I am a believer. I believe that the created universe contains in its very essence a tendency towards development. One might call it something like a life force. The challenge to a “believer” of any stripe is to resist the temptation to be one-sided or superficial. You see, I could easily write about modern understandings of “progress.” Or I could wax poetic about the beauty of flowers or children growing into their magnificent fullness. But if I succumb to the temptation to simplify in either of those directions, then any counter-perspectives can be oversimplified, too.

Let me give an example. The will to survive is one foundational element we consider in trying to understand life. But, does the desire for survival in each element of a hostile or competitive system qualify as a comprehensive ethical foundation for life? And is the potential or actual destruction of one’s “enemies” in the service of survival then automatically justified? Sometimes this particular foundation for human behavior is put like this: “Do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you.”

While this “ethic” may make sense and be defensible from some perspectives, it seems to me that human and even biological history provide ample evidence for its ultimate, and perhaps inevitable, failure. Within that framework, all victories remain temporary. And they are always accompanied by a deep fear that sooner or later the same or another enemy will arise. Have you noticed lately how the list of potential enemies keeps growing? Not only must we contend with other human groups, but the climate, the toxic environment, and even the potential breakdown of economies and delivery systems for food and other necessities have been added to our awareness of potentially threatening forces. Seeing other people and even natural forces primarily as enemies tempts us to hunker down into survival mode. Of course, from a narrow perspective, such a position seems to make perfect sense. Still, I have the uneasy feeling that while survivalism appears defensible, it is not necessarily the best approach we have available to us.

To identify what might be a better approach, we cannot just oversimplify in some other direction, like: Don’t worry; be happy; love conquers all” for example. We can, however, look to our available sources of deep wisdom. Both Jesus and Buddha, albeit in somewhat different ways, teach that personal survival is not one of the central values or features of their approach to life. Personal life is always seen in a broader context of meaning. They imply, and we can see from history, that many of our human efforts towards survival can result in massive levels of destruction.

If we study carefully, we see that the spiritual mystics all invite us to broaden our perspectives so that we can see ourselves as participants in a larger reality. Sadly, the temptation to reduce these big ideas back down to a more individualistic perspective never seems to go away. And the anxieties we carry about survival as individuals grease the skids of that regression.

There is nothing I can say, no matter how compelling I believe my argument to be, that will preclude the oversimplification of our sometimes perilous situation. I will, however, continue to make the invitation that people experiment with the features of a broader and more profound view of creation and its potential meaning. The individualistic perspective will certainly remain with us, because it is sometimes valuable and necessary, though it is not always the most useful perspective at our disposal.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I believe that creation carries, in its essence, the potential for continued development. What I hope for, and what I will continue to work towards in this new year is the implementation of a more universal perspective in politics, business, neighborhood relations, and religion. I invite you to join me.

Please add your comments and perspectives.

Happy New Year
Wayne Gustafson
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise

 

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