Over the last year we have explored the idea of God from a secular viewpoint. We have taken a look at the traditional Western concepts of God: the definitions, metaphysics, dogmas and scriptural references and explored them for their secular aspects. In a nutshell, we have seen that all of these concepts of traditional religion contain core threads of belief that can be understood from a secular context.
We have also seen how ‘reinterpreting’ these concepts in the light of a secular perspective can also serve to achieve a more integrated understanding of God; one which is cleansed of the corrosive duality so endemic to traditional Western religion. In addition we have also seen how this approach can serve to mitigate the irrelevance that has crept into Christianity since its beginnings. Richard Rohr puts the need for such a reduction of irrelevance (and a call to reinterpretation) in plain terms:
“For centuries, Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to stigmatization of LGBT people, anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for its mistakes and is dedicated to beloved community for all? Could Christians migrate from defining their faith as a system of beliefs to expressing it as a loving way of life?” (Italics mine)
How Did We Get Here?
So, our approach to reinterpretation of Christian teaching in order to restore it to a “system of beliefs… expressed as loving way of life” is the goal of this blog. The first step of such an effort has been to offer a reinterpretation of the traditional Western concepts of God in the light of a secular point of view.
Such a point of view, as we have seen, is not based on the intuitive traditional approach of scripture, the evolved Greek-influenced dogmas or the metaphysics of Aquinas, but is rooted in the empirical findings of Science. This point of view emanates from an integrated understanding of such scientific theories as can be found in the Standard Model of Physics and the Natural Selection theory of biological evolution. I stress the term integrated because, as Teilhard notes, it permits the universe to be perceived as a single, unified thing which is unfolding in the direction of increasing complexity. Once this underlying metric is acknowledged, the rest is a matter of understanding the many modes of complexity which the universe undergoes before it reaches, as Richard Dawkins notes, “..its present complex existence”.
God, as Dawkins acknowledges, can then be seen as “the basis for this process”.
So all we have done in this blog is to explore the consequences of these two prepositions. Seeing God in the process and understanding how we can continue this continuing of complexity as it rises through our persons and our species.
As part of this exploration we will see how we can plumb the many teachings of religion for their significance to this process. Or, as Dawkins sees it, how we can begin to “divest the word ‘God’ of all the baggage that it carries in the minds of most religious believers” in order to get back to the profound intimacy as found in John. As we have seen, John believes it is possible to be intimate with Dawkins’ “basis for this process” when he declares that “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”.
So, given all this, how do we find this ‘thread of evolution’ arising in us, and more importantly, how do we cooperate with it to become more fully human?
Or, putting it more prosaically, how do we advance human evolution through development of the skill to use our neo-cortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our limbic and reptilian brains?
Articulating the Noosphere
Answering these questions involves what Teilhard refers to as “Articulation of the Noosphere”. To Teilhard, there are spheres of our planet, such as the ‘lithosphere’ (the rocky core), the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (the oceans), and the biosphere (living things). To this he adds the additional sphere which occurs as a result of the human ability to be aware of its awareness: the noosphere (human thought). Just as the other spheres are addressed by Science, and yield understandings which permit humans to deal with them, in the same way the noosphere must be parsed and understood if we are to continue the process of evolution as it rises through the human person.
As Aldous Huxley claims in his ‘Perennial Philosophy’, all religions attempt to understand reality in terms that help us deal with it: they all propose ‘articulations of the noosphere’. All religious teachings, to some extent, propose beliefs about reality and establish practices (rituals) consistent with the beliefs that are intended to bring us closer to becoming what we can become. But as we have seen, most religions, due to their integrative ability to bring cohesion to cultures and nations, eventually wander into dualism, hierarchy and irrelevance.
This is not to suggest that their articulations are without merit. On the contrary, this blog takes as a ‘given’ that they contain nuggets of value to us as we collectively continue to develop the ‘skill of using our neo-cortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our lower brains’. In other words, to advance human evolution
Where Do We Go From Here
So, given this goal, and considering the secular understanding of God that we have developed, what’s the next step? As a final segment of the blog I would like to address many of the concepts and beliefs of Western religion and offer reinterpretations consistent with our secular approach. I also hope to show how the principles which emerge from such reinterpretations can be seen as relevant to human existence as we have addressed it:
– Since we are products of evolution, we contain at our core a spark, a small branch, of the universal axis of evolution by which the world is raised to Dawkins’ “present complex existence”
– We continue the process of evolution (towards both personal and cultural maturity) by recognizing and cooperating with this spark
– We must develop a collective understanding, an ‘articulation’ of both the structure of the universe and our place in it as well as an understanding of how to engage it in such recognition and cooperation
This last segment of the blog will address traditional Western religious concepts such as spirituality, grace, sacrament, faith, salvation, the afterlife, prayer, and scripture in terms of how they can be reinterpreted as such articulation.
The Next Post
This week we reviewed how we got to this secular perspective of God, and opened the subject of how the reinterpreted principles of Western religion can be seen as tools which we can use to effect not only our own personal growth but to contribute to the continuation of human evolution as a whole.
Next week we will begin to address these principles, starting with the concept of ‘spirituality’.