What is Reality? The Urantia Book And The Need To Deepen Our Spiritual Cosmology
The problem of reality is the central concern of philosophy and the culminating quest for meaning in human experience. Human beings react in harmony with their perceptual and conceptual field of reference. What we believe to be causative and irreducible, our concept of reality, determines the basic character of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our philosophy is a synthesis of our cultural heritage, personal experience, scientific knowledge, and rational-creative thinking.
The synthesis of human knowledge and experience is always a contemporary task that is never finished or complete. The understanding of life is cumulative. Periodically a new and enlarged synthesis takes place. Historically, there have been many major enlargements of Western philosophy. The Greek synthesis attempted to integrate the discipline of logical reasoning with the values of antiquity. Thomas Aquinas combined the insights of Aristotelian philosophy with the basic values of Christianity. Rene Descartes postulated a matter-mind dualism which opened the door for the development of the physical sciences. Immanuel Kant worked out a philosophic synthesis which harmonized the rational approach of traditional philosophy, the empiricism of the emerging physical sciences, and Christian values. Pragmatism endeavored to accommodate the rich contributions of the biological sciences. Existentialism evolved largely as an attempt to actualize the human potentials opened up by the developing social sciences.
A new major synthesis is needed, such as may be found in The Urantia Book. Traditional terms and boundaries are inadequate. References to the "natural" and the "supernatural" are prescientific frames of reference that have little meaning in our contemporary understanding of the nature of things. We are beginning to recognize that idealism and naturalism are authentic aspects of a larger concept of reality. A new unity is emerging amid diversity and complexity.
Our experience is pluralistic. Psychologically we perceive three basic forms of reality: matter (energy), mind (consciousness), and spirit (value). These are our basic sources of knowledge. From our human perceptual point of view, matter is the basic substance of the universe. There are many forms of matter—light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemism, and energy are essentially the same thing. The electromagnetic scale represents various levels of energy phenomena. The immediate control of matter is largely governed by empirical cause and effect mechanisms. From a short range view matter appears to demonstrate random and mechanistic behavior; a longer range view shows lawful, intelligent, and purposeful behavior.
Mind is the controlling function of reality in the material universe. The most elemental form of control systems are found in atomic structure, chemical reactions, and biological codes. The largest empirical forms demonstrating mind over-control of matter are found in planetary and universe evolutionary dynamics. Mind appears to operate on differential levels from simple organic matter through lower organisms to highly complex organisms like human beings. Mind (control functions) as it operates on the material level is usually classified as a form of physical energy, but these control aspects of matter are the result of indigenous mind qualities associated with matter. Mind is a form of energy that is not only capable of association with different configurations of matter but also with different aspects of spiritual reality.
Spirit is the highest and most determinative form of reality. Spirit eventually governs mind, which, in turn, dominates matter. From a human point of view, the foundations of the universe are material which are controlled by mind that is ultimately directed by personality the essence of which is spirit. Human awareness of spiritual reality is largely limited to our truth, beauty, and goodness perception that eventually evolves a God-consciousness. In addition to our mindal capacity for value perception, there is a reality aspect of the human mind known variously as the Superconscious, the Inner Light, the Indwelling Spirit, or the Thought Adjuster which is a spiritual source of guidance slowly transforming human beings in the direction of the "Image of God." Spirit is the highest form of universe energy—the basic nature of Ultimate Reality.
Basic Characteristics of Reality Experience Described in The Urantia Book
Matter, mind, and spirit are inter-associated in differential levels of complexity. The electromagnetic scale (electrical waves, radio waves, heat waves,white light, ultra violet rays, gamma rays, and cosmic rays) illustrates the various forms of physical energy which inter-associate with each other and with mind and spirit phenomena in innumerable combinations. We know very little about mind phenomena but recognize differential activities of the subconscious, the conscious, and the superconscious aspects of mind.
Psychiatrists such as Dr. Richard Bucke see evidence of an evolving quality of mind which he called "cosmic consciousness." Laboratory experiments in extra sensory perception suggest that we may some day discover what might be called "mind circuits." These and undiscovered aspects of mind inter-associating and combining with forms of physical and spiritual energy result in exceedingly complex manifestations of experiential reality.
All of these experiential aspects of reality are integrated in our experience through the unique capacity of personality. Through personality experience mind intervenes between matter and spirit bringing about an organization, understanding, and unity to our experience. Without this mindal integrating capacity between matter and spirit, we would be confronted with a schizophrenic reality experience.
There is a basic integrative unity of reality in the universe. Our contemporary understanding of matter, mind, and spirit is approaching a common semantic description: energy. For the first time in our planetary history the physicist, the psychologist, and the theologian are speaking of the same broad descriptive reality. We are beginning to realize that the traditional areas of investigation and study are artificially separated. In nature and life we have holistic situations in which many influences are operative. Even formal study programs reflect this kind of thinking in courses like biochemistry, astrophysics, physiological psychology, cultural anthropology, etc.
Diversity is a surface phenomenon. When we look underneath and within, we see a universal unity. The main structure of the DNA is the same in a mollusk, as rose, or a human being. The millions of species of plant and animal life share the same chemical elements of matter. To penetrate the surface diversity of experience and understand the basic lawfulness and unity of all things is the essential goal of science, the arts, philosophy, and religion. Intellectually, this unitary reality has been given various names: The Absolute, The Great I Am, Ultimate Reality, etc. The religious designation for this unitary reality has also been given many names: God, Allah, Jehovah, Ahura Mazda, etc. The universe is a vast integrated creation which is controlled by a unified, infinite mind.
The Urantia Book: Evolution is the Fundamental Dynamic of the Universe
Human knowledge is relative, partial, and progressive. This is demonstrated in our maturation and socialization experience, in our general scientific knowledge, and our historical knowledge. Our relative knowledge, however, is generally dependable. Knowledge must always be evaluated from the level of our experience. To a small child fire and poisonous drugs must be a real danger; for a knowledgeable adult these same objects may be a safe means of sustaining life. A person driving a car must regard a brick wall as a solid obstruction; as a physicist this person may regard it largely as empty space.
Our knowledge and experience must always be correlated with our evolutionary development. Premature knowledge (not prepared by experience) can be disastrous. Attempting to live by regressive knowledge leads to stagnation and destruction. As we make decisions and take action on the basis of our highest experiential evolutionary knowledge we are eventually led to wisdom. The wisdom and experience of each level of development prepares us to the knowledge and experience of the next stage of development. This process appears to be endless.
There is, therefore, a constant need in each generation for the reinterpretation and relevant application of the basic truths of experience. Although the basic principles of evolving a healthy individual and sound society are relatively constant, the form and emphasis which they take are constantly changing. Whenever this process of growth does not take place in a civilization such a society will decay. The eternal command is "Be you perfect, even as I am perfect," but what that means must be discovered by the individual and society at each stage of development.
From a Urantia Book perspective there are various developmental purposes involved in the evolutionary process:
1. There is movement from the physical through the mental-cultural to the spiritual. Primitive people emphasize physical regulations and pleasures. Civilized people stress the discipline and development of the mind. The sages and saints of society cultivate the spiritual achievements of finding truth, establishing brotherhood, and knowing God.
2. There is development from randomness, lawlessness, and arbitrariness to lawfulness, justice, order, and design. Early human beings saw life as determined by whim and caprice and made rules to fit their personal advantage. Civilized society sees the universe as governed by law and recognizes justice even when it is against their personal welfare.
3. There is progression from egocentricity and selfishness to love and ecumenical relationships, from self-expression to self-mastery, from negative fear reaction to positive self-actualization motivation. Maslow points out that the evolution of human needs takes the following order of priority: physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, self-esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.
4. There is a transfer from external control to internal control, from group rights to individual rights, from force and coercion to freedom and creativity. Primitive peoples need strict rules and control; an advanced society promotes good and wise behavior through individual volition. Augustine was referring to the spiritually mature person when he said, "Love God and do as you like."
5. There is an over-all direction in the evolutionary process toward spiritual perfection. But even the meaning of perfection is mediated to each person through his or her progressive experiences. Knowledge is always a function of being. And we are evolving beings.
We Need a New Spiritual Cosmology
Contemporary discoveries in astronomy have replaced the old "three story" universe with a concentric universe. Vast spiral galaxies populate the universe. The Swedish astronomer C. V. L. Charlier also believes we may live in a hierarchical universe. We live in an enormous, expanding universe which is virtually limitless. Our traditional circumscribed universe with the earth at its center has turned out to be a myopic illusion. The astronomical universe appears to function like a vast organism with innumerable families of suns passing through tremendous but predictable cycles from birth to death. Most astronomers hypothesize that the universe is populated with myriads of inhabited planets in all stages of evolution. Man's egocentric position in the universe we must now recognize is an untenable view.
Our traditional spiritual cosmology based on the three-story universe is hopelessly outdated. Any relevant spiritual cosmology must be built on current astronomical frames of reference. If a spiritual universe is to be taken seriously, it must also be projected on a vast, concentric, hierarchical scale with the traditional "Paradise" at the center of this enormous physical-mindal-spiritual creation.
Thomas Dick, a progressive religious philosopher of a century ago, saw the implications of our growing knowledge of the universe when he said, "It is now considered by astronomers, as highly probable, if not certain—from late observations, from the nature of gravitation, and other circumstances—that all the systems of the universe revolve around one common center and that this center may bear as great a proportion, in point of magnitude, to the universal assemblage of systems as the sun does to his surrounding planets. And since our sun is five hundred times larger than the earth and all the other planets and satellites taken together—on the same scale, such a central body would be five hundred times larger than all the systems and worlds in the universe. Here, then, may be a vast universe itself, an example of material creation, exceeding all the rest in magnitude and splendor and in which are blended the glories of every other system." (If A Man Die - Harry C. Mark, p. 84)