Religious and Cosmic Homelessness: Some Environmental Implications
by John F. Haught
John F. Haught, who received the Ph.D. from Catholic University, is professor of theology at Georgetown University. He has written extensively on religion and science. His books include The Revelation of God in History; What is God?, The Cosmic Adventure, Nature and Propose, and Religion and Self-Acceptance. This essay originally appeared as chapter 11, pp. 159-180, in Charles Birch, William Eaken and Jay B. McDaniel (eds.) Liberating Life: Contemporary Approaches in Ecological Theology, published 1990 by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 10545. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
If we are to meet the environmental needs of our time, it is important that we accept our surroundings -- the earth and the universe itself -- as a hospitable habitat, a home. Yet much of the theology and science that we inherit as Christians leads us to a different way of experiencing our surroundings, to a sense of cosmic homelessness. Indeed, some sense of homelessness is at the heart of what many of us know as religion. Must this latter sense of homelessness be entirely rejected? John Haught argues not. While criticizing the nature-denying tendencies of religious homelessness, Haught finds value in that aspect of homelessness that elicits in us a sense of adventure. Like Thomas Berry, he affirms that we are very deeply connected to the cosmos even in our self-transcendence; our sense of adventure is itself part of the adventure of the universe itself. In his own way Haught underscores what many Christian theologians of nature wish to affirm: Nature itself is not a fixed, static whole, but rather an unfinished process of which our own lives, and our own hopes and dreams, are expressions.
In recent philosophical and theological literature concerning the world’s current environmental crisis the root cause is often identified as our relentless anthropocentrism. An exaggerated impression of human significance concentrates valuation so intensely on our species that intrinsic importance is drained away from the rest of nature. No doubt the self-centeredness of our species is a factor in the neglect of the rest of nature. But if we are to come to the roots of the problem, we have to go deeper into the mythic, theological, and scientific ways of thinking upon which our anthropocentrism is erected. Our anthropocentrism is intimately related to, perhaps based upon, a pervasive sense of cosmic homelessness, which we must recognize first if we are to understand the role of anthropocentrism. For anthropocentrism is a secondary reaction to the fear engendered by our species’ apprehension of its sense of being "lost in the cosmos." It is an understandable and forgivable groping for significance that follows a prior disenfranchisement of the specifically human from a value-bestowing cosmic matrix. Thus it is of little ethical value for us to attack frontally our anthropocentric tendencies. Instead I suggest that we examine and address the feeling of cosmic exile, to which anthropocentrism is an inappropriate and indeed disastrous "solution."
Even apart from its contributing to the rise of anthropocentrism, however, the feeling of not being at home in nature is environmentally consequential. The contemporary environmental crisis is closely connected to inherited ways of thinking that have fostered a feeling in us that we are not really at home in the universe. As long as we fail to experience how intimately we belong to the earth and the universe as our appropriate habitat, we will probably not care deeply for our natural environment.
Both theology and science have promoted cosmically homeless habits of thought in the past. Today there are signs in both of these disciplines that some of us are tiring of cosmographies that have left us exiles in the universe. But these new developments have not yet become dominant. They continue to meet resistance among the orthodox of both camps. They appear at times to be pseudo-scientific to the mainstream scientists, and the corresponding developments in religion are accused of succumbing to naturalism. In some instances such critiques are justifiable, but at other times they are out of place.
Only those ways of thinking that allow us to look on earth and universe as "home" can be environmentally wholesome. But this formula already raises questions for the religious. For is not one of the major themes of the religions that we should feel out of joint and even out of place in our immediate environment? Ever since the so-called axial period (from about the middle centuries of the first millennium BCE.) some of the major traditions have had strong other-worldly leanings and have promoted spiritual disciplines that have made us feel alien to the physical universe. At times these traditions have asked us to withdraw from the world since "we have here no lasting home." Homelessness has been idealized rather than suppressed. The Buddha leaves his wife and family. In our own traditions the call of Abraham to move into an unknown but promising future has been a central paradigm of self-transcendence. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." "We are only pilgrims on earth." Unless we feel somewhat out of place in terms of our immediate world we will hardly experience the religious stimulus to self-transcendence. For, according to the religions, it is only in a continually "going beyond" present actuality that humans achieve authenticity.
The biblical movement into history allegedly exiles us from "nature," and we are told that it is regressive piety to seek refuge from the "terrors of history" by returning to the regularities of nature. Even our "natural" sacraments are overlaid with historic meaning. We share with Hinduism and Buddhism some need to feel out of place as a condition for moving forward. And this exilic motif can easily be interpreted as a demand to move beyond the ensnarements of the physical cosmos.
What are we to make of such teachings at a time when it is becoming increasingly urgent to make the natural world our beloved habitat lest we perish of our own recklessness toward it? Is it not too easy to interpret the religious requirement of homelessness as a cosmic homelessness? Are they one and the same? If they are, then religion and religious thought will inevitably remain anti-environmental. And to many ethically sensitive people religions will become more and more irrelevant. Hence we need a hermeneutic of religions that distinguishes religious homelessness from cosmic exile. For if they are identified in a simplistic way, then being religious will continue to foster that very posture that provokes anthropocentrism as a defensive reaction.
On the other hand, we cannot abandon the religious idealization of homelessness without violating our traditions. Being religious requires our not fitting too comfortably into present actuality. Religions of course tolerate homelessness only as part of the quest for our true home. It is not that religions are opposed to home, but rather that they resist our settling for something as home that is really not an adequate domicile for our infinite restlessness. Nothing less than inexhaustible mystery can be the appropriate abode for the human spirit. But does not the restlessness resident in religious visions perhaps encourage an escapism with respect to the cosmos? Or can we interpret religious homelessness in such a way as actually to foster a sense of being at home with the natural world? There are developments occurring in both science and theology today that not only allow but actually advocate such a synthesis. In a special way the image of the cosmos as itself a story or an adventure into mystery provides the key to such a hermeneutic.
As we explore these issues our itinerary will be as follows: (1) we shall look first at several ways in which reflection on science has contributed to the feeling of cosmic exile and therefore to our environmental carelessness; (2) then we shall examine how theologies from our own Christian tradition that have hovered closely, even though critically, around modern scientific cosmologies have perpetuated the same feeling of cosmic exile; and (3) finally we shall look briefly at how a cosmological understanding of religion centering on the notion of adventure can both reconcile us to the evolving universe and at the same time allow us to embrace the feeling of religious homelessness present in religious teachings.
Science and Cosmic Exile
It is clear that our hostility to nature flows partly from a vision of the cosmos in which we humans are only accidentally present and essentially absent. Though the roots of this attitude can be found in ancient mythic and religious forms of thought, in the past three centuries the estrangement of human subjects from the natural world in turn has been built up in our imaginations under the influence of certain types of scientific epistemology and cosmology. Expulsion of the human subject from nature is implied in the scientific method of knowing which puritanically (one is tempted to say Gnostically) segregates the human knower from nature, and in the materialism, mechanism, or "hard naturalism," which follows from a severe logical divorce of physical reality from mental reality. By isolating the knowing subject from the object-world, dualism repudiates in principle the ecological presupposition of the interrelatedness of all entities in the cosmos. For in such an interpretation the knowing subject is no longer a part of the scientifically known universe. Subjectivity is epistemologically absent from the very universe that, according to scientific knowledge, gave rise to it in the first place.
Few will seriously deny that scientific objectivity is a worthy ideal for science. Questions arise only when a method that seemingly exalts impersonality, disinterest, and detachment is made into a cultural ideal governing all human knowledge and life. For the more widely an ideal of pure objectivity is applied across physical, biological, human, and cultural strata, the more likely we are to feel ourselves absent from the world.
The temptation to objectivist thinking is enormous. It seems to have borne much fruit in the advance of knowledge. The level of achievement in modern science seems to have occurred in direct proportion to the banishment of anthropomorphism from our explanatory schemes. Biology, for example, is said to have begun making considerable progress only after it got rid of the ideas of teleology and vitalism. Notions of purpose and life began to recede from biological interest as chemical explanation progressed. And in the human sciences the ideas of person, freedom, and dignity got in the way of a neutrally objective accounting for human reality. The way to move forward in science is apparently to exile life and eventually even personal subjects from the cosmos.
The scientific method of seeking explanation of all things, including the activity of persons, as far as possible in impersonal terms is a fruitful and worthy one. But this method, which deliberately leaves so much out (such as considerations of value, beauty, and purpose), has been taken by scientism as the only legitimate road to the real. This cognitional policy has dismissed, as irrelevant to true knowledge, all those "personal" aspects of knowledge that actually energize the whole project of pursuing scientific truth. It systematically denies, for example, the fiduciary aspects of knowing and relegates the element of discovery in science to the field of psychology. Thus, as Michael Polanyi says, it has led to a "picture of the universe in which we ourselves are absent" (Polanyi 1964, 142).
The remote ancestry of this homelessness in scientism lies in the (religious) myth of dualism. Dualism prepares the way for scientism by rendering nature mindless and lifeless. And then through a series of philosophical transformations in our intellectual and spiritual history, it turns mind and life into strangers in the universe. They become "epiphenomenal" intruders into an inherently inanimate, mindless world. In spite of its explicit suspicion of religion, scientism remains tied to the same dualistic myths that have caused Christian and other religious spiritualities to distrust and even despise the natural world. Scientific and religious puritanism have a common ancestry, a fear of the physical in its swampy, wild, and untamed naturality.1
Scientism’s roots in dualistic myth and in otherworldly religious Gnosticism can be readily traced. Its complicity in the power obsession of an industrial age and the resultant pollution is already widely acknowledged. There is no need here to elaborate further on the negative consequences of scientism for environmental ethics. We might mention, however, two related ideals often cultivated in our universities. The first is that of complete explanation of all natural phenomena, including life and mind, in terms of their particular constituents. And the second is the modern obsession with clarity and the corresponding revulsion toward any mistiness in the cosmos that might lie off limits to the control of scientific knowledge. The disdain for mystery implied in these two intimately connected standards of exploration has dramatically negative implications for how we regard the natural world in a scientific age.2 Even though initially the quest for clarity and simplicity seems innocent enough, unless carefully contained it can become a weapon of power wielded ruthlessly to hack away the rich undergrowth of vagueness that goes along with any cherishing of mystery.
Thus to the extent that an environmental ethic would have to grow out of at least some appreciation and reverence for the mystery of nature, modern ideals of clear and exhaustive explanation can easily prove deleterious if they overrun their legitimate epistemological margins. One of the essential contributions of a theology of nature to the reshaping of our environmental outlook would be that of providing a new mystagogy, namely, a cosmically centered pedagogy into mystery, fully informed by modern scientific discovery. It would rethink the religiously indispensable idea of mystery from the perspective both of science and of religion. Without what Thomas Berry has called a "mystique of nature" we cannot cultivate the attitude of reverence that would be required to ignite an environmental ethic. Because of their obsession with reduction and clarity current scientistic attitudes hardly encourage such a mystique.3
On the other hand, theology remains for the most part out of touch with the discoveries of modern science, and so it fails to direct its mystagogical expertise toward a natural world that corresponds to a plausible cosmology. Christian theology, for example, continues to locate the arena of mystery primarily in the areas of history or existential subjectivity rather than nature. What it requires now is the development of a new mystique of nature that does not reject the subject and history, but which places them in a cosmic setting. Such a reenchantment of nature, one that avoids naivete, has been undertaken to some extent by process theology and by Jürgen Moltmann and creation-centered theology. In North America it has been developed most explicitly by Thomas Berry and the growing number of his students. And now the emerging scientific narrative of the universe as adventure provides a favorable backdrop for a new mystique of nature and a novel synthesis of science and religion.4
The sense of exile from the cosmos is also promoted by scientism’s scion, scientific materialism. Scientific materialism is the view that "matter" alone is real and that all phenomena in the universe can be adequately understood as special applications of the laws of chemistry and physics. It has its proximate origin in a number of assumptions brought to a head during the seventeenth century. Of particular interest to us here is the distinction of primary qualities such as mass, momentum, shape, and position from the secondary qualities (such as color, taste, sound, smell, and texture). The latter have been viewed in modern philosophy as the creations of a "subject," a subject isolated from the "real" world, that is, from the world of primary qualities. Ontological primacy has been given to the substrate valueless world of primary qualities, while the world of values has been relegated to the ontologically rarefied and highly subjective realm of secondary qualities.
The gulf between the isolated human subject and the "real," material world of primary qualities can be bridged only by the filmiest of webs, known in psychology as projection, an imaginative throwing forth of our wishes onto a cosmos intrinsically alien to our desires. Such projection can give us the illusion that we live in a compatible environment, but as long as we give ontological primacy to "primary" qualities we shall suspect, underneath it all, that our illusions are simply covering up the real world momentarily. We eventually realize that projection is hardly powerful enough to make us feel at home in the cosmos, and so we remain exiles from nature.
Among the projections precariously reconnecting us to the natural world as so envisaged are poetry, art, and religion. Symbolic or metaphoric modes of reference project a warm coating of color onto the cosmos, and this makes it a bit more habitable. But it is still not quite home, because we suspect deep down that the world is fundamentally alien to our projections. So in spite of religious myth and symbol we are still lost in the cosmos. We remain absent from the very universe we strive so mightily to understand with our sciences. Once we conceive our cultures and religions as projections, and perhaps concede to them a capacity to warm our hearts a bit, they are still not sufficiently substantive to call us back from exile.
This absence of a feeling of vital interrelationship with nature cannot but enfeeble a truly ecological vision. It fosters an attitude of cosmic homelessness that has provoked us to anthropocentrism as one way of salvaging some significance for ourselves in a world that gives no backing to our projects. In turn it has justified our disregard of an environment that seemingly fails to nurture our estranged subjectivity. Thus there is little hope for our recovering a feeling of truly belonging to the cosmos as long as we hold onto the assumptions about physical reality (such as the primacy of primary qualities and cognate assumptions) underlying scientism and materialism.5 For we will continue to have a gnawing suspicion that the real world is so different from our projections that we are still without a home in the universe as it runs on colorlessly and meaninglessly beneath our secondary and tertiary "subjective" projections.
But what is the alternative to this modern view of a valueless noumenal nature existing underneath our impressions and rendering us value-seeking beings quite out of place on such terrain? First, we would have to recognize that the so-called primary qualities are really not so primary after all. Recent physics has challenged the assumptions of classical physics that gave priority to these easily quantifiable aspects of nature. And even apart from developments in physics, philosophers like Whitehead have shown that they are actually mathematical abstractions from a concretely complex and value-laden world, which hardly corresponds in fact to the sharp edges of the primary quantities. However, in a very subtle and persistent way the assumption of the primacy of primary qualities, or some noumenal substrate modeled on them, continues to affect much of our thinking today. And as I shall note a bit later, it still persists in a great deal of contemporary theology. We continue to suspect that the symbols and myths that reconcile us to the earth as our home have the same derivative and unreal status as the secondary qualities of Lockean philosophy. And as long as we doubt our religious symbols’ realism they cannot deeply take hold of us or motivate us. Nor, for that matter, can they reconcile us with the cosmos. For we will look upon them as mere projections. Even psychologists like Jung, who was most favorably disposed toward the therapeutic value of the symbolic life, still have doubts about the ontological substantiality of religious myth and symbol. (Jung, for example, spoke often about their "psychological truth," an epistemologically vague expression, but not much about their possible ontological or revelatory integrity.)
As an alternative to the psychological interpretation we might begin to think of our symbols, myths, metaphors, and religions in a cosmological way, that is, not as psychic projections but as the flowering forth of energies and mysteries welling up from the depths of the universe itself. We need to outgrow our long held suspicion that human symbolic creativity is just futile gesturing done only by lonely subjects in an uncaring universe. At times, of course, our symbols may be little more than projections. But they may also be reflections of, or at least gropings toward, reality, Our symbols may be expressions of the universe rather than alien projections thrown back onto it by lost human subjects. Our religious symbols and stories are possibly no less a blooming of the universe than is a tropical rain forest. Symbolic activity is the cosmos itself groping toward further discovery through human organisms totally continuous with the evolutionary process.
Still, we cannot envisage our symbolic creativity in this way until we become convinced that we ourselves are an expression, a germinating from the depths of the universe, and not aliens imparted from some other world. Myths of dualism still prevent us from deeply internalizing this insight. We have a long way to go before we can really feel our continuity with the cosmos without at the same time having to abandon the religious idea that human existence is in some sense also homeless wandering.
Scientific Materialism and Our Environmental Crisis
The philosophy of scientific materialism fails to provide a cosmological vision sufficiently grounded in the value orientation needed to promote a life-centered ethic. In spite of the environmental concern of many scientific authors who follow either a hard or soft naturalism, their theoretical (if not practical) acquiescence in the essentially hopeless view of a universe cannot inspire the trust in life needed for lasting ethical aspiration. Instead, if taken seriously as the basis for human life and thought, materialism would strangle any ethical aspiration. As far as an environmental ethic is concerned, the still dominantly materialist orientation of contemporary science is unable to provide the cosmic vision essential for lasting commitment to the preservation of the earth’s life systems. We need a religious vision conceptualized in the form of a scientifically enlightened theological idiom.
Many scientists and scientific thinkers who embrace a materialistic naturalism are nevertheless ardent supporters of environmental reform. And the same cosmic pessimists who despair about any meaningful cosmic destiny, or who think the universe will ultimately culminate in a lifeless and mindless "heat death," are themselves often ethically committed to the flourishing of life and consciousness in our terrestrial quarters. Is there perhaps some irony in the fact that on the one hand they allow no ultimate significance to things, yet on the other hand they consider our environment to be worthy of care and reverence?
Perhaps not. To the materialists and cosmic pessimists there is really no contradiction; the inherent purposelessness of the web of life is not at all a good reason for our not caring for it. In fact, as far as cosmic pessimists are concerned the very indifference of the universe at large makes the local domain of life by contrast even more worthy of preservation. Our awareness of life’s dubious perch on the slopes of entropy allows us to venerate it all the more intensely. Its precariousness gives life an exceptional value over against the insensate backdrop that makes up the bulk of cosmic reality. The very improbability of life makes it stand out all the more valuably in contrast to its mundane and inanimate cosmic setting.
So materialist scientists and philosophers can readily support environmental causes. They might even be suspicious that a teleological view of the cosmos would take our attention away from life’s special status in our own earthly garden. Too much trust in an ultimate cosmic purpose might diminish our spontaneous respect for the delicacy of living forms to which evolution has unconsciously and painfully given birth on our insignificant planet. Would not a teleological cosmology allow us to postpone indefinitely any genuine concern for our immediate environment? Might not religions that posit a cosmic purpose allow us to remain indifferent to present environmental conditions? Is it even possible that the solace of some far off or final purpose might allow us to tolerate environmental abuse in the present?
This materialist grounding of an environmental ethic on a purely naturalistic and cosmically tragic foundation challenges us to rethink theologically the issue of cosmic purpose in a scientifically compatible and environmentally fruitful way. What religiously teleological vision, if any, might be more favorably disposed than a tragic naturalism toward inspiring an environmental care? Might not cosmic pessimism with its sharp intuition of the perishability of life be quite as capable of fostering a genuine love of our natural environment as would any religious teleology?
At first sight materialism’s sensitivity to life’s ephemerality might seem to be a sufficient reason for our cherishing the biosphere. But metaphysically speaking it is inadequate. For it can be argued that the mere perishability of something is hardly a rationally satisfactory basis for our valuing it. Followers of Whitehead, for example, would suggest that mere perishability alone is not a value. Perishability is even an argument against a thing’s intrinsic importance. Any valued entity must possess some characteristics other than sheer evanescence in order to arouse our value sensitivity. Perishability alone will not suffice. It cannot adequately explain why life may be intrinsically (and not just instrumentally) valuable.6 The reason we value life is not for its fragility, but for its beauty (see Haught 1986, 139-50). Beauty, not precariousness, is the basis of the intrinsic, value of things. We often confuse the two since they are tied up so closely with each other. But they are not identical. In Whitehead’s vision beauty is the harmony of contrasting elements. We are aesthetically attracted to those things, whether natural or artificial, that combine a wide variety of complexity, nuance, or shades of difference. Living beings, for example, arouse our aesthetic valuation because they integrate into themselves an almost incalculable number and variety of components. They have an intrinsic value that consists of their beauty.7 The value of life, then, does not consist in its precariousness, but in the fact that it is an instance of intensely ordered novelty, of harmonized contrast, that is, of beauty. Beauty, of course, is always in danger of degenerating into monotony on the one hand or chaos on the other. It has an inherent instability that sometimes, especially in the biosphere, makes it temporary and precarious. But precariousness is not itself the basis of intrinsic value. The delicacy or frailty of living things is a consequence of their being syntheses of order and novelty or of harmony and complexity. In living beings there is an aesthetic tension between complexity and order that renders them exceedingly fragile. But the fragility is not itself the ground of their value. Their intrinsic value resides in the intensity of their beauty. Our reverence for nature and its ecological patterning can be situated best within this aesthetic vision.
Scientific materialism and less extreme forms of naturalism lack such a vision of nature’s intrinsic value. They generally see beauty (and all values) as simply the creation of estranged human subjects, who project their own individual or communal sense of what is beautiful, and therefore valuable, onto the universe. But this universe remains for them inherently valueless and purposeless. So our valuations can only be the flimsy concoctions of cosmically homeless minds alone, and not the reflection of any inherent aspects of nature. Nature itself remains neutral and valueless at the sub-phenomenal level. All value comes only from our own "phenomenal" human estimation. Just as without us primary qualities would be colorless, tasteless, and odorless, so also without us the world would lack any value.
According to this philosophy nothing outside of us humans has intrinsic value, since all value is the product of human creativity. Such an assertion of human specialness may well contribute to a policy demeaning the environmental context over against which our "specialness" shows up by contrast. In the manner of Descartes, Kant, many existentialists, and ancient Gnostics, scientific materialists often presuppose an estrangement of the human mind from the impersonal, objective, natural world. This sense of discontinuity between the isolated scientific subject and the valueless universe is clearly illustrated in these remarks of a respected American philosopher:
From the standpoint of present evidence, evaluational components such as meaning or purpose are not to be found in the universe as objective aspects of it. . . . Rather, we "impose" such values upon the universe. . . An objective meaning -- that is, one which is inherent within the universe or dependent upon external agencies -- would, frankly, leave me cold. It would not be mine. . . . I, for one, am glad that the universe has no meaning, for thereby is man all the more glorious. I willingly accept the fact that external meaning is non-existent, . . . for this leaves me free to forge my own meanings (Klemke, 69-72).
Because of its inability to find intrinsic value in the universe, scientific materialism fails as the adequate basis for any serious environmental ethic. Its proponents may personally support environmental causes, but this advocacy is not plausibly based on their cosmology. Rather it arises Out of an ineradicable moral and aesthetic sensitivity that inherently contradicts their explicit metaphysics. A philosophy that theoretically resolves the animate world into an inanimate one can hardly provide the foundation for an environmental policy that strives to prevent this reduction from actually taking place (Commoner, 44).
Since such a view is premised upon a dualistic, cosmically homeless vision of things, it remains as environmentally questionable as the other worldly religiosity it criticizes. As the basis for an environmental ethic we would need a cosmology that attributes intrinsic value to life, mind, and the cosmos as a whole. In recent thought Whitehead’s cosmology, though not without its own problems, appears to be a more than acceptable philosophical alternative.
Theology and Cosmic Homelessness
However, scientism and materialism are not the only perpetrators of the strain of cosmic pessimism that ultimately undermines our ethical aspirations. Christian theology has also tolerated cosmic pessimism, combining it with an individualistically religious "optimism of withdrawal" from the world.8 In doing so it has religiously legitimated the cosmic homelessness that underlies our present environmental crisis. Christian theology under the influence of dualism has directed us to look toward a spiritual world independent of the physical universe, and so it has perhaps innocently sabotaged human concern for the earth and life. And it is questionable whether much recent systematic theology has taken serious steps toward a more positive theology of nature. In fact, some current ways of doing theology may actually present obstacles to the construction of such a theology.
In several of its dominant strains Christian theology still clings to the same assumptions of cosmic homelessness that we find in scientism and materialism. In recent decades the most obvious example of this theology of exile is known as existentialist theology, which, especially in its Bultmannian form, continues to influence Western Christian theology, perhaps more than any other single school (see Kegley). Existentialist thought, whether theistic or atheistic, exalts human freedom. But it can find little place for freedom in the context of a deterministically understood natural environment. Thus it goes beyond the realm of nature (typically understood along Newtonian lines) in search of a place to situate human freedom. It has generally swallowed whole the cosmological assumptions of mechanism-materialism, but not being willing to embrace, as far as humans are concerned, the deterministic implications of materialism, it has located the realm of freedom completely apart from nature. There freedom is not subject to the physical laws governing the matter-energy continuum. However, for its apparent independence human freedom has to pay the price of being completely isolated from the cosmos.
Existentialist theology has resigned itself to an inexorable dualism of nature and freedom, thus implicitly endorsing the view that the core of human existence subsists in a domain completely different from the world of nature. We cannot overemphasize the extent to which this vision still reigns over contemporary theology. Perhaps it is partly because of the dominance of this neo-dualism that so few contemporary Christian systematic theologians are sincerely concerned about environmental issues.
The realm in which freedom is at home is called history in contemporary theology. Thus history has been sharply divorced from nature. Any form of natural theology has been held suspect. Correspondingly, the theme of creation has been subordinated to that of the history of (human) salvation. There is now the promise of overcoming this separation of nature and history, for science itself increasingly sees nature itself as a story, while theology is beginning to situate history within the theme of creation.9 Theologians have for some time questioned the existentialist and historicist exile of subjectivity from nature. Gordon Kaufman, for example, pointed out some years ago that existentialist theology remarkably overlooks the simple fact that every mental or historical event is also an occurrence within nature, not outside of it.10 And yet the assumptions of dualism and materialism continue to infect our theologies, including some of those that have begun to turn their attention to environmental issues.
If we are to move toward an environmentally wholesome theology of nature we may need to refashion dramatically our ways of understanding religion. I shall propose that we look at it not so much as acts or constructs performed by human beings on the face of a cosmic terrain that is intrinsically indifferent to religion, but, primarily as expressions of the universe and the earth. We can have a cosmically adequate theology of nature only if we put the universe first and ourselves later in our theories of religion and in our theological methods. In order to unfold this conception we might draw upon Thomas Berry’s simple but explosive statement that the universe itself is the primary revelation (Berry, 195).
Unfortunately, Christian theology itself has yet to adopt such an outlook, as does our whole scholarly way of looking at religions. In our universities and seminaries religion, including Christianity, is hardly ever viewed cosmologically instead of from the perspective of the social sciences, which share many of the assumptions of materialism and cosmic homelessness. Social science looks at religious activity and expression as something done on the earth by our species, instead of seeing it as something the earth does through us, as a further phase of evolution’s groping toward mystery. Psychology and the social sciences are often, without being aware of it, governed by the premise that the human dimension is radically discontinuous with the natural. This is especially evident in the theory that symbolic expression is best understood as human "construction" or "projection." The projection theory of religion and culture feeds parasitically on the assumptions of materialism, such as its dichotomization of primary and secondary qualities, and on the parallel Kantian dichotomy of the noumenal and phenomenal worlds. According to this dualism, culture and religion are little more than the products of human creativity, located ontologically in the same sphere as secondary qualities. They are the "subjective" products of private sensation, subjective caprice or social consensus. By being relegated to this subjective territory they are demoted to the status of being "unreal" in comparison with the truly "real" primary cosmic qualities, which in themselves are odorless, colorless, valueless, and meaningless. This way of setting up the world and its relation to subjects is compelled to consign the whole realm of meaning and importance to that of the subject, for the "objective" world is itself devoid of inner worth.
The human sciences, in spite of some notable exceptions, are still under the spell of this dualistic-materialist way of thinking. They are inclined to make humans appear to be essentially value-creating, meaning-projecting beings, rather than natural emanations of an already value-permeated universe. Since the cosmos itself is intrinsically meaningless, it is up to homo faber to fill it with the meaning it lacks.
No one can seriously object to the supposition that creativity is an essential human attribute and responsibility. But this anthropological (and theological) observation has led in modern times to the peculiar position that there is no really significant creativity going on outside of us. Just as Cartesian dualism earlier segregated subjectivity from nature, the corresponding temptation now is to divorce creativity from nature. This dualism amounts to a further devaluation of the cosmos outside of the sphere of human creativity.
Christian theology is today still entranced by the same way of looking at religion that we find in the human sciences. Theology is under the spell of psychology, history, and sociology. It is seldom influenced deeply by cosmology. It too has become obsessed with the theme of human creativity at the expense of cosmic creativity. Theology still participates in a subtle devaluation of the nonhuman cosmos as deficient of that value, namely creativity, that is so highly esteemed in existentialism and humanistic social science. Its pervasive anthropocentrism follows not only from the ancient and modern versions of dualism, but also from the more recent philosophical divorce of creativity from the cosmos and its relocation solely in the human sphere.
Evolutionary thinking has made it possible for us to recover in a dynamic way the ancient intuition of the cosmos as primary creative subject. A theology in touch with this evolutionary vision might recapture the view of the universe or the earth as subject. And then it would locate our own creative subjectivity within the context of a more comprehensive one, that of the universe itself. This shifting of primary subjectivity from ourselves to the earth and the cosmos may run against the grain of our habit of turning nature into a mere object to be manipulated by our subjective control, but it would be both scientifically responsible and environmentally beneficial.
The assumption underlying much contemporary thought is that authentic human existence is achieved only in moments where we become fully conscious of our creativity.11 The dominant anthropological image is that of homo faber.12 The influence of Marx and existentialism is present here, and these two strands of modern thought are always suspicious of any ideological or religious inclinations to undermine a sense of our human productivity. As I have already suggested, though, worthy as such a suspicion may be at times, it still works sometimes within the horizon of a view of the human as essentially absent from the cosmos. For the world here is seen solely or predominantly as material "out there" to be molded by human creativity. Nature is interpreted as the object of human creating, and human subjectivity is represented as authentic only in the moment of grasping its own creativity over against the resistance and malleability of nature. There is still a subtle dualism operative here that can be overcome only if we recognize nature’s inherent creativity even apart from us. Once again we find in cosmological approaches such as Whitehead’s and Berry’s an acknowledgment of the pervasive creativity of nature, whereas existentialist and psychologically based theologies tend to confine creativity to humans (and God) alone.13
Just as Cartesian thought had exorcised nature of any intrinsic mentality, existentialism, the humanistic tradition of sociology, and the theologies based on them, expel from nature its intrinsic creativity. The older dualism drained psyche, mind, and spirit from the physical universe and deposited this complex of mentality in the separated sphere of human subjectivity. Recent thought perpetuates dualism, though of a different sort, by neglecting the inherent creativity in the nonhuman sectors of the cosmos. The homo faber image embodied in existentialism, Marxism, and humanistic social sciences saps creativity from the cosmos and squeezes it into a culturally creative human subject or society. Such a vision leaves Out the fact that our human creativity indwells a multilayered cosmos of emergent creativity. It is oblivious of the cosmic vision according to which human creativity is first of all a property of the universe and not simply our own subjective self-expression.14
Religion and Adventure
For religions, home in the deepest sense ultimately means mystery. Religions require for the sake of religious authenticity that our lives not be embedded too comfortably in any domain short of the inexhaustible mystery that is the ultimate goal and horizon of our existence. Thus fidelity to our religious traditions demands that we embrace the traditional ideal of religious homelessness as the point of departure for self-transcendence. But a commitment to religious homelessness can no longer coincide with an environmentally unhealthy cosmic homelessness, as it has done in the past.
How, though, can we hold together a feeling of fully belonging to the cosmos, while at the same time embracing the insecurity of a genuine religious movement into mystery? And can we do so in such a way that the feeling of being on an endless religious journey actually integrates us more fully with the cosmos instead of inspiring us to take flight from it? This seems to be a key question for spirituality and environmental ethics today. If we could find an answer to it it would allow us hermeneutically to retrieve the best aspects of our religious traditions. And it would permit this retrieval to occur not in spite of our need to belong to nature but actually for the sake of reconciling us to the cosmos.
The best answer I have been able to find so far to our search for a context harmonizing religious homelessness with a genuine belonging to nature lies in the notion of a cosmic adventure. The idea of the cosmos as an adventure is able to integrate the biblical and other religious ideals of homeless searching with the environmental need to feel totally at home in nature. For nature too, as we now know from science, is and always has been restless. The cosmos itself appears now as the story of an adventurous quest. We can no longer idealize nature as a haven from the adventure of history. For it too is now seen to be fundamentally a story of restless searching. We no longer have to segregate it from history and the realm of freedom. We can now accommodate the cosmos itself to the theme of homeless wandering. If we are to be faithful to nature and our continuity with it, we must accept its inherent "insecurity" as the setting for humanity’s spiritual adventure. The cosmos can now be envisioned not only as a point of departure for the spiritual journey but as fellow traveler into mystery. We now realize that we need the companionship of nature not as a paradisal refuge from history (though its beauties are seductive and tempting enough at times). We need its own inherent exploratory restlessness to energize, not to divert, our religious excursions.
Interestingly, we can see now that major developments in the character of scientific knowledge today help to make possible this synthesis of cosmic belonging on the one hand and religious wandering or sojourning on the other. Science, which had formerly presented us with cosmographies of a humanly uninhabitable universe, is now the main stimulus for a new story of the universe hospitable to our twin requirements: It appeals to the religious need for not putting down our roots too deeply as well as to the environmental need to make nature our true domicile.
In what sense? Science has increasingly and almost in spite of itself taken on the lineaments of a story of the cosmos. The cosmos has itself increasingly become a narrative, a great adventure. Although there have always been mythic and narrative undercurrents in presentations of scientific theory, the past century has brought forth a scientific vision that, starting from the Darwinian story of life on this planet, has moved back in time to embrace the astrophysical origins of the cosmos fifteen or twenty billion years ago. The most expressive metaphor for what science finds in nature today is no longer law, but story (Rolston, 119).
The narrative nature of science has enormous implications for issues in science and religion. And it is also of consequence for our problem of integrating traditional spirituality with an environmentally acceptable attitude toward nature. For some time this narrative aspect of cosmology has been a dominant theme in process theology. And it has recently been developed by Holmes Rolston in his book Science and Religion, and in a Roman Catholic context by Thomas Berry (see Lonergan and Richards, and Berry, 178-239) and Brian Swimme. Swimme, a Catholic physicist and follower of Thomas Berry, emphasizes how the narrative revolution in science is now capable of placing all our religious and other traditions against the more fundamental backdrop of a cosmic story. We now for the first time in our species’ history have a story that can serve as the basis for intercultural and inter-religious encounter.
The universe, at its most basic level, is not so much matter or energy or information. The universe is story. Bolstering my conviction that story is the quintessential nature of the universe is the story of how story forced its way into the most anti-story domains of modern science, I mean physics and mathematics. For physicists during the modern period, "reality" meant the fundamental interactions in the universe. In a sense, a modern physicist would regard the world’s essence as captured by the right group of mathematical equations. The rest of it -- the story of the universe in time -- was understood as nothing more than an explication of these fundamental laws (Swimme, unpublished paper).
Swimme recalls the famous story of how Einstein himself resisted the narrative implications in his own equations. They indicated that the universe is expanding, in which case it would have had a singular origin and then unfolded sequentially in various phases of a genuine narrative. But "only when Edwin Hubble later showed him the empirical evidence that the universe was expanding did Einstein realize his failure of nerve. He later came to regard his doctoring of the field equations as the fundamental blunder of his scientific career" (Swimme, unpublished paper).
It is common scientific knowledge now that not only life, but the stars, galaxies, planets on the macroscale and the subatomic layers at the micro level are all involved in transformations to which the word story seems more and more applicable. Swimme notes that story
forced its way still further into physics when in recent decades scientists discovered that even the fundamental interactions of the universe were the result of transformations in time. The laws that govern the physical universe today, and that were thought to be immutable and above development of the universe, were themselves the result of the development of the universe. That is, the story -- rather than being simply governed by these laws -- draws these laws into itself (Swimme, unpublished paper).
But the word story is not quite adequate. We might better characterize the cosmic process as an adventure story. Adventure, in the technical meaning given to it by process thought, is the search for ever more intense versions of ordered novelty.15 The theme of the cosmos as adventure now lies at the center of scientific thought. And the integration of religious traditions with our new story of the cosmos can occur more readily if we see clearly that religion is also essentially adventure, continuous with the cosmos itself.
The cosmos is itself a saga of continual experimentation with novel forms of order, a struggle upward from simplicity toward increasing complexity. This straining for more complexity is not always successful. There are many backward and sideways movements in the story of the universe’s struggle upward from the simplicity of its origins. But over the long haul there has clearly been a general trend toward the creation of more elaborate entities. It is this generic ascent of the cosmos toward increasing complexity that we may call adventure. And we may now situate the story of religion within this more encompassing cosmic narrative.
Religion is often understood as the trustful entry into an acknowledged realm of mystery. But this entry into mystery is best characterized as an adventure. The heart of religion is trust. Its orientation is toward mystery. But its distinctive style is adventure. Although much that passes as religion seems undeniably far from adventurous, religion in "essence," if not always in manifestation, is an adventure of the human spirit. But the religious adventure has its roots deep down in the story of an evolving universe out of which it has recently emerged.
When observed within a cosmological vista, religion will appear not just as something people do, but as an astonishing and disturbing development in the entire evolution of the universe. We are not wont to view religion in this light, but the growing awareness of our species’ evolution from the depths of the universe invites us to do so. We are the latest dominant emergent in the earth’s evolution, and so all that we humans do and think and say is relevant for our understanding of the cosmos out of which we evolved. The universe is giving expression to itself in giving birth to us. And in our giving birth to religion the universe may well be saying something new and astounding.
Unusual insights into the nature and function of religion can be reached if we learn to look at it from this cosmic perspective. We are gaining a deeper impression today of our intimate ties with nature and its evolution. We can see more clearly now than ever before that the human race is part of an ageless cosmic struggle upward toward more intense versions of organized complexity, and toward a deepening of consciousness. The evolutionary perspective that has taken over in the realm of the sciences also calls for a new understanding of our species’ inveterate religious tendencies. We humans have appeared relatively recently in evolution, and our religious habits have evolved along with us. They have apparently been part of us from the very beginning of our journey on this planet. We suspect that we are yet unfinished, and so the same is likely true of our religions.
What this means for the study of religion is that we can no longer legitimately isolate it as a peculiar expression of the human mind or focus on it as though psychology and the social sciences, or even theology, were the privileged roads to a contemporary understanding of it. We must also look at religion cosmologically, viewing it as part of the very evolution of the universe.
A cosmological and evolutionary approach to religion is sorely needed at this time. For the evolutionary paradigm has come to dominate our ways of thinking about the world. From astronomy and geology at one end of the natural continuum to the study of invisible physical events at the other, science itself has become the story of the universe. The accounts of evolution "from the Big Bang to the Big Brain" are essentially narrative in form. They tell the story of a cosmic adventure. And the story of religion is a most significant chapter in this cosmic narrative. Thus we may no longer investigate religion as though it were not also part of the unfolding adventure of cosmic evolution. The story of religion is part of the story of the universe. The two stories must now be told together.
We need not enter here into disputes as to whether cosmic evolution has always or generally been progressive. All we need to do is notice that since the "Big Bang" occurred fifteen or twenty billion years ago some momentous things have happened, in particular the emergence of life and mind on our planet (and perhaps elsewhere). Both life and mind have generally had the tendency to complicate themselves more and more, for whatever reason. If we think in terms of the epochs of evolution, life and mind made their evolutionary transition into culture and civilization very recently, only a flash of time ago. Yet here too the struggle for complexity continued, and at an alarming rate of speed. The invention of agriculture, civilization, art, and culture, of nations, politics, education, and science -- all of these developments exemplify the universe’s impatience with monotony and urgent need for subtle shading and more intense enjoyment of beauty, now that it has reached the human phase of its unfolding.
But the cosmic adventure, on our own planet at least, has been extended in a special way by the religious journey. No human actions or gestures have reached out more passionately for the unknown or revolted more compellingly against monotony than has religion. Its surmounting of the mundane, its reaching beyond ordinariness, its striving for a deeper reality beneath appearances, and its unquenchable quest for beauty make it appropriate for us to envisage religion as an adventure. The ageless religious quest for novel forms of order is continuous with, and an extension of, the universe’s own aim toward more intense harmony of contrasts.
For nearly uncountable millennia our universe labored before it was in a condition of readiness to bring forth life. The heavy chemical elements required for life (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and so forth) took several billion years of cooking time at the heart of stars before supernovas eventually dispersed them throughout space. Countless more epochs elapsed before these elements began to cluster into planetary bodies like our earth. The chemicals that make up our terrestrial home, having finished their previous careers in some now dead star, finally coalesced five billion years ago into our own planet. Then a billion years or so later, after the earth’s surface had cooled sufficiently to sustain primitive organisms, life began to appear. And following endless more spans of patient waiting and experimentation, it burst forth into the extravagant arrays of higher organisms such as reptiles, birds, and mammals. Finally, perhaps two million years ago, our immediate prehuman ancestors began to appear in abundance and spread out over the face of the earth. That is not very long ago in terms of evolutionary time, and we can safely surmise that much more of the cosmic journey, perhaps the bulk of it, still lies ahead of us.
We cannot know for sure, but it is highly likely that our ancestors started acting and thinking in something like a religious way at the same time that they became endowed with language and consciousness. Why? Why has our species been so ineradicably religious, so sensitive to a dimension of mystery summoning us to move beyond any absolute contentment with the mere givenness of things? Perhaps it has a lot to do with the inherently adventurous nature of the cosmos. The restlessness that launched matter on its pilgrimage toward complexity twenty billion years ago has apparently not yet been quieted. It continues now in our own questioning minds and our spirit of exploration. In the modern development of science we find one of the clearest illustrations of this exploratory restlessness. Science, like religion, is not content to take things at face value. It too seeks a world beyond our customary impressions. But in the story of human religiousness, especially in its post-axial forms, we find perhaps the most stirring manifestation of discontent with mere appearances, and nature’s grasping for the seemingly unreachable. Because of our contemporary awareness of the evolutionary, narrative character of the universe, and the growing sense of our species’ continuity with this emergent process, we are now in a position to interpret the long search of religion as a prolongation of the cosmic struggle toward more intense beauty. Such a way of looking at religion should prevent us from separating its demand for self-transcendence from the cosmos in which it is rooted.
In the story of religion there is so strong a theme of restlessness or homelessness that it is impossible to avoid the suggestion that we are dealing here with adventure in the boldest sense. But what starts out as adventure, as we know from our own experience, can eventually degenerate into a loss of enthusiasm. The effort to sustain any valorous expedition can sag. And the same is true of our species’ religious journey. Religions can grow weary of their voyage into mystery and take refuge in the familiar. Religion can lose touch with its primordial zest for the unattainable. It may become transformed into a style of life and thought that does little more than sanction the social or political status quo. Religion can lose its soul, and Whitehead thought that this is what has been happening to religion in the modern age. "Religion," he said, "is tending to degenerate into a decent formula wherewith to embellish a comfortable life" (Whitehead 1967b, 188). Nevertheless, this same philosopher thought he could still see through to religion’s authentic core. In its most stalwart manifestations religion provides a "commanding vision" that arouses its devotees to move beyond complacency. Religious worship is "not a rule of safety -- it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure" (Whitehead 1967b, 192).
The theme of homelessness, wandering, alienation, and exile is so much a part of our religious traditions that we need to salvage it rather than discard it. The problem before us is how to do so in an environmentally healthy way. For we know how easy it has been for those who have embarked on the religious adventure to interpret nature as though it were a restraint. And the results have been to foster a recklessness about our natural habitat as though it were holding us back from our journey. Our new narrative cosmology, however, allows us to feel the universe itself as the primary subject of adventure. Human and religious wanderings are expressions of the primary revelation of adventure, which is the universe itself. We may care for our natural matrix not in spite of but because of our religious restlessness. The universe itself is an adventure into mystery, and our religions are simply various ways of explicating this inherent character of the universe at the human level of emergence. We do not have to make the natural environment a victim of a theology of homelessness. Theology can hold on to the notion that we may live in homelessness from our universal destiny without feeling lost in the cosmos. Reconciliation with an adventuring universe is the very condition of our releasing our religious instincts to venture forth into mystery. For the destiny of both ourselves and the cosmos is to become lost in mystery.
1. Dualism has also been criticized as resulting from a fear of the feminine and the maternal, a point that cannot be developed here.
2. Both Michael Polanyi and Alfred North Whitehead have written important critiques of the modern obsession with abstraction and clarity. See Polanyi 1967 and Whitehead 1968: "The degeneracy of mankind is distinguished from its uprise by the dominance of chill abstractions, divorced from aesthetic content" (Whitehead 1968, 123).
3. See the articles by and about Thomas Berry collected in Cross Currents 37, nos. 2 and 3 (1988), pp. 178-239.
4. See Lonergan and Richards. For a popular introduction to this mystique of nature as a cosmic creation story see Brian Swimme 1986.
5. Alfred North Whitehead has identified the underlying assumptions as (1) the assumption of simple location; (2) the assumption of the primacy of primary qualities; and (3) the assumption that clarity and distinctness are more fundamental than vagueness. All three are instances of what he calls the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness," that is, the mistaking of logical abstractions for concrete actuality (Whitehead 1967b, 39-55).
6. I have summarized Whitehead’s position in my book on science and religion, The Cosmic Adventure. See also Whitehead 1967a, 252-96.
7. It is worth remembering that classical philosophy often considered beauty to be one of the so-called transcendentals, together with being, unity, and goodness. The association of value with beauty is not peculiar to Whiteheadians.
8. The expression "optimism of withdrawal" is that of Teilhard de Chardin, (Teilhard, 45).
9. Jürgen Moltmann’s recent book, God in Creation, is perhaps the best-known example. But the work of Thomas Berry makes the same point no less forcefully.
10. "It is impossible to speak of history as though it were a realm of freedom and decision entirely separate from nature. Certainly the biblical perspective is not characterized by such nonsense. It is a measure of the desperation of contemporary theology and faith, in the face of the power of the modern scientific world view . . . that this way out was attempted at all" (Kaufman 1972, 122).
11. It is not just existentialist theology that exiles human subjects from the cosmos. I am thinking also of the many recent theologies that have closely followed a psychological and social-scientific paradigm according to which culture is interpreted primarily as a human construct without any reference to the cosmic roots of human creativity. The social sciences are understandably abstract from cosmological questions and schemes. It is not their concern to delve into the cosmic roots of social behavior, although anthropology at times makes this link explicit. But sociology and psychology generally focus narrowly on the specifically human band of the broad spectrum of cosmic layers and do not concern themselves with the universe as such. Like all sciences they deliberately bracket out other layers of cosmic reality. While there can be no objection to this abstracting from the cosmos by the social sciences, we may still question the adequacy of a theology that ties itself too tightly to the social-scientific approach, for it may thereby easily lose sight of the cosmic roots of human existence and behavior. This seems to have happened in recent theological reflection influenced by the sociologist Peter Berger. Berger employed a humanistic social-scientific model in his interpretation of religion, The Sacred Canopy. For him authentic religion is the kind that allows us to recognize our creativity and responsibility; inauthentic religion on the other hand masks our creativity from us. Such an approach is a healthy corrective to a theology that leaves us passive, uncreative puppets. But it runs the risk of exaggerating the homo faber image of humanity and forgetting the inherent creativity in the entire cosmos.
12. One of the best critiques of the dominance of the homo faber image of human existence is still that of Sam Keen.
13. Jürgen Moltmann even cautions against our identifying the divine life with creativity. "If God is ‘eternally creative’ how can we understand his sabbath rest? . . . If creation is said to be ‘identical’ with the divine life, how can there be beings who are not God and yet are?" (Moltmann, 84).
14. I may cite as another instance of a type of theology closely tied to the dualistic paradigm, the recent work of Gordon Kaufman. Even though Kaufman was earlier critical of existentialist theology’s dualism of mind and nature, and in spite of his own recent environmental concerns, his current theological writings exemplify the extent to which the materialist and scientistic paradigm continues to provide the background of theological reflection. In spite of Kaufman’s otherwise profound ecological sensitivity, his theology has not completely escaped the philosophical assumptions in terms of which the existentialist theology he criticized has been shaped. Kaufman’s theological method begins with the thesis that theology is a human construct. Although he says that religion itself, as distinct from theology, is more than a construction and even has transcendent reference, nevertheless he states that the image of God in religion is a human construct. His theology is patterned on the assumptions in the social sciences that we observed earlier. It is entranced by the image of homo faber to such an extent that it makes theology into nothing other than our own human creation, and one gets the impression at times that Kaufman sees religion also as nothing but a human construct. He fully accepts the Kantian view that notions such as God and world have no discernible objective basis in our experience. They are regulatory rather than objectively verifiable ideas. They are noumenal realities covered over by a phenomenal world of our own making (Kaufman 1975). Historians of philosophy can easily demonstrate how this Kantian distinction of an unavailable noumenal world from a vivid, but frothy, phenomenal one, is erected upon the distinction in classical physics between primary and secondary qualities. Kaufman’s Kantian method of coming at the subject matter of theology betrays the same old feeling that religion, and hence religious people, do not quite belong to the "real" universe. That religious symbols are seen first as human constructs rather than as the flowering (through us) of deeply cosmic energies is a sign of how stuck theology still is in the framework of homelessness upon which scientism and materialism are based. (For another critique of Kaufman’s theology see Gustafson 1981.) It has been pointed out often that a lack of cosmic awareness is present also in much liberation theology. Abstracting from cosmological considerations is quite understandable here since the immediate questions giving rise to this adventurous theology arise out of social and economic inequities. Social injustice sometimes seems far from the preoccupations of a theology of nature. However, as an increasing number of theologians sympathetic to this perspective are now insisting, a socio-economic concern cannot plausibly be separated from a cosmic concern. Thomas Berry has made this point as forcefully as anyone.
In Catholic thought a subjectivist tendency is present in "Transcendental Thomism" and the Kantian turn that still dominate much Catholic theology. The return to cosmology in Catholic theology is taking place to some extent among theological followers of Teilhard who are suspicious of the latter’s anthropocentric leanings but find his thought nevertheless a stimulus to environmental concern. Once again Thomas Berry is a good example.
15. For the following discussion of adventure see Alfred North Whitehead 1967a, especially pp. 252-96.
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Berry, Thomas. "The New Story: Comments on the Origin, Identification and Transmission of Values." Cross Currents 37 (Summer/Fall 1988): 187-99.
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______"The Emergent Environment and the Problem of Cosmic Purpose." Environmental Ethics 8 (1986): 139-50.
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______ An Essay on Theological Method. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1975.
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______"The Cosmic Creation Story." Unpublished paper.
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_____ (b). Science and the Modern World. New York: The Free Press, 1967.
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