by TED PETERS

Love unites. Strife divides.

Unifying love and divisive strife are the two forces that set the cosmos in motion, at least according to the ancient philosopher from Sicily, Empedocles (490-430 BC). Was he right?

Our universe is expanding. Each minute each galaxy moves away from all the others. Scientists say this is due to dark energy. But, if Empedocles is right, then it’s due to strife.

In the United States and in the United Nations we are undergoing dis-uniting strife. The dividing force of strife breaks unity through acrimony, name-calling, belittlement, and shunning, right along with war and genocide. Despite the achievements of Civil Rights advocates in racial equality or other successful movements that have overcome prejudice against previously marginalized persons, divisive rhetoric and discriminatory profiling are roaring up once again like an angry crocodile. Is an angry crocodile a form of dark energy?

The dark energy of human strife is not just one more force of individualism defying collectivism. Rather, competitive strife like poisonous steam growls up from a cauldron of boiling greed. Once personal survival seems to be assured, then mimesis takes over. Mimesis, like imitation, describes our desire to have what others have just because others want it. Mimesis is the key to successful advertising. Mimesis unlocks the cage and allows the crocodile of greed to come roaring forth.

To see a “wealth management” advertisement makes me want to have wealth to manage. I want to climb that ladder to success, knocking others off steps if necessary to climb. When envying the child billionaires prancing across TV screens or entertaining me on Twitter, I feel I am in the right to chase what fulfills me regardless of what’s good for my next-door neighbor or good for those refugees who have no land in which to make a home. This is a dog-eat-dog world, and I have a right to be top dog. It’s a right, right? Because my greed seems justified by the economic system in which I live, I have no responsibility for the welfare of my planet-mates let alone the planet itself. Right?

“For God so loved the world” we read in John 3:16. The word for “world” here is cosmos in the original Greek. God loves the cosmos as a whole and everyone of us within it. But, our individual greed fragments life even on this tiny blue planet within a majestic cosmos that may be as much as 94 billion light years across. In Laudato Sí, His Holiness Pope Francis asks us to love our planet-mates and to treat Planet Earth itself as a shared home unfractured by individual greed.

13. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.*

To live in greed motivated by mimesis restricts if not obliterates our ability to love our common home let alone our planet-mates who live with us.

To live motivated by mimesis restricts if not obliterates compassion. That term, compassion, means to suffer with someone who is in need. To love someone who is in need is, for at least a preliminary moment, to share in that need. Just as the guitar is essential to a rock concert, compassion is what makes love rock. Compassion replaces greed with care.

On the one hand, expressing compassionate love is perhaps the most intense dimension of our personal life. On the other hand, this very expression of compassionate love is cosmic in its ontological import. Through love, one’s soul becomes attuned to the whole of the cosmos. Each moment of genuine loving is like a single note in a symphony, like a syllable in a novel, like a pitch in a World Series game. No matter how modest, each of our loving gestures enriches the entire universe.

I held the secrets of the deep

And of the heavens above;

I knew the harmonies of sleep

The mysteries of love.

And for a moment’s interval

The earth, the sky, the sea–

My soul encompassed, each and all,

As now they compass me.

– John Banister Tabb (1845-1909)

 

When God called the cosmos into being from nothingness, God called a new non-divine reality into relationship. God creates out of love, out of grace, out of a yearning for intimacy. God’s love unifies.

When the creator God of the cosmos became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, this was a second gesture of unifying love. When the second person of the Holy Trinity became human, the Father and the Spirit interacted with one another through the physicality of the Son. This is the unifying love that binds heaven and earth, the divine and the human, the spiritual and the physical.

We’ve got one more gesture of unifying divine love coming in the future. That’s the coming Kingdom of God, the new creation, the consummate unification of everything now fractured by strife.

At God’s promised Point Omega, we may then look back at the history of cosmic strife and look at it a new way. Perhaps in ways we cannot now see, that strife may have contributed unwittingly to enriching the reconciling dimension of God’s love for the cosmos.

No matter how far each galaxy runs from the others, it cannot outrun God. No matter how far human greed runs from compassionate caring, it cannot outrun God. For those of us who want to be godly, unifying love rather than divisive strife is the path to take.

 

* Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment can be read in full here.


Ted Peters is an author, professor, and pastor. He is Research Professor Emeritus in Systematic Theology and Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS), the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), and the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California. Ted has authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited more than two dozen books, and co-edits the journal, Theology and Science. He offers a theological analysis of the role of science in culture. More about Ted Peters can be found at Ted’s Timely Take.


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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. In its course, “The Journey of the Universe” (Swimme, Tucker, Yale University) Albert Einstein’s underlying math and Edwin Hubble’s observation of an expanding universe is conveyed in terms of this expansion being “omnicentric”. Realized in the extended scale of galactic super clusters, “we live in a universe where every place in the universe is at the very center of the expansion”. Our point of view is likened to a raisin in a rising loaf of bread around which everything is expanding in all directions. (This is not to say that we are at the center of the universe as much as we are all “raisins” whose emergence continually manifests from a common central origin).

    As I entertain possibilities of intersection and convergence in the languages of science and religion, “God (creation) is a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere” (Bonaventure and others) is a phrase that reverberates with possibility. At our earthly human scale observable (visible) matter is held together by material forces like gravity as a rule of order. I can imagine strife at this scale creating trauma when understood as merely the dismemberment of the greater whole. Perhaps on another scale, the much greater and extensive “dark energy” science is now exploring can be related to a spiritually familiar source and ultimate belonging accessible beyond the merely empirical fragmentation of the whole – a domain of faith and hope that teaches us to harness overarching binding force of unifying love as it lights the path,

  2. Working from the practical end, Noam Chomsky says his friend Howard Zinn counsels that all the little acts [compassionate] add up to an environment where new agreements take place – law makers make better laws. Our microwave timing of instant gratification expectation may make for speeded up change. At any rate, chaos is a harbinger of change. Let’s hang on for the ride and meet it with love!

  3. Some thoughts to add to the discussion:
    It seems to me that we are speaking of two different kinds of unity. One is the unity that exists in a dualistic context and always has an opposite: unity and diversity, contraction and expansion, whole and part, or in a slightly different sense the two requirements of evolution: novelty and stability. The other type of unity is what we dimly intuit to be descriptive of a non-dual reality and which our language, rooted as it is in dualism, can’t quite express. Endel takes a nice stab at it with “overarching binding force of unifying love” and I think this is what Ted Peters points to with “the reconciling dimension of God’s love for the cosmos.” All our words fall short because would we really know what unity was if there were no such thing as separateness, or what light was if we never knew about darkness, or love without hate? It seems our particular task in this world is to intimately experience both sides of the coin as the only way to learn about that which is greater than and encompasses both.
    I find the terms dark energy and dark matter to be indicative of our current scientific myopia. While it may be that we cannot see something because it is too dark, it could also be because it is too bright. I think the term “supra-luminal energy” would be a better descriptor of this force that is flinging galaxies out to the edges of the universe. Our current cosmology’s use of the terms dark energy and dark matter remind me of the need to invent more and more epicycles to describe the motion of the planets within the Ptolemaic system, a frantic effort to save the appearances by those who were wedded to an outmoded paradigm. At some point scientific materialism is going to have to give up the ghost.

    1. I’m appreciative of Endel’s reference to Brian Swimme, mindful that Swimme is such a shining star in a lineage that goes–Teilhard–Thomas Berry–Matthew Fox–Swimme-and now–Ilia Delio. I’m impressed with David Perry’s term “supra-luminal energy” as a synonym for Dark Energy.

      Allow me to rely upon astrophysicist Bernard Haisch for my opening volley in this discussion. The essence of his responses during an interview some time ago (regarding Dark Matter/Dark Energy) went something like this: “Because 96 % of the Universe is UNKNOWN stuff, there’s something profoundly Spiritual lurking there–a pre-existing intelligence–beyond both space and time and beyond the Cosmos–but which is Living deeply within it.”

      Neil de Grasse Tyson has wisely has proffered that DE/DM could just as easily be “labeled” Bert & Ernie or Without-A-Clue A & B. Now THERE is a “scientific materialist” who gets the idea: Our species lives and has our Being within The Great Mystery.

      Dark Energy seems to “be the nature of Space, Itself”, to cite one mercifully cogent and brief labeling of this unseen phenomenon. Within that context, physicist David Bohm’s elegant idea of an “Implicate” (Un-Manifest) Order comprising a single unbroken, holographic “oceanic” flow (the 96%?) within which the miniscule “Explicate” (Manifest” Order appears as Space/Time, within which I will include all Linear Thought engaged in by Homo Sapiens. It is, after all, only species thoughts that are responsible for even the idea of Space/Time. Space, then, if one accepts Bohm’s model as plausible is a particular type of Manifest/Explicate order which flows as a “sense” of distance. Time, the same, but appearing as sequence.

      To return to Dave’s “supra-luminal energy.” Might that simply be Logos (Alpha)–the initial burst of Consciousness/Awareness/Love that burst forth as what we currently label The Big Bang. from which came all of space/time manifestation, including our time bound stories, as homo sapiens, arising and falling in “divided perception” as The Cosmos (Heart of God) Becoming Aware/Conscious of Itself. One Consciousness—7 billion stories—that’s the Mystery!

      Teilhard teaches us that despite all of the manifest geologic, biologic, and no-ospheric (sequence of time), it all begins AND ends as Alpha-Omega. In terminology offered by A Course In Miracles, we are engaged “in A Journey Without Distance to A Place We’ve Never Left.”

      The brilliant Peter Russell, my own “Consciousness Guru”, states that There is no biological basis for Consciousness(Awareness) It IS already Present as the container for all experience and all matter, from subatomic particles to galaxies.

      Philosopher extra-ordinaire, Ken Wilber, seals the deal for me with this: “History is the unfolding of Human Consciousness, not toward Final Judgement, but Ultimate Wholeness.”

      Alpha to Omega with “lots of stuff” seemingly “in between.” 🙂

      –Patrick King

  4. How Very Good and Pleasant It Is When Kindred Live Together In Unity (Psalm 133)

    Professor Peter’s article is timely and crucial, which I enjoyed reading. Division and strife is fast growing almost all around the globe where human beings exist. As we live in such an increasingly dividing world, filled with strife and fight, very few things move us like unity. Relational unity is not merely important part of the universe, but a heart of it. How good and pleasant it is when we live together delighting in each other and promoting one another’s welfare! Some say that this Psalm is generally about the gathering in Jerusalem on the occasion of religious festivals. Even though we don’t know for sure who wrote this Psalm and what this Psalm exactly had in view, it is still so magnificent that we cannot unearth all the treasures of divine wisdom packed in it.
    Unity is very good in itself. It is very good for us. It gives us constant joy. It is good for the world outside. It is pleasing to God and other people. It is worthy of sight. One writer said that stars of greatest magnitude do not make such a good and pleasant spectacle, like unity, for the eyes of God and human. It is attractive to earth and heaven, to humanity and God. It is worthy of honor, gratitude, and admiration.
    The Psalmist uses two adjectives to admire the unity envisioned by this song. He celebrates the blessing of unity with such an excellent Psalmody. He uses the word “how” twice- how very good and how very pleasant. It may be enough for a thing to be good, but to be, in addition, pleasant is highly remarkable. Not all things that are pleasing are good. But unity is as pleasant as it is good and as good as it is pleasant. “Good” is the word used in the creation story in the first book of the bible to express how God’s creation was good in the sight of God. It seems like there is no other Hebrew word to express the beauty and goodness of something. The Psalmist uses the same word because when God looks to the harmony and unity of human family, it is good in God’s eyes. It is worthy to be seen and applauded. Unity binds us together in God’s love. Love brings forth refreshment and makes life enjoyable and livable. We are stronger together to make this planet a better place to live despite all its “dark energy”. As Professor Peters said it pretty well, no matter how fast human greed may run away from the compassionate caring, it doesn’t outrun God, who is the best architect of the cosmos to bring the best out of the worst and evil of our world and time. May God help us to pursue the path to unity….

  5. Hey Ted,

    Great article. I recently wrote a book connecting Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, MetaPhysics and Simulation Theory. Inside I explain Dark Energy, String Theory, Dark Matter and the Science of Higher Dimensions. Much of what you said is spot on! My book is free!

    http://www.bodymindheartsoul.org

    Andrew

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