Thomas Berry (November 9, 1914 – June 1, 2009), Influential Christian eco-philosopher – or as he put it, a 'geologian'
June 1st 2023 is the 14th anniversary of Fr.Thomas Berry’s passing in 2009. We need him now more than ever.
His visionary ideas continue to inspire so many people all over the world.
“Thomas Berry was the earliest and most important voice to describe the profound importance of the disconnection between humans and the natural world, and what that could mean for the future of our species.” -Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods"
“While this humble tribute can’t approach the eloquence of Thomas Berry, whose prose was “more akin to that of poetry, art, myth, or storytelling,” it can help to introduce those who don’t know Thomas Berry to his life and work, and can serve to remind those who knew him of what made him so special. “Beloved friend and companion,” “priest, prophet and seer,” “renowned scholar,” “thinker,” “Brother”; “he was the truest man I ever knew.” -Patrick Tolan, Earth Jurisprudence and Environmental Justice Journal. (These testimonies at Thomas’s funeral in Greensboro, Vermont, tell volumes about a man who epitomised hope, truth and love.)
‘Nature's Future Is Our Future’
As our home- the planet earth- faces the most dangerous century in its 4.5bn-year history, we look to Thomas Berry for his wise
and passionate guidance on what the future holds for our small blue planet and its inhabitants.
"It's the mystique of the mountains and the birds, the sea -- it's what makes us sing. It's what makes our literature. Even though we have worked out a mechanic that is fairly helpful, it doesn't give us an interior world. The natural world gives us an interior world. It gives us a healing presence, a fulfilling presence. By the term `presence' I mean that indwelling quality that manifests itself throughout the natural world. We find this awesome presence in the sun and moon and stars in the heavens, in the mountains and seas of Earth, in the dawn and sunset, in the forests and meadows and wildlife. We are immersed in an ever-renewing wonder-world that evokes our music and dance, our poetry and literature as well as our philosophical reflection and our scientific inquiry. None of our industrial productions brings such inspiration as we obtain from these sources."-Thomas Berry
'A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans. If there is to be any true progress, then the entire life community must progress.'― Thomas Berry
“All creatures of Earth are looking to us for their destiny. Among these are our children and grandchildren, who depend on our decisions for the sustenance and flourishing of the life systems of the planet. This remains one of our primary challenges in the twenty first century.”-Father Thomas Berry, Evening Thoughts
“Bigger Than Science, Bigger Than Religion”
'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 Centre 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 Carolina upbringing.
“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 natural world.
“We have no feeling for the natural world. We'd 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 smartphones, 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.’…Richard Schiffman (For the reference to the original source see Nature the Best Teacher: Re-Connecting the World’s Children with Nature
June 1st 2023 is the 14th anniversary of Thomas Berry’s passing in 2009. The Dream of the Earth was published in 1988 when he was 74 years old. You can now listen to him read it:
Photo by Lou Niznik/ Via Yale Forum on Religion & Ecology
Audiobook narrated by Thomas Berry
Length: 2 hrs and 52 mins
Photo: Amazon UK
‘This landmark work, first published by Sierra Club Books in 1988, has established itself as a foundational volume in the ecological canon. In it, noted cultural historian Thomas Berry provides nothing less than a new intellectual-ethical framework for the human community by positing planetary well-being as the measure of all human activity. Drawing on the wisdom of Western philosophy, Asian thought, and Native American traditions, as well as contemporary physics and evolutionary biology, Berry offers a new perspective that recasts our understanding of science, technology, politics, religion, ecology, and education. He shows us why it is important for us to respond to the Earth’s need for planetary renewal, and what we must do to break free of the “technological trance” that drives a misguided dream of progress. Only then, he suggests, can we foster mutually enhancing human-Earth relationships that can heal our traumatised global biosystem.’-Continue to read
Our Shared Vision, Our Shared Dreams
A Pick from our Archive
‘Humans are bringing about the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, according to scientists writing in a special edition of the leading journal Nature.
Mammals, birds and amphibians are currently becoming extinct at rates comparable to the previous five mass extinctions when “cataclysmic forces” – such as massive meteorite strikes and supervolcano explosions – wiped out vast swathes of life, including the dinosaurs.
The growing human population – which has increased by 130 per cent in the last 50 years and is set to rise to more than 10 billion by 2060 – and our increasing demand for resources as we become wealthier is ramping up the pressure on the natural world.
Tens of thousands of species – including 25 per cent of all mammals and 13 percent of birds – are now threatened with extinction because of over-hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat, the arrival of invasive species, and other human-caused problems.
But the researchers said it was not “inevitable” that this process would continue. There is still time for humans to turn the situation around by protecting habitats, changing our diets to less land-intensive food, and taking other forms of conservation.’.. Humans are ushering in the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, scientists warn
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