St John’s in Edinburgh, the well respected liberal bastion of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, played host to an enthralling dialogue between Bishop Brian Smith and evolutionary visionary Andrew Cohen last week. The immense subtlety, understanding, and philosophical depth of the perspicacious Bishop facilitated an engaging and hugely informative dialogue with Andrew, who took on the toughest of questions and successfully placed them into the context of an evolutionary cosmological worldview.
Whilst the vastness and depth of the topics cannot be done justice here, I will attempt to sketch out one or two of the highlights. Responding to Andrew’s inspired utopian passion and conviction in the positivity of evolutionary development, the Bishop put forward the well-known notion that most traditional religions saw suffering as an intrinsic part of spiritual life and wondered how this fitted in to the perspective that Andrew was propounding.
Andrew replied by pointing out that the force that initiated evolution from utter emptiness in the beginning was, in fact, a gigantic violent explosion. In describing the process within which galaxies collided and stars continue to collapse, Andrew made it clear that a quality of ferocity permeates every aspect of the evolutionary process. Evolution proceeds through stress and friction and is inherently imperfect; human suffering is therefore inevitable as we clamber along the path of evolutionary progress. Nevertheless, in Andrew’s view, the underlying dynamics of evolution are fundamentally positive and whole.
Later on, Bishop Smith introduced the concept of unconditional love, stating the highest form of love in his tradition was to love the enemy. Loving similar, likeminded people is easy, he said, but loving a person full of hatred and enmity is the greatest challenge. Andrew agreed that exceptional and rare human beings are able to pull off this saintly attitude. However, he countered by asking how such a saint’s love might be manifest in relationship to Adolf Hitler? The Bishop was provoked into offering a profoundly sagacious point, saying that the human path to morality is a complex one and the choices faced are rarely between good and bad, which is easy, but much more ambiguously between contrasting shades of good and good or between bad and bad, and that this is the struggle of being human. For example, he said, even a saint who was filled with unconditional love might have felt compelled to shoot Hitler–yet his conscience would be scarred for life.
The whole conversation was a riveting exploration, and the humble and engaged questioning of Bishop Smith helped reveal the subtleties of Andrew’s evolutionary worldview, helping those new to his work to deepen their understanding of the emerging, post-traditional terrain of evolutionary spirituality.