Friday, March 28, 2014

The First Principle Project: How do you widen the circle of compassion?

Today's Guest Author: Rev. Julianne Lepp

Eau Claire, Wisconsin

A Sermon

Description of Sermon:  Unitarian Universalism, as a living tradition, challenges us to continually review our values, actions, and beliefs. The First Principle Project has been proposed by the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry to expand our first principle from the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person to the Inherent Worth and Dignity of All Beings. What would this change mean in practice and spirit?

Recording Sermon:  Click here to listen

Sermon excerpt:

I was lucky while growing up to have miles and miles of woods behind my house. Early in life I grasped a sense of connection with nature, being so close to so much beauty. I remember being fascinated with tadpoles and watching their life cycle. I would try to call out to mockingbirds that would mock my dog and I in high branches. I sensed something unspoken in the whisper of pines as my eyes peered up at the sky through needles and filtered sunlight. I felt something magical as I broke across the rising mist in early morning walks in the bend of the Broad river. I could hear frogs and crickets in the evenings, and I spent sun-burnt summer days building forts, and playing flash light tag among the fireflies and pines.

My dog Beau would spend hours with me on adventures. He would walk down to the river with me just as the sun broke the sky. He would swim in the river as I read or played on river rocks, mindless of moccasins or the rush of the river. I look back on those wild moments of my childhood and I know there was a deep sense of connection to the beings, the life around me. I understood deeply that this was my world and I was a part of it. There was some elemental understanding in my connection with those woods, that river, and the pulse of life. What are the experiences in your life that have led you to a sense of an interdependent and connected world?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reverence for Life - Bringing Our Principles to Life

Today's Guest Author:  Rev. LoraKim Joyner, DVM
Community Minister in Multispecies Ministry and Compassionate Communication
UU Metro NY District Right Relations Consultant

We are here on this earth to prey.  I don’t mean the calling of sacredness into our lives kind of praying, but preying as in the predator prey relationship. 
We are all in the club called the predator prey cycle.  It is well and alive.  It is a beautiful thing we evolved to do to take care of ourselves, which means harm to others.  I've always thought we needed another principle in our Unitarian Universalist tradition: We must harm to survive.  We were born to compete.  Albert Schweitzer called this truth, "the necessity of life," and he says it lays a burden on all of us to benefit at others expense, for every species and every being has a “will to live.” 

Yes we evolved to take advantage of others and for violence. Every culture has sexual violence, rape, which indicates that it is hardwired or at least very easily accessible in our human behavior repertoire.   Murder, killing, and tribal conflict runs deep in our social DNA.  But just because we "can" doesn't mean we "do."  Slowly over the centuries, violence as a whole recedes because cultural evolution and expectations can override biological mechanisms.  As a species we have become increasingly aware of the inherent worth and dignity of each other, and even more importantly, how to act more compassionately towards others given this growing awareness.

Part of the growing awareness includes how we understand human behavior.  We are a plastic species.  Human plasticity means we can choose how to act so we can reduce harm for we also evolved to nurture one another.  This sense of care and empathy extends not just to our own species, but others.  We evolved to collaborate in part because we need each other to survive.  Our human communities need healthy ecological communities.  We are learning that animals can't make it without humans, and vice versa.  We depend on each other.

Affirming this interdependence of all things as in our 7th principle requires wisdom and reverence.  To touch on reverence together this morning and experience the miracle of commitment that our species can rise too let me share this story.

I work in Honduras with the indigenous communities.  My goal is to help support their efforts to preserve the last 150 Scarlet Macaws left in this country that fly over their ancestral lands. There used to be thousands of them throughout the country, but no more. People want to steal the birds to make money, and so take the young chicks from their families to sell them to people with power and privilege.  There is terrible pressure from without on not just their ecological community, but also their human community. People with money and power are coming in stealing their land, and willing to kill the indigenous people to take what they want.

Tomas, and elder of the village, tried to stop the illegal poaching, logging, and cattle ranching.
For his efforts, he made enemies who ambushed him one day, and he was shot 4 times.  He nearly died. His whole village had to flee because they were likewise threatened with their lives. Yet, 4 months later he returned to the ghost like village to work with me and others on parrot conservation.  We had to hire a squad of soldiers from the Honduran military to accompany us and keep us safe.  I asked him why he was willing to risk his life. He replied, "Everything is at risk so I am willing to risk everything. If we lose the parrots, we lose our way of life."

He is not alone. This year more people have returned to his village, and the death threats have not stopped, nor has the illegal poaching.  When we shared our year's research results with them I told the leaders that if any more parrot chicks were lost, even one more year of it, I didn't know if their parrot population would  make it. So the leaders held a community meeting and decided, on their own, to mount up daily parrot patrols to protect the remaining nests. They have very little resources, and their lives are in danger, but they elected to spend their resources to protect parrots.

And they did. Though many chicks were taken from their nests, the patrols were able to confiscate the chicks and raise them in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and no training in avian husbandry, and barely enough food for themselves. Eventually sixteen of the giant, red, long tailed parrots were released and they now fly free in the wilds where the parents, grandparents, and cousins too fly free.

Every day the juvenile birds return to eat rice and beans in the village. A few years ago an armed group of 10 men came to the village and robbed it of all valuables. Well, not all.  The people are still there not giving up, and the birds are still flying free. They know if the birds can remain free, they can too. Liberating the birds is liberating themselves. Saving the birds is saving themselves.

These villagers are like us. There is no need to romanticize them. They fuss with each other, strain their relationships, and give into desires that cause harm. But what they have learned is that there is no special place of privilege on this planet. We are all in it together, and if one doesn't make it, none of us do. They aren't saints, they are just looking after themselves.

But looking after ourselves and others is not easy.  I was just in this village in September and the people and parrots are struggling. The birds aren't getting enough to eat because  the people aren't doing well.  They get sad when they hear the hungry birds calling in the tall pine trees - and anguish having to choose whether to feed themselves, or their children. How do we decide whom to feed?  Whom to nourish?  What if there is a way to nourish others, as many as possible, and nourish ourselves, as much as possible?

Writes Albert Schweitzer, author of the Reverence for Life ethic,  By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.”

Life is good for us when we have reverence for others.

But living with reverence, even though we evolved to do so, does not mean that such a life comes automatically or easily, for there is a huge amount of cultural influence that impacts us to not see the worth and dignity of life.  Writes Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King School of Ministry,  We must learn again to live with reverence.  [Reverence} respects the complexity, the beauty and the magnitude of creation and does not presume to undo its intricate miracles.  Instead, it gives life reverent attention – seeking to know, understand and cooperate with life’s ways. Reverence for life has to be learned.  It is not just a feeling – it is a way of life that is manifested in more than an isolated moment of appreciation for nature or awe before its destructive as well as creative power.  Reverence involves full-fledged devotion enacted in deeds of care and responsibility.  It involves knowledge, study and attention.  Reverence is a form of love that needs to be learned and affirmed.   And this is what congregations are for:  to teach us to give reverent attention to life. The task given to us here and now is to do what we can to advance reverence for life and deepen the promise of love.”

To help us learn and advance reverence together we need a call to promises and to commitment, which can in part be accomplished by affirming that our covenant is with all life, such as in the 7th principle, but we need more.  We are called to have reverence not just for the abstract notions of communities, ecological and human, but for the individuals within.  We do this in part through our Principles as they stand now, but we can be more powerful in how we dedicate our shared lives to the beauty of this earth and all her beings. By changing the First Principle to “We covenant to promote and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every being” we clearly state that all bodies matter and have, as Albert Schweitzer wrote, a “will to live.”  Paying attention to the well being of individuals cannot be cleaved from living with reverence. To life in such a way we do for the sake of others, and we do it for ourselves.

Albert Schweitzer tells us how. “With Reverence for Life in everything you recognize yourself again.  Reverence before the infinity of life means the removal of the strangeness, the restoration of shared experiences and of compassion and sympathy.

We are healed with a sense of belonging when we have reverence for life, and our compassion grows. One way we can grow in wisdom, reverence, and compassion is to slow down enough so that we can recognize the gifts of life.

In my work in Honduras as a wildlife veterinarian, I also encourage us all to slow down so we have time for reverence.   We take time to connect with each other and this beautiful, tragic world.

One day we were in the middle of the village, sweating, standing under tall trees where once hundreds of parrots flew, and now only a few.  I offered my favorite poem, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, except they don't know what wild geese are, so please forgive me Mary, I substituted macaws instead.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the savanna, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the savannas, and the deep pines, the jungles and the rivers
Meanwhile the macaws, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Just then we heard the calls of macaws, five of them, a rare family in a time when most chicks don't make it to fly free because of poachers who take them for pets.  They flew directly over head with their deep cries as I finished.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild macaws, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

We wept - those of us of so many nations and ethnicities. For the birds had told us we belong, and in that knowing, we committed ourselves once again to the life around us, in us. 
Such commitment is fueled by reverence, which is a form of love that allows humans to work under extraordinary conditions with extraordinary results. 

This is the dream of congregational life.

Dr. Schweitzer knew we could not escape harm and the necessity of life, but with reverence we can face who we are and reduce our harm while increasing benefit. 

Fueled by reverence we receive life, the greatest gift of all.
Healed by reverence, we give back the gift of life to as many as we can.
Each of us finds reverence in our own way - through birds, walks in the woods, a child at play. But whatever it is, stalk reverence relentlessly.

We are fierce predators, so let us prey/pray for reverence in our lives for the flourishing of all.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Go to the Ant

Today's Guest Author:  Rev. Gary Kowalski

Gary Kowalski is the author of books on nature, history and spirituality, including The Souls of Animals and Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom For Anyone who Has Ever Lost A Pet" (both from New World Library); Blessings of the Animals: Celebrating Our Kinship With All CreationScience and the Search for God and The Bible According to Noah  (all from Lantern Books);Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America’s Founding Fathers (BlueBridge Publishing); and Earth Day: An Alphabet Book (Skinner House).   His author's website
Reverend Kowalski is interim minister at the Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist. Visit his blog on faith, politics and current affairs.

          What does it mean to assert that every creature has inherent worth and dignity?  Drawing on the Biblical proverb to "observe the ant and be wise," this essay suggests that even seemingly mindless animals may hold unsuspected dimensions of complexity and creativity.  Moving beyond a mechanistic view of life opens our minds to wonder and our hearts to celebration of the infinite within the small.  

Go to the Ant

            When my children were young, they humored me one Father’s Day with a hike up Hunger Mountain, a peak in central Vermont. As we sat resting by a stream on the descent, we turned over a log to look for salamanders. But the chunk of birch I chose to lift fell to pieces in my hand. The inside had been chewed away and hollowed out by ants, thousands in that one length of windfall timber. I realized that the forest floor must be teeming with them, tunneling unseen and mostly unappreciated.
Ants are everywhere. The smallest ones swarm in the interstices between particles of soil, with over 14,000 identified species filling every available ecological niche. Collectively, the family of Formicidae outweighs the human population of the planet, and ants and termites together account for up to thirty percent of the world’s animal biomass. Specimens in amber have been discovered that are 92 million years old, from the Cretaceous period. While the dinosaurs of that era have long since disappeared, ants have survived and colonized every continent except Antarctica.
            It matters what we think of these tiny creatures. Perhaps most of us don’t think of them at all, except as nuisances on picnics. Yet ants are one of life’s oldest and most successful experiments, and how people view these pismires is a measure of how they regard animals in general. Ants represent the living world in its most typical and primordial form.
Historically, attitudes toward insects have passed through three stages: the mythical, the moralizing, and the mechanistic.
Indigenous, oral cultures made no firm distinction between the realm of waking and dream (or between heaven and earth, which the shaman could traverse in modes of ecstatic insight). Neither was there any clear boundary between human and animal. Insects played a role in the sacred legends of many native people. The Pueblo tribes of the American Southwest say that their ancestors lived in a subterranean world before the beginning and that it was the ant people who built a ladder, on which humans could climb into the land of sunlight. The Kabyl people of North Africa likewise say it was an ant who led the first man and woman from the subterranean regions to the earth’s surface and taught them the necessary arts, how to bathe and wash their garments, how to grind corn and knead it into dough, and how to make fire with flint and tinder for cooking. For the mythical thinker, the life force (which anthropologists who study animistic cultures often call mana) seemed widely dispersed within the cosmic order and might be shared by inanimate features like rocks and hills, as well as by other living beings. Spiritual qualities were not the exclusive preserve of any single species.
Things changed with the rise of written scriptures, particularly in the monotheistic West. Philosophy and didactic discourse gained ascendance over imagistic and associational habits of thought, as people tried to interpret the diverse phenomena of the natural world as manifestations of a single, overarching moral order.
In Hebrew tradition, this tendency is exemplified in the “wisdom literature” of the Bible—Job, Ecclesiastes, and the book of Proverbs—the latter attributed to Solomon, who supposedly gained his reputation for both wealth and discernment from a diminutive source:

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
Consider its ways, and be wise,
Without having any chief
Or officer or ruler
It prepares its food in summer,
And gathers its sustenance in harvest (Proverbs 6:6–8)

In Islamic lore, Solomon’s ant was one of the few animals granted entrance to paradise. While insects might not be deities in their own right, they could still be exemplars for human conduct. 
In Greece, Aesop (c. 620560 BCE) drew lessons from the ant and grasshopper to illustrate the results of prudence and improvidence. As a slave, Aesop may have found it convenient to use animals as allegories for human foibles, without the risk of directly offending those in power. But the allegories would not have been effective unless people believed that ants really did symbolize industry and thrift. Such fables, along with bestiaries and riddles, continued to be written into medieval times, like this one from the early Middle Ages: 

I am foresighted about my life. Not a sluggard when it comes to hard work, I carry on my shoulders the reward of a carefree winter. I do not heave great loads all at once, but I heap up many loads one at a time. 

To the moralizing imagination, all creatures served a purpose—if not as good examples, then as dire warnings—where even the smallest details were the creations of a supremely ethical Designer. 
            The French philosopher RenĂ© Descartes introduced a new paradigm for thinking about animals. He considered them automata, and this mechanistic outlook dominated biology in its early days. The pioneering entomologist Henri Fabre, for example, documented the apparently inflexible, unthinking behavior of ants and other insects. In his text on Mason bees, the Frenchman recorded observing columns of red ants searching the countryside for other anthills to raid, capturing nymphs to take back as slaves to their own subterranean fortress. The routes chosen for these raids were diverse: “Bare ground, thick grass, a heap of dead leaves or stones, brickwork, a clump of shrubs: all are crossed without any marked preference for one sort of road rather than another.” What never varied was the path home; even if the experimenter placed obstacles in the way, or washed away the track with water, the myrmidons rigidly retraced their original itinerary in reverse. 

Laden with their plunder, the Red Ants return to the nest by the same road, often an exceedingly complicated one, which the exigencies of the chase compelled them to take originally. They repass each spot which they passed at first; and this is to them a matter of such imperative necessity that no additional fatigue nor even the gravest danger can make them alter the track.

Such regimented maneuvers prompted Fabre to ask of the insect brain, “Has it faculties akin to ours, has it the power of thought? Are they able to connect a ‘because’ with a ‘why’ and afterwards to regulate their behaviour accordingly? Are they able to change their line of conduct when faced with an emergency?” He answered, “I see nothing in it all but an invincible persistence in the act once begun. The cogs have gripped; and the rest of the wheels must follow.” With their clattering exoskeletons, insects even look like robots, an impression reinforced by their stereotyped actions.
Yet the whole is often more than the sum of its parts, and for this reason mechanical models have their limits. Termites in small groups, for example, may appear to move in random and chaotic fashion, but increase the numbers and patterns appear within the milling. A colony begins to form, self-organizing. Properties emerge that were not present or predictable before. One can claim that the insects are programmed by their DNA, but an equally strong argument can be made that termites’ genetic material has evolved to serve the complex requirements of the collective, selected and governed by the wisdom of the hive.
Deborah Gordon, who studies ants at Stanford, explains how individuals change jobs in her book Ants at Work. An insect working in housekeeping or the nursery one day may switch to patrolling or foraging the next. Have patrollers found a cache of tasty seeds? More laborers are needed immediately to bring home the harvest! But who gives the order to mobilize? The answer is, no one. If the bounty is nearby, the patrollers will return to the hive more quickly, at a higher rate, and that stimulates ants occupied in other duties to stop whatever they’re doing and join in gathering food. No head of personnel decides that it’s a good day to forage, yet through “swarm intelligence” the work gets done. Gordon muses, “A colony is analogous to a brain where there are lots of neurons, each of which can only do something very simple, but together the whole brain can think.” Giant colonies can comprise up to eight million insects, communicating with dozens of pheromones, as well as through touch and sight, forming the equivalent to a complex nervous system.
Though it sounds slightly mystical, swarm intelligence has practical applications, from powering search engines to streamlining traffic flow. Southwest Airlines has used ant-inspired algorithms to make more efficient use of aircraft as planes arrive early and late. In Europe, phone companies are increasing the efficiency of their networks by programming calls to leave virtual pheromones at switching stations, like ants leaving signals for their hive mates. The paradox is that one insect may be clueless, but millions together can be adaptive, flexible, and smart.
            A more holistic perspective may be replacing our earlier assessment of these creatures. The moralizing mentality of Solomon and Aesop is quaint but no longer tenable. Ants should not be praised for their industry or frugality, any more than they should be condemned for waging war. The mythical mode of thought is likewise becoming harder to sustain; the “ant people” diverged from the evolutionary line that led to humans half a billion years ago.  But mechanism, with its harsh worship of blind forces and brute matter, offers scant solace to hearts hungry for meaning and companionship. Thankfully, its reign, too, may finally be coming to an end.
It still remains possible to appreciate insects as threads within the intricate tapestry of life, actors who are small but have surprisingly creative roles to play. I went into the woods on Father’s Day for all the usual reasons, to find serenity and rejuvenate my spirit. But while the forest is a place I visit, it is where the insects live, pollinating the blossoms and turning the detritus of decay into the stuff of fresh beginnings. What I experience in nature is a feeling of both strangeness and kinship with a power larger and more lasting than myself—a power that is both vitalizing and weirdly Other—what some might call the presence of God. That sense of exaltation may come or may elude me. But I know the life that inspires it is always there, omnipresent and tireless even when unobserved—like the tiny ant.

Gary Kowalski
From Blessings of the Animals (Lantern Books, 2012)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Golden Rule and Our Seventh Principle: a Scientific Perspective

This is a sermon that was delivered and includes opening and closing words at the end.

Today's Guest Author:  John Laurence Kelland
Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of South County
Retired Life Sciences Reference Librarian

I believe I can use a scientific perspective to shed new light on some of our ethical principles.  During this talk I will be referring on occasion, to vast stretches of time. Millions, and even billions, of years.. Our seventh principle points to our being a part of the all-encompassing web. But just how intertwined are we humans with the rest of the animal world, with other species? Profoundly. I want to first discuss evolutionary relationships, and then something about the origins of our conscious mind, and the ethical implications.

I have a book at home, “The Last Human”,  (eight authors). It covers 22 species in the family Hominidae – that is our family, in terms of biological classification. The early species were rather apelike, and the later ones looked a lot like us. Some evolved into others, some went extinct, but they are all gone except for Homo sapiens. We are the last human. Each of these earlier species probably numbered into the thousands, nothing like our huge population.  About thirty thousand years ago, there were apparently FOUR species in the genus Homo, that is, four kinds of PEOPLE on the earth, side by side Our species, the Neanderthals, the Denisovans in Siberia, (once thought to be Neanderthals) and Homo floresiensis, a very small recently discovered species. If they were all here today, would the Golden Rule apply to them, or just Homo sapiens? Who does it apply to? They are all gone, and we may not have good evidence why they went extinct. To me, this all has implications for our understanding of the conscious mind, and this has profound implications for our ethical principles.  There are some traits which distinguish us as humans from all other animals, now that all the intermediates are gone. We have language, abstract thought,  ability to plan, a spectacular ability to build.  And intelligence and reasoning ability.

But some of these human traits have precursors among animals, even though  they are far, far simpler. There are some traits we share with other animals though, not the advanced aspects of the conscious mind. But I am convinced that the basic aspects of our own conscious mind, sensory perception, memory, some kinds of planning and strategizing, exist in many species. I believe consciousness has existed in other species for many millions of years, far, far predating our species, and that we inherited the basics of consciousness from prior species.

There are certainly other species who can experience positive sensations and can suffer. You have pets and you know this, but I wanted to provide a kind of background context for discussion. I note that when people talk about the Golden Rule they just focus on humans. This almost makes it seem that a fundamental aspect of the Golden Rule is that it applies to just to humans. I think we need to place the Golden Rule on a firmer logical foundation. I think the ability of a person or animal to have positive and negative experiences, and our actions to promote their wellbeing, IS the underlying basis FOR the Golden Rule. So we should broaden the Golden Rule to apply to other sentient species, or at least some sort of compassion, and that this broadening ought to be built into our religion.  We could also extend our first principle: Inherent worth and dignity of every person, and the inherent worth of other species as well.

When I worked at URI Library, I was on a committee – the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, which managed the treatment of animals in laboratories. I was the Information Officer, charged with helping scientists find alternative treatments to surgery for example, if such existed. This is all based on compassion for animals, and governed by the Animal Welfare Act, and overseen by the USDA. It seems to me that UU can embrace compassion to animals who are conscious.


I see a problem with our seven principles.  The first six deal only with human issues, and then suddenly the seventh, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of witch we are a part”.  In an article on the web, May 16, 2004 (1) Don Southworth, reporting on a meeting at the General Assembly, said: “One of the ministers present, Paul L’Herrou, offered an amendment to the floor. He suggested we replace the proposed language of the seventh principle,  ‘respect for the Earth and the interdependence of its living systems’ with the new words, ‘respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.’ It was with those words the eternal breath of life, the spirit of guidance, of wisdom inherent in our human condition spoke out once again to the world of a new possibility, of a new hope, of a new Unitarianism and a new Universalism.” We might interpret that to mean life on the earth, or the whole universe (technically the latter).  My readings indicate that Unitarians writing about the seventh principle interpret it sometimes one way, sometimes the other.  We could even keep both wordings, as two different principles. I do see a lot of variation, since people are reading into it much more than it says. Let’s get some precision and clarity into it. I think, especially for nonunitarians, we should make explicit three levels BETWEEN Homo sapiens alone, and the whole web:
1 – nonhuman species;
2 – the great ecosystems of the world, such as forests and coral reefs;
3 – the great life support systems: air, soil, freshwater, the oceans, all of which we depend on for our very existence. Here I would include the great cycles, such as carbon and calcium and nitrogen. More, of course.

The purpose here is to more clearly show our  appreciation of the great moral problems relating to environmental crises, because these are becoming more and more to the forefront. Also to our green commitment.How would you assess the value of the principle ecosystems, such as forests and coral reefs? The huge biodiversity and beauty of them hints at their value.  The earth is 4.6 billion years old, and we know that life on the Earth originated at least 3.8 billion years ago, if not earlier.  During the first 3.2 billion years, there were only single celled microbes, principally bacteria. About 600 million years ago or more, an event took place which gave us multicellular life, and it developed with some major extinction events, into the world we know of today.  It took a vast stretch of time to build life on this Earth as we see it now. Most of that time we did not exist. I think that this means Life on Earth has its own inherent worth, regardless of us, Forests and coral reefs existing for such a vast stretch of time ought to make us understand why they are precious. We also should consider a principle or two which give, not just respect, but inherent worth (and dignity, even!) to other species, our beautifully interconnected ecosystems, and to the Earth’s life support systems. Why? To make it clearer that this church means to deal with the really major environmental issues of our time, incorporate them into our theology, and BE the religion for our time, which only WE can be!

Yet I am indebted to Dave Hurdis, who brought out another principle in his sermon last year. I recently read a book: “Alone in the Universe” by John Gribbin, an astrophysicist. He covers many factors which indicate that it is rare for a planet, like the Earth to have an uninterrupted 4.6 billion years which has allowed life to evolve to the point where there are intelligent beings who have a technological civilization.  After reading it, I think we are indeed very rare in the universe. SETI has so far not heard from anyone out there. Gribbin thinks we are alone, and I think we are at least rare, although there may be many planets, around other stars, with life at the level of bacteria or other beings which can withstand harsh conditions. What Dave pointed out is the rarer, the more precious! That to me is a profound and fundamental principle. We can call it the rarity principle. What if the Earth were absolutely unique in the Universe in having life or intelligence? Among all these galaxies? What a shame if we ran it down or ruined it.  I look at the rarity principle as the basis – the foundation – of all our environmental moral principles, giving the Earth and its life inherent worth.  And, sustainability is the principle criterion by which to judge all our major activities in the world.
Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, quotes a letter attributed to  Chief Seattle to the President in 1852. Campbell refers to this as the Paleolithic Moral Order:

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.  Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow,  every humming insect.  All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests,  the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family.
The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each ghostly reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people.  The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother.
If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares the spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web,  he does to himself.
One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted by talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.
When the last Red Man has vanished with his wilderness and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shore and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?
We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it.  Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children and love it, as God loves us all.
As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. One thing we know: there is only one God. No man, be he Red Man or White Man, can be apart. We are brothers after all.” (2).

Opening Words  - Larry Kelland

Native Americans had an ethic which respects the land and all its creatures as sacred. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell referred to it as the Paleolithic Moral Order. Our roots in the West have a different moral order, different from that of our great prophets. In Genesis 1:28 we are told to be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over the fowl, beasts and fish.
In 1493 Pope Alexander the 6th wrote the Doctrine of Discovery which gave European colonists rights to the lands of the indigenous peoples and to enslave them. In the United States we had the Manifest Destiny, to take over the whole continent.
Where is the Golden Rule? There is no compassion or respect in all of this. However, we have come a long way, as our seven principles clearly show. Maybe even full circle!

Closing Words

The realm of inherent worth is vast. I consider it to have inherent worth, the Native Americans consider it all sacred. And it is.


1.      Southworth, Don. The Interdependent Web .

2.      Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988. Pp. 34-35.