RETURNING TO NATURE The Evolutionary Journey through Four Eras of Human Culture

RETURNING TO NATUREThe Evolutionary Journey through Four Eras of Human CultureJ O E H O L L A N D , P H .D.Professor of Philosophy & Religion, Saint Thomas University, Miami Gardens, FloridaPresident, Pax Romana / Catholic Movement for Intellectual & Cultural Affairs USA, Washington DCjoe-holland@comcast.net2010 OCCASIONAL PAPER FROMTHE PAX ROMANA CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDY OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHINGThis essay was originally presented as an oral address to the National Conference on Rural Ministry, held on 23 October 1984 and organizedby the Edwin Vincent O’Hara Institute for Rural Ministry Education. It was later published as a transcript of that address with the title“Creative Communities in Rural America” in the Institute’s publication, RURAL ROOTS, Volume 4, Number 1, May-June 1984. The current2010 version, published here as an Occasional Paper from Pax Romana Cmica-usa, was developed from that transcript.new, creative, and regenerative local-global civilizationera is available to us if we will return to drink from thespiritual energies revealed by the Creator through thestill unfolding creation of our mystical planet Earth andthe mysticism of the entire Cosmos.Among the many thinkers wrestling with this profoundand terminal crisis of modern culture, one whom I havefound insightful is the late Thomas Berry, the primaryprotégé of the late Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Berry’sfirst and most fascinating work in this area is a bookcalled THE DREAM OF THE EARTH, a collection of his lyricalessays on the new ecological, geological, and cosmological consciousness and its implications for all human institutions.1This essay will be drawing here primarily particularlyfrom Berry’s framework, but also weaving in MarshallMcLuhan’s framework of four eras of communications(speech, handwriting, mechanical printing, and electronics), and adding as well my own analyses.INTRODUCTIONThis essay explores the long cultural journey of humanity from its roots in the natural world up to thecurrent breakdown of modern industrial civilization, andthe destructive ecological, societal, and spiritual impactthat its late modern phase is having on the human familyand on our garden-planet Earth.To understand Berry’s perspective on culture, we have tofirst look at the history of the Universe, within whichhuman history is only an infinitesimal speck. Astrophysicists are pointing out to us that the Universe probablyhad its origin as the explosion of a great ‘fireball’ – perhaps better imagined as an unfolding flower that is stillcontinuing to blossom. Our unfolding Universe, in theWe have in recent decades entered into the traumaticbreakdown of Modern Western Bourgeois IndustrialColonial Civilization, a breakdown that is now in itsacute-crisis phase. Yet, on the positive side, the hope of a11See Thomas Berry, THE DREAM OF THE EARTH (Sierra Club Books, 1990).estimate of astrophysicists, is approximately 13.7 billionyears old.Maurin, co-founder of the US Catholic Worker Movement.4)Our advanced human types seem to be more than 100,000years old or more, with hominid species apparently morethan 2 to 3 million years old. Even so, we humans are avery recent creation in the long history of the Universe.Although humanity appears small and recent in the history of the Universe, its meaning is deep. At least in oursolar system, we are apparently the only species whichcan reflect upon ourselves and upon our ecological matrix, and thus achieve reflective self-consciousness. Following Teilhard, we might say that Earth comes to consciousness in us humans who are part of Earth. The Eastern Christian traditions also speaks of humanity as the"priests of creation."The strongest strain of contemporary Science, drawing onDNA analysis, argues that our forbearers originated inAfrica. We humans are all children of Africa. So too somenew evidence suggests that ancient African civilizations,centered especially on the Nile River in Nubia, may bethe oldest ones – the mother and father civilizations of allhuman civilization. Ancient African culture and within itancient African Spirituality could be humanity’s foundational cultural-spiritual stream.In a real sense then, we may understand ourselves as thereflective consciousness of Earth. Hence, our Spiritualitycannot be separate from our organic connection withEarth, and more broadly with the entire Cosmos of whichEarth is itself an infinitesimal but special part.Many ancient human cultures had a deep sense of thepresence of the Divine Mystery in the natural world.More recently, the late Thomas Berry proposed thatChristians should understand the Universe as the primary or fundamental revelation of the Creator. This understanding would be a deep recovery of what the Catholictradition calls a sacramental understanding.It is not that we humans just happen to be standing onplanet Earth and just happen to find ourselves within theCosmos. Our bodies and our spirits are completelybound up with the ecological systems of Earth, and of theentire Cosmos. (Our bodies and indeed our whole Eartharise out of star dust.) Without our organic roots in ourgarden-planet Earth, we could only be artificially sustained for a temporary time and then we would die.Thus, the Biblical revelations would be understood aschronologically a second wave of revelation – offeringhealing and greater sanctification through their messageof salvation. In that regard, it is important to recall thatwhat Christians call "sin" emerged only recently in Universe history and with one species here on planet Earth,though for Christians with cosmic implications.2Our bodies are organically woven into the very fabric ofEarth itself. Earth’s air is moving in and out of our bodiesat every moment, giving them life. Our bodies come fromand return to the soil, vegetation, and water of Earth. Inthe same way, the digestive processes that are occurringin our bodies at this very moment are taking sustenancefrom and returning nutrients to Earth (if they are allowedto follow natural processes).But Modern Western Bourgeois Industrial-Colonial Civilization, including much of modern Western Christianity,has lost the deep sacramental sense of Earth as a fundamentalrevelation from the Creator, just as so many modern bourgeois westerners have lost any truly intimate relationshipwith nature. This loss is the cultural root of the destructiveanti-ecological – as well as anti-social and anti-spiritual –energies ever more intensively being unleashed in thelate modern era.While Teilhard was perhaps the first modern WesternCatholic intellectual to explore what we might call EarthSpirituality or cosmic Spirituality within a Christianframework,5 the pre-modern Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with ancient cosmic consciousness of thespiritual chorus of praise for the Creator from all creation,which only finds full articulation in human speech.(One Catholic group which made this argument early inthe 20th Century was the Catholic-supported agrarianmovement in the British Isles know as “Distributivism.”3This perspective strongly influenced the vision of PeterSo too the spiritualities of early Christian Eastern patristicArab and Greek theologians, more so than early WesternLatin theologians, are filled with profound consciousnessof the divinization of Earth and the Cosmos. The GreekEcumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I never tires of repeating that the entire Cosmos is a gift of the Creator andSee also the richer and more scientific interpretation of Thomas Berry and astrophysicist Brian Swimme in their book, THE UNIVERSE STORY: FROM THEPRIMORDIAL FLARING FORTH TO THE ECOZOIC ERA – A CELEBRATION OF THE UNFOLDING OF THE COSMOS (HarperOne, 1994).3 See Fr. Vincent McNabb & William Fahey, THE CHURCH AND THE LAND(IHS Press, 2002).2See Francis J. Sicius’ biography of Maurin, developed from an unfinished manuscript by Dorothy Day, PETER MAURIN: APOSTLE TO THE WORLD (OrbisBooks, 2004).5 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, THE PHENOMENON OF MAN (HarperCollins,1976).42the fundamental response of us humans, as the priests ofcreation, is thanksgiving to the Creator.6human culture arose from humanity’s African originsand continued with the early development of African andthe Middle-Eastern cultures in which the mother symbolremained central. By contrast, with the migration of somehuman tribes to the cold Eurasian north, the paternalsymbol and warrior spirit would emerge as dominant,but that is a story for the second era.In our cosmic human journey, human culture, accordingto Berry, has passed so far through three major historicaleras and is now entering a fourth era. These eras are described here in mythic form as ideal-types. (Actual history is, of course, more complex.) These eras are both simultaneous and chronological since, though we advance tonew eras, we still preserve the living heritage of past eras.Along with its strengths, the primal era also had itsweakness, and the masculine consciousness may not yethave fully developed. In a matrifocal framework, theremay be a temptation for women to view men as less intelligent, and to indulge them as if they were children. Thatmanipulative spirit may still persist in some sectors ofcontemporary matrifocal cultures.Thus, we need to describe these eras not as linear stagesbut rather as concentric circles. When a tree develops, itstrunk grows new rings, but the old rings do not die. Also,when the branches as ‘wings’ of a tree grow, the tree’sroots grow simultaneously. So too it is, or should be, withhuman culture. But if the roots of a tree begin to die, or ifits inner rings begin to rot, then the tree will die. So too, Ipropose, is the case with human culture.Pathological deformations of primal Religion would lateremerge in some regions (but certainly not all) with human sacrifice, in which especially children, and particularly the first-born son, would be sacrificed to the MotherGoddess – supposedly to guarantee continued fertility ofEarth and well-being of human community.That is the crisis of modern culture, which has sought toconstruct a future based on rejection of the past, and especially of its roots in nature to whose mystical dimension modern bourgeois industrialism has become blind.Seeking to spread its wings, modern bourgeois culturecuts its own social and ecological roots. It precipitates awider meaning of what John Paul II called a “culture ofdeath.”Against the horizon of this pathological deformation, theMiddle Eastern emergence in the desert of the Sky-FatherGod as central – most notably in the originally SemiticAbrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam –represents a different religious spirit. In these religions,prophetic social and ecological justice becomes a primaryreligious value set against the idolatries of human sacrifice and exploitation of the poor and of the land.PRIMAL CULTUREThe Organic Root-Metaphor andMatrifocal Tribal Community(Beginning in 50,000 BCE?)The symbol of the Mother Goddess for primal matrifocalculture is typified by the ancient image of the madonnaand child, which still continues in Catholic, Orthodox,and Anglican Christianity, but is probably over 30,000years old.The first era of the journey of human culture we maycall the primal, since it came first and since it remains foundational for all future eras of human culture.It constitutes our deepest root and the innermost ring ofthe tree of human culture. Since distinct social classes hadnot yet fully emerged in the primal era, it was roughlyegalitarian.Originally the madonna figure probably represented ablack African Mother Goddess, and her male child represented her creation of the world. Consciousness of thefemale face of the Divine Mystery was thus strong, butconsciousness of the male face of the Divine Mystery wasnot equally developed, for the male was seen mainly inthe child who was creation, or as consort of the divinemother.In this era, there is some evidence that women’s wisdomflourished first and grounded the foundations of humanculture. Perhaps, just as in primary school girls developphysically and intellectually before boys, so in the primalera of the human journey, some argue, women’s intelligence may have emerged first and planted the foundations of human culture.In the next stage, the male face of the Divine Mysterywould indeed develop fully and also seek its own patriarchal domination, particularly as warrior tribes from thecold northern Eurasian land mass invaded and conquered the tribes of the warmer southern regions of Eurasia. But something different happened with the Mosaicand Jeshuic revelations, in which the male face of theDivine Mystery became the defender of the poor and ofthe land against oppression and exploitation.Following this perspective, we may describe this primalera as a matrifocal, since its greatest religious symbol wasthe Earth-Mother Goddess. This foundational moment ofSee John Cryssavgis (editor), COSMIC GRACE: THE ECOLOGICAL VISIONOF THE GREEN PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW I (Wm. B. Erdmans Company, 2009)63In this primal era, Science and Spirituality were not yetdifferentiated. Together they addressed the wholenessand goodness of life. Science as the act of knowing wasunderstood as communion, not objectivity.rain fertilized Earth so that she might bring forth life.When the Divine Mystery was understood by this dyadicsexual metaphor, the correlative religious rituals weresexual fertility cults.For example, in the ancient Hebrew language, the wordfor sexual intercourse and the word for knowledge werethe same. That is why the King James Version of the Biblefaithfully translates in Genesis that Adam “knew” Eve. Itwas understood that you could truly know somethingonly through intimate relationship with it, only throughprofound communion with it.We find this consciousness of the two faces of the DivineMystery, that is, the mutuality of the female and malefaces, in the very beginning of the Bible. For Genesis 1: 27tells us about the Divine Mystery’s creation of the humans. It tells us that in image of the Divine Mystery’simage, "male and female they were created.” Thus theDivine Mystery is seen as one, but also as having twocomplementary faces, one male and one female.How different the modern epistemological sense of "objective" scientific knowledge which urges that we have nopersonal relationship to that which we are trying toknow. When we make absolute such an "objective" modelof knowledge, we are tempted to destroy our relationshipwith the very world that we claim to study. Rejection ofan epistemology of knowledge as communion threatensto reduce Science only into a guide for ecological, social,and spiritual plunder.After the Babylonian exile, when the rabbis of Israel gathered to establish which writings would be officially included in the Hebrew Scriptures, one rabbi reportedlyraised the question of why the Book of the Song of Songsshould be included, because it never mentioned the Divine Mystery. As is well known, this book is a love songbetween a young man and a young woman apparentlyon their honeymoon, and it celebrates their sexual desirefor and sexual communion with each other. According tosome scholars, this book is one of the few examples ofCanaanite fertility-cult literature that was carried overinto the Hebrew Bible. It has even been conjectured thatthe story can be traced to the Canaanite Ruth of the Bookof Ruth.The primal matrifocal model of Spirituality was also oneof intimacy with all creation. The mystical presence of theDivine Mystery was revealed through every breath of air,through every stone, through every leaf, through everystar, through every grain of sand. The Divine Mystery, tothe tribal people, was immanently known through allcreation.Reportedly, according to a rabbi who is an old friend, inresponse to the question of why such a book should be inthe Hebrew Bible, a great rabbi reportedly respondedthat this is the only book that does not need to mentionthe Divine Mystery, for the Divine Mystery is clearly present in the couple’s sexual-spiritual love.So creation is the "primary revelation" – again, as Berrycalled it – and creation was and remains the foundationalplace where we met the Divine Mystery. Thus, for Christians, creation should represent what Augustine and other classical Christian theologians called the "first book" ofrevelation, that is, the "Book of Nature" which is an essential companion volume to the "second book" or the "second revelation" recorded in the book of the Bible. Thehierarchical classical language of medieval theology described the former as "natural revelation" and the later as"supernatural revelation," and Aquinas famously statedthat "grace perfects nature."Christians would expand this dyadic face of the DivineMystery into the three persons of the Trinity, with theHoly Spirit seen early on by the ancient Syriac Church asthe maternal feminine presence of the Divine Mystery.The prayers of the ancient Syrian Christian liturgy, notvery far removed from the time of Jesus himself, so described the Holy Spirit as God the Mother.Though the matrifocal divine symbol predominated inthe primal era, the Creator was nonetheless sometimesseen in the primal era as dyadic, that is, as both male andfemale. Perhaps this reflects the more ancient huntergather stage of the human journey, whereas the matrifocal divine emphasis may have arisen with sedentary agricultural communities.The great philosopher Hegel, perhaps drawing on hisRosicrucian background but also in a style reminiscent ofancient Syrian Christian Theology, portrayed the HolySpirit as feminine, and described the Trinity as the eternalspiritual embrace of the feminine and masculine faces ofthe Divine Mystery, in turn eternally birthing new life.Paradoxically Hegel’s vision of the Triune Sacred, whichhe called the "dialectic," would be secularized by KarlMarx as what Friedrich Engels called "Dialectical Materialism."In the dyadic vision, the Divine Mystery was understoodas the union of Earth-Mother and the Sky-Father – theEarth Mother below whose dark, soft earth brought forthconstant new life, and the bright Sky-Father above whose4But back to the primal perspective. The strength of theprimal form of cultural consciousness was that Scienceand Technology on one side, and Spirituality and Religion on the other, were in no way separated from eachother and in no way separated from life. The weaknesswas that human culture, while strongly rooted in women’s intelligence, had yet to fully develop men’s consciousness.Catholic eco-feminist philosopher Charlene Spretnakpoints out, the doctrine of justice for the oppressedemerged out of the male spiritualities of the AbrahamicMosaic-Jeshuic revelations, initially in Judaism, later inChristianity, and still later in Islam.7In the Mosaic roots of the Hebrew Religion, justice is initially identified with a divine battle for the oppressed andagainst idolatry, and especially with the battle againsthuman sacrifice, particularly against the human sacrificeof children to the unjust idols of oppressive aristocraticempires. As noted, such empires, standing on foundations of economic exploitation and political oppression ofpeasants, seem often to have been linked in part with latedegraded stages of mother goddess worship.In this period, while humanity recognized the spiritualpresence of the Divine Mystery in all life and saw itself asparticipating organically in the ecosystem, humanity hadnot yet awakened to its full ability to consciously developplanet Earth. It was a participant but not yet consciouslya co-creator – or only so in the most simple ways. Yet, fora postmodern Christian understanding, the Creator hascalled humanity not simply to participate in creation, butalso to take co-responsibility for evolutionary creativity.But the exploration of humanity’s technological powersalso brought a profound dualism, which clearly expressed what Christians call "original sin." As the book ofGenesis discloses, this deep dualism works across multiple axes, and we still suffer from its negative power.It is the marvel of the human species that on our planetEarth the creative process intensifies through human creativity. That is why so much is at stake when we heightenour scientific-technological consciousness. We are takingonto ourselves, quite legitimately, the divine powers ofcreation which the Creator has embedded within us, butwe must use them according to Divine Wisdom.The third dualism is of societal, as Cain kills his brother able. Out of this grows the dualism of class-based,ethnic, and national exploitation and oppression ofthe poor and weak by the rich and powerful, and alsothe dualism of war. At the heart of this dualism is asocial violence, often of a racist or colonialist character.CLASSICAL CULTUREThe Hierarchical Root-Metaphor,Patriarchal-Aristocratic City-States,and Mercantile Empires(5,000 BCE? to 1,500 CE)The second dualism is sexual, in which males came todominate females in sexually repressive structures(patriarchy).This is because our scientific-technological awakeningalso has the demonic possibility of destroying creation, aswe are warned by the fables of Frankenstein and Faust.That indeed is the late modern crisis. In the late stage ofModern Western Bourgeois Industrial-Colonial Civilization, we seem to be drawing ever closer to devastatingthe life system across our garden-planet Earth, and atevery level from the womb to the planet.The first dualism is ecological, in which human consciousness began to understand itself as alienatedfrom Earth ("leaving the garden") and eventually began to exploit Earth.The fourth and most fundamental dualism is, ofcourse, spiritual, that is, alienation from the Creator.The book of Genesis tells us in literary mythic terms that,after the original alienation of sin, the Divine Mystery nolonger walked in the garden with the first humans, andthat they hid in shame from the Divine Mystery. Still today many people, even many Christians, fail to be athome with the Divine Mystery in the ecological garden ofcreation.The human journey led to a second form of culture,in which humanity began to explore deeply its creative powers in masculine form. This was the classical eraof patriarchal-warrior civilizations, which were controlled by an aristocratic class from expanding city-states,and which sometimes grew – through violent plunder –into great agricultural empires.Later Cain, who kills his brother Abel, becomes a symbolof the violence that flows from the "original sin." Thebook of Genesis tells us that Cain, whose name means"forger of metal," was the founder of the first city. Theancient city was founded on the violent domination byThough patriarchal in character, the classical patriarchalcultures also provided the historical context for creativecontributions by masculine intelligence to human consciousness and technologies, and especially, as noted,spiritualities of justice for the oppressed. As the "green"Charlene Spretnak, STATE OF GRACE: THE RECOVERY OF MEANINGIN THE POSTMODERN AGE (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991).75aristocratic elites over the rural peasantry by means ofmetal weapons (e.g., the sword) and metal tools. The early cities were most often aristocratic fortresses.postmodern holistic Cosmology developing in the wakeof Quantum Physics.MODERN CULTUREThe Mechanistic Root-Metaphor,Hyper-Masculine Bourgeois Nation-States,and Industrial Empires(1500 CE to 2000 CE)Still later, classical aristocratic elites, following the dualistic Aristotelian-Ptolemaic Cosmology, accepted the natural cycles of the primal vision, but said that they represented a ‘lower’ material world above which there arose a‘higher’ spiritual way. These dominating elites came tothink of reality no longer as a circle, but rather as a pyramid. We call this a dualistic Cosmology of "hierarchy."(Still today, Catholic ecclesial elites continue to use nolonger verified scientific cosmologies of the classical erawhen they identify the episcopacy as "hierarchy" – a termthat has no biblical-evangelical roots.)About 500 years ago (though with earlier roots), theclassical era of a dualistic aristocratic culture began to break down in the West in the face of a rising modern bourgeois culture (which, as proposed, is now b..

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