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.