Intimations of an Integral God: A lecture at CIIS

Slide 1: Prior to coming to CIIS, while studying philosophy as an undergraduate, I always had the sense of being somewhat smothered. As my studies continued, and my understanding matured, I realized why. I was being trained to think in the shadow of Immanuel Kant. [Show Crit. of Pure Reason- You’ve all read this, right?] For Kant, questions about God, and about God’s relationship to humanity and the cosmos, while certainly of the utmost importance, are nonetheless beyond the philosopher’s ability to know. But if my two years at PCC have taught me anything, it’s that such an artificial division between the human heart-mind and divine wisdom is unnecessary. I want to speak, as a philosopher, about the place of God and religion in the nascent social imaginary we call the Ecozoic era. Ecology has rightly become the rallying cry of our increasingly illumined planetary consciousness, but I don’t think this necessarily means that theology—or better, theosophy—can be retired. The word “theology” seems to imply some sort of over-masculinized attempt to intellectualize the divine. “Theosophy” suits my purposes better, suggesting patiently listening for, rather than logically hunting down the meaning of the divine. It does seem clear that traditional religion (Latin: religare), a bond to the dogmas of the past (i.e., fallen state of nature), may no longer serve our radically unprecedented situation. But in the “Ever Present Origin, Jean Gebser speaks of what he calls ‘praeligion’,” –the further flowering of religion out of its deficient mental mode of belief, so as to allow a “genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529). Praeligion in this sense may make real what for religion remains abstract and ideal. I’d like to speak on behalf of this possibility.

 

Slide 2: I want to pause here for a moment to acknowledge some pressing questions: Whether it be called religion or praeligion, it’s really just another spin on the same old Judeo-Christian mythos, right? What is the use of reviving theology when it seems that our real problems are ecological? And isn’t our scientific understanding of the evolving cosmos enough to inspire us? I must admit that I am going to speak the language of a particular book, The Bible. But I also think it is a mistake to artificially separate the world’s major religious traditions. There really does seem to be a perennial wisdom informing the esoteric teachings of each, even if this wisdom reveals itself differently according to the needs of particular times and particular places. All human beings have spiritual aspirations, which means that an understanding of time and evolution are not enough to satisfy the infinite longing of our souls. I think psychic wholeness requires that we also have some sense of eternity and of involution. All the world’s spiritual traditions seem to me to be in agreement about this.

 

Slide 3: There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that theology, or theosophy, cannot continue to remain relevant if it neglects the significance of time and evolution—of earth. As Teilhard writes, “It used to appear that only two attitudes were possible for humanity: either loving heaven or loving earth. With a new view of space-time, a third road opens up: to make our way to heaven through the earth” (Christianity and Evolution). Natural science has learned quite a bit in the last few hundred years about the natural history of our planet. This is an “earth-clock” representing this history. If we imagine that the 4.6 billion years of our earth’s existence were condensed into an hour, the first prokaryotic cells would have emerged within less than 10 minutes! Life was no mistake; clearly, the earth was never a mere rock, but was potentially living from the very first moment it began folding upon itself in space-time. This, along with our knowledge of the common origin of all life, and of all of space-time!, is a testament to the interconnectedness and creativity assumed to be absent from nature by earlier scientific paradigms.

 

Slide 4: I don’t think the recognition of this already existing creativity makes talk of Alpha and Omega superfluous. In fact, I think it makes these theological concepts more relevant than ever, because modern science is suggesting that the universe is a cosmogenesis, that it had a beginning, and that it is developing irreversibly toward some end. The question is, what kind of end? Teilhard wrote often of how the unitary perspectives offered by 20th century physics and biology have provided a decisive new impetus to our sense of the universe. “The surge of modern pantheisms is a result of this,” he says. “But this impetus” he continues, “will only end by plunging us back into supermatter if it does not lead to Someone” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 190). Pantheism is undoubtedly a beautiful affirmation of the enchanted wholeness of the universe, but I, like Teilhard, find it difficult to breathe in a universe without any hint of divine transcendence.

When I look at Western history with an eye for the evolution of consciousness, I see a movement from pre-modern mythic Theism (universe created by an entirely transcendent divine Person), through modern Deism, to post-modern Pantheism/atheism (which I lump together because both understand the universe in an entirely immanent and impersonal way). I think the next step in this dialectic is toward an Integral Panentheism, where the universe is experienced as an ongoing process toward personalization, an anthropocosmogenesis. Teilhard articulates the subtle but important difference between pantheism and panentheism in the following way: “…if the reflective centers of the world are really ‘one with God,’ this state is not obtained by identification (God becoming all [as in pantheism]), but by the differentiating and communicating action of love (God all in all)” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 223). God is not just One, but also Many; not just transcendent, but living within the heart of each and every being.

 

Slide 5: I think this dialectic from theism, to atheism/pantheism, to panentheism shows us that, if history has any significance, it is that, as Owen Barfield says, “in the course of it, the relation between creature and Creator is being changed” (Saving the Appearances, p. 160). Perhaps the God of our planetary age is no longer a hidden eye in the sky, uninvolved in earthly life, but in the course of the evolution of consciousness, beginning to take up far more intimate residence within and among us upon the earth itself.  As Teilhard writes, “Religion… represents the long disclosure of God’s being through the collective experience of the whole of humanity” (Human Energy, p. 47).

 

Slide 6: I’d like to draw attention to three reasons why a panentheist God remains relevant even in our increasingly secular world. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God, as an idea, has important social functions and so should not be dispensed with. I’m not making a prescriptive argument. I’m suggesting that human beings will inevitably remain religious creatures for these reasons: 1) to foster human community, 2) to provide intimacy with the cosmos, 3) to provide an evolutionary telos for consciousness.

 

Slide 7: Hegel seems to me to have been on to something in suggesting that divinity and humanity find their unity in the consciousness of community (part B, philosophy of religion). But the importance of God for community, and of community for God, was made apparent to me not at first by Hegel, but by the Jewish theologian Martin Buber. In the final lines of the afterward to his book “I and Thou,” Buber writes: “The existence of mutuality between God and [humanity] cannot be proved anymore than the existence of God. Anyone who dares nevertheless to speak of it bears witness and invokes the witness of those whom he addresses” (p. 182). Buber attempts in this book to articulate the twofold attitude human beings can take toward the world and each other: 1) “I-It” relation, wherein an aloof subject experiences the others as object, as a means to its ends; 2) “I-Thou/You” relation, wherein one relates to other persons as the presence of God, encountering others as a revelation of the eternal You, of the universal person in the unique.

 

Slide 8: Emmanuel Levinas, who was heavily influenced by Buber, finds God in the infinite responsibility that takes the ego hostage in any authentic face-to-face encounter with another. He writes: “The free [human being] is dedicated to [her] fellow; no one can save [herself] without others. The inside-out domain of the soul does not close from inside” (Humanism of the Other, p. 66). The soul is infinite, and so it seems it cannot find wholeness without relating to divinity, which for Levinas is the holiness of others. This notion of a soul unable to close from the inside also reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s question as to why “we are not more sensitive to the presence of something on the move at the heart of us that is greater than ourselves?” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 120).

 

Slide 9: An integral God would not only foster community, but would deepen the intimacy of our relationship to the cosmos. Teilhard’s love of matter goes a long way in this direction, but I think the German shoemaker turned mystic Jakob Boehme’s vision of the relationship between God and creation may have even more to say to us. The physicist Basarab Nicolescu distills the essence of Boehme’s cosmology of divine self-manifestation as “a threefold structure leading to a sevenfold self-organization of reality” (Science, Meaning, and Evolution, p. 90).

 

Slide 10: Boehme’s God is not Aristotle’s perfect unmoved mover, but dynamic and self-revelatory by nature. Boehme wrote many books attempting to describe his revelatory vision of a God who cannot but overflow into creation. God in-itself, traditionally “God the Father,” is the mysterious abyss or ground of pre-creation, and consists of the restless agitation of three principles—darkness, light, and fire (or sour, sweet, and bitter). The light wants to expand and radiate, to become manifest, but the dark wants to remain hidden and self-contained. As a result of this self-contradiction, God ignites into flames, burning in what Boehme calls a “wheel of anguish.” The friction of the three restless principles generates heat, which is the first of God’s manifest qualities but the 4th in the sevenfold self-organization of reality. This heat ignites a flash, transforming it into the force of love in search of itself, the 5th principle. Love finds itself through the reverberation of sound or tone, language or the Word, the 6th principle, which then becomes flesh, reaching fulfillment as body—God incarnate—completing the sevenfold series.

 

For Boehme, the cosmos is the body of God. He refers to stars as the “fountain veins of God.” It is as if he is saying that stars are a visible example of this sevenfold creator-creativity in action. But this series is active in every being.

 

Cosmogenesis is, for Boehme, the divine’s attempt to find wholeness, and the human being participates in this attempt, our faith (or our opening to the imaginal dimension of reality) acting as the food that nourishes God. Boehme’s cosmology places a heavy responsibility upon humanity, as the completion of the sevenfold cycle depends upon our active cooperation. With the failure to consciously participate, according to Nicolescu, “the entire universe of the creation would disappear into chaos” (p. 89).

 

Slide 11: Owen Barfield’s insightful ‘study in idolatry,’ the subtitle of his book about the evolution of consciousness called “Saving the Appearances,” provides another way to deepen the intimacy of the relationship between human beings and the universe. For Barfield, the entire history of the world consists in the changing relationship between consciousness and phenomena, between spirit and matter. Long ago, human beings participated unconsciously in a spiritually imbued cosmos; but in time, with the gift of speech, the ability to name phenomena, came also the awareness of self. Original participation with the cosmic process was canceled, and human beings began increasingly to perceive only their own collective representations/mythic images of the cosmos, which itself receded into the background. Following the scientific revolution, these collective representations became “false idols”—the universe conceived of as matter in motion without the need of being participated by any percipient. This further isolated human consciousness from a deterministic nature. As the 19th century approached its end, the universe began increasingly to seem like a collection of dead objects lacking all interiority.

 

Barfield points to the possibility of “final participation,” wherein we come to recognize that our consciousness actively participates in the holotropic movement of space-time itself. In other words, we realize that we stand in what Barfield calls a “directionally creator relation” to the cosmos—that each of us are co-participants in the divine imagination that continually brings forth the phenomenal world. Final participation, according to Barfield, requires the reversal of our normal direction of consciousness; original participation fired the heart from a source outside itself; images enlivened the heart. But for final participation, the heart must be fired from within by our own spark of divinity…it is for the heart to enliven the images (p. 172).

 

Slide 12: As Teilhard describes it so eloquently, lacking the metanoia required for final participation, “we are continually inclined to isolate ourselves from the things and events surrounding us as though we were looking at them from the outside… as spectators rather than elements of what is happening…We are not being tossed about and drawn along in the vital current merely by the material surface of our being. But like a subtle fluid, space-time, having drowned our bodies, penetrates our soul…until the soul soon no longer knows how to distinguish space-time from its own thoughts” (p. 153).

 

Slide 13: We see, then, that we are not mere spectators of an already created universe. The telos of consciousness evolution is towards the activation of our latent powers of imaginal cognition, so that we might participate with God in the ongoing revelation of the universe.

 

Boehme: “For thou needest not ask, Where is God? Hearken, thou blind human; thou livest in God, and God is in thee; and if thou livest holily, then therein thou thyself art God. For wheresoever thou lookest, there, is God” (Aurora, p. 172).

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