Th.D. Thesis (draft)

I am currently working on my Th.D. thesis. I decided to publish my working draft here in the hope that it may be of interest to others and provide for a better understanding of what I am about theologically. It also serves to document the originality of my work.

_______________

As a professional theologian, I understand theology to be about primary and durable meaning (logos). Traditionally, theologians have taken little notice of the difference between logos itself and the gods associated with it. Judaism, Christianity, Islam and most other spiritual traditions are based upon a cosmology in which divine entities and powers are in control of everything in our world. These gods and their powers are believed by their adherents to be the source of all human knowledge and understanding, which is revealed to us through sacred stories and people, from which is drawn sufficient meaning that we are enabled to thrive. In this understanding, agency belongs to powers beyond and outside of ourselves.

The essence of this cosmology of divine forces was universal across human cultures until about 2600 years ago when a creative thinker named Thales, living in the Ionian city of Miletus recognized and began to use the human ability to discern the truth about our world and our own existence through disciplined rational thinking. Thales began a process whereby we humans took the previously divine power of agency over truth and meaning for ourselves. This resulted in a new cosmology which we came to call “nature.” The power Thales took from the gods evolved into what we now call “science.”

Over the centuries these two ways of seeking truth and meaning have become entirely separate and incompatible cosmologies. Today the idea of truth sourced in powers and stories from beyond nature are dissonant with the scientific cosmological understandings that human reasoning and scientific investigation have discovered.  Although many people still find much comfort in believing in supernatural powers and the ancient stories and traditions, those who live in the cosmology of modern science find it increasingly difficult to make sense and meaning from them.

Theologians have a large body of knowledge and experience concerning meaning. We deal with how human beings inculcate, share and maintain the meaning in human life, community and culture that is essential for our survival. Unfortunately, because we have been reluctant to deal with the difference between meaning itself and the symbols and myths that contain and convey it, we have remained theologically trapped in the cosmology of the supernatural. Increasingly, this has resulted in our finding ourselves excluded from much of the scholarly, intellectual and scientific discourse that is rationally working to understand who and what we are, and the nature of the cosmos in which we find ourselves.

It is my thesis that theology has a valid and vital contribution to make to the on-going search for the truth about ourselves, our understanding of our cosmos, and the meaning we draw from them. But to be a part of that conversation, we theologians must acknowledge the difference between theos and logos, and rise to a perspective transcendent to the gods we have served. We must free ourselves from irrational supernatural thinking and re-ground ourselves in the evolving contemporary natural cosmology. We must take on the daunting task of re-mythologizing our knowledge and get to work developing rich new symbols, narratives and liturgies in order to be able to facilitate making durable meaning in systematic harmony with the contemporary scientific worldview. 

WHP

Life Against The Wall in The Twitterverse

I'm glad to see that so many people are motivated to want to do something in response to Donald Trump's pronouncements and behaviors in the first days and weeks of his being President. It has been a long time since so many have been roused to political action. Many of my friends have been urging me to join them in calling upon our Congressman and I am happy that they are acting on their feelings in this way.

Personally, I have no interest in calling or visiting with my Congressman because I don’t think he gives a damn about what anyone thinks unless they are in agreement with his own thinking. He has stated that it is his policy that if 50 or more people want to meet with him over an issue, he is willing to do so.  But I think this is more a political tactic than a desire and openness to hear from his constituents. I have heard of no case in which he has been reported to have changed his mind after such meetings.

The problem is that it really isn't about thinking or ideas.  It is about values. People can and do change their minds fairly easily, but changing values is another matter altogether. My differences with my Congressman and Donald Trump are a matter of conflicting and contradictory values.

I am certainly open to taking whatever action I think will be effective in obstructing the capitalist, oligarchic, plutocratic agenda being promoted and getting this society headed in a direction that serves values that promote the common good, commonwealth and the health of the planet.  My problem is that I don’t yet see a common or public way to that sort of action as yet.  What I am hearing and seeing now seems very reactionary and defensive rather than strategic and driven by positive values and a long term vision.

I see many activists trying to whip up 60’s style street marches.  But I am not alone in thinking that protest marches are much less effective than in the past (recall how much effect the huge marches against the invasion of Iraq had on the corporate/political/military powers). How truly effective was Occupy Wall St?  Obama was so effective in snuffing it out that few people realize that he was the one who defeated it. Contrary to what many say, I think Occupy was a failure.

In my experience, the effect of public demonstrations is directly proportional to three observable characteristics. The first concerns how many people are demonstrating. We humans are impressed by numbers. The greater their numbers, the more intuitive credibility will be given to the demonstrator's cause. The other two factors are solidarity and commitment. Demonstrations that present themselves as a united group sharing a common loyalty to each other, their cause and to values held in common with those who witness the demonstration are better able to reach the public on an intuitive level.

The situation we are in calls for much more from us than we have ever before needed to summon up… and we are running out of time. We have to become much more self-aware, conscious, creative, penitent, understanding, receptive, forgiving, loving, and driven in service of altruistic values and vision than we have ever before demonstrated as a species. Nothing less will do.

This is what Opthē is all about.

Bill

A Biology Teacher Ponders Death

On April 14, 2016, my friend Tony Krzysik unexpectedly died. Tony was a scientist and one of those larger-than-life characters who had a range of interests that covered nearly everything one could imagine. He was a retired professor who had taught college chemistry, biology and physics among other things (his Ph.D. was in Bio-Ecology). Tony was a gourmet cook, lover of reptiles, fly fisherman, Audubon naturalist, car nut, Steelers fan, and something of a Mr. Rogers to the kids who found their way to the Highlands Center for Natural History in Prescott, Arizona. He could, and did, do everything.

My friendship with Tony was based upon our common interest in trying to raise awareness about the destructive effects of human activity on the global environment. We shared the sad view that the collapse of those systems which support much of life on this planet is immanent if we do not make rapid and radical changes in human life and culture now.

Shortly after his death, Tony's body was cremated and a Celebration of Life was held for him in the amphitheater of the Highlands Center on April 24, 2016.

The following is a reflection shared at the Celebration by Thomas Atkins, who knew Tony professionally and personally for many years. Tom describes himself as a "retired bio teacher". He might be a descriptive minimalist.

I was deeply moved by Tom's reflection because it managed to say something central to my theology. I believe it demonstrates better than anything I have found, that factual, even scientific narrative can be as much the basis for profound meaning as the greatest myths or stories of supernatural powers and heroes, depending upon how it is presented. It is the surprising product of the simple chemistry of combining truth with love.

I share Tom's words here in honor of the extraordinary life of Anthony J. Krzysik and in the hope that you will experience something extraordinary in this bio teacher's courageously honest reflection:


I had to ponder this as a biologist…  What exactly HAPPENED to my friend Tony?

Biologically, what is the end of life?

TO UNDERSTAND DEATH, ONE HAS TO UNDERSTAND LIFE!

Life is funded by utilizing food to produce trillions upon trillions of protonsnaked hydrogen nuclei… each second!

These protons are produced… dammed up… and pass through an enzyme called ATP synthase.
They are tiny Nano motors which reconstruct ATP... Adenosine tri phosphate!

Thousands of ATP synthase molecules are found SPINNING AT 7000 RPM IN EVERY LIVING CELL WITHIN OUR BODIES.  


Tony’s marvelous Nano motors, living within his 60 trillion cells, worked tirelessly for 73 years +9 months.  

They made their final production delivery of ATP molecules shortly after his fall to the living room floor.

Without oxygen, these Nano motors slowthen come to a stop.

ATP, the energy molecule of the cell, can no longer be constructed.

The complex biochemical reactions in each cell that depend on ATP slowly ebb and cease as the last remaining stores of this ubiquitous molecule of cellular respiration are deconstructed for the last time…

∆H=Ø

BIOLOGICAL LIFE, THE CONSTANT BATTLE AGAINST RANDOMNESS, AGAINST ENTROPY, is finally at an end in our Tony, our dear friend.

It is not the end of his memes.

People we most love, do literally, become a physical part of us.  They are integrated within our brain structure, in the pathways where memories are created and stored!  

His intellectual essence lives in us all; it lives on in the minds of people that have had contact with this man’s remarkable intelligence.  

His memes live on in papers written late at night.  

They reside in scientific journals.  

They reside in the Internet’s electronic cloud.  

All these have changed the future in ways yet unknown.

 

It is not the end of his matter.  

The Earth Mother, warmed and powered by the sun, is infinitely patient.  But always in the end… FOR ALL OF US… this mother of our matter quietly and gently re-collects her elements.  

Tony’s matter, his stardust, IN THIS LAST WEEK, has already lifted into the sky!

Upon their RELEASE… these tiny elements… these molecules… were IMMEDIATELY swept away by the wind and PHOTOSYNTHESIZED INTO THE BODIES of the mother’s PLANT LIFE!  

It is Tony’s GATEWAY into the GREAT CYCLE!

Tony’s stardust currently… literally… is residing in THE MOTHER'S FAVORITE PLACES … her vast oceans… her great forests… her grasslands… her endless deserts!  
 

They also reside in TONY'S FAVORITE PLACE, a quiet pond filled with waiting trout. 
 

The Earth mother needs Tony’s universal Stardust for HER body for HER SOMA to use againand again… and again… and again… and again…  …and again……


Thank you Tony for having become an important part of my environment and my brain.  I miss you!

Tom

I Believe in Magic

One of my personal and professional life goals is to broaden the definition of theology.

Thanks in large part to my seminary mentor, Urban T. Holmes, III, I have always preferred to approach theology experientially and existentially rather than classically and dogmatically. The former begins with human questions. The latter begins with divine answers.

From its earliest times, theology has been identified with supernatural beings. It is completely understandable that once our species evolved self-consciousness, we sought to know where we were, how we got here, and our purpose for being here. We also desperately sought protection from the mysterious and fearsome forces of nature that surrounded us.  It follows that we believed that everything was under the control of spirit entities that were super-versions of ourselves. Whatever particular form individual cultures gave to these entities, their existence was an assumption. Theology began when some people began to try to understand and speak for them. I could say that these were the first clergy. But in a world that was totally magical, it is not a stretch to say that they were the first magicians. Theology began as the study of magic.

Magic is one of those elusive words. It can mean all sorts of things. It can be used to describe a sublime moment like a first kiss. It can refer to an experience of something that seems to have no rational causative explanation. It can be your uncle Joe who loves to make quarters appear from behind kid’s ears, or a grand televised illusion by David Copperfield. When I think of magic, I think of two of my favorite theologians, Penn and Teller.

I love those guys.  And yes, I call them theologians. As I pointed out, theology began as the study of magic, and as I see it, despite all the science and academic sophistication it has acquired over the millennia since that beginning, it still is. People still seek it and others still provide it. The only difference lies in the fact that we now know how it works.

Penn and Teller know how it works.  And like all those who preceded them in the craft, they have made a very good living by giving us what we crave: a moment when causes and effects no longer apply and the impossible happens. How we crave that one precious moment when consequences don’t occur, responsibility is suspended and dreams come true despite all our failures and omissions.

Magicians refer to what they do as “illusions”. Most, like David Copperfield, do their magic and leave you in the ambiguity of the moment.  Did that happen? It seems impossible, and yet…?  They leave the delicious possibility of the impossible lingering on the hungry tongue.

Not so Penn and Teller. They perform some of the most complex illusions imaginable, but they always reveal how it was done. They understand that there is such a thing as magic, but it is a function of the human mind and perception, not a feature of cosmological reality. They want you to experience the beauty of the illusion, but they also want you to celebrate the self-knowledge that comes with knowing how it works.  They are theologians in the best traditions of the discipline.

Poetry, art, music, love, justice, freedom, (and lots of other magical things) are all illusions that we need and that we create. They are magical things that happen because we make them happen.

If our species is to continue on this planet, we must take responsibility for our religions: Patriotism, Nationalism, Capitalism, Militarism, Football and all Sportism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. etc.  They are not magic. They do not come from the gods.  They (and the gods we worship) are our creation… illusions we have made.  They are our own reflection.

It is time for us to embrace this fact and with full critical intentionality create illusions that will result in the best of all possible conditions for all of life on the planet… and the planet itself.

We have to mature quickly and get to work designing this masterful illusion now, if history is to continue.

If we pull it off, it will be the greatest magic trick ever. If we don't, we will all disappear.

Everything matters.

Bill

 

Just Say'n...

Recently, I have been engaging with organizations that espouse a scientific and non-supernatural world-view. In the process, I have been reminded of how the terms we use when expressing ourselves can reveal the way we perceive reality.

I am a scientific thinker. That means that I accept that all we can reliably know about the cosmos in which is live is through the information we receive through sensory experience. In addition, this information must be cross identified and critically processed by others in a disciplined way that strives to eliminate subjective bias.

I do not accept the existence of a supernatural dimension in our cosmos simply because there is not one shred of empirical evidence in support of it. For the same reason I do not accept astrology, reincarnation, ghosts, magic, miracles, consciousness beyond death, or anything of the kind. I do not believe there is a God or even a mysterious designer behind the universe because the proven process of the evolution of life could not have happened as we know it happened, had a designer been involved in it.

It’s not that I am opposed to these common subjectively held ideas; I am not. I once held them myself.  I just do not see any empirical evidence in the cosmos to support them. I welcome the possibility of being given evidence of the supernatural and proven wrong.

Because I think this way, and after reading the Humanist Manifesto, one of the groups with which I have chosen to associate is the American Humanist Association. I find myself very comfortable with them.  However, and to my surprise, some of them are not very comfortable with me.

The problem is atheism.

If you read the third paragraph of this article, you have what most people would probably say is the very definition of atheism. But I am a theologian and I deny being an atheist. That would be like a geologist denying the existence of rocks, or a biologist denying that there is anything called life.

I am of course aware that historically there has been a close identification of theos with God. We are creatures who are conscious of our own being. As a result, we are psychologically bedeviled by the need to know our purpose; the meaning of our existence. It is so strong a need that human beings do not thrive without it. Theos is whatever meaning or purpose we find in response to that need.

It is clear to me that our ancestors came up with gods early on in our cultural evolution as an explanation for why things are as they are, happen as they do, and why they were here. It was a perfectly reasonable idea given what little they actually knew about themselves and the cosmos at that time and for a very long while after.  

However, despite the long history of our thinking that theos was one or another brand of god, it doesn’t mean that we have to remain loyal to that understanding despite having learned otherwise.

It is becoming ever clearer that the supernatural in all forms and the denizens that populate it were and are creations of the human mind in response to the existential question. We created the gods out of our need for theos. Now we are gaining ever more factual understanding of the cosmos and ourselves. In the process, we are moving away from the gods and magical thinking. But theos (purpose and meaning sustaining existence) remains an essential human need. We are responsible for responding to that need with all the intellectual, emotional and creative resources we can assemble. Everything depends upon our doing it well.

I do not believe in God, gods, the supernatural or any entities that inhabit it.

I am a scientific theologian who accepts the cosmos as it is currently understood by science. At the same time, I rationally understand and identify myself as a theist. There is no contradiction in these stances.

If some people feel the need to find their meaning by being against rather than for something, I beg them to find something other than "theist" to be “A”.   

Bill

Theology As Art

In the past year, I discovered the work of the late Leonard Shlain who introduced me to the connection between art and physics. Shalin documented how artists had, in their work, presaged all the major cognitive shifts that occurred as a result of the work of scientists. 

Apparently, this idea has been quietly growing in my mind because in the past few days I have been enjoying something of a paradigm shift in the way I understand the work of theology.  Most of my theological work has been an effort to try to make clear statements about theological ideas and then test them against the fund of human knowledge and experience. This process has its merits, but it almost inevitably leads to deciding what is correct on a right/wrong, black/white, or true/false axis. Meaning, which is the subject of theology, is almost never reducible to such absolute categories.  

I have suddenly become aware that doing theology is much more like painting. Artists begin a painting with a vision; an image of something in their mind. It may be entirely imaginative, or it may be something that they see in the world about them. In either case, it translates to a mental image and it is this that the artist then labors to recreate on the canvas. 

There is no true or false in the effort to express the image in the mind on the surface of the canvas. There is right or wrong color. There is only the artist's struggle to use whatever colors, textures, brush strokes, and whatever else can be called into play to translate what she "sees" in her mind into the terms of paint and canvas in the hope that the viewer will "get it". 

Opthe is a vision within my mind that gives meaning to everything I think and do. I now see that my task is not so much to share the critical thinking that I am certain is vital to holding meaning that is healthy and enduring. What I really need to be doing is working to become a theological artist. I want to do what I can to create representations of the power and beauty of what I see in such a way that others can engage it... and maybe even "get it".  

It feels like it's the right thing to do.

Bill

 

Living Optheologically...

It has been some time since I have posted any writing to this site and this may have created the appearance that nothing is going on with Opthe.  In fact, the past couple of months have been a period of great spiritual growth for me.

I have been using this site for my spiritual praxis several times daily and, in the process, made any number of ongoing changes to the focus form. The discipline of using the form has continued to serve to increase and deepen the meaning Opthe holds for me. In fact, I can say without reservation that Opthe has become more meaningful for me than anything I have ever previously experienced. It has significantly altered my reality.

As always, I have been moved to try and understand my own experience. Because the praxis of Opthe has generated such powerful meaning for me, I have been working to get a better handle on the nature of meaning itself. This effort has resulted in some interesting and useful ideas that I will soon share in this space and in the Colloquy.

Because healthy spiritual discipline is by nature therapeutic both psychologically and socially, I have become interested in the incorporation of the art and science of suggestion in the praxis of Opthe to help intentionally induce the attitudes and mind sets that help produce meaningfulness and our sense of reality. I will also be sharing what I find in this line of investigation.

So please know that this site is very much alive despite how it may sometimes appear. 

Bill

Je Suis Le Reptile

Unless life is predetermined, everything that happens in our world is the result of a complex mix of occurrences that are of both human and natural origin. Some of these events are intentional and others are random. Some are rational and understandable, others are not. Most are a blend of both. 

Three gunmen, belonging to a radical Muslim group, enter the office of Charlie Hebdo Magazine in Paris and kill more than a dozen people working there. They feel they have a moral duty to take violent action because the publishers have acted with knowing and blatant disrespect for the symbols that give their lives meaning and enable them to draw breath. They vow that they will die as martyrs to what they believe. 

The French police soon have the killers contained. Dealing with a complex of moral concerns for the welfare of hostages, public safety, and the need to restore confidence and order, they act with disciplined violence to bring the situation to an end. 

A couple of days later, the streets of Paris are flooded with people holding signs saying "Je suis Charlie Hebdo". They are led by a formation of Western block leaders walking arm in arm in a demonstration of unity. 

Unity in what?  Clearly, it is at least partially a unity of victimhood. Everyone seems to be saying, "We are all Charlie Hebdo... we have all been attacked!... what gives meaning to our lives and enables us to draw our next breath has been knowingly and blatantly disrespected. We will not have it". 

What is not visible in the photos of all these people walking in righteous indignation is the blood dripping from their hands. In the name of the things they and their peoples hold dear and sacred, these leaders have, with what they believe to be great moral justification, done sophisticated military, political, and economic violence to peoples and nations all over the globe. Not just twelve, or even three thousand, but millions of people have died as a result of these self-justified actions. Some of them were the cultural and familial relatives of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. 

What happened in Paris last week began in a swamp millions of years ago. The effects of it will continue to ripple through whatever time life has left on this planet.

The cosmos has no mind and there is no plan to evolution.  But a creative consciousness has appeared. There is a mind in our universe. It is our own. Can we accept responsibility for directing ourselves? Can we begin to break the cycle of violence?   

Bill

So Far, So Good...

That's the punch line to the old joke set up by asking what an optimist says after having fallen off the top of a sky scraper, notes he has plummeted about half the distance to the ground. 

I'm very optimistic about this new year.  After more than half of a century of trying to work out a spirituality that can provide human life with profound meaning and which is in harmony with what we know and experience of the cosmos in which we exist, I am satisfied that I have accomplished my objective. Now it is a matter of working out the details of the model and living it out in the most authentic way possible. The Opthe website is a key part of doing that.

On a more academic level, it has become something of a mission for me to do all I can to expand and broaden the common understanding of the discipline of theology. I do theology as a science in the same way that fields like psychology, sociology, and anthropology are sciences.

While meaning is as important to human survival as are air and water, meaning must be subject to the same rigorous rational examination and testing as any other area of human knowledge if it is to be able to withstand the stresses and crises that confront us in life.

In the middle ages, theology was considered the queen of sciences and I deem it to be so today. Whatever meaning we make of our existence, if it is be sound and durable, it must be built upon and tested against a solid understanding of all the other arts and sciences; the fund of human knowledge and experience. Its thinking must be done with the same intellectual rigor and discipline as physics and philosophy. Theological thinking cannot be limited to the definitions or doctrines of any particular brand of faith. Moreover, it cannot be excused from testing through appeals to magic or the supernatural. 

With the foregoing in mind, and as a part of Opthe, I am setting up a colloquy for innovative and systematic theological discussion. It's my hope that it will attract professional and amateur theologians who are willing to participate in the dialogue necessary to expand theology as a discipline. It is my view that this is critical for human survival because we live in a time when our spiritual models have failed and we have nothing to replace them. 

Today is the 70th New Year of my life... the first day of 2015. 

So far, so good. 

Bill

   

 

This Feels Like Home...

The fact that you are reading this means that I have finally managed to get this new site configured correctly enough that it is now fully live on the web. I'm very excited about it because it has a look and feel that I have been seeking to achieve for some time now. 

In the last year or so, my theological work has brought me to a place where I find myself having developed an intellectually and emotionally authentic spirituality that is more trustworthy and meaningful to me than anything I have ever known before. 

I am a monastic in the ancient meaning of the word, living my life in focus on a singular praxis of commitment to altruistically serving all of life and the earth. I am also a monastic in the modern sense in that my monastery is in the Arizona residence I share with Annie, Kyle, and our three cats, as well as in this electronic place that glows from the screen before me. This modern virtual monastery allows an imaginative expression far more creative than any stone structure and provides a landscape of communication practically without limit.

Opthe is the product of over half a century of disciplined theological study and experience. It is still growing and evolving because we are constantly gaining new bits of knowledge and experience that modify the information strings holding together the sense we make of life and the cosmos.

My intention is to share as much of myself and and my monastery (Optheum) as I can with those who pass by. If what you find here interests you in some way, please accept my invitation to stop and share a bit of your story.  Your company will be very welcome and you can stay and participate for as long as your interest and inclinations lead you. 

Happy first day of Winter.

Bill