Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Religion in the Ecozoic

Some quotes from the essay “Religion in the Ecozoic Era”, by Thomas Berry, from the book THE SACRED UNIVERSE. 

One of the most striking things about indigenous peoples is that traditionally they live in conscious awareness of the stars in the heavens, the topography of the region, the dawn and the sunset, the phases of the moon, and the seasonal sequence. 

How different is this world from the world we live in.  We hardly live in a universe at all.  We live in a city or country, in an economic system, or in a cultural tradition. We are seldom aware of any sympathetic relation with the natural world about us.  […].  We isolate ourselves from contact with the natural world except in so far as we enjoy it or have command over it.

The most basic issue of our time is human-Earth relations.  We have disturbed the geological structure, the chemical composition, and the biological forms of the planet in a disastrous manner with our population explosion and technological power.  […].  Earth is now in a state of recession; its basic life systems have become disturbed, toxic, or are extinguished. 

When settlers came to North America, they saw the forest and the wilderness as a dark, even demonic, world.  It was a world to be conquered and exploited.  There was little sense or understanding of humans as integral members of a single sacred community composed of ever mode of being upon the Earth.  Only humans constituted the sacred community; only humans had rights. 

[…], the prevailing view was that the North American continent must in some manner be reengineered and its power appropriated.  Otherwise it was simply wasted.  Not to dam the western rivers – […] – was wasteful. […].  Not to soak the soil with chemical fertilizer was to deny ourselves an increased harvest.  Not to pave the roads was neglect.  Not to take petroleum from the Earth was to reject a god-given opportunity for bettering human life, despite the fact that nature had stored the carbon in petroleum and in the forests so that the chemical composition of the air and water and soil could be balanced in some effective manner. 

To explain such an attitude, it is not sufficient simply to go back to nineteenth-century industrialization, nor to Newtonian physics, […].  We must push our inquiry back into the anthropocentrism of the Hellenic world, back to the biblical world and the scriptural foundations of our Western life.  […].  We also need to reflect on the more profound implications of the biblical emphasis give to our experience of the devine in a historical rather than cosmological manifestation.  Beyond this, we should consider the effect of the primacy of an emphasis on redemption rather than an emphasis on creation in Christian though in recent centuries, […].

That our religious and humanist traditions, our educational programs, our jurisprudence, our economics, our commercial-scientific-industrial establishments and the other shaping forces of our society all contributed equally to our present situation might be too extreme a position to propose, but to note that none were able to prevent the destruction produced from within the Western civilizations seems entirely valid.  To say that all these traditions have been excessively committed to an anthropocentrism also seems a proper conclusion.  It could be said that they all favored processes that in some manner permitted, even if they did not actually lead to, our present situation. 

As we enter the twenty-first century, we would do well to consider our way into the future.  I propose that we need to go from the terminal Cenozoic  to an emerging Ecozoic  period, defined as that period when humans would be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner. 

To recover such a situation where humans would be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner, I believe we must return to a sense of intimacy with the Earth akin to that experienced by many indigenous peoples of earlier times.  This can be done through our new story of the universe, which is now available to us through empirical inquiry into the origin, structure, and sequence of transformations through which the Earth has come to its expression at the end of the twentieth century.  

Articulating this story fully would be the supreme achievement of modern intelligence. 

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