Transition to Solidarity and Sustainability
The transition from patriarchal capitalism to solidarity and sustainability cannot be attained by cosmetic adjustments of the current order of things. The global scale and mind blogging complexity of the issues are such that not even the best political efforts, let alone technological "fixes," can provide a feasible path from here to there. Not even the option of incrementally "muddling through" seems feasible, as there is no mud thick enough, and abundant enough, to keep seven billion people marching together with any degree of global solidarity. Attaining this transition in a somewhat civilized manner will take a heavy dosage of combined earthly and heavenly wisdom.
Biblical Tradition on Holy Wisdom
In the biblical tradition, both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain many references to the Wisdom of God. In the Old Testament, Wisdom is often used as a hypostasis of the Hebrew Deity (e.g., Proverbs 9:1). In Ecclesiasticus 1:4, wisdom was created before all things, and in Baruch 3:37, Wisdom (with capital W) is a personification of God that appears on earth in human form. It is noteworthy that wisdom has a prominent role to play in the "ecological chapters" (38-39) of the book of Job (e.g., 38:36-37; 39:17, 26).
In the New Testament, Wisdom becomes incarnate (John 1:14) and Jesus identifies himself as such (Luke 7:25) even though in his humanity he had to grow in understanding (Luke 2:40, 52). This wisdom manifests herself as the ability to discern how much people can be challenged within the limits of what they can understand (John16:12). Wisdom is not simply a matter of eloquence (1 Corinthians 1:17, 3:19). Christians have always seen Divine Wisdom in the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, as evidenced by early writings and important church buildings.
Other Wisdom Traditions
The Judeo-Christian tradition has no monopoly of wisdom. Many other religious traditions recognize the crucial importance of wisdom for both authentic worship and healthy human relations. Just as well, wisdom is an integral ingredient in many secular philosophical traditions throughout the world.
In the religious sphere, wisdom is pervasive in most of the world religions. It is, for example, one of the three divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. In Hinduism, there is the symbol of Lord Ganesha: the lord of beginnings and wisdom. In a religion of more recent origin (late 1800s), we find the Bahá'í faith's Tablet of Wisdom.
In the secular sphere, we find jewels of wisdom in Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers of the West as well as several in the East (notably Confucius and Lao Tzu) in antiquity, and of course many others in more recent times, such as Bertrand Russell (Knowledge & Wisdom) and Jacques Maritain (Degrees of Knowledge).
The Patriarchal Deformation of Wisdom
God is both powerful and merciful. If "reverence of the Creator" is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28), then practicing solidarity with other humans, and with the entire community of creation, must be part of the wisdom we all need to become what we are: Homo sapiens sapiens.
Patriarchy is a deformation of wisdom. Exactly how this deformation came about is lost in the pre-history of humanity, but that patriarchy is contrary to the plan of God for humanity can be reasonably deduced from its nefarious consequences. To begin with, it is noteworthy that patriarchy became the prevalent "order of things" in human relations many centuries, if not millennia, before the beginning of any of the above wisdom traditions. It is estimated that patriarchy became culturally pervasive only after the agricultural revolution, or about 10,000 years BCE. The oldest texts of the Bible have been dated no earlier than 1,000 BCE; so, by the time the Bible was written, patriarchy was taken for granted as "the natural order of things."
It is not possible to discuss here the interaction between patriarchy and all the wisdom traditions, but it seems reasonable to think that it contaminated them all. However, modern scholarship is
finding surprising new insights to the effect that Divine Wisdom, as a distinctly feminine hypostasis of the Divine Being, not only survived patriarchy in the extant texts but actually blossomed in some of them when they are properly examined under the lens of the critical-historical method, taking into account the linguistic characteristics of the gradually developing Hebrew and Greek languages in which they were initially written. In this light, it becomes clear that texts such as Genesis 3:16, which appear to establish patriarchy as a punishment willed by God after "original sin," may well be nothing but a backward projection of male/female human relations as known by the early Hebrew writers. An alternative explanation is provided in The Theology of the Body, pp. 456ff.
Michelangelo's painting of the sin of Adam and Eve from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The bottom line is that patriarchy is a constant in all the major wisdom traditions, both secular and religious. Patriarchy entails, among other things, a corruption of the communio personarum between men and women. The need for restoring, or at least approximating, the original unity of man and woman (idem, pp. 25-102), has been widely recognized only recently, mostly starting in the 20th century. There is no way in the world that solidarity and sustainability can be peacefully attained as long as 50% of humanity is trying to dominate/manipulate the other 50%. Therefore, it is critical to foster gender equality in all human institutions, both secular and religious.
Current State of Humanity and the Human Habitat
The current state of humanity is one in which violence is increasing increasingly. Likewise, the current state of the human habitat is one in which ecological functionality is decreasing increasingly. Violence between humans is in the front pages every day, everywhere. From domestic violence to terrorist attacks and drone counterattacks, violence begets violence in a spiral that "begins" as in Genesis 3:16, then expands as in Genesis 4:8. The mindset of domination and control goes further, and the wisdom of taking good care of the human habitat (Genesis 2:15) is replaced by the insatiable exploitation of natural resources to support the extravagant lifestyles of those at the top of the patriarchal pyramid. Further exacerbated by population growth and the burning of fossil fuels that saturate the environment with toxic GHG emissions, ecological violence is now leading to global warming and climate change, with nefarious consequences for the health and wellbeing of people worldwide.
Since the mid-1800s, the industrial revolution has brought about incredible advances in the production of goods and services, transportation, communications, and the availability of commodities, albeit mostly for the rich and powerful. Technology is morally neutral; it can be used for the common good or misused for unjust purposes. This is not new. What is new is the global magnitude of the anthropogenic impact on the planet we inhabit. What is new is that we must transition from the industrial revolution, fueled by cheap energy, to a post-industrial revolution fueled by sustainable energy, and this is not possible as long as the patriarchal mindset of "big fish eats little fish" prevails. Thus a cultural shift is needed from patriarchy to solidarity, as attaining sustainability without such a cultural shift is, simply put, delusional. This might resolve the paradox of infinite growth in a finite planet: in order to survive, patriarchy may evolve into solidarity, Homo economicus may become Homo ecologicus. "Development that is not engendered in endangered" (Amartya Sen), so it must begin with solidarity across the entire gender spectrum; then all other forms of solidarity will follow, no matter how imperfectly, and equitable sustainability may become achievable.
"God of wisdom, mercy, and might,
may we have the courage to change what must be changed,
the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
and the wisdom to know the difference."
There is a Cherokee proverb we would do well to keep in mind: "Don’t allow yesterday to spend up too much of today." This is a propitious time for humanity to let go of cultural traditions that have brought injustice and war, and diligently test and embrace those that can bring about new life for all nations and across the entire community of creation.
A Civilization of Solidarity and Sustainability
The path to be followed by a wiser humanity in order to attain a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability cannot yet be mapped out in detail. The possibly "straight and narrow path" that could be followed, and the turns and u-turns that will be required by conflicting human pressures and counter-pressures, are known only to Divine Wisdom, and only She has the GPS for the journey. It is probably better that She keeps the details for us to find day by day, lest human self-interests make the path even more crooked. However, a number of current and forthcoming events may be pointing us in the right direction.
Earth Day 2013 will be celebrated worldwide April 22nd. The theme this year is "The Face of Climate Change." The Earth Charter, published in 2000 after lengthy worldwide consultation, remains one of the best guides of values and principles to foster a sustainable future.
The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to expire in 2015, are being reformulated into a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a renewed attempt to address the global scale and complexity issues involved in sustaining both people and planet. Six interconnected goals are under consideration: thriving lives and livelihoods, food security, water security, clean energy, healthy and productive ecosystems, and governance for sustainable societies. Reportedly, "the targets beneath each goal include updates and expanded targets under the MDGs, including ending poverty and hunger, combating HIV/aids, and improving maternal and child health. But they also define a set of planetary "must haves": climate stability, the reduction biodiversity loss, protection of ecosystem services, a healthy water cycle and oceans, sustainable nitrogen and phosphorus use, clean air and sustainable material use." For more information on the SDGs, click here and here.
Many other groups and institutions are becoming involved as the urgency of the issues becomes increasingly evident. For instance, a
joint workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on "Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature" is being planned at the Vatican for 2-6 May 2014. This will build on the outcome of a similar April 2011 workshop on Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene. It is significant that, this time, both the biophysical and social dimensions are to be discussed together. Hopefully, the theological and pastoral dimensions will come next; for the pilgrim church is part of the problem, and must be part of the solution. This applies, of course, to all human institutions, both secular and religious.
Coupling of Solidarity and Sustainability
System analysis and computer simulations would seem to confirm the working hypothesis that solidarity reinforces sustainability and vice versa. Solidarity makes human activity sustainable by balancing self-interest and the common good in making production and consumption decisions. Conversely, the physical impossibility of infinite growth in a finite planet creates incentives (perhaps augmented by unavoidable climate change disruptions?) for solidarity as a matter of survival. But there is no "silver bullet," no "simple solution," no "act of God" waiting around the corner to let humanity off the hook. Holy Wisdom often is most eloquent as Holy Silence. All global citizens must get involved in the process of building a social order of solidarity and sustainability; may we follow the guidance of Holy Wisdom in doing so!