It's Dusk Somewhere

To face the coming climate crisis, a new vision and a new spirituality

Posted at — Jun 1, 2023 by Izzy Meckler

The following is a translation of an article from Caminos (A Cuban journal of socio-theological thought). It was written by José María Vigil, Spanish-Nicaraguan liberation-theologian.

Seeing: The climate catastrophe is approaching, and its cause is human in origin

That we are walking toward a climate catastrophe is, in the context of the current ecological and human crisis, the most scientifically supported opinion.

No one doubts it any longer: climate change has begun, and at a steady pace. Just 10 years ago, the greater part of society denied this reality. Since then, the UN has called together the IPCC, an independent authority, formed by more than 200 scientists from all over the world to study the subject.

The various reports the IPCC has produced have only confirmed the worst predictions: it’s certain that the planet is warming, and moreover it appears incontestable that it’s due to a fundamentally anthropogenic phenomenon, i.e., a phenomenon of human origin. As is well known, the United States and the transnational corporation-directed media initially led the denialist opinion; with President Obama, the situation changed, but today, regrettably, when there’s no longer any doubt from the scientific point of view, US President Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence present themselves as champions of climate change denial.

A new type of “refugees” have started appearing: “climate refugees”. People – including villages, entire countries (islands) – who must flee because climate change has made their homes uninhabitable. There are already more than 300,000 such people, and the problem has only just begun.

But the catastrophe affects more than just humans: it’s already affecting the whole planet, its ecosystems and its equilibrium, its self-regulation, threatening the “Community of Life”. It will cause a massive extinction of species.

As we said, there is no doubt about the anthropogenic origin of the crisis. It’s known that in the evolutionary history of the planet, there have been many climate changes, and there are natural causes that influence them (the cycles of the sun, the variations in the direction of the Earth’s axis, etc.). But today we know that this time, above these causes, one finds the species Homo sapiens. This species is acting in a way which places it in a “state of war” against the planet – worsened by the enormous technological development at its disposal and the demographic explosion through which it has multiplied in the last centuries. It has transformed into a true “geological force”, capable of interfering in the natural processes that the planet uses to self-regulate.

The closeness of the catastrophe

It’s important to distinguish an aspect of the catastrophe which is not typically mentioned: its closeness. The foreseeable effects of climate change have such an apocalyptic character that their mere possibility seems fantastical. We cannot comfortably coexist with such a threat, so complete and so close; we prefer to see it as something improbable and which is not so close. We’re tempted to think that it’s not even possible. However – and this is what we must stress – the climate catastrophe is the most probable hypothesis at present, and not just because it could happen, but because it has already started. It is a process which, without a radical and rapid change in the social behavior of humanity, will continue inexorably, worsened by unforeseen acceleration, due to feedback processes which today are well documented, although in no way controllable.

Moreover, the process is taking place faster than was thought even recently: at the height of 2016, 16 of the 17 hottest years in recorded history were in the current century.

The inevitability of the catastrophe

But there’s more: not only is the catastrophe closer than we thought, it’s also proving to be practically inevitable. Given the nature of the situation, we may already be past the point of no return. The goals of the 2015 Paris Accords are impossible to reach. The needed reductions in the use of fossil fuel are enormous, so large that they’re turning out to be unacceptable. Our society is unable to stop the consumption of fossil fuels on a dime: too many things depend on it; social life would collapse. It’s not possible to change the change the energetic base of the global economy or substitute carbon-intensive energy in just a few years, and maybe not even in decades. And we do not have viable alternatives to the current energetic base.

Additionally, at the global level, there is a serious lack of political will among states. We continue to be ordered about by the financial elites of the capitalist system, who remind blind to anything which goes against their interests, and who don’t even want to talk about the topic. The extractive mining industry (of the first world!) continues mercilessly destroying the environment of the third world, even killing the environmentalist prophets who raise their voices in the name of their people and communities. The hoped-for pollution-free models of electric cars have yet to be developed. And great doubt hangs over nuclear energy, which some call for as a possible substitute for fossil fuels (at least provisionally) while another way out is found. In sum, there is no political will. The mercilessly predatory dynamic of the system continues intact, with greater and greater techno-scientific potential for massive and accelerated destruction. There does not seem to be a way out in the short term, at least not before the short amount of time that seems to separate us from the approaching catastrophe.

We are already on the slippery slope. The catastrophe has started its daily ravages to the planet as a whole. By not thinking about it, we are walking right into the catastrophe. There is only one alternative: either we set into motion a cultural revolution which radically transforms human behavior at a global level, or we face the apocalypse. We’re going towards an ecocide of massive proportions, which for much our species will also be a suicide. And it’s starting to be likely that we’ve run out of time to avoid it.

Judging: Trying to understand and accept the climactic reality

As we have said, it’s hard for us to take up a “realistic” way of thinking that takes into account the prediction of the looming catastrophe. Not just because we’re programmed for survival, but because never before in our history have we been faced with the expectation of such massive destruction.

A climate catastrophe is historically and bio-cosmically possible

The common citizen, gifted with a natural optimism, tends to think that, despite difficulties, the arrow of time marches irrepressibly forward. We cannot accept information about a catastrophe in the short or medium term; before its mere statement, we raise our guards, and we do so because we’re programmed for survival.

Moreover, the worldviews that humanity has been endowed with – precisely to survive – have stubbornly worked to leave the horizon open toward life, toward hope. We cannot allow ourselves to just stand indifferently before the fact of the imminence of our destruction.

But despite all this, the current state of Earth science informs us about the plausibility of the catastrophe. We know today that life on this planet has a choppy history, full of chance, with advances and retreats, plagued by impasses and extinctions. The ongoing extinction is not the first, but the sixth “great extinction”. Though it may be our first, we shouldn’t find it strange, as it is precisely we who are causing it. Completely different epochs of Gaia have passed, one after the other with normality. Today science would not be surprised to find that we are in the evening of one of those “normal” catastrophes, bio-cosmically speaking.

James Lovelock represents this position emblematically: we should see it as natural – the imminent closeness of the climate catastrophe, which will destroy the greater part of life on the planet, include the human species, which will likely be left completely decimated; it is an eventuality which has been caused by us above all, a catastrophe we couldn’t see at the start, but which we’ve not been able to stop after realizing ourselves to be the cause, and now it’s already too late; we can only soften it. And little time remains. What we’re left to do, says Lovelock, is open our eyes, be realistic, rely on the scientifically most probable predictions, and act accordingly, accommodating ourselves with serenity (as much as is possible), to what’s coming.

Normally, no one would operate with such an expectation as their contextual mental framework. One prefers to live, think and until science “as such” makes it this prediction does not exist: “the same as in the time of Noah”, when human beings lived, did business, and got married as if nothing would happen. We are in a conjuncture like the one before the biblical flood, says the scientist, but with a significant difference: Noah could save himself with the ark, but we can’t count on any ship to save us.

It’s also possible anthropically speaking

The possibility of a catastrophic climate change that destroys most or all of the human species seems also to be incompatible with the traditional anthropocentric thinking. From the start, subconsciously, the simple possibility of the destruction of the human species from change in the climate seems ridiculous to us. Aren’t we the cosmos’s reason for being? Don’t we constitute the meaning of the Earth? Are we not the arrow of evolution, which gathers in itself the evolutionary impulse of all life on the planet? Do we not form a totally different reality to that of the animal species, being situated on an “ontologically” superior level (as supernatural beings, created in the image and likeness of God, with a spiritual soul…), by our origin and our fate, untouchable by the climactic or meteorological vicissitudes which animals and plants are subjected to?

Today, the Earth and life sciences no longer support us on this point. We are not, as we’ve thought ourselves to be, absolutely different and superior beings. We are a biological species coming from the same evolutionary process which gave rise to the other species on this planet. Therefore, we do not have absolute rights over those who’ve come out of that same process. We are born in the middle of the Community of Life of this planet, and we belong to that community. We do not come from above (from the sky), nor from outside (from a creation ex nihilo), but from below (from the Earth) and from inside (from the biological evolutionary process, whose fingerprints can be seen in our bodies). We share the same basic natural condition, the same habitat, and, depending on what we do, the same fate.

We are but one more species, and in principle with the same features as the rest: temporary, fleeting, destined to disappear and be superseded by other species on down the road.

We are not the directors of evolution, although we are in this moment – as far as we know – the most “advanced” species (and only in some senses.) The evolutionary force of life goes way beyond us, pushes for evolution from many biological fronts, and could overtake and snatch from us our current primacy. Maybe the climate crisis, despite its traumatic consequences, could be the environmental event necessary for the “emergence” of a new stage of Gaia, of a radical change in us, or eventually, of one or many new species which come to “lead” evolution on this planet.

So, from a broad, cosmo-bio-anthropic point-of-view, the ecological catastrophe, including the possible extinction of the human species, does not mean an absolute disaster, as is understood from the usual human (anthropocentric) perspective still in force. It’s something much more digestible, a realistic perspective with which it’s possible to reconcile ourselves and coexist, an option much more probable than the triumphalist and predestinatory expectation that we usually rely on.

And from the point of view of religion?

Religions, the intimate companions of the human being during the last four millennia, share the same confusion. They’re just as surprised as the human species in general.

They’ve put forward the most varied apocalypses as the end of our (small, human) world: only the anger of some irritated heavenly god, or some malevolent demon risen from hell, would be able to end the human being in an external and all-powerful act. It was unimaginable that this world would end, not as the result of divine intervention, but by the ignorant action of the human being, destroying the vital recuperative organs of the Earth system over millennia. Rather than a divine punishment, as has been thought in religions, the final apocalyptic catastrophe will be a completely human ecocide.

That the world would last forever, or end only when God in his mysterious plan decided that all would pass into the final heavenly age of eternity, toward which all of human history had been directed, was the prediction of the Abrahamic religions. That the whole “divine plan of salvation” programmed by God would be cut short by a merely “climactic” effect, or by an astronomical constraint, is difficult to accept for these religions, because it implies a break with important doctrines, presented until now as part of the Revelation of God. Only the fundamentalists continue proclaiming that Omnipotent God will be there to save us from any astrophysical catastrophe (now no longer divine, but man-made).

Is it possible for a religion to be able to accept and be reconciled with the perspective that Earth science shows us today about the ongoing climate crisis? The official Western religions, their institutions, are still light-years away from accepting this perspective. But the theoretical possibility exists, and in fact many Western believers – not just advanced theologians, but also enlightened Christian communities and believers anxious for freedom – have assimilated this perspective. De facto ad posse valet illatio (“If a thing is or ever was, we may infer that it can be.") Buddhism, for its part, officially keeps good relations with science, feels obliged to accept research and scientific discoveries, and declares that there is no conflict between Buddhism and science.

Acting: conjuncture at the crossroads: the three causes

There seem to us to be three main causes both of the genesis of the current ecological crisis and of the inadequate response that humanity has given it (by omission).

The first is the economic system and the system of production – egotistical, exploitative and predatory – which the human species has given itself. This system has a perverse and powerful dynamic of depredation of the environment and exploitation of groups of humans. A dynamic which, together with the immense technological capacity of today, is leading us at an ever faster pace to ecological disaster.

The second is a dominant vision and culture that legitimizes this civilizational system which preys on the environment and exploits the less favored part of humanity.

Finally, the lack of some human quality – at both the personal and collective levels – implied by the inability to perceive the perversity of this system, as well as by the slowness to react, stop, and overcome the situation. What is it that we’re lacking? Information? Consciousness? Perceptiveness? Will? Spirituality?

For the first cause, we need political militancy to transform the system. For the second, we need a new theology, and at a bigger scale, a true cultural revolution. For the third, we need a new spirituality.

Let’s review each of these three points.

A dysfunctional system of life, at war with the planet

Starting with the 16th century, the capitalist system has been imposed on the world. It is currently in a stage of neoliberalism and globalized finance. This system generates a perverse dynamic of depredation of nature and exploitation of huge parts of the human population. Humanity has spent several centuries failing in its attempts to overcome capitalism.

This economic system of production and consumption, the base of the human species' mode of life – produces an excessive load on the planet’s system of reproduction and self-sustenance of life. This is because it exploits and predates on “natural resources” vital to the living system which sustains and reproduces life. It has far exceeded its own limits and is currently galloping away unbridled to a rhythm of consumption which requires multiple planets to sustain. It’s not just that the situation is clearly unsustainable; it has been bankrupt for some time, and shows signs of exhaustion and impasse. The rhythm of damage we inflict on the planet has not stopped growing. Despite that, we haven’t managed to agree to reduce it, let alone stop it. That is, we are continuing on destroying our own habitat, our one and only Common Home.

The present global economic system centers everything on the market, in the pursuit of the greatest profit in the least time possible, in service of accumulation. The global transnational corporations rule the global economy, but they see themselves responsible only to their shareholders, to the end of getting them the greatest dividends, no matter the cost; they recognize no obligation to society, to the various states, to the poor, to humanity, to the limits of the planet.

Our economic and civilizational system is the exact opposite of what we need: a system centered on the promotion of the well-being of the planet, of life, of all living beings, of humanity as a whole, of the Good Life and Coexistence (Buen Vivir y Convivir). Not just a “demo-cracy” nor “(merely) human rights”, but a “bio-cracy” and a respect for “rights for all”, including to non-humans, the rights of all living beings and of Mother Earth, who makes all of their existence possible.

The main problem is that our civilizational system, in its material base, destroys life and the planet, and with it the very basis of our possibility of survival. Our own economic system is killing us. And given that it’s we who hold responsibility for it, the truth is we’re killing ourselves.

The moral diagnosis finds the root of this sickness in the fact that the human being has put its own rights above the rights of the planet and other living species. We have turned ourselves into dysfunctional beings, who are choking the biosphere and dragging the entire Community of Life toward climate disaster, already producing a mass extinction. Our way of life is our worst enemy.

The planet is already reacting, whether through Gaia’s self-regulatory system, or perhaps mainly as the simple consequence of the greenhouse effect, beginning a warming which in the long run is going to destroy the species who caused it; something which one could, completely sensibly, see as a reaction of the planet against an aggressor.

We are not speaking of remote possibilities, nor even of close possibilities, but of processes which are already in motion. Processes that we’ll hardly be able to slow down, much less stop. We have to be realistic, think through what the next stages will be, and prepare ourselves for the arrival of the predicted scenarios. A time of great suffering is coming. Much of humanity will perish, though life and the planet will recover, after the extinction of many species. Probably another species will take our evolutionary place and act in a way which is harmonious with the planet and the biosphere. Or maybe we ourselves will evolve to be the new species that we must become.

Gaia is in the midst of a great transformation, perhaps in response to the destructive crisis caused by human beings. The most important and urgent thing would be to integrate ourselves with her, taking up a cultural revolution which would make us copilot with Gaia in the overcoming of this crisis of survival.

We are co-protagonists in this deep crisis which cuts across all life on the planet. Whether we overcome it depends on how we behave – if we still have time – or we will perish in it. In this moment our great task is to go along with that urgent Great Transformation.

Our classical theology has been far outside of these broad coordinates: it has remained reduced to an anthropocentric vision; a vision which is fantastical, religionistic, locked in the lighthouse of internal biblico-Judeo-Christian references, which has been passively looking the other way and unconsciously legitimizing the destruction of the planet. We need a new, radically different theology, set on a broader base and atop new assumptions which are coherent with reality.

Humanity continues governing itself by its species' ancestral genetic inertia, common to many others: fight for survival at any cost, “the law of the jungle”, or “the law of the strongest”. This behavioral DNA was appropriate in previous evolutionary epochs, but from the moment that humanity was endowed with powerful technology, it has quintupled its population since 1900 and turned into a veritable geological force; this species has found itself in flagrant contradiction with its limits (the size of the planet, its limited capacity to regenerate resources for the life for all living beings, the rights of the other species…).

Our species needs a new “vision”, adequate to the present evolutionary arena, which would give it the ability to perceive Gaia, opening it up to a deep empathy with the whole of planetary community of life. It would give humanity a sense of belonging and put the brakes on humanity’s destructive potential. Currently, the human species is proving dysfunctional for the planet, and its (unceasing) proliferation is proving to be a plague, like a cancer destroying the basis of life. If it isn’t removed, this cancer will end the equilibrium of life on the planet, and itself along with it. It is urgent that this species evolves, or that it gives up its position and leadership to another species which would be functional for the survival and the flourishing [flowering] of life.

A vision, already left behind by the world and by nature, is hurting us

For the old dysfunctional vision, matter is the visible half of reality. It is the inferior part, sterile, morally negligible, axiologically inferior to the invisible, to realities which are “spiritual” (not material!). Before matter, the human attitude is one of dominion and usufruct: they are nothing but “natural resources”.

For the new vision, in reality, “matter does not exist”. Because matter is, simply, energy in one of its states. Everything is energy, including the tings we’ve thought of as material. Quantum physics tells us about particles which are waves at the same time, which leave us uncertain of their behavior. “Underneath” everything, at the base of the subatomic levels, is the “quantum vacuum”: an unceasing dance of primordial energy, like a cosmic soup from which everything sprouts. (A “good metaphor for God”, according to Boff). Reality is self-organizing, autopoietic, “emergentistic”, capable of leaping to new and unforeseen emergent realities. Matter tends definitively towards more organized forms, towards life, sensation, consciousness, the spirit and communion; it leaps towards them. All is in motion (overcoming the vision of “fixism”), in evolution, ascending, converging. It is no longer possible to think of matter in the old “materialistic”, reductionist, “fixistic” terms. We need to see “material” reality with new eyes.

The old vision was marked by a deep dualism: reality split into two well-separated levels, two planes. The level in which we move and the higher level, the world of (metaphysical) being, of the (supernatural) spirit, of God. To the first plane belongs the material, the earthly, the corruptible, the sexual, sin. To the second plane, the spiritual, the heavenly, the eternal, the good, holiness. Like “body and soul”, the human being participates on both planes, but its true essence is its supernatural soul.

For the new vision, there is no duality in the world. It does not have two planes, and the human being is not on a higher level to the things and living beings of this world. All of us together form the one and only reality, which is realized on different levels simultaneously, and which makes different forms and different entities, but which does not allow looking “from above” at earthly things and creatures as inferior, as passengers, as sinful. The natural and the supernatural do not exist: everything is natural and supernatural at the same time. Even spirituality is natural. Nor are we dual, body and soul; this way of understanding humanity is not acceptable today.

For the old vision, the human being was created directly by God in one day of Creation, the sixth, after the creation of the nature which was to be delivered into humanity’s dominion. In that vision, the human being is different from the whole rest of creation, because it has been created in the image and likeness of God. A unique dignity, derived directly from God, from a God who is above and outside. Such is the Creator ex nihilo of nature.

For the new vision, we have not been put on this Earth from outside (created ex nihilo), but instead sprouted up within it. We are the fruit of its evolutionary process, we came from inside (not from outside, nor from nothingness). We came from below (not from above, from the sky, but from the Earth). To keep using the metaphors of the old vision (to keep saying we’ve been created from above and from outside) is not just mistaken and false, but is also harming us, because it reinforces and perpetuates the old dualistic vision which privileges the human being. A vision which does not correspond with reality, distorting the objectivity of our vision and calling forth in us a behavior that makes us dysfunctional in the Community of Life.

In the old vision – still quite present – the cosmos and the Earth are nothing but the “stage” on which human life plays out. In it we are the protagonists, the only subjects; all others are mere objects. We humans are alone, in the middle of a cosmos full of stars, planets, plants, animals, and rocks. We have no equal to accompany us.

In the new vision everything is different. There is no such chasm between us and what surrounds us. On the contrary, there is a profound continuity and communion. We are part of the cosmos, we are the cosmos too. In no way are we extraterrestrial (created from outside) or alien (pilgrims travelling towards another world). Our body is made from the same elements as the cosmos, atoms which were once in other bodies, human and non-human; atoms created in the supernova that preceded our Sun, Tianmat; atoms which did not arise with me. We are “stardust”, part of the same cosmos. We are, in a real sense, Earth; Earth which has been evolving and which has come to feel, think, reflect, contemplate, love. In us the Earth – and the cosmos – take consciousness, they contemplate themselves. We are the eyes of the Earth, we are its heart. She is our extended body, our roots, our “broader self”. We belong to the Earth, we are a living part of the living Gaia, totally interdependent with her. In this vision we no longer feel ourselves to be strangers, alien, different or superior, but part of (belonging to) the Earth, to the cosmos. We have changed our spatial consciousness. Now we feel ourselves to be related in a different way with the Earth and the cosmos; we see everything in a different way; in a certain sense we have changed “cosmic location”. We are in a different world, we feel different and we really are different. Maybe, with this new vision we are in some way coming to be a different species.

According to the old vision there is also a chasm between the human species and the rest of life on the planet: animals, plants, etc., as if we were made by a different or better nature. For Descartes, animals are “machines” which “appear” to feel. They are thus not subjects nor possessors of rights. Only we understand the world. The world is that which we perceive and understand, that which corresponds to our capacities and to our interests, our human world (anthropocentrism).

In the new vision there is no such separation between us and animals. In fact, present humans are a vertebrate animal from the class of mammals, from the order of primates, from the family of hominids, from the genus Homo, from the species sapiens. In a biological sense, we’re just one more species like the rest. We do not have the right to place our rights above those of the other species, whether animal or vegetable, because all living species are the product of the same evolutionary biological process which has taken place on this planet.

We form a part of the one and only Community of Life, and we depend on the ecosystems in which our species has come to be. In fact, our flesh is made up of the same 14 nitrogenous bases which make up all living matter, and in the nucleus of each of our cells our genetic information is written in the same language – DNA – as all living species (animal and vegetable). Our body carries within it the fingerprints of biological evolution. It has accumulated three cerebra from when we were reptiles and mammals, the opposable thumb from when we were tree-dwellers. The lineage of life goes back from my body, in an uninterrupted line, to the first living cell, Aries. All life on the planet makes a unique genealogical tree. I cannot see the world of life as a subject that sees from outside, objectively, nor from above, as one looking down on a lower level. I can only see from within the same Community of Life of which I form a part; not anthropocentrically, but bio-cosmo-centrically. We write here of a different vision to see the world in a different way, or to make us live in a different world.

The old vision, at least in its lay versions, puts the supernatural character of the human being at the fore. We are not merely natural beings. The human spirit, which is supernatural, is above matter and even above natural, despite our being of living matter. The human being is not a being “of this world”, but a fundamentally spiritual being, from beyond the material world, transcendent.

In the new vision there is nothing outside of nature, there is no second, higher “spiritual” plane, and all of nature is supernatural. What we used to call “spiritual” is nothing but a dimension of that same nature. Matter is autopoetic, self-organizing, “emergent”, and tends toward organization, toward complexity. From there arises consciousness, self-awareness, that which we call spirit. It is the mind, which is not on another plane and does not come from another world, but which is organized in matter in its most complex intensity, and which appears as consciousness. The mind/matter duality has no place. Culture is the extension of biological evolution in the human being. Spirituality proves then to be something quite natural: “it forms part of nature”. Nature is spiritual, and spirituality is natural. In our understanding, we are today in the early stages of the consciousness of spirituality’s naturality, or the “naturalization of spirituality”.

In the old, atomistic vision, we are, we think, and we see as individuals. We feel ourselves to be individual subjects, separated from everything, from everyone, and from the “whole”. In that vision I am “me myself”, “this” individual. And we see in a reductionist mode which tries to limit everything to the dissection of reality into parts (reductionism, mechanism, dualism, separateness).

In the new, holistic vision, far from feeling ourselves to be parts, isolated individuals, we feel ourselves to be elements “of the whole”, members of a collectivity, linked, interdependent. And we know that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We know that the atomistic and individualistic vision, the separateness which leads us to imagine that we’re something apart, is a mirage, an illusion. The reality is from the deepest part of ourselves we are linked, we are interdependent, and therefore, marked and influenced by that “whole”, distinct from the mere sum of its parts. We form a greater unity, and to stop seeing or taking that into account is a kind of blindness. It’s us missing the forest for the trees.

We also need a new spirituality, coherent with the new vision

There is a deep relationship between perception, vision, values, spirituality. The three planes are related and mutually conditioning. In changing our vision of the world, we perceive in a different way, and with it we reconfigure our empathies and values. The cognitive and vision-related changes are mutually linked with values and spirituality. “Eyes that don’t see, a heart that doesn’t feel”; but the reverse also holds: eyes which see in a different way and see different things, a heart which feels different feelings and beats in a different way. Therefore, the old vision can hold us back and perpetuate in us values and empathies which fail to incorporate the possibilities of the current situation. The new vision opens us to values and inspirations which we need today, taking them to the heights of the cognitive development we’ve already achieved.

It is urgent to make possible and recreate in ourselves a new feeling, a new sense, a new empathy, a new inspiration, a new spirituality, a new religiosity, a new sense of the sacred which, derived from the new vision and matching the level of the grave moment in which we live, would reconcile us with this planet and with the fact that we are at war, and it would succeed in making us live happily and consistently as that which we are: as Gaia.

Before that, let’s take a look at history: we see our spiritual turn with the agricultural revolution. Today, for an accurate approach, we cannot ignore the data which history and archaeology offer us. We know that there has been a change. During the paleolithic we lived with a spirituality which had a very good relationship with nature. We treated the planet well. But later we underwent deep changes: several thousand years ago, in the time of the Aryan and Semitic invasions (Kurgans, Acheans, Dorians, Aryans…), the discovery of agriculture unleashed the so-called agricultural revolution and obliged us to take up a sedentary way of life (the urban revolution). These changes also echoed in a transformation of our spirituality, which can be summed up as follows:

  1. A separation between nature and divinity was established. It was a splitting of reality into two worlds, two planes. A dualism which split reality and our spirit.
  2. God remained separated from nature: now he was a “spirit” (immaterial, not natural) and personal (theism, or polytheism). As such, he was external to nature and the cosmos. His place was in heaven, in metaphysical supernaturality.
  3. Concomitantly, nature started to be thought of as a profane reality, not divine, a mere “creation” (manufacture) of God. This produced a desacralization (de-divinization) of nature. There was no longer a Great Mother Earth, nor Pachamama. We went from a divine holism to a dualism which is, in reality, a monist dualism, since it does not feature two great and equidistant principles – God and the cosmos – but just one real principle, that of eternal and all-powerful God, before whom the cosmos is nothing but his simple thought; the cosmos would stop existing the moment that God stopped thinking about it.
  4. Even more than a splitting or dualization of reality, an axiological dualization took place: first, an exhaltation/divinization of the “other world” was produced, and second, there came to be a desacralization/a devaluing of “this world”.
  5. The human being was left alienated: he/she put his viewpoint outside him/herself and outside his/her natural world, relocated his/her center of gravity in an “external God”, in the “world of God” (the other world, the second plane), and came to consider him/herself a stranger in a strange land, “citizen of the sky”, detached from this land, a “pilgrim” on the path towards the “other world” beyond death.

The new neolithic architecture of the spiritual world is not something which happened in the moment of the agricultural revolution and stayed there: it has remained in force til the present day as the most basic and habitual spiritual underpinning of the Western religious subconscious.

That is, spirituality is also made to depend on how “we imagine” the world, how we conceive of it, how we articulate it, and how we represent it mentally. In its representation, we fill it with meanings which orient us conceptually, axiologically, and inspirationally (ideas, values, feelings, empathy, inspiration, contemplation, motivating hopes, …). According to those meanings, our life – and our context – are pushed in one way or the other.

Our representations can be more than just true or false. They can be integrating or alienating, beneficial or harmful; the can bring us to live in this world with attention and care, or to throw it away and leave standing only the sky, while they give us permission to mercilessly prey on this lower plane of mere “natural resources”. Anthropology and other sciences have recently made a broad assessment regarding that “spiritual turn” which we made in the moment of the agricultural revolution, and they think they know “where we went wrong”. Therefore, they ask us to think through what new turns or counter-turns we would have to make today to find (or recover) a spirituality which corresponds to the vision we have, starting from the new knowledge available. Some of these new, urgent turns, we can present schematically as follows.

Reconsidering theism

This reconsideration would imply:

  1. To become conscious of the fact that traditional theism is simply a model of understanding that humanity has experienced in the course of its history, and it is legitimate and necessary to re-assess it.
  2. Overcoming the theism of the Greek gods, de-absolutizing the personal god, external to the world, from all that is not God (that referred to as “monist dualism”).
  3. Relativizing the personal and human character of God (anthropomorphism), considered indispensable in our relationship with Mystery, both in the official and popular visions of Christianity. Giving license to post-theism in spirituality, to an acknowledgement of a God apart from Theos.
  4. Considering panentheism. Reinstalling the Divinity which in the era of the agricultural revolution we expelled from nature and deported to a metaphysical, supernatural heaven. Resituating God in reality, in the only reality, in cosmic nature. Capturing the divine dimension/presence in the cosmic and the natural. the sacredness of the profane and of nature, the divine status of that which is (or was considered til now to be) non-spiritual.
  5. Opening ourselves once more to post-theism in the form of spiritual panentheism, to reverence of the sacredness of the Mystery present in the total cosmic reality. The old controversy of theism vs. atheism is obsolete, superseded.
  6. The model of theism (an external God, spiritual, watching, anthropomorphic, Kyrios [master/lord] Creator/creatures), commonly interpreted in a literal way as an ontological being, is not just a theological error, but a harmful epistemological element which damages our understanding and our spirituality, because it (automatically) turns the hierarchical interpretation of all reality into canon. In putting everything in the service of the human being, it looks down on the non-spiritual, the non-personal, the non-masculine. We can still use the image of “God-theos” to express ourselves spiritually, but only on the condition of keeping a critical distance. Knowing that it is just a symbol, a hermeneutic choice of religious language, and not in the slightest a real reference with onotological and metaphysical content. Theism, understood ontologically – as is commonly done – generates the hierarchization/subjugation of reality and society.
  7. The anthropomorphic God thinks, plans, decides, sets into motion, is pleased, gets upset, gets angry, condemns, threatens, punishes, reconciles Himself, intervenes, withdraws, says, does, asks, commands, bestows miracles upon those who ask Him, listens, answers, says, reveals, speaks… Are these not too many verbs wich we apply to that God? It is also the anthropomorphic God, the God who is above all personal, that I need to call you, friend of the soul, “invisible friend” and confidant of my intimate life. Really, to say that God is “personal” is an anthropomorphism. God cannot be personal, only super-personal, or perhaps trans-personal. We may imagine Him as personal if it serves us, as long as we know it’s just a convenience quoad nos [for us].
  8. With respect to God as Kyrios [master/lord], or the kyriarchal God, God cannot be a Lord, because one can only be a lord in a reality structured by domination, by hierarchization. That is, in a reality conceived in the ontology of the manor house. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin thought that a necessary change for present-day culture was that God should stop being the “neolithic proprietor of the world.” The Lord-God is a projection of the agrarian-authoritarian age.
  9. The feminist perspective finds in theism the projection of the masculine desire for power. See the work of Ivone Gebara in this regard.
  10. With the concept of creation comes the concept of the other, insofar as it necessarily refers to a creator and those created. It also turns out to be a concept which in the long run hurts us, given that, despite seeming innocent and innocuous, confirms and perpetuates dualism, the disempowerment of nature and theism.

Reconsidering the spiritual status of the cosmos, nature, and science

That reconsideration runs through:

  1. Taking up the image of nature, matter, and the cosmos provided to us by new cosmology, new physics, and new science in general.
  2. Going beyond the classical concept of “creation of the world” by a God external to it.
  3. Rediscovering the presence and the identity of Mystery (the divine, Divinity) with cosmic, natural reality. Recognizing/perceiving the sacredness of nature. Rediscovering God (also) in nature, just as Christianity has made us aware of the presence of God in the human being.
  4. And, finally, opening ourselves up to the non-pantheistic but symbolically real idea of nature as the “body of God”. Reality is, metaphorically speaking, the body of God.

Rose Mary Radford Ruether writes of those who seek a new ecological spirituality, who criticize the monotheistic Abrahamic God – which they consider hostile to nature – and think that “Gaia ought to be substituted in for God as the object of our adoration”. And she adds, “I agree in large part with this critique, but I think that the simple reaction of substituting one transcendent masculine deity for another immanent feminine deity is not enough to solve the problem of God.” Certainly, it would not be enough; but neither can we ignore the unconscious intuition which underlies the proposal. Because if we consider that such a model of God (masculine, external, domineering, justifying the anthropocentric dominion of nature by the human being and the de-divinization of nature) is just a model from which we can detach ourselves; and if, additionally, we recognize that, panentheistically speaking, God is animating nature from within, our new image of divinity will be much closer to the sacred Earth of Gaia than the traditional, orthodox Christ the King who was enthroned like Jupiter Tonans [“Thundering Jupiter”] in the Roman pantheon, an image which is undoubtedly way more inadequate.

We must, in effect, have a homecoming, return to an oikocentric spirituality, recentered anew on reality, on life, on nature, on the planet, on Gaia, and on the cosmos; a spirituality which was our spiritual home for thousands of years, before we turned off the path in the time of the agricultural revolution, when we de-divinized nature and created a model of an external Theos, unnatural (spiritual and supernatural) and masculine.

In this sense, it’s urgent that the religions of the world turn back their gaze to the present state of science, which serve today as a new “revelation”, a manifestation of the marks of the presence of Mystery, which the men and women of today track with the greatest clarity.

Moving toward a non-alienating spirituality

That means a spirituality which does not instill in us a devaluation of cosmic and natural reality; which is not explained as the the “falling of ideas (eternal, divine) into matter”, in evil, in the sinful world, far from God. A spirituality which doesn’t eject us from this world, which doesn’t make us citizens of heaven, nor pilgrims through this vale of tears, nor obsessed dreamers in the waiting room of the second plane, nor residents of the world after death; which does not tell us our life is a journey to the our “heavenly homeland” of which we are expats, nor as a “return to God”; that is, always on the margin and in the opposite direction of this sacred cosmos in which we recognize our home.

It would be a spirituality which lets us live oikocentrically, centered on our cosmic home, on nature, on Gaia, with a truly bio-cosmo-centric way of thinking, which goes radically beyond anthropocentrism, humanocentricism, and traditional theocentrism. Moreover it would let us recover “what we need more than anything, recovering our love and empathy for nature, which we forgot when we fell in love with human life.”

That spirituality makes it possible to recognize the world inhabited by God; that which would let us love the world, feel it “re-enchanted” (Max Weber), recover empathy for nature, get back the depth of the vision of Pachamama, share empathy for the Earth with the indigenous cultures and the aboriginal religions.

Beyond just living in wait under a book revealed from without (bibliocentrism), it would lead us to read from the real divine “Book”, the book of reality, of the cosmos, and of science as true revelation. It would not let us prey on the Earth, undervalue it, treat it as a mere pantry of inferior objects, uninhabited, unsacred. Instead it would make us feel the Earth as our sacred space, our spiritual placenta.

With such a spirituality it’s very likely that humanity would make the turn on time, the change, le grand tournant, the great and urgent transformation which it needs to make to pass from being a civilization which is industrial, conquering, extracting, and destructive, irrationally centered on massive and short-term profit, even at the cost of the destruction of nature and the poisoning of human relations, to a new civilization which stands for life and for the planet, for humanity and for brotherhood.

As Eatwot stated, we will only stop destroying nature when we discover both its divine dimension and our own natural character.


The current situation of our planet is unsustainable and extremely dangerous.

It’s possible we’re approaching disaster, and the end of this century may be witness to the collapse of our civilization and the dramatic decline of our species. Perhaps this is nothing but the reaction of Gaia to the intolerable behavior of the noxious and unfriendly species which we have become. This may be the occasion for the rise of a new species, more conscious and friendly with the planet, able to copilot the evolution of life. Or maybe, now is when the present-day human being will transform itself and move to coexist in friendship with Gaia, as a truly new species.

As we have sought to show, the solution of the incredibly grave problem facing humanity right now lies primarily in the urgency of adopting “a new vision and a new spirituality”. The survival of humanity and the future of life on this planet are at stake.