Jordanic Derivism: A Crucial Piece of the Cosmic Puzzle

A spiritual philosophy developed by Frank L. Jordan III that addresses the problems of natural and moral evil in a new way, while also seeking to reconcile science and matters of faith.

WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO EVERYBODY: How the Philosophy of Jordanic Derivism Tackles the Problems of Natural and Moral Evil in a New and Revolutionary Way

~SOUNDINGS~ Final Front Cover 

Cover image courtesy of NASA and ESA

Frank Jordan’s profound struggle to understand God and the world and the reality of evil have brought him to a path very like that of process theology. I congratulate him for finding it on his own. What gives poignancy and power to Jordan’s thinking is the way it has come out of his personal suffering and joy. ~ Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr., process theologian and co-director of the Center for Process Studies

The online publication of the complete ebook ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe can be found here.

~  ~  ~

Let’s face it. Nobody really knows what’s going on for sure. I’ve spent many years of my life trying to make sense of the “all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God in the face of evil” dilemma. And even though I’ve developed a philosophy that seems more compatible with modern-day experience than many others that I’ve encountered, I realize now (after those many years) that the most any philosophy will ever be in this life is a theory of why things are the way that they are. We may think that our reasonings are divinely inspired, and that we have the inside scoop on things, but the most a theory can ever really be is an exceptionally reasonable explanation for our multifaceted existence – an explanation that is compatible with both our daily experience and our beliefs. We can gain much comfort by arriving at such explanations for ourselves, but those explanations can only go so far. Sometimes part of the process is getting past the speculations and theories and just resting in our trust and belief in our very source, whom many call God.

That being said, I would like to introduce to you this new spiritual philosophy – perhaps one of the most logical and comprehensive approaches to the problem of evil currently found – by first asking that timeless question:

Why does evil occur if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good?

As a young adult, I can remember grappling with the problem of evil (both natural and moral), and with the role that God plays in relation to it. The typical solutions I had heard weren’t really cutting it for me. For instance, I concluded very early on that the theory of free will – that in order to offer love freely we have to be given free will and that this is why God allows evil to happen – doesn’t address natural evil, such as diseases and natural disasters. These phenomena occurred long before humans populated this planet.

So I decided to suspend everything I had heard about God’s role in relation to the problem of evil. Along with doing this, I also decided to suspend everything I had heard or read about what God’s power is. I decided to go straight to the source with my questions, without any bias towards the answers I might receive. I sent out my questions like an oceanographer sends out soundings to gather information. I felt strongly I would receive some answers. And I believe I did … like echoes from the depths of time, as I would later write.

However, before elaborating on this process I feel it is necessary to describe an experience I had of what I can only refer to as God’s very essence. This was the first of three such encounters, all occurring under very different circumstances. From the introduction of my collection of verse essays entitled ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe:

But some of the realizations [in this book] came only after I had had a profound conversion experience, a conversion that occurred during one of the worst crises of my life. At one point in our marriage, my previous wife and I were on the brink of a serious separation when I realized that I would never be the father that I had always wanted to be for our children – our daughter, then eight, and son, seven – and that that would hurt them. All of a sudden this incredible love swept over me, filling my heart with joy, and I knew it was from God. I knew it was God’s love because there was a presence and a power to it. This love knew me intimately, was closer to me than my very breath.

This experience, and the other two like it, have convinced me that the chief attribute of God is pure, unconditional love – that God can literally be described as Pure Love personified. Such experiences prove to me that whoever or whatever God is, we are loved and can be healed – in my case emotionally – by this penetrating power that emanates from the Divine. This knowledge was crucial for me as I continued with my philosophical inquiries.

As I pondered the mysterious relationship between God and the universe with what I hoped was an open and unbiased mind, the worldview that unfolded in front of me didn’t seem at first to address the problem of evil directly. But as the different aspects of it began to fit together, a possible new solution to the problem of needless pain and suffering in the world – of natural and moral evil – began to emerge.

The first principle that came to me was this:

In the beginning, the fundamental realities of the universe – like the first chemical elements, gravity, electromagnetism, and the laws that governed them all – HAD to be what they were. It was absolutely ESSENTIAL that they be what they intrinsically were because they derived directly from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. This reveals the universe as an unfolding MANIFESTATION of GOD. These primordial realities could not have been anything other than what they were.

This shouldn’t be confused with the “anthropic principle” which recognizes that some realities of the universe (e.g., the universe’s rate of expansion, the size of protons) have to be what they are for life to exist at all. This is the current-day context that most people think of when entertaining the idea that the universe has to be what it is, or what it was in the beginning. However, the principle under consideration here addresses the realities of the universe, starting with the Big Bang, in a new context. That context is that the basic realities of the early universe were realities that derived directly from God, and because of this it was absolutely essential that they be what they intrinsically were. For instance, if you imagine a chemical element – maybe call it Saturnium – it could never in actuality ever really exist because it is an imagined element, even for the Divine. It is not a reality that derives from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. On the other hand, real natural elements inherently have to be what they intrinsically are. The quality of “realness” that they are imbued with is a unique quality that is derived from God and God alone.

At first this might seem to limit God’s power, because one might ask, “Couldn’t God have created the universe any way and with anything that he wanted to?” But in actuality it doesn’t limit God’s power at all. It reveals that the questioner is asking from a biased perspective, a perspective that doesn’t reflect the way reality truly is. It’s like asking, “Couldn’t God create a square circle?” One wouldn’t answer “no” to the question (and thus limit God), but one would rather say that the question itself isn’t in accordance with the reality of God, or with the realities that derive from God.

The second principle that came to me was this:

From the moment anything derived from God, it naturally turned to God out of a need to be something more – to progress. This automatically set up a “call and response” dynamic between God and the universe. There was even a type of yearning – not like the yearnings you or I feel, but a yearning nonetheless – within complex molecules to be something more. God lovingly responded to this need, and life itself came into existence – began to thrive and grow. From that point on, the needs – the yearnings – within the universe became much more complex. This process sets up a dynamic of COLLABORATION between God and nature which brings about the evolution of life and the universe.

Along with many new life-processes, the realities of physical and emotional pain came into existence. Pain was not conjured up by the Divine as some kind of warning system or learning experience, but is a natural result of the reality of sensation itself. From the verse essay “Sensation” in ~SOUNDINGS~:

     The reality of pain is intertwined within the very fabric

          of this evolving universe.

     It is an actual aspect of the unfolding manifestation of God,

          of this continuing collaboration of nature with God.

~

     So is the reality of pleasure,

          although an understanding of pleasure is less intriguing.

     We simply enjoy it, pursue it, long for it—

          not really caring so much why.

     But pain is another story.

     It can consume us, overwhelm us.

     It has the potential to drive us deep within ourselves,

          crying out, reaching out with a yearning

               and longing for release,

               for something, someone, to deliver us.

The third principle that came to me – and perhaps the most applicable to the problem of evil – was this:

The realities that derive from God have an inherent power within them to resist the FULL power of God. This power to resist the Divine is linked to the dynamic that these realities are derived from the Divine, and thus share in the Divine’s Reality. This sets up a dynamic in which God is in CONTENTION with the life-forms in the universe while helping to bring about their evolution and development. It’s not like these life-forms consciously resist God’s power. It’s more like this power to resist is just part of their very nature. Yes, things do get more complicated where human beings and matters of free will are involved. But this undercurrent of contention between God and that which derives from God – between the Divine and the universe as the unfolding manifestation of the Divine – still remains.

These three principles – manifestation, collaboration, and contention – help to make up the contemporary philosophy of derivism*. This new worldview has led me to a surprising understanding concerning God’s true relationship with the universe, and how that relationship addresses the problem of evil – both natural and moral.

That understanding is this:

At this moment – at every moment – God is offering us EVERYTHING in his, in her power to give. God, who is Pure Love, isn’t withholding ANYTHING. But the Divine is contending with our natural selves – ourselves physically, chemically, biologically, and psychologically. God is also contending with natural obstacles inherent within the universe at large – a universe that has the power to RESIST God because it consists of realities that derive directly FROM God.

Now, some might see this contention as limiting the Divine. But once again that perception is a mistake, in my opinion, and is based on biases about God’s power that we bring to the table. From the verse essay “Humanity”:

     To view this truth as a limitation of our wonderful God

          is a mistaken perception.

     The reality of the power of the sacred Spirit of God

          exerted in its fullness upon the natural world,

               resulting in the development of life

               through planetary history,

                    and climaxing with the advent of humanity—

                    this reality doesn’t limit or lower God,

                         rather it raises the universe

                         to its true significance and worth.

~

     It raises the preciousness of life

          as it is reflected in God’s eyes.

     It raises God’s people, every human being,

          to a deeper understanding of their roles

               as collaborators in God’s plan,

               as laborers of God’s love—

                    and sometimes, as those in need of special care.

~

     The misconceptions surrounding God’s activity

          in relation to the universe begin when we confuse

               what God’s power actually is

               with what we imagine it to be.

     Just because we can imagine God’s power

          being exerted on physical objects

               like an actual hand would be exerted,

               doesn’t mean that God actually works that way.

~

     It seems very possible that the way God works—

          maybe the way God must work

               in accordance with reality—

               is through the hearts and minds

                    and limbs of living things,

                    that this is the essential avenue

                         through which miracles occur,

                         especially within the human arena.

So for me, this understanding colors everything I witness regarding the harsher realities of life – realities like death, accidents, natural disasters and disease (which define natural evil), and realities like crime and other abuses (which define moral evil). It’s not that God is allowing these things to happen, but that God’s full power is filtered through the process of contention by the realities that make up this unfolding manifestation of God – realities that have the power to resist the Divine because they derive directly from the Divine and thus share in the Divine’s reality.

Through this understanding, I’ve come to realize that moral evil can be attributed to a person’s reaction to the lack of God’s power and love in their lives. For as St. Augustine has noted, evil is the privation, or absence, of good. Evil isn’t a real thing in itself. It is more like the absence or lack of the Ultimately Real Thing – or One – which is God.

This new philosophy of derivism helps me to not blame God for the essential way that the universe is evolving and developing, with all of its beauty and heartache. Indeed, this philosophy is compatible with an understanding of the mechanisms of random mutations and natural selection found within the evolutionary process itself. I haven’t encountered one scientific discovery that is in direct conflict with the core tenets of derivism. This worldview doesn’t try to mold the advances of science into its own framework, but rather asks, “What does this advancement tell us, if anything, about how the Divine interacts with this particular aspect of the universe? Or what does this scientific discovery reveal to us, if anything, about the nature of the universe as an unfolding manifestation of Pure Love?”

This philosophy of derivism – a revolutionary worldview, in my opinion – has served me well for over twenty years, through all kinds of inner as well as outer turmoil. I came to this worldview as a Christian, and it has strengthened and revitalized my faith. But I don’t see derivism as an exclusively Christian philosophy. I can see it being applied to other faith traditions as well.

So to answer the question “Why does evil occur if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good?”, I would have to say that God is doing everything in his, in her power to eradicate evil. God’s power is exerted in its fullness at every moment, but is contending with harsh realities and circumstances that consist – in part – of manifested realities that derive directly from God, and thus have the power to resist God.

So of the three classic attributes of God, two of them remain virtually untouched in derivism – God’s omniscience (all-knowingness) and God’s omnibenevolence (all-goodness). The third attribute – God’s omnipotence (all-powerfulness) – is simply revised to mean the kind of power that God’s power actually is, and the way that God’s power actually works. The boundaries of omnipotence are redefined from what we imagine them to be to what the evidence reveals them to be. If God’s omnipotence is real and our ideas of what constitute omnipotence are not, then we should be the ones changing our minds, and not expect God to change his/her reality.

Who would want to change God’s reality anyway? The Divine is all-inclusive Pure Love and the universe is unfolding in accordance with that. This world, with all of its pain and struggle, is still a wondrous, exciting, and fulfilling place. As a human being thriving down here on planet Earth, I can think of no other place I’d rather be. But that doesn’t mean that serious problems affecting this world should go unresolved. With problems like global climate change, pollution, and deforestation at our front door, much work needs to be done to restore this planet to a healthier state. An understanding of these problems in light of derivism can be of great value when addressing such concerns.

 I hope this essay has encouraged you to read the following contents of ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe (PRESS 333). The beginning of the ebook can be found by scrolling below related posts to the one entitled ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe — Contents and Introduction, or by clicking here.

You can also find the paperback and Kindle versions here. If you like the book (and even if you don’t) please consider writing a review on the Amazon website for ~SOUNDINGS~.

It is my sincere desire that you discover for yourself that this new philosophy has both the potential to make better sense of our ever-changing world, and the ability to tear down some of the walls between us and the very source of all life, love, and reality.

*  *  *

* The philosophy of derivism introduced in ~SOUNDINGS~ is not the religious doctrine found at the website or in the book Derivism: A New Understanding in a New Age. Each author arrived at the term “derivism” independently. The philosophy introduced here is specified as Jordanic derivism.

~

A BIG PICTURE ISSUE: Is Health Care in America a Right or a Privilege?

“We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, Jan. 11, 1944

The big picture issue when it comes to health care in America is whether it is a right or a privilege. Is it a basic right protected under our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or is it a privilege only secured for those who can pay for it? The progressive view is basically that it is a right, and the conservative view is basically that it is a privilege.

If a person holds that it is a human right, then they quickly come to the conclusion that health care insurance provided by big corporations will not be able to adequately protect that right. Corporations will always seek to profit from the needs, and in this case misfortunes, of their customers. Their goal will always be to pass these profits onto the shareholders. This system is inherently flawed when trying to protect the basic human right to health care for all Americans.

If a person believes that it is a privilege, then they adhere to the philosophy that if an American citizen cannot afford health care insurance, it is their personal problem. If a person cannot afford health care because they have a pre-existing condition, then it is their problem if they face health issues in the future and possibly economic ruin. It is not the obligation – in any way, shape, or form – of any other citizen to be responsible for helping to provide them with insurance.

President Obama and his fellow Democrats felt that health care was a basic human right when they passed the Affordable Care Act. They initially wanted to pass a single-payer system – virtually an extension of Medicare – but the political climate would not allow them to do it. So they tried to provide health care insurance for as many Americans as they could. But with the stresses of the free market system, which is always motivated by profit, this has become an impossibility. The basic human right to health care and the agenda of large corporate health care insurance providers to make a profit are not a good mix, to say the least.

What we are witnessing now is an attempt to return to a “health care as a privilege” philosophy. The new American Health Care Act bill is an attempt to cut subsidies for the working class and poor, to give the states the option to waiver protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and to eventually scale back Medicaid. This will free up money to support the Republican Party’s plan to enact major tax cuts for corporations and those couples making over $250,000 a year – in other words, the 1%. The 1% will be shielded from the harsher effects of this new health care plan (i.e., no protections for those with pre-existing conditions) because they will have more money in their pockets to deal with it.

So basically the only way to protect an American citizen’s basic human right to health care is for the current health care insurance system to be dismantled and for the country to go to a single-payer (i.e., governmental) system. Yes, it will probably mean longer waiting periods, more bureaucracy, and higher taxes. But this is the price we all must pay to ensure that the right to health care for every American citizen is protected.

Of course, all of this is determined by whether a person believes that access to health care is a right or a privilege. Every person must ask this question of himself or herself, in order to really know which direction they feel our American health care system should go.

Process Theologian Dr. John B. Cobb Jr. helps to clarify core tenet of Jordanic Derivism

I was thrilled to have a conversation via email with Dr. John Cobb a while back regarding Jordanic derivism. Some of his comments really helped to clarify a core tenet of my philosophy. I would like to share that conversation with you now.

Dr. Cobb: Thank you for your book. I agree that your profound struggle to understand God and the world and the reality of evil have brought you to a path very like that of process theology. I congratulate you for finding it on your own. I welcome you to our community or to consider yourself a fellow traveler if you prefer that.

What gives poignancy and power to your thinking is the way it has come out of your personal suffering and joy. Thank you for sharing that.

Me: You are more than welcome for the book, Dr. Cobb. Thank you for the kind words. I found your comments very encouraging. Yes, I would very much like to consider myself part of your community. I know that my philosophy differs in some ways from process theology proper (i.e., retaining the traditional belief that Jesus was always the Incarnation instead of the belief that he became the Christ), but I’m certain all process thinkers don’t necessarily agree on this.

I was interested, though, in your opinion on my understanding that the fundamental realities of the universe – the chemical elements, light, gravity, electromagnetism, and the laws that govern them all – derive directly from God and therefore have to be what they are, that it is essential that they be what they are, and that this plays into the development of the universe throughout all time. Have you ever encountered an axiom like this before?

When I first realized this, it had an amazingly positive effect on me. For me, it was like I had discovered a missing piece to the cosmic puzzle! It became a springboard for much of my thinking that followed. But I do realize that what affects one person very deeply might not have much, if any, impact on others. However, I am curious about whether anyone else in your knowledge has ever arrived at a similar understanding.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your comments.

Dr. Cobb: The question of “have to be” is itself ambiguous. There is much talk these days about the “fine-tuning” of the universe. The basic laws of nature or “constants” have to be what they are if there is to be life in the universe. I was not sure whether this was your meaning or that there is some inherent necessity. The former view, often called the “anthropic principle” is for me a strong reason for positing an act of God as establishing the fundamental order of things. If there is some other kind of necessity, this may no longer be the case.

Me: My meaning is that there is an inherent necessity that the basic realities of the universe be what they are, similar to the understanding that it is an inherent necessity that God’s power be persuasive and not coercive. For instance, if you imagine a chemical element – maybe call it Saturnium – it could never in actuality ever really exist, because it is an imagined element, even for God. It is not a reality that derives from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. On the other hand, real natural elements inherently have to be what they are. The quality of “realness” that they are imbued with is a unique quality that is derived from God and God alone. It is also a quality that helps to enable these natural realities to resist the full influence of God’s power, thus setting the stage for the development of the universe over time – as an unfolding manifestation of God, a collaboration of nature with God.

Does this inherent necessity somehow undermine the position that the fundamental order of things was and is established by an act of God? For me, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, because if the basic realities of the universe are derived directly from God, and even God isn’t free to choose them to be something outside of his/her reality, then the idea that God “fine-tuned” the universe to support life implies that God can bend the actual laws that derive directly from God’s Reality. And no, because the initial manifestation of these natural realities is the original “act of God as establishing the fundamental order of things”. What is understood as God fine-tuning the universe can now be expanded to include God bringing into existence all of the natural realities that derive directly from him/her in the first place.

Even though I’ve tried to articulate the subtleties of this philosophy of derivism in my book, I understand it when you say you’re not sure what I meant. My daughter once told me, “But Dad, that’s like saying a chair is a chair because it has to be a chair!” I appreciate you asking me what I meant by “have to be” and including the phase “or that there is some inherent necessity” in your response. I think I’ll use the phrase “an inherent necessity that” as well as “essential that” in the future to explain my views.

(End of conversation)

It had not occurred to me that derivism’s tenet of manifestation – that the fundamental realities of the universe have to be what they are because they derive from God, who is the Ultimate Reality – could be confused with the anthropic principle. But it stands to reason that it would be. The anthropic principle is the main context in which the idea that the universe “has to be what it is” is currently used in philosophical discussions. However, the context in which this idea is used in derivism is something different. That context is that it is inherently necessary that the fundamental realities of the universe be what they intrinsically are because they derive from the Ultimate Reality of God. They could be no other way.

I hope this clarification is of some use to you when considering the philosophy of Jordanic derivism.

Maryanne J. Kane’s Article for National Catholic Reporter “Why does a loving God permit pain?” – My Response

The question of what God’s role in relation to the painful aspects of life is one of the most vexing in recorded history. Everyone has a theory – some being supported by evidence, others not. My theory is a simple formula:

A) The known Universe derived directly from its source, or God, at the Big Bang.

B) The realities of that early Universe (i.e., the chemical elements, gravity, electromagnetism) HAD to be what they were. God did not just “create” them any way he/she wanted to. They are realities that derived directly from their source and thus share in that source’s reality.

C) The changes that have occured in the Universe since its beginning have been due to a COLLABORATION between God and the measurable realities within the Universe. Evolution is a result of that collaboration.

D) Natural and moral evil is explained as the result of God being in CONTENTION with the realities that derived directly from him/her.

For more on this please visit: www.revolutionarynewphilosophy.com

Comments

Jesuitical replied: Interesting reply, but noted is that it is entirely devoid of scientific input. It is an example of arguing from a conclusion and/or a belief not from evidence. This is not to deny a god, or a creator God, but a postulate of science to follow the evidence wherever it might lead. But then, you did say ‘my theory’. Once more, in your case theory is a hunch, an opinion. A scientific theory is considered a fact in science.

My Response: Thank you for your reply, Jesuitical. You are indeed correct that my theory is not the result of scientific proof. I never meant for such a theory to be equated with a scientific theory, such as the theory of relativity or evolution. I think it’s safe to say that few philosophical or theological theories are proven by empirical evidence. When I said that some theories are supported by evidence, some less so, I meant that some theories are more compatible with what science has revealed to us than others.

In the case of my theory, I specifically sought a worldview that would be especially compatible with the post-modern, information age that we find ourselves in. The idea that the source of the known universe, or God, is in contention with the realities of that universe because those realities derive directly from that source and thus share in that source’s reality and power could explain why we experience God the way we do, and why God often appears to be absent from our experience.

HearSay with Cathy Lewis Podcast “The Art of Dying” – My Response

The HearSay podcast “The Art of Dying” can be found here.

When discussing the experience of death, I think it’s important to differentiate between what we know and what we believe. The plain and simple fact is, as human beings living in the early 21st century, we know precious little about our existence after bodily death, or whether we continue to exist at all. Even if we take into account the testimonies of people who have had near death experiences, these accounts only describe the early stages of death. We have no knowledge of what occurs following the final stages of death.

I think it’s important to note that, even though your guest has devoted much time to the reality of death through meditation, his belief that we “lose our identities and dissolve into the Cosmos” is just that, a belief. The fact is that consciousness itself still has a dimension of mystery to it, and we cannot say for sure whether or not our identities are retained or lost after death. Given our current lack of knowledge on the matter, it is just as valid to believe that our individual identities survive the death experience as it is to believe that our identities are somehow absorbed into the Cosmos, or that they cease to exist at all.

Because these beliefs are equally possible, I choose to believe that my individual identity will survive the death of my physical body. In other words, I nurture the hope that I will continue to exist. I know that this is an optimistic viewpoint, but it is one that I will most likely carry with me to my dying day.

Bill Tammeus’ Article for National Catholic Reporter “Many Christian pastors offer bad theology about death, suffering” – My Response

(Bill Tammeus’ article for National Catholic Reporter found here.)

Mr. Tammeus, in addressing the problem of evil – what you call the “open wound of religion” – you’ve dealt with a difficult subject with great sensitivity. If what you mean by “all theodicies finally fail” is that we cannot ultimately know for sure why there is evil in the world if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then you are indeed correct. But it does seem to be a part of human nature to desire some kind of intellectual closure to this problem, regardless of how attainable that closure is. Sometimes we need to grapple with “unknowables” to arrive at the most reasonable explanations for ourselves personally, in order to maybe move past those explanations to accept what we will never know for certain in this life. Some of us devote years of our lives to such a process.

The best intellectual solution I’ve come to for the problem of evil can be found in a little-understood dynamic between God and a universe that derives from God. If we go back to the beginning of the universe, it’s possible that the early space-time continuum – containing the first elements, light, electromagnetism, and gravity – HAD to be what it was because it derived directly from a Source that HAD to be what it was (I AM THAT I AM). Maybe God did not bring into existence this universe any old way he/she freely chose to, but the universe flowed out of God the way it HAD to flow out because it consists of realities that derived directly from God, who is the Ultimate Reality. Maybe the development that has occured in the universe over the past 13.82 billion years is a collaboration between God and that which has derived from God.

And finally, to address the problem of evil, maybe God contends with that which derives from him/her. Maybe that which derives from God has the power to resist God’s will and power because by its very existence it contains a degree of the power found within God, who is its Source. If this is true, then God doesn’t “allow” evil to happen. God isn’t “withholding” the power to stop evil from happening. God’s power is exerted in its fullness upon and within the universe. It’s just that the universe consists of realities that have the power to resist God because they derive directly from God and share in God’s power.

But, as you’ve said, Mr. Tammeus, all theodicies ultimately fail, and I suspect this one will also. Not that there absolutely isn’t any truth to it (because there very well could be), but because we’ll never know for sure whether it is true or not, no matter how reasonable or logical it is, or how much comfort it might bring to me or anyone else. But I had to go through the process of trying to figure out this problem in order to incorporate what I’ve “found” and move past my speculations.

Some of us will never be satisfied until we’ve at least tried to figure things out for ourselves.

Frank L. Jordan III

Do Not Dwell

Do not dwell on your losses,

Do not be consumed by your failures,

Do not ruminate over your shortcomings.

~

But be thankful for your blessings,

Be consoled by your efforts,

And be strengthened by your qualities.

~

For the past is not an anchor,

But a ladder to this present springboard,

Catapulting you into a glorious future,

If you would just let it be.

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ATHEISTIC PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: The Price of Getting Spiritual with Facebook’s Naturalism Group

Obsevable Universe

Observable Universe illustration courtesy of Pablo Carlos Budassi

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I’ve learned a few things about Facebook’s Naturalism group since I posted an invitation there to visit this website where my introductory book of spiritual philosophy can be accessed (original post and discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups).

The main thing I’ve discovered about that group is that it is almost completely dominated by metaphysical (non-spiritual) naturalists. This surprises me because in the About section for the group, websites for spiritual naturalists are prominently displayed (e.g., www.spiritualnaturalistsociety.orgwww.religiousnaturalism.org,  www.naturalism.org/spiritua.htm). And when visiting some of these sites, I found references to types of spirituality that closely resemble my own. From the Religious Naturalism website:

We are not enthusiastic about traditional god-concepts that see God as a paternalistic, absolutist being who pronounces scriptures that are to be taken literally. Nor are we enthusiastic about any concept that sees God as manipulating or temporarily suspending the laws of nature that have been discovered by scientific inquiry, that is, a God that performs miracles.

Some of us, however, maintain god-concepts that are more subtle than that. For example some find process theology’s understanding of God credible; some identify God with a generalized synonym for the sense of mystery most humans seem to feel; some view God as a metaphor for the healing and transforming force in the universe; at least one of our allies embraces a god-concept and then refuses to give it any concretized form; some of us are non-literal pantheists; and so on.

I can particularly identify with spiritual naturalists who embrace process theology because the philosophy of derivism that I’ve developed has some qualities in common with this worldview, and my book has been endorsed by a leading process theologian, Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr.

But the vocal members of the Naturalism group, with very few exceptions, would have none of this. I was accused of being a delusional supernaturalist (which I’m not) who appeals to the god-in-the-gaps fallacy (which I never did, i.e. – saying that I wouldn’t consider God as other than natural in the same way that I wouldn’t consider Dark Energy as other than natural is not trying to prove the existence of God via the existence of Dark Energy). That the majority of the comments were so inflammatory only points to the fact that many, if not most, of the group’s naturalists don’t even want to consider the concept that human spirituality can evolve alongside cultural and political evolution. As Carter Phipps wrote in EVOLUTIONARIES: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea:

Once we truly begin to appreciate the evolutionary nature of even a universal phenomena like religion, we can begin to see how regrettable it is that so many scholars, especially scientists, tend to think about it as a single phenomena, as if most of human history can be broken down into a simple two-step affair. First there was religion, then science. First faith, then reason. First belief and superstition, then logic and rationality. First supernaturalism, then naturalism. In such formulations, all forms of religious expression get lumped into a broad category. That is a misleading way to think about religion, because important distinctions, such as those discussed above, will be overlooked and smudged together, leading to inaccurate conclusions about the whole subject.

Current debates about God often find themselves embroiled in these distortions. The New Atheists, despite their laudable championing of modernity’s gifts of science, reason, and rationality, tend to propagate this unfortunate confusion. While some may be quite clear about how they define religion, associating it narrowly and exclusively with a faith in a supernatural, mythic God (or gods)—a faith that is still the foundation of many of the belief systems active in the world today—many are less careful. They tend to see all mystically or spiritually inclined individuals as being afflicted with more benign strains of the same underlying disease. What they often fail to acknowledge is that not all religious expression is created equal. Even under the umbrella of any particular tradition, there are vastly different ways of thinking about God, each of which represents certain worldviews, perspectives, and stages of faith. And for those of us who enthusiastically embrace both the deepest intimations of the spiritual impulse and the tremendous virtues that flow from the project of science, the first order of business is to free the idea of spirit from being frozen in history and exclusively associated with the traditional, mythic, transcendent, otherworldly, anthropomorphic, dogmatic, old-man-in-the-sky-God belief system, by whatever name (pg. 268).

This exclusive approach to naturalism that Phipps describes will view any spirituality as part of the infection behind the disease that could ultimately cause terrorists to fly jet airliners into buildings. This approach can even produce an attitude of intolerance when considering the rights of others to run for political office. From the essay “Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First” (www.naturalism.org):

More generally, any ideological bias against the necessity for empiricism, such as faith in God’s providence, should be seen as a disqualification for public office. Not that this recommendation will catch on any time soon in a society with “In God We Trust” on its currency and where paying lip service to religion is necessary for getting elected; but it’s something to shoot for.

Not exactly an attitude that would create an atmosphere friendly to someone who was a spiritual naturalist. Not even if that someone is Albert Einstein. After I quoted Einstein, I was rebuffed by a group member that “Einstein was not a naturalist”, even though Einstein’s opinion on free will is quoted under the Celebrities section of Naturalism.org. Why was this judgment made? It’s because Einstein does not fit into the atheistic, non-spiritual naturalist paradigm. It’s because Einstein, like Carl Sagan, said he believed in “Spinoza’s God”. But maybe the group member who made the comment realized his error, because the comment has since been removed from the discussion.

As soon as I mentioned that my worldview was not founded on belief alone, but on “several psychological/spiritual encounters with a presence I can only describe as Pure Love Personified”, I was promptly referred by a second group member to the Epistemology section of Naturalism.org where I would find reasons why “such encounters can’t be trusted as reliable representations of reality.” Although I did find the essay a refreshing visit to the stronghold of critical thinking, I do not hold that it means the death of spirituality once and for all. My opinion is largely influenced by the first of those psychological/spiritual encounters, described in the introduction of my book of philosophical verse essays entitled ~SOUNDINGS~: Exploring the Depths of God and the Universe:

But some of the realizations [in this book] came only after I had a profound conversion experience, a conversion that occurred during one of the worst crises of my life. At one point in our marriage, my previous wife and I were on the brink of a serious separation when I realized that I would never be the father that I had always wanted to be for our children—our daughter, then eight, and son, seven—and that that would hurt them. All of a sudden this incredible love swept over me, filling my heart with joy, and I knew it was from God. I knew it was God’s love because there was a presence and a power to it. This love knew me intimately, was closer to me than my very breath (pg. 1).

After describing this account, I was told by the first group member, “If you were born 1000 years ago, you would have felt it came from the Sun God.” Sound familiar? And from the second group member I heard, “For why you shouldn’t trust your own experience, uncorroborated by publicly available evidence (what science deals in), as a reliable guide to reality…” I was then referred  to the essay “Projecting God: The Psychology of Theological Justification”—also found in the Epistemology section of Naturalism.org. The gist of this essay is that if a person has to be receptive in order to detect spiritual phenomena, then the receptivity makes that detection unreliable because it violates the “insulation requirement”, which creates a bias within the observer. Of course this essay doesn’t address if a person has no receptivity to such phenomena and then experiences them anyway. But that doesn’t totally invalidate the original argument. I have my own reasons for thinking why receptivity to spiritual phenomena can be a genuine aid to experiencing them, but I’ll address those reasons at the conclusion of this essay.

I was also referred by a third group member to an article by a self-proclaimed skeptic who said that the latest advances in neuroscience showed that people tend to find patterns in phenomena and assign agency to them—specifically higher agency—because of the evolutionary advantages to such a practice. Although I can see the benefit of knowing about such correlations, I don’t think they explain the patterns and agency that humans assign to all unusual phenomena. I would like to illustrate this with an anecdote from my own personal history.

In the spring of 1995, I found I needed a crucial piece of information that only a very few people had. One of those people was a young military woman who was about to be stationed overseas. I didn’t know her address or phone number, or the addresses or phone numbers of any of the people who might be able to help me. One morning I went to work, promptly got “sick”, and left to keep an appointment with a lawyer. After the appointment, I went to a local mall to kill some time. I purchased some frozen lemonade and sat in a commons area beside a fountain. While sipping on the lemonade and watching the fountain, this feeling of deep peace came over me, much like the peace that I had felt as a result of the conversion experience I described above. Looking up, I saw your typical crowd of people coming and going. Through the crowd, coming straight at me, was the young military woman whom I had wanted to talk with. I was surprised by this, but not as shocked as I probably should have been. I got up and approached her. I didn’t want to overtly ask the woman for the information for fear of scaring her off, so I worked the conversation around to it. She told me what I needed to know, and we parted. After she returned from her assignment years later, I saw her again and said that back then she had told me something I really needed to hear. She didn’t pry, but said that she remembered that day and how it was a strange turn of events that had brought her to the mall. I didn’t ask for further details. We said our goodbyes and I never saw the young woman again.

What am I supposed to make of this event? Nobody knew I was in the mall. Nobody knew I was seeking out this information. Was it a total coincidence that this young woman just happened to show up in a place that I never frequented during a workday? Why did I have this feeling of peace right before she appeared out of the crowd and walked up to me? Am I not supposed to see any pattern here? Am I not supposed to see any higher agency, even if that agency could be a higher ability of my own mind? And if this event was somehow orchestrated by my own mind, what vehicle did my mind use to orchestrate it?

I do not believe it was a mere coincidence. I choose to believe that something much deeper and more powerful than I am was at work here. And I think that as long as these kinds of events continue to happen to people, there will always be room for spirituality in the world.

It is my philosophy and belief that it is beneficial for people to be open to spiritual phenomena because the physical realities of this universe derive from Pure Love Personified, or God, and thus share in God’s power and reality. As a result they have the ability to resist the fullness of Pure Love, setting up a dynamic called contention. For me, this contention explains everything I witness in nature. It explains why God appears absent a good deal of the time, and why Pure Love Personified is sometimes very present. It explains to me why the Divine must work through nature instead of to nature to exert its creative, healing power, and how God empowers the evolutionary process itself, while the specifics of that process (e.g., natural selection, random mutation) occur because of a species’ natural resistance to the fullness of God’s creative power.

And finally, this outlook reinforces why it is so beneficial for a person to “ascend to belief” in regard to the apprehension of the reality of God, because such an attitude helps one overcome this dynamic of contention. To put it simply, the entire philosophical and spiritual worldview of derivism explains for me the complex world that I experience and observe on a daily basis.

And I’m not going to argue about it. I’m not going to debate it. I’m just going to put it out there for anyone who wants to know about it. I refuse to do battle with individuals who have the attitude that any subjective experience is not worthy of the stamp of empirical science, as if humans haven’t psychologically or spiritually evolved in the past 10,000 years. It’s this kind of attitude that will automatically discount thousands of documented cases of persons who have had similar near-death experiences, or will invalidate thousands of testimonies from children who recall memories from the lifetimes of deceased strangers, simply because these are subjective experiences. Individuals with this pervasive skeptical mindset will disregard as scientific evidence such experiences solely because they are communicated through the human mind—the very pinnacle of human evolution—chiefly because of mistaken perceptions and superstitions from humanity’s past. This kind of prejudice deserves its own definition, one that I’m willing to offer here:

skeptic bias (noun)  the tendency to invalidate the subjective experience of another solely because that experience is communicated by a human being using a human mode of communication.

No, for all of the reasons I’ve given above I really don’t see much point in debating a spiritual philosophy with people who have already made up their minds not to value spiritual phenomena. Because there is value in such experiences. Even skeptic Sam Harris recognizes this to some degree when he responds to criticisms of his usage of spiritual language in his book Rational Mysticism on the website Council for Secular Humanism (www.secularhumanism.org):

The problem, however, is that there is a kernel of truth in the grandiosity and otherworldly language of religion. It really is possible to have one’s moment-to-moment perception of the world radically transfigured by “attentional” discipline. Such a transfiguration, being both rare and profoundly positive, may occasionally merit a little poetry.

In my particular case, it merited a whole book of poetry.

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