Why We Need To Talk About Christianity As Planetary Faith

Several weeks ago I met my first real Teilhard opponent.  She was a religion scholar from Indiana University and was quite adamant that Teilhard was a naïve optimist with a radical anthropocentrism.  His vision, she claimed, was ultimately harmful to  a committed ecological presence.  I was a bit shocked by the gross misinterpretation of Teilhard and though I tried to offer a more balanced understanding of his vision, she was clearly opposed to it. She had her own narrative on ecological wholeness and Teilhard simply did not fit in.  And then it dawned on me.  We are living together with a multiplicity of narratives, side by side, sharing conference space and coffee cups, assuming that the next person sees the world as I do, until we start to talk.

Language is one of the most characteristic marks of human evolution.  As we evolved from homo neanderthalis to homo sapiens, our brain size increased and symbolic language centers emerged.  We are a cognitive, linguistic species and symbolic stories are our trademark.   The word “myth” describes symbolic stories that have powerful meaning.  Myth is a combination of fact, fiction, and imagination.   The gravity of the myth is its ability to shape lives by providing symbolic stories that provoke the imagination and kindle some type of action.

All religions are governed by myth which are so powerful and compelling that they override the insights of modern science.  For all practical purposes, it really does not matter what science tells us.   The Christian myth prominently holds the symbols of heaven and hell pictured in a three-tiered universe (as the ancients conceived the universe.)  It also says that evil and death abound because of the sin of Adam and Eve.   Who cares what modern science has to say about the slow work of evolution or the fact that Adam and Eve never existed as a single couple or that biologically a universal condition is not possible by a single pair of genes.  Even more so who cares what biology has to say about death in the overall fecundity of life.  We can flip to other myths such as the Thomistic medieval synthesis.  This myth is extremely powerful today because it is offers a structured understanding of God, creation, and the human person.   The metaphysics of St. Thomas is not to be reckoned with even though the philosophy is that of the ancient philosopher Aristotle and the medieval Islamic philosopher, Avicenna.   Words like substance, form, matter, spirit are all woven into a beautiful myth of divine being providentially gracing the created order.   Thomistic scholars are brilliant at forging medieval philosophy with concepts from modern science, rendering at times a plausible consonance between medieval philosophy and quantum physics.

The power of religious myth governs the hierarchical Church, academic theology and most of all, the person in the pew.  While I see an increasing interest in the relationship between science and religion, I see little to no effort to shift the paradigm of Christian life in the direction of evolution.   Modern science slips away in the face of religious myth—and we are losing our grip on reality.   We are becoming increasingly tribalized, polarized, and entrenched in our political, social, and ecclesial positions because we have competing myths.  We are, for all practical purposes, a species ripe for extinction, and artificial intelligence (AI) is getting smarter at accelerating the transition from homo sapiens to posthumans.  AI offers a new compelling myth, especially for those who have abandoned religious myth.  The AI myth says that chips are our destiny and technology can enable us to live longer, happier, healthier, and smarter.  In the world of AI, however, we are not human persons—we are algorithims—informational matrices managed by hackers or robots.  The AI myth says that we will be a radically new techno-being by 2050, if we do not extinguish ourselves through the progressive trends in global warming.

Elon Musk fears AI and his concerns are not to be undermined.   AI technology has usurped human freedom, creativity, and the ability to dwell in the oikos, the household of nature.  The aims of technology are the aims of religion, namely, to save ourselves from suffering through chips, to overcome death through digital immortality, and to attain a better, happier life.  It does not matter that most human workers will lose their jobs to AI in less than twenty years or that AI will be affordable only to those with money.  AI has replaced God in our everyday lives, which makes the Church of Google much more powerful than the Catholic Church.

Teilhard de Chardin had a depth of vision that anticipated the emergence of a new world, including the world of technology.   He clearly saw that if we did not get on board with evolution as religious people, as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, as political, social and cultural citizens, we would asphyxiate and ultimately annihilate ourselves.  His vision is breathtaking in its cosmic scope and it is a vision that is at once theological, scientific, cultural, political, social, and technological.  God is doing new things and what Teilhard sought to achieve was a new myth, a new religious story that could animate our lives, enkindle them with a zest for evolution, and for the emergence of the Christic, that is, the emergence of God through a greater consciousness of divine love binding the whole of life into a living community.

Our Omega Conference this July (20-21) on “Christianity as Planetary Faith” is not a nice idea for those who have a free Saturday.   It is a wake-up call to the fact that without bringing science and faith into a fruitful engagement, without seeing that God is in evolution and not simply the author of evolution, that sin, death, salvation, and redemption take on new meaning in evolution.  The whole point of the Risen Christ is our human capacity to become a new type of person who can do new things for a new earth, and without bringing these understandings into a new religious myth (or myths) that animates our lives and focuses our energies in a new direction, we face the possibility of extinction.

We have the capacity for a new world (“a new heaven and a new earth”) but we must choose how this new world will unfold.  It will take a new theology, a new person, a new religion and a new church.  Teilhard himself envisioned a new religion of the earth and his beautiful “Mass on the World” is a glimpse of how a new way of worship might enkindle new evolutive action.

The current threshold we stand on offers us no alternative but to become a posthuman or a humanoid (human-robot) species up ahead.    Is this what we want for future generations?  Synthetic humanoids operated robotically?  If we want a different world, we must become a different people.

Join us in Kansas on July 20-21, 2018 and we will talk together, share our stories, and see how Teilhard’s ideas on planetization can guide us in the third millennium.

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  1. Thomas T on July 3, 2018 at 11:31 am

    I am struck by the idea and importance of myth in the experience of life. I am equally struck by a sense that evolution is more a description or phenomenology based upon observation and perhaps even intuition. The two seem ripe for relationship, but the ‘wedding party’ may need to have a draft of a”new wine” before the marriage can be sanctioned. The slow work of contemplative practice and lifestyle as ‘new wine tasting’ can effect so much, if we really buy into the entanglement notion. Like sharing new wine, or maybe a wine-tasting, the wines we share are not as important as the experience that we are actually tasting each others wines and perhaps expanding our tastes just a bit. It seems that when we allow and possibly embrace a ‘taste’ other than our own preference, it does something or ‘adds’ something to everyone and everything. So, how do we move not from but through myth into evolution in a way that ultimately places us in the present, which equals facing the future as not a particular event to come but the infinite possibility for ‘more’ life over and over again given in and through each ‘other’ and all? This sense of God as FUTURE (not THE Future), as Ilia Delio describes, really gives me pause and I continue to sit with this. The Kenotic God, welcoming and drawing us forward, weaning us from past without prejudice, retreating just a bit to allow for the space of our step, and opening up the horizon ever on! May we help each other ‘see’ somehow from this shared space!

  2. The Omega Center on June 1, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    The following comment is offered by the Ritiro Omega Discussion Group

    Re: Why We Need to Talk about Christianity as Planetary Faith, and Easter Message: Faith-Shaking Resurrection

    By Sr. Paula Scraba, OSF and the Allegany Franciscan Sisters from the Ritiro, NY

    It was decided that to read and reflect on Ilia’s Easter Message: Faith-Shaking Resurrection that the blog Why We Need to Talk about Christianity as Planetary Faith really is a continuation of the Easter Message. The sentence, “Christianity is a destabilizing religion,” opened the reflection as to how much of what we were taught or led to believe growing up really formed a frame of mind of a negativity to evolution. In some cases, we were not even allowed to use the word Evolution.

    After reading the blogs has really enlighten us to reflect on what we are learning is an understanding of the past. God is calling us from the future. To have a different mindset and to be patient with understanding evolution today. Others cannot force a change in mindset. For us we have to think about it. However, for the post Vatican II, generation does not have to think as much and break down an understanding of evolution in the same mindset and they are waiting for us. It is a collective consciousness from the past and dragging forward and effects of Christ coming through us.

    This new relationship is to not to hang onto, hold-on, and remain in the way things were in the past but to envelop and lead to something new and different and create a new destiny. Just as Jesus came in his time to bring a new way of thinking about relationships and a new union a new wholeness, so can we look with new eyes, with the eyes of God? It takes time and we have that time given to us. Did Jesus know what was going to happen? In addition, do we know what we are called to do today? Did Jesus know he was going to rise again? It is because of this new life centered in Love. How much fear and love are part of this evolution. The past we were afraid to talk about evolution. Can we learn to listen without fear of what is being said? The more we expose ourselves the more we understand the opposite of fear is love. In the listening, do we find God’s love, the awareness of love? This is what Jesus said to make a difference.

    The Church said after the Gospels there is no new revelation. This is the misnomer. Jesus is always revealing. This is the myth, the mystery and how the mystics thought and the unique mysticism of different religions and that God reveals over and over the changes in life. An example given was women’s role in the work place. The quote, “the direction of evolution depends on our choices and actions… Christianity is about new life.” This is the difference of us and understanding AI-the more we let others take over, we need to interact and can we transform and assist in this new life –if we want a different world? Reminded of a quote from the Amish- “We borrow the future for our children and our children’s children.” It is not about us.

  3. Mary Pat J on April 18, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    Amazing blog and responses. I think there are many who are hungry for the leadership provided here. While some really want to delve deeper and work through confusion; It means letting go of something to make time. For me that includes asking for understanding from others so I can take the time. I am really grateful to be challenged to grow with Omega. Integral Life caught and continues to feed me, but finding Ilia’s work has given me renewed hope for the Church of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. She and others have helped me breakthrough the fog, They speak to what I intuitively know within. I will take a deeper dive and get ready for Kansas in July.

  4. Alice MacDonald on April 15, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you for this clear and concise assessment of why Teilhard’s evolutionary message is so needed today. And a resounding “yes” to: “While I see an increasing interest in the relationship between science and religion, I see little to no effort to shift the paradigm of Christian life in the direction of evolution.” Institutional Catholicism nods in the direction of evolution but never addresses how it challenges our current understanding of creation, incarnation, and redemption. It would destroy the power structure on which Institutional Catholicism rests: Atonement Theology. Teilhard’s vision reconciles what I call the “Mother of all Divorce: The separation of Spirit and Matter. Heal this relationship and the “family” will dwell in peace in the “oikos” of the new heavens and the new earth, where there is an economy that meets the needs of ALL the members, equally, mutually and reciprocally. Wish I could join you in Kansas. Certainly I am already there in Spirit.

  5. Sean Ward OFS on April 14, 2018 at 10:57 am

    I think we have to pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire people. We have to be patient and kind but persistent in bringing these great ideas to their attention. Some will get the point and feel a great sense of liberation, as I did and still do; many will resist and some will become fearful and angry in that resistance. Pope Francis says in Gaudete Et Exsultate: “We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralyzed by fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping within safe bounds. Let us remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy.” (Paragraph 133)

    Many people will need to coaxed out of their closed spaces, not dragged out kicking and screaming. The new cosmology is fascinating and scary at the same time. I wonder if the explanations we give are sometimes too complicated. Is there a need for a kind of simple primer, do you think? I recommend Judy Cannato’s profound yet easy to read “Radical Amazement” to friends and I have been delighted at how excited they are by it and keen to study more about the interaction of science and religion. And then I recommend The Omega Center!

  6. Maureen Foltz on April 13, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks, Ilia… beyond the semantics “Love is a sacred reserve of energy. It is like the blood of spiritual evolution”(De Chardin)and ” To love is to be transformed into what (who) we love” ( St John of the Cross).

  7. Norma MacMaster on April 12, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Ilia Delio, thank you for carrying Teilhard’s torch for us–for the planet.


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