Long ago, in the final weeks of World War II, America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. Loss of life was catastrophic. Planetary people awakened to a stark reality: if life was to continue on our Earth home, it would be necessary for nations to arrive at an agreement to disengage from nuclear warfare.
This defining moment led to the emergence of the Cold War. In subsequent years, there have been precarious moments when the unleashing of a nuclear bomb seemed imminent. However, in recent times, the threat of a hot nuclear war has been replaced by the lethal threat of ecological devastation.
Well-known system theorist Johanna Macy addressed this shifting threat in her writings. Her early work had titles such as Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age, and her more recent works focus on the imminent threat of ecological devastation; for example, Coming Back to Life.
Cultural historian Thomas Berry suggested the same trajectory through his writings, such as The Dream of the Earth and The Great Work. His work challenges us to face the depth of our environmental crisis with statements like “the bomb has already gone off.” The attention to destruction of the planet entered a new phase with the publishing of Pope Francis’s letter to the world Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.
The response to our endangered planet has resulted in “extinction spasms” of monumental proportions. The historic work Silent Spring has become a benchmark for the era that is now upon us. The awareness of this dangerous time has brought responses from many theologians and spiritual leaders. The diminishment of natural beauty has prompted some to say that species loss is like tearing a page from sacred scripture. For those of us who embrace a theological view —that creation is a book of primary revelation, that God is in all things, and all things are in God—the reality of species extinction leads us to a painful conclusion: it is possible to have death without a resurrection.
Each year in California, monarch butterflies gather in clusters only to be replaced next year by a new generation of butterflies. Now, these butterflies, along with many other species, are on the brink of extinction because of polluted water, toxic air, and poisoned earth. Some have suggested that our lives on planet Earth are beginning to resemble a lunar landscape, where the divine presence is diminished, and our souls are deprived of the beauty of God’s creation.
Today, before it is too late, we must enter a new time, a time when once again the spring of Rachel Carson can flow purely and abundantly.