Thomas Berry 1914-2009

By Madronna Holden

“We must rethink all our basic values, the structure and functioning of our entire cultural tradition…This is undoubtedly the most awesome moment for rethinking our situation since the beginning of the Western civilizational enterprise some five thousand years ago.”
Thomas Berry, “Foreword”, Earth and Spirit


On the occasion of the death of Catholic priest and theologian (or “geologian”, as he preferred to call himself) Thomas Berry at age 94, I would like to reflect upon his model of a morality centered in the earthly community of life.

Thomas Berry’s philosophy was strikingly immanent and earth-centered.  In his seminal Dream of the Earth, he lamented the fact that too many Christians placed themselves in “a state of exile from our true country”, in that “the natural world is little mentioned”.   This state of “exile” was due to an inordinate emphasis on the hereafter in Christian theology.

But for Berry humans are an inescapable part of an earth community and thus “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.”

He took the bold step of siding with ecofeminist authors as he described the dynamics of Western history in which patriarchy ushered in social and environmental injustice.

Berry also stressed the necessity of recognizing our national obligations to native peoples: “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence to be themselves”. Our second duty is to honor the ways in which native traditions belong “among the great spiritual traditions” of humankind. Thirdly, we should respect the historical continuity of native communities.

Berry joined many modern ecologists in stressing the need for an earth-centered stance to replace the human-centered one of the industrial age. Such a stance is the only realistic one given our  interdependence with other natural life. As Berry noted, not a single species on earth nourishes itself.

As opposed to the worldview which sees the natural world as set in place for human use, Berry stated, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship.  There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” This is a courtesy; he went on, that we might learn from indigenous peoples such as the Iroquois, who modeled reverent gratitude toward the earth in their thanksgiving ceremonies.

In this context, he developed a detailed outline supporting the rights of all the beings with whom we share our earthly community. He insisted that all earth others (including not only plants and animals but natural landscape features such as rivers) have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community”.   Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state. Indeed, human rights are limited in a community which recognizes the rights of all life.

Whereas rights of nature are enduring, they are limited to the unique identity of those involved:  rights of a river or a tree are specific to themselves.  It would mean little to a river, for instance, to have the rights of a tree—or a human or an insect. Thus these rights are not in competition with each other, but an expression of the interdependent cycle of life in which each plays a role. In this context humans also have a right to wonder, beauty and intimacy that only our connection with a vital earthly community can fulfill.

Berry’s guidelines for a healing technology come down to following the patterns of nature—as gained most clearly in the intimate knowledge of place in bioregionalism. As we set such a technology in place, “the earth itself would be seen as the primary model in architecture, the primary scientist, the primary educator, healer, and technologist, even the primary manifestation of the ultimate mystery of things”.

Coincident with his work with indigenous and Eastern traditions, Berry felt that each subject in a universe of subjects had a story– and that story was interwoven into the universe’s story.  He found hope in the work of modern scientists who abandoned the objective distancing of their tradition to tell the story of natural life.  If we told the story of the natural world in this way, we would understand how to treat it differently as we developed a new “mythos” to replace the all too prevalent Judeo-Christian one that sees humans as standing over and apart from creation as a collection of objects–and licenses so much destruction as a result.

Berry offered a different interpretation of Christianity that led to responsibility to creation.

He joined with physicist Brian Swimme in developing a “universe story” in which humans had a special role as witnesses of the universe’s self-development and evolution.  The human role was not one of dominating or controlling creation, but of appreciating it.  In this sense, the human sense of wonder was a holy impulse: as Matthew Fox put it, Thomas Berry “sacralized curiosity”.   His intellectual and spiritual openness in this regard was linked to his personal engagement.

Notably, Swimme with whom Berry developed the “universe story”, emphatically declared himself an ecofeminist (“How to Heal a Lobotomy” in Ecofeminism and the Sacred) as a means of healing the dangerous dualism in Western thought that splits the world into hierarchical frames of subject/object, human/nature and male/female.

Though Berry saw nature as imbued with spirit in that it was the cradle of life (and he saw everything that lived as having a soul), he did not romanticize or idealize the natural world.  In that it existed for itself and not for humans, it could be destructive as well as life-giving from the human point of view.  But humans should become intimate with the larger story of nature that both gave them life and interwove all lives in its vast cosmic story.

Here are the words Berry chose to feature on his website—words that eloquently express the guiding principle of his work:  “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

Thomas Berry left us with much to think about—and much to live up to.

342 Responses

  1. I find this article a significant strech from my world view. It also seems to have a strong undertone of hostility towards a world view to which I am inclined to align myself. Including mischaracterization of that view, at least from my perspective. For example, I don’t at all agree that the Judeo-Christian story of the natural world is “one that sees humans as standing over and apart from creation as a collection of objects,” nor that it “licenses so much destruction.”

    I agree that humans shouldn’t obliterate other species, but find the over generalized statement that “Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state,” should not be taken so literally as to imply that humans shouldn’t cut down trees to build a house, plow a field to produce a crop, or even mow their lawns to feel good about their landscaping.

    • Thanks for making the “stretch” to read and respond to this article on Thomas Berry’s ideas, David.
      It is important to note (as you do) that not ALL Judeo-Christian theology assumes a “dominator” attitude with respect to the natural world. Berry is taking to task that trend within Christianity which has done this. Berry himself represents a significantly different Christian approach: the “citizenship” stance that sees humans as citizens within creation. A third major trend is the stewardship approach– the stance that humans assume control over creation as ethical stewards.
      Berry’s writing does not imply that one might not be able to mow one’s lawn. Grass still grows after being mowed–and there is such a thing as sustainable logging in which forests continue to exist in their states of natural vitality. What Thomas Berry was reacting to was the Western industrial trend that has made whole species extinct as it objectifies all other life as just there to serve humans. In this view, species lose their entire right to their natural existence–and their important roles in the natural order. In this, you and Berry concur.
      Berry held out much hope for science that teaches us how all creatures are interdependent in natural systems–and when we harm the natural order upon which we all depend for survival, we harm ourselves.
      His idea of the rights of nature does not imply that we should never utilize other parts of nature for our sustenance– indeed, we depend on them for survival, as Berry also observed. But his analysis indicates that we should never take our sustenance thoughtlessly–or assume other life is expendable or can be treated carelessly or cruelly for our convenience.
      In fact, the the idea of the “rights of nature” is coming into prominence in some public policy arenas, such as that of salmon management in the Pacific Northwest. (See sidebar paper on the “rights of nature” on this site.)
      I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  2. I really enjoyed reading about Berry and his ideals, in many levels Berry said things I feel need to happen and should already be happening. “The human role was not one of dominating or controlling creation, but of appreciating it.” This line moved me because of the depth of feeling on so many levels, the need for respect for fellow humans and the living world around us. We as a society, I feel, have a ‘every man for himself’ attitude; Berry’s sentiments really emphasize a different world, one of mutual respect and humility. The idea of respect for nature, the world around us is a beautiful idea, it paints a picture of peace and happiness. That this idea can ever actually be adapted by society is difficult to imagine, although what a wonderful place it would be. Berry mentions human beings standing apart from nature and creation, viewing them as a collection of objects, you can see this particularly strong in our society where materialism is prevalent. We want to put a dollar value on everything, we even do it to each other. I would love to see even part of Berry’s world, any implementation would be an interesting improvement.

    • Thank you for your comment, Rebecca. I would also like to live in a world where such values prevail instead of the material world that prices (and is in the process of destroying) so many things of value. And I do think this is possible. It brings me hope in our troubled world that there are those who share such values, since sharing them is the first step to putting them into action.

  3. Today, sustainability is becoming a natural part of our vocabulary. Reading through the headlines one cannot help but be reminded of our impact on the environment as well as our blatant disregard for the other living forms of our planet. The United States has been a major contributor to global warming and a poster child for excess and material possessions. We are responsible for the direct decimation of many natural resources in our country as well as in other developing nations that are trying to satisfy our demands as consumers. Thomas Berry lamented this concern by describing the west as having “ushered in social and environmental injustice”.
    Now more than ever with the economy in shambles, and the earth headed for a collision course with destruction it is time to celebrate the earth and the bounty it brings us. As natural resources dwindle, a world without excess will be instrumental to our protecting our environment and improving our way of life.

    • Eloquently said, Anedra! Out of the recognition of our responsibility for what went wrong, my hope is that we can things around and make a priority of “celebrating the earth”, as you indicate, and design human communities without excess– but with a quality of life that is gauged on more than dollars. Thank you fro your insightful comment!

  4. As I looked at the differences in the Native American and European cultures and saw its impact on the environment I realized that it could be as simplistic as this. The Europeans preferred contact with one another and the Native Americans preferred to not interact with each other. The Native Americans did not have a sense of ownership, while the Europeans needed property to gain respect and wealth. Both the Europeans and the Native Americans believed in a higher power, but the Europeans were monotheistic and the Native Americans were polytheistic. The Europeans were future oriented and the Native Americans were present oriented. The Native Americans were attuned to the spirit of nature while the Europeans were oblivious to it. Finally, the Native Americans had a strong belief in creating harmony with nature as opposed to the Europeans who belief was conquest over nature. These differences in their cultural beliefs determined how the individuals and groups behaved toward our environment. This cultural diversity between the Europeans and the Native cultures impacted the social, economic, and spiritual views, which in turn impacted the environment.

    These basic differences have made all the difference in how we (Europeans) have managed to become “exiled from our true country”. I found it interesting how Thomas Berry took this down to its simplistic form when he placed the cultural emphasis on the Christian belief of the hereafter and the Native American’s earth centered beliefs. These two opposing ideas are still in play today as we work to created political policies that will both take care of the environment and take care of mankind. Unfortunately economic change drives the environmental policy decisions. They can be grassroots in nature and can have an agenda of anthropocentrism or an agenda that is biocentric. It may be too idealist to hope that mankind would agree with Thomas Berry to create policies that would understand that “human rights do not cancel earth rights” so we can continue to exist and not be exiled from our “true country”. The Cap and Trade bill currently being bantered about is an example of the disparity in beliefs and the need to take care of the environment yet ensure that the people’s economic needs are cared for too – can we do both? That is a question that I have been struggling with and hopefully the leaders in countries other than the United States are struggling with too.

    • Thoughtful overview of contrasting worldviews here, Elizabeth. Though things might be just a bit more complex than that: e.g. many indigenous peoples have a concept of a creator AND a sense of spirit in much of natural life. I think we can also contrast these in terms of their long term results. It is my hope that current crises like climate change– which effects all humans– will guide policy beyond the goal of short term profit and back to the grounds we depend upon for survival. Worldview plays a central part here–as Walter Wink has noted, worldviews are seldom challenged from the inside– by those who hold them– as long as they appear to work for the ones who hold them. In this sense, our current crises might wake us up to the ways in which the modern industrial worldview is not working to gain our long term survival.
      Peter deFazio (Eugene congressman– I don’t know where you live) has an excellent overview critique of cap and trade based on problems with the European version we don’t to repeat: http://www.eugeneweekly.com/2009/06/18/views1.html
      This is one bottom line in evaluating any worldview– does it allow us to learn from our past mistakes?
      I do think we could use some “interest-based” rather than positional negotiation strategies. The former focuses on shared concerns as opposed to taking a position that squares off against another position.
      Thanks for your comment.

  5. I love those moments when in the hustle and bustle of my day I find a sudden calm and wonder at the natural environment around me. It can be the sunshine on my face, a rainbow in the sky or the simplicity of a flower. In these moments of awe I feel such a profound appreciation for my creator, both for the gift of my life and the wonders of the natural world. I think that appreciation for different life forms is as important as recognizing the gift of our own existence, Appreciation for the simply things in life is something that I think is far too much pushed to the side in today’s society. To quote the essay “But humans should become intimate with the larger story of nature that both gave them life and interwove all lives in its vast cosmic story.” I can’t agree more with Berry here. I think keeping that perspective keeps us humble, reminds us that the gift of life surrounds us and that we should never take life for granted or disrespect any form of it.

    • Hi Anna, thanks for your comment. Some lovely reflections on personal experience here. It is only our loss, as you indicate, if we fail to appreciate (and by extension, care for) such gifts as come to us from the natural world.

  6. What a great perspective! I agree that many people take advantage of the Earth and nature. Not all in one specific way either. Some may purposely choose to take advantage of the things that are available to us. Others may use scientific advance for grounds of disrespecting or hurting nature. I find the western views take advantage of nature greatly in present time. I know that simplicity and respect for mother Earth is extremely important in some other cultures, especially Asian religion. I also was thinking about what was here first, depending on what theory is true of course. If Earth was present first, which makes most sense, then I believe it embodies a full sense of spirit and should be taken care of. The most influential part of this essay was the last quote. “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” I wish that more people would take this perspective into account. I was just talking to someone today about consumerism and the effect it has on our Earth. It is actually quite sad.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lorena. We might want to redefine “advance” if we are using science to destroy the sources upon which life depends for support! I like this idea of living within a circle of subjets as well. I couldn’t agree with you more on the issue of consumerism. And you raise on interesting point in terms of the earth’s being our “elder” in a sense: certainly it was the cradle in which we grew to be human.

  7. I think this article was interesting, however, I do disagree with its interpretation of Judeo-Christian worldview. I think Berry has a point in referring to Christians as not living up to their ecological obligations, but I do not believe that this is a result of Bible doctrine. For instance, as discussed in the Yale Ecology Forum about Christian and Judaic views, many themes exist throughout the Bible teaching environmental and ecological preservation. I, therefore do not agree that it is the Christian teaching that “sees humans as standing over and apart from creation as a collection of objects–and licenses so much destruction as a result,” but rather this is a result of a misuse and misinterpretation by Christians on the stewardship of their environment. Thus, I don’t think that Judeo-Christian worldviews allow misuse of the environment, but rather imperfect Christian and Judaic individuals who are lacking in either education on environmental values or Bible doctrine. I identify myself as having strong Christian values, and I have met many outstanding Christian people who have a great love and concern for the environment and its preservation.

    • Hi Kristen, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Obviously Berry does not believe that ALL Christian doctrine has this problem, since Berry himself is informed by Christian theology– but we cannot deny that there are some who insist on Christianity as a doctrine of human domination over nature. Your view, Berry’s, and the Yale Forum approach are different. It was important for Berry to critique the misuse of his own tradition as a force for domination. You will see many strongly environmentalist forms of Christianity expressed in links on this website–and check out the reading for the first choice points assignment. I think it might be of interest to you.

      • Thank you for clarifying this! As I was reading the article, I assumed that the Bible doctrine, as well as all Christian attitudes was being critiqued. I do agree that there is a strong cause for concern among some Christian circles who do interpret the stewardship view as a force for domination, as you state. I just have always understood this to be a misinterpretation of Christianity, or perhaps a rationalization to further allow an improper hierarchy of human domination over nature.

  8. I find Thomas Berry’s philosophy refreshing. I don’t often see the clashing values of Western Christianity and more nature oriented, or even Eastern values, being reconciled like Berry has. At this initial encounter of his work I am compelled to agree. His call to take a more earth-centered philosophy is ringing out loud and clear these days, as people are finally catching on. Something more surprising is his call for resolutions towards indigenous people. I found this surprising because it is counter to the typical attitude of Christianity in our modern world (which I think is often aggressively evangelical). In this way Berry is also a symbol of the diversity of peoples and a reminder that social labels should only be taken at face value.

    His concept of ‘earth others’ is spot on, in my opinion. It is an idea that gives preservation and conservation a more personal feel, so that maybe people will think about the Golden Rule being applied to not just other people but to the ‘earth others’ as well, when they make decisions with environmental impacts.

    • Thank you for your comment, Michael. I do agree that Berry’s work is a work of reconciliation in precisely the way that you indicate. An essential point! Good point about indigenous ideas. Though aggressively (and destructively) missionary work has ravaged indigenous culture–thus the Seattle archdiocese has recently issued a public apology to indigenous peoples for the destructive consequences of Northwest missionary activity. At the same time, there have been Christians who have worked for indigenous rights worldwide (as in liberation theology practiced by priests in Latin America, some of which fostered the recent protests of the indigenous women of Chiapas to gain their rights.
      Great point about social values. I like the way you put your point about “earth others” as well!

  9. I like Berry’s philosophy. We need to respect the earth in such a way that it will continue to provide for us. We have been abusing it for to long. As you stated, “But for Berry humans are an inescapable part of an earth community …..” For too long we have thought of ourselves as a “separate” part of the natural world, not realizing we are in it, and what we do has an affect on the whole.

  10. I believe that part of what Berry was implying through his work was that it was the rise of Christianity as well as the rise of societies that has led us to our belief in domination over the earth. In his “Twelve Principles” (http://www.astepback.com/12principles.htm) Berry outlines the rise of man, noting that it was during the time of Classical Civilizations that our alienation from the earth began. Religion was a major aspect of this time that enforced not only domination over nature, but also domination over other people. This mentality was brought to the New World with the missionaries who in turn dominated over the natives and in some ways, attempted to disconnect them from nature. So, while domination over nature may not be a Christian ideal these days, it has its roots in it since religion controlled our world and societies for many generations.

    I also believe that his work also implies the role that Christians can have in healing this disconnect with the natural world. Many Christians I know are astounded by what their God has provided for them and with that realization can come the desire to save and protect what He has so generously given to them. While the Christian ideals may have become warped by domination, they can now heal through appreciation and reverence. An example is in Berry’s twelfth principle in which he states that “the newly developing ecological community needs a mystique of exaltation and finds it in the renewal of the great cosmic liturgy.” While I am not a religious person, I do find it interesting that Berry was attempting to find a way to encourage ecocentrism through theology. In today’s world, nature needs all the help that it can get, regardless of religious belief or socio-economic status since we are, essentially, all in the same boat here.

    • A thoughtful response: thanks for the link, Bekah. There is other scholarship (see Matthew Fox’s work) that indicates that early Christianity (the oral tradition, not necessarily the Church hierarchy) was much more eco-friendly–and that it got off balance (and off its true task) when church authorities began to ally themselves with empires of various sorts.
      I certainly agree that “nature needs all the help it can get”– or perhaps we might say that we need all the help we can get in learning our true place and responsibility on this earth.

    • Hello Bekah, I just went over these principles again and Berry doesn’t mention Christianity as being implicated in the wrong turn in history here– instead he attributes this to technological-industrial civilization (and the kind of science that it does). I think that we must be careful in attributing the problem with human distancing from nature to ALL Christianity as anything Berry ever said or implied. In parallel fashion, Berry sees hope for new science, even though it was a particular kind of science that aided our break from the natural world. Berry expresses the hope that both Christianity and science will get back on track in helping us heal the rift between humans and nature. You might temper your own historical analysis by noting that “religion” did not arise with industrial civilization– though the affiliation of Christian Church hierarchy with empire was a powerful component of this age, I think we might say that this was a sign that Christianity lost touch with its own roots in a tragic and destructive way. Even in this shift not ALL Christians followed suit in supporting the breach between humans and nature. As Matthew Fox points out, there was a strong counter-tradition that ran parallel to this tragedy of Christian history.
      Thanks for the comment once again.

  11. July 22nd 10:27 p.m. pacific time

    The nature of Judeo-Christian beliefs is based on natural “domination” and calls for humans to be the the pinnacle of the universe. This statement must not be taken as a stab at the Christian religion because Biblical teachings are ones that call for kindness, joy, and generosity. It is often hard to debate something that is based upon perspective and interpretation of the individual. But in general, I feel that love for all other forms of nature, life, and universe are not emphasized in Judeo-Christian beliefs. This comment is backed up by Berry stating that Christianity…too often places Christians in “a state of exile from our true country”, in that “the natural world is little mentioned”. I see a great paradox through the fact that many religions teach about loving everyone and everything, yet many of the followers “destroy the modes of divine presence” in nature because they do hold certain aspects of nature paramount. It is in fact taught, in Christianity that all animals, plants, and other earthly phenomena exist for human gain.
    I enjoyed Berry’s organization of the rights of plants, animals, and other earthly phenomena. It is a nice way of explaining to other humans that rights exist for humans and therefore should exist for all other phenomena of the earth. He also makes an interesting point about the ownership of rights. He states that the rights of rivers, trees, humans, insects, etc. are not in competition with each other, but an expression of the interdependent cycle of life.” I agree wholeheartedly with this thought and believe that humans are given an opportunity to bear witnesses to the universe’s greatness and respect it. We are a product of the universe not the pinnacle of it.

    • Hello Shamon, thanks for your personal response. It is obvious that you have considered these points thoroughly. Being the pinnacle of creation, as you put it, means different things to many Christians. If it meant what you express here, we might not be in the midst of the ecological crisis we are now suffering.

  12. I really enjoyed reading Berry’s viewpoint on the earth. As a fellow Christian, I agree with him that historically the Judeo-Christian outlook has been more in line with colonialism and conquering the earth rather than respecting and caring for it. I have been really pleased to see the increase in Christian interest and participation in the environmental movement over the past few decades.

    While he made some interesting points about respecting all of nature and that they have rights too, I’m not sure I agree entirely with him. I agree that a river deserves our respect and I think we are foolish to try and control one by dams and levees so that we can live in a floodplain. I’m just not sure my perspective swings over as far as his that the river has a right to be there.

    I also agree with him that we should make sure Native Americans have the resources they need to be able to continue to worship as they had in the past. I think our government is very slowly moving towards that goal.

    All in all, a very interesting article and Berry’s views definitely stretched my framework.

  13. The fact that Thomas Berry was a Catholic Priest automatically gives readers a sense of his authority and makes him a reputable representative of the Catholic faith/worldview. However, “Thomas Berry’s philosophy was strikingly immanent and earth-centered,” unlike the “all too prevalent Judeo-Christian [worldview] that sees humans as standing over and apart from creation.” Christianity and Catholicism are very similar. They even share the same holy book: The Bible. From my studies of the Bible, I’ve found that Thomas Berry’s worldview differs from a biblical worldview. Holding to the belief of evolution, his “universe story” directly opposes a universe created by a God. The “universe story” that the Bible tells is found in Genesis 1. I also noticed that his idea about all living things, even plants and animals, having a soul is very unbiblical. I say this because I don’t want any readers to think that Thomas Berry’s worldview is an accurate representation of what the Bible proclaims just because he is a Catholic priest.

    I do agree, mostly, with Berry’s value of granting all of life the right to life. I think that our society should start taking care of God’s creation once again, as was deemed one of our jobs in the beginning. The Earth was handed to us to watch over it. It does not belong to us.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for sharing your thoughtful personal response. There is a good deal of diversity in biblical interpretation– based on both changing cultural values and new knowledge about the language and context in which the different parts of the bible were written. Berry’s view actually has a good many Christians behind it– as does yours as well.

  14. Thomas Berry sounds like one of those important figures that only come along every so often. In a sense, we as people of our world need a wake-up call every so often to remind us of our morals, values, and justices. We tend to get all tangled up in our everyday routine that we forget how our actions are affecting the world around us and Mr. Berry seemed to be that wake-up call in such a time. He reminded us that we need to co-exist and let the habitat around us fulfill their roles. I think the belief that the world and nature exist for itself and not for humans is one of the most important key points of this article. It really puts a finger directly on the idea that abusing nature is just as wrong as using a fellow human for personal gain.

    • Thoughtful comment, Trevor. I agree that Thomas Berry was the kind of thinker with the vision to give us a “wake up call”. I like your own view of the justice we should express in sharing our lives with earth’s others.

  15. We really are insignificant compared to the grand scheme of the universe, aren’t we? I mean, we’re all just living on a tiny speck in the middle of a vast universe and we’ve only been around for a brief instant compared to how long it has existed, and yet we are so completely full of ourselves that we claim to have control of all existence. The natural world most definitely has its own story, and we humans are merely an afterthought rather than the main focus. We are here to observe and appreciate nature, rather than use it to our own frivolous means. Even the most influential people in our limited history have barely accomplished anything on the grand scale of the universe, yet most people instinctively work towards gathering more material objects and taking as much from the natural world as possible. It’s almost as if the only influence we can really have is with future generations, so it would only make sense to try to keep the world as pristine as possible…

    • Great perspective about our own position in time and space, Daniel. The think that expands our being is our interconnections to all of this. There was an ancient (Chinese) saying that a man lives as long as he can remember in the past and be remembered in the future. You have something about those who will inherit our earth: they expand who we are–and we, in turn, should be passing on an earth that allows them to live to their fullest potential.

  16. I like this essay because it really expresses that humans are just part of a biotic community. We aren’t meant to rule over nature, but instead to appreciate and participate. I think that if we take our role as active participants in this biotic community we can learn much from our non-human companions.

  17. I agree with Thomas Berry’s views that humans should recognize obligations to the native peoples. They are the ancestors that have previously taken care of this planet. It is with loss of respect for them that the world is beginning to desintegrate around humankind currently. With the loss of the value towards the indigenous people, Western views have grown destructive. It is also important, as Berry stressed, that humans take an earth-centered stance, instead of a self-centered stance like many Western cultures do now. If people were to consider the effect had on all species, instead of personal benefits, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

    • Hi Katie, I agree that the world would not only be a more peaceful-but thriving–place if we considered the effects of our actions on all species. Thanks for your comment.

  18. I am so glad that there are people like Thomas Berry in positions of power who understand the importance of respecting nature. It is so crucial that we stop looking at the world as something to dominate and begin to understand that we depend on it as much as it depends on us. I especially liked his noninterference philosophy in the treatment of nature and all creatures, including humans. Other organisms should have the right to live their natural lives without us destroying their habitats or controlling what they do. This reminded me of the way that food animals are raised in America. Not only are they eventually killed for our benefit (and not respected in the ways of the indigenous peoples) but they are made to live very unnatural lives in cages with concrete floors and very little space. There is a certain set of behaviors that each species of animals exhibits, called their “telos,” and in such environments animals cannot practice these behaviors. I believe that at the very least animals should be able to perform their natural behaviors while they are being raised. We need to stop believing that all animals and plants are put on the earth for human benefit alone because that philosophy is destroying the natural world and creatures therein that we depend on.

    • Hi Lauren, I concur both about Thomas Berry’s work and about the rights of those of other species who share our lives and support the on earth. Certainly it is a form of cruelty, as you point out, not to let animals live out their natural behaviors. So better for us and better for them, for instance, to eat eggs from free range chickens and pastured milk cows (neither need the high dosage of antibiotics necessary to keep confined animals healthy–which should tell us something right there).

  19. How refreshing to hear a Catholic priest that believed too much emphasis was placed on getting to the pearly gates. I think that licenses way too much ignorant behavior in the here and now world. It’s the time-travel version of the NIMBY attitude.
    And then to hear that he subscribes to the ecofeminist idea that the historical domination of women and the domination of nature are related! I love this guy! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him before.
    I really like his statement of the individual rights of all earthly subjects as unique, and thus not in competition with each other. It’s an obvious connection, but one that I’d never put together before. Rather than a blanket of rights considered identical, we have a myriad of rights woven into a quilt, in which each being is respected in exactly the way they should be. And all yet another expression of our inderdependence. Absolutely beautiful.

  20. I always like reading about people who actively live what they believe in, and this article is no exception. Here’s what I heard in this article: Thomas Berry was a lover of the natural world who came from a Christian worldview/philosophy. He developed an earth-centered philosophy because he saw that we are only a part of the total earth system that God has made. He believed that all creatures are especially created by God, are “modes of divine presence,” and that all creatures are interdependent on each other, including, of course, humanity. He thought that all beings have rights–to existence, to live in its own habitat, and to fulfill the role God had created it for. Berry saw that each living being had a soul, not just people. And the part of his philosophy that I responded to the most: he thought that each unique being has its own story that is an important part of the tapestry of the story of the universe. I really love that image!

    I’d just like to make one personal comment on this article. As a person born and raised in the U.S., I was exposed to Christianity from an early age. My family did not actively attend church when I was young, but when I was older I decided to explore the Christian religion. I was an active member of a church for several years. I have now moved past that phase in my spiritual walk and continue to explore spirituality and my own unique relationship to the divine. Though I don’t necessarily consider myself exclusively a Christian anymore, it bothers me when anyone applies a blanket statement to an entire group of people. For example, a stereotype has developed about Christianity that it is a judgmental religion, as historically, some groups of Christians have taken it upon themselves to stand in judgment over other groups of people. I think it is sad that those people have created such a negative stereotype of Christianity. That attitude of judgment is not found in the Bible, but is an invention of people who want to feel better about themselves by putting other people down.

    I think the same principle is true of the statements in the article about the Judeo-Christian worldview of dominance/control and exploitation of the earth. Certainly there have been people of the Christian faith that have exhibited those actions. But to characterize the entire religion from the actions of those people, I think, is wrong. I think if we are going to become a true global community, we need to move past those kinds of negative stereotypes and emphasize the more open and loving and giving aspects of each others religions/lifestyles/worldviews. After all, perception is reality. As I read the Bible, I tend to see more of the environmental principles that Berry developed in his philosophy, and I certainly think that if we are going to be able to integrate into a truly global community those principles of acceptance and love of all creatures will be the ones that will be more successful in moving us toward that goal.

    • Great restatement of the points in this article, Jennifer. I like your point about living what you believe.
      I think it is also important to have a sense both of the diversity between Christians– and the misuse of religion to support things like political and economic interests.
      It would not be right to stereotype ALL Christians as having a domination view of the earth. Note that this is NOT what Berry writes: he does take to task those who specifically express this view.
      Thoughtful response.

  21. This essay really sheds light on the positive enflux of people to the Americas. Because there was no stopping the immigration, at least there was a minority, if not a larger following behind Thomas Berry, that laid down the boundaries that were not to be carelessly overstepped. Berry has impressed in my mind, that he was a intuitive priest, not only with his God, but how the “divine spirits” really were materialized into the wildlife he saw in this New World. Even if Berry derived his guidelines from his religion and its manifestation in America, his principles can be translated as general kindness and consideration. “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence to be themselves.” Berry still spoke in our western tongue, one’s right to their land and how it is sustained, and it is still a statement that we can understand and respect.

    Our first step may be making contact again with the First Peoples of this land to teach us how we can make the earth whole again, like Berry witnessed in the 1900’s.

    • Very thoughtful perspective here, Jessica, in terms of First Peoples and the ability of some (perhaps the land itself has a hand in teaching this) to think/act beyond the Western industrial worldview. Thanks for your comment. Jeremy FiveCrows (on the Intertribal Columbia Fishing Commission) says that you don’t have to be indigenous to listen to the land– but that indigenous peoples have a 10,000 year head start on this issue. The Commission works with the entire local community on restoration and care for river systems and salmon.

  22. Mr Berry sounded like he was a man who knew the true value of diversity, both in the human world as well as the natural world. He understood that everything is intertwined, the natural world, religion, human everyday life, etc, and that to ignore one portion would be detrimental to the other portions. He stated that we need to “present ourselves to the planet as it presents itself to us”, in that the earth is open and vulnerable at times, and we need to treat the earth’s vulnerablility as we would a person who is vulnerable, with compassion and sensitivity, not in a spirit of “you are vulnerable, now I can take advantage of you.” He also seemed to realize the importance of religious variation. While he was catholic, he did not just dismiss the beliefs of others, rather he embraced them, probably because he knew how important his religious beliefs were to him, so it would not be right to forget how other beliefs, even though he may not totally agree with them, are to other cultures and peoples. He seemed to be a very wise man.

    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. Great points about the values expressed here: diversity, interdependence–and your insights on vulnerability.
      You have made a solid case about his wisdom, I think. I for one think we could use a bit more of this kind of wisdom.

  23. In Genesis 1:26 it is written that God created man and that he shall rule over all creation. I think Thomas Berry had a good interpretation of the role that this would take. A ruler that squanders quickly looses that which he rules. A ruler that plays the role of steward of what he rules will reap rewards. I thought this was a good place to bring up the point that “we should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” There is a divine appeal that charges humans as the steward of creation, lest we squander it.

    • Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment. There are actually many translations and interpretations of those words from Genesis– not all of them come out with man as ruler of rather than partner within the community of creation.
      I do think you have a point that more power certainly implies more responsibility–and it is self-defeating to use our power in an authoritarian way. Your last sentence is well said, I think.

  24. First of all I would like to express my sadness and joy. Sadness for the passing of this man and joy that there are still great thinkers in an organization with such far reaching influence. I really enjoyed reading this essay for couple reasons. It gave me the opportunity to think about nature from a Theologians point of view. Also it really makes me think about logic and how logic applies to thinking about nature.
    I have to say that I really respect and agree with Berry’s view on how we should see nature. To me he is preaching to the choir however I am sure that in his organization he received much criticism. His opinion that everything has three essential rights and that we should be a “witness” to the universe really exemplify his ideas. His idea that we are here to be part of the earth and the processes within it and not here just to use the resources for our needs.
    The essay states that Berry noted “not a single species on earth nourishes itself”. This statement really seemed get me thinking in a logical way. If no species nourishes itself then we are all dependent on others for our survival. The hard part is seeing the sources that we get our nourishments from. It is easy to see that we get food from the sea and the fields. It is not as easy to see how the things that we put in the air affect not only the air but the water and all of us. Seeing that we are all interconnected is logical. I think that is what Berry was trying to do, he was trying to get us to see the logic.

    • Thank you for your comment, Zane. I very much like your approach in perceiving the logic here. You have profound points regarding the reasoning that reveals our interdependence in natural cycles– some of which are less visible to us than others in modern industrial society–and the human place in the universe. We not only ravage the very gifts that bring us life when we treat nature consumer as something there simply to feed our greed; we make ourselves small indeed compared to what we might be if we stepped up to the responsibility of our place in the natural order of things.

  25. The fact that Thomas Berry was a Catholic Priest and theologian and yet saw that the Christian faith did not put hardly any emphasis on the importance of the natural world was a very admirable aspect of him. It was admirable because it is not too often that you hear of a theologian pointing out the lacking of his own religion. He clearly felt that the natural world needed to be addressed as a vital part of our everyday lives and that there should be more awareness on the subject. One point that really stuck out to me was his idea that every single living thing had their own rights within the world. His ideas did not just support the sustainability of humans, but of animals, plants, rivers, and all other aspects of nature–all of which were entitled to their own rights. If we want to maintain and continue on having all of these parts of nature then we must understand our rights and the limitations that should be enforced.

    Berry also made a significant point that conveyed the importance of humans taking on the role of “advocates” towards the earth rather than controlling it and abusing the resources that are available to us. That point really stuck with me as I was reading this article because it pinpoints exactly what we as humans are doing wrong in sustaining our world. It has become a part of our society to live with this kind of superiority complex over everything else in the world and that in turn is destroying everything that we are so fortunate to have obtained from nature itself. We are not better than nature in any way whatsoever; in fact nature has a powerful grip over us and could destroy us with its natural phenomenon. That is why maintaining a balanced relationship with the earth is so important–if we take care it then it will take care of us. Thomas Berry sounded a great man for all of his efforts to gain a better awareness of the natural world and hopefully his work will continue to influence more people trying to understand how to make our world a better place.

    • Hi Erin, thanks for your comment. It does take courage and personal authenticity to critique that which is closest to oneself– whether that be religion or one’s culture and economic or political system. What Thomas Berry did, I think, was go back to the roots of Catholicism and untangle them from their unfortunate knots in Western cultural institutions. Berry’s work is profound, but he is not alone. There are the “liberation theologists”, for instance, who found Christianity as a motive for working to create self-determination for poor and oppressed populations everywhere.
      But what is most striking about Berry’s work to me, as intimated by your analysis, is not that he as a theologian, but that his analysis offers a conceptual model for treating the natural environment that is based on the linkage of science and ethics.

  26. Thomas Berry was obviously one of a kind. He was a Catholic priest, yet admitted there were things to learn from indigenous people that was lacking within the Christian faith. This was a shocking concept when I read this article. The Catholic priests I have come into contact with tend to be arrogant, all knowing, and certainly not admitting there is anything the Christian faith can learn from anyone else, let alone indigenous people. Berry didn’t seem to allow his faith to get in the way of knowledge and belief other possibilities, specifically “nature as imbued with spirit in that it was the cradle of life (and he saw everything that lived as having a soul)”. That was wonderful! It saddens me greatly he is no longer with us. I am just appreciative knowing he was in this world for a while.

    • Hi Christy, thanks for this comment. Berry was not only in this world with us, his words remain. I think it is hopeful to remember that Christianity (and the Catholocism of those priests whose arrogance you were sadly subject to) is varied. There are those who argue, as do the “liberation theologists”, that real Christianity impels us to see our world with love–and our place in it with solidarity for those who suffer injustice. And the recent pope has declared it a “sin” to denigrate the natural world that is a gift of its Creator.

  27. I think Berry was brave to speak his thoughts and beliefs publicly. Especially when he states that he believes that wrongs must be corrected when it comes to Native Americans: honor their traditions and allow them the land and independence to be themselves. He has wise council for us. I agree with the 3 rights of all Earth others, and that one’s rights do not cancel out another’s. This speaks about acceptance, tolerance, and ending the oppression and dominance of others. All positive things that would benefit all how share the earth.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Erin. Standing on our moral values does take courage– but the rewards we receive as a result are immense. I can imagine no greater results for humans and the earth we share than, as you put it, “ending the oppression and dominance of others.” Thanks for your comment.

  28. I found this article very interesting and applicable to our lives only if we humans can simply change our ideals first. Thomas Berry did leave us with a lot to think about. As youngsters we were taught the golden rule of “do on to others as you wish them to do onto you”. Berry simply implied this same rule, but he altered it to how we as humans should perceive nature; “do onto nature as you wish nature to do onto you.” His three essential rights theory was very interesting because it was simple in context, yet if applied, could do so much for biodiversity on this earth. Western thinkers for many generations and still to this day pay little homage towards nature, focusing more on consumption and hierarchal power over environmental needs. Incorporating Thomas Berry’s simple rights theory would not only boost our environmental equality among all of earth’s inhabitants, it would assist our needs of sustainability for our future generations to be able to embrace nature as well. Our cultural dominance over the natural world has served nature a complete injustice and it’s only humans who have the ability to initiate the change. In order for any environmental change to come to existence, humans need to first examine their own values and deem their actions ecologically friendly or not. Thomas Berry would conclude this as humans needing to limit their own rights, in order to recognize the rights of all life. I just wonder how many humans are willing to give up some of those necessities we have spoiled ourselves with that aren’t beneficial towards the environment.

    • Thoughtful post with some well taken points, Matt. It would be hopeful indeed if we assumed these attitudes (and the actions that go with them). This would only do both the natural world that sustains and humans living upon it good.
      I think part of giving up “necessities” is defining what we really need (and even want) and what we don’t need at all– in fact, which satisfies only the desire to make money on the part of certain corporations. And I certainly don’t think it gives us a satisfying or meaningful life.

  29. I really enjoyed reading this article, it made me think a lot and realize how precious our universe is. It brought up a lot of questions that arise regarding my own life, and how each one of us should respect the world we live in so much more. I know I take things for granted, and this article made me realize I need to not take everyday things I am use to for granted, and I need to cherish the things I do have. And when I say cherish the things I do have, I don’t mean the material things I do have, I mean the roof over my head, the family that loves me, and the food I am provided to eat. I think one thing in this article that really stood out to me was the ending words of Berry with ““The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” Thus meaning that we need to realize that our universe is not just a bunch of objects that are in it, our universe is much more than that. Our universe is a community of subjects living in it to survive off the land that was provided to us. This brings me to the thinking that I would really say that the Indigenous people of this world truly respect and cherish the land that they live in for what it is worth. They do this because this is how they survive, they live off the land, they survive off the land, the land provides their food, and this is a way of life. I personally need to realize this in my own life. An example of this is, if I want corn to eat for dinner I got to the grocery store and get the corn to eat. An Indigenous person would think 8 months in advance about the corn crop they need to plant just in order to eat corn later on in the year. This is with anything we as American’s take things very much for granted and we need to change our ways to preserve and respect the land in which we live in.

    • Thanks for your response, Jose. I like the idea of the universe as a community of subjects as well: too often we see the world around us just as a collection of objects for our use, rather than with the reverence and thanksgiving we owe to life–and to those things we value beyond any monetary price.
      You also bring up a key point about the relationship between the intimacy with nature and respecting and caring for it. This is why I think it is so important to give our children a chance to bond with natural.

  30. What an incredible article. Thomas Berry’s sincerity and connection to earth is so refreshing and unique. For so long I had seen white men disregarding nature as nothing more than a chance to plunder her for unlimited resource consumption. Now that I have read this I am curious to learn more about him and his work. I wonder what in his life helped him to develop his eco enlightenment? How was he able to embrace the true wisdom of Isa and his teachings of reverence to our Earth and Earth Mothers?

    • Hi Val, thanks for the feedback. And in answer to your question, there is and has been a strong trend toward social justice and earth-centered views in Catholocism– as well as the unfortunate (from my perspective) entanglement of the church in Western cultural institutional views of domination that contradicted its own values. Liberation theology, for instance, has deep roots in Christian thinking–and priests influenced by this theology were largely responsible for encouraging the indigenous women of Central Mexico who recently asserted their leadership and rights.
      This is heartening to me!

  31. Thomas Berry had an interesting perspective on Earth, and one that I deeply admire. Being a Catholic priest as he was, somewhat surprises me. If I might boldly write, too many a time have I crossed paths with religious individuals whose insights rendered only hypocrisy and arrogance. I am thrilled to read that Berry differed greatly from my stereotype, as I suppose I should call it.

    “When we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” I love that… even if I personally doubt the existence of any invisible divine presence. If I was to believe in anything sacramental or devout, it would indeed be within nature, or “the living forms of this planet” (save human life), that my spiritual beliefs would reside. And if this is the way some religious people must look at nature in order to respect and protect her, then I will embrace that gladly and respect them full-heartedly.

    The fact that Berry insisted that all earth others (not merely plants and animals but natural landscape features like rivers) have the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community”, forces me to respect him further still. The claim that “human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state” is a statement I have heard myself voice in so many words within my own head. I am relieved to know that there ARE a many more individuals whom share my such thoughts.

    This article reminded me of a moment I had with a high school government teacher of mine. A rather religious man he was, and whose many opinions with which I disagreed. There was a time after class, he decided to speak to me of God and my views on the wilderness which I had expressed in writing assignments. I had told him that I did not believe in God… or any such thing that could not be supported by science. He then asked me how I could then refer to the earth as “her” or “she”; he asked me how I could personify the earth as a woman if I was not able to believe in Him, for he attempted to tell me that I was being hypocritical… in so many words. That is, he was saying I was doing the same thing by referring to Earth (something un-living and not visibly personified, but by faith) as possessing characteristics that discern it as being a real individual… and female, as he was by referring to something unseen but by faith, as rendering characteristics that would distinguish it as being a real individual… and male.

    I suppose what he failed to realize was that my view on Earth and the wilderness related not at all to his view on God. Even though I DO refer to the earth, the wilderness as being feminine, I have a far stronger basis for it than did he by referring to God as being male… or REAL at all. That is, the earth and wilderness can be SEEN… it is a tangible thing and it is an obvious supporter, as well as CREATOR, of LIFE, for the earth herself bore plant-life (bearer of life, hence female), from which all other life has been made possible. God cannot be seen and is NOT an obvious creator of life but by the standards of religious faith, the Holy Bible, a man-written book. And “He” is only personified as being male due to the clerical idea that “He” desired to create man from “His” image.

    Even theologian, Berry saw nature as “the cradle of life”. Such a perspective is not only supported by faith, however. There are plenty of scientific facts and/or hypotheses which support such ideas. Nevertheless, Berry’s visions on nature is, for lack of better words, utterly beautiful, regardless of my absence of religious faith. And I respect him completely for his spiritual philosophy, something I perhaps wish I could obtain more of for myself.

    • Thank your for sharing your personal stance here and your detailed response to Berry– your stance is something you have obviously thought much about, Cherisse. I think such deep personal reflection is a hallmark of authentic spirituality. You might be interested in my response to Val in this last comment with respect to Berry.
      It is all too true that many have hidden behind ideas of God to license their oppression of others: this is a great tragedy and the kind of thing that prompted the saying about both Buddha and Jesus that if they saw what had become of their teachings, they might say, “I am not a Christian”–or in Buddha’s case, “I am not a Buddhist”. It is always a difficulty when religious teachings get institutionalized into a rigid authority structure. I think indigenous societies are ahead of us in this realm of spiritual psychology, since they found Creator or spirit in the world through personal vision.

  32. Berry touches on a view of divinity and the nature of creation that I’m saddened isn’t more prevalent in modern western thought. That of the beauty of nature as a window to divinity. Surely there can be no greater worship of a Creator than responsible stewardship of their creation.

    Exile is an interesting word to describe the separation of man. Not a word I would have chosen to describe the rift in western thinking between man and nature, but now having seen it presented it seems reasonable to take the “self imposed” as implied. Another factor I think that plays in to this exile that was not mentioned is the very creation story of Genesis. That man is created last, separate, and in God’s image. Not only is man unique in being created he is invited to join in the creation process by naming the animals.

    In contrast to the views of the indigenous tribes of the Americas where tribal wisdom leads to better stewardship than cold, hard, emotionless science. The scientific view of man as just another species on par with and interdependent with all others leads better policy than the view of man a part and above.

    The death of a naturalist in priest’s clothing is a loss for all of us. God(s) willing the pendulum will swing back again to another golden age of church sponsored inquiry in to the world around us.

    • I agree with you that “there is no greater worship of a Creator” than a responsible life as a citizen of creation– I like this citizen idea a bit better than the stewardship idea which puts humans in the driver’s seat in managing more than human life. It is my opinion that we need a bit more humility–and that perhaps the arena we can best manage is our own.
      You have a thoughtful point that looking at the world with wonder and reverence leads us to better care for it.
      I do find it both heartening and hopeful that many religious leaders, including many Christian ones are hearkening to this call to honor creation. (There are some links to such groups and./or their leaders here).
      Thanks for your comment, Peter.

  33. I liked this article very much. I envisioned Thomas Berry frolicking in this dream world talking to the birds, the grass and the trees sort of like Snow White. I enjoyed pondering the quote, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” It seems as if we take so much away from the earth without giving thought to giving back to it.

    I agree halfway with his thoughts on nature having the right to exist, have a habitat and renew the earth as needed… however, I feel that humans cannot just “leave nature alone” to exist in it’s natural state because then we wouldn’t have human existence. This is sort of where I thought his ideas crossed over into unattainable boundaries by which he thought human nature should act toward nature.

    • Hi Katy, thanks for your comment. It is only in a dualistic world that we have an either/or relationship choice with the natural world– either we control it or leave it alone entirely. In a non-dualistic or interdependent world, there are reciprocal relationships between all the lives in an ecosystem. Can you see a distinction between “leaving nature alone” and developing a partnership with it that respects nature for its intrinsic values?

  34. It is great that a spiritual leader has propagated a view of nature and spirituality that is in accordance with the Native American perspective. A few years ago it occurred to me that Christians should be on the environmental bandwagon in a major way as people that profess to love the creations of “God”. Indeed, Christians are a major element of the organized population and if one could organize them then the environmental movement would certainly take off in a major way. I wondered how to achieve this and simultaneously why other Christians or leaders did not think of this. It lightens my spirit to know of this great man who stated such holy views on things and essentially made Christianity a wonderful thing for himself and others. If many spiritually organized leaders could put out such a view to their faith communities, the world would be in a better state. I must say that this article makes me a little sad though as well because it is clear to me that there are not many eco-Christians. Knowing that there are highly influential spiritual leaders who have tried “my idea” of organizing religous groups environmentally I must concurrently know that it has not worked well…For spiritual leaders to get the word out though, beautiful.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sky. I certainly agree on the importance of the intersection of Christian and indigenous views in terms of the environmental responsibility. I think you will find that there are more and more “eco-Christians”, just as there are more spokespersons in organized religions in general who are publicly speaking out for — check out some of the links here as well as the Forum on Religion and Ecology Readings. I think you can take even more heart that you are not alone in “your idea.”

      • I agree with you Sky, but like Madronna said, there are more of us “eco-Christians” out there than you realize. It’s certainly frustrating when most of what we see of Christianity is new church buildings, expensive cars and lot’s of talk about anything but current environmental issues. I like the way that Berry seemed unashamed of his Christian beliefs and his desires to see the Christian views and indigenous views joined together to create more harmony in nature. We are all created to live and function as one and I think that moving in a direction of codependency and respect for each of our “rights” as whatever we happen to be is an important part of that.

        • I like your perspective and obvious sense of empathy with other stances of environmental care here, Allysa. It is reassuring to know that there are many “eco-Christians” in our shared community–“eco-Christians” with a sense of compassion and interdependence. Thanks for your comment!

  35. Berry points out that the Judeo-Christain idea of man as the caretaker of all, is very flawed and does give a license for many abuses. When one starts to view themself as better than, then they tend to forget what it was like to be dominated. This accounts for many problems in many fields, from enviromental to personal aspects. I feel that Berry touch on very important issues concerning dualism, it is not a dualist world, but a world of one. All is connected and affects everything. A rock throw into a pond does not just disturb the surface, but everything in the pond from the top, to the bottom to the shore.

    • Thanks for your comment reminding us of the interdependence of the world we share, Adeena. Domination may look good to the dominator in the short-term, but historically, I have never seen it work out for the long-term. Indeed, I would go so far as to state that domination is ultimately self-destructive in an interdependent world.

  36. I really appreciate the idea of obtaining an earth-centered philosophy. While reading the article, I couldn’t help but cling to quotes such as, “inescapable part of the earth community,” and “we destroy the modes of divine presence.” I agree with Berry in that we have a national obligation to the native people that have sucessfully resided with nature for thousands of years. We do need to recognize the rights of the earth and accept that human rights do not negate these rights. Why not let the earth be our educator?

    • I appreciate the compassion as well as rationality in this comment, Dana. It seems like allowing the earth to be our teacher– especially considering that we have come to be human in the context of millions of years of natural history– seems like a wise course to follow indeed.

  37. What stood out the most to me was Barry’s idea that the world isn’t something that people should exploit, rather we are a part of the world and shouldn’t assume that we can take whatever we want from it. He explains this idea by saying, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship.” By getting past this idea of entitlement, perhaps we can learn to coexist with nature in a more partner-like way; having each side benifit.

    • You have an excellent point in noting the benefits of getting past our sense of entitlement in using up the natural world rather than finding our place within it– along with the responsibility this entails. I also hope that we can return to a sense of partnership to replace a dominating stance. I agree that this could benefit both ourselves and nature. Thanks for your comment, Travis.

  38. I find the ideas of Thomas Berry interesting, because he was a Christian and also had reverence for the natural world. I find it ironic that the Judeo-Christian view of nature seems to be one of the causes of our modern attitude of dispensability toward our environment. This is an apparently stark contradiction to the prevailing theme of the New Testament, considering that it teaches that the greatest of God’s commands is to “love one another.” How can this be accomplished by leaving future generations to inherit a planet void of its ability to support them? Allowing children to be born into a polluted and unlivable world, would appear to be a contradiction of the most foundational tenant in the New Testament.
    Since most Christian’s view this world as being destroyed soon in the Apocalypse, there seems no point in trying to save a planet that is scheduled to be ending soon. In fact, it would almost seem to be beneficial to Christians to hasten that planetary end, so that their rewards of salvation could be received as soon as possible. Yet, Thomas Berry was able to consolidate and balance all these seemingly contradictory elements of the Bible into a theologically sound and productive worldview. While it does indeed seem at times pointless to attempt to save a planet so blatantly experiencing decline, it is in the best interest of Christians to preserve Earth out of reverence for the creation that God made. For example, Acts 17:28 says “For in him we live and move and have our being.” This appears to imply that the very substance of the reality we inhabit is comprised of God. So therefore, by destroying it would be attempting to desecrate Divinity itself.

    • Hi Joshua, thanks for your thoughtful comment. This idea that the hand of the Divine exists everywhere in Creation and to despoil the earth is therefore a (perhaps the) worst sacrilege is an essential point of many eco-Christians today (see the online Forum on Religion and Ecology on this point).
      In my own thinking, I don’t see anywhere that true Christianity (my perspective) indicates we should just abandon ship when we have to live with the results of our own actions. This is spiritual cowardice as well as unethical behavior.
      Whereas we might attribute our ecological demise to Christian ideas, I see a different historical dynamic: a demise in true Christian values with the coming of dominating culture stemming from warfare and colonialism. That is, Christianity did not create this culture, but organized religion did sometimes attach itself to political and economic hierarchies– which caused it to lose sight of its own potential to speak in a critical way to those authorities– as does the liberation theology movement in Latin America, for instance.

  39. I really liked the quote “not a single species on earth nourishes itself”. This really puts things into perspective. This quote shows the importants humans should put on the natural world as a whole and to individual components of it. It sounds a little radical to give every plant or river its own rights. They are nourishment to us, and therefore needed to be consumed or harnessed. But, if we don’t recipricate our nourishment, or regulate how much we take, we are throwing off the balance for other linked species. Most everything can adapt to changes, but if we take or pollute something in nature too quickly, its unable to adapt or clean itself fast enough and we’ll no longer have its form of nourishment. I really like how Berry says that, “we should present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship.” It just makes sense to not destroy the things that keep you alive.

    • I like this quote from Berry as well, Benj. We all rely on nourishment from one another–and not only from human “others”. The reciprocity that Berry describes is key to the survival of all of us on our shared planet!

      • I agree completely. It reminds me of the statement that “one shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them.” I also remember from other required readings that as God created everything for our use, it is disrespectful to him to destroy what he has given us.

  40. “There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” I agree with this statement by Thomas Berry. We would have learned so much at an earlier time about living with the earth instead of controlling it if we were to pay attention to the people who were here before us. One thing that I appreciate about our school district is how students are taken on various trips to be a part of nature. To learn from it, respect it and take care of it. To also appreciate it. Nature’s classroom is an experience nobody can forget. I know both of my children have a stronger appreciation about nature now. Something that they would have never received in school back east.

    • I also like the word “courtesy” here in describing the relationship we should have with the earth that sustains us, Judilyn. As a parent, it must be gratifying to have their schools helping your children bond with the natural world. Thanks for your comment.

  41. A quote from Thomas Berry in this article that particularly hits home for me is that Christians place themselves in “a state of exile from our true country.” For the past decade I have considered myself to be on somewhat of a “spiritual journey”, and throughout this journey my inquiries into Christianity left me desiring something more tangible, something that I could experience here on Earth. I felt that I was not in my “true country.” I believe that the story of the universe is also my story, and like Thomas Berry, I have hope in those scientists that can abandon objectivity and tell the true story of nature. Maybe it was the need to “become intimate with the larger story of nature” that I felt was missing from my interpretation of Christianity. Besides the personal connection with this particular idea, the other thoughts of Thomas Berry presented in this article make for an inspirational perspective on the rights of nature that I think should be further explored and developed.

  42. “1. Rights originate where existence originates. That which determines existence determines rights.” This sums up everything Berry lays out for us in his earth-centered Rights for Nature. Rights originate where existence originates. In other words, the rights for one entity are different for another entity. These rights were decided when said entities entered existence.

    There are a few things I appreciate about Berry’s Rights for Nature. One is that the universe is the one who brought everything into existence. Not God. This allows non-religious people, such as myself, to be included in respecting and adhering to these rights. It doesn’t become apart of a belief system that not everyone is involved in. Furthermore, he doesn’t go into specifics when explaining individual right’s. All Berry has to say is that, “Rivers have river rights. Birds have bird rights. Insects have insect rights.” It just makes sense.

    When we combine the Rights for Nature with the idea and notion that all entities in this universe create a community, we start to see how fragile the balance is between human and nature.

    • Excellent point, Lincoln about existence and rights in nature. I think you are right that we need inclusive environmental philosophies–and not ones that exclude us since we are not part of one group or another. I appreciate your taking these ideas on their own terms rather than thinking they don’t apply to you since they were thought up by a priest. I think your last paragraph about the rights of nature and the community they create implies both the fragility of the natural community of which we are a part– and the power of that community as a whole.

  43. Thomas Berry seemed to be one of the forefathers of the current change in Chrisitian thought from human to ecosystem centered. I think that it is important for theologians to not only know about their own religions but understand other religions. It looks like Berry understood this in his study of eastern traditions. It is also not often that people recognize the support that nature gives to life as well as the destruction. I think that this is important to remember. Thomas Berry had the kind of thoughts that could bring harmony to much of the world.

    • I like to think of Thomas Berry as one of those leaders, Hannah, who could help us “bring harmony to much of the world” through inclusive rather than exclusive thinking.

  44. Thomas Berry is a great example of what I feel is a truly enlightened individual. Berry seemed to possess a remarkable understanding of the world. The empathy that Berry shows is remarkable. The idea of a tree or river having rights is interesting and strengthens the idea of an interdependent cycle of life. For example, I feel that the rights of most rivers in North America were violated when beavers (their rights were also violated) were over-trapped by settlers. This also violated the rights of fish and animals by destroying their habitat. Also, I feel it is important that Berry as a Catholic priest could view humans as part of nature and not separate from it, for this I view him as a great leader.

    • Very thoughtful chain of events in the idea of the historical violation of natural rights here, Brandon. I agree that Berry is a great thinker and religious leader. Thanks for your comment.

  45. I agree with Thomas Berry one hundred percent, particularly the fact the humans are human-centered rather than earth-centered. I think it’s interesting that he writes “all earth others have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the “Earth community””. I don’t think he writes this to say that humans should leave everything alone and should not be allowed to touch anything but it’s more along the lines of humans needs to stop taking advantage of the earth’s life forms and treat them with respect. I think it hasn’t been until recently that humans have finally said we can’t build wherever want to anymore because of the impacts development may have on the environment. We have always built wherever we wanted and taken things from the land for our own personal benefit and not ever wondered what we may be hurting. This thought process is human-centered rather than earth-centered. I believe everything on this earth is important equally and is interwoven in a huge cycle of life. Nothing should be put on a pedestal because if it wasn’t for certain things as tree’s or food, we wouldn’t be on this earth as wouldn’t other creatures. As Thomas Berry feels, “each subject in a universe of subjects had a story- and that story was interwoven into the universe’s story… If we told the story of the natural world in this way, we would understand how to treat it differently.”

    • Distinguishing between a human-centered and earth-centered worldview is of immense importance to Berry– and, I think, to our survival on the planet. If we continue to treat ecosystems as their only purpose is to fulfill human desire we, ironically, be mistreating what sustains us until we are entirely out of business. As you note, it is very important to understand, as Berry writes, that we must tell the story of the universe in a way that perceives how we are all interwoven. Thanks for a very thoughtful comment, Dylan.

  46. Dr. Holden,
    I am shocked that this was a Catholic priest. I was raised Catholic (even attended Catholic school) and am sad to say that had I had an educator, religious leader or mentor who approached teaching about our place in the world as Thomas Berry did, I may very well still be a practicing Catholic. His belief in “the rights of all the beings with whom we share our earthly community” is so far removed from anything I remember ever hearing from teachers (nuns), priests and deacons that I have a difficult time understanding how the thoughts even mesh with each other. The fact that this priest was able to have such a close relationship with scientists and shows such great respect to the them, as well as our place within the social structure of the earth makes it difficult for me to not wonder how he came about embracing Catholicism. I look forward to researching some of his work so that I can understand him and how he was able to integrate his obvious love, deep respect and understanding of the natural world with his commitment to a religion that really is, from my memory, very much human-centered.

    Maria Gilmore

    • Hi Maria, I know you are unfortunately not alone in your experience of Catholicism. I am glad that you like Berry’s work and I do believe it is sad that so much Christianity was torn from its earthly roots with the coming of industrialism. You might also like to check out Matthew Fox’s work– although he was excommunicated from the Catholic church as a result, we might know that it is classic for many Catholic saints to be excommunicated during their lifetimes and then conferred with sainthood after their deaths!

  47. I am not Catholic myself and usually have a hard time understanding their ideas which seem to me to be extreme. I try to avoid most religions because it gives the follows ground to be hypocritical. A few times in my life I have come across people who really truly understand what God, Allah, Mother Nature, whoever, intends. I consider them all one and the same. Thomas Berry seemed like one of those honest people who are an embodiment of the Creator itself, and you wouldn’t mind leaving your kids with him.

  48. An economics classes stressed to me that people act only in their own best interest, and I think it is a true reflection of human nature. Thomas Berry’s belief that “not a single species on earth nourishes itself” seems to be at the foundation of human interaction with environment. His perspective is an encouraging example of a healthy partnership, in which we are all interdependent upon one another for sustainability. One of the most significant sentences in this essay says “human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state.” I think that by keeping this thought foremost in our minds, and by implementing the values held by Thomas Berry, we will certainly be acting in our own best interest and likewise in the best interest of the natural environment.

    • Hi Kate, thanks for your comment. You bring up an important issue with the concept of self-interest.
      I think the statement that humans act in their own self-interest needs to be set in more concrete context– given how differently humans view both their self-interest and their “nature’ in different cultures. I don’t think most of our current environmental strategies are in our self-interest in the long run. So we also have to contrast long term versus short term strategies and perspectives here. And we also have to talk about varying degrees of knowledge-and the value systems that give us (and deny us) such knowledge. There is also the central issue of power here: I am willing to bet your economics class also spoke about the free market expressing human preferences as humans express their self-interest. But that model only works if all have equal power in the marketplace (as in buying power), full knowledge of the consequences of their actions and are free of manipulation of their choices by others. Frances Moore Lappe (of the Food and Policy Institute) notes that one implication that this model is not working is the large number of hungry people in the world– since, as she puts it, “eating is right up there in human preferences”. And if the market were expressing those preferences, people would be eating.
      But people anywhere in the world who don’t have money or adequate money can’t express their self-interest in the market system, nor can they choose the kinds of food they want if they don’t have the money to buy nutritious or healthy food, much less food at all. And they can’t express their their self-interest in terms of avoiding genetically engineered foods if such foods are not labeled.
      To give an example of how values further play in here, in many indigenous cultures, the idea of self-interest is linked to the well being of others, whereas the modern industrial worldview gives us the value of beating out others to pursue our self-interest.
      I think both Berry and your own response here give a true idea of what economic and environmental self-interest is. This raises the question: given the things in this economy (I think legal recognition of corporate “personhood” is a big one) that inhibit the majority of us acting in our own self-interest, how do you think we might change this?

  49. I love words and those who craft them to nudge us to open our thinking. Thomas Berry’s words have that impact. I can feel the reverence and respect you have for him in the essay you wrote. It is a beautiful testament to his work and the power of his words. How brave he was to challenge the dominant religious thinking and urge an expansion of thought and understanding. That we should extend ‘great courtesy to the earth’ is so fundamental yet feels like the words that carry that message aren’t heard often enough in society. I could list all the quotes in your essay that impacted me but I’d simply be copying it. The three essentials rights are brilliant, so succinct and so all inclusive. And talking about the earth as the primary teacher…brilliant! I would love to be able to find a church that promoted such open mindedness. It seems that Thomas Berry, rather than being dogmatic, explored the beauties of his beliefs, was open to new understandings. I love that! I can’t help but feel that there is so much more to learn spiritually as well as scientifically. It seems to me that Thomas Berry was a spiritual explorer and what is so exciting to me is that that particular path is open to all of us.

    • Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for the work of this man who was, as you put it, a spiritual explorer as well as compassionate and caring thinker, Sue. I for one cannot think of a better illustration of religion than one that expresses so much heart and spirit.

  50. Thomas Berry sounds like a truly extraordinary individual who had a very firm grasp on the idea of interconnectedness and reciprocity with the natural world. At first I wondered how he came to be so understanding considering that, as he acknowledges, he comes from a Christian tradition of hierarchies and dominion over the earth. At second thought, when I realize that he was not only a priest but a theologian, I can see why he came to not only learn about different religious world views, but to respect them in the same manner that he would his own religious tradition and other spiritualities such as Buddhism and Islam. This seems to be an important theme also noted in Suzuki & Knudtson’s chapter “Shaman and Scientist” (Wisdom of the Elders).

    I especially appreciate his outline for “supporting the rights of all the beings with whom we share our earthly community.” It clarifies for me, the dilemma that some commenters have with Berry’s criticism of a domineering Christian tradition. I think in some ways, people can find this view of respecting & giving rights to the natural world to be daunting because it may mean that humans will lose some of their own rights, or will be forced to lose the luxuries a certain percentage of us currently enjoy at the expense of the environment. However, Berry makes it clear that humans have rights as well, such as the right to a habitat. So when someone is afraid that by giving equal rights to the earth, we’ll no longer be able to cut down a tree for our own homes… they are missing the beauty and intelligence of Berry’s guidelines. The idea is to respect the natural world as a whole, to recognize interconnectedness among all living things, and how each of us can support each other’s survival. The idea is not to protect individuals… which may include an individual tree. Under Berry’s thought, it’s okay to cut down that tree for your own right to habitat, as long as you respect the larger ecosystem that said tree comes from.

    • Very perceptive balance in this discussion, Lauren. As I see it, the hierarchical and dominating misstep of Christianity is its alliance with burgeoning structure of empires. I see this as veering off the path of any true meaning of Christianity, as a number of current theologians are now discussing. In this sense, I think you are right that Berry’s own deep sense of religiosity led him to the conclusions in his work. And I think his discussion of the sharing of rights with other lives is brilliant.

  51. Another great article! I found this observation by Berry to be quite profound, “not a single species on earth nourishes itself.” In my mind no one statement has ever summed up the way that all of the creatures and natural process of the earth are connected in an immense web in which each part depends on the others so perfectly. The statement speaks to an interdependence that I believe is difficult for the Western worldview to swallow. The idea that we depend on nature, that we actually NEED it goes against everything we were taught in this society. We were taught that humans are the most important thing in the Universe and that our technology has made us independent of nature. I especially appreciate the above statement makes it difficult, even impossible to argue that we are separate from nature at all.

    I was also moved by this statement, “…humans also have a right to wonder, beauty and intimacy that only our connection with a vital earthly community can fulfill.” True poetry…

    • Thanks for your own well-put words in response to this eloquent writer, Molly. You have hit on two key points here. Indeed, it is impossible to argue that we are separate from nature when we consider that “not a single species on earth nourishes itself”. I love the idea that we as humans have a right to connection to a vital earthly community of wonder, beauty and intimacy, which sums up the preciousness of our own lives.

  52. Berry took religion to the next level. An earth centered stance is just what the world needs. Nature is what supplies us, we should be respecting and honoring it, and in doing so recognizing the native people and respecting their land, traditions, and sustainability because we may actually learn from them. I agree with this concept, by understanding the natives and their legacies and traditions we may find ways of science that can better our land and ourselves.

    • Hi Angela, I think your emphasis on bridges between science and indigenous knowledge is very important. There is something to be said for extending our ethical stance to earth-centered views.

      • I definitely agree. I remember from the lecture notes that it stated that technology doesn’t necessarily have to be detrimental; and that any tools are considered technology. I think we have become so fixated on particular definitions that we loose insight.

        • And perhaps those “particular (assumed or stereotypical) definitions” thus become meaningless labels that prevent us from thinking for ourselves. Nice point, Jennifer.

  53. I couldn’t agree more with Berry when he said, “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” I believe God created the world for us to enjoy and live in harmony with. I agree that originally we were meant to only appreciate nature. However, that relationship was fundamentally altered, and our special relationship with nature, our communion, became twisted into dominion as we turned our focus upon ourselves. It seems we have much to learn from Berry and the Indigenous peoples who live in harmony with nature. It is finding a way to infiltrate the ruling worldviews that is the challenge before us.

    • Thanks for a comment based not only on thought and spirit, Christopher. “Infiltrating the ruling worldviews” is indeed both a daunting and essential challenge. I feel heartened that voices like Thomas Berry’s have begun to make a path for us in this.

  54. I love Berry’s observation that “we should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” I bet he would have been a wonderful man to take a hike with and discuss such ideas. I am always looking for different ways to see the world. And although I am on a journey, my faith is rooted in certain values, one of which is that the Creator is alive in nature and nature includes human beings; taking care for and honoring nature is a way of honoring the Creator. Skimming through many of the comments people left after this article made it evident that Berry’s observations can be misinterpreted, though. He is not saying ALL forms of Christianity see humans as separate and above nature. Berry himself seems to have been a Christian who just interpreted the religion’s view on nature differently—that Christianity demands a responsibility towards nature and that the divine is present in nature. I think this is a beautiful understanding. After all, didn’t God create man and woman “and it was good,” not “and it was BETTER?”

    • Delightful image of taking a walk with Berry to discuss philosophy, Kirsten. You have an essential point here in observing that Berry considered himself a true Christian and a Christian theologian in his understanding of nature.

  55. Being brought up Catholic I really enjoyed reading this article about Thomas Berry. There wasn’t anything in this article that I can honestly say that I disagree with, although it does bring up many things that I have never considered before. I think it’s important to realize that through many religous beliefs (not just those of the indigenous people we have been reading about) you can find a way to support a way of thinking that emphasizes a mutual respect with the natural world, even though many religions often times use their doctrines to support a seperation between the natural world and human beings. Since I just read the Yale articles on religious beliefs and the environment (which tie in well with this article), I think it’s fair to say that through a Christian belief system, God created everything, including all natural beings. Don’t you think he would want us to treat them respectfully?
    We have alot to learn from people like Berry, it’s a shame that he can’t be here to teach in person.

  56. I am so glad I randomly picked this piece as one of the options for the assignment!! There are a few reasons for this. I had never heard of Thomas Berry before, but he sounds like a wonderful anomoly of human thinking. He was a Catholic priest? Catholic and Christian spiritual leaders have gotten such a bad rap for trying to overtake other religious viewpoints through missionary work, etc. Instead, it sounds as if Berry respected and supported learning from Indians instead of just “teaching” them his ways. This article does not mention how he fit God into his views of the world and its creation, but does show that someone can believe so strongly and have a viewpoint that is sympatico with the natural world and what we think of as science. I am a little confused how he could see earth as the “primary manifestation of the ultimate mystery of things,” as in this context it sounds more like he worships the earth than God.
    Concerning the rights of nature, could it otherwise be argued that to assign rights to nature is a way of claiming the human right to, as the article says, “wonder, beauty, and intimacy” that only our connection to it can fulfill? I write this because the article is clear in stating that rights are unique to each individual factor in nature. How is it possible to assume and assign those rights to nature when our rights are the only ones we are aware of?

    • Berry was indeed a Catholic priest, Jamie. I think the article indicates how he fit God into his views in things like the divinity of creation as an expression of its Author. From my own perspective, the largeness of his heart and spirit indicate that he is in touch with the divine spark in himself and all life. Tale the analogy of a grand work of art: if you praise the art, wouldn’t you also be praising the artist? And if you wanted to know the heart and skills of the artist, wouldn’t you look to his work? I think the issue you bring up about rights is based on the fact that it is only in our worldview that we assign such rights only to humans. But I like your solution to that by honoring the human rights to the “wonder, beauty and intimacy” of nature, we also honor our own rights.
      Thanks for an obviously thoughtful post.

  57. I think Berry nails it when he says we need to be more earth-centered than our present human-centered one. The greatest obstacle is getting society to think like him. “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” How do we take away our collection of objects in favor of a communion of subjects? Objects are great; we don’t have to give them away. Though, it could help if we lose our obsession with them. The Iphone is a great starting place.
    “the earth itself would be seen as the primary model in architecture, the primary scientist, the primary educator, healer, and technologist, even the primary manifestation of the ultimate mystery of things” Where does this leave us humans? We’ll play the primary manager.

    • Thoughtful response: I think that there are different alternatives to “where does this leave us” than the role of primary manager. We might also be primary partner, facilitator and perhaps just plain old appreciator.

  58. Thomas Berry sounds like a very insightful and amazing man. I connected with the dangerous thought of dualism, where various natural connections need to be separated. This is where humans become disconnected with the earth (man and nature) and with other humans (man and women). This is the us and them scenario. Often times, a lack of communication and a need for control breaks down the similar bonds that unite separate entities. Thomas Berry understood and conveyed how important the human relationship with the earth is and how humans instinctively felt a kinship with the earth community. Unfortunately, the earth centered stance might be a long time in coming. Although there is a movement towards environmentally friendly living, we still have little regard for the earth in general and the necessary steps needed are not happening as fast as they should. We need more individual thinkers like Thomas Berry to awaken those leaders of the world who can make positive steps toward a more sustainable life.

  59. The fact that Thomas Berry was a priest lends credence to his words. I intrigued by this man. The thought that someone of power has finally acknowledged that we should recognize the native peoples for what they have given to our country, and to give back to them finally what should have never been taken away, their history, their resources and independence. I like the fact that he was earth centered, and not human centered. It is this thought that we should all adopt. Time has passed for us to just think about ourselves. We have to be aware of the world around us. The quote “we need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocary way, rather than a dominating relationship” sums up the feeling that we should all have for the planet. The fact that he gives rights to all the earth, and says that humans rights do not cancel out the rights of the rest of living things is good to hear in this time of human self centeredness.

  60. I agree with Berry when he states “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence to be themselves”. I believe this to true not only to Indians but to all people. If the world wants peace than this in my opinion is the backbone to getting there. Some countries that have a totalitarian leadership that deny their people opportunity at achieving one, to all three of these aspects that Berry discusses. These same countries do not allow for innovation and progression. I mean progression as a positive thing, because mankind seems to need to progress from the state we are in if we as a people are going to make this a better life.
    Berry said “not a single species on earth nourishes itself”. I know this maybe a common thought to those who study philosophy, but as logical as the statement is I have not really ever considered it. Obviously he is right, and sometimes I guess it takes something as small as this quote to have you put things in perspective. When I hear about animals going extinct I think it is sad, but rarely consider the repercussions that it has on the entire world.

  61. Berry was brilliant and clearly knew the biggest problem facing human beings today is the human attitude that we as a species are somehow disengaged from the earth on which we live and that we believe our destiny is to bend nature for our purposes. He realized it was time to abandon the old views of Christianity that a human beings spiritual fulfillment involves transcending and escaping the earth, but rather he encouraged us to change our attitudes and marvel in the creation of the universe and experience it from a conscious awakening, and become aware we are a part of it.

  62. (PHL 443 Student Reply) I extremely enjoyed this particular article. It was refreshing to see such a seamless mixture of religion and science through the eyes of Thomas Berry. His ideas of humanity as a part of nature instead of placed above it especially spoke to me.

  63. I really enjoyed reading Berry’s philosophies on how people should treat the earth and that it should be more of a partnership than people not just taking. I appreciate that he brings a different approach towards the typical Judea-Christian idea of dominion over nature. In a perfect world that is how it would be. I think however that there is a population of people in this world that do the majority of the consumption of our resources and have little inclination towards the rights of nature. I think rather than changing their lifestyles and recognizing that nature does have a right to exist they find easier solutions to feel good about gluttony such as buying a prius or carbon credits.

  64. Until now, I was unfamiliar with the name Thomas Berry. I agreed with a couple of points that were stated within the article the first being humans are an inescapable part of the earth community. The second was we should hold a courtesy towards the earth. However, I had some concerns with what appears to be very earth-centered theology from a Catholic priest. The idea of looking to the earth as the primary teacher, healer, etc. rather than looking to the Creator seems wrong to me. Additionally, the idea of nature as the cradle of life rather than God as the sustainer of life was not what I would have expected. Though I disagree with some of his ideas, I can clearly see his motives and his heart to make changes in the world and this I can appreciate.

  65. I would like to begin by saying that judging by his thoughts in the article we have truly lost a comrade in the battle to assist people in gaining an understanding of our roles as inhabitants of this earth.

    I agree with Thomas Berry when he says we should take a more earth centered stance towards our inhabitation of the earth rather than the human centered one we have grown into. Humans have taken a positioin of domination of the earth. Everything is supposed to operate and exist based on our needs and wants. We should enjoy the earth and protect it as it was provided to us as a place of inhabitation, to be shared with the other inhabitants, and to be admired and protected instead of used, abused and neglected. There are some things that once destroyed or used up can not be replaced.

  66. I truly appreciate the words and works of Thomas Berry. As a priest, it seems he would have been very influential over his congregation and holding such high regard for the natural world may have influenced others to have the same. I like how it was mentioned that each member of nature has a specific role and must be allowed their three essential rights. If we can learn to live in cooperation with the natural world as many indigenous people do, we may be able to rebuild the Earth and all species within it.

  67. I was struck by the assertion that human rights are limited due to a recognition of the rights of all life within the earth community. I imagine this causing quite a stir, as people don’t often like to be reminded that humans are not the center of the universe. The description of the earth community and the enumeration of essential rights that “all earth others” have seems to put the human role in perspective, though, placing us as simply one part of the community or series of relationships/interactions. I also appreciate the insistence that the rights of various members of the earth community (i.e. a tree or a human) are not in competition with each other. I never really thought about it before, but this idea of competing rights may explain why some people feel so threatened when discussion turns to the rights of the natural world, as though recognizing the rights of the environment to exist in healthy state were some sort of personal attack. Berry did indeed leave us with a lot to think about.

    • We seem to feel that there is some common pool of (scarce) rights and if some other life (or other humans) get more, we will have less. Berry showed us there is a different way to think about this. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Crystal.

  68. Thomas Berry was gifted with an eminence talent to look at nature and see it for what it is. He was able to understand the importance of its function not only as a unit unto its self but also as a larger entity that we as humans also belong to. He is correct in saying that all things, living and non-living, have rights and just because we are humans does not give us a right over any other. We have to respect the natural world for what it is just like we need to respect one another. Just as the golden rule says “Do unto others has you would have them do unto you.” To me this includes all of the earth others.

  69. Overall, I think Thomas Berry’s views are interesting. While I agree somewhat with his idea that each subject in a universe has a story and is intertwined with a larger story, I found myself debating him at times especially with his universe story, where humans basically just respected creation.

    Overall, I quote the Berry in saying, “we need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us.” To me this article wasn’t just about Berry and his views but the overall approach we take as humans, This article explains the lives of not just people who are Judeo-Christian but a countless number of religions. Berry was just more qualified to note the shortfalls of many Judeo-Christians by seeing them in his everyday life. It’s actually remarkable that a man dedicated to the Church can take a somewhat different stance.

    Overall, the article got me of thinking how cultural differences in Catholic states throughout Europe view the environment differently, because obviously some countries have practices that are more harmful than others. To me, I thought he almost simplified humans too much.

    • Thanks for sharing a thoughtful perspective, Christopher. I understand why you might think that he is simplifying things in this discussion of humans in the universe as presented here. This may well have been the result of my two page summary of several books he has written, but as a “geologian”, he was looking to find the human place in the universe as do more traditional “theologians”. I think that the cross-cultural differences that are so important to perspective here come out in this support of indigenous peoples.

  70. There were a few quotes from Berry that i thoroughly enjoyed. The first ; ‘ We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.’ That one sentence says a lot. One that we do need to be more aware of our actions to the Earth. From these actions, we are taking away the true beauty of this world.

    Berry seemed like a very wise man, and his thought about how every subject in the universe, was part of the universe’s story, was a beautiful perspective. He is correct. Everything that makes up this universe, big or small, is apart of the history. Again, we as humans need to be more aware of our actions, so our story can continue for years to come.

    • I very much like your choice of Berry’s quotes here. It is true indeed that if we take away the vitality of the earth, we take away an astonishing (and even divine) beauty: I too like the idea of the small stories (each of ours) being intertwined with the larger one in which all (interdependent life is unfolding). Thanks for your comment, Brandon.

  71. This was a very good article; I like how they talk about Thomas Berry and how he did not romanticize or idealize the natural world, and how he saw that every living thing has a soul. I like how it states that the human role is not to dominate or control creation, but the human role is to appreciate creation. Too many people in this world view the human role as one to dominate or control the world. Humans today try to change the world to fit them better. Not enough people appreciate the Earth and what it has to give. I really like Berry’s quote “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” This quote goes with how its humans role to appreciate nature/creations. Thomas Berry really did leave us with a lot to think about and much more to live up to.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ayla. I also like the distinction between appreciating and dominating nature– the latter has led to many of the environmental problems we are now facing–and the quote about destroying divine presence when we destroy natural lives.

  72. Reading about Thomas Berry reminded me a lot of Claude Levi-Strauss and his views on anthropology and ecology. Seeing Berry’s age when he passed also reminded me that Levi-Strauss was 100 when he passed away last fall. Perhaps that says something about taking an ecologically friendly world view where this land is ours to share, not to dominate. Maybe by doing so, we come to peace with ourselves and our surroundings and find a way to live longer!

    Madronna, I especially liked your reflection on Berry and his friend, the physicist Brian Swimme stating they made a “universe story” where “The human role was not one of dominating or controlling creation, but of appreciating it.” I am coming to find that this is a worldview I have always shared. Swimme would also be an interesting figure to study in the context of ecofeminism, and the domination of certain parties over others worldwide. I am specifically intrigued when men embrace the feminine nature of the world without downcasting it or playing women off as lesser than them. I find it disheartening that the Western world for so long has discounted what more than half of its population can give, do, or say to make it better. I think in breaking down the hierarchies in religion, race, gender, and in other areas, we might get somewhere environmentally. It seems we have to embrace our own differences while we are embracing the fact that we may have been managing this world in a backward fashion.

    I can think of one Claude Levi-Strauss quote that was played on NPR on All Things Considered commemorating him following his death, “There is today a frightful disappearance of living species, be they plants or animals. And it’s clear that the density of human beings has become so great, if I can say so, that they have begun to poison themselves. And the world in which I am finishing my existence is no longer a world that I like.”

    PHL 443

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Odhran. Chehalis elder Henry Cultee maintained that in his tradition the length of our life was decided by the oversight of the “eyes of the earth”– so perhaps he would concur in the case of Thomas Berry and Claude Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss did not, I think, begin with a focus on ecology, but that grew over the years of his life.
      I appreciate your support for the “other” half of humanity that happens also to include me!

  73. First of all: wow. The kind of consciousness it must have taken to be a proud ecofeminist, and environmentalist during his life could not have made things easy for him. I had never even heard of Thomas Berry before this article but I had had some exposure to the notion of hierarchical dualities, and the structure of ecofeminism.

    I particularly enjoyed, and will likely continue to think about, the notion that plants don’t need human rights anymore than humans need plant rights. I am not sure exactly how much I agree with this notion, except to the extent that human rights as conceived to day are clouded in such a way that the ways they are applied are hardly applicable to humans so of course they would not due for nature. I suppose, and perhaps Berry could agree with me, that if we had a sufficiently advanced notion of human rights we could apply this schema to anything and it would receive due dignity.

    • An interesting point about human rights, Thomas. I agree that we need a more advanced concept– and find it heartening that there are so many such as the groups under “justice” on our “links” page working to bring this about. What Berry was getting at, I think, is that we need a different notion of rights than the current competitive one which gives us the impression that if one has rights, others lose them.
      I’d love to see you develop a model of rights that could work for all!

  74. What a great worldview for any christian theologian to understand and embody; that we are not in a “state of exile” from the natural world or above it, but rather that our place in this world is sacred, as our gift of consciousness which should allow us to be “witnesses” in “appreciating” the natural world, has instead granted us our anthropocentric point of view. If only more people, of all faiths could share in this man’s enlightening vision.

    • Thanks for your comment, Christopher. It is wonderful to think of ourselves as truly belonging to the circle of life and increasing the vibrancy of that world through our witness of it (not to mention, thus increasing the vibrancy of our own lives in standing witness to such wonder).

  75. Professor,
    What a great piece. Thomas berry was truly a great christian theologian. I loved the quote “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” It is true that his faith was aligned with his brain and all matched up in the right part of his heart.

  76. Professor Holden,

    What Berry is proposing is very good stuff. In regards to Native Americans they should have their land and be allowed to live on it in a manner that they see fit. In all reality though, Berry’s view is not shared by many others. Especially in today’s capitalistic society where even land, in this example, will be exploited to gain more wealth and power. If more people would take a shared world view on this issue we could resolve many of the issues our society has with Native Americans.

    • I appreciate your comment, Kurt. Whereas there are many, as you indicate, that do not share Berry’s views, I think those who do are growing– and I find this a hopeful sign indeed.

  77. I really appreciated this article. I am definately guilty of stereotyping, and anytime I hear someone described as “Christian” I automatically think “judgmental hypocritical fundamentalist.” The way I see it, Christianity should be all about compassion and love, but too often that element is missing. When I read about Berry humbly and lovingly working for a respectful relationship between humans and nature from within the institution of the Catholic Church, I felt guilty of pre-judgment myself.
    I hope he serves as an example to those within and without religious traditions.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective, Tivey. There are vastly different ways that self-described Christians have lived in the world we share. I agree with you that love and compassion should be the key values of Christianity– and have not always been.

  78. I especially loved the part where you talked of how Thomas Berry teamed up with physicist Brian Swimme and created this entire idea that blended both science and religion. I found especially intriguing their view of how the universe was created and humans were put on the earth in order to revel in its beauty and admire the work of a higher power. We are here to interact with nature, and all of the perfect creations that surround us, and become aware of their presence and help one another. This has truly influenced my view of the world now, and am extremely interested in this. The idea of humans being on this planet to only appreciate the beauty is inspiring.

    • Thanks for your lovely and moving phrasing of these views, Eric. I myself love this holistic view that blends science and reverence for the wondrous world we share– and places humans in the role of appreciating that. This, too, is a holistic vision, giving us a model of the ways in which our own joy is linked to the well being of nature’s others.

  79. Before I read this essay I had never heard of Thomas Berry, but I am very heartened to know that an environmentalist was such a well known member of the Christian community. I have a personal bias in that many Christians I have met in the past were indeed in “a state of exile from our true country,” and many anti-environmentalists I meet are strong Christians. It is wrong of me to judge all Christians for the actions of a few of them and I am glad to know that Berry was able to be a part of both communities. I have often thought that such a “universe story” that Berry and Swimme developed should link science and religion; both are a sort of quest to understand the meaning behind life.

    • Good point, Allison. Modern religions have many facets–and there is a growing movement among all Christians to focus on “creation care”, as some put it. It seems to me self-evident that respect for creation is an essential way of honoring the Creator.
      Thanks for your open-minded analysis and response here.

  80. The quote from Berry at the very end is very eloquent and succinct: “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” I grew up attending church on my own, without my parents and have always had a very close kinship with Christianity, though it has been one mixed with times growth and expansion and times of disgust and rejection. Communion for me was and is a very special act, one which I felt was confined too much to church. I have tried and keep trying to make every meal into a communion, a time to connect with those I eat with and those who have helped make the meal possible. Berry’s idea of an even greater communion of all life expands that even further to something as simple as taking a walk.

    Another thing that struck me about this article is Berry’s idea of rights for all things: plants, animals, rivers, mountains, etc. I had more of an aversion to this, since I think rights are something that are something human. It may also be the idea of drawing nature into our legal system, that it in some way lessens the value of the natural world. But it is also very apparent that nature needs advocates and using a legal attitude is one way of accomplishing this.

    • Thanks for your considered response here, Andy. I like your idea of communion–and you obviously are not alone among peoples who have developed such an idea. I appreciate your response about right; whereas I feel it is true that all life (including humans) are more valuable than their legal standing, I do think that the move toward nature’s rights connected to an important move to protect “ecosystem services”– I am writing up a new post on that topic which will be up in a day or two.

  81. What a great outlook. I have never heard of Thomas Berry before until now, but it’s clear to me that his mind-set and outlooks were very influential. I think that writing a “universe story” was a great way to convey the beliefs of co-existence and living as witnesses of the universe as opposed to dominating it.

    Although I was raised in a religious family, I was pushed away from religion because I did not hold the same moral beliefs as my congregation. My father was raised Jewish, and my mother raised Catholic. However, my brothers, sister and myself were raised Orthodox Christian. It was a very intense environment for myself to be in, being so young. I remember getting in line for communion and looking at the back of the church and seeing my Dad standing there, not getting communion. I would always go up to him as ask him “Daddy, why didn’t you take communion?” and he said that he “wasn’t allowed” because he hadn’t been baptized in that specific church (even though for years before I was born he was a priest and a spiritual leader within his community). That moment has stuck with me and really bothered me a lot. I still to this day am confused by it and explore the morality of it. That was a little off topic, but I just think what I am trying to express is that having more than one view on something (or at least allowing more than one view to exist) is essential. It is important to explore different viewpoints whether you can accept them or not. I love the idea of the “universe story” because it allows people that do not read, agree, or fully understand the Judeo-Christian story.

    I also do love the term “earth others,” someone else had mentioned that they like it too and I have to agree. I had never heard of it before starting this class.

    • Great take on the “universe story”, Hana. It seems that you were searching for an authentic moral stand very early. Not every child would take the opportunity of a family like yours to evaluate such things.
      I am glad you like Berry’s work. I think it is very important to see the ways particular theologians are expanding the contemporary view of Christianity.

  82. Thomas Berry is certainly an example of someone who came to realize the importance of the earth and the truth of our interdependence. He also clearly saw that each thing is valuable in itself, regardless of its usefulness to humans. Often, as humans, I think we are interested in nature for ourselves alone, and don’t see that it is valuable even without us, or even if it is in some way threatening to us. When an animal, like a wolf, threatens some part of our livelihood, we often demonize it to justify killing it. We demonize it out of fear, and don’t recognize that, like us, it is a beautiful creature with the will and right to survive.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michele. I think we cannot invent too many ways to keep the sense of our interdependence before us. And it is easier to feel no compunction about pushing even keystone species out of their habitat if we demonize them. Time to replace that with more information. You might also be interested to know that the Nez Perce offered tribal land for the re-introduction of the wolf in the Northwest.

  83. What a fascinating point of view from Thomas Berry. The statement “Berry offered a different interpretation of Christianity that led to responsibility to creation” is in my opinion the focal point of this piece, but of course I could be wrong (I usually am). As the theologian, Berry asserts that all living things have a divine purpose, being the creation of a divine source. Berry’s “geologian” views are most appealing to me. Interdependence amongst humans and nature is vital and should be a universal mindset. The earth allows us to dig, till and ravage her surfaces to sustain human life; we as humans should show the same respect by not polluting her and allowing her to heal in peace. Berry’s notions state that all divine creatures are part of a “community”. For a community to flourish every member must be able to rely, support, and protect one another.

    • Great points on everything. I entirely agree that the key aspect of this piece was highlighted by “Berry offered a different interpretation of Christianity that led to responsibility to creation.” Without this alternative view of Christianity, there can be no way to include all of the other aspects of Berry’s beliefs.

      • Indeed. his Christianity is at the center of Berry’s beliefs–and he is not alone in his sense of the necessity of care for our shared earth, as the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology (FORE) indicates.

    • I don’t think you are wrong, Khurram. Thomas Berry would not have declared himself a “geologian” if blending Christianity and environmental responsibility had not been central to him. I agree with you on the importance of understanding our interdependent world. Great point about the community of life that we need to recognize here.

  84. This whole topic is highly interesting to me. As a Catholic my entire life, I have never once heard a priest mention environmental responsibility as an importance. After reading our class notes and this passage about a former Catholic priest being entirely earthly-centered is a new idea for me. As a new arrival to this course, I can hardly wait to see what other topics we learn about and what other “eye opening” material I can be exposed to.

  85. I found Thomas Berry’s philosophy of shifting the human-centered position to an earth-centered stance interesting because of his Catholic background. Speaking from a Catholic upbringing, I was a bit surprised when I read that this priest supported equal rights of natural landscapes as well as plants and animals. I personally believe in recognizing and caring for our environment, but I find it difficult to see the correlation between rocks and a dear or tree. Because of my personal experiences it was not difficult to understand Berry’s view of equality amongst plants and animals but his description of the earth itself as a living being (i.e. scientist, educator, healer, etc.) was not easy to grasp. I also found it interesting that Thomas Berry believed all living creatures have souls. I must admit that I do enjoy Barry’s interpretation of humans possessing this special role as witnesses to the universes development and evolution.

    Personally, I tend to lean in the same direction as Barry, when it comes to believing that all things are linked throughout the universe. Although, I must admit that my position on universal interconnectedness stems from a Western scientific ideology that dissects the natural world into particles of connected energy.

  86. I definitely agree with your statement Professor Holden that “Thomas Berry left us with much to think about.” One of the final comments in this essay gave me the most to ponder about. The words that Berry highlights on his website, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”, is such a simple way to define human interaction with the rest of the natural world and the role we play in it. One definition of the word communion is, “the act of sharing or holding in common; participation.” This provides an image of a world where all species, human, plant and animal, live harmoniously in an environment where their commonalities promote an equal cooperation between everyone where balance is the primary focus. Just this one word in the description of what Berry envisions as the ideal world created an entirely new perception for me of what the relationship between all living things should resemble.

  87. The World view and environmental values that you attribute to Thomas Berry in your essay Thomas Berry 1914-2009 are much akin to my own.

    Being a Christian man of faith and holding a strong environmental ethos, I can imagine that as Father Berry offered his “earth-centered” views of mankind and creation, he was met with more than the casual lifted brow or stern rebuke from his fellow clergy. I meet this same “resistance” myself from time to time.

    Yes, even in this modern “environmentally conscious society, there are still those who shun the idea that mankind is not the center of all creation and that we should exercise “dominion” over all of creation.

    Yet, upon further examination I have found that the ideas of interdependence, sacredness, respect, and solidarity with nature which Father Berry, I and many others share is not really a new concept.

    Throughout the Holy Scriptures there are numerous passages that praise all of God’s creation as good. Many passages admonish people to be respectful of, care for and respect all of God’s creations including one another.

    In fact it is written in the Holy Bible (Genesis chapter 2, NIV) that “The Lord took man and put him in the Garden to work it and take care of it”. This passage alone serves as God’s initial commission to mankind to care for creation. Yet, nowhere in the Holy Bible does it grant mankind (or any other element of creation for that matter) the authority to abuse, squander or destroy any of God’s creation. In fact, the authors of the scriptures often express any disrespect or abuse of any part of creation as a sin.

    As I am learning from the various readings which you have so generously provided, I am not the only one who shares Father Berry’s perspectives on nature. Nor does the Christian faith hold monopoly on these “Earth Centered” philosophies.

    I would like to say something like “Father Berry was a great man and he left us too soon”. However given that he passed at the ripe old age of 94, the phrase “too soon” hardly seams appropriate. Yet he was indeed a “great man”. His ideals are something that we all might well invest much time in exploring. I, for one, intend to do so. What a legacy for any person to leave…. We all should be so able.

    I have just ordered copies of Berry’s Dream of the Earth and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Ecology and Justice). I am so looking forward to reading more of his works.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here, Ron. You make a very important point that this respect for the natural world in Christianity is not a new thing, but a return to the heart of Christianity before it got waylaid by being entangled in industrial (and yes, capitalist) culture.
      I am glad you will be working with Berry’s ideas! His is a powerful legacy to leave–and this brings up the point that each of us in our own way will leave a legacy behind. It is up to each of us just what kind of legacy it is.
      I appreciate your personal care and commitment here!

  88. I think that Thomas Berry’s own words states it all, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” I have been a Christian most of my life and have always had questions about the Christian philosophy of humanity being apart from nature. That somehow we are on a different plane tha the rest of creation. Of course, I know the references in the Bible and such, but the way I see it, everything else was created before humans according to the Bible. And in the creation account, God made humans to be caretakers of all living things, not masters of them. I never heard of Thomas Berry before this class and it is great realization to know that everything in life is all connected and to be in communion with all life is so much better.

    • I agree that this statement of Berry’s is at the heart of much of the worldview contrasts between those who care for our world and those who do not. We certainly have had enough of looking at the world “as a collection of objects”– time for the alternative! I am glad you Berry’s ideas, Tina.

  89. I think this article brings up some really good points that Berry was trying to communicate. His stance on earthly views were extremely different that than that of christianity. I like how you brought up the fact of how western civilization views the world as a place made for humans to do what they want with it. This has led to a lot of destruction of the environment and all the rights of the environment. I really like Berry’s words of ” The universe is a collection of subjects, not a collection of objects.” The world was not put here so human beings can do what they want to it. It is a place where many things co-exist. To view it any-other way just leads to more negative impacts on the natural world.

    • I would want to say that his stance differs from some (or even many) Christians, since he was not only a Christian, but a priest–and founded his ecology on his theological beliefs. I find this to be hopeful.

  90. This article really got me. Humans came to believe over time that we were put on this earth to do whatever we want with it. This to me, doesn’t seem to be the case even though we really are. We are building houses, industrializing, and going against one another. Yes we need houses, industrialization but not the fact that we are turning against one another. We are changing daily how society is when we need to look at the bigger picture and look out how we are impacting the environment and how the environment is impacting us.

    • I find it hopeful that ALL humans did not come to believe this, but those with particular cultural values certainly did, Jennifer. Can you tie your observations of what we are doing wrong into any of the observations by Berry here?

      • Where to start. For one, I don’t think we are working together, yet working against each other. And, woops, didn’t mean ALL humans. Some, most, or a few of them. Humans are not “earth-centered” at all, at least I don’t think so. Thomas Berry said something along those lines. We need to be more “earth-centered”. We need to think about what is going on around us. “Think before we speak” or “Think about our actions before they occur”. “What we do in the future, depends on what we do in the present.” ~Ghandi.

        • Hi Jennifer, I’m not quite clear who you mean by “we” here– can you say something about how we are not working together (with what or whom). Does it seem to you that certain cultures/worldviews are more earth-centered? What would Berry say about this? Thanks for your follow up comment!

        • I guess “we” is just a general term for people. People aren’t working together to help the environment. People aren’t working together to help come to an agreement on why we are in such a horrible recession right now. All of the money will dry up eventually and then where will we turn? I do believe that certain cultures, worldviews, and people are more earth-centered.

        • Thoughtful follow, Jenn. Do you think anything that Berry says gives us insight how to deal with or change this?

  91. So for starters, if anyone writes a response a good way to start it would be to do it in word then copy/paste it over because I just lost everything I just wrote somehow which really irritated me because now I can’t remember what I had written.

    Berry said,

    “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.”

    Basically I am just going to some this up. He thinks that people are destroying the planet. I believe that we are destroying everything that we need to to survive. Why not get involved. This recession we are going through is a real killer. It has driven most of society back to school and back to relying on the state to pull through which even the state is having a hard time. Unlimited funding is not the answer. Perhaps making education more accessible for people is a better bet. We live life day to day on a “WHAT IF” statement. We don’t know until we try, we don’t know until it’s actually happened then we deal with it. I could go on and I did until my entire piece got deleted after I hit submit previously.

    • It is true copy and paste is a good way to go: I have lost responses the same way. No fun!
      You have a good point that the more serious our environmental crisis, the more important it is to get involved to change things.

  92. Again referring to the Yale forum on Judaism, it was stated that : ““Adam was created at the end of the sixth day so that if human beings should grow too arrogant, they may be reminded that even the gnats preceded them in the order of creation.” According to this perspective, humanity is more or less a divine afterthought. ” I found this quite in tune with this article. We shouldn’t become so arrogant as to think that we are above the very thing that sustains us. We are merely a part of a larger food chain. I think the fact that we often manipulate the chain to our advantage helps to assert the idea that we are beyond nature, and in fact a God in our own right. It is far too easy to fall into the incorrect assertion that everything relies on humans for its very existence and not the other way around.

    • Food for thought in your comment, Jennifer: human arrogance is responsible for a good deal of the destruction we perpetrate on the environment–and on one another.
      I like the way you put this: “We shouldn’t become so arrogant as to think we are above the very thing that sustains us”. If we fail to acknowledge our dependence on natural systems for our survival–and thus fail to care for them– we jeopardize our future.

  93. Professor Holden,
    Religious icons like Thomas Berry are a rare and welcomed addition to theologians of today. With such a human centered planet following a dualism mindset, it is refreshing to see a Catholic priest with an open mind, willing to embrace nature and ecology. The quote from Berry that made me stop and think was his statement, “Not a single species nourishes itself”. So much can be extrapolated from that simple sentence. Every plant and animal relies on other plants or animals for survival. At the lowest level it tells that species are dependent upon one another and without a balance to keep biodiversity forefront, the planet as whole is at risk for failure. As humans we are over exploiting and destroying species and habitats that support them at an alarming rate. What can save us is to understand that we as humans are interconnected to all the other species of plants and animals through a complex web. While we may hold a place at the top of the web as an apex predator, when primary producers encounter problems it can quickly impact us, even though we don’t direct rely on those species for survival. Berry saw that indigenous people understood this and during his life he worked hard to pass this message along in his sermons to those who may have lacked the connection to nature. His ultimate message, to have a courtesy towards earth, is one that should be shared no matter what religion, race, or country you are part of. I concur with many other popular environmentalists that modern science may not be able to save the planet, however spreading the word of how important the earth’s ecosystem is via religion or a religious type forum, may be the only way to change a mindset worldwide enough to make a difference.

    David Dowds

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, David. I agree with you about the limits of a human-centered view– unless we take a larger view of humanity than the dominator approach. If we see humans as interconnected with all life (as you indicate), then we might have a better view of our humanity– following indigenous ideas that other species can teach us how to be fully human.
      There is much care and compassion in your response to the compassion of this priest who–to me– models the true potential of Christianity.

  94. I really enjoyed reading this article on how we are all partners on this earth instead of one (humans) being more dominant over another (planet). He stated that, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” I think that sometimes in the midst of our busy lives, we really don’t take the time to stop for a moment to really appreciate and value the natural resources that we have within an arm’s reach. We take a lot of what the planet provides to us for granted and really don’t think about the negative impacts and consequences that our material wants and needs have on the planet. We have to figure out more effective sustainable ways to improve our way we live our daily lives and in return will preserve our natural resources.

    • Hi Brenda, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Offering gratitude to the sources of our lives not only honors them but adds to joy to our presence in this world. We miss so much otherwise– including the opportunity to think deeply about our personal and social choices and their results.

  95. I found the concept that humans have a unique role in this universe as the witnesses to its evolution to be thought provoking. My worldview is one that all living things have an equal place in the world. Yet I have not been able to determine why it is that humans are different in that we record history and seem to have a different type of consciousness than other creatures. Thomas Berry’s belief of humans being the storytellers and the witnesses to Earth is one that rang clear to me. I appreciate his belief that it is vital to preserve indigeneous lifestyle and history because if humans are indeed the witnesses, these traditions, so many of which have already been lost, are the encyclopedias.

    I have recently met several Christian families who believe humans have a duty of stewardship to the earth and live their lives accordingly. The differences between their beliefs and those who embrace a more “domination” form of Christianity are vast. I think it is a beautiful interpretation of the Bible.

    In just the little I learned in this article, I have already formed a profound respect for Thomas Berry and am excited to find and read the “universe story”.

    • Profound analogy here when you state that if “humans are indeed witnesses” the multitude of human cultures are its encyclopedias–which we cannot, in turn, afford to lose through our own carelessness as we have so far.
      I think stewardship as you describe it, is very close to the essential value of “care” expressed by many indigenous peoples.
      I am glad you like Berry– he is a soulful as well as intelligent thinker.

    • I find it promising that members of traditional faiths, such as Christianity, are branching out from traditional beliefs. I also have come in contact with Christians practicing stewardship as a way to praise and honor God’s work. Respect and love for the natural environment seems like a perfect way to give thanks to a God who created it.

  96. While I agree with Berry’s conclusion I do not agree with the way he came to that conclusion. First I think that we are set apart from nature. But I disagree that since we are apart from nature that gives us the right to destroy nature. We are stewards of the earth. Which is to say that we are keeping it until Christ returns. I think with this view we can be just as ecologically friendly as someone who views themself as the same as everything around them.

    • I think we need all the “ecologically friendly” perspectives we can get today, Kyle. And I also know many Christians who do not think of themselves as apart from nature rather than a part of creation– since (as many indigenous peoples also believes) all life has the same Creator. Thanks for your comment.

    • I agree with that, Kyle. I dont think that since we are apart from nature that gives us the right to destroy it. I think we, as humans, think we have the right to do whatever we want since we are the ‘dominant’ creatures. But this is so wrong in so many ways. I like your statement about how we are the stewads of the earth, just keeping it until Christ returns; I couldnt agree more.

    • I had the previous judgement of a “premillenialist” view that allowed many policies to pass to use up natural resources. Thanks to your response, I’m aware of an “ecologically friendly” perspective to Christ’s return. I hadn’t realized that many held the view of “keeping [the Earth] until Christ’s return”. I realize now that greedy political leaders may have warped this view to justify their actions. I was blaming premillenialist thinking rather than the culpables themselves. It goes to chow that people of many values can come together peacefully towards a common goal. Thank you for the very enlightening post.

  97. I find it interesting that this is the first time I have heard of Thomas Berry. With such a focus on incorporating humans back into nature (vice the separation that currently exists and causes us to think of nature as an object) he reminded me of much of what was discussed in the “A Personal Forward” section of Wisdom of the Elders when Suzuki relates his experiences with First Peoples in British Columbia.

    Siding with ecofeminists and presenting his ideas of how humans fit in the universe seems a bold move for a Catholic priest. I would be curious to know how the Catholic Church felt about his views of the role of humans in nature. His view of “everything in nature having a soul” sounds decidedly like the views of elder First Peoples as discussed in the Suzuki/Knudtson work.

    • Thoughtful point, Gabe, about the Catholic Church’s response to Berry’s work. The National Catholic Reporter had a glowing eulogy on his work. In this best incarnation, priesthood allows for boldly ethical stances (Berry was ahead of his culture on the ecology front). This is not always true: the Church excommunicated priest Matthew Fox for his views on humans, nature, and problems with institutional authority. But it is also true that the Church has a solid history of eventually conferring sainthood on those they excommunicate (unfortunately, this often happens long after their death)!

  98. I really enjoied learning about Thomas Berry and his ideas and theology. I agree with him on many levels, especially in his statement about how humans should not try to dominate or control creation, rather, we should appreciate it. If only everyone had this view, the world would be such a better place! Another one of his ideas that caught my eye and attention is the idea that “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” I can relate to this because I grew up in a Christian home where we would take communion almost every sunday at church. For a long time, communion, to me, was just something we did at church. Now, however, I realize that it is much more than just a church tradiition and I like how Berry relates communion to the universe.

  99. I found Thomas Berry to be quite interesting as a Christian to take a stance for the natural world. Christian theology believes that men are above animals because they are created in the image of God. But Berry is right… no single being nourishes itself. We need to be less human centered, and remember that we need the earth for our own sustainability. I also liked his idea of the three basic rights that earth beings have, and our rights of humans should not cancel those other rights out.Also, when Berry states that “the earth itself would be seen as the primary model in architecture, the primary scientist, the primary educator, healer, and technologist, even the primary manifestation of the ultimate mystery of things”, answers a question that I just asked myself when reading another one of your essays.

    • Calicott talks about the “stewardship view” of having the responsibility of taking care of all of life and Earth’s creatures and abusing it would mean our lives spent in labor (as in agricultural labor). Sustainability and caring of the Earth leaves us time to appreciate “wonder, beauty, and intimacy that only our connection with a vital earthly community can fulfill.”

      I’m curious to know what your question was while reading the other essay. I think passive listening, observing, and learning, let’s us be open to the wisdom the natural world can give us.

    • Thoughtful response, Michelle, it is always nice when one essay answers a question from another!
      I agree that there is a hierarchical Christian trend– but there are two other stances in Christian theology, one of which, the “citizenship” approach seems to dovetail with the partnership one of indigenous peoples.

  100. I find it interesting that Berry was able to critique and challenge the worldview of his own faith. The explanation of the separation between humans and the environment stems from the Christian emphasis on the afterlife was very interesting. It would make sense that a person not totally committed to their place and time would care little about their current surroundings. I also find it interesting that, as a Catholic priest, Berry aligned himself with ecofeminists. This seems like a bold, liberal move for a man in a traditional position. It is promising to see that members of typically conservative groups can reach out and enact changes.

    • I think that a sign of authentic personal thinking is being able to critique one’s own tradition, Melissa. In Berry’s case, it was a sign of his love for his faith that he wanted to hold it to the highest ethical standards. I have known other priests who drew such courage from their faith (whether or not all aspects of the institutional church was entirely happy about it). It is promising that many Christians are returning to a theology of care (rather than affiliating themselves with the crasser aspects of capitalism).

    • I agree that the bold move is a step in the right direction. It is unfortunate that many people do not try to see things from different perspectives than their own.

      • Indeed, there is fear and disorientation in change sometimes–and we all too often have a “territorial” sense of perspectives– as if we will lose ourselves if we acknowledge the ways in which others see things.

  101. Reading about a Catholic perspective on ecology and protecting the environment has prepared me for a visit to my grandparents. Both are very devout, converted Catholics. Both were professors at a catholic college, Carroll College, until my grandmother decided to start a “much needed Catholic school” in Helena, MT. Although, they love the mountains (my grandmother at 66 loves to ride her mountain bike on bike trails), they definitely take a “dualist” stance when it comes to man and nature, and they have no problem using weed-be-gone poisons, and insecticides.

    Christian theology’s emphasis on the “hereafter” has been a guiding influence in politics in the US. Premillenialist thinking, with adherents like Ronald Reagan and Jerry Falwell, has allowed many Americans to not hesitate in using up resources ASAP because of Jesus’ imminent return and justified policies allowing us to use up foreign resources. But fortunately, this is becoming old news!

    Thomas Berry’s earth centered philosophy helps us to create a strong community with diverse values complementing each other as we all try to reach a similar goal: taking care of our mother earth, her “natural cycles”, and all of the individuals living upon her.

    Spirituality is an important aspect of understanding life cycles and connecting in a primary way to the Earth. Catholics and Christians know that they must leave prosperity for their children, but this prosperity does not have monetary value. Berry’s openness and respect allowing him to see that indigenous peoples practiced leaving a prosperous, fructiferous Earth to their children was illustrated in his words about native traditions being “among the great spiritual traditions”, and in his respect for their “historical continuity”.

    To understand the different rights that uniquely pertain to every individual of nature, we must learn to listen to their needs. We can become bombarded with news and events of violations to the natural world, but listening and observing how a tree or a flower grows in our backyard and responding to its needs helps us become more aware of how we should treat nature. When going to the river Uruguay here, one could see that it is unhealthy, and that it needs our help.

    • I am glad this reading is timely for your visit to your grandparents, Emily. I think Thomas Berry would have been pleased to see the particular use to which you are putting his philosophy. I like your reminder that being bombarded with media news should not distract us from attention to what is in our own backyard– both our natural and social backyards– since our caring for one another is an essential part of the Christian tradition.

  102. This is a beautiful thought process for me. Personally growing up in the Christian faith and Oregon, I was constantly surrounded with the idea of God in nature and have never really been able to separate the two. I absolutely loved his idea that we need to move from human-centered to earth-centered because “no species can nourish it’s self”. It was also refreshing to hear rights given to geologic features which seems to also be a theme in native cultures. Bringing me to his point of respecting and honoring the native views, land/resources, histories and spiritual traditions. He saw the value in these cultures and his attempt to reconstruct the christian mythos seemed to be closely related to many native beliefs.

  103. As Berry noted, “not a single species on earth nourishes itself” which means as a world, we must all work together and appreciate our surroundings. Berry also says that, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship.” I agree that our interactions with the earth should be those of courtesy and appreciation, but also agree that human “domination” is essential, and not something that is wrong. The world was created so that human life could flourish and essentially, exist. Yes, we must appreciate our world and use it’s resources for the appropriate action, but that’s just it. We have to use it’s resources to sustain human life.

    • Since all creatures nourish one another, all need to “use” natural resources to sustain life. My concern is that “domination” implies a license not only to live within the circle of life, but to commandeer it and use it all up
      I think there is great arrogance in saying the world is here only for ourselves in this manner– and that arrogance is dangerous not only other lives (that we feel we thereby have a license to use in any way we wish) but to ourselves– for our hubris keeps us disconnected and ignorant.
      Looking at history, it seems that human life has only truly flourished when domination has not taken precedence as a social value.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  104. It is great to see a different perspective of Christianity. The idea that if God created this Earth for us, we must care for it and take it as a gift. After sharing this idea with my highly Christian valued family, they agreed and realized that they should try to make a better attempt at being thankful and slowing down in life, realizing the small gifts that earth gives and not over consuming/indulging.

    • Great, Samantha, I am so glad you took the initiative to share this. My sense is that Berry has much to teach all of us (Christian or not) about the ethical standards we might hold ourselves to (not to mention, the fullness of life we might join).

  105. Berry was an intriguing figure to read about in your essay so I looked up more about his background online and found the following quote from him: “Everything tells the story of the universe…the story has its imprint everywhere, and that is why it is so important to know the story.” This is almost a Taoist way of thinking — that nature is all-encompassing and we are irrevocably a part of it. Someone who advocates ecology in tandem with spirituality seems unique to a Western perspective, and I admire him for aligning his philosophy with ecofeminism, a movement which I subscribe to and had always associated with liberalism. Berry’s work serves as a reminder that a deep understanding and respect for the environment can transcend our cultural and societal upbringing, as well as any stereotypes or seemingly contradictory ideology.

    • I am glad you were motivated to look up more info on Berry, Marissa. Thanks for sharing another inspiring quote from him. Your last sentence is a profound one–and a hopeful one in our ability to change so that we can act in resonance with the natural world–no matter what our upbringing.

    • It is interesting that Thomas Berry transcended the typical stereotypes to really state what he believed in. It is refreshing to read about someone who figures out for themselves what they believe in and doesn’t care what other people think. Prejudices and stereotypes go out the window so to speak.

    • Marissa,
      I appreciated your comments and the extra research you provided. I agree with you, and admire Berry for advocating ecology with spirituality. It does seem rare for a religious figure to focus on the importance of the environment as well spirituality, but I am glad Berry showed how easily respect for the environment fits into Christian ideals. Indeed, respect for the environment can, and should, transcend all boundaries because it is important to all, because we are all a part of the natural world. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Thanks for your comment, Brandt. I see much hope in the fact that this stance on the part of world religious leaders is increasingly less rare–with those like Thomas Berry leading the way.

  106. Thomas Berry’s idea of an Earth centered stance is obviously very popular but also very interesting at the same time. What is the most interesting is the idea that no species on earth can sustain only itself, by itself. This is incredible and I never really thought about this before. How can we have such a selfish view of ourselves when we depend on the Earth and other species for survival?

    • How can we indeed, Jen? Good point.

    • Like Thomas Berry mentioned that the universe is a communion of subjects and not a group of objects. This would also imply that humans are also a subject of the universe. When you start drilling down scientifically to what makes up our bodies, such as the chemical makeup of our skin, bones, and hair, it gives you really another perspective on how to look at other subjects of the universe that are made of the same chemicals. In fact, if you think about it, our skin is made of atoms and wood is made of atoms. So all matter should have some relationship, even if it is a far extended relationship that moved away over a course of many years.

  107. No species is alone on the earth and no species can do it alone. That is the message I got from Berry. I think it is great that he was able to recognize that Christian beliefs should include respect for nature and humans place as a part of the natural world. As Christian belief follows that God created all things it is logical that a follower of Christianity would respect these creations and be responsible for their actions concerning the natural world. Since humans need natural resources to survive, we should respect this source of life that sustains us, at least in part, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

    • Excellent perspective, Brandt. It is also timely in that our “quote of the week” here is from Bill McKibben– his is an environmental activist, but this quotes comes from his perspective as a Methodist Sunday School teacher.
      It does seem to me that if this earth that sustains life (is there any more powerful definition of the sacred than that which sustains life?) is an expression of the divinity in creation, Christians are hardly respecting God to trash this gift.

  108. What I find most fitting with Thomas Berry’s choice of words in his statement, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”, is that communion translated from the greek term means fellowship and translated from the latin term it means sharing. Berry’s choice of using the word communion signifies that we are sharing the environment and that we humans are equals with nature (not above nature or beneath it). Berry continues on in making the argument that all things of nature has life and we should not treat the resources like objects for the taking of our own needs. Over the past decade humans have been taking advantage of our friendship with nature and took more than we need to sustain life. Eventually, like all fellowships, the imbalance will come to an end. Either humans will realize their fault and make a change for the better or nature will break off the relationship and no longer provide the resources that are needed for the basic substance of human life.

    I’ve found some of the most brilliant ideas in science have come from the catholic priesthood take for example Albertus Magnus, Gregor Mendel, and Witelo.

    • Thank for your analysis of the astute use of the word “communion” here– and as you point out, we have been taking advantage of our friendship with the natural world in industrial society– such that it has turned to an abusive relationship on our part.
      Interesting note about Catholic priests and scientific achievement. there is a history of substantive scholarship and discipline. Though there are many trends in Christianity– some not so fortunate, there is also much to be gained when such scholarship is linked to compassionate care for creation.

  109. Thomas Berry is someone I’ve never heard of, but this has definitely inspired to read his work, “The Dream of the Earth.” I like his philosophy and I find it interesting that he identified as an ecofeminist, as this seems completely opposed to his prescribed position in society. I love all his quotes that are in this post, especially “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” It sounds like something that a cliche wise Native American elder would say, and Berry’s quote is definitely true. We (humans, animals, and the Earth) are all connected at least physically and possibly spiritually.

    • Indeed, Ben, thanks for your thoughtful comment. There are some very different trends in Christianity and it seems to me that Thomas Berry followed one of the most authentic ones.

  110. The worldview of Thomas Berry does seem to go more with the partnership worldview than the typical colonial world view of other religious compatriots. I would love to know more about his life history to understand how he came upon his views. Though I had never heard of him before now, I wonder at how the wisdom of spiritual leaders such as himself can profess their love and perspective for others outside of their faith without it being indoctrination. Or, do most religions prefer to profess their indoctrination and choose not to highlight views such as his? I did not grow up with any religion, so as an outsider to all of them I have no idea how the institution of religion really works from the inside.

    • Thoughtful questions, Lindzy. I do think that there are trends within Catholicism that encouraged Berry’s stance– so perhaps he was in the right place at the right time. On the other, there are environmentalists and workers for social justice such as now ex-priest Matthew Fox, who was excommunicated for his views (he will likely be sainted soon after his death, as that is the way it often goes in the past).
      And then there are those such as the liberation theologists who encouraged the revolt of indigenous women in Oaxaca–and in Latin and Central America stood up for local justice at the risk–and sometimes the cost– of their lives.
      I am not sure that answers your question of how or wise such brave persons of integrity arise, but it would be good to know, since then we could encourage such heroes everywhere, yes?

  111. I think Thomas Berry has some good philosophies on how to live a more environmentally conscious society. Most of his philosophies come down to treating people/plants/animals how you would want to be treated, since they all are living and neither is superior or inferior over the other. I really like his quote explaining the three duties. “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence to be themselves”. Our second duty is to honor the ways in which native traditions belong “among the great spiritual traditions” of humankind. Thirdly, we should respect the historical continuity of native communities.” Like I said before it all comes down to having a great deal of respect for all living things. More people should have this common respect. Another important philosophy people should be take away from this essay is “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” If Earth didn’t have a common courtesy for us it wouldn’t have made itself livable to humans, now we need to extend that courtesy by opening our eyes to the decisions we make and the possible repercussions they may cause.

    • Thanks for your response, Chris– these are substantial duties with respect to native communities. Thoughtful reciprocity in the idea of treating other lives as we would wish to be treated.

  112. The role of the Earth as educator in a new mythos is vital for the human species to survive and to leave the Earth unscathed for future generations. Without the Earth in a central place in the universe it will continue to be abused. Humans have the capacity to evolve to a new paradigm. We have the ability to change our psychology from that of consumerism and dominance to replenishment and respect. It begins with each of us, because each one of us is society. We have the power to change or influence those around us to be more aware of their ignorance. We have the power to honor and protect the Earth. We have the power to place the Earth in our collective consciousness as the mother of us all.

    • And it certainly seems Thomas Berry expressed that power, yes?

      • Yes. Thomas Berry was very intelligent and wise. He took the powerful institution of religion and used it as a tool to make change. He showed how incorporating the Earth as the central figure in religion instead of humans, can reshape the way we think. I wonder if that change would happen if we were to find life on another planet. It is certainly something to think about.

        Berry was a pioneer in taking on the giant social institutions by imbedding his ideas and theories into them. In many ways, his ideas challenge humans and their dogmatic beliefs of race, religion, psychology and economics, as well as our place in the universe.

        • Thanks for this follow up, Dwayne. I was not necessarily looking for an homage to Berry (though this is certainly fitting from my perspective). I was wondering rather which of his particular ideas you think were import to the ideas of environmental ethics or developed our perspectives on worldviews. Centering on earth’s others (a non-anthropocentric stance) is an important point. It would be good to see how you think his ideas leveled the challenges you speak of).

    • Hi Dwayne, I agree with you we do have the power to leave the earth unscathed for future generations. Each person on earth has so much control over his or her carbon footprint. Once we open more people’s eyes to this notion it will hopefully become the norm and the rest of society will change their ways. People need to understand that most of nature will not survive if we keep a dominant stranglehold over it. Everyone has the power to honor and protect the earth they just have to open their eyes to how easy it is. I find it very sad that most people wont jump on board with these ways of change until everybody is involved and it becomes the norm.

      • Good point: if we all wait until everyone is aboard, no one will start the change we need. Fortunately (as indicated in many of the groups featured on our links page) there are who are more proactive.
        As you point out, “everyone has the power” to change their life in some way–and this is a way of honoring not only the environment upon which we depend for survival– but ourselves and our values.

  113. I believe in the Judeo-Christian worldview, when it is untainted by the negative aspects of human nature. Responsibility to creation was the intent of human dominion. It is unchallenged and immature human nature that has led to destructive tendencies, not the responsibility of dominion. (a simple example: I have dominion over my finances, and I have a large amount of money. I can choose to spend it all at once, or I can do the responsible thing and spend what is necessary at the moment, and save the rest for the future.)

    I thoroughly respect his guiding principle, and how he urges Christians to appreciate creation for its beauty and its example to us. There are many things we can learn from the world around us: trust, appreciation, respect, compassion, conservation, and love; learning from observing animal interactions or admiring beauty and contrast in our landscape.

    I also like the cleverness of referring to himself as a “geologian”.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Michael. I agree that Thomas Berry expresses the positive potential of the Christian worldview– and of humans untainted (as you aptly put it) by things such as arrogance and greed.

    • Michael, I totally agree. There are things in ourlives that need dominance but nature isnt one of those things. We should work cooperatively with nature to help restore it. Respect, compassion, conservation, and love for all things living should be taught at a very early age. It shoud be instilled in us.
      I love that Berry says that “Our first duty is to see that the Indians dwelling here have the land, the resources, and the independence to be themselves”. Our second duty is to honor the ways in which native traditions belong “among the great spiritual traditions” of humankind. Thirdly, we should respect the historical continuity of native communities. This should be something that is practiced by everyone. We should be able to work hamoniously with the Native people to restore the damage we have created.

      • Good balance here, Kiley. I would like to phrase it that there are things in our lives that need discipline– but that that discipline should more readily apply to ourselves than to controlling other lives. I think we need more humility as opposed to thinking that we CAN successfully dominate the nature world.

  114. I read this article because Thomas Berry was a priest and I don’t think of Catholic priests as being concerned with the rights of nature and preserving the natural world. The article refers to the Judeo-Christian philosophy of dominance. So, I think it is super cool that Thomas Berry went a little pagan on the Catholic church in his reverence for the natural world. Perhaps the Catholics/Christians went to the other opposite extreme of the pagans to help define that division between the Catholic and the pagan. In dominating the people, they needed to dominate their gods. I don’t know, but it’s good to see religious men like Berry showing respect for the natural world and incorporating that respect into the religion. God gave humans the earth with which to flourish and grow, not poison and deplete. God created all life and the earth that inhabits them, so adhering to Barry’s Rights of the Natural World, is respecting and honoring God through His creations. These ideas seem very in line with Catholic/Christian thinking, I think. But I’m not much of a church goer, bible reader or theologian. All I really know is what I have picked up here and there, street christianity, if you will.

    • “Street Christianity”? If that is what is practiced by the “liberation theologists” in Central and Latin America or folks involved in the Catholic Worker movement ministering to the homeless on the streets of our worst urban environments, I think you have picked up the best of Christianity. We might also note, as linked to the essay here on Wangari Maathai, that Maathai attended a Catholic gradeschool in Nigeria, in which the nuns taught her a love of learning, offered physical refuge during a violent time in her country–and evidently did not attempt to erase her traditional beliefs as was too often the case with other missionaries (the reason for the recent public apology to native peoples issued by the Archdiocese of Seattle for the harm done to traditional cultures by missionaries).
      To me, such a sense of compassion and care, as well as the respect for creation you outline here, shows how Christianity is capable of bringing the best out of humanity (though affiliation with things like the Inquisition also shows the dangers of mixing religion with insitutionalized totalitarianism).
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Amy.

    • Amy, I was raised Chatholic and always felt as if something were missing. I too read this article because I was curious to see what Berry’s perpectives were. I think if I had had a leader like this gowing up I would be much more in tune with nature and with my own beliefs. I think this could go for many others as well. I too love that he went a little rouge from the traditional Chatholic ways and that he was able to incorporate nature with religion!

      • Hi Justine, thanks for sharing your personal experience. I don’t know whether Berry went “rogue” or certain arms of the Catholic Church went “rogue” in deviating from early egalitarian and more naturist philosophies when they took up with things like the Roman and Hapsburg Empires. Meanwhile, there was always a strong and I think more authentic trend that carried through in the Church — but this entanglement of the Church with totalitarian powers in history certainly made it hard for children like you were to be authentically in touch with their own conscience. Congratulations on thinking and feeling your way through this.

  115. In this article, I find one of Thomas Berry’s statements significant. The statement I find significant says, “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” This statement is significant because I have the same feeling about how mankind should be towards the earth. From my Christian belief, I believe that God gave mankind dominion over the earth, but he did not mean for mankind to abuse this dominion. He meant for mankind to show a spiritual leadership towards all the creatures of the earth by giving mankind the responsibility to take care of the earth. Sadly, mankind is not living in the way God meant and now we are suffering with the consequences of our actions through all the environmental disasters of today. If mankind could live by the way Thomas Berry described how mankind should be, then this world environmentally would be a better place.

    • Although my religion needs a bit of a dust-up, I also would say I agree with your standpoint. I think humans were meant to watch over and guard (in a sense) the earth for God. Of course, this has not happened for whatever reason and I am not sure what can really be done about it now. For our environment to improve, there needs to be a drastic shift in the mindset of all humans.

      • Or at least we need a shift in the mindset of many of those who subscribe to the current industrial worldview, David? As you indicate, ravaging the earth does not quite seem to jive with any sense of honoring its Creator.

    • Thank you for your comment, Maileen. I can imagine that we would have far fewer, if any, environmental issues if we all acted with such reverence toward the natural world that sustains us.

  116. In reading this article I really ejoyed Berry’s point of view as a Chatholic and it is really too bad that a “geologian” like himself can no longer express his new ideas and worldviews. I was intrigued with the part of the article where he addresses the despotic stance of the traditional Judeo-Christian and the fact that this dominating stance needs to be changed for good. I agree with him in saying that “we need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us”. After reading this article I will definitely seek out others with Berry’s teachings in them!

  117. Thomas Berry talked about the right for both living and non-living things to be able to flourish, he stated they had the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community”. I think we as humans tend to forget that the earth is a living body, changes are constantly occurring. We should leave it in a better state then when we came. Love and Peace!

  118. I like a lot of viewpoints from Thomas Berry. It is true (for the most part) that nothing nourishes itself. Therefore, everything is important to something and not necessarily to humans. He is right that we need to switch to a earth-centered instead of human-centered mindset. This mindset of human-centered will not lead to positive outcomes for earth. Humans can be destructive as he mentioned. Instead of being a negative factor on nature, we need to “present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us.”

    • Thoughtful points, David. I think human-centered approaches only yield positive outcomes if and only if we understand that we live in an interdependent world–and thus the way that our well being is intimately connected to the well being of other lives.
      I too like the sense of reciprocity in the statement you quote about presenting ourselves to the planet as it presents itself to us.

  119. One of my favorite quotes (and I don’t remember where I heard this so I can’t properly site it) is: “nature does not need humans to exist but humans would not exist without nature”. After reading your article on Thomas Berry it is almost as if he could have made this comment! 🙂 I like this quote because of the truth of it. Humans, with their belief in human rights above all else, destroy and pollute the only world that carries such diverse life. We need it with such passion and desire that we are so willing to destroy it, to suck out all that it is so effortlessly willing to give us. But nature does not ask anything of us, really, except maybe to leave her alone and let her be as diverse in all her glory as she can be – yet we ignore her.

    This past winter I was in Mexico walking among many different archaeological sites and my favorite was the ruins of Palenque. Amid the jungles of Mexico where jaguars and howler monkeys roam, there were ancient Mayan ruins. At the current moment, the individual is only able to walk around 200 or so ruins but archaeologists have mapped the area and found that beneath the jungle there are another 2,000 Mayan ruin sites. I took pictures of rock mounds that had turned green with algae and lichen and on top of them trees, several meters high, grew. Nature, since the collapse of Palenque’s civilization, had reclaimed the land that was abandoned. This example of nature reclaiming itself, is amazing to me whenever I come in contact with it.

    What I found most interesting in this article was the idea that the, “rights of nature are enduring, they are limited to the unique identity of those involved: rights of a river or a tree are specific to themselves”. You note Berry’s stance regarding nature’s rights in your article “Legal Rights for Nature”. It was in this first article where it struck me to pay attention to and think about the concept. For in nature there is no need to play into each “earth’s others” egos or their need for fairness. For, as you note, the need’s and rights of a tree are unique unto itself and what a tree needs to live is going to be different from say, a topsoils needs. Yet the rights of each individual “earth other” works in a way that is inherent to the self but still fitting to the whole of nature and the environmental community. By this I mean that although the tree’s rights are unique to itself and a river’s rights are unique to itself and a topsoils and a howler monkeys and a lichens, etc., the environmental community could not exist as a whole without the individual parts and their unique rights and needs. It’s brilliant! I can not help but wonder how much more interesting life would be if humans saw this within themselves? If we were more apt to remove ourselves from our current worldview, that human rights are supreme, and willing to embrace the uniqueness within the individual, could a partnership between the human community and the natural community exist? If we are able to diversify ourselves and see our individual uniqueness and realize that each person has unique needs and these can be fulfilled by the formation of a community; then I wonder if we would be more willing to see the uniqueness and diversity around us? Just a thought….

    Michelle Pierce – 400 – 443

    • Both needing our world to sustain us–and, as you put it, destroying it with such passion, is certainly an obvious self-destructive course, Michelle.
      You have it quite right in terms of your discussion of rights– humans could take a lesso0n from the book of nature and see that the rights do not conflict– as long as we honor the diversity of the lifeforms upon which we depend. Rights in this sense are connected to belonging–and to responsibility– rather than to the license to use one thing up for the benefit of another.
      I think you have an essential point in that the intimate sense of uniqueness of each human is interconnected with our ability to see and honor the uniqueness of all natural life. And in turn, if we saw that all life held an absolutely unique and essential place in the living world (such that nothing and no one could replace it), I think we would not only have more honor for others– but a richer life in general.

  120. The case of Thomas Berry is a curious case of religious fervor being used to the environment’s advantage. More often than not, historical experience would tell us that religion often is anthropocentric in the way that it holds the earth’s to be man’s dominion, and that man can do whatever he pleases with the earth, for it is his.

    Not so for Thomas Berry, the ecological theologian who saw the present stream of Christianity as alienating those from the Creator’s primal bounty.

    He, unlike most, did not emphasize the afterlife, and was actually predisposed towards feminist thought in the ecological context.
    Why, he argued, should we see the state of the world abstractly, when really all we need to realize is that we as humans are not objects, we are subjects?

    I think that Berry has made a very good point here; he has taken the points of previous ecologists and put them in a spiritual framework. With previous ecology there was the question of humans and the environment; Berry seems to have created a triangular relationship where humans meet the environment meets god. To him nothing is more holy and indeed wholesome than this triangular relationship. Whether or not he is leaning towards monotheism or polytheism is as mysterious as the idea itself.

    Clearly abstractions are not needed in order to connect ourselves with the environment and the divine.

    • Thoughtful analysis here, Lara. Berry actually harkens back to both some elder and post modern ideas of Christianity–be at once believed in science and critiqued the untoward affair of religion with a culture that sanctions abuse toward any life.
      And in the sense that he combines ecological and spiritual dimensions, he would not be “curious” to many indigenous peoples of the Northwest, whom I have often thought of as “eco-spiritual”– since their reverence for natural life recognized that it was spirit-filled. And then there is the fact that much ecological knowledge was in the hands of religious leaders: who might lead the controlled burns or lead the salmon ceremony–and then also tell when and how fish to take in each run.

      • Hi Professor Holden,

        Thanks so much for the response!

        The idea of a spirit-filled world is one that is attributed to some of the earlier theologians, that is true. What is interesting about Thomas Berry, as you say, is the fact that he drew this idea into the ecological realm. A very innovative stance indeed!

        Best,

        Lara

        • Thanks for the follow up idea, Lara. And actually, my point was that this was not an innovative idea if one looks to the Middle Ages and previous Christianity– one strain, as Matthew Fox delineates, was very “ecological” in nature. On the other hand, it may be novel to us in the context of modern society and our current take on Christianity (which, fortunately, seems to be changing).

  121. It is refreshing for a catholic priest to stress the importance of the natural world as opposed to the afterlife. I can certainly agree with him when he says, “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy living forms on this planet…. we destroy the modes of divine presence.” Throughout my journey through life I often feel much closer to God in the mountains or at the ocean then I ever have in a church. The vastness of the landscape gives me hope and humility by being a part of something much larger then myself. As I watch the natural world destroyed and infrastructure take its place, the wholesome feeling is quickly lost. Both Thomas Berry’s words and views are inspiring. It is through people like him that others will begin to understand the true value of the natural world.

    • Wonderful perspective which I think many of us share (I know I do) about feeling closest to Spirit in areas abundant with natural life. I very much like your idea about the landscape imparting “hope and humility”– things we could use more of in our contemporary society.
      The way we can inspire one another’s visions and help us stay true to ourselves is a gift we need as well.
      Thanks for a comment coming from the heart!

    • I have never enjoyed churches. I can admire beautiful buildings, but I agree on feeling much closer to God when I am out amongst nature. Walking through the forest and breathing in the smells of growing things is the way I prefer to worship. I prefer mountains, streams, and forests over usual talks of going to hell. My philosophy is: be a good person, help others, and appreciate/help the environment. The Earth has been here for much longer than we have, it deserves more respect. It’s not like we can live without it.

  122. Thomas Berry sounds like an intriguing individual and I intend to look up some of his writings. Who are some of the modern scientists that he found told stories of natural life? I enjoyed reading about his views of earth and the need for courtesy.

    I am curious about the extent of the change that would result from a new Christian mythos. How many people who attend places of worship truly live by the teachings of their religion? And how many listen to and take in what their religious leaders preach? I know religion plays a role in many lives, but my impressions are limited to the people I know – people who either do not attend any church or attend only on Sunday and only so they can check it off their list of things to do that week.

    • Brian Swimme is one scientist he refers to– but in general, he is speaking of many contemporary biologists and cosmologists.
      I do think there are many committed Christians who are also committed environmentalists and I find this heartening. Those who are not committed to much of anything may perhaps get committed if they realize their childrens’ futures are at stake.

    • I tend have a similar perspective that a lot of people go through the motions or take their faith buffet style, thus reinventing Christian mythos may not have a huge impact. Ultimately though, it probably couldn’t hurt to try. Maybe this would encourage a new group of followers (believers) and invigorate those already committed; a big group none the less. I really enjoyed Mr. Berry’s perspective and ultimately believe there will need to be many changes and new perspectives to give nature and the earth’s resources the protection and rights which they deserve, not just one big one. What is important is taking steps in the right direction.

  123. The ideas that Thomas Berry had about the natural world were very similar to the indigenous people. His quote of “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” I think is amazing today we think of dominating nature and as it being a collection of objects that we control. But in fact we do not control nature at all and we are not above or separate form it. I agree that we need to not control creation but to appreciate it. The natural world gives us live and without live what do we have? It is sad that people today think that the natural world is set in place for human use and we can take or do what we want to it without any repercussions.

    • It is sad indeed for both ourselves and our world that we too often look at it as such a collection of “objects”– the loss in appreciating is certainly ours, not only in our practical environmental losses, but in our quality of life as expressed by our presence in the world.

    • Thomas Berry’s views are especially important because they’re coming from a Catholic priest. His statements that we shouldn’t try to control nature and put ourselves apart and above it are in line with the Christian viewpoint that God is the creator and master of the universe. If people take themselves out of nature, then in a sense they are trying to act like Gods themselves. Not only can we not control nature as this is illogical, but we are not separate from it as well. Nature surrounds us, sustains us, and we are a part of it as much as it is a part of us.

      • You are right on about the Christianity that has humility entailed in it. Acting as “Gods ourselves” in our attempt to control nature does not seem very Christian to me.

  124. It’s easy to nod my head and say, “Berry had it right.” But I wonder how easy it would be to practice what he preached. I remember asking my father one day how he would react to a man with a certain belief system, and proceeded to describe some of the beliefs and values of traditional Native Americans, but in the guise of a contemporary middle-class American. My father has a great respect for Native cultures and often laments that modern society is so far removed from the values of such admirable civilizations. But his response to a modern man with traditional earth-centered beliefs was one of ridicule. He twirled his finger around the side of his head and decided a man with such beliefs would be “bonkers.” He took it back when I told him I was describing a Native American, but the point was already made.

    In this forum, we can discuss openly and agreeably about meaningful environmental values, but such values often get dismissed as odd or impractical in contemporary everyday life. This can dissuade us from speaking or acting on principles that can make a positive difference in the world and lives around us. But I doubt that the alternative of doing nothing is very appealing or fulfilling. So I encourage myself and all those who say, “Berry had it right,” (or even, “Berry had it wrong!” to practice what you preach, as difficult as it is! Thomas Berry did, and even after his death his ideas are getting through to people like you and me.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Jason. I happen to believe that ideas and values are intimately linked to behavior– and we respect ourselves when we enact our values, even in a larger culture in which there are some that might, as the case you give, ridicule them. However, I would not so easily generalize about the larger US public. In my two decades of teaching at Linfield College (before I came to OSU) I taught hundreds of students from a wide range of economic backgrounds whose average age was 40 in the off campus degree program. I was truly heartened by my experience there. Over and over again, I found that people shard values such as you and I and those on this forum when all the externals were peeled away– and being in groups with others who spoke freely of these– as well as getting good information about history and current issues– allowed them to change their ways of looking at the world and of acting.
      This site has numerous examples of those who not only speak freely and share the values you indicate, but those who have effected substantial change.
      And for anyone who wants an infusion of hope about what is going right, I suggest YES Magazine, which, issue after issue, gives examples of ordinary citizens who are effectively doing the right thing for both justice and environment (though they are not featured in national TV news!).
      And even if none of this were the case, as you indicate, the current crises calls for us to hold to our values and act on them. Thanks for the encouragement (important word!) us here.

  125. I had never heard of Thomas Berry before reading this essay. Considering he was born in the early 1900’s, he was very progressive in viewpoints for that time period. Women weren’t considered equals, let alone nature. I love his idea of everything having rights. Nature can’t speak for itself, and neither can the organisms that reside within. More people need to adopt Berry’s viewpoint in order for his ideals to become true. Before reading this article, I didn’t think too much on the influence of Christianity on our viewpoints toward the environment. It all makes sense that the view was to dominate and not really care about the environment. Why care about this life if everything great and amazing is supposedly available only after we die? I have moments where I just stop and take in my surroundings when I’m outside. If we worked towards rebuilding and maintaining the environment, we could have paradise on Earth.

    • Thanks for your comment, Holly. Being aware of the potential “paradise on earth” that is our natural birthright is a wonderful vision to hold to– not to mention, I think it would make each of lives more fulfilled if we stopped to experience the kinds of moments you speak of.

  126. Learning about people such as Thomas Berry and their work and views is exactly why I enrolled in this class. This was a very informative read for me. I have held some opinions since childhood that Christianity put man above nature which in turn left a bad taste in my mouth. The religious aspect aside, Mr. Berry held some wonderful beliefs about the rights of everything on Earth. Until now, I really never gave much consideration to the rights of a river or desert. Although I agree with almost everything in the essay, I’m not sure about the rest of humanity as many continue to chase capitalistic dreams that are often fueled at the expense of the environment and native peoples. It is nice to have a new perspective to bump up against the old.

    • I am glad you find Berry’s work inspiring! I have seen many changes in the right direction over my years of teaching and if enough new perspective “bump up against the old”, as you put it, they may get the hearing we need to guide us out of the crises we are currently facing. Thanks for your comment.

  127. Thomas Berry should be lauded for his contributions to and his attempt at bridging the gap that so believe exists between many Christians (though not all) and those that feel a stronger connection to nature. His stance of recognizing how patriarchy has been detrimental to both women and the environment was indeed a bold one. Emphasis on life after death makes far too many miss out on the present and the life they are currently living. If less time was spent on this focus and instead rechanneled towards a more harmonious existence within this space I believe the world would be better off and the divine would be equally pleased as a result. To me it doesn’t make much sense to focus on living a good life and getting into Heaven without thinking about the world we’ll leave behind for our children and the life they will live as a result.

    Christians extol life, but don’t as easily appreciate and recognize all lifeforms; the earth and the living organism it is and all those that inhabit it. Of course, he isn’t lumping all Christians together in his opinions, but as Thomas Berry says, “There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” The earth is that which gives us life and likewise sustains it. Berry made so fascinating observations, I’m saddened that I haven’t heard of him before and surely will want to read more of them.

    • Time to envision such a “harmonious existence”, Trent–and it would be great if Christians drew on the commitment to service and spirituality to do that. As you point out, “extolling life” could well include all living creation.
      I’m glad you are motivated to look more into Berry’s views. His work certainly merits it!

  128. The very idea that a Catholic priest would dare develop theories of the universe as an individual gets my applause. Before I go any further, I do not wish to put down the Catholic religion or any other religion, but I think all too often, folks who “work” for a church or religion forget they have a brain and allow themselves to be manipulated. Obviously, Thomas Berry was an exception and a thinker. I have a couple of thoughts here.
    The first is that it would be interesting to hear Thomas Berry’s views on the American anthem of the separation of church and state, because many of the environmental laws are made by the government. His forward thinking of being “earth centered” hardly harmonizes with the present land management points of view. (Although, maybe we are changing, because I know I have changed my point of view a lot in the last years.)
    My second thought would be from the quote from the article regarding Thomas Berry: “He insisted that all earth others (including not only plants and animals but natural landscape features such as rivers) have three essential rights: the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to “fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community” especially piqued my interest because I had just had a conversation with someone about the difference between having rights or being entitled. I do think the natural world (land, plants and animals) are holding up their end of the bargain. I don’t think humankind is. By now, anyone who knows me or my writing, knows I have a very strong opinion about the word “entitle”. I think most Americans currently feel a sense of entitlement, but shouldn’t. I think Thomas Berry has it right. He says we do have rights, but I would re-write this quote to say; All earth others have the right to exist—but will need to put forth the effort to sustain the right to have a healthy habitat and will need to put forth the effort to fulfill our role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community.

    • Thoughtful comment, Bev. Seems like your last point refers to the human side of things since, as you say earlier, earth’s others are already fulfilling this part of their ecosystem roles (just a fyi, “earth’s others” has been used to refer to the more than human natural creatures and systems).

  129. Berry’s quote of us being a “collective of subjects” is inspiring. How easily he sums up the idea of preservation by creating a sense of obligation. It is extremely embarrassing that we have created this destructive path and are just recently realizing the results we have created. Berry was an advocate for ‘native peoples’ seeing that they have a passion towards the earth that many of us do not understand or share. I agree that we take so much for granted and have learned to appreciate the idea of the West being full of conquers because that is the very personification of America. As much pride that comes with that statement it is equally matched with regret for the lack of preservation skills we have acquired. We have lost sight of what ultimately keeps us preserved, the earth, and have in a way destroyed parts of our being by neglecting to nurture it back to fruition. I believe wholeheartedly that if we shared the same outlook as the natives that were here before us, we would have a similar passion the earth around us and we would not be as wasteful or as dominating as we have become.

    • Interesting that you are making a connection between seeing others as “subjects” and obligations to treat them in certain ways, Jamie. I think this is as true as the converse: if we see others as “objects” we feel the license to treat them however we wish.
      Perhaps some day our national pride will be relocated so that we feel pride at being able to live in a sustainable world we pass on to new generations.

  130. As I read through this article, I appreciate about “the idea of obtaining an Earth-centered philosophy”. I agree that we have the national obligation to the native people who have lived with nature for a long time, so we need to check that native people have the resources which they need to use for worship or any events. (I do not know how U.S government treats those stuff…but they can still do better…I think…).I also agree with an idea that many people get advantage of the nature and the Earth. Each person might have different ways to take advantages, but everyone get any kinds of advantages from them.

  131. Many people stereo type the ideas of priests, so I find it interesting that a Catholic priest would have such views. I like the idea that he thought outside of the norm. It shows there are different views in Christianity. This article really goes along the same views of the last article I read about the tribes in the Willamette Valley. With strong values about the world we live in. His views on earth-centered living were interesting, instead of human-centered living. Creation and humans should be a partnership. I think these views are great ideas, but like I said before, the real struggle is going to get people to understand them and go along with them. Many people I know would see an article such as this and assume it is an extreme point of view. When in fact there are so many benefits to thinking more like this and treating the earth with the same respect as we would treat ourselves. I saw a comment above that used the golden rule as an example and I think that is a great way to describe Thomas Berry’s point of view. While I’m not disagreeing with this mentality, it is a new concept for me and I would like to explore more about it before I take a stance. I am also curious if/how any recent improvement has been made locally regarding these practices.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Shanna. Over the years of teaching, I have seen a number of good ideas go from a sense of being “extreme” to being accepted. Civil rights for people of color is a potent one.
      I don’t know if you could say that the environmental changes in the local area specifically flow from Berry’s ideas, but there are a number of things being done along these lines in forest management, urban growth regulation, green building, dam removal and conservation== not without some struggle as visionary practices come to fore in the context of the mainstream. Peruse our links page to find local as well as global changes being made.

  132. This article reveals such a refreshing way of thinking. While reading it this quote stood out to me. ” The human role was not one of dominating or controlling creation, but of appreciating it.” There are so many ways to apply this not only to creation, but even to other people. If we were able to take an attitude of appreciation I feel that things could be so different. It often amazes me that small changes in our perception could have the potential for huge change.

    • Lovely point about appreciating both the natural world that gives us life and others around us! I am with you on the idea that changing our perceptions changes our actions.

    • I agree that this article presents a refreshing way of thinking. Nature is much better appreciated than it ever could be controlled. By learning to be more appreciative of nature I think that many people also would become more respectful of it, which would lead to less control. And, you’re right; this is such a small change in perception but could have a huge impact on the natural world.

  133. I’m surprised that I have never heard of Thomas Berry! Everything in this article was so well addressed. In that he “insisted” that all of earth’s life forms have three essential rights; those being the right to exist, the right to habitat and the right to fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the earthly community. He stressed that the Judeo-Christian doctrine sees humans as standing apart from creation and that there is much emphasis placed on the hereafter, and I agree. Sadly though, speaking from a Christian stance, this is not what Jesus preached. One of my favorite versus spoken by Jesus: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” When he spoke of the father, he meant the Universe. Too many people read the bible and not the history which also greatly influenced his words of the time. A nation and a people were suppressed and in bondage to the great Roman Empire, is this much different than the Indigenous Peoples in relation to empires as well?
    I have always believed that if scientist knew a little more about religion and ministers a little more about science the world could then correct its destructive ways.

    • Thomas Berry’s work concurs with your perspective here, Debora– Berry does not state that ALL Christian doctrine is based on domination– though he emphatically disagrees with the destructive results of that arm of Christianity which (often unfortunately linked to empire and capitalism) has done so.
      This is important to clarify, as you indicate.
      There have been many exemplary environmentalists among Christians of which Thomas Berry is one great example.

  134. I was highly intrigued by Thomas Berry’s work. The first point that I found interesting was his view that people focus too much on the hereafter in theology not our natural world. I think that concept is in stark contrast to what a lot of Western religion generally preaches to its followers. You strive to reach “heaven” by living a pious, or virtuous existence but that could be at the expense of nature. I think that it is vitally important to include the earth community as part of our existence and make sure that we include this belief in our everyday lives.

    The next point that I found interesting was his stance on indigenous peoples and the the three duties we needed to recognize. By recognizing these duties and showing the importanace of the need for a movement away from the human-centered to the earth-centered beliefs, we have much to learn from the very same people that were deemed as inferior or savage just a few generations ago.

    Finally, Berry’s thoughts on the three essential rights of all earth others is quite profound. It essentially recognizes the importance of all parts of the vast and complex cycles to have a right to be here. This idea of giving rights to all things does not neatly fit our western ideas today. People need to understand that “human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state.” I think by doing so people can become more intimate with nature and not be so displaced from it. Humans attempt to keep nature linear and hierarchical is really what keeps people from fully understanding their place on Earth and in the Universe.

    • You have hit on some very important ideas in Berry’s work–and especially as it is linked to worldviews and environmental ethics. Thanks for your careful reading and thoughtful response. I can only imagine how our current society’s actions with respect to the natural world might change if we revered creation in the here and now, acting justly toward indigenous peoples and learned from their earth-centered beliefs– and adopted a non-competitive view of the rights of all natural lives.

    • Travis I agree with you, we seem to be stuck in the same old context of the earth is here to serve the purpose of man. This idealism is evident in how we conduct our everyday lives. However, I am not sure people want to become more intimate with nature. For most a weekend excursion or a saturday afternoon is enough to fullfill their nature requirement for the entire year. If we our not environmentally driven by profession then understanding the natural heirachy is probably not a priority for most folks.

    • Travis, I have read many post from our classmates and previous students and let me just say that I have to agree with you in every point. Your point that states how humans strive to reach heaven by living a virtuous existence at the expense of nature is well said. Because we do, as humans we tend to take from nature all we want (trees, cotton, fruit, meat, etc) without concern or respect for nature. We forget to recognize the importance of every living organism and tend to focus on our own needs. You really did hit the nail on the head with your post. Thank you!

      • Thanks for your own perceptive response here, Moises. It is important to consider the effects on all lives (human lives around the world and those of future generations as well as other species) in giving full reign to the human impulse to take whatever we want because we think we have a right to it. It sets up a dangerous situation to assure humans they have such rights –and then ask them to be good stewards of the natural world.

  135. Berry is to be commended for his pragmatic theories pertaining to ecology and I agree that there is a happy medium that people like Berry and the people that form the opposition need to meet in order to help bring balance to the world. I did not think it was common among creationists to adhere to earth-centered beliefs rather than human-centered beliefs. Do you know if this attitude was present through his religious teachings or if this was an attitude that he transitioned into through life experience and observation? Either way, I respect his to desire to perpetuate the belief that nature is to be appreciated and not dominated by the human race.

    • Good questions, Peter. Berry called himself a “geologian”– which expressed his idea of the mingling of a religious and earth-based scientific perspective. He is not alone among modern Christian theologians (Matthew Fox is another) who connect the Christian anti-environmental trends with the inappropriate Christian institutional affiliation with empire and capitalism beginning with the Roman Empire– and the turn from what they see as foundational Christianity. According to this analysis, this turning away from Christianity at its roots was also signed by such atrocities as the Inquisition and the wholesale murder of egalitarian populists led by women who based their intentional earth-centered communities on early Christian texts during the Middle Ages.
      On the other hand, some early Christian writers such as former Roman soldier Paul were neither feminists nor egalitarians.
      Notably, much of our own original natural science came through Arabic philosophers who conserved Greek texts in places like the Alexandria Library while European traditions lost these during the “Dark Ages”.
      There is also contention over what happened to biblical texts hand copied over centuries- how much these were changed according to contemporary social ideas.
      We need to be careful of the use of the word “Creationist” here– creation-centered is the more appropriate term. Berry absolutely believes in evolutions as the creationists do not.
      And in fact, there is some theological analysis that sees the bible as teaching stories for the evolution of human consciousness– and evolving and expanding ethics as time goes on.

    • Peter, I agree with your commendation of Berry. I think that Berry did a wonderful job as a geologian to transcend simple reading of the good book. The Bible presents a wonderful look into the past and provides good conscious guidance for those that want to invest the time in trying to read and apply it to their life. I think Berry understood that the history of the Caholic church is riddled with questions of morality, good judgement, and common sense too. It seems that Berry has a deeper Eastern/Western understanding that people have a responsibilty, a stewardship if you will, about our home, Earth and that he sees through the Church’s contemporary views that it holds. He understood that being Catholic wasn’t about all pomp and circumstance, it was respecting and admiring what we have here.

  136. Interesting concept, I wonder how his theory would have gone over during the Judeo-Christian period. I liked his statement that man needs to present himself to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. I probably answered my own question that his theory would not have been very popular during Judeo-Christian times. I was particular intrigued with the fact that although Berry found nature to be imbued with spirit and all living things as having a soul, he was able to communicate his thoughts as social and environmental injustices and not have them romanticized as wilderness in need of conservation. Man has always seemed to have a need to dominate and control the environment. At this point in time with our current industrial machine at full speed how do we slow down and start healing in the sense of bioregionism and allowing the earth to be the primary model for technology? And lastly, I agree with Berry’s comments on recognizing our obligations to native peoples. It amazes me how much money and resources this nation will put into preservation projects such as National Monuments and National Parks but we have seemingly done nothing to ensure native people have the required resources to sustain their historic cultures and traditions.

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for your comment. I don’t understand what you mean by the Judeo-Christian period. What are “Judeo-Christian times”? If you are referring to biblical times for early Chirstianity, see my reply to Peter Murphy’s comment here, in which I postulate that it is later Christianity that has strayed from earth-centered precepts. How do you see things differently?
      Can you say more about why you feel a focus on environmental justice would have brought a charge of “romanticized” “wilderness” against Berry. Can you explain the connection here.
      How would you avoid sweeping statements about “man always” dominating the environment– can you set this is social or cultural context instead. What counter-examples are there?
      Can you find any current examples of earth-centered technologies in the modern era (see the essay on Guidelines for Sustainable Technology here is you cannot think of them).
      Thoughtful note about recognizing our obligations to native peoples– might this allow us to expend our worldview?

  137. Indeed Thomas Berry seemed to be an enlightened man. I especially like the connection between spirituality and the environment. It seems these two entities used to be more closely related but the connection has slowly evaporated. A rift that comes to mind that has fueled this duality is the debates between creationism and evolution or even going back further to the anti-pagan sensationalism of the American witch trials. I am sure there are many reasons for this rift.

    In addition I appreciate the acknowledgement and hopeful “healing” of the dangerous dualism” that pervades modern Western cultures. There is a certain humility and kinship with nature that will occur when viewing ourselves as part of nature instead of the “subject/object” relationship that pervades society.

    I also like his tenet that “human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state.” When viewing nature as an entity that can possess a soul and has rights, it certainly makes sense that these marginalized ‘earth others’ need a guardian.

    • Very perceptive points that you have chosen to respond to in Berry’s work, Josh. Healing the dualism that pervades Western culture, which divides the world into those lives with rights and those without would perhaps also teach us think holistically in terms of the connections, as you note, between religion and ecology. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    • A great post Josh. The dualism that Berry spoke of seems like an ironic twist to history. The United States was founded upon the premise of religous and cultural freedoms. Yet as history has shown, those cultures that didn’t fit the correct kind of spirituality were deemed a “savage” culture, were persecuted, enslaved, or murdered to near extinction. Europeans conquered and destroyed 1000’s of civilizations on the premise that they were inferior, their beliefs awkward, and their civilizations backwards even though we know now of how keenly advanced they were compared to other great cultures. Sadly, our modern culture has been tainted for some time. We have objectified and attempted to control nature since it was our “manifest destinany” to move West, conquer, take, and use as we pelased. As a whole, we view nature as something that we have the right to conquer, destroy, or use until we have nothing left. Undoing 300 years of misguidance is not going to happen over night, and we will continue to struggle with the debates of creationism and evolution. Providing answers to those that seek questions, and leading by example are both ways to help assist in that redirection.

  138. The article states that Mr. Berry did not idealize nature, but it appears that he in fact did. He speaks of the rights of rivers, of trees, and of conquering a Judeo-Christian outlook with a sort of all-encompassing glance at nature and what sounds in many regards like a new faith and spiritual paradigm entirely.

    I happen to believe that man stands above nature and that he was placed above it; that a human has more right to life than a tree or deer. However, I also believe that as nature was created by God, we should try preserving it, at least to some extent or another, but that we must remember that we humans were also created by God and bear His image. I know that the article spoke of abolishing human/nature paradigms, but I suppose I must disagree with that; as man and nature have undeniable differences. As I’ve always said, I believe in finding a balance that honors God and gives the respect due nature as His creation, but keeps in mind that humans stand as stewards and lords over that creation by His edict, and that therefore we should treat each other and our own needs with the consideration that entails as well as remembering to take measures to preserve His creation.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal stance here. Berry did not actually speak of abolishing human/nature “paradigms” but human/nature dualisms. I wonder what you think of seeing God’s hand in Creation–as many Christians have done– what do you think of the words of Nina Baumgartner quoted on the left sidebar here? “If humans fail to praise God….”

    • Thomas, you made some great points in your discussion though I must disagree with you slightly to the fact that humans (man ) stands above nature and other living animals. Man, animal and nature were created to sustain life and give life. If as humans we feel that we are superior to both animal and nature then we have failed as human beings. If it were not for trees we would not have a home, and if not due to animal we would not have an environment that thrives with riches and beauty, and it is not to disrespect you in any manner but didn’t god create all things equal? I’m not a religious person so it’s hard for me to say that we were created by a god that wants us to preserve his creation, which includes nature and animals, but at the same time he placed us above it and gave humans more rights to life than a tree or a deer. All organism whether small or big play a role in the ecosystem of life, if it were not because of plants and trees we would not have oxygen to breath, or plants to eat. I don’t want you to feel that im tarnishing your belief, I just believe that when the universe was created, there were no set rules as to what species was to rule over the other, sorry a bit of topic. As stated by Ms. Holden, Berry did not speak of abolishing human/nature but of dualism. Great points!

  139. This article is full of ideas and opinions that make one think of what we are doing to our planet. Berry’s statement of, “We should be clear about what happens when we destroy the living forms of this planet…we destroy the modes of divine presence.” A well said and executed statement, perhaps that which makes perfect sense. Berry has a sense of connection with our earth and like him it hurts me to see that we continue to plunder our natural resources and damaging not only our environment but also our human lives. We tend to forget that we are a lucky species to be able to harvest the fruits our planet to be able to survive and prosper, this is why I know that by having more indigenous communities we can helps our human species to respect and love the planet in which we live in. In one point where he referred to the west as, “ushered in social and environmental and injustice” he looks to the west as one of the main contributors to the destruction of our natural resources. Yet, the east such as China, who has a population that accounts for the majority of population on earth, gets little attention as being one of the major contributors of environmental injustice to our planet.

    Berry made a great statement that I admire on the essential rights to existence such as, “ the right to existence, the right to habitat, and the right to fulfill their role in the ever-renewing processes of the Earth community”. Human rights do not cancel out the rights of earth others to exist in their natural state, and I cannot stress how important and accurate this statement is, because we as humans and dominating species on earth cannot take the rights of others (animals, insects, etc) This alone explains itself, we cannot control this planet, what we can control are our actions to be able and respect our earth. Berry was a great man who saw everything to have a soul. The qualities of a true leader.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful responses, Moises. I like your reminder that we are a “lucky species”– and that appreciation of these gifts entails our responsibility to use our power wisely.
      On the issue of the East and the West: my sense is that it is always best to begin with a critical perspective on oneself and one’s own people. For one thing, we can better fix or heal our own actions– that is within our power and also our ethical domain. That does not mean that there are not some environmental activists within and without China who are working to make China’s development surge more sustainable. Another thing to remember is that countries like China (and India) are basically following the model of Western economic development as they enter the world market economy spearheaded by the West. It is we who are behind such organizations as the World Trade Organization and their counter-productive stances on the environment. Thus changing our model of environmental care and success has the potential for healing much and on a basic ethical level, it is unfair to critique others for doing what we did in our own historical rise to economic ascendency in the global marketplace. One thing the issue with Third World development does call to mind is the limited resources of our planet: if all the nations who had less than 5 per cent of the world’s population (as do we) used a quarter of its energy resources (as to we) all planetary natural systems would instantly collapse.
      In a related arena, US based corporations like Apple and Wal-Mart have a responsibility to support economic justice rather than the cheapest supply chain they can find in sourcing Chinese goods. Meager as the Chinese state run labor unions are in terms of worker power, Wal-Mart pressured the Chinese factories where it first sourced its goods to not to allow these, since they might cut into Wal-Mart’s ability to obtain the cheapest products. Our corporations should be taking the opposite strategy. Giving Chinese workers more power would be a first step in allowing them to speak up about things like the toxic chemicals in their workplace that radically effect their health.
      Thanks for raising this important issue for discussion.
      I know that this is only one minor point of the many solid points about Berry’s own theories you observe here.

  140. I wasn’t really planning on feeling bad about trying to get the ants out of my apartment today, but it just kind of happened. After reading Thomas Berry’s rights of all beings, I couldn’t help but realize how domineering I was being. I know it might seem silly to some, but our lives are drastically interconnected just as Berry had noticed. This apartment complex where I live was built on top of a habitat already shared by other organisms, and humans just happen to be selfish creatures. I’m connected to the sugar ant on my counter more than just in sharing a living space. Thinking of the circle of life from the Disney movie Lion King comes to mind. For just one scenario, these ants are eaten by primarily non-predatory birds which in turn are probably eaten by the housecat that follows me to and from my walk to the university each day, that also, in turn, keep down the mouse population in the set of apartments I live in. In a simple term, I don’t have to worry about mice in my apartment because I have ants here instead. The ants in my apartment are just doing their natural thing, and my rights, as a human can’t cancel that out. They have a different set of rights than I do, it means little for an ant to vote or own a car, but who’s to say my rights and the rights of these ants are any different. This ant has as much right, if not more than I do, to live here. I probably can’t convince my roommates of the same observation, all I know is that my stress level is drastically lower with ants than it is with mice.

    • Hi Cassandra, thanks for the thoughtful response.
      You certainly present something to consider, though you are more generous than I. I don’t feel guilty discouraging ants from my kitchen by blockading them from my food (I made a moat around my honey) or keeping all other open sweets in the refrigerator.
      I also found that ants do not cross a line of oil– so made one around my refrigerator door when they decided to nest in my frig.
      My rationale is that they can live elsewhere– not in my house. Same goes for mice.
      You do have a great point that WE are taking up the habitats of many natural creatures, thus inhibiting them from living out their existences according to their rights. The thing is, however, that there are other creatures who are over-populated because we have killed off their predators and provide too much ready food and good shelter for them. The mice in my storeroom, for instance, are not native to this area, but to Europe–and have come here on human goods. The red squirrels are also not native and way over-fed, etc.
      A complex issue for sure. One bottom line: I will not use chemical poisons on any creatures in my house or yard.

    • I like your connection of all living things. The article about Thomas Berry has me thinking of the times I have interracted with the natural world. Those are the times when I feel how interdependent this world is as Thomas Berry states and when we think about the food chain in the animal kingdom, we see that interconnection as well. Men created “Survival of the fittest” when in actuality, it should be seen as “We are interconnected to each other and depend on each other for survival.”

      • Good perspective on another type of “fitness” Mary. The next lesson will have a reading on “Misusing Darwin” that presents a different idea on fitness than that which would dominate and replace others.

    • Hi Cassandra,

      Thanks for the post. I go through the same struggle with ants. Unlike spiders I cant just scoop them up and place them outside. For some reason ants bother me more than any other insect. But we have to remind ourselves that we are making a positive effort and doing the best we can.

  141. I thought this article was eye opening because I never realized how much of a dominate human I am to other smaller animals. I do however cherish the earth and care for it, but I never really cared for pests. But, after reading this article, I understand the point that Thomas Berry was trying to get across to other people. I can associate with ecofeminism and therefore I can relate to Thomas Berry’s ideology. I think that if people were to understand exactly what our Earth does for us daily and the comfort she provides, countless people would appreciate the quality of life and resources that we have and continue to cherish those more.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here, Kayla. It is indeed important to understand the gifts that come to us daily from the natural world– there is a reason why gratitude is high on the list of worldview values among those enduring cultures that honor the earth.
      Good critical perspective on our sense of license/privilege. Not that we should never make certain decisions– I don’t want mice to live in my storeroom– but that we do it consciously and not with a sense that we rule the earth so that only our needs/wants– or mere convenience– counts.

    • Your newfound desire to not kill the spider in your home reminds me of Jainist tradition. Jainism is now related to Catholosicm thorugh your interpretation of Thomas Berry and my interpretation of your comment. I deeply would like to explore the connections that the world’s religions/philosophies share. I have a feeling that the most prevelant theme will be a connection to nature. If this is true then to build inter-faith relationships will be key for the future.

  142. First of all, thank you for this article. I come from a Catholic family and it was a faith that I could never identify with and honestly have negative associations with. This article reminded me that there is good in everything. Every religious group is comprised of good people and even though I disagree with different parts of the religious doesn’t mean that we cannot strongly agree or relate on another level. Tomas Berry seems like an amazing person, he seemed to cross boundaries never touched before by a catholic priest. I hope the people he touched are able to carry on his values and beliefs and make this world as good of a place as he knew it could be.

    His stance on people needing to stop viewing the world as inferior and compromised of objects versus subjects was exciting. I think he was a person born ahead of his time. His perception of Christianity is very thoughtful and refreshing. Thanks for a great article!

    • You are quite welcome. It is a pleasure to spread the ideas of someone like Berry. My sense is that whenever Christianity became affiliated with dominating institutions (and ones that focused on money making) it lost its heart.
      Thomas Berry shows us very different values that have, I think, caused Christianity to persist and spread despite the negative results of those who use religion as a license for their own arrogance and greed.
      I also think each of us– in whatever way we are raised– need to take a step back and find an authentic sense of spirituality for ourselves.

  143. It is so refreshing and reassuring to have a Catholic priest be so open minded and understanding. Throughout history the Catholic church and Christianity has been so closed minded about other people, and other beliefs that I have always struggled with even being able to find respect for it within myself. One point which stood out to me more than any other was the idea that it is our duty ‘to honor the ways in which native traditions belong “among the great spiritual traditions” of humankind.’ I worked with a man who was also a Baptist reverend. He left last year to follow his dream of going to Africa and being a missionary. He came back from a scouting trip, to start getting visas together for his family, and was bragging about converting a 90 year old ‘witch doctor’ to Christianity. Everyone was so happy for him, and I couldn’t help but think of the knowledge and customs that are going to be lost in that man’s culture if he decided not to share them with the younger generations. What right do we have to go to these places and tell these people that everything they have believed in for hundreds, or thousands of years is wrong. That their way of life is wrong. It seems so shallow to me.

    • You are right that many actions of the Catholic Church as institution have sided with empires instead of ethics– however, there are trends to the contrary which support Berry’s perspective. I am thinking, for instance, of the Catholic Workers or the Liberation Theology movement. There are also those environemntalists like Francis of Assisi– for whom the new pope has named himself. Let us hope this bodes well for the Church’s support of environmental ethics. Indeed, a few popes have made strong statements in support of environmental and social justice (there is a striking one on our “quotes” page here).
      On the other hand, inclusion — as you point out– has hardly been the Catholic Church’s strong suit. And missionaries have too often undermined indigenous cultures. Though again, there are exceptions. One priest at a federal boarding school in Washington state in the 1800’s wrote to the federal government protesting the fact that native children received much better treatment in their tribal environments than they did in the school–and in fact, the Seattle archdiocese has recently issued a public apology for the harm caused to indigenous peoples by missionary work in the Northwest.
      I think it is often the Church’s association with Eurocentric culture that leads to its causing harms. We need religion to assert independence from the cultural trends that create injustice– as Berry and others have done.
      Thanks for your comment!

  144. This statement really was a eye opening because it is true “We need to present ourselves to the planet as the planet presents itself to us, in an avocatory rather than a dominating relationship. There is need for a great courtesy toward the earth.” In this society we view ourselves as dominant over all things. Nature, animals , and even other human beings. We do not value or see the essential partnership we have with the earth. Without is we would cease to exist. With our plants and trees we could not breath. Without crops and animals we would die of starvation. Yet our society seems to decide that we have a right to hold dominance over the nature, animals and other humans, even if they should be treated as life sustaining partners.Why are we not courteous to the very things that help us remain in existence? Sadly I feel that one day the earth will give up on us and realize that we are just parasites sucking all its resources dry, while slowly killing it

  145. “Not a single species on Earth nourishes itself.” What a difficult and important statement and way of approaching the world. If we consider this for a moment, then it becomes clear that we cannot continue to interact with the non-human components of the world as if they are our resources to use as we wish. Humans, more so than any other earth-thing, rely on non-human earth-things for survival. As Berry promotes, we need to acknowledge this dependence and then treat those non-human earth-things with respect, not simply as resources for humans.
    My hope is that these articles, thoughts, and conversation starters will lead to full conversations about how we treat the earth, how we could do better, and what it would look like to demonstrate respect to all. I don’t think respecting the earth is a hands-off approach, but I think it is how you interact with the earth-things that offers respect or not. It would be an interesting conversation, too, to discuss what this looks like for different cultures. What is respect? Is that different for different people? Are there areas of the definition we could agree on?

    • The quote you have centered in on here is very important, Micki. If we took it to heart, we would certainly modify our usury attitudes towards the rest of the planet.
      The hands-off approach derives from a limited sense of history– since the actions of industrialized society have been so detrimental to the planet’s living systems.
      I hope with you that discussion of alternatives will stretch our imagination and choices–and perhaps motivate us to take up the values that allowed certain former human societies to be so sustainable compared to our contemporary one.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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