Ilia DELIO, OSF. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2013. pp. xxvi + 230. $22.00 pb. ISBN978-1-62698-029-7. Reviewed by Michael Horace BARNES, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH 45469-1530
Delio seeks a “fundamental meta-narrative” (xiv), a basic “social imaginary” (94) centered on this theme: “Evolution is not the background to the human story; it is the human story.” (98) Building mainly on Teilhard’s work, but finding rich reinforcement from many sources, she argues for what she calls an “integral theology,” (xvii) bringing together scientific knowledge and theology as Teilhard did in his various writings, in order to put humans back into nature.
Delio anchors her analysis in Pannikar’s notion of a cosmotheandric vision of the place of God and the human in the universe, but Teilhard’s universe, which is the active presence of God driving it forward towards an incarnational fulfillment. She reaffirms Scotus’ view that the incarnation was part of God’s plan from eternity, not an ad hoc arrangement to compensate for sin. (She cites Karl Rahner only rarely, though she might have made good use of both his Hominsation monograph and his essay “Christology within an Evolutionary View of the World,” Vol V, Theological Investigations, as she has before.) God is not present as a powerful being acting on the world from outside; God is present as the sustaining power within creation, manifest in Christic love-driven axial energy leading to a transformation we cannot yet imagine.
Woven into this narrative is a reading of human history which discerns two modes of thought at work, the holistic and mechanistic. (See page 148 for a summary chart.) Echoing traditional sources such as Augustine and Bonaventure, as well as contemporary sources as diverse as Ken Wilbur, Fritjof Capra, and Thomas Merton, the author often praises patristic and medieval modes of connecting spirituality with learning, love with action, and complains of modern mechanistic habits of though as sources of isolation and even violence (134, 137-38, 143-45, 155, 163). She also more than once declares that the Copernican “de-centering” of the human in the universe divided us from nature. I must confess to a more complex reading of history. Putting the earth in the heavens was quite a promotion, after all. And note Stephen Pinker’s claim, for example, that we are significantly less violent today (The Better Angels of Our Nature).
Much of the book is inspirational, discussing how to think, feel, and love. This is fully in line with Delio’s overall purpose of harmonizing human life with the cosmic process of personalization. At many points, however, the connection between the Teilhardian themes and the meditative material is less than clearly evident. Often the style is more hortatory and general (we must learn to think in new ways) than descriptive or analytical.
The many sources with which she is familiar enrich the reader’s awareness of how many issues are related to her main one. Under the heading of “Sacred Secularity,” for example, she explains how a person might have a religious consciousness of our place in evolution. The traditional theme of Christian love takes on a fuller meaning in a universe that is Christogenic, as Teilhard would have it. She discusses the danger of a transhumanism – Julian Huxley’s word for transcending many current human limits through science – if the search for improvement is a competition between individuals to enhance just themselves and their offsrping.
All in all, the book contributes well to Delio’s general message, delivered in this and previous books, that Christians need to integrate their theology and piety much better with the reality of cosmic evolution.