Chapter 1: The Possibility of Belief

God Within Process
by Eulalio R. Baltazar

Chapter 1: The Possibility of Belief

Before we can speak of belief in God, it is necessary to discuss a more basic question, namely, the possibility of belief itself. As one writer has noted, "the possibility of belief itself, rather than that of theology, is the stumbling block for many thoughtful people today."1

Part of the lack of belief today may be attributable to a faulty and inadequate understanding of the nature of belief. Young people whose pattern of thinking is historical and secular no longer find the traditional explanations of belief as formulated in the context of a static universe significant and meaningful. In the old static framework, belief was situated in the metaphysical order, in the other-worldly; belief spoke of another world. Such a formulation was in accordance with traditional metaphysical philosophy which divided reality into two levels: the perceivable or physical level and the nonperceivable or metaphysical level. Now, this formulation was significant and meaningful for the medieval mind for whom the immutable and unchanging were of a higher value than the mutable and changing. But to modern man, for whom the historical and the secular are of greater value than the metaphysical and religious, such a formulation becomes insignificant and irrelevant. Modern man can no longer go along with the idea that to have faith, one has to abandon the historical, secular and earthly, that, in effect, he has to surrender his very humanity.

Today, the common man is being told by many secularizers that our age is a post-Christian age in the sense that we no longer believe in the metaphysical. Metaphysics in its tribal and town forms must be given up. He is told that there is no longer a transcendent God, that he actually died, or that the formulation of God by a past culture is dead, and that consequently there is no longer need for belief and that unbelief in such a God may be the more Christian way. He is told that henceforth Christianity will preach a gospel of Christian atheism and that Christianity of its nature is religionless.

The movement toward this-worldliness finds a responsive chord in modern man. However, he is not wholly satisfied with the implied conclusion that all there is exists in the present world; that all that man must work for is a family, a good job, a home, a car and all the attendant secularistic values of bourgeoisie society. There is a dissatisfaction in the young people of today; there is an inner drive, quite undefined, which looks for something much more, for something bigger than life, wider than the world, larger than culture and higher than man-made things, which their formal education has not given them. The young are looking for higher meanings and values; they are looking for fulfillment in a deeper sense than purely the material and technological which for many do not really fulfill man but rather depersonalize and alienate him from himself and others.

My own way of explaining this phenomenon is that these young people (who are most intelligent and cannot be fooled by so much sham in present society) are really looking for a meaningful faith, for a satisfying form of transcendence. But they are told that there is no longer any transcendence, no longer any faith. Consequently, they look for them in sexual love, in the sense of community, in oriental mysticism, in psychedelic experience, and so on. The main question then is whether belief itself is possible.

I do not think that the answer is in the negative and that the thing to do is to give up the search for transcendence as a myth and surrender oneself to some present and quite physical experiences. I do not think that it is quite true to say that man has come of age if this means that he no longer needs faith. I agree that man has come of age if this is taken to mean that he should no longer put much value in a presentation of belief as other-worldly or metaphysical, in the sense of the atemporal, ahistorical. But it does not follow that in saying this one also implies that one no longer needs belief. For I disagree very strongly with the hellenic view that religion is necessarily other-worldly, that to be transcendent is to go outside this world, that to believe is to be non-secular.

The task incumbent on philosophers and theologians today, it seems to me, is to formulate faith or belief in the context of an evolutionary universe. The premise we must start with is that if there is any such thing as faith or transcendence, it cannot be found by going outside time and history. If it is a higher dimension than the dimension of sensible experience, it must nevertheless still be within the context of this world.

The first step in bringing back to modem man the possibility of belief is a negative one -- the destruction of the hellenic legacy of a dualistic reality. For this inherited outlook which has situated faith and religion in the other-worldly regards the world as "faithless" or religionless, as perfectly neutral and secular, and holds that any imposition of the sacred and religious on the world is a myth, a projection of the mind.

A second negative step is to give up the notion of truth as unchanging and immutable. For in line with this view, faith as the highest form of truth becomes ahistorical and non-contingent, with the result that it cannot be seen to play a role in the real historical world. It is necessary to adopt a new view of truth, the evolutionary, so that if belief or faith were really historical we would be enabled to see it.

But a more basic necessity than the evolutionary view of truth is the adoption of an evolutionary view of the universe, because without it belief cannot be shown to be intrinsic to the world and hence necessary; it can only be superadded. Let me explain what I mean. For there to be real belief and hope, the outcome must be undecided. But in the static view of the universe in which things came forth finished from God, there is really no room for true belief in the universe, since everything had its predetermined essence. There is no room for real creativity and originality, no room for real failure and chance, hence no real hoping and believing based on the very real fear of miscarriage and incompletion. In a finished universe, the activity of knowing was one of contemplation, not of foreknowledge, prediction and hypothesis. Faith itself was seen as the contemplation of truths that transcended the powers of reason.

Historically there was an advantage to the dualistic view of reality. Theologians no longer tried to impose the statements of Scripture on "poor" scientists as the normative rule for science. Scientists were left free to develop their respective fields with the use of scientific methods. But what resulted from this state of affairs was a false view of reason as being totally opposed to belief, and of the natural world as being outside the realm of belief. Later, when belief in the metaphysical gave way to belief in the value of the secular world, the predictable consequence was that to accept the secular, natural world was also to accept a world without belief, without faith.

Let us proceed to determine whether in the secular world there is any foundation for belief. Let us forget for a while belief as religious belief. Let us take belief in its widest sense, as when we use the words "I believe" in ordinary conversation. Now, implicit in this usage is the distinction between belief and knowledge. Belief implies lack of knowledge. In other words, what we believe we do not know, and, conversely, what we know we do not need to believe. Obviously, belief in the widest sense of the term is possible because there are many things we do not know. But let us consider now the more formal operations of knowing, as, for example, scientific reasoning. Clearly, belief in the sense of religious belief is out of place in scientific reasoning. There is no such thing as a Christian physics or biology. But the extreme view that there is no belief whatsoever in scientific deliberations is equally false. For great scientific discoveries have come from belief in hypotheses which were later verified. An excellent example was Einstein’s theory of relativity which predicted the convertibility of matter and energy and the bending of light as it crossed a heavy planetary object. The discovery was possible because of Einstein’s initial belief or hypothesis. Slowly, scientists are beginning to realize that belief is operative in scientific reasoning at least in the form of hypothesis. Modern science has not followed Aristotelian logic which starts with a self-evident major premise from which the conclusion is deduced and on which it depends. Rather, the major premise of scientific reasoning is a hypothesis to be verified, grasped by a fiduciary intention, to use the words of Michael Polanyi, or an act of belief fed by creative imagination, whose justification depends on the conclusion. Teilhard de Chardin also notes the subjective factor in scientific reasoning. For even in the process of going to the world, we already are subjectively selective. We do not just go to the world; rather, we bring with us beliefs which determine the kind of data we select.2 The traditional distinction between reason and faith in which the scientist uses only the cold light of reason while the theologian uses the light of faith is not strictly true. John Dewey has shown us the inadequacy of this view of reason when he tells us, for example, that science is "constituted by a method of changing beliefs by means of tested inquiry as well as of arriving at them." 3 Philosophy also confirms this view of science that reasoning does not start with self-evident premises but from postulates, from pre-reflective intentions and cogitations.

Up to this point we have established the fact that inherent in the deliberations of reason is the subjective and predictive factor, that reason is hypothesis-making, that, in short, it makes acts of belief, and that in order to attain truth, belief as hypothesis-making is not only reasonable but necessary. Of course this is a long way from establishing the possibility and presence of religious belief in the world of reason and within its very structure. Our next step then is to study more deeply the nature of belief of which religious belief is an instance.

Ontological Foundation of Belief

When I believe in something, I find by reflection that intrinsic to acts of belief is the dimension of the future. In other words, belief is concerned with what will be. Belief is not concerned with what is, that is, with things in the present, with facts, for what is present is attained by conceptualization. The future, on the other hand, is attained by belief aided by imagination. Belief looks toward the future. However, it is also true that the past can be the object of belief. For example, I look to the past and I believe that such and such an event happened to me in my infancy of which I have no memory. But on closer examination, I find that even this so-called belief in the past is really reducible to belief in the future, for past events are important to me insofar as they affect my life as lived here and now. Hence, past events look toward the present which for the past is its future. Belief is thus concerned with what is absent, and this absence is an intrinsic ontological structure of reason as absent from the future.

The absence of reason from the future can be understood in two ways. In the first way, absence from the future could mean simply reason’s lack of knowledge -- an either complete or incomplete lack -- of a reality that is already finished or fully evolved. In other words, the given reality is conceptualizable here and now, but for human reason it is not yet conceptualized, not yet known. The "future" in this case is not a temporal future but a metaphysical or other-worldly one. Such a future is the foundation for the medieval’s belief whose postulate was of a finished static universe. The foundation for belief in this case would be simply reason’s lack of knowledge and not the unfinished character of reality. In a finished universe, "faith could have no other role but to anticipate the correspondence of mind to reality." The second way in which reason is absent from the future is not only its lack of knowledge, but the object’s unfinished character. The premise is that both reason and its object are in process. Belief in this case "is not merely a stop gap for ignorance, a resting place for the human subject until such time as reason catches up. Faith is actually an operative principle in the very making of man and the world."

Faith or belief in an unfinished universe is a creative principle. Since reality is in process, this implies that becoming is in quest of its meaning or essence. Essence is based on the fullness of being or, which comes to the same thing, fullness of development or maturation. To possess truth in this case is to possess the fullness of one’s being, since being and truth are convertible. But since my full being is not yet constituted because I have not yet reached my end or omega, it follows that I do not yet have my truth. I cannot conceptualize what I am since I am not yet present to my full self. I have to believe in my future in order that I may press forward to attain it; Belief in this case is a creative principle of becoming. On the other hand, if one has already the fullness of his being, then one has also the full possession of one’s essence. Since there is no longer the dimension of the future in one’s being, belief ceases to exist as a creative principle.

Let us analyze further the nature of belief (and hope) in an unfinished universe. The ontological foundation of existential belief (and hope) is the unfinished character of reality of which I am part. Hope also implies the unfinished character of reality, as does belief. But while belief recognizes the openness of the future, it is hope that keeps the future recognized by belief open.6 Despair causes the cessation of belief, while hope gives life to it. Where the end is already achieved, it is meaningless to speak of hope, or of belief, for that matter. Thus one can see that in a finished universe there is no real foundation for existential hope or belief. Everything being secure, there would be no reason to hope, believe, fear or despair. We are not trying to imply that belief in the traditional formulation was unreal or fictitious. True, belief was situated in the other-worldly realm, but even this formulation included the minimal character of belief as the absence of the object to reason. However, it lacked the true dimension of belief as eschatological, as including in its structure the unfinished and unattained future.

It is possible now, if we view reality as evolutionary, to situate belief in the world. Belief is the inherent structure of the unfinished and evolving present. Diagrammatically we have:


becoming / eschatological future


region of fear, of belief, hope region of possession,

or despair hence of joy and security

In the diagram we can see that because the present is unfinished, inherent in it is fear, hope, belief or despair. For the unfinished present to attain its fullness in the future, it is not only reasonable that it believe and hope, but it must of necessity, as the very law of its being, hope and believe; otherwise despair which takes the drive and soul out of the struggle will take over.

Evolutionary Origin of Belief

Having ascertained the place of belief in the world and its role as the operative and creative principle in human striving and drive toward the future, we shall next consider its evolutionary stages and origin in order that we may realize its cosmic dimension.

Belief is not something that came out of the blue at a certain moment in history but must have evolved. For if belief is found as an inherent structure of man, then, like man, it must have come through evolution.7 Belief must somehow be found already at the infrahuman levels. But we must know how to look back into the past in order to find belief. The principle that enables us to do so is not that of identity but of paradox. For example, if we want to look for the traces of man before he emerged, then we must not look for a miniature man (hence, not an identical form) any more than to look for the mature and full grown oak at its beginnings, we look for a miniature oak. Rather, we change perspective by denying the present form of the oak, that is, we must look for a non-oak form, hence, the acorn. Again, if one wants to look for consciousness in the past, then, precisely, we must deny consciousness as such and look for non-consciousness, since to look for consciousness in the form of thought at the stage of matter is to deny the very presupposition we are operating with, namely, that consciousness evolved. If consciousness were already in its present form of thought in the beginning, then there would be no need for its evolution. Hence, to look for consciousness in the beginning, one must not look for it in the form of thought, but in its non-thought form, i.e., unconscious.

Now, then, let us try to look for belief at the various levels of the evolutionary process: the rational, the irrational (animal), the vegetative, and the material. In line with the premise of continuity, if belief as an operative principle for the achievement of the future appeared in man as a "rational" or human act, it must somehow be already in the past, but in an irrational form. The irrational form of belief is found in animals as instinct. Instinct corresponds to belief and hope in us because it operates as a built-in device for the achievement of the animal’s goals and ends. Without it, there would be no drive for the preservation of the species or of the individual. Instinct has been traditionally seen as the counterpart of conceptual reason. But this is not strictly true. For instinct does not so much look to things that are but to what will be. For attaining the present, the animal is fitted with sense organs. Sense organs are the counterpart of conceptual reason. Instinct, then, is the inchoate and rudimentary form of belief at the level of sense life. Instinct, in its turn, has its counterpart in a still more rudimentary form in vegetative life as tropism. Tropism is the almost mechanical drive in plants toward the sun (heliotropism), the earth (geotropism), water (hydrotropism), etc. Without these tropisms, vegetative life would not preserve and continue itself. And finally, if we go back all the way to matter, we find the affinity of one atom to unite with another to form molecules as the most rudimentary form of belief and hope. We might say that belief and hope are aspects of what Teilhard calls radial energy.

Let us reverse the process we took above and move up from matter to man in order to see the effect of belief as a principle of creative and radical transformation. Thus, the effect of the drive of matter forward is the qualitative transformation of the atom into the molecule and the molecule into the cell. The belief and hope of matter resulted in its radical transformation into a new and higher dimension -- living matter -- in which it is assured a measure of survival from the physical entropy that threatens its level of existence. Vegetative life in its turn believes and hopes in the higher level of evolution, sense life or instinct, in order that it may transcend its precarious existence in which it can neither see nor hear nor feel nor taste nor move around to flee from enemies or to seek a better environment. By believing in sense life, vegetative life was able to tend toward it and in the process was radically transformed by the attainment of a new dimension. But sense life in its turn, through instinct as its form of belief and hope, tended in its own way to become intellectual or rational belief, for instinct is unable to improve on nature. Instead of reworking and reshaping nature through the use of tools, it reshapes itself through the evolution of organs, but once these organs become specialized and fixed, adaptability to changed conditions becomes difficult and extinction of the species could result. Instinct, furthermore, is unable to direct itself consciously toward the future by foreseeing eventualities and prescribing goals. In order to survive, instinct had to believe in man. Surveying the evolution of belief, we can say that man is the fruit of the belief and hope of the infrahuman levels. In man, the infrahuman levels believe and hope that they can survive.

Religious Belief: A Dimension of Evolution

So far, we have been talking about belief and hope in a very general sense, and perhaps very few would quarrel with the evolutionary view here presented of the presence of belief and hope at the infrahuman levels. But now what about religious belief? Is it intrinsic to the world or is it something superadded to it? It would seem that there is no intrinsic foundation for religious belief in the world, for does it not speak of deities, of spirits, of a beyond, of an other-worldly realm?

In order to understand the nature of religious belief, we have to change perspective. Our hellenic tradition has made us look too long at religion from the side that looks toward the other-worldly, ignoring the other side -- the immanent side. It is from the immanent side that we must now try to understand religious belief. Just as once we used to look at man statically, that is, without antecedents, without evolutionary origins but instead as coming directly from above, so we still look on religion and faith. Even when historians of religion treat religion historically, they do not go far enough into the past. They still look at religion against a background of deities, demons, magic and miracles, myths and rituals, thus blinding their vision. What we should do is to shut our eyes to all these superficial aspects of religion in order to get at its evolutionary roots and origins. When we began to look at man and to study him in terms of his evolutionary past, we not only opened up a new dimension of man, but the approach revolutionized anthropology. Therefore, let us see what happens if we regard religion as the outcome of a long preparation, as a new dimension of the evolutionary process, and not as heaven-sent or as a mere projection of the human mind. We must see it as a reality that is born.

The new hypothesis we would like to present may be better understood if we situated religion within the evolutionary context thus:



biogenesis /

Cosmogenesis /

prehistory cultural salvation

history history

In the diagram above, we have added as the next higher dimension to noogenesis (the evolution of reason or mind) that of the evolution of faith or belief (religious). We took the liberty to use a neologism here, calling the new dimension pistogenesis (pistis, a Greek word meaning faith or belief). The dimension of pistogenesis, in our contention, is postulated by reason in process as its new dimension. Reason, we claim, evolves toward religious belief. For if, along with Teilhard, we see evolution as "primarily psychical transformation" (that is, evolution as the rise of consciousness), then, at least, it should not be too hard to suppose that religious belief could be part of the psychical process, as the next dimension of the evolution of rational consciousness.

In trying to show that religious belief is part of the process, we will follow Teilhard’s procedure of seeing similarities between the evolution of thought and the evolution of the lower levels. But to preclude the imposition of a priori evolutionary categories on the nature of religious belief, let us accept the definition of religion as given by the historians and sociologists of religion. The definition will then be related to the evolutionary process to see if there is any possibility of a fit.

Joachim Wach, a sociologist of religion, has suggested four characteristics of religious experience and belief: (1) Religion "is a response to what is experienced as ultimate reality; that is, in religious experiences we reach not to any single or finite phenomenon, material or otherwise, but to what we realize as under-girding and conditioning all that constitutes our world of experience." (2) Religious experience is "a total response of the total being to what is apprehended as ultimate reality. That is, we are involved not exclusively with our mind, our affections or our will, but as integral persons." (3) Religious experience "is the most intense experience of which man is capable. That is not to say that all expression of religious experience testifies to this intensity but that, potentially, genuine religious experience is of this nature, as is instanced in conflicts between basic drives and motivations. Religious loyalty, if it is religious loyalty, wins over all other loyalties." (4) Religious experience "involves an imperative, a commitment which impels man to act."

Frederic Ferré’s definition of religion contains the four points mentioned by Wach. Thus, Ferré defines religion as "the conscious desiring of whatever (if anything) is considered to be both inclusive in its bearing on one’s life and primary in its importance. Or, to express the same thought (in another way): Religion is one’s way of valuing most comprehensively and intensively." 10 By valuing comprehensively is meant that religious valuation is boundary-spanning; it has a domain of relevance that includes no less than the entire life of the one who holds it.11 By intensive valuation is meant that religious valuation "must rank among the last that the valuer would be disposed to sacrifice. But even more should be added. Ideally -- and definitions deal in ideals -- every other valuation, including the sum of all other valuations, will, under appropriate circumstances, be sacrificed to this one. The object of religious valuing, in other words, is ‘sacred.’" 12

Following from the foregoing definition of religion are the sociological functions described by Thomas F. O’Dea: 13 (I) "It provides the emotional ground for a new security and firmer identity amid the uncertainties and impossibilities of the human condition and the flux and change of history. Through its authoritative teaching of beliefs and values, it also provides established points of reference amid the conflicts and ambiguities of human opinions and points of view." (2) "Religion sacralizes the norms and values of established society, maintaining the dominance of group goals over individual wishes, and of group disciplines over individual impulses." (3) As with the first function above, religion "affects individuals’ understanding of who they are and what they are." O’Dea adds here the view of Kingsley that "religion gives the individual a sense of identity with the distant past and the limitless future. It expands his ego by making his spirit significant for the universe and the universe significant for him." 14 (4) Religion is related to the growth and maturation of the individual.

And finally, an important observation is furnished by Bronislaw Malinowski, who describes the transition from ordinary human experience to religious experience and belief as a "breaking point" to which the human organism reacts in spontaneous outbursts, and in which rudimentary modes of behavior and rudimentary beliefs are engendered.15

Having given the characteristics of religious experience and belief, our next step is to determine whether these characteristics conform and are analogous to the characteristics of new dimensions and transitions from one evolutionary stage to another. In general, we can summarize the characteristics of a new evolutionary dimension as follows:

1. Ultimate center of convergence. For example, the molecule is the point of convergence of myriad atoms; the cell, the convergent point of the molecule; consciousness, of life; and reason, of instinct.

2. It follows from the first point that the new dimension serves as a principle of new and higher organization. Thus, reason represents a higher form of organization for instinct; consciousness, a higher form of organization of unconscious (vegetative) life; the cell, a higher form of organization for the molecule, and so on.

3. It follows from the second point that the new dimension’s new organization results in a superior law imposed on the elements or members. Thus, rational law is superior to instinct and is imposed upon the many instinctive urges in the organism as a controlling and regulative force; in the cell composed of molecules, biological law is higher than the purely physical law that governs molecules and atoms, and this biological law controls and supersedes the purely physical, in the interest of biological activities like nutrition, growth, and reproduction. These purely biological activities in their turn are in the animal governed by a higher law, that of consciousness.

4. The new dimension is the stage of maturation, integration, identity and the place of survival from the entropy found at the lower level. For example, the atom maintains itself against atomization (that is disintegration -- its form of entropy) by tending toward the higher dimension in the molecule; the molecule is able to maintain itself against its own form of disintegration in the cell through nutrition, growth and reproduction; unicellular organisms find greater hope of survival in more complex organisms endowed with sensation and instinct; and finally, the new stage of reason represents a superior form of survival, identity and integration than the lower level of instinct.

5. Lastly, the new dimension is attained by a radical transformation of those elements that evolve into it. Thus, the transition from instinct to reason results in the radical transformation of the animal into man; matter as it evolves toward the cell becomes radically transformed into living matter; and vegetative life becomes qualitatively changed into conscious life.

We can now ask: Are the characteristics of religious belief as described above in conformity with and are they analogous to the characteristics of a new evolutionary dimension? We can determine this more precisely if we relate religious belief directly to the dimension of reason. Thus, does religious belief perform for reason the functions of a new dimension? In other words, is religious belief the ultimate center of convergence and organization for reason: its stage of maturation, source of identity, place of survival? Does it radically transform reason, impose laws upon it?

To answer the foregoing questions, let us first be clear as to what we mean here by reason. Reason in the context of evolution is much more than a faculty. Reason is the term applied to that level of the evolutionary process that distinguishes it precisely from thc other levels. In other words, rationality is what characterizes historical man as willing, thinking, imagining, remembering, predicting, and so forth. Reason is therefore co-extensive with man as a personal center of consciousness. Reason and person are synonymous. But it must be pointed out that the human person is not already rational, that is, human. Man must humanize himself. Hence, reason as synonymous with man and as pointing to the new dimension attained in the evolution from animal to man, namely, the noosphere, must likewise evolve. The first men, being very close to their animal origins, were quite irrational, inhuman, savage. Man has to evolve from irrationality to rationality.

Reason like all evolutionary processes evolves toward maturation, drives toward a critical threshold where it is qualitatively transformed, for all growing realities maintain themselves only by becoming other than themselves. In order to attain qualitative transformation, reason must ramify, quantify, multiply, just as a seed in the ground must grow and swell to its full size before it becomes "transformed" into a seedling, or water increased to boiling point before it vaporizes.

To help us see better how and in what direction reason evolves, let us do a comparative study of the evolution of the lower level, that of instinct. Before instinct was qualitatively transformed into self-consciousness or reason, it had to multiply itself quantitatively. The quantitative multiplication is specific and individual. Thus, instinct multiplies itself into species -- into the instinct of a squirrel which is not that of a cat nor that of an elephant.16 Each specific instinct is multiplied individually by the multiplication of individuals of the given animal species. And in each individual, instinct is further quantified by its repeated exercise. Through these various processes of multiplication instinct hopes to become intelligence.17 To assure this drive, the various kinds of instincts "form as a whole a kind of fan-like structure in which the higher terms on each nervure are recognized each time by a greater range of choice and depending on a better defined center of coordination and consciousness." 18 The result of this quantification which has been going on for more than 500 million years is a rise in psychical temperature which has grown pari passu with the increased complication and concentration of the nervous system.19 Teilhard illustrates the evolution of instinct toward intelligence as a growing cone where each section decreases in area constantly as it drives toward the summit until suddenly, "with another infinitesimal displacement, the surface vanishes leaving us with a point." 20 Thus, concretely, "when the anthropoid had almost reached the summit of the cone, a final effort took place along the axis. What was previously only a centered surface became a center. By a tiny ‘tangential’ increase, the ‘radial’ was turned back on itself and so to speak took an infinite leap forward." 21

Teilhard in the preceding paragraph describes the evolution of instinct to the new dimension of reason as a convergence of a cone into a point, or again as a doubling up of instinct, a turning back upon itself.22 The result is the self-possession of instinct, because by doubling up it is able to possess the whole of itself. It can now look upon itself as in a mirror. There emerges reflection or self-consciousness.23 Reflection is "the power acquired by consciousness to turn in upon itself, to take possession of itself as of an object endowed with its own particular consistence and value: no longer merely to know, but to know oneself; no longer merely to know, but to know that one knows." 24 The consequence of the radical transformation of instinct into reflection is the birth of a new dimension. As Teilhard observes, "the consequences of such a transformation are immense, visible as clearly in nature as any of the facts recorded by physics or astronomy. The being who is the object of his own reflection, in consequence of that very doubling back upon himself, becomes in a flash able to raise himself into a new sphere. In reality, another world is born." 25 The new sphere or dimension represents a new level of organization, for instinct "which heretofore had been spread out and divided over a diffuse circle of perceptions and activities, was constituted for the first time as a center in the form of a point at which all the impressions and experiences knit themselves together and fuse into a unity that is conscious of its own organization." 26 New laws and new activities result: "Abstraction, logic, reasoned choice and inventions, mathematics, art, calculation of space and time, anxieties and dreams of love -- all these activities of inner life are nothing else than the effervescence of the newly-formed center as it explodes onto itself." 27

The study just made of the mechanics of the evolution of instinct gives us the insight necessary into predicting that religious belief is the new dimension of reason. Reason like instinct follows basically the same pattern. First, it evolves tangentially, that is, quantitatively or horizontally, until a psychic temperature is reached, at which point there is a qualitative change, a radial evolution. Let us follow the quantitative evolution of reason. Reason multiplies itself by the multiplication of personal centers of consciousness and by the development and transmission of cultures. In the individual, reason evolves by expressing itself in many forms: perceiving, remembering, imagining, judging, reasoning, theorizing, predicting, willing, feeling, etc. Reason consolidates itself in terms of techniques, e.g., hunting, fishing, farming, handed down by the tribe to the next generation, evolving still more in terms of greater and more refined techniques and in terms of greater area of human activity; it unifies itself through the compilation of human experience not only in technique and art but in organized bodies of knowledge, the sciences, and all these achievements of reason resulting in a culture which in turn unify groups of people into cultural groups, civilizations, etc. Thus, reason tries to conquer the sphere or dimension it is in, the noosphere, just as instinct did in its own dimension. But the realm of reason opened to it includes not only the past and the present but the future. Where the world of instinct was mainly spatial, and, to a degree, temporal (it attains the past by sense memory), the world of reason is historical, which means that reason is able to perceive duration, able to foresee the future, guide activity freely and purposively, think for the first time of destiny, and fear death.

The world of reason is not only historical; it is something much wider: it is coextensive with evolution. Reason is evolution conscious of itself, as Teilhard expressed it very well.28 Since the realm of reason is not only historical but evolutionary, the innate drive of reason is to grasp all of the historical, all of evolution, from the absolute past to the absolute future. Just as for instinct to grasp itself fully, it had to double up or be reflective, so reason if it is to grasp itself fully must double up. Reflection must be intensified, must double up, so as not only to attain self-consciousness of the present but of the whole of duration. What is this unique act of reason that corresponds to reflection in the case of instinct? Preliminarily, we can say that the act of doubling of reason must be on the level proportionate to reason, hence, on the psychical. However, it must be superior to the ordinary acts of reason like perceiving, judging, reasoning, etc. It must be as different as reflection is different from sensation and the various activities at the level of instinct. It must be an activity that can attain the whole of duration. Ordinary activities of reason, however, can attain only the present, that is, the historical future. In terms of the historical future, reason makes acts of belief: predictions about the weather, about the state of business next year, about the chances of achieving an academic degree, etc. But through these acts, reason is not able to grasp itself totally and fully, because the ultimate or eschatological future is not attained. To attain this future, reason must be reborn much as the seed is reborn. Just as the seed cannot grasp the new dimension of the seedling as is, but must give itself totally to the ground and in the process is radically transformed, so reason must give of itself totally, surrendering its very capacity for conceptualization in order that it may attain the new dimension which is unconceptualizable. The unique act that attains the new dimension and in which reason dies to itself, as it were, is religious belief. Scientific or conceptual reason is reborn to the new dimension of religion.29

Religious belief functions for reason as a new dimension because, being a "total response of the total being," the whole of reason is given in the act just as a seed is totally given to the ground. The result is a rebirth to a new dimension. The act of religious belief is to reason what the act of reflection is to instinct. Just as reflection is the doubling up and maturation of instinct and is the attainment of its identity and security through conscious self-direction, so the religious act is the doubling up and maturation of reason resulting in the full possession of itself. And just as reflection opens up for instinct a new and vaster dimension, a new world with its own logic, its own objects, so the act of religious belief opens up for reason a new world with its own logic and laws. Where rational reflection and laws order the multiplicity of instincts into a unity, so religious belief issues its imperative and laws to each person and to the collective entity. The religious act of belief offers a total structure of meaning; it is holistic, for within it everything occupies its proper place and is duly accounted for; it is the horizon of meaning within which rational or reflective thought operates; it provides us a reason to live and a reason to die; hence, the religious belief is a revealing structure.30 Or again, as Joachim Wach noted, religious belief serves as undergirding for the rational world of experience, conditioning it, endowing it with consistency. Religious belief thus acts as a new principle of organization for the rational world of experience. In another and still deeper sense, religious belief is a higher principle of organization than the rational premises of reason that form organizations, because the religious premise or belief binds the whole of life and sacrifices all other values if need be for its preservation; furthermore, the religious organization transcends race, color, and other natural bases for unity.

Just as the emergence of reflection was a crucial moment, a breaking point in the world of instinct, so religious belief is a unique event of ultimate import, a breaking point and crisis in human rational experience and history, both individually and collectively. In various religions this unique event is ritualized, explained in terms of myth or intellectualized in a rational theology, but in both cases the crisis point is seen as a new birth, a new creation, a new life or existence. Or again, it is seen as a going back to the womb to be reborn, or the dying of the seed in order to attain new life, the death of the old Adam or old man and the birth of the new. In primitive cultures, the breaking point is explained as coming from without, from above -- from heaven or from another world.

Finally, the religious act of belief offers identity, security and freedom to reason. Analogous to the freedom from mechanism and determinism of instinct reborn to reflection is the freedom of reason reborn to belief. It attains certainty; it is freed from doubt. This freedom is portrayed in the Christian religion as the possession of a new light -- that of faith -- that shows the true way to the Land, or as the freedom of the sons of God from slavery and the possession of peace. In the rite of baptism, a new identity is attained; one is given a new name.

From our analysis then of reason as process (noogenesis), we conclude that its drive is toward religious belief as a new dimension and stage in its maturation and search for fulfillment and identity. Our analysis is confirmed by Teilhard when he says: 31

When, in the universe in movement to which we have just awakened, we look at the temporal and spatial series diverging and amplifying themselves around and behind us like the laminae of a cone, we are perhaps engaging in pure science. But when we turn towards the summit, towards the totality and the future, we cannot help engaging in religion.

Religion and science are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same act of complete knowledge -- the only one which can embrace the past and future of evolution so as to contemplate, measure and fulfill them.

In the mutual reinforcement of these two still opposed powers, in the conjunction of reason and mysticism, the human spirit is destined, by the very nature of its development, to find the uttermost degree of its penetration with the maximum of its vital force.

Contrary to the opinion of many, evolution did not tend toward reason primarily but toward religious belief, for only through belief can the final term of evolution be recognized. The operative principle of evolution is credo et spero ut intelligam. Contemplation or vision comes at the end of the evolutionary process when being is finally revealed. In the interim, we believe and hope; ours is the region of night and day.

The conclusion that religious belief perfects reason is hard to accept if judged in the light of primitive religions with their magic, sexual rites and human sacrifices. But one has to look at religion itself as something newly born if set in the context of the billions of years of evolution. Religion as a new dimension of the evolutionary process does not emerge an adult. In order to develop it has to ramify, multiply. In order to judge religion, we must look at its more developed forms, not at its imperfect and early stages.32

Marxist Humanism: A Belief

Having considered the possibility of religious belief as a new dimension of evolution, it remains now to describe the types of belief that can be found in this new sphere. If religious belief is attained when reason makes a "total response of the total being to what is apprehended as the ultimate reality," such that in this act reason is reborn, then it follows that those who totally accept a given world-view as ultimate, whether it be theistic or non-theistic, naturalistic or supernaturalistic, immanentist or transcendentalist, as normative for their entire lives and as the supreme value in their hierarchy of values, and hence not taken as a means but as an end, belong to the religious dimension. In terms of this criterion, Marxist humanism is a belief. It may seem odd to classify Marxism as a religious belief, but only because we have traditionally identified religion with the theistic. But this classification is too narrow, for we would have to exclude Buddhism and Jainism too which obviously are religions. With the definition of religion given, Marxism would have to be considered a religion, at least for those who do not use it as a means to some political or economic end, but who find "in the conception of the ‘dialectic of history’ with its inevitability, its total relevance, its impersonal justice-making power, the object of supreme valuation and complete relevance to life. . . . For such Communists, who have sometimes proved willing to sacrifice all to this most intensive and comprehensive valuation, Communism does function religiously and is therefore for them a living religion.33 Ignace Lepp, a Catholic convert from Communism, corroborates Ferré’ s view when he writes that Marxist humanists "are convinced that they possess absolute truth, and the best of them are ready to give their life for the defense and triumph of this truth. That not everyone recognizes this absolute for what it is changes nothing; psychologically speaking, a ‘subjective absolute’ fulfills exactly the same function as absolute truth does for those who believe in a revealed religion." 34

But perhaps Marxists themselves might take offense and object to the classification of Marxism as a religion, especially since Marx considered religion an "opium of the people." What Marx was objecting to, however, was not religion as such, but an other-worldly formulation of religion which withdrew people from their task of social transformation.35

Our definition of religion and religious belief departs from the traditional one in which Marxism, naturalism, scientism and positivism are classified as ideologies, not as religion, the implication being that they are formulated and attained by pure reason alone. Yet, from the point of view of reason as a process, we discovered that so-called ideologies are not attained by pure reason alone, but primarily by an act of belief.

The advantage of our definition and classification of religion and religious beliefs is that we see atheism in a new light. It is not irreligious; in fact, it is a form of religiosity. And this fact causes us to think twice before we proclaim that the world is religionless, faithless. Perhaps dialogue between Marxists and Christians can be given a more solid justification if Marxism were seen as part of the religious dimension.

I should not be understood here as saying that all religions are the same. Since I accept the evolutionary view of religion, namely, that religion itself evolves, ramifies, differentiates itself, then there are various forms of religion that vary according to the degree that the very meaning of religion is developed in them and according to the degree that reason is reborn to the new dimension.


Let us end our reflections on the possibility of belief with the following observations. To bring back a sense of belief to the modern world, there is need of a reformulation and broadening of our theological understanding of belief based on an evolutionary view of reality. We should assert that belief is synonymous to evolution itself. Evolution is the evolution of belief. The first basis for this statement is that if religious belief evolved, then it must have been present in the lower stages in rudimentary form. As Henri de Lubac, citing Teilhard, says: "Every belief is born of a preceding belief." 36 The second basis for the cosmic dimension of belief is the nature of the universe itself as unfinished. The third basis is biblical, namely, Paul’s statement that even material creation groans and travails until now to be redeemed (Rom. 8:19-22). If material creation is also to be redeemed, and redemption requires belief as a condition, then the infrahuman levels also must have some degree of belief proportionate to their level, that is, a belief that is inarticulate and implicit. In the static pattern of thought in which a concept cannot evolve, it is only metaphorically or poetically that the infrahuman levels can be said to believe. But Paul was not being poetic when he said that the infrahuman levels groan and travail until now to be redeemed, and we can add too that they pray, hope and believe. Belief evolves.

Of course, the belief of the infrahuman levels alone would be insufficient and inadequate to obtain their redemption-hence the drive toward human reason so that through it the act of belief of the lower levels can be articulated, and through man’s act of belief they can participate in the fullness of redemption. If this is true, then when we make an act of religious belief, it is not we alone who make it but the whole infrahuman level with us. In that act, the infrahuman level of evolution dies with man and rises with man. The climax of belief according to the Pauline and Teilhardian view would be the act of belief of Christ as the high point of the whole evolutionary process. In that act, the whole universe dies with Christ and rises with him.

Contrary to the secularizers, faith is not banished from the world; it is reborn. Belief is natural, not supernatural.

A Note on Freud’s Notion of Religion

Freud’s notion of religion, which presents religion as a way of attaining the archaic memory of the race, seems to contradict our presentation of religion here, following Teilhard, as eschatological in orientation. The death instinct or Nirvana principle according to Freud brings us to the "blissful isolation of intrauterine existence," an existence which seems to be the "prototype of the state of peace and freedom from tension, to which, in accordance with the Nirvana principle, or death instinct, it seems to be the aim of the organism to return." Thus, religion seems to be a backward rather than a forward movement.

It would seem that the Scriptures verify the Freudian psychoanalytic view of religion when they symbolize religion as the "descent" of Jonah into the belly of the whale, or as the seed that must go back to the ground, or as man who must go back to the womb -- examples used by no other than Christ himself. Furthermore, Christian religious practice follows the scriptural view by reliving past events of the Old Testament and commemorating the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary in the Mass.

A little reflection, however, will show that the going back to the belly of the whale or to the ground or to the womb is really a forward movement. A little reflection, I say, at least for one to whom the processive way of thinking is second nature. But for one possessed of a static outlook, it becomes a contradiction to say that an archaic movement is really a forward or eschatological one. But if one looks at religion as a process of growth, then the going back of the seed to the ground, which symbolizes the death instinct and the desire for quiescence, is not so much a going back to the arche but a going forward. If one stops short of the process and looks only to the movement toward the ground or to the womb as the final and absolute resting place, then, indeed, religion is a going back to the arche. But the dying of the seed is really a rebirth or resurrection, and the going back to the womb is really a being reborn. In fact, the Scriptures explicitly mention that the seed must die in order that it be reborn and bear much fruit, that man must go back to the womb and be reborn again. Paul applies these metaphors to the Christian religion as a dying in order to rise up with Christ (I Cor. 15:37). And even the example of Jonah in the belly of the whale speaks of the ultimate emergence of Jonah from the depths. Clearly, the germination of the seedling is a forward movement; so is birth from the womb.

Again, the Christian religious practice of going back to the Old Testament to relive the archaic events Yahweh performed on his people, a practice which was commanded by both Yahweh and Christ, is really a call for the people of God to move forward and continue the march toward the Promised Land. For the manna of the Exodus which symbolizes the eucharist (which must be celebrated repeatedly) is food for the journey. We must see religion in the context of the people of God as on an exodus in order that we can perceive the eschatological or future orientation of cult and religion.

Religion is a process of successive rebirths, and hence a forward movement. To attain rebirth, we must give the whole of ourselves as individuals and as a people to "death" so to speak, for only by the complete dying of the seed is it reborn. Accordingly, we must go back to the past to collect the whole of ourselves, for we are our history, in order that we can give the whole of ourselves in "sacrifice" and thus be reborn. This is the meaning and message of the Passover, and participation in it has the sacramental efficacy of producing rebirth; this is also the meaning of the commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, for by participating in the death of Christ who sums up all of the past, we also participate in his resurrection, which attains the eschatological future.

Thus the Nirvana principle of going down to the depths is just half the story about the meaning of religion. We do not deny that this aspect of religion could be empirically verified by psychoanalysis. But there is also in the depths of the unconscious the drive toward rebirth -- a more powerful drive, incidentally.38



1 Walter Arnold, "Is There an Ethics of Belief?" Cross Currents, 17 (1967), p. 333.

2 The Phenomenon of Man, p. 30.

3 See A Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), pp. 38-39. See also The Quest for Certainty and The Influence of Darwin in Philosophy.

4 Eugene Fontinell, "Religious Truth in a Relational and Processive World," Cross Currents, 17 (1967), p. 300.

5 Loc. cit.

6 Jürgen Moltmann, op cit., p. 20.

7 We are applying the law of continuity here, according to which "nothing could ever burst forth as final across the different thresholds successively traversed by evolution (however critical they be) which has not already existed in an obscure and primordial way" (The Phenomenon of Man, p.71).

8 The Phenomenon of Man, p. 167.

9 See his book, Types of Religious Experience, Christian and Non-Christian (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1951), pp. 32-33.

10 See his book, Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), p. 69.

11 Ibid., p. 65.

12 Ibid., p. 66.

13 See his book, The Sociology of Religion (New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1966), pp. 14-16.

14 See David Kingsley, Human Society (New York: Macmillan Co., 1948), pp. 531-33.

15 See Magic, Science and Religion (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1954), p. 90.

16 The Phenomenon of Man, p.167.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., p. 169.

20 Ibid., p. 168.

21 Ibid., p.169.

22 Ibid., pp. 165, 171.

23 Ibid., p.165.

24 Loc. cit.

25 Loc. cit.

26 Loc. cit.

27 Loc. cit.

28 Ibid., pp. 220-225.

29 Ibid., pp. 283-84.

30 Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality (New York: Harper, l963),p. 11

31 The Phenomenon of Man, p. 284-85.

32 We will leave to historians of religion the mapping out of the evolutionary development of religion: the first stages, the various branches the religious phylum took to evolve, the false steps, the dead ends and extinct forms, the viable branches, the leading shoot.

33 F. Ferré, op. cit., p. 81.

34 See his book, The Faith of Men (Macmillan, 1967), p. 48.

35 See Roger Garaudy, From Anathema to Dialogue (Herder & Herder, 1966).Burns & Oates, l965),p. 173.

36 See his book, The Faith of Teilhard de Chardin, trans. René Hague (London: Burns & Oates, 1965), p. 173.

37 See his book, The Ego and the Id, trans. Joan Riviere (W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1961).

38 C. G. Jung has found from his lifelong work with peoples of both sexes and of different religions and cultures that at the level of what he calls the collective unconscious are invariable archetypal symbols: the feminine symbol and the child symbol. These symbols, he explains, signify the deep desire of the soul to give birth to something new, which is a process of liberation and individuation. Cf. his Psychology of Religion (Yale, 1938), pp. 1-77; cf. also Ira Progoff, Jung’s Psychology and Social Meaning (New York: Julian Press, 1953), pp. 90-93, 194-97, 208-213.