Before I write about my Moons having to do with others or with self, I realize that I want to do several more posts on topics related to my Moons having to do with God. This is the first of these.
In my previous post, I looked at how I grew up with a view of the world as a hostile place and how I believe that a healthy soul views the world as a gracious place. According to Marcus Borg in The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, one may have any of three worldviews:
- Hostile: One may see the universe as hostile to us. We can expect bad things to happen, and we must be constantly on the defensive.
- Indifferent: One may see the universe as indifferent to us. We still need to be on our guard because things happen without regard to their effect on us, for good or for ill.
- Gracious: One may see the universe as gracious to us. We can relax. At the heart of the universe is goodness, compassion, beauty, joy. This view needs to recognize areas of hostility (criminals do exist) and areas of indifference (hurricanes have no regard for humans), but the overall bent of the universe is gracious.
In this post, I will look at why we might see the universe as hostile or indifferent and why we might see the universe as gracious.
A HOSTILE OR INDIFFERENT WORLDVIEW
It is easy to see the universe, or at least our world, as hostile or indifferent. We see hostile forces: murder, stealing, rape, sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, slavery, grinding poverty, exploitation of workers by employers, pollution. We see indifferent forces: illness, serious accidents, losses that come with aging, natural disasters, adverse economic trends. It is easy to conclude that the universe is essentially hostile or indifferent.
I can see three elements in the formation of a hostile or indifferent worldview.
- Our assumptions about reality shape our society.
- God empowers us to shape our society as we will.
- The shape of our society reinforces our assumptions about realtiy.
1. Our assumptions about reality shape our society.
Our society makes these assumptions:
- Competition creates a healthy economy.
- Nature is based on survival of the fittest.
- Society functions best when each person acts in his or her own self-interest.
- Individual freedom is sacred.
- The economy is an impersonal force.
We believe that these assumptions constitute ultimate reality, so we have created a society where our reality is, indeed, competition, survival of the fittest, self-interest, individual freedom, and impersonal economic forces. People act for their own benefit without regard for the effect on others. Those others are expected to take care of themselves. We have people who feel free to steal, whether through a crude armed robbery or a sophisticated money-laundering scheme. We have people who feel free to enrich themselves at the expense of others, as we saw in the Enron scandal and the more recent mortgage failures. We have people who feel free to hurt others to get what they want. If others get hurt, it is their own fault - they should be watching out for themselves. We speak of the economy doing this and the economy doing that, as though the economy is an indifferent force that operates on its own, whereas actual people are doing the things that the economy is said to do.
As stated in The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein - "Your car goes where your eyes go" (page 82). If your car starts to spin out of control on the race track and your eyes go to the wall, you can expect to crash right into that wall. But if your car starts to spin out of control and your eyes go to the track, you can expect to regain control of your car and get it back on the track. I believe that we can give this a wider application, individually and collectively. On the individual level, my life goes where my eyes go. On the collective level, our society goes where our eyes go - and our collective eyes go to competition, survival of the fittest, self-interest, individual freedom, and impersonal economic forces - our deep-seated assumptions about reality. This is, therefore, the kind of society we create.
2. God empowers us to shape our society as we will.
Through reading Karen Armstrong's The Case for God, I have been developing an understanding of God, not as a being but as Being itself. Humans are beings made in the image and likeness of God - which means that God shares Being with us. Being entails tremendous power and potential. And this is key - God does not direct or force us in using that power and potential. We can use that power and potential for good or for ill. What we are capable of is huge - we can literally create heaven or hell right here on Earth.
If we choose to create a society based on competition, survival of the fittest, self-interest, individual freedom, and economic forces treated as impersonal - we have all the power of Being to do so. God will not interfere. Indeed, this is what we have done, and God has not interfered.
I can see two reasons why God would not interfere. First, God's perspective is eternal. If, right now, an erroneous worldview is in the ascendant, God has eternity for balance to be restored. Second, it may be that restraining the power of Being for ill would also restrain the power of Being for good. When you provide a huge potential for good, the same huge potential exists in the other direction. It may not be possible to limit potential in one direction only. Any limiting is likely to limit the whole. This is why a person with a tremendous capacity to feel joy also has a tremendous capacity to feel pain. If you diminish the capacity to feel pain, you diminish the capacity to feel. If you limit the power and potential to create ill, you limit the power and potential to create.
3. The shape of our society reinforces our assumptions about reality.
So we shape our society according to our assumptions about reality, and the tremendous power and potential of Being given us by God allows us to do so. Once we have a society shaped by our assumptions, the very shape of our society then reinforces those very assumptions. We look at our world, and what do we see? Competition, survival of the fittest, self-interest, individual freedom, impersonal economic forces - we see all these things run amok. We are born, we grow and compete for limited resources, the fittest get the biggest slice of the pie (or even the whole pie), each person acts in his or her own self-interest without regard for the effect on others, and we learn to ride the waves of impersonal economic forces or we are crushed by them. Life is a fight for survival and dominance in a hostile or indifferent world. Our assumptions about reality have created this reality, and now this self-created reality reinforces our assumptions.
Where is the meaning in this? There are those who observe this self-created reality and conclude that life has no meaning. Spending all one's energy to get ahead or even just to hold one's own does not constitute a meaningful life.
A GRACIOUS WORLDVIEW
Although I grew up with a hostile worldview and although a gracious worldview is sometimes difficult for me to sustain, I do believe that the world is gracious. I also believe that we need to recognize areas of hostility and of indifference. Some people, for instance, do intend to harm us, and natural phenomena, such as weather patterns, are indifferent to us - so we need to act wisely and take precautions. But at the heart of the universe is goodness, compassion, beauty, and joy.
The evidence for this is not conclusive, but neither is the evidence for a hostile or indifferent universe. And if our car goes where our eyes go, I would much rather have my car go into graciousness than into hostility or indifference. I also believe that there is evidence of a gracious universe. As I see it, this evidence lies in these areas.
- Graciousness is abundantly present in our world.
- People create gracious societies.
- We crave meaning and goodness.
- Joy is a sign of truth.
1. Graciousness is abundantly present in our world.
Our world is beautiful. Animals, plants, forests, deserts, rivers, oceans, mountains, sunrises, sunsets, the night sky - we live in a beautiful world. Nature is beautiful in its wild state, and humans can shape it and enhance its beauty. A profusion of wildflowers on a hillside is lovely, as is a garden artistically arranged with flowers, a statue, and a fountain.
Our five senses give us enormous pleasure. We can delight in color, shape, and design. A rainbow in the sky lifts our spirits, as do the rainbow colors reflected on a wall through a prism hanging in a window. We can admire pictures in the clouds, as well as paintings and sculptures by the masters. We can enjoy the cricket song in the evening, as well as a powerful chorus performing Handel's Messiah. We can bask in the massage of a gentle breeze or of a skilled masseur or masseuse. We can savor wild strawberries or blueberries, as well as the culinary masterpieces of a great chef. We can enjoy the aroma of a full-blown rose or of brewing coffee.
We can imagine and create. We can explore the world of fiction, poetry, film, theater, painting, sculpture, architecture, needlecraft, song, instrumental music, gymnastics, athletics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics. theology, philosophy, dreams, psychology.
Our world is full to overflowing with things to enjoy.
2. People create gracious societies.
While an over-emphasis on competition, survival of the fittest, self-interest, individual freedom, and economic forces seen as impersonal has been in the ascendant for some time - it is also true that people create gracious societies. There are people who consciously turn their attention away from those things that point to hostility or indifference and who turn their attention instead toward graciousness. They create gracious societies based on cooperation, compassion, and inter-dependence.
Many indigenous societies, intentional communities, and loving families are of this type. I think of the Goddess-worshipping cultures of Europe, the Native American nations encountered by the first Europeans coming to the Americas, the religious communities founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and by Saint Claire, churches whose members have a deep commitment to each other and to their neighbors, and families I have known where love and social consciousness prevail.
Are these societies, communities, and families perfectly gracious? No. But then, neither is the wider society, or even corporate America, perfectly hostile or indifferent.
3. We crave meaning and goodness.
For me, the fact that we so crave meaning, that we so crave goodness, points to meaning itself and goodness itself at the heart of the universe.
We deeply want our lives to have meaning. All of art, for instance, is a search for or an expression of meaning - through story, poetry, painting, sculpture, music. Even when an artist believes that life is meaningless, he or she feels drawn to express this - in literature of the absurd, in convoluted visual art, in cacophonous music. The artist feels compelled to show what life means, even if it means nothing. If life truly means nothing, from whence comes this urge to dig for a meaning and to express it?
We also feel an urge to understand our world factually. People devote their lives to the study of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, history, philosophy, theology - and so much more. We feel compelled to learn about our world, to study it, to understand it, to organize our knowledge. We deeply desire meaning, and this desire points to an actual meaning which is the object of this desire.
This desire for meaning is so universal - across cultures, across times, across disciplines - that I believe it is evidence that an ultimate meaning exists. A desire so ingrained in human nature must be there for a reason - it must have an object - life must have meaning.
And the meaning of life must be good. I believe this because we deeply desire goodness. We see the harm in our world, and even though we don't seem able to correct it, we do deplore it. Our hearts are warmed by stories of goodness and kindness, and repelled by stories of harm and hate. I believe that our attraction for the good - the compassionate, the beautiful, the joyful - is the truth of the universe asserting itself in our very nature.
4. Joy is a sign of truth.
I simply believe that what promotes our soul health must be true. Why are our souls made so that the good, the beautiful, and the compassionate give us deep joy? I would say that this is because the good, the beautiful, and the compassionate are the truth at the heart of the universe.
When goodness, beauty, and compassion prevail, we are deeply satisfied, we feel at peace. When harm, ugliness, and hatred prevail, we feel dissatisfied, unfinished, out of balance. We feel that the story isn't over. We must continue until wrong is righted, until the good prevails. Only then can we rest. Only then do we feel complete.
We have a sense of temporariness around hostility and indifference and a sense of permanence around graciousness. Why? Because this is the truth of the universe asserting itself within our nature. Our nature will not let us rest until we are aligned with truth. The truth is not hostility or indifference, but graciousness. When things are hostile or indifferent, we feel out of balance and incomplete. When things are gracious, we feel a sense of equilibrium and completion.