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"Behind every blade of grass is an angel telling it 'Grow! Grow!' "
That's a Medieval Jewish saying. A messenger of God is standing behind every living thing in the world, urging it to grow. It's a good image of the dynamic-developmental worldview seen within a religious context: the Mystery behind the universe desires each of us to become all that we can be.
The fact that it's a Medieval saying makes clear that the developmental worldview isn't all that new; what's new in this time of the Immense Transition is that the evolutionary perspective is entering into the conscious awareness of everyone.
My efforts with the blog to share these kinds of thoughts about the convergence of science and religion were mentioned in an article in the May 2008 issue of This Active Life, the National Education Association's magazine for retired members. The cover story is on the use of technology by retired teachers, "Retirement in the Digital Age."
As a result of that NEA article, an 85-year-old retired teacher sent a comment asking if I would explain how the people of early times could live, as the Bible says, for 700 or 800 years. I used the opportunity to talk a bit about the early Christian practice of understanding Bible stories in four different ways rather than only in a literal sense. (That ancient idea of the "four senses of scripture" is yet another-- and important-- example of the quaternary perspective.) You can read her comment and my response at the end of post #34.
The main point of my response was to say that "the Bible stories about God, Christ and the Holy Spirit," as the questioner put it, are about the same thing science is: the evolutionary development of the world.
It's a big claim-- not one that people still living in the context of a static worldview can hear easily or take seriously. But I think it makes good sense in terms of the Immense Transition. I hope to spell out some of the details of it in the next few posts.
Many of my earlier posts are devoted to the ideas about human consciousness that we have today thanks to modern brain studies.
In the dynamic-evolutionary perspective, we see that the world shows itself at the three levels of cosmos, life, and mind. That's been a neglected area of religious thought. I offered some ideas about how mind shows itself via the biological brain in posts #10-#20.
As I see it, those findings of contemporary neurological studies which can help us most to become comfortable with this view of the human spirit (soul, person) is the understanding that consciousness is a naturally emergent result of cosmic and biological evolution. I've emphasized the ideas of Biogenetic Structuralism which calls itself "Anthropology Plus" in its attempts to understand the mystery of personal consciousness. It looks at biological evolution, neurophysiology and cultural anthropology together.
It's not an easy perspective to grasp, to be sure. My efforts to spell out basic neurological ideas in posts #12 and #13 on the Cognitive Extension of Prehension and the Cognized Environment are a challenge for many, but those concepts are essential aspects of the Immense Transition humanity is currently experiencing. The main idea is that soul (spirit, person, mind, consciousness) is the natural next step in biological evolution after the appearance of our primate relatives. And saying that in no way denies, of course, the existence of an incomprehensible source standing behind the whole evolutionary process telling us "Grow! Grow!"
In a recent op-ed piece, "The Neural Buddhists," in the New York Times (13 May 08), columnist David Brooks writes that the science-religion debate is now shifting to a focus on neuroscience. He says, "The revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world." (Indeed! It's been described as "possibly the most important cultural issue of our time.") Brooks notes specifically that "The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going end up challenging faith in the Bible."
I don't often agree with David Brooks; one of my earliest posts, #5, has some very negative things to say about his science-religion views. But I agree with his main point here, although I'd put it a little differently. I don't think the cognitive revolution is "going end up challenging faith in the Bible" so much as that it's going to end up challenging a static understanding of the Bible.
When we look at the Bible stories from the dynamic-evolutionary perspectives of contemporary science, we can see that what they are all about is nothing less than early versions of the same dynamic-evolutionary perspectives which contemporary science is making known to us. As briefly as I can say it: The evolutionary worldview is precisely what the Judeo-Christian tradition is all about. And that is the convergence I'm referring to when I call this blog "sharing thoughts about the convergence of science and religion."
Back in post #28 ("Where I'm At") I presented three "snapshots" of where I wanted to go next with these blog efforts. The first "snapshot" had to do with spelling out the four-fold nature of the mind. For me, the quaternary perspective is of tremendous value in understanding the stages of personal and cultural development; it provides us with what I think of as the essential tools we need for understanding the Immense Transition. I've shared those thoughts in seven recent posts: #29-#31 and #33-#36.
The second "snapshot" in post #28 has to do with what I called "re-situating the Christmas story." By that I mean understanding the Judeo-Christian tradition in the context of that new Universe Story which has become available to us thanks to modern science. As I said in that post, "I'd like to share my thoughts about how different-- and indeed exciting-- the story of the coming of Jesus looks in the context of cosmic, biological and cultural evolution."
So that's "What's Next" in these blog efforts.
I often refer to the "Judeo-Christian tradition"-- as if Jews and Christians are parts of one single religious tradition. They are, in two senses. One is that all western culture-- which until recently was the dominant culture of the world, and out of which arose major human cultural endeavors such as the quest for democracy and for an understanding of the natural world-- has its roots not only in Greek philosophy but also in the Bible stories found in what Christians call the Old and New Testaments.
C. G. Jung says that if we westerners are to understand ourselves, we have to know the Bible stories. They're in our blood. We are influenced by their images whether we're conscious of them or not.
A good example is the Adam and Eve story. It has had a tremendous impact on how almost everyone in the western world understands our human origins. A better example, in the sense that its influence is less obvious, is the story of Jonah. Everyone in the world-- at least everyone in Europe, North and South America, and all those parts of the world which were influenced by European colonization-- knows something about the ancient story of a man who was swallowed by a whale. We may not know what it means, but we all know the story.
The second sense in which the Judeo-Christian tradition is one tradition is that Christianity really is a branch of the Jewish religion. Jesus was Jewish, of course, and so were his early followers in the first few decades of the Christian church. It was a major event when those early Jewish-Christians were confronted with non-Jews wanting to be part of their communities.
We can see just how Jewish those early Christians were in the question that arose which sounds very odd today: Did a non-Jewish male have to be circumcised if he wanted to become a Christian? (Luckily for generations of European males, the answer decided on was "no.")
My plan with regard to looking at the Judeo-Christian tradition in the context of that New Cosmology is to start at the beginning by asking: What is the origin of the dynamic-developmental worldview? Where did the idea of evolution come from in the first place?
The answer is not "Darwin" but "the Bible." It turns out that monotheism and evolution go together. They characterize the Hebrew perspective. The developmental worldview began with the Jewish Exodus, with reflections by the Hebrew sages on the Great Escape from Egypt.
So that's going to be my starting point. I want to look first at the stories of the Jewish Bible within an evolutionary worldview context, then look at the New Testament stories about the coming of Jesus in that same context, and eventually look at the understanding of his followers in that same evolutionary worldview.
I don't intend to introduce any new ideas or images, but rather to look at those stories on their own terms-- but always in a dynamic rather than static context. It will seem to many like new ideas.
The briefest overview I can offer is to say that from beginning to end-- Old Testament, New Testament and early church-- it's all one consistent picture. "One single design," as the early 20th century theologian Henri de Lubac put it.
I wish "one single design" didn't sound so much like "intelligent design"! But once again, we're stuck with the words. We have to make do with less than ideal terminology.
Sunday, June 1, 2008