Our universe started with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. Our sun is 5 billion years old, and earth is around 4.5 billion years old. We’re about halfway through the sun’s lifetime as a Class G star. Estimates for the first appearance of life on earth are 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago. Mankind’s divergence from the rest of the Ape family, generally considered to be about the time our earliest human-ish ancestors started walking upright, was around 6 million years ago. Walking upright is theorized to have gradually led to the development of larger and larger brains.
There is nothing fixed or static about this universe. Everything is in a perpetual state of change. Matter has increased in complexity from the sub-atomic plasma of the Big Bang to the innumerable combinations of atoms and molecules that make up the physical matter we’re familiar with today. Life forms have also gotten more complex, and over evolutionary time animal nervous systems have increased in complexity to the point that humanity, rational mankind, “homo sapiens sapiens” has emerged, introducing intelligence and conscious awareness to the Biosphere. This led thinkers such as Teilhard de Chardin and others to introduce the word “Noosphere” as a term for the realm of human thought and self-reflective conscious awareness. We can think about what we think about, something no other life form we know of can do.
Consciousness itself develops and grows in every individual human. A newborn infant is embedded in pure perception, with no experiential knowledge of the world to make sense of what its senses are perceiving. As the child interacts with the world he constructs internal psychological structures to help him understand it, always testing this understanding against the reality of his experience. This process will continue throughout his life.
With the development of humanity and human consciousness came the development of human society. Our Ape cousins are social creatures who prefer to live in groups and we are no different. But our intelligence, our intricate and subtle ways of interacting with each other, and above all our ability to speak to one another using complex language led us to establish social structures that are non-existent in the rest of the animal kingdom.
The development of writing about 5,000 years ago made it possible to pass on ideas and systems of understanding from one generation to the next, and the earliest examples of these had to do with humanity’s early intuitions about spirituality. Some of these early human writings about “the gods” were done at a time when humanity and human society was in the equivalent of Jean Piaget‘s Preoperational stage of childhood development. That is the stage that children pass through from the age of two to about the age of seven. It is the stage of childhood ego-centrism, the stage in which empathy, mutual understanding with “outsiders” and other bonding character traits are only beginning to be developed, and are often completely non-existent until the child is beginning to transition to the next stage.
That is also the age when children first learn to use symbols such as letters and numbers. So it should be no surprise that some of the earliest human writings contain insights into the level of maturity of the people who were doing the writing. The Pyramid Texts, for example, contain threats to the gods, in one case an Egyptian royal plotting to enlist one god to help him hunt down, cook up and eat some of the other gods.
If you keep the term “age appropriate” in mind when reading history, it becomes clear that the behavior of certain rulers or even entire civilizations can be easily understood if you think of how kids think and behave at certain ages. Imagine a playground full of children who have never had adult supervision growing to physical maturity without ever developing emotionally past the age of five or six. As sophisticated as some of those writings may be, their themes reflect the ego-centrism and superhuman fantasies of children.
A particular culture can only become as mature as the adults within it. Jean Piaget’s stage 4, which is the ability to think in abstract terms and consider hypothetical problems or situations, is as good a definition of “fully functioning adult” as we have. If there is a limitation here, it is in the emotional realm. There are people who are very good at seeing all the shades and nuances of an event or situation when they need to rationalize something done or said by one of their own, but are emotionally incapable of seeing “outsider” in any terms but in black and white.
Emotional maturity depends on the individual’s capacity to emerge from embeddedness in a psychological framework constructed earlier in their lives and transcend it. Usually this is some worldview about outsiders, but sometimes its a closely held belief about themselves as well. Transcendence never fully abandons that which has been transcended, but rather broadens the emotional capacity for understanding to include more and more of Outsider world. Often, but not always, the things they find objectionable about Outsider are projections of something in their own experience. The more strong the emotional reaction, the more likely that this is the case.
This is not to minimize right and wrong: basic human ethics, rights, and duties span culture and religion. Just as no individual should ever be judged on the basis of race, religion, or origin, neither should unethical or criminal behavior ever be excused on this basis either. People generally rise (or fall) to the standards they’re held accountable for.
As mankind developed the capacity for higher and higher levels of maturity, our societies have followed suit. Some of the best ideas I’ve found on human progression and development over time is in the work of Ken Wilber, whose books “No Boundary” and “A Brief History of Everything” are tremendously insightful, and were very influential to me when I began developing my own perspective.
As society has grown more complex, so has religion. It did not take any time at all for kings and emperors to realize that there is no better way to control a populace than to claim control of the afterlife. With the advent of writing came continuity of spiritual practices and traditions from one generation to the next. That helped preserve lessons and insights for later generations and has been key to the comparatively rapid development of human society since that time. A sad side effect, however, is that it helped some of history’s despots turn what should be a highly personal thing, an individual spirit developing a personal bond with God’s Spirit, into something controlled by the State and managed by a hierarchical Priesthood.
The history of Christianity since the time of Jesus will eventually get its own post, but the time from the Enlightenment until now can be described as Western mankind becoming more and more secular and at the same time moving Christianity back toward the principles that formed the core teachings of Jesus and the early church described in the New Testament.
Namely, that all interpersonal interactions should be guided by your selfless love for others empowered by God’s selfless love for you. That is the heart and soul of true Christianity.
That should be key. The Christianity that sent Crusaders to the Middle East, supported slavery, and introduced the term “Inquisition” to the lexicon no longer exists precisely because the state is no longer involved in religion. At least not in the West.
The universe is in a state of perpetual change, life continues its slow evolutionary progress forward, mankind has spread across the earth and we too are evolving, as are our societies and institutions, and we ourselves continue to mature as individual points of conscious self-awareness throughout our lives.
And Christianity itself is evolving, and must continue to do so. From the perspective of a thriving, changing, ever-growing universe, if something isn’t evolving, it is dead.