Friday, March 20, 2009

Scientists, Jesus, and freaks.

Yesterday I was in a doctors office and I noticed the February 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine. Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin were on the cover; this year being the 200 anniversary of the birth of both men, who were actually born on the same day. I had quite a wait and got through two fairly long articles. The article on Darwin got me thinking about the whole Science vs. Religion thing, particularly as it has played out over the subject of Darwin's so called "Theory of Evolution".

Many people think this is a simple "science in one corner, religion in the other" type of debate. While this is how it plays out in many circles there are notable exceptions. One of the most fascinating and instructive is the case of Teilhard De Chardin. He was a Roman Catholic priest who wrote convincingly in the first half of the 20th century on the subject of the compatabilty of Evolution with his Christian faith. He was both a scientist (Geologist and Paleontologist) and a member of a religious order (The Jesuits). In nutshell, Teilhard believed that Evolution was the one theory to which all others must bow. Science had taught him this fact. And it was indeed a fact, with a capital F, and thus could not be ignored. (note: the Smithsonian article, while not mentioning Teilhard, or even the subject of religion, did point out that although there were "gaps" in Darwin's theory, which Darwin himself readily acknowledged, that all science since, and I mean ALL science since, has only proven Darwin's initial theory utterly correct).

So then, how does a priest, whose "traditional" religious inheritance is obviously challenged by this Theory of Evolution, deal with what appears to be (on the surface at least) two incompatable world views? Well here, in a slightly oversimplified form, is how Teilhard answered this question. In the physical world, before a species "evolves" there are what Teilhard called "progenitors" or "sports". These are freaks of nature so to speak who have jumped out ahead of the pack and evolved before the rest of the species. He believed that there was also, humanly speaking, an evolutionary component on the spirtiual plane. Christ was an example of this type of"progenitor". He was a human who had made this leap ahead of the existing consciousness. He was a freak. So far ahead in fact that people came to use words like "Divine" when describing him. The Buddha would be an obvious second example of this type of individual. Think about this for minute...okay now take another minute...

Pretty good news I'd say.

Now go and look yourself in the mirror and say "Hello you cute little future Buddha" or something like that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I don't know if you happened to see or read about this years Academy Awards ceremomy. If you did you might not remember what picture won for Best Foreign film. If this is the case then you need to know about it.

The film is called "Departures" and it is about a failed Japanese businessman and sometime writer who, through unexpected circumstances, finds himself working as a mortician. Although I have not seen the movie yet, I have a connection to it as I have read the book on which it was based. The book is called "Coffinman" and it was written by Shimon Aoki. I read the book a few years back when it was an assigned reading of the Northampton Shin Buddhist Sangha, led by Taitetsu Unno, who also wrote the introduction to the book.

The book is a fascinating study of life and death as seen through a Japanese Buddhist lens. Toward the beginning of the book there is line which stood out. Early in his new career the author has been called to retrieve a body that has been uattended for some time. As he approaches he sees that it is infested with maggots. After initially being repulsed, he has a sort of spiritual awakening and he then confesses: "Maggots are life, too. When I thought that, I could see the maggots shining".

Wow. I have seen maggots too. My thoughts were not about their nature as shining lifeforms. But I guess that's the whole point. Pretty and ugly are our own judgements. Life itself doesn't seem to care about it. Life is unstoppable. Our end is another beginning. Even if only for maggots.

Now I must say I believe we have a much finer ultimate destination than being food for insects. But I also like the idea of someday being myself "food for life". I mean haven't I relied on "life" for my food all these years? Why shouldn't I give back a little?

So sharpen your teeth maggots! I hope to see you for lunch in about 50 years.

And I can't wait to see this film!