Expanding ethics to preserve all life

Thomas Berry ethics.jpg

Source: Azquote

Here is a similar message in a paper Thomas Berry delivered to the Harvard Seminar on Environmental Values on April 9, 1996:

The natural world surrounding us is simply the context in which human affairs take place. Our relations with this more encompassing community are completely different from our relations to the human world. In the presence of the human, the natural world has no rights. We have a moral sense of suicide, homicide, and genocide, but no moral sense of biocide or geocide, the killing of the life systems themselves and even the killing of the Earth.

It may not be that our ethical systems are lacking–I was brought up in the Christian tradition and can remember a hymn honoring ‘all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.’  Most spiritual traditions respect the natural word.  The problem is a lack of application—in laws, everyday lives, industry, and commerce.  Pressures of survival, materialism, consumerism and greed have been major forces propelling us to where we are today .

Thomas Berry, a Christian theologian whose life spanned the last century into this one (1914-2009) pointed out a major discrepancy in our sense of morality.  There is a general consensus that killing humans is wrong, but there has not been general agreement that humans shouldn’t destroy animal communities or pollute the air, soil, and waterways.  He refers to the missing crimes as “Biocide” (destruction of life) and “Geocide” (destruction of the earth).

One could argue that we haven’t been that successful in protecting human life either.  Even though direct killing is sanctioned, there are major loopholes for tolerating harm:  lives are shortened significantly in a society that tolerates high levels of poverty, homelessness, toxins in the air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat.

Putting aside the “we don’t practice what we preach anyway” argument—the observation that as a society we don’t truly love our neighbours, much less the environment—I do agree with Thomas Berry’s implication that the melting of ice caps, dying off of whole species of animals, flooding of coastal communities, famine due to drought etc, are direct results of our industrial consumer lifestyle.  It may take a major revamp of society’s ethics in order to correct our errors and move forward.

Thomas Berry concluded his talk with these hopeful words:

 Perhaps a new revelatory experience is taking place, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the earth process. Humanity has not participated in such a vision since shamanic times, but in such a renewal lies our hope for the future for ourselves and for the entire planet.


This is day one in a Three Day Quote Challenge that I will be posting on three consecutive Sundays. I would like to thank Louise Farrell of Fantasy Raconteur for inviting me to participate back in early June when life was extremely busy. It still is, but I’ve taken the time to accumulate a connected series of quotes that I would like to post.  I like this quote challenge as it gives me a nudge to put together a type of post that I enjoy. As  part of the tradition I invite three other bloggers to join in if it strikes their fancy:

Jenny Spencer of SpoonGood

Dorna  Hainds of Madasahatter572

Brianne Turczynski of  Miss Sissinghurst

The ‘Rules’ or suggested guidelines are:

  1. Thank the person that nominated you.
  2. Post 1-3 quotes each day for 3 consecutive days.
  3. Nominate 3 bloggers each day to participate in the 3-day Quote Challenge.

6 thoughts on “Expanding ethics to preserve all life

  1. A truly thought-provoking post. It’s scary that we commit biocide and geocide every day and don’t even notice it… Such a “morality” is dangerous.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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