Rethinking ‘God’ (4) ‘A Broader Picture’

In my previous post, in the context of ‘describing God’, I said I’d look at sources other than the Bible which might be of some assistance. In his Analytical Psychology, Carl Jung outlines what he calls the archetypes of the collective unconscious, one of which is the God image. The ‘collective unconscious’ is the deepest part of the human psyche, shared by us all. It doesn’t contain ‘inheritable’ images as such, but ‘templates’ that give rise to fundamentally similar, though endlessly varied, images in human thinking. The unanswerable question is, why are these ‘templates’ there? Did they ‘develop’ over the course of time, or were they ‘built in with the bricks’. It’s like mathematics – did we develop maths or discover it and, if we discovered it, from where did it come? The age-old God archetype is a psychic reality, but is it more than that?

These depths of the collective unconscious, and their archetypal contents, lie at the roots of the greatest expressions of human Art Forms – novels, poetry, dance and drama, painting, sculpture and music. When I listen to the close of Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony”, to the chorus singing, “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n … Sterben werd’ich, um zu leben”, “Rise again, yea thou wilt rise again … I shall die, to live”, it’s beside the point that I don’t take these words literally. I experience what I would call the ‘transcendent’, or the ‘spiritual’, which seems to be telling me of a reality far beyond the ability of any words to describe, so I won’t even try. I’m happy for anyone to call that ‘God’ although, for me, that won’t be the ‘picture book’ bible God.

To Analytical Psychology and great Art, let’s add Modern Science, which has now undermined the orthodox rigidity of non-negotiable materialism and determinism. Atoms, of which everything is made, are now known to be 99% ‘empty space’ – so much for materialism. Inbuilt into the sub-atomic world is what’s known as the “uncertainty principle” – so much for absolute determinism. Matter is energy made visible and tangible by our human senses. What is ultimately real, is Energy – an infinite, endlessly dynamic field of interacting, component energies, electro-magnetism being one. This Energy, intangible and invisible in itself, sounds remarkably similar to Spirit, especially when we consider that out of that Energy has arisen life, consciousness, and the self-awareness that generates ‘personhood’, which takes us to our next port of call.

Neuro-Science has seen the recent re-emergence of the very old idea of ‘Panpsychism’. The ‘orthodox’ view had been that consciousness only appears when brains reach a certain level of complexity. The difficulty, however, lies in the categorical difference between the immateriality of conscious experience, when compared with the porridge-like dollop of brain tissue in our skulls. How can electro-chemical activity in a lump of material tissue, however complex, ‘produce’ the smell of a lilly, or the ecstasy of falling in love. That’s reminiscent of the genie produced when Aladdin’s lamp is rubbed in a certain way – it’s the equivalent of magic.

Panpsychism is saying that matter and mind are, in fact, the two sides of the one coin. One doesn’t ‘give rise’ to the other. Mind is the ‘inside’ of matter, which is the ‘outside’ of mind. To re-write the Bible, “In the beginning was Mind”. As Darwin stated, (although it’s often bypassed), all living beings evolve in both “corporeal and mental endowments”. Mind, or consciousness, or ‘awareness’ in the simplest sense, is not a by-product, but foundational, and has been a component part of evolution from its beginning. 

I also think that Buddhism makes a valid point. If the Buddha was asked if there is a God, his reply was likely to be silence, on the grounds that this is a question which can’t ever be answered by anyone, so there’s no point in asking it. What demands attention is the best way to live our lives from moment to moment, as well as from year to year. So, putting all that lot together, what does ‘God’, right now, mean for me? If you’re interested, watch this space …..

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