Sunday, November 2, 2014

Raiders of the Lost God

I'm reading a book called The Death of the Mythic God: The Rise of Evolutionary Spirituality by Jim Marion.

Let's pause for a moment (humor me) and consider the use of "Jim" instead of "James" by the author.  Such things prey upon my mind.  Is the use of "Jim" an effort at self-effacement, or perhaps intended to to give the impression that the author, though we don't know him, is our buddy, our pal?  A swell guy?  I grow suspicious when encountering these diminutives in a name.  I think of Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, and other narcissists who have indulged in this ploy.  If one is going to do such a thing and scorn the formality of "James" why not go all the way?  "Jimbo Marion"; why not?  "Slim Jim Marion", or "Sweet Jimmy Marion"?  But to the book.

The author describes what he considers to be the death, or pending death, of God considered as the source of absolute commandments, proscribing all conduct and thought, accepting (sometimes) petition and prayers, intervening in creation, speaking through ancient books and prophets.  In other words, the death of the God of the Abrahamic religions if not others.  The knowledge of this death inevitably works on most of us, through the Kubler-Ross stages of denial, anger, etc. (I don't think the author explains why these stages apply or are appropriate).  Some of us linger in our worship of this Sky-God, some of us (those who are mystics, it seems) do not.  The Sky-God, or rather our worship of Him, has had various negative results.

This Mythic God was preceded by other, even more primitive, gods as we humans grew in sophistication and knowledge.  The Mythic God has been, for all practical purposes, interred by the growth of the rational view, exemplified it would seem by science, which to borrow Laplace's supposed remark to Napoleon rendered Him an unnecessary hypothesis.

This rational view has triumphed, but in its turn has wrecked havoc on the world, for the most part through the acceptance of a thoroughly materialistic conception of the universe which has caused us to rape the environment and each other when deemed appropriate.  Now is the time to evolve to a yet higher level of spirituality.

These levels of spirituality, or consciousness, have been categorized for reference by colors by some psychologists, and Marion makes use of these categories.  It seems the highest level is turquoise, which is indeed a nice enough color. 

The God of this higher level seems to be an immanent one, but I'm not entirely certain of this.  Marion's God may be both immanent and transcendent.  Marion (or should I say "Jim"?) is unclear in this, and in much else regarding this presumably real God.  He seems in some fashion to associate him with Jesus, who he says rejected the Mythic God, but whether Jesus is God is not directly stated.  He speaks of Jesus as discovering divinity in himself, but also indicates that we may, and should, do the same by "looking within" or seeking God in ourselves.  Perhaps we're all God, or God is everything, human beings included.  Perhaps Jesus is God in a sense, or a path to God, as are other great religious figures such as Buddha.  Marion's God seems to be one that has been realized and accepted by Christian and non-Christian mystics.

Marion evidently rejects materialism, and in addressing its limitations refers, as it seems many do, to physics or more particularly quantum mechanics.  This is something of a red flag, though, as physicists generally (not just Alan Sokal) have written despairingly of the misuse and misunderstanding of the theories of physics by those unfamiliar with them, and the efforts made to assert that they establish the existence of God, or an afterlife, or some inexplicable relation between everything in the universe and portals to other universes or dimensions.  If materialism is rejected it seems we may have problems with immanence.

Perhaps Marion's interpretation of physics is correct; perhaps it is not.  As I incline towards a Stoic point of view, I have a sympathy for the proposition that God is immanent in all things, and that we therefore partake in God.  However, I don't pretend that this view has the support of science of any kind or that it can be established by application of the scientific method or reason.

Marion also may be correct that the great religious mystics have encountered the divine, and that we can all do so.   We don't know whether they did or not, although it would seem to me that they felt in good faith they had experienced the divine.  I'm unconvinced that if we do this, or perhaps regardless of whether we do or not, we therefore become divine or are divine in a way we're unable to understand until we become divine.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that those who have experienced the divinity cannot describe with any specificity what that experience was or how or why it took place.  Mystical encounters of this kind cannot be put into words, it seems, or if put into words are largely incomprehensible.  This may mean they are phantasms, or that we lack the ability or tools to describe them.

What seems clear enough, however, is that certain people have experiences which may be called mystical, and which may or may not serve as evidence of something beyond the universe we normally encounter.  While I'm not generally a follower of William James, I'm inclined to think with him that such experiences should be the subject of scientific inquiry, or at least may be the subject of inquiry (in other words, they are phenomena which can be studied intelligently).

What is also clear, for good or ill, is that we seem compelled to search for whatever it is we call God, or a higher or different reality which we may experience now or after we die.  Perhaps that's a part of being mortal.  Many of us are not willing to seek him in old books or in church, but seek him we will, and we'll write books about our search.  Most of us seem to want God or at least to seek God, despite the fact that we've lost one or more in the course of our evolution.  Lose one god and we will find another.  Good old Jim Marion may have found him.  If not, he and others will keep on trying until they can't try no more.  God is wanted, dead or alive!

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