Monday, March 15, 2010

The 'Raw Stuff'...Discussed

I submitted a version of "Different Takes on the Raw Stuff," my posted response to Peter Gabel's "A Call For Sacred Biologists," to Tikkun Magazine, and I'm pleased to report that my comments engendered an edifying conversation with the article's author.

The editors of Tikkun have posted an abridged version of my correspondence with Peter on Tikkun's blog, Tikkun Daily. I encourage folks to check it out, but I've also included two excerpts of Peter's "voice" below.
"If I could sum it up in a phrase, I would say that Christopher is committed to the idea that science and religion are both valid ways of knowing but they are separate ways, whereas I believe we have to move towards a unified approach to knowledge (the nature of which I’ll take up in a forthcoming issue of the magazine). I was happy to have such a reasonable conversation about a topic that arouses such passion."

"It seems that [Christopher has] two selves and two worlds, the mystic and the materialist, side by side, each in its domain. I’m very much in agreement that [his] stand on this is possible; nothing about science excludes a mystical and religious reality within which material reality and scientific knowledge of that material reality unfolds.

However, for me there is only one world, the spiritual-material, spirit enlivening material form. To take this world as an object therefore is to act on it and impoverish it, although sometimes for a noble and valuable purpose (western medicine!). But ultimately I am for reuniting knowledge with spirit as manifested in form, including restoring meaning/desire/intention to evolution (but not some perfect intelligent design)."
When it comes down to it, then, I don't think that Peter and I are in stark disagreement. To a large extent, I share his belief that my "two selves" are actually of a piece (i.e., the division of logos and mythos, or rational and irrational, is artificial), but I also contend that there are different ways of knowing or approaching the Whole (the Everything), and that these distinct ways of knowing can and should coexist, each bringing to the conversation their unique perspective.

Read the full exchange here. The Tikkun Daily post also features two recent drawings that aren't yet on my website.


Max said...

Reposted from Facebook comments:

To understand where Gabel might be coming from, I had to revisit Lurianic Kabbalah, the source I associate with the phrase "Tikkun" (google or

It sounds like he is heavily invested in Luria's idea of "Holy Sparks" that inhabit all matter and life, and that must be reunited (Tikkun) to heal the world (I... See More thought I remembered that this was supposed to bring about a sort of beautiful apocalypse to the material world, but I don't see that now; I may be misremembering).

He reminds me of the scene at the beginning of Wargames, when the high school bio teacher asks Ally Sheedy, "what is your answer to #4 - why do nitrogen nodules cling to the roots of plants?" and, having no idea, she answers, "um, ... love?"

Bioephemera said...

Reposted from Facebook comments:

I'd blog that whole thing, but it would only cause a swarm of angry new atheists to descend upon your blog and Tikkun, so I'll leave it alone. Fascinating reading though!

Hungry Hyaena said...


I'm invested in the study of Jewish mysticism (both its history and philosophy), and Lurianic/Chasidic notions of "the Divine sparks" are near and dear to me. In fact, in the same issue of Tikkun, Rabbi Arthur Green, a contemporary religious scholar and leader whose theology inspires me, contributed the feature essay for the special section "G-d and the 21st Century." (Importantly, unlike Gabel, Green doesn't suggest that science need to become more imbued with or informed by mystical or holistic spiritual-material understanding. I touch on this in the previous HH post.)

If framed as a strictly Jewish lineage, Rabbi Green's notions are quite Lurian. That said, I believe that the surge of interest in evolving definitions/conceptions of G-d among educated, liberal theologians is a sociological development (one also underway among the general population, irrespective of faith or lack thereof); this social evolution is impelled, I believe, by our expanding base of scientific knowledge and by globalization, a process that brings out our species' worst (xenophobia and more fervent territorial-religious disputes, for example) and our species' best (ever expanding ethical constructs, even extended to other species).

As a side note, "tikkun olam" is drawn from the mystical sources, but is today among the most commonly cited Jewish concepts. It's commonly discussed in Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform congregations. From fringe to mainstream, it seems!


Ha! Yeah, I've been in hearty debate with quite a few new atheists of late. It perplexes me that I'm too mystical for the new atheists, yet too materialist for the religious mystics. I suppose that awkward middle ground is healthy, though, and it certainly does an artist good! ;)