Evolution and the Revival of the Human Spirit
When Christians learn that I have spoken to tens of thousands of Unitarian Universalists, humanists, scientists, environmentalists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Bahai, New Agers, and countless high school, college, and university students, I’m often asked, “What kind of message do you share with non-Christians that they find inspiring?”
What follows, my answer to this question, is pretty much the same message that Christians find inspiring—except that in Christian contexts I also feel free to interpret the same facts and natural processes using traditional metaphors held sacred within the Church for centuries. There are a multitude of moving ways to interpret The Great Story, as evidenced here.
I wrote the following secular sermon in 2002, just before Connie and I launched our itinerant ministry as America’s evolutionary evangelists. (I included it as Chapter 3 in my book, Thank God for Evolution. The Preface, Promises, Prologue, Introduction, Chapter 1: “Our Big Picture Understanding of Reality”, and Chapter 2: Evolution Is NOT Meaningless Blind Chance”, are also availble online here.)
I always speak extemporaneously, so this text served only as a template for many of the actual talks I delivered at secular and non-Christian gatherings during our first several years on the road. It reflects only a fraction of the material in my book—a small portion of what I see as Good News in Big History (also see here)—and it doesn’t address any expressly Christian topic (which I attend to in Parts III-V and Appendix B of my book).
It serves to introduce two foundational themes. First, a meaningful interpretation of what mainstream science teaches about our vast evolutionary past can enrich virtually any religious or philosophical worldview. Second, a sacred rendering of our evolutionary journey offers enormous practical benefits for leading joyful, on-purpose lives and for recovering from life’s inevitable calamities.
EVOLUTION AND THE REVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT
A quotation from the great philosopher and father of American pragmatism, William James, addresses the practical difference it makes whether we view the Universe as benign or indifferent. James writes, “From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreignness [an indifferent Universe] and one of intimacy [a benign Universe] means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.”
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to feel such passion for life, gratitude, and a sense of purpose that you could hardly wait to jump out of bed each morning?
What I’m about to share with you I call the gospel of evolution. I call it the gospel of evolution because “gospel” means “good news” and this message is indeed good news. It’s the good news of how you can be free of judgment and guilt, how you can access the guiding wisdom of the Universe on a daily basis, how you can have inner peace in times of accelerating change, and how you can find realistic hope when you look into the future.
For your effort, if you pay close attention to what I’m about to share with you and apply this message to your own life, beginning today, I guarantee that this season, and indeed this year, will be one of your best ever, no matter what life throws your way.
The Universe Can Be Trusted
To begin, let us all rejoice that there now exists a vast, worldwide consensus within the scientific community about the nature and history of the Cosmos—from the very, very small (subatomic realm), to the very, very large (the Universe as a whole). We are astonished by the picture of the Universe that scientists paint, by the grandeur and magic of our common creation story, the epic of evolution.
Consider that a hundred years ago we had no idea that atoms were created in the bellies of stars, nor that our Sun was a third or fourth generation star. We also didn’t know that stars were organized into galaxies. Even two decades ago, before the Hubble Space telescope, we could not have conceived that galaxies numbered a quarter of a trillion! Your grandparents and great grandparents did not know that the continents slowly slid around the Earth on vast tectonic plates, nor that genetic information is stored within the architecture of a double helix molecule. As I look around this room, I would guess that almost none of us learned in school that the dinosaurs were annihilated by an intruder from space. This knowledge is just too new.
Yet how many of us live our lives with an awareness of the story of the Universe, a story of 14 billion years of the comings and goings of stars and planets and life? The Universe is just a place, right? A place where our stories unfold, right?
No! There is a story, a great story. In fact, it could be called The Great Story because it’s the story that embraces and includes every other story that has ever been told or ever will be told. Even if extraterrestrials prove to exist, it is their story too because it’s the Universestory, and everything that exists is, by definition, part of the Universe.
Consider that no matter what happens in the Universe, the story can always be counted on to move in the same five-fold direction: the direction of greater diversity, greater complexity, greater awareness, greater speed of change, and greater intimacy with itself.
Imagine a zygote: a fertilized egg in the womb. When your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg came together, you got your start as one undifferentiated living cell. That cell then doubled and doubled and doubled again. Some cells became eye cells. Others became ear cells, kidney cells, bone cells, and so on. Importantly, after a few months, when your fetus self in utero was able to distinguish light from dark, it would have been silly to think of that transformation as, “Well, the eye cells can see now,” or “The eye is seeing now.” Rather, what we say is, “The child is now able to see.” So, too, with hearing, and with all the other senses. When you began to distinguish your mother’s and father’s voice, would you have expected your parents to think, “Isn’t it wonderful that her ear can now hear us?” or “Well, his ear cells seem to be hearing now.” No. The excitement is, “Our baby can hear!”
The Universe, first and foremost, is a Uni-verse. It is a singularity, a holy whole. It started out as undifferentiated energy and has been expanding and becoming more complex, more aware—and thus more intimate with itself—throughout the last 14 billion years. When the first eye was fashioned, when early creatures could distinguish light from dark, shapes and movement, it wasn’t just those creatures that were seeing. It was the Universe that was learning to see. It was the Universe becoming more aware of itself and experiencing itself in a more intimate way. When the first ear developed, when living creatures could distinguish different sounds, it was the Universe learning to hear. It was the Universe becoming more aware and more intimate with itself through the complexity we call hearing. So, keeping the analogy of a zygote in mind, let us now look at the five-fold direction in which the Universe as we now know it has emerged.
Since the beginning of time, the Universe as a whole could be counted on—it could be trusted (though not without interruption or occasional setbacks)—to move in these five directions:
• greater diversity—more variety and novelty over time.
• greater complexity—wholes becoming parts of larger wholes, from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms to multicellular organisms, all the way up to democracies, satellite telecommunications, and the Internet.
• greater awareness—creatures appearing over time with a larger sphere of potential consciousness. For example, a turtle has more awareness than an amoeba. A horse has more awareness than a turtle. A human has more awareness than a horse. Humans living today are collectively aware of more than what humans living a few hundred years ago could have possibly known, before the advent of orbiting telescopes and electron microscopes.
• greater speed of change—creative breakthroughs happening more quickly than in prior times, because each evolutionary advance encourages further breakthroughs. Atoms, molecules, life, photosynthesis, multicellularity, vertebrates, mammals, primates, humans, agriculture, industry, computers, the Internet. Whew! Each advance happens faster and opens the way for the next breakthrough to happen even faster. Don’t expect things to slow down. Greater speed of change is intrinsic to this evolving Universe. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we can’t lead peaceful, centered lives. It is possible to have peace of mind in the midst of enormous and fast-paced change.
• greater intimacy with itself—when the first eye developed, and the first ear, it was, literally, the Universe learning to see and hearitself, and thus becoming more intimate with itself. Similarly, the onset of sexual reproduction expressed a new level of intimacy, as did the inception of predation some billion years ago when creatures started eating other creatures. Mammals are the living forms through which the Universe begins to experience its own depths of feeling in ways that reptiles and earlier forms of life could not. It is now through the human that the Universe awakens to its wholeness and to the wonder of existence.
The Universe can be counted on over time—it can be trusted, deeply trusted—to move in the direction of more diversity, more complexity, more awareness, more transformation and growth, faster and faster, and more intimacy.
There are two other things the Universe can be counted on doing. First, we can depend on the Universe to feistily hold on to its learnings, its creative breakthroughs, its evolutionary advances. To use relational language, it is fiercely loyal. Since the Universe learned to create complex atoms from simple hydrogen, it has always been able to do so. Once it learned to eat sunlight, or form multicellular organisms, or live on land, it never forgot how to do these things either. In fact, there is no evidence that the Universe has ever lost a major evolutionary breakthrough. Sure, there are plenty of what scientists call “evolutionary dead ends.” But as far as we can tell, none of these contributed uniquely to the creative trends of the Universe we just discussed. The Universe has a stubborn habit of preserving its greatest achievements, especially those that contribute to greater diversity, complexity, awareness, intimacy, and speed of change.
Finally, the Universe can be counted on—deeply trusted—to provide every creature and every age with all sorts of problems and breakdowns, stresses and difficulties, and occasionally even full-scale cataclysms to deal with. What we’ve recently discovered, and what your parents and grandparents never knew, is that problems and breakdowns are normal, natural, even healthy for an evolving, maturing Cosmos. Indeed, they seem to be essential for creativity. As it turns out, every evolutionary advance and every creative breakthrough in the history of the Universe, as best as we can tell, was preceded by some difficulty, often of great severity.
Is this process beginning to sound familiar, perhaps like our own lives?
Too often we confuse what feels bad to us with what is bad for us. Yet the two are not the same. Who among us has not experienced something we labeled “bad” in the moment—a problem, disaster, whatever—that set in motion events that eventually off ered up “good”? When we can let go of our judgments and resentments and come to trust Wisdom beyond our understanding, we discover thatlife seems bent on taking what manifests in the moment as bad news and transforming it into good news and further evolutionary development.
Let me give a few examples from Earth’s history…
One of the most violent events to regularly occur in the Universe is a supernova explosion. A star is a huge ball of hydrogen gas, compressed by gravity, fusing into helium, which releases an enormous amount of heat and light. In large stars, at least eight times as large as our Sun, when the hydrogen fuel is all used up and even the helium has mostly fused into carbon, a marvelous sequence of cosmic alchemy begins: carbon is fused into neon; neon into oxygen; oxygen into silicon; silicon into calcium, magnesium, and eventually on up to iron. Because iron fusion doesn’t produce energy (it requires energy), the star’s iron core implodes under excruciating heat and pressure. Heavier elements such as cobalt, nickel, copper, tin, gold, and uranium are formed when the star rebounds in an explosion so spectacular and breathtaking that its brightness briefly outshines its entire galaxy. The explosion seeds the galaxy with a rich assortment of elemental stardust, essential for planets and for life.
Except for hydrogen, every atom of your body and everything around you was forged in the womb of an ancestral star. Remember the 1960s song “Woodstock”? “We are stardust, we are golden . . .” That is literally true. We are stardust evolved to the place that it can now think about itself and tell its own story. We do not merely believe this; we know it.
A supernova explosion is about as violent as the Universe gets. A star is obliterated. Boom! And yet without these explosions, the basic stuff of planets—and life—would not exist. The story would be diminished, and there would be no beings to learn the story, to tell the story, to delight in the stupendous story of Creation! Can you begin to see why Edward O. Wilson, professor of biology at Harvard University and one of the most respected scientists in the world, refers to the epic of evolution as perhaps the greatest religious story we will ever have?
A supernova explosion is goodness. Here is another example of catastrophe catalyzing creativity:
Our planet’s first pollution crisis was bad news for virtually everything alive at the time. The early Earth’s atmosphere was not at all like it is today. It contained almost no free oxygen. One day, some clever bacteria figured out a way to extract hydrogen from water and passed this skill on to their descendants, who did the same. These bacteria spewed their waste directly into the air, with no concern for the health of the environment. Over time Earth’s atmosphere became so polluted with a deadly, toxic poison—oxygen—that life suff ered horribly. Bacteria were dying all over the place. But, as always, the Universe pulled another rabbit out of its creative hat. Because it was precisely this bad news that forced diff erent kinds of bacteria to cooperate in ways that they had never done before, which eventuated in cells with a nucleus that could breathe oxygen, then multicellular organisms, then communities of multicellular organisms. So! No oxygen pollution crisis equals no cooperation, no community—nothing more exciting than anaerobic bacteria.
Another example calls up our memory of the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs ruled the continents for more than 150 million years (much longer than us). During this time, which scientists call the Mesozoic era, mammals were small scruffy creatures who stayed in burrows and mostly came out just at night, because, as you can well imagine, they were terrifi ed of big, ugly, carnivorous dinosaurs. Then one spring day, a terrible catastrophe struck. An asteroid 10 miles across, traveling at a speed of 50,000 miles per hour, crashed into our planet just off the Yucatán peninsula of what is today Mexico, punching out a crater 100 miles wide. Imagine all the nuclear weapons that our species has ever created being launched and arriving at the same destination at exactly the same moment . . . and then multiply that by a thousand. That’s right. This event, 65 million years ago, was a thousand times more powerful than all our nuclear weapons combined.
The meteor impact that wiped out the dinosaurs turned the sky into a cauldron of sulfuric acid. It also triggered a magnitude 12 earthquake, which is a million times more powerful than a magnitude 6 earthquake. This, in turn, unleashed at least six mega tsunamis, several of which were more than 300 feet high. The impact ignited a global firestorm that incinerated perhaps a quarter of the living biomass, releasing so much carbon dioxide that the average global temperature (after first plunging into cold, owing to the cloud of dust obscuring the Sun) later rose by 20 degrees Fahrenheit and stayed that way for a million years. Whether taken out by the firestorm, the acid rain, the tsunamis, or the extreme fluctuations in temperature, three out of every four species alive at the time went extinct. The biggest creatures were hit the hardest, and thus each and every species of what we loosely call “dinosaurs” went extinct, along with all the pterosaurs of the air and mosasaurs and plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs of the sea.
All in all, it was not one of Earth’s better days. But thankfully, from our perspective, it was precisely this catastrophe that allowed those mammals who survived in their burrows to fl ourish and diversify, culminating in all the amazing mammals of the world today, including ourselves. So: no catastrophe, no whales or dolphins, no dogs or cats, no giraff es or elephants, no lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!), and, of course, no me, no you.
So the next time a comet crashes into your psyche or your life feels like sulfuric acid is raining on your head, or the next time a magnitude 12 earthquake rocks your world and you feel like you want to hide away in a dark hole for several months, just remember: in a few million years, things will be fine. Seriously though, the next time you’re greeted by a 300-foot tsunami at home or at the office, just remember that you are part of an amazing, creative Universe that turns chaos and catastrophes into new growth and opportunities as regularly as day follows night. This is very good news.
Let’s look at one last example of goodness wrapped in a strange package. It is a case study a whole lot closer to us in time than the dinosaur extinction. One of the most traumatic periods in human history began in the 14th century when Asia and Europe were ravaged by the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death. Reaching Europe from China in 1347, this plague was so devastating that within just a few years it killed off some 25 million people—one third of the population of Europe. Almost half the inhabitants of Florence died within three months—and no one knew why. Even when the worst was over, smaller outbreaks continued, not just for years but for centuries. Survivors lived in perpetual fear of the plague’s return, and the disease didn’t disappear from Europe until the 1600s.
As you can imagine, medieval society never recovered from the eff ects of the plague. So many people had died that there were serious labor shortages all over Europe, which led workers to demand higher wages. But landlords refused those demands, so by the end of the 1300s, peasant revolts broke out in England, France, Belgium, and Italy. The disease also took its toll on the religious establishment. People throughout Christendom had prayed devoutly for deliverance from the plague. Why hadn’t those prayers been answered? A new period of political turmoil and philosophical questioning ensued. So . . . bad news, right? Of course! Yet many scholars and historians conclude that not only did the plague lead to major political and religious reforms but, apparently, it might have been the primary impetus that launched modern scientific inquiry, which eventually gave us big history, the epic of evolution—the Great Story. How so? Because many educated people during this time refused to believe that all the anguish and suffering and loss were simply the result of God’s wrath. So there began a fierce drive to figure out how the world works, which eventuated in, among other things, the discovery that the plague was spread by fleas on rats. So . . . no plague, quite possibly no awareness of much of what we now know to be true about the nature of the Universe and our role in it.
What becomes obvious from these examples is that, to speak metaphorically, the Universe seems resolutely determined to take bad news and turn it into new creativity. That is, on the other side of Good Friday is Easter Sunday. And so the first insight, the first affirmation of faith and confidence in the gospel of evolution, is that the Universe can be trusted. Specifically, it can be trusted to move in the direction of greater diversity, complexity, awareness, intimacy, and speed of change. It can be trusted to preserve its breakthroughs. And it can be trusted to provide a wealth of problems and breakdowns that fuel the creative process.
Now, all this is well and good for stars and planets and life. But what about you and me? What about our own little stories within the Great Story? Can we trust that the wisdom of the Universe is at work in our own era, in our own little dramas?
You Are Part of the Universe
A Native American elder, Black Elk, said this:
“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of men and women when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the Universe and all its powers.”
Thanks to science, we now can see that a relationship with the Cosmos awaits us. We begin to catch a glimpse of the awesome role of the human in the Universe process—and of our destiny as Homo sapiens, or wise humans. For with us, the Universe brought into existence a creature by which it can begin to know—to reflect on—its vastness, its beauty, its amazing journey. You see, we didn’t comeinto this world, we grew out from it. Black Elk knew this, at least intuitively. We humans are not separate creatures on Earth, in a Universe. We are a mode of being of Earth, an expression of the Universe.
A human being looking through a telescope is literally the Universe looking at itself and saying, “Wow!” A student looking through a microscope is Planet Earth learning in consciousness, with awareness, how it has functioned unconsciously and instinctually for billions of years.
We are a means by which Nature can appreciate its beauty and feel its splendor. We also, of course, contribute in our own ways to the chaos and breakdowns that will, in turn, catalyze further creativity. As we have already seen, if the Universe can be trusted to do anything, it surely can be trusted to do that! What would it be like to spend the next day or week or month playing with this mindset? What would life be like if you viewed your problems as blessings in disguise—knowing you are part of the Universe, a mode of expression of the Universe? If you got that far, then it’s just a stroll through the woods to come to embrace the third point in this gospel, this good news, of evolution: Accept what is and follow your heart—that is, live integrously.
Accept What Is and Live in Right Relationship to Reality
Accepting what is and living in right relationship to reality is another way of doing what most other animals and species do naturally, without effort, and without hesitation or foreboding. Other animals don’t waste time grumbling about events that come their way. As far as we can tell, they don’t fret about all the things that could go wrong. They don’t tell themselves that this or that should or shouldn’t have happened. They just accept whatever is real, whatever happens to them and to the world, and then they make the best of it.
For us humans to attain a similar freedom from judgment and regret we must begin by trusting the Universe, fostering faith in God, making life right. These are three ways of saying essentially the same thing. Each approach nurtures a peaceful heart and mind, which in turn allows for clear communication between us and the larger Creative Reality in which we all live and move and have our being. It’s trusting that the same wisdom and intelligence that has brought the Universe along for 14 billion years is still at work. And it’s trusting that all the difficult, painful, or discouraging experiences in our own lives, and in the world as a whole, are nevertheless part of the creative process, and can be embraced by the arms of faith.
What this means for me is that now when something painful or traumatic happens, or when something frustrating occurs, the first thing I do is stop and really feel my feelings. Then I act AS IF both my feelings and the triggering event are gifts and blessings in disguise—that the Universe is conspiring on my behalf. Whether this is true or not, I cannot know. It really doesn’t matter. This way of perceiving is transformational and empowering. “The Universe can be trusted” is a very useful belief. When I act as if all things work together for the good of those who love Reality and are called to serve a higher purpose, I love my life! What more could I want?
“Accepting what is,” “trusting the Universe,” “making life right,” “celebrating Reality” are all inclusive ways of saying what many religious people—and people in recovery—mean when they speak of “having faith in God” or “trusting their Higher Power.” It really is the ticket to emotional, psychological, and spiritual freedom, and to a peace that transcends understanding. Accepting life on its own terms, just as it is—with all the challenges—is to remove oneself from the judgment throne of deciding which things are good and which things are bad. It’s letting the Universe/God play that role.
To have a powerful relationship with your own intuition and instincts—and thus to have a clear channel of communication with God/Reality (whatever you may choose to call It/Him/Her)—one must cultivate humility in this sense: Stop assuming that you know best how things are supposed to go in the world. Rather, try on an attitude of gratitude—not just for what is easy to be grateful for, but also for those challenges and difficulties in life for which you cannot yet detect a silver lining.
Having faith and being in integrity means trusting that each and every one of us is doing the best we can, given what we’ve got to work with at the time. It’s trusting that, from the perspective of the Universe, everything may be “right on schedule.” This is a powerful way to live, and it need not diminish the urgency to act and to be of service in the world. A trusting attitude will actually strengthen the urge to be in action, because we know that the Universe works through us, too—through our own deeds. For example, I trust that our Western consumer culture is not a cosmic mistake, but I am also doing all that I can to help it recover from its addictive patterns and thus to mature beyond its present self-destructive and Earth-destructive habits. Looking within, I trust that my shadow—my prideful, arrogant, selfish, seductive side—serves a purpose, but I am also committed to being a humble, thoughtful, compassionate, and faithful man. We can trust that those who oppress others are less evil than they are ignorant, and at the same time we can do everything within our power to ensure that freedom and justice prevail. Thus, trusting the Universe also means trusting that the anguish and anger that we sometimes feel over what is happening to the oppressed and to our world, and the yearnings we have for a more just and sustainable society, are part of the Universe too, and are meant to propel us into action.
It does take eff ort to remind ourselves, especially when troubles abound, that “the Universe can be trusted” and that “I am part of the Universe.” But I promise, it won’t take long for this outlook to become second nature. The mind will almost always take the most empowering route available to it, when given the chance. But don’t take my word for it. Play with it yourself. See how it works for you.
Grow in Evolutionary Integrity
To live life fully and love the life you live you must be committed to deep, or evolutionary, integrity. If you want to experience real joy, true peace, and lasting fulfi llment, there’s really no other way. To grow in evolutionary integrity means getting right with Reality (God/the Universe) by growing in humility, authenticity, responsibility, and service to the Whole.
Why humility? Because what’s undeniably so is that the Universe is primary and you are derivative. Said another way, you are not the center of the Universe and your ego does not run the show. We were not thrust into the Universe, we were born out of it. You couldn’t exist without it and the Universe would do just fine without you. And that’s the truth! Humility and its twin sister, trust, are thus essential because only when you’re coming from a place of humility are you in touch with Reality as it actually is.
Why authenticity? Because only by being authentic are you aligned with Reality. Honesty, transparency, and authenticity enable the feedback necessary for individuals and groups to evolve in healthy ways. We may sometimes be tempted to lie or present ourselves in false ways because of the promise of a cheap thrill. Deception never, however, provides lasting joy.
Why responsibility? Because what’s really real is that there is only one person responsible for the quality of your life, and that person is you. As Jack Canfield advises in his book The Success Principles,
If you want to be successful, you have to take 100 percent responsibility for everything that you experience in your life. This includes the level of your achievements, the results you produce, the quality of your relationships, the state of your health and physical fitness, your income, your debts, your feelings—everything! This is not easy. In fact, most of us have been conditioned to blame something outside of ourselves for the parts of our life we don’t like. We blame our parents, our bosses, our friends, the media, our co-workers, our clients, our spouse, the weather, the economy, our astrological chart, our lack of money—anyone or anything we can pin the blame on. We never want to look at where the real problem is—ourselves.
Only by taking full responsibility for our lives, and the wake we’ve left, can we know heaven on Earth. Righteous indignation may feel good in the moment but blame never yields true happiness.
Why service to the Whole? Because it is everything to us: our source and sustenance, our Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Whatever we may choose to call the Whole, and whatever metaphors or analogies we use to describe it, the undeniable fact is that Ultimate Reality is creator of all things, knows all things, reveals all things, is present everywhere, transcends and includes all things, expresses all forms of power, holds everything together, suff ers all things, and transforms all things.
The good news here is that while it is possible to feel alienated from the Universe (when we are out of integrity, judging events negatively, or casting blame), the fact is that it is impossible to ever be alienated—no matter what. You are part of the Universe. Achieving enlightenment, freedom, salvation, empowerment is as easy (and as challenging) as developing a habit of trusting what’s real and growing in humility, authenticity, responsibility, and service to the Whole—that is, growing in evolutionary integrity.
Trusting the Universe Means Welcoming Challenges
Your shadow side—your mistakes, your shortcomings, your sins, the places you’ve been out of integrity—all these are part of the Universe as well, and can be trusted just like everything else. Your sins and shortcomings, your vices and transgressions, are a necessary part of the creative process of the Cosmos. They’re as essential as comets and earthquakes and plagues. Isn’t that a comforting thought!
Now, this is really good news. All my life I thought my problems and difficulties were evidence that either I was fundamentally flawed, or someone else was to blame. Now I see my problems and difficulties, and our world’s challenges as well, as gifts for my and our evolution, evidence that we’re all alive and growing, and evidence that our species is maturing. So we can forgive ourselves, and others, for all the unloving, stupid, selfish, arrogant, ugly, petty, nasty things we’ve all said and done because the Universe/God/Reality has already forgiven us. In fact, I’m not sure forgiveness is quite the right word. Let’s just say our sins and failings can be used as compost for new growth.
You see, as Christians claim—ultimately, we are “saved by grace through faith”—that is, trust. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Jews and Buddhists and Muslims and Taoists and Confucians are wrong. Each religious tradition on the planet, and
every philosophical belief system, has unique gifts and limitations. Different religions are like different flowers. Each one has its own special fragrance and beauty. The Great Story embraces them all for the simple reason that it’s the Universe story, which, of course, includes the story of how every religion came into existence at a particular time and in a particular place, how each supported group-level cooperation, and how each has evolved.
Here is an affirmation that when you commit it to memory and rehearse it throughout the day, will add tremendous value to your life: “I trust that everything is perfect for my growth and learning.” Here’s another: “I trust the Universe. Tere is nothing I can’t forgive or find a way to appreciate or have compassion for.”
Finally, I invite you to consider that this message is not only good news for us as individuals; it’s also good news for us as a species. When we look around and see what’s happening to others and to our world, and when we realize how much work still needs to be done, it is all too easy to give up in despair. And yet, what if the Universe really can be trusted? What if the enormous challenges ahead are precisely what we need to compel us to make healthy changes? What if these challenges are exactly what we need to move us beyond our disputes? Is it possible that all really is right on schedule? I, for one, choose to trust that this is so. In the words of cultural historian Thomas Berry,
The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the Sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.
Evolutionize Your Life: Heaven Is Coming Home to Reality (alt. title: “Deep-Time Wisdom: An Inspiring Vision of Humanity’s Future“): 75-minute video in 4 parts — This is the main program I am now delivering to all audiences, from Catholics to Baptists to Buddhists to Atheists. So far it’s been enthusiastially received in devoutly religious and anti-religous settings alike. I offered an early version at the United Nations in April 2009, where it was also well received.
Is Biblicist Christianity Bankrupt? — my public debate with Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I discuss what I see as the radical difference between literalist faith and evolutionary faith. I also discuss why I’m greatful for the prophetic role the New Atheists are playing in helping religion evolve in step with what God/Reality is revealing through scientific, historic, and cross-cultural evidence. A printable, more readable PDF of this can be found here.