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Giving Context to Our Historic Moment


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Analyzing the instructions for reforming and reinventing society's core four institutions in the three seminal books of religious scholar, cultural historian and self-described "geologian" Thomas Berry.

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Giving Context to Our Historic Moment

  1. 1. Thomas Berry’s Instructions for Reinventing the Four Institutions Governing Human Affairs By Malcolm M. Kenton
  3. 3. CONTEXT Where we are on the space- time continuum Encompasses natural and cultural heritage—each is integral to the human self Thomas’s insights come from his incomparable scholarship and his way of making connections to gain insights.
  4. 4. “RADICAL DISCONNECT” Root of society’s ills is its disconnect from the context in which we evolved and find meaning. The trajectory of human thought away from the natural world was cemented during Bubonic Plague. Plague instilled a “deep inner rage” against our earthly condition, driving Western civilization to seek a new foundational mythology.
  5. 5. -Thomas Berry “We thought that we were elevating the human when in reality we were alienating ourselves from the only context in which human life has any satisfying meaning.” The “Demonic Dream”
  6. 6. CONSTRUCTING AN ALTERNATE MYTHOLOGY Misconceptions about the story Thomas says should drive the transition to the Ecozoic Era: Puts humans on a level plane with other animals The Universe is either dynamic or static. It is neither, but rather creative.
  7. 7. THE UNIVERSE’S GUIDING PRINCIPLES Differentiation Subjectivity Communion “To be is to be related, for relationship is the essence of existence. … Nothing is itself without everything else.”
  8. 8. CULTURAL CODING Unlike other animals, humans’ genes don’t give us all the instructions needed to have a fulfilling life. We rely on the handed-down learning that takes place in our prolonged childhood to figure out how to be human.
  9. 9. REIMAGINING THE “BIG FOUR” “The churches are too pious; the corporations are too greedy; the government is too subservient to the corporations; and the universities should know better.” Northern spotted owl in a clear-cut forest.
  10. 10. CHRISTIANITY’S FALL FROM (COSMOLOGICAL) GRACE Transformed from celebrating God as revealed through seasonal acts of creation and renewal to seeing revelations only in historical acts, and Turned to redemption theology: the idea that our home is not in this world, but rather in a heaven reached through a personal relationship with a divine savior in human form.
  11. 11. REORIENTING RELIGION TOWARDS THE DIVINE IN NATURE Adopt the Universe Story as a guiding mythos Return to rituals that tie our lives to nature’s processes Observe the spiritual aspect of all beings and regard other animals as our relatives. Recover shamanic wisdom Regard the Universe as “that which judges us.”
  12. 12. TWO EDICTS FOR REFORMING GOVERNMENT Grant legal rights to all beings Remove legal strictures that make government subservient to industrial corporations, such as corporate personhood
  13. 13. ELEMENTS OF THE NEW JURISPRUDENCE Defines all Earth’s components as a commons, to be shared by all Earthlings according to need, but Grants inviolable individual rights to human and nonhuman beings, both individually and collectively. Rights are “species-specific and limited,” but every being has 3 basic rights: to be, to habitat, and to fulfill its role in the community.
  14. 14. Perhaps a jurisprudence founded on Thomas’s concept of rights depends upon first putting in place a functional cosmology. How do we define “need?” How do we redefine property?
  15. 15. REORGANIZING GOVERNANCE Need to work on the macro-phase level. Redraw jurisdictional boundaries to match bioregions.
  16. 16. TRANSPORTATION FOR THE ECOZOIC ERA greenthoughts on
  17. 17. GOOD GOVERNMENT Change the US Constitution Need big government to rein in big corporations Recognize the necessity of functioning government for any economic activity Reform the mass media
  18. 18. THE MODERN CORPORATION Chief purveyors of the “demonic dream” and exponents of limitless consumption Dominant organizing principle of the US economy— the first nation-state where corporations have achieved this level of power Some are simply too large for effective oversight—if one is “too big to fail,” perhaps it’s just too big period.
  19. 19. WAYS TO HANDLE CORPORATIONS 1) Make state & local governments use the power of the corporate charter
  20. 20. 2) Use what tools we have to hold corporations accountable—the “machinery for change”
  21. 21. 3) Encourage innovation and green entrepreneurship; expand frameworks for recognizing truly triple-bottom-line businesses
  22. 22. 4) Model machines and other products on living beings and natural systems Living wastewater treatment facility in which wastewater flows through at least three different ecol
  23. 23. 5) Alter laws and norms to treat capitalism as a tool rather than an all-encompassing ideology Statue in front of the Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, DC
  24. 24. LEFT UNADDRESSED Different roles of federal, state and local governments How a strong national government might coexist with localized economies Role of the nonprofit/NGO sector
  25. 25. SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES The only institutions through which humans, as a species, can rediscover our lost meaning. Human education is part of Earth’s self-education. Because of science’s limitations, education must rely on the humanistic traditions.
  26. 26. TEACHING THE UNIVERSE STORY All studies are ultimately ecological Offers a bridge between science and religion Only the university is independent enough from the economic and religious powers that be
  27. 27. Bridging the creative and the analytical Teaching students about their bioregional homes
  29. 29. SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY Modern science has come to same realization as ancient shamans: Earth is a single organism Religion & humanities must fill science’s gaps in describing the psychic and spiritual aspects of the Universe Story.
  30. 30. CHANGING OUR LANGUAGE Alamy / The Guardian
  31. 31. INSTILLING WONDER Education must imbue students with a fascination for nature, foster entrancement with the Earth and heavens and other creatures, and let students’ imaginations soar.
  32. 32. CORE COURSES FOR THE FUTURE Four ancient symbolic archetypes Sequence of Universe’s development Phases of human cultural development Human scientific & technological development The emerging Ecozoic Era and Earth economics
  34. 34. QUESTIONS? Malcolm M. Kenton (202) 270-0743