Monthly Archives: April 2017

April 27 – At The Root Of Everything, Part 2

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how religion can be seen as an attempt to ‘articulate the noosphere’, in which the ‘laws’ of our personal and cultural evolution are sought and by which we can assure our continued personal and cultural growth.   This week we will take a look at how such articulation at the level of religion slowly informs our cultural standards.

From Articulating the Noosphere to Regulating Human Behavior

Society has long struggled to both understand the principles which underlie a ‘successful’ society and to codify these principles into what we now understand as ‘secular laws’.  As chronicled by Nick Spencer in his book, “The Evolution of the West”, religion’s role in this historic process has been dualistic.  In many cases it has found itself trapped in the perpetuation of its financial and legalistic manifestations and power structures, and in other cases it has contributed to the fundamental concepts by which civilization has successfully evolved.

As discussed in the post of 6 August 2016 (Isn’t This Just Deism?, Part 1,, the thinking of Thomas Jefferson captured both arms of this dualism.   While his approach was to discard the ‘otherworldly’ aspects of the New Testament and focus on Jesus as a secular moralist, he nonetheless drew the basis of his understanding of human nature and personal freedom from these teachings.  The result, of course, was a basis for a set of laws which has underpinned a truly ‘successful’ society.

Larry Siedentop, in his book, “Inventing the Individual’, traces the history of ideals that form the basis of Western values.   It’s not so much that these ideals are absent in Eastern thinking, but do not enjoy the primacy seen in the West.  His take on the ‘articulation of the Noosphere’ that has emerged in the West:

o   Each person exists with worth apart from their social position

o   Everyone deserves equal status under secular law

o   Religious belief cannot be compelled

o   Individual conscience must be respected


As Teilhard (and many others) have noted, the Western evolution of understanding of the person and society is becoming a standard embraced elsewhere:

“…from one end of the world to the other, all the peoples, to remain human or to become more so, are inexorably led to formulate the hopes and problems of the modern earth in the very same terms in which the West has formulated them.”

The Perennial Philosophy

While considerable diversity and frequent contradiction is paramount among the threads of thought seen in the evolution of religion, Aldous Huxley saw common cornerstones in all of them.  He defines the immemorial and universal ‘Perennial Philosophy’ which permeates all religions as:

“…the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being.”

  Translating this semi-theological assertion into the perspectives of our ‘Secular God’, we can see that this concept of the ‘Perennial Philosophy’ reflects the principle which powers the coming–to-be of the universe (the ‘world of things’) and that it is reflected in some way in the core of the human person.

Effectively, this ‘metaphysic’ points the way to the underlying activity by which we have come to be and the guidelines by which we successfully negotiate our growth.  The Perennial Philosophy recognizes that there are basic dynamics of human existence which, understood and managed properly, will lead to increased completeness.  The religious and societal norms which have evolved, therefore, are our attempt to articulate these dynamics and the activities of understanding and management of them.  By definition, as we evolve as persons and as societies, we hope to evolve them in a direction which activates our potential.

Or, as Karen Armstrong puts it in her insights on the many streams of thinking which developed during the ‘Axial Age’:

 “The fact that they all (the sages of the Axial Age) came up with such profoundly similar solutions by so many different routes suggests that they had indeed discovered something important about the way human beings worked”.

The theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault, puts it a little differently:

”I think it’s fair to say that all of the great spiritual paths lead toward the same center—the larger, nondual mind as the seat of personal consciousness—but they get there by different routes.”

What’s the Alternative?

Successfully negotiating the continuation of our evolution goes beyond fulfilling our potential.  It is obvious today that human activity always has the potential of contributing to our extinction.  Finding and understanding the ‘laws of the noosphere’ also requires us to adapt to our ever-increasing population and the effects it has on the planet.  One example of such an adaptation is acknowledged by John McHale in his book, “The Future of the Future”:

“At this point, then, where men’s affairs reach the scale of potential disruption of the global ecosystem, he invents precisely those conceptual and physical technologies that may enable him to deal with the magnitude of a complex planetary society.”

   It’s not just that we are in danger of destroying our planet, but that even more danger lurks in our ever-increasing proximity to each other.  As our population continues to expand, we are more and more at the mercy of our instincts to defend our space, to keep ‘the other’ at a distance, to defend our territory and make sure we get our fair share.  Inventing McHale’s ‘conceptual technologies’ means to develop evolutional strategies that overcome this strong resistance to closeness.

In this area it’s essential to our continued evolution for us to ‘use our neo-cortex brain to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our reptilian and limbic brains.”

These ‘basic dynamics’ and ‘conceptual technologies’, therefore, are what is sought by humans in their attempts to ‘articulate the noosphere’.   Culling them from the enormous and often contradictory cluster of statements of beliefs that have arisen over the long evolution of religion is the main goal of the ‘reinterpretation’ process that is the focus of the last segment of our search for ‘The Secular Side of God’.

As Teilhard sees it, referring to a person’s belief:

“By definition, his religion, if true, can have no other effect than to perfect the humanity in him.”

The Next Post

So, if we believe that that all statements of religious beliefs include some elements of the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, what remains is to address these statements and, using the perspectives we have developed thus far, reinterpret them to find such kernels.  Next week we will begin to apply our ideas of the ‘Secular Side of God’ as we address many of these statements.

April 17 – At The Root Of Everything, Part 1

Today’s Post

In the last few weeks we have summarized our ‘Secular God’, and in the posts that followed, identified a ‘ground of being’ without recourse to the traditional precepts of Western religion.  At the same time, we have seen how reinterpreting traditional Christian concepts in the light of Teilhard’s insights into universal evolution have brought the kernels of belief in these venerable concepts to the fore.  This week we will move to the next step of this ‘reinterpretation’ by addressing the ‘Root of Everything’.

What’s At The Bottom of It All?

This blog has assumed the perspective of Teilhard with his more comprehensive understanding the process of evolution in the coming-to-be of the universe.  This process sees evolution as proceeding along an axis of increasing complexity over time.  Teilhard was one of the few thinkers to see how this process, well established during the preceding thirteen or so billion years which precedes us, still continues in us: in our personal development as well as the development of our species.

He, as well as other thinkers such as Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Blonde and Karen Armstrong, saw the history of religion as the evolving search for the basis of personal life.   As we have seen, the basis of personal life emerges as a branch of this ‘axis of evolution’ and it rises through living things.  The seven posts on the ‘History of Religion’ address this emergence, beginning with

The Common Threads of Religion

All of the evolving threads of religious thought, spread across the manifold evolution of cultures and societies, slowly began to evolve their understanding of the roots of reality from a coarse animism and a necessary adjunct of the state to the paradigm shift seen in the ‘Axial Age’ (900-200 BCE).  As Karen Armstrong puts it,

“For the first time, human beings were systematically making themselves aware of the deeper layers of human consciousness.  By disciplined introspection, the sages of the Axial Age were awakening to the vast reaches of selfhood that lay beneath the surface of their minds.  They were becoming fully “self-conscious”.  This was one of the clearest expressions of a fundamental principle of the Axial Age.  Enlightened persons would discover within themselves the means of rising above the world; they would experience transcendence by plumbing the mysteries of their own nature, not simply by taking part in magical rituals.

“…they all concluded that if people made a disciplined effort to reeducate themselves, they would experience an enhancement of their humanity.”

   Effectively, to paraphrase Armstrong and in keeping with Teilhard and Sacks, evolution was becoming aware of itself.  Humanity was moving from its evolutionary critical point of ‘awareness of its awareness’ to its ontological critical point of ‘awareness of the principles of awareness’.  This step of ‘plumbing the mysteries of their own nature’ was, effectively, a step toward understanding God as the principle of what would later be understood by science as ‘evolution’.  While the theory of evolution as we know it today was still thousands of years in the future, nonetheless in the ‘Axial Age’ human persons embarked on a path that recognized the role that human choice played in both personal maturity and the evolution of society.

The fact that human inquiry has since bifurcated into the strands of Religion and Science only illustrates the increasing focus on understanding and cooperating with the underlying mechanisms which propel our evolution.  But at the root of it all, such understanding is necessary if we are going to continue to (paraphrasing Dawkins) “raise the world to an increasing level of complexity”.

Teilhard labels this effort as ‘articulation of the noosphere’.  He saw two basic facts:

1) the ‘noosphere’ (the milieu of organized human thought) is structured by ‘laws’ by which evolution proceeds through the human

2) such evolution cannot proceed unless we understand and cooperate with them the same way that we are learning to cooperate with the laws of Physics and Biology.

   We can see religion, therefore, as the long, rambling, frequently contradictory and manifold attempt of the human species to identify these laws and attempt to apply them to human life.  Or, as Karen Armstrong puts it, “…to experience (growth) by plumbing the mysteries of (our) own nature”.  Just as we have come to seen evolution as proceeding along the axis of rising complexity, we can now begin to see religion as attempting to articulate the continuation of this axis, marked by the success of its statements in continuing the rise of evolution through the human.

To understand religion, therefore, is to identify among the considerable diversity which can be found among its manifold and often contradictory threads those statements of belief that, when practiced, move us onto a more complete “enhancement of our humanity” which itself leads to a society which better fosters such a grasp.

The Next Post

Next week we will continue our process of reinterpretation by taking a look at the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, which sees the core approach to human existence as common in all religious thought and how our laws are informed by it.