“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels…” – Albert Einstein, 1946
It is clear that humans need religion since there is no incidence of a culture in all of human history in which there has been no religion, even if, as with the communist regimes of the 20th century, the religion of the society became the state, or as with atheists, intellectualism and/or humanism takes the place of God. These exceptions prove the rule in that these totalitarian governments sought to harness the human archetypal need for religion to the service of the state, and atheists have placed intellectualism or humanism where the god archetype resides within the human psyche. There is, it seems, a deep and unconscious instinct in humanity to recognize and be in reverence of the source of all things. This instinct can, however, be perverted. That religions have been the source of so much conflict and misery throughout history points to how the instinct to religion (which, when experienced in its true and inexpressible dimension, can be the source of profound comfort) has been so often distorted into something very untrue and destructive.
In all cultures since humanity evolved beyond being centered in nature with gods envisioned as natural forces such as mountains, thunder, the sun and the moon, deity has been conceived to be very much like a supreme human ego that ruled over lesser levels of ego-manifestation with a theology that places human ego as the center-piece and purpose of existence. For thousands of years, the religions of the West and the social/political/economic order of their corresponding societies have been joined, in a sense making them one within unquestioned dogmas about the why and the how of the way things are. This created the perfect conditions for the rise of nation-states built around hierarchical power systems. This is also why since the 18th Century and the development of commerce as the lynchpin of Western society, replacing the previous cultural religion of divine-right agrarian aristocracy, the religions of the scientific commercial cultures on the planet have been molded to support this mercantile, mechanistic and resource exploitive view.
This evolution of the deity impulse projected from nature and nature’s web of wholistic interconnectedness where all of nature is considered sacred, to deity as a kind of divine ego and the perception that all-that-exists occurs in descending levels of hierarchical separateness where nothing of this world is sacred, is what Einstein was addressing. He understood this egoic, materialistic and dualistic view lacked the compassionate identification with nature and the planet that is necessary if abundant and diverse life is to flourish, and without which, the quality of human life would inevitably deteriorate into catastrophe. This abusive relationship with nature had not been a survival issue for humanity as long as the resources of the planet were greater than humanity’s consumptive and destructive power, but with the technological advances of the 20th century, it became clear to Einstein that a crisis of survival proportions had become inevitable.
And so, I ask, has not our American society, like the communists, placed an economic and political system, in this case the consumer capitalist system, in a role analogous to religion as the source and meaning behind life, and that among our society’s institutions, the churches, and particularly many churches that identify as fundamentalist, hold that the questioning of the economic and political system of capitalism is a kind of heresy? So when Einstein calls upon us to realize the need for a new type of thinking if we are to survive and move toward higher levels of existence, isn’t he calling upon us to rethink, along with other cultural themes, the nature of the religion and the god we worship without examination? It would seem that the deification of material power, possessions, profit-motive and consumer materialism in an antagonistic and exploitive relationship with nature, supported by the dogmas and institutions of our society, including the churches, and to which we give religious fealty, is an important aspect of what he is questioning.
Einstein saw the terrible consequence of human ego assuming itself as central in the cosmos and offered to us the corrective perspective when he wrote in 1950: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Thus, Einstein declared in essence what is the necessary cosmology, the necessary religion into which humanity must evolve, so as to enter a new phase of human experience wherein human technology and the realm of nature are in harmony rather than in tension and conflict.
Einstein was capable of seeing the Universe as a manifesting singularity, comprised, at a deeper level than the human senses, of pure energy. He was capable of understanding the planet Earth as an organism within the body of the Universe that required balance in order to manifest healthy continuation. He saw that the reductionistic cosmology of Newton that preceded modern relativity and quantum discoveries and that prevails today as the cultural matrix of human interaction with all life on the planet as fatally flawed. He was able to see that this prevailing dualistic, materialistic, egoistic ethic and behavior of humans could only lead to the destruction of life integrity and quality on the planet either through unimaginably horrific atomic warfare, or more slowly through environmental degradation, resource depletion and the breakdown of compassionate social and political life. In counter-balance, he was able to see an inherent intelligence in the miracle of the mysteries of the Universe and to intuit this balance, interconnectedness and miracle as the only valid orientation for humanity if it were to break free of the terrible violence and resource depletion that heretofore has marked “civilized” human history and was accelerating in the twentieth century.
What Einstein’s call to sanity makes clear is that humanity will be unable to find its way to enduring equilibrium, to enduring peace, prosperity of spirit, and material security until there is a change of cosmology and of cultural understanding of humanity’s place and purpose in the cosmos that is the equivalent of a profound change in religious perspective. An evolution in our understanding of the concept of Sacred Source is essential if humanity is to continue, and so, the evolution of humanity is in essence tied to the evolution of our notion of God and religion.
Mystical religious traditions have always known that God and Nature and the Universe are all one, within which humanity is, of course, also included, but has self-imposed itself in exile in order to celebrate its egoic self to horrifyingly sinful effect. That this separation is the root of “sin” has been a central understanding of religions since their beginning, but humanity has paid very little attention to this insight as it is essentially subversive of the underlying power structures and materialistic values of the societies the churches functioned within. Yet, in recent times, there is a growing convergence of non-dogmatic spiritual mysticism with quantum and ecological science that offers a new direction for the instinct to religion that can evolve into identification of The Sacred Source as the Universe itself experienced as a quantum, intelligent singularity that can, I think, successfully guide human society. This new evolutionary era of humanity could do well to draw on an ancient intuitive symbol – a star – or more accurately a view of the heavens that includes billions of stars in billions of galaxies declaring us as children of an intelligent, evolving Universe, for every atom in our bodies, every atom of every element of our world was born in those stars and has comingled in countless forms for eons.
There is no contradiction between “intelligent design” and evolutionary theory. The intelligent design is found in the evolution of an intelligent Universe, within which, human intelligence is an instrument of the manifesting Universe coming to know and celebrate itself. With the dedication of religious conviction behind and supporting such a vison, humanity can naturally turn its science and technology from exploitation to the exploration, protection and celebration of Nature while ensuring a future of expanding balanced equanimity for humanity and Nature. Einstein’s call to “widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” can be realized for untold generations into the future. This can be the ancient Tao, The-Way-that-needs-no-name, brought into a modern technological world that can propel and support humanity into a limitless future with a religious underpinning that celebrates all life as sacred.