Monthly Archives: September 2017

September 28 – Spirituality, Part 2- Spirituality and Evolution

Today’s Post

Last week we introduced the concept of spirituality from a secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be understood as underpinning the continuation of human evolution as seen in the development of human ideals.  This week we will broaden out look to see the essential part played by spirituality in universal evolution.

The Spiritual Basis of Evolution

We have seen in our secular perspective of God how the principle metric of evolution is the increasing of complexity over time, and how this increasing complexity has yet to be quantified by science but yet is critical to science’s understanding of how the universe unfolds.  We have also seen how this increase in complexity underpins the principle by which entities of a given order of complexity can unite in such a way that the ensuing entities are of a higher order.  Teilhard sees an energy at work by which this happens at every rung of evolution.  At the rung of fundamental particles, it can be seen in the effecting of electrons from bosons, the effecting of atoms from electrons, and the effecting of molecules from atoms.  At the rung of the human person, it is the energy which unites us in such a way that we become more complete.  At the human level this energy manifests itself as ‘love’. 

It is at work, therefore, to an increasingly lesser extent as we look backward in time at all previous steps of evolution.  While science does not yet have a term for this energy, the religious term is ‘spirit’.

As Teilhard points out, in the collection of his thoughts, “Human Energy”, therefore, the roots of this essential ‘complexifying’ energy of evolution are deeply embedded in the ‘axis of evolution’.

“Spirituality is not a recent accident, arbitrarily or fortuitously imposed on the edifice of the world around us; it is a deeply rooted phenomenon, the traces of which we can follow with certainty backwards as far as the eye can reach, in the wake of the movement that is drawing us forward. is neither super-imposed nor accessory to the cosmos, but that it quite simply represents the higher state assumed in and around us by the primal and indefinable thing that we call, for want of a better name, the ‘stuff of the universe’.  Nothing more; and also nothing less.  Spirit is neither a meta- nor an epi- phenomenon, it is the phenomenon.”

   As Teilhard sees it, this ‘secular’ approach to spirituality overcomes yet another dualism that is common to religion: spirit vs matter.

“Spirit and matter are (only) contradictory if isolated and symbolized in the form of abstract, fixed notions of pure plurality and pure simplicity, which can in any case never be realized.  (In reality) one is inseparable from the other; one is never without the other; and this for the good reason that one appears essentially as a sequel to the synthesis of the other.  The phenomenon of spirit is not therefore a sort of brief flash in the night; it reveals (itself in) a gradual and systematic passage from the unconscious to the conscious, and from the conscious to the self-conscious.”

   Teilhard is making an essential point about spirit and matter here.  He sees matter evolving to higher levels of complexity (‘synthesizing’) under the influence of the energy of complexification (‘spirit’), and the increased complexity which results from such synthesis is therefore capable of more complex interaction.  This increased material level of complexity is a manifestation of an increased level of spirit.  To Teilhard, spirit is “Nothing more; and also nothing less” than the energy of evolution.

Universal Spirituality and Dualism

He goes on to elaborate how the ‘spirit/matter’ dualism so endemic to religion is overcome by the realization that instead of spirit and matter in opposition to each other, they are simply co-operative aspects of reality as it emerges and continues to evolve to levels of greater complexity:

“The problem of the world, for our minds, is the association it presents of two opposed elements (spirit and matter) in a series of linked combinations covering the expanse between thought and unconsciousness.  Now if consciousness is taken to be a meta-phenomenon, this dualism in motion is simply and verbally noted, without any attempt or even any possibility of interpretation.  If this dualism is pushed aside as an epi-phenomenon, it is conjured out of sight.  But it is simply and harmoniously resolved, on the other hand, in a world in which consciousness and its appearance are regarded as the phenomenon.  Everything then takes its natural place in a universe in process of changing its spiritual state…And hominization (the appearance of the human) merely marks a decisive and critical point in the gradual development of this change.”

   In Teilhard’s perspective, therefore, the basic process of evolution can now be seen as a process of matter “changing its spiritual state’.  ‘Spirit’ can now be seen as that which underlies the very axis of evolution, finally becoming fully tangible in the human person and his society.

The Next Post

This week we took a look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality is a phenomenon essential to the process of evolution as it lifts the universe to ‘its current level of complexity’.

Next week we will continue our exploration of Christian concepts by applying this perspective to the Christian concept of ‘grace’.

September 14 – Spirituality, Part 1- Concept and Example

Today’s Post

Last week we completed the segment of the blog that established the “Secular Side of God’, looking at western concepts of God, Jesus and the Trinity from our secular viewpoint.  Starting this week we will begin to apply this same secular approach to the many beliefs and practices which make up the complex tapestry of Western religion as found in Christianity, beginning with the concept of ‘spirituality’.

What is Spirituality?

Along with many of the premises of religion, spirituality is difficult to grasp with the empirical tools of science.  At the same time the reality of spirituality can be seen to underlie human life in a universal way.

One of the many artificial dualities found in traditional religion divides reality into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’.  From this perspective, spirituality exists at the level of the ‘supernatural’, above nature and while this layer of reality can impinge upon the ‘natural’ world in which we live, it is nonetheless separate and unobtainable ‘in this life’ (another duality).

In following  Teilhard in our secular approach, all of reality is understood as a single, unified thing.  While there are layers, such as Teilhard’s ‘spheres’ of complexity which unfold over time, at its basis the universe is united in basic principles, such as articulated in the Standard Model of physics.  These principles apply everywhere in the universe, in all phases of its evolution.  With Teilhard’s addition of the principle of increasing complexity over time (assumed by science but yet to be quantified), these principles account for everything that we can see.

Instead of these principles being understood as ‘super natural’ (above nature), in Teilhard’s perspective they become ‘supremely natural’ (at the basis of nature).

If we define ‘spirituality’ as simply ‘non-material’, we can begin to see spirituality in this light as a mileu which surrounds us.  We live our lives enmeshed in intangible but very real fields of spirituality which are reflected in our laws, the principles of behavior that shape our cultures, and the everyday facets of relationships that inform our lives.  As we discussed last week, the many historical attempts to ‘articulate the noosphere’ are nothing more than attempts to articulate these principles so that we can understand and cooperate with them to make the most of our lives.

A secular example of spirituality can be found in a fundamental axiom of our government.  It is at the basis of the idea of a ‘representative government’, and often described as the ‘will of the people’ so essential to democratic governments.  While not finding articulation per se in the new American constitution and bill of rights, Thomas Jefferson was very clear in his concept of the validity of this ‘consensus in government’:

“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be other that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.  I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”

   Jefferson expresses a very revolutionary concept of the human person and his society with these views.  At the time, the precedent for government was clearly to trust only in the provenance of royalty in the belief that if government were left to ‘the masses’, so the prevailing opinion said, chaos would result.  The belief that a consensus resulting from ‘the masses’ could result in setting the course of the ship of state in a positive direction was very revolutionary, indeed .

This ‘will of the people’ is essential to our democratic form of government, but intangible and difficult to quantify.   Believing it to the extent that it is established as the basis for government has nonetheless resulted in a form of government that can be clearly seen to be more successful than previous forms.

The Evolution of Spirituality

Seeing how spirituality can be understood as underpinning our very concept of government, we can apply this perspective backward to see the evolution of an idea without material substance:

–  the intuition that “we were made in the image of God” expressed around campfires over three thousand years ago

–  which evolved into ‘prophets’ with their intuition of ‘rights’ and  ‘justice’ against the wrongdoing of the establishment

– to one that recognized love as the energy of unity and the uniqueness of the person

– to the adoption of this principle as a way of insuring the cohesiveness of a highly diverse empire

– rising through the many ‘charters’ (contracts between rulers and ruled) of western medieval and renaissance society

– to an expression that “all men are created with inalienable rights”, ones not granted by birth, wealth, IQ, or good fortune, and established as a cornerstone of the constitution of the most powerful nation on earth.

The Next Post

This week we took a first look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be seen to play a part in the evolution of human ideals.

Next week we will take a look at the part that spirituality plays in evolution itself.