The death of George Floyd has sparked public outrage at the heartless show of police brutality, causing the untimely death of an innocent man. Derek Chauvin, the white Minnesota police officer who killed Floyd, worked for the police department for eighteen years and had eighteen complaints filed against him, none of which were followed through, except two in which Chauvin was issued a reprimand. I was in Washington DC when the protests erupted over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery and Breonna Taylor, all black victims of police brutality. Their deaths were utterly tragic and I felt the protestors’ rage. For a moment it felt as if history was repeating itself and that, despite fifty years of fighting for civil rights, racism was embedded in the cultural genes of America. In the words of George Santayana, “those who have not learned from the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Black Lives Matter movement may be about race but race is not its own terminus ad quem; rather, race discloses something deeper in the America psyche, a code word that stands for something genetically inscribed in culture. Genes are silent; they do not speak. However, they encode information and pass it on to subsequent generations. Cultural genes are no different; inscribed patterns of information encode patterns of thinking and behavior and exchange information within gene pools from one generation to the next. Race is manifested as skin color but the symbol of race is about ontology. It is based on an outmoded notion of biological essentialism, an obsolete tenet of Aristotle’s philosophy, but one that shaped Christian thinking. Early European Christians who settled in America believed that God created Adam as a white male and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till the earth, to be fruitful and to multiply; whiteness was part of God’s original creation and thus a higher level of being than blackness.
It is well known that Christian religious principles shaped the foundation of America; the discovery of new land was a divine inspiration to build a new Garden of Eden. For the first two hundred years, America became a land of prosperity largely on the backs of slaves; the bartering of slaves was sanctioned by the myth of the white Adam. The principles that drove white Europeans to conquer the land and own slaves also led them to study nature and develop technology. Strangely, the new principles of nature that were eventually discovered contradicted fundamental religious beliefs, such as original sin and the fall. Indeed, the relationship between science and religion became deeply conflicted in the twentieth century when Darwin’s evolution led scientists to realize there is no such thing as biological essentialism. Einstein’s theory of special relativity caused a similar revolution in physics. Quantum physics revolutionized our understanding of matter, smashing the atom so to speak, and describing a new world of deeply entangled fields of energy. In his book Implicate Order physicist David Bohm wrote: “As human beings and societies we seem separate but in our roots we are part of an indivisible whole and share in the same cosmic process.”[i] These new scientific insights were radical and integral to a new cosmology. They demanded a shift in thinking about the human person in relation to the larger whole. While science was bringing about a new worldview, institutional religion remained unaffected and unchanged, holding on to principles rooted in a static, fixed cosmos where matter is thought of in terms of substance and form. Racism stems from outdated philosophical principles embedded in institutional religion. It is a not a consequence of religion per se or the practice of religion, but the way fundamental philosophical religious principles have become embedded in the America psyche.
In the western hemisphere religion has become an outmoded social design that no longer has a function; disaffiliation signifies the disconnection of religion from the vitality of human concerns. Yet, one of the fastest growing populations are the Nones whose self-definition, “spiritual but not religious,” suggests that religion has not gone away. There is a longing for deep connectivity, community and participation. I would go so far as to say there is a longing for ultimate concern. Theologian Paul Tillich wrote that true faith leads to concern for the truly ultimate, while idolatrous faith elevates finite realities to a status of ultimacy that leads to existential disappointment or what Teilhard de Chardin called “unsatisfied theism.”[ii]
To say that racism is fundamentally a problem of religion is to say that it is essentially a problem of Greek philosophical ideas mixed with a literal reading of the Bible and inserted into minds of believers. Racism is deeply rooted; eliminating this vice will not come about through education or public policies that espouse equality. It is a problem of deconstructing the static, abstract framework of religion and renewing religion within a scientific world, so that the principles of religion are consonant with the principles of nature. Racism will not be eradicated by rearranging the furniture; rather it is a matter of burning down the house and building a new one. Einstein’s insight holds true: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”[iii]
What historian Lynn White wrote in 1967 of the ecological crisis can be equally said of the race crisis, the roots of the problem are deeply religious and the remedy must be religious as well. In the twentieth century religious thinkers, such as Alfred North Whitehead and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, saw the implications of the new science for religion. Without a new religious worldview aligned with modern science, they indicated, socialization and world order would become thwarted. They revised Christianity along the lines of evolution and quantum physics, shifting the emphasis from a philosophy of substance to a philosophy of relationality. In doing so, each thinker elaborated a God-world relationship in which God is integral to the process of evolution. The implications of their new religious paradigms could potentially change our social, political and economic orders and eliminate racism.
American culture is ambivalent with regard to religion: at once, steeped in religious principles, and yet, thoroughly secular and agnostic. We put all our talents and efforts into building a great nation, but we never learned how to build a great Soul. For this reason, I will argue, racism will continue to persist unless there is a fundamental shift in our religious worldview. I do not intend to make America into a new Christian nation, just the opposite. I intend to uproot and transform the country’s religious psyche into a new religious consciousness where all religions, including secular religion, can play a part in the healing of the nation and the healing of the earth. The key to this transformation lies in the integration of science and religion. Since religion emerges in evolution, as a function of consciousness, all religions must be aligned with the general principles of evolution, including open systems, complexity and deep relationality.
The stuff that made America “great” will not make America great again because there is no return to an illusory past. America is in evolution; it is an unfinished project in search of a future. It is a land of partials in search of a whole and what it means to be part of a whole—well this is the new religious story of America in our scientific age.
The Adam Myth
Last year I came across a very interesting article by Joel Dinerstein, “Technology and Its Discontents: On the Verge of the Posthuman,” that helped me better understand the thesis of David Noble who, in his book, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, drew a strong connection between monastic Christianity, Adam as image of God, and technological progress.[iv] As Noble points out, Christianity is based on two fundamental tenets: the creation of [male] Adam in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and the command to have dominion over nature (Gen 1:26). The religion of technology, according to Noble, emerged from early medieval monks who resurrected the symbolic ideal of the original Adam. They believed that the pre-Fallen Adam was created immortal and in the divine likeness. Because Adam was created in the image of God (Eve being created from the rib of Adam), he was given the opportunity to regain his divine likeness by using his gifts to discover, know, create and conquer. Since Eve was the source of Adam’s fall from grace, she could not be part of Adam’s redemption.
Christianity was buoyed in its patriarchal interpretation of Scripture by the philosophy of Aristotle, whose belief in the mental and biological superiority of free men to both women and natural slaves justified male rule in the household and state and gave sanction to a hierarchy of servitudes, including wifedom and slavery.[v] Aristotle clearly saw that gender, power and politics had to be necessarily aligned if humanity was to flourish. This philosophical architectonics of patriarchy and power stands behind the Christian myth of Adam, forged by medieval monks, and foundational for the Protestant agenda of progress. The myth of Adam functioned as the principal lens for interpreting human origin and purpose. White men (only) could be co-workers with God in preparing the earth for the second coming of Christ. The white, male Adam was to conquer and subdue the earth, including women and non-white people, thus making the earth a place fit for the return of Christ. The path of salvation from a fallen and sinful world required robust intellectual powers and a willingness to risk the unknown so as to bring the wild and unruly parts of the world into a system of control. Needless to say, colonization and slavery were justified by the myth of Adam. The white man was the new Adam helping to prepare the earth for the new kingdom of God.
American Myth and Religion
A word on “myth” may be in order here. “A myth,” says Mark Schorer in his luminous study of Blake, “is a large, controlling image that gives philosophical meaning to the facts of ordinary life; a myth organizes the value of experience.”[vi] Myths are the instruments by which we continually struggle to make our experience intelligible to ourselves. Without such images, experience is chaotic, fragmentary, and merely phenomenal. Not even the most rational thinker is immune to myth. Rational belief, Schorer states, is secondary to myth.[vii] Facts are less compelling than myths. As human beings, we are rational creatures not first of all but last of all; civilization emerged only yesterday from a primitive past. Belief organizes experience not because it is rational but because all belief depends on a controlling imagery, and rational belief is the formalization of that imagery. Hence a myth is not based on facts and is not necessarily true; rather it a compelling story that organizes human experience.
The American myth is, historically, the myth of Adam, a new kind of man, the lone, rugged, innocent and uncorrupted man, as Adam was before the Fall, living without Eve (and therefore free from sin and temptation) in the garden of Eden. In his classic work The American Adam (1955), R. W. B. Lewis showed how American writers secularized the Puritan ideal of a new Jerusalem by sending male loners out to the frontier, where each could work for “a restoration of Adamic perfection, knowledge, and dominion, [and] a return to Eden.”[viii] David E. Nye found that nearly all Euro-American foundational narratives of nineteenth-century frontier settlement understood their right to the land, not as the New Jerusalem of the Puritans, but as the technological transformation of untouched space, the enchantment of the new Eden.[ix]
In the mid-nineteenth century, technology and the new Adam came together at the level of national myth. Whether by the axe, the mill, the canal, the steamboat, the railroad, the dam, or the steel plow, technological progress allowed the settlers to participate in what they called a “second creation.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said that only science could bring about the “new man” and such “restoration” would owe much to technological transformation. Hence, the white settlers legitimated their presence from New England to California by putting forth technology as the agent that conquered the wilderness, thus eviscerating Native American (that is, “first creation”) claims to the land, and giving the United States nothing less than “a national myth of origin.” Nye’s analysis reveals how the concept of the renewed Adam evolved from the ideal of the individual, male Adam to a national identity, as a result of frontier experiences.[x] Instead of the symbolic ideal of a materialist, autonomous male (Adam), a group of bodies now laid claim to a new land through their participation in its (technological) improvement. The United States, as a corporate entity, became the new Adam.
It is worth noting that the American Adam myth is tied to a particular reading of Scripture in which the word of God is paramount. The myth originated in early Christianity and perpetuated as part of Catholic orthodoxy. Mysogeny and slavery were implicit in the Scriptures; mysogeny was based on the incomplete Eve created from the rib of Adam (Gen 2:22), and slavery was inherited from Pagan Rome and supported by New Testament writers such as Philemon, who owned a slave by the name of Onesimus (Phil 1:16). The Protestant rejection of Roman Catholic authority led to a single-handed reliance on the Word of God: sola Scriptura. Interestingly, the Scriptures that formed the white version of Christianity to pillage and conquer land and people were the same Scriptures that formed a spirit of liberation and solidarity among Black Slaves. The Scriptures that were used to justify slavery were the same Scriptures that gave courage to run-away slaves in pursuit of freedom. The ambivalence of the Scriptures was revelatory of the elusive Christian God.
Biblical literalism became prominent in the nineteenth century, as Darwin’s evolution posed immense challenges to belief in God’s special creation and, in particular, to the story of Adam in the Book of Genesis. Protestant theologians sought to defend what they saw as Protestant orthodoxy. Fundamentalism as a movement became active in the 1910s after the release of The Fundamentals, a twelve-volume set of essays written by advocates of conservative Christianity. Modernists on the other hand wanted to update Christianity in view of the new science. They denied biblical miracles and argued that God manifests himself through the social evolution of society; Fundamentalists argued for biblical inerrancy and the literal word of the Bible. Tensions developed between evangelical leaders over biblical criticism in the North, while Southerners remained unified in their opposition to both evolution and biblical criticism (Marsden 1980, 1991). These latent tensions rose to the surface after World War I in what came to be called the fundamentalist/modernist split.
While the Book of Genesis is prerequisite reading for the Book of America, the role of religion in the formation of America is nothing short of ambivalent. The religious spirit that drove Europeans to establish new life in America would prove to be both destructive and liberating, disclosing a God who is nothing less than paradoxical. Nowhere is this elusive religious spirit more prominent than in the areas of technology and space exploration.
Religion and Science
In nineteenth century Europe, most of the leading scientists were Christian and the basis for their discoveries, according to Noble, was the myth of Adam. Man was to cooperate with God in establishing the new kingdom on earth. As Noble writes, “modern technology and modern faith are neither complements nor opposites . . .the technological enterprise is an essentially religious endeavor.” The new Kingdom was to be the new Eden, a vision of Utopia, where life would flourish in a renewed Godly order of creation. The freedom of European Protestant Christians to create and discover prospered in the background of the Galileo affair, in which the Catholic Church distanced itself from the Copernican revolution by rejecting Galileo’s “Dialogue of the Two Great World Systems,” placing the Italian scientist under house arrest. Like Galileo, however, Protestant scientists were driven by religious aims; to know how nature works was, in a sense, to discover how God works.
The list of prominent Christian scientists is noteworthy. Charles Darwin was originally an Episcopalian, so too was Robert Boyle, the chemist who discovered the relationship between compression and expansion of a gas at constant temperature, known as Boyle’s Law. Sir Isaac Newton had a strange twist of Anglican orthodoxy but can also be included here. The point is, science was as much an intellectual endeavor as it was a religious one. To discover and know the things of creation was to regain divine likeness. God’s command to have dominion over the earth and to be stewards of creation was taken literally, impelling Christopher Columbus on his discovery voyage and the Puritans to settle in America. The mastery of nature was deeply tied to the colonization of Native American peoples and the import of African slaves to work the land: all were part of the Adam’s rise to spiritual perfection. Scholars point out that the fusion of progress, technology, and religion into a white mythology has been continually embedded into the history of the United States. Science and technology are “white magic” (to use Franco Moretti’s term), and the awe and reverence reserved for God were also directed toward advancement of the sciences and development of technology. Although American science and technology were at the heart of the new Garden of Eden, it was not without irony. The Baconian-like mastery of nature, which drove science and technology in the nineteenth century, gave rise to new principles of nature that would eventually destroy the Adam myth in the twentieth century. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the areas of space exploration and evolution.
Science Challenges Religion
From the 1950s through the 1970s, nearly all of NASA’s key positions were filled by evangelical Christians. NASA’s director, Werner von Braun was an ex-Nazi rocket scientist, father of the U.S. space program, and born-again Christian. Von Braun said that the purpose of sending men into space was “to send his Son to the other worlds to bring the gospel to them” and to create a “new beginning” for mankind. In the 1950s, scientists and physicists believed new planets and space colonies might become a safety valve for a planet poisoned by nuclear winter. Physicist Freeman Dyson wrote the “Space Traveler’s Manifesto” in 1958, and he supported the development of nuclear energy to secure a power source for a starship that was mankind’s best chance to survive the apocalypse. The claim was supported by Rod Hyde, NASA’s group leader for nuclear development: “What I want more than anything is to get the human race into space . . . It’s the future. If you stay down here some disaster is going to strike and you’re going to be wiped out.” Directed by the “spiritual men” of NASA, humanity could potentially restart on another planet so that human beings could aim for a new redemptive future, especially if earthly life turned disastrous.
To send men into space, however, scientists had to create devices that could be strapped to the astronauts to maintain physiological function. In 1960 Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline coined the term “cyborg” to describe the new “cybernetic” astronaut, a mixture of biology and machine, enabling the continuation of biological function in space. Little did the scientists realize that they had stumbled across a fundamental insight of nature, namely, the ability of nature to be hybridized, or the plasticity of nature. The cyborg expresses the capacity of biological nature to be joined to or hybridized with non-biological nature, such as a machine or animal. The implications of creating the astronaut were not apparent at the time, but in seeking to do God’s will through space exploration, Evangelical scientists inadvertently gave birth to the cyborg.
The rise of the cyborg was so subtle that one could say, a funny thing happened on the way to outer space: Adam died. The implications of the cyborg for personhood and planetary life were astounding but male scholars largely ignored the discovery. Rather, the significance of the cyborg was realized by women philosophers who saw hybridity as the revelation of a new type of personhood. In 1985, social philosopher Donna Haraway wrote “The Cyborg Manifesto” which brought prominent attention to the cyborg as a symbol of hybridity: nature is not fixed. Cyborgs appear where boundaries are transgressed, Anne Kull writes, “the conceptual boundaries of what it means to be human or what we human beings mean by nature have never been less secure.”[xi] Emerging from and integrated into a chaotic world rather than a position of mastery and control removed from it, “the cyborg has the potential not only to disrupt persistent dualisms (body and soul; black and white) but also to refashion our thinking about the theoretical understanding of the body as a material entity and a discursive process.”[xii]
The human cyborg means that subjectivity is emergent rather than given, distributed rather than located solely in consciousness; “boundaries have meaning only for particular, locatable, and embodied subjects.”[xiii] The most powerful thing that happens in the cyborg is that the dualisms we often use to distinguish human being, nature, culture, and technology are rendered obsolete. The cyborg signifies that there are no fixed ontological distinctions. This, in a sense, is what Darwin discovered as well. Lynn Margulis, a renowned microbiologist who died in 2011, argued that the blurring of technology and biology is not really all that new. She observed that the shells of clams and snails are a kind of technology dressed in biological clothing. Is there really that much difference between the vast skyscrapers we build or the malls in which we shop, even the cars we drive around, and the hull of a seed? Seeds and clam shells, which are not alive, hold in them a little bit of water and carbon and DNA, ready to replicate when the time is right, yet we don’t distinguish them from the life they hold. Why should it be any different with office buildings, hospitals and space shuttles? Put another way, we may make a distinction between living things and the tools those things happen to create, but nature does not. Nature does not distinguish between the clamshell and the clam, or the first flint knife and the human that made it.[xiv] There is a blurring of boundaries between the natural and the technological. Nature is a social construct so that neither the artifice (such as the knife) nor the organism alone is adequate any more as a cultural root symbol.
Evolution is a process of ongoing change and complexity. Given enough time and the right conditions, biological species will select out the properties and traits necessary for the sustainment of life. Within biological niches and the limits of resources, species can adapt, regroup and unite such that new life forms can emerge. Biological life is aptly symbolized by the cyborg; hybridity reflects the plasticity of nature. Nature is a standing reserve, Martin Heidegger wrote, the pluripotentiality of being itself. Modern biology, therefore, dispels biological essentialism. Neither race nor gender is biologically determined or fixed; there is no essential maleness or “whiteness” or “blackness.” Nor is there is an original Adam in a Garden of Eden. Evolution refutes the idea of original sin due to a single couple (monogenism); indeed, monogenism contradicts evolution. Even more challenging to the myth of Adam is the paleontological data that suggests the modern human probably emerged out of Africa—not Europe.[xv] While science is always an approximation of truth, scientific statements are reliable in so far as they support experimental evidence. In this respect, it must be concluded that the religious principles that drove white men to buy and sell black people in the name of God’s kingdom was not only destructive but actually against the principles of nature and hence against the vision of a loving Creator. The principles of modern science belie racism and genderism.
Rise of the Posthuman
Given the new reality brought about by modern science, it is reasonable to suggest that a new American cyborgian life is emerging; a new type of person is on the horizon. In his book The Allure of Machinic Life John Johnston argues that following the Second World War, two distinctively new types of machine life appeared. The first, the computer, was initially associated with war and death—breaking secret codes and calculating artillery trajectories and the forces required to trigger atomic bombs. But the second type, a new kind of liminal machine, was associated with a new type of life, inasmuch as it exhibited many of the behaviors that characterize living entities—homeostasis, self-directed action, adaptability, and reproduction. Johnston is referring here to the advent of the computer as a thinking machine. He states, “Our human capacity as toolmakers (homo faber) has also made us the vehicle and means of realization for new forms of machinic life.”[xvi] He continues by saying that artificial life is actually producing a new kind of entity or being which is at once technical object and simulated collective subject.
Johnston’s machine-human is the cyborg, the new hybrid spawned by the dreams of science and technology. Katherine Hayles coined the term “posthuman” to describe this new hybrid person. In her book, How We Became Posthuman, she writes: “The posthuman does not really mean the end of humanity. It signals instead the end of a certain conception of the human, a conception that may have applied at best to that fraction of humanity who had the wealth, power and leisure to conceptualize themselves as autonomous beings exercising their will through individual agency and choice.”[xvii] Hayles sees the modern liberal subject coming to an end. Posthumanism belongs to “the new materialisms,” a term which signifies a new relationship between mind and matter, arising from the insights of quantum physics. Matter is “not a fixed property of things” but “generated and generative,” so that nature and culture are entwined, mutually agential, differentiating and entangled. The posthuman does not presume separateness of anything or any pre-existent entities but reflects the new materiality of deeply entangled fields of energy. We are wholes within wholes.
If we have not paid attention to modern science, we will find the new scientific worldview difficult to digest and likely reject it. However, computer technology is rerouting nature into new machinic life and giving rise to a new type of person. Leaving behind the binary liberal subject of modernity (black and white, male and female), the posthuman signifies a new type of hybrid person, a “hyper-personal” person of interconnected life. Continuous interaction with electronic devices does not ignore the human person as agent; however, agency is now reconfigured as distributed, interactive agential realism. Posthumanism emphasizes deep relationality and entangled life, as a new humanism develops at the borderline of simulation and materiality. Karen Barad uses the term “agential intra-action” meaning that what is pre-existing is relations from which relata (that which relates) emerge. The grammar of the body is shifting from exclusive concern with questions of race and gender to a creative interrogation of what happens to questions of consciousness, power and culture in a computational culture. The posthuman therefore is no longer the liberal subject of modernity living from a will to power but the person who now lives in the inter-material space of relationships. The logic of posthuman personhood is a logic of complexified relationships that opens a creative space of engagement. One lives not in a binary mode (me and you) but in the creative space of interrelatedness (me and you) so that relationships ontologize relata (that which relates.) One finds one’s being, therefore, not within oneself but beyond oneself, in the relationships that form oneself. The “I” is a dynamic ongoing construction of constitutive relationships formed by the constant flow of shared information. The posthuman lives from the splice of interconnected relationships. In this respect the posthuman is racially blind and gender neutral.
The Remaking of Religion: Teilhard’s Vision
Posthuman life is consonant with the principles of biological life; systems work along the lines of information, cybernetics and complexity, reflecting the fact that nature is intrinsically relational and dynamic. A new philosophy of relationality emerged in the early twentieth century through the work of Harvard mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, who developed a way of thinking about religion in an age of science. Christianity had become a footnote to Plato, Whitehead lamented, and the new science of evolution and quantum physics opened up new opportunities to bring science and religion into a unified field of knowledge. Whitehead’s “process reality” is based on relational experience and emphasizes becoming over static being. He described a mutual relationship between God and world and said that God’s life can be affected by created reality. Whitehead’s God is not the vengeful God of the Old Testament but a loving God who depends on the dynamism of creation for the fullness of divine life. For Whitehead, life in God is an ongoing adventure of dynamic reality, as he wrote, “the many become one and are increased by one.”[xviii] The God-world relationship is one of creative evolution.
The ideas of the Anglican Whitehead were complemented by the ideas of the Catholic Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A paleontologist by training, Teilhard saw the need to reconcile Christianity and evolution, if faith was to have real value in light of modern science. Evolution, he said, is neither theory nor particular fact but a “dimension” to which all thinking in whatever area must conform.[xix] He rejected the idea that religion was a strictly personal matter. “To my mind,” he wrote, “the religious phenomenon, taken as a whole, is simply the reaction of the universe as such, of collective consciousness and human action in process of development.”[xx] Religion expresses faith in the whole, manifested in individual thought or self-consciousness. If we are to progress or evolve, Teilhard said, we must release ourselves from religious individualism and confront the general religious experience, which is cosmic and evolutionary, and involve ourselves in it.[xxi]
Whereas Catholic and Protestant Christianity shrunk religion to the limits of the individual soul, Teilhard liberated religion from anthropocentrism and placed it at the heart of evolution. Religion, from the Latin re-ligare, refers to the binding power of existence, the orientation and horizon of life’s development. What he recognized is that religion does not begin on the level of humankind; rather, religion begins with the genesis of the universe. He wrote, “Religion, born of the earth’s need for the disclosing of a god is related and coextensive with not the individual man but the whole of humankind.”[xxii]
Teilhard was aware that Darwinian evolution could not adequately account for mind in relation to matter. He held to a dual-aspect monist position to explain evolution, that is, mind and matter are two aspects of the same reality. Life, he wrote, is “a specific effect of matter turned complex; a property that is present in the entire cosmic stuff.”[xxiii] He considered matter and consciousness not as “two substances” or “two different modes of existence, but as two aspects of the same cosmic stuff.”[xxiv] From the Big Bang onward there is a “withinness” and “withoutness,” or what he called, radial energy and tangential energy.[xxv] Consciousness is the withinness or “inside” of matter and attraction is the “outside” of matter; hence, matter is both attractive (tangential) and transcendent (radial). Evolution is the rise of complexity-consciousness.
By including consciousness as part of the material world, Teilhard opened up a place for religion in nature, transcending the abstraction of supernaturalism and reframing religion as the depth and breadth of evolution. Religion is an emergent dimension of matter itself. He wrote: “To my mind, the religious phenomenon, taken as a whole, is simple the reaction of the universe as such, of collective consciousness and human action in process of development.”[xxvi] Although religion is manifested in individual thought or self-consciousness, if we are to evolve, we must release ourselves from religious individualism and confront the general religious experience, which is cosmic and evolutionary, and involve ourselves in it.[xxvii]
Teilhard saw that the relationship between cosmos and religion is so fundamental to the earth that, in 1916, he wrote, “Religion and evolution should neither be confused nor divorced. They are destined to form one single continuous organism, in which their respective lives prolong, are dependent on, and complete one another, without being identified or lost. . . . Since it is in our age that the duality has become so markedly apparent, it is for us to effect this synthesis.”[xxviii] Religion is biologically the energetic counterpart of physical evolution “in which the free energy of the earth is animated and directed.”[xxix] In his essay, “The Spirit of the Earth” (1931), Teilhard said that the true function of religion is “to sustain and spur on the progress of life.”[xxx] Thus, the religious function increases in the same direction and to the same extent as “hominization”; the emergence and growth of religion corresponds to the growth of humankind. When religion is stunted, stifled or cut off, humankind falls into chaos. Religion and evolution belong together; one without the other leads to what Whitehead called, a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”
Teilhard wrote as a Christian but he did not see Christianity as normative of religion; rather Christianity is normative of evolution, a religion of hybridity and synthesis. Jesus is the exemplary cyborg, revealing the capacity of the human person to become a new type of person through the power of divine love; the wild boundary crosser, who shows “the arbitrariness and constructed nature of what is considered the norm.”[xxxi] Jesus Christ is not a divine Superman rescuing poor Adam from a sinful world; rather Jesus symbolizes divinity entangled with a chaotic world in evolution. “The Incarnation is so contrary to common sense,” Kull writes, “it destabilizes reified categories.”[xxxii] As an evolutionary biologist, Teilhard rejected the doctrine of original sin and opted for the Scotistic notion of the primacy of Christ and hence the primacy of love. Love is the reason and purpose for all cosmic life because God is love and love is relational, unitive and transcendent. “The physical structure of the universe,” Teilhard wrote, “is love.”
Teilhard said that within evolution there is a centering point of unfolding unity that he called “Omega,” an intrinsic principle empowering evolution and yet transcendent to the process. From the perspective of Christian faith and scripture, Omega is God, the personal source of creation, who is deeply immersed in evolution and its goal. He held to a complementary relationship between God and world and posited that creation is integral to God. He believed that without creation, something would be absolutely lacking to God, considered in the fullness not of his being but of his act of union. He did not hold to a separate doctrine of creation but saw creative union as the integral core of creation. Creative union is the act of creation as an act of immanent unification; the world is in process of being created by the gradual unification of multiplicity. He suggested that multiplicity is dependent on unity and on some final unity, which does not need any principle beyond itself to unify it, since it is “already One.” God is not behind us; God is up ahead. Thus “creation” is to be located not at the “beginning” of the world but at its “end.” The Garden of Eden is the fulfillment of cosmic life, not the beginning of it.
Teilhard anticipated a new “religion of the earth,” a new awareness of a dynamic God who is rising up in evolution through new levels of consciousness. God cannot be regarded “simply as the dynamic cause of the existence of creatures,” Karl Rahner wrote, “but as the dynamic ground of their becoming.”[xxxiii] God is not the “big guy in the sky” watching over us. God is the ultimate horizon of existence itself, as Tillich wrote, not a being but being itself, the ultimate depth of existence. Rather than looking for the failed God of the philosophers, Tillich focused on the human passion for meaning–what gives fire to our lives—so too did Teilhard. Even a critical, logical, and strictly scientific analysis of the human situation reveals the presence of something unconditional within self and world. Rising up from human awareness of finitude is an awareness of the infinite. The background of everything that exists is another existence. God, according to Tillich, is not open to argumentation because God is not something that can be proved or disproved. God does merely exist; rather, God is existence (Exod. 3:14 “I Am”). He wrote:
It would be a great victory for Christian apologetics if the words “God” and “existence” were very definitely separated except in the paradox of God becoming manifest under the conditions of existence. . . .God does not exist. [He] is being-itself beyond essence and existence. To argue that God exists is to deny him. . . . In arguments for the existence of God the world is given and God is sought. . . . But, if we derive God from the world, he cannot be that which transcends the world infinitely. He is the “missing link”. . .the uniting force between the res cogitans and the res extensa, or the end of the causal regression in answer to the question, “Where from?” (Thomas Aquinas), or the teleological intelligence directing the meaningful processes of reality—if not identical with these processes (Whitehead). In each of these cases God is “world,” a missing part of that from which he is derived in terms of conclusions.[xxxiv]
Teilhard’s God is not a judgmental God but an empowering God, a God who invites us to get up and see the world with new eyes, to go out into the streets and fight for justice, and to reshape human systems into interrelated systems of connected life. Love liberated Jesus into a new consciousness of wholeness. He lived on a new level of existence, free from the oppressive powers of the world and from the past. He saw all living beings as part of himself.[xxxv] His religious consciousness was not a narrow vertical ladder to God but a wide horizontal mutual relatedness of companionship and community. Christianity was never meant to be a hierarchy of ontological distinctions, with white people at the top. Rather, it was meant to be a religion based on a new law of love, a performative religion, where love becomes a conceptual determination at the junction of theory and practice and where any strictly theological truth, one that has its roots in God, is no longer content with a unique objective determination but takes on a performative sense, one that is transforming for the subject that states it, or it does not exist.
Teilhard de Chardin laid out a bold vision for a new religion of evolution, indicating that we must either make a radical shift in our thinking or undergo annihilation. World religions must align with the principles of evolution and converge, sharing their spiritual wisdom and energies for the renewal of life. Both Whitehead and Teilhard saw that a new worldview synchronized with the new principles of nature depends on the integration of science and religion. In a 1925 essay, Whitehead said, “religion will not gain its power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science.” Similarly, Teilhard wrote, “religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge—the only one which can embrace the past and future of evolution as to contemplate, measure and fulfill them.”[xxxvi] To divide or compartmentalize these disciplines into separate fields of knowledge, as we continue to do in higher education and institutional religion, is to divide the world; and a world divided will fall into ruin.
A New Axial Age
Science and technology have ushered in a new axial age of consciousness, what Ewert Cousins called the “second axial age.” While the first axial period produced the self-reflective individual, the Christian monk, the lone pioneer, the second axial period is giving rise to the hyperconnected person who is the ecological person, the interbeing in search of community. Technology has fundamentally altered our view of the world and ourselves in the world. The tribe is no longer the local community but the global community which can now be accessed immediately via television, internet, satellite communication and travel. “For the first time since the appearance of human life on our planet,” Cousins writes, “all of the tribes, all of the nations, all of the religions are beginning to share a common history.”[xxxvii] People are becoming more aware of belonging to humanity as a whole and not to a specific group. What is interesting about Second Axial Period consciousness is that the whole of nature as a phenomenon reemerges as a global tribe, unus mundus, a seamless thread of humanity woven into the earth’s elements and emerging from those same elements. The second axial period, according to Cousins, is “communal, global, ecological and cosmic.”[xxxviii] It is not merely a shift from the first axial period; it is an advancement in the whole evolutionary process. Religions are challenged to bring about a new integration of the spiritual and the material, of sacred energy and secular energy into a total global human energy.[xxxix]
A new religious consciousness calls for a new type of person who will find relationship with the divine to be a deep source of inspiration for all activity in the world, one with a new spirituality, divested of insularity and directed toward a planetary consciousness. We need a new type of religion that can enkindle a new type of organism emerging in evolution whose destiny it is to realize new possibilities for evolving life on this planet.[xl] If there is a role for religious institutions in the twenty-first century then it must be redefined along the lines of evolution and complex dynamical systems, where communities of faith live in the flow of creative energies and in relation to the wider environment.[xli]
Beatrice Bruteau, a disciple of Teilhard de Chardin, astutely noted, “a genuine revolution must be a gestalt shift in the whole way of seeing our relations to one another so that our behavior patterns are reformed from the inside out.” Elsewhere she writes: “An entire attitude, mind-set, way of identifying self and others and perceiving the world has to shift first, before any talk of economic, political, and social arrangements can made. Anything else is premature, useless and possibly dangerous.” What Bruteau points out is that when the oppressed rise up in resistance, they move from one end of the axis to the other: those who are dominated wish to become themselves dominant. Such movement, she claims constitutes only a rebellion, not a revolution. It does not bring about the necessary change. “A significant future will not be born,” she states, “until the orientation of the axis itself has been shifted.”[xlii] This too is what Whitehead and Teilhard de Chardin realized; the new axis of consciousness must be a realignment of science and religion.
Religion and Evolution
The religious principles that originally forged America into a new Eden are now the religious principles that are dividing the country based on race, gender and religion. The myth of the white, male Adam in search of spiritual perfection and the blessing of God is now the racist Adam; the Adam who strove for dominion over nature has crushed nature into fossil fuels and expendable land production. The Adam myth is so woven into the fabric of America that it no longer depends on the practice of religion. Religion built America and broke it down; the roots of our problems are deeply religious and the resolution to our problems must be religious as well. Nothing else will suffice; no public policy, no course on racism, no mandate, nothing short of a radical shift in religious consciousness can reset the dial of America’s future.
But it is not religion as a conceptual area of study that necessarily needs revision. One trip to the conference of the American Academy of Religion will show that religion is alive in the halls of the academy. It is religion as a function of evolution that is at stake; in this regard the academy as well as the institutions of religion, including all monotheistic faiths, have failed. We have no understanding of what religion means as a process of evolution and, in particular, the evolution of consciousness. Religion, like the humanities at large, continues to be taught as a discipline independent of evolution and modern science. In the institutional churches (Catholic and Protestant), religion is preached as a human experience, independent of science, and often based on outmoded ideas. The United States has become a powerhouse of science and technology but institutional religion remains tied to a static past, rejecting evolution as the operative narrative of biological life, and espousing religious beliefs based on ancient metaphysical principles.
Yet, evolution continues, in fact, it has accelerated with computer technology. Pluralism has become normative of our new awareness, thanks to the complex levels of information via technology. Google America is not Martin Luther King’s America. We may look like separate races but in our cyberspace connections we are part of an indivisible whole and share in the same cosmic flow of information. This became apparent to me when I viewed the protests around the country over the death of George Floyd. The protestors were not black men and women accompanied by a few white people in solidarity, as in the 1965 march to Selma Alabama. Now the protestors are multi-racial cyborgs, digitally-connected interbeings sharing bonds of anger and sadness over the death of an innocent black man. Indeed, the whole world mourned the death of George Floyd because life on Google earth means what affects one part of the globe affects the whole globe.
The cyborg-spawned posthuman America has replaced the melting pot of the white man’s world with a fusion of disparate identities, including race and gender, forging a new type of person. A new type of relational being is emerging; ontologies are becoming redefined because meaningful existence now emerges in the “splices,” the spaces in-between where coded information complexifies. The posthuman is gender fluid, racially neutral and interspiritual. The fluidity of boundaries and the recursive loops of ongoing identity construction means that no category can adequately define personhood. Rather the “self” is an ongoing discovery and creative process; the soul too is a psycho-social process of ongoing construction. Human persons today, especially the digital natives of younger generations, know themselves more in connection with others than in oneself; it is precisely connections with others that continuously defines the self.
Younger generations are looking for existential purpose; consumerism and careerism are empty of meaning and exhausting of energies. A renewed religious consciousness of ultimate concern that draws persons into community of ultimate value and continuously negotiates the values of life together is much more attractive to posthumans in the second axial period. To realize that every relationship bears within it a God dimension is to become acutely conscious of how we relate to one another. God and world come together through the energies of love and, in coming together, they give rise to a rich unity of life. God is not waiting for us; God is rising up within us to become God for us. Evolution, in a sense, renders Nietzsche’s obituary notice, “God is dead,” a historical lie. God is not so much dead; rather God is not quite born.[xliii] An awakening of the God dimension of our lives leads us toward one another and toward a deepening of relationships of all aspects of planetary life. Philip Hefner uses the term “created co-creator” to describe human activity in relation to God. Our work and actions affect God’s own relational life. When we contribute to the building of the world and to developing ourselves, we make a positive difference to God’s life. To act from a depth of love, compassion, peace and justice is to enact God’s presence in the world. We are responsible for the future of the world and we are responsible for the future of God. Religion is to liberate and empower co-creative life so that we may work with God toward a planet of flourishing life.
Co-Creating a New America
American the great is now America the evolver. The sciences and technologies that were meant to create a new Garden of Eden now redefine that garden as an emerging process of life. America has been liberated by its own inventions and a new America is being born, not based on the past but on the future. Quantum physics suggests there is no past; there is only the present on the chaotic edge where the future unfolds.[xliv] This is not to deny the history of racism; it is say, however, that racism persists as a present reality but it belies the fundamental roots of nature: intrinsic relationality. It is worth noting that the brilliant mind behind the liberation of space and time as absolutes, and matter as substance, was Jewish. Albert Einstein was not burdened by the myth of Adam and creatively refashioned our basic understanding of reality, leading him to exclaim
A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.[xlv]
I envision a new America that will wake up to a new reality of relational life where a power of irresistible divine love empowers the heart of life. I envision a new America of posthuman life where religion is first a field of awareness accompanied by practices that orient human energies toward unitive life. Religious paths, including doctrines, prayers and rituals, are secondary to the religious energy field. All religions are welcome to participate and contribute to a new emerging wholeness.
To reframe religion in a scientific age is to restore the depth dimension of science itself. If religion has played a critical role in racism, so too has scientific reductionism. By reducing everything to the smallest common denominator we have parceled out the depth dimension that holds anything in existence, from a quark to a carbon atom to a human person. Higher education plays a significant role here by educating through drill-bits, that is, by drilling down bits of information into hyperspecialized disciplines. We send graduates out into the world who know a lot about very little and are unable to make sense of complex reality. More over, the academy is notorious for demanding a consciousness of critical judgment in which biases are reinforced; the most difficult minds to change belong to academics. A constant atmosphere of bias judgment enkindles the racist psyche in which a consciousness of racism extends beyond color to include gender, religion and sexual orientation. In this respect, institutions of education must also be held accountable for the violence of racism. I envision higher education to remap the learning process by complexifying disciplines. Science needs to be taught with a religious dimension, and religion needs to be taught within a scientific worldview. Meditation is essential to a world in evolution; building the inner soul can empower a new vision of the world by integrating science and religion. In a world of chaos and complexity, meditation is essential to how we think and act in the flux and flow of change. The medieval theologian, Bonaventure wrote: “Lack of self-knowledge makes for faulty knowledge in all other matters.”
Racism is a deep, powerful reality of experience. To be black is to be the object of a white, shallow consciousness of superiority. The recent death of Ahmed Aubrey is a case in point: a black man jogging down the street is mistaken for a robber and shot to death. I do not know if the killers were religious or not but it does not matter; the myth of Adam was inscribed in their cultural genes. Despite the persistence of racism and bigotry in the United States, there is a radical change taking place in the remapping of religious consciousness. Nature does not tolerate division and finds new ways to transcend obstacles that thwart, distort or destroy because life seeks more life. This is the basis of the posthuman who is less concerned about the color of skin or gender and more concerned about sharing a community of life. American life is becoming posthuman where a new myth is seeking to be born, one not based on race, gender or salvation but on wholeness, community and sustainable life together.
America the great can become America the evolver and help shape our yearning for justice and unity but our addiction to science and technology must change. As Robert Geraci as shown, American technology is suffused with Judeo-Christian beliefs; however these are no longer based on religious practice and doctrine but on the power of technology to digitize existence. Technology cannot fulfill the longings of the human heart; only the deepest energies of love, which include compassion and forgiveness can bind us together. Love alone can bring us to another universe, Teilhard wrote, because love sees with the eye of the heart. We will ultimately be disappointed if we place all our hopes on scientific progress because science cannot give us what we seek, ultimate meaning and value. The key to our future lies in relational wholeness. Only together can we co-create a new America where there will be neither black nor white, slave or free, male or female but all will be one in a new power of love, a nation empowered from within by a new religious consciousness, oriented toward the flourishing of life.
[i] David Bohm, Wholeness and Implicate Order (London: Routledge, 2002 reprint), 105.
[ii] Paul Tillich, “What is Faith?” in Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), 13; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, tr. René Hague (New York: William Collins Sons, 1969).
[iii] Albert Einstein, “Letter 1950”
[iv] Joel Dinerstein, “Technology and Its Discontents: On the Verge of the Posthuman,” American Quarterly 58.3 (2006); David Noble, The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Penguin Books, 1999).
[v] Horowitz, 187-188.
[vi] Mark Schorer, William Blake: The Politics of Vision (New York, 1959), 25 -6.
[viii] Joel Dinerstein, “Technology and Its Discontents,” American Quarterly 58.3 (September 2006): 575.
[ix] Dinerstein, “Technology and Its Discontents,” 577.
[x] Dinerstein, “Technology and Its Discontents,” 577.
[xi] Ann Kull, “Speaking Cyborg Culture,” 2001, 50.
[xii] Ann Kull, “Cyborg, Embodiment and Incarnation,” Currents in Theology and Mission 28 nos. 3-4 (2001): 282.
[xiii] Ann Kull, “Cyborg, Embodiment and Incarnation,” 281.
[xv] Denis Edwards, Ecology at the Heart of Faith: The Change of the Heart That Leads to a New Way of Living on Earth (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), 12–13; Smithsonian, “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” https://humanorigins.si.edu/research/climate-and-human-evolution/climate-effectshuman-evolution.
[xvi] John Johnston, The Allure of Machinic Life: Cybernetics, Artificial Life, and the New AI (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), 12.
[xvii] N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 286.
[xviii] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (eds.), New York: Free Press, 1978 Corrected 1929 Edition), 21.
[xix] Robert North, Teilhard and the Creation of the Soul (New York: Bruce, 1966), 49.
[xx] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “How I Believe,” in Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York: William Collins & Sons, 1971), 118 – 19.
[xxi] Teilhard de Chardin,”How I Believe,” 118.
[xxii] Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, 118.
[xxiii] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Man’s Place in Nature, trans. Noel Lindsay (New York: Collins, 1966), 34
[xxiv] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, tr. Bernard Wall (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 56 – 64.
[xxv] Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenon of Man, 56 – 64.
[xxvi] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “How I Believe,” in Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York: William Collins & Sons, 1971), 118 -19.
[xxvii] Teilhard de Chardin, “How I Believe,” 118.
[xxviii] Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, 179–180.
[xxix] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Science and Christ, tr. René Hague (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 100
[xxx] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, tr. J. M. Cohen (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), p. 44
[xxxi] Anne Kull, “Embodiment and Incarnation,” 284.
[xxxii] Kull, “Embodiment and Incarnation,” 284.
[xxxiii] Denis Edwards, Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 2004), 46.
[xxxiv] Paul Tillich Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 205.
[xxxv] Jim Marion, Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000), 8.
[xxxvi] Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 285.
[xxxvii] Ewert H. Cousins, Christ of the 21st Century (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1992), 7-10.
[xxxviii] Cousins, Christ of the 21st Century, 10.
[xxxix] Cousins, “Teilhard’s Concept of Religion,” 13.
[xl] This idea is actually expressed by Julian Huxley in his introduction to Teilhard’s Phenomenon of Man, 20; however it aptly sums up Teilhard’s vision.
[xli] See for example Joseph Bracken’s rethinking Church as open system in his book Church as Dynamic Life-System: Shared Ministries and Common Responsibilities (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2019).
[xlii] Beatrice Bruteau, “Neo-Feminism and the Next Revolution in Consciousness,” Cross Currents XXVII (1977): 171.
[xliii] Loriliai Biernacki, “Panentheism and Technology: The Immanence of Rage,” in How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere, ed. Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton (Rhinebeck, NY: Monkfish Book Publ. Co., 2018), 129.
[xliv] Julian Barbour, The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics (Orion, 2004).
[xlv] Albert Einstein, “Letter 1950” New York Times.