In a handful of Eastern religions, including Judaism, the ancient idea behind perfection was that one only became perfect by evolving. When I use the term evolve, I don't mean going from a fish to a human; I mean internal progress of the soul, a moving forward rather than backward, learning and applying it.
Process theology is a strand of theological philosophy that employs the general concept that all life is in process, even God. Philosopher Alfred Whitehead describes one of the tenets of process theology: "Because God interacts with the changing universe, God is changeable (that is to say, God is affected by the actions that take place in the universe) over the course of time. However, the abstract elements of God (goodness, wisdom, etc.) remain eternally solid." In this definition, perfection isn't arriving at some objective place of having it all together; it is an ongoing process. In this framework of thought, God isn't omnipotent in terms of trying to aggressively coerce us to follow some elusive plan called "God's Will." He is in direct intentional partnership with humanity.
If God evolves, then should we accept the responsibility that our culture might need to evolve as well? Maybe humanity has something to add to the conversation of our perpetual development.
Culture is such a vast word and could mean so many different things. Let me narrow it down a bit. Cultural critic Matthew Arnold defined culture as knowing "the best that has been said and thought in the world." When I hear this, I think of people like Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., to name a few. The best is what allows space for us to discover who we are meant to be as a global community. My question, then, is this: is what we have now all that there will be? Sometimes I think we think so. I think we might even go so far as to say that what we offer now is the best we have ever offered. Personally, I would tend to agree with this statement, but then the cultural critic in me rises up and says that there must be more. Not in the consumerist sense of the idea, but in the sense that if we believe in an eternal entity above who evolves, then shouldn't we do so, as well?
We could go into the many reasons why we haven't changed. Maybe it's fear of change, fear that we might have to let go of the very things that once gave us status and identity. Maybe it's fear of the unknown: we don't know what it looks like to evolve into a better, less self-centered culture. Not knowing what that looks like is also scary; a change like that could possibly force us to leave everything we've worked for behind.
So what are some of the things we might need to evolve? Another big question, I know. Maybe one thing we need to evolve is the need to create fads. America is good at creating fads. We try to take things and create an atmosphere of need around whatever that object is: "If you don't have an iPod, you're not really that cool!" We may not say this or even be aware we're thinking this, but in the recesses of brain where we learn to hide what we're really thinking, we have come to believe that to be cool means we have to have the next big thing. What about the next small thing?
A friend of mine went to Africa and was invited to play soccer with some local children. When the game started, the youngest of the group went behind their shed-like house to retrieve their ball. It turned out that the "ball" was a collection of old strands tied together by what looked like rubber-bands. To these children, this was their ball, a ball they made together, a movement of ideas put in motion. It was an organic ball representing something much bigger: an idea, one that wasn't necessarily conjured up in the credo of needing the next best thing. Their best thing was each other.
If we're less focused on the next best thing, then maybe we can help those who have no-thing. Maybe we can take the energy that we would have been using to acquire our creature-comforts and try and connect on a personal level with someone who needs the comfort of knowing that he or she is not alone. The moment we do this is the moment that we defiantly proclaim that consumerism isn't as important as our next-door neighbour.
The next small thing for us might be learning to let go of our individualism.
I'm not saying that we should stop being who we are. We should just realize that we need each other as we have been created to be. We need not try and be someone we are not. We deny the divine spark when we choose to not live out who we are meant to be. Some people think that if they start thinking communally rather than individually, then somehow they will lose who they are. Here's a secret: if they are already afraid of losing themselves that early on, then they probably don't know who they are in the first place. If we start thinking in terms of how our behavior affects the person standing next to us or in our circle of influence, I think we might better learn what it means to see everyone as someone who has the image of God implanted within. The moment we take a life, the moment we choose ourselves over another, the moment we start to shout, "The world is about me!" -- that is the moment when we defiantly deny that God has anything to with us and come to believe that the person next to us is valueless, that that person has nothing to add to the conversation. If we accept that our individualism has the last word, then it is likely that our culture might never evolve.
There are innumerable things we can do to assist in the healthy perpetuation of our culture. There are innumerable issues that seem too daunting to respond to, so we lie defeated on the side of the road waiting for a Savior to come and take us away. Jesus showed us what it looks like to be a Savior. Maybe He didn't just come to heal the world but to show us how to heal it ourselves, too, to empower us with the realization that we are meant to do the same as he did: kill our selfish inclinations, kill our need to be right, kill our need for individualism, kill our fear of change. If we choose to not follow the invitation of the great leaders who showed us how to make our culture better, we might never move forward. And If we never move forward, then we might not grow into whom we were meant to be as a culture.
If we think of life like a path that we are all on, moving in a particular direction, then we have two choices: we can be a communally-minded people, or we can all go our own ways and forge our own paths and look out for Number One. But remember that this is the culture whose victims we have become even now. Maybe we can choose to renovate our ideas of culture and where we're headed. It's not too late. We can do it together. We can be the change we want to see in this world. We can be a defiantly hopeful people that works together to insure that things like poverty, injustice, war, brokenness, despair, indifference, and hatred don''t have the last word. The reason why "I have a dream" speeches work is because embedded within the fabric of each of those dreams is the reality that inside all of us is the hope that those kinds of dreams can really come true, that the dreams we have for a better world were placed there by our Creator.