On Religion and Civilisation

‘Spiritual standards have almost ceased to exist, and Freud and Karl Marx have done a thorough job of convincing us that all men are much the same, subject to the same kind of psychological and economic pressures.’


‘Spiritual hell is to place a man of high abilities and great talent in a position where he will be frustrated and bored, denied self-expression. It is, in short, the Outsider’s position in the world.’


‘The obvious necessity is that the great artists and philosophers of the age should also be its religious men and scientists. The scientist should be as capable of attaining religious insight as the monk is of understanding the quantum theory. The necessity today is obviously for a renaissance of the idea of purpose — of the meaning of life. This is the basis of the existentialist revolt.’


‘The ideal of a civilisation is to become ‘self-determined. But what then? It is like saying that the ideal aim of a man is to be perfectly self-controlled. But to what end? A man might strive for self-control in order to be a better soldier or thinker or artist or saint; but self-control is no end in itself.’


‘Man is a telephone line between God and the world, and his business is to be as receptive as possible.’


‘Civilisations wreck when they lose control over their own complexity. And they begin to lose control the moment they begin to think in materialist categories; for ultimately, all power is spiritual power.’


‘Western man — Faustian man — has always been inclined to lay too much emphasis on his intellect. This is the secret of his tremendous material progress; but it is also the cause of his downfall. He loses spiritual power — the vital sense that keeps species healthy. Without this vital sense, the word ‘progress’ is a mockery; it is like having a streamlined car, but no petrol to run it on.’


‘The ideal social discipline is the one that takes fullest account of the men of genius. When society no longer has such discipline, the men of genius become Outsiders: they feel lost; they no longer seem to fit into the social body.’


‘There is a certain type of person who likes to declare that life is meaningless — usually as a justification for some hedonistic philosophy or just sheer empty-headedness. I have tried to argue that there is a meaning, and that it can be discovered by rigorous analysis and a tremendous will to discovery. (Without this latter, all the scepticism in the world is barren.)’


‘What is important to realise is that ‘mystical’ experiences are not experiences of another order of reality, but insights into this order seen with extraordinarily clear vision and greater concentration.’


‘Most people will claim that ‘they know their own limitations,’ although what they really mean is that they have no intention of paying the tremendous price of will power and sweat that makes a great artist. The moral teacher who tries to persuade men to stop looking for comfort and strive to become great is likely to find himself without an audience.’


‘A religion is the receptacle of the heroic, the symbol of man’s need to strive for prehension. Failure of religion and world wars are inevitable companions.’


‘I believe every civilisation reaches a moment of crisis, and that Western civilisation has now reached its moment. I believe that this crisis presents its challenge: Smash, or go on to higher things. So far, no civilisation has ever met this challenge successfully. History is the study of the bones of civilisations that failed, as the pterodactyl and the dinosaur failed.’


‘In our case, the scientific progress that has brought us closer than ever before to conquering the problems of civilisation, has also robbed us of spiritual drive; and the Outsider is doubly a rebel: a rebel against the Established Church, a rebel against the unestablished church of materialism. Yet for all this, he is the real spiritual heir of the prophets, of Jesus and St. Peter, of St. Augustine and Peter Waldo. The purest religion of any age lies in the hands of its spiritual rebels. The twentieth century is no exception.’


‘Not necessarily the Nietzschean Superman, but some type of man with broader consciousness and a deeper sense of purpose than ever before. Civilisation cannot continue in its present muddling, short-sighted way, producing better and better refrigerators, wider and wider cinema screens, and steadily draining men of all sense of a life of the spirit. The Outsider is nature’s attempt to counterbalance this death of purpose. The challenge is immediate, and demands response from every one of us who is capable of understanding it.’


‘Ideas are fashionable, and then become unfashionable, and this is unimportant; it matters as little as that the headlines of the news papers change every day. The standards by which we judge a Shakespeare or Dante are the real and important standards.’