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.