Faith in Time of War

Ilia DelioIn 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

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  1. astralstar17572 on April 4, 2022 at 6:10 am

    Mary Par, I am also a retired RN who sees Ilia as a light to the animus of our ancestors. Once, everyone’s ancient roots believed that EVERYTHING had a soul. From rocks, to trees, to mountains and lakes, everything and everyone had a soul and was sacred. We we not separate from the world we lived in.
    Time passed, much changed, faith was perverted. We were taught a static, dead god. Evil. Vengeful. Warlike. We were taught that we were created last to dominate…not learn.
    How sad it is when only a few are learn the rigors of critical thinking and then use their knowledge to keep others submissive, dependant and poor.

  2. Robert Nicastro on April 2, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    In response to: Eduardo Valentin-Morales. Thank you for sharing your son’s thoughts on Ilia’s article “Open and Relational Theism: A Challenge for Catholic Theology” (2/14/22). While his concerns are not uncommon, they do reveal some fundamental misunderstandings of open theism. Thus, I will attempt to offer some clarity.

    By way of brief overview, open theism is a contemporary mode of theological discourse that is more consonant with our present scientific descriptions of reality, as well as the central theme of divine love that permeates both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Open theism, in other words, offers a logical and coherent metaphysical system that engages with the best science of our age—one that breathes new life into the biblical text so that it might adequately address our spiritual needs.

    Governed by a static and hierarchically ordered worldview, classical theism addresses the question of God’s nature, especially as it relates to the world, through the lens of Aristotelian philosophy. As a keen observer of the natural world, Thomas Aquinas notably synthesized the doctrinal propositions of Christianity and Aristotelian metaphysics, a brilliantly conceived theological construct that nicely fit the Ptolemaic description of the cosmos.

    His system of thought came to be known as “analogical theology,” whereby a perfect and eternal God (“the unmoved mover”) who stands above and outside creation cannot possibly be affected by the world or its creatures. Aquinas writes: “A real relation of God to creatures is not a reality in God.” Whatever happens “in time,” in other words, is only related to God externally and makes no difference to the identity or internal life of God. Put bluntly, the only real relation of God to the world, therefore, exists in our imaginations.

    While Aquinas’ metaphysics of being was inherently consistent with the cosmology of his time, the insights of twentieth-century science have furnished us with a picture of the cosmos that is radically different from previous centuries. We now understand reality as a “relational process,” an open, dynamic, energetic, and complexifying web of interconnectedness that can be traced all the way down to the quantum level of life. Steeped in the philosophical writings of Alfred North Whitehead who developed a new metaphysical system based on the deeper implications of modern science, and Charles Hartshorne who developed the emergent theological and philosophical issues of Whitehead’s speculative thesis, open theism decidedly heeds Aquinas’ admonishment that “a mistake in our thinking about nature is a mistake in our thinking about God” and so gives us a view of God more reflective of our experiences and reality.

    In contrast with classical theism, open theism portrays God as dynamically involved in all things, both in nature and in human history, as the “chief exemplification” of this relational process. In an open and relational world, God is understood Absolute Future: the supremely personal and unbounded lure of love in the creative advance of endless possibilities. Unlike classical theism, open theism invites us to embrace a God who is organically and intimately related to the world and all its events; it invites us to actively share in the process of bringing the world one step closer to the completion of God’s vision for it. No longer spared from the spoils of time, God truly shows love and care for the world by truly acting along with it and being affected by it.

    Not incidentally, this dynamic and developing God-world relationship is directly reflective of many biblical accounts. In the biblical imagery of the Pentateuch, for instance, God is neither a fixed, immovable Being, nor has human history been foreordained. Rather, Israel’s free response continually alters not only its destiny but the very nature of God. In his classic work The Suffering of God, Terence Fretheim offers a helpful explication: “God is absolute only in regard to divine love for people, which remains forever and is foundational to all other actions, even wrath. God becomes angry with people only because God first loved them so very much. God is absolute in regard to love, but in terms of the various aspects of the relationship with humanity, God changes in response to the myriad of human decisions.” By being related to humanity in the flow of events, God does not know the future, but God and humanity co-creatively construct the events that give rise to the future. According to Fretheim, the application of the language of past, present, and future actions and feelings to God is meaningful only if God changes in that relationship with creation and humanity.

    In summary, all of our theologizing is done within a worldview. As a result, open theism, not unlike what Aquinas did in the thirteenth century, seeks to integrate the philosophical shifts ushered in by modern science in order to offer us a more coherent discourse about the God-world relationship. In addition to its faithfulness to biblical thought, open theism provides a truly effective form of religious expression by creatively and responsibly “resynthesizing” our inherited theological beliefs for the purpose of adequately addressing present spiritual challenges.


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