Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday Sermon: Regarding Everything

Everything, hello. Thank you for breath, beauty and one another. Thank you for our conscious part in your proceedings. Bless our pathways and the pathways of our families, communities and institutions, that we may do thy will. Amen.

I have called Everything my god for about half a dozen years, but it was much earlier I think, in a barely post-pubescent mystical phase of my religious journey, that I first made the equation of God with the totality of all things. I quickly learned, and have observed ever since, that it is a common observation of thinking people and is expressed in many ways. 'Universe', 'all', 'totality', 'nature', 'tao' and 'being' can all be pretty much synonyms for Everything, and are all often used in this way.

For as my young mind observed (though my term at the time was, egoistically enough, 'Else'), if there are lots of gods, spirits and spooky forces, that doesn't challenge Everything, for surely all of these are subordinate to the whole of which they are a part. If there is a grand creator who transcends all the known universe, that's fine too, but it's the interaction between that creature and the known universe where all the interest is, and together they clearly make up a greater single system, all of which effects me greatly and is worthy of my attention. If the universe has a dualism of spirit and matter or something, fine, but if so it is both of these things which together constitute nature. It's all Everything, and there's only one of them. There's no way out of that.

Similarly, rationalists freely speculate that there may be many universes and/or many dimensions - perhaps an infinite quantity, just as ancient theologians and modern role playing gamers speculate about various planes of existence, but once again, it is them all together which constitute the final, complete reality, of which there is just one, the same one for every sentient creature in it. Everything. What no scientist, mystic or theologian can coherently claim is that there is more than one Everything.

'Everything=1' may well be an essential axiom for physicists or other scientific theorists of reality, I would assume anyway.

Here is this unique feature of Everything put another way: Everything is profoundly, uniquely alone, with no reference point outside Itself. Try to find one and the best you'll do is identify more of the same Everything. Similarly it can not be said "Everything is like this", as if it could be like something else, for there is no other thing that it may or may not be like.

Perhaps that is why God is nameless. The very idea of naming is about identifying, and identity requires a reference. Everything can neither be identified nor denied, and I didn't pull that paradox out of the air like some new age aphorism. It's apparent to any thinking person.

The picture at the top of this blog was constructed by Australian researchers and it is meant to depict the universe itself on best information. One of those dots is our own galaxy cluster (there are three galaxies in our cluster, the largest of which is our Milky Way). Perhaps, assuming the universe derived from the Big Bang is in fact Everything and not merely a splinter of an exponentially greater reality, we might imagine this strangely cerebral looking stuff in an overwhelmingly large blob-like thing. I admit that is the best image I can sort-of do in my own meditations. But we have two major problems.

The first problem is about edges, and they are as impossible to grasp as the beginning and end of time, which are also edges. A blob has an edge, and an edge has another side. So Everything is a non-blob, or an edgeless blob, somehow. The second problem is related and is about perspective. We can only 'see' a blob from a place outside of it which, even if it only conceptual, is a part of Everything. All 'around' Everything, in time and space, is the mystery we refer to as 'infinity', 'eternity' or ein soph if we want to be trippy, which at this time we simply do not understand. I'd love to offer something new there, but no can do, sorry.

So we have this object, this singular creature that is absolutely rational and undeniably in existence, but simultaneously impossible to comprehend in any meaningful, coherent way.

A knowledge and understanding of Everything is the objective of all the human sciences and, I would argue as a dialectical naturalist, an objective of nature itself. Everything is keen to know itself, apparently, as I discussed a bit in Prayer 2. We might note that seeking knowledge in a scientific way is a relatively recent phenomena, and also that seeking God is not. We are just working with greater revelation, and well-developed systems of accumulative revelation.

We can look out, and look ahead, and gape at what we simply do not know, but we can also look back over our shoulders and see how much we have learned about heavens since the psalmist cried, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). And when we read of God mocking the ignorance of Job (Chapters 38 and 39 are fun in this regard) we realise we can not quite be so mocked today. To, "Hast thou perceived the breadth of the Earth?" for example (38:18), we can say, "yep." My favourite of these sort of passages is in Ekklesiastes where the philosopher is humbled, "thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child."(11:5) (Aside, God made no actual claims of the knowledge either which was pretty sneaky really.) But once again we can now say we understand wind and bone growth a hell of a lot better than the philosopher did. And we should celebrate that revelation, and keep seeking, in my view. It is merely nature itself at work.

And so we seek Everything and we might note that there is no thing else to seek. In this project - of seeking God - philosophy/science and religion were once united and should be so again. Any religion which denies the new revelations of science is doomed to either oblivion or absurdity. The Dalai Lama is typically more polite about it than me, but he seems to feel the same way.

If the House of Every was to have a catechism, a summary of essential doctrine, God=Everything might be the whole thing. I do not present it as "another god", "just as valid as any other god". Everything is the god we have been attempting to grasp for thousands of years, the Mosaic God that can not be idolised, I AM, and the Aristotelian god above all gods, the highest comprehensible object of attention, and the Tao that cannot be named or described, Brahmin etcetera. Not only is this a defensible proposition but I have every intention of arguing it proactively and am keen to debate anyone who feels God is something else. Everything does not require reference to faith.

It is not an argument atheists would find relevant. Religionists may seek Everything but unlike atheists, we also worship, meditate upon and even 'serve' Everything. The reason is a combination of a bit of a common human compulsion and a choice, but it is in this regard that next week I want to face off some very specific criticisms from New Atheism (specifically Hitchens), something that I think all religions with integrity are obliged to do.

But atheists aside, worship, and especially worship as a collective act, is perennial to human civilisation and whilst it has become diffuse and often political or trivial it appears to remain so. As I've argued elsewhere it may be our basic defence against becoming dysfunctional through alienation. If Jesse Berin (The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life, 2011) is right we are pretty much condemned by evolution to relate to God, and even atheist horseman Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena, 2006) seems to agree, though he sees religion as a redundant system, like an appendix of society or something.

If this is the case; if it is so that we have psychologic nature to collectively narrate our relationship with reality, and further that the resulting collective religious embodiment is the natural and healthy condition of society, then we - the whole world - need a god that makes sense, or that at least makes sense equally to every human and is scientifically defensible. Everything certainly makes sense, but as a god Everything serves other values well as well. There is no strict connection between theology and values - people are more complicated and unpredictable than that. But I feel it can be said that Everything better underpins values of equality, compassion and integrity than does any idolatrous god.

And any god but Everything is an idol, an impression carved from the whole, divisive.
Everything, my love, this one really is dedicated to you, even if it could be dedicated to another. Help my readers in their dance with you Every, whatever they call it, however they refer to it. Help them discern any justice I do you in my words from any injustice. And whatever it is Everything, may thy purpose be manifest on our planet. So be it.

1 comment:

  1. "Thou art God and I am God and all that groks is God." -- V.M. Smith (as channeled by Robert Heinlein. I would add that everything that IS is God. What's fascinating to me is that so many scientists, in particular astrophysicists and particle physicists are coming to this same conclusion. This is especially true of string theorists, that the whole of the universe; even the multi-verse is one huge sentient being. This is where pantheism melds into monotheism.