Part 3: Institutions, Planetary Rights, Mystical Economics

Part 3: Institutions, Planetary Rights, Mystical Economics

Ashok: Father Thomas, when you distinguish it from religion as an institution, you point out that religion has been failing and science is not the problem— instead, science needs to play a role. In a cosmological spirituality where we experience universal connectivity, we would find an exciting frontier in which science is actually confirming this spirituality.

Fr. Thomas: Exactly. It would open up a new context for the future. Great things could happen if in every field we would start with the universe and put the universe forward as the primary reference. For instance, I would like to see the establishment of a new basis for law. A few years ago, I met with people from all over the world who were envisioning a legal system based on the fact that every being has three rights: the right to be, the right to inhabit, and the right to fulfill its role in the great community of existence. The idea, particularly in America, that humans have rights and no other creature has rights is kind of absurd. It’s absurd to think that we have the right to exploit anything and everything as long as it’s for some perceived human good while failing to recognize a very simple, very obvious, very necessary principle that every being has rights. It should be one of the first things taught in the legal traditions on which we are founded. The idea that our political rights are the primary reference regarding our way of being is no longer acceptable.

Ashok: That every being has rights is such a powerful idea. I think that an initiative like the Earth Charter— which is currently in circulation and which tries to find a whole new way of approaching law and rights in this interconnected universe— requires a completely new kind of culture, doesn’t it?

Fr. Thomas: Yes. Sure it does. It would ultimately be very beneficial for everybody. Of course, it would limit exploitation and the priority of money making.

Ashok: Not only does this revise the entire concept of law and therefore politics, but your fundamental idea of  interconnectivity and sacredness also seems to require that every institution— church, state, economy, university, education— goes through this profound re-visioning.

Fr. Thomas: Yes, that’s quite true.

Ashok: Let’s focus on the church, that is, all religions, for a moment. What do you see?  How does this interconnectivity model bring change to religion as we know it on this planet?

Fr. Thomas: Of course, all the religions have at their core a way of participating in the ultimate mystery of the cosmos, where we find unity. Speaking for Christianity, I’d say that a dominant redemption-oriented religion needs a greater emphasis on the revelatory presence in creation:  the balance that existed in the Christian world up through the fourteenth century needs to be restored. Saint Thomas tells us that the universe is “the ultimate, the noblest perfection in things.” The rituals practiced in his time were cosmological rituals. Aquinas gave us a wonderful insight and way of thinking.

Before the Black Death and the dissemination of printing in Europe, there was a shared tradition passed on by the customs and rituals and prayers of the people, all woven together on the universe model. But when people began to read the scriptures, they said, “Well, this is the immediate verbal communication of the Divine to the human. So what do we need the universe in a religious context for?” The Black Death that struck Europe in 1346 was very tragic and disturbed the entire civilization of Europe for over two centuries. It was only after the plague that new discoveries in science began to spark curiosity and stimulate exploratory travel across the globe. In a sense, we’re still struggling with what happened then. We’ve gone through centuries of amazing scientific discoveries, but somehow, at least beginning in the 19th and 20th centuries, we have lost control over our marvelous scientific findings. Today, we no longer know how to relate to these discoveries we are making, let alone how to use them.

The original incentive for the great discoveries was probably more cosmological in its seed thinking than strictly scientific.

This tragic loss and shift from the vision of a universe-centered intimacy to its fragmentation and breakup, to the objectification and manipulation that came later still pervades everything we’ve talked about, including law. What about the politics around the globe— the violence and clash of cultures in the 21st century? [AG OK? “cultures” for “civilizations” (Huntington mongering notwithstanding)]

Fr. Thomas: Well, the political side is certainly a central issue. All these states came into existence with an excitement and an intensity and a brilliance that was, in a sense, a religious dimension of devotion to the state. All of the borders now need to be reshaped. At first they were shaped for the glory of the human being; now they need to be reshaped in the glory of the universe, in the glory of the natural world, so that the human being finds its place in the great universe community.

Ashok: But this would go for economics as well. You more than hinted that economic forces and political forces together with science have taken us into this tragic situation. So a new kind of economic way of being, a sacred economics, is required as well.

Fr. Thomas:
That’s right. Economics, in a sense, is going to have to be the key. In this country, the “mystical” attitude toward the state was carried over to a “mystical” devotion to the type of liberal economics we’ve developed, with the power of the economic field becoming the dominant power— in many instances, dominant even over political power. Every aspect of the human project needs to be re-thought in the context of the 21st century. The 21st century has to include a comprehensive role of renewal and will also need to enfold within itself the achievements that go back to an earlier stage and persist up to the present.

The four areas of politics, economics, education and religion that have authority need to be particularly attended to because they are structural establishments in society and they govern so much. All these domains need to relate to each other.

Ashok: And science?

Fr. Thomas: And science. All need to have a close association with each other in what we call civilization. we’re now in the process of creating a new structure of society. In the 21st century we will see the rise of alternative forces particular to the new sciences and the new technologies that are being developed.

We need to recognize and welcome all forms of social unity. We need to think of creating a new civilization; and this civilization of the 21st century needs to be shaped in accordance with a vision that has  a resonance with and relationships with the complete array of groups that inhabit the human world.

We all need to dedicate ourselves to do what we can to support and guide the way into the 21st century.
Father Thomas Berry and Ashok Gangadean
Thomas Berry interviewed by Ashok Gangadean
Sacred Earth: A Global Cosmology for our Time III