Presented at the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion session held at the International New Thought Alliance Expo in Fort Lauderdale, July 18, 1997
I have promised to give you all a sneak preview of the new book that Alan [Anderson] and I are currently working on, which will be titled Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes. Like our first book, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, it will be intended for a general audience rather than specifically for scholars. Our first book dealt a great deal with New Thought's history and the philosophical concepts that underly it. The new book will be more of a how-to book on New Thought put into practice.
Alan has already spoken to you about panentheism, which, along with its traveling companions, personalism and process thought, make up the only rational constructive postmodern system of metaphysics. Our life's work is to share this positive, exciting view with all New Thoughters so that it can become the central underlying thrust of a New Thought that is capable of leading the world into the twenty-first century. My job is to show how this system of metaphysics supports and enhances New Thought in practice in our daily lives.
When people ask us, "Just exactly what is New Thought?", we like to say that it is God-aligned mental self-discipline. Pressed to elaborate, we say that it is the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. In my article published in the latest [Summer 1997] issue of New Thought, I gave an overview of the book's basic structure and its main themes, so today I will zero in more closely on one of the most important underlying concepts that comes up all through the book: the principle of balance. One of the two Aramaic words used for religion, I understand, is dina, which refers to balance. I will give you five examples of important balance points in our lives and explain why balance is so crucial to each.
The first balance point I want to discuss is Habit 7 of Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, described in his blockbuster best-seller with that title. Covey's model is based on his study of 200 years of American success literature, which means, of course, that it is largely based on New Thought principles. Habit 7 is Sharpen the saw, an allusion to trying to cut down a tree with a dull saw, of course taking forever to do it, and complaining that one has no time to sharpen the saw. Saw sharpening, according to Covey, consists of giving equal attention to the fabled golden eggs and the goose that lays them, the eggs being production, and the goose being production capability. Certainly it's important to peddle your eggs properly; however, if you neglect to care for the goose, you soon won't have any eggs to peddle. Caring for the goose, says Covey, consists of giving attention to the balance of the physical, mental, spiritual, and social/emotional areas of your life, and not concentrating on one or two at the expense of the others. It's all too easy, as we all know, to neglect the physical because we are too busy working or praying or socializing. It's easy to neglect the mental, rationalizing that we are too busy or too spiritual to read or to think about important ideas. It's very easy to neglect the spiritual because we think we don't have time to talk with God. And it's easy for work, study, and prayer to crowd out either our social life or our quiet time of noticing and acknowledging our own emotions, what's going on inside of us, the "heart" part of us.
Everywhere we look we can see examples of people who are out of balance. There are people with heart attacks from years of poor eating habits and lack of exercise. There are people who are too much in their heads, who haven't integrated head and heart. There are spiritual giants who die agonizing deaths from cancer or other wasting illness from years of denying or neglecting the body. There are people so caught up in caring for their bodies, minds, and social lives that they never think about their spiritual nature. And there are people so caught up in their feelings that they neglect their minds, or fail to use their reasoning ability; they, too, have failed to integrate head and heart.
Leo Booth, in his book, The God Game: It's Your Move, has pointed out that our spirituality contains our physical, mental, and social/emotional dimensions, rather than being outside or beyond them. "God's power," he tells us, "radiates through us and ignites our spiritual energy through the union of Body, Mind, and Emotions." In process terms, we would say that God's power is God's initial aim, which is synonymous with the Christ mind. In Teilhard de Chardin's famous phrase, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and that human experience includes the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions Booth refers to. We must give equal attention to all of them within our spirituality, must keep them in balance.
The second balance point that I want to draw your attention to is a point of rest between the age-old battling Titans of theism and pantheism. Theism has evolved considerably over time, and there are 57 varieties of pantheism (well, would you believe eight?) Both theism and pantheism have their faults and their virtues, and these tend to be diametrically opposed, so that one is strong where the other is weak.
To theists, pantheism is heresy; to pantheists, theism is rather childish and limited. Both are wrong, and both are right, in some ways. A nineteenth-century German philosopher named Karl Friedrich Christian Krause tried to mediate between the two and come up with a synthesis, a synergy of the best of both. In 1828, he coined the term panentheism. Pantheism says all is God, panentheism says all is in God. Theism stresses the distinguishability of Creator and creature; panentheism says that the universe is God's body, which is governed by God's mind just as our bodies are governed by our minds. Yet we are not synonymous with our bodies, and neither is God, "in [whom] we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
Many people in New Thought are interested in finding a common core in all religions. They turn to perennialism, but perennialism is a form of pantheism. That means it is at odds with all three major Western religions. Not a promising start, if you are looking for a common core. The best candidate so far is panentheism.
The third balance point that I want to talk about is what some of the Christian mystics called the three eyes: three modes of knowing, or ways of gathering knowledge. They are the eye of flesh, or empiricism; the eye of reason, or philosophy, or mind; and the eye of contemplation, or mystical experience. They are equally important, and we need to use all threeþafter all, we need all the knowledge we can get!
What sometimes goes wrong is that one eye tries to usurp the function of one of the others. This happened big-time in the modern era when science, the eye of flesh, was seen as usurping the function of religion, the eye of contemplation. Ken Wilber, in his book Eye to Eye, calls this a category error. One of the most famous category errors came in the middle ages when scholars tried to deduce the number of teeth in a horse's mouth, (use the eye of reason) instead of going out to the stable, opening the horse's mouth, and counting (using the eye of flesh)! In a category error, you are out of balance. The eye of contemplation, the third eye, is higher in the sense of seeing farther, of providing vision. The eye of reason is supposed to mediate between the other two eyes, which doesn't mean it is higher than they, just that it is the balance point. Unfortunately, Wilber and the other perennialists fall into another category error themselves when they try to give the eye of contemplation dominance over the eye of reason and even over the eye of flesh, usurping their functions. If one does that, thereby abandoning reason, one has no way of judging whether the voice one hears in contemplation is the voice of God or Son of Sam! We need all three eyes, and we need to keep them in balance.
The fourth balance point that I want to comment on has to do with the difference between God's job description and ours. This notion comes from process thought, with a bit of a spin from Alan making it into Process New Thought. Alfred North Whitehead, the philosophical genius who developed process thought, picked up where quantum physics left off, with a universe consisting of quanta: bursts of energy. Whitehead realized that what was missing was life: those bursts of energy were all alive. He called the bursts of energy experiences, and he soon realized that the only way he could account for the novelty in the world was by the existence of God. God must be present in each experience, offering it perfect possibilities, which Whitehead called initial aim. In other words, God is everywhere present in the universe, yet distinguishable from it, other than, but never separate from, the universe. As Alan puts it, God and we have different job descriptions: God's job is to start everything by offering those possibilities. Our job is to say yes or no to the possibilities. If we say yes, things change for the better; if we say no, we continue the pattern of the past. So each experience is some blend of the past and the possible.
In more everyday terms, God gives us our big, beautiful, impossible-seeming dreams, even though it feels as if we have dreamed them up ourselves. We then do whatever we can do to bring them about, and God does the rest by lining up other possibilities for other experiences, to help us out. In this manner, God orchestrates events in the universe. So we take care of the what, and God takes care of the how. However, God has no hands but ours, and we can't do anything without God's help. So the universe is in exquisite balance between God's giving and our accepting.
The final balance point that I want to give you to consider is, as the poet Robert Browning put it, "all's love, and all's law," a beautiful balance indeed. God is unconditional love. Neither depth nor height...can separate us from that love (Ro 8:39), no matter what we do or what is done to us. Any thing we want to do is acceptable to God, any way we choose to learn our lessons. As God's beloved children, we have access to all that the Father has, to all the abundance of the universe. In short, God is the Ultimate Sugar Daddy or Sweet Mama (we don't want to imply that God has gender). God never coerces, never violates our free will.
God does, however, have preferences, strong preferences. These preferences are for the highest good for each of us and in any situation. This means that God prefers peace to war, love to hatred, intelligence to stupidity, development to stagnation. God's preferences are expressed in the initial aims that God gives to experiences. Vast numbers of these experiences over the ages have produced the cosmic habitforces that we call natural laws. A law is a description of how things work. When we make intelligent use of these laws, we prosper. We are free to choose any behavior, and we then take the consequences of that behavior, good or bad. As Stephen Covey puts it, when we pick up one end of the stick, we automatically pick up the other end, the consequence. So we are punished by our sins, not for them. The laws keep us in line very nicely, so God can go right on loving us unconditionally. And God goes even farther: when we get in trouble through bad choices, God mitigates the damages as far as possible without violating anyone's free will. This is why Emmet Fox can say that Christ is lord of karma. Once we have learned our lessons, we no longer have to repeat them.
The beautiful, interdependent balance of cocreation between us and the loving, intelligent, self-aware, rational, purposive, omnipresent Ultimate Person: God--what wonderful possibilities are in store for us when we are willing to accept them!
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Created July 24, 1997, by Alan Anderson, Contact Info.
Latest update (not of text) June 30, 1999