“God” is the energy of LIFE (II)

This is a follow-up on the April 23rd  post called “ ‘God’ is the energy of LIFE.”  I believe aspects of that post can be relevant to the difficulties that some people have with the rational option to see the universe as “benevolent.”  The term “matter’s energy,” after all, is not very poetic.  But it is the source of the existence of the conatus, which is the wellspring of our sense of the sacred.  “Material energy” is a prosaic label for what drives our spectacular universe as well as our own sense of awe.  It deserves to be recast by our religious poets in terms more evocative of its indestructability, its vast and lavish abundance, its selfless availability, its inexhaustible vitality and its evolutionary creativity that has always been self-transcending; material energy displays divine characteristics.

The April 23 post contends that in the first century of the common era, Philo’s “God” was still an immanent nature-“God” and had not yet been essentially changed by the addition of the Platonic characterization as “Spirit” in a universe divided into spirit-matter.  Later, “Pure Spirit” came to dominate the scene so completely that it created a new paradigm which replaced Philo’s “God” with a Platonic “God” that provided a philosophical explanation for Genesis’ transcendent “Creator.” Plato’s absolute transcendence of “spirit” over “matter” set up granite divisions in a cosmos that up until then had been physically / metaphysically continuous with the “nature-God:” “God” was integral with nature as its logos or guiding energy.

This immanentist tradition continued on in the East, but in the West it became a “minority report” — sometimes tolerated by the hierarchy, sometimes not.  Ninth century Eriúgena’s Periphyseon divided “nature” (physis) between “nature that creates and is not created” and “nature that is created and does not create.” In the fouteenth century Meister Eckhart found Aquinas’ esse itself at the existential core of the human person.  Nicolas of Cusa in the fifteenth century said “God” was “non aliud,” not other (than nature).   Similarly seventeenth century Baruch Spinoza used the terms natura naturans for “God” and natura naturata for creation.  In all cases “God” was part of nature — the originating, guiding, enlivening part.

At the time of John’s letter, one of the effects of assimilating Jesus’ life and message to “God” was to specify exactly what Philo’s nature-“God” was like.  As the amalgam of the pantheon, “God” would naturally have been expected to enliven the dark and cruel aspects of nature (once represented by Hades, Ares, etc.) as well as the creative and benevolent.  John clarified that once and for all: Jesus’ life showed us that “God” was light, and there was no darkness in him.  It would be hardly necessary to say that, unless there were some ambigüity.  No such confusion would have attended Plato’s “One.”

Jesus’ life made things clear.  Nature’s immanent “God” was benevolent; and Jesus’ moral goodness — Paul identified it as a self-emptying  generosity — was the mirror-image of the creative LIFE-force itself.  While we usually read John as using “God” to help us understand what Jesus was, I contend that John’s point was that Jesus life helps us understand what “God” is.  His approach is “inductive.” John learns from his direct, personal experience of the man Jesus, what “God” is like.

Fast forward to today: the discreditation of traditional religious sources leaves religion as we knew it scientifically high and dry.  This is the heart of the problem for “religion” in a material universe.  We are forced to find our reasons for the “benevolence option” not in some authoritarian other-worldly source, like scripture or the magisterium which have been discredited as sources of knowledge about the cosmos, but from what we know of our material reality using the tools we now trust.  And I claim that following the example of the the dynamic inductive perspective on “God” assumed by John, there is nothing to prevent an analogous correlation of our human moral and relational energy to the energy of the matter of which we are made.  Reading John’s letter in this way means John stops being an “authority” with infused know­ledge from another world which he “reveals” to us in “scripture,” and instead becomes one of us — a earth-bound seeker who has “seen, heard and touched” what he was convinced mirrored the heart of nature itself, and is passionate to share his discovery.

John’s theological method is inductive not deductive, and it works on the assumption of immanence.  He starts with what he experienced.  Jesus’ personal kenosis reveals “God” not because Jesus was a “God entity” and spoke to us of “truths” from another world but because all human moral and relational energy is an expression of the LIFE-force and Jesus’ life was so extraordinary that it had to be the mirror-image of the LIFE-force itself.  It’s a conclusion evoked by what he saw and heard … but like all the conclusions of inductive reasoning it remains hypothetical until the successes of experimental practice move it toward certitude.  But John insists that he has confirned it and it is certain: “By this we may be sure we are in him … that we walk the way he walked.” (2:5)  Notice it’s the walking that conjures the presence of the LIFE-force and provides certainty.  “You can be sure that everyone who does right is born of ‘God’.” (2:29)  “No one born of God commits sin because God’s nature abides in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” (3:9)  These extraordinary statements confirm both John’s method and his worldview.  “Doing right” makes the divine energy present and visible … and confirms the authenticity of Jesus’ witness.

Analogously, in our times, our spontaneous, unsolicited recognition of the authenticity of human justice, generosity and compassion allows us to project that it is reflective of the material energy of which our organisms are made, for our organisms are nothing else.  Like John, we start with what we experience: our instincts for right behavior

There is nothing new about starting there.  Daniel C. Maguire bases his Ethics on a sense of justice — right and wrong — and makes no (explicit) appeal to any deeper justification.  He’s able to begin his ethics there because no one argues with him about it.  Noam Chomsky calls for international justice on no other grounds than people’s sense of fairness and right and wrong.  Even though he has acknowledged — and it may be fairly said to be the leitmotiv of his contribution as a linguist — his belief that all human behavior is an expression of innate organic structures, he clearly feels he does not need to have recourse to such structures (or even claim that they exist) when it comes to justice.  Apparently, his many readers agree.  David Brooks recently wrote a book appealing for a return to what he calls personal virtues (the virtues of moral character) as opposed to marketable virtues (the virtues for knowing and making and selling) without any further justification, because everyone knows what he’s talking about and no one disagrees with him.  This is what was meant by syndéresis: our human instincts for right and wrong … and it is where we start.  You have to start there … everyone starts there … and I claim it is where John started.

The point of departure is our humanity.  It’s all we really know.  We resonate with benevolence, and, as Sartre noted, the thought that the material universe (which includes us) is a meaningless mechanism makes us nauseous (and then, bitter and angry).  Why is that?  Some claim this is our inveterate Judaeo-Christianity speaking.  But in my estimation, our spontaneous predilection for benevolence cannot be explained as the result of a mere few thousand years of brain-washing.  A survey of world religions shows the same choice virtually everywhere and from the dawn of history.  It is more ancient in time and more universal geographically than Christianity.  It speaks to the existence of the innate “sense of the sacred” and the syndéresis (instinct for justice and truth) that is its corollary which I contend are reactions to our organic conatus’ instinct for self-preservation.  Then, unless you want to claim some hard wall of division between humankind and the rest of the natural world (including the component elements of our own organisms), there is every reason to concede that “benevolence” in the human idiom translates the superabundant life that we see teeming everywhere driven to survive by the lust for life … the insistence on existence … characteristic of organic matter in whatever form it has evolved.

Rationally speaking it’s not the same as in earlier times when benevolence was a logical “deduction” from infallible premises — the irrefutable conclusion of theological “science.”  But I believe it is sufficient to support the practical choices we have to make; for our own need to survive drives us toward justice and compassion … for ouselves and for our natural world.  This may be called the “argument from practical necessity.”  It’s ironic but true: we need to cherish and esteem other life forms and the earth that spawned us all if we want to survive.

But really … am I the only one who sees that the deck is stacked?  What other choice do we have? … say “bullshit” and die?  Kill anyone who is different from us?  Destroy our planet for our short-term enjoyment?  If we want to survive we have to cherish ouselves and our world.  We’re stuck.  But the criteria by which we evaluate and choose belong to us, not to “scripture.”  Some of the legacy of John, however, like the divine immanence he believed enlivened the natural world (and Jesus’ personal energies), in my opinion, is remarkably consonant with what modern science has observed about the evolution of the cosmos driven by matter’s energy to exist.

But I want to emphasize: this does not suddenly ground and justify the supernatural illusions proposed by authoritarian Christianity.  It rather evokes an entirely different religion, one  that is more like the kind that John was trying to construct at the beginning of the second century: a religion whose data all come from this world — the human sense of the sacred and its moral requirements — not from some other world.

This way of looking at things has certain other corollaries:

(1) no one is ever constrained to see life as benevolent … not even the most fortunate.  There is enough random destructiveness out there to support those who choose to accept the Steven Weinberg hypothesis: the universe is pointless.  But by exactly the same token, there is also more than enough to support the hypothesis of a creative power and self-emptying generosity so immense that, regardless of ideology, and eschewing absurd claims to providential micro-manage­ment, no one with a modicum of poetic sensitivity is inclined to reprove those who call it “divine.”

(2) the perception of benevolence is always, therefore, an intentional appropriation … a choice … without which even a religiously formed individual’s sense of benevolence will atrophy and disappear.  But a choice requires some a priori recognition … even if only in the form of desire.  There has to be some internal basis in the human organism.  The “command” to cherish and esteem does not come from another world; it arises from the matter of our bodies.  Our material organisms need to love, not only to reproduce, but to survive.

(3) those who cannot connect emotionally to “benevolence” for lack of parental inculcation (or, as with Weinberg, because of experiences like the Holocaust) may still connect indirectly through the mediation of others.  This is one of the roles of the religious “fellowship” (and other “therapeutic communities”).  Once the koinonía  is functioning it provides the “matter” for resonance: a loving community.  (“Look at these Christians [fellow addicts, fellow mourners, fellow workers, fellow activists, friends and family], how they love one another!”).  Then the “Weinbergs” of this world might find themselves drawn to what their formation (or experience) had failed to provide.

If you are a theologically traditional western Christian, at some point you still have to admit there is a bedrock place in the human organism that allows it to appropriate “benevolence” based on its own connatural recognition and need.  Will you reject even this as “semi-Pelagian”?  If you do, as many of the sixteenth century reformers did, you will have to fall back on the absurd predesti­narian position that the entire “salvation” business is a matter of divine permissions and miraculous interventions … from sin through conversion to perseverance … foreseen and managed by “God” for a display of his glory … all of which further depends on a discredited supernatural theism based on allegedly infallible “sources of revelation.”  Ultra-absurd! … and no one is buying it anymore.

(4) I am also realist enough to recognize that none of this will fly institutionally, because the institution continues to chug along on that same authoritarian track it inherited from Constantine and Augustine.  The reform I’m speaking of is not a mere “revision” of Catholicism, like the one that occurred in the sixteenth sentury.  So if by “reform” you mean something that will work “politically” you’ll have to kick the can down the road like they did at the Reformation … and maybe for as many centuries more.

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8 comments on ““God” is the energy of LIFE (II)

  1. saluman73 says:

    Reblogged this on saluman73 and commented:
    This is the second part of my comment on “God as the energy of LIFE”. Today, May 3, Tony has incorporated many of these points into “God as the energy of LIFE (II).
    I feel that nobody in our generation has developed such a seemless synthesis of science, philosophy, and theology as Tony Equale. It behooves us to take advantage of Tony’s genius by commenting on him and gently moving him to go further and deeper into his extraordinary insights.
    As I read for the fourth and fifth times, I realize that Tony has to be studied like a Scriptural text. For example, ” It was Philo’s triple syncretism- a Biblical ‘Yaweh’, and the ‘One’ of Plato grated onto ‘ho theos’ as the life-force of the universe- that his fellow disapora Jews like Paul and John embraced on their own. The fundamental and guiding imagery of the life-force was never lost. For Philo and his fellow Jews, ‘God’ was always the ‘energy’ that created, sustained, and enlivened the natural world.”
    Where, in all of human writing is there such a synthesis of Greek philosophy, Hebrew Scripture, and early Christian theology and mysticism?
    Did the great library of Alexandria contain any such synthesis as Tony’s? That library was burnt to the ground by the first Christian fundamentalists who were determined that they had ‘the last deposit of faith’ in their self-declared canon of scriptures, and ‘Apostolic tradition.’
    Tony goes on to say: ” When John and Paul talked about Jesus’ cosmological significance as ‘divine’ it was his embodiment of the LIFE-force that they had in mind. They took Jesus’ human behavior, relational charism, and spiritual attitudes and explained them in terms of that divinity. They said Jesus made ‘God’ visible because his words, deeds, death and ‘resurrection’ were the mirror image, the human expression of that LIFE-force.Jesus, they said was ‘God’, but it was Philo’s ‘God’ they meant. That’s why they used the names that they did: LIFE, Logos, source, beginning.They were all Philo’s. Later generations with an essentialist worldview converted their dynamic mysticism into a static metaphysics.”
    Only Tony Equale has the depth and breadth of Scripture and philosophy to so clearly define how Jesus the Christ was perceived by his first followers. John and Paul were not essentialists like the Athanasians at Nicea. John and Paul could never say Jesus was ‘true God’ and ‘true man’, forget about ‘one substance with the Father.”For John and Paul, humanity was definitely not ‘divine’ but Jesus’ human life: how he lived it, what he said, the way he said it, how he defended his message and accepted death, that is what revealed the ‘God’ that no one knew.That is why Jesus is immortal, for as the Greeks taught, only ‘God’ was immortal.
    Tony helps us see this ‘new’ Jesus as a wonderful Jewish peasant with an attitude (as Dominic Crossan calls Jesus)and he ‘became’ divine by acting in a divine way. He is not the Jesus of faith, Son of the Father, as most Christians have believed, but a Jesus of history, and philosophy, and science.
    Tony Equale has proved this for us.

  2. theotheri says:

    Tony – These last two posts have left me with many thoughts. But the scientist in me keeps asking if by “matter’s energy” you are talking about the same thing Einstein was describing in his revolutionary equation E=mc2. If so, that leads me down one path. But if you are speaking metaphorically, then I find myself on a rather different map with a whole different set of follow-up questions.

    However, I fear that this might be one of the questions which could tempt you to raise your eyes to the heavens and ask how you can possibly begin to explain to me what you mean. If so, please feel free to tell me so. I know perfectly well that my theological and philosophical knowledge is at the freshman level.

    • tonyequale says:

      Terry,

      Thanks.

      I mean exactly what Einstein meant when he described it mathematically as e=mc2 … along with all of its derivatives, explicit and implicit, currently known and unknown, “dark” and visible, solid and fluctuating, linear and rotational, weak, strong, electromagnetic, gravitational, atomic and chemical, biological and psychological, attractive, repulsive, reproductive and entropic, kinetic, frenetic and pathetic. Please don’t take that list as taxative. It’s meant to signify ganz alles: everything of every kind.

      But there is one category of energy that science takes for granted (because it cannot get outside of it to observe and measure it “objectively”), and that is existential energy. The fact that matter’s energy is an energy to be and to continue to be oneself is internally perceived by the human being as the energy of its own material organism. It is a conatural energy that is immediately experienced as alive and future orientated … i.e., it is determined to stay alive through successive future moments even if my psychic command center issues order to die. It is validly extrapolated to all life forms that can be observed as exhibiting similar signs of material life: the urge to feed itself, defend itself, reproduce itself and care for its young. So material energy includes an energy to continue to be alive whose empirical details are not accessible to any of the instruments or measurements that science has developed to date. Matter’s energy is meant to include all of the above.

      Tony

      • theotheri says:

        Thank you for such a clear and unambiguous answer, Tony. In that context, if you have the patience for it, here is my follow-up question.

        I find the implications of E=MC2 leave me almost speechless, they are so profound. I can be moved by thinking about it in a way that my years spent in attempted meditation of the bible or Thomas Kempis failed to achieve.

        What I do not understand, however, is what seems to me to be a selective emphasis on what you have described as \”existential energy.\” I agree that this drive to *be*, this drive for expression, ultimately for survival, is of great significance, and perhaps under-appreciated as a critical driving force in the universe. But what of the other aspects of energy? what about black holes? what about the hugely destructive aspects of energy\’s drive to create? etc.

        Critically, in relation to your last two posts, I don\’t see a unique link between energy, even existential energy,\” and the face of God, or even the Christian message – which I think we would agree is one of love for our fellow man, yes? I mean, it seems to be there is just as obvious a link between existential energy and Hitler — or any other little or big baddie we might name, of which, of course, there is unfortunately a seemingly limitless supply.

        To identify energy with the face of God it seems to me one must posit some characteristics about which scientists at this point are far from agreed. Does existential energy have a vector, for instance, in what survives? is evolution directional? is the direction of the process of the universe (or universes) directional suggesting some purpose or is it circular directionless suggesting a potentially eternal round-about?

        Again, thank you for addressing my original question. This follow-up comes with the same recognition that my background in philosophy and theology may make it an impossible task to address my ignorance in a single comment. I will understand if you decide it\’s not worth trying!

        Terry

  3. tonyequale says:

    Terry,

    Thanks for your observations. This is a limited response. The directionality of evolution is another question altogether.

    As I said in the first post and in the “corollaries” at the end of this last post, “benevolence” is a choice. There is enough random destructiveness in the universe to support the Weinberg hypothesis. Benevolence is not an irrational choice, even though it is not compelled. To say that no one is compelled renders the perception “non-scientific.” If it were scientific it would be something I could not deny without being irrational. But I can deny it, and those that do are not irrational. Atheists are neither crazy, nor stupid nor evil.

    So what is this “choice” and what is it that makes such a choice reasonable? Don’t forget, I did not say “obligatory.” This takes “religion” once and for all out of the realm of “objective knowledge.” The choice rests on the same ground as all choices of trust: relationship.

    Matter’s energy is a living vital substrate that is as validly embodied, and its properties accurately displayed, in the thinking feeling human organism as in any other “thing” in the universe. When I encounter and interact with another human being, I am not in touch with anything other than matter’s energy. When I sit quietly and allow myself to experience my own organic existence emerging from moment to future moment out of a sequence of past “epiphanies,” I am not experiencing anything other than matter’s energy. It is completely misleading to identify matter’s energy exclusively with its embodiment in forms that are characterized solely by their physical or chemical properties. My brain is also only matter, and look at what it can do … there is no “spirit” there, so what my brain does is what “matter” can do. If my brain becomes diseased, I cease to think as I do now, and I may even cease being “me.”

    It is not like some “God” person took dead inert matter and infused a soul and made a thinking human being out of a mindless mechanism. The thinking human was forged by matter itself over eons of deep time utilizing its own material resources in interaction with its environment and nothing else. At some point I have to come to the realization that with matter’s energy I am in the presence of that which makes me to be me. It is me. I am THAT. I am dealing with myself. What am I? How do I relate to this “stuff” which is me … and you … and everyone including Jesus and Hitler?

    The key word is “relate.” Therein lies the choice. I choose the way I am going to relate to another human being: should I be civil but guarded? … warm and open? … only for the duration of a business transaction or with various options for commitment? … etc., etc. I am not coerced into dealing with all human beings in exactly the same way just because they are human. I choose to relate to different people differently depending in large measure on what I perceive as their bearing towards me.

    Analogously with matter’s energy … I am in the presence of what has given me myself … not only that I am here, but also what I am: a human being. How do I choose to relate to that which makes me to be and to be me? … and everything else to be whatever it is.

    It’s your choice. In my case I choose a worshipful gratitude which the metaphors of my ancient tradition encourage me to do. They tell me to live with a sense of the sacredness of LIFE, and I find that when I am able to do that, it makes me happy and I make the people around me happy … confirming the wisdom of the counsels.

    That’s my choice and my experience.

    • theotheri says:

      Tony – Thank you for your extremely helpful amplification. Interestingly, I reached a similar, if less clearly applied conclusion, some years ago by a rather different route. The way I put it at the time was that I had only one act of faith left – that existence is good. It is a mystery, beyond full understanding of even the most brilliant of human intellects. It seems to me to be also a process which quite possibly is eternally incomplete. But I choose to trust it.

      Why? Like you, I would say because despite all the apparent suffering and pain and even what may seem inexplicably “evil,” I experience a deep altruism, a deep generosity in being, most especially in all of life. How much of that experience is due to my unearned supply of what psychologists call “happy chemicals,”, how much due to the immense good fortune I have been given by those who have loved me so unreservedly, I cannot know.

      It is, as you say, beyond proof. And yet it is a choice which it seems to me all of us make – either consciously or unconsciously.

      Again, thank you. Terry

  4. Ian Fraser says:

    Tony,

    The picture of human life, which you present in Part II of “God” is the energy of LIFE, is far preferable to the traditional Christian picture of humankind born evil, in need of redemption. But it suggests that those who perpetrate great evil on other humans, on other life-forms, or on the earth itself, are acting outside of human nature.

    ‘no one is ever constrained to see life as benevolent … not even the most fortunate. There is enough random destructiveness out there to support those who choose to accept the Steven Weinberg hypothesis: the universe is pointless.’

    …or to believe that evil is as much a part of the human psyche as is benevolence. We now have the depravity of Da’esh / ISIS – killing, torturing, raping in Syria, Iraq and parts of North Africa; not so long ago it was wholesale killing in Rwanda, before that, Pol Pot’s killing fields in Cambodia and Mao Tse Tung’s bloody mobilisation for collectivism. Our parents’ generation had Stalin and Hitler each with firm belief in the righteousness of their slaughtering regimes. In earlier times, the Hundred Years War, the Inquisition, the Crusades – all involving torture and killing in the name of Jesus, whose life John presented as ‘so extraordinary that it had to be the mirror-image of the LIFE-force itself.’

    Yes,

    ‘the perception of benevolence is always, therefore, an intentional appropriation … a choice … But a choice requires some a priori recognition … even if only in the form of desire. …’

    I do desire to perceive benevolence as inherent in the human psyche or spirit, but I also perceive a level of malevolence which must be constrained to prevent it from over-powering the benevolence.

    The evil demonstrated in outstanding periods of malevolence throughout human history far exceeds what could be considered as ‘random destructiveness’ or some kind of anomaly in the otherwise benevolent story of human existence.

    • tonyequale says:

      Ian,

      Religion lies in the realm of relationship: trust and choice, not in the realm of science: logical compulsion and necessary compliance. Your love for your most significant “other” is neither forced nor fabricated. By which I mean there is nothing to either compel me to love that person as you do, or to compel you to stop.

      But does it mean that because choice is free that it is irrational? … or that to choose other than the way you do is not reasonable for a human being? We are capable of living like Jesus or like Hitler. Does that fact compel me to do either … or both? … or that the substrate of which I am constructed is not reasonably perceived as an unconditional gift?

      Tony

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