Chapter 18: The Heart of the Problem

The Future of Mankind
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Chapter 18: The Heart of the Problem

Some say, ‘Let us wait patiently until the Christ returns.’ Others say, ‘Let us rather finish building the Earth.’ Still others think, ‘To speed the Parousia, let us complete the making of Man on Earth.’


Among the most disquieting aspects of the modern world is its general and growing state of dissatisfaction in religious matters. Except in a humanitarian form, which we shall discuss later, there is no present sign anywhere of Faith that is expanding: there are only, here and there, creeds that at the best are holding their own, where they are not positively retrogressing. This is not because the world is growing colder: never has it generated more psychic warmth! Nor is it because Christianity has lost anything of its power to attract: on the contrary, everything I am about to say goes to prove its extraordinary power of adaptability and mastery. But the fact remains that for some obscure reason something has gone wrong between Man and God as in these days He is represented to Man. Man would seem to have no clear picture of the God he longs to worship. Hence (despite certain positive indications of re-birth which are, however, still largely obscured) the impression one gains from everything taking place around us is of an irresistible growth of atheism -- or more exactly, amounting and irresistible de-Christianization.

For the use of those better placed than I, whose direct or indirect task it is to lead the Church, I wish to show candidly where, in my view, the root of the trouble lies, and how, by means of a simple readjustment at this particular, clearly localized point, we may hope to procure a rapid and complete rebound in the religious and Christian evolution of Mankind.

I say ‘candidly’. It would be presumptuous on my part to deliver a lecture, and criticism would be out of place. What I have to offer is simply the testimony of my own life, a testimony which I have the less right to suppress since I am one of the few beings who can offer it. For more than fifty years it has been my lot (and my good fortune) to live in close and intimate professional contact, in Europe, Asia and America, with what was and still is most humanly valuable, significant and influential -- ‘seminal’ one might say -- among the people of many countries. It is natural that, by reason of the exceptional contacts which have enabled me, a Jesuit (reared, that is to say, in the bosom of the Church) to penetrate and move freely in active spheres of thought and free research, I should have been very forcibly struck by things scarcely apparent to those who have lived only in one or other of the two opposed worlds, so that I feel compelled to cry them aloud.

It is this cry, and this alone, which I wish to make heard here -- the cry of one who thinks he sees.

1. A Major Event in Human Consciousness: the Emergence of the ‘Ultra-Human’

Any effort to understand what is now taking place in the human conscience must of necessity proceed from the fundamental change of view which since the sixteenth century has been steadily exploding and rendering fluid what had seemed to be the ultimate stability -- our concept of the world itself. To our clearer vision the universe is no longer a State but a Process. The cosmos has become a Cosmogenesis. And it may be said without exaggeration that, directly or indirectly, all the intellectual crises through which civilization has passed in the last four centuries arise out of the successive stages whereby a static Weltanschauung has been and is being transformed, in our minds and hearts, into a Weltanschauung of movement.

In the early stage, that of Galileo, it may have seemed that the stars alone were affected. But the Darwinian stage showed that the cosmic process extends from sidereal space to life on earth; with the result that, in the present phase, Man finds himself overtaken and borne on the whirlwind which his own science has discovered and, as it were, unloosed. From the time of the Renaissance, in other words, the cosmos has looked increasingly like a cosmogenesis; and now we find that Man in his turn is identified with an anthropogenesis. This is a major event which must lead, as we shall see, to the profound modification of the whole structure not only of our Thought but of our Beliefs.

Many biologists, and not the least eminent among them (all being convinced that Man, like everything else, emerged by evolutionary means, i.e. was born in Nature) undoubtedly still believe that the human species, having attained the level of Homo sapiens, has reached an upper organic limit beyond which it cannot develop, so that anthropogenesis is only of retrospective interest. But I am convinced that, in opposition to this wholly illogical and arbitrary idea of arrested hominization, a new concept is arising, out of the growing accumulation of analogies and facts, which must eventually replace it. This is that, under the combined influence of two irresistible forces of planetary dimensions (the geographical curve of the Earth, by which we are physically compressed, and the psychic curve of Thought, which draws us closer together), the power of reflection of the human mass, which means its degree of humanization, far from having come to a stop, is entering a critical period of intensification and renewed growth.

What we see taking place in the world today is not merely the multiplication of men but the continued shaping of Man. Man, that is to say, is not yet zoologically mature. Psychologically he has not spoken his last word. In one form or another something ultra-human is being born which, through the direct or indirect effect of socialization, cannot fail to make its appearance in the near future: a future that is not simply the unfolding of Time, but which is being constructed in advance of us . . . Here is a vision which Man, we may be sure, having first glimpsed it in our day, will never lose sight of.

This being postulated, do those in high places realize the revolutionary power of so novel a concept (it would be better to use the word ‘doctrine’) in its effect on religious Faith? For the spiritually minded, whether in the East or the West, one point has hitherto not been in doubt: that Man could only attain to a fuller life by rising ‘vertically’ above the material zones of the world. Now we see the possibility of an entirely different line of progress. The Higher Life, the Union, the long dreamed-of consummation that has hitherto been sought Above, in the direction of some kind of transcendency: should we not rather look for it Ahead, in the prolongation of the inherent forces of evolution?

Above or ahead -- or both? . . .

This is the question that must be forced upon every human conscience by our increasing awareness of the tide of anthropogenesis on which we are borne. It is, I am convinced, the vital question, and the fact that we have thus far left it unconfronted is the root cause of all our religious troubles; whereas an answer to it, which is perfectly possible, would mark a decisive advance on the part of Mankind towards God. That is the heart of the problem.

2. At the Source of the Modern Religious Crisis: a Conflict of Faith between Upward and Forward

Arising out of what I have said, the diagram at the end of this chapter represents the state of tension which has come to exist more or less consciously in every human heart as a result of the seeming conflict between the modern forward impulse (OX), induced in us all by the newly-born force of trans-hominization, and the traditional upward impulse of religious worship (OY). To render the problem more concrete it is stated in its most final and recognizable terms, the co-ordinate OY simply representing the Christian impulse and OX the Communist or Marxist impulse(An unfavorable simplification where OX is concerned, inasmuch as Marxism and Communism (the latter a thoroughly bad, ill-chosen word, it may be said in passing) are clearly no more than an embryonic form, even a caricature, of a neo-humanism that is still scarcely born.) as these are commonly manifest in the present-day world. The question is, how does the situation look, here and now, as between these opposed forces?

We are bound to answer that it looks like one of conflict that may even be irreconcilable. The line OY, faith in God, soars upward, indifferent to any thought of an ultra-evolution of the human species, while the line OX, faith in the World, formally denies (at least in words) the existence of any transcendent God. Could there be a greater gulf, or one more impossible to bridge?

Such is the appearance: but let me say quickly that it cannot be true, not finally true, unless we accept the absurd position that the human soul is so badly devised that it contradicts within itself its own profoundest aspirations. Let us look more closely at ox and oi and see how these two vectors or currents appear and are at present behaving in their opposed state. Is it not apparent that both suffer from it acutely, and therefore that there must be some way of overcoming their mutual isolation?

Where ox is concerned the social experiment now in progress abundantly demonstrates how impossible it is for a purely immanent current of hominization to live wholly, in a closed circuit, upon itself. With no outlet ahead offering a way of escape from total death, no supreme center of personalization to radiate love among the human cells, it is a frozen world that in the end must disintegrate entirely in a Universe without heart or ultimate purpose. However powerful its impetus in the early stages of the course of biological evolution into which it has thrust itself, the Marxist anthropogenesis, because it rules out the existence of an irreversible Center at its consummation, can neither justify nor sustain its momentum to the end.

Worldly faith, in short, is not enough in itself to move the earth forward: but can we be sure that the Christian faith in its ancient interpretation is still sufficient of itself to carry the world upward?

By definition and principle it is the specific function of the Church to Christianize all that is human in Man. But what is likely to happen (indeed, is happening already) if at the very moment when an added component begins to arise in the anima naturaliter christiana, and one so compelling as the awareness of a terrestrial ‘ultra-humanity’, ecclesiastical authority ignores, disdains and even condemns this new aspiration without seeking to understand it? This authority, which is no more nor less than Christianity, will lose, to the extent that it fails to embrace as it should everything that is human on earth, the keen edge of its vitality and its full power to attract. Being for the time incompletely human it will no longer fully satisfy even its own disciples. It will be less able to win over the unconverted or to resist its adversaries. We wonder why there is so much unease in the hearts of members of Christian orders and of priests, why so few deep conversions are effected in China despite the flood of missionaries, why the Christian Church, with all its superiority of benevolence and devotion, yet makes so little appeal to the working masses. My answer is simply this, that it is because at present our magnificent Christian charity lacks what it needs to make it decisively effective, the sensitizing ingredient of Human faith and hope without which, in reason and in fact, no religion can henceforth appear to Man other than colorless, cold and inassimilable.

OY and OX, the Upward and the Forward: two religious forces, let me repeat, now met together in the heart of every man; forces which, as we have seen, weaken and wither away in separation . . . Therefore, as it remains for me to show, forces which await one thing alone -- not that we should choose between them, but that we should find the means of combining them.

3. The Rebound of the Christian Faith: Upward by way of Forward

It is generally agreed that the drama of the present religious conflict lies in the apparent irreconcilability of two opposed kinds of faith -- Christian faith, which disdains the primacy of the ultra-human and the Earth, and ‘natural’ faith, which is founded upon it. But is it certain that these two forces, neither of which, as we have seen, can achieve its full development without the other, are really so mutually exclusive (the one so anti-progressive and the other so wholly atheist) as we assume? Is this so if we look to the very heart of the matter? Only a little reflection and psychological insight is required to see that it is not.

On the one hand, neo-human faith in the World, to the extent that it is truly a Faith (that is to say, entailing sacrifice and the final abandonment of self for something greater) necessarily implies an element of worship, the acceptance of something ‘divine’.(As in the case of biological evolutionary theory which also bore a materialist and atheist aspect when it appeared a century ago, but of which the spiritual content is now becoming apparent.) Every conversation I have ever had with communist intellectuals has left me with a decided impression that Marxist atheism is not absolute, but that it simply rejects an ‘extrinsical’ God, a deus ex machina whose existence can only undermine the dignity of the Universe and weaken the springs of human endeavor -- a ‘pseudo-God’, in short, whom no one in these days any longer wants, least of all the Christians.

And on the other hand Christian faith (I stress the word Christian, as opposed to those ‘oriental’ faiths for which spiritual ascension often expressly signifies the negation or condemnation of the phenomenal world), by the very fact that it is rooted in the idea of Incarnation, has always based a large part of its tenets on the tangible values of the World and of Matter. A too humble and subordinate part, it may seem to us now (but was not this inevitable in the days when Man, not having become aware of the genesis of the Universe in progress, could not apprehend the spiritual possibilities still buried in the entrails of the Earth?) yet still a part so intimately linked with the essence of Christian dogma that, like a living bud, it needed only a sign, a ray of light, to cause it to break into flower. To clarify our ideas let us consider a single case, one which sums up everything. We continue from force of habit to think of the Parousia, whereby the Kingdom of God is to be consummated on Earth, as an event of a purely catastrophic nature -- that is to say, liable to come about at any moment in history, irrespective of any definite state of Mankind. But why should we not assume, in accordance with the latest scientific view of Mankind in a state of anthropogenesis,(And, it may be added, in perfect analogy with the mystery of the first Christmas which (as everyone agrees) could only have happened between Heaven and an Earth which was prepared, socially, politically and psychologically, to receive Jesus.) that the parousiac spark can, of physical and organic necessity, only be kindled between Heaven and a Mankind which has biologically reached a certain critical evolutionary point of collective maturity?

For my own part I can see no reason at all, theological or traditional, why this ‘revised’ approach should give rise to any serious difficulty. And it seems to me certain, on the other hand, that by the very fact of making this simple readjustment in our ‘eschatological’ vision we shall have performed an operation having incalculable consequences. For if truly, in order that the Kingdom of God may come (in order that the Pleroma may close in upon its fullness), it is necessary, as an essential physical condition,(But not, of course, sufficient in itself!) that the human Earth should already have attained the natural completion of its evolutionary growth, then it must mean that the ultra-human perfection which neo-humanism envisages for Evolution will coincide in concrete terms with the crowning of the Incarnation awaited by all Christians. The two vectors, or components as they are better called, veer and draw together until they give a possible resultant. The super-naturalizing Christian Upward is incorporated (not immersed) in the human Forward! And at the same time Faith in God, in the very degree in which it assimilates and sublimates within its own spirit the spirit of Faith in the World, regains all its power to attract and convert!

I said at the beginning of this paper that the human world of today has not grown cold, but that it is ardently searching for a God proportionate to the newly discovered immensities of a Universe whose aspect exceeds the present compass of our power of worship. And it is because the total Unity of which we dream still seems to beckon in two different directions, towards the zenith and towards the horizon, that we see the dramatic growth of a whole race of ‘spiritual expatriates’ -- human beings torn between a Marxism whose depersonalizing effect revolts them and a Christianity so lukewarm in human terms that it sickens them.

But let there be revealed to us the possibility of believing at the same time and wholly in God and the World, the one through the other;(In a Christ no longer seen only as the Savior of individual souls, but [precisely because He is the Redeemer in the fullest sense] as the ultimate Mover of anthropogenesis.) let this belief burst forth, as it is ineluctably in process of doing under the pressure of these seemingly opposed forces, and then, we may be sure of it, a great flame will illumine all things: for a Faith will have been born (or re-born) containing and embracing all others -- and, inevitably, it is the strongest Faith which sooner or later must possess the Earth.


Unpublished. Les Moulins (Puy-de-Dôme) 8 September, 1949.