Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Western theology has been infected with a vision of divinity that is supernatural, hierarchical and patriarchal. Having explored the works of Father Diarmuid O’Murchu and a bit of the modern Quantum Physics and Cosmology that he invokes, I continue my quest to understand an immanent divinity and a cosmos that is not created from without, but simply Is.
I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with the idea of a supernatural God. I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with the idea of a supernatural God who behaves like a cosmic cop: do this, don’t do that. Having just participated in the Jewish observance of Tisha B’Av, marking the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE, which is blamed not on the Babylonians, but on us for our sins, I feel especially disenchanted.
I am becoming increasingly enamored of an image of an immanent divinity, a divinity within the cosmos. I have expressed a number of these ideas in several of my blog posts: “The Anthropic Principle,” “Biblical Pantheism.”
But thanks to my friend Sister Sharon Dillon, for the past several years I have been pondering the work of Father Diarmuid O’Murchu in books with titles such as Quantum Theology and Evolutionary Faith. O’Murchu begins his critique of traditional western religion with a rejection of the supernatural, hierarchical, patriarchal divinity that is the starting point of western theology. Most modern theologians confronting modern science attempt to reconcile science with their theology by tweaking the theology to make room for science. O’Murchu, on the other hand, begins with modern Cosmology and Quantum Physics and allows his theology to emerge from there. The theology that emerges is one of cosmic oneness, connection and relationship.
While I cannot bring a level of understanding of these disciplines that even O’Murchu can, I, too, have become enamored of what I have learned about Einsteinian physics and Quantum Physics, as well as the bit of modern Cosmology that I’ve learned from Neil DeGrasse Tysson in his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.
What Einstein did was to challenge the Newtonian vision of a static universe subject to immutable mechanical laws. Time and space are relative. Matter and energy are relative. As I described in “The Anthropic Principle,” the so-called two-slit experiment teaches that light sometimes behaves as a wave (energy) and sometimes as a particle (matter).
Trying to nail down physicists and cosmologists on the relationship between energy and matter can be just that—trying. Here’s what Matthew Strassler, Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature has to say on his blog:
“… what is matter, and what is not, is temperature-dependent and therefore time-dependent! Early in the universe, when the temperature was trillions of degrees and even hotter, the electron was what cosmologists consider radiation. Today, with the universe much cooler, the electron is in the category of matter.
So in the early, hotter cosmos, electrons were radiation, i.e., energy. As time went by and the universe cooled, the energy became matter. Tufts University chemist Patrick Bisson speaks (loosely, as he admits) of the “evaporation” of matter into energy and the “condensation” of energy into matter.
But perhaps the most significant aspect of O’Murchu’s work, based on modern Cosmology and Quantum Physics, is the replacement of a hierarchical cosmos with one based entirely on connection and relationship. Take, for example, this passage from Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s book,
“Einstein’s general theory of relativity, put forth in 1916, gives us our modern understanding of gravity, in which the presence of matter and energy curves the fabric of space and time surrounding it.”
At first glance, this seems to be a fairly innocuous—if arcane—statement. But try to imagine space not as distinct points, or time not as distinct units (seconds, minutes, etc.), but as a fabric. Space and time are like a sheet. Hold the sheet at its four corners and place a basketball on it; it bends. The sheet is space and time; the bending is gravity. But the point is, all of space and all of time are a single fabric—connected.
Or consider the quantum understanding of “entanglement” that describes the behavior of sub-atomic particles known as quarks. Again, Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
“….you’ll never catch a quark all by itself; it will always be clutching other quarks nearby. In fact, the force that keeps two (or more) of them together actually grows stronger the more you separate them—as if they were attached by some sort of subnuclear rubber band.”
According to physicist and science writer Philip Bell speaking at the Royal Institute in London, Einstein described the activity of quarks as “spooky science at a distance.” (You can view Bell’s lecture on YouTube here.) It seems that quarks come in pairs, and they spin; one spins up and one spins down. However, the direction of the spin is indeterminate until it is observed. As soon as the spin of the first quark is observed, despite the distance between them, its spin is instantaneously communicated to the other quark, which then determines its spin, a phenomenon known to physicists as “entanglement.”
This means that there is some force that travels instantaneously between the two quarks. However, this would defy a central pillar of Einsteinian physics, which insists that there is no force that travels faster than the speed of light. To resolve this conundrum, quantum physicists speak of “quantum non-locality.” As explained by Philip Bell,
“Properties of quantum objects when they are entangled can be non-local… [There’s] a kind of mixing of these two things… a non-local influence that means, in effect, that we can no longer think of these two… as separate objects… They become part of the same quantum entity.”
This, for O’Murchu, is simply another example of a cosmos characterized by oneness, connection and relationship.
Yet, there is more to O’Murchu’s vision of the cosmos than connection and relationship. According to A’Murchu following his reading and research into Quantum Physics, in a vacuum where there are
“…no atoms, and no elementary particles, and no protons, and no photons, suddenly, elementary particles will emerge. The particles simply foam into existence… Being itself arises out of a field of ‘fecund emptiness.’”
[or the “void”; see the poem by Herbert Levine at the end of this article]
The so-called “Big Bang Theory” teaches us that the cosmos began as a singular point, a concentration of all mass and energy in the universe that reached a level of heat and energy that it eventually had to expand. For O’Murchu, God is spirit, spirit is energy, the energy from the Big Bang, from which Being itself, the material universe, “foams into existence.” God does not create the universe; God is the universe, and the universe is in a constant state of creation.
What I’m feeling, what I’m envisioning is largely impossible to put into words. I’m sensing a cosmos that does not begin, is not created, but that simply Is, eternally emerging. I keep in mind what I have written elsewhere (“What’s in a Name”) about the biblical name of God: YHWH. As I read and study, it becomes increasingly clear to me that this name represents a form of the verb “to be.” So I would translate YHWH as “He is.” God is! God is Being itself, existence itself. The cosmos Is and God Is. God did not create the cosmos; God is the cosmos, and this Being of the cosmos is energy, spirit. The corporeal world, including each of us, is a kind of incarnation or emanation of Divine Being. This is partially what motivated the writing of “Biblical Pantheism, where I quote a local Sikh priest: “Everything—you, I, every particle in the universe—is infused with divinity.” And when we say that God is One, we are saying, along with Fr. O’Murchu, that we are all connected; indeed we are all One with the Oneness of Divine Being.
If matter is actualized energy, and if we consider energy as spirit, then one might say that all matter is spirit incarnate. And if all energy, all spirit, is the product of the original singularity, the Big Bang, then all is One. I might even go so far as to say that when we acknowledge that we are, in effect, divinity incarnate, One with the entirety of divine incarnation, we thereby conquer death; death is but the “evaporation” of matter into energy; we are all Christ.
To quote Fr. Richard Bohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation:
“The Christ is born the minute God decides to show Himself; the moment God decides to materialize. Modern science would call that the big bang. The big bang is the birth of the Christ…. That’s the cosmic Christ.”
Finally, I would conclude with a passage from the poem “Rebbe Nahman’s Torah of the Void” from the book Words for Blessing the World by my friend Herbert Levine:
Come and listen: In the beginning
there was only the light of God
To make a world, God, may He be blessed, became compressed
(if a person dares to say such a thing)
and His light burst into fiery fragments
millions on every side, dancing
in the void remaining after His self-compression.