Gene Wesley Marshall began his education as a mathematician and physicist. In 1953 he decided to leave a mathematics career and attend seminary at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. He has served as a local church pastor, a chaplain in the army, and in 1962 joined a religious order of families (the Order:Ecumenical), and traveled the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, India, Hong Kong, and Australia as a teacher and lecturer of religious and social ethics topics. These trips included an in-depth study of world cultures and a vivid sense of the social conditions of the world’s peoples. He was an active participant in the civil rights revolution, serving for one year as the Protestant executive of The National Conference on Religion and Race. For six years he served as dean of an eight-week residential academy that trained leadership for religious and social engagement work throughout the world. In 1983 Gene and Joyce Marshall organized a nonprofit educational organization, Realistic Living, and began publishing journals, books, and essays. The couple were also organizers of bioregionalism, a geographically sensitive form ecological realism, radical feminism, and interreligious sensibilities. This book is Gene’s eighth book-length project. Gene and Joyce live in Bonham, Texas in a straw bale house.
Acknowledgments I am grateful to Joyce Marshall and Alan Richard for continuing help with this book. Also, members of the Symposium on Christian Resurgence and participants in the Storywarrior web site (http://www.storywarrior.net) have made many editorial and substantial contributions to this book. The authors whose insights have gone into this work are too numerous to mention, but prominent among them are A. H. Almaas, Susan K. Langer, Joseph Mathews, Rudolf Otto, Charlene Spretnak, and Ken Wilber.
The Meaning of Enigma
E • nig • ma: [in-nig’-muh] a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation. We navigate a river of enigma in a land of mystery. That enigma is openness and freedom, noticing and intending, paying attention and taking initiative. That enigma is consciousness, a consciousness that is conscious of being conscious. We know we are conscious, yet we do not know what consciousness is. It is an enigma, a mystery, something to be curious about.
Curiosity is itself an aspect of consciousness. Curiosity is a desire to know what is not yet known. The human mind feeds on mystery. When we joke that “curiosity killed the cat” we may be overlooking the fact that curiosity also made the cat an unusually enduring species. And the human being is capable of a depth of curiosity that no cat can experience. The human being is curious about the origins of the cosmos, the true nature of life and of human life, the very process of thinking itself. Curiosity is an affirmation of enigma, and this affirmation of enigma is an affirmation of that overall “land of mystery” that is the actuality in which we dwell. Reality continually confronts the human mind with enigma.
This book is an exploration of several areas of enigma: truth, consciousness, wonder, religion, primal religious metaphors, and responsible action. The underlying focus of this book is this core enigma: “What is religion?” “What sort of consciousness within human nature makes religious practices a recurring aspect in human society?” “What makes for a healthy or healing religious practice and what makes for sick, depraved, illusory, destructive, or demonic religious practice?”
Such questions about religion presuppose a human means for exploring these questions. Indeed, what is truth? Or perhaps the better question is, “What are the ‘valid’ approaches to truth that are possible and appropriate for the human mind?” Is truth simply a matter of arbitrary opinion: is any viewpoint as valid as any other? Or does the quest for truth imply some sort of “other-than-me thereness” that challenges our lesser or partial truths and validates our more complete truths? And is our quest for truth such that we can arrive at a final resting place, or is our quest for truth an endless revolution in human understanding within a vast ocean of mystery that can never be fully mastered by the human mind? The enigma of truth will be our starting place in this book, a book that is primarily an exploration of the nature and validity of religion.