Notes from a Conversation with Ilea Delio, Jan 14, 2021

The following are my notes from a presentation by Ilea Delio sponsored by Episcopal Shoppe on January 14, 2021. She gave an overview of her new book Re-Enchanting the Earth: Why AI Needs Religion. These are my notes from the presentation which are my paraphrases and are not comprehensive of all comments. All errors are my own.

  • Technological innovation has accelerated exponentially in the last century. We haven’t reflected well on what we’re doing with these technologies.
  • What is science telling us today about physical reality? That the universe emerged from the Big Bang and has been a dynamic universe ever since. “Evolution” here means process of change in nature.
  • Quantum physics: mind/consciousness has a much more integral role to matter than we had originally thought. Mind matters to matter and matter matters to mind. [Not classical Cartesian dualism.] There’s no such thing as abstract consciousness; matter is necessary to support the existence of consciousness.
  • “We’re in a world of change; mind it at the heart of matter.”
  • We don’t stay at the level of bacteria, quarks, and leptons. There’s a constant progression toward more and more complexity, consciousness, organization, etc.
  • Pre-Axial consciousness—as our brains grew, we came to a point in our history where we came to an awareness of something more than ourselves. Pre-Axial peoples would call that “spirit” in nature. Pre-Axial religions were tribal, ritualistic. But then we came in a breakthrough in the Axial age, 800-200 BCE.
  • Biggest struggle these days is moving beyond Axial consciousness. Our understanding of God and ourselves, the Fall, sin, God as Creator, etc. are developed stories of God that have progressed through time during this era of human history. We’re struggling to move past this even has other area of human existence have (e.g. science).
  • We begin with what science tells us about our nature: that we came out of an intrinsic, relational wholeness. From religious side, we’ve been “in the mind of God”; from all eternity we’ve been a potential within the world of the various possibilities of matter. We belong to a relational wholeness in the beginning.
  • As we developed over time, the story of the Fall was a story to help make sense that we’re now fragmented and individualized. We’ve lost sight of the relational wholeness that we emerged from.
  • Now we’re living in an age of deep individualism. We’re “partial wholes” right now (that’s what “sin” is—incompleteness). Religion is about the search for the Ultimate Meaning and the Relational Whole.
  • We’re part of nature as human beings. What does nature do when things get thwarted? When nature feels oppressed? It will find ways to create and transcend its present condition. Nature is very resilient. It’s about life. Life seeks more life. Life will constantly seek more life.
  • In the 20th century, it was one of the most violent centuries in human history. We humans have not done a good job of living in relationship to the whole. There’s something deep within us that wants to get beyond our fragmented self. We’ve been able to construct ways to extend the mind into new mediums (“life seeks life”) and that’s where we get the human invention of artificial intelligence.
  • The human person is not a fixed entity. We are malleable and can be changed. We can be cyborgs! That’s hard for us to think about, but “human person” is more and more of an open question as technology progresses. It’s harder these days to say for sure this is what a human person is. Science and technology are blurring those lines. What about artificial limbs? Is it a tool to help me use a human arm OR do I become something else? Where does human end and technology begin?
  • The human person can be hacked – we can break into what we thought was impenetrable human person. We can alter our genes with CRISPR and other technologies.
  • What is driving this? There’s something about us that seeks perfectibility. We long to be in relationship with something more than what we are. Those are religious drives and impulses undergirding this development of technology. Therefore, technology is forcing us to rethink religion.
  • The wholeness that we seek is the CORE of each person. We all long for that ultimate wholeness. There’s a longing for belonging/moreness/oneness.
  • God is not an entity that hovers over us, but the force that brings us into unity and wholeness. We need to “remake God” to bring it into alignment with modern scientific truths.
  • “Church of the Planet” – built on Teilhard de Chardin who tried to reconcile Christianity and evolution. What is pushing evolution toward more consciousness, wholeness, etc. is GOD who is within and ahead of materiality. This “withinness” of God is correlated with the development of the human person. He does what Carl Jung does, reignites religion as the immanence of divine depth.
  • Institutional religion has divorced immanent and transcendent, then focused almost exclusively on the transcendent. For all sorts of reasons, we’ve developed these structures and myths and they’re unhelpful and harmful! In order to have a sustainable future, we need to reawaken the divine light at the heart of our life. God needs to be refocused to immanence.
  • Teilhard: God is becoming God in us. This is uncomfortable to us. We’re used to thinking of God as separate from us [Barth: “God is God and we are not”] and static and unchanging. You can’t have a true relationship with God, though, if only one side is changing (us) and the other is not (God). God is a LIVING God. We need to wake up the divine, dynamic presence within us and everything.
  • Technology has opened our minds to the fact of belonging to a whole. My students are deeply concerned about the world, about others. They’re born into a wired world already wired for community. Technology has enabled this, but on its own it can’t replace religion.
  • “Church of the Planet” – global planetary togetherness. I can pray and contemplate and relate to a few other people that I meet today. Technology allows this same relatedness to extend to hundreds, thousands, etc. Artificial intelligence is an extension, not a replacement of who we are. That’s why it’s important to know who we are. Who are we? We have the capacity for infinity. To create infinity. We have a capacity to transcend ourselves and become something that we’re not through our ability to create.
  • The human “soul” is the oneness at the heart of every person and everything that exists. Every person has a unique ineffable oneness at the center of their selves. It’s the core “constituentiveness” of each person. There’s a “thisness” that “soul” points to. The soul is important because a human is not just body parts. Without religion or divine immanence, we miss the sacredness of the human person, flower, tree, etc. This sacredness is its “soulness.”

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