Sunday, 28 December 2008

DISSING DICKY D: THE DELUDED DUDE: PART THREE

So let's look again at what the Penis-Headed One has to offer about Quantum Physics. Firstly, he says that its conclusions are based on "assumptions" which are "so mysterious that even the great Feynman was moved to remark : 'If you think you understand quantum theory... you don't understand quantum theory'."

Well, perhaps by this reasoning Dawkins DOES understand Quantum Theory, because he clearly DOESNT understand it, as none of the basic principles of Quantum Theory are assumptions at all. Rather, like most science, they are observable facts (insofar as anything is a fact). Action at a distance or non-locality, in which separated electrons act as if they are unified even at infinite distances, the tendency for things at a subatomic level to exist as potentials until they are observed and interact in some way with something else, the ability of electrons to exist in two places at once, the fact that everything is part of a unified, seething mass of quantum processes, these have all been OBSERVED by Scientists. They have not been 'made up' or 'assumed'. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the controllable, understandable, discrete world of cause and effect on which his entire world view is based dissolves into holistic uncertainty when it reaches the Quantum Level. Poor him. No wonder he regards the whole field as 'that rarified pinnacle of twentieth century scientific achievement'! It leaves him clinging to a bit of drift wood after the Good Ship Darwin has dissolved into a sea of weirdness.

Nor is Quantum Science 'true in some sense' because it makes predictions well. It is as true as any other scientific observation. Nor is it rarified, as the findings of Quantum Science have delivered us concrete 'things' which include lasers, DVD players and so on, simply by the way in which we have begun to understand how things operate on such a tiny level. So Quantum Science is NOT rarified at all. It has delivered the much-needed material pay-off scientists like Dawkins need to feel safe about things... A Materialist does need something material to hold onto after all.


Le Dawks goes on to speak of the 'shatteringly paradoxical' and 'shatteringly wasteful' Copenhagen and Multiple Worlds Interpretations of Quantum Physics, both of which he says violate 'common sense', that superbly scientific tool which loosely translates as 'what we can see' and 'how we think things are' (for a giggle, find out how Einstein defines it). Does this suggest Dawkins perhaps doesn't understand what he is talking about, hence his repeated quoting of Feynman on this point? Or is he wary of Quantum Science because it challenges his mechanistic/deterministic world view? Well if its the latter, he isn't alone, as this remark from Einstein reveals:

"All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this new type of knowledge completely was as if the ground had been pulled from out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built." - quoted in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist

Poor Einstein! But at least he was brave enough to acknowledge what Bohr referred to as the sudden "insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions", as did Heisenberg when he said:

"The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realises that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science" - Physics and Philosophy

So Dawkins finds himself in the position the Church started to find itself in in the Renaissance when Galileo and other Scientists began to unearth truths about the Universe which contradicted their long-established view. Poor Dawks! Of course, one hopes he doesn't start erecting stakes in outside the Royal Society with the intention of burning Quantum Scientists.

Even worse for Richard, the great giants of early Quantum Science found themselves turning to ancient texts by deluded Hoodoo merchants from India and China to grasp a better understanding of what they were discovering (so maybe we DO need those stakes after all!). Here are a few Scientists you may have heard of referring to Lao Tzu, the Buddha and others:


"The general notions about human understanding... which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom." - Robert Oppenheimer

"For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory... [we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonise our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence." - Niels Bohr

"The great scientific contribution in theoretical physics that has come from Japan since the last war may be an indication of a certain relationship between philosophical ideas in the tradition of the Far East and the philosophical substance of quantum theory." - Werner Heisenberg

So where does that leave Mr D? We have had Einstein acknowledging the 'religious geniuses of all ages' and now Oppenheimer, Bohr and Heisenberg all giving the nod to Buddha, Lao Tzu and the Upanishads! One might even surmise that these other Scientists had READ these texts, unlike Dawkins, who has not. But as we have seen, Dawkins doesn't need to, as he can spot a book covered in pasta from a mile off. Of course, once again, none of this proves God exists, but the argument that anyone who does believe this is an idiot and cannot possibly have anything to offer the Pure Endeavour of Science is starting to look decidedly thin...

The more we dig into Quantum Theory, the more outlandishly mystical its claims are about our Universe. We have established, for instance, that Quantum Theory points to a holistic vision of the Universe at a subatomic level. Even if one takes out the role of the Observer in establishing 'wave collapse', the concept of 'Entanglement' - in which when two electrons interact they become as one, thus fixing their states and, in larger 'Entanglements', forming material objects - leaves us in a mysterious situation in which everything is bound up with everything else. Worse than that for Dawkins, this 'Entanglement' is completely universal in nature. If the Big Bang theory is correct and all the Matter in the Universe was contained in a single point, then a) the Universe is no bigger in terms of Matter than it was then and b) every electron/proton/neutron in that Boson that has been thrown out into the Universe as we know it as is operating non-locally with all the others ie it is 'Entangled' and capable of operating along the lines of 'Action At A Distance', as mentioned above. This means that the Universe is, quite literally, an enormous web of interacting electrons, protons and so on. It genuinely is One, with all the independent things within it only appearing to be so, just as the Mystics have said. As Marcus Cheown puts it:

"There is a ghostly web of quantum connections crisscrossing the Universe and coupling you and me to every last bit of matter in the most distant galaxy. We live in a telepathic universe. What this actually means physicists have not yet figured out." - Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You

Of course, when Cheown uses the word 'telepathic', he doesn't mean it literally. What he means is that, given the observable phenomenon of 'Action At A Distance' and 'Entanglement' they act 'as if' they were telepathic. In other words they seem to exchange information between each other in a way we don't understand, or at least not yet. One suggestion is that the Speed of Light is being violated, but that would go against a central tenet of Relativity Theory. Another is that they interact through through the superimposition of an infinite number of Multiple Universes which come into being at the instant any Quantum Process has taken place. Another is that the 'Action At A Distance' indicates that the Universe operates in a state of unbroken wholeness. None of these please Dawkins much as an explanation. A shame. But there's no pleasing some people. And only an irrational fool dares criticise Science, don't you think? Thank God Dawkins has Feynman's quote to let him off the hook of trying to understand these ideas!


No, Cheown doesn't mean 'telepathic' literally. To mean it literally would mean the Universe had a mind, wouldn't it? If that were so, wouldn't it be a bit like 'God'? Ridiculous! Except some Quantum Scientists are saying just that. David Bohm, for instance, who I have mentioned before, reasoned that, just as our physical universe emerges out of a wider, potentially infinite sea of Quantum Processes (demonstrably true), so does Consciousness. Just as Matter is concentrated Energy, so is Thought, an elegant idea which might explain how the brain and human nervous system is able to convert electricity into Conscious Processes. Thus Matter and Consciousness are seen to be synonymous, just as Time and Space are thanks to Relativity Theory:

"We have shown in some detail that matter as a whole can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is the immediate and primary actuality, while the explicate order can be derived as a particular, distinguished case of the implicate order. The question that arises here, then, is that of whether or not the actual 'substance' of consciousness can be understood in terms of the notion that the implicate order is also its primary and immediate actuality. If matter and consciousness could in this way be understood together, in terms of the same general notion of order, the way wold be opened to comprehending their relationship on the basis of some common ground. Thus we could come to the germ of a new notion of unbroken wholeness, in which consciousness is no longer to be fundamentally separated from matter." - Wholeness And The Implicate Order

If Bohm is right, it would overturn all the biological determinism of modern science with its view that Consciousness is an 'epiphenomenon' of the brain. It would overturn all Dawkins' smug notions of evolution as a purely random process, as Consciousness would have to be taken into account as part of the evolutionary process - something Quantum pioneer Wolfgang Pauli himself suggested. With this interpretation, instead of being dependent on Matter, Matter becomes a means by which Consciousness transmits or expresses itself, the two being one. Not only that, but by implication Consciousness would have to be a latent property of the entire Universe with us as concentrated, localised expressions of that Consciousness, just as our physical bodies are concentrated, localised expressions of the material/energetic quantum processes of the Cosmos. In fact Bohm's theory stands to reason, even if it is hard to 'prove'. If all Matter is non-local and entangled, independent material objects being just expressions of a universal Quantum Field, then how can Consciousness not be the same? If the boundaries of Matter are illusory thanks to the Field, how can Consciousness not operate in the same way? Just as we would have to draw a distinction between a general field of Quantum Matter and localised material objects (eg our bodies), we would have to draw another between a generalised field of Consciousness and localised, differentiated Thought (eg us). Alas, all this just lets in the back door every Mystical notion known to Man ie that the Universe is Mind, that God or Siva is 'dreaming' us, that the we are all microcosms of a macrocosmic First Thought or that as Buddhism says, 'mind and matter are eternally the same'. The nutty delusion-merchants were all correct. Einstein's Cosmic Religion comes full circle. And Dawkins' 'common sense' idea of Science looks like a dusty old dinosaur being picked over by a dessicated Cardinal, both clinging to their rather limited concepts of what the Cosmos might be.


It gets more interesting when one follows the implications of the Consciousness/Matter theory to its logical conclusion in terms of Relativity Theory. If Consciousness is interwoven with Matter which we perceive in three dimensions and if Time is the fourth dimension, interwoven with three-dimensional Space, then it follows that Consciousness must in some sense be the fifth dimension, as it is part of Matter which is the same thing as Space. It is also an Energy, as all Matter is Energy. And Energy at its basic level is Light. Thus the whole Cosmos is Sentient or Conscious Light forming itself into different shapes, some of which are more Conscious than others. And to take things one step further, we know that our physical Universe only exists thanks to its relationship with the Speed of Light. Its existence, therefore, is relative. Thus in one sense, it is an illusion, possibly one of many other levels of existence moving at different speeds, some faster, some slower, and all filled with Dark Energy and Matter, none of which we can see or detect... And if Everett is right, all of these Universes and levels of existence are splitting off into infinite number of other Universes all around us every moment of the day...


Sound silly? Sound almost Mystical to you? And yet these are all things which are being debated by scientists. The problem is that at the moment we cannot test or 'prove' any of it yet beyond thought experiments, theory and mathematics, so we have to rely on, er, faith, or at least abstract thought until we find a way to do so. As popular a theory as String Theory, for instance, would require devices the size of the Solar System to even begin to verify them. So what are we to do? Well we can go back to our safe little Dawkinsian world with its fixed, deterministic rules and close the door of the cage on ourselves. Indeed this is exactly what Ricky does do, putting forward his 'Middle World' theory of a human mind evolved so as not to see things as they are because it didn't need to. If it did, it would not have been able to maintain itself in our apparently three-dimensional world:

"Our mental burka window is narrow because it didn't need to be any wider in order to assist our ancestors to survive" - The God Delusion

A point put perhaps more vigourously by the arch-enemy of Science and the probably the greatest exponent of loony mystical bonkerdom, William Blake, when he said:

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." - The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell

How could two such opposing minds come together and reach the same conclusion? Dawkins thinks only Science has tried to "emancipate ourselves from the Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive - [again that word Intuitive! What happened to Reason?] - not just mathematical - understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast?". He is wrong, very wrong. Science is one of the many ways in which we have done this, Mysticism has been another. The correspondences between the findings of both seem to point to some kind of unity of insight. Indeed the whole endeavour of the human race has been to penetrate to the truth of things long before Dawkins's heroes came along, which is why people who have explored Mysticism probably have no problem grasping the non-linear reality of Quantum Science (although New Age woolliness doesn't help). Not only that, but the ideas of some of the people he has most contempt for, or would have if he had heard of them, might just hold some answers. Then we might be able to combine the inner study of the Mystics and the outer study of the Scientists into something very special, something which might be able to bring us together instead of tearing us apart.

But as we hold our breath waiting for this to happen, we can be sure of one thing: God loves Richard Dawkins too!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

DISSING DICKY D: THE DELUDED DUDE: PART TWO

Before we get on to Quantum Physics, let's just rewind a moment to Einstein's notion of a 'Cosmic Religion' which Dawkins says 'we can all superficially sign up to'. If one looks at what Einstein actually said (which as we have seen Dawkins probably didn't), unfortunately for him, this vision of the Universe as one enormous harmony before which one stands with awe is exactly how the Mystics of all ages saw it. Einstein acknowledges as much by citing St Francis of Assisi, Democritus and Spinoza as sharing his vision. What Dawkins doesn't seem to realise is that these people ascribed a numinous intelligence to the natural world, believing that what we call 'God' revealed him/her/itself through Creation. In other words, the physical world was 'alive' in some way, suffused with some life-giving energy which lay behind the harmony we can see throughout it. It was contained something transcendent as well as immanent. Thus Einstein is not saying what Dawkins says he is saying ie that Cosmic Religion is just worship of the processes of Nature. St Francis, for instance, could not by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as someone who did not believe in God, and yet Einstein includes him in his roll call of geniuses. Now, this should invalidate Dawkin's argument, but it doesn't, or if it has, he hasn't noticed. So how can a bunch of hoodoo merchants possibly come up with something akin to what Einstein believed? Or rather what Dawkins THINKS Einstein believed? Well, at the risk of getting totally bogged down in 'definitions' and 'proofs' of God's and his/her/its existence, here goes at having a look...

The notion of a God which reveals itself through Creation is common to every single Mystical Tradition. In almost every instance this 'God' is not non-personal and both immanent and transcendent, therefore corresponding exactly to Einstein's definition of Cosmic Religion. Here are a few examples:

"God is whole and constant. In himself he is motionless, yet he is self-moving... He is hidden yet obvious everywhere. His being is known through thought alone, yet we see his form before our eyes. He is bodiless yet embodied in everything. There is nothing which he is not... He is the unity of all things... He is the Whole which contains everything. He is One, not two. He is all, not many. The All is not many separate things, but the Oneness that subsumes the parts. The All and the One are identical. You think that things are many when you view them as separate, but when you see they all hang on the One and flow from the One you will realise they are united - linked together and connected by a chain of Being from the highest to the lowest, all subject to the will of God" - the Hermetica


"The journey to God begins with the awakening to the concept that the phenomenal world is a veil which conceals the Divine. We begin the Quest by removing the veil, only to become aware that the veil and the Divine are one and the same thing. The veil is the theophany itself: the manifestation of the Divine through Its Names and Qualities. When we see the veil, we are seeing nothing but the Divine." - Laleh Bakhtiar (Sufi Mystic)

"The Ancient of Ancients, the Unknown of the Unknown, has a form, yet also has not any form. It has a form through which is the universe is maintained. It also has not any form, as It cannot be comprehended." - the Zohar

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." - St Paul

"Exalted in songs has been Brahman. In him are God and the world and the soul, and he is the imperishable supporter of all. When the seers of Brahman see him in all creation, they find peace in Brahman and are free from all sorrow." - the Upanishads


Oh dear! Does this mean that Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and a whole lot of other nutty deluded fools were closer to Einstein than we think? To be fair on Squawkins, his view is a LITTLE subtler than this. Here he is on Einstein's Cosmic Relgion:

"As I continue to clarify the distinction between supernatural religion on the one hand and Einsteinian religion on the other, bear in mind that I am calling only supernatural gods delusional." - the God Delusion.

Okay! I get it! In fact Dawkins is a closet Mystic who is united with the 'greatest religious geniuses of all ages' and would be happy to rub shoulders with the likes of Ibn Arabi, Meister Eckhardt and Rabbi Isaac Luria. Or maybe he believes in Tree Spirits and Water Nymphs? They at least are natural. Or the Great God Pan? Or Ogun? Or maybe Dionysus, the God of Indestructible Life? Somehow I think not, although he gets close to saying something like it when he says, quoting Einstein again:

"'To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious [says Einstein]'. In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable'. But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural'. Carl Sagan put it well: '...if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity'." - the God Delusion

The muddle of this passage needs a little unravelling. Firstly, no-one did more to make 'graspable' the workings of the Universe than Einstein (considerably more than Ricardo himself), so it is fair to assume he didn't mean what Dawkins thinks he meant. This throws up another point which is what we mean by a Mystic. Dawkins says that a Mystic believes there are things which are beyond understanding 'and we should leave it at that' when in fact if anyone looks into Mysticism they will know that the opposite is the truth. The origin of the word Mystic is from the notion of the Initiate into Mysteries - in other words someone who is NOT leaving anything 'at that' but is trying to penetrate the inner Mysteries of the Universe. Dawkins assumes Mystics operate on Ignorance, when in fact a key element of all Mystical systems is the defeat of Ignorance, hence terms such as Gnosis or Enlightenment and the unusual fact that a lot of Mysticism deals with issues of Consciousness, the nature of Reality and the processes of the Cosmos regardless of the existence or non-existence of God. This is why so much esoteric study is as much about processes of Creation, study of natural phenomena an states of Consciousness as it is about spirituality, morality and 'God'. The writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, for instance, are a case in point. Whole chunks read like Science lessons and indeed it comes as no surprise that this most esoteric of books was a profound influence on people like Kepler, Newton and even, it would seem, the first splitter of the atom Ernest Rutherford, who included Hermes Trismegistus on his coat of arms, presumably not because he wanted to identify himself as a deluded idiot.

The Sagan quote shows, once again, the low level of understanding in evidence here. As Dawkins says 'for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural' ". Alas, this applies to Dawkins too. In spite of his polymathic-telepathic knowledge of all the different things the world's religions 'imply', for Dawkins, 'God' is to be defined on the most primitive and basic of levels - a supernatural being outside Time and Space who punishes bad guys and rewards good guys, responds to prayers and favours his followers. Thus he is fighting on the same low level most of his opponents are on. The absence of a personal God is central to Mysticism, as Einstein pointed out. The Kabbalists, for instance, characterised God as an Infinite Field of Conscious Light (an interesting idea given Relativity Theory and E=MC2 as a paradigm for existence), with our world of physical things as an expression of that Light (again, see Relativity Theory). Granted, one doesn't find this spoken of much in Synagogues, but it is nevertheless a major part of Judaic thought. If one looks further than the Cornflakes Packet Guide To World Spirituality, one finds that the same definition holds true in Greek Orthodox Christianity, Platonism and neo-Platonism and - hey - pretty much all the other spiritualities of the world from Zoroastrianism, in which God's name is 'Right Thought' (Ahura Mazda) and all of Creation is made out of Light, to the Supreme Intelligence of Buddhism of which we are all part which is also pictured as an iridescent light. Out of all these visions of Light the material Universe unfolds, suffused by that Light even in its most dense forms of Matter. Once again, we are close to the ideas a certain Einstein came up with...


A God of limitless energy which reveals itself in created things is exactly what Sagan is clumsily lurching towards, defeating his own argument by suggesting that any God which is not anthropomorphic is 'emotionally unsatisfying'. Thus believers in any kind of 'God' are in a Catch 22 situation. An Anthropomorphic God is emotionally satisyfing but silly while a Universal God revealed in Nature is not silly but emotionally unsatisfying. So where does that leave us? Well, given the ubiquitous nature of of the latter vision of the Divine throughout the Mystical Traditions of the world, one would have to conclude that Carl is wrong, at least about the 'emotionally unsatisying' part. But I like the idea of Richard Dawkins the believer in a natural God. That would be fun, don't you think? He does, after all, say that Pantheism is 'sexed up Atheism'. Sounds plausible to me. If we look at the history of Pantheism as evinced, for instance, by pre-Christian cultures, they all thought along the lines of Dawkins, did they not? I would have thought so. Pop in a time machine back to the era of Paganism and ask them if their worship of the Great Mother was 'sexed up Atheism' and they would be bound to tell you 'Oh yes, Mr Dawkins! It certainly is! We are just pretending to worship the creative power of Nature as personified in Eoster/ Astarte /Danu /Ishtar /Isis etc. And while we are at it, what do you think of our theory of the structure of the atom?'


What Dawkins is doing is confusing his hatred of Religion with the possible existence of something more than the material. Dawkins' anger is towards the hypocrisy, double standards, superstition and repressiveness of so much Religion, be it Caste oppression in India, female circumcision in Muslim Africa, Creationism in the Christian Right in the US or hatred of homosexuals in the Catholic Church etc etc. Well, we can most of us sign up to that. Einstein certainly did! Dammit I can sign up to that! But because these practises take the existence of God as their justification has nothing to do with whether God, however we chose to define him/her or it, exists or does not exist. Many spiritually-minded people refuse to follow any religion because they dislike its excesses in much the same way as Dawkins does (me for instance). Equally, many people within religions retain a clear-sighted awareness of where their religions have gone wrong without losing their own personal faith. Likewise being interested in the existence of things like 'God' or the Soul does not mean you suddenly have to subscribe to what a bunch of Rabbis, Priests or Imams tell you. In other words, the reality of all these things is infinitely more subtle than Dawkins is willing to admit. Better minds than his have grappled with these issues from a religious/spiritual and non-religious point of view and come up with more fascinating and compelling answers.

Besides which, as a Scientist, Dawkins should be aware that the most current theories about the origin and workings of the Universe are so extraordinary that even ideas such as his take on Evolution become rather paltry in the light of what is really going on. In a recent book on Quantum Theory I found Cosmology described as 'the ultimate science', operating on a scale which dwarfs almost every other discipline we have, and yet this seems to be something he knows little about... which brings me rather neatly round to where I was going to come in: Quantum and Relativity Theory... Shall we take a look and see where these take us?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

DISSING DICKY D: THE DELUDED DUDE: PART ONE


As readers of this Blog will have noticed from my many references to the man, I am a great admirer of 'Popular Scientist' Richard Dawkins (pictured here without the penis which is normally seen growing out of his head). Polymath, genius, witty raconteur, possessed of enormous breadth of vision and empathy as well as raffish good looks, few can compare in terms of insight and understanding of the true nature of existence. His comprehension of the nuances which differentiate Theism, Atheism, Deism and Pantheism (he seems not to have heard of Panentheism. Too many syllables perhaps?) is breathtaking. And all this without actually having to find out about any of them! As he says in his book The God Delusion in rebuttal of those who accuse him of not knowing what he is talking about, he doesn't actually NEED to know what he is talking about in order to be able to talk about it:

"To expand the point, most of us happily disavow fairies, astrology and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, without first immersing ourselves in books of Pastafarian theology etc." - The God Delusion

I'd just like to say what a pleasure it was typing that out. Touching genius is always exciting and for sheer poetry and use of language, that passage matches the best of any sacred book. Also, hats off to a man who believes in 'Reason' and 'Evidence' arguing in praise of his own ignorance. That is impressive. To reinforce his point, he moves on to rebut the accusation that he uses the 'Straw Man' method of attacking religion. This refers to the practise of creating one's opponent in one's own image - eg saying all religious people are stupid, behave like 'Robertson, Falwell or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or the Ayatollah Khomenei' (a direct quote, I kid you not) or believe in an utterly simplistic view of God, ignoring all other expressions of religious feeling - and so setting up an easy target to attack. Well argued as this is, it seems strange to claim one isn't doing this when only half a page before one has been proudly proclaiming that there is no reason to find out what any of these people actually believe. Such is Dawkins's genius that he can understand where his opponents are coming from through a kind of miraculous mental osmosis. He doesn't have to read books. Only those he is arguing against need to do that. He just knows. Amazing. To adapt the words of Bill Hicks, that's Reason in action for you!

I am being unfair, of course. Elsewhere in the book Dawkins shows that he is enormously well read on all sorts of subjects. On Carl Jung, for instance, one of the most interesting of explorers into the psychology of religion and spirituality, he has this to say:

"It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang)." - The God Delusion

Presumably Dawkins didn't feel he needed to actually READ anything of Jung's to come to this conclusion. It doesn't appear that he has even read the book in which he describes this 'exploding book' incident (Memories, Dreams, Reflections if anyone is interested). But then why would he need to? After all, Jung only helped revolutionise our understanding of how the mind works and went deeply into the nature of spiritual belief in all its forms. I mean, its not as if he knew anything about it. To say that Jung had 'no adequate reason' to believe in God would seem astonishing considering his lifelong work in the study of the mind, his voluminous reading and his friendships with some of the century's greatest thinkers. At the very least he could not be accused of 'not looking at the evidence'. But no matter. Dawkins doesn't have to read any of his stuff to know what he thought. All he has to do is look in the Oxford Book of Quotations or the back of a Cornflakes packet.

He's not all wrong, though. Here he is on Newton, a fellow scientist and one, he admits, who doesn't necessarily fit into his idea that no scientist ever, ever, ever, even if he said he did, believed in God:

"Newton did indeed claim he was religious. So did almost everybody until - significantly I think - the nineteenth century when there was less social and judicial pressure than in earlier centuries to profess religion, and more scientific support for abandoning it." - The God Delusion

I love this argument, one which he extends to all artists and thinkers before the nineteenth century (including people like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci) that as only stupid people have any spirituality all the most talented people in the world could only have been pretending to be religious. In other words, they were closet atheists, just like Richard, only bullied into pretending to believe in God. So there we go. Sophocles, Homer, Dante, Milton, Wordsworth, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, T S Eliot - all these people were just pretending. Sounds plausible to me. After all, if they were not all pretending, then they must have been psychotic and mentally ill, which is what Dawkins suggests when he defines what he means by delusion.

But lets look again at that sentence about Newton, that he "did indeed claim he was religious". Of course, Dawkins is right here. He did 'claim' it. Here is Newton 'claiming' he was religious and his views on the relationship between his discoveries and God:

"Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." - quoted in Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist and Teacher

On God and Nature:

"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. … This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called “Lord God” παντοκρατωρ [pantokratōr], or “Universal Ruler”. … The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect." - Principia, Book III

And here he is on Atheism:

"Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors." - A Short Scheme of the True Religion

Of course, Newton was only pretending when he said this. He was also only 'pretending' to be interested in arch-Hoodoo practices Kabbalah, Astrology and Alchemy (his translation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus is one of the most famous in the world) and most especially when he wasted a lot of time and energy writing the first ever study of a Bible Code! Indeed, Dawkins would probably be deeply upset if, in an altruistic act of descent from his lofty Tower of Ignorance, he were to discover that Newton's studies of Alchemy were probably the most important single influence on the development of his Scientific ideas. Newton was in fact a militant anti-Atheist, unpleasantly so, as intolerant as Dawkins is in his non-belief. I sometimes wonder if Dawkins isn't actually Newton reincarnated, arguing from the opposite point of view to work off some weird karma.

The point I am trying to make is not that Newton's spirituality or Jung's erudition mean that God exists, only that Dawkins' argument that Belief is incompatible with Science (or even intelligence!) is totally fallacious, as is the idea that Science began in the last two hundred years. The roots of rational thought lie in ancient Greece, for instance, one of the most religious and myth-orientated cultures in the world, while cultures like the Egyptians and the Mayans achieved astounding feats of architecture and astronomy in spite of believing in a host of bizarre-looking Gods.This is not even to get on to the subject of the incredible variety of artistic achievement involved with a religious or spiritual world view. From ancient Greek theatre to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, spirituality has gone hand in hand with the most extraordinary artistic creative power. But of course, I forgot: they were all only pretending.

Its not fair to slam Dawkins so easily. He does know a lot about religion. Really. Here he is on some of the more Eastern beliefs:

"I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life." - The God Delusion

There might indeed be, unless one had actually looked into them. If he had, he would know that Confucianism genuinely ISN'T a religion and never pretended to be. It was always a philosophy, so even bracketing it with Buddhism is wrong. As for Buddhism, well clearly Dawkins is happy with ideas of Reincarnation, the Threefold Body, the Greater Consciousness of which all is part, the Six Worlds in which one can be incarnated and the legend of Shambala? Is he familiar with the Boddhisatva Vow? Or the many Saints of Mahayana Buddhism? Or is it possible that, in fact, he doesn't know anything about it at all? After all, how could one fit all that information on the back of that already crowded cornflakes packet?


I'm not even going to get into Dawkins and Einstein, whose ideas on these subjects were much subtler and informed than his successor. Einstein was certainly not a Believer in any traditional sense but nor was he a Materialist Atheist like Dawkins. Indeed he was far more humanist than Dawkins, who, if you look deeply into what he says, is actually deeply reductionist in his Darwinism and his view of human nature. Nor did Einstein believe, as Dawkins did, that Religion had made no positive contribution to our culture or civilisation, or that no religious person was possessed of any insight or understanding:

"The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling [Cosmic Religion], which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with the highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi and Spinoza are closely akin to each other." - The World As I See It

Doesn't quite sound like Dawkins does it? Curiously enough, Dawkins doesn't quote this passage in his book (must be that damned Cornflakes packet again!). Einstein genuinely WAS a polymath and someone who was well-informed. If he rejected something, he knew what it was first. He rejected organised religion having been brought up with it. I have some respect for that. Dawkins was brought up an Anglican (a little like judging Chinese food by a bowl of plain noodles) but stopped there. Einstein actually studied ethics, philosophy, religion, mysticism, art. Not for him Dawkins' muddling of religion up with spirituality & mysticism (or even God!). The four are all interrelated, but they are not the same. In drawing a distinction between figures such as St Francis of Assisi and the average Believer, Einstein shows an awareness of the nuances of what he is talking about. Indeed, he touches upon the universal spirituality which is shared by the Mystics of all cultures - largely because he actually knows about them. Dawkins does not. Its all just one big bowl of noodles for him (we are back to the Pastafarian gag). He's going to empty them on your head no matter what and claim he's come up with a dispassionate, rational argument while he does it. Oh. And I have just realised that I DID get into Einstein and Dawkins, having said I wouldn't. How irrational is that?

But its futile criticising Dawkins for his ignorance about the things he attacks. And nor do I disagree with everything he says, as my own comments on the problems of organised Religion on these boards might suggest. I'm not a Creationist and don't belong to any Faith. Nor do I take literally every idea I have put on these posts. For me, all of these Mystical Systems are metaphors for something else - higher states of Consciousness if you like, an enhanced understanding of who we are and what we might be. They are ways of talking about experiences we have, images we can use to release insights and free ourselves from stultifying ways of thinking. All well and good. But what I don't believe is that we are only lumps of evolved meat, nor are we vehicles for genes to propagate. And if he had even a bean of intellectual honesty (something he likes to bang on about a lot) he would admit that Darwinism does not explain the source or creation of life, only how it evolved once it started. Even if it did, it explains nothing about the origin of the Universe. One doesn't need to believe in God to know that that mystery still remains unsolved (although he does say 'We're working on it' which is good to know). Sorry, Richard. I don't buy it. What we do know is that Dawkins' view is reductive and exclusive. There's plenty of proof for that. He thinks he has the monopoly on the truth. He does not.

But you are not going to win this argument with Mysticism. As I say, its futile to attack Dawkins with spiritual ideas. If one wants to run rings round him, one must take him on on his own turf - Science. This is paying him something of a courtesy, as he won't do this for someone arguing against him, but never mind. So where does Science open the box he is so determined to close up and seal? Well, lets see what he has to say on a subject which we have already discussed on these boards:

"Quantum Mechanics, that rarified pinnacle of twentieth century scientific achievement, makes brilliantly successful predictions about the real world... This predictive success seems to mean that quantum theory has got to be true in some sense; as true as anything we know, even including the most down-to-earth common-sense facts. And yet the assumptions that quantum theory needs to make, in order to deliver those predictions, are so mysterious the great Feynman himself was moved to remark... 'If you think you understand quantum theory, you don't understand quantum theory'." - The God Delusion

Again, all well and good. But then he goes on to say that 'Quantum Theory is so queer that physicists have to resort to one or another paradoxical 'interpretations' of it. Resort is the right word." He then trots through the main 'interpretations'. Fellow militant Atheist Everett's 'Multiple Universes' Theory is 'staggeringly wasteful' while Bohr's 'Copenhagen Interpretation' is 'not wasteful, just staggeringly paradoxical' (although he doesn't say what it is or why). In the end, he says, all of this fails to satisfy either 'human common sense or intuition' (Intuition? What? The opposite to Reason?!), but 'the more macho scientists don't care' as long as 'the mathematics work'.

And this is pretty much as far as it goes in terms of discussing it... Dawkins suddenly slips off into a conversation about how 'queer' the Universe is, the ridiculousness of psychic goats and then how terrific it is that Science is asking these questions (as if nobody else ever has). Faced with the complete rebooting of our concept of 'Reality' suggested by Quantum Science, Dawkins runs back to his cave with his idea of the 'Middle World', or the 'common sense' reality we can touch or feel. Why? Well clearly for two reasons.

1) he doesn't understand Quantum Theory (that cornflakes packet again), nor does he want to, hence his nervous ridiculing of it and

2) because it completely violates every assumption - physical, scientific and metaphysical - upon which he bases his views...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

VISIONS OF JOHANNA: THE LAST SUPPER: PART FIVE

"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; if ye keep my command- ments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in these things, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." - John 15:9-11

It is Paul who makes the connection between Love and the Holy Spirit overt:

"And now abideth Faith, Hope and Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love." - 1st Corinthians 13: 13

It is a favourite device of the New Testament writers to refer to the Trinity in veiled terms through the use of three parallel words. Here Paul equates the Father with Faith (we have Faith in the Father because we cannot see or feel him), Hope with the Son (who gives us the message of the future) but we Love through the Holy Spirit. Thus Love in the guise of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit in the guise of Love which completes the drama of the Incarnation, pervading everything, uniting us with each other and with the Divine:

"No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." - 1st John 4:12-13

Thus just as the great Kabbalists understood the role humanity had to play with God in healing the Universe, the great Christian Scribes of the New Testament understood how the energy of Love provided the perfecting connection to be made between God and all Creation. The great Beguine Mystic Marguerite Porete, drawing upon the ideas of Augustine, took this to its most sublime conclusion when she wrote that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were to be understood as 'the Lover, the Loved and Love':

"Beloved, what do you wish from Me?
I contain all things which were,
And are, and shall be,
I am filled with all things.
Take from me all which pleases you:
If you desire from me all things, I will not deny.
Say, beloved, what do you wish from me?
I am Love, filled with the goodness of all things:
What you will, we will.
Beloved, tell us plainly your will."
- Marguerite Porete: The Mirror Of Simple Souls.

So Love and the Holy Spirit prepare us for the final chapter of John's account of the Last Supper, the great threnody to God from Christ, unsurpassed anywhere else in the Gospels. Everything is coming to a head. The Divine connection has been made between Christ and the Godhead. The most sustained communication with the Divine in the whole of the New Testament is about to unfold. If John's Last Supper is not already Mystical, it goes way beyond the boundaries here, as ideas of Man and God, Time and Reality, Gnosis and Faith merge into one.


The Chapter starts with a continuation of the process of Glorification mentioned before. As the 'circuit' is established in the first Chapter with Judas' exit, it is continued and intensified here. As Christ speaks directly to God, the language of the lines becomes pregnant with meaning, as if something is being channelled from on high, the Divine Energy being passed on to the Disciples. In so doing, something of Christ's Cosmic Nature slips through:

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorfied thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with thine own self with the glory that I had with thee before the world was." - John 17:1-5

That last line in particular is fascinating. It bends time, revealing Christ's nature as an expression of the Logos as being continuous across Time. In the wording is an echo of the words of the Sophia in the Book of Proverbs:

"The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was... Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." - Proverbs 8:22-23 & 30

Some theologians equate the Logos of the opening passage of the Gospel of John with the Sophia as well as Christ, seeing the process of Creation as being an interplay between the male and female energies of God, the Sophia becoming a hypostasis with the Trinity. For the Gnostics, this was doubly so, with the Sophia and Christ being Syzygies of each other, or two parts of t the same entity. Whatever the case, there seems to be a Sophianic echo in these words, and a stronger revelation of the pre-existence of Christ. This is, of course, not the only place that this occurs in John's Gospel. There is also the cryptic discussion in Chapter 8:

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." - John 8:56-58

The inference here is that Christ as Logos appeared in some way to Abraham, perhaps as Melchizedek, as some commentators argue or as the 'three men' of Chapter 18 of Genesis. Whatever the case, there is a little timebending going on, just as there is in the description of the Trinity which begins Revelations:

"Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is (the Son), which was (the Father) and which is to come (Holy Spirit)". - Revelations 1:4

We are being encouraged to think 'eternally', or non-linearly in terms of Time. Past, present and future are being seen as one. And as Christ's nature is potentially our own, as we shall see, it is being revealed that this non-temporal state is also ours.

A significant line in the passage quoted above ("And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.") reveals the essential Mystical/Gnostic element of the Christ message. Indeed, it is in this Chapter that we can understand why the Gnostic Christians valued John's writings so highly. For when Christ refers to 'knowing' God, he is referring to the Gnosis, the 'Knowledge' of God which was so prized by the Gnostics and so denied by the traditional Christians, who placed Faith as the primary source of Christian experience. If Christ is not talking about the Gnosis here, then what does he mean by:

"O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me." - John 17:25

And indeed this is where the Gnostic and non-Gnostic interpretations of Christianity should come together, contained in these central statements of Christ's doctrines. Christ speaks at length about "he that believeth in me" being rewarded, but without the 'Knowledge' of the Gnosis, which presumably lies behind the whole Incarnation, the Christ Message is pointless. Church teaching has always been about waiting until after death for the Beatific Vision of God. Here in John's Gospel, this is directly contradicted. Faith and Knowledge must come together to create the Union with God which is the centre of the Gospel message.


As Christ exhorts the Father, he brings in another element of the process of Theosis, the Name and the Word. As the Glorification continues, everything becomes about transmission of energy from the Father through the Son, onwards to the Apostles and, by extension, to all who come after. The ultimate end of this process is a relationship with each other which is identical to that of Christ with the Father:

"I have manifested my name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them mel and they have kept thy word. Now they have also known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and they have known surely that I came out from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine: and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are one." - John 17:6-11

"That they may be one, as we are one" - what more Mystical a statement could there be? While Catholic and Protestant teaching has put a gulf between human experience and God, John compares the possible experience of the Disciples, and by extension us, as being exactly like that between Christ and the Father. So we see how the Christ Nature is potentially our own. John is not alone in this vision, of course. In Matthew Christ says "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48), suggesting a state of perfection available to humans the same as that enjoyed by God. Once again, the radical nature of the Christ Message emerges. This is what Meister Eckhardt meant when he said that "The first fruit of the Incarnation of Christ, God's Son, is that man may become what the Son is by nature". Further, through the connection between Christ and his followers Christ is himself 'Glorified', just as he 'Glorifies' God and vice versa. Spiritual channels are being opened up between the Father, the Son and all humanity in which all become 'ensouled'. The image of Unification is absolutely clear. And in a passage quoted in an earlier post it is overtly described in terms of an inheritance, passed down through generations of followers from the moment of the Last Supper onwards:

"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." - John 17:20-23

Again we have that word 'perfect', the term given to the Cathar leadership (Parfait/Perfecti). Surely it refers to a state of Wholeness, of completion in the Spirit, the Healing the Soter/Saviour has come to do. Wholeness and Unity - these are the key elements of these words, a Wholeness and Unity which combine Love, Truth, Gnosis, Faith and the Holy Spirit, all merged into a Union with the Father and the Son which is both within and outside Time. Of these qualities, it is Love which is the most important, and it is with this that John's description of the Last Supper, with all its Mysteries ends:

"And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and in them." - John 17:26

Once more we learn of the indwelling of Love and Christ in us. There is no separation, no conditions, not even much talk of sin and very little of any kind of intermediary between humanity and the Divine.

These, then, are the Mysteries of the Last Supper, recorded at length by John. Their complexities are subtle and neverending, but lie at the heart of the energetic life of Christianity. It is no wonder, perhaps, that this Gospel out of the four has most appealed to the Mystics, whether heretical or orthodox. It expresses a grass-roots spirituality which, far from being anti-human, is profoundly humanist. The issue of what the Churches have made of this message, how it has been obscured, misunderstood, confused, ignored, denied and, let's face it, often violently suppressed, are the subject for another time. For now we may be grateful that with all the revisions and changes made to the New Testament over the centuries, somehow the Gospel of John has made it through with its greatest words more or less intact. Perhaps their obscurity has not helped, but that is the way with Mysticism, although one could also argue that their obscurity is how they have been able to survive the scrutiny of those who would happily keep us all in a spiritual prison and throw away the key. There is no concept of Original Sin here, just a description of a spiritual inheritance available to all, whether the historic expression of Christianity in our world understands it or not.

And in the hope that one can keep hold of the Spiritual Baby while throwing out two thousand years of stinking bathwater, this analysis of John's account of the Last Supper comes to an end...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

VISIONS OF JOHANNA: THE LAST SUPPER: PART FOUR

"These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." - John 14:25-26

The chief agencies of this unified relationship between God and Man are Love and the Holy Spirit (as well as Belief). As we shall see, Love and the Holy Spirit are very closely related. In fact they are one. But for now, let us explore this notion of the Holy Spirit, the third and least-understood element of the Christian idea of the Godhead. In John's account of the Last Supper, Christ has certain very specific things to say about it:

"If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you." - John 10:15-17

Here and in the quote at the top of this page Christ is referring to the Holy Spirit as the 'Comforter', a rather weak translation of the Greek word 'Parakleitos', meaning "one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate". In this passage he also refers to it as 'the Spirit of Truth', or 'Alithea' in Greek. What is interesting here is that, just as he describes himself as potentially dwelling within us, so does he speak of the Holy Spirit, in words which suggest that it is the medium whereby God can and will dwell within us, just as predicted in the Book of Jeremiah :

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." - Jeremiah 31:32

and the Book of Joel:

"And it shall come to pass afterward. that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." - Joel 2:28


In Kabbalah and Judaism, the Holy Spirit is known as the Ruach HaKodesh, 'Ruach' meaning, as we know from an earlier post, 'Breath'. For the Jews, this was the spirit of Prophecy, the energy with which the great Seers of the Old connected with God. For the Greeks, the word for the Holy Spirit, the 'Haghia Pneuma', meant the same: 'Holy Breath' ('Pneuma' meaning 'Breath'). In fact our word Spirit comes from the Latin 'Spiritus' which also means 'Breath', and yet nowhere has it ever been translated this way in our Churches. Understood in this way, as the Sacred or Holy Breath of God, it becomes synonymous with the Hindu idea of Prana, the Divine Breath of Brahman which infuses the Universe and gives us life. It is the energy which 'moved upon the face of the waters' in Genesis and which was breathed into the clay out of which Adam was formed by God. Suddenly Christianity connects with the primary aspects of Creation and the most universal pan/panentheistic ideas of the East. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the point of connection between Western Spirituality and ideas such as the Dao of China or Brahman/Prana in India. It is no wonder, perhaps, that it has fallen short of the attention given to the more anthropomorphic and masculine images of the Father and the Son, and yet if Christ is to be believed, neither the Father or the Son can be understood without it. For the Gnostics, the Holy Spirit was the key to everything. In the Pistis Sophia, the so-called "First Mystery' is described as 'the Father in the form of a dove'. In other words, one cannot comprehend the higher reaches of the Godhead in any other way...

The Greek concept of the Pneuma existed long before Christianity reached the peninsular. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus posited the existence of the Pneuma as a fire-like energy which pulsed through everything, sustaining and giving life. If one reads 'Light' for 'Fire' one gets a sense of what he was getting at. Indeed most so-called 'Fire-worshipping' cultures, such as the Zoroastrians are actually revering Light, fire and flame being the most concrete manifestation of that Light-Energy available to the human eye. The subtleties inherent in the names and imagery associated with the Holy Spirit, be it as the Pneuma, Spiritus or Ruach HaKodesh point towards an extraordinarily complex and multi-dimensional appreciation of its true nature. Traditionally, the Churches have insisted that it is a male energy, thus creating an entirely masculine Godhead from which femininity is excluded, but if one looks deeper the reality is very different. At the very least the Holy Spirit is beyond gender, or is androgyne. If anything it errs more on the feminine than the masculine, as its appearance as a Dove at the River Jordan suggests:

"And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and lo the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." - Matthew 3:16

"And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him." - Mark 1:10

"And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." - Luke 3:22

"And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." - John 1:32

Given the non-synoptic nature of John's Gospel, the fact that it agrees with all the others over this central image suggests that it was a key one. The one other significant moment in the Bible which features a dove is in the story of Noah when, after the Deluge, a dove and a raven are released to find evidence of land. While the raven does not return the dove does with an olive branch, suggesting that the waters are receding. In Alchemy, the dove symbolises the purified White Rose which emerges from the 'Death' phase of the Nigredo. Thus here the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove represents the result of the purification process undergone through the Baptism of John in the sacred River Jordan. By any standards a dove is a female bird. Clearly, then, the Holy Spirit is not male, or at least not wholly male and, for its primary manifestation, it choses an image of femininity. Perhaps the Church should think again. But to do so would bring it line with the Gnostics who saw the Holy Spirit as the expression of the Divine Sophia. So perhaps not...

The story of the Baptism and the appearance of the Dove brings up another issue about the Holy Spirit - that of its relationship to the four elements, for as befits the highest expression of the Spirit, the Haghia Pneuma is identified with all of the elements except for Earth. John the Baptist begins the revelation of the Spirit by the distinction he draws between the Baptism he offers and that Christ will:

"And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me: Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." - John 1:33

The Baptist's point here is that with the New Dispensation ushered in by Christ, Baptism will no longer only have its material or physical dimension but will be endowed by its spiritual, more Cosmic one. The water of the earth will be transformed and transfigured by the 'water' that is the Holy Spirit. Quite literally, the Gospel is revealing the esoteric truth of 'As above, so below'. Christ reinforces this claim in his discussion with Nicodemus in a dialogue which again hints at the feminine nature of the Holy Spirit:

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know though art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." - John 3: 1-5

The imagery of birth and rebirth, of water and the Holy Spirit all points towards feminine energy. In almost all cultures, and especially in pre-Christian ones, the transformative moment for the Soul lies in the moment of reentry into the Womb of the Great Mother, or Divine Feminine. In an earlier post we looked at how the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone were echoed in the story of Mary Magdelene and Christ at the Tomb. Similarly, it should be remembered that the Creation was begun by the spirit of God moving "upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). In Kabbalah, the Spirit of God and the Waters here are known as the Higher and Lower Shekinah (ie Binah and Malkuth) or the Great Mother and the Daughter. The spiritual waters and the earthly waters combine to bring forth life. Thus, perhaps, in reuniting the image of water and the Holy Spirit within references to being born, Christ is suggesting a return to the wholeness inherent before the Fall. There is a connection here with the "bitter feminine waters" of Kabbalah too, sometimes referred to as 'Marah', which is the root word for the names Miriam and Mary. Once again, the Bible points towards a feminine energy when speaking of the Holy Spirit. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that in John's Gospel, one or more Marys are always present at the key miracles to do with Resurrection - Lazarus, the Tomb etc etc.

If the Holy Spirit is here identified with the element of Water, elsewhere it is Air and Fire. We have looked at how Pneuma, Spiritus and Ruach all mean 'Breath'. This makes immediate sense of Christ's references to 'the Wind':

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." - John 3:8

Once again, there are echoes here of previous cultures which also identified the Spirit as Wind as a feminine energy. For the Egyptians, for instance, Isis was also known by the epithet 'The Wind of Heaven' and was the chief agency of the Resurrection of Osiris. The Pneuma as Wind appears in the New Testament most famously, though, in the Book of Acts:

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." - Acts 2:1-4


Here the Holy Spirit is both Air and Fire. If one adds the imagery of Water, one sees that in the encounter of the Holy Spirit with our material world (Earth) everything is made whole, all four elements being united as one. Given the Spirit's transcendent nature, its oneness with God, it provides the fifth element, or Quintessence, which provides the goal of all mystical striving: Spirit, also known as Ether in the West and Akasha in the East. This in every way the Holy Spirit is the Healing Breath of God (David Bohm was always fond of pointing out that the word 'Holy' shared the same root as the words 'Whole' and 'Healing'). Through its agency, Christ fulfils his role as the Soter, the original Greek from which we get the English 'Saviour'. In its most ancient meaning, Soter simply means 'Healer'...

Monday, 3 November 2008

VISIONS OF JOHANNA: THE LAST SUPPER: PART THREE

"I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." - John 12:46-47

Before we move on, a quick word about this idea of Christ as the Cosmic Man. Ever since I can remember, this has pretty much been the whole point of the Christ Mystery for me, although it is of course inherent in all cultures. I remember standing in a bookshop once in Oxford in front of an image on a poster of a Byzantine icon of Christ Pantokrator (Christ the Creator of All) and being taken into a sudden meditative state of being. It was as if by looking at the picture I was taken somewhere else. The sensation was of falling through Time and Space into the Cosmos. Not bad for an afternoon's shopping in Blackwell's! Since then - and of course there was a little more to it than a poster in a bookshop - any contact I have had with most mainstream Christianity has been one of bafflement. Their's was not an experience I recognised.

As I have mentioned before, every culture has its idea of the Cosmic Man. In Kabbalah it is Adam Kadmon. In Hinduism it is Purusha. The idea is of all humanity held together in one great human form, the World Soul if you like, also known as the 'Atman' in Hinduism or the 'Anima Mundi' in the West. In Christianity it is both Adam and Christ, Adam being the 'Old Cosmic Man', bound by Time and Space, Christ being the 'New Cosmic Man' restored to Wholeness and Unity with the Father and transcending Time and Space. As Paul puts it, we are all both:

"And so it is written, the first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit... The first man is of the earth, earthy, the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly... Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." - Corinthians 16:45-51

The ideas is found first in the Upanishads, which draw no distinction between Purusha, the Atman and Brahman, the Spirit Supreme:

"Beyond the Spirit in man is the Spirit of the universe, and beyond is Purusha, the Spirit Supreme. Nothing is beyond Purusha: he is the End of the path. The light of the Atman, the Spirit is invisible, concealed in all beings. It is seen by the seer of the subtle, when the vision is keen and is clear... the knowing self in the Spirit of the universe, and the Spirit of the universe in the Spirit of peace." - Katha Upanishad


Similarly in Kabbalah, Adam Kadmon is so at one with God that it is almost impossible to distinguish them. The spiritual progression is from our own Spirit to the Cosmic Man, from which, or in which, we experience the Atman and, consequently Brahman. This, perhaps, is what Christ means when he says "I am the way and the truth and the life; no man cometh to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) and when he describes himself as 'the true vine' (another reference to Dionysus) in which we must 'abide'. Thus Christ as the embodiment of the Cosmic Man is the means, or the Path, if you will, whereby we in the West may achieve perfect union with the Father:

"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast seen me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one even as we are one. I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." - John 17:20-23

Words which in themselves echo another embodiment of the Cosmic Man, Krishna in the Bagavad Gita:

"I am the same to all beings, and my love is ever the same; but those who worship me with devotion, they are in me and I in them." - Bagavad Gita 9:29

Thus Christ is expressing a Upanishadic vision of the Cosmos and our relationship with God. What is interesting is that in our part of the world, as opposed to that of the East, we have needed the figure of Christ to mediate the way. Dion Fortune said that each region of the world evolves spiritually in different ways according to the karmic challenge that region represents. She argued that we in the West are the most susceptible to Matter. We feel it more intensely than other cultures and seek to overcome it, hence the immense materialism of the West and its specific development of a scientific view aimed at conquering and harnessing it. Thus while in the East the vision of the Divine was universal - Brahman, the Dao - we in the West needed the image of the Incarnation, an overt image of God dwelling in Man, to break open our awareness of the Cosmos and its presence in us. Thus while other cultures had other kinds of Incarnations - Krishna, Osiris, Dionysus, Siva etc - the knowledge was given us through the image of one who was unmistakably human. Thus Christ is one of many expressions or avatars of the One, but holds a unique place in being the means by which this Mystery of was revealed to us in the West. While Krishna and the others were more Gods with human form, Christ was clearly both a man and a God as this was the only way in which this truth would be received:

"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest though then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" - John 14:9


The key thing with the Gospels, and the Last Supper of John in particular, is that Christ hasn't quite got there yet. In the history of Christianity there have been endless centuries of debate about the true nature of Christ. Was he just a man or wholly God? The Arians, Docetists and Cathars all thought he was purely Divine or made of Spirit, others, some Gnostics believed he was a man, Jesus, who became Divine as Christ. Others still, the Unitarians, believed he was purely human and doing God's will. For the Catholics he is God become Man, for the Greek Orthodox he is wholly human and wholly Divine and so on. In John, the true nature of Christ is at its most complex. We know from the outset that he is 'the Word made Flesh' who 'dwelt among us', that is, the Logos which is the prime creative energy of God. But he also speaks repeatedly of his role solely as the agent of the Father's will and not as an independent being:

"The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me." - John 14:10

But we have seen how a prime connection has opened up at the moment of Glorification, moving him much closer to God. Perhaps it is most close to the truth to say that, while Incarnate, Christ is the Word subject to Time and Space. In other words, God existing as a human, subject to weariness, emotion and danger until the moment of the Resurrection and later Ascension, when he is able to return to the Father and, henceforward, exist outside Time and Space, in other words, in his capacity as the Cosmic Man:

"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." - John 14: 18-21


Fascinatingly, all esoteric doctrines speak of a similar process for all the human race - the Soul's descent from the spiritual realms into the realms of Matter, incarnation into this world for as long as the moment when it recognises its Divine Nature and then begins the journey back (or forward, depending on your perspective) to the Source, the All. Thus Christ is an image of the fully realised man whose Divine Nature has been revealed to him and become his Soul Life. In this sense he is 'the Way' - ie the one who shows the way for the whole human race back to God. Thus, as the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip puts it, the receiving of the 'Chrism' (from the Greek Kharis, meaning 'Gift' from which we get the word 'Grace) makes one 'not a Christian but a Christ'. Should this feel shockingly heretical, it should be remembered that the opening verses of John's Gospel tell us that the Word is come to give us all "the power to become the Sons of God" (John 1:12). Likewise he tells us in the First Epistle that "we shall be like Him" (1st John 3:2). And should there be any doubt, Christ himself tells the Apostles in the Last Supper:

"Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." - John 14:12

Not insignificantly, these were the words that German Mystic Meister Eckhardt used in his defence when he was brought up against the Inquisition for heresy. With great indignation he accused his accusers of going against Holy Writ in denying the promise given by Christ of the Divinisation of the human race. For the Church at the time any suggestion of humanity coming close to the Christ-nature was anathema (it is still not uncontroversial). Nevertheless it remains central to the view of many Christian Mystics from St Augustine to Julian of Norwich, Marguerite Porete, Johannes Tauler, John of Ruysbroek, St Teresa of Avila and many others. In the East, on the other hand, among the Orthodox of Greece, Russia and others, the notion is integral to their vision of Christianity. It is known as Theosis and is the ultimate end of the drama of Christianity - the Divinisation of everyone, a perfect Union with God for the whole human race...