Archive for April, 2011

Things have been rather busy of late and I realise I have somewhat neglected this blog. Not the least important part of my recent schedule was the UK Bahá’í National Convention which was held in Nottingham over the Easter Weekend and attended by some 800 people. The focus of its deliberations was on how we can learn to be more effective at building the kinds of communities that will empower those within them to change the world for the better.

As I drove home an image that expressed a sense of my own part in this process kept coming back to mind: just one small pickaxe among millions pecking at the rock to build this railroad. It is exactly such small efforts that multiply to make a massive difference and yet their apparent insignificance makes it so easy to lose track of that fact.

Recently, I have also been reflecting on another important component of societal change which impacts upon community building but also works on entirely different levels of our culture as well – a better relationship between science and religion. Recently two of my posts have focused on that theme.

In spite of being so pressed for time in the last two or three weeks I did stumble across an interesting item in the recent issue of The Psychologist on this very topic. It’s a pity I didn’t read it until after I wrote the two posts but I thought it was so good I’d draw attention to it now anyway. Better late than never.

Fraser Watts

Fraser Watts, psychologist and priest (not in this case a cricketer), was interviewed about his work. In response to questions he shared two particularly interesting reflections (April 2011: page 269):

One of the things that troubles me about much current work is that it is doctrinaire in its assumptions about religion and, for the most part, assumes that religious belief is simply a mistake. That seems to me to be an assumption that ought to be bracketed out of scientific work on religion. It isn’t a question that science can settle one way of the other.

Later, towards the end of the interview, he added:

The psychology of religion has recently broadened out to include ‘spirituality’, and I would like to see it broaden to include the study of atheism and non-religion as well. Many psychologists probably think that religion deserves special study because it is prevalent but self-evidently untrue, whereas atheism doesn’t deserve study in the same way because it is obviously correct. My view is that the psychology of religion and non-religion should bracket out truth questions, and simply try to understand what is going on psychologically. Atheism is, in many ways, like a religion, and raises a lot of interesting psychological questions.

For me he has put his finger on a continuing source of unscientific bias in social science. I think, though, for the reasons my earlier posts explored, the balance is slowly shifting. Let’s hope it is shifting fast enough to prevent the materialistic biases of our left brain view of science from completely unhinging the door of hope and blasting the future with its toxic radiation. A science with less investment in explaining God away has so much to contribute to the betterment of the world, as, of course, does a religion divested of superstition and fanaticism.

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At last I’ve got round to watching on iPlayer the second part of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s series on the Bible. The title was ‘Did God Have a Wife?’ The reactions provoked in me this time were rather different from those that arose in response to her first programme which I blogged about earlier this month.

Then I was struck by how good an example it provided of the inherent ambiguity of complex realities, and of how different they can seem when viewed from different angles. This time I was not triggered by any divergent views among dispassionate scholars about the evidence. It is widely accepted, I think, that in the history of Israelite theology the move was from polytheism to monotheism. Stavrakopoulou find traces of this in the Bible itself and this is not a huge surprise. She makes as much as she can out of the moment in which she confronts a scholar of Judaism with this evidence in order to elicit the predictable response that this would not be a position acceptable within his theology.

The problem for me lies in the implications she derives from this and from his similar equally predictable failure to agree that Asherah was widely accepted by the Israelites of the time to be the wife of El, the name God was equally widely known by then.

An 'Asherah' figurine


For her this calls into question the whole concept of monotheism, for her the ark of Yahweh is irreversibly holed below the waterline. She rightly points out that the masculine emphasis of early forms of monotheism, which suppressed the feminine side and therefore deleted Asherah from the record, was basically unhealthy. But this only sinks the concept entirely if the idea of one God must by definition be male and if we assume that a single deity of any kind can only be a figment of human imagination.

There is a subtler position, which she never mentions, that reflects the likely reality more faithfully. This position has, for me, been most effectively expressed by Robert Wright, whose book, The Evolution of God, I have reviewed elsewhere. I can’t reproduce his whole argument now anymore than I was able to last time. It is enough to say that his premise on this question is that human understanding of the divine, whatever that is, has evolved over millennia, usually under the pressure of harsh political realities.

He describes the point in Israelite history when monolatry took hold. He sees it interconnected with, though not reducible to, a nationalist Israelite foreign policy (FP – page 146). He feels this would explain, for example, ‘why the Bible’s calls for exclusive devotion to Yahweh are so often infused with a nationalist spirit.’ This can’t be a complete explanation, in his view, as Israelite monotheism did not only have to reject foreign gods but their own ‘indigenous pantheon,’ including Asherah, as well (page 147). The matter of domestic politics (DP – page 148) has also to be involved. There was a sense in which Yahweh ‘gave legitimacy to the king’ (ibid.). He succinctly summarises his case by saying (page 150):

Supernatural pluralism was an enemy of royal power.

Any alert reader could well be saying at this point, ‘If he thinks he is safeguarding the survival of the concept of monotheism by this line of argument, he must be more deluded than I gave him credit for.’ And of course by itself it does little to further the case for the objective existence of a single ‘God.’ What it does do is lend support to Wright’s overall case that humanity’s ideas about God have changed over time and, on average, have developed greater levels of subtlety and sophistication as civilisations have lifted to higher levels of complexity. I started at this unpromising point in the story because this is where Stavrakopoulou begins and ends.

If we move forward in time, there is Philo‘s appealing contribution to the evolution of our idea of God (page 189 passim). He saw ‘a deep streak of tolerance in Yahweh.’ Wright feels that something made ‘tolerance attractive to Philo’ (page 189) – something that made him pay selective attention to expressions in the Bible that pointed in that direction. The ambiguity of scripture allowed him to read tolerance into the record. What pointed him in that direction though?

Wright’s full argument is complex and multifaceted and has to be read in toto to do his case justice. I am simply going to pick out one key point here. It hinges upon the fact that Philo ‘inhabited overlapping worlds’ rather as we do now (page 194):

Ethnically  and religiously he was a Jew. Politically, he lived in the Roman Empire. Intellectually and socially, his world was Greek.

Maintaining his status as a member of a rich and influential family he needed to stay on good terms with many powerful people from many different backgrounds.  He was devoutly religious so repudiating his monotheism was not an option even though Roman leaders thought of themselves as divine (page 195).

He had to preserve the viability of his Jewish world – and the integrity of his Jewish faith – even amid the Greek, Roman and Egyptian worlds.

In the end (page 196):

Intolerance, he saw, would breed intolerance, and the result could be lose-lose. However false pagan gods may be, those who believe in them “are not peaceful toward or reconciled with those who do not gladly accept their opinion, and this is the beginning and origin of wars.” And, after all, “to us the Law [the Torah] has described the source of peace as a beautiful possession.”

He was astute enough to survive an encounter with the reputedly callous and sadistic Caligula (page 196).

While this does not do much either to make a completely convincing argument for the objective reality of monotheism, it does illustrate that an advance in a civilisation’s complexity seems to go hand in hand with a moral advance in our ideas of God. What was arguably true then is even more true now.

Would it then be too ridiculous to extrapolate from that, by analogy with the way that physical evolution, over long periods of time, equips organisms to respond more effectively to the objective environment and increase their chances of survival? Is it stretching things too far to say that advances in social complexity similarly enforce advances in moral understanding and that these are conducive to survival because our understanding then captures more accurately some superordinate reality?   Central to this moral understanding there could well be a concept of a single underlying power in the universe that turns out objectively to be the best approximation currently available to describe what is out there, and perhaps within us too.

There is much in Baha’i scripture that maps onto this – progressive revelation for example which teaches that this Being we call God, whose true nature we will never fully understand, speaks to us through people more able than the rest of us to access this deeper reality and what they can say becomes a fuller explanation of the truth as our capacity to understand develops over long spans of time. It is important to note that a full understanding of the nature of God is forever beyond us: this, of course, implies that a successful attack on some description or other of ‘God’ will never amount to a disproof of the objective existence of such a Being.

To be fair the most we can say, on the basis of reason alone, is that belief in either the existence or non-existence of God is equally rational.

Electromagnetic Brain Stimulation

It is also worth pointing out, though, that it is going beyond the evidence to declare that simply because the brain has simulated a belief or experience it must be utterly false. The brain is the physical substrate of all our experiences and thereby underpins all our beliefs, rather as a radio is the means by which we experience the programmes transmitted in the form of waves, but that does not make these experiences baseless.

There is something out there corresponding to our experience of blue even though it is not ‘blue,’ it is simply a wavelength of light. Similarly there may well be something out there corresponding to God, though such an entity is unlikely to be literally and simply the bright white light of some near death and mystical experiences.

And just as our ability to create the experience of blue by stimulating the brain with electrodes does not take away the reality of that wavelength of light, so our ability to create a sense of the divine by stimulating the ‘God spot’ with electromagnets similarly fails to prove there is nothing divine out there.

If Stavrakopoulou’s aim is irreversibly to undermine the construct of monotheism it is unlikely to be achieved by simply finding flaws in people’s ideas about God. In fact, the concept is inherently beyond proof or disproof in rational terms. It is a question of faith, and disbelief is as much an act of faith as theism. That’s a trap in reality from which there’s no escape, no matter how desperate reductionists of all kinds are to have us believe otherwise. We must choose what we believe: there is nothing there outside our minds that will compel us to believe one thing rather than the other on this issue. It is, though, imperative that we make this choice wisely. I have to leave it to you to decide what wisdom is in this case.

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Occasionally you are given the heads up about something that confirms almost all your wildest suppositions about the world. This happened to me recently. Some time ago a good friend, who knows my weakness for this kind of thing, posted me a link to an article by David Brooks which I finally got round to reading last week. It said:

[A] growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

Every single one of those insights resonates powerfully with me.

I have already explored the way in which the comparison of the human heart to a garden, which you find in the Bahá’í Writings, is an image which conveys very effectively the idea that invisible processes in the ‘soil’ of our being produce remarkable results that can take long periods of time to emerge into the light of consciousness, rather in the manner of flowers and fruit. McGilchrist is a writer who pulls together a wide range of data to explain very clearly how functioning in a fully human way depends upon our recognising and fully integrating the emotional and intuitive aspect of our being with the logical and verbal one, rather than pretending it does not exist or is fundamentally undesirable. And this blog is littered with posts referring to the fundamental centrality of empathy and compassion in the complex pattern of human life.

What he goes on to say takes me further along this road. While the labels he uses may seem slightly abstract, even strange or dubious, what he goes on to describe integrates in one place those core human qualities upon which the future of our civilisation probably depends.

. . . . this research illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.

The spiritual path I follow has at its heart the idea that all human beings share a core of being that is essentially the same regardless of differences of colour, gender, class, race or politics. When we encounter differences with this perspective in mind the idea of Attunement becomes not only faintly possible but completely natural. There is a quotation from the Bahá’í Writings that not only reinforces this but shows how it might link to the other talents that he refers to:

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

(Arabic Hidden Words: 68)

Equipoise would seem to depend upon detachment which is in its turn linked to the capacity to reflect, which is a good word to use to describe the process behind Equipoise. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá unpacks some aspects of this relationship in Paris Talks, for example when He says (pages 175-176):

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.

This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.

Meditation, contemplation and reflection are closely related terms and depend upon high levels of detachment for their most effective operation. Detachment seems also to be necessary if we are to tune into the feeling states of others in a way that is conducive to high levels of empathy. It is not too difficult then to see how an ability to be in synchrony with others, which he describes as sympathy, is linked to the interaction of all these skills or qualities. This is partly at least what ‘being as one soul’ surely means.

The explanation in Paris Talks also suggests that both Metis and Limerence are rooted in this same combination of detachment, oneness and meditative reflection. ‘[T]he ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations’ at the very least overlaps, perhaps even maps completely onto, discerning ‘the reality of things’ just as being ‘in touch with God’ must be close in nature to those ‘moments of transcendence’ at the centre of what Limerence is according to Brooks.

McGilchrist’s comprehensive overview suggests that this is not ‘pie in the sky by and by’ but rooted in our evolved physical nature which has the capacity to bring these meta-realities down to earth. The holistic intuitive right-brain sees patterns in complex experiences that the analytical left brain is blind to. Silencing the chatter of the left brain, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recommends in His discussion of meditation and Jill Bolte Taylor experienced as a consequence of her stroke, allows these fruits of a deeper processing to float into consciousness.

Whether you see them as coming ultimately from a spiritual realm, as I do, or from a wiser part of our physical being, is immaterial (no pun intended!). What counts is that both secular and spiritual insights, experience and systematic evidence suggest more and  more of us have to learn how to tune into our deepest levels in this way if we are not, as a society, to sink more deeply into chaos and a social entropy that will destroy all that we have created that is positive in our civilisation.

It is extremely encouraging to see how so many people of good will across the spectrum of beliefs are of one mind on this at least. This is why there is hope. The word ‘gleams’ in the title of this post is a rather feeble acronym to act as a mnemonic for the Great ‘Limerence Equipoise Attunement Metis Sympathy’ combination of ideas.

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Bahá’ís in the States, including family members of the Yaran, met with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives, and this  video captures those important moments.

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Egyptian youth at a modern workshop.

Egyptian youth at a workshop.

[These are extracts from an English version issued yesterday of an unprecedented statement in Arabic by the Bahá’ís of Egypt dated April 2011: see link for full statement]

Our fellow citizens:

The events of recent months have provided us, the Bahá’ís of Egypt, with an opportunity we have never experienced before: to communicate directly with you, our brothers and sisters. Though small in number, we are privileged to belong to this land wherein, for more than a hundred years, we have endeavoured to live by the principles enshrined in our Faith and striven to serve our country as upright citizens. This chance is one for which we have longed—especially because we have wished to express our thanks to those countless fair-minded, compassionate souls who supported our efforts in the last few years to obtain a measure of equality before the law. But we rejoice primarily in the fact that, at such a critical juncture in our nation’s history, we are able to make a humble contribution to the conversation which has now begun about its future and to share some perspectives, drawn from our own experience and that of Bahá’ís throughout the world, as to the prerequisites for walking the path towards lasting material and spiritual prosperity.

. . . . .

The fact that, as a people, we have chosen to become actively involved in determining the direction of our nation is a public sign that our society has reached a new stage in its development. A planted seed grows gradually and organically, and evolves through stages of increasing strength until it attains to a state that is recognizably “mature”; human societies share this trait too.  . . . .

At this juncture, then, we face the weighty question of what we seek to achieve with the opportunity we have acquired. What are the choices before us? Many models of collective living are on offer and being championed by various interested parties. Are we to move towards an individualistic, fragmented society, wherein all feel liberated to pursue their own interests, even at the expense of the common good? Will we be tempted by the lures of materialism and its beholden agent, consumerism? Will we opt for a system that feeds on religious fanaticism? Are we prepared to allow an elite to emerge that will be oblivious to our collective aspirations, and may even seek to manipulate our desire for change? Or, will the process of change be allowed to lose momentum, dissolve into factional squabbling, and crumble under the weight of institutional inertia? It might justly be argued that, looking across the Arab region—and, indeed, beyond—the world wants for an unquestionably successful model of society worthy of emulation. Thus, if no existing model proves to be satisfactory, we might well consider charting a different course, and perhaps demonstrate to the community of nations that a new, truly progressive approach to the organization of society is possible. Egypt’s stature in the international order—its intellectual tradition, its history, its location—means that an enlightened choice on its part could influence the course of human development in the entire region, and impact even the world.

. . . .  it is vital that we endeavour to achieve broad consensus on the operating principles that are to shape a new model for our society. Once agreement is reached, the policies that follow are far more likely to attract the support of the populations whom they affect. . . . .

[The Statement goes on cogently to explain how various principles, such as the oneness of humanity, the equality of men and women and the value of education, need to be factored into consideration when planning the future direction of Egyptian society before concluding:]

Considered only in the abstract, perhaps few will dispute the essential merit of the principles discussed here. Yet, their implementation would have profound political, economic, social, and personal implications, which render them more challenging than they may appear at first. But regardless of the principles to be adopted, their capacity to imprint themselves on our emerging society will depend in large measure on the degree to which Egyptians have embraced them. For to the extent that all can be enabled to participate in the consultative processes that affect us—so that we tread the path towards becoming protagonists of our own material and spiritual development—will we avoid the risk of our society falling into the pattern of any of the existing models that see no advantage in empowering the people.

The challenge before us, then, is to initiate a process of consultation about the principles that are to inform the reshaping of our society. This is a painstaking task. To fashion from divergent conceptions a coherent set of principles with the creative power to unify our population will be no small accomplishment. However, we can be confident that every sincere effort invested for this purpose will be richly rewarded by the release, from our own selves, of a fresh measure of those constructive energies on which our future depends. In such a broadly based national conversation—engaging people at all levels, in villages and in cities, in neighbourhoods and in the home, extending to the grassroots of society and drawing in every concerned citizen—it will be vital that the process not move too quickly to the pragmatic and the expedient, and not be reduced to the deals and decisions involved in the distribution of power among a new elite who would presume to become the arbiters of our future.

The ongoing and wide-scale involvement of the population in such a consultative process will go a long way towards persuading the citizenry that policy-makers have the creation of a just society at heart. Given the opportunity to participate in such a process, we will be confirmed in our newly awakened consciousness that we have ownership of our own future and come to realize the collective power we already possess to transform ourselves.

The Bahá’ís of Egypt

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An important statement was issued by the Foreign Secretary yesterday. This is the full version as on the FCO site. See also the Baha’i World News Service for the full story.

04 April 2011

Foreign Secretary, William Hague calls on the Iranian judiciary to review the case and to cease persecution of the Baha’i faith.

Foreign Secretary William Hague Crown Copyright

Commenting on recent retrial of the Baha’i in Iran, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague said:

“I was deeply disturbed to learn that the seven Baha’i spiritual leaders in Iran have been re-tried in secrecy and had their original 20 year sentence reinstated.

“In August last year, I made clear that we believe the leaders are fully entitled to practise their faith. I stand by what I said then, and once again call on the Iranian judiciary to review the case and to cease persecution of the Baha’i faith.

“I am also concerned by the reports that the seven are facing physical threats from other inmates and guards in the prison they have been moved to. This is yet another example of the Iranian authorities disregard of the legitimate rights of the Iranian people. While restating that I do not believe there are adequate grounds to detain the leaders, I urge the Iranian authorities to ensure their safety while in custody, and provide them with full legal rights under Iranian law.”

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The title Bible’s Buried Secrets drew me to watch the first programme in the series on BBC2 in the middle of last month. Initially, in spite of the youth and charm of Francesca Stavrakopoulou, I found myself waiting on a bland platform of only mild interest until I found myself boarding a train of thought that carried me through intriguing terrain to a fascinating destination.

Her argument, in brief, was that the archaeological evidence for the existence of the biblical King David, Goliath notwithstanding, was so sparse as to call into question his reality. Bells in a distant steeple of my memory began pealing as though an invasion or a coronation was imminent. I recalled reading David Rohl‘s book A Test of Time many years earlier (1995 judging by the publication date). It was turned into a television series on Channel 4 which I never saw. He argued, in a way that seemed quite plausible, that this lack of corroboration for the Bible from the historical and archaeological record is a common problem and stems from the fact that the conventionally accepted Egyptian chronology is displaced in time.

For complex reasons that it would take too long to rehearse here, Rohl feels that (page 135):

There are . . . no safe fixed points in the chronology of Egypt earlier than 664 BC.

Caravaggio, David and Goliath 1599

David & Goliath: Caravaggio

He develops a new chronology which he summarises on page 143:

The New Chronology has determined that Ramesses II should be dated to the tenth century BC – some three hundred and fifty years later than the date which had been assigned to him in the orthodox chronology. As a consequence, the archaeology of Palestine associated with the late 18th and early 19th Dynasties – Late Bronze II – now represents the historical period known as the Early Israelite Monarchy, the era of David and Solomon.

It would be hard to find a blogger in the world with less knowledge of archaeology than me (I haven’t even seen all the episodes of Time Team), so I’m not going to claim I have the faintest idea who is really right here. What intrigues me is the divergence of view on a complex issue where the evidence appears not to be conclusive.

We’ve been here before, of course, on this blog with the issue of climate change and Peter Taylor’s detailed doubts about the theory of man-made global warming.

I love these examples of maverick experts challenging the prevailing orthodoxy. It has the same appeal as the tale of David and Goliath, in fact. Both Taylor and Rohl quote meticulously from a wide range of complex data, so wide in fact that they make the supporters of the mainstream consensus look as though the orthodox are the ones who are cherry picking data to use in evidence to support their case.

In these debates reality comes to seem as ambiguous as a Gestalt picture – you know the ones I mean. Is it Francesca Stavrakopoulou or Mother Teresa? It’s probably not a permanent state of affairs like the wave- particle situation with light, but it led me to wondering whether some other complex and ambiguous issues are eternally irresolvable.

Gazing through this window of my train of thought I had no desire to alight yet.

One perennial problem has become more acute since the rise of scientific empiricism. Religious people have sought to claim that myth is literally true, as though that will shift the debate in their favour, and the scientifically minded have been moved to dismiss anything that smacks of myth as utter fantasy. We either find the account in Genesis of the creation of the world implausibly defended as a realistic rendering of exactly what happened, or mystic experience, grounded in decades of disciplined practice, dismissed as irrational drivel.

Because I accept John Hick‘s position that the universe is such that there is just enough evidence to convince the predisposed that the spiritual realm is real while there is simply not enough to persuade the sceptical, it seems to me that the polarised debate described above is utterly fruitless. Reitan’s position is far more constructive: it is just as reasonable to believe in God as it is to doubt His existence.

If we could enact these mutually respectful positions, what would the world of ideas look like?

Not the bombed out war zone it resembles at the moment, that’s for sure. Can we find a picture of the likely scenario anywhere? Is a ‘marriage of sense and soul‘ of this kind really possible? I believe the green shoots of a different kind of landscape are pushing through the rubble of the battlefield and what was originally only the faint possibility of this marriage is already in the process of becoming a reality.

For example, Margaret Donaldson‘s brilliant book, Human Minds: an exploration, addresses a closely related question (page 264 – my emphasis):

The very possibility of emotional development that is genuinely on a par with – as high as, level with – the development of reason is only seldom entertained. So long as this possibility is neglected, then if reason by itself is sensed as inadequate where else can one go but back? Thus there arises a regressive tendency, a desire to reject reason and all that was best in the Enlightenment, a yearning for some return to the mythic, the magical, the marvellous in old senses of these terms. This is very dangerous; but it has the advantage that it is altogether easier than trying to move forward into something genuinely new.

Now we have clearly seen that the cultivation of the advanced value-sensing mode [e.g. in meditation] is not of itself new. It has ancient roots. What would be new would be a culture where both kinds of enlightenment were respected and cultivated together. Is there any prospect that a new age of this kind might be dawning?

For Baha’is, believing as we do that religion and science are both wings to the bird of true human understanding and progress, this is a crucial and exciting question, a long way further down the tracks of this particular train of thought than whether David did or did not really exist, but distantly related nonetheless.

Why do I think that this kind of mutual respect is possible, apart from a blind faith in my own particular spiritual tradition?


My sense that we are moving in that direction derives from my reading, in the main. McGilchrist, a psychiatrist steeped in the literature of his tradition, pleads eloquently, and on the back of a mountain of evidence, for the need to achieve a better balance between the two halves of our brain, between analytic reason and holistic intuition. On the religious side you have books such as Eric Reitan’s Is God a Delusion?. I have referred to his carefully balanced and utterly non-dogmatic position already in this post with a link to my review. On the scientific side, even if we ignore quasi-mystic physicists such as Amit Goswami, whose quantum spirituality is fascinating but some way beyond the reach of my full understanding, you have evolutionary thinkers such as Robert Wright, whose writing I’ve quoted more fully elsewhere in this blog. He states, for example, with a respect that echoes Reitan’s (The Evolution of God: pages 458-459):

. . . . natural selection’s invention of love . . . . was a prerequisite for the moral imagination whose expansion, here and now, could help keep the world on track . . . . . .

Though we can no more conceive of God than we can conceive of an electron, believers can ascribe properties to God, somewhat as physicists ascribe properties to electrons.

This idea of God as being beyond our understanding, though we can grasp some of His properties, resonates with the Bahá’í position:

As to the attributes and perfections such as will, knowledge, power and other ancient attributes that we ascribe to that Divine Reality, these are the signs that reflect the existence of beings in the visible plane and not the absolute perfections of the Divine Essence that cannot be comprehended.

(Bahá’í World Faith: page 342)

Wright continues (page 459):

One of the more plausible properties [of God] is love. And maybe, in this light, the argument for God is strengthened by love’s organic association with truth – by the fact, indeed, that at times these two properties almost blend into one. You might say that love and truth are the two primary manifestations of divinity in which we can partake, and that by partaking in them we become truer manifestations of the divine. Then again, you might not say that. The point is just that you wouldn’t have to be crazy to say it.

For those who want to get a feel for quantum spirituality, and for just how closely related scientific language and ineffable spirituality can become, have a look at the video below. If you can cope with the video you’ll almost certainly enjoy having a look at a challenging article on biocentrism (see link). Mystics are not mad it seems nor science untouched by hints of the divine.

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