Category Archives: philosophy

Monotheism or monopolytheism?


Today we’ll talk about the funny word in the title. ‘Mono-polytDBH experienceheism’ is a word used by David Bentley Hart in his rather heavy philosophical tome ‘the experience of God’, a book that tries to explain what the word ‘God’ God means in the monotheistic traditions . The word mono-polytheosm describes the idea that God is a being more like the gods of polytheism, but still the only one in his species. That’s the way in which I will use it anyway.  (Hart also uses it more or less as a synonym for ‘theistic personalism’, but that’s a term and discussion that I feel no connection with at all and will leave for others. Philosophy, theoretical theology and a multitude of deep words can be very important one one hand to really say something meaningful about Reality, but on the other hand one can easily drift off to get lost in conceptual words too that have not much relevance, or even reality behind them in any way at all…)

To start I offer a quote from Hart for a definition of the term:

“a view of God not conspicuously different from the polytheistic picture of the gods as merely very powerful discrete entities who possess a variety of distinct attributes that lesser entities also possess, if in smaller measure; it differs from polytheism, as far as I can tell, solely in that it posits the existence of only one such being. It is a way of thinking that suggest that God, since he is only a particular instantiation of various concepts and properties, is logically dependent on some more comprehensive reality embracing both him and other beings.” (DBH, the experience of God, p 127-128):

To be honest, Hart might always require slow reading and re-reading. One of my FB friends recently assured me that she needs a dictionary too when reading him, and unlike me she has English as her first language and is quite intelligent.

Back to Mono/polytheism. The main question is what I am talking about when I as a Christian and Monotheist use the word ‘God’. In a classical monotheist definition as used in Abrahamic faiths, and according to Hart also in other tradition like certain forms of philosophical Hinduism, this is something completely different from what is meant with the ‘gods’ in a polytheist fashion. Really ‘God’ has no plural and can’t have one either. God is the Creator, the Source and Ground of Being. The One, both transcendent an immanent in all of the multiverse. If the creation story is true in any way, as well as the rest of the bible, God is Universal (quite probably multiversal even, I’d add). Surely while I believe that Christians have special revelation of God in the person of Christ, other people have concepts of Him too. Not only the Abrahamic names of Yahweh, Allah but also the Manitou or Great Spirit of the original Americans, or the Hinduist Brahman or Ọlọ́run in Yoruba are ways to describe this Multiversal Creator. Yes, some things will differ, some pictures will be better than others, but there is One God behind all of existence. And all our talk of this Ultimate Reality is just primitive babytalk anyway, even in the most refined theological schools.

Some philosophers or theologians, for example in Christian Orthodoxy,  go as far as saying that God does not ‘exist’ because His mode of being is completely different, as he is the Source of Being, and maybe even Existence and Being itself. But all of these words are just mere fingerscratches on the surface of something bigger than the sun…

The problem is that not all people define God in this way. In certain views, which are those I would see as ‘monopolytheism’ we do have a “God” that is not completely the source of all Being, and depending on other things, and subject to certain natural laws (or ‘higher magic’?) that maybe even preceded it and that it can’t go against. Which means that our “God” still has a Higher Reality to depend on and answer too somehow…

This certainly seems to be an existing picture of God that I sometimes encounter in several schools of theology, especially in certain schools of modernist ‘liberal’ theology, probably including process theology, but similar sentiments can be uttered by ‘conservative’ Christians too sometimes. It also seems related to -though probably incompatible with- a form of deism in which God made the laws of nature and afterwards isn’t able to break them even if He wanted. (The lengths some people go to combine abstract philosophic notions of God with cramped modernist assertions against miracles can be quite amusing…) demiurgeThe problem is that we end up with something that is more like a demiurge than the Creator. (And if there’s a demiurge, maybe there’s a Higher God in the background that’s more important…)

It’s also often the picture atheists paint of the “God” they reject. Well, no disagreement with them, since I reject it too, but that seems very hard to explain sometimes… It is this “God” too that is rejected in the simplistic ‘only atheists of one god more’ argument that sound not very logical if you really think about what God is and what Gods are.
(Sorry Brian McLaren,I once again go with David Bentley Hart here )

Let me also be clear here that I do not per se have to reject polytheism here, even if being a more than convinced monotheist. I actually happen to have no problem at all with the existence of the gods, but just want the clear that whatever they are, they are not God and not in the same league at all. If they exist they are powers of nature or higher beings inside the word, or maybe entities on (fallen) archangel-level, or in some cases even thoughtform-entities (Hey Fotamecus, did you beat old Chronos already?) or just anthropomorphic personifications of actually rather impersonal forces inside this world. (WATCH OUT WITH WHAT YOU SAY HERE, I KEEP MY EYES ON YOU!)

It might even be that in a soft polytheistic vein what is called ‘gods’ are only personifications of the One, the Divine, which is thus just a way to describe aspects of God. Certain schools of Hinduism and some African religions seem to think that way. If I understand Yoruba well the orishas might function in such a way for example.

Still I as a Christian believe that I have access to a much clearer view on and path to the Multiversal Creator, wich is found in Christ as the most fully revelation of God. Yes, the most scandalous claim of Christianity is not the trinity which mostly leads to more philosophical discussions, long words and misunderstanding of these words, but rather the Incarnation, the idea that in the person of a human Jesus the Creator stepped into His Creation and even shared in our suffering -well, got tortured to death eventually even-, and in partaking in death conquered death, sin and evil, But that’s another thing. Let’s note also that the Living Word (Logos) is something completely different from all our human formulations.

So like the title says, I don’t care for thing mono-polytheism (and even less for any form of monopoly-theism, in that matter). If God is not the Absolute, the One, the Creator it makes no sense being a monotheist at all. We end up with a conceptual demiurge at best, and a self-created illusion or even God-replacing egregore at worst… Conceptual idolatry is always a danger for those who want to define God instead of just letting God be God while acknowledging that no theology will hqdefaultever fully describe the One. (Except for the Living Word, Christ, but here we have the same problem that we need Christ to just be Christ, and not try to trap him in our formulations and description like a dried butterfly in a museum collection.)

So for anyone who wants to discuss God and theology with me, please accept that the classical monotheist definition of God as the Creator of the universe (from which everything originates, including the regularities that we call ‘laws of nature’), not some being inside the universe bound by the ‘laws of nature’ is crucial for me. You can deny the existence of this God, but arguing about the existence of merely a one-of-its-kind god in this world is not something I want to defend and something I’m completely not interested in at all.

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

Concerning the ancient controversy of the universals and the location of Love, Goodness and Justice within the Divine.


PlatoWhenever one takes lessons on the history of either Western philosophy or theology that includes the medieval period, they will encounter the ancient discussion about the universals. Long words with too much syllables that give a lot of possibility to be misunderstood were and are still employed in such debates, so it’s easy to lose sight of relevance in such matters… And yet something seems to tell me that hidden beneath a lot of dust, endless lingo and adventures in overcomplicating the point there is something very important. That’s why I have decided to dedicate a blog-post to some of the discussion and weigh in on some aspects of a very ancient discussion it in my unique Bram-way.

For the uninitiated who haven’t had basic philosophy: the question is whether the universals do exist somehow and what their relation to the particulars. Universals are universal characteristics here, particulars are the individual things that we encounter around us.  So the question could be asked: does the dogness (universal) of a certain dog (particular) have some separate existence or not. This whole way of thinking might seem quite silly, but with some more abstract universals as goodness and Truth it might become more interesting, as we’ll see later if you manage to finish this post.
I will try to only use as much lingo as is strictly needed, although I probably can’t help mixing up jargon from different worlds as I often end up doing..

To oversimplify I will give ahondn overview of the discussion I will go back to the example of dogness of a dog:
The most important players are Platonic Realism which would say that all dogs derive their dogness from the Platonic Idea Dog. For Plato that Idea would exist somewhere in the world of Ideas. All particular dogs are just like imperfect 3D-printouts of that Idea into the inferior matter of this world and nominalists who say that universals do not exist and are just words in our heads, and the dogness of the dog is just something we call it and actually corresponds to no reality beyond our words.
An in-between position of more moderate Aristotelian realism or conceptualism does also exist, which locates the universals in the particulars. (The dogness of the dog is present inside all dogs). Educate and/or confuse yourself here, here and here.

(Note that ‘Realism’ has an almost opposite meaning here than when used in a modern context. Scientific Realism as an epistemology is more like the opposite of Platonic Realism. Well long live language and its abilities….)

So where do I start? I suppose best just with my own view, which can be described as a postmodern mix of basically Aristotelian and Christian Platonist Realism: I’d propose that there are natural and abstract universals that are located in the things themselves or at least in this world in some way, but much more interesting, that there are also Higher Universals too that are located in the character of the Creator. And there I have to add a probably more (post)modern layer where all of these are most likely to be interpreted with our human minds and thus described into human language and brought into a thoughtfield, which is a more manmade ‘worlds of ideas’ that has not much connection with Plato’s world of ideas, even though it might exist in some mental astral plane . I don’t claim to have much knowledge about such matters though..

The ‘world of ideas’ as just a set of thoughtfields
Lets first start with that last one, where I probably differ from classical thought most and make up my own clumsy mishmash: There is a world of ideas in our individual and collective minds, (in thoughfields probably more or less a la Jung) which is like I said not at all a Higher World as Plato envisioned, but something on a mental plane that is derived from our human thoughts. Part of it just consists of constructions of human interpretations of the material world. It’s not even one world, but there are countless one, every culture and time and group has such a world, and it’s derived from our collective and individual minds.
Rosetta_StoneThis is also probably the closest that I get to Nominalism, but even then I don’t say anything is ‘just words’ with no existence. I do still think these things have an existence of sorts on some kind of mental plane.
These thoughtfields are always a needed intermediary between us and Reality: we look at Reality and interpret it and construct pictures of Reality in human languages in a mental world. I do not believe we have unmediated access to Reality, it is always interpreted.

But that’s probably not even half of what’s going on in there. We as humans are highly creative beings, that can create new stuff inside the thoughtfields. There are a lot of things that do originate in there: all of our cultural movements and purtekstballone ‘social constructs’ belong to this same world of thoughtfields, from useless abstract discussion about the nature of the universals, and all of theological systems to dubstep and unjust caste systems. (or even thoughtform entities, but that’s another story) And things don’t stay there. We actualise them and bring them into the material world. All things that we make or remake in natural reality are nothing but a translation of what we make first in the world of thought too btw.

Natural and abstract universals
This might have been a weird beginning, but now I’m going to get more classical  with the natural and the abstract world. for the ‘natural universals’ or properties of natural things like species of animals, plants or minerals for example I’d just follow the Aristotelean line that for example the horseness of the horse is found in all horses together. (My theoretical dog needed some rest so I summoned a theoretical horse for now…)
I can probably add something about the DNA of living beings or the chemical composition of minerals but that might go too far for now, and then I did remove the question of universals from philosophy to the natural sciences, which might be a valid thing here…

A side-note: this is where I would probably disagree with putting stuff like gender Venus of Willendorfcompletely in the ‘social construct’ category, which would be in the terms of my post like saying that it only exists or at least is derived from the thoughtfields. Gender is indeed to a certain degree a thoughtform-concept that varies per culture, but it’s still built a higher construct upon a reality that’s found within material nature, and translated and given form within every human culture. The starting point is the biological world, and not the thoughtfield; so I’d see all cultural expressions of gender not as pure social constructs, but as better or worse translations of the biological Reality of sex that is found in the particulars, or in other worlds in us individual humans.

When we go to the abstract universals (characteristics of logic, mathematics, equations, etc..) I suppose that they are just part of a less obvious ‘dimension’ of reality that is probably more transcendent in nature. I’d still say that they’re just part of Created nature anyway, and do not really reside inside of some Higher Platonic world of ideas (which I do not believe in btw, if that wasn’t clear yet). They just belong to a less tangible dimension of the natural reality we live in, and they will probably be discovered by most sentient species independently from each other, and then probably described in completely different terms and formats. But like earlier, they too cannot be reached directly with the human mind though (except for maybe some very simple ones, like basic geometric forms as a triangle) and will always have to be translated into languages that we humans understand with words and numbers and symbols and so on, and placed into our thoughtfields before we can access them.

Higher Universals: Love, Truth, Beauty, Justice…
Up till now we had something of a moderate postmodern Aristotelean realism (I guess) for what I’ve called the ‘natural universals’. But that’s still only half of the story, and we haven’t had the most important half yet. And here I will turn to a form of  Christian more or less neo-Platonist Realism:

My view on what I will call the Higher Universals (stuff like Love, Goodness, hqdefaultJustice, Truth and Beauty, and even Life and Being itself too) is that they are not primarily a part of this created world,  but that their source is ultimately found in the character/nature/attributes of the Creator Godself. (yes, I conflate some terms that are used very precisely for other things, and that often are used for different things in different traditions.  I just mean that these things are a part of the Being of God, not just of Creation. All more precise terms might have more detail than we humans can be certain about anyway…)
But again, in this form of ‘universals’ they are just Absolutes. And while I do believe that Absolutes do exist (bad bad postmodernist that I am), I do not believe we can ever reach them, by definition.
They cannot be accessed directly by humans because they are in a completely different Realm, and have to be translated to every context and language. Which might look very different depending on the particulars in which they are given form.

icon of the sermon on the mountStill if we look with the right mindset and open eyes we can see glimpses of them everywhere, and we as Christians need to live a life that contextualises and brings them into the concrete world, incarnates them even. Jesus as the Incarnation was the most perfect translation of the Higher Universals into a human being like us.

Realism and not Nominalism
That I end up on the side of Realism and not Nominalism might be more significant than we realise at first sight.  If you read the internet you will find certain people who denounce Nominalism for different and sometimes even opposing reasons, which I will not go into now. (You can read about Luther and Nominalism here -don’t skip the commments- for example, or about Ockham and Nominalism here. (Yes that’s the razor guy)
Foto0067So what is the problem with Nominalism here? From what I’ve read about Nominalism and from some discussions with people who know more than me it seems safe to say that Nominalism expects us to say that there are no real realities behind what I’ve called the Higher Universals. And this is where it gets dangerous: If we do not locate them inside if the Being of God, they have to be located elsewere. This will have them to be located in the will or decrees of God. And then we open up the door for people who say that anything (even ‘hate thy neighbour’) can be good whenever God decides it to be good (Ockham the razorguy seems to have  thought so, but I won’t go into that here now). And here we come into a ridiculous and dangerous domain where nothing makes sense that is to me completely unacceptable.

This is why I find it very important to note that Love, Goodness and the other of the Higher Universals are located in Gods Being somehow, not Gods will or something created. God IS Love (1 John). Love is a part of God, not a creation of God that could have been completely different and utterly unrecognisable in another world. People could be blue and even the value of pi might have been different if God wanted to create things differently, but Love and Justice have an Unshakeable Source, and will always be contextualisations of the same Attributes of the eternal Creator, even in the weirdest world possible.

God has created a world that was good in His eyes as a reflection of His character. Every inch of goodness within creation refers to the Creator. Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Creation. This means that nothing good or true (or even beautiful) in our Reality is ever arbitrary. No law in the bible is arbitrary, but somehow they are contextual ans sometimes for us incomprehensible translations of the Higher Universal of Justice into a historical context that often comes across as strange and counter-intuitive to us moderns.

Since God as the Creator is universal, there is a Trace of Justice in every just law in every society except for probably the most wicked unjust corrupted ones. QxouqThere is a Trace of Goodness in every genuine act of goodness everywhere, no matter how imperfect. There is a Trace of Beauty in every expression of beauty made by humans that truly captures something, as well as a lot of very vapid Traces of Beauty in nature. There is a Trace Truth in every human idea that expresses something true.

All of these, no matter how many layers and worlds of interpretation, in their imperfect way, do point to God somehow. Even then we Christians have to go beyond those Traces, and incarnate the Way of Christ more directly in a lost world in deeds and in explicit words. We are to embody the Higher Universals as much as we can.  “Be perfect for I am perfect.” Says Jesus in the middle of the Sermon of the Mount. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount is to align our character with the character of God.
Part of salvation is conforming to the likeness of God, and to partake in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), not only for our own sake but also to manifest in our particular way the Higher Universals more and more in this fallen and troubled world that is in need of more Love, Truth, Beauty, and so on. We can only fully become ourselves if Christ lives in us and God shines through us.

Let’s close this post with a quote from E. Stanley Jones’ Christ of the Mount that summarises what I’m trying to say here:

Moreover, if we are to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect, then the same moral laws that govern God’s acting must govern ours. In other words, the moral laws are not rooted in the shifting customs of men, but they are rooted in the very nature of the Divine. This gives us a stable moral universe and it means that moral distinctions have ultimate meaning. Moral laws are not based on the divine will, but on the divine nature. They are not whimsical, for God is not whimsical. They are dependable and orderly, for God is dependable and orderly. I can morally respect a God who will act on everything he requires of man. (E Stanley Jones, the Christ of the Mount)

This post was way too long, and my anarchist and unacademic approach to philosophy is probably quite sloppy… But I had to write this somehow…

What do you people think?

Peace

Bram

Atheist Faith in Reason as a Relic from Theism…


believe_800My problems with modern atheism are completely different from what most atheists assume they are. I say that not only as a Christian, but my inner atheist completely agrees with that, and is often the most frustrated part of me when I’m reading the ‘new atheists’ for example.

I actually don’t have much problems with people accepting accepting the possibility of atheism (the belief in absence of God). But a negative belief in God is not at all the only thing most modern atheism is about. Most of it is more built on a foundation of  a positive belief in reason, logic and science, which are often given a likewise inerrancy as fundamentalist Christians gives to the bible.

And I wile already have a problem with an an absolute faith in human reason when looking from a Christian paradigm (I think modernists on all sides, from Christian fundamentalists to new atheists have way too much unsubstantiated faith in it), I must say that in a paradigm without Rational Creator an unspoken belief that human reason can come to infallible truths is completely out of place and utterly naive. I will explain later what I mean with that.

My other problem with atheism is the assumed materialist worldview that from my experience not that very plausible. I won’t be easily gaslighted into the idea that the supernatural world does not exist. (I do even think that the way in which the universe manifests itself in such an non-magical way to most modern Western is some sort of magical trick, but that’s another story.)
I won’t even go into the problem that reason and abstract thought are way too transcendent and immaterial for a consistent materialistic worldview now, that might be for another time.

To explain why I have a big problem with combining materialism (the idea that the matter that we can observe scientifically is all there is) and absolute rationalism, and think  such a combination completely untenable and tautological I have to put onDSC03152 my atheist hat and explain this more from the inside…

(I put on my atheist hat now, which is actually an orthodox Pastafarian colander..)

To start we assume that there is no Rational Creator God behind this world. I do explicitly mean a Rational Supreme Being here that is behind the universe/multiverse as Creator and Sustainer here, and lower gods, spirits or body thetans are completely irrelevant here.
So whatever the source of all this is what we see and know, there is no such thing as a Creator! This means that we humans are just a species of apes wandering around on a tiny rock planet circling around a yellow dwarf star. We evolved without any plan into what we are somehow in a universe that wasn’t made for us. All of our reason and logic, and everything based on them is this just a by-product of processes in which our forefathers adapted themselves to their environment in order to survive the law of the jungle.

If  those ideas sound completely counter-intuitive to you, as a believer for example, I still ask you to try to consider the paradigm that I’m proposing here for now and try for now to climb into it and see the consequences of it.  (This is always the best option when encountering another worldview btw.)

When it comes to trusting our human reason we clearly have 2 problems :

– There is no reason at all to trust that the universe itself is fashioned in such a way can be reasonably understood by any rational being.
– Neither is there any reason to trust that the reason of our evolved brains has any way of accurately describing the world we live in, even if the universe would by some magic -otherwise than the will of a Rational Creator- be rational and intelligible to an actual rational being.

So once we let go of the notion that there’s a Rational Creator behind the Universe, which we might do because it indeed seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, we should be very very careful with trusting our own reason. There is no guarantee at all that there is any chance that  our reason and logic will really be able to nail Reality for us.
If we’re really intellectually honest we will have to be very humble intellectually, and letting go of the idea Rational Creator (or even believing in an irrational Creator if anyone wants to go there) also means that forms of modernist faith in reason and empiricism are nothing but naive relics of theism, and its faith in a rational universe that stems from a belief in a Rational Source behind the Universe, as Christians, other monotheists, Platonists and Hindus would do.
There simply is no reason to trust human reason very much, let alone think that our thought systems built on it can be absolute, objective or have any degree of infallibility…. The universe is a place not made for humans, and there is no guarantee except for wishful thinking that we will be able to really understand it. Reality can be bended into a lot of explanatory frames, which if good enough will all work.

But we’ll never be able to really pin down Reality.

Science indeed does a good job in making explanations and offering working models about the parts of Reality that are most accessible to us, but even those are approximations and will never be more than that. Yes it can be trusted up to a certain point, but always in the utmost humbleness and scepticism. It’s not because something works that it is true. The Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology was rationally sound and worked too.

Add to that the placebo-factor with the Newtonian law that something that’s in a certain state will remain in that state until enough energy is used to change the state (a brain or a society will remain in a paradigm unless it really can’t otherwise) and people stay in imperfect paradigms all the time because they can’t otherwise. Well, and every paradigm is imperfect anyway. Just get used to it.

So let’s go back to my basic point:  believing that reason al logic will ever enable us to completely understand the Reality in which we find ourself is nothing but a relic from the optimism of a theistic worldview that believes in a Rational Creator. We delude ourself with self-conceit if we trust too much in our human reason. The universe is basically absurd, and any certainty about the nature of the universe and our own rationality in another way is wishful thinking.

As atheists, Nietzsche and Camus were certainly onto something. The new atheists and any rationalist or logical positivist are just holding on to naive leftovers from theism in their reliance on how much both our reason, logic, and the intelligibility of the universe itself can be trusted.

(I take my hat in my hand and wonder if it it still belongs on my head when saying the following:)

And here I cchaosan only fall back into the  metaparadigm beyond chaos magick. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, please read this post here.) Groundless postmodern paradigm shifting combined with the power of belief to find the best working worldview is the only thing that remains for me here. Yes, I can use belief in reason as a paradigm, but it’s still a make-believe game that needs a lof of belief from my side to really make it work. 

I couldn’t go back to belief in reason here. I can’t go back to belief in progress. I can’t go back.  Reality is absurd and not made for us, and having faith in human reason and logic or in the rationality and intelligibility of the universe is utterly a form of self-deceit, but it’s a nice placebo.
Choosing the most soothing paradigm and remaining in it for as long as it’s lasting is the only solution to not slide into madness though.

(I put off the atheist hat now)

But I still go with Lewis, and not with Lovecraft. We are slightly irrational and confused beings in a world that has a Rational Source, and not more or less good and normal beings in a world that is utterly irrational, alien and dark behind the facade.

In the end I might be a notorious paradigm shifter, but I’m not (and have never been) a completely groundless postmodernist, rather a probably slightly crypto-Platonist/Aristotelian Christian with a healthy dose of humbleness about human capacities, so I still have the option to believe in reason and logic (even though they are in no way absolutely reliable). By the way, I’m a Christian because of Christ, and glimpses of a Love more Real than this whole universe. Not because of rational arguments and apologetics.

This might still be a very conscious choice though, because both possibilities seem equally plausible, unlike an enlightenment atheism that relies on an almost absolute faith in reason, logic and science in a materialist universe. That’d be, if I actually do follow reason here, too absurd even for a completely absurd universe.
I’m not naive enough for that.

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

 

 

On the dangers of our centrated thinking


One of the most critically satisfying phrases in the modern era was the reductionist phrase “nothing but” as in “that’s nothing but a typical Freudian Electra complex at work” of “that’s nothing but a typical Marxist class struggle” [etc.] (Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian)
“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”
(C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

AnkocToday’s post is one of those things I need to write down so I can link to it later, instead of having to give this explanation every time… The Brian McLaren quote above doesn’t only describe the problem I’m talking about quite well, but it also might foreshadow some later thoughts on some of the things that ‘the emerging church’ promised to go beyond without any such thng ever happening. (The problem sometimes is even more perfected in American ‘progressive Christianity’ as far as I can see…)

The term ‘centrated thinking’ in the title is borrowed from Piagets theory of psychological development by lack of a better word to describe it elsewhere, but I will use it in a much broader sense. Let’s first start with the wikipedia definition for those who are uninitiated in the theory or have forgotten it bPiagety now:

In psychology, centration is the tendency to focus on one salient aspect of a situation and neglect other, possibly relevant aspects. Introduced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget through his cognitive-developmental stage theory, centration is a behaviour often demonstrated in the preoperational stage.

Yes, I do know that Piaget is speaking about small children in the pre-operational phase here as he calls it, but the same thing he described but manifesting in other forms is also happening all the time in adult human thought. We always look at the world through a certain lens. We are not omni-present to look at a situation from every side, cannot calculate all angles in, and would not have the time and energy to do so even if we could.

So very often people tend to frame their thoughts through a very specific lens, finding only one aspect or dimension of reality important or even real, and ignoring or negating all the rest. Often the idea is that whatever lens they have is the most important thing that explains everything, while all the rest is just irrelevant.
This has something to do with out human hunger for a simple explanation for life, the universe and everything. (Well, duh, 42!)
The ancient Greek philosophers for example were busy looking for the archè or principle on which the whole of existence was based. For Thales of Miletus it was water on which everything was based,his pupil Anaximander thought it was the Anaximandermore vague ‘indefinite’ or apeiron, while Anaximenes would say that it’s air. (Yes, all 4 elements have been seen as archè by one Philosopher or another in those days, and they were first combined by Empedocles as the 4 elements we know now, but that’s another story) Pythagoras on the other hand posited that everything was based on math and numbers.

Not much has changed since the centrated woldviews of those ancient bearded guys on their faraway Turkish or Greek coast… Freud said that everything in human behaviour is based in sex, and both communists and ‘capitalsts’ have fallen for the dangerous idea of Marx that reality should first and foremost be framed in terms of economics. And then there are more postmodern theories that have the archè of our humanity based in language, or power dynamics, etc…

Let me repeat that nothing is wrong with looking at the world through a certain lens and thus ignoring other parameters or whole dimensions. It’s unavoidable even, and we need to do this if we want to be able to understand the world around us at all! The more parameter we leave out, the more we can focus on details and really look at what’s going on.

But we should NEVER forget that it only is a lens. Power games are only one of the many things going on in human relationships and certainly not always our main motivator. Economics are one dimension of our reality, but to say it’s more important than other things is not reality but a choice. A very dangerous one. And so on…

If we forget that any of these centrated ways of explaining reality and our human existence are just possible lenses that focus on only certain dimensions of existence, we get in trouble easily. There are always more factors that can be looked at and probably even more that we aren’t even able to see, and reducing any issue to just one angle is always doing violence to the complicated reality we inhabit!

Nuance, and looking to all viewpoints and stories is always needed. And evidently it is always dehumanising to reduce people to just one aspect of their being and then completely fold their identity into that aspect, no matter if it’s sex/gender, race, culture, status in power/privilege, whatever… People are always more than that, and cannot be reduced to any of those. Relationships and human motives always based on more things than we know.

So I have to end with a warning about a certain line of thought that’s pervasive in certain social justice circles nowadays. No matter on what side of the line they are, dehumanising someone as an ‘oppressor’ (a common way to centrate human animalfarmidentity on in certain contemporary circles) and then dismissing them as a human being that has nothing to contribute is as dehumanising as the things the whole attitude wants to erase. Things that should be erased indeed, if we are to treat others like humans, but animal farm revolutions are NOT the way

Humans are always more complicated. Reality is always more complicated. We need centrated theories because that’s how we operate as humans. But we also need to see them for what they are, and to never take any theory at all as comprehensively describing Reality, humans, or God (yes, the same problem is very present in modernist and other theology too, but I don’t have the time here to go into that). We’ll only do violence to whatever we describe if  we think that our centrated theories describe all there is…

Always stay humble, be open to learn, and be open listen to everyone in a certain issue. Open your eyes for nuance, and don’t forget that the world is often not black’n white, nor grey, but it has many colours, some of which we can’t see. (Which doesn’t mean they aren’t important.  Bees can see ultra-violet marks of flowers for example)

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

See also the following posts:

Lust is not about sex but power and control?
The unhelpfulness of words like ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.
The virus of evil: animal farm revolutions and the cycle of violence…

 

 

spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments?


Foto0067Note beforhand: this is basically a personal story based on my own experiences with enlightenment naturalist fundamentalism as a supernaturally minded Christian, but other totalitarian paradigms ( with Christian fundamentalism in all its forms as another good example, modernist ideologies are often completely absolutitist!) can give roughly the same problems as described here. So I think, if you can pierce through my Christian and esotheric lingo here that any person who’s ever gone through a deep paradigm shift or conversion should be able to get something out of this, and recognise the problem of the old obsolete worldview coming back and trying to invade and subjugate their world again. So bear with me, while this post is mostly my story from a supernaturalist Christian POV, I also will try to find a more general outlook on the subject too that might be helpful for people of completely different persuations…

You’ve all seen my title, which might be one of my weirder and more obscure ones… What on Earth do I mean with a hermetic-sounding title as ‘spiritual warfare against obsolete paradigm fragments’ and why would anyone be interested in it? To explain that I have to tell you a part of my own story but before I start I will give some general notes:
* I use the word paradigm for something like worldview, underlying system of thought through which one sees and interprets the world.
*The paradigm from which I write this myself will be a bit spiritualised, and because it fits my purposes most I might sometimes treat paradigms and thoughtsystems further on as if they were living entities of some sort.(classification somewhere in the order of thoughforms, family of egregores and mass-thoughtforms and probably closely related to illustrous entities as the zeitgeist) You can take that literally if you really want  but it works exactly in the same way if you see it just as a psychological tool to visualise some concepts… I’m completely agnostic on this matter actually…
* I will use the word ‘supernatural’ for things relating to both the Divine Uncreated and the spirit world or anything else beyond what the current consensus of science regards as the laws of nature. This is probably because I’m too lazy to find a more accurate word in the lingo of some weird niche, or maybe because I already have enough of that in my text already…
The supernatural paradigm is this the worldview in which the material world is only one dimension of the actual Reality, with other dimensions including a spiritual dimension to the natural world that are out of reach of our natural senses. I use it quite broadly.

Let’s start the story now…

I grew up as a pentecostal kid in a very secular country, with an awareness of what could be called lazily the supernatural world -even if I hadn’t always been given a very balanced understanding of it in that environment- and have been living in that awareness ever since. This doesn’t mean that I’m a great mystic at all, but throughout my life I have always had my encounters with God, answered prayers and very sporadically other things in the invisible world too. I’ve always known on a deeper plane that the rational that there is a whole invisible dimension to Creation, and an even more grand Uncreated dimension that’s intertwined with the created… And I dare say that just being alive affirms this ‘supernatural paradigm’ every day…

I know that I am in a minority with this outlook in a (post-)modern secular society, and I probably lost a lot of readers with that first paragraph alone… These are things one does not talk about. Some people I know would even suspect that my mental health should be checked after reading such things. (You know, believing in imaginary friends is clearly a mental illness…) So would not even be inaccurate to say that I’m ‘in the closet’ most of the time about this part of my person as an intelligent Westerner in a secular world. Always, from the age of a child on, I’ve known that there was no other option but live counter to the dominant paradigm around me. I’ll always be out of the box…

This might not be that unnatural for a pentecostal kid in a very secular post-Catholic world, although I assume other personalities might find other coping mechanisms than I did… I never had much problems having different paradigms next to each other. Being part of a religious minority that’s virtually unknown to the general public can have that effect on you. And here probably also lies the root of why I am incurably postmodern: There wasn’t much option for me with the personality type that I have to let the worldviews exist next to each other in one way, as different pictures describing the same world while focussing on certain things, but sadly enough ignoring/denying other parts of reality too. None of the paradigms will ever give a complete outlook on the world, they are all like small windows on a bigger landscape…

To continue my story: as a teenager my parents became part of a vineyard churchplant -of which I’m still a part- so I always remained connected to the Christian supernatural paradigm through my church, even though it’s generally not the most energetic charismatic churchon the planet… But late in my teenage years and in my twenties I also started opening my world and reading other branches of Christianity, as well as people of other persuations, later including interreligious dialogue with a lot of interesting and very different people.
It was not just books and people, but from the early 2000’s also the internet even exposed me to more different ideas and traditions. And then suddenly I found myself in the middle of the ’emerging church dialogue’, that gave me words to describe that I was indeed ‘postmodern’. But it lacked greatly on other aspects, like the supernatural dimension of this world, and more than before it opened me up for a more ‘liberal’ Christianity that tended (for me) to synchretise with modernist enlightenment materialism and a more naturalist wordview. With exploring the postmodern side of my faith I opened a door in my Christianity for something completely opposed to it but prevalent in some contemporary versions of it.

At the same time I encountered another paradigm that could never be mine, and one that some people clung to in a very totalitarian way that demanded the rejection of all other paradigms. I’d always lived in a world where the supernatural was ignored or even rejected by the standard paradigm, but the atheism I encountered went much further, and was agressive and totalitarian in a way that reminded me of the fundamentalism in my religion that I had distanced myself from long ago. Using ‘science’ and reason in the same way as ‘the bible’ and very weird things called ‘the bible’ that were actually far-strected interpretations of it on were used in religious fundamentalism, there people wanted atheism to be the only option in the world, and regarded anything that could be seen as supernatural or religious as unscientific, irrational and stuff for people of a lower intelligence. (Very French revolution, but without the guillotines?)

I’ve always found it hard to converse with this kind of people for some reason…

This agressive ‘new atheism’ was too far from my mode of being to ever compel me in the least, but there were other ways in which enlightenment reductionism denying my supernaturalist paradigm sneaked into my religious worldview to open the doors for this mode of thinking. Through the emerging church and other more liberal versions of my faith, and certain people around me or on the internet,  the ‘supernatural’ dimension became more and more disconnected from my operating worldview… even though the world I lived in was still supernatural in practice. In the end it felt a like being sucked down into a paradigm that was never mine to begin with but actively tried to erase certain dimensions from my world… (I do think I have at certain times spent too much time discussing on fora on the internet where a very agressive version of the new atheist ideology hung as a group spirit, trying to push me into a corner until I’d accept that its worldview is the only possible valid one. This probably put some anchors in me for the thing to get a foothold inside of me…)

Now, I want to be very clear that I surely love science and am often fascinated by its findings, and in between its limits science is possibly one of the most efective systems humans have ever created. Learning about science is one of the things I will never stop to do… I also don’t have a problem with people not sharing my religion or not believing in God… But I do have a problem with reductionism, and people who want a world restricted to what they can understand through ‘science’ -and manipulated by technology- while shutting out everything else…  When I read. things (or speak to people) that promote a certain kind of enlightenment-atheist ideology it feels (and this is a weird visualisation probably) like some kind of miasma is sticking to me, trying to get inside of me, numbing some of my unnamed senses and trying to pull me. It’s much more nuanced and less spectacular than what my description  probably sounds like when written down like this, but it’s the best way I can describe it.

There is something very disorienting in an having to fight an agressive paradigm that’s actually already obsolete to you but that is very dominant and seems in a sense completely compelling when exposed to a higher dose of it, even though it actually contradicts the very core of your own being. (Bring in narnia-metaphors… drumroll…) The whole thing itself like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals will never be able to talk, and insist on a world of non-talking beasts. Or even like the witch with the silver chair, telling the children and the prince that there is no upper world, no sun, no Aslan,.. And so on. It al sounds very ‘reason’able, but if you’d take a step behind and take a deeper view it feels somehow like there is more behind it. The (un)spiritual miasma that sticks to me, and numbs my senses and control what comes in to tha point of only being able to see the world through naturalism/materialism. This is extra weird since that wordview has never been part of my ‘working pantheon of paradigms’ and obsolete to me from the beginning on. Why would it even try to creep in and take over?

So I guess this is where the part of spiritual warfare comes in. No matter if you take this term more literally or as a psychological metaphor, the effect is the same: an invading worldview that you have left behind and don’t want can try to take over your perception of the world, and your modes of thinking. I think it’s important to be aware of  such things, to learn to recognise how it happens, and so be able to stop the attacks…

So this was my  story, which outlined the problem of spiritual warfare against aggressive paradigm fragments in a very specific casus based on my own experience.What we should do now is look at the problem in more general terms, and at possible solutions.

When it comes to the solution I have less experience in succesful overcoming the problem (I’ve only been understanding the problem in these terms for a few days now) so I will be much shorter, -this post is way too long already anyway-:

I’m not that sure I can tell you the best way to fight invading paradigm fragments, but being aware of them is probably the best first step to start with. It’s always much easier to fight something when you’re aware of it than when it want to take you over while you don’t have a clue that anything is happening…

But I used the metaphor of spiritual warfare. Maybe if we are aware of such things it’s not such a bad idea to visualise them as entities trying to invade your inner world and expel them in the name of Jesus, that’s very effective for Christians. People of other spiritual paths can take their own rituals of banishing or expelling.  That’s something that might work for me at least, even though it’s most likely a psychological tool…
(It doesn’t have to be an actual entity to react positively to being sent away in the name of Christ. Sending negative thoughts away in the name of Jesus (or taking them capture in Charismatic lingo) can also be very effective.)

I do think that throughout my text here I already gave the general description of the problem: a paradigm that has been already discarded and has been rendered obsolete, but that nonetheless tries to come back to take over your whole outlook on the world. It could, if it works better for you, also be visualied as a mental computer virus too, that tries to rebuild your whole operating systems from fragments that get inside and reform it according to the will of a very totalitarian tradition.

It is not the case in my example, but if that totalitarian tradition has once been your total worldview the spiritual battle might be a lot harder even. Note that I took a very specific example but that even for me there are other paradigms that try to invade sometimes. I can have the same kind of problems with fragments of other paradigms that make no sense to me at all anymore that come back -the fundie influence on my childhood pentecostalism, the weirdness of Charismatic Christanity- but I rarely encounter those in such a dominant way personally. Another very invasive ideology that seems to want to take over my theology sometimes is a very agressive and  totalitarian form of calvinism that is virulent on the internet…

So, for those still with me here: if any of my readers know of another effective way of expelling or ‘banishing’ paradigm-frangments that keep on sticking to you, trying to invade you again while you know that the paradigm is obsolete, please tell me.

If you find that I’m talking absolute nonsense please ignore me, this is probably not meant for you…

peace

Bram

The laws of the universe?


This is something I’ve been trying to put into words for quite a while now I think:

The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on this planet for the last few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws, whereas they are only the remote results which the true laws bring about more often than not on a kind of accident.

(C.S. Lewis, one of the characters in ‘that hideous strength’)THS

Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…


Today we’re going for a trip to explore some paradigm shifting. We will revisit some of the oldschool ’emerging church’ topics, but that will only serve to better be able to venture far into grounds where both angels and academics fear to tread (and maybe not without a reason) like the obscure postmodern occult art of chaos magic. Although for the regular readers nothing here should be a big shock…

Sa new kindo, on to paradigm shifting or a change of how one understand Reality and the rest… Let’s start on more or less safe ground and firmly inside of cliché emerging church territory with some C.S. Lewis quotes lifted from Brian McLaren’s vintage emerging church classic ‘A New Kind of Christian’. (It seems that the EC prophecies of the emergence of a new and better form of Christianity can be filed with a lot of end-times madness and hypercharismatic promises of a ‘great revival, but the ANKOC trilogy remains worth re-reading nevertheless)
It is from Lewis lesser known book ‘the discarded image’ that talks about medieval literature, but the last chapter is about the paradigm-change between the medieval and modern world. And Brian McLaren got it more than right here in that this chapter has a lot of insights that are able to help us understand the modern-postmoden paradigm-shift. I will give you the extended version:

It would therefore be subtly misleading to say ‘ The
medievals thought the universe to be like that, but we
know it to be like this’. Part of what we now know is
that we cannot, in the old sense, ‘ know what the universe is like’ and that no model we can build will be, in that old sense, ‘ like’ it.
Again, such a statement would suggest that the old
Model gave way simply under the pressure of newly discovered phenomena-as a detective’s original theory of the crime might yield to the discovery that his first suspect had an unassailable alibi. And this certainly happened as regards many particular details in the old Model, just as it happens daily to particular hypotheses in a modern laboratory. Exploration refuted the belief that the tropics
are too hot for life ; the first nova refuted the belief that the translunary realm is immutable. But the change of the Model as a whole was not so simple an affair.
There is no question here of the old Model’s being
shattered by the inrush of new phenomena. The truth
would seem to be the reverse ; that when changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old  Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently tum up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.

Lewis is talking here about the historical shift in worldview which madeCSLewis_Pipe the old way of looking at the world impossible. And yet the ‘proof’ of the new worldview had always been there, and had only ‘turned up’ because people looked for them.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing 1 Cor 13 here)  Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have and all we can have. No paradigm or ‘model’ as Lewis says it will ever explain our world completely accurately, and every model has its weak sides and strong sides. Key here is Lewis’ last sentence: “Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.’ Reality is like the elephant in the parable, and we are the blind men who only have one part of the elephant and try to reconstruct a whole ‘theory of the Elephant’ from one bodypart of the animal.

Why do we even assume that the human brain is able to fully understand the universe around us? As a Christian believing in a Creator God that made us in His image I already find it a bit too much. But if I were an atheist such a illusion would for me only be a lingering relic from naive belief in a Creator…

What I would propose when it come to these things is just a humble epistemology. Acknowledge that any paradigm is just ‘seeing in part’ and that there’s a strangeness in the universe that makes it simply unable to just pin it down to one paradigm. Sometimes different models that cannot be reconciled do accurately describe the same thing. (Even in modern science that is true: look at light, which can be described as both a particle or a wave. Both paradigms work and can be used to explain different things, but they are in fact mutually exclusive and at the same time both true!)

Maybe that sounds too postmodern to some, but note here that I do still have a Ground, even when it cannot be Pinned down, or grasped. Truth and Reality do exist, even if they defy complete description and understanding, and even if different understandings of it can be both accurate in a way and completely exclusive of each other.  Real hardcore postmodernists will most likely not have such a ‘Ground’, which is a completely different story altogether

Groundless postmodernism, even more than my moderatie ‘humble epistemology’ is a radical meta-paradigm that makes all other paradigms invalid, and that makes every use of a paradigm pragmatic. Nothing is true, but still we believe things because it helps us in some way. We can’t be Groundless all the time, so we take on a worldview for the moment…

But there’s more we can say about paradigm-shifting. Up until now I’ve been just talking about understanding and describing the universe, as is done for example in science. Which is important, but only the first step. The second step is reacting to the universe, and often also manipulating it in various ways. We are not just spectators in this world, we are living in it, connected to it, and we need to interact with it…

And our paradigm is very important here. The way we view the world around us does change the things we’ll do with it. If we do not believe that there is a land on the other side of the ocean we won’t make a ship to go there. If we don’t believe something can be don’t we won’t try it, etc…

But like I wrote this ‘power of belief’ can go further. Like the song says, there can be miracles, if you believe…

Now what do we get if we combine groundless postmodernism in which no paradigm is true with the power of belief and magic? This is not a rhetorical question, as the answer is an existing occult tradution; Chaos magic (or magick in the Crowleyan spelling) is what you get when you combine Groundless postmodernism with pragmatism and the idea of ‘belief as a tool’. I don’t think you can go further than that into postmodernism than pragmatic paradigm-shifting-at-will as a tool, it does outpostmodernise the most postmodern postmodernist and its implications are far-stretching.

Yes, pragmatic paradigm-shiftng-at-will! While Lewis and McLaren wrote about paradigm shift as something that happens with a society when the world cannot be viewed in the same way any longer, and the emerging church generally saw it as something happening once in a lifetime (or a few times). Chaos magic starts from the idea that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. (Which is derived from Aleister Crowleys ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and can end up not far from Voldemorts ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it’…)
So it does not matter whether or not a paradigm is true, if you need it you ‘climb into it’ and exercise enough belief to accomplish your purposes. Andrieh Vitimus describes it like this:

“The most telling thing about a chaos magician is their ability to change their beliefs and paradigms at will. This is a complete change of perspective on the world that they live in to be able to see their reality from a different point of view. If you think about it, this would mean one day a chaos magician might be a Christian, while the next week they would be a Buddhist. These two philosophies are radically different in their orientation towards the world and an adoption of either worldview would have implications towards the person’s daily actions and attitudes. Chaos magic will demand that the practitioners be able to meaningfully switch between any beliefs about themselves, others, and religious beliefs. To the chaos magician, beliefs are choices. Belief is the tool that empowers the magic.”

(And yes, chaos magic can be pretty dark stuff. Invoking made-up dark gods like Thanateros (god of death achaosnd sex) or fictional ones like Chtulhu seems to be popular for example among chaotes. But that’s outside of the scope of my post about paradigms now, and the same principles could work without this dark side and without invoking any deity at all.)

I’ve written before about ‘belief as a tool’ and magic, and I do believe in this power. But on the other hand I also believe it has its limit. Even chaos magicians pragmatically try a lot of paradigms and discard those that don’t work… Pragmatism tries what works, and in that process a lot of things are thrown away that don’t work. Not every paradigm is equal, even in Groundless postmodernism or chaos magic.

There is something scandalous in the pragmatic combination of ‘belief as a tool’ and paradigm-shifting in a Groundless postmodernism. Is it an echo of a snake whispering ‘you shall be like gods’ and the temptation of a Power that isn’t safe for a mere mortal to wield?

There is another limit. One cannot put the sun in a bag and make slices of cheese from the moon with mere positive affirmations and choosing the right paradigm. Even if we would have a lot of power to create our own universe we are not solipsists. There are other powers in the Universe that might be stronger than us. There are solid things in Reality that won’t liquify or even go out of our way no matter how hard we believe they will. The power of belief is strong, but even if it can change our percerption of reality, and in some cases affect Reality sometimes, it is not able to change the real inner structure of reality. And sometimes our perception of is only an illusion.

Let’s go back to where we started, to C.S. Lewis. In the chronologically first book of Narnia, ‘the magician’s nephew’ we do find a arrogant ‘magician’ named uncle Andrew, who’s by accident present at the Creation of the world of Narnia. The poor soul does have a lot of modern sensibilities though (a lot of colonial and capitalist ambitions that would turn Narnia in a hell and made him richer if could accomplish them…) and the idea of talking animals does not work for him. After a while he isn’t even able to hear them talking even if he would want to. He just hears growling and hissing and barking of a bunch of wild beasts, while they are actually are discussing what they would do with the guy…

Yet the animals are still talking…

Dwarfstable

Another example of this comes from the last of the Narnia book, the last battle, where a bunch of dwarves have been put in a stable by the enemy, but are not able to see that the door worked as a portal to the Land of Aslan. The lion Aslan wants them to open their eyes, but all they want to see and can see is still a stable. They keep on mumbling that “the dwarves are for the dwarves” and that no-one will be able to take them in, stuck in an illusion they can’t get out that is only kept in place by the power of their belief.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have.

And after all we should watch out for illusions and lies…

What do you people think?