Archive for the 'Essays' Category

Just Say No To Transcendence

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

This essay attempts to answer Prince Charles’ query as to “…what it is about our society and its values that has led us to act with thoughtless destructiveness,” posed in his speech given when he received Harvard Medical School’s Health and the Global Environment Award. The text of the entire speech can be found at http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/

Recently, Britain’s Prince Charles was given Harvard Medical School’s Health and the Global Environment Award. Luckily for me, C-Span covered the event and so I got to hear the Prince’s acceptance speech, which I thought was brilliant. In case you missed it, here are the paragraphs which I thought were the best, followed by my own thoughts on the topic of the root causes of environmental degradation and the perilous situation we find ourselves in.

But if the facts [surrounding the environmental crisis] are now so clear … it is surely the duty of each and every one of us to find out what we can do to make the situation better. However, if we are to do this, I think we need first to stop and ask how we could have allowed ourselves to reach this point in the first place? In my own attempts to draw attention to environmental issues, I have always tried to ask what it is about our society and its values that has led us to act with such thoughtless destructiveness. With all our knowledge, our resources and our capacity for sophisticated analysis of any and every problem known to man, how on earth did we arrive at this point? If we could answer that question, we could be more confident about our ability to look for and implement solutions before it really is too late.

The crux of the problem, I believe, is that we have come to see ourselves as being outside of Nature and free to manipulate and control her constituent parts, imagining somehow that the whole will not suffer and can take care of itself, and of us, whatever we do. I happen to think that this illusion of separateness conceals from us the degree to which we are still entirely dependent on those natural systems for our basic needs, notwithstanding our technological genius. Surely, if we are to find our way through to a wiser, more balanced future we must learn to see the world differently – and our role in it? To me, this is a ‘crisis of perception’ which we have to face up to. If we don’t, we will inevitably end up making all the same mistakes, all over again.

As the Prince says, how on earth did we arrive at this point? Where did we get this image of ourselves as being separate from and outside of nature? And why, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, do we continue to see ourselves that way?

I asked myself these same questions about ten years ago. For me it seemed to boil down to a question of values – why did we devalue nature and overvalue humanity? Since I have always associated values with religion, I thought religion would be the logical place to look for answers. In 1997, I entered Vanderbilt Divinity School to study Christianity’s role, if any, in influencing our attitudes toward Nature. In 2000, I graduated, convinced that I had identified the culprit. And, I would like to share my insights into this matter with you.

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Liberals and Conservatives, In Brief

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Over the past 50 years, powerful new medical, agricultural, industrial, and weapons technologies have literally changed our world. Over the past 50 years, science has given us new understandings of who and where we are as human beings on this planet in this space and at this time. These new technologies and new perspectives have altered our understandings of our relative position and importance in the universe and affect how we relate to each other and other species. They have changed the environments – whether social and physical or religious and philosophical — in which we must survive.

Those of us in the liberal camp acknowledge the change in our world and are striving to adapt to this change by developing new ways of relating to each other at a personal, national, international – and species — level. We know that we are entering liminal space which is always scary and where mistakes will be made. But the reality is that the changes in our social and physical and intellectual environments mean that we have no choice but to go forward, carving out a new worldview as we go along.

Conservatives on the other hand are in denial that anything has changed – including the climate. They want to stick to the tried and true. They want to live in a well-ordered society where America is as innocent as the dawn, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. They want to believe that we live in a world where Daddy’s at work, Mom’s at home looking after the kids, and corporations are run by honest, simple, straight-talking CEO’s and managers. They want to live in a world where women make babies and men make the rules, for this is the world they know and understand and can manipulate to their advantage.

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An Exchange with Richard Dawkins

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Date: February 6, 2005

Dear Richard Dawkins,

If my name doesn’t ring a bell, I was one of your table companions on the recent “free inquiry” cruise. I have debated whether or not to write you about my theory concerning the role of religion in evolutionary biology and had decided against it, but after watching a C-SPAN discussion led by Steven Pinker in which both your name and the question of the evolutionary value of religion came up, I decided to give it a shot. The reason I am writing to you is that I met you and you are a “great man” in the field of evolutionary biology and one tiny good word from you would lend credibility to my point of view — if you thought it had any merit. I also enjoyed meeting you and thought you were a nice and non-pompous and approachable person — in spite of your considerable stature. And, since I sit down here in Georgia thinking away every day and have few connections in the field which most interests me, meeting you seemed like a gift.
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Myth, Religion, and Human Evolutionary Biology

Monday, December 15th, 2003

Somewhere in the distant past, in search of the ultimate survival strategy, humanity struck out on a path different from that of our animal friends, evolving from creatures ruled by instinct to creatures ruled by culture. This deviation from the animal norm is known as the human experiment, and the jury is still out as to its success. For, given the choices we are making and the direction we are taking, we may go the way of the dinosaurs.
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On Being a Post-Christian

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

Quatrain 158, Open Secret: Versions of Rumi,
(tr. by John Moyne and Coleman Barks, Threshold Books, 1984)
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The Social Construction of the Feminine (1941-1963): A Personal Memoir

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

In the 1970s, when NASA spacecraft performed docking maneuvers in orbit, the Apollo and Saturn modules consummated their couplings with the aid of a very large (but quite simple) male plug and female socket. The Soviet space agency of that same period equipped its Soyuz vessels with a male-female interlink almost identical to NASA’s. However for the linkup between Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19, in July of 1975, U.S. and Soviet aerospace engineers designed an incredibly complex (and inefficient) set of docking clamps that bore no resemblance to the genitals of any known sex. This was necessary for one reason only: on that historic “first date” between the two rival space agencies, neither participant was willing to take the “female” role, which would require its spaceship to be penetrated by the other nation’s male hardware.

Excerpt from a letter from F. Gwynplaine MacIntire printed in the February, 2000, issue of The Atlantic Monthly
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Mother/Nature

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

Judging from the continued cultural resistance to both feminism and environmentalism, I think we can safely say that both woman and nature have an image problem. As an ecofeminist, I would maintain that these image problems are related — that the degradation of the environment and the oppression of women arise from a single source — that woman, nature and the earth are tarred with the same brush — a brush which is wielded by all religions of the Abrahamic traditions, but specifically Christianity.
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Getting Over God

Monday, November 10th, 2003

I no longer believe in God. But before you automatically write me off as a nihilistic atheist, let me explain. When I say I no longer believe in God, I do not mean that I do not believe in a first cause or a principle of ultimate reality or that I think for a minute that what we understand as material reality today is all there is to know. What I do mean is that I no longer believe in that personage called God which we have come to know through the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Koran and who, as Jack Miles clearly demonstrated in his Biography of God, is really a very unsavory character. I do not confuse this cruel tyrant with ultimate reality, dear reader, nor should you. As to ultimate reality, I confess I know nothing — except I know it isn’t God.
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