Some years ago, I contributed to a monthly on-line magazine called The Meta Arts. It occurs to me, it may be worthwhile to share the columns that appear particularly relevant to our time today.
Looking for God
(Last month I set out a way of seeing our afterlife (A Working Model of Minds on the Other Side) that I got from the guys upstairs. They set forth that scheme after saying at some length that our problem is that our society is trying to deal with God in terms of belief rather than experience. The murderous result, we see around us. So, this month, an edited version of the guys on the subject of society searching for God.)
Throughout history, humans have mostly believed in a personal God (or Gods) who interested Himself (or Themselves) in humans and their affairs. This is not because our ancestors were superstitious. People invented Gods because they had experienced them! What simpler? But they proceeded to construct a story to embody their perceptions, and the stronger the perceptions, the more persuasive they found the accompanying story.
This in a nutshell is how humans invented gods. The experiences were undeniable. The presence and their interest in humans were felt. Older eras being more open to things our age is only beginning to reawaken to, doubt and belief were not involved: the perception was shared.
But as formerly isolated communities came into contact, they discovered that their neighbors (who had created their own story about their perceptions) worshipped other gods. If they were tolerant of each other this did no harm. If they were not, their neighbors were worshiping false gods, and must if possible be destroyed. Here it is your key to the early books of the Bible: genuine perception, inflated story, repeated conflict.
But, note, the underlying perceptions of an extra-worldly superhuman presence taking a very real interest in human affairs collectively and individually was accurate. The rise of the higher religions may be seen as the movement of perception from diversity of forces to the underlying unity behind forces.
So when the Muslims cry out in testimony, “there are no gods, but only God,” this is saying “the world is not a contending chaos, but a conscious design.” Muhammad’s insight led his people to a new conception of the world, a higher level of what we might call usable abstraction. This was well and good, only it had the result of emphasizing one set of characteristics (design) over others (chaos, for instance, or free will).
The Hindus, by contrast, concentrated upon the multiplicity of forces, subdividing them far more than did, say, the ancient Greeks and Romans. These gods are still believed in and revered, by uncounted millions.
Today’s materialist scientists concentrate on laws — on the impersonal aspects of the creation — and correspondingly undervalue the antithetical aspects, as is only natural.
Each of these perceptions, save the last, is followed by story that results in a personal God or Gods. The last — the secular West — leads to mankind as God, in that it systematically removes from consideration any perceptions that in fact the other side interacts continually on an individual or societal basis.
This is the root of the problem of global civilization, and Western civilization in particular. Being unable to conceive of immortality as anything but a vague continuation of existence, because of conclusions that for a while seemed forced by reason in the light of science, western civilization split into three parts that each went its own way. Each, regarding itself as the only accurate representation of reality, regarded itself as the only legitimate authority around which society was to revolve, thus setting the scene for endless struggles, or Kulturkampf. These three may be subdivided but that would only blur the lines of the outline.
1) Religion. Received belief, corporate bodies revolving around scriptures as they interpreted them.
2) Science. Continual investigation into physical reality, expecting to reshape its view of reality as new data is derived or discovered.
3) Humanists, call them, or perhaps intuitionists. They rely upon neither scripture nor investigation, but upon something neither Science nor Religion easily recognizes. Emerson, Thoreau, Goethe, Whitman, Coleridge — not merely artists, not exactly mystics, not quite scientists.
So you have those who follow scriptural authority, others who follow investigative authority and still others who follow instinct informed (depending on the person) by different combinations of scriptural and scientific information.
Each of these has a different worldview. Each in a very real sense lives in a different world. They all perceive different facts, deduce different rules, arrive at different conclusions. The result is that our world is fragmented.
Each division could be subdivided. Catholics, fundamentalists and Quakers have huge differences among them, and greater differences between any of them and Muslims, Rastafarians, Hindus or Buddhists. Similarly, physicists live in a pretty different world from sociologists, and either from psychologists. And Goethe is significantly different from Ken Kesey. Again, this is only a classification scheme. Goethe could be put in among scientists, as could Thoreau. Newton had a foot in at least two worlds. The point is not to pick holes in the scheme but to pick from it an implied whole. For this is what it gives us.
Once you see the culture as consisting of a positive, a negative and a reconciling force (to use Gurdjieff’s terms) you see that none of the three may be dispensed with. Each is necessarily present one way or another. It is not the presence or even the overdeveloped presence of any that is the problem. The problem of the West — and hence of the world — is not that there are three means of receiving data but that the three means appears to be delivering contradictory data! This is why each goes off to sulk, or comes out to do battle, instead of playfully and creatively cooperating and competing to each make its own contribution and recognize the contributions of the others. This is why it is a struggle in terms of tug-of-war rather than, say, a foot race.
And does this not give us the clue that society could follow to reunify its vision?
If scientists as scientists (not as individuals with divided minds, putting their science aside on Sunday mornings, so to speak) can obtain first-hand knowledge of the essential immortality and interpenetrating nature of life –
If the religious as seekers of religious truth can do the same, and interpret their experience in light of the scriptures (and then, soon enough, learn to use the scriptures as roadmaps of what they are likely to discover, or should watch out for, or tools that they may be able to use) –
If the poets and mystics as intuiters of truth can fashion a reconciling view respecting both religion and science –
Do we not have our next civilization in its essence? Society is looking for God, though it doesn’t realize it. Once it remembers that perception is not the same as story, it will return to direct personal experience as the basis of knowledge. We will not live long enough to see it flower but we may easily live long enough to see it take root. It will be like awakening from a long nightmare.