Planet Earth is falling into deficit as a result of our presence on it. All of our institutions are to blame.
How much responsibility does Abrahamic religious belief have? It has major responsibility. Its system of belief has been a molder of Western culture and the institutions that have grown out of that culture. It is a culture that now dominates most of the world.
About culture; the Canadian futurologist Ruben Nelson writes:
“All cultures, including our own in the 21st Century, take for granted that their construction of the world is the real world. The culture that forms us is not only comfortable for those that formed, it appears as being natural. It is the real way the real world is. Life as we know it is comfortable because our concave fits the convex of our culture.”
Most citizens of the world today accede to their society’s current concave/convex mold. They think of it as the universally correct form of thought. Even Pope Francis in his 2015 Laudio Si’ stayed in his concave/convex mold when he spoke about environmental degradation. He left out reference to one of the most deadly human vs planetary dangers; namely exponential population growth. His words about our Industrial Capital Market system were fuzzy at best. The Popes before him had an even worse record. The same staying in the concave/convex mold can be said for those at the 2015 COP21 meeting in Paris. There was a heightened awareness of climate change, but no overall call for institutional change in world society to step out of the mold.
Some over the years have called for religious institutional change. Many were deep Roman Catholic thinkers who not only expressed a contrarian view of Catholic church doctrine but in the broadest of terms called for society to step out of that institutional mold.
Here are four of them: Meister Eckhart ( 1260-1328 )
Thomas Berry ( 1914-2009 ) noted above
Thomas Merton ( 1915-1968 )
Matthew Fox ( 1940 )
The breakaway for each began with a disavowal of the Roman Catholic perception of GOD reality. That is the god defined in the Old and New Testaments as a god residing in some other dimension above and beyond Planet Earth. (Islam and Protestant Christianity also accepted that god definition).
An entirely different understanding of that “cosmic reality” was a part of our thought process before hominids chose to define GOD in that way. Beginning with human consciousness, over one and possibly even two million years ago, we had begun to think through the GOD mystery differently. Simply put: GOD was everywhere and in everything. GOD was inside of us and outside of us. GOD was inside all life and non-life and outside all life and non-life.
Then suddenly it all changed. In Egypt and the Levant there appeared what this writer terms a “Rorschach test god”, that is a god-personification of the human mind; a metaphorical reflection of the best and the worst in each of us.
The Levant Abrahamic god did not start out that way. The original Hebraic definition was not anthropomorphic. YHWH was an I AM THAT I AM god; the indefinable creator of all that is. Then, as time passed and the Nation of Israel moved forward, the definition began to change. In anger, this God of the Jews brought on a great flood. Years later, He would have the Nation of Israel murder the Philistines and the Amalekites. With the advent of Christianity, the definition continued to change. And it became more complex. This god would sacrifice His own son on a Cross. Then he changed again with the advent of Islam. The original Hebraic I AM THAT I AM was no longer a mystery. He had become a fearful, loving, controlling, punishing, judgmental, capricious god hidden far off in the heavens.
This Abrahamic understanding of god has led to sinister outcomes. An example of the worst is the belief among many that we are all sinful depraved human beings in search of salvation and that this salvation will come only to a select few at the end of times when this god will bring a fiery end to our planet. Today, many Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims, think that the end of times is coming fast upon us. These believers think of humanity as living in a defeatist ecological conundrum. So; many further reason that if God will destroy our planet, why should I be concerned about Nature and the environment, why should I even listen to the dire predictions of the scientists? Who cares? It is all in God’s hands anyway.
And then of course we have radical Islam. If one sacrifices life for the cause: immediate entry to Paradise.
In order for human life to continue on this planet, we need to make every effort to rid ourselves of how YHWH is now defined. If we do not, the dark side of our Freudian psychotic intentionality may become our future reality. Freud’s definition of the “id” will be proven to be our controller.
Finding a way out of this dilemma will call for a breakthrough in 21st century religious thought. That thought will have to find a new god dimension well beyond that found in the structured Abrahamic doctrinal religions of today and even in progressive religious academia. Over the years there have been many such breakthroughs. They force us to abandon existing belief. We are left only with the new one. We saw this in early Judaism. The presence of Jesus of Nazareth with his opposition to Temple orthodoxy and Roman hegemony gave that world such an option. But, as is often the case; the Christian message later became ensnared in creeds and sacraments and rituals, leaving only vestiges of the original thought. This is typical of all such breakthroughs. The purity of thought becomes conscripted by adherents who then use that thought for their own advantage.
The first sign of such a cognitive breakthrough is now appearing on the horizon. It can be defined as “religious” but not by traditional definition. This new form of thought is giving humanity hope of being able to save itself from extinction. The breakthrough is being defined by many individuals as an emerging cosmic consciousness revealing an underlying “Implicate Order.” With recent advancements in the physical sciences, and particularly in the areas of quantum physics and cosmology, many scientists and nonscientists alike are beginning to recognize that there is such a thing as order in the Cosmos. They are making strides in attempting to define it. David Bohm, the great theoretical physicist and colleague of Albert Einstein spoke of it in terms of an unbroken cosmic wholeness, with everything animate and inanimate having, as he described it; “an inseparable quantum interconnectedness” in a continuing process of cosmic “enfoldment” and “unfoldment.” Breakthroughs in thought such as this are marking the beginning of a transition from our present state of planetary ecological religious dysfunction into a state of planetary ecological religious accommodation.
Homo sapiens may be about to step out of its earthly shoes and into a Cosmic one. It implies the need for a restructuring of world political, social, economic and religious thought as well as human behavior so that our species can move toward Bohm’s “enfoldment” and “unfoldment.” Can it be achieved? It can, but humanity will have to view the planet and the continuance of all forms of life on it in an entirely different way from the way it has in the past. At the same time, humanity will have to abandon much of its past doctrinaire religious belief, as to a large extent this has been the glue pressing our species onto its past concave/convex perception of reality, a perception contradictory to its sustainability on Planet Earth.
A movement is now beginning to gain momentum. It was first evident early on in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers such as Spinoza, also later in some of America’s founders. A further breakthrough came with the transpersonal discoveries of the so-called transcendentalists who openly challenged the doctrinaire religious orthodoxy of the time. It continued with the American breakthrough in “depth-psychology” beginning with F.W.H. Meyers and William James. Their challenge to the then European school of reductionist behavioristic psychology soon gained momentum and led to the work of Carl Jung in Switzerland and others around the world in the form of a post-empirical behaviorist movement opening the field of transpersonal depth psychology.
Freudian atheistic reductionist behavioristic psychology placed biophysical limitations on the human psyche. Those limitations still prevail in much of social science academia. They were in recent years transfigured into what became known as “Marxist Materialistic Determinism,” a movement that showed up politically as Russian Communist Socialism. The collapse of the Soviet Union revealed for the entire world to see the dangerous flaws in such reductionist atheistic behavioristic psychology.
As all of this was occurring; in the physical sciences quantum physicists were making new discoveries as they explored the “behavior” of sub atomic particles. Werner Heisenberg was one of them. A well-known quote from him is in order:
“I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language.”
This understanding of a cosmic other dimensionality goes far back in time, as far back as the Upanishads and the Eastern thought that grew out of it. It can be seen in the Greek Platonic thought referred to by Heisenberg. It may have extended even further back as is evident in the Lascaux cave region of France and in the Spanish caves.
We can observe that Jesus was strongly influenced by such an esoteric form of thought. It is interesting to note that there is speculation among some scholars that a form of eastern thought could have come to Jesus in his formative years from contact with Roman intellectuals in Sepphoris, a model Roman city/town about five miles from where his family lived in Nazareth. Jesus may even have experienced Greek theater in the amphitheater there.
Another possible influence on Jesus should be mentioned here. During the short period of Jesus’ ministry, Qumran Essene thought in one form or other existed beyond Qumran throughout a wide geographic area. It may have been an influence on Jesus during his formative years. In fact his cousin, John the Baptist, may have at some point been influenced by Essene thought. It was anti-Temple and in some respects what we would call purestic esoteric. To quote from Stephan A. Hoeller in his book Jung and the Lost Gospels Insights into the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library, p 38:
“There was only one organization in existence that could have served as the foundation for this rapidly developing structure, and it was the order of the Essenes. Centered in its monastic headquarters by the Dead Sea, but extending all over Judea and in all likelihood into Egypt, Rome and Asia Minor, the Essene organization served as a ready-made matrix on which the new Christian association of communities could be built.”
However one frames the mindset of those in and around Jerusalem at that time‑and later on as Paul found when he finally reached Rome and came upon an already established Jesus community, there was an undercurrent of esoteric Essene as well as neo Platonic Greek and Alexandrian thought existing beyond the doctrinal interior Temple Judaic Hebraic, and it had taken hold. It was laying the groundwork for the words of Jesus and its subsequent rapid spread.
The important observation here is this: There are indications now in our present age, as it was at the time of Jesus; that a new foundation is beginning to form and it will in a sense be cosmic and religious/philosophical. Many religionists today as well as scientists are joining in with the understanding that there is an all-inclusive material and non-material cosmic inner/outer dimensionality and within it an enfolding/unfolding cosmic order.
How do we become a part of this inner/outer dimensionality? There are clues in the Gospel of Thomas discovered outside of the Nag Hammadi monastery in Egypt in 1945. (Even now declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church) In that gospel Jesus pointed to a way for each of us to become part of it.
A word of warning though: Jesus spoke of it in conditional terms. He used the words: When you come to know yourselves. He said that actualization calls for self-realization. Jesus was calling for no less than a metamorphosis of human thought on an inner-individual level in order for The Kingdom of God on this Earth to be revealed.
Observations on the work of the modern thinker Richard Tarnas show this same conditionality. Tarnas uses the word “participation” in the context of the “need” to participate in “Nature.” He writes:
“From within its own depths the imagination directly contacts the creative process within nature, realizes that process within itself, and brings nature’s reality to conscious expression.”
We see the same train of thought from Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas:
(3) The Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize who you are.
(77) I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there
Only a universal mind-change of earth shattering magnitude can save our species from impending extinction. Friedrich Nietzsche warned us about the dangers of our present insouciance. He wrote in The Gay Science:
“The madman when he went into the marketplace to tell everyone the news of God’s death; those going about their business missed the significance. Nor did they recognize the extent to which they themselves were implicated.”
We need to understand that we are those there in that marketplace. We are the implicated.
In closing I will quote from Matthew Fox in his book A Way To God Thomas Merton’s Spiritual Journey p.201 where he in turn quotes Thomas Berry discussing the ideas of Thomas Merton. It centers on this theme.
“There is a certain futility in the efforts being made, truly sincere, dedicated, and intelligent efforts to remedy our environmental devastation simply by achieving renewable sources of energy and by reducing the deleterious impact of the industrial world. The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence to be communed with in wonder and beauty and intimacy. In our present attitude, the natural world remains a commodity to be bought and sold, not a sacred reality to be venerated….Eventually only our sense of the sacred will save us. Merton’s gift is this sense of the sacred throughout the entire range of the natural world.”
Can humanity change the way it thinks? Can our human society find a new sense of the sacred? The concave/convex mold is so strong that even great thinkers like those noted here have had no more than a marginal impact on human society’s perception of cosmic reality.
Yet there are signs that it can. But, time is closing in on us. We must act quickly.