Heightened Senses

Hello. I'm Imraan. This is the only thing I own outright; I write from time to time, in the hopes that free-association might save a trip to a sanatorium.

Category: Books

O Man, you make me wonder so!

Sayings by Imam Ali (a)

More wonderful than man himself is that part of his body which is connected with his trunk with muscles. It is his brain (mind). Look what good and bad tendencies arise from it. On the one hand it holds treasures of know- ledge and wisdom and on the other it is found to harbour very ugly desires. If a man sees even a tiny gleam of success, then greed forces him to humiliate himself. If he gives way to avarice, then inordinate desires ruin him, if he is disappointed, then despondency almost kills him. If he is excited, then he loses temper and gets angry. If he is pleased, then he gives up precaution. Sudden fear makes him dull and nervous, and he is unable to think and find a way out of the situation. During the times of peace and prosperity he becomes careless and unmindful of the future. If he acquires wealth, then he becomes haughty and arrogant. If he is plunged in distress, then his agitation, impatience and nervousness disgrace him. If he is overtaken by poverty, then he finds himself in a very sad plight, hunger makes him weak, and over-feeding harms him equally. In short every kind of loss and gain makes his mind unbalanced.

Imam Ali

Why Democracy is Evil!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kPwW8nBVc0g

Remember this from last month?

Pictures of the World – Between Method and Zeitgeist?

“One of the most disagreeable present consequences of the failure to understand what method is, and hence what the limits of any method must be, is our current fashion in respectable pseudo-science. Every scientific epoch has been hospitable to charlatanry and hermetic nonsense, admittedly; but these days our shared faith in the limitless power of scientific method has become so pervasive and irrational that, as a culture, we have become shamefully tolerant of all those lush efflorescences of wild conjecture that grow up continuously at the margins of the hard sciences and thrive on a stolen credibility. This is especially true at the fertile purlieus of Darwinian theory, which enjoys the unfortunate distinction of being the school of scientific thought most regularly invoked to justify spurious theories about precisely everything. Evolutionary biology, properly speaking, concerns the development of physical organisms by way of replication, random mutation, and natural selection, and nothing else. The further the tropes of Darwinian theory drift from this very precise field of inquiry, the more willfully speculative, metaphysically unmoored, and empirically useless they become. Yet texts purporting to provide Darwinian explanations of phenomena it has no demonstrable power to describe pour in ceaseless torrents from the presses and inexhaustible wellsprings of the Internet. There are now even whole academic disciplines, like evolutionary psychology, that promote themselves as forms of science but that are little more than morasses of metaphor. (Evolutionary psychologists often become quite indignant when one says this, but a ‘science’ that can explain every possible form of human behavior and organization, however universal or idiosyncratic, and no matter how contradictory of other behaviors, as some kind of practical evolutionary adaptation of the modular brain, clearly has nothing to offer but fabulous narratives – Just So Stories, as it were – disguised as scientific propositions.) As for the even more daringly speculative application of Darwinian language to spheres entirely beyond the physiological, like economics, politics, ethics, social organization, religion, aesthetics, and so on, it may seem a plausible practice at first glance, and it has quite in keeping with our cultural intuition that evolutionary imperatives somehow lie at the origin of everything (an intuition, incidentally, impossible to prove either as a premise or as a conclusion), but it is a purely analogical, not empirical, approach to things: pictoral, not analytic. It produces only theories that are neither true nor false, entertainingly novel metaphors, some more winsome folklore to add to the charming mythopoeia of materialism; and there is no way in which it could ever do any more than this. As soon as one moves from the realm of physiological processes to that of human consciousness and culture, one has taken leave of the world where evolutionary language can be tested or controlled. There are no longer any physical interactions and replications to be measured, and no discrete units of selection that can be identified (assuming one is not so gullible as to take the logically incoherent and empirically vacuous concept of ‘memes’ seriously). Even if one believes that human consciousness and culture are the results solely of evolutionary forces, one still cannot prove that they function only in a Darwinian fashion, and any attempt to do so soon dissolves into a rosy mist of picturesque similes.

“No doubt it says something about the extraordinarily high esteem in which the sciences are held today, after so many remarkable advances over so sustained a period, that there is scarcely a field of inquiry in the academic world that would not like a share of their glamor. It also goes some way toward explaining the propensity of some in the sciences to imagine that their disciplines endow them with a sort of miraculous aptitude for making significant pronouncements in fields in which they actually have received no tutelage. It is perfectly understandable, for example, but also painfully embarrassing, when Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow casually and pompously declare that philosophy is dead (as they recently have). They might even conceivably be right, but they certainly would not be competent to know if they are (as the fairly elementary philosophical errors in their book show). Every bit as silly are the pronouncements of, say, Richard Feynman or Steven Weinberg regarding the apparent “meaninglessness” of the universe revealed by modern physics (as if any purely physical inventory of reality could possibly have anything to tell us about the meaning of things). High accomplishment in one field – even genius in that field – does not necessarily translate into so much as the barest competence in any other. There is no such thing, at least among finite minds, as intelligence at large; no mind not constrained by its own special proficiencies and formation, no privileged vantage that allows any of us a comprehensive insight into the essence of all things, no expertise or wealth of experience that endows any of us with the wisdom or power to judge what we do not have the training or perhaps the temperament to understand. To imagine otherwise is a delusion, no less in the case of a physicist that in the case of a barber – more so, perhaps, as the barber, not having been indoctrinated with the very peremptory professional dogmas regarding the nature of reality, would no doubt be far easier to disabuse of his confidence of the limitless capacities of tonsorial method.”

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale, New Haven: 2013), pp 72-74. Okay it has been a while since I’ve had to cite anything properly, but that ought to suffice, one hopes! Typos are most-definitely mine.

The Path to God

image

I thought I’d share something that I found myself drawn to, this morning.

Some verses as found in one of my most-cherished possessions, a highly-recommended book entitled:

The Inner Journey: Views from the Islamic Tradition, Edited by William C. Chittick as part of the PARABOLA Anthology Series, Series Editor Ravi Ravindra; Morning Light Press (Idaho, Sandpoint: 2007), p. 206.

On Suffering

Tell me what you do with your suffering, I will tell you who you are.

Dr Tariq Ramadan’s understanding of suffering through Nietzsche as a transformational experience.

I wonder, what do we do with our  day-to-day suffering that elevates us above our current selves? There’s something to be said for the current fad of ‘self love’ and ‘self acceptance’; where is the depth of our thinking?  Why do we turn away from the radical power of transformation that our lived experiences can provide for us. The pursuit of material felicity through accepting oneself and thus turning a blind eye to our lower selves is wholly unsatisfying for the soul that is now so clouded by its own self-reverence that it cannot see its innate purpose.

“Man is the proof of God. A man of God is proof of religion.” (I believe that one is from Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad).

“The Defeat of the Schools”

I’ve recently picked up my copy of Mortimer Adler’s great work – indeed, there are those that deride him for not being one of the great philosophers of the last century (and indeed he spanned almost the whole century), though he reached an audience, and actually said things of substance that most philosophers couldn’t dream to do – and he notes, very astutely, the failure of  teaching institutions to teach people to be good readers, lifelong-learners. I feel it is as true in the United Kingdom, as it was in the United States, over seventy years ago. I enjoyed the last of these paragraphs in particular:

“When I say that the arts are lost, I do not mean that the sciences of grammar and logic, for instance, are gone. There are still grammarians and logicians in the universities. The scientific study of grammar and logic is still pursued, and in some quarters and under certain auspices with renewed vigour. You have probably heard about the “new” discipline which had been advertised lately under the name “semantics.” It is not new, of course. It is as old as Plato and Aristotle. It is nothing but a new name for the scientific study of the principles of linguistic usage, combining grammatical and logical considerations. 

“The ancient and medieval grammarians, and an eighteenth-century writer such as John Locke, could teach the contemporary “semanticists” a lot of principles they do not know, principles they need not try to discover if they would and could read a few books. It is interesting that, just about the time when grammar has almost dropped out of the grammar school, and when logic is a course taken by few college students, these studies should be revived in the graduate school with a great fanfare of original discovery.

“The revival of the study of grammar and logic by the semanticists does not alter my point, however, about the loss of the arts. There is all the difference in the world between studying the science of something and practising the art of it. We would not not like to be served by a cook whose only merit was an ability to recite the cookbook. It is an old saw that some logicians are the least logical of men. When I saw that the linguistic arts have reached a new low in contemporary education and culture, I am referring to the practice of grammar and logic, not to acquaintance with these sciences. The evidence for my statement is simply that we cannot write and read as well as men of other ages could, and that we cannot teach the next generation how to do so, either.

“It is a well-known fact that those periods of European culture in which men were least skilful in reading and writing were periods in which the greatest hullabaloo was raised about the unintelligibility of everything that had been written before. This is what hap end in the decadent Hellenistic period and in the fifteenth century, and it is happening again today. When men are incompetent in reading and writing, their inadequacy seems to express itself in their being hypercritical about everybody else’s writing. A psychoanalyst would understand this as a pathological projection of one’s own inadequacies on to others. The less well we are able to use words intelligently, the more likely we are to blame others for their unintelligible speech. We may even make a fetish of our nightmares about language, and then we become semanticists for fair.”

Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education, (New York; Simon and Schuster: 1940), 85-7.

‘The slave remains the slave’

“Universal man realises eternally in the Truth that he is nothing and yet He is Everything. But such realisation is beyond his human soul, and this is what is meant by the saying: ‘The slave remains the slave.’ The slave cannot become God, since he is either the slave, as in appearance, or nothing at all, as in Reality. Universal man cannot make his human soul divine; like the souls of all other men, but with an outstanding difference of quality, it implies the illusion of an existence apart from God. It differs from them not in kind, but in what might almost be called an organic consciousness that this separate existence is in Truth no more than an illusion. There is a saying that ‘Muhammad is a man, yet not as other men, but like a jewel among stones.’ Albeit the souls remains the soul just as night remains night, or else it vanishes and there is day. But though the soul of Universal Man cannot itself attain to the direct knowledge of the Truth of Certainty, yet unlike other souls it is touched in its centre by a ray of light proceeding from the sun of the Spirit of the Truth; for this perfect soul, represented in Islam by the soul of the Prophet, is none other than the Night of Power (lailatu ‘l-qadr), into which descend the Angels and the Spirit; and the Heart, that is, the point of this spiritual ray’s contact, is as a full moon in the unclouded night of the perfect soul making it better than a thousand months of other nights, that is peerless among all other souls. …

“Universal man with his two natures if figures in the Seal of Solomon, of which the upper and lower triangles represent respectively the Divine and the human nature. In virtue of this duality he is the mediator between Heaven and earth, and it is owing to this function that he is sometimes referred to as ‘the isthmus’ (al-barzakh) as in the Chapter of the Distinct Revelation:

And He it is Who hath let loose the two seas, one sweet and fresh, the other salt and bitter, and hath set between them as isthmus, an impassable barrier.    Qur’an, XXV:53

“In His Heart alone does the sweet sea of the next world meet the salt sea of this; and by reason of this meeting his human nature itself is the noblest and best of all earthly things as is affirmed in the Chapter of the Fig:

Verily We created man in the fairest rectitude. Qur’an, XCV:4

“The nearness of Heaven, by reason of his presence, even causes sometimes the laws of earth to cease perceptibly, just as the moon grows pale at the approach of the day; and it is at such moments that a miracle may take place, such as the changing of water into wine, or the step which leaves a print upon the rock and none upon the sand. As in the Seal of Solomon, his central function as mediator is also figured in the Cross, which is another symbols of Universal Man in that the horizontal line represents the fullness of his earthly nature, whereas the vertical line represents his heavenly exaltation; and yet another of his symbols is the Crescent, for like a cup it indicates his function of receiving Divine Grace, and at the same time, like the horns of the bull, it indicates his majesty, his function of administering this Grace throughout the whole Universe.
Blessed is He Who hath made the distinct revelation unto His servant, that he might be for all the worlds a warner. Qur’an XXV:1.”

Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, The Book of Certainty: The Sufi Doctrine of Faith, Vision and Gnosis, p 8-11

What Mastery of the Mystical Sciences…

Stillness and motion do not apply to Him. How can a thing occur in Him which He has Himself made to occur, and how can a thing revert to Him which He first created, and how can a thing appear in Him which He first brought to appearance? If it had not been so, His Self will have become subject to diversity, His Being will have become divisible (into parts) and His reality will have been prevented from being deemed eternal. If there was a front to Him then there will have been a rear also for Him. He will need completing only if shortage befell Him. IN such case, signs of the created will appear in Him and He will become a sign (leading to other objects) instead of signs leading to Him. Through the might of His abstention (from affectedness) He is far above being affected by things which effect others.

Below, I have typed up Sermon 28 from  the Peak of Eloquence, the vast repository or  collection of Sermons, sayings, letters Imam Ali  (a.s), compiled by Sharif al-Radi.

This version is published by Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, New York.

I’ve included sections from others that are utterly awe-inspiring (emphasis mine, mostly!)

Sermon 28 – About the Transient Nature of this World and the Importance of the Next World

What a truly edifying, (perhaps terrifying) words of perennial wisdom and admonition; how easy it is to forget the life that is to come; too easily do we live as if we will never die, that we’ll repent tomorrow – yet in whose mortal hand does the power exist to guarantee his tomorrow? Sharif al-Radi, the compiler of this great work,

“So now, surely this world has turned its back and announced its departure while the next world has appeared forward and proclaimed its approach. Today is the day of preparation while tomorrow is the day of race. The place to proceed is Paradise while the place of doom is Hell. Is there no one to offer repentance over his faults before his death? Or is there no one to perform virtuous acts before the day of trial?

“Beware, surely you are in the days of hopes behind which stands death. Whoever acts during the days of his hope before the approach of his death, his action would benefit him and his death would not harm him. But he who fails to act during the period of hope before the approach of death, his action is a loss and his death will harm him. Beware and act during a period of attraction just as you act during a period of dread. Beware, surely I have not seen one who covets Paradise asleep nor dreads Hell to be asleep. Beware, he whom right does not benefit must suffer the harm of the wrong and he whom guidance does not keep firm will be led away by misguidance toward destruction.

“Beware, you have been ordered insistently to march and have been guided as to how to provide for the journey. Surely the most frightening thing which I am afraid of about you is to follow desires and to widen the hopes. Provide for yourself from this world what would save you tomorrow (on the Day of Judgement).”
The Last Portion  of Sermon 83 – The Lesson to Be Learned from Those Who Have Passed Away:

“O servants of Allah!! Where are those who were allowed (long) ages to live and they enjoyed bounty? They were taught and they learned. they were given time and they passed it in vain. They were kept healthy and they forgot (their duty). They were allowed a long period (of life), were handsomely provided, were warned of grievous punishment and were promised big rewards. You should avoid sins that lead to distraction and vices that attract the wrath (of Allh).

“O people who possess eyes and ears, health and wealth! Is there any place of protection, any shelter of safety, or asylum or haven, or occasion to run away or to come back (to this world)? If not, how are you, then turned away (Holy Quran, 6:95;   10:34;   35:3;   40:62) and whither are you averting? By what things have you been deceived? Certainly, the share of everyone of you from the earth is just a piece of land equal to his owns stature and size where he would lie on his cheeks covered with dust. The present is an opportune moment for acting.

“O servants of Allah! Since the neck is free from the loop and spirit is also unfettered, now you have time for seeking guidance. You are in ease of body; you can assemble in crowds, the rest of life is before you; you have opportunity of acting by will; there is opportunity for repentance and peaceful circumstances. (But you should act) before you are overtaken by narrow circumstances and distress, or fear and weakness, before the approach of the awaited death and before seizure by the Almighty, the Powerful.”

*”Sayyid ar-Radi says the following: ‘It is related that when Imam Ali ibn Abu [sic] Talib delivered this sermon people began to tremble, tears flowed from their eyes and their hearts were frightened. Some people call this sermon Brilliant Sermon (al-Khutbatul-Gharra’).

A Portion of Sermon 184 – on the Creation of the Universe

“In His creation, the big, the delicate, the heavy, the light, the strong, the week are all equal. ** So is the sky, the air, the winds and the water. Therefore, look at the sun, moon, vegetation, plants, water, stone, the difference of this night and day, the springing of the streams, the large number of the mountains, the height of their peeks, the diversity of languages and the variety of tongues. Then woe unto him who disbelieves in the One who ordains, who denies the Ruler! These believe that they are like grass for which there is no cultivator nor any maker for their own sundry shapes. They have not relied on any argument for what they assert, nor on any research for what they have heard. Can there be any construction without a constructor, or any offense without an offender?

The Wonderful Creation of the Locust

“If you wish, you can tell about the locust (as well). Allah gave it two red eyes, lighted for them two moons like pupils, made for it small ears, opened for it a suitable mouth and gave it a keen sense, gave it two teeth to cut with and two sickle-like feet to grip with. The farmers are afraid of it in the matter of crops. Farmers cannot drive the locust away even though they may join together in their effort. The locust attics the fields and satisfies its hunger although its body is not equal to a thin finger.”

The Glory of Allah

“Glorified is Allah before Whom everything in the skies or on earth bows down in prostration willingly and unwillingly, submits to Him by placing his cheeks and face (on the dust), kneels before Him (in obedience) peacefully and humbly and hands over to Him full control in fear and apprehension.

“The birds are bound by His commands. He knows the number of their feathers and their breaths. He has made their feet stand on water and on dry land. He has ordained their livelihoods. He knows their species. This is the crow, this is the eagle, this is the pigeon, and this is the ostrich. He called out every bird by its name (while creating it) and provided it with its livelihood. He created heavy clouds and produced from them heavy rain, spreading it on various lands. He drenched the earth after its dryness and grew vegetation from it after its barrenness.”

**

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

“…In the First Epistle of Peter we are told to honour everyone, and I have never been in a situation where I felt this instruction was inappropriate. When we accept dismissive judgements of our community we stop having generous hopes for it. We cease to be capable of serving its best interests. The cultural disaster called ‘dumbing down,’ which swept through every significant American institution and grossly impoverished civic and religious life, was and is the result of the obsessive devaluing of lives that happen to pass on this swath of continent. On average, in the main, we are Christian people, if the polls re to be believed. How is Christianity consistent with this generalised contempt that seems to lie behind so much so-called public discourse? Why the judgmentalism, among people who are supposed to believe we are, and we live among, souls precious to God – three hundred million of them on this plot of ground, a population large and various enough to hint broadly at the folly of generalization? It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not appear to respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts. As we withdraw from one another we withdraw from the world, except as we increasingly insist that foreign groups and populations are our irreconcilable enemies. The shrinking of imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.”

I have copied (hopefully without too many typographical errors) a paragraph of Marilynne Robinson’s essay, Imagination and Community. 

In the last days I have begun to wonder as to whether I have indeed become a cynical person – the world that I have constructed around me appears to be full of intellectual and imagined barriers that separate me from my fellow human beings. It is an important question, no-doubt, as to whether we are a specie that by nature likes to be able to discriminate when it comes to the differences that we possess, individually or collectively, between ourselves and that imagined ‘other.’

Though I fear the American, and in general liberal democratic institutions which underpin and undergird the modern pluralistic and secularist societies in which those of us who are privileged find ourselves in, model(s) can lead to a sort-of moral relativism inflicted upon society by design – in that the general will of the populace ought to reign as the supreme agent of what is difficultly and tenuously entitled ‘Progress;’ – and I am cautious, I suppose about certainly constructing a society where certain judgements are removed from the moral calculus, if I understand her correctly  –  though that said, I think Robinson may be spot-on when it comes to having and cultivating faith in our fellow man.

Indeed, when we act and claim that the impetus for our behaviour is say, ‘austerity,’ or ‘social justice’ (construed very narrowly as always), or for ‘progress,’ ‘liberation’ we naturally exclude some remaining population from our acts. Not one banker in the UK has gone to prison, yet hundreds of thousand – nay, millions, of the poorest and infirm are suffering as a result of the pernicious behaviour or others. Does social justice merely imply a narrowing of the economic gap between people? Are we not acting in bad faith when we assume primarily that the constructing factor of an individual – that which will shape his behaviour to be a functional economic cog in the machinery of the state – is his financial means? What is to be said for ‘progress,’ when we demonise those that seek to restrain it by calling them reactionaries? What happens to the environment in which the other will have to live, or cease to make his livelihood out of, in our unrelenting pursuit of this end? What of the women whose ‘sexual liberation’ came at the cost of a broader dignity through which men began to see them as sexual beings alone. One need only to pass an advertisement on the London Underground to realise how much sex actually sells in our society – what of the fact that women are having to work within a male-dominated paradigm and give up on certain other humane pursuits which for generations have served to keep this specie alive, merely just to firmly grasp at the scraps left-over from the pie so savagely sliced and consumed by men?

These are sweeping examples, and it is beyond the scope of this simple post to provide a long and detailed and coherent analysis; the point to take away from all of this is that the way in which we operate and coexist with the other has now become a cynical exercise, and an enterprise which will collectively bring untold misery – our recent economic plights, or slow responses to environmental catastrophes, might say just as much. Who knows, maybe I am being cynical here, too – I can undoubtedly not exclude myself from this discourse – but what would happen tomorrow if we all woke up and began to see our fellow man in another light? How would this change our behaviour?

Having faith in our fellow man these days takes courage – our whole technological culture relies on our individualism and selfishness to keep it going – why are we so afraid to trust that our brothers have our best interests at heart and that they will consider this in the calculating of their political decisions? If it is a stretch for me to ask you to envisage such a possibility, and it surely is at this juncture of our history, then it should send a shudder through our spine and incline us to ask, “why should it so be?”

On the Soul

Dear friends, 

I have, for the last few days, been dipping into a wonderful collection of essays by Marilynne Robinson, called When I Was a Child I Read Books. I’ve managed to steal a computer for a short time from relatives – who have grown perhaps as dependent upon them as have I! So here is what I could produce in a short amount of time:

If indeed you’re looking for a read that will draw your attention merely to the state of ‘marvel,’ or ‘wonder’ at the glory of the very fact that you ‘are,’ then there are very few books I might recommend more highly than this one, for it is exquisite. Robinson has a way of lovingly crafting her sentences, and drawing the reader’s internal eye to a state of reflection that I feel few modern writers can do comparably well. 

Here is a stunningly beautiful passage from her first essay, Freedom of Thought, on modern discourse and the soul: (I hope I have not breached any copyrights – though dear readers feel free to inform me and I will edit the passage as necessary; my hope is just that you get a decent and tantalising spoonful of her work that would draw you in to purchase her books):

“Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word “soul,” and in my opinion the loss of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit. In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost, having answered som set of divine expectations or failed to answer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it. So the soul, the masterpiece of creation, is more or less reduced to a token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with that miraculous thing, the felt experience of life, except insofar as life offers distractions or temptations. 

Having read recently that there are more neurons in the human brain that there are stars in the Milky Way, and having read any number of times that the human brain is the most complex object known to exist in the universe, and that the mind is not identical with the brain but is more mysterious still, it seems to me this astonishing nexus of the self, so uniquely elegant and capable, merits a name that would indicate a difference in kind from the ontological run of things, and for my purposes “soul” would do nicely. Perhaps I should pause here to clarify my meaning, since there are those who feel that the spiritual is diminished or denied when it is associated with the physical. I am not among them. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” If we are to consider the heavens, how much more are we to consider the magnificent energies of consciousness that make whomever we pass on the street a far grander marvel than our galaxy? At this point of dynamic convergence, call it self or call it soul, questions of right and wrong are weighed, love is felt, guilt and loss are suffered. And, over time, formation occurs, for weal or woe, governed in large part by that unaccountable capacity for self-awareness. 

The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world. From it proceeds every thought, every art. I like Calvin’s metaphor – nature is a shining garment in which God is revealed and concealed. As we perceive we interpret, and we make hypotheses. Something is happening, it has a certain character or meaning which we usually feel we understand tentatively, though experience is almost always available to reinterpretation based on subsequent experience or reflection. Here occurs the weighing of moral and ethical choice. Behavior proceeds from all this, and is interesting, to my mind, in the degree that it can be understood to proceed from it. 

We are very much afflicted now by tedious, fruitless controversy. Very often, perhaps typically, the most important aspect of a controversy is not the area of disagreement but the hardening of agreement, the tacit granting on all sides of assumptions that ought not to be granted on any side. The treatment of the physical as a distinct category antithetical to the spiritual is one example. There is a deeply rooted notion that the material exists in opposition to the spiritual, precludes or repels or trumps the sacred as an idea.This dichotomy goes back at least to the dualism of the Manichees, who believed the physical world was the creation of an evil god in perpetual conflict with a good god, and to related teachings within Christianity that encouraged mortification of the flesh, renunciation of the world, and so on.

For almost as long as there has been science in the West there has been a significant strain in scientific thought which assumed that the physical and material preclude the spiritual. The assumption persists among us still, vociforous as ever, that if a thing can be “explained,” associated with a physical process, it has been excluded from the category of the spiritual. But the “physical” in this sense is only a disappearingly thin slice of being, selected, for our purposes, out of the totality of being by the fact that we perceive it as solid, substantial.We all know that if we were the size of atoms, chairs and tables would appear to us as loose clouds of energy. It seems to me very amazing that the arbitrarily selected “physical” world we inhabit is coherent and lawful. An older vocabulary would offer the word “miraculous.” Knowing what we know now, and earlier generation might see divine providence in the fact of a world coherent enough to be experienced by us as complete in itself, and as a basis upon which all claims to reality can be tested. A truly theological age would see this divine Providence intent on making a human habitation within the wild roar of the cosmos.”

 

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