How Many Is One?

A talk given by Deborah G. Whitehouse, Ed.D.

We hear an awful lot about oneness in New Thought. All the major brands: Unity, Religious Science, Divine Science, not to mention the independents and generics, emphasize in various ways that we are one with God. "There is but one Presence and one Power: God, the Good, omnipotent." The International New Thought Alliance Declaration of Principles begins, "We affirm the inseparable oneness of God and humankind, the realization of which comes through spiritual intuition." And of course, there's the familiar God chant: "God and I are one."

Now first, we need to remember that this idea of oneness with God represents a major evolution of the human race's beliefs over the millennia. Originally there was a bunch of gods, in the sky somewhere, or perhaps on Mount Olympus, but definitely distinct from humans, although occasionally one exceptional human being might get promoted to deity. Then we evolved to the notion of a head honcho, a god of gods, ranked above all the other lesser gods and goddesses. This is known as henotheism, and the most famous example is the ancient Hebrews, who singled out Jahwe for worship and allegiance over the lesser gods. Then gradually the lesser gods dropped out and we get true monotheism, belief in ONE God. That God was like a giant human being with a bad temper, who had to be placated and implored, who was said to be unchanging but who changed his mind regularly depending on who was talking to him. Like an Oriental potentate, he had his favorites, he had all kinds of power, and it didn't do to cross him. But to the Israelites, he was OUR God, because they had a special covenant with him. If they did what they were told, he would lead them in battle against other tribes and see that they won, and so we have "My God can lick your God". Unless, of course, they did something that got him steamed, in which case, it was off to Babylon, or whatever.

This anthropomorphic God is still a transcendent deity separated from us, a God "out there" while we are "down here". It's still using the old model of a three-story universe, with heaven up there, us down here, and hell somewhere underneath. It remained for Jesus to demonstrate how we could relate to God as BOTH immanent (up close) and transcendent (out there), dwelling in our hearts as well as in heaven, wherever that was. It was Jesus who taught that we all have a spark of the divine, that we are the children of God, and if children then heirs to all that the Father has. And now with modern science, we have gotten rid of the three-story universe, and understand that God is everywhere present and available, which is where we came in. We are one with God and one with everything else in the universe, interconnected and therefore interdependent.

All this is WESTERN thought. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Eastern minds were conceptualizing what they called the One, at least some of the Hindus and the Taoists were. The Buddhists were so afraid of creating some kind of dualism that they refused to discuss a Supreme Being or First Mover or Ultimate at all. (But that's all right; we won't hold it against them because they're inclined toward process thinking, so they're good guys. Besides, God goes right ahead offering them perfect possibilities every moment even though they don't believe in him.) Eastern minds usually didn't anthropomorphize God into a giant human being, except for a few peasants who turned the Buddha into a god, even though he explicitly told them not to, because he wasn't one (god, not peasant. Well, he wasn't either one). But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's leave the East alone for a minute, because after all, we are Western minds, and even the Dalai Lama says to stick to "the religion of [your] own culture and inheritance". If you're Christian, be Christian, if you're Buddhist, be Buddhist, he says, but don't try to mix them together or you'll only end up confused. Can we learn from each other? Sure can, and we'll get back to that later.

For now, let's go back to the head of the one-God trail and pick up the ancient Hebrew words for one. In Hebrew there are two words that both mean one: yachid, meaning only one, and achad, meaning united one. Now, the reason this is interesting to us is that when they were referring to God, they invariably used achad, united one. "Sh'mal, Israel, adonai elohanu adonai achad," "Hear, O Israel, the Lord, thy God, the Lord is one." So to the Israelites, God was a one made up of many. As citizens of the United States of America, we are all very familiar with this concept of one made up of many, because we are one nation made up of fifty states. It says on the Great Seal of the United States, printed on the back of every dollar bill, "E pluribus unum," out of many, one. It's on that ribbon that the eagle is holding in his mouth. If you haven't got a dollar to your name, you can check a quarter; it's printed right over the eagle's head, with the ribbon omitted to save space. So there's one, and there's one, and that's why it's important for us to ask, "How many is one?" What do we mean by "one God", and what do we mean by "one with God"? And more important than either, why should we care? Well, I'm here today to answer all three questions for you.

But first, I have to take a minute to distinguish philosophy from psychology and science from mysticism. As human beings, we have three ways of gathering knowledge. The mystics liked to call them three eyes: the eye of flesh, or sensory experience; the eye of reason, or philosophy; and the eye of contemplation or revelation. They're all good, and they're all equally important. The eye of contemplation is thought of as higher than the other two eyes in terms of perspective, not in terms of importance. The eye of reason is supposed to mediate between the other two eyes, but again, that's not because it's more important; it's because that's its job, that's the way it's supposed to work. Problems only arise when one of the eyes usurps the function of another. That happens a lot, and we have lots of problems. It happened during the middle ages when the church usurped the role of science, and it happened big-time in the modern era when those who worship science tried to let it usurp the role of religion. We're only just beginning to recover from that one in these early postmodern days. So you see how important it is to use the right eye--not to mention the left eye, and the one in the middle.

The sciences, including psychology, began as parts of philosophy and gradually differentiated themselves. Science is supposed to remain in harmony with philosophy, and it usually is, but philosophy is logical, whereas psychology is sometimes PSYCHOlogical, and that can APPEAR to be different. Psychology uses metaphor all the time; philosophy only uses metaphor when it is driven to it to explain things that can't be explained any other way. So the perspectives of the psychologist and the philosopher can be quite different, but ultimately, those perspectives have to harmonize. Contemplation, too, in the long run can't be at odds with the truths of science and philosophy, because they're all looking at the same universe from different perspectives. You have to know which hat a person is wearing when he or she is speaking, and you have to know what context he or she is speaking in.

Putting this all together, let's go back to the one God, one with God, how many is one theme. When we speak of "one presence and one power", we are distinguishing ourselves from the religious dualists who believe in God AND the Devil, good AND evil personified. We aren't foolish enough to say that there is no evil in the world; we just say that evil is a misuse or nonuse of what is inherently good; it isn't an entity, it's a falling short. One of the best analogies is evil and darkness. When you come into a dark room and turn on the light, you don't have to take a broom and chase away the shadows. Darkness is simply the absence of light, in the same way that evil is the absence of good. But evil is very real; it's not your imagination, and it's not illusion. It's just that there's no POWER of evil, no POWER of darkness, no Devil or evil entity, just a failure to let the good that is always there shine through. There is also the evil of ignorance, "they know not what they do". That, too, is not a power or a force. So in terms of good vs. evil, there's only one power, not two, and it's good. That power is balanced between God's plan and our free will to say yes or no to God. Natural events like earthquakes may have consequences that we would describe as evil, but we don't call them evil in themselves. The term evil is generally reserved for the actions of human beings who fail to make the most of the good that is everywhere.

What about "one with God", or "God and I are one"? Here's where we start to run the risk of having one eye usurp the function of another. As long as we understand that God is always a one including many, there is no problem. We say when two people are married that they are made one, or a parent may say that a child is one with him or her, or that they are one family. These ones are also pluralities; we don't literally mean that you can't tell one from the other. They have their own identities, their own roles, their own individuality. And the same is true of us and God. Jesus said that he and the Father were one. He also said that the Father was greater than he. So he was very clear that he knew where one ended and the other began. This is true for us as well. If we're honest, we know perfectly well how imperfect and puny we are compared to God. And this is where the miracles start, because when we align ourselves with God, when we recognize and acknowledge our oneness with God, then we have at our disposal all the power of God. It's kind of like an electromagnet: turned off, it can lift maybe two pounds, pretty puny. Turned on, electrified, it can lift two thousand pounds. And so we can honestly say things like "God and I are a majority" at the same time that we say "Of myself I can do nothing", or "the Father within doeth the works". Or, understanding the Christ mind as God's initial aim, we say, "I can do all things through Christ". Aligned with God, saying yes to God's perfect possibilities, all things are possible.

Lately, I have been reading The Law of Psychic Phenomena, by Thomson J. Hudson, an early New Thought writer whose work Ernest Holmes was very impressed with. You can tell right away that Hudson was a well-trained scientist, thoroughly familiar with psychology; and writing way back in 1893, he emphasized the power of belief. In fact, one of his key points was the emphasis that Jesus placed on faith as the sine qua non for healing. Faith in what? In God's healing power, and in our power to align ourselves with God's power. It is done unto us as we believe. But this works both ways: if we believe in a bad outcome, we attract that. If we believe in illness or disease, that's where our faith is, because that's where our attention is. So the trick is to turn our attention to God. And the best way to do this is to absolutely immerse ourselves in God in our thoughts, to perceive ourselves as one with God, IN God as if God were the ocean and we were fish, or even waves. In this altered psychological state, it becomes difficult to see where God ends and we begin, we are so identified with God, and that's good, that's powerful. When we really get going, it's AS IF there were NOTHING BUT GOD, in terms of our perceptions, our attention. No sickness, no poverty, no discord, only God. And that, of course, is the state commonly described by mystics of all religions, east and west. We aren't seeing God AND the problem, we are seeing only God, only one. And this somehow frees us psychologically to do creative thinking and problem-solving, and it makes it possible for God to give us greater possibilities, to orchestrate things for a better outcome than there could otherwise have been, had we not aligned ourselves with the One Mind of God in this fashion.

Now, here's where we have to be careful not to let the eye of contemplation usurp the functions of the other two eyes. Philosophy still has to mediate, and philosophy, as Alan likes to say, is an armchair occupation. When you're in a mystical state, you aren't doing philosophy, and vice versa. In the cold light of reason, there is NO WAY that there is "nothing but" God, or there would be no point to the universe. There would be no free will, no learning, no nothing. Science has come a long way in the past few hundred years, and any ideas we have about what God is like and what the universe is like must harmonize with the findings of science. That, too, is the job of the philosopher, who in the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics looks at what the universe has to be like in order to be at all, which necessitates some conclusions about God. Nice, calm, rational conclusions, not the mystic rapture of the altered state. We're back in the armchair, pondering the mystic vision, seeing how it fits in with the rest of the pea patch. We ignore neither revelation nor science. We integrate them.

Now, I'm not a philosopher, though I do keep one handy around the house just to answer questions about the meaning of life. No home should be without one. What I am, though, is a psychologist, so unless I sit in the philosopher's armchair, I don't have to worry about what the universe is really like; I can be phenomenological and look at the mystic and try to "see with his eyes and listen with his ears", and I can understand this mystical experience of total union with God. In psychological terms, it is the tenth and highest order of perception, the order known as universal oneness, because that is what one experiences, a sense of being one with all that is. Universal oneness is frequently experienced by expert runners, or proficient meditators. In fact, it is frequently experienced by people who regularly indulge in a repetitive occupation that they are very familiar with, so that the mind is relatively free. And this state of universal oneness is so pleasurable that these people become positively addicted to the experiences that let them perceive at that tenth order, just as people get negatively addicted to things that reduce their pain, such as alcohol or drugs. In the state of universal oneness, you aren't paying attention to very much else, so it is a state of great peace and tranquillity. Very desirable, very positive, very healthful, very restorative, very spiritual. So if I am wearing my psychologist hat and you come to me and say, "God and I are one" or "There is nothing but God" or "God is all there is", I understand perfectly, and I am happy for you. That was your experience, and your experience is your experience, and I'm not going to try to talk you out of it or say it didn't happen.

AND, when I take off my psychologist's hat and sit in the philosopher's armchair, I see the logical absurdity of it. I have to bring into account the rest of what is known about the universe. Alan put it rather well the other day when he said, "We could not even speak of oneness if there were not at least two of us."

Here is where we need to turn back to the Eastern thinkers. Sadly, all too many of them have confused the mystical experience of oneness-with-all-there-is with sound philosophy. Eastern minds love paradox, and they are very good at it. A paradox is a seeming contradiction, and one of the marks of adulthood is the ability to retain two apparently conflicting notions simultaneously. But notice the words "seeming" and "apparently". A real paradox is a self-contradictory statement, which means that you say something in one breath and then say the exact opposite, refute yourself, talk nonsense in the next. The Eastern paradoxes are SEEMING paradoxes, because when you take them apart, there is a solution, usually involving antics with semantics, or perhaps definitions, or universes of discourse. "What has eyes but cannot see? A potato." There is no real self-contradiction; it's a game. Unfortunately, too many Eastern thinkers frequently lost touch with reality, and their disease has spread to the West, so we have Western thinkers who ought to know better coming up with convoluted descriptions of how all there is is God and yet we are individuals with free will, a contradiction if ever there was one! Then Aldous Huxley, a brilliant mind, got the bright idea of looking for a common core in all religions by studying their mystics, and came up with his perennial philosophy, which is nothing but pantheism, which is this absurd, illogical idea that there is literally nothing but God.

So what better ideas does the West have? Plenty! We don't have to stay with traditional Western theism, which is just as nutty. Fortunately, there are philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, who have developed the notion of process thought, which Alan has turned into process New Thought. It doesn't have one eye usurping the function of another, with mystics pretending to be philosophers or scientists. It takes the idea of quantum physics, that everything is momentary bursts of energy, and adds the idea that the energy is not lifeless, but alive, and that the only possible way for there to be novelty in the world is for there to be God in each of those bursts of energy. Everywhere. Everything and everyone in the universe is some ongoing series, like frames of a movie, some collection or society of those bursts of energy, those experiences; and each of those experiences is a combination of the past and God's perfect possibilities. God, everywhere present. God, orchestrating the universe according to divine plan, but never violating anyone's free will, because each experience gets to say how much God and how much of the past it will incorporate. And just in case you think we are writing off the East, some Buddhists have always been process thinkers, and they would understand Alan's serial selfhood, the series of selves known as you or me, very well indeed. Furthermore, there is plenty of room in the West for Taoist ideas about balance, a very important concept that the West tends to lose sight of in its mad desire to accomplish. The East is better at contemplation. We can learn much from the East, but not if we forsake our Western heritage and go madly chasing after some guru whom we assume knows more about spirituality than we do. God is fully present and available in each occasion of experience to us in the West, too! And, speaking of balance, though we can do nothing without God, God can do nothing without us and the rest of the universe, as God's body. That's an exquisite balance. It's not that all is God, it's that all is IN God.

It is Western wisdom that says that God is love. We are indeed one with God, in that we are never separated from the love of God, never apart from God. We are made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God in the sense that little Johnny Jones is Jones, because his father is Mr. Jones. As philosophical idealists, we know that everything is really mind (or ideas or spirit; the terms are used interchangeably). Matter is a special form of mind. So we are societies or collections of lesser minds that form our bodies, and all these minds go together to form the universe, which is God's body; and God's body is in God's mind. So we are IN the One Mind of God, that one that includes many. Each of us has a body and a mind, and so does God. God has a mind of God's own. That mind leads and loves and lures everything in the universe toward greater good, just as fast as everything, including us, is ready to accept it. We are IN God, IN the One Mind that loves us like a father or mother yet respects our individual freedom. And God is IN us, in every moment of our existence. "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

To How God Can Be Everywhere Without Being Everything by Alan Anderson, a continuation of the thought expressed above.

To New Thought Movement Home Page, with links to many New Thought resources

To Process Philosophy and the New Thought Movement, containing links to many other process resources.

To New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, with links to excerpts related to this site.

Created Nov. 15, 1997, by Alan Anderson, Contact Info.

Latest update (not of text) June 18, 1998