Religion and the Rebel, Part 12

Religion and the Rebel, Part 12

Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826 – 1900 ), Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund) 2014.79.10

Continuing with chapter three, Wilson makes a claim I don’t think I’ve ever heard before:

All man’s experience is emotional experience. Even the mathematician, plunged in his calculations, is undergoing emotional experience. His intellectual activity is accompanied by a pleasure and an excitement that is emotional, and it is this that makes him pursue mathematics. An electronic brain takes no pleasure in its calculating. All life is continual emotional experience.1

I tend to think this energy we experience when we are doing something we love is more than just emotional, but perhaps Wilson has a different meaning for “emotional” in mind. In cases such as this, I like to consult the etymological dictionary. “Emotional” has its origin in the Old French word, emouvoir, which mean “stir up;” also from the Latin word, emovere “move out, remove, agitate.”2 There is definitely a powerful energy that is stirred within one, at times, and that moves outward with great force. Emotion, as it turns out, is more than I thought it was. Many immature emotional experiences we have in youth are “just repetitive and teach us nothing new: jealousy, irritation, fear.”3 When one becomes more mature, these baser experiences can be better mitigated. Wisdom, Wilson tells us, brings this maturity, and provides “an ability to cut out certain distracting types of experience so as to be better able to concentrate on others.”4 There are experiences that are more important than others, and these latter “must then occupy all the attention.”5 Wilson claims that “each strong emotion reveals a new area of man’s being.”6 The deeper emotional experiences teach us about our true selves. “Freed from the bondage of the trivial and the immediate, man plunges into a world of new sensations and new self-discovery.”7

Wilson then turns to a discussion of the true meaning of education. Today, our culture tends to view education from a materialistic standpoint. All objects of study are categorized into very narrow specialties, each examined using the scientific method, even if the phenomenon being studied is not verifiable via the five senses. Wilson contrasts this view by saying, “Real education means existentialism, and existentialism means exploring one’s inner world scientifically. I believe Wilson uses the word, scientifically, in the sense of the Goethean idea of scientific inquiry, since he has already mentioned Goethe in the previous sentence: “This is the real meaning of the word education; the profoundest of all senses, in which Goethe uses it in Wilhelm Meister.”8

The spawn of materialism in our day, “Marxism, logical positivism, and the smirking Bertrand Russell type of rationalism” are “deadly” mindsets because they “make imprisonment in time, consciousness and personality…seem quite natural and inevitable.”9 These ideas have become the norm in our culture, therefore the Outsider “must raise the banner of a new existentialism, and make war” on them.10

The primary subject of this chapter, Blaise Pascal, fought against materialism in the posthumous publication of a partially finished work called Pensées. Wilson states, “He begins his argument from the same position that I began The Outsider: with the man who is obsessed by the search for truth. He writes: ‘I can approve only those who search groaning,’ anticipating Nietzsche, who was to write: ‘I love only what a man has written with his blood.'”11 Pascal has many of the opinions as previously covered Outsiders. He does, however, attempt to “posit the need for a redeemer.”12 “Like St. Paul, he has rejected the imperfection of the world, and immediately created the need for redemption,” which Wilson says Paul invented to create a world religion. Jesus himself had no desire to start a religion. He was merely showing mankind how to have an abundant life and greater awareness. Even though Pascal promotes the idea of Pauline redemption, he is still considered an Outsider, since he has offered a solution to the Outsider’s problem. Of course, in our day this solution “cannot pass muster,” Wilson writes.13 The next section demands the full quotation. There is stupendous power packed into the next two paragraphs:

And we are back again at the most fundamental of human problems. The Outsider has accepted the existence of God – that is, of a force working through human beings and through nature, of a purpose greater than the purpose of any individual conscious human personality. A little discipline of poetic insight, a little ‘mental travelling,’ can reveal the existence of levels of purpose that are deeper than our knowledge of ourselves. But the Outsider feels that evolution – man’s spiritual progress – depends upon a deepening of this insight, and constant discipline of intuition. What has this to do with accepting a historical saviour?

On the other hand, how is this belief to be turned into a religion which can be generally accepted? The Outsider is a sort of spiritual graduate who can be trusted to pursue his own researches; but the average man needs a nursery discipline, and a nursery simplification of his problems. In fact – and this we must agree, sounds most blasphemous of all – the average man needs to believe in a saviour as a child needs to believe in Santa Claus, and he must be assured of the existence of a saviour as the child must be assured of the existence of Santa Claus. The alternative will be a terrible impoverishment of his emotional life. A child has to be educated and he cannot be educated by working on the assumption that he is an adult. The problem we are facing is, in fact, a problem of education. Existentialism means the ability to grasp the meaning of life. The Outsider is a graduate of the school; his knowledge of life is more complex than the average man’s, just as Einstein’s knowledge of mathematics is more complex than a schoolboy’s.14

This is Colin Wilson at his existential best! The Outsider’s problem, “the most fundamental of human problems,”15 is one of consciousness, discipline, and will. Joining a church and quoting a creed will not solve the problem. There is, indeed, a force that is beyond all human understanding, that is working for the furtherance of man’s self-reliance, self-empowerment, and, yes, man’s godhood. This has nothing to do with the Pauline doctrine. Jesus himself quoted Psalms 82:6 and said, “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” He didn’t need Paul to come up with some different teaching. This is sufficient. The Force that Hermeticism calls The All, and that Meister Eckhart referred to as “The God beyond god,” desires that human beings become who they were meant to be. This is not a topic for the playground.

So, Wilson asks, how does the Outsider create a religion from this belief, one that will be accepted by the common man? It can only come through a gradual re-education of the masses. It is a matter of evolution, but not the Darwinian kind. Rather, it is “the slow struggle of the will to master life’s complexities.”16 I don’t think I believe it will ever come to pass among our species. I try to be optimistic, but it’s a very steep hill. I am of the opinion that a new human species with greater consciousness will need to supplant us, but I am hopeful for Homo sapiens.

As for Pascal, he was a great man of great intellect, even though he missed the mark on the answer to the Outsider’s problem. He was simply born too early. He hadn’t experienced the full extent of the materialistic worldview in his day. Wilson even says he may be “the most important Outsider,” since he was both a scientist and mathematician, but he possessed the worldview of an Outsider, albeit a pessimistic one. 17





Wilson, Colin. Religion and the Rebel. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1957.

Online Etymology Dictionary

  1. Religion and the Rebel, 191
  2. Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.
  7. Religion and the Rebel, 192.
  8. ibid.
  9. ibid.
  10. ibid.
  11. ibid.
  12. Religion and the Rebel, 194
  13. Religion and the Rebel, 195
  14. Religion and the Rebel, 194
  15. ibid.
  16. Religion and the Rebel, 195
  17. Religion and the Rebel, 196

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