In the 1970s E.F.Schumacher was one of the voices crying in the wilderness for humanity to change direction. He diagnosed the basic philosophical problem underlying the ‘Western’ world view, suggesting that the mind/body split attributed to Descartes represented a break with the traditional wisdom of earlier societies, and its essential truth that there are different Levels of Being. These Levels are represented in the physical world by the essentially different natures of mineral, vegetable, animal and human – and by the corresponding mysteries of matter, life, consciousness and self awareness. And the wisdom tradition indicates that there are also higher levels of soul and spirit that we humans can aspire to.
This seems fundamental. If we do not recognise the possibility of higher Levels of Being then we voluntarily impoverish ourselves. Schumacher makes it clear: “The level of significance to which an observer or investigator tries to attune himself is chosen, not by his intelligence, but by his faith… his fundamental presuppositions and basic assumptions.” It seems clear that the materialists had thrown out the baby of human potential with the bath water of the religious faiths whose dominance they were trying to break away from.
Since lower Levels of Being are not aware of higher Levels, or of their significance, this has encouraged the majority of people to stumble along in a materialistic trance, lemmings approaching the cliff edge of the end of the world. And all in accord with a simplistic and restricted materialistic faith, known as scientism, that does not recognise our true potential.
In the world of my upbringing the word ‘faith’ was always coupled with the word ‘irrational’, conveniently ignoring the faith that underlies the materialistic view itself. An optimistic faith based on the premise of the existence of higher Levels of Being, for which there is so much testimony from our forebears and contemporaries, seems the rational response to the situation we find ourselves in. Higher Levels of Being generally correspond with a more inclusive and less selfish approach to the world (for example in my earlier heroes, M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King).
If we do not choose to follow the quest for those higher Levels we will certainly never achieve them, instead continuing along our present destructive path.
Accepting the concept of Levels of Being, we can see religions as being potentially in the role of providing alternative paths towards those higher spiritual Levels (see eg The Marriage of Sense and Soul, Ken Wilber). There is a strong attraction to the idea that there is this common core at the heart of all the world’s religions, as confirmed, for example, by Huston Smith’s extensive research (Forgotten Truth, Huston Smith). Religions become different paths towards a common aim, which is to connect with that which is highest in humanity. Each religion provides its own approach for following the path to this common spirituality, like a crutch which can be discarded when we are able to stand on our own spiritual feet.
Schumacher’s thinking here comes from his posthumous philosophical work A Guide for the Perplexed.
This post is an extract from my article Science and Spirituality.