More than churches are emerging

I was watching Nova scienceNow on PBS tonight and they had a segment on “emergence” — that is, leaderless organization towards greater complexity.

I love this stuff: makes me go all geeky-gooey, thinking about synchronicity and ending up with a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog. (From which I also got my childhood geodesic dome, at-home tofu making and alternative energy chops, too. And you wonder why I’m still a Unitarian Universalist.)

The Nova segment made me wonder, too, if there more than a passing coincidence between emerging intelligence and the basis of the Emerging Church movement. Does anyone, familiar with its theoretical roots, know one way or the other?

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Scott, have you read Douglas Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach? He talks about the issue of emergent behavior, and how it is so hard to come up with a theory or a set of rules by which emergent behavior can be predicted. Herewith a link.“>To Amazon

    This is a fun book. It really made me think about the underlying issues without getting caught too much in the math.

    About the link to emergent churches, I doubt that you would find much in terms of a theoretical bridge that is more than hand-waving.

    That said, I have always wondered, however, about the work that Thandeka has done with affect theology. It may be that we may have to understand how human beings who interact in community become affectively atuned to each other before we can speak about the emergence of an emotional landscape that sustain that community or break it appart. Affective states then become the biological substrate by which that sense of community and well-being becomes meaningful.

    Those birds and fish in the Nova video, are they each aware of the purpose of their collective action? We from a distance can discern meaning in their collective behavior, but individually how is that meaning experienced? It may be that they are so affectively attuned that they just instantly know what to do, and the only thing that they experience is the good-vibes of being a part of a collective effort. Sounds like them birds and fish got religion.

    I have always wondered if when in the middle of a contentious church committee meeting, whether we were responding to affective states that cannot be understood as rational positions or emotional states of single individuals. This may be rather collective responses that make sense only in a larger context beyond our individual understanding.

    It may be that the answer to the question “oh, well why is this a recurring issue in our church?” may then be perpetually beyond our reach. And then, we would need a praxis and theology that can helps us deal with that issue.

  2. Too New-Agey for me. I have read about too many emergences, synchronicities, Indigo children, dawnings of a new consciousness and other cosmic awakenings to pay attention anymore (I guess it is a sign of becoming old and grumpy. ;-).)

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