cosmology

Cosmological (Re)Location and the Death of the Mythic God

Illustration of the Ptolemaic Geocentric Model of the Universe by Bartolomeu Velho

Illustration of the Ptolemaic Geocentric Model of the Universe by Bartolomeu Velho

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.

Deep(er) Connection

 
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I want to quickly comment on the trajectory of this next run of videos and blog posts.

Wildly Better since it’s inception has had three areas of interest, optimizing our lives through habits, health and heart.  The habits and health prongs are very obvious to anyone who has followed this for a even a little while.  The third, “heart” prong, probably less so.  This third area has to do with spirituality, the “heart” of our existence, and a conversation grounded in our evolving quantum world…quite clearly not as fluffy as the other two.  And while we are not leaving the other two behind, we are putting them on the back burner for a bit.

In the introduction to my book “Transformational Architecture” I used an illustration about Galileo and Copernicus and their excommunication from the Christian church because their research suggested the long held “earth at the center of the universe” was incorrect cosmology, and their astronomical calculations had the sun at the center.  Since this new science was incompatible with prior theological considerations their research was pronounced as heresy by the church for a very, very long time.  Ironically they were charged with wrongdoing due to the quotation of bible verses that “proved the earth was at the center.” In other words, whatever correct the bible might have to say about faith it clearly doesn’t share the heliocentric view of the universe now accepted as fact.

The take away from this debacle should be how easy it is to have theological/philosophical considerations become so entangled in culture that we end up confused about what part is cultural and what is theological. And our dogmatism that it is one of those and not the other too many times proves to be foolishly wrong.

The sophisticated way of saying this is cosmology (how we talk about the universe) always impacts theology (how we talk about god). Shifts in cosmology = Shifts in theology.

For over 100 years we have been trying to metabolize the changes in cosmology as we have made quantum discoveries and realized that so much of what we originally thought about the cosmos was at the very least incomplete.  What does that mean to god-talk? This is far from an irrelevant question, it is actually a very important and rather common conversation, especially intriguing among Millennials (those that are 22-36 years old) who have opted to remain unattached to any major world religion.  

Over the next weeks and months I will try to contribute to that conversation in a small way and hope you will do the same.  

Thank you for joining the conversation, it is not for the faint of heart, for what history has shown over and over again, is many people prefer what has always been whether change is warranted, supported by facts, or simply necessary because it has been wrong to date and we have just discovered that.

Enjoy the conversation.

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J.R.R. Tolkien the British author of Lord of the Rings fame, T.S. Eliot the great British poet and C.S. Lewis the British English Literature professor and apologist...all say this one man influenced their thinking more than any one other person.  I would say that is a significant claim to fame. 

This guy was a close friend of C.S. Lewis’s throughout his adult life from 1919 till Lewis's death in 1963. He was Lewis's legal and financial advisor, and became an executor of his estate. Lewis dedicated his first scholarly book, The Allegory of Love (1936) to this 'wisest and best of my unofficial teachers,' stating in its preface that he asked no more than to disseminate this man’s literary theory and practice, and dedicated the first Narnia Chronicle to his friend's adopted daughter Lucy. This man is no doubt one of the most influential people on British writers that you have probably never heard of. 

What I am most interested in is this man’s observation about what he calls Original Participation.

Up until about 400 years ago, Owen Barfield says that was our dominant center of gravity.  

Original participation is the phrase he used to describe how our consciousness intuitively sensed the connectedness of all things and how intimately we were interwoven into the fabric of the rest of the created order around us.  In other words only a few centuries ago we reflexively knew the entire cosmos, of which we are a part, a very very small part by the way, was all One.*

The rise of rationalism, specialization (that is often more interested in parts than wholes) and the entire modernist project has deeply undermined any sense of connectedness we might have to each other, let alone nature and the rest of creation.

The implications of this break(down) are of course as varied as us seeing people as “other” instead of “part of me,” seeing creation as disposable and for my ends, and bring tricked into fully living out the Jewish creation myth, where the human condition is summarily traced to eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of “good” and “not good.” This famous myth is trying to get at the fundamental human problem: we all have a love affair with duality, with us/them, black/white, right/wrong, good/not good binary judgements…and of course I am always on the “right” side of the judgement.  

Whether the binary is about which side of the climate change question you sit, the immigration debate, political persuasion, or the human sexuality question (that is about to totally reconfigure one of the global Christian denominations in the next 6 months), they are all essentially the same conversation… there is a binary and my judgements are the correct ones…i am right, and you are wrong.

While the dualistic mind has always loved polarity, true religion (and we might put the word spirituality here as well which we will dive into soon) has always been for the express purpose of breaking that down.  The Latin re-ligare, from where we get the word re-ligion, means to re-ligature, re-connect, to bring together.  Ironically religion has clearly NOT done that nor has it been known for that.  Which is quite possibly a testimony to the paltry and impotent versions of religion around us. This is one reason why so many people have an allergy to the word religion and much prefer “spirituality.”  In fact it is just in the last several years that the acronym SBNR has become common in our lexicon - Spiritual But Not Religious. 

Barfield was fond of noting that the break with original participation was a move out of our bodies and into our heads where the goal was fundamentally more about being correct than connected.

Did you hear that?  Correct rather than connected.  

This simply reflects Jewish creation myth and the contracted infection from having eaten the fruit that continues fueling our reflexive drive to constantly call out what we think is good and not good.  We seemingly have a “genetic” proclivity for judgement.

One of my facilitation instructors frequently says the inability to come to peace and harmony with others is simply the reflection of agitation and lack of peace within. 

I invite your curiosity to consider two things today.

  1. Are you adequately reengaging the creation around you and experiencing the joy and peace oneness with it brings?

From one of the ancient song writers in Judaism

 God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. 

Madame Day holds classes every morning,

Professor Night lectures each evening.

   Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, 

But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

  God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome!

What patterns and practices might you engage to deeply connect to creation, to be infused with the energy of creation, to experience the health and spiritual benefits of creation?

These days I am animated by the idea that we need an immersion in original participation.  A genuine appreciation that we are “the evolving universe becoming conscious of itself” (Julian Huxley evolutionary biologist and Teilhard de Chardin Jesuit Paleontologist).

I did a video not long ago on Shinrin Yoku the Japanese art of forest bathing: the healing and health producing effects of being immersed in nature. (here if you missed it!)  In fact a brand new book has just been released on it here!

2.   Are you engaging a religion/spirituality that is truly re-ligaturing your life and a torn apart world? Is it bringing you a deeper greater sense of wholeness and oneness? Or is your religion personally more defined by taking on the enemy position, trying to play police, or trying to assert your rightness?

What do your patterns and practices do in bringing more wholeness and human flourishing to those around you? How is your transformation being injected into your surroundings in tangible ways?

My invitation:  first, engage nature more, become more connected…become less concerned about being correct and more concerned about being compassionate.  More concerned about oneness than separateness, more aware of our similarities than differences.

Second invitation: what does a truly 21st century, evolutionary, quantum spirituality look and feel like?  How is it different than the current options?  And what do we need to do to get there?

If Owen Barfield were still alive I would love to dive into those questions with him.  While we might live in divisive times we live in times of wild possibility.  But those possibilities do not lie in what we have always done, always voiced or by holding to long expired positions because somebody back then said so.   

A return to a deeper connection to the created order, and our profound oneness with it - Original participation - seems like a good start for me.

What about you?  What can you share about the patterns and practices you are engaging or how you are processing the questions asked in this post?

 

 

*It is very difficult to give simple summary quotes from Barfield.  His writing isn’t very patient with simplification.  But I give two quotes here I think begin to capture his thought. — The "primitive" awareness or consciousness in which mankind once believed--in a pre-logical, pre-mythical manner--that "there stands behind the phenomena, and on the other side of them from me, a represented which is of the same nature as me . . . of the same nature as the perceiving self, inasmuch as it is not mechanical or accidental, but psychic and voluntary" (Saving the Appearances 42), a mindset in which we feel ourselves to be "functioning member[s] of the natural world, as a finger is a member of the physical body” In original participation "the represented is felt to be on the other side of the phenomena from the perceiving self. At the same time, it is felt to be linked with, or related to, that self otherwise than through the senses. The self, so far as there yet is one, is still aware that it and the phenomena derive from the same supersensible source" (SA 122-23)