In this discussion I want to concentrate on two central issues Bede has raised from his first chapter and again highlights in this chapter 7. He again shows that, in his opinion, viewing the Universe in terms of a Person is across the board, and not unique to Christianity, but appears ‘in Persia, Babylonia and Egypt’ and more importantly has its counterpart in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.
eg. (The) whole creation was originally the atman, the Spirit, in the form of the cosmic Person. So the whole universe, matter, life and man, all forms one original Person, the macrocosm. Within this the human person is microcosm, the small form of the macrocosm. (In Hinduism) this concept of Spirit in the shape and form of a person undergoes a continuous development. (129)
The two key issues in all this I think that are worth discussing and which have direct bearing also on our modern, scientific world is that religious tradition generally, across the world, views a) the universe in personal terms, and b) sees human beings as microcosms of the macrocosm. These two points are the focus of our discussion today. Very interestingly it would seem that there is a move to personalize some aspects of our environment, at least in NZ, through the law, in this case giving Mt. Taranaki the status of a ‘living person’. This brings the whole and vast law of human rights into play. I discuss this below.
A Personal Universe
If we can see that the core idea of religion is seeing the universe personally, its place and role in relation to science and the arts becomes clearer. This talking about religion in the generic sense, not as any one of the many empirical examples of religion around the world. Religion is not in opposition to science; it is a different way of seeing and experiencing reality. It takes seriously fully our subjective experience as we engage the world personally. Science on the other hand views the world objectively and impersonally. Science delivers objective, impersonal knowledge that has had all subjective experience removed from it. Science depends most on our capacity to think. Art on the other hand delivers objective, intuitive knowledge that is impersonal in the sense that it is to do with form and aesthetics we can all recognise; and it depends most on our capacity to feel. Religion depends on both our capacities to think and feel and expresses itself in our actions. In this understanding, when we are being most religious is when we are personally communicating with the world around us. St Francis is a classic example of someone who understood the world religiously in the best sense of the word. He addressed animals, physical objects, the Sun and Moon, the whole world around him personally; and I have no doubt he experienced responses in ways that had meaning for him.
Should we at Open Sanctuary be practising this understanding of religion more, and be intentionally supporting each other in relating to the environment personally; make it part of our spiritual practice if you like. I have an important experience in this regard that I will relate in the discussion group. To be religious in the best sense of the word is to cultivate an interacting, personal relationship with the world and environment around us. How might we do this?
We can be encouraged in this by recent news from New Zealand:
Mount Taranaki: will the New Zealand peak’s ‘living person’ status bring respect?
Recognition is something Māori communities have been campaigning for over 150 years. In 2013, they achieved a landmark ruling when the Te Urewera national park on the North Island was granted “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person”. Last year, the Whanganui River was also given “person status”, and soon the last of the documents will be signed to make Mount Taranaki – a dormant volcano in the Egmont national park, on the west coast of North Island – the first mountain in New Zealand to be awarded the status of a “legal personality”.
The whole issue of rights and equality has its origins in a personal universe. It won’t be enough simply for laws to be passed giving ‘living person’ status to parts of our environment, as great a step as this is. It will take ordinary people like us to actually relate personally to these vital parts of our world, to model our personal relationship with them and what that means to us. What do you think?
Microcosm of the Macrocosm
This ancient idea has had a remarkable resurgence in our scientific world, principally because of our understanding of the nature of the Universe and the evolution of life. We are all made of star-dust!! We are evolved beings who owe our existence to the machinations of the Universe, the emergence of the first life on planet Earth, and the long, amazing journey as life took on increasing complexity until consciousness appeared and then, lo and behold, self-consciousness. Look at us, amazing bodily creatures, wonderfully made. It is said Carl Jung was the first person to suggest that parallel to the evolution of our bodies is the evolution of our psyches. Our psyches are as complex in their way as our bodies are in theirs. Psychically we have within each one of us the first moment of inner registration that occurred within the first cells of life; and the whole story from then on up the evolutionary chain to self-conscious intelligence. We sum up the Cosmos within ourselves. What a big idea. Are there really important consequences for our understanding of our place in the Cosmos, etc..?
We can interpolate if you wish to ideas of God. Bede leaves it like this: ...there is a common tradition that the divine Reality, seeking to know itself, to reflect itself in another, created this world. (147). But we don’t need to so interpolate to appreciate the wonder of it all. We are only here because of all that has gone on before us over the last 13.8 billion years, and we can fully claim that whether or not we will ever understand how it all came about, who or what was involved, nonetheless we are here and we are Real.
If you are interested in this way of seeing the world you will enjoy the books by David Christian, Brian Swimme and others. One of the most popular books on this theme at the moment is Yuval Harari’s Sapiens.
Some Suggested Discussion Points:
1. Thinking about religion, in its broadest sense, as our personal relationship with the world and environment around us may be a new idea for you. What do you think? Or is this just another way to describe spirituality?
2. What is your re-action to the NZ government declaring Mt Taranaki to have the status of a ‘living person’? What difference might this make to the way people see and treat the mountain? Is personal relationship with the world around us making a come back through the law? Are there limits to this.
3. If we were to think of Gulaga as having the status of a ‘living person’, how would this effect our thoughts and feelings and actions toward Her? Would we, like Francis, dare to address her personally? How might this fit in with prayer and meditation?
4. What is your reaction to the idea central in Bede’s writing and many others that we are microcosms of the macrocosm? We are at base star-dust? Are there implications in this we can take further, both as individuals and as a group.
5. Does Jung’s idea that the whole story of life is written not only into our bodies but also our psyches? Implications?