Nevertheless, the nebulous nature of human consciousness should not serve as an excuse to deny the sorely needed shift in how people think and understand. Without this shift, humanity faces the prospect of being completely and, perhaps, irretrievably enslaved by the material world.
The biggest obstacles to a shift in consciousness are the simple matters of not knowing what it is and what it entails. At the most elementary level, a change in human consciousness involves a movement in how people think about and understand the world. This movement transforms previously held concepts about reality and recasts the metaphysical assumptions upon which these concepts had been structured. The result is a dramatic shift in thinking and understanding that propels a comprehensive restructuring of the ultimate nature of reality.
In Ressentiment, Max Scheler presents the dramatic shift in human consciousness Christianity brought to the world through its thinking and understanding of love. Before the advent of Christianity, Greek and Roman philosophers and poets classified love as a phenomenon that belonged to the domain of the senses. Classical consciousness defined love as a need or desire that could be easily fit within the questionable ancient division of human nature into "reason" and "sensuality". Though Scheler acknowledges that Classical consciousness did make distinctions among various types of love, he stresses that these distinctions were all underscored by a rational impulse indicating an upward yearning (editing and emphasis added):
All ancient philosophers, poets, and moralists agree that love is a striving, an aspiration of the “lower” toward the “higher,” the “unformed” toward the “formed,” the “un ὄν” towards the “ὄν,” “appearance” towards “essence,” “ignorance” towards “knowledge,” a “mean between fullness and privation,” as Plato says in the Symposium.
Thus in all human love relations, such as marriage or friendship, a distinction must be made between a “lover” and a “beloved,” and the latter is always nobler and more perfect. He is the model for the lover's being, willing, and acting. This conception, which grew from the relations of life in antiquity, finds its clearest expression in the numerous forms of Greek metaphysics.
Already Plato says: “We would not love if we were Gods.” For the most perfect form of being cannot know “aspiration” or “need.” Here love is only a road to something else, a “methodos.”
And according to Aristotle, in all things there is rooted an upward urge (an ’ορεγέσθαι and ‟εφίεσθαι) towards the deity, the Νο ς, the self-sufficient thinker who “moves” the world as “prime mover.” He does not move it as a being whose will and activity is directed toward the outside, but “as the beloved moves the lover” (Aristotle)—as it were attracting, enticing, and tempting it.
In this idea, with its unique sublimity, beauty, and ancient coolness, the essence of the ancient conception of love is raised into the absolute and boundless. The universe is a great chain of dynamic spiritual entities, of forms of being ranging from the “prima materia” up to man--a chain in which the lower always strives for and is attracted by the higher, which never turns back but aspires upward in its turn.
This process continues up to the deity, which itself does not love, but represents the eternally unmoving and unifying goal of all these aspirations of love.
After this explication of the ancient Greek and Roman concept of love, cap-stoned by diety that does not love but represents the eternally unmoving and unifying goal toward which all other love is aimed, Scheler procedes to delineate the Christian concept of love, which he places beyond the rational domain and describes as an entirely different direction of movement.
Let us compare this with the Christian conception. In that conception there takes place what might be called a reversal in the movement of love.
The Christian view boldly denies the Greek axiom that love is an aspiration of the lower towards the higher. On the contrary, now the criterion of love is that the nobler stoops to the vulgar, the healthy to the sick, the rich to the poor, the handsome to the ugly, the good and saintly to the bad and common, the Messiah to the sinners and publicans.
The Christian is not afraid, like the ancient, that he might lose something by doing so, that he might impair his own nobility. He acts in the peculiarly pious conviction that through this “condescension,” through this self-abasement and “self-renunciation” he gains the highest good and becomes equal to God.
The change in the notion of God and his fundamental relation to man and the world is not the cause, but the consequence of this reversal in the movement of love. God is no longer the eternal unmoving goal—like a star—for the love of all things, moving the world as “the beloved moves the lover.” Now the very essence of God is to love and serve.
Creating, willing, and acting are derived from these original qualities. The eternal “first mover” of the world is replaced by the “creator” who created it “out of love.”
Scheler utilizes the crucifixion to emphasize the vast chasm separating Classical Greek and Roman concepts of love from Christian concepts of love:
An event that is monstrous for the man of antiquity, that is absolutely paradoxical according to his axioms, is supposed to have taken place in Galilee: God spontaneously “descended” to man, became a servant, and died the bad servant‟s death on the cross!
Now the precept of loving good and hating evil, loving one‟s friend and hating one's enemy, becomes meaningless. There is no longer any “highest good” independent of and beyond the act and movement of love! Love itself is the highest of all goods! The summum bonum is no longer the value of a thing, but of an act, the value of love itself as love—not for its results and achievements.
Indeed, the achievements of love are only symbols and proofs of its presence in the person. And thus God himself becomes a “person” who has no “idea of the good,” no “form and order,” no Λόγος above him, but only below him—through his deed of love. He becomes a God who loves—for the man of antiquity something like a square circle, an “imperfect perfection.”
But there is another great innovation: in the Christian view, love is a non-sensuous act of the spirit (not a mere state of feeling, as for the moderns), but it is nevertheless not a striving and desiring, and even less a need.
These acts consume themselves in the realization of the desired goal. Love, however, grows in its action. And there are no longer any rational principles, any rules or justice, higher than love, independent of it and preceding it, which should guide its action and its distribution among men according to their value.
The cosmic shift in human consciousness that took place as Christianity spread through the Classical world becomes even more awe-inspiring when one realizes that many of the earliest Christians were in fact ancient Greeks and Romans. It becomes even more awe-inspiring when the eventual eclipsing of the Classical consciousness of love by the Christian thinking and understanding of love are taken into consideration.
Having outlined all of the above, it must be noted that the shift in consciousness centered upon the concept of love that occurred in the ancient world was fundamentally a change from one form of religious consciousness to another, higher form of religious consciousness. I point this out not to diminish the enormity of the change, but rather to stress that the shift itself occurred on a plane in which the reality of religion and the primacy of the spiritual was incontrovertible.
The shift in human consciousness we need today is an entirely different endeavor, for the change involves a movement away from a de-spiritualized consciousness and a simultaneous movement toward a re-spiritualized consciousness.
At first glance, this much-needed change in how we think about and understand the world appears impossible, but all it requires is a change in the direction of movement of our thinking and our understanding. Though this change in direction seems improbable at the collective level, it is completely achievable at the level of the individual.
And that's exactly where this much-needed and sorely overdue shift in human consciousness must begin.