Skip to main content

You are the Big Bang, if it weren’t for your “Discontinuous Mind”

It is a common misinterpretation of the Theory of Evolution to think that there is a clear line between species—this is what Richard Dawkins calls “The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind.” If we are connected in time to all species, then are we not also connected to the big bang? In fact, within such a continuity, can we not define our selves as the Big Bang, expressing itself in different forms? Let’s explore Dawkins’ tyranny along with my all time favourite, Alan Watts.

In The Ancestor’s Tale, and further elaborated on in an online article called “The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind,” Dawkins points out that there was no “first Homo sapien.”[1] Every generation of our ancestors ‘belonged to the same species as its parents and its children.’ If we travelled back in time to meet our ‘200 million great grandfathers’, we would eat him ‘with sauce tartare and a slice of lemon. He was a fish.’[2]

Dawkins emphasises, ‘Evolutionary change is gradual: there never was such a line, never a line between any species and its evolutionary precursor.’[3] There is an unbroken lineage going back through history that connects us with every one of our ancestors. At every step along the way, one generation of our ancestor could breed with another of its being from numbers of generations before and after.

Dawkins illustrates this with the tale of the herring gull and the lesser black-backed gull in the Arctic Circle.


The herring gull and the lesser black-backed gull are two different species, named the Larus argentatus and Larus fuscus, that do not breed with each other. Dawkins refers to these gulls as ‘ring species’ as ‘at every stage around the ring, the birds are sufficiently similar to their immediate neighbours in the ring to interbreed with them.’[4]  Yet when the ‘ends of the continuum are reached’ in Europe, these birds live side by side but do not interbreed with each other. Dawkins calls explains that ring species like the gulls ‘are only showing us in the spatial dimension something that must always happen in the time dimension.’[5]

The point of this tale is to demonstrate that what we perceive to be discontinuities between species is due to the limitations of our mind, existing inside this particular period of time. Mapping evolution through time is much like mapping the transition from the herring gull to the lesser black-backed gull across Europe. What does this mean? It means that ultimately humans are connected to all other species and micro-organisms tracing back to the Big Bang.

Let me illustrate the significance of this with a Wattsian metaphor.

Imagine that a bottle of black ink thrown on a large white wall. Taking ‘for the sake of argument’ that the Big Bang was the way it happened, the black ink represents a primordial explosion, that ‘flung all the galaxies out into space’. The ink splatters outward. It is very dense in the middle and has squiggly bits on the outer edges. It is common for us to think ourselves only a speck of ink on the outer edge of this 14 billion-year process, but we are not: we are the whole thing. Watts explains:

‘If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself.’ [6]

In this view, ‘You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are.’ [7]

We have forgone the ‘proper self-respect’ that comes with recognizing that ‘I, the individual organism, am a structure of such fabulous ingenuity that it calls the whole universe into being.’[8]

Watts provides a vision of what it means to experience life as a “panentheist”. Panentheism (all-in-God) defines “God” as a cosmic process that we are inside and part of, rather than as something separate like the old notion of a supernatural man judging us from the sky. This insight is found within most religions, but it can get lost in some nit-picking “authorities” interpretation of doctrines, generally connected with power-seeking institutions.

This can shift the way you see and care for yourself, for the other people, and for forms of life including your surrounding ecosystems and planet.

One can think of themselves as the curlicue, a bag of skin, cut off from everything else; or one can think of themselves as the big bang, a creative cosmic energy that is still in process—it depends on the standpoint from which one tells their story.


Life is asking itself: What is Life? [9]

This is a snippet from my MPhil thesis on the topic of the contribution of panentheism to positive peace.

[1] Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong, The Ancestor’s Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004. and Richard Dawkins (2013, 28/1/13). “The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind”,  Accessed: 10/03/13, Originally published in New Statesman, the Christmas issue for 2011, of which Dawkins was a guest Editor.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind, Accessed: 10/03/13 p. 4.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong, The Ancestor’s Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, 2004. p. 303.

[5] Ibid. p. 303.

[6] Alan Watts (1960), “The Nature of Consciousness”,

[7] Alan Watts, The Book : On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are, 1969. p. 118. CHECK PAGE. My emphasis.

[8] Ibid. p. 97.

[9] John Wheeler’s “Participatory Universe”, we are the self-reflexive eye that emerged within life’s story. From Paul Davies, The Mind of God. New York: Penguin books, 1992. p. 225.

“What if God doesn’t DO things? What if God is IN things?”

In his TED Talk, the Canon Pastor of Exeter Cathedral in the UK, Tom Honey, explained some of the dilemmas involved in challenging images and ideas attached to the traditional notion of God within his congregation. He explains the way that ‘most people, both within and outside the organized church, still have a picture of a celestial controller, a rule maker, a policeman in the sky who orders everything, and causes everything to happen,’ and how in time he had become ‘more and more uncomfortable with this perception of God.’ He says, ‘Isn’t it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines?’


Honey describes his inclination toward more feminine notions of God that that recognise that God is, by definition, unknowable. Such notions are well known ‘liberal academic circles,’ he says, yet church leaders have tended not to share these ideas with their congregations. He explains: ‘clergy like myself have been reluctant to air them, for fear of creating tension and division in our church communities, for fear of upsetting the simple faith of more traditional believers. I have chosen not to rock the boat.’

The tsunami in 2004 provided an impetus for him facing this fear and confronting the ideas that orthodoxy attached to God. Honey could not reconcile the idea that God was in control of the horrific deaths of so many people. He critiques the lyrics of a song they used to sing: “The wind and waves obey Him.” ‘Do they?’ he asks. ‘Does God demand loyalty, like any medieval tyrant?’ Can we really believe in ‘A God who looks after His own, so that Christians are OK, while everyone else perishes? A cosmic us and them, and a God who is guilty of the worst kind of favoritism?’ Honey does not suggest rejecting the existence of God altogether, he suggests questioning what images and ideas we are attributing to God.

‘what if God doesn’t act? What if God doesn’t do things at all? What if God is in things? […] In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race […] In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth.’

Tom Honey’s talk illustrates the difference between what theologians refer to as “classic theism” and “panentheism”, which is what I am currently writing my MPhil thesis on with a full draft due this month (hence why my blog entries are presently few and far between).

Panentheism: Reframing the God debate

Rather than debating “Is there are God?” shouldn’t it first be clarified “what exactly one is referring to by this word “God”? Can Panentheism provide a new slant on the God debate between New Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians?

I am having a mini thesis crisis – overwhelmed by wanting to say too much on too many things, referring to too many theorists, so I thought I’d share part of it with you and see if that helps. Some of the questions I ask myself:

  • Does “God” need to be understood as supernatural king-like deity that is an all-powerful separate being intervening from outside?
  • Must the theory of evolution and the scientific worldview need to bring us to the conclusion that “we are flukes” and life is rather meaningless?
  • Might the worldview of eastern religions, process philosophy, panentheist theology, spiritual ecology etc. more conducive to peace with justice (i.e. a sustainable global social and ecological well-being for humans now and future)?

Given the supernatural understandings of God came from a people who thought earth was flat, and angels carried the sun and moon around the heavens, maybe it’s time to revisit old metaphors, and the worldviews that resulted from their rejection…

Based on a talk by Alan Watts (of course), let me (try to) explain what I’m talking about.

Two worldviews dominate western culture:

1. POTTER & CLAY: Based on the creation story in Genesis: earth is an artifact, created by a separate king-like supernatural God (in yellow), who deems man (who is also separate from nature) its steward, yet dominates over it.

2. MECHANICAL CLOCK: Based on the rejection of the Genesis story: the universe is a machine that started with a Big Bang: life is random, meaningless, a bunch of balls on a billiard table. Yet the assumptions from the first model remain: man stole the king’s crown, but continues to be separate from nature, continuing to dominate, divide and conquer.

Is there another way to tell the story?

3. COSMIC DRAMA: In the “dramatic” model of the universe, life is seen as a game, a dance, a play, with God manifesting Itself in acting different roles. In this sense “you” are God, and everything else. This idea can be seen in Eastern philosophies, in deep ecology, spiritual versions of western religions and process theology or panentheism (all is God).

Panentheism is the idea that everything (pan) is inside (en) a macrocosmic entity some refer to as “God” (theism).

Panentheism is considered by many scholars to be a natural, rational and ecological alternative to the polarized classic theism and atheism.[1]

While the term is not widely recognized, the philosophical ideas proposed by panentheism underlie many religious and scientific understandings of life. It is inherent to most Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, Neopaganism, Indigenous worldviews, and the more liberal Christian, Islam, and Judaic theologies.[2]

The widely quoted Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church define panentheism as:

“The belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part of it exists in Him, but (as against Pantheism) that His Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, the universe.”[3]

Watts says:

“You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.” [1]

For me, positing your “self” as part of a bigger “Self”, as you are a temporal expression of God (as is everyone else), is an exciting story that decreases feelings of separateness and alienation, fear of death and provides an impetus for Care of the Other.

I want to know if using different metaphors and developing process understandings of God might lead to something more meaningful than the frustrating debates like between Dawkins and Cardinal Pell? Clearly these people are speaking different languages!

I want to know if a “dramatic” worldview can affect one’s actions to play a more active role in bringing about a society of peace with justice:

  • Does understanding the “other” as your self—including the planet and other life forms—increase your care for other people and the environment?
  • Does such a narrative increase your sense of purpose, feeling of wholeness, help come to embrace uncertainty and life’s adventure?

I realise panentheism doesn’t immediately bring about peace with justice, i.e. I realize one cannot say “because Japan is Buddhist (which could be seen as panentheism) and because India is Hindu (which could also be seen as panentheism) they are more peaceful and just then western societies” – not at all…. Maybe that’s why I feel lost. Then I add my narrative theory into the mix, and various field texts, and I feel dizzy….

I am pretty sure it is my panentheist/dramatic worldview that inspires such care and purpose in me, but I’m not sure it’s of value to anyone else…



[1] Eg. Birch, Charles (1999). Biology and the Riddle of Life. Sydney: UNSW Press. Griffin, David Ray (2001). Reenchantment without Supernaturalism : A Process Philosophy of Religion. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, Tucker and Grim. (1994). Worldviews and Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment. New York: Orbis Books.

[2] Cooper mentions the works of Martin Buber (Judaism), Muhammed Iqbal (Islam), Sarvepalli Radhakrishman (Hinduism), Alan Watts and Masao Abe (Zen Buddhism), and Starhawk (Wiccan Neopaganism), among others. For example see: Johnston, Mark (2009). Saving God : Religion after Idolatry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Borg, Marcus J. (2003). The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. New York: HarperCollins. Smith, Huston (1991). The World’s Religions : Our Great Wisdom Traditions. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco. Rinpoche, Sogyal (1992). The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Sydney: Random House Australia (Pty) Ltd. Stockton, Eugene (1995). The Aboriginal Gift : Spirituality for a Nation. Alexandria, N.S.W.: Millennium Books.

[3] Clayton, Philip and Arthur Peacocke, Eds. (2004). In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World. Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Inner sleeve.

[4] Watts The Book : On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are. p. 118.



The Earth Charter

“We must find ways to harmonize diversity with unity, the exercise of freedom with the common good, short-term objectives with long-term goals.” During my time in Costa Rica, I saw the construction of an institute dedicated to research and implementation of The Earth Charter, which is being built next to the University for Peace. The Earth Charter was developed over the last decade by an independent Earth Charter Commission, following the 1992 Earth Summit. The objective was “to produce a global consensus statement of values and principles for a sustainable future.” The document is the result of contributions from over five thousand people, and has been “formally endorsed by thousands of organizations, including UNESCO and the IUCN (World Conservation Union).”

The Earth Charter

Here it is, with blue being the parts I highlighted for my own reference as I consider them in relation to my own research. If you want to download the full version, in one of a great number of languages, click here.


“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

Earth, Our Home

Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air. The global environment with its finite resources is a common concern of all peoples. The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.

The Global Situation

The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

The Challenges Ahead

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the destruction of ourselves and the diversity of life. Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living. We must realize that when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment. The emergence of a global civil society is creating new opportunities to build a democratic and humane world. Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.

Universal Responsibility

To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world. The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature.

We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.



1. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.
a. Recognize that all beings are interdependent and every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.
b. Affirm faith in the inherent dignity of all human beings and in the intellectual, artistic, ethical, and spiritual potential of humanity.

2. Care for the community of life with understanding, compassion, and love.
a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people.
b. Affirm that with increased freedom, knowledge, and power comes increased responsibility to promote the common good.

3. Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.
a. Ensure that communities at all levels guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide everyone an opportunity to realize his or her full potential.
b. Promote social and economic justice, enabling all to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood that is ecologically responsible.

4. Secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations.
a. Recognize that the freedom of action of each generation is qualified by the needs of future generations.
b. Transmit to future generations values, traditions, and institutions that support the long-term flourishing of Earth’s human and ecological communities.

In order to fulfill these four broad commitments, it is necessary to:


5. Protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life.

a. Adopt at all levels sustainable development plans and regulations that make environmental conservation and rehabilitation integral to all development initiatives.
b. Establish and safeguard viable nature and biosphere reserves, including wild lands and marine areas, to protect Earth’s life support systems, maintain biodiversity, and preserve our natural heritage.
c. Promote the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems.
d. Control and eradicate non-native or genetically modified organisms harmful to native species and the environment, and prevent introduction of such harmful organisms.
e. Manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of ecosystems.
f. Manage the extraction and use of non-renewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels in ways that minimize depletion and cause no serious environmental damage.

6. Prevent harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, apply a precautionary approach.
a. Take action to avoid the possibility of serious or irreversible environmental harm even when scientific knowledge is incomplete or inconclusive.
b. Place the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will not cause significant harm, and make the responsible parties liable for environmental harm.
c. Ensure that decision making addresses the cumulative, long-term, indirect, long distance, and global consequences of human activities.
d. Prevent pollution of any part of the environment and allow no build-up of radioactive, toxic, or other hazardous substances.
e. Avoid military activities damaging to the environment.

7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.
a. Reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used in production and consumption systems, and ensure that residual waste can be assimilated by ecological systems.
b. Act with restraint and efficiency when using energy, and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
c. Promote the development, adoption, and equitable transfer of environmentally sound technologies.
d. Internalize the full environmental and social costs of goods and services in the selling price, and enable consumers to identify products that meet the highest social and environmental standards.
e. Ensure universal access to health care that fosters reproductive health and responsible reproduction.
f. Adopt lifestyles that emphasize the quality of life and material sufficiency in a finite world.

8. Advance the study of ecological sustainability and promote the open exchange and wide application of the knowledge acquired.
a. Support international scientific and technical cooperation on sustainability, with special attention to the needs of developing nations.
b. Recognize and preserve the traditional knowledge and spiritual wisdom in all cultures that contribute to environmental protection and human well-being.
c. Ensure that information of vital importance to human health and environmental protection, including genetic information, remains available in the public domain.



9. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.
a. Guarantee the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation, allocating the national and international resources required.
b. Empower every human being with the education and resources to secure a sustainable livelihood, and provide social security and safety nets for those who are unable to support themselves.
c. Recognize the ignored, protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer, and enable them to develop their capacities and to pursue their aspirations.

10. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
a. Promote the equitable distribution of wealth within nations and among nations.
b. Enhance the intellectual, financial, technical, and social resources of developing nations, and relieve them of onerous international debt.
c. Ensure that all trade supports sustainable resource use, environmental protection, and progressive labor standards.
d. Require multinational corporations and international financial organizations to act transparently in the public good, and hold them accountable for the consequences of their activities.

11. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.
a. Secure the human rights of women and girls and end all violence against them.
b. Promote the active participation of women in all aspects of economic, political, civil, social, and cultural life as full and equal partners, decision makers, leaders, and beneficiaries.
c. Strengthen families and ensure the safety and loving nurture of all family members.

12. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.
a. Eliminate discrimination in all its forms, such as that based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, and national, ethnic or social origin.
b. Affirm the right of indigenous peoples to their spirituality, knowledge, lands and resources and to their related practice of sustainable livelihoods.
c. Honor and support the young people of our communities, enabling them to fulfill their essential role in creating sustainable societies.
d. Protect and restore outstanding places of cultural and spiritual significance.



13. Strengthen democratic institutions at all levels, and provide transparency and accountability in governance, inclusive participation in decision making, and access to justice.
a. Uphold the right of everyone to receive clear and timely information on environmental matters and all development plans and activities which are likely to affect them or in which they have an interest.
b. Support local, regional and global civil society, and promote the meaningful participation of all interested individuals and organizations in decision making.
c. Protect the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association, and dissent.
d. Institute effective and efficient access to administrative and independent judicial procedures, including remedies and redress for environmental harm and the threat of such harm.
e. Eliminate corruption in all public and private institutions.
f. Strengthen local communities, enabling them to care for their environments, and assign environmental responsibilities to the levels of government where they can be carried out most effectively.

14. Integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life.
a. Provide all, especially children and youth, with educational opportunities that empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.
b. Promote the contribution of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences in sustainability education.
c. Enhance the role of the mass media in raising awareness of ecological and social challenges.
d. Recognize the importance of moral and spiritual education for sustainable living.

15. Treat all living beings with respect and consideration.
a. Prevent cruelty to animals kept in human societies and protect them from suffering.
b. Protect wild animals from methods of hunting, trapping, and fishing that cause extreme, prolonged, or avoidable suffering.
c. Avoid or eliminate to the full extent possible the taking or destruction of non-targeted species.

16. Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace.
a. Encourage and support mutual understanding, solidarity, and cooperation among all peoples and within and among nations.
b. Implement comprehensive strategies to prevent violent conflict and use collaborative problem solving to manage and resolve environmental conflicts and other disputes.
c. Demilitarize national security systems to the level of a non-provocative defense posture, and convert military resources to peaceful purposes, including ecological restoration.
d. Eliminate nuclear, biological, and toxic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
e. Ensure that the use of orbital and outer space supports environmental protection and peace.
f. Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.

The Way Forward

As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. Such renewal is the promise of these Earth Charter principles. To fulfill this promise, we must commit ourselves to adopt and promote the values and objectives of the Charter.

This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally, and globally. Our cultural diversity is a precious heritage and different cultures will find their own distinctive ways to realize the vision. We must deepen and expand the global dialogue that generated the Earth Charter, for we have much to learn from the ongoing collaborative search for truth and wisdom.

Life often involves tensions between important values. This can mean difficult choices. However, we must find ways to harmonize diversity with unity, the exercise of freedom with the common good, short-term objectives with long-term goals. Every individual, family, organization, and community has a vital role to play. The arts, sciences, religions, educational institutions, media, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and governments are all called to offer creative leadership. The partnership of government, civil society, and business is essential for effective governance.

In order to build a sustainable global community, the nations of the world must renew their commitment to the United Nations, fulfill their obligations under existing international agreements, and support the implementation of Earth Charter principles with an international legally binding instrument on environment and development.

Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”

Searching for Unity in Diversity — at the University for Peace.


Other Gaps in the Distribution of Knowledge

Last week I wrote about the gap between school and life-there-after, and I gather from the feedback quite a few of you agree.. Well today I’m going to write about some other gaps in our society’s distribution of knowledge that I’m sure many of you have noticed:

1. A gap between knowledge within the university and the rest of the world.

Deep and wonderful ideas that could inspire and improve the lives of many seem to get lost in the theoretical and abstract language, meticulous referencing and practically incomprehensible vocabulary and word games of the world of academia.

Not that these words and rules don’t have their purpose. I appreciate the ability to find a know exactly where an idea has come from, to know that the right person is getting their deserved credit and that the ideas being discussed have a history as opposed to being pulled out of thin air. Even the complicated language has its use, and brings with it much satisfaction once you actually “get it,” (after numerous readings, google searches and flicking between pages.) The world of academia serves an important purpose but it’s not for the layman, and if the ideas are not translated into an everyday language their potential goes unrealised.

So that’s one gap that I’d like to see bridged a little more.

2. A gap between disciplines within university walls

Politics can get in the way of sharing ideas between disciplines within the university walls.

For example in a class about historiography (the study of the different ways history has been written) I learned that history and archaeology rarely talk. The former looks at written stories, and the latter makes guesses at stories behind objects. To me, these are two parts required to tell one and the same story of our collective past, joined not only with archeology but with biology and and cosmology and philosophy as well.

Many new “inter-disciplinary” opportunities are arising. Working in “Peace and Conflict Studies”, which is consciously an mixed-discplinary discpline, I feel lucky to be one of a growing number that are seeking to bridge this gap through cross-discipline conferences, cross-discipline research opportunities, and cross-discipline subjects that look at sociology, philosophy, psychology, political science and religious studies all from a peace vs violence lens.

3. A gap between the exclusive fundamentalist brands of religion and inclusive ones

I’ll take Fundamentalist Christianity as my example, noting that the general points may apply to fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist versions of other religions too.  Fundamentalist Christians are brought up with the belief that either:

1. Their religion is completely, literally, absolutely true which means they better behave so they don’t be sent to hell; or,

2. Their religion is wrong, life is meaningless so they may as well steal, commit murder or just kill themselves. What’s the point in struggling through eighty years or so of life if when you die you end up in the same state of nothingness as everyone else?

It’s all or nothing. The bible is either all true, or it can be put out with the rubbish. But is the history, the books, and the ideas that religions are based upon really so black and white?

Does looking at religions in their historical context show, that as with any writing, the motivations of the writers, the limitations of their sources, and the limitations of our own interpretive techniques, render black and white as two ends of a continuum, with myriad grays and colours visible in between?

Might the writings that proved enlightening for a particular group of people at a particular point in time, contain more-than-literal meanings in the mythos and midrash that the writers used to convey these messages?

One result of this all or nothing – “we are saved, you are going to hell” – mentality, is that many people judge all religions on the rules and destructive exclusivity of the fundamentalist versions, and write-off religion altogether as a man-made power-hungry institution.

I think that if one goes back to the philosophical roots of the religions, reading the “holy books” in their intended historical context, filtering the words through today’s higher levels of post-slave and (in general) post-slaughter-the-enemy morality, and explores the ideas in combination with one’s own experience and our scientific understanding of the universe and evolution… well I think that in this combination, religion does have something to offer.

Fundamentalist versions of religions are not the mainstream, but it is from these extreme versions that many non-religious judge religious on. In Australia the largest Christian denominations are Catholics, Anglican and the Uniting Church, all who (except the “Sydney Anglicans”) are inclusive of other religions (ie believe all religions connect with the divine powers behind life), read the bible in historical context, and engage in interfaith dialogue (see:

I think that in order to bridge the gap between fundamentalism and non-fundamentalism, it is good for us to study the gray areas, and to comprehend the alternative interpretations and meanings for ourselves. This brings me to my next point:

4. The gap in distribution of knowledge about others’ religious traditions (without presenting them as “evil” and “wrong” – especially if you are brought up inside one religion, or atheist)

I think the cross over and sharing between different religious traditions is not encouraged enough. I also don’t think that the connection between religion and science doesn’t have to be explored as either/or, but both/and.

Why shouldn’t all religions learn from the connections that others have had with the divine powers at play behind life? Why would any be so arrogant to think they know it all and that, call it “God” or “Allah” or “The Great Unknown” wouldn’t reveal itself in different ways to different groups of people around the world?

Doesn’t it make sense that the nature of science would be to explain how the universe began and how we evolved, and religion and philosophy to contemplate why and what is good or bad about the various ways we can use this gift?

Even if the expansion of the universe is a completely random event, the fact that we exist in a state that is able to contemplate our own existence is pretty fantastic. For me the magic of life the whole evolutionary process in the realm of divine awe. Our psyche’s, our conscious and unconscious, and the relationship between my unconscious and your unconscious, is pretty amazing.

Just because we can put some names and describe the process of one particle becoming two doesn’t negate the spark of magic that this process involves. And from two particles, into atoms, into life forms, and into planets and into you and me… how can we not think “wow”!

Who is to say that science doesn’t put into words the processes that a macrocosm we personify and call “God” sets in motion? Not a man in the sky, but a live and conscious universe made up of smaller conscious beings including you and me? I don’t see the incompatibility between religion and science, I really don’t. This, again, leads to another gap:

5. A gap in terminology to describe non-religious people who still believe in “something”

I believe this is a big gap in our language – a name for the large and growing number of people who have rejected religion on moral grounds, and hence hesitate to identify with any particular religion however who also don’t consider themselves atheist, or even agnostic.

A name for (what seems to me to be) a growing majority of educated people who are happy to accept the unknowns, and still think themselves as something beyond the boundaries of their own skin and short lives.

This group doesn’t seem to feel a need to name it, to join any institution that tries to gain power over them from it, and who allow their intuitive senses to connect to the mysterious energies at play and use this connection (via meditation, prayer, intentions) to benefit their or other’s lives.

Drawn to philosophical ideas like Resolution Theory in the book Shantaram, Taoist notions of good and evil being two sides of the same coin, and what I am learning about in my studies of Panentheism and Process Theology. As you can probably tell, this is me. I like the word Panentheists – the belief that everything is inside “God” – that is, our universe is a macrocosm with a similar relationship to us, as we have to the organs and cells that make up our body.

5. A gap between the knowledge distributed to rich and the knowledge distributed to poor

Finally I just want to mention the gap in knowledge distributed to rich and poor, as I reflect on how education is used to keep the poor poor and make the rich richer.

Bridging the gaps…

The ability to bridge the above five gaps, I think, lies in the hands of those with power: religious authorities, governments, media, legal institutions, and economic regulators.

Like every idea I explore lately, particularly in relation to distribution of knowledge and hence control of power, I return to The Pyramid. That power-hungry annoying big monster pyramid that gets in the way of all my idealism. But more about these gaps and bridges and using the pyramid for good and not evil, some other day.

Photo: Machu Picchu, the “Lost city of the Incas” so high up in the mountains of Peru… just one example of the ingenuity of mankind. December 2008.

A Postmodern Grand-Narrative

Come with me on a journey through time and space… the mighty booooooshhhh! (If you haven’t seen The Mighty Boosh, do yourself a favour – watch it!)

Searching for a Postmodern Grand-narrative….

I deferred this semester’s uni in hope of getting a scholarship to support a research project starting mid-year. Although officially I’m not a student I’m still going to uni twice a week (only an hour each day) to attend the lectures of an undergrad subject – An Introduction to World History.  This subject is more than World History – it covers the history of the universe, or “BIG HISTORY” as it has been termed.

As always, there’s a little story behind this…

A couple of years ago, before I went back to uni, I discovered H.G. Wells wrote a book called The Outline of History published back in 1920. (And available for free online HERE) Why didn’t I know about this book? Why didn’t everyone learn history in one nice (even if long) interesting narrative?

One of the first subjects I did back at uni was Historiography – a fascinating look at the different ways we have reported history, throughout history. I discovered the answer to my question:

H.G. Wells wrote during the period of Modernity, a time where people believed that science could provide all the answers. A time where people believed religion was no longer necessary and through a grand-narrative of history and science we could discover our place in the world, and move toward a place of unity. And then came World War Two and the cookie crumbled.

Grand-narratives were rejected and the period of Postmodernity arrived. Postmodernity is a time ‘post-war, post-holocaust, post-colonial, post-gender, post-history, and, most important for the cultural critic’s enterprise, post-‘master narrative.’ [1]

History itself was almost rejected due to it’s bias to one-sided perspectives, political motivations, propaganda, faming of heroes, demonization of oppositions, and recording of themselves as drivers of history. Absolute truth does not exist. Objectivity is impossible.

Derrida says ‘the persistent search for a centre, a fundamental ground’, maintains a given structure in a ‘false state of immobility, of finality, of fixed truth.’ We should conceive structures without a centre, so we can see they are ‘open to interpretation without end, unconfined, unreduced, unfinalized, not continuous, not linear, where truth is never arrived at, is always involved in a play of differences that keep deferring its arrival, its full presence.’ [2]

My generation was born into this confusing mixture of rejection of grand-narratives, which for me was extra confusing when combined with a religious grand-narrative that had not quite been thought through… While one text book said that Australian Aborigines had lived here for over 30,000 years, our bible classes told us Adam and Eve lived around 6,000 years ago and that they were the first humans on earth. Okay….????

Then there’s Ancient Egypt and Ancient Sumeria – what child cares about ancient civilisations that appear not the least bit significant to their life? If History, Geography, and Science are taught as disjointed from each other, and taught in a way that puts you to sleep, what’s the point of school?

In hindsight I believe schools need to teach these subjects in connection to some form of grand-narrative, even if it’s a tentative one with known gaps, but something to engage with, to gain perspective of where each piece of knowledge fits into time and space, and most importantly, how this relates to my life today.

The subject I am studying this semester at uni is doing just that – providing an overview of all the essential details that compile to tell me who I am and what process I am a part of. Oh yeah, back to my story… how met the lecturer.

Somehow in looking for more recent historical works along the same line as H.G. Wells, I came a across a book called Maps of Time by Professor David Christian from the US. I ordered it on Amazon and after reading it I sent him an email telling him how much I enjoyed it. Incredibly he wrote back telling me he was in fact working on and off at Macquarie University in Sydney! Two years later and here I am, attending his lectures, and with him as an associate supervisor of my pending research project.

What is this research project, you ask? I’m asking myself the same question. I know it’s about narratives of identity and peace. I also think it’s about bridging the gap between science and religion through the narratives we tell. It’s also about panentheism and process theology and the philosophy of science and big history… argh!!! Lucky I have time to narrow the scope… somehow I know all these factors align.

Anyway, I’ll be sharing the journey on here. To begin with I’ll be sharing what I learn at these ultra-interesting lectures on super-novas and the beginnings of life on earth and milestones and paradigm shifts throughout our history.

To give you a quick overview of where we are going, check out this AWESOME little picture of world history in a flash bang 7 minutes!

Then buckle your seat belts and get ready to (over the next few years)…  journey with me through time and space…!!!


[1] Toulmin, S.E., Return to reason. 2001, Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press. p.1-5.

[2]  Derrida, J., Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences. in Hutcheon, Linda and Natoli, Joseph P. A Postmodern reader 1993, Albany: State University of New York Press. p.224.