Christian Hermeticism: Flat Earth and Evolution

Alright I flagged last week that this guy went off about evolution and geocentrism, and this week we’re going to talk about it. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism is an esoteric Catholic text from the mid-20th century. It’s written anonymously, and it uses tarot cards as essentially an organising principle to reflect on Christian doctrine. We introduced this whole thing a couple weeks back, so I won’t go over it all again – suffice to say it’s batty and unnecessary, and just generally a great way to end the year.

So – it’s a bit of a shame, actually, because this whole book is over six hundred pages, with twenty-two ‘meditations’ on the twenty-two major arcana, and we’re only really getting to touch on the first five or six of them. There’s just too much stuff to write about. A lot of it is gibberish – or, no, maybe not gibberish, but based on a really specific and weird symbolic framework, and just entirely committed to that framework without any real evidence or explanation as to why:

“Now primordial water penetrated by divine breath is the essence of blood; breath reflected by the water is light; the rhythmic alternation from absorption of the breath by water to its reflection by it is respiration. Light is the day, blood is the night, and respiration is plenitude (Salem). Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, is therefore appointed to plenitude, to respiration, whilst the anointed king, guardian of the throne of David, or the Emperor, is anointed to the day.”

That’s all from the fifth meditation, on the Pope. We can trace some of the thinking – the name Salem can mean peace or completeness, which I guess is close to plenitude, and Melchizedek was a Biblical king of Salem, so that kinda tracks – but the significance of that link is not immediately clear. Why does it matter if Melchizedek is appointed to respiration? What is this lunatic on about? Well, I’ve been a little unfair presenting this section out of context. The fifth meditation is all about the concept of spiritual respiration – without getting into the weeds, the rest of the chapter does unpack and explore these ideas in more depth. It’s not really gibberish. Something is being said, but it’s wrapped up in a really dense symbolic language, and it’s not always clear where that symbolism comes from, or why it’s being used. It can cause certain problems.

For example, on the next page over from that previous quote, the anonymous author tells us that “the Pope represents another category of truth and another criterion of truth than the scientific truth and criterion. For him ‘true’ is that which comprises harmonious respiration; ‘false’ is that which upsets the harmony of spiritual respiration. Thus, the heliocentric system of modern astronomical science is true from the point of view of the science of phenomena, but it is at the same time fundamentally false from the viewpoint of spiritual respiration.” This seems like a weird horse to be flogging. We know about Galileo, and how the Catholic church came after him for promoting the idea that the earth actually revolved around the sun, instead of the other way round. We know that history. When we talked last week about the common idea of magic or superstition being replaced by science and rational inquiry – the Galileo affair sits as one of the key pillars in that narrative. Galileo bravely said the science thing, and all the nasty superstitious religious people came after him, but he was eventually proven right, because science is true, and religion is dumb nonsense. And yet here’s old mate, our anonymous friend, telling us that actually Galileo was wrong after all – at least from a spiritual or symbolic perspective. “The blood that issued from Christ onto the earth is precious to such a degree that he gave the earth a central position in the space of noumenal values.” Therefore, Galileo’s cosmological model “is false because it fails to recognise that which is truly central – the Incarnation of the Word.”

It’s an interesting maneuver – I’ll say this for it, right, I think it’s at least interesting to insist that spiritual realities trump physical reality. It’s interesting to insist that evidence drawn from the physical world is insufficient for understanding – I don’t know, our broader spiritual existence. But it’s also weird to see someone use Galileo as the example for that argument. Aren’t there any lessons in the Galileo affair that might warn against the perils of this sort of casual disregard for scientific evidence? Isn’t that whole history a bit of a source of shame for the Catholic church? Or is the anonymous author defending Galileo’s ten years of house arrest? Anyway, let’s move on to the next meditation, ‘The Lover’. I’m sure that geocentrism thing was just a one-off comment that won’t indicate a broader trend in this text.

“Antichrist, the ideal of biological and historical evolution without grace, is not an individuality or entity created by God, but rather the egregore or phantom generated through the biological and historical evolution opened up by the serpent, who is the author and master of the biological and historical evolution that science studies and teaches.”

So – there’s not really any context that makes this section more palatable. The very direct claim here is that Satan or the serpent is the architect of scientific theories of evolution. It’s not just because evolution contradicts the doctrine of creation – evolution doesn’t just offer an unapproved story, right. It’s more to do with the implications of evolutionary theory for how we see ourselves as human beings. The anonymous author’s very specific concern is evolution without grace. The threat of evolution, or the perceived threat for the author, is that we’ll all start believing that we came from nowhere and mean nothing – that our existence is an accident, that we’re born for no purpose and in the most objective sense have no real value. It’s the same fear that prompts his reaction against heliocentrism – he’s afraid of a worldview where the sun is at the center because it implies that we’re not at the center – that, as humans, we’re not that important or meaningful, that there’s no God, that we’re not created for eternal relationship with the divine – that we’re just kinda alive, more or less by way of cosmic accident, and it’s a bit shit and then we die. It’s not evolution per se that’s the problem – it’s evolution without grace.

And I do have a level of sympathy for that perspective. I’m really going out on a limb for this anti-science asshole – but I do think there’s something to be said against a nihilistic worldview, or even maybe against certain relativistic worldviews. Suffering can’t just be bad from my point of view – it’s bad. Poverty can’t just be bad for the people who care about ending poverty – it’s bad in the absolute, in the transcendent and eternal. It scars reality – I don’t think that’s a subjective ‘true-for-me’ thing. It’s just true. I don’t think life is meaningless, and I don’t think it’s just what you assign to it. I think it’s something more, something that belongs to itself, something that has its own force and potency outside of what we bring to the table. To use the anonymous author’s terms, I guess I believe in grace. I don’t know that science needs to be seen as the enemy of grace, necessarily, I do think he’s pointing in the wrong direction. There are plenty of interesting attempts to understand evolution in the context of grace – and I don’t think Christians need to hang their existential position in the universe on the orbital path of the earth. But I find myself sympathetic to the underlying impulse, despite – well, you know – most of how it’s presented.

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