A Generous Peace and Boundless Love: Expanding Thomas Berry's Cosmology of Peace

By Eaton, Matthew | Cross Currents, December 2012 | Go to article overview

A Generous Peace and Boundless Love: Expanding Thomas Berry's Cosmology of Peace


Eaton, Matthew, Cross Currents


Introduction

The New Cosmology and eco-spirituality seen in the work of Thomas Berry outline a relatively new way to view reality. In this perspective, humans are no longer understood as a special creation transcending the natural world. For Berry, and others following this school of thought, the human is understood as one aspect of a unified, though ever-changing, creation event, inseparably tied to the same processes that brought about the rest of the cosmos. This "New Story," as Berry calls it, is needed because it provides revelatory insight into the nature and identity of both humanity and divinity and the ethical demands that accompany our participation in the cosmic drama. (1) The ethic Berry derives from the New Story can be described as a "cosmology of peace"--a way of being that allows the cosmos to flourish and function according to its own nature, with as little human interference as possible. (2) In a cosmology of peace, humans recognize their kinship with nature and allow the biosphere to flourish.

Yet, as Berry points out, we cannot understand cosmic peace as the absence of violence as this would betray the nature of the cosmos itself. Life does not arise out of a purely peaceful matrix, but one of wondrous cooperation and shocking violence. While not downplaying the role of cooperation, it is difficult--if not impossible--to imagine how the cosmos and life on Earth could have arisen apart from death, violence, and the suffering of sentient creatures. (3) For Berry, both the cooperative and the violent sides of nature are a key to creating a "Peace of Earth." Thus, cosmic peace does not aim at overcoming all violence but at maintaining creative tension in the natural system that allows nature to function properly. For Berry, "unnatural" violence (i e, anthropogenic acts that disrupt nature's inherited functionality) needs to be overcome, while "natural" forms of violence (i.e., that which arises naturally and promotes further creativity) is welcomed.

Yet, the Christian tradition refuses to accept all forms of natural violence. Central to the Christian faith is belief in a deity of boundless love who shows concern for the suffering of all creatures whether or not their suffering leads to further creativity.4 Suffering is seen as something to be overcome, as the divine wishes all to flourish and all violence to come to an end. Modern Christianity must now embrace but also make sense of the tension arising from holding simultaneously to the necessity of violence for cosmogenesis and the conviction that divinity cares for each individual member of creation and desires that all things thrive according to their nature.

In this essay, I offer a peace theology that embraces the tension existing between scientific cosmologies and the Christian faith. I suggest that while Berry's view of cosmic peace ought to be our top priority, the Christian faith encourages a more inclusive, generous vision of peace that embraces nonviolence in situations where natural violence may still be acceptable in certain circumstances. Below, I outline Berry's understanding of natural and unnatural violence, as well as his vision for a cosmology of peace. Next, I summarize John Duns Scotus's notion of haecceitas as a model for boundless divine love. Following this, I survey the work of Denis Edwards, who suggests eschatological redemption as a way to deal with the tension between cosmic violence and the love of God for individual creatures. Finally, I expand on Edwards's suggestion that eschatological redemption begins on Earth by constructing a new cosmology of peace that begins to eschew "natural" forms of violence, without upsetting the larger environmental ethic of Beriy nor the inner spontaneity of the cosmos itself.

Violence in nature and a cosmology of peace

Throughout his work, Thomas Berry continually describes cosmogenesis arising out of a matrix of communion and relationship. …

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