Wednesday, June 28, 2017

God Search

Within the human species there is an insatiable desire to know, understand and draw conclusions—some call that a ‘God Search’.  It requires quiet time, but in this crazy fast-paced world of information overload, who has that quiet time?  And that search has been relegated to ‘unimportant’ in our secular world . . . but is it?

We all know that life is a limited experience.  We each come into being by way of an unfathomable chain of events; then, unknown circumstances will play upon us until the inevitable extinguishing of our mortal self.  We know this, but do we actually realize it?  Fact:  with few exceptions, the allotted time for each of us averages some 75-85 years and only rarely exceeds 100.  Such a tiny piece of time!  Individually we enter and exit the flow of life that stretches beyond our vision in both directions, backward and forward.   Why are we here so briefly? Why do we have consciousness to ask the question ‘Why’?

The majority of people are unconcerned about deep questions of existence, they are engaged in the survival struggle and ask only questions about immediate concerns . . . but for those who do ask the deep questions there seems to be two conflicting answers.  The first answer that came long ago, was to consider that some guiding spirit or spirits ‘made things happen’, controlling and watching the human struggle.  The spirits were identified differently by different groups of people, but the unifying idea was of ‘something more’.  The second answer came later, it was to consider that there are no spirit guides, humanity is alone in a meaningless universe without pattern or purpose—life appeared on this planet through random happenstance.  Our coming and going is just that brief experience without value, purpose or hope.

We seem to be caught between those two answers even if we personally aren’t engaged in the search.  The first answer seemed to offer hope and promise in the ‘something more’, but it became tangled in the definitions and rules of the institutions that grew around the idea.  The second answer came supported by science and seemed lofty, intelligent and, Oh so rational!—but dark and unsatisfying . . . Nothing more?  Meaninglessness?

Currently, among progressive thinkers a new question is being raised:  Are we experiencing another Axial Age?  A pivotal time when there is a fundamental shift in thinking about the universe and our part in it?  So, to address the question below that question, what IS an Axial Age?

The German philosopher Karl Jasper coined the term Axial Age in reference to the period of time roughly between 800-200 B.C.  He wrote: “The spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently throughout most of the inhabited world” . . . in that time the great intellectual, philosophical and religious systems emerged [i.e. Greek philosophers, Hebrew prophets, Confucius and Lao-Tzu in China, the Buddha in India, Zoroaster in Persia . . .] that shaped subsequent human society and culture.  Each chose different patterns of behavior yet held similar attitudes of respectful relationships and ultimate concerns beyond mere survival.  There was a shift or turn away from the violence of mere self-preservation characteristic of tribalism, shifting to living cooperatively with those who were different and speculating about the fate of humanity.  There emerged a new concern for the individual person evidenced by some form of the ‘Golden Rule’ expressed in each of the cultures. (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.) 

The New World Encyclopedia defines this era as: “the time in which all foundations that underlie current civilization came into being.  The Axial Age plays a central, foundational, or crucial role in human history.”

What is the significance of the Axial Age with regards to the God search?  It is a piece of evidence that supports the hopeful position that life is unfolding in accordance to a discernible pattern or plan.  From the study of science we see and understand life has evolved from simple to complex forms; when we observe long-term human behavior we can see a pattern of advancement from lower to higher states of consciousness.  The 1st Axial Age shows that without direct communication, these diverse groups of people, although isolated from each other, chose advancement from barbarism to civilization—it implies a knowing directive force behind the flow of history, and bespeaks intentionality that affirms a God leading humanity to a higher purpose.   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Evolution, Why Does it Matter?

I return to considering the works of Teilhard de Chardin.  His two best-known books are: The Phenomenon of Man (renamed The Human Phenomenon in a newer translation), it is his scientific treatise on the evolution of the earth and the human species; and The Divine Milieu, his mystic understanding of the God-humanity relationship.  A scientist and a Jesuit, his life was devoted to reconciling science and religion, the two seemingly conflicting paths for understanding who and what we are.

Science shows evolution to be the underlying principle of all that is; Teilhard fully accepts the reality of evolution and that it is God’s great plan, filled with meaning and purpose.  He has identified the ‘law of complexity-consciousness’ as the pattern that gives direction to evolution.  In that observable pattern, over eons, life progressed from single-cell entities to ultimately reach the purpose inherent from the beginning: the emergence of the human, a complex being created in God’s image possessing consciousness, thought and feeling, free will, creativity and the ability to love.  Teilhard refers to the evolutionary process as a ‘genesis’, a vast coming to be.

Full consciousness in the human species is not some random ‘surprise happening’; it is God’s intended goal for evolution.  Throughout, as organisms became more complex, simultaneously consciousness increased until, with the human, reflective awareness emerged with the birth of thought.  More than a change in degree, it was a change in nature to a new species.  With thought came the freedom to choose (free will) and responsibility for the direction chosen for the future.  As we advance in our ability to control and direct, it is clear that those abilities can have both wonderfully positive and horribly negative consequences.  We have yet to realize our world is one interacting/interdependent unit that stands in danger of self-destruction.

The search for knowledge and understanding has proceeded haphazardly without clear belief in a direction or goal . . . science and religion have argued over the preeminence of the world vs. God; science—in its arrogance—has suggested there is ONLY world and God is illusion.  Mystics of all traditions have recognized a link between God and world.

The poem in my previous entry is about the God-human relationship, co-creating a world on planet earth.
The wonder and order of the Universe; the intricate balance of the elements of our earth that support unexplainable, inexplicable life is proof to me of God . . . random chance cannot justify that level of order and balance—so I believe in the mystery that gave rise to such wonder and call the Mystery, God.  God prepared us to encounter life together and gave us the freedom to shape our world.  I can’t understand or explain God, but I’m convinced that we were given what we need and God has sprinkled humanity’s search for wisdom with clues that lead us toward understanding the why and who we are and our place in the great mystery of life. 

One of God’s ‘sprinkled clues’ as to our self-identity is found in the process we witness daily in observing human development from embryo to mature adult.  Begun in mysterious darkness, emerging with only primitive abilities, dependent and needing guidance, gradually discovering skills and abilities, growing into beings capable of shaping their own future.   –We’re adults now, God gave us the tools we need for survival and the rest is up to us.

I encourage you to turn back to my May 28 entry and read ‘Child is Father of the Man’ with these thoughts in mind.