Posts from category "Spirituality/Religion"

Consciousness

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by James L. Foster, Holonic Humanity: How God Makes Us Holy, due to be released in 2018.  It is a sequel to his earlier work, Holy Humanity:  We Are All Made of God Stuff, published in 2013.  The latter book, Holy Humanity, is reviewed in the January 2016 issue of Awareness magazine.

 

Consciousness

Such reality as we are capable of perceiving--that of which we are conscious--is affected by the very fact of our consciousness of it.  This phenomena is well documented by physicists wrestling with the problem of studying sub-atomic particles.  In their observation of these particles they have found that the very act of observing them alters their behavior.  There are even some quantum physicists who have concluded that matter could not exist without the consciousness of human beings. Quantum physicist Fred Alan Wolf has observed that "what we call 'consciousness' consists of waves of information that move from spirit into matter and then back again into spirit.  This flow of waves took place beyond time, in the sense that the whole action of that movement was instantaneous" (Wolf, The Eagle's Quest, p. 43). Therefore, consciousness is bound neither by time nor space Through it we may gain entree to both eternity and infinity.  This is also borne out by cosmologists on the macro  or cosmic level in what is described as the participatory universe.  In this participatory universe the cosmos creates us as physical beings, and then we create the cosmos.  The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-77 CE) called this causa sui, cause of itself, a self-sustaining causal loop.  Spinoza reasoned "that all reality consists of a single infinite substance which he called Deus sive Natura, God or NatureSince the Creator is revealed in the Creation, the Creation itself must be divine.  Thus, humanity must also partake of all the qualities of divinity.  As such, we, who have always been and always will be, are manifestations of the  Creator who likewise has always been and always will be.  Together, we represent the whole of Spirit. Individually we are a part of Her, but since we individually participate in a holonic evolutionary process in which the part contains the whole, we also paradoxically contain individually the whole of the Creative Divine Spirit.  On this latter point, the Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, prays that "you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:19, TNIV, italics mine.)   Fred Alan Wolf (referenced above) opined that "the breath of God was the movement of consciousness..."

We are eternal beings who both collectively and individually evidence our divinity by our continuing work of creation.  It is this cosmic consciousness which enables our creative interaction with the cosmos on both the earthly and astral planes.  It is also this cosmic consciousness of our oneness with the Ground of all Being which is recognized universally by virtually all the great mystical religious traditions of the world.  In this entire process can be seen the holonic evolutionary development of the human species from consciousness to self-consciousness to universal or cosmic consciousness.  Historian and theologian Karen Armstrong traces this development through our evolutionary history in her book, The Great Transformation:  The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (see bibliography). As a species we can trace this expanding consciousness over many millennia to this present day in which we can still see the expansion into what may be our final stage, universal cosmic consciousness.  Thus, our transition to universal consciousness demonstrates that the process continues.  We are still evolving!  quo vadis? Whither goest thou?  Where indeed?  Where are we headed?  Where is our consciousness taking us?  I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's observation in his loose translation of Isaiah 64:4:

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, 

what God has prepared for those who love him'--these

things God has revealed to us through the Spirit;

for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God."(I Corinthians 2:9-10, NRSV)                                   

The Hebrew cosmogony in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, describes  the Creator as speaking or naming the cosmos into existence:  "God said 'Let there be light'; and there was light...God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night." (Genesis 1:2-5, NRSV) The Spirit continues this creative process, calling or naming into being the earth, the seas, the stars, the moon and the sun, plants, living creatures and humankind, the latter being made in Her image.  We were then given the responsibility of continuing the creative process.  As such we are self-replicating Creators who have the power to consciously continue naming the cosmos into being.  Indeed, there are no limits to our creative consciousness other than those we impose on ourselves by our disbelief.  What we experience as the cosmos today is the result of humanity's own creative consciousness through the centuries.  It is a process that not only continues today but is accelerating exponentially as our consciousness expands holonically.

Deepak Chopra discerns three levels of consciousness:  1) consciousness of physical objects, 2) consciousness of subtle objects and powers, and 3) consciousness filled with nothing but itself--pure consciousness.  The first of these is that of which virtually all of us are aware--physical objects (though we may not be aware of their true nature).  The second, subtle objects and powers, though common, are less likely to be recognized for what they are by virtue of the fact that they and their sources are often hidden.  (It is this author's hope that this entire discussion of "subtle energies" may make my readers more aware of these provisions of their own divine natures.) The third, pure consciousness, is ubiquitous particularly in the astral realm, but on this earthly plane it has been experienced primarily by mystics of the great religious traditions.  These often have difficulty expressing what they have experienced because of the inadequacy of their language and the disbelief of their hearers.

Pure consciousness, as a planetary attribute, is also conscious of us.  Earth, as a conscious entity, is what the earth scientists call Gaia.  It is a term of Greek origin referring to the Earth Goddess.  Planetary biologist James Lovelock, cultural historian William Irwin Thompson,  Christian theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, physicist Freeman Dyson, psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke, mathematician Ralph Abraham, philosopher Elisabet Sahtouris, and many others represent a broad consensus of scientists and philosophers and theologians who have concluded that the earth is a living, conscious entity and even "an immanent divinity."   That the earth is a living, conscious system is also an ancient realization, particularly evidenced in the shamanistic traditions of tribal cultures world-wide.   According to these traditions, there is no separation of living entities from each other and no separation from the earth.  The holonic principle dictates that we as constituent parts of the planet-- our physical beings made of the same elements as the planet--are therefore parts that contain that whole.  As such, our consciousness is derived from the planetary consciousness--and is, likely, the primary manifestation of  that consciousness.

Human consciousness is the medium of  our creative capability.  Just as God, the Great "I Am", created by calling the various aspects of Creation into being, we human beings are "the Great We Are"  continuing  to call the Creation by name, thus making it conscious of itself.  As divine beings ourselves we are with the earth the consciousness of Creation.  There is no other Divine agency of Creation.  That much of the process is unconscious makes no difference.  That we may be ignorant of who we are does not change who we are.  Our consciousness, sublimated and subtle or not, gives us the power to create. 

This is also the conclusion of Professor John Wheeler of Princeton University (and a colleague of Albert Einstein).  Wheeler  described what he has termed the "participatory universe."  He concluded that "we could not even imagine a universe that did not somewhere and for some stretch of time contain observers because the very building materials of the universe are these acts of observer-participancy." (quoted by Gregg Braden in The Divine Matrix, p.39.)  This is  one place where science and religion are finding common ground.  Braden later  observes that "In the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, it's believed that reality can exist only where our mind creates a focus.  In fact, the wisdom suggests that both the world of pure form and that of the formless result from a mode of consciousness called 'subjective imagination.'"  (ibid., p. 80, italics mine) 

Likewise in the Christian teaching of the Apostle Paul, creation and humanity is described as being in an intimate and dependent observer-participant relationship:  "All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs."  (translation of Romans 8:22 by  Eugene H. Peterson, The Message:  The Bible in Contemporary Language, p. 2045)  The children of God, all of humanity, has the assigned responsibility of completing the creative work of God--the birthing of God's creation!

Our consciousness is not synonymous with the brain.  We continue to be conscious even when our physical brain flatlines.  This means that our consciousness originates elsewhere.  One theory put forth by English biologist Rupert Sheldrake is that we consciously or unconsciously tap into a "mind field" (also referred to as "the zero point field) --a sort of invisible parallel universe through which we access everything we know. In this scenario our brain serves only as the receptor of data from the mind field. (see Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past, pp. 210-215)    Another proposal is physicist David Bohm's  suggestion that the universe is all “thought” and that reality consists only of what we think.  In this scenario, we would presumably continue to receive input however we are receiving it now. (Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, pp. 56-62)   On this side of death all we can be reasonably sure of is that consciousness continues on the far side of death whether or not we have a functioning brain.

Deepak Chopra has observed that "to create in consciousness is our greatest gift, and what we create continues to evolve.  If you open yourself without judgment to your role as a creator, you gain much more freedom.  Genesis does not have to be a far-off event that put the universe into play.  It can be a constant event that renews itself at every moment." (Chopra, Life After Death, p. 158)  We already have the power to consciously create and destroy.  It is the power to choose life or death.  The biblical author of Deuteronomy counsels:  "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live." (30:19, NRSV)  Human consciousness goes beyond the limits of space/time.  As divine beings it is our consciousness, and subsequent naming all that we have conceived as manifestations of the Divine, that makes us  co-creators of the whole evolutionary process, leading to DNA and physical life on earth.  Holonic evolution is the original dominating force of nature.  Evolutionary growth, once it began, continues to this day and will never end.  It is also as observer-participants, conscious of this process, that we propel the process forward.   Creating does not require a gift of some special talent.  All it requires is that we pay attention, observe what is going on, and care about what we see.  Our gift to the creation is the gift of attention.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, reflected on the accelerating expansion of the universe and Albert Einstein's cosmological constant (which Einstein dubbed lambda).   According to Tyson, Einstein knew that lambda, as a negative gravity force of nature,  had no known counterpart in the physical universe.  "Lambda's sole job was to oppose gravity within Einstein's model, keeping the universe in balance, resisting the natural tendency for gravity to pull the whole universe into one giant mass.  In this way, Einstein invented a universe that neither expands nor contracts...."  ( Tyson,  Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, pp.99-100)  When data from the Hubble telescope confirmed that the universe is, indeed, expanding and that lambda is real and not just the product of Einstein's imagination,  "Lambda suddenly acquired a physical reality that needed a name,  and so 'dark energy' took center stage in the cosmic drama, suitably capturing both the mystery and our associated ignorance of its cause." (ibid, p.106)

Tyson continues:  "A remarkable feature of lambda and the accelerating universe is that the repulsive force arises from within the vacuum, not from anything material.  (ibid, pp. 112-113, italics mine).

So what do we know that is both real and not material?  My answer to this is consciousness--specifically human consciousness,  a consciousness already known to be capable of affecting matter at the microscopic particle level.  It does not take a great leap of faith to believe that human consciousness can also effect change on the macroscopic level.  Surely this feat (of slowing down the expansion of the multiverse) is not beyond the reach of the original Creator of the multiverse!  And since human beings are the incarnations of this Creator, we who are Her hands and feet and mind continuing Her creative endeavors through our human consciousness, it may be amazing but not unreasonable to believe, that our consciousness is the elusive "dark energy," the lambda, the cosmological constant that we seek.

None of what I have written about consciousness above qualifies as a definition of consciousness.  If it is not the brain per se, then what is it?  This question has stumped the minds of philosophers and scientists for centuries.  I am going to risk here endorsing the definition offered by Fritz-Albert Popp, a theoretical biophysicist at the University of Marburg in Germany in the 1970's.  He observed that in "quantum physics, quantum coherence means that subatomic particles are able to cooperate.  These subatomic waves or particles not only know about each other, but also are highly interlinked by bands of common electromagnetic fields, so that they can communicate together. ...The end result is also a bit like a large orchestra.  All the photons [light particles] are playing together but as individual instruments that are able to carry on playing individual parts.  Nevertheless, when you are listening [paying attention] it's difficult to pick out any one instrument [photon]." (McTaggart, The Field, page 43.)

The whole of creation is the orchestra and all of Creation consists of photons and nothing but photons. And we humans, who are ourselves conductors in the orchestra of Creation, also consist of photons--infinitesimal packets of light energy. Fritz-Albert Popp concluded that "Consciousness was a global phenomenon that occurred everywhere in the body, and not simply in our brains. Consciousness, at its most basic, was coherent light." (reported by McTaggart in The Field, p.94; See also my discussion of our identity as beings of light in Holy Humanity, pp. 115-117.)   Quantum coherence, photons able to cooperate, coherent light, beings of light giving attention to  Creation, conscious conductors of the orchestra of Creation.  How much more evidence do we need to demonstrate that we human beings are the consciousness of the Cosmos, the coherent light whose attention brings coherence to the entire Creation?

We are the consciousness of Creation.  All that we perceive on this cosmic plane--the world and all its creatures, the trees and flowers, stars, planets and galaxies--everything of which we are conscious--has being through our consciousness.  It is through continuing divine/human and planetary consciousness that the cosmos has awareness of itself. Because we are divine beings manifesting the Creator herself, we collectively and individually also reveal the eternal and infinite dimensions of the Divine.  As eternal beings we were observers and witnesses of the beginning of the cosmos and have continued observing and facilitating its evolution to this day.   We had no beginning and we will have no end.  As both eternal and infinite divine beings we have also been observers (and, thus, creators) of an infinite number of other worlds and parallel universes with infinite variations that were formed in consciousness. Therefore, consciousness, too, is both eternal and infinite, as is its primary manifestation--unconditional, everlasting, and infinite divine Love.   Agápé is the Greek term for this Love, coined over two millennia ago.

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

Goodbye Old World, Hello New

by James L. Foster 

There are four revolutionary movements currently underway, any one of which has the potential for changing the world as we have known it. All four happening simultaneously virtually guarantees that a new world order will be born in the lifetime of most of the readers of this article.  What I am talking about here is not technological (though communications technology may well be an enabler of the revolutions) and it is not political (though politics will certainly be greatly impacted.)  No, what is happening is much more basic, addressing the world views and the deep issues of faith and reason held by most of the human inhabitants of this planet.  What is happening is a fundamental mind change.

1.  The first revolution is within the Christian Church.  Because Christianity comprises such a large number of people throughout the world, a major shift in its understanding of itself in relation to other major faiths will have significant effects on every other religion.  These changes have to do with insights into the very roots of its origin in the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era.  Because of the work of numerous Christian and Jewish scholars on the comparatively recent availability of both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi texts, Christianity is wrestling with significant challenges to its exclusivist teachings and the identity of it founder, Jesus of Nazareth.  It turns out that these texts, originally suppressed by the Church Fathers, seriously undercut Christianity’s exclusivist claims of superiority and historicity.

One immediate effect of the deciphering of these ancient texts is the discovery that we have new grounds for relationship with other religions, since major Christian doctrines that have purportedly been inspired by God to the exclusion of all other religious doctrines, may have origins that are far more human than divine.  For the centuries-old barriers between religions to come tumbling down, has a potential for peaceful relationships—even appreciative relationships—that has never before existed on such a massive scale.  One significant example of how these non-biblical writings are changing our understanding of the Christian faith has to do with the identity of Jesus Christ—born of a virgin? No; Killed for our redemption? No; Son of God? No, unless we are prepared to accept that we all, like him, are sons and daughters of God; Non-political and sinless?  Hardly.  Exemplary, yes, but as human and divine as the rest of us.

Another major example of this change is in the discrediting of the historical doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  This doctrine alone has been an impediment to interfaith relationships in as much as the Christian Church has characteristically taught anyone who thinks otherwise is destined for eternal separation from God—or, in a word, Hell.  As it turns out, contemporary historical research shows that it was not until 325 AD that this decision was made by a Church council that was badly divided.  Its conclusions were made not on the basis of reasoned theological debate but rather on the basis of political power and brute, sometimes lethal, force.

With these kinds of changes in the teaching of the Christian Church will come the opportunity for genuine dialog, particularly with Islam and Judaism.  If these three major religious faiths can come to the place of mutual respect and appreciation, the world we live in will be all the better for it.  Let the new dialog begin!

2. Nonviolent atonement is yet another challenge to a cherished doctrine of the Christian Church, this time on the basis of biblical exegesis.  Challenged are two theories of the atonement (the saving work of Jesus Christ by atoning for our sin), the Penal Substitution Theory authored by St. Augustine (4th and 5th centuries) and the Satisfaction Theory (authored by Anselm in the 12th century).  These theories have been bedrock theology in the Christian Church.

The first, Augustine, says the sin offended God’s honor and caused inconceivable debt and that the debt must be satisfied or punished to satisfy God’s honor.  Since the payment of the debt is so far beyond what humans could do, only God could pay it.  There fore Christ (who must be God) paid the debt by his death on the cross.

The second, Anselm, speaks of retributive justice.  God has to “get even.”  Sin incurred a debt and has to be punished (payback).  Therefore, since humans cannot possibly pay the debt, God punishes Jesus instead.

Both of these theories make of God a vengeful, violent ruler and compromise Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness.  If sin is paid for (i.e. the debt is paid and the account is balanced) there is nothing to forgive.  If God is truly forgiving, it means the debt is written off and there is no need for either repayment or punishment.

 Nonviolent atonement says that God is neither vengeful nor violent (the violence attributed to God, especially in the Jewish Scriptures, notwithstanding).  Therefore God cannot be blamed for Jesus’ death.  Jesus suffered the fate of many of his contemporaries—death at the hands of the Roman occupiers, with the probable collusion of Jewish antagonists.  It was man’s violence, not God’s that killed Jesus.

This distinction is important because it deprives us humans of a major rationale for engaging in violence, i.e., “God, our Father, did it, therefore, so can we.”  If, as God’s children, we wish to emulate God’s relationship to us in our relationship with others, we can no longer justify violence. 

3. Nonviolent communication is a discipline taught by Marshall Rosenberg.  Though many of the principles he teaches have been taught before by the likes of Jesus and Gandhi, Marshall is a gifted in formulating a clear and doable way to put the principles into practice.  Nonviolence is broken down into many tiny and tangible steps, that when learned and put into practice can transform formerly confrontive and hostile relationships--whether these relationships are between individuals, groups, or nations—and whether or not both sides practice it.  These nonviolent “techniques” can be practiced, as it were, unilaterally by anybody, anywhere, in any circumstance.

Marshall’s books and seminars are proliferating as others take up the work of spreading his teaching.  What was originally one man’s crusade, is becoming a movement which will grow exponentially as others both practice and teach the disciplines he has so neatly packaged. 

4. A fourth movement gaining momentum in our day is the result of the writings of the French philosopher Rene’ Girard.  Rene’s writings have the effect of holding up a mirror in which we see ourselves for who we really are.  The starting point for Girard’s theory is “acquisitive mimesis”.  Girard proposes that much of human behavior is based on “mimesis”, an all-encompassing expression of imitation, but focuses on acquisition and appropriation as the object of mimesis, contrary to most of the extant literature on imitative behavior (Girard 1979, 9). Girard describes a situation where two individuals desire the same object; as they both attempt to obtain this object, their behavior becomes conflictual, since there is only one object, but two people.  “Violence is generated by this process; or rather, violence is the process itself when two or more partners try to prevent one another from appropriating the object they all desire through physical or other means” (Girard 1979, 9).  In his mimetic theory, Rene’ argues that imitation is an “ability that is fundamentally linked to characteristically human forms of intelligence, in particular to language, culture, and the ability to understand other minds. This burgeoning body of work has important implications for our understanding of ourselves, both individually and socially. Imitation is not just an important factor in human development, it also has a pervasive influence throughout adulthood in ways we are just beginning to understand.” – (Susan Hurley & Nick Chater)

A related area of Rene’s A thought is scapegoating.  “This scapegoat is, according to Girard, an arbitrary victim: For Girard, there are several conditions for the choosing of the scapegoat.  First, the scapegoat is, by definition, an arbitrary victim, at least to the degree that the victim has, in reality, no direct bearing on the problems that are causing the community disturbance.  However, the victim is not arbitrary to the extent that most scapegoats tend to have similar cultural traits that allow Girard to classify them as a group.  Normally they are an outsider, but on the border of the community, not fully alien to the community.  This victim belongs to the community, but has traits that separate him/her from the community.  Several common victims are elucidated by Shea, summarizing Girard's list in The Scapegoat (1986): children, old people, those with physical abnormalities, women, members of ethnic or racial minorities, the poor, and '`those whose natural endowments (beauty, intelligence, charm) or status (wealth, position) mark them as exceptional" (Wallace 1994, 253). 

Paradoxically, this victim is often deified.  Not only was the victim the cause of the violence, but, since this victim was sacrificed, s/he also becomes the salvation of the community, since sacrificing the victim becomes the method of ending the violence.  So the victim is surrogate because s/he was sacrificed instead of the entire community being sacrificed. 

Once this process is established, it becomes mythologized.  The immediate memory reconfiguration becomes woven into the oral history of the people.  This figure that was sacrificed was the deity who saved the community from destruction.  Since the pattern started with the cessation of violence by the original human sacrifice, the continuation of that pattern is understandable.  But as culture progressed, and specifically with the introduction of the Jewish religion into the world's culture, symbols--animal sacrifices and sacred rituals--were used in place of human sacrifices.  Thus Girard claims the origin of religion is rooted in violence. (Jeramy Townsley)

If any of this sounds familiar, we have only to look at our own religion and consider its origin.  And if it makes us uncomfortable, it may be that when we look in this mirror, we do not like what we see. (For more on this, see the review of the book by Suzanne Ross.

Conclusion

Each of these revolutionary movements, as I have called them, qualifies for such a designation.  According to Webster a movement is “a) a series of organized activities by people working concertedly toward some goal” and “b) the organization consisting of those active in this way.”

The first of the above listed revolutionary movements is represented by several organizations, the most notable of which would be the Jesus Seminar that includes such notable members as theologians John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk and Marcus Borg.  Institutes for Christian Spirituality, the publisher of this journal, En Christo: A Journal for a New Christianity is another such organization.  The number of books that are being written to address the multiple changes that are already taking place continue to proliferate.  Change is hard, particularly when it is in areas in which we have a lifetime investment, but it is also necessary if we are to mature in our faith and vision of what God is doing in the world.  Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of the future of humankind was of a final stage of development during which we would mature spiritually to our fullest potential.  I have always hoped that he was right and that I may be one of the fortunate members of our species to participate in that process.  I dare to hope that the dramatic changes happening now in Christianity are an indication that it is so.

The second movement listed above, nonviolent atonement, is smaller but is quickly gaining momentum.  It, too, has just initiated in May of 2008 the formation of an organization called Theology and Peace to promote research and publications supporting fresh biblical understandings of the nonviolent, compassionate Father of us all.  Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace along with Catholic theologian Anthony Bartlett, Mennonite theologian Sharon Baker and approximately 40 other biblical scholars are among the charter members of the organization.

Marshall Rosenberg’s organization, Center for Nonviolent Communication, though new, is already spawning others devoted to spreading his program for teaching nonviolent communication in a wide variety of secular and religious contexts around the world.  It is already providing resources for the rapid dissemination of the principles he espouses.

Finally, the movement built on the teachings of Rene’ Girard, has fostered Colloquium on Violence & Religion (COV&R), a well-established organization with a world-wide constituency.  Other organizations, too, are involved in promoting Rene’s teachings on violence and religion, notably Preaching Peace, founded by Michael and Lori Hardin; The Raven Foundation, founded by Suzanne Ross, author of The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things; and Institutes for Christian Spirituality.

How long will it take for these and other initiatives I have not covered to have a visible impact on our world?  My guess is years, not decades.  The impact is already considerable, but the world is a big place.   We will know that it is happening when these concepts become the fodder for conversations of the people in the pews.  The internet is providing the means for rapid dissemination of information, a phenomenon which Teilhard did not envision but would confirm his anticipation that each phase of human development would be significantly shorter than the one before.  God willing, this journal will have at least a small part in bringing about the revolution.

A Vision For the 21st Century

A Vision For the 21st Century

(Editor’s note:  John Lackey, a minister of the United Church of Christ, is here priming the pump for future dialogues.  In the future it is anticipated that reader responses to other readers and to the editor will constitute the bulk of the dialogue.) 

My vision for our world in this 21st Century is a biblically sourced vision having to do with economics. Douglas Meeks, in God the Economist,[1] points out that the Greek word from which we derive economy, “oikonomia,”is a compound of  “oikos,” meaning  “household,” and  “nomos,” meaning “law” or “management of the household.” “Economy” means literally  “the management of the household.” The Bible, throughout, is about a God whose purpose is to create a household in which all of God’s creatures can find home and abundant life.  This suggests lines from the World Citizenship Creed:   “I believe in the dignity of all humanity, that each person is a being of supreme worth...I believe in the stewardship of life and resources to the end that all may mutually benefit from the earth’s bounty and that no person may have to go without food or shelter...I believe in the global community, interdependent and mutually responsible for our physical and social environments...a world where justice and compassion rule and where greed and hatred are diminished...”[2]  The chief goal of this 21st century must be to develop the potential implied in these words.

This requires an understanding of today’s system of Global Economics--why it has failed to live up to its heralded promise that, in time, all of earth’s citizens would enjoy a decent standard of living. The basic problem is that global economics is under the control of the developed nations and giant corporations, which exist for profits and not for people. Even so, as Joseph Stiglitz says in Globalization and Its Discontents,[3]  “I believe that globalization--the removal of barriers to free trade and the closer integration of national economies--can be a force for good and that it has the potential to enrich everyone in the world, particularly the poor.” 

This raises some vital questions: 

(1) How did it come about that globalization became a  “domination system,” to use Walter Wink’s term?

(2) What changes are necessary if globalization is to be transformed into a just, humane system that benefits all of the earth’s peoples and nature?

(3) How does “outsourcing” fit into the picture?

(4) How can the greed in human character that drives the profit motive be transformed for the sake of both the victims and the oppressors?

(5) How can peoples of the developed nations begin to recognize how we support the system?

It seems that the needed reforms require that people around the world work together with collective action in shaping international agreements and regulating international corporations.  Global public institutions must be created to help set the rules.  Concerned world citizens need to join and support organizations that are working toward economic and environmental justice.

This kind of vision calls for a global communications system. It seems that such a system is available to us today through the World Wide Web. With global access to the Web:

(1) There could develop a common understanding about how the global economic system works and what is needed to change it.

(2) Workers in a given nation could share information with those in other nations about how the corporation-controlled system is affecting their lives.

(3) Peoples involved in the struggle for justice in their homeland could enjoy encouragement and support from around the world.

(4) Global action could be brought to bear on a local situation of injustice (refusal to pay a living wage, refusal to provide health care, damage to the environment, etc.). Peoples in other nations could write the corporation CEO with appeals for justice. When a corporation knows that the eyes of the world are on it, it may feel inclined to change its ways.

How important to the 21st century is the vision discussed here? William Sloan Coffin, in his Credo,[4] says it well: “the war against terrorism will finally be won by economic justice.   There is nothing meta-physical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes--political oppression and economic deprivation.  Until these injustices and our complicity and their furtherance are faced, our escalating counter violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad…”

What’s at stake in the 21st Century is world peace! This world must become a household in which all of God’s creatures find home and abundant life.

Finding Our Way Home: A Brief Note On The Authority And Interpretation Of Scripture

Reader Responses

Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace, has shared the following letter, written in response to a friend’s request:

Finding Our Way Home: A Brief Note On The Authority And Interpretation Of Scripture 

You recently asked me to write something on Jesus’ hermeneutic. That one can even speak of Jesus’ hermeneutic is a blessing today. Between the churches removal of Jesus behind the veil of dualism and the academy’s burial of Jesus in historical science, it truly is a wonder that we are able to speak the words Jesus and hermeneutic in the same breath.

Some thirty years ago when I began studying Scripture, I found that I had a lot of questions. Every subject I tackled led to ten more subjects, all of which I felt driven to understand just to comprehend whatever book I was reading at the time. Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of thousands of questions, the questions of the authors whose books I have read.

Their questions led me on some amazing journeys with breath-taking vistas around every corner. Writers from all places and times, backgrounds and faiths each seemed to have a piece to contribute to the overall picture. More so, many of these writers captivated me and I read everything they wrote that I could get my hands on. I could sense that somewhere deep within the questions was a solution. I knew that Jesus was that solution.

I believe that Jesus has something to teach us and tell us about the Creator that we have consistently missed throughout our history, Christians included. It is the secret of the kingdom of heaven: God is forgiving, God is not conflicted, and God is not violent. Jesus’ Jewish spirituality recognizes this through and through. It is the one singular thing his contemporaries did not want to hear. It is the one singular thing we do not want to hear. Jesus’ God is not an angry God. It is demonstrated in the way he lives and forgives others in the name of this God. It (this life of forgiveness) is, in a sense, ontologized within history as the eschatological horizon of the resurrection; the resurrection of the forgiving innocent victim. It is the one message that is differentiated from every other form of religious discourse. Jesus teaches us this.

However, it is necessary for us to understand the roots and trajectories of our sacrificial thinking as Christians. We need to deconstruct before we can re-construct. Sort of like what the folks on the PBS show This Old House do. They take an old house whose structure is solid, take it down to the basics, which are sound, and re-build on that structure. Christian theology, for me, is like This Old House. It is tired, old, worn, beaten and generally in great need of repair. Through the eyes of the folks who rebuild houses and see within a decrepit building a beautiful home that with time, effort and attention can be an enjoyable habitation, so also I think we can do the same with Christian theology. Theology is a beautiful science because theology is about Jesus.

Let’s look at some of the stuff on our theological house that is no longer useful. Let’s examine whether or not we need to restructure some of the interior of our house. Then let’s rebuild.

Using Paul Ricoeur’s language we might say that if the church is mired in a first naivete, the academy is no less stuck in critical distance. Neither one is able to speak of Jesus credibly with any sense of unity. It is the third stage of the understanding process, which Ricoeur calls a ‘second naivete’ from which I write. Since I am neither in the academy nor in the parish, I do not feel constrained by either when I consider the question of Jesus’ hermeneutic. The ‘historical Jesus’ is slick and slippery, and just when you think you have a grasp, he slips away. The ‘Christ of faith’ is a gigantic monolith, high and exalted, encrusted with traditions. If the ‘Christ of faith’ represents the ‘first naivete’ and the ‘historical Jesus’ represents the ‘critical distance’ then how shall we describe ‘second naivete?’ In order to do so, it is crucial to shift our perspective on the either/or of the question to this: what is the relationship of the Jesus of faith to the Christ of history? Must we not begin with the presupposition that as bearers of God’s Spirit we already know the Lord Jesus? What we need to discern are the ways both the church and the academy have embellished the living Jesus with their Christologies.

Christological duality, which is and always has been, the big issue in both the church and the academy, need not be necessary if one moves the question to a position of ‘second naivete.’ But how can we justify such on both anthropological and theological grounds? You already know how I will answer this: by turning to Rene Girard and Karl Barth. These are the two significant twentieth century thinkers who moved beyond Platonic dualism to construct a Christology that is true to Jesus. One did it from an anthropological perspective, the other from a theological one. But both succeeded because they both began with the cross of Jesus.

The early Christians understood that this whole resurrection/life thing existed only because there was a crucifixion/death thing. The resurrection was a vindication of this death that was forgiving, and this life and ministry that was all about forgiveness. In the resurrection God does not retaliate, God forgives. This is the message of the early church. It encompasses the entire Jesus reality: Jesus as Spirit and Jesus’ story were woven of the same stuff.

We also must not forget that the perspective of the New Testament is ‘from below’, that is, it is written from the perspective of the persecuted. This is of strategic importance. All of the complaints that have been made against the Christian churches are derived from the fact that the very church which is grounded in the forgiveness of the Cross of Jesus, and whose texts are written from the perspective of the persecuted, does itself persecute and justifies persecution by an appeal to these texts. There is very little that is apostolic about the modern church.

Michael Hardin

Michael is one of the initiators of a movement within the Christian Church to reinterpret both the Old and New Testaments in a way that demonstrates  that the God who inspired them is not a God of judgment, but a God of mercy, compassion, and justice.  He shared this way of understanding the biblical text at a workshop in Knoxville in October 2007.  He and his wife Lorri will be returning to Knoxville on March 15 and 16, 2008 along with two others in the vanguard of this peace theology, theologians Sharon Baker and Anthony Bartlett.  On the 15th they will be facilitating a day long workshop for clergy and lay leaders on the “Non-Violent Atonement of Christ.”  On the evening of the 16th, Michael will be repeating a workshop on “The Mimetic Theory of Peacebuilding.