Regaining Compassion for Humanity and Nature by L. Charles Birch
Charles Birch is a biologist specializing in genetics, and resides in Australia. He is joint winner of the 1990 International Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.. His teaching career includes Oxford, Columbia and the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota, as well as visiting professor of genetics at the University of California at Berkeley and professor of biology at the University of Sydney. Professor Birch has blazed new paths into the relationships between science and faith. Published originally by New South Wales University Press, New South Wales University press, 1993. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 1: The New Consciousness
I am a part of all that I have met
What is needed for a holistic sensibility to become a reality in our time is a change of consciousness in the way we see our world and ourselves in relation to the world.
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
This book is therefore about relationships, more particularly those relationships that make for richness of experience. A central discovery of my life has been the recognition that ‘I am a part of all that I have met’. And that is an arch through which gleams all the future yet to be experienced. I am my past and reach forth to my possible future. My inner relationships with the world make me what I am. Relationships are what matter.
In the wonderful phrase of A. N. Whitehead ‘the present is the fringe of memory tinged with anticipation’. My past is ever present in all sorts of ways, but it looks through an arch to the next step in the future with anticipation. In a way this may sound obvious, perhaps even commonplace. Yet to accept this is to give the lie to a widely accepted view of human nature that most people accept implicitly, if not explicitly. It is the notion that each one of us is a separate individual, atomistic, particle-like, a skin encapsulated ego, with clear boundaries between us and all other selves. It is as though we are very much alone in the world, just occasionally lowering the barriers that separate us from others, though not for long.
A recent study of the lives of American men came to the conclusion that friendship was largely absent. The study found that close friendship with a man or a woman is rarely experienced by American men (Levinson 1978). Novelist Patrick White said in a radio talk, shortly before his death, that most people are like folded umbrellas. He went on to say that we are a society obsessed by money, muscle and machinery. Our society is a materialist one. We model ourselves unconsciously on the view of the world derived from the so-called Newtonian universe. That universe consists of separate particles pushing each other around but never influencing each other within. In the society of humans we meet outwardly all the time, but we don’t really meet inwardly.
The new consciousness is analogous to the new physics which denies there are any such entities as particles uninfluenced in their inner nature by other entities. It pictures the universe as one and indivisible. As McCusker (1983) says ‘This is not to say that the idea of chemical atoms for instance, is completely false . . . they are not fundamental building blocks. They are more like the eddies on the surface of a river. The universe is seamless but not featureless’ (p. 150). In a similar vein physicists Paul Davies and John Gribbin tell us we do not live in a cosmic clockwork but in a cosmic network. They go on to say that the doctrine of mechanism which penetrated into all branches of human inquiry is now dead (Davies & Gribbin 1991, p. 6). The new physics recognizes fields of influence such that an electron at one end of the universe is affected by an electron at the other end or any distance in between. Einstein referred to the effect as ‘spooky action at a distance’. In the new consciousness, as we experience it today, there is a coming together of our understanding of the world around us and the world within us. That is a frontier of the future.
We are not like the billiard balls of the Newtonian universe, pushed around by outside forces with no inner life. Yet we tend to think and live as though it were otherwise. When, for example, did you last share in another person’s life, with masks off, without pretence, without acting to be what you were not, simply finding one another and becoming in some sense a part of one another, not coalescing but remaining individuals?
Without coalescing is important because I am not referring to the state of ‘falling in love’ or ‘being in love’ in which boundaries seem to disappear and two become as one, at least for a time. One individual feels he or she cannot live without the other. This, like any obsession, is an irrational state. It has been called love ‘sickness’, even a form of madness. Francis Bacon said it was impossible to be in this state and at the same time be wised. Plato would have it that ‘falling in love’ is the mutual recognition on earth of souls which have been singled out for one another in a previous and celestial existence. To meet the beloved is to realize we loved before we were born.
C. S. Lewis said that those who are ‘in love’ are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side are absorbed in some common interest. Those who are ‘in love’ are always talking about their love. Friends hardly ever talk about their friendship (Lewis 1973, p. 58). The latter surely depends upon the level of friendship. A person may say he or she has many friends when what they have are acquaintances. But friendship can go to deeper levels that involve caring and affection. The friendship between David and Jonathan discussed in Chapter 2 was of that sort. They were more than friends, less than lovers. Perhaps we need a word for that kind of compassion which we all long for.
Dorothy Tennov (1979) gave the name ‘limerence’ to the state of being in love which she studied in some hundreds of people. She describes how the limerent person cannot rid the mind of the beloved for one moment. The person is unremittingly and uninterruptedly occupied with the image of the beloved. The experience is intense and quite often disturbing. The limerent person regards the object of love as embodying all earthly virtues and as the one person who can give meaning to life. They may see qualities in their beloved that are not really there. They may see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear, moulding their beloved in the image of what they wish their beloved to be.
This kind of intense experience was described brilliantly in the yearnings of Anna Karenina for Count Vronsky, in the fanaticism of the middle-aged man obsessed by attraction for a youth before his death in Venice and above all in the relationship between the French philosopher Peter Abelard and his pupil, later a famous nun, Heloise. Formidable obstacles to their love included Heloise’s enraged uncle and guardian who saw to it that Abelard was castrated. Yet Heloise’s limerence for Abelard continued with intensity while she was an abbess of the convent of the Paraclete. She would recall, even during the Mass, images of the times they were limerent together. Such is limerent love.
The further meanings of love are explored in Chapter 2. Suffice it to reiterate here that love which is chaotic self-surrender or self-imposition is not real love. Much romantic love has these characteristics. Real love, as distinct from limerence, does not destroy the freedom of the beloved. It does not violate the beloved’s individual and social existence. Neither does it surrender the freedom of the one who loves.
Love does not desire to possess, but to be a continuing channel of grace. Each person takes account of the other, which means each brings to the relationship an originality that belongs to each alone. This originality is not lost in love. It is shared. One of the categorical conditions of love is that there be a transforming relationship without destruction of individuality. We can still retain our individuality while at the same time being involved in others and being members one of another. As John Donne said in his ‘Devotions’: No man is an island, entire of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind’.
Australia’s praying cartoonist Michael Leunig (1991) says it all:
God let us be serious.
The word that speaks to authentic experience one of another is sympathy. A. N. Whitehead (1978) said ‘sympathy is feeling the feeling in another’ (p. 162). The root meaning of sympathy is being simultaneously affected with the same feeling (pathos). It is also called compassion (meaning feeling with). To love another person is to allow that person’s feelings to affect oneself. To protect ourselves, we largely shut out the feelings of others from enriching our experience. A friend of mine, deeply bereaved from the death of his wife, had received great comfort and support from his women friends, but his male friends seemed embarrassed to meet him. They passed by with a perfunctory expression of sympathy. They didn’t want to share his feelings of grief. A friend of mine suffers from almost constant pain. Most of his friends seem unable to accept that fact and prefer to ignore his pain than to let it concern them. To share another’s pain, grief, joy, interest and understanding is to be enriched in our lives. To be able to respond means to be responsible. Jonah did not feel responsible to the inhabitants of Ninevah. Like Cain he could ask ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ A loving person is also a responsive person.
Sympathy with another is not identification with. It is possible, by a certain distancing of ourselves, both from our own feelings and from those of the other, to enter into a relationship of feeling with another in which both maintain their own integrity in a larger whole that is enriched by their contrasts. In this way good counselors are genuinely sensitive to the feelings of the client without losing themselves in them.
Nevertheless, the necessary condition of a genuine relationship is to be completely present one to the other. How often can we say that of any relationship? When someone is talking to us we are only half listening and preparing what to say next. Martin Buber (1958) tells of a student who came to him for counsel. Buber listened to his story and gave him competent professional advice. The student went away and took his own life. Buber goes on to tell how he was searched to the core of his being as to whether if he had been really completely present, really engaged, really in sympathy with the student, the outcome would have been different.
Those who knew Paul Tillich as a teacher say he was always awake to all the possibilities of any occasion and eager to comprehend the meaning contained in these possibilities. This is why he was such an extraordinarily effective teacher (Pauck 1965).
A first principle of being completely present is the realization at every moment that life depends as much upon our response to events around us as upon the events themselves. Said a sympathetic friend ‘Affliction does so color life’. ‘Yes’ responded the young woman, helplessly crippled with paralysis in all her limbs. ‘And I propose to choose the color.’
It is possible to act creatively in any situation. In desperate situations, if there were not some new possibility there would only be despair. A Nazi concentration camp would seem to present one of the most despairing and negative situations imaginable. Yet pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to write in his last letter from Flossenberg concentration camp ‘what is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on circumstances; it depends really on that which happens inside a person’ (von Wedenmeyer-Weller 1967, p. 29).
A second principle of being completely present is the recognition that each moment of life is an end in itself and not just a means to some future goal. It is now, each moment, that we miss the pearl of great price. The here and now matters. A friend speaking about a deep friendship said ‘I just enjoy it one moment at a time’. It is savoring the richness of experience of the present and not a future projection of happiness. Why keep putting off until tomorrow the life we can live today? The depth of experience of the moment to which one is fully given is what matters. Whatever satisfaction we may achieve in life comes through the strength of our engagement with what is around us at each moment. Voltaire in Candide went so far as to say that to be engaged fully was the way to keep the three great evils of boredom, vice and need at bay. It was to ‘cultivate our garden’.
Jesus had an extraordinary capacity for being fully present in sympathetic awareness. He was fantastically aware of every person who crossed his path, especially those no-one else noticed. In a crowd he became aware of the need of a woman who gently touched him. He knew the meaning of that touch. On another occasion while walking with a crowd he became aware of a man up a tree all by himself. He was a man of small stature and had climbed the tree so that he could see Jesus as he passed by. Nobody noticed him. Jesus did. ‘Come down from the tree he said to Zacchaeus, I want to stay in your house today’ Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed Jesus into his home with great joy. As a result of the encounter we are told Zacchaeus became a changed man.
The loving glance is full of insight. From the slightest sign, a half word, a pained smile, it sees in a flash the most complex inner condition. It seeks a harmony of meaning, a unity of souls. Such loving comprehension creates a sense of oneness with the other.
Tolstoy, in his Twenty-Three Tales, devotes the final one to describing a king who is in search of an answer to each of three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Whose advice can I trust? What things are most important and require my first attention? Disguised in simple clothes, the king visited a hermit deep in the wood and asked him his three questions. Getting no answer but finding the frail hermit on the verge of collapse, the king took over the hermit’s spade and finished digging his garden. At sunset a bearded man staggered in with a badly bleeding stomach wound, dealt him by one of the king’s bodyguard who were scattered through the forest to protect him. The king washed the wound, bandaged it with a towel and handkerchief, and kept changing the bandages until the flow of blood stopped and the man could be carried into the hut. The king slept the night on the threshold of the hut and when morning came, found the bearded man confessing that he had lain in wait for the king’s return from the hermit’s hut, having sworn to kill him for a judgment the king had once given against him. He begged the king’s forgiveness and pledged to serve him. The king, promising to send his own physician to attend him, rose to go but again put his questions to the hermit, complaining that he had still received no answer to them.
The hermit insisted that the king twice received his answer on the previous day. For when the king appeared on the previous afternoon, the hermit in his weakness did not see how he could finish digging his garden, and the king had relieved him. This was the right thing to do at the right time and the most important thing to be done. Furthermore, had he returned through the wood at that time, his enemy would have killed him. Secondly, when the wounded man appeared, staunching the flow of his blood and relieving him was the right thing at the right time and made a friend of an enemy. ‘Remember then’ added the hermit there is only one time that is important. Now’. And further ‘The most necessary man is he with whom you are and the most important thing is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life’. The king was completely present, though the circumstances were quite unanticipated. Each moment of life is an end in itself and not just a means to some future goal.
A third principle of being completely present is willingness to be interrupted. What one calls the interruptions are precisely the real life. Jesus told the story of a man who was set upon by robbers on the road to Jericho. He lay there half dead and helpless. Others who had urgent business in Jericho passed on that busy road. One was a priest, another was a member of the aristocracy of that period, possibly both were returning from worshiping in the temple in Jerusalem. Both of them saw the wounded man but passed by on the other side. Then there came a layman who was also a foreigner. He renders first aid to the victim. He brings him to an inn where he can have shelter for the night. More than that, on the following day when he must continue his journey, he pays in advance for such further care as the impecunious stranger may need. Jesus told this story in answer to the question ‘who is my neighbor?’ But no definition of neighbor emerges from the parable, and for a very good reason. Love does not begin by defining its objects. It discovers them by being completely present wherever you happen to be, even when you have quite other busy plans for that moment. Love is willing to be interrupted, even when plans are already laid for a busy day.
Starting with Trouble and Ending with Hope
‘All that I have met’ includes the bad as well as the good. Both can be transforming influences. The bad may transform us in bad ways as when dominating or unloving parents or childhood traumas leave what seems to be an indelible mark screwing up human lives. That can lead to despair, which literally means without hope, and even to self-destruction.
Yet we do not have to be screwed up forever. Nor do we have to live forever without hope. Not all negative experiences need become deep seated. There is the devastatingly negative experience of rejected love. The hope that yearned toward another is disappointed. The heart is empty and cut off from the world. Self-pitying depression comes when we think we must have something and that it is unbearable not to get it. Sad as such an experience may be, it is not a tragic event in life. The one who can endure the loneliness of disappointed love, without bitterness and rancor, and goes on to affirm the healing that time can bring, experiences the human predicament radically and creatively.
There is a cost to being a subject who feels the world. The gain of feeling is double-edged. Feeling lays us open to pain as well as pleasure. Its keen edge cuts both ways. Lust has its match in anguish, desire in fear, purpose is either attained or thwarted. The capacity for enjoying the one involves the capacity for suffering the other. Yet the feeling creature, human and non-human alike, strives to continue living.
Life is a mixture of uncertainties and ambiguities. It takes all sorts of circumstances for us to work through them. Life is largely an exploration into unknown territory. Many people live on the surface. For those who plunge into the depths, life can be both rewarding and traumatic. There is pain along the path of life that seeks more life. Pain protects life by warning against destructive forces. Yet at the same time it may drive life to despair, even to self-destruction. But pain can strengthen life and raise it to a higher level. So Wordsworth writes in ‘Character of the Happy Warrior’:
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
Of their bad influence, and their good receives.
Harry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church in New York broke from his prepared sermon one Sunday to say:
Here I am today, an older man talking to you about the secret of spiritual power in general, when all the time what I am really seeing in my imagination’s eye is that young man I was years ago, shot all to pieces, done in and shattered in a nervous breakdown, foolishly undertaking too much work and doing it unwisely, all my hopes in ashes and life towering over me and saying, You are finished; you cannot; you are done for. People ask me why in young manhood I wrote The Meaning of Prayer. That came out of young manhood’s struggle. I desperately needed a second chance and reinforcement to carry on with it. (Fosdick 1958, p. 172)
That reinforcement and second chance came out of this youthful struggle.
There are many hurts in life. We may become concerned about the hurts of others. We do what we can to relieve their hurts, but we find we can be hurt badly ourselves in the process. That is when our concern for others becomes over-concern. We know when that happens because we feel ourselves hurt. We become gloomy and depressed. We are acting irrationally. What our friend wants from us, is not to be depressed and pained but that we pull him or her up to our level of cheerfulness and hope. I learned this lesson from a student who came to me in a tragic situation which seemed to me almost hopeless. As he left me I burst into tears. His response was to remonstrate with me for adding to the misery of the situation! What he needed was someone whose concern lifted him up to a higher level of confidence and ability to suffer and endure with hope. He told me as much. I never forgot.
Paul tells us that five times he received thirty-nine stripes, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned. That was the beginning. Starting with trouble he ended with hope. In his letter to the Romans he wrote:
‘Trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope’ (Romans 5:3-4). This contradicts the usual impression that hope is dependent on hopeful circumstances. Here we are told that at the very point where things look bad, the road to hope begins. We learn endurance, not amid easy situations but in adversity. Meeting adverse conditions with endurance, one builds the sort of character that enables us to confront with hope even the most desperate circumstances.
Such seems to have been the experience of at least some of the hostages who endured up to five years imprisoned in confined cells in Lebanon in our time. They repeat the experience of Pastor Niemoeller imprisoned by the Nazis, who wrote from prison to his parish in Berlin: ‘Let us thank God that he allows no spirit of despair to enter into Cell 448. In all ignorance of what is coming I am confident, and I hope to be ready when I am led along paths which I never would have sought for myself’ (Fosdick 1954, p. 106).
Niemoeller learned by going where he had to go. So may I learn by going where I have to go. In so doing may I ask not for tasks equal to my strength but strength equal to the tasks.
Hope is not the superficial by-product of favorable circumstances; it springs from one’s character, from what one is and cares about, and believes in. The seventeenth-century poet John Gay wrote ‘While there is life there is hope’. A deeper truth emerges when this saying is reversed ‘While there is hope there is life’.
Life is a passion play (the word passion literally means to suffer). So says philosopher Holmes Rolston. He suggests there is something divine about the power to suffer through to something higher. Life is advanced not only by thought and action, but by suffering, not only by logic but by pathos. Nature itself is cruciform in its struggle and suffering. The secret of life, he suggests, is to realize that it is a passion play (Rolston 1987, p. 144).
Did anyone in all history suffer alone as did Jesus; deserted by all friends and relatives, disowned by his followers, in agony in the garden of Gethsemane? His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground. Yet he went on from Gethsemane to the cross. What happened there has been called the loneliest death in all history. Jesus’ nation had rejected him as a traitor. His church had rejected him as a heretic. He was alone. The Roman soldiers spat upon him. Pilate had washed his hands of him. The crowd jeered at him. His friends, all of them, forsook him. He was alone. Then his heart broke in the most desolate of all cries: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’.
The pain and suffering on the cross was not the end of it all. It became a transforming influence in the world. Here was a life, the potency of which gets at the heart of the world by caring enough about the world to die for it. We may not be able readily to explain the nature of a world in which tragedy and suffering are so manifest. But Jesus himself never said ‘I have explained the world’. He did say ‘I have overcome the world’.
In the seventeenth century the humanist scholar Muretus, a fugitive from France, fell ill in Lombardy. Looking like a vagabond in rags he asked aid of the doctors. The physicians discussed his case in Latin, not thinking that this bedraggled pauper could understand the learned tongue. ‘Faciamus experimentum in anima vili’ they said (‘Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature’). And to their amazement the ‘worthless creature’ spoke to them in Latin: ‘Vilem animam appellas pro qua Christus non dedignatus est mori?’ -- (‘Will you call worthless one for whom Christ did not disdain to die?’) Humanist though he was, Muretus had learned from the death of Jesus the intrinsic value of all human life.
Reflecting on the life of Jesus, Paul Tillich (1963) wrote:
But we know in some moments of our lives, what life is. We know that it is great and holy, deep and abundant, ecstatic and sober, limited and distorted by time, fulfilled by eternity. And if the right words fail us . . . we may look without words at the image of him in whom the Spirit and the Life are manifest without limits. (p 76)
The Felt Connection
‘All that I have met’ is all people whom I have met and discovered in all of life’s circumstances. But it is more. Indeed, the new consciousness can be said to include the universe. But that is too large a step. Take it step by step to include, first, the ones we love, our family, our friends, our pets, the animals and plants in the wild that we appreciate and a sense of the wholeness of the universe. Some such understanding is basic to discovering our place in the society in which we live, in the world community of people and in the whole of the natural world and its ecology.
Science, for all its great achievements, has virtually nothing to say about this. If our awareness of ourselves and the world is informed by scientific models alone we are singularly bereft. I am referring to the levels of understanding in which we actually live our lives, our relationships, our aspirations, our hang-ups, our personal choices and our moral dilemmas. About all of these science has no precise answers and no complete descriptions. There are reasons for this.
Until quite recently science concerned itself exclusively with the outward aspect of things, either ignoring or excluding the inner aspect of things which in ourselves we recognize as our feelings. These are the felt connections we have with our world. There are similarities in this emphasis to transpersonal psychology (trans meaning beyond), to transpersonal ecology (Fox 1990), to certain forms of Buddhism and Hinduism and to non-dualistic interpretations of the Judeo-Christian religion. My own interpretation of felt connections is informed by process thought and process theology (Birch 1990).
The new consciousness refers to the inner nature of ourselves and of other individual entities in the universe. Existentialism sharply distinguishes human experience from everything else. Process thought sees it as a high-level exemplification of reality in general. Hence the understanding of human existence takes on an added depth of importance. When we discover the real nature of the relationships of one person to another we are gaining insight into the nature of nature itself at all levels, from protons to people. But first we need to explore further the nature of human experience itself.
What happens when I become a part of all that I have met? Science cannot tell us what happens. It can tell us something about hormones and nerve impulses recorded on a screen. But it tells us nothing about our felt connections.
We are not like sponges that absorb water from outside which can then be squeezed dry leaving the sponge unchanged. We are not like the ball which, receiving a strong kick, gets a dent that returns to its normal shape in due course. Neither the sponge nor the ball is changed in its nature by what happens to it.
But we are changed by all that we have met. Of course in this context the word met means something different from a kick or a soaking in the rain. Met in the sentence ‘all that I have met’ means to be changed. There are some sorts of knowledge we can only have by being changed in the process of knowing. It is not ‘information about’. It is knowledge by acquaintance. The only relevant form of learning in that case is by initiation.
Creative transformation is involved in every authentic human experience. That is what makes us subjects and not mere objects. A subject has felt connections with the environment. And when something is felt the person is changed. A mind or soul stretched by a new experience, a new idea a new friendship, never returns to its former shape. At times that stretching may be so transforming that we organize our whole lives around a new center. That brings with it two results. It lifts personality up into greater significance. People now matter more. Secondly, we discover a sense of newness with which the world of objects is viewed a sense of having discovered reality. It is a new feeling of possession of and participation in the world.
Richness of Experience
Life affirms itself in us. It reaches out to new life beyond what seem to be its present limits. Life longs for more life, for more abundant life, for greater richness of experience. When life ceases to grow and to strive for more life it becomes a distortion of life. This is true of all life as well as human life (see ‘A gradation of intrinsic value and a diversity of rights’ in Chapter 2). A human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness for long. If we are not growing toward something we do not merely stagnate, we can become despairing of life altogether. There are words to describe the opposite of a fulfilling life: estrangement, alienation, disenchantment, anomie, playing it cool.
There are four aspects of alienation or estrangement. We can be estranged from ourselves, from others, from nature and from God (see Chapter 6). But there is really only one form of estrangement for all are subsumed under estrangement from God, since God stands for all that fulfils experience and the possibilities of life not yet experienced by us.
It is important to appreciate that estrangement is a part of the experience of all human beings including those who know what fullness of life means. Jesus on the cross felt forsaken by God. Luther experienced what he described as attacks of utter despair, as the frightful threat of a complete meaninglessness, when belief in his work and message disappeared and no meaning remained. Theologian Paul Tillich would tell his students that each morning until ten o’clock he struggled with his ‘demons’, meaning those things which threatened to divide his life. Is it then any wonder that we ordinary mortals have our times of estrangement and alienation. Experiences of the ‘desert’ or ‘night’ of the soul are frequent among mystics. In his poem ‘Desert Places’ Robert Frost experiences the desert while wandering in the woods. The animals are comfortable and smothered in their lairs. But loneliness envelops him:
And lonely as it is, that loneliness
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Blaise Pascal in one of the most famous of his pensées confesses to feeling ‘engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified . . . The eternal silence of those infinite spaces alarms me’.
A sense of estrangement comes to many young people when the contents of a religious tradition, however valued and however once loved, loses its power to give content any more. Simple certainties that served us when we were young no longer hold any strong influence over us except in a negative way. The faith that at one time had no doubts is besieged by doubt. Traditionalists interpret this as a fall from grace. On the contrary, doubt is good. Cardinal Newman struggled with his faith all his life. Looking back over his life, he was able to say ‘to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often’. That is a nice definition of perfection.
I have a vivid memory when this first happened to me because of the challenge of science to what was my simplistic faith. As an adolescent I was craving for meaning, for something to make sense. By dint of circumstance I thought I had found it in a fundamentalist faith. I accepted a very simple set of affirmations about God, the world, and myself. As an undergraduate in the University of Melbourne I kept two passions, religion and science uncertainly together. It was passion rather than thought that governed my life.
With my first degree under my belt I became a research student at the University of Adelaide. I did not find the rigor of scientific experimentation difficult. What I did find difficult was the challenge from my hard-nosed scientific colleagues to my whole edifice of thought. Just about all of them seemed to be agnostic. My immediate colleague had thought his agnosticism through, which was more than I could say of my faith. I was learning more and more about science, but was less and less able to defend my religious convictions. I discovered my religion had foundations of sand. But not all, for I still treasured some deep experiences that had to do with forgiveness, courage, facing loneliness and with other values that had permeated my being.
The beginning of a resolution of my pressing search for meaning came through the Student Christian Movement in the University of Adelaide. It showed me there were alternative interpretations of Christianity to fundamentalism. When reassurance began to re-establish itself, it came like the weaving together of strands. I was conscious of a foundation forming under me. I tried to break it down, partly for moral and partly for intellectual reasons. The strands refused to be broken. The effect was to reestablish a fundamental trust with respect to the meaningfulness of human life. I found that some of the former elements came back, different from the old, no longer borrowed dwellings, for better or for worse they were mine. And that process has continued ever since.
My newly discovered mentors in the Student Christian Movement, especially one of them, urged me to read Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World. I felt this book was written just for me. That led on to my reading Charles Hartshorne’s first book The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation, which really brought the emotive side of life and the cognitive side together.
While I was building a new structure of meaning in my life I had the lurking doubt that perhaps I had got myself onto a false path again. Then something very important happened. The time came for me to leave the University of Adelaide and pursue further research and study in the University of Chicago. In the Department of Zoology in which I was working the most distinguished of the professors was the evolutionary biologist Sewall Wright who happened to be a Whiteheadian! Moreover, Charles Hartshorne was professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Divinity School was full of theologians profoundly influenced by Whitehead. I was torn between my ecology in the Department of Zoology and sitting in on courses in the Divinity School. They were heady days that shored me up in ways I could never have imagined. I had discovered a trust in life through Whitehead and Hartshorne’s exposition of the Christian faith. It was later on that Charles Hartshorne introduced me to his former student John Cobb, who became a continuing influence on my life and thought. A more detailed account of my odyssey with science, faith and process thought is given elsewhere (Birch 1991).
My friend and colleague, theologian John Cobb, also had his youthful Christian faith pass through the furnace of doubt. Brought up in a pietistic faith he began to have doubts about Christianity. There were questions about the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, life after death and free will. But there was no question about the goodness of Jesus Christ. As a student at the University of Chicago, more fundamental questions were raised. Whether the Christian message was fundamentally true became for him a matter of deep uncertainty. He was unsure whether the word ‘God’ had any positive meaning any more. At the University of Chicago he was determined to expose his faith to the worst the world could offer. Within six months of this exposure his faith was in tatters. After about a year he began to take courses given by theologians in the Divinity School. These were men who seemed to Cobb to have taken account of the problems that had destroyed his faith. His openness to these new influences led to a creative reconstruction of faith. It was through the influence of Charles Hartshorne that he was once again able to take the idea of God seriously. Cobb was able to reconstruct his faith in the context of process philosophy and process theology which stemmed from the thought of A. N. Whitehead (Cobb 1991b, pp. 3-10; Griffin 1991). In many respects his venture in faith on the pathway of doubt has similarities to my own.
Faith without doubt is dead. Faith is not to be understood as belief that something is true. I like Paul Tillich’s affirmation that faith is the state of being ultimately concerned (Tillich 1957). It follows that real faith is a reaching beyond one’s grasp. That gives both an element of certainty and an element of uncertainty. Uncertainty and doubt are consequences of the risk of faith. Paul Tillich used to say that he felt his mission was to bring faith to the faithless and doubt to the faithful! It is to question received dogma and to work out one’s own salvation.
To take risks is the safest thing for a Christian to do. The sturdiest faith comes out of a struggle with doubt. One thing I know for sure: in the business of living one must live not by certainties but by visions, risks and passion. Visions: to see the future in hope and expect the best of people and situations. Risks: to venture forth in faith and not to count the cost. Passion: to feel with all one’s heart, to show emotion, to share one’s deepest experiences. This is to be saved by hope.
In 1927, a 32-year-old man stood on the edge of the lake bordering Chicago’s Lincoln Park, planning to drop beneath the waves and drown. His daughter had died, his company had gone bankrupt, his reputation had been ruined and he was becoming an alcoholic. Looking into the lake, he asked himself what one small man in his position could do. Then an answer came to him. He was now free to have a new vision, to take risks and to initiate action on his own. He could help people. He returned home and committed himself to the work that he believed the world wanted him to do, instead of what he had been taught to do. He altered his pattern of living and eventually changed his life completely. But without believing in a vision and taking a chance, his contribution to humanity would never have been made and no-one would have come to respect the name of Buckminster Fuller.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked to lead a service for his fellow prisoners in Flossenburg concentration camp towards the end of the Second World War As he finished two men flung open the door and told prisoner Bonhoeffer to take his things and come with them. Before going, he entrusted English fellow prisoner Payne Best with a message for his friend Bishop Bell of Chichester: ‘Tell him that for me this is the end but also the beginning. With him I believe in the principle of our universal Christian brotherhood which rises above all national interests, and that our victory is certain’. Those were his last words before he was led to the scaffold. That is where vision risk and passion took him. That is faith.
People feel alienated when they are treated as objects and not subjects. It is to deny their lives richness of experience. Yet in so much of every day, that is what happens to us. This was the basis of student revolts in the 1960s. I happened to be teaching at the University of California at the height of the youth revolt against what they believed was a society that wanted to turn them into cogs in a machine. In the University each student was identified by a number on a filing card. Written in bold type across the card was the phrase ‘Do not fold or bend’. The phrase became a ‘catchcry’ against the administration who were accused of treating students as numbers in a file. The most important thing the administration had to say was not to fold or bend the student card.
There were all sorts of student posters around the campus about doing your own thing and being yourself. I remember vividly my first day on the Berkeley campus. I was in a bookshop on Telegraph Avenue surveying a shelf of books. Right by me was a student obviously enjoying what he was reading from a book he had selected from the shelf. Turning to me, a complete stranger, he simply said ‘Look here, this will blow your mind’. I was to learn later that this would be a good thing to happen to me. Jerry Rubin, a student leader at Berkeley at the time, said you are born twice. One is when you are really born. The second time is when you find out who you really are and how you want to live your life.
My own students came to class with balloons and a flower for the teacher. They brought their dogs into class. The lecture was to be a fun thing. And so it was, both for me and for the students. The notice-boards on campus were word as it suggested that something was going to happen to covered with announcements of ‘happenings’. I liked that word as it suggested that something was going to happen to you. It was very existential. The good thing about all this was that students were fulfilling their lives as subjects and not as objects manipulated by a system. Theirs was a cry for humanity. Don’t turn me into a number, don’t treat me like a thing. Look into my face and behold me as an individual. The phrase on every lip was ‘are you for real?’
The 1960s revitalized consciousness, but on the road of excess, by which some sought the palace of wisdom, many lost their minds, lives and careers through drugs, sexual orgies or their constant challenge to authority. Yet something very positive was happening. For many it was an affirmative experience that lived with them as a transforming influence for the rest of their lives. I was reminded of something A. N. Whitehead said long ago, that one of the great advantages of undergraduate life is its irresponsibility. They enjoy the traditional freedom to experiment with all sorts of intellectual attitudes and systems of thought without the restraining influences which bind the fully fledged adult. That this sort of irresponsibility may get out of bounds is no reason for condemning it any more than condemning Einstein because some of his ideas were fanciful.
The opposite of estrangement and alienation is at-onement, which is a oneness with self, with one’s neighbors, with nature and with God (see also Chapter 6). That is richness of experience. It has two components, zest and harmony (see p. 99). Paul Tillich (1955) has said that if he were asked to sum up the Christian message for our time in two words he would say, ‘It is the message of a the New Being’ (p. 15). The two words come from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in union with Christ he is a new being; the old state of things has passed away; there is a new state of things’. The words point beyond the state of estrangement to participation in a new state of things. It is not this or that religion that matters, not this or that doctrine or practice that is important. These are as nothing besides the question of the ‘new being’ or the ‘new creation’ which is of infinite importance. The new being is our ultimate concern. It should be our infinite passion, the infinite passion of every human being. This alone matters ultimately. The sophisticated things do not concern us ultimately. It does not matter whether we understand them or not. But the deep things must concern us always, because it matters infinitely whether we are grasped by them or not. There is always a vacuum when the ultimate question is no longer taken into account. The vacuum fills with quasi-religion, as happened in Germany under Nazism.
The new being involves a transformation of the estranged being in three ways. The first is re-conciliation. That means to be reconciled with oneself and all that one is hostile to, consciously or unconsciously. It might be a hostility to others or to our total circumstances. We don’t need to do anything but to be willing to be grasped by the lure of the new being as we see it in the fullness of life, as in Jesus and in those who reflect his life. That leads to the second phase, which is re-union with the ground of one s existence (which is God) which makes transformation possible. The third mark is re-surrection which Tillich is quick to remind us has nothing to do with dead bodies rising out of graves. It is a total redirection of one’s life in a new activity that is completely compelling. Re-surrection points to what happened to the despondent disciples of Jesus after his death, when all seemed to have collapsed in failure. Instead of turning back to the old state of affairs they set their eyes and their lives on a path of victory. They were resurrected! Their job now was to transform the world. Out of death they discovered re-surrection and victory. That is the power of the new being manifest in Jesus and in those who discovered that path with him.
Health and the Importance of Hope and Affection
The experience of our psyche and mind, be it a rich experience or otherwise, registers deeply within our bodies. This strongly indicates that there are not two kinds of illness, one mental and the other physical. The mental and physical are closely linked, hence the term psychosomatic, meaning mind and body together.
A sense of hope as contrasted with despair and hopelessness is, according to Dr Leonard Sagan, physician and immunologist, critically important for health and wellbeing in any community (Sagan 1987). Healthy people, he says, are healthy at least in part because they enjoy high levels of self-esteem, commitment to goals beyond their own personal welfare and a sense of community. Entering easily into trusting and strong emotional relationships, they enjoy companionship, but are not at all uncomfortable when left alone. He emphasizes the importance of being affectionate and receiving affection, especially when young. Medical science has tended to emphasize the importance of exercise, nutrition and hygiene. Nevertheless, nurturing, love, trust, affectionate contact, self-esteem and the feeling that we are in charge of our lives are important keys to health and well-being. There is a healthy ecology of our internal relations which is reflected in healthy minds and bodies.
Jesus was called savior (which means healer) because he made people whole (which means healed) in body, mind and spirit. His healings show the relation between bodily and mental disease, between sickness and guilt and between the desire to be healed and fear of being healed. Many of our profoundest insights into human nature are anticipated in the stories of his healings. They tell that becoming healthy means becoming whole, reunited in one’s body and psyche. They describe the attitude that makes healing possible, namely a faith in something greater than ourselves that grasps us, transforms and heals. Those who were healed surrendered to this transforming influence. The healers care for the unhealed. The secret of care of the patient is caring for the patient.
There are two ways of living, a sick way which is unauthentic living and a healthy way which is authentic living. In unauthentic living we allow ourselves to be molded by what we think others expect of us. We convince ourselves that we really do feel what we are expected to feel. We allow our self-image to be constructed by others. Such living is unauthentic precisely because it hides our real self. The unauthentic life may hide itself behind a barrier of assumed confidence, even arrogance. Yet all the while there is a deep inner longing to drop the mask, to be open, real and honest to those around us. The authentic way is to be ourselves and not to lie to ourselves.
It is extremely difficult to relate to the unauthentic person because there seems to be an impenetrable barrier surrounding the unauthentic life. Yet it was these sorts of people who brought themselves to Jesus; split, contradicting themselves, disgusted and despairing about themselves, hateful of themselves, hostile towards everybody else, afraid of life, burdened with guilt feelings, accusing and excusing themselves, fleeing from others into loneliness, fleeing from themselves. Jesus gave them back to their real selves as new beings. They found in him healing.
The word stress was introduced into the medical vocabulary in the 1920s by Hungarian physiologist Hans Selye. He observed that patients with a wide variety of illnesses when admitted to the hospital, seemed to share many symptoms, including fatigue, loss of weight, and aches and pains in their joints. Only after several days did their symptoms diverge. Eventually he suggested that the symptoms he witnessed in these hospital patients were not a reaction to a specific agent of disease but were a general response to stress.
Selye argued that the body may go through three stages of stress:
• Alarm: preparation for fight or flight.
• Resistance: during which some of the original alarm responses are changed or even reversed.
• Exhaustion: after continuous exposure to stress, symptoms of disease appear that can even be followed by death (Hetzel & McMichael 1987, Ch. 3).
While I am writing these lines a young magpie appears on my balcony for a meal. He doesn’t get the meal. His whole body stiffens as he gazes high into a nearby tree where lurks an enemy in the form of a large adult magpie. Food is of no importance to him at this moment. After a minute or two of complete immobility he takes off at high speed pursued by his enemy. He recognized the alarm prepared for fight or flight and chose flight.
Selye and others were able to demonstrate in experiments on animals that during the alarm phase the amount of two hormones, adrenaline and non-adrenaline, increased in the blood. The same phenomenon occurs in humans, as for example among players preparatory to a competitive game. The effect of the hormones is to make the heart beat faster, the rate of breathing increase, blood vessels dilate and bring more blood to the muscles, hair become erect, the sugar content of the blood increase. All of this helps to make greater exertion possible. In addition endorphins, which are natural opiate-like substances, dull the pain as a result of which the discomfort of intense physical exertion is better tolerated. I imagined all this going on in the body of my threatened magpie!
In animals, the alarm phase of stress usually lasts about one hour after the threat has passed. The animal then returns to a normal state. In humans, the stress may be more persistent, as for example in a long traffic jam, being troubled by financial difficulties or a disruptive one-way relationship. All these may cause prolonged anxiety. A prolonged response makes abnormal demands on the body’s resources of energy. Hormones continue to be secreted. The body ‘gets drunk on its own hormones.’ Immunity is reduced, increasing the chance of various ailments developing, such as colds and other infections. There may be other effects as well, such as low back pain and insomnia.
First-year students at Monash University in Melbourne were studied for evidence of stress in their lives. During the first two terms 25 per cent of males and 37 per cent of females reported signs of emotional stress. The stress had largely to do with adjusting to university life compared with secondary school. During the third term, as exams approached, 25 per cent of males and 49 per cent of females sought help from a doctor or student counselor because of emotional disturbances. During their second year the causes of stress changed. In general the rate of emotional disturbance was higher than in the first year. This time the causes of stress had to do with three major components of identity problems in late adolescence: career, the opposite sex and philosophy of life (Hetzel & McMichael 1987).
Animals that live in groups, such as baboons, both compete and cooperate to stay together. They form a stable hierarchy of dominant and less dominant individuals that seem to observe the rules of the group and live in relative harmony. Conflict resolution becomes highly ritualized from mock wrist-biting to embracing. When the dominant male is removed by fighting, or in some other way, the remaining males may spend the next several months fighting amongst themselves for dominance. Males that fought for top place suffered symptoms of stress, including biochemical changes. It seemed that when the world of the baboons was secure they were healthy. When insecurity reigned, so did lack of general well-being (Sapolsky 1988).
Circumstantial evidence suggests that in humans there is a higher rate of illness among the bereaved, divorced and lonely, and a higher rate of heart attack among hurried hard-driving people. There is a correlation between stress and a variety of illnesses such as headaches, neck and back pain, and various disorders of the stomach and intestine (Hetzel & McMichael 1987). There is also some suggestion of a relation between stress and the onset of cancer (Brody 1988). The most severe stressful event is the loss of a spouse. Divorce is also high on the list, as is the death of a close member of the family. Major personal injury or illness are highly stressful to many people. Other stresses are of a much less severe nature, such as change in residence or in responsibility at work. Yet all take their toll.
Although there is a great deal yet to be discovered in the whole area of the relation of mind and disease, one conclusion is clear. Healthy, whole relationships with ourselves, our neighbors and our environment make for healthy, whole bodies. Practices such as meditation, relaxation and yoga seem to empower some people to greater mental and physical well-being.
It is important to view the world positively, as a changing and challenging place, and not as a continuous hazard to life. A young man suffering from AIDS, who at first had a completely negative and despairing approach to the onset of his disease, was greatly helped by Victor Frankl’s account of how prisoners in concentration camps who could find some sort of hope survived, when others succumbed to the terrors around them. In particular, he found much help in these words of Frankl: ‘When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves’. He did (Adams 1989).
It is now recognized that healing influences exist in the relationships of humans to their pets. Spot, Puff and Trigger are no longer pets. They are ‘animal companions’ whose affection makes life happier and healthier for their human friends. That, at least, is one of the major premises that form the basis for a new endeavor, the study of the healing influence of pets.
A pioneering study in this field reported by Holden (1981) was done in Yorkshire in 1974 by a student of animal behavior. He selected a group of forty-eight elderly people of average age seventy-three who lived alone. Half the group were given begonias to care for, and half were given budgerigars (a variety of parakeet). Both groups were assessed by social workers every six months on various factors to do with personality and social adjustment. At the end of three years the ‘budgie’ owners were distinctly better off emotionally than the begonia owners. They had more friends, more visitors, and generally had more links with the community.
In a later study of the well-being of coronary patients, Holden (1981) reported that ownership of a pet among ninety-three patients was the strongest predictor of survival, stronger even than human relationships. A little more than half the group had pets. After one year a third of those who did not own pets had died, while only three animal owners succumbed. The pets whose company helped in the well-being of these patients were dogs, cats, fish and even an iguana.
These same investigators found that a person’s blood pressure went down when they talked to an animal whereas it rose when they talked with people! Even gazing at a tank full of tropical fish lowered blood pressure, as in meditation. A number of hospitals now use a variety of animals to improve the emotional well-being of their patients, despite the difficulties of having pets in such institutions.
An ancient account of the therapeutic value of a pet is movingly told to King David by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:3. ‘The poor man had nothing except a little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him’. When he goes on to tell King David how a rich man killed this lamb for a feast, David was so horrified that he pronounced the dastardly deed as worthy of death. David knew, as well as Nathan, what the pet lamb meant to the poor man.
We can only surmise as to the nature of the influence of a pet on the well-being of its owner. As a cat lover I am deeply aware of an affection that goes out from me to my cat and I think I experience a reciprocal affection extended toward me. He frets for the first day when I go away and leave someone else in charge. On my return he is full of affection. We establish bonds of affection with our pets. They are healing bonds. We become deeply aware of this when our long-time pet companion dies. We lose a friend and suffer the loneliness of grief, not at all dissimilar to the experience of grief in losing a human loved one. I have heard many pet lovers say in this situation that they felt an emptiness in the home. My bonds extend to two lorikeets that visit me every morning at seven o’clock for their breakfast. They have done so for five years. I miss them if they fail to appear, which is quite rare. It is possible to establish bonds of kinship with many other creatures that share our world with us, even though the links may be much less secure than with our pets. Animals who become our pets help us to save us from ourselves.
The Universality of Being Ultimately Concerned
It is my conviction that whoever has a human face can experience richness of experience, at-one-ment, healing and a passionate response to ultimate concern. Paul Tillich’s experience and faith in ultimate concern came to him through Christianity. Late in his life he went on a journey to Asia with the purpose of finding out if those who had no contact with Christianity had also discovered the ultimate concern and its manifestation in a new being (Tillich 1961). He discovered that indeed some had. The new being, which Christians find manifested in Jesus, is working in the world, wherever there are human beings who are serious about the meaning and purpose of life.
Early Christianity did not consider itself the exclusive religion but as the all-inclusive one in the sense that whatever is true anywhere in the world is what Christians had found through their tradition. There is only one true justice, only one true forgiveness, only one real courage and these resources are available to whoever has a human face, wherever they are. Yet many Christians are alarmed at the thought that they may not have been granted an exclusive revelation. Should they not rather rejoice that others too have been vouchsafed a revelation that is fulfilling for them? Tillich (1961) refers to what he says is a better translation of ‘You must be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ as, ‘You must be all-inclusive as your heavenly father is all-inclusive’ (p. 35).
When others performed works similar to the disciples of Jesus, who were outside their circle, Jesus defends them against the complaints of his disciples. When it was reported to Moses that unauthorized persons were prophesying, Moses replied ‘are you jealous for my sake? Would that all were prophets’. And although the fourth gospel speaks more emphatically than the others about the uniqueness of Jesus, it interprets him in the light of the most universal of all concepts used at that time, the Logos, the universal principle of the divine self-manifestation. It thus frees Jesus from a particularism through which he would become the property of a particular religious group. This Christian universalism was not syncretistic. It subjected whatever it received to an ultimate criterion, the image of Jesus as the new being.
In the seventh century the attitude of Christians to other religions changed. For the first time Christians faced the rise of a new and fervent faith in the form of Islam that threatened all Christendom. According to the principle that defense narrows down the defender, Christianity became radically exclusive. The Crusades were the expression of this exclusive hold on truth and the fight to banish its rivals. In the centuries that followed there were swings to and from fanatical exclusivity and tolerant acceptance. Cardinal Cusanus, in the fifteenth century, and the Socinians, in the sixteenth century, both acknowledged the workings of the divine spirit beyond the boundaries of the Christian church. By contrast, and nearer to our own day, the neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth pronounced that Christianity is based on the only revelation of God that has ever occurred, a view which seemed to be the price paid for a defense against the rise of the quasi-religion of Nazism.
At the present time there are compelling practical reasons that call for the abandonment of the isolationism of Christianity from other faiths and a development of a new genuine openness to learn from them. Perhaps it will be the danger of seeing humanity and nature engulfed by a brutal exploitation that will bring the world religions to a fuller realization of what they have in common and what they can learn from each other (see Chapter 3).
Subjects and Objects
The relations I have discussed so far are those of subjects. By contrast to a subject an object has no felt connections. We should now concern ourselves with why it is important to recognize the difference. The knowledge about the world we have from science is almost exclusively derived from a study of objects or else of subjects treated as objects. Although a very important part of knowledge, it is a partial knowledge of the world. Therein lies a great danger.
When Galileo sat in a pew in church in Pisa, bored by the sermon, his mind turned to other things. He watched an oil lamp swinging from the ceiling. It must have been set in motion by a puff of wind or perhaps when being lit by a long taper. Galileo put his finger on his pulse, there being no watches in his day. He timed the swings. The average time of the long swings was the same as that of the short swings. He measured it time and again, for the sermon was evidently a long one. He discovered what is now known as the uniform motion of the pendulum which keeps the same time whether it swings a large or small arc. It keeps perfect time. Hence the use of pendulums in clocks from then on. The pendulum is an object. When off center it is moved by the gravitational attraction of the Earth and tends to move toward the center of the Earth. The Earth too is an object. The only influence such objects know are those of push or pull from other objects that may set them in motion. In the case of the lamp in the church, this initially was a force such as the long taper that pushed it and then the force of the Earth pulling upon it.
This may seem to be a digression. But it isn’t. It is important to recognize the distinction between objects and subjects. Our failure to do so has made an enormous difference to our world for the worse. Science, for the most part, studies objects such as pendulums, steel balls on inclined planes, planets and stars. Science also studies living organisms, but this is almost exclusively a study of organisms as objects and not as subjects. The heart is studied as a pump. The brain is studied as a computer. The procedure of most science is to reduce all it studies to what it regards as the ultimate objects that are supposed to constitute them -- atoms, electrons and so on. We are finding now that this exercise, which is called reductionism, while rewarding in answering many questions, is a gross abstraction from reality. The human body is not just an object, nor are its various organs right down to the cells that compose it.
The new physics is telling us that the so-called fundamental particles are not objects either. The myth about matter is built on the fiction that the universe consists of nothing but a collection of inert particles, pulling and pushing each other like cogs in a deterministic machine. The new physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less ‘substance’ to it than we have believed (Davies & Gribbin 1991, pp. 8, 229; Davies 1992). The house that science built has to be reconstructed from the ground up. Davies and Gribbin (1991, p. 7) remark that it is fitting that physics, the science that gave rise to materialism, should also signal the demise of materialism. The point for us is not to be so sure that the dominant image of the world given to us by the science of the past, which is called the modern worldview, is a picture of the real world. Of course, we may never know what the real world is. Our concepts of the world are constructs by the brain that filters only what it can handle. At present scientific understanding of the universe is more mysterious than it has ever been before in the history of scientific thought. ‘Modern physics,’ says physicist Hanbury Brown, ‘brings us face to face with mystery’ (Hanbury Brown 1986, p. 170).
Subjects have felt connections with the world. They have some kind of inwardness or subjectivity. In this view all individual entities from protons to people are centers of experience and are not simply objects for the experience of others. We are not imputing conscious experience to the proton or the cell but something analogous that can correctly be called subjectivity. Felt connections transform the entity into something it was not but could be. A subject is sentient, it has self-determination, it has freedom to act or not to act. It has what is technically called internal relations.
An object has no felt connections, it has no self-determination, it has no freedom to act or not to act. It is not transformed by its relations with other objects. It has what are technically called external relations, but no internal ones. The distinction between internal and external relations is crucial. When the cue hits the billiard ball, that is an external relation for the billiard ball. The billiard ball remains the same billiard ball. It is not changed in its nature at all. When you deeply love someone you experience an internal relation. Something happens in your inner being, call it your mind or soul or what you will. And that happening changes you. You are now a different person from the one you were before that experience of love. You transcend what you were. You are transformed. The world consists of subjects and objects. I shall, in the next section, identify objects as ‘aggregates’ of subjects, which aggregates have no self-determination or freedom. A rock, a steel ball, a chair and a planet are examples of objects. A proton, a molecule, a cell, a frog and a human being are subjects.
The Modern Prejudice
Why is it we feel
The tendency to think almost exclusively in terms of objects that are without sentience in any form and not in terms of subjects that are sentient in some form, is predominant in modern thought. The objects exist side by side, acting on one another externally.
Viewing the world in this way has many consequences. For example, it has led to organizing knowledge into separate disciplines such as economics, sociology, physics, biology, religion and so on. It treats knowledge like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. One piece is economics, one piece is ecology. They fit side by side but do not overlap. This is an abstraction since knowledge cannot be so carved up without losing something in the process of fragmentation. The exponents of the disciplines, be they scientists, economists or whoever, cling to their specialties as lifebelts that keep them afloat in a sea of general ideas in which they have lost the capacity either to plunge or to swim. They look with suspicion on those colleagues who stray too far outside their speciality. Each of us tends to understand only one little piece of the whole. We hay lost the sense that our little piece belongs to a larger whole that makes some sense out of the little pieces.
Heidegger said ‘science does not think’, by which he meant that the training in the disciplines does not fit a person to cross the boundaries of the disciplines. The ability to cross boundaries he described as thinking. Some scientists to be sure, are exceptions to the rule. Einstein was one. He was very critical of many of his colleagues. In an address he gave in 1918 in honor of Max Planck called ‘Motives of Research’, Einstein asked who these people are who aspire to live in ‘The Temple of Science’. He acknowledged that they are mostly ‘rather odd, uncommunicative, solitary fellows’. Then he asked what led them into the temple. One of the strongest motives, he said, was flight from everyday life and from the fetters of one’s own shifting desires.
One who is more finely tempered is driven to escape from personal existence and to the world of objective observing and understanding. This motive can be compared with the longing that irresistibly pulls the town dweller away from his noisy, cramped quarters and toward the silent, high mountains . . . With this negative motive there goes a positive one. Man seeks to form for himself, in whatever manner is suitable for him, a simplified and lucid image of the world, and so to overcome the world of experience by striving to replace it to some extent by this image. . . Into this image and its formation, he places the center of gravity of his emotional life, in order to attain the peace and serenity that he cannot find within the narrow confines of swirling, personal experience.
Einstein’s characterization of the scientist who wants to find a lucid and simplified image of the world is reinforced in our time by the statement of Stephen Hawking (1988) in his A Brief History of Time, when he wrote on the final page: ‘The eventual goal of science is to provide a single theory that describes the whole universe’. But what Hawking calls the whole universe seems to exclude microbes and humans and falling in love. It is a materialistic image of the universe. In somewhat similar vein Leon Lederman, director of the Fermi Laboratory near Chicago, proclaimed that the objective of physics was to find ‘a unified theory of everything’ so simple it could be written as a single formula that you can wear on your T-shirt (Davies 1989, p. 13). One single formula may unite current disparate theories in physics. Important as that may be for physics, it is not everything. It will not tell us about life, love, faith, affection and hope, nor anything else about ourselves as subjects.
I can remember vividly right now a decision I made in my twenties about scientific research as a career. I was standing on a road high on the foothills of Mount Lofty overlooking Adelaide. Immediately below me I could see the Waite Agricultural Research Institute where I had been doing research since I graduated some years earlier. I was getting to know more and more about less and less. I wanted to be doing something that gave me broader horizons and more personal ones than research was giving me. There is a loneliness in research not unlike that of the long distance runner.
On that hillside, on a Sunday long ago, leaning on my bicycle, I said to myself I want to combine research with something that is not so lonely and where people mattered. I decided there and then to strive to become a teacher in a university where I could do both research and be with students. And so in due course I went to the University of Chicago to better fit myself for that role. As with all changes there would be disadvantages, for I knew that university departments then offered nothing like the research facilities of a research institute. However, it was the right decision for me.
The modern scientific worldview, for all its benefits, is an abstraction because its image of the world is made up only of objects. My inner world includes that which cannot be categorised as objects. I was not turning my back against science, but against the dominant worldview derived from science called mechanism or materialism. It led me to combine my first job in a university department with being a vice master of a college in the same university.
Supernaturalistic Dualism and Materialistic Atheism
The dominant scientific worldview of materialism became established in the seventeenth century through the influence of men such as Galileo, Mersenne, Descartes, Boyle and Newton. They all agreed that nature is composed of things that could be called material objects. These objects were devoid of self-motion. Each object or thing is moved by other objects or things, by forces external to them. Things are not moved by aims or purposes. They have no internal principles of unrest. They just stay around until some other thing moves them. Every present state of a thing is determined by something else, which in turn is determined by something else, which in turn is determined by something else and so on back. This is the doctrine of complete determinism. It makes prediction possible in principle. So the astronomer Laplace said, if he could know the position and momentum of every particle in the universe he could predict the future of the universe completely.
The doctrine of inertia works well with pendulums and steel balls moving on inclined planes, as Galileo was to discover. These were the objects to which it was first applied. But what about living things, especially animals? Did these founders of the modern scientific worldview believe that everything, including themselves, could be completely understood in purely mechanical and deterministic terms? Was the movement of Newton’s mind, through which he discovered the laws of motion, explicable on the same terms as the movement of steel balls on inclined planes? Or is there more to the universe than objects in motion?
That sort of question brings us to a great divide in modern thought. In thinking about this I have been greatly helped by David Griffin’s (1990) analysis which is reflected in what follows. There are two versions of the modern scientific worldview: a supernaturalist, dualistic version and an atheistic, materialistic version. They both agree that the fundamental units of nature are bits of stuff wholly devoid of self-determination or self-motion. But they disagree on whether reality as a whole is composed entirely of such things.
According to supernaturalistic dualism there are two sorts of things, inert ones and self-moving ones. Descartes drew the line between human minds which are subjects and the rest of the world made of objects. Dogs are barking machines moved only by other things. The motion of all things other than humans has an external cause; it is locomotion, meaning the motion from one locus (place) to another. The motion of self-moving things (subjects) is internal; it is internal becoming. Descartes said he can move himself from this place to that in space or in his thinking because he has an inner reality, his mind, which is different from inert things. As a subject it has some degree of self-determination. For Descartes the most real things about himself were his feelings and thoughts that inert things and non-human creatures do not have.
Where does God come into the picture of supernaturalistic dualism? Matter, which is inert, is in motion because God put it in motion at the creation of the universe. God is called the first mover which is the main description of God in this discourse. All power of motion was restricted to God and to self-moving created things, namely human beings. This was the dominant view amongst those who first formulated the mechanistic view of nature in the seventeenth century.
By the second half of the following century the dualistic view became transmuted into scientific materialism. By the end of the nineteenth century that view became dominant throughout the scientific world.
There were many reasons why supernaturalistic dualism was so unsatisfactory. There was the mind -- body problem of how could mind and matter, being so different, interact? (Birch 1990, Ch. 2). Secondly, there is the problem of evil. If God is omnipotent, and if God is also good, how come there is so much evil in the world? There has been more double talk on this conundrum by theologians than about anything else. Some evils are the consequence of human wickedness. Other evils are not. A genetically malformed baby with amaurotic idiocy never has a chance. It is destined to live a very short and very painful life. The same is true of many other genetic diseases. These are natural evils because they inhibit the development of a full human being. These are real problems for those who think God could prevent these diseases but does not. There is no way out of this dilemma while retaining a belief in the omnipotence of God. This dogma is one of the worst of all theological mistakes (Hartshorne 1984, pp. 10-16; Birch 1990, pp. 93-6).
For these and other reasons, supernaturalistic theism transmuted into atheistic materialism. Some thinkers have returned to a dualistic view while rejecting God. But they still provide no answer to how mind and matter interact. Dualism, be it supernaturalistic or atheistic, is a problem, not a solution.
In the worldview of atheistic materialism, the world contains only one type of thing. It has no principle of self-moving or self-determination but is entirely moved from without. The only kind of movement is locomotion. There are no beings with an inner reality with capacity for self-movement. This is claimed in the face of the acknowledgment that humans do have thoughts and purposes and are conscious. But these are regarded as epiphenomena, as the rattling of the train is to the motion of the train, or else phenomena equated with chemical and electrical activities in the brain. Varieties of these interpretations are elaborated in a straightforward way by Churchland (1984). There are many problems with materialism, the greatest of which is its denial of mind or the reduction of mind to matter. How can things that are subjects evolve out of things that are mere objects?
Given that supernaturalistic dualism and materialistic atheism are unsatisfactory, a third way suggests itself. It is to reject the mechanistic view of matter and make the radical proposal that there are more subjects in the world than were ever dreamed of by any mechanistic theory. It is the proposition that sentience in some form and self-determination in some degree go all the way down the evolutionary scale from humans to protons and the like. Sentience in this context does not mean consciousness, but the inward taking account of the environment.
This overcomes the problem of the evolution of mind from no mind. The evolutionary sequence from protons, molecules, cells, plants and animals to people would be interpreted as an increase in complexity of experience and degree of self-determination. On this scale humans would have a richness of experience and a degree of self-determination vastly different in degree, though not in kind, from the proton. There are then no absolute differences in kind in individual entities, only differences in degree. All are subjects. This is a panexperiental or panpsychic (from the Greek for ‘all’ and ‘soul’) view of nature. It is an interpretation of ‘experience’ that applies up and down the line from protons to people. It is a view that challenges all dualistic concepts which happen to be the dominant concepts today.
There is however a proviso. This discussion concerns individual entities such as protons, molecules, cells and humans. An individual entity is something that ‘feels’ and acts as one. There is another group of things that are aggregates of individual entities. They are objects, not subjects. A rock is an aggregate of molecules and as a rock has no individual centre of sentience or action. For a more detailed account of this important distinction see Birch (1990). It is helpful to realize that the objects of scientific investigation are, for the most part, in the category of aggregates. And in so far as science investigates subjects such as animals, it leaves out of account their subjective aspects.
Science has had no way of dealing with subjects as such until quite recently, when the new physics and some biology have had some success in dealing with Thomas Nagel’s (1979) question about subjects: ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ (essay 12). There is no reason in principle why the whole world of inner experience should not be included in the domain of science. Ours is a transition period of an incomplete, unbalanced science that has yet to allow for internal factors. But that would be to call for a re-enchantment of science (Griffin 1988).
The Alternative Road
There is now a growing realization that science, as such, does not require a mechanistic worldview. The reigning wisdom is under attack. Much evidence, especially from the new physics, suggests a less deterministic, more organic and subjective interpretation of nature. There is a ‘within’ of things which is what things are in themselves and to themselves. The stuff of the world is ‘feelings’ or relations clothed in ‘emotion’. Subjectivity is everywhere in nature. The evidence for this is discussed by Birch (1990), Griffin (1988; 1990), Cobb and Griffin (1976), Sheldrake (1990) and by others to whom they refer.
Furthermore, this postmodern worldview opens the way to a non-dualistic interpretation of theism. God acts in the world, not through external causes as postulated in the doctrine of the first mover but in another way which I now discuss. Just as Saint Augustine said that our hearts are restless because of their inherent ineradicable relation to God, so too to some degree is that true of all subjects from protons to people. There is an eros in the universe persuading and luring and meeting the eros of the subjects of creation. ‘Eros’ is the name in Greek mythology for the life-giving qualities that turned a world that was barren and lifeless into a world full of vibrant life. It is therefore appropriately used for the lure that creatures feel in their lives, transforming them from moment to moment to fuller life.
What does God do in the world? In supernatural theism discussed above, God acts in the world first by creating the world out of nothing, establishing and maintaining its natural laws and subsequently by intervening at points in the history of the world to effect special results. This is the mistaken notion of divine omnipotence. Much of the history of the Judeo-Christian religion has been interpreted this way. This view inevitably retreats before science. Science leaves little for that sort of God to do. We need to turn our minds to another sort of causality. Indeed it is a very familiar one which I have discussed earlier in the context of felt connections.
Suppose I am deeply involved in a discussion with a colleague on the issues of this paragraph. Let us further suppose that each of us is completely present. We are really serious and we bring to bear all our concerns in a serious way. I am becoming influenced by my colleague. Influence means to flow into. His ideas are flowing into my mind. Indeed they become so critical that I am changed as a consequence. My orientation to life becomes different. It has a different focus that is transforming. Something my colleague has communicated to me has become a constitutive part of my being. A scientific observer would be limited to observing my outward behavior. He might even put some electrodes to my brain and register electrical impulses, say in some part of the cortex. But none of this reveals the primary causal relationship that is going on. Internal relations are involved. They are relations within my mind and soul which I can feel but which you cannot see as an outside observer. What has changed me is a succession of internal relations associated with ideas I am sharing with my colleague. There is an ecology of personal well-being that has to do with getting our internal relations right.
It is one of theologian John Cobb’s important contributions that he points so clearly to this kind of causation, which we know so well, as providing a much better way of conceiving of God’s causality in the world than the concept of a God who intervenes through external causation. Rather, God participates in the constitution of the events of the creation from protons to people (Cobb 1983). There is an ecology of God which we can think of as God’s internal relations with the creation. God’s use of persuasion, as opposed to omnipotent coercion, which is so often attributed to God, is not based on a voluntary self-limitation. God could not choose from time to time to intrude here and there in the world. This point, as Griffin has so clearly argued, is at the heart of the difference between supernatural theism and the postmodern theism of process theology (Griffin, 1989 p. 140).
I expect that most who have read thus far will probably be willing to accept the proposition that all that we have met is a part of us. Our present state of well-being or otherwise reflects the happenings of the past as a result of the internal relations we have experienced. It logically follows that we are a part of all that we are meeting now, right at this moment.
In addition to the antecedent world in our experience there is another reality that enters into each moment which we can respond to. This reality is future possibilities. They are to be conceived as causes in the present. This is the meaning of purposive activities. This reality is given the name God in process thought. I do not think the proposition that future possibilities as causal in the present is contestable, though some will object to the use of the word God in relation to the reality of future possibilities and their lure upon the world.
My next point therefore will seem contestable to some. It is that the reality entering each moment, which is called God, is a realm of possibilities. All possible values are parts of cosmic value which abides. Whatever is present in some degree in every creature is maximally present in God. God confronts the world with what is possible for it at every moment. In our lives, each of us intuitively differentiates these values as we choose the next step. Call it conscience or what you will, we have within us a capacity to make that differentiation such that we choose that value which is relevant for us at this moment. When we are young and immature our intuitive instrument is blunt. Indeed, we let a lot of decisions be made for us by others. To grow into maturity is to sharpen our intuitive instrument and to become more independent of parents and authorities in making decisions. We become free.
For example, the most important value I may need to experience right now is forgiveness. I have been hurtful to someone and I have a deep sense of guilt. I may harbor up that feeling until it bursts out in all sorts of negative ways. That is an immature response to the value I need in my life at that moment. Alternatively I may go to the one I have harmed, admit my guilt and ask that we may begin all over again as though that bit of the past is, in some sense, blotted out. He forgives me. But more, I myself experience forgiveness as a new quality in my life. The burden has been lifted. My internal relations have a new harmony. I have a sense of wholeness again. The image is of John Bunyan laboring along the road with a huge bundle on his back. As he tells us in The Pilgrim’s Progress, he eventually reaches the foot of the cross on his journey. There the bundle falls from his back to the ground. He is free.
Or go back a little in Bunyan’s journey when he is wading across a swiftly flowing river. The bottom of the river seems to be deep with mud that will engulf him if the river itself does not sweep him away. He panics and is afraid. What does he most need at that critical moment of his life? His desperate need is for courage, the courage to be when his life is threatened. Courage enters into his being. He says to his faithful partner, ‘I feel the bottom and it is sound’.
One cannot remove anxiety by simply arguing it away. One needs an inner strength to face the situation in a new spirit that can overcome all circumstance. Bunyan’s anxiety was an awareness of a conflict between turning back and going ahead with the possibility of a new hope. Our anxiety might be between emotional drives and repressive norms, between different drives trying to dominate our personality, between our hope to achieve in our studies or profession and a lack of confidence in ourselves between the desire to be accepted by others and the experience of being rejected, between our real selves and the image of ourselves we try to give others or between our sense of loneliness and the need for friendship. All these conflicts make themselves felt as anxiety. Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair (see Chapter 6).
The experience of loneliness is a cause of pain for many people. When in England Mother Teresa agreed there was poverty in India, then added, ‘but here you have a different kind of poverty, the poverty of loneliness, and that is the worst disease in the world today’.
The writer of the twenty-fifth psalm says ‘Turn to me and be gracious, for I am lonely and afflicted’. I recall the preacher of the Temple Church in London, Leslie Weatherhead, giving this account of a friend who was under nervous strain knowing not which way to turn. He was staying at Weatherhead’s house previous to speaking at a big meeting. He felt terribly alone, despite being surrounded by lots of people at that moment. Noticing that he looked tired Weatherhead asked him if he would like to escape all the chatter and rest in a room upstairs. So he left the crowded room to retire to a comfortable room upstairs. In his loneliness he turned to a Bible seeking comfort in Psalm 59 verse 10. In the margin opposite this verse someone had written in pencil the following rendering of this verse: ‘My God in his loving kindness shall meet me at every corner’. It was light in a dark place. He no longer felt alone in the world with his anxiety. He experienced the affirmation: when I am alone I am not alone. His loneliness turned into creative solitude.
Loneliness is to be distinguished from solitude. Ultimately, loneliness can only be conquered by those who can bear solitude. The emptiness of loneliness can be filled for a time with friendship. But for much of our time we are destined to be alone. That is certainly the lot of those who choose to be students. Tillich (1963) said loneliness expresses the pain of being alone but solitude expresses the glory of being alone. He went on to say that today human beings, more intensely than in previous periods, are so lonely that they cannot bear solitude. In their desperation they try to become part of a crowd.
Solitude allows us to accept, upon reflection, our fears and inner turmoil. It enables us to find a way to cope with life’s ordeals. In solitude we meet ourselves and the possibilities of ourselves. We meet God as friend and sustainer. An indefinable longing is met by the ultimate concern for that moment. Perhaps that is the thought behind that much quoted (and much misunderstood) statement of Whitehead (1930) ‘Religion is what the individual does with his solitariness’ (p. 37). Whitehead was referring to solitude, not to loneliness.
During the First World War a soldier in the trenches saw his friend out in no-man’s land, between the trenches and those of the enemy, stumble and fall in a hail of bullets. He said to his officer, ‘May I go Sir and bring him in?’ The officer refused. ‘No-one can live out there’, he said. Disobeying the order, the soldier went to try to save his friend, for they had been like David and Jonathan. Somehow he got his friend on his shoulder and staggered back to the trenches. But he himself lay mortally wounded and his friend was dead. The officer was angry. ‘Now I have lost both of you. It was not worth it’. With his dying breath the soldier said, ‘But it was worth it Sir’. ‘Worth it’, said the officer. How could it be? Your friend is dead and you are mortally wounded’. The boy shrank from the reproach. But looking up into the officer’s face he said, ‘It was worth it Sir. He wasn’t dead when I reached him and he said to me, "Jim I knew you’d come"’.
It is not a matter of chance that I select forgiveness, courage and the friendship of solitude as examples of values I meet in my moments of anxiety. They happen to be three of the most vivid and transforming experiences in my life. These experiences carry with them a certain conviction that I do not create these values or any others. The realm of values is not a sort of pantry from which I choose. They choose me. My part is to be receptive and open to whatever value is relevant for me now. The experience of appropriating values is real. It is personal. It is transforming. It is to feel a claim upon me. It is what Christians down the ages have meant by the influence of God in human experience. That is what I mean by the reality of God in life.
For this influence there are many metaphors: the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the light on the hill, the good shepherd searching for the one sheep that is lost. All convey the idea of overriding value, of clear purpose and, above all, lure. God is the great persuader pressing upon us, ever-active, only blocked by us. It is for Paul Tillich ‘ultimate concern’ which beckons within us the only response possible of ‘infinite passion’. We meet God when values flood into our lives in our solitude or through others, as happened in the case of the dying soldier whose last words met a response in his courageous friend. This is the divine eros flooding into the world. God is to the world as self is to the body.
There is a second aspect to the divine love which is the consequence to God when God’s love becomes concretely real in the world. What happens in the world makes a difference to God. God feels the world in its joys and suffering as the world feels God. This is the divine passion. It is the doctrine of panentheism (all in God) as distinct from classical theism (Birch 1990). This way of thinking about God cannot be contained in the old images of God as ruler, king, potentate and patriarch. God is the supreme instance of sensitivity, receptivity, responsiveness, relatedness and creativity. God takes all experience into the divine experience, preserves it everlastingly with no loss. The very nature of the divine is unconditional love and acceptance. Sallie McFague (1987) has suggested new and vivid metaphors for God, such as lover, friend and mother, that come much closer to the new understanding of God as divine eros and divine passion. Our response to God’s acceptance of our lives into his/her life provides a powerful sense of the meaning of life and a profound sense of the intimacy of the human and the divine. It enhances our capacity for intimacy in all our internal relations, be they with others, the non-human world or God.
‘There is . . . in the Galilean origin of Christianity’ wrote Whitehead (1978), ‘a suggestion . . . which does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world’ (p. 343). Whitehead’s ‘present immediacy’ is put in quite personal terms by Cobb (1983):
It is by virtue of the presence of God that I experience a call to be more than I have been and more than my circumstances necessitate that I be. It is the call to transcendence that frees me from simply acting by habit and reacting to the forces of the world. In short, it is by God’s grace that lam free. (p. 53)
This is a freedom of the present moment, making the present an ultimate experience that transcends past experience. It is an end in itself without the need to project what later experience might be.
The relation of God to humans is in principle the relation of God to all subjects in the creation from protons to people. None is self-sufficient. None is merely stuff. Each has some degree of self-determination or freedom, negligibly small though this must be at the lower levels of creation. All individual entity from protons to people are responding, valuing creative subjects. The world feels God as God persuades the world to be what it could be. But God is not the world and the world is not God. God affects creatures, not by determining them from without, but by persuading them from within. ‘God is not before all creation but with all creation’ (Whitehead 1978, p. 343). Hence William Blake’s epiphany in his Auguries of Innocence’:
To see the World in a Grain of Sand,
Some events in the history of the cosmos, including human history, have more significance than others. There are peak events. This is not because God intervened in these events and not in others. To interpret significant events as special acts of God is to turn God into an agent of mechanical intervention. It is to replace persuasive love by fiat, acting according to some preordained plan.
Significant events are significant because they open up new realms of possibility heretofore closed. The history of the Jewish people is rich in such events. The life of Jesus is such an event. It opened and still opens up for humanity new possibilities of compassionate understanding, creativity and human fellowship. Christians today, as with the first disciples, look at Jesus and look through him to discover something true about God. The followers of Jesus spoke of discovering ‘the light of the knowledge of the character of God’ in his face. And they spoke of God being in him, reconciling the world to himself. What is highest and greatest in human life is deeply grounded in the universe. God is like that. It was an affirmation of the creeds of the early church that humanity is the vehicle of the divine. That is the meaning of incarnation.
The new consciousness is the discovery of new felt relationships of compassion between ourselves and other people with other living creatures, with the whole of creation and therefore with God. It emphasizes the subjective as real and determinative in life. Key concepts in the new consciousness are: subject, felt relations, internal relations, sympathy richness of experience, creative solitude, hope, faith affection new being, ultimate concern (= God), compassion and God’s action in the world as internally related to all individual entities from protons to people. These concepts lead to critical attempts to understand our lives and nature as the scene of interplay of two contrary tendencies of disordering and ordering. That which disorders and divides is evil. That which orders and unites is good. We live under both influences at the same time.
This vision of the world stands in strong contrast to supernaturalistic dualism and materialistic atheism. It is not provable in the way in which a mathematical proposition might be proved. It stands or falls by its adequacy to account for and illumine all experience. But it requires imagination to see it. The world is not as tame as our sluggish, convention-ridden imaginations tend to suppose. There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, and those who do not see.
For those who see, this vision has profound implications for how they act and what they do with their lives. That is the subject of the next chapter