the Natural Christian
the world is full of people whose heart
is Christian through and through, but who
cannot, with good justification, grant themselves
for that name has been stolen by others
little book is for them
by Joel A. Wendt
social philosopher...and occasional fool
part one: how may we describe the consciousness of an ordinary human being, in ordinary terms?
part two: what does Science Believe it Knows about Consciousness?
part three: ordinary consciousness studies itself.
part four: Is Science Limited to its Present Methods of Investigation?
part five: the psychology of the moral life of a natural Christian.
part six: the relationship of Natural Science to Thinking.
part seven: the relationship of the natural Christian to thinking.
part eight: culmination and integration: becoming scientific about our own consciousness and self-consciousness.
part nine: arguments with God; a personal view, offered ...
appendix: BICYCLES - a Children's
Christmas Story, which is also for Adults -
First ... I can't answer all questions
here, but I'll try to point out some things that might be helpful to
people, especially those who say something like: well, I'm not religious, but
I am spiritual.
What I have in mind here, by the idea of
a Natural Christian, could even include Sam Harris, the author of the End of
Faith, who believes himself to be more of a
atheist, than a religious person. The God he finds
described in most religious texts (especially as interpreted and
practiced by modern individuals who consider themselves to be believers
of Christian Faith) seems to him to be completely irrational. I
think Harris is quite justified in this view.
The practice of religion, by many who
name themselves Christians, is often irrational, and what is often
worse - even more often hypocritical. This is not to suggest, by
the way, that anyone who calls themselves Christian is of this
tendency. The reality is more difficult to apprehend and come to
terms with. Which is why this essay is being written - to
help anyone who stumbles upon it to perhaps orient their own nature and
life with greater surety of purpose.
One of the peculiarities of the present
time, especially with connection to those organized religious
institutions that call themselves Christian, is that while there are
many who have beliefs, few actually practice the teachings. To
actually follow the teachings of Christ, as most anyone who bothers to
read the Gospels knows, is rather difficult. A lot is asked
As a consequence of this difficulty,
Christianity has become today mostly a system of beliefs, with
different institutions espousing radically different points of view,
from the Roman Catholic Church to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints (the Mormons). Holding beliefs is a lot easier than
following those oh so difficult teachings. Not to say there
weren't a lot of people who tried to follow the teachings, it just that
a lot of them got killed for heresy* by the Roman Church, or if they
agreed (submitted) to correct institutional doctrine, had to end up
living in domiciles for the members of Religious Orders (Franciscans,
*See the essay the Transcendentalist Impulse
and Heretical Christianity, included
with this essay in the book: New Wine.]
Since most systems of belief became rigid
(rules and doctrines and dogmas), one could ask whether this had any
value at all. This question really has significance when
one considers the meaning of Faith in the psychology of a human being.
In the prologue to the Gospel of John, we find these lines: "...There was a man sent from
God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness
to the light, that all might believe through him. He was
not the light, but came to bear witness to the light."
Even Christ understood this: "Blessed are those who have
not seen and yet have believed."
Most religions make a great deal of the idea of Faith, but
perhaps get confused when they insist that it has to be Faith in their
version or system of beliefs. Even Harris, mentioned above,
called his book, the End of
Faith, but if you read him carefully, he is
actually highly critical of beliefs. We could say that
people today don't understand the distinction, or the importance given
to all this by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: "And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Faith is as much an act of trust in the Divine
Mystery, as it is anything else. To equate Faith, however, with a
system of beliefs, is to mistake the superficial (beliefs) with the
depths of religious practice (Faith).
Why can I say: that people today don't
It is mostly a question of the difference
between reading about something in a book, and learning to actually do
it - to practice it. Obviously we can recognize that a
person who reads all kinds of books about the martial arts, knows a
great deal less than a person who has become a master of their
practice. The same is true in religion. Reading about
religion in a book, and actually practicing it for a lifetime, are two
very different things.
Someone who goes to Church on Sunday and
prays the Lord's Prayer in public (as most Christian Churches do)
doesn't understand the first thing about the Sermon on the Mount, which
very clearly says to say the Our Father in secret. Out loud and
in secret. To actually follow Christ's instructions (say, for
example, about the mote and the beam in the Sermon on the Mount) leads
to experiences, the same way the practice of martial arts leads to experience.
No pain, no gain is the modern cliche.
Same is true in religion. Its easy to have a belief
system. Its comforting. It doesn't ask too much. You
hang out with a bunch of folks who all believe the same thing.
Sort of like a club. Thing is Christ didn't say
join a club. In fact He said kind of the opposite: He who loves father or mother
more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more
that me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and
follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose
it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who
receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent
Then, of course, there's the example.
You know the one. Preaching what was essentially a bunch of
ideas contrary not only to the dominant local religion of the
time (according to the Hebrew Priesthood), but also all kinds of social
ideas not exactly in accord with how Rome conducted its political
business. We know not to talk at dinner about religion and
politics. Christ didn't seem to know that one. He
thought the truth was more important. Then they killed him.
Afterwards - well in the beginning
anyway, there were a lot of people running around telling the good
news, telling the story. Churches were founded (of a sort).
Women were often leaders. The story didn't agree with
the beliefs of the Hebrew religion. Disciples were martyred, both
for religious reasons and political. People, ordinary
people, liked the story. It was impressive. The
Disciples were impressive. The Romans were often jerks or thugs
and the Hebrew priests often hypocrites.
Then comes Emperor Constantine, who unites the declining Roman Empire with some of the bishops of the emerging Christian Church. Institutional politics and institutional religion make for good authoritarian bed partners, and the teachings of Christ starts (had already started, but here it gets serious) getting re-interpreted. For example, the Gospels, in the original Greek, don't have the word sin (the Greek word means missing the mark, or making an error). Where Christ (again in the Greek) says you are to love God with all your mind and all your heart and all your spirit, the Roman Church drops the idea of an immortal spirit, and substitutes the idea of the soul (you are to love your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul). Not only that, but the New Testament gets organized, leaving out a whole bunch of books that talk about things like Gnosis (how to have direct experience of the Divine Mystery), as well as Faith. I could go on.
Periodically certain personalities try to
refocus on what Christ actually said and did, and that maybe we should
be worried about living the way he taught, and no so worried about
whether our system of ideas is officially approved by the head guy (and
his cohorts) in Rome (or other places). The so-called Christian
religion slowly more an more loses its connection with what Christ
actually taught. Yet...
These moral ideas have become part of the
general cultural background of Western Civilization. When science
arises, those who want the truth instead of doctrine again become
martyrs to the truth, only this time to the truths of science, which in
the beginning was just another heresy to the Roman Church.
Are you getting the picture yet?
Now not everyone in an organized Church
is a fool, or stupid. Many scientists are quite religious, in all
kinds of ways. Kepler was an astrologer. Newton was
an alchemist. Faraday was a deeply religious Christian.
Einstein, born a Jew, reacted to the probability theory in
quantum mechanics by saying: that God doesn't play dice with the universe.
A lot of people get turned off to
organized religion, yet are very concerned about what they call ethics.
The belief systems are weird (as Sam Harris and others have
observed), but even the new atheists are inclined to ethics. Some
scientists are so convinced that people are often moral, that they try
to find a way to explain this using evolutionary psychology (which believes something got hardwired into the brain in evolution,
including moral behavior, which has to have a survival utility, or so
it is often assumed).
If we look at what people do, and not
just at what they believe, we often find that many people struggle to
do the right thing. While some find the idea of the right
thing as an aspect of their religious beliefs, many others want to
decide for themselves what is right to do. Fundamentalists speak
of moral relativism, and find evil where their particular
interpretation of morality is violated (mostly biblical - that is in a
so-called holy book, which as we know was very much edited by
institutions with other agendas). Even though warned about the
mote and the beam, preachers of absolute biblical moral truths
(e.g. all abortions are murder), still don't get it.
No practice, and all beliefs, is not
following Christ. You follow Christ, you get in trouble.
You join a comfortable club, you get to hate everyone that isn't
in it with you. Apocalyptic end times eschatology isn't Christ
based. Its human mistrust of the actual world, and a vain
delusion that only the true believer has it all right. The rest
of us can go to hell, literally.
So are there real Christians out there?
Of course, and many are in organized Churches. There's also
this other group. People with a personal ethic, that if you
trace the history of their particular ideals, you'll end up with the
influence of Christ's teachings on Western Civilization.
What's weird is that because the
institutional Churches made a primacy of belief (instead of practice),
the focus of modern critics has been on the irrationality of the ideas
in the beliefs. The Churches have leaned far too long on
rigid doctrines, and not having actually practiced the teachings of
Christ, don't have a clue where the real meat is. Where's the beef? said the lady in the commercial. In the
practice folks. Want to know the real meaning of what
Christ taught - follow the teachings.
In a sense there is a considerable
difference between a world view or a cosmology
(thus the arguments between creationists and neo-Darwinian
evolutionists) and the experiences provided by the practice. Our ideas and beliefs about the fundamental
questions of reality are one thing, while the religious life (the practices) are quite another. Modern
scientists are right to question (as they did 500 years ago when
natural philosophy first appeared), whether the world-pictures espoused
by the Roman Church (and other similar religious institutions) are
true. What is the truth about human origins is one question.
How do I be a moral person (should I so choose) is a
The truly odd thing, however, is that if
one really practices the teachings a new state of being arises.
In the cultural
East, this is seen as the pursuit of enlightenment. In the cultural West, the following of
the teachings of Christ will lead to a related state of being, but one
which is more appropriately called: initiation. The John Gospel, for example, is a description of
a path of initiation - a path leading to Gnosis or direct personal
experience of the Mystery (when we are practicing, that is being truly
moral, our life more and more takes on the following qualitative
washing the feet, the scourging, the crowing with thorns, the carrying
the cross, the crucifixion, the entombment, and the resurrection - that is, the true moral life becomes a Path or Way).
In the midst of these apparently
conflicting views over cosmology and the goals of the religious life,
there are the countless biographies of ordinary people, whether they
are living in the East or the West in the wider cultural frames of
reference. What does all this mean for them? Does
being a member of a church have anything at all to do with the moral
life of the individual heart?
Hopefully now the reader will appreciate
that there are many questions, some a bit strange, others quite down to
earth and practical. This essay (and booklet), the
Natural Christian, seeks to shed some light
on these questions. Hopefully this process will enlighten the
reader as well as initiate them into the deeper aspects of the true
Christian religious mysteries, without leaving behind the rational
nature of the human mind.
In order to proceed carefully, and
logically, it will be necessary to give some order to the themes to be
elaborated. This book then takes the course of trying (one
can always fail) to proceed by sticking to knowable facts as much as
possible, well all the while not forgetting that even though we may be
involved in very practical aspects of human psychology, we will also
have living in us fundamental questions due to our experience of the
teachings of natural science.
This then is the basic structure - to alternate the subject matter of the chapters or parts. We will start with psychology, of the sort everyone can appreciate, and then move to the scientific riddles which so enchant us. Close personal questions and wider questions of meaning and significance, will then be elaborated in the different parts, in a kind of alternating rhythm.
To make this all a little more concrete,
consider the following:
We all know, in ourselves, that we have
something we call: mind. We think, and out
of our thinking we make decisions. Scientists study this,
as do psychologists. So one kind of question is very personal and
concerns our own understanding of our own inner life, or mind.
How do we operate our decision making process? Not just what
do we think (the content), but how do we think? Is there somewhere an operating
manual for the mind, and how do we make moral decisions with our own
mind and remain free? That would be the theme of the one sequence
The other sequence of parts would concern
the wider questions. Where does mind come from? What
is the relationship between consciousness and the physical brain?
Are we only matter, or are we also spirit? With
these many questions in mind, let us begin...
How may we describe the consciousness
of an ordinary human being,
One of the interesting things life has
taught me is that quite often the simplest matters are the most
important. Not only that, it is frequently the case that the
simplest matters are subjects about which there is sometimes the
For example, there is sleeping and
waking. This, it would seem, is all very obvious, but hopefully
as we go forward in this first part, the reader will discover that
these obvious and simple matters, when carefully thought about, can be
When we are awake, that is conscious,
certain processes go on within our minds. When we sleep,
these process may or may not cease, but at the very least it is clear
that we are unaware of them. Certain kinds of injuries
cause unconsciousness. We can also faint from not eating
right, and then experience momentary unconsciousness.
So we know two quite different states.
Being awake and being unconscious. Yes, there are dreams,
but keep in mind that dreams have a number of odd characteristics.
In them we are aware, but of what. The world of
dreams is quite unlike the world we know when we are truly awake in the
When we are conscious in a normal way, we
are conscious of some object. We experience through the senses. We hear sounds, see
things, smell smells and so forth. We are also aware of inner
states - things others can't see. Our thoughts for example - no
one (apparently) sees/knows our thoughts, but us.
We are also aware of our self as a
subject. We are ourselves, and then there is the world that
is not us. So there is not only, when we are conscious, that
experience, but also that which experiences. Most of us call that which experiences our I.
We say: I saw the cat scratch the dog. Or, I
experienced a certain idea.
We also have feelings, which also tend to
be invisible, but sometimes these are so expressive that others can
read them in our face, or in our posture. Of someone we
know well, we could notice when they are angry or afraid. Other
times we need to speak of our feelings, for others to know of them.
In certain times of developing intimate
relationships, our anxiety over the possibilities will make us tongue
tied. We have thoughts and feelings of which we are conscious,
but we can't express them. Our language is full of such
descriptive phrases as tongue tied. If, to
continue the example, we have to hold in our anger we might say: I had to bite my tongue.
We could say that we have both an outside
(which others experience through their
senses) and an inside which only our I experiences. Thus the
wonderful phrases: you can't tell a book by its cover. Or, beauty is only skin deep.
waters run deep.
Now we all know these very simple things,
don't we. Our whole social life and a great deal of our language
takes account of these very simple observations. Where
things get interesting is when we try for more detail, especially when
we go for more detail about the experience of our inner world by our
Some of this is also embedded in our
language, although occasionally in odd kinds of ways. We have,
for example, the word insight. We can even
describe a person as insightful. We also speak
of some people as bright, or that someone had a bright idea. In a cartoon, when a character has a bright idea
the cartoon has a picture of a light bulb going off above the
person's head. Then there is the word enlightened.
We have another word: intuition. We also speak of gut feelings. Some people today, who a few decades ago would
have described themselves as a psychic, will now call themselves an intuitive. In a recent New Yorker magazine I just read there
is an article called: The Eureka
Hunt: why do good
ideas come to us when they do? (by Jonah
Of course we have such words as:
thinking, thoughts, ideas, concepts and so forth. Our inside is
rich, and somewhat mysterious, for while we have learned more and more
about the brain (see the next chapter), the scientists of consciousness
still have to confess that they do not know just quite how the material
brain produces this assumed subjective state known as consciousness,
much less why we have this sense of the I itself (self-consciousness). Oh, there are plenty of theories,
but real accurate scientific knowledge is hard to come by.
Now lets take the mystery all the way out
there, as far as it can go (perhaps), with this quote from Christ in
the Gospel of Luke: "The kingdom of God doesn't come with watching like a
hawk, and they won't say, Here it is, or There it is, because you know
what? the kingdom of God is inside you."
Unvarnished Gospels, by Andy Gaus. [emphasis
Of course, among scholars of the Gospels
(and the Bible in general) the version above is disputed (what isn't
disputed in the Bible?). Recall, however, from the introduction,
the difference I pointed toward with making a distinction between
systems of belief (which has to include any effort at interpretation), and what is learned by practice. If we read the
writings of the truly religious, as against the writings of the true
believers, what Christ says in Luke above makes a lot more sense.
Serious practitioners of Christ's teachings have experiences via their inside.
So that we may make one fundamental
question obvious: Do good ideas come from God? That would
be one reasonable question, although there are many many more.
This being the case, perhaps we should now move to a short
part more explicitly on science, since many readers will be somewhat
familiar with those ideas concerning these kinds of questions.
What does Science Believe
The first thing we have to recognize is
two general assumptions common to scientific thinking in this field of
interest. They are somewhat related.
1) The world only consists of physical
matter and all phenomena will be discovered to the based upon matter
2) The mind and consciousness are
products of the nervous system in the human being, particularly the
physical brain. (although no one presently has a satisfactory
explanation for how the physical brain produces consciousness, or
A lot of behavior is also thought to be
rooted in our evolutionary past. The general idea here is that
through processes of natural selection, various behaviors become hard
wired in the brain, or are the result of a similar process occurring at
the genetic level. Again, in these ideas science is consistent,
with the result that solely physical explanations are arrived at for
how and why we act as we do.
Some theorists even go so far to say that
self-consciousness (our sense of an I) is an illusion produced by
electro-chemical processes in the brain. We really don't have an
I according to this view, it is just a convenient illusion manufactured
by the brain for the purpose of ... well, here the explanations
(theories) get a bit fuzzy.
The article mentioned above (the Eureka
Hunt) describes some current research, and
certain aspects of the method used in that work are quite common today.
Various individuals are wired up to EEGs or put in MIR tubes (or
both at the same time), and then images (or other kinds of sense
experience) are shown to them, while the scientist records data on
which parts of the brain show greater activity when stimulated in this
way. In the essay in the New Yorker they showed their subjects
puzzles, and tried to map what happened in the brain when the subject
had a "aha!" moment when they solved the puzzle. Science has also
worked with people with various defects and injuries, where the brain
seems not to function normally (in part), and thus this data adds to
the total pictures created.
Basically all modern scientific research
into consciousness takes this same general path. Subjects are
studied and data accumulated. The scientist approaches the
subject through his own senses, stimulating the subject and measuring
electrical and other physical changes in the brain. There
are of course also purely psychological studies conducted
often in the form of interviews, but again the scientist comes to the experiment with a certain formal approach.
We need to keep in mind that research of this kind is held to certain standards (unless it is part of government black operations or similar secret and probably illegal corporate research); and, we also need to keep in mind that in most scientific disciplines funding is needed. A lot of research on the brain is also done by looking at the chemistry. The basic question here is what happens in the nerve cells at this level. The pharmaceutical industry supports, or itself carries out, a lot of this research, especially with regard to developing medications for what we call: mental illness. Multiple motives drive the nature of this research - it is not always purely done for the purposes of seeking the truth.
The totality of the work, legitimate and
otherwise, is extraordinary. Detailed maps of the brain have been
created. Left hemisphere, right hemisphere, spacial sense, motor
skills, language areas, what happens when we think, what happens when
we run - the terminology is almost endless.
Of course, the two assumptions mentioned
above are the overriding ideas determining everything else. The
very tricky problem of causality (what causes what) is not well
understood. For example:
is old hat to say that the brain is responsible for
mental activity. Such a claim may annoy the likes of Jerry Falwell or
the Ayatollah, but it is more or less the common
educated people in the twentieth century. Ever since the scientific
revolution, the guiding view of most scientists has been that knowledge
about the brain, its cells and its chemistry will explain mental
states. However, believing that the brain supports
behavior is the easy part: explaining how is quite another." (Mind Matters: How the Mind and Brain interact to
Create Our Conscious Lives, Michael S. Grazzanica Ph.D. pp 1, Houghton
Mifflin, Boston 1988). [Emphasis added]
and, from the same book:
thought can change brain chemistry, just as a physical
event in the brain can change a thought."*
*[pssst, Michael, I think you goofed
here. If a thought can change brain chemistry, what causes
the thought if not the I? Oh, yes well, don't actually know that
do you. We'll come back to this riddle later.]
Now this book quoted above is 20 years
old, but these problems remain unresolved today. 20 more
years of research into consciousness has not rescued natural science
from the mystery of how the brain produces consciousness and
self-consciousness. Of course as Grazzanica admits above, for the
working scientist this causal problem is resolved by a common assumption. Mind and brain are assumed to be one thing.
Perhaps the scientist has not yet asked
the right question, because his assumption stands in the way and blinds
There is one very very big peculiarity in
modern consciousness research. The dominant thinking (there are
tiny exceptions) assumes that the present nature of scientific method
will yield results, and further this thinking acts more or less as if
nobody ever studied consciousness before.
This last is a major paradox.
Human beings have always wondered about their minds, and
any look at the history of human thought, in the cultural West and the
cultural East, finds not just all kinds of philosophical examinations
of mind in great detail, but also rather elaborate disciplines where
the fundamental truth of mind is sought to be known through what are
essentially experiments (practices that teach).
There is a difference, however.
What the older mind sciences do is something quite radical
in relationship to modern consciousness studies. Mind, in these
disciplines, is studied from the inside, not from the outside. Those who lead
the consciousness studies in modern natural science look upon another
person as a subject to be studied. The more ancient (and
far wiser), and some modern disciplines, require of the subject that he
Know thyself said the Greeks. The Zen Master practices
meditation daily for hours. The Carmelite Nun prays for
hours every day. A serious student of Anthroposophy (a modern
Christ-oriented spiritual discipline) spends years thinking about
thinking. All study their inside, although the methods differ.
consciousness studies itself
Don't be shocked, we already do this.
Who is more curious about our self than us? If there is a
limit, it is a bit natural too. Most of us forget our adolescence
with all its "who
am I" questions, ambiguities and
uncertainties. We are, as we grow psychologically, inventing our self. We participate, as an I, in the construction of
our personality. If we can stand the pain of remembering this
time in our psychological development (adolescence), we can become
aware in detail just exactly how we constructed our personality - how
we created a kind of mask by which we lent to the world one image of
who we are, and kept private a great deal of the rest. There is a
lot that shapes this, of which I'll remind the reader soon, but lets
make this first point as clear as possible.
The natural or instinctive elements of
psychological growth run out of steam in our 20's. This is why so
many adult men and women seem to remain emotional children. To a
degree this is an artifact of culture. If our cultural
experiences don't teach us that we can continue to grow and
psychologically mature, we end up just letting the development of our
personality become fixed - become a set of habits.
Now culture itself grows and develops.
What we remember as the 1960's was (among much else) an
explosion of ideas whose essential common center (from multiple points
of view) was that we could continue to grow spiritually and/or
psychologically. We take up meditation. We go
to encounter groups. We join AA. We enter
therapy. The result is that there is a near endless list of
transformative processes in which people can be engaged today.
Many people do more than one.
Sometimes they'll do several at the same time, and other times
they will do them serially - one at a time, but still be always
involved in personal
growth. Those who didn't do this, would
often make fun of it. Stuck in their own post-adolescence stasis
they talked of the me generation, or new agers, or moral relativism, or
family values or culture wars - demonstrating all kinds of ways to
label the natural curiosity to become something more and something new,
possessed by others, as some kind of defect.
Many people are afraid of change, and
they seek others of a like taste and relationship to life. They
form different kinds of clubs, and these clubs often resist the natural
movement of culture and of human nature. Many of these
clubs sought to label themselves as Christian, or found in certain
Christian sects a warm safe home. At a psychological level what
they really were looking for was something fixed, just as their
personality was fixed. Some even went culturally backwards.
They tried to bring alive in the present something of the
past. The ambiguities of the 1960's frightened such people, and
they wanted the family to be just like their romantic idea (probably
taken from television) of family life in the 1950's or earlier.
Once you take such a view, which is at
its roots driven from fear of change, it becomes easy to use a text
like the Bible to provide justification for the need. So
our society itself devolves into factions - those moving forward, those
holding still and those trying to run backwards.
Underneath this are fundamental
questions, which some are willing to face as they mature, and which
others can only find comfort in relationship to, if they hold still and
get answers from the outside. They don't want to think and decide
their own beliefs, they want to be told what to believe.
Who am I? What am I? Why do I
exist? What do I believe? How do I find love?
How do I find comfort? How do I avoid pain?
How do I be moral?
These questions began for many in
adolescence as our own thinking woke up. We wanted, we
hungered, we were uncertain. It was so painful finding our self in the midst of all those hormonal changes and inner
psychological developments. Our parents wanted one thing
and our teachers another. So did our friends.
Everyone around us had an idea of who we were supposed to
be. But what about me - what did I want?
Everyone knows today that their High
School experience seriously sucked. It sucks even worse today,
since we live within a culture with a lot of aspects which are decaying
and dying. When I was an adolescent (the 1950's), the world
wasn't so sexualized or so full of drug temptations. I have
raised five children through adolescence now, and it always amazes me
what they have had to face - the older ones with less troubles of a
certain kind, the younger with issues I never could have imagined
possible. The miracle, however, is that they seem equipped to
handle these experiences. I would not be able to do what they do,
for they endure a much tougher adolescence (rite of passage to
Social change today is accelerated.
The structure of society is falling apart. In other places
in my work I write of this time being the end of Western Civilization.
Whether you buy that or not, I don't think many people
today think we live in simple times. Who we are is affected
by this social context. The context pushes more questions at us.
If we reflect on this we can see that there seem to be laws in
My self understanding is influenced by my cultural experience.
One of those simple things, that we know in such an obvious
way, is perhaps far more important a fact then we realize. We
will return to this later.
Is Science Limited to its
Methods of Investigation?
Lets move away from the direct study of
consciousness by science, and take a look at modern physics, in
particular quantum theory and mechanics. If one appreciates
how basic aspects of science advance, physics is generally the leading
edge. As a general observation we could say that it takes
sometimes as much as 30 or more years before a discipline, such as
microbiology for example, is able to integrate into its fundamental
ideas what the physicists have already learned.
One of the more interesting scientists to
look at this is the mathematician Roger Penrose. To call him a
mathematician is a bit lame in a way, but he is quite skilled at the
pure and abstract thinking of a leading mathematician. He
takes these skills and tries to integrate knowledge from other
disciplines. At the same time he is very open minded.
He is more interested in discovering the truth than he is a
proving a favorite theory can't be touched or changed.
For example, in his book The Emperor's
New Mind he wrote (in 1989):
seems clear to me that the importance of aesthetic
criteria applies not only to the instantaneous judgments of
inspiration, but also to the much more frequent judgments we make all
the time in mathematical (or scientific work) Rigorous argument is
usually the last step! Before that, one has to make many guesses, and
for these, aesthetic convictions are enormously important..."
cannot help feeling that, with mathematics the case
for believing in some kind of ethereal, eternal existence, at least for
the more profound mathematical concepts, is a good deal stronger..."
A very open mind indeed...
Following this early book, which was
rather popular, Penrose began to speculate that what goes on in the
brain, if connected to ideas about quantum states of matter, might
begin to explain consciousness. These were controversial themes,
but lets look a little at quantum theory to see what it says about
substance or matter, for after all the brain is matter and the
assumption of science is that consciousness arises from matter.
What is matter to modern physics?
If you've never run into these ideas, don' worry. However,
they are a bit strange if you are not familiar with them. All the
same we need to dip into the past a little bit, for a lot of ideas grow
out of earlier ideas.
For example, it used to be thought that
at the fundamental smallest level of matter there was a thing. An
object. Very tiny yes, but you could with instruments
perhaps see it. Some scientists even did (or thought they
did). But then the idea of fields came into play (Faraday). You know, like the
magnetic field that organizes a bunch of iron filings.
There is no tiny thing there, in the field. But
anything that enters the field is affected by it.
The next idea was that when we spoke of a
particle (like the kinds of particles that are smaller than atoms, and
from which atoms are made) this particle was a result of the
intersection of various fields. Where the fields intersected,
this point in space (which was not fixed, but moved) resisted being
penetrated. So while a rock, for example, seems very dense and
full of what it is made of, in reality it is mostly empty space
punctuated by intersections of fields of force. A
sub-atomic particle began to be more and more conceived of as no longer
a thing occupying space, but as a dynamic (moving and changing)
point center created by intersecting fields of force.
It gets worse.
Experiments with photons (split beam
experiments and the like) suggested some very odd ideas.
Indeterminacy theory emerges, and theorists decide you can't
predict anything at this level anymore. Its all
probabilities. (Thus Einstein's comment that God doesn't play
dice with the Universe - he couldn't believe these ideas). Not
only is matter mostly empty space (that is there is no there there),
but even worse, whatever it is, it only exists as a potential, as a
probability. It might be here, it might be there. It
definitely isn't yet. Something has to intervene before the
probability collapses into definiteness. For something to
actually be, and to have a there (mass
or being-ness and position
or there-ness) consciousness has to influence
Did he really write that?!?!?
Want your mind to start to fray at its edges? Google
"consciousness and quantum mechanics" and start trying to read that
stuff. Is this a problem? Not really. In my
view it is better understood as a limit.
Science has followed carefully the
examination of smaller and smaller conditions of matter until matter
disappeared, first into the interactions of fields of mysterious forces, and then finally into conditions of indeterminacy. Of potential. Of not yet. Of a
constant state of becoming, in which the I or self-consciousness of the experimenter was the final contributing factor. The fall
from potential into manifestation only arises when the experimenter
goes looking for either the being-ness (position) or the there-ness
(movement) of an object, which to his mind has none of those qualities* until he acts).
*[Physics, in spite of its efforts to
deal only with data that could be counted and measured, that is with
only quantities (but never qualities), has been unable to
fully abandon qualities (being-ness and there-ness). In spite of
generations of effort to eliminate the subjectivity of the observer as
well, physics has ended up discovering that this very subjectivity is
essential to maintain its present line of experiments. This
subject we'll take up in more detail later.]
One thing is certain, if you read what
these physics writers try to say about consciousness. They
don't know much about it. They mostly live in the same
assumptions as those scientists studying consciousness directly from
the outside - which is that at some point we must figure out how to
show consciousness emerging from the matter (which simultaneously
doesn't become determined without consciousness?). Did you get
At a fundamental level there is a huge
circular system of reasoning (a tautology) at the root intersections of
modern quantum physics and theories about how the brain produces
consciousness. We study the brain, but can't figure out how
it makes consciousness from matter. We study matter and observe
that it needs consciousness to become determined. Yet, of
consciousness itself we are very very ignorant.
We know consciousness directly, but we
never study what is right before us in our own minds. We study it
indirectly, using others as subjects, but avoid our own mind.
Perhaps there is a reason for that.
the psychology of the moral life
A main difficulty for those engaging in
the self study of their own mind is those nasty moral questions.
Right at the beginning of such a study we already know the own
dark within. That is, if we have what is called: a
conscience (some folks don't appear to have one). This fear
of facing the own shadow is what keeps many from being willing to look
This is partially why Alcoholics
Anonymous has the forces for true change it has. The Twelve
Steps help you take that journey of facing the dark inside.
Hitting bottom is a life experience that tends to wake
people up and confront them with a choice. Do I take my life
(particularly my inner life) in hand, or do I just continue to let it spiral
out of control, destroying all those I love in its wake. Those
are powerful moral questions, and the process of AA's Twelve Steps
walks you through this minefield in a very healthy way.
The fact is that AA is universally valid
as a Path, and need not be confined to just people with obvious
addictions and flaws. Everyone is flawed, everyone. A
lot of so-called Christians, for example, are addicted (selfishly in
love with and hooked on certain systems of belief, by which activity
many others are harmed). There could well be a recovery group for
former fake Christians. Lets look at the Twelve Steps a bit and
see if we can appreciate their deeper nature.
Twelve Steps, twelve Disciples, twelve
Signs of the Zodiac. One Sun in the Center, shedding light and
warmth on All.
From a certain point of view, the Twelve
Steps can be conceived of as three processes, through which the soul is
mastered (its dark and its light integrated - healed and made whole).
These three processes elevate the spirit for the mastery of the
soul. The self-consciousness (the spirit) becomes awake in the
consciousness (the soul). What was fallen in the soul is
redeemed, by the forces of the own I.
The first stage of this total process is surrender.
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol -- that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a
searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
The first part of surrender is directed
at our egotistical idea that we can, out of the present state of being
of our own I, rule our life of soul, in particular its shadow elements.
The second part of surrender is to recognize that something
other than our own I can help us. The third part of
surrender is to choose to include this other-ness consciously as a force within. The fourth part is
to surrender the I's defenses of its own dark truths about itself.
In a way the 4th Step and the 1st form a circle.
In the surrender phase (and keep in mind
people don't always get it the first time or the tenth time) we circle
around ourselves, trying to create a true attitude of surrender to the
truth. Admitted powerlessness, sought help from something
greater, let this something greater have more influence over our self
than our own egotism, and began the work of understanding that egotism
(too much I, not enough Thou) in brutally self-honest detail.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a
list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to
Having learned surrender, we now move
away from egotism toward the Thou, via the higher nature of our I.
In this process surrender becomes confession and
contrition. We include others - we confess to ourselves, to
another and to God as we understand him (maintaining our freedom to
think for ourselves). We ask for help. And, we get ready to
face our responsibilities. This is the central process, and
it takes us away from our self as the egotistic center of our life, and
involves us in community. Confession and contrition makes
us better social beings. AA is a social process - we don't
do it alone, but as part of something greater.
In a certain way this gesture of movement
away from self and toward community is the heart of the Twelve Steps.
It is clearly, to those who actually become able to experience
it, the hardest step of all, and the one most difficult to maintain.
We don't get perfect. We don't recover.
We continue to have a dark inside, as well as a light.
Yet, to help us maintain (continue one day at a time our
recovery), we have the process of the last four Steps.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to
carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all
The process of the last four Steps is:
practice leading to service. We need a daily practice, just
as a monk or nun, or meditating Zen student needs. One day at a
time, - but to do that we have a form as it were - a Way of Life. The beginner in AA is encourage to do 90
in 90, that is to make 90 meetings in 90 days. A lot of those
well into their recovery and able to help others go everyday. If
things get tough, you go more than once a day. If things
get really tough in the dark of the night, you call your confessor,
your sponsor and they will come and sit with you.
We don't have to be alone in our trials.
We redeem the past, and as there is
always more past as we walk into our future, and as we are in recovery
and not recovered, we will continue to screw up. We never
stop making amends, we just get used to being occasionally idiotic
(making mistakes and missteps) and learn how to deal with it.
So, three processes. Surrender. Confession and Contrition
(social acts as part of a community). Practice and Service. If you re-read the steps you will see that 4 and
5 together meditate between those two processes, while 8 and 9 also
mediate between those two processes.
Everyone has a Way, everyone.
We think of it as our routine. A prisoner has a
routine as does his jailer. The wonderful movie Groundhog
Day is a beautiful modern fable of what can
be done if we take the right attitude to the Day. This
movie understands that we do wake up everyday the same person, and that
there is no change or development (growth past the end of adolescence)
unless we use each given Day to move, one step at a time, forward on our Way.
the relationship of Natural Science
Recall Grazzanica above:
thought can change brain chemistry, just as a physical
event in the brain can change a thought."
We now need to explore more carefully the
paradox observed here by a leading neurophysiologist, as that might
illuminate the problem of causality in our thinking.
The scientist of consciousness studies
the brain by stimulating this physical organ in another human being
through the vehicle of the senses (although sometimes directly by
electrical stimulation of parts of the brain - a course of action I
find a bit reprehensible). This is done in part because of the
idea the scientist has about his own subjectivity. Scientific
method, with its experiments, seeks to overcome human subjectivity by
designing experiments that can be repeated and requiring that all
conclusions be open to argument and logical reasoning by peers in the
scientific community. In a sense, the scientist surrenders his
own subjectivity to the community activity of peer review, and through
this process hopes to discover objective truths.
The scientist's relationship to this
method is his belief system. He believes he will more and more
approximate the truth (he confesses a limit to his knowledge, when
forced to so confess).
The scientists in the Eureka experiments noted previously, stimulates the puzzle
solving ability of the brain (his assumption) and tries to measure in
which part of the brain there is increased measurable activity when the
puzzle is solved. The scientist's subjectivity asks something of
the subjectivity of the experimental subject. He
says (essentially): I am going to give you
a puzzle to solve, and then I am going to measure what
happens in your brain when you solve it.
Notice the pronouns above, which are
essential in order to communicate his
ideas about his experiment to the ego of the subject. The
scientist makes a kind of appeal, from his I
to the Thou of the subject: please cooperate with my
experiment by helping me, through your
trying your hardest to solve this puzzle. Even a scientist
convinced (theoretically) that there is no self-consciousness
never actually uses language in such a way, or probably even thinks in
such a way. Ask yourself this: can he even think about his
own brain or your brain, without a subjective pronoun?
Nobody can do this. Nobody can form a thought that
does not contain the subjective pronouns in some variation of I and
The activity of mind cannot think
discursively (more in a minute) and at the same time deny its own
subjective nature. There is no social speech without pronouns,
all of which parts of speech are rooted in the commonly shared obvious
truth of the existence of self-consciousness.
In a way it is impossible for the
self-consciousness of any thinker to deny that self-consciousness,
because once we become awake to this during our psychological
development, the existence of an independent self as against a world of
others is, as the Founders of the American Experiment said: self evident. "We hold these truths to be self
evident", they said.
At the same time, and during the same
period of history that gave birth to the American Experiment, natural
scientists recognized the existence of flaws in the subjectivity of the
human being, including themselves. All the arguments in which
they engaged are silly unless they are based on the recognition of the limits of human thinking in relationship to the discovery of
the truth. Out of this emerges scientific method, so that at
least there is a community of discipline (surrender, community and
practice) among seekers of the truth (scientists).
As we have seen so far, however,
consciousness and self-consciousness retain a degree of mystery, both
for the researcher on brain function and processes, and on the
researcher into the real nature of matter (of which the brain is
supposedly composed). Grazzanica above recognized the
fundamental paradox, for if the researcher asks of his subject that he
undertake certain kinds of inner activity, this thinking activity will produces measurable effects to the instruments
observing the brain. Different kinds of thoughts give rise to
effects in different parts of the brain. Memory in one place,
language in another, puzzle solving in a third and so on.
The subjectivity of the research subject
is often a necessary and needed participant in the experiment. It
is the subjectivity of the research subject that lets Grazzanica write:
"A thought can
change brain chemistry, just as a physical event in the brain can
change a thought."
In both this realm and the realm of
quantum experiments, the subjectivity - the self-consciousness - of someone present (the experimenter in
physics and the experimental subject in brain studies) is an essential
part. Also in both case thinking activity plays a role.
The experimenter must choose to seek either
knowledge of mass or position, thus bringing about by his intervention
in the experimental process, the collapse of potential into actuality.
While in the other case, the experimental subject must choose some inner activity (such as to solve a puzzle) in order
for the observer to have something to measure.
As we observed previously, the thinking
subject, even if they believe there is no self-consciousness, can't
actually engage in discursive thinking (the inner dialog we all
recognize as the first stage of conscious thought) without using
pronouns, which by their very nature have to be based in a conception
of the subjectivity of I and Thou. Some scientific thinkers as
noted above, will put forward their view that the I is an illusion of
the matter based material processes in the brain, while at the same
time be incapable of using language (either in thought or in speech and
writing) that is able to divorce itself from personal pronouns.
In fact, by asserting the ability of the
brain to create an illusion of self-consciousness (a fundamental
operation of the brain, apparently), they open all thought into
question, including their own. If self-consciousness is an
illusion, could not everything the scientist thinks be an illusion?
Perhaps there is here not an illusion, be
a delusion. In the face of illusion we are perhaps more passive,
but a delusion is more actively created. Why do some scientists
want to get ride of the self-evident fact of self-consciousness?
Why does it trouble them? Is it perhaps that they
instinctively recognize that self-consciousness (the presence of a real
subjectivity within the human being), suggests that something other
than matter is involved?
Recall once more Grazzanica's remarks: "A thought can change brain
chemistry, just as a physical event in the brain can change a thought."
What causes the thought that changes the brain chemistry? In this problem of causality, which is everywhere present in many studies of brain activity (the subject has to be a participating actor), the paradox of imagining that there is only matter and no spirit more and more manifests itself. The thinking of the scientist of the brain is running into the same problem (but from a different direction) that the quantum physicist did. The brain researcher can't figure out how matter produces consciousness, and since a large part of his experimental process includes him having to ask a subject for participating mental activity (puzzle solving for example), the researcher confronts his own inconsistency. If it is only matter that makes a human being, why does he need to require its cooperation? Would you ask a rock to move and expect it to do so? A plant? Animals can be trained (domesticated), but everyone knows the difference between cats and dogs. The cat is indifferent to our commands, unless its own instinctive self interest is involved. The dog lives for our attention, and readily obeys (when so trained). We have the wonderful expression noting how much some human beings are like cats. We say: To get this group of people to cooperate is like trying to herd cats.
the relationship of the natural
When we try to practice Our Way each Day
in Life, we run into moral and ethical dilemmas more or less
constantly. Some are very ordinary, such as if we are given
too much change at the store do we return the overpayment? Some
are potentially catastrophic, such as do I start an affair with my best
Further, we know we are inconsistent.
In one mood we are more generous and naturally ethical and more;
and, in another mood we are downright dangerous and propelled toward
risks almost without any control of our emotions at all by our I.
That inner dialog I have called discursive thinking (we talk
inside our own minds to ourselves - that is our self-consciousness
speaks into our consciousness) is often in forced flight, and seldom
calm and collected. Life-demands propel us through the day: wake
to the alarm, feed the children and get them to school, go to the job,
hassle with the boss, come home, argue with the spouse and on and on
So much seems out of our control,
especially in the present times of seemingly more and more social chaos
world-wide. It really is not surprising that some groups just
want to check out of the world, and form communities of zero change or
even try to enliven past social forms and realities. Other
individuals can't find a club, unless it is the club of checking out
into one kind of addiction or another. For some it is shopping,
for others overwork. Even madness beckons to a few - they
hide inside their own minds and become completely disconnected from
At the same time, everyone thinks or has thoughts. Sometimes thoughts are intrusive and even illusory. The whole field of mental health, and as well criminal justice, deals with social and individual problems that manifest out of something whose causal reality is within the own inside - the consciousness we see that others do not.
We worry. We get depressed.
We get high, we use downers. We zone out on TV. We
escape into books or sex.
Yet, for most of us, there are a few
simple facts (remember those I talked about in the very beginning of
this little book) worthy of noting. Our thoughts have a content,
which we sometimes call ideas or concepts or mental pictures or
whatever. The activity of the self-consciousness produces a
mental or conceptual product via the discursive thinking. We know
these are our thoughts, and we often guard them quite carefully.
They are very personal, and rare is the other - the Thou - with
whom we will share.
Oh, we do have all kinds of glib chatter.
are you, how's your sister and so forth.
Most of the time we don't expect the truth, and often are
shocked if we get it. Actually screw you and I'm going crazy and I just killed
A lot of the content is culturally
produced. We suckle it in in childhood simply by learning
our native language. We are raised in families and churches
and schools, all of which try to forge our beliefs and the content of
our thoughts. As noted previously, in pre-adolescence and
adolescence proper we start to free our thoughts from these influences,
and sometimes can't do this until we leave home, and move far far away.
Our self-consciousness wants freedom in this most intimate aspect
of our consciousness - our thoughts. Don't we say: I'm entitled to my opinion!
At the same time, even as adults our
social environment often requires conformance of thoughts. The
work place, in spite of our being in a so-called country with free
speech, is not a place we can afford to speak freely.
Remember above where we noted the phrase: I had to bite my tongue. Spontaneous speech, while often a true
representation of our thoughts and feelings, just as often can get us
in a lot of trouble.
What happens when our boss (or a close
relative) requires of us an action we know (to our own view of things)
is not ethical or moral?
Now the point of this is not so much that
these obvious things go on all the time, but rather that they go on all
the time for all of us. Each individual human being, as a
thinker, is born into a world of concepts and values, from which they
may or may not emerge into some kind of personal or ethical/moral
freedom. What is especially odd, is how often we forget
that all of us have values, and ethical and moral rules that are
We easily become angered when someone
doesn't act like we would act. We know what is right to do, don't
we? Shouldn't they know this too?
We normally don't think carefully about
this particular fact, which is so important (see my little story Bicycles in the appendix) to understanding the world in which we
live. When we do, however, (and many do) there is a shift in our
relationship to other people. Usually we call this: tolerance.
We accept that others necessarily think differently, and in
our own thinking we find a way to live with this when we can.
Sam Harris's book The End of
Faith (noted at the beginning) makes a big
deal of this. He finds the tolerance of moderate Christians
of the irrationality of so-called extremist Christians, a worse moral
failure than the irrationality he describes. He doesn't tolerate
this, so why should they?
Mr. Harris, who is a natural scientist of
a sort, doesn't yet know what to do with human social facts he doesn't
like. He seems to believe that there are purely rational ethical
principles (in this he is not alone) that are so soundly reasoned that
everyone ought to agree. His difficulty is one typical to us all,
and which we noted above on our way to looking at the Twelve Steps.
We all have a dark inside, all of us.
If you pretend you don't, you'll make false assumptions, often
hypocritical ones. If Our Way doesn't include some confession of
the own dark inside, as well as the light, we will make missteps along
the Way. Christ in the Sermon on the Mount called it the problem
of the Mote and the Beam, and while a lot of these teachings are
present everywhere as ideas in Western Civilization, not all of them
are practiced. Remember: surrender, confession and
contrition in community and practice.
At the least, we should recognize that
while many of us are natural Christians, because we
have taken in certain fundamental values that are sourced out of
Christ's parables and teachings, we are not finished yet. Life
growth can stop or can go on, and this too is a moral or ethical choice
that belongs to our own freedom to decide.
There is a kind of a trick here, or
perhaps a puzzle that needs to be perceived and then worked with.
This puzzle is with our own thinking.
We think instinctively. That
is we don't generally think about thinking, or study our internal life
as a puzzle, we just do it. We swim in the sea of our mind,
not paying much attention at all to the content, mostly because life
makes so many demands we just don't have time to be reflective or
That a lot of people don't think the same
thoughts, we already know. That is pretty obvious. What is
less obvious (except perhaps to professional educators or others who
work with people intimately) is that not only is the content clearly different, but how
people think is sometimes also radically different. There
are a lot of different ways in which this has been observed, depending
on the context and the discipline making the observations.
It is most obvious to those teachers in the field of special education, however. The ADHD student, or the dyslexic student or the autistic student or the aspergers student - all these children have a different how of thinking. Artists tend to think differently as well. A couple of examples: the emotional relationship to color is for one most important, while for another it will be the tactile relationship - how their medium of art feels to the sense of touch.
A lot of people end up in jobs where
their naturally different how of thinking finds a place.
A highly disciplined abstract thinker (who lives only in
conceptions, and hardly in their senses at all) might become a
mathematician. Someone who thinks with their limbs might
become a dancer. Someone who thinks with their hands might become
a carpenter, or other kind of craftsman.
If you walk through your own life, asking
this question: what
ways or way does this person think and feel that are different from my
own? - a whole other world within the social
environment will light up before your own thinking. In a way, you
are letting what you can observe about their outside (not just how they look but how they act and in what
kind of environment have they come to live), show you a way to see
deeper into their inside. With this kind of question (and its variations)
you will begin to understand (in practice) how to come awake to the
Mote and the Beam. It is our semi-conscious reaction to the outside that comes from the own Beam, while our self-conscious seeking
after the inside takes us much nearer the Mote.
culmination and integration:
becoming scientific about our own
Lets first look at something we passed by
above, namely our recognition that our life pushes our consciousness and self-consciousness all the time.
Life makes demands. Life is suffering is the first Noble
Truth of the Buddha. People get martyred on a cross of truth all
the time, sometimes not so obviously, but all the same, they get fired
from jobs and/or are left by a spouse.
The wise cliche is that god never gives us more than
we can handle, but a lot of people who check
out certainly don't seem to be handling life at all.
Wasn't there a Country and Western song
about giving someone an attitude adjustment? A
lot of us recognize the importance of attitude. When we form our personality we take on a costume
of attitude (or what an acquaintance of mine Catherine MacCoun, in
her book called On
Becoming an Alchemist called style.
Everyone has a style or attitude (a personality), that originates
in the self-consciousness (which some call our: immortal spirit).
These are all individual and unique in
their formation, but often imitative in the presentation. Right
from the start our personal biography pushes at us, and as we grow we
create this response: the attitude or style we present to the world.
We don't expose all, except in very significant personal
relationships, because we are taught by life that such exposure often
leads to pain (we get hurt).
Natural Science hardly talks at all about
this. Hard to quantify a hurt, or a style or an
attitude. When Natural Science did
approach this it first did so in the soft sciences (as against the hard
sciences such as physics or chemistry), such as psychology or history
or sociology. In recent years such disciplines as evolutionary
psychology have tried to imagine that they can think reasonably to the
roots of human behavior, inner and outer, by supposing some kind of
adaptive mechanism, sometimes getting all the way into the DNA.
The brain and the genetic code adapt
to evolutionary pressures (the pushes of life). A lot of
work wants to compare us to the higher mammals, and certainly we have
the idea of the human
That last phrase, while common in our
language, is a kind of very subtle oxymoron (a figure of speech
that combines into a more or less contradictory set of terms).
What's the point of the word human in that phrase: human animal? We often use the terms quite separately and
everyone understands in those uses the distinction. We also have
the variation: humane. Would we ever call an animal humane and have such a sentence mean anything?
Animals, for example, aren't moral.
They are instinctive. They don't create art or language.
We can project on them human qualities (and often do this to our
pets), but no one is every going to call a tiger in the wild humane. The confusion between the human and the animal is
just a result of very sloppy thinking.
Now human beings can forget their
humanity. We even have a phrase recognizing this: man's inhumanity to man. Or, he was such an animal. In
the latter case, the term animal is more of a metaphor than it is a
rational judgment. But Natural Science seems to be committed to
this idea, and finds rationale for it in such well know facts that the
difference in the nature of the DNA between a higher order mammal and a
man is slight.
Remember, however, that this train of
thought is completely based on the assumption that only the physical is real. Hopefully, in the
above parts, we have somewhat deconstructed this idea in our
examination of consciousness and self-consciousness. This problem
then leads us to something that is a kind of socially sloppy
disagreement: Intelligence Design vs. Random Evolutionary Processes.
I say sloppy, because most of those involved in these arguments
haven't bothered to look at the history of the development of science.
In that history this issue was originally everywhere, and
it has never gone away. Its just gotten buried under more and
more assumptions as time went on, and as Natural Science seemed more
and more to occupy an intellectual territory that was increasingly
abandoned by orthodox religions, as they lost themselves in the vanity
of their belief systems, at the expense of the actual practice of their
Another acquaintance of mine, Don Cruse,
writes about the development of ideas that have led to the conceptions
of Darwinian Evolution: random processes and so forth. He has a
web site and a book: Evolution
and the New Gnosis: anti-establishment essays on knowledge, science, religion
and causal logic. On the web there is a
wonderful essay Dogma and
Doubt by Ronald Brady
thoroughly unzips the basis of evolutionary biology as a rational
system of thought.
Cruse puts the whole thing quite simply.
For long time in the history of science, the scientists used
metaphorical language to communicate their understanding, such: as mechanism. Nature was a randomly created mechanism. The problem, says Cruse, is that that word, mechanism, means only one thing, something created. Human
beings make mechanisms, and to export, from our understanding of the creative
activity by which a clock is made, to nature the idea that nature is a mechanism is to define it as designed and created. He
actually challenges them, in his book and in letters to scientists, to
forgo (if they can) the use of such metaphors to describe what they
observe. Create, he insists, a language that isn't based on an
analogy to human creativity, but which truly describes evolution as a
random accidental process. They can't do it.
Whenever they stop the process of
analysis to take up the task of synthesis (making a whole of the data
or parts discovered in experiments), they always use metaphors rooted
in one way or another in human intentionality. The hand
of natural selection. Even the term selection involves a meaning of human intentionality. A
truly random process can't select anything. It
doesn't - it can't - make choices.
Hopefully the reader will now see that
Science has reached limits. It has very definite views
(assumptions and ideas), but in the brain biology (the study of
consciousness) and in quantum physics (the question of what actually is
matter), and even in evolutionary theory, some element of human
intention - participation - can't be gotten rid of. If then,
self-consciousness is spirit - the I is spirit, and consciousness is
soul, then the need to use the idea of some kind of intention in
explaining the facts of evolutionary theory leads only to one place: a
Divine Mystery. Moreover, the story of Christ's teachings in the
Gospels, when practiced, lead to the same place.
If one goes to what is described in other
essays of mine (and in books), and studies there either Anthroposophy
or Goethean Science, then it is clear that New Revelation was poured
over humanity in the 20th Century. How? Why? Good
questions, not all of which can be answered here.
arguments with God;
Among the ideas that reality teaches is
that the human being is being born more and more into a co-creative
role with the Divine Mystery. In fact, something of the
Divine Mystery itself lives in the ego or I of the human being, and to
be co-creative, as Owen Barfield suggested in his book Saving the
Appearances: a study in idolatry, is to
engage in final
participation. In Ages Past the human
being was more passive and less free (original participation). Now we are more free and more potentially
active. This, to my experience, has brought certain consequences.
One of these is quite odd, and I was
surprised to discover this mood of soul. The more I understood
the design of the creation (at least this present part - see my book the Way of
the Fool), and even more and more appreciated
it, the more certain aspects of it bothered me. These next
paragraphs then come from such a mood. I start by
recognizing my antipathy towards certain elements of the what some
might call: Gods Design. In effect I recognize that Lucifer was
not entirely wrong to go through a period of rebellion, and I have
begun to think that part of developing fully the Divine Mystery of the
own I is to (on occasion and quite deliberately) approach our
observations of the design with a critical faculty.
We are, after all, quite intimately
involved in this situation. To just sort of roll over like a good
dog and always love everything the Master does and did, is to loose
something that is part of being human. Like a child
becoming truly free and responsible, I am finding that part of the
separation, that has to precede the choice and pursuit of
reintegration, must include taking the attitude of whether we find
everything just perfect.
Some urge upon us the idea that the Gods
make no errors, and this is becoming more and more to me one of those
truths that paradoxically can be seen from a totally different
direction to be false. In point of fact, a fair reading of Rudolf
Steiner's researches into the supersensible worlds will come upon many
comments where it is clear that the communities of spiritual beings
that have led the way so far were not in agreement on all aspects of
We could actually say that our critical
examination of the design is quite necessary if we are to ultimately
become responsible for many of its future aspects. In the light
of this I want to share an odd thought that has come to me many times
now, and which I confess I find to be more and more true.
Let us call this: the mobius strip incarnation idea.
First call to mind what a mobius strip
is. If I have a belt-like form, and make it into a circle by
joining the two ends, I have two surfaces and two edges that don't
exactly connect. If before I join the two ends together, I give a
half twist to the form, I end up with one continuous surface and one
continuous edge. If I make the form geometrically perfect,
by having the edge be without measure - that is it is zero in
thickness, I can still have a geometric form that is plane-like, and
circular, while at the same time endless - that is without two sides.
Now lets apply this idea to the Creation,
to repeated earth lives, to reincarnation, and to what appears to be
the separation from God which ancient ideas of the cultural East often
considered to be an illusion. Some readers will have noticed the
goal of ego-lessness, which is urged by teachers from the cultural
East. They say things like there is no ego,
there is no I, there is no am. In the cultural
West we have the opposite idea (in a way). Here in the West we
say there is an ego, the I-am is what God named Himself in the ancient
texts, and that in that the individual human being has an I, another
name for it would be: immortal spirit.
In different words: we all come from the
same Source and to that Source we will return. With the
Mobius Strip Incarnation Idea, I mean to suggest that the truth is that
both East and West see the same reality from different (and necessary
directions) and that for developmental purposes the idea of each of us
having a separate ego is important for some purposes and not so
important for others. I mean to suggest here that there is just
One Ego, and as it enters Time and Space (the Creation) it separates
into distinct parts in order to learn. And, that if we
followed each part in Time we would find that like the Mobius Strip there
is only one continuous surface.
I am you. You are me.
We are Christ and the Buddha and the Holy Mother. But
in Time and Space we are sequential, like the Mobius Strip.
We are to live all these apparently separate points of view
in Time and Space in order to become at the end of Time and
Space, when on the other side of the Last Judgment we all unite in
Eternity - in timelessness and spacelessness, something that only
arises because of this becoming and that was
impossible before the Creation. Through this process of
sequential becomings, the Father Principle and the Mother Principle
will not only have become something they were not before, but they will
also have lived all the lives, of all the parts, from the human part to
the dog part to the tree part to the atom part to the gluon part and on
and on and on.
Thus Christ says: Whatsoever ye do to the least
of these my brethren, ye do so also unto me.
In the meantime, in order to fully
separate from the Divine Mystery (from a human perspective), arguing
with God about the design is a natural and necessary act. This
necessary spiritually adolescent attitude is in fact everywhere already
(what after all is scientific materialism and atheism).
This has often led at various times to so much fear in
certain egos, egos that imagined themselves as superior religious and
moral authorities, that they murdered and tortured heretics
(non-believers in their doctrines). Sam Harris, and those of like
mind, are right to see such an attitude as the height of irrationality.
These new atheists, however, just don't get it that that guy over
there that is making (to them) so much trouble has a quite valid
aspects of his point of view and an equally valid state of being.
with all your heart and all your mind and all your spirit, and
love your neighbor as yourself.)
Getting the picture yet?
am he as you are he as you are me and we are all
together.", sang the Beatles in I am the
Walrus (Lennon/McCartney - Lennon, according
to Wikipedia got the idea while on a acid trip).
But who is this I that is we? Our
discovery of this I goes through it, that is through individuality.
Developing our I fully is how we come to any deep spiritual
realization. The Narrow Gate. Where people, who want
to put down new age and other religious ideas outside their own limited
vision Christian beliefs get confused, is where they think you arrive
at the goal by being saved. And then, by saving others by
teaching them to give themselves to God. Not a bad idea, were
they just the opening bars of the song of development. Thing is
most fake Christians stop there. They cherry pick the
Gospels for what serves their own ideology, and either feel the rest is
superfluous, or too hard.
Beliefs are assumed superior to practice
(not by works alone). This would make sense if all fake
Christians had the same beliefs, but the very fact of their constant
bickering over these matters, sometimes leading to horrible wars and
other crimes, pretty much ruins such an idea as anything reasonable at
all. But the idea of not by works alone also doesn't say being
saved alone. Belief, in the form of true Faith (trust) belongs
together with practice. Ora et labora is the Latin for prayer and labor. Prayer is the main practice of Faith, and
meditation in action the main faith of Practice. Meditation
in action is another way of saying prayer in action, or acting from the
center of our heart, or acting out of moral grace. It is my
prayerfulness (meditative inner attitude) that enables me to know the
Good, and to act on that knowledge.
But this is a bit more complicated and
has to be read elsewhere: The
Meaning of Earth Existence in the Age of the Consciousness Soul; and, In Joyous
Contemplation of the Soul Art and Music of Discipleship.
In this essay (booklet) I just wanted to walk the reader through some basic questions and ideas, as a help to prepare them for discovering their Own Way.
Blessings and good luck.
- a Children's Christmas
Story, which is also for Adults -
This story is
dedicated to Gabriella, Catherine Rose, Ross Gregory, and Adam, who
were on my mind Christmas Eve, 1996, as their fathers (of which I must
confess I was one) were absent from home for the Season. It was written
the following Christmas Morning.
There once was a girl, who
found herself weeping in the dark, alone in her room.
is nothing unusual. Many people, not just children, can be found
weeping, alone with their pain in the dark of the night.
there was a difference. Although it was not a difference as infrequent
as we might imagine.
the difference was this. While she was weeping an Angel appeared,
sitting quietly at the end of her bed.
was quite a while before the girl noticed the Angel. Yet, this did not
bother the Angel, who had been, if we do not mind, created out of
patience and joy.
a time the girl stopped weeping, and the two simply looked at each
other for a while.
the Angel reached out and touched the girl on the shoulder, and asked:
"What is troubling you child?".
it is true that the Angel already knew the answer to this question, but
the Angel also knew that the girl needed to talk about her grief.
was the girl's answer.
is Christmas Eve." she said, "My father and mother have quarreled and
my father is not here. I don't even know when, or if, he is coming
At this the girl, who was at that very awkward age between being a child and being a young woman, began to weep again, even more deeply then before.
a while she stopped, looked at the Angel and asked: "Why?" and, then
began weeping some more.
you may wonder why the girl wasn't troubled or confused by someone
being in her room at night. The fact is that when you meet an Angel
there is no question about what is happening. No doubt, no confusion.
Angels aren't like anything else except Angels.
is how the Angel answered the girl.
you ever bad?" asked the Angel.
she said, a bit hesitantly.
you ever bad on purpose, knowing you are being bad?"
she said, almost whispering now.
you ever bad by accident, not having thought about what might happen?"
she said, a little more confident.
bad things ever sometimes happen even though you were trying as hard as
possible to do something good?"
she said, back to herself finally.
they sat together for a while. She was thinking and the Angel just was.
she eventually said. "Mother and father aren't trying to hurt me, and I
didn't do something wrong."
said the Angel.
she said, having just reinvented philosophy, "Why is the world such a
a very long pause the Angel said, "It's because of the bicycles."
this was said with a straight face, as much as an Angel can be said to
have a straight face, their normal countenance being filled with
so, the girl's dark mood broke and she laughed, and then caught in this
odd feeling she tried to stop and ended up almost falling out of bed
because she was giggling so much.
there was a passage of time, so that the girl could ask her next
question without breaking up. It actually took several attempts before
she could get the question out.
do you mean by "it's the bicycles"?" she said, pulling up the hem of
her nightgown, as much to distract herself as to dry the tears of both
suffering and mirth.
said the Angel, "As you have guessed the bicycles are invisible, being
made out of ideas and dreams, hope and despair, all stuck together with
bits of conscience and just plain stubbornness.
people wake up and ride around on their invisible bicycles, forgetting
the bicycles are there and then because they have forgotten them,
people just keep banging into each other.
all the bicycles are in great disrepair. Some with flat tires, some
with crooked wheels, and some without even handlebars to steer by.
"It takes a great deal of courage for people, for mothers and fathers, to get up in the morning and ride their bicycles out into life each day. A great deal of courage."
the Angel was quiet again and so was the girl.
a while the girl, having graduated from philosophy to theology, asked:
"Why does God let this go on? Why doesn't he fix the bicycles or make
people learn how to ride them without banging into each other?"
said the Angel
before you imagine the Angel is pausing to think, I should tell you
that is not what was happening. Angels do think, but when they do
something happens. For Angels thinking creates. The reason the Angel
said "Hmmm" was so the girl would first reflect a little about what she
had said, before the Angel answered her.
you ever talk to God?" asked the Angel.
think so," said the girl, tentative again, and rightly so.
should you know.", said the Angel. "You can't interrupt him, or bother
him when he's doing something else. He always listens. Always. And when
you talk to him he never interrupts you, never tells you he's heard it
before or done it himself or knows more than you. You couldn't ask for
a better listener. And when you're done he doesn't give advice, or tell
you what to do, or criticize what you've done or tell you, you aren't
adequate. He just listens, and accepts you and loves you, whatever you
have to say."
the Angel asked another question.
you ever get angry at God?"
exclaimed the girl. "Get angry at God !?!"
course." said the Angel. "God loves you and wants your love. People who
love each other get to be angry with each other. It's a way to care.
God doesn't mind your anger. Now your indifference? That's another
said the girl, now a little more in touch with her own frustration.
"But you still haven't said anything about repairing the bicycles or
giving lessons on riding them."
need to" said the Angel. "All kinds of excellent repair and riding
manuals already out there. There's the Bible, and the Vedas, and the
Torah, and the Koran, and the Sutras, and the..."
I get it." she said, interrupting the Angel, who didn't mind at all.
Then she paused and thought a little.
right." she said. "This is what you've said. The reason the world is so
difficult is because we all have our own ideas and dreams and
conscience and stubbornness, and when we go out and ride these
"bicycles" in life we bang into each other, or ride over each others
feet, because we have forgotten about these invisible things. But if we
want riding lessons and repair instruction, that information is already
there. We just have to use it. Right?"
said the Angel.
said the girl, after a very deep sigh, "Just one more question."
God is the best listener in the world, always available and never
critical. But how come he never answers me?"
last was spoken with a great deal of anguish, as only the very young
can feel at the impossible burdens they sense when they contemplate
growing up and being really free and responsible for themselves.
the Angel waited for a while, as silent and beautiful as a starry
well do you listen?" the Angel answered. "He always answers you,
always. You just don't always hear him. He answers in many ways. With
the continued breath of life, or with a fading sunset. With the touch
of a breeze on the cheek or a crash of thunder. In the most quite place
inside yourself he whispers to you. More softly then the endless beat
of your heart he sings to you in the voice of the dancing colors that
delight the eye. You eat his answers for breakfast and when you walk
barefoot through the dew wet grass his answers touch your feet.
you have eyes, ears? Or if not even these, you have the thoughts you
choose. You believe or not. Is that not a great gift itself? To
have faith or not, hope or not, charity or not, according to your own
will. God does answer. With life, with freedom. And yes, with sorrow
and with pain. Are these not gifts as well?"
there was a harmony of silence between the two of them. Then the girl
smiled and looked mischievously at the Angel.
"Do you have a bicycle?" she asked.
the Angel laughed. And outside the girl's window the birds sang to
greet with joy the first hints of dawn on Christmas morning.