In my blogs and books over the last 4 years I have tried to lay the foundations of a new religious vision based on the avalanche of evidence that this universe of “matter” is the only thing that exists.  The discoveries of science have persuaded me that there is no world of “spirit” inhabited by etherial beings whose characteristics are entirely mental in nature.  For us, of course, this means that our thinking minds do not indicate the presence of an invisible separable “soul” that belongs to that other world and will return there after death.  There is only one world, this one, and it is made of what we call matter, and that includes our organisms which think.

Given the unfortunate history that falsely identified our sense of the sacred with that imaginary world, we are left to wrestle with the negative imagery that has labeled all things material, including our own bodies, as of little value, if not evil.  Since Religion is a poetry that expresses and celebrates our sense of the sacred, it must find a way to recalculate its route, turning around 180o on its assessment of matter and the human organisms made from it.  Our “sense of the sacred” must now focus directly on the very thing that our tradition, for millennia, claimed was alien and most hostile to our true destiny as human beings.  This is nothing less than a sea change in “who we think we are.”

I have attempted to initiate this recalculation.  Those efforts necessarily had to confront the dualist justifications that lay at the core of the ancient theology of matter and spirit.  But re-thinking the metaphysical bases of “who we think we are” is only a part of the exercise.  There is, more importantly, what we used to call our “prayer life,” a poor phrase for the poetry that expresses our relationship to our source and matrix, in which “we live and move and have our being.”  The matrix I’m speaking of is the existential energy of matter which generates our sense of the sacred by impelling us and all living things to love our life and everything that sustains it.

The poetry that celebrates this relationship has also been called “spirituality,” an even less felicitous term inhertited from the old dualism.  Unfortunately both terms are misleading.  I would like to avoid them.  The phenomenon I am speaking of can be defined as that set of symbols that express our affective relationship to our source and matrix, and which necessarily embody who we think we are. 

The minute you speak of symbols, however, you are in the realm of metaphor, where words are not used to denote specific delimited realities, but rather to describe and evoke a relationship.  To that end they are made intentionally allusive, inclusive and evocative of realities that transcend, overarch, embrace and compenetrate the individual.  It is poetry.  This is a realm that science can only describe from the outside, it cannot enter and understand.  Only human beings can do that.  Poetry is quintessentially human; it is what we do.  It is the precise articulation of the bearing of the whole organic human being … it is how we say exactly what we, as thinking organisms, see and touch.

I want to begin exploring this aspect of religious renewal by looking at one such poetic piece that comes from our ancient Christian tradition.

The first letter of John

The New Testament document, traditionally called the first letter of John, opens with an unexpectedly concrete declaration.  “What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands … we proclaim to you.”

The persuasive power of eyewitness testimony using words like “I saw” and “I heard” is an important part of social reality for us, countervailing the conjecture that often casts a shadow over the narration of remembered events.  The forensic determination of what is “true” often hangs upon the credence given to such unambiguous claims of having a window on the truth.

But even so, the statement is unusual.  The truth is not only what “John” saw and heard, it is something he gazed upon and touched with his hands.  It seems he isn’t just talking about an idea, a narrative or an event, a theory or a scientific “law.”  It is far more personal and intimate and with  a claim to a far deeper truth.  He called it LIFE.  He said it made him part of a special community based on a a relationship with LIFE itself.

John was very clear about this LIFE:  he said it was “from the beginning,” the “Father.”  He was also quite explicit about his conviction that the man Jesus, whom he called Christ, the Jewish messiah, enjoyed a special relationship to the Father.  He said he was his “son.”

Given the millennia of official Christian interpretation of these terms, it will seem iconoclastic to read back into John’s first paragraph the metaphoric ambigüity that he actually left embedded there.  But please notice: John did not say that Jesus was “God;” he never does.  Despite his belief that the community that Jesus enjoyed with the Father was so intimate that there was little reason to distinguish them, John did in fact always distinguish them.  That’s why he calls him “son.”  Calling Jesus “son” was a way of saying that the community with LIFE — the Father —included a human being.  Jesus was not “God”… he was human, John saw and touched him.  That meant that human beings can enter that relationship with LIFE.  That astonishing possibiity was what John was so excited about.  Human beings are invited to have intimate community with LIFE itself.  And just as Jesus became “God’s son,” we become “God’s children.”

I interpret John’s effusive terminology throughout the document as poetic magnification intentionally blurring the physical boundaries separating individuals, defining them instead by the intensity of their relationships.  We are obviously not dealing with “clear and distinct” categories here.  Jesus was one with the Father because he lived the “truth” of love.  Such “truth” can be called a message, and it can also be called “light” because it is visible.  To see and touch one who lives in love is to see the LIFE that is “the Father” with our own eyes and touch it with our hands. 

Once we assume such a perspective on this ancient letter every line becomes clear despite the shifts in metaphysical assumptions and the use of words.  We no longer speak in metaphors and overstatement the way John does but we know what he means.  He’s talking about love.  And so it becomes completely intelligible to every human being across the face of the earth no matter what their culture or language.  John is speaking of LIFE as love — human love — what you can gaze on and touch with your hands.  He says it is light … it is “God.”  The man Jesus lived such a life and so he was the “son of God.”

The “first letter of John” is not science; it is poetryBut it is poetry with a point:  LIFE is love … and Love is “God.”  This is not some new philosophy, the rediscovery of a lost alchemy, or a newly identified pychological mechanism specific to the human organism, much less was it a “revelation” from “God.”  John says it was ap archēs, “from the beginning” — something that’s always been there, something we’ve always known, all of us, even the animals, from the beginning … ap archēs … from the very beginning.  LIFE is love, is “God.”

[Ancient Greek mythology proffered the idea of the αρχή (archē), the original principle or basis of nature. … the oldest writings describe … something beneath our ability to understand or explain. In his seventh century BCE Theogony, Hesiod speaks of the archē as a formless surging immateriality out of which the gods and nature emerged.   Orr, Emma Restall, The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature, Moon Books, an Imprint of John Hunt  Publishing, Hants, UK, 2012, (p. 173).

Of significance here is that many Greek philosophers, principally the pre-Socratics and Stoics, viewed ἀρχή as θεος, that is God.  … As the ἀρχή, the absolute beginning, God is then that which cannot either “come into being” nor can it “pass out of being.”  William Marsh, Nothingness, Metanarrative and Possibility, Author House, Bloomington, IN, 2009, p.263]

As a Jew, John says love is a “commandment.”   And probably Jesus did as well, after all, he was a Jew too.  “Commandment” was their central category — the traditional Jewish way of explaining how tightly we are bound to “God,” to LIFE.  There was no distance between these realities, hence no vacilation, no hesitation.  “God” commands and we obey.  But it was a metaphor; for we all know “God” does not speak and issues no commands.  “God” IS LIFE and life is Love. … we “obey” because  this is our innermost definition as living things, the source of our being and the explanation of our becoming.  It is LIFE that fathered us.  LIFE “rules” and “commands” and we “obey.”  It is all metaphor.  We are what we are, and we do what we do, because we are constructed of LIFE … and life is love.  And John proclaims that he has seen it and touched it, and that is “God.”

John is not offering happiness or a way out of the pain.  He is not saying that LIFE is fun.  We know it is often intolerable.  But it is what we are; there’s no way out of it.  It’s what we are because it’s what “God” is — LIFE  and love — and we obey … or we stop being ourselves, and that would be hell.  Please be advised.  There is no solace in any of this, not from John and not from me.  He made mention of the joy it gave him to talk about it, but he ignored the question of happiness.  There is no other world to escape to, neither in the sky nor in our heads.  To talk about love is not to apply an anesthetic designed to take away pain.  LIFE is not painless and so to love it is to embrace the pain; to make painlessness our “God” would be to fall into an idolatrous trap — another circle of hell — that will keep us chasing our tails forever.  What I hear John saying is that LIFE is love and love is relationship, and so it creates a community to which we belong, where we are known and cherished and accepted for what we are, where we are at home with our “Father.”  Will that make us happy?  He never says a word about it.  The only thing John says is that he saw and touched LIFE, and it was a koinonía, a community, a “fellowship” of living things that emerged “from the beginning,” “the Father,” LIFE.

A material mysticism

My intention here is not to provide an updated interpretation of an ancient Christian document in order to justify the religious institutions that claim it as their heritage.  I am trying to introduce a configuration of ideas meaningful to human beings that constitute a one-world “mysticism” rooted in the transcendent energies from which our material organisms have evolved.  I use “John” to help me express it because I think he had a similar vision and said it in a poetry that is both unique and familiar.

I’ve used the word “mysticism.”  I want immediately to define what I mean by it and distinguish it sharply from other uses and meanings, especially the popular dualist belief in another world, the “spirits” that inhabit that world and the privileged access to arcane know­ledge of its existence and character.  I mean none of that.  Here, I use mysticism to signify a way of relating to reality that consciously minimizes the perception of entities as separate individuals and promotes an “awakening” that sees them as science tells us they really are — integral parts of an overarching super-entity — the way leaves are part of a huge oak tree.  The leitmotif is the unity of this one material universe and the intimate family relationships created by their common evolutionary emergence from its foundational  energies.

Because both Jesus and John were Jewish, John’s vision was not dualist.  His eschatology — what he believed was the reward of following Jesus — does not come after death or at the end of time or in another world, it is realized here and now.  It is a koinonía, a “fellowship” in this world, a relationship that includes the “Father” — LIFE itself.  There is no abstract “humanity” definable by “thought experiments,” i.e., fantasies about “souls” that may have come from another world.  Our material organisms are what we are, evolved over aeons of time from the living energies that constitute the reality of this universe, this one world where we belong.  I particularly like John’s characterization of LIFE as ap archēs, “from the beginning.”  Notice he did not say LIFE was started by a “spirit” that comes “from somewhere else.”  Real reality, LIFE which is “God,” has been here from the very beginning.  It is its archē, its source, its“Father.”  LIFE is why there is this material world.  And the “fellowship” with LIFE has always been here too, realized to an extraordinary degree in people like Jesus who, because they live in love, have identified with LIFE and become indistinguishable from it.  They take on its quality as archē and so have been called archon, “ruler,” “Lord.”  John’s hyperbole defined Jesus by it.  Jesus loved; he was one with LIFE, hence he had a special fellowship with “God,” the “Father.”  That made him the “son” of “God,” the “Lord” of LIFE.  This is all poetry.

I also like John’s concreteness.  He is not inviting his readers to observe and contemplate abstract “truth,” or to acknowledge “dogma,” to obey rules or perform rituals.  He was inviting people to see, hear and touch LIFE, and be embraced by it concretely.  It was a mysticism, not an application for membership in an organization.  That meant awakening to the real relationships among things — their intimate and pre-existent organic unity.

This runs counter to our cultural presets.  We have been trained to think of ourselves as separate “individuals” and that our individuality is based on the absolute separateness of our material bodies and “immortal souls” from every other thing in the universe.  Because of those separations if we want community we have to create corporate entities and join them — become memebers.  There is nothing natural in this.  It is something that comes later; it is not from the beginning.

In contrast, my focus is on a mysticism of matter — a natural, pre-existing unity — ap archēs.   The solitary individuality created by matter’s impenetrability and the “soul’s” uniqueness seems to militate against the kind of unity required by the mysticism I am talking aboutConstruct an organism of impenetrable parts like those our culture imagines and you have an entity which, looking inward, is an ad hoc temporary composite of “body and soul” (mind and matter) and, looking outward, a totally separate individual in a universe of unconnected individuals.  No mysticism could possibly occur in such a world.  The only unity available is extrinsic, achieved by juxtaposing two unlike things alongside one another.  Such communities are mere aggregates, like an ocean of water molecules or a bar of iron.  Any amount can be divided off and separated from the mass and it will have no effect whatsoever on the rest.  These “communities” are not organisms, they are simple amalgams.

But let’s look more closely at what science tells us about the way material organisms are related to their own components and to the other entities with which they share the universe.  Far from being insuperably separate individuals, the unity among things is actually so total it is almost an identity.  Let me explain.

The Universe of Matter: One Organism

First, everything is made of the same substrate material.  Whether we consider it “matter” or, what seems to be more fundamental, a homogeneous energy that re-incarnates itself as all the sub-atomic particles of the “standard model,” everything in the universe is made of it — particles, things, forces, fields, spacetime itself — everything.  There is nothing else.  The fundamental particles that emerge out of this foundational energy — categorically, quarks and leptons — combine and recombine to produce new entities, protons and neutrons, which form the nucleus of atoms, bound together by the “strong nuclear force,” the most powerful “glue” in the universe, itself a form of this energy.  One-proton hydrogen aggregates and by fusing and converting into helium creates the energy furnaces called stars.  We could call this “morning and evening, the first day.”

Then, atoms of every kind, formed from protons and neutrons in the crucibles at the heart of stars, are blown out into the vast realms of interstellar space by exploding novas.  This material congeals into suns like ours and their planets like the earth we live on, from which we arose.  Please observe, there is no new material.  It is all the same “stuff” released at the big bang.

Following that, atoms on earth came together in new combinations that coalesced as molecules which ultimately result in new entities that never dissolve back into their components except when forced to under artificial circumstances created in the laboratory.  Water is one example of such entities; there are many.  Many were built of combinations with Carbon and oxygen atoms that figure so prominently in organic matter.

Carbon-based molecules continued to build, rearrange and complexify in a process that eventuated in the ability to self-replicate.  These self-replicating molecules, like RNA and DNA became the genetic memory for the reproduction of living organisms, at first of primitive one-celled protozoa, and then very soon thereafter by natural selection, multi-celled colonies and organisms that radiated outward to produce the almost incalculable number of living speciess of plants, insects, fungi and animals that populate the earth today.

The salient point is that all these developments evolved from the very same material substrate, the living energy that IS our material universe.  At the end of the day, the most complex organic structures, capable of what appears to be materially transcendent activity, like human brains, neurological systems and hormones, are all made of the very same proto-compo­nents that coalesced within nano-seconds of the “big bang,” the primaeval explosion that marked the beginning of the spacetime in which we live.  These foundational components, the subatomic particles, quarks and leptons, are the building blocks of all things.  Our brains are exclusively made of quarks and leptons.

What at first appeared as an insuperable isolation is now seen to be an absolute homogeneity among all things deriving from their common origin in the energy of matter.  But it’s not only the origin, the very material is also the same.  All things are constituted of the same primordial elements.  No new material entered the universe after the big bang.  Things are not only the same family because of their evolution from one another, they are simply the complexified re-arrangement of the same original reality revealing a unity that approximates a single totality, a universal identity.  There is no impenetrability … there is no insularity.  The universe is one genetically related family.  All the things in the universe, scienti­fi­­cally speaking, are the complexified re-organiza­tion of the same parent particles, evolved through natural selection into everything we see.  Even the analogy of leaves and branches of the same tree, sprouting from the same roots, nourished by the same soil, pales in comparison with the reality.  We are all made of the same clay!

Our human organisms are simply complex reconfigurations of this same material energy.  Every particle that comprises us, including those that pass so quickly through our bodies in respiration and in metabolic combustion, have been in existence since the “big bang” — 13.7 billion years ago — and show every indication of continuing to be here endlessly.  This energy, LIFE, is neither created nor destroyed, we come from it and in it “we live and move and have our being.”

This is the ground of our mysticism.  We are one … not by dint of some charismatic preacher’s poetic turn of phrase, or some esoteric metaphysical inference, or the magical power of an ancient sacramental ritual, but because of the genetic provenance of our flesh and bones, brain and hormones, from the living energy of matter.   We are all … and only … THAT!  LIFE, material energy. All of us … every species and phylum, every last particle and function, form and instinct … was produced and evolved by our ancestral line, ap archēs, “from the beginning.”  We are one family by nature.  John called it LIFE, “God.”

What I am proposing is a natural mysticism, based on solid science.  In a real sense, there is nothing “mystical” about it, and the false dualist meaning that the word has been given should be deleted from our dictionaries.  This unity is real.  Exploring and celebrating these relationships amounts to “awakening” to their existence and real character.  The sense of belonging, of being at home in the universe, results from an “enlightenment” allowing us to see with our eyes and touch with our hands the LIFE of which we are made and which enfolds us as a parent does a child.  We swim immersed in what spawned us like a sponge in an infinite sea.  There is nothing new here, nothing arcane or hidden.  It’s all been here “from the beginning” the way an oak tree is in the acorn waiting to be sprouted.  What’s different is that “light” has made it visible for us, and part of that “light” is science.  What our hands touch we can now feel is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.   Once we allow our eyes to open onto this reality, we can appreciate the LIFE and love pulsing in all the things around us.  The spontaneous affection and gregariousness of living organisms of all kinds, from insects, animals at all levels of intelligence and our own infants and young children, put on vivid display the love that emanates naturally from organic LIFE.  We realize we have always known it, from the very beginning of our own conscious existence.  At one time, when we were children, it dominated our lives — our perceptions and behavior — but then, under the pressures of survival in an alienated society, it receded into the background.  Some come to see it as a liability; some have even tried to suppress and extinguish it.  But it’s always there.  It’s who we are.  And John reminds us of what we are “from the beginning,” LIFE.

Those special people — like John and Jesus or the Buddha and many others — who help us remember what we have been from the beginning, are held in great esteem.   They bring light into the darkness.  We recognize how they identified with LIFE and how perfectly they aligned themselves with its loving energies.  In our enthusiasm for the light they bring, we call them “gods,” even LIFE itself.  They help us remember what was from the beginning.  But we have to be careful, as they were careful or we will miss the point of their message.  LIFE — “God” — even though that is what we are, transcends us all.  None of us is “God.”

The corporate institutions tied into the class divisions in our societies since time immemorial have used our enthusiasm for these special people to alienate us even further from the natural fellowship we have with LIFE.  They are responsible for some of the worst “darkness” we face; for it is darkness disguised as light.  John astutely identified them as anti-christ for in his lexicon of categories they usurp the place of the one who would liberate us, and they enslave us instead.  How will we know them?  “By their fruits,” Jesus said.  They seek first places at table, they replace love with law, invitation with coercion, mutual support with exploitation, equal respect with domination based on class, race, gender, age, … persuasion with force, trust with dogma, generosity with self-interest, community with social stratification, personal depth with success and the accumulation of wealth.  Contrary to light and love John sums it up as darkness and hatred.  It’s not LIFE, it is death.

a rebirth of LIFE

Today is the Winter Solstice.  We continue to celebrate the cycles of renewal established in ancient times based on the annual voyage of our planet around the sun.  This solar phenomenon has remained a fixed feature of our symbolic lives even as one religion has supplanted another throughout the millennia of our social history.  Following the “rebirth” of the sun’s energies for earth, the yearly realignment of our affective lives — recalling us to lives of love — has most recently been associated with the birth of Jesus, our current “god.”  This seasonal ritual has a long history lost in the mists of time before records were kept, when we celebrated the births of gods whose names and exploits we no longer remember.  John’s letter about Jesus is part of that ancient legacy.  He invites us to to hear the message of LIFE and embrace its fellowship.  Those, like John and Jesus, who recall us to LIFE have changed many times in the past, and they will change again.  But a sign of their authenticity will always be that they remind us to see and touch what has been … and we have known … “from the beginning.”

6 comments on “L I F E

  1. Leon Krier says:

    Dear Tony,

    Happy New Year and more breakthrough insights!!!

    Above my Christmas tree hanging from an open support beam are 10 ornamental angels with a star in the center. I’ve collected these ornaments over the years and enjoy their artistic beauty and the “Christmas ambiance” they convey. I certainly don’t hold to any metaphysical existence of angels nor do I find any need to “recalculate” the tradition of metaphysical angels into metaphoric, symbolic “angels.” These angel-ornaments are works of imagination and exist for beauty’s sake alone.

    While I have been and still am a fan of the philosophical recalculation of western philosophy that eliminates dualism and promotes the existential energy of matter, I cannot say the same thing about the recalculation of religion. Eliminating a metaphysical god and replacing it with a metaphoric god with the self-authenticating judgment that EXISTENCE is GOOD and LIFE is LOVE invites the “problem of evil” back into the philosophical and religious picture. With the “metaphoric god” back in the picture with “good” and “love” characterizing our existence, we are indeed chasing our tails because the “problem of evil” still exists. The embrace of pain does not address why the pain exists in the first place. The metaphysical god has miserably failed the challenge of the “problem of evil.” So far, the metaphoric god is failing the challenge as well. If EXISTENCE is defined as essentially GOOD and LIFE IS LOVE then how to explain, justify, the massive pain (biological) and suffering (conscious awareness of pain) that all creatures have to endure. Why do we have to embrace pain? What benefit is there to embracing pain? Is this embrace of pain worthy of any moral lesson and character development that justifies such an unjust imposition of pain and suffering? Why cannot an essentially “good god” in whom we live and move and have our existence unfold and evolve an existence without pain and suffering? Yes, I may at any given moment have a self-authenticating affirmation that MY life is good and that I have a relationship with a few others that is LOVING; however, that does not provide sufficient evidence for validating the judgment that existence per se is “good” and “loving.” When the entire purview of existence is taken into consideration and attending to the harsh realities of natural selection and the general slaughter that one engages in just to exist, the argument is unconvincing for accepting these positive judgments about existence. Recent comments and studies that indicate how the level of intelligence that the human brain has achieved at this point in evolution is due to the brutal elimination of inferior brains or how the human hand has evolved to not only do fantastically skillful and artistic manipulations but also to make a fist for aggressive purposes displays anything but “goodness” and “love.” The response that we “learn” this through the alienation inherent in the virtual world of dualism, doesn’t take into account the violence that the non-human world of creatures wreak upon one another. Since the statement of “existence is good” and “life is love” are non-falsifiable (self-authentication doesn’t count as offering sufficient credible evidence to accept this position – religious believers are always announcing the latest self-authenticating experiences of “what Jesus has done for me”), the burden of evidence for accepting such a position is on those who promote it. Existence is pulsating life but the pulses are both life and death, pleasure and pain, stability and change. I recently viewed a Neolithic figurine of a “ fertility goddess” (or simply a symbolic presentation of a woman) who was voluptuous on the front side but skeletal on the back side… these ancients knew something very basic about being a woman and about existence that is still true today, namely, that fundamental existence was life and death and through women both came into being.

    If RELIGION is poetry and poetry is a subdivision of art then art is sufficient (or as Nigel Spivey argues “how art made the world”), let’s get on with writing a new poetry. Recognizing that metaphysical religion was actually metaphoric religion even though its practitioners weren’t aware of this status, one can appreciate the historical context when encountering the artifacts of religion’s history. I do it all the time when touring the art and architecture of Europe. I appreciate it for its beauty and the meaning of its original context thereby developing a richer historical context for my issues today. I don’t attempt to make it relevant today by recalculating it and thereby retaining a “continuity of significance” for today. The recalculating of art would be to take the ARTISTIC LANGUAGE of the past and reconfiguring it for the present. Many artists have fought against this approach for centuries probably more so in the 20th century than any other period. It’s like my angels. What worth is there in creating “angels” out of angels?

    As I’ve hinted at in the past, I am an advocate for a “meaningless existence.” Life is to be lived as Epicurus advised: 1) seek joy: decrease mental anxiety; maintain health and well being; 2) seek happiness: seek those pleasures that promote the latter and decrease the former. Live simply… be selective and moderate with your pleasures. Avoid excess (sort of how many monks have lived for centuries). And when the time comes to die say: I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care. My hunch is that more people than we might think are Epicureans and with good reason.

    Given the “problem of evil,” the rigors of natural selection, and the endless evolution of the universe, existence is as it is and as humans we learn to cope with existence as we find it, not as we would like it to be. A secular, naturalistic and artistic approach is the most reasonable orientation to these conditions of existence. What we find is that we are part and parcel of this one and only world; we find it beneficial to seek relationships of many and diverse types from the microcosmic (e.g., marriage, friendship) to the macrocosmic (e.g., national governments, European Union); we find it beneficial to create artifacts that are expressions of our desire to touch something better than what we are now. This is the role of natural selection. Natural selection is endlessly creative in its adaptive demands and maybe as humans we can contribute some memes to this process to improve the quality of our existence. Nonetheless, we are existence and regardless of its status changes we continue to be existence. RELIGION and MYSTICISM are ruins from an ancient past; know their history but be aware of their knocking on the backdoor for entrance to the present. Let’s write a new poetry… let’s be artists and keep demonstrating how art has made and will continue to make the world we live in.

    Gratitude to you as always for this ongoing project and being able to make a few comments.

    • tonyequale says:


      I am very reluctant to say that you don’t understand. So I won’t. But I do have to say you do not SEEM to understand. Starting there I can still hide behind the shreds of doubt that still remain and leave open the possibility that it is really my misunderstanding and not yours that is functioning here. If I forget to use the word “seem” with regard to your lack of comprehension in any of the following remarks, please assume it.

      You do not seem to realize that I really mean it when I say that there is no “God.” “God” is not a datum, nor an item nor an entity, much less a “person.” In the system that I am proposing, you do not start with “God” and then find “better” images for “God;” you start with WHAT IS, and you then realize that the sense of the sacred which has been spontaneously generated in us via our conatus by WHAT IS, has traditionally been clothed in the imagery surrounding a personal, benevolent “God” as found in the “book.” But “God” does not exist. There is no metaphysical “God” and there is no “metaphoric God.” There is no “God” at all. “God” and everything associated with “God” is a symbol, a work of human imagination, a fable, designed to make rational sense out of what is fundamentally a non-rational biologically determined phenomenon — human life and our individual mortal destinies as they are unfolded by Life-as-it-is. The traditional notion of “God” includes the “belief” that “he” is personal, benevolent etc. But since we do not start (or end) with “God” in any form, not even as “existence,” we do not have to “explain” much less justify suffering and death (what you insist on calling “evil”). The raw primary datum IS the universe AS IT IS which includes the cycles of struggling life with its strategy of death-thwarting reproduction as we have inherited it from universal evolution. LIFE — as we know it … AS IT IS … as it has evolved — is what is. There is nothing else. We are grateful to life-as-it-is (LAII) because THAT is what we are; it’s what made being ourselves and being here with one another possible. We are LAII. And while LAII favors species, it doesn’t seem to bend over backwards for any individual … and we are all individuals, or at least we have convinced ourselves we are.

      Now no one says anybody has to be happy and grateful about being alive and being themselves and being with the people they love. Most people are. I am. So what. What I am saying is that the existence of suffering does not undermine this gratitude and OBLIGATE anyone to bitterness, disappointment and anger. THERE IS NO INJUSTICE BEING PERPETRATED here. If LAII were actually the work of a rational being, like a “God,” we would have every right to be super-pissed at the existence of suffering and death. But there is no rational being behind it, even with the name “existence.” I marshall all the speculative resources I can in order to show that the choice to be grateful and to embrace one’s life is REASONABLE … not absolutely required but so reasonable that it is much better and much more rational to do it than not to do it. I am also trying to show how the poetic metaphors that the untold generations of human beings who lived suffered and died before us, which they developed to help sustain peace of mind and respond affirmatively to the gratitude for life that wells up spontaneously in human hearts, can still function (as metaphor) without contradicting rationality. But at absolutely no point did I ever try to prove that the existential energy of matter should be taken like the traditional “God,” “benevolent” toward us as individuals in our sense of the word, or that the “love” that produces the koinonía without which we cannot live is applicable to a “God” as a rational benevolence as we understand the terms.

      You ask me “why do we have to embrace pain?”… as if I were justifying pain or making a claim that there is something “good for us” about pain. Where did you get that from? You seem to be losing your bearings here. I hate pain like everyone else. I have to embrace unavoidable pain because by definition I cannot avoid it; it is LAII … when it is not unavoidable pain, like every other sane indvidual, I avoid it … But because I hate pain, does that mean I hate life? If I love life I have to embrace pain. That’s LAII.

      LIFE is love because that’s the way it is. Love is LAII. People who don’t love or can’t love (or have never been loved) for one reason or another don’t do very well, and they don’t do well by others either. LIFE is love because that’s just the way it is, and we all know it. Do I need to PROVE that life is love … or survival … or painful … or desireable? Open your eyes. Start with the facts, LAII, and then ask yourself how you can live with them. That’s the problem. You can always justify dying … after all that’s where it all ends up anyway. The problem is living humanly in the face of death, and understanding that that’s LAII. It is in LAII that I live and move and have my being. LAII corresponds to my sense of the sacred, and I choose to call it “God” and apply to it all the affective symbols of my cultural inheritance — metaphorically — because I love being alive, being myself and being with my people hence I love LAII with a passion … I revel in it … I extol it … I worship it!

      Whether you personally feel you need to or want to understand the human condition in such a way as to allow for a “continuity of significance” of our religious symbols is of absolutely no concern to me. The thing that nettles me is your implied insistence that there is something inauthentic, and even irrational in my working at such an endeavor. If the absolute derogation of all our past symbolism is the necessary condition for you to live a human life … by all means dump it, but don’t insist that we all must … or that there is no way it could be done.

      I am increasingly impatient with what seems to be on your part an obtuse lack of understanding of my position employed in the service of demolishing any attempt to utilize the symbols of the past in a new understanding of the sacred. And for a self-proclaimed esthete such as yourself to say something like mysticism is “ruins from an ancient past” is astonishing. It runs counter to ewhat even atheist poets say about the place of mysticism in their life and work. At the very least it seems that you either did not read what I said about mysticism, or disregarded the very clear distinctions I made, in your rush to dismiss any shadow of “religion” from rational consid-eration.

      You seem to have a need to refute my efforts before you can personally feel free enough to pursue what you call your “meaningless existence” with peace of mind. Do not misunderstand. I am not trying to convince you that you should use religious symbols as the poetry that repre-sents our human connection with one another and with the universe; but please do not tell me that I either have not or cannot ground such a vision … or that a GROUNDED KOINONIA of some kind is not the central issue for a society that would be truly human. That’s the mysticism I’m talking about. You may use other philosophy to ground it and other poetry to evoke the affect that corresponds to it, but you’ve got the same problem to solve, to ground koinonia … that is, if you’re serious.

      You mentioned Epicurus. Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura has been the subject of increased interest these days. I have always personally found him to be inspiring and a source of the peace of mind that our traditional two-world religions, with their guilt, fear of hell, hatred of the flesh and hunger for miracles, robbed from us. A serious reading of Lucretius as a first step might help restore the equanimity that is our right as human beings. I would recommend it. Maybe we can postpone our discussion until afterward.

  2. rjjwillis says:

    I am well aware that my comments come from a different place than discussions based on rational deductive thinking and scientific research. As such, they certainly could seem not to be ad rem. However, my philosophical orientation could be most characterized as Christian Existentialism as espoused by Kierkagaard through the likes of Buber, Marcel, and Merleau-Ponti. I am forever seeking to find in my own experience and in that of others what I know to be truth, such that no one can take it away by all their worlds of argumentation. As a psychologist, I have also been in the depths of human experience, both the darkness and light. So when you speak i am also weighing it against what I know from those places.

    If I should find areas of disagreement in what you say, abstractly or philosophically or scientifically, I would say so, and also say why I disagree. Since, however, that rarely happens I see no reason simply to repeat what you say, nor do I find it worth much simply piling on a bandwagon to share in your elucidations. If you said it well, I see no need to be part of a chorus.

    This being said, I will dare to share, from my perspective, where I especially found your words about mysticism true in my experience.

    You warn against a mysticism of dualism. In it, mysticism would be an experience of getting away from here to there, to get to another by losing oneself. I have a strong experience that points me to the truth of your position.

    My mother died in 1960; I was twenty-five at the time. I was quite close to her, much more so than to any other of our family. With her death, a deep hole, ringed in red, sensitive flesh, appeared inside me where she used to be.

    Years later, in a moment of prayer, she “appeared” to me. She was smiling. She stood at the leading point of a large family of ancestors, a fraternity stretching back and back, as far as I could see. She said, simply, “See, you are not alone.”

    I first interpreted this vision as meaning, in a form of dualistic mysticism, that she and all my ancestors were in heaven waiting for me, that all I had to do was to hang on till I died and rejoined them.

    Some time later I experienced in meditation a kind of evolutionary growth–from a single-celled life through evolving stages right up to my human existence. Suddenly, I realized that my earlier vision of my mother was not about getting to heaven; it was rather realizing that she, and all my ancestors, human and pre-human, were here with me. I truly was not alone. Finally, I could see!

    I balance this experience with a more troubling one. I entered the Jesuits as a youth, at age eighteen. Although we were encuturated into “the Jesuit family,” I never experienced it as such. In your terminology, I experienced more being a member of an organization, one who was accepted to the extent that I lived by its rules. I was a Jesuit for nineteen years. At its best, I lived in a more or less benevolent aggregate (like in an amalgam); at its worst, I lived in a class society, shaped by commands and rules and laws. How did I account for this? I came more and more to recognize that community here could never happen if the goal was to finally get a community in heaven hereafter. We could preach community and love till we were blue in the face, but it would never happen.

    The only place I ever found what I would call community, what was formed in love, was with individual Jesuits, true companions, who related to me as me and not as to a member of the Jesuit organization..We overcame the dualistic distance by simply being brothers to each others, man to man, without much thought about heaven hereafter.

    I think you rightly point to individualism as the experiential enemy of community. Let me share one last experience that demonstrates that to me.

    In prayer I often find myself traveling within to a quiet place at the core of me. There I experience both intense quiet and intense life. This for me is an experience of T.S. Eliot’s, “still point of the turning world where the dance is.” Inevitably, at some moment I feel taken up in a surge of Life that is immensely greater than myself. When that happens I experience myself being propelled outward, filled with love, toward the world. As in the most profound moments of love, I lose all sense of myself as other or of the world as other. All that remains is an intensity of liiving. In more philosphical terms, I would say that the relator (me) and the related (the world) disappear, that only the relating (the living connection) remains. This, for me, is my experience of your “material mysticism.” It is the exact opposite of dualism.

    • tonyequale says:


      It has often occurred to me that personal testimony is the most authentic — and engaging — way to deal with these matters. It was the way of the mystics themselves. I have been loathe to move in that direction, partly because, in general, I am not enthusiastic about revealing myself, but more specifically it would seem to imply the achievement of a level of personal integration which I cannot claim.

      But I have reassesed the validity of my second reason: I really do believe that all of us, no matter what the level of emotional development, have equal if not ready access to the experience in question. And the reason for that is we are talking about something that is both privileged in the most personal way imaginable to each human individual, and the most common and universal quality of all things, living and non-living — existence.

      What I am talking about is the experience of being-here now. Buddhists refer to it reverentially as the present moment. For all its absolute and undiluted concreteness, it seems to elude science’s penetrating glance, because it has never become the object of direct observation as such, ever. Science can conceive of time, duration, and the effects of events from the past and into the future, but it cannot conceptualize the notion of “now” and examine it in itself. Perhaps it’s because there is nothing to compare it to. All moments are present moments when they occur; and even as recollected, as past events they retain only that concreteness that they possessed when they were present. But we human beings have no trouble conceptualizing “the present moment” as opposed to other “moments” because we can readily remember the experience of attending to being-here now. It is open to memory and therefore to being generalized as an abstraction. And, just like being aware of our breathing itself, we can attend to it directly any time we want. That is why breathing is used to conjure it.

      I am going to propose that the experience of the present moment, which by my definition is the experience of my emerging existence itself, in all its utterly quiet simplicity as a raw undetermined event … and in the absence of all implications whether it be concerning provenance, causality, identity, destiny or any other interpretation of its significance, is to be in direct touch with the existential energy of matter, the source and matrix in which we live and move and have our being.

      The experience is not complex, or ethereal … it is not in se “religious,” … it is not originally “affective” or relational in any way. It is the simple experience of being-here now. This is the experience, I claim, that lies at ground zero — the foundation stone of everything we elaborate derivatively from there, our personal, relational, political, and artistic evolution which include religion — all of human culture.

      The Buddhists have developed meditative exercizes like zazen which are designed to cultivate this otherwise fleeting and rarely encountered experience. Their goal is to make living in the present moment a pervasive and common occurrence. Frequent hour-long meditations attempting to “attend to the present moment” inculcate what we used to call a habit … a habitus or frame of mind that readily re-enters this otherwise rare experience. An “ease of action,” it is hoped, will come to dominate attitudes to such a degree that the individual almost automatically assumes such a posture regardless of what activity s/he is engaged in, and lives always in the present moment and always with the same simplicity and absence of judgment.

      I am one of those who choose to bring their religious metaphors into interpretive alignment with these practices.


  3. Sal Umana says:

    Tony and Bob Willis, I cannot wait any longer to tell you how much I have enjoyed the Dec. 21 “Life” entry, and Bob’s reply to it, and Tony’s reply to Bob. There is no way I can match the superb, professional quality of your comments. All I can do is thank “Existence” for being here now and experiencing both of you. Last week, my wife and I watched a Netflix DVD called “Ram Dass: A Fierce Grace”, by the author of “Be Here Now”. Ram Dass illustrates in his own paralyzed body the eternal NOW presence of Being Here Now.
    Sal Umana

  4. Joe Weber says:

    Hi Tony,

    I am a newcomer to your blog and am very delighted that I found it through Mike Rivage-Seul’s blog. Both you and Mike resonate with my own thinking. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

    Just finished reading LIFE your December article. I am in awe of your knowledge and faith, drawing us forward to new insights. You offer perspectives that I have not yet come across in such vivid detail to absorb and reflect upon.

    I hope to take what you write and share it with others, to open our minds to LIFE.

    Thank you,

    Joe Weber

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s