Thursday, February 28, 2008

Faith, Law, Intelligence and Obedience

When Gurdjieff stated that "Man cannot do," he misspoke.

What he actually meant was "Man cannot do-- much."

This is clear enough, because if man was unable to do anything at all, inner development would not be possible. In that case, the whole concept of inner evolution would go out the door with the bath water. And, as Gurdjieff elaborately explains in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, God actually changed the universe from a universe in which everything proceeded absolutely mechanically and automatically to one where intervention of a different kind was necessary. Elements in the universe began to operate within an atmosphere of choice, rather than the law alone.

God, apparently, was lonely enough to want some other players in the game.

I don't blame Him.

Tension between the forces of faith and law is a recurring theme in Paul's letters. In every case, he cites faith as the superior force. This is because (as God Himself originally concluded) an inner evolution that takes place because of initiative -- faith -- is superior to one that takes place mechanically, according to law. The universe can run on laws, but without initiative, it is sterile. We might view the shock of organic life as the main force on our level that runs counter to law, even while it is subjected to it. Organic life, after all, disobeys fundamental principles of entropy by organizing itself into hierarchies of increasing complexity in situations where, from what we can observe about universal law, everything definitely ought to become more disorganized. So right there, it is outside the law.

Of course, "scientists" have come up with a clever explanation for this outright contradiction of ordinary entropic law by claiming that this kind of thing can happen in some places, as long as it is counteracted elsewhere, but to me this is an utterly bogus explanation, about as bogus as the invocation of "dark matter" to explain things that, more rightly said, nobody actually understands at all, in any way.

We can correlate this theme of faith and law to intelligence and obedience. Faith is a choice made by intelligence -- the man who has faith decides to act. The man who acts under law does so only because he has to.

However--I ask myself. Is it true that choice is always superior to compulsion?

It seems to me that there is a regular and inevitable tension between these two forces. We cannot have a universe without laws. The concept itself is fundamental. It is the action of choice within the context of a law that makes initiative meaningful: action outside of context cannot be meaningful. So the very fact that we live in a universe where certain things are compulsory is what makes the action of choice, and the concept of freedom in itself, meaningful.

In Paul's repeated exploration of faith and law, we continually encounter the clash between matters of the flesh, which are determined by obedience and law, versus matters of the Spirit, which are determined by intelligence and faith.

We can look at obedience and law as being connected to the literal, or the outer. They are concrete, physical, and completely mechanical. Their character is static and fixed. In a world dominated by these influences, external influences, man finds himself under the compulsions of biology, society: in short, the cravings and desires of the flesh. This is, allegorically speaking, Gurdjieff's universe-level of 48 laws.

Faith and intelligence insert a new element into the operation of obedience and law, one which understands that obedience and law, while valuable, have their limitations. They call a man to look inward, to a quality within him that is separate from compulsions imposed by his physical requirements. They call on him to begin to sense that there is something inside him that is different than what biology and society demand.

That there is something other than ordinary desire available, or, rather, a different kind of desire. This desire consists of what we call wish: an instinctive longing for God. The inward journey frees men from some of the laws and compulsions that they find themselves under when they are under outer influences.

Those who have read Gurdjieff's work will recall that he has several different essays, both in Views From The Real World, and in Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, where he talks about men being strictly under outer influences. In every case, Gurdjieff ascribes this to an inner weakness.

These parables are reminiscent of the conflicts that Paul raises in his letters: the difference between matters of the law and matters of faith. Faith, as we know, is supposed to be a source of inner strength for man, whereas law is a crutch that man leans on to relieve himself of the need to make choices.

A man --"man" without quotation marks, man as he might be--relies on faith, he relies on intelligence. This requires effort.

A machine relies on law and obedience. Effort in this case is minimal, because all the requirements are predetermined.

This doesn't mean that an intelligent or faithful man is relieved of his responsibilities in regard to law and obedience: the difference is that he knows he has them.

The machine does not know that there is the possibility of faith and intelligence, because all it can be aware of is law and obedience. It is one rung down the ladder. This is where we we all find ourselves within what is called sleep: enslaved by the desires of the flesh, enslaved by law, and enslaved by obedience.

Hence, the conclusion that faith and intelligence, properly understood as an inner search, may move us in the direction of consciousness.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.


  1. I seem to be constantly flirting with recursion, e.g. I observe that my compulsions brought me to the position of choice, or that sometimes, as noted earlier in Dogen, I might not discern the conditions that gave rise to my awakening.

    So, I wonder, regardless of the conceptual opposition, how much law is in my faith?

    And, as of yet, I do not know.

  2. the two forces need each other, like the two posts of a battery, for a current to flow between them.

    The enneagram depicts this by merging the forces of three and seven in one diagram.

    I was discussing this with my own teacher tonight and she reminded me that the two forces need each other in order to produce a third force... And in doing so, a whole is created which is greater than the sum of its parts.


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