Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Cosmos Ensouled ? A World Full of gods


Is the cosmos ensouled ?

Well, the idea has a long pedigree, we’ll briefly look at some of its most capable defenders here, the Cambridge Platonist’s, Fechner, Campenella, and James, all mentioned by David Bentley Hart who sums up the position well in Roland in the Moonlight in an illuminating conversations he had with his dog :

“‘Is it a kind of panpsychism you’re proposing?’ I asked.

He sniffed loudly and emitted a small growl.

‘Not a term I care for,’ he said after a moment. ‘’Not that it’s wrong. It’s misleading, however, now that there’s this crop of philosophers around who think they can be both panpsychists and physicalists, which is sheer folly. They think of consciousness as a physical property that, in sufficiently complex composite structures, achieves reflective awareness and intentionality. You know - Gale Strawson, Guilio Tononi, Philip Goff.

But that’s nonsense, of course, since consciousness isn’t a property, properly speaking, and certainly not one that can be measured in an aggregated volume, and it doesn’t exist in discrete packets that can be added up into cumulatively more conscious totalities. It’s not a *property* at all, in fact, but an act, and therefore exists only within a noetic agency, and always already involved intention and autoaffection and so forth . . .

So anyway, I am suggesting a type of pansychism, if one must call it that, but most definitely not a physicalist version of the idea, which is just sheer gibberish - a vacuous panchreston of a theory at best. But that’s not very exotic to me, is it? I mean, you’ve written on the metaphysics of classical theism, haven’t you? Well, if you believe in God in that elevated and transcendent sense, then you’re already a panpsychist of some kind.’

When, once again, he failed to explain his meaning, I asked, ‘How do you reckon?’

He sighed, obviously vexed by the sluggish pace of my wits. ‘If you believe that everything arises from an infinite act of mind - the rock over there no less than the intelligence in you - then you believe there’s a presence of a... of an infinite knowing logos within the discrete logos that constitutes each thing as what it is. There’s a depth - even a personal depth, so to speak - in everything, an inner awareness that knows each reality from inside ... or from deeper than inside - an act of knowing it’s *interior intimo suo*. There is *one* who knows what it’s like to be a rock.

And wouldn’t that infinite personal depth have to express itself, almost of necessity, in a finite and personal interiority of sorts? Surely the knowledge of what it is to be a rock is already the spirit of the rock *as* a rock - the rock knowing itself. So isn’t that very knowledge of ‘what it’s like’ already the reality of a finite modality of personal knowledge, a kind of discrete spiritual self? A personal, reflective dimension as the necessarily contracted mode in which the uncontracted infinite act of mind is exemplified in that thing?

And why shouldn’t we call that dimension or mode by its classical names - dryads, hamadryads, naiads, nereids ... kami and tama ... yaksas and yaksinīs and gandharvas and apsaras ... nymphs and fairies and elves and longaevi of every kind? Especially when they’re pretty and graceful and scantily clad?

‘I see. I don’t . . .’

‘It’s really just as Thales said so long ago: all things are full of gods. Or as Heracleitos said: there’s logos in everything. All the ancients, really, with few exceptions. Plotinus, for instance: life and soul in all things, he says. And the Renaissance Platonists. The living world is an incalculably populous pantheon. And God - the infinite vanishing point, the comprehensive simplicity of Being as infinite spirit - is full of gods. And so are you ... if you throw that window open. Which I think you know full well, in that essentially Shinto soul of yours. Or esoteric Buddhist soul, perhaps - if one can call what has no svabhāva a soul. It was the great Shingon priest Yukai himself, after all - the fiery scourge of Tachikawa-ryu, as you’ll recall - who said that mind pervades all things: the grasses, flora of every sort, trees, the earth underfoot . . . That’s good cittamātra orthodoxy, I imagine ... with a specifically Japanese inflection.’”

“‘It makes sense, if you think about it, that this infinite consciousness, refracted into finite instances and modes and self-reflective awareness and thought, might engender ... well, a kind of limitless modal regress. Consciousness might inhere in all sorts of natural totalities, but also in totalities within other conscious totalities, with a corresponding subjectivity appropriate to each - parts as wholes, wholes as parts of other wholes.

Campanella, of course, treated this with rare brilliance. So did Gustavo Fechner. And James, and Royce, and Pierce, needless to say. And this like a physicalist panpsychism, in which every totality is subsumed into whatever is most integrated within it, like modular brains. Rather, it would be as if every level within every composite were just as conscious in its own way as every other: particles, simple objects, composed from those particles, complex structures, organisms, natural systems, the *anima mundi* ...

All part of an endlessly complex, infinitely divisible hierarchy of conscious perspectives, containing and contained, reflecting and inflecting in one another. And the subjectivity of persons, too, like me - and I suppose you too, in a manner of speaking - would be one mind of modal contraction within the total hierarchy of modes of mind, an ever more particular and ever more comprehensive subjectivity and autoaffection and intentionality.

It’s a lovely and stirring idea, at least: all of nature as a system of living coinherences, an endlessly multifarious mirror of the boundless potency contained in the infinite actuality and simplicity of the eternal ‘I Am’ - all of nature as an incalculably variously faceted prism of the infinite light of the divine Spirit? Don’t you agree?’”


The scholar Lee Irwin summarizes this theory in various philosophers thought the ages HERE.

Below are summations I’ve pulled:

"Tommaso Campanella (d. 1639) represents a late example of a Renaissance theory of panpsychism. He identifies three primaries: power, wisdom, and love as inherent to all things. Power or perhaps better, energy, is his first principle—the power to be, to maintain being, to sustain existence. Wisdom derives from sensation, perceptions of being, and as all things are and perceive, they “know” both themselves and other beings. The primary elements of the world are such knowing beings, with varying degrees of perception and power, and through combination “the heavens are sentient and the earth and animals as well.”

Further, the world and its multitude of beings reflect the image of God and are related to one another through (divine) love. This primary quality of love is fundamental to the joy, power, and awareness of existence; self-knowledge and more inclusively, knowledge of others, results in “change in the sentient body” through a sharing of perceptions, in both sympathy and antipathy.

The medium of this sharing and communication is soul, individual and universal, “infused by God” (infusa a Deo). This identity of being and knowing creates a panpsychism that is also pantheistic, the world ensouled, the constituative elements and all complex beings ensouled, but all imaging divinity and divine presence.

Knowledge in this context is a reflective process by which the higher intellect (intellectus mentalis) is assimilated into that which it contemplates, such that “the world becomes a conscious image of God with all its parts endowed with sense perception.”

Thus Campanella emphasizes perception over traditional knowledge and the “testimony” of direct witness over distant authority or mere opinion. The human being is thus a microcosm (or epilogo), a witness who can reflect on the macrocosm as a living soul, a “perfect animal with its own body, spirit, and soul.”
The Cambridge Platonists such as Henry More (d. 1687) and Ralph Cudsworth (d. 1688), both dedicated Protestants, defended a view of nature and matter as a “vital, formative (plastic) ground” of Spirit. Cudsworth wrote, “we constantly oppose the generation of souls . . . out of dead and senseless matter and assert all souls to be substantial as matter itself.”

Thus the “spirit of nature” was a divine power pervading the physical world and sowing “spermatical or vital” seeds, thus giving rise to all natural forms. These “seminal forms” (like Stoic logoi spermatikoi) pervade all of “plastic nature” and act from within to shape matter into variable forms—beings, plants, animals, humans—as a “whole corporeal universe . . . together in one harmony.”

According to Henry More, the vital conjunction of spirit with matter (or soul with body) was through a shared “vital congruity” that blurred their differences and made each receptive to the other. Soul pervades the entire universe, within all matter, and working through the plastic vitality of nature, shapes each thing according to the “predispositions and occasions of [its] parts.”

This soul (or spirit of nature) was the “vicarious power of God” as a shaping power inherent to matter-nature, a power that permeated the entire body of each and every created being.

This immanent “spirit of nature” could not be accounted for by mechanical explanations or measureable and observable effects; rather, it reflected a purposeful, spiritual universe “above fortuitous mechanisms.”
In Gustav Fechner’s (d. 1887) famous book, Nanna: On the Soul Life of Plants (1848), he wrote about his “day light view” of the world as nature utterly alive and conscious, matter outwardly and spirit inwardly. Spirit and soul were inseparable from matter and nature; for Fechner, souls were inherent to every aspect of nature, with simpler souls below humans and more complex above humans in the planet, the sun, the solar system, and the cosmos overall.

Each soul contributed to the complexity and diversity of the whole of nature that formed a perfect unity, an ensouled cosmos. He contrasted this view to the “night view” of materialism in which humans were a product of blind forces in a universe of utter darkness.

Arguing by analogy, Fechner believed that where there was life, as in human beings, there was also soul. Human consciousness only contributed to the existing consciousness of every plant and animal to create a collective earth consciousness, or earth-soul, that in turn contributed to the living consciousness of the conjoined planets, sun, and moons.

Between earth and sun a special relationship existed through an exchange of light-energy that connected all organic beings in a unitary consciousness. In this “intercourse of light” (Lichtwerkehrn), each organic being contributed its unique quality of awareness to the whole.

In turn, this created an “earth system” superior to humanity that maintains the harmony and balance of nature. Fechner calls the earth consciousness a “guardian angel” who watches over all inhabitants in communion with the sun, moon, and other planets and to which human beings may pray.

Even at the level of plants, the water lily could enjoy the warmth of water and the invigoration of sunlight. Every being had a soul capacity for aesthetic response and “words for us were like fragrances for them.”

Thus all organic beings have a degree of inwardness, distinct by species, location, and habitat. God is the unifying matrix of this shared awareness; soul development is a guiding influence in an increasing scale of complexity for each aspect of nature (a cell, a plant, an animal) in “a state of becoming that gives direction to the entire process.”
The great American psychologist William James…articulated a view he entitled “pluralistic panpsychism” in which all things maintain an independent psychic perspective, down to the atoms, while also forming a unitary field of shared perceptions in living beings.

Under the term “polyzoism” James expressed the view that every cell of the brain has its own unique consciousness, but through interaction, cells contribute to a unitary field (including the subconscious) or “arch-cell” reflecting brain activity as a whole.

He writes, “the self- compounding of mind in its smaller and more accessible portions seems a certain fact.” This compounding aspect does not stop with the human mind but continues into superconscious unities; through mystical experience, the individual may participate in these higher unities.

Thus James agrees with Fechner that an earth-soul consciousness is “a formidable probability” and that higher degrees of ensoulment, in a living cosmos, may well lead to a formative God compounded out of the collectivity of all conscious entities.

James further argued for a synthesis of experience and reason in which a pluralistic universe could be comprehended in a rational manner that valued the empiricism of mystical perception as contributing to our understanding of a panpsychic “continuum of cosmic consciousness.”

Irwin’s essay goes into a several others as well, check it out HERE

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Paul's celestial vision of Cosmic reversal over the Powers


Superb scholarship paper by David Burnett on Paul's celestial vision, I've removed the biblical references and Greek to improve readability, read the entire thing HERE :

“For Paul, these dispossessed “sons of Adam” were enslaved to both the celestial gods/angels and to death being destined to perish.

Both these enemies are in need of defeat to secure the redemption of the “sons of Adam.” 

In the apocalyptic event of “the resurrection” a great cosmic eschatological reversal is to take place: the holy ones will no longer be enslaved to the celestial “rulers” and “principalities,” for they will have been destroyed by the Messiah. ..

The once imperishable celestial bodies “will die like human beings”

Then the human beings in Christ will receive from God “pneumatic” bodies, which are “celestial” constituted of “glory” , becoming as the stars , imperishable, never again subject to death , no longer “fleshly” like “mere human beings,” for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” .

The last enemy to be defeated is death, when the Corinthians will be given heavenly bodies, raised in celestial glory and bearing the “image” of the “one from heaven,” fit to judge and rule where flesh and blood cannot dwell .

For Paul, his holy ones will be made like the celestial bodies, having bodies like them, fit to inherit their habitat, and to take their rightful place as true heirs with Christ, usurping the old powers and being raised in celestial power and glory as heirs of the cosmos.”

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Angels, Antiangels, and the celestial Hierarchy


Alan of Lille on the Celestial Hierarchy: the attributes of the different choirs of angels, their roles in the spiritual paths and correlatives in the human order, as well as the attributes and roles of the fallen Antiangels in causing disorder for humanity.

The higher ranks of angels absorb light by adoring God, and thus pass on the light to the lower ranks of angels who do the same, but if an angel turns away from God, he no longer absorbs light, and no longer passes light on, but becomes a source of darkness for the lower ranks.

This is from the Paulist Press volume on 'Angelic Spirituality'. There were a few switches that happened From Dionysius through Gregory the Great to Bonaventure, etc.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Initiation, not information. Worship, not belief.


I think therefore I am ? I believe Christ is God, therefore I am a Christian ?

Well, as St James says, even the demons believe. Indeed, they have a perfect theology.

"What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers?”

From James K.A. Smith's book "You Are What You Love"

"The key is to know that love is a habit, not merely a choice. ... Learning to love God is like learning to play Bach: it requires daily immersion in habits and practices that train the 'muscles' of my heart to desire, and thus do, what it ought."

Gracey Olmstead adds in her review.

Georges Florovsky writes, 

“From the very beginning Christianity was not primarily a doctrine, but exactly a community. There was not only a Message to be proclaimed and delivered, and Good News to be declared. There was precisely a New Community, distinct and peculiar, in the process of growth and formation, to which members were called and recruited."

Florovsky's assessment highlights the priority of the ecclesial body over its own message and doctrine. The goal of early Christian preaching was not to establish and defend doctrine, but to inaugurate and develop a community of disciples.

As Francis Young points out, "religion" was not about doctrines or dogma's, but ritual. You shared a meal with your god, there was a communion, a give and take, perhaps even an exchange of life - bios, biological life, from flesh and blood, exchanged for the life of God, to ZOE, spiritual life.

His life for mine.

It is about initiation, not information.

Religion is a habitus, a disposition of the soul to be in the world a certain way.

The grammar of God is spoken in communal performance of song, praise, and thanksgiving.

James KA Smith says,

“Discipleship, becoming Christ-like, empowered by the Spirit to image God to the world is not magic. Nor is it merely intellectual. It’s a matter of re-forming our loves, re-narrativing our identities, re-habituating our virtue. And that is centered in the practices of the people of God gathered by the Spirit around Christ’s Word and the table.

Love takes practice. Worship is our gymnasium. . . .”

In liturgy, we are immersed in a narrative that shapes and forms the way we inhabit our lives.

James KA Smith ends with this :

That's why the Triune God doesn't just send us an "objective" Word; he sends his Son who, upon his ascension, imparts the Spirit who gives birth to a community of practice to enable us to read his world.

He doesn't just send us a message;he enfolds us into his body. And that body is the community of practice in which we learn to mean the world—the context in which we learn what the world is for.

Our seeing the world as a gift to be used is relative to our immersion in the Story in which that makes sense. The church is the language-game in which we learn to read the world aright.

The church is that"conventional"community in which the Spirit trains us to know the real world.

Life is hard. Is God enough ? Probably not.


The Orthodox Nun and therapist Katherine Weston in her book Loneliness or Fruitful Longing remarks that though Adam walked with God, it was not enough. He needed Eve. He needed community.

With God, but without others, without a life progressing toward some value, we remain crippled.

The Fathers tell us, look towards self, and it’s hell, towards others, and we find paradise. But it’s difficult to practice self-forgetting when we are alone.

What about all those imprisoned ? Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychologist, or Father Arseny, the Orthodox priest imprisoned in Soviet Russia ? Did not God suffice for them ?

That is different.

First, they were afforded the opportunity to set value upon their lives - they helped others, in a kind of community. Their lives had meaning.

But, more than this, they had no choice. I have been to prison. There is freedom there.

A man today thinks, if only he could figure out a way, try harder, he could get the girl, or promotion, or life change that would create a life of meaning.

And sometimes that’s right. In prison, however, that burden is taken away.

You would think the number would be zero, but many remark at how many of the Dalit’s, the “untouchables”, in India are seen smiling, despite living with their family in desolate shacks, pulling a rickshaw for 12 hrs a day. But this is the wisdom of the caste system, they have accomplished all that they might within the possibilities laid down from society.

A fine mechanic might have his conscience, or wife or father, always whispering to him - you could do better, own your own shop perhaps...You can fix your life !

Those at the bottom in America are not the backbone of society, they are the losers. The message is - they ought to, and still can, do and be better.

The Aristotelian model of suffering & well-being identifies a set of baseline conditions and virtues for human happiness, with suffering being due to deviations from these conditions. Modern psychology and psychiatry are tacitly built on this model, with one popular version being Seligman’s PERMA Model: P – Positive Emotion; E – Engagement; R – Relationships; M – Meaning; A – Accomplishments. 

Jordan Peterson, despite his various short-comings, in an able psychologist, he says,

“We experience much of our positive emotion in relation to goals. We are not happy, technically speaking, unless we see ourselves progressing—and the very idea of progression implies value. Worse yet is the fact that the meaning of life without positive value is not simply neutral. Because we are vulnerable and mortal, pain and anxiety are an integral part of human existence.

We must have something to set against the suffering that is intrinsic to Being. We must have the meaning inherent in a profound system of value or the horror of existence rapidly becomes paramount. Then, nihilism beckons, with its hopelessness and despair.”

He’s right.

First, there is brain chemistry. For the depressed it is crucial they be put on some kind of anti-depressant.

AFTER that, what causes depression ?

Johann Hari, in his best-selling book Lost Connections, identifies 7 kinds social causes, disconnection from:

Meaningful Work

Other People

Meaningful Values

Childhood Trauma

Status and Respect

Natural World

Hopeful and Secure Future (faith)

He writes HERE,

“Everyone knows human beings have natural physical needs,” he added. “Well, there’s equally good evidence that we have innate psychological needs. We need to feel we belong to a group; we need to feel we have a stable future; we need to feel that we are valued; we need to feel we have meaning and purpose in our lives.”

For my own experience, and a free PDF of the book that most helped me, go HERE 


Monday, August 9, 2021

Secular Reason in the Public Sphere - a Ruse of Power



As Stanley Fish puts it HERE : There are no such thing as “secular reasons.”

He writes, "the professor of law Steven Smith does in his new book, “The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse,” that there are no secular reasons, at least not reasons of the kind that could justify a decision to take one course of action rather than another.

Secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job — of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects — without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.

Insofar as modern liberal discourse rests on a distinction between reasons that emerge in the course of disinterested observation — secular reasons — and reasons that flow from a prior metaphysical commitment, it hasn’t got a leg to stand on."

Of course, liberalism simply smuggles in its metaphysics under vague abstractions like "equality" and "freedom" that it pretends are just concrete objective facts floating out there without need of context or metaphysical presuppositions.

Liberalism only allows for secular reason to "count" in the public sphere, claiming it to be neutral and accessible to all.

But there is no such thing as an unbiased, neutral, objective standpoint. What people call 'reason' is based on a set of prior commitments. It is based on a belief system.

And what counts as knowledge is not neutrally determined, but constituted within networks of power— social, political, and economic.

SO, if the fundamentalist secularist get to bring in their fundamental beliefs and commitments and pretend that they are rational and objective, then why can’t religious ?

What is outside liberalism is then viewed not as reason, but irrationality, most especially the irrationality of faith. 

In claiming the realm of reason, liberalism also claims the realm of public space, which is precisely the space that is ruled by the rules of reason, which liberalism has laid down.

That's the trick, a liberal asks for a justification, but when given a religious reasoning, will simply dismiss it as not "real" reasons.

Only liberal-approved reasoning, with its own faith commitments, is allowed in the Public sphere.

“The ambition of the liberal political philosopher,” writes Paul Kahn (Putting Liberalism in its Place, 120), is to find that set of arguments that is so compelling that every individual, not corrupted by the illogic of interest, would necessarily affirm those reasons as his own.” Because it assumes the mantle of reason, it has “its own imperial ambitions” and can conceive of “no legitimate opposition because it has preempted the entire domain of public values by making an exhaustive claim to reason.”

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Why go to church ? Because you become what you worship.


You become what you love, not what you think.

Practice, not belief, is primary - our doings precede our thinkings.

A religion is essentially bound up with the communal form of its practices : the material practices shape the subjectivity of adherents, making it possible to experience and construe the world in certain ways.

After all, Christ did not come to bring us doctrines, but His body, the Church, which enfolds us into its economy of life, shapes how we receive, and think of, the world , scripture, and God.

By participating in the rhythms of religious ritual we order our 
modes of perception to receive the world as sacrament.

Georges Florovsky wrote

“From the very beginning Christianity was not primarily a doctrine, but exactly a community. There was not only a Message to be proclaimed and delivered, and Good News to be declared. There was precisely a New Community, distinct and peculiar, in the process of growth and formation, to which members were called and recruited."

Florovsky's assessment highlights the priority of the ecclesial body over its own message and doctrine. The goal of early Christian preaching was not to establish and defend doctrine, but to inaugurate and develop a community of disciples.

As Francis Young points out, "religion" was not about doctrines or dogma's, but ritual. You shared a meal with your god, there was a communion, a give and take, perhaps even an exchange of life.

It was about initiation, not information.

Religion is a habitus, a disposition of the soul to be in the world a certain way.

Living liturgically is not optional. 

Our present cultural liturgies shape our perception to occlude the presence of wonder and the Divine.

The things of God are not obvious or clear to a darkened heart.

Faith is a means of perception that requires a change in the agent of perception. 

By participating in the rhythms of religious ritual we order our modes of perception to receive the world as sacrament.

RR Reno remarks, 

One of our great temptations in the modern era has been to evade responsibility for the proper formation of our prejudices. We seek fact-based truths, a mode of knowing that we imagine is secure against our vices…

As Newman put it, we hope that knowledge does not require preparation of our hearts. 

Thus the quintessential modern presupposition: “Truth is to be approached without homage.”

In this personal engagement with truth, a man’s moral character is as decisive as his native intelligence.”

You must take responsibility for the types of beliefs you wish to hold.

Knowledge requires preparation of the heart, which is just as decisive as intelligence.

The type of person you are, how you live, will determine the kinds of things you will know.

In general, people know what they want to know, hence educating desire is imperative.

Asad, in his Genealogies of Religion writes :

"The formation/transformation of moral dispositions ... required a particular program of disciplinary practices. 

The rites that were prescribed by that program did not simply evoke or release universal emotions, they aimed to construct and reorganize distinctive emotions 

– desire (cupiditas/carita ), humility (humilitas), remorse (contritio) –on which the central Christian virtue of obedience to God depended. 

This point must be stressed, because the emotions mentioned here are not universal human feelings, not ‘powerful drives and emotions associated with human physiology 

They are historically specific emotions that are structured internally and related to each other in historically determined ways.

And they are the product not of mere readings of symbols but of processes of power."

James KA Smith on the difference between the cold abstraction of ideology and proper religious *living :

“The sacramental imagination begins from the assumption that our discipleship depends not only—not even primarily—on the conveyance of ideas into our minds, but on our immersion in embodied practices and rituals that form us into the kind of people God calls us to be. 

…worship stages a recovery of the aesthetic aspects of the Christian tradition as a crucial means for redirecting our imagination in community—a means for reordering our love.

We were created for stories, not propositions; for drama, not bullet points. 

…worship resists such reductionism by reclaiming the holistic, full-orbed materiality of liturgical worship that activates all the senses: hearing (not just “messages” but the poetry of the preached Word), sight (with a renewed appreciation for the visual arts, iconicity, and the architectural space of worship), touch (in communal engagement, but also touching the bread that is Christ’s body), taste (the body and blood), and even smell (of wine in the cup of the new covenant but also the fragrance of worship in candles and incense).

… the rhythms and cadences of full-orbed Christian worship, we learn something about the gospel that we couldn’t learn in any other way—and might not even be able to put into words. 

Carried in the practices of Christian worship is an understanding of God that we “know” on a register deeper than the intellect, an understanding of the gospel on the level of the imagination that changes how we comport ourselves in the world, even if we can never quite articulate it in beliefs or doctrines or a Christian worldview.”

Yes, we are moved more than we are convinced.