We easily forget that Christianity - right up to the year 313 when the Emperor Constantine ordained it an officially accepted religion of the Roman Empire - was the quintessential Outlaw religion. The early Christianity, as A.N.Whitehead has so eloquently accounted it, also inherited the deep spiritual insight of that Galilean peasantry, who themselves were the Outsiders of the Roman Empire. These inheritors of Abraham's ancient covenant with Jehovah, had a thorough-going disdain for the laws and customs of Rome; their primary allegiance was to their invisible, inscrutable, unnameable God. And so it is that the early Christianity, with its commitment to the highest Good and its repudiation of the prevailing Law, can give us essential insights into the role of the outlaw within the adventure of human evolution. Here is some of Whitehead's account of the spiritual/cultural seed-bed from which Jesus of Nazareth emerged:-
"Having regard to their climate and simplicity of life, they were neither rich nor poor: they were unusually intellectual for a peasantry, by reason of their habits of study of historical and religious records: they were protected from disturbance, from within or from without, by the guardian structure of the Roman Empire. They had no responsibility for the maintenance of this complex system. Their own society was of the simplest; and they were ignorant of the conditions by which the Empire arose, of the conditions requisite for its efficiency, and of the conditions necessary for its preservation. They were ignorant even of the services which the Empire was rendering them."
"...The tone of life of this peasantry provided an ideal environment in which the concepts of the ideal relations between rational(9) beings could be formulated - concepts devoid of ferocity, concepts gracious, kindly, and shrewd, concepts in which mercy prevailed over judicial classification. In this ideal world forgiveness could be stretched to seventy times seven, whereas in the real world of the Herods and the Roman Empire a sevenfold forgiveness touched upon the impracticable."
This, then, gives rise to the paradox that these ethical principles - widely regarded as one of the towering spiritual achievements of mankind - are incapable of promoting the viability of those who espouse them. If we had put them into practice in most of the real-life contexts we might have found ourselves in - wherever we might have lived, and at any time over the past two thousand years - they would be much more likely to hasten our own demise. Then we have to ask ourselves: what is the real importance of these principles? Whitehead's answer is that they provide an ideal standard by which we can evaluate our progress, as an individual, as a society and as a civilisation.
"...The progress of humanity can be defined as the process of transforming society so as to make the original Christian ideals increasingly practicable for its individual members. As society is now constituted (Whitehead was writing in 1932) a literal adherence to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death."
Another way to think about this is that the Christian concepts - thousands of years ahead of their time - act as a revolutionary or de-stabilising yeast, working away in the deep and hidden places in every society they touch, and ready to help guide each newly emergent impulse towards a better world. Whitehead again:-
"A gracious, simple mode of life, combined with a fortunate ignorance, endowed mankind with its most precious instrument of progress - the impracticable ethics of Christianity. A standard had now been created, expressed in concrete illustrations fool-proof against perversions(10). This standard is a gauge by which to test the defects of human society. So long as the Galilean images are but the dreams of an unrealized world, so long they must spread the infection of an uneasy spirit."
As we shall shortly discover, the uneasy spirit is able to express itself most powerfully through our poetic, intuitive and emotional sensibilities. We shall also discover that this is the key to unravelling whichever of the systems levels are of most immediate concern to us. For the lazy-minded person, and those who have strong vested interests in living a lie, however, the contradictions are easy to conceal within the subtle structure of our lived reality; the uneasy spirit is easy to suppress, or to cut and paste to some location out of sight. Thus we need not be surprised that the European capitalist and imperialist expansion was spearheaded by a debased form of Christianity, and with surprisingly little bad conscience to show for it.
Christianity, however, remains an Outlaw Religion in its origins and its essential nature. In this capacity it offers this continuing challenge: how I can live as one who - though perhaps dwelling within the prevailing system of law, is not essentially of this system. Those of us who wish to spearhead the movement from the old system of values to the new (and as yet unknown) system have to some extent to live outside the law. At least, our higher concept of Good commands us: not to take the law seriously.
This is not a call to abandon our ethical commitments, but to recognize the call, that we seek to evolve a higher ethical pattern of life. It is likely that this higher pattern will be strongly informed by the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene, Mohammed, the Biblical prophets, and Gautama Buddha. The search for this pattern, however, is certain to call deeply into question the received ideas, and the received values of the old civilisation. In a time of crisis of civilisations - and this is what we are now living in - the Outlaw spirit is the only one that can mediate effectively between the Ape and the Angel levels of our existence.
And though the foregoing arguments will often seem less than sympathetic to the fundamentalist(11) versions of the world religions we have touched upon, we have to recognize all of our fellow humans as companions in the travail. We are all apes, all angels, and all outlaws to some tangible extent, and our task is to find the way to share the earth in a spirit of co-operation with each other, and with all our fellow creatures.
NOTES TO THIS SECTION1. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who first elaborated this concept as an essential piece of equipment for the orienteer on the human scene. With respect to Ludwig, I have found it necessary to redefine this concept in my own terms and within the evolutionary context which is being presented here. 2. It is likely that the insistence of mutation at the genetic level, as the prime initiator of change, will in the future be recognized as a premature assumption. Peter A. Corning's work - well summarised in his book Holistic Darwinism, along with a wide body of other relevant research - points to the evolutionary unit being a wider system than that of the individual organism. It also begins to appear that the rigid opposition between "Larmarckian" and "Darwinian" evolutionary theory was an artefact created by over-zealous neo-Darwinists. None of these arguments has a very direct bearing on the question of "evolution from the inside" - except that the neo-Darwinian zealots would probably like to take away our right to be thinking in this fashion. 3. What about devils and evil spirits, I hear you cry! Yes, there must be a reason why some people like to populate their mythical world with demons (or just with one super-demon called "Satan") as well as angels. Within my map a devil would simply be a mistaken ideal whom we trick ourselves into taking for a valid ideal - it would not deserve to be elevated into the same, or a rival, class as the angels. 4. In speaking of "ape-hood" I am not trying to say that humans are the direct descendents of apes; my belief in the essential kinship of all living creatures, however, forces me to the position that apes and humans must have a common ancestor somewhere in our relatively recent evolutionary past. This is the one we are evolving away from. (The same principle implies that a common ancestor could be found for any pair of living species found on this planet, subject only to our ability to trace the lineage far enough backwards. So, for instance, apes and lizards also have a common ancestor - somewhere in the fishy, slimy regions of the more remote evolutionary past.) 5. This appears to have been the position of "The Pharisees" depicted in the New Testament, who were highly devout religious people with whom Jesus was in constant contention. If this is correct, then the Pharisees were not, essentially, bad people - but people trying too hard, and in the wrong way, to be good. 6. A.N.Whitehead has written persuasively about the shift in basic assumption between the ancient world, in which slavery was an absolute given (and inseparable from civilisation as they then knew it), and the era commencing with the French Revolution and the Victorian Methodist reformers which has persuaded the world that slavery is radically unacceptable. Clearly, a further evolution is needed before slavery, and slave-like social conditions are completely abolished. But the principle is now firmly established and an Angel of Freedom is surely now in residence in the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps she should always have been there, but we have no evidence that the designers of the ancient Heaven gave her any serious consideration. See Whitehead (@@@) 7. In my view, we can only address these world-scale political and economic problems if we have an adequate systems conception of how the problematic situation is created out of real-time human activity. I see the present work as contributing some of the essential thought structure, to enable these conceptions, and the relevant systems mappings, to be developed. In the meantime our "will" to make changes is inevitably weak, because it is not coupled with an effective method. 8. Should Confusion be regarded as the pseudonym of the archangel Satan? Or is it just confusion? See footnote number three, above. 9. Rational" in this context means being committed to the good of oneself and of others, and searching for the bridges and the perspectives that can lead to the action that may bring this good about. (Even Whitehead was a little feeble on "the function of Reason" - but the whole topic has been elegantly taken up by Justus Buchler (@@@) 10. One such perversion of Christian ideals is the walking contradiction of the devout Christian who is also a ruthless manipulator of capital. He does not recognize that he has any ethical conflict - perhaps because these two sides of his personality belong to different system layers of the human enterprise. On the one hand his own economic activities do not bring him face-to-face with the exploitation and human degradation which are the inevitable by-products of the present global system. On the other, his Sunday Christianity deals with an imaginary world, where idealised, imaginary "neighbours" are "loved" in a stereotyped and idealised way. Thus he does not bring the Christian ethics to bear upon the evils of the system in which he is participating. Until he learns to think in terms of systems levels his reasoning mind (which only addresses one layer at a time) will fail to register any contradiction. See Chapter Five for a fuller discussion of this point. 11. I strongly repudiate the fundamentalist teachings - but will continue to seek ways of maintaining dialogue with those who espouse such teachings.
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