The Evolution of Theology


Roland Stahl
January, 2016


      In my own life, my ideas of religion and theology have passed through a very surprising evolution.  Born the son and grandson of Methodist ministers, with my father also a PhD in Philosophy, I was familiar with religious ideas from my earliest years, dutifully attending Sunday School and Church services every week.  However, being an intelligent child with an inquiring mind, I was naturally an atheist from at least the age of seven or eight.  I suppose it is possible that in my yet earlier and more tender years I may have believed, or at least accepted, my father’s explanations of theological questions, but as soon as I was old enough to understand the ideas which I was expected to believe, I thoroughly rejected them.  “Just Who does he think is listening to those prayers he makes in church every Sunday morning?”  I was embarrassed for my naive and simple-minded father, who had done so well academically, but seemed to be so lacking in mature judgment and critical discernment.

      As I grew into adolescence and beyond, my rejection of all fanciful ideas of religion only hardened into a confirmed atheism.  However, I found myself confronted with metaphysical questions which I could not answer.  Even in my earliest days of rejection of religious answers to the primary questions of philosophy and metaphysics, I had sense enough to realize that it was not sufficient to proclaim negation; if I were going to reject the religious answers to these questions, I must put forward some credible alternatives which I could believe.  In other words, to present the problem in terms of the eight-year-old atheist, if the universe were not created by God, where did it come from?  (Or, “Who made God, or where did He come from?”)   These questions boggled my little brain, but every time I had to endure the embarrassment of listening to my father’s Sunday morning prayers, I renewed my determination to understand these questions “without the use of theological postulates.”  Accordingly, I have spent most of my life searching for answers to these questions.  I studied every source of philosophy and religion – Christian, Hebrew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Hermetic philosophy, occult philosophy, Freemasonry, even Satanism, as well as the whole gamut of Western philosophy from Heraclitus, Pythagoras, and Plato to Wittgenstein and Whitehead.

      From what started out as a huge chaos and confusion of contradictory ideas, I gradually began to discover some promising threads, finding links of remarkable similarity from widely disparate sources.  The alchemical ideas of Hermetic philosophy were some of the first to impress me the most favorably.  I began to see some patterns emerging out of the labyrinth of ideas, and I gradually began to understand a principle which seemed to be at the heart of the process of change.   I liked the concept of the Philosophers’ Stone, and thought I understood the pivotal role it played in the process of Change which lay at the heart of the mysteries.  The Greeks were barking up the wrong tree looking for some fundamental particle or “atom” which was the ultimate basis of the universe.  Actually, Heraclitus was onto the right approach, declaring that Change was the ultimate reality.

      Gradually I developed an understanding of a whole abstract metaphysics which seemed to bring me closer and closer to an understanding of the primary mysteries of nature (referred to as the Arcana in the old mystery schools).  At one point it occurred to me that I might even refer to the Philosophers’ Stone as “God,” and I thought that was pretty clever, to use the name of God to explain the ordering principle of my system of abstract metaphysics.  Then, finally, it dawned on me that I had just discovered what many people had meant by “God” all along!   But, of course, my own understanding of “God” was entirely abstract and had nothing whatever to do with that funny Being to Whom my father was addressing his prayers!

      In this essay, I want to go over all of this ground again, describing how my understanding gradually evolved to a deeper understanding of the nature of God, reaching such astonishing conclusions as an understanding of the three Persons of the Trinity, and even an understanding of a personal God Who might even hear and answer prayer!  And – most astonishing of all – if anyone had ever told my eight-year-old self that I would someday come to recognize Jesus Christ as the most important religious figure of all time, I would not have believed it.

      Not that all of my conclusions are entirely orthodox, by any means!  I have finally achieved my childhood quest of understanding the creation of the cosmos ex nihilo, and I have even solved the difficulty of the Problem of Evil (“How can we believe in a good, just, and merciful God when there are mosquitoes in the world?” – one of many ways in which this old problem can be expressed.)  Along the way, I have come to have a radical understanding of God which is contrary to every previous conception of His nature, but which resolves all of the problems pertaining to our understanding of God.  It is this new interpretation of the mystery of God which I wish to introduce in the present essay.

      I wish to carry the evolution of God forward in the same sequence in which it has come to me, beginning with rejection and atheism, evolving thence into an abstract metaphysics, then emerging as a conscious and personal God, and finally revealing the outstanding importance of Jesus Christ.

      Rejection and atheism is easy.   It has always been easier for big sister Lucy to knock over little brother’s house of blocks, laughing, than it ever was for Linus to construct his creative work of architecture in the first place.

      “Where does the sky end?” was my earliest problem.  It was useless for my father to assure me that the sky goes on forever – how can that be?  Infinity is not a concept that an eight-year-old mind can grasp.  But the infinity of time is even more puzzling than that of space.  It is bad enough to assert that the universe will go on forever, but to go into the past and pretend that it has always existed is patently absurd, as any bright eight-year-old could easily assure you.

      Another absurdity is the notion that we should accept the truth of revealed religion on faith!  As Bertrand Russell has observed (quoted from memory; not a direct quote), “There are many hundreds of different religions in the world, all of them mutually exclusive and contradictory, so that it stands to reason, as a matter of logic, that no more than one of them could represent the truth, and all the rest of them are just bunk, so why should anyone believe that the religion into which they happen to have been born is the truth?  It is more logical to assume that all of them are bunk.” -- Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian.   I fully understand the difficulty – since it is considered to be impossible to come to any clear theological understanding by reason alone, the only recourse left to us is to accept our revealed beliefs on faith.

      Well, I am here to pick two holes in that analysis.  In the first place, as I researched every imaginable source of religious and philosophical ideas, I began to see many of the most important ideas cropping up again and again, clothed, it is true, in an extravagant variety of costumes, but of which certain core ideas kept coming up unmistakably again and again with surprising similarity.  Eventually I began to distinguish these ideas and sort them out into a system according to their patterns.  Suddenly Bertrand Russell’s whole argument flipped onto its head – if the same fundamental ideas keep coming up again and again no matter how widely diverse the sources, there must be something to it!

      The second hole in the idea that belief can only be based on faith since there is no way to derive an understanding of religion by reason alone is that I have done just exactly that – without relying upon faith at all – in fact, starting from a total rejection of everything I was expected to believe on faith – I have derived an understanding of metaphysics and theology which I am not only convinced is correct, but which I believe is the only solution possible to the major problems of philosophy.  But what ended up as a complete and integrated system of metaphysics started out as just a series of related ideas.

      One of my epiphanies along the way was to see that these ideas were most effectively illustrated by the numbers of mathematics.  I understood that this was the meaning of the claim by Pythagoras that Numbers were the Secret Key to an understanding of the Mysteries of Nature.  (So, actually, this epiphany occurred to Pythagoras first, but it was an original idea to me.)  “Mathematics is the language of God.”  The concept of Number is the mother of all abstraction.  The whole field of mathematics is a priori knowledge that can be conceived without any reference to the external world.  There is a mystery associated with the number One, another mystery associated with the number Two, another mystery associated with the number Three, and another mystery associated with the number Four.  The mysteries continue, but these first four are the most important and primary.  In fact, the smaller the number, the more important the mystery in a kind of logarithmic scale in which each number is more important than the one which follows.  This sequence of the first four primary mysteries comprise what Pythagoras referred to as the Tetractys.   It is represented also by the four letters of the Name of God in Hebrew (the Tetragrammaton).

      I have written about these mysteries all of my life, from my earliest book, Symposium by God and the Devil, and the Lapis Philosophorum (I especially prefer the third edition), to the very elaborate Theophany, which I printed by letterpress from hand-set type on paper made by hand, to the Patterns of Illusion and Change, and, most recently, Tetragrammaton, a small book of pictures illustrating the primary mysteries, “the Keys to the Arcana” (www.tree.org/b2.htm).  In the first two books mentioned, I presented the sequence of Arcana horizontally, one to a page.  Then, in a truly major epiphany (assisted, as I recall, by the fortuitous stimulus of LSD, which enjoys a well-documented history of association with divine inspiration), I stacked the symbols vertically, and saw, to my astonishment, that I had recreated the Tree of Life from the Kabbalah!  At first I thought it was just an amazing coincidence, but as I looked more closely, I saw that every sphere on the Tree of Life corresponded exactly to its relative position on my own diagrams.  Then, when I considered that both diagrams were intended to convey the same sequence of ideas (“the evolution from God to Man”), I was no longer surprised that my own designs should be practically identical with a design which was several thousand years old.  I also realized immediately that the Tetragrammaton was just one final layer of abstraction up from the Tree of Life (the Tetragrammaton has always been said to express the same mystery – the evolution from God to Man – although its precise meaning has been universally considered to have been lost over the ages).

      So now let us briefly review these ideas.  In one way or another, all my writings are expositions of these Arcana, but I will try to review them sufficiently here to lay a basis for understanding the evolution of my ideas of theology.  The Number One is the most important, but the hardest to speak about.  In the words of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, “From Tao there comes One; from One there come Two; from Two there comes Three; and from Three there come all things.”  According to Pythagoras, the best illumination of each mystery is contained in the concept of the Number for which it stands.  That is, the meaning of the first and most primary mystery can best be understood by meditating on the Number One.  The best I can come up with in words is an idea of Perfection expressed as a point which has no dimensions, no existence in time, and, in fact, no existence at all until the universe comes into being by the Error or Joke of a Distinction between All and Nothing, Infinity and Zero.  Now it is possible to perceive that point of perfection (after the creation of the cosmos) at the center of a sphere of error, or cloud of confusion, surrounding that point.  Of course, we can understand that point of Perfection as God (the Holy Ghost, in my most recent understanding of correspondence to the Christian Trinity) and all the manifestation surrounding it as “the Devil.”  One very important theological point is this understanding of the Devil not as an organized and conscious incarnation of evil (as many Christians seem to believe), but as confusion and error, “distance from God.”  This makes a whole lot more sense theologically; there are not two gods, one good and one evil (that is an old but primitive idea – compare Zoroastrianism), but only one God, defining Perfection at the center, with Dante’s receding circles of Hell the further away one goes from God.  God is the light at the center, and “the Devil” is expressed as increasing confusion and error, receding out into chaos, darkness, and death.

      But it is a lot more complicated than this.  So far we have this pattern of God at the center, with energies of confusion moving out into error.  There are numerous applications of this image – for example, we might say that everyone lives their life somewhere on this continuum (which is not linear, but better expressed as a point at the center of a sphere moving out in an infinite number of directions away from God at the center to increasing degrees of error and confusion towards the periphery).  Furthermore, it is possible to go closer in towards the center, or to move further out away from God.  A practice such as meditation is designed to bring one closer to God, while expressions of anger, over-indulgence in drugs or alcohol, or engaging in crime or war will carry one inexorably further away from God.

      So far this might seem to be fairly simple and straightforward – going in is good; going out is bad.  But it is not that simple!  What we see as error and confusion, iniquity and sin, is actually only the excess of that direction of energy, not any movement in that direction at all!  Metaphysically, that direction of energy which caused the universe to break apart from non-being and perfection into manifestation and reality is the Quest for Novelty, which is the Spark of Life!  It is an absolutely essential component of the cosmos, and value expressions of “good” or “evil” are wholly inappropriate.  One of the reasons why I enjoyed the ideas of Hermetic Alchemy was its recognition that the most efficient path towards perfection was not a bee-line to the center (which, if it were even possible, would just result in the annihilation of all manifestation back into the state of perfect non-being), but the alternation of SOLVE ET COAGULA (breaking apart and coming together).  All evolutionary growth is a product of this pattern – inhalation-exhalation, expansion- contraction, analysis-synthesis, etc.

      So it is only in excess that this “quest for novelty” gets us into trouble.  Initially, this quest for novelty leads to creativity and originality, leading to evolutionary growth and all of the wonders of science and life.  However, if the forays out into novelty are not resolved and reintegrated back to the center, the outward moving energy just continues out past creativity and complexity into confusion and madness, eventually leading to chaos, darkness and death.

      Now to relate these ideas to the numbers of metaphysics, it is the duality of the Number Two, yang and yin, expansion and contraction.  If the Number One represents the ultimate Origin, the reaching out into Novelty of the Number Two represents the spark of life which creates and animates the cosmos.  So far from considering this movement “evil,” we consider this essential breath of life to be one of the Persons of the Trinity which is God.

      At the point of perfection, all good things converge – clarity, harmony, love, joy, bliss, good health, prosperity, etc.  Increasing distance away from this point leads to confusion, discord, anger, sorrow, conflict, poor health, failure, etc.  Yet, as long as the energy is continually re-integrated back to the center, the movement outward is life itself – novelty, creativity, complexity, and growth.  This may seem like a paradox.  If all good things converge at the point in the center, how is it that movement away from this point can produce good effects?  As I search for an analogy to explain this idea, I find one that may seem unsuitable, yet is really correct.  This movement outward, away from the center of perfection is like a drug – coffee, for example.   Coffee provides a positive stimulus, yet, in the first place, it is most effective the more rarely it is used.   And, secondly, the more it is used to excess, the more negative the effects become.   The lesson, then, is that this outward movement is very powerful magic, but it must be used sparingly, and followed by a return back to the center to maintain integrity and balance, to assimilate the new information into the path of evolutionary change and growth.  Another very coarse example is spontaneous mutation.  Spontaneous mutation is precisely this “quest for novelty” in action, and is the mechanism of evolutionary growth.  Yet if the pace of mutation exceeds a safe limit, the organism breaks down into uncontrolled chaos and eventual death.  The COAGULA phase must follow the SOLVE in order for the novelties to be either integrated into the center (as the agency of positive growth), or rejected and passed over.

      Most Christian theologians consider Jesus as the “Son of God” and the second Person of the Trinity, and none of that is inconsistent with my view.  The prime attribute of the convergence of all good things is Love, the ultimate COAGULA.  (We must distinguish here, by analogy with mathematics, the “approach to the limit” from “the limit itself.”  At the actual attainment of the limit, all bets are off, and all manifestation would be hypothetically superseded by non-being.)  Since Jesus Christ is unparalleled in the primacy of his message of love, we may say that Jesus was “closer to God” than any other person known to history.  I have to take issue here with people who seem to think that the message of Jesus is, “Believe in Me and you will never die.”  For those who don’t know, the message of Jesus can be found in John 13; 34-35 – “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love one to another.”  And also First John 4:7-8 – “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

      I find Jesus to be a far more impressive person when understood as a human being who was very close to God, rather than some sort of magical being identified as God Himself.  The whole point of the teaching of Jesus was to show the way by example as someone whom we may aspire to follow.   Once you claim that he is God Himself his whole existence and message is belittled and trivialized.  His followers may have been dazzled, as the Aztecs were dazzled by Cortez and thought he was God, but the story of Jesus makes a lot more sense to me as an example of the power and glory of God the closer we approach to Him.  But as close as Jesus was to God, he also embodied the virtues of novelty in large measure!  Time after time his message broke with tradition, bringing us, in every way, a New Testament.  An example of his attitude is his reply when questioned about healing on the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.  Jesus, being close to God, is a perfect exemplar of the Second Arcanum and the Second Person of the Trinity, reaching out into novelty from the perfection of God.

      The funny thing about the Trinity is that it really does take three perspectives to fully understand God.  At the top (Arcanum I), there is God, the Holy Ghost.  Then there are the two forces of the Second Arcanum – God, the Mother (yin), and God, the Son (yang).  Altogether they comprise the Trinity of God.

      So if the Number One expresses God as the ultimate Origin, and the Number Two expresses the Divergence into complexity represented by the movement outward into novelty (balanced by movement back in to the center), what is the significance of the Number Three?  The Number Three represents the expanding consequence of the divergence of the Number Two.  Three is achieved by a point of perspective between Subject and Object.  Where the Number Two expresses abstract directions of energy as complementary ideas, the Number Three brings into being an entire field of energy (for example, the entire manifest cosmos and the infinite consciousness of God) which comes into being between the hypothetical and imaginary limits of All and Nothing, Infinity and Zero.  This Trinity completes the expression of God.  The Number Four represents the actual and tangible manifestation of the cosmos, completing the evolution from God to Man.  (More information concerning any of this may be found in my books already mentioned, which may be found on my web site: tree.org

      But let’s take a closer look at this Number Three.  The key feature of the Third Arcanum is Life and Consciousness.  I have developed this idea at greater length in previous writings, but to make a quick summary – by analogy with an atom, which has a nucleus surrounded by a swarm of electrons relatively far out from the nucleus, I imagine that there is a vast field of energy surrounding every human being.  Close to the body there may be an aura, visible to some sensitive people, but there must be a huge field of energy extending out for a considerable distance – at least, say, to the outer limits of the atmosphere around planet Earth.  What this means is that all life on the planet, human, animal, and vegetable, is occupying the same space!  Advancing quickly to a complex idea, I accept the postulate of a being (“Gaea”) which is comprised of the entire field of life energy on the planet, with a shared consciousness.  Now, by the idea that consciousness increases in direct proportion to the complexity of an organism, Gaea must have a greater consciousness than any of the “separate” people, plants, or animals of which she is composed.  

      Suddenly all manner of psychic phenomena become very easy to understand, since all life is essentially linked into a single system of energy.  You see where I am going with this – it may be that there is a yet larger Being composed of all life in the cosmos, but from our point of view, we may think of Gaea as the Consciousness of God (The Holy Ghost).  Suppose this is not just some abstraction, but is actually real?  Is it too much to imagine that this Consciousness is “aware” of our individual thoughts on some level?

      And what about the other direction?  I have always thought it was stupid and useless to “pray” by submitting a shopping list to God like a child writing a letter to Santa Claus.  It makes much more sense to me for us to “pray” by listening receptively for any messages which God (or Gaea) may have for us.  Perhaps my writings are inspired by God.  How was it possible otherwise that I should re-invent the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah so many millennia after its initial appearance?

      Initially I promised an explanation of the creation of the cosmos ex nihilo.  That requires some extremely dense metaphysical speculation and is actually beyond the scope of the present essay (but see Speculations on Cosmology, from my web site, www.tree.org).  However, I also promised to resolve the Problem of Evil, which I now propose to do.  The resolution of the problem, as Wittgenstein would advise us, is to be found in the statement of the problem itself.  “How can we believe in the existence of an Almighty God, infinite in power, wisdom, and goodness, in the face of so much manifest evil in the world?”  Well, the solution to the problem lies in the prior assumptions.  Who says God is Almighty, infinite in power, wisdom, or even goodness?  Are we like the Aztecs dazzled by Cortez, or like children who believe in the infallibility of their parents?  If we understand that God is all of Us, all Life on the planet, and We are just trying to stay alive (and, perhaps, losing the battle), then perhaps We can understand the inadequacy of the attitude to “let George do it.”  We need to take responsibility for Our world, the only one We have, and put Our shoulders to the wheel before it is too late.

      Our concept of God has evolved considerably from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  Jesus has given us a glimpse of a much greater God than anything found in the Old Testament, by remaining very close to God yet pushing out in new directions to a new understanding of the nature of God.  Now it is time for us to come of age and participate in the continuing evolution of God and Man.  If we just sit back and let George do it, there may be nothing left for our children.  Our planet is dying (and that means We are dying), and it is up to Us to rise to the challenge of Our present need and try to reverse that slide into confusion, error, chaos, darkness, and death.  Gaea can’t do it without Us.  Do you hear Her speaking to you?  If not, then shut up and listen!  At the very least, get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a-changing.  It is up to Us to ensure that the changes bring Us closer to the light instead of delivering Us to the rapidly encroaching darkness.

      The most urgent priority is to mobilize a vast army of tree planters to restore the protective tree cover on the earth.  More trees will improve the carbon balance, produce more oxygen, and help to prevent the destructive cycle of drought and floods by anchoring the soil to the earth, retaining the water when it rains, and returning it gradually during the dry seasons, preventing water runoff and soil erosion.  Trees also encourage the survival of smaller shrubs and ground covers, further protecting the earth and its living creatures, including human life.

      There are plenty of other problems that need to be addressed, but the restoration of the Trees is such an urgent priority that I don’t want to mention anything else on the same page.

      The Glory of God is very much manifest in the Trees, but up until now, the human race has just been dragging Us down.  The human race has interjected an amazing and explosive burst of Novelty, but if We are unable fully to realize that energy and reintegrate it back to God, it will carry Us inexorably further out along the path of increasing complexity leading to confusion and error, and thence to the outer reaches of chaos, darkness, and death.  The message here is that it is not enough to say that “God is in His Heaven, and all’s right with the world,” or “God works in mysterious ways, but His plan is surely unfolding as it should.”  No!  Our world is spiraling out into chaos, and time is running out.  Enough SOLVE already!  Now it is time for a new COAGULA to bring Us back to God.


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