In Search of an Authentic Pax Gaia

Connecting Wonder, the Moral Imagination and Socio-Ecological Flourishing

In: Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology
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  • 1 University of Toronto
  • 2 University of Saskatchewan

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Many people working in the field of religion and ecology share a concern for peace in this world. For example, the geologian Thomas Berry wrote a poignant essay presenting his vision of the peace of the Earth, a Pax Gaia, which was published in his important book, Dream of the Earth (1988). In crafting a response to the ecological crisis, Berry repeatedly wrote with urgency about the need to rediscover and foster wonder amongst humans in relation to both the Earth and universe communities. Broadly taking these two features of Berry’s work as its jumping off point, this article unfolds select ways to couple wonder, the moral imagination and socio-ecological flourishing at a time of climate change and social unrest, in the service of substantive peace. Specifically, the authors offer a discussion of wonder as it can be understood from reading Berry’s work. Moving towards a contemporary contextual ethical application, this article then draws on the work of conflict transformation theorist and practitioner Jean Paul Lederach concerning the moral imagination, which he characterizes as the art and soul of building peace. The authors conclude by proposing a path towards an authentic Pax Gaia that broadens the scope of wonder to include more fully its human component, and broadens the scope of the moral imagination to include more fully its biological and geological components. It is in this way, this article suggests that we can foster an integral approach to peace, one characterized by socio-ecological flourishing.

  • 1

    Specifically, Berry (2009) speaks of the visible world, the cosmic world and the human world as having, “formed a meaningful threefold community of existence” (170).

  • 2

    As Anne Marie Dalton (1999) points out, Berry demonstrates an impatience with such human social preoccupations to the exclusion of problems in the natural world. Stephen Scharper (2001) notes that Berry’s framework is not anchored in a democratic spirit, nor does it comprise a process for incorporating social justice. Berry (2001) responded to Scharper’s claims and was by no means indifferent to the human plight. In a presentation he gave for the Twenty-Third Annual E.F. Schumacher Lectures, “Every Being Has Rights,” Berry states, “I like to use the idea of a lifeboat. We’re in a lifeboat, and there are people who are hungry, people who are injured and need medical attention. It’s important to take care of people. I don’t want to diminish our concern for the poor and the suffering, but if something happens to the lifeboat, everything else is irrelevant. In applying this to the planet Earth, we have to get used to the idea—and this is bothersome for many of us—that the integral Earth is more important than single humans; in other words, the community of the planet Earth is primary and the humans are derivative. If we do not base our way into the future on this insight, we will not survive” (Berry, 2003).

  • 3

    cf. Anne Marie Dalton and Henry Simmons (2010) on the importance of greening Charles Taylor’s conception of the social imaginary.

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