Thursday, February 11, 2010

Peter Kingsley: A New Age Christian Hiding Under an Ancient Philosopher's Cloak

Peter Kingsley is in most ways fairly typical of the modern wannabe guru type. His "teachings" are nothing more than warmed-over garden-variety late 19th century Christian Esotericism with a little pseudo-Sufism and a dash of Nietzsche thrown in. However, his scholarly pretensions do, somewhat, distinguish Peter Kingsley from the likes of Eckhart Tolle & Co.

But Kingsley himself claims to be first and foremost a "mystic", and a scholar only secondarily. And he makes it clear that he has nothing but contempt for the entirety of the Western tradition of Classical scholarship, which he paranoiacly accuses of a "long tradition of altering the ancient Greek texts themselves to make them say what people have wanted them to say." (See his interviews linked to below.)

In fact, everything that Kingsley has to say is very easily summarized: "true" Western Civilization springs forth fully formed from the minds of Parmenides and Empedocles. But then, no sooner had it started, but just as suddenly Western Civilization was fiendishly betrayed by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other effete, degenerate "rationalists". Fortunately, and at long last, "we" can today reconnect with the long lost "roots" of "our culture" thanks to the miraculous Advent of the mind of Peter Kingsley.

Kingsley's breathtakingly megalomaniacal message is delivered with a straight face, usually seated (he dislikes podiums), and in measured tones by a soft spoken academic who writes books packed with footnotes. It's quite an act. And it has so far been very successful as these things go.

Who are Kingsley's fans and admirers? Let's look at the three interviews with Kingsley that he provides links to at his website. First there is a joint interview by Lorraine Kisly and Christopher Bamford. Kisly's own publications include a guidebook to the Lord's Prayer and at least two books that include the phrase "Christian Teachings" in the title. Christopher Bamford is one of the world's leading "Anthroposophists", an especially loopy and generally reactionary version of Christian Esotericism dating back to the 19th century.

These two good Christians, Kisly and Bamford, grovel before Kingsley, whose writings they praise as "gripping, urgent, unique, pioneering, courageous, original, challenging, learned, and enthralling."

The next, equally fawning, interview is by Jeff Munnis, who early in life felt a calling to the ministry, but opted for a career in Horticulture instead. But then he later relented and "recognized that his interest in the ministry had never really left him." He has since completed a Masters of Divinity is now a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Christ.

In the Munnis interview, Kingsley makes the ludicrous claim (repeated in the Lorimer interview below) that nearly all of Greek philsophy after Socrates amounts to a "charade right down to the present day." A charade that only the amazing Peter Kingsley has been able to see through. Ta da!

Finally there is a perfectly awful interview by David Lorimer. Lorimer is probably best known for his book Radical Prince, a 250+ page encomium praising that great modern philosopher, humanitarian, social visionary and spiritual thought-leader, Prince Charles. This book, by the way, is published by SteinerBooks, of which Christopher Bamford is Editor In Chief. It really is a small world, after all.

Lorimer begins his interview by breathlessly asking Kingsley "what first guided" him to "the fact that Plato had distorted ... the essence of Parmenides' teaching?" To which Kingsley answers: "Intuition."


But wait, there's more. If one goes to the "testimonials" for Kingsley's most recent book, Reality, the first of these is by none other than Eckhart Tolle himself, while the second is by the Grand Old Man of soft-core, sanitized, Christianized Perennialism, Huston Smith. The first "testimonial" for Kingsley's 1999 book, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, is by Margaret Starbird, author of The Feminine Face of Christianity, while the very next "testimonial" comes from Jacob Needleman, author of Lost Christianity.

But doesn't the above mostly amount to an argument based on "guilt by association"? That may be. But for Pagans who are interested in genuinely reconnecting with the spiritual traditions that Christianity has spent the last 17 centuries trying to extirpate, including the spiritual tradition of Philosophy, it is important to know just who and what Peter Kingsley really is.


SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

Right --- it's incredible how Christianity has managed to throw such a cloak over what is obvious, obvious, obvious. Most think of "philosophy" as some brain puzzle esoterica having nothing to do with anything, when the fact is that Plato alone represents an incredible flowering of the spiritual wisdom of the pagan religions! It's incredible to me that anyone can pick up for 6 bucks the best of Plato's writing in a small anthology, and have in one's hands the flower of the religiosity of ancient times, and yet most people don't bother, and even people who do bother to read either do so in a cursory way, or flatten it out into pure secularity.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

It really is sad how many of the people who have actually read a little Plato often know less about him than those who have read none!

Greg said...

Your commentary is profoundly misguided. That some thinkers with a Christian background admire Kingsley's work is hardly surprising in a culture that is still largely "christian." Your critique is so thin, so shallow, that it hardly deserves a response. Is Adyashanti a "closet Christian"? Pir Inayat Khan? Jacob Needleman? I suggest that you read Reality, but that would require concentration, elasticity of mind, courage, and deep reflection. I doubt that is your "cup of tea."

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Kingsley has chosen, and has openly declared his decision, to devote himself to disparaging one of the greatest spiritual traditions in human history, that of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato. And he has also chosen to make common cause with Muslims, Christians, and New Age blowhards. And on top of all that he is a toady of the Idiot Prince Charles.

And on top of all that, he is an über-guru wannabe and a megalomaniac of the first degree who claims to have uncovered a conspiracy that has held the human psyche in its thrall for two millennia. Now it would be one thing if he were to claim that about the totalitarian ideologies of Christianity and Islam, which actually have held a significant portion of the human psyche in chains for about two millennia, give or take. But to claim this about Plato? While playing footsie with the Monotheists? This cannot be explained either by mere insanity or moral depravity alone, but only by a combination of both in excessive quantities.

Otherwise I do not have any strong feelings about that subject.

deborah said...

And your background and training is...?

As the Crusaders continue to bomb and bury archaeology in the sand. But you can't bury it all forever.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

musredux: "And your background and training is...?"

I do not claim to be an "authority". But the fact is that what Kingsley says is contradicted by the vast majority of contemporary "experts" on classical philosophy. But I think most of those experts are approximately as full of shit as Kingsley is.

There is no substitute for thinking for onseself.

deborah said...

You to look to the historians. And actually read Kingsley. Start with Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition.

And earlier scholars: From the Preface, PARMENIDES AND EMPEDOCLES, The Fragments in Verse Tradition, by Stanley Lombardo:

The common view of the pre-Socratic philosophers is that they stand at the beginning of Greek (and therefore Western) rationalism and science. And so they do. But they also stood at the end of tradition, a life of the mind and the spirit that was intuitive and holistic. Men like Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides and Empedocles did not distinguish science from poetry or religious experience from philosophical understanding. They represent an older cultural type – in many way they resemble Siberian and American Indian shamans – that have disappeared from the Greek world in the classical period, and is perhaps not widely enough understood in our own time.

E.R.Dodds and others, following the lead of Swiss scholar Karl Meuli, have traced the outlines of a Greek shamanistic tradition that had contact with Asiatic shamanism in Scythia, was evidenced in the eastern Aegean rim and Crete, and crossed over to southern Italy in the sixth century B.C. with Pythagoras. Parmenides, from Elea in southern Italy, was in this line; and Empedocles, a Sicilian, was its last representative.

A shaman is trained to undertake hazardous spiritual journeys in order to exercise compassion and advance wisdom, and he often reports his experiences in the form of a song, chant, or poem. Parmenides’ poem closely resembles such a report, both in the details of the journey recounted in the prologue and in the substance of what the Goddess tells him, which is that the universe and our minds from a mutually committed whole. Dodds calls Empedocles’ fragments “the one first-hand source from which we can still form some notion of what A Greek shaman was really like” (The Greeks and the Irrational [1951], p 145). His understanding of the physical and the metaphysical universe was directed toward a personal transformation that enabled him to benefit others and realize his own liberation. Poetry was for both of them a natural, but practiced, means of expression. They were not philosophers who just happened to write in verse.

Alongside their poetic practice I think both Empedocles and Parmenides trained themselves in some kind of formal meditation practice, perhaps Pythagorean in origin, and that there are hints of what there was in the fragments. I have indicated in the Introductions what can be made of this. The historical record, scant at best for both Parmenides and Empedocles, is not helpful here. But their poetry exists; it can be pieced together still, and through the pieced vision we can understand something of their minds.

Anonymous said...

It seems most of the people here who are claiming that they have any idea whatsoever what Peter claims have failed to do one thing: take a look at the evidence, evaluate his scholarship from the articles and Kingsley's own bibliography and footnotes. Kingsley's work is profoundly well-reasoned, supremely documented (the footnotes alone in his most recent book are outstanding). Kingsley is bar-none the living expert on the pre-Socratics.

Anonymous said...

Here's a sample of Kingsley's bs-

PK...For example, many years ago I discovered that towns and cities and other places have their own genius loci as the Romans used to say--their own divine presence or governing deity. I actually experienced this for the first time in Cambridge, when she came to me just before I left the university there in the 1970s.

RW: Came to you? How? In a dream?

PK: No. I was sitting one afternoon on the lawn of my college, alongside King's College Chapel. There were other people around and suddenly she was just there: an incredibly glorious divine, feminine being. Nobody else could see her but she introduced herself to me, told me who she was. And what moved me more than anything was when she showed me that all the extraordinary human intelligence emanating from Cambridge University over the centuries was simply a blossoming, an expression, of her own divine intelligence