Loomer says: Web of life = Kingdom of heaven

When speaking of the “Web of Life,” most Unitarian Universalists today would not make an immediate connection to Jesus’s Kingdom of Heaven. But Bernard Loomer, a liberal theologian who taught at the University of Chicago and then at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, did make such a connection. Loomer said:

Jesus has been according many titles. He has been called Savior, Leader, Shepherd, Counselor, Son of God, Messiah. But his intellectual gifts have not been recognized (even when the term “intellectual” has been more carefully defined). It was he who discovered what he called the Kingdon of God — what I call the Web of Life — surely one of the great intellectual and religious ideas of the western world.

As I define it, the web is the world conceived of as an idefinitely extended complex of interrelated, inter-dependent events or units of reality. This includes human and non-human, the organic and inorganic levels of life and existence.

Jesus discovered the reality of the Web. He began his public ministry by announcing its presence and its fuller exemplification (the “coming kingdom”)…. [Unfoldings: Conversations from the Sunday morning seminars of Bernie Loomer, 1985, First Unitarian Church of Berkeley, pp. 1-2]

Thus Loomer connects the ecological concept of the Web of Life with the theological concept of the Kingdom of Heaven:– intellectually and religiously speaking, the two concepts are the same thing. And the moral and ethical challenges facing us have to do, not with getting into heaven in the future, but with a “fuller exemplification” of the Kingdom here and now.

However, says Loomer, conventional Christian theology has lost this intellectual insight of Jesus, partly by de-emphasizing the Synoptic Gospels (those three books that actually tell of Jesus’s life) in favor of later writings:

When you come to the Gospel of John and the writings of Paul something has changed. In the Synoptics, Jesus is not the central reality. The Kingdom is the central reality. He [Jesus] describes this reality, but the Kingdom does not exist for his sake. He serves the Kingdom and draws his power from it The Kingdom was not created because Jesus was of supernatural origin. The Kingdom was never created. The discovery was that the Kingdom is a given of life itself. It was not created by Jesus. It was not created at all. It is simply inherent in life itself. Its actuality is simultaneous with existence. [Unfoldings, p. 2]

At an ontological level, I believe what Loomer is trying to tell us is that the Web of Life, the Kingdom of Heaven, and God are identical in this way — each of these was not created, but always is and was and shall be. While the dogmatic humanists and the dogmatic liberal Christians among us may find this distasteful for their various reasons, I find this to be a very useful theological point, with profound moral and ethical implications. Loomer goes on to say:

Sin is a distortion of our relations to God and to each other. Forgiveness is a restoration to those relationships. In sinful acts we act against the Web of Life. In seeking repentance we open ourselves to the forgiveness that is already there, as a fundamental condition of life. We make ourselves accessible to it, or it accessible to us. We are related to each other through the Web. Those others have free choice as to whether they will accept our forgiveness or not. In all cases we are trapped with an inescapable web of connectedness. [Unfoldings, p.3]

Loomer goes on to add that it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe the Web of Life is impersonal, or whether you believe it is personal:– you still have to face up to the reality of the need for forgiveness. Furthermore, as social beings we humans also exist within a “social web” and thus forgiveness requires “at least one other.”

Loomer’s remarks interest me for two reasons. First, while many of us talk about the Web of Life, there’s not enough serious reflection on the moral implications of the Web (and saying something like “The Web of Life means we have to care for the planet Earth” is not a serious reflection, it is merely trite). Second, while I have sensed a strong connection between Jesus and ecological theology, Loomer articulates it better than I have heard it articulated elsewhere.