A Heretical Plea (Of Sorts) For An Evolutionary Christianity
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
'till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
'till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise
I Believe In Father Christmas
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I used to be troubled by that song. I say troubled, because I found myself drawn to it, yet disturbed by the message. It seemed to me that the song was about belief lost, and listening to it felt like a betrayal of my faith. I no longer feel that way.
When I first started to delve into integral philosophy and the ensuing evolutionary thinking, I was immediatey struck by two thoughts. First, this really resonates. And second, this is going to be trouble for the Christian faith as it is broadly practiced.
Christianity is largely a static faith. After all, that's what a doctrine is, isn't it? Something that is true, always has been true, and always will be true. Wars have been fought and blood spilled over the slightest deviations. And even today so-called heretical thinking can still get you shunned, ex-communicated, or at the very least hammered with nasty comments from self-appointed guardians of the faith.
A human consciousness that evolves and a faith that doesn't is problematic.
I've come to believe that we are evolving, both as individuals and collectively as a species. In my own way I have tried to say that as we evolve, our understanding of God must also grow. I added that God didn't change, but our capacity to understand God should. (I no longer hold to that point, but that's a discussion for another day.)
Unknown to me until recently, I've been echoing a thought of the Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who more elequently wrote:
"The world must have a God; but our concept of God must be extended as the dimensions of our world are extended."
Teilhard (1881 - 1955) was truly a man ahead of his time, and most of the evolutionary thinkers I have read or read about cite him as a key influence. His own theories landed him in hot water with the Church; a 1950 encyclical condemned several of his theories, and much of his work remained unpublished during his lifetime. More recently, as the world (and the Church) catches up with this giant thinker, some of his ideas are coming back into favour.
Christianity is a human construct, as are all religions. They can help us to imagine what is unimaginable, to grasp the ungraspable, and to put borders around what cannot be contained, so in that sense they are helpful. But they should not be mistaken for Ultimate Reality. And as we expand our consciousness and slowly grasp just a little bit more of the Reality, our faiths must evolve too.
As they are now, they make no allowances for a humanity that is evolving. If our faith and our understanding of God don't evolve with us, we run the risk of outgrowing that faith, of leaving adherents no choice but to leave it behind, just as we did Santa Claus, ultimately looking back on it as a quaint fairy tale from the childhood of our species.