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Life Arts

On Nature

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Originally posted:

Before there was God, there was nature. After God died, nature remained.

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All gods that have ever existed have been the attempts of human beings to anthropomorphize nature or the forces of nature in an attempt to deal with their world. The Abrahamic God behind the Universe is not fundamentally different from a god behind the sun, a god behind the storm, a god behind the sea, etc. In every instance it is human beings putting a human face on something which they do not understand. All gods are a metaphor for something which is more godly than any God: life itself. Remove life from God and what does God become? A shadow. A monster. Death personified. “The will to nothing pronounced holy!”

Before the rise of the city-state and industrialized society, before we turned away from the rest of nature and starting looking in, only to ourselves, we were more integrated with our environment—with the earth, with other species, with each other, with our bodies. Humanity felt connected with the rest of life. This was Eden.

The rise of agriculture and the city-state allowed for tremendous amounts of people to be supported by smaller and smaller amounts of land. We were surrounded not with other forms of life, but only with humanity and the products of humanity. Our gods became less “natural” and more “human” (Ares, Venus, Horus, Odin, etc, are all expressions of different aspects of human nature1)—and eventually less “human” and more “abstract.” Cut from nature, our gods became transcendent, and monolithic. We no longer felt the interconnection of life all around us. We had to look inside and imagine a point above it all—outside of the world of desperation we had created. God became “one” because divinity became too sterile to exist in abundance. We, looking in toward ourselves, decided that a “Great Human,” like ourselves, must have forged the world the way we forge machines. We did not grow out of nature—nature was built by us.

Nature became an enemy, a threat, an outside. Whereas once living in harmony and balance with other forms of life was our goal, now our goal became one of dominance, self over other. Other forms of life—even other human beings—became threats to be harnessed or destroyed. The rise of the Newtonian mechanistic worldview represented the dominance and instrumentality of the natural world—what was considered, essentially, to be God’s machine—by the human mind and rationality. The God that had detached itself from its base, which was nature, was not long for this world. Having already become one, and transcendent, it now became more abstract and distant. Thus was deism born. But even this was not for long, and this abstract God, less and less relevant, finally died, leaving atheism as the natural result of this process of transcendence. Science turned back to nature and the study of nature, not as God’s machine, but as a self-contained and closed system. But though God had died, the values that had given birth to God remained, and the world was now viewed not as a vibrant and vital organism, but as a more or less disenchanted mechanism—certainly no source for spiritual fulfillment. We came to look at nature as something stupid and empty. God, paradoxically, became the articulation for many of the essence of life, and so a world without God meant to them a world without hope—a conclusion they sought desperately to avoid through any means necessary.

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“Your spirituality is one of death” speak the shamans and other keepers of the old ways “for you can only have true spiritual connections with things that actually exist—not with any Great Human forger of the world, which is only a product of your imagination."2

In its broadest aspect, nature is reality—the world, the ground of being, the nature of existence, the objective, the absolute. And, in turn, life in its broadest sense is nature—not any particular living thing, but the underlying interconnectedness that makes possible every living thing.

Nature is everything that we mean by the divine. Nature is the "creator." Nature is the preserver. Nature is the destroyer and judge.3 And you, like everything else, are an incarnation of nature.

Nature is the measure of all things and the source of all values: true and false, good and evil. Nature is beyond good and evil. Nature contains all that is called good and all that is called evil. But nature, that is to say, life, is the basis of everything that we mean by good. Everything that we desire, everything that we value, everything that we esteem, is so as a result of our nature—and of the natural world and relationships that gave rise to our nature.

To be commanded nature must be obeyed. Every being, action, and experience is the perfect expression of those conditions that created it. You cannot help but worship nature—everything you do makes reference to it.

The God of Tillich or Spinoza, or the Brahman of the Yogis, already admits the point—that what we mean by God is nature. But why call it God at all? The term God carries with it the connotation of a person—but nature is not a person. Nature is everything, and because there is nothing that nature is not, nature has no outside with which to interact. Thus it has no personality, and thus it is not a person. Though thinking of it as a person can, in some ways, be a useful construction.

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Nature can have no author or creator—for nature is reality, is everything that exists. Thus any “God” that existed would have to either be synonymous with nature or be an aspect of it—that which transcends reality by definition does not exist.

Nor can anything truly be created, in the strictest sense of coming from nothing. Either something exists in the potentiality of nature or it does not. If it is not possible for it to exist, then not even a God could make it exist. If it is possible for it to exist, then it already exists as a seed within the potentiality of nature awaiting its actualization—its summoning.

The goal of religion has always been to reorient the self-aware organism back to its interconnection with its environment. All organisms seek to integrate with their environment—without this tendency they would die. Within the confines of the city-state, without the experience of ecstatic union with the natural world, this desire often manifests itself as an unrequited love—an empty, unfulfilled longing.

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Ben Dench graduated valedictorian of his class from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Spring Semester of 2007 with a B.A. in philosophy (his graduation speech, which received high praise, is available on YouTube). He is currently (more...)

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