Last October, philosopher Jacob Needleman was interviewed on PBS about his 2002 publication, “The American Soul.” In this book, Needleman describes how the founders of our country, in spite of their human flaws and vested interests, were able to draft a Constitution for the United States of America that was praised and admired worldwide. It is difficult to bring a group of disparate individuals to consensus on anything, let alone the somber task of defining the governing principles of a new country.
Needleman feels that this was possible because of their classical education and their faith in God.
By classical education, Needleman means that they were all familiar with the great thinkers throughout history and how their words made a pivotal impact on the course of events.
The founding fathers knew that this was a crucial time and that their words would have great significance. Although their faith may have taken different paths, there was a general feeling that the grace of God, or in William Penn’s words “the inner Christ,” would guide their hands and minds in producing the document. According to Needleman, the materialism that permeates our country today is the result of a cultural neurosis that believes that only the external senses show us the real world and that only goals of physical or social comfort are worthy of our striving.
This belief is contrary to classical idealism and the religious perspective that we are to act in the world as conscious instruments of God.
Needleman states, “It was understood that our life was not given to ourselves alone, but that human beings would be granted a certain greatness only to the extent that they sought to serve God and their neighbor ... and that nothing essential in human life can be changed for the better without first attending to our own inner disharmony.”
He feels that our present goal should be “to build — or rebuild — a bridge between our contemporary American culture and the source of hope and meaning that has always existed behind the scenes of what we call history.”
Ever since scientists such as Newton, Galileo and Copernicus put forth data that was contrary to commonly held beliefs, there have been debates about the interaction of faith and reason, spirit and matter or body and soul. Some, such as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, would go so far as to say that “God is dead” and that the only thing that matters is matter. As scientific and technological achievement continues to escalate, some may feel that science alone will provide all the answers concerning human nature and the universe.
The truth is that each new discovery seems to raise more questions rather than provide definitive answers. For example, the more Albert Einstein formulated the outer reaches of the universe, the more he appreciated the intelligence that made it all possible. Likewise, Lewis Thomas’s book “The Lives of a Cell” relates his awe and belief as he explores the basic building blocks of life. Could it be that a renewed interest in God would come from, not theology or philosophy, but from science?
Amit Goswami is professor emeritus of the University of Oregon’s Institute for Theoretical Physics. In his groundbreaking book “God is Not Dead” (2008), Goswami states that not only are science and religion compatible, but that quantum physics actually proves the existence of God. He asserts that quantum thinking is striking the death blow to scientific materialism. Goswami believes that reflective consciousness is not cerebral but is a function of the soul. The realm of possibilities from which a “quantum” is chosen comes from God. The often-heard expression, “With God, all things are possible,” is one way of expressing quantum thinking. Goswami declares that “Evolution is the result of intelligence, rather than intelligence being the result of evolution!” The French paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) also believed that spirit and matter existed together since the beginning of time and developed his own theory of evolution showing that spirit was “a priori,” or the initiating energy of matter. The church father, Irenaeus, must have had a similar belief as he wrote in the third century “God sleeps in a stone, dreams in a flower, moves in an animal, and wakes in man.” The thoughts of all these individuals indicate that the modern world needs to find its way back to the fundamental reality of the inner world, the world of the soul.
Needleman suggests that we recognize that the word “soul,” in addition to its religious and psychological definitions, also “refers to a deep, hidden power of consciousness and moral power within every human being, a force, an intensity of feeling and knowing that defines us as human beings, that defines our place in nature, on earth, and with each other.”
Dr. Agnes Martinko is a member of St. Edward Church in Youngstown.