Monday, February 16, 2015

Rupert Sheldrake on Anatheism, Pantheism, Panpsychism

Image from Scientific American

According to wise and experienced "renegade" biologist Rupert Sheldrake, the scientific world view is hidebound and resistant to change. However, as he reports in a lecture in Dartington, the scientific community now agrees that the universe is conscious. "All religions are man-made," says Sheldrake, since they are shaped by human cultures and languages. In this new talk, he supports the idea that contemporary social, intellectual and cultural movements show a human desire to rediscover God.

Most people, he suggests, have "paranormal" or "mystical" experiences in their lives; however many conceal and downplay these aspects of their experience because contemporary culture tends to denigrate, deny, or attempt to debunk them.

The western ideals of materialism and atheism that rose in the "post-God" era are giving way, says Sheldrake, and humanity is rediscovering God in non-religious ways. Sheldrake explains the philosophy of Panthesim -- God in Nature and Nature in God -- and points out that the word animals actually means beings with souls.

Panpsychism, as defined by the Stanford Encylopaedia of Philosophy, is the view that "mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe." In other words, mind is everywhere.

The concept of Anatheism was expounded by Richard Kearney in a 2010 book called Returning to God after God. Sheldrake also cites Alain de Botton's book, Religion for Atheists. Describing what we have lost by turning away from religion, de Botton suggests helpful alternatives for non-believers, who still need meaningful community and shared rituals in their lives.

A no-nonsense open-minded scientific explorer, Sheldrake supports his ideas with a wide array of contemporary evidence. He also gives historic context to explain how we've arrived at our current worldviews. Using his wide experience as a scholar and individual as well as his scientific training, he positions his ideas against a background of western thought and other religious traditions.

For many years, I've felt a profound resonance with Sheldrake's work and ideas. I love the way he is able to back far enough away from our universal contemporary materialist culture to observe it as a whole. "Pilgrimage is a deep human urge," he says, that our times have transformed into tourism. I understand and share his desire to move away from the ultimately unsatisfying and largely unconscious "thingism" that dominates our culture.

In this lecture, he also describes some early experiences that set him on his path, and gives some insight into his personal views and current actions. I loved the story of how, in an effort to avoid giving a his godson a useless gift of more stuff, he offered instead to accompany the boy on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Even though the teenager was not accustomed to walking eight miles at a go, they had a wonderful time.

The title of Sheldrake's talk is Finding God Again: the Rise of Anatheism.
Listen to the complete audio here.

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