"When what begins by being an image becomes in
course of time a mere thing, we are justified in describing it as an idol,"
we are told in History, Guilt, and Habit (70). Idolatry
is thus a "collective state of mind, which perceives all things and no
images" (HGH 70). It is "the effective tendency to abstract the
sense-content from the whole representation
and seek that for its own sake, transmitting the admired image into a desired
object" (SA 111).
Idolatry indicates that "within man the phenomena
have gradually ceased to operate as compulsive natural processes and have
become, instead, mere memory-images available for his own creative 'speech'.
. ." (SA 127). Idolatry results when man begins to take his models--his
representations--literally (SA 51). It is produced by what Coleridge
called the "lethargy of custom" (RCA 15). By the time of Darwin,
for example, the idolatry of alpha-thinking
had "clothed [appearances] with the independence and extrinsicality of
unrepresented itself" (SA 62).
Barfield often refers to the following Old
Testament discourse on idolatry (from the 135th Psalm):
The idols of the heathen are silver and gold,
the work of men's hands. they have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have
they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not: neither is there
any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so
is every one that trusteth in them. (quoted in SA 176)
And he offers his own commentary on it:
What the Psalmist wrote of the old idols is
true no less of the idols of the twentieth century. "They that make them
are like unto them." The soul is in a manner all things, and the idols
we create are built into the souls of our children; who learn more and
more to think of themselves as objects among objects; who grow hollower
and hollower. In the long run we shall not be able to save souls without
saving the appearances, and it is an error fraught with the most terrible
consequences to imagine that we shall. (SA 160-61)
In "The Evolution Complex" Barfield notes that
"If you wake up to find yourself in a darkened room, I think there's a
lot of point in finding out whether it is dark because there is no sunlight
outside, or because someone closed the shutters yesterday" (EC 9).1
The shutters in his metaphor are idolatry.
Opening the shutters is no simple matter however,
for they are not easily grasped. Though they have taken on the appearance
of matter, their origins are immaterial, and it to their spiritual origins
that we must turn if we expect to escape "dead thinking" and see the light.
As Barfield reminds us in the final words of "Speech,
Imagination and Reason," "The 'Satanic Mills,' which have arisen over England
since Blake's time, will never be thrust down
from their hideous tyranny, until those of which he actually sang--the
dead thinking of Newton,
and Hobbes--have been burst asunder from within"
|See in particular
Saving the Appearances,
and History, Guilt and Habit,
the quite similar metaphor concerning the discovery of idolatry from
Guilt, and Habit
I suppose the most important question for a prisoner is, whether
or not there is any way of escaping. . . . It sounds as if it ought to
be easy enough, where the prison in question is not made of steel and concrete
but only of mental habit. But it is not. Remember it is not just my mental
habit, or your mental habit. It is our mental habit. (HGH 72-73)