Sofia #82 - Lead editorial by Dinah Livingstone

Sofia 81, called ‘Down to Us’, noted that this phrase and its apparent opposite, ‘Up to Us’, are both used to mean it’s our responsibility. So appearing near Easter time, this issue 82 is called ‘Up to Us’.

It opens with an article by Anthony Freeman , ‘Open up to God’. Freeman suggests that just as consciousness is an ‘emergent property’ of the brain, so ‘God;’ is an emergent property of human consciousness. In other words, we create and to some extent become ‘God’ as our consciousness expands. He takes the Christ of traditional Christology as his paradigm and suggests ‘just as the mind or soul is not an added ingredient to the human body, but an integral and emergent feature of it, so Christ’s divinity is not an added ingredient to his human person, but an integral emergent feature of it.’ He goes on to say that we too can share this development. Of course ordinary human beings can never attain infinite knowledge but throughout our lives we can go on becoming more conscious. God, Freeman suggests, is this quest: ‘God is altogether best understood as a high-level emergent property.’

One of the ways in which we can explore religion as a human creation is to consider what classic theological talk about God is saying about ourselves. In his autobiography (which will be reviewed in a future issue), the New Zealand theologian Lloyd Geering speaks of a ‘secular trinity: the self-creating universe, the culture-creating human species and an emerging global consciousness.’ I noticed that both numbers 2 and 3 in this trinity are about knowing. Number 3 as ‘an emerging global consciousness’ reminded me of the Spirit whom Jesus promises to send in John 16:13, who will ‘lead you into all truth’. So this was a distinctly ‘Johannine’ trinity. rather than an ‘Augustinian’ one. In Augustine’s version, the second person , the Son, is the Word, God’s self-knowledge, and the third person, the Spirit, is Love, the Father and Son’s ‘mutual love’, which overflows so that God also ‘so loved the world’.

Both these classic theological models of the Trinity are very suggestive when we are thinking about human potential. As well as possibly becoming more conscious and knowing more, human beings also love/hate and do things. We could also consider God as ‘emerging’ (or not) in what we love and do. We can build, weave, knit, gestate other things besides ideas (in fact, when we use those terms about thinking they are metaphors from the material world). Interestingly, the God in the Old Testament is jealous and does not want humans to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and does not want them to build a Tower or Ziggurat (like Babel) up to heaven. That invites hubris and ‘pride comes before a Fall’.

In the second article Tom Rubens, a stalwart of the Ethical Society, writes about Russell and Santayana at the threshold of the twentieth century. He notes how religious the vision of those two old atheists was, and discusses Russell’s work A Free Man’s Worship (1903) and Santayana’s A Religion of Disillusion (1900). Both of them were also very much of their time in regarding ‘man’ not as part of nature but as fighting a constant heroic battle against it, to ‘rise above’ it.

Thirdly we have the lecture Don Cupitt gave last September to SoF in Australia: God: Creator or Created?, which discusses further what could be considered SoF’s major insight: ‘The historical truth is that we created God.’ God is a fiction; he is not real. Cupitt goes on to say that ‘in the classic scheme of thought the objective reality, the order and motion of things in the created world depended entirely upon the objective reality and the power of God. If there is no real God out there… there is no real world out there either. Nor indeed are we ourselves real.’ In his article Freeman disagrees about the non-reality of the world: ‘Even if (pace Don Cupitt) we allow that the physical universe is a fact, it still does not immediately follow that God is also a fact.’ He says that the classic argument that because the world exists, God must exist as its cause, is false. This criticism of that classic argument can also be reversed: ‘to say the objective reality of the world depends on the objective reality of God is false’. Why should we think about the world in terms of a God who doesn’t exist?

In his letter to Number 66 of this magazine (July 2004) Don Cupitt pointed out that ‘non-realism is a philosophical doctrine.’ In this new lecture he distances himself from the argument that the world and we are ‘non-real’ because God is ‘non-real’, by setting it within the framework of ‘the classic scheme of thought’, which he says has now been superseded.

He is illuminating on how we ‘form the chaos of experience into a manageable world’ through language – what Coleridge, in his poem Letter to Sara Hutchinson, called our ‘shaping spirit of imagination’. Then Don Cupitt notes that ‘in the words of the English Romantic poets, our world is partly perceived and partly imagined by us.’ (In Tintern Abbey Wordsworth speaks of what we half create and half perceive.) I wondered if there was a shift taking place in Don’s thinking towards this half and half.

Coleridge seems to be right that nature gives us our ‘shaping spirit of imagination’ at birth. One of the most astonishing things about watching a two-year-old learn to talk is that metaphor, symbol and ‘let’s pretend’ (as well as joking) seem to come naturally as soon as the words are acquired. The child will go into a corner and say: ‘I’m a pony in a barn,’ and neigh. Or: ‘I’m a naughty goblin,’ and run off with a biscuit. Or: ‘I’m an astronaut and this is my rocket,’ (a stick). Or the child can wave a magic wand and tell his grandfather: ‘You’re a cat.’ Grandfather is expected to miaow. The child is aware that it’s a game of ‘pretend’ and chooses when to wave the wand again and turn Grandfather back into himself. The child may throw a teddy onto the floor. His mother says, ‘Teddy’s hurt,’ and makes teddy sob. Immediately, the child can pat it and say, ‘Teddy’s better now.’ But if his mother, whom he loves with the tremendous passion of his two-year-old heart, comes home with a new baby who might supplant him and he throws the baby on the floor, he has to learn that that might really hurt the baby, and it might not be possible to say immediately: ‘Baby’s better now.’ He has to learn that he can put his hand into a picture of a fire in a book and pretend to be burnt, but if he puts his hand into a real fire, he will really be burnt.

Imagination is our birthright, but so is acquiring the ability to distinguish between the imaginary and the real, to negotiate our daily lives and not do real damage to ourselves or others. I think it is vital to acknowledge this half and halfness, respect both imagination and the dignity and reality of matter, life and death, and manual labour that, together with love, is builder of cities. It’s up to us.

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