Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#93. The Home Stretch


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I began writing this blog about the convergence of science and religion late in 2006. I didn't expect, then, that over the next five years I would end up writing almost a hundred mini-essays. I didn't know I would have so much to say. I've learned a lot in five years!

As the number of posts continued to grow, I had the feeling that I should stop before I reached the one hundredth post. That's still my plan. I hope to end with #99.

The need to stop before post #100 has the feeling for me of the old Zen story about the novice who was assigned to swept a littered garden path but each time he thought he was finished, the chief gardener said "Not good enough." When, after a half-dozen attempts, the young monk finally asked in frustration to be shown what more he needed to do, the old gardener picked up a handful of leaves and scattered them on the path.

Not going to the nice round number for the blog posts feels something like leaving a few leaves scattered on the path. So, at this point (June 2011) I'm in the home stretch and I've been looking back at my earlier entries to see what thoughts I feel I still want to share. I've found several; that's what this post is about.

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I need to begin with a few words about how this blog got started in the first place.

It was an invitation, in the summer of 2005, from the alumni committee of my high school's fiftieth anniversary reunion which originally got me started in sharing my thoughts about the contemporary convergence of science and religion. "Send us a note," the committee said, "telling us what you've been up to in the last few years. We'll publish the responses we get in a booklet for the reunion."

When I retired in June 2000-- after 40 years of teaching high school science and college level theology-- I finally had the time to think about the links between those two big areas of human endeavor. Since that was, in fact, "what I'd been up to over the last few years," I wrote a brief report about my reflections for the reunion committee.

It was my earliest attempt to share my thoughts about the connections between science and religion. With an introduction and a few additional comments, that reunion report was eventually published in February, 2007, as post #3 ("High School 50th-Anniversary Report"). It's still on-line, if you'd like to look at it. (It's brief.)

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When I first considered the reunion committee's request, it felt important for me to send something less conventional than the usual comments in such reports, like "living in Florida now" or "had our third grandchild." I felt the need to say something about my efforts to understand the connections between science (specifically, evolutionary science) and religion (specifically, Western culture's Judeo-Christian tradition).

I mean it quite literally when I say that "I felt the need." I experienced a strong sense of being urged or called to say something of significance about how cosmic evolution and the spiritual side of life are related. I felt as if I was being given a "calling"-- a "vocation" in the old-fashioned sense. It seems I was. It turned out that this was, indeed, a major start for a new phase of my life.

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The task I felt was being assigned to me was to make use of my many years of teaching experience along with my background in science and religion (I have masters degrees in both) to share with my fellow high school graduates something about where my life-long interest in science and spirituality had taken me over the half-century since we graduated together from high school.

It wasn't until a year after I wrote the report for the reunion, however, that the idea of writing a blog about the convergence of science and religion came to me. It was originally my daughter's suggestion.

While many in our society tend to back away from any serious interest in science and math, and many more remain amazingly (to me) uninformed about the religious traditions of the world, Rosemary knew that I was comfortable with both areas and she obviously thought that I had something to say.

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I have, in fact, been fascinated by these two areas of human endeavor all my life. But in contrast to many who think of science and religion as incompatible perspectives, I always saw them as complementary and converging ways of understanding human life and our existence in the world.

I'm not alone, of course. In reviewing my earlier posts to see what thoughts I still felt wanted to be shared, I was surprised to see how many of the names of the thinkers-- scientists and religious writers-- who I mentioned in the first few posts are mentioned in many of the later posts as well.

Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry top the list, as might be expected, since Teilhard was a prophet and Berry a pioneer of the integration in our culture of science and spirituality. But many other less well-known names are also mentioned frequently: Sergius Bulgakov, Bede Griffiths, Brian Swimme, Raimundo Panikkar, Michael Dowd, Mary Conrow Coelho, and Bruno Barnhart, for example. All of them are mentioned in my first few posts.

These are persons who I see as being on the growing edge of humanity's present cultural development. And, as I said in the high school reunion report, "Although they each use very different words, they all seem to be saying something similar."

What they are saying, in one way or another, is that "we humans are an integral part of the evolving universe and that we thrive in dynamic relationship with the cosmic Mystery."

That last sentence is from post #3. It's a pretty good summary of what the "new cosmology" is all about and why the contemporary convergence of science and religion is so important in our day. For the most part, in recent centuries, Western religion has denied that we humans have any place in the material universe and Western science has denied that there was any mystery for us to relate to.

That's the context, thanks to that high school reunion committee's invitation, for my "calling" to help make the insights of the new cosmology available to others who might be interested but who, for one reason or another, do not happen to have the background or experience I do. In a word, my teaching career wasn't over, it just took on a very different form.

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There was a second event, in addition to that high school reunion committee's invitation, which helps to make sense of my "calling." In the spring of 2006 I attended a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania, co-sponsored by a number of medically and spiritually concerned groups, on the place of belief, "religious and otherwise," in the healing process.

It was attended by a large number of medical people, as well as hospital chaplains, pastors, persons involved in religious education, and the curious-- like me.

It was very exciting to be part of that symposium. When I returned home and reflected on my experiences, I had such a strong desire to share with others what I'd learned that I wrote a report about it which I e-mail to friends. That report also became a blog post, and it, too, is still on-line, if you'd like to read it. Look for post #2 ("Spirituality Research Symposium").

Unlike the high school reunion committee's request, I had not been invited to write about the symposium. I wrote it simply because I had a strong inner need to "share my thoughts."

So that's how this blog came to be. And, as I've said, it did, in fact, begin a new phase of my life.

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Now that it is five years later, and I'm in the home stretch, in looking back I see something else which quite unexpectedly stands out. It's how frequently I express frustration at the lack of adequate words for communicating the thoughts I want to share.

I see that I have complained repeatedly about the available words being just not good enough; I've even entitled one of the posts (#21) "Struggling with Words."

My teacher-instincts rebel at the inadequacy of good tools, in our culture, for communicating new ideas about our place in the world and the presence of mystery in our lives. There's a good example in post #2 where I end a brief description of the cosmic and biological basis of our human origins with the words, "And we started out as stardust."

I don't have the talent to express well the awe I experience when I reflect on our origins and destiny seen in the context of evolutionary science and the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. As I've said many times in the blog, I'd really like to be a poet!

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Another fact which stands out in my home stretch blog-review is how consistently I have made use of the four-fold or "quaternary" understanding of human consciousness in trying to put my thoughts into clearly understandable words.

That sentence I just wrote provides another example of the frustration I mentioned above about the lack of adequate words. The fact is that I can't count on every reader knowing what I mean by the "quaternary understanding of human consciousness." Few people in our culture are yet aware that our conscious awareness functions in four distinct ways.

So we don't just need a better understanding of our religious instincts and of how the physical world works. We also need a better understanding of how our own minds work!

I've found my understanding of the four-fold workings of our conscious minds to be a big part of what I've had to say with regard to the new cosmology. More accurately, it's a big part of how I've tried to say what I have to say. I've come to see that the quaternary perspective provides us with a basic set of "tools" for our understanding of the new relationship between religion and science which emerged in the 20th century.

My genes didn't give me any poetry-writing talents, but they certainly have provided me with strong thinking skills and teaching instincts!

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In my home stretch reflections I have also recognized something about the quaternary perspective which I hadn't seen before: how useful it is precisely for understanding the details of the great cultural shift that's happening as we move away from the static worldview of patriarchal civilization.

Knowing that conscious awareness operates in four distinct ways is tremendously helpful for understanding the many details involved in global humanity's movement to the dynamic-evolutionary perspectives of the new cosmology. And some of those details about that great shift in human consciousness are still calling to me to be shared.

If I was writing about it for an academic journal, I'd name that article something like "Understanding the Contemporary Immense Transition in Terms of the Four Jungian Functions." That wouldn't work as a title for a post, of course, but it is a good expression of what would be the main thoughts I'd be sharing.

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Perhaps what stands out for me most in the review of my five-year-long blog effort is the inadequacy-- or maybe, more correctly, the incompleteness-- of my attempts to express well my thoughts about the depths of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

With regard to the spiritual side of the science-religion convergence I often say, "There's more to religion than it seems."

By that "more" I mean precisely the inner core of wisdom at the depth of the religious tradition that got lost over the centuries due to the body-soul and matter-spirit dualism which has dominated western culture and religion for so long.

Even though the Judeo-Christian tradition originally gave the world its evolutionary viewpoint, the static-dualistic outlook of classical philosophy and patriarchal culture gradually replaced the dynamic and unitive perspectives at the base of the Judeo-Christian religion.

So, in talking about the convergence of science and religion, to indicate that I don't mean "religion" in the static-dualistic sense-- as it's still understood by fundamentalists-- I often use the words "religion at its best."

I say "at its best" because I can't assume that all readers know what I mean by Christianity's "dynamic and unitive perspective"-- any more, unfortunately, than I can take for granted that every reader knows what I mean by "quaternary consciousness."

For me, religion "at its best" specifically includes all those concerns which are outside the competence of the rational-empirical awareness of science and which, for that reason, are dismissed as non-existent by those lacking the quaternary perspective.

We need that four-fold outlook to recognize that there is "more" to our lives than just the details. A good example of the "more" is our deep, if usually unspoken, wonder about the end of the world.

Even those words-- without an understanding of our minds' intuitive-rational functioning-- are usually misunderstood!

I mean "end" in the sense of purpose. At the level of intuitive rationality-- where we focus not on empirical details but on the big picture of our lives in the world-- our consciousness asks questions like, "Why does the universe exist at all?" And, "What's the place of conscious creatures such as ourselves in the vast scheme of things?"
Those who are still stuck on the bottom rung of the Great Ladder laugh at such thoughts. (If the idea of the "Great Ladder of Being" is new to you, see posts #74, #75 & #82.)

While I have already written many posts about the four-fold capacities of our minds, in this home stretch I still feel the need to spell out more clearly my thoughts specifically about the dynamic and unitive perspectives which are part of what I mean when I refer to "religion at its best."

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One more concern is closely connected with the world's purpose or end. 

Since we can't remain indifferent to it, we have the question of what kinds of responses our awareness of the world's end might take.

I think that topic-- of how we respond to our conscious awareness of the purpose of the world-- must be the most difficult of all the thoughts I feel called on to share.

Just as my "academic" title for a post on a quaternary view of the shift 
away from patriarchy wouldn't work well as the name for a post (it was, you will remember, "Understanding the Contemporary Immense Transition in Terms of the Four Jungian Functions"), neither would the title appropriate for an academic journal work well for what I want to say in the blog about "religion at its best."

In an academic context, that post would have a title like "Evolutionary Eschatology and Eucharistic Ecclesiology."

As you can see, at this very moment-- even after five years of writing these posts-- I'm still "struggling with words"!

In any case, the fact is that an awareness of world's purpose is at the heart of Judeo-Christian tradition, and my thoughts about how we can most humanly and authentically respond to it are ideas about which I still feel urged to share my thoughts. I hope to do it in the next few posts.

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The final topic I still feel called to write about-- even after more than 90 posts-- will not come as a surprise to long-time readers. Yes, it's ritual.

From the time I first started the blog, I've felt a very strong need to share my understanding of the explanation of ritual presented in what's now a more than 30-year-old text, The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis (Columbia University Press, 1979).

I think the insights coming out of that early neurological research-- done completely in the context of biological and anthropological evolution three or four decades ago-- are by far the best perspectives yet available on the nature of religious ritual.

I feel, in fact, that I won't be able to die in peace if I don't share with others at least some understanding of the ideas offered by the early Biogenetic Structuralists. I hope to do it.

If nothing else, I would like to write at least a brief book review-- so I can rest in peace!

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Well, that's my agenda as I move into the home stretch of the blog. If you would like to add something to my list, let me know.

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Your feedback is welcome.

Special note: In dealing with 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.

Special request: I've completely lost the comments for posts #84 to #89. If you happen to have copied any of them, please send them to me. Thanks.

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3 comments:

Sam said...

Big Buzzword on Campus: Scientific American: Jun 17, 2011: Research universities have been abuzz with what some are calling the “next big thing”: convergence...."

They mean, of course, the convergence of physics, biology and other sciences. But really, can an even bigger convergence be that far behind?

Stardust said...

What a great blog, Sam. I’m sad that the end is in sight, but my plan is to reread all the blogs. They are a treasure trove of wisdom and enlightenment. Each one is full of profound insights. Actually, I thought there was a touch of poetry in the way you expressed many concepts. You made it so beautiful and inspiring.

At Genesis Farm, Miriam Macgillis used to say we need a new vocabulary. Eventually it will come.

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.