It seems like I am in a movie, or life really is stranger than fiction. It is now October and I am back inside, mostly self-isolating, wondering who I am in the midst of a pandemic, U.S. election, Black Lives Matter, and racism protests. My struggle is to reimagine retirement. Or is it to reimagine life and where we go from here?
I am reading three books (two for on-line book clubs), Living the Examined Life by James Hollis, The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. In my recent reading and experience I’ve been aware of a fascinating synchronicity that supports my evolutionary belief system. Sapiens traces the development of Homo Sapiens from primitive beings to becoming the most developed and dangerous species on Earth. In the beginning there were six types of Homo people (including Neanderthals) that existed for 2.5 million years. About 10,000 years ago Homo Sapiens were the only ones left. How is it that we are the one surviving species?
Harari identifies the changes that led to our evolution. In the beginning early human groups were only about 30-50 people in size. This was the number of people one could intimately relate to and trust. These large extended families had limited capacity for growth, but they did survive this way for millions of years. Then Homo Sapiens developed a peculiar ability – the ability to believe things that could not be proven. Harari calls these fictions. They were fictions known as myths and religious beliefs that described a world of known and unknown connections. Now people could organize around common beliefs and trust others who held similar beliefs about the world/reality. They did not have to know everyone personally. This enabled groups of 150 people to gather for common tasks like hunting. A larger group using strategy and cooperation could hunt larger animals, or herd groups of animals into mass slaughter. This led to food security, less time needed for hunting and eventually to a better lifestyle than other human groups who were unable to do this. This development in consciousness allowed trade to develop, where information, tools and different foods were shared across distances with their new connections. The Universal Christ identifies that the oneness of creation is synonymous with the belief in Incarnation. Rohr says the first incarnation was when God became a part of everything and everyone. Thus there is a divine unity in the whole of creation (this could be what scientists call The Big Bang). Jesus, the second incarnation, was a living physical expression of what the human-divine unity could look like, and how we could live as one species. Rohr sees Jesus’s role/mission as helping us recognize the divine in everyone and everything around us.
This requires a new level of consciousness –another step beyond boundaries. Sapiens shows our species has been moving toward unity for the past 12,000 years. The movement in the past century toward global cooperation in trade has brought us closer together. Women have been slowly gaining equal status with men in our culture. In Christianity, for the last 50 years there has been a growing belief that Jesus did not die to save a few faithful followers, but to help us recognize that everyone is part of God’s family. About 25 years ago I noticed that, for the first time, there were Christians saying out loud, something I had believed all my life –that Christianity is not the only true way or the only religion that knows God. In our book study we struggle with these changing faith perspectives that challenge and expand what we now believe.
In Living the Examined Life, we are asked every week to consider a question that helps us examine the values and beliefs behind our decisions which create our life in community. This past week the question was: What is your bigger picture? Human beings seem to have a need to be part of a bigger picture or purpose. If our bigger picture is our own family, or extended family, that will determine our choices and limit our participation in the world. If our bigger picture is to establish an Alberta for Albertans or a Canada for Canadians, that will influence our choices and who will benefit from our resources. If we see ourselves as part of a world-wide community of people called to care for the earth (our home) and share our gifts and life with each other (take care of each other), we will behave less selfishly, be more generous and less afraid of what can happen to us, because we will know we have a wide safety net of people and resources around us.
Is this belief in the unity of all things true? Harari says the early Homo Sapiens made up the belief in God and it became a unifying belief about reality. I would say that our ancestors discovered a truth about the sacredness of life. And today we are continuing to discover, through science, how we are all connected –all made of the same stuff. Pure Science does not wander into the realm of purpose and meaning, but this is where Science and Religion do meet to describe the world we live in.
Maybe the pandemic is a gift to us because it makes us realize that we really do need to “all be in this together” to stop the spread of COVID-19. It has also shown us how difficult it is for us to work together even on such primary issues as poverty, climate change and racism. Although people have evolved differently, with different abilities, traits and beliefs, we must learn to see ourselves as different but equal –equally deserving of opportunities for happiness and abundant life. Unfortunately, many people are not in a position to achieve these on their own. We need to see these differences as diverse strengths that improve our human potential to work together. To achieve equality on earth we must embrace the statement, “We are all in this together”, as a deeply held belief, not a cliché.
In evolutionary terms we are on the cusp of a new evolution in consciousness. It could take a generation or more to reach a tipping point where this level of thinking will bring us together to create unified action on climate change, negotiating peace in our world, etc. I hope that will not be too late to save our species.