Thomas Berry was one of the most profound Catholic philosophers of the last century who dared to take a new look at the world that science was bringing to light and found inspiration in it.
I remember reading one of his books, A Dream of the Earth, sometime in the 80s it must have been, and having my view of the world and its ecology quite changed by his insights.
He was an outstanding thinker and a proponent of deep-ecology who saw that we can’t turn the clock back on all that we have been doing to the Earth over the past couple of hundreds of years, but must change our relationship with the planet now or fall with it as it falls into destruction.
One of the most peculiar things about the scientific project is that whereas it gives us a description of the Universe, a true world-view, unlike all other systems before it, it refuses to draw what are really necessary conclusions.
In Buddhism, for instance, the idea of transmigration through diverse and manifold forms of life provides a view of the Universe that demands we have respect for all forms of life, as any being we come across may have been at one time one of our closest relatives.
In science on the other hand one of the best established facts is that of evolutionary common descent, that all life on Earth has evolved from a common ancestor, and that all the different species are part and parcel of the same big family.
We would expect that there is an obvious lesson to be drawn here: if we are part of a family then we must behave with respect and deference to the family members. Somehow though science will not go that far, and ethics is left aside.
Berry was one of the modern thinkers who saw that this lack of insight has led us to the brink of destruction, and that any world-view that doesn’t have an ethical foundation is a very dangerous thing indeed.
Thomas Berry had studied both Indian and Chinese thought and even wrote a well-received book on Buddhism, but he will be best remembered for his work on the ecology of the universe and the human being’s place in it.
Here is a short and inspiring photographic essay by Caroline Webb drawing on his writings, beautifully illustrated with photographs of the natural world, and with some wonderful music as backdrop. For more information see the Thomas Berry website.
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