East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 7, No. 4, Fall 1999, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
The Occult in Christian Perspective

Nikolai Berdiaev

Editor's Note:  Renowned Russian thinker Nikolai Berdiaev (1874-1948), exiled to the West by the Bolsheviks in 1922, provides insight on the occult that is as penetrating today as it was when first published in 1916.

Today, occultism, a secret subterranean river in world culture, has become popular, is attracting great superficial interest, and is in danger of becoming stylish.  Theosophy, now approaching the wider masses, is popularizing occult doctrines, mostly those of the East.  Indian occultism is the most acceptable.  Materialistic Europe, having betrayed the faith of  Christ, finds it easy to accept Eastern spiritualism.  It is a strange and terrible thing to say, but Christianity is becoming more foreign and less acceptable to the modern mind of Christian Europe than Buddhism.  The popularization of occult doctrines is of enormous symptomatic significance for our time.  The way of positivism and rationalism, along which modern man has traveled, has already shown its terrible fruits, and man now yearns for a return to his secret and pristine sources.  Theosophy wishes to bring modern man to mysticism and religion with no sacrifice.  Theosophy is afraid of frightening modern man, drunk with the spirit of extreme self-assertion, having lost his capacity for sacrifice and renunciation.

Occultism:  A Symptom of Decomposition and Atomization
Today, occultism, in its deepest manifestations (for example in Rudolf Steiner) is a grave symptom of decomposition and atomization.  In occultism, there seems to be neither freedom nor meaning nor light at the beginning of the way.  Man must proceed in the dark, climb an endless darkened stairway on which no single merciful ray of light falls.  Occult knowledge is somehow not an active process of giving meaning.  For Steiner's occult science, the question remains finally without an answer--is there a meaning in the world process, and, if so, what is that meaning? Man does not stand against cosmic forces as a god-like substantial being, bringing meaning into the world process--man is the passive tool of cosmic forces, and ought to abandon himself to the atomizing cosmic wind.  Occultism knows the mystery of the cosmos, but without the mystery of God or of Christ, without the Logos, and without primordial meaningfulness. God is very far off in occultism, more distant, even, than in churchly Christianity.  There is no immediate revelation of God in the soul. The soul's wandering begins without God, without a religious revelation of meaning.  Man is armed, he is given sword and shield, but he is not told for the sake of whom or what he should march into battle.

Darkness and Light
Through Christ the Redeemer naturalistic evolution of the soul in darkness is ended; the law of Karma is replaced by the free grace of love.  In occultism, the soul is still unredeemed; its sufferings are without either grace or light.  It is as though the way of occultism was made for some unloved stepchildren of God.  And there is no end to the dark corridors and steep dark stairways.

Excerpt reprinted from Nicolas Berdyaev, The Meaning of the Creative Act (New York:  Harper and Brothers, 1954), 310-14.  Originally published as Smysl tvorchestva (Moscow:  G.A. Lemand and S.I. Sakharova, 1916).  See also http://members.xoom.com/dirkk/berdyaev/.

Nikolai Berdiaev, "The Occult in Christian Perspective," East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Fall 1999), 11.

Resource Note

Nikon, Archimandrite, ed.  Okkultizm v svete khristianskoi istiny [Occultism in the Light of Christian Truth]. Kyiv:  Informatsionno-Izdatelskii Tsentr Ukrainskii Pravoslavnoi Tserkvi, 1998. Reviewed by Olga Loukmanova.  64 pp.

In the current climate of increased public interest in occultism and Eastern spirituality, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has produced a booklet raising warnings against such phenomena.  Subjects covered include hypnosis, extrasensory perception, parapsychology, UFOs, witchcraft, fortune telling, magic, bioenergy, reincarnation, and Karma.  Concluding chapters give quite negative assessments of television and computer technologies as spiritually harmful, no matter how they are used.  Most of the essays, however, are devoted to a description of Theosophy, its doctrines, history, and development.  The lives and views of theosophical leaders (M. Blavatsky, M. Steiner, A. Klizovskii) are also discussed at some length.  A useful starting point for those unfamiliar with Theosophy, the book clearly outlines its main teachings, providing objections to them in  light of the Bible.  It also points out that Theosophy can take on the outward appearance of Christianity and may employ Christian language and symbols.

While the booklet provides biblical explanations for the incompatibility between theosophic, New Age spirituality and Christianity, it unfairly characterizes Baptists and Adventists as practitioners of the occult.  Unfortunately, this helpful Orthodox treatment of occultism expresses unqualified hostility toward all non-Orthodox movements.  The term occultism is used with insufficient precision.

Resource Note, East-West Church & Ministry Report 7 (Fall 1999), 11.

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© 1999 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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