Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Evolution of God

New topic: the evolution of God. But how can God evolve, since God is by definition outside space and time, and therefore not subject to change? Well, God may not evolve, but humans surely do, and with it, their conception of God.

At least this is the argument set forth by Rodney Stark in his Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, which I'm currently reading. I can already see that I have some differences with his approach; nevertheless, this is one of those books I wish had been available when I wrote mine, since he has some very important things to say that would have helped me to fine-tune my vision.

In particular, it helps me to more clearly elucidate my differences with Schuon over the question of whether time is spiritually entropic or leading in a positive direction. If Stark is correct, I don't see how it is possible to maintain that cultures of the past were intrinsically superior to ours just because they were closer in time to this or that revelation. The unspeakable barbarism of the past is difficult for me to overcome.

This will be a multi-parter. Also, in case it's not obvious, this will be one of those exercises that is more for me than for you, as its purpose will be to discover what I think. In other words, I'll be thinking out loud and you'll be eavesdropping, so don't complain if the results are half-baked while they're still in the oven.

One factor that immediately sets Stark apart from other attempts to understand the basis of religion is that he is not contemptuous of believers, nor does he assume at the outset -- as sociobiologists, evolutionary psychologists, and materialists in general must do -- that God is simply the name we give to a collective delusion implemented for the purposes of genetic survival.

In other words, for a materialist, religion cannot really be "about" God, since God does not exist. Rather, there must be some hidden benefit to this massive and universal self-deception, say, group cohesion, or fear-management.

Stark summarizes the situation by noting that "this entire body of recent work is remarkably inferior because so few authors could restrain their militant atheism." Indeed, if "atheist" is just a name we give to people who, for whatever reason, have a spiritual impairment that prevents access to the transcendent, then nothing they say about God is of any value whatsoever, as it's simply a "negative hallucination," or confabulation, designed to paper over an ontological hole in their vertical perception.

Everything else about man is subject to development, why not his understanding of God? In this regard, man's "discovery" of God is not fundamentally different than, say, the discovery of fire, or electricity, or gravity. The discovery is just the initial "containment" of a real phenomena, but that's not the end of it, only the beginning.

But as we learn more, the cognitive container undergoes transformations, as is true of any knowledge. As Stark writes, "Jews and Christians have always assumed that the application of reason can yield an increasingly more accurate understanding of God" -- in other words, that our understanding evolves. Jesus makes reference to this in explaining his use of parables to the masses, as does Paul in his allegory of giving milk to spiritual babes but meat to the grown-ups.

This in no way detracts from the truth of revelation, which no human being could "contain." Again, what transforms is the human container, which changes both quantitatively and qualitatively. In other words, our spiritual holding capacity doesn't just get "larger," but more "multi-dimensional." You might say that the circle doesn't only expand, but gradually becomes a sphere as well. Indeed, you could say that exoterism involves growth of the circle, whereas esoterism pertains to growth of the sphere.

Again, as Stark notes, "from the earliest days it has been the conventional Christian view that although the Bible is true, its meaning often is uncertain" and subject to diverse and vertically layered interpretations. Thus, to reduce revelation to a literal reading is to attempt to cram the sphere back into the circle, when the whole point is that the circle is the residue of the sphere, not vice versa.

A key concept is divine accomodation, which maintains that "God's revelations are always limited to the current capacity of humans to comprehend" (Stark). In other words -- and how could it be otherwise? -- "in order to communicate with humans, God is forced to accommodate their incomprehension by resorting to the equivalent of 'baby talk.'"

If this is correct, then revelation itself should reflect changing perceptions of God, as God instructs a slowly developing mankind. And indeed it does reflect this growth (e.g., Jews occasionally backsliding into idolatry and other offenses, or Peter's gradual understanding), not just within official scripture, but if we stand back and take a cosmic view.

This is the approach I adopted in my book, and which Stark has already helped me to fill out in certain areas. That is, if we think of history itself as salvation history, then what we call official "salvation history" (i.e, the chronicle of Divine-human contact in the Old and New Testaments) is a subset of the former.

Or, better yet, it is like a fractal of the whole, since no one person could ever wrap his mind around the whole existentialada. But with God's help -- through revelation -- we are given the means to do just that, to grasp the whole through the quintessential fractal known as revelation. For any "part" of God is paradoxically the whole, both in space and time -- e.g., the Son is both distinct from, and yet at one with, the Father. And the Word was -- and is -- there at the beginning, so that to know the Word is to know the beginning and end, i.e., Alpha and Omega.

Stark quotes some of the early fathers such as Irenaeus, who wrote that "the written revelation in inspired scripture is a veil that must be penetrated. It is an accommodation to our present capacites... [that] will one day be superseded." Or, Thomas Aquinas, who agreed that the "things of God" are "revealed to mankind only in proportion to their capacity; otherwise, they might despise what was beyond their grasp...."

This implies a corollary, that men might come to despise the things of God if they regard them as beneath their grasp, which I believe is the situation postmodern man finds himself in. Thus, is it possible for God -- using the same scripture and identical revelation -- to accommodate these lost souls?

You tell me. It is certainly one of the missions of both my book and this blog: to demonstrate day-in and day-out that God's revelation will always be "ahead of its time." You can call yourself "post-modern," but you are still pre-Ancient of Days, for "before Abraham was, I AM."

42 Comments:

Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Leon Kass is an example of a post-modern academic who upon taking up the close study of Genesis (initially as one might undertake studying ancient fables) came away dumbfounded over the seemingly bottomless profundity and holographic nature of the work.

Unfortunately Kass is a rare bird: an honest man in the midst of wackademia. Nonetheless I believe his unbeliever's reaction to revelation supports the idea that revelation is like a self-adjusting computer interface which reveals more and more complexity as the user's sophistication grows.

5/06/2010 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

This implies a corollary, that men might come to despise the things of God if they regard them as beneath their grasp... is it possible for God -- using the same scripture and identical revelation -- to accommodate these lost souls?

Possible, yes, of course. I think enough of us here went through the hubris of atheism to know that it can happen. The challenge lies in demonstrating to the invert-ebrates that their worldview is upside down, and that religion - and scripture and revelation - are not just for stupid people.

5/06/2010 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Or, to paraphrase Schuon, does it make any sense that God would deny religion to the intellectually gifted?

5/06/2010 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

...what transforms is the human container, which changes both quantitatively and qualitatively. In other words, our spiritual holding capacity doesn't just get "larger," but more "multi-dimensional."

Very good.

One man's definition: A sphere may be thought of as an infinity of simultaneous omnidirectional circles around a common center.

And I suppose the common center is the Eternal Now?

5/06/2010 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

does it make any sense that God would deny religion to the intellectually gifted?

I met a man (a theoretical mathematician) years ago in Montreal who had one of the higher measured IQs (somewhere north of 190 as I recall). He told me that such hypertrophied general intelligence was for him "a curse".

As with an extremely powerful car, it is very easy to end up in the weeds with catastrophic results (I presume).

5/06/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger f/zero said...

In other words, our spiritual holding capacity doesn't just get "larger," but more "multi-dimensional."

As I suspect Noah found out. And why the story is encoded for us as it is.

5/06/2010 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger greyniffler said...

This implies a corollary, that men might come to despise the things of God if they regard them as beneath their grasp...

Not so surprising, really. If you find that the price for something you want is more than you are willing to pay, you are likely to become angry and engage in sour grapes. Like the present-day barbarians who want the prosperity possible in a more civilized life while refusing to embrace the virtues that make the prosperity possible.

5/06/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Dianne said...

When I read the Bible in my younger days, before I had much life experience and whatnot, there was a lot of it I didn't understand. But when I went back and read it later in life, I understood the meanings of things a LOT better. Except for Revelations. Maybe I should go back and read it now to see if I can understand that particular book any better. And if not, I can always ask here. :)

And speaking on this topic - several days ago, Bob, when you were feeling frustrated about pouring forth here for so long and people still don't seem to get it - I was thinking on the drive home, that's probably why Jesus used simple language and parables a lot when teaching.

5/06/2010 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I don't recall feeling frustrated and pouring forth and all that. I'm pretty shocked that I have any readers at all... Although I do feel that we are an under-served community, and that there must be more of our kind out there...

5/06/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Bob wrote, "I'm pretty shocked that I have any readers at all..."

I recently read some things by Peter Ralston, who happens to teach martial arts, but who is interested in other things as well. This little passage reminded me of your efforts here at OC:

"...for most of us, seeking out the truth is no more than a passing interest, or an entertaining debate with some friends. Attention and commitment to such things are temporary and minor. For some, they are nonexistent.

"The very nature of where we need to look precludes the participation of many people, since this kind of inquiry is not conducive to fantasy, and mere fleeting interest yields little understanding. Those who make the effort and find their way ... should be prepared to remain alone with even the most mind-altering breakthroughs, since without a lot of work no one is likely to comprehend what you're trying to convey."

5/06/2010 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Dianne said...

And yet, somehow, some readers haven't learned a thing. Go figure!

A comment you made under your "Hiatus" thread.

5/06/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That was only a winking reference to the reader directly above the comment.

5/06/2010 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Indeed, if "atheist" is just a name we give to people who, for whatever reason, have a spiritual impairment that prevents access to the transcendent, then nothing they say about God is of any value whatsoever, as it's simply a "negative hallucination," or confabulation, designed to paper over an ontological hole in their vertical perception.

I forget this sometimes, that atheists are disabled -- or to be PC, differently-abled. When Jesus passed through healing the sick, opening blind eyes, or giving strength to the paralyzed, I'm sure there were people who were not healed. We know that many in His hometown rejected Him. Those not healed were just as helpless and in need as those who were. Why would it be any different now?

5/06/2010 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

And I think there are more of us out there. They just haven't found this site.

It's funny - My boss is a Jewish atheist, but all of the people who work for her are Christians. One of the guys is pastor. We have philosophical discussions in our office a lot, which is probably rare for a owrk environment. I sometimes bring up topics discussed here.

5/06/2010 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

mind-altering breakthroughs

I would even go so far as to say that I might be well-advised to keep such breakthroughs to myself. Not only is my capacity to adequately convey "mind-altering" truth severely limited, I also run the risk of casting pearls before swine -- of profaning the sacred by my clumsy attempts to express it.

5/06/2010 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Wal:, "Those who make the effort and find their way ... should be prepared to remain alone with even the most mind-altering breakthroughs, since without a lot of work no one is likely to comprehend what you're trying to convey."

and Mushroom: We know that many in His hometown rejected Him.

Familiarity breeds contempt. Those who knew Jesus when he was just another local boy thought they already understood who he was, and probably felt no need or desire to reevaluate what they already "knew." In much the same way, people tend to think after a little study that they know "enough" about a given topic. Usually after they know just enough to get themselves in trouble (without realizing that's what they've done). In my experience, smarter people tend to be worse that way, often counting on their superior reason and intelligence to cover for any lack. Once they reach the "enough" point their minds snap closed on the subject, and they aren't interested in increasing their understanding. They simply want to regurgitate what they already know.

5/06/2010 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Or to paraphrase Kingsley (I think it was... Walt?), they pee on the concept and, having marked their territory, amble along their way.

5/06/2010 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Dianne said...

Mushroom and Julie, I totally agree. I used to be so excited by my "revelations" I'd try to discuss it with my friends, and they thought I was being a bit "extreme," so I stopped discussing it with other people, except at places like this where other people are also "seekers." Even in the office here when we have our discussions I kind of hold back.

5/06/2010 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Well Dianne, I wouldn't say commenters discusses their extreme experiences here, either.

There is an unspoken agreement that topics of sex, mental or emotional anguish, grief,mental illness symptoms, personal experiences with addictions, unusual cognitive experiences, out-of-body, clairvoyance, PK, deju-vu, ghosts, near death, rhapsody and exaltation, are not discussed here.

The reason is probably these topics veer too quickly out of control and become incredible or unamenable to rational debate.

I'm thinking of starting a blog where such items would be the main grist. Would anyone be interested?

5/06/2010 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Julie, you have a good memory:

Our minds are like a dog's bladder. Dogs pee on things that catch their interest so they can leave their mark on them, so they can put a claim on what they imagine is somehow theirs. When anything catches our interest, we think about it and overwhelm it with the smell of our thoughts.

Just by thinking matters over we bring them onto our own level, make them a part of our world -- without even realizing what we are doing.

5/06/2010 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Walt - I knew you'd have it somewhere!

Dianne, Even in the office here when we have our discussions I kind of hold back.

Yep, it's a rare person indeed (in my experience) who actually grasps or has much of an interest in the esoteric stuff. Even among people of faith. And as Mushroom noted, a lot of it is simply very difficult to put into words without doing violence to the meaning, being completely misunderstood, or written off as a kook.

Actually, I wouldn't mind being written off as a kook by most people, but you have to live with some of them, in which case discretion is simply wise. :)

5/06/2010 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Julie: Also, things that cut really close to the bone need to be handled carefully. That's what therapists are for.

However, I do think an anonymous forum where one could let 'er rip and damn the torpedoes regarding some of the more light and fun of weird experiences could be exhilarating as well. Let the inner kook out to play, so to speak.

Probably such forums exist online already.

But Julie makes a good point about exoteric things. They are not of great utility in life.

But anguish; that's a whole different matter. What anguishes us is precisely the epicenter of where our attention should be placed. That is where the work to be done is located.

It can't be done here but maybe approached tangentially, subtly, and slowly.

5/06/2010 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Grant, please refrain from sticking words in my mouth.

The exoteric is just as important as the esoteric. Saying that it is of no utility is as ludicrous as saying that skin doesn't serve a purpose, and I would never advocate such a position.

5/06/2010 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"Thus, to reduce revelation to a literal reading is to attempt to cram the sphere back into the circle, when the whole point is that the circle is the residue of the sphere, not vice versa."

Not to belabor the point, but this idea of a 3D added to the horizontal and vertical model of man's existence was what we were talking about before. Reading Jung and his idea of the Collective Memory may be that third axis that would include epigenetic accountability and the souls responsibility to his ancestors and progeny.

This Stark guy sounds like he is worth reading.

Interesting WV: subviest

5/06/2010 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Dianne re Revelations

I think you should read some texts on Zoroastrianism and then read Revelations and Danial's prophesies. Think some things will fall in place. I think some cosmic ground was tilled and prepared for Peter by Zoroaster. Just saying.

5/06/2010 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"Although I do feel that we are an under-served community, and that there must be more of our kind out there..."

Maybe you should file for a Federal Grant to redress our underserved status. Hell, we might be able to qualify as a historically disenfranchised minority deserving of tax dollars. Free Skittles - Free Unicorns!

5/06/2010 05:15:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Never mind the skittles & unicorns, what about the free beer?

5/06/2010 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Julie re:

"Never mind the skittles & unicorns, what about the free beer?"

Julie, with all due respect, lets not bring the Feds sensitive and creative touch in on beer. Some things are sacred.

Cosmic WV: grabif

5/06/2010 05:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Tigtog:

Just reading in Stark that there's some serious overlap between Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and that the prophet Ezekial might very well have been Zoroaster. If he wasn't the Z man, he probably knew him or of him.

5/06/2010 05:27:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D
Good point, Tigtog; it's probably best to avoid the government beer.

5/06/2010 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"there's some serious overlap between Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and that the prophet Ezekial might very well have been Zoroaster."

I think I will give Stark a read while in Azerbaijan. Thanks for the tip.

5/06/2010 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re Overwhelming Forboding Last Friday Concerning Market

Seems that my intuition was correct. Too bad I don't act on it. I need to start trusting my inner self. When scared - run.

5/06/2010 05:53:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Tigtog:

Someone pressed the "B" key instead of the "M" key on a P&G sell. It'll all come back by early next week.

5/06/2010 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Northern Bandit re:

"Someone pressed the "B" key instead of the "M" key on a P&G sell. It'll all come back by early next week."

Sure - thats the ticket. My guess is the big boys know they have to save their meal ticket and will show up big tomorrow (unless the aggrieved Greek communists torch a few more people for fear their Govt checks get reduced). I am more worried about a complete lack of confidence overtaking all financial markets world wide. When I look around to find a leader that inspires united grit, I don't see any. Hate to say it, but I have little faith in our metrosexual America. There is an absence of testosterone and calm reserve available. We have become what our enemies wanted us to become, a gaggle of competing ghettos ripping our cloths to demonstrate how deserving of pity we are for our special victimhood. In times like these there is only one place to look for leadership and that is America. Unfortunately, there is none available. "Got Leadership"? Would make a good commercial.

5/06/2010 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Hmm...

1) Testosterone √

2) Calm Reserve √

3) Available -- not

wv sez toxic, which is precisely my point!

5/06/2010 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Tigtog:

Oh, we're in trouble all right. We'll get through the hard way (no other choice). My fear is that the type of people who really admire Obama are the same types that line up for duty in the resulting New Fascism.

EU was always a very bad idea if for no other reason than it prevents small sovereign states from devaluing their way out of these crises (plus they don't get to blackmail the relatively hard workers like Germany).

Greece: that was a loooong way down from 2300 years ago.

5/06/2010 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Saying that it is of no utility is as ludicrous as saying that skin doesn't serve a purpose, and I would never advocate such a position.

Not just skin -- clothes. I was just kind reminiscing a few minutes ago about the streaking craze in the Spring '74. We young men thought it was kind of cool to see lots of naked girls run by. And some of them looked pretty good, but I soon came to the conclusion that -- for most of us -- clothes are a really good idea.

So, too, the exoteric.

wv says domporp described a lot of streakers.

5/06/2010 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

:D

Too bad so many people even today think that being naked in public should be a human right. The ones that tend to act on it are almost always the ones who really need to have mercy on the rest of the world and put some clothes on...

5/06/2010 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Northern Bandit re:

"EU was always a very bad idea if for no other reason than it prevents small sovereign states from devaluing their way out of these crises (plus they don't get to blackmail the relatively hard workers like Germany)."

Agree with you estimate. Also, the EU is discovering what Hitler and Napoleon already knew: if you want to unite Europe you had better have one big ugly stick and use it. Carrots won't get the job done. Especially if you expect only the Germans to buy the carrots.

I think the really bright countries were Poland and Czech. They both retained their own currency and still had access to the Eurozone. Bet a lot of Germans are wondering why they weren't as bright as the Poles? When the Germans start selling their Euros for Swiss Francs, you know the end is near for the Euro.

5/06/2010 06:56:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic, more evidence (as though any were needed) that the MSM are completely divorced from reality.

5/06/2010 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

I wonder to what degree each person is doomed to repeat the psychogenesis of history. At least it should be possible to avoid some of the long pauses and backsliding. But even Jesus was around 30 before he began his work in public.

One way to get stuck is to substitute amplitude for depth. Kind of like quantity for quality. It really is possible to not recognize depth when we see it.

Sometimes time and fate have to work as substitute teachers for a while, it seems.

5/06/2010 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"In other words, our spiritual holding capacity doesn't just get "larger," but more "multi-dimensional." You might say that the circle doesn't only expand, but gradually becomes a sphere as well. Indeed, you could say that exoterism involves growth of the circle, whereas esoterism pertains to growth of the sphere."

Crud.. gotta go, can't coment - Ryan, newly graduated and sworn in to defend the constitution is ready to go... but excellent post and comments (excepting you know who)

5/07/2010 10:42:00 AM  

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