Sunday, November 1, 2009

Is religion important in creating a sustainable future?

by Alan S. Cajes

There is overwhelming evidence that human beings have damaged Planet Earth in catastrophic proportions. The earth’s ecological systems are in jeopardy. The myriad water bodies are no longer teeming with fish and micro-organisms but struggle to survive against humanity’s onslaught with pollution and toxic and hazardous wastes. The lands are no longer covered with pristine and diverse vegetation but bear the brunt of the dominant species that prides itself with steel and concrete. The air is no longer the domain of the birds and the home of the clouds but is the dark shroud that brings acid rain, powerful hurricanes, and destructive typhoons. As if these are not sufficient, man altered the climate and puts his survival, including that of billion other species, in serious and seemingly irreversible risk. Foul air, dirty water, depleted resources and global warming. These are the costs and the consequences of the social, cultural, religious, economic, political and scientific achievements of the most intelligent of all species – homo sapiens.

Why is a human being capable of such horrendous and despicable evil? If he can build massive pyramids, tall buildings, gigantic ships, bullet trains, rocket ships, giant computers, why can’t s/he maintain clean air, clean water, productive lands, and intact coral reefs and forests? If he is capable of great scientific and religious thought and deep wisdom, why can’t s/he keep God’s creation from desecration? If he is capable of communion with God and the Saints, why can’t he maintain a harmonious relationship with nature?

Thomas Berry traces the root of the environmental crisis to man’s alienation from a functioning universe or a cosmos. Human beings today live in a fragmented world. S/he lives in communities, political factions, firms, associations, towns, cities, nations, civilizations, or cultural traditions. S/he ceases to live in the world that God created. S/he lives in a world that s/he has fashioned with his or her own hands. S/he no longer lives in a world that has value per se. S/he lives in a world that has economic, financial or money value. S/he no longer lives in a world that sustains life. S/he lives in a world that is sustained by life. S/he no longer lives in the world. S/he exists in a world.

Empirical and reductionist science accelerated the alienation of human beings from the cosmos. Francis Bacon initiated the tradition of experimental empiricism in Britain. Rene Descartes propounded dualism, the theory of reality that separates res cogitans or mind from res extensa or matter. Galileo combined the experimental empiricism of Bacon with the rationalism of Descartes resulting in a material and mathematical theory of reality or the scientific method. Isaac Newton went further and claimed that science should separate the human observer from nature being observed. This approach effectively transformed nature into objects and commodities. As a realm of things, nature became an unchartered territory that man could study, conquer, exploit, and mold to satisfy man’s quest for betterment, progress or development.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr complemented Berry’s assessment by pointing out that the withering of consciousness as a principal reality from man’s consciousness has resulted in the reduction of the diverse levels of reality into a single level. Reality is reduced into elementary particles - quarks, leptons and bosons. The spiritual dimension has vanished. Science has caused the separation of spirit from matter. As a consequence, the logos, the consciousness or the spiritual reality of the old religions and mysticism has ceased to be the arche.

This paradigm has deep and profound implications to man’s view and relationship with nature. The cosmos has lost its divine origin and character. It is simply matter and its forces. The theory of the big bang has been proven and has served as a dominant explanation on the beginning of the universe. With this, “in principio creavit Deus caelum et terram” is supplanted by “the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state and continues to expand today”.

With God out of sight and out of the mind, religious truths and dogma have become valued artifacts in a Museum of Human Knowledge.

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