Sunday, September 27, 2009

Morality at the Mall (with zombies!)

I had a strange dream last night which I will try to relate, though I fear much of the coherence will have dissipated since this morning.
It began in a mall (note: I loathe malls, and I hate "going shopping" in general, unless it is for the explicit purpose of buying copious quantities of delicious, high-quality food which I intend to prepare and eat within the foreseeable future). The trip was one of mostly necessity; a stop in the clothing store for a new dress shirt, and a bottle of facial moisturizer from the local Boots (for you Americans, that's a drugstore). I returned home with my collected purchases. But sometime between then and nightfall, the mall became haunted.
I was inexplicably called back to the mall that night, a bittersweet siren song playing in my head. The evil "me" was there, in the mall, causing destruction and mayhem (actually, that sounds like fun.... but anyway). It was my nemesis who conjured ghosts and demons and animated gargoyles into hideous monsters - ok, so I lied, there weren't actually any zombies - and I had to battle my way through them all, my quest becoming more and more apparent as I fought onward. Within the Boots was a potion, and I had to attain it. It was the "antidote," so to speak. It would defeat my arch nemesis - no, make that change my arch nemesis into good instead of evil. It would make all the difference in the world, and I had to fight for it.
Like in a bad movie or a silly video game, I outwitted demons and banished ghosts, finally making my way through the darkened mall to the staff entrance of the Boots store, the only viable way inside. I was literally two steps away - my hand on the door handle, ready to burst in, grab the potion triumphantly and save the day - when I suddenly stopped. Things began to fall into place: why was this door, the only way in, not guarded? Why had I been so successful in defeating the evil minions? And suddenly I knew. It was a trap.
My nemesis would be waiting for me just inside, ready to pounce and end once and for all this facetious game of good versus evil. I would lose because she had the upper hand, and that was that. I could not go forward; it was suicide. I could not turn back; it would mean victory for evil. But then suddenly I remembered.
The potion that I needed was precisely the same as the lotion I had purchased earlier that day. I already possessed what I needed to defeat evil - all that remained was to give up what was already mine. It was that simple. If I could let go of something I rightfully "owned," I would succeed. I released the doorknob and turned to go.
As is the case in many dreams, I found myself (without the necessity of travel) back at my home, handing the bottle of moisturizer (potion - hey, I didn't say the dream was elaborate) to someone (presumably the one who called me on the "quest" to begin with), and with that simple gesture, defeating my evil nemesis.
That was it. I won.

While much of the "feel" of the dream is lost in translation, the moral of the story was crystal clear, and the sensation of righteous victory strong and pumping through my veins when I woke.
If only more nights were so productive.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


You may have seen the billboards, or the signs plastered to the side of the bus that just drove past: a question, phrased vaguely by intention - "Does God exist?" or "Is this all there is?" - followed by a set of check-box answers, yes, no, maybe, perhaps, I don't know. It is meant to be passive and indeterminate, to draw you in with a simple but profound premise and equally simple but profound responses. The posters are purposely indirect; one would be put off by assertion.
The posters, billboards and signs are all part of an advertising scheme for the Alpha Course, a ten-week guided course of, if you will, spiritual discovery. I'd know nothing of them were it not for a colleague of mine inviting me to dinner.
Several churches in the area were sponsoring the course, and the room at the Jaipur Spice restaurant was packed full of nearly a hundred people, chatting, sipping drinks, eagerly awaiting the offerings on the buffet. After dinner, an introduction, a short speech about "asking questions," and hastily-edited video of past participants. I felt uncomfortable. It was the kind of sales pitch which is heavy-handed precisely because it purports to be "no pressure." When the people are so nice, they just wonder if you'd consider, well, you know, you don't have to come... and in the end you are guilted into attending by your own mistaken conscience. It is insidious, this "feel-good," embarrassing, individualistic and "tame" brand of Christianity. No matter how intellectual the course organizers claim it to be, in the end it still comes down to the "you have to just take it on faith" argument. You begin with the same questions as everyone ("what is the meaning of life?") and end with the answers they want you to have, because they make it feel as though that's the only solution. It isn't called "Alpha" because it sounds good. It's called alpha because it leads you to omega, and that's the design.
I wondered, as I sat there listening to the speaker spin the same old web of scriptural infallibility (though in the guise of questions - "surely the Bible can't be really, totally true, right?"), what the restaurant employees thought of it all. Did the waiters see Christianity as a threat to their mother religion? Were they Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or perhaps nothing at all? Had they heard it all before, as I had?
At the conclusion of the evening, there was not much to complain about, as there had not been much of substance up to that point. There was only dinner and a sales pitch, slightly less over-the-top than the typical timeshare broker, but all the more underhanded for not being overt. A friend of my colleague's asked, "so, do you think you might come next week?" I lied. I told him I couldn't, as I'd be out of town. I resisted the urge to lecture him - I have been down this road before, sir, and have no desire to regress - and instead just made pleasant conversation about what it's like to be a scientist, just as earlier I had resisted the urge to laugh at the man who claimed he took a "scientific approach" to religion.

"Great truths do not take hold of the hearts of the masses. And now, as all the world is in error, how shall I, though I know the true path, how shall I guide? If I know that I cannot succeed and yet try to force success, this would be but another source of error. Better then to desist and strive no more. But if I do not strive, who will?" - Chuang Tzu

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday funny

"I am so excited about the Kepler mission. This is the second most important thing our species has ever done, right behind inventing the concept of delivery pizza."
(from xkcd)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A few newsworthy topics

Update: comet dust studied by researchers is full of amino acids (story here).

First, the Planck telescope (which maps billions-of-years old radiation in the universe) has sent back its first data (story here).

The very first extrasolar planet which is solid like the Earth has been found by astronomers in Germany (story here).

Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary - you know, Puff the Magic Dragon, Leavin' on a Jet Plane....) dies at age 72 (story here).

Obama has decided to scrap a long-range missile defence system in eastern Europe (stories here and here).

And lastly, Dan Brown is a successful conspiracy theorist, as usual (commentary here).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Modern day myth

Prana burns as fire; he shines as the sun;
He rains as the cloud; he blows as the wind;
He crashes as the thunder in the sky.
He is the earth; he has form and no form;
Prana is immortality.
Prashna Upanishad II.5

In the mountains of a faraway land (as I promised not to divulge its true location), I went hiking in the stillness of the afternoon. Upon cresting the shoulder of a small mount, there, behind an outcropping of crumbling granite, regally sat a winged black Dragon.
"I saw what you did, my child," he said to me.
"What did I do, sir?" I asked.
"You used your staff to knock earth into that small hole in the ground," the Dragon replied. I remembered. I had been afraid it was a snake's burrow. "You fear the snakes, but you do not fear me?" the Dragon asked.
"No sir," I replied. "I cannot fear you, for you are not real."
"But I am real," smiled the Dragon. "I am real, for the snakes are me, and the rocks and the heather are me. The birds and the pikas and the frogs, they are all me. The rushing wind and the trickling water, these too are me. Do you understand?"
I did.
The Dragon had disappeared, but within my very heart I heard his voice beckoning. "Come, my child, come with me. I shall take you home."
"Wait for me, I am coming," I called out after him. Breath filled my lungs, and across stone and heath I ran, my feet lighter. Ascending, the summit opened up to me, and I could see for hundreds of miles and millions of years in all directions.
And the Dragon was there because the rocks were there, because the birds were there.
The dragon was there because I was.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What's all the Hubble-bub?

It's the pretty new pictures. Go see.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Heaven is a Halfpipe, or, What we can learn about religion from popular music

"Now heaven would be a DJ, spinnin' dub all night long,
And heaven would be just kickin' back, with Jesus packing my bong;
And if you don't believe in Jesus, then Mohammed or Buddha, too..."

Some of you may remember this catchy OPM tune. Perhaps you didn't really think about the lyrics at the time, or, if you did, it pertained to a disdain for "the Man" and nothing more (I admit that was true for me!). But there's more to it than that, and even more than the lyrics would superficially indicate.
Aside from the obvious "up yours" aimed at the, well, traditional view of heaven, there is also the inclusiveness that many of the younger generations have embraced: "so if you want to come to my heaven, well, we're all going to have a ball, and everyone is welcome, 'cause we've got no gates or walls." It isn't veiled or subtle, but it's there. Everyone is welcome. Even "the Man."

My Dad was listening to his new Eagles album. As I listened, too, I had a stark realization. Every song spoke of God. Every single song. "They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast," they sang. "Love will keep us alive," they sang. "You can see the stars and still not see the light," they sang. "Learn to be still," they sang. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray." Tears came to my eyes as I heard "we chased after all the wrong gods." It was as though the strains of music grabbed a hold of my heart and squeezed. "People who live for years in the dark." The Spirit speaks. "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?" The Spirit shouts. "I know that somebody, someday, will chase these dark clouds away." As we all live and breathe, God is in the world, and in us.

The Logos, known elsewhere under different names, "passes out of eternity into time for no other purpose than to assist the beings, whose bodily form he takes, to pass out of time into eternity," explained Huxley. God comes into the world in some form in order to bring us out of it, and, in the mean time, in order to make us images of himself within the temporal realm. Whether or not this has happened once or many times is debatable, and something over which Eastern and Western religions differ. The end goal, however, is the same: "If the Avatar's appearance upon the stage of history is enormously important, this is due to the fact that by his teaching he points out, and by his being a channel of grace and divine power he actually is, the means by which human beings may transcend the limitations of history," as Huxley stated.

And all this, just from a few simple lines in a song.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A few anthropological notes, or, why we're fearful and rude

Here are two stories involving recent psychological/anthropological/biological research:
As to the first, while describing an interesting study, the story itself is characteristically media. We can pinpoint the amygdala as being the "source" of the flight-or-fight (ie, fear) response, and we have now learned that as we (or, at least, as rats) grow, a "protective molecular sheath" coats the cells of the amygdala, which seems to also "protect" the memories contained within. So baby rats can forget "traumatic" experiences which would otherwise elicit the fear response. This doesn't mean, however, that chemically (or otherwise) removing this molecular cell coating would actually "erase" memories. Baby rats forget past fears, adult rats do not; adult rats with the molecular coating removed recover "their early ability to erase fearful memories." This is not the same as actually erasing the memories themselves. Current phobia and post-traumatic stress disorder therapies aim to "reprogram" the person's fear response - such that, as the story says, a soldier who survived being in a car bomb can "learn to believe that a car ride doesn't have to end in violence." The advent of drug therapies which would dissolve this chemical sheath on amygdala cells would still need to be applied in tandem with psychological treatment. This, of course, also assumes that human beings would react as rats do to the removal of this molecular layer. Though we are similar, we are not the same. And, in the end, is it so bad that fearful memories are "erasure-resistant," as the study itself (ref 1) says? We may not wish to remember, but is that cause enough to warrant forgetting?

The second story is also quite interesting. Several biologists from the University of New Mexico and UBC in Vancouver argue that one thing - disease - basically shapes who we are and how we behave, anthropologically speaking (ref 2). The article in Smithsonian Magazine does an excellent job of explaining the main points; to quote the author, Rob Dunn's, summary:
Their theory is simple. Where diseases are common, individuals are mean to strangers. Strangers may carry new diseases and so one would do best to avoid them. When people avoid strangers—those outside the tribe—communication among tribes breaks down. That breakdown allows peoples, through time, to become more different.
Differences accumulate until in places with more diseases, for example Nigeria or Brazil, there are more cultures and languages. Sweden, for example, has few diseases and only 15 languages; Ghana, which is a similar size, has many diseases and 89 languages. Cultural diversity is, in this view, a consequence of disease.
Then Fincher and colleagues go even further. Where people are more xenophobic and cultures more differentiated from one another, wars are more likely. Democratic governments are less likely because the tribe or group comes first; the nation and individuals in other tribes within the nation come second. And finally, poverty becomes nearly inevitable as a consequence of poor governance, hostility between groups, and the factor that triggered this cascade in the first place—disease.
It's a rather convincing argument, but, as we all know, everything looks like a nail when one has a spiffy new hammer. First and foremost, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Many of those who commented on the article pointed out weaknesses in the study's theory, in addition to citing counter-examples:
"Wouldn't this behavior eventually prove maladaptive? While disease-induced xenophobia might ensure a group's survival over the course of a few generations, wouldn't that group eventually become inbred if its members cannot curb their distrust of outsiders?" - Matthew Graybosch
"The only way this theory works is if the researchers can demonstrate that indigenous theories of death and disease act identically to the modern germ theory they are using in this model." - heteromeles
"Much as we are an animal, our society is far more complex and our behavior is, biologically looking, often times irrational and likely governed by more than biological factors, at least as we understand them now (although they do provide neurological and hormonal framework)." - Marko Pecarevic
"...a small, genetically-homogeneous population may have particular reason to fear stranger's diseases, since these may wipe them out. The way out of this trap is to outbreed. But this exposes you to more diseases." - Peter H. Proctor
While "rudeness" specifically isn't actually explained by the theory (but who reads articles titled "Pathogen prevalence predicts human cross-cultural variability in individualism/collectivism" anyway?), it would seem that, in the end, biology cannot alone explain the behavior of human beings, no matter how pretty a theory might appear (biology isn't like physics, sorry boys!). There has been, and perhaps always will be, a continuing argument over nature versus nurture (as Dunn eloquently wrote, "Somewhere, probably, a cultural anthropologist is writing and rewriting a thorough and vehement response."). Perhaps this is somewhere "true" religion can help - not the xenophobic, cultish religion, but the "love your neighbor as yourself," good-Samaritan, "heal the sick" kind of religion. We are taught to always extend our hand, even to the sick and leprous, and in light of the theory, this encouragement of sociological "mixing" would, in the end, bolster our immunity, both to disease and to fear of cultural diversity.

Gogolla N, Caroni P, Lüthi A, & Herry C (2009). Perineuronal nets protect fear memories from erasure. Science (New York, N.Y.), 325 (5945), 1258-61 PMID: 19729657

Fincher CL, Thornhill R, Murray DR, & Schaller M (2008). Pathogen prevalence predicts human cross-cultural variability in individualism/collectivism. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 275 (1640), 1279-85 PMID: 18302996

Thursday, September 3, 2009


(available here)

The God Who Beckons

I apologize for leaving nothing but the strains of Shania Twain echoing across cyberspace. To make up for this disgraceful behavior, what follows is an article by Joan Chittister, Benedictine author and lecturer. The article was originally posted on NCR (linked so that I may give credit where credit is due). Although there are a few points where she strays (betraying a non-scientist's understanding of science), I agree with her on the whole.

Katie was a second-grader in one of our schools. One Friday at art class as the teacher roamed the aisles checking progress, she stopped at Katie’s desk and asked, “Well, Katie, what are you drawing?”

“I am drawing a picture of God,” Katie said proudly.

“Katie,” the teacher answered, “you can’t draw a picture of God. Nobody knows what God looks like.”

Katie said, “They will when I’m finished.”

We are all invited now to draw a new picture of God.

Picasso said: “God is just another artist. He made a giraffe, an elephant and a cat. He has no style. He just keeps trying new things.” And Simone Weil wrote, “It is only the impossible that is possible for God. He has given over the possible to the mechanics of matter and the autonomy of his creatures.”

What happens when classical spirituality meets modern science? Which of them is “right”? Are the two reconcilable? Or are they doomed to be eternal opposites?

There was a time when asking a question about the purpose of life was simpler than it is now because the answer never changed. Whatever existed and happened, we knew, was the eternal will and calculated design of the God who had made things. Our one purpose in life was to keep a set of basically intractable but ultimately fundamental rules until we had managed to negotiate this world well enough to escape it to a better one.

The process was clear. The rules were unequivocal. Life was a game played to achieve spiritual perfection, despite the fact that we came to realize as life went on that perfection essentially and continually eluded us. Worse, “God’s will for us” was never totally apparent but we knew that it had something to do with ferreting out and being faithful to an eternal plan fully known only by God but incumbent upon us.

We learned that God had a particular function or role for each of us: male and female, clergy and lay, slave and free, ruler and ruled. In that schema the purpose of life was certain, however obscure the project itself. It was, in other words, a game of cosmic dice. Some people won; some people didn’t. And God was in charge of it all.

Until Charles came along.

The unfolding of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the launch, ironically, of the priest Georges Lemaître’s big bang theory -- you can imagine how popular that made him in the church -- changed everything. Evolution and the big bang theory may have clarified the questions of science about the origin and end of life but they continue to this day to unsettle what until now had become relatively standard, unarguable theological conclusions concerning the ways of God with the world.

Two issues in particular challenge the commonplaces of religion and spiritual identity.

The first concerns the traditional definition of creation. Instead of the until now uncontested notion that every creature on earth is the unique and purposeful creation of God, it has begun to dawn, in the light of Darwin’s theory of evolution, that life may well be simply an accident of organic chemistry.

After billions of years, of multiple mistakes, a cycle of chemical configurations and a series of hit-and-miss successes, life as we know it, science tells us, simply emerged. With no sense of uniqueness, no evidence of completeness, and no supernatural intervention.

As a result, life, some argue, is a self-generating fortuity, spawned by nothing, for the sake of nothing, with nowhere to go.

With an explanation like that, the whole notion of life’s meaningfulness simply evaporates into the bizarrely unique chemistry that sustains it.

Thrown into orbit by a primordial blast -- who knows why -- billions of years ago, we are trapped here simply waiting for the fire in the blast to die out and the ice that follows it all to go to dust.

A subtler God

End of story, some say. In this model God is passé; life is purposeless. But is the tale of evolution necessarily all that bleak, all that spiritually arid, all that purposeless?

The answer, I think, does not lie in damning, rejecting or quibbling with the data of science. The answer depends on humanity’s rethinking its definition of God. It depends on our ability to imagine a greater sense of self. It depends on our understanding of the ecology of life. It depends on what the metaphor of evolution itself might have to say about both the nature of God and our own possible place in an evolving universe.

Of all the statements Einstein ever made, beyond relativity, beyond the bend in space and time, it is what he said about God that may, in the end, be seen as his most profound insight of them all.

“God,” said Einstein, “is subtle but not malicious.”

Well, perhaps ... but such subtlety and goodwill were hardly visible to the human eye, hardly arguable to those who were suffering the evil they were told was meant simply to test their fidelity or to try their character.

Such subtlety, in fact, is barely sustainable without the eye of blind faith in the light of the injustices and struggles of the real world around us.

For centuries, for instance, the struggle to define the origin of evil and the nature of God has plagued the religious community, has challenged spirituality to the limits. Few questions have done more than this one to strain the fabric of churches or the bonds between thinkers and believers, between philosophers and theologians.

In our time, with the addition of the relatively newfound scientific problem of the nature of creation itself, the very existence of religion could well seem to be in danger and a sense of spiritual purpose a thing of the past.

If life, as science says, is self-creating, what can possibly be the cosmic or overarching purpose of life? What, in fact, can be the purpose of God?

It all depends, of course, on who we say God is. A wag said: First God created humans; then humans created God. And we did. To the point that nothing we know about science now equates with what we have told ourselves about God.

As a result, science confronts the definition of God as we have framed it in the past but, in the process, ironically gives us the opportunity now to see the multiple dimensions of God that we missed.

And this great crossover point, this new Galileo moment in history, gives us a sense of purpose in life that is beyond the sanctification of the self. Indeed, this is the moment after which everything religion has said about the nature of God must somehow shift.

The God of creation, the religious world determined, was all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present and all-holy. The problem lay in the fact that a God of these proportions failed, it seemed, to exercise such power when it came to the creation this very God had created.

This God did not save the world from evil, did not exercise blatant power in behalf of the good, did not save the righteous from the unrighteous, did not act in behalf of the oppressed. This was a God whose merit theology, whose rule-driven scorekeeping, trumped care, compassion and love.

The faithful, we were taught, got the God they earned, or, conversely, lost the God they didn’t, if they were unable to figure out what that God really wanted in every situation and how to pass every spiritual double-bind test.

Instead, they could, at best, only hope for eternal life and everlasting peace somewhere else. This life was out of their hands. This world was a mysterious jumble of good and evil meant to tempt and try them. This was not a subtle God; this was a God whose “will” too often looked more like malice than it did like mercy. The ways of this God with creation were straightforward and manifest. The creator God was patriarch, lawgiver and avenging judge.

Not only was this God not a “subtle” God but how could we say with certainty that this God was not a malevolent one, except that our hearts tell us that God, to be God, must be more than that.

As a consequence of theology like that, we enthroned maleness. We exalted a “rationality” that was far too often deeply irrational. We created the distant and unemotional God of the Greek philosophers who affects our life at every stage and every moment since. This creator God exercised power over everything, we said. But then we got confused trying to explain that God’s failure to use that power in order to save us from what endangers us.

We talked about “free will” but got tangled up again in the implications of what it means to be the weanlings of an all-knowing God. If God really knew everything before it happened, how could we possibly have free will?

We chafed under the burden of the “perfectionism” that the will of an all-perfect God must, of necessity, require of us, but of which, it was clear, we were patently incapable. The inferences of this kind of God for our own well-being were heavy indeed.

But then came Darwin and evolution and an entirely new way of seeing both creation and the world. In this world, every act of creation is not the unique act of an eternal God.

Instead, the God of creation becomes the God of ongoing creation, of life intent on its own development, and of life involved in contributing to its own emerging form.

From this perspective, creation, life itself, is a work in process. It grows from one stage to another. It is immersed in both possibility and mistakes. It is a creature of imagination on the way to the unimaginable. The God of grand but hidden designs becomes the God of evolution, of the working out of creation as we go. Suddenly free will, the choices we make as we labor at the project of life, becomes important. Decision-making becomes universally significant, and selection of our actions determines the shape of an ongoing evolving world.

The humble God

A self-creating universe becomes co-creator with the humble God who shares power and waits for the best from us and provides for what we need to make it happen. We become participants in the process of life and the development of the world that is not so much planned as it is enabled. As nature grows, experiments, unfolds, selects and adapts, so then must we. Growth, not perfection, becomes the purpose of life. Ongoing creation, not predestined fate, becomes the purpose of life.

The very process of human growth, not human puppetry in the hands of a disinterested and demanding God, becomes the purpose of life. And God becomes the God of a universe on its way to growing into glory, of becoming one with its creator. Life ceases to be a program of expectations tied up in a black box, the purpose of which is to tease us into unlocking and unraveling the mystery of our lives before it gets to be too late to achieve it.

In an evolving world, then, God becomes “becoming.” God is the one who stands by as we grow from one self to another, from one level of insight to another, from one age and awareness to another. God, we come to understand, is not the God of fixed determinations now. The past is no longer a template of forever. God becomes instead the God of the future. God, we come to see in the model that is evolutionary, is promise and possibility and forever emerging life.

The spiritual implications of a creation that goes on creating are major.

We are meant to create with the creator. We are here to discover the rest of ourselves in an equally evolving cosmos. We are not about perfection. We are about always selecting the better, about entering into the transformation of the world as it experiments with life, chooses for life, sees mistakes not as failure but as one more learning on the ladder of spiritual success.

In this world, the God of evolution becomes God the mother as well as God the father. God the mother understands pain. She bears us and then lets us grow from error to solution, from failure to success. She loves us for trying. She not only sets the standard, she helps us over the bar.

She is the rest of the image of the biblical God that Abrahamic religions have largely ignored to the peril of true spiritual development but that the spirit knows and seeks forever. She, the biblical God, “Cries out as a woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:14). She is the one whom the psalmist sees as “a nursing woman” (Psalm 131: 1-2), who in Hosea (11:3-4) is a cuddling mother who takes Israel in her arms, and who, in Proverbs as wisdom, “is there with God in the beginning” (8:22-31).

In a world in evolution is there purpose in the universe? The answer must certainly be: Never more so than now. Evolution is, in fact, a great spiritual teacher. We learn from the fossils of the ages that development is most often a slow and uncertain process, a precarious and breakneck experience that demands both time and trust in the future that is God, and in the God of the future. Evolution teaches us that movement from one stage of life to another is often both cumbersome and painful but that the pain is prelude to a better self.

We learn that failure is a necessary part of life, not its misdoing. It is simply a holy invitation to become more than we are at present. Time is grace and trying is virtue. Struggle is a sign of new life, not a condemnation of this one.

Evolution shows us that the God of becoming is a beckoning God who goes before us to invite us on, to sustain us on the way, rather than a judging God who measures us by a past we did not shape.

Now human beings can begin to revel in what is meant by growing to full stature as a responsible and participative spiritual adult whose work on the planet really, really matters. Life, suddenly, is more a blessing both to the universe and to the self than it is simply a test of a person’s moral limits. To be alive, to be a person in the process of becoming, it becomes clear, is a blessing, not a bane. We are, alone and together, significant actors in the nature of life and the strengthening of the fibers of humankind.

Evolution gives us a God big enough to believe in.