By Kalev Pehme
Having been bed-ridden and incapacitated for a month because of the deterioration of my health, I haven’t been able to write and barely able to read. When ill, I think about a lot of different things, especially about my mortality. But one thing that came to mind was the “inner life” that several people who wrote to me wrote about. They would speak of how, for example, one must relate to a higher life through our inner life that is somehow connected to that, and not life according to an outer life. I offended one, when I noted that there is no such thing as an inner life that is different from the outer life. One person was very offended that I would deny this person his inner life. I replied that the inner life was an invention, an invention of Christianity. As today is Easter, I thought it would be appropriate to write about this strange creation.
Christianity has so infected our lives that it is rare that anyone truly questions its effects on us. People think of sin, redemption, heaven and hell, and a host of other Christian concepts as part of reality. There is one Christian legacy that has had dire consequences on our lives and practically no one speaks of it: Christianity is responsible for the notion that we have an inner life and an outer life. That creation has a dramatic effect on the psychology of man and even on our architecture and art, not to mention on our modern theoretical science.
In ancient pre-Christian times, there was no such thing as an inner and outer life. The cosmos was a whole, of which everything was an integral part. Moreover, a place like Athens, for example, created civic spaces, they were dedicated to reflecting all aspects of the moral, religious, political, and family life of the community itself. One could go to a special place in the city to expatiate a crime and to show remorse. Xenophon needs money, and thus goes at a special time and place at night to offer a holocaust of pigs to the snake-god Zeus Meilichios. Each household has special deities as well as a sacred hearth. The entire structure of life as it relates to nature and the divine are one thing. Public spaces and individual psychology were intimately entwined. The ancients made no distinction between the subjective experience and the outer physical life.
Try to find a place in today’s New York or Los Angeles to express an emotion, for example, like anger where the public space is dedicated to that emotion. We can’t. There is no harmony between the individual and the public space. In ancient times, similarly, nature itself was structured in understanding in such a way that the individual subjective experience of the river such as the Nile or the Acheron and its corresponding meaning were the same. We have great public buildings in Washington, D.C., but these buildings are not places which validate or substantiate human subjective experience. The buildings we build are meant to coerce or persuade or orchestrate our behavior. Consider, for example, the massive effort to encourage consumption that goes into a shopping mall. Consider how a city like Paris or London now uses its historic buildings in a way to encourage a certain kind of tourism, which is far different from being a pilgrim and going into Notre Dame de Paris or simply spending Easter at Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s. The modern city is a place where economics and materiality take precedence over the spiritual life of man. There is a pronounced rift between the two that did not exist in ancient pre-Christian times. One doesn’t go to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange to elevate one’s nobility.
The ancient Jew or the ancient pagan everyday life was a miraculous and filled with miracles. The divine was with man everywhere and there was no division between the divine and man’s subjective experience of the divine. Moreover, this condition of oneness is at the heart of the Indo-Aryan Vedas as well as Chinese philosophy. In these worlds, man is at home in the world, and, more so, in his particular city or, in the case of the ancient Jew, in his black tent as he wanders around with his flocks while the priests carry the Ark along with them. Yet, it is very much in Judaism that the inner life is born, i.e., in its Christian rebirth. When Christianity first appeared, it was stateless, city-less, and a foreign entity everywhere it went.
St. Augustine notes: “Now it is recorded of Cain that he built a city, while, as though he were a pilgrim on earth, built none. For the true City of the saints is in heaven, though here on earth it produces citizens in which it wanders as on a pilgrimage through time looking for the Kingdom of eternity.” St. Augustine is also responsible for the notion that time is real, and is also in that sense the first historicist. I have written about that elsewhere. The point is that the Christian is a person who does not settle in a place, but is wandering through time, drawing all authority from Jesus and god. This notion is coupled with Jesus’ denying his disciples to build any earthly monuments to him, as well as his prophetic destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.
Christianity is a form of homelessness. Man is never at home here, but only in heaven. We must remember how terrible this homelessness is in the ancient world. The pagan Greeks and Romans that the Christians sought to conquer had local gods. In truth, all gods are local, and as such are rooted to one’s home and one’s city. The goddess of Athens, Athena, is not the same goddess of another city whose patron deity is Athena, even though they are the same goddess. Gods and goddesses did not wander. However, Christianity was not only wandering, but as we see in Augustine, living in two cities that are not really cities, the City of God, and the city here on earth. But these cities are not places, not localities: They are two authorities. The authority of the earth was that of worldly experience, and worldly experience is opposed to spiritual life. This division of two authorities called cities by Augustine is believed by Christians to be a conflict within every human being. This conflict between worldly experience and spiritual life, moreover, was enabled by the “religious vision” that every man has. For Augustine, this religious vision was something absolutely real, a perceptual act. It is this religious vision that became the inner life.
The eternal city of god throws its shadow on the earth and this prophetic shadow is the vision of the future, of what is to come, the second coming of Jesus. It comes in the form of an inevitable time. This time is not Aristotle’s notion of time. For Aristotle, time is a completely arbitrary measure of before and after. It has no being. But to Augustine, time is a part of the spiritual reality that hastens us to the apocalyptic end. This shadow of the eternal city in heaven also casts us another shadow that dark and light that is perceived by everyone, whether he is a Christian or not, Augustine writes. Among all men, now matter where they are, There is the appearance of earthly life and then there is the vision of the shadow of the eternal city.
This vision, however, has a very strange character to it. The further away from the eternal city we go, the more easily we are able to see the light. The shadow is more defined than the light above that engenders this shadow. Thus, the people who can see best how much they need to go beyond to the city of god are those who are the unbelievers. They can use their eyes to see their need of god. What they can see is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But this light is there only through a lifelong struggle through the dark to get there. There is no immediate enlightenment, no zen.
The struggle of the pagan was always in this world. Menelaus does not seek a spiritual goal when he pursues the abducted Helen. The kings who go with him and Agamemnon won’t take step without a god, but they take these steps in this world, a world that the Christian regards as the outer world. The Christian’s life, however, is directed by his religious vision inwardly to the final vision. But even as Augustine talks of his illumination, he admits in the end that he will not see clearly until the very end of time.
The Christian struggle is finding faith, something that is hidden from man. The ancient pagan senses the gods and goddesses around him all the time. It is in the gust of wind, the way a man walks, in the churning of the waters of the great river, in the sudden and horrible shock of the earthquake or in the calamity of the plague that descends on Athens. To find faith, however, Augustine says the Christian must learn to re-see things, to reorder his perceptions, and to see life in an entirely new way. Moreover, there is no way to teach this religious vision, this inner vision. One has to find it for himself. Of course, that means that all men must distrust what they have all trusted before, including their own conventions and the world itself. Augustine makes of man a tragedy where the necessary experience of the world including that experience needed to find faith is, nevertheless, not truly in accord with the religious inner vision, the reality that we cannot truly know until the end of time.
Since then, Christianity’s effect has been to make this division between inner and outer in man. Everything man does suddenly is rent into different dimensions and parts. The truth of all things resides in a light that is at the end of time and our very life that is directed to this point, however, is confused and puzzled and there is no real way to make any sense of it. In the vast confusion of the diversity of men, their different cities and kinds, races, and work, the inner vision is homogeneous in some way to all. All men are the same somehow, where to the pagan men are different in their individuality. Man may have the same nature, but as individuals they are individuals, not a species or a kind. The pagan man is not an abstraction. The individual inner vision, however, is the same for all. There is a disconnect between the diversity of man and his singularity.
But the Christian is fortunate in another way, according to Augustine. He is blinded by the truth of finding faith. He is so blinded by this truth that he ceases to be a secular adult by becoming a child of god. If you have faith, then god will protect the child, even if that child’s body is suffering in the arena with a pride of hungry lions. The political consequence of this thinking was, of course, that the child has to accept the authority of the pope, the bishop, the king, and so on.
The late-Richard Sennett wrote a remarkable book, The Conscience of the Eye, where he details the effect of the inner and outer worlds as it was manifested in architecture and the planning of spaces public and private through the centuries. It is a remarkable book, worth reading. I am, however, more interested in how this division between and inner and outer life manifested itself in modernity’s mind. A great part of modernity is basically Christianity without Jesus and without god. By giving time being, for example, we have the forces of history or time pushing us through the world whether in rational form as in Hegel or irrationally as we find in Heidegger. Modern morality is basically Christian morality without Jesus or god. Modernity tacitly accepts that we have an inner life and outer life. However, this inner life of modernity is atheistic and each man’s inner life is radically subjectively his and his alone. At the same time, because nature is not ordered rationally and because man is separated from nature, man’s work is to conquer nature, including his own nature. The separation of man from nature and his alienation from others is primarily through his inner life. What Augustine envisioned as a means to a community in heaven became the nihilism of the present where individual man is radically alone and homeless in this world.
What is most remarkable is how this inner and outer life manifests itself in Descartes, who doubts everything except that he thinks, an inner life that is real, an outer that is not or is questionable. For Descartes, ultimately man’s mind and body are separated and their connection is very confusing. Man’s mind is only can find truth in two things: What he makes and in mathematics. The world is nothing more than pure extension. It has no meaning, and it is simply there and can be manipulated to a certain extent and understood only through mathematics. Descartes, of course, was one of the greatest of mathematicians. He designed a special form of geometry and in his mathematics Descartes furthered the proposition that mathematics exists in a separate realm of abstraction. Ancient mathematics was rooted in the notion that a number always meant a certain number of things. If I say three, I must mean three things of some kind, three trees, three rings, three parts of the spirit. But the modern mathematician can simply say three as if there existed as a pure mental abstraction and that three exists in our inner life, not our outer life. But we can go further than that. I can say “x,” an abstraction that may mean almost anything. Moreover, I can create an equation x=a+b, and that abstraction is true for vast hordes of meanings that I can give it. This abstraction only lives in my inner life.
Why this is important is that our physics and a great part of our science can only be expressed in modern mathematics, a mathematics that is completely divorced from the world that it the mathematics supposedly is able to express. There is a disconnect between the math and the world, where the math or our inner life is more real than the world of the big bang. This kind of math is only possible if there is an inner and outer life. In other words, modern physics can only be true if the division between the inner and outer worlds is true. The mathematics of modernity is the truth at the end of the tunnel and the world in which we live is dead and meaningless.
Thomas Hobbes disagreed that there is a special realm for abstract mathematics. Hobbes was the compleat materialist. There is nothing but body and material. However, Hobbes also accepted mathematics as a kind of absolute standard in a certain materialist sense. The inner life is nothing more than a material function of the body and its senses. Nevertheless, the compleat materiality of many of the Anglo thinkers was not completely accepted by modern thinkers. Hegel, for example, who creates a rational, dialectical time and an end to history culminating in wisdom maintains that man has an inner life that is in accord with the dialectic. In Heidegger, the angst that serves to prove that there is no god is a realization of an inner life.
When Socrates accepted the pythia’s formula, know thyself, he did so without an inner or outer life. In effect, to know thyself is to know the whole of things. In modernity, to know oneself is to know an inner life and what it is. However, what if we really don’t have an inner life? What if we are simply a part of a great whole and particular modes of one being? It would mean that the way we approach physical reality today is wrong. What we think is real is not. Moreover, it would mean that modern psychology is completely bogus. The unconscious of Freud, for example, is an inner inner life full of sexual abstractions that allegedly control our inner life and the way we approach the world that is so apart from us. That kind of psychology cannot be true if there is no division between the inner and outer life.
If the inner life was an invention of Christianity and that this inner life that we have today is simply the Christian one made atheistic, then it is time to re-evaluate the whole notion that all men have an inner life. That is my Easter message.