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Teilhard De Chardin on the Evolution of Man: a critique 2/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-06-29 08:52:30
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There is another crucial question: What are the practical consequences of this incarnational cosmogony of Theilhard De Chardin for a modern Christian culture? The answer can be found in De Chardin's The Divine Melieu. In that work De Chardin announces that Man is presently at a crucial point of evolutionary change. He compares it to the point Man was at a million or so years ago when human consciousness broke through and Man ceased to be an ape. De Chardin tells us that we are about to enter a "collective super consciousness," a higher civilization with characteristics which are definitely spiritual.

Here we hear echoes of Nietzsche's Superman, although Nietzsche misguidedly rejects Christianity as the religion of the weak. In any case, within the Christian tradition this can be defined as an "eschatological event," but De Chardin prefers to call it "history about to face the transcendent." Transcendence and immanence seems to coalesce here. Here again we have unmistakable echoes of Vico's concept of Providence which encompasses at the same time both transcendence and immanence. They are not "either or" as rigorous Cartesian logic would dictate, but "both and." De Chardin would further declare that we are entering into the "planetization of mankind," as Man is now ready for "totalization" as a collective task; which is to say, the use of science and technology to humanize and spiritualize matter, thus preparing it for the advent of Christ. This is of course what Christendom has traditionally called "The Parousia." In more secular terms we now talk of "globalization."

From the above it is pretty obvious that this "New Theilhardian Man" is gambling all on the future. Even the H bomb is seen by De Chardin as a manisfestation of the "dawn of Christic neo-energy." In the face of this future oriented theology we are confronted with a perplexity. Where in this kind of futuristic philosophy, redolent of Hegelian philosophy (which considers the final synthesis as necessary and the best of all possibilities), the pondering on the genocide which arrived in the middle of the 20th century, i.e., the Holocaust? Which is to say: is this a valid extrapolation of Bible eschatology? Is it possible for Man to forfeit his humanity for a plate of lentils? Or is this process inevitable and pre-determined. And if so, where is Man's freedom here? How is he then a co-creator with God?

Moreover, not many people know that De Chardin in 1951 saw the marching of Mao's armies toward Peking as the vanguard of a new humanity. Should this give us pause, just as Heidegger's adherence to the Nazi party for some nine months ought to give us pause regarding his philosophy of Being? Is everything really in the bag, so to speak? To be even more outrageous in this critique, is De Chardin confusing a super consciousness that reflects the Mystical Christ with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat?

De Chardin himself seems to offer a corrective to this impasse at one point of his Milieu when he speaks of a "Great Option," thus living some room to the individual man and his inherent freedom to achieve what he calls "the transfiguration of the immensity of the world into a center of loving energy and produce the total Christ." But here too one hears echoes of Hegel, when he talks of "a refusal to progression," or of "Faustian individualism fixed on selfish interests." In other words, this progress seems to be all but inevitable, there are no real regressions or steps backward. As in Hegel, the whole process will succeed despite the individual's refusal and the human race will inevitably enter the super conscious life.

Here again, one needs to ask: is this the hope of which the Gospels speak, or even the "conspiracy of hope" of which a Silone speaks in his novels? Is this a legitimate extrapolation of Christian revelation to a modern context, or merely an "inspired guess which has built on a mystique of hope in the future," to borrow from De Lubac. It is intriguing that the word for faith in Hebrew literally means "hope in the future."

However, as someone thoroughly grounded in Christian Humanism De Lubac does point out that the enthusiasm of the Theilhardians to appear super moderns has blinded them to two crucial facts: 1) that De Chardin is not the revolutionary that he thought himself to be, and 2) that he tends too much to black and white schematizations and a rather naïve polarization of the "yesterday" and the "tomorrow." Which is to say that he is a bit too complacent with his own originality and never fully achieves that merging of the antiqua and the nova, the yesterday and the tomorrow which is a sine qua non of a genuine novantiqua Christian cultural paradigm. However, despite these flaws, De Chardin remains even today one of its foremost advocate.


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Stephen Theron2009-01-05 13:34:05
The tone here is not nice. I ask myself: envious? afraid? or what?

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