Friday, June 5, 2009

The Union of the Sacred and Secular

Sacred and secular…can they co-exist and where do they meet? As we increase our material wealth and extend ourselves with technology, do we have a tendency to lose our sense of what is sacred in the world?
Some say that sacred, or holy, practices are a product of the past that will be outgrown in modern society, and see sacred associated with religion, whose role in the world is currently changing.
Secular is usually associated with bureaucratization, rationalization, urbanization, industrialization, and seen in terms of historical revolutions.
Most of us live with a tension between the two, as sort of being “in the world, but not of the world.” Is it possible to live in integration of the two, with no separation between the sacred and the secular?
American Sociologist C. Wright Mills summarized this process: “Once the world was filled with the sacred – in thought, practice, and institutional form. After the Reformation and the Renaissance, the forces of modernization swept across the globe and secularization, a corollary historical process, loosened the dominance of the sacred. In due course, the sacred shall disappear altogether except, possibly, in the private realm.”

In the bible, Paul writes, “To the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15) Finding the sacred in the secular might just be the way to go. But it is not easy to do as we watch the evening news.

What do YOU think?
Artwork Playing With Possibilities by Ron Isom


Dave said...

I think the simple answer is it all depends on what you are trying to hold onto as being sacred. If you are trying to hold onto 1,000 year old rituals simply because they have been rituals for a 1,000 years, or rules from a 2,000 or 3,000 year old book just because it is a “sacred text”, it’s definitely going to be difficult reconciling that with secular life and holding onto those things as being sacred.

If however you are trying to hold onto “sacred” spiritual concepts that make sense like: we should consider the earth sacred because it is the giver of life; we are all brothers under the skin and we should have a Oneness mentality when it comes to viewing the entire human race; and quieting our mind and looking within is a great way for us to generate feelings of love and security and to raise our level of consciousness, then there is no problem at all, because those things are not only completely complementary with secular life (on both the mind and body fronts) but they improve the quality of secular life.

So the bottom line is if the sacred things trying to be held on to are contradictory, don’t make much sense and can be easily dismissed as nonsense, it’s going to be a struggle to hold onto those, as it should be, those things should go extinct. If the sacred things are legit and valuable then it is pretty reasonable that those can and possibly will be embraced by the secular community and be around for thousands of more years (assuming humans don’t cause our own extinction before then).

Mieke said...

It is the process of life :)

And it is in every one's scheme to happen.

If you are aware of allowing yourself to grow into this, at a later stage in life you suddenly become aware that it is exactly what you are doing, despite watching the evening news :)

Rest assured, live your life with effortless ease.

Trouble is you can only say this when you have already reached a certain level :)

Tim said...

It's high time we got beyond the labels, the words, the categories - they are all in a sense "profane" - uniquely belonging to the human mind - the way in which we take the scalpels of our intellect to the whole - cut it up, portion it out - do we really take these names to be more important than the very substance of our being?
That's the lesson we should be learning - gone are the days when we are still locked into the pettiness of our minds - each and every one of us must learn to find the reality within themselves - the life itself - rid ourselves of all the ridiculous judgmental notions we have about "God" - "reality" - "existence" - we are not our own notions at all - we are miraculous, living beings - sacrificing our intimacy with the infinite nature of our true being - for the sake of definition - it's not a fair swap!

Derek said...

I would see a parallel with Zen and what Paul says in the Bible. In Zen practice the ultimate goal is the realization of at-one-ness. And zazen (the meditation that is Zen), encourages us to practice our mindfulness throughout the day, not just on the meditation cushion. This way we are co-ordinating the inner world with the outer world and in enlightenment, the relative world is seen as an illusion, as the inner and outer merge and become one and all discrimination ends. :-) Derek

Tikno said...

The things of sacred and secular will always exist in the human history. Actually, in the human itself already a combination of sacred and secular elements, namely the heart (sense) and brain (logical). Usually, religious people will be able to feel (believe) the things that is difficult to be proved by logic. Secular people tend to use their brain (logical thinking) to believe something.

There is always two elements: black/white, dark/bright, etc. Human itself is a combination of soul and physical body (if you are a believer). Even in the darkness of universe there is a light from small stars. Optimal outcome are usually derived from the proportional combination of the two elements (think and sense).

From the discussions that I have created at I tried to raise consciousness on the two elements:
1) Human brotherhood in the worldly life is come from genetic heritage.
2) Human brotherhood in the religious / spiritual life is come from one God.

All of that is the fundamental brotherhood of human, and I hope will raises consciousness against the differences.

Aalferos said...

If I keep waiting maybe the secular will start to look like the sacred…I kind of think not! I wonder what Jesus thought about on the cross – do you think he could have seen through the pain, the jeers and insults to find that situation sacred? What I find Sacred is that he did it anyway; he was obedient to his purpose. Most of us will never have to endure that kind of suffering; maybe our lives will never reveal such a dichotomy. So the Sacred can only be measured by the secular, one extreme to the other whereby one can appreciate the Sacred as it is revealed in the secular. Do you see how the cross became Sacred?

Frank said...

The question of the boundary between sacred and secular reminds me of an experience I've had many times since I began practicing meditation more seriously. Without my teacher's guidance I might never have come to experience like this.

My experience evolved during lunchtime walks along nicely landscaped company frontages in the industrial park where I worked at the time. The craftspeople who built the sidewalk had carefully smoothed and formed it to make an elegant, visually harmonious surface, expressing a human vision of "perfection." I liked to get outside my office and walk; the fresh air seemed to loosen my thinking and make it easier to come up with creative ideas for my work.

Gradually I paid more attention to cracks in the concrete where the ground shifted or where some of the tree roots thrust upward. At first these cracks appeared random and disharmonious with the overall "plan" of the park's landscaping and architecture; they irritated me and I felt sad that they marred the builder's intention. I wished for newer, smoother sidewalks where I wouldn't trip over cracks even though my mind was so far away from my feet as I thought up those creative ideas for my work.

On later walks, I began to see things not as I'd seen them before, and the cracks took on a very different meaning: They became a reminder that God is pervasive in all that I see and experience, and it was the "elegant" surface, constructed by human hands, constricted by human imagination, which was the imperfection. I began to wonder how the cracks "knew" which way to crack. Playfully growing and bifurcating as they wished, they tempted my imagination away from work and in their crooked way pointed me to a manner of experiencing randomness and deeper reality as I walked.

As Summer turned to Fall, leaves and twigs fell from the trees. I noticed how each leaf was different from its brothers, and what beautiful non-patterns they formed as they fell and the wind blew them around, sometimes "face up," sometimes "face down," sometimes dry, sometimes wet or even floating in a puddle of collected rainwater.

The following Spring, new growth on the landscaped plants didn't follow any "pattern" of human creation. Each twig, sprouting blossoms and leaves, sang its own song yet somehow the songs on different branches and trees together created a crescendo of harmonious music! Eventually even the sidewalk and the landscaping joined in the symphony, though it wasn't any song the architects and landscapers had conceived. It didn't matter that gardeners swept through every few weeks, hacking away any growth that didn't fit "The Plan."

In that year of my life, I experienced (but only if I allowed myself) how the same walking through an industrial park changed from seeing a human landscape, marred by imperfection, to an unmarred divine landscape. Sacredness first reclaimed a few growing cracks of my consciousness, then the leaves and twigs, and finally engulfed and consumed my entire experience. The secular industrial park had become a sacred path.

Thomas said...

It is important to realise that sacred and secular are both somewhat contrived concepts that result from certain idea systems. The sacred is connected to religious idea systems and the secular is connected to worldly idea systems. Secularity implies the division of worldly and religious affairs.

I am not sure if this is entirely transparent, but the real problem is not the division between religious and worldly affairs, but the division between the religious and the spiritual. It is OK to divorce religion from politics, administration and economy, but it is disastrous to divorce the spiritual from these domains, and we can see the consequences quite clearly at this point in history.

If we could somehow raise the consciousness of mankind in one fell swoop from the religious to the spiritual level, the problem of this dichotomy would disappear.

Katinka said...

I'm reminded of my anthropology classes I took in college where it was stressed that in the US anyhow the secular has sacred qualities - in that for instance the US is seen as 'God's country', the flag is sacred, the president has to be Christian and things like that.

Given the huge part played by 'spiritual' inspiration in society today, I don't think the sacred is gone - but it IS changing, because society is changing so much. And we are playing a part in creating tomorrow's values and highest spiritual ideals.

artmirror said...

I would name the Union of the Sacred and Secular the mystery of the artwork.
I do not muse, but am sharing my personal experience - I have witnessed that glorious state of being in ...the hospital for the people with the psychiatric disorders (the art therapy...see for yourself: )

The Union of the Sacred and Secular depicts my life the best: that's the wonderland of my visions and the impotency of the dependent disabled to purchase the art materials - my need to live on charity and the passionate need to share my gratitude in my pictures that are my meditation in color...

Thank you for the wonderful post - you opened the window towards the light. The pondering over the darkness sits back in awe: the dirt underfoot reflects the heavenly light too! In other words, the black pencil draws not the darkness, but the sunbeam.
Welcome to my Candleday I hope you will enjoy the artworks and about page will tell you a bit more than my current Lithuanian-English comment.

I would like to exchange the links with you. Is that possible?
It would be grand to get your feedback. The respectfully looks forward to you.
Thank you

Francis said...

"... Judaism and its Christian heresy were important in implanting the idea that the universe was an orderly place, obedient to a single omnipresent omnipotent system of laws with no exceptions - it leached the sacred out of the world, putting all the supernatural in one remote place. Call it preparation for the scientific world view ..." (S.M. Stirling, Against the Tide of Years)

If one inclines to a view of history which sees things as "progressing" (like gruff, for instance) - and one must first admit that this way of thinking is itself dependent on concepts developed within Abrahamic monotheism (such as history following a lineal development path) and the resultant ideas of continuous improvement (characteristic of many of the ideas originating in the Enlightenment) - then this does offer an interesting meme.

Religious belief is part of the overall history of development of human culture. As this culture matures it overcomes the need for the alienation of attributes and explanation in the supernatural. This has, as an effect, the recognition that the secular is sacred, that everything is wonderfully complex, that the world/experience is unfathomably rich. A completely secular mystical experience :-)

Not that this meme is original. Through antecedents in Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx (and all the thinking he influenced in the past 150 years) it remains part of the complex of ideas intertwining at the foundations of of many theories of culture and intellectual

Juan said...

It's true that each religion has it's own natural skew towards one area of spiritual opinion or the other. But religions are strange beasts, they are based off of human need, and so consist of an entire ecosystem of spiritual thought. The Jewish Kaballah emphasizes the fact that in this universe there is only G*d, of which we are a part.

ornamentalmind said...

Like all apprehensions, views of god can be projected as being external..thus not 'of' us. This is one thing that seems common to atheists.

Amanda said...

Reading Francis' comment brings up a lot of questions for me. I agree with Lonlaz that religions are strange beasts. The Abrahamic God is a Theist version of God. From a religious perspective, the wonderfully complex world/experience sounds a little more like an imminent Panentheistic God. This is something I have been thinking about not so much in terms of society's transcendence or progression, but just from the context of the environment becoming a social priority. I wonder whether any changing in thinking around this issue (ie industrial/technological progress v's being part of the environmental web), will alter how God is experienced for people who do have spiritual faith and perhaps find it difficult to genuinely align themselves with the mainstream religions.

Juan said...

I have a vision of much of the hard-line atheists achieving their goals and spawning a counter movement returning to religion, but with completely different attitudes and motives than the current state of things. Somewhat similar to the neo-pagan groups around today.

Alan said...

Actually the way I see the matter is the entirety of the universe is within God.. Man wants to make him finite. and the different religions and sects each wants to dominate with their views and concepts. The concept of judgment is one of control "God will get you" . I think the reality of sin is more of what separates us from the Creator and being within his presence,, becoming one with the Creator is the objective of life as I see it, and it works for me.

As Far as judgment goes I think that we are the ones that stand in judgment of ourselves as we give account of ourselves to the creator.. and our relationship with God him/her/it/whatever is of our own choosing.

Martha said...

Sin separates us from ourself. The sacred and secular have always been entwined.

Francis said...

I am not a panentheist, Amanda, nor am I a monist - unfortunately. In my view, monism is like solipsism, it is logically consistent (at least according to some conventional tests). It's weakness, in my opinion, is that its definition of God is so comprehensive that the very act of definition makes itself practically empty (or too full). The basic form of the argument goes: God is everything. Something (as a subset of everything) exists [insert whatever you like for "something - perhaps the Cartesian reduction]. Therefore God exists. In the end, the argument is a purely formal one, since this all-inclusive definition of God makes it logically difficult to make any sort of further statement about God. Which is all right for monists, since they usually go on to argue that such specification is a symptom of differentiation, which is, ultimately illusionary - all is one and one is all. In this sense it is similar to the Anselmian argument and proves the same thing: It is possible to define something in such a way that its denial is meaningless - in the end, logical legerdemain.

The imagery and capacity for communicating tropes and memes are great strengths of the religious way of thinking. By using a story, for example, to explain something, I can incorporate different layers of meaning and interpretation much better than with a "rational" definition and this helps satisfy those aspects of our personalities that rational argument just doesn't reach! In this sense, religious language and imagery may be useful for exploring and expressing some of what we experience in what I like to describe as the overwhelming richness of "Is-ness."

There are, however, major problems involved here. Firstly, it means rearranging our epistmological hierarchy by admitting that the "insights" achieved in this "religious" mode cannot be taken out of this context to make any kind of ontological statements. Secondly, it seems to me a difficult position to maintain it one has made an intellectual journey through faith to unbelief - it would be a voluntary acceptance of religious imagery as a tool to describe some of what we experience, while simultaneously accepting that this way of speaking has no claim to "truth" on other levels. It's all a bit too intellectually contortionist for me! It is, perhaps, the kind of attitude only possible before a loss of "innocent" faith.

And then, of course, there's the tendency which memes carried in the religious mode have to take on their own sinister, independent shadow- lives; self-righteousness, exclusivity, jihad and crusade, intolerance, persecution and ignorance. As Neil often points out, there is a baby in the religious bathwater - to carry on the metaphor, the water itself, however, contains a lot of dirt and dangerous pollutants.

Neil said...

One can form an all encompassing view that is not religious. I tend to call this the 'Leibniz Variations' and it's that logic or logical necessity alone has propelled us here. I can see that there is stuff that is sacred in the secular and don't have much problem with union until I'm expected to swallow bumptious tradition that serves us ill. I have long felt, whatever I know about evolution and can do with cells, DNA and chemical interaction, that there is some 'intelligence', 'sensitivity' and 'awareness' in touch with rules orchestrating the whole shebang. I doubt we could remember, think or enjoy a piece of music resonating in our minds if something along the lines of Leibniz's theory of substance was untrue. I would tend to replace the sacred with the aesthetic.

Vamadevananda said...

The fact of the matter, as I perceive, is that the ' gospel ' is not known or understood as Jesus meant it, ever since ( Saul or ) Paul overwrote and overrode all that Jesus taught. Not all the Popes, Bishops and preachers of the Church ... barring those extremely rare spirits that entered it.

And, yes, I am not speaking of " religion " too. I am referring to the " living tradition " that Jesus speaks of, which precedes Bible itself, which John the Baptist was already introduced to and which the apostles continued after Jesus. Without knowledge and personal experience of that (spiritual) " tradition," all that remains is " materialism."

Amanda said...

Francis, While I can understand the problems you are stating from an ontological point of view, I think your identifying monism with sophilosm is a bit harsh. I find your comparison is a little like describing two different roads as very similar because they both eventually take you to Rome.

In regards your response around interpretive stories to generate memes, I think I have not have presented my thoughts clearly enough in my original post. Your post talks about the underlying ideas of an Abrahamic God as driving the cultural norms around societal progress (transcendence) as well as putting the supernatural in one place (omnipotent Deity).

I guess what I what I was trying to say is that, over time society has generally also increased it's acceptance of the understandings that science has bought to us. Thus science in turn is also likely to effect our understanding of God and religion, if as said, religion is viewed as part of the development of human culture.

I have observed environmental issues as becoming an increasing societal priority, from politics down to what can effectively become a personal moral stance. If this change in focus, combined with a better understanding of science, also leads us to see ourselves as just a part of the web of a larger eco-system in which we need to live in order to sustain ourselves, this could possibly be a different meme to the more traditional understanding of 'we must progress'.

As a follow on from this, I am suggesting that the next (popular) religious development in our understanding of God may be an immanent Panenthist experience of God, that incorporates the theories of science and loses a little of the personal parent identity. For me this is an interesting subject to think about and observe within a broader social context.

I was wondering how a thinking man's atheist would respond to the ideas behind the conundrum of 'the secular is sacred'. I was originally wanting to ask - 'what would an atheist want with a secular sacred experience?', but I thought it might sound impolite.

religion is also not the sole generator of dirty bathwater within society.

Francis said...

If we agree to ignore the ontological elephant in the parlour (and that is an insurmountable problem for most religious believers), then I see a lot of validity in this view. It offers a direction for examining many developments taking place under the fuzzy blanket description called "New Age" as well as developments in more defined contemporary religious movements such as Wicca. As I tried to state in my original post, I have problems with deliberate attempts to construct religious memes (basically designing a religion to suit particular perceived circumstances), Hubbard being a just one (supremely cynical) example of someone following this path. Unless you are a lover of conspiracy theories, history suggests that religious memes do not start this way (although the relevance of historical models for analysing developments in the Information Age is an interesting topic for discussion).

The ontological question remains. An image which I often use to describe my personal position is the final scene of David Lean's filming of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago (this framing narrative context is original to the film). Zhivago's half-brother believes he has found Yuri's and Lara's daughter, a young woman called Tonya Komarovskaya [Rita Tushingham]. After being told the story of her parents' lives and love, Tonya is confused and upset. "What's the matter," asks Yevgraf Zhivago [Alec Guinness]. "Don't you want to believe me?" Tonya's magnificently distraught honest answer has echoed in my heart ever since I first saw the film, "Not if it isn't TRUE!"

I wouldn't have regarded such a question as impolite, rather perspicacious! What seems common to all religious traditions are accounts of "mystical" experiences which (frequently) lead to a "deeper" experience of consciousness, a new "attitude" out of which one experiences oneself and the world differently. It seems to me that this experience/state, shorn of its religious context, should be accessible outside this context. (This approach is taken by many [particular Western receptions] thinkers whose inspiration derives from Buddhist themes.) At the same time, as an agnostic/atheist, who experiences life as deep and wonderful, I feel it necessary to contradict frequent religious critiques of non-belief as shallow, superficial, less than human, etc.

Martha said...

Evidently powerful empires and nations cannot rely on power and control alone to quell their populations so faiths of some sorts hustle alongside re-enforcing certain values for the desired culture or acting as a counterforce to absolute subjugation. In modern terms, one can pretty much assess a soul by the individual's check book, preferences in the humanities- literature, art, music,etc.- lifestyle, conversation/chatter, a fairness/grace or disregard/contempt with which other human beings are treated, a respect verging on sacred for the natural world and its wonders which humans have so disregarded/ degraded. Humans are born with a soon knowledge of death as their end stop. Since life can be complex it is soothing to have some theory to appeal or cling to- it really doesn't have to be a religion- it can also be a socio political theory or much less. There may be an innate desire to pray to "something" which is really no more than a plea for a rescue.

Francis said...

Kauffman addresses the themes we are discussing in a very interesting way.

Molly Brogan said...

I thought this was a pretty good read, Francis. I especially liked his "one view of God as the natural creativity in the universe." and "A central implication of this new worldview is that we are co- creators of a universe, biosphere, and culture of endlessly novel creativity."

But I think that his ideas fall short of his goal in giving us an insight as to how this can happen. It might be his need to include science as something external to us in the method that is limiting him. This view of co creation is from a state of duality, embedded with the science/faith schism that Kauffman presents, so he understands our creation as external, and limited there. He fails to link the internal co creative acts to the external creative manifestation.

He almost gets there when he speaks of "the new scientific view of emergence brings with it a place for meaning, doing, and value. consciousness is emergent and a real feature of the universe," but he never really connects the dots. The ultimate duality is that of our internal/external experience. If he could have unified this co creative process in his idea of "consciousness as emergent" he may have hit a home run. As it stands, his article focuses solely on external creativity, and leaves us to place value on it. I don't think this goes far enough in transcending the duality necessary.

"we live in a world of fact without values", is I think, a bit of drama used to drive his point home. If we bring the value to the facts in our experience, how can they be without value? If he could have run the gamut with this, I think that he would have understood that his notion of "jointly build a global ethic." would be the natural result of the co creative experience (emergent) because without the internal/external duality, the global ethic naturally flows.

It is fascinating to see folks ruminating this, each putting it together in their own way. Some say that this non dual, value driven global ethic is where we will arrive 2012. All around us it is under consideration. Thanks for finding this.

Francis said...

One of the things I like about Kauffman's view is the way that it leaves open the aspect of a wonderfully unpredictable, complex ... messy future.

One short quote sums it up for me: " Is it, then, more amazing to think that an Abrahamic transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient God created everything around us, all that we participate in, in six days, or that it all arose with no transcendent Creator God, all on its own? I believe the latter is so stunning, so overwhelming, so worthy of awe, gratitude, and respect, that it is God enough for many of us. God, a fully natural God, is the very creativity in the universe,"

Dualism is one way of seeing things - if nothing else, the simple expression of the fact that every individual life is finite. Differentiation is a basic tool of living. But there are many ways of seeing things, some of which move beyond either/or. The statement I quote goes beyond dualism.

Molly Brogan said...

yes, the statement is beyond dualism if we are included in the "creativity". Kaufmann is a little hazy about this, and sees us as having a limited role in co creation. And we do. We are also unlimited.

Amanda said...

Actually this was the one bit where I thought his scientific 'slip was showing'. It reminded me a bit of Gasking's argument against your mate Anselm, for the non-existence of God.

Molly Brogan said...

Does "sacred" depend on a God?

ornamentalmind said...

No more than black depends on white. No more than thought depends on words. Even here, the use of ‘a God’ can cause our minds to rattle and ramble! For me, when discussing the divine, it is sacred…and, when discussing a bowel movement, that too is sacred. Sacred is merely that category, term, group, set etc. that contains all else. God is a only a word to express the ineffable. If the concern is dependency, w/o the One, we could not have our many apparently differing thoughts about stuff. And, that is like saying one is going to think/talk without a brain.

Edward said...

It had just come to me this morning in that lag between Meet The Press and This Week with George Stephanopolous when I am forced to listen to the last few minutes of Rev. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral Hour of Power, that what most seek or find in a belief in God is nothing more that support -- support which we can more easily and without the smoke and mirrors receive from each other and from ourselves. God is the creation we have turned to when all we find within ourselves and each other is fear and despair. This may appear a bit simplistic at first but then aren't most truths simple?

Molly Brogan said...

By turning to each other we find the sacred in the other. Whether we turn to god (all others) or each other, and find the sacred in times when we are facing a mountain of fear and despair, the mountain can disappear with the connection. turning is one move, connecting is also needed.

Ulysses said...

I've completely lost track of this thread but it seems to have been moving along just fine. Some very interesting view points and enlightenment. On the few occasions I attend without participation to the RC service to which my wife has had life long affiliation with and continues with Scriptural readings, Liturgy committee and Eucharistic ministry, I continually find myself in some transilient mental state while observing the ritual. Sometimes it seems like a total abandonment of the free will that is claimed to have been bestowed upon us by the loving God and the failure to recognize that all of the power to effect change is within us. The priest recites prayer requests each followed by the congregations plea, "Lord hear our prayers". The prayers mostly ask for a reversal of the problematic situations that we ourselves as individuals and as a species create and some prayers for the creation of natural occurrences such as rain in times of drought. I always ask myself what I'm doing here and what do these people think they are getting out of all this. Every week it is like opening up a can of the same soup, it is so structured, processed. You can show up at any given time and find that portion of the ritual taking place just like it does every week. But then I realize that because of this the people have all but lost their sense of self and unity with each other and the power that culminates from that union. It has become like a factory of mindless workers, punching their cards in the morning, coffee break at 10, lunch 12, break at 2, off at 5. The congregation simply performs a perfunctory service with robotic ritual, leaving afterward the same as when they came. There is no sacred or sacral, just physical presence, a blind duty. Usually I try to reinforce my abstinence from it by injecting questions to the acquaintances my wife is talking with. Not surprisingly no one really knows what the sermon was about, nor who they were sitting next to, nor the prayers requests or anything for that matter other than the fact that they were there. The point again is, because of all of that, the people have lost touch, fallen useless and are farther away from that which can really affect fear and despair. Have we created Gods in an attempt to shirk our own responsibility, to ignore the wrongs which we ourselves create? Instead of addressing our problems and rectifying them, do we simply turn it over to a savior, a redeemer, a devil? Hope I'm in sync here and not veering too far off the beaten path of the thread.

Molly Brogan said...

In the spirit of the focus of the thread, I will say that I think that the union of the sacred and secular in us, is realized by our ability to see the sacred in all of our experience, not just here and there...things we like are sacred, things we don't are not. When we can hold everything in our experience as sacred, we can realize that union. Sometimes our egos take over, duality sets in, and we become again enmeshed in the separation of sacred and secular - finding our world to be devoid of value at times. For me, this is where faith comes in - or hope - or the greatest of these, love. They can get us past that separation, and open us to the possibilities all around us. A key here might just be acknowledging our own sacred, perfect natures. If the process is inside out, our experience will then reflect that to us in a secular way.

Mirjana said...

You said what some said about scared or holy and what is usually associated with secular. The question is though if the sacred are necessarily connected only with religion or...
There is also mythology, archetypes, esoteric sciences...
Somehow this topic is connected with the one where we talk about The Soul and The Heart. Is it possible to separate them or not. Like I answer there, I would do the same here. It is the question of the personal choice which depends on the level of the Soul evolution.
Under the same circumstances people react very differently. Our actions and reactions are based on the level of our consciousness and whatever is playing outside, each soul will take as much or as less as it needs in order to fulfill the personal growth.

Haver said...

Well, I think all is included in the Absolute, so everything (all phenomena) must be of Its essence: pure, beyond the dualistic concepts and speculations of the mind. This you say "Finding the sacred in the secular might just be the way to go", it is a truly-good point of view for me. Then, we can gladly switch off the TV and see inside us to find more light.
"Truth is inside us", the masters said.

Allan said...

Now we all live in the same Universe (I am hoping my atheist friends will bear with me because I am very interested in your thoughts.) both physical and spiritual and logically they are some how linked together. Now in the physical world we have natural laws like "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." . Now we can examine and study these laws of our physical world and grow in our understanding. There are many physical laws that we do not understand and are working toward understanding. Now I knew a man who worked with Math theory what he told me that has always left me thinking was " I have math formula's that I know work out, but I have no idea of what they are for." Why can we not seek out and understand spiritual laws the same as we seek out and study physical laws? The world in which we live is all contained with in the same universe. Just what are these laws and how can we study them.

Maybe one one place to start or hope is "seek and you will find, knock and the door will be answered"

I know there are a lot of very smart people here that understand more dogma and doctrine than I will ever know.. so I am hoping I might begin to find some answers for my self.

Molly Brogan said...

I like, instead, Allan, your approach to your journey that allows you to follow spirit (or curiosity, bliss...) without abiding by anyone else's ideas of natural or spiritual law. An aversion to dogma cuts both ways, as following dogma can limit our experience, the aversion to it can stop us from finding the sign posts that can lead the way for us. I don't see anything wrong with trying it on for size, seeing how it feels, and going on the the next costume, like a kid with a "dress up" clothes bin.

Your intuitive application of "seek and ye shall find" is great. To me, this speaks to the fact that as we raise (or expand, whatever) our consciousness, validation of our new state comes naturally into our experience to lead the way further. If we have the wisdom to recognize the gifts we are given daily, our becoming happens naturally and without resistance from our being. We are led, and can lead, because we are integral to the experience. There is a joy or bliss or rapture that can be felt as the lotus (of becoming) opens. This is why Joseph Campbell's suggestion to follow our bliss is a good one. Mystics throughout the ages have told us that feeling is the secret to this discovery. Knocking, or asking the question allows the answers to come to us. Remembering the feeling of understanding the answers puts us in a state of receptivity.

I think that there are natural and spiritual laws and they guide us to a point, like a parent guides a child. If we can reach our spiritual adulthood, the laws fall away, and creation is

Neil said...

I agree Molly. Anthroposophy is the science of the spirit. My fear concerns the difficulty posed by madness and interests in spirit and the problems of rationalisation. I watched Gajdusek using scientific methodology to rationalise his paedophile behaviour the other night - he seemed to have no clue and actually provided a good argument against following bliss in any simple way. Feelings (no grim pun intended) need an extensive understanding.

Alan W. said...

Good analogy. To develop it a bit. Under the physical laws, we can choose actions but not consequences. I can choose to jump out a window, but not to float there in defiance of the laws of gravity. Same would hold if we live in a moral universe, rather than a chaos, which is how I understand the phrase "spiritual laws". Commandments like "don't lie" can be understood as a commandment like "don't jump out a third floor window". It is not the will of an vindictive superbeing imposing on us, but a statement about the sort of beings we are. We are the sort who, when jumping out a 3rd floor window, fall down and hurt ourselves. We are the sort of being who, when we lie, harm ourselves.

Lee said...

Allan I belive there are.

Rather simplistlicly I chop things down the middle and call one half matter and the other half sprit.

These laws you speak of, that we are aware of, all govern how matter works and interacts. For those in the know there are similr laws governing how spirit works and interacts. For those knowledgable about Paganism lets take the law of threefold return as an example.

Allan said...

Lee I am not totally knowledgeable of what law of the three fold return, please explain it and so all will know what you are saying and how we can potential test them. what are we accomplishing by splitting things between matter and spirit.

Chris said...

The law of three fold return, or "three by three", states that whatever you put out into the universe (energy wise), be it good or bad, is likely to be returned to you three fold. It's a corollary to karma.

Molly Brogan said...

I think there are lots of takes on spiritual laws. The alchemists or esoterists have the rays and the chakras etc. The Christians have the ten commandments (Emmet Fox has a pretty good take on these.) Each makes sense and works well within its own system. At some point, hopefully, we outgrow the confines of the systems because they are designed to take us to a point of self realization where the rules work differently. Where cause and effect is transcended into cause and more cause. There is only Brahaman...or spirit. Everything is energy. Along the journey, the rules change again and again, which, I think, is why there can be no perfect set of laws. At some point, the laws, as Orn would say, melt away.

Francis said...

"God gives a simple law ..." When? To whom? In what form? With what right? With what sanctions (since we are talking here of a law relating to human conduct)? With what consequences? Universal or for a particular group? Any exceptions? What's the small print? ...

The answers to these questions are called dogma and doctrine. They are different within different religions, because they all claim to have exclusive answers to these questions. We should be clear on this - this claim to exclusivity of answers is their raison d'être. In the end, the followers of Jesus and Muhammad cannot both be right in their claims.

When it comes to inter-faith dialogue this is frequently an elephant in the parlour. And quoting the "holy Koran" in a speech in Cairo does not change the fact that Barack Obama is a professed Christian and so cannot make the ritual submission, "there is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet." The question then, of course, remains, how does Obama see the Koran? Does he hold it to be true? Or does he, as a Christian, regard parts of it as false? What then does he mean here by "holy"? Or does this just come from mannered courtesy towards his audience?

Dogma/doctrine is a way of talking specifically about things. One consequence is difference between religions - with all that follows. On the other hand, I have problems imagining a dogma/doctrineless religion.

Allan said...

Be good is a physical biological law that science is finding is written into the body of every man woman and child. In other words it is universal. Science is finding it to be on the same physical level as , fight or flight, the need to eat,, and sex.. and as far as I know there is no small print.. simple and straight forward.

Francis said...

That's a pretty powerful statement, Allan. Given that many learned people have thought, taught and written a lot over thousands of years about what "good" is, I'd like a bit more explanation here. What is this basic "biological law" about "being good" which science is finding to be universal?

Bob said...

The truth will set you free. If you lie you, are only lying to yourself and reinforcing this illusion of reality all around you. Keep lying and you will never be self realized. The truth will set you free means exactly what it says. You have to be honest with yourself. Brutally honest at times. That is just part of the battle. Its a tough mountain to climb, but once you get there you realize you haven't climbed at all. You haven't even taken a step. You were always there. It's a little confusing, but once you get there you will totally understand.

Francis King said...

I suspect there are ways which to measure and define these "spiritual laws", yet we humans currently lack the ability to do so. I think our main problem in proving that psychic and spiritual phenomena exist is that we use the "tools" and "laws" of the world when what we aim to measure is not of this world...

sure, gravity exists... but it existed before the theory of gravity was created... is the original theory of gravity always applicable? no, for example, it does not apply in "space", and so the "law" of gravity is not an irrefutable law, but just a theory...

most of what we believe the be truth is just theory, and that statement applies as equally to religion and spirituality as it does to science... very few of us actually "know", in a gnostic sense, what the truth is, so how can we hope to measure something we, in the main, cannot find?

"seek and you will find, knock and
the door will be answered"

I agree- It's a good place to start...

Ulysses said...

I see it simply as this. Laws of any spirituality pertain to the spirituality of the group that created the spiritual belief. Though we all live in the same universe we do not have the same spiritual beliefs and therefore the laws of such beliefs differ. Spiritual law is not a universal law. Belief in a universal spirituality is a gross assumption. Spirituality can exist for some and not others so the laws of such are, as well, non existent. Physical laws are based on physical existence and scientific fact. Put your hand in the fire and you will get burned.>>Truth Kill someone and you will burn in hell.>>Theory All spiritual law is based upon theory of spirituality and are as varied as the species that created it. Some primitive/ancient cultures believed in human sacrifice as part of their spiritual belief and so there was no measure of violation of spiritual law. Others believe that killing is a violation of spiritual law. We can't just seek out and discover spiritual laws like we do physical laws because there is no evidence that spirituality exists other than in the mind of humanity. The physical world exists, we exist within it, we want to know why ice melts, why plants grow, why it rains so we seek and find through experiment, trial and error. The ancients attached natural occurrences to spirituality without the knowledge of science, but now we understand that hurricanes are not the result of the gods being pissed off. We understand many things now, except spirituality.

Neil said...

My worry about the spiritual is that it needs a lot of work - yet we soak it up almost like colour from the walls. Born Xtian we stay Xtian and so on. This is the faith of the closet, leading many to suppose of faith, other ways of being are stupid and not worth considering.

Chris said...

the law of gravity does apply in space, as it governs orbital movement, black holes, the path of non-orbital celestial bodies, etc. However, our understanding of the law may be incomplete...we do not fully conceive of the universal nature of gravity...we think of it as merely the force which keeps our feet stuck to the ground.

Likewise, when approaching universal concepts such as God (from the spiritual side), or Higgs-Boson (from the Science side), the failing for many seekers is likely not in the wisdom or law itself, but rather in the comprehension of that wisdom or law by the seeker. On this failing is drivel such as The Secret built.

Justin said...

The nature of objectivity is its predictability. If I look at something, and then turn away and consider turning back to it I will predict that the thing will be there unless there was an intervening cause that removes it. So no "cause" is needed for it to remain - according to the objective hypothesis. Only one that would remove it. This formed the foundation of early science and is inherent in Newton's law "A body in motion will remain in motion unless disturbed by an external force." It separates what is inherent in the nature of bodies in general and what must be external and therefore a "cause" namely the "external" force. No cause is needed for straight line motion in that theory.

There are two big surprises. The first is the degree of success that this way of thinking has. It is remarkably successful at predicting what we will experience. If you are in a room and loose your keys no matter how much you think otherwise if you search well your keys will turn up. Just look at a cup. Turn away. Now predict what you will see
if you turn back. This "objective" way of thinking is remarkably predictive and formed the origins of modern science and the early theories where reality or being was conceive as "little marbles". It is interesting the scale on which that type of thinking works. The location of the moon, in a month from now is remarkably precisely known and it is believed that it could be known even more to fantastic accuracies with remarkably high confidence.

The second surprise is the degree to which this idea is no longer scientific. Modern physics has to a large extent discredited it in an absolute sense and realizes that the moon has some vanishibly small but non zero probability of showing up somewhere else. Still, at the foundation of modern physics and the math that is used to express it lies the idea of the set and sets are collections of objects. However, now the conserved qualities, or rather the conserved quantities, that which will remain the same as other things change, and therefore give the basis of predictability are highly abstract and given strange names to highlight this like "charm" and "strangeness".

Still the physical universe continues to be highly predictable and its pursuit is based on a belief that there "is" this "reality" which if completely known would allow us then to predict the future as its being would require no cause. It "just is". Understand its nature and you can predict the future. Why? Because it "just is".

On the other hand spiritual awareness is based on an ontology that has surprise and amazement at its heart. To the person spiritually aware the very fact of the existing of anything is completely amazing. It is this amazement that is the essence of the experience of God. The connection is very deep and in a sense you can say the difference between science (or better scientism) and religion is that scientism at its heart intellectually says: "It just is" and religion says "It IS!?" To become spiritually aware is to become aware of the fact that the mere fact of being is in itself already surprising and more than "just is". It includes an awareness that no law of physics will ever be immune from the possibility of intervention "from God", to put it religiously. Or to frame it in philosophical language every physical law is contingent on the continued correspondence of the universe with the law. That the very law itself owes its existence to a principle beyond it and that the notion of "a removed observer" is an abstraction and in conflict with the notion of "a moved person", someone shocked and appreciative of the continuing process of being. That is why there is focus on miracle and healing often in violation of scientific "law", and what motivates fundamentalism. But the reality of spirituality is not the violation of scientific law but the realization of the miracle of its existence as well as our own. This is why science and religion are not in conflict and why fundamentalism is a type of ontological equivocation.

Justin said...

What replaces physical law in the spiritual realm however is something even more sure than physical law. It is the absolute of existence.

There then comes the real problem. The real deep, deep problem. It is not accidental that the eaten fruit was from the tree of knowledge. The really deep problem is the relationship of the desire to have laws that will allow you to manipulate and its relationship to, amazingly, boredom and ecstasy. How many times can you watch the same movie before you become bored with it? That is why monks sit in front of a wall and look at it. Because they are seeking the insight that allows them to dispense with distracting entertainment and to allow the meaning of existence to inform and consume them - they seek the pearl of great price. They seek a pearl that they already have.

I think therefore that we must be content with wisdom and not try to overreach and try to find, in imitation of science, a "law" that will allow us to predict and manipulate the spiritual. I think we should just sit back and be and let it "happen" - not in a way that precludes care and seriousness and sacrifice and effort but in a way that is informed and in coherence with its meaning. Enjoy the ride so to speak? Or at least experience it. Why ruin what is already perfect? There is a kind of sincerity in your post that is far more important than the discovery of laws that will allow a type of spiritual technology. Why are you so sincere? Why are you so interested? I think that interest is best served by trying to understand but not limiting your effort to the discovery of predictive laws that you can then rely on. Better to understand that you will never have them but that you can have something much better - an understanding of what it all means.

Such analogies between physical and spiritual law while somewhat true are difficult to draw without overreaching and ending up with a false analogy. They have a germ of truth but can be misleading especially to someone who has not yet had direct spiritual enlightenment because they can imply that spirituality is just another technology and if you just know the laws you can manipulate your way to enlightenment. The world is rife with those seeking spiritual awareness, paying to find a technology that will allow them to become whole, paying charlatans who claim to have it and claiming that they can teach it. They will never find it that way, although their sincere pursuit itself may lead to it.

Ask any master of novices in any monastery in any religious tradition about whether there are "laws" that they have that allow them to deal with the individuals struggling in their charge. In a sense they must wish there were laws, and there are guidelines - but then - it is so much better the way it is. So much individuality, surprise and discovery.

Vamadenananda said...

Ah, Justin, it was such a pleasure to read your post, as it almost always is !

" ... The real deep, deep problem. It is not accidental that the eaten fruit was from the tree of knowledge. The really deep problem is the relationship of the desire to have laws that will allow you to manipulate and its relationship to, amazingly, boredom and ecstasy."

Yes. It draws my attention to th commonplace fact of how we are so affected, so taken up, so attached and focused, on the " fruit." Because it is that which stimulates us, fills our ' experience ' with sensed colours and felt desires, and makes us come alive ( to our self ) in ways not ' known ' earlier. That's where our entire value ' premium ' gets placed on to, in our awarenes ... to the " fruit."

The amazement at the wondrous " tree," the all - consuming awareness of the ' ground ' that gives rise to both the tree and the individual self ( whose faculties are later appropriated by the fruit and the experiences it causes ), and of that unformed Supreme Truth ... the pervasive substratum of all that manifests, supports and withdraws into Itself these endless beings ( " fruits " ), these diversely formed and potentiated consciousness ( " fruits " ), and the homogeneous bliss infinite ( the summum bono all creatures are striving towards, whether they know it or not ) ... all of these " spiritual " dimensions are never ever revealed to our selves, because we are so taken up by the " fruits " alone.

How many read the featured article in NYT : Pollution Crisis in China ? We do not think of the environment -- the WHOLE -- untill ... and never in the holistic way it actually is !

Molly Brogan said...

"the fruit" of this tree (knowledge) is duality - good and evil, your viewpoint and mine, right and wrong. I agree Vam (and Justin), we get much too caught up there. There is more (the tree of life or unity), and part of the amazement and ecstasy includes that discovery.

Justin said...

I am reading the biography of John Muir. It amazes me how much people of that time took for granted with respect to the infinite (admittedly as they were killing each other sometimes) or at least how much Muir was engrossed constantly in the metaphysics of nature. It seems its a very old process. I think there would be no old growth Sequoia in California if it weren't for him. As it turns out he was an inventor and was working away in sawmills when he was struck in the eye and was blind for over a week and thought he would be blind forever. It changed his life. I wish we could have met him.

Richard said...

Reflective paganism has tended to evolve toward monotheism. Thus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle looked toward the One instead of the entire Greek pantheon. Similarly, on the other side of the world, the Bhagavad Gita looked to Krishna as the ruling deity, with the other members of the Hindu pantheon subsumed into him. There is some evidence that Jewish belief in one God, which has been taken over by Christianity and Islam, evolved similarly from an earlier belief in many. The real choice appears to be between theistic systems that lead toward belief in one God, and systems such as Confucianism that find such belief unnecessary.

Abhaa said...

Sacred and secular, yes, do co exist. With material well being and stability, we tend to seek of what is higher than the physical /material/mind..beyond senses/ pleasures..that is spiritual, sacred.
The meeting point is the mind itself, the transition from secular to sacred. Here I'm not seeing mind singled out--but all human minds taken together.
As per Indian philosophy there are four steps to realisation ( freedom ), Dharma (religion), Artha ( wealth), Kama ( desires) leading to Moksha (freedom).
Artha material wealth is the second step leading towards our higher selves. Everything comes out of cause as an effect, the effect becoming cause again. Nothing can exist in isolation, nor suddenly spring up from nowhere.

Svein said...

The union must take place within each individual, and only from there can a societal union emerge. Have you, Molly, managed to unite the spiritual and the material in you? I must say I have; it is not much of an achievement, but it is a matter of being aware of what is what, and choosing and synthesizing. Whether the choices and synthesis are the best? No, but they don't have to be, and the demand that the baby be born fully ready and perfect is a narrow perspective. It is an ever-developing process, and we start where we are, with our first synthesis, and work from there. Spiritual and material united.

MRJ said...

Harvey Cox wrote THE SECULAR CITY back in 1963, maybe 1964. In it he wrestled with the issue, "How does the church exist in the modern, secular city?" "What is sacred?" and so on. He wasn't calling for a "reenchantment" of the secular world - enchantment is over. The task of the church is to learn how to talk to a world that doesn't speak the "old time religion" language. His book influenced me in subtle ways over the years.

I haven't read Cox's book for quite a few years, though I still have the 1964 paperback on my bookshelf, and I did read it again in the early 1980s. It does seem a bit dated, times have changed. Maybe more to the point, the style of the day has changed several times over and one has to adjust some of Cox's flourishes a bit.

I do not now yearn for the sacred, at least in the terms in which I used to look for it. I am happier with the secular now. But the sacred has not disappeared.

I find myself, now in my sixties, less sympathetic with "spirituality" than I have been. So much of what people claim to be their "spirituality" just seems like garbled pop religion, pop psychology, and the like, very poorly integrated into any kind of cohesive system. People engage in these half baked (or just totally uncooked) just-made up rituals, then complain about the traditional rituals of the church (as if there wasn't a strong semblance." So often, especially among corrosive atheists, a religious straw man is made up out of really uninformed views of (usually Christian) theology, and then they pat themselves on the back for the wonderful job they did of just tearing theology to shreds.

Honestly, I don't care if people are atheist, but for god's sake (odd phrase here) at least attack the actual beliefs and theology of the church, rather than your stupid misapprehension of what it is all about!!!

Perhaps Christianity seemed like a garbled mess to the Jewish Establishment of the first century. We don't know for sure what all the Christians were saying and doing at the time. Maybe it was similar to what is going on now in religion - people making up new rituals, new beliefs (sort of) as they go along.

When I try to think of a valid form of spirtuality existing in a very secular world, the person that comes to mind is Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers. Or maybe the Delai Lama, outcast from his spiritual home, a pastor to the Tibetan diaspora, yet up to date and smart.

I find traditional religious people, institutions, and texts to be the deepest wells, but I none-the-less find myself extremely conflicted when I interact with these traditions. (I don't feel conflicted when I interact with new age stuff - I just feel repelled.)

In a nutshell, I don't really have any idea how my religious story is going to play out - in the relatively small number of years it has left.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. Karl Marx