January 18 – Values, Morals and Sacraments- Overcoming Orthogonality

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how religious and scientific perspectives on morals are very orthogonal to religion.   Where traditional religion insists on an absolute basis of morals,  science proposes one which is relative to our understanding of science’s key agency of evolution: ‘survival’.  Today we will take a look at how these two perspectives can be brought into coherence.

From Our Secular Viewpoint

There are many ways in which these two perspectives can be seen to align.  As we have seen many times in this blog, both religion and science are rife with ‘dualisms’ which choose a viewpoint from the many shades of belief on any subject.  Our secular approach seeks to bring the opposing sides into confluence by applying the techniques of reinterpretation that we have proposed.  The subject of ‘morals’ is no exception.

One way to effect such confluence is to return to Teilhard’s treatment of the two seemingly contrary positions:

“So as long as our conceptions of the universe remained static, the basis of duty (moral standards) remained extremely obscure.  To account for this mysterious law (the energy of evolution which effects increasing complexity) which weighs fundamentally on our liberty, man had recourse to all sorts of explanations, from that of an explicit command issued from outside to that of an irrational but categorical instinct.” (parenthetical statements and italics mine)

   Teilhard proposes the same principle of reinterpretation that was previously suggested by Blondel: to understand that human persons are products of an evolutionary process, as science teaches, requires the acknowledgment of the existence of a principle which effects our ‘becoming’, as religion teaches.  This suggests common ground between the materialist and theist perspectives:

–          The materialists are correct in asserting that the basis of morals can be found in the principles of evolution.  However, it is necessary to expand the understanding of evolution from terrestrial biological phenomena and understand evolution in its universal perspective.  In doing so evolution can be seen in three distinct phases which are united by a continuing increase of complexity in its products.  In this integrated perspective, there are indeed ‘articulations of the noosphere’ which foster our continued evolution, and these can be expressed in terms such as sacraments, values and morals.

–          The theists are correct in asserting that these morals are indeed, at their basis, absolute.  The absolute nature of these standards of behavior are, as the materialists assert,  intelligible, but require our continued search for a more complete understanding of them.

So the materialistic approach to morals needs to be placed in the full picture of evolution and take into account the presence of the agent of evolution in each personal life.  By the same token, the theist approach needs to be shorn of its premature dogmatism and be open to both the intelligibility of the universe and our part in it as we continue to evolve.

Science, with its grasp of the universe as ‘becoming’ can bring new life to religion.  As Blondel and Teilhard understood, recognizing that the human is a product of a continuously evolving universe permits a deeper understand of God as the universal principle of such evolution.  By the same token, their fresh approach to religion also serves to expand science’s understanding of this process to include the human as not only a product of evolution, but one able to respond to a new mode of evolutive energy which goes beyond the Darwinian principles of ‘chance and necessity’.

The question can then be asked, how can humans employ their new-found capacity of being aware of their consciousness in service to their continued evolution?  How do they effect their own ‘complexification’?

The answer that I have proposed in this blog involves developing the skill of the neocortex brain in modulating the instinctive stimuli of the lower limbic and reptilian brains.  Examples of practices and beliefs that develop and strengthen this skill abound in every religious and philosophical school of thought that has emerged in human history.  The down side, of course, is that they are enmeshed, deeply entangled, in hierarchies, mysticism, sentimentality, and supernaturalism that can undermine their validity as ‘articulations of the noosphere’.

So, in order to be able to (paraphrasing Richard Dawkins) “explicitly divest religious belief of all the baggage that it carries in the minds of most religious believers”, it is necessary to reinterpret these beliefs in terms of human ‘complexification’ (human growth) so that their relevancy to human life and continued evolution can be more fully understood.

In simpler terms: in the human, the mechanism of evolution transforms from ‘evolutionary selection of entities’ to ‘entities which select their evolution’.

The Next Post

This week we have contrasted the ‘materialistic’ (‘athiest’) position with that of the ‘theists’ on ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’, and saw how a holistic perspective on evolution offers a common ground of belief that seems more consistent with both our general religious and scientific understanding not only of the universe but in our part in it.

Assuming that there are indeed ‘articulations of the noosphere’ that when observed, lead on to, as Teilhard put it, “being carried by a current to the open sea”, what do we do with them?  How can we orient ourselves to these ‘currents’?

Next week we will take our explanation of sacraments, values and morality to the next level and explore an approach to evolution which finds common ground between these seemingly orthogonal approaches to understanding human evolution.

January 4, 2018 – Values, Morals and Sacraments- Two Orthogonal Perspectives

Last week we expanded our look at sacraments into the realm of values and morals, and saw how scientific materialism understands the basis of ‘correct behavior’ to be derived from the interpretations of ‘evolutionary psychology’.  In this view, behavior is ‘correct’ if it fosters our continued participation in the flow of evolution, understood as the continuation of ‘survival’.  The materialistic basis for morality is, then, ‘relative’.

The differences in behavioral standards between religions are seemingly compounded by the differences between religion and science, and further vary with different interpretations of the evolutionary process.

Is it possible to have a coherent interpretation of values, morals and sacraments?

This week we will explore the two ends of the belief spectrum- materialism and traditional Christianity- in our search for the basis of morals.

From The Materialistic Viewpoint

I use the word ‘seemingly’ above because the materialistic ‘evolutionary psychological’ viewpoint is based on an incomplete grasp of evolution.  This understanding restricts the historical timeline of evolution to the most recent phase of ‘biological evolution’.  This narrow approach falls significantly short of the universal perspective proposed by Teilhard.  As we saw in the posts on ‘The Teilhardian Shift’ (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?m=201411), Teilhard situates evolution in the context of the ontology of the universe.

Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection only addresses the few billion years which constitute the phase of biological evolution leading to the human person.  Teilhard identifies the nine or so billion years preceding the first cell as the ‘first phase’ of evolution, and the hundred thousand years (or so) of human existence as the ‘third’.  As we have seen, he goes on to point out how the energy of evolution takes different forms as it proceeds through the three phases in its continuous increase of the complexity of its products.

A first step towards our holistic perspective of morality is to recognize that materialists are correct when they assert that the basis of morality should lie in the continuation of human evolution.  When placed into Teilhard’s more inclusive perspective, however, Natural Selection becomes an ‘epi-phenomenon’ which rides on top of the more fundamental ‘rise of complexity’ that underpins all three phases.  The agency of the first phase by which matter precipitates from pure energy following the big bang, and goes on to evolve into more complex arrangements leading to the mega-molecules which form the raw material for the first cells is not yet addressed by science.  The agency of the third phase by which individual persons and their societies become more complex is poorly addressed by science, and then in the form of highly controversial theories.  Applying the well-understood process of Natural Selection as an explanation of poorly understood human evolution is like losing one’s car keys in the middle of a dark city block and looking for them at the street corner because the light is better.

So the conclusion which should be drawn from science’s discovery that we are products of evolution is less that we are to continue the urge to procreate and survive (essentially to continue to respond to the instinctual stimuli of our reptilian and mammalian ancestors) but that, in the human person, the energy of evolution is much more manifest in the activity of our neocortex brain, which must be employed to modulate the instinctual stimuli of our lower brains if evolution is to continue through us.

Therefore once evolution is seen in its complete context, from the Big Bang to the present, the evolutionary basis for morality can be expanded to include those principles by which our continued evolution can be assured.

From the Traditional Theistic Viewpoint

While the materialistic approach to the basis of morals can be seen to reduce standards of behavior to the instincts of our animal evolutionary predecessors, addressing the basis of morals from the traditional perspective of religion also comes with problems.  In many western expressions, morals are understood as laws given explicitly from god in the distant past and recorded in scripture.  As we have seen in many posts in this blog, they also are seen more as justifying a post-life reward (or as one theologian puts it, ”As an escape route from this life”).  The basis of morals as understood by the more conservative western expressions is then ‘absolute’, even if we humans in our sinful state find it difficult to follow.

The Next Post

This week we have contrasted the ‘materialistic’ (‘atheistic’) position with that of the ‘theists’ on ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’,  The materialist, in a limited view of evolution, sees morals as ‘relative’ to ‘survival’, while the theists sees them as dictated by an all-powerful God eons ago and therefore ‘absolute’ and necessary for salvation.

Next week we will explore how a holistic perspective on evolution can be seen to offer a common ground of belief that seems more consistent with both our general religious and scientific understanding not only of the universe but in our part in it.

December 21 –Values, Morals and Sacraments- The Materialistic Perspective

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how religion is not the only cultural artifact which calls attention to the energy of evolution in our lives, and how our very Western culture itself is infused with such recognition.  Looking at sacraments in the context of human values and morals, this week’s post addresses the materialistic position on morals and their basis.

The Basis of Morals

Humans do not generally agree on the best way to make sense of their existence.  Among the many religious expressions, there is wide divergence on understanding human ontology: do we emerge from a process of evolution or creation in a generally linear way, or are our lives simply repetitions of previous lives?  Are we doomed to complete extinction when we die or in some sense do we continue existence on a separate plane, and if so will we retain our personal uniqueness or be dissolved into an impersonal ‘cosmic all’?  Is there a ‘way’ to live life to the fullest, or is each life sufficiently unique and autonomous to ignore traditional behavioral guidelines?  Is the basis for morals ‘universal’ or unique for each person?  Are morals ‘absolute’ or ‘relative’?

Whichever of the many beliefs about existence we claim, such beliefs come with their own specific standards of behavior.  The last few posts have explored the concept of ‘sacraments’, in which certain beliefs about existence manifest themselves in the form of behaviors which are thought to be ‘normative’ to human existence.  In participating in these behaviors the concept of sacraments suggests that we are acting in a way which is more resonant with the basic flow of energy by which our lives, and hence our society, and ultimately the universe, unfolds.  The idea of the sacraments suggests that there is indeed a ‘way’ to live life to the fullest.

While this perspective is certainly resonant with our secular approach to the reinterpretation of religious beliefs, it is obvious that belief in the basis of morals is quite diverse across the patchwork quilt of Christianity, much less the wide ranges found in other parts of the world.  It seems equally obvious that such a wide diversity of standards for behavior can be traced to the divergence on beliefs of human ontology.  If we disagree on how to make sense of our existence, frequently expressed as a difference in the belief in god, our standards for behavior will be strikingly different.

From the Materialist Viewpoint

A similar divergence can be seen in the increasing disagreement between ‘theists’ and ‘atheists’.  At least in the west there seems to be an increasing number of individuals who, instead of disagreeing on the nature of god, disbelieve in the existence of god itself.  This disbelief frequently manifests itself in disbelief not only of the traditional concepts of love, sin, death, etc, but in the existence of meaning itself.  Such a philosophical trend is often seen as the only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the findings of science.  Science’s theory of evolution is a case in point.

In the phase of evolution that emerges with the onset of living things, the ‘biosphere’, it is a common idea that the living things which emerge within are ‘selected by evolution’.   This idea is based on the theory of Natural Selection which sees the evolutionary process of living things as guided by the principle that they are ‘selected’ by the criteria of ‘survival’.  In this perspective, new entities which emerge in the history of evolution are either successful in surviving their environment and thus go on to continued procreation or they are unsuccessful and fade from the ‘tree of life’ as it continues to develop.

Many scientific thinkers attempt to extend this rationale to humans.  While generally agreeing that ‘morphological’ evolution still continues in humans (physiological changes) they understand that a more meaningful metric of human evolution can be found in the organization of human society, with its laws and culture.  Thus a common approach to articulating this metric is to understand the structures of human edifices in terms of their ‘evolutionary selection’.  In other words, the value of a given philosophical, legal or cultural idea can be judged by its contribution to continuing the survival of the human species.  Even in the human, evolution is still ‘selecting’ us.

In the scientific approach to making sense of things, therefore, concepts such as meaning, values and their associated standards of behavior, carry much less weight.  Although science does not directly address such things some modes of science, such as evolutionary psychology, touch upon the ‘correct way’ to live.  Evolutionary psychology reduces the basis of human action to the precepts of Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’, in which each of our personal choices either act in support of the ‘principles’ of evolution or act against them.  Since the key principle of evolution is understood as ‘survival’, human actions are considered to be ‘correct’ when they increase both our personal survival (so that we can contribute our genes to the ‘gene pool’) and that of our species (so that the species does not become extinct).  Since this mode of science proposes behavioral correctness, it is effectively proposing values and morals consistent with this standard.

Further, since those morals and standards of behavior are relative to our unfolding understanding of evolution, they themselves unfold over time.  Therefore since such understanding is quite diverse, personal morals can then be different for different persons.  Morals are therefore ‘relative’.

The Next Post

This week we continued to expand our view of sacraments, morals and values to the basis of ‘correct behavior’, and seen how the materialistic perspective is based on science’s proposition that the basis of biological evolution is ‘survival’.   Next week we will contrast this materialistic approach to the traditional religious view of this basis, and explore how our secular reinterpretation approach can bring these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints into synergy.

December 7 – Reinterpreting Sacraments – Part 3 – Secular ‘Sacraments’

Today’s Post

Last week we explored how the concept of ‘sacrament’ can be interpreted as ‘articulations of the noosphere’, helping us to navigate our lives by the compass of and in cooperation with the energy of evolution as it flows through our lives.

Although the concept of sacraments seems to risen in the theological evolution of the West, there are many other ‘occasions of grace’ (instantiations of the energy of evolution) in our lives which are more secular but just as important to our continued personal evolution as they are to the evolution of our society.

This week we’ll take a look at some of these.

Secular Evolutionary Beliefs and ‘Secular Sacraments’

One of the ways of moving human evolution forward that we have explored in this blog is the development of the skill of employing our neo-cortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of the lower ‘limbic’ and ‘reptilian’ brains.  Such skill is called for in nearly every religious tradition in human history, but requires guidelines, ‘signposts’ to insure that such employment really does align with the ‘axis of evolution’ as it rises in our lives.

An example of such a signpost is the simple adage, seemingly first voiced by Confucious in 550 BC: “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you”.  While simple to state, it nonetheless requires a conscious decision to first understand what you would like to have done to you, then to make to the conscious decision to act against what might be an instinctive motivation, such as to react in kind to a perceived threat.

Most thinkers agree that development of such skill is difficult, which acknowledges both the strength of our inherited instincts (which served our reptilian and mammalian so well) and the immaturity of the use of our human-unique neo-cortex brain.  The writings of both religion and philosophy abound with rituals designed to help the human person transcend his ‘lower’ roots.

As ‘articulations of the noosphere’, sacraments fall into this category.  They offer examples of human actions that require activation of our neo-cortex thinking centers instead of reactions to our instinctual stimuli.  In the ‘eucharist’, for example, we are called to replace instinctive recoil from others with the conscious grasp of our common natures as ‘children of god’, or in our secular vernacular, as each possessing the spark of the ‘ground of being’ which energizes the evolution of our person.  We have taken a look at such examples proposed by religion, but our entire social systems are rife with those that stress objectivity over subjectivity.  All of these activities, encoded in our laws and cultural norms, are based on values that are uniquely human and which transcend such instinctive goals as survival and procreation.

Human Equality 

At least in the West, the underlying concept of human equality has become widely accepted.  This simple value qualifies, in our secular search, as the basis for a true ‘articulation of the noosphere’ as it underpins several practices which can be seen to contribute to both material and spiritual (by our secular definition) successes of the West.  While there is little doubt that Western societies are still evolving, the current of human evolution can be readily traced in the rapid (by evolutionary measure) evolution of societal organization from monarchies, through monarchies with ‘charters’ which recognized rights of the non-monarchy, to the United States Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights expresses this value in very clear terms: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

This fundamental value leads on to a belief that is essential to Western democracy, and that is if each individual has the same rights, an opinion of the majority will serve as a mandate to society.  Effectively this leads to the belief that ‘majority rules’ in the enacting of laws.  As Thomas Jefferson put it there is “. ..no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”

This, in turn, leads to the act of establishing “the will of the people”, voting.  From our secular perspective, voting, then, is an example of a ‘secular sacrament’.  When we vote we are effectively acting out the belief that the majority opinion is normative in human society, based on the value that each person has the same rights, and hence the same potential for understanding how society should work.  Thus, by our secular definition of ‘sacrament’, the act of voting is one by which the energy of evolution is active in the unfolding of society.

Psychology

As we saw in in the posts beginning December 8, 2016, “Relating to God: Part 5- Psychology as Secular Meditation- Part 3: Finding Self” (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?p=305), psychology is an activity in which we explore our basic self, which from our secular perspective, involves finding God as the manifestation of universal evolution in our personal lives.  As such, psychology can be a profoundly human activity, a sacrament, since what is found is that which is most human in us.

The Next Post

This week we expanded the view of perspectives from church-developed sacraments to ‘secular sacraments’, ones in which we engage in our everyday lives.

Next week we will take a final look at sacraments in the light of values and morals.

November 23 – Reinterpreting Sacraments – Part 2 – The Reinterpreted Sacraments

Today’s Post

Last week we began to look at the potential of the idea of ‘sacrament’ as an ‘articulation of the noosphere’.  This week we will take a look at how the seven sacraments, understood by the church in terms of ‘occasions of grace’, can be understood by our secular perspective as ‘signposts to the action of evolutionary energy’ in our lives.

The Seven Sacraments

Baptism

The traditional church teaching sees baptism as the conferring of the grace that will enable our eventual entry into heaven by taking away the stain of ‘original sin’.  In our secular perspective, this ‘first’ sacrament, baptism, is that which understands human birth to be an extension of the evolution of the universe.  Each life is another small limb on the branch of evolution, in which the energy of evolution manifests itself yet again as an element of consciousness to be valued, cared for, fostered, and understood for what it truly is.

Like all sacraments, the ritual of baptism involves both the ‘cultural tissue of the DNA of evolution’ (the church and society): the parents, the family and the community.  The ritual not only calls attention to the unique potential of human life, but does it in a way that recognizes the essential nature of the community in bringing this life to maturity.  It is a stepping stone to Teilhard’s mapping of the energy of love as the play of ‘centration’ and ‘excentration’ by which we come to be what we can be.

Confirmation

In church tradition, the sacrament of confirmation confers the grace of human spiritual growth.  In our secular perspective, the sacrament of confirmation goes on to ‘confirm’ the actuation of potential which occurs as we mature, recognizing that our potential for growth is assured by our cooperation with grace, ‘the energy of human evolution’.  Just as this grace is ‘gratuitous’, unearned, so our potential for maturity is assured and can be trusted if we but trust in its presence in our lives.  Confirmation asks us to become aware of this rise of evolutive energy in our lives, so that we can better cooperate with it.

Eucharist

In the traditions of the church, the sacrament of the eucharist, known as ‘communion’, is the central sacrament of church unity.  From our secular perspective, the sacrament of the eucharist is perhaps the sacrament most germane to human evolution.  In it, we participate in a symbolic communal meal, in which we recognize that we are all part of a wider community.  As we saw in our posts on May 11- July 20 (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?p=352), Seeing Jesus as the ‘Christ’ recognizes the human person as an eventual product of universal evolution, and as such each of us consists of a ‘branch’ of the axis along which this process of evolution proceeds.  From this perspective, all persons are not only ‘children of God’ (products of evolution) they are ultimately united by their share of the cosmic spark by which they come to be.  By participation in this ritual, we are reminded of this essential ground of unity, and of the necessity for cooperating with the energies of love by which we can be brought into a ‘greater possession of ourselves’ as we overcome our instinctual sense of separation from others.  In Teilhard’s words, the eucharist is the most important of the sacraments because:

“..through it passes directly the axis of the incarnation, that is to say the axis of creation.”

“(The eucharist) ..is but the expression and manifestation of the divine unifying energy applying itself little by little to every spiritual atom of the universe.”

Matrimony

The church teaches that the sacrament of matrimony is necessary for the natural joining of human persons in the process of procreation and child rearing.  In our secular perspective, it reminds us that the road to the more complete possession of ourselves that we refer to as ‘maturity’ must be undertaken in the context of relationship.  In the joining of two persons, the play of ‘centration’ and ‘excentration’ is essential to our continued growth.  It is a reminder that we can only become who we can be by engaging in relationship: our growth is assured as much by our ability to give love as it is by our ability to receive it.  In Teilhard’s vision, love is much more a structural energy which unites us in such a way as to expand our ‘person-ness’ than an emotion which draws us to each other.

Penance

The church teaches that the sacrament of reconciliation (referred to as ‘confession’ or ‘penance’) is necessary to return our soul to a state of grace and erase the stain placed on it by our sin.  Our secular perspective recognizes that we can build many impediments to our cooperation with grace, and hence to our relationships, thus impeding our personal growth.  And, as in all the sacraments, it offers the church as a media for the reconciliation that is necessary to overcome these impediments.

Last Rites

The church teaches that the sacrament of the sick (also referred to as the “last Rites’, or ‘Extreme Unction’) is sort of a ‘last chance’ for cleansing the soul before death, but also recognizes material benefits, such as bearing up under pain and even improving how we feel.  Our secular perspective calls attention to the fact that even death is an ‘occasion of grace’.  As one theologian expressed it, “The sacrament of the sick means we do not have to die alone.”

Again, the church provides the presence of the community and recalls our common connection.

Holy Orders

The sacrament of “Holy Orders” is often referred to as the ‘sacrament of service’.  It recognizes the church’s basic role of providing the ‘tissue of the DNA of human evolution’.

The Next Post

This week we moved from recognizing that the milieu of grace in which we live, the energy of evolution, can be articulated to locate those sparks of energy that are most relevant to our human growth, to some specific articulations expressed in the concept of ‘sacraments.  As we have seen elsewhere, this milieu of grace can be articulated in many other ways as well, such as in our political practices which highlight the necessity to trust the basic goodness of the human person as reflected in our belief in ‘inalienable rights’ and ‘the will of the people’.

Next week we will look into the idea of ‘secular sacraments’ in more detail.

November 9 – Reinterpreting Sacraments- Part 1- What Are Sacraments?

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how human evolution proceeds through the trial-and-error process seen in our attempts to ‘articulate the noosphere’, and how successful attempts are captured in the ‘cultural DNA’ through the ‘tissue of culture’ as found in religion, philosophy and laws.  This week we will continue this exploration by looking how sacraments can be seen as examples of human activity in which the work of grace, the energy of our personal evolution, can be seen to occur.

Sacraments as ‘Signs of Grace’

One treatment of the sacraments suggests that they are rooted in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ values.  In this interpretation, the sacraments were instantiations of seven times in Jesus’ life that he highlighted the action of grace in human life, times in which humans participate most deeply in their lives.

In the posts on Jesus (beginning with http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?p=352) we looked at Jesus as a signpost to God, and discussed how he can be seen as evolution becoming aware of itself.  As western religious tradition has seen it, there are seven activities of human life that Jesus recognized as critical to our personal evolution.  Just as Jesus was a ‘signpost to God’, these events were ‘signposts to grace’, events to which we should pay special attention as they are examples of times in human life in which this ‘evolutionary energy’ is most active.

The idea of seeing some human activity as more significant to human life is found in other religions as well.   In his book, ‘The Souls of China’, Ian Johnson addresses the trend in which many Chinese are beginning to identify themselves as Daoist, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim after decades of having religious expression outlawed.  He explains how traditional rituals help people overcome urban anomie and answer the “pragmatic but profound issue of how to behave at critical life junctures”, such as weddings, funerals, pilgrimages, social work and meditation.

So, as we proceeded in the other objects of our search for the “Secular Side of God”, the key step in this search is the reinterpretation of those traditional teachings from the secular perspective that we have developed.  The sacraments are no exception.

What Are ‘Sacraments?’

    Christianity identifies seven events in human life that are ‘occasions of grace’: events in which our lives are infused by the energy of grace.  Although the church places great emphasis on the action of the church hierarchy in ‘conferring’ the grace that flows in these events, a secular approach simply sees them as events in our lives in which we are cooperating with this flow of grace in such a way that our personal evolution, our ‘spiritual growth’ is enhanced.  Paraphrasing Teilhard, when we participate in these events we are ‘trimming our sails to the winds of life’, aligning our lives to the axis of evolution.

Traditional church teaching identifies seven such rituals, all of which require church hierarchy for the ‘conferring’, and all of which recognize the action of grace which takes place.  These teachings place great emphasis on the both the need for the church to perform the ritual and to effect the outcome of the giving of grace, and the need for our participation in them as a condition for church membership.

From our secular perspective, however, we can reinterpret the church’s concept of the sacraments in terms of our understanding of grace as the energy of both our personal evolution and the resulting evolution of our species.

The Next Post

This week we began to look into how the Christian concept of the ‘Sacrament’ can be seen from our secular perspective, as the continuation of the thread of evolution as it rises through the human.

Next week we will look at each of the sacraments themselves to see how they can be reinterpreted in the light of this secular perspective.

October 26 – Grace and the DNA of Human Evolution

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how the energy of evolution is manifest in the milieu in which we live our human lives, ‘grace’, and how the concept of ‘sacrament’, in our secular context, is simply identification of some of the ways that this energy can be encountered.  In Teilhard’s vernacular, they are examples of ‘articulation of the noosphere.’

This week I’d like to look a little more at the way that Teilhard viewed the ‘noosphere’, and how such articulation is necessary to light the path to the advance of evolution through our lives.

The Noosphere

As Teilhard sees it, the evolution of our planet can be seen as the appearance of ‘spheres’, layers of evolutionary products which have appeared in succession on our planet.   He sees these spheres as:

–          The ‘lithosphere’, the conglomeration of molecules which pack together under the influence of gravity, the same force by which our planetary disk precipitated out into distinct planets surrounding the Sun.

–          The ‘atmosphere’ which forms as the gas molecules separate from the solids

–          The ‘hydrosphere’ which forms as the atmosphere evolves into water and air

–          The ‘biosphere’ which emerges as some molecules become complex enough to form cells

These ‘spheres’ are well recognized by science, and their appearance in evolutionary history is well established.

To these fundamental spheres, Teilhard adds the ‘noosphere’, literally the ‘sphere of thought’.  He sees that with the appearance of the human, our planet acquires a new layer.  As humans emerge and begin to cover the planet, he sees it as obvious that the planet takes on a new form.  Today’s controversies over such subjects as ecology and global warning are evidence of the emerging awareness of just how significant the noosphere has become.

The Articulation of the Noosphere

As we have seen, Teilhard sees evolution proceeding through the human as a continuation of the increase of complexity that can be observed over the preceding fourteen or so billion years.  He also notes that in each phase of evolution, from the ‘physics’ phase, through the ‘biological’ phase, this increase of complexity ‘changes state’.  In his view, the energy which drives complexification itself becomes more complex.  The Standard Model of Physics is still evolving (note the emerging theories of Quantum Physics and ‘dark’ matter) and thus offers new paradigms by which complexification in this phase can be articulated.  The theory of Natural Selection is also still evolving as it addresses the increasing complexity of living things.  However, when it comes to understanding, much less measuring, the process of how the continuation of the rise of complexity can be seen in the human person and his culture is much less clear.

Teilhard notes that all religions attempt to identify ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’.  With the strong infusion of myths, superstitions, dualities and cohesive value to the state that are inevitable over such longs periods of development (arising in the prescientific world of thousands of years ago), we are left today with inconsistent and even contradictory guidelines for our continued development.  Science does not offer much help in this area.  Those expressions of belief that claim scientific foundations are simply attempts to derive meaning from empirical data, and offer little support for the faith needed to deal with the daily effort of human life.

But as Teilhard sees effective human life as requiring us to ‘set our sails to the winds of life’, the skills of reading the wind and tending the tiller are first necessary to be learned.   As he sees it:

“And, conventional and impermanent as they may seem on the surface, what are the intricacies of our social forms, if not an effort to isolate little by little what are one day to become the structural laws of the noosphere.

“In their essence, and provided they keep their vital connection with the current that wells up from the depths of the past, are not the artificial, the moral and the juridical simply the hominized versions of the natural, the physical and the organic?”

   It seems obvious that moving the human enterprise forward comes down to ‘trial and error’.  At the base, this is simply ‘survival of the fittest’: those things that we learn which enhance our life are collected, refined through the development of our culture, and encoded in morals and laws.  Those which don’t atrophy over time as they become seen as less valuable.

These skills that we accumulate in our culture are ‘articulations of the noosphere”.  They can be understood as the ‘genetic material’ of human evolution, weaving their way into the thread of universal evolution as it rises through the human person.  By this criterion, sacraments can be understood as examples of behavior that are passed from generation to generation via the cultural ‘tissue’ of religion.

Religion is not the only place that such noospheric articulations can be found.  As we saw in the post of September 14 on the secular basis of spirituality,  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’ as an ‘articulation of the noosphere’:

“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.”

This exercise of ‘trust of the people to govern themselves’ is a secular example of an ‘articulation of the noosphere’.  When we engage in such activity as the process of voting, we are implicitly connecting with one of the threads of evolution as it runs through human evolution.  This activity is effectively a ‘secular sacrament’.

The Next Post

This week looked a little deeper into Teilhard’s insights; the evolving understanding of ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’, which he refers to as ‘articulation of the noosphere’, and saw how such insights contribute to the continuation of the thread of evolution as it rises through the human.  We saw that such articulations are essentially the ‘cultural DNA’ of our evolution, and that the sacraments can be seen as examples.

Next week we will move onto reinterpreting sacraments in the light of this secular perspective.

October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

Today’s Post

In the last two weeks, we have taken a look at the Christian idea of ‘spirituality’ in the light of our ‘Secular Side of God’.   We saw how in this secular mode of reinterpretation, ‘spirit’ is neither supernatural nor ‘other-worldly’, but simply a word for the energy that propels evolution in the direction of increasing complexity.  We saw how Teilhard sees ‘spirit’ as neither an ‘epi’ nor a ‘meta’ phenomenon, but instead the critical phenomenon in the evolution of the universe.  Although, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges, science has not yet addressed it per se, the religious term for the energy “which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”, is ‘spirit’.

This week we will move on to some consequences of understanding that spirituality not only underlies the evolutionary process by which the universe becomes more complex, it is the milieu in which we live.

The History of Grace

Grace is one of the basic concepts of Christianity, which understands the ‘love of God’ as a tangible thing by which God interacts between his supernatural divine life and our natural human life.

As we will see, the church teachings on this interaction with God can be seen to have much in common with our secular understanding of spirituality.  Not that the traditional dualisms of supernaturalism and otherworldliness are not present in these teachings, but the idea that grace makes up the milieu in which we live is pervasive in them.

The church teaching on grace, however, can also be seen to be tarnished by the gradual drift of Christianity towards a hierarchy which effects social stability and a system of beliefs necessary to secure successful promotion into heaven.  This can be seen in the Baltimore Catechism’s description of grace as a “Supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation.”  It goes on to say, “The principal ways of obtaining grace are prayer and the sacraments.”  In this teaching, grace is less a milieu in which we exist than a gift, not gratuitously given by God but ‘earned’ by Jesus and mediated by the church.  Grace is a ‘gift’ necessary for our ‘salvation’ which must be ‘obtained’ by asking for it (prayer) and participation in church-provided rituals (sacraments).   To a large extent, it is seen as necessary commodity to be obtained from the church.

Sacraments, as defined in the Baltimore Catechism, are “outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace”, and are conferred (dispensed) by church hierarchy.  In this teaching, the sacraments only ‘work’ (only dispense grace) if they are performed by the correct rank of church hierarchy (eg ‘Confirmation’ by bishop) and according to the established ritual (eg Baptism by water).

The excesses of the medieval church which led to Luther’s reformation are well documented, but one of the more egregious practices that Luther attacked was the ‘selling’ of sacraments.  To the church of this era, grace had become a hierarchy-controlled commodity without which salvation could not be accomplished but from which the church could profit.

So,  What is Grace, and Where Do The Sacraments Come In?

As we saw last week, spirituality is fundamental to the process of evolution, from the ‘big bang’ to (so far) the human.  From this secular perspective, grace is simply the quantification of this energy of evolution.  Paraphrasing Richard Dawkins, we can say, “There must be an energy of evolution, and we might as well give it the name Spirit, but Spirit is not an appropriate name unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word ‘Spirit’ carries in the minds of most religious believers. The energy that we seek must be that which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”.

Just as we saw in our discussion of God, the ‘axis of evolution’ rises through every branch of the tree of life.  The specific branch that rises though each human person is a continuation of the basic energy of evolution and it is manifest in its potential in our lives.

The long legacy of dualism that has risen in Christianity came to understood sacraments as a means by which the spiritual energy of God could be delivered across the wide gulf between spirit and matter, and that this aperture was opened by ‘the merits of Christ’ and therefore contributes to ‘our salvation’.

Setting aside the issue of ‘salvation’ for now, we can see how our secular approach to the idea of the energy of evolution, and our understanding of God as ‘supremely’ natural (as opposed to ‘super’ natural) permits the idea of the sacrament to be seen in a secular context.  While we may well be immersed in this milieu of grace, the very nature of its intangibility calls for reminders, ‘signposts’ of its activity in our lives.  The sacraments are religion’s attempt to erect these signposts.  They are, in Teilhard’s words, examples of “articulation of the noosphere’.

The Sacraments and Evolution

As we have suggested many times in this blog, the continuation of evolution through the human species can be understood as the development of tge skill of using our unique human neocortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of the ‘lower’ limbic and reptilian brains.  In the post of February 2, 2017  – “Relating to God, Part 7: Loving God, Part 2”  (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?m=201702), as well as several others, we saw this skill requiring two actions.  The first action was to recognize the rise of this axis of evolution in us, and the second was to learn how to cooperate with it.  In religious terms, this is expressed as “finding and cooperating with God”.

In the posts which addressed ‘finding God’, beginning with “Relating to God – P1: Opening the Door” (http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/?m=201609) we addressed the concept of meditation as a process for finding God as understood by Teilhard, and how it has been carried through to the current day by psychology.  In these posts we saw how the idea of ‘finding God’ happens in the quest to find ourselves.

The second step is less obvious, and less treated by psychology.  To ‘cooperate’ with this manifestation of the ground of being in our lives, it is necessary to see how the energy of evolution is specifically manifested in our life so that we can cooperate with it and enhance its effects in us.  Effectively, to cooperate with the energy of evolution, we need to learn to recognize how the ‘articulations of the noosphere’ occur in our lives.

This is where the sacraments come in.

The Next Post

This week we saw grace as the manifestation of the ‘energy of evolution’ as it flows through our lives, and addressed the idea of ‘sacrament’ as articulation of how the action of grace can be seen if we know how to look.  Next week we will look at the sacraments in more detail to better understand how the seven traditional sacraments can be seen as active in our personal evolution.

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.  ..it 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.