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Evolutionary Spirituality

Faith (Beliefs vs Trust)

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"Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking." — Kahlil Gibran

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"Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light." — Helen Keller

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A fundamental truth about the nature of reality, around which there is no real disagreement, is that reality is composed of nested "holons" — creative wholes that are part of larger creative wholes that are part of still larger wholes, like nesting dolls — subatomic particles within atoms within molecules within organisms within planets, and so forth. Everything is simultaneously a whole and a part — a holon. "God" is a sacred name for that Ultimate Creativity or Infinite Whole having no other whole of which it is part. "God" is a proper name for that all-embracing Reality which includes, yet transcends, every other level of reality.

Because every holon expresses a form of intelligence and creativity distinct from the larger holons of which it is part and the smaller holons of which it is composed, it is no surprise that faith, or trust, is at the heart of virtually every religious tradition. If we can't know for certain what the larger and smaller holons of our existence are up to, then trust just makes sense (especially given that worrying won't change anything anyway). From this nested perspective we can begin to appreciate how rational faith is. In fact, other than doing all we can to ensure that every holonic level has conditions in which it can thrive, trust is perhaps the wisest choice we can make. Without it there is no real peace.

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Another truth about the nature of reality that was first noticed a century ago but which has only recently gained wide acceptance is that there is a direction to divine/cosmic creativity. The Universe, expanding within the heart of Mystery (God), is becoming more complex, self-aware, and capable of experiencing love over time. An arrow of progress has been moving through Creation since the beginning — albeit slowly for much of history and not without chaos and setbacks which, in fact, are major drivers of transformation. We can relate to this directional process as Creation itself maturing, as expressing greater cooperation, interdependence, and compassion at ever-increasing scale and evolvability. Humanity and our supportive technologies are now integral to this process.

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Faith in God is trusting reality, having faith in time. It is trusting the intelligence, chaos, and creativity of the larger holons of which we are part and the smaller holons of which we are composed and for which we are responsible. It also means trusting that the bad news and breakdowns along the way are not a cosmic mistake (they almost always lead to growth), and that our intuition, discernment, and feelings — our anger, frustration, compassion, etc — can be faithful guides to being in action as we seek to glorify God in being a blessing to the Whole.

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Faith in God, if it doesn't include trusting Reality, is an impotent faith. If having "faith" does not mean trusting time, trusting the wisdom of the Whole, then such faith will not give me courage, grant me peace, and ground my action in the world here and now. It most certainly will not save me, in this life or the next.

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Faith and trust are synonymous; faith and beliefs are polar opposites.

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Trust is what all other animals do instinctually. When some problem or difficulty occurs in nature (a drought, flood, hurricane, etc) other creatures don't make it mean anything, They don't say to themselves, "Damn, why did this have to happen to me?" They just accept the situation as it is (trust) and make the best of it by being in action.

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Beliefs are constructs of the human mind that come into existence with symbolic language. This happened only in the last blink of an eye, geologically speaking. Non-human animals don't believe anything; they know, or don't know. They notice, they sense, they feel, they remember, they learn, they choose, but they don't believe, because they don't think in words.

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Faith helps us reclaim our birthright as animals. It helps us to re-experience the kind of intimate relationship with the Whole of Reality (God) that we enjoyed "in the garden" for hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of years, as hominids prior to symbolic language.

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Now that we live in a world shaped extensively by human language, faith is necessary for our being able to receive guidance from the Whole of Reality as we seek to fulfill our Great Work: ensuring a just, healthy, beautiful, sustainably lifegiving future for all species. It's also vital to our being able to further God's will for Creation as a whole: greater cooperation, interdependence, and loving compassion at ever wider scale and evolvability.

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Earlier generations cannot be faulted for not knowing what we know, or for not interpreting things as we're now able to do. God reveals truth to each and every generation in ways that make sense at the time, given the psychological, technological, political, economic, and social realities of the day. In a developmental cosmos there's ultimately no privileged position theologically. God revealed to the biblical writers, early church leaders, reformers, and others down through the ages only what could be revealed then, and no more. The same is true today. Future generations will surely have a larger, more comprehensive understanding of the meaning and magnitude of our faith tradition than we can possibly imagine.

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From an evolutionary perspective, to think that rightness with God requires one to hold a particular set of beliefs is to belittle God. If a person must "believe" (in the sense of giving mental assent to) certain propositions in order to be "saved," then God's love is hardly unconditional.

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To interpret "faith in God" as meaning that one must subscribe to a particular way of seeing the world in order to "go to" heaven is to cheapen and denigrate the Gospel.

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Chaos, breakdowns, and difficulties are some of God's greatest gifts. Bad news is, in fact, the primary driver of creativity and transformation, in our own lives as well as thoughout the entire history of life. Only trust in the Whole of Reality (which includes chaos) offers the "peace that passes all understanding." Believing certain things about the Bible, or God, or Jesus, or anything else, is all well and good. But if your heart doesn't trust that chaos is usually grace in disguise, beliefs alone will not sustain you when chaos comes your way.

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Trust may be the most important attitude of the heart in cultivating friendships and nurturing community. With it, most other positive attributes follow naturally. Without it, healthy relationships are impossible.

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Real life is full of pain and disappointment. To have faith re the past is to refuse to play the blame game. It means letting go of resentments and judgments of self and others, forgiving from the heart, and accepting life's struggles and difficulties as a necessary part of being alive. To have faith in the present is to be mindful that this moment, and every moment, is a one-time gift of grace. It means being aware of the sacredness of this time and place, and of each breath. (Pause; notice yourself breathing for a few seconds.) To have faith in the future is to trust, not that things will necessarily go well for you, but that whatever happens will be perfect for your growth and learning. Trusting time means experiencing the flow of real life with an open heart and a deep-seated attitude of acceptance and curiosity.

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Faith is expressed in space as well as time. We reflect on the importance of trusting what is inside us — our inner nature: our dreams, intuitions, failings, and our life energy — as well as what is outside us — our outer nature: the natural and social contexts within which we are embedded. To trust what is inside is to listen and respond to the subtle voice of the divine Spirit within; to refuse to follow any external authority that does not line up with our heart; and to accept that even our faults and shortcomings serve a purpose. To trust what is outside is to appreciate the natural world for what it has always been — teacher, healer, provider; revealer of divine mystery, majesty, and power — and to accept our condition as an earthling, a human expression of this living planet. It also means having faith that the faults and shortcomings of modern society serve a purpose; that our industrial, technological world is not a mistake, but rather is a necessary, though immature, stage in the evolution of consciousness and culture.

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In religious terms, trusting time and space means having faith in God. It is choosing to stay open to the possibility that we are being allured by the same mysterious Reality that has drawn and empowered the process of evolution for billions of years. It is also choosing to believe that nothing in our lives or in the world is a mistake.

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Some people seem to think that trusting means passivity or inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. I trust that our Western consumer culture is not a cosmic mistake; but I am also doing all that I can to help it recover from its addictive patterns and mature beyond its present self-destructive and Earth-destructive practices. Looking within, I trust that my shadow (my arrogant, selfish, addictive nature) serves a purpose, but I'm also doing everything I can to remain humble, compassionate, clean, and sober. We can trust that those who oppress others are less evil than they are ignorant or unenlightened, and at the same time do everything within our power to ensure that freedom and justice prevail.

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"Trusting the Universe" or "having faith in God" means trusting that "everything is right on schedule." But it also means trusting that the anguish and anger that we sometimes feel for what is happening to the oppressed and to our world, and the yearnings we have for a more just and sustainable society, are part of the Universe too, and right on schedule as well.

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Trusting and truth-telling go hand in hand.

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"Enthusiasm is nothing more or less than faith in action." — Henry Chester

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"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope or confidence." — Helen Keller

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"When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly." — Barbara J. Winter

Faithfulness to God Edit

Being faithful to anything less than The Whole of Reality is what is traditionally meant by "idolatry". Idolatry is placing your primary allegiance or loyalty in anything less than that Ultimate Creativity and Intelligence that transcends and includes all other realities. And as the following examples illustrate, the natural consequences of idolatry are almost always tragic.

Countless people and animals have suffered, lives have been lost, and ecosystems ravaged, all because of idolatry, or misplaced allegiance. Millions of Jews were exterminated because many Nazis were loyal to Hitler but not faithful to anything larger than the Third Reich. Millions of women were tortured and killed during the Inquisition because of those who were loyal to the institutional Church but not faithful to the feminine experience of life. Whenever two groups go to war, each loyal to its own leader, patriotic ideals, or perception of the divine will, we witness the logical conclusion of idolatry.

When two individuals are devoted to each other without also being faithful to and responsible for their community and their world, the results are equally, if not as dramatically, tragic. Few things place stress on the environment and our health more than trying to survive in the modern world without the emotional and physical support of real community, and without the spiritual support of the divine body of Life which gave us birth and continues to nurture and sustain us. Multiply this image: (mom, dad and the kids living alone in their house, with two or more cars, a nice lawn to keep up, and all the consumer items "needed" to maintain such a lifestyle) millions of times, over a period of decades, and you will understand one of the reasons why we are inadvertently destroying our world and destroying our sense of peace and happiness in the process.

Sanity, health, and sustainability (i.e., salvation) all lie in the direction of faithfulness to God understood not as a Supreme Being outside the Universe, but as a sacred name for Reality as a Whole, transcendent and immanent.

Resources Edit

"Let's Stop Trivializing God, the Universe, and Our Role in Evolution!" - foundational essay

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