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The Future of Mankind by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was professor of geology at the Catholic Institute in Paris, director of the National Geologic Survey of China, and director of the National Research Center of France. He died in New York City in 1955. Published by Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1959. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

Chapter 11: Faith in Man

1. Definition and Novelty

By ‘faith in Man’ we mean here the more or less active and fervent conviction that Mankind as an organic and organized whole possesses a future: a future consisting not merely of successive years but of higher states to be achieved by struggle. Not merely survival, let us be clear, but some form of higher life or super-life.

Considered in its deepest origins this human trend towards a state of higher being is as old and universal as the world itself. As far back as we can trace it, and even in its humblest manifestations, the advance of Life, however spurred on by the sheer, hard necessity of continuing to exist, has always been inspired by an expectation of something greater. Are not Nature’s countless experiments all variants of a single act of faith, an obstinate feeling of the way towards an outlet leading forward and ever higher? Above all, at that critical point where instinct turned reflexively to thought, and awareness of the future became an accomplished fact on earth, must not Man, m whom this radical change occurred, even in his most primitive state have experienced the vital urge to grasp all things and transcend himself?

Mythology and folklore (we shall come back to this) are filled with symbols and fables expressing the deeply rooted resolve of Earth to find its way to Heaven; from which it follows that we may in a perfectly legitimate sense accept the fact that a generalized, implicit faith of Man in Man is older than all civilization, and that it is this, finally, which constitutes the basic impulse informing all our past history.

But is there not another and even truer sense in which we must affirm that this faith, in the explicit, collective form of our definition, represents a specifically new attitude in the world and therefore calls for our particular attention?

I believe that this is so, on the following grounds.

A major problem posed by the fact, of which we are henceforth assured, that the Universe is in a state of psychic evolution, is the question of how far its evolutionary course is likely to affect our future power of thought. Whatever the eventual answer may be, two things are undeniable: first, that at certain moments in the past, human consciousness -- however unchanging in its essential framework -- has risen to the perception of new dimensions and values; and secondly that the age in which we are living is precisely such a moment of awakening and transformation. In the course of a few generations, almost without our realizing it, our view of the world has been profoundly altered. Under the combined influence of Science and History, and of social developments, the twofold sense of duration and collectivity has pervaded and re-ordered the entire field of our experience; with the twofold result that the future, hitherto a vague succession of monotonous years awaiting an unimportant number of scattered individual lives, is now seen to be a period of positive becoming and maturing -- but one in which we can advance and shape ourselves only in solidarity.

Thus we have the simultaneous growth in our minds of two essentially modern concepts, those of collectivity and of an organic future: a double development precisely engendering the deep-rooted change of heart that was required to bring about the direct transformation of a childlike and instinctive faith in Man into its rational, adult state of constructive, militant faith in Mankind!

A spiritual crisis was inevitable: it has not been slow in coming.

But let us look with open minds at the new world being born around us amid the convulsions of war. Disregarding the superficial chaos which prevents us from seeing clearly, probing beneath the shapeless disorder that so dismays us, let us try to take the pulse and temperature of Earth. If we have any power of vision we are bound to recognize that the ills which so afflict us are above all growing-pains. What looks like no more than a hunger for material well-being is in reality a hunger for higher being: it is the spirit of Mankind suddenly alive with the sense of all that remains to be done if it is to achieve the fulfillment of its powers and possibilities.

2. Power and Ambiguity

It would be criminal or insane to attempt to resist the great explosion of the innate forces of the Earth that is now beginning. Like the collectivization which accompanies it, this upsurge of human faith which we are witnessing is a life-bearing phenomenon, and therefore irresistible. But that does not mean that we should let ourselves be borne passively and indiscriminately on the tide. The more youthful and forceful the energy, the more misguided and dangerous may be its ebullience. We see this all too clearly in the present-day world.

We sincerely believe that in itself, and in its only legitimate and enduring form, faith in Man does not exclude but must on the contrary include the worship of Another -- One who is higher than Man. To grow in stature and strength so as to be able to give more of oneself and clasp in a tighter embrace (as in the Bible story of Jacob and the Angel; and as happens on an everyday level in every passionate union), this is the true and noble manner of interpreting and canalizing the impulse which urges us upwards.

But, as the facts prove only too well, this first way of believing in Man goes hand in hand with another way, more elementary, immediate and simple, and therefore more alluring. Correctly interpreted, I repeat, faith in Man can and indeed must cast us at the feet and into the arms of One who is greater than ourselves. But, it can be argued, why after all should we not conceive this One who is greater than ourselves as being in fact identical with ourselves? Given the power he possesses, why should Man look for a God outside himself? Man, self-sufficient and wholly autonomous, sole master and disposer of his destiny and the world’s -- is not this an even nobler concept?

Here we have the modern version of the heroic temptation of all time, that of the Titans, of Prometheus, of Babel and of Faust; that of Christ on the mountain; a temptation as old as Earth itself; as old as the first reflective awakening of Life to the awareness of its powers. But it is a temptation which is only now entering its critical phase, now that Man has raised himself to the point of being able to measure both the immensity of the Time that lies before him and the almost limitless powers made available to him by his concerted efforts to seize hold of the material springs of the world.

Is the dilemma insoluble or (as we would rather believe) only a temporary one, destined to vanish like so many others when we have reached a higher level of spiritual evolution? We may be in two minds about this.

The fact remains that at the present time a fundamental inner impulse, newly born in our hearts, is tending to find a dual, and divergent, expression in two apparently incompatible spiritual forms; on the one hand, the spirit (let us call it ‘Christian’) of sacrifice and of union centered in the expectation of an Apotheosis in the future; and on the other hand the Promethean or Faustian spirit of self-worship based on the material organization of the earth. The ambiguity is there. And because (always by virtue of a rhythm which may be reversed tomorrow) it is the material and tangible aspect which at this moment of world history seems to hold the initiative in the advance of Life, the struggle is proceeding in a way which suggests that the Promethean faith is the only valid one, or at least the more active. We see no other in the service of the world, or we run the risk of seeing no other. Hence the tendency (which is also as old as the world) of the defenders of the Spirit to regard as diabolical, and to reject as being among the most formidable manifestations of pride, the irrepressible desire for growth and conquest, the unshakeable sense of power and progress, which at present fills the human breast.

But we must not leap to conclusions. Since by definition ambiguity is not perversity but only the danger of perversion, which after all is not the same thing, let us seek to place ourselves psychologically at a level below the point where the dilemma seems to be resolving itself in two irreconcilable forms. In other words, let us try to understand what the faith in Man signifies in its undifferentiated state (pre-Promethean or pre-Christian); what it looks for and what it offers us.

3. The Uniting Force

Present-day Mankind, as it becomes increasingly aware of its unity -- not only past unity in the blood, but future unity in progress -- is experiencing a vital need to close in upon itself. A tendency towards unification is everywhere manifest, and especially in the different branches of religion. We are looking for something that will draw us together, below or above the level of that which divides. It may be said, in the aftermath of the war, that this need is spontaneously and unanimously arising on every hand. But where are we to discover the mysterious principle of rapprochement? Are we to look downwards or upwards -- to our common interest or our common faith?

We must by no means underestimate the force of common interest in a matter of this sort. The visible success of communal undertakings in which the material well-being of the individual becomes essentially dependent on the functioning of the association as a whole; more still, on the world scale, the example of the last war, in which a common danger for a time welded together large sections of the world -- all this decidedly proves that physical necessity, when it happens to coincide, is a synthesizing factor between human particles. But this kind of synthesis, we must note, remains fragile in two respects: firstly, because the coincidence which brought it about is in the nature of things temporary and accidental; secondly, and above all, because elements brought together under the compulsion of necessity or fear cohere only outwardly and on the surface. When the wave of fear or common interest has passed, the union dissolves without having given birth to a soul. Not through external pressure but only from an inward impulse can the unity of Mankind endure and grow.

And this, it seems, is where the major, ‘providential’ role reserved by the future for what we have called ‘faith in Man’ displays itself. A profound common aspiration arising out of the very shape of the modern world -- is not this specifically what is most to be desired, what we most need to offset the growing forces of dissolution and dispersal at work among us?

But here we must be on our guard.

Recently, and in particular through the sympathetic pen of Aldous Huxley, an effort has been made to formulate and crystallize, in a series of abstract propositions, the basis of a common philosophy on which all men of goodwill can agree in order that the world may continue to progress. We believe this to be helpful, and moreover we are persuaded that gradually, in religious thought as in the sciences, a core of universal truth will form and slowly grow, to be accepted by everyone. Can there be any true spiritual evolution without it? But shall we not be misled by this formulation of a common view of the world, infinitely precious in itself, if we consider it simply in terms of its application and result, without looking for the principle and fecundating act of a genuine union? Any abstract scheme tends of its nature to resolve in an arbitrary fashion, and perhaps prematurely for the whole, the ambiguity of the future. There is the risk that it will restrict the movement to a given direction, whereas it is Out of the movement as such that the desired effect of unification must come.

But at the youthful stage in which we are at present considering it, Faith in Man proceeds and operates in a quite different fashion.

It is true that at the outset it presupposes a certain fundamental concept of the place of Man in Nature. But as it rises above this rationalized common platform it becomes charged with a thousand differing potentialities, elastic and even fluid -- indivisible, one might say, by the expressions of hostility to which Thought, in its gropings, may temporarily subject it. Indivisible and even triumphant: for despite all seeming divisions (this is what matters) it continues unassailably to draw together and even to reconcile everything that it pervades. Take the two extremes confronting us at this moment, the Marxist and the Christian, each a convinced believer in his own particular doctrine, but each, we must suppose, fundamentally inspired with an equal faith in Man. Is it not incontestable, a matter of everyday experience, that each of these, to the extent that he believes (and sees the other believe) in the future of the world, feels a basic human sympathy for the other -- not for any sentimental reason, but arising out of the obscure recognition that both are going the same way, and that despite all ideological differences they will eventually, in some manner, come together on the same summit? No doubt each in his own fashion, following his separate path, believes that he has once and for all solved the riddle of the world’s future. But the divergence between them is in reality neither complete nor final, unless we suppose that by some inconceivable and even contradictory feat of exclusion (contradictory because nothing would remain of his faith) the Marxist, for example, were to eliminate from his materialistic doctrine every upward surge towards the spirit. Followed to their conclusion the two paths must certainly end by coming together: for in the nature of things everything that is faith must rise, and everything that rises must converge.

In short we may say that faith in Man, by the combined effect of its universality and its elemental quality, shows itself upon examination to be the general atmosphere in which the higher, more elaborated forms of faith which we all hold in one way or another may best (indeed can only) grow and come together. It is not a formula, it is the environment of union.

No one can doubt that we are all more or less affected by this elementary, primordial faith. Should we otherwise truly belong to our time? And if, through the very force of our spiritual aspirations, we have been inclined to mistrust it, even to feel that we are immune from it, we must look more closely into our own hearts. I have said that the soul has only one summit. It has also only one foundation. Let us look well and we shall find that our Faith in God, detached as it may be, sublimates in us a rising tide of human aspirations. It is to this original sap that we must return if we wish to communicate with the brothers with whom we seek to be united.

Address to the World Congress of Faiths (French section), 8th March, 1947.

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