THE SECOND COMING? EXISTENTIAL REALITY OF GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS By Dr. Michael W. Fox My friend the late Very Rev. James R. Morton, Dean of the cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City declared that “Ecology is the science of the body of Christ through which we of the earth community learn our sacred connections.”
These sacred connections, long recognized in native American Indian culture, have been broken, and which the Climate and Extinction crises affirm. From a Christian mystical tradition when we empathize deeply with the natural world, we receive the stigmata of an Earth crucified.
At least one scientist acknowledged these kinds of wounds. The late Aldo Leopold, a former government wolf exterminator who became America’s leading conservationist and natural philosopher, wrote “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
But now a more ecologically-aware public, especially the youth, are suffering those wounds and without some direct action or other solution-seeking outlet feel despair, helplessness and hopelessness. Climate grief and other terms are being applied to people of all ages and from different cultures who are suffering emotionally from experiencing and knowing about the harmful consequences of climate change, many mourning the demise of other species more immediately harmed than most people, those in coastal, island and poorer communities being especially vulnerable. (See https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/03/mental-health-climate.pdf).
Young people in many countries are now rising in protest, fearing for their future which will never be secure until all nation states and political and religious leaders embrace equalitarianism, the antidote to anthropocentrism, by giving equal and fair consideration to all living beings. This is the foundation of a sustainable economy, a healthy environment, world peace and the common good. The Climate crisis exacerbates the Extinction crisis and vice versa, the loss of species, biodiversity and wild lands being the wounds of those who care as well as being harmful to our health, air and water quality, food and economic security.
.Christianity’s Second Coming, from the perspectives of evolutionary biology and transformative psychology, can be seen in what St. Francis of Assisi called our second birth, awakening spiritually to the existential reality of the human condition which we are not powerless to address and heal, along with responsibility for “ all our relations”. Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called this the Omega point of Christogenesis in human evolution.
This metanoia is the apotheosis of the Vision Quest of native American Indian tradition, a rite of passage and initiation from egocentric adolescence into mature, eco-centric responsibility for all sentient beings, plant and animal in the life community: Our relations indeed. This extends the Christian doctrine of “treating thy neighbor as thyself” to the non-human members of our communities. This is the essence of the Golden Rule, a core principle in the world’s major religions which is ultimately enlightened self-interest.
The youth of today are experiencing such an awakening which may be ignited by fear but can only be sustained by loving concern for all of Earth’s creation; and respect and justice for all beings. Fear and anger, once informed, can become moral outrage and right action to apply the Golden Rule to all our relations and relationships. We must all confront the moral inversion of the Golden Rule by mammonists/materialists for whom the rule of gold many believe is their savior making money flow their way while others see it as the working of the anti-Christ.
Putting people first, (which is the world-view of anthropocentrism) has helped bring on the Climate, Population and Extinction (biodiversity-loss) crises. The cultural and cultish influence of author and philosopher Ayn Rand in her 1964 book The Value of Selfishness which discusses a theory that she called ‘rational egoism’ regrettably helped sanctify this human-centered world view of Western industrial civilization.
Anthropocentrism is the ultimate cognitive scotoma or blind-spot which, biologically, leads to an evolutionary dead-end. This is why putting the eco-centric One Health world-view into politics, business and industry is and ethical and survival imperative—and enlightened selfishness!
Reflecting on the following poem may help us all see the spiritual nature of the existential crisis we and planet Mother Earth face today: The Second Coming” is a poem written by Irish poet W. B. Yeats in 1919 after World War 1.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. “
“Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi**
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? “
Our redemption, recovery of our humanity and ultimate well-being are in large part through our renunciation of a culture and economy of harm. Such liberating redemption is at the core of all the world’s religions and secular humanism when shorn of politics and human-centeredness. Reverential respect for all our non-human relations is long overdue and ultimately, enlightened self-interest.
THE ROOTS OF HUMAN NATURE
Don Anderson’s letter (Star Tribune April25th) details his grandfather’s DNA through National Geographic’s Genographic Project tracing his modern origins to K east Africa some 65,000 years ago: The “Out of Africa” migration of Homo sapiens into Europe and Asia. We generally look down on the now extinct Neanderthal sub-species as being more primitive but if we wish to look at the “purity” of the Homo sapiens lineage it is evident that Africans are the purest. The percentage of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans is zero or close to zero in people from African populations, and is about 1 to 2 percent in people of European or Asian background.
My friend, Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz, MD, famously quipped “I have found the missing link between the higher ape and civilized man: It is we.” Cultural and racial differences belie our common ancestry and kinship which calls for mutual respect and reverence for all life, human and non-human, since we are all biologically related and ecologically interdependent.
**The world soul ( Latin:: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to the world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.