God as the Future

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door_opening_to_future-2Theologian John Haught suggests that the best name for God, and one that is grounded in the scriptural narrative, is The Future (1).The idea of God inhabiting the future is harder to grasp than God inhabiting the past or the present. We have history books, our own personal history, and memory to assure us of the reality of the past. It’s stuff that happened already. The present is not a problem for us either. It seems undeniable, if only by our apparent incapacity to dwell fully in it, as Eckhart Tolle and other gurus of the “now” remind us. The present is this moment and we're able to experience it by breathing deeply, stopping our chattering mind, and inhabiting our experience. It’s stuff that is happening now.

But this moment is also always about to intersect with a future that's always in the process of arriving. There, it just arrived again. But we have difficulty granting full, existential status to the future, because the future, by definition, doesn’t exist yet. Unlike the past and present it has no content. Yet, it just arrived again. And in the moment of its arrival, it's no longer the future. The future is always just beyond our grasp, yet always inalphaomega the process of arriving.

In the Biblical book of Revelation, God is referred to as Alpha, the beginning, and Omega, the end. We've tended to privilege God as Alpha— Creator. But we haven’t done much thinking about how God is present as Omega—the end. Fundamentalist religion does think about God as Omega, but to these folks it means that God has fixed a predetermined end time when “He” will bring history to an abrupt and violent end. This way of thinking renders the past and the present as little more than filler. It’s just what happens while we’re hanging around for the real action—apocalyptic action—to take place. It diminishes the role of history and our personal role in shaping the future.

Pierre_Teilhard_de_ChardinCatholic priest and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, was a progressive thinker, who took both evolution and the future seriously. He asked the question, “Who will deliver to us a God for evolution?” He was looking for a way to imagine God in a way that honoured science, and particularly, evolutionary science. To truly honour evolution, especially conscious evolution in the human species, is to grant us the capacity to make choices that really make a difference. We are not waiting around for some sky-God to unilaterally intervene with a predetermined future. We're the ones who are able to consciously co-create the future. At the same time, we assert as Christians that the Reality we call “God” is free to influence our choices in a non-coercive way. Teilhard de Chardin imagined a cosmic Christ as the Omega Point, and not just Alpha. The Omega Point is the alluring presence of the future, to which all of creation is converging and in the process of this convergence is evolving in intelligence, love, and creativity.

Teilhard de Chardin imagines God as a divine milieu encompassing and insinuating Her/Him/Itself into the past, the present, and the future. God is present in the past as the One and the Oneness from whom a universe emerges. This is the God witnessed to in the great scriptures of the world’s religions and in the ancient tribal myths and legends of indigenous people. The more theologically conservative one is, the greater the tendency is to locate what we can know about God exclusively in these historic narratives, or indeed within the tradition that organizes itself around these narratives. When the past is privileged as a way of knowing God, we look back at the scripture, at the tradition, and at the historic founder—in our case Jesus of Nazareth—for revelation and truth (2).

We can also know God in the present. The universe is eternally in the process of arising anew in every moment. Successful books like The Power of Now are popular with postmodern folks who declare themselves to be “spiritual-but-not-religious”. What this means is that they're not particularly interested in looking back in time to experience the sacred. Rather, they seek liberation from the past and the future in the stillness of the “timeless” now. By inhabiting this moment we free our minds from the tyranny of thought processes and our worry about the future. Meditation helps us to enter this state of consciousness that's all about abiding in the present. We discover a sense of the sacred in attending deeply to, and honouring, whatever is arising now and now and now.

But can God also arise as the One who is present in the unrehearsed and indeterminate future? The biblical witness seems to contend that this is, in fact, where God hangs out—not so much “up above”, but out in front. I’ll make this case soon. But for now, we need to remind ourselves of what's at stake here. We are claiming that God is somehow present in a future that doesn’t yet exist. Furthermore, we're requiring that God be present in this future in such a way that honours the free will and the evolutionary creativity of human beings—given that we're the evolutionary impulse of the universe in personalized form. In other words, as a matter of principle, and by way of dignifying free will, no future can be imposed upon us. God must be present in the future in such a way that influences but does not interfere in the evolution of the universe.

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First, let’s ground this in scripture. There are countless stories of God alluring God’s people forward in and through a promise of a better future, but which needs them in order to be realized. For example, the legend of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery to Egypt imagines God as being out in front taking the lead. God is the presence of the future that visits Moses in a burning bush. That future, in God’s mind, consists of a world that's free of slavery and the kind of suffering that the Hebrews are enduring. This idea “comes” to Moses as a possibility that hadn’t entered his head. Then, when Moses asks for the name of the God who is about to confront Pharaoh, the divine name can be translated as, “I am Who I am”, or “I will be Who I will be”—the One who is both Present and Future.

This Presence enters the consciousness of Moses with the provocation to set the Hebrews free. The idea “came” to Moses. Where did it come from? The narrative implies that it came from the God who dwells in the realm of future possibilities, not yet considered by humans. How on earth, Moses wants to know, can he possibly take on the Pharaoh of Egypt? God simply asks Moses to trust that it’s possible. And after a series ofpillar_of_fire confrontations with the Pharaoh along with deadly plagues, the Hebrews make their great escape. The legend of this escape affirms that God went ahead of them, in a pillar of fire by night, and a cloud by day, so that they could travel day and night toward the Future’s promise of freedom.

In the Bible, God is always imagined to be out in front, leading from and toward a future that the people hadn’t imagined was possible. Typically, life conditions are such that the present is actually very bleak, and nobody in their right mind would want to inhabit it more deeply. An absolutization of the spirituality of the now would have been absurd. When the boot of history is firmly planted on your neck, to abide in the present is to welcome a broken neck. What was required was hope in the future, and this is what God is consistently portrayed as doing—meeting those who cared to listen as the presence of a preferred future in the here and now.

It's not a deep acceptance of present conditions that's the source of the hope. It’s the glimpse into a new future in the here and now that enables the Jewish people to keep going. By some mystery, Moses gets into his head that the current circumstances of oppression are not God’s intention for the Hebrew people—and so deeply owns that possibility that he takes responsibility for its realization. If there are any miracles in the Bible, this is it—this dynamic of the future coming to meet certain individuals with new possibilities, and those people being so transformed by the possibility that they step up and consent to the future’s realization occurring in and through them. God is present in the future as the elicitor or provocateur of fresh possibilities. God comes to God’s people from the future opening up space to imagine and enact new possibilities through conscious consent. Moses is free to refuse to act on this glimpse of an alternative future, as we all are.

But how can God be present in and as The Future in a way that doesn’t overpower our free will and unilaterally determine that future? Can science help us here? After all, if evolution is to have its own God, surely we must be able to find analogies in the realm of science. It turns out that we might find some help in what science is simply recognizing as “information” (3). For our purposes, information refers to the capacity of the universe to bring higher order from lower order.  There is a power that is distinct from both matter and energy—what physicist David Bohm calls “a hidden wholeness”—that pervades reality with a tendency to600px-Lorenz_attractor_yb.svg bring coherence, integrity, and complexity from relative disorder. Science acknowledges this mystery with words like novelty, self-organization, and autopoeisis. Novelty means that when two parts come together, the whole that forms is not only greater than the sum of the parts, but also unpredictably novel and more complex. Self-organization means that a system under pressure may escape to a higherorder. Autopoesis refers to the capacity of an organism to self-renew or change. But let’s not confuse description with explanation. Science has words for it, but “information” remains a mystery.

Life just seems to know how to do life. From matter, life arises; from life, mind arises; from mind, self-consciousness awareness; and from self-conscious awareness, by which a universe comes to know itself, responsibility to choose and work for a desired future arises. Hard-core materialists claim that these more complex levels simply emerged out of the simplest forms. Dirt just somehow pulled itself up by its own bootstraps and learned how to do nuclear physics. This so-called “bootstrapping” theory implies an ordering or patterning field of information that seems to influence reality toward greater unity and diversity and consciousness, by exerting an upward or forward pull. This can be imagined as more than the erotic push of the evolutionary impulse. It's also an alluring pull from the future. Information exists as a realm of higher or greater possibility that influences, but doesn’t interfere with evolutionary processes.

wu-weiThis provides an interesting analogy for how God may be present as a non-interfering, yet active presence that comes to us from the realm of the future. I’m not equating information with God, but merely suggesting that it’s a functional analogy. John Haught compares this informational or ordering capacity of the universe to what the Taoists call wu-wei, the wayless way. The Tao is energetically passive but informationally active. It is active inaction or non-interfering effectiveness (4).

Gaze at it, there is nothing to see

It is called the formless.

Heed it; there is nothing to hear.

It is called soundless.

Grasp it; there is nothing to hold.

It is called immaterial.

Invisible, it cannot be called by name.

It returns again to nothingness. (5)

All religious and spiritual lineages throughout the ages have affirmed that the higher order cannot emerge from the lower. Again, what scientists call the “spontaneous” emergence of higher order from the lower is merely descriptive. If science introduces the idea of “information” to explain this mystery, then theology is certainly within its rights to use this analogy to describe how God influences the world without being an interfering presence. Indeed, Paul talks about how God’s power is made manifest in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and how God empties Godself of power as force in order to be present as the alluring power of Love (Philippians 2:1-8). John Caputo is developing a theology based on the weakness of God (6). God is the Something that is present as the influential no-thing, for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and The_Future_is_Coming_43572hearts that are open. God empties Godself of power as force, precisely by withdrawing into the future that is always coming toward us with new possibilities for higher order, new ways of being—more aligned with Love Itself.

We have trouble grasping this because we've been trained to think of the only the past and present as “really real”. We've been steeped in historical causality. Everything that we see around us must have been caused by some event in the past. Indeed much of our life is correlated to our past. But is it absolutely “caused” by the past? Maybe not. Look at our language. We wonder what the future “holds”. In this metaphor of holding, the future is a container of untold possibilities. It’s not predetermined, but rather comes to us through intuition, in glimpses, and through unexpected opportunities and circumstances that “present” themselves to us. If we’re open to them, we discover within them an invisible, intangible, yet powerful creativity to reshape, not only our own lives, but also the future of Earth itself. The future is always beyond us—as is “God”—and yet is forever coming toward us with an offer of new life.

Is it not legitimate to speak, not just of historical causality, but also future causality—the future causing us to act in a new way now in response to a promise of something better? We’re not simply determined by the past, but also by an alluring promise of the future. God is in that promise of the future, as much as God is in the past and the present. Theologian, Paul Tillich, defined faith as willingness to be “apprehended by the future”.

Surely, this is the gospel in a nutshell. It is the story of Easter. The future seems to close down on the disciples when the death-dealing forces of history—the force of Empire and the need for absolute control—crucify Jesus. But when they arrive at the tomb, an angelic messenger—symbolizing the future—tells them that they’ll have to look somewhere other than a tomb if they want to find Jesus. He has “gone ahead of them to Galilee”. Like a living pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, the divine is always going on ahead of galileeus, drawing us toward a promise that will not be snuffed out by the power of death and violence. Galilee is our rendezvous with hope, when fate has played its trump card.

 Followers of the Christ are always on the way to Galilee, drawn by the promise of a coming order that may shatter, confirm, or reorganize the existing order of our life. This is what gives us hope when our personal and planetary lives are falling apart. This is how we evolve. It matters more now than at any other time on our planet that we take hold of this future that is holding us—that we consent to be apprehended by this hope, and we each find our unique way of saying “yes” to God’s promise that has gone ahead of us, and yet is always coming to meet us.



(1) John Haught, God after Darwin, pp.105-108 and 214-217

(2) Science tends to privilege the past as well in its assumption that everything that exists was caused by something that happened in the past. Historical causality, as we’ll see, is an unexamined assumption of science, looking as it invariably does to the past to explain what can emerge in the future. Radical materialists, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, example, assume that the DNA molecule that was formed billions of years ago is responsible in an absolute fashion for determining the future. This is called genetic determinism. But you need to go back even further they claim. The foundations of life as we know it today, must be traced back to the absolute simplest atoms that emerged from the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. No greater power is allowed, not within those helium and hydrogen atoms, and not without. Deep time, the random collision of atoms, and natural laws account for complex consciousness and civilization as we know it today. Many scientists, who have trouble accounting for the emergence of mind from matter, claim that free will—our attempt to shape a future different from the past through conscious choice— is an illusion. The future is determined by the material past in an absolute fashion.

(3) John Haught, God After Darwin, pp.81-84

(4) John Haught, God After Darwin, pp.77-80

(5) Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16

(6) John D. Caputo, The Weakness of God, A Theology of the Event

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21 comments

  • Comment Link Olen Thursday, 22 September 2011 20:40 posted by Olen

    Bruce, have you got it in you to rework these 3 or so pages into about 300? If so, I'd say you'd have a bestseller on your hands..

    Frankly, I'm really inspired by your articulation of God as the future and would love to take up some of these ideas with you further.

    For example your notion of granting full existential status to the future. What in your experience does this require? To my understanding, it would seem to involve learning to access the future as apart of our lived experience. This is something I'm quite passionate about in the context of collective intelligence and working with groups to get an experiential feel and taste for the future--in potential, and the future as an arising but not yet fully manifest presence or embodiment.

    I'm also intrigued by your notion of a non-interfering but influential presence that comes to us through the realm of the future. How have you come to discern and know this experience? How might the imagination play a role in this or intuition, and in some cases projection or wishful thinking?

    Again, thanks for sharing this piece!

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 23 September 2011 00:45 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Olen,

    I love where you are going with this - i.e. accessing the future as part of our lived experience. I would say that this would involve a honing of our intuitive capacities, individually and collectively. I've been working on this for myself, but interestingly, the first step is reading one's own body, that is, being able to feel subtle energy shifts. I'm not too adept at this to be honest.

    I give Haught, Moltmann, and Pannenberg (and the Jewish lineage) credit for this idea of God as future. I just like it.

  • Comment Link Jeremy Johnson Friday, 23 September 2011 15:12 posted by Jeremy Johnson

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for this post. It was (as usual) an inspiring piece that invokes the very same spirit Teilhard does through his writings. I must give you much credit for being able to do that so lucidly!

    I believe you articulated this subject very clearly, and as I was reading I was reminded of Sri Aurobindo's understanding of the evolutionary process: if nature is secret Spirit, then is humanity secret God. The process of evolution, then, is a becoming of what we secretly are. We are drawn to actualization through working to manifest (to build, as Teilhard says) our spiritual nature on Earth. What Teilhard described as the "spiritual power of matter," that which beckons us to realize who we are.

    With such subjects, I feel there is always more to learn and listen to, so rather than ramble any further, I would like to share with you something from Teilhard that I had recently read (he's been in my laptop bag this past week, so what a wonderful surprise to find your new article!)

    "By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary is sacred to the men who can distinguish that portion of chosen being which is subject to Christ's drawing power in the process of consummation." - The Divine Milieu, pg 66.

    Grateful for your work Bruce.

    -Jeremy

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Friday, 23 September 2011 15:29 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Jeremy,

    I read Sri Aurobindo's The Divine Life on sabbatical last year—not for the faint of heart.

    Beautiful quote from Teilhard. I wonder what he means by "that portion of chosen being which is subject to..." Simply the part of us (soul) that is capable of consciously consenting to the "drawing power?"

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Tuesday, 27 September 2011 00:00 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Hi Bruce,

    First off, I love this:
    "Hard-core materialists claim that these more complex levels simply emerged out of the simplest forms. Dirt just somehow pulled itself up by its own bootstraps and learned how to do nuclear physics." Classic. Very Swimmian. :)

    It took me a bit of time to soak in what you're saying in this sermon, but the more I sit with it, the more I'm enjoying how it opens up a richer experience of evolution in it's human form.

    A couple of points you make:

    "This can be imagined as more than the erotic *push* of the evolutionary impulse. It's also *an alluring pull* from the future."

    "We’re not simply determined by the past, but also by an *alluring promise* of the future."

    I'm not sure if I fall into the 'historical determinism' camp, but I never considered that there could be a "pull from the future" as you say. I think you're pointing to a less emphasized (or as yet unnoticed?) characteristic of evolution. The evolutionary impulse - felt by us most recognizably in our moments of liberated and unconstrained creativity, and in sex - contains in it the felt sense of *craving* or of being *drawn* to the possibilities of a better future. Yes, the feeling of it is being *drawn* forward to the future - even though that future doesn't exist yet.

    Something draws us forward. Sometimes we speak in terms of "heeding the call of the future", often "looking forward to" what's next. Both of these describe being drawn to something out on the horizon - usually something promising better times or utopia.

    Simultaneously there's also the push from the past, as you mention - not being satisfied with what already is, the welled up energy to create new things, the exhilaration of pushing forward into new realms and development (progress). So I guess it's both push and pull operating at once.

    It's an interesting distinction you're making and I never thought of it this way before. It actually helps to fill out my experience of the creative impulse and I now see and experience it in a fuller, richer way (feels like another layer or dimension has been added to it or something).

    Thanks as always,
    Bergen

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 27 September 2011 00:39 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Bergen,

    Yeah, Teilhard de Chardin was a passionate evolutionary scientist, but used a layered explanation when it came to the question of what it all meant. He imagined the risen Christ as the alluring pull of an Absolute Future, always coming to meet the present with the promise of that future. Because mind is present in all beings, everything can awaken to this promise of this Mind (and Heart). But especially the human ones. The intuition or glimpse of that promise actually opens us up to the realm of infinite possibility of Heart and Mind. That realm of divine possibility needs a world (us and all of the great emergence) to actualize it. That's incarnation in a nutshell.

    This doesn't mean the future is fixed/predetermined. But the promise that draws us forward is one of coherence, increased capacity for love, creativity, and justice for all—Jesus, for Christians, was a foretaste/glimpse of the future that is drawing all creation. "God" is becoming more real/actualized as we are apprehended by and consent to that promise.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 27 September 2011 16:02 posted by TJ Dawe

    This reminds me of something Stanley Kubrick said in an interview with Playboy magazine:

    Kubrick: ...it seems like that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia - less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe - can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities - and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.

    Playboy: Even assuming the cosmic evolutionary path you suggest, what has this to do with the nature of God?

    Kubrick: Everything - because these beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant that somehow comprehended man’s existence. They would possess the twin attributes of all deities - omniscience and omnipotence. These entities might be in telepathic communication throughout the cosmos and thus be aware of everything that occurs, tapping every intelligent mind as effortlessly as we switch on the radio; they might not be limited by the speed of light and their presence could penetrate to the farthest corners of the universe; they might possess complete mastery over matter and energy; and in their final evolutionary stage, they might develop into an integrated collective immortal consciousness. They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men’s minds, it is only the hand of God we could grasp as an explanation.

    (this is TJ talking again) This fascinates me, not only as the best explanation I've ever heard as to the meaning of the surreal ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but as a concept in and of itself. I recently read an article about scientists at CERN discovering a particle that can surpass the speed of light. To a being thousand or millions of years more advanced than us, our best advances in science, philosophy, art and morality would seem like fumblings of an infant. Our species is incredibly young, but we don't think of ourselves as such at all.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Tuesday, 27 September 2011 16:18 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks TJ,

    Fascinating. There would be no good reason to dismiss Kubrick's thoughts here. Because these advanced beings are also evolutionary in nature, every piece of their knowledge/wisdom would be available in the field as "information" and which could non-coercively influence/allure us from the future.

    Even here though I would say that these creatures themselves are not the product, merely, of historical causality, but rather have their being in a divine milieu.They too are evolving with the context of Mind and Heart.

    Haught uses the image of a river, (following Teilhard?). You find the true glory of the river, not at its source, where it simply arises out of mud, but rather where it meets and opens into the ocean. I would say that the ocean is the womb of the divine that births a world which itself gives birth to new worlds.

    Your perspective, especially about the CERN discovery, restores a much needed humility. But then true science epitomizes humility. (Scientific materialists, not so much).

  • Comment Link Paul P Wednesday, 28 September 2011 03:51 posted by Paul P

    Hi Bruce,

    Very inspiring and lucid piece. Your description makes the creative process sound a little less lonely, being met in each moment by the future as God. Sounds comforting even, to believe that you are to be met this way moment by moment in life.

    I’d like to add a couple different perspectives on this idea of emergence.

    I was reminded of the first one the other day as I was down at the beach with my son. He loves to play on the merry-go-round and so I was helping spin him around and at one point I jumped on. What I noticed (as anyone can who gets on a merry go round) is that I had to hang on. Paying attention more carefully, I actually have to hang on pulling myself directly towards the center. Or in scientific terms I have to apply a centripetal force to balance out the centrifical force due the spinning. The interesting thing is that neither of these forces are “real”; they are both fictitious in the sense that they “emerge” as a result of the configuration and complexity of the rotating merry-go-round system. There is really no additional forces (perhaps other than my conscious intention) in play other than the fundamental four forces.

    So when Bergen says his subjective feeling of the evolutionary impulse is like being drawn forward to the future, I think one must be careful on interpreting this as evidence for any new or additional power or force (not saying you were, mind you) just as one must be careful on the merry-go-round.

    Secondly, I am curious if you have seen Conway’s Game of Life? It’s a simple 2D model world in which the “laws of physics” are very simple. Starting with randomness, complex patterns form. And further, more complex patterns arise from simpler ones. Furthermore these patterns can move around, reproduced, interact with other patterns and so on. It looks a lot like, well, (very primitive) “life”.

    Read about it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway%27s_Game_of_Life

    Watch a video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcuBvj0pw-E

    So when scientists talk about emergent properties, the claims that emergence is possible without additional forces or powers are not as far out as your sharp rhetoric suggests. You may get a sense of how “bootstrapping” is at least possible without anything other than the “laws of physics”. Of course, the claim that emergence of something like consciousness is possible, is a meta-physical statement, and not one of science at this stage. There is clearly not enough evidence to back up that claim, you need to trust your scientific intuition on that one…

    Finally, just as you wrote “let’s not confuse description with explanation,” I’d like to add: let’s not confuse inspiration with explanation either.

    PS. The scientists at CERN did not claim they had discovered a faster than light particle, the reporters did (for readership probably). The actual quote from the coordinator of OPERA is "We are very much astonished by this result, but a result is never a discovery until other people confirm it.” Interestingly, if the result is confirmed then our scientific understanding of causality may need to change – which is strangely relevant to this article.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Wednesday, 28 September 2011 06:00 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Paul,

    Thanks for the links. Fascinating. What I'm advocating is a layered explanation for the mystery of life. The scientific description of emergence and self-organization doesn't, in and of itself, exhaust the possible levels of meaning inherent in the phenomenon. I think it's possible to also bring to bear a theological perspective that doesn't rule out the scientific description. It doesn't need to be either/or the way some scientists would have us believe.

    I am imagining "God" as the ground of being, the depth dimension that manifests coherence, integrity, beauty at every scale—and which science does such an amazing job of observing and measuring.

    "God", then , is not invoked as an extra "force" that explains emergence. Rather "God" is the Mysterious Ground of Being, that manifests as pattern and order in the natural world and in mathematics, etc. This "Ground of Being" is not in opposition to science, but rather an ultimate milieu (Teilhard de Chardin).

    The law of physics does a perfectly adequate job of describing bootstrapping. But introducing another layer of meaning ("God as Creative Milieu" say) isn't in opposition. The law of physics still holds true.

    If one were to ask why a page in a book exists, you could talk about chemistry (the bonding properties of ink and paper); you could talk about the invention of the printing press; or you could talk about the author's intention in writing. All three are true, but as we progressed we moved closer to an ultimate explanation. But that ultimate or deeper level of explanation does not undermine the truth of chemistry. (See Haught Making Sense of Evolution, chapter 2 on Design).

    Your opening paragraph seems to assume that this religious view arises from the need for comfort in a vast, uncaring, and ultimately directionless universe, when in truth creativity is a simply a natural phenomenon that is self-generative. I may be mistaken in how I've interpreted you here. But it's kind of a go-to position for how some atheists explain the "need" for religion. We religious types can't face the reality as it really is, so we invoke God as an extra force to assure ourselves that it all has more meaning than it actually does. I'm not saying this is your position, Paul, and I do appreciate the open tone of your reply.

    But science doesn't actually reveal such a universe. And when some scientists interpret facts as revealing a purely accidental and purposeless universe, it is as you say metaphysics.

    Thank you for your warning about confusing inspiration with explanation. I agree with you. Inspiration rarely leads to explanation in my experience. It's more likely to drop me into mystery.

    And thanks for clarifying the interpretation of the CERN light particle.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 29 September 2011 01:46 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Paul, I'd just like to clarify something here regarding your initial comments. You say, "Your description makes the creative process sound a little less lonely, being met in each moment by the future as God. Sounds comforting even, to believe that you are to be met this way moment by moment in life".

    Can you please clarify what you're saying here, what your explicit position is. I agree with Bruce that it sounds like you’re implying that the type of view presented in this article is more an invention due to our need for comfort than anything else. Is that indeed what you're saying?

    You mention the word “belief” Paul, but this has nothing to do with belief, but with experience. I personally *experience* something like this pull by the future, and I can tell you, it’s anything but comforting. This is something that gets lost when this is looked at via the lens of ‘belief’, which is a very modernist way of seeing it. But in my experience, and countless experiences attested to in the Bible (among other spiritual literature), this in-breaking of Spirit, this call to the future and to help build the future, can be more a source of affliction and perpetual discomfort than anything else. We might be called to great sacrifices, including jail or death. We often have to leave behind comforts and loved ones. It’s often hardly soothing at all, yet I for one constantly feel compelled to respond to those pulls and callings anyway (cursed mysterious pull of the future! :)).

    Anyway, it might not have been what you were saying, but I thought I'd mention my experience in case it was, and add it to the thread in general.

    Thanks Bruce, I have some theological queries I'd like to take up another time.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Thursday, 29 September 2011 03:01 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Look forward to that conversation, Trevor, and appreciate your comments about this experience being anything but comfortable.

  • Comment Link Paul P Friday, 30 September 2011 04:03 posted by Paul P

    Hey Guys,

    My initial response is that my intention was to reflect back some positive aspects of the article for me. But perhaps there is more to say...

    A proper reply that is explicit is going to take more time than I have tonight - and then I'm away off-grid until after the weekend. But I want you to know that I am open to your question Trevor.

    Paul

  • Comment Link Jim Baxter Monday, 03 October 2011 21:33 posted by Jim Baxter

    Bruce - Your article raises some basic issues that I believe need to be addressed. You have embedded some assumptions that so often go unchallenged in many conversations about “God”. First is the word “God” itself (and I am equally at fault here too). The term often conveys the sense that we are talking about an entity and that we can describe, characterize and/or otherwise have specific knowledge of such entity. Perhaps this reflects some desire to tame and use God. Entity, noun, verb, can we know much about that which is beyond time/space and of which we are a manifestation? Perhaps we should move to the Jewish tradition of the unsayable, unspeakable YHWH or the “I Am”. At least, maybe at the beginning of every piece of discussion this should be acknowledged.

    More specific to your piece, God is not within time/space. We are. Time/space is (some aspect of) “I Am” made manifest. I would argue that God is, we are the ones conscious of past, present and future and it is up to us, only us, how much our experience of the Divine will shape our future behaviour. I know it sounds picky but the distinction between the concept of “God leading” and “our consciousness opening to the Divine” is fundamental to our theology. I do not think that Moses was a literalist.

    Now, to the hard part. You mention facing the tomb. Immediately this brings to my mind the dogma that “God” had to sacrifice his “Son” in order to “forgive” us our “sins”. Certainly, Christian theologians know this is metaphor but in practice it speaks of fundamentalism, a toxic fundamentalism actually and Jesus would have cleared the church if he had heard it. Surly it is time to move beyond kindergarten Christianity.

    But given this and given that Jesus was in God Consciousness and he reminded us again what the Deuteronomists and the Prophets had said about the availability of God’s presence, there is the issue of Christ. The psalms say “The Lord (God) is my salvation” and today Christians say “Christ is my salvation”. What is the difference between God and Christ? Can anyone explain that to me? I call myself a Christian only because the eucharist works. That is mystery. But if Christ is some aspect of God I would rather go to the source than the offspring. Maybe that makes me a Jewish Christian.

    I extract from you closing sentence:
    “ ... drawn by the promise of a coming order that may shatter, confirm, or reorganize the existing order of our life. This is what gives us hope when our personal and planetary lives are falling apart. This is how we evolve. It matters more now than at any other time on our planet that we take hold of this future that is holding us—that we consent to be apprehended by this hope, and we each find our unique way of saying “yes” to God ... “.

    As for the “...” bits, I am a follower of God and “I Am” does not promise. Only by us ourselves opening to “I Am” can we change our ego and behaviour.

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Monday, 03 October 2011 23:17 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Jim,

    I agree that "God" is problematic. I often wonder about putting quotation marks around the word every time. I do not believe that God is "a" being, but Being itself in the process of becoming through an emergent universe. In the manifest world "God" has achieved "personalization" - in us. God is not a person, but cannot be less than what we mean by and associate with personhood - qualities of love, compassion, empathy, reason, etc.


    You say that God is beyond time/space, but seem to agree that we are It's manifestation. As manifestations of "God" doesn't that mean God shows up in us, as us, through us, and yet also remain Transcendent Mystery? I don't follow your theology.

    In your comments about "the tomb" are you suggesting that I am stuck in "kindergarten Christianity"? I haven't subscribed to atonement theology for decades. I wonder if you don't bring some pretty deep unconscious assumptions yourself when you read other people?

    I don't understand your comments about "I Am" doesn't promise. I don't know. Generations of Jews and Christians thought that they intuited a divine promise, and that promise kept their hope alive.

    Your Christological question is an important one. We'd need to get Trinitarian—Being Itself in mutual relationship—suggesting that Reality is essentially, ontologically relational.
    I wonder if you explored more what you mean by "the eucharist works", if you'd arrive at a Christology that is aligned with your experience.

    It might be a way for you to "get your G_d, to become incarnate in space and time. To me, this is the core of an evolutionary theology. That God is incarnate, not just in Jesus, but the whole of the emergent cosmos—and this process is the Christ (Heart and Mind of G_d) becoming flesh.

    Thanks again,

  • Comment Link Jim Baxter Wednesday, 05 October 2011 00:04 posted by Jim Baxter

    I take a lot of risks here with what I have written. Without risk there is no learning. So, dear reader, every statement I make is intended for discussion and debate. Feel free.

    Thanks for your comments Bruce. As always, I am forced to clarify my thinking. First, let me assure you I was not suggesting that you subscribe to atonement theology. I apologize if that was inferred. I think one of my problems is that I have been hearing the dogma for 60 years or so and have been fighting it vigorously for 20. Thus, when I hear terms like tomb, sin, resurrection, incarnate, Easter experience, virgin and even Christ sometimes I over react. I strongly believe, because of the baggage these terms have for me (and most likely for a great many, especially those who have rejected Christianity), that perhaps it is time to retire them and Christianity, whatever it is, move on to a 21st century vocabulary.

    Turning to theology and the nature of G-d, I agree that G-d is part of this universe of ours, G-d is manifested as time/space, consciousness, love, etc. We are of time/space and so we are a manifestation of G-d. You, me, Jesus, everyone are of G-d. What I mean when I say G-d is beyond time/space is that time/space is “physical” in that we can describe, measure and quantify it, at least in principle. On the other hand, love, consciousness, truth, justice are another kettle of fish entirely. True, we are aware of these “concepts”, “things” (I don’t know what to call them) and they play a very strong role in our lives. And we may talk about them as being absolutes: absolute love, absolute truth, absolute justice. So, yes, God shows up in us, as us, through us, and yet also remain Transcendent Mystery. If I can put it another way, G-d (the ground of all being) manifests our time/space universe, living organisms eventually evolve in this manifestation to the point that consciousness develops and becomes aware of absolute love, justice, truth. This is one way in which G-d can contemplate or know G-d (a Hindu perspective).

    Let me take this a bit further. We know (i.e. experience)G-d as love, truth, justice to greater or lesser extents. I would posit that we do not in the same way know G-d as creator. That is really an abstraction, an idea. Which indicates to me that love, truth, justice, empathy, consciousness, whatever may be the limit to which we can know G-d in this time/space manifestation. For all we know, maybe “creator” is simply one of a zillion other aspects of G-d of which we are unaware. I am not complaining here. Love, justice, truth is a pretty big plate full.

    So, that is my theology as of today.

    Jesus? Let’s put him down as a highly evolved Jewish prophet and reformer. He reminded folks what the Judaic faith tradition originally was about – that expressed as the two commandments or the ten commandments – early versions of the absolutes. He reminds us of that still. He lived it as best a human could. Resurrection? His group experienced G-d while being with him and, lo and behold, they continued to experience G-d after he was killed. This certainly was an eye-opener but can we truly say that this was brand new, that no person ever had this type of experience before? Mystery? Love is a mystery. Absolute truth is a mystery. These are not concepts we can describe or measure. I cannot know conscious love unless I experience it. I do not experience 9 dimensions or an expanding universe or super strings but I am told and intellectually know that they form a basis of theoretical physics. But I have an inkling (fleeting experiences) of the peace that passes all understanding, a glimpse of what we call G-d. And, mysteriously, these glimpses often come during the liturgy of the eucharist. I experience, I do not think the eucharist. Is not Christ essentially a human construct?

    Bruce, I would like to know your basic theology and your idea of the conjunction of the trinity and the ground of being would be interesting. But one is inclined to ask , why the trinity in the first place? Was not the idea of trinity in fact a political compromise 1800 years ago, like the creed?

  • Comment Link Paul P Saturday, 15 October 2011 04:04 posted by Paul P

    Hi Trevor,

    I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on this a bit more and I’ll try to expand on it a little bit.

    I personally found Bruce’s piece inspiring and lucid. It speaks to a hopeful future and invites us to be hopeful ourselves. And this is certainly a helpful context to entertain.

    If I cloak myself in this context, then for me, the creative process feels a little less lonely. Sometimes when I’m trying to come up with an idea, under a deadline at work, then it can feel a little daunting to find that creative spark and to produce something that I’m happy with. I can feel alone in my struggle. Do you or any of the other writers here at Beams feel any occasional pressure to come up with an article for the site on a deadline? Perhaps you have a sense of what I’m referring to? So if the future is this “container of untold possibilities” and it is meeting us in every moment, and I hold this belief, then I feel a little less lonely waiting for that spark. Maybe your experience is different…?

    I wouldn’t say this narrative was necessarily engineered to assuage a person’s need for comfort (if indeed such a need truly exists), but I would say that it is an invention. It is a narrative. It is not an explanation.

    That’s not to say that an explanation is better than a narrative. In fact, in this case, it isn’t. Inspiration is far more beneficial than explanation in many cases, and especially in attempts to reduce human suffering. Consider the case of inspiring someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer that there is hope in(from) the future vs explaining the mechanism by which they contracted the disease and their statistical likelihood of survival.

    I’m not really getting your point about a belief “lens” being modern and experience being something else?

    We choose our beliefs. I think it is very helpful to choose to believe in healthy contexts from which to view the world. For one example, consider the famous question: Is the universe a friendly place or not? In my experience it is very helpful to answer that with a Yes. And to actively try to find a context wide enough that that Yes is true (even when the immediate evidence seems to indicate otherwise) and then choose to act from the place. I’m not saying I am able to do this all the time! However, holding such wider perspectives seems to be one of the roads to forgiveness and compassion for me personally.

    I think I understand what you are getting at when you say that you experience a pull by the future, and that you don’t find it comfortable. I read your writing and I get your passion for acting to help effect change in the world. Good on you!

    My question for you is how do you discern between the experience of a psychological pull and the experience of this “in-breaking of Spirit, this call to the future…” i.e. a spiritual pull?

  • Comment Link Bruce Sanguin Saturday, 15 October 2011 15:43 posted by Bruce Sanguin

    Thanks Jim,

    I appreciate all you've written here. Really helpful for me to hear about your struggle with Christian concepts. You're right. Many are struggling, and some have concluded that it's best to simply trash all those categories. For some reason I don't seem finished with them yet.

    I rarely refer to "God" as "Creator" these days. I more imagine "God"as the Womb of Reality out of whom/which a universe emerges and evolves. It's more organic. There are problems with this image, as with all images. What I appreciate about it is that it makes sense of the traditional concept of "being made in the image of God". We are emergent "godlings". (The main challenge with the image of Womb of Reality, is taking seriously the dignity of "otherness". But that's a different "move".

    Trinity has a political dimension to it for sure. But I like to imagine that it's less about God as "a" being with three natures, but rather Being itself in mutual relation. This establishes that the fundamental nature of Reality is relational, more like the world of quantum physics, than classical physics.

    In Hinduism, Sachidananda, is also comprised of three natures right (I'm not a scholar). Bliss/delight, self-existence, consciousness?

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 18 October 2011 19:51 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks for the great comment Paul, I appreciate you taking our inquiry into another level of intimacy. I'm in the middle of a couple of busy school days, but will have Thursday and Friday off and will reply then. I look forward to it, lots of great material here, until then, Trevor.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 22 October 2011 23:07 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Br. Paul, I've finally found some space to pick up this thread. Let me jump right in!

    Let me start here. You write: "I wouldn’t say this narrative was necessarily engineered to assuage a person’s need for comfort (if indeed such a need truly exists), but I would say that it is an invention. It is a narrative. It is not an explanation".

    It's true what you say, that this is a narrative and not an explanation (by which I'm assuming you mean a scientific/material/testable explanation). I think Bruce calls it a metaphor, sometimes an "image". I agree with this, but only in part; only half way so to speak. I would press back against this- and to Bruce a bit as well- by saying that it's a metaphor/narrative that's also proposing an ontological hypothetical. It's saying that the universe might *actually look/work* like this. It might be a metaphor, but it's also making a substantive ontological claim.

    Let's look at the issue of metaphor for a moment. What I've learned from Joseph Campbell and the philosopher Jan Zwicky (in her book Metaphor and Wisdom), is that a metaphor is always in two places at once- there's the actual symbol/metaphor being used, and that to which it points to. The symbol and that which it's trying to open you up to.

    Zwicky writes:

    "A metaphor sets one thing beside another and says, "See, they have the same form". Which is to say: they make the same gesture; they mean in the same way". [http://amzn.to/nn6Q2H]

    So I would say that your word "invention" is too strong for me. I would say it's more an intuition then an invention, a sense for how Reality is. Or at least it's a claim in that direction (it could be off the mark or erroneous of course).

    Now, I've had a substantial amount of life experience feeling something like these kinds of pulls, but I've never viewed it through the lens Bruce has presented here. So for myself, this view of God as the future is one possible way to understand that experience. But I never swallow it fully. The way I try to verify these types of ideas/visions-of-things is to try it on for awhile, see if it makes sense of my life experience, and the world around me. I look at the phenomena within and without, and I ask if this view of the world makes sense of these things. I also see what happens when I open up to that vision of things, what happens in my life and experience. This can also indicate whether or not this is an accurate view of things. But it always has to be held somewhat loosely, as we'll probably never be able to fully/objectively verify these sorts of things. They will likely always remain at one level, mystery.

    But the point for me is that they never remain simply at the level of 'belief'. Wisdom, as I understand it, is putting you in right relation to reality (to use the Dowd phrase you resonated with). To believe something solely because it makes you feel better is in my view to live in a state of delusion; it's not a very healthy place to be, or at least it's not somewhere I want to be. So, for instance, it might be true that the universe IS a cold, meaningless, unfriendly place. If that's actually the case, I'd rather face up to that and start thinking through things from there. This is essentially what the existentialist philosophers did. Nietzsche makes meaning, in fact says a heroic YES to life, despite his view that there is no meta-meaning or God (cosmic nihilism). It's a heroic stance under the circumstances, but in the final analysis I don't agree with his ontology, his view of reality (he got Becoming very well, but rejected Being, and the link between the two, inappropriately in my view), so I find it an unnecessarily heroic view, it's carrying an extra burden that it needn't.

    So to say we choose our beliefs, I suppose that's true, but the question is are we choosing the right ones. To say that there might be 'right views' is to believe (as I do) that some views put us more or less in harmony with the world/universe of which we're an intimately intertwined part. When our conception of reality- and thus our relation to it- is out of whack with the Real, then we find out in a hurry (the way we're living, or relating to the earth for instance, will start to fail, show flaws, crumble, and life conditions will force us to change our views); to me this process is a/the primary engine of human evolution.

    You write- "I’m not really getting your point about a belief “lens” being modern and experience being something else?"

    What I was getting at/being cautious about there is that it's a very modern way of looking at things to talk in terms of 'beliefs' being primary; this is a worldview/understanding of reality that's largely caught in its head. It thinks in terms of propositional truth claims, logic, valid argument, method etc. This is in part Descartes' heritage; reality/meaning making is to be understood via the mind first and foremost. Other ways of knowing, particularly intuition, were rejected along with this view.

    But what I'm learning from the Christian tradition in school at the moment (for instance), is that theology is "faith seeking understanding". Which means, an experience happens first, and then we use the intellect to help make sense of that experience (with the caveat that it'll never finally be explained, mystery always remains in part. which basically is a way of saying the human mind will never fully capture all of Reality from the outside; or in postmodern terms, there's no Archimedean point). So say we have an overwhelming experience of oneness with all of reality. Our 'self' momentarily dissolves and we feel an overwhelming sense of connection and love for all. Theology (like Bruce is doing here), is the next move, it's the struggle to make sense of that experience. What does this mean? What must the universe, reality, be like for this to have been the case? What is the true boundary of my 'self' etc.? Questions like these arise and need to answered, which is where philosophy and theology step in, and of course they can draw off of many disciplines in that quest.

    So the way I read a piece like this by Bruce is not "hey this is a cool/heart warming way to look at life", but more like, "the universe might work like this and a life worth living can be led in accordance with this truth".

    Which I suppose brings me toward your question: "How do you discern between the experience of a psychological pull and the experience of this “in-breaking of Spirit, this call to the future…” i.e. a spiritual pull?".

    I think this is a really excellent question. And I suppose the first answer is- it's difficult and probably there's no easy answers. That path is fraught with potential ambiguity I'm afraid. I think you point to an experience that's in need of a lot more phenomenological description, precisely so that we can start to differentiate the two poles you highlight.

    A few spontaneous thoughts from my experience as I sit with this question. 1) I often experience this as coming from outside of me; by which I mean, the call seems to have to do more with something else, something larger than my life narrative. So, for instance, I've been passionate about the environment and changing our destructive relationship to the environment since I was a kid. But I've often thought over the past several years that this impulse in me comes from somewhere else, although I can't say for sure where it's finally located. It could be a human-species related signal I'm responding too (a siren of coming collapse); it could be from the Earth, from the Gaian system; or it could be cosmic in orientation. Not sure, but I feel as though on some level, it has nothing to do with me. 2) Relatedly, it often demands efforts, sacrifices, challenges. My personal/selfish self wants to stay home, to watch the tube, to seek personal pleasure. But this other voice often pulls me away from that (sadly :)), and sends me down uneasy roads and toward future goals I don't fully understand. 3) as attested to in many 'call passages' in the Bible, there can often be resistance, fear and doubt when feeling this pull. It can often threaten the personal self. 4) Through doing practices in the evolutionary spirituality tradition, I've come to learn how to be in a more open state of receptivity to these pulls/calls. You can become more sensitive, receptive, humble, open. You become more like a radio receiver in your attention to self and world. I have found that when I do this, the pull becomes more frequent and strong. I have started to witness/notice this receptive open state and the results, and I am more trusting of an impulse when it's being received from that place.

    So those are some beginning thoughts on that issue, but it's a great question, and one in need of a lot more work.

    Well Paul, I'll leave it at that for now, there's a lot in this comment already, hope some of it was useful. Feel free to continue the discussion in any direction, including critical ones. Bye for now, Trevor.

  • Comment Link Paul P Wednesday, 26 October 2011 08:45 posted by Paul P

    Hi Trevor,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I wonder if Bruce intends to make an ontological hypothetical, as you suggest. (Bruce?) Where I sit, I am comfortable with it as a metaphor that speaks of hope, and I believe hope has value.

    Many ways to pursue this dialogue but I’ll start with that I’m not sure we are using the words “belief” and “experience” in the same way. And I think this is important before we get into trying to discern spiritual pulls from psychological ones.

    I am not exactly saying belief is primary but I am saying belief colours our interpretation of experience – and this becomes another experience.

    So when I think of experience (or have one actually) then it involves some combination of the 5 senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, body sensation/feeling (some neuroscientists suggest time, beat, and echolocation may also be senses) and let’s add in (as the Buddhists do) mind/thought as another sense. So experience involves combinations of these “senses” of various qualities, intensities, durations, and so on. Yes? No? Is there experience outside of your senses?

    Beliefs colour our experience in different ways. The placebo effect is one objectively demonstrated way that belief can modify reported experience. Another example I see frequently occurs when my son believes he doesn’t like what’s for dinner before he has even tasted it, and sure enough he doesn’t! Obviously, (I hope you know me well enough!) I’m not saying that if you believe you can fly, that you will have that experience ;-)

    I’m not ruling out intuition as a way of knowing. But what is intuition? Seems to me it occurs in the realm or “sense” of mind. And intuition is a sort of non-rational knowing that occurs as a thought, perhaps in combination with some body sensations. Or at least, that’s what the experience of intuition is like for me. Is it different for you?

    The thing about intuition is that it comes from cumulative experience. So perhaps you can have an intuition about who will win the Stanley Cup next year because you know hockey, have an interest in it, some experience watching (many?) games and perhaps have even played… Can I have an intuition about what Wittgenstein would think about this comment? No, because I have never read any of his work.

    So this is probably long enough already. I’d like to hear a little more about your view on intuition and how you can separate out your intuition from being coloured by unconscious beliefs (ones that you are not aware of holding).

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