Awaken to an Earth Centred Cosmology

By Father Thomas Berry

The humans must re-invent themselves because this has gone so far. The very idea of the human and the purpose of the human and how the human functions on the planet and on the earth has been disturbed. Unless we discover and re-discover the human in its most basic meaning and its most fundamental significance. It is only then that we will begin to rectify the situation that has developed. In that manner and in a sense re-code. This is a metaphor not to be taken literally. This is a way of thinking that is more profound and more extensive understanding of what is human than we are generally accustomed to.

The exploration and expansion into the stars in the twentieth century is because we were fascinated into what we were accomplishing. When I was born in the early part of the century in 1914 in a city that is now 200,000 was then 15,000. The whole world had only 1 billion people. It took all of history until 1750 to arrive at 1 billion people. In 1920 we reached 2 billion. In the year 2000, there were 6 billion. It went from 2 billion to 6 billion in that short period of time. There is an acceleration of history and a change that has taken place. We were fascinated with what we were able to do. The controls we were able to exercise. The advantages could have for the human project.

But then we discovered that these wonders we were achieving had a destructive aspect. We had not foreseen or allowed for. The automobile, the car, we thought was so wonderful, now we find it is doing enormous damage. Both in the use of energy and in the pollution. In the destruction of personal lands. In several different ways. Buildings that we were creating throughout the world. The cutting down of trees. At a ferocious pace. All of this we thought we were doing some wonderful things for the human project. But we forgot that what the human project does is dependent on the Earth’s project. If the Earth cannot succeed, humans cannot succeed. Humans think that they can benefit by inflicting the Earth or by disturbing the functioning of the Earth. This is the silliest thing a person could imagine.

Dream of the Earth – The Human Project

I speak of the idea of a “Dream” because what we are faced with in the creative phase of our historical existence. This needs extensive imagination. Imagination is the guide in critical circumstances. A future has to be imagined before it can be created. The “Dream” drives the action. The “Dream” drives the action of any generation of what it is working toward some fulfillment out of an unacceptable present.

Throughout excessive exploitation of the planet and that life is becoming extremely difficult. We need to take care of the animals, the plants, and flowers because they feel threatened. What we are faced with in historical terms is a transition from a twentieth century which exploited the planet and earth. To a twenty-first century where that exploitation cannot continue.

Either we are going to change the way we are dealing with our planet Earth or Planet Earth will go into a negative aspect. As humans, we will be caught in it.

To talk about the transition from the 20th to the 21st century gives the future a specific time and place. A sequence of time for young people to create a vastly different human relationship than that which they are inheriting. This is a tragic in nature, but that is the nature of our times.

End of the Natural World

The dissociation of humans with the natural world can be traced back to the 14th century and the 15th century. Because until then, the natural world was a sacred world. It was revelatory. Christians had not only the Bible. But they had the natural world. The natural world had a revelatory aspect equal to the Bible. Different from, but in a sense equal to because it was the revelation of the same deity (God), which is why words are used analogously.

Basic ideas of the Earth. Basic philosophical ideas. With literal you don’t have the language. You have to use symbolic language. You have to use language like “Every being has rights”. Rights mean you give every being its due. But rights are different. The rights needed by an animal, or a pigeon are different to the rights needed by a tree. They are same in the sense of giving the being its due, but different in what is given.

When you think of revelation and that they natural world is revelatory (it reveals God) and that the scripture is revelatory. Equally the same deity (God). That is presenting itself. But in a different mode. Saying different things. We learn different things from the earth revelatory and Biblical revelatory. They are equally sacred. They are equally divine communication. Qualitively different. But the same idea of deity.

What happened was two fold. The sense of the natural world and the protection of the natural world. This survived up until the 14th and 15th century. In the 1340s almost half of Europe died. It was the most devastating physiological thing to every hit Europe. It took two centuries to get beyond this. Because this came from the natural world, this caused people to withdraw from the sense of the natural world. The natural world as a sacred world.

In the 15th century you have the discovery of printing. Bibles were printed. People were reading Bibles for the first time. All the Christian groups became Bible orientated people rather than Earth orientated people. In this manner people lost their attachment to the planet Earth and we end up at the present time with this ruthless exploitation. For supposed human benefit, but with a totally destructive impact.

Ecozoic period

Ecozoic period has to do with intimate relationship with humans with the natural world. Ecozoic is a designation of that period were humans establish a profound intimacy between humans and the earth.

A child awakens

A child awakens to the universe. The mind of a child to world of wonder. Imagination to a world of beauty. Emotions to a world of intimacy. It takes a universe to make a child. Both in outer form and inner spirit. It takes a universe to educate a child. It takes a universe to fulfill a child.

The first obligation of the adult generation is to the children is to bring these two together. A child in intimate with the universe and the universe is intimate with the child. While the stars ring out in the heavens.


This sense of how humans relate to the earth is so important because science gives us the means to exploit the earth so extensively. Science gives us no guidance whatsoever on how to use science. The first thing about science is that it does not guide concerning the use of science. This inability of science to guide humans which has led to that difficulty.

Role of the Human

The human being is that being in the universe that reflects on and celebrates itself as a special mode of conscious awareness. That is your basic idea of the human. Humans have a primary role of intellect and consciousness. There will be no universe formally without the human. That is why the human is important. The pre-human world has no knowledge of itself. It is devoid of self-comprehension. It is only the human that enables the universe to be a universe.

The greatest medieval thinkers Thomas Aquinas speaks of the universe and goes back to the book of Genesis. Where after the creation God says “it is good”. After the whole of the whole creation God says, “it is very good”. The reason why this is because the universe itself the noblest perfection of things. It reflects God.

From the human we are not talking about something over there. We humans are inside the universe. The universe is being known as subject and not as object. It is a mode of self-awareness which constitutes the human place in the universe. It is the understanding that it has gone astray, or disordered, or interrupted by a modern world of exploitation. This world of exploitation has come to dominate the four major controls that we have over the universe. Including the “political/social control”, the “educational/scientific” control, the “economic/industrial control” and the “religious/moral control”. These four with the establishment that each as authority. They speak with authority. They govern the human project from a certain point of view. They are the dominate influence over the human project from a certain point of view.

It is unfortunate that these four controls have become detached from their original rootedness in the natural world. From their original primary concern. From the wellbeing of the natural world. All four depend on the natural world. Economics depends absolutely on the natural world. Without the creation of the fields, the animals, the land, the water and productions from the Earth, there is no economics. So with all the other aspects of life. The Earth is the primary origin and guide to all of them.

Lack of appreciation comes primarily from lack of direction. When the four controls get distracted from their basic needs to be guides and contribute to and give shape to the meaning of the earth. If they fail in this, it is difficult to remedy.

Our lives have been taken over by the industrial world. Modern transportation. Modern entertainment. Modern education. Modern activities of all different sorts. All have created a sequence of endless activities. They sweep us up in their various expressions. We end up with a negative fulfillment. Without fulfillment.

What do indigenous cultures have to teach us?

Indigenous cultures have everything to teach us. They need to teach us from the simplest aspects of what it is to be a human being. They need to teach us how to get our food without destroying the planet. They teach us how to pray. They teach us how to educate. They teach us civility to the planet Earth.

Will the natural world survive?

The question is : “will the natural world will survive in its full functional force”? A person may easily grab the answer. But, it is the condition in which it survives. Will it survive with some of the wonderful qualities it had in its earlier phase. This is the question. This is why the “Human Project” get on with the renewal of the earth. A person might say, there is not a lot of time left because the woodlands are being destroyed at a fantastic rate. The number of species and animals extinct increases every year. There is amazingly high extinction rate.

The capacities of Earth to sustain this onslaught is increasingly diminished. That is why there is urgency. The children of the next generation that are going to inherit the problem need to be educated for the task that they will be called upon to fulfill. The children will be called to remedy the damage that their forefathers have brought about. Instead of leaving them with a wonderful heritage, that is the tragedy. Humans thought that they were doing such wonderful things. For their children. They thought that they were building such a wonder world for their children. Now they find that humans are doing great damage. We are building a world where they cannot live and nothing else can live.

What is the great work?

The great work is to create the 21st century as the century of creativity, life in its full expansion. A period when humans will be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing way.

Consciousness has enabled the human to be so destructive. Overwhelmingly modes of being do not have reflective consciousness. The birds and animals cannot do what humans do. Only humans can solve the present problems with the Earth. That is a consequence of consciousness. The capacity to act with awareness and understanding is what makes the human so powerful and ultimate in the decisions that humans make. That is what is happening now. Consciousness has gone crazy. This consciousness has lost its discipline. Lost its integrity. Lost its guidance. The recovery of this is what is urgent for the 21st century.

The problem of the human is how to respond. Not by exploiting the natural world, but by responding to its natural needs. To fulfill its expression of life. Which is ultimately the purpose of each being. The complexity of beings is what makes the universe a fascinating reality.

When one mode of being takes over another mode of being for personal advantage. That which is so beautiful becomes destructive. What needs to be developed is the integral relationship between humans and the Earth. They exist for each other. Identity is meaningless one being has what the other has. There has to be difference to share and participate in a common life. The difference in identity is the deepest secret of the universe. This is the foundation of what we call “our love relationship”. Our of which life, energy and vigour all flow.

All of us are called upon to play a part. We are all contributing to vast planetary Ark, like Noah’s Ark, to avoid the devastating destruction which has been imposed upon this present planetary process during the 20th century. This idea of Noah’s Ark gives us a basic idea of how things function in a time of comprehensive decision making.

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25 July 2021

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Father Thomas Berry

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