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Expired · 2nd August 2009
Ray Grigg
Search beneath the surface appearances of economics, ecology, tourism and carbon emissions to understand the deepest objections to the proliferation of run-of river power-generating projects in British Columbia – and particularly the mega project proposed for the scenically majestic Bute Inlet. The fundamental issue is spirituality. And an illuminating place to begin is the thinking and writing of Father Thomas Berry.

Thomas Berry, who died at the age of 94 in 2009, called himself a "geologian" rather than a priest. Although he entered the Passionist Order of the Catholic Church in 1933, his life's spiritual work was dedicated to extricating humanity from the centre of creation so we could reposition ourselves as an integral but subservient part of an unfolding universe. Because Berry saw creation – however it came to be – as both living and sacred, he considered himself a "geologian", a scholar of Earth rather than a theologian of scripture.

And a scholar he was. He was conversant with sophisticated astronomy and physics, a leading authority on the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a doctorate holder on Italian philosophy, a student of the Chinese language and Asian religions, the author of numerous books, and the founder and leader of spiritual organizations. But his true love was nature. And his lifelong goal was to inspire a new mythology that would elevate Earth to the status of sacred.

The blockage that obscures our perception of a sacred Earth, he believed, is our cultural habit of experiencing nature as object rather than subject. Our philosophy, religion and materialistic civilization have all conspired to place us in a "technological trance" that essentially makes us "autistic". Unable to connect the inner with the outer – exactly like the disorder we call autism – we treat nature as if it were something other than ourselves. In doing so, we abuse it and, thereby, make our own lives poorer.

"What happens to the outer world happens to the inner world," writes Berry. "If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur, then the emotional, imaginative, intellectual and spiritual life of the human is diminished or extinguished. Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the sound and coloration of the insects, the free flowing streams, the flowering fields, the sight of the clouds by day and the stars at night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human."

Objectification allows commercialization. Then, together, they prevent us from hearing the living voice that sounds in everything – be it a bird or a tree, a waterfall or a mountain. "Our sense of the natural world has deteriorated into Disney characters and plastic figures...," lamented Berry. "I suppose in 50 years, children will never see a live wild animal. And it's devastating to the whole psychic structure of people because we depend on this rapport, this intercommunion with the whole of the universe for our psychic balance, our emotional balance, any capacity for imaginative process."

Without this balancing effect of nature, we become increasingly self-obsessed and disoriented, then lost, insane and suicidal. Divorced from the organic whole that is our origin, our attention is consumed by control, growth, progress, development and technological obsessions, while we fail to perceive the great mystery that contains us. This strategic error eventually culminates in our personal and collective demise – precisely what we are now witnessing with the rampant urbanization and industrialization that are wreaking global ecological havoc.

In the context of this awareness, consider the colour advertisement by Plutonic Power Corporation that appears frequently in Campbell River's local newspapers. It shows a man and woman, sitting side-by-side on a rock, viewing a waterfall that is immediately in front of them. No doubt they are close enough to feel the cool spray, smell the moist freshness, hear the thunderous torrent, and be awed as the plunging weight of water cascades downward to the secret call of a distant sea. "Vision is seeing more than a waterfall," are the first words inscribed in Plutonic's underlying text.

"Yes!" Thomas Berry might exclaim in affirmation. "In the stillness of such a timeless moment, wonder at the magical beauty of this water, at its source from individual drops of rain or long-ago flakes of snow. Marvel at its eternal adornment of a mighty mountain, at the miraculous interplay of hard and soft, at the nourishing wetness that freely brings life to plants and insects and animals. Then allow the insight of this one moment to set the imagination soaring so that the little self dissolves into an Earth too incomprehensibly whole and balanced and intricate to be designed by anything we can understand or know. Now be silent and at peace with all that is."

But, like a obscenity shouted in a quiet church, Plutonic is compelled to remind us that vision "is seeing the potential for developing renewable, reliable energy that respects future generations and the environment."

Ravaging nature to save the future is an oxymoron, a spiritual crime against our humanity and the wilderness that defines, guides and informs us. "Developing" is a euphemism for victimization by the "autistic" impulse of a consciousness that is trapped in a "technological trance". An operation is not successful if it kills the patient. The world has places for "green" and "renewable" energy. But not every place – we have already victimized too many special places. Those that remain are just too spectacular, or too rare, or too inspiring, or too symbolically significant to be trashed by the pathological compulsion to commercialize them. Just let them be as they are, so that – perhaps, before it's too late – we may regain a sense of the sacred and find our lost humanity.