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.
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.