God and the Unity of Nations, by Thomas King

God and the Unity of Nations, by Thomas King

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Metanexus Anthopos. 4,082 Words.

I tell of Fukuyama as I feel that he has offered a significant perspective on both Teilhard and world history. Like Teilhard he offers a broad historical picture and like Teilhard he sees history going to a somewhat final destination. Like Teilhard he sees societies evolving, and science as the major driving force in history today. But, unlike Teilhard, Fukuyama lets the future wholly undefined…Teilhard defined the future.

God and the Unity of Nations

By Thomas King

Recently we have become aware of the role that religion plays in international politics, and even its role in national politics. And this can call our attention to the role it plays in human life. With this we can ask about the human future in a new and perhaps troubling way. I would like to consider the matter in terms of Teilhard and in terms of a book that gained considerable attention a little over a decade ago. I refer to Francis Fukuyamaís The End of History and the Last Man. I would like to pick up on its themes to get a better perspective on Teilhard and of the troubling world in which we live today. To do so I will sketch Fukuyamaís line of argument as it might clarify our present situation.

Fukuyama saw the latter part of the twentieth century allowing for a considerable optimism. He tells of the rise of liberal democracies, governments based on mutual recognition and liberal economic systems. As Fukuyama sets up the picture the worldís first liberal democracy was the United States, a government based on the principles of the liberal tradition that developed out of Hobbes and the politics of John Locke. He would see a steady growth of liberal democracies so that he can present a chart of nations which would identify 13 liberal democracies in 1940, 36 in 1960, and 61 in 1990. Yes, it is after the fall of many Latin American dictators and the Soviet Empire. This suggested a global movement to liberal democracy and a common evolutionary grasp of the world (EHLM,48). When all the nations of the world have become liberal democracies, history will come to an end. Hence the title of Fukuyamaís book.

To tell of the process Fukuyama uses a striking image: the gradual formation of an association of liberal democracies is compared to a long wagon train that once was strung out along the roads. Some wagons will have pulled into town already, arriving crisply and sharply, while others will still be bivouacked back somewhere in the desert. Some wagons (nations) will have gone temporarily in the wrong direction and still others will be making their way by more difficult routes. ìBut the great majority of wagons will be making the slow journey into town, and most will eventually arrive there. The wagons are all similar to one another, while they are painted different colors….î Any reasonable person would be able to look at the situation and conclude that there has been only one journey and one destination: an association of liberal democracies. But this account ends with a disturbing uncertainty: Fukuyama wonders whether the occupants of the wagons, having arrived safely in town, will not briefly look around at the new surroundings and ìfind them inadequate and set their eyes on a new and more distant journey.î

What could they be looking for? What could anyone be looking for beyond liberal democracy?

Such questions take us back to another theme that runs through Fukuyamaís book: thymos. This is a Greek term that could be translated as ìspiritedness,î or perhaps as ìpassion.î Fukuyama borrows the term from Book Four of Platoís Republic; but he develops it in his own way using texts of Hegel and especially texts of Frederick Nietzsche. In the Republic Socrates tells of the human individual consisting of both reason and desire. It is evident that reason can come into conflict with desire and desires can come into conflict with one another. Thus, thumos could be taken as simply one more desire. But Socrates argues that thumos is neither reason nor desire, but a third part of the soul.

To explain why thumos is not simply a desire, Socrates tells of Leontius seeing a distant pile of corpses and feeling drawn to go over and take a closer look. At the same time he was disgusted with himself and wanted to turn away. For a while he struggled with the conflict, but finally he felt overpowered by desire and ran to see the corpses. As he stood looking at them he felt disgusted with himself and said to his eyes,.îLook, you damn wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.î To see this simply as one desire winning out against another would miss the anger that Leontius feels towards himself for giving in to the desire. He is ashamed of himself. If he had restrained himself, he might have felt some personal pride. By his sense of self esteem (or lack of it) something has acted in anger that is distinct from both reason and desire. It is thumos, ìspiritedness,î ìpassion.î Socrates explains that the nobler a man is the more he will value his own worth and the stronger his self-control. For such a one spirit, thumos (self esteem), enables one to endure hunger, cold and other discomforts to maintain oneís self respect. Thumos could be called a determination not to give into oneís desires. Thumos would even enable a soldier to sacrifice himself for a value greater than life.

Thumos, as developed by Fukuyama, would extend beyond the individual to include the respect and esteem that one receives from others. It is in terms of thumos that a soldier might renounce comforts, thwart oneís appetites and natural instincts, show incredible bravery, and attain glory. One overcomes oneís appetites to attain a sense of personal worth and freedom. Thumos tells of a moral courage by which I insist on defining my self and not letting my appetites define me. I will overcome them, I will conquer myself, and by the very process ìIî will define who I am. I have not surrendered to the ease and comfort of giving way to personal appetites.

This presentation of thumos could be set in contrast with the ideal that Fukuyama traces to John Locke. For Locke, the purpose of society is to present a balanced world wherein all individuals might equally satisfy as many desires as possible without disrupting others. Fukuyama associates ìLockean liberalismî with the bourgeois class and the preoccupation with oneís own material well-being (145).

But Plato, and the tradition developed by Fukuyama, would claim that beyond the satisfaction of desires, there is a ìspiritednessî to be found only in transcending desire. Thumos is a somewhat aristocratic virtue which can well set one man against another; the one rising to dominate is the one Fukuyama would consider the ìfirst manî and the beginning of history. Nations rise and fall, each dominating for a time, but over and again the moment comes when the subjected ones will no longer take the humiliation of servitude; their ìspiritednessî makes a radical demand for a new order. Thumos throws off the repression. But is there room for thumos in a liberal democracy? Oppression has ended. A citizen of such a democracy could work to overthrow a tyranny in another country. But what if Lockean democracies are established around the world, then what becomes of thumos? Will that wild, free, and adventuresome wagoneer who has heroically braved the long struggle settle down to quiet prosperity, or will he briefly look around town and start shooting things up and craving new adventure? For thumos is a spiritedness that looks beyond the settled life to risks and struggle. The question is left unanswered by Fukuyama.

I tell of Fukuyama as I feel that he has offered a significant perspective on both Teilhard and world history. Like Teilhard he offers a broad historical picture and like Teilhard he sees history going to a somewhat final destination. Like Teilhard he sees societies evolving, and science as the major driving force in history today. But, unlike Teilhard, Fukuyama lets the future wholly undefined.

Teilhard defined the future. In at least 60 of his essays he set the human future in God. It is generally agreed that Teilhard developed all the main lines of his thought while serving in World War I, that is, during the largest conflict of nations that had ever occurred. Once while digging a trench in preparation for battle, Teilhard found the smell of wild-flowers and mushrooms brought back memories of his boyhood home in rural France. He felt a nostalgia for his quiet childhood on the family farm. But in September of 1917 he was taken by a different nostalgia: Nostalgia for the Frontñthe title of a stunning essay that does not tell of a quiet peace; it does not mention thumos but considers it at length. It tells of an exhilaration that he knew in battle and a yearning to return to the Front. He was puzzled by this different nostalgia and wrote the essay to understand himself. He begins by recognizing an adventuresome spirit that he had as a child dreaming of far away places and later of himself as a young man looking up the unexplored Nile:

In the enigmatic and importunate ìIî that loves the Front so obstinately I recognize the ìIî of venture and search, the man who is always longing to travel to the furthest limits of the world in order to enjoy new and uncommon visions and to be able to say that he is in the van (HM,170).

As with thumos it concerns what one wants to think about oneís self. At the Front he feels like a conquistador landing on a new shore. He found his adventuresome identity opened him up to a vast freedomña freedom from the every-day concerns of health and food that occupy and preoccupy us. At the Front the nagging envelope of petty desires seemed to fall away like an old cloak. But something else dawned on him: Humanity was born, ìborn above all in hours of crisis.î He then starts speaking of Humanity as ìa Thing.î That is, in French, ìune Chose,î with a capital ìCî: ìanother Thing lives in him and dominates him.î But soon he moves from the impersonal Thing to speak of ìa new and superhuman soul,î a ìpersonality of another orderî (HM,178). At the Front he felt ìelevated to the frontier of the world, close to Godî (HM,197), and when he moved to the rear he tells of ìthe feeling of having lost a Soul, a Soul greater than my own which lives in the trenches and I have left behindî (HM,175).

As a young boy Teilhard collected pieces of iron and spoke of them as his ìGod of Ironî; iron was seen as the ultra-material. As a seminarian in England he had an awareness of the ultra-living. ìThere were moments, indeed, when it seemed that a sort of universal Being was about to take shape suddenly in Nature before my very eyes.î But it was only at the Front that he experienced the ultra-human, the ultra-personal, and saw how humans fit into the whole story of life. He became directly aware of God amid the dust and shouting of war ìwhen hand grenades were being chaotically distributed to those who were streaming up for the great offensive.î He felt obliged to use the language of mysticism to describe what he was finding. Thymos was awakened at the Front and he felt in the presence of a great Soul. The intensity of such moments stayed with him and he would remain an ìadventurerî all his life. He would deem boredom ìpublic enemy number one.î

Perhaps Teilhardís ìNostalgia for the Frontî might give us a new insight into the God known by Isaiah. There in no evidence that Isaiah (First Isaiah) had been in battle, but he told of seeing the King and used a military term, ìthe Lord of hosts.î This is sometimes translated as the Lord of power and might, but literally it means the Lord of armies, the Lord Sabaoth. This was not the agricultural god who corresponds with a desire for food, nor the fertility god. who corresponds with a desire for sex, or the healing god who corresponds with the desire for health, and so forth.. This was the Lord Sabaoth who defines himself and would correspond with those who would do the same; it is the God of those with thumos. The Lord Sabaoth is what Teilhard knew in the heat of battle and what drew him back to the Front; he would be drawn to wherever the action was.

There has been a long tradition of the soldier-saint, and the ideals of the knight and the saint developed together. Both soldier and saint showed thumos in overcoming domestic desires to live a higher life. The early monastic movement had the appeal of a noble heroism. It developed shortly after the persecution of Christians ended in the early part of the fourth century and monastic life was referred to as ìevangelical deathîña death to ordinary satisfactions.. During the time of persecution the martyr was the one who overcame appetites to offer oneís self for that which was greater. So the monks would define themselves by overcoming their ordinary desires as the martyrs had done; they too would no longer be defined by their appetites. In the fourth and fifth centuries men and women followed this ideal and lived lives of radical abstinence. One account says, ìPachomias, from his monasgtery of Tabenna in the Nile, had seven thousand men and women living in various congregations under his rule; there were five thousand monks on Mount Nitria: Serapion at Arsenoe ruled over ten thousandî (DF,5).

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits (the religious group to which Teilhard belonged), was a soldier-saint. He wrote The Spiritual Exercises to train Jesuits and others in living the Christian ideal. He began by stating the purpose of the Exercises: ìto help the one making the exercises to conquer himself, and to regulate his life so that he will not be influenced in his decisions by any disordered desires.î The disordered desires included a desire for health over a desire for sickness, for wealth over poverty, for a long life over a short life. Such desires must be overcome; the ideal for a soldier, a monk, a saint. The Exercises are also filled with images of knighthood: the one making the Exercises would be ìconsidered an unworthy knightî if on hearing Christ inviting one to a life of radical service one gave in to sensuality and carnal love. The ideal of Ignatius would not make sense to the ëLockean liberal.î But it would make sense to the one who made the knightly choice and found the Lord Sabaoth. Apart from that one would worship only the God that would assist in satisfying a desire (food, sex, health, etc.), not the God who called on us to renounce all things and follow Him. We might recall the radical rejection of all desire in the spirituality of St. John of the Crossña saint like Teresa filled with the spirit of the conquistadors. But this can leave one asking if the Lord Sabaoth can be known in times of peace. This was a fundamental question for Teilhard as the War ended.

Though ìNostalgia for the Frontî was written during the War, Teilhard was already concerned about the peace. He wrote,

When, therefore, peace comes which the nations long for (as I do myself, more than anyone) something that I can only compare to a burning light will suddenly be extinguished on Earth…. When peace comes, everything will once more be overlaid by the veil of the former melancholy and trivialities (HM,178).

In peacetime will there be any need for thumos? Teilhard reflects with regret that survivors of the Front ìwill always have a void in their heart so large that nothing we are able to see will ever be able to fill itî (HM,179).

A year and a half later the War had ended and Teilhard faced demobilization. He told of the earth appearing ìdrab and cheerlessî and of ìall the dullness and drabnessî that returned to a soldierís life as he faced the disillusion of peace. He reflected that during the War soldiers ìknew real emotion, they were raised above themselves,î they knew ìan extraordinary release of spiritual energyî (W,282). He saw men with his ìown eyes gradually become masters of their souls in the sacrifice of themselves for a sacred cause;î for men had ìattained (at least for a moment) a domain of higher spiritualityî (W,279, 281). And with that they had witnessed ìwhat one could almost call the birth of a Soulî (W,281), ìsome Thing that had encompassed and transcended them allî (W,283). This higher spirituality must not be forgotten; it must become part of the peace.

Sometimes people wonder why the human story has so many wars. I think I know the answer: ìWe like ëem.î In fact, ìWe love ëem.î If that sounds silly, the wartime essays of Teilhard give some meaning to what I have said. There Teilhard tells of ìthe joy of fightingî and the ìjoy of battle.î Without the challenge of war, life appears ìdrab and cheerless.î The Lockean liberal does not understand thumos nor the passion for the higher Soul awakened only by a radical challenge and a common response.

Teilhard wrote of two nostalgias: a nostalgia for the farm and a nostalgia for the Front. He continued to know the first, but he would always prefer the second. I would suggest the two nostalgias could be understood in the terms of Fukuyama. The nostalgia for the farm would be for the quiet life of satisfied desire envisioned by John Locke; it is an ideal of peace and prosperity around which the liberal democracies are presently circling their wagons. In contrast, the nostalgia for the Front tells of a ìspiritednessî that liberal democracies cannot understand. Thumos looks at the circle of wagons and wants out into the unknown. The post-war writings of Teilhard can be seen as an effort to bring the higher spirituality and Soul that he had known into the everyday world.

Even in ìNostalgia for the Frontî the problem of peace is presented. Teilhard tells of wandering across the battle lines and meeting a peasant man-of-the-soil who reproved him for walking across his newly-ploughed field. In hearing the man Teilhard felt he was falling from a great height. He seemed to be a stranger, someone out of scale with the bourgeois farmer concerned with satisfying his material desires. He believed many returning soldiers had felt the same way. In being greeted as before, one had ìthat melancholy feeling of being a stranger, out of scale, as though between the other and himself a deep rift had openedî (HM,178). He had difficulty in returning to Jesuit life and wrote of it in the third person:

…even for his brothers in God, better men than he, he would inevitably speak henceforth in an incomprehensible tongue, he whom the Lord had drawn to follow the road of fire. Even for those he loved the most his love would be henceforth a burden, for they would sense his compulsion to be forever seeking something behind themselves (HM,74)

Behind themselves was the deeper Soul he had known at the Front.

Following World War I there was a popular song in the US that asked, ìHow Ya Gonna Keep Them down on the Farm after Theyíve Seen Paree?î Teilhard had ìseen Paree,î but it was not Paree that changed him: the heat of battle moved him more than either Egypt or Paris: ìWhen I look back, all the magic of the East, all the spiritual warmth of Paris are not worth the mud of Douaumontî (HM,178). He remained an adventurer and some Jesuit rectors did not know what to make of him; neither did his bishops, nor many of his fellow scientists, nor a number of friends, women and men. He seemed to act independently of all the circled wagons. He was more free than other peopleñJesuits and non-Jesuitsñand also more deeply committed. Committed, for nothing expressed so well what he had found than a few passages of St. Paul suggesting, but not stating, that Christ was the Soul of the world. He found this Soul in a time of great danger so he would claim ìsanctity consists of risking oneís self on a porte a fauxî (Nr,196).

In the Phenomenon of Man Teilhard argues for a collectivity of nations. But he cannot leave it there, so he continues, ìSomething will explode if we insist in trying to squeeze into our old tumble-down huts the material and spiritual forces that are henceforth on the scale of the worldî (PM,253). Here he calls on us to recognize a higher Soul. A collectivity is a fine thing, but Teilhard knew from his days in the War that a higher spirituality had come into being and a simple collectivity would not satisfy the thumos that the War had awakened.

In looking to the end of the War Teilhard advised the soldiers who would return that they would always have a void in their heart, but

Let them understand that the super-human reality that was disclosed to them in the shell- holes and barbed wire, will never completely withdraw from the pacified world. There it will remain alive, more difficult to detect though it may be. And that man will be able to recognize it, and once more unite himself to it, who devotes himself to the tasks of everyday existence, not in a spirit of selfishness, as before, but religiously, with the consciousness of forwarding, in God and for God, the great task of creating and sanctifying a mankind that is born above all in hours of crisis but can reach its fulfilment only in peace (HM,179).

The world described by Fukuyama has an unresolved mix of ìLockian liberalsî circling the wagons and ìlast menî with thumos.î The most noted change in world politics since Fukuyamaís book is the rise of militant Islam and we are bewildered. Young Muslims are taken to suicide bombings; we think of them without jobs and little education being led by fanatic mullahs. But that is not the case: the London subway bombers had fairly good jobs, families, money, and education (one had a graduate degree from the US); they were raised in England. In a New York Times op-ed piece (August 4, 2005), David Brooks argued that ìjihadists are not from humiliated and oppressed classes; they are increasingly being drawn from ranks of the educated, mobile, and multilingual…they seek some utopian cause to give them identity and their lives meaning.î ìLockian liberalsî find this difficult to understand. They are like the man-of-the-soil whose plowed field Teilhard had walked across. The jihadists do not look to the satisfaction of desires but to define themselves by a radical sacrifice of desire and thus give their life meaning. The jihadists do not look for the middle-class God that will bring them peace and prosperity, but to the Lord Sabaoth. Thumos and its God do not appear on the radar screen of many world leaders; they seem to lack the ability to understand the radical appeal of living ìin God and for God.î Many religious leaders today have settled into the mind-set of the Lockean liberal at ease in middle-class society. They no longer propose sacrificing everything for an ideal, the ideal of the soldier/saint, the ideal of Ignatius. Could it also be the ideal of Christ?

The writings of Teilhard are often difficult to understand. Yet many find a deep response to his words, for Teilhard knew a higher Soul and endlessly brings this to our attention. All of his readers, learned or unlearned, understand this much: his words have Soul. And they call one to a noble enterprise beyond the satisfaction of desire. Teilhard calls us to build more than a secular world for only the world ìin God and for Godî will satisfy the thumos within us. The God he discovered in war can be difficult to find in peace, but he assures us He is there. So the fundamental task we have now is religious: We must act ìnot in a spirit of selfishness, as before, but religiously with the consciousness of forwarding, in God and for God, the great task of creating and sanctifying a mankind that is born in times of crisis, but can reach its fulfillment only in peace.î He reminds us there must be more to the human future than a circle of wagons, for we are being called to exploration into God.

List of Abbreviations for the Works Cited in This Essay

DF The Desert Fathers, by Helen Waddell. Ann Arbor Paperbacks, the University of Michigan Press, 1957

EHLM The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama. New York: Macmillan, The Free Press, 1992.

HM The Heart of Matter, by Teilhard de Chardin, translated by Rene Hague. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Nr Notes de retraites, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Introduction et notes de Gerard-Henry Baudry, Preface de Gustave Martelet, S.J. Paris: Seuil, 2003.

PM The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, translated by Bernard Wall. New York: Harper & Row, 1957

W Writings in Time of War, by Teilhard de Chardin, translated by Rene Hague. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Thomas M. King, SJ has been teaching courses on Teilhard since 1968 when he joined the theology department at Georgetown University. He is the author of numerous books and articles about Teilhard. Among his works are Teilhardís Mysticism of Knowing (1981), Teilhard de Chardin (1988), and Teilhardís Mass: Approaches to ìThe Mass on the Worldî (2005). Fr. King has a masterís degree in education from Fordham University, a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of Strasbourg, and an STL degree from Woodstock. He is a member of the board of the American Teilhard Association and the cofounder of ìCosmos and Creation,î an annual gathering of scientists interested in the dialogue between religion and science.

©2005 Metanexus Institute

Published 2005.10.13