In the last two posts, we have looked at religion as a social attempt and an evolved perspective which helps us to make sense of our surroundings and understand our place in them. Today we will look at religion in the context of how to conduct our lives in such a way that we (as quoted above by Richard Rohr):
“.. move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction and survival (the fear-based preoccupations of the ‘reptilian brain’), … to proceed beyond the lower stages of human development.”
In other words, to maximize our human potential in our growing, maturing and thriving as persons.
Religion as a Basis for Human Action
From this perspective, religion is whatever concept of reality we work from when we make the decision to act. Before we make a decision, we have to make a little mental trip into the future to look at its probable consequences. Acting on the decision requires that we have some measure of confidence that the decision will achieve the objective we established for it; essentially faith that the decision will pay off.
Unfortunately, as Robert Goddard remarks, life requires us to make decisions the consequences of which are unknown at the time. These unknown consequences require even more confidence. So, essentially, one aspect of religion is whatever we believe about reality that gives us the confidence to act, even when, especially when, we’re stepping into the unknown. Even when, especially when, the unknown appears to be threatening. To have confidence, and to be able to act on it, we must believe two things:
We are capable of performing the intended action
Reality is such that the success of our action is possible
If we fail to believe either of both of these, it is unlikely that we will try. This dyad of belief in ourselves and trust in our environment underlies every action we take.
The terms religion and faith from this perspective can be just as secular as religious; neither point of view has a sole claim on our ability to act. The famous atheist, Richard Dawkins suggests that if we strip conventional religion’s concept of god of its supernatural, magical, and mythological trappings, we can theoretically work towards a secular approach to religion that is equally valid in both worlds.
Religion, Evolution and Human Action
Given this simplistic definition, where does religion fit in to a secular approach to reality? We have seen in this blog how, as Teilhard sees it:
– Reality unfolds in the direction of increasing complexity
– This complexity manifests itself in different ways in the three (pre-life, biological life, conscious life) phases of evolution but continues as a single thread connecting the past, the present and the future
– God can be encountered in this phenomenon of increasing complexity as it rises in evolution at both the cosmic and personal level.
If God is to be seen in the upwelling of complexity in evolution, and therefore encountered in the human as our ever-increasing potential (our ‘person’) and measured in our ever-increasing capacity for relationship (the ‘energy of love’), the question must then be asked, “how can this potential and capacity best be realized?”
Key to undertaking this task is the recognition that the full potential for the human person and our relationships is unknown. Teilhard points out that, while this is surely true, the path toward it can be envisioned by understanding the process by which we have come to be what we are. From the ‘Big Bang’ to the present day, he understands this process as a spiral which sees:
A rise of complexity of the entity (atoms, cells, persons)
Which is manifested by an increasing capacity for union (physics, biology, love)
By which it is joined to other entities (other atoms, other cells, other persons)
Which in turn leads towards greater complexity and capacity for union (continued evolution)
He sees this dynamic process occurring in each step of evolution, from the ‘Big Bang’ to the human, and continuing in our evolution as individual persons.
From the December 10 Post “The Evolution of Religion, Part 8 : A Relook at Human Evolution”:
“If we see the evolutionary unfolding of entities and energy through Teilhard’s eyes, as leading from more simple things to more complex things which have more capacity for interconnection, then we can extrapolate this continuation of evolution to result in ever more complex human persons and more conscious and skillful cooperation with the energies of human connection.”
This ‘skillful cooperation’ is the cornerstone of basic religion. It is one among the many skills that humans develop to actualize their human potential: the skill of using the human brain to make sense of things and the acquiring of the wisdom to do so.
In other words, valid religion is a basis of both being and acting.
From this perspective, Karen Armstrong notes:
“Instead of jettisoning religious doctrines, we should look for their spiritual kernel. A religious teaching is never simply a statement of objective fact: it is a program for action.”
The “search for the spiritual kernel” opens the door for the fourth and final segment of this blog in which we will take a look at traditional statements of Western religious belief for those important insights about the way we human beings work.
The Next Post
Before we move on to this last segment, however, I’d like to address another aspect of Religion- that of ‘belonging’.