Ontologies of Work (capitalism) and Play (panpsychism)

Now that the Pluralism Wars have died down, each camp having dug itself in for the winter, maybe its time to change the subject. Let’s talk about David Graeber’s recent article in The Baffler “What’s the Point if We Can’t Have Fun?” He makes the radical (or not so radical?) move of taking play seriously, not only in economics, but in biology and cosmology. What happens when we take play seriously? It becomes apparent that the economy is not composed of rational actors/intelligent designers competing with one another in a brutal state of nature for raw materials. That the biosphere is not just “red tooth and claw” but endosymbiotic: all living things share their bodies with others. We live in and on one other. We eat each other. “Life is robbery,” as Whitehead put it. But why all the carnage if our sensitive existence as living organisms wasn’t somehow worth the pain? Natural selection plays a role in evolution (=death as the judge of which mutations are beneficial and which are not), but so does sexual selection (=eros as the judge of which mutations are beautiful and which are not). We coexist together today because of the ways we have enjoyed coexisting yesterday. Evolution is not a miserly profit calculator; nature is exuberant and wasteful in its transactions (as Bataille taught us). Graeber is asking us to assume for a moment that Blake was right and Newton was wrong: the energy of the universe is not blind matter but “Eternal Delight.”

Steven Shaviro (author of Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics) had nothing but approval for Graeber’s playful proposal of a “principal of ludic freedom.” Shaviro is himself a panpsychist of sorts, though he credits Graeber with helping him zero in on the problem he has with information theories of panpsychism (e.g., Tononi and Chalmers):

I think that “cognition” and “information” have become way overrated in recent discourse, and that sentience needs to be seen first of all as affective (or as involving “feeling” in Whitehead’s sense) before it is seen as cognitive or informational. Affect or feeling both precedes and exceeds cognition or information, in the same way that play, in Graeber’s formulation, precedes and exceeds utility maximalization. What clicks for me especially in Graeber’s formulation is the way that “the free exercise of an entity’s most complex powers or capacities” necessarily involves energetics as well as informatics. Sentience as a power or capacity must thus also be understood in energetic terms rather than only informatic ones (and this is for me precisely where the panpsychist leanings of Chalmers and Tononi need to be supplemented).

Speaking of panpsychist energetics, I posed a related question a few weeks ago about “thermopolitics.” It seems to me that some form of panpsychist ontology is not only true, but that the process theology it entails (here is a Bible-friendly variant) is also perhaps the the most practical and psychologically effective way to motivate modern civilization to ecologize before it’s too late.

Compare the panpsychist theory/practice of a ludic universe with the machine-world of Neil Savage’s blog article “Artificial Emotions”. Savage suggests that human-like robots capable of feeling and emoting are right around the corner. In order to make such a bold technological claim, Savage first has to scientistically reduce the human psyche to a computer program:

Special and indecipherable, except by us—our whims and fancies are what makes us human. But we may be wrong in our thinking. Far from being some inexplicable, ethereal quality of humanity, emotions may be nothing more than an autonomic response to changes in our environment, software programmed into our biological hardware by evolution as a survival response.

What, pray, is an “environmental change” if not a feeling in some living organism’s experiential field? What is an “environment” in the first place, if not other responsible (i.e., experiential) organisms? Savage’s “software/hardware” trope just re-inscribes the same old Cartesian dualism between mind or cognition and dead extended matter. It seems to me that this sort of eliminativist theory of human consciousness, aside from being ontologically false, functions politically as an apology for capitalist social relations. It asks us to believe that life is brutal and that we are all just cogs in the machine toiling to get a little extra before we rot, that life on earth has always been about competition in the marketplace where the only quasi-justice available comes in the form of a mythical invisible hand/natural selector deciding who wins and who loses.

Imagining the Future with Owen Barfield: Towards a Participatory Turn

English: Photo of Owen Barfield


I’ve been reading Owen Barfield‘s recently republished philosophical novella Unancestral Voice (1967, 2010). Like many of his books, its aim is to make the esotericism of Rudolf Steiner more digestible to a contemporary, or at least late 20th century, audience. Barfield begins by setting the late industrial scene ~1967, situating us within the toxic detritus of a decaying civilization we have by 2012 come to know all too well. Society is crumbling, tearing apart at the seams that once used to bind the generations together in pursuit of a common thread. The young no longer trust the old, and so they rebel against every established authority to secure the as yet empty freedom of mere negation. “Generally speaking,” says Steiner, “people are better able to find concepts for the existing world than to evolve productively, out of their imagination, the not-yet-existing actions of the future.” It is easy, in other words, to either affirm or reject the dominant world-picture, but rather difficult to bring forth an entirely new one out of the smoldering ashes of the old. What the world needs now are poets more than voters; citizen-participants at play in an emerging planetary imagination more than wage-slaves at work in the Satanic mills of global capitalism. The #Occupy movement is a hopeful sign that the young no longer seek freedom from authority, but freedom to be authors themselves.

What Steiner, and Barfield after him, sought to communicate to the world was not simply the need for self-expression. The creation of a new world is not meant to be the total rejection of the past in favor of the whims of the passing moment. There is a power higher than the fancy of the private ego that must be tapped to renew our civilization. The universe, in both its historical and natural guises, is at its roots a process of perpetual transformation. Old structures die and are reborn anew; and yet, if the natural history of the universe suggests a true transformation, then something, some agent, must be weaving together the entire process from the inside out. Otherwise, we are not dealing with transformation, but with mere substitution. This agent, capable of passing through the threshold of death again and again to bring forth “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful” (as Darwin puts it in the surprisingly theological closing lines of his On the Origin of Species), is the common source of both cosmos and consciousness, of both nature and culture: it is the Logos, the Christ.

Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Keats Fall of Hyperion are both examples of the the Logos at work within the soul, there shaping the organs of spirit necessary to perceive the new earth and in so doing redeem humanity. Poetry, after the Romantics, became Bildung, a process of self-formation and spiritual education brought about by the secret power of Imagination. Keats called this process soul-making, while Blake called the Imagination “the divine body of the lord Jesus, blessed forever [...] He is the only God…And so am I and so are you.”

“The transforming agent in nature,” writes Barfield, “is also the ultimate energy that stirs in the dark depths of [our] own will” (p. 151). As Wordsworth put it in book 6 of The Prelude:

Imagination–here the Power so called
Through sad incompetence of human speech,
That awful Power rose from the mind’s abyss
Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,
At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;
Halted without an effort to break through;
But to my conscious soul I now can say–
“I recognise thy glory:” in such strength
Of usurpation, when the light of sense
Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
There harbours; whether we be young or old,
Our destiny, our being’s heart and home,
Is with infinitude, and only there;
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
Under such banners militant, the soul
Seeks for no trophies, struggles for no spoils
That may attest her prowess, blest in thoughts
That are their own perfection and reward,
Strong in herself and in beatitude
That hides her, like the mighty flood of Nile
Poured from his fount of Abyssinian clouds
To fertilise the whole Egyptian plain.


In the final chapters of Unancestral Voice, Barfield discusses the doctrine of Filioque emerging out of the Council of Constantinople (360 CE). The doctrine effectively denied the human soul “any participation in the creative spirit that informed the world of nature” (p. 198). Barfield places much blame upon this doctrine, established in a time when authority still weighed heavily on the hearts of Christians, for the social and ecological alienation that would later befall humanity. Humanity–”severed from the start from every link with the world around it, except the link through sense-perception, set apart from and outside of the inner being of the world that it was struggling to know”–could do nothing but build abstract models of a mechanistic universe (ibid.). With the Quantum Revolution of the early 20th century, a physical science long based on model building met its limits. Quantum events, which had been successfully described mathematically, were impossible to model physically, since they seemed to disobey the classical laws holding true of spatiotemporal happenings in the sensory world. The electron, for example, is paradoxically conceived of both as a mathematical point occupying no space at all and as a wave-function occupying the whole of space at once. The supersensible power of Imagination had been tapped into by the introverted Romantic poets more than a century before quantum physics, but now it seems this power needs to be extended beyond the self and into nature. The old doctrine that alienated the human soul from its body, itself part of a supposedly soullness nature, must be overcome if post-quantum science is to continue to generate knowledge as easily as it has continued to generate technology. What has physics to learn from the likes of William Blake?

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Following the physicist David Bohm, Barfield suggests that science must move past the admittedly useful but deceptively abstract Cartesian coordinate plane, since it has come to distort our natural perception of space-time, not as a mere neutral extension, but as a living topological scheme where inside and outside, above and below, before and after, etc., are each qualitatively distinct.

“Our habit of beginning, as it were, with space and time, as if they were existents, and then planting a number of objects in them, may be traceable to the Cartesian innovation. Whereas it would perhaps be possible to begin with the process itself–in this case the structural process–and look at the order of events, as it were, from their own point of view. We should then perhaps find that the relation between structure and space is reciprocal and that it is not the inevitable nature of our minds, but the Cartesian abstraction, that makes us find the notion of space without structure less absurd than the notion of structure without space” (p. 178).

Space without structure, the neutral and soulless vacuum of classical physics, must be replaced by what can be called for now the “negative” space of Imagination. The inner organizing power responsible for threading the endless forms of cosmogenesis together is “inner” as mind is interior to matter, not as the flesh of an orange is interior to its rind. Barfield sums up this new doctrine thusly: “interior is anterior.” Quantum phenomena are the very edge of the physical domain; classical physics can penetrate no further. But an imaginative science can find in the limit of the physical world the doorway to a spiritual world. What could the source of the “complex interacting rhythms of energy of which we now find that the physical universe consists” be other than “a system of non-spatial relationships between hierarchies of energetic beings?”

This would imply, Barfield continues, that we not think of these beings, but begin, instead, to think their activity itself. “Perhaps it will involve so thinking that their energy, transformed, becomes our thought” (p. 194).
This sort of transformation of our thinking is precisely what the participatory paradigm aims to secure. I’m taking a course with the editors of The Participatory Turn (2008), Jorge Ferrer and Jacob Sherman, this semester, and so the ideas explored above will continue to develop in the coming months. Stay tuned….

Remembering Creation: Towards a Christian Ecosophy

Remembering Creation:

Towards a Christian Ecosophy

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun by William Blake

“The Lord was born with me [Wisdom] at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth…Then I was beside Him, as a master artist, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in the world, His earth, and having my delight in the sons of men.” -Proverbs 8:22-31

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image…so that they may rule…’ And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’…And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”-Genesis 1:26-31

“I say that man must be serious with the serious. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything, and that is the best part of him…What, then, is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play.”  -Plato, Laws

“He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio sees himself only. Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.” -William Blake, There Is No Natural Religion

“The life of God and divine wisdom…can…be spoken of as love disporting with itself; but this idea falls into edification, and even sinks into insipidity, if it lacks the seriousness, the suffering, the patience, and the labour of the negative.” -G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit


The epigraphs quoted at the start of this essay are meant to remind my reader of the meaning of life and the reason given for the creation of the world by the religions of the West. God creates and maintains the universe because He delights in doing so, and our role as His most imaginative creatures is to take seriously His love of play by organizing our lives, and the life of all creation, accordingly. To be made in the image of God is not merely to be capable of thinking His plan after Him, but to be co-creator with Christ of the Kingdom, on earth, as it is in heaven.

In our secular age, when the hands of humans are reshaping the earth to their liking, it has become difficult for us to read of the ways of our ancestors without incredulity. Their prophecies of God’s gift of grace do not in any way cohere with the profiting and purchasing that constitutes our everyday labors. Their way of speaking with and about the universe no longer make sense to the modern mind. Our eyes can no longer see, nor our hearts hear, the logic with which the ancients weaved the world.

This ignorance of the old ways has grown alongside the rise of a new kind of knowledge. Modern science continues to reorient humanity’s understanding of and relation to earth and the larger universe. Its discoveries and inventions have fundamentally altered our conception of how the universe evolved thus far and how it will evolve in the future. Left unanswered, if not also unasked by the scientific perspective is the age old question of why the universe was created and why it continues to unfold creatively.

The ancients of Athens and Jerusalem alike perceived an eternal Wisdom to be at work shaping the course of the visible cosmos. They believed Her fruit was better than the choicest gold or silver.1 They sought a way of life in concert with this universal intelligence responsible for creating and sustaining all temporal things. Further, they assumed that “their portrayal of an ordered cosmos helped to create one, and their liturgies maintained it.”2

Moderns, in contrast, have become alienated from their origin in and forgetful of their responsibility toward the Wisdom of creation. Science, in the modern age, has lost sight of Wisdom and the moral vision She provides. It has wed itself instead to the instrumentalism of market-driven technology, replacing an understanding of the names of angels3 with an ever-accumulating body of specialized knowledge and the earthshaking power it makes possible. Man-made models of nature have come to obscure modern humanity’s vision of the glory of creation as the artwork of angels.

The laws of the market are opposed to the Laws of the Creator. The accumulation of wealth has come to replace Wisdom as the most important aspiration in human life. Money has become the source of all value and meaning. “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.”4 Not the beautification and celebration of Gaia and Her creatures in the Name of God, but the production and consumption of Her resources in the name of the dollar is now the normal, “the good,” way of life.

Modern intellectuals, taught to think according to the values of the age, take for granted the ontological chasm separating questions of meaning and morality from those of mechanism and motion. Economics, now considered a positive science and therefore beyond the pay grade of philosophers and theologians, was once defined as the science of morality.5 It stands today, rather awkwardly, at the helm of our techno-capitalist civilization. Not philosopher-priests, but capital engineers rule over the contemporary geopolitical arena. Citizens of more progressive leanings are uncertain whether economic “science” is not just the purveyor of an oppressive upper class ideology.6 Ecology, similarly, is dismissed by many conservatives as a front for socialism.7 Because of these widespread uncertainties, humanity’s sense of the purpose of life–of the way we ought to live–has become increasingly fragmented and privatized, relegated to personal opinion and banished from reasoned political discourse.

Ecology is no doubt another fundamental scientific reorientation, “a revolution in self- and cultural understanding that matches, if not exceeds, in importance the sixteenth-century Copernican astronomical revolution.”8 Unfortunately, the influence of ecological science on public policy has been superficial, leading only to slightly more efficient light bulbs and hybrid gas-electric automobiles. So long as ecology remains narrowly scientific in the secular sense, concerned with how and not why, it can penetrate no deeper into humanity’s dysfunctional cosmopolitical orientation. “Home,” in the individualized techno-capitalist context, means my home or your home; Gaia–our home–has receded into the neglected background of human life.

I believe the eco-social crisis of our age has its roots in the rupture between religion and science, especially the science of economics. In order to reunite the how with the why, humanity must remember its proper relation to creation and its Creator. Ecosophy is the fruit of such memory, the wisdom of home that, when watered, grows as a great tree from the soil of every earthly soul.

“The Gods of the earth and sea,

Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree

But their search was all in vain:

There grows one in the Human Brain”9

Ecosophy brings economics back to its roots in moral science and theology, and enchants ecological science so as to renew humanity’s connection to a living creation.

Our species has a wealth of wisdom traditions from which to draw in service of this call to remember, and those concerned to answer it have a dual responsibility: to give what they have drawn from the deep well of their own tradition and to receive the living waters others have likewise drawn up from theirs. We must all drink together, since Gaia has but one ocean, one climate, and one life.

The Christian religion is an especially important well to explore in relation to the contemporary eco-social crisis, since modern Western science and technology were born out of its cultural matrix.10 Secularity, in other words, can itself be understood as an inevitable moment in the historical unfolding of Christ’s incarnation.11 Without historically situating modern Western civilization in the context of Christianity, secularity is all too easily misunderstood. As radical a break with the past as it may appear to be, Enlightenment secularism is evidently not best characterized as the rise of individual rationality above commonly held myths, nor as the firm grasp of scientific truths and technological powers that can replace religious delusions and magical incantations. The evidence of the inadequacy of such a triumphant characterization of modernity is legion: the isolated modern consumer is ruled over by perhaps the most deceitful, destructive, and oppresive myth of all, the myth of the market; Kantian philosophers have come to impose epistemic limits upon the study of reality, creating an intellectual culture of skepticism too embarrassed to authoritatively address matters of ultimate concern; and the fetishization of both money and industrial machines has so completely alienated consumers from the concrete materiality of life that such technologies now function in a way indistinguishable from black magic.12

Secular philosophy’s failure to engage the market-driven metaphysics of techno-capitalism for fear of trespassing into theology has allowed the “science” of capitalist economics to upstage the Wisdom of creation. Any hope of finding orientation in these chaotic times depends upon a renaissance of the poetic science of God:

“For beyond the nostalgia for a premodern grandeur or the doomed utopias of modern reason, what is the actual work of theology–but an incantation at the edge of uncertainty?…In this gathering space, religious discourse as a spiritual and social practice offers a unique depth of history and future…At its shore, the very edge of [chaos], the ancient oscillation of religious language between assertion and negation, utterance and silence, takes on a tidal rhythm.”13

It is not merely the knowledge of God that must be reborn, but the practice of His Wisdom. The human, as the imago dei, is tasked with the renewal and maintenance of the creation covenant. Genesis 1:28 calls us to “subdue” and to “dominate” that is, “to harness or to bind” heaven and earth, to “maintain the bonds of creation.”14

“Dominion must always be tied to the gratitude that follows from seeing everything in its relation to God. It must share in and be patterned on the grace and delight manifest in God’s creation of the universe. As our practical lives reflect gratitude back to God, we will at the same time transform the look of the creation of which we are a part.”15

As the children of Wisdom, we are called upon by our Creator to be co-creators with Her in all our deeds and all our speech.16 To be made in the image of God is to be God’s poet, the namer and storyteller of creation.

“The storytellers of ancient Israel knew that our attitude to the creation is shaped by the way we speak about it…Only time will show the impact on society, and on the whole creation, of [secular humanity’s] refusal to use theological or even moral language. So far, the signs are not good.”17

The Rise and Fall of the Myth of the Market

In a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, Greg Mankiw, former economic adviser to George W. Bush, responded to students of his introductory economics course at Harvard after they staged a walk-out in solidarity with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.18 The students cited the increasing corporatization of their education and the conservative slant of his perspective on the economy as their reasons.

“Like most economists,” Mankiw responded, “I don’t view the study of economics as laden with ideology.” He then cites the words of John Maynard Keynes: “[Economics] is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor draw correct conclusions.” Mankiw goes on to admit that economists don’t “understand everything” and “still have much to learn,” as is evidenced by the recent financial crisis. The implication of his response is clear: the financial crisis was not caused by the inherent immorality of the logic of the market; rather, it was caused by a technical oversight that can only be solved using the scientific method.

No soul-searching required.

It is no surprise that modern day economists fail to recognize their own ideology at work; as Marx suggested, “Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es“–“They do not know it, but they are doing it.”19 The goodness of the market is always assumed; its technocrats merely crunch the correct numbers designed to keep the monetary machine running smoothly. Unfortunately, the more efficient the machine becomes, the more quickly the planet and her people are ravaged. Gaia groans in bondage, waiting for the Logos to remember His Name and save Her from the logic of the beast.20 Lacking the eternal vision of Wisdom, the human heart remains vulnerable to the secular myth of the market, now the most formidable rival of traditional religions.21

Following the financial crisis of 2008, the thought of Ayn Rand, perhaps the world’s most popular purveyor of the myth of the market, saw something of a resurgence. Sales of her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) went through the roof as American business leaders struggled to hang on to their dream.22 The dystopian story’s mysterious protagonist, John Galt, along with other captains of American industry, decide to go on strike to protest government regulation, bringing the country to a standstill. The core of the novel is Galt’s 70-page speech, wherein Rand’s entire philosophy is laid out. In it, she denounces the Christian morality of love of one’s neighbor, calling it a “morality of sacrifice,” while championing a “morality of life” based upon egoism and the sovereignty of the individual rational mind over the human community and the raw materials of nature.

“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter,” she has Galt say,

“a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate homes. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol, the sign of free trade and free minds, we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor.”23

It would be difficult to come closer to John’s vision of Babylon in the book of Revelation, where all wear the mark of the beast.24

Former chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who joined Rand’s circle in the early fifties, helped her do research for Atlas Shrugged.25 In early 2010, Greenspan was asked if the financial crisis signaled an indictment of Rand’s free-market ideology. His answer is instructive:

“Not at all…There is no alternative [to competitive markets] if you want to have economic growth and higher standards of living in a democratic society…If you merely look at history since the Enlightenment…when all of those ideas surfaced and became applicable in public policy, we’ve had an explosion of economic growth, especially in developing countries, where hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of extreme poverty and starvation…”26

No one can deny the good that came of the political and economic transformations of the Enlightenment, but in the decisive shift from a society ordered by the revealed authority of God to one remade by the rational autonomy of man, much has been bent out of proportion. Greenspan and Rand are of course right about the explosion of economic growth resulting from global capitalism, but they appear blind to the eco-social costs of this growth, past and present. I could spend the rest of this essay listing present market-generated global injustices, but for the sake of space, I will list only a few telling examples: half of the world’s 2.2 billion children currently live in poverty,27 almost a billion people lack access to safe water supplies,28 about 25 million acres of crop land are lost every year due to soil erosion,29 and 50% of the world’s non-human species may be extinct by 2100.30 “They have rejected the law of the Lord [and] have been led astray by false gods…They sell the innocent for silver…They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground.”31

Further, global climate change resulting from “free market” industrial capitalism is threatening to make all these injustices far worse, in addition to other consequences. As Naomi Klein argued in her own recent op-ed in The Nation, “responding to the climate threat requires strong government action at all levels,” which is exactly what “free market” ideologues find so appalling. Such action is necessary for any globally coordinated transition into a more eco-socially sustainable economy, where “justice [rolls] down like the waters.”32 However, government takeover of industry is not the desired goal, but the initiation of “a new civilizational paradigm” grounded in a “respect for natural cycles of renewal.”

Klein continues:

“Real climate solutions are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, whether through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.”33

As for past injustices, Rand’s celebration of the genocide of the native population (“impotent savages”) that once called Turtle Island home is a telling reminder that capitalism has always been wed to colonialism. In order to achieve perpetual growth, capitalist markets had to continually expand into untapped territories, there exploiting the labor and land of conquered peoples to turn a profit back at home. From Rand’s perspective, such exploitation was perfectly justified, since indigenous populations are not made up of free individuals, having no concept of rights or property ownership.34 Nor does Gaia or any of Her non-human creatures deserve the respect of properly rational individuals, since, following Lockean theories of property ownership, their value is inferior until produced for consumption in the human marketplace.35 The myth of the market reigns. “Alas, alas, thou great city…for thy merchants were the great men of the earth, and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery.”36

Another myth, that of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, teaches us that humans “have been created with free will, but not with freedom.”37 Adam was deceived by Satan, being promised the total freedom of secular knowledge and power over the earth when all that could be delivered is shame, guilt, and death. Similarly, Rand’s is no morality of life, but of death, since it lacks the Wisdom of a higher authority, of the Creator of all things.

“Adam was created with free will–it was possible to choose the forbidden tree; but Adam was not created free, he did not create the system within which he exercised his free will.”38

The freedom of human beings is in our capacity to love and to serve, to do the work of Christ whose life is eternal. Any other freedom humans attempt to steal comes at the cost of death, since the rules of creation are not designed by human desires.39

These are two competing visions, that of the life of the market versus that of the miracle of life. The life of the market is that of ruthless competition, the struggle for existence between selfish animals, who come from dust and to dust return.40 The miracle of life is that of spiritual communion, the joy of co-creation amongst loving angels. The former is a morality rooted in the shallow pleasures of private accumulation, while the latter calls humanity to participate with Christ in the renewal of all creation.

The miracle of life can be understood through an ecosophic perception of the sacramentality of creation. Consider Gaia’s relationship with the Sun, that most generous of celestial beings. The Sun sacrifices its own body to give away vast quantities of energy to Gaia without any expectation of return.

“Men were conscious of this long before astrophysics measured that ceaseless prodigality; they saw it ripen the harvests and they associated its splendor with the act of someone who gives without receiving.”41

Not a single quantum of energy could be transacted between living beings upon the surface of earth without the Sun’s primordial generosity. This is as true of the monetary transactions of the human economy as it is of the ecological transactions of soil and plants. Life is a gift, not an earning, a celebration of divine surplus, not a competition amidst material scarcity.

Contrary to Rand’s racist ideology, the native populations of pre-conquest America understood the meaning of the Sun’s splendor deeply enough to ritually organize their lives on earth to reflect the same patterns it was performing in heaven. Extravagant potlatch celebrations were held in honor of births, weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. Natives would gather together for great feasts gifted by wealthy families, and to sing and dance in honor of their divine ancestors. These ceremonies provide evidence that not barter, as classical economists assume, but gifting was the earliest form of exchange.42

Potlatch celebrations were outlawed by both Canadian and US governments in the late 19th century, and remained so until 1951. Christianity’s influence upon such legislation is complex. Protestant missionaries like William Duncan wrote in 1875 of the celebrations that they were “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”43 On the other hand, by the 1950s, many churches openly integrated potlatch into their liturgies.44

Max Weber’s analysis of the complicity of Protestantism in the rise of capitalist economies is well known.45

“Weber deserves credit for having rigorously analyzed the connection between a religious crisis and the economic turnover that gave rise to the modern world…It seems that there is an affinity between the frame of mind of a hard-working, profit-calculating industrialist and the prosaic severity of the reformed religion.”46

Not only does potlatch present a challenge to standard histories of economics, much like Weber’s analysis of Protestantism, it “enables one to perceive a connection between religious behaviors and economic ones.”47 By emphasizing humanity’s nearly irredeemable fallenness and God’s incomprehensible transcendence, Protestant theologies succeeded in separating the physical/economic sphere of works from the spiritual/religious sphere of grace. This meant that one could not hope to find God’s favor through outward deeds like gifting, since salvation was won through inward faith alone. This was, no doubt, an important critique of the Catholic Church’s pompous hypocrisy,48 but as with many of the Enlightenment’s later reforms, the Reformation ended up distorting the West’s moral and ontological bonds with creation as much as it may have advanced it spiritually (through intensified inwardness of faith) and epistemologically (through rational criticism of received belief).

As modernity unfolded, traditional sacraments were increasingly considered to be culturally constructed symbolic performances, rather than theurgic events opening an economy between creature and Creator.49 Skepticism of inherited norms and revealed truths steadily increased as individuals turned to their own reason and values for guidance concerning ultimate matters. Weber famously argued that it was the downplaying of communal ritual among the Protestant laity that first made possible the disenchantment of the world, the formation of the private modern subject, and the subsequent rise of techno-scientific capitalism. God, even if not quite dead, had all but fled the realms of space and time. Free of the sacred places and liturgical calendars of traditional sacramental religion, the modern individual no longer mirrored the celestial economy of angels, but remade the earth in his own fallen image.

“It can doubtless be said of the Protestant critique of saintly works that it gave the world over to profane works, that the demand for divine purity only managed to exile the divine, and to complete man’s separation from it. It can be said, finally, that starting then things dominated man, insofar as he lived for enterprise and less and less in the present time.”50

Potlatch was practiced by native communities as a form of ritual participation in the divine effulgence of creation. Sharing in Gaia’s bounty, they lived like the Sun, for glory rather than for greed. Protestant capitalists found the practice wasteful, and sought to eliminate such rituals from the American continent because they were based upon the impure mixing of the Great Economy of God with the profane economy of the market. The Great Economy is “reflected in God’s Sabbath delight, a celebration of all life, an affirmation of the right of all to be and to thrive.”51 The profane economy of the market, on the other hand, reflects the sinful nature of an alienated humanity, more interested in its own shortsighted pursuits than the flourishing of all creation. The Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment are not here being blamed for the eco-social crisis; rather, they are being read as moments in the historical dialectic of Christ’s incarnation. They are birth contractions, the divine labour pains that Hegel refers to in the epigraph above while insisting upon the necessity of the negative to avoid a shallow conception of salvation.

Reintroducing theologically grounded and ecologically sensitive morality into the norms of the marketplace will require an initially painful reorientation of modern human life, the crucifixion of the old to make way for the new.52 In order to come into alignment with the Wisdom of creation so as to participate in God’s ongoing artistry, everything from our scientific understanding of life and energy to the time-anxiety underlying our socio-economic commitment to work must be reimagined.

Imagining the Great Economy

Ritual practices like potlatch break down the dichotomy that normally exists between work and play. The Jubilee year and Sabbath commandment provide Biblical parallels to potlatch. On the 7th day of creation, God rested.53 Our human “holy days” call us to rebalance creation by making time for rest and re-creation.54 In Jesus’ time, Genesis was understood as the pattern of world history: the 6th day was considered the human age, the time when Adam is called to work with the Wisdom of the Creator to bring about the completion of the creation, so that all may rest on the 7th day. The completion of creation on the 7th day is the coming of the Kingdom55 wherein God becomes “all in all,”56 bound up in relational joy with creation.57

In order to imagine, and to co-create, the Great Economy of the Kingdom, it is first necessary to free ourselves from the anxieties of the world of working. Anxiety makes the problems of the market apparent to us, but uncovering their solution requires that we release ourselves from its world-distorting grip.58 Unlike the anti-religion of the market ruling over the world of working, wherein “time is money” as Ben Franklin famously quipped, the religion of Jesus calls us to observe the birds of the air and the lilies of the field living without toil: “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”59

Play, like the perception of Wisdom, opens up a non-ordinary reality, allowing us to transcend the everyday world of work. The idea is not to transcend work entirely, but to recognize its relativity in regard to all the other experiential realities that are engaged with during a full 24-hour cycle of earth’s rotation (sleep, dreams, etc.), or the full span of a mortal life (birth, love, near death, death, spiritual vision, etc.). Work will always be necessary for survival, but the question remains: why survive? If not to play, then for what?

Ritual performance, and the creative efflorescence it encourages, is at the existential core of our lives, and indeed is the beating heart at the center of creation.

“We might sometimes reflect and recall that the purpose of all our science, technology, industry, manufacturing, commerce, and finance is celebration, planetary celebration. That is what moves the stars through the heavens and the earth through its seasons. The final norm of judgment concerning the success or failure of our technologies is the extent to which they enable us to participate more fully in this grand festival.”60

The meaning of the world and the order of the cosmos must be enacted, or imaginally bodied forth. The human imagination, the Seal of creation, does not receive the world’s meaning ready-made, but must participate in its making: “The creature of earth and heaven [upholds] within his own being the bond that [joins] the material world to its source of life.”61 The meaning of earthly life soon dissolves unless we are willing to play, to make imaginally present what would not otherwise be so. Imagination is the soul’s temple, the holy of holies within which immanence and transcendence meet and give birth to worlds worth living in. In this way, everyday is made holy, and all our work becomes a form of worship.62 Religion, science, art, and indeed, culture in general, are all born out of playfulness.63 Humans may not be the only creatures who play, but surely only we take play seriously enough to die for it.

Contrary to this vision of creation rooted in play, biologists since Darwin have tended to understand evolution primarily as a competitive “struggle for existence” amidst scarcity, where only the fittest survive. More recently, the work of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis has entirely transformed Darwin’s picture of the biosphere, a picture that perhaps reflects the economic conditions holding sway in 19th century England more so than the natural conditions of earthly life.64 Lovelock’s Gaia theory has shown that life is necessarily a planetary affair, constituted by a massively interconnected web of biotic and abiotic feedback loops.65 Margulis’ research on the bacterial basis of all life and her theory of the origin of species via symbiogenesis reveal that lateral gene transfer (gene gifting) and cooperative symbiosis are the primary engine of evolution.66

Another 19th century science, thermodynamics, was developed to increase the efficiency of industrial machinery. It defined energy as the ability to do work,67 a socio-economic concept. A few decades earlier, William Blake wrote of his eternal vision–“Past, Present & Future, existing all at once”–of industrializing Europe:

“And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire

Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. black the cloth

In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works

Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic

Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden: which

Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace.”68

Blake’s phrase, “cogs tyrannic/Moving by compulsion each other,” perfectly sums up the picture provided by mechanistic science of creation, the same picture underlying techno-capitalist industrialism. From Blake’s poetic perspective, energy is not compulsive work, but “Eternal Delight.”69 Nor is God’s ongoing creative artistry tyrannic or compulsive, but persuasive:

“The action of God is its relation–by feeling and so being felt, the divine invites the becoming of the other; by feeling the becoming of the other, the divine itself becomes…[affirming] an oscillation between divine attraction and divine reception, invitation and sabbath…”70

This is a perspective contrary to the logic of creatio ex nihilo, be it God’s creation by fiat of the cosmos out of chaos, or humanity’s of property out of the purposeless matter of earth. Genesis’ acts of creation must be read in concert with the wisdom of Proverbs and the passion of the Gospels. God did not create the world out of nothing, but beget it and suffered it with Wisdom.71

Modern techno-capitalism, rooted in a disenchanted science, has made humanity forgetful of the Names of the angelic powers animating the cosmos. Lacking such an ecosophic perception of the true nature of reality has left modern humanity ignorant of why Gaia is the way She is: “ever hearing, but never understanding…ever seeing, but never perceiving.”72 This ignorance hardly stopped us from learning how many of Her seemingly isolated parts worked, and how we might manipulate them for our own profit. Cunning power became our knowledge, following Kant’s maxim: “He who would know the world must first manufacture it.”73 Isaiah perceived the result in the Israel of his day: “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands.”74 Jeremiah, as well: “They burned incense to other gods and worshipped the works of their hands.”75

The Great Economy of the Kingdom “is in our midst,” as Jesus said.76 Wisdom, too, is all around: “He who has ears, let him hear.”77 If the heart be reached, not through reason, but through imagination,78 then healing humanity’s eco-social wound must begin there. Enlightenment conceptions of the “state of nature” must be entirely re-envisioned, such that Gaia’s values become the soil out of which the human soul imagines its own. Without resurrecting the imagination–“the divine body of the Lord Jesus, blessed forever”79–our senses will remain dulled80 to the power of angels wisely weaving the world together in God’s Name.

“Blessed be the praise of Your Name and the song of Your strength and Your remembrance in eternity and forever. In the praise of Your Name is revealed the secret of Wisdom and in the song of Your remembrance are disclosed the mysteries of mysteries and the gates of understanding, so that the creatures of heaven and earth acknowledge before You: Blessed be You, Lord, wise of the mysteries and ruler of all that is concealed.”81


1 Proverbs 8:19

2 p. 20, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker.

3 “Angel lore was in effect the natural science of that time,” see p. 79, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

4 Matthew 6:24

5 See James E. Alvey’s essay “A Short History of Economics as a Moral Science” (1999). As Alvey points out, even Adam Smith, the intellectual architect of capitalism, understood economics to be subject to a moral framework of virtues, namely, justice, prudence, and benevolence.

6 See, for example, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. More on p. 8.

7 See, for example, the Heartland Institute: http://www.globalwarmingheartland.org/; “It is a painful irony that while the Heartlanders are busily calling climate change a left-wing plot, most leftists have yet to realize that climate science has handed them the most powerful argument against capitalism since William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mills” (and, of course, those mills were the beginning of climate change).” -“Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein in the Nov. 28th edition of The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,5 (retrieved 12/9/2011).

8 p. 93-94, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba

9 lines 21-25, “The Human Abstract” in Songs of Experience (1794) by William Blake

10 Wide consensus among scholars has been reached on this point. See especially Lynn White’s essay “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (1967) and more recently, Donna Haraway’s Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium (1997).

11 See Sean Kelly’s Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era (2010). Kelly argues that secularity is dialectically woven into the Great Code at the core of the Christian mythos.

12 Machines do not magically create growth and increase efficiency at the industrial centers ex nihilo, but are animated by land and labor that has been exploited on the periphery. Economics, like ecology, is a zero sum game. See p. 147 of Alf Hornborg’s The Power of the Machine: Global Inequities of Economy, Technology, and Environment (2001).

13 p. xviii, Face of the Deep: a theology of becoming (2003) by Catherine Keller. Keller is at the forefront of a promising new field called “theopoietics.”

14 p. 122, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

15 p. 138, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba

16 p. 210, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

17 p. 21, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

18 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/business/know-what-youre-protesting-economic-view.html?sq=harvard%20economics&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1323047019-jVyFPOfBIdOYaAIgzNU3NQ (retrieved 12/4/2011)

19 From Capital, quoted on p. 28, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) by Slavoj Zizek

20 See Revelation 13

21 See p. 55, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

22 http://articles.cnn.com/2009-04-27/entertainment/ayn.rand.atlas.shrugged_1_john-galt-ayn-rand-institute-atlas?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ (retrieved 12/2/2011). To date, nearly 30 million copies of her books have been sold.

23 p. 957, Atlas Shrugged (2005)

24 See Revelation 18

25 p. 6, Alan Greenspan: the oracle behind the curtain (2006) by E. Ray Canterbery

26 http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/interview-alan-greenspan-10281612 (~7:00 mins, retrieved on 12/2/2011)

27 http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats (retrieved 12/2/2011)

28 http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/monitoring/jmp_report_7_10_lores.pdf (retrieved 12/5/2011)

29 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/feb/14/science.environment (retrieved 12/5/2011)

30 See The Future of Life (2002) by E.O. Wilson

31 Amos 2:4-7

32 Amos 5:24

33 “Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein in the Nov. 28th edition of The Nation: http://www.thenation.com/article/164497/capitalism-vs-climate?page=0,5 (retrieved 12/9/2011).

34 See p. 102-104, Ayn Rand Answers (2005).

35 “The ‘labor’ of his body and the ‘work’ of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” -“The Second Treatise on Civil Government” (1690) by John Locke

36 Revelation 18:23

37 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

38 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

39 In secular terms, the mathematical laws governing ecological energy exchange cannot be remade by even the most powerful technologies.

40 Genesis 3:19

41 p. 28-29, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

42 See p. 67, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

43 p. 207, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890 (1977) by Robin FIscher Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press

44 p. 78, Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: the Indian Land Question in British Colombia, 1849-1989 (1990) by Paul Tennant

45 See The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905)

46 p. 114-115, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

47 p. 68, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

48 “Catholic theologists enjoy dwelling in scholastic juridical arguments about how Christ paid the price for our sins, etc.–no wonder that Luther reacted to the lowest outcome of this logic, the reduction of redemption to something that can be bought from the Church.” -“Only a Suffering God Can Save Us” by Slavoj Zizek (http://www.lacan.com/zizshadowplay.html [retrieved 12/9/2011])

49 I would add that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura forbid any poetic interpretations of or apocryphal additions to Biblical scripture, thereby marginalizing the creative role of humans as God’s earthly imagineers.

50 p. 133, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

51 p. 163, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba

52 James Lovelock coined the apt phrase to characterize the needs of our moment: “sustainable retreat.” See The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back–And How We Can Still Save Humanity (2006)

53 Genesis 2:2, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.”

54 See p. 58, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

55 See p. 182, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

56 1 Corinthians 15:28

57 See p. 245, “God at the Crossroads: A Postcolonial Reading of Sophia” by Mayra Rivera in The Postcolonial Biblical Reader (2006), ed. by Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah

58 See p. 14, The Accursed Share (1967) by Georges Bataille

59 Matthew 6:26-28

60 p. 69, The Dream of the Earth (1988) by Thomas Berry

61 p. 230, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (2010) by Margaret Barker

62 See p. 171-174, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age (2003) by Norman Wirzba

63 See Religion in Human Evolution (2011) by Robert N. Bellah

64 p. 418, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1962) by G. Himmelfarb: “…natural selection arose…in England because it was a perfect expression of Victorian ‘greed-philosophy,’ of the capitalist ethic and Manchester economics.”

65 See The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth (1988) by James Lovelock

66 See The Symbiotic Planet (1999) by Lynn Margulis

67 “Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire” (1824) by Sadi Carnot

68 plate 15, line 15, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804)

69 plate 4, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)

70 p. 198, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (2003) by Catherine Keller (summarizing Alfred North Whitehead’s dipolar divinity).

71 Proverbs 8:22

72 Isaiah 6:9

73 p. 240, Opus Postumum (1993); “Manufacture” from the Latin manus meaning “hand.”

74 Isaiah 2:8

75 Jeremiah 1:16; Compare with the words of a 19th century business man “Smoke is the incense burning on the altars of industry. It is beautiful to me. It shows that men are changing the merely potential forces of nature into articles of comfort for humanity.” -W. P. Rend, quoted on p. 385 in “Businessmen against pollution in 19th century Chicago,” by C. M. Rosen, Business History Review 69 (1995)

76 Luke 17:21

77 Matthew 11:15

78 p. 89, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Ascent by J. H. Newman (1870)

79 plate 5, line 59, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804) by William Blake

80 2 Corinthians 3:14

81 section 676, Hekhalot Rabbati; quoted on p. 98 of The Hidden and Manifest God (1992) by Paul Shafer

Ecology of Mind, Economy of Play, Energy of Delight

Meaning is infinite because language is indefinitely recursive, because “world” is a word, such that “word” has no world to refer to. Words refer only to themselves, except Yours, your Name, who is the Word but mustn’t know it. “Reality” is a word referring to a set of alphanumeric-audiovisual symbols inherited from an ancient alchemical cult. Sense is infinite because even as we reach out and touch the world, it continues to recede away from us, to withdraw from our ears and eyes into darkness behind a veil beyond the silence of all horizons. The sensory world is sublime, infinite. “Nature” is our differentiated hyperbody, our shared space of bioeconomic (re)production and cosmopolitical (re)action.


Religious Dialogue as Soul-Making: A Prayer to Buddha and Christ

Why Religious Dialogue?

Interreligious dialogue is not a distant possibility but a present necessity. This essay is a response to this need, but it is written also as an intrareligious dialogue. This is because the conditioned nature of my own personality, having been historically shaped into what it is by my unique imaginal participation in certain texts and practices, at first allows me to speak and be understood only within the personal and communal bounds of these traditions.

By seeking out the essence of my own spiritual path, I hope to become more capable of generating wise and compassionate relationships with those who walk adjacent paths. There’s a way in which the intra- and interpersonal boundaries generated by each of the world’s religions also opens them to extra- and transpersonal bonds. These bonds tie the traditions to each other within an ecology of Spirit, each of them creating and receiving love from the other within the space opened up by Spirit’s eternal passage into history.

And so while it may at first appear so on the surface, the condition “we”—the English speaking post-secular intelligentsia, or whoever—currently find ourselves in is not one of lacking an effective method or means of contacting those of “other”—let us say, non-Christian, non-secular, or indigenous—traditions. If “we” have identified ourselves as “the same,” we have already set ourselves in differential relation to “others.” No tradition has known itself as religious or salvific in the absence of a relation to other traditions claiming the same. In other words, the self-consciousness of each of the world’s religious traditions never could have emerged but as a consciousness of otherness. Moving from the historical to the metaphysical register, we can say that differentiation begets identity even as identification begets difference. This seems to be a logical contradiction, when it fact it is the principle of life (or incarnation) itself. The concepts—self/identity and other/difference—are conditioned by one another and so exist relatively. Only the relation is absolute. “Religion” is that which relates, or binds together, this with that, me with you, time with eternity, secular with religious, human with divinity. Religion may appear to us through the expressions and experiences of many religions, but underlying all of them is a universal love for and convergence upon the unspeakable oneness of Spirit (unspeakable because always arising anew, eternally born within and between us).

The need for dialogue on dialogue is now more urgent than ever, since our species’ ability to communicate compassionately across borders is already determining the sorts of worlds being brought forth by an increasingly planetary civilization. Unfortunately, the most powerful form of transnational communication taking place today is governed by the purely economic norms of corporations. The earth and its human and non-human populations are being exploited by these amoral entities. They operate under norms with no system of evaluation but that selected by “the invisible hand” according to the laws of supply and demand. “The strongest will survive, and the species will progress”: so goes the market mantra. Transitioning into a just, peaceful, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization will require that our governing ethos shift away from that of monetarily-motivated corporate entities toward institutions not concerned solely with their own profit. Power must be transferred to institutions concerned for the welfare of all sentient beings.

For the last three or four centuries, the political influence of the world’s religions has waned, but the secular nation-states that have risen to replace them in the hopes of mediating their discord have proven unable to prevent violence. In fact, nations continue to wage war upon one another, always under the pretext of self-defense. It seems that the capitalist logic to which the nation-state is subject inevitably generates economic pressure that leads them to militarily secure and/or expand their industrial markets. One of the underlying assumptions of interreligious dialogue generally seems to be that, in the wake of this failure of the modern secular state, the religious traditions of the world must be among the institutions called upon to reclaim a more enlightened version of their former power and responsibility for directing the course of world history. What is needed is not a return to feudalism and monarchy, nor a re-absorption in “dogmatism, fanaticism, and sectarianism” (MMR, p. 16), but a more integral way of politically mobilizing the world’s great wisdom traditions as a counterweight to the market religion that has come to dominate the planet.

Traditional religion, as it had been known by civilizations yet to planetize, is being re-invented within the crucible of the global encounter of the religions (including secularism). As Haridas Chaudhuri put it, religion is “the undying substance of the spirit of man” that, if it is “destined to play a vital role in the advancement of civilization,” must today “be reborn out of its own ashes” (MMR, p.  15). In the hopes of furthering this rebirth in some small way, the remainder of my intrareligious “confession” will circle around just two traditions, those most responsible for the ongoing formation of my soul: Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Christianity. The wisdom of these traditions will be approached in light of the poetic insights of William Blake and John Keats, both of whom sought a new experiential revelation of Spirit at the personal level.

It is not only the various religious institutions that must renew themselves; each person’s consciousness of the religious must also be transformed before Spirit can adequately guide human civilization into the next century. The planetary is personal, since the planet can only be redeemed through the love of person for person. We must each continue to speak compassionately from within in search of the One who binds us all together:

When the two will be made one, both the inside and the outside, the outside and the inside, the superior and the inferior…then you will enter [into 'The Kingdom'], (Gospel of Thomas, quoted in IRD, p. xix).

Soul-making with Christ and Buddha

Rather than attempt to sum up what are in and of themselves vast and diverse traditions with their own inner tensions and controversies, or deal with the intractable question of who should speak for either, I will take is as a matter of course that Buddha and Christ exist as spiritual beings who are potentially in communication with human consciousness independently of any specific institutions or canonized texts. Though I will still draw from the scripture and practice built up around them, I do so with the assumption that each being is eternally present on the imaginal plane of consciousness and so irreducible to (though not separable from) culture and history. This is a religious realism that stands in contrast to both relativism and exclusivism, since it takes seriously the reality of multiple more-than-human Teachers whose supersensible love and wisdom enters into the world through the power of Imagination. The respective teachings of Buddha and Christ will be brought into dialogue within my own consciousness to exemplify the activity of “intrareligious soul-making,” an activity growing increasingly relevant to the current generation of planetary citizens. A person is not a “conscious atom,” but “a knot in a net of relationships,” and so though what I have to say is peculiar to my own process, I say it in expectation of the resonance and dissonance that it will provoke in others. This internal dialogue is but an opening gesture humbly offered in service to the ongoing struggle for a more humane planetary mythos.

“Soul-making” is a “system of salvation” and “spirit creation” first articulated by Keats in a letter to his brother and sister-in-law in May of 1819. Keats was after a form of spiritual wisdom that did not “affront our reason and humanity,” and that would reframe many of the problems besetting traditional Christianity. “Intrareligious dialogue” has been defined by Raimon Panikkar as a “quest for salvific truth” that “takes place in the core of our being” as “an authentic prayer open in all directions” that is “no longer concerned with mere formulations of our own tradition or of other people” (IRD, p. xvii). This essay is my experiment in soul-making, which Keats defined as a search for the “proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul.” It could also be called an inward opening, or intrareligious prayer, to Buddha and Christ. I beckon these beings, asking them to reveal, if they will, “the whole human world and also the entire reality” as it is reflected within the microcosm of my soul (ibid., xviii).

Though Keats had but little conscious knowledge of the Buddha, the development of his system of soul-making was motivated by realizations nearly identical to the First and Second Noble Truths, that life is suffering caused by attachment to a transient world.

“Circumstances are like clouds continually gathering and bursting,” writes Keats,

…while we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events—while we are laughing it sprouts [and] grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck…This is the world—thus we cannot expect to give way many hours to pleasure.

The world, or perhaps the soul’s relation to the world, has gone astray. It is this condition and circumstance from which all salvific religion emerges. It was only once I had awakened to the truths of suffering and impermanence—to the waywardness of the human world—that my spiritual path began. As Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Only upon recognizing and accepting my own fallen state can I hope to hear the saving Word within a receptive heart. Otherwise, without the inner silence brought by such recognition, my mind wanders endlessly, grasping at one temporary pleasure after the next, never finding in them the Love I so desperately seek. No matter the worldly progress I may make by achieving money and fame, it inevitably leaves me unhappy and wanting more, since, as Keats writes, I am “mortal and there is still a heaven with its stars above [my] head.” Unless I find Love, upon death I “would leave this world as Eve left Paradise”: sinful and with regret. Such a world remains fallen, what Keats called “a vale of tears.”

The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth suggests that there is a cure for the suffering of this world, and that it may be attained, if not in this life, then in one of the many lives to come. Rather than temporally relieving pain with pleasure, Buddha uproots it entirely, offering a way out of the cycle of samsara through the gradual elimination of karma. Christianity’s way of salvation is often contrasted with Buddha’s, since the former’s focuses on the overwhelming importance of this life as our one chance to prepare for death, after which we may be “redeemed,” writes Keats, “by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven.” Keats finds this a doctrine too “little” and “circumscribed” to be believable. But the larger possibilities of reincarnation are not entirely foreign to Christian theology. One of the first Christian theologians, Origen, articulated a doctrine of metempsychosis in the 2nd century based on the fallen soul’s need of passing through successive stages before returning to God. Rudolf Steiner, a 20th century seer, suggested that, without accommodating itself to the truths of reincarnation and evolution, Christianity would remain too narrowly focused on the salvation of the ego or private personality, rather than the whole cosmic community to which the individual is karmically tied (CMF).

“If we observe the various phases of karmic chain-reaction [or evolutionary reincarnation],” writes Tibetan Lama Anagarika Govinda,

…we become conscious of a supra-individual karmic interrelatedness, comprising nations, races, civilizations, humanity, planets, solar systems and finally the whole universe” (FTM, p. 219).

If I contemplate the life and teaching of Christ, it becomes apparent to me that the meaning of the resurrection is already suggestive of reincarnation, or our ability to be “born again.” If I die to myself, to the reactivity of my physical body and pleasure-seeking soul, I am born again free of sin, like Christ, “not of the water, but of the spirit” (Luke 3:16). This rebirth is my reincarnation, my second chance at life, through participation in the eternally resurrecting Body of Christ. The earth and the cosmos are within this Body, and only dying for the sake of its Life awakens consciousness to his invisible Soul. The meaning of the historical arc of Christian redemption becomes all the more clear when each particular soul is understood to participate in a multi-generational work of uniting itself with the World-Soul and the visible universe it animates. God cannot force change upon the world from outside time and space, since God’s omnipotence is not other than God’s Love, which works only from within the world through the power of animation and the magic of soul (i.e., Imagination). As the particular soul seeks identity with the universal anew in every age, Spirit incarnates more fully into history. Gradually, karma is undone and sin forgiven, since life after life the Love of God for the world becomes more present between persons.

Gautama and Jesus were enlightened human beings whose bodies nonetheless bled upon the cross of time and space, there dying to finitude in order to more fully realize the infinite. “Do you not see,” asks Keats, “how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school a [divine] Intelligence and make it a Soul?” Without living and dying upon the earth, these beings could not fully grasp the nature of the eternal realm from which they came. Even divinity has something to learn from the condition of suffering. But rather than dissolving into the bliss of nirvana or remaining with the Father in heaven after their earthly deaths, they returned as bodhisattvas, vowing to remain in connection with the earth until the sin and suffering of all sentient beings is alleviated.

What form have they taken in their return? It does not seem to be physical or sensible, as then surely more would recognize their presence among us. Rather, these beings have taken up residence within the human soul, there acting as friends and advocates along our path through the school of the world toward spiritual happiness. The supersensible, rather than plainly visible presence of Buddha and Christ accounts for why the current state of human discussion concerning their reality tends to circle endlessly around the relative merits of belief or disbelief. While the secularization thesis (that modernization would inevitably lead to reduced religiosity) has failed, leaving the world more religious today than ever before, in general, the return to religion has tended to construe spiritual claims as merely notional, available for conceptual assent or not depending on one’s psychological disposition or moral inclination. Therefore, while religion can offer justifiable ethical standards, the ontology of Spirit has been bracketed, since no empirical proof has yet been made available that might scientifically verify its reality. For religion to meet both the practical and theoretical needs of a planetary civilization, it must respect the validity of the scientific picture while at the same time pointing out the limited scope of its empirical method. Religion cannot only be critical of science, however; it must also develop its own techniques of transformation to bring the soul into relation to supersensible spiritual realities. Soul-making is an example of such a technique, and can be the catalyst of a new consciousness of religion.

Empiricism has honed only one of the soul’s powers, namely, sensory perception, and due to its great practical successes in technologically extending the reach of sensation, science has tended to ignore the soul’s other capacities. The soul is dynamic, always in motion between its active (poeisis) and passive (paschein) poles. In its sensory mode, the soul passively suffers the world; in its thinking mode, the soul actively creates the world. The reality of Spirit must be considered in the context of this polarization in the life of the soul. A soul whose productive half remained dormant could not experience Christ or Buddha, since these beings are not simply waiting in the outer world for us to perceive. Nor could a soul released from its passionate attunement to the outer world experience their being, since then they would be but figments of inner fantasy evaporating as soon as the fervency of our belief grew tired. The reality of Spirit cannot be known through sensation or conception alone, but must be participated, or enacted, by the organ of Imagination. Imagination unites passivity and activity, perceiving and thinking, and is cultivated by the mutual work of heart and mind one upon the other.

“I am certain of nothing,” writes Keats,

but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination—What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not… The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth (from a letter to Benjamin Bailey on November 22, 1817).

Science, of course, also draws from both ends of the soul’s polarization, being as much a logical as an empirical method. It is primarily a tool of the mind used to read the book of nature, but its emphasis on empirical data alone prevents it from hearing the divine Word spoken in the heart. The role of religion is to remind humanity that the eye of the mind is in need of the heart’s ear, lest we forget our real desire and true identity.

Who is the soul, what does it desire, and why? These are the questions besetting each individual person, and it is through our unique participation in the imaginative process of soul-making that they are answered. Regarding the issue of identity, Buddha taught some of his students the doctrine of anātman (no-self), while to others he granted the reality of the ātman (whose true identity is Bráhman) (GH, p. 81). This is no contradiction, but rather the result of Buddha’s upāya, or skillful means. His teachings are never final, but offered provisionally as helpful aids tailored to the students that he happens to be speaking with in any given moment. Perhaps in the Buddhist context, the soul is best conceived of as a principle, rather than an entity. According to D. T. Suzuki, the soul is tṛṣṇā, the principle of thirst, or desire. In this sense, the soul does not have desires, but in fact is desire (the polarity of the soul discussed above is here preserved, since as desire it is both an active seeking and a passive suffering). Suzuki also suggests that tṛṣṇā is the creator, not just of the individual soul, but also of the material universe itself. We are the microcosmic reflections of its macrocosmic extent.

“As its highest and richest expression,” he writes,

[the human being] can have an insight into the nature of tṛṣṇā and its working. When we really see into ourselves, tṛṣṇā will bare itself before itself in us…Tṛṣṇā lies in us not as one of the factors constituting our consciousness, but it is our being itself. It is I; it is you; it is the cat; it is the tree; it is the rock; it is the snow; it is the atom” (MCB, p. 107-108).

As was held by Christian scholastics, Suzuki is describing how, from a Buddhist perspective, “the soul is, in a way, all things” (Anima quodammodo omnia). In our literalistic age, the soul is looked for in the body, as if in the heart, the lungs, or the pineal gland. For a pre-modern seer like Aquinas, it is rather the body that is in the soul. As tṛṣṇā, the soul creates and gives form to the physical organism, which is “the coagulated, crystallized, or materialized consciousness of the past” (FTM, p. 68). The organism is the product of billions of years of accumulated desire, the materialized memory of past mental activity. In other words, even the body does not escape the process of soul-making. “Man can never be large enough to possess his psychic organs,” writes psychologist James Hillman, “He can but reflect their activities” (RP, p. 173).

Soul-making is an attempt to become more conscious of how our desires shape us, in body and in mind. Both Buddha and Christ teach that the desire that made the universe can, in the awakened, anointed human soul, become a Love that glorifies and redeems all things.

Trinity and Trikaya

When the teachings of Christ first encountered Greek culture, the Biblical account of the creation of the universe through the power of divine speech was understood to be akin to the role of the philosophical concept of Logos, or cosmic intelligence. The incarnation of Christ meant a radical change had occurred in the nature of the world and the human being. For the Greek convert to Christianity, the meaning of the incarnation is that, as John’s Gospel puts it, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). No longer simply a philosophical concept, Logos became a living human person made of flesh and blood. Logos, understood macrocosmically, entered fully into the microcosm.

A deeper understanding of the 2nd person, and of the Trinity generally, may be garnered from considering them in relation to the Buddhist Trikaya. My reading of the similarities between the Trinity and Trikaya is predominantly an imaginative exercise or experiment, not a textual exegesis of Buddhist or Christian sources (though these will be consulted). I do not mean to equate the two concepts, but to consider them as unique attempts to articulate the differentiated unity of ultimate reality. I’ll begin this exercise by describing the Trinity and Trikaya each in turn, before moving on to draw out their similarities.

For the Christian, ultimate reality is conceived of as a loving communion between Father, Son, and Spirit. God, though of one substance, is nonetheless three persons, since otherwise, there would be no differentiation in the Godhead, and therefore no possibility of love or relationship. The Father is traditionally described as unknowable and infinitely transcendent (GH, p. 152). The First Letter to Timothy says of the Father that “…no one has ever seen or ever can see him” (6:16). The Son is the image of the Father, the transcendent made immanent by being given concrete form. The Son issues forth eternally from the Father, which is why Jesus says “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and how to speak” (John 12:49). The Son could be described as a doorway, or gate, leading to the Father (GH, p. 105). The Spirit is the advocate who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who remains on earth after Christ’s resurrection to council humanity concerning the power of Love. The Spirit has also been identified with the personal spirit or breath of Jesus that inhabited his disciples (GH, p. 154).

For the Buddhist (of the Tibetan lineage), ultimate reality is conceived of as infinite spaciousness, though not a spaciousness that is opposed to form. As the Heart Sutra says:

…emptiness [or spaciousness] is form; form is emptiness. Apart from form, emptiness is not; apart from emptiness, form is not. Emptiness is that which is form, form is that which is emptiness.

This spaciousness that is not other than form is called the body of truth, or the Dharmakaya. It is the primordial law and cause of all things (FTM, p. 213). The Dharmakaya, when envisioned and expressed in its mode of creative formation, is called the Sambhogakaya. This is the body of enjoyment and bliss. “From it,” according to Lama Govinda, “flows all deep wisdom and profound truth” (FTM, p. 214). The Sambhogakaya might be conceived of as akin to the Imagination discussed above, the organ of soul-making that unites the spiritual and the sensible through the wisdom and compassion of the heart-mind. When the inspired bliss of the Sambhogakaya is transformed into visible activity by incarnating into human form, it is called the Nirmanakaya, or emanation body (FTM, p. 213). In Tibetan, Nirmanakaya is translated as “tulku,” which refers to a reincarnate lama (GH, p. 190) who has re-entered the physical plane not on accident, but consciously. The Nirmanakaya, then, is a consciously created body (FTM, p. 221). Lama Govinda suggests that only through the Nirmanakaya, as seen from within the world of physical embodiment, can the other two bodies be experienced and realized (FTM, p. 222):

Only in the Nirmanakaya can we realize the Dharmakaya effectively, by converting it into an ever-present conscious force, into an incandescent, all consuming focus of experience, in which all elements of our personality are purified and integrated. This is the transfiguration of body and mind…achieved only by the greatest of saints (ibid.).

The parallels between the Trinity and the Trikaya may already have become apparent, but I will attempt to make them more explicit. It must be acknowledged that there is no perfect one-to-one correspondance between the three bodies and the three persons, but rather a rich ambiguity testifying to the deeply evocative meaning inherent in each doctrine.

Thupten Jinpa links the Dharmakaya with the Father, the Sambhogakaya with the Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya with the Son (GH, p. 189). In this scheme, the Dharmakaya and the Father are both recognized as the inexpressible mystery from which all things freely arise. They are the Truth and the Law underlying the manifest cosmos. The Sambhogakaya and the Spirit are recognized as the love, wisdom, and enjoyment of being that pervade the world at a level subtler than the physical dimension. The Dalai Lama describes how, after Gautama Buddha’s parinirvana, though his physical body decayed and disappeared, his Sambhogakaya, or “state of perfect resourcefulness,” continued and remains ever-present (GH, p. 119). Those still devoted to the Buddha’s teaching benefit by relating to this subtler form of his being. This is very close to the message of John’s Gospel, where Christ says that, after his ascension, the Spirit will be sent to remind the faithful of his message and to aid them in its practice (14:25). Finally, the Nirmanakaya and the Son are recognzied in Jinpa’s scheme as emanations or physical embodiments of subtler forces that have been “stepped down” so as to benefit the temperament of ordinary mortals like ourselves. Were it not for the historical emanation of Gautama Buddha, or the incarnation of Jesus Christ, normal human beings could never have accessed their divine teachings.

Another reading is possible. Relating the Dharmakaya to the Father is unproblematic, but Son and Spirit may also be fruitfully understood as parallels to Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, respectively. The relation between the Sambhogakaya, understood to be the organ of Imagination (as discussed above), and the Son becomes clearer in light of William Blake’s oft repeated insight, that “Jesus is the Imagination.”

Jesus is the Imagination, the creative power at the core of man’s being. All things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the divine body of the Savior, the true vine of eternity, the Human Imagination” (BD, p. 159).

If, as Lama Govinda suggests, the Sambhogakaya is the body that provides an exalted vision of higer forms and ideas (FTM, p. 214), perhaps Christ is not (only) a historical emanation, but an eternally born, universal potency lying dormant in the human soul. Through the processes of interplay between heart, mind, and world at work in soul-making, Christ may be resurrected within each of us as an organ of Imagination, thereby granting us participation in eternal Love and bliss. On this reading, Christ is not (or at least not only) an individual who lived and died in Jerusalem during the first century CE (as in Jinpa’s scheme, where He is equated with the Nirmanakaya), but an ever-flowing creative presence available to those whose heart-mind’s are adequately prepared to witness Him.

The Nirmanakaya, then, can be related to the Spirit, or that which is awakened in the individual human being to the imaginal presence of the Son. As Blake put it, the Spirit is “the intellectual fountain proceeding from Jesus to man” (BD, p. 158). It would be impossible to remain a Christian while denying that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine, and that he indeed walked the earth as a man in 1st century Jerusalem. That Christ is currently present to  consciousness on the imaginal, rather than the physical plane, does not mean he wasn’t once physically incarnate. His birth, death, and resurrection as a physical being prepared the human vessel for Spirit to enter into and be realized by our consciousness. The ambiguity between the Son and the Spirit, or the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, is a reflection of the permeability of the physical plane to the supersensible influence of the Imagination. According to Steiner, this permeability is a result of the spiritual transformation of the very substance of the earth brought about by the Christ event (CMF).

Conclusion: Soul and Spirit

“As various as the Lives of Men are,” writes Keats, “so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, identical Souls of the Sparks of his own essence.” If religion is to return to play a fruitful role in our post-secular context, it must re-envision itself so that it might speak to the needs of modern people. Nearly a hundred years of depth psychology have made it increasingly difficult to deny the inherently polytheistic tendencies of the soul. According to Hillman, for whom psychology was akin to soul-making, “The soul’s inherent multiplicity demands a theological fantasy of equal differentiation” (RP, p. 167). Each of us is uniquely shaped by our respective traditions, which is not to deny that all of us are also universally drawn toward Spirit. Spirit is such that, as soon as it is named, it becomes multiple. Christ and Buddha are the voices most easily heard by my soul, but it is through a devotion to their teachings of love and kindness that I become capable of hearing the voices of other traditions. There is no more important challenge, and perhaps none more difficult, than this openness to the wisdom of others.

The “New Age” approach taken in this essay could be criticized as leading to a “religion of the supermarket” (DRB, p. 44), wherein an uprooted individual borrows various elements from the world’s wisdom traditions in order to construct a spiritual orientation most comfortable to their personal inclinations. There is indeed a danger of superficiality in such practices, but the growing interpenetration of traditions in our new planetary context has also created new possibilities for soul-making.

As Chaudhuri has written,

…modern man is uniquely privileged to draw upon the manifold richness of world culture. He can select according to the needs and requirements of his growing soul. The selected material, however diverse in form, can be transformed into the harmony of balanced self-development by the creative spark within him, by his authentic self, which shines most in free communication with the boundless universe (MMR, p. 74).

The world becomes a vale of soul-making when earth is no longer radically separated, due to our sin (or clouded perception), from heaven, nor soul (or desire) separated from Love (or Spirit). Instead, an economy can be opened between the Above and the Below, such that creative divinity participates directly in the life of the soul, and, eventually, in the shaping of the body igniting it.

Works Cited

 MMR = Chaudhuri, Haridas. Modern Man’s Religion. 1966. J. F. Rowny Press: Santa Barbara, CA.

DRB = Cornille, Catherine. “Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions.” Buddhist-Christian Studies, vol. 23. 2003. University of Hawaii Press.

BD = Damon, Samuel Foster. Eaves, Morris. A Blake Dictionary: The ideas and symbols of William Blake. 1988. University Press of New England: Hanover, NH.

FTM = Govinda, Lama Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. 1959. Rider & Company: London, UK.

RP = Hillman, James. Revisioning Psychology. 1977. Harper: New York, NY.

GH = Kiely, Robert. The Good Heart: A Buddhist perspective on the teachings of Jesus. 1998. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

IRD = Panikkar, Raimon. The Intrareligious Dialogue. 1998. Paulist Press: New York, NY.

CMF = Steiner, Rudolf. Christianity as Mystical Fact. 1997. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.

MCB = Suzuki, D. T. Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. 2002. Routledge: New York, NY.

Excerpts of John Keats are from the letter dated Feb 19th, 1819 to George and Georgiana Keats (unless otherwise noted by in text citation).

Divine Imagination

I’ve been having a very stimulating discussion with a Christian theologian named Jason Michael McCann. He has held up a mirror to my ideas and allowed me to see them in a new light. His criticisms are fair and I hope we will each benefit from continued exposure to what may turn out to be radically different readings of the Christian tradition, as well as differing ways of expressing the Christ-impulse at our particular moment in history. I think it is already evident that JMM and I share similar perspectives, but for better or worse, my spiritual speculations and interpretations are unmoored from the venerable doctrines of any particular Creed or Council. I am not very systematic, either, and so to call any of what I do here on this blog “theology” is perhaps misleading. There may be some philosophy here, but I know for a fact there are many analytically-trained philosophers who would dismiss the expressions of my love of wisdom as poetic nonsense. I’m less interested in theo-logic, or any attempt to rationalize or justify a transcendent God, than I am in expressing what Raimon Panikkar has called the “cosmotheandric principle.”

In short, the cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity speaks to me not as a theology, but as an anthropology. This is not because, like Feuerbach, I think God is merely a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Teilhard de Chardin called “personalization.” To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis. (Incidently, Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.)

Perhaps the primary difference thus far uncovered between JMM and I concerns the role of imagination, which is not, for me, unrelated to the nature of the divine-human relationship. I dwell on the spiritual significance of imagination in what follows.

“My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk,” writes John Keats in a letter to Shelly. Blake went so far as to call imagination “the Divine Body of lord Jesus, blessed for ever.” Blake saw clearly that the old quarrel between Plato and Homer was alive and well: the abstract philosophy of “Newton’s single vision” was in his day “warring in enmity against Imagination.”

Why is imagination so important? Because it constantly challenges the intellect’s attempts to systematize experience. A deadened imagination lead the Pharisees to place the letter of the law before the Spirit (Mark 2:3-28). Not even stone tablets can survive the fiery caldron of imagination that lights the hearts of the faithful. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6), which is not to say that scripture should not be read and respected. It is just a reminder that the Spirit’s revelations are ongoing, and that the doctrines codified by learned councils must be balanced by the poetic prayers and visions of mystics.

I believe the incarnation of the Word is an ongoing historical event that is re-making the world from the inside out. Human beings are participants in this divine-cosmic drama, and there is no higher form of worship than divine imitation (humble imitation!). Our task is to imaginatively body-forth an earth whose economy runs on love instead of envy and hate. Not closer adherence to law, but a transformation of the human heart-mind is required.