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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Resurrection

Holy Saturday 2016

We are in the center of "The Christian Mystery," the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. For those of us bred within the Catholic tradition, these are the high holy days, celebrating the foundation of existence, the core of meaning, the very reason for being.

Like most religious and cultural traditions, the foundation of faith is expressed in stories using symbolic language that arises from previous traditions. The main story is that of the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived some 2000 years ago in a province of Imperial Rome, who was branded a revolutionary and sentenced to death, and whose followers developed a movement and organization in his name that took over the Empire assimilating its language and many of its institutions. The foundational belief of that movement is that Jesus lives and is the Christ: the holy one, the anointed one, the one we are awaiting for our liberation.

The story has been told in many diverse forms, each arising from different communities, having their own points to make adjusting the telling to the audience and times. But again the core is that Jesus the man who suffered and died now lives. As the chief organizer of the Jesus movement is quoted: "if Christ is not resurrected, your faith is in vain."

How can those of us who value this tradition and its stories align this core belief with our acceptance of the Enlightenment, modern science, democratic republicanism, postmodern philosophy and art, inclusive culture, new economy and technology. Today we no longer speak the language of supernatural entities and places. We have closed the Cartesian gap between body and spirit. We have rejected tribalism for a more universal culture. We have dispelled the superstitions of witches, devils, ghosts, and gods. We are confronting (but have not yet overcome) the illusions of a permanent self and an independent reality, of the uninterpreted past or utopian future, of absolutes in truth and of relativism in behavior.

In my last reflection, I tried to articulate what I believe using the language that is compatible with our postmodern times. My formulation, like all expressions, is inadequate. My faith transcends my beliefs. Yet it is through the sharing, interaction, and fusion of those beliefs that we continue to exercise our faith. We stop time to understand and express it. But time does not stop and can never be fully understandable or expressed.

Let me reappropriate the Christian story using my new language of social psychology, theoretical physics, cognitive science, and postmodern philosophy. I do not need to be superstitious or live in two worlds, one of truth, the other of fantasy, to appreciate the Christian story and the values it teaches. And I can be honest with myself and good to others without pretending in Santa or the tooth fairy or the Great Pumpkin as literal events. While at the same time I appreciate metaphor and images, even fantastic ones, to spice up life and to lift up a reality that is inaccessible by science and philosophy.

We postmoderns realize that the Resurrection of Christ is a symbol--a figure of speech, an analogy or metaphor. But that is because we recognize that all our speech and expressions are symbols. Note: we do not say "mere" symbols. Symbols are the media through which we inquire into and achieve reality. I have spend numerous pages, drawing on many scientific thinkers and writers, demonstrating the symbolic character of human existence and our world. We can conceive of our fundamental activity of being in the world through symbols as being present--to things and people, to past and future, to other persons and to our selves.

Christianity is a very personal religion: Jesus is a human person who interacted with other human persons to invite them into a community of persons who spoke of their ultimate meaning in personal terms, not just in a god, but "Abba" Father, to affirm the supreme value of all persons whatever their position or station or race or sex. What is a person? We know from social psychology that a person is not an entity inside the embrained body. The person is the style of life, the behavioral function, the character developing from the birth through death of the human body. Persona (coming from the word for the "mask" actors wore) means the habitual role of a human being in the drama of life.

There are many scholarly studies on and personal encounters with the Jesus persona. They developed in a community of those who are inspired by, taken with, and trying to share with one another that persona. I am one of those who is so inspired, taken, and who share in this style of being in the world that we call "Jesus." I have my own definition and list of categories to describe the Jesus person (published elsewhere), shaped of course by my own studies, experiences, interactions, interpretations, and intentions. When Jesus was killed by the authorities of Rome and Jerusalem, his person, his way of being in the world, his approach to others, his style of life, his way of existing was taken up by others through their memories, their stories, and especially by their way of acting.

When the body dies, the life-style or character or role, can live on in others who have adopted that style, assumed that character, and play that role. The body dies, the persona lives. As every person is presence so the person of Jesus is present. He lived, died, but is present. In other words, his consciousness is part of our universal consciousness. No need for an empty tomb--though that's a good story. No need for the appearance of a ghost. No need for some supernatural force. And no need for an individual "I" consciousness.

When the community celebrates his life and death, when they recall his way of being in the world, when they gather at the table in his name, he is present. "Really present?" you ask. Or "symbolically present?" That is a false dichotomy, I respond. Reality is always present through symbols. Yes, Jesus is really and symbolically present when people live out his way and take on his role in the world. That is the meaning of the Christian Mystery.

Jesus is a point in time that does not end. He is a special relationship to the world, to others, and to the universe. When we put ourselves in that point of time, that is, relating that point to our point in time and live out the Jesus way of being as we can best know it, we discover and create the Jesus persona in our world. We encounter and become his conscious activity towards others and towards all that there is. Our spirits are joined.

Especially important in the reliving of the story is the sharing of the passion not just of Jesus but of all humans and all living beings. For it is only by undergoing the sufferings of others and sharing in sufferings that we can experience our solidarity with them. It is only in accepting our ultimate and essential contingency, of our being-to-death, that we fully enter into the human community and live. This is the source of happiness, meaning, and universal consciousness--in the present.

My expression is not acceptable to those who think in classical terms of autonomous beings out there apart from consciousness. I think that they are caught in a passing worldview in which time is a dimension of space--i.e. space-time. But I suggest that we are passing into a worldview in which space is a dimension of time--i.e. time-space.  (See my earlier blogs on time.) But again postmodernity and all its formulas are passing as well.

Also as I believe that the Jesus consciousness or spirit or persona is very special, so I believe is the Buddha consciousness, the Dao consciousness, the Jewish consciousness, the Socrates consciousness, the revolutionary consciousness, but only insofar as these ways of acting in the world are paths to a transcending consciousness and a relational world or what Christians call "eternal life" and the "kingdom of God."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I Believe

My sister-in-law Marcia died. The priest at the burial mass in his homily used images that I felt demonstrated a very outmoded and even bad theology. It makes religion a superstitious fairy tale totally out of sorts with not only science and common sense, but also I think with religious, including Christian, faith. But in rejecting his belief system, I am challenged to articulate my own especially when considering my death and the death of those I love.

Here is what I believe without supernatural entities and places, detachable souls, bodies as shells, corporate male dominated churches, ignorance about human symbolic communication, and the arrogance of having more truth than others.
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I believe that all persons and all things are relations to every thing and every person and to the universe as a whole.

I believe each of us is a moment in time which has no beginning and no end. And in that moment the universe becomes conscious of itself as time stretching to all that came before and all that is yet to come.

I believe that I am the culmination of all that has come before and, in specific, of everyone I have loved and who has loved me. And in this way I am in touch with universal transcending love as personal energy and relationship among us all.

I believe that I am the beginning of a new order of relationships that will extend through time unending.

I believe that I do not exist as an indidual automaton but as a relationship to all who ever were and will ever be.

I believe that I, in union with you and others, discover and create our world for good or for ill. I believe that we are responsible. Therefore I do not blame others, my ancestry, my genes, my culture, my upbringing, my nation, or any supernatural entities. For while I realize that these are influences on our behavior, I believe that I with you should take full responsibility for our behavior, for who we and our world become.

I believe that it is my vocation to be a relationship, to heal broken relationships, and thus to build a relational world. I believe that it is our common vocation to respect and transcend all cultures, religions, and beliefs by accepting our contingency while honestly seeking truth and understanding in all their limits and manifestations.

I believe in the higher power of solidarity in love and action.

Because of these beliefs, I abhor and reject violence, inequity, absolutes, arrogance, exclusion, and ignorance. I commit myself in solidarity with others to change all beliefs and institutions including my own that perpetuate violence, inequity, absolutes, arrogance, exclusion, and ignorance.
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(This is my language developed in my interaction with many fellow students and mentors. I can accept other ways of proclaiming faith as long as I interpret them in the terms of my beliefs. Since I was raised Christian Catholic, I will attempt to demonstrate this next.)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

More Time

We waste, spend, give, take, save, buy, lose time like it's a commodity. Sometimes, this is our time. Sometimes we are in time and sometimes we are out of it. But the times, they are a-changing. Sometimes. So what is it? Time?

Common sense says that we are in time like in the flow of a river. Time passes and so do we as we float by markers on the bank. While time seems to slow and quicken, it goes on relentlessly like the hands of a clock.

Religious time, expressed in myth and rituals, is either cyclical (seasonal) celebrating restored life in spring, or linear with one or more culminations (kairoi) that bestow meaning on the course of time, or eschatological awaiting the end of time or timelessness. Or a combination of the three as in Christianity and other great religions.

Modern science teaches that time is an illusion. In Newtonian science, time is the arrow of entropy going from order to dissolution--winding down. Or in relativity theory time is a 4th dimension of space and therefore without independent reality. The really real is timeless. Time is not necessary to nature and its understanding. However, some scientists (Prigogine, Rovelli, Smolin), critiquing modernity, conjecture time as the fundamental reality from which space and all things emerge.

Contemporary philosophy (especially phenomenology) sees time as constitutive of human existence. In acting humanly, i.e. through imagination, we find ourselves constructing a "not-yet" which is molded out of "what-has-been." We experience our selves personally and collectively as presence, a now in-between past and future, with memory and intention, inhabiting stories that tell us who we have become and stories that tell us what we might become. Our existence is temporal. It is temporality itself bestowing and discovering temporality in nature.

O tempora! O mores!
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So what is time?  And so what?
Does it matter if we think in or out of time?
If time is an illusion, is it a useful one? And useful for what?
If time is real, does it (need to) have a beginning and/or end?
And does the gain of a totally new, mean the total loss of the old?
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Eras, ages, epochs, generations, times. The best of times, the worst of times. The spirit of the times. All fabrications of thought attempting to put meaning in history. Arbitrary cut-offs. lines of demarcation, to indicate transitions and transformations.

Acting on the side of history. Being with the times. As though history has a law and time has a trajectory. Does it? Hegel and Marx might have thought so. So did Toynbee and biblical scholars. And Adam Smith with his invisible hand. We search through the tea leaves, the entrails of pigs, the oracle of Delphi, the movement of the stars, and the study of history to discover the future--as though it already is somewhere, someplace. If so, then time is not real. Just an illusion. The past, future, and present of the universe just are--already. So chill out. It matters not.

But if we hold that time is real, incurring genuine novelty, open to a never before and never again moment, an unpredictable future that cannot be prescribed from the present, then we participate a universe evolving. The universe evolves by indeterminate natural selection of matter and energy which retain and refresh the universe. The universe is without an end that has been foretold or forecast and perhaps without a beginning or original conditions that determine its trajectory. An eternity of novel events. If time is the reality, our thoughts and actions, our thoughtful actions matter and matter greatly. They make it possible for unforeseen potential, for miracles that contradict and revise earlier laws of nature.

If time is real, the universe is an unfolding, unfinished symphony where all the players improvise while keeping and making time. If the universe is time and we are time's events, vessels of time, non-duplicable moments of time, then perhaps we do know God. God is Time.
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Wait! Time is not a succession of unique moments as Smolin seems to be saying. It is not a snapshot. Nor is it a stream of snapshots or frames that make a running film that you can stop at various points to edit along the way. Or maybe we can say that time is the Moment. Time is the Event stretching back and forth, in and out, here and there, unique and universal, prime and infinite. Time is not a reality out there in the universe. It is the universe expanding out and collapsing in on itself. Not real, not illusion.

Time is the Subjectivity of the universe--just as mystics and philosophers express that existence, intentionality, consciousness is temporality. The "within" of nature. That's why there will never be a complete, comprehensive theory of nature. David Deutsche conjectured that a complete theory of the cosmos would include epistemology or the theory of the theorizing. But of course that is quite impossible. For as soon as we land on a correct theory of knowing, we have stopped the film on a frame. When we concentrate on an event in time to understand it, we lose sight of the Event of time itself. We cannot objectify time. We can only live it. We cannot stop time. But we can live and be it as it goes.

Or, in other words, Time is forever objectifying itself, Nature engendering nature. Temporality is the act of creation of the world in us. Time is Brahma waking up. Evolution becoming conscious.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Time

I've been reading Time Reborn by physicist Lee Smolin and can't wait to finish it before commenting on it because it affects my thinking in Out of the Box. It is also a corollary to my last reflections on science and religion.

1. Relationalism. I thought I discovered relationalism, which I identified with the postmodern turn from modernity with its absolute timeless space (Newton) and its relative spacetime (Einstein). I conjectured that the new paradigm for thinking rejects both the absolute and the relative, whether in science or in ethics/politics, for the relational. The real is not made up of singular entities to which we give names, but of relationships within a dynamically changing symbolic system. No thing has reality except in relationship to other beings within a dynamically evolving universe. I knew I was following and even cited my antecedent teachers for this notion. But here is Smolin naming it. "Oh well, great minds..... "

2. Postmodernism. My approach is to accept that we are entering the postmodern world and to extol the opportunities as well as the dangers of that. However, Smolin echoes many others in making postmodernism a sort of heresy, a sort of a rejection of modernism that goes too far. So I see that there is a possibility of misunderstanding in my embrace of postmodernism that I must keep aware of. Maybe I need to add a chapter on post-postmodernism to clarify my differences from this popular dismissal of postmodernism.

3. Consciousness. Smolin treats consciousness as an afterthought. I would not expect a neuroscientist, much less a physicist, to deal with consciousness except to describe and identify the particles (cells, neurons, synapses, chemicals) that make it possible. Until, that is, they turn to philosophy, i.e. reflecting on the symbolic activity of science which comes up with its products (models, thoughts, ideas, formulas, theories). And Smolin often makes that turn to philosophy.

I have learned to distinguish the symbolic act of thinking from its products as a way of closing the separation of subjective consciousness from objective reality that characterizes modernity. Subjective consciousness cannot be caught except in the act. For as soon as you catch it, it no longer is--unless you loop back to the act of catching it. And so on to infinity. Oh, it's there alright--in the thinking act out to the world. In the human body thinking.  It is there connected to general consciousness from past to future. Call it the personal soul or collective world spirit! But consciousness will never be an object of science or any other human activity because it is the intersubjectivity that make objectivity possible.

Phenomenology is the discipline to notice and describe consciousness. Like Buddhist meditation, phenomenology attempts to see things as they are appearing, words in the act of uttering, the world as it is being created through symbols. Some have called consciousness the "mystery of existence" because of its allusiveness to categorization and objectification. It is not a problem to be solved in the world because it is what creates the world.

4. Thinking in time. Smolin shows how modern science from Galileo to Einstein removed time from nature. He shows how contemporary science is bringing it back. By making time the foundation of reality, he dispenses with immutable natural laws with their determinism in mathematical space. There is no timeless space or being. He opens science and all thinking to genuine novelty. This means the evolution of laws and an indeterminate future. He also shows that space itself emerges, that nature is not fixed in structure or content, and that the universe is the unfolding of time itself. He hopes, not in some grand theory that will last forever, to explain the universe. He sees science, and perhaps human existence, as a continuous adventure in which we never appropriate or even approximate, as Hawkins said, "the mind of God." For there is no such mind.

He shows how, by thinking in time, by getting past modernist timelessness, we can not only discover a new paradigm for science, but also for economics and politics in which are still stuck in the illusion of fixed laws. He affirms that the rebirth of time in our thinking will get us past the obstacles we have created to deal with climate change, inequity, and government.
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Heiddegar and his followers characterized human existence as temporality. In other words, we humans when we act consciously in the world bring time into the world. Since humanity is an emergent being in nature, we are both carriers of time to nature and instances of the time in nature that is already there. Thinking in time, is a new imagination, that makes possible a new science to solve some of the problems that have arisen in modern science. Thinking in time also makes possible a new theology by which we can reinterpret many of the teachings and symbols of the past to make sense in our post-postmodern world towards solving many of the problems in ecology, economy, and politics.

That we can imagine the new--and how we do so--makes all the difference in the world.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Science and Religion and Politics

Trying to be "honest to God" (see previous blog), I accept science, its method and its results, as the best way of explaining nature and achieving true knowledge. At the same time, I realize that scientific knowledge is not, nor will it be, the final truth. But neither is religion, philosophy, or common sense ways to final truth.

I know that religion is often at odds with science in our secular modern world where science claims to separate itself from religion and politics. And there has been conflict where neither religion nor politics has refused to separate itself from and use science as the way to truth about nature and ourselves in nature.

Religionists using politics to force educators to include creationism as a scientific theory in the schools' curricula is the now classic case of the confusion of science, religion, and politics. The use of religious beliefs over scientific understandings to deny rights of certain segments of society is another. Such is the use of religious scriptures to legitimate slavery, deny woman's suffrage, restrict the GLBTQ community, carry out cruel punishment, and wage war. Another example of the confusion of religion, politics, and science is the raising of political-economic documents, theories, and personages to near objects of worship --as juridical originalists do with the constitution, as white supremacists do with race, as capitalists do with free market, and as politicians are presently doing with the flag and nation.

My own feeling is that alleviating the confusion and conflict is not matter of separation, but rather of defining the proper relationships, between science, religion and politics. I am reading a wonderful book and great article from theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli in which he reflects on science. Science is not about certainty he affirms. Science builds on the knowledge of the past by continually reexamining its past conclusions. Yes, it receives and adopts new data. Yes, it revises its previous theories. Yes, and more important, it reexamines the conceptual system or imaginative framework within which the questions have arisen and the answers have been provided.

But most of all science is about "overcoming our own ideas, and about going beyond common sense continually... and the core of science is not certainty, it's continuous uncertainty." It is recognizing "that there are probably still an enormous amount of prejudices and mistakes, and try to look a little bit larger, knowing that there is always a larger point of view that we'll expect in the future." This is not discarding previous knowledge, e.g. the understanding of classical mechanics, general relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and information theory. It is however surpassing it through ongoing data gathering, theory revision, and reconceptualization through new imagination.

He recognizes that "in religious thinking, often this is unacceptable. What is unacceptable is not a scientist that says I know, but it's a scientist that says I don't know, and how could you know? Based, at least in many religions, in some religions, or in some ways of being religious, [is] an idea that there should be truth that one can hold and not be questioned. This way of thinking is naturally disturbed by a way of thinking which is based on continuous revision, not of the theories, [but] of even the core ground of the way in which we think."

Modernity has rightly discarded religion as a method of explaining nature. But that is not necessarily discarding the religious instinct and attitude. That instinct and attitude is a drive for meaning. And in this sense, religion is vital to science. It is not the precepts, doctrines, laws, and organizations of religion that are important. It is the drive for meaning, which we call faith or transcendence, that is important. The religious instinct and attitude, however various cultures and communities want to articulate it, is evident in a Rovelli and all of us who realize that we do not know, and cannot know, anything for certain and yet push on to expand the frontiers of knowledge. 

But when religion tries to take the place of science by claiming that it knows with certainty, that its precepts and doctrines contain a final truth that need no revision or reexamination or reinterpretation and without adopting the provisional knowledge that science has already developed, the stage is set for unnecessary and even disastrous conflict. Then throw politics into the mix and you have the craziness of current American culture, economy, and politics.

It is the same with philosophy and the humanities out of which scientists act to understand nature. Cultures, which include science, the arts, religion, and common sense, are the imaginative conceptual belief systems, within which we all operate and which are in continual transformation. While science is the method by which to explain nature including ourselves, religion expresses the transcending spirit and faith to keep inquiring; philosophy and art stimulate the imagination and offer new ways of and images for thinking. And common sense is the filtering of the products of new thinking into our shared language and belief systems. Which, we hastily add, science must continually reexamine.

Since, as Rovelli says, "science is about constructing visions of the world, about rearranging our conceptual structure, about creating new concepts which were not there before, and even more, about changing, challenging the a-priori that we have," art, philosophy, and religion can play important roles in our search to know our place in the universe.  And to act for the good of our selves, each other, our communities, and our earth in the universe.