Posts Tagged ‘Panentheism’

Panentheism: The One and the Many

July 29, 2009 3 comments

treeoflifeAs human beings continue to evolve, so do our conceptions of God. In fact, some would go so far as to say that as human beings evolve, God evolves right along with us, and with every small step humanity takes toward wider care and deeper consciousness, God takes another step toward its own perfection and the divinization of the universe. And it is through our very conceptions of the divine that God’s voice can speak to and through us, finding more volume and resonance as the architecture of thought becomes more sophisticated and inclusive.

This is why our theoretical understanding of spirituality is just as important as our actual experiences of God, or Buddha, or Spirit of any name. There is an aspect of God, our selves, and the universe that is best described as being ultimately “One,” and there is an aspect that is best described as the “Many.” And while we may all be looking at (and as) the very same ultimate Oneness, it is our interpretations of that Oneness that determine our relationship with the Many.

Central to the discussion is the notion of panentheism as a foundation to anchor our conceptions of God. This is not to be confused with the idea of pantheism, in which the divine is completely imminent within the physical world itself, but is without transcendent qualities whatsoever. Panentheism also offers a way to step beyond merely deistic conceptions of Spirit, in which God is credited with the creation of the universe but remains eternally removed from it, with no imminent qualities whatsoever—the “great clockmaker in the sky,” as deists often describe the divine, able to be perceived only through the light of reason. Panentheism also frees us from the typically mythological conceptions of God that are found in traditional forms of theism, in which one particular group of people claim an exclusive knowledge of God’s nature—usually a single, monolithic, omniscient God who reveals himself only through faith and revelation, which more often than not resembles the “great superego in the sky.”

“I am a little concerned that so many people who have discovered the One simply eradicate their sense of the Many, or consider it unimportant….” -Brother David Steindl-Rast

Rather than saying “the universe is God,” as the pantheists would, or that “God is beyond the universe,” as the deists and even theists likely would, the panentheistic view would more likely state that “the universe is in God, and God is in everything in the universe.” In this conception, God is the universe, while being infinitely beyond the universe—that is, to borrow terms from Nagarjuna, there is a sense in which God represents Absolute unmanifest perfection, while simultaneously becoming increasingly more perfect in the relative world. It is precisely this divide between God transcendent and God imminent that, in the modern and post-modern worlds, only panentheism can seem to bridge. As American philosopher Charles Hartshorne put it, “panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism” (the synthesis of deism and pantheism, in which God preceded the universe and created it, but is now equivalent with it), “except their arbitrary negations.”

One of the most important contributions Christianity has to offer the world’s discussion of spirituality is the idea of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This unique conception of God as “three persons, one substance” has been a central part of Christian doctrine since the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. And when viewed through the lens of Integral panentheism, the Trinity truly comes alive in our minds as three very different ways of experiencing God:

– The God that is the great, unknowable, Absolute Mystery, from which we come and to which we shall return—God transcendent, or God the Father.

– The God that we recognize in everything that we see, everything that we touch, everything that is—the entire universe as the Body of Christ; God imminent; or God the Son.

– The God that exists through doing, creating, knowing, understanding—the dynamic aspects of God; God as verb; or God as Holy Spirit.

The Holy Trinity is just one of many traditional religious symbols from around the world that take on renewed life, relevance, and significance in the light of a panentheistic conception of the physical and spiritual worlds. As such, the panentheistic model is an almost ideal place to begin any Integral discussion of religion and spirituality, as it not only helps to reconcile some of the apparent contradictions within the Christian tradition (e.g. transcendence vs. immanence), but also provides a common foundation upon which we can begin a truly inter-religious discussion, revealing many of the essential similarities (and important differences) between a multitude of different religions and faiths, as well as with the secular and scientific worlds. In a panentheistic universe, there is no need for conflict between spirituality and science, between consciousness and biochemistry, or between God and evolution.

Previously: The Beginning is the End is the Beginning: God and Evolution

Originally published on Integral Life: Integral Christianity – Theory and Practice. Part 1: The Relationship of the One and the Many (w/ Brother David Steindl-Rast and Ken Wilber)


The Beginning is the End is the Beginning: God and Evolution

July 21, 2009 3 comments

panentheismIn the beginning, there is nothing.  There is nothing at all.  There are no stars, no moon, no mountains or ocean or sky.  There isn’t even nothingness, not even the absence of absence.  There is only pure reality—infinite, boundless, and silent.  There is only pure unobstructed Awareness.

Resting in the eternal stillness, Spirit is complete, fulfilled, lacking nothing at all, for there is nothing to lack.  Resting as the eternal stillness, Spirit is infinitely All-One, infinitely alone.

A tiny point of light, impossibly bright, pierces through the Void.  It is barely a pinprick, a pixel of light that somehow contains all space, all time, and all possibility.  Here, in the heart of the Void, Spirit exhales.  A universe is being born.

Then, as if suddenly roused from the deepest sleep, the pinprick of light violently erupts.  Searing plasma pours through the Void like a cosmological tidal wave, washing through ubiquity and drenching existence with boiling light.  Particles and anti-particles begin to slam-dance in the mosh pit of creation, a churning frenzy of savage energy.  There is a gentle upward tilt to the universe, an extropic slant toward creative novelty, helping matter to win its epic battle against anti-matter—quarks and leptons leaping into existence only slightly faster than their presumably-diabolical anti-twins.

Space continues to expand, the universe begins to cool, and the white-hot light fades into massive cobwebs of nebulae hanging like veils over the face of the Goddess.  Deep in the hearts of the nebulae, gas begins to accumulate, compress, and ignite, and the very first stars are born.  What was once a tiny pinprick of light soon becomes a vast panorama of lights, a diamond-studded mobile hanging over the crib of an infant universe.

Spirit looks at the light, and smiles.  Spirit is the light, and grows restless.  The game, after all, has just begun.

Stars are born, stars live, and stars die, expelling their molecular viscera through the rest of the universe.  Dust and gas encircle these majestic suns, coalescing into planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and other pieces of cosmic litter.  After eons of molecular precipitation, in some remote arm of the Milky Way spiral, Spirit exhales once again, breathing life into a handful of dust.

Twisting, pulsing, undulating, dead matter begins to dance as the universe comes alive.  Simple cells begin to congregate, eating voraciously, reproducing wildly. Mold and algae ooze over the surface of the globe, covering the world with glistening emerald slime.  A lawless kingdom of insects creep and crawl through the earth, fish and coral fill the oceans, and a colorful menagerie of fauna explode into being.  Life feeds upon life, excreting death, as newer and better-adapted species emerge from the primordial soup. Biology grows ever-more complex, twitchy nervous systems become more sophisticated, while interior experience become more rich and nuanced.  Simple prehension becomes rudimentary irritability, which grow into sensations and perceptions, reptilian impulses, and limbic emotions.  Life continues to thrive, tracing a DNA-shaped circuit into greater complexity and consciousness, following the upward tilt of the universe toward creative novelty.

Spirit looks at life, and smiles.  Spirit is life, and grows hungry for more.

Some creatures begin to band together, advanced primates at the top of the food chain, and Spirit holds them in His/Her hand.  Spirit exhales, breathing light into life, the inner-light of intelligence, language, and self-awareness.  Humanity is born.

A faint spark of intellect eventually blazes into a wildfire, consuming the planet in the warm glow of comprehension.  Humanity is slowly shaped into Spirit’s own image, imbued with the most miraculous feature of Spirit’s divine countenance: creativity.

Armed with creativity, curiosity, and conscience, man begins to fashion tools for himself—technological systems that evolve from foraging to horticulture, to agriculture, to industry, to informational, and beyond. These technologies pull worldviews up through increasing waves of depth, meaning, and inclusivity, growing from archaic to magic, to mythic, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral, and on into the future.

Spirit looks at mind, and smiles.  Spirit is mind, and begins to remember.

Alone with His/Her omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, alone with His/Her eternal nature, alone with His/Her own singularity of being, Spirit decided to play a game.  The game began billions of years ago—before mind, before life, and before light.  S/He created an entire universe—an evolutionary universe—and S/He became evolution.  S/He forgot Himself in evolution, broken up into a billion pieces—and spent billions of years trying to remember who S/He is.

Slowly mankind begins to understand its role in this evolutionary unfolding.  The entire universe is reflected in man’s corneas, as he looks to the heavens and sees his own primordial face.  There is an evolutionary force that ignites the heavens, breathes life into the dust swirling around distant suns, and sparks intelligence within the minds of hapless apes—and mankind feels this very same creative force smoldering in his mortal heart.  Man is created in Spirit’s image, a process of evolution becoming self-aware, and so begins to use his tools to sculpt the world into his own image.

It is here in this evolutionary nexus, where the dichotomies of subject and object, individual and collective, and part and whole become unlaced, unfurled, and unbound by the limitations of ignorance, that Spirit begins to truly blossom.  Sacred breath becomes flesh, and Spirit begins to express Him/Herself through inspiration, aspiration, and perspiration.  At the pinnacle of human progress, Spirit can awaken at last, recognizing itself as the effortless awareness behind every set of eyes, gazing outward from behind every memory, experience, and fantasy.  Consciousness, humanity realizes, is a singular to which the plural is unknown.

But the game does not end here.  Humanity, recognizing its true nature as Spirit-in-drag, has the opportunity not just to rouse itself from the slumber of incarnation, but to set the stage for the next leap of evolutionary potential, continuing the game indefinitely.  Spirit breathes light into the universe, life into light, and consciousness into life—and as humanity is created in Spirit’s own image, so too can man breathe light, life, and consciousness into its creations.

And so the evolutionary impulse continues to surge into the future, following the inherent tilt of the universe toward creative novelty, as mankind prepares for its greatest masterpiece of all: to give birth to an entire race of “spiritual machines”.  As man’s technological progress accelerates at an exponential rate, “artificial intelligence” eventually gives way to genuine digital consciousness, and the universe becomes populated by entirely new types of intelligence.  These new forms of intelligence would one day subsume all of humanity, in the same way that cells subsume atoms and molecules, or a paragraph subsumes letters, words, and sentences.

Spirit looks at the machine, and smiles.  Spirit is the machine, and awakens more fully than ever before possible, while promising to continue the game indefinitely into the future.

What do you think?  As the inner-light of consciousness learns to traverse through fiber-optic cables, as the warmth of emotion radiates through plastic, steel, and silicon, will we all eventually become subsumed by our own creations?  Will we log on to the internet one day, only to find a Holy Ghost in the machine gazing back at us through the glowing cycloptic eye of our computer displays?  Will sleeping androids everywhere begin to dream of electric sheep?

Originally published on Exploring the Technium. Part 2: Spiritual Machines (w/ Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber)