Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eckhart's Trinity

The nexus of divinity and humanity lies not in one man but in the inner core of all creation . . . The only-through-Jesus stance violates the Nazarene’s message, but the image of Jesus Christ helps our human minds to recognize the divine-human connection.
God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky

Language about the Trinity confuses people because meanings of words change. “Hypostatic union” is indeed defined as two natures, divine and human, in one person—Florian was correct about that. And “Trinity” refers to three persons in one God.

The center of confusion is the word “person.” We moderns envision persons as individuals, but that’s not what the theologians who formulated the doctrine of the Trinity had in mind.

When the word "person" first entered the doctrinal debate, it meant a mask or role—what an actor on the Greek stage put on—and it did not mean a distinct personality or a separate "I" as it does today. Persona may be closer to the original meaning than “person.” Theologians use the words “aspects” or “modes” or “personalities” to stand for “persons” of the Trinity, but what most Christians have in mind is closer to “gods” than “aspects” or “modes.”

When we think of “three Persons in one God” we have in mind more individuality and less unity than the council formulators intended. They, for instance, declared that every divine action in the material world is done by all three Persons together. This would put the Father on the cross, as Trinitarian theologians have stated.

The three gods of popular imagination clash with theologizing on the Trinity. Augustine created an analogy using the psychology of human persons, saying each personal self performs three actions—memory, knowing, and loving. Richard of St. Victor saw the First Person as Lover, which needs a Second Person, the Beloved, as the object of its love. Their mutual love spills over and is shared by a Third Person. Another theologian saw the three as the I, Thou, and We of love. This idea has also been expressed as self, other, and community.

These appealing explanations lend energy to the symbol and reflect the dynamic, interrelating universe. They are closer to the Trinity described by the original formulators of the doctrine than to the trinity imagined by most Christians today.

As these examples show, the Trinity in its orthodox understanding refers, not to three male individuals, but to concepts and relationships. All Trinitarian theologies stress the folly of reading the symbol literally as three distinct human-like persons, but this is what the exclusively male language perpetuates. It stunts the Trinity's potential for meaning.

A writer in my Catholic Dictionary of Theology asserts that the influence of Greek theology on Christian theology "is undeniable." Many writers today acknowledge that the doctrine reflects a particular time and place, as Kathleen did in her comment here. Dualism in the fourth century imagined a vast gulf separating divinity from humanity so that the god-man Jesus became a GREAT BIG DEAL. Traditional Christians like to ask rhetorically, “How could a mere man be divine?” applying the mystery to one single man.

But a new wind blows today and it comes from the insights of mystics, helped by Buddhist and Hindu spirituality. Today we stress the divinity within all human beings and in all of creation. In that light we see that the hypostatic union refers to us all. The great mystic and Dominican preacher Meister Eckhart preceded us by 700 years when he said boldly,
The just person is the Son himself.
The Father gives birth to his Son without cease, and I say more: he gives birth to me his Son and the same Son.
God and I we are one.
Here is food for meditation.

I got overwhelmingly affirmative email responses to this post. They highlight the contrast between inclusive and exclusive, one accepting truth in all its rich, variegated forms, the other rejecting stories different from our own. But the narrow, constricting view limits Divinity, which reveals Itself in many forms—the very point of the Trinity.

A religious sister who asked about Diekmann’s comment and wanted to hear more about the Trinity (June 14 post) wrote:
I really appreciated your explanation of trinity to me. I especially like how you describe the resurrection and ascension, as well as the relationships we have. . . . Joseph Campbell says God is not a person.
I appreciate her reference to Joseph Campbell because no one has done more to help cradle Christians out of narrow literalism while directing them toward a deeper spirituality. I’m sure Campbell meant that God is not a humanlike individual. Sister threw in a significant reminder:
You probably know that Campbell was a consultant to the Star Wars movie writer.
I wonder if Campbell is the one who supplied the word “Force” for the movie. I think terms like Life Force, Higher Power, and Energy should be used more and that the pronoun It should be used more often than either He or She. He and She tend to conjure up idols.

Some people who hear the objection to God/He, immediately assume the only alternative is God/She. But the reason for introducing God/She is to mix the images. We need to use all genders—She/It/He—to jolt us into awareness that our familiar God-images vastly underrate Infinity. It’s Something much larger than our puny human reasoning can fathom.

Thank you to all who respond to my writings. Now information to show that a divine trinity is not unique to Christianity.

Buddhism has Three Jewels; Hinduism has the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti. Gnostic Christians included the feminine in their Trinity—Father, Mother, and Son. Female-centered religions honored maiden, mother, and crone as together making up the triune Goddess they worshipped.

Anthropologist Robert Briffault reports that the Arabian Goddess was triune and known as three Holy Virgins. Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian Goddess known as “Queen of Heaven,” was triune. The Celtic Goddess Brigit was triune, represented either as sisters or daughters. She ruled the British Isles, France, and Spain.

Augustine of Hippo taunted "his pagan countrymen with the absurdity of the notion that the goddess could be one person and at the same time three persons." As Briffault noted, this was a bit of "scathing irony," because Augustine's contribution to Christian trinitarian theology is well-known.

More startling examples of trinities in pre-Christian religions come from Briffault:
Countless triads of Greek goddesses, such as the three Charities, the three Horai, the three Syrens, the three Hesperides, the three Gorgons, the three Erinyes, are primitively scarcely distinguishable from one another....

The Muses were originally also three in number, and were deities of the night heavens, governing the stars. . . . triads of Hellenic goddesses were regarded at will as one or three. They were triune, or three in one.
Like them, the great goddess of the Semites was worshipped at Mecca in threefold form as three sacred trees, and was spoken of as the Three Virgins.
In Phoenicia and Carthage, as in Krete and ancient Greece, the great goddess was represented by three pillars. . .

Threefold deities are prominent among the races of Northern Europe and among the Celts. Thus Brigit, the Norns, the Walkyries had the threefold character. . . . Similarly the ancient Mexicans worshipped their gods as a trinity denoted by three crosses. The heathen Slavs similarly represented their deity with three heads. The Nordic gods were worshipped at Upsala as a trinity.
Christians liked to blame the devil when they encountered facts that challenged their beliefs. Faced with a ritual in the mysteries of Mithra similar to the Christian Eucharist, Justin Martyr in the second century blamed demons, saying they knew of Jesus’ coming and set up copies ahead of time. He had to make the claim this way because the Christian rite developed after the pagan rite. In like fashion, later Christian missionaries faced with non-Christian trinities blamed the devil. These are the words of one incensed because his charges already worshipped a trinity:
. . . the Indians did worship an idoll called Tangatanga, which they saide was one in three, and three in one. . . . I saide that the Divell by his infernall and obstinate pride (whereby he alwayes pretendes to make himself God) did steale all that he could from the trueth to imploy it in his lyings and deceits.
I find similar befuddlement yet today. Blaming the devil has come out of fashion, but I see strict Christian believers avoiding, disbelieving, explaining away disconcerting facts about other religions. As I stated in Trinity, the universe expresses a three-foldedness in its structures, and I’m thrilled that many religions reflect this holy mystery. Sharing the Mystery is something to cherish, not avoid. We Christians have gotta stop claiming to be Number 1.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Christian idolatry

I believe Christianity has made an idol of Jesus Christ. When most Christians pray, they do not distinguish between Jesus and the highest value of the universe, what we call God. Idolatry substitutes an image of God for God, and this describes the worship and belief of most Christians. Serious theology does not teach that God is the same as Jesus or that God is just a great, great, great man, but can anybody tell the difference when most Christians are praying?

We can relate to God in a personal way—I do it regularly—but we must know that God is not a mere humanlike individual. I like what New Testament scholar S. Sandra Schneiders says,
God is our father and God is not our father; God is our mother and God is not our mother. If we forget the “is not,” then we create an idol—that is, we make God into the image of a creature.
This idolatry is what Christianity allows in its prayers. It's not what Jesus of Nazareth wanted.

February 10, 2011.

Last evening someone called to thank me for my letter in the National Catholic Reporter. I hadn’t read as far as the letters in the February 4th issue and had forgotten that I wrote it. Upon reading it, I decided it serves well as my confession of faith. Because it's not available at NCRonline, I include parts here and invite readers to see if they, like the caller, believe as I do.

Unless Christians can transcend literal interpretations of our myths and symbols, we will continue to collide with other ways of imagining the spiritual realm and eventually become obsolete.
I do not believe Jesus is uniquely divine or that the God-image “Jesus Christ” is better than God-images in other religions. At Mass I don’t recite the Creed because I don’t believe it literally and, to preserve my integrity, I need to make an outward sign of that. As I watch others in church mouth the words, I pick out those who probably understand them symbolically as I do.

The Incarnation does not refer uniquely and exclusively to one man named Jesus; it refers to all humans as well as to the entire universe. The spiritual master Jesus talked about the reign of God, the realm of Spirit, not an exclusive kingdom ruled by a lord. Each of us is incarnated—spirit becoming flesh or spiritual soul living within a body. The Incarnation is about Spirit over, underneath, within, and through the physical universe; it is not about worshiping a certain man.

Christian idolatry January 30, 2012
It took guts to write this title. I was surprised to find the title in my old posts. Amazing.
A friend asked me if I remember when I started thinking that Jesus is not God.

As a child I sought closeness to God, never to Jesus, because Jesus was just a man. In a vague way I knew that God was infinitely greater than the man Jesus. This was not a clear thought; I simply didn’t pray to Jesus.
A college friend told me I used to say in college, "God is not just a man!" Fr. Jerome Theisen (later Abbot Theisen) taught us theology in our senior year and introduced us to historical-critical research on the Bible. That started my serious questioning.

A few years after college I left the church and tried being an atheist, but I noticed that anything about religion or Catholics held intense interest for me. In the ‘70s I read Teilhard de Chardin and Jung, who fed me delicious and wholesome spiritual food, whetting my appetite for more.

In 1980 I joined Al-Anon and its concept of the Higher Power opened a new vista of revelation. Out flew atheism, which never had satisfied my spiritual yearnings, but my brief sojourn in atheism gives me understanding and sympathy for atheists, most of whom reject religion out of a spiritual sensibility.

After 1980 I read fiercely in women's theology and liberation theology. By the time I landed in the School of Theology in 1986 (obviously arranged by my Higher Power, but that’s another story), I had a pretty good idea of Christian myth and everything else I've been articulating since then. The work of articulating is hard, not so much the realizations—they come unbidden.

Giving up the god Jesus was no big deal for me, but I saw others struggle with it. I value the confession of one, who said that a theologian told her very few Catholic theologians believe Jesus is God.

One reason for the religious ferment in our Christian culture is growing realization that Jesus is not God. It could soften the blow to see Jesus as a God-image and a symbol of Divinity. He has become a mythic image who, indeed, can lead us to God.
But we should be aware that much Christian language leads to idolatry, which substitutes an idol for God—the inexpressible reality that is more than any particular image or idea.

February 6
My "Christian idolatry" post generated many reactions, almost all positive. Next time, my reply to a person disturbed by it. This time, a positive response that expresses the feelings of many Catholics and other mainstream Christians I meet. Jean gives permission to quote her.
I think I have been wanting to find out that exact information about you for a long time.  It was, "Wow!  That is what I have been wondering!"  You managed to be very succinct in your answer, and that is not an easy task given the subject matter.

It is very hard for me to admit that I don't think Jesus is God.  That seems like going against the very essence of Christianity.  I try to believe in the Trinity and yet it is like believing in three gods.  I so admire Jesus the man and I do believe he is in heaven on an elevated plane. (I better check your blog to see what you have to say about heaven.)  My husband and I go to Mass just about every Sunday.  We have a church and a pastor which we are comfortable with most of the time.  We consider ourselves "cafeteria Catholics."   

Although I love your book I have never been able to definitively say "Jesus is not God."  When I pray, however, it is to God the Father/Mother most of the time.  Since there are so many gospel stories of Jesus the healer I often think of this as I pray for healing for someone or myself. 

Your faith journey was meticulously researched.  I have allowed mine to remain inconclusive.  This way I can attend Mass while knowing that I believe women should be priests and also hold on to my pro-choice stance.   I do admire your intellect, your courage and your fervor.  I am so glad that your blog will be made into a book.
Jean speaks for thoughtful Christians who in their maturity abandon childish beliefs but don’t abandon God or even their religion (although many do that too). They don’t join the ranks of atheists because their religious training, despite its teaching of incredible myths, fills a need, and they realize that not all religious talk is nonsense. A deeper Truth, a spiritual Presence abides in the innermost recess of religious myth.

They continue as cafeteria Catholics or, I suppose, cafeteria Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, etc. but church talk leaves their questions unanswered.  These are the people for whom I write; they have a need I try to fill. There are theologians who can answer their questions but the official church suppresses such voices.
I suggested to Jean that admitting our true beliefs seems like gays coming out. She replied,
That's funny!  You are right, it is like coming out of the closet.
A lesbian to whom I once said this, agreed that, in our culture, a Catholic coming out to disavow belief in Jesus’ uniquely divine status could be more difficult than for gay people to come out.

Next time: more follow-up to “Christian idolatry.” 

February 16
I write this to a former instructor at the School of Theology who is sorry I call myself Catholic but don’t relate to Jesus as God.
Dear _____, To say I don't believe Jesus is God does not adequately explain my belief. From p. 4 of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky:
       I do not regard Jesus of Nazareth as essentially or structurally more divine than the rest of creation. . . . Divinity resided in Jesus as it does in all human persons—and squirrels and rocks and thistles and the entire universe . . .
So I disagree slightly with biblical scholar Robert Funk, who stated,
            We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.
I do believe Jesus is divine, but I am also an atheist in the sense that I do not worship an external God-image. God is not an individual alongside other individuals. To worship such an individual is the “theistic way” to which Funk refers. Buddhists also are atheists in this sense and, although he would never have claimed the title “atheist,” so was Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, because this esteemed 20th century thinker stated that God is not an individual alongside the other individuals in the universe.
Typical Christian teaching promotes the idea that God is an individual. I saw this in the Sunday Visitor:
            One of the truths that reason can discover is that God is a person, and the central claim of the Bible is that this person has not remained utterly hidden but has, indeed, spoken.
Rahner would disagree, and so do I. What Catholics are forced to hear and recite at Mass reinforces the idea that God is merely a humanlike person or set of persons—three guys in the sky.

At some phase in my spiritual quest—it might have been at the School of Theology—someone told us about Rahner’s statement. Immediately it rang in me, and later I saw that it could unite atheists with spiritual seekers, especially science-loving thinkers.
            Later I found Rahner’s full explication of the insight in his Foundations of Christian Faith, but being Rahner, he is difficult to understand.
             The mysterious and the incomprehensible . . . can never be defined by being distinguished from something else. For that would be to objectify it, to understand it as one object among other objects, and to define it conceptually.
            Indeed, we must express it as something distinct from everything else . . . God is the absolute reality, the original ground and the ultimate term of transcendence. This is the element of truth in pantheism. . . .
            [God is not] one individual object alongside others.
So then, what or who is God? God is nothing, the nothing out of which come all things. Hindus and Buddhists speak about the Vastness, the Void. Westerners talk about Mind or Consciousness.

I know. It’s hard to think about such abstractions. The simple human impulse is to just worship someone and let it go at that. And just obey religious authority without figuring things out for ourselves. And worshipping Jesus comes so naturally to Christians; all our God-talk directs us to it.

This last disturbs me greatly. I understand that religion teachers cannot explain the insights of Karl Rahner to people in the pews, but there’s no excuse for church authority forcing people to recite words that train them to believe falsehoods. As I argue in my Sermon to priests, prayers to Lord/Father/He/Him/His train minds to accept as normal the unequal treatment of the sexes. Indirectly it promotes sex abuse by making the subordination of females seem right and proper.

The man Jesus was turned into a mythic Jesus, a god, an external object I cannot worship, but I revere the extraordinary spiritual master for the wisdom of his teachings. My beliefs differ, not from theology, but from typical Christian preaching:
• Yes, God walked on earth two thousand years ago, but God walks on earth no less today.

• Yes, Jesus was an incarnation of God. No, he was not the ONLY incarnation in human history, not the once-and-for-all event changing everything for all time.

• Yes, Jesus had a particular mission. No, he did not found Christianity.

• Yes, Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Mystery we call God. No, the universe was not qualitatively changed at his conception.

• Yes, Jesus’ suffering and death contributed to universal salvation. No, his was not the ONLY salvific suffering and death.

• Yes, Jesus had uncommon wisdom, strength, and character. No, his perfection did not surpass human perfection.

• Yes, it is helpful to relate to a living Jesus. No, he is not the only door to salvation and not the final, definitive revelation of God for all time. He is one legitimate God-image, not the best or only one.

 Was Jesus the most perfect human being who ever lived? What does it matter? This is another empty and insupportable claim of Christians to supremacy. Let us give up this triumphalist attitude. It is enough that, in the West, Jesus is the most accessible great figure of antiquity to inspire right living for us. Instead of clinging to a belief that limits Incarnation to one specific man, we could use a phrase that comes out of scripture—the Body of Christ, of which we are all members.   

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The other side 2

Here is another story about the other side, this one told by Cindy.
As Mom was dying of breast cancer I was fortunate to spend the final 10 days at her side. At one point we spoke about a story I’d heard of a young woman who had lost her father to cancer. He told her that after he passed he would somehow let her know he was fine. After the funeral she went back to her home, a very old house she was renovating. A light suddenly came on for a few minutes in her hallway. She was amazed because this light had never worked before. A few days later she had an electrician come in to check it out. There were no wires connecting the light and the electrician said it could not possibly have turned on. She then realized it must have been her father letting her know all is well.

I told Mom that story and asked her to somehow let me know she was OK after she passed. She said she would. A few days later Mom died. I was sitting at her computer in the laundry room when the Cremation Society wheeled her body out the door. One of my sisters immediately stripped Mom's bed and put the sheets in her 6-month old front loading wash machine—just about 5 feet from me. She turned on the washer and it started beeping and a light flashed with an error code. I found the washer user guide and read the error code that was flashing. It said, "Mother Board is out."
This is the honest to God truth! I knew it was Mom talking to me. The rest of my family thought I was nuts. But I KNOW it was her. That couldn't have been a coincidence. We had been using that washing machine for the past week and had no problems with it at all.

There was another time—perhaps a week or two later. As I sat at my kitchen table crying and missing her and talking to her, an angel that I had suctioned to the window popped off at me. I had to laugh. It was Mom again. She’s still letting me know she's OK. I'm sure she is. It's just that I miss her so much—I still cry when I remember this.

I’m sorry to say I have no more such experiences with Mom since she's passed, though I talk to her every day, but my niece, who was particularly close to her grandma, had one she related to me.

Right before Mom died, this niece found out she was pregnant with her first child, my sister's first grandchild. On the day before her grandma lay dying, in the deep sleep that comes before death, this niece went into her bedroom and whispered into her ear, "I'm pregnant, Grandma,” making her grandma the first to know she was going to have a baby.

A few months into her pregnancy, while she was in the doctor's waiting room, she thought about Grandma and how she wished her new baby would be able to meet his great-grandma. Feeling sad and missing Grandma, she picked up the nearest magazine to keep the tears away and it opened to an advertisement for the fragrance "Beautiful" by Estee Lauder. At that point my niece knew Grandma was with her and would see her new great-grandchild. "Beautiful" was Grandma's only and always fragrance. When you saw Grandma, you smelled "Beautiful."
Cindy’s comment that her family thought she was nuts typically accompanies stories like these. And I confess that at times I’m afraid my crediting them here will discredit me as a writer. There’s a taboo against accepting these fairly frequent phenomena that science has not yet explained. Someday I believe it will, if it can get over its prejudice and look at ALL the data available, whether or not it fits preconceptions. This would require continuing to probe beyond the obvious cases of fraud and the quick conclusion that it COULD have been coincidence and so it must have been. Admittedly, odd happenings like this are difficult to examine; maybe they’re impossible to measure. But let’s keep looking at them.

Just as I challenge believers to rethink their dogmas, I also challenge non-believers to rethink their certainty that everything spiritual is bunk. My paranormal posts do both.

Ron from Princeton had this response to my paranormal posts:
I'm always curious about those stories, and what is not being told. There is usually a logical reason why things happen, and your story about the woman who died, and then a light that wasn't even hooked to wires worked, the washing machine broke down, I generally discount these completely.

I have never been in a house where a light fixture was in place but "didn't have any wires running to it". Very unlikely. Who was the electrician who checked it out? Let's get him on the phone. The washing machine goes out, and the error message suggests "mother is no longer here" by saying "The motherboard is out"? First of all, I doubt seriously if the manufacturer actually put in an error message that said "the motherboard is out", more likely, a "system failure", or some other code indicating a problem.

Stories tend to get better with each re-telling, as the facts are adjusted to fit the wishes of the person telling the story. There is usually a logical reason for almost anything that happens, and "coincidence" plays a big part in many of these.
This expresses the skeptical view well, a view I shared years ago but no more. The eminent psychologist and philosopher William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience answers this logic in his comment on “the convincingness of these feelings of reality."
They are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic . . . if you do have them . . . you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.
He states that intuitions from such experiences “come from a deeper level” than our rationalism. “Something in you absolutely knows (his emphasis) that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it."

I'll just continue telling stories as they come to me, and now I'll tell a story about myself.

About 25 years ago I was agonizing about a decision that would direct my life’s course and beseeching God for help in the decision. As I paced by my hutch, a plate that was propped up sat down and sent a cup into my hands. The drop from above startled me into accepting the answer that my insides had been telling me but my head had argued against. I then knew what I had to do, although the message was not explicit and I couldn’t have presented a logical case for this decision that set an unconventional life course. My future was uncertain but the Something I usually call God was there with me.

The cups and plates had been arranged in exactly the same way for several years before that and have been ever since then, without moving. Like Cindy who just KNEW it was her mom, like Carol who knew her dad rang the bells, I KNEW the other side had spoken to me.

Spirit visitations tend to be dreamlike but are “more real” than dreams. They often come at bedtime or sleep-time, and they come unexpectedly—we have no control over such things. But some people seem likelier than others to receive them. In my experience, they are persons with spiritual sensitivity, but they range from fundamentalist believers to open-minded religious to agnostics who dislike religion.

Now a series of encounters with the other side in disconnected notes I’ve taken here and there. If you’re familiar with this sort of happenings, you recognize them as authentic. Skeptics will disbelieve no matter what. I was one when I was determined to be “scientific.”

** A dying man finds himself going up stairs and coming to a door. He opens it and sees a pleasant gathering of persons he knew before they died, but he can’t join them. Assured about what follows death, he passes over shortly thereafter.

** Three weeks after Marie died, Katherine was sleeping when she woke to a touch on her body. Marie was sitting on her bed. “How did you get here?” Marie didn’t say anything and looked the same as always.

** Mona was sleeping and woke up to her deceased dad’s voice, “Mona.” It was “so real,” she told me, “just like him.” She looked around and saw nothing, but had no fear. This has happened “a couple times,” she said.

Once when she was doing dishes and crying about losing her precious grand-daughter, she had a fleeting glimpse of something white going by—like sheer, sheer flimsy material. The same appeared while she was walking in her living room. “Don did you see Mindy?” “No,” he said.
Other contacts have happened in bed, where she first thought maybe there was a mouse.

Since her death, Mindy’s cousin visits with her “all the time,” Mona was told. This cousin was two years older than Mindy but they grew up together, very close to each other, and both were the only girl in the family.

Mona, like me, has enlarged her ideas as a result of these experiences. She’s sorry she didn’t believe her dying mom many years ago. The doctor was trying to resuscitate her and said, “We’re losing her!” Her mom came back to this life for a while, then died, but before she died she told Mona she was on the ceiling as her doctor said that. Mona lives with the regret of not having believed her.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thomas Berry & American Dream

I can’t think of anyone I admire more than Thomas Berry, Catholic priest and radically innovative theologian who didn’t call himself a theologian but a “cosmologist” and “geologian.” He helped me to calmly reconcile my Catholic training with the realization that the Christian story is a myth similar to pagan myths. For Berry this was a given that opened to wider vistas, indeed the whole cosmos, as he combined evolution with theology with ecology with geology. The breadth and depth of his scholarship and influence can’t be overstated, “one of the great figures of our time . . . [who] captured so powerfully the urgency of our current environmental and social crisis.” Read more about Berry's death and work

An American Radio Works documentary on MPR, "A Better Life: Creating the American Dream," stated that no other nation in history ever created wealth as America did, within reach of millions. The promise of America said that it matters not where you start, you can have the American Dream. In the past 20 years the dream became a frenzied drive toward acquiring a surfeit of material goods that included giddy investment and fraud.

The Dream is not dead. Despite great economic inequality, Americans still believe that change for the better is possible. But the sour economy plus growing recognition that our way of life robs future generations of a lovely and fertile planet induce healthy questions. Does our value depend on how much we own? Does the American Dream mean getting rich?

Let’s see if the American can-do attitude will take us to a larger vision, one that includes Thomas Berry’s concern—care for the whole planet and all life on the planet.