of mistaken concept, generally held today, concerning the individual's relation to his folk. We know from spiritual science that freedom is a concept which is applicable only to human beings as individuals; quite different concepts apply to nations with their group souls. Yet around the world today freedom of nations and the like is being proclaimed, giving voice to Woodrow Wilson's immature ideas. They are even taken seriously! In fact they are also taken seriously within Europe; though we, with centuries of experience should at least be able to produce a few enlightened ideas, ideas that could, in the sense of spiritual science, throw some light on the issues.

It is possible to feel responsibility, not only towards people, but towards concepts and ideas; if they are moral ideas they exist entirely in the spiritual world, for they arise in our T or possibly in the astral body. However, one does not have this feeling of responsibility if one lives exclusively in materialistic concepts and ideas; i.e., ideas that relate solely to external phenomena as often happens without awareness. One hears phrases such as: God sent us this war because of our sins and shortcomings. Uttering such phrases does not indicate moral or spiritual ideas; it indicates rather no advance beyond materialism. Such an advance only comes about when one is able to form mental pictures of spiritual reality. Plenty of phrases are coined these days which have no foundation in reality; it happens especially when it comes to discussing this or that political issue. On such occasions one often hears talk of a "new spirit" which does not mean in the least that the person concerned has the slightest inkling of the spirit.

If we are to extricate ourselves from the present devastating conditions, the spirit must not remain abstract; it must be grasped in its reality. As already mentioned it is possible to understand this or that external phenomenon with the kind of concepts engendered by simply following the leading strings of physical perception. They do not, however, have the power to influence the intricacies of human life; the latter require concepts and ideas derived from spiritual insight. You may ask how it then comes about that human life is after all influenced occasionally. It is because human beings still rely on old, even ancient ideas though they no longer fit the changed conditions. Our age demands new concepts, new mental pictures, derived from spiritual knowledge. Naturally, these ideas are new only in the sense that they are new to mankind.

However, these new ideas are at times found to be unpalatable especially when they relate to human morality seen in the light of spiritual knowledge. It is easy enough to say that good will is a virtue and should be cultivated, or that justice is moral and ought to be established. It is also easy enough to make laws and arrangements accordingly. One can even elect parliaments in which clever people come together to make all kinds of decisions based on good will and justice. But if things are handled the way they have been so far they will result in something similar to the situation we see spread all over the world today, if only people would have the courage to recognize that there is a direct connection between the terrible events taking place at present and the kind of concepts and ideas which preceded them.

Good will is certainly a virtue and one can even get a sensuous feeling of pleasure from practicing it. A kind of cathechism of virtues could be devised: Thou shalt have good will, thou shalt be just and so on; one would then possess a list of virtues and no understanding of any of them. It would in fact be comparable to knowing that when a pendulum is at its highest point the law of gravity will bring it down to the lowest, but not knowing that in coming down the pendulum gathers a force that makes it swing equally far up the other side. In regard to physical phenomena these things are easy to recognize because the external phenomena themselves enforce one's thinking to be consistent, but in the sphere of morality there are no such leading strings.

If a person develops good will it is certainly an excellent thing. However, just as the pendulum in its downward swing gathers the force that will make it swing upwards, so there develops with the force of good will a tendency to its opposite, a tendency to prejudice, biassed views and the like. No virtue can be cultivated without developing also a disposition towards the opposite vice. These truths are not comfortable but truths they are. In the individual they are less noticeable, but in public life they result in the kind of thing I have indicated. If people in one age one-sidedly cultivate some virtue and pride themselves over much in the fact, then people in the following age, although the connection is not recognized, will exhibit the corresponding vice. Seen in their true light these things point to a deep truth uttered by Christ Jesus but one which people will not acknowledge.

At the present time a strange current flows like a current through the world taking hold of souls like an epidemic. It is hard to believe that such views can be held, but they are. It appears that people have come to the conclusion that this war must be continued until an everlasting peace can be won. The war must go on till the impact of the war itself provides an absolute guarantee that there never will be another. Obviously the best way to achieve everlasting peace is to let the war go on forever. Simply by striving, as is done at present, for the ideal of everlasting peace will ensure that the war never ends! We live in a physical body, on the physical plane and the physical plane is not and cannot be perfect. If at one time or another the most perfect conditions possible were established it would only be a matter of a few centuries and they would be imperfect; because evolution progresses in oscillations, not in a straight ascending line. As the pendulum swings up and down, so does evolution move in lines of ascent and descent. If one epoch has developed something perfect, it need only wait and people will come who know of things still more perfect.

What matters is not the perfection with which things are arranged on the physical plane, which in any case is an impossibility, an illusion. What matters is man's freedom. Liberalism, socialism, conservatism all want to create paradise on earth; i.e., they want to realize something perfect on the physical plane. Christ said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” To want to make the physical world into a perfect paradise is to want something impossible, for in the physical world there is perpetual oscillation. The Christ Principle is understood rightly only when one strives to permeate the physical world with spirituality and recognizes that man is a participant of the realm of the Gods, the realm of the spirit. Those who want to turn the physical world into a paradise, whether in the socialistic or some other sense, know nothing about reality. If the present unreal ideas are to be replaced with ideas based on reality things must be seen in their wider spiritual context. This can be done only through spiritual science. Today people are apt to be scornful of the vistas opening up through knowledge of the evolutions of Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, etc. People are apt to ask why all that is necessary? Yet this knowledge is needed in order to understand even the tiniest aspect of life, for man is truly a microcosm. He bears within him the Saturn, Sun, and Moon evolutions, and if he does not want to know about them he places himself in a situation comparable to denying someone the use of his hands for life by tying them behind his back in early childhood. Similarly man does not make use of his capabilities if he refuses to turn his gaze towards spiritual reality. By this refusal he fails grievously in a sphere where he need not fail.

I would like to give you an example which may seem strange to some but which perhaps conveys more exactly what I mean by many of the things which I have only touched on today. I have recently spoken with various people about what is necessary to get mankind out of the present calamities and blind alleys. What must be done can be expressed in a number of practical ideas with which thinking must be quickened when it comes to questions such as — I cannot go into details now — answering the Papal note. Although these ideas are nothing but practical answers to immediate problems, they can neither be attained nor understood unless an impulse towards spiritual knowledge is present. They deal with the kind of thinking, the ways and means, necessary if man is to find a solution to the present confusion concerning how the various peoples and countries are to coexist. They concern arrangements to be made between peoples and countries and how to avoid resorting to illusory, abstract notions which only result in unrealistic declarations about people's freedom, peaceful cooperation between smaller nations and the like.

It is indeed possible to work out eminently practical ideas which can lead to salvation from the present miseries. But what kind of thing happens instead? Perhaps you have read in the papers about the new principal of Berlin University being installed. The new principal, Councillor Penck has been lecturing on political frontiers based on geological factors. It is impossible to convey the heaviness of heart such occurrences cause one. And why? Because at what should be the most enlightened places for present-day cultural life, the most unenlightened, elementary ideas are presented. If minds had been occupied instead with spiritual knowledge, then comprehensive ideas of truly practical use for life would have emerged. Just think of the present situation: we have on the one hand spiritual science which can work out ideas with practical application for the present problems, ideas of a comprehensive nature which would reveal connections of a higher order between the issues. On the other hand we have the recognized official enquiries, still groping tentatively in the most basic aspect of the problems with no prospect of getting any further. Those to whom people today look up and regard as highest authorities are far removed from any understanding of what is so desperately needed and attainable through spiritual science. That is what makes it difficult to explain what is necessary, especially in relation to the present situation. Official science is concerned with rudiments of a scientific investigation yet that in itself could lead to spiritual science if those concerned did not regard it as so much fantasy which they refuse to consider.

One is reminded, without presumption or lack of humility, of how the first Christians in early Roman times had to perform their religious worship down in the catacombs; while up above the old social order continued as before. But a few centuries later what had become of that old order whose treatment of early Christianity we learn from Roman history? Within a few centuries it had dissolved, and what had once existed down in the catacombs was now above and had spread far and wide. If only a sufficient number of people could understand that something similar must come about today even if not of the same magnitude as Christianity itself. What today dominates the world as the customary outlook based on official science cannot endure. It has the same relationship to the needs of the present as ancient Rome to Christianity evolving below in the catacombs.

This world issue, this world antithesis must be inwardly experienced. One must enter into it with thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware of the shallowness, when at present there are declamations about a "new spirit." One must become aware of how futile are the unintelligible ideas about guarantees to be provided by international organizations and courts of arbitration, despite the fact that no one knows who would be able to arbitrate. The time has come when concepts and ideas connected with the great world issues must be related to those of everyday life. Mankind cannot simply say that such concepts and ideas are all very well when it is a question of grasping world events but they do not apply to everyday issues. Either they are so applied or these very issues become meaningless and lose all significance for practical life, not that of a decade hence but for today and tomorrow.

When difference of opinion is expressed usually a degree of objectivity is exercised, but not when the object of contention is spiritual science or Anthroposophy. When someone like Max Dessoir, a professor at Berlin University, attacks spiritual science, he regales his readers with misrepresentations and falsifications, as I have shown in my book that will be published shortly. What should be an honest objective discussion becomes a personal attack, personal vilification when the issue is spiritual science. And why? Not because people are able to refute spiritual science, but because they do not want it. The reason they do not is because modern man shuns the irksome task of seeking within himself for his true humanity. People like for example, to rejoice and take pride in their moral concepts, but this is no longer possible when one knows that virtues will of themselves turn into their corresponding vices unless a strict watch is kept over one's life of soul.

I have often drawn attention to the question of selflessness. Once in a public lecture I gave as a hypothetical example a society founded for the purpose of cultivating selflessness. The members soon formed the habit of turning to those who managed the society saying: I would like such and such but not for myself; it is for someone else; then the “someone else” would also ask for something not for himself but for the one who first asked. Neither wanted anything for himself! The essential thing is not whether one wants something for oneself or for someone else but whether the request itself is a selfless one. The truth is that when people try to become selfless then after a time the power inherent in selflessness makes them egoistic. The very striving for selflessness makes for egotism. One has to take care when "the pendulum swings down" not to rejoice in one's own selflessness.

Luther was very aware of these things, that is why we find in his writing many instances when he seemingly shows little respect for such virtues as selflessness and the like. He knew that selflessness is usually a mask behind which hides a hypocrite. Luther could often be blunt about such matters. For example, he advises Melanchthon not to try to be so frightfully selfless but rather do the bad he felt like doing. For it is better to do the bad when so inclined than be an insincere pharisee who ostensibly does the good while inwardly wanting to do the bad. Luther had a great deal of insight into this polarity in human nature because of his particular kind of spiritual experiences. For example he was in Rome in the year 1510; at that time it was considered virtuous to climb a very high flight of stairs — I do not know the technical Catholic term for so doing. For every stage climbed a certain number of days in purgatory were remitted, if the whole flight of steps were climbed on one's knees without getting up many days of purgatory were remitted. Luther took part in this, for at that period of his life he had the view that by such means one could further one's salvation. However as he was climbing he had an Imagination which conveyed to him: Seek righteousness in faith! It was this kind of experience that made Luther the man he was. He inwardly sensed the contrasting forces that were engendered in his soul by what he was doing.

What is needed at the present time above all else is a deeper insight into human life. This means among other things to have the ability to recognize that the repetition of a word does not necessarily mean one has the reality to which it points. Many utter the word “spirit” but it is possible to talk a great deal about spirit and not come anywhere near it. This is not generally noticed. For example there is a man who has written what amounts to a whole library; I should not like to have to count how many times the word spirit appears in his library. People actually believe that this man, Rudolf Eucken, is talking about real spirit. In this realm it is essential to differentiate between reality and mere appearance. To do this causes disquiet, it creates fear of spiritual life, even fear of thinking itself. The man of today wants to flee from thinking, he wants to find his own salvation as well as solutions to social and political problems by any means other than thinking.

The time is too serious, too grave not to take these things in deep earnestness. It will be a day of blessing when a greater number of people recognize the truth and reality of what I have indicated again today, unfortunately no more than indicated. To go into these things in greater detail would mean speaking about things which cannot be spoken of today. That is why it would be a good thing if you, especially after these lectures, would apply to them some real thinking that is as yet not censored. I said in the last lecture that today people would tear to pieces anyone who spoke openly about the immediate events as seen with supersensible vision. Certain things cannot be mentioned let alone done. Thus many opportunities are lost when one could illustrate how essential it is for present-day man to deepen and strengthen his inner life. Just imagine what would have become of the Lutheran movement had Luther not possessed far greater, stronger and more effective forces than those possessed by most leading figures today.

One may ask why people today show so little interest in spiritual knowledge. The real reason is, what I have often referred to, that man finds it disquieting, uncomfortable. The natural-scientific view of the world is based on concepts and ideas which are easier to digest. They are certainly to be admired but all one must do to acquire them is to look at the phenomena and allow the external facts to lead one along. One is not required to rouse oneself inwardly, one does not have to delve into the deepest recesses of one's soul in order to take the next step. Spiritual knowledge does indeed make such demands and one is bound to say that unless a human being is willing to make such efforts he is not man in the true sense. That is also a truth which is not pleasant to hear, especially by someone who, thanks to prevailing conditions, is in a position of authority. That a professor or a privy councilor is not supposed to be a human being in the fullest sense is naturally difficult to understand. However, it is the kind of thing that must be understood if we are to emerge from the miseries we are in at present.

In the year 1613 Johann Valentin Andrae wrote The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz; the book appeared in 1616. During the years from 1614 to 1617 Valentin Andrae wrote other works in which he expresses the thoughts and feelings of his time. One of his books has as its subtitle: "To the Princes and Heads of States." Andrae wanted to show that what man believes himself to be and what he believes others to be is maya, is a great illusion. He wanted man to have the opportunity to learn to know his true self and that of others. He had in mind a great spiritual movement and had given much thought and preparation to its realization. Two outstanding events were in preparation at that time: the movement Valentin Andrae wanted, and the Thirty Years' War, lasting from 1618 to 1648. The events that led to the Thirty Years' War made impossible the movement which Johann Valentin Andrae wanted to bring about. Much would have to be said if one were to describe the various causes for this failure. Attempts are often made which fail but which later succeed. There was at that time a possibility that it may have succeeded but it did not. Today we again find ourselves within two streams, two possibilities, which must of necessity affect one another. On the one hand there is Anthroposophy with the impulse to further human evolution; on the other hand there is all that which has brought about events, similar in nature to those that caused the Thirty Years' War. It depends upon mankind whether once again what ought to happen is prevented from happening. Lethargy, love of ease might well paralyze the present attempt. Whether things would then take their course as they did when the attempt made by Valentin Andrae was paralyzed is another matter.

One should not ask a question such as: Why do the spiritual powers not intervene in the affairs on the physical plane and bring order about? That ought not to be asked because what human beings do is often in direct revolt against the spiritual powers. Very often those in revolt are the very people who are forever talking about spirit, spirit, spirit. I recently read on the cover of a magazine an advertisement of some kind in which the word spirit was repeated ad nauseam. These days spirit dominates everything, it is enough to make one despair! Spirit is supposed to manufacture the germs and gas masks and what not. Everything is called spirit. The question is: do people realize what spirit this is? As you know we distinguish between the spirit of normal evolution and the luciferic and ahrimanic spirit. I drew your attention to Ricarda Huch and how, in her book on Luther she expresses a positive longing for the devil, she means of course for recognition of the devil. Concerning all the proclamations about spirit one could say that people never notice the devil even when they have him on the covers of magazines.

There are many things which today I could only hint at, and many I could refer to only in a veiled manner. They will become clear to you if you reflect on what has been said today. One thing you will have noticed: that I have spoken in deep earnest, in bitter earnest which is also the way I must, for the time being, bring these lectures to a close.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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