Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Giegerich, Marx and Benjamin: Integrating Economics and Religion

I recently discovered the writings of Wolfgang Giegerich, and I want to share some thoughts.

Giegerich argues that the task of the present age is to help the soul move from its old home within inner religious experience, to its new home in the economy, science, art and all of culture. What is Giegerich talking about? I actually find it a surprisingly intuitive argument: just as the medieval mystic is gripped by an inner experience of God, modern humanity is gripped by the internet, television, and the nuclear bomb. Giegerich identifies the goal of maximizing economic profit as the most obvious expression of the shift that is occurring.

I believe this transition is precisely what Karl Marx describes as the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Marx, tragically, is unaware that the shift to socialism corresponds to a new birth of the soul. But he did foresee that the shift is taking place, and he understands that it is our job to create the conditions for it to be successful. As psychologist Erich Fromm observes:
"[Marxism] is the realization of the deepest religious impulses common to the great humanistic religions of the past... provided we understand that Marx, like Hegel and like many others, expresses his concern for man's soul, not in theistic, but in philosophical language."

Do not think that this transition happens mechanically or automatically. There are those who argue that soul should remain within individual experience, where tradition expects it. Giegerich would disagree. The question that must be addressed is, “Could we share soul with others or not?”

In formulating an answer, Giegerich quotes Chaucer writing in 14th century medieval England:
“But no one now sees fairies any more.
For now the saintly charity and prayer
Of holy friars seem to have purged the air.”
We are going through a similar transition today, claims Giegerich.
“[Profit maximization] is all around us, as our absolute; it is the medium or element of our existence, much like the air is the element of the human organism's existence, and it is the God to which we sacrifice what we hold most dear.”

Giegerich's idea that the economy is an expression of the soul challenges the traditional, orthodox Christian conception of "soul".  In the Christian tradition, shaped by the image of the Holy Spirit inhabiting the believer, the soul is seen as a kind of mediator between the individual and God. Combining this with the doctrine regarding the judgment of souls, it doesn’t make sense to speak of a “shared soul.”

However, as bridges are built with Eastern religious traditions, ideas are slowly changing. For instance, the New Age movement commonly talks about “soul groups” or “soul families”. The idea of soul as a shared experience is thus catching on.

Giegerich is more academic in describing the soul. Stealing from Wikipedia:

The major goal of this approach is to redefine the notion of psychology (the logos of the soul) as it has emerged as a discipline in Western thought. ... Giegerich argues for a shift in focus from the individual, whose very definition has changed radically throughout history, to a focus on “the soul.”... Accordingly, in Giegerich’s theory, the idea of soul does not function as some kind of objective or empirical substrate producing psychological phenomena. Rather it is the logical structure of thought as which any phenomena, viewed psychologically, exist. ... What is an expression of the soul? Anything of cultural significance—art, science, politics, social and political phenomena—in other words, any place that thought and mind have made an appearance. The interiority that is spoken of is the essential logical structure of such phenomena.

Unfortunately, many people are oblivious to the life of the soul, stuck in the cycles of addiction that economic hierarchy creates. Blind adherence to tradition and excessive wealth concentration combine into a sea of conformity.  

Thus Walter Benjamin, whose writings interpret Marx through the lens of Jewish mysticism, tells us to “wrest tradition from the conformism that is seeking to overpower it.” Without the efforts of people to organize with an urgency that values the strengths of our soul’s past, the soul’s transition could just as easily tear our culture, or our world, apart.

1 comment :

  1. Nietzsche’s claim “God is dead” is indeed true, provided we remember that our use of "God" can only refer to our era's particular God-image, as any absolute truth of God is beyond our grasp. Indeed, we have outgrown the image of God as deep inner experience, as a Father who does our thinking for us so that we do not have to.

    God is no longer found in the contemplation of Scripture, self-reflection, or prayer. Science, not God, solves our problems these days. Neither does God appear as inner image, anymore. Historically, our souls were made in the image of God, but no longer! As Benjamin tells us, the aura of images has been destroyed. Technological reproducibility has profaned all our images, even the irrepresentable image of God. There is no value in savoring of an image’s specialness, because no image can be sacred anymore. “Image is everything”, but images are meaningless--they can no longer hold our value. That is the truth of digital reproduction.

    What new God-image will emerge? This is tough to say. Giegerich warns us against the idea of “Anima Mundi”, of seeking the divine within nature: “that [Nature] is 'out' is the very point of the message that our psychology of nature, physics, holds for us.” [ http://www.cgjungpage.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=141 ] Perhaps it will be a Divine Mother, not of the Earth, but in human culture, who values intuition more than insisting on strict and constant obedience, such as described by Andrew Harvey: “the motherhood of God is trying to initiate the whole human race into divine unity and into the passion to transform all things, that comes from a deep, deep understanding and inner standing of that unity, that the Mother is the source of all the different revelations... all of the different paths.” [ http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LightCircle/message/762?var=1&l=1 ]

    Questions of a new God-image can not be rationally deduced--they must be intuited, that is to say, revealed. But my intuition agrees with Giegerich that whatever new God-image emerges will be experienced through culture, not within dreams or ascetic reflection.