A Summary of
Michael Morwood, Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1997).
In his book, Tomorrow’s Catholic, Michael Morwood’s central theme is an urgent call for the transformation of orthodox Catholicism from its traditional rigidity, authoritarianism and exclusivity. He challenges the church to adopt greater openness in understanding the Scriptures and in mankind’s relationships with God, each other and the universe. Morwood rightly questions the archaic view of the earth as the center of the universe, with heaven above and hell below. He wonders if “we will continue to tell a story about a distant overseer God, a ‘fall’ that separated us from God’s love and presence, ourselves as ‘poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears,’ and a Jesus whose role it is to change God’s mind by his suffering and death . . . ”3
However, in calling for a postmodern reformation of the church, Morwood reverts to a pervasive panentheism. “[P]anentheism . . . [is] a term devised by Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832) to describe his thought. It is best known for its use by Charles Hartshorne [a student and follower of Alfred North Whitehead and his process theology] and recently by Matthew Fox [a Catholic priest].”4 Panentheism differs from pantheism, which claims that “God is everything and everything is God.”5 Rather, “ . . . [p]anentheism says that all is in God, somewhat as if God were the ocean and we were fish. . . . [Thus,] everything is within God.”6 However, panentheism not only claims “that all is in God . . . [but that] God is in all.”7 To extend the analogy, then, the ocean is in the fish.
We therefore summarize Michael Morwood’s book, Tomorrow’s Catholic, in the context of his fundamental panentheism.
We are living through what may well be the greatest time of change in Christian history. . . . [W]e are conscious of the spirit of Pentecost moving among us, and we are aware of the challenge to be the church in a new millennium. . . . Hopefully, this book will help Catholics and other Christians . . . realize that the same Spirit of God that moved in Jesus moves in all of us. . . . A broader intent is to . . . engage . . . the connectedness of all people with one another and with life on this planet, and the reality of a God who is in all, with all, and through all.8
Our Images of God
The way we image or imagine what “God” is like forms the foundation of our religious beliefs. . . . We keep bumping into . . . the transcendence and the immanence of God. . . . Transcendence basically means that God is beyond any statement we can make about God. We have to be able to hold the mystery: yes, God is distinct from, other than, not identified by the created universe; and, yes, God is concerned, involved with, intimately connected to, moved by the created universe. . . . Will we, can we, tell a story about the God who is within, and through all . . . ?9
God in Us
The redemption model has been the most influential, prevailing, and underlying pattern of thought in Christian thinking about God. . . . [T]his understanding of God and our relationship with God was shaped by the thought patterns and the worldview of Jewish and early Christian culture, and suffers from the limitations of an outmoded cosmology. . . . Let us begin to face the challenge by starting with the basic truth of incarnation . . . What if we were to take this basic Christian understanding of God’s involvement with humanity and push it back to the beginning of creation? What if, still being beyond and greater than the sum total of creation, God was “incarnated” into all of creation, so that all of creation is infused with, sustained by, driven by the energy that is of God? . . . [T]he truth of incarnation [is] . . . God in all, with all, and through all. . . . [E]verything in existence is permeated with the presence of God. . . . God really is in and with and through all. . . .
Bede Griffiths provides a helpful summary:
“ . . . [M]ind is present in matter from the beginning . . . [M]ind is present in matter, and in plants and animals, and that mind becomes conscious in us. And so, in a very exact sense, it can be said that matter becomes conscious in human beings. . . . ”
Mind is present in all things; mind becomes conscious in human beings. . . . [It is time] we took seriously the notion of God being present in and through everything that has existence. Here God is understood as an incarnational presence. . . . We literally give God a voice and arms; we give love shape and form — we embody it. It is literally true that God (as spirit) cannot speak. You need a body to make sounds. God (as spirit) cannot write music. God (as spirit) cannot write poetry. God (as spirit) cannot tell me God loves me, nor can God put God’s arms around me and nurture me into wholeness. But the God who comes to human expression in Mozart or Beethoven produces music that will forever touch human lives. The God embodied in Keats or Shelley produces poetry that will forever touch human hearts and minds. . . . Am I not to believe that in them the reality of God is given human form?10
If God is truly always present everywhere, we should expect God’s presence and something of God’s nature to be revealed in all of creation. We should expect and take seriously that God’s presence, God’s spirit, has been and is at work in all people, in all places, at all times, in a multitude of differing cultures, thought patterns, and worldviews. . . . If we image God as all-pervasive, in and through all that exists, we must believe in God’s Spirit actively working in all cultures, in all places, at all times, within greatly divergent thought patterns and worldviews. . . . Revelation [then] is not a matter of an external deity trying to break into human affairs through the medium of a particular group. . . . [R]evelation . . . gives due recognition to God’s Spirit working everywhere . . . 11
In general Christian thinking, Jesus is understood as the incarnation, the taking flesh, of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. . . . [On the other hand, s]cholarship today traces a development that begins with the Pentecost preaching about a man, a human person like us, through whom God worked wonders, whom God raised. Raised by God, not by his own power, this human person, Jesus, received the fullness of the promised Spirit of God. . . . [This same] reality of the Wisdom or Spirit of God [is] at work in all of creation and . . . [comes] to unique expression in human beings, created in God’s own image. . . . Divinity [therefore] is a reality in which we all share.12
Jesus Reveals the Sacred in Each of Us
The whole point of Jesus’ life is that a human person like us so lived life that other people believed they saw the divine operating in him. . . . [I]n our own human experience of life we can [likewise] discern the divine operating in us. . . . We . . . need to interpret Jesus and theologize about him . . . within a framework which is thoroughly incarnational and has God’s presence totally permeating everything that exists. . . . [I]ncarnation should [therefore] be understood as a metaphor for human life rather than be a term applied uniquely to Jesus. All human beings have the potential to “incarnate” or “live out” truths and values and love that reflect a divine reality at work in us . . . 13
A Radical Spirituality
God is indeed in all, with all, and through all that has existence. . . . God permeates all creation. . . . Every one of us is permeated with God’s presence. . . . God comes to expression, comes to a particular life form in ME. In me, God can speak, can move, can dance, can compose music or write poetry, can make love and create life, can laugh and can cry at the imperfection of it all. . . . Why do we stay locked into a spirituality that looks for God in the heavens in preference to a spirituality that focuses on the God within and among us, urging and prompting us to claim our sacred identity — and to live it? Here is the arena of conversion and the heart of Jesus’ message to all of us who have ears to listen . . . Our basic sin, if we are to talk about an “original sin,” is our blindness to . . . the ways we block the emergence of the sacred within us. The story is not of a “fall” from a perfect state of consciousness and developed conscience; rather, it is the story of the slow emergence within human beings of the realization that the sacred is deep within each of us.
. . . [T]his infinite reality we name as God comes to lived expression in each of us. . . . [T]he sacred which we name as God is intimately part of each of us. . . . So let us have a down-to-earth spirituality that proclaims that the kitchen, the workplace, the garden, the community center, and the bedroom — as well as the parish church and the tabernacle — are permeated with the presence of God. . . . The Spirit of God permeates us just as it permeated Jesus 2000 years ago. . . . [S]pirituality [therefore] is the belief that divinity is not a reality that exists only “in heaven” . . . The reality of God permeates our existence. Humanity, like the rest of creation, is saturated with divinity. The unique wonder of humanity is that it can reflect on and appreciate this truth.14
Thus, throughout his book Morwood contends for a panentheistic view of the universe. This panentheism extends back to the Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras (550?-428 BCE), who declared that “the intelligent principle, a Mind or Nous . . . is present in the world . . . and wherever it is needed to account for all movement and relative changes.”15
Similar manifestations of panentheism have since recurred down through the ages. For example, in the 14th century the heresy known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit rediscovered panentheism. “As the Bishop of Strasbourg said, the Brethren ‘say they are God by nature, without any distinction. They believe that all divine perfections are in them, that they are eternal and in eternity.’”16
A panentheism bordering on pantheism was again revived by “extremist Christian sects in Cromwell’s England, such as the Quakers, the Levelers and the Ranters[, who believed that] . . . every creature is God, every creature that hath life and breath being an efflux from God, and shall return unto God again, be swallowed up in him as a drop is in the ocean.” One of the notable Ranters, Jacob Bauthumely, claimed that “God could not become manifest in only one man: ‘He as really and substantially dwells in the flesh of other men and Creatures, as well as in the man Christ.’ . . . [Bauthumely further began] flirting with the deeply exciting and subversive doctrine of the holiness of sin. If God was everything, sin was nothing — an assertion that Ranters like Laurence Clarkson and Alastair Coppe also tried to demonstrate by flagrantly violating the current sexual code or by swearing and blaspheming in public.”17
Thus, panentheism — everything in God and God in everything — has been repeatedly revived throughout history. In his book, The American Religion, Harold Bloom shows that panentheism has most recently reappeared as the New Age movement. Describing the panentheistic God of the New Age movement as the “Californian God,” Bloom observes that
[t]he Californian God differs in that he is a kind of public orange grove, where you can pick as and when you want, particularly since he is an orange grove within. His perpetual and universal immanence makes it difficult for a newager to distinguish between God and any experience whatsoever, but then why should such a distinction occur to a California Orphic? Matthew Fox, ostensibly a Catholic priest, has formulated a curious doctrine of “panentheism” to avoid this collapse into pantheism, but Fox is one of my defeats. Several attempts on my part to read through The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (1988) have failed, as no prose I have ever encountered can match Fox’s in a blissful vacuity, where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea.
The absolute immanence of the New Age God is, I suppose, the inescapable poem of California’s climate, the cosmos as one grand orange, consciousness as its juice. “The sacramental consciousness of panentheism develops into a transparent and diaphanous consciousness wherein we can see events and beings as divine.” If one substituted “oranges” for “divine” as the final word in that Foxian sentence, after substituting “juice” for the two appearances of “consciousness,” then mere understanding might be advanced:
The sacramental juice of panentheism develops into a transparent and diaphanous juice wherein we can see events and beings as oranges.
To render justice unto Fox and most followers of the New Age, he and they hedge the obsessive immanence of God with a touch of transcendence. There is thus a heavenly or archetypal orange somewhere, as well as the enveloping cosmic orange. But this difference makes so little difference, on a daily basis, as not to survive the pragmatic test.18
Michael Morwood’s book, Tomorrow’s Catholic, is a passionate effort to adopt a more open worldview, a more compassionate understanding of God and the Christ event, and a more realistic approach to Scripture, the church, and the life of mankind in a postmodern world. In his well-meaning attempt, however, Morwood has embraced an archaic panentheism that inevitably self-destructs. While vehemently denying the unique incarnation of God as Christ, panentheism eagerly contends for the incarnation of God as Word, Wisdom, Spirit and/or Mind in everything else. While extolling the historical Jesus, panentheism covertly rejects both past and future, which constitute the essential foundation of history and the historical. While exalting mankind as the incarnation of deity, panentheism reduces deity to incarceration in the lowest and remotest cosmic residue — and then claims to be egalitarian. Even worse, by endowing the entire created order with divinity, panentheism sacralizes sin/evil. Finally, panentheism grants Creation its own self-existence. Yet, as we have repeatedly asserted,19 self-existence in the presence of “others” is the root of all evil, because its fulfillment requires the exclusion of all “otherness.” This exclusion of “others” inevitably precipitates uncontrollable violence and incites the very apocalypse that panentheists ostensibly deplore. Thus, in adopting panentheism, Morwood has tragically failed to resolve the moral and ethical problems of mankind. Furthermore, he has compounded these problems with the blend of “blissful vacuity” and “pernicious nonsense” so long embedded in panentheism.20
- Michael Morwood, Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1997), back cover. (go back)
- Ibid., “Foreword,” p. i. (go back)
- Ibid., p. 17. (go back)
- C. Alan Anderson, Panentheism vs. Pantheism (out of print). (go back)
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. “Pantheism.” (go back)
- Anderson, Panentheism vs. Pantheism. (go back)
- C. Alan Anderson, Working Toward a Panentheistic New Thought (out of print). (go back)
- Morwood, Tomorrow’s Catholic, pp. 1, 5, 6. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 8, 16, 17. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 35-40. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 47, 49, 50. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 53, 58, 63. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 87, 89, 92. (go back)
- Ibid., pp. 98, 99, 101, 104, 106, 107. (go back)
- J. Deotis Roberts, A Philosophical Introduction to Theology (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991), pp. 29, 30. (go back)
- Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 319. (go back)
- Armstrong, History of God, pp. 319, 320-322. (go back)
- Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 186. Cf. “A Summary of The American Religion,” Outlook (Prequel 1998.7). (go back)
- See “The Most Painful Difficulty,” Outlook (September/October 2004) (originally published as an April 1998 prequel to subsequent online Outlook articles and therefore not duplicated as an online Outlook prequel); “‘From the House of Bondage,’” Outlook (Prequel 1998.3); “In the Aftermath . . . ,” Outlook (Prequel 1998.4); “The Mythical Battle Against Chaos,” Outlook (Prequel 1998.5); “The Collapse of Concealment,” Outlook (Prequel 1998.6). (go back)
- See Andrew Field, “Perspectives,” Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), 12 August 1998, p. 15. (go back)