Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#127. On The Frontiers of Science & Spirituality

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts: 

Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note:

Post #127 is a essay, originally written for three friends, about what I think is one of the most important books in our time dealing with the convergence of science and religion.


Dear M, D & M,

This is my review of Belonging to the Universe, Explorations on the Frontiers of Science & Spirituality, by Fritjof Capra, David Steindl-Rast and Thomas Matus. (HarperSF, 1991).

The book simply may have appeared a few years too soon. It is a highly edited record of conversations between the physicist, Frithof Capra and two monks, Br. David and another, Thomas Matus, whose name was not previously familiar.

Their main idea is that there are strong parallels between the paradigm shifts occurring in science and religion. It provides a compendium, I called it a "catechism," of basic religious insights that fit well into the new story of the world unfolding from the post-Newtonian scientific perspectives.

I like to call the paradigm shift the Immense Transition. But by whatever name, it involves a new understanding of the physical universe, of humanity's place in it, and of the creative source.

This "essay" (review) is an attempt to bring together and summarize in an easily readable form the main ideas suggested in the book.


There are five major components to the paradigm shift in science. The first two concern nature: a shift from focusing on parts to seeing the whole picture, and seeing the whole not in terms of structures but as a vast net of relationships.

The other three components have to do with a change in human understanding precisely of human understanding. It includes explicit consciousness that our understanding and expression of reality is at best an approximation, always tentative and never exhausting. As Thomas Aquinas says, "In the end, all things fade into mystery."

The shift in science from parts to whole is described well in Mary Conrow Coelho's book in the section called "We have found no primal dust." The parallel shift in religion is from dogmas (truths and beliefs) to seeing all reality as revelation. It is stated clearly by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme as the first principle of the new cosmology: "the world itself is the primary revelation."

It is important to note that "the world" here includes not just the natural world but also human history and especially personal experience. The emphasis in both science and religion is on process, and a major aspect is the shift in human awareness away from the only-rational or logical way of knowing to include other forms of consciousness.

While the participants in these conversations do not mention the Jungian understanding of the four-fold functioning of consciousness, that Jungian perspective is extremely helpful in dealing with these issues.


What follows are some main points about the five major components of the paradigm shift.

1. In terms of purposes, science is described as systematic knowledge, whereas religion is more concerned with praxis and inner experience. A major problem is that historically, both science and western religion quickly became patriarchal and institutionalized (religion long before science); a primary component of the paradigm shift is movement out of that hierarchical-institutional mentality.

All the participants agree, with regard to organizations, that anything new and/or inter-disciplinary is squelched; science does it via without holding grant-money, religion by withholding authorization to function as teacher or preacher. Any form of difference or diversity is a threat to the patriarchal mindset.

David emphasizes that religion is like language in that it only exists in specific forms; he says that whatever form it has, it comes originally from the encounter with mystery and meaning.

He describes religion as essentially the sense of belonging to the whole of reality, and seeing reality as participatory. I.e., the basis of religion is precisely our experience of mystery: the meaningfulness of our belonging to the whole of the universe. Thus the basic context of religion is, therefore, the scientific worldview.


2. In terms of methods, science means collecting information and looking for patterns. The participants agree that the method of theology is less clear, and they move almost immediately into a discussion of faith which they agree has to do with intuition. (Right at the start, the limitations of discussing the paradigm shift without reference to the four-fold way consciousness operates becomes apparent.)

Religious faith is described as trust rather than intellectual assent to conceptual propositions. Frithof emphasizes that science also involves trust, specifically in the validity of non-rational perception. David emphasizes that religious faith is trust that "we have a future."

I think it would be correct to say that faith, in both cases, is trust that the intuitive and sensation functions of consciousness "work," that they have validity. My wording for religious faith is something like: trust in the cosmos as manifestation of the Mystery; trust, specifically, that in fashioning and guiding cosmos and anthropos, Divine Wisdom does not give up, that creation is not a failure. Religious faith is more "whole person" oriented than scientific faith.

The participants agrees that both religion and science use models to describe the patterns discerned, and that those models must be internally consistent and recognized as approximations. This gets them into a discussion of revelation. David emphasizes that because belonging is the basic common experiential ground of all religions, the Ultimate must then in some sense be personal and that our existence and essence is, then, gift. I.e., that the world, cosmos and anthropos, is the self-revelation of the Ultimate.

Important to recognize is that this understanding of revelation does not mean that the Ultimate intervenes from outside the world, but that what changes is our awareness. This is what anamnesis is about: remembering what really is the case: consciousness coming to a better or fuller understanding of how things work, that the Ultimate unveils itself in the luminosity of the world.

As I've put it: revelation is awareness of our creation via kenosis. We need a name for awareness of our fashioning as participants in the divine kenosis. This is what Sergius Bulgakov and Pavel Florensky were so good about: the understanding of cultural evolution as itself revelation, specifically resulting from, as well as caused by, the synergy of the divine human inter-activity. This is good stuff, and needs far more exploration that is offered here.


3. With regard to theological paradigm shifts, Thomas emphasizes that Christian theology had for the first 1000 years a Gnosis-Wisdom orientation, focused on mystical (peak or transformational) experience, and that this is still the case in Eastern Christianity. But in the West, after roughly 1200 AD Aristotelian-Thomistic scholasticism took over (1200-1500), followed by total fragmentation with Counter-Reformation emphasis on "proof texts theology" centered on polemics and apologetics.

David sees today a rebirth of focus on inner experience, and stresses that much that is new is in fact a recovery of the older gnosis-wisdom perspective: a whole-person centered focus on transformative experience.

Both Thomas and David have very good things to say about Cipriano Vagaggini's work in promoting the paradigm shift: "A key person in our theology, who influenced hundreds, even thousands, of students."

In terms of 20th century European theologians and contemporary experience, the new synthesis of thought and experience, the personal-anthropological component began around the mid-1800s; an outstanding (and surprising, for me) example is John Henry Newman.

Thomas also pays tribute to the Belgian monk, Lambert Baudoin, OSB, who "almost single-handedly founded the RC liturgical movement and the ecumenical movement between RC, Protestants and Orthodox. He was imprisoned and silenced by the church authorities. His focus was ecumenical and mystery-focused liturgy, theology and pastoral practice."

Thomas also makes an important point about the slowness of the paradigm shift; he says that even though large numbers were turned off by the old forms, they clung to them because they saw no alternatives other than total secularism.

Today, of course, there are plenty of alternatives. An updated theology simply isn't a big issue anymore for large numbers, but people still need authentic mystery-focused liturgy, which, alas, remains unavailable. It is the global emergence of the New Cosmology which makes clear the need for a new paradigm in Western religion.


4. With regard to the Christian paradigm. David makes the important point that there is nothing specifically Christian about religious experience, as it emerges within the global religious context. What is specific to Christianity is the person of Jesus (and of course the Jewish context out of which he comes) and the tradition or community of persons influenced by him in such as way as to consider themselves his followers. Note that in our day many non-Christian religious persons also consider Jesus to be of significance.

David says "It is a relationship to Jesus that defines a person as Christian." He calls it "decisive" but says there are many degrees of it. So Frithof asks, "Well, then, what makes Christianity Christian?

David says: It is the religious experience of Jesus. I.e., Jesus' own religious experience, not his follower's experience with Jesus as the focus.

Jesus comes across as a person with a particularly intimate and extraordinary (even "new," says David) relationship with ultimate reality. And that closeness to the divine is what others pick up and enter into.

This means that contemporary persons who would claim to be Christian are persons who seek the kind of religious experience Jesus exemplified: intimate relationship with the Ultimate.

Note that this unitive, non-dual experience is not that of union with an external and only-transcendent God but of a union simultaneously with "all my relations." It is an intimate relationship with the Ultimate and All.

That's a pretty good definition of "Christian," I think, in that it does in fact focus on Jesus as model or exemplifier, and thus savior in that sense.

The Kingdom of God is a central term in the New Testament. It is Jesus' term for the social implications of non-duality, the saving power of God present in human history and available to all, not just to the Jews of Jesus' tradition.

David says: Today, a good way to say what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God is here" would be something like: the Ultimate's power and presence is manifest in our inner (deepest, peak) experience of belonging to the universe. It is a "saving" experience precisely because it saves us from alienation from the universe. Salvation means to not be alienated from "all my relations" and the material cosmos.

What about Christian love? David says, "Love is saying yes to belonging." To love someone or something is to affirm it/him/her. To be in love is to joyfully affirm who and what is loved.

Frithof asks if there is a difference between feeling connected to the cosmos and having a sense of belonging to it, "whether we call it peak experience, mystical experience, or religious experience." David calls these experiences of unitive non-duality "Kingdom moments."

On analogy with the animal kingdom and plant kingdom, the Kingdom of God is an "anthropos-cosmos-theos kingdom. David says there is a difference: "it is living accordingly." And this is what conversion (metanoia) means. He also adds that this moral thrust, of living accordingly, of not only giving our fiat to our non-duality but also of acting on it, is stronger in (and is perhaps a distinguishing mark of) Christianity than it is in most other religions.

While the three don't spell it out, I think that this understanding of "living according"-- work (task, opus, liturgia) of acting on the fact of our belonging to the universe and being related to all things-- presents an important alternative to patriarchal understanding of manhood.

Patriarchal manhood is one of exploitation and suppression of "others," based on fear of all that is "not-I." I.e., the essence of patriarchy is alienation from others-- the world, persons and God-- and responding to that alienation in terms of control.

What's the alternative? If not fear: not being afraid. If not control, suppression and exploitation: living in accordance with all things as "my relations." (I remember David once saying, the real question is "How big is my family?")

This perspective is the very opposite of, and alternative to, patriarchal masculine; it is a much needed post-patriarchal gnosis-wisdom, and is central to the New Cosmology.

Patriarchy "suppresses the image of the person," as Bruno Barnhart expresses. David emphasizes that while Jesus and Buddha are historically very different, at the deepest level both were faced with the same formalization and institutionalization of religion.

He says that a new thing in Christianity is the building up of a person's inner authority, whereas external institutional religion (Jewish or Christian) puts it down. David emphasizes that this new understanding of authority goes back to Jesus; he calls it the very starting point of Christianity. It is the religion of Jesus, in contrast to what comes later, a Christianity about Jesus.

The very essence of Christian religious experience is of the presence and power of belonging to the All, to the whole cosmos of "all my relations."

Note that it is not an external worldview but an inner experience. And not an experience of the Thinking function alone, but of the Intuitive, Feeling and Sensation functions together. (Not just of head, but of eye, hand and heart, together.)

This seems to me a really key understanding in the immense transition: the shift from hierarchical-institutional suppression of persons to recognition that "person" is central to the cosmic process. The implication is a shift from external authority to internal: being responsible for oneself. It is the opposite of fear of world and of dependence, therefore, on a only-transcendent divinity to save us from the world.

The new understanding of person and salvation go together: salvation is from alienation (fear, anger, hatred of world and of self and others within it). The gospel says, "Fear not. " And this is only possible if one accepts one's inner authority. This is the great new thing of Christianity, says David.

Thomas adds immediately, that that the main thing to keep in mind about theological statements about Jesus is that they must also be understood as being statements about us. Whatever we say about Jesus must also be said about you and me. He asks, "Even that Jesus is part of the Holy Trinity?" And responds, "Definitely!" That's what Athanasius and the Council of Nicea were all about: "The Divinity becomes human so that humanity may be divine."

Frithof asks, What about resurrection? From our perspective, all we can say is that Jesus' death is not the last word. And this inner experience is not just that of his disciples but of all of us who have been exposed to and influenced by and thus experience within ourselves the presence and power felt in earliest times and is encapsulated in the acclamation "Christ is risen!"

The whole point is that his and our non-duality persists. One of the participants makes that point that just as with the Nicene statements about the divinity of Jesus, so resurrection is ours too, no less than that of Jesus. Otherwise, it makes no sense, as St Paul says. Just as we are non-dual as was Jesus, so all that resurrection means can be said of us as well.

This is precisely what the presence and power of God means. This is what salvation means: the persistence of our non-duality with all, even and especially beyond death and all that threatens.

David points out what is often overlooked: that for this "there is no evidence." Christ is hidden in God. "Our life is hidden with Christ in God." It's not a scientifically collectable fact. But it is an experience. We need to accept our own inner authority for it.


5. The place of person in the paradigm shift. The book contains a small but significant section on this critically important idea of the movement away from the mechanistic viewpoint of earlier science to one which takes into account human self-awareness; its focus is not just nature but also personal consciousness and human culture which results from it.

One of the most significant developments in contemporary science is that of Systems Theory, the foundations of which started in the 1940s with the beginnings of cybernetics and which emerged in to contemporary consciousness with the coming of the computer revolution in the 1980s.

Systems Theory emphasizes the place of the human person in the scientific perspective and indicates values quite different from those of the patriarchal mindset; these values include relationships, cooperation and creativity.

When Systems Theory first emerged, based on the systems philosophy of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, two schools resulted: a mechanistic school coming from the mathematician and inventor of the computer, John von Nuemann; and another, dealing with understanding of living things as self-organized systems, from Norbert Weiner.

The mechanistic school was dominant in the 40s and 50s; the self-organization school emerged at the beginning of the 60s. There, the emphasis is on autonomy (subjectivity or autopoiesis) as the hallmark of living things. It has been explored at various levels from the cell to the family and whole societies, with the largest self-organizing system seen to be the Earth itself, the well-known Gaia Hypothesis.

The new awareness and new values associated with this paradigm shift is a movement from self-assertion to integration. The shift is human consciousness moving from an only-rational focus: from analysis (compartmentalizing, distinguishing, categorizing) to synthesis; from reductionism and linear thinking to wholeness and non-linear (intuitive) awareness.

In the discussion, Br. David objects to describing the contrast as "rational vs. intuitive." He doesn't want to say intuition is ir-rational. They suggest "conceptual vs. non-conceptual," but David emphasizes the "intuition" means "looking deeply into" something so as to see its inner coherence; they eventually settle for "discursive" in contrast to intuitive.

The emphasis here on finding the right words to talk about this change is consciousness is indicative of the on-going struggle anyone concerned with these things has in being able to express well an awareness of the paradigm shift. Again: the key is our awareness of the shift in our awareness about human awareness. Complicated, indeed!

The accompanying shift in values is from self-assertion (competition, expansion, quantity and domination) to integration (conservation, quality and partnership). These are opposite and seemingly contradictory values.

Thomas notes that in the Middle Ages, society lacked the self-assertive tendency; the coming of the Renaissance and experimental science brought an over-emphasis on individuality. The contemporary task is to arrive at a dynamic balance.

For the record, I note that Frithof wants to call the assertive values masculine or patriarchal; he does not distinguish between a patriarchal masculine and a more rooted, alternative form of the masculine. I think that distinction, as I noted in the section on "living accordingly" (above), is a crucial aspect of the Immense Transition.

David also makes the point that, in the paradigm shift from the discursive to the intuitive in theology, movement is away from stating polemical or apologetic propositions and to an emphasis on story telling; originally, he says, "all theological insights were stories."

A story is a synthetic whole, greater than the sum of any of its propositional parts. We can also say the shift is away from abstract statements to poetry, metaphor and experience. Frithof mentions that a key figure in systems theory, Gregory Bateson, had story telling as his "preferred mode."

This section ends with an emphasis by David on the fact that much of what's new in the new paradigm "is really recovery of very old intuitions."


6. Tidbits from the discussion of the five major aspects of the paradigm shift.

1) With regard to the shift from emphasis on the parts to the whole. Frithof notes that the new paradigm holds through all the physical and social sciences. While the old paradigm puts humans outside and above nature, since the 1970's the emphasis in "deep" ecology has been on humans as an intrinsic part of nature.

David makes the point that the idea that humans are made in the image of God doesn't mean we have an immortal soul (separate from our physical being); he notes that that is a Greek idea which he calls "cultural baggage." A new (and really, very old) way to say what image of God means is that "All things live by the breath of God." The divine spiritus (air, pneuma, chi, the very breath of God) fills the whole universe.

Frithof asks for a reformulation of the place of humans in nature from a Christian perspective. David offers the one from Isaiah: "The lion shall lie down with the kid." He says the human project within nature is play, delight and curiosity.

He offers the "gardener metaphor" for our role in the natural world. The gardener is not separate from the garden but an integral part of it and responsible to and for it. We nurture it, and we are to enjoy it. We are to hear its call and respond to it. Responsibility and responsiveness go together. "We damage the garden if we treat it as a machine."

The conventional idea of freedom as elbow room is Newtonian. The "systemic" understanding is of freedom is not pushing others aside but mutual enhancement. David adds an important related idea: that the diminishment of others also diminishes each of us. We are capable of not just manipulating nature but of living in harmony with it: we are capable "not only of science but also of wisdom."


2) With regard to the shift from structure to process. The old scientific view saw reality as a whole made up of parts, and the new view sees that the parts as patterns in the whole web of relations. Similarly, the old view saw structures acted on by forces which result in processes, while the new view sees process as revealed by structures.

It sounds confusing, but an excellent example is offered: a tree, as a structure in connection between sky and earth, is shaped in a certain way to get sun via leaves, and nutrients via roots; the tree is an epiphany of the life-process.

David offers an important example from religion. In contrast to the old opposition between matter and spirit, we can now see that spirit or mind is revealed by matter. David emphasizes again that there is "no such thing as pure mind or disembodied soul." He mentions 20th century theological heavyweights, Raymundo Panikkar and Karl Rahner, in support of this radically new (but, again, really very old) understanding.


3) With regard to the shift from objective to 'epistemic' science. With regard to how we know anything, Frithof notes that while there is no consensus yet, thinkers are moving in direction of seeing the world as being created or brought forth by our consciousness.

He notes that this does not mean that we materialize matter and energy, but that what we call objects are patterns that we see by omitting the rest of what's there. I.e., we "order" our experience of reality. He refers several times to Chilean thinkers Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, whose efforts have been toward an understanding of knowing from a biological point of view.

David makes the point that "rational animal" is not a good translation of the Greek definition of human (zoon logikon) and that a better translation would be "pattern-reading animal." He says logos has the meaning of the "pattern that makes cosmos out of chaos."


4) With regard to the shift from building to network as metaphor of knowing. Frithof notes that buildings, foundations, bricks and construction blocks are persistence images in science. But in a web or net of relationships there is no up or down, no hierarchal structures. The participants agree that the same is true in the shift in religion: "basic beliefs" are much less important than awareness of our interconnectedness.

This brings up the question of God as divine architect. In the old paradigm (in both Newtonian-mechanistic science and theology), God got things started. Even Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant scientists of our day, uses it, Thomas notes.

"God is on every page of Hawking's Brief History of Time," says Thomas, "but his theology is at the level of a grade school catechism."

Still today in religious fundamentalism, God is the architect of the building, and science is the discovery of God's building blocks. Thomas notes that the new paradigm talks of God as "horizon" of our understanding, by which he means "mystery" in the sense that things reveal ultimate reality. They "speak to us" and "tell us something," but it is in no way exhaustive.

David emphasizes that "It's like a dialogue." We are active partners in creation. Frithof mentions the Hindu idea of lila (divine play) and Thomas says say the same understanding is found in Proverbs 8, where the Wisdom of God is described as at play and delighting to be with human persons. He also distinguishes play and work: "we work to achieve a purpose, we play to arrive at meaning."

Frithof says old time science was about domination and control of mechanical nature, whereas the new scientific paradigm is about dialogue with a living reality. "With the deepest source of everything," David adds.

Frithof also mentions, with regard to tolerance and pluralism, what the scientist Geoffrey Chew calls "bootstrap physics." I.e., being able to view different models without prejudice. This is a major aspect of the new paradigm in science, says Frithof.

David observes that intolerance of pluralism in RCism is "doctrine made subservient to power, a tool of power." He offers as an example, the exclusivist understanding of the eucharist: "When it is seen as celebration of belonging, it has to be inclusive; everybody has to be welcomed at the table."

He emphasizes that the very meaning of the eucharist "explodes the Christian tradition to include all traditions." And again emphasizes that such thinking in theology is a return to "very old, original thinking about the Christian mysteries."


5) With regard to the shift from absolute truth to approximations. Frithof says that in science it is now recognized that we simply can not take into account all the interconnections. Much has to be left out. That is, in fact, the scientific method; it is what experiments are all about.

David talks about religious dogma in this context. He says that dogma is a response to issues, where a great deal of effort has been expended. The term "dogma" comes from dokein: "that's the way it seems to us."

The problem is that religious dogma is always expressed in language of the time. A serious task of theologians is to figure out (in contemporary language) what the old dogmas were trying to say.

Dogmas use philosophical language. They were not expressed in literary forms, but are in fact based on poetic forms. Thomas adds that the even the Nicene Creed contains "poetry." "God of God, light of light." David says It's like a story or a play. The whole play or story expresses the meaning, the pattern of relationships.

David stresses once again that all this goes back to awareness of belonging, of being in relationship, as the essence of religious experience.

Thomas spells out this important idea very well: science and religion converge in the realization that the "objective viewpoint" is illusory. There can be no "detached observer." You're part of it all and what's being told is your story.

The paradigm shift from part to whole is realization that I (this part) belong to the whole universe, that this part (this "I") is a vital participant in a living cosmos. And this realization is both the context and the condition of God's self-disclosure.


7. The final section of the book deals with social implications of new-paradigm thinking. The central idea is personal freedom.

Thomas notes that liberation is the main theme of Christian revelation. David adds that what set it all in motion was the Exodus. All the biblical books, even Genesis, were written after and in light of the exodus experience.

Liberation is the key of Old Testament: God's judgment always means God's helping people to be liberated from oppression. Liberation is also the key to New Testament. It is Jesus' main point. His was essentially a revolutionary message, and it caused an authority crisis.

David says Jesus does not stand on his own authority nor on God's authority behind him, but the divine authority people experience in their own hearts, the common sense we share with all humans, animals and plants and the whole cosmos operating from its divine ground. "What's more liberating than common sense?"

His point is that people are intimidated by public pressure and external authority, and Jesus is all about empowerment against that authority which puts down the inner authority of common sense.

Even the Gospel of John, which contains most highly developed teachings about Jesus, makes it clear that every one should be able to say with Jesus, "I and the Father are one."

Authority originally means "having a firm basis for knowing and acting."

David says that the purpose of external authority is to use its power to empower others. To empower means to give others inner authority, to give them personal responsibility.

Frithof adds that the main issue is parenting. "All over the world," he says, "people learn about power, authority and responsibility via the parenting process." David says, And this is what Jesus did. He empowered his hearers; he authorized them to trust their own innermost awareness. Of all the aspects of the paradigm shift, this is probably the most important: giving full weight to our personal experience of the divine.

And how nicely this ties in with Mary Conrow Coelho's work! She is the only writer I know pointing out the crucial role of parenting for the acceptance of one's personal inner authority, a perspective absolutely central for the New Cosmology to catch on and flourish.


No comments: