Monday, November 19, 2012

#134. Victor White, Hugo Rahner, and E. O. Wilson

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 #134 contains brief reviews of three landmark books in the movement away from institutional religion and mechanistic psychology to a focus on the importance of the individual and communal culture in the evolution of the universe. 


Victor White, OP

Soul and Psyche: An Enquiry Into the Relationship of Psychotherapy and Religion. Edward Cadbury Lectures 1958-1959 (Harper).

This was written in the late 50s, published in 1960. It actually contains an imprimatur! Victor White was a Dominican priest, perhaps the first theologian to take Jung's work seriously.

The issues brought up have never been dealt with within a church context. After forty years these issues remain unaddressed.

The world has moved on, Jungian psychology has moved on, religion and spirituality have moved on, the church has remained where it was on the eve of Vatican II, back in the 17th century. What a pity.


Hugo Rahner, SJ

Greek Myth and Christian Mystery (Burns and Oates, Ltd. 1963)

This was published in German in 1957, but was written and delivered as lectures in the early 1940s-- in a Jungian context: the Ascona/Eranos congresses.

The author is Karl Rahner’s older brother, and like the Danielou brothers, they must have been quite a pair!

The book is not only from a pre-Vatican II world, but from the pre-World War II era, as well, so a bit of the triumphalism of the day is clearly apparent.

And yet it is also a perspective of openness to the pre-Christian Greek world in that it is attempting (and succeeding well) in relating Greek mythology to Christian dogma.

Indeed, it is an expression of something eternally valid about the Hellenic world as the context into which Christian revelation was given and expressed.


The author is conscious of talking about things that no one knows or cares about, and yet that are, from his point of view, things that need to be somehow recovered for (Western) humanity to be healed into a new humanness.

It so reminds me of my own thrust, of being called to help in the healing recovery of what the contemporary science has not even decent words for.


None of this, as far as I know, has ever reached popular consciousness or even the consciousness of theologians at any level of abstraction or application. I think it may have just all been lost in the upheavals of the 60s (church and secular).

There's a section on the holy herbs (moly and mandrake) and on "Holy Homer." But essentially it deals with basics like cross, baptism and resurrection in terms that would have been familiar to people of Hellenic culture.

But not to us now, or back in the 1960s. Probably we [in the late 1990s] are more open now then people in the 60s were to hear this stuff.

I think it's provoking because of the author's insistence on the uniqueness of the Christian thing while the whole time talking about the obvious antecedents to it.

Can any of this be said differently now? Can it all be said in a non-dualist perspective? Without a presumption of original sin?

It is challenging in that it is locked in to an understanding of church that seems no longer possible.


Edward O. Wilson

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (Knopf, 1998)

Since last spring I have been reading and thinking about the ideas of Edward O. Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize wining Harvard scientist who came to fame as a world authority on ants and has, since, become probably our most adventurous contemporary thinker about the human condition.

His book, Consilience, was excerpted and summarized last March in a major article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Out of Chaos.” The term “consilience” refers to the fact that all human knowledge is a unity and that it holds together coherently.

“Out of Chaos” refers to the fact that we can get ourselves out of the current intellectual mess-- of the divorce between the arts and sciences, the demise of philosophy-- and the nonsense of the social sciences in their refusing to relate to one another let alone the rest of human knowledge-- simply by walking away from it.


Wilson has done his homework, several life-times worth, it seems to me, and his main points are that everything that we have been able to understand and agree on in the last few centuries has its roots in the methods used by the natural sciences to acquire and transmit what we have learned of the world and humanity’s place in it.

And that where we should go from here is clear.

Wilson sees the creative arts as especially significant is helping us to adequately transmit to all the understandings acquired by the natural sciences.

He says that although theology has claimed questions of meaning for itself, and has failed its self-appointed task, the questions persist and the significance of human existence remains a frontier to be explored by biology, especially by the emerging brain-&-mind sciences.

Personally, I found two things of greatest interest. One is Wilson’s insight from the biological sciences that we are wired for sensitivity and responsiveness to mystery-- that it’s in our genes.

The second is his reference to the German philosopher Friedrich Schiller, that we are most ourselves and most fully human when we are at play. He does not mean when we are watching a baseball game on TV, but when we are engaged in sacred ritual.


Friends may remember that Anne and I sent Christmas cards in 1995 with a quote from Wilson’s 1984 book, Biophilia, which was reprinted in Tales from the Jungle, A Rainforest Reader (edited by D. Katz and M. Chappin, 1995). It’s worth quoting here.

Now to the very heart of wonder.

Because species diversity was created
prior to humanity,
and because we evolved within in,
we have never fathomed its limits.

As a consequence,
the living world is the natural domain
of the most restless and paradoxical part
of the human spirit.

Our sense of wonder grows
the greater the knowledge,
the deeper the mystery....


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