(Lawrence's last major work before his death in 1930, aged 44).
I am a part of the great whole, and I can never escape. But I can deny my connections, break them, and become a fragment, then I am wretched.
What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly follow.
These are the final lines from the main text of Apocalypse, followed directly by fragment 1, of which there is a large selection below.
'Religion is not a question of belief; it is a question of feeling. It is a certain deep feeling that seems to soothe and reassure the whole soul. But Christianity is very curious. It seems to have two distinct sets of feeling, one focussing in Jesus and in the command: Love one another!- the other focussing, not in Paul or Peter or John the Beloved, but in the Apocalypse. And this second sort of Christianity is weird. It is a doctrine of the chosen people, of the elect: it is based on everlasting hatred of worldly power, and of people in power: it looks for the end of the world, and the destruction of everybody except the Saved. And nearly all Christians and teachers of the Bible today teach this sort of Christianity, the apocalypse sort.
And this has really killed the Bible for us. The one thing we loathe is this 'salvation' business, and especially the people who are 'saved'. These horrible saved people and the good godly ones who are right, always right, they have become so repulsive to us that they have made the Bible itself repulsive, and they have killed all our religious responses in us. And when our religious responses are dead, or inactive, we really are cut off from life, because the deepest part of our consciousness is not functioning. We try to take refuge in art. But to my mind, the essential feeling in all art is religious, and art is a form of religion without dogma. The feeling in art is religious, always. Whenever the soul is moved to a a certain fullness of experience, that is religion. Every sincere and genuine feeling is a religious feeling. And the point of every work of art is that it achieves a state of feeling which becomes true experience, and so is religious. Everything that puts us into connection, into vivid touch, is religious. And this would apply to Dickens or Rabelais or Alice in Wonderland, even, as much as Macbeth or Keats. Every one of them puts us curiously in touch with life, achieves thereby certain religious feeling, and gives a certain religious experience. For in spite of all our doctrine and dogma there are all kinds of gods, forever. There are gods of the hearth and the orchard, underworld gods, fantastic gods, even cloacal gods, as well as dying gods and phallic gods and moral gods. Once you have a real glimpse of religion, you realise that all that is truly felt, every feeling that is felt in true relation, every vivid feeling of connection, is religious, be it what it may, and the only irreligious thing is the death of feeling, the causing of nullity; the frictional irritation which, carried far, leads to nullity.
So that , since essentially the feeling in every real work of art is religious in its quality, because it links us up or connects us with life, you can't substitute art for religion, the two being essentially the same. The man who has lost his religious response cannot respond to literature or to any form of art, fully: because the call of every work of art, spiritual or physical, is religious, and demands a religious response. the people who, having lost their religious connection, turn to literature and art, find there a great deal of pleasure, aesthetic, intellectual, many kinds of pleasure, even curiously sensual. But it is the pleasure of entertainment, not of experience. So that they gradually get tired out. They cannot give to literature that one thing that it really requires – if it be important at all – and that is the religious response; and they cannot take from it the one thing it gives, the religious experience of linking up or making a new connection. The experience one gets from Dickens belongs to Baal or Ashtaroth, but still is religious: and in Wuthering Heights we feel the peculiar presence of Pluto and the spirit of Hades, but that too is of the gods. In Macbeth Saturn reigns rather than Jesus. But it is religious all the same...
We have been brought up to believe: If this God exists, One and Eternal, then none of the other gods exist, and all the rest is hollow. - But now, having really read the Bible as a book, not as a one-sided pronouncement, I realise the every truth of the Bible: if this god exists one and eternal, then all the other gods exist too. For all the gods are only 'sides' of the one God. We say of a man: 'oh you only know one side of him! - we can say the same of God. We only know one side of him, and a very small side. If we are to know God well we must know all the gods: which means knowing God on all possible sides....
..,,The Jews were able to make a One God, because they came into contact with so many peoples and so many civilisations, so many alien gods, each of which lent something to the Jewish mind, and to the Jewish soul. All the old Jewish poetry is the poetry of adventure with strange peoples and strange gods, and the Bible is perhaps more profoundly a book of roaming than is Herodotus or the Odyssey.
And the influence is of course dual. The Jews loved roaming, they loved meeting strange new peoples, learning from strange cultures, which meant strange religions. The Jews from the very start down to this day have always loved to be with Gentiles, to learn Gentile ways and wisdom. In a sense they are a culture that always has and always will live on the culture of other races, the Jewish mind is simply an amalgam of all the cultures of the ages. And today, wherever there is a new culture, there will the Jews hasten, fascinated.
So of course in the past he was always having to be whipped back to Jeruslaem: as he is today. The Jew has such a curious duality. His real delight is centrifugal: he loves to go to strange peoples and assimilate strange cultures: he always did. But his fear of losing himself in slavery made him, after Egypt, react savagely against all strange peoples, and pivot himself on his one God, whose chosen people he belonged to.
So now, after all these years of narrow monotheism, and a Bible that had become the very prison of the soul and the mind, suddenly we realise that we have been deceived. We have taken the Bible out of its setting, cut it off from contact with history and the living races it plays amongst, and set in unreal isolation as an absolute. We have been wrong. We have taken the Old Testament at its own value of a one God of a chosen people cursing and annihilating everyone else, whereas it is a strange odyssey of a whole race wandering among strange races that attracted them intensely, and threatened to absorb them, would have absorbed them but for the violent, frenzied resistance of the prophets from Moses onwards....
What we need is to get back into contact, into religious contact. Taking the Bible as our religious basis, we need to get back into contact with Egypt and Babylon, we need to know again as the Chaldeans knew, and the Egyptians. Our consciousness is crippled and maimed, we only live with a fragment of ourselves.
Turning from the Old Testament to the new we do turn actually into a new world. It is like coming into fresh air. It is a strange thing, the liberating effect of a new feeling in mankind. When Jesus said love one another – though shalt love they neighbour as thyself - love your enemies – he did suddenly open wide a great door from the weary house of strife into the fresh air of a new life....
Conflict was in the air. From the year 1000 B.C. onwards the so called civilised world had been in a mad whirl of war and conquest. But before Christ it was even worse than since. The enemy was always imminent or present. Destruction and hostility swept over men. Whole races were shifted, like great herds of cattle, from their own lands to far off countries. Now that war is almost universally in the air again today, we can sympathise somewhat with the men of the last centuries before Christ and understand why the Jews hated everybody, and why the Greeks were so suicidally irritable and quarrelsome, men were besides themselves, owing to the centuries of remorseless friction and conquest, they were in a state of chronic irritation amounting to hysteria. The Jews of Jesus' day were in this condition. The Greeks were already sinking into hopeless fidgettiness.
It needed the Roman peace, very much an 'armed peace', to restore a measure of calm. But it needed much more. It needed the new emotion which Jesus brought into the world 'love one another!' , 'love your enemies!' The message was a miracle in that world of irritation and hysteria. Even today we feel the great soothing and balm of it. The implication of the message was: strive no more to be top dog. Don't struggle any more to master someone else. Don't fight any more to be the first. Be content to be last, and humblest. For in the final kingdom the last shall be first -
This was Jesus message, familiar to us now, but by no means assimilated or accepted, even today. By no means. Everybody wants to be top dog: and certainly every nation wants to crow loudest on its own muck heap.
But in Jesus' day, the message was just madness. Man could not conceive of anything except the struggle of every man to be top dog. To ninety-nine percent of the the people, Jesus teaching was just creeping and repulsive idiocy. I think, as a matter of fact, it is so to most people today: say sixty-percent instead of ninety-nine. Yet even in Jesus day a few great minds, like Paul's and the apostle John's recognised the fundamental truth of the new teaching, and felt the quickening of the new feeling. That was the great point, the quickening of the new feeling. We have to recognise it. If we read the Greek and Roman literature of the first centuries we feel there us something missing, a certain staleness. There is nothing of the new breath of life that blows through the gospels and the great epistles. The tenderness of Paul in some of the epistles, expressing his tender concern for his distant brothers, and exhorting above all things not to harden: this brings a new human relationship into the world, a new sort of love. Perhaps Epicurus had tried for something similar, but there was a touch of resignation in Epicurus, no vivid hope.
With Jesus a new thing came into the world. And we can say with confidence that no new thing will ever come into the world again without a further new breath of love, and of tenderness. Another new breath of love and another new courage of tenderness, coupled with the courage of power, this alone will release us from the weary world that imprisons us. For we are as much imprisoned in war, in conflict, in that mean form of conflict called competition, in the mean fight for money, for a mere living: we are as much shut up in the stale prison of all this, as the men of Jesus' day were shut up in the prison of conquest.
...modern nations, in their present activity, have become curiously meaningless, really powerless, in the creative sense, and the men of the nation suffer accordingly from a sense of meaningless living and of powerlessness. Modern nations need smashing and remaking: the unit is too big, the carcass is too unwieldy, the power is dead.
Hence the great attraction of America, it is a new nation. It has not reached its final form. All things are possible to it. It seems full of power. And therefore men transfer themselves from the old group to the new. A man who goes to America and takes up citizenship does actually sever his old connection and form a new one. If I go to America and become naturalised, I do, in myself, throughout my whole consciousness, undergo a subtle change, and take on a new being. Also I cease from being what I have been, an Englishman.
This need for a new group connection was profound in the men who embraced Christinaity during the first few centuries. A man who became a Christian ceased really to be a Jew, or ceased to be Roman. he had discovered a new 'nation', the nation of Christians. And the sense of community was intense, in the early church...
But Jesus had repudiated all empire on earth, he left it to the Devil. The power of the world was Satan's. Render unto Caesar those things which are Caesars. A man, a Christian, was a pure individual, an embodied soul belonging to God, and no more.
This is good Christianity, but it turns out to be fallacy when applied to mankind at large. The vast bulk of men are not pure individuals, and never will be, for the pure individual is a rarity, almost a kind of freak. The vast bulk of men need to belong to a self-governing group, a tribe, a nation, an empire. It is a necessity like the necessity to eat food....
Jesus as the pure idealist wanted to free men from their collective self, the tribal or national self. But strange as it may seem, he might have well as tried to free men from breathing. The problem of the collective activity of Christianity was left entirely to be solved by time. And it has never been solved.....[cf grand inquisitor scene from Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov]
Man is a being of power, and then a being of love. The pure individual tries for either sheer power, like Alexander, or sheer love, like Christ. But mankind forever will have its dual nature, the old Adam of power, the new Adam of love. And there must be a balance between the two. Man will achieve his highest nature and his highest achievements when he tries to get a living balance between his nature of power and his nature of love, without denying either. It is a balance that can never be established, save in moments, but every flower flowers for a moment, then dies. That makes it a flower....
Now we must free ourselves from the superficial contempt for power which most of us feel and express today. We know only dead power, which is force. Mere force does not command respect. But power is not mere force. It is divine like love. Love and power are the two divine things in life. This is what Nietzsche meant.
But love is only divine when it is in harmonious relation to power: and power is only divine when it is in harmony with love. Jesus plainly said he only came to fulfil, to make complete, the old law of power. The early church, and a great pope like Gregory, knew and gave perhaps the best example of love in harmony with power, and power in harmony with love. The following popes only too soon lost the love in striving for power, and the antithesis was Francis of Assisi and similar saints who wanted to destroy all power in the name of love.
In the last century, Shelley sang over and over again of the perfection to which men would arrive when all 'power' had been wiped off the face of the earth. But we feel about Shelley as about Francis, there is a certain basic falseness to it all. We feel moreover, in both men the same lack of warmth and real kindly love, in both is the death of love. The death of power is the death of love: and vice versa...
Jesus has no 'power', and seeks no power. His is the mystery of love, and it is another mystery. The mystery of love has a great potency indeed. But it is not the potency of rule, it is the potency of no-rule...
The most free, the most upstanding, the most dauntless men are happy, splendidly happy to accept the rule of a real man of power, who draws vitality from the cosmos. And they are unhappy, wretched when cut off from rule and power, and forced to be democratic.
Now the fact that the Lord's prayer says first of all: thy kingdom come, shows that men first and foremost want rule, the sense of power, power in the rulers above them. They want it even before they want bread. The common man wants to be consummated in the might and splendour of rulers above him. It is a primary, paramount need, old and yet still unrecognised. When rulers have no cosmic splendour and might, then the common man tears them to pieces. It is a crime that a ruler should be impotent and without cosmic splendour, it is a great crime against the manhood of men. What does a man care about good food and good plumbing, if his life is inglorious and meaningless! Men like Lenin and the socialists, and Shelley and the 'spiritists' would steal away from man his most precious treasure of all, his sense of solid splendour in life, his share of glory in the cosmos. For first and foremost the cosmos is glorious, and man is part of the cosmos.
But the might and the splendour, and the glory must all be tempered by love. Which means, we must be willing to submit, upon necessity, to the death of our individual splendour and might, as individuals we must upon occasion be willing to be weak and insignificant, humble, meek, mournful, poor in spirit, in order that a greater, a completer glory may come among men. For one man cannot be truly glorious unless all men, according to their degree, are glorified. This is the supreme truth that men like Caesar, or like Napoleon, have failed to grasp....
Before Jesus, before the period in which Jesus came, men sought only glory and might, let it cost what it would. Every man sought his own splendour, no matter what other men might suffer. Or if individual men were not quite so overweening, nations were. Every nation sought its own glory, at the cost of all its neighbours.
But already in the sixth century before Christ came the first signs of the other necessity in man, the need to die in the immediate self, and be re-born in a greater self. Men had been very blind to one another. It needed an experience as of death to make them aware, a little more aware of one another, and of the other man's needs.
It was in the sixth century men began, almost universally in the 'known' world, to practice the cults of the dying god. It was then the Orphic mysteries began. The dying god may have symbolised the death and re-birth of vegetation, of corn, the rousing again with Spring of the phallic power of fertility, throughout 'nature'. But it meant much more than this. It meant also, from far-off centuries, before Plato, long before Jesus, the need man felt of death, the death-wish, so that man might experience mystically, or ritually, the death in the body, the death of the known desires, and a resurrection in a new self, a more spiritual and highly conscious self. The great death-wish of the centuries following the sixth century B.C., which brought the tragic conception into life, and which lasted to this day, was the wish for escape from the old way of consciousness, the way of might and cosmic power, into a new way of consciousness, the way of knowledge. Man has two supreme forms of consciousness, the consciousness that I AM, and that I am full of power; then the other way of consciousness, the awareness that IT IS and that IT, which is the objective universe or the other person, has a separate existence from mine, even preponderant over mine. The latter is the way of knowledge: the loss of the sense of I AM, and the gaining of knowledge, of awareness, of the other thing, the other creature.
About 600 B.C., the wish for pure knowledge became dominant in man, and carried with it the death wish. Men wanted to experience death and come out the other side, and know what was on the other side of death, all the time while they were still alive. This great wish for death and the adventure though death into the beyond took on many different shapes in many different religions. The Olympians perhaps knew nothing of it. But into the Olympian religion came the Orphic mystery and the Dionysic ecstasy, ways of getting out of the body and of obtaining experience of the beyond, in the beyond of this world: ways of knowing as the gods knew, which is the same as knowing what lies beyond death, for the gods lie beyond death. That world where the gods live is the world that men call death, and that world where men live is the world of the death of gods....
So the whole world went religious mad, if we may dare say so, about the same time. The Greeks who resisted the Orphic and Dionysic 'madness' – to use their own words – nonetheless took a similar road, seeking the loss of self and the gaining of pure knowledge. The pure knowledge that the Ionian Greeks began to thirst for, in the sixth century B.C., is not ultimately very different from Buddha's Nirvana, or even St Johns New Jerusalem. Pure knowledge, pure science, Nirvana, Pradhana, the sheer ecstasy of Iacchos, the transport of the initiate re-born of Isis, or re-born at Eleusis, or re-born from the blood of the Mithraic bull, all these are states of consciousness which are almost identical. The modern physicist is on the brink of Nirvana, the man who follows Einstein right through achieves in the end a state of ecstasy which is the culmination of the way of knowledge. There is a short cut through ritual, through yoga practice. And then there is the long long way from Thales and Anaximander down to Einstein. But the final state of consciousness achieved is almost the same, in each case. And it is the goal, in each case. The modern physicist is on the brink of a culminating ecstasy, when his search for knowledge will consummate itself in the final and inexplicable experience, which will be mystic jargon if put into words [eg quantum mechanics]. All roads lead to Rome: and all search for knowledge, whatever the knowledge, leads to the same result, the mystic experience of ecstasy in re-birth, the experience of Nirvana, the achievement of the true state of Pradhana, one or the other of the ultimate experiences which are all alike, but reached by different roads.
Man achieved, in the fifth century B.C, by ritual, what men are now at last achieving by science, the science of physics. Ritual comes first: then dogmatic religion: finally science. And they all three at last achieve the same end, the same state of consciousness. Einstein himself is in the same state of consciousness, essentially, as an Orphic initiate was in, four centuries before Christ.
...anyhow we know enough of the Eleusinian mysteries to know roughly what they were about: about the mystery of death, and the passage through Hades, and the re-birth in a higher world, or state: a glory. But unfortunately no pagan apocalypse remains to us, only a Mithraic fragment. For the rest, every apocalypse is Jewish, and by far the most famous is that of John of Patmos. but there are others: the Apocalypse of Enoch, and the visions in the book of Daniel are also counted as apocalypse. An apocalypse is really a vision, a revelation of heavenly things, it takes the place of the older form of prophecy, in which the voice of God was heard, while God remained unseen, or seen only in a burning bush.
The Apocalypse of John is unique. It is undeniably Jewish, intensely Jewish, though written in the name of Christ. At the same time there is something very unjewish about it, and it is, we might say, entirely unchristian. At the very beginning, it suggest the esoteric symbols of the pagans, and as we read on, we realise here is a document that has a scheme far too complex for a Jewish revelation. This is an esoteric document, elaborate, complex, and concealed, and there is nothing Christian in it but the name of Christ. For Christianity brought first and foremost a new feeling into the world, rather than a new idea: a feeling of brotherly and spiritual love, as contrasted with the old carnal love......we can judge the Christianity of any work, or any individual, by the presence of absence of this 'pure' desireless love, selfless, esteemed as divine. And we can find none of it in the vengeful chapters of John's Apocalypse. John of Patmos wants his revenge, final, heaven after. Neither the pagans nor the Jews nor even the Christian gnostics grasped the new feeling and the new concept of desireless, immortal love, a love which was basically a love of the other man, a love of the neighbour, loving one's neighbour being conceived as part of the divine desireless love of Christ. Even the mind of Plato contained no such concept, and his emotional self knew so such feeling. Plato wished sincerely for the human 'good'. He did not realise that what humanity needed was a little 'pure' love. He still thought it wanted Rule: wise rule, benevloent rule, but still, loveless rule....
When the cult of dying gods came into the ancient worship of cosmic power, the two great aims of worship did not change essentially. The aim of worship was still the acquiring of the splendid phallic power or fertility which man recognises as his best and fullest physical state, and further, the acquiring of the higher power which, when attained, gives a man his immortality. To have the fullest phallic potency man must undergo a winter death and a transit through Hades, like the plants. This is an old cosmic truth lost sight of today, yet lingering in the fertile nations. And again, to enter into that higher power wherein man has his immortality, a man must die an even deeper death, the death of consciousness, and emerge with a new consciousness. So that from this dual mystic death he emerges with a new body and a new consciousness or spirit, and the consummation of the initiation is based on the 'marriage' of these two, the 're-union'....
None of this, as we see, is Christian exactly. It is too physical and too self-glorious. It is, if you like, a grand self-glorification which Christianity absolutely discouraged. Christianity is based above all on communal love, and communion must be communal act...in Christianity a man lost his own self, for ever, and became a vessel of the divine love.
This obliteration of self entirely was obnoxious to all pagans, and even Jews; and the self-glorification consummated in the pagan and Jewish ritual was obnoxious to all Christians. To the pagans, as to the Jews, the lack of a certain pride and assumption in man was repugnant. To the Christians, pride and assumption were the Devil. Even the Epicureans, who practised a sort of affectionate resignation and a sort of humility, were really very unpopular in the pagan world. The Stoics with their pride, their insolence almost in enduring misery or misfortune, carried on the old pagan spirit, and won the day with the pagans. The great split had started long before Christ, between the way of pride and power, and the way of mildness and gentleness. Christianity made the breach absolute.