Many people never outgrow the child= they demand ‘primitive merger’ with lovers, and life scenarios with ‘happy ever after’ endings, and the like. Letting the child’s consolations die is a major challenge to growing up and becoming an adult.
But what are the adult’s consolations? These are more to do with the ego= ambition, triumph, success. This does not demand merger or happy endings, but it too relies on certain crutches= existence must be a puzzle that can be solved by sufficient effort, intelligence, power. The illusion that sustains the adult’s ego is ‘power over’ fate, and therefore the capacity to create one’s own destiny out of one’s own forcefulness. The child’s evasive myths are of one kind, the adult’s evasive myths are of a different kind= in either case, existential reality is shut out. If the child must give up dewy eyed romanticism, the adult must give up hard boiled scepticism, or existential reality remains held at a very long arm’s length. The child fantasises being in the arms of benign powers, like adoring parents; the adult fantasises the ego as a tough guy, standing alone, capable of blasting through every obstacle, and overcoming every challenge. Sex is the badge of power, as is worldly station= the proof the ego is rampant, unstoppable, all conquering. Letting the adult’s consolations die is horrendously difficult, and few people do it. Adults may not need merger and happy endings, but they need predictable order and reliable control, they need measurement of outcomes, they need the definiteness that puts everything in neat and tidy boxes, or they cannot ‘play the game.’
Some adults just follow the rules that are pre-set, and some adults play the game to win even if they have to stretch the rules, entailing there are smaller and bigger egos in the world, compliant dogs who kow tow and buccaneering dogs who piss on the turf. But all adults are in the game, and that is also why they stick to the shallows, and evade the deeps= the game is laid out on the surface of reality, and only by remaining relentlessly surface in their perceiving and emoting can adults play the game that dominates their busy days, and vacuous nights. Take the game away, and if anything adults suffer more terribly than children forced by reality to give up their belief in Santa Claus. For, take away the predictable and the controllable, take away the measurement of outcomes, take away the definiteness that puts things in neat and tidy boxes, and there is no more game. This is when the adult ‘project’ of world mastery through the ego’s expansion hits the rocks and sinks.
Shipwreck in the adult is more far-reaching than early disillusionment in the child, because the adult has nowhere else to go, nothing more to hope in. The child can still hope beyond the bleakness that invades their world prematurely, deferring their happiness and fulfilment to some far off adult life, but the adult in ruination has no compensation= they can only run away by regressing to childhood, going backwards, since if they try to continue going forwards, by looking the future in the face, all they see is a vast and bleak nothing. What disarms the adult ego is the reality that is outside the game, rendering it unplayable= mystery, paradox, ambiguity, takes the surface of reality away, like sweeping a carpet out from under the feet of someone who has naively and confidently assumed their egoic ‘progress’ is on ‘solid ground.’ The deeps of existence intrude, invade, undermine= suddenly the existential moment of awakening arrives, and the real growing up into adulthood, through embracing what reality actually is, arrives.
This is the moment when the Daemonic attacks the adult, stripping them of all their protective clothing. Suddenly their naked flesh feels the full force of the cold winds of reality that reveal the true vulnerability of the human being, the true precariousness of being in the world. There is no ground upholding our existence in the world= beneath everything is an abyss. Having previously shut our eyes to it, suddenly all the tissue of distractions, idols, chimeras, used by the adult to sustain blindness are ripped away. The abyss looms up at us, and we are threatened in some numinous manner right in the core of our being= our heart grows faint, our guts turn to water, our visceral self feels queasy from the ‘sickness unto death’ crawling up from our feet into our legs and arms and hands. Our whole body is shaking imperceptively, gripped by ‘fear and trembling.’ This is an encounter, not a thought open to interpretation= it is a perception, a feeling, a sensation, a realisation. It is what Kierkegaard called Angst.
When the child has let go of the child’s consolations, and when the adult has let go of the adult’s consolations, then the genuine realism begins. The adult’s enclosed ego [impenetrable, tight boundary] is no less an illusion than the child’s expansive self [permeable, loose boundary]. It is simply a different illusion, but letting it go is catastrophic. The fall of the ego in adulthood is a shattering crash. When the sword of ‘rational calculation’ and ‘instrumental control’ can no longer slay the dragon of ‘it makes no sense’ and ‘it cannot be solved’, then the dragon swallows the ego into its belly, and acid juices consume it. At this point, the adult is in a state where, to borrow the fairy tale metaphor, ‘the cupboard is bare.’ This is the advent of the adult who is confronted with a severe either/or= find a new way to be an adult, or continue falling into the vacancy.
This is where the real adult emerges after the adult caught in illusion has lost all the egoic props and defences maintaining its ‘get up and go.’ This is where the passion which is the province of the adult really starts. This is the adult not simply beyond what many know to be the error of childhood but also beyond what few know to be the error of adulthood. Real adults are rare, though the future of the world needs them as it does no one else. Taking responsibility for the world is their hall-mark. Pseudo adults milk the world for all they can get, to satisfy their own narrow ends, and thus are indifferent to the world’s existential precariousness, and unwilling to risk their existential vulnerability for its sake.
The Lakota say, “a child is someone who must depend on others, but an adult is someone on whom others can depend.”
The pseudo adult is playing the game, whether scrupulously staying within, or craftily bending, the rules. Neither can be depended upon when the existential going gets tough.
Angst severs all the ties to the everyday world that we take for granted, rendering everything in existence uncanny, odd, threatening, as in Munch’s painting ‘The Scream.’ This moment of crisis happens on a bridge over troubled and troubling waters, but the two companions ‘pass over’ without worrying about it, without concern for it, whilst the protagonist is unable to proceed. He is separated from them because he is stopped in his tracks= something terrible closes in and he is caught half way, not able to go on or go back but paralysed in some numinously dreadful ‘in between’, and it is more the black below and the red above suddenly screaming at him that evokes his own scream.
Nothing in the modern world is used more as an escape from the moment of existential awakening to real adulthood than the various systems of abstract thought in which people routinely hide from the world, other people, and themselves.
Angst reveals as groundless, baseless, unsupported, the clear-cut upland of abstraction, into which the existing person disappears, and returns him to his real situation in the profound lowland of concreteness, forcing him to acknowledge neither the world nor his own existence in it are upheld by anything mentally or physically tangible that he can get a grip on, define, prove.
Kierkegaard [‘The Present Age’, 1846]= “our age is essentially one of.. reflection, without passion, momentarily bursting into enthusiasm, and shrewdly relapsing into repose.. Nowadays not even a suicide kills himself in desperation. Before taking the step he deliberates so long and so carefully that he literally chokes with thought. It is even questionable whether he ought to be called a suicide, since it is really thought which takes his life. He does not die with deliberation but from deliberation.”
This has only become ever more so..
Passion confronts something about the unknown God, and this world poised over an abyss, that our mind does not know, and indeed cannot know. This is what propels passion’s action.
In passion there is a drive toward ‘discovering what thought cannot think.’
Passion is action, not words; passion is action, not thoughts; passion is action, not feelings; passion is action, not imaginations [thus even William Blake was wrong to claim “imagination is the real man”]. The ‘real man’ is passion, and this man is hidden in the heart.
Nietzsche’s Superman is the diametric opposite of the hidden man of the heart= the Superman asserts his will, takes what he wants, creates himself, and stands in solitary splendour alone, sneering at the contemptible herd. The power that Nietzsche lusted for and worshipped is precisely not where he sought it. The power of passion to ‘go beyond the limit’ comes from a mysterious limitlessness, yet passion is at its fiercest not when it defies existential, and human, limitations, but when it ‘works within’ their restrictions, and suffers their pain, shoulders their burden, pays their cost. Passion does this to bring everyone through to a far shore on the other side of what stops all of humanity in their tracks.
Passion’s faith is not ‘evidence based’ but neither is it ‘a creative fabrication.’
Passion makes no decision by itself, on its own; it is called into the existential conundrum. The heart hears the crying of deep to deep.
Some religious people, simply because handed-down tradition has fragments of knowing [Eros], and fragments of prophecy [Daemonic], proceed as if they had ‘god’ in their back pocket. They believe they have been given a recipe that allows it all to be figured out.
Paul, 1 Corinthians, 13, 9-12= “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Pretending we know more than we can know= this is the child who will not put away childish things. Too much of religion is disfigured by childishness. Too many religious people abuse religion as giving them carte blanche not to grow up.
Accepting the situation where we ‘see in part’ yet take the chance with what cannot be seen= this is the adult.
Passion faces up to everything which the religiously childish will not face.
Kierkegaard waged war on the West’s chief vice= its belief in the superiority of ‘intelligence’, its arrogance over the machinations of ‘intellectual calculation.’
Such intelligence, whether allied with science or spirituality, invariably evades the heart, and thus has no potency in regard to taking on what passion takes on, to do what passion does.
Some of his sharpest barbs were aimed at Hegel, the philosopher whose pretensions to Absolute Knowledge — his confusion of “the logical with the existential” — Kierkegaard found preposterous. “If Hegel had written the whole of his Logic and in the Preface disclosed the fact that it was only a thought-experiment [in which however at many points he had steered clear of many things], he would have been the greatest thinker who ever lived. As it is, he is merely comic.”
Kierkegaard wrote that Hegel was like a man who had built a palace with his mind [the vast Hegelian System] but actually lived in a shanty [existence with its inherent danger, loss, incomprehensibility]. Human existence is a paradox and contradiction.
In fact boredom — and what later existentialists called alienation — arises out of an existence where the open-ended adventurousness, earnest seriousness, long-suffering bearing and enduring and persevering, brought by passion is absent. Intellectualism breeds boredom, because it skates over all that passion struggles with and suffers and fights for. Head people become big in belly because lived truth is absent from their existence, they are hollow and empty, thus ‘consuming goods’ becomes the only activity below the neck. This engenders boredom in the heart, and the heart then needs violence, excitement, recklessness, to tell it that it is still alive. Such boredom is a nameless dissatisfaction, impossible to relieve; indeed in Kierkegaard’s account, this pervasive boredom is essentially a spiritual malaise, endemic wherever a purely naturalistic conception of humanity holds sway, and people use amusement, pleasure, hedonic satisfaction, to escape the Angst that can only be exited from by passion.
Just as Socrates gave up reading the scientific works of Anaxagoras because they told him nothing about the fundamental ethical reality of man, so Kierkegaard repudiated the rationalism of his culture, insisting that “the real subject is not the cognitive subject . . . [but] the ethically existing subject.” In this sense, as the philosopher William Barrett has noted, Kierkegaard’s motivation was essentially religious, not philosophical. “He never aimed at being a philosopher and all his philosophy was indeed incidental to his main purpose, to show what it means to be a Christian.”
The assault on intelligence that has no humility toward the stranger and nobler burden that passion must carry therefore became one of Kierkegaard’s main efforts in all of his work, and he jokes that he had to be born with a superb intelligence to puncture the pretensions of intelligence. The Journals= “It was intelligence and nothing else that had to be opposed. Presumably that is why I, who had the job, was armed with an immense intelligence.”
But if Kierkegaard was right that “paradox” is “the source of.. passion”, then his entire work does vindicate one role for the intelligence exemplified in his own writings= to serve a faith that must travel into existential places where reason cannot go. Faith clashes with reason only when existentially fearful people try to ‘unreasonably’ push reason beyond its proper scope. Reason sets a too narrow, and too comfortable, limit on what faith wrestles with existentially, so as to avoid wrestling with it. Faith discovers in experience, as a result of being stretched, buffeted, knocked, there is a mystery beyond existence working within existence to redeem it, from the groundless ground upward and outward.
The destiny of the heart, and passion, is in the hands of the Spirit.
The new age that is coming= the age of the Spirit working in the heart through its passion.
The Spirit is responsible for the story, its vicissitudes, its strickenness and break outs. The outcome is with the Spirit.
Passion is returning.
The fire born of suffering will come.
The time of return is coming. Our time is coming. It will be terrible, and fearful, but wonderful.