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Anthroposophy

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Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anthroposophy (Greek: “mankind” and “wisdom”) is a spiritual movement and outgrowth of Theosophy, founded in the late 1800s by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).

Anthroposophy is said to embrace Christianity while advancing the very non-Christian idea of reincarnation. Reincarnation is a belief that most Christians do not accept. Elements are also borrowed from several other mystical traditions that most Christians would reject, including the occult, astral travel and Gnosticism.

Steiner, himself, wanted “anthroposophy to be independent of any particular religion or religious denomination.”¹

Interior hall of the Goetheanum II in Dornach, Switzerland. Designed by Rudolph Steiner and completed in 1928 by Dystopos via Flickr

As the name suggests, Anthroposophy centers on mankind’s development toward becoming Divine. It does not place the Divine as a separate, forever greater being than mankind [see comments, especially 4].

Steiner’s unique schools are, for the most part, respected throughout the globe, particularly in Germany, North America and the UK. The Steiner schools have developed a therapeutic dance called Eurythmy, modifying the Taoist Tai Chi and, to some extent, Hindu yogic idea that bodily movement and spirituality may be linked.

Despite its worldwide success, the movement has been criticized for being too “artsy”, “elitist” and “trendy.” Even some insiders tell jokes to this effect.

More images related to anthroposophy can be found here:
www.tumblr.com/search/anthroposophy

¹ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy

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13 thoughts on “Anthroposophy

  1. I am not I do not know enough about theosophy or anthrosophy to give much of an intelligent reply, only questions.
    It is stated that “Anthroposophy embraces Christianity” while suggesting that a belief in re-incarnation was the sticking point that “orthodox christians” could not get past.

    I am at a loss to see what about christianity anthroposophy could embrace, seeing that

    “Anthroposophy centers on mankind’s development toward becoming Divine, instead of conceptualizing the Divine as a separate, always greater being than Man”

    At the irreducible heart of Christianity is the belief that we Christians share with our brothers/fathers the Jews, (and for that matter, with Islam) that there is one God, and we are not Him. He is Creator, we are creation. The 3 faiths that agree on this differ as to how He relates to us, how we are to be reconciled to Him, if that is even needed, and many things, which I believe vitally important.
    But the first foundational thing, that there is a God, transcendent, is agreed by all three.

    I see no way any system could be said to “embrace” christianity, while rejecting the foundational premise.

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  2. Thanks for an excellent comment. You’ve touched on perhaps the two most controversial aspects of this entry.

    Essentially I was trying to put my personal beliefs aside and represent, in the broadest sense, both sides of the debate.

    Recall that for many people the Christian message was distorted by mankind from the start.

    Early differences of opinion related in the New Testament could be taken as support this view, as could denominational differences that exist today.

    For some believers it’s not a huge jump to accept ideas like reincarnation within a supposed Christian framework.

    As for the notion of God’s transcendence, also recall that many Christians talk about God’s “immanence.” And some of the Catholic saints use phrases like “I was totally immersed in God’s Divine Glory” when trying to describe their highest union with the Divine.

    So it’s a fascinating, complicated debate…

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  3. Yes, one of the mysteries is the transcendence combined with the immanent. We sometimes understand that in the language of the Trinity, with the transcendence of God the Father, the Incarnation of God the Son, and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

    I, too was attempting to frame my answer so as not to be a direct attack on the veracity of theosophy or anthrosophy, and especially not to hijack your thread for a proclamation of my own thoughts (I’m not too hard to pin down!). But I have little patience, or perhaps just little understanding of arguments that, for reasons unclear to me, presume some acceptance of Christianity when they actually reject the core beliefs.

    To accept without protest a claim that this understanding embraces Christianity, I need to know what is meant by embrace, and what about the claims of Christianity they hold, and what they reject.

    Maybe they accept all the claims of Christianity except that it is actually true.

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  4. I think the key questions we’re getting at here relate to some of the fundamental themes in the study of religion.

    First, we have soteriology. What does it mean to be “saved” or “liberated.”

    Second we have the type of relationship between the individual and the godhead, the most basic distinction probably being: I-Thou vs. I AM THOU.

    To be honest I’m not 100% sure if the Steiner system advocates an eventual and complete abandonment in God (i.e. total loss of individuality). We might need a Steiner expert to come in here and help us out on this point. Steiner does talk about mankind evolving into some kind of spirit being. But whether this is ultimately just a ‘perfect servant of’ or ‘one with’ the divine, I’m not sure.

    Now on reincarnation, I must admit that my own thinking has gone through several stages on this issue. These days I find there are several ways to look at it, and recent discoveries (constructions?) by Einstein about the relativity of space and time might complicate any one-way (i.e. past –> present –> future) theory about time and life.

    As for the other ways I look at the belief in reincarnation, this gets into phenomenology (something we can’t immediately share) and also some speculation, so I tend not to discuss this issue too deeply.

    Note: I just edited the entry on the basis of your comments. “Anthroposophy embraces Christianity…” changed to “Anthroposophy is said to embrace Christianity…”

    Thank you.

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  5. Thank you!, and my apologies for being a bit pedantic. I falsely attributed that claim as your own, and was attempting to force you to say what you really meant. I should have done a bit more research before getting so worked up. Again, my apologies. Being, as you may already suspect, disappointingly provincial in my religious views, I am much more interested in the veracity of an idea than in its intellectual pedigree, in who expressed it first. My question is not ” how does this fit into the stream of thought?” but “is this true?”

    I think you are right on the money with your two questions. Along with your formulation, they can be put into the more evangelical christian qestions

    “Who is God, and how can I be in right relationship with Him”

    or at the other end, a more Taoist idea,

    “How is the truth structured, and how can I organize my life to flow according to truth instead of striving according to illusion?”

    These two fundamentals relate thought and action: what is ultimate truth, and how should I then live. One cannot escape the questions simply by rejecting my on offering. Those two questions remain.

    You touched on the question of the survival of our individuality in the context of a reunion (or union) with God, with “that which is” or the “I AM.” I’m afraid I haven’t read Steiner (that provincial thing again) bu my own view is best couched in very christian terminological. First, I am reluctant to believe that God gives good in order to perfect it by obliteration. I take personality to be such a gift. Indeed, those we most often see as “good” tend to have pronounced individuality. The question is how is this compatible with the idea of total union with the Godhead?
    I see this answered two ways, and as is fitting, it goes right to the heart of what I understand that “ultimate reality” to be. Orthodox, Nicaean christianity declares that the Holy Trinity is just such a union: absolutely One without division, and yet three absolutely distinct Persons, without confusion (save in my head). The closest approximation we have been given to experience would be in marriage; where the target, even if observed by our failure, is a complete unity that obliterates neither party, but ideally enhances both persons.
    This is of course a sketch only, but my take on the question.

    As to time, I think it likely that time, like space, like matter, is a created thing. I mean by this that if there is an “ultimate reality” whether personal as I believe, or impersonal, that reality does not inhabit time and space. If He did, that time/space would be part of a deeper reality, the tortoise on which the elephant stands. I am speaking of the true “ground of being” and ultimate reality. This entity would be in some sense that I don’t understand, outside. This of course may be simply another way to describe “transcendent,” but it does suggest that our ultimate reunion will be in an existence through which the river of time flows, although it is not itself in the river.

    Reincarnation, as you might expect, I reject as wholly antithetical to a Christian view of completed history. Additionally, I hold (lightly) an extremely un-informed opinion that a desire for reincarnation is primarily a justice issue: how are the seemingly unsettled wrongs in this world to be brought to a just conclusion. Orthodox christianity has entirely different proposals on that score.

    Thanks for the exchange! (and again, my apologies!)
    RES

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  6. Yes, the whole aspect of personality, what it is, and what happens to it in the afterlife is of interest to me as well. This should hardly be surprising as my degree was in Religious Studies with my area of specialization being Psychology and Religion.

    I think I understand where you’re coming from when you say you’re more interested in truth than what we could call the history of– or, a history of ideas. Still, I believe the two may be related in some sense because we’re still working it out down here, and dialogue is surely part of that.

    Very nice metaphor about heaven and the river of time. I think this applies to the Catholic idea of the intercession of saints, which I gather Anglicanism isn’t quite so enthusiastic about (?). To me this might be a bit of blind spot for some Christians. I understand why they don’t like it–“Christ is the only mediator between God and Man.” But I’m not sure it fits with the idea, which I believe in, of the mystical body of Christ.

    Just some thoughts… thanks again for your interesting and helpful comments.

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  7. On the intercession of saints, Anglicans are all over the map. From radically opposed to out-catholicing the Vatican.
    As for me, I’m fine with it, as long as nothing obscures that “one mediator.” I ask other folks to pray for me, I solicit the prayers of those I regard as good people (“The fervent prayer…”) without placing them in the place of the One mediator (although that error, too, has been done).
    Any effective argument against invocation of saints cannot lie there. It can lie in a sense that the practice had gone so far overboard in obscuring the work of Christ that it is better to aim for the opposite error. It can also lie in a lack of information, biblical information for us prots., about the state of the blessed dead. Do they have awareness of events here? If so, it is as reasonable to address them, and seek their prayers, as for me to address you, and seek yours. Perhaps a more thoroughly protestant objection lies in what I think are peripheral aspects of the practice, particularly the merits of, say St. Anthony contrasted with those of my uncle Ed. Of assuming that Anthony, by virtue of his own merit may be closer to the head chair at table, and thus more likely to get the ear of the host. There is an air of courts and courtiers, and a need to understand court politics to get the right petitioner, that is highly objectionable. However, I think that an abuse of the teaching, and is not inherent to it.

    About the closest I get to actual invocations has been to ask of CS Lewis “OK, Mr. Lewis, what was it you tried to teach me about this?” And actually having something helpful he wrote come back to me. I assume that was my memory finally responding once the right mental string was pulled. But whether I was alone in pulling the right string is an unanswerable question.

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  8. Yes you touch on some interesting points, perhaps overlooked by some of those proclaiming to be ‘channelers’ and the like. When we’re talking about intercession I suppose we’re minimally talking about (a) graces (b) spiritual guidance and (c) the possibility of more discursive forms of intercession.

    As a writer I recognize that I’m somewhat influenced by various sources. Whether or not a string, as you say, is being pulled or some other psychological (and/or spiritual) process is involved, I’m not sure. But I certainly don’t rule out what some like S. Grof call the “transpersonal” possibility. Some Jungians also talk about “syntonic countertransference,” which I think points in a similar direction.

    http://pages.sbcglobal.net/mstaples/thoughts_on_transference.html

    As for what constitutes a saint, I think the various religious organizations’ caution here in some ways can be a good thing. Otherwise those who mistake falsity for truth and don’t subject their internal experiences to a sincere and scrupulous analytical process might wrongly see themselves as “saints.” But perhaps the other extreme, as I think you suggest, is the over-politicization of saints and saint-making through religious organizations.

    To return to an earlier idea, do you suppose there’s a difference between (a) the truest aspect of the self and (b) the personality? Until fairly recently my bias has been to prefer the contemplative to the active saint. The contemplative doesn’t get the kudos but, with regard to the hierarchy you’re alluding to, might be closer to God than the visibly active good person. But then again, maybe not.

    Only God knows what each of us had gone through and overcome.

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  9. I think there are flaws with identifying personality with the essential self. For instance, my “personality” is radically different if I am suffering a migraine. There are other wounds and hurts which warp and distort a persons visage, and these may be beyond the healing available in this world. Are these wounds part of what makes me me? Or are they accidents which may be healed, which are an overlay to the real self, as dirt may overlay a mirror? I expect that my inability to answer that question is part of the reason I am forbidden to judge, as you note in your concluding line. But I think it almost unimaginable that, given a creator-God, something recognizable as an individual self would not endure. That it was intended for obliteration from the beginning. I suspect that all gifts are eternal, that none are to be simply undone. I expect that much will be changed and reformed, but still individuality itself is gift. I think that is something of the meaning of the white stone in “The Revelation;” that our true identity is hidden and will be disclosed, not that it is visible and will be consumed.
    As to hierarchy between contemplative and ministerial, the epistle of James says that “true religion is this: to visit widows and orphans in their distress…” or active ministry and care for the downtrodden. That seems clear enough. But when at Bethany in the home of Mary and Martha, Martha berated Mary for sitting at Jesus’ feet, being a contemplative, instead of helping her in the work. Jesus defended Mary, saying that she “has chosen the better part.” So which is it? Perhaps the correct course is that which is given to you to do. And perhaps one can lead to the other. But I should be cautions of any kind of value ranking.
    If I were to spend time contemplating the lives of the saints, I think I would need to spend time contemplating those whom I do not like. At least, if I contemplate St. Francis, I should spend little time with his preaching to the birds, and much with him embracing lepers. And as to actual ranking of virtue, I would lean heavily on Isaiah’s “ all our righteousness is as filthy rags,” that righteousness does not reside in me, no mater what perfection I rise to in deed or contemplation, anymore than does light reside in even a perfect mirror. If that amazing mirror be detached from the sun, the source of light, it is black. The thing is to be drawn to the light itself.
    Following a teacher, or mystic or saint is all very well. But one must be seeking the light, not the mirror. When I have been drawn all the way up to the mirror, I must not stop there, but turn (away from the saint, almost a rejection, if you will) and gaze with him into the Light. One mirror will do as well as another, as long as the Light is the thing.
    I am thinking of Paul’s rebuke to the Corinthians, some who said they followed Paul, some Peter, and some Apollos.

    Speaking of Jung, My knowledge of things Jungian does not reach much past the idea of “shadow” which has a lot of potency for me. Lately I have been spending a great deal of thought on the idea, which in my ignorance I attribute to Jung, that life has two great tasks: separation, and re-integration. I expect you are much more familiar with what he actually meant than I am, but it seems to speak a great deal to the dilemma of how a good and powerful god could create creatures such as ourselves. Why allow sin? If we propose that God designs something for us beyond this life, and that His “creation” of humans is still ongoing, it may well be that this process of separation and reconciliation is an inescapable part of turning us into who we are. This certainly seems true in the growth processes we experience here. This goes well with one of the saints well thought of by most Anglicans, Dame Julian or Norwich, and “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

    -Blessings

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  10. That’s a beautiful post. I’m going to have to take some time to digest it all and reply. But I just thought I’d mention that I caught one parapraxis that I made. In my last comment I initially typed visually active good person when I meant to say, visibly active good person.

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  11. Yep, Gracie Allen couldn’t have said it better!
    Thanks for the conversation!
    -RES

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  12. Oh, I don’t plan to let you off the hook that easily! It’s just that I have a chest cold and find that writing tires me out. Posting this blog is a labor of love. But it’s time and energy consuming.

    I’ll just say, then, that I like your mirror analogy. One could also use the seed or spark analogy. The seed needs water and warmth. The spark needs… well, you get the idea.

    As for the saints and their intercession, I like to think of stained glass. Each piece is unique and colors the light that passes through. But like your mirror analogy, without the Source, all is dark.

    This seems a very different conceptualization of the godhead (in relation to individuality) than some other systems.

    Thanks to you for some extremely thought-provoking and insightful commentary!

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