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Are Humans Innately Superior?


Question & Answer


Q: By Mark

I have been on a journey much like John Spong’s for almost 67 years. I have followed his work over the years with interest and used to be on his regular mailing list. I just finished his “Last Book” and found it both enlightening and frustrating. I appreciated the insights and the bio of his and our shared journey, and resonate with many of his conclusions. Where I part company is his “insight” that we humans alone have “self consciousness,” which allows only us to grasp: life, death, fear, joy, God, spirit etc. Sadly Spong trots out the age-old notion that humans are mentally & spiritually superior to the “lower” beings on our planet. This attitude has justified our human lethal domination of this planet to the detriment of every species including human beings. Worst of all it is a conjecture that can be neither proven nor disproven (which I personally think is the easier of the two tasks) because we humans lack the ability to communicate with our fellow travelers. Stating this opinion and maintaining it as “fact” throughout the book diminishes Bishop Spong’s logic and conclusions, because it is so basic to every argument that follows. I pray that as we humans expand our own spiritual consciousness we will outgrow all of the assumptions we’ve nurtured about our innate superiority.

A: By Lauren Van Ham

Dear Mark,

love what you have said here, and there is so much material – scientific and subjective – that supports it. Sophisticated and highly refined intelligences animate trees, fungus, beehives, marine mammals, ant colonies, horses, prairie grasses, elephants and on and on. One episode of Planet Earth can leave me in stupefied reverence for a week. It also connects me to my grief and outrage that my species is at fault for being so minimizing of the innate wisdom surrounding us. Of course you are right, Mark, and it is time to hold the way we reason in sacred equality with all life. Divinity speaks to us in the waves of the ocean, the constellations in the heavens, the minerals in the food we eat, and the botanical healing in medicines as common as aspirin and chamomile.

While I appreciate that Spong’s phrase, “self consciousness,” was being used in a different way, it isn’t lost on me that we also use this term when describing parts of ourselves that sometimes feel less certain and insecure. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Because inside human beings is where God learns.” When I read these words, I feel my inner adolescent, longing to flop in the grass, to listen to the trees, to sing to the birds… and then her throat catches, and she wonders if she needs to “explain” her actions, so as to be accepted and understood by those watching. Is it in our self-conscious wrestling that the part of us that is God is invited to come out unapologetically? To say, “Holy Cow! This is all SO amazing! And So Beautiful! And such a miracle!” Meanwhile, the Buddha Nature, the inner divinity of the lizard, or the starfish, or gazelle is already unfolding, complete, and providing its God-ness to us in each moment.

To profess this level of humility and interdependency to and with Creation is not just liberating, it also creates an invitation for a new kind of engagement. Now, suddenly, I’m in a reciprocal relationship with all beings, the animate and inanimate. Here it makes sense to smell the petal, to ask before touching the leaf or the fur, to be prepared to NOT take the apple if the tree says, “I’m not ready yet.” Are we still too self-conscious for this depth of intimacy? What if, in our attempt to love Her, Earth says, “No”?

Goodness knows we’ve taken a lot without ever asking. She has every right to say, “No way. No more.” What seems more true though in my experience, is that much like a human, when other life forms are acknowledged, SEEN, and honored, they want more of that; they are happy to participate, to give and to contribute to the flow of good. May we see our self-consciousness for what it is — defended arrogance or a protective shield for our uncertainty. And we then fall in love anyway, inviting the wisdom of all life to teach us how much we are utterly, wonderfully interdependent!

~ Lauren Van Ham

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Lauren Van Ham was born and raised beneath the big sky of the Midwest, Lauren holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, Naropa University and The Chaplaincy Institute.  Following her ordination in 1999, Lauren served as an interfaith chaplain in both healthcare (adolescent psychiatry and palliative care), and corporate settings (organizational development and employee wellness). Her passion and training in the fine arts, spirituality and Earth’s teachings has supported her specialization in eco-ministry, grief & loss, and sacred activism.  Lauren’s work with Green Sangha (a Bay Area-based non-profit) is featured in Renewal, a documentary celebrating the efforts of environmental activism taking place in religious America.  Her essay, “Way of the Eco-Chaplain,” appears in the collection, Ways of the Spirit: Voices of Women.  Lauren tends a private spiritual direction practice and serves as Dean for The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA.

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