Many religious congregations have or are celebrating this month the 201st birthday of Charles Darwin. Each year the number doing so seems to grow. A year ago, while still an active minister, I considered doing some such emphasis but decided not in favor of the “church calendar.”
The evolution of the physical universe as we see and observe it with powerful microscopes and detailed geological studies has long been of interest to me. However, I have passed the point of basing my belief in a Creator God on such studies. I have passed the point of even believing a Creator God made such a universe. I was first introduced to this viewpoint nearly 25 years ago, and although it shocked and threatened my security, my ego, I have gotten quite accustomed to the idea that the physical world and universe were not created by God.
In a book read a couple years ago by theologian, retired pastor, bishop and writer John Spong, he summarized the process of human evolution which made sense to me. Based on Sigmund Freud’s and Paul Tillich’s observations, Spong writes of the early evolution of humanity in reaching the point of consciousness or self-reflection. Some several million years ago, after evolving from an amoeba cell, to a fish, to a land animal and finally into a proto-type human, there was a time when the conscious brain began to ask, “Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I get here?” and “What is my destiny?” Freud and Tillich phrased it as the “shock of non-being” and the “awakening to consciousness” with “ultimate concerns.” We all have faced such questions, especially when alone under the stars or the quiet of a sleepless night.
In the “shock of non-being” humanity, as Spong outlines, thought of itself as being created by a entity outside of itself and this planet, in the stars and beyond. The reflection of consciousness led human consciousness to the idea of offering sacrifices in order to appease the sense of guilt and fear of offense or sin. Sacrifice was developed to persuade the Creator to bless the fruits of human labors, often with the sacrifice of children to win such favors. With the evolution of this idea, the ancient Hebrews may have been the first to give up child sacrifice. Thus the sacrifice idea was born and remains with us to this day albeit in more sophisticated forms, from punishing and abusing one’s self, dying for nation or family and the idea in traditional Christianity of accepting God’s sacrifice of his only perfect divine son to assuage our guilt and sins before God, and thus gain heaven.
Whether these events occurred in a timeline of millions of years or the past century’s idea of 4000 years, it makes little difference. Time remains a relative, non real commodity. As Einstein observed and most of us have experienced, time passes much differently if two lovers meet for their first day and night versus laboring in the throes of endless monotony and fear. We experience time changes much differently when awake or during a good sleep. In aging, we look back over 40 or 50 years as though it were just yesterday. In the Bible it speaks of a day being a thousand years or a thousands years as a day. It just isn’t real or stable. It changes from altitude differences and among various solar systems. We also understand the physical universe as a passing entity, from development out of minute dust to its return and final annihilation. To think of ourselves as primarily as bodies produces to the conscious and reflective mind, anxiety, fear and weariness. Despite constant attention to good health habits with daily care, the “grim reaper” finally wins.
In early years of the Christian Era, and even before, there were thinkers who awakened to the idea that the physical universe may have been made by a lesser God or anti-God. Some became known, in their various forms, as “Gnostics” based on the idea of “knowledge” or “understanding.” In the 4th Century, the official church labeled such teachings as heresy and pagan, banning them from orthodox discussions as evil and erroneous. Until the past century, religious teachers within most Christian religions would be banned and removed for considering and teaching such ideas. In 1946, however, the discovery of a hidden Gnostic library near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, reopened the discussion which was allowed before Constantine and the 4th Century “shut down.” Then in the 1970’s, a new publication arrived through a research scientist at Columbia University, a researcher in clinical psychology named Helen Schucman. Her writings, which she described as given by a “Voice,” challenged the orthodox view of a physical universe created by a Spiritual Being called God. Within a century of traditional science being turned upside down with new studies in quantum physics, her book, A Course in Miracles, has challenged many to rethink and reconsider the cause of the physical universe, including myself.
Thus within my own evolution of thought, it makes increasing sense to look at the physical world about us as not the traditional creation as God the Cause, but out of our own consciousness, a dream and projection from our own minds. It then makes little difference whether the physical world came through a long evolutionary series or of a more recent “big bang.” It’s all within a time warp, and although this world and universe has been studied by many brilliant minds and harnessed in many ways for life as we know it today, the questions of peace, joy, guilt and meaning remain unresolved for many. It makes more sense to me to simply think of this body and universe as our dream, our projection, and to see our ego/body selves as the cause rather than being its effects.
I believe ancient thinkers had this same inkling and perspective, inside and outside of the Jewish/Christian tradition. I see it in various lines and readings of the Bible as well as in various Eastern writings including the teachings of Buddha. In the East, it is common to call the physical universe “Maya,” or illusion, but to do so in Western Christianity has been costly. Thus the debate as to how the physical universe, including our bodies came to be, occurring instantly with the signs of billions of years or actually occurring over billions of years, makes little difference to me. I find more sense and freedom in seeing myself as Spirit, one with an Unseen Oneness of the Universe than as a separate, temporary composition of water and a few minerals.
Whether the universe evolved slowly or “instantly” is not nearly important as the evolution of my own understanding and appreciation of Spirit completeness. I contemplate this idea daily, hourly, with growing freedom and release from fear, guilt and mental weariness. Arguments and debate as to how are meaningless in the light and understanding of Who I am as part of Spirit. As the Noble Truths of Buddhism teach, to detach from mortal identity is freedom and peace. Or as Paul wrote in one of the earliest letters in the Christian writings, we can continue on in peace with our focus on the Unseen rather than the seen. The one is life and the other is death. The one is eternal and the other is temporary. The choice of identity has wonderful and life changing perspectives and feelings.
Evolution of the physical universe as to where and how it came from or the evolution of thinking, reasoning, and pondering in silence? I choose more of the later than the former. It’s been a life long journey but one with wonderful release and freedom.