For this essay, I need to define two terms that I will use; i.e., God and evil. These definitions are my understanding of the terms and may have little if anything to do with how you understand the same terms. I ask you to suspend your concepts by the same names and instead attempt to employ my concepts for these names, at least, until you have read this piece and understood it as I have written it. If you succeed in doing this, you will have done all I can hope for and it is possible that true communication between two minds has occurred.
Writing a piece like this can only be done through metaphor. A metaphor can sometimes bring us very close to seeing what actually is but at other times may miss the mark. I hope the metaphors chosen will be approximations of the former type rather than the latter. So, let’s begin with “God.”
I do not find the traditional notion of God, as expressed in the Abrahamic religions, one that conveys any sense of truth. This can be illustrated by a metaphor used in scripture. “Our Father who art in heaven” says it all. First, the choice of the term “father” implies all those qualities that are often associated with human fathers. Fathers initiate our creation, fathers are providers, fathers are teachers, fathers are disciplinarians, to name a few of the characteristics of the paternal role. In short, a good father has many human functions. That all these characteristics are attributed to God can be demonstrated by references in scripture. I take this to clearly indicate that the God of the Abrahamic religions is the projection of the known onto the unknown. In other words, I consider the God spoken about above, using the “father,” metaphor is a metaphor that misses the mark.
The expression “art in heaven” suggests a father who is not present but elsewhere. Not unlike what might be said by a child becoming an adult who has gone out into the world and refers to its father, who is far away and at home in some other domicile. Here lies the theistic duality of Abrahamic religions, i.e., God and humanity, heaven and the world, spirit and matter, etc.
I shall now offer an alternative metaphor for God that may come closer to the mark. Albert Einstein once remarked that ”…the field is the only reality…” by which I understand him to be referring to the quantum field. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is fundamental and everything ultimately arises from the quantum field, of which there can be many subfields. For example, consider a particle, e.g., an electron in relation to its subfield. A particle is not, as we often assume, a small bit of material substance like a tiny pellet. Instead, quantum field theory describes an electron as a ripple in an electron field. It might help to think of the ripple as a concentrated frequency, giving its position within its field a greater density. It has also been suggested that the quantum field is nonlocal; i.e., it is outside of space/time. It has no extension in space and no duration in time. It cannot be said to be eternal because that implies time, nor can it be infinite because that implies extension in space. It just is. Thus, if we think of God as like in some ways to a quantum field, we have a root or core assumption (a.k.a. an ontological primitive) for a worldview (a.k.a. a metaphysical system).
Let us, metaphorically speaking, consider that God is something like this “field.” Let’s further imagine that God has a few other characteristics. I owe the following remarks largely to the scientist, technologist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup and his book Rationalist Spirituality. This is my understanding of his book with which he may or may not agree. Thus, God cannot be held responsible for creating an imperfect cosmos because God is imperfect. We can infer that God is imperfect from the fact that God created the cosmos. It is only because God is imperfect that there would be any reason to create a cosmos. Why would this be so? One might say that God is a formless, timeless and boundless field (a nonlocal field), has primordial awareness, has intelligence, has creativity and most importantly purpose or, if one prefers, a drive to know its potential. That is, this is God’s nature.
In this primordial state, God is only aware of being. There is nothing else to be aware of. God has consciousness but without an object. How does one explore and express one’s inherent potential when there is only primordial awareness? To me the following is the biggest leap of faith of all, but a necessary one. God realized that there had to be a medium that provided contrasts and decisions in order for experience to occur. I can only hazard a guess as to how this was realized. It might have been through something like a thought process or something like an inherent or instinctual process or something well beyond my understanding. Experience is the only likely vehicle for the expression of potential and growth in awareness of that potential. Thus, a context was needed that would make experience possible.
How did this context come to be? God, being creative, has imagination. First, let us assume that God imagined a process that could create a context. I offer here a metaphor from computer gaming. Consider an algorithm that, once started in a computing environment, begins a process of creating a world from the interaction of virtual building blocks. If you’ve every played a computer game that generated a virtual world, then you have some sense of what is being suggested. Otherwise, you’ll just have to take my word that once conceived, developed and given a suitable computing environment, it can be done. So, to borrow a concept from Kastrup, God dissociated a portion of itself into a separate subfield. Those familiar with computer technology, think of a virtual drive being created from a portion of a computer’s random access memory (RAM). In this virtual drive you can run programs that are isolated from the rest of the computer’s RAM. More primitive but along the same lines, think of creating a square foot garden in your yard.
So, in this dissociated portion of God, an algorithm was launched that began evolving a context. Thus began the creation of what we call the physical universe. Incorporated within this algorithm was the potential for life to evolve as the algorithm progressed and unfolded its intended creation. While from our perspective this process appears to be purely random and without purpose, it is clearly, in this scenario, driven by purpose but coming from a level beyond our normal ability to perceive. Another metaphor that can be applied here is from the reformulation of quantum physics by David Bohm. Let it be noted that David Bohm’s reformulation is not generally accepted by physicists because it is a “hidden variable” model. I won’t go into that here, but it still provides an interesting metaphor for our purposes.
Bohm’s model has three levels. The first he calls the “super implicate order” (SIO), the second the “implicate order” (IO) and the third the “explicate order” (EO). Think of the SIO level as analogous to the Field or God. Think of the IO as analogous to the algorithm running on the virtual drive that is generating the cosmos. Think of the EO as the unfolding physical universe being displayed on a computer display or screen of perception. Roughly speaking, in Bohm’s model the SIO contains the rule sets that constrain what is possible under certain conditions. The IO generates possibilities for explication with varying probabilities. The IO then unfolds or explicates certain possibilities into the EO. This unfolding, it is suggested, is what creates the sense of time experienced by creatures in the EO. The possibilities unfolded into the explicate order then enfold their effects back into the IO, which then affects the probabilities for possibilities to unfolded into the EO. Thus, a continuous feedback loop is created. So, in a manner of speaking, when it is said that we create our own reality this is true within the limits implied in the above. You or I may have little, if any, effect on the possibilities being unfolded from the IO, but humanity as a collective source of feedback would have a significant effect.
Returning to the output of the algorithm metaphor, one of the outputs that was necessary to fulfill its purpose was to create a context in which it was possible for experiences to be generated. To have experience, it is necessary to have contrasts. To provide a simple illustration, you can’t experience temperature if you only know hot. You would not have any basis for differentiating hot as a construct because there would be nothing to contrast it to. This takes us to what the late Niels Bohr (one of the founders of quantum physics) referred to as complementary pairs. Bohr originally introduced this concept to help explain and think about the wave/particle duality in quantum physics. Bohr latter argued that this concept could be much more broadly applied than just to physics and could extend to such fields as psychology or philosophy, e.g., male/female, life/death, pain/pleasure, etc.. One might see this same recognition being illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God recognized that Adam alone was insufficient and created Eve, thereby creating a complementary pair. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, sexual dimorphism came about long before humanity even existed. But, this story too is metaphorical and isn’t intended to relate a factual history.
As the algorithm progressed and creation unfolded, life emerged. Prior to life evolving we might say that everything was made of the “stuff” of the field. It was not until life emerged that the possibility for the awareness inherent in the field to truly become active in the physical universe. As nervous systems evolved and became more complex, their ability to express greater and greater levels of awareness (or if you prefer, consciousness) grew. The upper limit on this process is determined by the complexity of the nervous system. Since awareness is a dissociated aspect of God, it is clear that it is not possible for any nervous system to express the full capability of the consciousness of God. Thus, while God is the source of all consciousness in living entities, the complexity of nervous systems imposes limits and constraints on dissociated expression of that awareness or consciousness. One way of thinking about it is that the brain and nervous system function as a constraint on the expression and reduces it to a level appropriate for the nervous system to sustain. This implies that entities with highly complex nervous systems might have the potential to be aware of far more than they typically are. However, a deeper connection to God is not necessary for dealing with the routines and problems of daily life.
The psychologist Donald Hoffman has proposed a theory, for which he has developed some evidence, that indicates evolutionary pressures have shaped the perception of living entities to be what they are today. What the evolutionary process has done is shape perception not to see “reality” as it is, but to shape what is seen based on its functionality for survival and reproduction. Much of what might be perceptible about the true nature of reality is irrelevant to survival and reproduction and to perceive it would be counterproductive, evolutionarily speaking. In short, we’re designed by evolution to see what we need to see not everything that might possibly be seen.
Now, consider the earlier discussion of the building blocks of the cosmos; i.e., subfields in which a ripple within a field or subfield is interpreted as a particle, which of course is used to build elements and molecules. As we generally assume, there probably is a real world “out there,” meaning outside of ourselves. However, it is the case that the world in itself, as opposed to the world perceived, is a world of fields of various combinations, intensities and extents. If the world in itself is nothing more than fields, you might wonder, why can I feel it as things of substance? Why does the positive end of a magnet resist and push against the negative end of a magnet as if encountering some resisting solid? It is simply one magnetic field pushing against another magnetic field. So, it may be, when your hand pushes against a wall and is resisted by the wall this is the result of two incompatible sets of frequencies encountering one another.
Lets now, metaphorically speaking, consider another process that might help us visualize how things arise and manifest from fields. The process of organizing into patterns small particles such as sand or salt or fluids like water is called Cymatics. It is said that the apparent fluidity of the quantum field is due to ripples in the field where the ripples are photons. Suppose that the ripples in fields that produce particles that then assemble into elements and molecules are influenced to produce different particles by sound causing them to take on particular patterns much like sand on a table top does when exposed to sound of a certain frequency.
Thus, the manifest world could be thought of as a product of patterns of particles assembled by various frequencies of sound. Consider that in some creation stories it is said the first thing God brought into existence was light. That is what a photon is and it is thought to be the most fundamental product of a quantum field. Further, some eastern mystics have said that the underlying vibration of the universe is the sound produced by “OM.” Could it be that the sound frequency represented by “OM” gave rise to the first and all subsequent photons? Not a claim just a thought. Note, when producing this sound, the “M” is silent. When speaking it conversationally, the “M” is pronounced. The world may very well consist of frequency fields that are organized by sound, which includes you. And where, you might ask are these frequency fields? Possibly, in a dissociated field lying within the greatest field of them all — God (note, this is by definition panentheism).
Hoffman’s theory suggests, we perceive these fields as rocks, trees, birds, dogs and people. We perceive them as such because to perceive them in that way has functional value to us, evolutionarily speaking. This removes us from reality, as it is in itself, by multiple steps. First, there is the underlying frequency field – God. Next, we have the dissociated frequency field within which the cosmos is manifested. Then, we see functional representations of the fields comprising aspects of the world. Finally, we interpret the representations that we perceive. Hoffman compares this to the computer interface you see on your computer screen. What you see on the computer screen is in no way a true perception of what the icons represent. However, what you perceive is much more useful to you than the strings of computer code that the icons represent, and there is much more going on in the computer that you have no need to know and for which there are no icons.
Now, let us consider the term “evil.” I first began seriously thinking about the nature of evil a number of years ago as I read a book, Evil in Modern Thought, by Susan Neiman. This book is billed as an alternate history of philosophy, and I would qualify this by inserting the word “western” before the word “history.” I found it to be a very unsatisfying book, and after I finished reading it, I wrote a brief critique on the title page: “The problem of evil in western philosophy/theology arises from a fundamental error. The error is in construing God as a superhuman, which turns the concept of God into a caricature of divinity.” Shortly after writing this critique, I composed a post for my website titled The Nature of Evil. The current essay could be considered an update of the earlier essay linked in the previous sentence.
In some Eastern philosophies, the responsibility for evil is not attributed to God but to humanity. Specifically, to actions arising from ignorance, which is a feature of ego consciousness. The more egocentric one is, the deeper one’s ignorance and the more likely is bad behavior. You are probably wondering, ignorance of what? The answer is ignorance of one’s true nature. Given the narrative about the nature of God and the creation of the cosmos developed above, it should be clear that our consciousness is a limited explication of the very same Consciousness that characterizes God. Thus, our very being is directly related to the beingness of God. If you think of God as divine then you too are of divine origin. If you recognize this, you also understand that you share your divinity with all living entities. Everything ultimately traces back to God, I personally prefer Source Consciousness or simply Source, and thereby puts all life in a state of unity.
The general theme in some Eastern traditions is that your purpose is to develop your consciousness so that it becomes less egocentric and more integral or, as it is usually put, evolving from ignorance to enlightenment. A nondual teacher, Ruper Spira, prefers Truth, which is to experience your true nature, over enlightenment and I tend to agree with him. The psychologist and philosopher Ken Wilbur suggests that developmentally there are eight stages of cognitive functioning, each related to a different level of psychological and moral functioning. We all begin at Stage 1 and progress from there to some endpoint, which is nearly always prior to the latter stages. Nearly everyone reaches Stage 3 by the time they reach biological maturity. Stage 3 is a stage characterized as egocentric. The most common end points in the West are Stages 4 and 5, with significant minorities at Stages 3 and 6. Wilbur considers these stages to not only represent individuals but also societies. That is, he would argue that a society can be characterized as being dominated by a particular stage of thinking. The dominant stage of development in a society tends, in general, to characterize the society. One might think of all but the last of Wilbur’s stages as sub-divisions of ignorance.
One scheme from an Eastern tradition suggests 6 stages across the span from ignorance to enlightenment. The first three segments of this model are classified as ignorance to varying degrees. The latter three segments of this model are classified as enlightenment to varying degrees. In terms of Wilbur’s stages, I would put Stages 1 and 2 in the unconditioned-mind stage (first segment). I would put Wilbur’s Stages 3 through 6 in the conditioned-mind stage (second segment) and Wilbur’s Stage 7 in the I AM or authentic Self stage (third segment) or what I would call the natural-mind stage. In this Eastern model, the third stage is on the cusp of enlightenment. When one fully transcends ignorance, you are in the fourth segment (Self-realization) or experience of one’s divine nature. With transition to the fifth segment (God Consciousness), one has direct experience of God, Source or divinity. With transition to the sixth segment (Unity Consciousness), one has as full a reconciliation with God as is possible in human existence. Wilbur’s Stage 8 (Super Integral stage) appears to be part of the enlightenment segment in the Eastern scheme. He says that Stage 8 is potentially divisible into possibly four additional stages, but he doesn’t elaborate.
On the process of enlightenment, Wilbur offers a four-phase model that begins with Stepping Up, which means making a commitment to the process. Second is Cleaning Up, which means working to modify or eliminate any dysfunctional behavior and thinking. Third is Growing Up, which means working your way up through the psychological and moral stages. Fourth, is Waking Up, which, as I read him, means transitioning into the Super Integral stage (8). Logically, it seems to make sense to me to equate Wilbur’s stage 8 with enlightenment. However, there is reason to believe that he sees spiritual enlightenment as separate from the developmental process and can potentially occur at almost any stage in his model. This seems to be why he emphasizes his four-step process. He says that the stage at which you are functioning when self-transcendence occurs will significantly impact the quality of the transition and can lead to undesirable outcomes.
The importance of the concept of enlightenment can be understood by considering why the cosmos and life were created. If God is imperfect and is in the process of
perfecting its potential, then you and other living creatures, throughout the cosmos, are the tools that make the process possible. I would say that of all the experiential input God receives from the experience of living creatures, the experience of one who has made the journey from ignorance to full enlightenment or reconciliation with God should prove to be the most cherished experience. Such a journey will not often be brief and, as some eastern traditions suggest, may take multiple lifetimes to complete. Thus, we see the rationale behind the concept of reincarnation.
If in fact your consciousness is a dissociated aspect of God’s Consciousness and upon biological death your consciousness returns to God. Accepting this, the idea that your consciousness and what it has learned could be dissociated again and then expressed through a new nervous system doesn’t seem to be especially difficult to accept. If God needs experience to evolve, the higher the quality of the experience the better. The best source of high quality experience should come from the evolution of a consciousness toward reconciliation with God. Why enfold a consciousness that has completed 5% of the journey and incorporate its limited experience and then replace it with a dissociated consciousness that is beginning at zero? Continuation of the development of a dissociated consciousness will in the long run produce more high quality experiential input and increase the ratio of high to low quality input. You might ask, if everyone starts in ignorance, how is anything gained by reincarnation? I would say that everyone may start at the same point in each life but those who have made prior progress on the journey will move quickly toward their previous state of spiritual evolution where those with less experience or no previous experience or even a lot of experience from which they learned little will progress more slowly.
You might ask, if everyone is of divine origin, why is there so much suffering (evil) in the world? Given the above, I would answer that you can’t create a highly diverse experiential environment without significant contrasts. If a range of experiences are possible, some of them are by necessity going to be experienced as less desirable than others. Further, the opportunity to learn from one’s experiences is not limited to positive experiences. In fact, in some instances, one might learn more from negative experiences than from positive ones. Negative experience can also be motivational and spur one to develop further. Likewise, the negative experiences of others provides you with the opportunity to develop compassion, which then motivates you to attempt to relieve their suffering. I would also suggest that the development of compassion is a necessary step in perceiving the divinity lying at the core of others and thereby recognizing the unity that you both share through God. As this recognition of unity grows, it will likely increase in breadth and encompass a wider and wider range of those realized to share in this unity.
On a broader scale, bear in mind that all the negativity that occurs affects the probabilities of future negative possibilities being explicated into the world. We seem to be almost immune to the opportunities that are repeatedly explicated into the world, and as we continue to ignore them we increase the likelihood of similar or worse future events. To take one example, of many possible examples, how many genocides were there in the twentieth century? The UN definition of genocide covers “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group…” and does not include what are termed mass killings that may include thousands of people but were not killed with genocidal intent; e.g. some wars. By the UN definition, there have been 28 genocides in the twentieth century. Germany’s holocaust perpetrated against its Jewish people in the 1930s and 40s was one of the largest in terms of numbers of people slaughtered. It was an event that brought out a lot of “never again” sentiment. Unfortunately, there were 12 genocides in the second half of the twentieth century – all following the Jewish holocaust.
Thus, all who have eyes to see have a responsibility to affect the feedback in whatever way they can. Since the feedback is a collective effect, you can best aid it by expanding the number of people who understand this process and actively take responsibility for their personal evolution. Always remember that intellectual knowing can never replace experiential knowing – a lesson that institutionalized religion seems to have forgotten or never learned. This is why a rule-based approach to improving people has a limited effect. You may impose “good” behavior on people through threats, coercion and punishment but you don’t change people in this manner. Remove the external control and the “good” behavior will dissipate quickly because the rules haven’t changed anyone. As a poster I once saw said, “You may shut me up, but you can’t change my mind.” Personal evolution is the only thing that has an enduring effect that needs no external controls.
Finally, I remind the reader that what I’ve presented is a narrative and like all narratives it is not literally true even though some of the metaphors used are factual. The critical question is, should I accept it? I can only tell you why I accept it. I accept it because it is a more satisfying explanation than any competing narrative, because it can answer more of my questions about “reality” than any competing narrative, because it gives me more insight into how I should be in the world than competing narratives and because it provides a better foundation for purpose and meaning in my life than competing narratives. You must make those same and possibly other evaluations for yourself.