Evolution, God and Higher Consciousness, Oh My!

Over the course of the winter and spring, a group of DJC members gathered on Shabbat mornings to get radical.  Rather than joining together for a Shabbat morning service, we sipped tea, ate delicious challah, and talked about evolution and God.  We’ve been reading a book by Rabbi Art Green called Radical Judaism: Rethinking God and Tradition.  Based on the audible exclamations of ‘aha!,’ ‘what?!!’ and ‘wow!’ that regularly burst out of the mouths of atheists and spiritual seekers, humanists, and God-dancers alike, I would say that as an exploration of radical Jewish thought, it was quite exciting.  Old and pediatric ideas about God came crumbling down as new space opened for fresh, stirring and important alternative ideas and experiences.

Green describes himself as a “religious humanist,” a “mystical panentheist”, a rationalist and a spiritual seeker.  At the heart of Green’s project is a commitment to expose the outdated concepts of God that are “rooted in fantasy and denial of reality” (p.2) and instead to develop a new theology that is aligned with evolutionary science, is attuned to the development of higher and more complex Consciousness, is awake to the inward unity and mysterious sense of awesome presence that permeates Life, and is robust in the specifics of its moral call for human dignity and the saving of our planet.  And he dresses these universal ideas in the evocative language of Jewish metaphors, culture and spiritual commitments, thereby totally reimagining what our sources and practices reveal and teach. Radical!

Here is a taste from the book:

“When I refer to “God,” I mean the inner force of existence itself, that of which one might say: ‘Being is.’  I refer to it as the “One” because it is the single unifying substratum of all that is.  To speak of Being as a religious person, however, is to speak of it not detachedly, in scientific “objectivity” but rather with full engagement of the self, in love and awe” (p.19).

For Green, there is no God separate from all that is – no big person in the sky, no separate Divine being, no Intelligent Designer of the universe but a constantly self-disclosing force of Being directed from within, manifesting itself ever more fully in ever more complex and diverse ways.  This is the evolutionary process, not neutral, but miraculous in its unfolding, in its unity of all Being, and in the unfolding of self-reflective human consciousness as part of it and partner to it.  This is the experience of God-within and God-without, all part of an awesome Oneness in all its particular expressions.

Green also holds up a mirror to the outdated framings of evolution.  He notes that the emphasis on the survival of the fittest as evolution’s primary engine has ignored all the manifestations of collaboration and interdependence in the natural world.  This has moral implications that Green wants to rebalance and transform.  In science and in religion alike, we make choices about what we emphasize, what ideas and states of heart and behaviours we seek to cultivate.  These choices direct what we expect of ourselves and one another.  And Green is clear that if we want this planet to survive, we need to expect more, to love more deeply and to be anchored in ways to seeing, thinking and doing that have sacred, ultimate meaning.

General Western liberal values won’t take us far enough or deep enough to respond to the greatest challenges of our time. Green’s framing changes the question of religion away from whether or not you believe in God. Instead he ask us to explore how deeply attuned our minds, our hearts and our actions can grow in relation to Being, to this Oneness, at every moment, and how this understanding compels us to respond with moral clarity.  He asks us to choose love.  He asks us to choose awe as a response to everything around us.  It asks us to choose to hear the wonder of all that is placing moral demands on us to care for it and protect it and to be actively part of manifesting consciousness of this unity.

All this, and we only read as far as page 33!!  Radical!