Budding is what we do
Isaiah is in agreement with Whitehead from plantings to engendering nations, with people in between
With Miroslaw Manicki
Every night, I read a chapter in the Old Testament, one in the Book of Mormon, and one in a rotation between the New Testament, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These are fundamental to my faith. With 929 chapters, the Old Testament takes about 2–1/2 years to read through. The Book of Mormon takes just under eight months and the rest take a year and about a month-and-a-half.
Doing this brings the contents into a kind of dimensionality that is arrestingly vivid. This cannot result from hunting-and-pecking or from reading summaries or interpretations or guidebooks. The results come from reading, front-to-back, gleaning from the authors themselves as presented by them in the moment — or at least, soon thereafter.
Triangulation occurs on many fronts during such readings. Similarities in style and content emerge as do contrasts. The great story unfolds, even as the framework of the long arc of human history comes into view. This happened last night. I read the last verse of Isaiah 61, which reads as follows:
11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
Ooooo. This is what Alfred North Whitehead says, as well as a student of his, James Miller, who dedicated a lifetime of study to the proposition that just as the underpinnings of nature emerge in an orderly fashion, our behavior may follow the same patterns, to good effect.
This means that there is no great break between nature and nurture, between natural phenomena and the mind. Of course, there is human will; the point is that it choose to follow the patterns and plans presented by nature in all of its glories. Isaiah places divine will in harmony with nature itself, natural processes being models for how people behave. Isaiah takes it all the way to involve the praise of nations, meaning an acknowledgement of social organizations, preferences, and differences.
In my reading program, I try to take a moment each day to reflect on a key message from the three readings of the prior morning. It only takes a minute or two. In this way, I work to understand a valid concurrent message for me. On many of these occasions, I revert back to the text to reinforce what I remember and to look for nuance that may have escaped me in the prior reading. With the Isaiah reading last night, I also read in the Book of Mormon in the latter parts of Alma where military was called up by Pahoran and Moroni as a means of protection, which also was a matter in the Doctrine and Covenants, when the famous Zion’s Camp group was mustered.
It is perhaps better to consider budding over mustering. These are similar, but they are not the same thing. What we learn from Whitehead and Isaiah is that these things are not metaphors. The underlying processes are just that, processes, but the methods, the tools and technologies, and the levels of scale vary considerably. In the cryptic terminology of biological science, when the end comes, there are two types of death, apoptosis, which is orderly and programmed and arguably beneficial, leading the way to budding thereafter in subsequent generations. The other kind, necrosis, is when the troops have to be called up to avert a problem, to right some wrong. Necrotic death is an ugly one; not evoking anything like “righteousness and praise”. Necrosis, in short, is nature’s avenger.
Last week, I heard the story, second-hand, of a young Muslim who went with his father to Mecca, to participate in the Hajj. He did it out of courtesy; he did not consider himself to be a believer. As he immersed himself in the processes and performances in question, he had a change of heart and became converted. He described an experience of feeling the spirit that is similar to such descriptions in many faiths. We often hear of performance and ordinances in such settings. Whitehead is not shy about equating these with the processes of natural and living science. It is not enough to declare the faith, you need to do the things outlined by the faith. It is not a matter of being a believer, but of becoming a doer.
What is the bugaboo about Isaiah’s pronouncement? In a sense, you would have to say that it is mankind’s will. Individually and as groups, we have the capacity, if not the tendency, to kick against the pricks as the scriptures say, to act contrary to plan or contrary to order. Only man can decide to forgo the process, to declare independence from nature and natural order. Humans can separate themselves off from natural consequence as the animals and plants cannot do. This is what air conditioning is, as well as central heating.
We know a bit about physiology, but we use what we know to cheat on the system. For example, I have been reading a history of Otto Warburg, the irascible German scientist who led studies into the lifestyle origins of cancer. His work was eclipsed when genetics emerged with the promise that “genes for cancer” could be identified and deactivated so that people could continue to eat and behave poorly without associated consequences. This is the rationale for pain pills. Pain, as you are surely aware, is the body’s way of signalling to us that something is wrong. Sometimes this comes as the result of an accident, but it also can result from metabolic and neurological sources. Extinguishing pain with a pill that does nothing more is truly analogous to responding to a fire by turning off the alarm. That one-third of the population lives with severe chronic conditions, associated with lifestyle, has made the pandemic all that much worse for them in particular.
Is it possible that righteousness as outlined in scripture is in some way the equivalent to learning about and adapting to nature? Do you think?
The “sin” resides not wholly in the individuals that suffer so. Many of the problems are of the social and communal kind. Just as Isaiah provides shorthand as to how it should go, Miller considers the details, shown to the right in the following Figure. We have added examples on the left side with coding representing the period of early enlightenment from the East, or Mesopotamia.
We were taught to believe in a short history of human affairs — one that dates back a few hundred years to an Enlightenment, when Europeans lifted the world out of a historical cesspool of autocracy and depravity. It is ironic that this was the sell when the mere existence of the ancient Hebrew record indicated otherwise. There have been old and storied civilizations that cast a shadow on modern performance as to civility and longevity. We know this because scholars have now translated hundreds of thousands of their records and they are fantastic in their sophistication, variety, and breadth.
One indication of their validity is that translators at the main study areas — the universities of Pennsylvania, Chicago, UCLA, Berkeley, Heidelberg, Oxford, and Cambridge, and universities in the region — found early on that they couldn’t translate many of the texts without the participation in the process by specialists in medicine, science, engineering, mathematics, and many other subject areas. In the ancient tablets and other records, they have found guidelines for governance as well as management of knowledge for the good of the people. They provide guidelines and structures for how the needs and wants of the people can be met over the long arc of time.
Studies of these with the encouragement and contribution of Miroslaw Manicki have vivified my study of the Old Testament, which in many ways is a commentary on the old ways — the world from which Abraham came, which was the living environment of the family of Noah. This all dovetails with the old ways. The ancient tablets, found buried deep in ancient city-scapes, are harder to refute than they are to ignore. They point to an enlightened past.
The message resonates with the conjunction made by Isaiah between the budding of plants and the flourishing of societies. Whitehead and Miller knew this, too.