Excerpt from Chapter 1
The Wake-Up Call
Power-holders of the world, take notice!
The world's religions grew up rather separately. Even when they had some common Scriptures as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam did, they quickly parted and went their own ways. Any contact they had was often hostile, even to the point of war, pogrom, persecution, and crusade. In spite of that, they have this in common: they were all powerfully influential in the development of cultures, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.
Now, in what is an almost unnoticed breakthrough in human history, the religions of the world have decided to sit down and talk to one another. No one even thought it possible. How could Hindus and Muslims, Confucians and Buddhists, Jews and Christians, and native religions of every stripe have a conversation together? They are not only talking; they are planning, strategizing, and forming alliances of conscience. They are interested in doing again what they have done in the past—changing the way the world thinks, acts, and does business—but now they are interested in doing it together.
Two-thirds of the world's peoples actively affiliate with the world's religions, and the other third cannot escape their impact on thought and basic attitudes. Anyone who ignores religion is ignoring a central force in our humanity and in the functioning of human society.
Religion, in a word, is power. John Henry Newman, a nineteenth-century British cardinal, said that people will die for a dogma, a religiously held conviction, who will not stir for a conclusion. Why is that? Religion is, quite simply, a response to the sacred. The word sacred is the superlative of precious. And there is nothing we take more seriously than that which we call sacred. So when all the religions of the world, animated and charged as they are with a sense of the sacred, start talking and bonding and planning together, history is about to turn a corner. An epoch is about to be born.
And why is this suddenly happening?
Of course, not only fear. But fear is a big part of it. The ancient Hebrews noted that fear is the beginning of wisdom. Fear in the presence of danger is smart. Those who are fearless in time of danger just don't see the problem. Fear is like pain in the presence of infection. It alerts you to the fact that there is a problem and that you ought to do something about it. And our lovely and lonely little planet is in danger. In all the vastness of the universe, our earth may be the only one that sprouted the miracle called life. Religion is the response to life as sacred. Ethics is the response to life as good. Human beings are the privileged bearers of religion and ethics. As such, we have special obligations to the earth and to the life-miracle of which we are a part, but neither religion nor ethics seem to be up to the challenge of doing proper reverence to the life that bore us. "It's a dumb bird that befouls its own nest," goes an old saying. But homo sapiens (Latin for "wise man"), as we have all too prematurely called ourselves, has done just that.
Some, in fact, would say that we are the fatal flaw in the evolution of life on earth. In richly poetic language, the great anthropologist Loren Eiseley indicts humankind for wounding the earth. He writes:
It is with the coming of human beings that a vast hole seems to open in nature, a vast black whirlpool spinning faster and faster, consuming flesh, stones, soil, minerals, sucking down the lightning, wrenching the power from the atom, until the ancient sounds of nature are drowned in the cacophony of something which is no longer nature, something instead which is loose and knocking at the world's heart, something demonic and no longer planned—escaped, it may be—spewed out of nature contending in a final giant's game against its master.
That's pretty tough judgment on a species that has such a high regard for itself. We have proclaimed ourselves the pinnacle of evolution! "A little less than the angels," the Hebrew Scriptures call us. "What a piece of work!" says Shakespeare. How dare Eiseley call us earth wreckers, "something demonic" and cacophonic that is breaking the world's heart!
Before dismissing Eiseley's grim view of us, a chastening look at some of the ominous new facts of life should bring blushes of guilt to the faces of those who fancy themselves stewards of the earth. Reader, be warned. It is no easier to look at the facts I will give here than it is to look at the sun. But squint a little and dare to look at these realities.