The understanding that everything; humans, animals, plants, mountains, rivers, everything that is here existing; is spiritualized, that everything has a quality of consciousness, divinity, and, shall we say, being, is an understanding that was once universal. Every indigenous community, without exception, held this to be not only true, but patently obvious. And, because of this fact, a person and their community lived within a network of relationship with everything around them that included the recognition of obligation. If a person spoke of a mountain under which she lived, she was obligated to speak of it in a way that would not insult it. If a community relied on the annual migration of salmon for their sustenance, they created certain practices to ask permission of the salmon to be eaten. How far back does this world view go? Well, the oral tales of all of these traditions express that these views have always been held by the peoples of these communities, and that the earth and everything on it was always spiritualized. And there are graves that appear to be of practitioners of shamanism that go back tens of thousands of years, and it is this animism that underlies the shamanistic world view.

But more recently things have changed. There are now two primary world views: one secular humanism, the other the teachings of the world’s major religions. Both are really modern phenomena; this is obviously the case for humanism, but it also true for the large religions, as even the oldest of them, Hinduism and Judaism, are only about four thousand years old, more or less. And both have, to a very great extent, marginalized or discarded the fundamental principal that everything is divine. In the case of humanism, man is the measure of all things. The actions of our secular society revolve around improving the lives of human beings. If something else has a financial or esthetic benefit it may be cared for, but, except in a handful of cases and for a handful of people, it’s value is it’s worth as an object of use. In the case of the major religions what is of overarching importance is the relationship of human beings to a divine being or beings. The rest of creation has no real part to play, except as a stage on which God and humans play out their roles.

It is not as though our humanistic values and our religious values do not include the idea of care. They most certainly do. But if a Christian were to clearcut the last remaining redwood forest on earth, leaving no remnant trees, he still would go to heaven if he followed the teaching of his church. And a scientist may perform experiments on lab animals that injure and kill them, causing them real suffering, if it makes for a cosmetic that is a little less irritating to a consumer’s skin. Simply by looking at the world that we now dominate we can see that the idea of care for the rest of the world is only adopted in practice when it is convenient to do so.

If these two world views, both clothed in immense power and contesting with each other in so many ways, were to offer a justification for their role in all of this, the great religions might say that they have given hope and meaning to billions of their followers; meanwhile secular humanism could point to the near miraculous improvements in our physical lives in the last two or three centuries. And both would be correct in what they say. Nevertheless, they are likely the primary causes for the ending of an understanding of what it means to be sacred that stretches into the dawn of time. It is a tragedy on a scale that is so large that we are no longer even able to comprehend what has happened. Paradise Lost is now not only a physical fact, it is the departure of the divine from all that was once our home.

Comments are welcome.




  1. It seems, rather than evolving to this dire ‘turn’ of events, it it getting harder and harder to turn things around.

  2. It is good to hear from you, Kathy, and many thanks. Dennis

  3. Luckily there are indigenous peoples and shamans that live outside the orbit of religion and Western humanism. Perhaps they will take over what is left of the earth after climate change and beget a new, simpler, race that treasures the presence of spirit. In themselves. Animism reflecting back the spirit present in me, my direct relationship with the Creator, where Eden resides. Coming full circle to that moment again, this time choosing to refuse the Knowledge of Good and Evil thereby remaining one. Or maybe those anywhere alive today who know this presence, maybe not all the time, but in conscious moments, their laboring toward unity will be enough. We do not know how this works, but that presence does and is eternal.

  4. It is very good to have you join this ongoing conversation, Christine. You are right to point out that remnants of the old ways still survive. It is a long term view you describe and within that horizon lies many possibilities. Thank you for your comment. Dennis

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