Some years ago I came to realise what was perhaps already obvious to others – that I am a contemplative activist. Last weekend it further dawned on me that I am a contemplative activist evolutionary.
Reading Evolutionaries: Unlocking the spiritual and cultural potential of science’s greatest idea by Carter Phipps is what finally helped the penny to drop. Believing in evolution as a fundamental element of life has become a foundation principle guiding my thinking and living.
An evolutionary worldview is foundational to my faith and my Christian experience and witness as well as to the work of Changing Attitude. The very name indicates that we in CA do not believe in or accept a static view of the world or of faith, let alone of creation.
The Church isn’t very interested in an evolutionary worldview. Indeed, many Christians deny the reality of evolution as an idea. But even Christians of a Darwinian frame of mind may not have thought about the possibility that evolution and change is integral to Christian life and faith, teaching and understanding, theology and practice.
Christians live with a particular worldview. Each of us has our own, unique personal perspective but as Christians we also share a foundational worldview which shapes life and faith.
Worldviews are built on the cognitive and psychological architecture of the self and are informed by the culture in which we live, our family, social, educational and religious cultures. We internalise the culture into which we are born and the norms of our own particular family and environment. Our internal worldview develops as a structure that determines the way we make meaning in the closeted capacities of our own consciousness. It is always challenging to consciously reflect on our worldview, analyse particular ingredients, and interrogate them.
At the core of any worldview is a set of convictions about the nature of what is real, true and important – foundational to our sanity and our faith. Our worldview is built on deep convictions that set the parameters and define the terms on which we construct self and culture.
An evolutionary worldview
In The Future of Man Teilhard de Chardin wrtites that:
“. . . Mankind [is] divided to its very depths into two irrevocably opposed camps – one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming with all its newfound faith, “We are moving,” and the other, without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining, “Nothing changes. We are not moving at all.”
But we are moving! The things we think are fixed, static, unchanging, and permanent are in fact moving. Reality is part of a vast process of change and development, integral to creation.
We human beings are not just being; we are becoming. That, says Carter Phipps, is part of the revolutionary power of an evolutionary worldview. We do not just exist in this universe; we are caught up in its forward movement and intrinsic to its forward intention.
Carter Phipps refers to Alfred North Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”, the tendency to turn flow into fixity, uncertainty into solidity – the “nothing changes” identified by Teilhard de Chardin.
Faith communities and institutional churches habitually make concrete elements of human experience that are by their very nature uncertain – faith, prayer, God, Christian history, theology, and dogmatics. We are not moving at all is the stance of the institution – and we are especially not moving on the subject of homosexuality.
Christians may understand that uncertainty as a principle applies to physics and cosmology, psychology and sociology. In theory, they may understand that God is by definition unknowable. But they habitually adopt dogmatic, concrete thinking in the world of faith and apply it in particular to the Bible and Christian attitudes to gender and sexuality. It is impossible for many people to think of gender and sexuality as fluid and diverse.
It is not only the world external to our self which is moving and evolving, of course. We, who are experiencing life through our own perceptive faculties – seeing, listening, interpreting and responding – are also not static or solid but rather fluid, changing, caught up in a developmental process.
The world we inhabit and we ourselves as actors in it are part of a vast, open-ended process – one that is malleable, changeable, subject to uncertainty and chance. It is also responsive to our choices and actions in small but not insignificant ways. We are much more than observers and witnesses to life’s unfolding drama. We are, potentially, all influential actors, more aware of the immense tides that are shaping the world within and around us.
In his presidential address at General Synod in November, Archbishop Justin Welby talked about the revolutionary times in which we live. If he were also to be fully aware that we live in evolutionary times in an evolutionary universe, and applied that to church teaching and practice about human sexuality, he might achieve with greater success the transformation of the Church into a body of dynamic people who can inspire change in this country rather than provoking despair and rejection in the majority of the population.