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Posts Tagged ‘whitehead’

Earlier this week, the state of California defeated Proposition 37, a law that would have required the labeling of any foods that contain ingredients which have been genetically modified. Powerful corporate entities in the food industry poured money into the fight against this “Right to Know,” frightened consumers with the boogeymen of outrageous costs, and dismissed any health concerns as pseudo-science.

Yet in my opinion, genetically modifying any organism violates what I think of as the “sanctity of species” and is therefore unethical and immoral. I do not want to support such permanent alterations of species in any way and I consider it an infringement of my religious freedom to prevent me from making an educated decision about such things. But it’s not just my personal preference that matters here. It all comes down to whether or not we will foster technological, scientific, and economic models that are in direct conflict with what we are discovering about the nature of reality.

 

Once ours scientists learned how to split atoms, what they found there is that,

Matter is no longer material; the atom is formed of protons, neutrons, electrons, and twenty or more other particles. We cannot ask what these particles are ‘made of’, since they are not ‘substances.’ We may speak of energy, waves, particles, but we are actually dealing with fleeting episodes in the microcosm that are not permanent. Our picture of reality, then, is not yesterday’s matter but today’s relationships, processes, and events. Instead of an edifice of hard building blocks, ultimate reality is relational. (Levi A. Olan in “The Prophetic Faith in a Secular Age,” in Jewish Theology and Process Thought, ed. David Ray Griffin and Sandra Lubarsky, 27)

Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism or “process philosophy” is grounded in this awareness that reality is made up of experiences and that everything that exists is relational and interconnected. Reasons why his thought is seen as “ecological” include that in his system of thought, every organism has some degree of experience or subjectivity, and has intrinsic value not just instrumental value. Ecological science points to this same awareness, and sees organisms and their ecosystems as being interconnected, relational, interdependent, and wholistic.

Olan describes reality as one of “self-enfolding creatures as well as the infinite whole in which we are, somehow, included as One…Whitehead implies that reality is comprised of ourselves, others, and the whole is the sense of deity, or, as he describes it, ‘the intuition of holiness,’ which is the foundation of religion.” (28) Reality, then, and every organism in it, has a ‘holiness’ or ‘sanctity’ of its own.

On the other hand, the modern technology of genetic modification is based on an outmoded world view – basically, scientific materialism – in which organisms (and, to some degree, even humans) can be reduced to merely machines with interchangeable parts – so who cares if the gene of a toxic plant is spliced into the DNA of a type of corn we will later eat or if the gene of an insect is injected into the DNA of a pig? But if we see each species as a whole, as something with intrinsic value and integrity, with patterns of wisdom that guide its functioning and life experience, then genetic modification violates this sanctity of species.

As Olan writes,

Western civilization today, it seems, is not in harmony with the basic character of the universe as the new science describes it. Materialism dominates our culture at a time when the universe is disclosed to be non-material. Fragmentation is increasingly the mode of human organization, while the universe is revealed to be an integrative unity. The major drive of western culture aims at separating the part from the whole. (32)

But the parts cannot be ethically or morally separated from a whole in which everything is interrelated and interdependent, and we shouldn’t act – or eat – as if they can be.

 

 

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In one chapter of his book Religion in the Making, created from lectures delivered in Boston in 1926, Alfred North Whitehead explores the historical effect on religion of travel beyond what he calls “the tribe.” He suggests that when people were exposed to “others”, strangers, outside the tribal boundaries in a way that was kindly, those extra-tribal explorers could think more “dispassionately” (and with less hostility) about others than before their travels. The result of empires and trade was that “everyone traveled and found the world fresh and new. A world-consciousness was produced.” (p. 29) Whitehead felt the “disengagement” from one’s social location that came with travel led to a change in how people perceived their relationship to God. In the old way of thinking, he writes,

Alfred North Whitehead

Conduct is right which will lead some god to protect you; and it is wrong if it stirs some irascible being to compass your destruction. Such religion is a branch of diplomacy. But a world-consciousness is more disengaged. It rises to the conception of an essential rightness of things…The new, and almost profane, concept of the goodness of God replaces the older emphasis on the will of God. In a communal religion, you study the will of God in order that [God] may preserve you; in a purified religion, rationalized under the influence of the world-concept, you study [God’s] goodness in order to be like [God]. It is the difference between the enemy you conciliate and the companion whom you imitate.  (p. 30)

Too many religious people these days talk about God as if God were an enemy to “conciliate” or placate. According to a 2010 article written by Amanda Terkel on thinkprogress.org, Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R) suggested that year that women who had had abortions were punished by God through being given disabled children in subsequent births. Who could even worship such an evil and immoral god? Shouldn’t we at least be able to assume that God has the level of morality of the best human beings we know?

One of my greatest email pleasures is reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s brief meditations that arrive in my inbox bright and early each day. A recent entry touched as well on the idea that God and Jesus might best be thought of as those we should imitate due to their goodness. He writes,

 It seems to me that it is a minority that ever gets the true and full Gospel. We just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the exact right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says, ‘worship me!’, but he often says, ‘follow me’ (e.g., Matthew 4:19).  Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, inclusive, and loving. We made it, however, into a formal established religion, in order to avoid the demanding lifestyle itself. One could then be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain at the highest levels of the church, and still easily believe that Jesus is ‘my personal Lord and Savior.’ The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

The suffering on Earth is great, indeed. Does it lessen that suffering or increase it if we pummel others with an image of a God who is not worth worshiping or following? It seems pretty simple. If your God tells you to kill an ambassador, or to kill an abortionist, you’re listening to a false god.

Update:  As I can hear the distant hoof beats of accusations of heresies such as Arianism on the horizon,  I just want to clarify a line of thought in this post. First of all, Fr. Rohr does not use the word “imitate” and it’s really not the exact word I’m looking for here.  Nor am I saying that we should not worship and be filled with praise over the grace that flows to us from Christ. What I believe, though, is that those who worship Christ but who are not willing to walk his path are merely projecting their healing onto Jesus as an outer figure, but that those who follow Jesus, walking the Way he walked, will experience the inner transformation of the Christ, and realize the Reign of God that Jesus realized as present right here, right now. In Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church, Boniface Ramsey, O.P. writes of the spirituality of the early Church: “Christ was the measure, the model, and the goal of the spiritual life.” This is still true for Christians.

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That’s the question we’re here to explore. Is life sacred? If so, just what is a sacred life?

Christian de Quincey, who is affiliated with the Institute of Noetic Sciences tackles a similar question in his recent article, “The Soul of Matter: All the Way Down.” It was actually a book de Quincey wrote in 2002 (re-released in 2010 as Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter) that introduced me to the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, the subject I’m currently studying in my doctoral program at Claremont Lincoln University. In the article, de Quincey writes:

 What’s the greatest mystery facing every person on the planet? Ultimately, it’s some version of the age-old “Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” And these questions, which lie at the heart of all philosophy and religion, can be summed up as, “How do I fit in?” How do we humans (with our rich interior lives of emotions, feelings, imaginations, and ideas) fit into the world around us—a world that is supposed to be made up of mindless, soulless physical atoms and energy? That’s a scientific question. And, so far, no one has produced a satisfactory explanation.

 We lack an explanation because our questions already assume something quite disturbing. We assume we are split from nature. We assume that humans are somehow special, that we have minds or souls while the rest of nature does not.

And later:

Because of our assumed “specialness,” because of the deep fissure between humans and the rest of nature, because of the mind-body split, we need a new understanding of how we—ensouled, embodied humans—fit into the world of nature. Our current worldview, based on the materialist philosophy of modern science, presents us with a stark and alienating vision of a world that is intrinsically devoid of meaning, of purpose, of value—a world without a mind of its own, a world without soul. And this worldview has had dramatic and catastrophic consequences for our environment, for countless species of animals and plants, and for the eco-systems that sustain us all.

I believe we can witness the consequences of the worldview de Quincey describes all around us: in our record usage of anti-depressants, in our blatant disregard for the health of the planet and our fellow citizens, in the disconnection we feel from each other and even from ourselves, and in our addictions to alcohol, drugs, work, sex, or anything else that takes us out of our difficult and disenchanted lives.

But does it have to be this way? What if we could rediscover the connection we’ve always had with the earth and with all beings that inhabit it? What if we could realize we’ve always been connected to a deep Source of living water that will slake our thirst? What if we could tap into a great Wisdom that is yearning to help us through the passages we’re traveling? What if we could feel the love and grace that is being poured out upon us all the time from the One who knows our deepest heart and who is luring us toward our best possibilities? What if we could know – I mean, really know – that we belong in this life, that we are beloved just as we are?

That is what it is to be sacred.

That is what this blog is about.

It’s about experiencing a re-enchanted and revitalized relationship with real life on the ground.

It’s about becoming more whole, more loving, more compassionate and revering all of life as sacred.

It’s about developing “new eyes” to see the hidden wholeness behind the brokenness, loneliness and suffering of life.

It’s about developing a relationship with the living Spirit of God in the world to transform one’s life and one’s heart.

It’s about walking the Way that Jesus walked so as to be able to “live fully and love wastefully”.

It’s about understanding the Natural Spirituality available to all humans and learning the language of God’s Wisdom in the world that speaks to us through dreams, through synchronicities and through the overall Flow of Life.

It’s for people who are hungry for wholeness, who yearn for connection to meaning and a sacred experience of this life, for people who desire to feel the “rapture of the experience of being alive.”

It’s for people who want to trust God even in the face of life’s difficulty and who want to be fed at the “soulular” level by the sacred Source that seeks to fill us.

So here we are. I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation.

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