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WHAT IS EVOLUTIONARY SPIRITUALITY?
Evolutionary spirituality is an integral way of thinking and being in the world grounded in a personal, meaningful experience of the epic of evolution as one’s own creation myth, or cosmological sacred story.
What distinguishes evolutionary spirituality from other meaningful approaches to life is its celebration of cosmic history as sacred revelation. Such an inclusive approach provides common ground for all – religious and non-religious alike. It supports appreciative ways of thinking about the past, enlightened ways of being in the present, and empowering ways of imagining the future, grounded in the most inspiring and subjectively truthful interpretations presently available of objectively true scientific facts and widely accepted theories based on those facts.
EVOLUTIONARY EMERGENCE (Directionality )
While every religious tradition will necessarily mythologize cosmic history differently, all will share a similar, if not identical, scientific understanding. Evolutionary spirituality in all it’s myriad of forms is rooted deeply in what the majority of the world’s scientists hold to be true, real, verifiable. Here’s one articulation of the basic flow of the evolutionary epic…
Everything is in a time-developmental process. Galaxies evolve. Solar systems and planets evolve. Continents, oceans, mountains, and rivers evolve. Bacteria, plants, and animals evolve. And human consciousness, culture, and technologies evolve. Everything is in a developmental process. Everything is interconnected and interrelated. And nothing is itself without everything else.
From the perspective of the whole, evolution clearly evidences directionality. The universe has become increasingly complex over time, with each stage building upon and incorporating earlier stages. The galactic era, for example, emerged out of and integrated (i.e., transcended and included) the radiation era. In the biological era, life has repeatedly discovered ways to create cooperative, interdependent wholes out of self-interested, formerly competitive parts, and then do the same thing at a higher, or wider, level of organization.
Cooperative groups of self-replicating molecular processes formed the first simple cells. Groups of these cells formed larger and more complex cells, and these in turn formed cooperative groups of cells that become multicellular organisms. Groups of multicellular organisms formed cooperative insect societies and human social systems.
In the human realm this process has continued and expanded considerably over the past 100,000 years. Initially cooperation existed only within small family groups. Since then, cooperative organizations have progressively expanded in scale to produce multi-family bands, then tribes, then agricultural communities, cities, and empires, then nation states, and now some forms of economic and social cooperation that span the globe.
This direction is progressive. Each stage transcends and includes (incorporates and builds upon) earlier stages. The vital point to remember, however, is this: This process has happened successfully in evolutionary history only when the system becomes self-organized or self-governed in such a way that it is genuinely in the interests of the parts to cooperate in the service of the whole – that is, where they benefit by doing so and/or suffer in some way by not doing so.
This is why at each level of complexity in human history, stories, beliefs, and incentives of various kinds (moral codes, laws, taxes, etc) emerged to support trust and cooperation among the group (whether family, band, tribe, city, empire, or nation) and protect against those things which erode trust and cooperation: lying, cheating, stealing, dominating, freeloading, etc.
When we scan the universe story in its human phase of development, we see a number of trends leading down the path of greater interdependence. Two of the more obvious are: (1) improvement in the processing and transport of matter, energy, and information, and (2) improvement in our ability to obtain and act on feedback from the world around us. The progressive evolution of communication and transportation technologies has increasingly enabled people and organizations to share information and experience more often, more widely, and more deeply. This has, in turn, tended to expand our circles of cooperation, care, compassion, and commitment.
This process has not always been easy, of course, and setbacks are both common and seemingly necessary. Getting individuals that are used to seeing each other as enemies to cooperate has always been tricky at best. Every time we learned to cooperate at a wider scale, what was required was to move beyond ingrained judgments, beliefs, and prejudices to learn to trust those once feared and/or despised.
From a biological evolutionary standpoint, the key, as mentioned above, has always been finding ever more effective ways of aligning the natural self-interest of individuals with the wellbeing of the whole(s) of which the individual is part. In this sense, the past provides clear and unambiguous guidance re we must evolve our social and governmental structures for us to move into a just, healthy, beautiful, sustainably lifegiving future. Evolutionary integrity is the way!
Learning how, in the past, life has produced increasingly complex, interdependent wholes out of competitive, self-interested parts and applying that knowledge to maturing our own political and economic systems is paramount. If we succeed here, virtually everything else will flow naturally. If we fail here, all the other good we do will probably not be enough.
Humanity’s great work in the 21st century will be evolving local, regional, national, and global systems of governance, and economics, which ensure that individuals and organizations benefit when benefiting the whole and suffer when harming the whole. Human interests, the interests of other species, and the wellbeing of the planet will thereby become aligned.
Nothing is more important than for humanity to create real and effective incentives for individuals, corporations, and nation-states to do the right, just, ecologically beneficial thing, and equally effective incentives for them not to do the wrong, unjust, or ecological harmful thing.
By nurturing an ever more conscious, intimate and interdependent relationship with each other and with The Whole, our Source, we will increasingly function, collectively, with the wisdom of a self-organizing global body, beyond the control of any individual or group of individuals. This vision – of humanity and the ground of our being in a mutually enhancing, symbiotic relationship – provides a realistic, if also mythic, vision of the fulfillment of the world’s greatest religious ideals.
OVERLAPPING CIRCLES OF INTEREST
Those who identify themselves as part of “the evolutionary spirituality movement” tend to be engaged with one or more of these overlapping circles of interest:
1. Evangelizing the Great Story -
The soil out of which the evolutionary spirituality movement grows is cosmic, Earth, life, and human history understood in meaningful ways. Creating and diffusing ever more compelling (i.e., scientifically accurate and mythic) ways to tell our common creation story, using the full range of arts and media, is a passion for many in this movement.
CORE QUESTIONS: How can the Great Story (the epic of evolution understood as a personally and socially meaningful, inclusive, science-based creation myth) be told in ways that inspire billions of people with different belief systems to cooperate along just, sustainable lines? And what would have to happen for such a big picture sacred story to spark people to find their calling or contribution, becoming active agents of social creativity?
2. Pursuing our Evolutionary Legacy
For many, the core of Evolutionary Spirituality is nurturing mental and behavioral habits to support us individually and as a species in growing in evolutionary integrity and fulfill our calling, our great work or evolutionary legacy. Personally (individually), “to be in evolutionary integrity,” means, among other things, loving and serving The Whole (God) with passion and humility and being fully committed to your own and to humanity’s evolution. This includes, but is not limited to, being your word, seeking out peer support, welcoming accountability, nurturing healthy integral habits, trusting time, chaos, “setbacks,” and death, and pursuing the path where your own great joy and the world’s great needs (now and into the future) intersect. Collectively (as a species), “to be in evolutionary integrity,” means, among other things, dialoguing across differences often and meaningfully, learning from each other, listening to what The Whole is saying nonverbally through the feedback we’re getting from the natural world, and doing all we can to ensure a just, healthy, beautiful, sustainably lifegiving future for all species.
CORE QUESTIONS: How can we further the evolutionary impulse and organize/govern ourselves as a species (globally, nationally, regionally, and locally) so that there are real and effective incentives for individuals, corporations, and nation-states to cooperate and serve the common good (each benefits substantially by doing so), and equally effective incentives against disregarding or damaging the common good? And how can the epic of evolution be told in a mythic way, as a big picture sacred story, so that it inspires and motivates billions of human beings with different worldviews to really want, and then to successfully manifest, this vision?
3. Evolutionary Religion Embracing and Transcending Flat Earth Religion
Many of us in this movement are involved in the process of reinterpreting the core insights and doctrines of our respective faith traditions from a sacred evolutionary perspective, and likewise updating our tradition’s songs, prayers, liturgies, rituals, and practices to reflect an evolutionary, rather than a flat earth cosmology.
How can the particular doctrines, concepts, principles, and theological insights of my tradition be understood in a way that: a) Validates pre-evolutionary understandings? (i.e., transcends and includes earlier interpretations) b) Makes sense naturally and scientifically? (i.e., is this-world realistic and measurable/falsifiable) c) Is inclusive and universal? (i.e., is true for everyone, everywhere) d) Is inspiring and empowering? (i.e., strengthens, deepens, and expands trust, and motivates and enables individuals and groups to be a blessing to the future
How has cosmic history become a primary source of revelation for people of different religious traditions? When and how does the epic of evolution become The Great Story for Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians, Humanists, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Humanists, Unitarian Universalists, etc?
4. The Evolution of Spirit in Matter, Consciousness, Culture, and Society
Those who have written about the evolution of consciousness and culture have inspired many who identify with evolutionary spirituality. In particular, Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics and Center for Human Emergence, Andrew Cohen’s What is Enlightenment? magazine and community, Barbara Marx Hubbard’s Gateway to Conscious Evolution program, and the writings of Duane Elgin, Elisabet Sahtouris, Peter Russell, and Christian de Quincey are highly valued by many in the evolutionary spirituality movement.
CORE QUESTIONS: Where are the most fruitful synergies between Ken Wilber’s Integral (AQAL) approach to evolutionary spirituality and others who are exploring ways to think about the evolution of The Whole (Spirit) in matter, consciousness, culture, and society?
5. The Nature and Forms of Conscious Evolution, Individually and Collectively
(Tom, I’m sure you’ll have something to say here.)
6. Conversation as co-evolutionary force
7. Evolutionary Epiphanies
When and how does the science-based history of the universe become an inspiring grand narrative or creation myth for someone? Those for whom the epic of evolution has become their Great Story, transcending and including their previously held sacred stories, what was it, specifically, that led to their awakening or aha? Many of us who identify with this burgeoning movement can point to a time when we thought to ourselves, “Wow, of course! I get it!” Most of us were not able to go back to our old ways of seeing again. Whether known as “evolutionary awakenings,” “cosmic whiplashes,” “deep-time conversions,” or “evolutionary eureka!s, these experiences are often transforming, psychologically and behaviorally.
8. Evolutionary Brain Science, Evolutionary Psychology, and Evolutionary Ethics
For some, their path into this movement came as a result of exploring the insights (and personal meaning and applications) of evolutionary neurobiology, evolutionary psychology, or evolutionary ethics. Excellent popularizations of these new disciplines include the following:
- Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, by Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria
- The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are – the New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright
- Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts, by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan
- The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, by Matt Ridley
- The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule, by Michael Shermer
- A General Theory of Love, by Thomas Lewis, et al.