The Hope Conference (1971)

At the 1971 Annual Meeting Ewert Cousins was elected to succeed Dr. Dobzhansky, who became the first Honorary Vice-President. That year's meeting was held in one of the buildings of the St. Ignatius Loyola Community where Fr. Teilhard had lived during the latter part of his life. Jean Houston gave the address, "More Being and Being More - Teilhard and the Future of Consciousness," and in the evening there was an open-ended discussion led by Ewert Cousins, Robert Francoeur, and Jean Houston on "The Transformation of Man, Towards the Year 2000." Alice Knight and R. Wayne Kraft came to the Board. Anna Francoeur resigned as Treasurer, and that office devolved again to Minna. Bernard Towers, who was now permanently in California, became a member of the Advisory Board.

For some years after their publication in French, volumes 6 and 7 of the Oeuvres had not been available in this country because Harper & Row had allowed the publication of the Teilhard books to lapse. Now Harcourt Brace Jovanovich took over the publication rights of the remaining books with the intention of bringing them out simultaneously with their appearance in England. Helen Wolff who was responsible for this move was a director of the Helen and Kurt Wolff division of the company and also a member of our Advisory Board. Volumes 6 and 7, Human Energy and Activation of Human Energy appeared in February of 1971.

What Robert Francoeur described as "the best conference I ever attended" - Teilhard de Chardin:in Quest of the Perfection of Man - took place in the splendid Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in May under the co-chairmanship of Mayor Joseph Alioto and Seymour Farber, Dean of Continuing Education in Health Sciences, University of California in San Francisco. Mayor Alioto had been impressed by the influence that the Franciscan Fr. N. Max Wildiers, the great Dutch Teilhardian scholar, had had on his son and other students while he was lecturing at the University in San Francisco. Here was a voice speaking out to a generation in revolt against the Viet Nam War, "copping-out" of society, escaping to Haight-Ashbury. He offered them Teilhard's challenge of the "grand option": to face their problems and to "build the earth." Fr. Wildiers inspired the American students much as Teilhard had inspired the worker priests and the students of Paris in earlier decades.

Fr. Wildiers, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Robert Francoeur, Christopher Mooney, S.J. and Bernard Towers were among the international roster of speakers that included, among many others, Dr. L. S. B. Leakey,and Connor Cruise O'Brien. The papers of that conference were published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press in 1973 (288 pages, $13.50),and the title of the book was that of the conference itself.

Back in New York, it was fitting that a theologian should be in the President's chair because for over a year plans had been in process for the Association to sponsor a conference on "Hope and the Future of Man." It was a theme appropriate to a Teilhardian Conference, for he had believed that hope was "the essential impetus without which nothing will be done" and also that there was nothing more important than creation of the future. The conference was conceived as a convergence of innovative thinkers who were having a far-reaching influence on contemporary theology, centering around three important Hope Theologians from Germany: Johannes Metz, Jürgen Moltman, and Wolfhart Pannenburg.

The idea for the conference had been Gertrud Mellon's, and for a number of years, during summer visits to her native Freiburg and through Goethe House in New York City, she had sought financial help from the German government to make it possible. Philip Hefner of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, on sabbatical in Hamburg, had been in touch with the German theologians. Now plans had matured and travel expenses for the three scholars were to be underwritten by the German government. The dates of the Conference were set for October 8 to 10.Institutions that were to co-sponsor the Conference with the American Teilhard de Chardin Association were the Cardinal Bea Institute of Woodstock College, Union Theological Seminary, Trinity Institute where the scholars were to stay as guests, and Goethe House in New York City. Cooperation was also promised from Riverside Church where the public sessions of the Conference would be held. The Conference was to be financed through the operational budgets of the sponsoring institutions and the sum of $3,250.00 was made available to cover the stipends for the major speakers and travel expenses for the American speakers.

Among the American scholars were Carl Braaten (Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago), who represented the eschatological approach; John B. Cobb, Jr. (School of Theology of Claremont, California); Lewis Ogden, (The Divinity School, The University of Chicago); and Daniel Day Williams (Union Theological Seminary), all of whom represented Process Theology; Donald Gray (Manhattan College); Philip Hefner (The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago); Christopher Mooney, S.J. (President of Woodstock College, New York City); and Joseph Sittler (The Divinity School, The University of Chicago), representing the Teilhard theologians. A number of other scholars were invited to take part in the working sessions of the conference.

There were to be five public lectures and, in addition, private discussions between the specialists, some of which were to be open to students. Until a week before the Conference it had been planned to hold the public sessions in the Assembly Hall of Riverside Church which seats 400. Increasingly the Association had been inundated with letters and postcards from many parts of the United States and Canada - a party of four was flying in from California, or a group of eight were driving from Illinois - asking for suggestions of places to stay. Now aware of the unexpectedly large response to the Conference, the Association took the precaution of asking the church to transfer the public sessions to the huge nave which seats 1500. It was a wise move for though there was no formal registration it was estimated that over 2500 people attended. This large audience was a point singled out by an article in the New York Times on October 9th. The three German theologians were themselves impressed. "Who are all those people?" queried Johannes Metz at the first session as he adjusted his glasses to peer at the vast sea of faces. "How is it possible to assemble so many people for a Conference on Theology? And at 9:30in the morning!"

No précis can do justice to the Conference, but briefly (borrowing from a report by Ewert Cousins) it began with a public session at which three presentations were made on the meaning of the future, from a process, a Teilhardian, and an eschatological perspective. John Cobb, Jr. maintained that process theology provides a mediating position in the tension of present and future. Process does not guarantee progress. Although God's activity in the world makes for progress as well as change, "there is no guarantee of progress in the short run, and in the long run it is inevitable that life on this planet will become extinct." For Whitehead "the penultimate value and meaning of history becomes ultimate in God." Dr. Cobb gave his own speculations on a post-personal future in which there would be "a rich interpenetration of each into the other to the intensification and harmonization of the experiences of all. This will constitute a new kind of community, transcending both collectivities and voluntary associations of autonomous persons." Process theology gives Cobb hope that man can find his way through the now-threatening catastrophes, but it gives him no assurance that man will do so.

Speaking from Teilhard's perspective, Philip Hefner developed six statements about the future: it is one of convergence and unification; of progressive personalization; it is open, not closed; it implies the worth and reliability of creation; it activates human energy; finally, love is the action which fulfills the world's destiny. He concluded that "the activation of man's energy is the crucial question of the future, because if that energy is not activated in the proper direction, we will be only moments away from the abyss."

The eschatological approach was presented by Carl Braaten. He said, "The symbolism of the future comes to us in two forms of consciousness: the utopian and the eschatological. The utopian future is projected as another time in history; the eschatological future deals with the final fulfillment end of history." He described the power of the eschatological future to provide hope thus: "The future gives rise to hope that a great reversal in the present can come about." It can have an impact in the present, reversing trends and starting new ones. "The Christian view involves an axiomatic reversal in which the new reality is the starting point." "Ultimately, what we mean by the future is what we mean by God. For God is our Future, the fulfilling power of the future in all things."

The three theologians from Germany gave responses to the opening presentations by the Americans, and on each evening a public lecture was delivered by one of them, followed by responses given by representatives of the Teilhardian and Process points of view.

On the first evening Wolfhart Pannenberg of the University of Munich spoke on "Future and Unity," and in a remarkably wide-ranging paper explored the relation of God to the future, the interaction of the divine and the human, the problems of the individual and society, the significance of resurrection and the role of religion in society, and the meaning of the eschatological future as the future of God's kingdom in his eternal life and power. Throughout, Pannenberg discussed issues in the light of the thought of Teilhard and Whitehead. Donald Gray responded from a Teilhardian view, and Daniel Day Williams from a process perspective.

On the second evening Jürgen Moltmann of the University of Tübingen spoke on "Hope and the Biomedical Future of Man". "For the first time," he said, "human life in fact has become a moral task," and he called for a new assessment of illness, aging and dying. He concluded that because biomedical progress elicits hopes, yet does not guarantee happiness, it must be guided by a humane ethics. Christopher Mooney responded from a Teilhardian perspective and Schubert Ogden of the University of Chicago from the Process approach.

The final evening lecture was given by Johannes Metz of the State University of Münster,and was entitled "The Future ex Memoria Passionais," in which he contended that the future of our technological civilization is primarily a political and social problem and proposed the memory of suffering as a source for political and social action. The Christian memory of the crucifixion prevents us from ever becoming reconciled to the so-called "facts" and "tendencies" of our society. This memory should become "the ferment for that new political life we are now seeking on behalf of our human future." Joseph Sittler of the University of Chicago and Lewis Ford of the Pennsylvania State University responded.

The complete papers of the conference may be read in the book Hope and the Future of Man, edited by Ewert Cousins and published by the Fortress Press in 1972. A modest royalty check that arrives every year attests to its continuing influence.

Ewert Cousins reported that "Evaluation of the conference has been positive both from the audience and the participants. Many claimed that important communication had occurred and that a significant exchange had taken place between European and American theologians. The conference involved a fruitful combination of communication, tension, opposition and technical clarification."

Successful as the conference was, it had been conceived as only the first of a two-stage project. The second stage would bring the same group of theologians together with future planners: technologists, scientists, sociologists and political scientists, sociologists and political scientists. A budget of $25,000.00 was projected. This amount, far larger than that spent on the Hope Conference, was deemed necessary because an auditorium would be a more appropriate setting than a church and would have to be rented at a substantial fee. Also, speakers in the field of future planning were accustomed to larger fees than theologians! This second conference never materialized.

In November of that year Minna reported more cheerfully on the Association's financial position: for the first time there were more than 500 members, brought about no doubt by the interest engendered by the successful Hope Conference.