The Unfolding Interconnectedness of Life

Posted: February 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Unfolding Interconnectedness of Life

Today in the progressive religious world, that St David’s has become part of; in the last few years, this weekend is Evolution Weekend. It began I think in the United States as congregations saw the need to claim a place for evolution in a Christian world that was being overcome by a fundamentalist movement in education and in theory. A weekend where congregations made a claim for evolution as opposed to Creationism based on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Many thought that there was little need for such a movement in that such literal Creationism would soon be exposed as fantasy but amazingly it still exists for those locked in a literal approach to the bible despite the fact that it no longer makes sense in a world that has moved on.

For many outside the church even this topic is a waste of time and energy because for them the argument between science and faith seems to no longer exist, and as my Grandson has often said of the church’s wrestling with this sort of debate, “I have a very simple view of religion all you have to do is follow the golden rule; – do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ And when Karl Barth that well known theologian was faced with that same response he said; ‘I have a very simple view of astronomy – twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.’ They were and are right are they not. The science and faith argument is a strange one difficult to rationalize and one wonders why bother because what we know that has been provided by science and what we knew then now cannot be reconciled. L Charles Birch former Challis Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney, in 2008 said and I think he was right “Such simplistic concepts are caricatures of science and religion” In many ways, the battle between religion and science, and specifically between evolution and various forms of creationism, that is being waged [in the USA] today while being more outdated is also more rancorous than it was 150 years ago.  And, although some of those on the creationist side are incredibly vocal, from a religious perspective they are clearly out of the mainstream” (Zimmerman 2010:11)

So, to celebrate this, I want to talk very personally about God. First of all, lets go to an extract of an article by Rex Hunt entitled … It’s Natural!  A ‘Forgotten Alternative’ for Progressive Spirituality. No matter how beautiful some may consider it, a supernatural worldview, and the practices that reinforce it, anaesthetizes us to things we need to do if we are to create sustainability for our planet, our children, and their children. To use Gretta Vosper’s words: “Stripped of a divine plan, we progressives are challenged to be active participants who can mould the world around us rather than simply passive recipients who engage, now and again, in acts of devotion with the hope of altering the course of events.”

So, where to start personally?  Well… Some options…. start by taking a three-year-old child, (maybe your grandson or grand-daughter) for a walk along some wet-lands track. Do not plan to be in a hurry. Every twig. Every coloured stone. Every duck. Every small grasshopper or lizard to cross your path will be an occasion for closer ‘looking’ and excitement. Such is the enchantment of a three-year-old for the natural world.

Start with your own life. With the fifty trillion cells of your body that are converting energy to make protein right now so you can read/hear these words. Or… with the awareness that the body you are carrying around now won’t be the body you’ll be carrying around one, three five years from now. It will have completely rebuilt itself from the inside out.

Allow yourself to be shaped by this creativity. This wonder. Webs of culture, life, and cosmos, resulting in unending successions of ever-evolving levels of living forms.  Each day lifts its head from the dew-strung grasses and offers new hope, new possibilities, extra chances.  Because every moment is pregnant with possibility. The miracle of each moment awaits our sensual wonder. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This. Horizontal transcendence. Nature embedded in humanity. Humanity embedded in nature.

There is no good reason to believe that taking nature to heart leaves a person with any fewer spiritual benefits than taking to heart the teachings of super-naturalist traditions.

The very first sentence in L Charles Birch’s book is that: “The concept of God’s operations in the universe as a series of fitful interventions from a supernatural sphere overlaying the natural is quite unacceptable to science” (Birch 1965:7). While the third sentence said:
“On the other hand, the traditional thinking of science, sometimes called mechanism, is quite unreconcilable with any reasoned Christian position” (Birch 1965:7). He was right and it was the church’s inability to question its dependence upon super-naturalism that got in the way. The result has been a fragmentation of thinking in regard to the relationship between science and religion, three major views exist: One; the ‘conflict’ view – that science and religion are inherently, and perpetually, in opposition; Two; the ‘contrast’ view – that science and religion are different because they ask different questions; and Three: the ‘integration’ view – that science and religion can be integrated into a self-consistent worldview.

Unfortunately, what emanates from many pulpits even today is more likely to represent the ‘conflict’ view than the ‘integration’ view. The science faith debate gets swallowed up in the dualisms of secular and sacred, evil world and belief in God to name but two. This is perhaps why Evolution weekend is important. Not just in an ecological sense where man made climate change is the topic of the day, but also in a theological sense where the topic of God is also under siege.

‘G-o-d’ is a symbol or word known and used by nearly everyone who speaks the English language. But it is also a word which has many uses and meanings attached to it. The Macquarie Dictionary for one defines the word as: “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe” (Macquarie Dictionary 1981:763).

We know that this way of speaking theologically is called ‘classical theism’. This ‘God’ is supernatural, interventionist, and nearly always couched in male anthropological (or human-like) language and images. And for many even some of us in this room perhaps, this is still the way to think when we hear the word ‘God’. But for those of us who have chosen to walk the ‘progressive’ path, this way of thinking doesn’t work anymore.

As I have said before; over the years my thinking has and continues, to change.
Firstly: I have come to think of God as the creative process or ‘serendipitous creativity’,
rather than a being who creates, and Secondly; I have tried, in the main, to us non-personal metaphors rather than personal ones.

The thoughts of many others have interacted with my own thinking, including those positively influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and his 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species.

In that book Darwin suggested that the world/universe was:

1; unfinished and continuing;

2: involved chance events and struggle, and

3: natural selection took the place of “design according to a preordained [divine] blueprint”

Put another way: Both Peters and Kaufman have said the world/universe is cosmic evolution, biological evolution, cultural/symbolic evolution (Peters 2002, Kaufman 2004).

Or yet another way: “In the beginning was serendipitous creativity and the serendipitous creativity was with God, and the serendipitous creativity was God.  All things came into being through the mystery of serendipitous creativity; apart from serendipitous creativity nothing would have come into being. (Kaufman 2004: ix adapted).

The issue is that today, we have mentally constructed another universe. Both in science and in religion/theology. In science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1), is approximately 14 billion years old.

And “if we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour,
humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127).

So, ‘modern’ science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; it is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy,
organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part or web, participates in this wonderful web of life. Each part, rather than one species or organism
separating itself out as more important than the rest.

As John Shuck has said: “This science is public and cumulative and open to anyone who wishes to pick up a book and read” (JShuck). I can recommend a good book to read on this and one is Lloyd Geering’s book, From the Big Bang to God. Our Awe-inspiring Journey of Evolution. He says in that book that “… the future of the human race remains an open question. On the one hand we must take full account of the perilous crises already facing us; like black clouds on the horizon, they indicate an imminent period of storms that could lead to catastrophic outcomes. It does seem unlikely that humans worldwide will be able to muster the willpower and the unity of action to avoid them altogether.

“On the other hand, we can draw hope from the Great Story of how we came to be here at all. It is a truly awe—inspiring universe that has brought us forth and, at least on this planet, has come to consciousness in us, displaying the human inventiveness, creativity and entrepreneurial skills that have helped to make us the creatures we are. And this potential may lead us to as—yet—unimaginable heights.

“If our descendants survive and evolve to reach an even more exalted state of being than ours, they will have arrived at what our forebears long aimed for when in their traditions (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or Christian) they hoped, respectively, to enter Nirvana, the Promised Land, the unity of all nations, or the Kingdom of God.”

When we ask the questions of theology, we might see that the ‘naturalistic’ strand of theology shaped by former Harvard Divinity School theologian, Gordon Kaufman, presents God as a non-personal ‘serendipitous creativity’ “manifest throughout the cosmos instead of as a kind of cosmic person.  We humans are deeply embedded in, and basically sustained by, this creative activity in and through the web of life on planet Earth (Kaufman 2004:58).

Here Kaufman clearly names the problem with traditional religious language and thinking.
Likewise his alternative thinking and language embraces both our scientific knowledge and the reality beyond the symbols of biblical faith.

A growing number of people around the world, religious and scientifically minded,
and conscious of this ‘web within a web of life’, are recognising that our modern life-style is:  harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns. They are saying that the earth is under assault!  Indeed that “we are killing our very life support system in a manner unprecedented in human history.  And yet, most of us go about our daily lives more or less blissfully indifferent to the devastation” (Hill 2008:10).

Here is a strong argument for progressive religious thought that calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’, to live in harmony with, our world. And progressive religious/Christian thought names that creativity which indwells and sustains all life forms… galaxy
organism individual atom… ‘G-o-d’ or ‘the sacred’ or ‘serendipitous creativity’.

Meanwhile, Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, has a couple of interesting and detailed comments. They are a bit technical and a little wordy, so I invite your careful listening.

To the question: ‘How old are we?’ Peters says: “phenomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years” (Peters 1992:412).

To the additional question: ‘How long will we continue?’ he adds: “phenomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5) billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never…” (Peters 1992:412).

Peters answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. And reminds us that nature is in us as much as we are nature. “We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos…  As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…  We contain in us… after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations, the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe” (Peters 1992:412).

For Peters and for progressives, the evolutionary epic is a religious world view. Science and faith are about the same thing.  All of this and more, is why, on Evolution Sunday/Weekend, we are bound to talk about God.

 

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