Bruce Sanguin is a minister serving Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver. This book (I’ll shorten the title to DD at D ot C) is the second of his three books.
According to his blog, he is uncomfortable with the term Progressive Christian and wouldn’t call himself one. And he would likely shy away from being called a New-Ager also, although he does talk about his hot yoga class in the book. Instead, he embraces what he calls Evolutionary Christian Spirituality. In this book he is sounding the call for an update in the Christian world towards a more ecologically-based and scientifically-based manifestation of the Christian Spirit.
Please check out his website for more information on his message and his theology.
DD at D ot C is a curious exploration of how to change a religion from the inside. Bruce Sanguin is not an apologetic in this book (although he could wear that cap if he had to). He is not trying to justify or reason out or champion the rightness of his religion. Instead, this is a kind of massaging of the church direction and the scientific information of the present day. Before any hard work, it is good to warm the body and stretch the muscles and prepare the joints. He is calling the congregation to the proverbial exercise mats and cross-country hikes, warning them that pain is ahead, but he is also loosening them up for the sweat and change that is inevitable.
His intended audience is certainly Christian. More specifically, this is for Christians that hear the call of change, willing to take up the ecological gardening and toiling needed to make a better world.
The book is less than 270 pages in length with eight chapters and divided into two parts. He is quite friendly with commas and carefully balanced sentences. Personal asides and illustrations break up some of the heavier material covered in the book with the practiced pace of a working preacher.
Part 1 is a kind of description of the present situation from cultural, evolutionary and even scientific viewpoints. Sanguin confesses that there are some things in the faith, even biblical descriptions of our world, that are just irredeemable now, considering what is known, how we know things, and how we transmit information. However, he is just as critical of the supplanting culture that now dominates our lifestyles.
He uses the biblical Eden story as a backdrop to discuss differentiation versus dissociation. He uses some helpful diagrams from Richard Tarnas which I have reproduced below. Now, it would probably be better to discuss the diagrams in another post, but I will put them below to illustrate the dramatic shifts in how we view the self and the world. (Also, they reminded me a little of Sabio’s fascination with images of self from a little while ago.)
Before, the self was defined as part of the world and the border between self and world was permeable. In the modern worldview, the self was separate and apart from the world, ruggedly individual.
In the late modern worldview, the self is separate, isolated and potentially even insignificant. This is all a kind of consequence of the modern worldview.
Within the Western Religious worldview the self is separate, but also the Divine is separate and distant. Instead of connecting by the world with the Divine, the self must find another way to connect with the Divine. But it must be pointed out that the self is always defined in relation. This is an important point for Sanguin and he uses this idea throughout the book in order to illuminate where we might find his God in the present day – in our relationships with each other, in our relationships with this world, and in the emerging knowledge we share.
Sanguin is suggesting that instead of detaching the Divine from the world, the Divine can be found in everything of this world. “When Jesus taught his disciples to pray the words “on earth as it is in heaven,” he was reflecting a premodern cosmology.” (p. 59). “In a disenchanted world, a salmon is an “it” and not a “thou”, to use Martin Buber’s distinction.” (p. 70)
Sanguin also suggests that Christians have two sacred texts, and both can be seen as kinds of witnesses to their faith. One is of course the Bible, and the other is the great book of creation itself, this very world and the universe. He borrows from Brian Swimme the idea of a universal ethic that is found in almost everything we know:
Communion – The universe can be looked upon as a single dynamic event in which attraction at all levels plays a pivotal part.
Differentiation – Diversity without dissociation. To be is to be a unique manifestation of existence.
Autopoiesis – Self-Renewal. Within the nature of each being is the next step to take in order to be a player in the ongoing evolution of life.
Sanguin closes Part 1 with many examples from astronomy and biology to show just how vibrant and inspiring the evolutionary progression can be for people of faith.
Part 2 is an attempt to put Bible stories into a cosmic context. He explains how the Bible can be viewed now as an “oppositional” truth rather than a “propositional” truth (p. 134) . It was written, in a sense, by history’s victims.
He takes some time with Marcus Borg’s idea of the overarching narratives of the Judeo-Christian Faith. The story of Exodus (freedom) is contrasted with stories about how the earth is now groaning to be set free. The story of Exile (homecoming) is a narrative for Sanguin on how we need to return to a harmony with nature, especially now that we understand her with less fear and more compassion. The story of the Temple (sacrifice) gives Sanguin a chance to explore his own views on blood sacrifice in the context of new anthropological theories and his own views on the idea of service to another (a kind of sacrifice of the will instead of body and blood). He uses examples such as our sun’s sacrifice of burnt hydrogen in the service of giving life and heat and light to our planet. There is also a brief description of the ironic misunderstandings surrounding Jesus’ own sacrifice.
Also included is the story of Call and Response (allurement) which is important to Sanguin for the responsibility of action once a call is made, or information is discovered. This reminded me a bit of a quote from Emmanuel Levinas: “Scientific knowledge can push the possessor toward a sense of responsibility. It is a signal of transcendence.” Sanguin does not use this quote though, this is just my connection.
An examination of Jesus’ teachings follows this look at narratives but through this new evolutionary lens. Sanguin puts Jesus’ illustrations from nature alongside information from the present day to contextualize the effectiveness of pesticides and the history of bacteria. There is also a brief explanation of the irony wrapped around the misuse and misunderstanding of the phrase “kingdom of God”.
In order to address some of the changes in perspective and faith, Sanguin offers as an example a reworked Lord’s Prayer, re-translated for academic merit and ecological inclusion (I will post it with the quotations in a few days.)
The last chapters centre on Sophia as the true parent of Jesus and quantum physics as further evidence of the participatory nature of the universe. Perspective becomes part of the nature of something, and so we must be aware of not just the consequences of our actions but also the consequences of our perspectives. Sanguin then returns to the contemporary culture of consumerism, insufficiency and celebrity. Together these forces solidify the imperial stories so important to today’s economy. When properly updated with new information and exercises, the religious practices of meditation, sacred community ritual and Sabbath-keeping are all still relevant and very needed today in order to redress the problems in our very attitudes, perspectives, and thus our world as well.
In some ways this book is Bruce Sanguin’s contribution to a conversation with what appears to be major influences in his life– Brian Swimme, who wrote The Universe is a Green Dragon, John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar and Matthew Fox who is a strong supporter of Creation Spirituality. He uses Darwin in the title and brings up the naturalist’s work in this book, but Sanguin is looking at the cultural impact of evolution and natural selection more than examining the man or even how Darwin developed these ideas.
Sanguin is being quite creative and drawing a lot of ideas together, but I can’t help but wonder just how much he understands the science in depth and how much he is just using to fit into his own scheme of faith. At one point for example, he talks about gravity being a field of attraction. “But we can call it love.” (p. 163) This is poetic and fun, but can we really equate gravity and love? Really? Maybe on Sunday morning. Maybe in a sound-bite. Maybe to his intended audience only.
It is great to see someone making the plea for awakening, awareness and change in a way that would make the church (and maybe even Christianity) relevant in the present world. Updating worldviews is natural and inevitable. It’s inspiring to see someone in the religious world actually recognize and address this. Even if Christianity just repented a little bit, and demonstrated the self-awareness or evaluation others ask of it, the world would be filled with open arms ready to embrace the faithful. (Hmm – kind of reminds me of a story I read as a child…)
However, Sanguin seems more interested in using these really neat bits of scientific discovery and breakthrough to further his own belief system rather than address just how much some of this new information challenges his belief system. But then again, his audience is the Christian congregation hearing the call of change and readying their response.
I will continue with Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos later this week with some quotations, recommendations and a final wrap-up.