What is Conscious Evolution all About ?
"Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, ... Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” Edward O. Wilson
In terms of self-perception, for long we have viewed ourselves as isolated individuals battling for survival, competing with alien forces from within and without, eking out identity through a specific family, ethnicity, religion, nation-state, over-against all others who also took their identity from the same foundational configuration. Individuality (ego-identity) defined the person, the tribe, the religion, the nation State. And the dominant paradigm was neatly encapsulated in the scientific dogma: “The whole equals the sum of the parts.”
Along came Quantum Physics, and the evolutionary consciousness of the 20th century, and seismic shifts not merely disturbed, but actually shattered, our ego-identity. Now we are being moved along by a new consciousness – subconsciously for the greater part – in an universe where: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” It evokes a radically different set of perceptions and substantially new understandings of everything in our world. The “parts” are awakening to the power of the whole. Simply put, we are now living through the birth pains of the planetary mind!
"Evolution is less a mechanism than a process – a constellation of law, chance, spontaneity, and deep time. . . . Evolution is not simply a biological mechanism of gene swapping or environmental pressure. It is the unfolding and development of consciousness in which consciousness plays a significant role in the process of convergence and complexification." (Delio 2013, xvi, 98).
The evolutionary imperative I describe is not a cultural phenomenon that we can take or leave. Nor is it a movement over which we have human control, To the contrary, it is no longer a case of us evolving within a process over which we have a measure of human control. Rather the truth is that we are being evolved, in a momentous thrust within which we allow ourselves to become an integral part of cosmic and planetary well- being, or otherwise we become increasingly alienated from life at large. I am not in any way suggesting that all is determined, and that we have no choice other than get involved. Our coming of age is a wake-up call to realize that we are a derived species, creatures of a cosmic-planetary co-evolutionary process in which the growth and progress of each entity – ourselves included – is only possible when we opt to integrate our becoming with that of the larger reality.
Evolution Lures us forth
I also want to highlight the significant contribution of the former Georgetown professor of theology, John F. Haught, who almost single-handedly asserts that it is the lure of the future more than anything else that informs the evolutionary imperative of our time. This insight was initially proposed by the philosopher Karl Popper, and is now articulated anew by Haught (2010; 2015), namely, that the direction of evolution takes shape primarily in response to the lure of the future, and not merely solidifying what has served us well in the past. In the words of John Haught (2015, 52): “Evolution, viewed theologically, means that creation is still happening and that God is creating and saving the world not a retro, that is, by pushing it forward out of the past, but ab ante, by calling it from up ahead.” Theologically, I understand that the central attraction of the lure of the future to be the fruit and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
As we shift away from the old, self-destructive patterns of competing for energy and towards a higher spiritual potential, we evolve collectively towards a culture that is oriented to co-creative growth and less focused on outer technologies, as a means for survival. By being in harmony with the universal flow, we begin to “vibrate” at a frequency that brings us into unifying alignment with the Source and also with one another. In that way we move towards the new freedom, the deepest aspiration of all the great religions, and central truth of the great mystical traditions known to humankind.
Some recommended reading:
Delio, Ilia. 2013. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being.
ESSAY ONE: From Universe to Multiverse
(READER's NOTE: Officially, the word multiverse means several universes existing simultaneously. It is sometimes used to refer to the possibility that other universes existed before the present one, and others may succeed it. I use the term with BOTH meanings in mind).
Towards the Big Bang
In late February, 2010, northern Chile was rocked by an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the richter scale, one of the most severe ever recorded. It happened around 3.00am, in the dead of night, with people at their most vulnerable. It left about 1,000 people dead and caused extensive damage to property.
Earlier that year, January 2010, the island of Haiti experienced a major earthquake, 7.0 in magnitude. Nowhere near as strong as that of Chile, yet resulted in the death of 230,000 people. In 2005, a quake measuring 7.6 hit Kashmir in Pakistan, resulting in the death of an estimated 100,000 people; a quake of similar strength hit Northern Japan around the same time, with no known human casualities. Finally, in 1991 the island of Guam was rocked by a violent tremor, 8.0 on the richter scale; quite a lot of property was damaged but there were NO human casualities.
How does one make sense of these figures - and ultimately make sense of earthquake activity? What is the logic whereby 230,000 die as a result of a 7.0 strength earthquake (Haiti), but only 1,000 die from a shock of 8.8 (Chile), and the latter struck in the dead of night when everybody was much more vulnerable. Some earthquakes happen deep underground, while others vibrate more on the surface, leaving behind different degrees of destruction. But there is one factor, which more than any other, makes a difference: the quality of buildings. We know how to construct earthquake resistant buidings - they had them in the island of Guam in 1991 (where nobody died from a 8.00 earthquake) - and that can make all the difference when it comes to human casualities.
The Question of Meaning
Both Haiti and Chile are strongly religious countries, in which people turn to religion for answers when faced with calamity. Why is God doing this to us? Is God punishing us for some sin or waywardness (voiced by Indoesian Muslims after the 2004 Tsunami)? Or is it more a case of God allowing the earthquake without intentionally wishing it? In which case, why couldn't an all-powerful, omnipotent God choose another option? What kind of God are we dealing with? A strangely capricious Divine figurehead?
Scientifically, an earthquake is described as a shifting of the tectonic plates. These are large plates of rock, beneath the earth's mantle, forever changing, and in that process, shaping (and reshaping) the earth we know today. Tectonic literally means "pertaining to building." The shaping or building however has implications for the evolution of every life-form that exists on earth today.
As the plates move, they clear way cluttered debris and reconfigure earth's potential for new possibilities of creative evolution. Earthquakes are ESSENTIAL to the healthy functioning of the earth body. In fact, without earthquakes no life at all would exist on earth; ours would be a dead inert planet.
We cannot - and must not - get rid of this paradox. If we do, we get rid of life itself. So, is God responsible for the paradox? I will answer YES, and go on to suggest that this is a timely reminder to us humans that we must cease trying to create God in our own image and likeness. The divine creativity is paradoxical and it needs to be that way to uphold the novelty and freedom upon which all life flourishes. Otherwise ours would be a deterministic universe; many among us would like it that way because WE would know where exactly we stood with things, but we would lack the freedom and creativity upon which "the fullness of life" flourishes.
Without an appreciation of this paradox, and its central role in the becoming and flourishing of all creation - we will not be able to make sense of suffering at any level - including that of the human. Suffering belongs to the paradox. The discerning question then becomes: how do we differeniate between meaningful and meaningless suffering. What is the suffering that is necessary to the paradox, and what is not? And to what extent do we humans contribute to meaningless suffering, precisley because we don't take the paradox seriously?Many of our religious theories - especially around sin, salvation, and redemption - are attempts to get rid of suffering instead of cultivating a spirituality in which we learn how to befriend suffering in a more meaningful way. For many of us - Christians included - that is quite a daunting task.
I conclude by highlighting two aspects of the different spirituality we will need if we are to make sense of earthquakes, and live more meaningfully amidst the several forms of suffering that affect our lives today. We need to change our awareness - our consciousness - in quite a drastic way. This will impact significantly on our understanding of faith. And secondly, we need to take justice-making far more seriously; in fact, it will need to become a core element of our daily faith.Firstly, the contemplative awareness: This I will illustrate by a well known story of the Morgan fisher-folk, living on the South West coast of Thailand, who on the morning of Dec.26th. 2004 noticed that the familiar sea-waters had receded far beyond their usual limits. Things felt off kilter. Nature was not at ease.
These primitive people – with no formal schooling or education - spend their entire time fishing and live in simple hovels along the coastline. Fish is their daily diet; fishing their life-long occupation. They looked intently upon those receding waters and upon the fishes leaping anxiously. They consulted their elders and in union with them quickly reached a collective decision: within hours they intuitively knew that massive waves would break upon their shoreline.
They gathered their meagre possessions and headed for the hills. One the way they met a group of Western tourists, some of whom ridiculed their story. But a few took them seriously and accompanied them to further heights. Thanks to those Westerners we have inherited this amazing story. Those who dismissed and ridiculed their silly tale walked right into the eye of the storm and lost their lives. The fisher-folk and their accompanying visitors were totally safe!
By any set of standards this was a brilliant piece of discernment -and I use the term discernment in it's full Ignatian meaning. What a different world it would be if more people would use this gift of the contemplative gaze!
Which readily brings me to the second point of the commitment to justice-making. Japan frequently experiences quite severe earthquakes, yet we rarely hear of human casualities. Why not? Because Japanese law requires all city buildings to be earthquake-resistant. And the Japanese have the technology, money and resources to implement this legal directive.
The people of Kashmir (2005) and Haiti (2010) do not have earthquake resistant buildings. Why not? Because they are too poor to afford them. And why are they so poor? Ultimately, because we humans have devised international systems of politics, power, and economics that insist on dividing humanity into rich and poor. In a world of justice and equality, the people of Kashmir and Haiti have every bit as much a right to earthquake resistant buildings as the people of Japan or the Island of Guam. The central problem is that our world-system is fundamentally corrupt when it comes to justice and equality.
All of which brings us back to the religious questions: Who or what killed 230,000 people in Haiti in January 2010? It was NOT the earthquake, and it was NOT God. It was GREEDY HUMAN BEINGS - who refuse to share justly and equally the resources of God's creation. It was humans blinded by power and self-aggrandizement who could not see as the Morgan fisherfolk could see, and could not deliver justice because they are trapped in destructive power games.
The people of Haiti cry out to God, but God is not the problem; greedy humans are the problem! And its not up to God to resolve the dilemma. Humans have been endowed with the wherewithal to befriend the earthquake. We can do it in USA, Canada, Japan, Malasyia, and even in the Island of Guam (a colony of the USA). And we have the economics and technological wisdom to do it all over the planet - in the name of divine justice.
It is a HUMAN responsibility - not a DIVINE one. The divine rescuer is a delusionary myth. We have been endowed with all the graces and resources to rescue ourselves. Let's face that reality and get on with it.
Christian Life (Essay 3)
Faith in the Postcolonial Awakening
Post-colonialism loosely designates a set of theoretical approaches which focus on the direct effects and aftermaths of colonization (or colonialism), noting particularly how the colonizing influence is subverted in forms of human exploitation, normalization, repression and dependency (cf. Said 1993; Bhabha 1994; Segovia & Sugirtharajah 2009). For instance, several postcolonial elements prevail in the way we teach history:
- the normalization and validation of violence,
- the priority of the ruling male,
- making the loser invisible in historical text and narrative,
- prioritizing the metaphor of the hero,
- subverting what we don’t want the people to perceive.
Internalised oppression is one of the more pervasive consequences of the colonial mind-set. It can be understood in both systemic and personal terms. The political regime of the late Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, as evidenced in the opening years of the 21st century, highlights the systemic mimicry often noted in postcolonial studies. Having thrown off the imposing control of the external colonizer (namely, the British), Robert Mugabe, and his cronies, have internalized the very domination they fought so hard to get rid of, and subsequently imposed it on the Zimbabwean people through forms of oppression and deprivation, some of which were worse than ever imposed by the British colonizers.
The personal nature of internalized oppression is best exemplified in the sense of victimization incurred by abuse – physical, emotional or sexual. The consequent sense of inferiority and unworthiness, with overt or covert feelings of guilt and shame, may prevail for years. These feelings may be buried deep in the subconscious, until brought into conscious awareness deliberately (as in therapy) or accidently (as in a traumatic experience). While the person feels victimized, the oppression is at work. When the person internalizes a sense of being a survivor rather than a victim, then freedom is more likely to ensue.
Power and powerlessness tend to be the two dominant dynamics being played out – at both the personal and systemic levels. All the formal religions seem to embody this destructive quality of power. In other words, religion carries a covert agenda of control over people’s lives. And in order to exert that control, people are made to feel unworthy, dependent, needing to suffer, and virtuous to the extent that they prove to be obedient.
It is also in the religions that we see colonization and internalized oppression working hand in hand. Segovia and Sugirtharajah (2009), in their analysis of the New Testament, surface several examples. They suggest that the iconic language of the Kingdom of God is a deliberate ploy to counter the rhetoric and power of the Kingdom of Rome (Roman Imperialism). But in the process of confronting and denouncing imperial power, the early Christian preachers, teachers and writers, re-enact some of the very power-dynamics they so vociferously denounce.
Truth is not merely the reserve of the few but the outcome of the community, the primary locus of Christian discernment. In the empowerment of the Spirit we are called into being as persons and as community. By mobilizing the diverse gifts of the community, inspired by the unifying Spirit, we stand a better chance of breaking through the false powers that ensnare us and instead move forward towards empowering liberation. This is the true freedom that God desires for every living creature, without which the New Reign of God on earth cannot be fully realized.
Bhabha, H. (1994), The Location of Culture, London: Routledge.
Corley, Kathleen (2002), Women and the Historical Jesus, Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press.
Crossan, John Dominic (2007), God and Empire, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Horsley, Richard A. (2003), Jesus and Empire, Minn: Augsburg Fortress
Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vantage.
Segovia, Fernando & R.S. Sugirtharajah (2009), A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament, London: T & T Clark
Christian Life (Essay 2)
Let's get rid of "The Kingdom of God".
What did Jesus Actually Mean?
We are dealing with what Norman Perrin (1976) describes as a tensive symbol, whose set of meanings can neither be exhausted nor adequately expressed by any one referent. This is a complex multi-faceted phenomenon, what N.T Wright (1996) calls a grand narrative, although he confines the narrative to the biblical themes of exile and restoration (of Israel). The tendency to short-circuit this foundational meaning - of broad scope and complex significance - has bedevilled scholarship for several centuries and is now evoking a greater thoroughness and transparency as we seek to discern the authentic truth(s) of our Christian faith.
The actual historical meaning is further jeopardized by the language we popularly use. In English the word, Kingdom is masculine, while the Gospels written in Greek use the word Basileia which is feminine. Scholars assume that Jesus spoke Greek and would probably have used it in debate with Scribes and other intellectuals of the day. However, his home language was one or other version of Aramaic, the language he would have used in his ministerial discourses especially among his followers. In Aramaic, a likely translation is that of Malkuta which is feminine, and in the corresponding Hebrew, Kindom is rendered as Mamlaka which is also feminine.
The preponderance of feminine words suggests that Jesus used the word Kingdom with a very different meaning from our conventional Western understanding (useful notes in Douglas-Klotz 1999; also web-page: www.abwoon.com). Even a translation like New Reign of God (used by several contemporary scholars) probably does not do justice to the original meaning. Whereas Kingdom denotes royal power and domination, privilege, exclusion and hierarchical control, the feminine versions used by Jesus denote something much more egalitarian, liberating and empowering, a quality of leadership that enables and empowers others to take the next step(s).
Kings and kingly governance at the time of Jesus were considered normative, not just culturally and politically but in religious terms as well; the king was considered to be the primary representative of God on earth. Because Christianity, for much of its history, colluded with kingly power and fortune, often modelling its rules and norms on those of patriarchal kingship, it has taken us several centuries to come to terms with the counter-cultural impact of Jesus, who seems to have rejected forthrightly the kingly conditioning, offering instead a radical alternative characterised by empowerment from the bottom up rather than power from the top down. That, in short, is the revolution embodied in the Gospel phrase, The Kingdom of God. (Aptly, the Canadian writer, Donald Kraybill (2003), describes it as an Upside-Down Kingdom )
The Frightening Domestication
Things began to go wrong from a fairly early stage. Robert Funk (1996) suggests that the early Christian followers (including the twelve) were so conditioned by the concept of brokerage (laying down conditions) that they largely missed the unconditional giftedness Jesus was proclaiming and living under the rubric of the new vision. Next, there followed the long process of ecclesiastical ordering, which already within a few centuries was producing the equation: the Kingdom = the Church. Attention was focussed on that which was more visible and tangible, ensuing in the notion of the Kingdom fading into the background.
Another major deviation, or domestication, happened in the fourth century when Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. By declaring Jesus as Pantocrator (ruler of the universe), Constantine unmistakably brought Jesus under the bar of imperial, earthly governance, effectively suppressing for several centuries the counter-cultural vision of the upside-down Kingdom. Perhaps, as a compensation, several leaders and movements began to spiritualise the notion of the Kingdom of God, one of the more recent being Pope Benedict XV's book, Jesus of Nazareth (2007, pp.46ff). According to this interpretation, the Kingdom of God is an inner disposition characterised in daily behaviour by adopting the mind and outlook of Christ. Cultural, social, political interpretations are considered to be deviations, or at best, secondary consequences.
Despite the domestication, and its many articulations, there have been periods in Christian history when the alternative vision of the Kingdom of God blossomed forth – usually not with the approval or blessing of the Church. We note this in the 12-13th centuries when several feminist and ecologically-based movements (e.g., the great St. Francis) flourished; interestingly, many Church historians describe that period as a dark age of the Church. In the 19th. century, some liberal German and British theologians tried to retrieve the primacy of the notion of the Kingdom, with limited success. Since about 1960, scholars have progressively reclaimed this priority. Church leadership is still far behind, and many lay people are largely unaware of the significance of this key concept of Christian faith.
An Empowering Horizon
One of the most daring and visionary retrievals of the foundational vision was published in 1986 by a little known American scholar, Thomas Sheehan (1986; electronic version: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/thomas_sheehan/firstcoming/bibliography.html ). Sheehan claims that in adopting the rubric of the Kingdom, Jesus was seeking to transcend all religion, and empower people towards life in abundance (cf Jn.10:10), to be realized in the context of their daily secular reality. For the greater part most other commentators have concentrated on highlighting the limitations of our conventional understandings, and our failure to see the patriarchal, regal underpinnings then and now (e.g., Crossan 2007; Horsley 2003; Schussler-Fiorenza 1985).
Catholic scholars (such as Fuellenbach 1996) often present what to me seems a compromised vision. Seeking to honour the priority of the Kingdom, and its extensiveness beyond the Church, they still seek to defend the position that despite all its limitations, the Church is, and must be seen as, the primary embodiment of the Kingdom on earth. The evidence of history does not sustain this conviction, and it carries little weight for more enlightened Christians in our time. That Jesus envisioned faith communities to subsequently embody his vision is beyond question, but something akin to Basic Christian Communities, rather than an institutional Church, is probably what he had in mind.
Among scholars, the Kingdom of God continues to be a field of intense study and research. Paradoxically, it does not feature strongly in the formation programmes offered either in theology schools or in seminaries. The ambivalence of many centuries still seems to undermine our resolve to follow Jesus more fully. Or it might be natural human reluctance to take on a vision that could lead us to places we would rather not go!
Naming our Vision Afresh
For many years, I have encountered people, particularly women, who find the term Kingdom of God alien and oppressive. Many people have never had a direct experience of living under the governance of a king (or queen). And many educated people today readily see the archaic imperialism which inherently belongs to such language and the imagery it begets. Perhaps the time has come – as I indicate in the title – to get rid of the terminology itself.
The companionship of empowerment also challenges and transcends the competitive individualism so endemic to our time, and quite alien to the time and culture of Jesus. The empowerment envisaged in the life and ministry of Jesus is that of setting relationships right, co-creating communities and networks through which we incarnate transformative justice, healing and forgiveness, empowering love and enduring liberation. The counter-cultural call is not that we look to others to do it for us (the kingly, hierarchical model), but that we mutually empower each other to do it together - for each other and for the earth we inhabit. This is also the vision of the Beatitudes, the radical option for which Jesus lived and died.
So, let's get rid of the language of the "Kingdom of God." Delete it from the Gospels , and replace it with the "Companionship of Empowerment." And let's not wait for scholars or churches to do it for us. We are not destroying tradition, or tampering with sacred writ. Rather, we are seeking to reclaim something closer to the originality and dynamism of what Jesus was on to in the first place, a vision which Christians of every age and culture are invited to embrace. With this new language, and the vision it embodies, Christianity stands a much better chance of becoming once more the dangerous memory it was always meant to be.
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