Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book review: M Swedish, a spirituality of hope

Margaret Swedish, Living beyond the 'End of the World', a Spirituality of Hope
published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2008 

          This tight, concise, well written essay on the state of the earth and its future can be divided in two sections with varying appeals to different readerships.

           The first two thirds provide an admirable synthesis. This part is recommended to young people who want to get their feet wet on environmental / social justice issues and their interactions. Activists who work with the young would be well advised to check it out too.

           The last third, the core of the text, moves into territory where academics and most greens fail - or fear? - to tread, the "philosophical" (existential / ethical) dimension of our relation to the earth and Nature. Teckies and geeks might see "emergent complexity" here; the artist and mystic will think in terms of the "metaphysical" or "transcendental"; the religious will recognize the "spiritual" or "religious" dimensions of the text..

            Semantics aside, the author is boldly - "prophetically" - claiming a redefinition of the place of wo/man on the earth and in the cosmos, a vision that simultaneously respects emerging scientific cosmology AND the integrity of planet's life support systems. For salvation - if there is salvation for our civilization - will only come through the interaction of the two: science must become the servitor of life, otherwise it too will die with the planet it destroys..

            The false, addictive - ultimately suicidal - "values" of the Consumer Society will be layed aside as cheap fossil energy sources deplete: the Consumer Society is founded upon access to cheap energy . The natural resilience, autonomy and conviviality of human communities must be rebuilt, beginning with the one we live in. All this must be done in as equitable, just fashion as possible for never before in history was the solidarity of the human race(s) required as it today!

            We must, in effect, simultaneously convert the non-renewable energetic and material resource bases of our economies to renewable bases while raising per capita consumption in the poorest regions of the world. Never before was need for cooperation greater..

            This great transformation of society - the "Great Turning" - will be lived in constant crisis, this is simply the nature of the age we live in , it's "karma" if you wish..

           "Religion", "spirituality" - in their non-perverted forms - provide the self with a greater context within which its actions are to be evaluated, within which to discover meaning, purpose, value and self-expression. They are, we feel, also capable of providing an expanded frame of reference from which to judge the trajectory the world is now following and the probable consequences of following that path for future generations and for all life.

            At the end of my reading, I caught myself wondering, "what is truth?". Fundamentalists of all stripes, religious and secular, often speak of truth in absolute terms, with capital "T's": The Truth or, even - arrogantly - God's Word, God's Truth. Yet these inevitably prove to be either fools and madmen, at best, or vilains, at worst. (There are indeed true sages, wise ones, but such persons are rare and their words and works are soon seized upon by the fools, madmen and vilains, and perverted to their ends.) 

          The fanatic is caught in a web of delusion: in many / most cases he gives the impression of a man fleeing a reality too painful or fearful to face. Because ecological crises are fearful (they strike at our deepest instincts of self-preservation, individual and collective), the fanatic denies they exist without fairly examining and weighing the evidence. Ecological crises are rapidly converted into "signs of the End Times" ordained by God. They are no longer the product of the all-too-human vices of stupidity,  greed,  folly and hubris. There are immense false 'truths' spoken today by madmen and vilains and there are many willing dupes to take up arms in their names. Today, September 11, is the 11th anniversity of the terrorist attacks on New York city's Twin Towers and the Pentagon..

           At root, author Swedish is correct in demanding that people must "own up" and take responsibility for the state our world is in. WE made the world what it has become, not God! (Do the fools not see the blasphemy of making God responsible for humanity's folly?) Even if we admit that mass media exert corrupting influences on public opinion, values and aspirations (Noam Chomsky et al.), we find ourselves obliged to re-affirm that, in democratic regimes, the people are the rulers. We must take back our democracy! We can't have our cake and eat it too. Either  (1) the people assume their rule or (2) they reneg, quit the field, leave the game (democracy). 

           "Taking back our democracy" will be a very painful process, I suspect. It will require admitting that we let ourselves ourselves be duped by conmen (neoconservatives, conservative "christians", Free Marketeers, hate filled mullahs..) Such admissions, if honest, are always terribly painful. We have, collectively and individually, let madmen, psychopaths and fools call forth all that is venal and animalistic in man. Worse, we supported them in their work. 

           We did all this to the detriment of the health and stunning natural beauty of our world. We denied future generations the opportunities we enjoyed and we leave them a diminished world. These are painful searing admissions once we let them rise to consciousness. Passing through this painful point is a necessary step in our healing, though..

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