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
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..
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..
"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..