Sunday, January 20, 2008

#28. "Where I'm At"

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"There has never been a more exciting time for the intellectually curious."

The quote is from a Yahoo news article of 30 Dec 2007 about courses being offered free on the internet by big name schools. When I first read it I thought to myself, "But who's not intellectually curious?"

It seems curious to me to categorize some people as "intellectually curious" but others not; it's almost feels like a denial of the essential nature of human consciousness.

Certainly some of us are more intellectually curious than others. But when we think about ourselves in the context of cosmic and biological evolution, it's obvious that gnosis (knowledge) is what personal consciousness is all about. We seek to know, we seek to understand the world and our place in it: intellectual curiosity is one of our most essential human characteristics.

And "thinking about ourselves in the context of cosmic and biological evolution" is precisely what the great shift in human awareness called the "Universe Story" is all about. It's still not easy for many of us to see ourselves in that broad evolutionary context-- let alone begin to intentionally function within it. But like it or not, that's the transition we're in. It's an Immense Transition, a Great Turning; indeed, as Teilhard de Chardin said, it's the biggest change in human self-awareness "since awareness first dawned on our planet several million years ago."

That's why the evolutionary perspectives of modern science are so important. They allow us to see the world and ourselves more correctly than was possible in previous generations. We have a far better understanding of the world and of ourselves today than was possible in past ages when the world was thought to be static and human beings were considered something apart (and superior to) the natural world.

Here's an example of just how significant the change is: In the static perspective, God is thought of as a being who either exists apart from the world or simply doesn't exist at all; in a non-evolutionary context, the rationalist worldview writes off God while the fundamentalist worldview writes off the world. In either case, however, it's not God or the world but the essential dignity of persons as the conscious part of the universe that gets negated.

And the result? Exploitation of both humans and the natural world. Damaged persons and destroyed environments are direct results of the static-dualistic world view. It's not just a coincidence, for example, that those who object to biological evolution don't object to environmental damage or to human torture.

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Religious dualism and patriarchal rationalism were the basic heritage of Western culture until around the middle of the 20th century. It took a long time for the significance of the evolutionary perspectives to dawn on us! But we are finally coming to see that we humans are both part of, and responsible for, nature. And as the findings of contemporary science begin to impact the Western mind, it becomes clear to us that it's the modern scientific perspective, not institutional religion, which marks the end of the static-dualistic world view.

I've referred to "The End of Dualism" a number of times in these blog entries; it follows from that neurological understanding of the relationship between the brain and the mind which, in Biogenetic Structuralist jargon, is expressed as the cognitive extension of prehension. Posts #11 and #12 focus on those ideas.

Science offers more hope for the future than does institutional religion because science belongs to everybody; it's available to anyone willing to learn about it, while religious institutions continue to be as static and exclusive as big industry, big oil and big politics.

Religious experience, on the other hand, is as personal as scientific knowledge, so it's especially important to keep in mind that the contemporary convergence of science and religion isn't happening primarily at academic meetings or church conferences but in the minds and hearts of individuals-- of you and me-- in everyday life.

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It's also important to keep in mind that when I say "science is available to everyone," I don't mean only the physical sciences such as astronomy and geology or nuclear physics. I mean also-- and especially-- the biological and human sciences. Areas of study such as psychology and anthropology are even more important than the physical sciences for a better understanding of ourselves and of our place in the world.

But we've been especially slow in coming to see the significance of the human sciences. The static-dualistic outlook lasted for so many centuries in the western world that we can't expect it to fade away as quickly as we'd like. But the results of the lack of intellectual curiosity, specifically in our political leaders, has recently become much more apparent than previously; and that kind of dawning awareness on the part of people in general is no less significant than is the availability of the world's knowledge on the web.

So I want to give a big "Yes!" to that Yahoo news article. Indeed, "There has never been a more exciting time for the intellectually curious." I only want to add that it also means that "there's never been a more exciting time" for all of us.

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The thoughts that I've been sharing in this blog "on the convergence of science and religion," as I've called it, have focused in two areas: one is the dynamic (rather than static) nature of the world and the unitive (rather than dualistic) nature of human awareness; posts #12 to #16 especially deal with all that. The other is the social-communal nature of personal consciousness, what I've called "the other half of person;" posts #22 to #25 deal with those ideas.

In a comment sent in by "Mollie" (it appears at the end of post #25), she notes that I haven't said much about God. She's right. I avoid using the word "God" as much as possible, primarily because everyone feels that they already know what the word means. And if we still have a static worldview-- whether rationalist or dualist-- all we would be doing in that context is proving (or disproving) that a static supreme being exists. That's not very interesting!

I'm much more interested in thinking about what the word "God" can mean in a non-static and non-dualistic context. But we don't seem to be too comfortable-- yet!-- talking about God in a evolutionary and unitive world view. It involves a change in our understanding which is simply unthinkable for many. I don't mean "unthinkable" in the sense that it's unattractive or repulsive, but that it's literally an idea which for many doesn't ever reach the level of conscious thought. (This is one place where Brad Blanton's understanding of radical honesty, as the way out of the childhood belief stage of human development, would be especially helpful.)

At the end of her note, Mollie said: "I think God must be something/one different from religion itself-- maybe the question is left over again from old thinking, but it still remains my question."

It's a good question and I don't see it at all as "left over from the past." I think we're just getting to it. It's only when we have a good (that is, non-dualistic and non-static) sense of the physical world and our conscious selves within it can we then give serious attention to contemporary reflections about "God." I'm not in any way saying we shouldn't think about what "God" can mean, but only that, if we are to do it well, we have a lot of preliminary work to do first. (See "Snapshot #3" below, for an example.)

I see three major needs. 1) We need a good understanding of the cosmic process: that it is the universe showing itself at three levels of complexity (matter, life and mind). 2) We need a good understanding of mind (soul, personal awareness) as the activity of the universe showing itself at its most complex level (the human brain). And 3) we need a good understanding of human culture as the on-going activity of the evolutionary process.

That's the dynamic context in which I want to think about God. So, Mollie: Hang in there! I'm getting to it, and as I said above, "there's never been a more exciting time for all of us."

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And it's precisely that excitement which I would like to share with readers. I've often said that I would need to be a poet or writer of fiction to do a good job at it, and I don't have those skills.

In his book, Radical Honesty, Brad Blanton quotes the words of e. e. cummings about a poet being someone who is "abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement." Blanton notes that "communicating honestly about events is hard enough, without even trying to communicate our feelings." But he also says that "being descriptive of one's own feelings in so precise a way as to evoke feeling in another is the heart of the creative power of poets." And, he adds, "of honest speech."

So my hope is that I can do something like what poets do simply by offering my honest thoughts. And to do so, at the same time, in trust that my impulse to share my thoughts is itself an expression of the cosmic evolutionary process.

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When I started this blog at the end of 2006 I saw myself setting up a basic structure, a kind of scaffolding, for the numerous bits and pieces of an overall picture which I've put together over my forty-plus years of working, thinking and teaching in the areas of religion and science. I had the idea that, at the rate of two or three postings a month, it to take about two years to spell out the basic thoughts I want to share. More than a year later, I still think "two years" is a pretty good estimate.

The question is: "Where should I go next?"

The first post of 2008 is #27 on Radical Honesty: The How-to of Ontogenesis; it follows directly from three of the previous posts (#23, 24 & 25) on the stages of personal development as it's understood to happen within in a cosmic context. And #27 deals with what may hold us back from growing as persons and what we need to do if we are to move through the developmental stages of belief and adolescent ego-experience so that we can eventually arrive at that mature contemplative-participatory level which many cultural traditions call "wisdom consciousness."

So "Where I'm at" now is that I have no less than three big areas of related thoughts that I'd like to share. Each follows from and extends the ideas of the previous posts. And they all seem to "want out" via me at the same time.

In my planning notes at the end of December, 2007, I said to myself, "just now I'm thinking that maybe a post about all three together would make good sense.... Maybe I should try for a combo?"

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to briefly describe each of these three-- quite different but related-- sets of ideas which seem to be calling for creative expression via me just now. I'm not going to write exhaustingly about them, but merely offer a snap-shot of each. They can easily become full postings in the near future-- if it seems that that's what the cosmic process is asking.

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Before I offer those snapshots, I want to say a word about the idea that the cosmic process may be asking something of me. Despite the fact that I think I'm comfortable with "the age-old religious idea of vocation" (as I said in posting #18, Called by the Universe), I also find it embarrassing.

I don't mean that I'd much rather be out playing golf.

In my very first blog entry, I said that it "was sparked by three significant media articles about the connections between science and religion which appeared in Oct-Nov 2006 and helped me spell out what I think of as my 'cosmic vocation'." I also said in that initial posting that it was "Thanks to Andrew Newberg's book [The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience] that 'I have finally-- in my 69th year!-- found my 'field' or 'area of interest' or 'vocation, my calling from the universe'."

So I'm not about to turn my back on that calling. But in keeping with Brad Blanton's ideas about not letting shame, guilt or embarrassment hold us back, I want to acknowledge my feelings of embarrassment at having such a cosmic calling. (And to acknowledge that even saying that is embarrassing!)

Anyway... Here are my three snapshots:

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Snapshot #1: One set of ideas I have in mind has to do with the integration of consciousness at the third stage of maturity. It would be a direct follow-up to the previous post (#27) about Blanton's understanding of honesty at the different stages of personal development.

As I said in that post, "If you are familiar with the Jungian idea of the four-fold functions of consciousness or with the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, you may have noticed that the progression in the levels of honesty goes from Sensing (in the belief stage) to the judgment functions of Thinking and Feeling (in the ego-experience stage) and to the image-making Intuitive function (in the most mature stage)."

That four-fold "quaternary" perspective allows us a wholistic understanding of conscious awareness that is invaluable for our self-understanding. It's one of the "treasures" found in Radical Honesty. It's something I've been collecting thoughts about for many years. And I'd be delighted to share it with readers.

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Snapshot #2: A second direction in which I'd like to move is to expand on the idea of creative enactment as the means by which we participate in the evolutionary process at the third stage of our personal development.

I mentioned in post #26 (Help from Uncle Louie), that "enactment" is used with exactly the same meaning by both Thomas Merton and Biogenetic Structuralism, and I recently came across an identical use of the term in a very different context: an understanding of Buddhist meditation as "enacting the universe."

It's contained in a fascinating essay by Paula Hirschboeck, a professor of philosophy and former Catholic nun become Buddhist, entitled "A Zen Way into the Buddhist Story". It's available on the internet and easy to read, so I hope you might take a look at it.

I think her understanding of zazen as an enactment of the universe also is true of tai chi, as I've described briefly in post #6. Both of these traditional Asian practices are becoming fairly common among contemporary western spiritual seekers and they relate to my life-long interest in ritual. So I'd like to share my thoughts about how they make good sense in terms of the human sciences and as, in Merton's words, "a means of communion with cosmic reality at the deepest level of our being."

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Snapshot #3: The third direction I'd like to move in (at the same time as the other two!) will seem at first a bit more unusual: it has to do with re-situating the Christmas story in the context of the Universe Story.

On Christmas Eve of 2005 I attended the service of Lessons and Carols at a fashionable church in downtown Philadelphia. The music was sung beautifully and the lessons were proclaimed powerfully, but the content was dreadful. It began with the story of Adam and Eve eating the apple, how death was the punishment for their disobedience and that it was all the woman's fault; and the carols seemed to focus on the need for bloodshed to save us from that inheritance.

Two years later I attended a Christmas eve service in a church where great effort is expanded on incorporating everyone into the liturgical rites and on following through on the implications of those rites in terms of inter-religious dialogue, gender equality and social justice.

But that Christmas Eve service could have been held 100 years ago. It began with a procession in which a plaster statute of a baby, carried into the church by a young couple, was solemnly placed into the Nativity scene, and was followed by prayers that we might be saved from our disobedience. The sermon was about the birth of the baby as the world's greatest love story.

We can do better.

I don't mean just with rituals on Christmas eve but with our whole understanding of the Christmas story. We need to look at it in an updated context, that of the New Cosmology which modern science makes available to us. I'd like to share my thoughts about how different-- and indeed exciting-- the story of the coming of Jesus looks in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution.

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Ultimately, at least at one level these three sets of ideas are all about the same thing. My quandary is that I can't move in all three directions at once.

That's "Where I'm at."

sam@macspeno.com

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.