Cosmos Café [6/18] - Anatomy of Anatheism

Marc Chagall, La lutte du Jacob et du l’Ange (The Fight Between Jacob & the Angel), 1967

Recorded 18 June 2019

In Attendance:

Ed Mahood
Michael Stumpf
Johnny Davis
Andrew Field
Douglas Duff

The discussion hovers in flight around the concept of anatheism, Richard Kearney’s term for the return to God after God has . . . left, died, weakened, worn its welcome. After a brief introduction to Kearney’s book entitled Anatheism, John launches our discussion into the esoteric territory, mentioning Kripal’s similar concept of gnostic postmodernity. Ed fleshes out hermeneutics and appreciates Kearney’s stance of asking how do we understand what it is that we are doing. Micheal, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders as he tries to gracefully bridge the gap between the two sides, finds therapy in another work by Kearney called Carnal Hermeneutics which invites us to remember the senses in this bridgework of figuring things out. Andrew Field enters stage left in his first Café appearance, monologing on his religious experience from the exoteric to the esoteric, going from surface religion to a mysterious and palpable depth of participation in the Divine.

How do we respond to the call in the street? The voice in the dark? Kearney discovers, through his exploration of historical and contemporary religious and aesthetic stories, that we wager with this uninvited guest, discerning and committing (or not) to the call. The Café Crew waxes on the similarity of the words host, hospitality and hostility; the Other; the art and science of interpretation; the role of the imagination/reimagining and humor/humility in receiving God; the place for theory and the place for everyday language. Anatheism is likely a term we will return to in future discussions.

Reading / Watching / Listening

God after God. A good interview with Richard Kearney.

Seed Questions

  • The Alpha God is dead. Is there another version of God emerging?
  • What happens when Black, Latin and Queer versions of Christ become a focus of our collective attention?
  • How do we develop a relationship with the Stranger?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

  • Other relevant links or topics, e.g., leading up to this talk
  • Links to additional reading, viewing, listening

The biblical reference for the Chagall painting is Gen 32:22-32, just in case anyone is interested. A reference to this passage can also be found in Hos 12:4.


Jacob struggles with the Angel to test himself and to know his own limits. On another level, Jacob desires something that he perhaps can’t easily define. He desires love and recognition and this desire is embodied in an Alpha Male form of combat. There is a big difference between submission to a greater power and the grace of honest surrender. That, for me, is what Jacob and the Angel are working out. This is an Erotic encounter with the Great Other. And some of us are compelled to embody a rebellious (even demonic) spirit.


So very,very true & the wrestling is an ongoing enactment throughout life.I am at the place of Let’s Dance :dancer: it’s become a touching of Creativity!


John Donne, a poet/preacher, embodies the demonic-erotic encounter with God, in a holy sonnet.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

This poem strikes me as an obvious male to male rape fantasy! And it is this deeply taboo subject which many Queer theorists are exploring. Many men go to the gay bar with a rosary in their pocket and a crucifix around their neck.


Thanks to all participants for the lively exchange. Another intense episode. Calling all Angels!


Great to meet each of you online, face to (virtual) face! Sorry again about the familial interruptions. It is such a pleasure to connect with others with similar interests, ideas, outlooks, etc. It really feels like a strong community, a strong sangha. Michael, I had to leave before having the chance to say that I totally related to what you were saying about the frustration, and even (maybe this is more me) some confusion initially, about various spiritual emphases that do not seem to know how to think about or deal with the senses, the body. I’m sure this has been discussed here. I used to be confused about this aspect in regards to A Course in Miracles - there is a lot of talk about the relationship between ego-identification (“ego” in the book means something kind of specific, but not the “healthy Freudian ego”) and body-identification. But I think my confusion, which has diminished a lot over time, has more to do with me and less to do with the book. Because when I experience a deep sense of love, or a heightened awareness (tonight, for example, walking towards the cruise ship at night, outside San Juan, with the lights on the boat shining or burning, and the night air sweet and warm and vivid), I am embodied, I am in my body, but I have no thought whatsoever that “I am a body” - if anything, the feeling is more like “I am the witness, and what I am seeing is enormously, endlessly interesting, is capacious, is Whitmanian, to my self, my senses, to me.” Also, John, it was a real pleasure listening to what you had to say. You mentioned Whitman, I think in the context of Gnosticism, and I wanted to say that I am a big fan of readings of Whitman that do not take his “plainspokenness” for something…conventional, or easy, or “exoteric.” There is something undeniably hermetic about Whitman, without a doubt, although I think it can speak to anyone. Actually, as I was enjoying our walk tonight around San Juan, I was noticing people in a way I thought, felt or hoped Whitman might have experienced in terms of seeing - something beautiful about each stranger’s dignity, something incommensurable, unreplaceable, their full unique person, living story, full unthrottled self - where aesthetics and ethics really and actually meet. Well, I hope to participate more in these discussions in the future. Thank you so much.


I agree, Andrew, and Whitman was exquisitely aware of the beauty of the Stranger. I hope you can develop your ideas further in our forums. I am the Body Electric!


Pantheism a doctrine which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God.

Penentheism is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond space and time.

Doug mentions a very important practice for embodying these concepts.


I think when we read about this God stuff, we will naturally gravitate or latch onto terms that seem to give definition to that which we cannot define. I think some of us here have jumped aboard the panentheistic train of being and becoming simply because our most revered authors have been labeled (correctly or incorrectly) as panentheists.

Catherine Keller lists various panentheisms in her essay “Body of Panentheism”: classical (Irenaeus); mystical (Neoplatonists); cosmological (Cusa,); naturalist; protestant (Wesley); womanist (Alice Walker) . . . just to name a few. . .do we need to define the panentheisms in this manner? Probably not, but it can help if you are interested.

Michael Murphy in the essay “The Emergence of Evolutionary Panentheism” presents us with a list of names that have been on the Cosmos radar and that have been labeled “most influential voices” by some of us here:

Lovejoy called this shift of worldview “the temporalizing of the Great Chain of Being,” through which the manifest world with all its hierarchies was conceived “not as the inventory but the program of nature.” The vision of this “temporalization”—let us call it evolutionary panentheism (the term panentheism, in distinction to pantheism, refers to the doctrine that the divine is both immanent in and transcendent to the universe)—has been given different names and elaborated in different ways by the philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; by Henry James Sr., the father of Henry and William James; by the philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce; by Frederic Myers, the great pioneer of psychical research; and by well-known twentieth-century thinkers such as Henri Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and Sri Aurobindo.

He goes on to say " the worldview represented by thinkers such as these constitutes an emerging canon of sorts, which, although it lives today on the margins of academic, scientific, and religious opinion, is giving rise to a vision that will eventually capture the world’s imagination. The essential set of ideas that make up this still-developing body of thought has fundamental implications for philosophy, psychology, religion, and everyday life."

I too do not wish to promote just another term to muddle the already complicated matter. I agree with Ed that we do not need to keep explaining with terms what we can already experience. But it is hard to pass up on the term panentheism for me. When John listed out a short list of names he was researching for the Axial Age project during the recording, even though I had not read/heard of/experienced all of the names on the list, listening to Johnny’s expression of how they might connect gave me a better understanding. He did not give a term for all of these theorists, nor did I need one. I like the term panentheism because it “defines” my world view, my God view . . . though I will still be searching for the best way to talk about this stuff. Or better yet, the best way to have others experience the divine, preferable without a single word at all!

And just as a reminder that “anatheism” is a process, not another -ism

From David Tracy (Roman Catholic theologian):

Kearney’s hermeneutical anatheistic wager should be read, therefore, not as a new theoretical “ism” to replace other isms such as theism, atheism, gnosticism, pantheism, or panentheism, but as a way of life directly related to the theory/vision of the “God who may be” of his previous work.

I think the “Hokey-Pokey” is describing Kearney’s depiction of a “way of life” . . . Tillich did the Hokey-Pokey; he even described himself as a man living on the boundaries (of philosophy/theology; of culture/religion; of reality/imagination; of native/alien land; of theory/practice). I think we all live on the boundaries once we dig into it. Liminal is a term that Kearney used frequesntly in Anatheism. Panentheism is the theory/worldview that best describes (for me) the inside and the outside of our ultimate concern. Anatheism is the practice, the dance we perform when in the act . . . in the wager.



Aristotle: “touch has many differences”…“Flesh is a medium,not an organ”’.
“Before words,we are flesh,flesh becoming words for the rest of our lives.Matter,no less than form,is about what matters to us,to others,& to the world we breathe & have our being.Life is hermeneutic through & through.It goes all the way Up & all the Down.From Head to toe & Back Again”. From, “Carnal Hermeneutics”,Richard Kearney.
There no need to Be imprisoned by the Body or Our Concepts(to conceive mentally),it seems to me ;other than we naturally Fear the Unknown Mystery?


I am drawn to panenthism because it matches my actual experience. I am an earthling and I am more than an earthling. And I have conducted psychic experiments for five decades that have given me enough experience to know the difference between a demon to be shunned and a stranger who needs to be cared for. Some of us are working with hungry ghosts as well as vast intelligences that have never been human. This is not an idea in my head but an experience I have had on multiple occasions. To work this out philosophically is easier to do when you have had some actual experience, rather than just theories, to reflect upon. Reading is an essential aspect of such reflection and can in some instances trigger an actual episode or a mutual learning event. Once again, I insist, as many have before me, that the Imaginal is not fantasy. And there is no guarantee that there will be a happy ending. My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? The Crucifixion thing really sucks. Oh the Mind, the Mind has Mountains, cliffs of fall, frightful, sheer, no man fathomed. Hold them cheap, may who ne’er hung there. Philosophical reflection, as Bellah would say, is a product of myth and narrative, not the other way around. Theory don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing.


I haven’t yet listened to the video recording of your discussion (which I was really sorry to have missed), but I have downloaded Kearney’s book and I absolutely love it - it dovetails rather nicely with my own efforts to write fiction in this multi-religion dialogue context. Can’t wait to hear what ya’ all sayed!

Interestingly, I was discussing recently the issue of whether I am (still) an atheist with a friend who is a self-identified atheist, and I found myself saying, somewhat to my own surprise, that I believe in some kind of soul, but not so much in any kind of God. And he reacted by asking first of all if I meant a soul that pre-exists the person and persists afterwards (my answer : I don’t know), and then concluded that if I believe in a (the?) soul, then I am not an atheist. I don’t think I am an agnostic either - I don’t hold to the idea that one should doubt everything (according to my atheist friend, that is the definition of an agnostic). Now, I don’t like labelling things either, so maybe it is just as well that I am none of these things!


This tension you describe is perplexing many of us. Kearney is a serious investigator and I am glad you are joining this conversation. Your quantum insights would be greatly appreciated. As language users, our minds partially entangled, maybe we might be able to update our metaphysical assumptions?


What exactly do you find perplexing? My first motto is, « the first right of a human being is to be inconsistent » - well, maybe not the first right, but you get the idea. I find your introduction of the term, « panentheism » very interesting. I looked it up, and it appears my own understanding of the divine may be a flavor of what is called « radically emergent panentheism »… the idea that the divine is emergent in the material universe, but that emergence may lead to a kind of transcendence of the material realm that also collapses time, so that once emerged, « God » (although I don’t like ascribing simple agency to the divine here, which that term favors) may fill up all time with the divine presence - hence the idea of emergence does not contradict an eternal God… Something like that… There may be a relationship with entanglement - I read one paper that argues that time is a property that results from entanglement - I found the idea seductive, but the argument proposed in the paper I found unconvincing. My understanding (of the divine) is only partial, and quite fragmentary, and no doubt contradicts itself in places (which takes me back to the right to be inconsistent…)

I love Kearney’s idea that God is the Stranger, that our encounter with the divine is an encounter with the Other. I feel this is one of the central components of the human experience, second only perhaps to our encounter with Death (also, however, a radical Other) - that our lives consist of a constant oscillation or movement between the familiar and the strange, the Self and the Other.

By the way, I love the initiative to read The Axial Way, it looks like a fascinating book, but I still don’t have time for it right now, so I will look over your shoulders!


Science writer, John Hogan, interviews Jeffrey Kripal, who offers a lot of insights around what is perplexing in religious studies today. I imagine that there are considerable overlaps between religion/ paranormal/ quantum poetics. We do, indeed, oscillate between these interfaces. Some of us have read Kripal’s The Flip. We are strange and life is getting weirder.


Wow! That is an awesome interview! They are both interesting. I have acquired Kripal’s book already, and was planning to read it. This interview gives me a marvelous look at his ideas and motivations, and I find myself largely in agreement with what he is saying. And, yes, I suppose they are saying that whether or not the universe is self consistent (there are, in fact, some reasons to think it might not be!), there is no reason why we humans have to be self consistent - we can play with both a belief and its opposite at the same time, you know, as Alice said, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast ."


Uncle Walt: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes).”


Thanks, Michael, for the quotes from Kearney. I quote from him again about the tribulations of presenting adequate translations. How do we put transcendent experiences into language that can make sense to others?

"A crucial step in resisting the lure of the Perfect Translation is to honor a dialectical balance between proximity (welcoming the stranger into our midst) and distance (acknowledging that something is always lost in translation: the other’s meanings can never be completely mine). A “hospitable” translator is one who aims at approximate correspondences between tongues without ever assuming these to be final or adequate. Which is why translation is always an endless task. "

There is a juncture in our conversation when Ed objects to language used, and John objects to Ed’s objections. As I review this moment in the video, I notice that others noticed a recurring pattern going on here. Perhaps, beneath these recurring impasses, there is another kind of languaging that wants to happen?

I asked Ed, in the video, if there was a relationship between his declaration ( I don’t give two shits) and the Stranger?

Unfortunately, the raised voices produced by the accelerating pace of different translators, ( the Tower of Babel syndrome), frightened the Angel away.

And what happens right before you feel lost?

And when lost what would you like to have happen?

And Who decides which kind of language we use when I/we feel lost?

And can we hold these tensions between dimensions?

I/We cannot have transformations without adequate translators. Learning how to shape shift and morph between different kinds of sense making in a world of differences is not easy! This is my reading but I dont wish to assert this dogmatically. Others may have a different reading and we may need to press the pause button once in awhile and go into those liminal zones, from which more adequate translations can co-arise.

I would be very surprised if we didn’t blow a fuse on occassion. This is why I wish we could catch a rhythm rather than crack a code. This is where Angels fear to tread.

I have yet to hear Ed’s usually sober reflections in this thread. I hope he is not still feeling lost. No communication is a meta- communication. There is always silence. And we humans don’t get very far with silence. Silence can be a balm, and it can also become a way to spiritually by pass difficulties.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


I am in swing with your words John, learning to Move in the Liminal Zone is mutual learning we are enacting it seems to my humble experience.I have had to learn to walk more than once in my life due to medical issues & each time that rhythm U speak of did not come in the sense of time I wanted.The willingness to Pause when in the mist of a rhythm not working is what Jazz Musicians (All musicians) do so as to find the best rhythm ,this is Artfulness enacted.I can’t play a lick of Jazz,I can appreciate & model it in conversation to the Best of my Ability;this is how I relate to the Rascal Cafe’ Crew .We Are in Our bringing the Vision into Form,it’s just Messy & we are learning to bring the Vision to the Messiness in real time,it seems to this Rascal! P.S. Interesting that when riding a bicycle -we are sitting & moving at the same time,thinking & feeling & talking?