Saturday, 18 December 2010

Interior and Exterior

I have long looked for a God who is 'out there', and speculated (when I believed in God at all) that God 'dwelt' in some dimension encompassing or at least adjacent to, the physical universe even as while i accepted that God was supposedly omnipresent. Bececause presumably even a personal God has to have some 'head quarters' for if God was equally omnipresenteverywhere in the sense he is omnipresent in say this room in which I am sitting there would never 'see' God at all. I suppose I had held to the half-notion that there was some 'spot' in the universe where God was concentrated and a more dilute solution of Godness was present everywhere else as a subtle ether. Even if Omnipresence doesn't mean 'all pervasive' but is used in the sense that God is not limited by spatial bounds, then surely, a personal God had to be 'somewhere' able to intervene everywhere. But then long ago I read some classical theology and it was apparent God was conceived of as a being without spatial dimensions. I didn't think too much about this at the time, though the consequences are 'startling' to say the least. God is literally 'nowhere' if God is also 'everywhere'. I had generally conceived of God as 'separate' from physical creation in effectively a spatial sense. In many years I never thought to revise this very primitive idea, though many theological statements from learned persons and divines suggested my notion was wrong.

In the last few years I found I was unable to believe at all in a supernatural 'Self' and 'Mind' that directed or controlled the universe entire (which is surely a good as any definition of God in monotheism). The principle problem for me was the question of 'evil' or more particularly, why the divine would not intervene to prevent innocent suffering. Also though there was the nagging problem that surely a divinity that really existed would be patently and obviously knowable 'out there', something to be discovered by science if they kept searching hard and long enough.

As my religious beliefs have collapsed into a default naturalistic spirituality albeit with the tormenting doubt that there might, after all, be a God, I did at least come to value the physical aspect of nature more. Not that nature can be idealised - it is ridden with pain and competition for scare resources, 'red in tooth and claw' indeed. However nature became the focus of my spiritual contemplations and latterly my notion of 'transcendence' disintegrated. The notion of 'God' as at least a 'Ground of Being' and 'Absolute Spirit' has crept back into my naturalism. I find I am unable to swallow materalistic monism, prefering always a 'neutral monism'. Then this philosophical view, together with my new found 'immanentist' spirituality, and also combined with my preexisting animistic tendencies started to make me realise that I'd been looking for 'God' in the wrong place. The realisation dawned when I was reading something on the internet about 'consciousness' and mind-body relations (the latter have long been used by panentheists as an analogy of God-Cosmos relations, as the see it). If one could view the Cosmos from 'outside', then God would be nowhere to be seen. God would be utterly hidden, as God would represent the depths of being, not the surface.

I have also long used the analogy of waves on the surface of a vast ocean, to picture the physical world in process - constantly becoming and ceasing to be' - while the being itself is undisturbed. It has recently occurred to me that the analogy is somewhat question begging, in that while waves are part of the water, they are also a boundary layer for the ocean. But what is the 'other' which meets the ocean water at the surface. In other words, what 'existed' beyond the boundary. In a real ocean, the answer of course is air, the atmosphere. It occurred to me that in my metaphysical analogy, the space above 'my' ocean really denoted in my schema 'non being'. It then dawned on me that when we look at the physical world, in sum, we see the metaphysical boundary between being and 'non being'. Of course 'non being' is not a 'thing' that exists, even as a 'void' of absolute nothingness. However non-being is certainly a 'limit' on being, while 'limit' is necessary to give anything 'form' and indeed is necessary before there can be any 'plurality'. One puzzling question is how there can be any 'non being' if the ultimate is infinite being? We have necessary imported a metaphysical dualism of 'being versus non being' which it would seem, would have to be an 'eternal' state of affairs and rivalry. However perhaps I defined my terms wrongly - there is a duality at the heart of all reality, but the fundamental 'boundary' causing condition (which creates distinction) in conscious awareness and language is the 'Subject' and 'Object'. Implicit in all manifest existence is ability to distinguish between 'this' and 'that'. All human conception requires distinctions about the relations between distinct beings. But can this kind of duality be from all eternity while somehow retaining a fundamental unity? Well, perhaps if the 'subject' is ultimately conscious awareness and the 'object' the contents of that consciousness? or the subject-object distinction is analogous to a 'mind' and 'body' distinction or then again, what if the subject-object distinction is the distinction between 'will' and 'power'?. This seems to be the first and fundamental boundary. The distinction is not artificial and would seem to be what generate all other distinctions. For human beings, we have the very basic conscious awareness of an interior world (our mind) and an exterior world (the actions of the self in the world, our 'environment' and anything external to our mind that seems to impinge upon us). We might even say that our whole lives are lived in the form of a constant mediation between between that internal world and the external world. The 'self' only owns the interior world but does not control the exterior world - in relation to the latter the self comes up against limits. So do all other selves and all other objects.

[ More clearly we might also say the physical world is highly 'granualised' being, subject to separateness and distinction, so that A is not Not-A. There is multiplicity in the world because being consists of many many discrete bounded realities, and generally those realities are spatial (having extention) and temporal (existing for a discrete period of time). Thus my body exists in defined space A and time line B-C, but not in space B or presumably before B or after C (physical death)]

more another time....

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The unfinished business of the universe

The Neo Platonists considered that the divine was perfect and unchangeable, for change implied that the divine was not perfect (on the basis that change implied something became 'better' or 'worse'. Better would imply that something was not perfect before, and 'worse' obviously is moving away from perfection also). I don't accept the notion that change must involve any value judgement of 'better' or 'worse' than the previous state of affairs. For example is liquid water 'better or worse' than ice? This is surely some category error...'better and worse' are value judgements.

Nevertheless there is a further problem with the notion that the divine is perfect and therefore change is not necessary and the divine is 'complete'. There is nothing for the divine to do. Creativity cannot have an end or purpose that is good in itself. If the supreme good exists from all eternity then any amount of creativity and action does not add to the sum of all good. I find such a notion repellant, because I believe to create, even to simply be, is a greater good than non existence. One might state there are states of being of extreme suffering where non existence is preferred. However while there are some states of being that don't involve extreme suffering, I cannot see how overall being is not more good than non being. Indeed if there was only non being there could be no good at all. So the concepts of good and being seem intertwined in a way non being and good are not.

So I think we have a 'reason' for the universe, indeed existence, namely, for the sake of good. We might go further and notice that even pain and suffering and the overcoming and transformation and liberation from pain and suffering produce new forms of good: courage, loyalty, wisdom. The process of universal creativity tends to good and to the overcoming of evils, which is also good.

Where does this leave divinity? Is the divine complete and perfect? Clearly if the universe is an unfinished process toward greater good, then the divine is not in its essence the supreme good or perfect. We might say though that the divine is seeking or tending toward the supreme good in all things. We arrive then at a point of confirming a basic notion of process theology. We also accept the notion it seems that creativity is part of the divine nature and eternally so. This does not necessarily mean that creativity extends eternally in time I suspect. But the universe, which contains all time from a human point of view, is the manifestation of the divine. And we are not just like waves on the ocean who's nature might appear to be futile. There is a development within the universe. And I suspect the evolution of intelligent conscious beings is not an accidental and chance phenomenon of development, though as such sentience need not be the 'purpose' of the universe. Consciousness and intelligence does give more opportunity for good, in particular the ability of creatures to reflect upon the universe, to make the value judgement 'this is good' is surely a great good in itself.

What I don't want to return to though is the anthropomorphic notion that the divinity is a big self that is making the universe by its best efforts. A deity which is simply a very big and powerful self is a conscious manipulator of the objects in the universe. Creativity does not necessarily imply a deliberative mind or plan. One might side with the naturalists to see creativity as our word for a general tendency for an increase in multiplicity of forms, and their complexity as a 'law of nature'. If there is a cosmic consciousness, even if this is simply a knowing awareness of itself, an interiority to the whole process of the universe, we are probably cut off from it by the fact and particularlity of our existence. The finite cannot grasp the infinite anymore than one could capture the ocean by dipping a thimble in the sea. Equally the infinite, the ground of being cannot operate as a supreme actor in the particular facts of existence (by analogy my mind cannot encompass the celluar events within my body - I cannot attain a cell's eye view of things, and indeed I cannot through my mind do microsurgery or reorganise my organs and tissues.)

A Spiritual Sun - some meditations

Our physical sun, our nearest star, is of course the provider of the energy that makes life possible on earth. Since ancient times it has been considered, if not a god in itself, the physical correlate of the divine, which is the Spiritual Sun.

It appears necessary to imagine the divine as 'out there' while we know philosophically that we subsist in the divine as our ground of being; the divine is not 'out there' any more than it is 'in here'. The Ground of Being is immanent and transcendent. Immanent in that it is closer to us that our own heartbeat, transcendent in that it is not identical to any beings or beings, not even the sum of all beings.

The relationship between process and the divine source is analagous to 'waves' on the ocean of being. Waves come and go... a transient disturbance of the surface that does not disturb the depths below, yet is not apart from the depths. And if the ocean is the ground of being in this analogy, then at the surface being meets non being, their dialectic results in 'becoming' (or coming and ceasing to be)

Friday, 10 December 2010


The occasional jitters continue...the wistful desire to believe and return to an innocence of the younger me, to its social world, its great hopes and ideals. Once again I reviewed the arguments, the reasons to believe and not believe.. The answer was the same, as far as it was in my own power to convince myself, I found that intellectually I cannot accept the biblical theism in which I was brought up. It is obviously impossible to lift myself by my own mental bootstraps to a position of intellectual belief. So why the emotional attachment?

Because naturalism alone does not satisfy. I am inescapably religious. No simple pure atheism can fulfill a longing within me for transcendence and the powerful intuition that there is some creative power and higher consciousness.

But what religiosity can possibly remain through the fires of extreme doubt?

Some 'remains' that I may never systematise into anything like a world view, but remain uncombustable jewels in the charred ashes of my religion.

  • That the divine is the Ground of Being. The divine is not a being among beings but the source of being, and the ultimate concern. The experience of the Ground of Being is also the 'isness' of pure being. The Ground of Being is necessary being and prior to all beings, and eternally sustains all manifestation, but is not identical to it. All manifestation is the ever changing procession of creative will and creative power.
  • That there is a Higher Consciousness. It is possible I think to experience a state of cosmic awareness of the most sublime intellectual and also spiritual peace and bliss. This Higher Consciousness involves the contemplation of pure ideas and the Eternal objects. It is also about love, and finding unity in plurality and plurality in unity, a true communion. I believe we have a 'higher self', by which I mean, an ideal state of consciousness, and an inner wisdom.
  • The powers of nature are imagined as gods that we may relate to them, and in the ancient world, appease them. Gods are personifications and images of the powers that 'rule' existence. The Gods are also shaped by the archetypes of the collective unconscious, and they are parts of our selfhood speaking to our self hood. In psychological terms, but not as objective physical facts, the Gods are real. They are as 'real' as our own selves.
  • We are exiled from our spiritual roots. We are cut off from the perfect. We fall short of the divine nature. The ego revolts against the communion of the all in all. We find ourselves in a mental hell created by our own desires and fears. True faith is an absolute dependence upon the Ground of Being yet this is a feeling of rooted-ness and not a surrender for the latter in practice only implies a smothering of our true goodness and ability to think for ourselves. Very soon the ego re-asserts itself if it is just quashed. Legalistic religion tries to do the latter - it is ultimately a failed attempted to control the ego self.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Is that it?

Is that it? Why did my Christian contemporaries show no interest in my loss of faith? Why indeed didn't I get any divine assistance or revelation...why was the doubt permanent?. The history of my slow 'de-conversion' is itself evidence of the lack of truth of Christianity. Or perhaps I am just a particularly bad sinner and apostate.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I have just watched the film Agora, starring Rachel Weisz, a very powerful and moving film. The story is about the last 'pagan' philosopher-teacher Hyptia, a mathematician and astronomer, who lived in Alexandia at the end of the 4th Century AD. She is killed by a Christian mob, who have already destroyed centuries of ancient learning by despoiling the library of Alexandria. But her 'crime' is that she teaches people to question what they believe and know. Therefore she is confronted by the fanatical bishop Cyrill. The same man who much later became a saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church. Hyptia is presented in the film not so much as a pagan, as much as an early scientist and rationalist.
The film portrays (in an imaginative reconstruction of course) that Cyril uses the words of St Paul in the Epistle to Timothy that required a woman to be silent, and submissive and to not teach, in order to stir up the people and government against her. This part of the film disturbed me, because the command that a woman be 'silent' was inveighed years ago against my own father, a church elder, who wanted women to simply be able to pray openly within the Church. A minor version of St Cyril and Christian fanatics drove my father from his Christian fellowship.
Christian leaders have always abused power, for as many who have been gracious, others have been fanatical. This does not mean the core teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are wrong, or even that he was not the Messiah or 'Son' of God must be denied. But the film brought home the need to always questions even what is allegedly revealed or from God. Without reason, or more accurately, without questioning, we fall prey to all manner of ideological or religious fanaticism. Nothing should be beyond questioning or debate or criticism. Free speech is essential and faith must always be subject to review and reconsideration.
For many years I have been 'searching' for religious answers. I felt a failure because i never came to any solid conclusions, except about what I didn't believe in. Now I realise that if I question until my dying breath, this is far better than simply believing or even knowing (because 'knowing' is really just the state of believing that I know). Questioning means examining the evidence and always being open to new possibilities and argument. No belief, no practice should be beyond questioning. This is the only way we can live freely and peacefully.
The Christian Church, like most organised religion, has always been rotten at the core. And the greatest irony, that the words of its founder but loving enemies, mercy and justice have frequently been ignored or twisted or qualified by Christians themselves. Most Christians in the past and today, do Christianity as a source of comfort, social significance, for some purpose or meaning...but not it seems to simply love God and love one's neighbour. Somehow loving God is made into a reason to destroy one's neighbour, or even fellow Christian. Defending God or God's honour, is the cause of the worst evils that religion can perpetrate.

Another thought had struck me recently just before viewing this film: if, as my intuition wants to tell me (but I cannot ever rest on this) there is some supreme source, necessary being, and first cause for our existence, some divinity, we do not understand or know it's nature. And why should we? I realise that conceptualising the divine, in a theology, to create a set of eternally correct and static religous rules or dogmas - is as certain a form of idolatory as to create a 'graven image'. All theology then, all dogma in so far as these beliefs are not just considered manmade, provisional and open to question and doubt, is idolatory.

I would sincerely wish to repent of any notion that somehow I could fit within an organised religious institution. The universe is my temple, my life is my altar, my desire for beauty, peace, justice and well being in the world starting with my family is my proper worship. All authority must be tested by reason including claims of divine revelation and knowledge.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Actually, I've really decided i don't like polytheism after all. At the moment I don't like theism. I've been losing my grip on reality chasing after vain imaginings.
What reason, what reason at all, do we have for believing in invisible beings? We have a number of rational proofs of God that turn out not to be proofs. We have the testimony of prophets and biblical writers, and the experiences of the countless faithful. There is rather a lot more of this kind of "evidence" for one particular kind of theism, Christian theism, than
for any pagan theology or polytheism. So if one is tending to the supernatural, it makes no sense to prefer a less rational theology or explanation of the supernatural. For you can be sure I will want an explanation.

The most rational view of the world, is a naturalistic world view. This requires no supernatural invisible entities.
The next most rational view of the world, after naturalism, is probably Buddhism or Taoism - non theistic, yet religious belief systems
The next most rational view of the world, is some form of Monotheism

I have also decided that nature is not 'part of God' nor is nature God. If there is a God, then nature is created by divine will and power and ultimately out of the divine substance or pleroma. I am not sure I believe in creation from nothing at all.

Monday, 11 October 2010

a kind of polyunified panentheism

For me, divinity is at the core of our reality, and it is also 'the whole', the unity of all nature and everything. I call this my 'is-ness' of being.

I agree (in part) with the Buddhists that the world we know is in constant flux and change, and individual existences are the temporary waves that appear on the surface of the ocean, but beneath the surface of the waves is an infinite depth. The divine is not 'something', it is isn't a 'self' . From the human perspective, it is emptiness yet not pure nothing ness.It defies categorisation. I feel it is yet not impersonal (because after all the universe contains persons, and so cannot be less than personal) but somehow involves a transpersonal cosmic consciousness. [And I say 'transpersonal', but have no real idea what I mean, just it 'feels' very true to me!]

I don't go the whole way into only identifying the divine with the physical world i.e. pantheism because to my mind, this view point sees only the 'surface of things' as divine - just the physical alone - and does not 'capture' the full essence of the divine. I believe there are more 'subtle' and 'immaterial' aspects of nature in deeper (or 'higher') dimensions of reality, and this is my understanding of 'transcendence' - not as something 'outside' of nature, simply the supreme reality is not just corporeal, or physcial or limited by the finite: it extends beyond space-time as we know it. So my God is not 'outside' nature (how can anything be so as nature is everything?) but the full reality of divinity is still ''beyond' what we humans understand as nature and can realise with our everyday senses.

Fundamentally we are all, at the level of reality where quantum physics operates, just dancing patterns of energy'..and that moving energy itself and the 'field' and 'current' and potentiality is the life of God. God is Spirit and Spirit is simply 'being(or essence), life, and consciousness'. However a truly holistic, pantheistic cosmic divinity is very hard, perhaps impossible to conceive of, except in some mystic's ectasy. Soon the idea gets muddled up with a notion of a personal supreme being. My take on this misunderstanding is that the ancients had many 'gods' some crudely understood, but the best of the ancient mystics saw that true divinity was 'cosmic' in scope. Unfortunately the panentheist divinity and the crude character of the local chief' god of a tribe or nation was often conflated, resulting in the worst excesses of monotheism: a cruel local god with cosmic pretensions. So I shy away from this kind of monotheism.

I'd better explain that I have been around 'polytheistic' pagan traditions for some years, which indicates my very long personal journey away from my rigid Christian upbringing. This 'paganism' has informed my viewpoint. So I tend to believe 'God' is most fully encountered and 'felt' in the numinous in particular places and times, and through the forces of nature, and through examples excellence, holiness and beauty. Many different cultures through the wonders of the human imagination personify these 'theophanies' or 'outworkings' of the cosmic divine. Thus the cosmic divinity really manifests pluralistically, as a poly-unity, becoming the many different 'gods' of actual religious worship. So each god or gods really is approximately, a real concrete example, of an aspect, an appearance, of the cosmic divinity. That said, I think we too, in our little lives, are or can become, an 'aspect' of actualised cosmic divinity - through a well lived life, where we must make the hidden Godness potential shine through!

And I love nature, which means I strongly tend to panpsychism - that mental (though not necessarily cognitive) abilities are found in all living creatures, even allegedly 'inanimate' beings have the raw material of consciousness.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


I am not finding 'polytheism' easy going. In fact i find it does not mesh with my 'core spirituality' at all well. I'm also put off by reading stuff written by contemporary hard polytheists. Dealing with the first point first, hard polytheists seem to pick and choose their gods in a typically post-modern 'consumerist' fashion. One can add any 'god' to one's basket depending on one's particular life situation, likes, feelings. Even if they can 'hold' to one pantheon (for today at least) polytheists are generally unable to explain how their pantheon can be related to other 'pantheons' e.g. Greek to Norse to Vedic to Egyptian to Semitic and so on. This is leading me to realise that polytheism is no more necessarily conducive to religious pluralism than any other religion in principle. Only the attitude of polytheists is necessarily tolerant, I suppose because every belief is, and, must remain 'available' for purchase. The only significant ancient god that doesn't get a look in among those pushing such hard polytheistic eccleticism are Yahweh.

So what is my 'core spirituality'? Well, first I note that my encounters with polytheism are helping me define what I can believe in. My tendencies are toward:

  • monism - there is unity underlying all reality. On the mind/matter debate I am a 'neutral monist' i.e. 'mind' and 'matter' are two 'sides' of the same coin of fundamental 'stuff'
  • panpsychism - I tend toward the believe that all things have mental properties, though only certain animals are show cognitive life, and having mental properties could involve a state of 'unconsciousness' relative to sentient creatures. This belief also flows from having since childhood a sense of the 'spirits of place' or the 'vibe' of a location
  • a love of nature, and a sense that the forces of nature are 'divine'
  • a sense of 'transcendence', that there is a 'higher realm' or 'higher reality' distinct from but encompassing the physical world.
  • I am impressed by arguments for a 'first cause and necessary being' and the apparent 'fine tuning' of the universe. These point to a 'cosmic God'
  • I accept there may be some fundamental 'plurality' of deity as manifest (so a willingness to accept a 'soft' polytheism. The plurality wanted though is a poly-unity
  • Evil in the world is such that I do not believe in a benevolent divinity who can intervene in the world.
  • My religiosity must have less problems of coherence or irrationality than the religion I have left behind. I have fully absorbed the naturalistic objections to the latter.
Some form of Pan-en-theism or Pandeism seem to be a better 'fit'. However there is no 'tradition' of religious practice to draw upon.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

What is Spirit? An entry level set of definitions..

This post originally entitled 'Getting into the Spirit of Things' was written for (more vomited upon) a naturalistic pagan audience i.e. folk who deny the supernatural ( But even for these most skeptical of people, 'Spirit' can have meaning. A naturalistic spirituality is my 'default' option when all else is doubted (I don't seem to have a 'no-spirituality' option in my psyche)

A very long post about the meaning of 'Spirit' - possibly nonsense - that I splurted out some time ago, re edited many times and regurgitated here, for the purely selfish reason that I needed to get it out of my head.

Religious people see spirits everywhere. Spirit is what sprites, faery folk, magical beings of all kinds, angels and gods are allegedly made of/are by nature 'Spirit' beings: But whatever do they mean? - Spirit seems to be some kind of invisible, incorporeal and intangible stuff or force apparently. Religious people almost never define it or insist it is undefinable, even describeably indescribable. Naturalists have a problem with talking about Spirit. On the face of it, naturalists don't believe in spirit or spirits, though even atheists can apparently have a spirituality according to the precepts of Caer Abred.

As it happens i believe in Spirit, in everything, through everything, encompassing everything and so each particular thing has spirit too. The term covers a lot of ground. It is a handy term for the nature-mystic for discussing matters of personal contemplation and enjoyment. I'd venture even to try to define what it represents to me, using three key ideas - being, life and consciousness - which terms I hope even the most ardent anti-supernaturalist can find some connection with.

Firstly Spirit for me is 'being' or 'essence' or 'is-ness'. I am refering to the surprising and mysterious quality of anything, any-thing, as being something, here and now, rather than nothing. Being, in the philosphical sense, seems to imply we have something left when a concept has been analysed to almost nothing, stripped of all its particular qualities, before form and even substance come into it... not the phenomena we experience, something even philosophers elusive (blame the philosopher Immanuel Kant for he coined the idea) called the 'thing-in-itself'; Yet spirit understood as being is not just emptiness or an empty concept - paradoxically spirit signifies plenitude too. The indefinable, unique essence and special nature of something is above and above the sum of all its qualities and relations. The spirit of something, as well as the Being of something is perhaps then, its holistic quality ('more than the sum of its parts').

Pagans think nature is sacred, and when it comes to creating a pagan ethics some believe this means all living things and nature generally, should be allowed to enjoy and fulfill their existence with minimal threat or interference from mankind. If ethics is about the practical wisdom and steps needed to realise certain values (e.g liberty, happiness) then a pagan nature ethics starts with the premise that nature has 'inherent' value (in contrast an eco-belief/ethic that involves just the principle of 'sustainability' is not about inherent value but, if you think about it, really about human needs only).

What we mean by 'inherent' value is difficult to pinpoint, without eventually bringing the discussion back again to meanings that human's seem to want to project into nature. It might be easier to talk of aesthetic value and take the view that somehow this may be independent of our subjective judgement, and the human beholder; Certainly by the way language is used the notion of the 'spirit of something' seems to be indicative of its aesthetic quality - an ability to provoke a meaningful emotional response,

We look at anything out there in the world and our minds apply a whole set of personal meanings to the object particularly if it is something we fear or desire. So we really mean perhaps by the spirit of something, whatever significance that thing has for us personally, our 'feelings' and 'reaction' to a thing and our connection to it. And it is notable that we are more inclined to find 'spirits' present where there is some, strange, special or unusual feature of the environment and nature - rarely, on our culture do we react in this way to man-made, uniform or highly common place objects that we might pick up in the supermarket. Some objects and particularly parts of nature create suprise, awe and wonder in the human mind.

Which might lead us to think that any talk of 'spirit' is after all not about something 'out there' and inherent, but 'merely' about how our minds and emotions respond to the world and try to understand and relate to it, prior to rationalisation and analysis. Still I don't agree it is 'merely' our culturally conditioned perception that counts. I am you see, a little wedded still to there being 'inherent' value in nature, that is not just my projection upon nature of what I'd like to see there.

So under the category of Spirit as 'being', the idea can be further unpackaged as something's essence, holistic quality, inherent value and aescetic appeal.

Secondly, Spirit is for me about whatever evidences an object's life and by extension, an object's vitality/energy/power. Life involves at its most basic the ability to self-move (internally or externally) or processes and cycles within organic chemical structures, and particularly the ability of these structures to generate and regenerate from itself more life.

The Latin word 'animus' that is translated usually as 'spirit' provides us with our verbal classification of 'animate' and 'inanimate' objects. We don't usually have much problem identifying the living from the non-living, though we might have difficult pinpointing exactly what is 'lacking' or not present when life has ceased. A recently dead human body may look like a 'waxwork' copy compared to the animated living person we knew so well. . It is easy to see why our ancestors believed something had 'left' the body upon death, something literally vital, the animating principle or force.

The ancients/ ancestors variously imagined the spirit as vital principle, and something contained in the breath, in blood, or anatomically, having its place in the heart or in the head. Scientifically we look at the cells and see that non living things don't appear to be undergoing the same chemical reactions and processes and interactions with their environment, in particular multiplying and dividing . In some circumstances and viewed of course from the molecular, ultra fine viewpoint- such as found in the original primeval 'soup' - the distinction between living and non living things is very blurred. And so it seems eventually science wil show in detail how life arose from the 'inanimate'. The non naturalistic alternative is that life proccesses come from an external creative or generative source of life, because there is this eternal life enjoyed by the gods, somehow, somewhere..

A pagan and/or naturalist will really get a buzz from the vitality of nature, but in my case that extends beyond what is conventionally understood as animate, life forms ( like birds, and trees) to include the exciting natural 'inanimate' stuff such as waves on the sea, wind and thunder and lightning. Here I guess I am emotionally responding to what is basically the power/ energy /physical forces involved in the ocean and the atmosphere. Its a thrill if there is a slight danger of harm and the unexpected..there is probably some naturally selected instinctive reason for my fascination. Paying attention to stuff like that is brought a good survival strategy.

At the most fundamental level of existence we are all 'energy' and any change from nothing happening to something happening is due it seems to the transfers of energy within physical systems. These flows are the basis of living and non-living processes . And here I mean energy as described by physics not some imaginary force. So perhaps sometimes for 'spirit', we really do mean this kind of real physical 'energy', and in particular those non-linear (chaotic) patterns of energetic change found so much in nature. We don't see it of course, but there is a real sense in which we can all be described, in terms of the fundamental stuff out of which we are 'made', as simply 'patterns of energy'...poetically we are processes, unsolid objects, and in the scheme of things, we come to be and disappear, so I say poetically that we are 'ripples on the ocean of being ' or if you like, a complex of unusually persistent quantum fluctuations. And now modern science suggest that some beautiful pattern-states appear to be self-organising as well as naturally selected, with their 'great attractors' suggesting a strange kind of implicit order hidden behind the seemingly random... well, I just think that the more science advances, the stranger, the more counter-intuitive the vitality of the world appears. And then I just have to use the 'Spirit' word again.

So under the category of understanding 'Spirit' as life, this can be unpackaged further to suggest Spirit means vitality, biological activity, whatever distinguishes what is living from the dead, physical energy, and even the fundamental energy patterns of the universe.

Finally, spirit is a synonym for mind or consciousness as distinct from other bodily processes. Today this is often just a linguistic convention, while others hold to a strict dualism - i.e dualists believe mind/spirit and body/matter are distinct. Such dualism is very philosophicaly difficult to defend in the light of modern science and has unpleasant conceptual consequences and even ethical consequences because it may mean we devalue the physical in the natural world.

Naturalists don't believe consciousness exists without bodies, and generally they also think consciousness is confined to complex neural networks - brains. Naturalism's underlying materialistic philosophy rules out disembodied persons,life after death and probably, animism. However we don't fully understand even human consciousness, particular the subjective sense of 'I', and self awareness. No amount of scientific experimentation of a human brain will find the 'self'. We do have a very good idea about how mental function is tied to physical brain states though and drastically affected by drugs, lack of oxygen, illness and brain damage. Stimulation of the brain can result in (artificially created) conscious experiences. Certainly without a healthy brain, we can't have a fully functioning mind.

We cannot be sure though what physical conditions and level of complexity - higher animal, insect, tree?, ecosystem? - are needed for at least some form of 'self awareness'.We think we know that, trees for instance can't be self aware, but how do we test this?. Indeed how can we test any hypothesis about self awareness that does not rely on purely human expectations of what evidences consciousness, which is question begging. But why should consciousness necessarily be demonstrated only where there is a (human form of) logic, concepts and language?. But this may not be so for other creatures.... So the mystery of where in the evolutionary tree of life consciousness arises continues, and while we shouldn't 'argue from ignorance' and speculate, of course I do anyway in this way: what if consciousness may be not epiphenomenal but fundamental to the universe, along with, say energy, and space-time. Of course this is not something we can prove at all - at present.

A little aside here - one concept I don't really understand is how a fundmentally physical process - the creation of particles - is somehow related tp consciousness I am referring to how the measurement action of the observer is ' needed' to 'collapse the wave function' transforming the indefinite blur of energy governed by the uncertainty principle into definite particles and patterns of the macroscopic universe . The question remains persistent even in intellectual circles, while in New Age and Fluffy Bunny world, there any many garbled and pseudo scientific accounts of quantum physics that claim that the role of the observer - i.e. the role of consciousness - in quantum processes, also proves the world creating power of the mind. Usually, like me, they lack an understanding of the science. So I move swiftly on at this point.

I can at least say that I am conscious now from birth to death, but my mind is not quite my own. My everyday self is captive to something more basic. My self is driven here and there by unconscious forces, the primal instincts, desire and aversion, creating patterns of behaviour I can't shift out of. And oh, yes, I believe in the theory of Jungian archetypes, and symbols inherited from my culture and perhaps from some 'collective unconscious'. The archetypes are contentless, potentialities and repeating patterns until given a final shape in a given culture, and these actualised forms are found in all our great symbols, myths and embodied in our images/ideas about our gods. As gods our religion does poetic justice at least to the (subjective) power of archetypes - our relations with gods and archetypes can come to bless and curse us individually.

And I also wonder about spirit as consciousness when I sleep - perchance to dream. In between dreaming, there is deep sleep, and in case we are inclined to believe in a body independent self and imagine still that we have a permanent mind, then the mere fact we can daily be unconscious while the body continues surely demonstrates that the self 'comes and goes' with physical need. My consciousness when awake is like the ripples on an otherwise still pool. or the other metaphor, after William James, described the 'stream of consciousness or thought'; the metaphor implies something that is totally unstable, mutuable. It involves the arising and disappearing of myriad and successive images and concepts flickering on the 'screen' of the 'mind's eye'... (perhaps thats too many mixed metaphors). Anway the external 'observer' of the process turns out to be an illusion - perhaps. A whole religion, Buddhism, involves a fundamental analysis of our stream of consciousness and concludes there is 'no self', just the process. As the 'self' is never stable, it is never the same even from moment to moment. And where is it? Where in the head? It appears to be literally no-where, but my entire individual life that is my self, that I value so much, this ' has no scientific reference point, and the self is not so obviously rooted in either space or even time...

I analyse and I only find in my conscious mind a desire for happiness and a will to be, to create, to make a difference (whatever desire and will are at base I'm not sure - surges of neural transmitters/pulse?).The mind's content without which it seems to be an empty set, is turning on and off - dying - even more rapidly than our physical cells, yet we persist with de facto stability, rather than complete descent into incoherent mental madness - at least most of the time.

Most of all we tend to want to believe, that though the content of the mind is vapid, unstable,constantly flowing and changing, that some form of memory or at least our self awareness and identity might persist beyond one physical form and biological life. Any continued existence post mortem would have to be an extension of the process, the stream, if there is no permanent self - so if every mental-physical 'effect' must arise from the proceeding 'cause', can an effect extend to a new incarnation, a new body by some unknown transfer of what? Energy? Information? Formative Causation? Interestingly reincarnation is not really any kind of break or alternation in what is already going on in the mind of the living person, at least from the point of view of the stream of consciousness. The same propogating ripple of awareness, driven it seems by desire, creates our mental existence and somehow, subjectively speaking, a stable identity - so all that is required is some, obviously unknown force or process, to allow that stream of consciousness to move from one form of embodient to another. In fact no 'thing' has to transfer only for there to be a causal process, one mental life the 'effect' of a 'cause' in a previous mental existence. Though down through the ages a perhaps delusional wish and hope for an afterlife make us willing to accept any goobledegook, the scientifically supported notion that the consciousness is not a thing or substance, but the result of a dynamic process, had already been discovered by Buddhists over two thousand years ago.

Okay, so we have also looked at Spirit under the category of consciousness and found that the word 'Spirit' is most often used to describe human mind and self awareness, while we have no strong reason to rule out such mind extending to beings we would not normally imagine to be self aware; We do find that consciousness is brain dependent for manifestation of mental life, consciousness is not stable, and the process view of mind is compatible with one ancient religion's view of afterlife, and their notions of 'reincarnation'.

So are we now closer to some definitions for 'Spirit' that even a naturalist druid might appreciate? I think so....

Spirit is -
Being, Life, and Consciousness


unique quality
inherent value
awe and wonder inspiring
aesthetic affect
bio-physical energy
fundamental patterns of energy
dynamic thought stream process

This of couse is a minimalist account of Spirit, for the skeptical unbeliever. For mystics, lets just say it is the 'entry level'..... :)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Pretty Poly..

Recently, I took a diversion into polytheism. Yes, thats right, I began to think in terms of many Gods. I still believed in some absolute ground of being and unity, but thought divinty could have a plural manifestation. So i said 'one in essence and many in existence'.

The biggest obstacle to acceptance of polytheism - assuming we accept any God at all, which is of course itself hugely problematic - is the theist's insistence upon divine omnipotence. Eventually this obstacle was not such a problem for me, because I didn't believe the divine was omnipotent in the sense of 'able to do absolutely anything'. (I didn't believe this because it made the problem of evil insoluble) If we accept that God must be omnipotent however, there could only be one omnipotent being. But omnipotence can be qualified to not include the logical impossibility of one omnipotent thwarting another omnipotent being. Either my considering that in the case of any conflict omnipotent beings must reach a stalemate or perhaps we can imagine that omnipotent beings may not have contrary wills - as one might expect from beings which are also defined as 'perfectly good'.

The only polytheistic tradition in the West that is well documented with an extant and extensive authentic literary tradition, is that of Ancient Rome and Greece. Some of the images of the divine gods of the Classical period are 'vital', 'dynamic' and aesthetically pleasing. However much of the mythic material is hugely problematic for me - the Gods are capricious, unethical and involved in intrigue and love affairs. The myth can be of course be interpreted as allegory. Certainly the Classical Philosophers were embarassed by the myths about the gods and sort to read them in a way that reflected that philosophical concerns.

However in the last week, two more corrosive problems have troubled me. Firstly, the fact that the Classical Gods could be 'defeated' for 1000 years by the monotheists. Where did the Gods go? There may be an answer here, that the Gods turned their back and allowed ignorance because of impiety or because of a cycle of the ages reaching it's nadir.

Secondly, it is apparent that the Gods' characters are not static. The ideas about the God's natures change. New Gods are imported, old God's relegated in popular piety and the change reflected in myths of one generation of God's usurping an older generation. And the are more than one polytheistic pantheon we can worship. I realised that polytheism does not solve some of the cardinal problems of theism viz

* Why God's do not intervene, at least to protect their devotees.
* Why are God's 'silent' for centuries
* How do we deal with unpalatable and unpleasant characterisations of Gods found in myths and ancient stories
* How do we resolve/tolerate religious pluralism

The problem of multiple pantheons - each culture having its own gods in other words - did not seem to cause a problem for Roman religion. But treating Foreign Gods as aspects of one's own Gods, or as the same Gods by different names, or adding them on to the existing pantheon, actually begins to undermine the notion that the gods are independent, distinct beings. Hard Polytheism cannot account for multiple pantheons. It might think that practically the problem is avoided by toleration, however intellectually, this does not satisfy. The problem of religious pluralism is most easily solved by a 'soft polytheism' where the gods are really manifestations of a single deity or a God and Goddess.

Something else I found intrigueing was that in various polytheisms - Celtic, Greek, Indian and Taoist, there are notions of a 'Triad' of gods or at least a belief in the Threefold nature of the divine. Of course the Christian Trinity could be added to the list. However it is not at all apparent that all these very different religious cultures influenced each other directly. It is rather as if the Threefold nature of the divine is almost from some primitive ur-religion or archetypal, taking some peculiar character though in each culture.

I am moving quickly now to believing in one supreme ineffable deity, manfiest in threefold nature, the 'gods' are theophanies or the personification of divine attributes and actions. This God is not from any particular tradition, I would rather tap the archetypal notions.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Spirituality - my reasonings....

I can't believe based on 'faith alone' without 'reason'. A reasonless faith can believe anything. This can lead to complete confusion, and delusion, usually at the hands of preachers, clergy and gurus.

Nor do I find 'reason' alone adequate to account for my spiritual and holistic experience of the world and of myself. Reason appears to be a machine or tool of discernment but which needs to receive some kind of feedstock in order to create a 'world view'. A machine without something to work on, results in nothing.

It seems to me that our understanding of the world and science is the result of reason working upon the basic datum which is 'sensation' filtered through careful measurement and recording of observation. But cannot spirituality also involve a basic datum which is similarly worked upon by reason? Yes I think the basic datum upon which reason 'operates' in relation to spirituality is the 'mystical experience'. The mystical experience is 'intuitive'. And it is characterised as di-polar. The mystical experience is both an intuition of a fundamental 'unity' of all things, and also by a pluralistic numinous experience encountered in different parts and aspects of nature.
Reason focussing on 'unity' tends to deduce a monism or monotheism;
Reason focussing on the plurality of numinous experiences posits an animism or polytheism.
But then reason realises these either-or rationalisations fail to encompass the di-polar nature of mystical experience. One 'bridging' rationalisation of the mystical experience is 'pantheism'. The universe provides the unity and the plurality - it is one reality encompassing plurality.
However this rationalisation is wholly 'immanentist', and somehow also unsatisfactory. Why?
Because the mystic experience is not purely 'one-way'. It is not just an intuition, but also an emotional response and longing. The response and longing is a desire to go beyond finititude, a desire to 'transcend' the limited nature of our existence in time and space and physical bodies.
This is the desire for 'transcendence' and, I think, the 'other side of the coin' to the mystical experience. Now if pantheism is the rationalisation of both the intuition of unity and numinous plurality, then it seems to fail to provide a transcendent goal or fulfillment. But if the desire for transcendence exists so strongly co-joined with the mystical experience, does this not point to the fact that transcendence is really possible? I think so, and thus we cannot afford to 'lose' the transcendence neatly done away with by a pure pantheism.

But transcendence is a problem for many people of a 'rationalist' mind set. For trying to rationalise transcendence as a concept, the machine of rationalisation (to continue our earlier metaphor) can break down. Generally, for modern people, reasoning involves understanding the relationship between things in the universe, where again, the feedstock is sensation that has been processed via the 'filter' of the scientific method. Our everyday kind of rationalisation apparently cannot 'work upon' that which is not of the universe, though the possibility of transcendence is hinted at by purely abstract concepts, logic, axioms and universals and the possibility of idealism, which notions seem to inform and give an absolutely necessary metastructure to reason itself. A denial of the real existence of the purely abstract leads reason into a morass of relativism and soliphism. However an acceptance that abstract logic and axioms and universals are not always instantised in worldly examples but 'free-floating' is also at odds with all everyday experience.
Reason itself I think demands that there is a transcendent reality to 'ground' the abstract and idealistic notions suggested by the structure of reason. Having then 'discovered' the need for transcendence 'by the back door' as it were, reason immediately wants to be reductionist and now transcendence seems all important. We end up again equating the transcendent reality to the 'object' of the 'unity' intuition of the mystical experience. Clearly the numinous plurality is now left without a rationalisation if a purely immanent pantheism is unworkable. The answer for that conundrum superficially appears to be to identify the plurality with the transcendent, requiring after all, a transcendent polytheism. But oh, dear, we have we have again lost contact with the 'unity' intutition....and so it seems we can never find a rational framework for our spiritual life.

Ultimately we seem forced to either dispose of reason in our spirituality or doubt the mystical experience itself is veridical. I was close to this view only a few months ago.
But reason still suggests we have one possibility left: that we can have transcendence and an immanent grounding for the mystical experience of unity and numinous plurality. What is strange is that this possible rationalisation, or rational 'output' takes our di-polar mystical experience very seriously, also our transcendental longing, so that the solution was always speaking to us from the character of our mystical experience/longing, but not adopted rationally initially because it seems to be less parsimonious than a 'simpler' reductionism to 'unity' or 'plurality' with 'transcendence' or 'immanence' respectively. The rationalisation is that reality is itself 'di-polar' and so exactly consistent with the mystical experience itself, thus providing a system that avoids the logical problems and reductions to absurdity that result from any form of strict and pure monotheism, polytheism and pantheism. The rationalisation has a name: it a form of 'heno-theism' or 'pan-en-theism'.

So which is it, henotheism or pan-en-theism. They are not quite the same thing. For this rationalisation itself comes in 'two flavours' or 'emphases'. The rationalisation says there is an underlying and supreme 'unity' to reality that is 'divine' where any object of the mystical experience is understood as being properly labelled 'divine'. . But the mystical-divine quality also extends to every being 'to some degree. That there are two 'flavours' come from our subjective positions and prejudices I think, not because there are really two rationalisations we must choose between'. In pan-en-theism, the transcendent is all unity, and the numinous plurality is all immanent; the mystical-divine quality of the plurality is not so emphasised - the numinous is related to a panpsychism or animism and that the unity provides an ordering and a goal for the plurality. Henotheism allow that there is a plurality even in transcendence or at least ramps up and emphasises the 'divinity' within the immanence. The truth is probably some further synthesis of pan-en-theism and heno-theism, but for now we know that our conceptualisations are true to the mystical experience, transcendental longing and reason.

Presently I have chosen my preferred emphasis is Henotheism because it can ground a pagan type religiosity without recourse to association with the 'revealed' religions of the book. And once we have our rationalisation and conceptual framework we can then find we understand many ancient pagan existing religions and cultures. For humankind has long had henotheistic traditions though only as fringe spiritualities in recent centuries in the West ; For henotheism is exemplified by religious communities who believe in a supreme principle and ineffable unity self manifested as many individual gods. Henotheism is seen particularly in the Western Esoteric Tradition. Pan-en-theism is found in pure form only in a very modern form of Christian theology - process theology - but offers no tradition or living community outside of Christianity.
Thus I have come to my present position and the above essay I hope shows the 'route' by which it has been fully reasoned - I have also tried all the blind alleys discussed above and found - it seems - the 'solution' that was there all the time, if only I'd taken my mystical experience perhaps a little more at face value!

Henotheism anyone?

According to some folk the term 'Henotheism' refers to the exclusive worship of one god while accepting the existence of other gods. What then is the worship of many gods conceived of as the manifestations of Spirit, The One, or the All? A belief found in Hinduism, in Neo-Platonism and Hermeticism. Some suggest this view should also be called henotheism, and I would also use the word that way. Its always important to define terms of course.....
Now I like the word Henotheism - it is more impressive and academic sounding than the slightly mocking appellation of what some might think I believe in, namely, 'soft polytheism'. (and we all know that Hard Polytheists are hard, in the sense of tough minded, serious, and straight. They think they are the only 'proper' polytheists. Maybe so.

However my spirituality is currently (because everything is provisional) a variety of henotheism that can be characterised as somewhere between 'soft polytheism' where the One is the central focus and the gods 'mere' aspects or even illusory misconceptions of the devotees (the well worn story of the blindmen and the elephant ...) and a 'hard polytheism' where the gods are super powerful individuals with their own lives, distinct personalities, agendas. The problem for me with the latter belief system is that it does not appear to answer any deep philosphical questions about the nature of reality. To my mind, Hard Polytheism is simply declaring there is another class of beings, after animals, men and perhaps mere spirits. It is very difficult to see how the gods of hard polytheism can philosophically carry any high and sublime theology. For example, hard polytheism insists that the highest and greatest reality is not a unity but plurality. But a true multiplicity requires that we can 'count'. Therefore one being must be distinguishable from another being; and what is that distinction? - obviously I am here and not there because my nature has a boundary in terms of time and space. Multiple separate gods like multiple humans, and animals, implies limited beings - finititude. The infinite can contain and encompass multiplicity, but we cannot I think have multiple infinite or multiple omnipotents or omniscients.

But then my current viewpoint hovers between soft and hard polytheism, and the reason is that I don't consider the highest or supreme reality, The 'One' as something worshippable. It is there, but by nature it is the ineffable and unconceptualisable, not a being, but the ground of being or absolute being, the beingness, the is-ness, of every being. To our perception it is the 'unmanifest'. I might even consider it to be a pure potentiality while the cosmos is its actuality.

Sometimes though I admit that I may also imagine The One as if it is manifest and then I conceive of it as a kind of great shining spiritual sun from who's multiple rays and unfolding pleroma of light is the cosmos made.
What I am sure about is that The One is not a theos, a god at all; it is not even the most excellent or supreme of gods. It is not 'a being' and an entirely different category of reality to gods, indeed it is above and beyond categories really. The One is both transcendent and immanent. As immanent it is Spirit, which infinite is in all. Also it is Consciousness and encompasses all minds, it is the root principle of intellect and it is a knower, knowing and the knowledge of all simultaneously.

This means that the 'gods' or 'higher beings', as I also call them, actually manifest the Spirit as Spirit which flows from The One. The spiritual manifestation of The One is the gods, plural. They are not though 'aspects', even less 'pieces' or 'fragments' of the One, anymore or less than anything in nature is. Everything can be conceived as an aspect of the pleroma and outflowing of the One pantheistically.

The gods in my system have a nature that is being, living power and consciousnesses, functionally they are distinct ordering principles and metastructures of reality. As the manifestations of Spirit by which Spirit is seen 'in nature', they are windows upon and means of conceptualising the One as immanent in nature.

Metaphor helps as usual, and I think the following metaphors, though none of them entirely satisfactory, provide the least misunderstanding and aid us glimpsing the truth.
Metaphor #1 The absolute, The One or rather what streams or emanates eternally from the One can be likened to 'pure white light'. As such light is split by the prism into a spectrum or rainbow of colours (frequencies) and also the colours are then mixed and pixellated in nature, also in every hue and tone, so the 'gods' represent as the colours from the pure light before they are put into the picture of nature. The prism of this theology is the 'cosmos' itself, though sometimes I wonder if distinctions are made by the subjective mind. Curently i accept the objective nature of the distinctions - a real pluralism - so that the 'pure colours' - the gods - and the mixed colour picture - nature - are not an imposition of our normal consciousness or delusion (a belief found in Advaita Vedanta of course).
Metaphor #2 The One is like 'Sound' that has a number of 'notes' which are our 'gods'. And our pantheon of gods is a like 'scale' of such notes. The cosmos as a whole is a great symphony of music.
Metaphor #3 behind almost every written language is a system of signs or alphabet, which communicates in combination. The communicator is our One, the gods the system of 'signs' and the cosmos is the language, what is communicated.

Now I tend to move between thinking that the gods are wholly immanent in particular forces or parts of nature, rather as 'forms' have no reality except in the actual instances of things in this word, rather as the 'forms' of things exist always instantised as in Aristotle's system or something like the truly Platonic view of forms, that sees the gods as really 'transcendent' and 'out there' in some heavenly sphere.

Monday, 31 May 2010


It seems to me that we cannot prove (or finally disprove) the existence of deity by reasoning from either pure logic or the natural world, while our mystical experience is unrealisable. Therefore we have no certain knowledge of any deity. At best we are left in a fog of agnosticism and uncertainty, while for many we should not believe in anything without adequate evidence, which dictum requires at least a practical atheism.

However the failure of reasoning and experience do not exhaust the truth claims of many religions. In particular there are a number of religions that claim to have been based on the deity's revelation to various people, in sundry times and divers manners. Christianity in particular insists that the deity has revealed itself and it is this 'revelation' that a person is called to believe in, not any reasoning or experience. The ultimate revelatory event for Christians is the person and life of Yeshua of Nazareth, called the Messiah or Christ. A belief or rejection of Christianity requires an assessment and decision about this revelation.

But how do we know a claimed revelation is 'true' and really from a 'deity' demonstrating that deity exists? On the face of it, we would have to reason about who is making the claim and their reliability and the general coherence and back story. But I am beginning to suspect that Christianity demands not a rational consideration and assent but that faith is a non rational, emotional or 'heart' response to the revelation. Either we are individually and emotionally driven to believe or not as the case might be. "Let those who have ears to hear"...indeed. I am therefore inclined to think that not everyone is able to believe by virtue of their mental disposition and that faith is a gift. But if this is so then we are not 'free' to choose to believe or not. There is plenty of biblical evidence that supports a theology that emphasises divine sovereignty - divine determinism, while this is contrary to most human notions of fairness and justice.

Spirit and Spirits

Almost every religion and spirituality, with some exceptions (e.g. Therevada Buddhism) requires a belief in spirit or spirits. A belief in spirit or spirits is in turn a belief in the existence of usually invisible minds that exist in a state that is separate or separable from brains and, usually, physical bodies. The individual spirit-minds may be named Gods, Angels, Demons, Devas, or Faery Folk or be embodied in natural objects e.g. trees or parts of the landscape.

It is easy to imagine how a belief in spirit and spirits came druing the development of human culture down the ages. Mankind, before the advent of modern science and technology did not understand the world and the forces of nature. Mankind now largely understands the unseen forces of energy, electro-magnetism, gravity, and biology that cause nature to work the way it does. Previously what science could not explain and did not have obvious physical form was understood as the result not of impersonal forces but willed events. Mankind's model was the human being who could effect the world, to some degree, at will. Some effects in nature were clearly beyond man's power e.g. a storm or plague to willl. But not beyond the power of beings greater than man, beings that came to be understood as 'gods'.

Yet a belief in spirits persists among religious believers, and those with animistic, ecclectic or esoteric spiritualities outside the main world religions. A belief in spirits is certainly fundamental to any belief in an afterlife that is part of most religious believes. Usually survival post mortem depends on a notion that each person has a 'spirit' that is not identified with their body, but instead usually identified with the person's mind. This spirit can exist in a disembodied state or at least can exist after the destruction of earthly body and brain. Allied to a belief that a spirit can be disembodied is the animistic notion that spirit or spirits can reside in all manner of creatures, objects, even parts of the landscape providing a form of consciousness without the structures normally associated with a brain.

But if spirit exists independently of physical bodies and brains, it is never explained what spirit 'is' . There are forms of matter and energy that are very strange, that are weakly interacting with the physical world and invisible. They have been shown to exist through research in physics and cosmology. However science has never demonstrated that such invisible (in the everyday sense) forms of matter or energy can create or constitute a mind. While believers would insist that as science is limited to detecting and measuring the physical world it is not surprising that the intruments of science cannot pick up on the existence of 'spirit'.

It is not of course beyond the bounds of possibility that minds could exist in forms other than exist in living creatures, in particular in humans. However most religions insist that the human mind is an example of spirit operating, but there is much scientific evidence that mind is dependent on a physical brain. Most modern scientists think the notion of spirit is a redundant hypothesis in that all natural and mental processes can be adequately explained and indeed much better explained in terms of their interaction with the environment without reference to spirit entities.

We must then explain why a belief in spirits persists when they offer no explanatory power and there is no accumulated, reliable physical evidence. The most likely reason is that we need a belief in spirit to indulge our desire for an afterlife. Admitting that spirit is impossible is admitting that we are limited to a physical and finite world.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

I'm not back into work until Wednesday, then off again Thursday, and next week, I'm on holiday. Hurray. So its a nice time to catch up.

So who will win the election? It is looking like - on the strength of those notoriously unreliable opinion polls - that the Conservatives are going to be the largest party but there will be a hung Parliament. If the latter occurs I can't imagine the Liberals and the Tories will find enough common ground to form a coalition government. I expect therefore a Lib-Lab coalition but Gordon will not be in it. Since he never personally had a popular mandate in the first place to be P.M. having simply succeeded Blair through the support of Labour MPs, not any public test, then to lose this election will I think be too much of a blow. I just hope that the economy doesn't get the skids - because the money markets 'take fright' while the politicians come to agreement after lots of uncertainty and bickering in smoke free back rooms (smokey back rooms having been banned of course). I imagine those discussions are already going on, mediated by the Civil Service.

Whoever gets in will have to deal with the massive debt our government has incurred, albeit it seems this debt was necessarily incurred to dig us out of a worse hole. If we have to tackle this debt, then I'm afraid I think we should 'soak the rich' before we cut any existing services to the public.
Yes, of course there is waste in the public sector - I've seen it myself in various public sector jobs, in advising public sector workers and moreover my wifey is a civil servant who appreciates that tax payer's money is not infrequently wasted by government and unnecessary layers of management and bureacracy. There is at least a lot of deadwood management and -the Elephant in the room - the government pension schemes that the country has long been unable to afford. The unions won't like it, so I expect a great deal of industrial unreast over the next year or so. Still, many people have done well over the boom years, and its time to make the pips squeak a bit. To my mind, anyone earning at least three times average wage should contribute a lot more in tax. All those on average earnings or above will have to pay some extra tax, perhaps an extra penny or two on income tax. But the tax should be on income not more indirect taxation for the latter is not progressive: it seems obvious to me that VAT disproportionately affects the poor.


On the 'Big Questions' debate programme on ITV1 this morning, the audience and invited worthies were discussing, amongst other things, whether animals have 'souls'. It was pointed out that many of the higher animals, particularly primates like Gorillas and Chimpanzees do appear to show emotions analagous to those of humans - such as a desire to care for others, and a sense of grief and mourning when a family member dies. The debate foundered on the very simple fact no one quite agreed what was meant by 'soul'. Does this mean self consciousness, mind or life principle? The Christians in the audience appeared to concede higher animals could have a sense of self, mind and naturally has a vitality, a life principle. The Christians did not want to accept that animals unlike humans have a 'divine spark' that allows for divine-human relationship or moral sense to choose between good and evil.
My take on this is 1) I don't know what soul 'means' or could mean if it something different to self consciousness, mind or life principle 2) there is clearly a continuum of mental state, with the boundaries between human sentience and animal sentience sometimes appearing quite blurred.
Indeed this is one more fact that rather supports a naturalistic rather than a religious view of reality. Christian theologicans in particular have great difficulty explaining apparent sentience, self hood and feeling for others - empathy or 'love' if you like - in animals if only humans are made in 'Gods Image'...also whatever that means.

I'd be willing to accept a religious schema there is a 'great chain of being' - a hierarchy of spiritual existence - and humans are closer to acheiving a higher or God consciousness than animals:
this makes sense to me. If evolution is given a spiritual teleology and seen as subtley guided, so creating an escalator that drives life to ever higher states of consciousness, upward from the primordial matter quickened by the divine energy, on a path of return to The One, then humans are further advanced, if they live up to their potential, than animals. The process would be a lot fairer on animals if there was inter-species reincarnation e.g. so a gorilla might hope to be re-born as a human so that its 'soul' can continue to develop further toward God. Of course the whole notion of resurrection and spiritually hierarchy is also twaddle to a naturalistically minded person. Okhams razor if applied would lead us to assume that humans and animals are equal in death yesL we all return to the dust of nature, never to live again.

It occurred to me that there is scope for a much more generous view inChristian theology, for doesn't biblical eschantology promise a new 'heaven and earth' is promised, and for all creation to be redeemed. Could this include Aunty Jess' beloved Cocker Spaniel, who might find himself playing ball with his resurrected owner with God in paradise? Perhaps even if animals were not included in a general resurrection then humans could choose to resurrect certain animals. Isn't all 'love' eternal and so wouldn't our eternal life be incomplete if we can't redeem all those relationships we most value? However it is these kinds of questions that start making the whole notion of 'heaven' either incoherent, greatly heretical or (if we deny animals, lets alone plants or nature any place in our eschantological feature) just plainly and horribly unappealing. But maybe...if Christians insist rabbits, fish, monkey and just anything else natural is shut out of heaven, then perhaps we can keep our pets in the other place.....

From Fundie Pastor Bob's handbook for raising a child in the way he should go...FAQ #234
When the children ask 'Wil our pet rabbit go to heaven?" what should a parent say?
Pastor Bob says " You should be honest and say 'No... Jesus has not redeemed and the rabbit will go.... to hell!"


..I like that

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Hello Darlings...

This week I was wondering about ideological ambivalence. The cultural phenomenon whereby a culture is no longer inclined to make a full commitment to a set of beliefs, whether political, religious or even scientific. It is the culture of 'non-believing' but not of not thinking. In fact we think and know too much now not to doubt everything. We are taught to doubt and think critically in schools. We are wearily cynical of statesman, celebs and even the egg head men in white coats who used to be our culture's priesthood. Maybe it something to do with the gentle osmosis of ideas from Quantum Physics into wider culture, but I think nowadays we are only likely to asign a degree of probability to any truth claim. An example is the difficulty the scientists are having convincing us of global warming despite the hardest of hard sells. We are very ready to seize on some new doubt that has surfaced (or is that just about wanting to preserve our wasteful lifestyles?) However I think most of us are very suspicious of those who insist they are certain. Certainty is not a big cultural goal these days, in fact we think it is not benign at all. Having certainty means we are a lot less inclined to listen, to learn and perhaps, to tolerate.

This is particularly important to me because I believe some religous truth claims are possibly true. I think it is possible there is a God. Though at this moment in time, I think it more probable that there is no God, or at least no God of the Judeao-Christian kind. But I can't help doubting my doubts. Of course this way of thinking one might say, already has a label - 'agnosticism'. But agnosticism has the reputation of 'fence sitting' as if it is 'even stevens' whether God exists or not. In fact most people I know who are agnostics tend against belief - they lean very much one way on the fence. And agnosticism seems to become just another way of being basically irreligious without the certainty required by atheism.
However there are periods (since my fall from grace) when I have been inclined toward believing. Where I think God is probable. Say 70%, though the percentage is arbitrary of course. Thats not irreligious....thats wanting to believe but falling short. Such a form of ambivalence is welcomed neither by those who don't believe nor by believers. You have to understand that I think a believer, by definition, is pretty much certain. I can never be a believer if I am even 5% doubting God's existence. I can't sign up to a faith, say a creed..there is no place for the religiously ambivalent in most churches. And I wonder if one could even have a church or political movement that allowed ambivalence - it would be like a fighting army that wasn't sure of its cause. Pretty much useless - one might think - because for many ambivalence seems to undermine effort and direction. And double minded ness is condemned in Scripture too. Very harshly.

Yet we function just fine for most of our lives with plenty of ambivalence., lubricated by hope and trust. We have ambivalent feelings even about our nearest and dearest. Even love can survive days when we are not sure we want to be loving or are loved. Lets say then three cheers for ambivalence. Ambivalence is a profound thing, natural and good though appropriately enough, I don't quite know why.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Hello. This is my first attempt at a Blog. I thought I would create a blog to express my oh so interesting musings and flashes of creativity. Also my notes on what is going on in the world, as a soap box for my opinions and profound (naturally) reflections upon my spirituality (or the lack of thereof). They say never start a discussion at a dinner party about politics or religion... leave that to a blog. I know that it is very unlikely anyone will read my blog, less likely still they will care. But do you know how much private therapy costs these days? So its therapy for me...(sticks tongue out)

Anyway...some limited personal info. I am 39 years old. Straight but also equal opportunities. Married to a lovely lady with two bonnie daughters age 3.5 and 13 weeks. I work for a well known insurance company. (no, I won't is rumoured that there is a whole team in my company who's job it is to find defamatory comments about the company on the internet, then discipline and sack offenders.) I am quite recently qualified as a solicitor. Which professional status takes many years and lots of exams i.e much deliberate and sustained effort plus some luck. It is all the stranger then that I did not want to be a solicitor...not really, indeed I still don't. And (like most people in most jobs I'm sure) I would in fact like to be doing something else. What though?. Thats the problem. I don't know. Actually its not that I don't know what I want, only that what I want is next to impossible to obtain in 2010. You see, I can't imagine that anyone is going to pay me to be a full time Keen Observer of Life, or a philosopher-mystic, able to spend my days flatulating on the meaning of life (or lack of it) like some toga wearing member of the Ancient Greek Academy. Nor is there (as yet) popular clamour for me to become Galactic Emperor or even El Duce UK. And as for business leader, well unfortunately I'm not entrepreneurial. Merely organising a picnic fills me with enough anxiety. A booze up in a brewery would be well beyond my gift unless there was a book of rules and precedents I could refer to. Actually thats not entirely true as I do my job well enough (just in case you were concerned!)

In fact due to my high anxiety, high pessimism, high expectation, low patience character, I am currently having a mental breakdown at work. I suffer these mini breakdowns quite frequently. But I keep working. How about that for the 'stiff upper lip' approach? I should of course go off work with 'stress' . As do a fair proportion of the modern nation or at least the ones I deal with en route to their 'constructive dismissal' claim in the Employment Tribunal. No really I should throw a sickie. But its such a career damaging admission, that one is 'stress prone' and 'burnt out'. Instead i just manifest my breakdown by acting strangely. My time targets slip, I arrive late and stay late. I don't talk as much or talk too much. I get annoyed quickly. I forget to shave or do up my shoe laces or wear odd socks. Fortunately I don't have to see clients, I only listen to my customers on the telephone. [ Despite these querks I do ultimately remember  to do my job properly - i am a not so young recently qualified professional after all] and its just the rest of my life that goes to pot (not literally, at least not since I qualified and that incident in  Amsterdam).

There are various factors contributing to my current breakdown situation, mostly job related but i'm also having a bit of a 'spiritual crisis'. At the moment I must work through the issues though, includng my job. Until I find something else. Or until this cheap as chips Blog-therapy works. signing off for now.