Embracing the generic wisdom of the New Cosmology is a major challenge for every world religion, and not merely for the Catholic Church. So much inherited baggage needs to be cleared away before the new vision can be embraced. And then having clarified what the new vision entails, there is the further challenge of the structural adaptations that will be necessary to ground the vision in the practical lives of Church members.
There is also an evolutionary process at work which will determine the outline of this essay. In Part One, I review dominant world views (cosmologies) out of which the Church has operated down through the centuries, a process that will also require a brief excursus into worldviews that prevailed in earlier times as highlighted in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). An excessive sense of attachment to these former worldviews inhibits the Church’s ability to embrace the more-expansive horizons of the New Cosmology. In Part Two, I describe the key features of the new cosmology as illuminated by modern science, along with some of the spiritual and theological implications of these novel understandings. In Part Three, I highlight some of the main challenges for the integration of these new insights, specifically the structural changes that will be necessary if the Church stands any realistic chance of a credible presence in the evolving world of the 21st century.
PART ONE: Previous Worldviews and their Impact on Ecclesiology.
To resist Empire as such, we must know what we are up against. It is something inherent in civilization itself. Non-imperial civilization is something yet to be seen upon our earth.
John Dominic Crossan (2007)
Inherent to every organization – sacred or secular, national or international – is a dominant worldview, a lens through which the organization views the world, and chooses to engage with it. A prevailing worldview consists of certain assumptions, many of which are subconscious, and therefore not easy to identify on a conscious level. Sometimes, the dominant worldview can be determined from how power is construed and the kind of institutions deemed to be necessary to exercise such power. Frequently, the worldview becomes so integrated into the organization, it is largely taken for granted and many of its key assumptions remain unquestioned for centuries and sometimes for millennia.
Many scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures (O.T.) seek to prioritize the God of the covenant, the God who invites people into a convivial relationship, a collaborative endeavour for justice and righteous living upon the earth. Reading through the Hebrew Scriptures, however, it is difficult to avoid, the ruling, king-like God, who exercises unilateral power, confronts enemies in battle, and steadfastly supports the winner over against the loser (see the extensive critique of Raymund Schwager SJ 1987). This is also the God who speaks from the burning bush and the pillar of cloud, very different from the human face of God embodied in the historical Jesus.
To the fore in the Hebrew Scriptures is the ruling Sky-God. According to this worldview, God rules downward from a heavenly throne, above and outside the present creation. And God rules directly through the male king, deemed to be God’s primary representative on earth, and therefore essentially divine. What later came to be known as the divine right of kings can be traced back to the Assyrians in the eighth century, BCE. It was subsequently adopted by the Medes, Persians, Macedonians, and by the Romans who first occupied Israel in 67 BCE. Even more significantly, we find a similar royal allegiance in Hinduism, Buddhism and in other ancient religious systems.
What is being described is not merely a particular way of dealing with power, of exercising governance. We are witnessing a powerful worldview, dictating and imposing a definitive set of values. Domination and control are to the fore. The rationale behind such values is not immediately obvious: humans are problematic, flawed creatures, whose rebellious tendencies need to be managed and curtailed by king-like divine governance. And humans are the primary root of the problem, after whose flawed influence everything else in creation is also deemed to be sinfully defective. The whole creation – cosmic and planetary – is declared to be corrupt.
We now see the underlying subtleties of a dominant worldview. In the case of the Judaeo-Christian vision, humans come first, and every thing else is deemed to be secondary to the human species. The anthropocentric focus dominates the entire global reality. The divine is a projected human construct, and we are led to believe that God endorses all human attempts to commodify and conquer the material creation. The Hebrew covenantal context, which viewed the land as God’s great gift to the people, has been suppressed in favour of an imperial ruling patriarch, whose primary, if not sole, interest is in human beings.
Roman imperialism, embraced the divine right of kings – and the accompanying world view – with a frightening literaliness. The tombstone of Caesar Augustus acknowledges him as a divine Son of God, and ancient Roman literary records often describe him as saviour of the world. We are told that the people of Israel detested Roman occupation – not because of its royal idolatry, however (which they themselves knew only too well) – but because of the several taxes they imposed, resulting in oppression, poverty and much suffering.
As we enter the Christian Scriptures we see the same ideology at work. According the Matt.1: 1-16 and Luke 3: 23-38, the genealogy of Jesus is traced to ancient royal sources. An authentic messianic bidder has to be of royal stock. If there is no royal lineage, the claimant is quickly dismissed as a forgery.
Into this cultural milieu comes the historical Jesus. His chosen followers – the twelve – are often perplexed because he seems to be failing to live up to their expectations. James and John hope to gain some royal status in the heavenly realm. And Peter cannot stomach any talk of the Cross or suffering – he hungers for the royal glory of divine patronage. Jesus himself begins to use a phrase – the Kingdom of God – one that has baffled scholars for almost the past 2,000 years. Is Jesus endorsing the divine royal dispensation, or is he mounting a counter-cultural challenge to it? Two-thousand years later, it is impossible to answer that question with any degree of accuracy.
The apostolic strategy of St. Paul suggests that he understood Jesus as presenting a countercultural vision to the imperial will-to-power, and traces of this alternative vision are detectable in early Christian times. However, by the time of Constantine’s death in 337 CE, Jesus had been crowned afresh as the Pantocrator (ruler of the whole universe). The divine right of kings had become the modus operandi for Christian governance. This powerful dispensation gradually became the basis of papal authority, and bishops were endowed with the status and privilege of royal patronage. The Kingdom of God was unquestionably accepted as Jesus’ own endorsement of the divine royal protocol, an interpretation of the Gospels that went virtually unchallenged till the middle of the 20th century.
Christian imperialism claimed a further endorsement from its rootedness in Greek philosophy, which in time became the basis of scholasticism. We now re-connect with the priority of the human over all else in creation (noted above). Aristotle had declared that humans alone are endowed with the power of reason (more accurately, men alone). Humans need to differentiate from their previous enmeshment in the natural world. They must learn to separate themselves from nature and stand over against, and above, nature. This is a requirement of the rational mind, unique to humans, and more integrally appropriated by males. God, therefore, has to be male, and so has his primary representative on earth, the king. The anthropocentric world view had been well established, and in all Christian denominations, prevails till the present time.
In the latter half of the 1800’s liberal scripture scholars in both Germany and the United Kingdom, began to challenge the imperial interpretation of the Kingdom of God. There insights certainly contributed to the first wave of the search for the historical Jesus (cf. Charlesworth 2008). Only after the second world war (in Europe), however, did scholars really begin to confront the imperial veneer that had long congealed the Kingdom of God into a divine-royal enclave. Scholars boldly made a double claim: a) The Kingdom of God is the central feature in the teaching and praxis of the historical Jesus, and b) Jesus used the phrase not as an endorsement of divine kingship but as a subversive denunciation of all that imperial kingship represented.
What the scholars were actually asserting is that Jesus adopted a worldview – an alternative cosmology – radically different from what prevailed at the time. However, to this day, we do not have a scholarly consensus on what worldview was Jesus endorsing. We know what he rejected; we are still trying to discern what he actually endorsed.
The Companionship of Empowerment.
Another major wave of scholarly endeavour in the second half of the 20th century was a retrieval of the Jewish Jesus (Casey 2010; Sanders 1985; Vermes 1973). Overtly, it was intended to counteract so much of the anti-Semitism adopted by scholars throughout the centuries and even inherent in the Gospel texts themselves. However, it led to other critical evaluations of things long taken for granted about the formative influences inherent to bedrock Christianity itself.
It was noted – by a mere handful of scholars (even to this day) – that the Gospels are written in Greek, despite the fact that Jesus spoke in Aramaic. The latter belongs to an oral tradition, while Greek is a written idiom. The former conveys meaning more by sound and story-telling; the latter is more analytical and its value tends to be judged by what the eye can see. Aramaic is much more poetic, ornate and embraces a cosmic stretch of meaning.
The Aramaic word for Kingdom is malkuta, with a strong resonance of empowering rather than exercising power over. It has therefore being suggested that the Greek Basileia tou Theou (The Kingdom of God) is better rendered from the Aramaic as the Companionship of Empowerment (see the detailed exposition in O’Murchu 2011). This leads to a radical new interpretation not merely of the Gospel message, but of the mission of the Christian faith community (the Church) as envisaged by the historical Jesus.
More important for the present essay, is the world view which seems to have underpinned the Companionship of Empowerment. Clearly it is about enabling and empowering rather than exercising power over as in the patriarchal context. More significant still is the awkward English world companionship. What seems to be envisaged is a new egalitarian inclusivity embracing not merely human beings but all life-forms that constitute the web of life. (The parables provide the seminal insights for this conclusion).
An obvious question arises: “What worldview was the historical Jesus operating out of?” Clearly not the patriarchal one examined in detail above. I venture to suggest it was an enlarged cosmic worldview very close to, if not identical with, that of the New Cosmology explained in Part Two below. Christianity has never come to terms with this fact – it has not even named it. It requires an ecclesiastical reform that is as formidable as it is awesome; we’ll explore the ramifications in Part Three below.
A Misguided Anthropocentrism
The imperial, patriarchal cosmology also infiltrates the Atonement theory of the Middle Ages. Anselm’s universe is governed from on high by a Sky-God, himself a projection of the ruling males who assume responsibility for this wayward creation. It is important to note that the waywardness of creation is the result of human sinfulness. Humans erred and rebelled against God, therefore, the whole of creation is in a state of rebellion. There is no universal order other than the human one. Humans are the pinnacle of God’s creation – and creation exists as usufruct for human beings. In itself, creation has no inherent meaning.
It is a humanly devised cosmology. The galaxies, planets, and everything that has transpired throughout evolution, somehow or other exist for the sake of human beings. They also reflect the human condition, prone to corruption, just as humans tend to behave in a disorderly fashion. Consequently, storms, floods, plagues are caused (at least indirectly) by human misdeed, a view we detect in the Hebrew scriptures and one still held by fundamentalists in several modern religious beliefs.
The Christian Churches for long assumed that Anselm’s cosmology was also that of New Testament times. Certainly it is echoed in early Christian lore with abundant references to Heaven above, Hades beneath, and presumably the Earth somewhere in between. A three-tiered, pyramid-construct seems to have defined the prevailing world view. And the priority of the human over all else, seems to have been widely endorsed.
Constantine’s appropriation of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire supported this anthropocentric world view. Remnants of Constantine’s imperial dispensation still haunt modern Christianity, being exceptionally visible in the power-structure of the Catholic papacy. And the top-down patriarchal domination exerts a strong influence to the present time, aligning Christian empire-building with several secular influences (social, political, economic), which, in theory, the Churches claim to oppose, but in practice, support and endorse, frequently with power-collusions that defy moral integrity.
Impact on the Christian Church
Writing in 1979, Karl Rahner claims: “It is incontestable that at Vatican 2 the Church appeared for the first time as a world Church in a fully official way” (Rahner 1979, 718). What I have attempted in Part One of this essay is a brief overview of an ecclesiastical blueprint, based on a pervasive patriarchal worldview which was already flourishing when Christianity first evolved. Central to that paradigm is the King as God’s primary representative on earth, whose primary function is to tame the flawed human species through penance, pain and subservient obedience, thus readying them for salvation in a world beyond. The underlying cosmology is deeply flawed.
Into that cultural milieu came the historical Jesus. Initially, it seems Jesus supported the ascetical dimensions of this paradigm by affiliating with the millennial vision of John the Baptist, but subsequently Jesus abandoned John and embarked upon what we now understand as a radical reversal of the Baptists’s apocalyptic reformation. Instead of a penitential fast, Jesus opted for an empowering feast. The twelve certainly did not grasp the new vision; one wonders if anybody – apart from the sinners and outcasts – realised what was transpiring.
The ecclesiology of St. Paul – incorporating small vibrant communities focussed on egalitarian living, proclamation of the Word and service to the poor – carries resonances of the new vision described above as the Companionship of Empowerment. Certainly by the fourth century, the vision had been compromised beyond recognition as Constantine re-instated the royal imperial domination of earlier times. The royal blueprint would dominate ecclesiology for the next 1700 years.
Karl Rahner’s suggestion of a profound shift at the Second Vatican Council may strike some as an overstatement, even a gross exaggeration. I support Rahner’s perception, and the globalization of the contemporary Church (which will be explored in the remaining two sections of this essay) confirms Rahner’s insight. What is missing in Rahner’s analysis is the communitarian sense of Church underpinning the notion of the Companionship of Empowerment. I dare to suggest that from the very beginning Jesus intended a global “Church,” precisely the type of Church now struggling to come to birth under the impact of the New Cosmology.
PART TWO: The Emerging Worldview of the 21st Century and its Impact on Ecclesiology
The coming-to-be of a world Church precisely as such does not mean just a quantitative increase in the previous Church , but rather contains a theological break in Church history that still lacks conceptual clarity and can scarcely be compared with anything except the transition from Jewish to Gentile Christianity (Rahner 1979, 726-727)
What is the New Cosmology ?
The new cosmology is so named to counteract the more mechanistic world view that prevailed from the 16th till the 19th century CE. The new departure is marked by Einstein’s theories of relativity and the development of quantum physics in the opening decades of the 20th century. However, it is not entirely new, as it reclaims several features of the cosmology that prevailed in the high Middle Ages (influencing St. Thomas Aquinas, among many others), traces of which can be found in several ancient oriental traditions of China and India.
The following are considered to be the key features of the New Cosmology, sometimes named the New Story (especially by one of its best know proponents, the late Fr. Tomas Berry CP [Berry 1999; 2006; 2009])
- Aliveness: Organicity characterises everything in creation. Aliveness did not begin with organic creatures nor does it manifest in a superior expression in any one strand of life, human or otherwise. Aliveness belongs first and foremost to the evolving universe, bestowed on all creatures we know through the mediation of our earthiness. Humans are alive because the earth to which we belong is alive, and the earth has inherited its aliveness from the living evolving universe. (More in Barrow 2011; Davies 2006)
Challenge to the Church: All the major religions, including Christianity, attribute aliveness primarily to God, and secondarily to God’s primary creatures on earth, namely humans. Humans are deemed to be superior to all other life-forms. Moreover, Christianity, for much of its history, encouraged humans to remain as separate as possible from the earth and the wider creation, on the understanding that too close a connection with the material creation could prove to be a serious barrier to obtaining salvation in a world beyond. The dualistic split between the sacred and secular is at the root of Christianity’s one-sided understanding of what it means to be alive.
- Symbiogenesis is a concept developed by the micro-biologist, Lynn Margulis (1998) to denote the relational, cooperative interaction through which everything in the universe comes into being, grows and flourishes. Contrary to the atomistic view of classical science, and the separation through which modern humans self-define themselves, nothing in the universe makes sense in isolation. Everything needs everything else to thrive and flourish.
Challenge for the Church: Despite belief in a Trinitarian God, understood today as a nexus of deep relational meaning, Christianity has always favoured differentiation and distinction, atomism and dualism, over against relational, interactive ways of perceiving and understanding. Consistently, the emphasis has been on how Christianity differs from everything else, rather than seeking out and celebrating the commonalities that can inspire and empower.
- Interdependence follows logically. No one species has dominion over all others. Our human becoming is dependent on all the other creatures with whom we share the living earth, but also dependent on the creative energies we have inherited from eons long past. Judy Cannato (2006, 65) provides a vivid description of this interdependence:
The water in your body contains primordial hydrogen formed in the first seconds of the Big Bang. The carbon atoms that formed you came together after the explosion of a supernova. The concentration of salt in your body matches the concentration of salt in the ancient seas. Your cells are direct descendants of unicellular organisms that developed billions of years ago. You see because chlorophyll molecules mutated, so that like plant leaves, your eyes can capture the light from the sun. And in your mother’s womb your tiny body repeated the whole process of multi-cellular life on earth, beginning with a single cell, and then developing greater and greater complexity.
Challenge to the Church: Heavily aligned with patriarchal top-down order and
structure, the Church tends to emphasise the independent uniqueness of those
who hold the power, to be clearly distinguished from those who don’t. For much
of Christian history the people of God were treated as passive recipients of a
wisdom which belonged in its fullness to those at the top. Instead of striving for
mutuality and interdependence, something closer to the parent-child relationship
defined the Church’s way of operating in the world.
- Paradox is the word we use to captivate the integration of cosmic polarities – life and death, creativity and destruction, light and darkness – observable throughout the entire universe. While our inherited consciousness tends to split these polarities into binary dualistic opposites, the New Cosmology seeks to reclaim the more fundamental unity of the both-and rather than the either-or. This material is foundational to our cosmic understanding of the dark and destructive forces at work in creation, all of which are essential to the creative potential of cosmos and Earth-planet alike. Human suffering needs to be understood afresh within this paradoxical context, a challenge largely unknown to the human species at this time.
Challenge to the Church: All meaningless suffering is understood to be derived
from a foundational flawed condition, known as Original Sin. The flaw begins
with humans and adversely affects everything else throughout the entire spectrum
of cosmic creation. This set of perceptions is quite primitive, narrowly
anthropocentric, and tends to exacerbate rather than reduce the meaningless
suffering in the world. There is gross confusion between the flaw and the paradox,
resulting in a range of redemptive theories, the shortcomings of which have been
extensively documented in recent times. (cf. Brock & Parker 2008; Heim 2006).
- Revelation – in inherited Christian thought – describes God’s manifestation of divine meaning exclusively through the Christian scriptures. On the other hand, the New Cosmology acknowledges that God has been fully at work in creation for billions of years – before scriptures or religions ever evolved; it proposes that revelation needs to be predicated on universal life embracing its entire trajectory of 13.7 billion years. God reveals the God-self primarily through the universal creation as an evolving unfolding emergence. Each religion, therefore, may be viewed as a particular cultural and time-conditioned articulation of the foundational revelation which belongs primarily to creation itself.
Challenge to the Church: The Church’s official theological horizons are far too
narrow, with revelation applying almost exclusively to the human realm, and in
the Christian context to a narrow historical time frame, culminating with the death
of the last apostle. All elegance of God at work in the larger creation is either
ignored or subverted, a stance that is likely to alienate many believers in an age
where millions are more consciously aware of the larger context, and of the urgent
ecological and environmental issues confronting humanity today.
- Story. The creation we know is not merely an accumulation of scientific facts, but rather a story that is being told spanning infinite space-time, a universe which in all probability has neither beginning nor end. Scientific fact certainly illuminates the mystery, and in recent times particularly it has enhanced human awareness and our understanding of the vast and complex “multiverse” to which we belong, and without which our lives have no meaning. We, humans, belong to the story. We did not invent it, although today its materialisation into greater consciousness is happening at a more accelerated pace thanks to human reflexive thought. We have a unique gift to bring to the universe (as do all other creatures) but we do so indebted to the universal source from which we have received everything we cherish as earthlings. Contemporary renditions of this story include Dowd (2009), Primack & Abrams (2006), Swimme & Berry (1992).
Challenge to the Church: How does the Church reclaim the power of story? In the
Gospels, Jesus unravels and illuminates deep truth in the power of story (parables – and the miracle narratives as parables-in-action – more in O’Murchu 2011, 74-93). In the history of the Church doctrine and dogma subverted the power of story, with its potential for dialogue, discovery, process, and emergent sense of truth, congruent with the evolutionary nature of life itself.
Church as People of God
In the above analysis I am describing a range of discrepancies between Church and the New Cosmology. However, I need to specify my use of the word Church. What I have described is what is broadly understood to be the Church’s official teaching, communicated through doctrines, creedal statements and the views generally held by the Church’s teaching authority. One often hears the question: “What is the Church’s official position on one or other doctrinal matter?” “What does the Church teach about – a particular moral issue?”
Frequently, public media does grave injustice to the contemporary Church(s) by focussing narrowly on the official “party” line, oblivious, to the huge diversity that constitutes all contemporary Christian churches. In the case of the Catholic Church, we inadvertently prioritize the European, Roman perspective on most issues of doctrine and values, oblivious it would seem to the fact that 80% of contemporary Catholics live in the Southern hemisphere, in cultural contexts significantly different from the White Western world. There is also a strong tendency to prioritise the clerical perspective – the official teaching authority – largely if not totally unaware of the fact that over 99% of the Catholic Church consists of lay people, who are not clerics in any sense. The true picture of modern Catholicism is dramatically different from the popular stereotype adopted by media and the Catholic faithful alike.
The people that constitute the body of the Church are often heavily influenced by being immersed in a world of mass information. Even those who live in poorer, less developed parts of the world, are often keenly aware of what is going on, and live amid the positive and negative impacts of globalization to a degree largely unknown to those inhabiting the safe-world of the Roman Curia. If modern Catholicism wants to embrace the New Cosmology it can only be done from the bottom up and not from the top down. The people already have a salient awareness of these enlarged horizons; in some cases, they live out of this expanded consciousness on a daily basis. Not so, for many who belong to the hierarchy of the Church, daily preoccupied with doctrinal rectitude and internal discipline. How this integration might begin to take place is the subject of Part Three of this essay.
Mysticism is another feature to the people’s Church, with a strong relevance for the integration of Church and the New Cosmology. In the Church’s long history, mystical upsurges and movements play a crucial role. Once again, the official teaching fails to do justice to this dimension, frequently depicting mystical holiness as an absorption into God, away from and over against the material creation. To the contrary, many of the great mystics – in all religions – encountered God deeply in the very midst of creation itself. Several mystics were imbued with the vision of the New Cosmology long before modern scientists reformulated its key elements. The former Dominican priest, Matthew Fox (1984) outlines the evidence, with Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Hildegrade of Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich as outstanding examples.
The interface of Church and New Cosmology, if it is to transpire in a way that will recapture Jesus’ own global vision of the Companionship of Empowerment, will emanate primarily from the people of God as a bottom-up reform movement. On the people’s part it will require an informed awareness of the changing global conditions of our times, enriched with a groundedness in mystical spirituality. Some of the finest insights of modern science combine these elements (cf. O’Murchu 2004; 2012). The revolutionary breakthrough is already underway in the wider culture, and invariably will percolate Christianity and all other religions. How well it will be received and integrated is the challenge awaiting all serious Christians of the present time. And the strategies necessary for such appropriation and implementation is the material for the third and final part of this essay.
PART THREE: Ecclesial Structural Adjustments Required by the New Cosmology
In the closing decades of the 20th century the federation of Asian Catholic Bishops (FABC) consistently highlighted the Kingdom of God as the core ingredient of Christian life and witness (cf. Quatra 2000). The Bishops encouraged a more expansive vision, and a more dynamic praxis, to engage authentically with the ecumenical, multi-faith, economic, political, ecological, racial and systemic issues confronting the Asian continent. This was certainly a move towards a more globalized sense of Christian life, and could aptly be described as embracing an enlarged cosmology. Yet, this creative development did not lead to the kind of vision explored in this essay. Why not?
It appears that the understanding of the Kingdom of God may have been too narrowly ecclesiastical. It was seen as the Church’s prerogative to address world issues, with the initiative remaining primarily with the official Church. It lacked the more integral interdependence highlighted in part Two of this essay. And because the vision remained so rooted in the Church, it appears that huge numbers of Asian Christians (and clergy also) never appropriated the vision the Bishops sought to develop. Moreover, the Bishops, in their enthusiasm to promote an empowering vision for a better future, gave scant attention to the historical baggage named in Part One of this essay, namely, the imperial trappings that needed to be named and outgrown to free up more promising possibilities for the new future they desired to bring about.
To bring about a deeper integration between Church-life and the New Cosmology the following adjustments will require considered and consistent attention. Some of these adjustments are perceptual and others structural.
- Education: The people of God need, and deserve, a more informed understanding of Church history, particularly the inherited worldviews, and cultural paradigms, that no longer serve us well. Furthermore, creative imagination, discerning wisdom, and extensive dialogue will be needed to empower people, firstly, to outgrow the inherited assumptions that no longer ground us authentically in our faith and, secondly, to embrace new Christian understandings congruent with the evolutionary wisdom of the twenty-first century.
- Faith Formation: There is an urgent need for a reappropriation of Gospel wisdom, informed not merely by authoritative Church teaching but by the many enlightened insights of contemporary scholarship. Moreover, in a world of mass information, communicating Christian truth through catechetical methodology of question-and- answer feels patronizing and counterproductive, and alienates a growing body of critically reflective adult Christians from a more integrated appropriation of their faith.
- Focus on Adults: We urgently need to evaluate the wisdom of investing so much time, money and personnel on the evangelization of young people, with adult faith development so grossly underfunded and even neglected in several parts of the Christian world. The spread of the Gospel in the 21st century needs to prioritize adults, rather than children or teenagers. Communicating faith to youth needs to become the primary responsibility of parents and guardians, themselves well versed in a more adult appropriation of faith.
- Basic Christian Community. The Gospel was first proclaimed through small dynamic, interactive communities. History verifies, time and again, that this is the more authentic strategy for evangelization. The Gospel vision of the Companionship of Empowerment also suggests that this is the more creative way to pass on the Christian faith. This will require a radical reappraisal of the institutional dimension of all formal religions.
- Networking. As major institutions in every sphere of life began to lose credibility and efficacy in the closing decades of the 20th century, a new wave of social organizing came to the fore, namely networking. Millions of networks flourish in the modern world (see Hawken 2007). In evolutionary terms the networking of the networks seems to be the next desirable stage, reminiscent of how the cosmic creation itself survives and flourishes. How to move the Church in this direction is a monumental task, requiring first and foremost a radical shift in consciousness, the kind of awareness outlined in this essay.
- Worship. Instead of clergy monopolizing sacraments and other forms of worship, we need firstly a re-education on the meaning of worship, particularly the foundational grounding in ritual-making, a practice known to humans long before formal religion ever evolved. Authentic ritual-making is much more community-focused, and requires the collaborative skills of many people, above and beyond the patriarchal-type liturgist or priest-presider emphasized by formal religions.
- Pastoral care. The focus needs to shift towards mutual empowering, transcending the current practice of the some people looking after others, the “haves” attending to the “have-nots.” Justice-making, and not merely charity, needs to come to the fore. And the ecological dimensions of health and well-being need to be integrated with pastoral practice.
The integration of the Church and New Cosmology is not a matter of Popes and Bishops making fresh declarations supporting this new synthesis. This has already happened, with little or no trickle-down effect. Nor is it a matter of “greening” our ecclesiastical institutions, although that may have ecological benefits, within and outside the Church. Neither is it a matter of the preacher or teacher broadening the context of the proclaimed message. What we are dealing with is a shift in consciousness requiring focused re-education and ecclesial strategies with heavy emphasis on collaboration, mutuality, and the mobilization of diverse gifts and talents.
Nor is the envisaged synthesis a matter of adaptations to what is already in place. To the contrary, it requires a radical reappraisal of our inherited wisdom, including the Gospel tradition itself. And we need to be bluntly honest and forthright about the fact that Jesus did not endorse the divine right of kings and all the imperial inheritance that subsequently ensued. Jesus embraced a radically grounded cosmic worldview, and so must we. That will require of us a process of respectfully consigning to historical archives several aspects of the Christian story which heretofore we thought would last forever, and should never be transcended or abandoned.
We follow in the steps of the One who said: “Behold I make all things new.” Now more than ever we need to reclaim that foundational newness as an integral dimension of Christian belief. In adopting this novel stance, we stand a much better chance of appropriating the key values and insights of the New Cosmology, including the foundational vision of the Companionship of Empowerment. What initially felt like a re-invention of Christian faith may now be seen as appropriating afresh a global vision that has been haunting us for almost 2,000 years.
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