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Rethinking the World

19 Mar 2020
Thomas Berry

‘The universe, by definition, is a single gorgeous celebratory event.’ I’d scribbled the quote in my notebook in 2009 and couldn’t remember who’d said it. So I Googled and came across a catholic priest called Thomas Berry who was described as an ecotheologian. He died in 2009.

Ecotheology? Wikipedia explained it as ‘a form of theology that focuses on the interrelationships of religion and nature.’ Then, quite by chance, I came across Berry’s book, The Great Work, and couldn’t stop reading.

‘We are upsetting the entire Earth system,’ he writes, ‘but what’s amazing is the inability of religious or educational establishments to provide any effective religious or ethical judgement on how we’re relating to it.’ Not a man to beat about the bush, he proposed a new religion for the 21st century. 

Both science and religion, Berry says, suffer from a ‘dysfunctional cosmology.’ Unless we learn that the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects, we’re heading into an evolutionary cul de sac.’ What we need is a new Great Story to heal our rift with the spirit of nature. 

‘No one ever before could tell, in such lyric language as we can now, the story of the primordial flaring forth of the universe at its beginning, the shaping of the immense number of stars gathered into galaxies, the collapse of the first generation of stars to create 90-something elements, the gravitational gathering of scattered stardust into our solar system with its nine planets, the formation of the Earth with its seas and atmospheres and the continents crashing and rifting as they move over the asthenosphere and the awakening of life (he was a man of long sentences).

‘Such a marvel is this 15-billion-year process – such infinite numbers of living things on Earth, such limitless variety of flowering species and forms of animal life, such tropical luxuriance. We are witnessing the desecration of this sublimity.

‘We now need to tell this story, to meditate on it, and listen to it as it is told by every breeze that blows, by every cloud in the sky, by every mountain and river and woodland,and by the song of every cricket.’

Sounds good to me….

About the Author:


Dr Don Pinnock is an investigative journalist and photographer who, some time back, realised he knew little about the natural world. So he set out to discover it. This took him to five continents – including Antarctica – and resulted in five books on natural history and hundreds of articles. The Last Elephants, published this year with Colin Bell, is his 18th book.

His other books include:

Gang Town, which won the City Press Tafelberg Non-Fiction award,
Writing Left, a biography of the journalist Ruth First.
Voices of liberation
The Brotherhoods,
Gangs, Rituals & Rites of passage
Rainmaker, a novel shortlisted for the 2009 European Union Literary Award.
Natural Selections,
African Journeys,
Just add dust,
Loveletters to Africa,
Blue Ice: Travels in Antarctica,
The Woman who Lived in a Tree and Other Perfect Strangers.
Wild as it Gets,
He has degrees in criminology, political science and African history and is a former editor of Getaway travel magazine.

He was one of the primary drafters of the White Paper that became the Child Justice Act, a trustee of the Chrysalis Academy for high-risk youths, a board member of Wilderness Foundation Africa, a member of the Conservation Action Trust and was the facilitator of the Western Cape Government’s gang strategy roadmap.

His day job is as environmental investigative journalist.