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Ecological Vision and Planetary Survival

Concept paper for EATWOT’s General Assembly
at Yoghyakarta, Indonesia, 2012


The current world economic and productive system as well as the lifestyle of the capitalist civilization are the main causes of the “sixth great extinction of life” on this planet. Without radical change, we are headed toward a planetary ecological catastrophe and perhaps toward our own extinction as a living species. Based on this VISION that we take as given and whose evidence can be found everywhere, we enter into the theological JUDGEMENT of the situation.

  Our thesis is that, by themselves and alone, neither capital or politics or institutional religions, can provide a remedy for the destruction toward which we seem to be moving. That remedy will be possible only if there is a collective change of religious mentality. This is a task proper to theology.

As things stand today, religion continues to be the world’s most deeply mobilizing force. Even those who say they stand outside religious institutions are not freed from a basic religious vision that essentially conditions their way of seeing the world and themselves. We maintain that only a change in this “deep” (religious) way of seeing, only a change in that “vision,” can make the survival of humanity possible. This is so because

we will only stop destroying nature
when we discover its divine dimension
and our identity in nature

Let’s explore that:


I. It was a traditional religious vision that made it possible for us to get to this point.


a) The traditional image of the world-cosmos we held was…

-  A “tiny” image, due to our lack of scientific knowledge. (We were filling out our ignorance with imagination and mythical thinking);

-  That image saw nature merely as a “stage” for playing out the human drama;

-  Religion, which is a relationship of human beings with God, was conceived and lived without the presence of nature;

-  Matter has been traditionally considered to be something inferior, inert, lacking in life on its own, its existence sustained only by God, deprived in itself of any value not given to it by God;

-  It was considered an ontologically inferior region, the place of imperfection, of evil, of the “flesh,” of sin…;

-  being the object of a dualist vision that separated it out and deprived it of any intrinsic relationship with the spiritual and with the divine.


b) The traditional image we had of ourselves, presented us as beings superior to the rest of nature;

In reality, we didn’t think of ourselves as nature strictly but rather as “super-natural,” supplied with a superior life that was our main constitution: the “image and likeness of God” in which we were created, being sons and daughters of God – in an eminent mode particular to us alone, the grace of the God of our souls….

We were really not of this world, of this Earth, because when the entire scene had been set,  we were created separately, directly by God. This means that we do not come from this Earth, but rather from above, and from outside… and we do not feel that this world is our home, because we are only here in passing, journeying toward eternal life in heaven…

This radical disparity and opposition between nature and ourselves led us to place what is human above all else: an anthropomorphism by which all natural reality was seen in relation to humans. Lynn White decried this with the pointed statement: Judeo-Christianity is the most anthropomorphic religion.

We are understood to be the protagonists of history, the chosen species, the only one to be taken into account, the species that all other species must serve (speciesism)

For that reason, we viewed nature as something to be subjugated (a domination to which the God of Genesis himself invited us), as a use of resources supposedly infinite and inexhaustible.


c) The traditional image of God

It seems that since the Neolithic era, agrarian civilization has changed its perception of the divine, distinguishing it and separating it from nature, which was dispossessed of everything sacred. The divine was displaced in the direction of transcendence that inhabited the world of ideas (Plato), the true world, perfect and superior, the one set above our own and which is dependent on it. The divine is configured as theos, a dominating divinity, masculine, warrior and patriarchal, etc.

Dualism also impregnated everything here, two levels of reality, two poles entirely unbalanced (a dualism that is in reality “monist” because, of the two poles, only one concentrates within itself all being and all potentiality; the other is pure passivity, receptivity and negativity).

This transcendence of God, who is pure spirit, Creator of all, totally differentiated from the cosmos, Lord, Kyrios…, has justified humans—created in his image and likeness—sharing something of his transcendence and all his lordship over nature.

(This was not the image of God held by Palaeolithic humans, who lived in great harmony with Nature, considered divine, the Pachamama, Great Mother God and Nurse, who was respected and venerated. How was it, in what moment of our history, that we went wrong and wandered off? Today the analysts seem to agree that we lost our way when the agrarian revolution came about, and now is the time to get back on the path.)

So then, this traditional, religious vision that was hegemonic during thousands of years in the West is what made possible the appearance and consolidation of a predatory civilizational system that is the enemy of Nature and responsible for the approaching ecological disaster.

The main cause has not been the bad will of some people or nations but the ensemble of theoretical elements (religion, beliefs, theologies, etc.) that has permitted and justified that scornful, depredatory and exploitative view of nature.

This negative attitude has seen the multiplication of its negative consequences through the sharp growth of the human population on the planet and through the exponential development of human technological capacities that have been placed almost exclusively at the service of profit. What in past ages was a damage that was easily assimilated by the planet is today truly an “eco-cide.” There are many analysts who coincide in denouncing this civilization and its option for the current style of development as, quite literally, on the way to self-extinction.

Because of all this, we will only cease to destroy nature and to destroy ourselves along with it when we change this damaging “vision” that, through religion, has immunized us. As long as we maintain the old view, our best technological tools will continue serving profit and preying on nature. Only a new vision can provide a remedy to ecocide—if we manage to get there in time. And religion, which educated many generations by inculcating in them the most basic images and visions, can more than anything else replace that old view with a new one and effectively instil it. More than anything else, religion has a great responsibility for the current situation and so therefore nothing else has so much potential for doing the job.

What, however, is the new vision that has been forged during these latter times?


II. The new vision that can make survival of life on the planet possible.

We need


a) A new view of the world

The new cosmology is revolutionizing the image we had of the world, that now we see as a cosmos that is not at rest but in full movement, in continuous expansion, in a process of evolution, with qualitative leaps, autopoiesis, and an apparition of emerging properties…

The new physics has revealed to us that matter is not an inert rock, that matter and energy are instead interchangeable, that matter has interiority, that matter gives rise to life, not from above or from outside but from within. Life tends to continual complexification, recreating and reinventing itself….

A new understanding leads us to discover an error that we had fallen into by thinking of nature as immanence without transcendence, without a sacred quality, without divinity… These dimensions cannot be sent off into a “transcendence” that is abstract and metaphysical as we had imagined. The only transcendence that we can accept is profoundly immanent.

God cannot be outside of or prior to cosmic reality, but rather in it. The cosmos, in some way, ends up being the body of the Spirit.

There is no supernatural or sacred dimension if it is not within the interiority of reality: It is reality itself that is sacred, divine, the “Holy Matter” (Teilhard de Chardin).

To say it in a symbolic way and avoiding romanticisms, today it seems to us that we need to retrace the process of descralization and disenchantment to which we have submitted nature through the path of rationalization and scientific ideology. These led us to degrade the sacred and the divine, which our own species had venerated during many thousands of years (in the Palaeolithic period) and that many peoples, who are opposed to rationalism and scientific ideology, continue to venerate.

The new vision of the world goes radically beyond the dualism between immanence and transcendence.


b) A new image of ourselves

Recognizing that we do not come “either from above or from outside,” but rather “from within and from below…,” we are 13,730 million years old. We were all born in the Big Bang. Since then, all the phases, each of the milestones of the evolution of the cosmos, form a part of our “sacred cosmic history” that is, right from the beginning, an ancestral Grace….

We were not “created from nothing,” (ex nihilo) by a god-theos separated from the cosmos, who then left us on the earthly scene “created in five days…” destined only to represent the drama of “the history of (human) salvation” in order to submit us to a trial and pass on to another, different life…. That image, so traditional and rooted, is false and we also see that it does damage….

We are “stardust,” formed by the explosion of one of the supernovas, literally so and not a metaphor,

We are Earth concretely, already Earth-Mater-ia, which is self-organized and that has achieved life and has come to be conscious, to feel and to think…

We are an “emergent species” that joins together within itself the three animal brains—the primary one of the reptile, the more elaborate one of the mammals and the cerebral cortex that characterizes us—and all the autopoyetic effort of the evolution of life…

We are one more species among many, although quite singular, that does not have the right to look down on other living beings that are sentient and intelligent in their own way. Rather, because of the greater knowledge given to us, we should accept the responsibility of promoting, through our intelligence, the harmony, good life and good living together of all living things on this planet.

We are thus not a distinct reality, essentially spiritual, superior, alien to this Earth. We are entirely earthy, profoundly natural, the ultimate and more recent—for the moment—flower of evolution in this corner of the cosmos, an evolution that now, in us, has made a leap and achieved culture and profound quality…

From this point of view, the human person can no longer be given the absolute character that proudly existed before (“social doctrine of the Church”).

We are inter-related with everything, in an absolutely interdependent network. If we destroy nature, we destroy our home, the basis of our nourishment; we destroy ourselves.


c) A new view of divinity…

The patriarchal, spiritual, immaterial, uncosmic, all-powerful, Lord, Kyrios god-theos… not only is not credible for many people, but, in addition, we discover that it is an image that has done much damage in the past and continues today to do damage to us because it has justified the contempt and depredation of nature.

The proper image of God can no longer be found only in the Revelations, the “second book” (St. Augustine) that God wrote, but in “the first,” in reality, the cosmos, the book that in the last 300 years has opened itself up to us in unimaginable ways, with an authentic “revelatory value.” (Thomas Berry)

An error about the cosmos leads to an error about God (Thomas Aquinas): the enormous errors and the great ignorance we had about the cosmos, matter and life, has inevitably led to great errors about divinity. Today we can intuit in a much more correct way the divine face of the cosmos, its divine soul and a new figure of God that brings solace to all this.

We discover today that the God-theos-kyrios, which had so taxingly accompanied us during thousands of years, is simply a “model” by which we tried to deal with with the intuition of sacredness, debating blindly with the Mystery and frequently confounding beliefs, symbols and maps as if they were realistic descriptions of a second level…

For an increasing number of people, theism (a theos up there, out there) is not only incredible but is increasingly indicated as the cause of the de-sacralisation of the world (by expatriating divinity toward a meta-physical transcendence), as well as of the divinizing of human beings, of their over-denaturalization and of its consequences even to the point of becoming the chief enemy today of life on the planet.

Theism (and equally atheism) needs to give way to a kind of post-theistic attitude. The divinity of reality, or Ultimate Reality, should no longer be thought of according to the model of theos, or following our own model (anthropomorphic theism). Perhaps it can be contemplated temporarily according to the model of biomorphic life: what we see in the evolutionary mystery of life reveals in some way a real trace of Divinity.

Panentheism (literally “God in everything, everything in God”) is accepted today—although we are conscious that it is not in any way a new dogma or a definitive interpretation—as a model that is more acceptable for this ecozoic (Berry) or anthropocenic (Boff and others) period. A divinity that is not outside, that is not someone like us, or Lord… but the ultimate Reality that animates the body of the cosmos, the same Reality viewed from the mystery of sacredness that enfolds it from within…

A divinity, therefore, that we no longer encounter by withdrawing from matter, from the earth or from life, but that presses us to encounter it passionately in them.



Our survival and that of many species on this planet is at risk, and the danger comes closer every day.

In the end, it is a specific religious viewpoint that has led us to this point and it has been that same religious vision that made capitalism possible. Today that capitalism dominates the globalized economic system.

Another religious vision that will redirect our current path to disaster is absolutely necessary. Religions and theology in particular have the greatest responsibility regarding the past and they have an enormous capacity to confront the urgent task of changing our vision.

We will only stop destroying nature and ourselves
when we take up a new vision
that makes us conscious of the divine dimension of nature
and of our full and inevitable identity.

All this is an urgent task for planetary theological education.

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