Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An Evolutionary Spirituality: A Personal God?

"I am nothing more than a product of history and a series of unfortunate decisions"
In Seeing Angels  I looked at how the spiritual powers, angels and demons, are related to our life. In a discussion about this blog entry on facebook a friend asked a very reasonable question:
While I certainly wouldn't disagree with your musings on human nature, I find it difficult to understand why the forces that unify us have to be personified. Surely biblical descriptions of demons and angels are just as easily understood as metaphor?

You know I respect your beliefs (and have family members who share them), so I'm not trying to be argumentative here. Just putting another side of the case.
This question is ostensibly about the nature of God and spiritual powers (the forces that unifies us), but this question is separable from enquiring about our own nature. In replying I outlined my view of an "evolutionary spirituality". This is an understanding that we're not separate from the forces that created us. The theory of evolution lays out how life, and therefore spirit, developed.

My reply in full:

I understand you respect my beliefs whilst thinking differently yourself. I did try to address that question in the article. Humans are nothing more than the creation of the universe. We come from the land and are shaped by the forces of nature that also shaped the world around us. So it's not so much that those forces are personified, but we are! Our life is nothing more than the same life from the forces that create us (active and present tense not just past). So no wonder those forces are familiar - we just have the relationship the wrong way round. It isn't that they look like us, we look like them...

It's easy to see religion as creating god(s) in our image and I'm sure there's a strong element of this in humans. However, if the central thesis of Christianity (and other religions like Buddhism) is true, that all life is connected, then how could it be otherwise - that the forces that created us produced our life and the currents of our life are a reflection of them. Even "reflection" is not quite the right word, our life is their life and it exists in a continuum with them. We are not separate but intimately connected. Everything we are and do is the product of history and the land we came from, and in turn we affect the world around us.

The danger is to get hung up on the appearance, and the religious imagery of floating babies really don't help. The universe is unimaginably bigger than humans, so I'm sure there are spiritual forces that bear little resemblance to life we recognise. But nonetheless, we will most resemble (in spirit and character not body) those that shaped us and are closest to us. And Christian tradition has room for this, with the hierarchy of angels including the ineffable (and both terrifying and distinctly inhuman-like) higher angels like cherubim and seraphim.

I think your question raises a deeper point worth exploring though. Effectively you're asking why must the forces of nature that created and shaped us, and therefore the life that binds us, be "personal" in any sense? (And Christianity very definitely espouses a personal God - to the point of incarnation in Jesus Christ).

Suppose the life that creates, shapes and unifies us is impersonal. The life it would create would manifest physically as chemical and biological processes with thought and consciousness an imperative to sustain that life. Any sense of self and individuality in that life would possibly be an illusion, imposed on themselves by the created life - possibly as a survival mechanism. And indeed this is exactly what buddhism suggests - that our self and sense of individuality is an illusion of the ego. This goes back to my point that the forces that create life would create life that reflects the nature of those forces. So even if they're impersonal (in whatever way we mean that) it tells us as much about ourselves as it does about the creative power of the universe.

If we are joined, if there is an incredible power of being at the core of the existence (in judeo-christian language this is "Yahweh", the name for God which means "I am") then our life is a reflection of this life. Our own nature is very different from how we perceive it - experimental psychology demonstrates this very ably. To label the unified life force "impersonal" is reasonable, but it only reflects back on our own nature. We only have life in the sense that this creative power is alive, and if we accept that our consciousness is life then alive it is.

I would call this an "evolutionary spirituality". Evolution tells us how life developed and grew from the fundamental forces (processes) of the universe. And spirituality is nothing more than an understanding of the nature of our life. Our life is the product of natural forces, so the nature of our life as it is now (but in all the depth of the reality of that - not in the raving and screaming of culture) teaches us about the nature of the forces that produced us.

So, in a sense, if you believe in evolution, if you believe we are personal beings, and if you accept that we are not separate but our lives (our deeper psyche) are a continuum with the environment around us and the people who are part of it (continually influenced by and in turn influencing), then a personal God is the natural consequence of that thinking.

Another consequence, perhaps more disturbing, is that these forces of nature - truly alive in the sense that we are alive - are more real and unimaginably more powerful than mere humanity.

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