Teilhard in a Contemporary Context:  Bolstering the Socio-political Development of Nations with Caring Networks of Persons

by Mike McFarland

This tries to take a look at the main property of the world’s progress, by placing one of The Phenomenon of Man’s more appealing and accessible passages into a contemporary perspective. 

In 1945, largely to prevent war and to assuage poverty, world governments established the United Nations.  In the 1990s, to free their countries from border checks, European leaders implemented the Schengen Area. 

The UN has performed magnificently in a host of nations.  We can focus on two countries in northeastern Africa as examples.  In 1956, Egypt closed and with sunken ships clogged up, the Suez Canal.  Under the leadership of Dag Hammarskjold, the UN helped to clear away the blockage1 and sent the United Nations Emergency force to keep the canal open2.  Thirty-five hundred miles southeast of Egypt, Somalia, five years ago, had no government.  Thanks to the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, the Somalis now have a freely elected parliament3.  The United Nations has enjoyed successes.  The persons that make up nations, however, have not often risen to the level of altruism exemplified by the national and international elites.  Chronic warfare besets Afghanistan, Syria, and South Sudan.  In 2001, the attack by terrorists on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon killed almost 3000 people, injured about twice as many, and damaged more than 10 billion dollars of property and of infrastructure4

Since 1995, in most of Europe, individuals move freely, thanks to the Schengen Agreement.  The rules (acquis) profit Europeans and visitors both economically and socially.  Sadly, the acquis also benefits terrorists.  Since 2015, the European Union, which had incorporated the acquis into law5, has temporarily reintroduced border controls in France, in Malta, in Germany, in Austria, in Denmark, in Sweden and in Norway6.  As of February 2017, these controls remain active. 

The UN and the Schengen Area have come into being without enough moral progress of individual world citizens.  Why?  Given the passages here from The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard de Chardin would answer that western countries have failed to engender grassroots networks of heart-to-heart love.  Humanity, however, needs to establish these networks to avoid failures of the benign structures represented by the United Nations and the Schengen acquis – failures that would resemble fractures of bones devoid of tissue to support them from inside.

An idea difficult to implement?  Yes.

Teilhard writes about Bolshevism and Fascism:

We are distressed and pained when we see modern attempts
at human collectivization ending up, contrary to our expectations
and theoretical predictions, in a lowering and an enslavement of
consciousnesses. But so far how have we gone about the business
of unification? A material situation to be defended; a new
industrial field to be opened up, better conditions for a social
class or less favored nations – those are the only and very
mediocre grounds on which we have so far tried to get together.7

How far have we come in the eighty or so years since he wrote this?  We cannot pretend that the United Nations and the Schengen Area demonstrate evolution in reverse.  They have undoubtedly brought about a kind of progress, but progress largely at and originating from our societal pyramid’s apex.  We need, however, progress at its base. 

Let us compare the operation of the United Nations and implementation of the Schengen acquis, to the description of person-to-person love in this passage:

There is no cause to be surprised if, in the footsteps of animal
societies, we become mechanized in the very play of association.
Even in the supremely intellectual activity of science (at any rate
as long as it remains purely speculative and abstract) the impact
of our souls only operates obliquely and indirectly. Contact is
still superficial, involving the danger of yet another servitude7.

How does the contemporary world avoid the superficial contact, risking, as Teilhard indicates, a kind of slavery?  He continues through the length of this great passage:

Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as
to complete and fulfil them, for it alone takes them and joins
them by what is deepest in themselves. This is a fact of daily
experience. At what moment do lovers come into the most
complete possession of themselves if not when they say they
are lost in each other? In truth, does not love every instant
achieve all around us, in the couple or the team, the magic feat, 
reputed to be contradictory, of ‘personalizing’ by totalizing?
And if that is what it can achieve daily on a small scale, why
should it not repeat this one day on world-wide dimensions?
Mankind, the spirit of the earth, the synthesis of individuals
and peoples, the paradoxical conciliation of the element with
the whole, and of unity with multitude – all these are called
Utopian and yet they are biologically necessary. And for them
to be incarnated in the world all we may well need is to imagine
our power of loving developing until it embraces the total of
men and of the earth.8

He imagines criticism of a program of personal love, criticism based on the perceived limits of the human capacity to love:

It may be said that this is the precise point at which we are
invoking the impossible. Man’s capacity, it may seem, is con-
fined to giving his affection to one human being or to very few.
Beyond that radius the heart does not carry, and there is only
room for cold justice and cold reason. To love all and everyone
is a contradictory and false gesture which only leads in the end to
loving no-one.

To that I would answer that if, as you claim, a universal love
is impossible, how can we account for that irresistible instinct
in our hearts which leads us towards unity whenever and in
whatever direction our passions are stirred? A sense of the uni-
verse, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when con-
fronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation
and awareness of a Great Presence. The ‘mystics’ and their
commentators apart, how has psychology been able so con-
sistently to ignore this fundamental vibration whose ring can
be heard by every practiced ear at the basis, or rather at the
summit, of every great emotion? Resonance to the All – the
keynote of pure poetry and pure religion. Once again: what
does this phenomenon, which is born with thought and grows
with it, reveal if not a deep accord between two realities which
seek each other; the severed particle which trembles at the
approach of ‘the rest’? 

We are often inclined to think that we have exhausted the
various natural forms of love with a man’s love for his wife,
his children, his friends and to a certain extent for his country.
Yet precisely the most fundamental form of passion is missing
from this list, the one which, under the pressure of an involuting
universe, precipitates the elements one upon the other in the
Whole – cosmic affinity and hence cosmic sense. A universal
love is not only psychologically possible; it is the only complete
and final way in which we are able to love.9

The next two sentences sound very contemporary.

But, with this point made, how are we to explain the appearance all
around us of mounting repulsion and hatred [written 1935 ± 10 years]?
If such a strong potentiality is besieging us from within and
urging us to union, what is it waiting for to pass from potentiality
to action?10

Yes.  What is it waiting for?

Just this, no doubt: that we should overcome the
‘anti-personalist’ complex which paralyses us, and make up our
minds to accept the possibility, indeed the reality, of some
source of love and object of love at the summit of the world above
our heads.  So long as it absorbs or appears to absorb the person,
collectivity kills the love that is trying to come to birth. As
such, collectivity is essentially unlovable. That is where philan-
thropic systems break down. Common sense is right. It is
impossible to give oneself to an anonymous number.10 

How do we overcome the ‘anti-personalist’ paralysis?

But if the universe ahead of us assumes a face and a heart, and so
to speak personifies itself, then in the atmosphere created by this
focus the elemental attraction will immediately blossom. Then, no
doubt, under the heightened pressure of an infolding world, the
formidable energies of attraction, still dormant between human
molecules, will burst forth.10 

Clearly, persons at the base of the societal pyramid, not just leaders such as Dag Hammarskjold, need to focus on the face and the heart of Omega.  Who can bring this face and heart into the pyramidal base’s focus?  Well, we can.

Does our present time strike us as difficult?  Teilhard wrote all these paragraphs during times encompassing the seemingly intractable difficulties characterizing the Soviet system, the Great Depression, National Socialism, Japanese totalitarianism, and World War II.  He continues.

In spite of all evidence to the contrary, mankind may very
well be advancing all round us at the moment – there are in
fact many signs whereby we can reasonably suppose that it is
advancing. But, if it is doing so, it must be – as is the way with
very big things – doing so almost imperceptibly.11 

Our progress may remain imperceptible.  Yet, if we have read The Phenomenon of Man, we see the earth optimistically.  Our efforts will certainly bear fruit. 

Humanity can accomplish the goals of the founders of the United Nations and the purposes of the signatories of the Schengen agreement.  To do that, we must satisfy the need for person-to-person interactions that focus on the personal Omega.  These interactions naturally engender a kindly structure among nations’ constituents. 

A truly grassroots network of relationships must include all of us, people in every class: the wealthy, elites, the learned, but also those in prison, the homeless, the sick, the handicapped – both physically and mentally – the isolated, the alienated – all of us.  Surely Omega the Person wishes it no other way.

Real progressives responding to Omega’s pull, we have work to do.  We have a caring network to build, grassroots, a gentle, heart-to-heart, base-to-apex network supporting structures established top-down by world powers, a network of love upon which depends the earth’s progress.

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