Thomas Berry (1914-2009) was a cultural historian who preferred to be called a geologian. When Loyal Rue wrote Amythia in 1989, lifting up the salience of Everybody’s Story, he was unaware of Thomas’s 1978 book that called for the adoption of what he called The New Story. Great minds think alike. Thomas continued to articulate this theme for the rest of his life, often collaborating with his students Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim. His life and work are commemorated here and in a highly engaging biography. He was a visionary, a larger-than-life yet humble being steeped in kindness, who transformed all who knew him.
It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in 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.
For people, generally, their story of the universe and the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. … The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.
With all the inadequacies of any narrative, the epic of evolution presents the story of the universe as is currently available to us. This is our sacred story. It is our way of dealing with the ultimate mystery whence all things come into being.
A new basis for the unity of humans with the larger earth community is found in the discoveries of modern science. The more clearly we understand the sciences and their perceptions of the universe, the more clearly we appreciate the intimate presence of each component of the universe with every other component. This unity is realized both in our studies of the large-scale structure and functioning of the universe and in geobiological systems of the earth.
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. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.
The human is neither an addendum nor an intrusion into the universe. We are quintessentially integral with the universe.
The environmental crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis.
The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.
In reality, there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its own inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic, and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world.
What does the Earth desire? I will put it in just a few short sentences… To be admired in her loveliness, To be tasted in her delicious fruits, To be listened to in her teaching, To be endured in the severity of her discipline, To be cared for as a maternal source from whence we come, a destiny to which we return. It’s very simple.
We see quite clearly that what happens to the nonhuman happens to the human. What happens to the outer world happens to the inner world. If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur then the emotional, imaginative, intellectual, and spiritual life of the human is diminished or extinguished. Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the sounds and coloration of the insects, the free-flowing streams, the flowering fields, the sight of the clouds by day and the stars at night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human.
Our human economy is derivative from the Earth economy. To glory in a rising Gross Domestic Product with an irreversibly declining Earth Product is an economic absurdity.
The universities must decide whether they will continue training persons for temporary survival in the declining Cenozoic Era or whether they will begin educating students for the emerging Ecozoic.