|Robert L. Blum, MD, PhD|
Thomas Berry, Geologian,
One of my heroes, Rev. Fr. Thomas Berry, died on June 1, 2009.
I first became acquainted with his work when he and co-author Brian Swimme
presented The Universe Story in 1992. Their book is a retelling of cosmogenesis
and the evolution of life that emphasizes the incredible creativity of the Universe.
In this view Berry was influenced by his intellectual predecessor
Indeed, Dr. Berry was president of the American Teilhard Association for over a decade.
While the notion of imbuing the Universe with spirit is not without controversy -
to say the least - the view that the Universe was a random collection of elementary particles
that just happened to congeal into hydrogen, then stars and galaxies,
then heavy elements and molecules, through replicating molecules, then to prokaryotes
- up to butterfly wings - seems to be leaving something out.
Although Berry obviously sided with the evolutionists
in the Creation vs Evolution debate, it is his sheer wonderment at the unfolding
of the Universe that he brought to the table. In this sensitivity he shared the passion
that drove our great astronomers and cosmologists from Copernicus, to Galileo, to Newton,
to Einstein - sheer wonderment at the raw fact of existence.
In Berry's writings this wonderment became awe at the sacred powers of
cosmogenesis. If postmodern man considers the Universe as nothing but
a blob of matter ripe for human exploitation that is of little importance.
It is not yet within our power to terraform Mars, to mine the asteroid belt, or to transform
the planets into Dyson spheres. Unfortunately, that is NOT the case with Earth.
The desacralization of Earth in part with the complicity or perhaps
simply benign neglect of science has had tragic consequences. Present day mankind,
unlike our paleolithic stock, is the key force that is now destroying
Earth's capacity to sustain life.
In his 1999 volume, The Great Work, Berry directly takes aim
at mankind's principal guiding institutions: legal institutions and governments, corporations and
media, scientists and engineers, religions and universities. All have been subjugated
to the notion that humanity is the supreme holder of rights and privileges on Earth.
Each has promulgated the view that Earth's resources are here solely for the unlimited consumption of mankind.
The result has been an unmitigated disaster as we have diverted
the planet's rivers, stripped its topsoil, poisoned its atmosphere, mined
its oceans to oblivion, and killed its flora and fauna.
If there is doubt that spirit played a part in cosmogenesis,
there is no doubt whatsoever that lack of global consciousness is now destroying
the habitability of Earth.
During his presentation of The Universe Story in 1992, Fr. Berry related a
charming parable that has stuck with me. We have institutions called the
United Nations and the World Court. Occasionally, when nations commit horrible
atrocities they are sanctioned by the UN and the criminals are tried in the World Court.
This happened with Nazi Germany, with the former Yugoslavia, and with Rwanda.
Now suppose we had an institution called the United Species
with representatives from every species on Earth. Is there any doubt
to which species the accusations would be leveled? Is there any doubt
that many humans, if not all of us, would be tried as war criminals?
As in all other aspects of consciousness, we are always ready
to accept the stories spun by our brains and culture. As the liver secretes bile,
the cortex is the organ that lies. Humanity's rights and privileges derive not simply
from our great linguistic ability, but principally from our position of power
and our naive belief in our own public relations campaign on behalf of ourselves.
The death and destruction of Earth's species is a consequence of their lack of effective p.r. .
I am delighted to see that Thomas Berry's call for a sacred view of Earth
- and the respect and deference which it entails - has been picked up by religious leaders
as well as by scientists. The recent Harvard declaration by environmentalists and evangelists
is a hopeful sign of this direction. Another great reason for hope is the popularity of websites devoted to ecologic concerns (see, for example, Mongabay) and the increasing
If we are to turn around the environmental crisis it will only be
with the devoted efforts of all our institutions: the religious as well as the academic,
the corporate as well as the political. Thomas Berry's Great Work is just at its start.