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Aspects of Teilhardian Idolatry

by

Kurt Almqvist

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 12, No. 3 & 4. (Summer-Autumn, 1978). © World Wisdom, Inc.
www.studiesincomparativereligion.com


BECAUSE of the absolute character of things divine, one has the right, in considering man’s position with regard to them, not to heed the details but to reduce the totality of possibilities to such and such a simple alternative. In certain cases even, this simplification is probably the only way of being truthful in the face of transcendent realities. Christ himself said: “Let your communication be ‘Yea, yea; Nay, nay’” (Matthew 5:37); “He that is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23); “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other: Ye cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Now in reality, since the whole of existence is penetrated by the Absolute, as the tree is penetrated by the sap, the great alternative is always and everywhere present in the life of man, as also in every age of humanity.

The evidence of this truth becomes particularly manifest in regard to the pseudo-metaphysical syntheses of neo-modernism, where evolutionist and pantheist materialism substitutes itself for religion by means of subversion and parody. One example of this, amongst others, is the fantastic evolutionary universe imagined by Teilhard de Chardin, some aspects of which we intend here to point out.

When examining, first, the position taken by Teilhard towards that great modern “problem” of the apparent opposition “faith—science,” one soon discovers obvious contradictions in his attitude. On the one hand, as a scientist and an heir of the empiricist prejudices, he does not want to risk his reputation by mingling “pure research” with an element of spiritual certainty; but on the other hand, he is eager to create a synthesis of everything that constitutes our relation with reality, visible as well as invisible. These two contradictory tendencies are reflected in enunciations like this: on the one hand, Teilhard says: “Beyond these first purely scientific reflections [his italics], there is obviously ample room for the most far-reaching speculations of the philosopher and the theologian. Of set purpose, I have at all times carefully avoided venturing into that field of the essence of being;”[1] but on the other hand, he confesses to “feel how, in itself [his italics], the exploration of the earth neither enlightens nor answers the most fundamental questions of life ...”; and he adds: “The more this problem seems to grow before my eyes, the more I see that its solution cannot be sought elsewhere than in a ‘faith’ transcending every experience. One has to force and go beyond appearances.”[2] In fact, it is really this second attitude that has determined the work of Teilhard. His reference to “a ‘faith’ transcending every experience” involves a negation of empiricism which, in itself, might reopen the way to a deductive vision of the universe. But this possibility is immediately abolished by the following phrase: “One has to force and go beyond appearances”; for these words show that, even when Teilhard is in search of an all-embracing synthesis, his conscience cannot but be tied to perceptible reality. ‘Why should he otherwise feel obliged to “force” this reality when desiring to “go beyond it”? [3] In fact, one can see in this an expression of impotence and impatience—or of bad conscience—on the part of one who feels obscurely that he approaches things from false starting-points, but who wants nevertheless to achieve at any cost the development of his thought. When a normal contemplative person—for instance in Antiquity or in the Middle Ages—wishes to “go beyond appearances,” he does so in the serene consciousness that, in their essence, these appearances remain eternally in the “world of ideas” and, in the final analysis, in their Divine Origin; and there is really no question here of “forcing” things, but on the contrary, of letting them appear in their true nature!

In any case, the words of Teilhard just quoted show that he does not content himself with the “classic” evolutionism, which has reference only to the sensible world. No, “the craze for trying to bring everything back to a single univocal and uninterrupted genetic line here exceeds the material plane and launches out wildly into an irresponsible and avid ‘mentalization,’ characterized by an abstraction clothed in artificial images which their author ends up by taking literally, as if it were a case of concrete realities.”[4] This abstraction—considered first in its last phases—can be summarily described as follows: the “energies” of the human consciousnesses are perfected over the millennia by an uninterrupted increase of “complexity” and, at the same time, by the “convergence” into one single psychic “mass,” “the collected and hoarded produce of a million years of thought” (p. 286); and this “mass of consciousness,” which mounts “over our heads” in a “conical cyclone” (pp. 165 and 305), will finally, in a “paroxysm of harmonized complexity” (p. 262), unite in the “Point Omega,” the Summit of the cosmic cone.

Teilhard gives to this summit the attribute of “transcendence” (p. 271), and says: “While being the last term of its series, it is also outside all series” (p. 270). This is, however, only one example of the contradictions with which his work abounds. [5] In reality, Teilhard’s “Omega” does not go beyond the existence which is determined by form and number, and consequently it is neither “transcendent” nor “outside all series.” Moreover it must be said that Teilhard always keeps himself very close to what is simply the gross part of psycho-physical existence. It is the density and heaviness of matter which imbues his language—and this is so even when he speaks of “Omega”: “All round us, one by one, . . . ‘souls’ break away, carrying upwards their incommunicable load of consciousness”; and: “It is by definition in Omega that . . . the hoard of consciousness liberated little by little on earth by noegenesis, adds itself together and accumulates.”[6]   Indeed, how could he—or rather: why should he want to—ever free himself from that stamp, since, for him, it is the gross state which is at the origin of universal evolution? “There exists only matter becoming spirit”; and: “thus much matter [is needed] for thus much spirit.”[7]

Now, when Teilhard calls his “summation of consciousnesses” (p. 262) in “Omega” a “union” (ibid.), this is evidently a nonsense; for in reality, what warrants—or rather constitutes—the unity of two elements is the infinite and indivisible Essence hidden in both of them: the flux or ray which descends from God through all levels of Existence and all beings, reuniting them with one another and with Him who is eternally “the Life” of the world and “the Light of men” (John 1:4). In order to ward off the suspicion of pantheism, one must however add that the descent in question is such only from our limited point of view, for God is all-embracing Reality, and consequently He cannot really “descend” from Himself and enter something else, as this “else” does not exist as such. Nevertheless, the world has a relative reality, in so far as God manifests Himself by it; and in doing so, God is present in the center of everything.

Teilhard’s system would, however, not be What it is if it did not imply the negation of this “Transcendent Immanence.” Indeed, his negation of the divine Center hidden in existence is connected with another fundamental negation: that of the divine Origin of things,[8] of the “spirit of life” which God “blew” into man (Gen. 2:7) and, through him, into the whole of creation, thereby securing to it a participation in the eternal and immutable nature of Spirit.

The divine Emanation is continuous only from the “standpoint” of Divinity Itself—a “standpoint” in which man can take part thanks to “the eye of the heart” (Eph. 1:18), the uncreated aspect of his intellect; from the human standpoint, the Supra-terrestrial appears of necessity as the “Absolutely Other,” as separated from our world by an insuperable abyss. It is as if we tried, by our ordinary, outward eyes, to seize the sight of the sun: it blinds us and leaves us in the obscurity of our closed eyes—an experience which forces us, so to speak, to seek “the sun” only within us, by means of the “eye of the heart.” This is the essential, meta-physical discontinuity, and this is lacking in Teilhard. The discontinuity which exists, effectively, in his universe—but to which he himself closes his eyes—is a “minor” one, consisting in the indefinite divisibility of matter. Thus if, like Teilhard, one starts from matter and has hardly anything else in view, it can only be a question of climbing, so to speak, “from stone to stone,” without hope of ever leaving this accumulation of accidents.

In all this, the parodied and caricatured nature of the Teilardian system is immediately apparent, a nature which is a direct result of his reversed “genesis.” As a matter of fact, the absurd “cyclone” rising, according to Teilhard, from matter is like an inverted and false image of the continuity which, in traditional cosmogony, “descends” from Spirit through the states of being; and, on the other hand, the otherness which, without reason, the paleontologist and philosopher attributes to his “Omega” is like a counterfeit of that true discontinuity which separates the world as such from the Beyond.[9]

*          *          *

If we now take the liberty of following back—or down—the evolutionist curve of Teilhard, we shall see that the first great phases of this evolution have a character which gives them an essential resemblance to the ultimate phase of which we have just spoken. These first degrees are two in number: the birth of life out of matter, called by Teilhard “the transit to life,” and the production of consciousness out of life, called “the threshold of reflection.” In both cases, the genesis is said to be made as an act of concentration, accomplished “upon itself” by the original element, and in the description of these two acts, the philosopher develops an imagination which one would like to be devoted to another cause. Thus, “the transit to life” is represented as resulting from a “coiling up of the molecule upon itself,” which would mean a “growing synthesis [sic!] of molecules” (p. 73); and “the threshold of reflection” is said by Teilhard to be a procedure in which the rudimentary consciousness existing in life “turns in upon itself, to take possession of itself as of an object endowed with its own particular consistence and value” (p. 165; his italics). In so doing, this consciousness increases its intensity to the utmost up to a sort of “effervescence” or “ ‘explosion’ onto itself,” which the philosopher compares to the boiling of water (p. 168) and which “is . . . a matter, not of change of degree, but of a change of nature, resulting from a change of state” (p. 166; our italics).

Behind all this hides a contradiction like the one which we mentioned in connection with Teilhard’s way of describing the afflux into “Omega” of the “thinking layer”: how could this profound transformation take place in the living element, when this element is no more than its appearance, that is, when it has no transcendent core of being? On the other hand, how could the “coiling up upon itself” come about without there being, at its beginning, two “selves” or two “egos”: one upon which the act in question is accomplished and another from which it emanates? That is, actually, the initial situation viewed by the great spiritual traditions, here with regard to the act of personal concentration; and the first of the two “egos” is precisely the transcendent and universal core of being which was just mentioned and for Which the attribute of “self” is particularly appropriate, because of the evocatory symbolism of this reflexive pronoun.[10] The other “I” is the empirical and individual ego; but as this is only a passing modality of the divine “Self” at the center of the being, the distinction in question is equally ephemeral and illusory and dissolves according as—in consequence of the very concentration—the peripheral “I” unites effectively with the central “Self.”

If here we repeat matters as well-known or as evident as these, it is only to show how much Teilhard’s famous “coiling up upon itself” is a counterfeit of true spiritual concentration: the “self” of the Jesuit man of learning proceeds from below—and consequently remains below—, whereas in traditional doctrines it is a question of “reabsorbtion upwards” of the individual elements into the supra-formal “Self.”[11] It is only the latter which, thanks to its very universality, can be the vehicle of a change of apparently partial light into integral intelligence, a “change” Which in reality is only an actualization of what is already there, under the appearance of the ephemeral “I.” On the other hand, a “mutation from zero to everything,” as Teilhard calls his “threshold of reflection” (p. 171), is really an absurdity; for Totality is what it is, and the elements which it includes can only come from Itself! Thus, in speaking of “Totality” one affirms, by this very word, that It has always existed; and this, by the way, forms the decisive argument against every doctrine of Evolution.

And finally, concerning the “transit to life”: how could life come from matter if—as is the case—it is the first of these two elements which ontologically is the most comprehensive, since it is next to the Origin which is Totality Itself? The cosmogonic relation is contrary to what Teilhard teaches; and if, against this affirmation, one appeals to the fact that life has appeared on earth a long time after matter, it is to fail to take account of the possibility of life abiding, without manifesting itself, in the subtle sphere, even after having given birth to matter: life then remains absorbed in this sphere of Reality, waiting for its manifestation.[12]

*          *          *

The Teilhardian conception of matter as almighty and all-embracing Reality is expressed with as much concision as possible in the following phrase, which introduces the final chapter of The Phenomenon of Man (p. 273):“Without the involution of matter upon itself, that is to say, without the closed chemistry of molecules, cells, and phyletic branches, there would never have been either biosphere or noosphere. In their advent and their development, life and thought are, not only accidentally, but also structurally, bound up with the contours and destiny of the terrestrial mass.” “Holy Matter” and, proceeding from It, “Holy Evolution”[13] : two idolatries tied together, or two aspects of the same great idolatry. As has been explained here above, the former denies the God who, in the center of everything, is the “Unmoved Mover” or, according to Islam, “The Inward” (Al-Bātin), who finds His complement in “God—The Outward” (Az-Zāhir), the divine Presence penetrating into the extreme, coagulated regions of Manifestation. The other aspect of Teilhardian idolatry, the cult of evolution, denies the God who—still according to Islam—is “The First” (Al-Awwal)as well as “The Last” (Al-Ākhir). Thus together, the two idolatries deny what Frithjof Schuon has called “the ‘time-space’ cross,” the two “Dimensions of the Universe in the Koranic Doctrine of the Divine Names.”[14]

The culminating expression of this denial is the affirmation—logical in the perspective of Teilhard—that God himself is drawn by the “cyclone” which rises from matter and that, consequently, far from being the Lord of existence and its becoming, He is the captive and the outcome thereof: “The Christian God cannot be other than a God of Cosmogenesis—that is a God of evolution”; and Christ is “the Term of the evolution—even the natural evolution of beings.”[15] One could certainly not find any clearer formulations than these of what constitutes the specifically Teilhardian way of “serving,” “loving” and “holding to” “Mamon,” in the most general and at the same time most profound meaning of that biblical term.

That Teilhard himself was conscious of the precariousness of his faith appears clearly from the following, most revealing confession: “If, in consequence of some inner subversion, I should lose successively my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the Spirit, it seems to me that I would continue to believe in the world. The world—thevalue, the infallibility and the goodness of the worldthis is, in the last analysis, the first and the only thing in which I believe.[16]  




NOTES

[1] The Phenomenon of Man, Eng. trans. by Bernard Wall, Collins, London, 1959, p. 29. We have not had access to any of Teilhard’s works in English other than this translation of Le Phénomène humain, (Ed. du Seuil, Paris, 1955)—which is the one most often quoted in our article. When, below, the references indicate only page numbers, it is to this work that they relate.

[2] Lettres de voyages, 1923-1939, p. 31; our italics.

[3] Such violence towards “appearances” can easily be pointed out in the case of Teilhard, as with all the evolutionists. One need only think of the falsifications of reality of which Darwinism makes itself guilty in order to introduce facts into its pre-conceived scheme; as is to be expected, this biological evolutionism forms part of Teilhard’s system.

[4] Titus Burckhardt, “Cosmology and Modem Science” in The Sword of Gnosis, Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A., 1974, p. 151.

[5] Nothing else is to be expected, given that, by his work, Teilhard does nothing but “deny himself,” that is, the true nature of man.

[6] Pp. 272 and 261; our italics. The term “noogenesis”—from nous and genesis—indicates the production, from the “vital sphere,” of the “thinking layer” (p. 187) which surrounds the earth and which Teilhard calls the “noosphere.” The same confusion by which this author characterizes his “Omega” as “transcendent” and “outside all series,” makes him describe the “layer” in question in the following way: “a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses, equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness” (p. 251). On hearing definitions like these, one understands how Teilhard has been able to accept Marxist communism as a sort of brotherly complement of Christianity.

[7] L’Energie humaine, Ed. du Seuil, Paris, 1962, pp. 74 and 125.

[8] “I admit having no sympathy for biblical Creationism” (Letter from 1954, cited in Philippe de la Trinité, o.c.d., Rome et Teilhard de Chardin, Libr. Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1964, p. 168).

[9] “All errors concerning the world and God consist either in a ‘naturalistic’ denial of the discontinuity and so also of transcendence—whereas it is on the basis of this transcendence that the whole edifice of science should have been raised—or else in the failure to understand the metaphysical and `descending’ continuity which in no way abolishes the discontinuity starting from the relative” (Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1963, pp. 108 f.; also in Mandala Paperback, pp. 108 f.). In a footnote, the author adds, speaking of the “ ‘naturalistic’ denial of discontinuity” : “It is mainly this ‘scientific’ prejudice—going hand in hand with a falsification and impoverishment of speculative imagination—which prevents a man like Teilhard de Chardin from conceiving the overriding discontinuity between matter and the soul, or between the natural and the supernatural orders and so leads to the evolutionary outlook, which—inverting the truth—makes everything begin with matter” (p. 108, n. 1). Let us also quote the same author in an article published in this journal: “Certainly, it is not our individual thought process which preceded the world; it was—or is—absolute Consciousness, of which our thought is, precisely, a distant reflection. Our thought recalls to us and proves to us that in the beginning was the Spirit and that nothing is more absurd than to claim to derive intelligence from matter. For the evolutionary leap from matter to intelligence is the most arbitrary, the most inconceivable and the most foolish hypothesis possible, in comparison with which ‘simple faith’ seems like a mathematical equation” (“Consequences Flowing from the Mystery of Subjectivity,” Studies in Comp. Rel., Autumn 1977, p. 197).—It is to the work of Frithjof Schuon that we owe what we know about metaphysical continuity and discontinuity. He has treated this subject many times, among others in In the Tracks of Buddhism, Allen & Unwin, London, 1968, p. 26 f.

[10] See René Guénon, Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta, Luzac & Co., London, 1945, ch. II, “Fundamental Distinction between the ‘Self’ and the ‘ego’ ”.

[11] In the last resort, that of which Teilhard’s “threshold of reflection” is like a caricature is the divine Act, the Prototype of spiritual concentration, by which Divinity produces Manifestation as an image of Itself, by reflecting Itself in Itself.

[12] “People accept transformist evolution as a useful and provisional postulate just as they are ready to accept no matter what on condition that they do not have to accept the primacy of Spirit. And yet, starting from this immediately tangible mystery which is subjectivity or intelligence, it is easy to understand that the origin of the Universe is not inert and unconscious matter, but a spiritual Substance which, from coagulation to coagulation and from segmentation to segmentation—and other projections, both manifesting and limiting—finally produces matter by causing it to emerge from a more subtle substance, but one that is already distant from principial Substance” (Frithjof Schuon in Studies in Comp. Rel., aut. 1977, p. 198). See also Maurice Vernet, La grande illusion de Teilhard de Chardin, and Vernet contre T. de Ch., une démystification, Gedalge, Paris, 1964 and 1965.

[13] The first expression is quoted from Vernet contre T. d Ch., p: 22, and the second is to be found in Hymne de l’Univers, Ed. du Seuil, Paris, 1961, p. 144: ‘L’Evolution est sainte.” Let us remark that a scholastic of the Middle Ages might also have cried out: “O sancta Materia!” But in this case it would have been a question of the passive, substantial Pole of God Himself.

[14] This is the title of chapter 2 of Dimensions of Islam, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1970. The author says here that this doctrine is “at once both metaphysical and cosmological, and by the same token a spiritual alchemy as well” (p. 30).

[15] Claude Cuénot, Pierre T. de Ch., les grandes étapes de son évolution, Plon, Paris, 1958, p. 449, and Hymne de l’Univers, p. 144 (Teilhard’s italics).

[16] “Comment je crois,”a non-published essay, quoted in Phil. De la Trinité, Rome et T. de Ch., p. 190 (our italics).


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