This paper was published under the title “A Sociological Perspective on Natural Theology” in The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology, Oxford University Press, Russell Re Manning ed. 2013.


Rivers and lakes around the world are drying up; people are fleeing cities where they literally cannot breathe the air.  Millions are suffocating from poverty, sickness, oppression, and terror. Their souls cannot breathe, and time is running out on them, moment by moment.



The Stoic Seneca asked our question: “Would the deep flood of time run over  us?” Time could run out on those who failed to breathe the Cosmic breath that connects all beings to each other. Time could also wash away all traces of every being. To be in the universe was to be in time.  We are all diminished by the death of every bird, the drying up of every river, the implosion of every star.



Therefore to have time we have to understand and embrace our connection with the cosmos as a whole and everything and everyone in it.  The universe itself is simply the expansion of time from a single, critical moment. That is still where we live and move and have our being: that single, fleeting, fateful moment that we must either seize or lose forever.



In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says “You read the face of the heavens and of the earth, yet you have not recognized that which is right in front of you and you do not know how to read this very moment.”  That is all we have. One moment, one breath at a time, in which we are united by the cosmic breath to every other being that is struggling for air, for life, for time.  How are we to seize this moment before it passes, forever?



The wisdom tradition, long before the emergence of any particular system of religious belief or practice, understood the uncertainty, even terror, at the open-endedness of life, and of any step forward into a time. We cannot know in advance or control even our own becoming in and through time. Through Stoicism and the Celtic tradition, the one central to Rome and the other at the margins of Roman culture, we have learned what it is to experience our own being in the context of an emergent universe permeated by the spirit of Being itself. The Stoic celebrated that through this understanding we can be assured that we have time; we, our very being is not running out of time. The Celt, on the other hand, celebrated that by rooting our being in the cosmos we have no time; we have a being that is in time but beyond its terrors. Deep Time may be an abyss, but it is also the source and end of our being.