Teilhard deChardin and the Religious Phenomenon
International Symposium on the Occasion of Centenary of the Birth of Teilhard deChardin
Ewert H. Cousins, Fordham University, New York, 16-18 September 1981
According to Teilhard de Chardin, the human community is undergoing a radical transformation of consciousness. We are evolving from a state of tribal-national awareness to global consciousness. Through a process which he calls "planetization," the forces of evolution have shifted from divergence to convergence.' When mankind first appeared on the earth, groups diverged into separate tribal units. However, the spherical shape of the earth, the increase in population and the rapid development of communication in recent times have caused consciousness to converge and intensify. Out of this process, global consciousness is emerging.
What role will religion play in the process of planetization? Can Teilhard's concept of religion help us understand the religious phenomenon of our time?....
The Religious Phenomenon
In an unprecedented way, diverse religious groups are meeting in an atmosphere of harmony.... Both World Council of Churches and the Vatican have official agencies for dialogue with other religions....
The most striking aspect of this religious convergence is that it is not primarily on the level of dogmatic beliefs, moral prescriptions or ritual, but on the level of spiritual experience. Throughout the world there is a thirst for spiritual values, a focusing on that inner dimension of the person called by certain traditions “the spirit.” This spiritual core is the deepest center of the person. It is here that one is open to the transcendent; it is here that one experiences ultimate reality. Once this core is awakened, it must be cultivated and made the center of one’s life.....
In the United States... thousands have turned to the teaching of the East, the practice of meditation.... [W]e are witnessing a religious ferment, a welling up and convergence of spiritual energies which seems to be activated by the process of planetization that Teilhard describes.
Paradoxically, at the same time that the spiritual energies of religions are converging, the modern world is being secularized..... In Teilhard's terms, does it represent a form of human energy which in its roots is spiritual and which must be channeled into the human phenomenon in its process of planetization?
Teilhard's concept of religion helps us understand the religious phenomenon of our times in both its ecumenical and secularizing trends. His concepts of the convergence and complexification of consciousness clarify the meeting of religions. His understanding of the spiritual power of matter makes it possible to see the process of secularization in a spiritual light. Yet his thought is not merely-a-harmonious synthesis... but the call of a prophet ringing out across the future, challenging the religions to be active forces in our time to harness and direct human energies at this critical moment in history, so that the secular will reach fruition in the spiritual and the spiritual will encompass and activate the energies of the secular....
Teilhard's Concept of Religion
An extensive study of Teilhard's religious thought has been made by Henri de Lubac, The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin.' ...
The key-to understand Teilhard's concept of religion is the universe, specifically the intimate relation between God and the universe, expressed in his doctrine of the cosmic Christ. ...God is the focus of the world. He sees God's presence in the world through the mystery of Christ. This is not merely the historical Jesus, but the universal Christ, which he understands as the "synthesis of Christ and the universe.
This presence of Christ in the universe is not static, but dynamic; for Teilhard identifies the Omega of evolution with the Christ of revelation. In his comprehensive theory, evolution proceeds through the spheres of matter, life and consciousness. This process requires a center which is also its energizing goal. The center, which he calls Omega, is present throughout the process but transcendent to the process. It is the divine presence, active in the universe bringing it to its fulfillment. In the essay MJ Universe, he states the proposition: "Christ is Identical with Omega." ...
By identifying Christ and Omega, Teilhard. intimately relates the divine to the physical universe and to 'human. endeavor,-. Religion, then, for Teilhard must be seen in this context.
- On the level of belief, religion accepts the doctrine of the cosmic Christ, with all that it entails: namely the threefold faith, stated above, in the personality of God as the focus-of the world; the incarnate Christ; and the Church as a force in evolution.
- On the level of experience, religion involves a cosmic mystical awareness of the presence of God, acting throughout the universe.
- On the level of morality, religion calls mankind to further the evolutionary process by taking, responsibility for the earth, the future and the evolutionary process itself.
- For Teilhard, then, religion is primarily on the level of human consciousness and human action, rather than in institutions or belief systems, except insofar as these manifest and give direction to the former.... Teilhard expresses his understanding of how religion is related to energy and the evolution towards Omega:
"Religion, therefore, was not developed primarily as an easy way out, to provide shelter from the insoluble or intrusive difficulties met by the mind as it became active. In its real basis, it is biologically (we might almost say mechanically) the necessary counterpart to the release of the earth's spiritual energy: the human being by his appearance in nature, brings with him the emergence, ahead of him, of a divine pole to give him balance."
Teilhard's concept of religion... is directly concerned with the universe and its evolution towards the divine. The religions of the world represent the highest development of human consciousness in that direction. In view of Teilhard's specific theory of evolution through planetization, the encounter of religions represents the most advanced stage in the convergence of consciousness....
The Convergence of Religions
The convergence of religions should be viewed from the standpoint of Teilhard's theory of the evolution of consciousness. According to Teilhard, consciousness emerges out of a process that has its roots in the geosphere and the biosphere....
"In any domain," he says, "whether it be the cells of a body, the members of a society or the elements of a spiritual synthesis--union differentiates. From subatomic particles' [DUST?] to global consciousness, individual elements unite in a center-to-center union, which releases creative energy leading to more complex units. ... In this process the elements do not lose their identity but rather have it intensified by the union. ... The more 'other' they become in conjunction, the more they find themselves as 'self'."9
At this point in history, the forces of planetization are bringing about an unprecedented complexification of what Teilhard terms the noosphere, or sphere of consciousness, through the convergence of cultures and religions.
Teilhard himself saw the convergence of world religions as a phase of the complexification of the noosphere. In How I Believe, he examined Oriental religions, confessing his attraction for them: "The great appeal of the Eastern religions (let us, to put a name to them, say Buddhism) is that they are supremely universalist and cosmic. Never perhaps has the sense of the Whole, which is the life-blood of all mysticism, flowered more exuberantly than in the plains of India. Although drawn to Eastern religions, he resisted their form of monism: "For the East, the One is seen as a suppression of the multiple; for me, the 0ne is born from the concentration of the multiple." This .difference of perspective and attitude led him to turn back to the West.
In this essay he deals next with humanist pantheisms which are devoted to the universal progress of mankind. He was drawn by these, too, but discerned their limitations. He turned then to Christianity, and at first was dissatisfied with the impression it gives of not being concerned with the earth and human progress. In the universal Christ he finds a solution, which integrates the divine and 'best of the human.' He states: "The universal Christ, as I understood the name, is a synthesis of Christ and the universe....
...he sees the three currents flowing together: “In the great river of mankind, the three currents (Eastern, human and Christian) are still at cross-purposes. Nevertheless there are sure indications which make it clear that they are coming to run together.” For Teilhard these ‘currents converge in the universal Christ: “A general convergence of religions upon a universal Christ who fundamentally satisfies them all: that seems to me the only possible conversion of the world, and the only form in which a religion of the future can be conceived.”14....
...the central element in this new complexified religious consciousness is sympathy or empathy for the values of the other religions. For example, the Christian does not look on the other religion merely from his own theological perspective; rather he enters into the very structure of consciousness of the other religion and grasps its distinctive values from own perspective. From this perspective, he also views his own tradition, both sympathetically and critically. Then he returns to his Christian consciousness, but now enriched by his expanded horizons and with the spiritual energies that he has activated by a center-to-center union with the other mode of consciousness.
In the present generation of Christian theologians, this empathetic religious consciousness is appearing in a way not found in Teilhard himself or the theologians of his time. Raimundo Panikkar described it under the term “dialogic dialogue” to distinguish it from the dialectical dialogue, which is concerned with defending oneself and refuting the claims of other religions. l6
In his book The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man, he has established a dialogic dialogue between the Christian understanding of the Trinity and the religious experience of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam....
We are at the dawn of a new Christian theological consciousness.... Its theology of redemption, for example, has been developed for centuries without taking--into account the Hindu and Buddhist experience of liberation. In a global environment, this can no longer be tolerated. The task of the Christian theologian now is not to write a summa from the standpoint of Western culture, but to draw into a new complexified consciousness the totality of the religious experience of mankind.
...a more complexified form of religious consciousness emerges. In this complexified consciousness the Christian may perceive the mystery of Christ in Buddhism and the Buddhist may perceive Buddha nature in Christianity....
The Spiritual Meaning of the Secular
In The Phenomenon of Man, he speaks of the significance of secular enterprises for building the earth and for its ultimate religious meaning. For example, he sees that "religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge --the only one which can embrace the past and future of evolution....
In the Axial Period consciousness evolved from mythic awareness to critical reflection. In this period individual self-reflective consciousness, as we know it, was born.
In the previous period, primitive consciousness was embedded in the cosmos, in the life processes and in the collectivity of the tribe. In the Axial Period; philosophers and spiritual teachers appeared, calling the public to use intellect to free themselves from collective consciousness...
The result of the Axial Period, then, was a form of consciousness which released enormous spiritual-energies that shaped the great religions: It freed the human spirit from nature.... It awakened individual moral conscience which could stand in judgment over the state and even the religious establishment. It brought forth / philosophical reason, which could criticize myth and seek truth through dialectical processes.
At the same time, it alienated man from the earth, from his rootedness in the geosphere and biosphere, and ultimately led to secularization in the West....
Geogenesis, biogenesis and noogenesis are stages of a single cosmic-spiritual journey....
I would like to observe how appropriate it is for this symposium to be held at UNESCO, for the United Nations is the concrete symbol of and the pragmatic agency for developing the global consciousness that Teilhard described. On October 24, 1975, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, a conference of leaders from the world religions was held at the United Nations in New York. The planning of this conference was directly influenced by Teilhard's thought, in an attempt to activate the two dimensions of global consciousness described above.
In a joint statement read at the conference, the religious leaders affirmed:
"The crises of our time are challenging the world religions to release a new spiritual force transcending religious, cultural and national boundaries into a new consciousness of the oneness of the human community... We affirm a new spirituality, divested of insularity and directed toward a planetary consciousness....
"In conclusion, the delegates of the conference "One Is the Human Spirit" propose that the time is ripe for the religions of the world to bring together in concert their several visions in aid of the United Nations in its endeavor to build a better human society.
1. 'Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Le Phenomene Humain (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1955, pp. 268-269.
2. 'Henri de Lubac, La Pensge Religieuse du Pere Teilhard de Chardin (Paris: Aubier, 1962); English translation by René Hague, The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin (New York: Desclge, 1967).
14. Teilhard, Cornent Je Crois, p. 292; (English translation by Bernard P Harper and Row, 1965), p.150; trans., p.130.
See Brave New Schools, Chapter 5: Saving the Earth
The upside-down world of Pullman's "Golden Compass"