The Philosopher's Stone
For those of you who tuned in late, The Philosopher's Stone , Alan and Deb's newsletter, was first launched in Spring/Summer 1993. The masthead listed Deb as Editor and Alan as Publisher. Graphics included our smiling faces, vintage 1991, and a Debsketch of a stone with a lantern next to it. In later iterations, the stone appeared on a low, wheeled platform, as the Philosopher sought a new location down among the sheltering palms, which were pictured after he/it arrived there. The newsletter went into hiatus as Alan's and Deb's lives became complicated in other areas. It has now reappeared here regularly. If you are new to the Henry Wood (1834-1909) series, you may want to begin near the bottom of the file at August 2010 and work your way upwards to the most recent. The Henry Drummond (1851-1897) series begins in earnest on September 25, 2012, although he is mentioned in a couple of earlier posts. "Evolving New Thought Worldviews" begins on May 28, 2013 and runs through July 30, 2013. "Adventures in Adventures" begins on October 29, 2013 and ends on March 18, 2014. The Happiness series begins on April 8, 2014 and runs through June 24, 2014. The column series on David Ray Griffin's God and Religion in the Postmodern World (1989) runs from October 18, 2016 and ends on December 6, 2016. Julia Anderson Root's Healing Power of Mind (1884) column series begins on February 21, 2017 and ends on April 18, 2017. To subscribe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will add your email address to the list of newsletter subscribers to be notified when the new issue is available.
April 17, 2018
God’s Favorite Food: The Summum Bonum (2)
Continuing our romp through philosophical history, we are trying to establish what the supreme good (God’s favorite food) might be. Alan supplies:
One noted contemporary philosopher has concluded that four things are intrinsically good (good in themselves, contrasted with the instrumentally good, that is, good as contributing to a greater good): “Virtue, pleasure, the allocation of pleasure to the virtuous, and knowledge (and in a less degree right opinion).”
In the modern world there have been revivals of most ancient outlooks. Such a seemingly new innovation as Nietzsche’s superman morality of power may be considered ancient Sophism souped up a bit. [We have already run into the Sophists as opponents of Socrates.] (page 185)
Now the Philosopher wants us to shift gears from “a teleological approach (of judging goodness by the ends or results of actions) to a deontological one (concerned with obligation itself, with duty, with the right)”. This brings us to “the ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)”. Alan was a date nut and included people’s dates wherever possible, which makes things sort of bumpy, but he was right; they do come in handy:
According to Kant, an act is right if it is done in accordance with one’s duty to act on a basis of good will, regardless of the act’s consequences. He is noted for his “categorical imperative,” which tells us to act as if the principle on which one is to act were to be the rule for everyone. Kant believed this to be equivalent to saying that we should treat everyone as an end, rather than a means. (page 185)
This brings us to shoulds and oughts: “the present-day recognition by some that a human being is an ‘oughter’.” Each of us has “a uniquely ethical sense of obligation to will whatever one considers to be the best, irrespective of how people differ as to what the best is and regardless of whether the ethical imperative is followed.” And this isn’t “fear of an outcome” or “desire for anything”. We can easily see how this can degenerate into food fights, even among philosophers, as one tries to convince another that his or her view is best. Alan explains: “In recent decades”, our theorizing has shifted from merely “helpful advice for living—to metaethics, which is the study of ethical language”. And we are probably not surprised to learn that some conclude that “ethical language does not really say what its users think that it does. Instead, it simply reveals, for example, the feelings of the users of it. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ may be translated as ‘I do not like killing.’” This may be flirting with relativism writ large, or with political correctness.
Fortunately, religion has hung in there: “Religionists have identified goodness and rightness with the following of the commandments of the gods. In Christianity, this has come to mean especially the primacy of love, which is God’s very nature.” But even this can get hairy:
Traditionally, Christians have turned to specific Biblical rules for living. An emphasis on specifically stated rules sometimes is called legalism. On the whole, there has been agreement on seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust; and seven cardinal virtues, the first four of which are carry-overs from Greek thought: wisdom, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope, and love. The opposite extreme from legalism is antinomianism, which discards legality entirely. In the middle is the position known as contextualism or situation ethics. In this there is just one rule, to love in whatever way seems best adapted to the situation. (page 186)
Christianity inherits much of this from Judaism, from the rules known as the Ten Commandments. Jesus, a good and observant Jew, boiled these down to two great commandments, both of which have to do with love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40) These come from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:17-18.
Since I have to look up the definition of antinomianism every time I come to it (which, fortunately, isn’t often these days), and since this is quite a lot of material to assimilate, we shall wait until next week to look at what it means to love and begin to bridge into process thought with process theologian Daniel Day Williams.
To be continued.
April 10, 2018
God’s Favorite Food: The Summum Bonum
For reasons that I cannot begin to recall, this chapter from The Problem is God did not get incorporated into the extrapolated god-book modeled on a dog-book. Since this series has been going on for some time, and you might just be joining it, the Philosopher’s first book, which was given its fatal title by the publisher, was given new life when I rekeyed it and subdivided it into two parts. One was directly related to what we titled A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God. We had the intention—never realized—of putting the rest together into a philosophy textbook titled Through the Hawsehole, a reference to the ancient idea that the highly qualified captain boards the ship, as its new commander, through the transom; the far grubbier philosopher metaphorically comes aboard up a hawser and in through the hawsehole, rather like a rat. Perhaps we figured that despite its title, this week’s chapter might more appropriately be included in a philosophy textbook.
Anyway, the part of the original book that we did salvage—and which Alan expanded—was the idea that people rethinking their old and immature views of Ultimate Reality might find it easier going with a guidebook modeled on one for acquiring and training a pet dog. This omitted chapter—with its exceptionally outrageous (even for Alan) cross-lingual pun—is longer and somewhat more complex than most of the other dog-book chapters and deserves more careful and detailed consideration. So here is a bonum for you to pick on.
Alan begins by explaining:
Despite the great amount of lip service paid to God, he is, on the whole, rather ill-nourished by us. Fortunately, he is not limited to our feeding of him, but as long as we are going to be doing some of the caring for him, we might as well feed him the best. What does God prefer? His favorite is the summum bonum. What is the summum bonum? It is Latin for the supreme good or highest good.
The trouble is that people differ as to what this supreme good is. Since the time of the ancient Greeks there has been a continuing controversy as to what the ultimate good is. (page 183)
We are then treated to a brief gallop through the history of philosophy and how our views of God have evolved, including from the idea that gods must somehow be placated to the idea that God “wanted righteous living rather than ritual sacrifice”. Then the ancient Greeks turned from “the nature of the world” to “problems of ethics, of what is the good life”. By the time we get to the Sophists, we get the idea that all is relative: “Many people still find relativism attractive, although it is obviously inconsistent to make the absolute claim that all is relative”. Alan continues:
The greatest ethical thinkers of all ages have believed that, irrespective of the conflicting views of people of various times and places as to what is good and right, there is an absolute standard which applies everywhere and always, even if we cannot be sure of what it is. (page 184)
Moving right along, we visit the Epicureans and their modern descendents, known as utilitarians—”most notably Jeremy Bentham (1784-1832) [who] have emphasized the greatest pleasure or happiness for the greatest number of people, in contrast with the more individualistic Epicureans”. In accordance with his own instructions, after his death, Bentham’s body was stuffed and mounted in a chair, which was wheeled out and placed at the head of the table for annual philosophical meetings. Today it is not wheeled around much but is on display surmounted by a wax model of his head. I am not sure how great a number of people derive pleasure or happiness from this!
This brings us to the Stoics, of whom Alan himself was a prime example:
The Stoics (named for the stoa or porch in Athens where the doctrine was taught), first by Zeno (336?-264? B. C.), including Epictetus (A. D. 50-120) and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (A. D. 121-180), recognized that we are affected by things in accordance with our interpretations of them. We have it within our power to decide how we shall react to anything, whether we shall be enslaved by circumstances or shall be calm and masterful, even if we are unable to change the situation. No loss but the loss of virtue really matters, and you always can be virtuous. You can keep your equanimity by realizing that you are part of the whole, which the Stoics considered a divine reality. (pages 184-185)
By now you can probably see why this chapter is such a duck-billed platypus in terms of trying to decide whether to put it in the dog book or not. God will rejoin us, or we will rejoin him, later in the chapter.
We shall continue to pick at this bonum.
April 3, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought (6)
(16) All concrete, actual reality is growing, evolving, in flux. The panentheistic personal God is never changing in loving, divine character, but is always expanding in experience. This is an awesome vision of an open future in which even natural laws (understood as habits of interaction) are subject to development and eventual practical dissolution. Yet always there will be the changeless pattern by which occasions of experience arise by loving divine instigation, create and enjoy themselves by relatively free choice, and exist everlastingly as objects influencing all later occasions.
What an amazing balance Whitehead and his followers have come up with for this dipolar God whose loving character does not change, yet who is growing as his creation grows! Note that this is not just a bunch of bits of silly putty stuck higgledy-piggledy one to another, but a carefully integrated whole: remember that its full name is process relational thought. It takes a bit of effort to wrap oneself around this complex picture, but it is worth it. Systematic philosophy tries to take into account absolutely everything in the universe, and by the time Whitehead came along, that had to include the findings of quantum physics. The co-author of Principia Mathematica had already had a long and illustrious career when he arrived at Harvard to begin his new career as a philosopher. And he and Hartshorne were both the sons of Anglican clergymen, so they had been around the block with Ultimate Reality numerous times. According to Lucien Price, whose Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead is a delight (Boston: Little, Brown, 1954), Whitehead read theology for eight years in Cambridge (England): “This was all extracurricular, but so thorough that he amassed a sizable theological library. At the expiry of these eight years he dismissed the subject and sold the books.” He stood on solid ground and ventured forth into the unknown from there.
(17) To be is to be utterly dependent on God for existence and potentialities, free to find complete fulfillment in God, yet to hold an effective veto power over God through rejection of the possibilities that he presents to you.
Amazing balance, indeed! God believes in us as his creations, trusts us enough to have created a world in which we could have free will to accept or reject God’s perfect possibilities, and understands that such a world with such a setup glorifies him the most in the long run, far more than puppets on strings could ever do.
(18) Your everlasting place in the all-encompassing reality is as a contributor to God. What you contribute is your unique perspective. Your perspective is most valuable when it is “directed to the end of stretching individual interest beyond its self-defeating particularity”. This self-defeating particularity is what you attempt to overcome in linking yourself with the way of God, which ever more fully is to become your own way (the way of you and your descendants known by your name and approximately by your appearance over the next minutes and decades). Our petty, if horribly prominent, desires can be satisfied only by subordinating them to the desire for God himself.
Here, we are understanding that God sees farther than we do and has our best interests at heart. He truly wants us to be happy, but what we think we desire may not make us happy, and he knows that. So we include in our wish lists the escape clause: “This, or something better”.
The Philosopher concludes this list of process thought values with the following statement:
Your understanding and power to accomplish in all this is enhanced greatly by acceptance of (a) mysticism’s experience of unity with God, (b) personalism’s awareness of the centrality of personality for all levels of existence, (c) process thought’s comprehension of the nature of the creative advance, and (d) New Thought’s use of constructive techniques for achieving wholeness in all aspects of daily living. The outcome—a powerful tool for living effectively and beautifully—is a mystically inspired, personalistic Process New Thought. (page 49)
March 27, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought (5)
(13) Accepting what God offers may require our persistence and commonsensical action as parts of a process extending over generations of occasions.
From our perspective, it may take quite a while to reach whatever goal we may have been striving for, moment by moment. With perseverance, however, we cocreate closer and closer approximations, until one fine day/moment, we take one final small step, and there we are! You may remember the verse from the old hymn, “A thousand ages in thy sight/Are like an evening gone”. God’s going to grant your request: “Just a moment”! And we need to remain alert to the possibility of needing a course correction. A torpedo reaches its target by making a whole series of mistakes, each of which takes it a bit closer to where it “wants” to be.
(14) We can understand all kinds of treatment, ranging from taking an aspirin or undergoing surgery to affirmation or visualization, as ways of enriching the immediate pasts of occasions (usually people) being helped. Treatment does this by reducing the discrepancies between their negative pasts and the possibilities presented by God as initial aims, enabling the occasions (people) to opt for the initial aims more easily.
The Philosopher loved to talk about enriching the pattern of the past; this is why. It helps correct course (like the torpedo) so that eventually, the next easy step gets you to the target. You may be off course, but God isn’t! He can always metaphorically whisper in your ear, guiding you back onto the path. It’s easier for us to imagine this than for previous generations, since we have experienced car guidance systems making course corrections when necessary and recalculating the route, especially if we blew the instructions and missed the turn, or if the fool system took us to the wrong entrance, which of course, God never does!
(15) Evil is the acceptance of lesser possibilities than God’s initial aims offer. Any creation is good to the extent that it converts potentiality to actuality. But backward-looking, lesser-than-perfect blends are of less value than are more positive selections, both to the occasion in question and to God in his forming of the most beautiful whole. From the standpoint of any one developing occasion there is little point to speak of evil at all. That occasion was not in the past and it will not know the future, so its sole concern should be making the best of the present, which in itself never can be evil. Evil always is about might-have-beens, about the way that we wish that things were.
New Thought has always taught that evil is unsubstantial; nothing stands under it (sub stare). In other words, when you walk into a dark room and turn on the light, you don’t have to chase the shadows out of the corners; they just vanish instantly. New Thought also teaches that evil is immature or misused good. In New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev.ed. 2003), we wrote: “The devil is the invention of our minds, and goes as fast as he comes. . . . Jesus cast out demons, which is to say in the language of today that he straightened out people’s thinking; our fear thoughts are demonic indeed.” We continued:
In addition to the need for healing, all religions—and philosophies—must wrestle with the problem of evil. We can all look around the world and see what we would clearly label as evil. Some would say that it is an illusion, that it isn’t really there. Most find this explanation unsatisfactory. Many say, therefore, that in addition to the power of God, who is Good, there must be a second power at work in the universe: a power of evil, often personified as the devil. Traditional Christianity teaches that the devil is a fallen angel, part of God’s creation that went wrong.
This makes evil a twofold problem. If God is all-good and all-powerful, how come there is evil at all? And if there is a devil, how come God’s power or ability as universe designer is so limited/flawed that things came to such a pass? Some say God sends evil to punish people for misdeeds, but that is unworthy of a merciful God, and means that at least some of his creatures by being merciful are better than God—another problem. Is God a weakie, or a meanie? . . .
No matter how terrible a situation seems to be, there is always good in it, because there is always God in it, for God is everywhere and all is in God (which is not to say that all is God, although many New Thoughters still believe that). He is there as a source of all the love and intelligence that we need to deal with whatever we have to face and triumph over it.
According to...process philosophy..., any conversion of potentiality to actuality is, to that extent, good. To the extent that one fails to live up to the possibilities offered by God, one produces evil, or badness. The major point is that there is no cosmic force, no devil, acting in opposition to God’s goodness, just the free choices of innumerable choosers throughout existence. (pages 73-74)
And still later, we added:
[I]t does no good simply to resist the idea of negativity, to fight evil, because what you resist, persists. Jesus said, “Resist not evil” (Matt. 5:39), and went on to speak of turning the other cheek, which means to look at the other side of the situation. (page 183)
“The most beautiful whole” from Alan’s statement 15 above reminds me that Whitehead frequently referred to beauty in connection with God and with process thought; it comes from one of the major traditional divisions of philosophy.
For more on evil, see process philosopher David Ray Griffin’s God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (1976). He wrote it because until then, nowhere other than in short articles had the subject been approached in process thought, even though Whitehead and Hartshorne had certainly dealt with it.
To be concluded.
March 20, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought (4)
(10.) God is fully personal. It is because God is perfectly personal that he is perfectly impartial, which probably is what most people mean when they say that God is impersonal. An impersonal God is a contradiction in terms, a monstrous impossibility, which, if it could be, would be the most ugly incongruity of existence. The personal ultimate, God, is indescribably loving, intelligent, and aware, so he provides an initial aim that is perfectly consistent with the occasion’s background. This background includes the prayers, conscious or unconscious, of the occasion’s “own” predecessors and of others. Moreover, by providing (and being present as) the initial aim, God lovingly gives tailor-made guidance, as no impersonal ultimate could do.
As I have already mentioned, an “It”, an impersonal God, cannot love. I am of course quoting the Philosopher and the rest of the Boston University Personalists, headed by the three B’s: Borden Parker Bowne, Edgar Sheffield Brightman, and Albert Cornelius Knudson (oh, you were counting? There’s also Pete Bertocci, Alan’s instructor). Behind Alan’s desk, I came across Bibliography of American Personalism, compiled and edited by Rev. Bogumil Gacka, MIC, (Oficyna Wydawnicza, Czas, Lublin 1994). Its Preface includes the Bostonian School and the Californian School, which begins with Ralph Tyler Flewelling, who strove valiantly to make a philosopher out of New Thought founder (Religious Science/Science of Mind) Ernest Holmes. It also included George Holmes Howison, Carol Sue Robb, and Walter George Muelder, who was dean at both B.U. and the University of Southern California, bridging the gap between east and west. Gacka states:
Personalism is a philosophical, theological and social-ethical movement defining ultimate reality and value in the Divine or human person (absolutely in God and analogically in created persons). As a doctrine or school of thought Personalism emphasizes the significance, uniqueness and inviolability of a person, and a communitarian dimension of a person, which is a principle, reason, goal and sense of any reality. Thus Personalism is a philosophical perspective or system for which person is the ontological ultimate and for which personality is the fundamental explanatory principle. (page 15)
This doesn’t mean that God is personal like a monogram. Alan explained that the highest thing of which we humans have any knowledge is the person, and therefore God as our creator must be at least that. It is a floor, not a ceiling that in any way limits God. All human beings are persons, but not all persons are necessarily human beings (consider dolphins and angels). God is the Ultimate Person, not just any old person.
(11) Unity with God, as well as our seeming separation from him, can be understood in terms of phases of development of an occasion. At the beginning, as initial aim, clearly it is God; as it progresses in its choosing of its unique balance of past and possible (giving God a unique perspective on the whole) it is convenient to speak of it as if it were other than God, although it continues to be an individualization of God. The fully-developed mystic is one who is as consciously God at the completion of momentary creation as he or she was God at the beginning of creation a moment earlier.
Philosophers have elaborate diagrams of a developing occasion of experience. I like to draw it wearing a little party hat and carrying a handful of confetti, prepared to enjoy itself, which Whitehead assures us it can do.
(12) Understanding God, we appreciate the power of gentleness and the futility of force. God acts as loving persuasiveness by presenting possibilities of perfection to lure us into acceptance of what he offers.
Any good military officer will tell you that the best battles are the ones you don’t have to fight. This does not mean that you lie down and become a doormat; it means that you are so well prepared for battle, so alert, that your potential enemy sees the futility of fighting and becomes willing to parley. Force may be needed to restrain someone from harming others, but as the old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will/ Is of the same opinion still.”
To be continued.
March 13, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought (3)
(7) You can afford to risk everything, to go for broke, in providing your greatest momentary satisfaction and the best background out of which your successors will arise. It is foolish to settle for less than the best: what God offers.
Philosophy, as the Philosopher loved to remind us, is an armchair occupation in which one ponders the problems of the universe and works to understand how all the pieces fit together. The ground rules for this are internal consistency, approximations of truth, and coherence. As I put it in an Alan-approved slide show, “Evolving New Thought Worldviews”:
1. Thou shalt be true to thyself (internal consistency) lest thou shootest thyself in the foot.
“And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” —Mark 3:25
2. Truth is the property of a proposition, which is the meaning of a statement. A statement is true if it corresponds to what really is. We seek ever-closer approximations of truth.
3. What we hold must stick together. Our ideas must fit with each other to produce a meaningful whole (coherence).
In the process of doing this—which, the Philosopher assured us, was a dirty job but involved no heavy lifting—we frequently come across difficulties with many of the time-honored beliefs about God. The Bible is, among other things, the history of the evolution of people’s understanding of God, beginning with his creating the world one way in the first chapter of Genesis and doing it all over again a different way in the second chapter. In this case, the story for the second chapter was older than the one for the first, which holds up a bit better over time in the face of more recent discoveries of science. However, the process thought version of the creation of the universe is not some Big Bang, but rather the notion that there always was a universe, even if it didn’t amount to much, for God has always had a body. There may or may not have been a Big Bang at some point. But the consequent nature of God (see last week) grows as we grow and lovingly includes and preserves all the developments in the course of evolution. So, although the Bible may describe God as changing his mind about something, what is really changing is our understanding of God. Certainly, working from the top down, we need to have a God who is consistent and coherent, and, as a number of great scholars have put it, “Truth is what God knows”. In this context, with God’s loving guidance in the form of perfect possibilities for each occasion of experience, you can see how we can afford to go for broke.
(8) Love is ultimate, as the universal recycling process. God as love gives the perfect initial aim to each occasion of experience. God allows the occasion to choose freely and enjoy fully, and then he accepts appreciatively the product of the occasion’s choosing, which is the completed occasion itself. He arranges it in the universal pattern, and passes it along to coming generations.
Is it perfect? In the sense of being whole and complete, yes. Is it all that the heart could desire, either our heart or God’s? Of course not! But this plan for the design of a universe gives the creatures free will, and with free will to accept or reject God, when we accept him, that is the most possible glory for God in the long run. As Dale Carnegie pointed out, to look back through history and see how far the human race has come is to turn ourselves into shouting optimists, no matter how bad things appear to be at the moment.
(9) Recognizing God as love (which is wise, giving, sharing, participating in the experience of others) provides a full understanding of God’s operations. The invariable reliability of God may tempt us to think of God as law, but the notion of law is only an approximation of what goes on as divine personal action. Law is a name for perfect love at work, for the consistency, uniformity, and dependability of God’s personality. God is not a cosmic vending machine, and even if he were, process thought holds that the person who inserts the coin actually would not be the same person who receives the product. To consider God as law undermines God’s place as initiator and your place as responder. Your originality lies in the character of your response to God.
Many people in New Thought hold the notion that God is Love and Law, but a more careful philosophical interpretation is that the universe is lawful, which—as I said before—assures free will by providing a neutral environment in which I cannot make it rain on you but not on me. Law is an abstraction, and God is concrete. (The way you can distinguish is to determine whether or not it can be put in a wheelbarrow. You cannot put God in a wheelbarrow simply because he is already in the wheelbarrow in each of the occasions of experience that it comprises. Nor can you limit God to the extent of confining him to a wheelbarrow!) In Alan’s (mostly) chapter 6 of our New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, he reminds us that according to Whitehead, natural laws are habits of interaction, and laws “are descriptions or formulations of the habits in question”:
None of this is to say that the habits that we call laws are unreliable; it is just that they are not truly permanent. However, the pattern of co-creativity sketched here is permanent, since it allows for any changes that eventually might produce different laws. . . . God is still utterly dependable, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, and substance notions be replaced by process thought. (Rev. Ed. 2003, pages 147-148)
Alan continues to outline the difficulties resulting from people’s almost worshipping those laws: “Most unfortunately, people reified these laws.” That means that they thingified them. Whitehead called this “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (mistaking the abstract for the concrete). Says the Philosopher, “[L]aws are just descriptions of how reality works, rather than some power that makes things happen. In truth, considering laws as descriptions, no law ever did anything to or for anyone or anything.” But of course, like any habits, “laws can be extremely powerful before they are changed”. There is much more on this topic in chapter 6.
To be continued.
March 6, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought (2)
(4) No effort ever is wasted. All occasions of experience, including you, become objectively immortal when they complete their split-second subjective careers, and they influence everything forever, in some degree.
I think it was psychologist Wayne Dyer who pointed out that we do not spend much time pondering the details of the Peloponnesian Wars—if indeed we ever encountered them in a history class, or even encountered a history class—yet they did happen and to some tiny extent continue to influence us. If we don’t like the way things turned out in our last moment of now, our most immediate descendent will have an opportunity to improve on it. So everything we do does make a difference, even if no one is looking (well, God is always looking, seeing farther than we do). If we keep at it, we can build up the pattern of the past until just one more step takes us to our goal. I like to picture this as something like those cages of brightly colored foam balls on some playgrounds. If we select only red ones and toss each over our shoulder, eventually we will be standing in front of a solid red background, unless we change our mind and pick blue, or become inattentive and insouciantly toss an occasional green.
(5) Cooperation is essential. Unless something that you are committed to doing takes no more than a small fraction of a second, you are only a fleeting part of a relatively long cooperative program of many generations of you. Needless to say, in many projects cooperation with other line of development (other people and things) also is necessary. The entire universe is involved in any act.
In some ways, this dynamic thinking is so new it makes us blink, but in other ways, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Most of the time, cooperation will get you a lot farther than competition. As above, you can steer or even begin to change course, but rarely is it advisable to go ballistic. And since like attracts like, if you get antagonistic towards someone or something, you are almost sure to get antagonism in return.
(6) You can’t take it with you beyond your fraction of a second of awareness as a subject. However, nothing that you have ever is lost. It will be forever in God and in your successors, who in some degree will identify with you (however wisely or foolishly), most likely both before and after death. Make the most of the moment.
Some wag once observed that he had never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it!
Process thought has a dipolar God. In chapter 6 of our jointly authored New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, the Philosopher begins with “God’s Job Description and Yours”.
Have you ever wondered what is in God’s job description? The divine job description provides for God to start everything, to finish nothing, and to keep everything. Your job description calls for you to start nothing, to finish very quickly what God starts for you, and to realize that you can’t keep anything for more than a moment. (New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, rev. ed. 2003, page 125)
The two poles of God are known as primordial and consequent. This is comfortingly reminiscent of “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending”. God’s primordial nature is the active (start everything) pole, with a loving, dependable character that does not change (who needs a mercurial, inconsistent God?). God’s activity consists of the giving of initial aims to each occasion of experience.
God’s consequent nature is the passive, receptive pole that lovingly receives and preserves each occasion of experience and therefore grows as we grow. We might think of these poles as masculine and feminine, although God of course doesn’t need gender, so this isn’t a lack of any sort. Remember, however, that an It cannot love, so it is not in wisdom’s way to refer to God as It. Most of us are quite content to stay with the traditional He, representing the active pole, remembering that all human beings are androgynous, so don’t get all bent out of shape! All of us have both masculine and feminine qualities, although one or the other usually dominates in each of us.
To be continued.
February 27, 2018
Values of Process Thought to New Thought
In A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, expanded and edited from his earlier work, The Problem Is God, one of the more notable additions comes in a chapter titled “Unleashing God in Your Life: New Thought”. As part of its Process New Thought section, Alan includes a list of eighteen points, “in summary and extension of what I already have said” about the values of process thought to New Thought. They are worth some careful attention, which I did not feel that they would get during our earlier breathless gallop. I will italicize the Philosopher’s exact words and then take each point from there.
(1) You, the universe, and God are new every moment.
One of the biggest immediate differences between substance thought and process thought is that process thought goes from static to dynamic, from a still photograph to frames of a movie. Although New Thought always had the advantage of belief in metaphysical idealism (see January 6, 2018), it also had a “disadvantage (shared with almost all other outlooks) . . . belief that the reality underlying appearance is enduring substance—stuff, whether mental or physical, in traditional philosophy—rather than a developing flow”. Alan adds: “New Thought wisely has kept its idealism, but (again in common with other outlooks) it has been slow to replace a substance metaphysics with a process metaphysics.”
Although “science many decades ago discovered that matter is energy (which is activity rather than stuff)”, it was Whitehead who realized “that to understand adequately the workings of momentary energy bursts it is necessary to conceive of them as living, rather than lifeless” (he called these moments “occasions of experience”). This idea of life as a flow goes back to the Buddhist concept of one candle lighting another, and to the philosopher Heraclitus’s famous statement that one cannot step into the same river twice. Alan called this “serial selfhood”. The world is therefore being created one moment/occasion at a time, that present occasion being some blend of the past and God’s proffered perfect possibilities for that occasion. Each of us is composed of numerous streams of energy moments, in each of which we as the chooser get to rework/ improve upon/further develop the previous moment. In each occasion are thus blended the universe (the past), God (as perfect possibilities), and us (as the chooser: “past + divine offer + choice = [new] co-creation”, Alan’s Creativity Formula). It is therefore literally true that we are new every moment.
(2) You can make a significantly new departure any time. You can be burdened by the past much less than you probably believe.
New Thought makes much of the importance of a positive outlook, and a ton of research in psychology supports the value of this attitude:
Process thought can be extremely helpful to New Thought by explaining what goes on in the occasions of experience. This explanation, in turn, provides added power through the most reasonable explanations and expectations of what can occur for anyone who makes wise use of the creative process. There is nothing in existence but creative experience. There is no utterly passive or non-experiencing actuality. (page 45)
(3) There is no reason for you to regret “your” past. You were not there. You did not exist a second ago, and you will not exist a second from now. Someone very much like you did and will, but he or she should be recognized as an ancestor or a descendent, someone to be appreciated in some way, but not identified with.
[Y]our body is a vast collection of occasions of experience that exist at the same time, although each lasts only a moment. Your self superintends your body, but the body’s occasions of experience have some freedom to depart from your orders, much as the universe (God’s body) has freedom in its innumerable parts (of which we are a few) to depart considerably from God’s guiding wisdom. (46)
This understanding helps us a lot in our efforts to heal, or learn, or grow in whatever way we desire at present. It gives us hope and encouragement, for God keeps offering those perfect possibilities and recalculating our route, like the GIS in the car. I don’t use one, but I understand that it never bawls us out for being an idiot and not following its instructions, nor does it apologize when it screws up (which of course God never does) and takes us to the wrong entrance! This is not a license to go heedlessly along, treading on others’ toes without apologizing and making amends where possible, but it is a freedom from the guilt trip that so many of us are on so much of the time.
To be continued.
February 20, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (8)
For the past few weeks, we have been romping through the Philosopher’s A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God, which is a God book along the lines of a dog book, a sort of dyslexic guide to the Deity. It was created through an early joint effort between the Philosopher and yours truly, when I rekeyed Alan’s first book, The Problem is God. The two of us then worked to expand and edit the God/dog chapters into what we have always referred to as the dog book.
The final chapter in both books is “When You Regret Not Having Found/Selected Your God Earlier”. The Philosopher comments:
Indulging in regret beyond the point of being able to do anything about it is one of the most useless things to do. Epictetus would say that such regretful activity would be like trying to pick up a situation by the wrong handle. He observed, “Every matter hath two handles—by the one it may be carried; by the other, not.” Yet most of us do this foolish regretting. Occasionally I waste some time going as far back as childhood with even such minor regrets as that I did not take any photographs of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair or of the ship Benjamin F. Packard at Playland in Rye Beach, New York, and did not buy Frank Crumit and Julia Sanderson records when I could have done so. Obviously I need to read this book.
The big lesson to be got out of all that we have explored is that you did not miss your big opportunity; it is right here and now. You are smack in the middle of the creative process. (page 51)
The World’s Fair, the Benjamin Packard, and Frank Crumit were frequently recurring topics of conversation in the Philosopher’s life. Actually, so was the creative process, which is at the heart of process thought, which teaches that we are co-creators with God, moment by moment. Now is the only time in which we can act; we can’t change the past except in how we remember it, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The basic building blocks of the universe are momentary bursts of energy known as quanta (ever hear of quantum physics?). In each of these developing occasions of experience, God is present, offering us perfect possibilities tailor-made for us at that moment. Our part in this momentary creation is to say yes or no to those possibilities, accepting whatever portion of the past we are prepared to work with. Alan explains:
It is your special task to build the best present (in the double sense of what is now and what is given to the future) out of that sequence of happenings that is especially yours. That past opened some doors and closed others. Your job now is to make sure that you do not allow it to keep closing doors that you want open. It has only such renewed strength as you give it now. . . . If what has happened cannot be changed, what you now do about it certainly can be. (page 51)
He goes on to state that your creativity can be understood “not only as a gift from God, but as a gift to God. It is through your contributions to God that you care for him.” As you can begin to see, we are indeed co-creators with God, both giving and receiving, even if we are “a century old and/or paralyzed”. He
is thinking of the silent exercising of a sense of nonsense, of whimsy, and of a sheer appreciative awareness of whatever comes along . . . or what we make of it: sounds of words or simply sounds and sights and textures and tastes and fragrances; thoughts of amusing incongruities in life; the beauty of apple blossoms; the delights of Gilbert and Sullivan [you knew they had to come up in here somewhere!]; the wondrous awareness that we exist, and are in the midst of an utterly amazing reality. . . . We are not just watching; we are helping to make it! We are participants in the greatest, and only, act there is. (page 52)
Furthermore, “if there is immortality (and I am convinced that there is), whatever you have accomplished in the past century is only a tiny part of all that you will do, and . . . already have done.” And even if your present moment falls short of its greatest possibilities, “the descendants of your momentary self will have their big opportunities when their moments come. . . . You constantly are being reborn to great new possibilities.”
So, even if we began our approach to the subject of our relationship with God whimsically, we are ending up with a perspective of perfect God-inspired possibilities stretching far into the future. This is the glorious vision of Process New Thought.
February 13, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (7)
Let me be the first to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day, which is tomorrow in this part of the world. I am wishing for you a loved one with whom to exchange gifts and experiences (and a shared experience may be the best gift!).
Continuing with our quick gallop through the Philosopher’s dog book derived from his problem God book, we come to “Pet God or Work God?”:
For many “believers,” God is a mere ornament in their lives. They act as if they could live just as well if there were no God, except for bits of time given to happy platitudes about his magnificent nature, which is unimpressive enough to be forgotten most of the week. Such a God could well be called a pet God. Pets provide us with pleasure, and they have to be given at least a minimal amount of care. Once in a while we take pleasure in giving them little treats, so occasionally we toss God a yummie, such as a contribution to a church building fund or a special show of commemorative ritual of one sort or another. (page 36)
The Philosopher then goes on to point out that a pet God can also be a work God, put to practical use. At this point, he fears, many people will part company with him because to them, “the notion of using God is anathema. I sympathize with this position. I suppose that at one time I held it myself.” However, after long thought and meditation, he realized that “God is the only power that can be used for any purpose”. If we cannot escape using God, “The question is whether we are going to use him wisely and reverently (which concepts ultimately are one, since if we are wise we shall be reverent).” He adds that the mystical life is “no retreat from the rest of the world”, but rather “a series of pit stops in the race of life”, no longer frantic, but “a refreshing stretching of one’s mental, spiritual, and physical powers”. We need to alternate between the active and the passive. “God and we, who are parts of God, are at work in the world. . . . The more fully we know God, the more the work will be part of the play.”
“God’s Leash Law” concerns to what extent “God has put himself on a leash in relation to us”. Alan states: “With regard to your life, you hold God’s leash. . . . but you can use your control of the leash to grant God the greatest possible freedom in your life to lead you into paths of unexpected joy and fulfillment”.
“Unleashing God in Your Life: New Thought” is a far-longer-than-most chapter covering Mysticism and Applied Metaphysics: how the New Thought movement came into existence more than a century ago. “William James called this outlook the American people’s ‘only decidedly original contribution to the systematic philosophy of life . . . .’” James was both a philosopher and one of the earliest psychologists, having opened his laboratory a year before Wundt opened his in Germany. The chapter differentiates New Thought from Christian Science, both of which spring from the healing work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). New Thought Techniques covers a range of approaches: “The religious attitude is one of cooperating with God in connecting your will to God’s great store of love, helping it to flow forth into the field of human existence. In your approach to God, you largely allow—or force—God to have your own way.” Alan adds: “Too often we assume that God’s way is in some degree an unpleasant way. . . . We ask too little when we fail to ask for his help in formulating our goals. Our asking is part of our way of accepting what God already offers.” This takes us up to the Philosopher’s life’s work: uniting New Thought with the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne and their followers to create Process New Thought. This chapter includes eighteen overlapping points concerning the values of process thought and New Thought, “in summary and extension of what I already have said”. He then wraps up the chapter:
Your understanding and power to accomplish in all this is enhanced greatly by acceptance of (a) mysticism’s experience of unity with God, (b) personalism’s awareness of the centrality of personality for all levels of existence, (c) process thought’s comprehension of the nature of the creative advance, and (d) New Thought’s use of constructive techniques for achieving wholeness in all aspects of daily living. The outcome—a powerful tool for living effectively and beautifully—is a mystically inspired, personalistic Process New Thought.”
As a sort of lagniappe to the chapter, we are treated to a page illustrating the “Development of an Occasion of Experience”, which can probably only be fully appreciated by someone who is already very familiar with process philosophy or has read Alan’s booklet, “God in a Nutshell”, which has “an alternative diagram”. Alan’s artwork is in a class all by itself, but I did see some equally weird diagrams of a developing occasion at the 25th annual Whitehead Conference! I will throw in a copy of the booklet to anyone who orders either the problem book or the dog book (see post #4 in this series for details and instructions).
To be concluded.
February 6, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (6)
Part 2 of the Philosopher’s “problem” book is titled “Caring For Your God”. The “dog” book uses some of the chapters from the original and adds a couple that are rewrites of other chapters. I will therefore not number them:
Taking God In
Naming your God: A Myth is as Good as a Smile [oh, please!]
The Housebroken God: Should You Use a Godhouse?
Mystically Exercising and Growing With Your God
Pet God or Work God?
God’s Leash Law
Unleashing God in Your Life: New Thought
Mysticism and Applied Metaphysics
New Thought Techniques
Process New Thought
When You Regret Not Having Selected Your God Earlier
In “Taking God In”, Alan explains:
“Taking God In” has various meanings. One refers to your opportunity to take God into your life. Another suggests that God is taken in in the sense that you would take in the sights of a city that you were visiting. God is preeminently what ought not to be missed to make your visit to Earth—or anywhere else—complete. (page 19)
He goes on to suggest the idea of taking God in as your senior partner, which “gives you invaluable perspective, with God as the consciously appreciated higher ground from which to see and to live life more fully. That is what the whole of this book is about.”
“Naming Your God” discusses “an ancient belief that one’s name and nature are virtually synonymous.” This belief sheds considerable additional light on the Bible. Choosing a name for God gives him
the characteristics associated with that name. Some will name God nature. Others will name him a transcendent deity, so high on a pedestal as to be practically out of reach (the Purebred High-Nosed God). Some will come upon him quite naturally through the stories and rituals of their group, learning myths that are literally untrue but that carry significance as to the nature of God. Others simply will smile at their fellow human beings and treat them as if God were in them, whether or not they recognize the existence of God at all. Perhaps this pleases God the most. (page 20)
Alan adds, “[T]he buck stops with each of us in deciding how to bet one’s life on what God really is. Fortunately, if God is anything like what our explorations here suggest, he is much bigger and better than whatever name we give him.” The chapter includes numerous experts, both scholarly and just folks, to consult for more ideas on the subject.
“The Housebroken God” involves whether or not we need “special houses of worship for God. I shall call these godhouses.”
[O]ne gets the impression that many people practically assume that God is to be found or bothered with only in his godhouse. Unless you believe in a particularly narrow-ranging god, the confining of him to a godhouse seems quite an insult and perhaps enough to break the god’s spirit; and, after all, if you break a god’s spirit, what does he have left?
A god who is reconciled to staying in his godhouse is a housebroken god. He is broken by the home intended to honor him. (page 22)
The real danger is not finding God in the godhouse; it is “not finding him elsewhere or failing even to look for him elsewhere”. So don’t keep him shut up in his godhouse.
“Mystically Exercising and Growing With Your God” is mainly about the Jonathan Livingston Seagull idea, “Keep Working on Love”. It involves efforts at direct experience of God rather than occultism, with which mysticism may be mixed, but mysticism “centers in love, while occultism or parapsychology seeks knowledge . . . and the working of unusual acts. . . .” This has been described as “let go and let God”. The chapter ends with the Philosopher’s famous bit of “doggerel, or Godderel,
I am tempted to say
That the best way to pray
Is to shut up your mouth
And get out of the way.
Simply listen for God,
And go join him in play.”
To be continued.
January 30, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (5)
Alan’s original “problem” book had a Part 1, chapters of which became the first three chapters of the subsequent “dog” book. This first part, “Selecting Your God”, consisted of two sections: “Looking down at God” and “Looking up towards God”. “Looking down at God” consists of “A perspective-providing peek at a partial pantheon of prominent personalities in a perpetual parade”. This is achieved in chapter 1, “Practical tips on the god market”, and 2, “What breeds are available”.
The Philosopher writes here as if there is more than one God. This is because “ there are many different notions of what God is like, and many people have believed that there are more gods than one.” So what? “It is because when people believe in different gods, or in different ideas of what God is like, the practical effects in their lies are largely as if the believed-in gods existed. God expresses himself in your life very much as you believe and feel and act as if he were.” So you have to choose among these competing views of God.
This brings us to chapter 2, the different breeds of god. These are accompanied by useful charts for comparing and contrasting. Alan explains:
It seems appropriate to draw an analogy between conceptions of God’s nature and familiar beings that are clearly separated into breeds. However, for those who do not care to go to the dogs in their philosophy of religion, I provide an alternative scheme and tie it to the tail of the first classification [but not till the next chapter]. (page 6)
Here are your choices:
The Archaic Terrorer, who is capricious power
The Yapping Heel-Nipper, who is judgmental, ethically demanding, insensitive
The Purebred High-Nosed, who remains aloof
The World-Woofer, everything, yet nothing that we can know
(this category including at least as many different types of god as there are different meanings of the word woof)
The Mixed Breed, who puts it all together
With gods, as with dogs, the friendliest, most satisfying type combines various characteristics and finds in this happy combination very wide acceptance among the great many people who ask nothing of his lineage, but simply enjoy him for his lovable self. . . .
The fancy adjective for the Mixed Breed is panentheistic, meaning that all is in God, but that God, as the consciousness of all this, is more than the sum of the parts. God transcends the totality, although everything is within God. This is similar to the way in which you include your body but are more than it. We are like cells in the body of God. The universe is God’s body. By contrast, pantheism holds that to the extent that the universe is real, it and God are identical, and there is nothing of God left over beyond the universe. Panentheism says that God is all there is in nature and then some.
The panentheistic God, the description of whom was largely the work of Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne . . . is generally agreed to be personal but not anthropomorphic (of human form). (pages 8-9)
Chapter 3 is “Our Loving Leader, the Invincible, Vulnerable, Creative, Personal God: a macrocosmic process-organic view”. In the “problem” book, it falls in the middle of Section 2: Looking up toward God: How to avoid whistling down the garden path after the wrong breed by observing philosophy’s winding paths toward and away from God . . . .
We now zero in on the lovable Mixed Breed. Here the Philosopher, borrowing from a complicated work by Hartshorne and Reese, categorizes the breeds as Inside, Outside, Upstairs, and Downstairs. The original categories were immanent (inside the world), transcendent (outside the world), conscious, knowing, and world-inclusive (upstairs, aloof, not interacting with us except perhaps by miracles), (downstairs (interacting with us all the time as standard procedure). You’ll just have to read the dog book to get Alan’s descriptions of how these mix and match. We have ID, DI, OU, IUD, and IOUD. We of course cut to the chase with the Mixed Breed, the IOUD God:
How shall we most significantly sum up the nature of the organic, growing God who includes all that is, who cannot fail to be, whatever form he takes, who is our most intimate companion, who in some sense may be called ourselves? Amazingly perhaps, unique though he must be, he is one of us; he is a person—not a human being, but a person. Although Whitehead does not call God a person, many process thinkers contend that “despite this fact, the doctrines he formulated about God compel us to assimilate God more closely to the conception of a living person than to that of an actual entity (as distinguished from the succession of experiences that a person is).” (page 17)
The Philosopher in later writings got further into the idea of God as the Ultimate Person as contrasted with human beings, dolphins, and angels, all of whom may be said to be persons.
To be continued.
January 23, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (4)
The Philosopher’s first book was The Problem is God, a title given it by the publisher. It was a disastrous choice of title because nobody needed another problem, especially not one named God. The subtitle was what Alan had originally wanted to be the title: The Selection and Care of Your Personal God. A mutual friend gave me a copy and promised to introduce us but never did.
I eventually met the Philosopher at a Christmas open house in the home of another mutual friend. I wandered out into the kitchen, where the food was, and there grazing among the groceries was the Philosopher. I walked up to him and remarked, “I know you from somewhere”. Always ready with a brilliant riposte, he replied, “I’m Alan Anderson.” I immediately knew why he looked familiar: his picture is on the outside of the book. I was able to come up with an engaging followup line: “I’ve read your book.” What more could any author want to hear?
One thing quickly led to another. We discussed the book at great length. I felt that with a bit of expansion, it could form two books: one the original book about God, the other a philosophy textbook. I rekeyed the entire original book, since the publisher no longer had the plates. We cherry-picked the chapters relating directly to God, Alan added considerable extensions, and we self-published the result in GBC binding for the use of his philosophy classes at Curry College. The new title became A Guide to the Selection and Care of Your Personal God. We always referred to it as the dog book, a sort of dyslexic guide to the Deity. In the preface to his original book, Alan had stated:
[I]t is a recognition of the loving order which extends both above and below the human level, with us in the middle doggedly attempting to comprehend a unity that encompasses everything.
The dog-God theme . . . is introduced initially to highlight the fact that there are various options available with regard to what God is like and the implication that one ought to choose one’s view of God at least as seriously as one would select a dog. (page 19)
He concludes that preface with a quotation from process theologian Daniel Day Williams: “To love God is to rejoice in the richness of truth, to enjoy the counterpoint of the absurd and the nonsensical, to engage in the conflict of ideas and the history of human argument.”
There may have been a few people who took exception to a God book whimsically modeled on a dog book, but happily, most people who read it at all enjoyed the lighthearted approach to a subject that can so often be heavy and somber. Alan and I always said that we took our work seriously, but not ourselves! We believe that the Almighty has a wonderful, wry sense of humor. You may have noticed that he gets his jollies out of using the weak to confound the strong, among other things. In the preface to the dog book, Alan notes: “If God is supreme, he must have the supreme sense of humor. Ultimately all jokes are on God.”
Chapter titles for the dog book that originated in the God book are:
- Practical Tips on the God Market
- What Breeds Are Available
- The Archaic Terrorer
- The Yapping Heel-Nipper
- The Purebred High-Nosed
- The World Woofer
- The Mixed Breed
- Our Loving Leader, the Invincible, Vulnerable, Creative, Personal God
- Taking God In
- Naming Your God: A Myth is as Good as a Smile
- The Housebroken God: Should You Use a Godhouse?
- Mystically Exercising and Growing With Your God
- Pet God or Work God?
- God’s Leash Law
- [new chapter] Unleashing God in Your Life:
- New Thought
- Mysticism and Applied Metaphysics
- New Thought Techniques
- Process New Thought
- [old title] When You Regret Not Having Selected Your God Earlier
I have a few softcover copies of The Problem Is God, and a few GBC copies of the dog book available and would be happy to send you either one for $15.00 postpaid (priority mail). Please mail me a check for U. S. funds on a U. S. Bank. Make it out to Deb Whitehouse and mail to 11143 Merganser Way, New Port Richey, FL 34654, including the address to which you want it sent (U.S. only). The dog book is also available in a Kindle edition courtesy of Ron Hughes, www.ppquimby.com or through Amazon. Ron’s very talented wife, Mary, painted a beautiful and soulful portrait of a dog for the cover of the Kindle edition. It’ll make you want a similar portrait of your pet!
We never did get around to the second book: the philosophy text, which would have been titled Through the Hawsehole, a reference to the idea that rats get onto a ship that way, so philosophers are said to come in through the hawsehole rather than through the more elegant transom of the captain’s cabin. Somewhere I have a pencil sketch of a cover picture that I did, showing a rat’s tail hanging out of a hawsehole, just what is needed for a philosophy text! ;-)
To be continued.
January 16, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (3)
Right about now, you may be asking yourself, What does all this metaphysics stuff have to do with process thought, or better still, Process New Thought? I thought you’d never ask! ;-)
In a pile of metaphysical spaghetti, that’s where you start: the end piece, as it were.
Let’s first get very clear that any form of process thought is updated idealism. Scholars took many falls out of Bishop Berkeley, perhaps the most famous advocate of philosophical idealism, with his tree falling in the forest with no one to hear:
There was a young man who said, “God
Must think it exceedingly odd
To find that this tree continues to be
When there’s no one about in the quad.”
Dear sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
I am always about in the quad,
And that’s why this tree continues to be,
Since observed by yours faithfully, God.
So all right, there may need to be a bit of revising here. We don’t want to go off into pantheism, which eliminates our free will but does serve as a valuable corrector for the opposite pole of traditional theism. To Whitehead and his colleagues/followers, the building blocks of the universe are bursts of energy (quanta). Like the wind, we can’t see them but we can measure what they accomplish: “Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I/But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by.” (Christina Rosetti) Nor do we want to settle for materialism, which, as we have seen, disses everything that we value as human beings. Dualism, besides being rather cowardly (don’t want to have to decide between idealism and materialism), has even more philosophical errors than materialism because it introduces the problem of how mind and body interact. So what, then?
Updated idealism takes the form of what is known as panentheism. Theism and pantheism are at opposite ends of a continuum. Take the two ends, shake vigorously to remove lingering errors, and smoosh the two together: you get panentheism. That’s pantheism with an en in the middle, representing Teilhard de Chardin’s beloved en pasi panta Theos “so that God may be all IN all” (Eph. 1:10; I Cor. 15:28), very different from pantheistically saying that God is all there is, or all there is, is God). Ironically, Teilhard is considered the father of New Age, which carries everything way off course from what he stood for, even though it may have its uses here and there. New Age and New Thought are frequently confounded, confound it! New Thought is at least 100 years older. Chapter 5 of our jointly authored New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality (rev. ed. 2003) deals with similarities and differences between the two. While you’re at it, you might pause to admire the Table of Contents, created and generated by yours truly (who swears she’ll never do another, let alone index a book!) But before we move along, please note that we are looking at the Hegelian notion of thesis/antithesis/synthesis: take an idea, introduce its opposite, and combine the two in some way to make a third, the synthesis, which is a synergy, better than either could have been on its own. This is usually not 50-50, but more likely something like 98-2, with the opposing view providing boundaries for the original thought. Business author Stephen Covey waxes eloquent on this in his blockbuster best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s Habit #6, Synergize.
The term panentheism was coined by German philosopher Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832). It was taken up by Whitehead colleague Charles Hartshorne, and more recently by Matthew Fox. It represents the theology wing of process thought. In philosophy, once you have determined your underlying principles, you can get off into what theological conclusions they lead to. Process thought includes process philosophy, process theology, process physics— you get the idea. Metaphysics is the first step (remember “First Things”) in thinking all this through. Process thought in all domains lets us incorporate the new findings of quantum physics and other disciplines, allowing us to keep up with modern science while still respecting our Judeo-Christian theological roots. This is the only constructive postmodern theology; all the others are destructive. They all promise that they are just clearing away rubble before building something new and wonderful, but they never quite get there. That’s because they are all founded on materialism or dualism, which severely limits their perspective. By replacing New Thought’s traditional substance (sub stare) view of New Thought with the dynamic process view, we go from reality as still-frame photographs to dynamic frames of a movie.
What advantages does Process New Thought hold over traditional New Thought? Stay tuned.
January 9, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings (2)
By now I hope that you have found time to click on the link at the bottom of last week’s post, connecting you to the award-winning MMM page, the Philosopher at his best. He and I were once at a workshop on metaphysics (where a lot of process thinkers showed up) held at Boston University, Alan’s alma mater for his Ph.D. in philosophy. The dean of liberal arts had dropped by to welcome us all. She began by explaining that because she came from another discipline and was not really up to date on philosophy, she had searched metaphysics online. The first three items that came up were totally New Age and woo-woo, and she found them totally bewildering. The fourth item was—wait for it—“Metaphysics Multiple Meanings”, which rang a far-off bell for her. Little did she know that its author was seated towards the back of the auditorium she was addressing.
In MMM, the Philosopher explained—far more succinctly than I can—how metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the question, How do things have to be in order to be at all? In other words, what do the building blocks of the universe consist of? Are they material stuff? Ideas/thoughts? Some of each? Green cheese? Anyone who contemplates the nature of the building blocks of the universe, even cracker-barrel style, is a metaphysician. Metaphysicians can and do frequently disagree, but even if they are “full of prune juice”, they are all still metaphysicians, whether they like it or not.
If memory serves, the Philosopher wrote MMM out of annoyance with some of the wacky ideas about it. It isn’t just about nonphysical things; it includes both the physical and whatever lies beyond. Even what the Philosopher called “a rip-roaring materialist” is still a metaphysician to the extent that he (or she; I hope that not many women are that limited in their thinking) thinks about such things. Symbolic interpretation of the Bible, which is often called metaphysical interpretation by people who should know better, goes back before Christianity at least as far as Philo Judaeus and others. This refers to going beyond literal interpretation, which is perfectly genuine but not all-encompassing; only certain parts of the Bible were intended to be taken literally. For example, if you dip a white garment in blood, or even red paint, what color is it going to be? According to Unity author Thomas Shepherd, “Freed from the literal by use of allegory, Philo was able to find common ground for Hellenistic thought on every page of the Torah.” He continues: “Philo took the root meanings of the words in a biblical passage and played with them until he found connections between the words of Scripture and the teachings of Plato.” (Friends in High Places, 1985) We are not limited to our five physical senses, and more and more evidence comes in of existence beyond them. As Walt Whitman put it, “I am not contained between my hat and boots.” As MMM explains, people who seek direct experience of God for themselves are known as mystics.
New Thought is rife with mystics, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting a middleman between oneself and Ultimate Reality, a.k.a. God, the conveniently short name preferred by philosophers of all stripes. Process New Thought, as those of you who have put up with me for a while know, includes the Boston Personalist (B.U.) notion of God as the Ultimate Person, since personhood is the highest thing we humans can conceptualize, a floor for God rather than a ceiling. It emphatically does not mean turning God into a giant human being, an Oriental potentate seated at his computer with his finger hovering over the Smite button. But somebody has to sit in the philosopher’s armchair and sort things out logically by such light as we have at the moment. As the Philosopher occasionally observed, “It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and it requires no heavy lifting.” I don’t know about that; sorting out how evil comes into the world if God is totally good is a pretty heavy topic (philosophers call it theodicy). But the really heavy issue connected with this is how mind and body can interact. Descartes, who started the whole dualism thing off, thought they met in the pineal gland. Sorry, Charlie! But all you black-belt philosophers already know all about this. Those down closer to the cracker-barrel level just need to ponder whether there might be more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The main thing to keep in mind is that those who embrace philosophical materialism—or worse, philosophical dualism—shut themselves off from so much that makes us human. Once again, I quote (as Alan liked to do) the Charles Hartshorne definition: “Materialism is the denial that the most pervasive processes of nature involve any such psychical functions as sensing, feeling, remembering, desiring, or thinking.” (Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, page 17, 1983, SUNY).
Bottom line for now: process thought teaches that the basic building blocks of the universe are bursts (quanta) of energy, each lasting maybe a tenth of a second. Remember that A. N. Whitehead had a long and successful career teaching physics and co-authoring Principia Mathematica before accepting the invitation to start a whole new career across the Pond at Harvard, in retirement (ha!).
January 2, 2018
Metaphysics Multiple Meanings
I trust that your 2018 is off to a rollicking start and that you found some appropriate mischief to get into, breaking up routines and clearing the decks for a happy and prosperous year.
The first of the year is often used for turning over a new leaf with new rules or resolutions, most of which don’t last, so advice columns have turned to supplying tips and tricks for making them stick. The latest things I have read say that we need to value uncertainty, volatility, and turmoil. This sounds a bit like the old management by exception, which does have its place at times. As a Certified Reality Therapist, I can quote the old rubric: If what you are doing isn’t working (to get you what you want), try ANYTHING else! Randomness does have its uses.
Another first-of-the-year custom found in the Religious Science tradition of New Thought is to go over the basic principles over the first four Sundays of the year. Similar practices are often found in business, where periodic stock-taking is very advisable in order to make sure that one is not off course or that undesirable things haven’t crept in. Possibly, course corrections are necessary to introduce newness instead of staleness (try ANYTHING else!). Still, one does need to keep one’s head firmly screwed on and notice the effects of what one is trying, old or new. In other words, what do you want, not your butterfly wishes; what do you really want?
New Thought as a philosophico-religious movement is loosely structured, with no formal creed to which one must swear allegiance or be drummed out of the parade. We do have the INTA Declaration of Principles, printed in every issue of the house organ, New Thought. This is a centrist position, intended to give one a general idea of what most people in New Thought would agree on. It was last overhauled in January 2000 by a committee consisting of the Philosopher and the Reverend Leddy Hammock and presented to the Executive Board for approval. That amazingly diverse group of individuals (I was one of them) all agreed that although they might personally word something differently, they could comfortably go along with what the committee had come up with.
So let’s once again take the new beginning of a new year to do a bit of stock-taking of various kinds, which will differ for each of us. We have the Ten Commandments as an overall guideline, taken literally and having in addition numerous layers of meaning. History is vitally important, and must be kept up to date in terms of broader understanding and those new discoveries, using the scientific method, that make for closer approximations of truth; however, revisionist history is not scientific in any sense and is no better than the ancient tyrants who conquered a country and immediately took down its monuments and put up their own with their own version of what happened. One reason for the popularity of the many new cryptocurrencies is their blockchain technology, which prevents anyone on any one computer from doing exactly that. It helps keep people and companies honest.
It’s always useful to start with definitions. The Philosopher liked to say that spirituality is the raw material from which one forms one’s religion. Religion is a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions concerning Ultimate Reality, and if you believe that there is no Ultimate Reality, you are an atheist, and atheism is a religion. It frequently wants to govern itself by the laws of the physical universe, which means that it is shutting out anything meta ta physica, which is how Andronicus of Rhodes in organizing the writings of Aristotle labeled what Aristotle called First Things. There are none so blind as those who will not see, as the saying goes. Or as some wit has remarked, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed king can still goof up.”
We are at present living in what the ancient Chinese called “interesting times”, which are generally challenging for better or for worse (sometimes things really do need to be shaken up). Even in this country, which was founded to ensure religious freedom with such freedom built into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, those documents and the laws developing from them are squarely in line with Judeo-Christian principles. This means that we tolerate those with other religions only so far as they remain within those boundaries in their conduct. For example, if you want to live here, you can’t go around beheading your spouse for any reason even if your religion advocates that. Recent polls show that today’s college graduates don’t even know what some political philosophical principles are all about. Most of today’s institutions of higher learning have departed radically from the principles outlined in the Declaration and the Constitution and are failing to teach any views opposed to the ones those institutions are currently promulgating.
The first scientists were philosophers, and only in modern times did applied science split off from philosophy. Wander into your local library and notice that the Dewey decimal system for cataloguing books begins each category with zeroes for “philosophy of”. For centuries the church jerked philosophers around; then science started jerking the churches around, which isn’t any better. One is entitled to one’s views, but not to jerking others with differing views around. My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. The philosopher’s armchair is where everything gets sorted out, after the angels in the heavenly vision have gone back into heaven. The three main branches of philosophy are metaphysics (what the building blocks of the universe are), epistemology (how we know), and axiology (how we should then live). Too many institutions of higher learning have nowadays closed their philosophy departments, or if they are open at all, they ignore metaphysics and start everything with epistemology, which is trying to fly on one wing.
Which brings us to metaphysics (you knew I would get there eventually and that I will probably stay here for a while). Before next week, I recommend that you go read the Philosopher’s award-winning “Metaphysics Multiple Meanings”. Meanwhile, keep celebrating a fresh new year with new opportunities.