Wednesday 1 June 2022

Barrier to a spiritual everyday life: explaining-away all significance

Ingrained habits of thinking, conceptualizing, interpreting... these are the proximate, immediate, front-line agents of materialism. 

It is these habits that ensure we do not even notice the many 'spiritual phenomena' that flow-past-us in our everyday lives; it is these habits that keep us locked (passive and alienated) in a prison of dead, accidental 'happenings to us'  - events which mean nothing, and are going nowhere. 

Of course, here-and-now, a meaningless life is usually underpinned by the metaphysical assumptions that sustain materialism: e.g. that the universe just happened without creative purpose, that 'dead' matter came first in history and 'consciousness' evolved from it, that the material is objective and the spiritual subjective products of Men's thinking, that thinking is a brain activity - cut off from the rest of the world...  

Yet, even when the metaphysical assumptions are of God, creation and the primacy of the spiritual over the material - as is the case for many religious people; these proximate materialist assumptions usually remain operative... 

Such that many devout Christians actually experience most of the world as caused by factors such as random chance, 'luck', accidents and errors, abstract socio-political systems, and humanly-motivated wickedness.  

The idea that the 'mundane' events of My everyday life (at work, in the streets, social relationships, dealing with bureaucracies) are actually manifestations of divine causes and purposes - the idea that 'every little thing' in life can and should be understood spiritually - such notions tends to strike thoughtful Christians as simple-minded, self-serving; or even paranoid or crazy... 

Modern Christians have developed automatic psychological processes that will spontaneously 'explain' the events of life using mainstream materialist concepts (vaguely...) derived from sciences such as physics, chemistry, natural selection, psychology. 

And as some combination of rigid causal determinism with random and undirected chance. 

In spiritual terms; people don't just explain their everyday experiences - they explain-away their significance. They habitually (without choice, without awareness) reduce all that seems striking, important, portentous, numinous of our lives into one or another hypothesis of insignificance. 

Thus, we look with wonder and joy at something in the natural world - a tree, cat, landscape, baby - and the apparent spiritual significance our emotion is automatically explained-away (whether in broad brush terms, or by a theory) as wishful thinking, or a consequence of evolution, or some random combination of impersonal causes. 

Something happens in our lives, or the lives of those we love, or in the national life - and we merely regard it as an accident, good or bad luck, or duet to the incompetence or wickedness of Men...

In the end; for many people the 'deepest' type of importance anything can have is 'merely' related to our personal emotional response. X is good because it makes me happy or give pleasure; but Y is evil because it makes me sad, angry or ashamed. 

(...Or, if we pride ourselves on our altruism - because we suppose that X or Y has this kind of emotional effect of some person or group about whom we are 'concerned'.) 

Indeed, by these habits we can (and do, all the time) effortlessly and automatically explain-away everything and anything that has or even could happen to us. 

To a remarkable degree Modern Men have become processing-machines for stripping all significance, beauty, interest - and spiritual significance - from Life! 

But suppose for a moment that this reality is the creation of a God whose children we are, and who is concerned with the eternal well-being of every one of us... 

Does it not seem certain that many of the things that we experience - that 'happen to us' - are in fact communications from God? 

That life is full of meaningful experiences from-which we are supposed to learn?

So, on the one hand we have these processing-habits that are reducing Life to a situation of temporary materialistic accident; on the other, we have God continually-shaping our personal life and circumstances in order to teach us, to give useful experiences.

The problem is, it seems,  mostly/ overall with us: with you and me. 

The problem is our failure to apprehend the meaningful communications all around us and inside us.

But what - exactly - are the divinely-intended and meaningful communications among the 'infinite' number of happenings are are in this world; what are the relevant units of meaning among all the vast possible ways of dividing-up reality... 

Is it that landscape, or the oak tree, or a particular leaf that is intended to communicate? And is it our emotional, intellectual or physical response to it which is significant? 

In principle the possibilities are limitless - and finding our personal divine communications among those which have other functions resembles seeking a needle in a haystack...

Impossible... except that we our-selves have the innate wherewithal to discover and interpret exactly the communications that God is making

We each have a 'real-self' of divine and eternal origin and nature; albeit this may be feeble, or buried beneath layers of false selves - and we may have made many choices for-evil that have compounded to distort our perspective and understanding.   

Nonetheless; there is a real-self; and it can, in principle, be located and activated - if we thus strive. 

In conclusion; we need to have true ultimate and 'metaphysical' explanations of the world - or else our materialistic ideology will undermine and erode to nothingness the significance of divine phenomena. That way lies the alienation, resentment, fear, and self-damning despair; which so characterize these times. 

But, in addition to 'good metaphysics', we need to address the problem of habitual materialism of processing - which renders our experienced life-in-practice, alienated and meaningless. 

We could, we can - when sufficiently aware of the barriers - know this world for the personal and relevant creation it truly is.  

And the first and necessary step is to become aware; to be conscious of the way our socially-inculcated and institutionally-enforced reductionism is (moment-by-moment) sabotaging our knowledge of God's attempted communications. 


Francis Berger said...

Excellent! I began thinking about this a great deal after I encountered complaints about God's unresponsiveness and lack of communication. I arrived at the same sort of conclusion you arrive at here -- it is we who are guilty of unresponsiveness and a lack of communication, not God.

I often marvel at my own propensity to slip back into materialist modes of perception and thinking despite my metaphysical assumptions. In my defense, at least I am aware of these slips. I can only imagine how opaque the world must seem to those who adhere to metaphysical assumptions founded purely on materialistic ideology.

Yesterday I clumsily described what you have explained here as a state of being "in" joy. Not joy in the conventional happiness/pleasure "enjoy" sense, but joy in the sense of being aware of Creation as a creation and being aware the God's presence and love. Nurturing this kind of awareness is a prerequisite to understanding divine communication today -- I'm positively convinced of it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - "I often marvel at my own propensity to slip back into materialist modes of perception and thinking despite my metaphysical assumptions"

Well, for me slipping back happens every day, for much of the day! It's hard to break a habit; especially when trying to replace it with the-opposite-of-a-habit...

Joy is certainly part of it - the best part; but there are also the learning experiences when one becomes 'divinely' aware of sin, including one's own sin, which certainly aren't joyful (at least not while they are happening). Lessons are of many kinds.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - "Well, for me slipping back happens every day, for much of the day!" Yes, that's been my experience as well. I described being "in" joy as sometimes lasting as little as a moment per day, and the joy part is not necessarily happiness or pleasure, simply a keen awareness of the reality of God and Creation.

This awareness often leads to hard lessons and painful experiences that are anything but joyful in the conventional sense of the word, but if the awareness remains underpinning it all, alienation, misery and despair have little chance of settling in.

I lose all sense of the awareness at times. Occasionally over something trivial. Sometimes it happens when the world overwhelms me. But if I remain focused on meaning and significance, the awareness returns. I inevitably experience a great deal of joy in that.

Avro G said...

This makes me think of Rupert Sheldrake's idea that the reason consciousness cannot be discovered in the brain is because the brain is less like a generator of consciousness than a receiver that "picks up" transmissions from an outside source, hopefully God. (I hope I've restated his idea more or less correctly.) And if our brains/bodies/material stuff can properly be thought of as a receiver then it matters a lot how attuned, how "dialed in" we are, to the source of the transmission. If this is true then our real business is attending to God's communications and keeping our hearts/minds in a proper frame to "read" his communications in whatever form they come.

Jesus said to "Watch and pray." Matthew 26:41