Monday, August 31, 2009

Unlearning The Old Cosmology As A New Light Dawns

This awesome photograph is from the website. Follow this link to get their perspective on the changing cosmology.

Yesterday I wrote about the difficulties involved in unlearning, and posted an article by Fr. Ed Hayes about how necessary the skill of unlearning would be in the future. In my mind yesterday's post was to be a lead in to today's post, in which I intended to write about the drastic change in our cosmology and what a challenge it poses to traditional theological and spiritual paradigms. Today I find that Sister Joan Chittister, in the National Catholic Reporter, has already written a post on the changing cosmology. Since it's on topic and much better than I would have written, I offer the following excerpt. The entire article can be accessed here:

The God of creation, the religious world determined, was all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present and all-holy. The problem lay in the fact that a God of these proportions failed, it seemed, to exercise such power when it came to the creation this very God had created.

This God did not save the world from evil, did not exercise blatant power in behalf of the good, did not save the righteous from the unrighteous, did not act in behalf of the oppressed. This was a God whose merit theology, whose rule-driven scorekeeping, trumped care, compassion and love.

The faithful, we were taught, got the God they earned, or, conversely, lost the God they didn’t, if they were unable to figure out what that God really wanted in every situation and how to pass every spiritual double-bind test. (Losing God was a much bigger seller than meriting God.)

Instead, they could, at best, only hope for eternal life and everlasting peace somewhere else. This life was out of their hands. This world was a mysterious jumble of good and evil meant to tempt and try them. This was not a subtle God; this was a God whose “will” too often looked more like malice than it did like mercy. The ways of this God with creation were straightforward and manifest. The creator God was patriarch, lawgiver and avenging judge.

Not only was this God not a “subtle” God but how could we say with certainty that this God was not a malevolent one, except that our hearts tell us that God, to be God, must be more than that.
As a consequence of theology like that, we enthroned maleness. We exalted a “rationality” that was far too often deeply irrational. We created the distant and unemotional God of the Greek philosophers who affects our life at every stage and every moment since. This creator God exercised power over everything, we said. But then we got confused trying to explain that God’s failure to use that power in order to save us from what endangers us.

We talked about “free will” but got tangled up again in the implications of what it means to be the weanlings of an all-knowing God. If God really knew everything before it happened, how could we possibly have free will?

We chafed under the burden of the “perfectionism” that the will of an all-perfect God must, of necessity, require of us, but of which, it was clear, we were patently incapable. The inferences of this kind of God for our own well-being were heavy indeed. (Essentially we learned we were likely doomed to failure before we started. This is the whole idea behind original sin, a sin committed by very distant relatives for which God was making us all accountable.)
But then came Darwin and evolution and an entirely new way of seeing both creation and the world. In this world, every act of creation is not the unique act of an eternal God.

Instead, the God of creation becomes the God of ongoing creation, of life intent on its own development, and of life involved in contributing to its own emerging form.

From this perspective, creation, life itself, is a work in process. It grows from one stage to another. It is immersed in both possibility and mistakes. It is a creature of imagination on the way to the unimaginable. The God of grand but hidden designs becomes the God of evolution, of the working out of creation as we go. Suddenly free will, the choices we make as we labor at the project of life, becomes important. Decision-making becomes universally significant, and selection of our actions determines the shape of an ongoing evolving world.

The humble God

A self-creating universe becomes co-creator with the humble God who shares power and waits for the best from us and provides for what we need to make it happen. We become participants in the process of life and the development of the world that is not so much planned as it is enabled. As nature grows, experiments, unfolds, selects and adapts, so then must we. Growth, not perfection, becomes the purpose of life. Ongoing creation, not predestined fate, becomes the purpose of life. (This is a paragraph packed with important concepts.)

The very process of human growth, not human puppetry in the hands of a disinterested and demanding God, becomes the purpose of life. And God becomes the God of a universe on its way to growing into glory, of becoming one with its creator. Life ceases to be a program of expectations tied up in a black box, the purpose of which is to tease us into unlocking and unraveling the mystery of our lives before it gets to be too late to achieve it.

In an evolving world, then, God becomes “becoming.” God is the one who stands by as we grow from one self to another, from one level of insight to another, from one age and awareness to another. God, we come to understand, is not the God of fixed determinations now. The past is no longer a template of forever. God becomes instead the God of the future. God, we come to see in the model that is evolutionary, is promise and possibility and forever emerging life.

The spiritual implications of a creation that goes on creating are major.

We are meant to create with the creator. We are here to discover the rest of ourselves in an equally evolving cosmos. We are not about perfection. We are about always selecting the better, about entering into the transformation of the world as it experiments with life, chooses for life, sees mistakes not as failure but as one more learning on the ladder of spiritual success.

In this world, the God of evolution becomes God the mother as well as God the father. God the mother understands pain. She bears us and then lets us grow from error to solution, from failure to success. She loves us for trying. She not only sets the standard, she helps us over the bar.

She is the rest of the image of the biblical God that Abrahamic religions have largely ignored to the peril of true spiritual development but that the spirit knows and seeks forever. She, the biblical God, “Cries out as a woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:14). She is the one whom the psalmist sees as “a nursing woman” (Psalm 131: 1-2), who in Hosea (11:3-4) is a cuddling mother who takes Israel in her arms, and who, in Proverbs as wisdom, “is there with God in the beginning” (8:22-31).

In a world in evolution is there purpose in the universe? The answer must certainly be: Never more so than now. Evolution is, in fact, a great spiritual teacher. We learn from the fossils of the ages that development is most often a slow and uncertain process, a precarious and breakneck experience that demands both time and trust in the future that is God, and in the God of the future. Evolution teaches us that movement from one stage of life to another is often both cumbersome and painful but that the pain is prelude to a better self.

We learn that failure is a necessary part of life, not its misdoing. It is simply a holy invitation to become more than we are at present. Time is grace and trying is virtue. Struggle is a sign of new life, not a condemnation of this one.

Evolution shows us that the God of becoming is a beckoning God who goes before us to invite us on, to sustain us on the way, rather than a judging God who measures us by a past we did not shape.

Now human beings can begin to revel in what is meant by growing to full stature as a responsible and participative spiritual adult whose work on the planet really, really matters. Life, suddenly, is more a blessing both to the universe and to the self than it is simply a test of a person’s moral limits. To be alive, to be a person in the process of becoming, it becomes clear, is a blessing, not a bane. We are, alone and together, significant actors in the nature of life and the strengthening of the fibers of humankind.

Evolution gives us a God big enough to believe in.


Jesus gave us a God big enough to believe in, but we might have missed part of His point. When Jesus chose to call God His Father, and his fellow humans His brothers and sisters, His point might have been more along the lines of human biological and social maturity than set in stone family relationships describing a hierarchy of roles.

As individuals we progress from one undifferentiated cell through to birth, childhood, adolescence, parenthood or adult hood, and finally accrue (theoretically anyway) enough wisdom to be an honored elder. Each of these stages represents more complexity and more diversity. Each provides for more and more interaction with the world and the opportunity to have more impact with in it.
Jesus as Son, and God as Father, may very well describe our human relationship to the life of our Creator. Jesus points to and represents God's ultimate hope for where humanity will choose to evolve itself. Jesus is God's greatest gift and recognition for His delight in how His cosmos evolved because God Himself Incarnates to further the evolution of man towards God's abundant creative life. In my thinking Jesus truly is, the Way, the Hope, and the Life and He truly is God.

In a very real sense our biological and neurological maturity is a microcosm of the greater cosmic reality of progressing from the simple and somewhat chaotic to the more complex, organized, and beautiful. We may die as individuals, but the greater social organism we were part of continues to grow and progress in complexity, organization, and more often than not, beauty. It doesn't mean that this will always be a smooth straight line progression, but it does mean we will eventually get with the program because at it's core the cosmos is ordered along these lines and we are part of the core.

God is not up there somewhere keeping score. That's not His function in this cosmos. He's a guiding force which Jesus called love and through Jesus He shares our path. We can accept or reject this love just as Jesus taught us. The choice is ours, but so are the consequences. We can choose to further our evolution and bring forth the Kingdom, or we can opt to stand pat and go the way of the dinosaur. Jesus suggested we choose life and love. Makes perfect sense to me.

1 comment:

  1. Sister Joan Chittister's article and your comments Colleen are so inspiring. There is much here to contemplate. Very timely as I have to imagine the sounds of an era of millions of years ago, and I pray God will bless me and guide me in that task.