Activation of Energy

Activation of Energy

by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Rene Hague (Translator)

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An important Christian philosopher contends that if human energy is channeled in the right direction, "upward and outward," spiritual energy as a motor force in the universe will outdistance technological advance. Index. Translated by René Hague. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156028172
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/18/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 420
Sales rank: 535,410
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and paleontologist who studied chemistry, physics, botany, and zoology and received his doctorate in geology. The author of several works of philosophy and religion, he is considered by many to be among the foremost thinkers of our time. Toward the Future was first published in 1973.

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The Moment of Choice

A possible interpretation of War

This will be the second time, then, in the span of one human life that we shall have known War. The second time, did I say? Is it not, rather, worse than that? Is it not the same Great War that is still raging, the same single process: a world being re-cast — or disintegrating? In 1918 it seemed all over and done with, and now it is beginning all over again.

The same anguish, then, is making itself felt deep within each one of us, and there is not one of us but heaves the same deep sigh. We thought that we were rising up in freedom towards a better era: and now it would appear that we were quite mistaken, that some vast determinism is dragging us irresistibly round and round, or down to the depths. Is it not, we ask, a diabolical circle of incessantly renewed discords: is not the ground sliding back from under our feet at each step we take? The whirling wheel or the giddy slope? Were our hopes of progress, then, no more than an illusion?

Like everyone else, I felt the horror of this shocking trial when I landed in the Far East — flooded by nature and laid waste by an insidious invasion — and learnt that the West was ablaze.

Once again, therefore, I drew up the balance sheet of all I knew and all I believed, and examined it again. As unemotionally as possible I compared it with all that is now happening to us. And here, to put it frankly, is what I thought I saw.

First and foremost: no, a thousand times no — however tragic the present conflict may be, it contains nothing that should shake the foundations of our faith in the future. I wrote this in this very journal and I shall repeat it with all the conviction I felt two years ago. Where a group of isolated human wills might falter, the sum total of man's free decisions could not fail to find its God. Consider: for hundreds of millions of years consciousness was unceasingly rising up to the surface of the earth — and could we imagine that the direction of this mighty tide would be reversed at the very moment when we were beginning to be aware of its flow? The truth is that our reasons, even our natural reasons, for believing in a final triumph for man are of an order that is higher than any possible occurrence. Whatever disorder we are confronted by, the first thing we must say to ourselves is that we shall not perish. This is not a mortal sickness: it is a crisis of growth. It may well be that the evil has never seemed so deep-rooted nor the symptoms so grave; but, in one sense, is that not precisely one more reason for hope? The height of a peak is a measure of the depths of the abysses it overtops. If, from century to century, the crises did not become more violent, then, perhaps, we might have cause for anxiety.

Thus, even if the present cataclysm were impossible to understand, we should still, on principle, have to cling tenaciously to our belief and continue to press on. It is enough, surely, for us (particularly if we are Christians) to know that from the most distant reaches in which life appears to us, it has never succeeded in rising up except by suffering, and through evil — following the way of the Cross.

But is it really so impossible for us to understand the meaning of what is going on?

At the root of the major troubles in which nations are today involved, I believe that I can distinguish the signs of a change of age in mankind.

It took hundreds of centuries for man simply to people the earth and cover it with a first network: and further thousands of years to build up, as chance circumstances allowed, solid nuclei of civilizations within this initially fluctuating envelope, radiating from independent and antagonistic centres. Today, these elements have multiplied and grown; they have packed themselves closer together and forced themselves against one another — to the point where an over-all unity, of no matter what nature, has become economically and psychologically inevitable. Mankind, in coming of age, has begun to be subject to the necessity and to feel the urgency of forming one single body coextensive with itself. There we have the underlying cause of our distress.

In 1918 the nations had tried, in a supreme effort of individualism, in an obscure instinct for conservation, to defend themselves against this mass-concretion which they felt was coming. At that time we witnessed the terrifying upsurge of nationalisms — the reactionary fragmentation of ethnic groups in the name of history. And now once again the single fundamental wave is mounting up and rolling forward, but in a form made perilous by the particularist enthusiasms with which it is impregnated. So it is that the crisis has burst upon us.

What, then, do we see?

At a number of points on the earth, sections of mankind are simultaneously isolating themselves and drawing themselves up in readiness, logically impelled by 'universalization' of their nationalism to set themselves up as the exclusive heirs of life's promises. Life, they proclaim from where they stand, can attain its term only by following exactly the road it took at the very beginning. Survival of the fittest: a pitiless struggle for domination between individual and individual, between group and group. Who is going to devour whom? ... Such is the fundamental law of fuller being. In consequence, overriding every other principle of action and morality, we have the law of force, transposed unchanged into the human sphere. External force: war, therefore, does not represent a residual accidentwhich will become less important as time goes on, but is the first agent of evolution and the very form in which it is expressed. And, to match this, internal force: citizens welded together in the iron grip of a totalitarian regime. All along the road we find coercion, continually obliged to turn the screw tighter. And, as a climax, one single branch stifling all the others. The future awaits us at the term of a continuous series of selections. Its crown is destined for the strongest individual in the strongest nation: it is in the smoke and blood of battles that the superman will appear.

It is against this barbaric ideal that we have spontaneously rebelled: and it is to escape slavery that we too have had to have recourse to force. It is to destroy the 'divine right' of war that we are fighting.

We are fighting. But at this point we must take heed. In what spirit, quite fundamentally, are we taking up arms? In a spirit of immobility and quiescence? — or in a spirit of conquest?

There might well be, I fear, a degraded and dangerous way of our making war on war: it would consist in defending ourselves without attacking — as though in order to become fully men we ourselves did not have to grow and change. To fight simply from inertia; to fight in order to be left in peace; to fight so that we may be 'let be'— that, surely, would be to dodge the essential problem presented to man by the age he has reached in his life. 'The other side', I am as convinced as any man, are making a mistake in the violent methods they are using in order to unify the world. On the other hand they are fully justified in feeling that the time has come to dream of a new earth: and it is even in virtue of this vision that they are so formidably strong. One thing, then, we must clearly appreciate: we shall succeed in counterbalancing the current they represent, and then in reversing it, only by overcoming their religion of force by one that is equally wide in its embrace, equally coherent, and equally attractive. Within us, and directed against them, a dynamism must be at work which is as powerful as that by which they are animated. If not, our armament falls short of theirs, and we do not deserve to win. On their side, they are introducing war as a principle of life. If we are to answer them effectively, what shall we, on our side, direct against them?

The more one considers this infinitely urgent problem of finding an over-all plan for building up the earth, the clearer it becomes that if we are to avoid the road of brute material force, there is no way out ahead except the road of comradeship and brotherhood — and that is as true of nations as it is of individuals: not jealous hostility, but friendly rivalry: not personal feeling, but the team spirit.

Unhappily, this gospel of unanimity cannot be proclaimed without producing a sort of pity in those to whom it is addressed: 'A spineless doctrine — a bleating for a Utopia.' Ah! so we shall find that Rousseau and the pacifists have done more harm to mankind than Nietzsche! Nowadays, seriously to envisage the possibility of human 'conspiration' inevitably raises a smile: and yet, even for the modern world, could there be a more healthy prospect or one with a more realistic foundation?

I recently explained my views on these points in this journal. Racialism defends itself by an appeal to the laws of nature. There is, however, just one thing it forgets when it does so: that when nature attained the level of man it was obliged, precisely in order to remain true to itself, to change its ways. Until man, it is true enough that living branches develop primarily by stifling and eliminating one another — the law, in fact, of the jungle. By contrast, starting with man and within the human group, this is no longer true: the play of mutual destruction ceases to operate. Selection, no doubt, is still at work and can still be recognized, but it no longer holds the most important place; and the reason for this is that the appearance of thought has added a new dimension to the universe. Through spirit's irresistible affinity for its own kind, it has created a sort of convergent milieu within which the branches, as they are formed, have to come closer together in order to be fully living. In this new order of things, the whole balance is changed, though with no diminution of the system's energy. It is simply that force, in its earlier form, expresses only man's power over the extra- or the infra-human. It has been transformed, at the heart of mankind, among men, into its spiritual equivalent — an energy not of repulsion, but of attraction.

Bearing this in mind, the ultimate form to be assumed by mankind should not be conceived on the lines of a stem that is swollen with the sap of all the stems it killed as it grew. It will be born (for born it cannot but be) in the form of some organism in which, obeying one of the universe's most unmistakable laws, every blade and every fascicle, every individual and every nation, will find completion through union with all the others. No longer a succession of eliminations, but a confluence of energies — 'synergy'. Such, if we have ears to hear, is the message of biology.

For my own part, I can find no other doctrine of force to set against that of sheer Force.

In that case, however, we must abandon every illusion and every form of indolence. If such is the horizon towards which duration is leading us, it would be useless for the democracies to dream any longer of one of those incomplete and ambiguous worlds in which the nations, with no mutual love but faithful to some ill-defined, static concept of justice, would obediently respect one another's frontiers but would know one another no better than strangers who live on the same landing. Much more than the permanent threat of a war hanging over us, it is undoubtedly the uncertainty of this situation that has brought about the present explosion in Europe. 'No. Things couldn't go on like that any longer'. Irrespective of our wishes, the age of lukewarm pluralisms has gone for ever. Either a single nation will succeed in destroying and absorbing all the others: or all nations will come together in one common soul, that so they may be more human.

There, if I am not mistaken, lies the dilemma contained in the present crisis. This war is of a completely different kind from other wars, and is something much more: what has now begun is the struggle for the completion and the possession of the earth.

If we can see how things stand, if, I mean, we are aware of the dilemma and, in consequence, of the spirit which our position in the conflict forces us, willy-nilly, to defend — then we, in our turn, will find our strength trebled, and this time on a grand scale.

In the first place, we shall be strong in our hearts: because we shall no longer be simply resigned to fighting, as we would be if we were fighting fire, or storm or pestilence: we shall be fighting for something fine that we have to discover and build — we, too, shall be like conquerors.

Secondly, we shall have intellectual strength: because we shall have grasped the principle that must govern, in its most general conditions, the peace of tomorrow. Tomorrow: shall we not, it may well be, still be thinking covertly of 'after the war' in terms of humiliation and annihilation for the loser? And, in that case, where is our virtue? Are we now going to speak the language of the enemy? And what purpose would be served by restoring any one of the former orders of things, when the whole problem is precisely to leave them all behind?

Finally, we shall be strong against those we have to overcome. This is the direct corollary and conclusion of all I have just said. We commonly speak of it as an economic war, a war of attrition. But, if my view is correct, it is much more a war of conversion, because it is a war of ideals. At this moment, under the armoured shell of aircraft, submarines, and tanks, two opposed concepts of mankind are confronting one another. It is, therefore, in the depths of the soul that the battle will be decided. Let us only hope that under the shock of events the passion for unity blazes up in us with more ardour than the passion for destruction that is ranged against us. At that moment, perhaps, our adversary may well come to see, behind our blows, that we respect him and wish to have him with us more than he imagines he hates us. He will recognize, perhaps, that we are resisting him only in order to give him what he is seeking. And then, struck at its source, the conflict will die of its own accord, never to break out again.

'Love one another'. This gentle precept, which two thousand years ago came like a soothing oil humbly poured on human suffering, offers itself to our modern spirit as the most powerful, and in fact the only imaginable, principle of the earth's future equilibrium. Shall we at last make up our minds to admit that it is neither weakness nor harmless fad — but that it points out a formal condition for the achievement of life's most organic and most technically advanced progress?

If we did so decide, what awaits us would be the true victory and the only true peace.

In its own heart, force would be constrained to disarm, because we should at last have laid our hands on a stronger weapon with which to replace it.

And man, grown to his full stature, would have found the right road.

Unpublished, Peking Christmas 1939


The Atomism of Spirit

An attempt to understand the structure of the stuff of the universe


Whether it is a matter of climbing a peak, of cutting up a diamond, or of unravelling some complex of magnitudes tangled up by nature, the best way to get on is not generally to make a frontal attack on the difficulties that stand in our way: it is much better to look to right and left for the slight crack that can indirectly lead us without effort to the heart of the problem.

Ever since man reflected, and the more he reflected, the opposition between spirit and matter has constantly risen up as an ever higher barrier across the road that climbs up to a better awareness of the universe: and in this lies the deep-rooted origin of all our troubles. In physics and in metaphysics, as in morals, in social science and in religion, why are we constantly arguing with one another, why do we never seem to get any further? Surely the reason is that, being unable accurately to define the nature of the relationship that cosmically connects thought with the tangible, we cannot contrive to orientate ourselves in the labyrinth of things. Which is the top and which the bottom in our universe? Or are there even a top and a bottom?


Excerpted from "Activation of Energy"
by .
Copyright © 1976 Editions du Seuil.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Title Page,
The Moment of Choice,
The Atomism of Spirit,
The Rise of the Other,
Universalization and Union,
The Analysis of Life,
Outline of a Dialectic of Spirit,
The Place of Technology in a General Biology of Mankind,
On the Nature of the Phenomenon of Human Society, and its Hidden Relationship with Gravity,
The Psychological Conditions of the Unification of Man,
A Phenomenon of Counter-Evolution in Human Biology,
The Sense of the Species in Man,
The Evolution of Responsibility in the World,
A Clarification: Reflections on Two Converse Forms of Spirit,
The Zest for Living,
The Spiritual Energy of Suffering,
A Mental Threshold Across Our Path: From Cosmos to Cosmogenesis,
Reflections on the Scientific Probability and the Religious Consequences of an Ultra-Human,
The Convergence of the Universe,
The Transformation and Continuation in Man of the Mechanism of Evolution,
A Major Problem for Anthropology,
The Reflection of Energy,
Reflections on the Compression of Mankind,
On Looking at a Cyclotron,
The Energy of Evolution,
The Stuff of the Universe,
The Activation of Human Energy,
The Death-Barrier and Co-Reflection,
About the Author,

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