Why is life here?
Feb 12th Why are humans here?
Feb 19th Why was/is Jesus here?
Feb 26th What does everyone else reckon?
Why is life here? Because God wanted something to experience, to love.
They call it richness of experience. Its hard to be God if you have nothing
to be God of, and pretty boring and lonely.
People, including us and many
other animals, have two aspects of them:
The bit that never changes (in a sense I was Jason John at birth, and
will be at death)
The bit that does, in response to all the experience of life and how we
respond to them.
Likewise, they say, God is
in one sense unchangeable, as some traditional theology claims
But also God must change, in response to events and relationships. Unless
someone can change you, you can’t possibly be in love with them.
So, in order to change, God
needed something to experience, to be changed by.
The idea that God created the universe, created life, is very orthodox.
The idea that life creates God may not be, but it makes sense.
So, why are we here? Why is
To change God. To set God free
from an eternity of sameness and aloneness. And everything we do changes
God. Everything every organism does changes God. Nothing is without value
to God, even if it has no value to us.
How do we change God? Three
answers. One from process theology, two that seem logical additions.
First- by our own conscious
experiences, we allow God to also consciously experience things. In some
sense when we contemplate the beauty of a sunset, God gets the chance
to do so through us. According to this way of thinking, Process thinking,
the more rational we are, the greater our capacity for a rich intellectual
experience, the more valuable we are to God.
Surprise surprise, to process theologians, who all happen to be human,
humans matter most to God!
But God is not so easily constrained!
And we need to remember that for most of life on Earth there has been
no consciousness. And most of Earth’s future is devoid of it. So
if all God values is conscious experience, most of Earth’s existence
So the second way to change
God- non conscious experience. Just experience itself. Process theology
does not value this sort of experience at all.
There are a vast array of experiences
of the world apart form conscious rational contemplation!
God, who experiences life through all life, experiences life and relationships
in ways totally alien to ours. God experiences what it is to fly like
a swallow, and grow like a redwood tree. It is the diversity of experiences
of life, not the intellect of the individual, which matters. What God
values is the existence of life, and God’s experience of and through
that life of something other than God. We cannot even begin to imagine
what this is like. As Nagel reminds us, even for us to imagine what it
would be like to experience life as another mammal, say a bat with its
sonar dominated perception of the world, is impossible. It is hard enough
to imagine life as another human!
A third way to change God is
to simply be, and to allow God to experience us. To have an experience
of us, rather than through us. God has an experience, for example, of
a mosquito quite independent of that mosquitos experience of itself. God
experiences even things with no experience- like mountains and sunsets.
Process theology cannot value rocks, but God does.
So the purpose of life is to change God, to set God free from an eternity
trapped in sameness.
This happens, maybe, by God
vicariously experiencing our rational experiences, as process theology
suggests. But also by God sharing all of life’s non-rational experiences,
as well as by God directly experiencing life for herself.
An example might help.
Consider the death of the very last elephant in the world. From the process
view, since the elephant itself has conscious experience than most humans,
this is less tragic than the death of a human. But when the last elephant
dies, God’s experience of elephants, and ability to experience life
through elephants, ceases. How does that compare to the death of one of
the billions of humans on Earth. Just how many versions of human experience
does God really desire?
Are people up for one final
issue, or thought?
Process theologians I’ve
read are preoccupied with individuals in isolation. But surely God’s
experience of biological life is almost entirely an experience of relationships.
Through life forms God experiences their relationships with other life
and non-life vicariously. God also experiences each life form vicariously
through every other life form with which they have contact. So we also
need to think of God’s experience of life communities. Or indeed
of the life community. Long before the last elephant dies, God’s
experience of elephants in community ceases, their care for each other,
their birthing, fighting, love making. Process theology does not value
ecosystems or communities in and of themselves, but God does, I think,
and so I think should we.
The experience of life which
God has accumulated is overwhelmingly communal, and overwhelmingly non
human. This is a staggering insight to try to assimilate into our thinking
about our place in the world. It certainly, I think, rocks the Judeo-Christian-Islamic
theological story, as well as western humanism.
Yet God’s experience
does include experience of humans, and through humans, and this is what
we might focus on next week! So, homework part 1- Was everything I just
said rubbish? If not, now that humans have evolved to be here, what should
we do about it?
12th- why are humans here?
Last week: why is life here: (sorry it was a bit convoluted!)
Frees God from an eternity of sameness
Allows God to be God, to change. Creates God.
God’s experience through life
God’s experience of life (and non-life)
Diversity > rationality.
Process theology- not just humans, but all creatures which have rich experiences
Biocentric- all creatures, and non-life valuable.
Why are we here?
Mechanical answer: because of the big bang, because of the aerobic bacteria,
because of the comet which killed the dinosaurs, because H.s, not one
of the other species of humans, survived the ice ages.
My thoughts- not because God designed or manipulated the evolution of
H.s We are here by chance, as part of the festival of life in the universe
which God somehow sparked.
Now that we are here, what
do we do?
This week- from God’s perspective:
If God’s desire is for
richness of experience, primarily mediated through relationships, if that
was God’s “mission” in creating or relating to the universe,
then the human mission should be to enhance the richness of experience
But experiences can be ambiguous,
for us at least.
Sex and death for example
Ecofeminism: God affirms in general the experiences of death and pain,
tragedy and suffering, but not all of them specifically. So we will need
to make judgments about what sort of experiences God values. Whilst admitting
the folly of trying to read the mind of the God of the universe, we don’t
seem to have any alternative if we wish to do something rather than nothing.
And here the Christian claim that in Jesus of Nazareth we see something
of God’s communication to humans gives us a little more confidence
in our endeavour.
the story of Jesus in some
way reveals something of the divine will, for H. sapiens at least. At
a bare minimum the Christian claim is that in Jesus we see a special divine
communication to humans about how we should be in the world.
Humans are only part of the
story of God and life, but the story of Jesus is primarily a God-human
One possible answer is that
he came to save us from the fear of finitude, or at least being controlled
by that fear to the extent that we no participate in life. If we do not
participate fully in life, we have impoverished relationships, and so
God’s relationship with life is diminished. Jesus may be different
not in being “perfect” (a notion with little ecological or
evolutionary meaning), but in accepting death, even violent death, so
as to enter into life. Certainly his challenge to those who would follow
him, as we have it recorded in the gospels, frequently refers to the need
to accept finitude in order to participate in eternal life, especially
finitude deliberately inflicted by others . Yet his was not a morbid life.
He did not pursue finitude but he did not hide from it either. This enabled
him to embrace life in all its fullness, and that is what he offered to
those who came to know God through him.
Jesus’ mission would
then be to call humans to embrace our finitude in order to participate
in life, to have full relationships which God can vicariously enjoy, and
to have a full, direct relationship with God. In other words, Jesus came
to call us back into the evolutionary story of life.
Feb 19th Why was Jesus here?
Jesus came for humanity’s
Jesus’ central message as recorded and expounded by his earliest
followers was that God loves humans. This is what gives us the confidence
to embrace our finitude.
How it gives us this confidence:
Clark- we fear the lack of either close relationships or autonomy. We
fear anything which might happen to use which would diminish either of
Our personality and life experiences
probably dictates whether, when we are down (experiencing finitude), we
most fear being abandoned, or smothered.
Yet paradoxically, according
to Jesus, when we cling to these things, we start to lose them. When we
cling desperately to relationships as if they were our protection from
finitude, they start to fray. If we isolate ourselves to escape being
confronted by finitude it finds us, alone, anyway.
So Jesus came to save those
of us who are bound up in fear from it. He came to save those who are
cut off from life back into life. Not just life with humans, but the whole
evolutionary story of life.
Jesus came, equally,
for the sake of other creatures.
When humans are freed from the fear of finitude, they can let go of consumption
and control and profit maximisation, and all the illusions they create
to give the impression that finitude does not exist, or can be avoided.
So a secondary salvation occurs
for those creatures whose habitats are being destroyed by those who seek
escape, or at least distraction, from finitude, by those who are hiding
Just one example, the domestic
livestock who are crammed into slaughter yards, trembling fearfully amidst
the sounds and smells of death which they know intuitively spell danger
for them (If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.)
It is quite appropriate for
a wild ox to be afraid when it sees a lion- it might keep it alive. Its
another thing to spend days or weeks in constant fear, especially if that
fear is futile.
God does not need to save other
creatures from the fear of finitude, it usually only concerns them when
it needs to (like when they see a lion). Non domesticated animals, as
far as we know, participate fully in life.
One way of looking at things:
God acts to “save” creation, not by changing its nature but
by limiting the ecological impact of humans within nature. A world in
which every human enacted Jesus’ recorded teachings about money
and property would not even need a concept like environmental sustainability,
A very conservative, literalist
reading of the gospels would be, I believe, wrong in many ways, but it
would certainly, if acted out, have radical environmental consequences.
Jesus becomes the Jonah sent
to warn humans of the consequences of our godless ways, or the Lorax who
speaks for the trees . Here we reconnect again with the vast body of ecotheology
which, for whatever reasons, calls on us to limit our consumption of resources
in order to make more available to the rest of life on Earth.
Jesus’ call to individual
humans to embrace their inevitable death, so as to participate in life,
might also be relevant to the human species- a call to embrace our extinction
so as to make way for new life, new forms of experience and relationships
for God to enjoy.
Because finally God
did it for God, whose experience of life includes the experience
of life through creatures, as well as the love of creatures.
God thus stands to experience
less fear and more joy if we escape our bondedness to unnecessary fear,
at least to the extent that it no longer stops us participating in Life-
finding loving relationships, but also enjoying our own company and creativity,
and finding a way of making meaning of the occasional tension between
those two ways of being.
26th What does everyone else reckon?
The best way to find out would
be to come along, but we might put some of the comments here...