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Order And Pattern In Primitive Religion

All religion may be understood as a manifestation of mankind's instinctive longing for order as a means of aligning human life with a transcendent deity. Before I attempt to explain my views of order, energy and God in contemporary religion, let us look briefly at the history of religion.

As we have noted earlier, prehistoric records such as cave drawings indicate that hunting tribes sought power through animal images (patterns), and agricultural groups sought to win the favor of the god of the fertile harvest or the "earth mother." As Joseph Kitagawa states in The Concept Of Order , " is our intention to suggest that the ultimate purpose of life was understood by the archaic and primitive men as participation in the act of creation of a ‘cosmos’ out of ‘chaos’ by imitating the celestial model, handed down in various kinds of myth."

Both myth and ritual were very important elements of primitive religion, and both can be seen as powerful patterns that sought to portray the order of the world and of life as these primitive peoples understood it. "By imitating the mythical accounts of supernatural beings," Kitagawa points out, "archaic and primitive men repeat and participate in the primordial act of creating cosmos out of chaos, and this implies establishing and maintaining norms and forms as well as order".

Order In Classical Eastern Religions

Civilizations in Eastern lands, from Egypt to China, 2000-4000 years B.C., advanced beyond primitive man's unitary worldview to separate myth and more rational explanations of world events. Near Eastern man "recognized the problem of origin and the problem of telos, of the aim and purpose of being. He recognized the invisible order of justice maintained by his customs, mores, institutions; and he connected this invisible order with the visible order, with its succession of days and nights, seasons and years, obviously maintained by the sun."

Buddhism is not called that by its practitioners; rather, they use the term "Dharma" or "Dhamma," an ancient Sanskrit term very similar to our word "order." Edward Conze quotes a Pali-English Dictionary which defines "dhamma as the interpreted Order of the World," and says that what the Buddha preached "was the order of law of the universe, immanent, eternal, uncreated... this universal logic, philosophy or righteousness ("Norm"), in which the rational and ethical elements are fused into one."

Kitagawa adds, " the classical religions the structure of religious groups as well as their relations to sociopolitical order were believed to be based on, and sanctioned by, the cosmic order, whether it was understood to exist above the gods as in Hinduism or under a divine being as in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

God And The Supernatural In Contemporary Religion

One of the major problems contemporary people have accepting the traditionally-taught concept of God is that it involves belief in the supernatural. This essentially requires acceptance of two realms of reality – the natural and the supernatural. As the concept goes, we experience the world around us with our natural senses, but we experience God with our soul or spirit.

While this might be quite acceptable for the average person, for the philosopher this creates the problem of dualism: if there are dual realities, how can one interact with the other? If God is a supernatural Being, how can He have any influence on the natural world? (By using the pronoun He, I am only using it as a convenience, for I do not believe God has a male or female gender – that is another implicit form of dualism and also a real problem for many people who believe in the equality of the sexes.)

One Reality Of Order And Energy With God

As we have pointed out in many parts of this book, from subatomic particles to the human brain, everything is composed of order and energy. In the system of Theordergy, order is the medium through which God acts to differentiate energy into matter, and one form of matter from another. The supernatural is thus superfluous.

Order exists not only as a state of being but also as a process of becoming. This has the same meaning as speaking of ongoing Creation. God's creation of all existence is being accomplished through the ongoing creation and evolution of ever-higher forms of order.

Again I urge you to think of order in terms of patterns of probability. God is not the Great Mechanic of Isaac Newton's world who sets everything in motion with completely determined certainty for all eternity. Order includes an element of unpredictability; at many levels of existence, from the subatomic to the interpersonal and beyond, existence includes uncertainty. It may be true that God parted the Red Sea, turned Moses' staff into a snake, and raised Jesus from the dead. And it may be true, as some Christians believe, that God still causes or allows "miracles" such as miraculous healing that represent a change or break in the "natural" order. But life as I have experienced it for a half century is always, constantly, relentlessly, unchangingly orderly... tinged by uncertainty, by patterns of probability.

By the subheading, "One reality of order and energy with God," I mean that there is one world for our worldview, one universe. Order and God are every bit as real and as "natural" as energy and matter. It is no longer necessary to believe in a separate "supernatural" reality, because order is the medium that connects energy (and matter) with God. This is very important to understand.

God, Order And Unpredictability

God acts in the world, first through the order of on-going creation, and second through influencing the unpredictable. Many things happen to all of us that are unpredictable. Every day of the year, people die in auto accidents, and usually one of the drivers was operating his vehicle safely, minding his or her own business, when the driver of another vehicle lost control (often because of alcohol) and crashed into the innocent victim.

A nail in the car tire, a broken TV set, a random piece of glass in a jar of food, a chance meeting of two people on the street or in a restaurant, a seed which happens to sprout in a sidewalk crack, a child born retarded, and much of what happens in our lives is both orderly and unpredictable, order tinged with uncertainty.

I am not, emphatically NOT saying that God causes all unpredictable events, as some people believe. I am saying that God INFLUENCES events through unpredictable conditions as it suits His will and purposes for on-going creation. God does not take away unpredictability – on the contrary, God himself is often unpredictable – orderly but uncertain. Whether or not God knows the outcome and future of all events for all eternity is a moot point – we cannot know the limits of God's knowledge. But we can experience life and its meaning. And as I experience life, it is both orderly and unpredictable, and God seems to act within that order and unpredictability.

God And Nature

We have so far defined God as the on-going Creator who acts in the world through order and unpredictability. If this was all God did, He might not be a God worth worshiping. We all have experienced the vicissitudes of life painfully. We have experienced accidents and disasters and losses that hurt.

It is possible to perceive the world of nature as a beautiful, marvelous creation that points to a caring God. For certainly the beauty of a sunset, a flower, a butterfly, a rainbow, a waterfall, a swan, almost any baby animal – and much, much more in nature – seems so beautiful that it inspires awe within us, a sense of "surely God has created this." But it is also possible to experience the "cruelties" of nature – earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, disease, AIDS, cancer, poisonous snakes – and feel that life is cruel, that "Life’s a bitch, and then you die." Although nature taken as a whole may seem to reflect a loving God, specific instances of nature seem to contradict that reflection.

The Increasing Order Of Creation

The Creation story of Genesis is a story of God bringing order to the universe, a universe that began with chaos – "the earth was without form [order] and void." From fundamental forms of order like the earth and the seas, God moved to the highest form of order in life: human beings. And the world continues to evolve! Individuals form families, and families form societies, which form nations. The complexity of world order continues to increase, until it becomes impossible for the Soviet Union to continue in isolation. They are forced by increasing order to join the world community!

The Bible tells us that God first communicated His will for mankind through laws and commands (that is, through orders) and through demonstrating His providence (orderliness) to the people of Israel. These moral laws, like the Ten Commandments, of course were all "orders" (commands) and patterns for living. But they were not enough to fully reveal a loving God.

The Necessity For Jesus

The only way God could show His full love and purpose for mankind was to communicate through a unique pattern, His own pattern. So God became a man in the form of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament may be dependable and orderly. But only the God of the New Testament reveals that "God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that the world through Him might be saved."

Jesus did not tell us that the world is no longer unpredictable. Jesus did not tell us that, if we follow Him, we will be spared pain. On the contrary, He said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Jesus never denied the reality of pain and suffering – on the contrary, He spoke of it often, and eventually suffered the terrible agony of death on the cross.

But Jesus told us that nevertheless, nevertheless, in spite of the pain of living and dealing with unpredictability and death, God loves us. The ultimate meaning of the order of the universe is that it was created and is ruled by a loving God. "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

Faith in God through Jesus Christ enables one to trust in God's love and to transcend all earthly pain and to experience true joy in living. As a Christian one can experience life in all its glory, its highest order. As a Christian one can understand the true meaning of existence. This is not a statement about the supernatural. This is a statement about the one reality.

A New Understanding Of The Purpose Of Life

If everything that exists is composed of energy, order and God, what does that say about our lives? That the purpose of our lives, with God's guidance, is to order our energy in a God-like (Christ-like) pattern.

Too often we think of ourselves and other human beings as physical objects, bodies. But we are dynamically ordered energy systems! We eat food to have energy. How we use our energy writes the story of our lives. Each of us has a finite amount of energy (some have more than others, it seems, but no one has unlimited energy).

How do we order our energy? By making choices, decisions. Will I use my energy in the next hour to read, to exercise, to eat, to make love, to watch TV, to care for the downtrodden, to worship God, or what? Hours make days, and days make years, and years make a lifetime. The very essence of functioning as a live human being is to make choices, to decide, which is itself an exercising of our freedom to create a certain order in our lives and the lives of others we encounter.

Choosing is the fulfillment of our humanity. It can be very exciting and positive, even if agonizing over a decision before we make it is sometimes painful. For the Christian, Jesus Christ is the model (pattern) for all our decisions. Jesus, and God's word revealed through the Bible and through our own experiences, can guide us to make choices, to order our energy most effectively.

Order Means Choices Have Consequences

Every choice has consequences, some of which we cannot know. This is an important aspect of the order of human existence. We all know the old story about the king who lost a war for want of a nail for his horse's shoe. Little things can have major consequences.

I have filed away as patterns in my brain, as I'm sure you do, single-sentence comments from people in my past, especially significant people like family members and teachers, which became a permanent part of the big pattern that is my self-concept. Those remarks were often made casually at the time, but they became a permanent part of who I am.

In the same way, what we say and do to other people every day becomes a part of their lives. For parents, this is an enormous responsibility in communicating with children by word and by behavior. For all of us, this presents the opportunity to help make other people's lives brighter and more uplifting every day.

As we face the future, we face the unknown and uncertainty. But as we look into the past, with "20-20 hindsight," we can see the consequences of our actions, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. We can see the power of order in our lives and the lives we touch. Making the right choices is an enormous responsibility. God never removes that responsibility from us, but He does help us make better choices than we can make without Him.

The Tragedy Of Naive Science

As we have said earlier, it is commonly thought that "science" and therefore the only "dependable knowledge" has determined that the world is made of matter and energy in space and time. This naive science is taught in our public schools and penetrates our entire culture. We may speak of God or the supernatural in church or among our families, but our secular society accepts only the notion of a science-analyzed world of matter and energy in a space-time continuum.

This is perhaps the greatest misunderstanding ever perpetrated on the human race! Although religion is on the rise among some evangelicals and charismatics, many of the mainstream denominations are waning, and surely this is one of the reasons. The world communicated to us by the mass media and by all that people say and do at least six days out of every week is dominated by this naive-science worldview. It's almost as if we believed the world is flat and we could all fall off the edge. This is one reason I believe the world desperately needs a new understanding of reality, an understanding that transcends naive science as it transcends the weekday world, and confronts us with the meaning of life as a challenge to change the way we live.

There are many scientists who marvel at creation and acknowledge a Creator God. They and many other educated people know that science is only a system, a tool for dealing with the world, a tool which does not claim to include "ultimate reality." But the average person on the street does not realize this. At least, most of us live as if we did not realize this.

The Limits of Science and Sense

In fact science and common sense cannot answer many questions. Questions about the meaning of life, about why things happen as they do. Too many unanswered questions can lead to confusion and despair, to a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. Even the answers of traditional religion are not satisfactory for many of us. Most people in contemporary society do not seem to spend much time wondering about the meaning of life. They live on the surface of life, on what appears in front of them, trying to get a little pleasure or escape some pain. Millions tragically turn to drug addiction, alcohol addiction, work addiction, sex addiction and other compulsive and self-destructive habits to make the pain go away.

Of course you have a choice. You can go on believing that there is "nothing but" matter, energy, space and time, although this will never account for how the "laws of science" or "nature" are possible. The same naive science that claims that life forms evolved from chaotic matter and energy over many eons, all by chance (!), also claims that out of this chaos these "laws of nature" mysteriously appeared to control our world. Who believes this nonsense? Certainly not educated scientists. Yet this is the "myth," the great "mythunderstanding" that underlies our entire culture, daily life in the world today.

Millions of contemporary people, believing their grade-school science to be "true," do not relate to God in their daily lives, even though public opinion polls consistently show that most people claim to "believe in God." This lack of daily relationship with God is a terrible tragedy. For these same people cannot explain why there is any orderliness in the universe at all, yet they behave as if they believe the world is dependably orderly in many ways.

They drive cars at high speeds down highways. They use electrical appliances that could kill them if they malfunctioned. They fly in airplanes. They come home at the end of the day expecting their residence to be exactly where it was when they left it. They turn on the TV and expect to find regular programming. They set their alarm clocks to wake them in the morning. They lie down on beds and expect them to support their bodies. When you think about it closely, practically every move you make and every breath you take is based on the implicit assumption of an orderly world. Either order is real or it is not real. If it is not real, why do people behave as if it is?

Order is not only real — it is the cause of everything being the way it is. "Everything" begins with raw energy, chaos. Energy is "tamed" into orderly forms like electromagnetic radiation, light and heat. Energy is "slowed down" by the speed of light squared into matter. Matter is given form as elements, molecules, molecular chains, cells, organisms and so forth. Order is "the fingerprint of God" that shapes the world. But order is not mechanical! It is probabilistic, uncertain. Within that uncertainty is human freedom. And within that uncertainty God acts unpredictably in the world. At the same time God is creating the world through the evolution of order.

The Opportunity Of Embracing Order

You have the great opportunity to embrace the concept of order as the primary binding-force of the universe. Order accounts for all those "whys" and "laws" as well as how God acts in the world. And all this order is for mankind, for God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into the world, that the world through Him might be saved. The universe is not ruled by just any order, not ruled by a machine, but by a loving God. This joyful, liberating concept can change your worldview and your life if you accept it.

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