A sense of belonging is a blessing. Whether we are animal, plant, bacterium, fungus, or protozoan, each of us has a place in our biosphere. If perfect justice existed, every creature would enjoy a feeling of belonging in whatever place it found itself. But actual creation is riddled with imperfection, trial and error, justice and injustice, an ocean of darkness flowing beneath the ocean of light.
So, we creatures continually find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. In our present time, for most creatures, “the wrong place” means this planet where humans live.
During the past fifty years, wild mammals on Earth have been reduced by 82% (by mass), due to human activity. Humans and domestic animals now make up 96% of Earth’s mammalian biomass. Equivalently catastrophic losses of amphibians, corals, marine mammals, and insects are recounted in the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, published by the United Nations in 2018. During previous mass extinctions on Earth, “the wrong place at the wrong time” meant being here when an asteroid hit or a massive volcano erupted. Today, the catastrophic event driving mass extinction is unconstrained human expansion. A hundred years ago, 85% of the Earth’s surface was wilderness. Today, 23% is wild.
Of course, this catastrophe didn’t happen by accident. Although blind creation works by trial and error, humans coordinate themselves through shared intentions to change the world. And while blind creation gives no thought to justice or injustice, humans are wired for justice, although you might not know it to look at us. Far too often, we seek the sort of justice that only serves the very few humans who are most like ourselves.
Today’s mass extinction event on Planet Earth is a catastrophe that belongs to us. If we face it with an attitude of bewilderment rather than panic, as Yuval Noah Harari advises, then we might be able to think and pray with a level of humility that can free us from obsolete patterns of problem-solving and might open us up to continuing revelation.
During a medical procedure, a doctor might say to a patient, “Let me know if this hurts.” To be a healer, in part, is to understand the pain you are causing. To be a healer, in part, is also to be the patient. Healing is reciprocal – to know and to be known. To heal the global menace that we’ve brought upon our planet, we need to seek a global understanding.
Unfortunately, we are propelled by the momentum of seventy thousand years of people cooperating to conquer other humans and other species. It’s asking a lot to ask us to cooperate with people we don’t understand easily, or people whose ancestors betrayed our ancestors, or people who treated us badly just yesterday. This is where God comes in – that still, small voice that says, “Get over yourself and do the right thing.” And then, perhaps, our response, “And what would that be?”
Everybody belongs in this conversation, which means it is messy and contentious. But a “global understanding” cannot be global unless everybody is part of it. So, we need to work with people who can point out our blind spots, which we might not enjoy. And we need to work with people whose blind spots dismay us, which after further reflection, might enrage us. But these are exactly the heartaches that love requires of us. “Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.”
– Isaac Penington, 1667.
Humans are born with the gifts of foresight and cooperation; and, even in an unjust world, we are born with a heart for justice. We are taught, however, that love is our greatest gift. And indeed, it is love that will guide us toward the world we seek, where every creature feels a sense of belonging in its home. ~~~