When the topic of religion arises, as it inevitably does, a conflict between content and form emerges. Many of us out here agree with the general content of religion — belief in a higher order than the material, a sense the universe operates toward some purpose, and the notion that moral awareness is necessary — but find the form in which is placed, mass religion, to be alienating.
In fact, it is difficult after extensive experience of life not to believe in an order that animates this world beyond the mere physical act of things bumping into one another. Atheism — the opposite of the scientific approach, agnosticism — seems more an assertion of the human demand to be able to do whatever we want without being forced to see that much of it is unproductive or dysfunctional. Like most Leftist tropes, it is based in preemptive self defense against being wrong, a denial of risk, and reflects a deep inner neurosis.
Once one gets past the power of doubt and fear, or at least most of it, an order emerges which defies both organized religion and the ugly, pointless quest of atheism. Bruce Charlton calls it the “universal dream world”:
One aspect of this is that there are multiple references to the idea that the dream world is a realm of experience which is universal – in other words, dreaming is a single, vast domain – with distinctive qualities, different from the waking state – that is potentially accessible by all people.
Charlton must be read carefully because like the better authors of the past, and almost no one now, he uses language deliberately and intends it as a descriptive tool, where multiple factors are mentioned in combination, than a categorical or linear one that assigns a single value to a thing and uses it to control its boundaries.
What he describes as a “universal dream world” is something like material reality, or more specifically, space. It is a space of ideas, which he shorthands as dream, because it is not linear, but based on similarity of the shape of ideas such as is expressed in metaphor, simile, art and dream.
His thinking runs parallel to that of both transcendentalists and those who explore German idealism, a system of thought that states that reality, while empirical or “objective” in the parlance of the internet, is comprised of something like thought at a level lower than, or producing of, materiality. Heady stuff but it expands on the misunderstood Plato, who expressed something like the Hindu idea that the pattern of an action matters more than the material in which it is rendered.
Immanuel Kant created the foundation of this belief in the modern West, arguing that we see life through the filter of ourselves, and can only know the underlying reality through intuition, suggesting that we can derive principles of our world at its highest level not through rationality, but through something like the dream/metaphor state:
Kant holds that the objects of human cognition are transcendentally ideal and empirically real. They are transcendentally ideal, because the conditions of the cognition human beings have of objects are to be found in the cognitive faculties of human beings. This does not mean the existence of those objects is mind-dependent, because Kant thinks we can only know objects to the extent that they are objects for us and, thus, as they appear to us. Idealism with respect to appearances does not entail the mind-dependence of objects, because it does not commit itself to any claims about the nature of things in themselves. Kant denies that we have any knowledge of things in themselves, because we do not have the capacity to make judgments about the nature of things in themselves based on our knowledge of things as they appear.
The point Kant made that is vital to our understanding is that the human mind filters reality for what it can understand, and rationalizes this into a representation of reality. This correlates to the Platonic understanding of reality as a shadow on a cave wall, projected as the silhouette of an object from behind the eyes of the viewer. We see only what we can cognitively grasp.
From this runs two parallel observations: first, that there is more to the world than meets the eye; and second, as Plato also noted, that causality arises not from objects in motion, but from objects in the right pattern, similar to chemical reactions and the arrangement of atoms, electricity and the placement of electrons, and even music, where the right vibrations in the correct sequence produce a sound regardless of what instrument it is played upon. The idea is greater than the form in which it presents itself to us.
If the idea is supreme, the question arises as to the origin of idea. Some argue for a second world, or a dualistic perspective, in which the true forms of things hide; this view, called “neo-Platonism,” was popular for its perceived compatibility with Christianity. A more sane perspective sees ideas as something that are emergent in the material objects of our world, implying a cause to that effect found elsewhere within the world, perhaps in what Kant suggests we filter out.
And so, we have found a probable candidate for the “universal dream world,” one that is more pagan than modern, but can be accessed through the teachings of most faiths. In the pagan concept, the world included places which could not be visited by physical travel alone, such as lands of the dead or places where the gods resided. In their minds, the material space we know as physical reality was the smallest part of reality, dwarfed by spaces resembling ideas where metaphysical activity occurred.
Taking the view that our world is the result of these other spaces, and that these spaces are comprised of something thought-like and being part of this world, respond to our actions as transmitted through re-arrangement of pattern, including that of thought itself, we see a reason for the accessibility of this dream world: we are connected to it through a certain type of thought that actually alters patterns in our brains to be more like the root archetypes of objects, and thus creates an affinity to them because in an informational space, those things of similar shape or idea cluster together, being built from the same archetype.
With this, we unlock the secret of prayer. Those who discipline their thoughts to be closest to the objects they reference can then address the patterning of reality that will be expressed by those thought-objects, and through a creative process like mythic imagination, can exert influence on that space which then translates into this space. Meditation and prayer focus on the raw archetypes of objects through our intuition and in doing so, can have influence in the physical world.
This theory finds compatriots in others that attempt to explain the synchronous and seemingly non-biological nature of consciousness and thought, including the work of Roger Penrose, which attempts to demonstrate quantum physics applied to consciousness:
Artificial intelligence experts have been predicting some sort of computer brain for decades, with little to show so far. And for all the recent advances in neurobiology, we seem no closer to solving the mind-brain problem than we were a century ago. Even if the human brain’s neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters could be completely mapped—which would be one of the great triumphs in the history of science—it’s not clear that we’d be any closer to explaining how this 3-pound mass of wet tissue generates the immaterial world of our thoughts and feelings. Something seems to be missing in current theories of consciousness. The philosopher David Chalmers has speculated that consciousness may be a fundamental property of nature existing outside the known laws of physics. Others—often branded “mysterians”—claim that subjective experience is simply beyond the capacity of science to explain.
Penrose’s theory promises a deeper level of explanation. He starts with the premise that consciousness is not computational, and it’s beyond anything that neuroscience, biology, or physics can now explain. “We need a major revolution in our understanding of the physical world in order to accommodate consciousness,” Penrose told me in a recent interview. “The most likely place, if we’re not going to go outside physics altogether, is in this big unknown—namely, making sense of quantum mechanics.”
He draws on the basic properties of quantum computing, in which bits (qubits) of information can be in multiple states—for instance, in the “on” or “off” position—at the same time. These quantum states exist simultaneously—the “superposition”—before coalescing into a single, almost instantaneous, calculation. Quantum coherence occurs when a huge number of things—say, a whole system of electrons—act together in one quantum state.
What is significant about this work is that it implies pattern states as opposed to linear causality, and by extending it to a quantum arena beyond the reach of normal physics, implies something close to metaphysics, perhaps a cousin.
Naturally this seems a bit heady for moderns. We are comfortable with chemical reactions and electrical circuits, but find this metaphysical spaciness to be a bit much. But then, in comes quantum physics, which tells us that an observer influences what is observed, and suddenly we are not so sure. If looking at a particle can fix its direction, looking into a pattern can also influence its direction, even if we do it not with our eyes but with some intuitive inner part of the mind.
What we have here is the idea expressed in the Perennial Philosophy, which is that religions intersect on some truths but describe them differently, usually through metaphor; this is not a “common ground” to all religions, or a validation of any specific religion, but a pointer to the aspects of reality which all religions hope to reveal and explain. That they do so unequally, and in the midst of other cultural and historical carryovers, does not change the importance of this fact.
Keeping this in mind, we can look at Western religion as it is now as a deviation from this fundamental understanding. Some of the brighter transcendentalists, like Meister Eckhart and William Blake, understood this view and used Christianity as a metaphorical pattern language for explaining it. They are rare, in that most religion converges upon the needs of its audience, something that is mostly cultural but eventually becomes social and political as a civilization ages and becomes unstable.
Nietzsche said “God is dead.” But how many read the full quotation?
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Friedrich Wilhelm “Fred” Nietzsche is telling us above not that God has died, but that he has become undiscovered by humanity because the form he took was no longer relevant to us, both through our degeneration and through the changes in our learning. In other words, we have either abandoned or outgrown our religious imagery, or both. We need a new vision of this eternal truth.
Christianity has come under fire from many sides, mostly for the idea that a content and form division exists. The content of Christianity may be correct, but its form — which succeeded because by writing down the religion in simplified form, it “democratized” spirituality and philosophy and removed them from the domain of exceptional thinkers to that of the common person — may do what form often does, which is alter the content by shaping it to fit the mode of expression. Think about translating Beethoven into hip-hop, or Dante into emoji, or even the Sistine Chapel ceiling into a comic book. Something is lost, and it may be attitudinal more than anything, a vanishing grandeur or appropriate vision of our human world through history and myth.
Very few philosophies can be said to be complete. Most focus on one aspect of the field, like epistemology, and then try to draw other conclusions from that beachhead. With German idealism, a philosophy was discovered that explained all fields at once. It even included implications for morality, in that if the world is partially inscrutable, our task is to make it reveal itself so that we know what is real so that we can make moral decisions on that basis. Ancient philosophies tend to be this way, expressed half in literature and half in religion, revealing the seeds of ideas in order to launch people on a journey of discovery that constitutes the completed philosophy in degrees.
If we have a future philosophy, it must cross the bridge between faith and realism. It can be metaphorical, as in the past, but it must also fit with what we know of the modern time. A morality of personal dignity and implicit pacifism, as occurs in Christianity, ends in a sense of universal brotherhood of man that is based on the false assumption that all people see the same world. That type of morality has receded into the “faith” category as humanity, liberated by The Enlightenment,™ has shown itself to be entirely Simian in its behavior, albeit hidden behind lengthy speeches, fine clothes, high technology and altruistic public intentions.
Dr. Alex McFarland identifies the reasons for a attenuation of faith in the newest generations:
1. Mindset of “digital natives” is very much separate from other generations. Millennials are eclectic on all fronts—economically, spiritually, artistically. There is little or no “brand loyalty” in most areas of life.
2. Breakdown of the family. It has long been recognized that experience with an earthly father deeply informs the perspective about the heavenly father. In “How the West Really Lost God,” sociologist Mary Eberstadt correctly asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”
3. Militant secularism: Embraced by media and enforced in schools, secular education approaches learning through the lens of “methodological naturalism.” It is presupposed that all faith claims are merely expressions of subjective preference. The only “true” truths are claims that are divorced from any supernatural context and impose no moral obligations on human behavior. People today are subjected to an enforced secularism.
4. Lack of spiritual authenticity among adults. Many youth have had no — or very limited — exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.
5. The church’s cultural influence has diminished. The little neighborhood church is often assumed to be irrelevant, and there is no cultural guilt anymore for those who abandon involvement.
6. Pervasive cultural abandonment of morality. The idea of objective moral truth—ethical norms that really are binding on all people—is unknown to most and is rejected by the rest.
7. Intellectual skepticism. College students are encouraged to accept platitudes like “life is about asking questions, not about dogmatic answers.” Is that the answer? That there are no answers? Claiming to have answers is viewed as “impolite.” On life’s ultimate questions, it is much more socially acceptable to “suspend judgment.”
8. The rise of a fad called “atheism.” Full of self-congratulatory swagger and blasphemous bravado, pop-level atheists such as the late Christopher Hitchens (whom I interviewed twice) made it cool to be a non-believer. Many millennials, though mostly 20-something Caucasian males, are enamored by books and blogs run by God-hating “thinkers.”
9. Our new God: Tolerance be Thy name. “Tolerance” today essentially means, “Because my truth is, well, my truth, no one may ever question any behavior or belief I hold.” This “standard” has become so ingrained that it is now impossible to rationally critique any belief or behavior without a backlash of criticism.
10. The commonly defiant posture of young adulthood. As we leave adolescence and morph into adulthood, we all can be susceptible to an inflated sense of our own intelligence and giftedness. During the late teens and early 20s, many young people feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I did. The cultural trend toward rejection of God—and other loci of authority—resonates strongly with the desire for autonomy felt in young adulthood.
Leaving aside the parts of this are creations of Leftism, which adores atheism because it smashes belief in anything but ideology, the majority of these relate to a religion that is misunderstood, applied to the wrong things, and have in general lost utility because it no longer connects us to the universal dream world or anything like it.
We have grown up in a time of rationality, enforced not just by technology but through social pressures, as has been consistent since The Enlightenment,™ when it was proclaimed that the human form came before natural and divine order. The whims of humans, and their choices, were separated from their results in reality, including at any metaphysical level that is present. This separated what is actual and real from what is “rational,” or can be explained in human logic, which is usually after-the-fact and designed to justify human choices that made no sense in the first place.
Instead of looking for a rational version of faith, as Christians have for the past half-millennium, it might make sense to look instead for a realistic metaphysics. This is what Charlton, Penrose and others are doing: rebirthing our faith in God by taking that eternal truth and explaining it in forms that fit our society now, and in doing so, lift it partially from its decay.
When a civilization goes bad, all of its institutions, including language and understanding, are corrupted. A religion cannot be built on words, but it can be created from understanding, even if that understanding is still alien to most people today. A seed of insight, followed by the more naturally inquisitive, can reject the old form of religion and give it a new form, at which point it will make sense with our learning in the intervening years.
How would one go looking for a realistic metaphysics? The first step is monism, or realizing that the rules of this world apply, and nothing that is or seems arbitrary will work. The second step is to take Plato seriously, and recognize argument that the physical world is the effect of some informational or thought-like larger portion of the world. Finally, we reach the stage where Charlton is, where we are staring into an infinite space made of ideas, and learning how to program it with our minds.
We know that the physical universe acts as a calculating machine. Darwinism is calculation; species are refined by a series of tests embodied in individuals, with more accurate answers prevailing over the rest. Christianity, by seeming to assert the equality of souls, contradicts Darwinism and reduces us to a world of social values only where each person is viewed as a programmable object. The opposite is true: people are not programmable, but history is, by ensuring that through “good to the good, bad to the bad” that only those who embody the ideals of sanity and health prevail. Leftism seeks to reverse that, of course, because it wants us to live in a world where our whim and desire command reality around us, instead of the other way around. It is a form of individualism for this reason: equality means that no one is wrong, and everyone is accepted, such that we can never be at risk of failing in our understanding of the world, which is itself an attempt to blot out the reality that some understand more of existence than others.
If monism is correct, then the metaphysical level works like a calculating machine as well. Its universal dream space is then programmable, at least by those who understand it, and is the opposite of arbitrary, but instead is intensely logical. At that point, our only philosophy consists of understanding this world, and working with its forms, so that we can adapt and improve ourselves at the same time.
Most modern people focus on themselves. They feel the world has become incomprehensible and has probably gone bad, so they focus on themselves. This translates into moral preening, or symbolic actions instead of realistic ones. Unfortunately in a time of decay, most religious thought follows this paradigm as well, resulting in its irrelevance. The sooner we resurrect the relevance of religious thought, the sooner it can become a tool in our chest dedicated to restoring Western Civilization.
Religion alone will not do. The conservatives who bang the same tired tin drum of patriotism, religion and working hard have missed the point: none of those are solutions, and they amount to moral preening because of their non-solution status. Instead we need to realize that our civilization has crashed and burned, and now we face the long task of resurrecting it, including its understanding of metaphysics and religion.