Father Thomas Berry (9 November 1914 – 1 June 2009)

Portrait of Father Thomas BerryFather Thomas Berry died at the age of 94 at his birthplace of Greensboro, North Carolina. His intense interest in nature stemmed from early childhood experiences of exploring fields and woods, including exploring a lilydotted meadow when he was about eleven years old that importantly led to the later insight that “[w]hatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformation is good; what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good.” He sought to remove himself from the world when he was twenty by entering a monastery of the Passionate Order of the Catholic Church and taking the name Thomas. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1942 and spent time in post-war Germany and teaching for a year at Fu Jen Catholic University in pre- Communist China. In 1951 he received a Ph.D. with a thesis on Giambattista Vico’s philosophy of history in European Intellectual History at the Catholic University of America. He served as a chaplain in the United States Army in Germany from 1951 to 1954. He went on to teach at Seton Hall from 1956 to 1960 and St. John’s University from 1960 to 1966. From 1966 to 1979, he taught at Fordham University and started a doctoral program in the history of religions, eventually directing 25 doctoral theses. It was here that Berry increasingly began to focus on the relationship between ecology, history, and religion, seeing himself as more as a geologian than a theologian. After spending generations glorifying ourselves and despoiling the Earth, he argued that we need to reinvent ourselves at the species level by moving from cultural coding to recover our genetic coding of relatedness to the Earth and articulate a new mythic consciousness. This new consciousness—what Berry called the “Dream of the Earth” or, more commonly, the “New Story”—would help us overcome our current alienation, cultural pathologies, and destruction of the Earth. Because we are now living in a unique period in which we realize that Earth is part of an irreversible developmental sequence of time—in which we live in both a cosmos and a cosmogenesis—we can enter the new “Ecozoic era” in which all living things and their habitats will be respected and preserved. To communicate the values of the New Story, Berry articulated three basic principles of the universe process: (1) differentiation: the extraordinary distinctiveness and variety of everything in the universe, (2) subjectivity: the interior numinous component of consciousness present in all reality, and (3) communion: our ability to relate to other people and all living things, entering into a new communion with the Earth. The New Story would require great work in economics, education, industry, law, philosophy, politics, and religion as we developed a new worldview with a comprehensive ethics of reverence for all life; all human activities, institutions, professions, and programs would then be judged to the extent that they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship. Although Berry was Catholic, he articulated the spiritual dynamics and contemporary significance of Asian religions and had a long-standing appreciation for the spirituality of indigenous traditions in the Americas and Asia. He argued that human diversity and biological diversity were continuous and should not be merely tolerated but instead esteemed as a necessary condition for a multicultural perspective and a liveable universe. For more about Thomas Berry, please visit: <http://www.thomasberry.org/&gt;. His major works include: Buddhism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967), Religions of India: Hinduism, Yoga, Buddhism (New York: Bruce Publishing, 1971), The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era—A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with Brian Swimme (San Francisco: HarperSan Francisco, 1992), The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (New York: Random House 1999), Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on the Earth as Sacred Community, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006), The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker (New York: Columbia University 2009), and The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2009).

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