Friday, February 12, 2016

REVIEW: "Deep Pantheism" by Robert Corrington

This is certainly one of Corrington’s most important works to date. For those who have never read his previous books, Deep Pantheism is an excellent place to start. It is relatively short, clearly written, and his core argument for the theological position of deep pantheism is compelling. What always impresses me about Corrington is how he manages to synthesize so many other thinkers into his religious or ecstatic naturalism. He draws deeply on the American philosophical tradition, especially James, Dewey, Emerson, and Peirce. He also engages the Continental tradition, such as Heidegger, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Jaspers, along with psychoanalytic theorists like Jung and Rank. In this book, he adds a creative appropriation of the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo. As a Unitarian (post-Christian) philosopher, Corrington also remains in critical dialogue with the broad tradition of liberal theology, from Schleiermacher’s romanticism to Tillich’s existentialism and Whiteheadian process theology.

Regarding the latter, Corrington views deep pantheism as a distinct alternative to process panentheism (or any type of theism, for that matter), which typically views God as the source of ideal possibilities and the all-inclusive whole of the world. By contrast, Corrington views god in radically pluralistic, naturalistic, and immanent terms. Negatively, deep pantheism rejects the monotheistic idea of God as personal, supernatural, creator, etc. As a naturalist, Corrington claims that “nature is all that there is”, so god is a product of – rather than the producer of – nature.

For Corrington, nature is internally divided into nature naturing (“nature perennially creating itself out of itself alone”) and nature natured (“nature’s products”, or “natural complexes”). Nothing transcends nature, so transcendence is always in and of nature itself. Thus deep pantheism affirms a fully naturalistic god on the side of nature natured, which is a natural complex like everything else. It does not represent a being that is any more or less real than other complexes. It is not a unifying, omnipotent god – an Order of all orders that intervenes, guides the universe towards a final goal, responds to prayers, etc. Nor is this a “flat” pantheism that simply views all of nature as sacred. As such, while “deep” suggests the unconscious depths of nature naturing, we might also name this pantheism “pluralistic,” for there are a “million Godheads” (Aurobindo) emergent from nature. And what is the ‘function’ of the gods in relation to humans? As Corrington writes, they can be “felt as a moment of intensity that goads the self toward a more inclusive and robust realization of its ongoing link to the infinite, but as encountered from the perspective of its own inescapable finitude” (16).

Although these multiple divinities lack an absolute source of unity – and thus are capable of partly explaining multiple, clashing revelations and such – they also participate in what Corrington calls “the Wisdom”, which is a new concept for his work (81). The Wisdom is an internally complex “repository of natural wisdom available” to the human process (84). It too is an evolving natural complex (although unusually vast and complex), which is an emergent from nature naturing. It is the natural “font” of god-ing energies, and thus manifests itself as the finite/infinite gods to human selves through the mediation of naturalistic spirits. However ambiguously and inconsistently, the Wisdom can sometimes provide a deeper wisdom or “higher counsel” to the human process. Among other things, it can provoke mindfulness, comfort the afflicted, and undermine racism by opening the human process to more inclusive communities of interpretation. Beyond the Wisdom, Corrington suggests the apophatic concept of “the Encompassing” (Jaspers), which is a “traitless nothingness” that encircles nature as a whole. In the end, Corrington integrates these  concepts into a "new Transcendentalism", which is his attempt to forge a path between Schopenhauer's pessimism and the early Emerson's optimism: "Honoring both perspectives, it sees the richness and sublime power of many of the potencies of nature naturing, while also recognizing the demonic depths of nature" (98).

Whether one ultimately agrees with Corrington’s deep pantheism or not, this is a fascinating and adventurous work of contemporary theology that will stir the imagination. It will especially appeal to post-Christians, Unitarian Universalists, and "spiritual but not religious" persons. I also recommended it to anyone who is more broadly interested in philosophical theology and religious naturalism.

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