In my analysis of Santayana’s Three Philosophical Poets, I followed the arc of maturity in my presentation of the poets. Santayana follows the arc of history which begins with Lucretius and passes through Dante to Goethe. The significance of Faust is in fact amplified by Goethe’s two lampoons of Dante’s Feudal culture and the ancient Greek culture of Lucretius, the disciplines of which are interpreted as impediments to the expression of will that flowers in the third part of the epic.
Ironically, Santayana finds redemption for Goethe’s fascinations in Spinoza, the nominal heir to the ancient Greek materialism that inspired Lucretius. Spinoza offered the idea that things (including our selves) cannot be understood in the context of any specific act, but only in the context of eternity. The broken chair is for the scrap heap, but as part of the revolutionary barricade may have deflected a bullet aimed at the hero that would become the nation’s first president. In that context, the broken chair may be seen as a sacred relic.
Similarly, Faust is redeemed because he did the best that he could in the context of his life. Trapped between dying feudalism and his contemporaries’ Neoclassicism, Goethe chose to seek a new form of self-expression. The morally ambiguous parables of Faust are modeled on his experience. Faust’s apotheosis reflects not upon the virtue of his actions, but upon the nobility of his struggle for self-determination in a society dominated by institutions that claimed cultural and spiritual authority.
Although I took a different route through life, I feel a certain sympathy with this perspective. Obviously the intellectual program I have pursued here struggles against the conventions upheld by our institutions of higher learning and religious interpretation. And as Goethe was, I have been subject to powerful forces that drive me forward. I explained my interest in physics to my father with the claim that I was seeking to reduce the world to a mathematical proof. When I reached my junior year in college, I realized the attendant dangers of providing power to people that didn’t understand the virtues of loving. Thus, while most of my contemporaries were getting married and focusing on establishing professional networks, I was expanding continuously the scope of my studies, trying to figure out how to present those virtues in a way that would be compelling.
When I was woken up spiritually in December of 2001, I finally realized what had been driving me through the first half of my life: there was a wall of pain in front of humanity, and I had been working as hard as I could to find a way over, under or around it. When I became aware of that burden, my attempts to share it with others were rebuffed, typically with some version of “Well, I’m glad you’re working on that, Brian, but really I’d rather go dance with this young man over here.”
What amuses me about those interactions is the deprecating attitude that accompanies them. Having myself hidden from foreshadowing of global ecological collapse, I am sympathetic to the desire to avoid projecting ourselves into our immediate future, and I recognize that women have reasons to be particularly susceptible to that tendency. But in the form of eternity, so to speak, impending ecosystem collapse is the only thing that matters. You may eat, drink and be merry today, but not for much longer.
Of course this all sounds tragic, so why am I amused? Because I interact directly with people’s higher selves. I see them in the form of eternity, and I realize that powerful personalities in this world are powerful because they project influence through spirit. While once those influences were dominated by selfish personalities, they have become weak through indulgence of billions of years of fascination with the play of material forms. Conversely, over the same time span mutually supportive spirits have been winnowing out the selfish and building up structures and stores of energy that will enable them to liberate themselves from immature influences.
The two endpoints in this process are described by John in the Book of Revelation. The beginning describes the twenty-four chief angels in heaven, twelve masculine and twelve feminine, crowned by pride. But the angels are forced to bow down to unconditional love, the one on the throne, by the worship of the “living creatures” on the earth. In the final stage, labelled the “New Jerusalem” by John, love is liberated from its protective shell and works freely its creative impulses. This is the form of eternity for humanity as a whole – that transformation is the purpose that we are raised up to accomplish.
And so I am amused because I am attractive to people whose higher selves are eager for immersion in love. When the living form (what we think of as a “person”) declines to commit themselves to participate in the realization of that eventuality, the higher self is shedding the final vestiges of selfishness. That is the purpose of this material realm – for the angels to localize their selfishness and shed it. The beneficiaries are those of us that commit ourselves to the work. Interacting with us is the mechanism used to cement collaborative and loving relationships in the higher realms.
And so while isolated, weak and irrelevant in this world, I store up treasures in the world to come. Treasures donated by those fascinated by the superficial play of forms in this world.
I do feel some compassion for your plight. It is expressed in the complaint of the third servant in the parable of the talents. It goes something like: “You are a hard man. You take what is not yours, and reap what you do not sow.” But the compassion only goes so far, for so it always seems to tyrants when their subjects are liberated.