No. 084


Richard Quinney

Boston College

November, 1981


Distributed as part of the TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.

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Richard Quinney

Boston College

November, 1981

INTRODUCTION The contemporary condition represents the culmination of a social and moral trend that has been accelerating for some time: the trend toward metaphysical skepticism and indifference. As a modern, advanced capitalist society has required an a-religious and secular spirit to justify an economy of exploitation, a culture has developed to provide the symbols and explanations which would support the further advancement of that social and economic order.

The crisis of our age is both material and symbolic; a social existence cannot be constructed without attending to both the conditions of material existence and the conditions for social and spiritual existence. Our hope is for a social existence filled with a meaning that relates to the larger universe. Our immediate work is in the reconstruction of a metaphysic in the struggle for social existence.

The fundamental condition of our post-modern world is this: We are between cultures. The metaphysic that grounded traditional culture, a metaphysic based on a radical dualism that distinguished between the material world and the spiritual world, has given way to a purely secular version of the world. Modern secular culture attempts to exclude questions about ultimate and transcendent concern, or about the reality of anything beyond the "natural world." A meaning in the universe beyond the concrete facts and structures of daily life is not entertained and supported in our secular culture.

However, at the same time, the contemporary secular culture is being called into question on many fronts; it, along with the traditional culture that it superseded, no longer seems to be appropriate for the emerging age. The post-modern trend appears to be the collapse of metaphysical dualism (the earthly world opposed to the world beyond). The reconstructed culture is to be infused with a multiplicity of symbols that seek to reunite the various realms of our existence. In broadest terms we are reaching a point in cultural development that calls for a holistic metaphysic. To be created is a cultural system that speaks to the wholeness of our existence.

Whatever the reconstructed culture looks like, it will likely contain the element of that which we have known as religion.* A metaphysic of social existence necessarily apprehends the historical in relation to the future, or to use the traditional Judeo-Christian symbol, the temporal in terms of the transhistorical. The religious character of our existence is more than a figment of cultural creation. The religious is known culturally, but it also transcends culture in its purpose and meaning. A reconstructed metaphysic will undoubtedly unite what we traditionally have divided into the separate realms of the sacred and the secular. Holistically we live and have our being--our social being--in a reality that is at once finite and universal.

The problem begins as an epistemological and hermeneutical question: How are we to speak again? How are we to develop an understanding of our social existence that allows us to be whole in the world? The approach I am developing concentrates on the meaning of social existence, drawing from some of the emerging notions in "post-modern" philosophical inquiry. What is needed is transformation in social consciousness that goes beyond the traditional and modern cultures. Needed is the creation of a social existence that makes our essential being possible.

METAPHYSICS AND THE GOD-QUESTION. The metaphysical question of why there is something rather than nothing will not go away. The question is basic to our existence--to our consciousness in relation to the cosmos. Even to argue that there is no metaphysic of existence--or that there is no need to speak of it--is a metaphysic on the fundamental nature of being and our understanding of existence. The problem, then, is how to talk about a metaphysic that is appropriate for our time.

Certainly we do not return to the older metaphysic, or we cannot return with the same sensibility. The traditional metaphysic, incorporating the two-world theory of existence and a language conceiving a personified God, is being severely questioned. In a particular sense, traditional metaphysics has reached an end. Not that God has died (how could we ever know?), Hannah Arendt notes, "but the way God has been thought of for thousands of years is no longer convincing; if anything is dead, it can only be the traditional thought of God."1 Regarding metaphysics in general and the specific question of God, the old problems have not disappeared; they refer to questions that are still meaningful. But the ways the questions are posed and answered have lost their plausibility, and we are in search of a new metaphysic of existence.

In common sense terms, the modern world has become secularized. The most obvious indication and representation of this is the notion that "God is dead." Although there are signs of an increasing return to "God-talk," the trend of the last few decades has been a rejection of a metaphysic based on the idea of God. Two distinct but related processes are occurring in the secularization trend. On the one hand, the word of God is being questioned; and on the other, the very existence of God (or whatever term can be used to represent a transcendental force) is in doubt. We are living in a time in which we find it difficult either to speak about God or to believe in that which God has always represented to us.

In theology the metaphysical vision of a God has been questioned seriously in the death-of-God theology. However, the emphasis in most of this theology is not that God does not exist, but that our way of conceiving of that which we have called God is in question. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's lament on the passing of "religion as such," that our civilization has "come of age," is accompanied by the suggestion that "god is teaching us that we must live without him."2 It is not God who has died, Bonhoeffer states, but it is with the suffering Christ that we live in the world. That which we have called God, in other words, is now a living presence in the daily life of social existence.

The metaphysical problem that goes beyond any particular form of social existence--whether in the political economics of capitalism or socialism--is that of the name and presence of God. The problem, as such, is a "post-modern" one, transcending any particular society, but a problem that is especially important in the transformation to a socialist society that has the possibility of being the good society. In the modern period, throughout the world, we have attempted the experiment of living without God, of trying to be in a world in which God is silent, of living without an idea of the infinite nature of being. The modern experience has been lived in the presence of God's absence--and the experiment has failed.

The problem is to be resolved only in the struggle for social existence in everyday life. A debate about metaphysics alone will not solve the problem. But it is also in our thinking and believing that we come to terms with the problems of our existence. Metaphysical questions in this sense are a fundamental part of daily life. At the center of metaphysics is the question of God, or of that which we call "God," the question about the presence of anything beyond our finite selves and our constructed social reality. That question will not go away from either metaphysical discussion or from our daily lives. The question is ontological.

The question of the ultimate meaning of existence may not necessarily, of course, be posed in terms of the presence of a supreme God-being. A theistic metaphysic is but one of the ways of considering the problem. The traditional Western metaphysic is the theistic one: of the existence of a God that is viewed as the creative source of the universe and that transcends the world yet is within it. Metaphysics in general is the search for ultimate meaning, and in the traditional metaphysic (as known particularly in the Judeo-Christian tradition) ultimate meaning is found in what is called God. To question or even reject the existence of God--especially within the confines of a monotheistic, personified, male God figure--is not to reject the presence of a providential power in the universe. Another metaphysic of ultimate, supreme meaning may yet emerge in the postmodern period. Indeed, the new age may be recognized by the metaphysic that comes to characterize that age.

The history of theology in recent decades has tended to either withdraw from the world of everyday life or to become involved in it. Those theologians who have attempted to be more at home in the contemporary world have explained the notion of God in terms that would be more compatible in the modern world. For Paul Tillich, God, in so far as he was able to talk about God, is both transcendent and immanent. But God is not the name of a being, of a being that can be set alongside other beings. Rather, developing an existential theology, Tillich states that God is being-in-itself. God, then, is the ground of all being, the source of meaning erupting into everything that is finite, partial, and conditional. God is the name that we give to that which we care about most deeply. When we talk about God, notes Tillich, we are expressing our ultimate concerns about the meaning of our existence in the universe.3

In addition to the existential critique of a theistic conception of God is the recent feminist critique of the male-paternalistic image of God. the Judeo-Christian religions, in particular, have dominated for centuries by a male monotheism. Such a conception of God can no longer be persuasive for the post-modern consciousness. The identification of divinity with maleness, feminist theology notes, has easily led to male leadership within organized religion and to the legitimation of men in family and society. That this tradition was shaped more by historical circumstances than by divine providence is the message of feminist analysis.4 In an early Christianity, for example, with the gnostic influence, there was a feminine symbolism that applied, in particular, to God. Certain of the early texts describe God as a dyadic being, that contains both masculine and feminine elements--God as both Father and Mother. And there are still other early texts in which a female God predominates. The decline of the feminine imagery of God occurred as Christianity carried out its missionary goals and adapted to the Greek and Roman communities. Along the way feminine religious symbolism has been suppressed from the Western Judeo-Christian tradition.

The sexism of our religious tradition is related, furthermore, to the dualistic and hierarchical mentality that Christianity inherited from the classical world. This dualism represents, Rosemary Ruether shows, all the basic dualities: "the alienation of mind from the body; the alienation of the subjective self from the objective world; the subjective retreat of the individual, alienated from the social community; the domination or rejection of nature by spirit."5 And the alienation of the masculine from the feminine is the primary sexual symbolism that characterizes all of these alienations. God the Father, beyond this world, is identified with the positive sides of the dualism; and the irrational world of women, with the bodyliness and sensuality, is to be dominated. Through the centuries Ruether writes, society "has in every way profoundly conditioned men and women to play out their lives and find their capacities within this basic antithesis."6

It is with the realization that the crisis in contemporary society is as much theological and spiritual as it is economic and political that we proceed with metaphysical reflection. The task in our daily struggle and in our reflection is to create symbols that express our emerging sensibilities, experiences, and needs. The theologian Gordon Kaufman writes that "theologians should acknowledge much more openly how intuitively implausible the traditional theological concepts have become, and how much they are in need of radical reconstruction."7 The central symbol of God, especially, has to be reconstructed so that it becomes significant for contemporary life. Whether we are theologians or engaged in life and reflection in other ways, the contemporary project is to reconstruct radically the central metaphysical notions by which we live and have our being. There is no alternative, as Kaufman reminds us: "The true human fulfillment to which the Christian community is devoted cannot be gained apart from the liberating and humanizing effects of theological and metaphysical self-consciousness and understanding."8

What form and content metaphysical reflection will take is being worked out in the daily struggle for social existence and in the search for the meaning of social existence. The appropriate meaning can be found only in the search and the struggle. The traditional metaphysic will necessarily give way to a reconstructed symbolism. As the Christian era--as we have known it in a traditional metaphysic--is coming to an end, a reconstructed metaphysic will be created to give meaning and direction to the new era.

The overcoming of the traditional metaphysic--in form and substance--demands a kind of reflection that is holistic instead of dualistic. A holistic metaphysic of the universe transcends the subject-object perspective of the symbolism in traditional metaphysics. The reconstruction of the world, of our social existence, in other words, is at the same time the reconstruction of metaphysics.

Deeply embedded in our historical consciousness--and epistemology--is the division between the sacred and the secular. the terminology even provides a model of social development, suggesting the increasing "secularization" of modern society. The sacred and secular concepts have, of course, varying definitions and opposing meanings and usages. For example, the world has been divided into two separate realms, the secularity of "this world" and the sacredness of the "other world." A vastly different way of thinking about the sacred and the secular is to conceive of two qualities of existence with the awe-filled character of the sacred informing the everyday secular pursuits of life. It is this later conception--as opposed to the two-world notion--that I will be drawing upon heavily in a discussion of the developing metaphysic.

The classical two-world notion of the sacred and the secular has its grounding in the reality of social existence. In a period of the "bicameral mind," as Julian Jaynes calls it, prior to approximately 1200 B.C., there was a union of the body and mind with the divine.9 Daily living was in complete association with the divine, with the divine being part of the structure of the human nervous system. With the growth and complexity of society, and with cultural encounters, the human mind became conscious of itself, engaging in reflective and critical awareness. Language, metaphor, and reasoning now placed human beings in the world. The sacred and the secular, in other words, became divided. Contact with the divine is now very much a process of volition. There is the need for theology and philosophy--for a metaphysic--to make the elemental connections.

The complete integration of the sacred and the secular--where the two are one--is of a former time. The evolution of human consciousness gives primacy to the secular world, with only occasional reference to the sacred nature of existence. This "desacralization," as Mircea Eliade calls it, provides modern social existence, making it increasingly difficult to experience the sacred character of reality.10 Nevertheless, every experience remains potentially sacred, just as every human experience is at the same time secular.

Human existence as both sacred and secular is dialectical, the sacred and the secular presenting two different realities of being in the world.11 Without secular existence there could be no sacred existence, and without the sacred all life would be ordinary and shallow. The depth of reality is found in the dialectic of the sacred and the secular. Neither the sacred nor the secular can be experienced entirely independent of each other in modern times. The sacred without the secular would lose its meaning; the secular without the sacred would cease to be a human existence. All of this, of course, until such time when the two become one in human consciousness and social existence--until there is a radical union of the worldly and the divine.

The most striking characteristic of the modern dialectic of the sacred and the secular is that particular sphere of existence can be called sacred. The sacred as a complete transcendental experience is no longer accessible. The human being, Louis Dupre' notes, "no longer directly experiences the holy either in the world or in the mind. The outer world has become totally humanized."12 All human experiences now are a combination of the sacred and the secular. Modern existence is lived, however consciously or unconsciously, within the tension and dialectic of the sacred and the secular.

Even within the dialectic the difference between the sacred and the secular is relative and varying. The predominance of one over the other is always shifting from one situation to another. One cannot exist without the other; one defines the other: "There is no such thing as profaneness by itself."13 Every act and sign has something about it that both attests to its secularity and protests against its profanity. All in life shares in the sacred; all being is thereby impressed with the touch of the holy.

Although modern theology may call for a reality of one sphere--combining the sacred and the secular--and although in our lives we actually combine the two spheres into one, in our philosophies and epistemologies we still tend to make the separation. We still prefer to divide human experience into two separate realms, reserving the secular for our everyday life and the sacred for special occasions. We conceive of two opposing ways of being in the world. While the distinction may serve an outdated psychology and sociology, it is not appropriate for what the postmodern experience is calling for. The sacred-secular distinction prevents us from understanding our human existence as lived in the reality of the whole world. The division of the world into the sacred and the secular finally prevents us from struggling for the transformation of a world that will make us whole, at one with the universe and grounded in all being.

A metaphysic of one world, integrating the sacred and the secular, must at the same time attend to the questions of time, history, and eternity. We continue to ask whether the final event in the evolution of the universe is within the present mode of time and history. Or will there by a time beyond history--the transhistorical that breaks out of the historical? Perhaps this last--the final eschatology--must remain a mystery. A metaphysic is not to answer all questions, but to raise our sense of awe and therein provide a home for us. Metaphysics is not a positivistic science. The unconditional remains in the world. The sacred permeates all areas of life and nature, not to be explained away by a science of the knowable. All that is known is also filled with mystery.

In the one world that is at once sacred and secular there is no place without mystery. All that is known, as the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner reminds us, is also filled with a mystery that is beyond explanation.14 Mystery inheres in and is indispensable to our existence. The metaphysic of the sacred-within-secular and secular-within-sacred touches upon all subjects. In the unity is the mystery and the reality.

RENEWAL OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. The reconstruction of a metaphysic is necessitated by and made possible through religious experience. In the creation of a symbolic system we are able to experience that which is particular to being human--the religious; and in the religious we create the symbols that give meaning to our place in the universe. No matter how we try to exclude the religious from life, especially in modern times, the experience of being religious is basic to our human nature: "The human soul is so constructed as to require a religion, a doctrine about the meaning and center of life."15 To regain the center of life is the objective in the reconstruction of a metaphysic of our time.

And no matter how we try to compartmentalize our experiences, the religious is an integral part of human experience. The sacred rather than being a separate realm of existence is an experiencing of the religious within the world of everyday life. The symbols and structures that we construct are the meanings human beings make collectively in a combining of the sacred and the secular. All human experience is at once spiritual and material, sacred and secular.

Human culture, in other words, is religious. In the search for meaning in the universe, culture is the constructed means of symbolizing the meaning of social existence. Transcendence through culture moves us not only into a symbolic world, but transports us into the realm of infinite concern. Through culture of the world we reach out to that which remains beyond definition, that which is beyond ourselves and our concrete existence. Through culture we participate in the ultimate, in the ground of our essential being. We attend to the infinite, and are inspired by the unconditional.

The "theology of culture," as Tillich called it, recognizes "that in every culture creation--a picture, a system, a law, a political movement (however secular it may appear)--an ultimate concern is expressed, and that it is possible to recognize the unconscious theological character of it."16 Within every cultural creation including the substructure of the economic order as well as the superstructure of ideas and social institutions--there is a spiritual expression. Given this concept of the unity of the sacred and the profane, "there are no persons, scriptures, communities, institutions, or actions that are holy in themselves, nor are there any that are profane in themselves. The profane can profess the quality of holiness, and the holy does not cease to be profane."17 The religious substance of culture is manifest in all aspects of human culture; every person is in some way related to the unconditional ground of being. The creation of human culture has within it divine inspiration.

Through the human social constructions, then, the transcendent is made possible. The transcendent--religious--dimension is essential to being human, sometimes (an only in relatively recent history) symbolized in the complex notion of God. Whether or not the experience is symbolized by an image of God, the transcendent is always with us. To deny the transcendent is to take away from our quality of being human.18 The extent that human culture attempts to exclude the transcendent, to that extent culture falls short of its real possibility.

Social existence can truly be experienced only when apprehended with the dimension of the religious. When life is lived with the element of transcendent, the world is constructed and revealed in its fullest. The religious human being assumes a particular and characteristic mode of existence in the world. The religious mode of being is in contrast to the life that is lived without a sense of the religious. To live without experiencing the religious is to accept a relativity of existence, and even to deny the meaning of existence. The modern human being and the modern culture, insofar as the religious element is excluded, assume a tragic existence--an aloneness in the universe, without meaning.

When the transcendent dimension is excluded, other myths are substituted. The secular societies of the present contain their own symbolic systems to deal with that which remains unknown and mysterious.19 An eschatological hope of an absolute end to history, or the converse hope of the continual evolution of history, may temporarily satisfy the need for some sense of order and meaning. The redeeming role of "the chosen" may come to symbolize the course of social change. Finally, however, the existential crisis--the crisis of a solely secular existence--finds a resolution in the return to sacred concerns, in a joining of the sacred and the secular. The unity of the sacred and the secular is the paradigmatic solution for the crisis of social existence.

Thus, the crisis in the modern world is as much spiritual and religious as it is material. The reconstruction involves both a change in the political and economic realm and a change in the religious realm. Both reconstructions provide for gaining access to an essential existence. In other words, as the historian William McLoughlin argues, in our postmodern period we are experiencing (especially in the United States) a new "great awakening," the creation of new symbols and structures that will reconstitute the social and moral order.20 The new reality combines the sacred and the secular; and in the process the religious experience becomes an integral part of everyday life in the world.

Symbols awaken in us the religious experience of being human--and being human collectively in a common culture. The religious experience awakens in us, a well, the need and desire to create symbols that give meaning tour human and social existence. There would be no symbols--no word and no language--without religions experience.

SYMBOLS, MYTHS, AND METAPHORS. The modern western world--whether in capitalist or socialist societies--represents the final stage of desacralization. The symbols that once were filled with religious experience now have little meaning. To attempt to live entirely within the secular and nonreligious realm is the modern experience. The symbols that remain to give meaning to our existence have only a remembrance of the sacred. And the symbols by which we live, such as they are, are but substitutes for the symbols that were charged with the depth of meaning.

Thus, as Eliade observes, the secular existence of the human being in modern societies "is still nourished and aided by the activity of his unconscious, yet without thereby attaining to a properly religious experience and vision of the world."21 The substance of a former religious symbolism is relegated to the unconscious, nevertheless offering occasional solutions for the difficulties of life, playing the role of religion. Eliade, drawing from Christian symbolism, likens the modern condition to the "fall," to a second fall that has followed the separation of the world into two spheres, the sacred and the secular.22 Modern symbols, until they join historically the sacred and the secular, attempt to provide whatever meaning they can, as limiting and unfulfilling as that meaning may be.

That we continue to live daily with and through symbols is obvious. But that we are in the process--in our own time--of creating symbols for a new world is the point that I am making. Reconstructed social forms and institutions will be developed, relating to symbols that are appropriate to our age. At the moment we are playing out in our hearts and minds, through the construction of symbols, the creation of a new social existence.

In the reconstruction of symbols we are attempting to give meaning to our experience--and to our ever-changing experiences. Symbols, being removed from direct perception and experience, order and organize our perceptions and experiences, making perception and experience possible. For example, a construction such as world, Kaufman suggests, "is never an object of direct perception; it is, rather, a concept with which we hold together in a unified totality all our experience and knowledge of objects--everything having its own proper place "within" the world."23 Likewise, the symbol of God cannot be properly understood as an object of direct experience or as an objective reality. "To regard God as some kind of describable or knowable object over against us would be at once a degradation of God and a serious category error."24 We are continually reshaping and remaking our symbols, including the symbol of God, to give meaning to the new experiences of our existence.

Symbols in ordering experience, yet in being removed from direct experience, serve as a paradigm in which the complexity of experience can be grasped. Symbols, thus, are metaphorical. The whole within which all experience and reality can be comprehended is constructed in terms of likeness and comparison. One idea or thing is used to denote another, to suggest a likeness between ideas or things; thus "God is like...." The symbol as metaphor is a construction of the mind on the basis of experience, but a construction for which there is reference to a complex of ideas or events on another level. The language and symbol of the metaphor abstracts from concrete experience and thereby orders experience--all in comparison or contrast to something else. The empirical experience is understood in terms of another idea or thing, moving dialectically between two different levels of abstraction.

Hence, our concrete experiences are understood in terms of a higher order conception. In particular, and ultimately, experience is given meaning in comparison to a metaphysical concept. A metaphysic, then, allows us to order and interpret the actual facts of experience in a convincing way. On the metaphysical nature of the metaphor, Kaufman notes: "The metaphysical task is most fundamentally the constructive and imaginative one of creating an over-arching conception of reality of the world within which all the dimensions and elements of experience can be seen, both in their unique individuality and in their interdependence and interconnection with each other."25 The metaphysical metaphor is the most powerful--and religious--instrument for bringing meaning into our human and social existence. It is human imagination at its ultimate.

We live--and we live ultimately--in metaphor. Our particular culture, as with all cultures, is grounded in metaphors, metaphors that are of metaphysical import. Our vision of reality is understood through and given meaning in metaphor. However, our metaphors are not simply decorative substitutes for what is otherwise "real." Metaphors, as used theologically and religiously, are rather a form of life in themselves; they are a way of redescribing reality according to its true essence for a particular social existence.

The metaphor--expressed in language--bridges the gap between everyday experience and the invisible world of value and meaning. Speaking through metaphors we attach the meaning denoted in the metaphor to concrete appearances. Meaning is now visible, given appearance in everyday life. Metaphors, Arendt reminds us, "are the threads by which the mind holds on to the world even when, absentmindedly, it has lost direct contact with it, and they guarantee the unity of human experience.26 Through metaphor the world becomes one, uniting experience and meaning.

The world of everyday experience is known to us and is given meaning through the symbols that are inherent in the metaphor. In one version or another--expressed sacredly or secularly, or sometimes combined--the symbols within the metaphor are presented in narrative form. Our world is thereby known to us through myth. The myths of a culture place the symbols in relation to one another and in a tension with one another. That complex whole which is signified by myth may be in the form of a drama, a narration of events, personages, and history.27 The drama of the myth regains some of the unity of spirit and matter, where myth and experience are once again one. Myths are most relevant for the reconstruction of social existence, in moving beyond the modern age.

Toward Socialism: In the reconstruction of the social and moral order, the substance of the symbols, metaphors, and myths is critical. The argument is not for the seriousness of symbols, metaphors, and myths (their seriousness is already assumed), but for the character of their particular content. In our own case, in the crisis of advanced capitalism in the United States, the substance of our construction can either aid the crisis--in further supporting the capitalist system--or they can allow us to move to another social existence. The struggle for a new society takes place as the symbols for human possibility are recreated. Social existence cannot be reconstructed without a recreation of the cultural imagination.

The contemporary transformation in social existence is occurring with the symbolism of the prophetic tradition. Our destiny, as Tillich has reminded us, is directed by the powers of our origin.28 And in the Marxian analysis of capitalist society the presupposition of providence receives concrete application, that capitalism is in the process of being transformed into socialism. It is in the socialist principle, in our recognition of providence in a religious socialism, that we integrate the past, present, and future. A bond is formed between origin and a transcendence to the goal of socialism.

A religious socialism necessarily rejects the narrow materialist doctrine of Marxism. It radicalizes Marxism "by shedding those elements of Marxism which are derived from bourgeois materialism or idealism."29 Religious socialism thus seeks a basis that lies beyond the opposition between the materialistic and the idealistic conceptions of human and social life. It has a dual starting point: "namely, the unity of that which is vital and spiritual in man, and the simultaneous disruption of that unity which is the source of the threat to man's being."30 The meaning of existence must incorporate both the material and the spiritual world. With this conception, in the struggle against demonized society and for a meaningful society, religious socialism discerns a necessary expression for the expectation of infinite being.

It is in the principle--the symbol--of socialism that this expectation is found. As a principle, "a dynamic concept that the possibility of making understandable new and unexpected realizations of a historical origin," socialism stands in a critical relation to reality.31 It allows us to assess our situation and to transcend it in terms that are yet to be developed. The socialist principle is not a general demand standing over against history, but neither is it merely the description of a unique historical phenomenon, as Tillich notes: "Rather it is a particular principle that at the same time expresses human being in general. It is rooted in a primordial human element: the demand, the transcendent, the expectation of the new. This is its universality."32 The universal element of socialism is currently being worked out in the particular historical struggle in capitalist society, but will find new expression in a yet unperceived form.

Hence, it is in the religious dimension of socialism that there is the hope and possibility of truly transforming human society. There must be an ultimate concern about being, a place for the unconditional in our thought and action. This is to replace the void in contemporary socialism, a void based on a narrowly constructed scientific and technical, deterministic and anti-religious, orthodox Marxism. Without a genuinely religious and transcendent dimension, only an earthly and this-worldly fulfillment can be hoped for sometime in the future; and even that is in certain danger of being coopted in the struggle against capitalism when pursued without the element of the spiritual. And if a despiritualized socialism is ever established, "without the acceptance of a religious foundation and the symbols expressing it no system of a planned society can escape a speedy self-destruction."33 A religious socialist society, when achieved, is one in which the class struggle has been replaced not only by a classless society but also by a social unity (a "sacramental community") in which human activity has meaning in an ultimate as well as temporal sense.

The socialist struggle, therefore, requires categories and symbols that speak to the fundamental question of both material existence and sacred essence. Marxism provides a language for the former (material existence) and a conception of the possibilities of a secular, humanistic essence. And it includes the prophetic notion of redemption through a this-worldly socialist society. Marxism, however, fails to provide us with the symbols that relate to questions of the infinite and eternal that we apprehend in our lives. The socialist principle has to address the fullness of our being, responding to our most fundamental needs (spiritual as well as material). Religious symbolism is necessary in all aspects of social and cultural life, in revolution as in everyday living.

METAPHYSICS IN THE WORLD. The message is that metaphysics is part of the real world. The particular metaphysic that we know in our time and place is an expression of the cultural and historical situation. Metaphysics, rather than being merely an abstract speculation within theology and philosophy, is a force in the transformation of historical existence. In other words, the metaphysical as it takes root within actual social and cultural life is an integral part of the world.34 A metaphysic does not refer to a reality apart from the world of concrete experience--as postulated by the "two-world theory" of reality--but is within the one world that we know and move and have our being.

The argument is that metaphysics has to be treated consciously to our lives in the fullness of our social existence. Social theory about the nature of our existence cannot be devoid of the metaphysical, otherwise, the descriptions and the prescriptions that follow from that theory will deny the true nature of existence. The common sense theories of our existence--related to or following from social theory--must incorporate a metaphysic that gives meaning to our existence. If the Christian era is coming to an end, with an ending of its particular metaphysic, then a new metaphysic must surely come to take its place. A metaphysic of transformation in this world--consistent with the word that unfolds in the universe--is the metaphysic that is giving meaning and substance to the postmodern period.

The metaphysic as found in socialist theory and practice is part of an emerging metaphysic. The historical process is viewed (drawing from the Judeo-Christian tradition) as moving in a providential direction--moving to the fullest potential of human history in the world.35 The better world is to be achieved in a kingdom on earth. The transformation is a process of revelation. This is a metaphysic that is not removed from the world, but is known and takes place in the world.

To be overcome, however, is a metaphysic that solely emphasizes a secular and material existence to the exclusion of the transcendent. The two-world theory of reality has easily and conveniently separated material life from spiritual life. In dividing the world into secular and sacred spheres, human beings have had the apparent choice of selecting different realms for different situations in everyday life--thus segmenting their lives. A holistic metaphysic, in sharp contrast, provides the possibility of bringing material and spiritual existence together. The material would not be pursued without the spiritual and the spiritual would be grounded in everyday reality. The ultimate is found neither in some "other" world nor in a completely material existence, but at the point where a metaphysic is realized in the world. To use a theistic symbol: God is on earth and the earth is in the divine universe.

The metaphysical can be constructed and understood only in terms of the world; and the world can be comprehended only in terms of ultimate-metaphysical consideration. Metaphysics appears in the process of struggling for social existence and in reflection about the meaning of that existence. The metaphysical--whether of God or another symbol--is not above reality, but is within reality. Whatever the appropriate symbolization, we are speaking about metaphysical involvement in the world.

a reconstructed metaphysic is a turning toward the world rather than a turning away from it. That which we call God is not beyond the world but within it. A metaphysic that turns us away from the world (often in the name of "religion") is no longer appropriate for the social existence that is in the process of postmodern transformation. The word in the universe is known only in our everyday, historical existence--in the words of human speech. And eternity is apprehended here on earth, as Bonhoeffer has written: "A glimpse of eternity is revealed only through the depths of our earth, only through the storms of a human conscience."36 We understand not in leaving the world but in our struggles within it.

The metaphysics of existence, thus, is of the world rather than being separate from the world. That metaphysics has become either separated from existence (as in Platonism and most of Christianity) or that it has become almost completely hidden from the world (as in modern times) is only a temporary condition. In the reconstruction of social existence we are reconstructing a metaphysic that will allow us once again to be truly in the world, apprehending at the same time the eternal meaning of the universe.

TOWARD A NATURALIST METAPHYSIC. What is to emerge is no less than a metaphysic for our time. Our post-secular age is coming to an end, or must come to an end if the natural world of which we are part is to continue and if we are to give a humane meaning to our existence. A naturalistic metaphysic infuses into our everyday experiences a universal meaning, a meaning that places everything within a context of natural wholeness. This is a metaphysic that finally transcends the traditional religious symbols. Rather than assuming a dualism between this world and the "other" world, the naturalist metaphysic gives meaning to all that exists and not what the world may become. The whole universe is of sacred and spiritual significance.

The wholeness of nature incorporates what we humans conventionally separate into the "supernatural." However, rather than a mystery existing apart from the natural, that mystery is firmly within all that is nature. The supernatural is natural, and the natural is at the same time supernatural. In the human search for meaning the natural is not to be transcended, the transcendent is within the nature of the world. Such understanding departs from an anthropocentric humanism that places the human being apart from nature and removed from the "supernatural" of nature. The meaning of our being is within the mystery of the natural world.

We are provided with a theology, a theology of nature, when we recognize the supernatural mystery of the natural world. The secularization of the contemporary age has meant not so much the demise of the sacred as it has meant the infusion of the sacred into every realm. Now, since the sacred is not a separate quality for particular realms, everything in the world is touched with sacred meaning. Everything in the world of nature--in the only world there is--is sanctified. All of life has become wondrous and "religious." In traditional terms the whole earth and the universe of which it is a part are of divine nature; all is related to God.37 With the modern recognition of the sanctity of the whole world, nothing remains mundane and ordinary; everything is of transcendent significance.

Thus within nature is that which we have been seeking all along--the transcendent. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we have tended to remove the God-head from the world of nature, nevertheless remaining uneasy about the particular presence of that God within the natural world. Other religious traditions, the Eastern religions and native American traditions especially, as well as the "primitive" religions, have dealt in a more inclusive way with the religious character of that which is about us, and of which we are an integral part. The end of the Christian era--which we are probably witnessing--comes with the incorporation of nature to new religious symbols.

The modern situation, it seems apparent, demands the continuous involvement of life in the reality of the physical universe, rather than attempting to experience another reality complete and perfect apart from the natural world.38 The transformation of religious sensibility nevertheless retains the absolute condition of transcendence. There remains the unconditionality of the universe--of nature--that gives meaning to all experience. Still demanded in the modern situation is a faith in the beneficence of the universe. Still required, as required always, is a faith in that which is unknowable. In transcendence there is always something beyond, a something that gives ultimate meaning to our existence.

This is a transcendence which insists "that no finite person or object of community is ultimate but is rather integral to an encompassing reality that alone is worthy of final trust and loyalty."39 The finite continues to be apprehended in the infinite, but the infinite is a reality that encompasses the whole universe, in the dynamics of its development. The transcendent is within the world, not a separate entity separate from the universe. Transcendence includes all that is, and the unity of all that is in the universe. This is a transcendence that follows from increasing ranges of contemporary thought and experience. Theologically, George Rupp notes "propositions about a transcendent personal being who intervenes on request in nature and history, are not compelling even to many who nominally subscribe to them.40 A naturalist metaphysic offers the symbols for our emerging religious sensibility.

Transcendence is of unconditional character in the natural world, rather than being an attribute of an entity "outside the world." The transcendent that is present in the natural world allows the union of the human being with the totality, with the totality of the natural universe. As we become lost--immersed--in the world of nature we regain the original union. For Henry David Thoreau, being lost in a woods was a memorable and valuable experience. Only when lost--"turned round"--do we appreciate the wonder of nature. "Not till we are lost," wrote Thoreau, "not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."41 Going beyond ourselves, outside of ourselves, and in loss of ourselves, we begin to find our place in the world.

Finding ourselves through transcendence, as a naturalist metaphysic indicates, does not necessarily entail a theism of the divine. In fact, the naturalist ontology explicitly attempts to frame the question of the transcendent in other than theistic terms. Beyond theism is a symbolism that dispenses with the classical duality of subject and object. That which is of divine character is not necessarily, as Carl Raschke observes, "an object that can be represented and manipulated in accordance with the structures of the experiencing subject."42 A reconstructed metaphysic goes beyond the subject-object dualism in which human beings are the subjective arbiters of an anthropomorphic Supreme Being.

The "post-modern" theme--with considerable variation--conceives of the world as a sacramental reality rather than the province of a supernatural being.43 Assumed is an essential wholeness and coherence of the world. The naturalist metaphysic, as I am calling it, finds the divine everywhere, in everything. A pantheism of the pervasiveness of the divine in nature may be tempered by a philosophical "panentheism" that simultaneously envisions the divine beyond all.44 Whatever the variant of the naturalist metaphysic, however, the divine is to be found in the midst of the world, not removed from this world in another world.

In this way, as the process philosophical perspective suggests, the divine is at the same time both the totality of the world and the actual entity that is the totality.45 There is divine immanence in the world while there is also divine transcendence. According to the naturalist metaphysic, the world of nature--the whole of the universe--has the quality of being equally immanent and transcendent. The mystery and the wonder of nature--we call it the "divine"--is an integral part of the world, touching every part of the world, giving a transcendent meaning to every part. The world has a wholeness touched by mystery--all from within the process of its own creation and development.

The nature of the world is that of movement and change within the whole of the universe. The naturalist metaphysic conceives of the divine world as an evolving primordial reality. This is a total vision of the world, a vision, as Thomas Altizer reminds us, that is essentially Oriental.46 Contrary to the Christian tradition, or perhaps to be absorbed into that tradition, is the vision of the totality of the world, of the world as the Totality of All. Because the divine is in the world, and embodies the world, the primordial reality is the All. The unfolding of the world, then, is the consummation of the Totality.

Our human religious conception of the world is likewise in a process of movement toward possible fulfillment. Nature, as the totality of created things, is conceived in human terms with great historical variation. Yet, in the religious sense we all apprehend the divinity of the natural world through inwardness, or as Paul Holmer phrases it, "the nearness of God is determined by the quality of the heart, mind and will."47 And, as I have been indicating, the intensity and substance of that which we experience as God or the divine is moving from an earlier dualism of the two-worlds of reality in a contemporary holistic vision of the creation and evolution of the universe. In the new vision--the naturalist metaphysic--the divine is in the totality of the world. The mystery of nature is present from the beginning, and the human course, as it is part of the development of the universe, is to find a harmony with all other parts of the world. We live and we die to become closer to the world.

The current movement in the human world is toward the construction of "new structures of existence." There is the possibility of creating structures that will bring us into closer harmony with the wholeness of the world. On the other hand, it is just as likely that the human species may become separated from the necessary interrelatedness and balance of the world, destroying the natural environment that makes human life possible. An evolving naturalist sensibility--of religious proportion--offers hope for the course of human survival. That we may find the Way is the prospect offered in a holistic vision of the world. This is a vision that must necessarily inform our labors if our work is to be for human survival rather than destruction. We are realizing our part in the nature of the world.


1Hannah Arendt, Thinking (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 10. Return

2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 219. Return

3Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), passim. Return

4Elaine H. Pagels, "What Become of God the Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity," in Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow (eds.), Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), pp. 109-119. Return

5Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Motherearth and the Mega-machine: A Theology of Liberation in a Feminine, Somatic and Ecological Perspective," in Ibid., p. 44. Return

6Ibid. Return

7Gordon D. Kaufman, "Metaphysics and Theology," Cross Currents, 28 (Fall 1978), pp. 325-341. Return

8Ibid. Return

9Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1976). Return

10 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Williard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959), p. 3. Return

11See Louis Dupre', The Other Dimension: A Search for the Meaning of Religious Attitudes (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972), pp. 14-17. Return

12Ibid., p. 23. Return

13Hans-George Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 133. Return

14See Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. William V. Dych (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), pp. 44-89. Return

15Eduard Heimann, "Tillich's Doctrine of Religious Socialism," Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (eds.), The Theology of Paul Tillich (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 318. Return

16Paul Tillich, On the Boundary: An Autobiographical Sketch (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966), p. 71. Return

18See Louis Dupre', Transcendent Selfhood: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Inner Life (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), p. 104. Return

19Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, pp. 205-210. Return

20William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1607-1977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 179-216. Return

21Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, p. 212. Return

22Ibid, p. 213. Return

23Kaufman, "Metaphysics and Theology," p. 328. Return

24Ibid, p. 329. Return

25Ibid, p. 332. On the emerging notion of tension and interaction in New Testament hermeneutics, see Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977). Return

26Arendt, Thinking, p. 109. Also see David Tracy, "Metaphor and Religion: The Test Case of Christian Texts," Critical Inquiry, 5 (Autumn 1978), p. 100. Return

27Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, pp. 164-171. Return

28Paul Tillich, The Socialist Decision, trans. Franklin Sherman (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 108. Return

29Paul Tillich, Political Expectation (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 46. Return

30Ibid, pp. 46-47. Return

31Tillich, The Socialist Decision, p. 9. Return

32Ibid, p. 64. Return

33Paul Tillich, "Man and Society in Religious Socialism," Christianity and Society, 8 (Fall 1943), p. 10. Return

34See Kaufman, "Metaphysics and Theology," pp. 338-339. Return

35See the discussion in Gerard Raulet, "Critique of Religion and Religion as Critique: the Secularized Hope for Ernest Bloch, New German Critique, 9 (Fall, 1978), pp. 71-85. On the metaphysic in Marxism, see Arend Theodoor van Leeuwen, Critique of Heaven (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972). Return

36Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 47. Return

37Frederick Elder, Crisis in Eden: A Religious Study of Man and Environment (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), pp. 81-128. Return

38George Rupp, Beyond Existentialism and Zen: Religion in a Pluralistic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 34-37. Return

39Ibid, p. 105. Return

40Ibid, p. 197. Return

41Henry D. Thoreau, Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 171. Return

42Carl A. Raschke, "The End of Theology," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 46 (June 1978), p. 170. Return

43Nathan A. Scott, Jr., The Wild Prayer of Longing: Poetry and the Sacred (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), pp. 42-60. Return

44See Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953). Return

45See Robert B. Mellert, What is Process Theology? (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), pp. 58-63. Return

46Thomas J. J. Altizer, The Descent into Hell: A Study of the Radical Reversal of the Christian Consciousness (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott, 1970), pp. 173-183. Return

47Paul L. Holmer. The Grammar of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 211. Return

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