“Like never before in the history of humanity, we are becoming aware of our inter-relatedness. We are beginning to comprehend that what we do to other species is what we do to ourselves. We are beginning to perceive that what we do to other nations and peoples is what we do to our own soul. The question is whether we will choose to translate this emerging consciousness into transformative action. And the further question is where we will find strength and vision for this work.” – John Phillip Newell
In 1998, journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a book called “The Greatest Generation”, which described the generation of Americans who grew up in the United States during the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. In Brokaw’s words, "it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
First of all, let me establish that my own grandparents who participated in this generation are some of the greatest human beings I have ever known. So much of what Brokaw outlines in his book, rings deeply true in my own understanding of American History as well as my personal experience in the relationships with my grandparents and others of their age.
That being said, and Tom’s belief in ‘just-war theory’ aside, I submit here that the title “The Greatest Generation” is not only hyperbolic, it is imperative for humanity that we prove it false.
As our understanding of Big History has expanded along with the subsequent discoveries in cosmology, biology, archaeological anthropology and quantum physics that have occurred since the so-called “Greatest Generation” rose to adulthood, we now are growing in our understanding of Earth – even the universe itself – as a whole living system.
The facts are, that the industrial profit-worshipping economic system that got its start ahead of the maturation of “The Greatest Generation” (with the industrial revolution) and that was then kicked into high-gear with their own era, has produced some of the most damaging effects on planet earth in human history. Not that this was done intentionally. We simply didn’t have the data or the ability to conceive of the world in the ways we do today. But that has changed. The evidence is now overwhelming; the conditions that gave birth to life itself, and the rise of human civilization are disappearing. We are in one of the most destructive mass extinctions in the history of our planet. The polar ice is melting. The sea is rising and warming. The coral reefs are disappearing. Half of the forests of the earth (our planetary lungs!) are gone.
I am more and more convinced that the most important mission of my era is the evangelization of humanity’s awakening to the reality of our immanent demise as a species, should we refuse to change our ways. And we need more than sad photos of forest clearcuts, or graphs of diminishing elephant populations. Human beings operate within world-views that affect, direct, and critique our ways of being on earth. We must bring forward a new cosmological story that includes everyone and everything on earth.
Sadly, the prevailing economic, philosophical, and religious world-views of this age are not only insufficient, they are primary contributors to the calamity. I think of my own heritage, growing up within evangelical Christianity and the awful ways it renders people impotent in their stewardship of finite planetary resources because everyone is waiting for the Super Being in the sky to return and burn the joint up. I can hardly imagine a more damaging theology for our shared planet. It is time to reform and adjust these regressive systems and form religious communities that make sacred the very biosphere that birthed us in the first place. I don’t mean ‘religion’ in the sense of worshipping other worldly beings that need to be appeased or placated, but a communal sacralization of LIFE for all beings and for the universe as a whole.
“We’ll never achieve a just and sustainably life-giving future on the resources of the existing religious traditions, and we can’t get there without them.” ~ Thomas Berry
The future of life on earth awaits the emergence of a global “greatest generation” who will move us off of what author Brian McLaren calls the “suicide machine” and pivots the minds and hearts of humanity toward a sustainable and life-honoring way of being in the world.
Just recently we passed an ominous global milestone in relation to the toxic levels of carbon in our atmosphere. All the while, our culture remains fixated on stocking up material possessions, the fate of celebrity marriages, the endless inter-religious squabble, and an absolutely gag-inducing election.
Folks, whether we have blue chairs or red chairs on the titanic, it’s going down. Whether we have one party that disavows the climate catastrophe, or another party that only gives it lip service, the banquet of consequences that the global rapacious industrial system has set, awaits us. Our task is to move rom EGO-centricity to ECO-centricity.
Should we fail to do this, our great-great-grandchildren will undoubtedly live in the very real hell of food shortages, apocalyptic weather patterns, and the permanent loss of animal life that we brought forth through our selfishness. They will condemn our greed, lament our blindness, and extinguish the very short-sighted and self-serving religious, philosophical and economic fires that delivered their apocalyptic inheritance.
As we all know from our personal lives, human beings tend to resist change until it becomes unbearable to remain the same. It seems it must come to this. We have finally arrived on the threshold of the great ecological reckoning. Thankfully, this deeply evil system is headed toward it’s contraction and collapse. And that is not only a good thing, it is now unavoidable.
What remains to be seen is whether the collapse will result in human extinction or the emergence of a humanity that rediscovers a way to live in right relationship to the forces of REALITY, and the fundamental balance with the very ‘nature’ we are an integral part of.
The generation that takes these realities seriously and makes measurable change in this way will truly be, THE GREATEST GENERATION in human history!
Only time will tell whose generation it will be.