The Evidential Reformation: Facts as God’s Word

The Evidential Reformation: Facts as God’s Word January 21, 2015

IMG_0689Religion is undergoing a massive shift in perspective. It is a shift at least as wrenching as the Copernican revolution, which required humanity to bid farewell to an Earth-centered understanding of our place in the cosmos.

The religious revolution on the horizon today might well be called the “Evidential Reformation.” We humbly shift away from a human-centric, ethnocentric, and shortsighted view of what is important. At the same time, we expand our very identities to encompass the immense journey of life made known by the full range of sciences. In so doing, we all become elders of a sort, instinctively willing to do whatever it takes to pass on a world of health and opportunities no lesser than the one into which we were born.

At the heart of this theological and spiritual transformation is a profound shift in where we find our best guidance regarding two fundamental orientations: How things are (that is, What is real?) and Which things matter (that is, What is important?). The shift thus centers on both facts and values—and that means the shift is ultimately about everything.

The good news—the really good news, in my opinion—is that tens of millions of us around the world, secular and religious alike, agree that living in right relationship with reality in the 21st century requires us to value collectively discerned scientific, historic, and cross-cultural insights. The more we move in this direction together, the less our inherited scriptures will continue to divide us.

Religious practices and metaphysical beliefs that arose in particular regions of the world and in response to specific challenges in no way need vanish to make room for a larger and more compelling allegiance. Religions can and do evolve. All we need is to acknowledge that the greatest challenges facing Earthlings today, and the tools to work through those challenges, could not have been fully known by any religious prophet or sage of a bygone era—not Moses, not Jesus, not Muhammad, not Gautama, not Lao Tzu. Worse, we blaspheme the legacies of those leaders by freezing their insights into the pages of written text (a wrong I frame as a form of idolatry: “idolatry of the written word”).

This is why an evidential worldview has become crucial. We now know that evolutionary and ecological processes are at the root of life and human culture. To disregard, to dishonor, these processes through our own determined ignorance and cultural/religious self-focus is an evil that will bring untold suffering to countless generations of our own kind and all our relations. We must denounce such a legacy. Ours is thus a call to action—a call to sacred activism. Twenty years ago, Carl Sagan both chided and encouraged us in this way:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed.” . . . A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

I submit that the “religion” of which Sagan spoke has been emerging for decades, largely unnoticed, at the nexus of science, inspiration, and sustainability. Rather than manifesting as a separate and competing doctrine, it is showing up as a meta-religious perspective. Such an evidence-based emergent can nourish any secular or religious worldview that has moved past fundamentalist allegiances to the literal word of sacred texts. Few things reveal this more powerfully than the 55 interviews I recently conducted for the online conversation series, “The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness.” (Be sure to watch the 3 minute video trailer at the top of this page.)

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