Are you one of those adults, in the minority, who have always had a sense of the divine/spirit/god that somehow didn't connect so well with the upbringing you had? An upbringing where inside your own head you came to picture an old-god-bearded-man up there, out there, somewhere, distant to you, but somehow you were supposed to contact him through something like "prayer?"
Is there something deep in your intuition that tells you the idea of god has to have a measure of elegance and complexity that graduates the overly simple images implanted in your little child mind to something more adult and coherent with the complexity of our world? For many of course they remain content with the old-man up there somewhere image. But while spatial metaphors can help bring understanding they can also be debilitatingly misleading when they become embedded, encrusted and solidify as if they are “true.”
If you are one of those with this deep intuition can I invite you to engage this blog post with a hope to bring some fresh oxygen and light to that which might be lodged and stuck in your psyche? I am sure for some this will be provocative, for others liberating and helpful and for all I hope it starts what could be an important conversation. But I warn you it is disruptive to the majority of us deeply programmed by the mythic god of past millenia. May this conversation help spread the good news there is a way to understand the divine that squares with your deep intuition and the cosmology and science of our time. Thanks in advance.
For millennia there has been an understanding that the earth was at the center of the universe, that humanity was placed there by a god-man who had designed it this way and quite literally “made the world go round." There were a couple of fundamental reasons informing that understanding.
1. The observational reason was quite simple, we on the earth feel and appear to be on solid unmoving “ground” as we watch the sun rise, move over head, and set. The movement of the sun, the moon and the planets seem to confirm our intuitive observation, we are on stable unmoving ground and at the center of it all!
2. The second informing reason for those exposed to the Hebrew scriptures of Judaism was the authority of passages like Joshua 10 where the sun is said to stand still.
When we construct models of where planets are located, how they are related and how they move, we are in the realm of cosmology. (kosmos is the Greek word for world/universe.)
This geocentric (earth at the center) cosmology deepened its grip on the theological imagination as philosophers and theologians for hundreds of years developed explanations for why the up there out there somewhere old man god had placed us earth dwelling humans at the center of the universe. In other words, cosmology - talk about the cosmos was directly related to and framed theology - talk about god. In fact it is fair to say the influence is bi-directional, cosmology influences theology and theology influences cosmology.
Philosophers and theologians up until about 500 years ago during the Reformation (and even beyond) KNEW that humanity was at the center of the universe because humanity was god’s ultimate creation…where else would they reside but at the very center?
(And as just a brief aside, 500 years ago is the third of the three great revolutions through which we view the evolution of homo sapiens… the cognitive revolution of 70,000 years ago when we separated ourselves from at least six other species of humans (homos) living at the time that eventually went extinct. The agricultural revolution of 12,000 years ago, arguably one of the worst things to ever happen for health and called by Yuval Harari “history’s biggest fraud.” And then 500 years ago what is called the scientific revolution. These three lenses give us important shifts in the way we understand self, our origins and the world. If you haven’t read Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus they are being hearlded as some of the most important writing of our times. But I digress.)
Humanity at the center of creation wasn’t just symbolic, it was theologically necessary. The above image is a medieval rendering of how the universe was viewed. Earth at the center with concentric spheres, each containing a planet or layer of the cosmos, all under the dome like structure call the “firmament,” a word used in the Hebrew creation myth. As you can see banded around the last sphere are angels looking in... and beyond that the old grey haired man-god overseeing his creation. The geocentric images we have, perfectly order the location of humans, the angels and the old man-god up there, out there somewhere.
This is the back story into which Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus’ suggested the sun was at the center of universe, not the earth. This was of course met with vehement denial and fought by the church not only because of the couple biblical passages where it appears that sun stands still but because of their theological certainty. The argument goes something like…"We have to be at the center, because we believe in a god-man we are certain wants us at the center and if we are not the crown jewel of creation and not at the center, then we are wrong about our location, which means our celestial spheres image is wrong, which means our location for the god-man must be wrong too.”
It was simply inconceivable to the church that their understanding of cosmology could be wrong, their view of god could be wrong, and their understanding of humanity’s location could be wrong. We and the god-man up there out there somewhere has been (re)located very differently in this new cosmology. According to the church, science is overturning theology and holy writ.
With science now explaining the cosmology, there was no longer a need for any explanation from that mythic god-man, in fact there is really no need for the god-man at all! This was a watershed event in the history of cosmology and theology. Theology up until this point was considered central to understanding and framing all other disciplines. This shattered that unity and pride of place, and with that fracturing between theology and science, theology has been relegated to the back shed while science has moved on to do the heavy lifting about what we know and how we know... the discipline called epistemology.
This view of the god-man beyond the spheres is centered in a very definite level of human consciousness development and meaning-making called the mythic level. The archaic level of consciousness about 100,000 years ago, gave way to meaning making called the magic level of consciousness. The magic level then evolved into the mythic level of development and consciousness we see depicted in the sort of images we have been discussing here. A good deal of ancient scriptures were written from a magic-mythic worldview. We will be discussing these levels of consciousness and meaning making in a future post.
The dislocation of this mythic understanding of the god-man from a “beyond the spheres” location of up there somewhere, while most certainly a good thing in hindsight, left the church clamoring for a way to make meaning theologically… if we are not at the center, who are we, where are we, and where is god? Shattering the god-man image and letting it die was and remains central to a better, more whole and more useful narrative about what we think about “god.” See my 7 minute video on “How We Story God Must Change” here.
The truth is if you grew up in any of the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity or Islam, the chances that you have a deep seated sense that a god-man is up there, out there, somewhere and that you even picture something like that, shows just how deep that cosmological picture is unfortunately embedded in your adult psyche.
Why the history lesson you may ask? Well since the watershed splitting of theology and science 500 years ago we have undergone yet another cosmological shift. And if there is anything we should have learned about the previous shift it is when cosmology (talk about the universe/cosmos) changes, theology (talk about god) also changes.
Almost exactly 100 years ago we underwent a significant change in the story of how we understand reality as new breathtaking breakthroughs and discoveries were made that ushered in a quantum worldview. But that is for another blog post and conversation. But before we get there...
What is your understanding of “god?” What does that word mean? How is it defined and what sources those definitions? As we have culturally evolved past a mythic level of development and consciousness, what does that mean to god-talk and to our spirituality in general and our practices in particular?
If you have thoughts I would love to hear them. This is an important conversation and I am going to continue probing this as we seek to understand better not only the shifts that have happened, but the one we are currently in, a shift that for many is as unsettling as the cosmological relocation 500 years ago, and what this current shift means to god-talk and our sense of self in the cosmos.