It Takes a Cosmos: My Evolving Thoughts on Evolution
The fundamental evil that besets us... is our incapacity to see the whole. --Teilhard de Chardin
An anonymous commenter yesterday criticized me for lowering myself to the level of a mainstream, "exoteric" Christian, N.T. Wright. First, no esoterist considers himself superior to those with a more traditional, exoteric point of view. In fact, of the two of us, they are the more important, because they preserve the embattled vertical message through the ravages of horizontal time. Without them, it is very unlikely that we'd be here talking about the Christian vision. The same is especially true of Judaism. Imagine the moral courage of the many generations of Jews who kept the traditions alive and in tact, so that they can be studied esoterically. Unlike the ungrateful tenured, we know that bullets come before poetry and guns before academic freedom.
Secondly, I thought my larger point was obvious -- that mainstream Christianity is an esoterism; in fact, as Schuon has remarked, it is an esoterism masquerading as an exoterism. In the absence of the "esoteric key," it scarcely makes any sense at all. My point is that it is not as if the esoterism is "hidden" or "secret." Rather, it is right out in the open. It is full of mystery, and mystery is a mode of God.
Perhaps some definitions would be helpful. What do we mean by "esoterism?" Let's begin with a little metaphysics: there are two realities; or, more precisely, one reality with two faces, the Absolute and the relative. As Schuon writes, "the idea that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute" is the fundamental mystery of revelation. Revelation must address itself to the "average" mentality, taking into consideration its needs and limitations. Nevertheless, it contains "layers" of meaning that are more or less inexhaustible, while its deepest dimension conveys a universal teaching, or message, about existence.
It is not that the message of pure metaphysics can only be decoded by "special" people. Rather, to paraphrase Schuon, man by definition has two subjectivities, the ego and intellect: "the ego follows the divine attraction within the limits of its nature -- it can do nothing else -- whereas the intellect, also in accordance with its nature, opens itself to the [universal] Principle and realizes it; both ways combine while remaining independent of each other."
The ego is constrained by small-r reason, and cannot transcend its relatively narrow horizons, which are limited to assumptions and conclusions. But the esoteric perspective is rooted in intellectual intuition, which is our means of access to universal principles, or to "the nature of things." It extends from thinking to being -- or perhaps generative "thinking about being," what I call O-->(n). Thus, esoterism is simply the deep contemplation, comprehension, and assimilation of the religious message, which is Truth itself. You might say that it is the "metabolism of truth."
The fundamental mystery of revelation is that the Absolute has made itself relativity so that the relative may return to the Absolute. How does this accord with what we were discussing yesterday?
From the spiritual perspective, evolution can only be evolution toward divinity. In fact, that is the title of a book by Beatrice Bruteau which outlines the parallels between Teilhard de Chardin's "Christian evolutionism" and Sri Aurobindo's neo-Vedantic view. Interestingly, in his own lifetime, Teilhard was unaware of the parallels, and even thought that his theology was incompatible with the latter.
Bruteau writes that one of the purposes of her book was "to point out the irony of this situation by refuting Teilhard's criticisms and by showing how, on the contrary," the Vedantic contribution to world thought "could have been most advantageous to him if he had studied it with care." Evidently, Teilhard's slight knowledge of Vedanta caused him to characterize it as "a simplistic monism in which all multiplicity disappeared without leaving a trace."
Bruteau writes that Fr. Teilhard's "intellectual odyssey centered around his lifelong struggle to reconcile in his thought and in his career two attractions which he seems to have experienced equally strongly and which he initially felt to be divergent: the love of God, on the one hand, and, on the other, the love of the earth together with knowledge of the earth, which is science." In one of his early journals, he wrote of his struggle "to reconcile progress and detachment, a passionate and legitimate love of the earth's highest development and the exclusive quest for the kingdom of heaven. How can one be as much a Christian as any other man, and yet more a man than anyone?"
Clearly, Teilhard was attempting to reconcile the vertical and horizontal at their highest levels. While the Creator surely exists, "our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended." In a way, Teilhard was a "priest of the Cosmos" rather than just the earth. In fact, he said as much: "I should wish, Lord, in my very humble way, to be the apostle and, if I may ask so much, the evangelist of your Christ in the Universe." Later he wrote that he had "felt passing through me, in particularly exhilarating and varied conditions, the double stream of human and divine forces."
For Teilhard, true mysticism was "the great science and the great art, the only power capable of synthesizing the riches accumulated by other forms of human activity." Thus, he is naturally dismissed by ego-bound materialists, since they are generally incapable of comprehending the mystical experience at the heart of his cosmic vision.
For example, how is the common intellectual laborer to understand an observation such as, "God is at work within life. He helps it, raises it up, gives it the impulse that drives it along, the appetite that attracts it, the growth that transforms it. I can feel God, touch Him, 'live' Him in the deep biological current that runs through my soul and carries it with it." Or, "Everything in the universe is made by union and generation -- by the coming together of elements that seek out one another, melt together two by two, and are born again in a third." These mystical intuitions of Teilhard's are not "thought" but "seen" or even "felt": "The world, the whole world, is God's body in its fullest extension."
And, just like a body, it has an exterior and an interior horizon -- it is not possible to have the one without the other. Schuon and the traditionalists are quite harsh on both Teilhard and Aurobindo, and I do understand and appreciate where they're coming from. Let me also add that I am not arguing for "Teilhardism" or "Aurobindoism," since I believe both approaches have their flaws. Rather, I consider them to be early explorers simply doing their best to reconcile world and spirit, consciousness and matter, science and religion, temporal horizontal evolution and timeless vertical truth.
We can, like the traditionalists, simply dismiss scientific truth on a priori grounds, but I reject that approach for both tactical and epistemological/ontological reasons. That is, to reject the modern world will simply seal the irrelevance of religion, and therefore man's doom. And I am not prepared to give up on man. If you idealize the Dark Ages and want to live like a medieval man, no one is stopping you. Go for it! Start by turning off your computer so I don't have to deal with you. If I make you vomit, what are you doing here?
But more fundamentally, I firmly believe that "all truth comes from God." If it doesn't look like it on the surface, then that's our problem, not God's. We have to find a way to reconcile them. Which I don't think is all that difficult, really, so long as you're not thoroughly brainwashed by postmodern materialism. After all, humans are the living link between every possible mode and dimension of reality. We are matter, life, mind, and spirit.
As a matter of fact, Teilhard's idea of the "divine milieu" is quite similar -- gasp! -- to the traditionalist notion of the "cosmic ray" that extends from the divine ontological center of being to the periphery of the cosmos.
In an excellent biography of Teilhard, Spirit of Fire, (from which some of the above quotes are taken), King writes that Teilhard chose this expression "to describe the diffuse presence and influence of God at all levels of created reality, in all areas of human experience.... One can think of it as a field of divine energy that has one central focus -- God -- from which everything flows, is animated, and directed." As Teilhard wrote, "in no case could the cosmos be conceived, and realized, without a supreme center of spiritual consistence."
In my own book -- which you might say is my first approach at a comprehensive solution to the problems discussed in this post -- I wrote that human beings are "facts of the universe" which must be analyzed and evaluated cosmologically, for "discovering what a human being is is the key to fathoming the implacable mystery of the cosmos itself."
Along these lines, Teilhard observed that "There is a science of the universe without man. There is also a science of man as marginal to the universe; but there is not yet a science of the universe that embraces man as such. Present-day physics... does not yet give a place to thought; which means that it still exists in complete independence of the most remarkable phenomenon exposed by nature to our observation."
The question is, what is the place of Man in the cosmos? Science cannot help but dismiss man as a random and irrelevant side effect of impersonal cosmic forces, when I am quite convinced that the presence of the human dimension is the key to the whole existentialada. For Teilhard, the "big bang" of human consciousness is not a meaningless anomaly, but "a fundamental phenomenon -- the supreme phenomenon of nature," through which "universal evolution is not only experienced but lived by us." For no matter how "coldly and objectively we may study things, we must still conclude that humanity constitutes a front along which the cosmos advances."
I suppose this is a good place to leave off for today. See you at the front!
When all is said and done, I can see this: I managed to climb up to the point where the Universe became apparent to me as a great rising surge, [converging] ahead into into a single dazzling spearhead -- now, at the end of my life I can stand at the peak I have scaled and continue to look more closely into the future, and there, with ever more assurance, see the ascent of God. --Teilhard