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Teilhard de Chardin: The “evolution” priest’s legacy included racism and social Darwinism, says theologian

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1947

From John P. Slattery at Religion Dispatches:

In fact, a movement has been underway to resurrect, as it were, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as a renewed foundation for theological reflection. According to a November report in America magazine, Pope Francis is already considering removing the “warning” attached to Teilhard’s historical writings, and more recently the National Catholic Reporter reported on an online movement to name him a “doctor of the Church.” Recent scholarly research, however, should cast doubt upon any such movements, as Teilhard’s positive influence may not be able to overcome his commitment to and employment of a philosophy of eugenics and social Darwinism.

Evolution, for Teilhard, is the hermeneutic key for understanding the place of Christ within the vast cosmos. Christ is simultaneously “the organic center of the entire universe,” “the evolver,” and the eschatological fulfillment—the Omega Point—of all creation: “Someone, and no longer something, is in gestation in the universe. To believe and to serve was not enough: we now find that it is becoming not only possible but imperative literally to love evolution.”

If one believes in God, for Teilhard, one should also believe in evolution in the Christocentric universe, and in a transformed understanding of human progress that can purposefully partake in the movement toward the Omega Point.

So far, this is just theistic evolution—offensive to many, but offensive in a normal paradigm. Taken far enough, it is flapdoodle. But then …

The first recorded instance of Teilhard’s views of racial superiority appear a decade before WWII, in 1929, while Teilhard was on one of his first scientific expeditions in China. He writes:

Do the yellows—[the Chinese]—have the same human value as the whites? [Fr.] Licent and many missionaries say that their present inferiority is due to their long history of Paganism. I’m afraid that this is only a ‘declaration of pastors.’ Instead, the cause seems to be the natural racial foundation…Christian love overcomes all inequalities, but it does not deny them.

Two years later in 1936, he clarifies that his Omega Point—the divine unification of the whole universe—specifically rests upon the inequality of races:

The philosophical or ‘supernatural’ unity of human nature has nothing to do with the equality of races in what concerns their physical capacities to contribute to the building of the world.…As not all ethnic groups have the same value, they must be dominated, which does not mean they must be despised—quite the reverse…In other words, at one and the same time there should be official recognition of: (1) the primacy/priority of the earth over nations; (2) the inequality of peoples and races. Now the second point is currently reviled by Communism…and the Church, and the first point is similarly reviled by the Fascist systems (and, of course, by less gifted peoples!).

Plus, he was angry with the Catholic Church for decisively rejecting eugenics. Slattery notes drily,

I doubt whether any of Teilhard’s champions today, however, know the full extent of the Jesuit’s commitment to eugenics as laid out in this essay. More.

Well, now they do.

See also: Do racial assumptions prevent recognizing Homo erectus as fully human?

One Reply to “Teilhard de Chardin: The “evolution” priest’s legacy included racism and social Darwinism, says theologian

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Very good article – thank you for finding and posting.

    At this juncture, one must ask why no scholars before this essay have written at length on the depths of Teilhard’s commitments to eugenics, sterilization, and racial superiority. Some early scholars of Teilhard did not comment simply because they supported Teilhard’s views, like Robert Speaight. My research would indicate that the vast majority of Teilhard scholars in recent decades have either disregarded Teilhard’s words as harmlessly misguided or simply assumed one could accept the general principles as long as they stood qualified. I doubt whether any of Teilhard’s champions today, however, know the full extent of the Jesuit’s commitment to eugenics as laid out in this essay.

    That last sentence is naive. He says “some early scholars” ignored the evidence because they supported Teilhard. Most of them today however ignore the evidence, and will continue to do so, for exactly the same reason.

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