Reviewed by Michael H. BARNES, University of Dayton, DAYTON, OH 45469-1549
The doctrine of creation ought to assure that Christians would seek what the subtitle of this book offers, a spirituality based on a sense of our place in the cosmos. But in fact most spirituality has treated the natural world merely as a backdrop for life, and has focused either on the direct relation of a person to God or living the gospels through social action. Brockelman argues that one may also build a spirituality in relation to the cosmos through stories which interpret science's universe in a spiritual vision.
Brockelman points out that current science presents a picture of the universe different from the static and relatively small world in which human beings had found themselves for centuries. Humankind has emerged out of fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution. In Kazantzakis' famous image, a divine Cry has compelled reluctant matter to rise into life and life into consciousness. Brockelman makes clear that the flat facts of science require such an interpretive vision to convey the spiritual significance of the cosmos. This new mythos should call a person to a spiritual commitment and produce an integration of the self grounded in a mystical sense of our place in the universe. Most pages are devoted to elaborating on the mystical sense of awe and mystery contemplation of the cosmos can evoke in a person. Occasionally, Brockelman provides lists of specifics, including seven main characteristics of the new life he proposes and major aspects of a new kind of education. But on the whole, he relies on exhortation and visionary language to carry his case forward.
The main exception to this appears when Brockelman employs his philosopher's tools to analyze three major ways of conceiving the relation between God and the world, First, God can be thought of as an entity, perhaps the supreme entity but still one among other entities. (Oddly, he defines one form of pantheism to include this. P. 86). This is too limiting of God, says Brockelman. Second, God can be thought of-as Brockelman claims Aquinas did in his De Ente et Essentia-as separated from the universe, as an outside cause, even distant spatially (pp. 83-84). Thirdly, a kind of panentheism in which "the being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in Him . . . ." (p. 85) This panentheism fits with a mystical experience of God as "the sheer actuality or existence of things, a mysterious, creative force throughout the universe that is apprehended in and through the manifold of everything that is" (p. 82). Brockelman struggles to keep God intimately close in the universe, to the point where the distinction between God's Being and the being that God is always giving to creation is unclear. Brockelman might have been served better by Aquinas's actual position, which declares that God is indeed the single pure act of existence, but by no means separated from the universe in the sense that Brockelman gives to this. Rather God's pure uncaused Being is distinct from the being of creatures, whose being is ongoingly received from God. It is a difference between seeing the universe as the continuous gift of God (even God's self-gift in some way in Rahner's version), and as seeing the universe as sharing in God's divinity. But Brockelman's main point is still worth appreciating: God's presence is apprehended through creation.
Brockelman has much greater confidence than I can muster that from an integrated cosmic spirituality an effective social responsibility will flow. I think the path toward mutual understanding, compassion, and responsibility requires a great deal more arduous and specific efforts from us humans than a general mystical cosmic consciousness will produce. Brockelman is also a bit casual about many details of the history of science and religion. Contrary to his comments, for example, the idea of evolution had been introduced and spread before Darwin was even born, at the beginning of the twentieth century the earth was known to be millions of years old not merely 200,000, theology continued to be concerned with cosmology long after Descartes especially in deism and scholasticism, and even (trivially) Paley's famous watch lay along the path, not on a beach. Nonetheless, Brockelman's call for cosmic consciousness is valuable. We all have a ways to go before our understanding catches up to the universe we live in.