John M. Hull

  World Religions in Education [Shap Working Party] Wealth and Poverty, 2003/4, pp. 81-84


The Biological Starting Point

            From the point of view of evolutionary biology, a human being is the temporary packaging in which the immortal gene is transmitted (Badcock 2000, 57).   The gene contains the secret of life.  The growth of multi-cellular organisms is necessary because in the case of a bisexually reproducing species, without mature male and female bodies, reproduction could not take place.  Nevertheless, the entire genetic bequest which a woman will pass on to her children is already formed in her prenatal body.  Birth, maturation and fertilisation are necessary if this potential inheritance is to be released, and passed on from one generation to another. 


            The history of the species is the history of its genetic transmission.  From this evolutionary point of view, once reproduction has been assured, there is no further function for the mature organism, except in so far as their continued  presence  for the purpose of defence and the supply of needs makes the survival of the young offspring more likely.  Even grandparents, although their own reproductive potential may be exhausted, may continue to exercise a useful role, from the point of view of the gene in making various provisions for the survival and reproductive success of their grandchildren (Badcock 2000, 81; Buss, 254).


            Is there a spirituality of the gene?  The sperm and the ovum are not conscious.  They are not purposeful and they do not have purposes, but they do serve purposes, and in the process of the fulfilment of those purposes they exercise a considerable measure of control over the behaviour of the mature organisms who will one day develop from them, but the purposes are hidden from the genes.  The genes do not know where they have come from or where they are going.  It is only in the brains of the human beings, whose bodies become the temporary residence of the genes, that contemplation of the genetic structure and its significance becomes possible.  Does the gene, therefore, exist for the gene, i.e. for its transmission through reproduction, or does the gene exist to make possible the flowering of the brain?  The concept of 'existing for' does not refer to purpose, intention, intelligent choice or evidence of design but refers to the teleological perspective by means of which the culmination of the process, the end product toward which it tends, may be regarded as what it exists for (Badcock  2000, 17-24).


            The line of argument which leads us from the gene to the brain as the culmination of the gene, the most complex product of genetic development, can also be applied to the relationship between the brain and its body.  Just as the body may be thought of as the temporary and biodegradable packaging for the immortal gene, so the body may be thought of as merely the packaging for the brain, for without the body of which it is the most sophisticated part, the brain could not live.  Thus there is no doubt that the body exists for the sake of the brain but is the reverse also true?  Does the brain exist for the sake of the body?  Just as the brain could not survive without the body, so the body could not survive without the brain.  Is the brain/body relationship a closed circle? 


Transcending Biology


            The answer to this question is clearly no.  One of the functions of the brain is to enable the body to be extended.  A good deal of the brain is busy with the neurology of sense perception, integration and interpretation.  The sense of touch enables the body to become aware of the immediate presence of entities other than itself, pressing upon it, and something similar is true of the sense of taste.  The sense of smell enables the body to detect substances which may be in its immediate vicinity, or a little further afield, but through the senses of hearing and sight the body can so far transcend its immediate vicinity as to become enmeshed in a reciprocal relationship with its environment.  It is this reciprocity that constitutes the human world.  That does not mean that the stars are affected by our knowledge of them, but in another way they are constituted by our knowledge of them, since our understanding of them has changed with advances in cosmology.  At any rate, we are certainly changed by our knowledge of the stars and so even in the largest imaginable human context, relationships of mutual construction exist. 


            Perception guided by emotion, the intentionality of music, the forging and execution of purposes, some of which may endure over months or years, and perhaps most importantly language itself, are functions of the brain which enable it to transcend not only the body which houses it, but the brain itself.  Reciprocities are set up not only within the brain, between the brain and its body, and between the body and its natural environment but with other persons, forming a world of intersubjectivity, a world of human persons.  This indeed is what it is to possess a world, to constitute one, to be a world. 


Spirituality as Transcendence


            These processes of cumulative transcendence are what we refer to when we speak of spirituality (Trevarthen 1993).   The gene transcends the body, since it gives to the species a potential immortality and makes it possible for the brain to ask questions about the destiny of the species which the genes are producing.  At the same time, the body vastly transcends its genetic inheritance, although much of what  it will become is entailed in its inheritance,  since it (the body)  is the bud which flowers as the brain.  However, we should not think of human beings as glowing points of embodied consciousness stretched out along a genetic track, like Christmas lights strung out along several meters of electric lead.  Human persons transcend both their genetic structures and their bodies by creating a mutuality of sympathy, collaborative action, symphonies, poetry, religion, warfare and money.


            To realise the potential of the human organism for self-transcendence is to become spiritualised, for good or for ill (Hull 1999b, 2002).    To be dominated by the reptile brain (MacLean 1993, 15ff; Badcock 2000, 24-5; Stevens and Price 2000, 11, 16)),  the oldest part of the evolving brain, which has no emotion and which provides for the basic survival needs of territory, food and reproduction, is to fail to realise the human potential for transcendence.  This takes place through the emergence of mathematics and other forms of complex knowledge on the one hand, and communication leading to mutual love on the other hand.  Not until then does the goal or the mysterious telos of the human species begin to appear.  But what is the telos of which the most primitive gene and the most rudimentary cell are the origin or the archos?  If the brain has evolved to this present stage of relative creativity, relative freedom and even relative relationality, what is the species-destiny of the brain (Ashbrook 1993)? 


The Spiritual Potential of Money


            This is the evolutionary, biological and social context within which we must ask the question about the spirituality of money.  If through heterosexual love, immortality is confirmed on the genes and thus the decay of genetic structures is transcended, then in the same way we may examine the significance of the other capacities of the highly evolved human organism for self and community transcendence.   Among these the capacity of money is one of the most striking. 


            How does money lend transcendence to human persons?  First, money extends the scope of human purposes.  Without money, the reach of our purposes would be more local, more contagious.  We could affect only the persons and things in our immediate vicinity, except in so far as through speech and particularly through inscripted forms of communication we extend our influence around the globe.  But money is the symbol and the actualisation of that universal communication.  It is the universal expression of purpose.  By saving money I make possible a future purpose.  By contributing money to an organisation even though I may never have met any of the protagonists of that organisation, I strengthen its purposes.  Money sets me free because I am no longer obliged to repay in kind for every service I receive, but can repay in the most non-specific manner, through money.  Money makes human specialisation more powerful since instead of having to spend time making shoes for your children and growing crops for your family, you can purchase these as commodities whilst devoting yourself to writing novels , or becoming a teacher, a doctor or a very good shoemaker.


            Not only does money extend the scope of human purpose in these various ways, it stimulates and makes more abstract the human will.   This is because money confers choice upon people who have it.  Because money is so general, because it is the means to all ends, the value-less value of all things, possession of money leads to a vast expansion of possibilities, and of the will and the imagination which make selection possible among these many options.  In that sense, money represents the abstract forms of the human intellect, in creating necessary choices between imagined alternatives, and in generalising all concrete options.  Money itself implies the abstraction of mathematics, because it is the numerical aspect of money, whether on a coin, a banknote, a cheque, a credit card statement or in purely electronic form, that quantifies money.  The concept of more or less money can only be stated mathematically, in contrast to the value of such things as works of art and piles of gold, and even these must be quantified numerically in terms of money if they are to be exchanged.  


In these and in other ways the abstraction of money has been an enormous stimulus to the capacity of the human mind for abstract thought.  The history of money itself reveals a development from the material and concrete toward the electronic, the intangible and the merely informative.  


            It was money that stimulated the philosophical imagination of the ancient Greeks to speculate about the relation between the many and the one, and to ask about the ultimate value which integrates all lesser values in the Idea of the Good.


            These features of money, the expansion of purpose, the proliferation of choice, the abstraction of the will, the generalisation of desire, to say nothing of the universalisation of power - are amongst the elements or aspects of money which give money a spiritual potency.  We could also speak about the relationship between monetary systems and trust, confidence in the future of the stock exchange, or as the sociologists of money have expressed it, the fiduciary character of monetary systems.  Without faith and hope, it would not be possible to have a successful monetary system, but what about love?


The Ambiguity of Spirituality


            It is this question that leads us back into the ambiguity of human spirituality, an ambiguity so clearly realised in money.  Spirituality, as we have seen, is that capacity of the evolved human organism that enables the individual to become transcendent, but this transcendence is only ethical in principle.  It is indeed ethical in principle, because the self-transcendence that leads to the creation and the realisation of a community of persons has intrinsically the quality of care for the other, just as speech has intrinsically within it the quality of truthfulness.  Without truth, why should we speak?  Without trust, how could we exchange money and goods?  Without care, how would community be possible?  Yet although intrinsically ethical, all of these aspects of language, of financial systems and of community are fragile.  With the same tongue, we both bless and curse our fellow human beings who are made in the image of God.  The same money which buys bread for the hungry buys weapons of destruction.  The entire value of the charitable giving of the people of the United Kingdom was exceeded in the first few hours of the Iraq war.  The element of confidence necessarily built into monetary exchange, becomes a confidence trick, as the endless complications of the financial watchdogs indicate, and the endless ingenuity of the unscrupulous continually seeks to outwit. 


            Just as there is true and false religion, so there is true and false spirituality.  True spirituality helps human beings to transcend the biological inheritance, the so-called selfish gene, through realising its potential in mutual love, but the same qualities of reciprocity, abstraction and extended purpose may be used to isolate the self at the expense of others, to diminish others through self-aggrandisement, and to exploit others through the monopolisation of power.


Money represents the genius of the human species, and like other products of the human imagination and like the human itself is in the divine image. Money is in the divine image because of its power to strengthen and consolidate the human will for good, to universalise care. But the image of God in the human person is defaced. The coinage has been mutilated through selfishness and greed, until it has become the very expression of a demonic spirituality.  At its worst, a false spirituality  of money makes people callous toward the needs of others, contemptuous of the aspirations of others, impatient  of the weakness of others.


True and False Spirituality and the Responsibility of Education


One of the tasks of education is to confront the ambiguity of the spiritual. This applies with particular force to the spiritual ambiguity of money (Hull 1996b). It is the task of education to alert boys and girls and adults to the potential of money and to the way money both elevates and corrupts human spirituality (Hull 1996a). Let us take the ambiguity of the national lottery. On the one hand, there are innumerable charities, projects in arts and sports, to say nothing of churches and other community centres which have benefited from grants from lottery income.  At one level, the lottery is a relatively painless and perhaps entertaining way of accumulating large sums of community money.  On the other hand, the lottery turns the power of money into the power of destiny, the energy of fate. The lottery reproduces society after the image of money itself, in that a few very wealthy people are created on the backs of millions of people who are slightly poorer. Money corrupts community care, since the motive that induces us to give to others is soiled with the desire of the self to be richer than others. The lottery turns the dead labour of millions of human beings into a trivial plaything, it weakens respect for money even as it enhances the fascination of money; it turns the desire to be rich into the desire to be rich through effortless fortune; it contributes to the globalisation of money in alienating money from work; it is the supreme example of the invisible hand which works through millions of acts of petty selfishness but not for the common good; it represents money at its most alluring, most enchanting, most deceitful. 



If spirituality is ambiguous, one of the contributions of education to spiritual development lies in the resolution of ambiguity.  This means helping the pupils to distinguish the constructive use of money from its destructive use, and this should be done through examples relevant to the day to day life of the pupil as well as examples taken from such issues as currency speculation, debt repayment and warfare (Hull 1999a).  Discussions like this should take place in business studies, economics and current affairs (Hull 2001), and can be strengthened by links with the teachings of the great religions about money.  If it is true that money represents the mutilated image of God in human society, helping young people to identify the distortions of this false transcendence may perhaps lead them to contemplate the transcendence of transcendence, the transcendence greater that which none can be conceived.





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Badcock, Christopher (2000) Evolutionary Psychology: A Critical Introduction Cambridge, Polity Press

Buss, David M. (1999) Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind London, Allyn Bacon

Hull, John M. (1996a) ‘Christian Education in a Capitalist Society: Money and God’ in David Ford and Dennis L. Stamps (eds) Essentials of Christian Community: Essays in Honour of Daniel W. Hardy Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 241-252


Hull, John M. (1996b) ‘The Ambiguity of Spiritual Values’ in J. Mark Halstead and Monica Taylor (eds) Values in Education and Education in Values London, Falmer Press, 33-44


Hull, John M. (1999a) 'A Christian Perspective on Spiritual Education: Religion and the Money Culture ' in James C. Conroy (ed.) Catholic Education - Inside Out/Outside In Dublin, Veritas, 285-301

Hull, John M. (1999b) ‘Spirituality, Religion, Faith: Mapping the Territory’ Youth & Policy: The Journal of Critical Analysis, No.65, Autumn, 48-59

Hull, John M. (2001) 'Competition and Spiritual Development', International Journal of Children's Spirituality, 6, 3, 263-275


Hull, John M. (2002) ‘Spiritual Development: Interpretations and Applications’ British Journal of Religious Education, Vol. 24, No. 3, 171-182

MacLean, Paul D. (1993) 'On the Evolution of Three Mentalities' in Ashbrook (ed.) Brain, Culture and the Human Spirit, 15-44

Stevens, Anthony and Price, John (2000) Evolutionary Psychiatry: A New Beginning London, Routledge, second edition

Trevarthen, Colwyn (1993) 'Brain Science and the Human Spirit' in Ashbrook (ed.) Brain, Culture and the Human Spirit, 129-181