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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Earth as Sacred Community


We are reading Thomas Berry's Evening Thoughts: Earth As Sacred Community during our Thursdays with Jesus study group. If you are near our sacred mountain, join us every Thursday from 10:30 until noon.






This is an insightful book. His ideas resonate with me. Evening Thoughts is a collection of essays regarding Earth and the place of the human. "The Place of the Human" is the title of the essay we will discuss tomorrow. He begins:




How and why did our present devastation of the Earth happen? How did Western civilization, deriving as it does from a biblical Christian humanist matrix, provide the basis for the aggressive commercial industrial culture that grew from it? How has industrial culture led to the catastrophic processes we witness at the present time? We might consider these questions in terms of the six transcendences that have made us vulnerable to such forms of development over the centuries.
He goes on to describe the six transcendences. I will offer each with a brief description.
  1. a transcendent, personal, monotheistic, creative deity. A transcendent patriarchal deity outside of the phenomenal world has served to "desacralize the phenomenal world." Berry suggests that "the first commandment might read: 'Thou shalt not have an Earth Mother.'" We treat the phenomenal world with less reverence than those cultures in which there is a "sacred dimension to trees, to rivers, and to the whole of creation."
  2. the spiritual nature of the human. We do not form a single society with this world. We do not belong to this world and are detached from it. The material world loses its sacred dimension.
  3. the primacy of our belief in redemption. We are not for this world but belong to some transcendent world. We need redemption from the material world itself.
  4. the transcendence of mind. This is the result of Descarte's separating the mind from the material world. Until Descartes, each living being was an ensouled being. After Descartes, each living being is a mechanism.
  5. our transcendent technology. With technology, humans are able to transcend their natural limits. "We can preserve life. We can delay death. We can extinguish other life forms."
  6. a transcendent historical destiny for humans. Our destiny is in some other world. This is so much the case that "religious believers in our society have shown little concern for the integrity and survival of this world. Only such disdain for this world could have so diminished our concern for what is happening here that we would accept the extinguishing of living forms on such a scale that it could only be equaled by the extinction at the end of the Mesozoic period some 65 million years ago."
He goes on to say that "the controlling force of modern civilization that has brought us to where we are is the complex of industrial corporations that developed throughout Western civilization in the twentieth century. "

Berry says we need a realistic evaluation of the vision of the industrial world and an alternative vision. We cannot sustain this way of life. But we cannot seem to give it up.

The industrial world has a dark side that its creators did not foresee. But we see it. We cannot maintain it financially. Earth does not have the petrochemical resources to sustain it.


He writes: "All the oil in Alaska will not keep the United States going for more than a few years."


So how do we envision our future?

The natural world itself is the primary economic reality, the primary educator, the primary governance, the primary healer, the primary presence of the sacred, the primary moral value.
He concludes this essay with the preamble of the Earth Charter:
Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life's evolution.
According to the charter: "The protection of Earth's vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust."

That sacred trust says Berry is

"the counterpoint to the particular transcendences outlined in this chapter. With the emergence of this alternative biocracy, the conditions for the sustainability of life systems can be established."
It is pleasing to read someone who resonates with your way of thinking. What he says so eloquently is what I have been trying to say. Our religion, our education, our governance, our meaning and purpose must be connected with Earth and our future. Earth is our home. Earth is sacred.
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