Friday, November 11, 2011

Coining a Neologism: Pneumaterialism

A couple nights ago a colleague asked a question concerning "the new materialism," but I misheard him and thought he said "pneumaterialism." By happy accident, however, isn't this a wonderful theological term? I recall Nicholas Lash talking somewhere -- much more eloquently, of course -- about "Spirit" not being opposed to "matter," but rather death. For Spirit is in fact the life of all matter, the animating force, principle, energy, Person behind and beneath and within all that lives, all creaturely material existence everywhere at all times.

In this sense, then, we might say that "pneumaterialism" names the theological conviction and rule that pneuma contrasts not with matter, but death. In fact, matter that is not pneumatized is no matter at all, for it has no life, no connection to the living God who is Spirit.

The term could also serve to remind us that the rule goes both ways: materiality is not bad, is not "merely" itself but as it were wistfully disconsolate about not being the "better" stuff, namely insubstantial, immutable, incorruptible spirit. The cosmos as God's creature is matter all the way down, and just so good. At exactly the same time, it is not independent of the Creator, divorced from God because not God, but rather (in Hopkins' words) is "charged with the grandeur" of the Spirit's enlivening power.

In short: it is -- because all that is, is -- pneumatic matter.

And now we'll never forget, thanks to the brilliant shorthand: pneumaterialism.


  1. Nice term, nice bit of serendipity, Brad! And the apotheosis of your thesis - the soma pneumatikon of I Corinthians 15.

    BTW, one version of Lash's point can be found in his Pentecost sermon "Beathing life" (in Seeing in the Dark: University Sermons [2005], p. 155).

    I hope you are well and enjoying Yale.


  2. "The biblical distinction [between flesh and Spirit] between things coming alive, and things crumbling into dust; between non-life, or life-gone wrong, and life: true life, real life, God's life and all creation's life in God." - Lash, Holiness, Speech, and Silence

  3. Are you suggesting panentheism here? Or do you make a distiction for the Christian relationship between Spirit and matter?

  4. You might also like to check out a book titled The Pneumaton (the Book of The Divine Spirit-Breath) by Avatar Adi Da Samraj)

    It is introduced here:

    Plus 2 related essays on the cultural consequences of the universal spirit denying/crushing scientism of modern society.