A Review of “The Emergent Christ”
I was excited about obtaining this book, sorry to have missed her UK tour last year, but swiftly found it hard work. Not that I didn’t understand it, but its matter is as dense as the early Big Bang, and that’s not in a good way.
It could easily be a paper, not a full length book. I obtained two things from Ilia’s 150 pages of main text:
“Evolution is progress towards union in love because God is ever deepening love.” (minus the irritating and unneeded hyphen between the penultimate words)
That is sufficient synopsis of the whole book. She need not write more!
The second was her summary of Hildegard of Bingen who saw sin as the exile of unrelatedness, the refusal to grow.
My major issue with Ilia is that she is another theologian trying to fit God round contemporary science, which is entirely the wrong way round. She asserts that scientists know that evolution is true, not a theory – something that my reading and understanding has always queried, on a scientific and philosophical level. (I wrote a dissertation on this subject).
She doesn’t engage with the theological issues about evolution either – a loving powerful God who uses waste and suffering, and is so slow! She suggests God could have achieved salvation in another way because God can do anything. But He can’t manage creation in any other way than Darwin’s, even though she’s the one to remind that Darwin only used evolution in the last line of his work. Nor does she justify the Big Bang, built on extrapolation and highly interpreted observations.
Instead, she uses dense stylised language with many invented and italicised words to whizz round such questions like spiral galaxies, oscillating so quickly that you’ve barely time to notice what she’s not said. Try paraphrasing her, and I realised how little real substance there is in my view. Dense, but not weighty.
It’s assumed but not truly argued or demonstrated that for God to be love – and she does have some beautiful and original phrases about that – God must evolve, and do so in a way analogous to the universe’s journey as understood by our relatively young scientific theory.
Most of her work is about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, and quoting many Catholics and scientists along the way, I felt there was little really coming from Ilia as original thought.
That point contains another issue I have – for despite ‘catholic’ supposedly meaning universal, this is a very Catholic book. If you weren’t reared on Bonaventure or what the popes say, you can feel alienated. Ilia often asks what it is to be Catholic, not to be Christian, and not to have faith or spirituality more generally. Given her scientific stance, her hints that Christ is the telos of enlightenment rather than just the 2nd person of the Trinity, and her writing style, this book doesn’t feel likely to have a wide audience.
Ilia wants to re-translate catholic (more italics coming up) to whole-making, which is a beautiful idea. The notion of God too growing and expanding is not new to me, and it is one I already embraced. I am glad that she accepts death and suffering as part of the process of our own parallel journeys, not something to eradicate via the science she so venerates.
But again, death as an act of creation – not a phrase she uses – is something I long knew: I found it in the film The Fountain, and watching it and thinking on its deep and similar themes was a more pleasing experience that these hours with Delio.
Heaven as a place on early was proclaimed by singer Belinda Carlisle in the 1980s, and the Kingdom being within is pretty obvious in the gospels. Is Ilia hinting she thinks that there is no next world?
I found myself instead wanting to explore Ms Bingen and even to have a go at Teilhard again, whose shockingly innovative insights were more pertinent when he wrote perhaps, but I felt this rehash has little to add to these times.
Ilia goes a step further than saying evolution and Christianity are compatible; she says – evolution is theology. Radical, intriguing, but appealing or true? I sense she’s touching on something there: that if we think of growth and deeper understanding as part of life and of God, then the way we understand the world scientifically does change and become more meaningful. But I refuse to make God fit science, saying, as we’re evolving we must know better now than all that came before. There’s both arrogance and naivety in this statement (if I’ve understood correctly). I know development to be spiral, twisting back and round and revisiting, not simply forward.
My understanding of working through Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis means attaining mastery on a personal and mass level. Ilia’s work seems stuck in the second stage, exonerating new science; but for me, obtaining wholeness and mastery (which I do not claim yet to have) is only achieved when we embrace and synthesise the wisdom of ancient beliefs and see that modern science is only a small part of actual knowing.