THE MODERN DISENCHANTMENT OF THE UNIVERSE
The once Intelligent and Enchanted Universe has been reduced to an impersonal universe of dead objects. Newton and other well meaning scientists have left us moderns with a mechanistic universe. How did we get to this state?
If you examine the history of western civilization, you find the gradual loss of a Living Cosmos. Most ancients, sometimes referred to as Pagans, felt there were Living Forces underlying all of Reality. Over time, we moved to a paradigm that views the universe as largely dead matter.
In the modern western world, there are two main groups that hold to the dead, inanimate universe theory.
1. Secular Materialism: This group believes that the universe is governed by a set of impersonal scientific Laws.
2. Traditional Religionists – For them, the universe was made by a Creator who is separate from His Creation. This view is sympathetic with the scientific notion of a universe of dead objects, but seeing humans and angels as the solitary specks of Life in an otherwise lifeless cosmos. Creation is lifeless and corrupt, but humans may be salvaged through being good or by faith in God.
However, there are increasing numbers of folks who are re-examining the ancient Enchanted Universe. More, including physicists and archetypal psychologists, are questioning certain western religious and scientific views of Reality. Perhaps the so called Pagans were onto something.
THE ORIGINAL VILLAGE PEOPLE
The Pagans, meaning villagers, saw Reality as an Intelligently interconnected body. The stars, the clouds, the fish and deer – flowers and butterflies, beauty and truth, life and death – were not only connected, but directed by Enchanted Intelligences beyond the five limited senses. These Archetypal Forces comprised the universal Cosmos as a living Psyche. Some have called this the anima mundi, or world-soul.
Many moderns would agree with one of Webster’s top definitions, “a pagan is one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods.” This definition has nothing to do with the first so called Pagans. These were people who found themselves as one piece of a vastly Intelligent and very much alive Cosmos. Their goal was not dominion, but understanding and participation.
Ancient urbanized Christians derogatorily called these folks ‘villagers’ (paganus). Christians inaccurately stereotyped these folks as ignorantly worshipping ancestors, rivers and stars, evidently forgetting that Matthew's gospel speaks of Pagan Magi who followed the brilliant star to Bethlehem. That sort of dismissive typecasting prompted Pagans to respond by saying the Christian Eucharist was an act of cannibalism. The rift has continued to this day, Christians versus Pagans.
INSPIRED UNIVERSE, INSPIRED BISHOPS, INSPIRED BOOK, INSPIRED BRAIN
These Pagans felt that they swam like fish in an ocean of Infinite Soul, in a Living, Intelligent, En-souled Universe. Imagination was a psychic sense organ which perceived these magical Energies that somehow suffused all of life. They named them and communicated with them through dreams, stories, rituals and fantasies. Their Universe was inspired.
The Christian religion came along and gradually shifted the inspired enchantment from the vast Pagan Cosmos to their growing Christian Church. The Church became the new and improved inspired Universe. Thousands of displaced country folks could go to Basilicas and Cathedrals and find the magic in the One True God, His resurrected Son, interceding Saints and magical Bishops who could perform hocus pocus on the Sacraments. Just as modern inventors reduced recorded music from cumbersome vinyl albums to smaller compact discs, the Bishops reduced the cumbersome enchanted Universe to the compact Catholic Church.
THE iPOD GOD
In the sixteenth century, the invention of the European printing press fueled the Protestant Reformation. These astute spiritual inventors condensed the enchanted universe even further. It went from an unwieldy Catholic Church down to a single inspired book, The Bible. The Bible was the religious iPod of its day, allowing people to carry the whole magical system in one relatively simple unit.
A few decades later, a marvelous movement called the Enlightenment debunked the Bible through rationalistic analysis, revealing contradictions, conundrums and all kinds of errors. These new scientists successfully reduced and relocated the enchantment from the Bible to a place in the human brain. The scientist and philosopher, Rene’ DesCartes, said the soul was located in the pineal gland at the center of the brain.
LOOK HONEY, I SHRUNK THE UNIVERSE!
So we see that over the centuries, the once Enchanted Universe has been shrunken down to the size of the human brain. But, modern biological theories have reduced the brain to nothing more than a collection of remembered experiences interconnected by synaptic explosions and chemical messages along dendritic paths. Poof! The Enchantment was gone, for even the human brain was nothing more than a box of inanimate electrical currents.
HUMANS NEED ENCHANTMENT
Many are drawn to conservative religion because they feel the loneliness in our mechanized cosmos. Their routine jobs, boxed entertainment and cookie cutter educational processes have left many feeling like assembly-line clones, useless dust bunnies under the immense bed of the cosmos, waiting to be swept into a grave after a life of meaningless work, inane recreation and mindless distractions.
Others, less religious, are looking for enchantment by exploring self help books, vocational success, celebrity adoration, sex and love, sports, food, drugs and a host of other experiences.
FEAR OF EXISTENTIAL INSIGNIFICANCE
I think that traditional religion opposes evolution, abortion and homosexuality on existential grounds rather than moral. By that, I mean that many alienated conservatives don’t like the random world science has given us: namely, that we are animals (evolution), bits of impersonal tissue (aborted fetuses) or born with arbitrary gender orientations (homosexuals). They oppose these issues to guard human uniqueness and cosmic order.
I sympathize with their struggles while maintaining that the problems are not primarily in the issues raised above, but in the paradigm itself. They must become aware that God is not a separate entity somehow apart from a material universe; the Universe is Alive and Intelligent. It is the body of God, the ocean of Soul Itself.
RECOVERING AN ENCHANTED UNIVERSE
One of the purposes of this blog, and my teaching, is to recover the enchanted Universe. I want to walk the narrow line between being overly rationalistic and the other extreme of being sucked in by every religious or New Age fad that comes along. The Hebrew prophet Amos once declared, "There is a famine in the land, not for bread, but for a word from God." His declaration is very contemporary. The danger of famines is that people have been known to eat almost anything, including feces, urine and their own children!
I have a strong sense organ of Imagination and am very inclined to appreciate Logic. Both are from the gods. Logic has ruled the past 300 years of western civilization, Imagination has limped behind. The solution is not to throw out Logic, but to recover and fortify Imagination.
That is my aim and purpose in life.
If you are curious about those who are working to recover the Enchanted and Intelligent Universe, let me suggest two sensational books:
1. James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology
2. Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche
Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM can be contacted through his web site at www.MichaelBogar.com for classes, speaking, seminars, workshops and personal spiritual coaching.