In 1953, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote an essay entitled, “The Agony of Our Age: A World That Is Asphyxiating,” in which he pointed out that after eons of slow expansion, the human species has entered a phase of compression. Every part of the globe is now inhabited by the human species, and we are confronted by a new Earth reality: limited natural resources and an expanding population.
The internet and mass media have shrunk the globe even further by seamlessly linking minds across national borders and across different languages and cultures. So, on one hand, we have a rich variety of human persons linked by common interests, and on the other hand, an expanding population competing for limited resources and land. This flood of sheer humanity, Teilhard wrote, is seeping through every fissure and we are becoming enervated both intellectually and physically.
Despite our networked world, we find ourselves in a disagreeable closeness of interaction; a continual friction between individuals who are alien or hostile to one another; a mechanization of persons in the corporate collective mentality of big business; and the increasing insecurity of daily life with national threats of terrorism and nuclear war. Our capacity to breathe freely has become severely compromised.Teilhard wrote:
Just like a train in the rush hour — the earth is coming to be a place on which we simply cannot breathe. And this asphyxiation explains the violent methods employed by nations and individuals in their attempt to break loose and to preserve, by isolation, their customs, their language and their country. A useless attempt, moreover, since passengers continue to pile into the railway carriage.
Instead of being exasperated by these nuisances from which we all suffer, or waiting vaguely for things to settle down, would we not do better to ask ourselves whether, as a matter of solid experiential fact, there may not possibly be, first, a reassuring explanation of what is going on, and secondly, an acceptable issue to it?
Indeed, what is going on? This is the question we are asking ourselves around the globe today. Teilhard thought we needed to reframe our question. Instead of asking, “what is happening?”, we should ask, “what lies ahead?” For the one thing we hold together, on every continent and in every language, is the future. Evolution is the description of cosmic life open to the future.
Evolution is another way of speaking about change and complexity. Life is dynamic and moving toward something more: eppur si muove, as Teilhard wrote. All life is changing, including divine life. God is changing and we are changing. And it is precisely because God is changing that we are changing; and because we are changing, God is changing. This fundamental reality of change, embraced by process thinkers but rejected by Catholic theologians, must awaken us to a new reality. The insistence on divine and human essentialism (as if we actually knew what nature is), which both monotheistic religions and political systems live by, is killing us. New emergent capacities in nature, such as hybridization, show us that there are no essential natures. Rather, to live in an evolutionary spirit is to let go of structures that prevent convergence and a deepening of consciousness, and assume new structures that are consonant with creativity, inspiration and development. Alfred North Whitehead noted in the early 20th century that creativity is the ultimate principle of life, including God’s life, an idea rejected by Catholic theology. However, without creativity and novelty in nature, we humans would simply not exist.
Evolution requires trust in the process of life itself; from a faith perspective, there is a power at the heart of life that is divine and lovable. In a sense, we are challenged to lean into life’s changing patterns and attend to the new patterns emerging in our midst.To live in openness to the future is to live with a sense of creativity and participation; to make wholes out of partials, to risk, get involved, challenge what is static and fixed by developing new models of practice and beliefs that energize life in God.
The fact is, we have not accepted evolution as our meta-story. We treat evolution as a conversational theory or a specialty of science. The lack of integration between science, philosophy and religion has created a fractured earth. Politically, we have fiefdoms and kingdoms; socially, we have tribes and cults; religiously, we have hierarchies and patriarchies. There is no system that supports and sustains cosmic evolution. One of the reasons is simply an inadequate grasp of evolution. The term itself frightens people, as if evolution renders us less human or less special as human. We do not talk in terms of evolution, nor do we think in terms of evolution. Our everyday lives are conceived as static and immutable, as they always have been or should be. However, fixity is contrary to the fundamental principles of nature itself. The process of evolution reveals nature to be in a constant flux of openness to new forms, new relationships and new processes that not only sustain but optimize life in the face of environmental changes. The implicit law of evolution is this: life seeks more life. There is a constant urge in nature to transcend toward higher levels of relationality (complexity), and with higher levels of relationships emerge higher levels of consciousness. Today, we have reached a complex level of global consciousness operating on very old systems that cannot support it.
While evolution is pressing in the direction of convergence and globalization, the political powers of the world are resisting convergence and fighting to maintain autonomy. Patriarchy is threatened by relationality; that is, patriarchy is anti-evolution. Patriarchs and oligarchs will muster power at all costs to maintain control. Patriarchal anti-evolutionists want to remain stable, fixed, tribal and nationalistic.They reject convergence, which includes shared space, shared resources, shared policies and shared power. However, in Teilhard’s view, we must converge or we will annihilate ourselves.
This is our threshold moment, and we need to get on board with evolution. If we get nothing else straight about our present moment, it should be this: Stability is an illusion; the only real stability is the future. Thomas Berry summed up the problem of our age this way: “We will go into the future as a single sacred community, or we will all perish in the desert.” We are starting to feel the effects of perishing in the desert. If we are to overcome our anxiety and doubt about the future, we must trust the power of divine love in our midst. How can we best consolidate our efforts and come together for that which lies before us, the future, into which we are being fearfully but irresistibly drawn? This is the true test of our faith, not only faith in God but faith in the world; for there is no God without world. When God and world are separated, or when we place God “above” and earth “below,” then we make ourselves ripe for extinction. Without the living God in the heart of matter, we are left with no other choice than to become gods, and human gods are deadly. It is time to resist every patriarchal institution and to creatively advance with new models of religion, education, politics and culture. If we can invent robotic cars and send humans to the moon, then we can reorganize and reinvent ourselves. God is inviting us to this challenge and we must respond.
You can find a Spanish translation of that article here