by Ilia Delio 



Several weeks ago I met my first real Teilhard opponent.  She was a religion scholar from Indiana University and was quite adamant that Teilhard was a naïve optimist with a radical anthropocentrism.  His vision, she claimed, was ultimately harmful to  a committed ecological presence.  I was a bit shocked by the gross misinterpretation of Teilhard and though I tried to offer a more balanced understanding of his vision, she was clearly opposed to it. She had her own narrative on ecological wholeness and Teilhard simply did not fit in.  And then it dawned on me.  We are living together with a multiplicity of narratives, side by side, sharing conference space and coffee cups, assuming that the next person sees the world as I do, until we start to talk.

All religions are governed by myth which are so powerful and compelling that they override the insights of modern science. 

Language is one of the most characteristic marks of human evolution.  As we evolved from homo neanderthalis to homo sapiens, our brain size increased and symbolic language centers emerged.  We are a cognitive, linguistic species and symbolic stories are our trademark.   The word “myth” describes symbolic stories that have powerful meaning.  Myth is a combination of fact, fiction, and imagination.   The gravity of the myth is its ability to shape lives by providing symbolic stories that provoke the imagination and kindle some type of action.

All religions are governed by myth which are so powerful and compelling that they override the insights of modern science.  For all practical purposes, it really does not matter what science tells us.   The Christian myth prominently holds the symbols of heaven and hell pictured in a three-tiered universe (as the ancients conceived the universe.)  It also says that evil and death abound because of the sin of Adam and Eve.   Who cares what modern science has to say about the slow work of evolution or the fact that Adam and Eve never existed as a single couple or that biologically a universal condition is not possible by a single pair of genes.  Even more so who cares what biology has to say about death in the overall fecundity of life.  We can flip to other myths such as the Thomistic medieval synthesis.  This myth is extremely powerful today because it is offers a structured understanding of God, creation, and the human person.   The metaphysics of St. Thomas is not to be reckoned with even though the philosophy is that of the ancient philosopher Aristotle and the medieval Islamic philosopher, Avicenna.   Words like substance, form, matter, spirit are all woven into a beautiful myth of divine being providentially gracing the created order.   Thomistic scholars are brilliant at forging medieval philosophy with concepts from modern science, rendering at times a plausible consonance between medieval philosophy and quantum physics.

The power of religious myth governs the hierarchical Church, academic theology and most of all, the person in the pew.  While I see an increasing interest in the relationship between science and religion, I see little to no effort to shift the paradigm of Christian life in the direction of evolution.   Modern science slips away in the face of religious myth—and we are losing our grip on reality.   We are becoming increasingly tribalized, polarized, and entrenched in our political, social, and ecclesial positions because we have competing myths.  We are, for all practical purposes, a species ripe for extinction, and artificial intelligence (AI) is getting smarter at accelerating the transition from homo sapiens to posthumans.  AI offers a new compelling myth, especially for those who have abandoned religious myth.  The AI myth says that chips are our destiny and technology can enable us to live longer, happier, healthier, and smarter.  In the world of AI, however, we are not human persons—we are algorithims—informational matrices managed by hackers or robots.  The AI myth says that we will be a radically new techno-being by 2050, if we do not extinguish ourselves through the progressive trends in global warming.

Elon Musk fears AI and his concerns are not to be undermined.   AI technology has usurped human freedom, creativity, and the ability to dwell in the oikos, the household of nature.  The aims of technology are the aims of religion, namely, to save ourselves from suffering through chips, to overcome death through digital immortality, and to attain a better, happier life.  It does not matter that most human workers will lose their jobs to AI in less than twenty years or that AI will be affordable only to those with money.  AI has replaced God in our everyday lives, which makes the Church of Google much more powerful than the Catholic Church.

Teilhard de Chardin had a depth of vision that anticipated the emergence of a new world, including the world of technology.   He clearly saw that if we did not get on board with evolution as religious people, as Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, as political, social and cultural citizens, we would asphyxiate and ultimately annihilate ourselves.  His vision is breathtaking in its cosmic scope and it is a vision that is at once theological, scientific, cultural, political, social, and technological.  God is doing new things and what Teilhard sought to achieve was a new myth, a new religious story that could animate our lives, enkindle them with a zest for evolution, and for the emergence of the Christic, that is, the emergence of God through a greater consciousness of divine love binding the whole of life into a living community.

Our Omega Conference this July (20-21) on “Christianity as Planetary Faith” is not a nice idea for those who have a free Saturday.   It is a wake-up call to the fact that without bringing science and faith into a fruitful engagement, without seeing that God is in evolution and not simply the author of evolution, that sin, death, salvation, and redemption take on new meaning in evolution.  The whole point of the Risen Christ is our human capacity to become a new type of person who can do new things for a new earth, and without bringing these understandings into a new religious myth (or myths) that animates our lives and focuses our energies in a new direction, we face the possibility of extinction.

…we will talk together, share our stories, and see how Teilhard’s ideas on planetization can guide us in the third millennium.

We have the capacity for a new world (“a new heaven and a new earth”) but we must choose how this new world will unfold.  It will take a new theology, a new person, a new religion and a new church.  Teilhard himself envisioned a new religion of the earth and his beautiful “Mass on the World” is a glimpse of how a new way of worship might enkindle new evolutive action.

The current threshold we stand on offers us no alternative but to become a posthuman or a humanoid (human-robot) species up ahead.    Is this what we want for future generations?  Synthetic humanoids operated robotically?  If we want a different world, we must become a different people.

Join us in Kansas on July 20-21, 2018 and we will talk together, share our stories, and see how Teilhard’s ideas on planetization can guide us in the third millennium.


Ilia DelioIlia Delio, OSF is the founder and visionary behind the Omega Center. She is a Franciscan Sister of Washington DC, respected academic and theologian, and author of numerous books and articles. She is an internationally sought-after presenter, speaking on the intersection of Science and Religion, with particular interests in evolution, physics, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence. Join Ilia and our other speakers for our first Omega Center conference this July 20-21 in Kansas City. Full details can be found here.


What do you think?

We encourage you to share your takeaways and thoughts on this post. Please join the conversation and share your comments below.

Reading for an evolutionary age

As you engage with the Omega Center content we encourage you to review Ilia Delio’s instruction: READING FOR AN EVOLUTIONARY AGE: OMEGA LECTIO DIVINA. 

Omega Center conference

We hope you’ll join us in Kansas City for our first annual Omega Center conference. Speaker information, full details, and registration available here: CHRISTIANITY AS PLANETARY FAITH: ENGAGING TEILHARD’S VISION



This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Thanks, Ilia… beyond the semantics “Love is a sacred reserve of energy. It is like the blood of spiritual evolution”(De Chardin)and ” To love is to be transformed into what (who) we love” ( St John of the Cross).

  2. I think we have to pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire people. We have to be patient and kind but persistent in bringing these great ideas to their attention. Some will get the point and feel a great sense of liberation, as I did and still do; many will resist and some will become fearful and angry in that resistance. Pope Francis says in Gaudete Et Exsultate: “We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralyzed by fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping within safe bounds. Let us remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy.” (Paragraph 133)

    Many people will need to coaxed out of their closed spaces, not dragged out kicking and screaming. The new cosmology is fascinating and scary at the same time. I wonder if the explanations we give are sometimes too complicated. Is there a need for a kind of simple primer, do you think? I recommend Judy Cannato’s profound yet easy to read “Radical Amazement” to friends and I have been delighted at how excited they are by it and keen to study more about the interaction of science and religion. And then I recommend The Omega Center!

  3. Thank you for this clear and concise assessment of why Teilhard’s evolutionary message is so needed today. And a resounding “yes” to: “While I see an increasing interest in the relationship between science and religion, I see little to no effort to shift the paradigm of Christian life in the direction of evolution.” Institutional Catholicism nods in the direction of evolution but never addresses how it challenges our current understanding of creation, incarnation, and redemption. It would destroy the power structure on which Institutional Catholicism rests: Atonement Theology. Teilhard’s vision reconciles what I call the “Mother of all Divorce: The separation of Spirit and Matter. Heal this relationship and the “family” will dwell in peace in the “oikos” of the new heavens and the new earth, where there is an economy that meets the needs of ALL the members, equally, mutually and reciprocally. Wish I could join you in Kansas. Certainly I am already there in Spirit.

  4. Amazing blog and responses. I think there are many who are hungry for the leadership provided here. While some really want to delve deeper and work through confusion; It means letting go of something to make time. For me that includes asking for understanding from others so I can take the time. I am really grateful to be challenged to grow with Omega. Integral Life caught and continues to feed me, but finding Ilia’s work has given me renewed hope for the Church of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. She and others have helped me breakthrough the fog, They speak to what I intuitively know within. I will take a deeper dive and get ready for Kansas in July.

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