This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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5.8. Schism and Adaptation

The nature and necessity of schism

“Offense must come”, said Christ, and of the several legitimate meanings of this passage, one is that on the earthly plane, conflict is inevitable and, insofar as it is inevitable, we can even say that it is possible for two good men to fight another without having to place one “in the wrong.” St. Augustine himself wrote that two men at war could both be “right,” contrary to our normal way of looking at conflict.

Of course, we are only exploring possibility here, and this possibility is not the reality in general, and in general we are safe in assuming that most arguments involve an error on one side or both. But particularly when we come to the issue of schism, or division within religion, it is very important to keep in mind that even if we must “choose a side” in such a conflict, we need not necessarily condemn the other side For it often has its reason for existing even if its existence brings it into conflict with ours.

I am thinking here mostly of the Latin and Greek Churches, and the schism which, in Islam, gave birth to the Shiite way.

To say it another way, we should observe that it is of the nature of religion to divide outwardly, like the cells of a human embryo, so that it may expand to fulfill its destiny. In such cases, the animating “spirit” remains the same, inwardly, but on a material or external level there is division and the possibly of antagonism. Thus, the division between Latin and Greek Christianity should not be seen as one of spirit but of contingency, of the way in which certain formulas had to be adapted to certain peoples, such that both were what they needed to be in order to serve as a means of grace for a specific people. That the formulation appropriate to one group manifested itself as “error” to the other group speaks more about the difference in humanity than about any doctrinal divergence.

The difference between necessary schism and heresy

We said that schism divides a religion outwardly but not inwardly, and for this reason it can be seen as legitimate. But that doesn’t mean that all religious disagreements are valid and are only a matter of adaption. Error is very real, hence the very real problem of heresy. The difference is simply that heresy divides or alters or limits the spirit of the religion. That is why it is right to reject it, not simply as an inappropriate formulation, but as a dangerous error.

Schism in the universal sense

If we imagine the Primordial Tradition as the unicity of doctrinal truth, we can describe the various religions as products of schism on a more universal or drastic scale.

The Judaic-Christian schism

The most familiar example of the schism of this time would be that which occurred between the Jews and the Christians.

The possibility of adaptation within the Old Testament

The original Abrahamic monotheism is what we find at the beginning of the Old Testament, but it is not until Moses that we encounter Judaism. In fact the relationship between God and Abraham and God and Moses is very different, the former being based on a “promise” and the latter on a law. The giving of the law, in fact, should be seen as a shift in the nature of Old Testament monotheism that represents a kind of schism or “readaptation,” hence the new relationships and the giving of the law. This is the annexation of monotheism by one of the two branches of the Abrahamic line: that of Isaac and not Ishmael. And so, for the remainder of the Old Testament, we only see Abrahamic monotheism through a veil, as it has been absorbed by Israel (Jacob, son of Isaac), limited by the particularism tendencies of that people, and developed under the leadership of Moses.

The introduction of the Messianic idea with the Mosaic Tradition

In its Mosaic form, Old Testament monotheism gained a new focus. The old “promise” now became a legal relationship based on the law, which was not upheld and which necessitated a mediator. Hence the need in the Mosaic Tradition for a Messiah, a need not necessarily present in the Abrahamic Tradition, since a promise given by God obviously needs no mediator in order to ensure its fulfillment. The two traditions are seamlessly married, which is good and necessary. I am not trying to point out a contradiction between the elements. The point is only that there are distinct differences between the two, even down to the different names of God (Elohim in the first chapter of Genesis, and Yahweh elsewhere). And it is on the basis of this distinction that we can affirm that a readaptation occurred that changed the emphasis and direction of Old Testament monotheism for the remainder of its history.

A summary of the monotheistic cycle

The annexation of monotheism by Israel, bringing with it the law and the idea of the Messiah, is a limiting of its horizons. This is a limitation, not inappropriate or evil in itself, that would eventually necessitate two new Revelations: that of Christianity and that of Islam. Christianity because the Messiah, if he arrived, would have to surpass the Old Law; and Islam because eventually the Abrahamic line would need to re-connected and synthetically combined with the Gospel of Christ. And this is why we say that Islam is the third an harmonizing principle which brings to completion that monotheistic cycle that went from original monotheism (letter and spirit) to Mosaic letter to Christian spirit and finally to a recombination of the letter and the spirit in Islam. Islam is Judaism, had it been capable of integrating Christianity; Islam is Christianity, had it been capable of integrating Judaism.

The trinity and the three monotheistic revelations

Joachim of Floris attributed to each person of the Trinity a predominant role in the phases of Christian history. First, the Old Law was governed by the Father; the New Law was governed by the Son; the final phase, in which Christianity blossoms, is governed by the Holy Spirit. But there is a serious imbalance in these supposed correspondances. The first two are Revelations. The third ought to be as well. And it is. The period governed by the Holy Spirit is the Islamic Revelation.

The political impotence of Christianity

The social stability of Christendom was based largely on borrowings from Roman jurisprudence. In itself, Christianity tends to operate on the principle that “my kingdom is not of this world.” This can be seen today in the treatment of canon law in Catholicism–as if it is an interesting study but has little bearing on the lives and behavior of modern people. And as I just said above, the height of Christian social organization was actually reinforced by political concepts not specifically Christian. Here again we can see why Islam can be considered a synthesis of the two: it retains the Christian emphasis on Mercy over Justice while at the same time bringing with it a “spiritual legislation” after the fashion of the Old Testament, capable of retaining the “best of both worlds.”

Islam in an egalitarian age

One of Islam’s advantages in terms of being adapted to an egalitarian age that cannot suffer or even comprehend any kind of hierarchical arrangement is the fact that it realizes that at which Protestantism pretends: each man is truly his own priest and is not dependent on a Church hierarchy in order to participate fully in the faith. This is not the way it has been in Christianity, at least not since the 4th century when the “clerical state” came into being. There had always been a hierarchy and “holy orders” related to the sacraments, but the idea of an unmarried priesthood as an actual “state” different from and superior to the “lay state” did not exist until that time. And so while we could say that Christianity does not, in principle, imply the existence of a clerical state as we find it today, it is also not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps I’m wrong on that, and I hope so. This is not because there is a problem with the clerical state in itself, but the fact that it, just like a rigid caste, is rendered inoperable at the end of the Iron Age. Moreover, as is clear from the sexual issues frequently coming to light in the Catholic world, celibacy is not a reasonable expectation to be placed on Iron Age men. Again we refer back to Islam and its requirement that women veil themselves, which is an acknowledgement of the weakness in the present humanity that Christianity, at least with respect to priests, has failed to admit.

On points of view, physical and spiritual

When we observe an object in the physical world, provided we do not move and it does not move, we can describe it in detail and what we describe, if we are accurate, is perfectly true. But it is not a complete description of the thing observed, since we can only see those details that appear on the side facing us. This is the limitation of a “point of view” and could only be remedied by either omniscience (knowing all the details of the object without having to see them) or omnipresence (allowing us to see it from all sides at once). These things belong only to God, of course, so when dealing with people we are always dealing with a point of view. And more importantly, when we move from one person to another–perhaps a person standing on the opposite side of the object we happen to be observing–we find a very different point of view. In fact, if we asked that person to describe the object, the description they produce might be starkly different than our own. Correspondences will exist–we may agree on the height of the object. But whereas we see only a blank sphere they might see a face. And it would be ignorance pure and simple to argue that they could not be seeing a face simply because we saw no face on our side of the object.

Of course, the difficulty in the physical world is easily overcome by simply walking to the other person’s position and observing the object from there. In other words, we simply shift our point of view and we can see what they are seeing for ourselves.

Now, the point of that illustration was to say that when we speak of a religion’s “point of view,” we are talking about a situation that is analogous to the one just described, with the only difference being that it is not possible for a person to change his spiritual point of view. This is because spiritual point of view is something that transcends us, and so it is passively received by us. While we can alter the location of physical bodies, but we cannot alter our basic spiritual constitution any more than we can choose to be one race at one moment and another race the next.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the problem of mutual understanding and respect between religions. When you have one religion claiming that God is a faceless god, and another religion, from a slightly different spiritual point of view, claiming with equal fervor that, on the contrary, God has a fearful countenance, the two will always have trouble coming to an agreement. Hence the antagonism between religions. The esoteric way involves acknowledging that both may be speaking the truth; the exoteric path, its purpose being the facilitation of grace within a limited group, will never lead to such a realization and, on its own, has no means of reconciling itself with members of another faith.

Points of view within a single religion

If starkly different spiritual points of view lead to misunderstanding between the great religions, it is also true, on a much smaller scale, that differences in point of view will lead to difficulties in understanding between members of the same faith. This is analogous to the concept of race. While their might be only a few great races, these races can be further divided and differentiated based on temperament and other characteristics until you arrive at the individual level, where there are truly no two persons who are exactly the same. My point is not that spiritual point of view corresponds with race. It is that, even if a single point of view, represented by a specific Revelation, can be shared by a very large group, this does not mean that smaller, subtler differences of point of view will not be present from man to man within that religion. A good example of this differentiation within a religion might be the proliferation of distinct religious orders within Christianity. The Franciscan way and the Dominican way are quite different, because they are formulations based on different spiritual temperaments or “points of view,” even if they are both contained within the Christian point of view.

Correspondences and external comparisons are not enough

By comparing the religions to different spiritual points of view, we have helped to paint a clearer picture of the problem of how often they misunderstand one another, but we have also oversimplified the matter and possibly given the impression that the difference between spiritual points of view boils down to the presence or absence of a few details. It might even give the impression that, in order to ‘understand’ another religion, it is enough to establish correspondences, for example between Muhammad and Christ, and the Bible and the Koran. This is incorrect and while it is laudable to try to establish unity in such a way, we must at the same time not fool ourselves. To return to the analogy of point of view in the physical world, we could say that the “difference of perspective” between Christianity and Islam is not only like the difference between one point and another on a circumference and on a common plane. On the contrary, Christianity and Islam are separate points but they may not even share a circumference and might even be on different horizontal planes. If this is the case, it is not simply a matter of taking the Christian holy book and saying that it corresponds to the Koran. The reality is that the Prophet is not the Messiah, and the Islamic religion is not founded on the Prophet. It is centered on his “miracle,” which is the Koran. The Koran is the center and basis of Islam. And so it would be more accurate to say that the Koran corresponds, not to the Bible, but to Christ himself. This is why it is not appropriate to call Muslims “Mohammedans,” as if they worship Mohammed in the way Christians worship Christ. In order to really grasp the spirit of a religion that is not one’s own, if it is possible at all, one must grasp the underlying unity of the various correspondences (correctly understood), and only then can one encounter the essence of the Revelation, since at that point one comes upon the center that coordinates all the details.

The scriptures as an example of the difference between points of view in the great religions

To reinforce the previous warning, I’ll say that we should not assume that things mean the same thing in different religions. For example, just Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam all have Scriptures, it would be a serious error to assume that in each of them the Scriptures are understood in the same way and used for the purpose that Christianity uses them. What the Bible means to Christianity is something very different from what the Koran means to Muslims, and this is different still from what the Vedic texts mean to Hindus. It is not just the content of the books that differs–it is the significance of the books themselves.

Further distinctions between Islam and Christianity

Christianity is based on certain facts and inseparable from them. Namely, the Incarnation of Christ and the Redemption. Everything rests on these. Islam is based on ideas and not on any historical facts other than accidentally. And that central idea is the Unity of God.

The sublimation and the norm

Great men and founders of religion usually manifest one of two things: either a sublimation or a norm. Christ, for example, is a sublimation in the sense that he represents the “otherworldly” in the world, hence Christians consider themselves “in the world but not of it,” and the idea that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. Buddha is also in this category, as are all the ascetics and hermits. The other path, that of a norm, is represented by Mohammed, Moses, and Abraham, who brought a social order and way of living to a people in addition to a religious life.

The Western mentality is essentially Christian, and this applies even to atheists, since we are dealing with characteristics of the mind and not with any specific ideas or beliefs.

Religion as organism

A religion is analogous to a living organism in that it develops from a point of fertilization (which implies an environment conducive to its particular needs) and expands along certain definite lines, realizing its inherent possibilities and proceeding along a necessary and distinct path.

Meister Eckhart said the following: “Everything that the Holy Scriptures say about Christ is equally true of every good and divine man.” That is to say, the fully realized being, who has become the ‘Universal Man,’ possess the attributes of all God-men. Needless to say, this is an inner realization and not an external one. On this plane, there is identity between Christ and Mohammed.

Sri Ramakrishna said also: ‘In the Absolute I am not, and thou art not, and God is not, for It is beyond speech and thought. But so long as anything exists outside myself, I ought to adore Brahma, within the limits of the mind, as something existing outside myself.’ This explains, in a succinct way, the nature of exoterism vs esoterism and the necessity of the former and the supports associated with it. Christ Himself was not averse to prayer.

A basis in fact as another reason for differences in religion

Religions are distinguished by being based on a ‘fact’ which they elevate to the level of absolute. Since Christianity bases itself on the fact of Christ’s personification of the supreme spiritual state, it must deny this possibility in other faiths. In other words, it must effectively deny Deliverance in this life. But this is not a necessary denial for religions that are not centered on the spiritual state of one.

The Koran and Christ, the Prophet and the Virgin

The Koran is the Islamic Incarnation. It represents a ‘descent’ (tanzil) by the action of the Holy Spirit (Ar-Ruh, called here Jibril–or Gabriel), which impregnated the Prophet who gave birth to the Divine Word. Put in this way, we can see that the Prophet does not correspond with Christ, but with the Virgin Mary. And so we find the traditional account of the infant Mohammed having his chest opened by angels who used snow to cleanse him of a black stain on his heart, removing the taint of original sin completely, just like the Virgin Mary. Likewise, the Prophet is said to be ‘a man, not as men are, but in the manner of a jewel among stones,’ just as Christians say in the Ave Maria, ‘blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’

Mary, Mohammed, Prakriti

If the Virgin and Mohammed both represent the ‘passive’ side of Existence (Prakriti), we should also specify that they manifest the beneficent side, just as Satan manifests the maleficent side. The Prophet is called the ‘Messenger of Mercy’; Mary is the ‘Mother of Mercy.’ And this is why it is Mary who crushes the serpent’s head, according to Jerome. This beneficent aspect of Prakriti is called Lakshmi or Kwan Yin in the Far Eastern Tradition.

God’s reason for creating

Why did God bother to create man, or create a world at all, in spite of the division, the scandal, and the offense that would come? The second part of this question will be answered more fully elsewhere, but the first part, which is related to our discussion here, is answered well in a hadith:

“I was a hidden treasure, and I wished to be known, so I created a creation (mankind), then made Myself known to them, and they recognised Me.”