Monthly Archives: September 2016

Relating to God: Part 2- Opening the Door

Today’s Post

Last week we began to think of God as the agent of the universal phenomenon of ‘rising complexity’ as such agent continues the process of evolution through the development of our person, and how the acknowledgement of and cooperation with this fundamental agent is necessary to our growth and fulfillment of our potential.

This week we will beg to address the idea of a relationship to this agent by taking a look at the many approaches that the ancient sages have taken in the search for this universal thread which runs through our lives.

The Search for the ‘Basic Spark’

Last week we saw that if Teilhard’s assertion is true that

“It is through that which is most incommunicably personal in us that we make contact with the universal“

then our search for God begins with a search for ourselves.  Most of the ancient sages, including Jesus, point to the belief that the most essential core of our being must be uncovered for us to attain our most authentic expression of being.  This isn’t necessarily the ‘happiest’ or ‘most powerful’ state, but rather one in which we are ‘more complete’ and more aware of and able to achieve our full potential as persons.

Karen Armstrong, in her sweeping narrative, “The Great Transformation” identifies several areas of common ground among the six lines of thought in four parts of the world that constituted a new understanding of God and Self in the ‘Axial Age’ (900-200 BCE).  She describes one of the earliest such insights in the Upanishads as:

“There is an immortal spark at the core of the human person, which participated in – was of the same nature as – the immortal Brahman that sustained and gave life to the entire cosmos.  This was a discovery of immense importance and it would become a central insight in every major religious tradition.  The ultimate reality was an immanent presence in every single human being.”  (italics mine)

Armstrong saw this emerging realization as

“For the first time, human beings were systematically making themselves aware of the deeper layers of human consciousness.  By disciplined introspection, the sages of the Axial Age were awakening to the vast reaches of selfhood that lay beneath the surface of their minds.  They were becoming fully ‘Self-conscious’.  This was one of the clearest expressions of a fundamental principle of the Axial Age.  Enlightened persons would discover within themselves the means of rising above the world; they would experience transcendence by plumbing the mysteries of their own nature, not simply by taking part in magical rituals.”  (italics mine)

From our perspective as seeing God as the upwelling of complexity in evolution that leads to the ‘person’, we can begin to see how ‘plumbing the mysteries or our own nature’ is a primary means of connecting to the ‘mystery of all nature’.  It opens the door for a secular approach to “Finding God”.

Each of these six lines of thought (Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Monotheism in Israel and philosophical rationalism in Greece) brought their own practices to this undertaking.  Further, with the seemingly inevitable duality that emerges in each new philosophy (as addressed in 14-Apr What is Religion?  Part 6: Stability Part 2) many different and often contradictory practices emerged even within each of the lines.  Within Christianity, as we saw, the influence of Greek thinking led to seeing God as ‘other’, as opposed to an agent of being and growth at the basis of our person.

So, as it is easy to see, the path towards developing a connection to this inner source of life that is recognized by nearly all religions is not a simple thing.  Finding a way to do so without being bound by the scaffolding and facades which abound in the canons of traditional religion is a very difficult undertaking.

The Next Post

This week we began to address the search for God as an active, immanent agent of our personal life.

But this does not answer the second part of our question: what does it mean to say that we can have a ‘relationship’ with such a God?   Having now seen how we are connected to God by participating in this cosmic upwelling of complexity, next week we will address the undertaking of such a relationship.

Relating to God, Part 1

Today’s Post

Last week we moved from a working secular definition of God to seeing how this God is manifest in the roots of our personal development, and how these roots are extensions of the upwelling of complexity that underpin cosmic evolution.  This week we will move on to explore how the concept of a ‘personal relationship with God’ emerges naturally from these insights.

Looking For God

Thus far, we have come to a ‘secular’ concept of God without recourse to scripture, dogma or miracles.  While this may well be consistent with Professor Dawkins’ recognition that such a non-supernatural force is indeed at work in the ”raising of the world as we know it into its present complex existence”, it does not address having a personal relationship with such a force.

We can start with Teilhard’s assertion that

  “It is through that which is most incommunicably personal in us that we make contact with the universal.“

If Teilhard’s assertion is true, it seems clear that the very act of being a person is the starting point for experiencing such a God.  If the God that we have defined is the essential center of our existence, and this essential center lies along the axis of the unfolding of the universe, it would seem that finding such a transcendent source of ourselves would be very straightforward.  The myriad and oft confusing and contradictory methods offered by the many world religions are evidence that this isn’t necessarily the case.

A case in point can be seen in the many aspects of ‘dualism’ which can be found in our own Western expressions of Christianity.  This was addressed in the post of Nov 26, The Evolution of Religion, Part 7: The Rise of Christianity: The Issue of Concepts:

“Much more so than Judaism, Jonathan Sacks asserts, Christianity divides: body/soul, physical/spiritual, heaven/earth, this life/next life, evil/good, with the emphasis on the second of each.  He sees the entire set of contrasts as massively Greek, with much debt to Plato.  He sees these either/or dichotomies as a departure from the typically Jewish perspective of either/and.”

As Sacks points out, this duality tends to move God from the intimacy found in Judaism (and in the teachings of Jesus) to a distance that can only be overcome through the bewildering matrix of rituals of atonement, forgiveness and salvation which have characterized expressions of Christianity.  This point of view, captured in Blondel’s fear that we should regard our relationship with God as ‘we are here and God is there’, sabotages our search for God at the very outset.

Not that Christianity only expresses such distance.  If one takes John at his word, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”, Blondel’s statement that “It is impossible to say, “I am here and God is there”” makes much more sense.  It acknowledges that the act of God’s creative energy in me is necessary for me to make such a statement.

Blondel, Teilhard, Sacks and the contemporary theologian Richard Rohr all decry how this message of John, a logical conclusion from the teachings of Jesus, is frequently lost in the subsequent evolution of the Greek-influenced Church.  Thomas Jefferson, an early practitioner of Dawkins’ goal of “stripping the baggage” from traditional Christianity, sought to extract the essential morality of Jesus from the webs of duality which grew as Christianity was increasingly influenced by Greek philosophy.

This duality undermines the search for God within.  If we start with the assumption that “We are here and God is there”, the search is hobbled at the start.

All such searches begin with the facades and scaffolding that we inherit from our beginnings, which become frameworks which make it safe for us to act in a world so full of unknown and potentially dangerous consequences of those actions.  They keep us safe in a dangerous world, but like all walls, keep us enclosed at the same time.   To discover our inner reality requires negotiation and selective discarding of these artifacts.

This requires an open mind, and as is universally acknowledged, a mind is a difficult thing to open.

This is not a new problem.  The subject of searching for our inner core has been the subject of religious thought for many centuries.  While the approaches developed by the many religious expressions might be bewildering and often contradictory, there are nonetheless many common aspects.

The Next Post

This week we began to address the search for God as an active agent of our personal life with which we could have a personal relationship.  Next week we will continue this exploration by addressing the universal belief, expressed in nearly all religions, that there is within each of us this extension of the force by which the universe comes to be.

Reinterpreting God- Part 4, Is God a Person?

Today’s Post

Last week we addressed the phenomenon of ‘personization’ in evolution, recognizing that the evolution of the person is a natural outcome of the increase in complexity that can be seen in, and indeed is necessary to,  the unfolding of evolution.

This week we will continue this topic of personization in light of our working definition of God:

“God is the sum total of all the forces by which the universe unfolds in such a way that all the entities that emerge in its evolution (from quarks to the human person) each have the potential to become more complex when unified with other entities.”

Personization and God

Although we began our inquiry on God with a statement from Richard Dawkins, he doesn’t go too much further before he states the basis of his belief that such a God as we posit here cannot possibly be reconciled with traditional religion.  He quotes Carl Sagan:

 “If by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God.  This God is emotionally unsatisfying…it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

Of course, Sagan is right.  Once we limit the laws governing evolution to those found in the Standard Model of Physics and Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, both Sagan and Dawkins are spot on.  However neither of them acknowledge that limiting evolution to those influences found in Physics and Biology prohibit the fact of evolution at all.  It is only through inclusion of the agent of increasing complexity that the forces identified by Physics and Biology begin to account for the observed phenomenon of evolution.  As we have pointed out previously, a universe without complexification would not evolve.

However, Dawkins is correct in one respect: the definition we are considering and the six characteristics of our outline in the post of July 21, as stated, do not yet point to a God suitable for our personal relationship.  It is indeed ‘emotionally unsatisfying’.  To find this missing piece we must return to the characteristic of personness.

From the point of view that we have presented thus far, God is not understood as a person, but as the ground of person-ness.  Just as the forces of gravity and biology in the theories of Physics and Evolution address the principles of matter and life, the additional force of ‘increasing complexity’ addresses the increase in complexity which powers evolution and thus leads to the appearance of the person.

Teilhard offers an insight on this issue

“I doubt that whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes and realizes that a universal will to live converges and is hominized (becomes human) in him.”

So, from Teilhard’s vantage point, the starting place for a personal approach to God, a ‘relationship’, is the recognition that this ‘axis of evolution’ which has been an agent of ‘complexification’ for some 14 billion years is not only still active in the human, but is the same axis that accounts for our ‘personization’.  Humans are not only products of evolution which have become ‘aware of their consciousness’, but specific products, persons, who are capable of not only recognizing but more importantly cooperating with this inner source of energy that can carry them onto a more complete possession of themselves.

This unique human capability of being aware of the energy of the unfolding of the cosmos as it courses through our person, empowering our growth and assuring our potential for maturity, is neither earned nor deserved.  It has the same ‘gratuitous’ nature as gravity and electromagnetism: it is woven into our warp and woof.  We can neither summon nor deny it.  Our only appropriate response to it is to recognize it and explore the appropriate response to it.

Teilhard commented both on our cosmic connection and our cooperation with it:

  “It is through that which is most incommunicably personal in us that we make contact with the universal. “

“Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open seas.”

So, Is God A Person?

We have seen how Teilhard understands the concept of ‘person’ from both the concept of God as evident in the agent of complexity and the concept of the human person as an evolutionary product.

But to answer the question, “Is God a person?”, we return to Maurice Blondel.   As part of his objective to reinterpret Western theology, he posits that:

“Every sentence about God can be translated into a declaration about human life.”

Resonating with Teilhard, Gregory Baum paraphrases Blondel:

“The statement that “God Exists” can therefore be reinterpreted to say that “Man is alive by a principle that transcends him, over which he has no power, which summons him to surpass himself and frees him to be creative.”  That God is person means that man’s relationship to the deepest dimension of his life is personal”. (Italics mine)

So, in answer to the question, Baum goes on to state:

“God is not a super-person, not even three super-persons; he is in no way a being, however supreme, of which man can aspire to have a spectator knowledge.  That God is person reveals that man is related to the deepest dimension of his life in a personal and never-to-be reified way.”

The Next Post

This week we have seen how our working definition of God, while totally consistent with of Dawkins, is still open to the concept of God found in traditional Western theology, once it has been ‘stripped of its baggage’.  We have also seen how the element of ‘person’ is not compromised by our working definition once the potential for increasing complexity is understood as manifesting itself in the process of personness.

But this does not answer the second part of our question: what does it mean to say that we can have a ‘relationship’ with such a God?   Having seen how we are connected to God by participating in this cosmic upwelling of complexity, next week we will address how such a relationship can be achieved.