The Third Way, 39: Kohelet, 3

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“As modern beings, the theological explanation of “facts” cannot be true for us.  No events or persons can be special, as conduits to a different dimension of reality. . . .  Yet nearly everything else in Christianity – and the most cherished ideals of the secularized worldviews which were derived from it, and which still largely inform our present lives – follows from the truth of these facts: theologically, the covenant of God with man, the reality of human sin, the promise of deliverance and salvation; politically and morally, the unconditional goodness of simple existence, the dignity of the person, the equality of all human beings.  Disbelief must, of necessity, dislodge belief.  But. . . .”

Peter C. Emberley.  Divine Hunger: Canadians on Spiritual Walkabout.  (HarperCollins PublishersLtd., 2002), p. 7.

Our 21st Century Western spiritual, emotional, and psychological schizophrenia is described here by Emberley.  In his prelude to the above statement, Emberley lays out the whole psyche of our age, having adopted the scientific, reason-alone approach to understanding existence and any purpose for it.  As he explains  “. . . it has brought us to the recognition that the sacred is no longer a dimension of our consciousness, but an abandoned stage in the history of human consciousness.  Recognition of the innate goodness of individuals, and the potential for limitless perfectibility, renders ideas of human sin and evil, or the need for divine consolation and intervention, unnecessary.” (p.6)  Accordingly, we 21st Century wise-ones hold that, if we can analyze them, we can also figure out how to fix the problems of life and society without appealing to any supernatural agent for assistance, wisdom, or comfort.

And that, of course, is the whole case for ditching any supernatural or mystical element in diagnosing any claim to have witnessed or experienced such things.  Such “events” must be aberrations and delusions which may amount to a form of mental illness (as they were often treated in the Soviet Union and still are in pseudo-Communist, neo-Fascist China).

Even so, insisting and declaiming and psychologising about people’s mistaken hope in spirituality doesn’t seem to convince billions of people today, or explain why the great mass of humans over thousands of years disagreed that that other “dimension of our consciousness” is not really there at all and never was.  We simply can’t be convinced that all mystical sense and experience was/is nothing but a superstitious hope that some imaginary super being will vouchsafe to intervene and save us from ourselves or the natural forces we cannot control.

As a Professor at Canada’s Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Emberly is certainly one of those enlightened, reasonable, rational modern people who knows better.  Yet he cannot help being fascinated as he observes people on pilgrimage in India, or Arabia, or Rome.  Hosts of extremely well-educated and sophisticated, progressive people (who should know better?), “quite suddenly are on spiritual walkabout.  Whether they seek consolation, spiritual ecstasy, an exit strategy from everyday busyness, or hope. . .” (p.7)

Maybe they just irrationally “got religion!” (and will eventually get over it) and we can just move on shaking our heads in amusement at their baffling resort to discredited superstitions.  After all, religion was once all very well in its proper place, like a birth ceremony such as baptism or circumcision, a wedding, or a funeral, but smart people gave it little thought otherwise.  But even though we no longer have much regard for formal, institutional, traditional religion, a large majority of heart-hungry humanity still thirsts for ‘authentic spirituality’.  It seems that many really smart people also feel the pull of the “God-shaped vacuum”, as Pascal called it in his Pensées.

Which brings us back to Kohelet, our ancient guide who is so in tune with our modern malaise. That is why, from even his blasé, jaded perspective, there is no point in engaging in an endless, fruitless, frustrating debate about the existence of a Creator.  Contrary to our dominant, cutting edge view held and propagated by the who’s who of current scientific understanding, we in fact still do “have need of that hypothesis.”  The heart and soul starve without nourishment, and the dry C-rations of evolutionary astro-physics and macro-biology leave these sensitive parts of the human entity starving and withering away. 

Thus, as Kohelet moves forward in his roller-coaster tour of the state of the human heart and soul, he recognizes the paradox and dilemma of what we experience and what our innermost being tells us even in the face of what too often appears as “chasing after the wind.” 

“I have seen the burden God has laid on humanity.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in their hearts; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will last forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.  God does it so people will revere him.” (3:10-14)

Here is the paradox: this creation, this Earth, so cosmically improbable and tiny with its teeming life, is incredibly beautiful.  We awake and awestruck humans perceive it, but in our struggle to survive, thrive, and understand we are burdened beyond bearing.  Our burden is not merely like that which other creatures know—to find sustenance and reproduce.  It is much greater, the burden of yearning for much greater things—“eternity in our hearts”.  All around us we see the manifestation of this eternity—the infinity of the universe and the sense of complete wonder of it all, from the tiny to the immense, and an innate awe of its Creator, a being we intuitively know had to have made all this.  There is an order of things and being that is vastly greater than this mundane scrabbling and quarreling about “I, me, me, mine,” as the Beatles put it fifty years ago.  My stuff, my rights, my anger at the wrongs you’ve done to me (but not the ones I’ve done to you), my right to be outraged, to have recompense, to get back, to have my turn on top. . . .

What Kohelet is saying is that none of that will bring you the peace you crave and or wholeness your heart and soul hunger for underneath all the competing, consuming, and condemning.  Truly, we “cannot fathom what God has done [and is still doing] from the beginning to the end.”  Contentment and “happiness”, one of those “inalienable rights” the Creator has endowed us with according to the American Fathers and the Enlightenment “lights”, is an inner state found at least in part by “doing good” to others, not in endlessly chasing stuff and fame and fortune and renown and prestige and pleasure and vengeance, which are counterfeits that Solomon calls, from his own super-sated experience, “chasing after the wind”.  Finding satisfaction in simple toil, in work, in doing things well according to what you’ve been given (or decide) to do, that is a key.  But to get there, it has to be seen for what it really is—not a burden but “the gift of God”.

It is no good for us to endlessly “kick against the goads” as Jesus once told Saul of Tarsus he had been doing.  Saul had inflicted great pain and suffering on many others in his own battle to somehow win God’s favour through his zeal.  So too with so many of us—if only we could get them to see things “the right way”, to act “the right way” (and the right way is, of course, my way).  When we remove the Creator as the source of all good things, which means all of creation which He/She made “very good” from the very beginning, the only lens we have to determine the “right” way from the “wrong” way is how I/we have analyzed things should go, how we feel about things, especially when it comes to how the rest of humanity does goes about life.

So the fundamental missing link in any hope for our quest is to find, to go back to, the only worthy and reliable starting point—the Creator and the nature of what He/She has made.  And, from there, to confess, to agree, that what He/She has done, which reflects His/Her inevitable nature, is “unfathomable from beginning to end”.  This puts us in our proper place—humble, without arrogant hubris, and in need of facing this great, unfathomable Being with reverence, with respect, with a sense of awe—just as we look into the heavens which He/She “spoke” into being and stand in awe, or as we look deep into the micro-universe and behold in awe.

If we can get this proper beginning perspective and still our hearts and minds and souls to receive this roaring-loud, super-Technicolor truth which dazzles our eyes and overwhelms our ears when we unblock them, we will find the first place of rest and begin to be able “enjoy our work because that is our lot.  For who can bring him/her [us] to see what will happen after him/her/us?”  (3:22)

It is a matter of doing our best to honour the Creator and the creation with what we know and have, in order to “do good”—leave something good to those coming after us.  Nevertheless, we can’t control them or keep them from being fools.  They too have to face the Creator and be accountable.  They too must find their way to the first level of rest, the first repose in understanding and accepting who and what they really are and were made to be.

Peace and harmony can never truly begin to take root until we turn around and face the Maker.  That is Kohelet’s first lesson.  It is as true now as it was three thousand years ago.

The Third Way, 17: The Galileo Conundrum

“God is as near as your jugular vein.” The Quran

“Kiss the Son [God’s anointed One], lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way …” Psalm 2:12a

God is close and personal.  The Creator is not an anonymous ‘Force’ as per Star Wars, or an impersonal Super-Intellect as per the Deist formulation of some Enlightenment philosophes.  The whole creation points to the Creator’s personhood and personality.  His/Her incredibly imaginative and wondrously creative fingerprints are everywhere, as is His/Her presence and continuing intimate relationship with all that has been called into being.  Every bird and flower and insect, as well as every mammalian, amphibian, and reptilian individual of every species breathes and sings and shines out, “God made me unique and beautiful.”

The macro-evolutionists now strongly purport that the universe’s primal energies somehow have an ‘instinct’ to self-organize and cohere into ultimate self-awareness.  Yet for centuries we have been told the diametric opposite by their predecessors and even still by some current professors, to whit: the basic stuff of the universe is inanimate, undifferentiated, pure energy in its most basic form.  Hawking’s declaration of having no need of the ‘God hypothesis’ (still echoed by many other materialist dogmatists) to the contrary, his peers now endow the basic substance of the Cosmos with incarnational, self-affirming properties.  This is theology and philosophy, not science.  It is having your cake and eating it too, but not allowing it to suggest God.  We have been told over and over by these same guardians of ‘scientific doctrine,’ that Science and God are mutually exclusive.  If you want to be a credible scientist, ‘Thou shalt not bow to the Creator.’

Shades of dithering Hamlet in science!  Despite the abundant appeals of Lady Science to Prince Reason’s authority (or is it the other way around?), there are increasing numbers of courtiers across all the disciplines (although biologists and geologists seem most resistant) who are finding the inconsistency difficult to sustain.  Quietly, they are moving towards Galileo’s murmurs of, “And yet it moves.”  

Galileo was humiliated and silenced by the scientific reactionaries of his time (some, but not all, of whom happened to be theologians) after being condemned as a heretic and told to exile himself to a mountain retreat and refrain from publicly teaching or publishing for the rest of his life.  But he never retracted his basic observations that the earth orbits the sun while the moon orbits the earth and all the heavenly bodies are in motion at the same time.

The new reactionaries are the guardians of the tabernacle of the Enlightenment’s old-style “pure” science which reduces everything to mechanism operating according to laws and principles (even if they are now semantically demoted to mere “very strong probabilities”).  Their operative paradigms must not be challenged, especially when they may hint at something which was declared anathema 200-300 years ago.  Those found in ‘flagrante delicto’ backsliding towards the heresy of Design in creation are edging uncomfortably close to the views of the earliest modern scientists that the endeavour of science is to discover God and understand His ways through the ‘Book of Creation.’  Such retrogressors are rapidly shunted to the sidelines of academe’s backwaters where they can do the least harm if their expertise and credentials are too brilliant to completely efface.

There are indeed laws and principles involved in the study and understanding of creation (nature, if you prefer).  The Creator made it to work consistently, and made His/Her incarnated bridge-beings (you and me) to see and understand, at least to some degree, how it works.  The Creator is not capricious to the extent of just randomly changing the rules so that we can never make sense of what He/She has made and done and is still making and doing.  While change is a constant, there is order within change—which is incidentally what evolutionists have claimed since Darwin.  But the object of Darwin and those who enthusiastically leapt to adapt his paradigm was to get God out of the way of ‘progress’ once and for all. It is not as if the constancy of change or even natural selection at the micro level was unknown before Darwin reformulated it for the macro level minus God.  Aristotle, the greatest proto-scientist of antiquity, commented on it extensively, also saying the gods were not involved in any discernible way. 

The fog of misapprehension is in our senses, which have been enormously hobbled by the almost complete denial of one of their most essential number.  We are like grazing horses with head-hoods on who can see only the grass in front of their feet.  That hooded sense does not reside in the well-known five, but in what has usually been called the “spiritual nature.”  But as any notion of a spiritual nature has been relegated to the despised  province of “religion, superstition, and ignorant priest-craft,” by the Enlightened elite of the later 17th through present Centuries, it has been banned from social, political, economic, and scientific discourse, along with the Church, that supreme bastion of the Dark Ages.

Ancient wisdom has long known that, “Humanity cannot live on bread alone.”  Humans are not mere physical beings, but are the bridge between the ineffable and the “effable.”  Being made to be the bridge, they are made able to ‘sense’ it, to apprehend its presence, to feel it and, sometimes, even to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ it.  As the cliché says, “There is a lot more than meets the eye.”

This principle is true even within the ‘normal’ universe which our five physically rooted senses allow us to study via observation, reason, and logic.  By using our reasoning and that wonderful innate faculty of insatiable curiosity (another sense?) giving birth to technology, we have deduced that there are vast sensory ranges beyond our normal capacity to perceive: many more colours and sounds and types of energy, and on and on.  We can see and hear and smell and taste no more than a fraction of what is actually ‘out there.’  Some creatures see far more colours and nuances than we do, and others hear far beyond what our modest aural equipment allows.

Yet we arrogantly insist that no other orders of being beyond our ability to perceive can exist except as myth and legend or manipulative and power-motivated religious deception.  The inconsistency and arrogance involved in denying what until recent centuries has been considered a universal human experience and perception from remotest antiquity is breathtaking.

I am not advocating a return to superstition or a descent into credulous acceptance of anything ‘paranormal’ or ‘supernatural.’  I don’t doubt that many phenomena so classified may have analysable characteristics and even physical properties and measurable energies which we have so far not been able to capture.  But running away from mystery in fear and dogmatic rejection because we do not yet (or, as is far more likely, no longer) understand what we are and how these unaccountable phenomena occur within an orthodox, accepted framework will not make them go away or prevent myriads of people echoing Galileo’s “and yet it moves.”  And denying that there most probably are and always will be scientifically unsolvable mysteries about being and meaning will not make them disappear either, or offer any resolution to hungry hearts and famished souls.

The abundantly evident result of science’s procedural denial and dogmatically closed practice is that we have created a famine for real soul-food. Masses of people worldwide are attempting to fill the hunger with psychological, emotional, and spiritual junk-food—candy and fast-food for the mind, heart, and soul.  After all, that is what the adulation and demi-godhood of sports and entertainment celebrities is.  That is what the elevation of billionaire ‘success-gurus’ and political idols to super-hero status is.  Yet at every step we see that, as persons and in their personal lives, many, if not most, of our Herculean demi-gods are really quite unworthy of the elevation and esteem they are given.  That is why so many with empty lives seek reprieve in pleasure and the short-term pain-relief and long-term suicide of addictions of every kind, from substance abuse to pornography, to food and drink, to extreme thrill-seeking, to virtual-reality and fantasy.

We need stress relief and relaxation, but we have turned these basic needs into the main pursuits of life after we provide for our basic needs through work and endeavour.  As we look into the mirror and glimpse our thirsty souls behind the weary eyes looking back at us at the end of the day or the week, we perceive for a few moments how enmeshed we are in the dirty nitty-gritty, with no ultimate purpose in sight.  Even as we gaze a billion light years into the universe and marvel at its incredible size and paradoxical and irreducible complexity, we find an empty shell.  After all, it is nothing but an accident, another cosmic burp among endless cosmic burps, which this time in the ever-repeating cycle regurgitated this one-off “indigestible bit of pork-pie” as Scrooge put it.  And that in turn reduces you and me to accidental cosmic mini-burps.

Unless … there really is a Creator who, ‘once upon a time’ before there was anything except Him/Her, however that was/is/will be, decided to speak this whole incredible kaleidoscope and symphony into existence, for reasons that only He/She can ever fully know or understand. We need to begin to humbly puzzle out a little about our Creator being as close as our jugular vein and what “kissing the Son” may signify. We need to stay where we are and begin searching, not run away because we are addicted to being our own gods.