A: The universe has a sense of humour. Two days ago, on Thursday morning, you and I decided this blog site would try to focus on the question of science and faith. Thursday afternoon I went into work, and there on the lunchroom table was a newspaper article by Tom Harpur entitled “Where science meets the Divine.” Interesting timing.
J: As I remember it, you weren’t too happy when you read Mr. Harpur’s article.
A: No. As readers of the Concinnate Christianity site will know, I’m not too fond of Harpur’s neo-Gnosticism. He and I don’t agree on much. He seems to be yearning for mystery, but when he’s presented with an actual mystery — one that confounds his belief system about God — he rejects it without first carefully examining it. At least that’s what he did with me, when I wrote to him in May and June of 2005, and he responded in writing that he didn’t accept my experience of mystical conversation (i.e. channelling). Hey, I understand people’s suspicion, and I support the idea that a mystic should have to prove he or she isn’t floridly psychotic, etc., etc. There’s no ethical mysticism without ethical scientific investigation. But for a spiritual writer and researcher to not take the time to ask a few thoughtful questions of a modern-day practising mystic . . . to my way of thinking that’s just sloppy and a waste of information that could turn out to be quite useful.
J: Your problem is that you told Mr. Harpur in the beginning you’re channelling me, and he doesn’t believe there ever was a me. So he wouldn’t find it useful to learn that he’s been incorrect about me.
A: After you’ve published a book like The Pagan Christ, it’s pretty hard to back down from the position that the historical Jesus never existed. So I can understand that from his point of view it would’ve been much more convenient if I’d never written to him.
J: There’s those Popperian black swans again. Showing up to bug the hell out of both theologians and scientists.
A: I find it interesting that in this week’s article Harpur wants to make the point that religion and science need each other and are both part of a cosmos that is an “infinitely vast, interconnected unity in which every aspect of every facet and particle is knit from all the others.” He’s certainly very poetic. But unless I’ve missed something about his academic training, he is not and never has been a scientist — that is, a person standing in a lab mixing solvents and solutes and running analytical tests on the products. He’s a philosopher, writer, theologian, and former professor. Which is great. Except he’s not a scientist, and he doesn’t think like a scientist, so he has to rely on what other people say about the intersection of science and the divine. He can’t decide for himself about the scientific merit of certain arguments because he doesn’t work with primary sources in science. He doesn’t read that particular language. Philosophy of science — which is Harpur’s area of interest here — isn’t the same as science itself. Plato was a philosopher of science. Aristotle was a philosopher of science. But these guys weren’t and aren’t scientists.
Harpur’s thesis about the unity of the cosmos sounds no different to me than Plato’s anogogic and apophatic mysticism from Phaedrus and Timaeus. For God’s sake, can’t we hear something new about the relationship between science and faith? Can’t we be honest about the fact that faith and religion have as little in common as science and religion? Do we have to live in the hamster wheel that Plato devised 2,400 years ago? Do we have to cling to the mystical teachings of Paul and the Gnostics? These people were barking up the wrong tree before. Why do we suddenly imagine that quantum physics is going to prove that Plato’s tree was the right tree after all?
J (chuckling): Don’t forget the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals would like those trees to be real, too.
A: Harpur has an interesting quote. He says, “What is most striking about the complete revolution in physics that has taken place over the last century is that the old materialist philosophy of the past has been given the axe.” I find this ironic, since Pauline thought and Gnostic thought are both forms of Materialist philosophy, and Harpur is nothing if not a keen fan of Gnosticism.
J: Materialism still reigns in almost all spheres of human thought and human activity. Certainly most physicists would rather cut off both legs and both arms than admit to the audacious idea that non-locality exists as a verifiable force within the universe. They’re trying very hard these days to redefine non-locality and lessen the overall message it conveys.
A: What message is that?
J: The overall message of weirdness in the universe. Of instantaneous communication between consciousnesses. Of a very annoying measure of unpredictability in the way things work. The quest for a Grand Unified Theory is an example of scientists’ desperation to avoid the non-materialist implications of non-locality.
A: I’m not a physicist, and I’m not up to date on the mathematics of current quantum theory (not that there’s any agreement on current quantum theory), but I know one thing for sure: Einstein was wrong about non-locality. He was wrong to reject its existence. Every day my experiences as a mystic teach me that Einstein couldn’t have been more wrong.
J: Yes. Theologians who want to unite science and religion find a lot of support in Einstein’s theories. The problem is that Einstein was wrong about a number of things, so his theories are of limited use for a theologian who wants to talk about Divine Science. Flawed scientific doctrines are no more useful for helping people of faith than flawed theological doctrines. There has to be constant reexamination of both scientific and theological doctrines as people of faith move forward in the third millennium.
A: The operative word being “forward.” Not “backward,” as in looking to Plato for answers.
J: A strange thing sometimes happens to highly educated, highly intelligent physicists and theologians. For years they operate on the assumption — the absolute conviction — that the universe obeys strict Materialist laws of Cause and Effect. They shape all their research, all their “observations,” all their conclusions on this assumption. They’re certain of their rightness.
One day, they have what might be called an epiphany. They have a sudden awareness deep in the gut that maybe there is a God, that maybe there are more levels of connection in the universe than they once dreamed of. This insight is good. It means the biological brain has finally got the message the soul has been whispering for years. But they tend to stop right here, right at this point. They stop at the very beginning of the journey. They think the awareness of interconnection is the end of the journey. In fact, it’s the very first step. They haven’t begun to ask the questions about relationship and learning and growth and change. Let alone the questions about redemption and forgiveness and the mystery of divine love. They stop dead in their tracks at the idea of “Oneness.” Of unio mystica. Of unified field theory. They don’t continue along the Spiral Path to find out what it really means. They never learn that the universe only works — only holds together — precisely because it is NOT a Oneness. It is, instead, a relationship. A relationship of mutual respect. A relationship where boundaries are everything, because without boundaries there could be no individual consciousnesses, no individual souls, no individual children of God, and no God.
A: Without clear boundaries there could be no God?
J: God isn’t a force field. God is two people. Two actual consciousnesses. Very big and very old compared to us, their children, but still people. They have bodies (just as we have bodies). They have minds (just as we have minds). They have talents (just as we have talents). And they have a heart — a big, mysterious, blended place of shared love and learning and tears and laughter that we call the heart. It’s God’s choice to create the sacred shared place of the heart that allows all souls to exist as separate but interconnected children of God. If you try to speak of God as Divine Mind while ignoring the other aspects of God — body and talent and heart — you’re not really speaking about God. You’re speaking about human narcissism, the kind of narcissism that imagines logic and reason and the Materialist laws of Cause of Effect form the core essence of the cosmos. These thinkers never speak about the chaotic and unpredictable nature of divine love. Thus, they never speak of miracles. In their view, miracles are impossible. Miracles can’t exist.
A: Yet miracles happen all the time.
J: Miracles take place because God and God’s angels choose for them to take place. This is where non-locality comes in. This is where classical physics goes out the window. It’s all very messy. It’s too messy for people who’ve chosen to be Non-Whole Brain Thinkers. There’s too much emotion involved. Too much trust. And too great a sense of personal responsibility.
A: A Non-Whole Brain thinker would rather try to “escape” into unio mystica than deal with difficult emotions such as love and trust.
J: And the sacred religious texts Mr. Harpur is so keen to preserve make it very easy for people to try to escape.
A: In his recent article, Harpur says, “Sacred books on the other hand deal with the spiritual and psychological verities behind and beneath the human search for meaning and purpose. They speak a different language, one of myth, parable, poetry and symbolism because life’s deepest core can only be explored that way [emphasis added].”
I disagree vehemently. Myth, poetry, and symbolism are the languages of religion and traditional mysticism, and even more frequently they’re the languages of successful psychopaths and political ideologues and purveyors of the HDM Myths. How can God’s ongoing communications with us be clearly identified, remembered, understood, and acted upon if symbols and myths are given more credence than identifiable scientific facts? Seems to me that Harpur’s promoting a foundation of moral quicksand.
J: He is.
A: I don’t think that’s very ethical.
J: It’s not. But anogogic and apophatic mysticism have never been about ethics. They’ve always been about “escape” — escape from the hard work of healing and transforming the self. The hard work of learning to trust God.
A: Trust. You mean trust without the theatrics and wailing and chest-beating and false humility and self-pity and chosenness of orthodox Western Christianity.
J: I think you’ve just described Paul’s themes of salvation and escape quite nicely.