The Role of the Church in the Twenty-first Century

Thomas Berry, in :The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, chapter 6

When we talk of the role of the Church in the twenty first century, we must begin with the obvious reality of an industrial civilization ruining the natural world on which we depend for both our physical and our spiritual sustenance. The basic question is no longer the human-divine relations; nor, in my view, is it the inter-human relations. The basic issue is human-Earth relations. The future of the other two relations depends on this third relation, our human capacity to recognize our place in the structure of the universe and to fulfill our role in this setting.” ( page 46)

In this chapter Thomas Berry continues with the description of what is happening: the magnitude of the changes that are taking place – changes so much greater than a change in culture. He connects the changes also with what we have been doing to our planet and the consequences of these actions. How there is only a viable future for all human and non-human life on our planet, when we realize the devastation that we have caused and when we can be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing way?

He points at the root cause of the devastation that we have caused: we have replaced the human as the center of the universe and we do not look at the universe as the primary referent concerning reality and value in the phenomenal world.

And we have broken the unity of the universe and especially of the life systems on the Earth. He speaks about the pathology of our (Western) culture in how we deal with the rights of all living beings and have claimed the right for the human to exploit the Earth community. Now this deep pathology has been communicated all over the planet and the devastation is worldwide.

..”If we read our present historical situation in this context, then what is needed is an adjustment of the human to the universe. The basic issue before us is not the human-divine relations or inter-human relations but human-Earth relations. This adjustment on our part to the realities of the Earth requires that we move in to a new geo-biological period of the history of our planet. We need to move from the terminal Cenozoic to what might be designated as the emergent Ecozoic era in Earth history, the period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing manner. We need to establish ourselves in a single integral community including al component members of Planet Earth. ( 1 Cor. 12, 12-31 )

The broader integral community must be the primary concern in all human affairs before that of any particular member of the community. Even our sense of the divine comes to us mainly, not through any scriptural communication, but through the universe around us. The natural world is the fundamental locus for the meeting of the human and the divine……

In all these experiences communion takes place between ourselves and the numinous reality whence the universe came into being and by which it is sustained in its immense journey…”

( page 48-49)

“…At this moment of transition the twenty-first–century Church, which has lost a sense of its basic purposes in these past centuries, could restore its efficacy and extend its influence over human affairs. The Church could be a powerful force in bringing about the healing of a distraught planet. The Church could provide an integrating reinterpretation of our New Story of the universe. In this manner it could renew religion in its primary expression as celebration, as ecstatic delight in existence. This, I propose, is the Great Work to which Christianity is called in these times. …( page 53)

…”we need a more adequate understanding of the universe, of how it came into being, of its governing tendencies, and of the sequences of transformations whereby it has taken on its present forms of expression. We need to know how the solar system and Earth came into being, how life developed on the planet, and , finally, how we ourselves appeared and what our human role has been within this amazing process. All these things need to be understood as aspects of a spiritual as well as a physical process. Only such comprehensive and deep understanding can restore the integral functioning of planet Earth upon which human well-being depends. This is the fundamental task of the Church in the twenty first century”

(page 58)

Th. Berry, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth. Ch. 6, ISBN978-1-57075-851-5

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The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth: ISBN 978-1-57075-851-5

 

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