The perspective I’m trying to develop in this blog is twofold. First, that Spirit and God are real and actively involved with Earth, humanity, and in individual lives; secondly, that the process of Creation is exactly that: a process. The process got under way with the natural interaction of elements to form the physical foundations of the universe, and from that came the evolutionary development of life, up to and including humanity. The Creation story recounted in the Old Testament was given to a specific group of people who were at a rather “young” level of social and cultural maturity. It was intended to lay an historical foundation to both bind them together as a group, and to provide a basis for the laws, customs, and rituals that would be established later. The target audience for that story was still sacrificing their children to statues of farm animals, they were in no way ready for anything more complicated than the tale told in Genesis. It was never intended to be God’s personal lab notebook describing how the universe and the life within it came into being
Several thousand years later we’ve figured much of that out on our own. Creation started with the Big Bang, and It has grown from whatever that initial life form looked like 3.8 billion years ago all the way through all these ages to this species of Ape that is us. What is special about us is that we have the capacity of conscious awareness and abstract thought and, at long last, the capacity to perceive and interact with Spirit.
So evolution is the process of Creation. It didn’t start and end in six days, it started with the Big Bang and is still underway. Evolution is the means by which conscious awareness was created in this physical reality, and we don’t know if its finished yet. We have no idea if we’re the ultimate end-product of Creation or if the development of conscious awareness in modern humanity is only the beginning. For all we know we may only be the ground floor of a noospheric edifice of conscious awareness that will continue to grow into the far future as evolution trundles along on its merry course.
With this post I want to begin describing my take on the most important topic of Christianity, Salvation. By Christian tradition, the afterlife is guaranteed by an act of will. It is a conscious, willful declaration of intent to establish a personal connection with Spirit. It comes in various forms but usually this involves invoking the Spirit’s incarnation into physical reality, Jesus, and speaking to him directly. We Christians believe that he is who he said he was and that the power of Spirit is available to one and all, just as he spent his life telling everyone he came into contact with 2000 years ago.
In my view there are two kinds of salvation. First of course is the afterlife, which I will discuss more in a later post. Here I will only say that establishing that connection with Spirit should put all other fears or concerns about that to rest for good. I will definitely have much more to say on that.
The second type of salvation concerns one’s daily life on this earth. What is “salvation” in terms of our existence as products of several billion years of evolution? Basically it is liberation from the drives and instincts we inherited as members of the ape family.
Both the easiest and the hardest thing to do is to live life as a purely biological entity, impulsively following the dictates of our own evolution, and succeeding (or more often failing) to construct a life of happiness and peace based solely on our own efforts. Sometimes this works out for people, but usually it doesn’t.
Why not? Because evolution never developed instincts appropriate for intelligent animals. We’re the first species to have self-aware consciousness, and so we’re the first of earth’s life forms to even imagine things like love and ethics and justice and forgiveness. Until humanity there has been no evolutionary development of honor or dignity or responsibilities or rights, nor any other attribute that generally goes into the human-only concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, etc. Part of humanity’s work on this edifice of consciousness is to establish those principles, and arrange our societies in such a way that it is evolutionarily advantageous to have them.
No instincts or impulses ever evolved to handle complex verbal or written communication, the ability to plan and design and engineer things, no evolutionary instincts come to our rescue to help us cope with being stuck in traffic, or being yelled at by the boss, or dealing with a divorce or foreclosure or any of the other stresses we’re subject to.
Actually that’s not entirely true, the old standby “fight or flight” is always available in those situations, but it has become evolutionarily advantageous to refrain from ripping your boss’s throat out when your status within the tribe is challenged by his criticism of the PowerPoint presentation you spent all weekend preparing. No animals besides humans have to deal with the stress of suppressing instinctive behaviors bred into us over millions of years, and in this modern age that is becoming an intensely stressful challenge.
In an earlier post on child psychologist Jean Piaget I mentioned the stages of development that every human goes through on our way to becoming mature adults capable of abstract reasoning. One way to look at the process of maturity is that it involves developing a stronger and stronger sense of self while at the same time granting more and more autonomy to others. The process involves the whole being: it is perceptual, it can be highly emotional, it is intellectual in the sense that perceptions of others’ point of view leads to understanding, even where you don’t agree, rather than frustration or anger.
Maturing from childhood into adulthood is a process of transformation, of “emergence” some call it, from complete embeddedness in self and one’s own perspectives to an autonomous personality that is capable of relating to the world that that person was formerly embedded in. When you are “embedded” in something, you cannot relate to it. It is part of you and you are part of it, there is no relationship there. Maturity brings autonomy to both the self and whatever that self had been embedded in. Only then is relationship possible.
A young child’s first major stage of development is the recognition that she and mom are separate individuals. The so-called “terrible twos” are a time when most children are going through this process, and testing their new-found sense of independent identity against pretty much the entire world. As we mature we make many more such transitions, until at some point we do naturally what would have been completely unimaginable only a few years before: leave mom and dad behind to get on with your own life and your own family. At that point the child is an autonomous and independent adult, and can now relate to his or her parents in ways that were impossible throughout childhood.
The act of will that establishes the individual’s relationship with Spirit is the beginning of a similar process. Jesus used the term “born again” and that is the perfect metaphor. Our first birth was into the ape family and was not our choice at all. This second birth of being “born in the Spirit” is entirely our choice, and this act of will has a very long history of genuine, life-changing transformations. It opens your mind (some would say “your heart”) to such a new level of peace and hope and strength and you’ll wonder what took you so long.
And contrary to popular opinion you’ll generally find yourself less judgmental of others, and more empathetic and understanding. The Spirit is the real deal, a real connection to the non-physical realities that seers and prophets from all spiritual traditions have been on about for thousands of years. They were onto something that I believe the New Testament captures very well when read from this perspective. Paul’s compare-and-contrast passages between being born of the flesh (as a species of Ape) and born of the Spirit (transcending Ape) make much more sense to me now than they ever did when my old Creationist self was reading them. Of course Paul knew nothing of evolution at the time, Darwin was still 1800 years in the future, but it is amazing how much more clearly the New Testament reads when those passages are read from the Evolution perspective.
I just added “Part 1” to the title of this post because there is much more to say on all this. The type of salvation I want to talk about next (salvation and the afterlife) will be partly based on a near-death experience I had when I was a kid, and that will probably take up several posts.