What the Politics of a Reunification of Science and Religion Might Look Like — part 3, Danah Zohar and a Quantum Society
This is part of my unpublished book on Astrology, the conclusion of the fifth chapter of part 3, which I’ve divided into three parts on Medium because of the length of the original. It is therefore a continuation of the previous article. It would be very helpful to have read this in order to make sense of what follows. At the start of that article there is also an explanation of the context for what follows. Here I explore the political and social ideas of the physicist Danah Zohar.
chapter 24: WHAT REUNIFICATION WOULD LOOK LIKE (part 3 in Medium)
A writer who has spent a lot of time and energy addressing all these issues, albeit from a different angle, is Danah Zohar. In The Quantum Society¹, she identifies the following crises of modern times, a view which she shares with many people from all walks of life: politics, relationships and the family, community. She sees them as manifestations of a deeper underlying crisis of spirituality and meaning, both for the individual: “There is no feeling more desperate than that of being free to choose, and yet without the specific compulsion of being chosen. That is, without the specific ‘compulsion’ of being asked meaningfully to serve or assist some cause larger than the self” (quoting Philip Rieff, p203).
…and for the political process: “This more spiritual dimension to our shared public life, spiritual in a wholly non-deified, non-religious sense, is what has been lost for some time in our Western political process. It is the dimension whose loss has slowly bled that process of its meaning, value and efficacy and which has exacerbated certain divisive trends in society that today have reached crisis proportion. Today’s political crisis, I would argue then, is first and foremost a spiritual crisis” (p204).
Her specific concerns about politics are as follows:
- They are meant to be based on consensus, but that is becoming increasingly difficult because of the pluralistic nature of our society, thus they have been reduced to one group trying to get its own way at the expense of everyone else.
- The system does not provide its citizens with any sense of meaning, and denies them identity. When this happens the quest for meaning “may well be forced into pathological expression” in the form of materialism, “the use of politics to further the interests of commercial or industrial cliques”, “the rise and predominance of many factional groups and ‘isms’ ”, (p217) nostalgia, and perhaps worst of all, nationalist movements.
If politicians reply that it is not the business of government to seek to provide a sense of identity and meaning for its citizens, and that they have to find these themselves, she would see this not as an answer, rather as part of the problem. She attributes this tendency to the philosophy of liberal individualism, which dominates our politics (see p211 et seq.), and modern psychological theories: “The dominant influence of all psychotherapies has been a narcissistic over-attention to self and self-satisfaction” (p257). The end result of this is as follows: “When all meanings are private and/or exclusive, no larger meaning that is the shared meaning of all can ever emerge” (p222). Although we long for meaning in our lives, and have “the impulse to dedicate our lives to something or someone beyond the narrow confines of immediacy and the self, we find little supportive basis for such an impulse in the values or the philosophy of our culture” (p255). Liberal individualism may seem to be the only possible approach in a pluralist society, in which the best we can hope for is tolerance in abundance. She sees this as ultimately inadequate, however, in that “both conflict and tolerance keep the other at arm’s length. Both stress that he or she… is other than myself” (p151).
This political philosophy is derived from the more wide-ranging philosophy of materialism and its offspring mechanism, which inspired Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, John Locke, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Freud, in their various fields, to the extent that “mechanistic physics became the touchstone for a whole world view, the central paradigm of the modern world” (p4). Not surprisingly Zohar is critical of this development, and in particular spends some time suggesting some limitations and inadequacies in Darwin’s theory of evolution. She is also unimpressed by:
a) Christianity, in that it makes a sharp distinction between soul and body, between this world and the next, and tends to see nature as at best pagan, and at worst vile or corrupt. She notes that “in most Western countries, organized Christianity is no longer a force that excites the public conscience nor inspires the public imagination” (p204), thus creating a gap which her type of society could fill.
b) a trend which began with Descartes’ ‘thinking self’, which “has evolved to become the empty ‘nothingness’ of the Existentialists, or, more recently, the ‘de-centred self’ described by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan… It is, in Sartre’s words, ‘condemned to be free’ — free from all ‘nature’, all meaning, all commitment and from any means to effective action” (p187).
As the title of her book reveals, she believes that the insights of quantum physics provide a more accurate world-view than the systems she has been criticizing: “We human beings are physical creatures. The dynamics of both our bodies and our minds emerge from the same laws and forces that move the sun and the moon or that bind atoms together. There is just one reality, and we are all part of it”. They can therefore serve as the building-blocks for a new way of living, a new type of society: “The main challenge of our times is to link the inner world of the self with the outer world of society, and to see both within the larger context of the natural world. To do this effectively, I believe we must come to appreciate that self, society and nature all derive from a common source, that each is a necessary partner in some larger creative dialogue” (both quotes Pxi). Thus she has a vision of “a self which is deeply at one with fundamental reality and essentially defined through its relationship to others and to the natural world” (Pviii).
The most obvious discrepancy is that we experience ourselves as separate individuals, separate from each other and from the world, whereas the true situation is that the universe is an interconnected whole: “Individualism itself, the whole philosophical and psychological notion that human beings are separate from one another, that meaning can be private and that fulfilment can ever be purely ‘personal’, is a misguided and misguiding illusion. It is founded, as we have seen, on a misguided notion of how physical reality itself is structured and on an ignorance of the creative dynamics of the physical universe” (p258).
It would be impossible to provide a full understanding of her book without many long quotations. I am therefore going to give you a flavour of her thinking with a list of the main ideas she offers as solutions to society’s ills, and hope that you will find time to read the original. She places her hope in:
- a society firmly rooted in nature and in the nature of physical reality itself
- the creativity of individuals
- the need to accept diversity, as a counterbalance to insular and nationalistic attitudes
- creative listening and dialogue in committed personal relationships and in the political process
- reinventing the family
- a new approach to religion/spirituality and its relationship to politics. She quotes Peter Berger thus: “Through most of empirically available human history, religion has played a vital role in providing the overarching canopy of symbols for the meaningful integration of society. The various meanings, values and beliefs operative in a society were ultimately ‘held together’ in a comprehensive interpretation of reality that related human life to the cosmos as a whole” (p224, from The Homeless Mind). Thus there was a union of politics and religion which was “at its strongest and most effective among those people who saw themselves bound together in society through the agency of a ‘covenant’…” (p224). She goes on to develop the idea of a “covenant with the vacuum”. This is a strange expression, but makes sense when we understand that the vacuum is a quantum term for the ultimate ground of being, what in spiritual language would be called Brahman, the Tao, Ayin, Akasha etc. We are talking therefore about a covenant with the Divine to participate in the evolution of the universe according to its Will.
She recognizes that many of the qualities she is looking for in the new society were features of past cultures, that her vision is more common to some of the great wisdom traditions of native peoples or to the ancient Greeks (p197), and that her view is similar to that put forward by pantheists for millennia (p198). At times (e.g. p207) she sounds as if she is describing Native American society, and argues that such small groups are a natural reflection of human nature, “a necessary link between the structure of the human brain… and the structure of human social and political organization” (p208).
Thus she shares my recognition that there is much value and wisdom to be gained from original societies. In her vision for the future she believes that we must incorporate their wisdom while recognizing that we have to grow beyond them. This idea is thus in tune with the concept of the evolutionary spiral that I was discussing in the last chapter. From everything that I have said, you can see that Zohar and I share the same concerns about society, and have similar ideas about what we would like to see. I wonder, however, whether her vision goes far enough. She says that “If we want to change society, we must begin by changing the way that we think” (p16). That is true, but we tend to change the way we think as the result of experience, not because someone else tells us that what we think is wrong. The latter approach is often met with hostility and abuse. Zohar herself says that “it is impossible to impose a sense of the whole on individuals” (p99). We are therefore confronted by an enormous problem: the new physics is our most successful theory ever, “yet the details of quantum physics, and the sweeping conceptual revolution that underpins it, have made almost no impact on our perception of ourselves or the world around us”. Quantum reality is neither remote nor inaccessible; it is actually everywhere around and inside us, in fact, it “accurately describes all physical phenomena”. Despite this our ‘common-sense’ view of things persists, and that is precisely the problem: “As (Richard)Feynman put it, ‘the paradox is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ought to be’ ” (see pp17–18).
Can there be a religion of quantum physics? It provides the scientific theoretical basis, but I suggest that it is not up to the task of nourishing the hearts and souls of a whole society. John Lennon could sing “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” until the cows come home, and we can all sing along, but it remains at the level of an idea. The footballers’ ritual at the end of matches of exchanging shirts with the opposing team is a clear symbolic recognition of the fact that “we are you, and you are we”. Yet it remains at the level of understanding, it does not become an experience. It may be true that lasers depend on quantum thinking and that there are lasers in our hi-fi systems, but they still seem to be just another piece of technology, an advance on the record-player. All this therefore makes no difference to our lives, and thus to the way we think. As Zohar admits: “Viewing reality itself as so many patterns of shifting, responsive potential is alien to our mechanistic intuitions” (p24). I would go further and argue that what she is describing goes beyond a bad habit acquired in the last two centuries, and is actually what the Hindus call maya, a fundamental illusion engrained in the nature of our everyday consciousness.
There is therefore a practical problem standing in the way of her vision of society. There would be no point in giving the whole population lessons in quantum physics. Most of them would not understand it. No matter how many books we read telling us that our perceptions are inaccurate, we still experience the world in the old way. It could of course be argued that we can adopt her suggestions without understanding the underlying physics. But where will the motivation come from to do so? Even though I agree with her that the quantum worldview would be an answer to many of the problems of society, I do not think that what she is seeking can be achieved solely by reference to quantum physics; at the very least some input from other areas would be helpful. Strangely enough, every time she talks about what is missing in society, she sounds as if she is calling for Analytical Psychology or Astrology. This is of course not surprising to me, since I have been arguing throughout this book that the world-views of all three are the same.
She mentions both, so let us see what her attitude is towards them. She seems to be ambivalent towards Jung. She is interested in the creation of a new type of ‘independent’ citizen, who “must have the characteristics of Richard Falk’s ‘citizen pilgrim’. The pilgrim is on a sacred mission in search of ‘a better country’, a more ‘spiritual one. He does not think existing realities are the only thing possible. The pilgrim ‘is not bound by any sense of duty to carry out the destructive [or the divisive] missions of a given territorial state [or a given political interest group] to which he or she owes temporary secular allegiance’. His or her true allegiance is to their own mission of creative discovery” (p245). It is therefore a personal, inner transformation that is needed, and this sounds to me like Jungian descriptions of the individuation process.
Zohar does not seem to agree for here she says that Analytical Psychology does not provide the answer she is seeking for society’s problems: “Jung, and the post-Jungian psychoanalyst James Hillman, tried to transform the privatization of religion into something positive by suggesting a religion or a mythology of the self, which all could share. This has given many individuals a deeper sense of meaning in their own lives, but it does little for the wider problem of providing society with a sacred canopy. ‘In this sense’, as Philip Rieff notes, ‘Jung represents the uncertain and confused renewal of an effort towards personal knowledge that is also, at the same time, faith’ ” (p227). Yet later on she relates her ideas to those of Jung: “Each of us, as Jung realized, and as a quantum view of consciousness would explain, may find in his or her own depths the collective yearnings, the collective fantasies, and the collective potential of the whole human race… To grow in one’s self, at this level, is inseparable from helping others, from being more in tune with them, from helping them to grow. To transform one’s self, at this level, is to transform others, to transform reality” (p247).
If reality is being transformed, surely society is being transformed. In what sense therefore does the individuation process not provide a sacred canopy? Its name may suggest that it is some kind of private religion, involving revelation to the individual. Yet according to Jungians, integral parts of the individuation process are relationship and the discovery of vocation — the task for which one was called into being — one’s fate. Since this emanates from the Self, the god-image in the individual, there should be no problem in describing this as a spiritual mission which will transform society. Compare these two statements from Zohar: “Our most intimate relationships are one of our sacred centres. Through the further reality that they evoke they offer one way that we can participate in the process of physical and biological evolution. There are other ways, of course. The creative artist, the writer, someone who follows a vocation or any creative activity with passion and commitment also evoke reality, as to some extent do we all simply by being conscious and ‘growing’ our minds…” (p259). “We feel a passion for those liaisons or careers or experiences that will allow us to grow in the direction that our own unexpressed potential makes us feel we need to grow in” (p97). We could easily be forgiven if we thought that we were reading Jung, and I therefore suggest that there is no real conflict between his position and Zohar’s.
In the light of these statements it is therefore clearly inappropriate to call the individuation process self-indulgence, which is the description often applied to people ‘working on themselves’ in therapy, when there are ‘so many more important problems in the world’. If everyone were involved in this process, this would clearly provide a sacred canopy, since society would be organised according to God’s Will, not ours. In her own words Zohar says that the overall theme of her book is “to explore how we might both celebrate our diversity and at the same time find some creative unity in our differences” (p273). Again I would argue that this is a perfect description of the Jungian individuation process, and that therefore this can create the kind of society to which Zohar aspires. It is also interesting to note that her formulation expresses precisely the goal of Astrology.
Yet she is not impressed by it. She says: “At the popular level, the deconstructive post-modern rebellion against reason has led to a whole array of irrational practices and beliefs — the claims of some alternative medicines, crystal therapy and healing, reawakened interest in astrology, shamans, witch doctors, ‘nature religions’, alleged sightings of the Virgin, and many other superstitions associated with the New Age or the new fundamentalism” (p187). Elsewhere she says: “None (of the New Age fads) seems capable of articulating a coherent and wide-ranging vision from which we can derive a new set of meaningful and resonant images. Nor do any of these reflect the radically new kind of thought emerging within twentieth-century science. The images derived from this science, particularly from quantum physics, are perhaps the most potent and most fully articulated available, and reflect what may be the most profound achievement yet of recent Western culture” (p275). While respecting her opinion, I have to disagree with her, and wonder whether she has really investigated and understands Astrology. I hope that I have shown in Part I that it does reflect the thinking of quantum physics. I also think that she would find in the writings of some astrologers, notably Elwell and Rudhyar, explanations of how Astrology fulfils her first requirement, a “coherent and wide-ranging vision from which we can derive a new set of meaningful and resonant images”. It has the extra advantage of being more accessible to the general public — everybody knows about Astrology, and could understand it if they only applied themselves.
It is also interesting to note that at times she seems to be advocating modern Paganism. For example none of the following statements would seem out of place in the works of Vivianne Crowley or Teresa Moorey that I discussed earlier:
“The natural world is subject as well as object… The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong” (p180, quoting Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth).
“We need the vision to see that the deepest roots of our humanity are to be found within the wider natural world. We need to recapture the natural within ourselves, and to see that within such natural rootedness lies our empowerment to act. Given where we are starting from, this is a ‘tall order’ ” (p181).
“We are profoundly out of touch with the whole natural side of human being. We have little ‘lived’ sense of nature and the physical world, nor of our place within it” (p181).
Yet ‘nature religions’ are also included in her list of New Age fads.
Probably without realizing it, Danah Zohar is calling out for Astrology. She says that her vision “will require a revolution in our perspective of social reality. Like all great social revolutions, this one will need a solid conceptual foundation if it is to succeed. It requires nothing less than that we adopt an entirely new philosophy of life, a whole new metaphysics” (p11). Need I say more? Zohar is seeking “a whole new framework for understanding and fulfilling our potential as social beings. We are seeking ways to articulate and to institutionalize a new kind of social reality. Because it is a social reality, it must be a shared reality… We lack a consensus about meanings, values, customs and ‘symbols’ ”(p7). She believes that “we can live in a sacred society”, but recognizes that “we can do so if only we can find our common roots in some meaningful dimension of reality that both undercuts and at the same time gives meaning to our differences” (p228). The true, deeper Astrology, as expressed by the practitioners I have been discussing, would provide exactly what she is seeking.
If she were to read up on Astrology, she would find many ideas similar to her own. For example, Dennis Elwell² is especially in tune with her. Here are three quotations which give his version of the Covenant with the Vacuum, the first in language reminiscent of David Bohm:
“There is only one cosmic process, and it accounts for all the effects that comprise astrology. It is the process whereby the actual and tangible becomes manifest out of the invisible ocean of infinite potential in which everything is immersed, much as a crystal is precipitated from its solution… To maintain an unceasing awareness of this process, responding to its promptings, would come close to what for the old Chinese was ‘living with the Tao’ ” (p107).
Here he gives her everything she is looking for:
“The moral for creative people must be: study what the cosmos is currently striving to bring into being, and let your own work be a vehicle for that… We can take our cue from the intent of the universe. We can voluntarily align our human will with the will of the All. There is satisfaction in placing our endeavours within a larger framework, as well as in the knowledge that they will tend to prosper if they are attuned to whatever is currently seeking to channel itself into the world” (p171).
“We have to keep asking: ‘What does the universe that brought me into being require of me? What is my nature fashioned to mediate into the great stream of life? What difference am I intended to make?’ ” (p110).
Elwell is not alone. Leyla Rael (astrologer Dane Rudhyar’s wife) says: “The power of one’s life potentials have been invested in one, in one’s birth, by the greater whole of which one is a part — humanity, the earth, and ultimately the whole universe. One’s birth and life is a potential answer to the need of this greater whole, and the birth-chart is a potent symbol of both the need and the way it can best be fulfilled”. “Individuals seek the services of astrologers… (because) they want to be inspired by an extraordinary perspective; they want to see their personal situation in a metapersonal, cosmic context”³.
In a society which includes dozens of varieties of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc., many of them entrenched in prejudices about their own superiority, it is unlikely that in the short term we will find a religious vision to unite everyone. Yet it is possible to combine a belief in Astrology with any religion, and if we started to move in that direction, that might be the first step in a process of unifying the various great religions, in that a common denominator between them would be established. Zohar quotes Brian Appleyard thus: “It may be impossible to recreate a moral consensus in an advanced, plural democracy. Nobody has ever done it and there are good reasons for thinking it cannot be done”⁴. It is interesting to wonder what Appleyard’s “good reasons” were. I prefer to be optimistic and say that it can be done, and that QMAP and Astrology are the key. This consensus is available to us now, and if it is not achieved, it will therefore be for very bad reasons, namely those of ignorance and prejudice.
Are you sceptical that Astrology can become the basis for the kind of society that politicians talk about, but have absolutely no idea how to achieve? Interestingly, this seems to be especially true of one of the cultures that I was discussing in chapter 21. I will let William Sullivan do the talking, but please note as you read that the Andean society (of the Incas) provides a precise model for Zohar’s ideas, specifically addressing Appleyard’s problem of creating a moral consensus in a pluralistic society. There is also in their way of life a beautiful synthesis of the physics of David Bohm and the astrology of Dennis Elwell:
“The theme of this civilization — as myth confirms — was unity in diversity. Although there were very many tribes, languages, and customs within the Andean ecumene, there was…a unifying religious view, one founded on a shared, astronomically based, cosmological vision” (as footnote 1, p17).
“The ideal of reciprocity has deep roots in Andean civilization which sought from its inception to build bridges between the world of the living and the unseen worlds, the worlds of the gods and of the ancestors” (p48).
“There entered into Andean life not only an unprecedented level of astronomical knowledge, but the systematic cultivation of a Great Idea: that in the macrocosmic model of the heavens, humankind might, through patient observation and reverent contemplation, conceive the nature of those laws whose institution upon earth could guide society into harmony with the will of deity” (p244).
“The archaic perspective on the natural world was that it was a carrier of patterns that operated simultaneously on different scales, and that those patterns represented a manifestation of a higher order of intelligence at work. By observing the celestial dance, one might catch a glimpse of the Choreographer’s intentions. By understanding the ‘message’ of pattern, unfolding through time, humankind might find its proper role in the dance” (p333).
“Just as each ayllu (i.e. tribe) descended from a star, the people of each ayllu would live in harmony with all others, in the same manner that each star or constellation lived in fixed harmony with all the other stars. And just as each star or constellation possesses its own unique identity among other unique identities, the various ethnic units descended from unique wakas⁵ would maintain their ethnic identities while participating in a greater unity…
“In this way the makers of Andean myth, in an act of pure creative genius, forged from a pattern of celestial relationships the guiding principles of an entire civilization. The socioreligious bonds of the Age of Wiraqocha — humility, hospitality to strangers, and pride in one’s community — were sacred bonds, the living manifestation of the cosmic order. The unparalleled brilliance of these ideas — offering as they did a level of prosperity, social harmony, and spiritual nourishment utterly without precedent — explains their durability throughout the centuries that would follow. This truly was a religious perspective conducive to awe, to harmony, and to peace” (p241).
So that is what we might achieve through adopting the astrological world-view. It sounds good, but of course Astrology is just a load of superstitious old ancient nonsense, isn’t it?
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, and politics. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.
- Bloomsbury, 1993
- In The Cosmic Loom, Urania Trust, 1999
3. I regret I’ve lost the source for this quote
4. The Independent (newspaper) 4/2/93, in Zohar, footnote 28, p271
5. Wakas are statues, commemorating the creation of the tribal ancestors. They represented the “celestial prototype and guardian of earthly life forms”, also seen as “intercessors between themselves and the divine realm” (see pp 23, 238, 240). They are therefore analogous to what I have been calling archetypes.