As you read the title of this article, I am curious if you may have seen the word “theology” instead of “teleology?” (Feel free to go back and have another look. I’ll wait. 🙂 )
This is, in fact, what occurred for me the first time I encountered this word during my undergraduate studies. Once I caught the difference my next thought was that it must have been a typographical error, that is, a misspelling of the word “theology.”
I am thankful that my experience with this word did not end there, for I would have missed the opportunity to have discovered a word and concept that literally transformed, and dare I say, saved my life.
What I refer to here is a time in my life when Weltschmerz was beginning to take hold in my mind and was threatening to become my dominant worldview. Weltschmerz is a German word with no direct English equivalent that describes an experience of the world (Welt) that causes us to suffer pain (Schmerz). What it represents is a sense of dismay, and even despair over the condition of the world, and more specifically her human inhabitants.
Wars, greed, hunger, suffering, etc. can weigh quite heavily upon those of us who have permitted empathy to remain, and there are times when it can all become exceedingly overwhelming.
This life altering word from the Greek is comprised of the root words telos (end, goal, purpose) and logos (reason, explanation). Combined, these words form a complex word that refers to the idea that there is “meaning and purpose” in the world and universe, that is, that something is evolving from the chaotic stream we often perceive, and significantly grieve.
Modern science is itself teleological in its method, and it is also proving the concept itself to be a reality. Astrophysicists now agree that our universe is expanding, and that our world, solar system, and galaxy are actually along for the ride. The biological concepts of vitalism and emergentism are also supportive of teleology.
Now, while all of this philosophy and science are well and good, the real value of any word and concept lies ultimately in its functionality in our lives. In this way Teleology does not disappoint.
In the midst of our current ideological duality, political turmoil, and social upheaval it is easy for pessimism to set in. Humanity seems to be on a crash course with imminent self-destruction, and it is no wonder that we see people all around us “checking out” with mind altering substances and technologies.
However, there is another way to view all that is currently taking place in our world.
What if everything is exactly how it needs to be right now? What if all that is happening is necessary to the teleological unfoldment of humanity in an ultimately positive direction? What if a “new consciousness” were to be individually and collectively evolving in response to the current delusions and insanity?
For a growing number of people living today these “what ifs” are actually “as ifs,” meaning that we do indeed believe these statements to constitute the reality of what we are experiencing in our modern world. While the picture is currently rather dark and grim, the destination and outcome is much brighter.
A friend of mine was complaining the other day about how social media now makes everything going on in our world immediately accessible. His argument was that people in the past did not know instantly about the various happenings across continents, and they were therefore much happier.
In that moment I thought of teleology, and I said, “You know, maybe we need to keep seeing it until we have finally seen enough, and decide collectively that it all needs to change – drastically!”
I pray that we might all continue to recognize all that is going wrong in our world, so that we might continue to work together to make it right. In the meantime, my hope is that we might be comforted by the concept of teleology, knowing that “all things work together for good,” and that victory lies ahead for those who will recognize that “LOVE is the true theory of everything.”