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|CA: At last, we discuss THE central and most important piece
We need a new story for our relationship with the
Earth, one that goes beyond science and religion
with which we care about with a passion.
Posted February, 20, 2015
From Climate Change to Consciousness, this article is an important one.
|Thanks to David Haith (England)
|Written by Richard Schiffman
February 18, 2015
"We’re closer to environmental disaster than ever before. We need a new
story for our relationship with the Earth, one that goes beyond science and
The world as we know it is slipping away. At the current rate of destruction,
tropical rainforest could be gone within as little as 40 years. The seas are
being overfished to the point of exhaustion, and coral reefs are dying from
ocean acidification. Biologists say that we are currently at the start of the
largest mass extinction event since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. As
greenhouse gases increasingly accumulate in the atmosphere,
temperatures are likely to rise faster than our current ecological and
agricultural systems can adapt.
It is no secret that the Earth is in trouble and that we humans are to blame.
Just knowing these grim facts, however, won’t get us very far. We have to
transform this knowledge into a deep passion to change course. But
passion does not come primarily from the head; it is a product of the heart.
And the heart is not aroused by the bare facts alone. It needs stories that
weave those facts into a moving and meaningful narrative.
We need a powerful new story that we are a part of nature and not separate
from it. We need a story that properly situates humans in the world—neither
above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into
cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators
with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a
materially and spiritually evolving universe.
This was the breathtaking vision of the late Father Thomas Berry. Berry
taught that humanity is presently at a critical decision point. Either we
develop a more heart-full relationship with the Earth that sustains us, or we
destroy ourselves and life on the planet. I interviewed the white-maned
theologian (he preferred the term “geologian,” by which he meant “student
of the Earth”) in 1997 at the Riverdale Center of Religious Research on the
Hudson River north of New York City. Berry
spoke slowly and with the hint of a southern drawl, revealing his North
“I say that my generation has been autistic,” he told me. “An autistic child is
locked into themselves, they cannot get out and the outer world cannot get
in. They cannot receive affection, cannot give affection. And this is, I think, a
very appropriate way of identifying this generation in its relationship to the
“We have no feeling for the natural world. We’d as soon cut down our most
beautiful tree, the most beautiful forest in the world. We cut it down for
what? For timber, for board feet. We don’t see the tree, we only see it in
terms of its commercial value.”
It is no accident that we have come to our current crisis, according to Berry.
Rather, it is the natural consequence of certain core cultural beliefs that
comprise what Berry called “the Old Story.” At the heart of the Old Story is
the idea that we humans are set apart from nature and here to conquer it.
Berry cited the teaching in Genesis that humans should “subdue the Earth
… and have dominion over every living thing.”
But if religion provided the outline for the story, science wrote it large—
developing a mind-boggling mastery of the natural world. Indeed, science
over time became the new religion, said Berry, an idolatrous worship of our
own human prowess. Like true believers, many today are convinced that,
however bad things might seem, science and technology will eventually
solve all of our problems and fulfill all of our needs.
Berry acknowledged that this naive belief in science served a useful
purpose during the formative era when we were still building the modern
world and becoming aware of our immense power to transform things.
Like adolescents staking out their own place in the world, we asserted our
independence from nature and the greater family of life. But over time, this
self-assertion became unbalanced, pushing the Earth to the brink of
environmental cataclysm. The time has come to leave this adolescent stage
behind, said Berry, and develop a new, mature relationship with the Earth
and its inhabitants.
We’ll need to approach this crucial transition on many different fronts.
Scientific research has too frequently become the willing handmaiden of
what Berry called “the extractive economy,” an economic system that treats
our fellow creatures as objects to be exploited rather than as living beings
with their own awareness and rights. Moreover, technology, in Berry’s view,
potentially separates us from intimacy with life. We flee into “cyberspace”—
spending more time on smart phones, iPods, and video games than
communing with the real world.
Science and technology are not the problem. Our misuse of them is. Berry
said that science needs to acknowledge that the universe is not a random
assemblage of dead matter and empty space, but is alive, intelligent, and
continually evolving. And it needs to recognize that not only is the world
alive, it is alive in us. “We bear the universe in our beings,” Berry reflected,
“as the universe bears us in its being.” In Berry’s view, our human lives are
no accident. We are the eyes, the minds, and the hearts that the cosmos is
evolving so that it can come to know itself ever more perfectly through us.
It’s a view that has been winning some surprising adherents. Several years
ago, I had dinner with Edgar Mitchell, one of only a dozen humans who have
walked upon the lunar surface. Mitchell, the descendant of New Mexico
pioneers and an aeronautical engineer by training, spoke precisely and
almost clinically—until he related an experience that happened on his way
back to Earth during the Apollo 14 mission. At that point, his voice
brightened with awe.
“I was gazing out of the window, at the Earth, moon, sun, and star-studded
blackness of space in turn as our capsule slowly rotated,” he said.
“Gradually, I was flooded with the ecstatic awareness that I was a part of
what I was observing. Every molecule in my body was birthed in a star
hanging in space. I became aware that everything that exists is part of one
intricately interconnected whole.”
The Overview Effect
In a recent phone chat, Mitchell called this realization “the Overview Effect,”
and he said that virtually all of the moon astronauts experienced it during
their flights. In his case, it changed the direction of his life: “I realized that
the story of ourselves as told by our scientific cosmology and our religion
was incomplete and likely flawed. I saw that the Newtonian idea of separate,
independent, discrete things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate
In pursuit of a holistic understanding, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic
Sciences (IONS) to explore the nature of human consciousness. The
question of consciousness might seem remote from issues like climate
change. But it is central to the question of how we treat the world. At the
core of our abuse of nature is the belief that we humans are essentially
islands unto ourselves, alienated from the world beyond our skins. A little
god locked within the gated community of his or her own skull won’t feel
much responsibility for what goes on outside.
“The classical scientific approach says that observation and consciousness
are completely independent of the way the world works,” IONS Chief
Scientist Dean Radin told me. But physics has known for decades that mind
and matter are not as separable as we once supposed. Radin cites as an
example Heisenberg’s discovery that the act of observation changes the
phenomenon that is being observed.
Moreover, quantum physics has shown that subatomic particles that are
separated in space are nevertheless responsive to one another in ways that
are not yet fully understood. We are discovering that there is “some
underlying form of connection in which literally everything is connected to
everything else all of the time,” asserts Radin. “The universe is less a
collection of objects than a web of interrelationships.”
As we come to grasp how inextricably embedded in this vast web of cosmic
life we are, Radin hopes that humans will be persuaded to move beyond the
idea of ourselves as masters and the world as slave to embrace an equal
and mutually beneficial partnership.
Another prophet of a new scientific paradigm is renowned Harvard biologist
Edward (E.O.) Wilson. Wilson is best known for his biophilia hypothesis,
which says there is an instinctive emotional bond between humans and
other life forms. Evolution has fostered in us the drive to love and care for
other living beings, Wilson says, as a way to promote the survival not just of
our own kind but of life as a whole.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection is invoked to argue that we humans are
conditioned by nature to struggle tooth and nail for access to limited
resources. But Wilson contends that evolution does not just promote violent
competition but also favors the development of compassion and
cooperation—traits that serve the interests of the group as a whole.
He calls this radical new idea “group selection.” Groups of altruistically
inclined individuals have an evolutionary advantage over groups that are
composed of members pursuing only their own survival needs. This
collective advantage, he argues, has helped to promote powerful social
bonds and cooperative behaviors in species as diverse as ants, geese, elk,
and human beings.
In championing the evolutionary importance of love and cooperation in the
flourishing of life, Wilson is not just revolutionizing biology. He is also
venturing into territory usually occupied by religion. But, like Berry, Wilson
argues that we need a story that cuts across traditional boundaries between
fields to present a new, integral vision. “Science and religion are two of the
most potent forces on Earth,” Wilson asserts, “and they should come
together to save the Creation.”
A thousand-year worldview
At its heart, the new story that Wilson and Berry advocate is actually a very
old one. Indigenous spiritual traditions taught that all beings are our
relatives long before the science of ecology “discovered” the seamless web
of life that binds humans to other creatures. “The world is alive, everything
has spirit, has standing, has the right to be recognized,” proclaims
Anishinaabe activist and former Green Party candidate for vice president
“One of our fundamental teachings is that in all our actions we consider the
impact it will have on seven generations,” LaDuke told an audience at the
University of Ottawa in 2012. “Think about what it would mean to have a
worldview that could last a thousand years, instead of the current corporate
mindset that can’t see beyond the next quarterly earnings statement.”
When LaDuke speaks of Native values, people sometimes ask her what
relevance these have for us today. She answers that the respect for the
sacredness of nature that inspired people to live in harmony with their
environment for millennia is not a relic of the past. It is a roadmap for living
lightly on the Earth that we desperately need in a time of climate change.
This ethic has spread beyond the reservation into religiously inspired
communities, like Genesis Farm, founded by the Dominican Sisters of
Caldwell, New Jersey. Set on ancestral Lenape lands amidst wooded hills
and wetlands and within view of the Delaware Water Gap, Genesis has
served for the last quarter century as an environmental learning center and
working biodynamic farm grounded in Berry’s vision.
I spoke to the community’s founder Sister Miriam MacGillis, a friend and
student of Berry, in a room studded with satellite images of the farm and its
bioregion. MacGillis told me that she underwent decades of struggle trying
to reconcile Berry’s 13-billion-year vision of an evolutionary cosmos with the
ultimately incompatible biblical teachings that “creation is finished: Humans
were made, history began, there was the fall, and history will end with the
apocalypse.” She says, “The pictures I had of God were too small, too
parochial, too much a reflection of the ways humans think. We made God in
Taking the long view fundamentally transforms the basis for environmental
action, says MacGillis: “We need to realize that we are the universe in the
form of the human. We are not just on Earth to do good ecological things.
That is where the religious perspective takes us with the stewardship
model—take care of it; it’s holy because God made it. That hasn’t worked
real well … The idea of stewardship is too small, it’s too human-centered,
like we can do that. It’s really the opposite. Earth is taking total care of us.”
Genesis Farm has propagated these ideas through its Earth Literacy
training, which has now spread to many places throughout the world. Their
work is a small part of a larger greening of religion, says Yale religious
scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-creator with Brian Swimme of Journey of the
Universe, an exhilarating trek through time and space portraying an
Tucker expects that the upcoming encyclical on climate change and
the environment that Pope Francis will issue in early 2015 will be “a
game changer” for Catholics. She adds that Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew has also been outspoken, labeling crimes against the
natural world “a sin.” The Dalai Lama, for his part, has been
speaking about the importance of safeguarding the environment
based on Buddhism’s sense of the profound interdependence of all
life. China has recently enshrined in its constitution the need for a
new ecological civilization rooted in Confucian values, which
preach the harmony between humans, Earth, and Heaven.
“All civilizations have drawn on the wisdom traditions that have
gotten people through death, tragedy, destruction, immense
despair,” says Tucker, adding that we are currently in a perilous rite
of passage. “We will need all of the world’s religions to help as well
as a shared sense of an evolutionary story to get us through this.”
Richard Schiffman wrote this for Together, With Earth, the Spring 2015
issue of YES! Magazine. Richard is an environmental journalist whose work
has been featured on National Public Radio, in The Guardian, The Atlantic,
and many other publications. He is the author of two biographies, and a
poet whose collection What the Dust Doesn’t Know is forthcoming from
|Genesis Farm, an environmental
learning center and working
biodynamic farm grounded in the
vision of Thomas Berry.
|Genesis Farm founder, Sister
Miriam MacGillis: “We need to
realize that we are the universe in
the form of the human.”
|" We have to transform this
knowledge into a deep
passion to change course. But
passion does not come
primarily from the head; it is a
product of the heart "
|“I say that my generation has
|"We don’t see the tree, we
only see it in terms of its
|"Science and technology are
not the problem. Our misuse
of them is".
|"Sister Miriam MacGillis: “We
need to realize that we are the
universe in the form of the
|”The act of observation
changes the phenomenon that
is being observed”.
|"The universe is less a
collection of objects than a
web of interrelationships.”
|“We will need all of the world’
s religions to help as well as a
shared sense of an
evolutionary story to get us
|Spring 2015 Issue of Yes Magazine
|"If our religions can come together and share their passion for a new relationship with our home planet, this would be a game
changer in the numbers and direction? Its worth keeping in mind that the truth for us, isn't a single fact or reality it is a planet in
the Solar System, called Ear-th. It holds everything we have ever been. It holds the actions of all, whether good or bad, it holds
the results of it all. It is the truth of who we are and what it is. Real or fake in all things are held here. She and consciousness
itself is what the Akashic Record is all about. Singular truths are worthless at this stage, the whole is where it has already been
counted. Even more profound is unless or until we find a new home, if she dies for what ever reason, we die with her.
If we have an ounce of intelligence and guts, we can and should put our religious and non religious passions to work, What we
know is that on all sides of such profound beliefs, they are held with passion and sometimes also as an excuse to propagate
undeclared agendas. Religion could be the uniter as opposed to the divider it has been.
The change we all want to see is going to come from the heart of man and woman and not the minds of politicians and out of
Evil exists and it is not hard to see its influences at work. In spite of this darkness, people of good intentions and faith can
together be the game changer. As the article above states, all we need is a new story for our relationship with Earth and one that
goes beyond religions and science - but inclusive of them" - Colin Andrews. February 20th, 2015