The two people who have had the biggest influence on my spiritual worldview (and worldview in general) have been Robert Anton Wilson and Alan Watts. RAW introduced me to Discordianism (Hail Eris!), model agnosticism, and the occult. Watts introduced me to Tao, Advaita Vedanta, and Zen. The other, more general thing that Alan Watts introduced me to was a kind of pantheistic monism in which your fundamental identity was one with the whole universe. The universe was divine and it was “people-ing” in much the same way as an apple tree is “apple-ing.” Through Watts I adopted a worldview that said that the part of me that was most deep and fundamental was in fact the entire universe expressing itself as me right here and now. It is a very liberating worldview in my experience, it gives me peace of mind and an acceptance of death, the Advaita Vedantic idea Tat Tvam Asi, That Art Thou, or as Watt’s translates it, You’re It.
And then I read Mary Jane Rubenstein’s book on pantheism, Pantheologies. Pantheologies is an extremely well researched and well thought out history and defense of pantheism in Western culture. From Baruch Spinoza and Giordano Bruno to William James and Albert Einstein she outlines the many great Western thinkers who have espoused one or another version of pantheism, the idea that God is all, or nature, or the cosmos, or the universe. But more than just that, Rubenstein expressly advocated and defended a pluralistic pantheism and argued against pantheistic monism more strongly than she argued against any other particular idea or worldview. She made a very compelling case, that it doesn’t make sense to refer to the universe as One unified, totalizable, whole “thing”. She argued strongly that the universe is many interrelated (and sometimes unrelated) different things in an open and untotalizable system. In fact according to her research, those who advocate monism in the West have tended to use monism to reenforce already existing hierarchies that place White European Men firmly at the top of the pyramid.
I found this perspective to be pretty challenging to my worldview. I try to be skeptical of ideas that privelidge hierarchy in any form. It felt to me as though my ideal of pantheism didn’t do this at all because to me everything and everyone is an expression of the universe. The universe is having the experience of being all the things of the universe and so there was no hierarchy becaue everything was divine, everything was literally God. But it becomes extremely hard to say “You’re It” if there is no “It” for you to be. In Rubenstein’s model of pantheism she stresses at one point that you’re constituted by a multitude of interrelated organisms mostly bacteria; that you are a symbiont in the terminology of Lynn Margulis. At other points in the book she stresses that the universe is multitudes of different and differentiated things and beings and entities and that you’re one of them; you’re not “It,” you’re “You” and it’s “It” and though you may have a relationship with it, you and it are not the same thing.
This view of the universe-as-divine-multitude challenged the model that had helped me ease my chronic anxiety and existential dispair to such an extent that reading it genuinely gave me stress headaches. I felt that if I was a separate entity from the universal whole then when I die it must mean that I become completely annihilated. Who cares if I’m divine if it doesn’t make me a part of a greater whole, a whole that will outlive the experience of this life here and now? In a lot of ways it felt like atheism with sparkles (to paraphrase Gordon White). A kind of atheism that said, “Sure life is cruel and harsh and when you die that will be your complete and difinitive end, save for whatever genes you managed to pass on and whatever memories others have of you, but hey it’s not so bad, you’re divine!” What work is the word “divine” really doing in that instance?
But then she made reference to a character in Octavia Butler’s Parable Duology in which the character said that “God is change,” and on the same page Rubenstein expresses that in her model of pantheism it was perhaps necessary to accept that “God” in a pluralistic, ever changing sense was a Trickster, was Pliable, was indeed, Chaos. God to Rubenstein is “the ongoing proceses of becoming and unbecoming.” This reminded me of my own worldview during a time when I was becoming very influenced by Robert Anton Wilson and was engaging deeply with Discordianism. My vision of Eris was of the primordial chaos, what Zummi would often refer to as “the howling, undulating void.” To me at that time “God” was the radiant, chaotic void from which all things in the cosmos eminated. Cosmos was an expression of Chaos.
This concept has analogues to ideas of the Void in Buddhist thought as far as I’m aware, and in remembering that previous iteration of my worldview I felt as though I may have found a way to reconcile my feelling of unity with the multiplicity of Rubenstein’s pantheism. A couple of pages before Rubenstein explores the concept of God-as-change she expresses Paul Tilich’s view that “God is the “ground of being” that is also an “abyss”—at once manifest in all that is and hidden in it’s unexhaustable depth.”
Throughout my reading of Pantheologies I kept writing in the margins things like “can’t the universe be BOTH one AND many?” or “What if it’s ONE process that is composed of MANY things?” and stuff like that. Rubenstein was so willing to collapse, combine and disolve so many chimerical dualities as false dichotomies (mind and matter, spirit and body, light and dark, male and female, reason and passion, humanity and environment) and yet she was unwilling give the same treatment to “one and many.” In Rubenstein’s view the idea that One and Many could be seen as the same was in fact an other point in favour of the argument for the universe’s fundamental perspectival plurality, for was not “the monist’s overarching One…the product of yet another perspective”?
But in retrieving for myself the idea of the Chaos underlying the Cosmos I am able, for the time being, to reconcile both perspectives. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot to be favoured in the notion of a multitudinous cosmos composed of different interrelated and divine things. And I can also experience myself as one with an underlying Chaos that is the “ground of being” and also an “abyss.” To me, for now, I can conceive of all the many and different things that make up what we know as “the” universe (or perhaps more accurately, as Bucky Fuller called it, universe. No “the,” just universe) as expressions of the howling, undulating, radiant, chaotic void that underlies everything. In my pantheism the cosmos is divine and so is the chaos. The cosmos is the many, the different, the perspectival, and the plural. The chaos is the one, the unified, the oceanic, and the whole. The Many and the One. This is my attempt at having a complex and subtle pantheism that tries not to fall into the chauvinistic pitfalls of traditional monism but also is able to maintain the coherence of the experience of mystical union and idetity with the divine.
It is entirely possible that this is just the poor attempt of a cisgendered, straight, white man of Western European descent trying to hang on to a worldview that makes him feel comfortable in a world that is in fact highly uncomfortable. I am open to that being the case, but I have had personal experiences of mystical union, of feeling one with a divine universe and identifying myself with it, and those experiences have been among the most profound in my life and have helped me psychologically, spiritually and emotionally in deep ways, and it is important for me to try to process and integrate them in a way that allows me to achieve and maintain the kind of inner peace that they have been able to provide for me.
That inner peace was shaken by reading Pantheologies but I am grateful to Mary Jane Rubenstein for that, I want my spiritual worldview to be complex and nuanced and no one I know of has written a better defence and advocation of pantheism than she has. In this journey of reading and processing her book I’ve also been brought back to some of my spiritual roots in my love for the divine Chaos, the radiant Void, the sacred Chao, the Golden Apple of Discord and Our Lady Eris. I have begun reading Chaos by James Gleick to see if I can glean any insight from that seminal work and just read an excerpt from Psychonaut to see what Peter Carrol’s take on a chaotic cosmology was. I’m not sure what astrophysicists would answer to the question “Is the universe One?” I reckon the answer would differ from physicist to physicist. As I said in a previous post, reality is a matter of taste and I have a taste for chaos and a taste for unity, but I also have a taste for a divine universe, and if Mary Jane Rubenstein tells me that the universe is a plurilistic and untotalizable array of many different things, processes and entities then I’m going to take that seriously.
Hail Eris! All Hail Discordia!