What is the nature of the spiritual quest and how does it relate to other spheres of life – or what is the proper relationship between science and religion?

On the question of the relationship between the spiritual and other spheres of life.

The word religion has its roots in a latin word religio – to bind together. The connotations of this are that when someone sustains a religious way of life all the different elements within their life are brought together and harmonised within this mantle. This can be seen from a variety of different viewpoints. On a basic level, religions can provide insight or understanding of  one’s self, one’s relationship with others, they can confer meaning and give value, they can synthesise opposing areas – this is what Benedict means by making sure you don’t specialise in one area at the expense of the totality of your life (to have life to the full) or don’t build up piles of money, power etc. – too narrow a focus leads to a sclerosis of the spirit which can only be cured by a thunderbolt from above (this is the meaning of the tower of babel).

But surely any ‘philosophy of life’ can do this? Any set of beliefs about life, such as humanism etc. can confer meaning and give value, prompt people to act in a certain way. Many would say we do not need religion, with all the concomitant problems it brings, in order to live good, meaningful lives.

So religion must be more than simply an overview, a thing to bring together all the disparate elements of a life. We can do that without religion. Well, can we? In fact the synthesis we are talking about, where opposing forces, desires, attitudes and intentions become reconciled into a higher harmony which transcends their individual differences while retaining what is valuable in them has never been achieved anywhere other than through the action of what is called the spirit.

Marxism-communism began with this intention of synthesis. The Hegelian dialectic thesis-antithesis-synthesis is supposedly a historical process whereby the proletariat become aware of their oppression by the bourgoisie and come into conflict with them (the antithesis stage). Marx believed that this class conflict would result in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and that the private property would become communally owned, which would be the synthesis state: the classless, stateless communist society.

But the desired result never occurred – the levelling off of society brought new kinds of tyranny of the very type that were supposed to be symptomatic of the old kinds of hierarchies. So instead of a synthesis state where opposites were resolved into a higher unity you had a negation, a neutral state, between the opposites but on the same level. Truth was supposed to spring forth from the clash of opinions, but instead of light, heat was generated – revolutionary energy, which in turn demanded more clashes in order to keep it aflame.

All this will be very familiar to those who have read Valentin Tomberg. He talks about fission – a process of splitting whereby huge energies are released, and fusion, where there is a conjunction or union resulting in great amounts of power too. There is a qualitative difference though – fission is intellectual clashing or polemics, and fusion is agreement, where differences of opinion are synthesised in a higher harmony. And there is a concomitant process in the socio-political realm where there is a taking-over of the job of the spirit by scientific or political means – and all the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century aimed at doing this – (whatever ill-informed people might say about the personal ‘religiosity’ of Hitler, National Socialism had no desire for people to have a personal relationship with God, as a higher authority than the political) the usurpation of the proper role of the spirit in the affairs of man by a lower centre of the Will.

So the answer is that the binding together of the all the different areas of the life cannot be done from below – the job must be founded from above. I am arguing here for hierarchy recognised as the true condition of things, as put forward in the book of Genesis, as recognised by Plato etc.

Tomberg talks about the myth of Cain and Abel as a kind of archetype of the phenomenon of revolution, and its relation to hierarchy: “The story of Cain and Abel is a myth, i.e., it expresses, under the form of a tale of a particular case, an “eternal” idea. Consequently, it pertains to time, to history, and not to space and its structure. It shows us how brothers can become mortal enemies through the very fact that they worship the same God in the same way. The source of religious wars is revealed here: and it is not the difference in dogma nor forms of worship or ritual which is their cause, but exclusively the pretention to equality, or if one prefers, the negation of hierarchy. This is also the world’s first revolution — the archetype of all revolutions which have taken place and which will take place in the future of humanity. For the cause of all wars and revolutions — in a word, of all violence — is always the same: the negation of hierarchy.”

Finally, there is an analogy that can be fruitfully explored which is based on a colour scale using a cone with an inverted cone underneath. at the top of the cone is pure white light which bcomes separated into the individual colours as it goes further down. The point of maximum separation is the middle of the two cones – each colour is clearly discernible – then as the inverted cone narrows the colours become blended together into ever muddier colours until they meet at the inverted point in darkness. This image should give us all we need to kbnow about this topic. At the top is the higher harmony into which each colour is subsumed – it is truth or spirit. The lower point of darkness is ignorance where all clarity has disappeared in the confusion of opinion and deception. The middle area where each colour is separated out and clearly discernible is the domain of the scientific – the ‘how’ of the world, where knowledge concerning nature is available. It is also in a political sense where free individuals reside, but any attempt to organise those individuals along totalitarian lines inevitably tries to bring about a harmony with a loss of individuality – and thus sinks down to the dark point of ignorance. Only hierarchy or ‘sacred order’ can bring about the organisation of free individuals within society under the operation of the spirit.

The Coherence of disembodied existence

Essay question – coherence of disembodied existence – one possible approach

Start by examining traditional dualist theories

Plato – argument from knowledge and opposites, Descartes – I think therefore I am

Use traditional defences of dualism such as: Qualia, Intentionality, Privacy, Freedom

Bring in possible support from: NDE’s, The paranormal (ESP etc.), Traditional beliefs such as reincarnation

Dualism doesn’t need bodily continuity for identity- memory will suffice(eg Penelhum memory is the key to identity)

Examine meaningfulness – Antony Flew, P Badham

Give materialist/monist views eg. Dawkins, Gilbert Ryle

Materialist arguments, Eg. Identity theory, behaviourism, emerging quality

Do they provide forceful reasons for doubting post-death survival?

Examine coherence of disembodied existence

Swinburne, H H Price – thought experiments to show its coherence

Arguments against them

Thoughts on Religion, Science, Morality and Atheism as prompted by the speeches of Pope Benedict XVI

I myself am a mortal man, like all others, and of the race of him, that was first made of the earth, and in the womb of my mother I was fashioned to be flesh.

In the time of ten months I was compacted in blood, of the seed of man, and the pleasure of sleep concurring.

And being born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, that is made alike, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do.

I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and with great cares.

For none of the kings had any other beginning of birth.

For all men have one entrance into life, and the like going out.

Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me:

And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her.

Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold, in comparison of her, is as a little sand; and silver, in respect to her, shall be counted as clay.

I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out.

Now all good things came to me together with her, and innumerable riches through her hands,

And I rejoiced in all these: for this wisdom went before me, and I knew not that she was the mother of them all.

Which I have learned without guile, and communicate without envy, and her riches I hide not.

For she is an infinite treasure to men: which they that use, become the friends of God, being commended for the gifts of discipline.

And God hath given to me to speak as I would, and to conceive thoughts worthy of those things that are given me: because he is the guide of wisdom, and the director of the wise:

For in his hand are both we, and our words, and all wisdom, and the knowledge and skill of works.

For he hath given me the true knowledge of the things that are: to know the disposition of the whole world, and the virtues of the elements,

The beginning, and ending, and midst of the times, the alterations of their courses, and the changes of seasons,

The revolutions of the year, and the dispositions of the stars,

The natures of living creatures, and rage of wild beasts, the force of winds, and reasonings of men, the diversities of plants, and the virtues of roots,

And all such things as are hid, and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me.

For in her is the spirit of understanding; holy, one, manifold, subtile, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hindereth, beneficent,

Gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits: intelligible, pure, subtile:

For wisdom is more active than all active things; and reacheth everywhere, by reason of her purity.

For she is a vapour of the power of God, and a certain pure emmanation of the glory of the Almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her.

For she is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness.

And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things, and through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets.

For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom.

For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.

For after this cometh night, but no evil can overcome wisdom.

Chapter 7 of the Book of Wisdom

the full text of the speeches of Benedict are here

There are three main themes that Pope Benedict has been addressing on his visit to the UK that are, and have been for some time, of particular interest to me. The first is ‘What is the nature of the spiritual quest and how does it relate to other spheres of life – or what is the proper relationship between science and religion?’. The second is ‘by appeal to what authority do moral dilemmas get resolved – or is it possible to completely remove the moral sphere from the religious sphere?’. The third question is one that has come to the fore more recently for me; in the Pope’s own words: ‘should the “tyranny of relativism” and “atheist extremism” be allowed to silence or reduce the role of religion to the completely private sphere?’.

These are obviously very important questions. They are not abstruse matters of theological dogma, but fundamental to the very way in which we live our lives, and they have certainly been debated by philosophers and theologians for a very long time. For me, the wisdom evident in the speeches of the Pope on these themes came as something of a surprise to me! Even though I had read his book Jesus of Nazareth and was aware of what a great teacher he was, I still think the power, wisdom and clarity with which he set out his stall will provide some of those who doubt the value of religion with food for thought for a good time. Is it possible I am mistaken here? Am I just Pope-worshipping? After all I am an RS teacher in a Catholic school. I’m biased surely?

I can only say I have no interest in presenting the Pope as an infallible sayer of eternal truth, and I like many other Catholics, have quite major reservations about many of the things that are said by the Vatican.

But the speeches of the last few days have been to me not the empty apologetics of the withered head of a decaying and irrelevant sect, not some charged polemical battle-cry against the modern world by someone living in the past, but the “still, small voice” of truth; warm, human, compassionate, connected to the world, wanting to engage with the world and seeking humbly to lead us in the direction of wisdom.

1.What is the nature of the spiritual quest? Simples. Strive to become holy! How do we do this? For Benedict it’s rooted in love – God loves us and wants us to discover and unfold the potential hidden within us – to have life to the full – to have the courage to place our deepest needs in God means entering into a relationship with God – and in the generosity of God’s love we find we learn to keep less and less back; we don’t need to grasp after praise or seek acceptance by others, seek riches or fame, pour everything into one way of living, we simply need to let love do its work, and then we find things like caring about injustice, trying to help others, become part of our lives.

For the rest of these three themes I will write distinct posts.

Dr Manhattan and Free Will

Watchmen is a graphic novel by the author Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons. It has been turned into a film by Zack Snyder, and frequently makes lists of greatest works of literature. In the book there is a character called Doctor Manhattan, a human who has been transformed into a super-being by an accident in a laboratory, and has power over physical reality to the extent that he can destroy and recreate atoms. He also sees into the future because his perspective is such that he sees all of past present and future as a single moment.

Powers such as these have traditionally been associated with God in the theistic traditions. But what interests us in particular is his attitude to free will and choice. Because he knows intimately the very atomic structure of everything he also knows the causal conditions by which things occur, and the things that happen are shown by him in the book to be inescapable. This belief that everything is causally determined through previous events is called determinism, and is usually seen as contradicting beliefs in free will.