Friday, 5 July 2019
Ultimate reality is personal.
That idea if true, has huge implications for life. The works and lectures of Ellis Potter are having a big impact on me at the moment and this statement is from his book on knowledge. Ellis was a Zen-Buddhist monk for ten years (many years ago) and is now a Christian lecturer, thinker, pastor and writer.
Ultimate reality is not mechanical, it's personal.
It is perhaps, in our society, more natural to think of ultimate reality as being mechanistic. We have broken the world down into its smallest parts, convinced as we are that a thing is best understood by isolating and understanding its smallest details. Having uncoupled the world from its goal and purpose and having done away with 'big-picture' meaning and objective absolutes we examined the world from that starting point and found it follows mechanical processes.
Tick follows tock follows tick follows tock.
The natural laws in the universe appear to be constant (we're not sure why but that doesn't seem to matter much) and so the universe is predictable, mechanical, repeatable, empirical. Drilling this down and asking the question 'what's at the bottom?' the answer comes 'it's turtles, turtles all the way down' or more specifically 'it's entirely mechanical and predictable.' This is a 'bottom up' natural theology, a philosophy that extrapolates from the data we've preoccupied ourselves with. The implications of this of course is that life, relationships, art, love and beauty (and any other things belonging to the personal aspects of living) are by-products of the process. They are useful, and sometimes necessary by-products, but they are the tip of the iceberg, the point above the water's surface, the actual reality underneath is not personal or interested in anything it may produce, it is blind, unfeeling and mute. This idea (that the world can be fully known by examining its component parts) has moulded our economy, industry, education and (increasingly) our ideas and politics. Utility and usefulness for society are commonly the measure of a things value. Not useful enough? Then make way for something that is, and wait your turn until the universe respawns you into something more useful than you were before.
But what if the personal and artistic and beautiful and musical elements of life were the thing that is most real, and the mechanisms we examine were the surface-level reality? What if, underneath, it wasn't turtles but persons and love? Sound romantic doesn't it? But that doesn't make it wrong, in fact it may be just the opposite.
The more I observe about human life the more it becomes clear to me that what we need and enjoy most in life, what we value above all are the deep relationships in our lives that make us feel so significant; not accepting the egomaniacs and narcissists (who are the exceptions that prove the rule). You see, the Bible also does a natural theology, but it takes as its starting point something else. Rather than examining the world bottom up the Bible takes a 'top down' approach. It opens our minds to consider that maybe, just maybe, the things we find most commendable about human life are the thing that is most real and most true and then sees everything else as an extension and distortion of that.
The Bible reveals a universe that celebrates love, sacrifice, heart, character, intention and beauty and dares to suggest that the reason for this is because the Origin of everything knows and appreciates and revels in, those things as well. We love Love because ultimate reality, God, is Love. The Being that gave birth to everything we see and feel is a personal, multi-personal Being who created the cosmos as an extension and overflow of his communion.
What that means is that everything we see around us, the mechanisms and processes is an extension of that Being. What that means is that the wonder-full sciences are much richer than we first thought they were. We may know how a thing operates, but it doesn't originate in those 'hows'; rather it originates in the 'whys' the thing is. And the 'why' a thing is, is found in the origin of everything, the God who is Love, the Being who is personal.
What this means is that fate isn't blind, chaos isn't ultimately chaotic, and a thing cannot be fully known until we understand the 'why' it does what it does, and not just the how it does it.
That's why we love, that's why we long for loved ones and that's ultimately why we miss people. Why we long for the father and mother we never knew and agonise over wanting to be liked and known comes from the grains of Reality we sense in the world. That's why we fear loneliness and exclusion and why we spend £100 on a pair of shoes we don't need. The reason, ultimately, is because it's personal - everything is.
Don't buy the fatalistic 'switch me off when I'm too old to be of use' and 'I can't help it I'm hardwired that way' sort of thinking. Don't swallow it, but instead spit it out and replace it with the truth that Personhood, relationships and love matters most. Spit it out because, ultimately, it's a poisonous pill and creates a very different community, society and world than the one we flourish best in.