In a time when declaring oneself a Christian, particularly in Europe, is to align with a minority of the populace, and to invite all sorts of derision from a wide array of sources, the honesty with which Rupert Sheldrake speaks of his faith is commendable.
From a perspective from within Christianity his further commentary on his path from atheism to the Church of England, invites further criticism from positions of orthodoxy on both sides of the great Reformation divide as well as the earlier east/west division from a thousand years ago.
His account of his experiences in India are interesting from the spiritual point of view. In particular, he speaks of a Benedictine monk of the Roman Catholic faith whose Vatican II theology influenced him greatly in his search for a spiritual home. Without opening a broad discussion on the topic of the internal battle of the theologians in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, suffice to say that today, the precise meaning of “Catholic” is still at issue, and has been used by many as the stepping off point for the introduction of a wide array of ideas concerning the dogmas of the Church, most of which carry a moral and political agenda antithetical to 2000 years of Church tradition.
That Rupert Sheldrake ended up in the arms of the Anglican Communion is not surprising and probably quite fitting, as that communion has been the seed bed for most of the ideas and practices that the Roman Catholic Church has officially rejected despite pockets of dissent within religious orders of various kinds.
Rupert Sheldrake’s central point is the question of the nature of consciousness. It is that discussion which at present divides the atheists from the theists.
For someone like myself, raised in the religious/philosophical mindset of the Protestant side of the Reformation, it had never occurred to me that the origins of the mechanized view of the universe was Rene Descartes and further I had not even realized to what extent I accepted that model.
Descartes was a dualist such that humanity has one foot in both worlds, the mechanized universe and the world of mind/spirit. I recall arguments and discussions over many years in which I have taken that as a given. It may well have been the source of the difficulty coming to understand the sacraments and the blessing of material things for sacred use.
But it appears then that modern atheism is truly the child or creation of western philosophy/theology. Sheldrake posits that the mechanized unconscious universe has never been proven, but accepted as fact since Descartes.
This reminds me of two different perspectives.
First, the perspective of one Orthodox Christian, ALEXANDRE KALOMIROS, in 1980 At the Orthodox Conference in Seattle, Washington.
In his talk, call River of Fire, Kalomiros goes back to Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, describing what Sheldrake points out (with approbation in Sheldrake’s case) about the animist source of their theology.
Even if there exists a means of escaping the eternal wrath of this omnipotent but wicked Being (the death of His Son in our stead), it would be much better if this Being did not exist. This was the most logical conclusion of the mind and of the heart of the Western peoples, because even eternal Paradise would be abhorrent with such a cruel God. Thus was atheisrn born, and this is why the West was its birthplace. Atheism was unknown in Eastern Christianity until Western theology was introduced there, too. Atheism is the consequence of Western theology. 3 Atheism is the denial, the negation of an evil God. Men became atheists in order to be saved from God, hiding their head and closing their eyes like an ostrich. Atheism, my brothers, is the negation of the Roman Catholic and Protestant God. Atheism is not our real enemy. The real enemy is that falsified and distorted “Christianity”.
VI You see now, I hope, how God was slandered by Western theology. Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and all their pupils contributed to this “theological” calumny. And they are the foundations of Western theology, whether Papist or Protestant. Certainly these theologians do not say expressly and clearly that God is a wicked and passionate being. They rather consider God as being chained by a superior force, by a gloomy and implacable Necessity like the one which governed the pagan gods. This Necessity obliges Him to return evil for evil and does not permit Him to pardon and to forget the evil done against His will, unless an infinite satisfaction is offered to Him.
In the West, on the contrary, the pagan Greek mentality entered in unobtrusively, without taking the aspect of heresy. It entered in through the multitude of Latin texts dictated by Augustine, bishop of Hippo. Saint John Cassian who was living then in the West understood the poison that was in Augustine’s teachings, and fought against it. But the fact that Augustine’s books were written in Latin and the fact that they were extremely lengthy did not permit their study by the other Fathers of the Church, and so they were never condemned as Origen’s works were condemned in the East. This fact permitted them to exercise a strong influence later in Western thought and theology. In the West, little by little knowledge of the Greek language vanished, and Augustine’s texts were the only books available dating from ancient times in a language understood there. So the West received as Christian a teaching which was in many of its aspects pagan. Caesaro-papist developments in Rome did not permit any healthy reaction to this state of affairs, and so the West was drowned in the humanistic, pagan thought which prevails to this day.
As Sheldrake correctly points out, there is a lot in common between Animism and Panpsychism. It seems that panpsychism is the scientific, godless way out of the problem of consciousness, yet like animism just kicks the can down the road a little further without giving any kind of explanation of the source of consciousness in the universe. Sort of a cake-and-eat-it-too attempt.
There is another problem with respect to the western traditional Christian view of creation, and heaven and hell as Kalomiros points out thoroughly in his talk. There is another answer, perhaps deriving from some of the first influences in the Christian world, which likely would not be entertained by Kalomiros, but actually would buttress his theological position on hell. It can be found in the Hermetic philosophy, so-called.
The second perspective bears heavily on all of these discussions. Here is a discussion of creation in the Kybalion. (The source of the Kybalion is uncertain but purports to be Hermetic. Here we are not concerned so much with the source as the content, which I think stands on its own as a view of creation, and an answer to Aquinas, et al)
The first principle…
“THE ALL is MIND; The Universe is Mental.”–The Kybalion.
This Principle embodies the truth that “All is Mind.” It explains that THE ALL (which is the Substantial Reality underlying all the outward manifestations and appearances which we know under the terms of “The Material Universe”; the “Phenomena of Life”; “Matter”; “Energy”; and in short, all that is apparent to our material senses) is SPIRIT, which in itself is UNKNOWABLE and UNDEFINABLE, but which may be considered and thought of as AN UNIVERSAL, INFINITE, LIVING MIND. It also explains that all the phenomenal world or universe is simply a Mental Creation of THE ALL, subject to the Laws of Created Things, and that the universe, as a whole, and in its parts or units, has its existence in the Mind of THE ALL, in which Mind we “live and move and have our being.” This Principle, by establishing the Mental Nature of the Universe, easily explains all of the varied mental and psychic phenomena that occupy such a large portion of the public attention, and which, without such explanation, are non-understandable and defy scientific treatment. An understanding of this great Hermetic Principle of Mentalism enables the individual to readily grasp the laws of the Mental Universe, and to apply the same to his well-being and advancement. The Hermetic Student is enabled to apply intelligently the great Mental Laws, instead of using them in a haphazard manner. With the Master-Key in his possession, the student may unlock the many doors of the mental and psychic temple of knowledge, and enter the same freely and intelligently. This Principle explains the true nature of “Energy,” “Power,” and “Matter,” and why and how all these are subordinate to the Mastery of Mind. One of the old Hermetic Masters wrote, long ages ago: “He who grasps the truth of the Mental Nature of the Universe is well advanced on The Path to Mastery.” And these words are as true to-day as at the time they were first written. Without this Master-Key, Mastery is impossible, and the student knocks in vain at the many doors of The Temple.
And here is the argument in creation…
If the Universe exists at all, or seems to exist, it must proceed in some way from THE ALL–It must be a creation of THE ALL. But as something can never come from nothing, from what could THE ALL have created it? Some philosophers have answered this question by saying that THE ALL created the Universe from ITSELF–that is, from the being and substance of THE ALL. But this will not do, for THE ALL cannot be subtracted from, nor divided, as we have seen, and then again if this be so, would not each particle in the Universe be aware of its being THE ALL -THE ALL could not lose its knowledge of itself, nor actually BECOME an atom, or blind force, or lowly living thing. Some men, indeed, realizing that THE ALL is indeed ALL, and also recognizing that they, the men, existed, have jumped to the conclusion that they and THE ALL were identical, and they have filled the air with shouts of “I AM GOD,” to the amusement of the multitude and the sorrow of sages. The claim of the corpuscle that: “I am Man!” would be modest in comparison. But, what indeed is the Universe, if it be not THE ALL, not yet created by THE ALL having separated itself into fragments? What else can it be–of what else can it be made? This is the great question. Let us examine it carefully. We find here that the “Principle of Correspondence” (see Lesson I.) comes to our aid here. The old Hermetic axiom, “As above so below,” may be pressed into service at this point. Let us endeavor to get a glimpse of the workings on higher planes by examining those on our own. The Principle of Correspondence must apply to this as well as to other problems. Let us see! On his own plane of being, how does Man create? Well, first, he may create by making something out of outside materials. But this will not do, for there are no materials outside of THE ALL with which it may create. Well, then, secondly, Man pro-creates or reproduces his kind by the process of begetting, which is self-multiplication accomplished by transferring a portion of his substance to his offspring. But this will not do, because THE ALL cannot transfer or subtract a portion of itself, nor can it reproduce or multiply itself–in the first place there would be a taking away, and in the second case a multiplication or addition to THE ALL, both thoughts being an absurdity. Is there no third way in which MAN creates! Yes, there is–he CREATES MENTALLY! And in so doing he uses no outside materials, nor does he reproduce himself, and yet his Spirit pervades the Mental Creation.
THE UNIVERSE, AND ALL IT CONTAINS, IS A MENTAL CREATION OF THE ALL. Verily, indeed, ALL IS MIND!
This then is the answer to the questions of consciousness as well as the separateness of God from his creation and how there could be anywhere where God is not.
There are other consequences of this line of reasoning to be sure, from the theological perspective, particularly from Christianity. But for the moment, and from the point of understanding consciousness, the idea that God is in all things and inversely all things are in God, imbued, as it were with whatever level of consciousness they are capable of directly from the divine mind, it all would make much more sense than the philosophical and theological contortions of the centuries.
ACTS of the APOSTLES 17:28..…
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’