Church * Webster, Texas * Sunday, 24 June 2001
The Future of God...
or, more precisely, the future of humanity's relationship with God.
L. Schultz (copyright © 2001)
I must admit, I cannot
quite remember how this happened: it seems one Wednesday discussion
night during idle conversation someone said something about the
future of God, and the next thing I knew Terry grabbed me and hauled
me over and volunteered me for this very interesting activity --
to which I have been looking forward immensely. As I was saying
to Terry earlier, generally speaking, when I am teaching in classes
or making presentations to other groups I must focus very much on
business and practical and applied aspects of futures studies and
long-range trends, and I don't often get to talk about what are,
in fact, the most important issues; so this is a delightful opportunity
for me, and I thank you for the invitation.
HOWEVER, the bad news
is -- for those of you who are sitting here thinking, YEAH now we're
going to find out what's REALLY GOING ON... -- that's not going
to happen. As Terry mentioned, perhaps one of the strongest parallels
between your worldview and the futurists' worldview is the championing
of possibilities -- infinite possibilities -- and futurists tend
to explore more than they predict, and so I am going to be raising
questions more than I am going to be giving you the inside scoop
on the future of God. In fact, the title, "The Future of God,"
was a shortened version of what we were actually thinking about,
which was more "The Future of the Relationship between Humanity
and God," but that, unfortunately, was too long to fit on your
sign out on the driveway, and hence, "The Future of God."
Today I am going to talk
about emerging trends of change and the impacts they might have
upon how we conceptualize ourselves as spiritual beings; what has
been in the past our relationship to God and the various concepts
we associate historically with that relationship; and how those
concepts, and consequently that relationship, might change in the
And I will start with
history, because all good futurists must tip their hats in respect
to historians: we cannot understand the possibilities for change
in the future without being well acquainted with the patterns of
change that occurred in the past. So I will begin by talking briefly
about one philosopher's conception of the development of human society
and human civilization as the evolution of our relationship with
God: the "positive philosophy" of Auguste Comte.
Comte: The Positive Philosophy
Writing in the early
1800's, Comte suggested that if you looked at human development
from the newly conceptualized "scientific" point of view,
then what he called (rather obscurely) "the highest dispositions
of our nature" -- our spiritual selves -- are in a "continuous
state of relative development." If you analyzed human society
and its development over time, you could see a spiral of evolutionary
progress of the spiritual.
It begins with what Comte
called the "primitive theological state," controlled by
spiritual authorities, which evolved through two developmental phases.
In the first phase of spirituality, nomadic hunters and gatherers
believed that all things, both organic and inorganic, were infused
with a life more or less like our own, with which we must negotiate
-- the concept of animism. That worldview then evolved into
one that saw the world peopled by superhuman agents who cause phenomena
by direct action upon the world and upon the people in it: gods
and godesses, whom people must propitiate -- the concept of theism.
As human society grew
more complex in capability and output, leadership roles within it
began to coalesce along economic, spiritual, and military lines.
The theistic worldview was then followed by that of the "transient
metaphysical state." These were societies controlled by military,
economic, and religious authorities, and characterized by clear
institutional divisions between secular and spiritual leaders. In
this context, formerly personalized, spiritual explanations of the
world became increasingly abstract. Instead
of gods and goddesses with personalities -- and you have to wonder
if the Greeks and Romans really thought of their gods and goddesses
in that "Xena, Warrior Princess" mode (that is, as punks
and Valley girls) -- and distinct physical features, people began
to conceptualize the Immanent as the ineffable. The logical output
of this evolution was the monotheism that characterizes many (but
not all) of the world's largest religions today. Beyond that, Comte
suggested, we would achieve a final positive state, where our understanding
of the universe from the "scientific point of view" (remember,
intellectuals were still in their first flush of infatuation with
the power of scientific method) was such that we no longer expected
superhuman agents to be the primary movers and actors of what we
saw around us. At that point, we would have developed the rational
to the fullest extent and become the complete secular humanists.
Now, many people disagree
with Comte's conceptualization of human social development. Nonetheless,
we do seem to have reached a point where the modern, post-industrial
"world" culture often seems to be more secular than it
is spiritual. We might ask ourselves, as religion has changed over
time, where have we located God? Where have we put God in relationship
to ourselves, the other living creatures on the planet, and the
planet itself? At this point I'm going to draw upon another old
classic, the concept of the "great chain of being."
The Great Chain of
Let's remind ourselves
of the purpose, and actual composition, of the great chain. Rohr,
in his sermon on the concept, states that, "by this image the
Scholastic theologians tried to communicate a linked and coherent
world." He then goes on to quote Arthur Lovejoy's The Great
Chain of Being, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936),
in which Lovejoy describes the links of the great chain from the
''The essential and
unbreakable links in the chain include the Divine Creator, the
angelic heavenly [who are themselves arrayed in ranks -- seraphim,
cherubim, etc], the human, the animal, the world of plants and
vegetation, and the planet Earth itself with its minerals and
waters. In themselves, and in their union together, they proclaim
the glory of God (Psalm 104) and the inherent dignity of all things.
This image became the basis for calling anything and everything
Rohr, OFM, Radical Grace, Center for Action and Contemplation]
On the one hand, the
concept of the Great Chain of Being linked all together in the idea
of God, and located God in close relationship to us. But on the
other hand, this is a very linear, structured, top-down, hierarchical
conception of relationships among people, between people and other
life forms, between people and the spiritual forces of transcendence,
whatever they may be and however you conceptualize them. Nor is
the "great chain of being" limited to the Western philosophies
of transcendence. The notions of spiritual growth and advancement
embedded in the concept of reincarnation have the reincarnated soul
occupying ever more "advanced" forms on a great chain of spiritual
being -- from animal being, through social being, to transcendental
This and other underlying
similarities among the religions of the world are often written
about as the "perennial philosophy." From Ken Wilbur we
have a restatement within the framework of the perennial philosophy
of this concept of the great chain of being.
... consists of different grades or levels, reaching from the
lowest and most dense and least conscious to the highest and most
subtle and most conscious. At one end of this continuum of being
or spectrum of consciousness is what we in the West would call
"matter" or the insentient and the non conscious, and at the other
end is "spirit" or "godhead" or the "super conscious" (which is
also said to be the all-pervading ground of the entire sequence,
as we will see). Arrayed in between are the other dimensions of
being arranged according to their individual degrees of reality
(Plato), actuality (Aristotle), inclusiveness (Hegel), consciousness
(Aurobindo), clarity (Leibniz), embrace (Plotinus), or knowingness
The central claim of
the perennial philosophy is that men and women can grow and develop
(or evolve) all the way up the hierarchy to Spirit itself, therein
to realize a "supreme identity" with Godhead -- the ensperfectissimum
toward which all growth and evolution yearns."
It was very clear, in
the past, according to these schema, where God was to be found.
For the next millennium, the question becomes more problematic.
Certainly we live in
an age where the secular seems to overshadow the spiritual -- certainly
the material overshadows the spiritual. The great Western religious
institutions struggle to adjust to the conditions of 21st century
life -- not always successfully. Religious sisterhoods and brotherhoods
regularly hold conferences whose panels bear such dispirited titles
as, "Will the last person to leave the order please turn out the
lights?"(I'm not making that up: I have a friend who is, by her
calculation, at 42 the youngest nun in her order -- her entire order,
worldwide.) Yet many people are both frightened and repelled by
the high-tech images of the future that abound, especially in the
US media. In a backlash, they respond with a yearning for a more
high-touch, in-depth community, a community that provides them more
opportunities to explore the spiritual. Those two trends -- the
high-tech and the high-touch -- exist in tension with each other.
We are immersed in high technology innovations; that trend is easy
to track. But the backlash is evident as well: the multimedia, evangelical,
charismatic churches are booming; Islam is the fastest growing religion
on the planet, and people throughout the U.S. are exploring alternative
approaches to spiritual growth, from deep ecology to transcendental
meditation to yoga. We are spiritual as well as social creatures,
and the only antidote to the overwhelming materialism and technism
of our age is deeper exploration of our fundamental humanity.
Except that we are changing
that as well: the next millennium will see us pry apart, re-shape,
and re-arrange the links of the great chain of being. DNA makes
an apt logo for this transition. Beyond the information age, the
pundits say, is the biological or genomic age: we can redesign ourselves.
We can redesign ourselves for sound environmental reasons, for therapeutic
reasons, for cosmetic reasons -- we can do it for fun. When we can
redesign ourselves to adapt more comfortably to new environments,
where do we fit in the great chain, and what then is our link to
God? When we borrow genetic designs from the dolphins to enhance
our ability to work in our own oceans, what, then, will be our definition
of immanence? When we have changed our physical selves to tolerate
the harsh and beautiful environment of Mars, and see ourselves as
maturing out of "the cradle of mankind," where then will we be in
relation to God?
Our current biological
sciences are focussing very heavily -- especially in this country
-- on the processes of biological development and aging, to understand
how undifferentiated cells in the womb differentiate themselves
to create fetuses, to grow into children, to mature into adolescents
and then into adults. And to then start replicating errors in themselves
to cause the signs of aging -- that many of us are grappling with
even as I speak. When we unlock the keys to aging, and once again
approach the lifetimes of Methuselah's kin, what will our technology
of transcendence be? If we master the ultimate art of self-repair,
how does the prospective eternity of the body affect our perspective
on our eternal souls?
The next medical and
biological frontier, indeed, will be our understanding of the human
brain and the mind-body link. Already we have the tools for non-intrusive
monitoring of the brain as we engage in various mental and physical
activities. In the past ten years, these new tools have enabled
new insights into the cellular and biochemical changes that occur
as we dream, or perform calculus, or play music, or recite poetry.
Will we, in the next millennium, discover a scientific basis of
understanding the soul? If we do not, what then is our bridge to
When we inevitably design
the first artifical sentient -- another area of rapid development
and focussed resource deployment: the building of ever larger computational
systems using ever more sophisticated network architecture coupled
with innovations in mathematics allowing software innovations which
may be clever enough at learning and adapting to approach artificial
intelligence -- when that begins to succeed in any demonstrable
way, in the next fifty years, one hundred years, and the first computer
wakes up and starts talking to us in ways that challenge the Turing
test, and when its descendents finally surpass us in knowledge and
wisdom, how then will we have to reconceptualize the soul? Does
the soul require an organic base? Or can it emerge from artificial
life as well? And where, then, is God?
As our understanding
and ability to manipulate both the smallest parts of matter and
the basic blocks of biology increase, the boundaries between our
machines and ourselves will blur: we will no longer carry cell phones
and computers, but embed them, with direct neural links to the microprocessors
and transmitters of the future, whatever form they take. At what
point, then, does the global communications net become in truth
a neural net become the global brain -- or, in Teilhard de Chardin's
conceptualization, a noosphere?
Cobb Kreisberg, "A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain," WIRED
a stage of evolution characterized by a complex membrane of information
enveloping the globe and fueled by human consciousness.
He believed this vast
thinking membrane would ultimately coalesce into "the living unity
of a single tissue" containing our collective thoughts and experiences."
A hundred years from
now, will parapsychologists and whoever the researchers are of the
real "X-files" finally decide that they should drop the
hunt for people capable of telepathy -- if such an ability even
exists on an organic level -- because we will have achieved the
practical equivalent by having computer links embedded and connected
directly to our biochemical brains.
Will it be fun to have
group calls to the world mind? I dunno. Given what comprises 90%
of the current activity on the World Wide Web these days, I suspect
we will all be playing poker in the deep recesses of brains -- or
engaged in far more unmentionable activities. But the point being
that we will be much more interconnected.
In fact, Dr. Pentti Malaska,
member of the Club of Rome and former President of the World Futures
Studies Federation, has suggested that society is not, as many sociologists
would have it, progressing neatly from agricultural age through
the industrial age to the information age. Rather, what we perceive
as the information age is merely the turbulent transition to a more
complex, more economically ephemeral age where worth is based primarily
on the number of interrelationships we all can claim -- what he
likes to call "the interaction age."
Where in this scheme
We have bent and shattered
the links of the great chain of being: we are reforging them into
cables and weaving a complex, multidimensional web of relationships
encompassing ourselves, other life, all matter -- and artificial
life that we are busy creating.
Is God then to be found
at the point of convergence, in the stable center of this web?
Or is God at the boundary
of the web, providing the anchor points fixing life to the matter
of the universe?
Perhaps both: perhaps
God is the structure itself. After all, if the devil is in the details,
is not God also? Or in the words of Douglas Adams, author of The
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, maybe God is in "the
fiddly bits." The new science of complexity -- the study of
complex adaptive systems -- would suggest that humanity is itself
a complex adaptive system, made up of many intelligent, adaptive,
intentional agents working on both their own individual goals as
well as joint goals comprising human endeavor as a whole. Perhaps,
in the future, God will simply be seen to be the emergent property
of that system, the very difference that distinguishes the whole
from the sum of the parts.
Teilhard de Chardin:
And so to find God in
the turbulence that we are creating as we create the future and
remake reality, we must become seekers. We must become...
(And so to the blessing.)
"...seeker[s] who devote...
[themselves], ultimately through love, to the labours of discovery.
No longer... worshipper[s] of the world but of something greater
than the world, through and beyond the world in progress. "
"The outcome of the
world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human
-- these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to
one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open
only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which
all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation
of the earth...."
Prayer from Zelazny,
"The Possibly Proper Death Litany"
Composing the closing
benediction was a challenge to me, as I have little practice in
writing blessings. So I have brought to you a prayer from the far
future, written by one of my favorite science fiction authors, Roger
Zelazny. He posited a very distant future in which people were still
concerned that they be on good relations with whatever might exist,
but they had gotten ever more careful about deciding what that might
-- or might not -- be.
Hence my blessing to
"Insofar as I may
be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I
ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may
have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely,
if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure
any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction
of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted
or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to ensure
your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your
elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be
yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your
receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this
[benefit], and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony.
Creatures of Light and Darkness
, Avon, 1986)
"The future is an emergent property of the complex system
by which we adapt to the infinite possibilities inherent in
the moving present." Schultz, 6/24/2001