When the truth of the transcendent order of reality is rejected we do not remain neutral. We become exposed to the hostile forces of the subtle world of which we have been speaking, forces which work in the unconscious and bring destruction upon humankind. Western Europe rejected the perennial philosophy at the Renaissance and had been led step by step to the materialistic philosophy which rejects fundamental human values and exposes humankind to contrary forces at work in the universe. The only way of recovery is to rediscover the perennial philosophy, the traditional wisdom, which is found in all ancient religions and especially in the great religions of the world. But those religions have in turn become fossilised and have each to be renewed, not only in themselves but also in relation to one another, so that a cosmic, universal religion can emerge, in which the essential values of Christian religion will be preserved in living relationship with the other religious traditions of the world. This is a task for the coming centuries as the present world order breaks down and a new world order emerges from the ashes of the old.
So Fr Bede Griffiths finishes his last book A New Vision of Reality. He died in May 1993. I wonder what he would think now 25 years later. I wonder what you think.
My thoughts are as mixed and confused as ever. Here are some of them:
1. I agree with Bede that the turn to materialism has to be arrested. It may have been formed in the West but now encompasses all societies and cultures, at the very least in the technology it has spawned. The great winner in the modern world is technology, the robots; it is not science. Science has lost or is losing its authority in the wake of climate change denial. But technology flourishes, now boosted by artificial intelligence and deep learning. We use once to learn that God was omnipresent and knew all. Technology is on the verge of achieving this in the hands of political forces around the world. Security cameras in China can now even pick you up if you use too much toilet paper in a public toilet. And don’t think something similar is not making its way into Australia. The great fallacy of technology is: If you can do something, you should do it. We seem increasingly powerless to stand up against this fallacy.
2. The great sin of materialism is the denial of the integrity of the human soul or psyche. For materialistic science human subjectivity is merely an epiphenomenon, a spin off of the complexity of the human brain. I believe we need to reaffirm the fundamental nature of psyche, and hence mind and spirit. Socrates redemptive efforts in Athenian culture, made uncertain by the Sophists and others, focussed on the human soul, and what flowed from this. We need this so much in our day. People are locked in ‘sense certainty’ which plays very nicely into a world dominated by technology. Not much self-reflection in this, not even an awareness that every part of our subjective experience, which is all we can directly know of ourselves and the world anyway, is contained in psychic and spiritual images; certainly not atoms and quarks, let alone material rocks and trees.
3. I am not sure about the perennial philosophy. I do agree we need to truly value wisdom and see that traditional cultures, including our own aboriginal cultures, embodied knowledge and wisdom which we no longer appreciate or understand; and we should. We seem to no longer even value mind and the capacity to think all that much. Everything has to be reduced to scientific method, which is said to make knowledge ‘evidence based’. My favourite example is some scientific research done in South Australia some years ago that found, after much time and money, that people who travel in a car more than 60 kph are more likely to have a crash than those who don’t. We are confronted my much foolishness in the modern world.
4. I think, personally, that a better unifying idea between traditions is the idea of spirit rather than the perennial philosophy. This is not of course without some real difficulties. Bede himself infers the universal nature of spirit. Its great value is that it implies action, and it is caring, loving action guided by wisdom that our modern world most needs. As a word and idea spirit is found in all traditions, both human spirit and divine or holy spirit. It also implies ‘communion’ and hence personal connection. We need to balance the impersonal, objective stance to the world and each other, that science has trapped us in, with personal, subjective appreciation of the world and each other. I know from my own experience that communion with the rocks and the trees, let along the animals and each other, can be full of meaning and satisfaction, full of spirit. This of course is the basis of true art.
5. Not sure what Bede fully means when he writes ‘the essential values of Christian religion’. I know his great dream is to find a unity for the whole race at the religious level. But I suspect it is more complex in the end than a matter of ‘values’. I see it more as the world slowly working towards one Story in which we can all find our place and let others be in their place. This includes not just the great spiritual figures, but the rogues as well. And here science is of real significance in coming to this Story. I don’t know if the Universe came into being in the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. No idea really. But I am prepared to accept this on the authority of science, not because I think it is really true, but because it allows a universal Story to begin which has the chance of being universally accepted by the whole race. That’s the challenge. I love Terry Pratchett’s statement about our origins: In the beginning there was Nothing, which exploded. David Christian, the Big History writer, speaks of this Nothingness as full of potential; a Nothingness full of Potential. Wow, sounds like God.
6. For someone like myself, who sees Christ at the centre of everything, the challenge in this Story that I think is emerging, is how to show Christ at the centre in a way that also honours other great traditions and their saints and sinners. I once ran a group in a parish called ‘Liberating Christ from the Church’. I meant it. By church I meant the institutional church. As it happens the role and influence of the institutional church has plummeted in our culture since Bede’s death; the findings of the Royal Commission are but the icing on the cake. I don’t think it is too silly to say that the institutional church has betrayed Christ; maybe he has been liberated by default. But how do we tell his story and the story of what happened to him and its implications and meaning in a way that holds sense and conviction for people universally, regardless of the institutional church. Accepting this challenge and pulling it off may in the end lead to a real renewal of the institution. For me, the key is in our feeling and thought for spirit and Spirit. Hence the importance of contemplation, mediation and prayer.
I need to say also that I am pretty ambivalent about the word ‘Christian’. It was used first by people in Antioch when referring to people of The Way (the term then used to name believers in Christ) in disparaging ways. I think something of this disparagement is returning. Four out of five people who called themselves evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the 2016 elections in the US. We need a lot more depth than this!
So this ends our looking at Bede Griffith’s last book. He was a great man who inspired many.
Thank you to all who have joined the journey in one way or another.