Hyo-Dong LEE. Spirit, Qi, and the Multitude: A Comparative Theology for the Democracy of Creation.  2014, pp. 362. $32.28 (paper).  ISBN: 978-0-8232-5502-3. Reviewed by Joseph A. BRACKEN, S.J., Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207.

In the introduction to this book, Lee summarizes its theme as follows: “As an attempt at a constructive theology of Spirit that seeks to proceed by way of Asian contextual theology and comparative theology, I focus on the idea of psychophysical energy [Qi] and trace the historical path of textual tradition through which that idea has traveled” (34).  He then explains that psychophysical energy was originally a symbol of primeval creative chaos that became a key metaphysical and cosmological concept in Confucian and Daoist thought but was later devalued in both traditions as the mere physical-cosmic vessel of the true metaphysical ultimate: the Dao or Pattern (li). From a philosophical perspective, he is thereby rethinking the classical paradigm for the relation between the One and the Many in which the transcendent One is the source of being and intelligibility for the empirical Many.  Instead, he proposes a process-oriented metaphysics in which the empirical Many by reason of their multiform dynamic interrelated activity keep recreating the ever-changing reality of the One. 

To establish the validity of this new understanding of the One and the Many within the context of Asian  philosophical/theological reflection, Lee first traces the “path of textual tradition” in the classic texts of Daoism and Confucianism: the Laozi/Daodejing,  the  writings of Confucius and Mencius, and then of Zhu Xi in Neo-Confucian thought.  His subsequent focus is on the reinterpretation of these classic texts by a series of Korean philosophers with special attention to their understanding of psychophysical energy in contrast to the Dao or Pattern (li): Toeyge (1501-1570 CE), Nongmun (1711-1788 CE), and Su-un (1824-1864 CE), the founder of  the Neo-Confucian school of philosophy called Donghak. But he also has chapters dedicated to the study of Geist in Hegel, the role of creativity in the metaphysics of  A.N. Whitehead, the notion of chaosmos in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and the “trinity” of Tehom, Elohim and Ruach in the theology of Catherine Keller. 

Given my limited background in the history of the Asian philosophical/theological tradition, I am in no position to critique Lee’s interpretation of the above-named texts, above all, the writings of the Korean thinkers.  But as a Roman Catholic philosopher-theologian long interested in a contemporary process-oriented reinterpretation of the  God-world relationship, I  have certain reservations with respect to Lee’s rethinking of the Christian understanding of the Trinity  in the light of his overview of the history of Asian philosophy/theology.   First of all, he uses the term panentheism to describe his own version of the Christian God-world relationship.  But he ends up with the integration of Father, Logos/Sophia, and Spirit within  the  cosmic process as its key principles or functions  (198-298) rather than, as the term panentheism itself would seem to imply, the inclusion of the cosmic process as a whole within the  life-system proper to the divine persons that is conjoined with but still distinct from the cosmic process.  God as Spirit is, for example, primordial energy that mediates between the Father as creative chaos and Logos/Sophia is the  determinate Pattern or Way to be found in the determinate workings of physical reality. 

Certainly, the divine persons are not larger-than-life human persons, but they are in any case intelligent personal agencies that have a unity with one another quite apart from their conjoint involvement in the cosmic process.  Secondly, from a purely philosophical perspective Lee seems to  prioritize the empirical Many over the non-empirical One; likewise, he prioritizes affectivity over rationality as the  bond between finite entities in their ever-changing patterns of interconnection.  There is, of course, good reason to distrust “meta-narratives” and other abstract schemes that serve the covert purposes of  dominant  groups in contemporary society. Yet a balanced world view must give equal attention to Permanence as well as to Change.  Lee seems to acknowledge  this with his claim that “Change is  intrinsically and ultimately inclined  toward a cosmos, not a  sheer, barren chaos, and that therefore the radically new consist in radically new orders and harmonies”(237). 

These reservations aside, I was impressed by the vast scholarship undergirding the composition of this book.  For example, the final one hundred pages of the book are devoted to endnotes and bibliography.  Likewise, Lee’s ulterior motive in writing the book is certainly to be commended: namely, to give further expression to “subaltern” religious traditions of the Asian masses (the Multitude in the title of his book) in their efforts to resist oppression by the economic, political and cultural elite in the name of a traditional wholly transcendent Pattern or Way of life.