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Human Development---Spiritual Development

Even though I read quite a bit, there is always more to read.  In fact, I am sure I am losing ground on all the new stuff out there.  That is probably true even in the world of religion and spirituality.  I am sure there is more being published---in print and on line---than any one person can read.  Rather than get discouraged, I simply hope to get my hands on some of the good ones.

My memory may be faulty, but I recollect that some person at Harvard in the early 1700s was the last person who had read all the books in Harvard’s library.  I know first-hand the library system there is amazing.  It is (I believe) the third largest in this country, after the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.  Even when I think about my little college, I realize there is no way I could read all the volumes.

However, I occasionally come across a book that I say, “I must read that one.”  This happened just recently when I was reading a review of a new book.  The book is by Edward O. Wilson.  I know Wilson’s name; he is a famous naturalist at Harvard.  Basically, he studies bugs---ants in particular.  But he has developed a phenomenal reputation as a world-class thinker and philosopher.  He is not an easy read and he is a real challenge for those of us who have some kind of religious affiliation.  The new book is entitled, The Social Conquest of Earth.  I must read that one.

Somewhere in the book he writes these sentences:  “We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology…We thrash about.  We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and the rest of life.”  This sounds so like E.O. Wilson!  It is a great couple of sentences and engages me to ponder and digest.

Wilson thinks we need to study bugs of various kinds to understand human development.  This is not too surprising, since I know he believes in evolution.  But it is interesting that he wants to go to the bug-level instead of the usual ape.  But then we get his clue.  Allow me to quote from the reviewer of the book, Kristin Ohlson.  She says, “Wilson ascribes the evolutionary success of humans and social insects to their complex social systems, which are rare in nature.”  He coins a word for these ”insect societies,” namely, “eusociality.”  Now since I know Greek, I know the word “eu” is the word for “good or well.”  So eusociality is nothing more than good or well societies. 

That connects to human development in Wilson’s mind.  He charts the usual evolutionary development as humans wander from the sea, develop a larger brain, etc.  But then, according to Wilson, we come to the crucial developmental phase which charts our creation of eusociality.  Through the words of the reviewer, Wilson notes that “what really took humans over the threshold into eusociality was the emergence of traits that favor a strong ‘nest:’ communication, the ability to read the intentions of others, the ability to divide tasks and cooperate.”

I find this fascinating.  It does not bother me to think that we have much in common with bugs!  Eusociality is an attractive idea.  The opposite would be a-sociality or malsociality---bad or awful sociality.  Murderers, Hitler, and others fit into that category.  So I find the idea hopeful that evolutionarily we are bred for goodness.

That seems in line with what the Genesis creation story told us so many aeons ago.  We were created for goodness.  This is where I would add the spiritual dimension to Wilson’s evolutionary tale of human development.  I fear that human development is not sufficient in itself to bring us fully into eusociality.  In fact, I am convinced there is a religious idea of what eusociality would be called.  I think Jesus called it the “kingdom.”  He came to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.  Spiritually that was a call to religious eusociality!

Jesus knew well how the Genesis story unfolded.  He knew the original couple began in paradise, but they blew it.  They sinned and were kicked out of the blessed place.  There was some atoning and restoring to be done.  That was the message and ministry of Jesus.  I suspect the same will be true for the evolving eusociality of Wilson’s vision.

In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that world peace will come when “thy kingdom comes.”  I am not sure we can evolve (or devolve back) into paradise without the grace of that creative God who still loves us and will love us into well being.  We will need the grace to discern the intentions of each other and encourage the best.  We will need communal love to cooperate in kingdom-building.

That’s the promise of human development with the graceful assistance of spiritual development.    

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