Chapter 4: GAIA AND RELIGION
A third aspect of the Gaian paradigm is more amorphous and far more sensitive than the two I’ve suggested so far. It is the melding of science and religion. While James Lovelock recognizes the implication of the Gaia theory to religion. His co-author Lynn Margulis is disturbed by the use of the word Gaia in some of the new age spirituality and pseudo science cults. Both are right. I couldn’t agree more that Gaia has often been used, as have other scientific theories including relativity, quantum mechanics and Tesler electronics, to 'prove' spiritual or other pseudo science concepts.
Perhaps in no time since Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the door of the Castle church at Wittenburg (1517) or Calvin published his Institutes (1534) have religions been in such spiritual chaos. No one set out the serious concern of this age of religious chaos better than did Fritz Schumacher in Guide to the Perplexed, a sequal to his Small is Beautiful. Other scholars of the times like Gregory Bateson, Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead and others had a clear but unproclaimed spiritual character to their works. Schumacher’s was the first, most profound, and most open declaration of the age of spiritual turmoil.
The religious chaos of the 1960s and 1970s was most clearly and dramatically proclaimed by the beads, incense, granny dresses, long hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and music of the hippies. It was also declared by movements such as T.M., est, Hari Krishna, the search for Eastern religions, the return of paganism, shamanism and Wiccan. It was expressed in the Broadway musicals Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar, and in the attempt to escape from social ills with psychedelic drugs. The concept of 'New Age' started out to be more like Schumacher's Small is Beautiful a critique and correction of the excesses of the Industrial Age. It ended up being identified, particularly by its critics, and the press, as being an-off beat and occult religious movement, more likely to end up with the Johnstown and the more recent UFO-induced suicides or other strange behaviors than in any serious revival of a deeper sense of spirituality.
Schumacher in Guide to the Perplexed took the high road and recognized that the meandering search for meaning of the hippie generation was a deeper and more profound expression of the age than was being recognized by mainstream society. In Small is Beautiful Schumacher had been concerned with what we do. In Guide to the Perplexed he was concerned with why we do it. He recognized two kinds of science. One was 'knowledge for manipulation,- the other 'knowledge for understanding.' The former led to techniques and technologies for the satisfaction of the lower visible level of human wants. The latter led to the higher values, meaning and purpose of life. As he said:
"e;It may conceivably be possible to live without churches; but it is not possible to live without religion, that is, without systematic work to keep in contact with, and develop toward, higher levels than those of ordinary life. ... Everywhere in the modern world there are experiments in new life-styles ...and it is sometimes tolerated even in polite society to mention God."e;
THE EVOLUTION OF GOD
Belief in powers beyond the human level have been with us since humans first became conscious of themselves and the world into which they were born. Stories of creation, and speculation on the higher powers have filled the human mind since the powers of nature was first realized. Creation stories were the rocks on which early cultures were built in every part of the world.
Throughout history humanity’s understanding of that great power that created and controls the universe has grown, like the understanding of the physical cosmos and of biological life, through many transitions. The evolution of our understanding of the Christian God is the one most familiar to us.
The first God of the Bible was a fierce and vengeful god to be feared. He was one of many gods (or baals) each of whom ruled over a limited people in a limited territory. The God of Abraham could command human sacrifice. Jacob wrestled all night face to face with his God. By the time of Isaiah, God had grown to be the creator of the world, the greatest among all gods. Jeremiah taught, God was not in the Temple but in the heart of humans. He had created the world for human use. The god of Moses lived on a Mountain in the Sinai desert from which he handed down the ethical rules for his chosen people, the Jews. With the teachings of Jesus, god took off his demeanor of wrath and punishment to become an all loving god promising eternal life for his people who did not sin. 12 With Paul there was one all powerful Christian god for all people. To Augustine the universe was a Chain-of-Being with humans near the top, and a hierarchy down through women, children, and lesser animals. Vastly above man sat God, with the Chain-of-Being filed with angels and other demigods. For Saint Thomas Aquinas, God was a omnipresent spiritual form more than a human like being. His existence was as discernible through reason as through revelation
The view of God as creator of the universe that was to be ruled by man, was amplified by the Greek philosophers who first conceived of the idea that the universe was an ordered unity, and that man had the capability to understand it. To Socrates, Plato and Aristotle the ordered and purposeful universe was obviously for human use. All plants and animals were in a natural hierarchy with man at the top. The Roman Empire, Mediaeval Church, and European Monarchs, continued and expanded the idea that humans (more correctly ‘man’) was the caretaker for all creation.
THE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGIONS
This view of man’s dominion over the Earth prevailed until the time of Bacon and Descartes who had little respect for the non-human world, but divided human life into two realms, the physical and the spiritual. They did not challenge the concept that the purpose of the universe was the use of humans. But, did contend that humans were created with the power to understand and dominate that universe. With the founding of economic theory on the principles of self-interest and survival-of-the-fittest, the material side of life became dominant. In the past 200 years mastery of the external world has become the single most powerful driving force of humanity. A belief in God has remained as separate from the material world, as the 2000+ years in the evolution of God has reached to the edge of chaos.
This dichotomy between science and religion was established when the mediaeval Christian clerics refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. For them, the scriptures had revealed that there could be no moons around Jupiter. It was not fear of knowledge that held their hands. It was fear of social dissolution. The moral certainty of the Mediaeval Church was based on man being at the center of the spiritual universe. This in turn rested on man’s home, the Earth, being the center of the physical universe. It was feared that if the Earth were proven to not be at the center of the universe, the whole fabric of spiritual and social adherence could disintegrate.
The Galileo compromise, later clarified by Descart's dualism, was that scientific knowledge should be developed to aid man in his understanding and domination of the Earth. That is, in creating technology. Religion should dominate the realm of the deeper meaning of life and the moral codes which create harmony among the people of the Earth. Science would not be recognized as a process for enlightening humans as to their place in the universe.
This bifurcation was operable as long as the development of technologies was beneficial to humanity. That is, before the challenge of the excessive use of natural resources, the pollution of air, water and soil, the threat of global warming, the discovery of thinning of the protective ozone layer, increased health risks due to toxic chemicals, the loss of jobs brought on by labor saving automation and foreign trade, biotechnology threatened to privatize all life, automobiles and highway separated citizens from one another, and, in general, technology became our master rather than our slave. These unanticipated consequences of technology have spurred the creation of technology and environmental assessment programs by the government. They also initiated a deep reassessment of the value and use of science as well as technology.
GOD AND GAIA
Part of the reassessment of science has been in concert with the reassessment of religion in a holistic revaluation of the place of knowledge in society. A new search for meaning and spirituality emerged from the peace, human rights, feminist, and ecological movements of the 1960’s. The search for meaning was intensified by the bold adventures into 'New Age' cults and fancies, the deep searches through Eastern Religions, and the unfettered acceptance of questionable pseudo sciences. However, it was brought to fruition, with some deep scholarly theological redefinition’s of deep religious and scientific tenets.
Pope John Paul II, in acknowledging that homosexuality is a phenomena of nature, in his apology for the Church’s condemnation of Galileo, in his acceptance of evolution as a valid scientific theory, and in his admission if the Church’s error in failing to oppose to the Holocaust, has made the Catholic Church seem to recognize it own fallibility, and to see science as a joint venture in the search for knowledge of the cosmos and humanity’s place in it.
Fr. Thomas Berry has been one of the leaders of this movement. He holds that our modern society’s creation myth is the scientific story of cosmic evolution. No creation myth could produce more awe, wonder, and mystery than the revelation of how the universe, the planets and life emerged from the Big Bang. Other theologians like Bernard Lonegran S.J.. and Laurent Leduc have gone a step further. They suggest that religion, like science, is a search for the truth not the last immutable word. Theologians like those in the Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST) see theology as accepting the scientific view of nature, but acting as a sort of watchdog for recognizing that there is a bigger picture that we can not completely understand nor appreciate from a natural viewpoint.
From the scientific end there is a growing humility. Science accepts justifiable condemnation for the technologies derived from it, and their detrimental affect on society and the environment. In addition, the certainty that surrounded Newtonian Mechanics and Darwinian Evolution was taken to extremes by many disciplines and by some scientists. As Alfred Whitehead warned that the success of physics in explaining and predicting one set of phenomena led many so called scholars to apply the methods of physics beyond their sphere of relevance in what he called 'misplaced concreteness' -- that is, building mathematical structures on uncertain premises. Both the limits of and the uncertainty of science are now emphasized, giving more room for a rational religious speculation.
A NEW AGE OF SCIENCE
At the same time, with the advent of quantum and relativity theories and even more in the new sciences of Gaia, Chaos and Complexity, it is being recognized that science is relevant, to use Schumacher’s words, as 'knowledge for understanding.' Today, science is not just as a base for new technologies; but science reveals what little reasonably certain factual knowledge we know about the cosmos and cosmic evolution. This limited knowledge is relevant to humanity’s place in the universe. It implies rules to live by if humanity is to continue to exist. A new age of science is dawning.
We made one mention of this in our discussion of learning above -- it is the scientific understanding implicit in the Gaia Hypothesis that everything is dependent on everything else -- that humans 'belong' to Gaia . We belong to Gaia not just as parts of it, but 'belonging' is a proto values for our lives. Belonging implies both being subject to and being responsible for one another and for the Earth.
Beyond that, as Gregory Bateson points out in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, a living organism can continue to exist only if it meets three biological principles. (1) health, the ability to exist within its environment, (2) Competence, the ability to draw sustenance from its environment, and (3) adaptive flexibility, the ability to change as its environment changes. These principles are as applicable to social systems as they are to biological systems. They instruct us as to how we must live if humanity is to sustain itself. Tom Ellis states the ethical implication of the Gaian theory in a new categorical imperative: "e;Make all decisions based on whatever promotes the health, competence and adaptive flexibility of oneself and of all the larger system of which one is a part."e; Science joins with religion in uncovering the code of conduct necessary for human existence.
This melding of science and religion follows Spinoza’s belief that God is nature and Einstein’s concept that a religion is feeling of cosmic awe, wonder and mystery which comes with the deep concentrated study of what is, science. It surpasses human understanding. It is ‘feeling’ the ultimate reality. God, in this sense, cannot be reduced to human characteristics. God, so defined, is pure spirit invisible to humans. God is beyond the materialism and foibles of human frailties. For humans to quibble over His attributes is to diminish His grandeur. You just can’t use the word 'God' and describe it. It is a state of being rather than a conscious attribute. It transcends definition.
The new sciences of Chaos, Complexity and Gaia provide a new world view, that humanity is an integral, and equal, part of a self-organizing cosmos. Each part of, the cosmos as a whole, is equally sacred and to be revered. The Gaian paradigm -- that all there is, is webs of being -- suggests a new concept of God-as-cosmos, and Science-as-revelation.
Humanity may well be on the verge of a new age of science and a new age of religion: a unified search for fundamental knowledge, which may save it from the apocalypse with which it is threatened,
These three brief examinations exemplify and reify a Gaian paradigm. They only hint of the holistic and comprehensive cultural transition in the offing. They were not meant to be accurate predictions of the future. A central theme of Chaos and Complexity theories is that spontaneous self-organization cannot be guided by human intervention; the best we can do is to examine possible options and prepare for any of them to happen. The emerging Gaian paradigm radically changes the way we will look at all aspects of our culture in this millennium. The future of economics, health, transportation, habitat, education and all other social institutions could as well be taken as examples. Or we might have examined the lifestyles we will live when this Gaian paradigm become universal. In the decades ahead Earth citizens may well look back at the society in which we now live as not far removed from our cave- dwelling ancestors. Technophobes can point out a myriad of technological possibilities now on the shelf awaiting development and exploitation. Highly respected scientists, like Freeman Dyson in Imagined Worlds, speak of radio telepathy, designed biomechanical intelligent beings, bioengineered biomes in space, and other wonders we now read of in science fiction.
The coming millennium will first have to solve the social, economic, health, food, ecological and other problems which beset today’s world. Without solutions, the current world problematique dooms humanity to a degraded existence reminiscent of H.G. Wells The Wars of the Worlds.
In Gaia, Complexity, and Chaos theories we see the opening of an opportunity to choose between a number of possible scenarios. In Section II, Gaian Cultures,- we will explore a few cultural a few cultural norms and cultural subsets in a bit more detail.
END CHAPTER 4: RELIGION
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MAYA-GAIA INTRODUCTION & SITEMAP