Tag Archives: God

Recovering “The Divine Center” After “The Death of God” — Healing Nature, Humanity, Self and Society

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“Announcing the Death of God is like shattering the atom. The fragments fly in all directions.”

In his book, Also Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche has his protagonist proclaim, “God is dead and we have killed him.” Are these words spoken in cosmic horror and excruciating dismay or in intoxicating glee and liberating relief? Perhaps an ambivalent combination of both.

It is tempting to draw an analogy between the “death of God” in the modern secular moral imagination and Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There are several problems with this analogy. First, there may well be more than five stages of grief. Second, they may not follow any single sequence of stages in all people. Third, they may not be linear at all, but rather elliptical, circling back repeatedly and for different durations. And fourth, any attempt to draw an analogy between the death of a single finite mortal human being, or even many human beings, and the very Ground of Being Itself in all its  protean, polymorphic, numinous and ineffable essence is problematic.

Nevertheless, it fair to say individuals have different kinds of reactions and responses to “the death of God” in the modern secular moral imagination and in their own personal existential lives. These reactions and responses span a wide range of attitudes and emotions that include intoxication and relief, absurdity and despair, irony and reversal, acceptance and indifference.

These emotional reactions and responses may remain constant throughout a person’s life, or they may shift and change along the way. In some cases there may even be a “return to God” who is no longer “dead” for them but suddenly and surprising “alive and well,” resurrected, so to speak, on the other side of atheism, skepticism, secularism and indifference. Sometimes “the Divine Center,” re-imagined and re-membered, emerges in a trans-modern integral vision as the organizing principle of the Totality of Being after a long hiatus of fragmentation.

After the Death of God in the modern secular moral imagination we witness the fracturing and fragmentation of the meaning of Nature, Humanity, Self and Society into atomized and competing forces and  ideologies.

Within the Natural Center as the Organizing Principle of Reality those forces and ideologies are expressed in the divergent philosophies of dualism, positivism (or materialism), phenomenology, panpsychism, and pragmatism. Likewise, within the scientific community there is a contest between the methodological approaches, privileged domains and final vocabularies of the mathematicians, physicists, geologists, botanists and biologists.

Within the Humanistic Center as the Organizing Principle of Reality those forces and ideologies are expressed in the competing branches of the humanities, including literature and philosophy, mythology and history, each with its own methodological approaches and final vocabulary.

Within the Psychological Center as the Organizing Principle of Reality those forces and ideologies are expressed in the various schools of psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy that fixate on different aspects of the psychological self, including the functions of introspection and observation, intuition and sensation, feeling and thinking, perception and judgment. Further, there is a contest between the schools of psychology that include behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology, existential psychology, family systems psychology and social systems psychology.

Within the Sociological Center as the Organizing Principle of Reality those forces and ideologies are expressed in the various social, economic and political traditions, including socialism and capitalism, liberalism and conservatism, communitarianism and libertarianism, and all manner of hybrid combinations as well the principled pragmatism of radical centrists.

When the Divine Center is re-imagined and re-membered as the Organizing Principle of Reality, here, too, we find a variety of spiritual and cultural traditions that have sometimes cooperated and sometimes competed with each other. These include the archetypal ways of the Shaman, Sage, Prophet and Mystic. Today these four great traditions are coming together in global dialogue in the respectful and cooperative spirit of the Parliament of the World Religions.

With the re-emergence of “The Divine Center” in the trans-modern age, something transformative appears beyond the ancient idols of superstitious religiosity, the medieval institutional idol of authoritarian religion, the modern secular idols of hyper-rationalism, reductive scientism and sentimental romanticism,  and the post-modern idols of irony, absurdity, parody and satire. The “trans-modern turn” is toward an Integral Vision of Reality in which the Divine Center respects the diversity yet unites the Natural, Humanistic, Psychological and Sociological Centers of Consciousness, Cognition, Creativity and Culture. Each of these four vital centers contributes to the Total Ecology of Being.

The various reactions and responses to the announcement of the Death of God in the modern secular age are understandable. So is the corrective-movement that seeks to look beyond the death of God in the modern secular post-ontological imagination. Some of us are experiencing a re-awakening of “The Divine Center” that organizes the integrates the Natural, Human, Psychological and Sociological spheres of life that comprise the Totality of Being into a Unified and Diversified Whole. For some of us there emerges an “anatheism” beyond the old categories of theism and theism, polytheism and pantheism. For some of us the re-emergent Divine Center speaks through a “sacred secularity” that recognizes “epiphanies” in many subtle and unexpected guises – including literature, philosophy, art and science along with traditional and syncretic  religious forms. The Divine Center  speak to us in a hidden and silent language of the Spirit beyond words.  It speaks to us through the elliptical and evocative forms of symbols, archetypes, metaphors, analogies, stories, music, drama and the arts. The Divine Center evokes a transcendent vision of the ultimate, the infinite, the mysterious, the ineffable, the unnamable. the unseizable. It awakens in us a “tacit knowledge” of the Comprehensive, the Universal, the Luminous, the Holy, the Beloved, the Merciful, the Supreme Good.

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The God-Question: What It’s Really All About

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Today especially among “the new atheists” it has become fashionable to bash all faith and belief in God, whatever is meant by the word and symbol of “God.” It is usually the Judeo-Christian theistic God that is being attacked. We are told that faith and belief in God is silly, superstitious, antiquated, bad for society and harmful to your health.

It may be worthwhile to point out that the so-called “God Question” actually translates into several existential questions: “Does life have a meaning and purpose that death will not utterly destroy?” “Is there any hope of a new dimension of life beyond the grave?” “Do we live and die in vain?” The question of God is really the question of whether there is any realistic basis for existential meaning, purpose, values and hope in the face of the apparent meaninglessness and randomness of our births, lives and deaths in a strictly naturalistic and indifferent universe. It is to ask whether there is a viable alternative to the nihilism, absurdity, futility and despair that are the offspring of reductive, mechanistic, deterministic and materialistic naturalism. It is to ask whether there might be more to reality than that which is disclosed through the naturalistic method and implicit naturalistic worldview of scientific empiricism.

In literary terms, the “God Question” is asking whether there might be a transcendent alternative to the nihilistic view that is lyrically expressed in such words as: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing;” “Life is just one damn thing after another;” “Life’s a bitch and then you die;” “God is dead and we have killed him;” “Hollow men, chestless men;” “The horror, the horror!” “The only sure foundation for the future of philosophy is one of unyielding despair.”

The God Question for most people translates into the existential and ethical questions as to whether life is supremely meaningful and grounded in enduring values, or whether it is finally pointless and meaningless in the face of death? Is there nothing that grounds our human quest for enduring meaning, values, purpose and hope that death will not utterly annihilate? Is life, after all, a foolish charade, a cruel joke, an insane asylum, a senseless farce? Does the human search for the recognition and realization of beauty, truth, justice, love, freedom, dignity, nobility and hope turn to dust and ashes in the oblivion of our personal death and species extinction? In such a pointless world what is the point of living? Is it only to know that Nature rides us like a machine and is indifferent to our existence?

Those who ironically find the supreme meaning in their lives by telling others that there is no enduring meaning to life ought to at least own up to what they are doing, which is crushing the life out of those who require some eternal meaning and transcendent hope as the necessary “oxygen for their souls” in order breathe freely and live boldly amidst the daunting challenges of our global age.

They ought to at least admit that they are fueling the fires of nihilism, absurdity, meaninglessness and despair among those who can only hear their words as the death not only of God but also of Man and of Meaning, Purpose, Values and Hope in a vast, indifferent universe that has no pre-vision, purpose and destiny for us except futile struggle and final extinction. They ought to admit that they are “liberating” humanity from the old god of religious transcendence in order to recruit “true believers”  of the new god of scientific reductionism.

But “scientism” cannot provide us with answers to the great religious, philosophical, existential and ethical questions, except to reduce the phenomena of Life, Sentience, Intelligence, Consciousness, Creativity, Compassion, Courage, Civility and Culture to the reductive vocabularies of mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology. Scientism fails as a new religion. It will never satisfy the human quest for meaning, purpose, transcendence and hope. It can only offer us a “philosophy of unyielding despair,” or else change the subject to the reductive explanations and quantitative measurements of math, physics, chemistry and biology, treating them at totalizing explanations of Reality while pretending that the profound ontological and existential questions no longer matter. The God question is really not about the word “God” at all. It is about “intimations” of “the ultimate, the infinite, the mysterious, the unknown, and the unseizable.” And it is about the perennial search for transcendent meaning, purpose, values and hope that death will not totally destroy. The word/symbol of “God” may come in and go out of fashion from time to time, but the real questions behind it will never die.

The Cosmotheandric Experience: Toward an Encompassing Vision of Reality

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In his book, “Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe”, George Santayana envisioned a future day when the ancient, medieval and modern wisdom traditions of Lucretius the Naturalistic poet, Dante the Spiritual poet, and Goethe the Romantic poet might be reconciled and integrated into an encompassing vision of reality. In his book, “The Cosmotheandric Experience,” Raimon Panikkar attempts to do just that, to reconcile and integrate the cosmological, anthropological, and theological dimensions that constitute the encompassing reality. It is, of course, the theological dimension that will be most problematic for modern secular people for whom any traditional theistic conception of “theos” has become archaic and incredible.

In “The Experience of God,” Panikkar understands and anticipates this problem by defining the word “God” as a symbol, not a concept. For Panikkar, “God” is a symbol “to designate the ultimate, the infinite, the mysterious, the unknown, the unseizable.” Karl Jasper sets forth a similar notion with his idea of “The Comprehensive.” Of course this concept of God as “Ultimate Mystery” will not be acceptable to those who conceive of “God” in traditional theistic terms as a transcendent, sovereign, benevolent Divine Person (or a Communion of Persons) who possess conscious, creative and purposeful agency.

In the unfolding history of the world’s religions, it may be helpful to speak of four cultural primary forms that that the “divine milieu” has taken to express itself. These are the forms identified with the figures of the Shaman, Sage, Prophet and Mystic. The Shaman engages in a vision quest and brings back gifts of healing and insight to his people. The Sage seeks to perceive the underlying principles of life that constitute the way of harmony and balance. The Prophet seeks to speak truth to power, to challenge cruelty, oppression, tyranny and injustice, and to envision the future consummation of all things in a realm of peace and freedom, harmony and joy. The Mystic seeks to envision the unity and oneness of all things.

It is, of course, possible to pit these four spiritual wisdom traditions against each other, to create a culture war between them, as has been all to common in the history of man’s various quests to capture the Ultimate Mystery of the nets of his own language, stories, concepts and traditions. But it is also possible to see these attempts to name the ineffable as complementary symbol systems that can learn from each other, realizing that none of them and even all of them together can capture the Infinite Horizon in the nets of finite human comprehension. That seems to be the point of Panakkar’s vision of the emerging global religious consciousness.

In my next blog I’ll have some things to say about the Natural and Human Dimensions, and about how we might envision an interdependent and symbiotic relationship between the Natural, Human and Transcendent dimensions of the Encompassing Mystery of Reality.