Was Rudolf Steiner an Atheist?

Submitted by Tom Last on Wed, 05/19/2010 - 6:05pm.

This is a video comparing Atheist Life vs Religious Life. According to this description of Atheism, Rudolf Steiner seems like he would qualify as an Atheist, if you compare Atheism with Steiner's core principles found in his Philosophy of Freedom. Steiner describes a free human being as a free thinker who expresses his own free morality according to what seems appropriate in each case without being bound to any moral codes or conduct dictated by a god or other authority figure. Sounds like Atheism.

In his first book, Goethean Science, Steiner said this: What the religions call God, this we call, on the basis of our epistemological studies: the idea. This "idea" is arrived at by scientific research using the scientific method on a deeper level than is normally done. Atheists support the scientific method over belief systems. There may be very little if anything an Atheist could reject within the Philosophy of Freedom according to their core principles. The religious would certainly have to condemn Steiner's philosophy or accept that they are only an intermediary step for some, to be left behind at a certain point on the path to freedom.


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opps? - steiner is not any kind of atheist !!!


Steiner consider atheism to be a kind of spiritual illness, or mental illness, because it denies the self-evident nature of the own I.

I thought Steiner's first book was: A Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception.   Was I in error?  In this book he writes as follows, in the chapter Human Freedom, itself in the section The Spiritual, or Cultural Sciences: 

"Man is not behaving in acordance with the purposes of the Guiding Power of the world when he investigates one or another of His commandments, but when he behaves in  accordance with his own insight.  For in him the Guiding Power of the world manifests Himself.  He does not live as Will somewherer outside of man; He has renounced his own will in order that all might depend upon the will of man.  If man is to be enabled to become his own lawgiver, all thought about world-determinations outside of man must be abandoned."

The "caps" in the text are all according to Steiner.  This suggests Steiner clearly recognizes the existence of the Father, coupled with the "idea" that the Father has renounced His own Will in the Creation in order for man to be completely free, even as regards morality.  When this question of what is meant here is contemplated in the living thinking a great deal of other detail emerges.

What the video notices, rightly, is that the "idea" of God current today is not very rational.  This common "idea' is not the only "idea" one can have about God.  Not all religious act or think in the way this video describes.  The arguments of "atheists" usually goes at the intellectually weakest forms of religious practice.   One the basis of Sam Harris's recent TED lecture on science and morality, I wrote the following, which will soon be in video form as well on YouTube: "Sam Harris, and humanity's moral future": http://ipwebdev.com/hermit/samh23x.html

The video is really an immature (childish) discussion of the various issues involved.   The questions Steiner answers are not really the questions answered in the video, because the psychological-spiritual problems in the video are very superficial, while Steiner's answers in PoF go very deep into our human nature.  I  provided some introductory details in my essay.  There is whole literature that the new atheists ignore, for these questions that they approach is not new.

It really is amazing, and deeply obnoxious, the way the religious life is mis-represented in this video.   The thinking of the new atheists is shallow in the extreme, and not worth being compared to Steiner at all.

As I have pointed out frequently, we come upon an interesting and quite important problem for our development, that is pointed out by Steiner in the last sentence of the original Preface to PoF: "One must be able to confront an idea and experience it, otherwise one will fall into its bondage."  There is in the mind, to objective observation, a hierarchy of experiences consistent with Steiner's observations in PoF: the mental picture; the generalized concept; the pure concept; and, the idea. 

In Occult Science, Steiner describes PoF as leading to spiritual experience, but of a nature such that instead of coming to spiritual research (Beings), the thinking finds itself awake in what he calls there "the thought world".   Steiner certainly knew directly higher Beings.  The relationship between higher Beings and "ideas" is that that the former are fully realized, just as is our own I, while the latter(ideas)  are best artistically described as the ethereal garments of Beings.   The Beings clothe themselves in "ideas", as a mediating ethereal substance, in between our I and their true nature.    This is necessary because until we ourselves fully come to our own true nature, we cannot stand on our own within these Beings without their active Grace as a support.

The main thing the new atheists do, in my view, is to not appreciate true moral teaching such as is in the Sermon on the Mount.   To learn to appreciate in practice the teaching about judgment and the mote and the beam wakes one up, within the world that PoF approaches from another direction, in a very dynamic way. 

To suggest Steiner is similar in kind in his thinking to the new atheists - this I cannot comprehend at all.


If god has renounced his own will...

If Steiner said: He (god) has renounced his own will in order that all might depend upon the will of man, doesn't that sound like a form of Atheism? God exists, but handed the creation over to humankind puts the responsibility on each indiviual human which I think is what the Atheists view is really representing.

I don't think an Atheists can object to the existence of a real spiritual world. They object to fantasy reality which is the basis of religion and other belief systems. I would say that the modern Atheists have come around to Steiner's view rather than vise versa.

we can all agree

The one thing that is without doubt.  The man who wrote the Philosophy of Freedom would know implicitly that a free man can just as easily renounce the notion of "God" as accept it.  Only the man bound by an externalized "idea" would infer meaning upon learning a man was an "atheist".  This is also one facet of what sets PoF apart from most texts aiming "at" the core of what is Human. 

not sure what you mean Jeffrey

"Notions", as it were could be anything, even fantasy.  Language is implicitly maleable.  What you wrote makes no sense to me at all - a lot of words, but I am at a loss to find any meaning that relates to what I wrote.

























My point is more narrow,

My point is more narrow, which is why you probably had trouble relating it to the meat of your text.  Sam Harris deserves many criticisms relating to his logic, however he has bravely taken his shots at the new atheists in his harsh critique of their insistance that they define themselves a atheists.  He has has taken loads of shit for his complements regarding research into reincarnation.  Not to mention that he has all but acknowledged that the fundamental source of consciousness is most likely of a non-material nature.  He's more complicated than many people let him. Some of that is his fault for getting too carried away by an idea that he's gnawing upon. But, hey, I think the same goes for some of the better Anthroposophical writers.  But the problem is of course that the person who goes too far (gets a little too mean or obnoxious or preachy) is always the one who can justify it. 


 Before he decided to teach about Ancient Saturn and hierarchies of Spiritual Beings, one can see very clearly that Steiner put absolutely no stock in any sort of atheism/theism dichotomy.  In fact his comments regarding atheism as an illness need to be taken in the same context as when he says he'd rather live in a world filled with creative materialists than uncreative anthroposophists.  In that sense, Steiner's meaning of "atheism" has nothing to do with what one says about the existence of a God or spiritual world.  When it comes to "atheism" as a sign of unhealth, Steiner was also characterizing a dogmatic or lazy Christian as well.   You weren't doing this, Joel, but I've heard so many anthrosophists quote the "atheism is an illness" comments as if he was talking about atheism in the literal, or I should say, the conventional sense. 


I have been away from Steiner's texts for a while because I've been immersed in my dissertation writing. In the mean time I have been working with some simple word meditations of Steiner that I use as a break from my day to get back to some semblance of centeredness. I also take time as i walk about campus to pay careful attention to how I'm putting my thoughts together and am beginning to find this a fun activity.

I consider myself a "Christian" first and foremost. For me this means that I can find something of value even in the Catholic Mass, and it seems to be more than just a childish fantasy. I have even found I have some common ground from which to speak to my evangelical sister and brother in law. I used to look down with pride on their brand of Christianity, imaginging them to be completely deluded, but I realize from their witnessing that they have also been touched by something higher that is a source of guidance and consolation in their lives. I respect what they've been able to find through their devotion to prayer.

I have noticed two poles in spiritual thinking and my hypothesis is that the healthy way is in the middle. One pole is what I hear from some in the Church and from evangelical sources -- that one should rely totally on the power of Christ, that we are nothing in ourselves, that we must never "rely upon our own understanding," and that all power comes from the grace of God as a free gift, not for any work or effort we do. The other pole seems to come from the atheists and also from people who are really into a spiritual practice like meditation -- that it's "all up to us," that we have to do all the work ourselves, that we take 100% responsibility for our lives.

What I'm beginning to sense is that the best solution is to think about it as cooperation -- I have to be active and make my own efforts at growth, and that means putting my own will into my practice, but I also invite Christ in to work with me. When it works I'm given a strength and a lessening of my burdens that seems to come from "oustside" and it seems to be because I've allowed myself to overcome my inner passivity, and then become receptive to God's help.

During Lent I heard a sermon of sorts by a wonderfully alive nun at our church who spoke of the need for a two-way relationship with God -- we make the effort to direct our love and our thinking towards God (activity) and then let go of that and receive the love and thinking that God is sending toward us. God, she argued, wants to send us "gifts." I would argue the atheist and someone who tries to be totally self-sufficient cut themselves off from these "gifts."