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Thinking in Opposites
An investigation of the nature of man
as revealed by the nature of thinking

by Paul Roubiczek

Part III:

Chapter 12


Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek Paul Roubiczek

The few examples of the interconnected opposites which we have discussed certainly suffice to make clear that the application of opposites transforms thinking into a constant activity. Space and time, by raising moral demands, have led us to necessity and freedom, which in their turn pointed to the One and the Many, for these alone can make sure that the absolute is embodied in such a way as the other opposites demand. Yet the final barrier of the Many has shown that, to be understood, even revelation must lead to such a constant activity. Truth and goodness and the truth of any revelation are confirmed by beauty, but, though each single experience of beauty is a final result, no such result can ever be more than one among many. The mere fact that, whatever result we arrive at, we are still confronted with its interconnected opposite makes it impossible to find any rest apart from the single experiences in which these opposites merge in an absolute value. This, however, is essential, not only because it gives to our thought, by forcing our attention again and again to the opposite facts and possibilities, a richness and fullness that can hardly be found otherwise, but also because these opposites have to lead to the unitary feeling which can only spring from ever renewed experiences. The knowledge that we have had such an experience may give us a deep feeling of a definite security, but even this will eventually vanish unless we experience the unitary feeling again.

We can see now how this feeling is awakened. The interconnected opposites force us to drive our thoughts into those opposite extremes which fully correspond to the division into external and and internal reality, and it is the correct experience of this division which makes us feel that we have touched upon absolute primary reality. The opposites must make us see external and internal reality at the same time, so that, stimulated by the tension between them, our feeling embraces the whole of reality.

We experience this feeling most clearly in beauty, when form and content (which have always helped us to understand this division best) come to a final agreement, but it is present in any experience of the absolute values. We must not forget that an investigation of thinking always forces us to divide what may be experienced together. Even the separate discussion of these opposites is up to a point artificial; we are hardly able, for instance, to experience truth without also feeling inner freedom and beauty, nor to realize goodness without feeling that we have recognized truth and experienced beauty. The experience of each such single opposition is sufficient to fulfil the task of these opposites, for it is the tension within the single pair of opposites which creates the unitary feeling. Nevertheless, it remains important to know the different oppositions, for, to create this tension, we have to see in each case which opposites truly correspond to the two realities. It is only half correct to say, 'beauty is truth, truth beauty' (Keats, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'.) because, though we probably experience the two together, they indicate two different ways of approaching the absolute, and it would blur the division into two realities to mix these up. So long as our attention is divided, or our thoughts do not force us to live through one definite contradiction with all its force and pain, but leave us free to neglect or escape it, the synthesis of feeling may still arise, but thinking, in this case, is no longer a help but a hindrance. Only the right opposition can help to make sure that we experience, not an intrusion of feeling, but its unity.

Even the interconnected opposites discovered by investigation may, for this reason, not yet be sufficient in themselves to secure the full experience of such a single pair of opposites. Because they can be discovered by thinking alone, they can also easily become abstract and purely formal; we may discover them without experiencing them. The abstract way of discovering them may also induce us to concentrate too much on their relationship and affinity. Knowledge of them, therefore, should encourage us to create further such opposites which are modelled on these examples, but which are based directly on our actual experience or on the revelation towards which the other interconnected opposites lead.

The oppositions which we have discussed show what is essential for all these opposites. We must not mix up the two realities, but drive our thought into those opposite extremes which become inevitable by the division of reality; we must have the courage to avoid all artificial unifications and to work out the two aspects of reality so clearly that we can express them by one single opposition. The concepts forming the interconnected opposites must not themselves be created by thinking; they have to refer to facts or conclusions which we cannot possibly deny. All this applies also to those interconnected opposites which are created by thinking, but these are different from the others in so far as they do not consist of fundamental concepts of the two realities, but of the external and internal aspects of the same object, action or event. We have to find, in each particular experience, those aspects which correspond to the two realities and to establish their opposition. We have to become aware of external and internal reality within the same unit and to work out this knowledge so clearly that we can see this fundamental opposition in that single unit. We can never completely transcend internal reality; but that we are appealing to it in the right way can be, and has to be, made sure by the knowledge that it partakes of external reality, for this alone guarantees that we are really laying hold on internal reality itself.

The reality which we actually experience is so pliable that it appears to a quite surprising degree to be determined by our approach; it seems to behave, so to speak, in accordance with what we expect from it. If we presuppose nothing but mechanical laws, we get a mechanical universe; if we presuppose evolution, everything sems to fall in with this idea; if we presuppose persons, and only if we do so, we get a world of persons; if we acknowledge absolute values, we also experience them. This confirms the predominance of internal reality where, as we have seen, anticipation is needed to arrive at any understanding at all. (Our approach to reality is thus of fundamental importance; as reality seems almost to 'give in' to our ideas, the mere way in which we approach it lays a great responsibility upon us.) To have a full experience, therefore, we must obviously start from an anticipation which does justice to both the world around us and the world within us, and we must try to experience them in such a way that we can control our anticipation. This can only be reliably achieved if we find, in each single experience, those interconnected opposites which represent the division into two realities.

That is is essential to support the interconnected opposites discovered as the basis of thinking by those created by it can be seen when we remember the opposition between absolute independence and absolute dependence which we have mentioned as connected with morals. (See Chapter 10, Section 1, paragraph 7.) Necessity and freedom can easily b taken for purely abstract concepts—for the external reign of mechanical laws and their absence inside internal reality—even when we try to explain morality. The external aspect of any real experience of freedom, however, is absolute independence from any outside influence, which entirely contradicts all our knowledge of external reality, and its internal aspect is absolute dependence, which entirely contradicts all abstract definition of freedom; we feel completely free from the compulsion of external necessity only when obeying an absolute necessity within us. (See H. H. Farmer, The Servant of the Word, p. 140.) As soon as we discover this opposition, therefore, we are forced to leave behind all preconceptions and abstractions; we make sure that the opposition between necessity and freedom is kept alive and that it deepens and clarifies our actual experience.

The importance of putting external and internal aspects into opposition can be recognized when we remember the age-old theological controversy about the relevance of faith and works. Whether theologians or not, we are bound to experience some such problem. So long as we toil to obey moral laws and try to put them into practice, we have not yet really experienced the realm of freedom, and it is only when we enter it, quite independently of our efforts or even in spite of them, that we are set free. What is more natural, in such a case, than to turn away from our previous efforts completely and to rely on this inner freedom alone? We are bound to fear that any conscious effort on our part will once more destroy it. Let the fruits come forth naturally and spontaneously; let us do nothing to endanger and falsify them by our intentions! Yet if we thus stop doing anything, we obviously kill that freedom again, for it can find expression only in action. It is perfectly true that it is faith which matters, for the external deed or success may spring from wrong motives; failure and suffering if they are grasped in the right faith may teach us the true meaning of freedom. However, faith remains linked with freedom, for we have no faith unless it is our own, nor can we be forced into true belief; but freedom has to be exercised to remain alive. The problem seems insoluble; so long as we emphasize the works alone we cannot help lessening the importance of faith; but when faith is emphasized alone, be it by St. Paul or Luther, it seems immediately necessary to add that this does not invite us to laziness nor to mere contemplation, but means that actions have to show that the fruits are ripening. Yet we cannot be active without aiming at works.

But is this problem not insoluble because we try to do what we must not do—namely to by-pass the fundamental opposition? When we consider this problem, we first introduce the internal conception of goodness; either faith alone is really good or the works are good in themselves. With faith external reality is completely excluded; with the works external facts enter, but they are not seen as a form of internal reality; any activity of a certain kind, whether or not it springs from the right motives or is fully experienced, is considered as good—that is, the external facts as such are mixed up with internal opposites. Frequently, moreover, success is regarded as reward and failure as punishment. All this makes any clear conception impossible. Would it not be a considerable help, to say the least, to establish faith and action as interconnected opposites? (We use the word 'action' and not 'works' because 'action' is the more fundamental concept, for there are no works which were not produced by action, but there are actions which do not produce works.)

Faith is based on that truth which we have distinguished from correct statements; on a truth, that is, which cannot be confirmed by external knowledge, but has to be believed, because it has to be experienced as an absolute value. (See Chapter 9, Section 1, paragraphs 3-12.) This truth can be neither grasped nor revealed once and for all; it has to be met in constantly renewed experiences. We have also seen that the only way of testing this truth is to put it into action; we can express, develop and confirm our faith, therefore, only by acting according to it. Moreover, because faith belongs to internal reality, we cannot simply state it and preserve it, nor develop it by some further abstract statements; it is only when we act according to it that we are able to give it those external forms which make internal reality more and more real, and only thus can we deepen it. Faith bears fruit because any living faith has to grow and to develop, and as it can only develop in the way just described, it forces us to give it external expression; it is this expression which proves that it is a living force and keeps it in being as such a force. The external aspect of faith, therefore, is action.

On the other hand, the internal aspect of this action, when linked with the search for truth, is the disclosure of it. It is true that we must not see faith as the effect of a cause; nor can we force ourselves into faith; it has to spring spontaneously from the realm of freedom. But if there is this link with our actions, the function of the aims which we have discussed is made to serve faith, for then it is faith which raises certain expectations which anticipate the future. (See Chapter 3, Section 2, paragraphs 16-19.) The result of our actions, whether success or failure, will therefore help us to understand how far these anticipations were right or wrong; when we confront the aims with our intentions, our faith will be confirmed and developed, or challenged and transformed. The external opposition—success or failure—will not be linked with internal opposites, for both can serve the same purpose, but the external action will be seen as the expression of our faith, as disclosing the fruits which our faith bears, and thus show us how far the faith we have conforms to, or deviates from, the actual facts. Their agreement or discrepancy will confront us with truth. To see faith as the internal aspect of action and action as the external aspect of faith—that is, to establish them as interconnected opposites—can thus help us to establish the right relationship between them.

Certainly, it is also possible that the results of our actions may rob us of our faith. But does not this failure to experience the absolute (which cannot be blamed on the absolute itself, as we have seen) only show that we do not completely realize the internal aspect of our actions and that we take the external results at their face value? Even the scope of this wrong reaction, however, is considerably narrowed when we see, at the same time, that action is also interconnected with suffering.

When I try fully to understand any one of my actions, I am bound to discover that its internal aspect is suffering. Once more it does not matte whether it leads to success or failure; by actively entering the realm of external reality, I produce the impact of its necessity upon me, to which I have to submit. This may take different forms; I see either that my actions have other consequences from those expected, or that these reveal, by confronting my intentions with their external results, characteristics, urges and reactions within me which I did not suspect. Both these discoveries are frequently painful and therefore I may struggle against this compulsion, and I may be successful; but my very success will depend on my submission to both external inevitability and my nature, on my establishing the right relationship between possible action and necessary—even if painful—restriction. I am bound to suffer in both meanings of the word; I cannot avoid remaining passive in front of certain necessities and compulsions and giving in to them, reacting as I am forced to, and by this I experience suffering, I am hurt, I feel pain. Both these meanings of the word are important; I have to see where I must give in and I have to experience it as a painful restriction of my freedom, even if it finally leads to success or joy, for I cannot possibly discover the true realm of freedom if I take everything for granted.

Even if I try to become a powerful man, I have to undergo the painful realization of my external powerlessness before I am able to see what power is within my reach, and I certainly must pay attention to this experience if I want to help others, so as to acquire the humility necessary for successful help. If I strive for power, the task of this suffering probably remains hidden; but when I accept the suffering and recognize in it the significant internal aspect of my actions, these actions are inevitably linked to my faith. I no longer look solely for the external aims towards which I am driving or driven; the impact of each of my steps upon myself can make itself felt; my passive, involuntary reactions and the feelings they awaken in me can be recognized; and it is thus that my external action can disclose its meaning to me, by its relationship to the anticipations based on my faith. For instance, I may concentrate entirely on a good action which thus forms the external aspect of my striving. Yet, even if I am fairly successful, am I not bound to suffer as soon as I am really confronted with the absolute value and forced to realize my own imperfections? If I resist my natural inclinations to pass over this feeling for the sake of the action, but recognize its significance, the suffering is bound to lead to a clearer experience and knowledge of the absolute and thus to develop and enhance my faith.

If, on the other hand, suffering is the external experience, if I suffer because I experience pain or failure or defeat or injustice or the suffering of others, the internal aspect of this suffering is action. I react to it; I feel, think and experience and inner urges arise; so long as there is suffering and not merely apathy, my whole being remains active, and I have to appreciate and to understand this inner activity to be able to give meaning to this suffering and to avoid apathy. The meaning of suffering, however, cannot but be related to faith, even if I try to deny any such meaning. I may suffer because there is so much evil in the world and because it seems so much more powerful than the good; I may try to convince myself that this existence of evil destroys the meaning of the good; the suffering, nevertheless, is bound to develop my sensitivity to goodness and to develop knowledge of it, especially if I know that it is this inner activity which has to confront the external experience of suffering. I may remain unable to decipher the meaning of all this external suffering; the inner activity awakened by it, rightly understood, will nevertheless strengthen my faith.

If we say that the interconnected opposite of faith is action, we mean, therefore, both action and suffering which cannot be separated, and this obviously contributes further to the solution of this problem, particularly as it is probably suffering which most frequently brings forth the right fruits.

The Christian revelation abounds in such oppositions, and here it becomes clear that it is essential to experience the opposition as such—that is, the external as well as the internal aspects. To mention once more the Cross—it is only when the external aspect of this event, the complete defeat, the terrible agony, the injustice, the horrible cruelty of man, his lust and his enjoyment of evil, and the unimaginable amount of suffering due to all these single elements, are felt in all their poignancy that the internal aspect can become completely obvious and acquire its full power and profundity. we have to understand what it means for Jesus to shout, 'God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me.' Or, to give another example—the beatitudes promise blessedness to those who are persecuted and reviled for righteiousness' sake and against whom all manner of evil shall be said falsely. How could the weight of this promise and the power of this spirit be understood unless we are really aware of, and fully feel, all the external suffering which is to be turned into joy?

Even when these opposites are not explicitly stated, it is left to us to look for such oppositions and to establish them, for only thus are we able to discern reliably what this revelation means. We have to understand that a revelation which discloses facts which we can neither grasp directly nor ever understand fully has to drive our thoughts into two opposite directions, so that, when we experience the opposite extremes, we also experience that unitary feeling which alone can make real for us, for the moment of this experience, the peace which passeth understanding. We have mentioned before the opposition between judgment and grace; (See Chapter 10, Section 1, paragraph 8.) there is also the similar problem of predestination. If God is all-knowing, our destinies must be known to Him from the beginning and cannot be further determined within the relative framework of space and time within which we have to live and to see our lives. Hence belief in predestination. But this belief, taken by itself, remains meaningless, for God cannot have saved 'man' as a kind of abstract generalization, but, in fact, saved only some and condemned others. Moreover, predestination cannot alter the opposite fact that, if our persons matter, our lives must needs be of consequence; they cannot, then, be completely determined, but our choices and deeds must have an influence. Predestination, in other words, cannot exclude freedom of will; and it is by this opposite that it acquires meaning. For it is in both these conclusions that we reach the furthest boundaries to which our thinking can penetrate, and we are meant to do so in order to experience what otherwise could not be expressed in our language at all.

Our understanding always depends on finding the right opposition. There is, to take one more example, the demand that we should not resist evil. There are passages supporting it and others contradicting it, but the comparison of these different passages hardly helps us to solve the problem raised by this command; if we try to assess their relative importance, we never find a way out of merely arbitrary decisions. Certainly, we should renounce the use of force and violence; even if exercised for the sake of love, they only prove that our love is not strong enough to work directly; 'loving humility' is undoubtedly the strongest power of all, (See Chapter 11, Section 2, subsection (b), paragraph 11.) and we should be able to rely on it. But can we allow evil to grow unresisted; must we not fight it, especially if it threatens others? Had not even Jesus to use force in the temple? Is the demand really clear in respect to wars? We are hardly able to give a definite answer to all such questions; we have to come to a decision on each single occasion. But it will be much easier to come to a satisfactory decision which transcends mere arbitrariness if we see the fundamental opposition which underlies these contradictory conclusions and if we are thus forced to face them again and again, without evading their contradiction.

We can observe here the constant activity of thinking which is needed. As this command concerns our actions, we have to see it in the light of necessity and freedom. So long as the realm of freedom has not become real within us, we have to apply laws, and laws include the negative; resistance, therefore, cannot be avoided, but it has to be transcended in the end. Yet this is not quite satisfactory, for how can it be transcended? Is not evil too powerful in the world ever to allow non-resistance? If we remain aware of this other extreme, we are driven on and probably see that our actions point also to their other interconnected opposite—faith. This helps us to elucidate the problem further, for the negative fight against evil obviously cannot become that expression of faith which we could call its fruit; this has to be positive. Non-resistance, therefore, leads to a clearer definition of the actions required by faith. We must not resist evil, for this would direct our actions towards it and thus falsify our inner activity; external actions are always determined by what exists, and if our attention is focused on the existence of evil, all our thoughts, feelings and urges are preoccupied with it. We have seen that the negative can entirely dominate internal reality. We must refrain from any external resistance if we are to be able to concentrate on the realization of the good. But what about other people? We cannot expect a complete justification of non-resistance in external terms, for faith must transcend the relationship between cause and effect; the results of our behaviour depend, not on us, but on grace. Yet does this willingness to suffer evil, especially when others are concerned, really contribute to our understanding of grace? It does so if we do not turn away from this suffering, but experience it, for thus we see the interconnection between action and suffering which shows us the fundamental opposition. Even non-resistance must not become an external aim, for then it becomes a weapon of resistance which once more dominates all our endeavours; just like suffering, it has to be seen as the external aspect of inner action. It is the tension between the external non-resistance which seems to allow evil grow unhindered and our burning desire to strive for the realization of the good—together with the suffering caused by this tension—which force us to make the good completely real within ourselves and thus gradually enable us to replace the use of force by the forceful appeal of loving humility.

Certainly, we are unable to fulfill this demand completely; we are too weak to exclude resistance and compulsion entirely. But if we put these two aspects of non-resistance into a direct and definite opposition, we shall gradually free love and grace from all easy sentimental falsifications. If our actions are determined by love, non-resistance and suffering must be their external aspects, for love cannot be expressed by self-defence, by destruction, by negative endeavours. If we rely on grace, we must have complete trust, which again is bound to have the same external aspect; we must trust that the right deed will have the right consequence, even if external reality seems to contradict this belief and thus causes us to suffer. We cannot avoid suffering by relying on external actions, but must see that external suffering—which again is not an end in itself—remains interconnected with internal activity. Non-resistance has to be understood as purely negative in external reality and yet, at the same time, as the most painful and exacting demand upon ourselves.

The application of these opposites also shows, therefore, that revelation is not concerned with some abstract or abstruse 'religious' problems which do not matter to us, and that it is not simply telling us things which we can neither understand nor do. It is based throughout upon experiences which we continually have, and although, of course, it also transcends them, it has to be related to them, for only thus can it reveal itself to us. But we have also to pay attention to these experiences and to understand them. This will be much easier when we know how to find the right oppositions and how to apply them, for if we apply them correctly we finally arrive at the interconnected opposites which help us to experience that unitary feeling which confronts us with the absolute.

These opposites also make it clear whether or not the necessary tension is really reached, for if we succeed in applying them correctly, we are confirmed in this by meeting the absolute in the experience of an absolute value. There is hardly any awareness of truth more acute than that experience in confronting judgment and grace, or the two aspects of the Cross, or in opposing either predestination or fate to freedom, if we really succeed in confronting them as opposite and utterly incompatible extremes. Similarly, the opposition between faith and action, between action and suffering, or that between external non-resistance and the inner activity pressing for love, lead to the greatest sensitivity for, and the fullest realization of, that goodness which transcends all moral laws. A man whose love is based on the full awareness of these oppositions will certainly appear beautiful to us; and is not the opposition between 'the starry heaven above' and 'the moral law within' so convincing because it is very beautiful?

Need it be said once more that all such achievements will only be given to us in rare moments of insight and illumination, and they will be given to us, not caused by our endeavours? But the way towards them is indicated and opened by this way of thinking, and though thinking may not finally help us nor be needed in the end, even failure on this way, or staying in the right kind of uncertainty, is more helpful and more rewarding than any neat unitary system of thought or any revelation which is taken as disclosing dead external metaphysical knowledge. Because these moments are given to us, we cannot fight our way to fulfilment; we have to be led there. But we must be ready to receive. We cannot open the door, but we must knock. Thinking is neither the most nor the least important of our endeavours, yet it has been as a result of wrong thinking, after all, that those layers of our existence which we have tried to uncover in this investigation have been buried more and more deeply during the last few centuries.

It is true that the task of philosophy, once we agree that it leads to a constant activity without itself producing final results, may appear much more modest than before. But it will also be more fruitful, for instead of attempting the impossible and thus distorting our lives, it will lead in the right direction; it will awake readiness to believe and provide tests for what we may believe. Both are equally important. The recent centuries have erected enormous barriers against any faith, but we obviously need some kind of belief, for we cannot know the absolute as such; we have seen that even the sciences accept presuppositions which have to be believed. If, however, we cannot dispense with belief, what can be more important than to be able to distinguish between right and wrong belief? The most absurd and disastrous teachings, as our age has shown, are believed most fervently; and faith, therefore, can be seen as meaningless so long as we remain unable to counter errors in this sphere. We must be able to stop the intrusion of feeling which always supports the error; we must become able to show the correct way towards that unitary feeling by which alone we can reach and grasp the unity between ourselves and the whole of the universe, for which we cannot help striving.

These indications may be sufficient to give a clear direction to the work which has to be done and to which this book is only a first introduction—to show that, to distinguish between external and internal reality, we should develop the power of thinking inopposites. This will enable us to discover and to create those fundamental interconnected oppositions which, by leading to a constant activity and by helping us to experience the true meaning of existence, make thinking contribute essentially to a full and complete life, lived in accordance with the absolute primary reality or, as we may probably say now without falsifying the results of this investigation, lived in accordance with the personal will of God.

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back to beginning of this Chapter