Evolutionary Christianity - the Pod-cast Marathon is complete
I have spent the last few weeks listening to 39 pod-casts of telephone conversations between Michael Dowd, a self-described "Evolutionary Evangelist", and people he refers to as thought-leaders who are drawn from many and various Christian traditions as well as academic disciplines and fields of science.
There were some well-known Christian thinkers among them - Bishop John Spong, former Dominican Priest Matthew Fox and Fr Diarmuid O'Murchu - as well as two Nobel Prize-winners, Charles Townes and William Phillips, and two Templeton Prize winners, Ian Barbour and John Polkinghorne. I listened to Anglicans, Catholics, Southern Baptists, pentecostals of various kinds, process theologians and those from what is called the emergent or emerging church. I listened to physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, biologists as well as various professors of Science & Religion, a position prolific among the many Christian Colleges that American young people go to after school.
Along the way, in this marathon, I travelled through some amazing worlds of ideas, and I have to say that the people whose stories and ideas most excited me were mostly Catholic Religious women, particularly Joan Chittister. It seemed as if their contemplative life had given a great deal of time for good theological reflection such that their ideas were well thought out, really coherent for me.
Five Signposts became evident as I travelled along the way, and I thought I would have a got at describing them briefly here.
1. Evidence - since scientists seek truth, scientific evidence becomes an accumulation of truth about life as we know it, therefore evidence can be regarded as a kind of Divine Revelation. The claims by some that faith is theistic and science is atheistic is thus demolished, because all truth is an expression of God, even scientific truth.
2. A Single-story Universe - there are some cosmologies that see God, the Divine, as utterly separate from the reality of the physical world. This idea is largely derived from ancient Greek Philosophy, but it is based on the idea that the physical and the spiritual are like oil and water, and are perpetually separated. It is the basis of the idea that God is out there and has to be called into our present reality by our prayers so that God can intervene in the natural order and do a miracle or something, according to our wishes. There is thus a two-story universe in many people's mind.
Rather than being "out there" it is understood that God is intrinsically connected to every bit of the cosmos, as hinted at in Acts 17 where Paul, when he describes God as the creator of the world and everything in it and that God is so intimately present in this creation that he concludes "In him we live and move and have our being". This idea collapses the two-story world view. God is here, in everything. Instead of a theistic, dualistic world view, we see in Scripture evidence of a pan-entheistic world view - God is in everything. This is not pantheism where there are gods everywhere, but one God in everything.
3. A Deep Time Reality - the work of astronomers and astro-physicists has expanded our understanding of how old the universe is, estimated these days to be about 16.8 billion years. Along with this, we have an understanding about the stability of matter that means that matter is constantly circulating through the system of the universe. Atoms are used over and over again - one speaker described us as being formed from stardust, and this was not meant to be a romantic notion, but one based on scientific evidence.
This deep-time notion gives us a sense of being part of something that is indeed very ancient,even though humans have inhabited this planet for just a few million years, and life-forms for just a few billion years.
4. Death is Natural - One thing that is a natural consequence of this scientific world view is that death is something that is intimately connected to life - from dust we are made and to dust we return. This challenges the biblical notion that death was a consequence of sin; but one only has to think a little about the consequences for the universe if those first human beings had got it right and so all creation lived forever. All the resources of the earth be consumed in constantly creating new life.
Just as our gardens obtain life from the composting of dead plant matter so in a way the life of the next generation is secured by the death of a previous generation. There are many Biblical metaphors that catch a hold of this - a grain of wheat must die before it can produce a harvest - but we have so locked ourselves into this idea that death is a consequence of sin rather than simply part of the natural order that many find this one hard to grasp. But it is necessary to find new ways of understanding the Biblical material. For me, the Genesis accounts simply provide us with the best available explanation of why people so feared death.
5. Human Nature - The final thing that people spoke about, particularly Michael Dowd, was that the human sciences have helped us understand a great deal about human nature - psychology, anthropology, social science etc - and many of the things that were described in our Scriptures as being connected with the spiritual dimension such as evil spirits we would see now as having naturalistic explanations. They would also suggest that even the notion of sin is often related to things that are simply our head/body trying to cope with mismatched instincts. For example, in evolutionary terms our instinct towards violence against others is an instinctive response that derives from our much more primitive life and context millennia ago. In other words, the instinct is no longer appropriate and we have developed all sorts of social mores that help people change their behaviour.
These signposts are just that for me. They have marked the territory, and they have shaped the things that need to be considered as this new Evolutionary paradigm emerges. I resonate positively with a great deal of what I have heard and I am sure I will continue to ponder them for a long time.
DjittyDjitty (or minor variations of it) is an indigenous word used by both the Nyoonga people and the Yamatji people for willy wagtails.
This bird has spiritual significance, sometimes as a portent of death but more often as a sign of judgement between right and wrong. DjittyDjitty is a tenacious bird and will take on wedgetail eagles and crows that fly into their air space.
DjittyDjitty has become very special to me.
I am a child of the fifties and so grew up and studied through the sixties and seventies - I think I am young enough to remember the sixties, so believe me I was there. I have lived in both suburban and rural parts of Western Australia and lived in suburban Melbourne for 11 years.
My professional life has been diverse, working as a primary school teacher first of all, but ranging over church work, tertiary education and training, aged care, welfare and even disability services.