Dr. Jean Houston: The 'Future of God' Debate
Here are a few of the points I made or intended to make at this remarkably rousing debate between the atheists and skeptics -- Michael Shermer and Sam Harris on one side and Deepak Chopra and myself on the other. The debate was mostly focused on the scientific aspects for the existence or non existence of God. My role was to provide a somewhat different perspective.
1. The world has been rearranged, the reset button of history has been hit. Many are called to take initiatives that before would have seemed unlikely, if not downright impossible, including the rethinking of the reality of the Intelligence that underlies the universe. My perspective joins that of the poet Christopher Fry: "Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took." In this, we are present at the birth of an opportunity that exceeds our imagination -- the 13.7 billion year experiment that could result in our lives coming to end within the century.
2. There is a radical need for a new natural philosophy based on our new knowledge of the cosmos, the world, the cross-cultural mix of knowledge and understanding, potential evolutionary directions, and our own emerging realities. We have been shackled for too long by philosophies, however noble, that have been limited by much narrower views of the world. And what is worse, too many of us have been patterned and prepared in the alembic of these limited views, however out of date they may be, and we find ourselves to have been marinated in the medieval soup of the mind. Today, many feel the need to release inadequate ideas of God so that we can all move forward. To become atheistic and skeptical at a time of so much opportunity is one way to respond to our dilemma, but then we forget that religion and spirituality are also about the quest for meaning, transcendence, seeing the interrelatedness between things, compassion, goodness, laughter, and the great Pattern that connects all things with each other as well as ways to live kindly with the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition. Thus, faith will never go away and, in the words of Karen Armstrong, " To identify religion with its worst manifestations, claim that they represent the whole, and then demolish the straw dog thus set up does not seem a rational or useful way of conducting this important debate."
3. In spite of the fact that there appears to be a decline in attendance in traditional organized religions, the search for spiritual experience has rarely been greater. In America alone, in the last 30 years, the number of religious groups has doubled. We take new names, sit zazen, become Sufis, Taoists, neo-pagans, devotees of Kali and Vedanta. Buddhism in all its varieties is the fastest growing American faith. There is an eruption of spiritual polyphony, that some might caustically see as "the Divine Deli" or "cafeteria religion." What this points to recalls the original Greek meaning of enthusiasm: entheosiasmos, "being filled with the god." As one Catholic Brother told me, "These other traditions do not contradict my own. Rather, they open the wells of the Waters of Life. When I meditate with His Holiness [the Dalai Lama], I feel as if the deep rivers of our respective traditions are meeting and becoming a mighty flood of spirit and renewal."
4. The complexity of the present world is shattering expectations in every arena, most especially, in the geography of the soul. Lost as we all are, we can understand why some retreat into fundamentalisms that provide archaic certainties, holding houses of containment before the onrush of new realities. Others wander in a spiritual void, overwhelmed by the loss of all pattern, looking to material accomplishments to replace the loss of essence. Still others flee into "replacement strategies"-- psychotherapy, drugs, sex, growth seminars, travel. In each case, mind and body are at the end of their tether, swung out into vertigo over the abyss of Being. And yet the yearning for personal experience of the divine reality has never been greater.
5. As Martin Buber taught us, "I" attends to "Thou" much more than "I" attends to itself. When you get beneath the surface crust of everyday consciousness, and past the sensory, psychological and even mythic and symbolic levels of the ecology of inner space, you discover the depths beyond depths, and, with it, peace, serenity joy -- no separations, but also a transcendent grace and even high creativity. It is not just the mystics, but the high creatives (some of whom are scientists) who report that in the throes of creative experience, feel themselves aligned, guided, allied by a power that is beyond or deep within themselves. This power is felt as spiritual reality, a vision, an inward voice, an invisible life's companion, and became a formidable motivation for a quest for truth and discovery. One cannot just reduce these experiences to brain secretions and happy neural chemistries. There is more to us than that. We inhabit the Universe, but the Universe, with its vast domain of intelligence and inspiration also inhabits us! In certain states of consciousness and explorations we tap into its myriad resources.
6. The issue of where this is all coming from has ancient roots. St. Francis in the 13th century defined the issue of consciousness, the brain and God when he said "What we are looking for is Who is looking." Meister Eckhart, a little later, took it further when he said "The eye by which I see God is the same eye by which God sees me." He got into a lot of trouble with the Pope over that one.
My own take on this is that we are the players in a great game called Paradox. And what is the paradox? It is that we are both Infinite and finite beings: As finite beings we are Godstuff incorporated in space and time; as Infinite being, we are the Living Universe in an eternal yet spirited form of itself. As this Infinite self expressing aspects of God, and as a form of the Living Universe, we find ourselves capable of creating and sustaining an individual finite self. That is you -- the human being that is the microcosm or, if you will, the fractal of the Infinite self. The human Selfing game may be what Infinity does for fun. Not realizing this, we live in a state of galloping ambiguity, caught in a limited time vehicle
and yearning for our greater self. Then when we make the rare excursion into our Greater being, becoming our cosmic selves, we suddenly yearn like Dorothy in Oz to get back home to the farm in Kansas. Why is this? To continue the metaphor, to live in Kansas however joyous and rewarding it is to chronically confront our limitations of body, mind and the others. Whereas to enter into infinite life is rather difficult to navigate and transcends all understanding.
I believe that to live in a state of both/and is to become who and what we were patterned to be. We cannot contract the infinite to fit into the finite, because if we do so we just end up with a fundamentalist God. However, we can extend -- through conscious work on ourselves -- the capacity to expand and thus to enter into partnership with the infinite. Then, and this may be the goal of the Paradox game, we do indeed discover that we are an infinity of selves creating and sustaining our individual human self. Do you see the stupendous import of this statement? To me, it is a mind cracking, soul buffeting, life enlargening realization. Once understood and internalized, it adds tremendous power to our freedom to be, our enormous capacity to grow, evolve and recreate ourselves, and our ability to live simultaneously as finite and infinite beings. The Infinite self has some part in directing the development and unfolding of the finite self, and the finite self offering joy, entertainment and knowledge to the Infinite self. This is the Paradox of partnership resolved. The game is to overcome the illusion of separation.
Now we know that many of the great spiritual traditions, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, the Christian mystical tradition declare that the finite and the infinite are on a continuum with each other. Even recent scientific speculation is saying the same. Modern physics of the quantum variety as Deepak Chopra so brilliantly illustrates, increasingly extends into the paradoxical and mystical in is pursuit of a unified theory of the fundamental forces of the living universe.
Finally, we are that crossroads between biology and cosmology. We are called to explore the mystery itself as an interface between engagement with external realities and embrace of the inner journey. This brings us to a place of contemplative practice, and the vital synergy between inner and outer realities necessary to transform self, institutions, paths of possibility, as well as visionary endeavors. And in so doing, unleash the human spirit of those who compose the institution or endeavor and of those who are served by this. It is an activity of extraordinary balance, a tension in repose. It is about a zone in which paradox occurs. It is a space where the sacred emerges and the local self disappears. It is a space of exquisite silence and of extraordinary service. It is a space wherein there is a fusing and blending of silence and service. In such a state one has access to the creative, world making place where one's unique entelechy (the essential self) meets the Entelechy of a potential new time, one that gives the details of an evolution in person and society.
There is a wonderful Sufi story of a man broken hearted by all the suffering and sorrow he saw in the world. He sat by the roadside and began to beat the earth. He looks up and yells at God. "Look at this mess. Look at all this pain. Look at all this killing and hatred. God, Oh God, why don't you DO something!?"
And God said, "I did do something. I sent you."
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