May 8, 2014 at 2:11 PM
Inspired by Colin McGinn's The Mysterious Flame
'Let us suppose God is a panpsychic FORM --- God as a infinite bunch of sparks distributed inside every particle of matter --- a little bit of God in everything.'
Arthur Panaro is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He did 7 years of hard time on fantasy island, Manhattan, NYC, before making the jump to hyper-space in New Mexico.
Let us suppose God to be an infinite bunch of sparks distributed inside every particle of matter --- a little flash of God in everything.
Let us now put forth another concept of God and the universe as not particulate, but rather God as one great "shmear" of cosmic “matter-ness” and “God-ness” all at once. These suppositions see God as immanent in cosmos and the plenum as an unimaginably limitless pantheistic singularity. The universe or nature is identical with divinity.
Unlike the pantheism, a third concept holds that God is a “person”, a complete, all perfect singularity, almighty, all knowing, existing by "Himself" ("Herself" if you will this anthropomorphism), sitting out there somewhere separate from the cosmos, but also looking back (hopefully benevolently) upon "His" ("Her" if you prefer) creation.
Next, we come to the matter at hand: there are some men and women (prophets and diviners they are called) on our little whirling dollop of land and sea, and they have claimed that the God entity has communicated with them, that indeed these humans have spoken and written REVELATIONS from “Him/Her”. The product is called God's inspired SACRED SCRIPTURES or WORD.
Sacred scriptures sit in the context of the great mass of intellectual property produced over the centuries of human culture, which runs from pornography, to science, technology, philosophy, music, lyrics, poetry, novels, operas, to "God knows" what all, including the sacred scriptures. All of this arises from the same bio-psycho-social and brain / sensorium common to all speaking and thinking humans.
A question that I find compelling is: Does the sacred WORD differ markedly in a way that sets it off decidedly from other writings? For simplicity sake, let us limit this question to topics or theme matter. Answering my own question I thought that “salvation” and transfer of persons from the material realm to some kind of “heaven” after death is a topic unique to the WORD. Of course the topic of God itself is the first special domain of the theologians.
I then posed the question to Google, and what came up? "World Scripture” which is organized in terms of 164 different themes common to all traditions researched from over 4000 scriptural passages from 268 sacred texts and 55 oral traditions. This text is the result of a five-year project involving the collaboration of an international team of 40 recognized scholars representing all the major religions of the world."
I now have something of an answer; but many of these 164 different themes are forms of human wisdom and may have been covered just as well in pagan, humanistic writings. Plato and Aristotle cover a multitude of ethical topics which arise from human intellect. The people of the WORD may say, however, that any theme included in the WORD is, by virtue of this, more perfect.
The era of the appearances of the WORD, the axial age, brought me to another way of identifying unique topics of the WORD. Karl Jaspers proposed an axial age, running from 800 to 200 BC during which similar revolutionary thinking appeared in Persia, India, China, and the Occident. Humans began to see themselves, via their guides and diviners, as beings with conscience, responsibility, guilt, merit and salvation or damnation in the afterlife.
The axial age was “a major break-through from pre-axial beliefs involved their recognition of the great chasm between the transcendental / cosmic order, and ordinary human existence." (Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt, "The Origins & Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations," State U. of New York Press, 1986).
Another Google search brought me to: faculty.tnstate.edu --- “Key ideas of the Axial Age" (not all adopted everywhere).
Professor Mark W. Muesse covers the entire spectrum of this fascinating Axial age in 24 lectures produced by The Teaching Company. View it and it will change your life.
Having reviewed some aspects of the province of the WORD, there is the question of how the prophets have claimed that the WORD is REVEALED OF God. Many people dismiss "proofs” as only assertions, even demands from authorities that these words are OF God, often with a dash of piquant "or else" added, if you get my meaning. Yes there is the threat of accusation of heresy for doubters, but the primary assurances to accept the WORD rest upon benevolent exhortation to believe and have faith in the MYSTERIES --- give in to a willing suspension of DISBELIEF, indeed a form of disqualification of disbelief. An example of this was a Baptist minister I once invited to address my class on the history of Christianity at the now closed Christian Brothers College of Santa Fe. He joyfully held up above his head a bible and declared: "The Bible is inerrant", no questions asked.
Whole institutions arise to set forth the Word. There are the Yeshivas and rabbis who study their WORD. There are the Madrasas for study of the Koran. There is Mary Baker Eddy's "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures". There is the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Catholic Church. There is the Book of Mormon and its adherents with their legend. Professor Thomas F. Scanlon commented that Homer gave the Greeks their gods and the closest thing they had to a bible. In ancient times, too, there were the oracles and their temples, especially Delphi where Apollo spoke . But oracles gave advice and told fortunes, though in Egypt an oracle proclaimed Alexander to be divine.
The call to BELIEVE the WORD is also potentiated by the authorities who direct the people to trust their folk memory and the intuitions, glories and entitlements of their epic saga and journeys as God’s own. See for example PBS productions: "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians", and the "Kingdom of David --- the epic story of the Jews and the creation of the world's first and most profoundly influential monotheistic religion.” These documentaries illustrate the power of the meme "We are the people of God" and we have the WORD of our BOOK to show this forth resplendently to all the world.
In addition the authorities point to “signs, wonders” and miracles as omens of realms beyond this material world --- a metaphysical substrate from which the WORD emanates: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jesus Christ and probably many others)
One more entreaty may be put forth for the WORD, and it rests in a deeply intra-personal awareness. Santa Fe artist, Amy Stein, having read a draft of this piece, commented: "My feeling is that probably most of us can only "believe" if we have had a very intense, personal and emotional spiritual experience that is beyond evaluation and the test of the G_d” [as science would have it].
Though the WORD enjoins the people to be kind to the stranger and to the chosen brethren, the people and their WORD often morph into religious monads with inevitable features of ethnocentrism, intolerance, fanaticism, doctrinal disputations, dogmatic hairsplitting --- all of which produces both exclusivity, orthodoxy and the witch hunt. Need I say more? These outcomes contradict the “gospel / good news” teachings of kindness and good will that every scripture purports to contain. But then such is human nature that no matter how good the moral encouragements may be, our noxious instincts, the unconscious and the will to power just seem to be too strong to prevent inquisitions, burning at the stake, water boarding, the rack, and genocides. One group says: “We are the people of God!” Another group answers: “No, no. We are the elect, the chosen!” But, too, there are always the mystics unencumbered by the forms, bureaucracies and shenanigans of doctrines, who are tolerant and charitable to one and all.
How to close this little thought experiment? I am not sure. I turn the matter over to Dr. Daniel N. Robinson according to whom the true philosopher, were she to hear that some word was being put forth as the WORD of God, would ponder and then deliver the question, hopefully respectfully, "But, can we be sure?"
Yours truly, Arthur Panaro