Deus-sive-Natura - Personality but not a Person

In my last blog - On not going to church on a Sunday - I cited a 'prayer' to Nature by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671 - 1713) and prefaced it with the following words:

As a poetic evocation of Nature it seems well worth reproducing here; but don't think I am taking this text literally - whatever Shaftsbury himself may have been thinking when he wrote it - because Deus-sive-Nature is absolutely not a person!"

I absolutely hold to this but have realised that, if I am going to be understood properly, I need to add an additional, very important, note. When I say that Deus-sive-Natura (God-or-Nature) is not a person I do not mean that I think 'it' is without subjectivity (and therefore personality). If I were doing this then I would simply be propounding another version of reductionist materialism. Instead, as most of you know, I'm trying to explore a non-theistic conception of divinity which holds together what Descartes blew asunder, namely matter and spirit. In other words I think (and here I'm citing Freya Mathews position expressed in For Love of Matter - A Contemporary Panspychism (State University of New York Press, 2003) that "physical reality as a whole, under both its material and nonmaterial aspects" needs to be seen "as constituting a genuine, indivisible unity" and that if this is the case (and I think it is) then we should regard Nature "as a subject, or field of subjectivity, to which the entire differentiated physical manifold is subjectively present" (ibid. p.47).

So, whilst Nature is not a person in any anthropomorphic sense, because 'it' is subjectival and 'it' can meaningfully be thought of as being a self. 'It' can, therefore, be addressed and encountered as an 'other.' Of course the trouble, to a great extent, lies in our language and so, as Mathews notes, "To personify natural phenomena may be the only way of representing the subjectivity of the world in humanly accessible terms" (ibid. p. 79) She continues:

To see the world in such terms is not necessarily simply to project human personalities into everything. It is not to envisage ethereal men and women in the sky or shadowy little homunculi in cockatoos and kookaburras and rocks. It is the attribution of personality per se, rather than specifically human personality, which is salient here. Human personality may be attributed to natural phenomena simply because human personality is the only model of personality we have. To think of thunder as the voice of a god then may not be to think of thunder as having human characteristics but rather to see it as emanating from a world with a distinctive personality, or subjectivity of its own. And to see ancestors in the cockatoos and kookaburras may not be to see the latter as inhabited by human spirits, but rather to see them as subjects whose subjectivity is no different, at bottom, from ours. So it may not really matter, from such a point of view, which particular story is told about a given nexus of natural phenomena. The purpose of the story is not to explain the phenomena, in something like causal terms. The purpose may rather enable us to encounter these phenomena, to respond to them appropriately and elicit their response. (ibid p. 80 - emphasis mine).
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