Posts by: Gene Marshall



The word monotheism has experienced some disrepute among recent theologians and secular philosophers. Nevertheless, H. Richard Niebuhr gave this old term monotheism some new life in his breakthrough book Radical Monotheism and Western Culture.

Too often overlooked is Niebuhrs insight that the word God in biblical writings does not point to a being, but to a devotionthat the word theism or God is a devotional word, like the word sweetheart. Niebuhr holds that the Hebraic Scriptures and the New Testament, as well as Augustine, Luther, and thousands of others use the word God to mean a devotion to a source of meaning for our lives. Luther was very explicit about this: Whatever your heart clings toand relies upon, that is properly termed your God.

So, if we view the syllable theo in the word theology to mean a devotion rather than a being, then theology might be termed devotionology. Monotheism becomes mono- devotionality. Polytheism becomes poly-devotionality. And henotheism becomes heno-devotionality.

According to Niebuhr, monotheism, polytheism, and henotheism are three different devotional attitudes toward the whole of life. I will describe these devotional attitudes beginning with poly-devotionality.

Both Augustine and Mohammed conducted a severe critique of the poly-devotionality that dominated their surrounding cultures. Gods like Venus and Mars are about devotions to real realms of lifein this case love and war. It is understandable that both of these devotions can exist in a single life, along with many other devotions: family, work, nation, race, sex, gender, virtue, personality, etc. Niebuhr points out that each of these many temporal devotions can make an ultimate claim upon our lives. And when they do, we experience our lives being torn apart among these many claims. Perhaps we have experienced this tension between our family and our work, or between other meaning-givers of our lives. Niebuhr calls this the war of the gods.

Niebuhr also points out that each temporal god-devotion is doomed to disappoint us. Each of these temporal gods (devotions) will disappoint us because each is temporal. None of these gods can endure as an ultimate devotion. Our family can die or abandon us. Our work can end or bore us. Our nation can embarrass us. Our strong body can become old and fragile. Any one of these god-devotions can cease to be a devotion that renders our life meaningful to us. Niebuhr calls this the twilight of the gods.

Niebuhrs radical mono-devotionality resolves these poly-devotionality short-comings. A fully radical devotion to the ONE INCLUSIVE REALITY relativizes all the many devotions. It provides a context of devotion within which these sub-level devotions can have a place, a place that is not ultimate, but a relative place rendered so by that ONE devotion to the Final Source and Final Terminator of all the temporal gods and god-devotions.

Heno-devotionality is an attempt to resolve the poly-devotionality short-comings, but it does so in an incomplete manner. The heno idea points to a cultural pantheon like a nation or peoplehoodthat holds the many devotions in some socially prescribed order. Nativism or nationalism is a form of heno-devotionality, rather than a mono-devotionality, for it does not include a devotion to every other nation, as well as to our own nation. Similarly, a devotion to life, the life of all animate beings, is a heno-devotionality rather than the mono-devotionality, for it does not include a devotion to the inanimate as well as to the animate, to the processes of dying as well to the processes of living. As the Sufi poet Rumi said, Life and death are two wings on the same bird.

These reflections allow us to see the fully radical nature of mono-devotionality. Mono-devotionality turns out to be a complete form of realistic living. To quote a phrase from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this faith means a lived life in which the good and the real come together. If something is real, it is good. If something is going to be viewed as good, then it must be real. Evil from this perspective becomes all those humanly invented value-universes of delusion, escape, and substitution for what is real. Radical monotheism (mono-devotionality) is a radical realism of the most thoroughgoing sort.

This means that the findings of the scientific approach to truth are good to whatever extent they are real. For example, if the evolution of life on Earth is real, it is good. If the climate crisis is real, it is goodfacing this crisis demands our full attention and our full responsibility toward ending our dependence upon greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources. We can have vigorous debates about our various interpretations of the facts and their meaning, but making up our own facts to support our greed-based biases is selling ourselves to the dark-side.

Similarly, the findings of our contemplative inquiries into the essence of our own human consciousness is a valid approach to truth, and if such findings are true, they are good, requiring our ethical obedience and loyalty. For example, if we find that bigotry, racism, nationalism, sexism, and other oppressive views are not in accord with our reality-based humanity, then those attitudes are a fall from a true mono-devotionality. This fall does not change the essence of our true humanity, but it sets up a split in the self that we can call despair. This fall is a fall into abject hopelessness, because in the final outcome, the real always wins over the fabricated. If our devotionality is attached to the fabricated, then we are trapped in the losing side of the real drama of life.

It is not an accident that the mono-devotionality religions, at their best, have espoused and lived a thoroughgoing devotion to the Real, as well as to an unconditional love for our real selves and our real neighbors.

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Ten Rules for Realism

It should not surprise us that history has honored Moses and his descendantsof rule-writing companions. If realism is your master context, these oldrules still breathe deep common sense. Here is my 21st Century wording ofthe classical Ten Commandments as listed in Exodus 20:

1. You shall not devote your life to any reality more than to Reality with acapital R.

2. You shall not mistake any names, thoughts, ideas, or symbols, for thisunnamable Reality.

3. You shall not trivialize the symbols that do illuminate this Reality.

4. Keep free a seventh of your time for nurturing your Reality devotion.

5. Honor your ancestry in Reality-devoted living.

6. You shall not murder your neighboring beings.

7. You shall not misuse your sexual powers.

8. You shall not take for yourself what belongs to another.

9. You shall not falsely accuse the life of another.

10. You shall not covet having a life that is not your very own potential.

All the stories surrounding Moses are the wildest sort of historical fiction,but this truth need not diminish the rich meaning of these old stories. As thestory goes, Moses, in his concern for his enslaved brothers and sisters, losthis cool and killed an oppressing soldier. He then had to flee to the desert.Walking about one day he spied a strange sight: an ordinary bush, a smallpiece of the natural world was enflamed with the Awesome Wholeness ofRealitywith a burning of Awe that did not quit, but turned the spacearound it into Holy groundthat is, into an Awe-invested space.

The truth that was breaking through to Moses in that signal event was avocational calling of astonishing magnitude. He was to lead slaves fromtheir captors without getting killed by the pursuing armies of Egyptiancivilization into the wilderness and there construct for them a new kind oflife. Surely we can all identify with Moses when he cried out, Callsomebody else.

We can also surely identify with Moses when he wanted to know who it wasthat was calling him to such a radical vocation. The answer he got from theburning-bush revelation was not very satisfying. Just say that the IS inevery is has sent you. The Final Reality of the Moses dedication was, andshall ever be, an unnamable mystery. We still ask the Moses-typequestions: Who or what sourced this cosmos What are we up against inthe horrific events of our overall history Will human effort ever makesense of it all Is it truly my best case scenario to devote my life to aradicalform of realism. Would I be better off creating for myself a morecomforting view of reality

Also, in spite of the fact that freedom from the slavery of Egypt was ablessing to be intensely celebrated on the other side of the Red Sea whileEgypts chariots sunk into the mud, this freedom is also an anxiety. Thosepeople knew how to be slaves in the then well-ordered Egyptian society;they didnt have any experience being freedom in the wilderness. Werethey sure they wanted to be free Surely we can identify with thatquestion. We still have to answer it for ourselves.

It really does not matter to us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were devotedto this course of living These flawed patriarchs whom we also meet inthese ancient stories were pretty weak recommendationseven if they trulyare ancestors of the Mosaic Spirit wisdom

Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and a lot of other men, as well as women,plus Jesusall thought that the devotion of Moses was right on. But whowere they Even if Jesus did turn out to be another hot burning bush ofAwed expression, he was indeed only an unauthorized peasant, in an out ofthe way place, centuries and centuries ago. It still takes some strongimagination to see the full blaze of Final Reality in his birth, life, teaching,death, and living presence among a small selection of ancient religiousfanatics.

Nevertheless, this small community of men and women have expanded, andtheir Spirit descendants are still recommending to us that realistic living isthe best case scenario for our one and only lives.

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Radical Pedagogy

Our job as prophets of Reality, as teachers of religion and ethics, as aware persons of our profound humanness is to tell the truth. We just tell the truth as we see it; the truth we genuinely believe has been shown to us by that Final Reality that baffles us as it also informs us. We begin such radical pedagogy from within our own awareness of how Final Reality has revealed to us some measure of truth. We do not know the whole Final Truth, we only know what has been revealed to us a measure of truth that makes real for us our commission to speak truth to our times.

As radical pedagogues, it is our assignment to be as clear as we can, honoring all sources of truth scientific, contemplative, and socially practical, workable ethical insight. Radical pedagogues just tell the truth, live the truth, keep learning the truth, and stick to doing so.

We are not responsible for other people accepting the truth we speak. That is their responsibility. We cannot manipulate them or force them to see what we see. Wecan only present to them an opportunity to see what we see, and thereby provide them the opportunity to choose or not choose to see it. We can in no way prevent them from going along with their current indifference, half truths, and downright lies. We can perhaps show them how what they believe or tend to believe is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We can ask them to inquire of themselves if they actually believe what they take to be true. We might even make fun of the lies they believe, perhaps humiliating them for their gullibility in comforting themselves orhurting themselves with their untruths. But we have no power to hinder them from rejecting the truth we try to share. And we have no powerto assist them in submitting to that new edge of truth that we are presenting. This is their choice, and their choice alone. We are powerless to change that. We might profit from the style of Jesus, who said what he had to say, and keeping on walking down the road to say his say to others. Truth is a matter to be settled between the essentially free person and the Author of that freedom.

Therefore, our success as a prophet of truth is not measured by other peoples responses. Our success is only measured by our actually telling the truth, and how well we do so. We must expect all who live otherwise to be offended by the truth. We must expect people to delay for days or even years before they hear the truth that we speak. We have no control over when they hear, or if they ever hear, or even if they want to hear. Our pedagogy is itself a lie if we assume we have any control over the results of our pedagogy. We may never know for sure the results of our pedagogy. And we do not need to know.

If people respond with bitter tears over having been so gullible as to believe the lies that we have challenged, we can guess that Reality is using our words to bring these persons home to Reality. We can welcome them with our certainty of Realitys forgiveness and provision of a fresh start. But we have no control over whether they will accept such forgiveness or begin a fresh start.

All we can know for sure is whether we are speaking the Truth that Reality has revealed to us. And we know this not by other peoples responses, but by our own inner assurance. This Spirit of Truth rising in our own most personal being is our only certainty. Such certainty is a solitary thing.

There is no other authority.

Reality will provide us with people who join us in loving the truth and with people who reject us and the truth we tell. Both are valuable gifts to us. As Jesus suggested to his disciples when they meet rejection: Dust off your shoes in protest to that village and move on to the next village. We certainly do not need to moan or complain about rejection, or waste time analyzing the rejecters. Just tell the truth, and move on to tell the truth some more. The results are entirely out of our control.

If it takes a hundred years for most people to hear what we say and act upon that truth, such delay, or lack of it, is not our concern. To be concerned about the results of our witnessing is a type of co-dependence; a craving for support that we in no way need. The deniers of truth have no support to give us. And if they cease to lie, that is still no support. Our only support comes from the Spirit of Truth.

[Realistic Living Pointers, March 15, 2015]

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Realistic Living, The Last Resort

Having tried every other way to live, human beings sometimes become open to the realistic living of their real lives. Most of us, perhaps all of us, have had to discover for ourselves the dead ends of trying to live out our many unrealistic self-fabrications of reality. As a last resort we become open to the possibility that realistic living is the best-case scenario for our lives, in spite of all the dreadful ups and downs that realism includes.

So what is Reality with a capital R, and what is realistic living This may have become for us the primary question. While answering this question is a lifelong quest, here is a preposterously simple outline of realistic living in five paragraphs:

(1) Reality is absurd, meaningless, incomprehensible. Reality has no purpose that we can discover from the best of our sciences, from years of contemplation, from our best religious heritages, or from our decades of personal experience. Any meaning we have in our lives is something that we humans have created. Whatever purpose in life we have is also something that we humans have created. And Reality will eventually upset, undermine, or rudely smash whatever meanings or purposes that we humans have created. Realistic living means being open to this unfathomable mysteriousness.

(2) Furthermore, in terms of the realistic living of our lives, we are in a maze of guilt. I will put this personally: I have mistreated in some measure every woman I have been married to or deeply related to. I have mistreated every son or daughter that I have been privileged to father. I have messed up in some measure every course I have opted to teach or book I have written. I have taken on foolishness from the general society. I have made messes and done regrettables that I will not attempt to describe. I have done unrealistic things that I do not remember and may never remember. And these many commissions are small in comparison with my more numerous omissions. There are literally billions of good things that I might have done that I did not do and will never do. It would be a joke for me to believe that I could make up for all this unrealism with a few decades of realistic living, or even with a thousand years of realistic living.

(3) Fortunately, Reality is offering me a fresh start in realism at this very instant. All the unrealism that characterizes my past is forgiven. This comprehensive forgiveness is what it means to have a fresh start in realism. The past is a learning experience that may be useful for the realistic living of the present, but the past provides no complete outline for what realistic living will truly require. This fresh start includes the freedom to design what that fresh start in realism will be. Realism requires me to decide my fresh start. But before I do that, realism requires me to accept the fact that Reality is giving me this fresh start because Reality loves me profoundly, accepts me as I am with all my physical flaws and weakness, all my psychological flaws and weakness, and all of my unrealistic habits, tendencies, addictions, and cowardly reservations. Fortunately for me, Reality does not require me to live up to the standards of perfection that I have been taught or designed for myself. A fresh start means a fresh start from where I really am to wherever I realistically choose to go.

(4) So what shall I do Well, a truly fresh start in realism requires that I design for myself, with my new-found freedom, some kind of practice that assists me in living realistically. For if I do not take care of myself in this regard, I will not be able to make realistic contributions to others, to humanity, or to the planet. This might mean joining a Buddhist sangha of devoted meditators. This might mean joining an experiment in resurgent Christian practice. Or it might mean something else. But, I will certainly need to design something communal as well as solitary, for realistic living is a deep project requiring human assistance in staying the course of realism.

(5) Then with my new-found freedom, I will need to design the contributions that I am going to make. Perhaps it is reforming a small piece of the prison system, or sewage disposal, or education, or lawyering, or global warming, or fiscal inequality, or environmental destruction, or religious methods, or some combination of these and other options. These contributions will be small compared with the vast possibilities that confront me. And I will need to make my contributions along with others if those contributions are to be momentum building and lasting. Every contribution is small and every avalanche of change starts small, but all the comprehensive issues of planetary realism are Realitys demand upon my life. My small stuff is chosen by me in the context of this largeness. Such is the meaning and the necessity of realism. My contributions do not make me righteous or make up for all the commissions of unrealism and omissions of realism that I can remember. My righteousness is a simple gift of fresh start by the forgiving Reality that I am now committed to serve.

So there is a sketch in five simple paragraphs of the last resort of realistic living. This last resort is my true bliss. Other paths lead to some form of despair. Had I been wiser, this last resort might have been my first resort. And since it has now become my current resort, I can make it my last resort that is, I can resist my temptations to the additional resorts of unrealism that will surely come my way.

** Please leave your comments aboutThe Last Resortbelow.

***To further explore the work of Gene Marshall visitwww.RealisticLiving.orgor acquire a copy ofThe Call of the Awe,Jacobs Dream,The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy, or acquire on-lineThe Enigma of Consciousness. Gene is also a regular participant in the Discussion Forum

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The Death of the Death of God

If The Death of God meansanythingatall, it means the death of every literalized human-like construction presumed to exist in some universe next door. No human has experienced a universe next door. This is a myth, a human construction used to assist humans to talk about experiences they have had and still have of the ONE. But the myth itself cannot be taken with scientific literalism. We have not and cannot experience a literal universe next door with gods and goddesses, angels and devils, wings and tails, voices and hands, and all the other poetry that is so familiar within the religious heritages of the planet. This mode of religious reflection has indeed died, even for those who still cling to it. This horrific death of God is not just a wild belief held by subversives; it is a cultural happening, a fact of history that is denied by millions.

Nevertheless, the Death of God is not adequate symbolism for that Mysterious Power referenced in the best of contemporary theology. The All-Powerful Reality (source of Earth and sky) cannot be said to die. Such a God is the one verity that does NOT DIE. The stars all die. The Earth will one day be entirely consumed by an expanding red-giant sun in its process of also dying. Only the ONE does not die. And this ONE is too huge, too deep to be encompassed by the human mind. It is not a thing alongside other things. It is a NO-THING, an Absolute Mysteriousness to the human mind. Indeed, every experience of Mystery is an experience of this ONE. Even the word one as a word, as a concept, as an entity of the mind, crumbles before the ONE of experience we are referencing with this silly little word one.

We are not lacking in experience of the ONE, we are only lacking in an ultimate devotion to this ONE as our God. The word God, like sweetheart, is a devotional word for ultimate concern, final trust, core meaning of my life. The Mysterious Enigmatic ONE is being experienced ineveryevent ofourlives. This experience is the one experience that endures when all else passes.

More helpful than the Death-of-God symbolism is an appropriate existential interpretation of the Muslim cry, There are no gods..(long pause) the ONE.

Christians and Jews who know their heritage could also bow five times a day to the above interpretation of the core of Muslim practice. That Muslims, Christians, and Jews have all perverted the encounter with the Awesome ONE into warring sets of human-made doctrines and moralities need not blind us to the truthful witness made within all three of these vast heritages.

Familiar biblical phrases pass us by because we are blind to the core experience being referenced:

How deep I find thy thoughts, O God, how inexhaustible their themes! Can I count them They outnumber the grains of sand, to finish the count my years must equal thine. Psalm 139:17,18

Before the mountains were brought forth, or earth and world were born in travail, from age to age everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 90:2

For all that can be known of God by human beings lies plain before their eyes: indeed God Herself has disclosed it to them. His invisible attributes, that is to say, Her everlasting power and governance have been visible, ever since the world began, to the eye of reason, in the things He has made. Romans 1:19,20

We can see more clearly the truth in these verses, when we disentangle our minds from the He or She symbolism and from all other anthropological imagery. Such personal language, used to express the God-relation, is a means of personal devotion, not a description of the ONE. The ONE is not describable. This is made plain in almost every verse of biblical text. Those who insist on describing the ONE as male or female must simply be reminded that the ONE cannot be described.

In spite of this shocking death to our literalized gods and misused god-language, the Death of God remains incomplete. The God of biblical lore is a Living God. This biblically referenced verity is ALIVE in every event of our lives. Standing immediately behind each neighbor that is neighboring us is the INFINITE NEIGHBOR. Shining through each event that happens to us is the INFINITE CHALLENGE of the ONE. There is no escape from the ONE.

Where shall I flee from thy presence

If I climb beyond the stars thou art there;

If I make my bed in the Earth among the dead,

again I find thee.

If I take my flight to the frontiers of the morning

or dwell at the limit of the western sea,

even there thy hand will meet me,

and thy right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10

Can we actually believe that the authors of such poetry had no reference in experience from which they were penning such passionate words

Loyalty to this dreadfully mysterious ONE may seem an outlandish way to live too demanding, too intense for we superficial, distracted, addicted, anti-thoughtful, inappropriately reasonable, super-gifted primates. Nevertheless, the Loving-What-Is WAY is a viable option a possibility offered to us in our biblical heritage, in the good preaching of the New Testament breakthrough, and in the victorious living of millions of witnesses. This living presence in history we cannot doubt.

***For an expansion of the work of Gene Marshall visit or acquire a copy of The Call of the Awe, Jacobs Dream, The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy, or watch for the publication soon of The Enigma of Consciousness. Gene is also a regular participant in the Discussion Forum of

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Our Curious Apocalypse

The Roman Empire ended. Today the US Empire is ending. The Chinese Empire is ending. What is left of the Russian Empire is ending. Likewise ending is what is left of the British Empire, the French Empire, The Dutch Empire, the German Empire. Indeed, our era of ending is more extreme than the Roman demise. This time civilization itself is ending. The top-down, hierarchical, patron, patriarchal mode of social organization is ending in the minds and actions of individual persons. It is also coming unglued in the social practices of communities and nations. It is being replaced with various forms of more democratic and ecologically sane practices. Civilization as a mode of social organization is unsustainable on planet Earth in the 21st Century. Civilization is dying, and there is nothing that can to done to save it. The defenders of civilization (including its gross inequalities and ecological foolishness) are strong and passionate, but they are on the losing side of a viable future for humanity.

The end of civilization need not mean that humanity is ending. Only that portion of humanity that is clinging to civilization is ending. Humanity can continue, but only without civilization. Just as the fall of the Roman empire was followed by a new imperial effort eventually called the Holy Roman Empire or Christendom, so the end of civilization can be followed by a post-civilization mode of social organization. We have a feeling for what that would be, but there will be many surprises. And the true gifts for human living created during the era of civilization need not be lost. These gifts can pass on to the builders of post-civilization just as the gifts of the Roman Empire passed on to the builders of the Holy Roman Empire. So it is not the various gifts of civilization that are dying. We can keep our cell phones, our computers, and perhaps even some form of energy-driven private transportation. But the frame of civilization is going away, and it is not coming back.

How do we know this How do we know that the defenders of civilization will not win How do we know that a confused and lazy humanity will not fail to build an alternative to civilization First of all, we know or can know that civilization is no longer a workable mode of social organization. Saving civilization is a futile project. Reality itself has already assigned civilization to the tomb. The only question that remains is whether humanity will join civilization in this impending extinction. Perhaps humanity will abandon civilization and opt for something better. Do we really think that humanity is so stupid, so lacking in creativity, so estranged from our authentic love of Reality that we will opt to die with civilization rather than create something better It is true that the majority of people are currently out of touch with what is so. But I for one (and millions of others) do not choose to join them. Perhaps those of us who are awakening and are awakening others will fail to complete our work to a sufficient degree to enable our species to enjoy a post-civilization existence. Indeed, history is not a fixed fate. Outcomes depend upon the decisions that people make. The impending, unavoidable end of civilization sets before humanity a choice between life and death. We, humanity, can chose life and live, or we can chose otherwise.

One way our time is different from the time of building a Christian Empire in the midst of Romes demise is that we are not building an empire. We are not building a better civilization. We are not making modifications on the established mode of social organization. We are building a surprise, even to ourselves. We do not yet know what this fully democratic, post-hierarchical, and ecologically sane mode of social existence will look like in most of its details. We will be surprised and even shocked again and again as this process continues.

Not only are we not building a new sort of empire, but what we are building cannot be called Christian. Hopefully, thatglorious future will breathe the Spirit of what is best about Christianity, but what we now call Christianity is just as obsolete as civilization. We know this! The efforts of popes, bishops, clergy, and the dumbed-down conservative Christian masses to preserve Christendom are creating a bubble of reactionary enthusiasm that will crash and burn, precisely because it is so out of touch with Reality, with the very God served by Jesus and Paul and the long string of heroic Christian witnesses. In addition, the liberal reform attempts to repair Christendom are failing, and these futile efforts are boring to the more fully awake among us. In order to have a vital next edition of Christian practice, something very new is required.

Not only will the post-civilization world not be Christian, it will not be Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish or Muslim or Catholic, or Orthodox, or Protestant or Mormon or any other source of authority within the history of religion formation. Each long-standing community of worship has functioned in the lives of people as an authority that provides some security of thought and moral certainty. Such authority is losing its hold on people. The awakening core of humanity is learning to realize that true authority is found only in our own interior experience of what is so. These old authorities are passing away as authorities. Their many insights and useful practices remain, but only as compost within which new plants of religious practice will grow. Each of these traditions does possess some holy compost. The Buddhist gift of meditation that carries us to the depths of inward aliveness shall surely continue to make its contribution. And the Christian and Jewish passion for social justice on this Earth need not perish; it can reach its finest flowering. Similarly imperishable is the gift of Jesus that tells us never to lose hope, but to always count on new life rising from the death of the obsolete. Also enduring is the Native American love of the Earth and its richness, abundance, and magic. We are likewise seeing and may continue to see the incredibly ancient drum beat of African aliveness flourish in our mentally arid cultures. And the yin and yang of societal balance can come forward from its oriental depths to play its part in a post-civilization construction. The recovery of the feminine counts as a deeply religious truth. Whether it be the richness of consciousness and its symbols known to Hinduism or the stark singularity of loyalty to the One Reality known to Islam, all the old gifts can and need to rise again and bless the roots from which post-civilization will grow. Our religious practices will surely remain diverse, each of us drinking more heavily from one tradition than from others, but all religious insight and practices are facing the challenge of deep changes for the impending new era.

Human life is not over, not yet, perhaps not until the planet boils in the heat of an expanding sun. And religion is not over; nor is education or morality or economics or politics. Yet in a comparatively short time, nothing will remain of that top-down, nature-estranged, woman-demeaning, hierarchical-wealth-indulged-poverty-stricken catastrophe called civilization.

Yes, it will take a few more lifetimes for civilization to finish dying. And that is fast: the Roman Empire took four hundred years longer to die than Paul, Jesus, and John the Baptist thought it would. When Christians built Christendom they were doing what had to be done. They did not have the option of building a post-civilization. They did have the option of building a better civilization. What they built had its flaws, including all the flaws of civilization we still endure. But a new impetus for change toward realism was set in motion. We err to demean the lives of those creative persons who in a dark age turned on some light for a better civilization.

The creative citizens of Christendom struggled for fifteen centuries with the conflict betweencivilization and the Spirit of Christ. This struggle became organizationally explicit when Luther and Calvin and a string of others fully realized that even a Pope could become a child of that same Satan that ruled classical Rome. Many Christians have known that the fall of Adam and Eve pictures an ongoing event in our contemporary lives, instead of merely a tragic beginning. As fast as human authenticity can build anew, human inauthenticity can create new illusions and new despair. Yet we who are awakening know that inauthenticity does not have the last word or the last act in our human drama. Reality and authenticity wins in the end because lies cannot last, while Truth is everlasting.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the truth of the possibility of success for a post-civilization mode of living for the human species may not be accepted. Being post-civilized is an overwhelmingly awesome choice, for it means dying to the patterns we have assumed were necessary and opening to a truth that requires some intense working through. Humanity may attempt to go on living a while longer in the lie of civilization. Such a choice will not succeed in preserving civilization; it will only postpone and make the transition to something else more costly. Indeed, the cost could become horrendous for the human species. In the worse case scenario, the everlasting Truth might have to go on without us. Perhaps some other species will inherit the job of glorifying life on Earth.

For some of the sociological details of this massive and surprising transition, many good books have already been written one by myself together with Ben Ball, Marsha Buck, Ken Kreutziger, and Alan Richard entitled, The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy.

On the Christian religion aspects of this transition, I have spelled out my sense of this in two other books: The Call of the Awe: Rediscovering Christian Profundity in an Interreligious Era and Jacobs Dream: A Christian Inquiry into Spirit Realization. I consider these three books to be, not conclusions, but prompts toward the consensus that the awakening ones among us are building.

*****Please share your own reflections on this Blog on the Discussion Forum of under How Do I Serve

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The Secular Religious Revolution

The most important historical development in the last 200 years was not the splitting of the atom or the invention of the internal combustion engine or the spread of the computer chip, but the advent of a new religious mode.

The most illuminating person that I have known personally, my mentor for 24 years, Joseph W. Mathews, first called this history-changing event the advent of the secular religious. The four-day course that he and we who were his colleagues taught to thousands of clergy began with a lecture on the cultural revolution. The heart of that lecture was on what we called the secular revolution. In that talk we spelled out how the ancient two-story metaphorical thinking is being replaced by living in one and only one realm of reality. In that talk we also noted how the imagery of angels and demons was being replaced by imagery about historically unfolding relationships. We opened that course for religious leaders with this talk because we claimed that this revolution in religious sensibilities set the context for the renewal of Christianity and every other religion that one might want to renew.

Later, Mathews claimed that we had stumbled upon an even deeper perception of the secular religious revolution. He called it the discovery of the other world in the midst of this world. He illustrated how in the midst of our ordinary, everyday living we were experiencing the burning through of the Spirit states spoken about in the old way of talking. Mathews gave the illustration of a piece of paper, representing our lives, having a lighted match beneath it. First the paper begins to brown, and then it flames. Spirit is like that; it browns and flames the ordinary paper of our everyday lives. This is not supernatural imagery. There is no heavenly realm. Spirit experience happens here and now. The depth dimension of this one reality burns through the more superficial aspects of this one realm.

A lecture on this topic appears in the book of Mathews talks, Bending History, that John Epps and others pulled together. On page 164 begins a talk entitled The Recovery of the Other World. I count this talk one of the most important talks in that book.

The significance of these insights I picture as a historical chart that lives in my mind. Sometime in the nineteenth century humanity began an awakenment to the cultural death of a metaphor that had been used and had been found useful for as long as human memory can reach. I picture this now obsolete metaphor as a double-deck chart. The top deck is named mythic thinking and the lower deck is named empirical thinking. This old metaphor was operative throughout recorded history and long before history was recorded. In primitive tribal societies this metaphor was not seen as a metaphor. Though not described with words like myth empirical, upper or lower, the two-space metaphor was operative.

Let us picture a tribal society that had not yet discovered the male role in the origin of new human lives. All they could see was the wonder of new human life emerging from the womb of woman. They used this ordinary experience as a metaphor for Reality as a whole. They envisioned the story of the whole cosmos as a great womb from which all ordinary things emerged. They also viewed this same cosmic womb as a great tomb into which all things returned. Between womb and tomb we humans dwell in the arms of this cosmic Mother whose breasts feed us. We are her children. We owe everything to her. We return to her in our deaths. The myth of the Great Goddess was born. There is evidence for the presence of this myth reaching back at least 25,000 years.

And this means that the double-realm metaphor reaches back at least 25,000 years. Perhaps this Old Religious Mode is 100,000 years old. I am asking us to stretch our imaginations back that far in order to underline how astonishing it is for a metaphor that old to die. We live in a culture that can no longer honestly believe in the presence of a mythic world of gods and goddesses, or Goddess or God or devils and angels or gremlins and fairies. That once taken-for-granted realm of reality is no longer taken for granted.

All gods and goddesses are GONE. Everything we have meant by religion is GONE. In that sense, religion is GONE, gone forever. Indeed, myth as we once understood myth is GONE.

But that is not the most amazing part of what has happened to us. We are not left with the world of our senses that has been so thoroughly explored by our sciences. In the midst of this empirical, yet mind-made world, the other world of Spirit has burned through. Another religious metaphor has appeared that has taken the place of the older one. And this new metaphor enables our minds to translate the religious insights of past ages into something we can point to in our lives today.

For example, Moses, so the story goes, saw an ordinary bush burn with an ethereal flame. But he did not have our secular religious metaphor to think with. His mind appropriated this experience as a Divine Being speaking to him. He attempted to find a name for this Divine Being, but all his two-story mind could fathom was that the Divinity has no name comprehensible to the human. Some unfathomable I AM THAT I AM was speaking to him in imperatives that his consciousness was already brooding upon. He heard speech that said, Let my people go.

Even though we dont talk with Divine Beings anymore (unless we are crazy), we can grasp what Moses was talking about when he tells us about his talk with WHOMEVER. (Please note that it does not matter that this story about Moses has been elaborated by his descendants. Using mere historical empirical thinking, it is difficult to prove that Moses even existed. But in our memory the Moses figure, whether literary or empirical, still lives as a source of insight into the way WHATEVER interacts with humans.) We can experience and may have experienced many times some ordinary something burning with surprising heat. And like Moses, we may have felt called to atypical living in which we surprised ourselves with our own daring that we may have resisted but did anyway. We may still count such moments as the most important events of our lives.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of what it means to practice a religious practice within this New Religious Mode in which the Spirit Depth of this one world burns through the surface experiences of that world. This way of seeing makes the ordinary extraordinary. Indeed, there is no dualism of ordinary and extraordinary anymore. There is just one REALITY. All our empirical scientific knowledge about that REALTY is only a tiny scratch of order we have imposed upon that extraordinary LAND OF MYSTERY that is ONE, not two or three or many.

In a sense, even an old world hero like Thomas Aquinas might rejoice with us in our New Religious Mode. Clearly, he was a double-deck thinker of great sophistication, stacking the myths of Biblical and Christian thought on top of a foundation of Aristotelian empiricism. He integrated for his culture a way of holding in one life the coming age of science with the Christian treasure chest. Yet one can sense in some of his writing that he was not a strict literalist about his upper-deck talk. He knew that he was supposing this mythic world. He may not have realized with our clarity the difference between empirical science and mythic talk. He just had no qualms about being dualistic, for he trusted that the ONE REALITY supported both his empirical thought and his mythic thought and he knew that thought was capable of pointing beyond itself to a REALITY that could not be thought in a literal sense.

The literalization of the second story realm took place after the scientific revolution. Before that revolution, the second story world of mythic talk was just a way of talking about primal matters. Humanity had no other way to talk about those matters. The two-story thinking of Aquinas, Luther, Wesley, Jesus, Moses, Teresa, Hildegard, was not a form of ignorance or contempt for nature or anything we would reject as inherently corrupt. It was just a way of talking. Like ancient Greek or Latin or some other no-longer-living language, the two-story metaphorical system of thought was good for its time. The remarkable thing is that its time is over. We dont need it. We certainly cannot retain it in the literalized form that conservative religious communities now believe. Nevertheless, we are so influenced by the literalized version of this old metaphor that it is difficult for us to imagine a time in which it served humanity quite well.

What is hateful toward nature is the literalized two-story metaphor. Having been literalized it is no longer a genuine metaphor for speaking about Spirit reality; it is a rigid belief in a realm of Reality that is above and better than this ordinary realm of reality. Life and death and suffering and sex and joy and emotion and politics and economics and the Earth itself are thereby made secondary to an illusory realm that is used as a substitute for life in the here and now. This was not how the great figures of Christian history understood things. To them it was heresy to hold ordinary life in contempt. The transcendent realm was for them imminent in the ordinary realm. Though Jesus spoke of his Papa in Heaven, Heaven for him was taking place here and now. Heaven can come on Earth. Look, Jesus says, it is happening here and now. The blind see, the deaf hear, and the cripples are walking their lives. No saying of Jesus needs to imply a literalized two-story worldview. All Jesus sayings can be translated out of his taken-for-granted two-story metaphorical talk and put plainly to us in our own metaphorical language. We can understand that in his way he was witnessing to the burning through of the ordinary by the extraordinary that is nothing more nor less than the depth of the ordinary itself.

Oh Mystery without a name whom I will personally address as my dependable parent, may your ever-living Presence come to pass on Earth as it is in the profound essence of every ordinary aspect of our lives.

***Add your reflections and comments on the Discussion Forum under the General Discussion: New Religious Mode. Simply scroll or read to the end of the section and click Add Reply.

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