I am abandoning Christianity (again). For the past few years I have been exploring a rich world of spiritual and religious belief, diving deep into these waters after over a decade in the ontological desert of physicalistic atheism.
I have dabbled in every kind of neopaganism and eclectic occultism but eventually settled on a kind of esoteric Christianity of sorts. But I am currently visiting my partner’s family house in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan and the Nature is so perfect and so healing and restorative that I am feeling an overwhelming pull towards Her majestic and healing powers that I feel no need for Christianity.
While sure, one can use metaphors for Christ as well as extract a few verses here and there, it is undeniable that Christianity is not a Nature-worshipping religion. That would be sacrilegious. It is Christ/God-worshipping, not Nature worshiping. For Christians, God created Nature but is not identical to Nature. God is prior to Nature. Christians worship God because Nature is so Great, but they do no direct their veneration directly towards Nature itself.
A Christian says, “Ahh, the Moon is so beautiful. Praise be to God!”
A pagan says, “Ahh, the Moon is so beautiful. Praise be to the Moon!”
And while I could construct an esoteric form of Christianity that infuses the Christ-nature into Nature so that Christ-worship and Nature worship become one and the same, I have come into a realization that I have no need for such complexities. It seems much more simple to cut out the middle man and just worship Nature Herself.
That is to say, instead of worshipping or holding sacred the Christ-nature in Nature, why not just hold sacred Nature Herself? After all, she is supplying so many wonderful gifts, and in abundance!
As I sit here on the lakeside, is it Christ who is gifting me the fresh air, the warm sunlight, the calming beauty of the trees and plants, the majesty of the creatures of the land, water, and air, and the wonder of the stars and heavenly bodies? Christians would say, “Yes,” but I am beginning to doubt if I need that framework. Why not just thank Nature Herself for these wonderful gifts?
While I do not doubt Jesus of Nazareth was a wise and spiritually gifted man, I can think of no spiritual advantage to focusing my mental energies entirely on a religion that has so many trappings of human culture, so much history tied into organized institutions and political powers that leaves a such a long moral stain. Nature has no such stain. She is beyond the limitations of morality. She just is.
The Ills of Civilization
Do not get me wrong, human culture is a part of Nature just as much as any river or tree or rock. But humans are a product of Nature, grew out of Nature, and for the vast majority of their evolutionary history, lived in a way that was much more in tune with Nature. It is not just human culture, but civilization itself that seems to be the key problem that is jerking us out of sync with Nature.
I do not think is a controversial hypothesis that civilization is correlated with being out of sync with Nature. To give one trivial example, working the graveyard shift under fluorescent lights, and eating highly processed foods, is, in my opinion, quite the definition of being out of sync with how humans are meant to live, how we are meant to exist in a natural state, that same kind of natural state that dictates cows thrive eating grass on a fresh, natural pasture.
For the strict atheistic Darwinian, the previous statement might sound wrong. They would say you can’t derive an ought from an is and that evolution and nature do not have intentions or teleology or purposes or meaning anything like that. In this view, the very idea of “normative health” is reduced merely to whatever propagates genes from a strictly statistical perspective. According to this view, evolution does not necessarily “care” about your perfect, optimal health. In other words, evolution does not have norms baked into it.
According to this view, evolution only cares about one thing: survival. One can point out many inefficient and less than optimal things about the human body like how easy it is for us to choke on our food. That was a tradeoff for learning to speak, which granted us other survival advantages but reorganized our eating situation to be quite dangerous compared to other animals.
In this way, evolution is ruthless and “blind”: it is not driving us towards perfection or optimal health. If it served the blind mechanisms of selection, we might easily start adapting to all kinds of “unnatural” or “unhealthy” things in the modern human environment. For example, 10,000 years ago dairy was “bad” for most if not all humans but now, 10,000 years later, some humans have evolved to be able to handle it better, and now, it could mean the difference between survival or not in terms of calories, and thus could very much be “good” for us in terms of evolution.
There is an alternate view to this “blind” or anti-teleological approach to thinking about evolution. If you take a teleological perspective, there is purpose and design built into Nature such that there is an “optimal” logic or rationale placed into the ontological structure of reality.
Historically, theologians in the Christian tradition have turned to God as an intelligent creator or “designer” to function as the Logic or Logos of Nature that provides a “natural law” to how things out to be, that bakes in a direction or intention or blueprint into reality that “pulls it forward” into the future according to a plan that has intentions in it. Theologians have used this natural law theory to argue, for example, that being gay is “unnatural.”
I won’t bother spending time debunking the natural law argument against being gay (see my post here for such a debunking) besides simply stating it is a terrible and immoral viewpoint that has zero bases in sound reason or morality.
But we don’t have to ascribe to Christian theology to believe there is some kind of Logos or “natural” logic to reality that circumscribes ideals in terms of how we ought to live or how things ought to be. Such a perspective is compatible with any number of indigenous or naturalistic belief systems as well as different religions, spiritualities, and philosophies around the world, including Greek and Roman Stoicism, which heavily emphasized a logical operating principle of reality they called Logos, which, in fact, was the philosophical precursor of the Logos of Christ as the Word in the Gospel of John, a very Greek text.
Furthermore, I am of the opinion that one could construct quite easily and naturally a spiritual system wherein Nature is both sacred and the ultimate source of an intrinsic logic, purpose, and meaning that forms the archetypal basis for not just human experience but all experience, including the “experience” of all things, all matter, all energy, all forms of organization and reality.
I will not spend time getting overly analytic about the various fine distinctions between philosophical views such as animism vs panpsychism vs pantheism vs panentheism, etc. Nor will I aim towards restricting myself towards the reconstruction and faithful adherence to any historical perspective. I am quite happy to construct a system of personal philosophy and spirituality that is unique to my own preferences.
I, of course, wish to avoid any forms of cultural appropriation that I feel are disrespectful while at the same time refusing to think that I have nothing to learn from the great wisdom of cultures around the world, both recent and historical.
The Rhythms of Nature
I have recently been learning about the importance of circadian rhythms for optimal health and well-being. And circadian rhythms are all about the natural rhythm of the Earth orbiting the Sun and how that creates a kind of grand clock that bakes in a rhythm to life on Earth, a clock that is used by every biological cell on the planet to synchronize its activities.
Moreover, the Sun, through the power of photosynthesis, is the ultimate source of all life on Earth.
Science teaches us that at the atomic level we are ultimately made of star stuff. Stars are the engines of the Cosmos. The source of all known building blocks for biological life.
In the light of the Sun, we are safe from the dangers of the night. It warms our skin and fuels our harvest. It lights our way and everything around us, everything important to us, quite literally revolves around the Sun.
In terms of pure energy, it is the most powerful thing in the solar system. It seems our pagan ancestors were quite on the right track by worshiping the Sun. Is it not worthy of such veneration and awe?
But why stop there? While true, the Sun is the ultimate source of life, He would not be nearly as effective in His Good Work without the aid of Mother Earth herself. What good is a sunbeam if there is no soil to grow life in, and no water to hold the fish? The Sun is in balance with Mother Earth and they go together as well as top and bottom, left and right, inside and outside. One is a giver of energy, the other a receiver of energy. Yin and yang. Feminine and masculine.
I do not say this to introduce needless gender binaries. It is a spectrum just as much as a binary. But there is nevertheless a real dynamic, archetype relativity between the masculine and the feminine principles that work together as interrelated polar opposites, just like top and bottom, or inside and outside. They mutually imply and complement each other and any ideal system maintains an equilibrium between the two forces. Human cultures have recognized this dynamic balance of masculine and feminine for thousands of years and it’s baked into almost every esoteric or occult philosophy ever devised.
And despite Western Christianity’s attempts to suppress the divine feminine, it is just as important as the masculine dimension of divinity, and any attempt to have one without the other is as unnatural as fluorescent lighting and high fructose corn syrup at 2 am plugged into social media.
The point is: while everything has its roots in the wonderful Star at the center of our solar system, it is all an interconnected whole and isolating one part from everything else makes little sense.
Esoteric systems have recognized the importance of holism for eons. This is the classic principle of the One and the Many. The One is the Source of the Many. The Many emanates from the One and the One contains and supports the existence of the Many. The One connects everything together into a singular and universal ontological reality. The Many gives reality its many flavors and dimensions of particularity. The One leads to the Many and the Many entails the One. Together they form the fundamental basis of all of reality.
The principle of the Whole, or holism, a principle of interconnectedness, entails the recognition that everything is connected to everything else, even the tiniest subatomic particle is intimately connected to every other subatomic particle in the entire universe, nay, the entire multiverse. Furthermore, the tiniest subatomic particle is at the same time connected to the largest patterns of the Cosmos, the gigantic superstructures that span many galaxies, and even the entirety of the Cosmos itself, and all its dimensions and alternate realities.
Every layer of abstraction is connected to every other layer of reality. Every form of organization is connected to every other. Every type of reality–mental, physical, spiritual, or otherwise–is connected to every other type of reality. Given the limitations of current human understanding, either from the infancy of our sciences or the intrinsic limitations of our consciousness, there are probably many different types of reality or dimension that we have no clue about, but which bear their influence on our lives in ways we have no grasp of.
Thoughts such as these swirl around my head as I sit and enjoy the wonders of this Wisconsin lakeside Nature.
I think there is a lot of wisdom in the ancient spiritual traditions that emphasize the importance of Chi, Qi, prana, or what is usually translated as “Life Force” or “Life Energy.” This is a more-or-less spiritual or nonmaterialistic energy that pervades all of life and matter. I don’t want to necessarily rule out that there is a material or mechanistic interaction with physical matter/energy that we simply don’t understand using current scientific models but the general sense from ancient tradition seems to be that whatever this Life Force Energy is, it is not simply equivalent to what modern physics understands as “energy.”
But I have enough room in my ontological worldview to include a “spiritual” Life Energy that has little to no direct basis in the physical matter but exists on a plane of existence that is in the realm of spirit, ether, consciousness, archetypes, or whatever flavor of “astral” dimension that has long been recognized in spiritual traditions since ancient times to exist next to or alongside or “inside” or however with respect to the physical dimension but which is not reducible to the physical. It has its own “spiritual mechanics” which we have no scientific explanation. And yet all around the world, since the dawn of humanity, we have experienced it and attested to its reality.
I should mention that it seems to be a property of this “astral” dimension that as soon as you operationalize it using the empirical instruments of science the dimension seems to vanish, slipping through our scientific fingers just as we are about to pin it down. In other words, it seems baked into this dimension as an intrinsic property that whatever it is, it will always be elusive to human attempts to scientifically operationalize it.
“un-operationalization” seems like a strange property for a dimension of reality to have, but hey, stranger things have been known to exist.
I’ll say it again: the primary basis for thinking such a dimension exists at all is experiential: humans have experienced it and from such experience have thought it to exist. Is possible that we are merely mistaken about this, mistaking an experience of the physical world with an experience of the spiritual world.
I have no way to decisively prove the existence of such a world. To be honest, I have not had my own “decisive experience,” but I have read and listened to countless testimonies from both ordinary and exceptional human beings and I have no psychological model for how so many genuine, honest, and trustworthy people could be delusional or dishonest on such a mass scale.
But I have always taken a fairly pragmatic conception of the Truth when it comes to such metaphysical matters: whatever belief enriches my life for the better is the one I will hold as True. And while I admire people who seem to thrive with a narrow ontology restricted merely to whatever ontological postulates are accepted by the mainstream consensus of modern academic science, I have in recent years come to realize that I no longer thrive with such an ontology.
Instead, I seem to thrive when I admit that consciousness is more than a purely physical phenomenon, even if I cannot precisely define or mechanistically explain what I mean when I say that consciousness or “Life Force” or archetypes or the Soul or the astral plane, or whatever else, is “immaterial.”
Not everything that makes life worth living can be pigeonholed into the logical frameworks of materialistic science, which by its nature demands that all concepts be explicable purely in terms of whatever can be quantified and empirically measured using operationalized and calibrated instruments and then fit into mathematical models.
Indeed, much of what matters to humans, including beauty, morality, and spirituality, cannot be reduced to logical propositions. As Wittgenstein famously put it, whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. I like this formulation so much that I have it tattooed on my arm. How beautiful Nature is in the wonder and mystery of silence!
It is amazing that when I shut up and stop trying to scientifically or logically explain the world, the world suddenly begins to shine in a subtle Light that illuminates the Soul and creates a sense of inner wonder and awe.
What is Worship?
But what do I mean when I talk about “worshiping Nature”? It is not enough to just exist in Nature? Why is it not good enough to just appreciate Nature and stand in awe of its beauty?
It is hard to adequately explain what I mean by this, but worshiping Nature is a kind of appreciation and “standing in awe.” But it goes beyond this. It involves a kind of holding sacred of Nature. But not just in a generic sense. It goes further. It involves a mode of seeing the world as alive. And not just the living world as alive. That goes without saying. To worship Nature in the way I understand it involves giving respect and holding sacred and venerating the many particularities of divinity and aliveness of inorganic reality. The rivers and rocks, the clouds and cliffs, the mountains and oceans and canyons and all the great majesty of Nature, including and especially the infinite wonder of the starry sky.
All of this is alive. All of it is conscious. All of it is sacred. All of it is connected to me, to my Soul, and I in turn am connected to it. I am simply one small part of a giant living Cosmos, a universal Mind that is itself composed of many smaller minds, smaller spirits if you will. All of this together forms a great woven fabric of consciousness and matter that is interspliced into both one Big Narrative and many smaller narratives, all of which are constantly interacting and influencing each other, creating the dynamics of reality that make this Cosmos so beautiful and complex and at the same time fundamentally simple.
There is a logic to all this that is universal and yet particular. Carl Jung called this logic “archetypal.” These archetypes operate as a kind of grand unifying narrative or blueprint out of which all particular manifestations of reality get filtered. It is through this process of being filtered through the archetypal blueprints that reality hangs together in a way that gives rise to all the meaningful miracles of life, the experiences we have that strike us as incompatible with blind, causal mechanisms. These are the coincidences of life that strike us as so deeply meaningful, and yet so casually random, that they immediately give us pause and wonder if there really are deeper reasons why things happen the way they do.
Some might say these are the workings of the gods. Others might say the actions of a single God. Skeptics would say it’s mere coincidence or psychological tricks.
But I for one am convinced that this universe is deeply strange. Strange in a way that is not compatible with the blind and empty ontology of an atheistic, physicalistic, mechanistic, and reductionist worldview.
The Pragmatics of Irrationality
Such people will, of course, say I am being “irrational.” But like I said before: I am a pragmatist and think a little bit of irrationality improves my life. Gives it a kind of meaning that is not available in reductionistic physical ontologies.
Furthermore, I am convinced that there is a sense in which reality itself has some amount of irrationality baked right into it at some fundamental level that humans can only barely get our rational minds wrapped around. To some extent, understanding this involves a negation of the attempts to understand. To let go our desire to fully rationalize reality. To let go into the mysteries of the unknown and revel in the unknowing. Freed into the comforts of this epistemic darkness, we can open our consciousness into the deeper wisdom of the Soul, which maintains a connection to these irrational archetypes in a way that rational consciousness can never understand.
These are the wisdoms of the unconscious. The collective unconscious. The wisdom of the Soul. The wisdom of the Archetypes. Of the Logos. Of Mother Nature Herself. It is in this direction that all occult and esoteric wisdom points itself.