Wholeness, Fragmentation and Dionysus

220px-David_BohmDavid Bohm’s book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” explores the problem of fragmentation in human thought and consciousness. Along with a very thorough analysis of why the problem of fragmentation exists, he also provides suggestions for undoing what he calls “habits of thought” which limit our ability to perceive wholes, or to even be aware of them.

“A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change.

Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.

Although we may all experience a common pool of meaning in varying ways, the idea of a pool or a consensus might help us gain some insight by separating form of meaning from content. Without this separation, we risk missing the context which we bring to experience that allows us to understand the specific habit patterns, either in thought, feeling or action, that each of us enacts.

Content is perhaps the easiest to see, and is the “what” of perceived experience; the immediacy of sense impressions of the objects, ideas, emotions, beliefs that grip us, not unlike the sun in your face, or the wet, damp cold of a winter’s day. Content is etymologically related to the word “contain,” what is held together, or can be held together. Interestingly, content, with the emphasis on the second syllable, meaning satisfied, also shares this idea of containment; to be held, or a feeling of holding together. Content reflects subjective awareness, the view from the inside of direct engagement both immediate and apparent within the sensate world and the world as it translated into various forms of expression. 


Form is then the shaping or patterning of how the content gets contained, and potentially provides one with a meta-view of the content, or what and how something is contained, categorized or understood. If content consists of the subjective insider view, form is what we see when we zoom out. Is subjectivity, then, associated more with feeling and sensate perceptions, where objectivity pulls back into modes of abstracting, thinking and evaluation? If so, the nature of the shaping of content can easily get lost as focus is on the unreflected insider impressions of the content. Form can bring us ways of contextualizing through expansion, amplifying and distancing from immediate experience through reflection, “as if” from the outside looking in.

Both of these modes of perception interplay and we shift in and out them perhaps not only seamlessly, but without an awareness of their distinct styles. When we are directly engaged in the world, soaking in whatever we are attending to, we may more or less pause to reflect and pull back from the engagement. We may also sense a tension between the two modes. To be engrossed in a project, or a conversation, or any intense level of participation that we sometimes refer to as “losing ourselves in,” can be pleasant. But as well, a deep immersion into sadness, loneliness, or any kind of pain, also belongs to the mode of subjective immersion.


We humans are both blessed and cursed with such tools and abilities afforded us through sense, language, reflection, desire and the creative impulse to expand, control and change our environment. Perhaps though, when we fail to look for and see and reflect upon the nature of relationship itself, whether between humans, or to the world we live in, great distortions of these gifts grip us, either through too much abstraction, or too much immersion, or the failure to engage how and where they influence each other.

David Bohm referred to the problem as “fragmentation” in which we lose sight of the “whole” while being immersed, and lose sight of the immediacy while zooming out. He saw language itself as a big contributor to the loss of an ability to see connections and relationships by dividing the whole into parts, thereby mistaking objects as truly separate from each other in the same way that words are separate and discrete. Language does not have any true bearing on the nature of the unified whole, except as it shapes our perception, which is always subject to the ebb and flow of the both the narrowing and expanding qualitative states of one’s attention and field of consciousness.

The focus of his book is on the ways in which science is likely to fail the greater good of society by neglecting to see the relatedness between what knowledge allows us to do and the implications for technologies that ultimately cause harm. But here I am more interested in modes of perception in our day-to-day living, and especially that which truly has the power to influence us through emotional and intellectual disruption, trauma and all that tears asunder, that which in our current style or mode of being in the world, and subsequently becomes ineffective and possibly broken, brings with it the potential of more relational styles of being in the world.

In James Hillman’s essay on Dionysus, he uses the image of dismemberment as an archetypal force, or metaphorical image for the distinct styles of being changed through participation and relationship within a community of others:

If we take our clues from Jung’s exploration of the theme in alchemy (“The visions of Zosimos,” CW 13), dismemberment refers to a psychological process that requires a body metaphor. [55] The process of division is presented as a body experience, even as a horrifying torture. If, however, dismemberment is ruled by the archetypal dominant of Dionysus, then the process, while beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king, may be at the same time activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes. The background of the second Dionysus offers new insight into the rending pain of self-division, especially as a body experience.


He continues by emphasizing that the Dionysian experience is neither physical nor psychological, but both. The essential point not to be missed is that through disintegration psyche and soma are experienced integratively, or conjoined, which as Hillman notes later, awaken consciousness, not of, but in the body:

We experience this process in psychosomatic symptoms, in hysterical conversions, in specific sadomasochistic perversions, in cancer fantasies, in fears of ageing, in horror of pollution, or in disintegrative incoherent conditions that have a body focus. This experience has its other side. The dismemberment of central control is at the same time the resurrection of the natural light of archetypal consciousness distributed in each of the organs.

But does King Ego die, and if so, how? Hillman suggests that the death of the king is a dying to the community through “lysis,” or a loosening.

Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener. [61] The word is cognate with lysis, the last syllables of analysis. Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, and the final unraveling as of a plot in tragedy.


The loosening, or death of the king by, and for, a more relational and integrated community within and without, has both personal and collective significance for our times. Perhaps the tyrant within must become the tyrant without, amplifying the visibility of the archetypal power in our midst, and now perhaps, brings us full circle. Bohm’s fragmentation might then be seen as a Dionysian move that is yet to be made fully manifest, but could serve as a catalyst towards providing a corrective move in which the King, both within and without, no longer able to stand in for his forgotten, neglected subjects, dissolves into a more integrated association with humanity at large.

As noted: Hillman, James. Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 6). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.


Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.


What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?


The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

The Story So Far

Case history: our public, outer life, a collection of facts, figures, biography and stats.

Soul history: the private interiority of identity, memory, feeling, reflections, dreams and beliefs.

In his book, Healing Fiction, James Hillman says:

“We can regard history from the viewpoint of soul. By carefully collating what happened, history digests events, moving them from case material to subtle matter. Hidden in this fantasy is a tenet of my faith: soul slows the parade of history; digestion tames appetite; experience coagulates events. I believe that had we more experiencing there would be need for fewer events and the quick passage of time would find a stop. And then I believe that what we do not digest is laid out somewhere else, into others, the political world, the dreams, the body’s symptoms, becoming literal and outer (and called historical) because it is too hard for us, too opaque, to break open and to insight.”

But neither case nor soul history ever provides a final and complete truth, much as we may imagine particular goals. It’s not that truth does not exist, or that it’s relative to other truths, but that any perspective is a limitation, including only what the lens can see and the heart is open to.

Identity, an accumulative sense through time of being myself and not another, also defines others through distinctions and likenesses, distinguishing us externally as a self among other selves.

Time marks us with habits, memories and limitations through which a distinct version of a story is imagined as fact and takes up residence in our hearts. Although the whole truth of our selves and others can never be wholly seen, we weave a continuous story through the assemblage of historical facts. Digital bits plucked out of an analog background, although never to be grasped fully, can be intuited.

Often disguised and lived through us as fact, story begins in imagination and fantasy, and presupposes an ending, a conclusion already present and working in us. Character continually forming and aiming us at our particular fate.

The stories premise is the conclusion seeking to resolve the tension inherent in living through its characters and plot.

“Therapy requires the fiction of literal realities as the primary material to work on. It must have the raw in order to cook. So we begin with a classical anamnesis. But this move is not in order to be grounded in facts, but because these factual stories are the primal matter in which the psyche of the patient is stuck.

Here is the apparently soulless abyss, the unformed, unpsychological material full of sibling data, economic figures, passage through welfare centers, aches and pains and needs, not yet “worked up” into a plot: it’s all prior to fermentation.”

Through framing our and other’s identity the story bumps against the indiscernable analog field, gathering suspense and building plot through the motion of time. Our story tells us how we got from there to here, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s the past arriving but also the present speculating on where we are going.

Is this an illusion? “From Old French illusion, from Latin illūsiō, from illūdere, from in- (“at, upon”), + lūdere (“to play, mock, trick”)” Who is the narrator and who does the story, the characters and plot serve? Is it for the sake of the end, or is it for the sake of the display of characters? What if the play, the story of our lives enacted, carries the goal within itself? A play for the sake of play, ecstasy and love.

In dreams, the dreamer’s world divides into characters to tell another story. The characters, plots and settings show us a shadow world not always congruent with our dayworld story. Here, we who would be one, divide and multiply into shadow characters and sub plots, sometimes hardly recognizable to our waking self.

Perhaps the play becomes play, ecstatic with desire and love through knowing, a) there is a story, b) someone is telling it, and c) there are characters, plots, beginnings and endings shaping your character and your fate. Through the practice of precise imaginings and retelling, you may then see how a particular premise is directing the stories conclusion. You are the author, the characters and the plot of the story of your life. But not the you sitting on the outside in the directors chair, not the digital you, but the analog you coming through you from deep within the source of the scenes.

“Healing begins when we move out of the audience and onto the stage of the psyche, become characters in a fiction (even the godlike voice of Truth, a fiction), and as the drama intensifies, the catharsis occurs; we are purged from attachments to literal destinies, find freedom in playing parts, partial, dismembered, Dionysian, never being whole but participating in the whole that is a play, remembered by it as actor of it. And the task set by the play and its god is to play a part with craft, sensitively.”

What if every aspect, each conflict, plot and sub plot were understood less as the me I think I am and more as an unseen force of character living through me? Unseen force meaning, the characters and personifications inherent in a universe much bigger than anything we can imagine, that seeks a living voice through the unique particularity and peculiarity of your circumstances.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Youth of Bacchus (1884)Public Domain

Hillman uses the Greek god Dionysius, whose motif was that of display and drama, to help us see our lives as a participation in story, dramatic figures on a world stage, not as an illusion, but as necessary parts in the display of the greatest show there is:

“If the structure of Dionysian logic is drama, the particular embodiment of Dionysian logic is the actor; Dionysian logos is the enactment of fiction, oneself an as-if being whose reality comes wholly from imagination and the belief it imposes. The actor is and is not, a person and a persona, divided and undivided – as Dionysus was called. The self divided is precisely where the self is authentically located – contrary to Laing. Authenticity is the perpetual dismemberment of being and not-being a self, a being that is always in many parts, like a dream with a full cast. We all have identity crises because a single identity is a delusion of the monotheistic mind that ”would defeat Dionysus at all costs.”

And finally:

“We have been long led to believe that logos can be defined only by Olympian structures, by children of Zeus and Athene, or by Apollo or Hermes or Saturn – logos as form, as law, as system or mathematics. But Heraclitus said it was a flow like fire; and Jesus that it was like love. Each god has its logos, which has no single definition but is basically the insighting power of mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. It is an old word for our worst word, consciousness. Dionysian consciousness understands the conflicts in our stories through dramatic tensions and not through conceptual opposites; we are composed of agonies not polarities. Dionysian consciousness is the mode of making sense of our lives and worlds through awareness of mimesis, recognizing that our entire case history is an enactment, “either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-pastoral,”  and that to be “psychological” means to see myself in the masks of this particular fiction that is my fate to enact.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2012-02-14). Healing Fiction. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.



The Names of God

In reading Henry Corbin’s book, Alone with the Alone, I am being introduced to Sufism in the writings of Ibn Arabi. I can feel its influence seeping into the layers of my being, radiating with joy for yet one more way to understand the nature of myself and the Cosmos. Tom Cheetham says in a lecture on Corbin, that his work is dense (and it is), but to just keep reading because even bit by bit an understanding of the work will appear. The book is probably too dense for me to write about, for the time being anyway, but…

I found a fairly brief, yet very concise article on Ibn Arabi and wanted to share a few quotes with you:

“What we experience of the One Being, which is Absolutely Real in Itself, are the various modalities of It’s expression. In other words, there is only One Presence throughout the Cosmos and that is God, The Absolute, but this Presence makes Itself known to us in different ways, which are called the Names of God.”

Can you see the world as God’s mirror and that God’s pathos (here meaning a sadness, or burning desire to be known) necessitates a creation into an infinite array of parts, the Names of God, whose purpose is for God to know God through the repetition of physical manifestation? I think I can.

File:Night Sky Stars Trees 03.jpg
Courtesy WikiCommons

Years ago, I experienced one of those magical moments that comes while staring out into the starry night. I wondered if it might be that God had created us to know Himself. Heresy to some, I suppose.

Ibn Arabi saw the cosmos as emanating from and filtering down from God through very distinct modes of being. From the indivisible Whole that God is, through intermediaries; the angelic beings can be experienced by us here in the physical manifestation through visionary states experienced through the practice of prayer.

It would take some time to delve deeper here, but this is not as some suggest, a simple pantheism, but is a way to understand, or perhaps as Sufis do, experience the modes of being emanating down from the Undivided Wholeness of God into the physical manifestation that we inhabit. The cosmos is expressed at four levels or modes of being, the highest level being God who is all levels at once; an undivided whole that we can never completely reach from the level of physical manifestation that we experience. Leveling up from the physical manifestation are angelic beings which are both our guides and a truer more purer form of ourselves whom we meet through the imagination and the heart. Our relationship to these angelic beings reveals to us deeper and deeper meanings of what we experience in the physical world always pointing us to modes of being beyond themselves, and ultimately to the ever mysterious beauty and love of the undivided wholeness of God.

For me, the different ways we humans have found to understand the world, speak to an intuition of mine that ultimately there is a unified whole that each of us not only participates in, but can directly experience for ourselves. The more directly we can experience this wholeness, for ourselves, in spite of seemingly irreconcilably conflicted religious and spiritual practices, or cultural differences, the more likely we are to move away from literalizing these differences into claims of unquestionable dogmas and truths, choosing instead to participate more fully in the embodied life we all share.

The article is really good and will do a much better job than I at presenting an amazing vision of the nature of the cosmos.

File:Ibn Arabi with students.jpg“For Ibn al-`Arabi, this fana and baqa, this death and resurrection, is endless. It never ends, because the Sufi must give himself up every single moment, which is the true meaning of Islam, surrender to God. It is state of perpetual bewilderment or perplexity, because the Sufi surrenders everything known about himself and the world, so to awaken to the reality as it reveals itself in this unique moment. It is a continual loss and re-discovery of identity. This parallels Ibn al-`Arabi’s view that the universe is annihilated and re-created every moment in time. Man does not become God, nor does God come into man, but man realizes God immanent, or God reveals His Immanence through man. There is no coming or going to, because there has never been a separation. This is why Ibn al-`Arabi speaks of the unveiling of God and the awakening of man.”

And he also wrote wonderful poems:

A garden among the flames

O Marvel,
a garden among the flames!

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka’ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur’án.

I profess the religion of love;
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.

Spirits in the Material World

Having recently revisited James Hillman’s book, The Dream and the Underworld, I was excited to read Jeremy Kessler’s article in the New Atlantis on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work, “The Hall of Fantasy,” in which he proposes that those who would dwell too long in the imaginative world of fantasy are susceptible to the pursuit of a single-minded vision of progress in the real world.

The Hall of Fantasy then becomes the seed bed for political reformers and revolutionaries, often blinding them from all else into a single-minded pursuit of bettering the world. A timely message for our highly politicized culture where one can hardly exist without having their own personalized sense of fixing the world. A human temptation for many, it seems, would be to change the world if they could only figure out how. The article eventually leads to Hawthorne’s caution that reform for the sake of an ideal carries with it a terrible shadow if sought after without respect for its unintended consequences. Kessler points out:

“At the heart of the reformer is such wishful thinking: the world surely can’t remain so unjust, so immiserated, can it? This faith underlies the conviction that experimentation will save rather than spoil.
Although moved by such hope, the narrator finds that it underestimates the risk of reform. Because reformers fail to understand “the sphere in which their lot is cast,” their flailing attempts to plant happiness and reap virtue tear up the earth rather than cultivate it. Continually seduced by reform’s violent energy, the narrator urges his guide to move on: “let us hasten hence or I shall be tempted to make a theory, after which there is little hope of any man.”

Later on in the article Kessler brings us around to Hawthorne’s conclusion which is to seek a middle ground between The Hall of Fantasy where the imagination remains unfettered and that of the earthly life which forms us with a more grounded sense of reality:

“The alternative offered by the narrator is to keep faith in the world at all costs, to dampen the zeal for reform, to moderate both hope and despair. Perhaps things will slowly improve, and we will at least retain what is presently good. “The Hall of Fantasy” expresses this meliorism in the form of a homely earth-worship, in opposition to the more starry-eyed faiths of the fantasists whom the narrator has encountered in the hall. If the world is terminally imperfectible, then its human inhabitants face a choice: to call for its overcoming — or to suffer it with all the peace and even appreciation they can manage. Beyond the patient pursuit of a tenuous harmony between humanity and the earth, an answer will not be found — just a booming no, the rejection of all that is, the final despair.”

We are here close to the heart of the human condition which each of us finds ourselves in, even if evidenced only by the consequences of the choices we make as we live our earthly lives. Christianity, and especially monotheism, solves the puzzle of existence by placing the whole of creation in the lap of the one God who is both Creator and Destroyer of this world.  Our task is then to live such that Thy Will Be Done. The teleology here insists that the physical world must end and will be destroyed to make the world anew; finally and permanently perfected, happily ever-after. It’s a very compelling idea, but speaks primarily to the material world, even if it uses an immaterial God to do so.

But in our age of science and materialism, immersed in the long, tiresome account of man’s imperfections that human history leaves us with, it’s getting harder and harder for us moderns to feel the presence of a loving God, or any god(s), for that matter.

Perhaps too, God is no longer necessary when we live in a world in which we are surrounded both physically by the marvels of our man-made structures and psychically through the prominence of shared secular cultural experiences that come from television, politics, shopping and more recently the internet, all of which add to the sense that we are the creators. Technology drives culture, and our culture has been driven for quite some time towards secularism because necessity for anything metaphysical dwindles a bit more with each generation as long as material abundance increases.

Yes, there is plenty of push back against materialism and scientism, not only from Judeo/Christian and Muslim believers, but non-religious worldviews as well, as can be seen by the rise of neo-pagan and paranormal beliefs. But, it’s so incredibly hard to sustain any sort of metaphysical belief in a world where our primary fantasy has become something we now call reality. By the term reality, we specifically mean something non-psychic, concrete and objective that can be measured in the material world. So, when measured against our cultural prejudice of what we call reality, all things immaterial are at risk of losing their authenticity.

To our detriment, a loss of trust in anything that is not “real” includes losing a very large chunk of our human experience, for what else are such things as love, sadness, truth, fear, desire, and hope made of but something of a psychic nature? Psychic here meaning the non-material aspects of our human experience and not the paranormal phenomena as has become the common usage.

Here is where James Hillman’s return to the classical Greeks and the gods that inhabited their world are most helpful in creating a bridge from our modern deficient sense of reality as consisting of only the material world, to a sense of reality that includes a place for all things psyche. With psyche, Hillman returns us to the reality of mythological place such as the underworld in which Psyche not merely dwells in, but is; psyche is the underworld:

“The underworld is a realm of only psyche, purely psychical world. What one meets there is soul, as the figures Ulysses meets – Ajax, Anticleia, Agamemnon – are all psyches, and the way they move is compared with dreams; or to say this in another way, underworld is the mythological style of describing a psychological cosmos.
Put more bluntly: underworld is psyche. When we use the word underworld, we are referring to a wholly psychic perspective, where one’s entire mode of being has been desubstantialized, killed of natural life, and yet is in every shape and sense and size the exact replica of natural life.”
“There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution”
The Police

God Only Knows

Dear Mr. Bloom,

I love your books. I have read The Lucifer Principle, Genius of the Beast and The Global Brain and am currently reading The God Problem. So, I am a big fan even though we may disagree about God and the Problem…although I do agree that what we call God and how we define God is a problem.

You are one of my favorite writers, thinkers, scientists and historians, and I enjoy your amazing encyclopedic knowledge of cultures, systems and organization. I love your books for feasting off your hard work and appreciate your laboring to articulate many vital insights about the stream of human knowledge.

I don’t generally read books based on someone’s beliefs, but rather for how they say what they say. I love language perhaps as much as you love math. Through language we enhance our ability to think, imagine and understand. Language is a powerful influence and big part of what makes us human- changing us even if we don’t realize it.

Now, a word or two on the heresies you listed in your book. In your attempt to not only debunk the existence of God, but then to blame the presence of evil in the world on him and his believers, it is equally clear that God does not equal God, in the same way that you show that A does not equal A. Even the most learned religious scholar or saint cannot claim to know or understand completely a power such as the first cause, creator of the universe would most certainly be. So just as A does not equal A, God does not equal God.

While it is true that God’s believers are quite culpable in the share of the evil done by man, and that their behavior may sometimes discourage a belief in a God, that does nothing to prove or disprove an existence of God. The moral nature of God or of believers says nothing about the truth or nature of God’s existence. If God were in fact proven to be the perpetrator of evil, you could choose to dislike him and wish to take away his power, but it would do no good to not believe in his existence. While it is possible to disprove the existence of what or who God is by defining God as something disprovable, you may not be able to disprove the existence of God as defined by myself or others. In order to disprove God’s existence you must first define what you mean by God, yes?

Just as importantly, the deficiency in our ability to have knowledge and certainty about the nature of God, should there be one, says much more about us than about the nature of God. Same rules apply to the progression of our knowledge of science and the nature of the cosmos as to the nature of a god that might exist. I know that positing an existence assumes something where science claims no assumptions, but what we know is always assumed when framing a world view. So, assuming the existence of some form of higher intelligence that one chooses to call God, is a lot like the scientific assumption that the world is intelligible. Something is always assumed, whether you believe in God or not.

When A does not equal A, and I truly believe that can sometimes be correct having spent a large chunk of my life’s energy pondering the nature of identity, it should be clear to us that in every attempt to define any thing, we risk falling short of the complexity and variability of the thing in question. We think and define things and events into an identity, which is why to get to the truth or at least closer to the truth, we must not only think. Knowing this much we accept that we know very little, directly or absolutely. Most of the time we can only approximate the nature of things, and most of the time that is enough. But we have lots of tools to enhance our direct knowledge and test what works. But as much as I accept that I can never prove God’s existence, I also accept that non-existence cannot be proven either. But, I don’t think most arguments for atheism are really about God’s existence. Allowing for the existence of God is either a useful way of understanding life or it is not.

I am surprised that as a lover of science and an historian, you would grant that an understanding of nature and the cosmos has benefitted greatly by the evolution both of life forms and of human scientific understanding, but that you cannot grant that an understanding of God may also undergo an evolution. Perhaps your hope and wish for a world in which evil, and specifically human evil, are eliminated, are leading you to believe that the human mind cleansed of a belief in God could one day lead us into a world of peaceful coexistence with each other and all of nature – but that belief is not very scienctific at all, rather it is an oversimplistic moral imperative.

Aquinas argued that evil is the absence of good, in the same way that cold is the absence of heat. There isn’t really any such thing as cold, but only varying degrees of heat. By comparison, evil is a condition in which we find very little, or seemingly no good, but does not exist as a thing itself. Rather than asking why is there evil, a better question might be why do we perceive it, care about it, and react to it? Do other animals make these judgments? Sure, they experience fear and an instinct for survival but do they judge it? No, if they did we’d see birds getting together after being attacked by the neighborhood cat to plot and execute their revenge.

But because humans partly think and imagine the nature of existence as well as using their senses, they do plot, plan and try to subjugate or eliminate their enemies. Humans also sense that because there is existence, and therefore intelligence, that there must be some powerful force, more intelligent than ourselves or anything we can imagine, that drives all of existence. Otherwise, why does anything exist, and especially exist to know in the way that we do?

Science is what tells us how things, as we are able to perceive and imagine, do what they do, from the smallest particle to the larger organization of the cosmos. As yet, science has not told us why there is anything at all, even though positing a big bang beginning or multiverses, or string theory. The problem of God is the problem of the primary cause, the very ground of being. The fact that some humans use God to justify evil acts, does nothing to prove or disprove God’s existence. I don’t like that evil is perpetrated on others in the name of God anymore than that evil is perpetrated on others in the name of convenience, or ecology, or science, but it doesn’t make me disbelieve in science.



Thank you Beach Boys for the theme song:

It All Looks Fine…to the Naked Eye

The Future (apocalyptic fantasies) 
In my younger days, I assumed that humanity has and continues to change for the better. Whether from the optimism of my forward looking youthfulness in a world full of possibility, or from absorbing the current cultural voices that inspired hopefulness, the story line in the America that I grew up in was one of optimism for a future made easier, safer, and longer and better by science and technology. Much of which remains true.
Things change. I first remember being aware that all is not well with the world, and hearing that the end is in sight, during the 70’s when environmental issues or events such as the approaching planetary alignment hit the news. Doom was coming. Later in life I came to understand that just like creation stories, apocalyptic fantasies abound throughout human history and in all cultures. Even if we do not know how or when, we do know that everything, our individual lives, and the life of the cosmos has its end.
I have over the years come to understand end times primarily as archetypal, with the power to draw us into imagining the future and so better to be aware of our attraction to Endings and how much influence their ideas may have over both our thoughts and choices. Keeping this in mind we can look at all end time scenarios for the fantasies contained within them. What do they say of us – our hopes, fears and sense of meaning and purpose (or lack there of) in both our individual lives and the span of the bigger cosmos we find ourselves in?
Presently, there is a Christian, primarily post reformation, view of the end based on a literal interpretation of Revelations, a political play by play of the end of the world as we know it often referred to as the Apocalypse. All you need to do is google “the coming apocalypse” to see how much currency this idea has in our culture. Entering politics in many ways, but especially concerning itself with current events in the US and the middle east, this view centers around a belief that since Israel has come back into existence, the count down to the end game has begun. A battle between good and evil has been in play ever since Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden, and there will be a grand finale in which all the supernatural forces will make themselves known to us and a battle to end all battles will play out before us. In the end, though this world will be destroyed, Believers will be saved and God will make a new heaven and a new earth for them.
Although the idea of Cosmic Justice is sometimes appealing in a world in which Justice does not always prevail I have never been convinced that Justice in God’s eyes is equivalent to Justice as we, with our limited vision, see and understand it. In this world where we are all vulnerable to pain and suffering, living with a frequently unavoidable ability to cause hurt to others, how likely is it that God created us just to simply destroy us at some point along the way? Why bother to create us less than perfect in the first place? Perhaps some of us really need to believe that evil will be punished in order to live with the reality of evil, but the more peace and compassion I come to feel, the less likely the thought of punishment of others seems attractive to me. Evil deeds, it seems, come from a lack of a sense of an ability to love and to choose goodness. We do evil things when we’re wounded, living in fear, and have not yet known and experienced a true and compassionate love in our lives.
We can’t lay claim to know what torment a murderer may live with, no matter how hard we try, but we might consider the possibility that their choices and actions reflect their own suffering and torment. Maybe Justice is the torment we experience when we have knowingly taken advantage and hurt someone weaker than us. But when we are wronged it can be so hard to see anything except through the lens of our weakness, pain and suffering that we’ve been reduced to at the hand of another. If only they could feel our pain, we imagine, then justice would be done. But I am not so sure what Justice really looks like or feels like. If Justice does mean that someone should suffer for hurting me, it certainly is not my job to decide what that suffering looks like. But how could I, not wanting to suffer, ever want suffering for another and not see that want as evil?
But I do think that Christian ideas are still very much with us, even for non-believers and that it’s worthwhile for them to consider just how they might be influenced by them. It may be just as dangerous to reject Christianity without understanding what it is that’s being rejected. You might reject Christianity wishing to be rid of authority and fantasy. Here God becomes the fantastical big daddy rejected perhaps out of our hope of growing up, living in reality and being responsible. And yet, childishness has permeated American culture to the point that we sometimes take pride in our childishness.
I say we have not moved beyond a need for authority, but rather have embraced new gods, such as Science, Commerce and Entertainment. Or, we have become the gods, and we are the destroyers, hence the strong belief in a coming environmental apocalypse caused by Us, as well as our love of war with our bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. And because in this modern sometimes atheistic view, God is a fantasy, we must be real, and so, save ourselves. This I think explains why political power and a belief in Central Government has for some, taken on a sense of import and urgency. Just as the literal Biblical Apocalypse has been politicized by Believers into war games in the Middle East, non-believers want Us to Save Ourselves from Us using primarily political means.
But the Christian idea of Salvation may help us to understand what Endings have always been asking of us. The root of the word salvation is related to healing, or making whole. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, what is it that heals us, and makes us whole and how could another’s pain aid our healing? If we have any capacity for compassion, would we not wince at another’s suffering, especially when we know well our own suffering? I do believe that healing and a sense of wholeness, or the ability to be at peace with oneself is the end game for all of us. There is no more rewarding sense than to be at peace with oneself and others along with feeling a genuine love and compassion for all of our sufferings weaknesses. Life is truly hard and we are, each of us, at the deepest level of our being truly alone left to figure it out the best we can. That is, I believe, both a blessing and a curse.
Thank you to The Who for the theme-

You hold the gun and I hold the wound,
And we stand looking in each other’s eyes,
Both think we know what’s right,
Both know we know what’s wrong,
We tell ourselves so many many many lies,
We’re not pawns in any game, we’re not tools of bigger men,
There’s only One who can really move us all,
It all looks fine to the naked eye,
But it don’t really happen that way at all.

-Pete Townsend