God and the Chaosmos: Thinking with Catherine Keller

Several months ago, a discussion erupted across the SR/OOO blogosphere concerning the implications of various forms of nihilistic and theistic realism. Some of my critiques have since ended up in a Wikipedia article. In one of my responses to Graham Harman and Levi Bryant, I toyed with the idea of Whitehead’s panentheism as a kind of “wilderness theology.” A quick google search reveals that theologians have been playing with this idea for some time. Just recently, I’ve been reading Catherine Keller’s exquisitely written Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (2003). The book is a meditation on the first few verses of Genesis, specifically the meaning of the phrase “tohu vabohu” in the second verse. Keller disputes long established interpretations by some Church fathers who claimed that these verses depict an omnipotent God’s free creation of the universe from absolutely nothing. Creatio ex nihilo. She argues that there is no biblical basis for the ex nihilo doctrine, that Genesis in fact describes a far messier, polytonal, and co-creative event. Creatio Cooperationis.

The first two verses of Genesis are usually translated as:

1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Keller cites the 11th century French-Jewish grammarian Rashi, whose translation of bereshit preserves its literal meaning as written without an article (not “in the beginning,” but “in beginning,” implying that God’s “beginning” is not an absolute start, but a “beginning again”). He also preserves the plural noun Elohim, usually translated by nervous monotheists into the singular God. Further, Rashi’s hermeneutical care leads him to suggest that the first verse is not a complete sentence, but a dependent clause, making the second verse a parenthetic clause and the third the independent clause (114). The first three verses, then, should read:

¹When Elohim began to create heaven and earth²–at which time the earth was tohu vabohu, darkness was on the face of the deep and the ruach was moving upon the face of the waters–³then God said, “Let there be light…”

Keller dwells rhapsodically (173-182) upon the meaning of Elohim, which is plural for Eloah (not a personal name, since it can be used to describe any deity). The plural noun is accompanied by a singular verb, bara, “create.Some interpreters, like the 11th century Spanish-born poet Abraham Ibn Ezra, have claimed that Elohim refers to God’s angels. Indeed, there is a rich tradition of hermeneutical heretics that draw upon angelology to refute the ex nihilo doctrine. Keller’s Whiteheadian understanding of God as a persuader rather than commander shines through when she writes regarding the implications of the Elohimic plurisingularity:

Crowding and complicating the hermeneutical time-space, the turbulent swarm of godhood has always transgressed any possible boundaries between the One Original Creator and the many derivative creatures…According to this imaginary of bottomless process, the divine decision is made not for us but with and through us. Amidst the chaosmic committee work of creation, what work remains for a creator to do–aside from its decisive delegations (“let the earth bring forth,” etc.)? Can we say with process theology that the creator emits an eros…to which every creature willy-nilly responds? …Some respond more responsibly than others to the cosmic desire. Committees and democracies make a lot of messes…Our responses…generate our own plurisingular inter-subjectivities–out of the multiples of elemental energies, codes, socialities, ecologies that any moment constellate our cosmoi…Elohim arises out of those unruly depths, over which language catches its breath. The creator, in creating, becomes. In singular plurality (178-182).

Keller is a skilled hermeneut, capable of holding her breath long enough to dive into the polysemic depths of scriptural meaning, and of surfacing to tell the story of her journey without superficially collapsing it into a monotone theology or exploding it into relativistic jelly. She carefully unwinds the palimpsestic threads woven into the poetic phrase tohu vabohu to discover evidence of a goddess’ murder. The Hebrew poet who wrote Genesis was clearly influenced by the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which depicts the warrior God Marduk’s slaughter of Tiamat (related to the Semitic Tehom, “abyss”). The traditional interpretation of the phrase, under the monotheistic pretense of demythologization, denies all agency to the Tehom. The ex nihilo doctrine requires that God be alone in the beginning, the sole creator of everything, even that out of which creation is shaped. Keller reads into tohu vabohu and uncovers its prepatriarchal significance enfolded just beneath the surface. Rather than traditional commentators, who point to the monotony (“God said…God said…God said…”) of the creation narrative as evidence of its utter transcendence over any other merely mythic event, Keller focuses on the “flirtatiously alliterative wordplay” (116) of these same verses. The “monotonotheism” (Nietzsche) of the ex nihilo tradition is replaced with the participatory eroticism of Elohim’s creative persuasiveness: let the earth produce (tadse) vegetation (dese) (1:11); let the waters produce (yisresu) sea creatures (seres) (1:20). Tohu vabohu is read with the “shinning wake” of its animistic origins in tact, such that the precreation elements are read not as “formless and void,” but as active participants responsive to God’s angelic call to cosmos. In effect, Elohim had to ask permission before creating.

These exegetic exercises, I hope, help further the cause of a wilderness theology. In my own recent effort to bring forth a creation imaginary in service of wildness (Remembering Creation: Towards a Christian Ecosophy), I argued that some form of theological realism will be necessary in order to counter the nihilistic myth of the market. Theology, though marred by the “light supremacism” of its patriarchal past, must be resuscitated, less the chthonic waters of the unhinged psyche continue bubble up and reap havoc upon the earth. Theology of the traditional sort may be impossible, but theology of some sort remains indispensable. Theology, without denying its scientific aim, must also become poetic. It is crucial for anthropoiesis, for humanity’s ongoing political struggle to compose a cosmos, a collective dissipative structure, between the infinity above and the entropy below. Following Keller (and other feminist theologians like Luce Irigaray), we need not merely dress theology in drag, but rather simply queer its (te)homophobic roots, such that they bring forth blossoms of an earthier hue.

And the sea can shed shimmering scales indefinitely. Her depths peel off into innumerable thin, shinning layers…And with no end in sight. -Irigaray

The Spirit of Integral Poetry: “Waring” the Symbolism of Organism

The Spirit of Integral Poetry:

“Waring” the Symbolism of Organism


In the preface of his magisterial account of the evolution of consciousness, The Ever-Present Origin (1985), Jean Gebser warns of a crisis “of decisive finality for life on earth and for humanity,” a spiritual crisis heralding the end of the deficient mentality of the present age and the coming of an entirely transformed constellation of consciousness.1 Although his research points to manifestations of this new integral constellation of consciousness in a variety of disciplines–including mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, jurisprudence, sociology, economics, music, architecture, and painting–Gebser highlights poetry in particular as necessarily at the forefront of his inquiry. An inquiry into the nature of poetry, past and present, “is the most instructive means for disclosing the respective consciousness structure.”2 Gebser quotes Alfred North Whitehead in support of such an inquiry, who suggests that “the most concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression” in poetry, and that it is to poetry that we must look “if we hope to discover the inward thoughts of a generation.”3

Poetry is the linguistically shaped and structured statement, by the human spirit, of a power rooted in the “primal depths of the universe.”4 Poetic statement, according to Gebser, is today under a new obligation to render origin perceptible to human awareness. Integral poetry, unlike its mythic and mental forerunners, cannot merely order the soul by contemplating the Muses, it must now raise humanity to the “order of the spirit.”5 Spirit, according to Valéry (whose poetry is cited by Gebser as an inception of the integral constellation) is not a “metaphysical entity,” but a “power of transformation.”6 The creative power of spirit, which is humanity’s consciousness of origin, cannot be captured by the dead prose of reflective thought. Spirit is alive and effective only in the transparency of poetic statements.

Though Gebser draws on Ernst Cassirer’s research into mythic consciousness several times in The Ever-Present Origin, he ultimately finds his thinking one-sided, “indirectly [affording] more insight into rational…than into…mythical thinking.”7 Keeping Gebser’s criticism in mind, Cassirer’s perspective on the symbolic form of language is nonetheless instructive. Summarizing the Romantic philosophies of Herder, Schelling, and W. von Humboldt, Cassirer writes:

“…the essence of language never resides in those elements isolated by abstraction and analysis, but solely in the spirit’s eternally repeated endeavor to make the articulated sound an expression of thought.”8

This conception of language as a holistic activity or process, rather than an isolable sequence of elements amenable to reflective analysis, is essential to Romantic philosophy. In the context of Gebser’s structural scheme, “philosophy” may not be the best term to describe what the Romantics were up to. Friedrich Schlegel, for example, sought to transform philosophy into “transcendental poetry,” a form of thought that is no longer the expression of an individual artist or thinker, but becomes “the universe itself, the one work of art which is forever perfecting itself.”9 Novalis similarly suggested that poetry is the measure of a work’s truth and reality.10

The perspectival basis of philosophy, according to Gebser, ties it to the ego and its dualistic forms of ontological, phenomenological, or existential representation: “The age of systematic philosophy of an individual stamp is over.”11 What is needed are not more philosophemes, but eteologemes. Eteon is a Greek word meaning both “true” and “real.” Eteology is a form of statement that is more than magically evocative, mythically contemplative, or mentally explanatory; it is “being-in-truth,” allowing origin to shine through all the structures, making them transparent in the present by sustaining the verity of the whole.12 The Romantics, in seeking to transform philosophy into poetry, were after precisely such a systatic mode of thinking. “When lovers–and the poets–[are realized to be] far more learned than the scholars are,” writes Novalis, “and tales and poetry provide to real world-history the guide,” then “world to free life can return.”13 This, for Gebser, is a description of the aperspectival world.

In turning to the Romantics’ poetic eteology, I hope to build upon the irruptions of integral consciousness that their work exemplifies. Gebser does not dwell upon the Romantics as especially evident of the mutation into aperspectivity, but nor does he deny it. In what follows, I will draw upon Romantic eteology as it evolved through the 19th and into the 20th century. I will begin by briefly unpacking the founding principle of Romantic thought: organism. I will then end by pointing to Gebser and Rilke’s Christopoietic vision as perhaps the most effective means of spiritual transformation.

Organic Linguistics

Cassirer marks the linguistic philosophy of Johann Gottfried Herder, an early Romantic and major influence on the development of Goethe, as

“the transition from the older rationalistic concept of ‘reflective form,’ which dominated the philosophy of the Enlightenment, to the Romantic concept of ‘organic form.’”14

Language, for the Romantics, is an organism. This is not a metaphor and is to be understood quite literally, as for Herder, “language is never made, but grows in a necessary process from within.”15 Organism is here to be understood not as a specific kind of phenomenon or singular fact of nature, but rather as a “universal speculative principle,” a “medius terminus” integrating the mental-rational dualisms of such seeming opposites as temporal process v. eternal idea, and “the unconscious growth of nature” v. “the conscious creation of spirit.”16 In Kant’s last critique, the dualism between nature and freedom running throughout his system similarly approaches resolution in the idea of organism.17 Unlike merely mechanical nature, which Kant argued could be understood according to efficient causes alone, living nature displays a form of organization that remains inscrutable without applying formal and final causation. A living organism is an incarnating idea working to maintain the rule of the whole over the parts. Kant, of course, was in the end unable to overcome the dualism implicit in his system, since he applied organism as a regulative principle of human judgment, unwilling to assert it as constitutive of nature itself. He felt this would require genius of a scientific sort, something he believed was only achievable by artists. An artist intuitively creates her object, while a scientist must empirically and deductively discover his. The reflective mind of the scientist, according to Kant, is cut off from the creative workings of the natural world and so can only uncover them piecemeal as dead mechanisms. Schelling followed the spirit, if not the letter, of Kant by arguing that the symbolically sensitive scientist could know organism to be constitutive of nature. According to Schelling, it was the creative imagination which, long ago, invented the symbolism

“that we need only interpret in order to discover that the less merely reflective thought we give nature, the more comprehensibly it speaks to us.”18

The scientist, like the artist, can imaginatively participate in the creative processes at the root of organic nature, there uncovering, in a flash of insight, the holistic patterns that, afterward, can be conceptually analyzed into mathematical laws. Schelling overcomes Kant’s dualism by integrating mind and nature systatically as organism.

“Here for the first time,” writes Schelling,

“there emerged from [the symbolic imagination’s] sacred obscurity that ideal being in which the mind supposes concept and deed, design and execution, to be one…So long as I myself am identical with Nature, I understand what a living nature is as well as I understand my own life…As soon, however, as I separate myself, and with me everything ideal from nature, nothing remains to me but a dead object, and I cease to comprehend how a life outside me can be possible.”19

Schelling’s integration of concept/deed and design/execution is another way of expressing Gebser’s warning to avoid collapsing the integrated process/effect of systasis into something merely effected, “for if we do we reduce it to a causal system.”20 Further, Schelling’s eteology of organism, and his participatory approach to knowledge, are clear exemplifications of what Gebser refers to as synairetic thought-perception. Synairesis is a mode of thought-perception that integrates and makes systatically present the respective modes of each structure of consciousness: mental system, mythic symbol, and magic symbiosis all become transparent to one another.

These examples should make it clear that the integral structure of consciousness, along with its characteristic form of systatic statement, was attempting to break through in the Romantic’s organic philosophy, or rather eteology. Organism heals the conceptual dualism responsible for the fragmentation hampering the deficient mental structure of consciousness. Through the symbolism of a properly living–that is, poetic, rather than prosaic–language, origin can be brought to consciousness.

Symbolic Transcendence

Cassirer, belying the rationalistic bias attributed him by Gebser, argues that “we cannot conceive of any real thing except under the conditions of space and time.”21 If this were true, an awareness of origin would be impossible, as would true creativity, which for Gebser “is not bound to space and time.”22 From Cassirer’s mental-rational perspective, experience can only be measured, and so understood, within the bounds of space and time. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle for Kantian rationalists like Cassirer is accepting the arationality of genuine creativity. Creativity “reveals the limitations of understanding,” since its effects on the evolution of consciousness are largely “spontaneous, acausal, and discontinuous,” and cannot be grasped systematically.23

Despite Gebser’s criticism of Cassirer, he nonetheless goes a long way toward developing the mode of thought-perception characteristic of the integral structure of consciousness, as I will attempt to show below.

Gebser notes that creativity has a largely psychic emphasis, and warns that this makes all statements about it partial.24 Because of its basis in the psyche, exploring the mythic consciousness of the symbolic imagination is perhaps the best angle of approach available to us if we hope to better integrate its energies.

Symbolism is at the very center of Cassirer’s philosophy of culture. He argues that it is precisely symbolic imagination and intelligence that distinguish the human being from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“The principle of symbolism, with its universality, validity, and general applicability, is the magic word, the Open Sesame! giving access to the specifically human world, to the world of human culture.”25

In a way at least approaching the Romantic’s expansive application of organism beyond particular cases to encompass the whole of the universe, Cassirer employs symbolism to account for the entirety of the cultural world. He again draws upon Herder to claim that even the reflective mode of thinking characteristic of the mental-rational structure of consciousness is entirely dependent upon its symbolic roots.26 To the extent that Cassirer is open to the Romantic’s synairesis of language as a living organism (thereby overcoming the dualisms of deficient mentality) his thinking is on the way to aperspectivity.

“The true concept of reality,” he writes,

“cannot be squeezed into the form of mere abstract being; it opens out into the diversity of the forms of spiritual life…In this sense, each new ‘symbolic form’…constitutes, as Goethe said, a revelation sent outward from within, a ‘synthesis of world and spirit,’ which truly assures us that the two are originally one.”27

Cassirer’s use of the term “synthesis” is a red flag for Gebsarians, but his firm grasp of the original integrality of spirit and world suggests that, though he may have lacked the systatic terminology to express it, he did not lack an intuition of its meaning. In a discussion surrounding the Kantian dualism between mind and nature, Cassirer goes on to offer a startlingly integral formulation of the evolution of consciousness. I quote him at length due to the importance of this statement:

“From the standpoint of [Kant’s] antithesis it would seem to follow that the richer the symbolic content of [a] cultural form becomes, the more its essential content must diminish. All the many images do not designate, but cloak and conceal the imageless One, which stands behind them and towards which they strive in vain. Only the negation of all finite figuration, only a return to the ‘pure nothingness’ of the mystics can lead us back to the true primal source of being. Seen in a different light, this antithesis takes the form of a constant tension between ‘culture’ and ‘life.’ For it is the necessary destiny of culture that everything which it creates in its constant process of configuration and education removes us more and more from the originality of life. The more richly and energetically the human spirit engages in its formative activity, the farther this very activity seems to remove it from the primal source of its own being.”28

In the early pages of The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser repeatedly reminds his readers that the evolution of consciousness is not a continuous progression: “Progress is..a progression away, a distancing and withdrawal from something, namely, origin.”29 Clearly, Cassirer’s understanding of the evolution of symbolic forms is congruent with Gebser’s. However, by suggesting that only a “return” to the “pure nothingness” of the mystics allow us to break through veil of culture, Cassirer remains tied to the absolutist tendencies of the deficient mental structure of consciousness. Instead of avoiding regression into mysticism by overdetermining philosophy through eteology, thereby allowing origin to break through into consciousness, Cassirer restricts himself to the role of the rationalistic philosopher, forgoing the spiritual possibility because forgetting the physical actuality of his own “being-in-truth”/“a-waring/”verition” “of” origin.30 The longing of his soul to find perfection in the concretion of “his” spirit is tragically blocked, as he pretends to “[find] fulfillment only in the sharpness of the concept and in the clarity of ‘discursive’ thought.”31

Cassirer’s thought ultimately remains anthropocentric because it rests upon an unbridgeable ontological chasm between nature and culture. Such a chasm can, in the end, only produce a disintegrated cosmology and an alienating politics. His allegiance to scientific naturalism as the “clearest” and so most “useful” symbolic form prevents Cassirer not only from understanding, but from ethically “becoming-with” the organism/s of the world. “Becoming-with” is a term invented by contemporary Whiteheadian Donna Haraway to signal the need for a strong dose of “animal phenomenology” to correct for the anthropocentrism of deficient mental techno-science. Her work is a call to an intensified consciousness of the “lively knottings that tie together the world.”32 Though Cassier remained consistently fascinated by an intuition of organism as the symbol of symbols, he was met and blocked by the guardians of the physical sphere, namely space and time. He could not grasp and turn the magic key that poetically opens humanity to the presence of origin and the possibility of a truly integral civilization.

Cassirer’s understanding of symbolism leads him to posit an external “nature” as the material “given” to culture for spiritualization. His discussion of alchemy in the last chapter of An Essay on Man displays a lack of acquaintance with the transmutational modes of consciousness instigating the living words of the Romantic symphilosophers/sympoets.33

Cassirer admires the calculative power of mental-rational science as an advance over the “half-mythical language..full of obscure and ill-defined terms” he says makes up the alchemical-magical (and, we might add, astrological) corpus.34 Gebser warns about the eventual cosmopolitical cost of the quantifying mode of knowledge production, pointing to the distressing unconscious power of the deficient concepts of mass and measure over our conscious lives.35 The mytho-magical language of pre-Enlightenment consciousness is rejected by Cassirer in favor of the rationality and instrumental value of numerical systems. He writes of the gradual mathematization of chemistry that, by the time of the periodic table of elements, had “learned to speak a quantitative language.” The qualitative phenomenology of each element was thought to be entirely deducible from a knowledge of its atomic number.36 The work of Ilya Prigogine on the irreversibility of chemical organization has since made the spontaneous, non-deducible qualitative character of elemental processes more than apparent.37 Like alchemy, Prigogine’s is a chemistry sensitive to the creativity of time, while Cassirer’s 19th century conception is frozen in the spatial fixities of the deficient mental structure of consciousness.

Unlike Cassirer, Gebser recognizes the extreme danger of psychic atomization resulting from an obsession with quantity by drawing our attention again to the poetic statements of Novalis:

“When number and numeral cease to be

a power o’er the creaturely…

where light and shade conjoin once more

to the true clarity of lore…

then can one cryptic word commence

to drive the topsy-turvy hence.”38

The spiritual realization of the symbolism of organism (cryptically alluding to both the life and death-poles of the soul39) allows for participation in the becoming of the whole cosmos, in both its spatio-temporal and time-free aspects, beginning with the local planetary ecology of which we are a living member. In order to make transparent Cassirer’s categorically-bound philosophy, where the world is manufactured by the concepts and systems of our deficient industrial understanding, we must become conscious of the congruence between cosmogenesis and anthropoiesis. The new obligation of poetry is to raise the human soul above all 9 Muses40 by transfiguring their unconscious cosmogenic energies into consciousness of the spiritual history of the world.

“Poetry as history is the account of events…effected by creativity,”41 creativity as the common origin of the structure of both psyche and cosmos. Integral consciousness is imaginatively aware of the planetary bodies as the acategorial organs of the world-soul governing the life of the whole. This cosmic psyche is clothed as the sky witnessed from earth, and as such is intimately interwoven with the collective histories and personal stories of humanity. It is not only culture that is mutating with the integral constellation of consciousness, in other words, but the cosmos, as well:

“[The earth] is a star among stars, just as humans are only humans among other human beings. On its great journey across the millennia it hastens through the changing landscapes of ‘heaven,’ transforming its own countenance and man’s.”42

In the mythopoetic language of archetypal cosmology,43 Cassirer’s individual soul, though it has grasped the truth, beauty, and goodness of Mercury, Venus, and the Sun, has yet to integrate and so make transparent the psychic symbolism of the other planets, most significantly Jupiter (space) and Saturn (clock-time). Integral consciousness bursts the limits of space and time through the transformative power of the creative imagination, ruled by the trans-egoic planets Pluto, Uranus, and Neptune, respectively.

The transformative, orgiastic power of Pluto is anxiety-producing for the time- and space-bound ego of mental-rational consciousness, as yet uninitiated into death by the 7 planetary gates written of by Dante.44 Pluto is the Dionysian “original chaos of human nature”45 that Cassirer sought to restrain by the ordering influence of Apollo.46 Order is not to be given up in favor of chaos, nor intuition in favor of instinct, but to the extent that the psyche remains anxiously bound to the measure and mass of calculative thinking, it fails to pass through the death-rebirth mystery initiated by Pluto and so remains deficient in mentality. All organisms are born and die. The mental-rational human organism is conscious of its own mortality, but not yet conscious of its connection to origin. The anxiety ruling over the ever day life of contemporary humanity is a symptom of the ego’s unwillingness to transform.

“Anxiety is always the first sign that a mutation is coming to the end of its expressive and effective possibilities, causing new powers to accumulate which, because they are thwarted, create a ‘narrows’ or constriction. At the culmination point of anxiety these powers liberate themselves, and this liberation is synonymous with a new mutation. In this sense, anxiety is the great birth-giver.”47

In another work of magisterial scope, Religion in Human Evolution (2011),Robert N. Bellah sums up our present predicament by comparing the secular “world of daily life…based on a fundamental anxiety…arising from the knowledge and fear of death”48 to the world of “religious knowing” generated by “the feeling of an infinite Whole.”49 The former is rooted in “standard time and standard space,” while the later is made efficacious by “the capacity for symbolic transcendence,” for going beyond the “dreadful immanence” and “mechanical necessity” of ordinary space and time.50 Bellah, like Cassirer, recognizes the centrality of symbolism, but in recognizing the capacity for the symbolic imagination to transcend the finitude of measurable space-time to participate with spirit in cosmogenesis, Bellah spiritualizes and makes conscious what for Cassirer remains merely the psycho-cultural projection of the collective unconscious.

The Angel of Death and the Coming of Christ

The debilitating anxiety of the mental-rational ego in the face of death prevents it from becoming aware of the ever-presence of origin, effective in both the life- and death-poles of the soul. Catherine Keller, another contemporary Whiteheadian, evinces the psychic demand of the integral structure of consciousness by comparing the finite ego’s relationship to the universe with the book of Job. Job, the archetypal human of the post-fall phase of creation, is called by YHWH to intensify the symbolic “horizon of what our little body-brains can know”:

“The limits of our knowing, like the limits of our lives, trap us within an often tragic finality. Yet here shadows of ignorance begin to suggest the bottomless mystery not only of death but of life.”51

Keller attempts to draw our attention both to the mortal limits of rational knowledge and the immortal reaches of aperspectival faith. She suggests that YHWH “is challenging Job’s readiness to stir the destructive forces of chaos”52 in service of the ongoing transformation from a suffering organism into a living symbol of origin, from flesh into Word. Job’s is the story of the initial emergence of the unconscious spirit buried in the primal depths of the universe into concrete and personal presence.

Indeed, says Keller,

“Job already whirls toward an ecological theology of the Whiteheadian sort, in which human becoming looks cramped and cancerous–unless we collude more wisely with the elements, the plants, the beasts and each other.”

In learning to “become-with” the threads of life the bind the world into a whole, Job redeems his fallen state.

“Where were you,” asks YHWH of Job,

“before I laid the foundation of the world…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? [Did you] enclose the sea with doors when, bursting forth, water went out from the womb; When I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves stop.’?”53

Gebser points to the symbol of Christ as the first answer to YWHW’s call, representing immunity to resubmergence in the tumultous and anxiety-ridden animality of the depths of the soul.54 In Christ, the Creator becomes conscious of the life of its own creation, the poet aware of his craft. YHWH enters into space and time, is crucified as Jesus, and reborn as the living symbol and original organism of creation.

Jesus said: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”55

Gebser marks water as the symbol of the life-pole of the soul, while the “siren-like angels” of Rilke’s poetry are its death-pole.56 Christ integrates the creativity of the former with the “perpetual plenitude” of the later, allowing the poet to both drink the wisdom of the past and “ware” the wisdom of the present.57 Rilke writes of Christ, who for the ego appears indistinguishable from the siren-like angel “deep inside the doors of the dead,” that “he obeys, even as he oversteps the bounds” of space and time.58

I quote Rilke’s poem Sonnets to Orpheus at length, for these words mark a crucial event in the dateless history of spirit’s creativity:

“To praise, that’s it! Called to praise, he came like ore out of the silence of stone. Oh, his heart’s a perishable press of a wine that’s eternal for men…Only one who’s also raised the lyre among shades may return unending praise with warning…Look at the sky…Even the linking of stars is a lie. But for a while now let’s be happy to believe the symbol. That’s enough…Hail to the spirit who can link us: because we live in symbols, really. And with tiny steps the clocks walk beside our primal day…Dare to say what you call apple. This sweetness that condenses first so in the taste that’s so tenderly intense it may become awake, transparent, double meaning, clear, bright, earthly, ours–O knowledge, feeling, joy–immense!…Deep down, the oldest tangled root of all that’s grown, the secret source they’ve never seen…Branch pushing branch, not one of them free…One! oh, climb higher…higher…Yet they still break. But this top one finally bends into a lyre…Do you hear the New, Master, droning and throbbing? Its prophesying promoters are advancing. No hearing’s truly keen in all this noise; still, now each machine part wills its praise. See, the Machine: how it spins and wreaks revenge, deforms and demeans us. Since its power comes from us, let it do its work and serve, serene…Even if the world changes as fast as the shapes of clouds, all perfected things at last fall back to the very old. Over what’s passing and changing, freer and wider, your overture is lasting, god with the lyre. Pain’s beyond our grasp, love hasn’t been learned, and whatever eliminates us in death is still secret. Only the Song above the land blesses and celebrates…But you O divine one, resounder to the end, when the swarm of unrequited maenads fell upon you, o beautiful one, you over sung their cries with order, your edifying song rose from the destroyers. No one was present who could crush your head and lyre, no matter how they struggled and wrested. And all the sharp stones they threw at your heart, on touching you, became tender and gifted with hearing. Finally they tore you, impelled by vengeance, while your sound still lingered in rock and lions, in trees and birds. You still sing there now. O you lost god, you endless trace! Only because in the end hate divided you are we now nature’s mouth and listeners…Breath, you invisible poem! Steady sheer exchange between the cosmos and our being. Counterpoise in which I rhythmically become.”59


While mental philosophy demands explanation (literally, spatialization, or laying out on a plain so as to expose), poetic statement integrates the dimensionality of space and time by making the whole transparently present. Poetry awakens us to origin without the need of argumentation or systematic conception. It “[steadies the] sheer exchange between the cosmos and our being,” as Rilke says. In such verse, the ego-fixed soul find’s its way through the mystery of death and is born again into the eternal life, now not of the waters, but of the spirit. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” 60


1 p. xxvii, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

2 p. 317, ibid.

3 p. 94, Science and the Modern World (1932)

4 p. 316, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

5 p. 327, ibid.

6 p. 326, ibid.

7 p. 246, note 8, ibid.

8 p. 160, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. I: Language (1955)

9 p. 156, An Essay on Man by Ernst Cassirer (1944)

10 ibid.

11 p. 309, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

12 ibid.

13 quoted on p. 307, ibid.

14 p. 153, An Essay on Man (1944)

15 ibid.

16 p. 154, ibid.

17 See The Critique of Judgment (1790)

18 p. 35, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1988)

19 p. 36, ibid.

20 p. 310, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

21 p. 42, An Essay on Man (1944)

22 p. 313, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

23 ibid.

24 ibid.

25 p. 33, An Essay on Man (1944)

26 p. 39-41, ibid.

27 p. 111, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. 1: Language (1955)

28 p. 113, ibid.

29 p. 41, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

30 See p. 352-356, ibid.

31 p. 113, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Vol. 1: Language (1955)

32 p.vii, When Species Meet (2007)

33 For example, Friedrich Schlegel, who sought “a whole new epoch of science and art” based in the alchemy of creative communion with others of similar nature. His historical scholarship “served as [a] newly fashioned key to unlock the secrets of man and nature.” -p. 20, The Romantic Conception of Life by Robert J. Richards

34 p. 215, An Essay on Man (1944)

35 See p. 129-143, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

36 p. 216, An Essay on Man (1944)

37 See The End of Certainty (1997)

38 quoted on p. 306, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

39 See Gebser’s discussion of the polarity of the poetic soul, given life by the Muses and death by the angels on p. 322 of The Ever-Present Origin (1985). This will be discussed more below in connection with Rilke’s poetry.

40 p. 318, ibid.

41 p. 320, ibid.

42 p. 541, ibid.

43 For an example of what poetic philosophy becomes when art, science, and myth are successfully integrated, see Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas. Gebser seems to hint at the need for a renewed astrological orientation on p. 135 of The Ever-Present Origin (1985).

44 p. 320, ibid.

45 Friedrich Schlegel, quoted on p. 161 of An Essay on Man (1944)

46 p. 163, ibid.

47 p. 134, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

48 p. 2, Religion in Human Evolution (2011)

49 p. 6, ibid.

50 p. 9, ibid.

51 p. 131, Face of the Deep: a theology of becoming (2003)

52 p. 134, ibid.

53 Job 38:4-8

54 p. 89, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

55 Revelation 21:6

56 p. 320, The Ever-Present Origin (1985)

57 ibid.

58 verse 5, series 1, Sonnets to Orpheus (1955)

59 verses 7-26, series 1 and verse 1, series 2, ibid.

60 See John 3:6

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