Chapter 5: Life: Enjoyment and Ecstasy
THE THEOLOGY WHICH CAN BEST SERVE THE CHURCH IN ITS MINISTRY TO THE SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE WILL TAKE THE FORM OF CHRISTIAN BIOPOLITICS — A UTOPIAN APPROACH TO THE ORGANIZATION OF THE QUEST FOR A DESIRABLE FUTURE, WHICH TAKES AS ITS CENTRAL THEME THE FULFILLMENT OF LIFE WITHIN THE TOTALITY OF THE NATURAL, SOCIAL, AND TECHNOLOGICAL SETTINGS OF HUMAN EXISTENCE.
No matter how you interpret it, the world will never be quite the same after July 20, 1969 — the day that Neil Armstrong from Planet Earth first set his left foot upon the moon. Nothing could speak more eloquently of the fact that the future will be radically different from the past. The moon landing promptly set off a vigorous debate in the country about what our priorities ought to be in the light of this spectacular demonstration of what can be done, at least in the technological realm, when men are sufficiently committed. What are the goals to which we should commit ourselves as a nation in the seventies? Nothing, in fact, is more urgent than sustained debate to reassess our priorities and to determine what we really want most from the future. Such deliberations and the decisions which follow are the essence of politics — the sum total of all those actions by which a society organizes itself for the purpose of achieving the good life.
A good deal of theological writing lately has made politics a central category. Paul Lehmann, Harvey Cox, J. B. Metz Jürgen Moltmann and others have attempted to show the usefulness of this concept in elucidating a biblical understanding of man and his communal existence under God.(Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context [New York: Harper & Row, 1963]. Cox, The Secular City [New York: Macmillan, 1965]. Metz, Theology of the World. Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future [New York: Scribner’s, 1969]). Political theology is an enterprise which seeks, in the light of the Christian disclosure, to discern what God is doing to fulfill the potentialities of human life. Its other task is to discover the appropriate human response to the divine working in history. The Protestant Moltmann and the Catholic Metz have both attached their versions of political theology to the eschatological scheme of the Bible so that it becomes a theology of hope which entails a militant program of social action to improve the quality of human existence.
I, too, find myself convinced of the importance of developing a theology of hope based on the scriptural drama which runs from creation to consummation, telling of God’s purpose to bring his Kingdom to pass in cosmos and in human history. We need a theology of the future for a future-oriented society. However, I believe that a political theology is too narrow, to the extent that it presents man only in his social and historical existence and does not take into account the natural and biological setting of human life. Hence in order to stress this wider environment of human decision and action, I wish to make a case for the development of a theology which, by design, is concerned with the theory and practice of Christian biopolitics.
Every theology needs to state the substance of the Christian message in a form that is both credible and relevant to the particular cultural situation to which it is addressed. It is in fact just such a reading of the present scene which, I believe, calls for a biopolitical theology. The particular aspect of the contemporary situation to which I wish to call attention has to do with man’s growing powers to alter his destiny and the increasing interdependence of men with each other, with nature, and with the machines they create. These developments make imperative future-oriented research and planning in order to avoid disaster and to achieve a desirable state of affairs in the decades ahead. We live in an era in which attempts to forecast developments in science, technology, and in society and then to devise alternative strategies in the light of the most probable futures will become increasingly important. Man has no choice but to attempt to exercise control over the vast number of interrelated systems which affect his life. Herbert Richardson speaks of the emergence of socio-technics as the crucial fact in the cultural era already dawning. “By socio-technics is meant that new knowledge whereby man exercises control not only over nature but over all the specific institutions that make up society: i.e., economics, science, and politics.” (Toward an American Theology [New York: Harper & Row, 1967], p. 16.) I would only add that we ought to think in terms of a bio-socio-technic age in order to stress the fact that what is at stake is the future management of life itself. At this point it must be recognized that the interdependence of all life in relationship to the planetary environment places special obligations and limitations on the present generation. There is one world, one human family, one interrelated web of life woven on the spherical skin of the earth. Plants, animals, and men share a common environment. It is imperative not only that nations and races learn to live in peace with justice for all but that we also learn how to relate ourselves to our natural surrounding in such a way as to stay alive and prosper. We cannot afford to continue to make war, to tolerate oppression, to allow the gap between the rich and the poor to persist. But neither can we indiscriminately and indefinitely plunder the planet for its resources, overpopulate it with people, and pollute our air and water without paying the terrible consequences in human misery. If we are to have a future at all, we must at least learn the elementary requirements of biological survival.
In a special way, then, I am calling for an ecological model for politics and theology, which begins with human beings living in relationship not only to each other but to a natural environment. Commentary by three eminent men of our time underscores the need for politics broad enough to include biology. First, Aldous Huxley has argued that only if we take into account biological as well as the merely political facts can we hope to shorten the time of trouble into which we are moving.
Only when we get it into our collective head that the basic problem confronting twentieth-century man is an ecological problem will our politics improve. How does the human race propose to survive and, if possible, improve the lot and the intrinsic quality of its individual members? Do we propose to live on this planet in symbiotic harmony with our environment? Or, preferring to be wantonly stupid, shall we choose to live like murderous and suicidal parasites that kill their host and so destroy themselves? . . . If our politicians were realists, they would think rather less about missiles and the problem of landing astronauts on the moon, rather more about hunger and moral squalor and the problem of enabling three billion men, women, and children, who will soon be six billions, to lead a tolerably human existence without, in the process, ruining and befouling their planetary environment.(“The Politics of Population,” reprinted with permission from the March, 1969, issue of The Center Magazine, a publication of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California.
Secondly, Norman Cousins has recently proposed that some foundation establish a Commission on the World’s Future made up of eminent scientists and humanists with moral vision who would devote themselves to thinking about the problem of survival and fulfillment in the future. The Commission would think in planetary terms about the whole human race, transcending the narrow ties of national governments and racial and ideological prejudices. It would issue annually a Report on the State of Mankind. He points out, as does Huxley, that our problem is bad politics. Governments which were instituted among men to insure their security and well-being now constitute a big part of the problem. Devoting themselves to nationalistic interests, the governments of the world have become potential instruments of race suicide and world holocaust. Noting how men have polluted and raped the natural environment and how we have applied our ingenuity to practically everything except how to make the earth fit for human habitation, he concludes:
What has been happening to people that they don’t understand is that they have made a geographical entity out of their world without a philosophy for ennobling it, a plan for conserving it, or an organization for sustaining it. Men crave to do good, to act reasonably and think decently. But goodness and decency and wisdom must have a world purpose in our time if life and thought are to have any meaning at all. “Proposal to a Foundation,” Saturday Review [April 26, 1969], p.26.)
What is called for is some way to transcend or transform the idolatrous governments of the world and to develop a goal and a plan for making the earth into a proper home for mankind. Perhaps, he suggests, a Commission on the World’s Future would help.
Finally, Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant has recently reported a study made for a Global Conference on Man’s Environment in 1972. He calls attention, as experts increasingly are doing, to the deterioration of the world’s resources in arable land and forests and to the pollution of air and water by pesticides and waste products. Noting that the population of the earth is expected to double by the year 2000, reaching seven billion, the study adds:
The need to provide food, water, minerals, fuel and other necessities for such increasing numbers of people will place pressures on virtually all areas of the earth and demand the most careful planning and management of natural resources. No nation can any longer be isolated from these global pressures.(New York Times article, June 24, 1969.)
With this background in mind, then, let me spell out some of the characteristics of a biopolitical theology, which seeks to take into account man’s total life set within nature and cosmos as well as within society and history. The central theme of biopolitics is life and its fulfillment. An evolutionary perspective is assumed in which human existence is seen as the outcome of a long process of development whose beginnings are lost in the distant past. Reflecting upon this emergence of living organisms and finally man, one cannot help but ask what is really going on here? What intentions are being expressed? What purposes are being worked out? In whatever sense terms like intention and purpose are legitimate, it would appear that the cosmos is trying to produce life, and life strives for the fulfillment of its potentialities. This is a clue, I believe, not only to a philosophical interpretation of the meaning of human existence but also to the practical quest of men to find the good life for themselves and their societies.
The recognition of the centrality of an evolutionary perspective means that man needs to be viewed as a biospiritual creature who requires a delicate balance of favorable environmental conditions as the necessary prerequisite to any possible flowering of his unique human capacities. Man must survive before he can prosper. He must have space, food, water, at certain levels of quantity and quality before he can write poetry, build nations, command armies, pray to God, or love his neighbor. Unless his body can live, his spirit cannot flourish. In short, biopolitics presupposes the unity of nature and history. Man belongs to the cosmos as well as to society. He began to be created in the deep interior of the stars billions of years ago when the heavier elements were being formed. If there is a creative intention, a divine purpose, being worked out, we need ways of interpreting it that include those processes that were occurring when the first self-duplicating molecule appeared on earth as well as what happened on Good Friday and Easter morning. Too much recent theology has been one-sided in its emphasis on the historical setting of human existence, neglecting to relate in any organic way the natural foundation of man’s spirit to the framework of the divine activity. Biopolitics, on its theoretical side, intends to correct this by viewing man in a comprehensive cosmo-historical, biocultural setting.
I believe that such a metaphysical scheme is available in process philosophy.(I have worked out my own version of this philosophy in Science, Secularization and God [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969]. Some material in this section also appeared earlier in an article, ‘Salvation and the Mission of the Church,” Religion in Life [Autumn, 1970], pp. 382-92.) In such a scheme, reality is viewed in terms of an evolutionary process which has given rise in successive stages to novel forms of life, all aiming at the fullest possible realization of their potentialities. At some point in the evolutionary process, organisms appeared which were capable of subjective awareness, of enjoying their being. The most complex of these creatures is man, a self-conscious spirit who has added to the achievements of natural evolution the wide range of developing cultural creations. But he emerges as a part and product of a total evolutionary process which is prior to him. His goal-seeking, value-producing efforts reflect the goal-seeking, value-producing activities of the cosmos itself and of God, who is both the life of the cosmic organism and its primordial ground.
A further characteristic of biopolitics is that it is both a theoretical and a practical enterprise. It includes not only a conception of reality but a theory of value and a program of action. When life is taken as the basic category for interpreting the meaning of cosmic and human history, the good or the aim of life is understood in terms of the enjoyment of existence. Organic wholeness is taken to be the rule of normative functioning in living systems. This means that enjoyment occurs when each part of the system does its job well in harmony with all the rest so that the goals of the individual or the society taken as a unitary whole will be achieved. The term enjoyment needs some clarification. It is not, as used here, identical with pleasure. What the person who is experiencing organic wholeness enjoys is not some particular pleasing sensation or experience, regardless of how sensual or how sublime it may be. What he enjoys is the fact that he is, that he exists, that the gift of life has been given to him. This is an ontological hedonism. It means basically the sense of harmonious union of life with life and of life with its ultimate Source. Ontological hedonism means rejoicing that it is good to be despite the threats and ambiguities of life. The experience of pleasure is not ruled out. It has an important place, but other goods have a place as well in contributing to the joy of being. The particulars with which one ifils his life are secondary to the basic sense of meaningfulness and worth which one attaches to the fact that he is. This does not mean that there are no standards of value. Some pleasures are trivial, others degrading. Some actions are neutral or destructive. Some goals are self-defeating. Fundamentally, however, enjoyment refers to the sheer gladness of being alive, the sense of being at one with all of life, the awareness of being at home in and belonging to the world.
Biopolitics seeks not only a coherent theoretical scheme — whether in reference to being or to value. It also seeks for ways to organize the goal-seeking activities of life at every level — in societies as well as in individuals — in such a way to achieve the maximum enjoyment of being. Reflection and action, theory and practice, theology and politics, go together.
Another feature of biopolitics is that it overlaps religion and ethics. Religion has to do with the ultimate value commitments that men make in their quest for fulfilling the potentialities of their lives. The promise of life is good, but the promise is not always or completely realized. Potentially and essentially it is good to be. Actually and concretely, existence is ambiguous, a mixture of good and evil. Salvation is the enjoyment of existence, despite its ambiguity. In its actuality salvation is enjoyment; at its acme it is ecstasy — the unrestrained joy experienced on the occasion of an acute awareness of the harmonious union of life with its surrounding community and its ultimate ground. Ecstasy is to the redeemed life what sexual orgasm is to marriage. It occurs as a climactic moment in the rhythmic alternation between work and worship, action and contemplation. The deepest meaning of salvation involves the love of life and a life of love. One is saved in loving and in being loved. To love is to enjoy the being and to will the good of another. Being loved is having one’s being enjoyed and one’s good willed by another. Life in love is experienced as joyous union with all beings. The love of life is expressed in gratitude for the gift of being. The final Object of love and the final Subject of love is God — the Whole in whom all live and love and have their being. God enjoys the being and wills the good of the creatures. The creatures, insofar as they are saved or being saved, enjoy the being and will the good of God.
Ethics has to do with the detailed choices and actions appropriate to the realization of the potentialities of life. This achievement is experienced as joy in being. The ethical principles growing out of the biopolitical theology that is here being defended can be stated in a formal, abstract way as follows: Always act in such a way as to maximize maximizing enjoyments. This means that moral action should be directed toward the attainment of the largest possible range, depth, and variety of future achievements. To implement this fundamental rule, particular contexts would have to be taken into account and concrete judgments made about what ranges, depths, and varieties of enjoyment are to be included and what weight given to each factor. At this point, individual intuitions, pragmatic considerations, and debatable claims about competing values will necessarily enter the picture, along with a good deal of sheer guesswork and ad hoc improvisation.
Nevertheless, I believe that this basic motif of seeking maximizing enjoyments provides a key to understanding the final goal of all human moral action. That ultimate good, as I understand it, is the achievement of the greatest possible fullness of life in every living creature in a continuing process which opens up ever enlarging possibilities of experiencing the joy of being. This, in turn, is identical with the perfecting of the enjoyment of God. In short, I believe that this evolutionary, eschatological, hedonistic ethic is an appropriate contemporary philosophical understanding of the biblical commandment to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor equally as oneself. This way of putting it is especially relevant when this double-sided imperative is connected with Jesus’ own teaching that God numbers the hairs of our head and takes into account the sparrows of the air and the lilies of the field. This formulation of the ethical imperative is, of course, closely related to what Albert Schweitzer called “reverence for life.”
In short, biopolitics leads in one direction to a consideration of life in relationship to its ultimate ground — God the Creator. It results in the other direction in specific guidelines for the relating of creatures to each other. Worship and work, ultimate commitment and concrete deeds, religion and ethics, form one comprehensive whole in which each dimension presupposes and leads to the other.
A final identifying mark of biopolitics is that it employs a method of creative synthesis. Assuming that truth is one, science, philosophy, and theology are seen ideally as mutually supporting perspectives on reality. The revelation of God, given in Scripture, is regarded as authoritative only insofar as it provides clarifying images which illuminate experience as it is critically interpreted by reason.Theology within this framework articulates the meaning of the inherited tradition of the Christian community in the light of empirical knowledge supplied by the sciences. It makes use of the resources of the philosophical community and of other religious traditions. It seeks to incorporate insights available from literature and the arts. In short, theology embraces wisdom from any historical or contemporary source that assists in making sense out of the meaning of human life. The Bible and the history of the interpretive tradition with the church will continue to occupy a central place for the contemporary Christian. However, the Bible is not to be regarded as an arbitrary dictator of dogma, nor as an infallible source of truth either in religion or any other area. Rather it is self-authenticating as an especially rich treasury of ideas, symbols, ideals, and models of God and man. Its authority is in its power to grasp the reader convincing him of the truth of its message. The Bible is to be believed because it actually functions to make sense out of experience, providing a clarification of the meaning, purpose, and destiny of human life. The final test — not the first test nor the only test — of religious truth is the intuition of the individual person.
This method of creative synthesis has two particularly important features for the future. In the first place, theology will need to become increasingly a corporate enterprise in which teams of thinkers combine their efforts to relate Christian insights to the complex issues of a science-based technological age. The individual theologian, who laboriously over several decades works out multi-volumed works of systematic theology, may play a decreasing role in the total theological enterprise. In the second place, the theology of the future needs to be by design a thoroughly interdisciplinary task. Theology as an isolated discipline which is structured primarily or solely in reference to biblical and traditional dogmatic themes will decline in importance. Both the discipline isolation and the language isolation which are all too characteristic of previous forms of academic theology need to be overcome. The theological work which will be most useful in the years ahead will be that which works out its motifs in correlation with the whole range of the biological, behavioral, and social sciences, and does so in language which has the widest possible touch with ordinary modes of speech common to all educated persons. Far too much theology is written at such levels of abstraction that its meaning is lost on all but a few professionals, who in turn retaliate with more esoteric verbiage of their own. There is an important place for technical work in theology at the professional level. This requires special language systems in which abstractions are a necessary part of analysis and communication. I am only insisting that more theologians are needed to work at the interdisciplinary level with secular thinkers and that more theologians should strive to write for a larger audience.
This claim that the future calls for corporate, interdisciplinary theological inquiry leads to the conclusion that futuristic research institutes and “think-tanks” are needed by the religious community as well as by secular agencies as we approach the twenty-first century. I would argue that all churches and seminaries need to become deliberately future-oriented, both in order to help persons cope with the radical changes that will be forthcoming and to organize themselves in ways that help direct society toward a humanly desirable future. In addition, I believe there is a need for specialized institutions that will bring together a group of theologians and a variety of secular futurists trained in the various sciences and the humanities to anticipate future developments, to elaborate visions of ideal futures, and to devise strategies for effecting social changes leading toward their attainment. Such centers would be, first of all, future-oriented research institutions, probing the whole range of questions associated with the implications for morality and religion of anticipated developments in science, technology, and society. The results of such inquiries could be made available not only to churches and their agencies but also to other relevant publics for whom such data would be useful. Communications with the mass public would be sought through radio, TV, films, and publications of all sorts. The aim would be to involve as many people as possible in dreaming of, planning for, and working toward ideal futures in an informed way.
Secondly, Centers for Religion and the Future could be training schools for specialists in future-oriented ministries. Such training in programs of continuing education would involve not only young persons looking toward a career in the church but also church leaders at every level. I envision such centers as organic-cybernetic institutions with sensors bringing information from all important sources where the future is being formed and in turn feeding back the results of reflections upon these influences to places where visions of desirable futures could be transformed into programs of action. At this level contact is needed not only with secular futuristic institutes and universities but also with local churches, with ecumenical and denominational headquarters, with the ghettos, the marketplaces, and wherever new ideas, values, styles of life, and socially effective forces are coming into being. Nothing is more important for the church, I believe, at the level of theological education than the development of future-oriented centers of research, communication, and training along the lines I have only sketched here.
With these basic features in mind, the next step is to elaborate in more detail the scope, structure, and aims of biopolitics. The analysis up to this point has assumed that a comprehensive approach to the world’s destiny is required. Put in systematic structural terms, biopolitics takes into account the totality of (1) natural systems, (2) social systems, and (3) technological systems. These three realms, while distinct for purposes of analysis, increasingly make up one interdependent system. By natural systems I mean the given resources of earth and its evolved life. This includes the land, the sea, and the air, as well as all the living creatures that inhabit them and make use of the wondrous resources they provide to sustain life. Included also are all those delicate balances of nature and those interacting systems and processes which the ecologists describe by which living things relate to each other and to their environments. Human life is set within this complex web. Man increasingly is a threat both to himself and to other species by virtue of the powerful things he does to his environment with his machines, his chemicals, his weapons, and his waste products.
By social systems is meant the sum total of all humanly developed knowledge, cultural patterns, institutions, values, and goals. For thousands of years man has been a culture-producing, history-making animal. His unique powers have enabled him to learn, to create new ways of doing things, to develop elaborate ways of organizing his group life. Mores and morals, laws and rules, religions and rituals, have all come into being in the course of human history to interpret the meaning of life and to guide behavior. Each of us is shaped from infancy by the institutions of society. There is, then, a social ordering of life in addition to the natural ordering, and each interacts with the other.
But there is a third system that plays a growing role in defining the context of our lives. I refer to all those humanly produced tools, machines, techniques, and mechanisms by which we extend our powers to effect changes in our environment. I refer not only to jet planes, television sets, automated factories, computers and all such inventions, but also to techniques of surgery, opinion sampling, data analysis, advertising, project planning, and so on which help us get things done more effectively. These are all humanly created and function within a social order, so that they (techniques and skills especially) might well be included under that heading. Yet in our time there is growing concern that our lives may be increasingly threatened by the role of technology (tools, machines, gadgets) and technique (ideas and skills which enable men to control and manipulate both things and people). The fear is that in a technocracy persons may be dehumanized as they become cogs in the machinery in ways in which freedom, spontaneity, and feeling are sacrificed to the efficient operation of the system(The literature is immense. Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Erich Fromm, and many others have written on the subject. For a brief statement, see Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter-Culture [New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1969]). The fact that ours is a technological society justifies this distinct treatment.
With respect to each of these spheres, biopolitics is concerned with (1) goals, (2) analysis, and (3) strategy. By goals is meant those ideal ends which should guide men in searching for a better future. I have suggested that there is an important place for dreams and visions of the most nearly perfect social order possible for men. But goals need to be stated not only in utopian terms but also in concrete fashion in ways that direct situations toward the achievement of the ideal. The Kingdom of God defines the goal of history in absolute terms in ways which always transcend human achievement. The Christian believer will formulate his dreams of heaven on earth in the light of his understanding of this divine consummation toward which history moves but never fully reaches. But goals are also needed defining the next step which needs to be taken in any given area of human activity, whether it be in the local schools, in dealing with poverty, in fighting pollution, in combating racial discrimination, in ending the war in Vietnam, and so on.
Analysis refers to the search to understand the structures and processes that are presently operating. Before corrective action can be taken, one needs to have as clear a picture as can be had of the constellation of factors that have led to life-frustrating situations that call for change, whether the issue be poverty, pollution, overpopulation, or the rich-poor gap among the nations. It is important to add to this so far quite obvious point the observation that such an analysis to be most useful must involve a comprehensive systems approach. By this is meant that the framework of understanding must be as embracing as possible in order to include all relevant factors properly weighted in relationship to the whole system of forces that are present. But not only must analysis be comprehensive in terms of horizontal inclusiveness but needs also to include consideration of depth issues. Any question pertaining to the human condition when pressed to its limits requires decisions about the nature of man and about the ultimate context of human action. Hence, philosophers and theologians as well as social scientists and psychologists have perspectives to offer from their special vantage points.
Strategy has to do with the designing of forms of action to achieve desirable goals, given the prevailing conditions. Goals define the ideal future state to be sought. Analysis specifies the present actual conditions which require change. Strategy seeks for concrete ways and means to affect change that will move the real toward the ideal, the bad toward the better, the intolerable toward what is at least bearable. It is conventional to say at this point that we have greater technological capabilities than we have social wisdom to deal with the complexities of the human factors involved in the problems of war, race, and the decay of the cities. It is too simple to attribute this gap to “cultural lag,” for this is more a description than a causal explanation. Yet the future does demand greater attention to what McHale calls social invention, the application of creative intelligence toward the design of more effective problem-solving mechanisms to free us from the locked-in position we so often find ourselves in. As in dealing with analysis, so here also are we driven to the depth questions. We may gain much from using new techniques of gaming, simulation, computer analysis of the probable consequences of alternative strategies using massive collections of data, and so on. We are faced finally, however, with the question of the values by which people live and how they may be changed in desirable directions. Strategies must not be limited to the level of social mechanisms and political devices, but must be aimed at creating a new consciousness, a vision of a good future powerful enough to open us up to new, more effective ways of solving our problems. If we cannot create such a transformed consciousness, we need at least to learn how to encourage and cultivate it wherever and however it appears. Hence, the church is thrown back upon its own resources to ask whether it has a gospel and a missionary thrust powerful enough to convert men from idolatrous loyalties and provide them with a vision of the future that transforms their basic commitments.
In summary, I have argued that the coming age must take into account all those systems and subsystems that affect the quality of human existence with the aim of producing an integrated functioning of the whole. Men must think of the whole range of biosocial conditions which pertain to the realization of the potentialities of individuals in a justly ordered society living in harmonious union with the planetary environment. The good future must be planned for in the light of some utopian vision sufficiently compelling to motivate men to devote themselves to its achievement. The aim of biopolitics is precisely that of elaborating such a vision of the ideal and to devise ways of attaining it. Biopolitics seeks, minimally, to bring about those elementary conditions which must be met if life — human, animal, and plant — is to survive at all and, maximally, to make possible the optimum enjoyment of existence.
Christian biopolitics, then, attempts to provide a framework for thinking and acting, a way of looking at problems and of working toward solutions. It is future-oriented, goal-focused, and life-centered. In bringing this chapter to a conclusion three brief clarifications may be helpful. First of all, while I have here focused on the global dimensions of contemporary life by way of spelling out the biopolitical task, it would be my contention that the fundamental categories I have employed could be used to deal with the whole range of social-ethical problems. The problems of personal fulfillment and of individual ethics could also be dealt with from this perspective. In every case one would begin with the category of life, asking, of course, about the distinctive features of human existence. The goal of human striving is taken to be the maximizing of the joy of life which is the accompaniment of the process whereby the potentialities of life are actualized in a process of continual growth. All such processes of self-creation inevitably, however, sooner or later come to rest in death, ideally at a point when the life-potential for that individual or society has been fully lived out. This approach is associated with a view of man as a biospiritual creature who is born and who dies, perhaps like the cosmic epoch to which he belongs. Starting with these basic ideas, one could then develop a biopolitical perspective with respect to any given social-ethical issue and develop appropriate goals, analyses, and strategies.
Secondly, while the church has its own contribution to make to the biopolitical task, much that is required is the work of human reason, using categories and techniques developed in the secular sphere. At the global level to which I have directed attention here, the insights of experts and specialists of many sorts are needed. This is why I have stressed the need for Centers for Religion and the Future to bring together persons trained in theology and in the various disciplines to work out biopolitical goals, analyses, and strategies that can then be communicated to the larger society. Equally important, however, is the need of ideas and feedback from persons in all walks of life representative of the total society that express their visions, needs, insights, hopes, and fears. Elitism needs to be avoided by involving as many persons as possible in dreaming about the future while appropriate use is made of the special knowledge of experts. Obviously, ecumenical efforts at the national and world levels are required in order to involve most effectively the whole body of Christians around the earth in providing the dreamers and doers that are so vitally important to the achievement of a desirable human future. In this connection it should not be forgotten that there is an “invisible college” made up of persons from around the globe who share a common vision of the transition through which we are moving and who are seeking to find the values that will carry us through to realize as much of the promise of the future as possible. Christians in every land need to align themselves with such persons, though they may differ in religious faith and in other particulars.
Finally, while biopolitics is set within a goal-oriented framework which stresses the importance of utopian dreaming as a catalyst of social change, it must not lose sight of the power of evil in human life and history. Christian idealism needs to be balanced with Christian realism. I believe there is a particular need at the present to focus attention on utopian dreaming as a way of shaking us loose from obsolete ways of thinking and opening us up to those ideas, attitudes, and values that are appropriate for the future. I have argued that visions of an ideal future are socially useful in this period of transition as we approach the biological limits of the earth at a time when science and technology are leading us rapidly into a planetary society. At the same time, however, I am equally aware of the powerful deep-lying historical forces which put limits on the ways in which men and nations can become open to a better future.
There are neuroses in individuals and in nations growing out of their peculiar histories that are extremely difficult to overcome. Human beings are blessed by their past, but they are also bound by it in ways that hinder them from appropriating visions and values that their future salvation requires. One need only think of the profound hatreds that separate Arabs from Jews in the Middle East. Memories of the past may dictate dreams of the future that can only perpetuate ancient conflicts. This point could be illustrated easily in innumerable ways. But in addition to the bondage of the past, there is the continuing tendency in human beings to corrupt any fresh achievement of new values. Sin persists because anxiety and egoism persist. Hence, there are demonic factors in history, structured evil powers, that will keep history ambiguous. The future as well as the present and past will confront men with a mixture of good and evil, joy and sorrow, fulfillment and frustration. But today we need new visions of a perfected social order, a planetary society in which all men have equal access to the means of human fulfillment in a world brotherhood at peace with nature and with God.
With this brief outline of the structure of a biopolitical theology in the background,(My first published statement on biopolitics appeared in The Christian Century [November 19, 1969], pp. 1481-83, under the title, “The Case for Christian Biopolitics.”) let me turn finally to speak of the specific contribution that can be made by the church to the achievement of a good future.