Thursday, March 1, 2012

Week 12, Exercise 1: Unity Differentiates

This exercise should be experienced between March 4 and March 7.

A month ago we pondered Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's explanation of how we can follow Christ within an evolutionary view of the universe. As you recall, Teilhard realized that even the most mundane tasks can help human societies to progress. Within the context of Jesus' teaching us to love, we will develop Teilhard's insights even more.

As Teilhard studied the universe, he noticed that as the process of evolution moved along, matter became spirit. We see this especially in the development of primates and the development of hominids. As species evolved, more matter in the animals' body was located in the brain. The brain to body ratio grew. He also speaks of this when he claims that as different life forms develop, life forms become more complex.

Teilhard also noticed that as living entities came into existence, they abided by the principle that "unity differentiates." What Teilhard meant by this is that, as organisms develop, they develop harmonious wholes that unify previously disparate elements. These unities are new. They have evolved. These unities came into being by uniting previously disparate elements, but the structures that are formed in the new unity are not melted into each other. These new structures within the unity are differentiated. The harmonious wholes differentiate and individuate their component parts. Consider how cells first came into existence. In Teilhard's Mysticism of Knowing, Teilhard scholar Tom King explains:

"At some moment billions of years ago inert elements came together and formed the first living cell, 'a cell is born.' All of the separate elements were there before the cell appeared, the unity itself was new. And this unity was more than the sum of its parts. In forming the cell the elements have not lost their original character to 'become blurred and confused together.' Rather, that which is distinctive about every one of the elements is accentuated, 'their own nature is reinforced' (AE, 116). 'True unity does not fuse the elements it brings together,' rather, 'by mutual fertilization' it renews them (HE, 63), or as Teilhard would often repeat, 'Unity differentiates'. . . .
The living unity 'super-differentiates' the elements that it unites . . . .the living cell has a unity wherein the particular quality of each element--its form--is further intensified. The living organism does not dissolve the specific character of its elements, it needs this character, it accentuates it, and draws it into a more complex whole." (Teilhard's Mysticism of Knowing, 32)

Teilhard claims that billions of years later, the same type differentiating process occurred when thought evolved in the development of human beings. As Teilhard sees it, a new theory unites previously disparate elements. Each part of the theory contributes to the theory and maintains its existence. The theory unifies and differentiates component parts. The human mind organizes experiences, sensations and feelings into a theory while at the same time respecting the integrity of each component part.

Finally, unity differentiates in the unity of all things in God. Tom King again comments:

"Perhaps the moment of living faith comes upon us suddenly--like a breeze passing in the night. 'God reveals himself everywhere' . . . All things possess a deep brilliance, yet their individuality is 'accented in meaning' (D, 130). The divine illumination has retained and exalted 'all that is most specific' (D, 118) All things are united in God, but at the same time God 'pushes to its furthest possible limit the differentiation among the creatures he concentrates in himself' (D, 116). Thus for the final time 'unity differentiates.' First, this characterized the unity formed by life, then the unity formed by thought; now it is true of the unity of all things in God." (King, 52)

The same is true of the organization of human societies, especially of societies influenced by the Gospel: a real unity in the society differentiates the people within the society. You do not build a society up by breaking the people within it down. Yes, it is true that certain forms of collectivism have sacrificed the individuality of the people they rule, but that is not a real unity in Teilhard's sense.

Now consider:

1. When have I experienced the truth that unity differentiates? Does it give me insight into the charity Jesus preaches about?

2. When have I accepted the evolutionary task of forming differentiating unities--organizations that respect the freedom of the people who live in them? Did I feel the consolation of doing so?

3. What other insights occur to me?

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