Joined: 16 Nov 2006
|Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 11:28 am Post subject: Spirit of Love 2 Mutual Aid & Evolution
|This is the second address on The Spirit of Love by Jo James.
The Spirit of Love – 2 : Mutual Aid and the real story of evolution
April 27, 2016
Recently I was considering mysticism in our tradition, and the theology of the Spirit; ‘that of God’ which is between us rather than above us.
In my opinion this understanding of God as Spirit, interfusing and immanent throughout all things, is the theological idea which has defined and characterised our dissenting tradition more than any other – because it is the theology which implies that revelation is not sealed in any creed or doctrine but may be directly available to any individual, unmediated by any clergy or ecclesial authority, and available through many different sources.
This understanding comes to us directly from what is called the ‘radical reformation’ the Anabaptists; Hutterites, Mennonites, and others in Europe and Seekers, Levellers, Ranters and others in Britain. All shared a belief in the primacy of the Spirit and all of them were persecuted because they refused to abide by doctrines which they considered unreasonable.
I think we can be quite proud of our traditions but I also think their real value lies in their contemporary application.
A lot of people nowadays draw comparisons between the Spirit theology of the radical reformation and the liberation theologies of Latin America. And I want to suggest that they might also have a certain amount in common with ideas closer to home.
I think that a awareness of the divine presence in all life must, if understood rightly, lead us on into acting out that relationship.
And of course on the other hand one can perfectly well decide to behave well to one’s fellow beings and to the world without any spiritual feeling at all as my atheist friends quite rightly remind me.
Its fascinating that there should appear to be a conflict nowadays between the spiritual and the scientific views of reality, I don’t see it that way, I see the two as being entirely congruent. Alright some very fundamentalist views of religion are threatened by rationalism and scientific ideas; no one idea more so than the evolutionary theory of Natural Selection put forward by the great scientist Charles Darwin.
His understanding of the complex process of evolution is nowadays un-contested by any serious thinker although it gives religious fundamentalists a bit of a headache.
But there is a serious downside to the theory too – the idea of the ‘law of the jungle’ or the ‘survival of the fittest’ indirectly takes strength from it, the theory of natural selection was claimed by some to propose a process discarding the weak in favour of the strong; a kind of “evolutionary cleansing” known as “social Darwinism”.
Perhaps its no wonder that this misleading interpretation of Darwin’s great work became popular in an empire which had colonised and subjugated half the world. An empire based on might not right.
But at around the time when social Darwinianism was gaining ground as a theory in Britain, in Russia a young Russian naturalist called Piotr Kropotkin, also inspired by Darwin, set out to research animal behavior. He went to Siberia and he discovered something he wasn’t expecting at all, something which he came to write up in a book called “Mutual Aid- A Factor of Evolution”. In Mutual Aid he explains that the natural world, from the tiniest microscopic group of cells to the most sophisticated society of Humankind, depends as much or more on mutual aid, co-operation, than it does on conflict. Time after time he cites examples of the fact that the most successful species are the ones which co-operate to get along, and shows that the ones which operate singly, or in conflict, perish. Its a great book – I urge you to read it – there is a free online copy here.
We took Elin to see some beautiful birds of prey from a nearby sanctuary, you’d imagine the proof of the idea of nature red in tooth and claw would be here more than anywhere but the handler told us that the most intelligent hawks are the ones that learn to help each other and work in teams.
We wondered if they grow more intelligent because work in teams is more of a challenge to do, or if its because they re more intelligent that they do co-operate?
Kropotkin in his book finds more and more examples of this same thing; the more he found co-operation the more he found intelligence. He clearly believes that the act of co-operation makes animals more intelligent and more successful as a species.
Of course the opposite take on Darwinism, that of the survival of the fittest, the every man for himself mentality, is the view that came to be dominant in our society. It had a huge revival not so long ago when a kind of monitarised Globalisation became the driving force in international politics and a generation of politicians came to believe that what most motivates all of us is the pursuit of wealth, power and possessions. But that pursuit, which demands such single mindedness, such goal-driven determination and personal ambition and drive completely leaves out, totally misses the principle of co-operation.
We saw with even the hunting hawks that co-operation is a civilising activity – it makes intelligence- we can all practice it immediately, in our daily lives; you’ll find opportunities everywhere you look – even before you leave this room, probably before you even get up to leave, and the principle which underpins co-operation, at least human co-operation, the principle which reminds us to see that of God in the other, is the compassionate principle of love.