Friday, August 14, 2015

Matter and Spirit: Making Sense of it All

I have seen no visible evidence of spirit (whether good, benign, or evil), except for the concrete temples humans erect in honor of a good and Great Invisible Spirit, their fearful responses to what they perceive to be evil Spirits, and their confessions about both.  Hence I begin with matter.
 
Observation #1: If the universe is not eternal, it had a beginning. If it is eternal, it is our "Alpha and Omega" (Revelation 1:8).
 
Observation #2: It does not appear that the universe is eternal, however, since its expansion at a rapid rate is an indication of remarkable change (hence, it is not eternal because it changes).  This datum makes the idea of the known universe originating in a Big-Bang-from-Nothing a plausible theory.  But from whence came the elements necessary to produce a Big Bang and what ignited it—if nothing existed before the Big Bang? The igniter and matter-from-nothing constitute the Ground of all Being (G/B) in that they have brought an end to Non-Being and revealed Being.  But both igniter and matter-from-nothing are invisible, unknown, and unknowable since they are parallel to and not immediately tangential (touching lightly) to the universe.  If they were tangent to or part of the universe, then universe, as eternal (see Observation #1), has simply perpetuated itself.  Hence, there is an Unknown-Unknowable-Before-the-Big-Bang.
 
Observation #3: In popular religious thinking G/B is accorded the designator "God."  But G/B contrary to popular thinking is not part of the physical universe or even involved with the universe, a fact that is verified by observation of the known natural and social worlds.  The survival of the fittest (i.e., Darwin's more plausible theory of the Origin of the Species by Natural Selection) rules out any master plan for the universe and its denizens, and it seems to be the case with social organisms as well, for they succeed or fail based on human ingenuity and energy, and that, one must suppose, includes the church.  In short, no guidance or care exists for Being (things as they are).  We and the universe have simply emerged into Being, and must do the best we can.  Our fate hinges on good genes, lady luck, and natural selection.
 
Observation #4:  human beings are, however, universally "religious."  To judge by our universal preoccupation with religion or religious-like actions endemic to all human cultures humans seem to have in some way come by a concept of a Divine-Other (D/O) and seem to have a vague sense, awareness, or impression of D/O—or they claim to.  The limitations and imperfections of our sense of D/O accounts for the contrasting varieties of human religious expressions:  we sense in part and imperfectly so.  Because of the universality of the religious preoccupation, however, our "sensing" D/O seems plausible; so where does the concept of D/O come from, or does it arise from within us—that is, the concepts of D/O are latent in our genes and/or DNA?
 
Observation #5: Certainly it is possible that we each generate the concept of D/O from within ourselves, or perhaps it is generated by a few and learned by others.
 
Observation #6: Possibly concepts of D/O arise from G/B from "the other side" of the Big Bang.  But how might that occur, if G/B is not and never was a part of our experienced reality (see Observation #2).  Astrophysics suggests a possible parallel.  Scientists discover unseen planets that orbit stars (those tiny pinpricks of light in the night sky) in distant solar systems by watching for the gravitational effect of an invisible planet on a visible star: "when the star has a planet orbiting around it, the star wiggles slightly from the gravitational attraction of the planet" (Nick Cohen, mathematician, physicist).  I am suggesting that there may also be a similar effect from an "attraction" between Being and non-Being that prompts a universal religious response.  The scientist sees nothing except the effect of the gravitational pull (the wiggle), and does not actually see the planet or the gravitational attraction.  It is similar to the physical/emotional attraction between lovers.  Claims of "sensing" D/O may be a similar "wiggle" effect between human psyches and D/O.  The only evidence of gravity between the star and the postulated invisible planet is the "wiggle"; the only evidence of D/O between Non-Being and Being is a human religious response.
 
Nothing is certain, but those seem to be the possibilities; how do they seem to you?
 
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

13 comments:

  1. Regarding observation #4 that human beings are "religious." I would say that this observation has no utility because there is no circumscribed target that can be hit and described as "religious." Religious simply becomes the approval by a greater power of whatever I do. I refer everyone to PBS news last night which reported on the sex-slave trading of ISIS. Rape has become a religious act, thus making it useless to define a religious act. Interviews with women escapees reveal that the rapist first prostrates himself in prayer, justifies the act as the rightful punishment of the infidel, commits the rape, and again prostrates himself in prayer. Further if a rapist has the authority to judge his victim to be truly repentant, she can be given a certificate of freedom to engage in the religiously pure life of a Muslim woman.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  2. Good evening Gene!
    I too was offended by the Isis actions that go under the name of religion. There are many unethical acts--even horrible, that are thought to be religious acts. I did call attention to such in the blog. Here is what I said:
    "The limitations and imperfections of our sense of D/O accounts for the contrasting varieties of human religious expressions: we sense in part and imperfectly so." There are many horrible acts in the name of religion in the Hebrew Bible, and some of my blogs have addressed them.
    Cordially,
    Charlie

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  3. Hi Charlie,
    If I'm looking at the blog correctly, you have put forth a number of reasoned propositions. If we take the canonical literature about Jesus seriously, I think it is hard to think of possibilities and probabilities about "God" to be the result of rational processes. For example, in 1 John 4:7ff. we find the claim that "God is love," and, of course, there is the very familiar claim in GJohn 3:16 that God's relationship with the world is one of "love." Love by nature and essence is relational, not conceptual. The relationship between Jesus and God is described as love, the relationship between Jesus and his follower is described as love. The relationship between one human being and another, whether neighbor or enemy, is described as love by Jesus. There is no knowledge of or contact with the Ground of Being or Divine Other without love, according to the NT canon. That's not the only authority, of course, but to me it makes experiential sense.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  4. Good Morning, Gene,
    I understand you to say that one cannot think logically and rationally about God because God can only be experienced relationally through love. We of course will have to disagree on this issue. Thinking about God is something that Theologians do all the time. Scholars are even awarded doctorates in Theology (study of God). So I feel comfortable in that association. And I also disagree that "love by nature and essence is relational, not conceptual."
    Love is at the same time conceptual as well as relational. Professing to love an unknown someone or something seems to me to be so much empty talk, and really doesn't mean much. How is it possible for one to love what one does not know? In any case thinking logically and rationally about God is not an attempt to experience God but rather an attempt to understand what so many profess to love.
    Cordially,
    Charlie

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  5. Hi Charlie,

    Two clarifying observations: In my earlier post I don't think that I referred to humans loving God. I agree that it doesn't seem possible to love what is unseen and unknown. I also agree that love has a conceptual component, as does any subject matter.

    I would say that the illumination that God is love is a gift to the world of the Christian canon, and is either accepted as true to the best in life or not.

    In the matter of thinking about God, I have some familiarity with the disciplines of philosophy and theology. Philosophy was my undergraduate major, I have a seminary degree with an emphasis in biblical theology, and I have two additional post-seminary years of courses in systematic theology.

    I think it's fascinating that we represent these different approaches. They should be discussed at the Westar Fall Conference.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  6. Hi Gene,
    As you know there is a new Seminar on God and the Human Future, and the program seems pretty well set for this Fall (4th R May through June, page 23), but I am sure that the Seminar Chairs will welcome suggestions for future programs.
    Cordially,
    Charlie

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  7. Hi Charlie,

    It struck me that our thinking merges if we change your next to last sentence in the following manner:

    The only evidence of gravity between the star and the postulated invisible planet is the "wiggle"; the only evidence of Divine-Other between Non-Being and Being is love.

    Love is the wiggle.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.



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  8. Good Morning Gene,
    It might work; it depends on what you mean by love. I understand love to be a description of an emotion shared between human beings that causes them to act in certain ways. So can you expand on how you think love between human beings is the universal religious response to the Divine Other?
    Cordially,
    Charlie

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  9. Hi Charlie,

    I would say that love is more commitment and action than emotion. If I understand the NT use of agape, love is intending the best for the other, and not only for those to whom one is positively attracted. But I would also say that love is not limited to interpersonal behavior. One can love life by intending the best for life, for the planet and its population There is nothing else that could be assigned a higher value. In my mind the highest value would be the best indicator of Reality.

    I wish others would join in the conversation!

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  10. Would your definition of love hold true for all religious responses throughout time? I purposely left vague the content of "religious response" in my last blog line, since the response must broadly apply to whatever is labeled religion. I doubt that it would, for not all religions have your idea of love as commitment and action.
    Charlie

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  11. Charlie,

    A simple explanation for human love, spirit, religion, marriage, social clubs, countries, political parties, patriotism, and numerous others. As humans evolved they created all these to serve various human needs. All of these creations continue to evolve as human needs evolve.

    JIm

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  12. Hi Charlie,

    In my first post, for myself I concluded that "religious experience" is an unmeaningful phrase. In human history about everything has been identified as religious, from the reverie of the mystic to the raving of the megalomaniac to the forgiveness of the altar call, to detachment vs. attachment decisions, to the horror of rape.

    That leaves us to consider what most people might agree upon as the highest value. We all thrive on seeking the best for the other, on loving and being loved. If as Walter Wink (The Human Being, 2002) suggested, we must think of ourselves as the universe reflecting upon itself, what better value than love to reflect the Reality of the movement from non-being to being. Whether or not that is the teaching of all religions would not seem to be relevant.

    Jim, in my mind there is a difference between experiencing love and spirit and creating love and spirit. I lean toward the former.

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

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  13. Gene,

    I merely intended to answer the question "from where did the concepts of love and of spirit come?". My simple answer was humans created both concepts and the motivation for these creations were/are to satisfy some human need. I would say the same thing about the so called "religious experience". Thus, they are neither parts of the physical world nor created by the universe's creator, if in fact the universe was actually created..

    Jim

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