Monday, April 5, 2010

Daoism, Christianity, God and No-thing

These are excerpts from two thinkers considering the nature of something and nothing. The first is a mathematical physicist who loves storytelling and describes the universe more in terms of organism than of machine. The second is a Catholic theologian at Georgetown University who has authored many books attempting to reconcile evolution with religion. This is taken from an interview, so please forgive the grammatically scattershot transcription. The last excerpt is the 11th stanza from the Tao Te Ching. It is something else to ponder.

“Remember how elementary particles spontaneously erupt out of no-thing-ness, the ultimate realm of generation? Emptiness is permeated with the urgency to leap forth. The difficulty is with language: when we say emptiness, we fail to evoke any sense of awe for the truth of the matter.

We can use another word: the ground of being is generosity. The ultimate source of all that is, the support and well of being, is Ultimate Generosity. All being comes forth and shines, glimmers and glistens, because the root reality of the universe is generosity of being. That’s why the ground of being is empty: every thing has been given over to the universe; all existence has been given over to the universe; all existence has been poured forth; all being has gushed forth because Ultimate Generosity retains no thing.”

- Brian Swimme from The Universe is a Green Dragon

“....I'm talking about philosophical Daoism such as you find in the famous classic the Dao De Jing by the famous philosopher Laozi and according to the philosophy of Daoism ultimate reality -- called the Dao -- is humble, is unobtrusive, is not prominent, doesn't stick out but precisely because of that humility of ultimate reality it allows the rest of nature to emerge, and perhaps the best example given by the Dao De Jing is to imagine a circle, a wheel with spokes converging from a center and that center geometrically speaking is essentially nothing but yet this nothingness generates a wheel. Or think of the emptiness of a window which allows light to come in. It's this insight the Daoist philosophy had that that which is most effective is also the most unobtrusive, and they have the notion of the way which simply can be translated as effective non-interference so that which is most effective, most foundational to reality, is not going to be found among the object of ordinary experience, and I correlate this with the Christian notion of the humility of God and that's one of the themes that perhaps you found perhaps a bit strange. It's not one that you you might have grown up with and that many people have not grown up with in their religious experience but yet a case can be made and has been made by contemporary theology that this is the most characteristic feature of the God of Christianity, and the classic text for this is St. Paul's letter to the Philippines in which he puts an early Christian hymn which says Christ was in the form of God but did not want to cling to that status but emptied himself and took on the form of a slave and subsequent theological reflection has taken that to mean that ultimate reality is self-emptying, self-humbling reality and that fits nicely the new understanding of all the universe because a humble God would would not overwhelm the world, would not stick out prominently as one object among others which religion often looks for, and we're disappointed because we don't find that type of God. We find very unavailable that kind of God but the unavailability of God is a correlate of the fact that we find a universe which is constantly striving to become itself, that's how I understand from a religious point of view this is what evolution is about. Even the expanding universe that we live in as Penberg pointed out can be interpreted theologically as consonant with the theme of a God who lets the world become itself. God wills the independence of the world. And this is kind of like the God of Daoism or the ultimate reality.”

  • John Haught, in an interview with Robert Wright. The full interview and many, many more from Wright's Meaning of Life series are here

And finally, a translation by S. Mitchell of stanza 11 from the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu:

“We join spokes together in a wheel,

but it is the center hole

that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,

but it is the inner space

that makes it livable.

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use.”

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