The Dream of the Earth, by Thomas Berry

Maisa Arias • 21 February 2018
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To give you a preview of some of the worldview and spirit behind the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, we invite you to read this short selection of excerpts from the writings of Thomas Berry.

Thomas Berry is the cosmologist and philosopher who began much of the most profound environmental thinking of our time, and whose views about our current situation inspire many of the Symposium’s messages. 

Please share your thoughts and insights in the Comments sections below. 


1 …Our challenge is to create a new language, even a new sense of what it is to be human. It is to transcend not only national limitations, but even our species isolation, to enter into the larger community of living species.

2 … There is reason to believe that those mysterious forces that have guided earthly events thus far have not suddenly collapsed under the great volume of human affairs

3. Our ultimate failure as humans is to become not a crowning glory of the earth, but the instrument of its degradation. We have contaminated the air, the water, the soil; we have dammed the rivers, cut down the rainforests, destroyed animal habitat on an extensive scale. We have driven the great blue whale and a multitude of animals almost to extinction. We have caused the land to be eroded, the fish to be acid.

4… we must ask what are the real gains for the human? The automobile, our urban centers, our space exploits, our communication skills? What have we gained? A set of once-magnificent but now-decaying infrastructures that exhaust our energies, our finances, and the resources of the earth itself. Whereas the infrastructures of nature continually renew themselves from within, our infrastructures dissolve in the corrosive acids of the environment or break under the relentless strain imposed upon them.

5. We must also develop a way of thinking about “progress” that would include the entire earth community. If there is to be real and sustainable progress, it must be a continuing enhancement of life for the entire planetary community. It must be shared by all the living, from the plankton in the sea to the birds above the land. It must include the grasses, the trees, and the living creatures of the earth. True progress must sustain the purity and life-giving qualities of the both the air and the water.

6 …We need something that will supply in our times what was supplied formerly by our traditional religious story. If we are to achieve this purpose, we must begin where everything begins in human affairs—with the basic story, our narrative of how things came to be, how they came to be as they are, and how the future can be given some satisfying direction. We need a story that will educate us, a story that will heal, guide and discipline us.

7. The difficulty with this cosmology is that it presents the world simply as an ordered complex of beings that are ontologically related as an image of the divine. It does not present the world as a continuing process of emergence in which there is an inner organic bond of descent of each reality from an earlier reality.

8 … An integral story has not emerged, and no community can exist without a unifying story.

9 … If this fascination, this entrancement, with life is not evoked, the children will not have the psychic energies needed to sustain the sorrows inherent in the human condition. They might never discover their true place in the vast world of time and space. Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events of their lives. Children need a story that will bring personal meaning together with the grandeur and meaning of the universe.

10. If the dynamics of the universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relationship to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance form the very structure and functioning of the universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.

11 … The change requires something beyond environmentalism, which remains anthropocentric while trying to limit the deleterious effects of human presence on the environment.

12. What we seem unwilling or unable to recognize is that our entire modern world is itself inspired not by any rational process, but by a distorted dream experience, perhaps by the most powerful dream that has ever taken possession of the human imagination. Our sense of progress, our entire technological society, however rational in its functioning, is a pure dream vision in its origin and in its objectives.

13. In relation to the earth, we have been autistic for centuries. Only now have we begun to listen with some attention and with a willingness to respond to the earth’s demands that we cease our industrial assault, that we abandon our inner rage against the conditions of our earthly existence, that we renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe.

14. Evidence for this hopefulness is found in the sequence of crisis moments through which the universe and, especially, the planet Earth have passed from the beginning until now. At each state of its development, when it seems that an impasse has been reached, improbable solutions have emerged that enabled the Earth to continue its development. At the very beginning of the universe, the rate of expansion had to be at an infinitesimally precise rate so that the universe would neither explode nor collapse. So it was at the moment of passage out of the radiation stage: only a fragment of matter escaped antimatter annihilation, but out of that fragment has come the galactic systems and the universe entire. So at the shaping of the solar system: if the Earth were a little closer to the sun, it would be too hot; if slightly more distant, it would be too cold. If closer to the moon, the tides would overwhelm the continents; if more distant, the seas would be stagnant and life development could not have taken place. So with the radius of the Earth: if it were a little greater, the Earth would be more gaseous, like Jupiter; if a little less, the Earth would be more solid like Mars. In neither case could life have developed in its present form.


15. After the appearance of cellular life, when the original nutrients were consumed, the impasse was averted by invention of photosynthesis, upon which all future life development has depended So it has been with the great story of life in its groping toward unlimited variety of expression; the mysteries of life multiply, but he overall success of the planet became increasingly evident, until the Neolithic phase of the human.

16. This story of the past provides our most secure basis of hope that the earth will so guide us through the peril of the present that we may provide a fitting context for the next phase of the emergent mystery of earthly existence. That the guidance is available we cannot doubt. The difficulty is in the order of magnitude of change that is required of us. We have become so acclimated to an industrial world that we can hardly imagine any other context of survival, even when we recognize that the industrial bubble is dissolving ands will soon leave us in the chill of a plundered landscape.

17. Mitigation of the present situation (recycling of materials, diminishment of consumption, healing of damaged ecosystems) will be in vain if they are done to make the present industrial systems acceptable. They must be done, but in order to build a new order of things.

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