October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

Today’s Post

In the last two weeks, we have taken a look at the Christian idea of ‘spirituality’ in the light of our ‘Secular Side of God’.   We saw how in this secular mode of reinterpretation, ‘spirit’ is neither supernatural nor ‘other-worldly’, but simply a word for the energy that propels evolution in the direction of increasing complexity.  We saw how Teilhard sees ‘spirit’ as neither an ‘epi’ nor a ‘meta’ phenomenon, but instead the critical phenomenon in the evolution of the universe.  Although, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges, science has not yet addressed it per se, the religious term for the energy “which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”, is ‘spirit’.

This week we will move on to some consequences of understanding that spirituality not only underlies the evolutionary process by which the universe becomes more complex, it is the milieu in which we live.

The History of Grace

Grace is one of the basic concepts of Christianity, which understands the ‘love of God’ as a tangible thing by which God interacts between his supernatural divine life and our natural human life.

As we will see, the church teachings on this interaction with God can be seen to have much in common with our secular understanding of spirituality.  Not that the traditional dualisms of supernaturalism and otherworldliness are not present in these teachings, but the idea that grace makes up the milieu in which we live is pervasive in them.

The church teaching on grace, however, can also be seen to be tarnished by the gradual drift of Christianity towards a hierarchy which effects social stability and a system of beliefs necessary to secure successful promotion into heaven.  This can be seen in the Baltimore Catechism’s description of grace as a “Supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation.”  It goes on to say, “The principal ways of obtaining grace are prayer and the sacraments.”  In this teaching, grace is less a milieu in which we exist than a gift, not gratuitously given by God but ‘earned’ by Jesus and mediated by the church.  Grace is a ‘gift’ necessary for our ‘salvation’ which must be ‘obtained’ by asking for it (prayer) and participation in church-provided rituals (sacraments).   To a large extent, it is seen as necessary commodity to be obtained from the church.

Sacraments, as defined in the Baltimore Catechism, are “outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace”, and are conferred (dispensed) by church hierarchy.  In this teaching, the sacraments only ‘work’ (only dispense grace) if they are performed by the correct rank of church hierarchy (eg ‘Confirmation’ by bishop) and according to the established ritual (eg Baptism by water).

The excesses of the medieval church which led to Luther’s reformation are well documented, but one of the more egregious practices that Luther attacked was the ‘selling’ of sacraments.  To the church of this era, grace had become a hierarchy-controlled commodity without which salvation could not be accomplished but from which the church could profit.

So,  What is Grace, and Where Do The Sacraments Come In?

As we saw last week, spirituality is fundamental to the process of evolution, from the ‘big bang’ to (so far) the human.  From this secular perspective, grace is simply the quantification of this energy of evolution.  Paraphrasing Richard Dawkins, we can say, “There must be an energy of evolution, and we might as well give it the name Spirit, but Spirit is not an appropriate name unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word ‘Spirit’ carries in the minds of most religious believers. The energy that we seek must be that which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”.

Just as we saw in our discussion of God, the ‘axis of evolution’ rises through every branch of the tree of life.  The specific branch that rises though each human person is a continuation of the basic energy of evolution and it is manifest in its potential in our lives.

The long legacy of dualism that has risen in Christianity came to understood sacraments as a means by which the spiritual energy of God could be delivered across the wide gulf between spirit and matter, and that this aperture was opened by ‘the merits of Christ’ and therefore contributes to ‘our salvation’.

Setting aside the issue of ‘salvation’ for now, we can see how our secular approach to the idea of the energy of evolution, and our understanding of God as ‘supremely’ natural (as opposed to ‘super’ natural) permits the idea of the sacrament to be seen in a secular context.  While we may well be immersed in this milieu of grace, the very nature of its intangibility calls for reminders, ‘signposts’ of its activity in our lives.  The sacraments are religion’s attempt to erect these signposts.  They are, in Teilhard’s words, examples of “articulation of the noosphere’.

The Sacraments and Evolution

As we have suggested many times in this blog, the continuation of evolution through the human species can be understood as the development of tge skill of using our unique human neocortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of the ‘lower’ limbic and reptilian brains.  In the post of February 2, 2017  – “Relating to God, Part 7: Loving God, Part 2”  (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?m=201702), as well as several others, we saw this skill requiring two actions.  The first action was to recognize the rise of this axis of evolution in us, and the second was to learn how to cooperate with it.  In religious terms, this is expressed as “finding and cooperating with God”.

In the posts which addressed ‘finding God’, beginning with “Relating to God – P1: Opening the Door” (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?m=201609) we addressed the concept of meditation as a process for finding God as understood by Teilhard, and how it has been carried through to the current day by psychology.  In these posts we saw how the idea of ‘finding God’ happens in the quest to find ourselves.

The second step is less obvious, and less treated by psychology.  To ‘cooperate’ with this manifestation of the ground of being in our lives, it is necessary to see how the energy of evolution is specifically manifested in our life so that we can cooperate with it and enhance its effects in us.  Effectively, to cooperate with the energy of evolution, we need to learn to recognize how the ‘articulations of the noosphere’ occur in our lives.

This is where the sacraments come in.

The Next Post

This week we saw grace as the manifestation of the ‘energy of evolution’ as it flows through our lives, and addressed the idea of ‘sacrament’ as articulation of how the action of grace can be seen if we know how to look.  Next week we will look at the sacraments in more detail to better understand how the seven traditional sacraments can be seen as active in our personal evolution.

September 28 – Spirituality, Part 2- Spirituality and Evolution

Today’s Post

Last week we introduced the concept of spirituality from a secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be understood as underpinning the continuation of human evolution as seen in the development of human ideals.  This week we will broaden out look to see the essential part played by spirituality in universal evolution.

The Spiritual Basis of Evolution

We have seen in our secular perspective of God how the principle metric of evolution is the increasing of complexity over time, and how this increasing complexity has yet to be quantified by science but yet is critical to science’s understanding of how the universe unfolds.  We have also seen how this increase in complexity underpins the principle by which entities of a given order of complexity can unite in such a way that the ensuing entities are of a higher order.  Teilhard sees an energy at work by which this happens at every rung of evolution.  At the rung of fundamental particles, it can be seen in the effecting of electrons from bosons, the effecting of atoms from electrons, and the effecting of molecules from atoms.  At the rung of the human person, it is the energy which unites us in such a way that we become more complete.  At the human level this energy manifests itself as ‘love’. 

It is at work, therefore, to an increasingly lesser extent as we look backward in time at all previous steps of evolution.  While science does not yet have a term for this energy, the religious term is ‘spirit’.

As Teilhard points out, in the collection of his thoughts, “Human Energy”, therefore, the roots of this essential ‘complexifying’ energy of evolution are deeply embedded in the ‘axis of evolution’.

“Spirituality is not a recent accident, arbitrarily or fortuitously imposed on the edifice of the world around us; it is a deeply rooted phenomenon, the traces of which we can follow with certainty backwards as far as the eye can reach, in the wake of the movement that is drawing us forward.  ..it is neither super-imposed nor accessory to the cosmos, but that it quite simply represents the higher state assumed in and around us by the primal and indefinable thing that we call, for want of a better name, the ‘stuff of the universe’.  Nothing more; and also nothing less.  Spirit is neither a meta- nor an epi- phenomenon, it is the phenomenon.”

   As Teilhard sees it, this ‘secular’ approach to spirituality overcomes yet another dualism that is common to religion: spirit vs matter.

“Spirit and matter are (only) contradictory if isolated and symbolized in the form of abstract, fixed notions of pure plurality and pure simplicity, which can in any case never be realized.  (In reality) one is inseparable from the other; one is never without the other; and this for the good reason that one appears essentially as a sequel to the synthesis of the other.  The phenomenon of spirit is not therefore a sort of brief flash in the night; it reveals (itself in) a gradual and systematic passage from the unconscious to the conscious, and from the conscious to the self-conscious.”

   Teilhard is making an essential point about spirit and matter here.  He sees matter evolving to higher levels of complexity (‘synthesizing’) under the influence of the energy of complexification (‘spirit’), and the increased complexity which results from such synthesis is therefore capable of more complex interaction.  This increased material level of complexity is a manifestation of an increased level of spirit.  To Teilhard, spirit is “Nothing more; and also nothing less” than the energy of evolution.

Universal Spirituality and Dualism

He goes on to elaborate how the ‘spirit/matter’ dualism so endemic to religion is overcome by the realization that instead of spirit and matter in opposition to each other, they are simply co-operative aspects of reality as it emerges and continues to evolve to levels of greater complexity:

“The problem of the world, for our minds, is the association it presents of two opposed elements (spirit and matter) in a series of linked combinations covering the expanse between thought and unconsciousness.  Now if consciousness is taken to be a meta-phenomenon, this dualism in motion is simply and verbally noted, without any attempt or even any possibility of interpretation.  If this dualism is pushed aside as an epi-phenomenon, it is conjured out of sight.  But it is simply and harmoniously resolved, on the other hand, in a world in which consciousness and its appearance are regarded as the phenomenon.  Everything then takes its natural place in a universe in process of changing its spiritual state…And hominization (the appearance of the human) merely marks a decisive and critical point in the gradual development of this change.”

   In Teilhard’s perspective, therefore, the basic process of evolution can now be seen as a process of matter “changing its spiritual state’.  ‘Spirit’ can now be seen as that which underlies the very axis of evolution, finally becoming fully tangible in the human person and his society.

The Next Post

This week we took a look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality is a phenomenon essential to the process of evolution as it lifts the universe to ‘its current level of complexity’.

Next week we will continue our exploration of Christian concepts by applying this perspective to the Christian concept of ‘grace’.

September 14 – Spirituality, Part 1- Concept and Example

Today’s Post

Last week we completed the segment of the blog that established the “Secular Side of God’, looking at western concepts of God, Jesus and the Trinity from our secular viewpoint.  Starting this week we will begin to apply this same secular approach to the many beliefs and practices which make up the complex tapestry of Western religion as found in Christianity, beginning with the concept of ‘spirituality’.

What is Spirituality?

Along with many of the premises of religion, spirituality is difficult to grasp with the empirical tools of science.  At the same time the reality of spirituality can be seen to underlie human life in a universal way.

One of the many artificial dualities found in traditional religion divides reality into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’.  From this perspective, spirituality exists at the level of the ‘supernatural’, above nature and while this layer of reality can impinge upon the ‘natural’ world in which we live, it is nonetheless separate and unobtainable ‘in this life’ (another duality).

In following  Teilhard in our secular approach, all of reality is understood as a single, unified thing.  While there are layers, such as Teilhard’s ‘spheres’ of complexity which unfold over time, at its basis the universe is united in basic principles, such as articulated in the Standard Model of physics.  These principles apply everywhere in the universe, in all phases of its evolution.  With Teilhard’s addition of the principle of increasing complexity over time (assumed by science but yet to be quantified), these principles account for everything that we can see.

Instead of these principles being understood as ‘super natural’ (above nature), in Teilhard’s perspective they become ‘supremely natural’ (at the basis of nature).

If we define ‘spirituality’ as simply ‘non-material’, we can begin to see spirituality in this light as a mileu which surrounds us.  We live our lives enmeshed in intangible but very real fields of spirituality which are reflected in our laws, the principles of behavior that shape our cultures, and the everyday facets of relationships that inform our lives.  As we discussed last week, the many historical attempts to ‘articulate the noosphere’ are nothing more than attempts to articulate these principles so that we can understand and cooperate with them to make the most of our lives.

A secular example of spirituality can be found in a fundamental axiom of our government.  It is at the basis of the idea of a ‘representative government’, and often described as the ‘will of the people’ so essential to democratic governments.  While not finding articulation per se in the new American constitution and bill of rights, Thomas Jefferson was very clear in his concept of the validity of this ‘consensus in government’:

“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be other that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.  I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”

   Jefferson expresses a very revolutionary concept of the human person and his society with these views.  At the time, the precedent for government was clearly to trust only in the provenance of royalty in the belief that if government were left to ‘the masses’, so the prevailing opinion said, chaos would result.  The belief that a consensus resulting from ‘the masses’ could result in setting the course of the ship of state in a positive direction was very revolutionary, indeed .

This ‘will of the people’ is essential to our democratic form of government, but intangible and difficult to quantify.   Believing it to the extent that it is established as the basis for government has nonetheless resulted in a form of government that can be clearly seen to be more successful than previous forms.

The Evolution of Spirituality

Seeing how spirituality can be understood as underpinning our very concept of government, we can apply this perspective backward to see the evolution of an idea without material substance:

–  the intuition that “we were made in the image of God” expressed around campfires over three thousand years ago

–  which evolved into ‘prophets’ with their intuition of ‘rights’ and  ‘justice’ against the wrongdoing of the establishment

– to one that recognized love as the energy of unity and the uniqueness of the person

– to the adoption of this principle as a way of insuring the cohesiveness of a highly diverse empire

– rising through the many ‘charters’ (contracts between rulers and ruled) of western medieval and renaissance society

– to an expression that “all men are created with inalienable rights”, ones not granted by birth, wealth, IQ, or good fortune, and established as a cornerstone of the constitution of the most powerful nation on earth.

The Next Post

This week we took a first look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be seen to play a part in the evolution of human ideals.

Next week we will take a look at the part that spirituality plays in evolution itself.

August 31 – If There is a Secular Side of God, What About Religion?

Today’s Post

Over the last year we have explored the idea of God from a secular viewpoint.  We have taken a look at the traditional Western concepts of God: the definitions, metaphysics, dogmas and scriptural references and explored them for their secular aspects.  In a nutshell, we have seen that all of these concepts of traditional religion contain core threads of belief that can be understood from a secular context.

We have also seen how ‘reinterpreting’ these concepts in the light of a secular perspective can also serve to achieve a more integrated understanding of God; one which is cleansed of the corrosive duality so endemic to traditional Western religion.  In addition we have also seen how this approach can serve to mitigate the irrelevance that has crept into Christianity since its beginnings.  Richard Rohr puts the need for such a reduction of irrelevance (and a call to reinterpretation) in plain terms:

“For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?”  (Italics mine)

How Did We Get Here?

So, our approach to reinterpretation of Christian teaching in order to restore it to a “system of beliefs… expressed as loving way of life” is the goal of this blog.  The first step of such an effort has been to offer a reinterpretation of the traditional Western concepts of God in the light of a secular point of view.

Such a point of view, as we have seen, is not based on the intuitive traditional approach of scripture, the evolved Greek-influenced dogmas or the metaphysics of Aquinas, but is rooted in the empirical findings of Science.  This point of view emanates from an integrated understanding of such scientific theories as can be found in the Standard Model of Physics and the Natural Selection theory of biological evolution.  I stress the term integrated because, as Teilhard notes, it permits the universe to be perceived as a single, unified thing which is unfolding in the direction of increasing complexity.  Once this underlying metric is acknowledged, the rest is a matter of understanding the many modes of complexity which the universe undergoes before it reaches, as Richard Dawkins notes, “..its present complex existence”.

God, as Dawkins acknowledges, can then be seen as “the basis for this process”.

So all we have done in this blog is to explore the consequences of these two prepositions.  Seeing God in the process and understanding how we can continue this continuing of complexity as it rises through our persons and our species.

As part of this exploration we will see how we can plumb the many teachings of religion for their significance to this process.  Or, as Dawkins sees it, how we can begin to “divest the word ‘God’ of all the baggage that it carries in the minds of most religious believers” in order to get back to the profound intimacy as found in John.  As we have seen, John believes it is possible to be intimate with Dawkins’ “basis for this process” when he declares that “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”.

So, given all this, how do we find this ‘thread of evolution’ arising in us, and more importantly, how do we cooperate with it to become more fully human?

Or, putting it more prosaically, how do we advance human evolution through development of the skill to use our neo-cortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our limbic and reptilian brains?

Articulating the Noosphere

Answering these questions involves what Teilhard refers to as “Articulation of the Noosphere”.  To Teilhard, there are spheres of our planet, such as the ‘lithosphere’ (the rocky core), the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (the oceans), and the biosphere (living things).  To this he adds the additional sphere which occurs as a result of the human ability to be aware of its awareness: the noosphere (human thought).  Just as the other spheres are addressed by Science, and yield understandings which permit humans to deal with them, in the same way the noosphere must be parsed and understood if we are to continue the process of evolution as it rises through the human person.

As Aldous Huxley claims in his ‘Perennial Philosophy’, all religions attempt to understand reality in terms that help us deal with it: they all propose ‘articulations of the noosphere’.  All religious teachings, to some extent, propose beliefs about reality and establish practices (rituals) consistent with the beliefs that are intended to bring us closer to becoming what we can become.  But as we have seen, most religions, due to their integrative ability to bring cohesion to cultures and nations, eventually wander into dualism, hierarchy and irrelevance.

This is not to suggest that their articulations are without merit.  On the contrary, this blog takes as a ‘given’ that they contain nuggets of value to us as we collectively continue to develop the ‘skill of using our neo-cortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our lower brains’.  In other words, to advance human evolution

Where Do We Go From Here

So, given this goal, and considering the secular understanding of God that we have developed, what’s the next step?  As a final segment of the blog I would like to address many of the concepts and beliefs of Western religion and offer reinterpretations consistent with our secular approach.  I also hope to show how the principles which emerge from such reinterpretations can be seen as relevant to human existence as we have addressed it:

–          Since we are products of evolution, we contain at our core a spark, a small branch, of the universal axis of evolution by which the world is raised to Dawkins’ “present complex existence”

–          We continue the process of evolution (towards both personal and cultural maturity) by recognizing and cooperating with this spark

–          We must develop a collective understanding, an ‘articulation’ of both the structure of the universe and our place in it as well as an understanding of how to engage it in such recognition and cooperation

This last segment of the blog will address traditional Western religious concepts such as spirituality, grace, sacrament, faith, salvation, the afterlife,  prayer, and scripture in terms of how they can be reinterpreted as such articulation.

The Next Post

This week we reviewed how we got to this secular perspective of God, and opened the subject of how the reinterpreted principles of Western religion can be seen as tools which we can use to effect not only our own personal growth but to contribute to the continuation of human evolution as a whole.

Next week we will begin to address these principles, starting with the concept of ‘spirituality’.

August 17 – The Secular Side of The Trinity

Today’s Post

Last week we summarized the last facet of the complex God that emerged in just a few hundred years after the death of Jesus, the ‘Trinity’.  We also noted how this concept emerged at the same time that the new church began to become part of Roman society and how the church began to drift into an institution which became more dependent on adherence to dogma.  As its dogma became more articulated, truth became more ‘an object of faith’ required to assure salvation and than an insight for living.  It didn’t help that the new church was now becoming an essential part of the Roman structure which required a new level of adherence to dogma to insure a unified society.

Yet, as we saw from Karen Armstrong’s observation, the teaching of ‘Trinity’ was “simply baffling”, and from Richard Rohr that this teaching seems ‘furthest from human life’.

With all this, what secular sense can we make of it?

The Secular Side of the Trinity

From our secular viewpoint the perspective of the Trinity is much simpler.  From our secular perspective, we have seen how God can be reinterpreted from a supernatural being which is the ‘over and against of man’ who creates, rewards and punishes, to the ‘ground of being’, the basis for the universe’s potential for evolution via increase in complexity.  And applying this perspective to Jesus, we saw how he can be reinterpreted from a sacrifice necessary to satisfy such a distant God, to the personification of this increase in complexity as it rises through the human person: the ‘signpost to God’.  In the same way we can see a third manifestation of this ‘axis of evolution’, the ‘Spirit’, in the energy which unites the products of evolution in such a way as to effect this increase in complexity.

More specifically, we can begin to see how this ‘triune God’ can be seen to be ‘person’.   The synthesized collaboration of these three principles of evolution effects what we know as the product of evolution that we refer to as ‘the person’.  Christianity puts names to these three aspects of the ground of being:

–          ‘Father’ as the underlying principle of the becoming of the universe in general, but as the principle of this manifestation as it emerges after long periods of time as the ‘person’

–          ‘Son’ as the manifestation of the product of evolution that has become ‘person’

–          ‘Spirit’ as the energy by which this ‘becoming’ takes the form of increasing complexity which leads to the ‘person’

As we have noted frequently in this blog, Teilhard describes this third ‘person’, this third manifestation of the ground of being, as love:

“Love is the only energy capable of uniting entities in such a way that they become more distinct.”

   And in addressing this last agent of becoming, we can now see more clearly how John’s astounding statement begins to make secular sense:

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”

  Thus, Teilhard locates the ’Spirit’ squarely in the axis of evolution, as the manifestation of the energy which powers evolution through its rising levels of complexity.  We can see in Science’s “Standard Model’ how the energies manifest in forces such as the atomic forces, electricity and magnetism, gravity and chemistry all collaborate in raising the universe from the level of pure energy to that of matter sufficiently complex to provide the building blocks of life.  We can also see how this energy continues to manifest itself in raising the complexity of living matter through the process of Natural Selection.  Understanding the ‘Spirit’ is simply to understand how evolutionary products aware of their consciousness (human persons) can cooperate with this energy to be united in such a way as to advance their individual complexity (their maturity) and therefore continue to advance the complexity of their species.

Last week we noted that Richard Rohr decried how the increasing structure and dogmatism of the Christian church increased the distance between man and God by decreasing the relevance of its message.  With our secular perspective, we can see how it is possible to understand the trinity in terms which are relevant to life.  Rohr offers these terms, expressed in religious language, as an integrated understanding of the trinity:

“I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the Big River of God’s providential love, which is to trust the visible embodiment (the Son), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Father). This is a divine process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve. We just need to allow it and enjoy it.  Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river.”

The Next Post

This week we saw that how adding the ‘Spirit’ to the ‘Father’ and the ‘Son’ completes an understanding of the ‘the ground of being’, the basis of the universe’s ‘coming to be’ in general.  More importantly, we saw how we can begin to understand how this agent of evolution which has ‘brought the world to its current level of complexity’ works in our individual lives, as our personal dimension of the ‘axis of evolution’.

Next week we will address the concept of spirituality, and how it can be seen in the light of our secular inquiry.

August 3 – The Trinity

Today’s Post

Last week we took a final look at Jesus from our secular perspective, and noted how quickly the highly integrated understanding of John became a victim of the endless human trend toward dualism.  From our secular perspective, we saw how John’s vision strengthened the immediacy (immanence) of God in human life and how Jesus was the ‘signpost’ for this spark of universal becoming which could be found in all the products of evolution, but only capable of being recognized as such by the human person.

This week we’ll take a look at the third stage of the unique evolution of the concept of God: the Trinity.

The History of the Trinity

As Bart Ehrman notes in his book, “How Jesus Became God”, unlike God and Jesus, the trinity isn’t addressed as such in any of the books of the Old or New Testament.  The idea of God as supreme supernatural creator somehow intertwined in human life is a common thread of the Jewish scriptures (the ‘Old Testament’).   As we have seen, the understanding of Jesus evolves over time in the New Testament, but the concept of a third ‘person’ wasn’t developed until late in the first three hundred years of the new Christian church.

The idea of something (or someone) involved in the coming to be of the universe, and in how this process is reflected in human life, shows up even in the Old Testament.  It is strongly suggested by Jesus, for example, in his statement to the apostles that a spirit (an ‘advocate’) would be sent after he was gone.

It wasn’t until the early days of the early church’s theological development until this agent began to be considered God in somehow the same way that Jesus was being considered.

In a nutshell, the new church began to consider God as being ‘triune’, somehow composed of three separate but unified ‘persons’ whose agency in reality was reflected in three separate ways.  The most commonly used terms ‘Father’, ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’ are of little use in achieving an integrated understanding of this complex concept.  Thus in the same way that the church required belief without understanding (as we saw in the final determination that Jesus was both God and Man), as an ‘act of faith’ necessary for salvation, it was soon to follow with the statement that God was also ‘three divine persons in one divine nature’.

And, in the same way that the controversy over the nature of Jesus was debated up until the Nicene council, that of the trinity continued to be debated.  As the Arian controversy was dissipating following the Nicean council, the debate moved from the deity of Jesus to the equality of the Spirit with the Father and Son.  A key facet of this controversy lay in the lack of scriptural clarification of ‘the Spirit’ as a person of God in the same way as was ‘the Son’.  On one hand, some believers declared that the Spirit was an inferior person to the Father and Son. On the other hand, the Cappadocian Fathers argued that the Holy Spirit was a person fully equal to the Father and Son.

This controversy was brought to a head at the Council of Constantinople (381) which affirmed that the Spirit was of the same substance and nature of God, but like Jesus, a separate person. Gregory of Nazianzus, who presided over this council offered this explanation:

“No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Three than I am carried back into the One. When I think of any of the Three, I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me”.

  As Karen Armstrong concludes in her book, “A History of God”, “For many Western Christians . . . the Trinity is simply baffling”.

Richard Rohr agrees with Armstrong that of all the Christian statements of belief, that of the Trinity seems furthest from human life.  The church didn’t make it easier by declaring such statements to be ‘objects of faith’ which must be believed without understanding even though such belief was a prerequisite for salvation.  But as we saw last week, faith is much more than adherence to precepts, it is an essential aspect of human existence.

So, what secular sense can we make of this?

The Next Post

This week we saw how the new Christian church evolved its concept of God from the Jewish ‘Father” to a complex triune but difficult to grasp concept.

Next week we will consider this concept of a ‘triune’ God from the perspective of our search for ‘The Secular Side of God’.

July 20 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 4

Today’s Post

Last week we continued our reinterpretation of Jesus in the light of our ‘secular’ perspective.  We outlined how Jesus can be seen as the first awareness of how we should cooperate with this spark of universal being in each of us if we would be whole.  While the awareness that each person and this spark of God are intimately connected was stated unequivocally by John, the beliefs about such a God and Jesus continued to evolve in the first three hundred years of the new Christian church.  This week we will take a look at how this evolution unfortunately led to a continuation, even a strengthening of the duality that has underpin religion from its ancient beginnings.

Jesus, Religion and Duality

As we saw in the series of posts on the ‘History of Religion’ (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?p=172), the dichotomy between orthogonal concepts, such as this world/the next, Judgmental God/Loving God, and sacred/profane can be seen in all philosophical and religious systems going back to the earliest written records.  In most cases, these beliefs are held even though they are in opposition, in a somewhat ‘cognitive dissonance’.  In some cases, the level of opposition fades as one side of the dichotomy slowly becomes paramount as society evolves.

Thomas Cahill, reading Jewish scripture as “a documentary record of the evolution of a sensibility”, notes the evolution of the scriptural voice of God from the thundering apparition to Moses to the “still, small voice” of Kings.   Nonetheless, even though many of the dualities have evolved toward cohesion, others still persist in both religion and society today.

The Gospel of John, for example, would seem to offer such a cohesion by declaring an ontological basis of unity between God and the human person.  However, many of the beliefs that emerged as a result of the three hundred years of strife that plagued the Christian church as it fought amongst itself to define orthodoxy, resulted in a strengthening of one of the most deep-seated dualities in Christianity, that of ‘atonement theology’.

Atonement theology is the teaching that was eventually invoked to bring an end to the most basic controversy of the early church: how could Jesus be God and Man at the same time?  There were many beliefs to be found among the diverse Christian communities that made up the early church, but they all boiled down to three:  Jesus was divine and not human, human and not divine and both human and divine.  Each side held strong reasons for their beliefs, and offered many diverse ‘models’ of reality to support them.  The controversies were of such strength as to threaten to divide the new Christian religion.

At the same time, Christianity was beginning to play a large role in the expansion of the Roman empire.  The emperor, Constantine, understood that its unique and unprecedented beliefs offered a potential basis of stability to Rome as it expanded into increasingly diverse cultures.  A division within Christianity, however, would undermine this strategy, prompting Constantine to step into the controversy.  As Bart Ehrman sees it in his book, “How Jesus became God”,

“The empire was vast and was culturally, politically and religiously fragmented.  In contrast, Christianity emphasized oneness: there is one God, one Son of God, one church, one faith, one hope and so on.  Christianity was a religion of unity that Constantine believed could be used to unify the empire.

But the problem was that this religion of unity was itself split; thus he saw the need to heal the split if the Christian church was to bring real religious unity to the empire.”

As a result, Constantine ordered a ‘Council’ (The Council of Nicea) to be called to establish a consensus on the ‘orthodox’ teaching of how Jesus could be God and Man.  At this council, it was decided that the beliefs that Jesus was not totally divine nor was totally human were to be declared as ‘heretical’.  The belief that he was both at the same time was declared ‘orthodox’.

The deciding argument, however, put the theory of ‘atonement theology’ squarely into the heart of Christian belief.

Against the belief that Jesus was totally divine or totally human, the argument was presented that neither of these states were possible if Jesus’s sacrifice was to be successful in insuring salvation (or as one theologian has said, “accomplishing his mission”).  Jesus had to be God, for a human sacrifice would not suffice to atone for an offence against God, and he had to be Man because suffering was required for a sacrifice, to satisfy the conditions for such an ‘economy of salvation’.

Thus the teaching of atonement theology was inserted into Christian belief.  This is a truly profound dualism, between a God so intimate that “He who abides in love abides in God and God in him” and a God so distant that a painful and bloody sacrifice is necessary for him to ‘change his mind’ about man.  It has given rise to many dualistic threads in Christian expressions.  Two such dualities which persist to this day are:

–   As opposed to the teachings of Paul and the gospels, Jesus is seen as ‘closer’ than God, more intimate, and necessary for human-divine relationship.  In many Christian expressions, (and in opposition to Paul and the Gospels) Jesus is prayed to, even adored, as a necessary intermediary to a distant God

–   The goal of human life is seen as what happens after death, leading to a distance from human life.  As Brian McLaren sees it, “We made the Gospel largely into “an evacuation plan for heaven.” ”

   Another duality can be seen in the theological process exemplified by the Council of Nicea is that of deciding the words of belief.  Correct belief is frequently seen as the ‘ticket to heaven’, and thousands of wars have been fought over their expression.  This has been especially the case in the Christian West, and is one of the sources of the decreasing relevance of western religion.  Christianity quickly found itself as a structural hierarchy, rooted in society and government, in which adherence to doctrine was of increasing importance.  As Karen Armstrong sees it:

 “Later Christians would set great store by orthodoxy, the acceptance of the “correct teaching”.  They would eventually equate faith with belief.  But Paul would have found this difficult to understand.  For Paul, religion was about ‘kenosis’ (the emptying of self, the dismantling of egotism) and love.  In Paul’s eyes, the two were inseparable.  You could have faith that moved mountains, but it was worthless without love, which required the constant transcendence of egotism.”

   Also from Armstrong:

“It is frequently assumed that faith is a matter of believing certain creedal propositions.  Indeed it is common to call religious people “believers” as though assenting to the articles of faith were their chief activity.”


The Next Post

This week we saw how the traditional dualities found in all religions found new and sharper demarcations with the new Christian religion.  As we addressed in the series, “November 24 – Relating to God: Part 5- Psychology as Secular Meditation- Part 2: The Transition” (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?p=302), such dualities have persisted even as the West became more secular, and can be seen, for example, in the contradictory approaches of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers.  We also saw how their conflicts play a part in the Western diminishment of the role of religion.  This orthogonality and its impact on society can be traced back to how God is perceived as an active agent in life.  The distant God in need of a friendly Jesus suggests an underlying darkness to life that must be feared and not embraced.

Next week we will move to yet another historically new perception of God, one that is to be found in the concept of ‘the Trinity.

July 6 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 3

Today’s Post

Last week we began to look at Jesus from our secular point of view.  We saw how John, for the first time in human history, opens the door to understanding God in a truly universal context, and Jesus as the ‘personization’ of that concept.  As we saw last week, Jesus is the point in human history in which the key agent of evolution begins to be understood as ‘love’.  This week we will continue to look at Jesus from this perspective.

Jesus and the Axis of Evolution

Addressing Jesus from a secular point of view is not unlike the approach we took in addressing God.  We saw God as the sum total of the universal agents of evolution, in which the thread of evolution can be seen in the increase in consciousness that leads to increased awareness of consciousness.

At the same time, we have proposed a simple basis for the continued thread of evolution as it rises through the human person.  We have suggested that the key aspect of human evolution is manifested in the increasing skill of using the neo-cortex brain to modulate the instinctual stimuli of the reptilian and limbic brains.

The thinkers of the ‘Axial Age’ were the first to offer practical tactics which would contribute to this skill.  One of the earliest was Confucious, with these insights:

“..You needed other people to elicit your full humanity; self-cultivation was a reciprocal process.”

“In order to establish oneself, one should try to establish others.  In order to enlarge oneself, one should try to enlarge others”

   And finally, the first expression of the Golden Rule

“Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you”

   If we parse this simple adage in terms of our definition above, we can see that it summarizes a simple tactic for employing the increased human capacity for thought to modulate our instinctual reactions.  Using the Golden Rule requires us to consider how another’s aggressive action affects us, and strategize how to respond if we were to forego replying in kind in favor of replying in a way that mirrors our own desire to be treated fairly.

In general, the appearance of the Golden Rule in history is an example of understanding that human interactions can be channeled in a way that supports the stability of society.  We have also seen how the Roman Empire leveraged the new Christian religion’s universal acceptance of all (even those outside the near and familiar) and insistence on fairness in law, to support its continued expansion into new and less civilized parts of the world.

What Jesus brings to this evolution of human behavior is a new, more fundamental understanding of human nature and human relationships.  Not only does he bring a clearer and deeper understanding of the tactics of developing the skill modulating our instincts, he articulates the kinds of behavior that strengthen this skill.

Examples of such tactics can be seen in Jesus’s teachings (the Sermon on the Mount, for example) and in Paul’s expansion on Jesus’ teachings on love.  We can see the articulation of this tactic in this expansion:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no account of wrongs”

In this passage, Paul is going well beyond the insights of Confucious, some five hundred years earlier.  He is building on Confuscious’ insights on behavior, such as the divesting of ego and identifying additional tactics necessary to our personal growth.

As we have seen, these tactics, while contributing to the stability of society, are also those that are essential to our personal evolution.  They are not performed to appease God or merit salvation, they are the tactics that guide our neo-cortex brain in choosing to override our many instincts and hence contribute to our personal growth.

So, just as we saw God as the basis for existence and the continuation of the thread of evolution that emerges as ‘persons aware of their consciousness’, and how meditation can be seen as a search for this spark of life within us, we can now see how Jesus represents the action that must be taken if we are to cooperate with this spark.  It’s not enough to be aware of its existence within us, we must also develop tactics for cooperation with it if we are to continue our personal evolution.

As Richard Rohr puts it:

“It is not that Jesus is working some magic in the sky that “saves the world from sin and death.” Jesus is redefining the common pattern of human history.  Jesus is not changing God’s mind about us because it does not need changing (as in various “atonement theories”); he is changing our mind about what is real and what is not.”

The Next Post

This week we saw how Jesus can be seen from the secular perspective as the basis for development of the human neocortex brain’s skill of modulating the lower brains: the basis for our continued evolution at both the personal and cultural level.  Next week we will look at how this secular perspective can be seen to offer insights into the concept of Jesus as God, and how these insights inform religion’s traditional treatment of Jesus.

June 23 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 2

Today’s Post

In last week’s post, we began to move from the scriptural depictions of Jesus to seeing him in the light of the insights of Teilhard.  We saw how the scriptural treatment of Jesus shows a distinct evolution, as he is shown first as a very human teacher of wisdom, then as ‘the Christ’, who was ‘exalted by God’ due to his sacrificial act, and finally to Jesus, the Cosmic Christ, who was so integrally a part of God that he had coexisted with him through eternity.

John’s Bold Step

As we have seen, John sees Jesus in a way that is quite different from Paul and the authors of the synoptic gospels.  While Jesus’s teachings certainly address how it is that we should behave, and Paul goes on to describe such proper behavior, John sees Jesus’ teachings as addressing how we should be if we would be whole.  This moves from a prescription for salvation to one for being fully human.   John then goes on to explore God from an ‘ontological’ perspective.

The idea of ‘The word made flesh’ is much more than a ‘metaphor’, and goes well beyond seeing God using Jesus to communicate to us what we must do to get to heaven.     In his innovative insight, John is showing us how God manifests himself in human form to show us how we should be if we would be whole.   By insisting that ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them’, John is not saying that we should love God because he loves us, or as a prerequisite for salvation.  Effectively, John is saying that when we love we are cooperating with the principle of life that flows through us when we love, and thus are borne onward to a more complete state of personhood.

John does not tell us to love God, he tells us that we must ‘abide in love’, essentially to immerse ourselves in the fundamental energy of the universe, which is now seen as love itself.  This requires openness, trust, and effectively cooperation with the basic energy of the universe that even an atheist such as Richard Dawkins can acknowledge, “raises the world to an increasing level of complexity”.

In Teilhard’s words

” 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 in just a handful of years, a single lifetime, we see the Christian understanding of Jesus evolving from a teacher whose morality seemed grounded in preparation for ‘the coming’, to one who offers a sacrifice to an angry, judgmental God who has withheld his love to humans due to an ancient sin, to one rewarded (“exalted”) with divinity for his sacrifice, to one whose ‘divinity’, whose ‘oneness with God’ was in place before the creation of the universe.   At the same time, we see an evolution of the understanding of God as well, from a God whose primary characteristic was ‘judgment’ to one whose very nature was ‘Love’.

So, Who and What Was Jesus?

So, how do we reinterpret the ‘religious’ understanding of Jesus into one which fits into our ‘secular’ perspective?  The heart of evolution finally pulled from the shadows and revealed ‘in full light’, is less a group of metaphors than a recipe for human evolution.

As Teilhard points out, the long sweep of evolution from the big bang to the present time, from pure energy to entities become aware of their awareness, is punctuated by ‘changes of state’.  In order for complexity to increase, evolution must constantly find new ‘modes of being’ in which extraordinary changes in form and function occur.

This can be clearly seen in each such critical point of evolution:

– energy to matter

– simple granularities (bosons, quarks, electrons) to atoms

– atoms to molecules

– molecules to cells

–  cells to neurons

– neurons to awareness

– awareness to consciousness

– consciousness to awareness of consciousness

To this progression we can now add another critical point: from awareness of consiousness to evolution become aware of itself.  In Jesus, through the insights of John, we see the beginning of the awareness that our personal growth is the continuation of the agent of being that powers all evolution, from the big bang onwards.  And as John points out, the energy which powers this growth can now be understood as love.  John pulls the heart of evolution from the shadows and reveals it ‘in full light’.  In John, God, Jesus, personal fulfillment and love are less a group of metaphors than a recipe for human evolution.

We have seen in several posts how the fundamental nature of love strongly differs from the romantic or sentimental emotional attraction so often celebrated in our culture.  Teilhard calls it for what it is: the current manifestation of the universal attraction between entities that causes them to grow.  And in Jesus, as chronicled by John, we can see the first stirrings of such an understanding of this basic principle.

God, to John, is not a ‘creator’, ‘out there’, over and against mankind, but the universal set of agents which, as Dawkins observes, “raises the world to an increasing level of complexity”.

So, just as we offered a reinterpretation of God from a ‘divine person who rewards and punishes’ to the cohesive agent which underlies evolution as it progresses from pure energy to the human person, we can reinterpret Jesus from the holy person, even divine person who shows us how we should love God and each other in order to merit salvation, to the personal manifestation of the fundamental energy by which we come to be and grow as a result of this thread of evolution which rises in us.

Indeed, even as Jesus is ‘evolution become aware of itself’, he also represents the point in human history where the universal power of love as the creative force which powers our continued evolution is first recognized as such.

The Next Post

This week we took a look at a way that the person of Jesus can be reinterpreted from traditional understanding to the secular understanding of him as being the critical point in history in which evolution can seen to become ‘evolution become aware of itself’.  Next week we will look at how this secular approach can be seen to offer insights into the human condition and how evolution can proceed through both the human person and society at large.

June 13 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 1

Today’s Post

In the last two posts we saw how the understanding of Jesus, as depicted by Paul, the synoptic gospels and John, represents an evolution of the understanding of Jesus.  Jesus, the teacher of wisdom becomes Jesus, the Christ, who was ‘exalted by God’ due to his sacrificial act, and finally to Jesus, the Christ, who was so integrally a part of God that he had coexisted with him through eternity.   As we will see, this evolution continues further as Christianity gets to development of God as ‘triune’: the trinity.

Today we will begin to put these insights on Jesus into the perspective of our search for the secular God.

The Second Dimension of Duality

As we have seen, the concept of ‘the Christ’ evolves in the New Testament.  The synoptic gospels depict Jesus as a teacher who believed that he was living in the end of times, and insisted on preparation by way of moral behavior.  Paul, while not denying this humanistic portrait of Jesus, expanded on his teachings (for example, in his treatise on Love), and goes on to see him tasked with the sacrifice required for reconciliation of sinful man with divine God.  The claim to divinity, in Paul’s mind, comes about as God’s ‘exaltation’ of Jesus as a result of this task.  Jesus is born a human, but raised to a divine level by God because of his sacrifice.

John goes one step further, as he identifies Jesus as part of the fundamental basis by which creation was effected.  Jesus, as ‘the Christ’, had always existed, along with God, and collaborated with God in the act of creation.

On the surface, these two facets of Jesus, the human and the divine, appear as just another type of duality, along with body/soul, this life/the next, good/evil, in which two opposing and orthogonal concepts are juxtaposed and contrasted.  In the ‘atonement’ theory, for example, Jesus is placed into history to re-establish the connection between God and his creation that was intended, but failed due to Adam’s ‘original sin’.  In argument against the ‘theory of atonement’, Richard Rohr notes:

”The ‘substitutionary atonement theory’ of salvation treats Christ as a mere Plan B. In this attempt at an explanation for the Incarnation, God did not really enter the scene until God saw that we had screwed up.”

   In the “cosmic Christ” theory of John, Jesus, as the Christ, is co-substantial with God, and therefore had always existed as part of the creation process.

These two theories are orthogonal in that the first posits a somewhat ‘deistic’ God whose creation process ends with the appearance of man, and man is a finished product free to turn against him.  In the second, the ‘cosmic Christ’ is an agent essential to the rising of man’s understanding of God, becoming manifest in human history as the recognition of God’s continuing presence in human existence.

Church history describes many disagreements among leaders of the early church on how Jesus could be man and God at the same time, with many different ‘heresies’ debated.  Was Jesus ‘only’ human, ‘only God’ and appearing in human form, or both at the same time?  The final solution, that Jesus was indeed God and man, was presented as a ‘mystery’ to be believed, not to be understood.  Essentially, although it could not be explained, it became an article of faith, requiring a sort of ‘cognitive dissonance’, with the appearance of yet another duality.

We have seen how many such dualities can be resolved through application of our secular principles of reinterpretation, and this one is no exception.  As we have seen, many of the concepts associated with God, such as those addressed in earlier posts, can fall into coherence, and the dualities fall away, by understanding God as the ‘ground of being’, active in both the principles of being (physics) and the principles of becoming (evolution via the ‘axis of evolution’).  In the same way we should be able to re-look at the person of Jesus.

Making Sense of Jesuswere

Thomas Jefferson was one of the first thinkers to attempt such a relook.  Jefferson understood that the teachings of Jesus, stripped of their supernatural and miraculous content, had much to offer the construction of a secular set of laws to underpin a new nation.  In doing this, Jefferson was one of many who attempted to ‘articulate the noosphere’.

As an eighteenth century Deist, of course, Jefferson’s ideas of God were limited to ‘source’ and without recourse to the nineteenth century findings of Physics and the emerging science of natural selection.  Without these insights, he could not conceive of this ‘source’ continuing as an active agent to power the increasing complexity which would eventually manifest itself in the human person.

With the insights of Teilhard in hand, however, we can understand God as not only the ‘source’ but the ‘agent’ of a universe which comes to be over long periods of time.  This agent powers evolution, first through the complexification of matter, then through the appearance of ever more complex living entities, and eventually to the appearance of conscious entities who are aware of their consciousness.

As history has showed, it’s not enough to be aware of our awareness, we must also seek to understand it well enough to cooperate with whatever it is that powers our being to be able to move our evolution forward.  To be able to continue to move forward, we must both understand the ‘laws of the noosphere’ and learn to cooperate with them.

And this is where Jesus comes in.

The Next Post

We have seen in the last two posts how the person of Jesus has been depicted in the Christian ‘New Testament’, and how this depiction changes over the three (Paul, Synoptic Gospels, John) groups of texts.  Next week we will take a look at how this emerging portrait of Jesus can be seen in light of our search for a secular God.