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The deep mystery of consciousness

By Peter Sellick - posted Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Ancient metaphysics affirms that each person is an en-souled body precious in the eyes of God because he/she reflects the image of God. This is the basis for our legal system, our care for the disadvantaged and ill and our general nurturance of the human community i.e. the spiritual. When this goes unrecognised and human beings are described in terms of materialism we unleash terrifying consequences that were played out in the twentieth century. For example, if there is no difference between human beings and animals, if both can be described in terms of mechanism, then human beings can be treated as animals and were.

The ancient metaphysics, certainly in the Judeo/Christian tradition, postulate the fulfilment of history when evil and death will be no more and God will dwell in peace with His people. Note that this is not a prophesy of a coming time that can be identified among the times but a reality that exists in hopefulness that even now is breaking in upon us. This may not be identified with technological progress and a surfeit of goods. It is transcendent; it does not grow out of human effort but exists as promise that evokes yearning. The presence of this idea, its proclamation during worship creates an arrow of time, not in terms of blind optimism but in terms of the working out of an established historical reality.

This is impossible for a materialist metaphysics that reduces the future to a working out of existing physical relations and processes. All it can give us is a desolate earth circling a dying sun. Both of these narratives may be true because they do not occupy the same category. The new heaven and the new earth that is proclaimed in Revelations is a reality that belongs in the realm of the spiritual and as such is present in all of time, as the truth of God is present in all of time. The cosmological projection looks to an event in the future.

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The above represents the difficulty we have when thinking of the natural and the supernatural. When we adhere to the natural view there is a danger that we impoverish the experience of being human. When we adhere to the supernatural view we are in danger of floating off into the world of ideas and ignoring the physical.

It seems that we are faced with a situation in which we cannot devise a unified metaphysics that gives space for the natural and the supernatural. This was easy to resolve when the "supernatural" was identified with the ghostly, as in "supernatural thriller" ie it was plainly nonsense. However, Hart has argued that the supernatural points to the experience that is most familiar to us: consciousness. The problem we face in late modernity is that materialist metaphysics has become dominant to the exclusion of the spiritual and that, as we saw in the twentieth century, the century that proclaimed that God was dead, millions could be brought to their deaths without a flicker of compassion.

The only discipline that can shed light on this dilemma is theology. It alone has at hand the language and concepts that are needed.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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