THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE EARTH
by Thomas Berry
[This is a significant essay that situates the spiritual thought [Life Force/Psyche/Spirit] through all of Thomas Berry's writings.
Thomas Berry, cultural historian, scholar, and Passionist priest, is founder and director of the Riverdale Center for Religious Research in New York City. He has taught at the Institute for Asian Studies at Seton Hall University, the Center for Asian Studies at St. John’s University, Columbia University, Drew University, and the University of San Diego, and was professor of the history of religions at Fordham University. Influenced by Teilhard de Chardin, Berry is a pioneer in ecological theology. His "Riverdale Papers," obtained through the Riverdale Center, have had a wide impact on many seeking connections between religious self-understanding and the modem evolutionary paradigm. His most recent book in ecological theology, published by Sierra Club, is Dream of the Earth.
For Thomas Berry and for those who follow him, the earth, in a very real sense, is our mother. We are born from this mother, from Gaia; we are extensions of the earth and the cosmos of which it is a part. This means that our conceptualizing and our spirituality also extend from the spiritual dimension of the cosmos and the earth. As Berry makes clear, Christians have often failed to acknowledge the spirituality and numinous presence of the earth. But we are also experiencing a turn in our awareness, developing new consciousness in dialogue with the sciences, with other faiths, with ourselves as men and women, and with the earth itself.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE EARTH by Thomas Berry
"The universe must be experienced as the Great Self. Each is fulfilled in the other: the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self. Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries. New fields of energy become available to support the human venture. These new energies find expression and support in celebration. For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration. It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself..."
"The subject with which we are concerned is the spirituality of the earth. By this I do not mean a spirituality that is directed toward an appreciation of the earth. I speak of the earth as subject, not as object. I am concerned with the maternal principle out of which we were born and whence we derive all that we are and all that we have. In our totality we are born of the earth. We are earthlings. The earth is our origin, our nourishment, our support, our guide. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived. If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves. The human and the earth are totally implicated each in the other..."
"...Recovery of this capacity for subjective communion with the earth is a consequence and a cause of a newly emerging spirituality. Subjective communion with the earth, identification with the cosmic-earth-human process, provides the context in which we now make our spiritual journey. This Journey is no longer the journey of Dante through the heavenly spheres. It is no longer simply the journey of the Christian community through history to the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the journey of primordial matter through its marvelous sequence of transformations -- in the stars, in the earth, in living beings, in human consciousness -- toward an ever more complete spiritual-physical intercommunion of the parts with each other, with the whole, and with that numinous presence that has been manifested throughout this entire cosmic-earth-human process...."(continued THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE EARTH)
THESE ARE MY FAVORITE THOMAS BERRY QUOTES
(Most came from: THE GREAT WORK-1999)
[In the Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry describes the entire industrial age as:] "...a period of technological entrancement, an altered state of consciousness, a mental fixation that alone can explain how we came to ruin our air and water and soil and to severely damage our basic life systems. During this period the human mind has been placed in its narrowest confines it has experienced since consciousness emerged from its Paleolithic phase. Even the most primitive tribes have a larger vision of the universe, of our place and functioning within it, a vision that extends to celestial regions of space and to interior depths of the human in a manner far exceeding the parameters of our world of technological confinement."-Thomas Berry
"We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual ‘autism.’”--Thomas Berry
"In our totality we are born of the Earth. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived... If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves"-Thomas Berry
"The natural world itself is our primary language as it is our primary scripture, our primary awakening to the mysteries of existence. We might well put all our written scriptures on the shelf for twenty years until we learn what we are being told by unmediated experience of the world about us". -Berry
BELOW THESE THERE ARE EXTRACTS THAT FOLLOW FROM TWO PAPERS DELIVERED AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY:
(1) ETHICS AND ECOLOGY-1996
(2) THE UNIVERSITY: ITS RESPONSE TO THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS-1996
Look up at the sky-
The heavens so blue, the sun so radiant,
The clouds so playful, the soaring raptors,
The meadows in bloom, the woodland creatures,
The rivers singing their way to the sea,
Wolf song on the land, whale song in the sea,
Celebration everywhere, wild, riotous,
Immense as a monsoon lifting an ocean of joy
And spilling it down over the Appalachian Landscape,
Drenching us all with a deluge of delight
As we open our arms and rush toward each other,
You and I and all of us,
Moved by that vast compassionate Presence
That brings all things together in intimate Celebration,
Celebration that is the universe itself.
[Thomas Berry--From Every Being Has Rights,
Twenty-Third Annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures
Stockbridge, Massachusetts, October 2003]
"The natural world itself is our primary language as it is our primary scripture, our primary awakening to the mysteries of existence. We might well put all our written scriptures on the shelf for twenty years until we learn what we are being told by unmediated experience of the world about us". -Berry
"The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human".-Thomas Berry
“the other-than-human species, through their genetic endowment, discover their survival context with only limited disturbance of the larger complex of life systems. They find their niche quickly, or else they perish.” (p. 91)
"The barrier between the western mode of consciousness and the natural world, and the consequent ethical deficiency in western conscience, began in some manner with the biblical emphasis on the perception of the divine in historical events rather than within cosmological manifestation. The entire biblical experience could be described as a movement from the cosmological to the historical which began with the Exodus experience. It was further strengthened by the historical redemption experience of Christianity; then by the emphasis on the human mode of being in the Greek humanist tradition. When in modem centuries the scientists gave us a natural world that came into being by purely random processes and without any spiritual meaning then the alienation of the human from the natural world was complete". - Thomas Berry
“Thus far Christians have been so concerned with redemption out of this world, so attached to their spiritual life development or their social mission of reconciliation that they have had little time for their serious attention to the earth. Nor do Christians seem to be aware of the futility of social transformations proceeding on an historical-industrial rather than on a comprehensive ecological basis….We find relatively few Christian guides in the past to enlighten or to inspire us to a more functional relationship between the human and the natural worlds.”
"While our universities have gone through many transitions since they first came into being in the early medieval period, they have never experienced anything like the transition that is being asked of them just now. The difficulty cannot be resolved simply by establishing a course or a program in ecology, for ecology is not a course or a program. Rather it is the foundation of all courses, all programs, and all professions because ecology is a functional cosmology. Ecology is not a part of medicine; medicine is an extension of ecology. Ecology is not a part of law; law is an extension of ecology. So too, in their own way, the same can be said of economics and even the humanities." --Thomas Berry
"We've been caught up in a mechanistic world, because what we make, makes us. We make the automobile, the automobile makes us. We make an industrial economy, the industrial economy makes us. We are now in a weird dream world of industrial technological imagination. Who would be so destructive to the very basis out of which we exist, that we spoil our water and our air? For what? To invent an industrial economy. We are so brilliant scientifically and so absurd in any other way. We are into a deep cultural pathology -- in ordinary language, we are crazy. To think that we can have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth economy is absurd". -Thomas Berry
"We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual ‘autism.’ ” --Thomas Berry
"We cannot discover ourselves without first discovering the universe, the earth, and the imperatives of our own being. Each of these has a creative power and a vision far beyond any rational thought or cultural creation of which we are capable." -Thomas Berry
"There is no inner world without the outer world."-Thomas Berry
[In the Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry describes the entire industrial age as] "a period of technological entrancement, an altered state of consciousness, a mental fixation that alone can explain how we came to ruin our air and water and soil and to severely damage our basic life systems. During this period the human mind has been placed in its narrowest confines it has experienced since consciousness emerged from its Paleolithic phase. Even the most primitive tribes have a larger vision of the universe, of our place and functioning within it, a vision that extends to celestial regions of space and to interior depths of the human in a manner far exceeding the parameters of our world of technological confinement."-Thomas Berry
"Until lately we have not been able to celebrate properly this larger story of the universe, yet this is the high achievement of our scientific enquiry… Without entrancement within this new context of existence it is unlikely that the human community will have the psychic energy needed for the renewal of the Earth… There is eventually only one story, the story of the universe. Every form of being is integral with this compre-hensive story, Nothing is itself without everything else. Each member of the Earth community has its own proper role within the entire sequence of transformations that have given shape and identity to everything that exists" -Berry/Swimme
“Firstly, the primary status of the universe. The universe is, ‘the only self-referential reality in the phenomenal world. It is the only text without context. Everything else has to be seen in the context of the universe’. The second element is the significance of story, and in particular the universe as story. ‘The universe story is the quintessence of reality. We perceive the story. We put it in our language, the birds put it in theirs, and the trees put it in theirs. We can read the story of the universe in the trees. Everything tells the story of the universe. The winds tell the story, literally, not just imaginatively. The story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story. If you do not know the story, in a sense you do not know yourself; you do not know anything.’”-Thomas Berry
"Earth seems to be a reality that is developing with the simple aim of celebrating the joy of existence."-Thomas Berry
t's all a question of story. We are in trouble just because we do not have a good story. We are between stories. The old story, the account of how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story. -Thomas Berry
"Already the planet is so damaged and the future is so challenged by its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past." -Thomas Berry
Excerpt: Wave on wave of life expansion took place for 65 million years. What we are doing when we extinguish the species of trees, extinguish the animals, extinguish the rainforest, we are negating 65 million years of effort. It's not that we are changing human history, we are changing Earth history; we're not just changing human life, we are bringing about a disastrous change in the total life development of the planet Earth...
...We are presently extinguishing something like 10,000 species every single year. We only know 1,600,000 or so, but we feel sure that there are 5 million...We are doing enormous damage...And the important thing to realize, also, is that this is irreversible; neither heaven or Earth can bring back extinguished species, it's forever. It's the most absolute deed that humans can do, I think. You can never bring back a bird species. The Carolina Parakeet will never be back. The Passenger Pigeon, nobody will ever see again. And what we're doing is blocking out possibilities not only for our children, but for the children of 10,000 generation -Thomas Berry
"the primary educator as well as the primary lawgiver and the primary healer would be the natural world itself." -Thomas Berry
"We will change or we will die in a major part of our inner being." --Thomas Berry
"we need not a human answer to an earth problem, but an earth answer to an earth problem. The earth will solve its problems, and possibly our own, if we will let the earth function in its own ways. We need only listen to what the earth is telling us.--Thomas Berry
"Even when the consequences of a desolate planet are totally clear, the industrial order keeps its control over human activities because of the energy generated by the mythic quality of its vision. We could describe our industrial society as counterproductive, addictive, paralyzing, [a] manifestation of a deep cultural pathology. Mythic addiction functions something like alcohol and drug addictions. Even when they are obviously destroying the addicted person, the psychic fixation does not permit any change. . . Any effective cure requires passing through the agonies of withdrawal. If such withdrawal is an exceptional achievement in individual lives, we can only guess at the difficulty on the civilizational or even the global scale."-Thomas Berry
“The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. And listen to this: The human is derivative. The planet is primary.” --Thomas Berry
" We will go into the future as a single sacred community, or we will all perish in the desert.-Thomas Berry
In this setting the universe would become the primary university. Just as the universe is the primary law-giver. the primary economic corporation, the primary scientist, the primary technologist, the primary healer, the primary revelation of the divine, the primary artist, the primary teacher and indeed the primary source in all earthly affairs.
ETHICS AND ECOLOGY
A paper delivered to the
Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values
Harvard University, April 9, 1996
by Thomas Berry
[Extracts from this Paper]
The barrier between the western mode of consciousness and the natural world, and the consequent ethical deficiency in western conscience, began in some manner with the biblical emphasis on the perception of the divine in historical events rather than within cosmological manifestation. The entire biblical experience could be described as a movement from the cosmological to the historical which began with the Exodus experience. It was further strengthened by the historical redemption experience of Christianity; then by the emphasis on the human mode of being in the Greek humanist tradition. When in modem centuries the scientists gave us a natural world that came into being by purely random processes and without any spiritual meaning then the alienation of the human from the natural world was complete.
We begin to realize that the devastation taking place cannot be critiqued effectively from within the traditional religions or humanist ethics. Nor can it be dealt with from within the perspectives of the industrial society that brought it about.
Our bright, new, antiseptic, mechanical world is collapsing about us or dissolving in its own toxic wastes.
The ecological community is not subordinate to the human community. Nor is the ecological imperative derivative from human ethics. Rather our human ethics is derivative from the ecological imperative. The basic ethical norm is the well-being of the comprehensive community, and the attainment of human well-being within this comprehensive community. The Earth is not part of the Human Story, the human story is part of the Earth Story.
What is demanded of us now is to change attitudes that are so deeply bound into our basic cultural patterns that they seem to us as an imperative of the very nature of our being, a dictate of our genetic coding as a species. In clinical language we are into a deep cultural pathology. We can no longer trust our cultural guidance in any comprehensive manner. In this situation we must return to our genetic structure and rethink who we are, where we fit into the community of existence and what our proper role might be within this community.
Our genetic coding is more comprehensive than our cultural coding. It is integral with the whole complex of species codings whereby the earth system remains coherent within itself and capable of continuing the evolutionary process. For a species to remain viable it must establish a niche that is beneficial both for itself and for the larger community. The species coding of the human carries within itself all those deeper physical and spiritual spontaneities that are consciously activated by the genius of human intellect, imagination and emotion.
The norm for radically restructuring our cultural codings forces us back to the more fundamental species coding which ties us into the larger complex of earth codings. In this larger context we find the imperative to make the basic changes now required of us.
We cannot obliterate the continuities of history, nor can we move into the future without guidance from existing cultural forms. Yet, somehow we must reach even further back to where our genetic coding connects with the species codings of the entire earth community. Only then can we overcome the limitations of the anthropocentrism that binds us.
Perhaps a new revelatory experience is taking place, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the earth process. Humanity has not participated in such a vision since shamanic times, but in such a renewal lies our hope for the future for ourselves and for the entire planet.
THE UNIVERSITY: ITS RESPONSE TO THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS
A paper delivered before the
Divinity School and the University Committee on Environment
at Harvard University, April 11, 1996
by Thomas Berry-(Extracts)
So awesome is the devastation we are bringing about that we can only conclude that we are caught in a deep cultural pathology, a pathology that is sustained intellectually by the university, economically by the corporation, legally by the constitution, religiously by the church.
This is, then, not an historical change or a cultural transition to be compared with other periods of change such as that from the classical Mediterranean period to the medieval period or from that period to the enlightenment. Even the transition from the paleolithic to the neolithic period in human cultural development cannot be compared to what is happening now. For we are changing not simply the human. We are changing the chemistry of the planet. Even the geological structure and functioning of the planet. We are disturbing the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the geosphere all in a manner that is undoing the work of nature over some hundreds of millions, even billions of years. The genetic strains that we have extinguished will never return.
To preserve the integrity of the Earth economy should be the first purpose of any economic program. Yet it would be difficult to find a university where this first principle of economics is being taught.
The Church too is profoundly deficient in its relation to the natural world by not teaching more effectively that the natural world is our primary revelatory experience. Emphasis on verbal revelation to the neglect of the primary manifestation of the divine in the natural world is to mistake the entire revelatory process. Added to this is the excessive emphasis on redemption processes to the neglect of creation processes. This emphasis leaves us unable to benefit religiously from that primary and most profound mode of experiencing the divine in the immediacies of life,
I mention economics, jurisprudence, and religion because these are among the subjects that are taught in the universities but which are not being taught in any integral manner because of their commitment to the view that the non-human world is there simply for the use of humans; whether economically, aesthetically, recreationally, or spiritually. For this reason the universities can be considered the principal support of the pathology that is so ruinous to the planet.
Within the phenomenal order the universe provides the efficient cause, final cause, material and formal causes of the human.
Here there is need to state quite clearly that the universe is the only self-referent mode of being in the phenomenal world. The universe is the only text without a context. Every other being is universe- referent. Every other being is a text within the universe context. The universe, it might be said, is integral with itself throughout its vast extent in space and its long sequence of transformations in time. In a proportionate manner the Earth is the basic referent for every being on the Earth. Every mode of being on the Earth must be understood within the Earth context.
We might even consider that the emergent universe, in the sequence of its unfolding, is providing us with a new revelatory experience of whatever be the origin from which it emerges.
In a very real sense he [Rene Descartes] de-souled the Earth with his division of reality between mind and extension. In this perspective the nonhuman world was seen simply as mechanism. It was, however, a mechanism that could be, and even must be exploited for human benefit.
PRESENTATION IS INTACT FROM HERE DOWN:
In this new context every component of the Earth community would have its rights in accord with the proper mode of its being and its functional role. Trees would have tree rights, birds would have bird rights, insects would have insect rights. In each case the basic rights would be for habitat and the opportunity of each being to fulfill its role in the natural systems to which it belongs. Humans would be obliged to respect these rights. If such concerns were not under discussion in the 18th century when the American constitution was being written, it must be the central issue in any present discussion of the legal context of our society. The critical mission of the university law schools is to address these issues in a depth that has not yet manifested. A more expanded basis for jurisprudence seems to be indicated.
Even beyond the Earth the sense of community would extend throughout the entire universe seen as a single coherent community that has emerged into being with a total dependence of each component on all the others. Indeed we need to think of the universe as the supreme norm of reality and value with all component members of the universe participating in this context, each in accord with its own proper role.
In this setting the universe would become the primary university. Just as the universe is the primary law-giver. the primary economic corporation, the primary scientist, the primary technologist, the primary healer, the primary revelation of the divine, the primary artist, the primary teacher and indeed the primary source in all earthly affairs. Throughout our human intellectual development we are totally dependent on what the universe communicates to us in an earlier stage through immediate observation and in this later stage through all those instruments of observation that we have devised and through which we enter so profoundly into the most hidden realms of existence itself.
The human university would be the context in which the universe reflects on itself in human intelligence and communicates itself to the human community. The university would have the universe as its originating, validating and unifying referent. Since the universe is an emergent reality the universe would be understood primarily through its story. Education at all levels would be understood as knowing the story and the human role in the story. The basic course in any college or university would be the story of the universe.
This story can fulfill its role only if the universe is understood as having a psychic-spiritual as well as a physical-material aspect from the beginning. This should not be difficult since we know what something is by what it does. Since the universe brings us into being with all our knowledge, our artistic, and our cultural achievements then the universe must be a knowledge- producing, an art-producing, and a communion-producing process.
These qualities that we identify with the human are also qualities that we observe throughout the natural world. Even at the level of the elements we observe self-organizing capacities, also the capacity for intimate relationships. These reveal astounding psychic abilities. This is so impressive that we must consider that modes of consciousness exist throughout the universe although in a vast number of qualitatively diverse manifestations. Above all we discover that every being has its own spontaneities that arise from the depths of its own being. These spontaneities express the inner value of each being in such a manner that we must say of the universe that it is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.
Precisely in this intimate relationship with the entire universe we overcome the pathology of our times that is expressed in the radical division we make between the human and the non-human. This pathology that I have described as an autistic relation of the human to the natural world, is healed in its deepest roots as soon as we perceive that the entire universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not primarily of objects to be exploited. This communion experience is, I believe, universal. It can be observed in the immediate reaction of almost anyone who simply looks at the ocean at dawn or sunset or at the heavens at night with all the stars ablaze, or who enters a wilderness area with its foreboding as well as its entrancing aspects.
In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world. There is no inner life without outer experience. The tragedy in the elimination of the primordial forests is not the economic but the soul-loss that is involved. For we are depriving our imagination, our emotions, and even our intellect of that overwhelming experience communicated by the wilderness. For children to live simply in contact with concrete and steel and wires and wheels and machines, for them to never experience any primordial reality or even to see the stars at night; this is a soul deprivation that diminishes the deepest of our human experiences.
Here I propose that the universities need to teach the story of the universe as this is now available to us. For the universe story is our own story. We cannot know ourselves in any adequate manner except through this account of the sequence of transformations of the universe and of the planet Earth through which we came into being. This new story of the universe is our personal story as well as our community story.
We have moved from a sense of time in which the universe revolves simply in ever-renewing seasonal cycles into a universe that has emerged into being through a sequence of irreversible transformations even while it is also revolving in an ever-renewing sequence of seasonal changes. Our greatest single need is to accept this story of the universe as we now know this as our sacred story. It could be considered as the most magnificent of all creation stories. This story does not diminish, it rather enhances the earlier story that we have through the Book of Genesis. That story was related to the ancient Mesopotamian stories of the universe. Our new story is attained in a more empirical manner and with new instruments of observation.
We now know ourselves as genetically related to every other living being in the universe. Only through this story are we able in any integral manner to overcome our alienation from the natural world about us. We are finally able to understand just why our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of the planet on which we live. Yet even when we know this with such depth of understanding in its scientific context we still find it difficult to rethink economics, law, religion, and education within this context. Our universities seem caught in a fixation from which they cannot escape even when these prior cultural forms are proving unable to prevent the devastation of the planet.
This fixation on our existing cultural forms remains the only context for survival that they can appreciate. The difficulty is not exactly in the cultural forms but the inability to expand understanding of how these cultural forms function in this new context. The difficulty is also in the misunderstanding or the excessive emphasis on some phases of these cultural forms - such as, for instance, the religious emphasis on redemption to the neglect of creation. So too our inability to understand that these prior cultural forms will enter a more expansive phase of their existence within this new context than they have ever had in previous times. The urgency of moving into the new situation would not be so great if the devastation of the planet were not so overwhelming. So long as we live and have our values and do our educating within this prior context we will not be able to establish a deeper understanding with those who have entered into this new understanding of the universe and our role in this new context.
If in the 20th century we have developed our public identity as conservative or liberal based on our social attitude or on our relation to our cultural traditions, we will be identified in the future not as conservative or liberal based on any social or cultural orientation but according as we are working with or against the life systems of the planet on which we live, whether we belong to the terminal Cenozoic Era or to the emerging Ecozoic Era.
This division of the human community will extend throughout all our institutions, all our professions, and indeed all our activities - but especially throughout our educational establishments. While our universities have gone through many transitions since they first came into being in the early medieval period, they have never experienced anything like the transition that is being asked of them just now. The difficulty cannot be resolved simply by establishing a course or a program in Ecology, for Ecology is not exactly a course or a program; it is rather the foundation of all courses, all programs and all professions. Because Ecology is a Functional Cosmology.
There have been stages when the western university was dominated by Theology as the Queen of the Sciences. There have been stages when the universities were dominated by humanistic concerns. There have been times when the university was dominated by mechanistic science. The new situation requires that the university find its context in a functional cosmology, that is a university that is truly functional - where the spirit dimension of the universe as well as its physical dimension is recognized.
While efforts to mitigate the harm being done to the ecosystems of the planet have had some limited success this has only increased the tension between the two forces. Accusations against the ecologists as being antihuman have arisen. Efforts to invoke governmental legislation on behalf of the environment have led to accusations of eco-fascism. In a response Sierra Club Books has published a book entitled The War Against the Greens.
Obviously this causes increasing concern in educational establishments concerning the social, cultural and even the economic support they need to survive in the present while working toward a new order of existence. The transformation of human life indicated in this transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic affects our sense of reality and values at such a profound level that it can be compared only to the great classical religious movements of the past. It affects our perception of the origin and meaning of existence itself.
This movement might possibly be considered as a meta-religious movement since it involves not simply a single segment of the human community but the entire human community. Even beyond the human order, the entire geo-biological order of the planet is involved. This new metareligious context is the horizon under which all human affairs need to establish their reality and their value - and their sense of the sacred.
This is a difficult moment in all four of the establishments we mentioned in the beginning of this presentation. The basic decision is whether any of our basic institutions; our government, church, university, or corporation can mitigate their attachment to the terminal phase of the Cenozoic, or whether any one of these or all might possibly make this change in its full order of magnitude.
The universities must decide whether they will continue training persons for temporary survival in the declining Cenozoic period or whether they will begin training students for the emerging Ecozoic period. Already the planet is so damaged and the future so challenged by its diminished resources and its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past. We have not thought clearly or behaved properly in the 20th century. We are now caught in a mind tormenting ambivalence. Such vast new understanding of the universe and how it functions and yet such childish inability to use this knowledge beneficially either for ourselves or for any other mode of earthly being. While this is not the time for continued denial by the universities or for attributing blame, it is the time for the university to rethink itself and what it is doing.
There are decisions to be made. We can only have the deepest compassion for those who must make them. Myself, I can only suggest we all ponder well the encouraging yet foreboding statement that: The human community and the natural world will go into the future as a single integral community or we will both experience disaster on the way.
THE EARTH CHARTER
A STUDY BOOK OF REFLECTION FOR ACTION
We might think of the Earth Charter as perhaps the most comprehensive document ever to be
proposed for approval by the United Nations Assembly. We are not accustomed to think of
ourselves as a component within the larger community of the Earth as envisaged by this
Charter. Nor have we considered that the well-being of the other components of the Earth is a
condition, not simply for our own human well-being, but even for our survival.
We thought that we had accomplished something wonderful when, at the end of World War II, we
formed the United Nations. Indeed it was an accomplishment to be fully appreciated after the
collapse of the earlier League of Nations. Yet it took the devastation of World war II, when, it is
said, fifty million people died, to bring the community of nations together in a formal organization.
It was almost in desperation that the Charter for the United Nations was signed by 51 nations in
October of 1945. Its primary purpose was to maintain peace among the nations and to increase
cooperation in various fields of human activity, especially in economic, social, and cultural affairs.
Here was a context in which future conflicts that would arise between the nations could be mediated.
The nations were determined that never again would such a conflict as that of the Great War occur
within the human family.
With all its limitations and with all the conflicts that have arisen in these intervening years, the
United Nations has fulfilled its role with remarkable success. It has enabled more than a hundred
new nations to come into being and to take their place in the Assembly of Nations. As of the year
2001, the Assembly was composed of 189 members.
Among its more impressive achievements, the Assembly has asserted the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights against the tyrannies and oppressions that peoples of the world have enduring down
through the centuries. Yet we find no rights and no protections offered for the Earth against the
tyrannies of the human.
It is against this background that we must envisage the Earth Charter, a document that was initiated
within the Assembly of the United Nations at its meeting in Rio in 1992. Now, after almost ten years
of discussion and rewriting, we look forward with enthusiasm to approval of the Charter in 2002.
Just as the Charter of the United Nations itself was born out of a convulsive moment in human
history, so the Earth Charter has come into being at a moment when the industrial period in human
development has become so devastating to the sources of human survival that we find ourselves
threatened in our continued existence on this planet. We are told by E. O. Wilson that the present
extinction of living species is on a scale unequalled in the past 65 million years in the geobiological
history of the Earth.
We begin to recognize the arrogance of our view of the Earth as primarily a Natural Resource to be
used rather than as an Intimate Presence to evoke that wonder and beauty, that healing and
inspiration that is the fulfillment of our inner world. The natural world does indeed feed, clothe, and
shelter us physically. Yet if we look to the Earth simply as a resource to be exploited for its money
value as well as for our human comfort and convenience, we will end up with a planet severely damaged in its life-giving capacities.
We need to understand that the Earth in its primordial condition nourishes us in our inner spirit even
while it provides for our physical needs. Here in American we have been oblivious of the damage that
we have been doing by our relentless exploitation of the Earth throughout the 20th century. We have
been entranced with ourselves and our amazing inventions.
We seem not to realize the consequences of our move in the 1880’s from an organic, ever-renewing,
land-based economy, to an extractive, non-renewing, industrial economy. This was the critical
moment. We must now move back from a non-renewing economy, dependent largely on limited
petroleum-based energies, to an ever-renewing economy based on renewable energies of the natural
world. Only if we take care of the Earth, can the Earth take care of us.
We begin to realize that the Earth is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. Only an
organic, ever-renewing, land-based economy can sustain itself and the planet where we dwell. This
inner bonding of the human with the other components of the Earth is what makes the Earth, with
both its human and its other-than-human components, a single integral community, a community that will live or die, prosper or be impoverished together. There is abundant room for human technologies but only for those that are coherent with Earth technologies. There can be no future for a civilization that bases itself on technologies that plunder the Earth.
Even the deep pathos of our social inequalities can be remedied only with this integrity of the entire
Earth community. Apart from the fertility of the Earth we have no other source for our nourishment.
Apart from the atmosphere that surrounds us we have no source for our breathing. Apart from the
water s hat flow in our streams and rivers, waters that flow up from the springs, waters from the
deep aquifers within the Earth; apart fro these waters we have no refreshing water to drink or to
sustain our cultivation of the land.
So too for the inner world of mind, imagination, and emotions. These faculties can be activated only
through the wonders that we observe through our senses. If we lived on the moon our minds would be as empty as the moon, our imagination would be as limited as the lunar landscape, our emotions would be unfulfilled. The real reason why we cannot live on the Moon, on Mars, or any other planet, is that our inner world would shrivel within itself for lack of a wonderful to commune with such as we find here on Earth.
These reflections reveal the need we have for the immense variety of experiences that we have here
on this planet. They reveal also the self-destruction that occurs when we devastate the very sources
of our life. To preserve this planet in its awesome majesty enables our small self to experience its
fulfillment in our Great Self, the planet Earth, and beyond the Universe that reveals itself to us in all
its grandeur out of the dark night skies.