A Sample Chapter

Why do we Need a New Worldview?

Why do we need a new worldview? This is the question addressed in Human Presence, the most well-known book by Metropolitan Paulos Mar Gregorios, What follows is a brief account of the context of writing this book and the major ideas discussed in it.

The Context
In 1979 the World Council of Churches called a world conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in USA. The topic of the conference was Faith, Science and the Future of Humanity. Attended by about 500 physical scientists, and about the same number of social scientists and theologians, this conference was chaired by none other than Paulos Mar Gregorios. The conference, which preceded five years of preparation, lasted seven days. Mar Gregorios later looked back at this memorable event and wrote in his autobiography that it was a major turning point in his own thought-life.  He wrote, “I had occasion to work with many world thinkers on the issues relating to modern science as our chief way of knowing, and to modern technology as our principal tool for transforming society and environment.” 1
Mar Gregorios authored three books in connection with this conference.

  1. Science and Our Future2     CLS Madras, 1978
  2. Human Presence3   WCC Geneva 1978, 1979, CLS Madras 1980, Amity House NY 1987
  3. Science for Sane Societies4   CLS Madras 1980, Paragon House 1987, 1994

Science and Our Future was written in preparation for the conference. It was a combined work with contributions from several Indian scientists and thinkers. Mar Gregorios was the primary contributor and the general editor of the book.

The dramatic context of authoring Human Presence is found in the autobiography as follows: 

In 1978, as I was chairing the Preparatory Committee for the WCC’s famous World Conference on Faith, Science and the Future, I was infuriated by a book by one of my Committee members giving the Christian theological basis for an approach to the Environment problem. It was much too Calvinistic and hardly Christian from my perspective. The best I could do to respond was to sit in the Gregorian Library in Rome for three weeks and produce The Human Presence, giving an Eastern Orthodox Christian approach to the same problem. It has been one of my more successful books in terms of sales and reviews. The chapter on “Mastery and Mystery” has been widely quoted.6

Once the conference was over, Mar Gregorios took time to put down his own thoughts on it, which was published as Science for Sane Societies.

During the cold war, the US, Soviet Union, and other nations amassed nuclear weapons as much as to destroy all life on earth several times over. When the extreme danger intrinsic to nuclear war and the possession of nuclear weapons became apparent to all sides, a series of disarmament and nonproliferation treaties were agreed upon between the United States, the Soviet Union, and several other states throughout the world. Many of these treaties involved years of negotiations, and seemed to result in important steps toward creating a world free of nuclear weapons. Behind the peace that the world is enjoying today is the influence of organizations like WCC and the dedicated work of numerous humanitarians like Paulos Mar Gegorios. The primary purpose of the conference in USA in 1979 was to make the world aware of the existential problems facing humanity and to seek solutions.  It was an opportunity for the best scientists and theologians in the world to come together and find ways to save life on this planet. It was like a meeting of some physicians to diagnose the illness of the world and to prescribe a remedy. Being the principal organizer and coordinator of this conference, the primary responsibility to guide the conference in making the right diagnosis fell on Mar Gregorios. He presented his views of the illness of the humanity, its diagnosis, and its treatment in The Human Presence.

A Chariot Running Amok
In the preface, Mar Gregorios uses the metaphor of a chariot running amok. It keeps moving, but without any clear and specific guidance or purpose. It is already out of its right path and almost about to fall headlong into a deep trench, from where it may not recover. The chariot is our civilization, and the charioteer is the humanity. Mar Gregorios classifies the existential problems faced by humanity into three groups:

  1. The poverty of billions of people perpetuated by economic injustice and exploitation. We failed in producing essential goods and distributing them equally. This makes us fight and even kill each other to possess the resources.
  2. A sense of meaninglessness and boredom among the affluent, raising fundamental questions about the values of the consumer society and the civilization based on it.
  3. Challenges to human existence posed by scientific-technological culture such as resource depletion, pollution, possible nuclear war, and possible misuse of artificial gene mutation.

                Why can’t this driver drive the chariot in the right direction? There is a problem with the vision of the driver. There is a dense fog, and something has gone wrong with the eyesight as well. Due to the poor vision, this driver doesn’t even realize that his chariot is running amok, and a catastrophe can happen any moment. If the driver can rub his eyes and regain some clarity of vision, he may be able to bring the chariot back to the right path. Mar Gregorios sees the conference of 1979 and his books as a part of humanity’s attempt to regain some clarity of vision. Today as I am writing this, and as you are reading this, we are also engaged in humanity’s attempt to gain some clarity of vision.
In order to stay on the right path, the driver needs to know where the chariot is in relation to the path and the surroundings. The humanity needs to have a clear vision of where it stands in relation to the world and to God. The primary problem is with our worldview.  The driver may be able to realize the problem with his present vision if he can remember how his sight was earlier. Mar Gregorios’ going back to the vision of the fourth century fathers is such an attempt. In Human Presence, Mar Gregorios gives us the opportunity to compare our own worldview with that of the fourth century fathers, especially of Gregory of Nyssa.

The Origin and Development of the Current Worldview
Like the ancient three-tier-worldview of heaven, earth, and hell, the classical western worldview is also a three-tier one with God, Humanity, and World. At the lowest level is the world or nature, an order with its own constitution. Above it is the humanity, creating culture and history through its actions. The top level is one of super-nature, grace, and revelation. Thus this structure may also be named nature-culture-grace. There is something seriously wrong in the way the relationship between these levels is viewed. These three levels are viewed as antagonistic to each other rather than as an integral system. This is the root cause of the present existential problems of humanity. Such an antagonistic worldview has led to our recent thoughtless exploitation of natural resources and to our unhealthy competition for the resources amassing weapons of mass destruction.

It is not very easy to trace the origin and development of this alienating worldview, but one may identify its roots in Augustine and in Thomas Aquinas. By 17th century, it evolved further into a “scientific” two-tiered worldview with man manipulating an objectified nature –mechanistic and materialistic. No more super-nature was in the picture.

There have been two major admirable attempts recently to develop an alternative worldview. One is process theology, based on the philosophical thought of A.N. Whitehead (1861- 1947). The other one is the view of Teilhard de Chardin (1881- 1955). Both of these views try to rectify the defects of the classical worldview, and present a much better and constructive view of the world.

View of Gregory of Nyssa
The best alternative to the classical western view can be found in the classical Eastern Orthodox view as seen in Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory was very much familiar with the pre-Christian classical Greek views such as platonic and stoic. It is possible that Gregory came to know Platonism through Plotinus, later known as neo-Platonist. The stoics saw the world as a living being with God as its soul. Plato saw our visible, changing world as an expression of the invisible, changeless world. Although Gregory derived valuable insights from them, he did not accept them as such. He modified their worldviews with Christian insights.

Unlike the western view, Gregory saw all that exists as one integral system. The created existence depends upon the uncreated existence and exists within it. Humanity exists as an integral part of the created existence like a fruit to a plant. Humanity is as integral to the world as the brain or heart is to the body. Humanity along with the rest of the world is the visible image of the invisible God. According to this view, the glory of God has to be expressed in the world, especially in humanity. This view is opposed to the western view that humanity’s glory is opposed to the Glory of God.

Nature, Humanity, and God are not three distinct realities with a space-interval between their boundaries. Humanity is part of the nature from which it cannot turn away from as long as it needs space to exist, and as long as it needs to breathe, eat, drink, and eliminate waste. God is not a reality with precise physical boundaries. God is the reality which sustains both man and nature, and it is through man and nature that God expresses himself. 

Mastery of nature for oneself is the Adamic sin of refusing our mediating position between God and nature. The mastery of nature must be held within the mystery of worship. Otherwise we lose both mastery and mystery. We may give nature as our extended body into the hands of the loving God in Eucharistic self-offering. This is the mystery of the cross. Christ gave himself, with humanity and nature, to God in self-denying love, and thereby saved humanity and nature.
This tradition set by Gregory of Nyssa continued with sages such as Dionysius, the Areopagite, in the fifth century, Maximus, the confessor, in the seventh century, and with Vladimir Solovyov in the 19th century.

We Need to Create New Worldviews
Old worldviews need to be replaced with new ones. Creating new images or worldviews is the art of iconopeia. Mar Gregorios cites Olivier Reiser as an excellent image maker. He brings a lucid mind and an encyclopedic knowledge of science, religion, and art to the task of making images of the future. In his Cosmic Humanism, he advances the hypothesis that human beings are the embryonic cells of an emerging world organism. He conceives the planet earth as a psychosomatic creature with an organized humanity forming its brain cortex. Reiser proposed a global picture language and a global communication medium using an artificial sea of electricity enveloping the globe. Reiser’s cosmos includes a manifest universe and an unmanifest universe. Nature has a double-layer structure. The upper level, consisting of material objects, energies and forces, is the manifest layer accessible to our senses. The lower layer, consisting of electric and magnetic fields, remains unmanifest.  This picture of cosmos is different from the ones of whitehead and Teilhard Chardin, which lack such an unmanifest level.

We Need to Address Ethical Questions Anew
We need to identify good from what is not good. We also need to know why we have to do good. These questions can be adequately answered only in the background of a worldview. Ethical questions cannot be considered without ontological questions. Examination and evaluation of worldviews is the primary task of Ontology or Metaphysics.

The present ethical rules are very much individualistic. Let us consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an example. It speaks about the rights and freedom of human individuals, but not about societies. Education is oriented toward the development of the personality, not toward the development of societies. These ethical guidelines are the product of the worldview of western liberalism, according to which the world is made of individual human beings exploiting nature. Ethical guidelines are lacking in relation to human communities, nations and to humanity as a whole. We need to evolve better and more comprehensive ethical guidelines based on better worldviews. 

The holders of power in the present system, eager to maintain their privileged position, resist any change to the present system. Instead of establishing justice, they create institutions of charity, by which they help the poor while keeping them in poverty. Often churches become instruments of such exploitation.

A new view of life and a way of life cannot be developed by individuals living separately, but by a community of mature, capable, and charismatic people who live together for a few years. The members have to be from diverse national, religious, and cultural backgrounds. They need to engage in serious study on the problems that confront humanity, embody a new spirituality with transparency to the transcendent and to each other, evolve a style of life with simplicity and spontaneity, and participate fully in the life and struggles of the community around. 

Conclusion
Paulos Mar Gregorios was making two pleas through The Human Presence. One, make a correction in our worldview, and two, make a global community effort to develop a way of life based on the corrected worldview. In the present popular worldview, there is no God, and nature is treated as an object humanity can manipulate. We need a worldview in which God, humanity, and nature are integrally related. Based on this new worldview, a new civilization needs to be built. Such an attempt needs to begin with a community of pioneers who will test this worldview in their community life. They must have the courage to face the Cross from the beneficiaries of injustice.

References

  1. Gregorios, Paulos. (1997). Love's Freedom, The Grand Mystery. Kottayam: MGF.
  2. Gregorios, Paulos. (1978). Science and Our Future.  Madras: CLS.
  3. Gregorios, Paulos. (1978). Human Presence. Geneva: WCC
  4. Gregorios, Paulos. (1980). Science for Sane Societies. Madras: CLS.
  5. Gregorios, Paulos. (1997). Love's Freedom, The Grand Mystery. Kottayam: MGF.