Teilhard de Chardin: Putting an End to the Myth

Pasolini once wrote that theology is one of the branches of fantastic literature. We will reserve this assertion for the theology-fiction of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Despite eleven condemnations by the Church, which silenced him because of the “serious attacks on Catholic doctrine” developed in his books, his theology enjoyed incredible success in the 1950s and especially the 1960s, supported by the Society of Jesus. Even good souls were seduced by its lyrical prose, full of neologisms and appealing, if bizarre, poetic flights of fancy. His euphoric project of reconciling modern science and faith was very much in the spirit of a time bathed in optimism against a backdrop of technological advances.

And yet, not only are the Jesuit’s theses devoid of scientific credibility, they are also contrary to the most elementary truths of faith. This is what Wolfgang Smith demonstrates at length in a very insightful work. Smith is both an inspired philosopher and a leading scientist, physicist and mathematician, who has taught at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Teilhard was a paleontologist of no particular genius, incompetent in both biology and physics, and the knowledge he gained from his profession (the discovery of fossils) had no connection with his ideological construction, as he acknowledged in his correspondence. This explains why his theses were criticized by renowned scientists.

Teilhard’s intention was to reintroduce God into a scientific vision dominated by evolution. He made no secret of his intention to re-found Christianity—an “improved Christianity,” an “ultra-Christianity,” a “meta-Christianity,” as he put it—on new foundations. The universe was conceived in a pantheistic mode: “There is in the World neither Spirit nor Matter; the Fabric of the Universe is Spirit-Matter.” According to a great “law of Complexity of Consciousness,” “everything that exists is Matter that becomes Spirit.” For him, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is contradicted by the “temporo-spatial enormity,” the “energetic immensities,” and the “unfathomable organic connections of the phenomenal World.” For Teilhard, “grace represents physical over-creation. In other words, it is properly biological in nature.”

We must also abandon our conception of a God above time: “Around us and within us, by the encounter of his Attraction and our Thought, God is in the process of ‘changing’… By the rise of the Cosmic Quantity of Union, his radiance, his hue are enriched!” Rejecting the law of the universe’s increasing entropy, Teilhard asserts that everything converges irresistibly towards an “Omega Point,” which is none other than the cosmic Christ.

One of the stumbling blocks between Teilhard’s vision and Church teaching is the dogma of original sin. In what is perhaps the most fascinating chapter of his book, Wolfgang Smith explains how Adam’s Fall fits into a different representation of origins than the Jesuit’s: ” it is this primordial catastrophe—and not a Darwinist ascent—that is responsible for the human condition as we know it today.” On the contrary, for Teilhard, evil is simply disorder caused by natural processes. This conception led him to an astonishing relativization of man’s sinfulness. His “neo-humanist” political vision is based on the phenomenon of “socialization,” aggregation through collectivization, which brought him to a singular complacency to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. In 1938, he wrote: “I do not know where to fix my sympathies, at the present time: where is there more hope and ideal at present? In Russia, or in Berlin?”

In the end, all the truths of faith are reinterpreted in his own way, as best he can, or, in the case of the most troublesome, abandoned.

We recommend this book to all Teilhardardians, and in particular to the Jesuits, who have just opened a Centre Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on the Plateau de Saclay [the European Silicon Valley], with the ambition of making it “a space for dialogue between science, philosophy and spirituality.” It would have been preferable to choose better sponsor.

Denis Sureau is the editor of the review Transmettre and the bi-monthly newsletter Chrétiens dans la Cité. He is the author of Pour une nouvelle théologie politique. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Patriarchy Never Existed

The surge of neo-feminist ideology represents an anthropological revolution. This is what the historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd thinks, and in his latest book, Où sont-elles?, offers “a sketch of the history of women.” As with his previous works on family systems, there are brilliant analyses which, if they are sometimes twisted, have the merit of originality. He proves his non-conformism from the start by showing, with figures, that cases of feminicide have been decreasing for forty years, or by affirming that “the destruction of patriarchy was easy in our country because it had never really existed.”

The first feminist wave was about citizenship (suffragettes demanded the right to vote). The second about sexuality (contraception, abortion…). The third about identity. The concepts of this neo-feminism—patriarchy, gender, intersectionality—of recent American importation, are in Todd’s eyes harmful for a correct understanding of women’s history, for this ideology “veils more than it transforms the reality of the world.” An expression of resentment, it leads to a war of the sexes.

In the wake of his previous research, Todd analyzes at length the evolution of family models since the Neolithic era on different continents. Among hunter-gatherers, within a nuclear family (father + mother + children), men hunt and women gather: this sexual division of labor is universal; it is not a simple social construction as feminists would have it. The male domination is rather relative and very variable, and is expressed in collective activities (politics, great works, war, etc.).

Then, Todd focuses on the relationship between Christianity and the status of women. The Church was “a pole of resistance to male brutality;” the sacredness of marriage protected women from the instability of men and the moderation of sexuality from marital rape. It is Protestantism which was unfavourable to women—Luther gives a central place to the father of the family, and the retreat of the cult of the Virgin Mary in favour of Eve the sinful woman contributes to a masculinism. And it is precisely in reaction to this Protestant “patricentrism” that feminism was born in Anglo-American and Scandinavian countries.

How can we understand the emancipation of the last 70 years? The sexual revolution began in 1965. The legalization of the pill and abortion consecrated the loss of male power: “It is now the woman who decides whether or not to have a child.” The massive arrival of women on the labor market freed them from economic dependence, “removed the need for the human couple.” Women have more higher education than men (52% versus 44%), thus establishing an “educational matridominance,” and marry men of lower status—a complete reversal. However, this so-called liberation, which was accompanied by growing anxiety and social unease, was also the cause of the “final collapse of Catholicism” (a theme dear to the author). It also has the consequence of eroding the collective feeling against the background of the collapse of democracy.

The success of feminism illustrated by #MeToo is explained by the domination of women from the petty bourgeoisie in teaching and research, especially in the humanities, which is the domain of ideology. However, this evolution is opposed by a certain male resistance in the highest social strata (the top 4% of society), especially among business leaders and state bureaucrats. Thus, our society “lives in a tension between ideological matridominance and economic-bureaucratic patridominance.” The struggle of the sexes is thus doubled by a struggle between the middle classes and the upper classes.

One regrets the treatment of homosexuality in this book: Todd considers it as natural and universal, and envisages “the Catholic Church as a vast homosexual institution” which he contrasts with Protestant homophobia, and links the emergence of the gay or transgender identity to Christianity’s obsessive rejection of sexuality, etc. With such flaws aside, this book offers useful tools for deconstructing neofeminist ideology.

Denis Sureau is the editor of the review Transmettre and the bi-monthly newsletter Chrétiens dans la Cité. He is the author of Pour une nouvelle théologie politique. This article comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured image: “The Gilded Cage,” by Evelyn De Morgan; painted ca. 1890-1919.