Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God-Humanity-World Relations

Paper presented at the Vichara Academy of Theology, Sophia center, Kottayam, kerala on July 23, 2013

An Examination of the God-Humanity-World Relations in the Contexts of Three Different Worldviews
How we view the relations among God, Humanity, and the World is basic to any considerations of human existence. The three relations--  Humanity-World, God-World, and God-Humanity -- are viewed differently based on which of the three worldviews we hold: Other-Worldliness, This-Worldliness, and One-Worldliness. Other-Worldliness is the view that there is a supernatural world in addition to the natural world.  This-worldliness is the view that the natural world, which is perceptible to us, is all that exists, and  nothing exits beyond our perception. One-Worldliness asserts that there is only one world, which includes not only the part of the world that is perceptible to us, but also a part that is imperceptible to us. What follows is a brief introduction to the God-Humanity-World relations based on these three worldviews.

I am indebted to Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios for his groundbreaking doctoral study of this topic, which was later published under the title, Cosmic Man. I was privileged to obtain a copy of this book as early as 1982 at his 60th birthday celebration in Kottayam, which I have kept as a treasure since then. Although the content of this paper belongs to the bishop as explained in Cosmic Man, credit belongs to the present author for its simplified presentation in a comprehensible way.

Other-Worldliness
According to this view, there are two worlds: the physical world and the spiritual world.  They are also called natural and supernatural. The physical world is temporary, and the spiritual world is permanent. The Physical world is meant to be ultimately destroyed. The spiritual world exists in two parts: heaven and hell. A human being is actually a soul that resides within a body.  The body is merely a cover of the soul. The body, which is physical, is temporary, and its existence is limited to the physical world. But the soul, which is spiritual, exists for ever either in heaven or in hell after its temporary existence within a physical body.

This view is often referred to as Other-Worldliness, for it gives undue focus on the other world, and ignores this world. People with this view do not care for the wellbeing of this world; in fact they rejoice at the destruction of this world. Moreover, this view always gets into conflict with science, for its claims about spirit and spiritual world, which are beliefs and opinions, are treated as facts. It was believed that the world is made of five elements: earth, water, air, fire and spirit. No one knew what exactly spirit was, but its existence was blindly believed in, and a spiritual world was also imagined. 
Other-Worldliness is the most widespread view, and it is expressed very powerfully in the extremist and fundamentalist groups in most of the religions.

The God-Humanity-World relations are viewed as follows in this worldview:

Humanity-World Relation: The world is like a container for human beings to exist. The human body can exist only in the physical world, but the soul can exist either in the physical world or in the spiritual world. The physical world and the physical body are often seen as prisons for the soul, which makes people look forward to an escape from physicality. The life in the physical world is seen as temporary imprisonment, but life in heaven, the spiritual world, is seen as everlasting freedom in one's own home. Life in hell is seen as everlasting imprisonment.

God-World Relation: God is like a king, and God's will is fully done only in the spiritual world. The physical world is ruled by a force that is in enmity to God.

God-Humanity Relation: God is the creator of human beings. God creates human  spiritual soul, covers it with a physical body, and places it in the physical world. Human beings are expected to follow the will of God. At death the soul leaves the body and either enters heaven or hell. Entering heaven or hell depends on their following the will of God while in the physical world. Those who do not follow the will of God have the opportunity to repent and start doing God's will while in the physical world.

This-Worldliness
According to This-Worldliness, only the world that is perceptible to our senses exists. Nothing exists beyond what we can perceive. A human being does not have any soul that survives death. Even the existence of a mind is doubtful. Empiricism, materialism, and atheism are expressions of this view. This is the worldview that controls most of the governments today, and it is spread mainly through the educational institutions.


This-Worldliness is a view that arises in revolt against Other-Worldliness. This is a naive solution to the problem of Other-Worldliness. It tries to resolve the problem of focusing on the other world by denying the existence of the other world. If there is not another world, how can there be Other-Worldliness?

The assertion that nothing exists beyond what we perceive is a belief or opinion without any verifiable evidence. Moreover, if the perceptible world is all that exists, the meaning of existence cannot be explained. Also, rules that govern human behavior cannot have any basis.

The God-Humanity-World relations are viewed as follows in this worldview:

Humanity-World Relation: The world is a container as well as a set of objects humans  manipulate and exploit for their existence. Think of the lice that live on the body of a cow. They live by sucking its blood. A cow's body provides the lice not only a place to stay but also its food. Human beings are to the world like the lice are to a cow.

God-World Relation: God's existence is denied. God, along with the other world, is imperceptible, and so God doesn't exist.  The perceptible world is all that exists.

God-Humanity Relation: God doesn't exist, and so man is on his own.


One-Worldliness
Other-Worldliness focuses on the other world, and This-Worldliness focuses on this world. These two views are always at friction with each other. The solution is to rise above these views, and assume a higher view, which I like to call One-Worldliness.
Unlike Other-Worldliness, this view affirms that there are not two worlds, but only one. Unlike This-Worldliness, this view affirms that the world is more than what appears to our senses. Only a part of the world is perceptible to our five senses. If we had a sixth sense, we would perceive the world differently. The world may be existing in several dimensions or levels, but still the world is one. Unlike this view, Other-Worldliness views the imperceptible part of the world as another world. This-Worldliness denies the existence of the imperceptible part, but One-Worldliness affirms its existence.  Thus One-Worldliness effectively resolves the issues of Other-Worldliness and This-Worldliness. Unlike This-Worldliness, One-Worldliness agrees that a human being is more than what appears to our senses. Also, unlike Other-Worldliness, it affirms that a human being is a unity, not a combination of two different parts.

This view honestly acknowledges the limits of our senses. It divides the world into perceptible and imperceptible parts. It honestly admits that our knowledge about the imperceptible part of the world is very limited. Thus this view does not get into a conflict with science. Moreover, it encourages science to explore the imperceptible part further.

The God-Humanity-World relations are viewed as follows in this worldview:

Humanity-World Relation: Human beings are seen as integral parts of the world. The human beings to the world are like cells to a body. The whole world is seen as one organism. According to this view, the world is not just a container for people to exist. Nor is it like a cow the lice suck blood from. It is an extension of our body.  The world is seen as an integral whole in the original, Biblical view. This picture is clearly seen in Gen 1 where we read how God creates the world with human beings as its integral parts, and in Psalm 104 where we read how God manages the world with human beings as its parts. Such a view of the world can be seen in the Stoic Philosophy (Greek) where the world is referred to as a macrocosm, that breathes together.

God-World Relation: The world, which is within the limits of time and space, exists within God, who is infinite. From God's viewpoint, the world does not have a separate existence from God. From the world's point of view, it depends for its existence upon God, and apart from God, it has no existence. The world is like the flame of a lamp that is lit forever using an endless source of energy.  The existence of the flame depends every moment on the energy supply. God is the source of the endless energy that keeps the world alive and dynamic like a flame. 

God-Humanity Relation: Man has a mediatorial role, representing the world before God and God before the world. Man is God's image for the rest of the creation, which makes man the visible representation of God for the world. Humanity as the microcosm represents the world, the macrocosm, before God. This makes man responsible and his existence is made purposeful. This relation is clearly visible in Gen 1, where Adam (humanity) becomes God's image for the rest of the creation. As mediator, the creation sees Adam as God, and God sees Adam as the creation.

Conclusion
One-Worldliness is the view held by almost all the authentic religious traditions in the world. Although you may find Other-Worldliness at the surface of any religious tradition, if you dig deep enough, you will discover One-Worldliness. Thus you can discover both Other-Worldliness and One-Worldliness in the same religious tradition-- at the surface and at deep levels.

One-Worldliness is not easy to verbalize, but Other-Worldliness is easy to verbalize. Even if we hold One-Worldly view, we often find ourselves speaking in terms of Other-Worldly view. While One-Worldliness remains a philosophical view, Other-Worldliness is expressed as a poetic view. For example, even if we know that the Earth rotates around its axis, we still say Sun rises and sets. Hence, we may use the language of Other-Worldliness even if we hold One-Worldliness.  Thus we may recite the Lord's Prayer with its Other-Worldliness even though we hold One-Worldliness.

A clear understanding of God-Humanity-World relations in the background of the three worldviews helps us immensely in our way forward.

Reference
Gregorios, Paulos. (1982). Cosmic Man. The Divine Presence. NewDelhi/Kottayam: Sophia Publications.

4 comments:

Tony Daniel said...

I wonder what H.G Paulose Mar Gregorious might have said about Dr. James Gates' Superstring Theory. (He is known for work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theories)

Just a few questions.
The nature of Spirit as we encounter in spirituality, is that, it is in a state where it is limitless. The spirit knows everything, because it is not bound by the limitations of a brain, can be anywhere at any time, because it is not limited by physicality and time. So on and so forth. Now, when such a limitless entity is tangled within the coils of mortal flesh, is the spirit not incarcerated? The limitless spirit is tied down to our fallible 5 senses. Is this not HELL itself? Are not all human endeavours attempts of the spirit to soothe itself from the utter discomfort of this dank confinement?

John Kunnathu said...

Tony, Thank you for the comment. Mar Gregorios was sympathetic to the modern developments in Physics. he believed that modern views like Superstring theory were closer to the reality than the popular views.

The idea of spirit occurs in the other-worldly view. In the one-worldly view, we can think of the reality without the idea of spirit. Whatever beyond our perception and comprehension is explained as spiritual in the other-worldly view.

Jaise's said...

It seems very brief. Especially in explaining the God in the third view, "One-Worldliness". I think Vendanta also preaches One-Worldliness. Whether both Christian views and Vendanta philosophy are same? If not how it differ. ?
Also please give an explain how we can view God in "One-Worldliness" view.

John Kunnathu said...

Jaise, Thank you very much for carefully reading this article.

Please read again the God-world relation under the one-worldly view. It answers your question.

That God is infinite means God is not limited by time or space or anything else. Therefore nothing can exist apart from God. If the world exists, it has to exist within God. This is the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_of_Nyssa . From God's perspective God alone exists. From our perspective, the world exists, but within God.

Recently I happened to read an excellent study on this topic by Paulos Mar Gregorios in his book Freedom and Authority ch. 7 . Gregorios thirumeni agrees that both Gregory and Sankara have similar way of thinking. Sankara is more rigorous in his logic than Gregory. Gregory makes it clear that no conceptual explanation, whether it be of Gregory or of Sankara, can explain God, who is utterly incomprehensible to us.

Regarding Gregory of Nyssa and sankara, see this discussion from 2006
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndianOrthodox/message/14508
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndianOrthodox/message/14527
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndianOrthodox/message/14553?var=1