In this article, I explore how I think the material worldview cuts in half, flips inside-out, and turns upside-down the spiritual worldview.
As our knowledge expands in all directions thanks to artificial ways of documenting and distributing information, we are continually opening our eyes to new ways of understanding the world. A never-ending stream of scientific discoveries has given us so much material knowledge of the world around and inside of us, that seemingly most of it is now accounted for. With this knowledge, we have been able to develop technologies that can mend problems and illnesses, do some of our work for us, and make our lives more comfortable. … But at what cost?
This process of scientific development shifted significantly between about 1500 and 1700 AD and has been moving in top gear for the last 300 years. It is known as the Copernican revolution but may be called the scientific revolution more broadly. Matthieu Pageau interprets this shift as a reiteration of the narrative of the Fall. In his book “The Language of Creation,” he explains how humans lived in a state of innocence before the Fall. This position in the Garden of Eden provided them with the spiritual worldview. However, when humans looked beyond the limits of the garden, their “eyes were opened” to a strange universe devoid of spiritual meaning. Their previous worldview became somewhat illusory and they were forced to wander in a meaningless universe until they would return to the ground.1
In the same way, we have spent the last 300 years “opening our eyes” and acquiring greater material knowledge at the expense of spiritual insight. We have learned about the laws that regulate the behaviour of atoms, but we have forgotten much about the reality of any pattern at the human or social scale. Many of us are currently brought up with a worldview that focuses heavily on material reality and often disregards spiritual reality altogether. This is the key point that I want to emphasize in this article because it has tremendous implications for how we view the world. For example, it can make us completely disregard the existence of spiritual reality, view spiritual reality through the lens of materialism, or put material reality above spiritual reality.
If we consult the spiritual worldview as described by Pageau, we can have a glimpse into the cosmologies that dominated the ancient world. If we then lay the spiritual worldview next to the material worldview of our modern times, we can start to see how much we have actually changed. Below is one of the diagrams from “The Language of Creation,” which shows the dentrocentric or spiritual worldview next to the geocentric and heliocentric perspectives, which are central puzzle pieces of the material worldview.2
The first thing that caught my eye is that heaven (H) is nonexistent in the geocentric and heliocentric perspectives. Of course, it is unfair to draw major conclusions based on such a simple diagram. But it is clear that science does not contend with heaven as it is understood in the spiritual worldview. The notion of heaven in the spiritual worldview refers to spiritual meaning without corporeal or tangible existence (think of immaterial patterns, such as ideas or narratives). Whereas the notion of earth (E) refers to matter without meaning and is seen as the place of potential. These are two fundamental components of the spiritual worldview. The material worldview looks somewhat similar but understands these notions quite differently. The notion of heaven is left empty because immaterial patterns are not recognized as real. The only patterns that exist are the laws of physics, which are essentially material patterns. The earth then becomes not only the place of potential but also the only place where we can discover real patterns (i.e. material patterns, the laws of physics). Earth is therefore the place of investigation and all of heavenly reality is basically removed.
So science doesn’t contend with heaven and this is completely fine, but it can become difficult when science becomes the primary lens for people to base their worldview on, as it has for many as a consequence of the scientific revolution. Because in contrast, the spiritual worldview sees heaven as at least half of what reality is made of. Therefore, when people forget to place heaven, along with a proper understanding of what it means, somewhere in their worldview, they have cut the spiritual worldview in half.
Consequently, people will look at phenomena and interpret it purely as meaningless matter and mindless causality. This is an appropriate mode of interpretation when scientists stay within their domains of research but becomes a problem when people use this perspective to interpret the phenomena that are described in religious stories. This is because religious stories describe phenomena as a series of linked events that manifest spiritual truth. The same can be said about interpreting the phenomena in a person’s life. Through the lens of material science, the events in a person’s life are solely linked by material causality. However, the spiritual worldview also recognizes these events as manifestations of spiritual causes and truths (or the breakdown of spiritual truths). The phenomena in a person’s life are therefore not only linked by mindless material causality, but also by meaning and purpose.
As said before, the scientific revolution was a major shift in perspective. The world changed drastically in terms of technological development, but also in how we view it. So what actually happens when the world changes? In one video, Jonathan Pageau briefly talks about what happens when the world undergoes a major change. He says “When the world changes, it actually looks like an inversion, like a flip.”3
This is important to understand. If something changes a little, it may look a little different than before. But if something changes drastically, it starts to look like the opposite of what it was before. This notion is in alignment with Matthieu Pageau’s description of change in “The Language of Creation.” He says that transformation or change means “…changing something into something else, but more completely, changing something into its opposite.”4
This is very interesting from a symbolic perspective. For now, we will look at two ways this seemed to happen when the scientific revolution (properly named a revolution), flipped and turned our previous spiritual worldview.
If we look at the diagram above once again, we can see that heaven (H) and earth (E) manifestly connect together and form the spatial axis in the middle, in the dentrocentric (with the tree at the center) perspective. Around it goes the time cycle with the sun (S), which is a loose connection between heaven and earth. Then, in the geocentric perspective, we see that the notion of heaven as spiritual reality is gone. The earth is still in the middle of this cosmology and the sun now revolves around the earth.
Thanks to Copernicus, however, the positions of the sun and the earth are flipped in the heliocentric perspective. The sun is now a stable entity in the middle and the earth revolves around it, much like an electron that revolves around a proton. We previously saw ourselves as positioned in the very center of the world, where everything is placed in a structured hierarchy concerning heaven above and earth below; purpose and meaning were readily found. We now see ourselves as one of the many planets of various sizes that twist and turn around the central sun; purpose and meaning are somewhat lost. So this is the change that flipped our worldview inside-out. The spiritual worldview places the earth and its humans at the center of its cosmology and it places the sun on the time cycle at the periphery. The material worldview, however, places the earth and human beings on the time cycle at the periphery and the sun at the center of its cosmology.
The change that turned our worldview upside-down has to do with heaven (H), earth (E), and what we can supposedly find there. In the video I mentioned earlier, Jonathan Pageau talks about the Copernican revolution and says it might be the biggest change in worldview we’ve experienced. He says “There was a change in perspective, and what happened was a flip. Everything became the opposite. The idea of the heavens as the place where all things come down to the earth from, then became like the ocean, like this huge potentiality in which everything is floating.”5
Heaven in a spiritual worldview is the origin of meaning, purpose, and ultimately God. Earth in a spiritual worldview is the place of potential, chaos, and ultimately hell. That would look something like this:
Heaven in a material worldview is the same as outer space, so it’s a physical place we can travel to with spaceships. Moreover, it’s a place of potential that may or may not contain life, resources, aliens (benevolent or malevolent ones), and so on. Earth in a material worldview is the place of investigation, where quantitative data and material resources are gathered and used with purpose. That would look something like this:
Both of these worldviews have truth to them because each offers a perspective of the world that is real and useful. The spiritual worldview emphasizes our phenomenological experience of the world and provides us with a full understanding of our role in the universe and the spiritual purpose of existence. The material worldview emphasizes artificial ways of viewing the world, through telescopes, microscopes, calculations, and quantitative research. This provides us with a materially powerful view of the universe and the ability to develop useful technologies.
The material worldview provides us with knowledge about the material world that we were previously unaware of. Our discoveries about the relationships between material patterns (i.e. the laws of physics) provide us with useful knowledge about the level of matter. Whereas the spiritual worldview provides insights about the other levels of reality (for example, the human or social scale) by acknowledging the relationships between heaven and earth as well. If we would open our eyes to the spiritual worldview but close them to the material worldview, we would gain spiritual insight but lose material knowledge. We would then be unable to answer questions like; How does gravity work? What is thunder made of?
That is what can happen when we negate the material worldview. The key point of this article, however, has to do with how the material worldview changes the spiritual worldview. As mentioned before, the spiritual worldview is currently negated the most because it is largely undermined by the scientific revolution. However, it is still present at least unconsciously. This worldview is quite intuitive because it appeals to our direct experience in the world. Some examples are ideas of “higher and lower” positions, “light and darkness” in relation to knowledge and ignorance, or simply the fact that a person always sees themselves as the center of their own universe. Another important example of the unconscious presence of the spiritual worldview is the recognition of the laws of physics as patterns (although material patterns) that govern the level of matter. If we then mix an intuitive spiritual worldview where heaven is the origin of meaning, with an artificial material worldview where heaven is the place of potential, we might end up with this:
The flying spaghetti monster (FSM) is a kind of monster-god and therefore simultaneously an image of chaos and higher authority. From a material perspective, heaven has nothing to do with spiritual reality, so the FSM is depicted as a physical being that can actually be encountered. It is also depicted as a chaotic mesh of noodles because heaven is the place of potential. But the FSM is also a god, and it is no coincidence that this god is (probably intuitively) placed in the heavens just like any god would be in a cosmology dominated by the spiritual worldview. The FSM has some things in common with another mythical creature, the kraken. The kraken is a massive squid that terrorizes sailors, so it is an image of chaos just like the FSM. However, the kraken is more in line with the spiritual worldview, where earth and water are places of potential:
So when the scientific revolution introduced us to many new ways of understanding the world, it was not merely a liberating process of opening our eyes to greater material knowledge. There was also a cost, namely the loss of spiritual insight. To illustrate this loss, Matthieu Pageau draws a comparison with the narrative of the Fall, which suggests that many of us are currently wandering in a meaningless universe. Many of us see the purpose within matter but forget about spiritual meaning. Or we know the laws of physics but forget about the manifestation of spiritual truth within narrative. In my exploration, I lay out three more ways that show how our worldview has changed.
The spiritual worldview is cut in half when the ancient notion of heaven is disregarded. As a consequence, the interpretation of religious stories becomes an increasingly difficult task. So does the interpretation of events in a person’s life.
The spiritual worldview is also flipped inside-out when scientific discoveries produced the heliocentric model of the universe. This model focuses heavily on material placement rather than spiritual significance. This new perspective moved the earth and its humans from their central place in the cosmos to the periphery. And with that shift, purpose and meaning were somewhat lost.
Thirdly, the spiritual worldview is turned upside-down when the notions of heaven and earth are solely viewed through the lens of materialism. In a way, heaven becomes the place of potential and earth the origin of meaning. This artificial material view has some truth to it, but becomes blurry and problematic when it is mixed with an intuitive spiritual one.
In a worst-case scenario, someone might develop a worldview in which they see an abyss with monsters when they look down, and then another abyss with monster(-god)s when they look up. However, a more prevalent worldview is one in which someone has no idea where to look for meaning and purpose because they have closed their eyes to the spiritual worldview and opened their eyes to the material worldview that doesn’t contend with those matters.
With everything said, I think that the scientific revolution has undoubtedly given us many things to be grateful for, but it has also launched us from stable ground into a horribly curved orbit from which we still have to recover. I believe that our recovery process depends largely on our ability to rediscover the spiritual worldview so that we can derive meaning and purpose from heaven once again.
- Pageau, Matthieu. The Language of Creation, at 12-13. Amazon, May 2018.
- Pageau, Matthieu, at 14.
- Pageau, Jonathan. “Peeking into the Laboratory of Symbolism”, at 36:41. YouTube, November 2019. Please note that I haven’t added a link to the video. This is because it’s a Patron-only video and can be found on Jonathan’s Patreon page if you’re subscribed.
- Pageau, Matthieu, at 134.
- Pageau, Jonathan, at 11:58.